Guest Blog: Guidelines for Feeding Kids
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!
Finding Time for Family Meals
It’s important to have family meals as often as possible. There’s little doubt that children benefit from quality mealtime, home cooked meals, balanced menus, role modeling and exposure to new flavors. But let’s face it: Parents who lead busy urban lives can’t always make this happen.
Have I ever skipped a family meal? Guilty as charged. Despite the fact that it’s my professional duty to discourage others from doing so on a regular basis, many times, family meals just aren’t realistic. Both my husband and I, for example, work late several nights a week (I’ve recently cut back from three to two nights a week in the office), and between social events (whether professional, academic or with friends) and our own date nights, Sunday and Monday are the only days left where we can consistently sit down for family meals.
I try to practice this reasoning as a professional RD and am realistic regarding other New Yorker’s lifestyles as well as my own. Overall, I believe in looking at the whole picture when it comes to how we choose to raise our kids, and in my own household, the time we spend together is about quality, not quantity.
Does this make my husband and I—and other fellow socially and professionally active parents—irresponsible? No. But when I started Mom Dishes It Out, I promised to give you honest accounts of my family’s experiences in the kitchen. So I’m telling it to you straight; whether I applaud this type of behavior or not, this is my reality.
Rise and Shine: Breakfast
My boys, Billy and Bobby, have fallen into the pattern of eating breakfast on the couch while ogling their favorite TV shows. I know: I should probably lie here. Food in the living room? As an RD, I’m like my own worst nightmare.
Hubby is already working when we wake up on school days, so most mornings, I’ll try to sit with the boys during breakfast on the couch. Sometimes we move to the dining room table. Sometimes we don’t.
On weekends, we eat breakfast as a family—a habit we try to maintain. We’ll make organic whole grain pancakes and eat them together at the table—well, most of the time. On Sunday, my husband takes over as chef and cooks up a healthy omelet, or the kids and I stick to cereal and yogurt. Either way, we try to use this time to expose the boys to a balanced menu of delicious and wholesome morning foods like eggs, veggies, lox, cheeses, breads and hot sauce—even if they only lick them.
Midday Meal: Lunch
The boys obviously eat lunch at school. Unlike most cafeterias that are filled with chips, candy and donuts, both Billy and Bobby’s schools do not provide lunch. Thank goodness.
I’m the gatekeeper of their lunches, and I take this opportunity to pack their bags with nutritious meals and snacks based on my own judgments. Better yet, their schools encourage parents to supply healthful foods, so my kids are less likely to be exposed to cookies and chips as snacks. If yours are, it’s not the end of the world.
Nighttime Noshing: Dinner
Dinner with the dietitian can be limited since, as I said, my evening schedule is pretty packed. Twice weekly, I’m in the office until 9:30 meeting clients who can’t see me during the workday. The nights I’m not able to eat at home are somewhat nondescript. Billy and Bobby chomp down their dinner on the couch while watching television or sitting with their caregiver at the dining room table. It’s nothing spectacular, and I’m really just concerned with making sure they eat a semi-nutritious meal.
We try to reserve Sunday and Monday to eat dinner together as a family. During a typical family dinner, the kids eat their preferred foods while my hubby and I stick to ours. (I’ve yet to convince the boys that salmon with wheat berries and grilled asparagus is more enticing than grilled chicken.)
Since Billy and Bobby typically get hungry before us, they usually eat dinner earlier in the evening and then continue to nosh on a light snack (if they’re still hungry) with their dad and I at the dinner table. And trust me, we make the most of our time together.
How often do you sit down with your kids for a family dinner? Are there some meals that are easier than others to eat together? Do your kids eat the same dinner as you do, or do you cook (or serve) separate meals?
When I think of mom jeans, I think of my mom’s jeans. I honestly don’t know any young moms wearing those jeans. You know – the ones that SNL did a skit on. They make our butts look square, are high waisted and not are not found in the department store. My favorite jeans are AG, and JBrand, but my sister did tell me my butt looks like my mothers. Not sure what to think about that.
We all different bodies and different jeans fit us. Like anything else, moms must embrace their bodies especially during pregnancy and after. I found this great blog entry for moms out there wearing what they call :mom jeans.”
One Lick Rule
So the RD in me knows that you’re not supposed to force a child to eat something that they find icky or are completely uninterested in. But as a mom, there are times when I simply can’t fathom allowing Billy and Bobby to declare that they don’t like a food they’ve never tried. (You’ll have to recognize that since I work with many clients who struggle with eating disorders, I’m particularly determined to ensure that my own kids never feel as though they’re deprived.)
To be fair, I’m not referring to some obscure super-nut from Brazil. I’m not even asking them to try some meaty or fishy flavor like beef or salmon. For the purposes of today’s blog, all I wanted was a little bite of a cucumber. Apparently, even that was too ambitious.
For a while, I was using what I like to call the “one bite” rule. You’re probably familiar with it, when you set the precedent that your child must take a small bite of food—just enough to get a taste. The problem is when they have to swallow or even put the new food in their mouths (my boys).
