The Truth About Eating Like a Toddler

updated Sep 30, 2020
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(Image credit: Anne Zimmerman)

We shared one perspective on grown-ups eating like a toddler. Now here’s writer Anne Zimmerman with a short, sweet essay to argue the other side.

It’s 6 p.m. on a Thursday and I’m on my kitchen floor, eating a toaster waffle and sipping a glass of red wine, tempting (or trying to tempt) my toddler to eat.

I made a kale salad during naptime and there’s a pork tenderloin in the oven, but by the time I sit down to dinner with my husband, I’ll probably just pick at my meal. I’ll be full of toddler food.

Not all nights are this bad. I can reliably get my kid to eat the typical toddler fare. But what’s also reliable is that if I want her to eat well – a good amount of a variety of foods – I have to eat with her. And by eating, I don’t mean that she gets buttered noodles and sautéed spinach while I eat something more sophisticated. It means we’re eating the same thing, usually off of the same plate. Because even if our morning bowls of oatmeal are exactly the same, mine is inherently more interesting simply because it belongs to me.

Oh, the toddler diet. One can argue that small, balanced meals are best and that snacks comprised of protein, fruit or veg, and a tiny amount of carbs are healthiest. But as someone who has been on the toddler diet for a few months now, I am here to report the downside: it’s bland and boring. Or, as my husband says, “We eat soft fruits and grains that stick together.”

Our days look something like this: breakfast is lukewarm oatmeal, Cream-of-Wheat or plain whole-milk yogurt drizzled with nut butter and maple syrup. After the park we share cups of applesauce, bunny crackers, animal cookies, or a fruit muffin. There are hand pies stuffed with spinach and cheese or butternut squash, and slices of kiwi, guava, and apple. Juicy orange sections and organic berries; granola bars and dried fruit. Risotto, fried rice, quinoa, pesto noodles, pizza crust. Purees purees purees.

Like all toddlers, Vera is capricious at best. She eats olives, fried zucchini blossoms, and red pepper hummus with abandon, while turning up her nose at beans, meat, and cheese of any flavor. Her tiny palate influences my plate in a big way. Gone are runny eggs, enormous green salads, and topping everything with avocado. Gone is ample garlic, my favorite jalapeno oil, and nutty, seedy bread.

I’ve been a parent long enough now to know this is just a stage. But it’s also kind of a drag. I miss being able to eat according to my appetite, consuming whatever I want (healthy or not) whenever the mood strikes me. I miss being full — something I never, ever thought I’d say.

And though I’m not pregnant, I still feel like I’m eating for two. Vera watches everything I do, handing me bites of cereal to eat and offering her Dad a hefty spoonful of polenta for every bite she takes. It’s a big responsibility. Not only do I have to teach her healthy eating habits, I have to (or I hope to) teach her the pleasure of food.

And so, for now, I embrace the toddler diet. We share buttery croissants mid-morning and drink rich smoothies every afternoon. Bunny crackers hop across the table as the sun falls. We stain our fingers pink with broken raspberries.

I’ve never been so hungry – or so full.