And He Eats!

And He Eats!
By Laura Cipullo, RD, CDE, CEDRD and Mom

Photo Credit: sean dreilinger via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: sean dreilinger via Compfight cc

Six years later, Billy finally eats. As many of you know, my two boys challenge my feeding and eating expertise on a daily basis. I think from all the Mommy RD stories here on Mom Dishes It Out, you now know that RDs have their fair share of food and nutrition conundrums. But like you, we need to separate our emotional-selves and work with our child. This is probably the hardest part. Being an objective feeder is quite the challenge. Don’t despair, your kids may surprise you..

 

I constantly have to remind myself to lighten up around the food and sometimes set more food boundaries. Just the other night, I bought chicken apple sausage and potato rolls for my oldest son. Bobby loves chicken apple sausage. However, it seems he only likes the sausage from Brooklyn. Anyway, we tried two new brands just yesterday. Bobby was trying it as a side to his dinner of rotisserie chicken with mashed potatoes and spinach. Billy excitedly comes into the kitchen declaring he will have a hot dog bun with peanut butter, two cheeses and a yogurt with a side of strawberries.

 

Here is conundrum number one. Do I allow him to dictate his meal? Conundrum two is whether he should try the chicken sausage. Because of my work with food phobias and eating disorders, I never want to force the boys to eat food and prefer exposure therapy. I let Billy know, he must first try chicken sausage on the hot dog roll. Of course, he verbally refuses. I have yet to understand if this is an animal thing, a chewing thing, a control thing or perhaps just a taste preference. I feel my blood begin to boil.

 

It is so hard to be objective. I proceed to make the sausage and set it on Billy’s plate. He is of course performing a song and dance. I also make Billy his requested dinner. I serve him both the sausage in a bun and his dinner preferences on the same plate.

 

Amazingly, he tries the sausage with one small bite. Not shockingly, he doesn’t like it. He eats his dinner. He doesn’t complain nor does he remove it from his plate. These are signs of his progress.

 

So, in the end we both faired well. I still feel defeated because he only took a small bite and he didn’t like it. But then I think back to March. The boys and I were eating dinner together. It was a simple dinner of tortellini. Bobby and I were eating it. I made Billy something else. All of the sudden, Billy says I want tortellini. I almost fell off my chair. Really??

Photo Credit: quinn.anya via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: quinn.anya via Compfight cc

Well, he did want it. He tried it and said it was dry. He wanted to try it with marinara sauce. He loved it. He basically had marinara soup with tortellini. Wow, that made my night and my month for that matter. The point is, after seeing us eat tortellini a million times, he tried it and liked it. Just like he has done with most fruit, breads and salsas. He typically tries food now without an issue. As long as it is not of animal origin. Well, the majority of the time.

 

In the end, Billy eats tortellini. We can go for Mexican and Italian food as a family and Billy can order off the adult menu. What a relief!! It has taken him six years to find a pasta he enjoys. I can’t wait to see what he likes over the next 6 years. Thank you Billy for teaching me patience is key while a little push is necessary, too.

 

Moms and dads, keep up your efforts to expose the kids to all foods and encourage trying foods. The act of trying is the most important thing. I know six years seems like a long time, and it is. But each child has his/her own process. Find what works for you and your child. Share with us your trials and tribulations. We can all learn and support each other. If you find yourself having a hard time keeping your feelings out of the kitchen, consult a registered dietitian or even a speech and language pathologist.

 

Looking for more tips? Check out our 7 Steps to Progress Your Picky Eater.

What Healthy is NOT

 

What Healthy is NOT

by Laura Iu, RDN

If you asked me a few years ago, what being “healthy” means to me, I wouldn’t have the slightest clue how to answer you. Imagine me 5 years back: I’m chugging Red Bull for a 9 AM class, and courtesy of the microwave, devouring mac & cheese for dinner 3 days a week. Yes, this was my freshman year at New York University, and at that time I knew nothing about the importance of nutrition (gasp!) Flash forward to present day, and I’m working at a private practice in NYC, providing in-home cooking classes, and working as the nutrition guru at Housing Works (more on that in my next post!) Without a doubt, you can bet my definition of what it means to be “healthy” has evolved tremendously over the past few years.

