Keep Your Family Moving…Yoga and More

As you know if you read this Mom Dishes It Out blog on a regular basis, I have two sons who are picky eaters. But what you may not know is that my two picky eaters are not only exposed to various foods but various forms of movement as well. As a young child, I remember my mom doing her leg lifts to Jane Fonda on the TV. I also remember a magnet on the refrigerator that read something like: “Don’t break your DIET! Don’t open the frig!”

I always viewed my parents as being overweight. Now I look back at old pictures and think: “Wow, they were so much smaller in the 70s and 80s than now in 2013!” Back then, we were a pretty active family. We always went camping during the summer, hiking on weekends, and skiing in the winter. Mind you, my parents did not ski. But they definitely helped us children to be active. Eventually—and unfortunately—they became inactive. They stopped camping, hiking and even doing little Jane Fonda-like exercises. They became the parents that hung their clothes on the exercise bike. They’d pay for gym memberships for an entire year, but never go!

On the other hand, I kept active through school sports and then later via gym memberships. In college, I was blessed with opportunities to rock climb, mountain bike, backpack, and snowshoe through the Rocky Mountains along with other great physical activities. My dad was ecstatic that I loved the outdoors like he had when he was young…and gladly footed the bills for all of my expensive equipment. And I was happy to experience the thrills as well as the sense of accomplishment these activities brought me. 

Well, now I’m a parent too. But I don’t have the luxury of a home in the suburbs with a big backyard. This is my choice! For a variety of important reasons, my family and I choose to live in New York City. What I do maintain is a true love of movement. I also know how critical it is for parents to role model healthy behaviors such as active movement on a daily basis. This does not necessarily mean pumping weights at the gym or sweating it out on the stepper in LuLu Lemon!

My father never hiked, biked or camped with weight loss or even heart health in mind. He did so for enjoyment only. Unfortunately for my dad—and my mom too—they stopped enjoying the activities. And they stopped engaging in them! Of course, they should have continued for health reasons.

Well, I persisted and still continue to be active today. I must admit, however, that I did at one point get lost and confused. I was exercising—especially running—for a calorie burn rather than enjoyment and overall health. Thankfully, I didn’t get lost for too long. Believe it or not, an injury forced my introduction to new types of movement and a renewed adoration for moving to increase my energy, to decrease my stress levels, to balance my body, and to straighten my posture. And to just have fun while keeping my heart healthy and my body efficient.

I want to pass this love of movement on to my kids. I think I have passed it on to my husband, who didn’t exercise at all when I met him…in part because he hated running. He now spins and practices yoga because he tried these activities with me and loved them. Together we have taken the kids hiking, skiing and on active family vacations through the mountains of Colorado. Just the other day I heard my son Bobby tell my mother that I had just retuned from spinning and then he corrected himself and said: “Oh no, I mean Pilates.” Not only does this create dialogue around physical activity, but our boys, just like any other children, observe that their mommy and daddy enjoy different physical activities for different reasons and with different people. 

For example, while pregnant with each of my boys, I practiced yoga and Pilates. Unable to find a prenatal yoga class six years ago, I found a yoga instructor willing to barter with me instead. I would provide nutrition education and she would provide yoga in my home. Well, it has become the best deal ever because for years now, my sons have watched my husband and me practice yoga together. Sometimes they even join the session, but for just a few minutes. However, this past week was different. Our yoga instructor, Jen G, came to the apartment for a session. My husband joined in and so did my children. It was the cutest thing ever. All four of us were doing yoga together. And the boys lasted for 30 minutes! It was definitely not the most de-stressing yoga session, but it was absolutely the most fun. When thinking about our family yoga session, I also realized that not only has movement positively affected our lives as a family, but yoga specifically has also helped me to teach the boys to take a deep breath and “Om” when they’re frustrated or just need to let off some steam.

As parents we are endlessly prompted to role model healthy behaviors and to exercise for our own health. Just remember that all of our behaviors—whether healthy or not—are indeed observed and then reenacted. Please don’t ever connect exercise with weight loss because your children will come to think about it as negative, dreadful and fruitless. Rather, explain how exercise helps to guarantee their health.

