How Not to Feed
8/22/2014 3:15:28 PM
I’ve been looking for a new caregiver for my daughters all summer. During interviews I love to get an idea of peoples’ caregiving styles by hearing about how they handle feeding and mealtimes with kids. Interestingly, the responses have almost always involved using pressure, rewards, and even punishment.
Most caregivers say things like “your mom says you have to eat this,” or “if you don’t eat your lunch then you can’t watch TV,” or “if you’re a good girl and you eat everything all week then I’ll give you a present on Friday.” I understand that most babysitters and nannies feel that it’s their job to get kids to eat and that parents will think they aren’t doing their jobs well if kids aren’t cleaning their plates. One interviewee even told me that a family she previously worked for insisted that their daughter eat beans every day for lunch even though they made her vomit.
These tactics just feel so uncomfortable to me—and they are always short-term solutions that will eventually backfire. Pressure, punishment and rewards have no place in the feeding relationship if we are interested in raising competent eaters who will eat their vegetables for their entire lives, not just at dinner tonight. I already knew that many families struggle with feeding, but this interview process has confirmed for me that more families and caregivers need to learn about the Division of Responsibility. I don’t really expect any candidates to have experience with this style of feeding, but whomever I hire will be informed that they don’t have to make my children eat; their job with feeding is done once they get the menu that I plan on the table. I will also ask them to read my June 2013 Super 4 Toddlers handout about how to feed kids and raise competent eaters. Although my children are no longer toddlers, the principles I discuss in the handout can be applied to feeding children of all ages.
Back To School Nutrition
8/7/2014 3:32:05 PM
It’s hard to believe that kids are already going back to school next week! Big J is starting Kindergarten and Little J will be going to preschool five mornings a week. I’ve got to bring my lunch game now that I’m packing lunch for two children. If you will be packing lunches, I’m sure you’re feeling the pressure, too. My August Nutrition Notes Newsletter can make your life a whole lot easier. I’ve shared my ideas, tips, tricks, recipes, and menus for successful school lunches, as well as breakfast recommendations to help your little ones start their day ready to learn. My kids especially love the Breakfast Pizza, Breakfast Muffins, Cheese Sandwich, Egg Salad Sandwich, Nut Butter and Fruit Sandwich, and Chickpea Caprese recipes this month. I hope you will find winning recipes and lunch combinations for your child’s back to school menus. If you’re looking for snack ideas and dinner inspiration to complete your menu plan for the day, check out my February 2014 and March 2014 newsletters.
The Best Laid Plans
8/1/2014 6:56:40 PM
I wanted to see what it would be like if I got really organized with meal planning this week, so on Tuesday, I planned and shopped for Wednesday’s dinner. I have the luxury of working at the market, so it’s easy for me to not plan ahead and shop for dinner before I go home for the day, but that puts me at home later and we end up eating dinner later, which isn’t ideal for getting the kids to bed on time. In just a few weeks, Big J will be starting kindergarten and will have to go to bed and wake up earlier, so I need to figure out how to get dinner done earlier if we are going to continue to have family meals on weeknights.
My menu plan for Wednesday was Tangy Peach-Apricot Turkey Breast, Heirloom Tomato Greek Salad, white corn on the cob, and organic cherries. The cooking time on the turkey breast was 45 minutes, but when I took the temperature after that amount of time, the thermometer only read 90° Fahrenheit when it should have been 165° Fahrenheit! I cut the breast in half and it was completely raw in the center. Clearly, my oven was not as hot as it claimed to be. It was almost 7:00 and the girls were getting hungry, so we went to the table and ate salad, corn and cherries, then the girls went off to play. Finally, around 8:10, the turkey halves hit 165° Fahrenheit. I called everyone back to the table with serious doubts about the turkey. It was quite dried out after spending two hours in the oven, but amazingly everyone liked it (the girls ate it dipped in applesauce and my husband and I ate it with the peach-apricot sauce).
Disasters like these can be disheartening, especially when you take the time to plan a menu that requires more preparation and cooking than usual. I was pleasantly surprised when everyone came back to the table and enjoyed the turkey, and I think that’s what saved me from being totally discouraged from planning and cooking future family weeknight dinners. My oven is fixed now, so I will be getting back to menu planning and cooking next week. To help get myself motivated to organize dinner recipes and menus, I bought a pretty fabric-covered binder so I can start making a “house book” with my family’s favorite recipes in addition to those already laid out in my March 2014 “What’s for Dinner?” newsletter. I will keep you posted on how that binder is coming along.
My 200th Weekaversary
7/25/2014 8:04:45 PM
This is my 200th post for my Healthy Families Blog! It’s hard to believe that I’ve been blogging about feeding since Big J was about to start solids at six months, and now she is five years old. Looking back, I’m so happy to have this record of feeding my daughters through different stages of their childhoods. Blogging has made me a better parent, feeder, and dietitian because I’ve had to pay more attention to feeding and give more thought and analysis to things that happen at meals; things ranging from my kids’ bad behavior to my own feeding errors to successful (and not so successful) menus. Reporting back to you, my readers has also made me more accountable for how and what I feed.
My work has been somewhat transformed by this process, too. The first entry on my blog was about what I was planning to feed Big J for her first food. After a day or two of starting to feed her, I quickly realized that how I fed her was actually more important than what I fed her, and over time, I realized that this was true for everyone, not just babies. I’m so glad I caught on quickly and shifted the focus of the blog to be mostly about the how of feeding. My family has benefitted from this process, and I hope yours has, too!
Tantrums at the Table
7/18/2014 6:07:10 PM
Little J is now 22 months and she has recently added tantrums to her toddler repertoire. The last two mornings at the start of family breakfast she has melted down, pushed her food away, and cried inconsolably. The first time this happened my initial thought was that she was unhappy with her breakfast, but I quickly realized that it had nothing to do with the menu. She was hungry and dealing with some big feelings that she needed to express. I stayed close by and offered hugs and support while she did her freaking out. Then, miraculously, she stopped crying, wiped her nose and her tears, declared “all better,” and pulled her bowl of cereal back in front of her and ate as if nothing had ever happened. She really needed to work through some feelings!
Looking back on how things went down, I realized that it would have been easy to assume that she was upset about the food. Perhaps many parents would have tried to stop the tantrum by offering different foods. It can be tempting to panic in a tantrum situation—especially one at the table--and resort to short-order cooking just to quell the tears; don’t do it! Responding to big feeling by offering food will teach kids emotional eating and short-order cooking will encourage picky eating and mealtime tantrums. Instead, know what to expect from your child’s ages and stages, stay connected to him or her so you can sense when hunger, sleepiness, frustration, etc. are approaching, and have a plan for preventing and working through tantrums. This article on toddler tantrums by parenting expert Dr. Laura Markham helped me understand what Little J is going through at this stage in her development: Managing Your Toddler: TANTRUMS!
Cleaning Out the Fridge
7/11/2014 7:57:49 PM
I really don’t like wasting food, so I try to get creative in my meal planning and lunch packing to find ways to use up leftovers. I feel so efficient when I pack dinner leftovers for my kids’ lunches for the next day while I clean up from dinner. This week I packed Crunchy Salmon Bites and Sesame Sugar Snap Peas and Edamame that were leftover from two different dinners.
One of my favorite solutions for leftovers is what we call “clean out the fridge dinner.” It’s exactly what it sounds like. I heat the oven to 350° Fahrenheit, put all the leftovers from the last week on a big baking sheet, heat for a few minutes, and then put the heated leftovers in the middle of the dinner table. Everyone gets to have a little of everything or pick and choose. Sometimes, if we are light on veggies, I supplement the meal with one of my salads from Gelson’s Service Deli. Kid-friendly favorites are Super Antioxidant Chopped Salad and Sesame Edamame Salad (and look for my new Greek Kale Salad starting on Monday, July 14!).
I often do “clean out the fridge dinner” on Monday nights, since we have the most leftovers from eating out over the weekend and a few from my cooking during the week. It’s a nice way to ease into the week without having to stress about what I’m going to make for dinner on a busy work day.
Breakfast is Back
7/3/2014 6:22:51 PM
I promised an update on my efforts to revamp breakfast last week and I’m happy to report that breakfast is back at my house! Big J was thrilled to have new menu choices and Little J was excited to try some new foods, too (she insists on eating the same things as her big sister).
Both of my girls loved the Carman’s apricot almond granola bars. I’m even serving them for snack on days when they are not on the breakfast menu. They weren’t crazy about the Kind oats & honey flavor bar, which is fine, because I prefer the nutritional profile and ingredients of the Carman’s bar anyway (less sugar, more satisfying protein and fat). The cereal is a big hit, too. Kashi Heart to Heart honey toasted oat cereal, Kashi Organic Promise island vanilla and berry fruitful shredded wheat varieties are the winners.
Both girls have their own styles of eating their “mish-mosh.” The Kashi shredded wheat cereals get soggy quickly, so we serve them on the side in little ramekins. Big J eats hers dry and Little J adds them to her bowl of Heart to Heart one-by-one. Little J prefers Organic Valley Grassmilk on her cereal, while Big J loves WestSoy organic unsweetened vanilla soy milk on hers.
Our batch of Spinach and Cheese Mini Quiches turned out fantastic, too. I packed a couple with extra rice crackers on the side for Big J’s lunch earlier this week. It’s nice to have more breakfast options and these certainly make breakfast prep quick and easy. I think we are all relieved that our family breakfasts are relaxed and pleasant again, too.
6/30/2014 11:41:07 AM
Big J normally has an adult-size appetite because she has a super-fast metabolism. Two weeks ago, however, she stopped eating breakfast. The breakfast strike coincided with the start of her 9-day long intensive swimming classes. She was feeling too nervous to eat breakfast the first few days, but then even after she got excited about swimming she didn’t start eating again. Skipping breakfast means Big J has low energy, irritability, and extreme hunger later in the day. As you can imagine, we’ve had a rough start to the summer.
I’ve tried to remain patient and supportive, but I admit that it’s hard not to pressure her to eat because I can see that her day will be much harder if she doesn’t eat breakfast. She knows that everything is more fun when you’re not hungry and not tired, yet she chooses not to eat. Each morning, my husband and I offer her several choices: granola with milk or soy milk, oatmeal with raisins, grits with dried mangoes and cherries, or mini quiche. She will choose one, but then refuse it when she gets to the table. She did eat a single mini quiche a few times, but we ran out yesterday, so she and I will have to make more this weekend (we make Spinach and Cheese Mini Quiches in heart-shaped mold pans and freeze them). I even tried serving her favorite chia muffin for Le Pain Quotidian bakery and she didn’t touch it either.
I think that part of the problem is that she’s bored with her usual options, which is understandable; they’ve been in the rotation for a couple of years now. I need to stop pressuring her and come up with some new breakfast menus. Big J still has not yet accepted scrambled eggs or yogurt, so options are limited. I’m not a big proponent of cold cereals because most are not satisfying and leave you feeling hungry within an hour. However, shredded wheat is the least processed--and therefore most satisfying--style of cold cereal, so I will consider Kashi Autumn Wheat, Island Vanilla, Cinnamon Harvest, and Berry Fruitful cereals, which she can mix together to make what she calls “mish-mosh.” I will also buy Carman’s apricot & almond granola bars and Kind oats & honey healthy grain bars and serve them with a glass of milk. I’ll keep you posted on what foods turn Big J back on to breakfast.
Feeding the Whole Family
6/20/2014 2:53:39 PM
Siblings don’t always have the same body types, metabolisms, or appetites. It can be especially challenging for parents and caregivers to feed a family in which some members are lean and some carry extra weight. Parents often ask me for guidance on feeding their overweight and/or underweight children. My answer is always to feed them the same way, using Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility in Feeding and have family meals in which everyone chooses what and how much to eat from the menu that you plan. The New York Times addressed the issue correctly in a recent Well column Ask Well: Feeding Heavy and Thin Kids Together, though children of all ages, not just adolescents should be allowed to determine what and how much to eat from what is being offered. Parents and caregivers need to do a good job of planning balanced menus with high-quality foods and every family member needs structured meals and snacks spaced two to three hours apart.
6/6/2014 8:05:38 PM
Both Big J and I celebrated our birthdays this week (I can’t believe she is 5 years old already!). The last several days have been filled with new experiences, less structure, and relaxed rules.
To make the celebration extra special, we went all out and spent a day at Disneyland. We stayed up late and ate dessert four times in 24 hours. It was an extraordinary celebration and we all enjoyed it. As I’ve been telling people about it throughout the week, I’ve been shocked to learn that people are so surprised that we’ve been bending the food rules and feeling comfortable with doing things like eating ice cream for lunch.
Does everyone think I’m totally strict and boring when it comes to food? I don’t think I am at all! Yes, I plan tasty, healthful meals, provide structured meals and snacks, and offer dessert twice a week, but all of those things, along with family meals, create a strong basis for a healthy diet and competent eating. Having a good foundation for healthful eating means that we can get away with bending the rules and deviating from the structure without undoing all of the good habits we’ve worked to build. Big J is still a competent eater and she isn’t asking to have ice cream for each meal now; instead she is remembering fondly her special birthday that we celebrated at Disneyland.
Stay Tuned In
5/30/2014 7:37:34 PM
It can be frustrating when my kids refuse to drink their water or eat food I know they like. I sometimes wonder if they’re just trying to mess with me. We practice Ellyn Satter's Division of Responsibility in Feeding and I try to strike a balance with being just the right amount of involved in their eating—not too controlling or too disinterested. That can sometimes lead to miscommunication with my kids because I can just mistakenly assume that they are asserting their autonomy with eating (and trying to see if they can ruffle my feathers). Once I get past my own initial frustration, however, I try to tune in to listen to and observe what they are trying to tell me.
Often, they are just doing their jobs of deciding whether and how much to eat or drink. Other times, though, there really are problems that I need to address.
We use Thermos stainless steel Foogo and Funtainer straw water bottles that we wash in the dishwasher. Sometimes the dishwasher detergent leaves a film inside the cups and straws that makes the water taste funny. My girls simply refuse to drink the water if it has the funny dishwasher flavor. The only way I know that it actually does taste funny is by tasting it myself. Once I know that the water truly tastes bad, I can rinse out the containers and start over with fresh-tasting water. Other times, I see Little J put the straw to her lips for just a second and then put the cup down without drinking. At first I might think she’s refusing her water, but then I try to taste it myself and realize that the straw has become detached from the inside of the bottle so she is unable to suck any water from the bottle. Most recently, we were all having oatmeal for breakfast and Big J declared that she didn’t want her oatmeal because it tasted funny. I didn’t believe her because we were all eating the same oatmeal and it didn’t seem possible that hers tasted different than everyone else’s. I offered to trade with her and sure enough, her bowl of oatmeal did taste funny!
All of these problems have easy solutions, but I never would have been alerted to these issues in the first place if I hadn’t taken the time to tune in to what my kids were saying. It can be really eye-opening to get in there and experience food and drinks from my children’s perspectives. I will try to stay more alert to situations that really do need my intervention and I will coach them about communicating better when they do need help.
Hits and Misses
5/23/2014 4:52:42 PM
I try to keep my family’s meals interesting and varied. That can be a challenge since even I fall into food ruts with my menu planning. I’ve had a few hits and misses lately with some foods and they serve as good reminders that we shouldn’t give up on foods just because our kids reject them or say they don’t like them.
Cherry tomatoes have been off of Big J’s food list for several months because they are “too juicy.” This drove me crazy because I know that tomatoes were one of her favorites and they are so easy to pack in her lunches. I didn’t pressure her about them over that time period, but I did continue to offer them here and there, and I remained neutral when she didn’t eat them. A few weeks ago, I found some teeny tiny cherry tomatoes at the salad bar and packed them in her lunch—I figured there couldn’t be that much juice in such little tomatoes, plus they were adorable. The cuteness factor worked and the container came home empty. Then, last week she was helping me make Turkey and Avocado Tostada Salad for dinner and while she was cutting the cherry tomatoes in half, she started popping them in her mouth. Yes! Tomatoes were back in the repertoire! Now, if I can’t find tiny tomatoes, I buy firm del Cabo organic sweet 100 cherry tomatoes and cut them in half. The other hit over the last several weeks is watermelon. I buy a quarter of a melon and slice it with the rind on and serve it with dinner. Both Big J and Little J love it and I get to pack leftover slices in Big J’s lunch box for the next day. Last night we had lamb chops—almost always a slam dunk with my kids and they both love eating the meat off the bones. Big J had eight clean lamb chop bones on her plate by the end of dinner!
Finally, a miss that turned into a hit. On Tuesday night we had barbecued chicken made with Bone Suckin’ Sauce, the best BBQ sauce and it is low in sugar and sodium! I follow the recipe on the side of the jar and add a squeeze of yellow mustard or a sprinkle of pepper and the results are flavorful, juicy chicken pieces (use organic bone-in, skin off thighs and breasts). That night neither girl ate a bite of chicken, so I had plenty left over for dinner on Wednesday night. I think that they ate their snack too close to dinner that day, so they weren’t very hungry at dinner time (don’t discount the impact of the snack schedule on meals). I served the chicken again on Wednesday night and both ate it happily. Again, the moral of the story here is that we shouldn’t take a food off the menu so easily. Kids can be very irregular in their eating and it is up to us parents and caregivers to keep offering relaxed, neutral, and supportive exposures to our kids so they can push themselves along to eat a wide variety of foods.
Preparing for an Emergency
5/16/2014 2:27:22 PM
Becoming a parent has forced me to become a better scout; I must always “be prepared!” There have lately been more than enough earthquakes to remind us that we have to have our emergency supply kits up-to-date. I always stock water, but it is time to replenish our emergency food supplies, as most of the foods I have stored have passed their expiration dates. My May 2014 Nutrition Notes newsletter is all about the emergency foods and other supplies you should stock in order to be prepared in disaster situations. Print out my emergency supply shopping list and bring it with you to Gelson’s so you can easily shop for and stock your kit with healthful packaged foods. I’ve had a lot of great feedback from customers so far and have even learned about a store in Van Nuys that sells emergency safety kits. Their website is www.sosproducts.com. It feels good to be prepared!
Happy Mother’s Day!
5/9/2014 2:46:49 PM
Happy Mother’s Day to all of the moms who read this blog! I know that your families will let you know how much they love and appreciate you on Sunday, but I hope that you will take the time to honor yourself and all of the work you do to be the best parent that you can possibly be. We moms can be so hard on ourselves; expecting perfection in all that we do. This Mother’s Day, my wish for all of us is that we just let go for a while and enjoy all that we have created: our children, our families, our lives. Don’t worry if the kids ate enough vegetables or drank enough milk today. Stop pressuring yourself to lose the last of your “baby weight” and instead give yourself permission to enjoy dessert (and a cocktail!). Don’t kill yourself to make sure the kids go to sleep at their exact scheduled nap or bedtime. Just have fun, hang out, smile, laugh and stop trying to be perfect for a little while. Have a wonderful Mother’s Day!
Outgrowing our Feeding Arrangements
5/2/2014 6:05:55 PM
I took a look at 20-month old Little J this morning and realized that her new 18-24 month size shirt was too short on her already—she’s grown again! Kids don’t just grow out of their clothes, they also grow out of their feeding chairs. This is a good reminder that it is time to evaluate Little J’s feeding set-up, too.
We use the fabulous Svan feeding chair for both of my kids (Big J is over 4 feet tall and still uses her chair most of the time since it helps her sit at the table more ergonomically). We only used the tray for the first few very messy months of starting solids, then we took off the tray and pulled Little J right up to the table with us. She’s a climber and a bit of a daredevil, and we were having issues with her trying to climb into her chair and standing up in the seat to jump out, so we made the seat larger and removed the chair guard from her high chair and converted it into a toddler chair. We have been working with her to teach her how to safely climb in and out of the chair and she has been very responsible about being safe in the new chair configuration. We were nervous about her falling off at first, but even that seemed safer than her trying to climb over the guard rail to get in or jumping over it to get out. We also take a portable Phil & Ted’s clip-on chair with us to restaurants (it’s so much more comfortable than wooden high chairs that restaurants provide), but it seems that she is getting too heavy to be clipped on to some tables. I’ve actually noticed that she can sit on some bench seats at restaurants just fine and we tried a booster seat in a booth the other day with good success.
Little J is much happier to have more freedom at mealtimes. She comes and goes on her own and switches seats with Big J during meals, which is annoying for us, but at least the adults at the table don’t have to constantly jump up to save her from diving out of her seat (the safety strap was never an option with my kid—she just cried and worked on removing it instead of eating). Depending on the menu, she has also been going bibless for some meals. This weekend I will try out the Baby Bjorn soft bib to see if she is tall enough to wear it without the trough getting caught under the table. I will continue to watch her to see if there are any other opportunities to help her advance her eating skills.
Little J Challenges Herself
4/28/2014 10:46:44 AM
This week, I had the pleasure of having lunch with my mom and Little J at Gelson’s. We each had our own salad from the salad bar. Little J is just 20 months old, so I made her salad for her. She loves beans, and she is in heaven at the salad bar! I put in butter beans, lentils, kidney beans, edamame, and garbanzo beans. I also add cherry tomatoes, broccoli, black olives, peas, sunflower seeds, and shredded carrots. Her favorites are the olives, which she likes to slip her fingertips into (thanks Big J for teaching her that trick!) and the kidney beans.
Although Little J has been using a fork since she was 12 months old, she still needs to refine her skills a bit. She decided that she wanted to pick up her kidney beans with the fork, but not by sticking the fork directly into the salad and stabbing the bean—that would be too easy. Instead, Little J chose to challenge herself by picking up the bean with her left thumb and index finger, holding it up in the air, and stabbing the bean with the fork in her right hand. She dropped a lot of beans with this method, but she didn’t get frustrated at all. She kept trying and smiling, enjoying the challenge, eventually putting the bean down on the table and stabbing it that way. I said as little as possible during her process. I didn’t want to break her concentration or praise her. Instead, I offered support once by neutrally observing “you’re working hard to pick up the bean with your fork.”
It may sound strange that I was careful not to praise her, but praise is positive pressure, and I think we all know from experience that pressure doesn’t work. Pressure backfires and has the opposite effect than the one we intend. Babies and kids are born to struggle—they have to if they are to learn to crawl, walk, run, talk, and even learn to eat. We have to allow them to struggle and offer just a touch of support in as neutral a way as possible. With respect to learning opportunities, if we interfere too much, do too much for them, pressure them or praise them, the struggle loses its appeal and they will give up too easily. Little J still has too much to learn about eating to give up now.
Start Teaching Good Habits Early
4/18/2014 4:48:45 PM
After she got home from spring break camp yesterday, Big J called me with this report: “Guess what, Mom? We had a reptile show at camp and afterwards they passed out hand wipes, but don’t worry. I explained to my teachers that hand wipes are not a substitute for washing hands and that I had to also go wash my hands.”
I was so proud, I shed a little tear! We are adamant about regular hand washing at home, and it feels good to know that my kids can take those lessons and apply them when they are away from home and their regular caregivers. Big J’s preschool teachers have also informed me that she always puts her napkin on her lap at lunchtime. At 19 months, Little J is even more consistent than Big J about putting her napkin on her lap at mealtimes and she is now saying “thanks” at appropriate times.
Yes, I’m bragging a little, but the point I’m really trying to make is that our kids are capable of learning manners and good habits at an early age. It can be tempting to skip over the little “extras” like hand washing, using a napkin, eating with a fork instead of hands, sitting at the table to participate in the conversation even if they are finished eating, and saying “please” and “thank you.” However, it’s never too early to start teaching these things. As parents, we are their role models for how to eat well, have good manners, how to behave and how to take care of ourselves. Our kids are watching us like hawks, so it’s even more important to practice healthful eating, manners, and good habits than it is just to talk about them. For more about teaching youngsters manners, I love this article from The Mother Company: Teaching Manners To Kids.
Self-Care for Optimal Child-Care
4/11/2014 6:19:41 PM
I’ve been thinking a lot this week about the importance of self-care and how it benefits my parenting. My husband and I have been alternating with working long, stressful days. We are run down and stressed out, which makes it harder to stick to our family routines and maintain our structured family meals. Our kids are definitely sensing the difference; Little J is waking up at night just so she can be with us and Big J is having more meltdowns.
It’s time to get back on track with taking care of ourselves so that we can feed and parent optimally. I feel inspired by this blog post by Maryann Jacobson at Raise Healthy Eaters: The Lesson My Children Learn Every Time I Put a Meal on the Table (though I feel that we can eat healthfully without me cooking every night; there are lots of good take-out options in our area, including Gelson’s service deli and carving cart), and this article about how busy parents can plan to exercise from the Washington Post: When busy moms gotta run. My husband and I often tag-team with exercise over the weekends while our kids nap. We aren’t yet ready to add exercise to our weekday routines, but hope to be soon.
Challenge Yourself with Feeding
4/4/2014 7:19:37 PM
As parents and caregivers, our feeding jobs are not easy. We decide the what, when, and where of meals and snacks and we allow our children to do their jobs of deciding whether and how much to eat from what we are offering. I’m in the trenches with feeding every day and I know how challenging it is to plan up to five menus a day and then hand over the responsibility of eating to your kids. It can be especially challenging to approach the task with a balance of enthusiasm and neutrality after a long day of working, grocery shopping, and cooking only to have your meal rejected by your kids.
Rejection happened at our house this week. We had one of our favorite take-out meals for family dinner and just a few bites into the meal, Big J declared that she didn’t like the meal anymore and got up to leave the table. As soon as Big J leaves the table, Little J gets up to follow her, so that ended the meal for both girls. The food happened to be particularly good that night, so I know it had nothing to do with the food; it was just my 4-year-old acting like a 4-year-old and no other food would have kept her at the table. I was just glad that I didn’t spend my time and energy cooking that dinner!
It’s hard not to take it personally, but I’m here to encourage you to stay strong and keep doing your job and allowing kids to do theirs. Don’t take the easy way out by short order cooking or limiting the menu to only foods you know they will eat. That doesn’t help kids become competent eaters in the long run—and you will make yourself crazy trying to please everyone. Trust me when I tell you that sometimes kids reject even their favorite meals and there is no way to predict what meal will be successful. Stay strong and look at the big picture with feeding. Commit to structure and family meals and then challenge yourself to plan menus that offer both accepted and not-yet-accepted foods repeatedly (not just two or three times because kids need at least 12 exposures to a food before they truly accept it). If you do your jobs well and allow your kids to do their jobs, I promise you that the majority (but not all) of your meals will be pleasant and successful.
Eating Ebbs and Flows
3/21/2014 5:01:33 PM
My kids are generally great eaters; they enjoy eating and they eat impressive quantities of food at most meals and snacks. Big J, who is almost 5, has an enviable metabolism and often eats adult-sized portions. In the last week, however, her appetite has noticeably decreased. She has been eating very little at meals and then complaining that her stomach hurts. It’s difficult to know if her stomach hurts because she’s not eating or if she’s not eating because her stomach hurts. I suspect it’s because she’s hungry and I admit it is difficult to remain neutral and not pressure her to eat when I can see our meals heading down hill. The minute she declares she is done and leaves the table, Little J stops eating and wants to leave the table, too. Unfortunately, this does not mean that my husband and I are now free to enjoy a romantic dinner for two at the kitchen table; it means chaos and disruption and an unenjoyable meal for everyone. I know I need to remain neutral and let her do her job with deciding whether and how much to eat from what is being offered at structured meals and snacks and I am re-committing to the practice, which means I’m not going to warn her that she will be hungry later or ask her to eat. (Thankfully short-order cooking has never even entered into the feeding equation for us.)
Children’s appetites ebb and flow as they grow. And I knew that there would eventually be a time when Big J didn’t eat so much…it might finally be that time after almost five years! It’s important to keep in mind age-appropriate feeding and eating skills for kids so that our expectations can be realistic and we help set our kids up for success with eating. Here is what I can expect for my kids based on their ages according to feeding expert Ellyn Satter: 11 to 36 Months: Feeding Your Toddler and 3 to 5 Years: Feeding Your Preschooler.
Growing up means learning about physical and emotional feelings and being able to identify and verbalize them. I think that Big J is kind of experimenting with how she feels when she eats different foods and various quantities of foods. Hunger is a natural consequence of not eating and although she’s not pleasant to be with when she’s hungry, she needs to learn to identify hunger and take care of her body at mealtimes. It was difficult to see her eat only four asparagus tips and a scoop of ice cream at dinner last night (yes, we still serve dessert when it’s on the menu, even if she doesn’t eat dinner), but I am resolved to stay neutral about the quantities she is eating because I want her to be in touch with her hunger and satiety. I know that if I interfere with this process I could damage her ability to regulate her own eating. In the scheme of things, it’s more important that she grows up as a competent eater than a member of the “clean plate club” tonight.
Treat Fluids like Food
3/14/2014 6:38:10 PM
Little J is not a lover of liquids of any variety. Some days I feel as though she is not drinking enough fluids and I irrationally start to worry about dehydration. This can easily become a tricky situation for concerned parents and caregivers. Worrying can lead to pressure and manipulation, which in turn will cause kids to push back and rebel against what we want them to do (my spirited daughters would surely go for days without eating or drinking if I ever tried to pressure them to consume food or drink). If kids are not vomiting or having diarrhea and are otherwise healthy, their bodies are capable of managing thirst and hydration, as well as hunger and satiety.
I know that the temptation to micromanage our kids’ eating and drinking is strong, especially when we are scared that they are not eating or drinking the right amounts (too little or too much). But just as when we pressure them to eat, taste, or take one more bite, pressuring them to drink sends the message that we don’t trust them to listen to their own bodies and know what they need; they learn that they can’t trust what their bodies are telling them. The solution is to treat fluids the way we do other foods and offer it neutrally, without pressure or restrictions. The difference is that water should be available at all times, not just at structured meal and snack times, but also in between meals and on demand. Getting creative (without getting pushy) is allowed.
I think of offering fluids the way I offer exposure to foods: little J has not yet accepted steamed cauliflower, but she loves it sautéed with garlic and olive oil, added to soups, and roasted in the oven. I offer a variety of fluids in a variety of ways, though I don’t go overboard and offer more than one option per sitting (remember: staying neutral is the key; don’t DO too much). Here are some of the things I have tried:
- Fun drinking vessels. Thermos funtainers have different characters on them and Little J loves her Doc McStuffins one. Gelson’s sells Hello Kitty straw cups which have also been a hit. The Honey Bear straw cup is always a winner with Little J.
- Ice cubes. Almost always increases drinking. When she is a little older I will allow her to put her own ice cubes into her water.
- Milk. Sometimes yes, and sometimes no. When I serve milk, I always offer water at the same time because I consider milk to be like a food, too.
- Juice. Little J has not yet tried juice, though she has been offered it several times.
- Stickers. Not as rewards, but as name tags. I ordered adorable personalized name tag stickers for both of my girls so that they don’t lose their cups, lunch boxes, and containers at school and we can keep their stuff separate at home. Little J loves hers and points to it proudly when it is on her cups.
- Serve high water content foods, like fruits, vegetables, and soups. She eats a lot of watermelon on hot days!
- Store drinking vessels in a low drawer or cabinet where kids can easily access them. Little J loves to play in her cup drawer. Whenever she takes out a thermos and starts to play with it, I try to fill it with water. I also keep a thermos with water in her bedroom and play area so she can take sips whenever she wants to.
- Straws. Never underestimate the power of novelty. Fun straws are sometimes a hit, though they often turn into toys, which we don’t allow, so they don’t stick around for very long.
As an important side note, I have found that sometimes the dishwasher leaves a residue on the cups that can make the water taste and smell funny (can’t blame her for not wanting to drink that), so I always smell the cups and sometimes taste the water or other beverage when she seems to be rejecting it.
What's for Dinner?
3/7/2014 3:02:33 PM
I am so excited to share my March nutrition notes newsletter and recipes! This month’s handouts are all about what to make for weeknight family meals. I have included two weeks’ worth of kid- and husband-approved dinner menus and recipes to help you get easy and delicious meals on the table almost every night of the week. I hope this newsletter inspires you to have more family meals and I hope the recipes will get you excited about cooking healthful weeknight dinners.
2/28/2014 5:29:24 PM
Both of my girls love artichokes, mainly because they are a vehicle for eating mayonnaise, a favorite condiment at my house. I’m a big fan of condiments because I believe they serve as a bridge to make new and not-yet-accepted foods more familiar. Children eat what tastes good to them; they don’t eat something simply because it is good for them. Condiments can make food taste better. At our house, we mainly use mayonnaise, mustard, applesauce, pesto, parmesan cheese, butter, and most recently ketchup as condiments. Little J, who is now 18 months, loves condiments as much as her big sister does. So much so that the other night at a family dinner with my parents she was eating mayonnaise by the spoonful without any artichoke leaves or heart. She was actually purring like a cat as she ate spoon after spoon of the white stuff.
My dad was a little bit shocked and horrified as he watched her and asked me “are you really going to let her eat that?” “Yes” I replied calmly. I explained that that’s how the Division of Responsibility works: I plan the menus, set the eating schedule, and require that food only be eaten at the table. Once the food is on the table, my kids choose what and how much they eat. There’s a chance that they will just eat a lot of one thing or a little of each thing. That’s why I have to do a good job with planning the menu and serving foods that I feel good about.
We actually use Follow your Heart Vegenaise, which is made with canola oil instead of pro-inflammatory soybean oil and it happens to be eggless (oddly enough Vegenaise makes the best egg salad). The point about the ingredients in the Vegenaise is that it is a good-quality food that I feel good about feeding to my kids, so I don’t panic when they eat it by the spoonful.
2/21/2014 3:39:27 PM
Constipation is no fun, especially for little kids. It is surprisingly common and can be an issue even if a child is moving his or her bowels regularly. I often help families with feeding without pressure while increasing the fiber, fluids, and probiotics in their child’s diet, all of which can help with maintaining healthy digestion. But constipation is a complex issue and resolving it takes time—several months or longer because the colon gets stretched and needs time to heal. I recently read this wonderful post from The Feeding Doctor that explains all the aspects of the issue amazingly well: Constipation and Picky Eating. Even if your child doesn’t struggle with constipation, I recommend reading this so you can be aware of potential triggers for chronic constipation that you should watch out for.
Best Cookie Recipe Ever
2/17/2014 12:30:00 PM
I am so excited about the cookies that Big J and I have been making recently, I just want to shout this recipe from the rooftops! My mom called me a few weeks ago to tell me about healthy dessert recipes she saw on LIVE with Kelly and Michael that morning. When I heard about this cookie recipe, I thought it was too good to be true. Turns out it is that good.
I never thought there was such a thing as a “healthful” cookie, but I’m totally on board with these. I have happily been serving them in unlimited quantities at snacks and as portion-controlled desserts. The recipe is so easy that my 4 1/2-year old actually does all of the work and I just drop the dough onto the cookie sheet.
These are the perfect treats for your sweeties on Valentine’s Day!
Banana Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies
Makes about 9 cookies
I large ripe organic banana, mashed
2 packets Quaker organic instant oatmeal or 1/2 cup plain instant oats
3 tablespoons Nestle toll house dark chocolate morsels
-Preheat oven to 350˚ Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
-In a small mixing bowl, combine the mashed banana, oatmeal, and chocolate chips. Use a soup spoon to drop nine balls of batter onto the paper and flatten into silver dollar size disks with the back of the spoon.
-Bake for 15-20 minutes. Allow to cool slightly before eating. Store any leftovers in the refrigerator.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
2/7/2014 6:58:50 PM
Are you ready to take your snacks to the next level? My family was more than ready, so I have made this month’s nutrition notes newsletter and recipe cards all about snacking. Along with 13 delicious and easy recipes, you’ll also find great ideas for easy and convenient snack combinations. I also include tips on how to plan optimal snacks. I hope you’ll find some snacking inspiration!
1/24/2014 8:06:49 PM
Some weeks I feel like there is a theme to all of the questions I am asked by customers. This week in particular, the answer I gave most often was “have family meals.” How can I help my son eat more vegetables? How can I stop short order cooking? How can my family eat more healthfully? What can I do about my kids’ picky eating? How can I have a healthier relationship with my food?
Have family meals! They provide exposure to new foods, structure, social support, sharing, connection, and opportunities to model positive eating habits. I honestly don’t think you can make long-term positive changes to your eating habits without committing to daily or almost daily family meals.
Earlier this week my husband and I were patting ourselves on the backs for how committed we are to having family meals. When our first daughter was born in 2009, we decided that we would have family meals as often as possible. We started with breakfast and slowly added on dinner. We have never looked back; it is so second nature for us that our schedules are planned around it. We also recognized how challenging it could be for a family that doesn’t have family meals to transition to that structure. It is a big, ongoing commitment and it isn’t always easy or pretty. Trust me, though: it’s worth it! Every member of our family benefits from having structured, social mealtimes.
If you haven’t yet committed to family meals, I encourage you to do so. There is plenty of scientific research to back up the benefits, and there are tons of ways to find support. Here are two articles that may help inspire you to start having family meals: Family Meal Resolutions Part II: be a parent, not a food cop and January 2014 (Making Friends with Food).
Getting Through the Stomach Flu
1/13/2014 11:36:37 AM
Little J caught that nasty stomach flu that has been going around. She had both vomiting and diarrhea on Wednesday (luckily it only lasted 24 hours). She wasn’t very interested in eating or drinking that day or the day after, so preventing dehydration has been a big concern for us this week. Hydrating and feeding a child that has been vomiting and has diarrhea is not easy and I found very little information about what exactly they should be drinking and eating to help prevent dehydration and soothe an upset tummy. Here are some of my suggestions for toddlers and children based on what we tried and what I know from my dietetics training:
- When they are still vomiting and having diarrhea you need to be very careful about preventing dehydration.
- Give them plenty of clear fluids: water, Pedialyte (Gelson’s has a clear, unflavored, uncolored option that doesn’t contain artificial colors, flavors, or sweeteners), coconut water, flat Reed’s ginger beer (ginger ale made with real ginger for soothing the stomach), clear broths, chamomile tea, clear fruit juice (light color if you don’t want everything stained red), Gatorade G Series All Stars ice punch flavor (no artificial colors), popsicles and fruit ices without chunks of fruit, and Jell-O (again, give a light color to avoid stains).
- NO milk or other dairy products.