 

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When I first began my studies at NYU, I considered myself fairly healthy. I was a pescatarian, went to the gym regularly, and also never restricted myself from any baked sweets or savory snacks. It wasn’t until my junior year, when I started taking core nutrition courses that I became hyperaware about the foods I ate and the amount of calories I consumed. After a class project where I was required to mimic a patient’s diet by logging the food I ate, the amount, and even using measuring cups to cook, I soon became paranoid about calorie counting. In fact, the time I spent on the treadmill was no longer fueled by enjoyment, but by the amount of calories I knew I had to burn in order to “zero out” part of that day’s calorie intake. Then within that same year, I met Laura Cipullo, a New York City dietitian who was surprisingly not at all a proponent of fad diets. In fact, she was the exact opposite. When I began working with her, I’ll admit it, at first I was skeptical. Does she really do pilates for enjoyment? Spinning? And running?? Does she really preach “all foods in moderation” and follow it too?!

Yet after the first few months of getting to know her on a personal level and working side by side–I discovered that it was all true. The next time I visited the treadmills, I covered up the numbers on the screen and instead focused on how I felt on the inside. And when it came to food, I slowly focused more on the nutritional quality of foods I was eating, rather than calories. From modeling her behavior and learning about the consequences of restricting foods, without even knowing it she motivated me to change the way I viewed food and to develop healthy habits. Although the ability to eat freely and without any guilt takes work, it’s certainly not impossible to get there! Remember that what you choose to eat (or not eat) for one meal or day(s) doesn’t negate all of the healthier choices you’ve made in the past.
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As I’ve broadened my knowledge of food and nutrition, I’ve realized that working in the field by no means makes me perfect in the way I eat; but the way I eat is perfect for me. I’m at my happiest and healthiest when I’m able to cook my own meals, which I prefer to do instead of dining out. I love knowing exactly what ingredients are going into my food, which helps me eat healthier and allows me to experiment with new ingredients. When I’m not pretending like I’m a Chopped contestant at home, I’m always running from job to job around the city, and having my packed snacks on hand keeps me energized and happy.

 

*To read this full blog post, click here.

Fear about Feeding

by Jennifer McGurk, RDN, CDN, CDE, CEDRD

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I have a love/hate relationship with feeding my son. I love watching him try new foods and learn skills like grabbing food in his hand. But on the other side, I am scared he will choke on something (he always seems to gag a lot) and I’ve had many moments of “am I doing this right?”

The only thing I know for sure is that there is no “right” way to feed a baby. As many mom friends have told me, it’s up to your mom instincts and a little bit of guidance from a doctor or dietitian. As a dietitian who doesn’t work with infants, I needed some help. I bought one of the best books, “Fearless Feeding” by Jill Castle and Maryann Jacobsen. (http://fearlessfeeding.com/) These two dietitians have saved me!! I also decided to sign up for an Infant Safety course to review CPR and choking. The class was scary but I feel more prepared. I also now know the difference between choking and gagging, which I learned is common when babies learn how to chew and swallow.

I’ve read the infant section and learned a lot so far. Now I know what’s appropriate for an infant in terms of food groups, portions, and signals to know hunger vs. fullness. I also have learned about introducing puree’s vs. baby-led weaning and slowly learning how to feed himself. The authors also review that as the amount of food goes up, the amount of formula will go down. My 9.5 month old is now eating 3 meals/day consisting of every food group. He mostly does purees and lumpy foods, but we’ve been working up to finger foods and he’s getting better at the pincher grasp every day. He will mostly eat oatmeal, soft mushy fruit, pureed veggies, potatoes, hummus, avocado or guacamole, fish, scrambled eggs, and bread. His favorite food is whole milk flavored yogurt- it tastes like dessert to me! My infant also needs me to feed him with a spoon vs. other babies might feed themselves at this point. I’ve learned to let him practice this in his own time. He has weaned himself down to 4 bottles per day, ranging anywhere from 4-8 oz (all depending on how much food he’s eaten). I’m still surprised at how variable my child’s appetite can be. Ellyn Satter (http://www.ellynsatterinstitute.org/) created the Division of Responsibility, which says the parent is in charge of what and the child/infant is in charge of how much (and everything else).   I try my best to apply these principles now of healthy feeding behaviors to create a healthy relationship with feeding from the beginning.

