Q&A: Getting a 3-year-old to eat

Tammy writes:

"My name is Tammy, I’m 33 and the single mother of a 3 year old little boy.  I am having a hard time getting him to eat anything besides: chicken nuggets, scrambled eggs, corn and cereal.  He doesn’t want to try anything new and is downright awful when I try to get him to eat something else.  What kind of advice can you give me to help him start eating more nutritional foods?"

I feel your pain. Oh, boy, do I feel your pain!

Kids are just as stubborn at 3 as they were at 2, but they're not tricked as easily. And they really refine their preferences into the two discrete categories of "favorites" and "no-o-o-o-o!".

I was talking to one of the other moms at our preschool the other day. El Chico will be 4 in two months, and her son will be 4 in five months.

"Remember back when he was 2 and ate everything?" I asked.

"Yes!" she said. "I thought I was the best mother ever because my kid ate such a wide variety of foods!"

"Oh, I was sooo cocky and judgemental because my little health nut loved asparagus."

"And kale!" she countered.

Then we both laughed. The bitter, jaded laugh of mothers whose children eat nothing that isn't a carrier for butter.

My kid will eat cinnamon toast (special thanks to my mother for introducing him to cinnamon toast), French fries, chicken, broccoli, baby carrots, bagels with butter, peanut-butter-and-honey-sandwiches, and frosting (but not the cake beneath it). I am extremely grateful that he eats the chicken, broccoli, and carrots. Three month ago he wouldn't even eat those.

Actually, he seems to be expanding his palate almost exponentially in the last month or two. He's eaten salad, cucumbers, turkey, baked beans, and corn in the last two weeks. Who knows how many foods he'll deign to eat by the time he turns four?

If your son is anything like mine, it's partly because he just likes what he likes, and partly to exert control over his life. I don't think there's much to be done about it (assuming you don't want to have knock-down-drag-out fights at every meal) except wait it out and make sure he gets vitamins every day.

So you should probably just count your blessings (corn is better than cookies!) and hang in there until he gets closer to 4. It will happen. Just not soon enough.

Updated to add: I just thought of another thing that might help. Peer pressure is strong at this age. So if your child has a friend who will eat things s/he won't, maybe you can have them trade some time sharing meals with each other. "Jack likes tomatoes!" can be a powerful force to getting your own child to at least try them. It doesn't always work, but it's more likely to work than just trying to talk new foods up on your own.