Third Thursdays: OHM + MMM Chop It Up

Thursday, April 21, 2011

A few months ago, my son, who was nearing his second birthday, decided that he wanted try on the Picky Eater Toddler jacket for size. I didn’t like how it looked on him.

It was dinner time and I prepared the usual. I don’t remember what it was. I just remember that he refused it. Flat-out. I went the distraction route and brought a shiny car and truck to his high chair tray before trying him with the food again.

Nope. He wasn’t buying it.

Frustration was beginning to bubble up. I picked up my phone and emailed the one person who would know what I was going through and, more important, how to talk me back to common sense and calm: One Hungry Mama.

With her background in education and an MA in child development, Stacey (a.k.a OHM) is cross between Supernanny and Jamie Oliver. Her philosophy on food and family, Stacey says, is based on a belief that children—even ones as young as 6 months old—should be sharing the healthy foods that we parents make for ourselves. She believes that the conversation about feeding families and raising healthy eaters is not just about food, it’s also a parenting issue.

One Hungry Mama is savvy with side of funny. She’s exactly what the food-family convo needs. Even a quick browse through her popular blog and tells you this: OHM is on a mission to help parents have successful family meals.

Below is the actual email exchange between OHM and me on that strange evening. Not only did it click the light on for me about toddlers and food, it also gave me the bright idea to share all of this good parental intel with you.


From:     Ms. Mary Mack
Subject:  The Toddler Diner

Date:     February 1, 2011 5:30:35 PM EDT
To:       One Hungry Mama

This is crazy. I’m making him toast right now… for dinner. Aaargh! Very frustrating. He’s not typically a fussy eater …

__ __ __ __

From:     One Hungry Mama
Subject:  Family Food
Date:     February 1, 2011 5:56:42 PM EDT
To:         Ms. Mary Mack


i know. it’s horrible. but EVERY kid goes through it.
he’s almost 2, right?

you know, there is a biological explanation for picky phases. here’s a simple way to explain the early phased: as cave baby got older and started wandering off on his own—without cave mama to protect him—his taste buds became more sensitive, especially to more bitter foods (like vegetables), to protect him from eating the poisonous berries that cave mama use to slap out of his hand.

the point is that this is absolutely normal. he’ll grow out of it and maybe sink back in again. your job is to keep a cool head. your son is not at risk for starving. for reals! :-) he can go to bed hungry and will be fine. in fact, it may even cause him to eat a really good breakfast in the AM! because, ultimately, people—kids—eat when they are hungry.

also, the amount of food that kids need fluctuates hugely and it’s often way less than we parents think they need.

if you keep making foods until he gets something that he wants, think about the message you’re sending. just think about it in terms of a pure parenting issue, not the emotionally-charged issue of providing your child sustenance. he’ll learn that refusing the foods you offer works to get him toast or fruit or whatever it is that he wants you to give him. pure pavlov, right? and once you head down that path, it’s REALLY hard to turn around.

i know how hard it is to not give in. really, i do. i’ve been working on a post about it for a while. my first kid was easy, at everything. (still is.) my second started to show early signs of being picky. when i unloaded on my pediatrician about it at his 12 month check-up, she immediately said, “you’re not rewarding his pickiness with fruit (his favorite), are you?


i talk and write about this all the time, and i needed the reminder. partly b/c i still thought that 12 months was too young to start my “okay, then go to bed hungry” routine. i didn’t have to implement that with my first until he was older, when he could talk more and i could help him understand what was going on. i was just going to refuse to give more food to a 12 month-old? well, mama, it worked like a charm! he’s still a picky eater, but i don’t give in and he’s eating more and more. sometimes dinner takes a long time. we just sit there, him asking for “balalala” (banana) over and over, me saying, “no, this is dinner” while pointing to his plate over and over.

the whole thing is very frustrating, but when you know you’ve committed to an approach for handling it, it’s a calm(ish) frustrating rather than a hysterical what-can-i-make-next frustrated. you know what i mean? and such a huge part of helping your son develop a healthy attitude towards food is keeping dinner calm and, when possible, fun. the association of food being a battle and making mama crazy will only make things harder down the line.

all this and i haven’t even gotten into the fact that, developmentally, food is one of the first things that toddlers can take “control” of. many picky phases are real (the whole cave baby thing) but, sometimes, they are completely or partially a power struggle. if you allow that, it will continue b/c it’s a developmentally appropriate thing for them to exercise power and control where they can. it’s part of gaining independence.

redirect the power struggle away from food for everyone’s sake. one way is to just assert your power by being consistent and confident in what you serve the first time. the other part is giving him something that’s more appropriate for him to control at meal time. give him finger foods, bigger chunks to manage, a fork to try and work on his own, a napkin to wipe his own face. find ways to indulge his desire to assert some control at mealtime.

i hope this is helpful. write anytime!!

With love,
Stacie, One Hungry Mama


Every Third Thursday of the month, One Hungry Mama and Ms. Mary Mack will be talking food, family and finding the delicious balance that can be found in between it all. Join our email discussion!

  • 1
    Kristin says:

    I am totally guilty of making two totally different meals (well, dinners at least) to accommodate my kids (2 + 4). In fact, i often make three different dinners since I am an almost total vegetarian and my husband isn’t. Could this be why I really don’t enjoy cooking?

    Seriously though, I rely on the easy way out with processed foods for them far too often. I have to get my act(s) together. Thanks for the reminder.

  • 2
    maggie says:

    Thank you for this!! This is such great advice and so good to hear other moms discuss.

    My 9.5 month old is incredibly picky and is already changing what he prefers to eat daily. When do you guys think it’s safe to implement this strategy?