We have the ability to help our children to love their bodies and love to move…and ultimately move for the right reasons. As a mother and a dietitian, I encourage parents to teach their children to be physically active for strength, heart health, strong bones, stress relief, and most importantly, fun. Remember, the best exercises are those that we enjoy and want to do again and again. So don’t wait! Get up right now. Grab your kids and go to the ice-skating rink…or wherever your family can share some healthy and fun-filled physical activities.

What this Mom Achieved in 2012: Rediscovering Food As Fuel, Not Comfort

Guest Blogger Rebecca W. shares her experience of having Gestational Diabetes twice, as well as the healthier lifestyle changes she’s made along her journey.

I had Gestational Diabetes—twice. That’s two times in my life that I have lived as a diabetic for weeks at a time. I counted carbs. I tested my blood sugar four times a day. I injected insulin before bedtime every night up until my scheduled c-sections.

During those times I enjoyed commiserating with other GD moms on chat boards and online forums. Much of the posts were venting along the lines of, “How do you have a baby shower and not eat a piece of cake?” There were long threads about what we would eat once our babies were born and the hormones causing our under-active pancreases leveled out. McDonald’s was high on the list for most, doughnuts, too. I just wanted a Carvel ice cream cake. And, once I was back home from the hospital, that’s exactly what I ate. Five nights in a row. For dinner.

Of course, food feels like a comfort at times like that. A newborn in the house, and the loss of personal freedom and spontaneity is a shock to the system. Add to that the nesting instinct, the fact that celebrations are usually accompanied by sweets, and the need to eat more calories so you have enough energy to breastfeed, and, basically, all of the lessons I learned while living with GD I unlearned quickly. Twice. The doctor’s cautions about how I now had a 50-50 chance of developing Type-2 diabetes? I put them out of my mind.

Life with small children can be a bit of a blur. My husband and I put most of our time and energy into feeding, bathing, shuttling, teaching and soothing our kids. We missed showers of our own, trips with friends, after-work drinks and time together as adults. Something we never skipped? Meals. In fact, going out to eat was one of the easiest activities for us. The kids loved to order food—even if they didn’t usually eat most of it—and they loved the attention of the waitstaff at most places, the crayons and the placemats with puzzles, the free sliced bananas they bring at Cheesecake Factory, and most of all, getting to watch videos on mommy or daddy’s phone while the adults have 10 minutes to talk without interruption. We stretched those meals out as much as we could, because once they were over it was back home to the messy living room, foiled naptimes and laundry.

I had a mental list of all the things I wanted to do in the hours after my kids went to bed: Take a yoga class, ride my exercise bike, keep a journal, have naked time with my husband, catch up with old friends over the phone, get a babysitter and see a movie. But I did none of these. Instead, every night for the better part of four years I put my kids to bed, sat down in front of the TV or the computer and ate bananas and peanut butter. The ritual of stirring the all-natural peanut butter and then drizzling it over the banana (or sometimes my fingers) was so pleasing I had no idea how much I was eating. And, because we buy almost everything at Costco, there was always at least one more jar in the cabinet.

There were mornings—at least once or twice a month—when I woke with what felt like a terrible hangover. I was headachy and nauseated. I couldn’t tolerate loud noises, needed to stay horizontal, went to the bathroom every 20 minutes. Were these migraines? Menstrual cycle-related episodes? I can’t say for sure, but once the 8 to 10 PM peanut butter binges stopped, so did the headaches.

In order to stop eating the peanut butter, I went through a multi-step process. First I had to acknowledge how much I was eating. I had to ask myself if I was eating because I was hungry, which led to admitting that although I was not indeed hungry, I was eating anyway. And then, the really hard part, I had to figure out the reasons I was eating the peanut butter: I was bored and felt deprived. I wanted something for myself. A treat. Something that was just for me.

I knew I had to find other ways of satisfying myself. And then I realized that I already had a list of them. I now ride my exercise bike five or six nights a week, regularly write in my journal, see my husband naked, and go to the movies almost every Thursday night. And when I talk to my old friends on the phone, I tell them about all of this because I know a lot of them are struggling too.

I’d like to say that I did all of this to counter those chances of acquiring Type-2 diabetes, but that wasn’t it. I did it because I wanted to feel better. I don’t have headaches anymore. I’m not bored or feeling deprived. I have things that are just for me, and they do make me feel better. If I was on one of those chat boards now, I don’t think I’d be obsessing over ice cream cake anymore. I could list a dozen things I’d like for myself, and not one of them is food.

