Your toddler is learning they can influence the environment around them. At first, their little “no” may seem cute, but over time, it may feel like those little battles are building.
As your toddler discovers their ability to refuse or to get a reaction out of you, you may notice they become a little less predictable. One new place they may be asserting their independence is at the dinner table. Your easy-going baby may become a challenging picky eater. You may notice your toddler gravitates towards certain foods and old favorites may end up thrown on the floor. You’ve heard these years may create picky eaters, but what if your toddler won’t eat meat? Although plenty of people are vegetarians, you may wonder if your toddler is getting enough protein. Explore the possible reasons why your toddler won’t eat meat and ways to encourage your little one to have a well-rounded, protein-filled diet.
Beyond simply exploring the cause-and-effect of what happens when she doesn’t eat their food, there are several other reasons your toddler might refuse to eat meat. Maryann Jacobsen, MS, RD, a co-author of Fearless Feeding, offers up a few reasons why your toddler may become picky about eating meat. “First, it can be too hard to chew…second, the texture can bother children, especially when it’s a new meat.”
Solutions for meat refusal
Consider keeping a food diary and logging what your toddler will eat. Noticing patterns may help you tackle your toddler’s meat issues. Is your child refusing chicken, but willing to eat beef? Some meat can be chewy and tough. Jacobsen suggests cutting your kid’s food into smaller, more manageable pieces and sticking to softer meats.
Tracking your toddler’s food interests can also help you determine if he doesn’t like specific food textures. Avoiding these textures can be helpful, but Jacobsen encourages parents to let their toddlers play with their food. She believes that “parents can encourage toddlers to touch and guess how the food will feel in their mouths.”
Another option for mealtime is to only present your toddler with one food at a time. When given a plate full of different foods, your toddler may choose to only eat her favorite foods, and they may even fuss when that food runs out. Try starting with a meat option by itself and giving them a few minutes with it before presenting a different food your toddler likes more. When your child finishes their preferred food, you can try presenting the meat again.
Your toddler’s taste will continue to change and grow as they age, and so will their appetite. It is important to continue to offer up a variety of healthy foods but, if your child refuses to eat meat, there are plenty of other ways to meet their dietary needs.
According to the Mayo Clinic, toddlers need 1,000-1,600 calories a day, depending on age, sex, and activity levels. It is recommended that toddlers consume 2 to 5 ounces of protein a day. Even without meat, hitting your toddler’s protein levels is doable.
The following foods are meatless alternatives and some snack ideas that are high in protein:
Omelets can make a great snack that is easily cut into smaller squares. You can try sneaking veggies like peppers into the eggs to make them healthier. If you want to pack a little extra protein in them, you can try sprinkling bacon bits or cheese in the omelet, too.
Legumes (peas, beans, chickpeas)
Cooked peas and beans, like black beans and baked beans, are easy for toddlers to chew and are full of protein. A cup of black beans has 15 grams of protein! For snack time, you can smooth some hummus on pita bread or crackers. If your toddler is a good chewer, you could serve carrot slices with the hummus. Many snack pouches that include peas are also available.
Nut butters (peanut butter, almond butter, cashew butter)
Nut butters are a delicious way to add protein to meals. You can pair nut butters with different fruit, like apple slices or bananas, or you can make classic ants on a log with nut butter, raisins, and celery sticks. Nut butters pair nicely with bread and crackers. It also makes a healthier alternative to syrup on pancakes or waffles.
Oatmeal packs protein and can be made many different ways to keep your toddler interested. Your toddler may enjoy traditional warm oatmeal. You can mix in different fruits, like blueberries, strawberries, or bananas. You can also add other flavors like cinnamon or vanilla. Even overnight oats could be a hit with your toddler. Many food pouches have oat varieties now as well.
Sneaking cheese into your child’s diet is an effective way to increase your kid’s protein intake. Cheddar cheese has nine grams of protein per ounce. With so many cheese varieties, hopefully, you can find a cheese your toddler likes to eat. You can serve cheese slices, make mac and cheese, or cheesy quesadillas.
With a little work and persistence, finding what meats your toddler will eat is possible. Even if your toddler won’t eat meat, there are plenty of alternatives to ensure your kid gets the necessary protein to fuel her growing body.
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