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Picky Toddler Lunch Ideas // The Not So Mommy Blogs // “Love It Like It Learning It” by Veggies and Virtue”

May 4, 2017

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Hey y’all! So today is a special treat for those of you who follow along with my “Not So Mommy Blog” series! If you watch my Instagram Stories, you may have seen that I have a somewhat “picky toddler” when it comes to foods. Some days she will surprise me completely and gobble down salt and pepper cashews, where as other days, she will just stop eating something she previously loved like a PB&J sandwich and it not only drives me BONKERS but I was starting to really stress and think that it was MY FAULT that Hastings wouldn’t “just eat whatever we were eating, or putting in front of her”.

Things I have tried:

  1. Letting her jus take one bite and then if she says “all done” I try NOT to let her snack and I just put her back in her high chair and be offered the same things about an hour or so later
  2. Offering everything under the sun
  3. Feeding her whatever we are eating
  4. Eating WITH her (although this is hard for me as my personal eating schedule is NOT near hers but I do try to show her and sit with her and eat too!
  5. Giving up and letting her eat any and all fruit all day er’ day! Hahah! (Because she loves almost ALL fruits)
  6. Smoothies…. she doesn’t like them AT ALL.
  7. Getting off “pouches” for fear that she would only ever want them… now I am currently wondering why I ever decided it was a good idea to ditch the pouches haha!

QUE my joy when I found “Veggies and Virtue” on Instagram! Ashley had a feed that looked REAL and that had such great encouraging tips and I followed her for a while and then started asking questions! She has a really great background as a Pediatric Dietitian not to mention a REAL LIFE mom and not just someone who hasn’t ever experienced a toddler who won’t eat…so let’s just say she knows her stuff! When I read her free downloadable PDF on her method of “Love it, Like it, Learning it” (We will abbreviate and call it LLL) I knew it was something I wanted to try! Mind you, I knew my photos and food ideas wouldn’t be AS pretty and creative as hers, but I wanted to document my journey for other mom’s who might be struggling too! Whether its the fact that your toddler won’t eat, or you just need more lunch ideas, I felt like this blog post might reach a couple moms in need of a bit of encouragement and new creative ideas that I found though Ashley ! So, this post might be a bit long and wordy, but hopefully it helps a couple mom’s out there struggling to feed a picky little one!

So, to paraphrase, her LLL method is basically to put small amount of options in front of your little one. One that they already love, one that they “like” or typically don’t MIND eating and one that they are “learning”. The learning it food could be something they previously didn’t like or that they continue to not try, but basically you just keep putting it in front of them and hopefully they start to dig it! (Ashley has WAY more research and is much more eloquent in describing the method so check out that PDF I linked above!)  Also, shout out to YUM BOX for the awesome little Tapas and Snack Box containers! I will link them at the bottom and you guys, these are NOT just normal tupperware… they actually can hold liquids and yogurts and other items all in the same box and they SEAL so there is no leakage to the other compartments and it’s AWESOME! You can check them out at the bottom of the post!

As I was going through the motions of this new technique with Hastings, I had a few questions so I asked Ashley if I could kind of “interview her” and get some answers! So here is a bit about our attempt to get Hastings to eat a bit more!


Love It: Blueberries Like it: PB&J Learning it: String cheese and sliced up orange peppers

1. Do you have a set number of items you should have in front of a child at each meal? (i.e. only one of each LLL category?) 
Depending on the meal, it tends to be 3-6 items. Lunches at home tend to be pretty simple and made up of 3-4 foods. In the Yumbox Original, I offer six since that’s how many spots there are. For dinner, I usually provide meals that have several components (i.e. a main course, starch, veggie, fruit, milk, and sometimes bread) or foods can be separated out (i.e. if it is tacos, we self-serve taco meat, tortillas, shredded cheese, tomatoes, shredded greens, greek yogurt instead of sour cream, and then beans, corn, rice, etc) since neither of my girls eat composed foods (like an actual taco). This is not an exact science though. The goal is to get in at least one from each at every meal, but some meals that just doesn’t happen. Sometimes, the meals are heavier on Love it Foods, where other times they have several Like it Foods but not one start Love it Food. My aim is to make sure that no family meal has only Learning it Foods though, as that is how we learned firsthand how necessary this approach is!