Building More Than Just Healthy Habits: Self-Empowerment and Confidence

Moms and Dads, what does “building healthy habits” mean to you? Is it about changing the foods we eat or incorporating more physical activities into our families’ daily lives? While these are certainly important factors, building healthy habits is about more than just food and exercise.

Please take a second to read the personal account of a young lady’s journey, whose self-driven nature drove her to make healthier lifestyle modifications.

“Growing up in the South, cooking was always a huge part of my life, unfortunately it was not always the healthiest cooking.  Three years ago, I decided to make a positive change in my life. I threw out the processed foods and swapped the takeout for healthy meals I made at home. My love for healthy eating and lifestyles also impacted my professional career.  I worked in fashion for over 7 years and decided to follow my true passion and am now pursing a degree in Pediatric Nutrition.  I am a believer that if you expose children to healthy foods from a young age they are more prone to develop and maintain healthy eating habits in their adult life. I believe that cooking and nutrition should be fun.  It does not have to be a challenge to eat healthy, nutritious meals, instead you can turn it into quality family time and get everyone involved!

 Stefanie

As Stefanie’s story shows, building healthy habits includes building self-confidence, motivation and empowermentkey components that we, and our children needto lead a happy and healthy lifestyle. Her inspiring story tells us that as parents and caregivers, we have the ability to influence our children’s relationship with foods and to start them on the track towards leading a healthier lifestyle. In addition to setting a foundation and equipping our children with the tools they’ll need to maintain healthy eating habits, we can help them build self-confidence, motivation and empowerment along the way.

Helping our children build healthier habits can be challenging, but not impossible. For guidance and additional tools, I have developed a Healthy Habits Program to help children and their educators educate children of all shapes and sizes on how to make appropriate nutrition choices for the rest of their lives. For more information, details about the Healthy Habits Program can be accessed here. 

Help, My Daughter Is Overweight.

By Real Moms: Guest Blogger Elyse Falk, MS, RD and Laura Cipullo RD, CDE

Real Mom Question: How do I help my 13-year-old daughter who is overweight?

Real Moms Answer: For females, there are a lot of hormonal prepubescent changes that happen around this age.  The body is getting ready for menstruation and womanhood.  Weight gain is normal during this time. Don’t get overexcited by this increase in weight or body fat. This is normal and necessary.

Avoid diets

If your daughter is sensitive to her recent weight gain or her body image, sit down and have a heart to heart conversation with her. Recognize she may want to try different diets at this point in her life. Many tweens or teens choose to try vegetarian intakes around this point (See our article in the Publication Tweens and Teens).  For us, as women and especially as mothers working in the field of eating disorders, the word diet conjures only negative feelings such as deprivation, restriction, sadness, failure, and being “bad” when you “cheat” on the diet, etc.  The list goes on and on. There are too many girls and moms that feel badly when they eat a food that would be forbidden on a diet. Therefore, at all costs, discourage your daughter from dieting. Instead, help to foster body acceptance, balanced eating and lifestyles changes if and when needed.

75-90 % of the Time, Eat Healthy

Teaching our children, tweens and teens to eat in a healthy and balanced way is of utmost importance.  What do we mean by healthy?  Eating when one is physically hungry and recognizing when one’s stomach feels full; Not eating for emotional or behavioral reasons like many tweens and teens do. The idea is to eat foods that help our physical body work properly and prevent disease while eating adequately and varied to encourage mental wellness.  A healthy attitude is to eat the foods that help our body about >/=75 – 90 percent of the time; the other 10 – 25% percent of our intake can include the foods that Elyse calls “yum yum” foods or Laura calls “sometimes” foods: ice pops, candy, baked goods, fried foods etc..

Make it a Family Affair

It’s important for our tweens and teens to have positive role models for eating and movement. Parents and caregivers have a great influence on this, so think about how you eat and exercise.  Think about how your family eats and moves? The goal is to have the entire family eating a varied intake of everyday foods and moving regularly for fun and for heart health. Be sure to try for family meals, plan family activities such as walks, bike rides and even hikes. If your teenager always wants to snack, keep fresh fruit, veggies, lean proteins and low fat calcium foods in the house at all times.  A whole grain low sugar cereal with low fat milk is always a great option as well.  Don’t try to control or restrict your child. Rather provide food and active opportunities and let them make the choices

Forget the Scale

Be aware of your 13 year old’s behaviors and mood. If your teenager is skipping breakfast, it can lead to an over-hungry state, which can result in overeating later in the day.  It can also lead to mood swings. Talk to your daughter about behaviors and mood swings but never say you are fat, too heavy or need to lose weight. And please never put them on a scale.

