We don’t tend to have a lot of food-related temper tantrums around here, but when we do, they are almost always about starches: sweet potatoes, bananas, and to a much lesser degree, squash.

Last Tuesday evening, we had a Category 5 meltdown at the dinner table. Over sweet potatoes.

We sat down for a supper of rib eye steak, mashed sweet potatoes, and green beans. Within a minute, Oliver had scarfed down his entire portion of sweet potato and was asking for more. “Finish your steak and green beans,” I told him. “If you’re still hungry afterwards, you can have another serving of sweet potato.”

Normally, such a statement would be met with a half-hearted protest, followed by Oliver happily gobbling up the rest of the food on his plate. But with the sweet potato, that was not the case. Oliver lost it. He began to wail, “More pato, more pato.” He clenched his jaw and turned his head at any offers of steak (which he loves) and green beans. He began to thrash around. He got so upset and cried with such intensity that we actually thought he was going to vomit.

We removed him from the table until he calmed down, and brought him back to try again. Four times.

Finally, he finished his steak and green beans, and then ate all the rest of the sweet potato in the serving bowl. And even when the sweet potato was obviously all gone, he continued to beg for more.

This sort of drama never happens with mashed cauliflower, which has a similar appearance and texture to mashed potato.

There is only one other food that has the power to make Oliver lose it so completely: bananas.

I first became aware of Oliver’s issues with bananas when he was around 11 months old. We were about to queue up for the check-out at Safeway, when Oliver had one of his classic grocery store meltdowns. Except this time, instead of the usual unintelligible screaming, he was actually crying, “nana,” and pointing to a display of bananas, so I finally understood what the tantrum was about.

In the eight months that have followed, we have had many, many a tantrum about bananas. It’s a bit of a running joke around here, and also one of the main reasons we limit Oliver’s banana consumption.

All of this is to say that if these starchy but otherwise quite healthy foods cause Oliver to have such massive emotional outbursts, I can only imagine the magnitude and frequency of the temper tantrums we might have over bread, cookies and crackers.

Have you noticed any patterns with your child’s food-related temper tantrums? Are there foods you avoid or restrict due to their apparent power to cause behavioural issues?


  1. Eggs. When D was younger, she was having crying fits after breakfast and I couldn’t figure out why. Thankfully, an allergy test helped us to identify eggs and she was a different kid after breakfast. I thought it was just a toddler thing. We’re just starting to reintroduce them (with success) at 5.5 years old. She hasn’t had the usual wake-at-night-screaming reaction she used to have with eggs either, which is great. She is very excited, and I hope we don’t over-do the eggs.

    I haven’t noticed with sweet potatoes so much. My youngest is very mellow and doesn’t melt-down much about anything, unless she is very-overly-tired and then she has a good cry and collapses into sleep. Each kid is so unique that it really keeps the parenting job interesting.

  2. V, too, flips out completely over sweet potatoes and bananas, although we’ve noticed the food tantrums are directly associated with a) how hungry she is when she sits down to eat and b) how well she napped or slept the night before (meaning, bad sleep=bad food tantrums). She’ll also flip out over cheese, although that is starting to abate a bit. And, like you, because of the tantrums we limit the banana consumption some, although, I have to admit I feel like if my biggest problem with my kid’s eating habits is that she likes bananas too much, I feel like I must being doing something right 🙂 I see what the other kids eat at daycare and I cringe; thankfully we’ve gotten “permission” to bring in our own food because V has a gluten sensitivity so she’s not forced to eat their menu. At least she’s not eating that crap!

  3. My youngest is Oliver’s age, and I think in general, we are starting to notice more and more tantrums. They are especially worse if he is hungry or tired, so I try to show a lot of grace in those situations. He has thrown tantrums about more carrots or roasted cauliflower, along with treats like yogurt and watermelon, but it really depends on the situation. Parenting a toddler keeps you on your toes!

  4. I’m wondering if your boy’s body was in need of more easily digestible carbs. how would you know? Mine is a little younger, 13 months, and I try to follow his cues. Some days all he wants are raisins, other days it’s meat or eggs. I feel like for me this is a good hedge against the very real possibility that I don’t know what the best nutrition is for him. No judgement, it’s your job to feed your kid, just a thought.

  5. Rohnan (15 mos) has recently begun to exhibit some similar sweet potato induced behavior, though not nearly of this magnitude (yet). As a result, I admit I’ve begun to hold them off a bit. I’ll serve Rohnan’s plate to him, but occasionally keep the serving bowl of sweet potatoes on the kitchen counter, out of his immediate notice. He’ll accept that whatever is on his plate is what’s for dinner, and eat contentedly. At a point which he’s finished most of the primary offerings, I’ll serve him the sweet potatoes. It’s working well for us, and we don’t have them frequently enough for him to anticipate them as “dessert”.

    I will also share this: you are likely correct in anticipating Oliver’s reaction to breads and crackers. We are not a 100% paleo family, and as such, there are occasionally times we’ll offer Rohnan bread or soup crackers (typically while eating out or at restaurants while we wait for our entrees to arrive to table). Rohnan’s reaction to them, though not ENORMOUS, is notably amplified. He appears nearly voracious for them and signs “more” almost frantically at times.

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