- When they can keep the fluids down, try some dry, mild, low-fat carbs for the first feeding. We did a lot of Kashi Heart to Heart, Cheerio’s and dry toast for the first day. You can also try Sunshine Krispy soup & oyster crackers, Sesmark brown rice crackers and white rice.
- After a couple of meals that successfully stay down, you can add bananas and applesauce.
- When it seems like your child is ready to progress to other foods, try chicken or turkey breast, lean steak, white fish, egg whites, almond butter or peanut butter, baked or boiled potatoes or sweet potatoes without skin, steamed or boiled butternut squash or carrots, low-fat cheese like string cheese, plain or vanilla nonfat yogurt, cream of wheat hot cereal, plain pasta, pretzels, chicken noodle soup, cooked peaches, pears or apples.
- Sometimes fiber can be helpful for stopping diarrhea, so consider adding some whole grains or stirring a tiny bit of psyllium into a large amount of liquid (talk to your pediatrician).
- After a couple of days without vomiting or diarrhea, go back to a regular diet if your child seems ready. Remain cautious with fatty, rich, and acidic foods for a day or two.
- Always talk to your pediatrician if you have questions or concerns.
I hope you and your little ones stay healthy this winter and won’t need to follow this advice!
Cooking in 2014
1/3/2014 8:02:16 PM
I admit that I had not been cooking much at all over the last few months—and I’ve been feeling pretty guilty about it! I was happy to realize today, January 3, 2014, that I have already cooked three things, one for each day of the year! Now, I’m not going to go crazy and vow to cook 365 things this year, but I feel like this has put me on a good track for doing more planning and cooking.
On New Year’s Day, my 4 ½-year-old daughter, Big J, and I made Spinach and Cheese Mini Quiches, which turned out amazing. A few months ago while shopping at Surfas we picked up a silicone mould with eight mini hearts that we thought would be perfect for this recipe. We used the mold and baked in two batches (it helps to put the floppy silicone moulds on a sturdy baking sheet before you start filling them). While I cooked the onion, garlic and spinach, Big J broke the crackers in half and fit them in the bottoms of the hearts. Next, I broke and beat the eggs into the mixing bowl while she measured the cheeses and spices into the same bowl. I allowed her to do most of the mixing, but I should have probably done a little more myself since a little clump of pepper got into one of her quiches and made it “too spicy” for her. I transferred the cooled vegetables to a small bowl and she put a spoonful in each heart and topped it with some egg and cheese mixture and a pinch of parmesan cheese. We enjoyed them for lunch and I froze the remaining cooled quiches in a large freezer bag. Today I packed her one for lunch, since it will be defrosted by lunchtime at school.
I actually planned ahead and shopped for all the ingredients for Chicken Tortilla Soup. I even had one of our meat cutters dice up the chicken for me to save time at home. I served it with some of the shredded cheddar cheese we had leftover from making the quiches the day before. Both of my daughters enjoyed eating the chicken, black beans, and carrots, and Big J loved slurping the broth. There is even enough left over for us to each have a small bowl tonight, too—I love leftovers!
Finally, this morning I made a pot of sweet corn grits for my girls’ breakfasts. I chop up dried fruit and boil it with unsalted water, then add the corn grits (instant polenta). After they cool, I freeze them in small portions and in the mornings just microwave them with some butter and Organic Valley Grassmilk for a quick and filling hot breakfast.
I don’t have any plans to cook over the weekend, but I know that our freezer needs to be restocked with pinto beans and Split Pea Soup. I might just keep this cooking streak going…
12/20/2013 8:03:45 PM
I hope I don’t give the impression that mealtimes always go smoothly for us. They don’t; we have our share of ugly, unpleasant meals! This week we’ve had three so far, and let me tell you that my own exhaustion and stress levels make it even harder to deal with the ruckus.
At two dinners this week Big J decided that she didn’t like what was on the menu even though I was actually serving plenty of foods that she likes. She screamed, cried, and tantrumed throughout dinner that she wanted something different (she didn’t say what specifically, but she did admit that she was hungry). It took all my energy to hold my ground and not short-order cook. Frankly, I was too tired to fight or give in and short-order cook anyway, so I did what I was supposed to do: stayed calm and didn’t get intimidated. I didn’t plead with her to eat; I just acknowledged her feelings and let them run their course. I also told her that she could not be unpleasant at the table, so she would have to leave the table if she wanted to continue to scream. Eventually she did come to the table and eat a little bit, but not as much as usual.
Reactions like these can make you not want to cook or have family meals! However, the solution is to stick with having family meals and plenty of structured meals and snacks. We are all feeling stressed and disconnected because of the holidays, so these routine meals with help kids feel more secure and trusting when life is extra chaotic. I was grateful to read The Feeding Doctor’s series of posts called “Crazy Mealtime Theater” about her own daughter’s similar mealtime breakdowns. I was especially comforted by this post (notice that it was posted during last year’s holiday season—coincidence?): Crazy Mealtime Theater: saying ‘no’ to the oatmeal tantrum.
I hope your holiday meals will be tantrum –free!
Our New Favorite Meal
12/13/2013 5:50:09 PM
My Family is a little obsessed with Ravioli Soup right now. It was so freezing cold on Monday that it was all I could think of making for dinner. This recipe is seriously simple to make and I think my kids actually do most of the work. That night, Little J (15 months) helped me peel the onion. I would start peeling a little section of the papery skin and she would finish pulling it off and throw each piece into the trash. She also took the bay leaves out of the spice jar for me. Big J, meanwhile, did her favorite job of tearing the rainbow Swiss chard into bite-size pieces and washing it in the salad spinner. We had the leftovers on Wednesday night and as we were cleaning up, Big J asked if we could have it again on Friday night. I said that we would not since we had just finished the leftovers and we should have something else on Friday anyway. She didn’t argue, so I thought that was the end of the conversation. Apparently it wasn’t.
This morning Big J said to me “Mom, I was thinking about it last night and I think that I can make Ravioli Soup for us for dinner tonight.” My heart melted. Of course we are having Ravioli Soup for dinner again tonight!
By the way, I don’t consider this short order cooking; it is flexible menu planning. I am still going to serve the challah bread, chicken, roasted cauliflower, and asparagus that I had planned for tonight’s menu, so the soup will be our first course instead of our main course—and we will happily have any leftover soup for dinner on Monday night.
Checking In with Lettuce
12/6/2013 6:45:39 PM
Big J turned 4 1/2 this week, and as I’ve written about lately, she is becoming more interested in trying new foods. One food that she hasn’t quite accepted is lettuce. She tried it several times in early toddlerhood, but couldn’t manage chewing it, so she stopped trying it for a few years. Over the years, she has certainly had plenty of exposure to lettuce salads at family meals, but hasn’t shown interest—until last week.
We had takeout for dinner the night before Thanksgiving and I was eating a curried chicken salad on a bed of baby greens. She asked if she could try my lettuce. I calmly and neutrally said “sure” and picked out a nice looking purple baby romaine leaf for her (purple is her favorite color). She held it between her fingers and took a bite. She chewed thoughtfully, declared “no, not yet,” put the remainder on the side of her plate and went back to eating her dinner. We didn’t talk about the lettuce after that. However, late the next morning she accompanied me to Gelson’s to pick up some Thanksgiving supplies. When we passed the salad bar Big J said she was hungry for a snack and asked if she could make herself a salad. How could I say no to that? It was snack time, after all. She started in front of the lettuce and asked me which kind she had tried the night before. I showed her the baby romaine and she picked out about three leaves to put in her salad. I also pointed out the purple cabbage, which she loves braised with apples, and she added a shred to her mix. She added her usual mix of butter beans, kidney beans, garbanzo beans, edamame, corn, peas, black olives, cherry tomatoes, carrots, parmesan cheese, sunflower seeds and olive oil. To my secret delight (I remained neutral on the outside), she also added a few slices of hardboiled egg—another food she hasn’t quite accepted yet (we’ve been working on egg acceptance since she was 9 months old). When we got home, she dug into her salad. I honestly don’t think that she took a bite of the lettuce, cabbage, or egg, but that feels like it’s beside the point. I can see that she is really pushing herself along to like and try new foods and I know that she will master them eventually. When she was finished with her snack she proudly told my mom “My taste buds are maturing!”
I will continue to support Big J and her little sister in accepting new foods through neutral exposure and without pressure to try them. For more tips on increasing children’s food acceptance, see The 10 Golden Rules for Exposing Kids to Food (Part 5).
Cooking With My Girls
11/22/2013 8:09:57 PM
Cooking dinner on weeknights is no easy feat. It takes planning on my part as well as acceptance that we probably won’t sit down to eat until about 7:30. The minute I walk in the door around 6:30, my kids grab on to me and don’t want to let go until we have a chance to reconnect after being apart all day. Little J especially just wants to be in my arms until it is time to eat. I try to spend about 15-20 minutes playing with them before we start cooking. During that time, I let the oven preheat or start defrosting things on the stove. Once it is time to start cooking, I try to give everyone jobs to do, since sometimes you just need both your hands to cook with, and extra sets of little hands can sometimes be helpful (until someone spills the broth or drops the open spice jar on the floor…).
This week I made two recipes that I haven’t made for quite some time and they were big hits with my family. Chicken with Grape Sauce was awesome and Big J, who is almost 4 1/2, had a great time helping out. She pulled the grapes off the vines and washed them, then mixed the grapes with the onions and olive oil in a large mixing bowl and arranged everything in the pan. She also placed one thyme sprig on each piece of chicken and measured out the spices. She really did the bulk of the recipe assembly and she felt so proud of herself. I also made Ravioli Soup this week. It is the fastest soup I know of that’s kind of from scratch. Big J was in charge of the Swiss chard for this recipe. I bought a big bunch of rainbow chard and she enjoyed finding the biggest leaf in the bunch and said her favorite ones were the pink ones. She methodically tore out the center ribs and tore the leaves into bite-size pieces, then lovingly washed them in a salad spinner. I also added a can of S&W organic kidney beans (rinsed and drained), since I know my girls love beans and I wasn’t sure if they would eat the little raviolis, which were a new food for both of them. While Big J and I cooked, Little J sat at our feet and did some of her own cooking. I gave her a plastic measuring cup and measuring spoons and opened up our under-counter spice cabinet. She had fun filling the cup with the spice jars. Unfortunately she managed to open the cayenne pepper, but I was able to clean it up before she got any in her eyes or mouth.
Both recipes were big hits. Little J of course loved everything, and Big J, being the skeptical preschooler that she is, was more tentative. Without any pressure, I let her take her time with getting up the courage to try the newer foods, like cooked grapes, ravioli, and Swiss chard. She did eventually try them and loved them, but decided the cooked grapes were too soft for her taste. Everyone had seconds on both nights and we all enjoyed sharing meals that we had cooked together.
Observing How People Try New Foods
11/15/2013 6:47:06 PM
This past week I was working at our beautiful new Long Beach store, meeting our lovely new customers and acquainting them with my services. In addition to handing out my Nutrition Notes newsletters, recipe cards and various shopping lists, I was also sampling some of my salads that are part of my line of healthful prepared foods for Gelson’s Service Delis.
I mostly sampled my Crunchy Kale Salad and my Curried Cauliflower. It was fun to observe people tasting kale for the first time or discovering that they might actually like cauliflower. I found it helpful as a dietitian to observe various eating and feeding styles. Some people walked right up and tasted the items without even asking what they were, while others stood by working up the courage to try kale for the first time because they had heard that it was good for them. In the latter type of situation, I tried to be neutral and let people decide for themselves if they were going to try these vegetables. Some people would stand by and watch other peoples’ reactions to the samples, or they would ask what it tasted like: Bitter? Not my kale! Spicy? Nope! This curry is flavorful and sweet. Watching others, asking questions, looking and smelling are all facets of exposure and even adults need repeated exposure to new foods before they accept them. Sometimes I could tell that someone needed a little push, so I would say “I’ve converted thousands of people to kale with this salad” or “my job is to make vegetables taste good.” Yes, I admit I used a little bit of pressure, and even I know that pressure does not work to help children or adults with accepting new foods, though most people think that kids will only eat vegetables if they are pressured to do so. (I got to observe a few feeding errors with our littlest customers, when parents for example, would take a sample and tell their child “you’re not going to like this”, or held the food in front of their child’s mouth for just a little longer than was necessary, or just didn’t offer a taste at all.) For the most part, I was encouraged to see lots of positive feeding interactions. Many kids were excited to try the vegetables and asked for samples, while many younger kids opened their mouths eagerly as their parents offered up forkfuls of kale. I was happy to see so many trusting feeding relationships between parents and children! Trust, neutral exposure to new foods, and positive eating experiences help to build competent eaters.
In the end, most people decided to try the samples and they were usually pleasantly surprised that the foods tasted better than they expected. It gives me so much satisfaction to see people enjoying my food and expanding their palates, and I never take it personally when people don’t like something. I know that for some people, vegetables are not easy to like--especially because they have had previous unpleasant experiences with them. I was happy to have had the opportunity to offer people exposure to new vegetables in a positive environment.
Post Halloween Report
11/1/2013 3:49:15 PM
Last week I wrote about how I planned to handle Halloween treats, so I want to report on how it all went down. I’d say it went great! My focus was on having fun while keeping things safe. Big J and Little J both had their regular breakfasts, lunches, and snacks and then we went to a party where we ate pizza, fruit, and salad. Dinner was rushed because we were in a hurry to start trick-or-treating, so none of us ate as much as we normally would because we are slow eaters. Both girls had a blast trick-or treating and Big J told us when she was done and ready to go home around 7:45.
Once we got home, we dumped out all of the candy on the counter and I looked it all over (it all looked safe and unadulterated). I picked out a lollipop for Little J since that seemed like the candy that would be the easiest for her to eat safely, and I allowed Big J to pick out the pieces she wanted to eat. The girls were hungry, so I cut up a pear and poured a glass of milk for Big J and served Little J the rest of her dinner that she had not finished and we all sat down at the table to eat.
Big J ate some pear, didn’t drink any milk and had about 75% of the candy she had picked out to eat (she discovered she likes Whoppers and M & Ms the most and didn’t finish the candies that she didn’t enjoy as much). She was pretty tired and just kind of drifted away from the table when she was done. Little J ate a little more of her dinner and happily shared her lollipop with Big J until she threw it on the floor and it shattered everywhere. She stared at it and mourned it for a few seconds, but didn’t seem to mind that she was done with candy for the day. Today I will give Big J as much of her candy as she wants for a snack and then I will put it away and offer it to both kids in portion-controlled amounts at future desserts.
Halloween was fun and I didn’t stress out about the candy, which made it easier for me to remain neutral about how much and what candy was eaten, and frankly it made the holiday more enjoyable for all of us. I’m glad that we didn’t employ popular strategies like having the “Switch Witch” trade a toy for the candy, limiting candy, buying the candy from the kids, or talking about how unhealthy the candy is (we were trick-or-treating with their dentist , so I did tell the girls that he said they had to brush their teeth very well on Halloween). I feel good about how we celebrated the holiday and I know this was just one more experiential lesson for my girls about how to handle candy in a healthy way.
Preparing for Halloween
10/28/2013 11:44:05 AM
All year long, I work on teaching my daughters how to handle treats and I feel like holidays—especially Halloween-- are the final test of how competently they can deal with having tons of sweets available to them. We usually have a portion controlled dessert with a family meal twice a week, and about once a month, I serve an unlimited amount of a sweet like cookies or chocolate with a glass of milk at a snack. I make sure to maintain the feeding structure at meals and snacks so that I plan the menus and the schedules and my kids decide how much to eat from what I’m serving.
On Halloween I maintain our regular meal and snack schedule and I allow my daughters to eat whatever and however much of their candy that they want. It is a holiday and I want them to enjoy it and participate in all aspects of it (by the way, this will be Little J’s first Halloween that includes candy). I do not believe in micromanaging Halloween candy except for looking it all over in the light at home before kids eat any and removing potentially unsafe items (i.e. choking hazards, allergens for allergic children, wrappers that show signs of tampering such as tears, pinholes or an unusual appearance) and removing any food that is not commercially wrapped. I will let them have as much candy as they want at their snack the following day, too. I’ll serve it with a glass of milk to help myself feel better about the nutritional composition of the snack. After that, we will resume our routine of having dessert twice a week at family meals and I will let them have a piece from their Halloween stash for dessert.
They may eat a lot of candy, or they might eat just a few pieces. I will be relaxed about it either way. Eating lots of candy one day, or even a few days, out of the year will not affect their health or make them fat, so I am not really concerned about it from a nutritional standpoint. I am more focused on the parenting aspect of handling the treats. Halloween represents a great opportunity for kids to learn to manage candy--if we parents handle the situation well ourselves.
Set Them Up for Success
10/21/2013 11:34:03 AM
I believe it’s important to support children in advancing them to the next level of eating, whether it is with flavors, textures, temperatures, or table manners. I allow my kids to struggle as they learn to master new skills in all areas. In fact, Big J’s motto is “I’m a girl who can do hard things.” She often says that when an adult offers to do something for her that she believes she can do herself (I’ve noticed that most adults can’t stand to watch kids struggle and intervene at the first sign of struggle). However, there is a difference between allowing them to struggle and setting them up to fail.
I was reminded of this distinction twice this week with Little J. First, at her preschool class where the children are served a snack consisting of a few finger foods, a yogurt or smoothie in a little cup with a spoon, and a small cup of water. The toddlers (all between 13 and 17 months) wash their hands, sit at a low table with toddler-size chairs, put their napkins on their laps, and eat food from a plate. They all love it—especially Little J who is often the last one to leave the snack table—and they are learning how to behave at a communal table. Little J does great with the finger foods and spoonable foods, and she even tries to spoon feed whichever friends are next to her. The trouble comes when she tries to drink from the cup. She is able to do it just fine at home where we use a little Duralex glass cup, but at school they use flimsy little paper cups that get even flimsier when you pour liquid into them. She completely crushes the cup and the water runs down the front of her shirt before she can even get the cup to her lips. It makes her frustrated and a little confused (where did the water go?!?) and it makes me feel so bad for her. It feels like the kids are being set up to fail, rather than succeed because the cups crumple so easily. I asked the teacher if she could use firmer cups for the kids to practice with, and in the meantime, I will triple up the cups to make the vessel sturdier over the next few weeks until she gets the hang of not squeezing the cup so firmly in her hands. The second situation happened this morning when I accidentally added too much water to her oatmeal and applesauce breakfast, which made the cereal too runny for her to eat with a spoon or her hands. She ended up with oatmeal in her hair, between her toes, down her shirt—everywhere but in her mouth. Little J was so frustrated that she left the table in tears, refusing to eat even after I added more oatmeal to thicken her cereal. Eventually she will be able to feed herself a thinner cereal, and she even got to practice last night when we had chicken noodle vegetable soup for dinner. She used a spoon, a fork, and her hands to eat and even picked up the bowl to drink the broth at the end. Although that liquid was thin, she was still able to get the solids into her mouth. I think this morning’s very runny oatmeal threw her off because she is so used to it being thicker.
It was a bit of a messy eating week, and there were certainly things I could have done better to support Little J in advancing her eating and drinking skills. From now on, I will pay more attention to the little things I can do to help my children successfully progress with their eating. Although there is nothing wrong with trying and failing, I think it is best to create an environment in which they have a chance for succeeding, but will not mind trying again if they fail.
10/14/2013 3:34:39 PM
I’m happy and relieved to report that after several months of emphasizing iron-rich foods and limiting calcium-rich foods in her diet, Little J’s iron levels (technically hemoglobin) are back in the “normal” range. Since calcium can interfere with iron absorption, we had to be very careful to limit calcium-rich foods and avoid combining them with iron-rich foods in order to raise her iron levels. Ahhh. It will be nice to be more relaxed about her menus now and offer her dairy foods more often. She absolutely loves cheese, so I often serve it for a snack (Horizon Organic cheddar is our fave—we keep at least three packages in the fridge at all times!) and she eats between two and four slices at a sitting. Two slices of cheese totals 1 1/2 ounces—the equivalent of an 8-ounce cup of milk—so she often meets all of her dairy requirements for the day just by eating 4 slices of cheese at snack time (one to three-year olds need 16 ounces of milk or milk equivalents, like yogurt and cheese, a day). I still serve Earth’s Best iron-fortified oatmeal cereal with applesauce on most mornings, but a few days a week I serve her favorite breakfast of Café Fanny organic granola with Straus Family Creamery organic whole milk yogurt. The night before, I put some granola in a little glass container and break up any large nuts or clusters, then I mix it with the yogurt, cover it, and allow it to soften overnight, sometimes adding a little extra yogurt in the morning. Sometimes if I have forgotten to soak the mixture the night before, I will put the granola in the microwave with Organic Valley Grassmilk whole milk for a few seconds to soften it up, and then add more milk to cool it down.
Up next will be adding whole milk as a beverage. We are still making our way through stored breastmilk, but once that is done, we will switch her to Organic Valley Grassmilk whole milk (milk that naturally contains omega-3s and other healthful fats because the cows eat grass). This can be a very tricky transition when kids are used to getting so much of their sustenance from breastmilk or formula. I work with a lot of parents whose toddlers are guzzling up to four cups of milk a day! Not only is that twice the amount they should have, but they also consume cheese and yogurt, which counts towards milk servings. Too much dairy is not good for bones, digestion, or iron levels. Furthermore, it is filling, so kids are not hungry for table food at mealtimes, which leads to food fights and parents worrying about their children not eating enough. I don’t anticipate over consumption of milk being a problem for Little J, but I will have to do my job of planning menus really well in order to avoid too much dairy in her diet, especially because I allow her to decide how much to eat or drink from what I’m offering. Therefore, if she eats a cup of yogurt with granola at breakfast, and I know she will have a cup of milk at snack time, I might have to change the menu at another meal that day if it included cheese or more milk.
As I write this, I’m thinking that it will probably be best to offer milk in a straw cup or glass, since it is recommended that kids give up the bottle between 12 and 15 months. Cow’s milk is different enough from breastmilk in taste, texture, and temperature that I can offer it in a different vessel and it could just be considered a new food. I like that approach since it can become a small, but regular, part of Little J’s diet without being a major component, like breastmilk has been. My plan with dairy foods now is to offer a variety of milk, yogurt, and cheese two to three times a day and continue to offer iron-rich foods at separate meals and snacks so that Little J will maintain her healthy iron levels.
It’s Super 4 Kids Time!
10/4/2013 7:36:56 PM
Some of you may be familiar with my Super 4 Kids program here at Gelson’s. It is a multi-part program for parents and caregivers which entails a four-page Nutrition Notes handout (this months publication) that discusses both the how and what of feeding children, family-friendly recipes, a super 4 kids shopping list with 750 items that I recommend for the whole family, about 500 shelf tags around Gelson’s identifying the items from the shopping list that you can enjoy on a daily basis, and Super 4 Kids Shopping Tours! These tours are very informative and fun. The first part of the tour addresses the parenting part of feeding: implementing the division of responsibility in feeding, committing to having family meals, establishing a trusting feeding relationship with your child, and raising competent eaters. The second part of the tour addresses nutritional needs and how to shop for the most nutritious foods. Parents get to taste several of the foods I recommend along the way and there are many opportunities to ask questions. Response to the tours has been very positive and it has been wonderful to hear parents describe the relief and empowerment they experience after making some of the changes I suggest. Some of the highlights from this week’s tours include: discussing how to handle dessert and treats, understanding the differences between the parents’ job in feeding and the child’s job in eating, making sure kids are offered a satisfying breakfast so that they are not overeating at dinnertime, and parents sharing some of their best kid-approved vegetable recipes with the group.
Mealtimes with kids can be relaxed and pleasurable! To learn how to have happier meals with your kids, download or pick up all of the Super 4 Kids materials and attend one of my tours this month!
Protecting My Girls from Interference
9/27/2013 6:46:55 PM
This upcoming weekend we will be visiting with an older relative who likes to comment on how much my kids eat and their body sizes. I know she will tell me that Little J is fat and Big J eats so much that she will make herself fat. The worst part is that she will probably make these comments in front of my girls. I want to protect them from this type of interference because I don’t want them to be self-conscious about how much they eat or the way they look. I don’t even want them to connect the amount they eat with their body size.
I’m mentally preparing myself in advance for deflecting the comments and ending those types of conversations. I do not want to be rude and I do not want to have to talk about their eating or their bodies in front of them. What I will try to do is get some time alone with her before we start eating and say “my girls really enjoy eating, especially when the company is good. We let them listen to their bodies and eat as much as they want from what is on the table. Sometimes they eat a lot and sometimes they eat very little; it all evens out. They will probably eat a lot today because they are excited to see you and we are serving some of their favorite foods. We think they are perfect and beautiful and we want to help them grow up loving themselves and their bodies, so we serve good food and don’t restrict the amounts they eat.”
I hope I can work those comments in so that I won’t have to deal with defending their eating or my feeding strategies in front of them. I will try to let the little things slide, since it will be a short visit. If I have to, I will respond with comments about how much everyone in our family enjoys eating and trying new foods and restaurants, as well as how beautiful my girls are both inside and outside. I hope I will be able to prevent meal-time interference--both so that I can protect my girls and so that I can relax and enjoy my meal, too.
Little Miss Independent
9/23/2013 11:36:33 AM
Little J is almost 13 months old now and she has been pushing herself along to advance her eating and self-feeding skills. She is so independent and adventurous with her eating that I can’t believe I was worried about her being uninterested in food when she was six and seven months old!
For the last several weeks, she has been practicing feeding herself with a spoon. She grabs spoons and forks off of the table whenever she can and starts moving the utensil from her bowl to her mouth—sometimes with and sometimes without food on it. This morning was the culmination of all her hard work. She wanted to sit in my lap while I ate breakfast and she immediately grabbed my spoon and started feeding herself my granola and yogurt. She was holding the spoon so tightly that I had to get my own spoon and share my breakfast with her. She was doing splendidly, really scooping the food and putting it in her mouth well. She was so proud of herself and was enjoying the processes so much (until she missed and somehow got yogurt in both of her eyes). She has also been managing bigger pieces of food. She eats grapes and cherry tomatoes cut in half and steak by the handful. I found out that she could manage the larger pieces when she grabbed grapes and tomatoes away from me before I had a chance to cut them into smaller pieces. She would try to eat them whole if we’d let her!
It’s a good thing that Little J is so independent and aggressive about feeding herself because I don’t know if I would be offering her the spoon and larger pieces of food on my own. A less assertive baby would still be spoon-fed by an adult and eating her food cut into tiny pieces. Whatever your child’s personality, I encourage you to pay attention to their signals and support him or her in advancing their self-feeding skills and eating to more challenging textures, sizes, and flavors.
A Little Bit Yes and A little Bit No
9/13/2013 7:27:13 PM
My four-year-old daughter, Big J, has been into trying new foods lately. Whenever she tries something new—whether she likes it or not-- she makes a “yucky” face and kind of wrinkles her nose. She often says “a little bit yes and a little bit no” after she swallows her first bite, meaning she kind of likes it, but she’s a bit unsure about the new flavors. After a few seconds she might say “actually, yes” and take another bite. Sometimes she is done after one bite, even if she says she likes it. This week she tried a traditional Jewish food called gefilte fish. It is a mixture of white fish and carp formed into loaves and cooked in fish broth. We made it available to her and at first she declined to try it, then she asked my husband for a little taste of the fish that was on his plate. She only took one bite and had her usual response. The next night as the fish arrived at the table she surprised us again and asked for another bite. She specified that she wanted just a tiny piece and popped it in her mouth. She didn’t seem to love or hate it and she didn’t ask for more; she just continued eating the rest of her meal.
Throughout all of her tries we have remained neutral. We don’t praise her for trying new foods and we don’t pressure, reward, or bargain with her to try new foods. We simply make it available by putting it on the table and offering it to her. We are matter-of-fact about the foods on the table—each adult eats what they like in the quantities they are hungry for, and we allow our daughters to do the same. We don’t say “yum” or use other positive pressure to get Big J to try new foods. Seeing the adults and her little sister enjoying unfamiliar and not-yet-accepted foods is the best way to expose Big J to these foods, since exposure can lead to acceptance. I think it also helps that her 1-year-old sister, Little J, is eager to try everything she sees.
Children’s eating (like other developments) goes in phases; this week Big J is eager to try new things; next week she may only want to eat very familiar foods. If I’ve learned anything in the last four years of parenting it’s that things can change very quickly. It’s important to be prepared to expect changes by having a consistent approach to feeding and handling the ups and downs of toddler behavior. Ellyn Satter explains How Children Learn to Like New Food very well and explains strategies for supporting kids in becoming competent eaters.
9/6/2013 12:38:17 PM
This week Little J had her first taste of French fries (yes, I occasionally eat French fries!). She has recently figured out that the food on my plate tastes better than the food that’s on her plate, so she has started swiping food off of my plate. Although we pretty much all eat the same thing at family meals, I do not add salt to her food, so it is more bland than the foods I serve to the rest of our family. I do allow her to eat off of my plate a little bit, but I try to redirect her to her own food and make sure at every meal to have plenty of the no-salt-added foods she loves, such as roasted sweet potatoes and butternut squash, steamed baby carrots, black beans, and fresh fruit.
I’m cautious about restricting her sodium (and the sodium that the rest of my family consumes) since too much salt can raise her blood pressure, damage her arteries, and put stress on her developing kidneys. When she does eat salty foods like cheese and bread, I encourage her to drink extra water to flush out the excess sodium. Since she is becoming more aware of other, more flavorful foods, I want to be extra cautious about the sodium content of the foods we all eat. My September 2013 newsletter is all about slashing dietary sodium and I have some delicious very low sodium recipes, too: Herb-Crusted Wild Salmon, Spanish Roasted Potatoes and Peppers, and Curried Garbanzo Bean Salad. Check out my updated very low sodium foods shopping list, too.
Is a Big Appetite a “Good” or “Bad” Thing?
8/30/2013 6:47:04 PM
Both of my daughters have big appetites. Big J, who is four, often eats adult-sized portions and Little J, who just turned one, can almost keep up with her big sister sometimes. They are competent eaters who are in touch with their hunger and satiety. Some days or meals they eat a lot and sometimes they eat very little. My husband and I and their caregivers do our best to remain neutral about food and not interfere with the quantities they eat (with the exception of serving a portion-controlled dessert about twice a week). My girls can decide if and how much from what I offer them at scheduled meal and snack times. This approach has worked very well for our family and Big J has never really been self-conscious about what or how she eats. She is, however, becoming more aware of other people’s eating habits. She recently has reported to me about something a classmate had for lunch and how a friend misbehaved at the lunch table (she knows how one is supposed to behave at the table).
This week, Big J has been even more physically active than usual and her appetite has been commensurate with her activity level. At lunch on Wednesday she ate three tuna sandwiches, broccoli, cauliflower, and a plum. One of her caregivers reported to me that Big J “has a big appetite this week.” My daughter overheard the comment and asked me “Mommy, is it a good thing or a bad thing to have a big appetite?” Oh boy. The difficult questions are starting! I was caught off guard. I tried to be neutral in my response. I told her “It’s neither a good nor a bad thing. Your hunger just is what it is. Listen to your body and eat when you feel hungry. Eat as much as you need to not feel hungry anymore, just like you always do.” She seemed to be satisfied with my response and I could see the little wheels turning in her head as she processed my words.
Later, I replayed the conversation in my head. I wondered if I should have said more or answered her differently. What would I have said if she had wanted to talk more about her appetite? How much do kids really need to know—in words—about hunger and satiety? These are things they know intuitively and I feel that placing too much attention on those feelings by talking about them, or interfering with how much or little they eat can get in the way of their internal appetite regulation. We try to be supportive in feeding and we work hard to build a trusting feeding relationship; they can trust us to reliably and regularly provide a variety of satisfying foods for meals and snacks, and we trust them to decide how much to eat from what we provide. In many ways, their good appetites help me feel more relaxed about their eating, even at the occasional meal when they eat a huge amount or don’t eat much or at all. I wonder if I would approach feeding differently if they had poor appetites or if they were overweight or underweight. I hope I wouldn’t because no matter what their body types and appetite levels, I want them to continue to be competent eaters who can self-regulate their eating. I found reassurance for my response to Big J in the Feeding Doctor’s post “mindful” eating, what it is and isn’t, and why kids don’t need it.
Little J is One!
8/26/2013 10:51:37 AM
I can’t believe how quickly the last year has gone by. Little J is so independent now—almost walking, trying to dress herself, and feeding herself with her hands and a spoon. She’s come so far with her eating. Just four months ago she showed very little interest in food. I’m glad that I remained neutral and continued to follow Ellyn Satter's Division Of Responsibility In Feeding because now she is totally into eating and can even enjoy a long meal at a fancy restaurant (to other diners’ relief). Family meals with Little J are so much more enjoyable now that she feeds herself-- I can actually eat, too!
Weaning off of breastmilk has been easier than I expected, as well. She has dropped milk feedings very naturally so that now she is down to three feedings a day. We have replaced the milk with more food and I’m especially careful to include filling items, like beans, lentils, eggs, peanut butter on Food for Life Ezekiel toast, split peas, quinoa, and oatmeal at lunch when she normally would have had milk, too. The next steps will be to replace breastmilk with cow’s milk and transition her out of the bottle altogether. I plan to use the excellent, omega 3-rich Organic Valley whole Grassmilk from exclusively grass-fed cows, which we just started carrying (perfect timing!). I’m still working on boosting her iron levels, which were on the low side a couple of months ago. Once we get the green light from her pediatrician, I will start offering her cow’s milk in a straw cup (calcium-rich foods, like milk, can inhibit iron absorption).
Her birthday party is this weekend and yes, she will have both cake and ice cream. It will be fun to see how she responds to the intensely sweet flavors of these foods. I’m looking forward to seeing how she progresses with her eating and how toddlerhood changes her food preferences. I know from experience that feeding a toddler has different challenges than feeding an almost toddler.
Back to School
8/19/2013 11:36:52 AM
Many kids went back to school this week and I’ve been talking to a lot of parents about getting back into the nightly ritual of packing lunches. Many parents are asking me for ideas about what to pack. It can be hard to infuse lunches with fresh ideas that travel well and are easy to pack—and actually get eaten! I keep lunches for my preschool-age daughter, Big J, fairly simple. She gets sandwiches most days of the week; either a cheese sandwich with Vegenaise and mustard (surprisingly tasty!), or egg salad, or tuna. Alternatively I pack Spinach and Cheese Mini Quiches (which we make together), Gelson’s salad bar (mostly butter beans, olives, cherry tomatoes, kidney and garbanzo beans and sunflower seeds drizzled with olive oil) or something leftover from the previous night’s dinner that would travel well and taste good cold, like Turkey and Avocado Tostada Salad. If her school wasn’t nut-free, I would pack her almond butter and jam sandwiches (I haven’t yet tried sunflower seed butter, which is an allergen-friendly alternative). I mostly use Food for Life Ezekiel sprouted whole grain plain or cinnamon raisin bread, but you could also use Rudi’s organic whole grain breads.
I use produce to add color and texture to the lunchbox. I think about the overall appearance of the lunch and try to use at least three different colors of foods. I try to pack two vegetables since research shows that when children are offered two vegetables they eat more vegetables overall than if they were only offered one vegetable. Our favorites are baby carrots or carrots with green tops still attached, Mann’s stringless sugar snap peas, Woodstock Farms frozen organic peas or carrots (they defrost by lunchtime), and organic heirloom cherry tomatoes. Bell pepper strips, sliced cucumber, and broccoli florets are other good options, though they haven’t been a hit with Big J. I always include fresh fruit. Right now we are enjoying plums, nectarines and peaches, which I pack in a container to protect against bruising. Berries, grapes, and kiwi also never return home when I pack them.
Interesting containers make things fun. I use a combination of square and round, colorful and clear storage (all BPA-Free). We also have a huge lunch box and water bottle collection, which keeps things fresh and fun. I find that novelty can really go a long way towards making lunches more appealing. I often pack the same foods twice in a week, but I try to make sure that foods I repeat are paired in different combinations. I’m excited for the school year to start and I’m definitely planning to bring my mom game to packing fresh and exciting lunches for my girls—and I will of course share my successes and failures with my readers!
Kids and Bone Health
8/9/2013 8:00:22 PM
Most people think of osteoporosis as a disease of aging, when in actuality it starts developing very early in life (just as heart disease does). This informative article from this week’s New York Times explains the importance of building healthy bones in childhood and emphasizes the best types of exercise for building bone mass: To Ensure Bone Health, Start Early.
While it is true that physical activity probably has a little bit more of an impact on bone health than diet, what we eat and don’t eat can still play an important role in determining fracture risk later in life. It seems that milk is the food that everyone thinks of as being essential to bone health. It is true that dairy products do offer high amounts of important bone-building calcium, but keep in mind that yogurt and cheese are equally as good as milk, if not better, in the calcium department. (Please try to serve kids organic dairy from Organic Valley, Straus Family Creamery, Horizon, Stonyfield, and Wallaby most of the time.) Too little dairy and too much dairy both increase osteoporosis risk, so be careful to add up the servings of all milk, yogurt, cheese and calcium-fortified beverages and cereals to ensure kids are getting just the right daily amount: 700 milligrams for kids ages 1-3, 1,000 milligrams for kids ages 4-8, and 1,300 milligrams for kids ages 9-18.
But all nutrients contribute to bone health, not just calcium. Vitamins C, D, and K, as well as magnesium, potassium, beta carotene, and plant protein—in other words, the nutrients found in vegetables, fruit, beans, nuts, and whole grains—are all essential to bone health. Kids and adults can only get adequate amounts of all of these nutrients by eating a nutrient-dense diet that minimizes processed foods and junk food. One exception is vitamin D, which can be almost impossible to obtain adequately through diet alone (and sun exposure is not ideal), so discuss using a vitamin D supplement with your child’s pediatrician. For more information about eating to build healthy bones, see my Unbreakable Bones newsletter.
I don’t want to be that dietitian who puts more pressure on parents than they already have about what’s on the table; remember that I’m an advocate of allowing children to decide if and how much they eat from what we parents and caregivers offer. We do need to be offering mostly nutrient-dense foods at each meal and we need to model eating and enjoying these foods at regular family meals. If you struggle with your kids eating wholesome foods, keep reading my older blog entries and check out some of the resources I link to.