Avoid Guilt

Recognize, sometimes your daughter may feel bad about eating “too” much after having restricted all day. Then this guilt results in future restriction, meaning skipping meals or eating very little calories over a long period of time. Again, this only leads to being over-hungry and then over eating again likely binging. Unfortunately, this has the potential to turn into vicious dieting cycle.

Prevent Skipping Meals

To help prevent your daughter from restricting her food intake be sure to keep fast and easy breakfast options in the house: an organic yogurt smoothie with extra protein powder, ¼ cup almonds and fresh fruit, hard boiled eggs with a toasted pita, low sugar protein/nut bars, pbj sandwiches, whole grain waffles topped with nut butter and bananas are all great options to start the day.  Ensuring breakfast is eaten will help to guarantee meals are not being skipped and the day is heading in a proactive direction.

Encourage Internal Self Regulation

Make a conscious effort to see if your teenager is eating regularly for physical reasons.  Educate them to adhere to a feeding schedule for meals and snacks to prevent restricting and binging.  Eating every 3 to 4 hours is normal and helpful.  If you feel that your child is eating immediately after a full meal, encourage her to use a hunger fullness scale to identify internal cues for portion control. Maybe she is eating because she feels stressed, anxious, or nervous.  If this is the case, help your daughter learn new coping skills and or offer hugs and your listening ear when she needs you.

Eat for Physical Hunger

So the message is avoid having your daughters diet regardless of your concerns or your daughter’s concerns for her body weight. Allow her body to go through puberty and encourage all foods in moderation and moving for energy. Provide varied foods and a safe place to talk about food and body. Avoid judging your daughters body and instead focus on behaviors and moods. If weight loss is needed, lifestyle behavior changes and eating for only physical reasons usually helps to make your teen grow into the body they were born to have.

"My Body, My Food, My Way"

Moms and daughters, teens and tweens: Read with love and follow with care…This week’s post features a piece entitled “My Body, My Food, My Way”

 

There’s More to Your Child's Food Personality Than Rules and Exposure

American kids can eat almost anything; that’s what I’ve noticed over my past two weeks of travel. If you live in California, your children may be accustomed to eating Mexican meals, snacks from Trader Joes, and occasionally visiting the Donut House for some yummy in the tummy fried dough. If you’re a Colorado native, your kids may enjoy a juicy bison burger, trail mix concoctions and hot cocoa on particularly cool nights. And if you’re from the East Coast, like my family, your tots may be exposed to pizza for easy dinners, organic applesauce for snacks and ice cream on summer nights.

But if you think that a child’s ultimate “food personality”—aka whether they’re a picky or an easy eater—is fully based on the neighborhood they grew up in, the foods their parents purchased or their underdeveloped palates, then think again. Children’s preferences are not black and white, and just as some may be strong-willed, athletic, outgoing or shy, they have equally unique food personalities too.

During my family’s vacation, we spent time on a dude ranch in Colorado, where I observed the same kitchen quandaries I write about here on Mom Dishes It Out all the time. I observed a mom bribing her daughter (the youngest of three) to eat her carrots in order to get her ice cream. I heard another parent tell his sons, “Enjoy your last big breakfast of bacon and eggs.” Personally I just gave up and let my boys eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and ice cream twice a day, as they refused all other foods anyway.

At the ranch, I spoke to one guest, an ER doctor, who told me his daughter is a great eater but his oldest son is finicky. When his son went off to college, he lost weight due to his selective intake, and since then has become more open to trying new foods.

Another guest, a nurse practitioner, told me how three of her four children ate well-balanced meals, while one son’s eating patterns were the complete opposite. Interestingly enough, her son with the picky palate is a twin, and exhibited totally different food preferences when compared to his fraternal sibling. (This story reminded me a lot of my own childhood, and how my sister and I had very different eating habits growing up despite our similarities.)

What’s the point of all this? It’s simple. Though rules and exposure in the kitchen may play a significant role in the development of our eating habits, they are not the only factors that will determine a child’s unique food personality. All you can do is sit back, enjoy the ride, and do the best you can as a parent to support them along the way.