Lunch: Love it: Strawberries (Notice they are all gone on the left before anything else got touched! HA!) Like it: Tomatoes and Nutrigrain Bar (and chicken) Learning it: Chicken (which she usually likes but this had a sort of Teriyaki Sauce on it which I was eating for lunch) and yellow bell pepper

2. In your experience is there an “ideal age” to start or stop this method or that typically toddlers are MORE picky?
Following up on the above answer, yes. The cheater answer would be “as early as possible.” The reality for most families though is to start as soon as you start to see a shift in foods your child once ate and now may not. Research tends to say “neophobia” or the fear of new foods tends to occur somewhere between 2-5 years old. For my oldest daughter, I saw a drastic shift in what she was willing to eat around 13 months. For our youngest daughter, this shift happened as early as 11 months. Had I waited until closer to age two and there would have likely been more counter-productive attempts made to compensate for their newfound picky eating. Instead, I started using this approach with each as early as the tendencies toward picky eating were identified with each.
That being said, I had never coined this approach prior to our first daughter. So for parents who may be thinking, “oh shoot – we’ve missed our window and been letting this go on for weeks/months/years,” IT IS OKAY. Even as a pediatric dietitian, I didn’t know exactly how I was going to handle my own daughter’s picky eating, especially when it presented so early. We had a lot of trial and error. But as I researched the most recommended, evidenced-based approaches, “Love it, Like it, Learning it” just evolved. Since, it has been my saving grace every meal, every day.

Lunch on the Slopes while Daddy was Skiing:

Love it: Strawberries Like It: Tomatoes and crackers Learning it: Organic Chicken bits

3. I try to put new foods in front of Hastings a lot (the whole “it can take up to XX times for a child to have it in front of them before they try it or like it” idea) but I feel like I waste a lot of food this way because she will never eat those darn bell peppers I cut up for her! 😉 
First of all, I love the bell pepper reference because I can totally relate. We are probably 200 exposures in with them and still, she spits them out when she actually is willing to taste them.
This is a great example of why I actually hate the advice on it taking 10-20 repeated food exposures before a kid will like something. Besides the range of repeated exposures being quoted differently everywhere you look (although it is generally agreed upon it being within 10-20 times), this is a frustrating moving target for parents.
Before becoming a parent, I naively assumed that once you hit that magical mark of 20, your kid would be conditioned to eat all these healthy, wholesome foods they’ve been offered the upper limit of times. Now as a mom, I know that this is not the case. My daughter has been offered several foods  . The key is, we as parents don’t know how many exposures it will take, so do we really want to stop trying?
For example, my daughter refused buttered noodles, toast, oatmeal, cucumbers, and even pizza at least 20 times. Then something just clicked and she began taking to each. Alternatively, there are foods like bell peppers, quinoa, spaghetti sauce (or really any sauce!), any rice, and soup that she has been offered hundreds of times and is “still learning.” We just don’t know, so I do think it is critical that as parents we NEVER declare our child “doesn’t like (something).”
So what should parents do with all the waste?


