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Category Archives: mouths to feed

Expert, advise thyself

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I enjoy writing about feeding my family here on my blog, but what you may not know is that it’s actually one of my areas of professional expertise. For almost 20 years, my specialty as a dietitian has been the art and science of feeding young kids. For the last 10, I’ve been a nutrition advisor for Happy Family, and in this role I’ve answered scores of parent questions and presented on the topic many, many times.

What really cements my know-how, however, is the picky eating laboratory that I run right here in my home with my own 3 kids.

By most standards, my kids are good eaters, but they’re still normal kids. They prefer the same junky foods that other kids like. They turn up their noses at healthy foods all the time. They sometimes refuse to eat what I’ve served. They whine and fuss and push me to my limits around the table every day.

The irony of it all is sometimes laughable. For instance, last month Happy Family hosted a Twitter chat about picky eating, featuring yours truly as their expert. For 30 minutes I confidently doled out sage advice, answering moms’ questions and suggesting solutions for common concerns.

A few hours later I was standing in my kitchen, plating up the chicken gyros I’d made for dinner, listening to a very angry 4yo yelling from under the kitchen table that he would not, in fact, be eating chicken. Because he HATES chicken. Instead, he wailed over and over, I had to make him spaghetti and meatballs. He refused to give up. With my own picky eating advice still lingering in the air from that afternoon’s chat, it was like the universe was testing me: OK, expert… how do you handle this situation?

Usually, when faced with challenges like this one, I do what I know is best; but let’s be honest, sometimes I do not. I take the path of least resistance because I’m only human and these kids can break you down! I’m pleased to report that I did manage to get the situation under control that night by taking my own advice, which I share with you here:

1. I stayed calm. I did not raise my voice. I said I know how much he likes spaghetti and meatballs, but tonight’s dinner is chicken, and please come up and sit at the table. This of course made him even more angry and resolute. (Though at least I was setting a good example with my tone.) So, I moved on to #2…

2. I did not call attention to his negative behaviors. I ignored him a bit to see if he would fizzle out after he realized that he wasn’t getting the reaction from me that he wanted. I served the other two kids, made small talk. Eventually, after what seemed like an eternity, he did stop yelling.

3. I did not give in. He didn’t know it, but I have a stash of meatballs in the freezer and it would have been very easy for me to heat them up. But of course this is a short-term solution that does nothing for the long-term goal, which is to have a kid who is not so picky. Giving in to their demands by being a short-order cook just reinforces their love of their favorite foods and their unwillingness to try different things. It also tells them that you don’t actually expect them to eat like everyone else in the family. So although it was tempting after a long day, I did not make him meatballs.

4. I chose my battles. I don’t make separate meals for picky kids. He had to select from the options already before him on the table. I was not budging on that point. But sometimes you can only fight one battle at a time. So… I did not punish him for yelling at me even though I don’t find it acceptable. And I didn’t punish him for staying under the table after I had asked him to come out. And when he finally came out from under the table, seemingly willing to take a plate of the dinner I had made, and defiantly said to me “I’m NOT sitting at the table today. I’m sitting in my tent.” I let my we-eat-dinner-sitting-at-the-table standard go out the window just this once and said “you got it!”

The little guy sat in his play tent and ate a few bites of pita, a bunch of tomatoes and cucumbers, and eventually, when he was very calm I told him that his brother and sister really enjoyed the chicken and I would like him to try a bite. To my surprise, not only did he try a few bites, but he emerged from his tent a few minutes later and told me that it was the “yummiest chicken he ever saw.” 4 year olds have no shame.

The thing about dealing with picky eating is that it’s daunting and frustrating, but it’s rarely a lost cause. There are loads of strategies you can try and you can find the ones that work for your child and for your family dynamics. I’ve been testing many of these strategies here at Camp Sunnyside and over the years I’ve shared some tips on Happy Family’s website – you can find them here if you want to read more.

