Another informative post from Emily for all you parents with toddlers. If you missed her last one, read it here.
When I taught 4-year-old dance, I learned to distract the little dancers with games so they wouldn’t know they were stretching. Children don’t like to be uncomfortable; anything that hurts is bad. I sang songs and recited nursery rhymes to take their minds off the pain, but they still got the benefit of the stretches.
It’s the same with food; I have to distract my younger children so they will eat foods that aren’t their favorite. Here are some ideas and games to distract even the most determined toddler:
- Airplane, with a morbid twist. Yes, an airplane spoon flies into their waiting mouth, but this time, there’s somebody on it. “Here comes daddy on an airplane. Here he comes! Oh, no, don’t eat Daddy! Ahhh, you ate daddy! Oh no, please don’t chew him. Oh dear! She swallowed Daddy!” We have eaten most of our extended family this way, along with our favorite cartoon characters.
- Tell a story. Any story will work, but a repetitive one like “The Three Little Pigs” is good. Everytime you say a certain word (like “Pig”) they should take a bite of their food. (You can take a bite, too, but don’t go on with the story until they take their bite.) Use crazy sound effects, silly voices, things that will make them REALLY want to hear the whole story. Dads make excellent wolves, by the way. (They really know how to “huff and puff”)
- Follow the leader. Take turns being the leader. The leader will choose the food to eat next. “And now everyone take 1 bite of lettuce.” And it goes around the table, 1 bite of corn, 3 bites of carrot, and pretty soon, dinner’s done!
- Mystery foods. Our most successful game has been to have our children cover their eyes, and we feed them a bite so they can guess what it is. Combo bites work really well for this, so we can sneak in the green bits they normally wouldn’t eat.
- Role play. “How would a rabbit eat that cucumber?” “Pretend you are a mouse while you eat your pasta.” You’ll love what they come up with. (My 5-year-old does a fabulous groundhog impression.) Other great animals to copy: chickens, dogs, bears, snakes, cats, birds, worms… or try family members. “How does Grandpa eat a tomato?”
- Give praise. We reward good eaters with praise. My 1-year-old son still claps for himself after every bite he takes, crazy kid. A bite of spinach, a shred of carrot, the crowd goes wild.
This is a lot of effort to put into dinner at the end of the day, but it is only for a season. As children grow, mealtimes will be filled with pleasant conversations instead of clapping and clucking. But in these toddler years, distraction really is the best medicine.