I admit that even though I “know” a lot about this, I’m not a perfect mom. But who is? There are days when my child gets too much sugar and there are days when I realize he didn’t get any veggies. But there are also days where he eats a lot of healthy foods and I know he’s getting nutrition. It’s all about balance, variety, and moderation. These concepts aren’t just great for adults and healthy eating, but can be applied to children of all ages.

High-Protein Onion, Apple, Quinoa, and Kale Salad

We attended the Editor’s Showcase in February where we were able to sample different foods and learn the latest that’s going on in the food industry.  The National Onion Association and US Apple Association shared with us some of their recipes featuring both apples and onions.  Here is one we think you’ll enjoy!

Courtesy of National Onion Association
Courtesy of National Onion Association

Makes 6 Servings

Ingredients:

  • ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon honey Dijon mustard
  • 2 ½ cups vegetable broth
  • 1 ½ sups tri-color quinoa, rinsed
  • 1 teaspoon canola oil
  • 1 white onion, sliced
  • 3 cups chopped kale, ribs removed and discarded
  • 2 cups chopped cooked chicken
  • 1 red-skinned apple, chopped
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper

 

Directions:

Dressing

  1. Whisk the vinegar with the oil, lemon juice, honey and mustard until well combined.
  2. Set aside.

Salad

  1. Bring the broth and quinoa to a boil.
  2. Simmer, covered, for 12 to 15 minutes or until al the broth has been absorbed. Cool completely.
  3. In a medium skillet, heat oil over medium-height heat.
  4. Sauté onion for 3 to 5 minutes or until softened. Cool completely.
  5. In a large bowl, toss onion, kale, chicken, apple, salt, and pepper with prepared dressing.
  6. Stir in the cooled quinoa.

DIY: 7 Steps to Progress Your Picky Eater

DIY:  7 Steps to Progress Your Picky Eater
By Laura Cipullo RD CDE CEDRD CDN and Mom

Picky eaters

“I just want to go home and eat what I eat everyday for lunch.”

 

Is this your child? It is most definitely my child, as this is what he said to me on Friday when we walked into the burger joint known for its burgers and milkshakes. When he said this, I just let out a deep breath and decided it would be milkshakes for lunch. He doesn’t like change, and therefore he doesn’t like change in food, rules, or where he puts the furniture in Minecraft.

But this does not mean that you or I should take the summer off from exposing our kids to new foods and/or textures. Actually, summer is ideal because schedules are changing, and you can create a new schedule that incorporates trying new foods, say, twice a week. There is no school, stress, or homework, so take advantage of this time.

I am trying to incorporate different foods into dinner meals on Sundays and Wednesdays. Just yesterday, the boys tried fresh mozzarella, which neither would eat. They liked it melted but not cold. Last week they tried vegetarian sushi with avocado (they both licked it). Remember, touching, licking, or just getting it on their plate can help. Of course, they get these new foods alongside their faves or sometimes before their favorites are served. They tried a falafel burger and cocoa-dusted almonds!

My oldest, Bobby, has taken to eating fresh corn on the cob with butter and salt each night with his dinner, while Billy has incorporated strawberries without the skin at each of his dinner meals. That’s right, no skins. One night he said, “Mommy, I like the insides of strawberries.” My husband told me that Billy would eat the strawberries’ flesh, but he could not take a big bite. So I got the peeler out and voila!! He is now my strawberry man. So as summer begins, we will take this opportunity to continue exposing the boys to new foods and even former foods.

The food exposure may follow this progression or something similar.

Recognize that this is helpful for toddlers, children, and even pre-teens.

  1. First, get the food on the same plate
  2. Next, get touch involved.  Maybe your child touches the food with their fingers or puts the food to his/her cheek or lips
  3. Employ the One Lick Rule
  4. Employ the One Chew and Spit—if you must
  5. Use the One Bite Rule
  6. Use the Three Bites Rule if your child has achieved the One Bite with that food
  7. Make the food part of the main meal on a regular basis

 

If you think that your child may have issues with sensory integration, get the expert advice of a speech pathologist and/or an occupational therapist. Books that may help include Happy Mealtimes with Happy Kids: How to Teach Your Child About the Joy of Food by Melanie Potock, MA, CCC-SLP, and Ellyn Satter’s Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family: How to Eat, How to Raise Good Eaters, How to Cook.