  • How would you describe your child’s food personality?
  • What do you think are the greatest influences on your child’s food personality?

Tolerating Your Children's Boring Palates

Photo Credit: Leonid Mamchenkov via Compfight cc

Do you ever get frustrated with the monotony of your children’s meals? Are you bored preparing the same chicken dish every night? Do you feel that you and your husband are limited in restaurant variety as well as quality due to your children’s picky palates?
If you answered yes to any or all of these questions, then welcome to my world. Because whether you spend all day working in an office or at home caring for your tots, there is nothing more heart-breaking than laboriously preparing an elaborate and flavorful meal that is received without enthusiasm.

 

 

 

My boys’ food preferences seem to rotate. Although they are gradually expanding upon what they’ll tolerate, this process can be painfully slow at times. Exposure therapy, while valuable, often works at a snail’s pace, and there are days when getting your children to try—and actually enjoy—a new food can feel drawn out and downright frustrating.

Just tonight, I had to “go with the flow,” and be sure not to make a big deal about my little guy’s refusal to try a measly nectarine. While he looked absolutely adorable in his attempt to give me a big ol’ orange-hued smile, he never actually consumed the fruit.

The beautiful—albeit incredibly vexing—part about raising children is that their reactions to different foods can be so misleading. Though Billy didn’t technically eat the fruit, he was at least open to making silly faces with the peel in his mouth. That’s progress, right? In a way, I was thrilled by his openness; but internally, I was conflicted. I guess, like all moms, even registered dietitians can get irritated when trying to understand why the introduction of new flavors is such a challenge.

Just when I was about to give up, my older son, Bobby, gave me the answer I’d been searching for.

“I don’t like the red part of the nectarine,” he said (which, of course, happens to be my favorite part).

Bobby added, “Mom, I just like everything the same! I like to have the same thing every night.”

As he often does, Bobby brought me back to reality. Kids like monotony. They like structure and knowing what their days—and their meals—will bring. Bobby understands the basic concepts of eating nutritiously, and so he makes an effort to eat a fruit, a vegetable, and a protein along with his favorite box of Annie’s Mac and Cheese. The last thing he wants, however, is to be adventurous in the kitchen. He just wants the same nutritious foods every night.

Billy is only three-and-a-half and is still unable to verbalize his needs and wishes. As moms, we sometimes become subjective and emotional, mistaking this lack of communication for something it isn’t. If we step back for a moment, observe (or in my case listen) to our children, it is possible to find clarity.

Boring food can be safe and predictable in an overly stimulating world ripe with change. Children relish in what they know, whether food, their school day or their bedtime ritual. If their plates are filled with nutritious and wholesome foods, be thankful. Continue exposing your children to new food, and try to enjoy the process rather than just endure.

Food is for fuel, not love.

Photo Credit: Chris Blakeley via Compfight cc

Parents, here is a letter wrote by one of my clients. May it be a lesson to all parents and policy makers that children are worthy and beautiful no matter what size they are. Children should not be put on diets, restricted or told they are not okay because they have a belly, thicker legs, or are hungrier than their siblings. Research and my clients prove that restriction and dieting causes binging, self-loathing and obesity. Read this letter and think what you can do to tell your children that they are special no matter what. Find words to encourage your children to internally regulate their portions based on hunger and fullness. Teach your children that success is balance, trying something, not perfecting it. Tell your children your love is unconditional.

 

Dear Mom and Dad,

At 34 years old I am finally coming to value my worth, my body and my needs. As you know I have struggled with my identity, my weight and my self worth since we did weight watchers together at age 12.

After, 11 years of therapy, and a few months of nutrition counseling, I have finally realized, food is not my problem. My problem is I have lumped food and feelings into the same pot. I used to eat for love, for protection, to feel safe, to prevent myself from failing, to comfort my loneliness every weekend, to feel I deserved.

But, now I am finally learning to separate food from feelings. I am learning to feed myself and feed myself foods based on how they physically make me feel rather than how they emotionally make me feel or not feel. I have started to exercise for enjoyment and am slowly realizing I am worthy even though I am not what you have deemed skinny.  I have started to rebuild my foundation and nurture myself.  I am learning to accept that what makes me beautiful is not the number on the scale or the size of my jeans, but how I treat myself and how I allow other people to treat me.  Mom and Dad, I know you didn’t mean to do this to me, but you never focused on what made me okay, worthy or beautiful. I need you to know the real me that I am getting to know, the woman who is funny and beautiful, who is smart and in control of her life.  You see, I never needed all of the food, I just needed your acceptance.  But now I am learning to accept myself and now I am realizing I don’t need the food anymore.

