I asked foodie, mother and blogger, Alissa Stoltz to share her food wisdom. Alissa has a great understanding of nutrition. She left the NYC corporate world few years ago to raise her two beautiful daughters in a simply wholesome and nutritious way. In addition to being a fabulous mother, Alissa has also been blogging recipes she uses to feed her family.
Guest Blog by Alissa Stoltz, The Simply Wholesome Kitchen
Being a food blogger can be a bit of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it has provided such a great platform for me to share my views and hopefully inspire some others to get in the kitchen and make simple, real food. But on the other hand, people often ask me for advice, expecting that I know the secret to feeding gourmet, perfectly balanced meals to enthusiastic toddlers every night! Unfortunately, the reality is that even someone as committed to wholesome cooking as me experiences PLENTY of challenges. Like the fact that my toddler won’t eat a single vegetable other than spinach (I know, I’m lucky about the spinach, but not even a carrot??). Or the nights that I get home to an empty kitchen at 5:15 and have 15 minutes to plan and get some dinner on the table. Fortunately, since my older daughter was born almost 3 years ago, I’ve been absorbing the advice of dieticians, foodies, sociologists, and, of course, my fellow bloggers to come up with a few guiding principles for feeding my kids in a way that I feel mostly good about most of the time.
1. Hungry children will eat when offered food. This is really important, because I hear all of the time that “my kid won’t eat anything other than [insert processed, high fat, high sugar, high sodium food here].” But in reality, most normal, healthy kids (without sensory issues, allergies, etc.) will not starve themselves because they do not like what you served for dinner. If your child will only eat 1 or 2 things, you have to ask yourself how they learned it was an option to only eat those things? So my approach is to serve a meal, and my toddler has the choice to eat or not eat. Sounds great, but I cannot tell you how many times she has gotten to the table and burst into tears as if I was trying to force her to eat something out of a horror movie, even when presenting a meal that she previously loved. This is unbelievably frustrating, but in the end, it’s is also why I don’t make anything that my husband and I won’t eat as well – it’s bad enough to have your child refuse to eat your food, but it’s even worse if you went to special effort just for them and then are rejected. But before you think I’m totally mean, if I am serving a food that might be new or challenging for my daughter, I always make sure I am serving something that she generally likes as part of the meal (e.g., bread, pasta, or fruit). This way I know I’m not torturing her by making her feel like she has to choose between starving and eating something she really doesn’t want, but I am also not giving her an “out” and adding to my own frustration by becoming a short-order cook. I also try to eat with my kids as much as possible – I have found a dramatic improvement in my toddler’s willingness to at least try new foods when I’m at the table eating the same things. And in the end, if she takes two bites (or no bites!) of a meal and tells me she’s done, I have to respect that and trust that if she was really hungry, she’d find something on her plate to fill up on. And if she’s really not hungry or willing to eat what’s on the table, there’s always the next meal or snack!
2. NOT offering UNHEALTHY foods is as important as offering healthy foods. Of course we all want our kids to eat lots of fruits and veggies and other healthy foods. And some of us will be lucky enough to have truly adventurous eaters. But the rest of us will have to deal with kids who avoid entire food groups, change their minds about what they like on a daily basis, refuse to eat something if it looks slightly different than what they’re used to, or are generally finicky about eating. Food manufacturers know how to engineer foods that are easy to like, and that makes these foods easy to feed our kids, since they will very rarely complain about chips, pretzels, mac & cheese, chicken nuggets, etc. But going back to guideline #1, if you fall into the trap of giving your kids these foods on a regular basis, they could quickly become the “only” food they’ll eat without a fuss, and even worse they may learn to hold out and refuse to eat their meals because an easier option is just a few minutes away. So it’s not enough to just offer good foods at meal times and let kids fill up on junky snacks in between, or to offer a side of broccoli with the mac & cheese that will go untouched. It’s just as important to make sure processed foods with minimal nutritional benefit are only an occasional option – that way you know that whenever they DO get hungry and decide to eat, they’ll have no choice but to eat something you feel good about!
3. Find a way to feed your kids healthy foods that is sustainable for YOU. If cooking is not your thing, don’t try to be Martha Stewart! I think the reason some people avoid cooking is because they think they need to put together elaborate, gourmet feasts every time, and that is way too much pressure. Everything doesn’t have to be the best meal you’ve ever tasted, or the most beautiful – there’s really a lot of room for error in cooking, and you are doing your family such a huge favor by choosing to try rather than depending on processed, prepared foods. Start by making a list of easy meals that you can easily stock the ingredients for and require no planning – my favorites are eggs (mix in some frozen chopped spinach or other veggie, or serve with a fruit or veggie on the side and some whole grain toast) or whole wheat pasta (take a bag of frozen broccoli or mixed veggies and add to the pasta water 2-3 minutes before it’s done cooking). Every once in a while, try a simple new recipe (meals like tacos and baked ziti are generally big hits with kids!), maybe on the weekends when you have some time. As you get better, build a repertoire of easy meals that you can rotate through – with some practice it becomes much easier to have the right ingredients on hand to throw together a dish your family will enjoy with minimal time and effort.
And don’t forget about the snacks! Start by keeping your home stocked with healthy snacks like fresh, dried, and frozen fruit (my toddler loves to eat frozen blueberries!), veggies with hummus, ranch dressing or dip, nuts, seeds, whole grain crackers (read ingredient lists here to avoid too much filler and pretend whole grains!), cheese, plain yogurt and some whole grain pretzels. If you’re interested, you could try some baking – I make mini-muffins, granola and nut bars, and whole grain pancakes and waffles to keep in my freezer. A batch of muffins can be done in under 30 minutes and makes two dozen toddlers-sized snacks for whenever I need them!
4. Patience, patience, patience! It takes time to learn how plan meals, it takes a million tries for some kids to even lick a new food, and it takes an infinite amount of patience to feed finicky kids who seem genetically programmed to declare UNHEALTHY new foods delicious, and HEALTHY new foods yucky. Maybe by the time my kids go to college I’ll have this whole feeding thing figured out, but in the mean time, having some basic guidelines that make me feel like I’m doing a decent job trying to feed them most of the time is going to have to be enough!