 

Keep your eyes open for MDIO’s (Mom Dishes It Out’s) upcoming blog on when to get a consult from a speech therapist versus, occupational therapist or dietitian.

 

And of course, let us know what works for you. Does your child fit the description of Potock’s case examples, or does your child easily follow the flow set by Satter’s “Division of Responsibility”?

A Conversation with Kia Robertson from "Today I Ate a Rainbow"

A Conversation with Kia Robertson from “Today I Ate a Rainbow”

Early last week, I had the pleasure of having a conversation with founder and president of Today I Ate a Rainbow, Kia Robertson. Today I Ate a Rainbow is an interactive program, developed by Robertson, working to increase daily consumption of fruits and vegetables by encouraging children—and parents—to attempt to consume a full rainbow daily.

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Here is some of our conversation:

 

LC: First, why don’t you tell me a little bit about your philosophy at Today I Ate a Rainbow?

 

KR: Our main goal is to help parents set healthy eating habits for kids. Healthy eating is this big idea and everybody has their own opinion, so we decided to focus in on just fruits and veggies—that is one thing we know that everybody needs. And, let’s be honest, most of us are not meeting the daily requirements—especially our kiddos. We really want to make it fun and easy. So the concept of a rainbow, thinking of the colors, is so simple. Even for little two year olds to grasp. We made it really basic.

 

I started out doing this for my own daughter when she was four years old. We started doing chore charts, and she loved it—and I love charts—and so we just whipped one together to see how many colors we were eating. I had just come across a little text somewhere saying that kids should be eating a variety of colors, and I had never thought about it like that before. We quickly discovered that she was eating a lot of green and orange, but that was about it. It was a really great eye-opening thing for our whole family to start tracking what colors we were eating; and Hannah, being four, was all of sudden saying, “Mommy, I need some bananas. I need to get my yellow!” or “Blueberries so I can get my purple!” It was so cool to see a little kid taking interest and ownership. So that’s how it all started and we really feel like its something simple, because parents are so busy, we want to put something out there that is quick and easy for parents and for the kids.

 

LC: A lot of what you talk about it taking “ownership” and “responsibility” over your body as a child. Can you say more about that?

 

KR: Yes! Usually, [kids] are just going to eat what is put in front of them. They don’t usually have that active role in, say, going out and picking the food at the store or farmers market or deciding together “what should we eat.” Whereas, when we are thinking about the rainbow and the rainbow chart, it really gets everybody thinking about it. I’ve heard from so many parents where they are just like, “My kid is asking for things. This is so weird!” It’s such a strange thing, especially with little ones when they say, “Oh, I need an apple!”

 

The earlier we can get kids understanding [the importance] of eating these fruits and vegetables and that it feels so good and makes them feel strong and helps them to be smarter—whatever it is—the better; because it is harder to create those habits, or try and recreate habit, as an adult. So setting them when they are really young, I think is fabulous. And connecting the dots for them that the food they eat is going to impact the way they feel and how they go about their day.

 

LC: As a parent, have you seen any differences in your diet since starting Today I Ate a Rainbow with your daughter?

 

KR: Oh, yes! Personally, just to give you a little backstory, I was a super picky eater my whole life. As a kid, I would pick out carrots in the carrot cake—I was dedicated to not eating vegetables at all. So, when Hannah came along, I really didn’t want her to go through the picky eater struggles because it’s actually very hard and socially limiting because you don’t want to go to new restaurants, and it’s stressful to go to other people’s houses because you don’t know what they are going to serve.

 

Being a recovering picky eater, I honestly have a hard time getting all my colors if I don’t do a smoothie. Because it is still not something that is natural for me to do—to just grab an apple or a piece of celery. Whereas, for my daughter, who has grown up with this, it is such a normal thing, and it’s so easy for her that in just two meals a day her chart is filled! It’s such a simple thing for her!

 

It has really improved my diet a lot because when you have the chart up and you have one magnet and your kid has five already… it’s a little embarrassing! Let’s be real. The competitive side of me is like, “Oh! I need to get some more colors in!” And the really cool thing is, with all these colds going around, we rarely get sick anymore; eating all these fruits and vegetables have just boosted our immune system so much. There have been benefits for the whole family.