At my house, we don’t drink a lot of milk, but we do make dairy foods a consistent part of our plant-based diets. My 4-year-old, Big J, decided early on that she didn’t want to drink milk from a cup. She ate yogurt daily from age 1-2, but then rejected that, too. She needs about two and a half servings of dairy a day, so I cook her hot breakfast cereal (oatmeal or grits) in milk instead of water and I pack her cheese sandwiches for lunch several times a week. On days that she doesn’t have a cheese sandwich, I offer her cheese for a snack. I continue to offer milk occasionally, and lately, she has been asking for milk in a cup. The other night at dinner she drank two glasses, which was a pleasant surprise. Hopefully, she will allow yogurt back into her repertoire soon, too. She also eats a nutrient-dense diet with lots of plant foods. As you would imagine, we don’t eat a lot of highly processed food, but we do enjoy sweets a couple of times a week. Our family favorites are ice cream (a fair source of calcium) and cookies with milk.
8/2/2013 7:01:57 PM
Last weekend my husband and I were chuckling over the fact that other families go out and do things together (I’m not sure what—go to the park, zoo, movies<) and our family goes out to eat. That’s our “thing.” We pretty much go from table to table—and while we are sitting at one table eating, we are invariably also discussing where we will go for our next meal. Our 4-year-old, Big J, easily participates in these conversations, and often instigates them. A couple of weekends ago three of the restaurants we ate at were her suggestions. It is pretty hilarious to see how at home she can be at a restaurant. On Sunday night, the restaurant’s executive chef came over to our table to say hello and Big J offered her critique of her meal: “the chicken is pretty good, but it’s missing something.”
I’m grateful that we all enjoy food and eating. Even Little J at 11 months can hang for an hour and a half at a restaurant. My husband and I love food, so we have created a family that does, too. It’s not better or worse than what other families do together, but it is critically important to the well-being of our family-- and every family--that we have some kind of ritual that we do together as a family. This helps create a more cohesive family and it can have a big impact on kids’ well-being in terms of happiness, resilience, socialization, and academic success.
Our family meals are not always pleasant, delicious, or full of conversation, but they are consistent and they are good more often than not. As Dr. Christine Carter explains in her blog post HOW TO BUILD A HAPPY FAMILY, these meals provide opportunities for connections that help kids feel like they are an important part of something bigger than themselves. For my family, our meals together are helping to create a family narrative that shows that no matter what, we stick together and do our “thing.” That’s why every day, my husband and I do our best to serve up family meals that nourish our daughters both emotionally and physically. It is not always easy, but we have committed to it and it is part of our daily rhythm. After all these years, it feels natural and it is comforting to know that at the end of a good day or bad day we will all come together at a table and have the intimate connection of sharing food.
Welcome Honest Company!
7/26/2013 8:26:10 PM
I was so excited this morning when I arrived at work and saw a huge new section of products from the Honest Company. I have never tried any of their products, but have heard amazing things about them. I’m super psycho organic mommy when it comes to anything I put in, on, or near my family, so I’m thrilled to try out their baby care, bath and body (gentle enough for babies, effective enough for adults!), detergents, and cleaning products. I am still trying to decide what to try out first. I think I will buy some hand soap and shampoo + body wash today and replace other products as we run out. How cool is it that the Honest Company chose Gelson’s to be the only supermarket in the country to carry their products? So far, we have their products at the following stores: Calabasas, Century City, Encino, Pacific Palisades, Silverlake, and Valley Village. They will be arriving at Newport Beach in the next few weeks, and eventually all of our stores. Check them out if they are at a Gelson’s near you!
Happy Family Meals
7/19/2013 3:37:10 PM
Now that Little J is eating a large variety of foods, it is fun to share our family meals with her. This week I made Turkey and Avocado Tostada Salad with Big J as my sous chef. She used a sturdy plastic knife to help me cut the cherry tomatoes and turkey. She also helped wash the vegetables for the salad. Before I mixed all of the ingredients together, I put some black beans, corn, and avocado into a bowl with a suction cup on the bottom for Little J. She devoured every bit of her meal plus two Frog Hollow plums. Big J also enjoyed the tossed salad, chips, and a couple of plums. Here is the easy, yummy recipe:
Turkey and Avocado Tostada Salad
1 half-pint package Del Cabo organic Sweet 100 cherry tomatoes, halved
1 large ear yellow corn, kernels cut off the cob
1/4 medium red onion, minced
1/2 small jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves, lightly packed, minced
16 ounces Gelson’s carving cart sliced turkey breast, diced
1 can Westbrae Organic black beans, rinsed and drained
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice (from about 2 heavy limes), divided
2 tablespoons Napa Valley organic olive oil
1/4 teaspoon Le Saunier de Camargue fleur de sel sea salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1firm but ripe organic avocado, diced
4 ounces Casa Sanchez Totopos tortilla chips
- In a salad bowl, combine tomatoes, corn kernels, red onion, jalapeno pepper, cilantro, turkey, and black beans.
- Mix two tablespoon of lime juice with olive oil, salt and pepper. Toss it with the salad.
- Gently toss avocado with remaining tablespoon of lime juice.
- Lightly mix avocado chunks in with salad. Serve with tortilla chips on the side.
Family-Friendly Menu Planning
7/12/2013 6:58:08 PM
When I work with parents to help them implement Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility in Feeding, I emphasize the importance of having family meals with everyone being served the same foods. Many parents feel challenged by the idea of moving away from serving special kids foods and only readily accepted foods. We parents have got to be family-friendly in our menu planning and we have to have the overall goal in mind of helping our children become competent eaters. Feeding should not be about getting food into our kids on a meal-by-meal basis; it should instead be about helping them learn to like a wide variety of foods, advancing them to more challenging textures, and teaching them to behave at the table.
It is our job to plan the menus. That means we don’t ask our kids what they want for dinner; it’s a hard enough job for us adults to plan menus—imagine how hard it would be for kids! Don’t limit the menus to only foods you know your child will eat. Instead, plan menus that include a new or not-yet-accepted food sometimes. When you do offer new foods or a previously unaccepted food, try to do it at a family meal and make sure to plan the menu so that there is at least one or two other things on the menu that you know your child will eat (it doesn’t have to be their favorite food, just something they have already accepted into their repertoire). You can modify foods and even deconstruct them for your child’s taste (I don’t consider that short-order cooking). For instance, one night this week I made Mahi Mahi with Southwestern Succotash (I used black cod instead of mahi mahi since I was in the mood for a fattier fish), which is a recipe that my daughter, Big J, had not yet accepted. I also served roasted sweet potatoes and plums, two foods she likes. While cooking, I scooped out a serving of succotash for Big J before I added the cayenne pepper and feta cheese since I thought it would be too spicy for her otherwise (reading my own words now, I think I could have handled it better by seasoning the succotash as called for and letting her eat around the cheese or by serving the cheese on the side). Although she eats all of the ingredients that went into the succotash and has enjoyed it in the past, this time she took a bite of the succotash and spit it out into her napkin. My husband and I did not make a big deal about that because she did it in a matter-of-fact, calm fashion. She ate about seven ounce of the black cod, one plum and no sweet potatoes. My baby, Little J, by the way ate corn and edamame sautéed in olive oil since I don’t yet season her food, roasted sweet potato, and plum (she hasn’t had fish yet).
I made sure that when I planned the menu there were familiar foods served along with the not-yet accepted food. Earlier in the week, I used this strategy and added condiments to make a less familiar food more acceptable when I made Gelson’s turkey meatloaf from the meat department and served it with Santa Cruz organic unsweetened applesauce for Big J and Annie’s organic ketchup for the adults.
Menu planning is challenging; especially when you have to do it for people with different food preferences and eating abilities. For help with planning family friendly menus, see my February 2013 newsletter. If you do modify foods for your kids, I encourage you to advance to the next level once they accept a food. The next time I make the delicious succotash recipe, I will definitely include the cayenne and feta cheese.
7/5/2013 7:21:36 PM
Little J had her 10-month check-up last week and we learned through a finger prick blood test that her iron levels are a little too low. They aren’t low enough to start giving her supplemental iron, but we need to actively work on increasing the iron in her diet in order to bring her levels back up into the healthy range. Low iron can lead to iron deficiency anemia, which can have lasting consequences on behavioral and mental development if left untreated. For more information on iron deficiency, see this article: Iron deficiency in children: Prevention tips for parents - Mayo Clinic.
Although she has plenty of iron-rich foods in her diet, like lentils, black beans, garbanzo beans, edamame, chicken thighs, eggs, raisins, and iron-fortified oatmeal, we need to increase the vitamin C-rich foods that we serve with them, since vitamin C aids in iron absorption. Right now, her main sources of vitamin C are broccoli, cauliflower, butternut squash, and watermelon. This weekend I will test out strawberries (an excellent source) to see if she tolerates them. I will also offer her kiwi, tomatoes, pineapple, mango, papaya, cantaloupe, and tangerines in the next few weeks, since these foods are high in vitamin C and raw fruits and vegetables retain the most vitamin C (heat can destroy this nutrient). I will also add red meat to her diet for an additional source of iron.
Furthermore, although she has had dairy products, I will avoid making them a regular part of her diet since the calcium in dairy competes with iron in the body and dairy displaces iron-rich foods in the diet. Cow’s milk is also an intestinal irritant and can cause small amounts of stomach bleeding, which can further deplete iron stores. Once her iron levels have improved, I will put dairy in limited quantities back into the regular rotation. For the next few months, however, I will concentrate on increasing her iron levels through dietary measures.
A Bumpy Dinner
6/28/2013 11:31:47 AM
Although we have always practiced the Division of Responsibility with our 4-year-old daughter, Big J, things don’t always go smoothly at mealtimes. Last night I worked hard to get home from work with enough time to prepare dinner for my family. I made Turkey and Avocado Salad and served it with Frog Hollow Farm apricots and Casa Sanchez Totopos tortilla chips. Right away Big J started saying she didn’t want to eat salad for dinner. She came to the table, but carried on the whole time (and even cried a bit) that she didn’t want what I was serving (though she ate four apricots). “I don’t like salad” she kept repeating. I reminded her that she always enjoys this recipe when I make it and this recipe does not have lettuce in it; salad is just a bunch of different foods mixed together, like fruit salad (one of her favorites). I remained calm and neutral and repeated that this was the menu for dinner and I wasn’t serving anything else; she did not have to eat if she didn’t want to. We both held our ground until dinnertime was almost over. Just before dinner actually was over, my husband came home. He sat down at the table and Big J decided that she wanted to eat with her him. She ate a hearty serving of salad and a few chips. This morning she even asked if we could have the salad again for dinner tonight!
Toddlers and preschoolers can be challenging! Big J is very strong-willed, so pressuring and arguing with her never works. She would rather go to bed hungry than give in to pressure to eat. I know she was also exhausted from a long day at camp, which made her even more prone to melting down at the end of the day. It was a very unpleasant meal and it is always disappointing to work so hard to make dinner and have it turn out to be a disaster. I know that’s a reason why some parents don’t even bother to have family meals. I feel, however, that family meals, along with the Division of Responsibility, are the antidote to food fights and picky eating. I am glad that I did not give in to Big J’s demands for short order cooking; it’s clear that the food was not the issue and she had some big feeling that she had to work through before she was ready to eat what was on the menu for our family meal.
6/21/2013 4:12:55 PM
We have been introducing Little J to new foods very slowly. So slowly, in fact that if feels like she has very few foods in her repertoire after almost four months of eating solids. We’ve had several false starts with foods like eggs, sweet potato, and green beans, since she developed rashes on the days those foods were introduced and we had to stop, wait a month, and re-introduce these foods to make sure that she isn’t allergic to them. So far she isn’t, but we haven’t yet tried eggs again. It also took her about six weeks to get interested in eating solids, which means that she didn’t really start trying many new foods until she was almost eight months old. Luckily, she hasn’t looked back since and she loves eating!
Now when I introduce new foods, I try to think of building block type foods that can be used in making recipes for other foods, like olive oil (for healthful fat), onion, and garlic (for flavor and antioxidants) so she can eat more of the foods we eat at family meals. One new food she is really loving is black beans. I sautéed some minced onion in olive oil, then cooked it with black beans (organic dried beans that I soaked overnight) for about two hours until the onions melted and the beans got very soft. This morning she is having garbanzo beans cooked with olive oil, garlic, and a bay leaf. These are a bit of a pain since we have to remove the skin from each bean and then split the beans in halves or quarters for her, but she just loves her finger foods! Beans are a perfect finger food since they have a great firm-soft consistency for being picked up and gummed. They also offer fiber, protein, and iron—nutrients that are important for growing babies. Aside from the nutrients they provide, I love beans because they are so important for controlling blood sugar and satiety.
I think I will make Little J some lentils for her next food. I will first sauté some carrots, celery, shallots, and garlic in olive oil, then add the lentils and cook until they are tender enough for Little J to manage. I like the idea of getting her started on vegetarian proteins—our family eats within the framework of the Mediterranean Diet. I feel like she eats chicken almost every day and is getting tired of it (aren’t we all, though?). The chicken also makes her poop smell funny, which is normal, but gross.
By the way, the Mediterranean Diet is the healthiest way to eat; it’s a plant-based diet. It is what I like to call flexitarian, or flexible vegetarian, with two vegetarian meals and one animal-flesh meal a day (preferably from fish). Beans, yogurt, cheese, and nuts provide plant proteins for most of the meals. Eggs are also eaten almost daily. For more information about the Mediterranean Diet, see my April 2013 Nutrition Notes newsletter. For lots of great recipes for cooking beans, explore my sections in Gelson’s Cookbook.
Not Too Much Fruit
6/14/2013 5:43:03 PM
My 4-year old, Big J, has really been enjoying the organic apricots, peaches and nectarines that we have at Gelson’s right now. She has regularly been eating an entire box of Frog Hollow Farm apricots at snacks and three or four peaches at dinner.
I don’t get stressed out when Big J only eats fruit or eats a huge amount at a meal because that’s what the Division of Responsibility looks like in action. I plan the menus and my kids decide whether and how much to eat from what I’m providing. I think our natural tendency is to stop our kids because we think they will get a stomach ache or be hungry later or we are worried about the other foods being wasted or we are worried that they will get fat. I encourage you to let all of those worries go and relax once you get the food on the table. If big J gets a stomach ache or feels hungry later, those are natural consequences of her choices and she can make a different choice at the next meal if she wants to. She won’t starve, get fat, or be ill. Wasting food is a normal part of feeding children. I sometimes save any salvageable food on her plate for another meal because it makes me feel better about not wasting food, but I don’t serve it again at the following meal, since that just feels like a punishment. Big J is very thin, so I don’t ever worry about her eating too much, but I could imagine how the parent of a heavier child would feel if their kid was eating a pound of apricots in one sitting. I think it is important to feed both overweight and underweight children (who have no medical problems) the same as we would if they were within healthy weight ranges to help normalize their eating and weight. Kids know how much food they need to eat and I don’t want to interfere with that innate knowledge. I also know that I can’t choose my children’s body types for them; I can only help support them in listening to their bodies so that they can achieve their healthiest size possible. I do this by having family meals often and by practicing the Division of Responsibility. If you struggle with your child eating more than you think he or she should, please take a look at Ellyn Satter’s advice for The Child Who Eats Too Much.
Super 4 Toddlers
6/10/2013 11:32:10 AM
I am very excited about my theme for the month of June: Super 4 Toddlers! My Nutrition Notes newsletter is all about how to navigate feeding this challenging group of 1-5 year-olds. It focuses mostly on feeding strategies to help parents and caregivers support children in becoming competent eaters who can enjoy a variety of foods. I want to help make meals pleasant and fun for everyone and I explain proven strategies for bringing the joy back to the family table. Once you master how to feed, you can check out my September 2012 newsletter about what to feed your family. My June recipes for Crunchy Salmon Bites, Roasted Butternut Squash and Sweet Potatoes, and Split Pea Soup are also family-friendly. Finally, I am offering complimentary Super 4 Toddlers shopping tours at several Gelson’s stores. Join me on an informative and fun 90-minute tour to taste and learn about my favorite foods for feeding your whole family healthfully. View my in-store events schedule and call me at 1-800-GELSONS to sign up.
Helping Babies Advance Their Eating
5/31/2013 11:50:35 PM
Little J is nine months old and she continues to be an enthusiastic eater. She is always game for trying new foods, but she is still eating thick pureed and kind of lumpy foods and has not yet mastered solids that require some chewing, like Cheerios. I want to help her advance to eating more solid finger foods (also called table foods). The thought of giving her more challenging textures make me a little anxious, though. I’m so tired by the end of the day when we all sit down to our family meal together, the last thing I want to do is deal with her gagging. I know she wants to get better at eating and she doesn’t mind working hard to chew, form a bolus, and swallow her food. She loves feeding herself with a spoon and her hands. Last night she made a beautiful mess by sticking her fingers into her bowls of pureed chicken thighs, sweet potato, and mashed avocado. She was covered up to her elbows and from ear to ear. She was doing a pretty impressive job of getting some food into her mouth and sucking it off her fingers.
Every few days we check in and offer her a small piece of ripe banana, or avocado, or a Cheerio. She is game for picking it up, putting it in her mouth and “chewing”, but can’t yet form the food into a soft ball, and swallow it. Instead she gags. Gagging is normal and part of the process of advancing to more challenging textures (kids can breathe when they gag; they cannot breathe when they choke). We need to make sure that pieces are small enough for her to manage and not get stuck in her windpipe so that gagging does not turn into choking. It is very important to remain calm when she gags, since she will quickly learn to enjoy the big reaction she gets and will eventually make herself gag on purpose just to see the show. I just need to relax and keep giving her opportunities to learn to move her jaw from side to side, gather the food together into a ball on her tongue and swallow hard enough to propel the food down her throat. (I am certified in infant CPR and I know I could help her if she were choking.)
As always, I need to find the balance between being supportive and being pushy. I know that she will develop her ability to “chew” at her own pace—this is not a nutritional emergency! For the next set of foods I introduce, I will keep texture in mind and offer things that will help her advance: scrambled eggs, potatoes, fish, and tofu—all cut up small enough that she can manage it in her mouth but still be able to pick it up with her pincer grasp. I’ve gotten some good ideas and found support from these two articles: 8 to 10 months: Venturing into Table Foods and Switching To Solid Foods (scroll down to “When can my baby try other food?”).
Cake Isn’t Always Delicious
5/24/2013 6:34:58 PM
I almost didn’t have any tales to tell this week until we had dessert last night. My older daughter, Big J, and my mom had gone shopping yesterday for the ingredients for our regular Thursday night family dinner at my parents’ house. They picked out some fresh berries and a piece of fudgy flourless chocolate cake for us all to share for dessert. Big J could hardly wait until the end of the meal to try the cake. After a couple of bites, however, she realized that she care for it. She announced that she didn’t like the cake and said she wanted ice cream instead. I calmly told her that she didn’t have to eat it if she didn’t like it, but the menu for dessert was just cake and berries. She ate some of the berries and left the rest of her cake untouched.
Hooray for Big J and hooray for us! I think very few people are tuned into their eating enough to stop eating a piece of cake because they aren’t enjoying it. One of my goals with feeding is to make sure my children are mindful enough to taste their food and eat what they enjoy. We offer dessert about twice a week in portion-controlled quantities, and occasionally in unlimited quantities at snacks.
Her leaving the cake on her plate reassured me that we have struck a good balance with the frequency with which we are Using "Forbidden" Food. We also have rules about not playing at the table, since toys, books and television can distract us from what and how much we are eating. I also refuse to be a short-order cook for any portion of a meal or snack. I think this was a good reminder for all of us that dessert isn’t always automatically yummy.
Baby Schedule in Flux
5/17/2013 5:37:10 PM
Little J is almost nine months old and her schedule is getting challenging. She still takes three naps a day and has five milk feedings and three meals of solids. By now, most babies are taking two naps a day and having only four milk feedings. The period between nine and 12 months can pose many feeding challenges since babies drop milk feedings quickly and start to rely more on solids for their daily sustenance.
My baby is getting less interested in milk and more interested in solids now. She’s also so distracted by everything that is going on around her! It can be really hard to strike the balance between letting her decide whether and how much milk and solids she wants and making sure that she gets enough at feeding times. I try to make feeding times as calm and uninteresting as possible so she can focus on eating, but that doesn’t always work. The other day she rejected her solid foods at all three meals and then woke up in the middle of the night starving. Luckily she is pretty good with her baby sign language, so she could tell me she was crying because she was hungry, but otherwise I would not have thought that she was awakened by her hunger (she usually sleeps through the night). That experience made me realize how much Little J is relying on solid foods to stay satisfied.
From now on I will watch her closely to support her in eating and drinking well during the day (but I will never pressure her to eat or drink more than she wants). I will also look for opportunities to consolidate her naps and milk feedings so that she can be hungrier and more focused on eating at milk and meal times.
Preventing Celiac Disease
5/10/2013 4:45:19 PM
This past weekend I attended and spoke at the annual Celiac Disease Education Conference. For those who don’t know about celiac, it is a chronic autoimmune disease. People with celiac disease cannot tolerate any amount of gluten, the protein that is found in wheat, rye and barley (and some oats due to cross-contamination). For these sensitive individuals, eating gluten damages the small intestine so that, over time, nutrients such as protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals are unable to be absorbed, often leading to nutritional deficiencies, malnutrition, osteoporosis and sometimes even cancer. Symptoms of celiac disease can be nonexistent or can include bloating, gas, diarrhea, constipation, vomiting, migraines, depression, bone or joint pain, canker sores, weight loss or weight gain, infertility, and acid reflux. The presence of an auto-immune disease is also associated with an increased risk of celiac disease. About 1% of the population has celiac, but most don’t even know it. Moreover, the prevalence of the disease is on the rise. An estimated 40% of Caucasians carry the gene for celiac disease, which means they have the potential to develop it at any point in their lives. The only treatment for celiac disease is a strict gluten-free diet for life.
I was very curious to hear what the celiac experts had to say about preventing celiac disease in people that have the genes. It turns out that there is an ideal time to expose children to gluten. Between four and seven months of age is a good time to give babies a little bit of gluten-containing foods here and there (but don’t give them a bagel to teethe on every day). Introducing gluten before four months and after seven months of age can actually increase the risk of celiac disease. Breastfeeding during the time period that gluten is introduced is also very protective. The Rotavirus vaccine can also help decrease celiac disease risk.
Oops! We missed the gluten window with Little J (and Big J). I’m glad that I am still breastfeeding. The day after the conference I did introduce Earth’s Best organic oatmeal cereal, which is made from oats that may be cross-contaminated with gluten in processing, so I feel like she has had some gluten exposure now.
I don’t know if my children have the genes for celiac disease, but I am mindful of doing things to prevent celiac. Mainly, I try to limit wheat exposure to once a day. I don’t serve bread at every meal. I usually offer oatmeal or corn grits at breakfast, both items may be cross-contaminated with a little gluten, but I’m not going to go overboard. On school days, I usually pack Big J a sandwich on bread that contains wheat, rye or barley, so I’m mindful to not serve bread, pasta, or other wheat-based foods at dinner on those days. On days where I know we will be having bread, pasta or pizza at dinner, I try to pack Big J a lunch that doesn’t contain gluten: Gelson’s salad bar, homemade mini quiches with rice cracker crust, leftover chicken, or lentil salad. I don’t make myself crazy, and there are days here and there where she does eat bread at two meals. Overall, I’m mindful of offering a variety of foods for the whole family every day so that we moderate our exposure to gluten on most days. I believe that eating moderate amounts of a variety of grains is the best approach for keeping all of us in optimal health.
5/3/2013 6:37:23 PM
Little J is now an enthusiastic eater and drinker. We started her out drinking water from a little glass that is slightly bigger than a shot glass and she loved taking sips from it. However, as she has started to enjoy food and eat larger quantities over the last few weeks, her stool has gotten firmer and drier and she is less regular—all signs that she needs more water. Although we were offering her water with every meal, the fact is, not all that much water was actually being swallowed (drinking form a cup is something she will be working on mastering over the next couple of years). I didn’t want to offer her water in a bottle, since it is best to reserve bottles for milk feedings, plus it is my job to hold the bottle, not hers; and I didn’t want to use a sippy cup since it can interfere with oral development—for more on that see this article from mommyspeechtherapy.com: Do Pacifiers and Sippy Cups Cause Speech Delay?
Instead, I used a Mr. Juice Bear For Teaching Straw Drinking and it worked beautifully (despite the vessel’s name, please do not ever consider giving your baby juice)! It is a soft honey bear container with a great, sturdy straw. We filled it with water, offered her the straw (which she put in her mouth), and then gently squeezed the bear’s tummy so water would go into her mouth. We only had to repeat this exercise a few times at breakfast and lunch and by dinnertime, she was holding her own bottle and sucking water through the straw. She gets really excited whenever she sees her bear cup and is drinking much more water. Her stools are softer and more regular now, too. Pretty soon we will transition to my favorite healthy straw cup made of stainless steel and silicone, not plastic, the Thermos Foogo Phases Leak Proof Stainless Steel Straw Bottle. I will continue to offer Little J plenty of opportunities to practice drinking from a glass, but from now on I will offer her water in a straw cup at most of her meals.
4/26/2013 6:22:42 PM
Little J is now eight months old, exclusively breastfed, and has not yet had any iron-rich or iron-fortified foods. All of these factors mean that we need to pay attention to her iron levels, since she is now at risk for having low iron (iron deficiency anemia—very low iron-- is probably not a risk yet). Iron transports oxygen to all the tissues in the body and is involved in many central nervous system processes. It is an extremely important nutrient for babies and young children because their bodies and brains grow so rapidly in the early years and they need so much iron in order to keep up with that growth. Iron deficiency anemia is associated with cognitive, behavioral, and motor deficits in children. I don’t want her iron levels to get so low that anemia is even a possibility. I’m looking around for some iron rich foods to introduce to her. I’m considering Earth’s Best whole grain oatmeal cereal, lentils, white beans, and beef. I will also need to pair the iron-rich food with a food that contains vitamin C, since iron cannot be absorbed without it. I’m thinking broccoli, potatoes, or cantaloupe would fit the bill. To learn more about the importance of iron for babies and young children, check out this great article: 5 Practical Ways to Increase Iron in Your Baby’s Diet.
4/23/2013 5:44:54 PM
Preventing allergies in my children is a big concern for me since I have seasonal allergies, allergic asthma, and an anaphylactic food allergy. I know first-hand how awful and scary these reactions can be. With my first daughter, Big J, I followed a protocol of avoiding nuts for the first year of breastfeeding and delayed the introduction of highly allergenic foods. As far as we can tell, that protocol worked for preventing allergies. Recently, the recommendations have changed as studies have shown that early introduction of allergenic foods (that are developmentally appropriate, of course) is the best route for preventing food allergies in children. I am gingerly switching my approach based on these recommendations and with my doctor’s guidance. I have added nuts back to my diet and am not so insane about preventing cross-contamination of allergenic foods with my baby’s foods. So far, I have not directly fed Little J any allergenic foods because we are still testing out the basic veggies and fruits. I am still introducing new foods one at a time, in the morning, and for three days in a row so that we will be able to recognize any allergic reactions. At first she was getting rashes around her neck, but we figured out that her silicone bib was probably the cause. Now we use soft organic terry cloth bibs and the rashes seem better. I can tell that she has dry, sensitive skin like me (sorry, babe). I will continue to do all I can to prevent allergies, including breastfeeding, supplementing with 400 IUs of vitamin D daily (because she is breastfed; most formulas already contain vitamin D), and letting her play with our cat (cats and dogs are considered to be “dirty” and helpful for preventing allergies). I will keep you posted as she tries new foods. In the meantime, here is a great blog post by Dr. Mom about preventing food allergies: Can food allergies be prevented?
A Pleasant Surprise
4/15/2013 1:56:17 PM
Although I have been trying to remain upbeat and committed to practicing Ellyn Satter's Division Of Responsibility In Feeding with my seven-month-old, I had been starting to wonder if Little J would ever learn to love food the way the rest of our family does. I’d even been reading other chefs’ and foodies’ sob stories online about how their own children did not share their passion or excitement about food or eating. I was becoming a little concerned about how she would be able to participate in our family’s frequent bountiful meals and eating adventures.
Then something amazing happened at dinner the other night. I offered Little J a bite of pureed zucchini on a spoon, expecting her usual uninterested response. Instead, she smiled and opened her mouth for a bite! I did a double take! I couldn’t believe it. I could not remain neutral. I smiled and excitedly offered her the spoon several more times and each time she smiled and opened her mouth. I could feel a weight being lifted off of my shoulders—and I don’t think it was a fluke. Last night I broke a piece off of a very ripe and freckled banana and she happily held it and fed herself little bites.
I’m not sure what to attribute this new interest in food to. My husband thinks it is mostly due to us following the Division of Responsibility instead of pressuring her to eat. I think the fact that her double ear infection finally cleared up has played a part, too. Finally, maybe she just grew up a little more and is more developmentally ready to accept solid foods. Although she met all of the developmental criteria for starting solids at six months, she might not have been 100% ready to put food in her mouth and swallow it. I feel like we are on a new path with feeding and I’m so happy that I remained committed to doing only my job with the what, when and where of feeding and allowed Little J to do her job with the whether and how much of eating.
Lumpy Grits and Other Ugly Stuff
4/5/2013 4:21:03 PM
It’s been a rough week feeding-wise and health-wise for my family. First, when my baby, Little J, woke up vomiting late last week, the doctor thought she might be “backed up” and suggested we give her stewed prunes to alleviate the constipation. It was her first fruit and I was hoping she would finally be turned on to eating once she tasted the sweetness of the prunes. No such luck. A few days later she developed a double ear infection and diarrhea, so we stopped the prunes and introduced banana (B.R.A.T. foods: bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast are the best foods for an upset stomach). I mashed some and also gave her a large piece that she could hold in her hand and feed herself. She kind of liked feeding herself, but she was taking large bites that were making her gag, which was scaring all of us, so bananas weren’t much of a hit, either. I feel like we are making progress, though. The last couple of nights at family dinners, she actually opened her mouth when I offered her a little food on a spoon (carrots and avocado). She made faces that indicated displeasure, but she did open her mouth a couple more times to keep trying. She is pushing herself along to learn to eat solids and accept some foods…
Meanwhile, my toddler, Big J, has continued to try new foods this week, but she rejected a food that she usually eats several times a week for breakfast. Each month I make large batches of grits that I cook with dried mango and cherries, then freeze and reheat with butter and milk. I guess I used a little more water than usual, so the texture was a little creamy when I served them to her fresh out of the pot. She rejected them and said that she wanted lumpy grits (the way they are when we make them from the freezer). She was so turned off that she hasn’t wanted to eat grits since her creamy grits experience. Ugh.
It’s such a bummer for me to take the time to cook and have it rejected—and I know other parents feel the same way. It can be difficult for us to stay positive when it feels like our kids are snubbing all of our earnest efforts to feed them well. To top it all off, I’ve been sick and sleep deprived this week, which means I don’t have a lot of tolerance for rejection. I will keep reminding myself not to take it personally and I will continue to do my job of offering a variety of foods at structured family meals and snacks. I won’t pressure them to eat or try foods—even previously accepted foods—and I will let them be in charge of deciding if they are going to taste or eat what I am offering. I know we will have many ugly mealtimes in our future; that’s just what happens sometimes with children. I will do my best not to get discouraged or pressure my kids to eat foods that they don’t want. My goals are to make meals pleasurable, not stressful and disappointing battles and to raise competent eaters. By backing off and doing my jobs of planning and serving family meals, I am letting my daughters know that I respect and trust them to eat the way that is right for them at each meal, which in turn can help them become confident, self-aware, and capable with eating. Now that will be a beautiful thing!
3/29/2013 6:34:12 PM
After I wrote my post last week about my baby not liking solid foods very much, I started thinking about how easy it is to write off new foods when they aren’t received enthusiastically at first. I actually worked with several mothers this week who have told me that their babies don’t like certain foods. I hear the same lament from parents of toddlers, too. We parents need to be reminded that it is just too soon to know for sure that our kids don’t like a food.
Children need at least 12 to 20—and sometimes 50—exposures to a new food before they accept it. Little kids haven’t been eating long enough to have had that many exposures to any food. Don’t give up on not-yet-accepted foods! It took my toddler two years and about 50 tries before she accepted eggs. Now she eats quiche and egg salad weekly, as well as the occasional hard-boiled egg.
If your toddler or older child has not yet accepted certain foods, keep offering them occasionally and in different forms. For example, don’t just steam cauliflower; roast it, add it to soups, and sauté it with olive oil and garlic. Offer it in different forms to babies, too, but modify it in developmentally appropriate ways. By the way, children don’t eat food simply because it is good for them. It must taste good, so we must make an effort to find good recipes! Check out some of my recipes at Gelson’s Cookbook. I am a huge fan of condiments, too. They help make unfamiliar foods more familiar and less scary. At my house, unsweetened applesauce, grated or shredded Reggiano Parmesan cheese, Follow Your Heart Vegenaise, and yellow mustard are my toddler’s favorite condiments. I don’t limit condiments or make a big deal about the wacky combinations she concocts with them as long as she is eating and not playing with them. I will continue to offer my baby her not-yet-accepted foods, and will work hard not to pressure her to eat them. Remaining neutral and enjoying the same foods at family meals are the best ways to support food acceptance.
3/22/2013 6:45:22 PM
I had really expected my easygoing baby, Little J, to love food and eating. I thought she would be even easier to feed than Big J was—and Big J was easy, she really liked almost everything I offered her. Little J loves to be at the table with us and she loves drinking water out of a glass, but she couldn't really care less about the food. I’m starting to wonder how she will fit into our foodie family. In the back of my mind I’m hoping that she’s just finding all of these plain pureed veggies bland and that things will take off when I start adding olive oil and spices to her food in a couple of months. Her lack of interest in food doesn’t really matter right now since eating is so much more than just putting food in our mouths. It’s a social event and Little J is learning how to behave and be social at the table (she babbles constantly throughout meals). She is also learning how to drink from a glass. I’m not going to force her to eat if she doesn’t want to. I just keep doing my job with deciding what, when and where and she can do her job with deciding whether and how much. Socializing, drinking, and being in charge of how much she eats are all aspects of well-rounded, competent eating.
Big J, on the other hand, has been super enthusiastic about trying new foods lately. What a relief from that toddler phase of picky eating! Over the last couple of weeks she’s told me several times “I’m excited to taste something new”. So far this week she has tried and liked chamomile tea, halibut, and apple pears.
Trying New Foods
3/15/2013 3:29:43 PM
We seem to be on a roll with trying new foods this week. It is so exciting for me to see my toddler opening up to new foods. Almost weekly, I remind myself of The Feeding Doctor’s old blog post they don’t, they don’t, they don’t, then suddenly they do. It is so hard to remind myself to keep offering Big J foods that she has not yet accepted. Luckily, she is doing a great job of reminding me! Just the other night we were having papaya halves and strawberries with dinner. She always rejects papaya, so we just served her strawberries. She took a look at the dinner table and declared “papaya looks like cantaloupe, I want to try it.” I calmly gave her some of my papaya to taste and she declared “I love it!” A couple of days later she told me “I love papaya” and I simply responded by saying “it’s good that you gave it another chance” and she agreed. I tried to be as neutral as possible through both of these exchanges, as being overly enthusiastic or praising would certainly turn her off from papaya again. She also tried turkey bacon at a buffet and filet of sole and loved them both. It helped that the fish was prepared the same way as her favorite chicken, which is dipped in egg and whole wheat panko bread crumbs, seasoned with garlic salt, then lightly sautéed in olive oil and finished in the oven to make it crispy. Big J liked all of the new foods she tried, and I’m convinced that buffets are a great way to expose kids to new or previously unaccepted foods (just like they are for us big kids). The Feeding Doctor had another great recent blog post about a similar experience with her daughter:mealtime theater: this time not so crazy, but a good reminder to offer offer offer!
Little J, on the other hand, was not so hot on her new food. She loved avocado, but made lots of faces when eating butternut squash. Maybe she prefers savory to sweet flavors or liked the creaminess or cool temperature of the avocado better—she will need many more exposures before we know more about her taste preferences. This weekend she will have some organic green beans that I will steam and puree for her. I chose green beans because they are not orange like the last food she tried and they are more savory than sweet.
3/8/2013 11:58:32 AM
We finally started feeding my baby, Little J, solids this past weekend. I didn’t start the day she turned six months because I felt that starting solids on a weekday morning would be too hectic and stressful. I wanted us all to be able to enjoy the process in a leisurely fashion, which is what we did last Saturday morning. I mashed up a little bit of ripe organic avocado with breastmilk and put a little water in a glass. I put everyone’s breakfast on the table and we all ate our morning meal together—family meals paired with using Ellyn Satter's Division of Responsibility in Feeding are the two keys to raising successful eaters. Little J loved being at the table and she enjoyed eating with a spoon. Her favorite part was drinking water out of the cup. I made sure to tell her all about what I was doing, what the food was, what the spoon was for, etc. I tried to stay tuned in to her signals and offer bites based on the pace she was setting. I let her rest in between bites and never forced her to eat more or less than she wanted. All together she probably ate less than ten bites before she indicated that she was done by looking away and not opening her mouth when I held out the spoon. We had fun exploring avocado last weekend and are looking forward to trying some steamed and mashed butternut squash this weekend.
3/8/2013 11:57:44 AM
My toddler, Big J, has been needing more of my attention lately. Part of it has to do with her being three and a half, and the other part has to do with adjusting to having a new little sister and my going back to work. This week, I made it a point to dedicate some “special time” to being alone with her. On Tuesday she and I had a girls’ night at our favorite sushi restaurant. It really did feel special and I could tell she really liked having me all to herself for those couple of hours. We were relaxed and celebratory, which helped her feel open to trying something new. She loves miso black cod but hasn’t tried any sushi in a while. This time she tried albacore sashimi and loved it!