Stay strong, moms and dads. Don’t let those little mac-and-cheese lovers get you down. 🙂

Win some, lose some

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Last week, I declared my intention to clean up the kids’ diets. Well, I’ve been working on it and it’s going okay. With a few principles in mind (e.g., less sugar, fewer processed foods, better-for-you snacks) I plucked some recipes off of Pinterest, and I’ve been trying to be more mindful about what I’m putting on the table. Here’s a report:

Win: Breaking the Dessert Habit. A few weeks ago we started cutting back on after-dinner treats. It was interesting how many people commented after my last post that they’ve never even considered giving their kids dessert every night. Well, good for you guys, because I was apparently out to lunch on this one! But anyway, I’m pleased to report that it’s not even a big deal. There’s no fussing on the no-sweets nights. They have found other evening snacks (like fruit, yogurt, trail mix, popcorn) to enjoy if needed. With this change alone their sugar consumption has dropped considerably.

Win: Better-for-You Banana Bread. Trying to provide some better options for breakfast, my 10yo N and I baked 100% whole wheat low-in-sugar banana bread from the wonderful 100 Days of Real Food (recipe below). With only 1/4 cup honey it was noticeably less sweet than a typical banana bread (which can have up to a cup of sugar), but still very tasty. 4yo JB and 8yo A gobbled it up. N, who was aware that it was a lower sugar recipe, remarked after his first bite that it wasn’t sweet enough, but then he “got used to it” and in the end he said he enjoyed it. I’ll definitely make it again.

Lose: Deceptive Pizza Bites. For snacks and lunches I found a recipe for protein-rich pizza bites made with a quinoa-based crust on the Super Healthy Kids website, where I’ve found many good ideas and recipes in the past. I am a sucker for mini-foods and these pepperoni-sized morsels came out of the oven looking quite appealing.  N eagerly took a bite of one…and promptly threw the remainder in the garbage. After witnessing that decisive action it was surprising that A and JB even wanted to try, but I’m telling you these things were adorable. So A took a bite, made a face like she was going to vomit and very politely placed it back on her plate. When JB declared them to be “yummy” I was excited. Then I noticed that he had only eaten the cheese and sauce off the top. I encouraged another bite. “EWWWW. It’s QUINOA!” he moaned. Mind blown: I had no idea he even knew what quinoa tasted like. But truth be told, it did have a very quinoa-y flavor. I *may* have skipped the very important step of thoroughly rinsing the grain before cooking it. It tasted rather bitter. Oops. I won’t be making these again.

Lose: I got distracted by wheat. Last week, I decided to find some non-wheat alternatives for my carb-loading kids. But I have to admit that in my eagerness to make changes, I led myself astray. It hit me the other night as I was piling pasta made of rice and quinoa onto their plates while a snack bar made with a gluten-free flour mix baked in the oven. It doesn’t make any sense to just switch from one form of processed carbs to another!  Wheat and gluten are not the enemy, over-processing is the enemy! I don’t know what made me even buy those things. They don’t need non-wheat pastas and gluten free granola bars. Maybe just some non-pasta dinners and non-bar snacks. I got carried away but I’m back on track now.

Win: I think maybe they’re paying attention. As a dietitian I’m hyper-focused on food, but I never want my kids to obsess about this stuff so I try not to talk about it too much. It’s better to lead by example and hope they are picking up good habits and healthy preferences through their experiences in our home. But, 10yo N has been interested in talking about nutrition, so I’ve shared a few thoughts with him, about how I’d like all of us to be mindful about what we put in our mouths, and about striving to eat more whole foods. A few days ago he told me about an over-the-top smorgasbord of sweets that was offered to the kids at a party in his classroom. There was jello, candy, cookies, AND cupcakes, among other snacks. He says,”I mean, of course I liked eating it, but Mom it was kinda bad. Nobody needs all that stuff!” So he enjoyed the sweets (because he’s a human child) but he recognized that they were superfluous to the point of being unhealthy… Well, it’s not a quinoa pizza bite, but I’ll take it.