 

LC: Would you say, and I think I know the answer to this one, that your daughter is a more fearless eater than you are?

 

KR: Oh, absolutely, yes. Her attitude, just a willingness to try, is so good and just so much better than mine. She totally is. One time, we were with our good friends and they offered Hannah some octopus. [She ate it!] And there is no way I would, even now. Not happening.

 

LC: There are a lot of resources on your site for parents. Do you have any tips or advice for emphasizing positive change to your child when you’re exhausted, and tired, and at the end of a long day and just at your wits’ end?

 

KR: Just to go with really small steps. Ridiculously small steps that seem silly. It’s a slow process; don’t expect them to go from picky to adventurous right away. It takes a lot of time and patience. If they are willing to have that grain of rice or that half of a pea, celebrate that because one day, they are going to eat a lot more.

 

There are going to be some foods that people just don’t like – and that has to be alright. But what we have learned is that a lot of dislike comes down to texture. It’s easy to give up because it’s hard and its frustrating to make something for your kid and they don’t like it—especially if they reject it over and over again, you kind of start to take it personally. Studies show that it takes at least ten times to try something before they accumulate a taste for a new food.

 

LC: You spoke about texture and how that is a trigger for a lot of people. What are some other food sensitivities that you see with kids?

 

KR: Visually, they will just refuse to eat something if it doesn’t look good. Or if it’s green, in a lot of cases. I don’t know what it is about that color, but a lot of kids are just not into it.

 

If you look at it sensory wise; the way things look make a difference, the way things smell, that’s a really big thing. If you look at it from the perspective of sensors, that can be helpful when trying to feed a picky eater. You can see, based on the sense, what may be triggering it for them.

 

LC: You also say on your site not to overdo it, in terms of modifying a food. What would be a good example of this?

 

KR: I always suggest breaking it down. If eating a rainbow in a day is too much or too overwhelming, make it a rainbow a week. A color a day!

 

We don’t want to vilify food, that “good” and “bad” stuff – kids can really play into that. It’s more about asking how it makes you feel and not so much about what the food is. I think parents have so much on their plate already that adding that extra stress of “my kid isn’t eating right” is so hard, and it’s such an emotional thing – feeding our kids.

 

LC: It sounds like patience is a huge factor here.

 

KR: Yes, absolutely. Patience is huge. And persevering. You know, don’t give up. Don’t give up on your kids.

 

 

 

 

For more information, or to contact Kia and the Today I Ate a Rainbow team, check out their website at todayiatearainbow.com.

 

Also, stay tuned for the exciting new Eat a Rainbow project coming out of the Today I Ate a Rainbow offices. It is an integrative program connecting teachers and parents, the two biggest role models our kids have, to get one another on the same page while encouraging healthy eating habits!

What's the Dirt on Clean Eating?

What’s the Dirt on Clean Eating?

Christie Caggiani, RDN, LDN, CEDRD

The mechanics of nutrition are based on science, yet at every turn we hear new headlines and buzzwords that make it hard to distinguish the difference between true, research-based science and the latest fad. One such catchy concept is that of “clean eating’” heard regularly in gyms, on magazine covers and throughout social media. But what is it? And how do we navigate it when it’s aimed at our children?

 

The truth is, there is not a legal, objective, research-backed or even consistent definition to the term “clean eating”.   To some, it means avoiding processed foods. To others, it’s interpreted as low carb, no meat, no dairy, non-GMO or a combination of various nutritional bends.

 

There are, however, many unintended implications attached to using the word clean, leading us to feel a sense of purity, superiority, a kind of “you are what you eat” mentality that takes on a moralistic emphasis.

 

Photo Credit: Arya Ziai via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Arya Ziai via Compfight cc

There is a belief that if I eat this way:

  • I’ll be healthy, prevent diseases and have an ideal weight.
  • I’ll be okay, in fact because I’m eating ‘good’, I’m actually a good person.

And on the flip side, if I don’t eat this way:

  • I’m probably going to become ill, gain unsolicited weight, and be unhealthy.
  • I’m making ‘bad’ decisions, which means I’m probably bad.