The next night a friend gave me a great idea for making personal pizzas together. I wanted to make things as simple and fun as possible so I shopped all over the store to find the best ingredients that required the least amount of work. I found them at the Wolfgang Puck counter, the Carving Cart and the Salad Bar. Big J had a great time rolling and kneading her dough and sprinkling the flour on the work surface. She definitely played with it too much and made the dough tough, so next time I will buy an extra ball of dough just for her to play with. I laid out all of the ingredients on the counter and let everyone make their own pizzas with the toppings I offered. While the pizzas were cooking, Big J washed and dried the ingredients for my Heart-Healthy Arugula Salad in our salad spinner (one of the best toddler-friendly kitchen gadgets). We had fun--though it would have been less stressful for me if there were another adult in the house and the baby wasn’t fussing—and we will definitely make pizzas together again soon. I encourage you to try this project with your kids and be sure to offer a couple of new foods as choices for toppings. Big J put sliced red onion on her pizza just because the center of the slice looked like a heart. She ate it and liked it, too.
Serves 1 or many
-olive oil cooking spray
From Wolfgang Puck:
-Fresh pizza dough, small size, 1 ball per person, 1 extra ball of dough purchased for each child, held at room temperature for about 1 hour prior to baking,
- Garlic olive oil (or plain olive oil from home)
-Enrico’s pizza sauce
From Carving Cart:
From Salad Bar:
-Broccoli florets, cut small
-Sliced red onion
-Black olives, sliced or diced
-any other vegetables your family likes, such as bell peppers, corn, artichoke hearts, cherry tomatoes, black beans or kidney beans, zucchini, etc.
-Organic Valley shredded mozzarella cheese
-Coeur de Chevre organic goat cheese
1. Arrange oven racks so one is in the bottom third of the oven and one is in the top third. Preheat oven to 450° Fahrenheit. Lightly spray baking sheet with cooking spray (two pizzas fit on one standard baking sheet).
2. Sprinkle flour on work surface (such as a cutting board or smooth counter) and use a rolling pin to roll out the dough, sprinkling flour over sticky spots as needed.
3. Brush the center of the dough with a little bit of oil, being careful not to brush the outside edges that will form the crust (kids may need a little supervision here; this is an optional step to add a little more flavor).
4. Use a large spoon to spread about two tablespoons of sauce into a thin, opaque layer, leaving about half an inch around the edges for the crust.
5. Layer on the toppings of choice. Kids will probably put the topping in heaps around their pizza. Resist the urge to “fix” it for them or choose toppings for them.
6. Sprinkle a thin layer of mozzarella cheese over the toppings.
7. Place two pizzas on each baking sheet. Put one sheet on the bottom rack of the oven. Cook for three minutes, then add the second sheet to the top rack. Continue cooking for five minutes. Rotate the sheets to the opposite racks and cook five to six more minutes, until the cheese on the top rack pizzas is melted and the crust is brown and crisp. Remove the top rack pizzas and allow the bottom rack pizzas to continue cooking about three more minutes. If you are only cooking one or two pizzas, it is fine to leave them on the bottom rack for the whole 12-14 minutes.
8. Brush the finished pizzas with a little more oil. Dot little pieces of goat cheese around the tops of the pizzas, if desired. Slice the finished pizzas with a pizza cutter or heavy chef’s knife (this works best if you transfer pizzas back to the cutting board). Repeat with remaining pizzas.
Starting Solids with Baby #2
3/8/2013 11:54:39 AM
My baby girl, “Little J”, will be six months old next week. Everyone in our family is looking forward to her starting solids. My toddler, “Big J”, keeps asking if the foods on her own plate are solids: “Mommy is this a solid? Can the baby eat this?” The girls, whose names both start with “J”, have matching Svan high chairs (my absolute favorite chair for feeding) and Little J has been practicing sitting up on her own. She loves being at the table already. In fact, last night at a family meal she first occupied herself with chewing on the tablecloth and then she grabbed some lettuce off of my mom’s plate while sitting on her lap. I think she has been practicing eating in her dreams because she looked like she knew what she was doing when she snatched that lettuce!
I’ve prepared myself for starting solids by re-reading Ellyn Satter’s advice on feeding older babies Feeding Your Older Baby and I have decided to start her off with organic avocado. I will mash it up with some breastmilk and follow her lead. I will serve it with a little glass of water (not a sippy or straw cup) since drinking from a glass is best for oral development and offering water with solids is important for preventing constipation.
I’m not going to force her to eat more or less than she wants. This stage of starting solids is all about having fun and developing a feeding relationship. There are no nutritional needs that are being fulfilled here—breastmilk (or formula) is all babies need at this age. Our first priority is establishing trust and building her self-esteem by beginning a loving, attentive and respectful feeding relationship. I can’t wait to find out what kind of eater my Little J is!
3/8/2013 11:53:25 AM
One of my dreams came true this week: my toddler fell in love with mushrooms! What parent doesn’t long for the day that they don’t hear “mushrooms are yucky” and “I don’t like mushrooms”? That day finally came for us and it was hard for me to contain my excitement and remain neutral, but I managed.
Here’s how it happened: my dad came down with a cold, so my daughter and my mom decided to make him chicken soup. They came to Gelson’s and shopped together for the ingredients, then went home and made the soup together. In my family, we add Asian mushrooms to our chicken soup whenever someone is sick, since these types of mushrooms can boost the immune system to help fight off illness. We all had the chicken soup for dinner that night. Normally, my daughter requests that we don’t put any mushrooms in her bowl, but she didn’t say anything this time, so we served her some. When she was ready for seconds, she specified “more mushrooms, please!” Yes!!!
When it comes to food, I’m a firm believer in education through exposure. We don’t talk about nutrition, “grow foods,” “sometimes foods” or “healthy” foods in our family. Those ideas are too abstract and judgmental. Instead, together we shop for, cook and eat a variety of foods that taste good (gardening will hopefully be a future activity). These practices along with delicious family meals are the best ways to teach concrete lessons about nutrition and help children become competent eaters. However, children’s eating always has peaks and valleys and you can only expect to be surprised by toddlers. Even though mine fell in love with mushrooms this week, she rejected her favorite stir-fried chicken dinner a day later.
Here is my family’s recipe for chicken soup. Try it with Asian mushrooms the next time someone in your family is under the weather.
Nana’s Chicken Noodle Soup
5 organic skinless chicken breasts, with the bone, fat trimmed
1 16-ounce bag Bunny Luv organic baby carrots, divided, half the bag chopped
6 organic celery stalks, coarsely chopped, divided
1 onion, peeled and quartered
1 leek, green top discarded, washed well
1 bunch dill, tied with twine
1 head organic cauliflower, cut into small, uniform pieces
1 package enoki mushrooms, roots discarded and stems separated
½-1 teaspoon Le Saunier de Camargue fleur de sel sea salt
½-1 teaspoon black pepper
1 12-ounce bag Manischewitz thin egg noodles, cooked just before soup is done
1. Place the chicken in a large stockpot. Cover the chicken with water and cook, covered, over high heat until the water begins to boil. Remove the lid, and using an angled spoon, skim the film that rises to the top. Once most of the film is removed (after about 30 minutes) add in half of the bag of whole carrots, three chopped celery stalks, onion and leek. Simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes and then add the parsnip. Simmer uncovered 30-60 minutes longer, until the flavor begins to intensify.
2. Strain into a clean pot. Discard the cooked vegetables and reserve the chicken. Add remaining chopped carrots and celery, as well as dill and cauliflower. Cover and simmer until the carrots are tender, about 20 minutes. Shred the chicken and discard the bones while the soup continues to cook.
3. Taste and season gently with salt and pepper. If soup is too bland, let it continue to cook uncovered until the flavor is just right. If it is too concentrated, add a little water. Remove the dill and add mushrooms. Cook three to five more minutes.
4. Divide cooked noodles and shredded chicken among bowls and ladle soup, carrots, celery, cauliflower and mushrooms on top. Serve immediately.
2/11/2013 11:55:38 AM
I’ve just returned to work from the trenches of parenting and feeding both an infant and a toddler on a full-time basis –boy was it tough in there! My three and a half-year-old is still behaving like a toddler at the table: she’s erratic in her eating, skeptical about new foods and sometimes suspicious of familiar foods. Feeding her continues to be an adventure and I’m glad that we exposed her to so many different foods early on. I know that she will return to eating a variety of foods eventually; perhaps she will feel inspired to do so when her little sister starts solids at the end of this month. For now, my five and a half-month-old is exclusively breast-fed. She is an efficient eater who thankfully nurses much faster than her sister did (an essential trait for a second child!). She can’t quite sit up on her own yet, but she can hold her head up straight, loves to put toys and fingers in her mouth and is becoming interested in food (she watches intently as we eat and enjoys being at the table during family meals)—all signs that she is getting ready to start solids. She is curious and easy-going, which makes me hopeful that she will enjoy all the aspects of food and eating like the rest of my family does. Stay tuned for my adventures of feeding two…
My Favorite Resources
7/31/2012 5:18:14 PM
This will be my last blog post before I go on maternity leave. I am so excited to meet my new baby and get to know her personality. I know she will be different from my first child and it will be interesting to see how feeding goes the second time around. As I await her arrival, I will re-read Ellyn Satter's book Child of Mine: Feeding with Love and Good Sense in order to refresh my infant feeding knowledge.
While I'm away, please periodically check some of my favorite feeding, parenting and cooking resources on the Web:
- Ellyn Satter, MS, RD's advice on How to Feed Children. Ellyn is my feeding guru and she is the author of the brilliant Division of Responsibility in Feeding.
- Dr. Katja Rowell, MD's blog The Feeding Doctor Blog about her experiences with feeding her child and helping families improve their feeding practices.
- Maryann Jacobsen, MS, RD's website Raise Healthy Eaters about nutrition, feeding, meal planning and raising her two picky eaters.
- The Mother Company's website, always has great expert articles on parenting issues.
- When looking for family-friendly recipes, I use my own Jessica Siegel, Healthy archive of recipes that I've created over the past 11 years.
Little Mice Have Big Ears
7/20/2012 7:01:34 PM
My brother got married last weekend, which meant that we spent time with relatives that we don’t usually see. My 3-year-old daughter was at several of the wedding-related events. This was a great opportunity for our relatives to comment on her eating. Fortunately—at least as far as I know—she didn’t hear comments such as “she never stops eating!” and “aren’t you worried she’s going to eat too much?” and “she takes eating very seriously.” My responses were basically that she knows how much she needs to eat and she can listen to her body. And that’s right; she does take eating seriously because food and meals should be given our full attention and respect when we sit down at the table. She knows how to behave at the table and carry on a conversation while she eats, she doesn’t play or run around during meals and she enjoys eating. Our family takes eating seriously and we have taught our daughter to do the same; I feel proud of her eating competence.
Unfortunately, there was one comment that she didn’t miss (probably because she had been hearing it repeatedly in the weeks leading up to the wedding). While we were having lunch earlier this week she proudly declared “I’m on the wedding diet”. My jaw dropped. I was so stunned that I didn’t know what to say. She certainly didn’t hear that expression at home. I’ve been dreading the day that she asks about dieting, restricting food or expressing dissatisfaction with her body. I couldn’t believe that any of it would be on her radar so soon! When I asked her what being on the wedding diet meant and she just repeated the expression, I realized that she didn’t know what “diet” meant, so I decided to proceed based on that. I just said that the wedding was over and left it at that since she didn’t seem to be asking for more information.
That episode was a good reminder that kids hear everything so we need to be extra mindful of what we say in front of them and the way we express our personal feelings about food, our bodies and other people’s bodies and eating habits. Parents and caregivers should work to improve their own eating competence and/or conceal their own struggles with food and body image so that children don’t learn that they should feel bad about their bodies or ignore their internal cues of appetite, hunger and satiety. I’ve worked hard to teach my daughter to trust her appetite and feel good about her body. By feeling good, I mean she isn’t aware that she should feel anything other than accepting of her physical self. I try not to use judgmental words like beautiful, ugly, big, small, skinny, fat, etc. It is almost impossible to shield her from other people’s judgments, though. Almost everyone who meets her comments on how tall she is (as though we weren’t aware that she is the size of most 5-year-olds). I usually just smile and nod in response to those comments and try not to engage in that conversation. I want to protect her from the burden of being body- and diet-conscious for as long as possible. In preparation for that inevitable day, I will work hard now to support her in trusting herself and keeping her awareness where it belongs: in her body, rather than her head.
Transitioning to the Division of Responsibility Can Be Scary
7/13/2012 7:49:29 PM
This week I had the pleasure of working with a mother of school-aged twins. She stopped me in the aisles to ask me which individual serving cups of ice cream I recommended for her children’s snacks: the higher quality ingredient one that also had more fat and calories or the one with less desirable ingredients but fewer calories and fat. My answer was too detailed and complex to be tossed out in the middle of the busy store, so I invited her into my office for a discussion about feeding.
Before I launched into my answer, I asked a few questions about how she feeds her family. It turned out that she was doing an excellent job with preparing healthful foods and having family meals, but she wasn't stopping there. She was not just doing the what, when and where of feeding, she was also crossing over into doing her childrens' job of deciding whether and how much. She revealed that one of her children is overweight and the other, while thin, eats lots of starch and very little protein, so she feels that she needs to get involved with portion control and variety as well as enforce a one bite of everything policy. On top of that, she was subtly offering her overweight child lower fat and lower calorie foods at the recommendation of her pediatrician (hard to know why the doctor would start pushing this agenda when the child's weight had always been in a high percentile and had not deviated).
I explained my feeding philosophy, Ellyn Satter's Division of Responsibility in Feeding and gave her these handouts: 5 to 12 Years: Feeding Your School-age Child and The Overweight Child. We discussed ways that she was and was not implementing the Division of Responsibility and how she could improve her approach. We also discussed the importance of not treating her children differently when it comes to eating simply because one has a different body than the other. Too much interference can have the opposite of the desired outcome. In this case, restricting can lead to overeating at non-family meals. We also discussed the "big picture" of parenting with feeding and how our long-term goal as parents is to teach our children how to eat and handle foods on their own. The best way to do that is to stick with the Division of Responsibility so that children can be in touch with their hunger and satiety and know inherently when to stop eating without someone else telling them they've had enough.
Letting go of the whether and how much can be very scary for parents and caregivers. It's hard to imagine what kids will do with the autonomy to regulate the amount they are eating. Older kids might go wild with it for a few weeks or months, but they will eventually get over the novelty and settle into regulating the amount they eat.
After we had established some trust and worked out a new approach to feeding, I revealed my answer to her original question about the ice cream for snack. This was by far the scariest of all my recommendations: it is up to her and her husband to decide how often her family enjoys sweets and treats like ice cream, cookies and cake. Once that is established, offer portion-controlled desserts within the chosen parameters and once in a while, to counteract the scarcity that portion-controlled desserts set up, offer sweets at snack time in unlimited quantities. Forget those portion-controlled ice creams for snacks (save them for dessert) and buy the big tub so kids can have as much as they want at the occasional snack. This approach teaches kids to savor and enjoy treats, while letting them know that sometimes they can have as much as they want. Adults should try this approach, too. I don't like to tell anyone what sweets to choose, since a cookie will never be a health food, I don't recommend trying to eat the healthiest cookie you can find. Instead, choose the treat that you like the best and find most satisfying. Personally, I find high-quality ice cream to be more satisfying and enjoyable than light ice cream or frozen yogurt, but everyone has different preferences and the right to enjoy what they truly like (forget eating what you think you should like or feel satisfied with). That's why there are 31 flavors!
Three is Different from Two
7/6/2012 9:17:09 PM
Now that my daughter is three, I've noticed that she eats a little bit differently than she did when she was two. She's a little less adventurous when it comes to trying new foods, though she has tried a few new things in the last month. I'm now working on teaching her to politely express that she doesn't care for a food, either by swallowing it and drinking some water to wash it down or by spitting it into her napkin, but not by holding out her tongue until the offending food falls off onto her plate. It is more than reasonable to expect polite table manners from a preschool-aged child.
The most noticeable change in her eating is that she is not consuming as many vegetables as she used to. There are plenty of meals where she flat out refuses to eat any veggies. It's not easy for me to accept, but I keep my mouth shut and I don't pressure her to eat anything. I don't want her to learn that any food is more important than another—and I never would have to encourage her to eat bread and butter or fruit, so I won't encourage her to eat her vegetables either (even positive, encouraging words are still pressure and pressure always backfires). I know that it is normal for preschoolers to reject previously liked foods, like vegetables. I am glad that she was offered such a huge variety of foods when she was younger so their flavors are familiar and already accepted.
My plan for these challenging next two preschool years is to firmly stick to the routine and structure that we've had since my daughter started eating solid foods. I will offer balanced meals and snacks (including at least two vegetables at lunch and dinner) at regular times, I will continue to expose her to new foods, we will only eat at the table, I will eat and enjoy a wide variety of food myself and we will have at least one family meal each day. My daughter will be allowed to continue doing her job of deciding whether and how much to eat from what is provided at each meal. There will be no short-order cooking, pressure, begging, bargaining or relaxing the rules on my part to get her to eat. I know she'll eventually come back around to eating a wide variety of foods. Just last night after rejecting her first course of heirloom tomatoes and avocado, she ate six lamb chops, then served herself and ate three large servings of broccoli. She has been eating tomatoes consistently but rejecting broccoli lately, so now I know that I can only expect to be surprised by what she chooses to eat—all the more reason to faithfully keep doing my job with feeding.
Baby Food for Toddlers
6/30/2012 2:17:22 AM
The recent New York Times article, Food Pouches Let Little Ones Serve Themselves, has brought up some interesting issues about puréed food pouches. Whenever I give a Super 4 Kids tour there is inevitably at least one parent who is relying on baby food pouches to feed their toddler (or older) child fruits and vegetables. With further probing I find that the children who use these pouches regularly have trouble accepting non-pureed vegetables and other new foods that are not in pouches, and/or they are not proficient with feeding themselves with a spoon, and/or they are having trouble chewing and swallowing foods like blueberries and beans. I relate all three of these issues to the regular use of pouches.
The contents of the pouches (if transferred to a bowl and eaten with a spoon) can be fine for feeding babies who are 6-10 months old and require purees, and they can be convenient to use occasionally when you need portable snacks or meal components. In general, they do not promote eating competence, though.
- The vegetables are almost always sweetened with fruits, so kids don't learn to accept the earthy, sometimes bitter flavors of vegetables.
- They do not encourage the mastery of chewing and accepting new textures, either, since they just require sucking and swallowing.
- As a convenience food, they encourage eating on the run or while doing other tasks, rather than dedicated scheduled sit-down meals and snacks.
- Parents can also misuse the pouches as a way to get their kids to eat some vegetables or fruit, when they should instead be offering age-appropriate new foods in different forms on a variety of occasions. Pouches could be a way to help parents worry less and struggle less about their child's eating, but they ultimately allow everyone to take the easy way out with eating.
In order to become competent eaters, children need frequent family meals where everyone is eating the same foods (I don't think most parents are eating purées from pouches at meals). They also need to be offered a variety of foods—both accepted and not-yet-accepted—at regular intervals (no grazing) throughout the day. Children should be given the autonomy to decide whether and how much to eat, but not the responsibility of choosing the menu or acquiring their own food. Contrary to the arguments in the article of the pouch manufacturers, they do not promote autonomy; just bad habits. It is fine to use pouches occasionally, but be careful about serving them regularly or relying on them to fulfill your toddler or child's fruit and vegetable requirements. On a regular basis, we need to give our children opportunities to learn to accept real food in real-world forms.
6/23/2012 2:55:17 AM
My 3-year-old daughter loves to help out around the house. She's game for anything from sorting laundry to making the bed to helping me cook. On nights when I cook, I like to involve her in the process as much as possible—both so that she can master new skills and build self-esteem, and so I can actually get a meal on the table!
I was thrilled to come home from work the other night with bags full of groceries to find her already wearing her apron and playing restaurant in her toy kitchen. She was very enthusiastic about transitioning to the real kitchen and helping me make dinner. She especially loves to wash vegetables and fruits. We use a mini salad spinner that is meant for fresh herbs and is the perfect size for her little hands. She particularly likes to spin the produce dry. After letting her wash the cherry tomatoes and zucchini, I set her up at the counter with a stool, cutting board and plastic knife. I demonstrated once how to cut the cherry tomatoes in half and she went to town. She loved using a knife to cut the tomatoes and kept declaring "I'm a chef!" while she worked. I pretty much left her alone and didn't hover over her. Instead, we just chatted about her day and I casually picked up any tomatoes that rolled to the floor in the process.
Of course, she ate plenty of tomatoes while she cut, but I didn't mind at all. She kept asking for more jobs to do, so I let her tear the foil and cover the fish to keep it warm while we made the sauce; I helped her carefully add her tomatoes to the pan; she carried some small dishes of food to the table; and she filled the water glasses. Once we started eating, she wasn't particularly enthusiastic about trying what we had made. She didn't like the smell of the sauce after I added some kalamata olive tapenade and didn't want any part of it, so her fish was pretty bland (I wouldn't have eaten the fish without the sauce either). I'm not worried about what she didn't eat, though. I know she had a great time being a chef and she felt so proud of her new knife skills. I will continue to bring her into the kitchen with me and figure out new cooking skills that she can master.
6/15/2012 7:32:05 PM
This week I had two experiences that got me thinking about the consequences of making judgments about food and eating. Trusting ourselves and enjoying food is such an integral part of eating healthfully and it makes me feel sad and a little angry when I hear people espousing the idea that you can't trust yourself or listen to your body if you want to feel good and be healthy.
The first upsetting experience was very personal. After dinner one night I overheard my daughter telling one of her caregivers that her tummy hurt. Her caregiver responded by telling her that it was because she ate too much at dinner. I immediately chimed in from the other room that that was not the reason at all. She had been putting off a bowel movement since before dinner. The tummy ache resolved after her caregiver took her to the bathroom. I only wish we could have flushed that harmful judgment down the toilet, too!
The second experience made me upset for anyone who is making an effort to eat healthier or achieve a healthier weight. I usually enjoy some mindless time reading through People Magazine, but this week's issue is downright depressing. It is all about food and what celebrities eat to stay skinny. One celebrity recounted how while on vacation she had two bites of ice cream and had to do extra cardio at her workout the following day. It also has several pages devoted to celebrity moms who had babies just a few weeks or months ago and are now back in their bikinis (photos included). The most disturbing part of the whole magazine is Dr. Oz's interview and detox diet plan. This country's most influential health and nutrition guru is quoted as saying that he doesn't celebrate food and his eating plan is "joyless." He also says "ice cream isn't in my house because I don't want to deal with temptation." Sad, sad, sad!
I keep asking myself "what would Ellyn Satter say about all of this?" I think she would bring this all back to her Eating Competence Model. To quote Ellyn "when the joy goes out of eating, nutrition suffers." All of these celebrities and my daughter's caregiver have put pleasure and satisfaction aside because they don't believe they can trust themselves to eat most foods and eat the amount that their bodies want—and they are not necessarily any healthier because they suppress their food cravings or ignore what their bodies are telling them. I see them as skinny ticking time bombs who may explode into a binge at any moment. My daughter, on the other hand, feeds herself very well because we have worked hard over the last two-and-a-half years to support her in becoming a competent eater who enjoys a variety of foods, does not judge food or value one food over another, and eats the amount of food that is right for her body. I hope that she will continue these practices for the rest of her life and that she will learn about healthful foods through the examples we set when we provide her with exciting, satisfying and nutritionally balanced meals and snacks—and I hope she will never eat less or more because someone judges the amount she is eating or buy a magazine to learn about nutrition, "good" foods, "bad" foods or celebrity diets!
Preventing Iron Deficiency
6/11/2012 3:02:28 PM
This week I worked with the mother of a 12-month-old who had just been diagnosed with mild iron deficiency anemia. Iron deficiency can occur in infancy when children are given dairy products before 12 months (the primary cause), when they are not exclusively breast-fed (breast milk is the best source of iron) or not given iron-fortified formula, if they are born prematurely or born weighing less than about 6 pounds, 8 ounces, or if they don't get enough iron-containing foods in their diets. (There are other causes, but these are the main ones). Anemia can affect cognitive development, weaken the immune system and cause lethargy and irritability, so it is important to prevent it.
I've been hearing from a lot of moms who start dairy foods, like yogurt, cheese or goat's milk before age one, as this child had. These foods, while healthful for most people, are not healthful or necessary before 12 months. They are associated with anemia. Toddlers and older children who consume too much dairy are also at risk for anemia. Dairy foods are high in calcium, which can interfere with iron absorption. They can also irritate the GI tract and case some bleeding, which means blood loss and therefore, iron loss. If your child is younger than 12 months, I suggest avoiding dairy until one year and stopping it if you have started before then in an effort to prevent anemia. Children between ages one and eight years should have up to 16 ounces of dairy foods a day, which includes all milk, yogurt and cheese (1 1/2 ounces of cheese = 8 ounces of milk or yogurt).
Additionally, including iron-rich foods along with vitamin C-rich foods at meals that don't include dairy should be prioritized. See the table below for good sources of iron (not all may be appropriate for children under 15 months). Additionally, follow this link for information on foods rich in vitamin C: Dole | VitaminC-foods (not all foods may be appropriate for children under 12 months). Making a few simple changes to your child's diet can hopefully both prevent iron deficiency anemia and reverse mild cases.
|Canned clams||23 mg/3 oz|
|Tofu, firm||7mg/1/2 c|
|Pumpkin seeds||4.5 mg/1 oz|
|Blackstrap molasses ||3.5 mg/1 Tbsp|
|Lentils, cooked||3.5 mg/1/2 c|
|White kidney beans, cooked||3.5mg/1/2 c|
|Beef sirloin ||3 mg/3 oz|
|Fortified breakfast cereals||3-18 mg/1 oz|
|Red kidney beans||2.5 mg/1/2 c|
|Shrimp, boiled||2.5 mg/3 oz|
|Extra lean ground sirloin ||2 mg/3 oz|
|Edamame, shelled||1.8 mg/1/2 c|
|Artichoke, cooked||1.5 mg/1 item|
|Barley, cooked||1 mg/1/2 c|
|Most nuts||1 mg/ 1 oz|
|Chicken, skinless||1 mg/3 oz|
|Raisins|| 0.8 mg/1/4 cup|
|Prunes, stewed||0.8 mg/1/4 cup|
Eating at School
6/4/2012 2:02:54 PM
My little baby girl is turning 3 on Monday. I can hardly believe how quickly she has grown up! So much about her has changed over the last three years, but one thing has not: she is a leisurely eater. Even when she was a breast-fed infant she would nurse for 1 1/2 hours each time--and some meals to this day take about that long, too. I love that she takes her time and listens to her body. Often at those long meals she gets what my husband and I call her "second wind" where she eats practically another whole meal. At other meals, she might just take a few nibbles here and there and declare herself "all done" early on. Both scenarios—and everything in between—are fine with me. I don’t want to interfere with how much she eats.
Yesterday she celebrated her birthday at school. I was there to participate in the celebration and I got to observe the class eating lunch. As I suspected, she was not eating well at school (she often comes home at noon with her lunch mostly uneaten). There are a lot of distractions and most of the kids eat so much faster than she does that they have already left the table to go play by the time she has taken just a couple of bites of food, plus her class eats a snack about one hour before lunch, so she is probably not even that hungry yet. All she ate yesterday was a quarter of her tuna sandwich and then got caught up in all of the excitement before she could eat more.
Most schools allot very little time for lunch, and hers is no exception. I don't expect the lunch situation to improve as my daughter gets older, either; we will just have to come up with creative solutions to help her eat enough as her school days grow longer. For now, we offer her a second lunch from her lunchbox after she gets home, which she can eat or not eat at her own pace with her caregivers. It seems that my daughter is not the only child who has a hard time eating at school. Of course, distractions and short lunch periods are not the only reason for poor meals. Pressure from teachers and judgments from peers can also have an impact. Dr, Katja Rowell of thefeedingdoctor.com blog recently had a thoughtful post on the topic of kids having a hard time eating at school: "Help! My son won't eat lunch at school!"
Helping Kids Advance in Their Eating
5/23/2012 8:47:45 PM
This week I worked with the mother of an 11-month-old to help her son advance in his eating. She was not at all alone in the challenges she was having! I think that the time between ten and 12 months is one of the hardest for feeding. It is the age when a big eating transition happens for children. Solids stop being just for fun around ten or 11 months and they start supplying important nutrients for kids. At the same time, breast milk and formula start to be decreased to make room for solid foods. Then, at 12 months, cow’s milk is usually introduced and the switch from breast milk or formula to cow’s milk begins. Also around this age, children tend to start eating more of the foods and mixed dishes that the rest of the family is eating since most new foods have been introduced by 12 to 15 months. On top of it all, children are developing better oral-motor skills and enjoying finger foods and water (and maybe even milk) from a cup instead of a bottle.
It can be a real paradigm shift for parents. All of a sudden milk is not the main source of sustenance for their child. Now, instead of worrying if they are drinking enough milk, parents start to worry if their child is eating enough food (stick to having scheduled meals and snacks, including bottles/cups of milk, have family meals and use the Division of Responsibility in Feeding if you don’t already). Parents also start to wonder if they are feeding the right kinds and quantities of foods (see my September 2010 Super 4 Kids newsletter for more information on what to feed).
It is an exciting time, but it can be stressful, too. Many parents can be hesitant to offer their children more challenging textures and types of foods and different drinking vessels to try out. Around this age, most children are ready to give up purées and start eating foods that can be chewed (with or without teeth). It is important to put away those pouches of puréed fruits and vegetables and store your blender at this point. We should carefully and respectfully challenge our children to explore new textures and flavors so they can advance in their eating.
Happy Mother's Day!
5/12/2012 12:59:23 PM
This will be my second Mother's day as a mom and I still don't think of this holiday as a time to recognize myself as a mother. I'm sure that a lot of newer moms feel the same way, as motherhood is a huge identity shift that requires some time to get used to. As a pregnant, working mother and wife, I, like many other women, tend to focus my energy on those areas more than on taking care of myself; I barely have time to sleep, let alone think much about my needs (potty break? ha!) or wants (prenatal yoga is a distant dream).
This mother's day, I'm going to give myself the gift of self-compassion by not being so hard on myself and expecting myself to do so much so well. I'm going to remember to enjoy my day and not worry about what isn't getting done, what my family is or isn't eating, rushing around to stay on schedule and all the other stuff that stresses me out. I hope you will do the same if you are a mother, too. For all of you readers who are mothers, mothers-to-be and mothers-trying-to-be, I had you in mind when I wrote my May Nutrition Notes newsletter, Foods for Fertility and Beyond. Although it contains recommendations to make some difficult dietary changes, I hope that it will help you take the fear and confusion out of feeding yourself and your baby well. I tried to be as thorough as possible, but I did not have room to cover everything (wish I could have covered how to control morning sickness and how to feed infants with love and respect). If you ever have questions about feeding yourself or your family, please don't hesitate to contact me at 1-800-GELSONS. Happy Mother's Day!
5/4/2012 8:47:18 PM
I recently came across this nice blog post 7 ways to maximize your child’s health on the Confessions of a Dr. Mom blog (I don't agree with all of the articles she links to in the post, but what she writes is good). I like that it emphasizes the big picture of health—especially since it is written by a pediatrician who probably deals with a lot of sick kids on a daily basis—and I LOVE that family dinners are #1 on her list. Being proactive instead of reactive is my favorite way to promote health.
Being proactive means that we try to build into our daily routines practices that promote health and not take our children's health for granted. Good health starts in childhood, and the earlier we start healthful habits, like sleeping well and limiting screen time, the easier it will be for our children to maintain them throughout their lives. As with eating, we don’t need to discuss or label a food or activity as "healthy" or "unhealthy"; kids need positive, repeated exposures to healthful activities and adults who model the best way to do things.
I think my family is doing well on five out of the seven points, but we could certainly stand to get outside more regularly and my husband and I should take more time to recharge ourselves. I know that we should not strive to be perfect parents, but we can strive for improvement, so I will keep our weaknesses in mind when we do have some free time and try to pump up our outdoor activities and work in some personal time to exercise.
Family Dinner Conversation
4/30/2012 8:03:28 PM
Family meals have become second nature for my family. My husband and I eat breakfast and dinner with my daughter daily with a few exceptions for date nights and late nights at work) and we eat dinner with our extended family at least once a week. I love that this essential component of healthful eating and successful feeding is ingrained into our daily rituals. I've written before about the many benefits that family meals can offer families from a more nutritious diet to better academic performance to more favorable social behaviors (i.e., less drug use, early sexual activity and delinquency).
I know that many families struggle with having family meals. Some have difficulty coordinating family meals with their hectic schedules, some parents don't like to eat with their children, and some simply can't commit to the demands of making time, planning a meal and cooking or purchasing prepared foods (family meals do not need to be homemade to be beneficial). Structured meals (and snacks) with adults modeling good eating behaviors are really essential to building competent eaters and for improving difficult feeding dynamics. Personally, I have found that family meals have become easier over the years since they are just habitual now.
The New York Times had an interesting article over the weekend about different family rituals of making conversation at family dinners: Table Talk: The New Family Dinner. A lot of readers were critical of the stiltedness of coming to the table with pre-planned discussion topics, but I think that it can be valuable, especially for families that have a hard time talking to each other or for large families where not everyone may get a chance to speak at a meal. Sometimes at our meals we try very hard to include our daughter in the conversation and it becomes all about her, which I don't think is great, so a planned topic or question, such as "the rose and the thorn" (what was the best and worst part of your day?) could be a great way to improve everyone’s conversation skills. I think I might try it this week and see if my family can enrich our already enjoyable family meals.
4/23/2012 2:31:07 PM
We parents all know that dealing with tantrums is just about one of the worst parts of parenting. They are uncomfortable for all involved and when they happen in public they are downright mortifying. It may be hard to believe—especially while in the throes of emotion—but tantrums are good for kids and aid in their emotional development and sense of autonomy.
This week, my daughter was really testing her limits! She had three food related tantrums: two related to not wanting to go to the restaurants my husband and I had chosen and one related to not wanting to eat what we were serving for dinner. She stomped her feet, flung her arms, cried and screamed "I don't want ___, I want ___" for a few minutes while we stood nearby. When she started to calm down we responded that this restaurant/meal was what we had chosen and we would go to/eat her preferences another day. The storms all passed quickly and she ate very well at all three of the meals, even declaring that she wanted to return to both restaurants soon. My husband and I were glad that we stayed strong and did not change our plans to accommodate her tantrums, especially since they probably had nothing to do with the actual food or restaurant anyway (she was probably hungry or tired or had had a frustrating day). Furthermore, it would be too scary for a two-year old to realize that she is powerful enough to change the whole family's dinner plans!
Sometimes when I talk to parents about instituting boundaries with feeding, teaching table manners and establishing Ellyn Satter's Division of Responsibility in Feeding, they balk at the prospect of the tantrum that may follow. As parents we have to be ready to tolerate some tantrums and not fear our children's big emotions if we are to help them develop emotionally and learn their own boundaries. To learn more about tantrums, read the interview with Jennifer Waldburger, LCSW entitled Tantrums, Testing, & Talking Back from The Mother Company's great website.
4/13/2012 7:08:19 PM
I am so excited to report that after 25 months of neutral exposure (except for the first three offerings of egg yolks at ten months), eggs in their most simple form have been accepted by my daughter. Although she has been exposed to eggs almost weekly, my child always politely declined them—until our Passover Seder this week.
The hardboiled eggs were being passed at our Seder and when they got to my daughter she said "no thank you, I don't like eggs." I responded by saying "actually, that's not true; you like eggs in quiche and egg salad." I could see a light going on in her head as she reached for the serving spoon and said she wanted an egg. She used her hands to break up the egg the way she does when she makes egg salad and proceeded to eat the egg with her hands declaring "I like eggs." My husband and I smiled to ourselves and mentally high-fived each other, but quickly changed the topic of conversation away from eggs. The next day we ate lunch at Gelson's salad bar and my daughter put hardboiled egg slices in her salad and ate them all with enthusiasm. I think hardboiled eggs have finally been accepted!
I regularly hear parents lamenting that their child does not like this food or that food. I always respond by saying that they probably just haven't had enough exposures to those foods yet. Offer not-yet-accepted foods occasionally and in different forms and be sure to offer them neutrally while enjoying them yourself. It may take two years or more, but I promise there will be progress eventually. Of course, we all have foods that we like better than others and there are some foods we never learn to like. However, when I think of the foods that I don't like, I realize that it's more the idea of them than the actual food that I don't like (organ meats, fishy fish, etc.) and I probably never had a chance to taste them before I was old enough to have judgments about them. For more tips on food acceptance, read what the child feeding expert Ellyn Satter has to say about How Children Learn To Like New Food.
Mixing it Up
4/5/2012 6:23:30 PM
My daughter went to school on Monday without having eaten a bite of her breakfast. My husband and I were a little worried, but we reminded ourselves that her job is to decide whether and how much and felt comforted by knowing that she would be offered a snack within an hour or two at school. Later that night, we discussed our daughter's change in breakfast habits (she normally eats at least half of a bowl of oatmeal, two tablespoons of raisins and two tablespoons of granola); she had been eating significantly less in the last few days. We know that it's normal for appetites to wax and wane, so we reasoned that perhaps her growth is slowing down and she isn't as hungry as usual. Then we started to wonder if she is bored with her breakfast. Our family literally eats the same thing for breakfast day in and day out because we like it and it keeps us full and energized for several hours. Maybe we weren't holding up our ends of the what component of our jobs in feeding. It was time to step it up.
The next morning, my daughter's face lit up when I put a bowl of grits in front of her. She loves my grits, which I cook with chopped dried mango and cherries and serve with butter and milk (I make large batches and freeze them in 1/4-cup portions). She ate enthusiastically, though not as much as I would expect. On Wednesday morning I served her an almond butter and jam sandwich, which she happily ate half of. This morning she wanted to help make breakfast. I allowed her to choose her bowl and I opened a small corner in a package of Kashi Heart to Heart cereal. She poured out the portion she wanted and we added milk and took it to the table along with a side dish of raisins. She enjoyed her bowl of cereal and even drank some of the milk (she didn't touch the raisins).
I think we are on the right track now. It's not that I'm so concerned that she isn't eating a lot; rather I am concerned that she is ready for more variety in her breakfasts and I am not doing my job in providing it. I want her to eat only the amount that's right for her at each meal but her body has been saying "I'm sick of oatmeal, raisins and granola" much louder than "I'm hungry." I'm glad that we were able to understand both that we needed to start mixing up our breakfast menu and that her appetite is not as big now as it has been in the past. I think it has saved us from worrying about her eating and pressuring her to eat more than she is hungry for.