Love it: Mandarin Oranges that she loves to help peel Like it: Bear Claw Pastry (Don’t judge folks! She deserves a sweet every now and then! HAHA! Plus, one week later she is NOT interested in these anymore) and Learning it: Breakfast Sausage

How can parents reduce the amount of food wasted using this approach?
There are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to minimizing food waste with repeated exposures of “learning it” foods.
1. As parents we have to start small. If you know your child is still learning mashed potatoes, offer a tiny (~1 teaspoon) sized bite of it. Noodles could be literally one noodle. Carrots could be one baby carrot. There is no need to put extra on their plate only for it to overwhelm them from even eating it and then get thrown out.
2. Offer foods that you too are willing to eat. I have definitely been fault to making all these crazy “real food” concoctions off I find on Pinterest, only for neither of my kids to eat them and it being something I actually don’t really want to eat (or can’t eat due to dietary restrictions) either. That’s why I now commit to only making foods that I know I can/will eat should my kids choose not to. While I will eat just about anything (outside of my diet restrictions), this may be a good challenge for some parents who themselves need to adopt a bit more of a “Love it, Like it, Learning it” approach themselves. If it is something we expect our kids to eat, one of the best way to not have it go to waste is to role model ourselves eating AND enjoying it.
3. Parents have to reframe their ways of thinking about “food waste.” We all have food budgets here, so this isn’t to negate the reality that food costs money, especially when buying quality products. But if you start small and salvage what you can, the rest of the food that “gets wasted” has to become seen as an investment in your kid’s journey to healthy eating. Even though it did not actually make it in their tummies for a short-term win, there is long-term value to be seen in a child who grows up repeated exposed to such real foods.


Lunch at the Park: Love it: Strawberries and pretzel crackers, Like it: Tomatoes and Chicken Bites and Learning it: Cucumber sticks that we call “pickles” because she LOOOVES pickles… but not as much luck on that front haha!

4. What are 1 or 2 common misconceptions about feeding a toddler? (i.e., it has to be cooked and mushy soft? they won’t starve themselves… or something like that) 
That bribing, begging, coercing, rewarding, or even praising your child to eat actually works. SO many parents take it into their own hands to determine if and how much their child should or physically could eat using tactics like bribery, coercion, and . There are SO many problems with this approach though. In the short term, it creates a coercive feeding environment that is rough on everyone. No one enjoys a meal when everyone is fixated on if and how much of each item a child is eating. This creates tension and a mindset towards meal times that is stressful on everyone. Kids pick up on this stress, the pressure, and the parents pursuit of control over what they eat and it begins to backfire. In the big picture, this can actually demean a parent’s attempts to raise a healthy eater by having the opposite effect. Often times kids who are pressured into eating “learning it” foods shut down to the opportunity to even explore new foods altogether. Furthermore, when parents pressure kids to eat a specified amount, it trains kids not to listen to their intrinsic hunger and fullness cues but rather those of outside influence. Later in life, both of these issues can spiral into other issues related to self-regulation, diet quality, and body image.
They’ll eat it if they’re hungry enough. For most kids, this is true. However, I would be doing a disservice to parents if I didn’t at least mention that there are kids who actually will NOT eat no matter how hungry they are. With a traditional picky eater (a child who “loves” or “likes” at least 20 different foods; usually from nearly all food groups), they often times will grow out of their picky eating when exposed to a variety of healthy foods in a non-coercive feeding environment. There are however, kids who have an extreme form of picky eating known as “problem feeding.” With these children, they eat fewer than 15 foods and usually omit at least one food group altogether. Children with problem feeding likely won’t respond to general approaches to picky eating, but rather benefit from more personalized feeding therapy such as that with a pediatric dietitian and/or pediatric occupational therapist.


Lunch: Love it: Pickles and Tomatoes Like it: Grilled Cheese Sandwich and Learning it: Orange Bell Petter that was whole instead of cut up because she seemed to enjoy biting into it! YAY!

So friends, all in all, I hope you fond some useful information here and that you are inspired to give your toddlers some fun finger foods that you don’t have to put a TON of thought into! If you are wondering, YES, Hastings HAS been taking to a few of the items in the “Learning it” Category and one  thing I have learned is that I need MORE variation in her meals and am personally working on that to make her options more versatile!

Here are some links to the YUM Boxes and the Place Mat Feeding tray we love!
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