03/09/2015 06:14 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Why You Can't Eat Healthy If You Have a Toddler

Finally, I think we have seen our last snowstorm of winter. Now, we can turn to thoughts of spring, and start getting ready for swimsuit weather. And that requires eating healthy. As a physician, I have heard a lot of excuses about why patients can't eat healthy meals. "It takes too long to make." "The food is too expensive." Even, "I don't like healthy food -- it tastes lousy." I tend not to be too supportive of these excuses. Recently though, I realized there is an excuse I have overlooked: It's having a toddler at home!

My toddler son is pretty well behaved -- for a 2-year-old, that is. Sure, there are temper tantrums, and Lego pieces scattered throughout the house. But that's manageable. Our real battleground is around food -- and right now, he is winning! And this is a major defeat because I'm trying to eat healthier. And he has no interest in that. Having a toddler around makes it nearly impossible for anyone to successfully stay on a diet.

What do I mean? My son would likely be considered a "picky eater." His new behavior is that he now smells everything before he eats it. You may say, "that's ok. He won't eat any spoiled food." Ahhh, if it were only that simple. The problem is that he even though he smells it, and decides to eat it -- like all 2-year-olds, he changes his mind in a few minutes.

The problem for me is that it is almost always the unhealthy food he doesn't finish. Good for him, bad for me. Why is that? Because if you grew up in the "clean your plate" era, it just seems against your very nature to throw food away. Like our moms would say, "there are starving kids in China." I know China has made progress, but I still think malnutrition exists there!

Case in point: Put watermelon, cantaloupe, or almost any fruit on his plate -- he gobbles it up. None is left for daddy. Greek yogurt in the morning? You'd think my son is from Mykonos and not the nation's capitol. But mac and cheese -- after a few bites, he's done! And what am I to do with the rest of it? I have to finish it before I can throw the carton out. And I don't even like it! And remember, I'm trying to avoid processed foods. So that plan doesn't always go so well.

Now I realize you could tell me just to not give him those unhealthy foods in the first place. I do try that approach. I said my son is picky, but he also likes to experiment. So when he wants to try potato chips, I often give in after a few "please daddy." That never ends well since the chips end up in my stomach. Cookies? He takes a few bites and then is bored of them. I'll admit it -- I can be a pushover at times. It's still hard sometimes for me to say "no," and I think he has learned that, since he tends to come to Daddy for his food experiments. And forget about trying to lose any weight if you go to a kid's birthday party! There's no such thing as a healthy birthday cake, and kids NEVER finish their slice. And you can't be seen throwing food away at a neighbor's house, can you?

It's just not those "junk foods" that are unhealthy. Have you ever read the nutrition labels of food for toddlers? Despite healthy names and pictures, they are often loaded with chemicals and preservatives. Check out those juices! No wonder he (and I) is bouncing around afterwards. Some of them have more sugar than candy bars.

I know we are all concerned about obesity in children, as well as adults. Well, if we made children's food healthier, we'd get a two-fer. Kids would maintain a healthy weight, and parents would lose the spare tire. Otherwise, it makes it very hard for to stay on a diet. With a toddler around, you're always going to be eating foods you are trying to avoid. So let's make their food healthier, and I can scratch one more excuse off my list.