Trust and Relax
3/30/2012 8:24:34 PM
I've noticed lately how much more relaxed I've become with feeding because my daughter and I have really settled comfortably into our proper roles in the eating-feeding relationship. It is so liberating to be able to trust her and relax at meals and I know that she feels relaxed because she can trust me to provide a nice selection of tasty foods without micromanaging what, how much or whether she eats. These days, it does not bother me at all if she chooses to not eat any vegetables at a meal or just eat five slices of bread and butter or eat almost an entire serving bowl of roasted cauliflower (she did all of those things this week at different meals). It's not that I don't care what she eats; I do care very much, and that's why I do my job with providing a variety of good foods at each meal and planning balanced menus to the best of my abilities and offering meals and snacks every two to three hours. I'm excited about helping her build a healthy relationship with food and a passion for eating.
I realized how fortunate she and I are to have such a relationship after I read a very disturbing article this week in Vogue written by a mother who put her seven-year-old daughter on a strict diet. It was sad and horrifying to hear about how this woman denied her hungry child a salad at the end of the day because she had already met her calorie allotment for the day. There certainly was no trust or relaxing meals in that feeding relationship—before, during or after the diet. Children who are put on diets are at high risk for developing eating disorders, overweight, poor body image and food fixations. But this article was on the extreme and sensational end of the feeding spectrum. The feeding practices that were in place before the diet, while the child was becoming obese were probably already setting her up for all of those negative future consequences.
When I hear about feeding relationships in which there is no trust and the parents and caregivers try to control a child's eating through pressure, praise, rewards or punishment, I see disordered eating developing—regardless of the child's current weight. I imagine that it must be exhausting for both parties to fight about food meal after meal, year after year. Feeding shouldn't be about making sure a child eats the "right" foods at each meal; that's a losing battle because children never eat according to any dietary formula. We have to look at the big picture and try to raise competent eaters, but that won't happen until we can relax and realize that we can't and shouldn't control every aspect of feeding. At some point we have to trust ourselves to do a good job with the what, when and where of feeding and trust our children to do their jobs of deciding whether and how much to eat.
Change is Challenging
3/26/2012 3:52:45 PM
This week a customer asked me for advice for a friend of hers who had gotten into the habit of short-order cooking for her picky school-aged children. How can she change a pattern that she had been following for so long her friend wondered? Of course, the longer we’ve been doing things a certain way, the harder it is the change them and the longer it takes to get used to the new normal. This is especially true for children; younger ones can adapt to change faster than older ones, but they all eventually do adapt.
Picky eaters are challenging to feed. Parents often start short-order cooking out of fear that their children will starve or become malnourished. This is hardly ever a risk for healthy toddlers and children, though. When parents can set aside their fear and judgment and relax about feeding, things go so much better and mealtimes actually become enjoyable. The first step towards changing your approach is understanding that all children are picky—it is their normal state of being. Picky eating can last for many years, though it tends to get better around age 5 or 6. The really adventurous eaters are more unusual and they often have the rare distinction of having a good, trusting feeding relationship with their caregivers. Understanding your child and knowing that they all develop at different rates can help you remain calm during more challenging phases and anticipate good times to offer opportunities to advance their eating (such as during growth spurts).
If you, like the mom previously mentioned, are ready to stop short-order cooking, then you have to commit to it completely. That means committing to having structure with family meals and eating schedules and planning menus at least a few minutes--if not days--in advance of your meals. (My almost three-year-old has asked to see the "menu" on a few occasions, but has accepted that I keep it in my head.) Plan the menu with everyone in the family in mind and don't limit it to only foods your child accepts; you will never be able to please everyone 100% of the time. Instead, include one or two familiar foods you know your child likes and two or three less familiar or not-yet accepted foods. Once the food is on the table, your job is done. Allow everyone to serve themselves and determine whether and how much they will eat. Remain neutral (don't praise or pressure) and don’t talk about the food at all beyond naming it. Stay strong in the face of protests and tantrums, remind everyone that they don't need to eat or even taste anything they don't want and ask that everyone be polite in turning down food or spitting it out. As I said before, changing feeding practices will go smoother with younger kids and take more time and work with older kids, but it will be worth the challenge to restore peace and pleasure to your family meals.
Parents and Caregivers Determine Where We Eat
3/21/2012 4:39:02 PM
When it comes to teaching parents and caregivers about Ellyn Satter's Division of Responsibility in Feeding, I feel like I often put more emphasis on the what and when of feeding than I do on the where. All three are equally important, though if we are to raise competent eaters who can eat a variety of foods in the quantities that their bodies need while staying in touch with their hunger and satiety.
I’m pretty strict with my daughter about only eating at the table. I really believe in the importance of sitting down to eat and giving food the full attention it deserves. This is an important part of eating mindfully and it allows her to check in with herself periodically to gauge her satiety. We can’t really do that accurately if we are distracted with other things like toys, TV, books, scenery, etc. while we eat. The when comes into play here, too. In order to avoid eating on the run, I try not to schedule classes, activities or long car trips at meal and snack times so that her eating schedule won’t be compromised. I realize that this will become harder as she gets older and goes to school for longer hours and has after-school activities to attend, but for now, I’m going to control as much as I can for as long as I can. I also don’t allow her to eat or drink while she’s walking or playing because it is dangerous. If she trips or falls she could choke or injure her mouth on the cup. Similarly, I don’t allow eating or drinking in the car. I offer her water before strapping her into her car seat and I will pull over if she is really thirsty, but I will not run the risk of her choking on something while I’m driving and she is strapped into her car seat. The other day while we were driving I took a sip of water and she actually called me out on it and told me that it’s dangerous to drink in the car. No double standards allowed in our car!
A recent Motherlode blog post (and reader comments) in the New York Times entitled No More Eating in the Car! made me think about our hectic lifestyles and how essential it is to make time for important things like sitting down to eat a meal or a snack because it is healthier and safer for our children (and us) on so many levels. If you think you haven’t been giving the where of feeding the importance it deserves, I encourage you to find ways to make sitting at the table a fundamental part of your family’s meals and snacks.
Taste Buds Grow Up
3/13/2012 2:12:16 PM
Several months ago when I made my Super Antioxidant Chili recipe my daughter rejected it because it was too spicy despite the fact that I mixed it with some brown rice and plain black beans to cut the spiciness. I did the same thing again this week and she was totally into it. She ate it enthusiastically and fell in love with the sharp Cheddar cheese that I served with it. She added spoonfuls of it to her bowl and kept saying how much she liked Cheddar cheese.
I'm glad that I gave her the opportunity to try the chili again. She is really pushing herself along to develop her taste buds and try new foods. She wants to eat what my husband and I eat, and she even made sure to request that her chili was served on the same dishes as ours (she usually uses shatterproof glass plates and bowls). Children do best when they are served what the rest of the family is eating, though it is perfectly fine—and probably essential—to tone down very strong or spicy flavors in a dish in order to help them ease into new flavors. Next time I make the chili I will probably add less rice and beans to her portion in order to let the chili flavors shine through a little more.
Dessert is Different for Kids
2/24/2012 3:23:28 PM
Last night at dinner my daughter ate 1 1/2 lamb chops and some broccolini and declared herself all done and ready for her brownie (dessert was on the menu last night). I left her dinner plate on the table while she savored every bite of her little brownie. After she finished her brownie, she turned her attention back to her dinner plate and ate another 1 1/2 lamb chops and some more vegetables. We did not pressure her to eat more; we just left the food in front of her and remained neutral.
I don't think many of us adults would eat dessert in the middle of dinner because we think of dessert differently than children do. For kids, brownies, cookies, ice cream, etc. are just some foods they like. They don't attach a whole lot of meaning and judgment to treats the way that we do. I think that's a good thing and I hope it lasts. I don't want my daughter to place more value on certain foods and I don't want her to feel like there is something mysteriously important or forbidden about treats. She can like lamb chops as much as she likes brownies and she does not yet need to know that one has more nutritional value than the other. For children, food is food. It is not their job to know about nutrition; all they need to do is listen to their bodies and decide whether and how much to eat from what we are offering.
Medicine is Not Optional
2/17/2012 8:30:46 PM
Earlier this week my daughter's cold took a turn for the worse and morphed into bronchitis with a little ear infection. The doctor prescribed antibiotics once a day for five days. The antibiotics need to be taken with a large meal and since she refused lunch that first day, I had to give it to her with dinner. That gave me time to mentally prepare myself for the task. I reviewed my notes from last summer when she last had to take medicine and worked up my resolve to stay strong and hold my ground with my strong-willed daughter. Taking medicine is not like feeding; you can't use the division of responsibility with medicine because it is not optional. The child can't decide whether or how much. Although we can't give medicine using the division of responsibility, we can use the principles from the practice to make things go more smoothly: patience, respect, neutrality and empowerment.
After my daughter had finished dinner, I told her it was time to take her medicine and she could have either ice cream or cookies afterwards (yes, I do "reward" with food in this case because let's face it: medicine tastes yucky and rewarding temporarily will not cause harm since she only needs to take it five times, but if your child needs to take medicine daily, I would not advise using rewards). She chose to have ice cream, so I scooped some into a dish. Next, I gave her the choice of using a medicine dropper or graduated measuring spoon. She chose a dropper. We went back to the table and I placed the dropper with the medicine and her water in front of her. I put the ice cream out of her reach on the table. I sat down with her and said "Here is your medicine. It is your job to take it. After you take it you can have your ice cream." I tried to remain neutral and matter-of-fact. She refused it, she pushed her high chair away from the table, she cried; I repeated myself again a few times. This went on for exactly an hour. The ice cream melted. I told her that I would give her a fresh scoop of ice cream when she was ready to take her medicine. She said she was ready and when I brought the ice cream to the table, she cried while she gave herself her medicine, but then happily dried her tears, took a sip of water and ate her ice cream. It was an hour of sheer torture for both of us!
The following night, however, things went much better. She chose to use the measuring spoon and have a chocolate covered strawberry afterwards. After only three minutes she announced "I'm taking my antibiotic" and downed the medicine without even one tear or word of protest. She chased it with a sip of water and then devoured her chocolate covered strawberry. I felt so happy and relieved! The previous night's torture had been worth it! I hope her remaining doses go as smoothly as they did that second night—and I hope she won’t need to take medicine again for a long time.
Treating a Cold
2/10/2012 8:00:07 PM
My two-and-a-half-year-old daughter has a cold. She isn't really bothered by it; her energy level and appetite are at 100% but I hate to see her struggling with her stuffy nose and productive cough. I know that there's not much I can do for her except try to make her as comfortable as possible over the next couple of weeks (her doctor is predicting a 2-3 week recovery time). I am giving her as much water as possible to help thin her mucus, restricting cow's milk dairy products to decrease mucus production and offering plenty of vitamin c-rich foods (tangerines, strawberries, broccoli, tomatoes) to hopefully shorten the duration of the cold a little bit. If your family is fighting winter colds and coughs, too, here are two helpful resources for treating them: Coughs and Colds: Medicines or Home Remedies? and Dr. Weil’s Cough and Cold Remedies for Children (.pdf).
A Helpful Interview
2/3/2012 8:10:21 PM
Feeding went pretty well this week, so I don’t have much to report on feeding challenges. I made my Black Bean Quesadillas the other night and they were a huge success with the whole family. If you haven’t tried them yet, I highly recommend them. I served them with some Stahlbush Island Farms frozen spinach that I defrosted slightly, sautéed with olive oil and seasoned with garlic powder, salt and pepper. It tasted great inside the quesadillas, which we all personalized with our favorite toppings.
It is so nice when feeding goes smoothly and everyone can be relaxed at the table. This week, my daughter’s appetite was very strong, which meant that she both ate very well at meals and stayed at the table for the duration of each meal. Some weeks, however, it is the exact opposite: she eats very little and pronounces herself “all done” early on and fidgets and makes herself unpleasant until she can leave the table. I know that her erratic eating is all normal for a toddler, but sometimes it’s nice to be reminded of what normal behavior is and how to handle the roller coaster of feeding a child. I was very happy to come across this helpful interview (despite the title) Getting Your Kids to Eat with Ellyn Satter on The Mother Company’s informative parenting website. I love how relaxed Ellyn is about feeding, how she recommends strategies for dealing with common feeding challenges and how honest she is about her own feeding errors with her family.
Condiments are OK
1/30/2012 1:41:56 PM
My two-year-old’s favorite condiments are mayonnaise and Parmesan cheese. She also likes yellow mustard, especially when it is mixed with mayonnaise. She mainly prefers the shredded kind of Parmesan, but will eat finely grated, sliced or shaved if that’s all that’s available—and she will eat any of them by the fistful. For whatever reason, she is reluctant to try ketchup, so that is not yet part of her repertoire.
I used to feel a little uncomfortable with her love of condiments and would not always put them on the table. I think I was too caught up in all of the dietitian food rules that apply to adults about choosing healthful foods. Children eat what tastes good to them; they don’t eat something simply because it is good for them. Condiments just make food taste better. Steamed broccoli tastes much better with some parmesan cheese and olive oil than it does without. Being overly strict with the condiments meant that I was being too strict with feeding and eating, and it felt wrong. I realized that I needed to adjust my attitude in order to do a better job with feeding my daughter.
These days, I’m free with the condiments. I put Veganaise (canola oil mayonnaise) and parmesan cheese on the table and I let my daughter serve herself as much as she wants. She heaps an insane amount of both on her food—way more than you would imagine tasting good—but she seems to enjoy it. Once she even asked me as she was piling the cheese into her soup “Mommy, don’t you have something to say about my cheese?” I responded that I didn’t and she continued piling on the cheese to her taste. I want to teach my daughter how to enjoy her food and eat a variety of foods. If she needs to moisten her chicken with a little mayonnaise, that’s fine with me. I like to think of condiments as training wheels that can help her learn to eat a larger variety of foods, become familiar with new flavors and enjoy the foods she already likes even more.
Handling “Forbidden” Foods Better
1/20/2012 8:30:37 PM
Yesterday I had the privilege of participating in one of Ellyn Satter’s webinars. She is my feeding guru and it was great to be able to listen to her speak on the topic of feeding. I honestly did not hear anything new, but I did learn something. (Isn’t it funny how you can hear or read something over and over and think you understand it but then hear it presented or explained in a slightly different way and it has a whole new meaning?) I leaned that I need to start doing a better job of feeding my toddler daughter “forbidden” foods.
Ellyn calls sweets, treats, junk food, dessert, fatty fried food, etc. “forbidden” food because there is so much stigma, emotion and attention surrounding them. She maintains that it is important to offer these types of foods with meals occasionally in order to teach children how to handle them and because they are yummy. Sweets with meals should be portion controlled and fatty foods can be unlimited as long as there is enough for everyone to have some. We have dessert with meals about twice a week, and once and a while we will have fries or chips at a restaurant with our meal, so I feel good about that part of the feeding equation. However, Ellyn makes the point that because dessert is portion controlled at meals, it sets up a kind of scarcity where children may feel that they haven’t had enough or they want the option of eating more. Restricting certain foods can lead to sneaking and overeating these foods at other times, which is certainly not what we want to achieve. In order to counter-balance that scarcity, we need to let children know that sometimes they can have as much as they want. That perfect sometime is snack time, since the forbidden foods won’t displace or compete with other more nutritious foods that are being served.
I have served “forbidden” foods at snacks before, but I don’t do it as often as I should. In fact, I can’t even remember the last time I did. I do remember that it went very well in the past. It’s not that I’m afraid of her eating these foods; it is more that I’m not doing a good job of planning to include them. I understand that it might feel scary for some parents to allow their child to eat as much as they want of these types of foods; it takes practice, self-awareness and using Ellyn Satter's Division of Responsibility in Feeding in order to feel somewhat comfortable with allowing your child to indulge in “forbidden” foods with abandon. Remember that it is our job as parents and caregivers to raise competent eaters who know how to handle “forbidden” foods. Starting this weekend, I will start including these types of foods for snacks once or twice a month. For more about this topic, see Using "Forbidden" Food.
Reviewing Healthy Feeding
1/16/2012 5:25:46 PM
The holidays were fun, but disruptive to our regular routine: we ate lots of special holiday foods and desserts; my husband and I took our daughter on vacation for several days (more of a trip actually—is there such thing as a vacation when a toddler is involved?); and one of my daughter’s caregivers went on vacation for a few weeks. Now that we are settling back into our normal routine I’ve noticed that we could all use a refresher on good feeding practices.
Even if the holidays were low-key and pretty routine for your family, I still believe that once or twice a year it is a good idea to review the basic principles of healthy feeding with everyone who eats with or feeds your child on a regular basis. These are the points that I will review with my daughter’s caregivers:
Ellyn Satter’s division of responsibility holds that parents and caregivers do the what, when and where of feeding, meaning we plan the menus, the schedules and the locations of meals and snacks. Children decide whether and how much to eat from what is offered, meaning they can eat all, none, little or several servings of one item from what is offered.
Children do not get to plan menus (though they can make requests for future menus), beg for handouts between scheduled meals and snacks or eat while playing (food must be eaten at a table or other designated eating place with no other distractions).
Adults do not get to short order cook, pressure or praise about eating, limit the amount that is eaten, reward with food or make one food (like dessert) contingent upon the consumption of another food.
We parents and caregivers must remain neutral when feeding and try not to talk about food too much. Any talk about how good the food is or how much we like or dislike a food is construed as pressure, and children rebel against both positive and negative pressure. Pay attention to your own plate and quietly set a good example of how to enjoy a variety of foods without worrying about what or how much (or little) your child is eating.
The only thing that is predictable about children’s eating is that it is unpredictable, so keep your expectations reasonable and do not worry when they don’t eat their vegetables or seem to eat nothing at all. Do the what, when and where of feeding to the best of your abilities and allow children to do their jobs of deciding whether and how much; things will fall into place.
Our job as parents and caregivers is to raise competent eaters who can eat a variety of foods while listening to their bodies and eating according to their hunger and satiety. The feeding practices I discuss here help support children in developing life-long healthy eating habits.
Making Egg Salad
1/6/2012 7:43:06 PM
If you have been reading this blog for a while, you know that eggs are a food that my daughter has not yet fully accepted in all forms. I love eggs and eat them almost every day, so naturally I want my daughter to enjoy them, too. Eggs provide more than just excellent protein; their yolks contain zinc, riboflavin, folate, vitamin B12, vitamin D, iron, lutein, zeaxanthin and choline. (If you’re not familiar with those last three nutrients, lutein and zeaxanthin are carotenoids that are important for healthy eye development and preventing vision problems. Choline is an essential nutrient that is important for brain development and for preserving memory. Young children may develop better memory skills if they have adequate amounts of choline in their diets.)
Aside from being delicious and nutritious, eggs are convenient. They keep in the fridge for weeks and can always be whipped up into a delicious meal in a pinch. This week, my daughter and one of her caregivers made egg salad for lunch, which helped boost her egg acceptance quite a bit. Her caregiver boiled, cooled and peeled the eggs and put them in a large mixing bowl on the floor. My daughter used her fingers to squish and break up the eggs, which was fun and great for her sensory development. She then mixed in the pre-measured mayonnaise and salt with a spoon and her egg salad was ready. She ate it on some toasted Food for Life Ezekiel bread and had braised red cabbage and apples, sautéed asparagus and fresh raspberries on the side for a beautiful and yummy lunch. While she was eating she declared “this is a really good egg salad sandwich!” Below is our favorite egg salad recipe, which I make using organic omega-3 eggs, which are worth the extra money since they provide a significant amount of omega 3 fats, which are important for brain and heart health. I also use Veganaise, which ironically is an eggless mayonnaise. It is made with canola oil instead of pro-inflammatory soybean oil and preservatives. You can easily cut this recipe in half.
12 Gelson’s Finest organic omega-3 eggs (older eggs are always easier to peel)
4 tablespoons Follow Your Heart Veganaise
1/4 plus 1/8 teaspoon Lawry’s seasoned salt
Place eggs in a single layer in a large pot. Cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, cover and remove from heat. Let stand 14 minutes. Pour out hot water and add ice water to cool. Peel, rinse and dry the eggs. Allow your toddler to break the eggs up with their hands over an extra-large bowl or grate eggs on the large holes of a box grater. Add Veganaise and season salt and mix well. Chill for at least 30 minutes before serving.
A New Sandwich
12/30/2011 5:22:29 PM
My daughter attends a nut-free preschool which means that all nuts, including peanut butter and almond butter, are prohibited. Packing lunches can be creatively challenging without those options to fall back on. That’s why I was overjoyed to discover MaraNatha sunflower seed butter at Gelson’s last week. Sunflower seeds and other seeds, such as sesame and pumpkin seeds, are permitted at our preschool, but you should check the policy at your child’s school before packing any nuts or seeds in your child’s lunch.
I made a sunflower butter and jam sandwich for my daughter to take with her to school/winter camp yesterday. I used Food for Life Ezekiel bread (my daughter’s favorite, but Rudi’s 100% whole wheat might me more acceptable to most kids) to make the sandwich along with Rigoni di Asiago Fior di Frutta organic fruit spread (the lowest sugar and most delicious organic jam I’ve ever had). My daughter loves both the strawberry and apricot spreads and can never choose just one, so I made one half of the sandwich with strawberry and the other half with apricot. Last night I asked her how she liked her sandwich and she said it was “really good!” I’m thrilled that we have a new sandwich option to add to the lunch mix.
Two Years of Feeding
12/24/2011 3:05:14 AM
I can't believe that it has been two years and exactly 100 Healthy Families blog posts since my daughter started solid foods. When I told her about the milestone this morning at breakfast, she responded by jokingly asking me to feed her granola like a baby. She is actually quite independent with her eating now, and uses a fork, spoon and her hands to feed herself. She really wants to be able to use a knife, and I told her that she first has to master using a fork before she can use a knife. That deal (everything is a negotiation these days!) has helped motivate her to use a fork more frequently, though she uses her free hand to hold food on the tines of the fork while she puts the fork, food and fingers in her mouth.
Using Ellyn Satter's Division of Responsibility in Feeding from her first bite of solids has helped her become a competent eater who enjoys food and eating. I've noticed that all children are very different in their eating and move along at their own pace. Some things go well and others don't. My daughter loves beans, meat, chicken, fish and vegetables, but she will not drink milk from a vessel (mixed into food is fine) or eat scrambled or fried eggs and her avocado must be in the form of guacamole. I think a lot of toddlers have the exact opposite preferences from my daughter, but I'm not worried. It is normal to have preferences for certain foods and it is our job as parents to help expose them to new foods over and over in a neutral manner. It may take another two years or more of offering avocado, eggs and milk before she accepts them, but I will keep doing it.
Even after two years, feeding my daughter still feels like an adventure. I never know if she will eat even a bite of a meal or ask for thirds on everything. It is fun to see progress and know that she is able to listen to her body and give it the amount of food it needs. Last night, for example, we had dessert with dinner and she didn't even finish her cake. That's not toddler willpower; that is successful internal regulation in action. My job going forward is to help her maintain her ability to self-regulate, as well as her love of food and eating.
HOMEMADE ICE CREAM
12/16/2011 7:46:49 PM
Ice cream is my daughter’s all-time favorite dessert. You can only imagine her delight when earlier this week she received an ice cream maker from a family friend for the holidays. My daughter, who was staying at my parents’ house that day, was beyond excited and insisted that they make ice cream right away. My mom measured out all four of the ingredients and allowed my daughter to add them to the machine and push the “on” button. They had a great time making ice cream together, though my daughter was disappointed that she would have to wait until the following day to eat it. Making ice cream was a great experience for my daughter on so many levels. She:
• spent quality time with her grandmother
• refined her motor skills by adding the ingredients to the machine
• saw the project through from start to finish
• practiced delaying gratification
• felt the pleasure of feeding others
• boosted her self-esteem
The next night, she and my mom took the ice cream out of the freezer and divided it up into serving dishes. We all enjoyed her homemade ice cream for dessert. She was so proud of her herself. She went around the table asking each of us individually how we liked her ice cream. It was so sweet—and the ice cream was pretty good, too!
Bringing Mindfulness to the Table
12/9/2011 8:08:56 PM
Meals with my two-and-a-half-year-old daughter have been frustrating this week. She keeps interrupting meals to leave the table for one reason or another, and it has been getting on my nerves. I strive to create an optimal eating environment for our family meals so that we will all be able to eat mindfully and I will be able to parent mindfully. After giving this new feeding challenge some thought, I realized she lately has had too many opportunities to be distracted at meals, so I decided to see what I could do differently to help us get back on track.
First, I took all of her stuffed animal friends away from the table. My husband and I started allowing her to have her "baby" (a stuffed lamb) at the table because she was so caring and nurturing with it and we wanted to encourage those behaviors, plus she wasn't really playing with it at the table (we have a rule that we don't play while we’re eating and we don't eat while we’re playing). Recently, more and more animal friends started joining us at the table and mealtimes turned into a zoo with my daughter jumping up from her chair every few seconds to attend to each of them. She had crossed over into playing while she was eating, which has been the major contributor to our less-than-pleasant meals. It was difficult to tell if she was really eating and it was disappointing that the food I had made was not being enjoyed and the high expectations I had set for having a pleasant meal were not being realized. The other change I made was to make the environment as calm and relaxing as possible. I had read that undesirable behaviors can often be traced back to "lousy local conditions" or a less than optimal environment, so I've been trying hard to stick to her meal and sleep schedule as closely as possible and working to make sure that I'm in a good frame of mind and realistic of my expectations for her behavior.
I can't say if my changes are working yet. At the last few meals we ate together, she announced "I'm all done" while she continued to eat. I know that part of her just wants to leave the table so she can play, but I'm also wondering if all of the mealtime distractions over the past week or two have interfered with her internal cues of satiety and hunger. It feels like she is not sure when to stop eating. After reading The Modern-Day Mom's Question: Are You Satisfied? from the Just the Right Byte blog, I think I will also start asking my daughter if she is satisfied when she announces "I'm all done" and keeps eating. The post makes some interesting points, especially with regards to eating to the point of satisfaction rather than fullness. I really want to bring mindfulness back to the table at our family meals and I will continue to do all that I can to facilitate a good eating environment and teach my daughter about staying tuned in to her satiety.
Still Working on Accepting Eggs
12/2/2011 8:45:11 PM
Longtime readers of this blog may recall that when I offered egg yolks to my daughter for the first time at ten months she totally rejected them. Ever since then, we have been working on accepting eggs in various forms. She eats quiche weekly and egg salad sandwiches often, but more overt forms of eggs are still rejected. We offer her omelets, frittatas, scrambled and hard-boiled eggs when we eat them and she politely declines. This week, we had a small breakthrough at the Gelson's salad bar. She loves to join me for lunch at the salad bar because she is obsessed with beans and the salad bar offers such a great selection for her (butter beans are her favorite right now). I make a big salad for the two of us to share and I allow her to choose some of the items. She actually requested hard-boiled egg on our last visit together! She calls them "peek-a-boo eggs" because she can take out the yolk and look through the hole in the white part when she holds it up to her eye.
The fact that she asked for some egg and allowed it to remain in her salad is a big step for my daughter. She inadvertently ate a bite of egg yolk and then spit it out, which tells me that she still may not enjoy the texture or the flavor of plain eggs, and perhaps she never will, but I can tell that she is trying to like eggs in different forms. We still have a long way to go towards full acceptance and it may even take another two years. If there are foods that your child still has not accepted, please do not give up. Make it a point to neutrally serve and offer those foods in different forms on many occasions along with other familiar foods that you know your child already likes. It may take a lot more than 20 exposures before your child even gives it any consideration, but it will happen eventually.
Post-Thanksgiving Report: Dessert for Dinner
11/26/2011 2:45:43 AM
I'm happy to report that we got through our Thanksgiving dinner without any comments or praise about my two-year old daughter's eating. I watched her start out the meal being adventurous and trying something new: chocolate chip zucchini bread. She loved it and promptly filled up on three slices of it before the turkey ever got to the table. She refused all of the main course offerings after sucking down a few fistfuls of turkey, and then patiently waited for dessert. She miraculously found her appetite and sense of adventure again when the sweets hit the table. She tried everything, though we kept each item portion controlled and she did not finish all the samples on her plate. She ate a lot, but I don't think she overate. She may have eaten differently if the chocolate chip zucchini bread had not been served, but we have to accept that she can decide whether and how much to eat from what we serve. We parent and feed the same way every day, but holiday meals are special and we all eat differently on holidays, and then we go back to eating the way we normally do.
It felt good to be so relaxed about my daughter's eating and not have to worry about her eating too much of one food or not enough of another (or have to respond to comments about her eating). I marvel at how she can listen to her body and eat a combination of both healthful and not-so-healthful foods and just stop when she has had enough. She loves ice cream and brownies and looks forward to eating them (she asks that they be "put on the menu" once in a while), but she doesn't ask for treats every day. When she does get her favorite dessert, as she did last night, she savors every bite and is content that her request was granted. I admire her eating style and strive to eat more like her. If you want to learn to eat more intuitively, stay tuned for my December 2011 Nutrition Notes newsletter in which I discuss strategies for getting more in touch with your satiety and hunger and moving away from unhealthy emotional eating practices.
11/18/2011 9:01:45 PM
I love food-centered holidays like Thanksgiving, and I especially enjoy observing my daughter on these occasions. What I don’t love are the comments and the pressure that she receives from other adults at the table who don’t know her well or have the pleasure of dining with her on a regular basis. I know that we are not alone in dealing with relatives pressuring, bribing, rewarding and restricting food at holiday meals. In order to help you come to the holiday table prepared of these types of interactions, read Dr. Katja Rowell’s advice on Dealing with family interference and have a wonderful Thanksgiving.
11/11/2011 7:53:22 PM
Preventing winter colds and flus has been on my mind, especially since lately my two year old seems to be touching everything from public restroom floors to car tires, and then sticking her fingers in her mouth. My daughter, husband and I all got our flu shots this week (better late than never, right?), but there is plenty more that we can do to stay healthy this holiday season.
First, we will emphasize regular hand washing. Washing hands before eating or preparing food, after using the restroom and when coming home from public places is a must for staying healthy throughout the year, and especially during winter months. My daughter is potty training now and hand washing is a post-potty requirement, no exceptions.
A healthful, balanced diet is also essential for a strong immune system. As you can imagine, we eat lots of veggies, fruit and other plant foods in my family. When I plan meals, I try to offer two different vegetables at lunch and at dinner, and I vary the colors, since different colored plant foods supply different nutrients and a colorful plate is much more appetizing than a white/brown plate. Two veggies are better than one, as research shows that children are more likely to eat any vegetables if they are offered more than one at a time (choices can be empowering). It can be difficult to know if a toddler is eating enough of the nutrients he or she needs because it almost always appears that they don’t eat any nutritious plant foods. When it comes to produce, or any other food, you can’t force your child to eat. The best you can do is reliably offer a variety of vegetables and fruits at each meal. Family meals are also important for supporting healthful and varied eating, especially when parents and siblings can neutrally model eating and enjoying a variety of foods.
When it comes to bolstering children’s immune systems, one nutrient I pay particular attention to is iron, since low iron can weaken the immune system. I will continue to serve iron-rich foods, like lentils, beans and dark meat poultry often and separately from dairy foods (calcium interferes with iron absorption). I will also make a point of serving them with vitamin C-rich foods, like broccoli, tomatoes, strawberries, cantaloupe and citrus, since vitamin C helps with iron absorption. If your child seems to get sick often, you might want to have his or her iron levels checked.
There are lots of foods and healthful practices that can bolster our defenses and help keep us healthy this winter. While I can’t always prevent my daughter from coming into contact with germs, I can certainly help strengthen her immune system to prevent her from getting sick sometimes. For more information on what you can do to help keep you family healthy, see my December 2010 newsletter.
Another Toddler-Approved Dinner
11/4/2011 8:22:05 PM
I got ambitious again this week and decided to make dinner on a weeknight. I needed something fast and I found inspiration where I usually do: in the produce department. I love the Harvest pre-cut vegetable blends, and their Asparagus Sauté sounded particularly good for an Asian-themed meal. I asked our full-service meat department to trim and cut my chicken into thin slices so it would be ready to throw into the pan without any preparation or extra mess on my part. I use chicken thighs because they are high in iron, which kids need, and they tend to be juicier than breasts, but you could use either one or a mixture of both. I paired the following recipe with Village Harvest frozen quinoa and brown rice blend (ready in 90 seconds in the microwave) and my Sesame Sugar Snap Peas and Edamame recipe (I had made it earlier in the week to pack in my daughter’s lunches and knew I would use the remainder for dinner one night). My daughter enjoyed the meal so much that she keeps asking me to make it again. Success!
Chicken and Asparagus Sauté
1 tablespoon Napa Valley organic olive oil
1 teaspoon Sun Luck sesame oil
4 Rosie Organic boneless skinless chicken thighs, trimmed and thinly sliced for stir-fry
2 tablespoons Yamasa less sodium soy sauce (the lowest sodium content I’ve ever seen for a soy sauce)
2 tablespoons Kikkoman plain rice vinegar (not the seasoned kind)
2 packages Harvest Asparagus Sauté
1/4 teaspoon black pepper, or to taste
1 teaspoon organic honey
- Heat olive and sesame oils over medium heat in a large skillet that can be covered. Add chicken pieces and cook about 90 seconds on both sides. While chicken is cooking, combine the soy sauce with the vinegar in a small cup. Stir in vegetables and pour soy sauce and vinegar over mixture. Season with pepper and mix well. Cover tightly and cook until vegetables are tender and chicken is cooked all the way through, about five minutes. Uncover and cook, stirring, for one more minute.
- Use a slotted spoon to transfer chicken and vegetables to a serving bowl. Stir honey into remaining sauce and cook about one more minute to thicken sauce slightly. Pour sauce over chicken and vegetables and serve.
Bye-Bye Highchair, Hello Struggles
10/28/2011 8:49:14 PM
My two-year-old daughter now proudly declares “I’m two-and-a-half!” Other favorite statements include “Mommy, go away!” and “I can do this by myself!” She also likes to assert her independence and test new boundaries at the table. She hardly ever wants to sit in her highchair anymore. She prefers to sit in a “big chair.” So I put a thick towel down over the seat cushion and let her climb onto her own chair. She loves the freedom of being able to climb on and off that chair, but it often leads to struggles at mealtimes, since she keeps leaving the table to do other things, like play. She usually comes back to the table several times, takes a few bites, and just when we think she has settled back in, she runs off again. This is not the fun part of parenting because my husband and I need to be as strong willed as my daughter and lay down the rules at that point in the meal. We remind her that it is time to eat, not time to play; she can play after we are done eating. After a few back and forth reminders (from us) and protests (from her), she declares “I’m all done.” OK. She can be done eating, but we are not. My husband and I stay at the table and finish our dinner at our pace and we do not let my daughter interrupt our family meal.
This week we had two dinners that ended with an unhappy toddler. On a dessert night earlier in the week, my daughter did not get to eat her dessert because she decided to leave the table early-- even after I reminded her that we were having dessert that night and offered her dessert before she left the table for the last time. Later, when she realized that she didn’t get to eat the chocolate she had been looking forward to, she started to cry. I sympathized with her and told her that I would put chocolate on the menu again soon, but I did not let her go back to the table. On another night, my daughter also said she was finished eating early in the meal, but she wanted me to get up and go play with her in her room. I told her that I was still eating my dinner and I would play with her when I was finished. I reminded her that just because she was done, doesn’t mean that everyone else has to stop eating. I invited her to sit with us while we finished eating, but she decided to cry on the floor next to me instead. I did not cave in to her tantrum and only got up after both my husband and I had finished eating. It was not pleasant, but I know that in order to teach my daughter how to behave at the table, I have to model good table manners and be willing to endure her occasional tantrums and tests. She is pushing herself along to learn how to sit in a chair and advance her eating skills as she approaches the very sophisticated age of two-and-a half.
Handling Halloween Treats
10/21/2011 8:07:14 PM
For the past couple of weeks there has been a big Halloween candy display right outside my office. People have been asking me how I feel about it. What they really want to know is how I am going to handle the fact that my two-year-old daughter will have access to so much candy on Halloween. Many even propose elaborate schemes to hide or limit or take away or slowly dole out their own children’s Halloween candy.
Everyone is shocked to hear my straightforward approach to handling Halloween treats. On Halloween I maintain our regular meal and snack schedule and I allow my daughter to eat whatever and however much of her candy she wants at meals and snacks. It is a holiday and I want her to enjoy it and participate in all aspects of it. I do not believe in micromanaging Halloween candy except for looking it all over in the light at home before kids eat any and removing potentially unsafe items (i.e. choking hazards, allergens for allergic children, wrappers that show signs of tampering such as tears, pinholes or an unusual appearance) and removing any food that is not commercially wrapped.
Eating lots of candy one day, or even a few days, out of the year will not affect her health, so I am not really concerned about it from a nutritional standpoint. I am more focused on the parenting aspect of handling the treats. Throughout the year, I try to teach my daughter how to handle treats and balance sweet foods with other types of foods, by giving her treats at meals and snacks two times a week. Halloween represents a great opportunity for kids to learn to manage candy--if we parents handle the situation well ourselves. My daughter is young and she will not come home with very much candy, so I do not expect that there will be any leftover the following day. For children who are older and will probably collect a larger stash, you may want to read Ellyn Satter’s advice on handling Halloween treats in her October 22, 2008 • Family Meals Focus #30 • The Sticky Topic Of Halloween Candy.
10/15/2011 3:04:47 PM
Toddlers waste food. That’s a fact that we need to accept when we choose to use the Division of Responsibility in feeding them. Waste can happen at least three different ways:
Waste will happen when children get full. The child’s job is to determine whether and how much they eat, so at any given meal, they may enthusiastically eat three servings of broccoli and at another meal only eat one piece of broccoli or none at all. Because toddlers can be erratic in their eating, there is no way to predict ahead of time how much they will eat at a meal.
Waste will happened when new foods are being introduced. Kids need at least ten to twenty exposures to a new food before they accept it. Exposure can mean actually chewing and swallowing it , putting it in their mouth and taking it out, smelling it, touching it, or even just allowing it to sit on their plate. Sometimes a new food will sit untouched on the plate for the first nineteen exposures.