 

For many, the path of clean eating is one that started from a positive place, where they wanted to improve their life, health or energy. This is truly an admirable thing, yet as we shift toward rigid ways of eating or behavior change, we begin a mindset and patterns that are anything but balanced. We give up experiences and social opportunities because of the need to comply with limiting eating rules.  We cut out

 

So as a nutritionist, I have had opportunities to work with individuals in the throws of self-proclaimed clean eating.  And while it’s painful to see the side effects of rigid eating rules in adults, it’s most saddening when children and teens become entrenched in it. Whether it’s through social media, friends, a coach or a parent, I’ve begun to see more young people following this good/bad food mentality and the results aren’t pretty.

 

Some of the considerations of ‘clean eating’ for kids (and adults, too!):

  1. Look at what’s missing: are certain food groups limited or completely avoided? While fruits and vegetables give us some carbohydrates, they in no way to can replace the vast benefits of grains. Kids in particular are growing and using energy and at a speedy pace, and they absolutely require regular replenishment of carbs to their body and brain.
  2. Too much of a good thing…isn’t. Focus on high fiber, for example, can be problematic for children, leading to digestive discomfort, diarrhea or potential constipation, but also interfering with the absorption of protein, fats and certain vitamins and minerals, such as iron.
  3. Limited eating patterns can not only disrupt brain function and overall energy, but also decrease our children’s ability to create hormones and progress on their normal path toward and throughout puberty.
  4. As we teach kids to eat based on rules of good / bad, they become further disconnected from their own bodies, the signals of hunger and fullness, and the awareness of their own individual preferences.   This also disengages them from the process of being an adventurous eater, and can create an overall sense of deprivation.
  5. The limited variety and over-focus on food can either set the stage for or activate a full-blown eating disorder.

 

There is certainly no perfect way of eating, much as there is no perfect body, career or person. When we label food as clean or good, unclean or bad, we’ve moralized it, and that’s a message that permeates deeply within our children’s impressionable young brains. Instead, let’s get back to food being simply food, providing a variety of enjoyable, nutrient-filled options and guiding our kid’s to trust their bodies, not a “foods allowed” list.

The Debate About Milk

Photo Credit: mary mackinnon via Compfight cc

My friend asked a simple question “I don’t personally like cow’s milk so do I have to give it to my baby when she turns 1?”.  The question slowly turn into a conversation with other moms about organic vs. non-organic, grass-fed vs. non grass-fed cows, and why other milk options are or aren’t as beneficial to babies.  Every mom involved had a strong opinion!  Who knew a simple question could spark a debate?

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children delay receiving cow’s milk until after they are 12 months old.  The organization recommends pasteurized, whole cow’s milk for most babies because of the high fat content helping to absorb vitamins and minerals and for brain development.  If there is a history of childhood obesity, 2% milk may be recommended but families should talk to their pediatrician.  (Source: www.aap.org)

But what to do if you’re not a fan of cow’s milk?  Or worse, what if your baby has a milk allergy or intolerance?  Cow’s milk is important for calcium, vitamin D, protein, fat, and hydration. There are so many milk options out there: soy milk, almond milk, hemp milk, coconut milk, cashew milk, and more coming to a store near you! Their nutrient compositions are similar to cow’s milk but nothing is exactly the same.  It’s a very personal decision how to feed your child, and one that you should talk about with your pediatrician and Registered Dietitian Nutritionist.  If you decide to switch to an alternative milk, make sure you supplement with other foods that contain the important nutrients your baby needs.

I was shocked that some moms would argue against cow’s milk, but why not try to see where they are coming from?  There are a lot of nutrition myths out there about food and I heard a lot of them that day, ranging from hormones in milk to absorbable calcium. Nutrition information is everywhere, but moms should really look to pediatricians and Registered Dietitian Nutritionists for advice.  I took the opportunity to educate my friends about dairy products and nutrition, and also stressed the importance that all foods fit into a healthy diet.  Moms and dads shouldn’t feel ashamed about any nutrition decision they make for their family.  After all, it’s a very personal decision as to how to feed your children.  So what is this dietitian going to do?  I will give my baby whole cow’s milk when he turns one year old.  I will also let him try different kinds of milk with an attitude that all foods fit into a healthy lifestyle.

