Toddler Problem Eater: Take the Great Food Challenge

Six months ago I wrote How to Get a 2-Year-Old to Eat Her Dinner, explaining how to breath life into green peas so that they can plead for their lives before you eat them.

As with everything else about kids, nothing works forever. This weekend, I devised a new method to get my almost-3-year-old daughter to eat her dinner.

Our plush Domo-kun doll wearing a paper Happy Birthday cone-shaped hat.

Domo-kun modeling our Grand Food Challenge crown.

There we were, waiting for water to boil to make the ravioli that my daughter loves so much. But what about vegetables? We were overdue for a trip to the grocery store for fresh produce, so I pulled out a trusty can of dill green beans—dill because she thinks they taste like pickles and she likes eating pickles.

My daughter outright refused. "I want something else."

"You like dill beans. Eat 10 and you’ll get ravioli. If you don’t eat all 10, no ravioli."

Of course, she knows from experience that the number will be knocked down. As exasperation sets in, Mom will give in and say, "OK, eat these five," or "Eat just these two."

This night I decided to be Authoritarian Dad and do what we know many other families we know do—put a foot down and let her go to bed hungry if she refuses to eat. Everyone tells me this tough love method works; a 2- or 3-year-old supposedly learns quickly that you mean business.

I decided to be equitable, requiring that everyone at the table eat 10 green beans before getting ravioli.

"I’ve eaten five already. I’m going to beat you!"

"But Papa, I took a bite off each one."

"Nibbles don’t count. You have to eat the whole thing."

Between the threat of no ravioli and the challenge of eating as many as her parents, Little Miss finished her ten beans. But rather than serve her ravioli next, I asked, "Would you like more green beans?"

Why yes. She ate another ten. I didn’t act surprised, but as she neared completion I talked up her feat, the smashing of the family green bean record, eating twice as many as Mom and Dad, and by golly, she is to be awarded the Great Food Challenge Crown. And I placed a crown upon her head and she wore it throughout the dinner. Mom and Dad clapped.

In this case, the "crown" was a paper birthday hat she received at a party the week before, the type you buy in a 12 pack at a dollar store. Now each night we have a Great Food Challenge and the winner wears the crown. It doesn’t fit Mom and Dad, so it’s a good thing Little Miss always wins.


4 Responses to “Toddler Problem Eater: Take the Great Food Challenge”

  1. doshar says:

    clever. till she is 4. but that gives you a whole year to teach her to like vegetables!

    April 24th, 2007 at 3:14 pm

  2. Mark says:

    Absolutely diabolical. Man I wish there were some foolproof tips for getting my kid to eat.

    April 24th, 2007 at 5:13 pm

  3. Carrie says:

    I think you should lay off all the attention on her eating. I really think a better goal is for your child to learn to respond to her own hunger cues, not parental approval or other external forces. Ellyn Satter is the author of several books on children’s nutrition, and they all boil down to “A parent’s job is to offer healthy foods at regular intervals and a child’s job is to choose what and how much to eat.” The less said, the better.

    April 24th, 2007 at 10:29 pm

  4. Cathy I says:

    At our house we have “Try it Tuesday’s” where the kids have to try a new food

    April 30th, 2007 at 4:35 am

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