Waste will happen when children are allowed to serve themselves at family meals. Toddlers are working on becoming more independent and advancing their eating and table manners. Starting at around 18 months, they may like to serve themselves from the communal dishes at family meals. The novelty of scooping or spearing food and transferring it to their plate like everyone else at the table may lead to oversized portions on your toddler’s plate. In these situations, keep in mind that our ultimate goal is to help our children eat the amount that is right for them on a meal-by-meal basis and research shows that children self-regulate best when they are allowed to serve themselves. Do not make them eat all the food that they have put on their plate. Instead, make plenty of food, take a deep breath, hold your comments and remain neutral.
How much children eat is up to them at every meal and we parents and caregivers need to expect waste and remain neutral about it. That doesn’t mean you have to allow them to put someone else’s portion on their plate—remember that we are also teaching them how to behave at the table. A gentle reminder that the food in the serving dish is for everyone can do the trick. Also, you don’t have to throw out the food they leave on their plate if it is in relatively good condition and not all jumbled up. I often save my daughter’s leftovers to pack in her lunch a day or two later (I don’t serve her leftovers from the previous meal, since that is a recipe for starting a food fight).
When you know what normal toddler eating looks like it is a lot easier to accept that there will be waste. We must not interfere with the amount they eat and instead trust them to know how much they need to eat at each meal.
Two Toddler-Approved Recipes
10/7/2011 8:39:29 PM
I have two new recipes out this month that have been pre-approved for your family by my two-year-old daughter. Both recipes feature pulses (beans), which are high in protein, fiber, iron and antioxidants. In my family, we try to eat two vegetarian meals a day, so beans are often the vegetarian protein in one of those meals. I usually serve my daughter beans for lunch with brown rice or quinoa, a vegetable or two and fresh fruit.
The first recipe is my new favorite vegetable dish: Sesame Sugar Snap Peas and Edamame. It is so easy, fast and flavorful and my daughter gobbles it up every time I make it. I even pack it in her lunchbox since it tastes great cold. For an even quicker version of this recipe, leave out the edamame and use two bags of sugar snap peas instead of one.
The other recipe that we all really enjoy is my Lentil Soup. It takes some time to cook, but you end up having a hearty soup that your family can enjoy for days (and it gets tastier each day). You can also freeze it in individual portions and defrost it in the microwave for a quick meal, like I do.
Trying New Foods
9/30/2011 8:42:22 PM
Everything I've read about toddlers and eating warns that they are neophobic, so I've been expecting my two-year-old daughter to resist trying new foods, but so far, so good. She has actually been asking to try new foods and spices that she encounters. This week at family meals she tried pomegranate seeds, dragon fruit, chopped liver, black peppercorns and kreplach (Jewish noodle dumplings filled with meat). She didn’t particularly like any of the foods, but even once she had them in her mouth, she didn't make a fuss or have a strong negative reaction. She just swallowed it, said "no" and either handed me any remaining food or left it alone on her plate. With the kreplach, she was actually served one in her soup. She immediately took it out and put it on my plate. I left it there without saying a word. After a few minutes she declared "I want to try my kreplach" and snatched it back and dropped it into her soup. After she tried it she just said "no" and put it back on my plate. I stayed neutral and did not comment or praise her. If she would have reacted more negatively, I would have calmly reminded her to just say "no thank you" and spit it into her napkin or move the leftovers to my plate.
We have been following Ellyn Satter's Division of Responsibility in Feeding from the beginning and it has helped us form a trusting and respectful feeding relationship with my daughter, which gives her the confidence to try new things. Offering new foods at family meals, where everyone else is eating the foods, also helps her feel more adventurous. Even if she does not like something instantly, I know that she will need at least ten more exposures to a new food before she will truly accept it. (Accepting avocado is still in the works, as she loves guacamole, but still won't touch diced avocado in salads. I know she'll get there, but she has had more than 20 exposures already.) I plan to offer her plenty more opportunities to try these and other new foods again and again. For more insight on helping your child become a competent and adventurous eater, see How Children Learn to Like New Food.
9/23/2011 7:12:18 PM
Think your kid isn’t noticing every little thing you do at the table? Think again. I don’t know why, but I’m still always surprised when my two-year-old daughter imitates things we adults do. The other night at dinner for instance, she was very busily tearing her pita into little pieces and dipping them into her avocado hummus and looking around the restaurant while my husband and I ate from the variety of foods on the table, including duck shwarma, which we rolled inside of pita bread and ate with our hands. I had put some duck on my daughter’s plate along with some quinoa salad and lentils, but she had completely ignored them for the whole meal up to that point. All of a sudden, she picked up half of a pita, placed the duck in the center of it, sprinkled some quinoa on top, rolled the whole thing up and happily ate her duck shwarma. I truly thought that she was going to leave the table without having eaten anything but pita and hummus, but she did things at her pace, and she ate what she wanted to and she ate it when she was ready—all without pressure from me or my husband.
It is so gratifying to watch my little girl push herself along to eat a variety of foods and hone her eating skills. I had no idea that she knew how to roll up her own pita! Children observe all of our behaviors and they imitate them. That means they see you when you eat and enjoy your vegetables and they see you sneaking that handful of chips between scheduled meals and snacks. They also respond negatively to pressure of any kind. I’m sure that if we had kept pestering my daughter about eating her duck or any of the other foods on the table, she never would have eaten anything but pita and hummus. If we had praised her for eating the duck, then she would have stopped, too (praising is positive pressure, but pressure nonetheless). Remaining neutral and quiet (i.e. putting on your poker face and talking about anything but food) are important parts of helping our children to advance in their eating competence.
Feeding Overweight Children
9/16/2011 1:53:28 PM
The recurring question I was asked this week was about helping overweight children, preteens and teens lose weight. Each parent who asked me this question was surprised when I answered them with tips on how to feed rather than what to feed. Most parents thought their work would be to support their child in making changes to his or her diet. Each was surprised to hear that they, rather than their child, would be the ones making most of the changes (though supporting children through their changes is also imperative). Changing our habits is incredibly difficult and it takes ongoing commitment, but it is important. How we parents approach feeding has a lot to do with how and what children eat and it helps to shape their relationship with food.
Feeding an overweight child is such an emotionally charged issue that has the potential to affect childrens’ eating habits and patterns for the rest of their lives, so we must take a deep breath and be thoughtful about how we approach the situation. I urge parents to look at the big picture and focus on long-term success, rather than how the child eats meal by meal. Having dessert or treats a couple times a week is not going to doom a child to obesity for eternity (in fact, the opposite is actually true). Mealtimes can easily become extremely unpleasant for everyone if parents start to play food police and restrict the amount their child is eating. Restricting and controlling your child’s food intake will just make them feel bad about themselves and make them eat more, not less. In order to preserve your child’s self-esteem, prevent eating disorders and make mealtimes enjoyable, parents need to implement the division of responsibility and have daily family meals. Don’t try to teach your child about portion control or choosing “healthy” foods. That’s not your child’s job. Focus instead on doing your job with planning healthful meals, providing plenty of structure around eating, presenting opportunities for physical activity and setting an example of how to handle desserts and other “forbidden” foods. Read Ellyn Satter’s handout Your Child's Weight: Helping Without Harming (PDF) and consider buying her book with the same title for more help.
9/9/2011 7:04:41 PM
I’m so excited to be getting back to the routine that the school year provides. This year, I hope to be more organized in my meal and snack planning so that I can cook in advance and have food readily accessible when it is time to eat. Of course, meals and snacks are still structured and planned; I just want to make the execution easier. My first order of business has been breaking out of my snack menu rut. My daughter needs a break from cheese and crackers for a while. I’m sure your kids would appreciate a few new snacks on their menus, too. I scoured the shelves at Gelson’s to find foods that will help add variety and ease to our kids’ daily snack offerings. Check out my September 2011 Nutrition Notes newsletters for some fresh snack ideas. Two of my favorites are the Frozen Banana Sandwiches (my daughter prefers them not frozen) and Kale Chips. Serve Kale Chips with a glass of milk or a hardboiled egg to make the snack more filling and long-lasting. Most of the items I recommend have long shelf lives, so it is easy to keep a good variety on-hand all the time.
Weeknight Family Meal
9/5/2011 1:14:06 PM
I’m proud to say that I successfully “cooked” a family meal this week with the help of my two-year-old. Although what we did was mostly wash, chop, mash and mix, we had a great time preparing and eating our meal together. The menu was simple: Turkey and Avocado Tostada Salad from my August 2011 Nutrition Notes Newsletter and Easy Guacamole (recipe below). My daughter helped me wash the tomatoes, avocado, jalapeno and lime. Jalapeno and lime were unfamiliar foods for her, so we got to talk about them and explore their shapes, textures, colors and flavors. After he cut open, pitted and peeled one of the avocados, my husband got down on the clean floor with my daughter. He put the avocado in the wooden salad bowl (nice big, flat bottom with high sides), handed her a potato masher (the kind with rows of holes on the bottom) and let her go to work mashing up the avocado for guacamole. A lot ended up on the floor, but she enjoyed wiping it up with paper towels as much as she enjoyed mashing it. After the avocado was thoroughly mashed, we transferred it to a serving bowl and she got to mix in the rest of the ingredients. I could tell that my daughter liked helping us and having important responsibilities in the family meal prep process. She was proud of what she made and we all thoroughly enjoyed eating our dinner that we made together.
If you have the time and can tolerate some extra mess to clean up, I highly recommend trying out these recipes with your children. I made the Tostada Salad even easier by using frozen corn that I defrosted in some hot water and by buying three or four ounces of sliced red onion from the salad bar, which I then chopped according to the recipe instructions.
1 ripe organic avocado, pitted and peeled
3-4 tablespoons Casa Sanchez no salt medium salsa organica
1/8-1/4 teaspoon Le Saunier de Camargne Fleur de Sel sea salt
Allow kids to mash avocado until smooth in a bowl with a flat bottom. Measure in salsa and salt (older kids can do the measuring with some supervision). Allow kids to stir ingredients together. Serve with Guiltless Gourmet baked corn tortilla chips and raw or lightly steamed vegetables.
Hot, Hot, Hot!
8/29/2011 8:35:48 PM
Now that the weather is finally heating up, I’ve been reminded that our little ones need to drink plenty of extra water to stay properly hydrated (infants should not be given water in the first six months of life). I guess my daughter hasn’t been drinking enough this week because she’s been struggling with constipation all of a sudden, confirmation that we need to be offering her even more fluids and water-rich foods. Here is my hot-weather strategy for preventing dehydration:
• I always keep water with us at all times, but I’ll be extra vigilant about offering her sips more frequently.
• Like most kids, she loves very cold water. I usually give her two ice cubes to put into her water, but now I’ll let her count out however many ice cubes she wants into her water cup—and make sure that her water stays cold by replenishing the ice often.
• I always incorporate fruits and vegetables into her meals and snacks because they are an important source of fluid and fiber.
• Melons, berries, citrus, broccoli, cucumbers, lettuce, bell peppers, and corn have especially high water contents, so I will try to incorporate these particular foods into her meals.
Troubleshooting Feeding Challenges
8/19/2011 4:45:10 PM
Meals with a two-year-old aren’t always easy or fun. Some days they’re just another thing to get through, especially when my daughter is pulling out all the stops on her toddler behavior. It can be difficult to think of how to handle every trick she throws at me while dining at a restaurant or when I’m just plain worn out at the end of a long day. That’s why I was so excited to come across this newsletter from my feeding guru Ellyn Satter: January 2010 • Family Meals Focus #41 • The Division Of Responsibility In The Trenches.
I was so happy and relieved when I read it after a particularly exasperating family meal at a restaurant the other day. My daughter was disruptive and didn’t want to sit down to eat. Reading Ellyn’s advice made me realize that we probably need to cut back on eating at restaurants again, since it is too dangerous to implement Ellyn’s solution of letting her leave the table if she is done eating and it’s not right to make one of the adults interrupt their meal to entertain her outside. Now I feel more prepared for our next challenging meal—which I know will be just around the corner!
I Stepped Over the Line
8/12/2011 4:03:31 PM
This morning at breakfast my 2-year-old declared “Mommy, I’m full.” I responded by saying “But you haven’t even had any of your granola with cranberries yet” and proceeded to put a spoonful up to her lips. She took it into her mouth and then promptly spit it out. She rarely spits food out and she is obsessed with dried cranberries right now, so I was really jolted to attention by her reaction.
What was I thinking? Why did I ignore her when she clearly said that she was done eating? She had already eaten a good amount of her breakfast and I know very well that food always gets wasted with toddlers. I felt both regret and relief after she spit out her granola. I instantly felt terrible about pressuring her to take another bite after she clearly stated she was finished eating because I had stepped over the line by doing her job instead of mine. I was actually relieved that she spit out her granola since it showed that she knew for sure that she was done eating and she would not let me interfere. Her strong will is certainly an asset in situations like these!
I’m not perfect and, even after two years, practicing the division of responsibility in feeding is always a work in progress for me. I know that children can regulate their eating better than adults because they are born knowing when they feel hungry and when they feel full. It is only when they are fed with pressure, restraint or agendas (you must eat your vegetables!) that they lose touch with their feelings of hunger and satiety. One of my goals with feeding my daughter is to help preserve her connection to those feelings. After this morning’s incident, I will certainly work harder to stay on my side of the feeding line and not pressure her to eat more than she wants.
Combining Eating and Playing
8/5/2011 8:57:00 PM
I’m not sure about how I feel about expecting children to sit down and eat in a place where they also play. We have a membership to a “children’s restaurant” that also has a big indoor play area as part of the dining room. We go there to play, but never eat there because I think the playground, televisions, video games, music and other children are too distracting to be conducive to a pleasant meal. I hate it when my daughter jumps up and runs around in the middle of a meal and I hate trying to practice good table manners and the Division of Responsibility when there are so many distractions. I always feel anxious and unhappy at the end of meals where I had to try too hard to facilitate my daughter’s eating.
Despite my hang-ups about eating and playing, I’ve been feeling adventurous and relaxed this week after a fantastic vacation (it’s amazing how a little R&R without a toddler can actually make you a better parent when you return home!). I’ve been in a picnicking kind of mood and we had two picnics this week! They went pretty well, mostly because my husband and I were so relaxed from our vacation, I think. On Tuesday we picked up some food from the Service Deli and then headed to a local park. We played at the playground for about an hour. After washing our hands, we relocated to a grassy area away from the playground and ate our dinner on blankets. My daughter, who had worked up an appetite on the playground, dove into her food and enjoyed the new experience of having a picnic (food was all over her and the blanket, but I didn’t care; everything could be thrown in the washing machine later). Luckily, she only got up to run around after she was finished eating, which made the experience even more pleasant. Last night we went to a concert in a small park without a playground, but with lots of people and kids, including some we knew. My daughter ate a little dinner, but not as much as she usually does. She was more interested in socializing and frankly, so was I. I did not eat as much as I normally do, either. I didn’t worry about how much she ate or how much food was on her clothes; we were having fun and enjoying this new experience. I think that the messiness of Tuesday’s picnic, combined with the recent experience of surviving my daughter not eating any dinner one night AND the fact that we are very structured with eating at most other meals helped me be more relaxed at this special occasion meal. On the way home, we all felt happy and satisfied and we agreed that we would go again next week.
I don’t think that our positive picnic experiences will open me up to eating at the “children’s restaurant” and I’m not going to start allowing toys or unnecessary distractions at most meals, but I am certainly looking forward to having more special family meals like the ones we had this week. These kinds of experiences make for happy memories and they help to bring us closer together as a family—and isn’t that the way we should hope to feel after most family meals?
Entertaining at Breakfast
7/28/2011 9:33:47 PM
We recently had a family over for breakfast and it was a blast. It was so easy and relaxed that I have to share my strategy with you. I don’t think brunch is realistic for toddlers because you can’t disrupt their meal schedules too much (that won’t be fun for anyone!). Lunch is kind of in the middle of the day and dinner is too big of a production, but breakfast is just the perfect time to get families together for a meal/playdate. I wanted to make something a little special, so I made my Spinach, Cheese and Mushroom Strata. It was a big hit with everyone and so stress-free! I assembled it the night before, stuck it in the fridge, and when I woke up in the morning, popped it in the oven to cook for an hour. It was ready when the doorbell rang. I also made a little fresh fruit salad, sliced a colorful variety of heirloom tomatoes (lightly sprinkled with sea salt and olive oil), put out a bowl of Greek yogurt and a dish of granola. I brewed some coffee for the adults and voilà! Cleaning up was easy and quick and my kitchen didn’t look like a tornado had hit it when the guests arrived because I had cleaned up all the preparation mess and set the table the night before. The meal was delicious, fun and relaxed—now we want to entertain every Sunday morning!
Whether Happened to Me
7/22/2011 8:06:20 PM
Whether and how much--that’s my daughter's job. What, when and where--that's my job. Yet when my two year old did not take a single bite of her dinner on Monday night, it was a little hard for me to accept her choice. I went out of my way to make dinner for us and she even got to help me find lids for the pots and set the table. Things were going so well, and then…nothing. Not a single bite or sip. She said she wasn’t hungry and instead of eating, chose to play near the dinner table (but not at the table). My husband and I reminded each other that it was up to her to choose if and how much she would eat. We also tried to keep the dinner conversation at the table and not engage her too much or ignore her. We did not pressure her to come to the table or take a bite of food, but we did give her a couple of neutral reminders that dinner would be ending soon. While we were getting her ready for bed, I checked in with her and she said she wasn't hungry. I responded by confirming what she already knows: "you never have to eat if you're not hungry." I hope she will continue to be in touch with her hunger and satiety for the rest of her life, as it is such an essential part of having a healthy relationship with food. Not pressuring her to eat is an important way that we can help her maintain her ability to eat—or not eat—the amount that is right for her body at any given meal or snack.
Just Like Us
7/15/2011 8:46:29 PM
Our family meals had been getting a little hectic in the past few weeks as my daughter hasn’t had much patience for sitting at the table. The other morning, however, she told us that she wanted to sit in one of our chairs instead of her high chair (we haven’t used the tray in months; we just pull it right up to the table). I put a towel down over the upholstered seat and she happily climbed onto the chair. Voila! Breakfast was pleasant again!
It turns out that my daughter just wanted to sit in a chair like everyone else at meal times. Mimicking those around her and repeating everything we say is her latest stage of development. It’s fun, and I’m thrilled that I could accommodate her request to sit in a chair simply by protecting the fabric seat with a towel (it’s OK to take measures to protect furniture against food and dirty little hands). Granting small requests is often easy for us and it really can empower children, especially when they are pushing themselves to advance in their eating. I try to look for opportunities to support my daughter when she wants to try new, safe things at the table.
7/8/2011 8:38:52 PM
I love getting updates from parents who have been on my Super 4 Kids tours. It is so gratifying to hear success stories, see the relief on parents’ faces and learn about which new foods got the “thumbs up” from all the family members. I also love being able to personally help troubleshoot any issues that families may still be struggling with. This past week, I got to check in with a couple of moms. One told me she was still struggling to get her child to eat meat and the other recounted the different cooking stunts she was trying to get her child to eat “kid foods.” I first reminded these women that toddlers are like little teenagers and the more you want your child to eat something, the more they resist doing it, so pressuring will not work. Second, meat, chicken nuggets, macaroni and cheese and PB&J sandwiches are not essential to health, so we shouldn’t get too riled up when kids reject these foods.
But we shouldn’t get upset when kids reject their vegetables, either. Our job as parents is to help build competent eaters who can eat a wide variety of foods (flavors, textures, temperatures and colors), not just those that are their favorites and certainly not just goldfish crackers and hot dogs. We should focus on long-term eating habits. It’s more important that children will eat vegetables for the rest of their lives, than just at dinner tonight. The thing about children, though, is that they won’t eat foods that don’t taste good. They’re not going to devour a plate of plain steamed broccoli much past the age of one—unless you make it taste good.
In order to grow into being competent eaters, children need to have positive eating experiences and to view food as something exciting and enjoyable. Offering good tasting food (but not mostly bland, sweet or salty “kid foods”) is part of what we need to do and not pressuring them to eat it is another part. Even positive pressure, like saying “yum,” or praising is still pressure and it will backfire. We parents need to do our job with providing regularly scheduled, good tasting, nutritionally-balanced meals and snacks and stop trying so hard to control what we can’t control. Offer support and serve previously unaccepted foods again and again, but don’t struggle, pressure or say much and children will learn to enjoy a variety of foods…eventually. Dr. Katja Rowell at Family Feeding Dynamics has a great personal blog post about her daughter’s eating: they don’t, they don’t, they don’t, then suddenly they do…
7/1/2011 8:06:35 PM
I try my best to be prepared with well-planned meals and snacks for my daughter. I batch cook beans, grains and vegetables and freeze them in individual portions, so there is always a good variety of foods for us to choose from when we plan her meals and snacks. I combine a protein, a starch, two vegetables and fresh fruit to make her lunch and dinner. But I’m not always perfect when it comes to planning and feeding. For example, I’m not cooking as much as I used to and we are eating more take-out and restaurant foods for dinner, which is usually a family meal. That means lots of bread and butter, fewer vegetables and less organic foods for my daughter. We also get a little sloppy with the Division of Responsibility on occasion and end up granting her food requests (not the end of the world since we plan the meals and set the schedule 99% of the time). This happened on her first day of camp last week. I forgot that we need to pack a nut-free lunch (more of a snack than a lunch because they eat at 10:45), so there weren’t a lot of choices ready to go. I told my daughter I was going to pack cheese, crackers and blueberries and she asked for apples instead of berries. Her lunch was all the same unappealing color of beige and I was embarrassed when a parent asked me--the nutrition expert--if this was an example of a good lunch. Oops. No, it should be more colorful and include at least one vegetable. We will do better next week…
This weekend, I’m going to get organized and cook. I’ve been meaning to try kale chips (stay tuned for a recipe) and I think my Spinach and Cheese Mini Quiches will travel well in her lunchbox, so I will whip up a batch of those to keep in the freezer. I’d love to have a couple of weeknight dinners ready to defrost from the freezer, too, so I will make my Mojo Chicken recipe and substitute a couple of thighs for breasts since dark meat contains iron that is important for kids. I think that’s pretty ambitious, but I want to use my free time to be more prepared for hectic weekday schedules that could otherwise lead us down a less healthful path.
6/23/2011 9:08:49 PM
My 24-month old daughter has been taking antibiotics three times a day for the past week. She had to take antibiotics once before when she was an infant and the experience was very unpleasant for her and for all of us who were administering it. I really wanted to make things go more smoothly this time, so I did some research.
I learned that the Division of Responsibility doesn’t work with medicine like it does with food because kids have to take their meds—they can’t decide whether or how much in this situation. However, you can use what you know from practicing the Division of Responsibility to make things go well. Think patience, respect, neutrality and empowerment. We empower my daughter with the job of giving herself her medicine. We say, “Here is your medicine. It is your job to take it.” When it is time for her to take her medicine, we hold her in our arms or sit at the table with her in our lap and we set the medicine-filled graduated spoon in front of her. Sometimes she refuses the medicine at first, but we try to remain neutral and tell her that she has to take it so she can get better and remind her how much better it has already helped her feel. We sympathize with the yucky taste, too (medicine tastes nasty and it is cruel to ignore this fact), and we give her a bite or two of something yummy to wash down the medicine with.
We allow her to choose between a square of dark chocolate (Green & Black’s Organic 85% dark chocolate) or a teaspoon of ice cream (Alden’s Organic vanilla bean ice cream) and we put her choice out with the medicine and a cup of water. I know that I wrote about the dangers of rewarding with food a few weeks ago, but this is not exactly food reward. Plus, it is a very temporary arrangement and we will go back to offering treats just twice a week when she finishes her regimen. (Food rewards become a problem when they are used to manipulate or when they are used on an ongoing basis, but not when they are used on a temporary basis.) Each day we try to be more neutral and matter of fact about everything medicine-related. Although things are going well this time around, I’ll be very happy when she finishes her prescription!
Fathers Influence Feeding and Eating
6/17/2011 9:07:24 PM
Dads play an important role in influencing their family’s eating and other health-related behaviors, but they may not be aware of just how pivotal they are in teaching their kids healthy habits. Studies show that children watch--and imitate--their parents, so modeling good eating habits is imperative if children are to learn to be competent eaters. Poor eating habits don’t magically disappear when we become parents, but for the sake of raising competent eaters, we parents should try to either get over our eating issues or learn to hide them really well (I, of course, recommend the former).
There are many things that dads can do to help their children grow to enjoy all foods, behave well at the table, eat when they are hungry and stop when they are full. Having family meals is probably #1 on my list. This is the most important opportunity parents have to model eating and enjoying a variety of healthful foods as well as using good table manners. One meal a day should be your goal for eating together and it can even be breakfast. If dads don’t eat and enjoy a variety of foods themselves, then they should work on expanding their diets at the same time as they help their children do so. Make trying new vegetables a family project. Next on the list is to be on the same page as their partner when it comes to the parenting part of feeding (remember that kids see everything, especially conflicts!). I hope you will both agree on practicing Ellyn Satter's Division of Responsibility In Feeding in which parents decide the what, when and where of feeding and children decide whether and how much to eat. If parents can agree on and implement this method, mealtimes will be much more pleasant and everyone will be much happier at the table. Finally, I know that many dads are in charge of grocery shopping, meal planning and/or cooking, so I urge dads to make healthful choices for their families and always emphasize produce-centered meals and minimally-processed foods. Just in time for Father’s Day, a study has been released that reveals Fathers' Use of Restaurants Affect Children More Than Mothers' Use. Happy Father’s Day!
Two Can Be Tough
6/10/2011 10:55:11 PM
Two is such a magical age. Feeding has already become more challenging in the last week! My daughter’s new “toddler test” (I call it that because toddlers are always testing limits to see how far you’ll allow them to go before saying “no”) is standing up in her high chair seat and demanding “down, Mommy!” Meals are less pleasant with this interruption, especially if we are at a restaurant. We always respond by holding on to her and saying “It is dangerous to stand up in your chair and we don’t want you to get hurt. Please sit down.” Then we ask “are you done eating?” She always says “yes.” If we are at home, we say “it’s OK if you’re done, but Mommy and Daddy aren’t done eating yet, so if you go away from the table, we can’t get up with you to play because we’re still eating. We would love it if you could sit with us and keep us company while we finished. Would you like to sit with us a little longer and have your fruit now or do you want to get down?” Sometimes she chooses to eat her fruit and sometimes she chooses to leave the table. Things really fall apart when she chooses to leave the table because she doesn’t quite know what to do with herself and she starts trying to make us get up with her. We hold firm in our position and endure the remainder of the disrupted meal. If she comes back to the table and starts to eat while standing up, we tell her that if she wants to eat more, she has to sit back down at the table, because we only eat while sitting at the table. She usually chooses to sit back down and eats the remainder of her meal. If we are at a restaurant when this happens, we say a lot of the same things and allow her to choose between sitting on one of our laps and staying in her chair. Of course, this is not ideal, but at least it empowers her with the ability to choose between two safe options.
During this phase, we are making even more of an effort to not pressure my daughter to eat because she will absolutely rebel against eating if we do; and we need to be more careful about having the right amount of time between snacks and meals. Last night I know she had her afternoon snack too close to dinner and was even asking for more right up until dinner time (we have to say “no” when she panhandles in between scheduled eating times so she learns that meals are designated eating times). When kids don’t come to the table ready to eat, they have very little tolerance for sitting. At this age, kids seem to have even less endurance for extended meals, so we need to set appropriate limits on their behavior (especially if it is dangerous), respect their appetite and eating rhythms, and still support them through learning how to eat and behave at the table.
You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby!
6/3/2011 8:24:02 PM
My baby girl will be two years old tomorrow. The last two years have flown by! When I reflect back on how much she has grown and developed in such a short period of time, I am astonished by her capacity to struggle through each new physical, intellectual and emotional challenge and incorporate her new skills on a daily basis. I look at this little person who was so helpless just a few months ago and marvel at the independent person she is becoming. I have learned and grown so much in the past two years, too. I am grateful for having the opportunity to document my journey with feeding her in this blog, as it has helped me stay attuned to my daughter’s phases and forced me to both look for solutions when feeding challenges arose and to seek opportunities in supporting her in advancing to the next level of eating when things were going well—and share it all with you. Using Ellyn Satter's Division of Responsibility in Feeding her from the beginning has helped my daughter become a competent eater who can eat a variety of foods, be polite at the table, feed herself with a spoon, a fork and her hands, and remain in touch with her hunger and satiety. Our feeding relationship has a good foundation because we respect and trust each other. I know this will serve us well as she enters more challenging phases of toddlerhood in the coming months.
Food Shouldn’t Be a Reward or a Punishment
5/27/2011 7:56:37 PM
Yesterday I was talking to a caregiver who told me that her charge was “bad” at school that day so he wouldn’t be getting his favorite meal that he had previously been promised for dinner that night. Instead, he would be getting a “healthy” dinner that he didn’t like so much. From a parenting perspective, I understand that parents/caregivers employ a range of discipline methods, but as a dietitian, I don’t recommend using food as a punishment or a reward because it can set kids up for emotional eating and a troubled relationship with food that can last for the rest of their lives. When broccoli is your punishment food and pizza is your reward food, it’s easy to see how positive and negative associations can be made with food and how this can influence a child’s palate and food choices. Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD has an excellent post about the long-term consequences of using food to punish and reward in her Raise Healthy Eaters Blog this week: What Rewarding Kids with Food Looks Like 20 Years Later.
There’s Always Something New to Learn
5/20/2011 7:04:23 PM
Last week I was away at a nutrition conference that was absolutely amazing. I learned a lot and my “mommy brain” (yes, I think I still have a little after nearly two years!) is still buzzing with all of the new information I heard. Although the conference was mainly focused on adult health and nutrition, children’s eating and nutrition came up several times. It was abundantly clear that many health-care providers don’t know much about the parenting part of feeding, though this group did know a lot about what foods are healthful. Each day I found myself wanting to stand up in front of 1,000 people and yell “spend 15 minutes at www.ellynsatter.com, please!” Her division of responsibility in feeding is so powerful that it should not be a secret! Anyway, despite that little beef, I did come away with a few good, but random, points about children’s health that I want to share with you:
Soil (and foods that grow in soil) is good for human health. Soil contains many healthful components that can enter our systems and help us be healthier. It is believed to be the reason why farmers have fewer allergies and better immune systems. It is probably also the reason why people who eat a wide variety of foods are healthier than those who don’t. You should still wash your fruits and vegetables, sanitize your kitchen sink and counters and vacuum your house, but you and your kids should also stick your hands and feet in some dirt or sand sometimes. The day I came home from the conference, I took off my daughter’s shoes and socks and put her outside in the backyard to play. I’m also thinking about starting a little garden where we can really get our hands dirty!
When kids have to take medicine or even vitamin supplements, especially for a prolonged period of time, it is important to teach them that they have some control over their bodies. Let them know what they can do to help themselves be healthier so that they don’t learn that all you have to do to be healthy or get better is take a pill. We give my toddler vitamin D drops every morning and now we will start telling her something to the effect of “we get some vitamin D when we play in the sun, but since it’s not always sunny and we don’t have a chance to play outside every day, we all take vitamin D to make sure we get all that we need.”
Sugar, especially the type of sugar in high-fructose corn syrup, fruit juice and table sugar, may be more unhealthful than we originally thought. When it is consumed regularly and generously, as in the typical American diet, it can really start to affect blood pressure, liver health, fat storage and diabetes risk. I have a renewed enthusiasm for helping families cut back on the amount of added sugar that they eat. I’m not preaching NO sugar, and I’m not saying you can’t add a little sugar to foods here and there, but I am asking you to use added sugar and sweets in more moderate amounts. In other words: a treat should be a treat; something eaten once or twice a week so that it is a special occasion food and not an everyday food. For example, if juice or sweetened beverages are your thing, then maybe work towards cutting back to one serving a week. Have an excellent dessert once a week, too. The amazing thing about our tongues is that our taste buds turn over every three weeks, so children and adults can get used to less sweet and less salty flavors in three to six weeks.
I told you I learned some random stuff! I’m excited about these three new concepts and I look forward to continuing to put my new knowledge into practice and helping your families do the same!
5/13/2011 9:07:47 PM
I try to keep “normal” toddler behavior in mind when my daughter does something unexpected and when I hear from parents about their feeding concerns. When a toddler doesn’t want to sit at the dinner table for 45 or 60 minutes or a young toddler can’t fully chew a sandwich or a piece of pizza, those are pretty normal things for children in this age range. Changes in appetite are normal, too. A couple of months ago, I stopped sharing my food with my daughter and started ordering her her own meals at restaurants because she was eating about 75% of the portions we were sharing, yet yesterday at lunch all she ate was butter with three slices of bread. Today at lunch she ate only a bite of each food on her plate. It’s weird to see her eat so much less than usual, but it is normal for toddlers’ appetites to vary. Their growth rate does slow down eventually, and with it, their appetites. You can really only expect a toddler to eat one or two good meals a day. It is more important now than ever to stick to a feeding schedule with meals and snacks spaced out every two to three hours. Don’t give in when they ask for food at non-scheduled meals or snacks, since they will not be able to come to the table ready to eat at scheduled meal times if they are allowed to graze. Offer them water, but otherwise ask them to hang on until the next meal or snack time, which should be soon. Growing up can be difficult, but as parents and caregivers, we need to support our kids through these challenges and help them advance to the next level of eating, whether it be sitting at the table for the duration of a family meal or even biting and chewing a sandwich. When it comes to appetite, however, it’s important to honor what they are feeling. We need to back off and allow them to listen to their bodies. I truly feel that helping our kids stay in touch with their hunger and satiety as they grow up is one of the most important gifts we can give them. Be patient with your toddler’s toddler behavior and remember that even if it is strange or unusual, it is probably somewhere on the spectrum of “normal.”
Happy Mother’s Day
5/6/2011 5:57:06 PM
Happy Mother’s Day to all of the moms who read this blog! I know that your families will let you know how much they love and appreciate you on Sunday, but I hope that you will take the time to honor yourself and all of the work you do to be the best parent that you can possibly be. We moms can be so hard on ourselves; expecting perfection in all that we do. This Mother’s day, my wish for all of us is that we just let go for a while and enjoy all that we have created: our children, our families, our lives. Don’t worry if the kids ate enough vegetables or drank enough milk today. Stop pressuring yourself to lose the last of your “baby weight” and have dessert (and a cocktail!). Don’t kill yourself to make sure the kids go to sleep at their exact scheduled nap or bedtime. Just have fun, hang out, smile, laugh and stop trying to be perfect for a little while. For inspiration on how and why to start appreciating yourself a little bit more, read Tara Parker-Pope’s article Go Easy On Yourself, a New Wave Of Research Urges and enjoy your day!
Not So Grown Up
4/29/2011 7:04:32 PM
My daughter is almost two years old and I’m amazed by how grown up she looks and behaves sometimes. At the table, she has really mastered eating with a spoon, is proficient with a fork and a glass and even puts her napkin in her lap. She is quite independent with her eating, but she still needs help from an adult sometimes. The other night we ate dinner outdoors at a casual restaurant and there was so much going on (busses driving by, babies at the next table, friends coming over to say “hi” and even a waterfall within sight) that my daughter just couldn’t focus on her meal. She spent most of her time swiveling her head from side to side so as not to miss any of the action. We couldn’t remove the distractions, so my husband and I helped her along by offering—but not forcing-- her bites of food when her mouth was in either of our general directions. She ate poorly to say the least and I worried that she was going to bed hungry, but she was fine. We will certainly be more mindful of the environments we choose to eat in from now on (take-out might be best from that restaurant for a while) and that dinner was a good reminder of how important it is to stay tuned into our little one’s needs at the table and help her just enough that she could at least participate in the meal, but not so much that we were forcing her to eat. She may be showing signs of independence, but it will clearly be a long time before I’ll be able to focus solely on my own dinner plate.
4/21/2011 7:03:42 PM
My daughter loves butter (she calls it “bhuddeh”). For her, bread is merely a vehicle for getting the butter into her mouth. This week, she started eating butter straight up. Her politely nibbling on a chunk of butter the other night at dinner while everyone else at the table remained neutral made me realize how much progress we have made in practicing Ellyn Satter's Division of Responsibility in Feeding. Although we have been committed to it since we started feeding her, it does take a long time to settle into a feeding relationship that can feel very counter-intuitive to us grownups at times. Most adults don’t eat plain butter because, although it is delicious, it is not socially acceptable to eat forkfuls of condiments, and it is high in saturated fat and calories. Kids don’t know about social norms, though — they only know that they want to eat what tastes good. Although our initial instinct might have been to redirect the butter from her fork onto a piece of bread or even limit the quantity she ate, we are mastering what it truly means to only decide the what, when and where of feeding my daughter. We did our job by putting foods on the table that we are comfortable with my daughter eating — and she did her job by choosing to eat it in the amount and style that she wanted.
4/15/2011 9:35:27 PM
Every morning when I plan my daughter’s meals for the day I have to remind myself to add enough fat to her meals. Kids need fat in their diets, and many children don’t have enough total fat or they don’t have the right balance of fats in their diets. Fat is important for enhancing the flavor and mouth feel of foods—and we all know that children won’t eat foods that don’t taste good. Certain fats promote heart, brain, eye and skin health, especially when consumed in the right proportions (too much saturated fat is unhealthy, and there is no safe amount of trans fat). Fat also promotes satiety and helps to control blood sugar and it is a concentrated source of calories (important for kids whose tummies can’t hold a lot of food). The main fat in our diets should come from organic extra virgin first cold pressed olive oil, which is high in monounsaturated fats and important antioxidants. Other great sources of monounsaturated fats are avocado, nuts and seeds. Omega-3 fats are also important to include regularly. They can mostly be found in fatty fish, like salmon, canned tuna, black cod, herring and sardines and are also in omega-3 eggs and the meat and dairy products from animals that eat grass.
My daughter eats a mostly plant-based diet, which is naturally low in fat, so I have to go out of my way to add fat to her meals. Here are some of the things I do:
- Sauté vegetables in organic extra virgin first cold pressed olive oil. This works great for steamed cauliflower, broccolini and Brussels sprouts, as well as raw baby spinach and sliced summer squash. Add a little fresh minced garlic for awesome flavor.
- Serve almond butter sandwiches at meals or apples dipped in almond butter for snacks.
- Serve fatty fish, twice a week.
- Add butter to her brown rice, grits and bread.