Whole Wheat Banana Bread from 100 Days of Real Food

This recipe can be made as a loaf or as muffins. (I made a loaf – if you make muffins adjust the baking time accordingly.) I used my favorite whole wheat flour, Bob’s Red Mill ivory wheat flour, and coconut oil.

INGREDIENTS

2 ¼ cup whole-wheat flour
¾ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
3 ripe bananas, mashed
¼ cup plain yogurt
¼ cup honey
2 eggs
⅓ cup oil
1 teaspoon vanilla

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and grease pan.
  2. Combine flour, baking soda, and salt.
  3. In a separate bowl mix mashed bananas with yogurt, honey, eggs, oil, and vanilla.
  4. Fold the banana mixture into the flour mixture until blended. Do not overmix.
  5. Pour batter into prepared pan.
  6. Bake large loaf for 40 – 50 minutes or until it comes clean with a toothpick.

 

All aboard!

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Lately, I’ve been maintaining a glaring double standard: JR and I have been eating clean and feeling great; the kids have not. During our recent 30-day nutrition challenge we planned meals and snacks around whole foods, eliminated added sugar, and ate a ton of vegetables. Sometimes, we served the same meals to the whole family, like this great chicken and rice bake and this yummy shrimp dish. But other times, while we were eating quinoa and buckwheat, they were eating heaping servings of pasta or freezer French fries. While we were snacking on nuts or plain yogurt or roasted parsnips, they were eating Goldfish or ice cream.

In the weeks since the challenge ended, I’ve continued to follow most of the rules because, well, I like to feel great. I’ve yet to eat a piece of bread or a bowl of pasta. I have a little dark chocolate as a treat but I’m still eating unsweetened oatmeal and choosing protein foods as snacks. I’m trying to find a new “normal” that I can maintain for a good long while. A balanced approach. And as I’m sorting this out, I’m resolving to bring the kids deeper into the fold. I think we need two big changes:

#1 – Cut the sugar.
Eschewing sugar for a month (and being kind of obsessed about it) really brought my kids’ eating habits into stark relief. Almost every night they had something sweet as “dessert”. It was not always junky – things like homemade goodies sweetened with maple syrup, dark chocolate-covered bananas, and 100% fruit ice pops were in the mix. But as I considered their overall diets, I noticed how much it adds up: sweetened breakfast cereals, granola bars, juice boxes, cookies, ice cream treats, lollypops…and that’s just at home! I’ll say nothing (ok, I’ll say a little) of the crap that other people feed my kids on a day-to-day basis at school, at sports (why does my kid need a donut after a 45 minute practice?!), at afterschool activities. I wouldn’t call them addicted to sugar, but their palates certainly have a strong preference for it, and they are definitely in the habit of having more sweets than I believe is healthy.

So, a few weeks ago we limited sweet treats to every other night, trying to wean them off slowly. At the same time, I’m trying to make and buy breakfast foods, after-school snacks, and desserts that contain less sugar. And, though I don’t believe that honey and maple syrup are so much better than cane sugar (your body has an insulin reaction whatever the form) I do think there are benefits to cutting out products that contain refined sugar, so that’s what I plan to do (except for special occasions and Halloween and whatnot… I haven’t completely lost my mind).

#2 – Carb control.
My kids are carbohydrate fiends. Pasta, cereal, crackers, pretzels, snack bars. I believe they need the energy provided by starchy carbohydrates – they are active and they are growing. But I also believe that more of their starches should be vegetables and whole grains. And, I’m thinking we could cut back on wheat products. It’s not that I necessarily believe that gluten is bad for us (though I will say, again, that I have felt GREAT without it) but I do wonder if the abundance of wheat in their diets is a good thing. When facing long-term unknowns I always like to hedge – split the risks by having a bit of this and a bit of that, not over-relying on any one kind of food. So, I’ll try to swap out some gluten-containing foods for gluten-free options. Try to help them learn to accept and enjoy a better variety of whole grains. Have fewer carb-y snacks available. Try to offer more balance.

Seems easy enough. Heh heh.

Will report back.

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