With Love,
Your Daughter

Blast from the Past: 8 Tips to Increase Variety and Decrease Selective Eating

My oldest son, Bobby, and my youngest son, Billy, have thankfully made another step in the right direction of eating all food in moderation. As many of you know, my children, once adventurous eaters (well, at least Bobby was), have limited their variety more and more over the years.

Despite my nutrition background, I have internally struggled at times with my children’s restricted dietary intake and aversion to foods with different colors and textures. What we sometimes have to remind ourselves of is that kids’ habits, like those of their parents, are ever changing. Kids get tired of eating the same old foods over and over again, and just as current favorites fade, old favorites resume as well.

One of the best ways to increase the variety of foods your children eat and decrease selective eating is to reintroduce those former menu staples.

As time passes, I have realized that the apples don’t fall far from this tree. I too was a picky eater growing up and always fell on the lower end of the growth chart, sometimes nearly falling off altogether. Once, my parents even sent me to a doctor because all I would eat was macaroni with cheese or butter for 2 years straight. I couldn’t be convinced to eat a substantial amount of food either, and would say that I was full from half an apple. And, I really was.

For many different reasons—such as exposure to new foods and produce throughout my childhood and teenage years (I even experimented with vegetarianism and veganism)—I eventually figured out how to eat the right amount for me while incorporating a huge variety of ingredients and flavors. As I continue to observe my own children’s eating habits, I feel increasingly confident that, as time goes on, they too will acquire a new appreciation for texture, temperature, color, and quality. (I say quality because, I must admit, I have a penchant for fine ingredients, whether broccoli or a burger.)

So that brings me to the latest update on the home front. At one point, Bobby was happy eating pasta and spinach mixed up with feta or Parmesan cheese and a side of eggs. Then, he got “tired” of those flavors.

Recently, while sitting at dinner with my boys, Bobby said to me, “You know, I would eat the white part of the egg but not the yellow. I don’t like the yellow.” Of course, I had tried to just make him egg whites before; that’s all he ate for some time. But instead of reminding him of this, I said, “Okay, good to know.”

The next night for dinner, I made Bobby his usual whole-wheat mac and cheese with spinach and a side of applesauce (or apple slices). I also included a side of 2 egg whites, cooked without any flaws in the texture. And, well, he ate it up!

Photo Credit: Darny via Compfight cc

I can now officially say that Bobby’s dinner actually consists of a grain, a fruit, a veggie, a dairy and not 1 protein but 2! Now, this does not necessarily mean that Bobby is ready to eat a salad or dine at a fine restaurant. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. But he is most definitely reincorporating former staples into his diet. Knowing that I changed, and that Bobby’s habits are changing as well, gives me joy, and I am loving every minute of observing this process.

This also gives me hope for Billy, who still refuses to eat basic dishes like pasta. I am happy to announce that, when looking in the freezer recently, I noticed a box of Dr. Praeger’s fish sticks. Billy used to gobble these up. Knowing that reintroducing certain foods, even after a hiatus, can be effective, I decided to serve some warm fish sticks to both boys the other evening for dinner. As it turns out, the timing was right, and Billy ate all of the fish sticks alongside his normal favorites of hummus, mango, cheese and Ak-Mak crackers. He has been happily eating the fish sticks for the past week now, and even declared, “I like fish!” Of course, this bout may end soon, but that’s par for the course.

Oddly enough, while away over Memorial Day weekend, a guest at my friend’s house commented on my children’s healthy eating behaviors. This baffled me, as I typically hear how my kids are picky, but this person realized that, while their choices are limited, their intake is generally healthy. If nothing else, I’ve at least managed to successfully inspire them to choose nutritious options most of the time. And if that’s the case, I’ll take what I can get for the time being.


Want to expand your child’s food repertoire? Here are a few tricks that have helped me through the years.