- Spread mashed avocado on sandwiches, serve it diced in salads and made into guacamole for snacks.
- When cooking soups, stews and beans, start by sautéing vegetables in olive oil.
- Include softened sunflower and pumpkin seeds in granola or oatmeal.
Building Self-Esteem at the Dinner Table
4/8/2011 10:59:31 PM
I want to help my daughter have good self-esteem, trust herself, be independent and not have to look outside of herself for praise to know when she has made an effort to do something that she should feel good about. Mealtimes are a great time to work towards these goals. We don’t tell her when she’s had enough to eat or needs to eat more (doing so would diminish her trust in herself). We also try not to pressure her to eat or try anything new, instead we empower and support her in trying new foods by serving them on several different occasions (ten to 20, at least), eating them ourselves and by not talking too much about the food. When she tries something new, we remain neutral or casually acknowledge that she is tasting something that she had not had before instead of saying “good job” since praise can be positive pressure and we also don’t want to have to praise her for every bite of food that she takes. When it comes to feeding, being neutral is important; we want to allow our daughter to form her own opinions, since taste is, after all, very subjective.
But things don’t always go as planned, as we parents have learned on so many occasions. The other night at a family meal, my daughter served herself some yellow mustard that was on the table. When she stuck her spoon into it, someone at the table warned her “you’re not going to like that” and then after she tasted it and puckered her mouth came “see, I told you that you weren’t going to like it. Try it with some chicken.” My daughter, despite her puckering face, kept eating spoon after spoon of mustard. She was obviously enjoying something about it, despite what her expression was saying (or maybe she was being defiant). I would have preferred to have a conversation with my daughter about the sensations she was experiencing, but I was too busy trying to quiet the commentary.
Of course we want to protect our children from getting hurt or having unpleasant experiences, but allowing them to taste something with a strong flavor, like mustard, is not going to harm them. The remarks coming from an adult she trusts sent the message “you can’t trust yourself to know what you like and don’t like. Check with me before you try something new and I’ll tell you if you’ll like it.” My daughter might have even felt that there was something wrong with her for liking something that someone she trusted did not like. Not a great way to foster independence or trust. Resisting our instincts to protect or praise is really difficult, but the rewards can be great. For more information on building self-esteem see the article A Problem with Praise by the authors of my favorite parenting book, Becoming the Parent You Want to Be.
Toddlers Are Fickle
4/1/2011 7:45:12 PM
This week I’ve heard from several concerned and frustrated parents that their toddlers are rejecting foods that they used to love. No more sandwiches, broccoli, pasta, etc. Parents, you are not alone. Loving a food one day and rejecting it the next is part of what toddlers do. They also eat a lot one day and close to nothing the following day. Sometimes they go through phases where they don’t want the different foods on their plate to touch each other and occasionally they only want to eat foods of a certain color. Don’t lose your resolve: please don’t start short-order cooking or showing your frustration/disappointment (try to remain as neutral as possible) when they reject foods they normally love. Keep doing your job with planning family-friendly meals, providing meals and snacks every 2-3 hours and bringing everyone to the table to eat. Support your child through this phase, but don’t pressure them to eat foods they don’t want. When planning meals, plan one meal for the whole family and include both foods that you like to eat and one or two foods that you know your toddler will eat. It takes time and patience, but eventually your toddler will come back around.
Talking Challenges Feeding
3/25/2011 8:45:50 PM
Now that my 21-month-old daughter is talking, I can see how feeding is going to get more challenging. She can now request her favorite foods by name, which opens us up to a certain amount of conflict. The other night at the end of a family dinner she decided that she wanted to have her favorite o-shaped cereal, which she calls “oooss.” I responded by saying that we were not having “Os” for dinner, but she could have more of anything else on the table if she was still hungry and that she could have “Os” for breakfast the following morning. She responded by howling “oooss! oooss!” and stamping her feet. This back and forth went on for about ten minutes (it felt like that long, at least). I admit that if my husband had not been there supporting our stance against short order cooking that I might have caved in and given her the cereal (it was a very cute tantrum). Instead, we stood our ground and she decided that she was done eating if she couldn’t have cereal. She quickly got over her disappointment when we left the table and the next morning she happily ate five bowls of “Os” for breakfast.
It is so tempting to give our children what they want when they ask for it, but with feeding, it is important to maintain the division of responsibility so that we don’t become short order cooks and children don’t become demanding and finicky eaters. Remember: the parent or caregiver’s job is to plan the meals and snacks as well as the eating schedule and dining location and the child’s job is to decide if and how much they eat from what is being offered. That means kids don’t get their mid-meal special requests granted and we don’t short-order cook. When we are committed to doing our jobs (and are willing to withstand the occasional tantrum), children will do theirs and the feeding relationship will generally be more harmonious.
3/19/2011 12:54:51 AM
I’m a huge proponent of family meals. They are important opportunities to model healthy eating behaviors and ensure that children eat more nutritious foods. They also help build strong familial and social bonds. There is tons of research that points to the many benefits of eating together as a family on a regular basis. In order to have a healthy family, you really do have to pledge to eat meals together at least once a day. Family meals can be breakfast (that’s what we do at our house), or any meal. I, however, am fixated on finding a way to fit family dinner into our crazy weeknights. That’s why I’m very excited about two new cookbooks that I just picked up. The first is The Family Dinner by Laurie David. I have barely delved into the recipes yet because this book is filled with so much wonderful information, including cooking, health and environmental tips; chef interviews; expert recommendations; and stories. The ones I have looked at are easy, quick and healthful for the most part. The other book is called SOS! The Six O’clock Scramble to the Rescue by Aviva Goldfarb. It’s all about getting a wholesome weeknight meal on the table in about 30 minutes while still using fresh, local and seasonal ingredients. The recipes are organized by seasons, with five weeks’ worth of dinner entrees (each with side dish serving suggestions) per season. You can even download shopping lists at the book’s website. Check out both books and see if they can help you get a family-friendly dinner on the table on a weeknight: thefamilydinnerbook.com/ and thescramble.com.
3/11/2011 1:01:11 PM
Today’s tsunami is a good reminder that we should all have our emergency preparedness kits up-to-date and complete. I was up in the middle of the night worrying about just how unprepared my household is for a natural disaster — especially if one should hit us in the next few hours. Having a young child and an elderly cat to care for makes the prospect of preparing for and enduring a natural disaster that much scarier. This weekend I am definitely planning to re-stock my pantry with shelf-stable foods and plenty of water and purchase an emergency kit. If you plan to do the same, check out my February 2010 newsletter, Preparing your Pantry for an Emergency.
Dealing with a Food Obsession
3/4/2011 8:01:42 PM
My 21-month-old daughter came very close to being obsessed with raisins recently. Here’s what happened: she usually eats plain oatmeal cooked in milk and sprinkled with cinnamon as part of her breakfast. She was perfectly happy with this recipe until one of her caregivers decided that she would eat more or better if we sweetened it up with some raisins. My daughter loved her new and improved oatmeal and started refusing to eat her oatmeal without raisins. Her wanting the raisins so badly made me want to resist giving them to her at first. Once or twice I told her that we didn’t have any raisins and we would have them again tomorrow, but she would just fuss and point to the pantry from her high chair instead of eating her plain oatmeal (she can’t say “raisins” yet). On other days I tried serving her only cereal or almond butter and jam sandwiches instead of any oatmeal, but she still just wanted the raisins. The raisin situation was really nagging at me; the way I was handling it just didn’t feel right. My husband and I discussed it several times and we came to three significant conclusions. First, raisins aren’t that bad — yes, they are not good for her teeth and they are high in sugar, but most parents would be thrilled if their toddler got that excited about eating raisins. Second, we eat raisins in our granola every day and don’t think twice about it, so the double-standard really is not fair. Finally, the bigger the deal we make about her not having raisins, the more she is going to want them. We decided to stop making a big deal about the raisins and start serving them every morning with her breakfast before she could even ask for them and we served her more if she asked for seconds or even thirds. She was thrilled. At first she would only eat a bite of oatmeal if there was a raisin in it, but in the last couple of days she has even taken a few bites of oatmeal without raisins. This morning we served her an almond butter and jam sandwich with a banana. We completely forgot about the raisins and so did she.
Planning Meals for Children
2/25/2011 7:09:18 PM
We try to practice the division of responsibility in feeding with my 20-month-old daughter: we the parents and caregivers decide the what, when and where of feeding and she decides whether and how much to eat. Yesterday, however, in a break from our routine my daughter also got to decide the what. I was very impressed with her menu: Organic Valley Munster cheese on Food for Life Ezekiel bread with mustard, edamame and apple. She did a great job of planning a well-balanced and colorful meal, but that really isn’t her job. Kids don’t have the capacity to plan meals until they are about 12 or 13. (Think about how difficult it is for us adults to plan balanced, healthful meals most of the time!) Balanced meals can help kids get the nutrients they need and grow optimally. Try to include a plant or animal protein, a starch (preferably whole-grain), one or two vegetables and a fruit at most meals. Making sure that the plate is colorful and has foods with different textures and flavors is important, too. If you feel like your family is in a food rut or needs some extra help with feeding, get a group of at least six parents together and organize a Super 4 Kids shopping tour with me at your local Gelson’s. It’s free, fun and informative! Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at 1-800-GELSONS to find out more.
Talking About Food
2/21/2011 1:17:29 PM
Talking too much about food can really get us adults into trouble. It seems like the more we talk to our little ones about what they are eating or are going to eat, the more pressure we inadvertently put on them and the more self-conscious we make them about their eating. Pressure at the table makes kids rebellious and it can weaken the trust in your feeding relationship. The more you want them to eat or not eat something, the more they will resist doing what you want. Most parents are surprised to hear that remarking on how “yummy” something is is considered positive pressure, but pressure nonetheless. What if they don’t like something that you think is delicious? Could there be something wrong with them? Making conversation about the size of their meal can be dangerous too. Did they eat too much or too little? Can they trust themselves to eat the amount that is right for them? It can be difficult to make conversation with a toddler, but it will be best for the whole family if you try to think of things to talk about besides the food you are eating.
Trying New Foods
2/11/2011 7:21:46 PM
I would call my daughter an adventurous eater. If there is something new on a plate near hers she will usually reach out and grab it without hesitation. Not always, though. The other night we were having a family meal. The meal included edamame (which she loves) and spicy tuna avocado cut rolls with both brown and white rice. She has never tried sushi before, so I dipped one of each variety into a little low-sodium soy sauce and put them on her plate. She watched everyone else eating their sushi before she picked hers up. The one she decided to try had brown rice (probably because she isn’t familiar with white rice). She put the soy sauce side on her tongue, removed it from her mouth, shrugged her shoulders, handed it to me and made kind of a little unhappy grunt. I tried to remain neutral by not saying anything and put it back on her plate. She moved on to her edamame and put the brown rice sushi on her tongue and took it out a few more times over the course of the meal. It never got further than her tongue, but that’s OK. These were very new flavors, spices and textures for her. I could tell that she wanted to like it. It was probably too spicy for her and let’s face it, brown rice sushi is better for you, but not all that yummy. Maybe she would have liked the white rice better and maybe she would have preferred it without the spicy sauce. She will have plenty more opportunities to try sushi and develop a taste for the unusual flavors. For an interesting story and good information about supporting your child through trying new foods, check out the Family Feeding Dynamics Blog post “That looks kinda good…” how to respond to the picky eater.
Off the Charts
2/4/2011 9:17:42 PM
I’ve recently spoken to a couple of moms whose toddler daughters are “off the charts” in weight percentiles. My daughter is “off the charts” for her height and honestly that makes me a little nervous (her weight is somewhere in the middle of the growth charts). I know that there is nothing I can do about her unusual height, but I can only imagine how parents with heavier than average children must feel—is there something they did or something they can still do to keep their child from being so much heavier than her peers? It can be hard to accept that your child is not turning out exactly how you hoped or expected her to. Even if a child is meant to be a large person, that doesn’t mean she has to be obese. There are things you can do to help your child be at the right weight for their bodies—and putting them on a diet is NOT one of them! First, have family meals at least once a day. Second, adhere fiercely to Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility in feeding. Finally, read her handout Your Child's Weight: Helping Without Harming (PDF).
1/28/2011 2:14:16 PM
Avocado was my daughter’s first food. She was into it the first three times she had it, but after being introduced to other textures and flavors, she decided that she didn’t want to eat it anymore. We have continued to offer her avocado occasionally and we happily eat it ourselves, but our little toddler has not accepted it. We had a breakthrough the other day, though. I was eating a green salad that contained guacamole, among other vegetables. My daughter wanted to share my salad, so I offered her tomato and beans smeared with the guacamole and she actually ate it. I told her that it was avocado (I’m always honest about what I’m offering her—no tricks allowed) and she was cool with it. Although I know that it takes ten to 20 exposures to a food before a child truly accepts it, in the back of my mind I had always thought of avocado as something my daughter didn’t like. This was a great reminder that offering new foods many times and in different forms is important for supporting children in trying and accepting new foods.
More Beans, Please!
1/21/2011 9:15:20 PM
My daughter really loves beans and legumes. She usually eats them as her protein at one meal each day. When other parents see her eating them they exclaim something to the effect of “my kids wouldn’t touch that stuff with a 10-foot pole!” I try to remind everyone that kids need at least 10—and sometimes 20—exposures to a food before they truly accept it AND that parents need to model eating and enjoying beans themselves if they expect their children to even try them. I cook a lot of beans and legumes from scratch, but I also put canned kidney and garbanzo beans in salads and soups (don’t forget to rinse them first to remove excess sodium). Dried lentils and split peas are my favorites to make because I don’t have to think about soaking them ahead of time. Here is my daughter’s favorite recipe for lentils:
Makes about 5 cups
2 1/2 tablespoons Napa Valley organic olive oil
1 cup organic onion, diced (about 1 cup; try the diced refrigerated onions in the produce department!)
1 medium organic shallot, diced
1 cup organic baby carrots, sliced into ¼-inch thick rounds
1 1/2 stalks organic celery, diced small
1 large clove organic garlic, minced
1 1-pound bag Natural Directions organic dried lentils, picked over and rinsed
6 cups hot water or Imagine Organic low sodium chicken or vegetable broth
1/2 teaspoon iodized salt (optional)
1/4 teaspoon black pepper (optional)
- Heat olive oil over medium heat in a large pot. Add the onion, shallot, carrot and celery and cook until onion is clear and soft, 8-10 minutes. Add garlic and cook 30 seconds. Add lentils and hot water or broth. Cover and bring to a boil. Tilt cover and simmer about 35-45 minutes until carrots and lentils are tender. Season with salt and pepper if desired.
The lentils are soupy, but not exactly lentil soup. I serve them over brown rice or quinoa. For extra flavor, you can stir in a little balsamic vinegar at the end. I use all organic ingredients, but you don’t have to. This recipe freezes and reheats very nicely; I freeze it in individual portions.
Foods for Troubled Tummies
1/14/2011 6:07:19 PM
My daughter recently caught one of the nasty stomach bugs that has been going around. Hydrating and feeding a child that has been vomiting and has diarrhea is not easy and I found very little information about what exactly they should be drinking and eating to help prevent dehydration and soothe an upset tummy. Here are some of my suggestions for toddlers and children based on what we tried and what I know from my dietetics training:
- When they are still vomiting and having diarrhea you need to be very careful about preventing dehydration.
- Give them plenty of clear fluids: water, Pedialite (which has horrible ingredients like artificial colors and artificial sweeteners, but the pediatricians recommend it), coconut water, flat Reed’s ginger beer (ginger ale made with real ginger for soothing the stomach), clear broths, chamomile tea, clear fruit juice (light color if you don’t want everything stained red), Gatorade G Series All Stars ice punch flavor (no artificial colors), popsicles and fruit ices without chunks of fruit, and Jell-O.
- NO milk or other dairy products.
- When they can keep the fluids down, try some dry, mild, low-fat carbs for the first feeding. We did a lot of Kashi Heart to Heart, Cheerio’s and Oliver’s organic French country bread toasted and thinly spread with Fior di Frutta apricot preserves for the first day or two. You can also try Sunshine Krispy soup & oyster crackers, Sesmark brown rice crackers and white rice.
- After a couple of meals that successfully stay down, you can add bananas and applesauce.
- When it seems like your child is ready to progress to other foods, try chicken or turkey breast, lean broiled steak, white fish, egg whites, almond butter or peanut butter, baked or boiled potatoes or sweet potatoes without skin, steamed or boiled butternut squash or carrots, low-fat cheese like string cheese, plain or vanilla nonfat yogurt, cream of wheat hot cereal, plain pasta, pretzels, chicken noodle soup, cooked peaches, pears or apples.
- Sometimes fiber can be helpful for stopping diarrhea, so consider adding some whole grains or stirring a tiny bit of psyllium into a large amount of liquid (talk to your pediatrician).
- After a couple of days without vomiting or diarrhea, go back to a regular diet if your child seems ready. Remain cautious with fatty, rich, and acidic foods for a day or two.
- Always talk to your pediatrician if you have questions or concerns.
I hope you and your little ones stay healthy this winter and won’t need to follow this advice!
Do As I Do...
1/7/2011 5:42:25 PM
I have a confession to make. I don’t drink milk with my meals and neither does my husband or any of my daughter’s caregivers. Yet, we all REALLY want her to drink her milk with her meals. So, of course, she doesn’t. I always advise parents to set a good example by having family meals and eating their vegetables, but it only recently dawned on me that I wasn’t fully practicing what I was preaching! This week I bought some Organic Valley fat-free milk for myself and my husband. Since my 19-month old is obsessed with holding her own drinking glass, I used three of her little glass Duralex Picardie tumblers (mini versions of our drinking glasses from Williams-Sonoma or Amazon.com) and filled each one with milk (whole for her). We all sat down to dinner together and my husband and I casually sipped our milk. My daughter didn’t touch hers (she was too busy plowing through her Swiss chard and sweet potatoes)—until the end when she picked up her little glass and started drinking her milk. Success! My husband and I mentally high-fived each other while trying to keep our facial expressions as neutral as possible. Adding a little milk to our family dinner certainly wasn’t hard to do and I think my whole family will be a lot better off for it now.
12/30/2010 6:21:31 PM
I’m excited to write this post because I know I’m not alone in needing to freshen up my daughter’s snack options--especially since she is transitioning from two naps to one and will need to start eating two snacks a day instead of the single afternoon snack she is currently eating. Snacks need to be a planned part of your child’s regular eating schedule, occurring 2-3 hours between meals. Snacking is especially important for kids because it supplements calories and nutrients that they may not eat at other meals. Children often can’t eat enough to meet their nutritional needs at meals because their tummies don’t hold a lot of food. Therefore, snacks must be nutrient-dense, wholesome and free of excess sugar, sodium and unhealthy ingredients. They can be mini versions of things you might serve as part of a meal, such as lentil soup or half a sandwich, or they can be a small amount of one or two foods that contain protein, carbohydrate and fat. Some foods contain all three (see chart below). Usually you need to combine foods to achieve this satisfying combination, though (see second chart). Note that some foods, such as whole nuts and raw carrots may not be appropriate for younger children. Here are a few of my snack suggestions.
| Stand-Alone Snacks (perfectly balanced)|
|Muesli Snack Bars (see my recipe) |
|Unsalted dry roasted or raw nuts, such as Blue Diamond 100 calorie packs |
|Jo San soy nuts or Seapoint Farms dry roasted edamame |
|Fage Total 2% plain Greek yogurt |
|Flanigan Farms trail mix |
|Health Valley or Amy’s organic Low Sodium Lentil or Minestrone soups |
|Amy’s organic low sodium vegetarian refried beans |
| Food to Combine for Balanced Snacks (choose one from each column):|
| Carbohydrates || Proteins |
| Any veggies, especially cherry tomatoes, carrots, avocado, sugar snap peas, radishes, red and yellow bell pepper slices || Flanigan Farms raw nuts, Blue Diamond almonds, Jo San soy nuts or Seapoint Farms dry roasted edamame |
| Any fruit || Fage Total, Horizon Organic or Stonyfield organic plain low-fat or fat-free yogurt |
| Guiltless Gourmet baked corn tortilla chips || Tribe organic hummus or homemade bean dip or low-sodium canned beans |
| Whole-wheat pasta || West Soy organic unsweetened vanilla or plain soy milk |
| Kashi TLC 7 whole grain and sesame, Wasa or Ak-Mak crackers || Applegate Farms sliced turkey or roast beef |
| Newman’s Own organic spelt pretzels || Organic omega-3 hardboiled eggs |
| Manischewitz or Streit’s whole-wheat matzos || Maisie Jane’s almond butter or Laura Scudder’s peanut butter |
| Sprouted grain or corn tortillas || Friendship low-sodium cottage cheese |
| Kashi Autumn Wheat or Heart to Heart cereal or La Brea Bakery granola || Low-fat cheese, like string cheese, part skim mozzarella, Boar’s Head Lacey Swiss cheese, or Farmer’s cheese |
| Oatmeal || Edamame (1 cup in pods) |
Handling Holiday Eating
12/23/2010 2:01:00 PM
I always like to remind parents that feeding children is not just about getting food and nutrients into their bodies. Eating goes hand in hand with holidays, celebrations, socializing and spending time with family and friends. We want to teach our kids just how pleasurable and culturally relevant eating can be. I’m sure I’m not alone, however, in feeling like there have been almost too many holiday meals and celebrations that have disrupted our routine and included lots of treats in the past few weeks. I usually like to offer my 18-month-old daughter treats once or twice a week, either as a portion-controlled dessert at a family meal, as an unlimited sweet snack, or as an unlimited fatty, savory food as part of a family meal. I honestly don’t think that her treats have gotten out of control, but it is a little difficult to watch my little one eat five potato latkes and then wash them down with a dish of ice cream (though I love seeing how joyfully she eats these foods). I have talked about handling treats in this blog before, but I haven’t really talked about how tricky feeding children can be during the holidays. The psychologist Kathleen Cuneo addresses some of the issues in her December “Dinner Together” newsletter with 7 Tips for Successful Holiday Feeding Strategies.
A Year of Solids
12/17/2010 1:52:57 PM
Although it seems like just last week that I was excitedly stirring breastmilk into mashed avocado for my baby’s first food, it has actually been a year since I started feeding my daughter solids. Many of my readers with babies have recently started solids and are asking for information about the order in which solids should be introduced. Although many pediatricians now say that “anything goes” at six months, I still believe that slow and cautious is the best approach. Why rush solids when your kids have the rest of their lives to eat? I followed my allergist’s timeline for introducing solids because I was concerned about food allergies. Remember that even if you are not concerned about allergies, it is still important to introduce new foods one at a time, in the first half of the day for three days in a row. Keep in mind that in the first three or four months, solids are just for fun. Breastmilk and/or formula are your baby’s primary source of nutrition. The solids are for helping establish trust and a good feeding relationship with your child (start practicing Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility now). This is the time when babies learn about taste, textures, colors, temperatures and eating from spoons, hands and cups. Relax and have fun. I made most of my own food and tried to use mostly organic foods that were in season, but you don’t have to. Here is the schedule and foods that I used:
6 months (vegetables, fruit and rice): avocado, butternut squash, carrots, sweet potato, green beans
7 months: rice cereal, asparagus, potatoes, cauliflower, broccoli, prunes, bananas, pears
8 months (quinoa): apples, blueberries, kale, beets, peas, quinoa, artichokes, kiwi
9 months (beans, protein—I didn’t do chicken or beef, but now is a good time): mango, apricots, red cabbage, Swiss chard, raisins, lentils, celery, red beans, spaghetti squash
10 months (olive oil, soy, egg yolk, wheat, other grains): olive oil, oatmeal, tofu, cucumber, split peas, cherries, egg yolks, multi-grain cereal (wheat/spelt and barley), turkey, more mixed foods
11 months: chicken thighs, steak, bread
12 months (dairy, tomatoes, berries, citrus, egg whites): yogurt, cow’s milk, cheese, tomatoes, strawberries, tangerines, quiche, egg salad
15 months (nuts, seeds, fish): nuts (almond and hazelnut crackers, pistachio gelato), seeds (hummus, seeded bread), salmon, tuna, granola (with sunflower and pumpkin seeds), scallops
Super 4 Kids Shopping Tours
12/10/2010 3:47:37 PM
I have been leading shopping tours at Gelson’s for parents of toddlers and young children for the last several months. The tours are based on my Super 4 Kids program, which entails a four-page handout that discusses both the how and what of feeding children, a Super 4 Kids Shopping List with over 500 items that I recommend for kids, and about 50 shelf tags around Gelson’s identifying some of my favorite items from the shopping list. The first part of the tour addresses the parenting part of feeding (division of responsibility in feeding, family meals, establishing trust and raising competent eaters). The second part of the tour addresses nutritional needs and how to shop for the most nutritious foods. Parents will get to taste several of the foods I recommend along the way and there are many opportunities to ask questions. Response to the tours has been very positive and it has been wonderful to hear parents describe the relief and empowerment they experience after making some of the changes I suggest. Mealtimes with kids can be relaxed and pleasurable! If you would like to arrange a tour at your local Gelson’s for a group of 8-20 parents, please contact me at 1-800-GELSONS or email me at email@example.com.
Teaching Kids about Nutrition
12/3/2010 7:19:09 PM
When are children ready to learn about the health benefits of food? You may be surprised to learn that it isn’t until they are adolescents that abstract ideas about calories, fat and nutrients are truly understood. That doesn’t mean that we can’t teach nutrition to children in more concrete ways. Every meal is a chance for kids to learn about the taste, smell, color and aromas of food and to become familiar with new foods. However, we do have to be careful to remain neutral about all foods and not talk about them too much, since a discussion can easily cross over into putting positive pressure on kids (saying how “yummy” a food is constitutes pressure). Around age seven, children are ready to learn to sort foods into the basic food groups (vegetables, fruit, dairy, etc.). Cooking and gardening activities help them learn about different foods and they can hold, look, prepare and talk about them without having to taste them if they don’t want to. What children need to know about food is how to accept eating a variety; they don’t need to know about the nutritional aspects or the health benefits. Our job as parents and caregivers is to know about nutrition so that we can plan balanced, nutritious meals and snacks for children. It is not fair to expect our kids to plan meals or tell us what they want to eat—they don’t have the cognitive abilities to make those choices (we can start teaching those skills around age 12 or 13). What children can and should do is decide what and how much they will eat from what we serve them. The family physician and feeding expert Dr. Katja Rowell, MD, discusses the ramifications of using nutrition to get kids to eat in her blog post “it’s good for you” won’t help your picky eater on her Family Feeding Dynamics site.
It’s not Luck
11/29/2010 12:29:12 PM
This is approximately what my almost 18-month old daughter ate at our delicious, organic thanksgiving meal: 1 cup of pumpkin soup, 1 ½ slices of pumpkin bread, 4 ounces of turkey breast, 1 cup of broccoli, 2 tablespoons of carrot soufflé, 4 baby potatoes, 1 strawberry and ¼ cup of vanilla ice cream. She demanded to try everything that was within her view on the table and she enjoyed it all. We didn’t have to beg her to try anything and we didn’t tell her when to stop eating. Yes, she ate a lot, but she knows her body and she knows when she needs to stop. She didn’t finish all of her ice cream and strawberries, so I know for sure that she stopped eating when she had enough. The adults at out thanksgiving dinner marveled at what a “good eater” my daughter is and how lucky we are to have a child that “isn’t picky.” We hear this at restaurants all the time, too. I always respond by saying “thanks, but it’s not luck.” Competent eaters don’t usually happen by accident. Our feeding relationship emphasizes respecting if and how much my daughter chooses to eat from among the foods we offer her at her scheduled meal and snack times, and this helps to build trust. Respect, trust and family meals are three essential elements that help to make meals enjoyable and nourishing—not just on holidays, but every day.
11/19/2010 2:14:51 AM
I’m still thinking about school lunches and this week I have spoken with several parents whose children buy lunch at school. Some schools are making efforts to improve their food offerings, and it reminded me of a great op-ed piece that ran in the New York Times recently. Lunch Line Redesign - Interactive Feature was written by two Cornell researchers who are studying how schools can best to go about making improvements to their menus and cafeterias so that children will make better choices. They make some great points. Especially interesting is that presentation is so important—who knew that friendly cafeteria workers could encourage more vegetable purchases by just offering them two vegetables instead of one? As the researchers note, it’s not enough just to provide healthful options since food is only nutritious if it is eaten. For further information about what you can do at your child’s school see more suggestions at http://www.smarterlunchrooms.org/pdfs/Suggestions.pdf.
Got Too Much Milk?
A couple of weeks ago I wrote that when there is no set meal and snack schedule and children graze between meals and throughout the day, they tend not to eat a lot at meals (see Grazing is for Cows, 10/29/10). There is another even more common cause of not eating a lot at meals: milk. Milk is filling, and when kids drink more than they need it displaces other nutritious foods in their diets. Children don’t need that much milk; in fact, they need a lot less than you might think. Look up your child’s age and number of dairy servings needed in the Dairy Serving Guide chart below. Now calculate how much they need by adding up their usual dairy servings from the Serving Size Guide. Take, for example, a 3-year old who needs only 2 dairy servings a day. If she has 6 ounces of yogurt and a 1-ounce string cheese (equivalent to 5.3 ounces of dairy), she only needs about 5 ounces of milk (a little over 1/2 cup) for the day. You may be thinking that if a little is good, then a lot must be better, so no big deal if your child is having 1 or 2 extra servings of dairy a day. The truth is, a little is good, but a lot is bad. As I said earlier, too much milk will displace other nutritious foods in the diet, and therefore increase the risk of nutrient deficiencies, especially iron deficiency because calcium and iron compete for absorption in the body. Therefore, too much calcium from dairy could prevent your child from getting the iron she needs for optimal brain development, immunity and energy. Finally, too much milk can irritate the GI tract and cause loose or excessive stools or even intestinal bleeding, further increasing the risk for iron deficiency anemia. I urge you to sit down and calculate how much milk your child truly needs after taking into consideration their yogurt and cheese intake. Cutting back on milk may be a difficult transition, but it is important for improving your child’s current diet and long-term health. Replace milk with water, as that should be everyone’s primary beverage.
| DAILY SERVING GUIDE|
| SERVING SIZE GUIDE|
||Serving Size Eqluivalents
||1 cup, (8 ounces)
||1 1/2 ounces
Lunch Box Ideas
Thinking of a healthful and delicious variety of foods to pack for your child’s lunch can be tough. That’s why I challenged myself this month to come up with ten different lunch menus that you can pack for school, serve at home, or even enjoy yourself. Seven of the “main event” (i.e. protein and whole-grain carbohydrate) recipes are in my November Nutrition Notes newsletter and the remaining two are on separate recipe cards. The recipes are easy to prepare and yummy (my 17-month-old daughter approved them all). A few of the recipes are even meant to be leftovers from the previous night’s dinner that are packed and eaten cold (Penne with Lentils and Spinach, Spinach and Cheese Mini Quiches and Mediterranean Orzo Salad). Who doesn’t love leftovers?! For optimal health benefits, I have emphasized vegetarian recipes, since both children and adults should adhere to a Mediterranean-style diet, which is vegetarian for two, and sometimes three, meals a day. Beans, nuts and eggs are excellent kid-friendly proteins. In reading my menus, you will notice that there are no chips, cookies, gummy fruit bites or juice boxes on the menu. That’s because they are non-nutritious treats—“sometimes” foods that should only be enjoyed occasionally. Click here to view the entire Lunch Box Menu with links to the recipes.
Grazing is for Cows
10/29/2010 4:21:20 PM
One common concern that I hear from parents is that their children don’t eat much at meals. My first question is always about the child’s meal and snack schedule. It often turns out that the child does not have a set schedule for eating and they usually graze throughout the day or eat several times between and after meals. When children mindlessly take a few bites of food here and there, they can’t come to the table hungry for a meal and, as a result, they don’t have room in their stomachs to eat a full meal. Meals and snacks need to be planned in two-or three-hour intervals and snacks should be thought of as balanced mini-meals. Include one (edamame) or two (cheese and whole-grain crackers) healthful items at a sit-down snack that is not too close to a meal time and adjust the schedule accordingly as your child gets older. Practicing Ellyn Satter’s division of responsibility in feeding is an essential component of raising competent eaters. It holds that parents are responsible for deciding the what, when and where of feeding. That means that the parents must set the eating schedule, and believe it or not, this helps to establish trust in your feeding relationship since your child will learn that they can count on you to provide food at reliable intervals, even when they forget that they are hungry. As the recent New York Times article Snack Time Never Ends points out, we need to rethink our culture’s standard of offering food to children at all times and in all places. Ellyn Satter has some suggestions for correcting this practice in her handout on Sit-down Snacks.
Born to Struggle
10/22/2010 7:52:12 PM
Lately I feel like I’ve been talking a lot about the importance of allowing children to struggle with their eating. Many parents and children take the easy way out with food — parents only offer kids their favorite foods and, in turn, kids only eat the foods they really love, but in the long run this practice doesn’t do anyone any good. Part of our job as parents is to raise competent eaters who can enjoy a variety of foods and eat foods that are not necessarily their favorites. Expose children to a variety of new foods neutrally and regularly — they don’t have to eat them, but you do. Most kids need ten or even 20 exposures to a new food before they really accept it. Babies were born to struggle. If we didn’t allow our children to struggle with crawling and walking, they might never have achieved those milestones. The same practices should be applied towards eating. We need to support our children through trying new foods and new textures so that they advance their eating towards more adult foods. They may start out being spoon-fed purees, but eventually we want them to fork-feed themselves salad.
10/15/2010 7:00:41 PM
My toddler’s word of the week is “no.” It’s adorable, but it sets us up for some miscommunication. Feeding has been especially tricky, since we name each food that we offer her. In typical toddler fashion, she says “no” to each food. She doesn’t try to tell us what she does want, so we pretty much end up with tears of frustration and screaming when we accept her refusals. It took us a few meals before we figured out that she wasn’t really refusing her food, she was just practicing saying her new favorite word. Meals have been a little tense since we’ve been miscommunicating and all the “nos” make me want to keep offering different foods until she says “yes,” but I’m not going to be a short-order cook. Although it goes against our process of respecting her choices, we have to just assume that she doesn’t really mean “no” and offer her the food anyway. Thankfully, feeding is improving as “hi” is slowly surpassing “no” as her favorite word.
Hidden Trans Fats
10/8/2010 3:45:11 PM
My 99% organic baby recently had her first taste of trans fats and high-fructose corn syrup. I’m not happy about it, but I also realize that I can’t control every aspect of her diet. In the long run, I feel that it would be more detrimental if I said that she couldn’t have something that everyone else was eating than if she ate a small serving of the offending food. She was offered graham crackers and Ritz crackers at a playdate. Both of these crackers are considered “kid-friendly” since they are pretty much universally liked by children, so I think that most parents assume that they don’t have dangerous ingredients. Many people are still unaware that trans fats are hidden in foods and that they need to read the ingredient list before the nutrition facts panel in order to find them. If the words “partially hydrogenated” or “corn syrup” are listed, then the item should promptly be put back on the shelf. It doesn’t mean anything if the package says “0 grams trans fat” on it because the manufacturer is allowed to state that an item contains no trans fats as long as it contains less than 0.5 grams per serving. Trans fats should be avoided completely and high-fructose corn syrup should be consumed rarely by children and adults. There are some great alternatives that are appropriate for kids: Kashi TLC 7-grain crackers, Newman’s Own spelt pretzels, Manischewitz or Streits whole-wheat matzos, or even Guiltless Gourmet baked corn tortilla chips.
10/1/2010 3:31:14 PM
I have really been learning a lot about sodium over the last couple of months as I researched and compiled my Super 4 Kids program materials and my Slash Sodium for Better Health materials. Somehow, I still managed to be shocked this week when a customer asked me to go online and check out the nutrition information at a popular chain restaurant. The calories and sodium were much higher than I expected them to be. How could they pack so many calories into a recipe we wondered? How could most items contain over 2,000 milligrams of sodium—more than is needed for an entire day? Hungry for more nutrition information, I started searching other restaurant websites. Some chains post their info on their websites, but most don’t. I was not able to find a lot of listings, though I called a few places and they said they make their nutrition information available at their restaurant locations, but not online. I strongly encourage you to investigate the calories and sodium at the restaurants you frequent. Since New York City has had menu labeling laws in place for a couple of years already, you will be most successful if you search chains that also have restaurants in New York City. Federal legislation requiring nutrition labeling on menus for all restaurants that have more than 20 locations has already passed and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is in the process of finalizing the details of the requirements. Hopefully, they will require both calorie and sodium counts on menus. I can’t wait for the new law to go into effect in California (it seems like this might happen as early as January 2011) because we need to be able to make informed choices about the foods we eat and feed our children.
Final Food Frontiers
9/24/2010 7:04:05 PM
Now that my daughter is 15 months old we can start to introduce the last few allergenic foods that she has not yet tried: nuts, seeds and fish. So far she has tried almond butter and peanut butter. I used the Maisie Jane’s almond butter and Laura Scudder’s natural unsalted peanut butter with the wonderful Fior di Frutta organic fruit spread (it has about half as much sugar as most jams). She passed both of those tests and soon we are going to move on to seeds. Since nuts and seeds can be choking hazards, I’m trying to figure out the best ways for her to eat them. I’m considering trying Blue Diamond pecan nut thins (thin, crumbly crackers), Talenti pistachio or coconut gelato (coconuts are in the nut family), Tribe organic hummus (made with sesame seed paste), Food for Life Genesis bread (which has several different seeds baked in), and about making a salad dressing with poppy seeds. After seeds, we will try fish. I’m thinking about giving her black cod or mahi mahi to start, then maybe salmon (the one I’m allergic to) and shellfish, like scallops or shrimp. She loves to try new foods and it will be fun to hopefully have all of the food restrictions lifted and not have to worry about stopping her from trying any new foods that we encounter.
