Most toddler and kids go through a picky eating phase. It's OK to let them eat French fries during this phase. Here's why French fries are not so bad, and how to use them to introduce your toddler to new healthier foods.
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If you're new here, this blog is about a severely picky eater toddler. Not just the typical run of the mill "doesn't eat broccoli" picky eating, but a toddler who only ate about 5 things for several months in a row. Our son sometimes freaks out and screams when presented with new foods. He has been struggling to gain weight since he was a baby because of his dislike of eating issues. We even started feeding therapy for his picky eating.
Because of our son's slow weight gain, our pediatrician gave us the go-ahead to feed him cake, ice cream, milkshakes, and whatever else he wanted (in addition to constantly introducing him to healthy foods, of course). Well, ice cream and milkshakes turned out to be a no-go because of our son's food allergies. But even if it wasn't for the allergies, our son hated ice cream and cake when he tried those.
So when our kid decided he liked French fries, we were relieved that we had one more food to throw into his food rotation. At first I felt really awful about feeding my son French fries. If we were out in public and I got him McDonalds or just a side order of fries when we were out to eat, I felt like the world was judging me for feeding my son junk food. And they probably were judging me. There is so much mom-shaming and judging going on nowadays.
(Side note: judging sucks. Don't judge. If you see a mom feeding her son French fries, you don't know if this is their once-a-month treat, if he is dangerously underweight and this is all he eats, or if this is her one chance to have her son sit and eat quietly while she eats because she had a crazy long day. If you see a mom giving her daughter an iPad instead of reading a book to her on the train, don't judge. You don't know if she has a massive headache that day, if she has a ton of important emails to reply to on her phone, if her babysitter got sick and she couldn't get last-minute childcare. You just don't know anything about their lives.)
Back to the French fries: I don't think it's all that awful to feed your child French fries. Obviously, eating only French fries is not good for anyone. I still offer my child vegetables every day, he eats highly nutritious fruits, and I hide vegetables in his preferred foods when I can.
But here are the reasons French fries for kids aren't as awful as people make them out to be:
Why I feed my son French fries:
1. Fat and carbs
I know, it sounds like every adult's dieting nightmare. But babies and young toddlers need more fat in their diets than we do. I would be thrilled if my son ate 'normal' food, which would typically be cooked with some oil. Heck, I add oil to Elliot's baby food per our pediatrician's advice (read my post about how to make high-calorie baby food.) And I would be so happy if Elliot started liking mashed potatoes. So really, eating French fries is the same nutrition-wise as eating potatoes and eating normal grown-up food cooked with oil.
I avoid French fries because of the extra calories, but my son needs extra calories. He also doesn't have patience for sitting in his high chair for a long time, so if I can get more calories into him with a smaller number of bites, it's a win. Thank goodness for French fries!
3. Exposure to different textures, shapes, flavors
Eating French fries every day might sound repetitive, but it doesn't have to be. Use French fries as a way to expose your child to different textures, shapes, and flavors. You can buy different types of French fries or make some at home.
Try steak fries, seasoned fries, store-bought fries, home-made fries, waffle fries, spiralized potato fries, baked french fries, air-fried French fries (this is my air-fryer toaster oven combo and I LOVE it!), potato wedges. Make them crispier or softer on different days. Cut them thinner or wider. Longer and shorter. Cook fries in coconut oil. Try seasoning with garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, smoked paprika, a dash of cayenne, a drizzle of lemon juice, za'atar, sumac, curry powder, dried herbs, fresh herbs, etc. You get the idea.
4. Gateway food
Just like French fries can be great for exposing your picky eaters to new flavors, they can be a good way to introduce your kids to new foods, such as potato wedges, roasted potatoes, roasted Jerusalem artichoke (which looks just like roasted potatoes and tastes similar), home fries, tater tots, sweet potato fries, carrot fries, sweet potatoes, latkes (potato fritters), sweet potato latkes, zucchini fries, avocado "fries," boiled potatoes, mashed potatoes, shepherds pie, gravy, roast beef with gravy. You see how far you can take this?
Just keep putting the new foods on their plate next to their favorite French fries, and keep switching up French fries little by little so your child is not stuck on the same shape and flavor of food all the time. Maybe one day they'll try the new food one day and realize it doesn't feel or taste that different in their mouth as French fries.
It's not guaranteed to work overnight, but consistent exposure to new foods is a proven technique used in food therapy for picky eaters. And I'd be lying if I said this wasn't tedious. It gets very tiring putting several types of foods on their plates every day only to have them reject most of it. But what other choice do we really have as parents?
I talk about this more in my article about Food Chaining: How to Get Your Child to Eat Tomatoes and Other Veggies.
Kids love to dip!! One of my son's first words was "dip dip dip!" (pronounced "dee dee dee!") whenever he saw us putting ketchup or any sauce on or next to food. He LOVES dipping things into sauce. He doesn't always eat those things but at least he touches the food that he is dipping, while otherwise he might refuse to even touch a food he doesn't want to eat.
So serve those fries with different dips and sauces: ketchup, mayo, ketchup+mayo mixed together, honey mustard, Ranch, blue cheese dressing, Caesar dressing, aioli, tzatziki, sweet and sour sauce, marinara sauce, pesto, hummus, guacamole, salsa, pickle relish, tartar sauce, cheese sauce. It doesn't matter if it doesn't totally make sense to you, let them try all these different flavors. If they really like one of those dips or sauces, then you can try serving another food to dip into that sauce.
6. "Safe" food to try next to a new food
A lot of picky eaters actually feel threatened by seeing a new food offered to them. As I said above, my son SCREAMS and freaks out at the sight of some foods. So placing a tiny bit of a new food next to a "safe" food that he knows and likes is a good way to expose him to the new food in a non-threatening, low-pressure way. I don't expect him to magically eat the new food, but to just accept that it is something that appears at the dinner table, it is OK to have it there, it won't harm him, and look! mommy and daddy are eating it too.
There have actually been a few times when our son surprised us by just taking a bite out of the new food. In those moments my husband and I just hold our breath and look at each other waiting to see what will happen, trying not to bring any attention to our son.
French fries are one of the few foods that my son finger-feeds himself every time. Otherwise, I often have to feed him with a fork, spoon, or even my fingers, depending on his mood. So when we have a meal where my son can feed himself and I don't have to hover over him for 40 minutes stuffing food into his mouth, it's a win. It makes for a more relaxed meal and gives my son a sense of freedom, it gives me a break from feeding him, and breaks the expectation that I will be feeding him during every single meal.
So what do you think? Does this change your mind about feeding your kids French fries once in a while? Or do you think this is the worst parenting advice ever? Please leave a comment below and let me know your thoughts!
Of course, you should check with your pediatrician or nutritionist about whether French fries can be a part of your child's diet. If buying store-bought French fries, look for ones without any preservatives or artificial flavors added. Use healthy oils to fry the french fries instead of using lard (or bake them instead). Make sure your child is getting lots of nutrients in their diet through fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and proteins. Give your kid a multi-vitamin. You know, all the usual advice.
Hopefully your child doesn't eat only French fries forever. But in the meantime, maybe French fries are not the enemy. Use them as an opportunity to expose your child to new foods, textures, flavors, and eating habits.