 

 

Expanding Kids' Autonomy with Food

Expanding Kids’ Autonomy with Food

Christie Caggiani, RDN, LDN, CEDRD

Photo Credit: Tetra Pak via Compfight cc

 

Parenting is all about guiding, providing, teaching with unconditional love.  And it’s also about allowing our kids the space to try, explore and figure things out so that they can eventually trust themselves to make supportive choices.  Not only these overall developmental themes, they are also completely relevant as kids personalize their own relationship with food, eating and connection with their bodies.  When our children are young, we are the gatekeepers of the food:  providing, preparing and presenting it in a reliable, and consistent manner 1.  And while we may still be paying the grocery bills and answering the age-old  question, “What’s for dinner?!” as long as our children are under our roofs , our kids pretty quickly begin to practice more and more independence and autonomy with their food.  Imagine, if you were still cutting your 15 year olds steak at the dinner table!  That seems ridiculous, yet we want to make certain that we are also giving our kids the space to explore and take charge in other ways with their eating experiences.  Particularly as our children explore the middle- and high-school years, there are endless opportunities for us to give them room to make more of their own food decisions.

Give suggestions not solutions

Our hormonal little teddy bears (often disguised as grizzly bears), typically don’t respond well when we try to solve things for them.  They may ASK us for the answers, but they really want to be able to make their own decisions, and yet know they need some input from us.

Instead of“Why don’t you ever eat breakfast in the morning? “

Try“I notice you’ve been talking a lot about how tired you are, is there anything you think might make getting up less brutal?” .   Then, rather than firing off 5 things you know would work, simply ask if he would like some suggestions.  Not only does this give you an opening to discuss simple breakfasts that can be ready crazy fast and keep his energy up, it also gives you some space to discuss time management and ways the family can work together to support each other.

Capture teachable moments

We may be acutely aware that certain patterns aren’t working well for our kids.  An extremely common pitfall is the post-school slump.  Not only do our kids come home worn out from thinking, they’re also really, really hungry.  Getting them to connect how the first half of their day plays a role in the second half is a really big deal.

Instead of:  “How come you’re raiding the pantry the second you walk in the door?” which is not only shaming, it completely cuts off communication.

Try:  “I’m not going to bombard you with questions since you seem like you don’t want to talk right now.  Do you need any help putting together a snack?”  Then once she has some food in her system, you might explore the timing of lunch and foods she could add to it or to breakfast to keep hunger from building to the tipping point after school.   Discussing food or patterns that aren’t quite helpful will NOT go well, if her brain is irritable and famished.

Give options and reinforce you trust them

If you have a child who struggles to make her own decisions, or turns to you for permission, practice turning the question back on her.  Remembering that there is no perfect eating choice can really take the pressure off.  If she asks, “Mom, can I eat something else?”….

Instead of:  And absolute “yes” or “no”

Try:  “You’re the best one to know if you’re still hungry, so go ahead and listen to what your body’s asking for.  There is absolutely more food, so help yourself.”

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Get curious

Encourage your kids to take an attitude of curiosity.   Since we know that calling foods good or bad creates an onslaught of judgment and distorted eating, it’s helpful to teach them to explore what’s working for them or not so much.  This can include them choosing a different / new food from the grocery store or getting curious about how long a bowl of cereal satisfies after breakfast, and how that’s different than eating an egg sandwich.  Their first-hand experience is priceless and will speak volumes over our well-intended lectures.  And this experience is precisely what helps them launch as well-adjusted, balanced and connected young adults.

1.  Division of Responsibilities, Ellyn Satter, RD

Something More Than Fish

 

Charlie tells his younger sister: “These are not fish sticks. These are ocean nibbles from the supermarket under the sea—mermaids eat them all of the time.”

—I Will Never Not Ever Eat a Tomato by Lauren Child

As you know, I’m not perfect. Rather, I’m the real deal! I am the dietitian with the picky kids. My children definitely give me much practice about what I preach. And then, thank goodness, there are other times. I continue on this long journey of exposing my children to foods and trying my best to allow them to develop positive relationships with eating and neutral relationships with food. Mind you, this is no easy task. It’s a difficult balancing act. 