  1. Don’t forget that eating habits are always evolving. Think about your personal habits in the kitchen and when out to dinner, and how this affects your own children’s choices and habits.
  2. Talk with your children while they eat dinner. You may learn something about their likes and dislikes.
  3. Ask your children what they like to eat. It may surprise you what they come up with!
  4. Make your children the foods they request, so that they feel as though you’re heeding their wishes. Then, they may be more likely to comply with yours!
  5. Let your children observe you eating a range of foods to help pique their interest.
  6. Be patient, and don’t force feed.
  7. Reintroduce former favorites and new foods with something you know they like to ease the process along.
  8. Most importantly, reintroduce old favorites and former staples on a regular basis. What they loved yesterday might be off limits tomorrow, and what’s off limits tomorrow might be their future favorite!

Trying New Foods

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A mother asks us: My child sometimes gets anxious when I introduce a new healthy food. What can I do to entice him to try and eat it?

Elyse Falk, MS, RD, Mom and Laura Cipullo, RD, CDE, Mom answers…

Elyse Replies:

There are a few important things to remember when introducing your child to a new food.

First, it is a good idea to introduce the new ingredient with other foods that they already like to eat.

Next, make the entire process matter of fact. Tell your child that you found a great recipe that you know your friend’s kids really like, and you thought they would like it too. You can tell them what it is (a grain, veggie or protein) and maybe what nutrition it has. But that’s it. Keep it simple.

In my home, I eat the kinds of dishes I like in front of my kids so that I can be a role model and show them how much I enjoy trying new foods. Don’t get me wrong; there are recipes I have made that I just have to say, “Ugh, this really doesn’t taste good,” in front of them, but I think it also shows that I am human and that they can dislike certain foods too. The most important part is trying them. (Some parents choose to impart a “one-bite” rule in their homes, but I wouldn’t push it if it’s going to cause a tantrum.)

Don’t forget that food isn’t always love at first bite. It may take a few attempts for them to taste the new ingredient, so remember that exposure and repetitiveness is key. Try to introduce the new food in different ways by changing the flavor, texture (pureed vs. whole) or cooking method (steamed vs. roasted).

Friends and family may be your best allies too, as sometimes, siblings or friends could entice each other to try a new food. For example, if one sibling likes the food, and the other one has never tried it before and sees his or her sibling really enjoying new flavors, it usually draws interest and the desire to try them too.

At the end of the day though, remember that you don’t want to place too much pressure on your child. If they see you getting angry over the fact that they didn’t taste or like it, they may feel added pressure or anxiety the next time. Just teach them that, in certain instances, it is ok to reply, “no thank you,” and let it go. Children’s taste buds change every day, so don’t lose hope.

Laura Replies:

If your child is really picky, like my boys are, then start by exposing your son or daughter to the new food before even asking them to try it. Exposure is essential. Place the food on or perhaps just near their plate first. They don’t need to eat it, but they do need to leave it be. Even this can be a challenge. My boys still move the food away from their plate—and far away at that. But eventually, it gets on to their plate and stays there.

Once you’ve accomplished that simple yet monumental task, try implementing the one bite rule. If they refuse to take even a small bite, instead of making a big deal, instead try the one lick rule.

My boys are typically ok with the one lick rule. My oldest son, who is now 5 and a half, is even coming around to the one bite rule, of course, as long as he can spit it out if he doesn’t like it. At this point, if I can ask him to take one bite and swallow, he will—but only with certain foods.

Billy, my youngest, is still in the “one lick phase,” unless he sees something he actually wants to try. Billy has made a ton of progress. He tries a lot on his own now, even though he usually doesn’t like it. I know I was the same way as a child. I only ate macaroni with butter or cheese for almost two years. My mother took me to the doctor at the time; he said I would grow out of it, and I did.

I am still, however, quite picky with the quality of my food. I’ll try anything—even pig’s intestine—so long as it’s prepared well. In this sense, the kids definitely surprise me by which foods they will and will not try, so at least they inherited that from me too.

In the case that your child truly, adamantly does not want to taste an ingredient, you may benefit from simply letting it go and trying again a month later. You never know how their taste will evolve, especially at such a young age, so continue to offer and or expose them to new and different foods periodically. While it may seem like it at times, your children are not only going to eat mac n’ cheese and chicken nuggets forever, well – we hope.

Moms: Are your kids anxious around new ingredients? How do you get your kids to try new foods? Do they get their picky tendencies from you?