Eating at the Table
9/17/2010 9:07:43 PM
My daughter had her first day of pre-preschool this week. They have a wonderful rule at snack time, which is that food is only to be eaten at the table. I think it is never too early to teach children how to behave at the table (it is important to allow toddlers to explore their food and learn to feed themselves and get dirty, but they should not throw food or take it away from the table and they should not play with toys at the table). Children, like adults, should come to the table to eat and share in conversation, not to play, and when children play, they should not also be eating. Often when children get up from the table in the middle of a meal, someone starts to follow them around and continue to offer them food while they toddle. Chasing children around the house, restaurant or classroom with food will not accomplish much except for poor eating habits and power struggles because you are pressuring them to eat. You must provide structure and limits around meals and snacks—you are responsible for deciding the what, when and where of feeding and your child is responsible for the whether and how much of eating. The moment you start chasing your child around with food or asking her to take one more bite, you have crossed over into their territory and you will begin to struggle. Finding the right balance between helping and pressuring is tricky but you must work to find it if mealtimes are going to be pleasurable. Follow this link for more information on how to Avoid Pressure in feeding. The only exception to this rule by the way is with water; you should make water available everywhere, at all times of the day and on demand.
Super 4 Kids
9/10/2010 6:30:55 PM
My new Super 4 Kids program launched at all 18 Gelson’s stores just a few days ago. I am excited about it because I feel that it will help parents and caregivers of two- to 12-year-olds have a better understanding of how and what to feed kids. There are four parts to the program. First, my Super 4 Kids! Nutrition Notes newsletter explains in detail what types of foods and how much food kids need according to their age, sex and activity level. I also explain how to go about choosing healthful foods and share ideas for building balanced meals. The second part of the program features a separate Super 4 Kids Shopping list (available at all Gelson’s stores) with approximately 500 foods that are appropriate for children to eat on a daily basis. These foods meet the criteria that I use for selecting the most healthful packaged and processed foods. The third part of the program features three recipes that are healthy, easy and family-friendly, including one that kids can make with a little adult supervision (Simple Sautéed Cauliflower, Chicken Tortilla Soup and Almond Butter and Fruit Sandwich,a Kid-Friendly Recipe). Finally, I have chosen to identify a few of my favorite foods on the Shopping List with Super 4 Kids shelf tags throughout the stores. Please keep an eye out for them as you shop. If you have any questions, feel free to call me at 1-800-GELSONS or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
9/3/2010 3:57:51 PM
My daughter loves restaurants because she likes to eat meals with other people (she’s very social). I’ve noticed that she eats more when we eat out (though, don’t we all?). The reason why she eats “better” at restaurants is that we have what are called family meals, and because in addition to her food, she likes to eat off of everyone else’s plate, too. About two thirds of her meals are shared with other people, and that bodes well for her. Research on family meals shows that children benefit nutritionally, physically, emotionally, socially and academically when they eat with their families regularly—and the food doesn’t even need to be home-cooked! Children who partake in family meals also seem to have a healthier relationship with food and are more competent eaters. For more information about the benefits of eating together, please read Family dinners have many benefits for kids from the Miami Herald. Although the article mainly references adolescents, the benefits still apply to younger children.
8/27/2010 3:59:58 PM
I’ve been thinking a lot about the distinction between “everyday” foods and “sometimes” foods for kids. Foods that kids should eat daily are minimally processed vegetables, fruit, grains, beans, milk, yogurt and cheese. Ideally, fish is eaten twice a week, poultry is eaten three times a week and red meat is eaten once a week. I don’t think many children or adults come very close to spreading their animal protein out that thinly over the course of a week. Even if you’re not willing to serve less chicken or beef, there are some better choices you can make for your kids. Hamburgers, hot dogs, sausages, chicken nuggets and fish sticks are “sometimes” foods because they are processed. Think of them as being pre-digested by the factory so that once they hit your child’s lips they are less nutritious, fattier, saltier and more readily stored as fat than they are in their original animal of origin state (i.e. a chicken breast or steak). I did include the “best” choices among the processed meats for my Super 4 Kids Shopping List (available in Gelson’s stores in September), but please try to only serve these foods occasionally, even if they are organic or contain fewer ingredients than their lower quality counterparts. The healthiest option is always to cook chicken, fish, beef and vegetarian proteins yourself. For vegetarian, chicken and fish recipe ideas, check out our various folders on the Gelson’s COOKBOOK page.
8/20/2010 7:50:17 PM
All week I’ve been reading food labels and searching for foods that I recommend for my “Super 4 Kids!” program (rolling out at all Gelson’s stores in September). I’m realizing that we are inadvertently feeding our children way too much sodium. The processed foods that we are choosing have so much added salt—in fact, processed foods are the #1 source of sodium on our diets, followed by fast food and restaurant food. The salt we add at home is not nearly as big of an issue, since the foods we cook from scratch don’t have as much sodium as the ready-made stuff we can buy. A high sodium diet is dangerous because it can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease and kidney disease. Kids can acquire these conditions, which means they can be dealing with the consequences of organ damage for the rest of their lives if we are not careful. Please start reading food labels and doing some math when planning meals. Let me show you how: First, look up your child’s age and sodium limit for the day in the chart below. Subtract 250 milligrams to allot for two snacks (125 mg/snack). Divided the remaining number by 3 to find the sodium limit per meal (assuming your child eats 3 meals a day). A 4-8 year old child can have up to 550 milligrams of sodium for each of 3 meals and 125 milligrams of sodium for each of 2 snacks. That sounds like a lot, but it isn’t. Take a simple sandwich, for example: 2 slices of bread have at least 240 milligrams of sodium (most bread has more), 2 ounces of the best turkey breast I could find has 360 milligrams, 1 slice of cheese has about 130 milligrams and 1 teaspoon of mayonnaise has 30 milligrams. This innocent little sandwich has 760 milligrams of sodium—210 milligrams above the allotted maximum per meal. To lower the sodium you could use just 1 slice of bread or choose a lower sodium bread, like Food for Life Ezekiel breads; or leave off the cheese and mayo; or make chicken salad, egg salad or tuna salad yourself and control the amount of salt you add; or even look for a no-salt added turkey breast like we have in most of our Service Delis. There are many ways to approach this problem, but the first step is becoming more aware of the amount of sodium in the foods we are choosing.
8/13/2010 7:58:07 PM
Life with a toddler is never dull. Just a few weeks ago my daughter was eating two bananas with her breakfast and this week she is barely eating half of a banana. In fact, the last few days her appetite has just not been as big as usual. Last night for dinner she literally had one bite of lentils, one piece of broccoli, two cubes of butternut squash, one slice of bread with butter and four grapes. She usually eats way more than that. I’m not worried, but I did wonder if she would wake up hungry in the middle of the night (she didn’t). Variations in appetite are normal, and things change quickly at this age. I find it challenging to accept that she doesn’t want to eat when I see that she has eaten so much less than usual, but I work hard to respect her appetite. Soon it will return with a vengeance and she will be gobbling up bananas again.
8/6/2010 2:40:57 PM
A customer recently called me with the concern that she was feeding her 3 ½ year old daughter too much saturated fat. The girl was drinking about 20 ounces of whole milk a day along with eating about 3 ounces of string cheese and 4 ounces of low-fat yogurt, and was also having vegetables prepared with butter and/or parmesan cheese. Although her daughter was active and not at all overweight, her mom was concerned that she was setting her up to develop heart disease. My initial inclination was to reassure the mom, since I recalled that saturated fats were essential for brain development. However, upon further research, I had to correct myself. My daughter’s pediatrician explained that by age 2, brain development is about 90% complete—you’ve basically got what you’re going to have after that. Also, most kids up to age 2 need the calories that full-fat foods provide. After 2, however, things change dramatically and the focus shifts from brain development to heart health, growth slows, and calorie needs are not as high. After age 2, saturated fats should comprise no more than 10% of the calories in a child’s diet (this is the same as recommendations for healthy adults). For most kids under 4, that means a limit of 10 or 12 grams of saturated fat per day. Since each 8-ounce cup of whole milk contains 5 grams of saturated fat, you can see how kids can easily exceed their saturated fat limit while trying to meet their calcium needs. Therefore, between ages 1 and 2, choose whole milk dairy for kids; between ages 2 and 3, move to 2% or 1% milk and choose low-fat dairy products; and after age 3, give 1% or nonfat milk and low-fat or nonfat dairy products. Although I won’t discuss other fats in this post, please note that omega-3 fatty acids, especially DHA and EPA, are extremely important fats for healthy brain development and maintenance throughout the lifespan.
7/30/2010 6:25:37 PM
Each weekday morning I plan out my daughter’s meals for the day. It feels like mental gymnastics (especially since I do it before I’ve had my coffee!). I try to give her a pretty good variety of food for lunch and dinner, but breakfast is usually the same thing: a little bit of breast milk, then 6 ounces of Strauss Family Creamery whole organic yogurt with diced strawberries mixed in and a banana on the side. She doesn’t like a heavy breakfast, so we save the grains for lunch and dinner. I think I have a pretty good system worked out. I batch cook large amounts of different starches (quinoa, brown rice, polenta, oatmeal, sweet potato, butternut squash, potatoes and peas) and then I freeze them in ¼-cup portions. I also do the same with vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, asparagus, green beans, kale, swiss chard, beets and sautéed tomatoes) and proteins (poached chicken thighs, turkey breast, lentils, pinto beans, black beans and split peas). I dedicate one freezer drawer to each category of food and then pick one protein, one starch and one or two vegetables for each meal. I add some fresh fruit and we are good to go--as long as I keep the freezer stocked. Some fresh foods such as diced tomato, plain instant oatmeal, string cheese and Food for Life cinnamon raisin bread with butter also make some great easy additions to meals and snacks (string cheese is our go-to snack). I hope I have given you some ideas for ways to make planning meals for your kids easier. Stay tuned for September when I dedicate my newsletter to feeding kids healthfully.
7/23/2010 2:21:13 PM
When feeding my daughter, we offer her an array of healthful foods at specified meal and snack times and she is allowed to decide what and how much of those foods she will eat. She pretty much eats all of her food at most meals, but lately she’s been going bananas for bananas. She loves to feed herself bananas and control the size of her bites (she likes to take big bites). Most days this week she has eaten two bananas for breakfast. After she finishes the first one she signs that she wants more and we comply with her request. I’m not worried that she’s overeating, since bananas are healthful (remember she’s choosing from among the healthful food I’m offering). It’s important for her to know that she will always have enough to eat at mealtimes and that she is in control of this aspect of her eating. I know that this is just a phase and eventually she will go back to eating just one banana at breakfast when she realizes that she will have one again the next day.
Toddlers and Veggies
7/16/2010 2:21:46 PM
I’m often asked by parents of toddlers how they can get their kids to eat vegetables. Toddlers are tricky because they are naturally skeptical of everything, especially new foods. As parents, our primary goal with vegetables is to make sure that kids will eat their veggies for the rest of their lives, not just at dinner tonight. Building trust in the feeding relationship and modeling good eating habits are two important factors that can improve your odds of success, as is building good self-esteem into children. Children should come to the table feeling confident and good about their ability to eat. If they don’t trust themselves, how can they trust the person that is feeding them or trust that they will like the food being offered to them? Offer a variety of different veggies at meals (at least one produce item per meal) and present it like you do all the other foods. Be matter of fact about them and make sure that you eat them, too. Don’t make a big deal if they don’t eat them, but you can try to offer them a bite if you are spoon-feeding other foods. In my experience, my daughter loves to feed herself, but sometimes she wants to be spoon-fed some of the food on her plate. I don’t know if her arm gets tired or if she likes having bigger bites than she can give herself, but offering a spoonful here and there definitely helps her eat more than if she were left all alone. I try to find the right balance of involvement: being helpful without being pushy.
Sweet Potato Fries
7/8/2010 5:24:07 PM
My mom and I disagree about how to handle “forbidden foods” with my daughter. The disagreement arose a few nights ago when we were out to dinner at one of our favorite restaurants. I had cooked my daughter’s dinner at home and brought it with us because I prefer that she eat mostly organic food and very few restaurants offer any organic foods. She has a very good appetite and was happily feeding herself the last of her steak, pinto beans, broccoli, tomato, brown rice and blueberries when the sweet potato fries we had ordered arrived at the table. We were all eating them off of the serving plate and my daughter wanted to join in. I pushed the plate closer to her so that she could reach it and she began doing what we were doing. We allowed her to eat as much as she wanted and she enjoyed them in a very civilized manner. That night, she slept restlessly and I assumed that she probably had a tummy ache from the fatty fries and the huge dinner that she ate. My mom thinks we should have just allowed her a few fries and not let her eat them as freely as we did. I think we did it the right way, though. She didn’t gorge herself, the fries didn’t replace any of the other foods she was eating (she finished everything except for what fell on the floor), the fries were still nutritious (even if they were fried) and she stopped eating them when she had enough. Best of all, we didn’t have to say “no” or maintain a double standard and she really enjoyed participating in the family meal. For a refresher on using “forbidden” foods, scroll down to my June 9 entry, “Happy Birthday, Baby!”
Bargaining with Food
7/6/2010 11:15:02 AM
In the past week I’ve encountered a couple of different feeding scenarios that I feel are worth discussing here because I think they are pretty common—and troubling. In the first, a customer told me that the only way to get her son to clean his room is to “bribe him with candy.” In the second, I overheard a parent in a restaurant say to his toddler “finish your chicken and then you can go play.” In other words, these parents are implying “be good and I’ll reward you for doing what I want you to do.” Ugh! These families are going to struggle with feeding and eating if they aren’t already. Kids know when they are being even subtly manipulated and they almost always are less likely to do what you wanted them to do in the first place…and that’s when the battles begin. I don’t even have to tell you that the child in the restaurant refused to take another bite of her chicken after her dad tried to force her to eat more than she wanted to or that candy will become a very important food for the boy who may or may not clean his room because he only gets it when he is “good.” Research shows that when parents and caregivers are overly involved in managing how much and what children eat, children become unable to manage their own eating and may end up being overeaters. Similarly, when “forbidden foods,” like candy, are used as rewards, they become a much bigger deal in everyday life than they should be and children become emotional eaters. They abuse or overeat forbidden foods, especially in response to strong feelings—positive or negative. In both of these situations, the parents are not doing their jobs in the feeding relationship because they are being overly controlling with food. Children know how much they need to eat to satisfy their appetites but parents need to help them preserve what children know instinctively instead of teaching them bad habits.
6/28/2010 1:41:32 PM
My daughter likes yogurt, loves cheese and dislikes cow’s milk—I think. I just introduced it to her a few days ago in a regular cup. She took a sip and then rejected it. I’m being patient, though, and I keep in mind that she needs to try it at least 10 or 11 times before I know whether she will truly accept it. I’ve been offering it to her in both a regular cup and a straw cup (she doesn’t use a sippy cup), either on its own or mixed with some breast milk, as well as both cold and warm. She will take a sip but then refuse it. Today we filled her afternoon bottle with half breast milk and half cow’s milk and warmed it up. She knew what was in it and still drank the whole bottle. I thought she didn’t like the cow’s milk, but now I’m wondering if she really only wants milk from a bottle. I was worried about this happening. I had read that it is best to wean from the bottle completely around 12-15 months and now I’m seeing just how much of a challenge that might be. I think we will stick with the bottle for a while longer and gradually increase the ratio of cow’s milk : breast milk in the bottle until she is only drinking cow’s milk. Since she only drinks one bottle a day, once she accepts cow’s milk completely I will try offering it to her at other times in a different vessel. We just bought some great new Thermos-brand Vacuum-Insulated Leak-Proof Straw Bottle stainless steel straw cups (no plastic or BPA to worry about) that I plan to designate as milk cups.
Snacking on the Go
6/18/2010 6:22:50 PM
I know I’m not alone when it comes to rushing around to get errands accomplished in between my daughter’s meals and naps because I see kids all around town snacking in their strollers, car seats and shopping carts. Snacking on the go in this fashion is the equivalent of mindless eating that many adults struggle with (mindless munching is eating while doing other things and not giving food the respect it deserves). I’m concerned that this type of grazing can lead to some bad habits and overeating when it is practiced regularly. Snacks are just as important as meals; they should be given at regular times (not when kids beg for them), in appropriate places (snacking in the car is dangerous) and they should be nutritious. They should not be distractions, entertainment, handouts or rewards and they should not be rushed. It is important to teach our children early on how to be in touch with their feelings of hunger and satiety so that they can listen to their bodies and regulate the amount they need to eat intuitively. This in turn will help them feel good about their eating and arrive at the weight and sized that they are truly meant to be. However, intuitive eating can really only be learned or maintained (children are born knowing how much they need to eat) when parents and caregivers do their jobs in the feeding relationship by offering kids a variety of healthful foods at regular times and in a supportive manner. Therefore, most snacks, like meals, should be eaten at a table with no other distractions (like TV or toys). Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD, a fellow dietitian and blogger, has some good advice about feeding kids snacks in one of her blog posts: Is Your Kid a “Good” or “Bad” Snacker?
Happy Birthday, Baby!
6/9/2010 3:21:14 PM
My daughter just turned one and a whole new world of food is opening up now that she can have dairy products. I have been offering her the wonderful whole milk yogurt from Strauss Family Creamery, a Northern California organic dairy where the cows eat grass so their milk contains the omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA naturally. Omega-3’s are vitally important for optimal brain development and it is best when they occur naturally in food sources such as fish, as well as meat, eggs and dairy from grass-fed animals. Saturated fats are also important for brain development, so please continue to offer your 12-24-month old child full-fat dairy products.
Speaking of new foods, she also had her first “treat.” We gave her an organic vanilla cupcake as her birthday cake and she happily dug into the frosting, but didn’t care much for the cake underneath. It was the first time she had a sweetened food. She liked it, but only ate a few fistfuls and when she had enough, she moved on to play with some toys that she found more interesting. I was proud of both of us for managing sweets so casually. Here are some tips for thoughtfully including sweets and treats in your child’s diet on occasion: Using "Forbidden" Food.
I was Almost a Short-Order Cook
6/1/2010 4:29:13 PM
I feel that I do a good job of fulfilling my responsibilities in the feeding relationship with my daughter. I offer her a variety of healthful foods at scheduled meal and snack times and I follow the formula of including a serving each of a protein, a vegetable, a starch and a fruit at mealtimes. However, the other day at lunch she did not want what I was offering and started throwing her food on the floor. My first inclination was to start offering her other foods that she might prefer to eat. I had to stop myself and remember that we were each doing our jobs (she decides if and how much to eat), and she was just deciding that she did not want to eat what I was offering. Although her lunch consisted of foods that she normally likes, she simply did not want to eat them. It was my job to respect her feelings, not to keep offering her foods until we found one that she felt like eating. She would not go hungry, since snacktime was in just a couple of hours. I was shocked, though, to discover just how easily the feeding relationship can break down if I’m not careful to protect it. My little girl is a toddler now -- she is asserting her will at mealtimes, playtimes and naptimes -- and that means that her caregivers and I have to be extra vigilant in reading her cues and showing regard for her feelings as to if and how much she eats. Respecting my daughter’s feelings is an important way to build self-esteem and trust and to foster independence.
5/25/2010 7:23:32 PM
There are two articles in this week’s New York Times that I want to share with you. They are about foods that pose choking hazards for children. I already knew about some of the foods that are mentioned here, such as grapes and hot dogs, but I was not aware of just how dangerous popcorn could be (it can make its way into the vocal cords and lungs). As my daughter approaches her first birthday, these articles have reminded me that it is time to renew my infant and child CPR certification. I was also reminded how important it is to keep a very watchful eye on my daughter while she eats. She has never actually choked, but on one occasion she got so excited about what she was eating that she put too much food in her mouth at once and got very scared when she couldn’t manage it all. It was a frightening experience for both of us! I never want to repeat that again, so as she expands her repertoire of foods, I will bear in mind the information in these two articles:
The 10 Biggest Choking Hazards and Labels Urged for Food That Can Choke.
Thoughtful Bottle Feeding
5/21/2010 1:44:40 PM
Last week I saw a six-month old baby in her infant car seat with a bottle of milk propped up so it was hanging off her lip and milk was dribbling into her mouth. I asked her dad why he wasn’t holding her bottle for her and he said she preferred to “hold” her own bottle. I see babies holding their own bottles all the time, but just because they can do it doesn’t mean that they should do it. (I will not even go into how dangerous it is and the negative impact that propping a bottle can have on a child’s oral and ear health.) The practice of propping the bottle signifies a breakdown in the parent-child feeding relationship because the caregiver is not doing their job, which is offering milk and helping the child consume it in a sensitive, observant manner. Babies eat best when they feel secure and supported. Therefore, when it comes to milk feeding (whether breastmilk or formula from a breast or bottle), babies need to be held close and cuddled while they drink. Leaving them alone in their car seat to feed themselves will make a baby feel lonely and insecure and he or she will not get the amount of food that they really need. If a baby’s emotional needs are not being met (i.e., they are not being cuddled and caregivers are not sharing control of the feeding), then they will most likely overeat or undereat. If a child’s early experiences with eating are consistently negative, it could be the beginning of life-long struggles with emotional eating and will impact their relationship with food for the rest of their lives. Bottle-feeding is a skill and it requires a lot of work on the caregiver’s part to learn to relinquish control and pay close attention to how a baby wants to be fed. Even if your baby is almost done with bottle feedings, like mine is, it is still a good idea to brush-up on your bottle-feeding skills.
5/10/2010 8:22:08 PM
Now that my daughter is 11 months old, she is eating three solid meals and sometimes a snack in addition to three milk feedings each day. Planning her menus is challenging since I want to give her balanced meals that include a variety of foods in different, colors, textures, flavors and temperatures. I have to include at least one or two finger foods, at least one fruit and one or two vegetables, and something starchy and substantial, like beans or grains. Next month, when she cuts out more milk feedings, we will have to add more protein sources to her meals, such as yogurt, cheese and cow’s milk. Thankfully, I have a large variety of homemade foods stored in the freezer, so I can just heat up her different meal components and add fresh fruits. She still doesn’t eat recipes, just plain individual foods. Next month we will begin to feed her more mixed foods, as the goal is to have her share our food and eat meals together as a family. Here is a typical days’ menu of her solid foods:
Breakfast: Oatmeal made with water and breast milk, blueberries (finger food)
Lunch: Black beans with olive oil, sweet potato, asparagus, banana (all finger foods)
Dinner: Turkey breast, kiwi (finger foods), braised red cabbage, quinoa
Snack: Grated apple (finger food)
It finally happened. There is actually a food that my daughter doesn’t like: egg yolks. She really, really does not like them. They were her new food this week and no matter how we prepared them, she spit them out, so we had to do something that I normally advise against: we hid them in her rice cereal and tricked her into eating a few bites because we needed to know if she was allergic to eggs. Eggs are in so many foods that her diet would be limited going forward if she had not passed the egg test.
I am strongly against tricking kids into eating their food because it can lead to distrust in the feeding relationship. In general, if you start manipulating children with food then they will rebel and behave badly at the table. Their eating skills will suffer as they become more demanding and less capable of eating a variety of foods. If you feel that your feeding relationship with your child is suffering, see Ellyn Satter’s advice about The Picky Eater. In the meantime, I will not trick my baby again, but I won’t give up on eggs, either. I will offer her eggs again in the future, perhaps prepared another way, but I won’t be upset if she chooses not to eat them. It is, after all, her job to decide if and how much she will eat.
4/9/2010 2:09:21 PM
I was so proud of my daughter the other night when we had another family over to our house for an early dinner. I grated half of a peeled apple and quartered some blueberries and put them in our Un-believe-a-bowl (an awesome bowl that suctions to a tray or table). We all sat down at the table together and started to eat. My baby happily dug into her own food and kept herself busy for over 30 minutes, while still managing to be engaged in the conversation and giggling and jabbering with the other child at the table. Now that she is feeding herself, we are one step closer to having true family meals where we all sit together and eat the same foods. That day is right around the corner and I’m getting ready for it. My April newsletter is all about planning and executing family meals since cooking on weeknights is a major challenge for me. I want to have a plan in place when the time comes so that I can continue to support my daughter’s healthful eating habits. For help with planning your dinners read Menu Planning Strategies.
4/2/2010 1:41:04 PM
I can’t believe that my little baby will be ten months old this weekend! I’m excited about this age because there are so many new foods that she will be able to eat this month. Following my allergist’s advice, we will try oatmeal first and if that goes well, we will add wheat (your child’s pediatrician may have different advice). After that, she’ll get some egg yolk (egg whites are OK after one year of age). This week, in preparation for her expanding diet, we are trying some organic extra virgin first cold press olive oil so that she can have more mixed foods instead of just single foods. The ultimate goal is to have her eating what we eat (minus the salt) by 12 months. It blows my mind that in the next two months she will drop two milk feedings and transition to table food. Right now, she is getting into hand feeding herself grated apple, spaghetti squash and raisins, but she still likes to be fed and use the spoon herself. Here are some guidelines for feeding babies between ten and 12 months: 10-12 months old Solid Food Chart.
Don’t Forget the Vitamin D
I just realized yesterday that I haven’t given my daughter her daily dosage of vitamin D in a couple of weeks. The bottle must have rolled into the Black Hole that lives under our glider and I probably forgot about it—out of sight, out of mind is this exhausted mommy’s new reality! Today I read a new study that has found that most infants, regardless of if they are breast- or formula-fed, are not getting enough vitamin D. Vitamin D supplements had previously only been thought necessary for breast-fed infants, since breast milk is low in vitamin D and formula is fortified with it. About 70% of all children and adolescents could also benefit from a vitamin D supplement. Vitamin D is important for the formation of strong bones, a strong immune system and the prevention of heart disease and possibly type 1 diabetes. Here is an article about the study: Even on formula, babies not getting enough vitamin D. I will order a new bottle of vitamin D (I like the Carlson Baby D Drops) today and I recommend that you check with your pediatrician about adding in a supplement for your child if you don’t already.
Feeding and Caregiving are Skills
3/19/2010 6:40:03 PM
Parenting skills require practice, especially if you intend to use a particular parenting method. At my house we practice the RIE Approach (Resources for Infant Educarers). According to www.RIE.org, the method is “based on respect” and “helps raise authentic infants who are competent, confident, curious, attentive, exploring, cooperative, secure, peaceful, focused, self-initiating, resourceful, involved, inner-directed, aware and interested.” We emphasize respecting my daughter and communicating with her before we touch her or do something with her (for instance, when we feed her, we tell her what the food is, offer it to her and then allow her to decide whether she will put it in her mouth; we don’t yet worry if she doesn’t eat anything since solids are still just for fun). Last week I had the opportunity to observe one of my daughter’s caregivers feeding her lunch. Many of the principles we had originally explained to her had fallen by the wayside, and it was a good reminder to me that feeding and caregiving are practices. Since much of how we interact with my daughter is counterintuitive to us first-time parents, it takes a lot of practice before the communication and interactions become second nature. I realized that it is a good idea for my husband and me to periodically check in with ourselves and our baby’s caregivers and make sure that we are all using Ellyn Satter's Division of Responsibility in Feeding and RIE in our daily caregiving. Whatever parenting method you use, I urge you to do the same.
Iron for Babies
3/8/2010 2:37:35 PM
One of my daughter’s playmates has recently been diagnosed with iron levels at the low end of the normal range. Her mom was wondering what to do to keep the iron levels of her 10-month old from falling any further. I had several suggestions. First, breast milk is the best source of iron for a baby. There is not a lot of iron in breast milk, but the little that is there is readily absorbed by the baby. Fortified formulas and cereals contain more iron than breast milk, but they have to since that iron is poorly absorbed by the baby. All formula and some infant cereals also contain calcium, which further inhibits iron absorption. I advised the mommy to continue breastfeeding, to make sure that the supplementary formula she was using contained iron in the form of ferrous sulfate (the most absorbable form of supplementary iron) as well as ascorbic acid (vitamin C), and to switch to an infant cereal that was not calcium-fortified. In addition to breast milk, the best way to get more iron in your baby’s diet is to feed them foods that naturally contain iron. Adding organic dark meat chicken, lamb or beef (check with your pediatrician first) to your baby’s diet will add iron and enhance iron absorption from other sources. For a listing of foods that contain iron, see my June 2006 newsletter article (scroll down to page 3). Iron-rich foods must be eaten with foods that contain vitamin C in order to facilitate absorption. Here is a list of fruits and vegetables that are high in vitamin C: Dole Vitamin C foods Although many of the foods on these lists (shellfish, nuts, seeds, citrus, seedy berries, tomatoes and peppers, to name a few) are not appropriate for children under 12 or even 18 months, there are plenty that a younger baby can eat.
Don’t Rush Them
This week I’ve been reading how important it is to let children develop at their own pace. I thought my baby would be eating finger foods by now, since she is almost 9 months old and most books say that babies should be starting with finger foods at that age, but she doesn’t seem to be ready yet. She’s still enjoying being fed her exotic purees and smashed-up versions of Tuscan kale, asparagus, artichoke, kiwi and quinoa. Once in a while she’ll bend over in her high chair to put her mouth over some food that spills on her tray, but she’s not yet transferring it from her food-encrusted hands to her mouth. However, I’m not going to rush her into the next stage of eating. I’ll check in every few days by placing a small, soft chunk of food on her tray and will casually model feeding it to myself, but I don’t force her to follow my lead. I try to strike a delicate balance between being interested in her eating and giving her the space to explore the food she is eating by, for example, playing with her spoon or schmearing food around her tray. I try to be patient with and accepting of all of her behaviors, whether it is learning to feed herself, crawl or express herself verbally or otherwise. The Gesell Institute of Human Development has some valuable information about allowing children to develop at their own pace:Parent Questions
My daughter doesn’t have any teeth yet—and I’m in no rush for them to come in, either. A local pediatric dentist recently told me that the later baby teeth come in, the stronger they tend to be. He also explained that bacteria get introduced to the mouth when teeth come through the gums, which can affect oral health as well as long-term health. We know that certain bacteria in the mouth that cause gingivitis can also affect heart health, so good oral hygiene early on is important. Furthermore, mothers often pass the bacteria in their mouths along to their children, so it is also important for moms to take care of their own teeth. For more information about the connection between gums and heart health, see Dr. Andrew Weil’s answer to the question “Do Clean Teeth Promote Heart Health?”. Caring for your baby’s teeth should start when the first tooth appears, or sooner if you want to establish a dental hygiene routine (just wipe baby’s gums with a piece of gauze before bedtime). For information on caring for your baby’s teeth, see the American Dental Association’s sheet “Baby's First Teeth” (February 2002)
Do Babies Need Recipes?
The mother of a ten-month old recently asked me what she should be feeding her baby for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Is it OK to order macaroni and cheese off a kid’s menu at a restaurant, she wondered< I thought this was a great question, as there are amazingly few resources that give us good information about the appropriate progression of food introductions. Unfortunately, there really is no easy answer because all babies are different and they all start solids at different times. Furthermore, babies develop at different rates, especially when it comes to teeth and their ability to chew and swallow. However, the most important thing to keep in mind is that breast milk and> or formula is the most important source of nutrition for babies in the first year. That means that solid foods are really more about familiarizing your baby with different flavors, textures and temperatures and learning how to eat and drink. At ten months, progressing slowly and introducing new foods early in the day (for potential allergic reaction reasons) over three or four days is still the protocol. With that in mind, I think plain, single foods are better than recipes that contain several foods or ingredients. I generally recommend wholesome, minimally-processed foods for children and adults because foods are most nutritious, satisfying and health-promoting in their natural states. Experts differ in their opinion of when to introduce wheat, egg yolks and dairy into a baby’s diet, but I recommend waiting until at least ten months for wheat and egg yolks and 12 months for dairy foods if there is no family history of food allergies (and possibly longer if there is a family history—talk to your pediatrician). Here is a sample menu for a ten – 12 month-old: Baby Menu. If you ever have a doubt about a food, the safest route is to keep the meal plain and simple.
I just met with the mother of a 3-year old and a 5-year old (with another baby on the way). She was seeking advice about how to get her kids to eat something besides carbs like bread, pasta, rice and crackers. Vegetables, fruit and protein were in short supply in her family’s diet, mainly because every member (including her husband) likes and dislikes different foods and she was tired of being a short-order cook. I know this mom’s story is not unique by a long shot and I also know that this could be my own reality one day if I’m not careful. Once a pattern is established of making different foods to please everyone and making a big deal about what is not getting eaten, it is really difficult to make changes. Establishing a new feeding relationship takes commitment, patience and time. I reminded the mommy that a child needs to be exposed to a new food at least 11 times before he or she starts to accept it; so, for example, before deciding that your child doesn’t like carrots, you should offer them raw, steamed, roasted and even cut up in different ways. However, it’s important to respect your child’s likes and dislikes once they are established and don’t try to trick them into eating something by hiding it in the food without telling them. I suggested the following: At each family meal, offer at least one food that each family member likes; make trying a new fruit or vegetable a family project where the kids get to pick the food, find a recipe for it and help prepare it for a meal; bring the kids into the kitchen and get them involved in meal preparation; don’t make a big deal about trying stuff or not liking something; and practice Ellyn Satter’s division of responsibility (it is up to the parent or caregiver to decide when where and what healthful foods to offer and it is up to the child to decide if and how much they will eat). For more tips on how to raise successful eaters, check out this link from the website Dinner Together.
Teaching Babies How To Eat
Hunger is instinctual, but eating well is a learned behavior. As a parent, it is my job to teach my daughter how to eat and have a healthy relationship with food, and these lessons start very early on. People are always surprised to see my seven and a half month old drinking water out of a glass instead of a sippy cup. This activity is one of her favorite things to do and she is learning to do it well. I can tell that she feels very proud of herself as she takes sips from her little glass that is a mini version of mine. I am teaching her how to drink, eat and sit at the table by making eating enjoyable for her and by modeling these behaviors. We have started having family meals, both at home and at restaurants, at which we all sit down and eat together. Although she can’t feed herself yet, we feed her at the table in between courses or bites and she is both watching us eat and participating in the “conversation” and rituals associated with having an enjoyable meal. Soon we’ll be advancing my daughter’s eating skills from spoon-feeding purees to finger-feeding small chunks. If you’re interested in reading more about this topic, Ellyn Satter, a registered dietitian and psychotherapist, shares some of her infinite wisdom about teaching kids how to eat in her handout Helping Children Be Good Eaters.
A Few of Our Favorite Things
My husband thinks that this blog should be called “Super Psycho Organic Mommy” instead of “Healthy Families.” It’s true that I am very cautious about what I put into my baby’s body and my own, but I don’t think I’m too over the top. After all, you can never be too careful with such a tiny living, growing being, can you? I have some specific concerns about preventing food allergies, other allergies and asthma in my daughter because I suffer from these things personally and I don’t ever want to see my baby struggling to breathe. We avoid products that contain vinyl, foam and pesticides as much as possible and try to keep plastic to a minimum (it’s impossible to avoid plastic) since these materials are linked to asthma, allergies, reproductive problems, hormonal disruptions and even cancer. A recent study at UC Berkeley found that babies and young children are much more susceptible to the effects of pesticide residues on foods than adults (65-130 times more sensitive) and many kids only develop the enzymes needed to protect themselves from those chemicals after age 7. In addition to only feeding my baby organic foods, I also use feeding bowls and bibs made from cornstarch instead of plastic and glass baby bottles. Even her highchair is made of wood and contains very little plastic. If we do use plastic, we never put it in the microwave or the dishwasher and I recommend that you take similar precautions. If you are interested in learning more about and purchasing safer baby products, check out these websites: www.safemama.com and www.thesoftlanding.com.
Getting to know your little eater
y daughter is a “gourmet” eater. I don’t mean that she’s a little foodie (it’s too early to tell if she’s taking after me yet); I mean that she is a slow and deliberate eater who savors each sip and bite of food. When I complained to her pediatrician that it took 90 minutes to nurse her, he explained that children have different eating styles and they can’t be changed. He’s right: rushing my babe never works. As she’s gotten older, she has gotten a little bit faster at eating, but her general eating style has not changed. I’m glad I understood her approach to eating before we started solids so I knew what to expect from her at the table and, more importantly, so I could explain it to her caregivers. Whether your child eats quickly or slowly, takes breaks or goes steadily, eats a lot or a little, or loves food or can live without it, it’s vital to your feeding relationship that you respect their style and let them set the pace. Think about how you would feel if anyone ever forced you to eat faster than was comfortable for you, or took your food away before you were done eating, or even shoved food in your mouth and made you eat it when you weren’t hungry. Doing that to our children will only make them feel bad about themselves and their eating and it will put a strain on your feeding relationship. Accepting and respecting your child’s eating style and working with it will help prevent food fights later on. Take some time now to pay attention to your little eater’s patterns and preferences; it will serve you both well in future feedings.
Getting Acquainted with Food
he primary goal when you introduce your baby to his or her first “solid foods” should not be to provide him or her with calories or nutrients; these early feedings should be all about your baby learning how to eat and becoming familiar with different foods. My daughter’s first solid food was avocado. She liked it and really enjoyed playing with the spoon and practicing putting it in her mouth. Over the weekend, I steamed some organic locally grown butternut squash that I got at Gelson’s and mashed it up with some breast milk. She loved it! The color, texture, temperature and flavor were intriguing to her and she had a great time smearing it all over herself and generally becoming acquainted with eating. I think she is getting the hang of spoon feeding after a week of practice. I can’t emphasize enough that starting your baby on solids is not meant to provide calories or nutrition in the first couple of months; it is about helping your baby establish a healthy relationship with food and practicing sharing the responsibility of eating and feeding between babies and their caregivers. The registered dietitian Ellyn Satter is the expert on establishing good feeding habits. Here is a link to a page on her website that explains the division of responsibility succinctly: http://www.ellynsatter.com/ellyn-satters-division-of-responsibility-in-feeding-i-80.html. I will be talking a lot about this incredibly important parenting topic in future posts.
irst foods are on my mind this week as my 6 month old daughter will be starting solids this weekend. I have been puzzling over what to give her as her first solid food, interviewing doctors, dietitians and friends for their suggestions. Most people give their baby rice cereal for their first food, but I don’t want her very first food to come out of a box. I want to start her on something natural and wholesome, not something processed. I have settled on organic avocado. It is high in healthful fats, which babies need, as well as iron, B vitamins, vitamin E and vitamin K and carotenoids. Avocados also have a creamy texture that is perfect for babies and they do not require cooking. She will get organic rice cereal eventually, since it is fortified with iron, which is essential to brain development. In the meantime, I will start by feeding her some avocado mixed with a little breast milk to make it the right consistency and we will go from there. I will keep you posted about our progress and which food we choose next. For more information about first feedings, check out Dr. Sears’s page, Starting Solid Foods