Sunday, January 16, 2011

But he won't eat protein!

I've got several friends who have picky eaters of the toddler variety.

Toddlers are picky eaters that are a world apart from a picky Cub Scout who wants to live on PB&J and Cheetos or a picky 13-year-old girl flirting with being a vegan despite the fact that she doesn't like vegetables. With a kid in elementary school or junior high, you can employ reason. Or threats. Or bribery. Or just say, what they hell...eventually she'll realize tofu tastes like feet and eat what I've got on the table.

A toddler cannot be coerced with words. A toddler does not respond to threats. A toddler who has decided upon his set course cannot be bribed. My son recently turned down a remote control dinosaur because he wanted a pair of needle-nosed pliers. Tunnel vision doesn't begin to describe it.

Toddlers also have a secret weapon, although they might not be aware of it. Their mothers are usually petrified that not catering to their whims will result in a child not eating, which everyone will obviously be able to tell at a glance and then judge how horrible the mother in question must be. And so, many a child exists on a diet that seems, well, eccentric at best, like Cheerios and peas, or buttered noodles and mini marshmallows.

Dealing with this is a tightrope act. Do you give in, and hope that your kid isn't still only eating chicken fingers in college, or do you take the hardline and see how many days your 30-lb child will go without eating before meatloaf seems appealing?

I am blessed to have a 3-year-old with the palate of a New York Times critic. He has cheerfully eaten snails, octopus, sushi and beef heart. He recently threw a massive tantrum because I offered him a cookie. He wanted green beans. He ate the green beans. I ate the cookie. But this is not to say that every day is an uncontested walk in the park when it comes to meals. It's not. Some days, he wants nothing but carbs. Others, he only wants vegetables.

But protein? Well, it seems like that's the one moms worry about most. A kid won't eat meat at dinner and we tend to think his vital organs will immediately start to shut down.

Well, as someone who verges on vegetarianism because of health issues, I'm constantly on the lookout for ways to work protein into unexpected places, and I'm here to tell you, this isn't the hill on which you want to die. Why stress yourself over a battle with your kid about grilled chicken when you can just work eggs, cheese, nuts, and protein-rich grains into other aspects of your meal?

I don't like to "hide" things in kids' food. What's the point of getting them to eat a carrot if they don't realize they love carrots? But adding cream cheese to mashed potatoes makes better potatoes that have the added benefit of protein. Folding a beaten egg into macaroni and cheese gives you a thicker sauce. Using brown rice or whole wheat pasta spikes the protein value of your carbs. And replacing some of the butter in a muffin or cookie recipe with a nut butter both lowers the bad fats and raises the protein.

And hey, it's not something to do just for the kids. Remember, upping your protein intake is a great way to keep you full and satisfied longer, so you might eat less during the day. It's a miracle! Protein makes them grow bigger, and could help us get smaller? Talk about a win-win!


  1. Your post today is making me giggle, I have a grandson who only eats lucky charms and now cold hot dogs. I now keep hot dogs at his height in the fridge because he walks in the door and that is where he is heading. And I keep telling myself and my daughter that this is a stage and he will grow out of it. Fingers crossed! He isn't starving and looks awesome and energy to spare so something is okay is my thoughts.

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