Our latest feat was fish sticks. Just remember that when we talk about fish sticks, we are really referring to something of a metaphor for life. Read on to learn more.

My youngest son Billy has been picky and often frustrating about food since the day he was born. At one point he loved Dr. Praeger’s Fish Sticks; he would eat four or five of them in one sitting. Billy’s enjoyment was of brief duration and he never seemed ready to reincorporate these ocean nibbles onto his personal “I really like this!” list despite our best efforts. Well, for some reason, this week was different. Once again, we offered fish sticks to Billy. To be exact, I made both boys fish sticks—a very child-friendly food—and put them on their dinner plates. However, I put only one fish stick on Billy’s plate. My husband and I were eating kale salad, herbed pork tenderloin and roasted potatoes. I know the boys won’t eat this dinner and I don’t make a big deal about it. This frustrates my husband, especially as the boys get older. However, when we push, like I did with the sweet potato puree (Read my recent blog, The Imperfect Food Mom), the boys push back.

In recent months, I’ve seen Billy eat a fish stick. I’ve actually seen him gobble it down! I can’t remember the specific circumstances around that particular meal. The one thing I realized was that he’s been playing us with the darn fish sticks. The way he scarfed down that fish stick made it clear that he really likes the taste or, at least, doesn’t mind the taste. Lately, I’ve been telling the boys how important it is to try new things whether they are sports activities or different foods. I have also been telling them: “You don’t need to eat your favorite foods every night. Mommy and Daddy sometimes make a meal that we don’t particularly enjoy, but we eat it anyway. Every meal doesn’t have to taste great. We just need to get nutrition from eating it. Eating our favorite meals happens just some of the time.”

So Billy looked down at his fish stick and immediately said: “I don’t like fish sticks.” I don’t recall my exact response at that moment, but by the end of our conversation, Billy was expressing his desire for Smart Puffs. (Note: I’m not a fan of Smart Puffs, but I do buy them on occasion because Billy is!) So I clearly told him: “You need to eat something with nutrition. You need to meet your body’s needs for growing. You can have Smart Puffs, but you haven’t eaten enough protein today.” As you might imagine, the little gamer asked: “Can I have some Smart Puffs if I eat my fish stick?” Well, of course! And he did. He happily ate his fish stick and then his Smart Puffs.

The next night we found ourselves with the same situation. This time, however, I put two fish sticks on Billy’s plate. He asked for his Smart Puffs and he got them after eating one and then the other fish stick. Please understand that this was not a food reward. I was not rewarding Billy for eating his fish stick. Rather, I was letting him know it’s okay to have all foods some of the time. You can eat foods lower in nutrition but not at the sacrifice/cost of a more nutritious food when growing…or just on a regular basis. 

After two consecutive nights of fish sticks, Billy asked if he could have fish sticks every other night rather than every night. Sure he can. I wasn’t planning to put fish sticks on his plate every night or even every other night. But since he thought I was—and he now thinks he made the decision about when to have them—I went with it!

I realize fish sticks are not the most nutritious nor desirable food one would want their children to eat. But when you have a picky eater, you must start somewhere. Knowing whether your child is playing you, knowing when to push, and knowing when a child is truly revolted by a food is a hard task to tackle. I choose to walk this line very carefully…and without any rush factor. I choose to do so because I clearly see the negative effects of creating power struggles around food between parents and children in my office. I successfully used this approach with my oldest son Bobby. He has become the best intuitive eater—slowly but surely reincorporating familiar foods and trying new foods almost daily now that he has turned six.

I do believe in the process of food exposure and sometimes even giving a little push. I remember my personal pickiness when I was a child. I actually think my vegetarianism and then veganism in high school and college were in part to send a direct message to my family. My message said: “You made me eat meat…and I didn’t like it!” It also said I am different from you because I eat different foods than you. The same things happen with my clients. I have teenagers either refusing to eat anything at all, or eating only certain foods. And they’re doing this partly to control their parents or get their attention. 

I don’t want to have power struggles about food with my children, so perhaps I am a bit more relaxed with food than others would think. As a parent, this is your decision too. Just recognize that feeding and eating isn’t simply a straight forward matter. Ultimately, it’s how individuals identify, label and communicate their inner selves to the world. This is the metaphor: What happens with food typically represents what’s happening with life at that time!