So instead, I tried tweaking the one bite rule to allow Billy and Bobby to spit out foods they didn’t like. This works well for many of my clients. However with my boys it was still a relentless effort as they spit everything out or again will not even put the food in their mouths.
Now, I’ve moved on to the one lick rule—a tactical technique I’m quickly falling in love with. Whereas a bite of food can seem overwhelming and forceful to a child, apparently, my kids are much more willing to lick things. Who knew?
This past weekend, we were away in Hamptons. After a nice nature walk, the boys and I had worked up quite an appetite, and since I didn’t pack lunch or snacks (I normally do since, ideally, a hike would present the perfect opportunity to introduce foods like trail mix or a new fruit), we somehow ended up, to the boys’ contentment, at a pizzeria.
Of course, Bobby didn’t just want a slice of pizza; he also pointed to a brownie in the showcase and decided that he wanted that too. (Remember: Everything in moderation.) I told the boys they could share the brownie after they’d eaten (not finished) their pizza.
My husband and I, on the other hand, ordered a salad and pizza topped with veggies. The salad was by no means nutritious or fancy (it was made with iceberg lettuce, olives, locally grown tomatoes, cucumbers and homemade dressing), but it was nevertheless amazingly delicious for a simple pizzeria salad.
Naturally, my husband and I offered the boys some veggies from our plate, to which they matter-of-factly replied, “No.” Of course they said no. When it comes to vegetables, they always say no.
Implementing my new theory, I replied: “Well, how about just licking a cucumber slice.” They did.
The results? Billy scrunched his nose, while Bobby didn’t protest. And when they didn’t erupt in tears, the mommy in me—not the RD—decided to ask the boys to eat a very small piece of cucumber.
I proceeded to cut half of one piece into quarters and told Billy and Bobby that they needed to eat a tiny sliver if they wanted their brownie. I know this sounds wrong. But as mom, I have to think that if I don’t push—at least sometimes—my kids may never get past licking new foods to a place where they’re comfortable eating them. Also, they need to eat foods with higher nutrition most of the time and less nutrition less of the time.
Bobby obliged and ate the cucumber without a fuss. (By the way, he also happily licked a shard of lettuce too.) He made a face, but he ate it; and while he didn’t seem to enjoy the quarter-of-a-half-of-a-cucumber-slice, he didn’t seem to hate it either. Small success? I think so.
As planned, after finishing most of his pizza, I gave Bobby his portion of the brownie. He ate about a quarter of it before losing interest. (I wrapped up the rest of the brownie for Bobby and snuck it into his snack bag Monday morning. He told me he didn’t want it—so I ate it!)
Unlike Bobby, Billy made faces and squirmed in a terribly dramatic fashion. Sometimes I think he likes to make a fuss for attention and control. He tossed the licked cucumber back into the salad, slobber and all, and cleverly dropped pieces on the floor. I think, in total, he ate one of the cucumber quarters. All we could do was minimize how much attention we gave him.
Billy went on to eat the entire pizza slice plus a few more bites of another, as well as half of his brownie. He gave the remaining half back to me and hasn’t asked for it since. (Good thing, since I also ate his leftovers last night.)
So, for better or for worse, I made the boys lick and then eat a tiny piece of cucumber. As any good RD would, I attempted to maintain as neutral an environment as possible during the entire fiasco, ignoring their actions and instead continuing in our conversation.
This week, I plan to pick up more cucumbers at the market. While I won’t make the boys eat (or lick) a piece, I will put them on the table so that they continue to gain exposure to the foods they don’t typically nosh on.
Have you ever tried the “one bite” or “one lick” rule? Which seemingly normal and neutral foods do your children refuse to eat, and how have you overcome their behavior?
Yummy for the Tummy and Allergy Free
Living with food allergies can be challenging but it doesn’t have to be boring. The boys and I took a walk to the lower east side to test taste the Famous Baby Cakes’ sweet somethings! Baby Cakes NYC is certified Kosher, parave and vegan. They are happy to overnight you their yummies. They have bakeries in NYC, LA and at the Walt Disney World Resort. Bobby, Billy and I loved the chocolate chop cookies and banana bread. Second place was the donut and third place was the cupcake. Baby Cakes also has a cookbook available if you want to try the recipes at home!! If not you can always check out the magazine Living Without for other delicious allergen free recipes.Baby Cakes donut
The Hamburger Bun (minus the hamburger)
They boys absolutely love to go food shopping with me. So when it’s time to restock the kitchen, Billy and Bobby hop into the double stroller, and the three of us take a nice long walk to the Whole Foods in Tribeca (my favorite of their Manhattan locations).
It’s not just the boys who benefit from our little shopping excursions either; I love sharing this experience too, since it gives them the opportunity to pick out all their favorite foods while getting a taste for all the beautiful fruits and veggies on display. Quirky fun fact: They also love checking out ostrich and emu eggs.
While perusing the supermarket aisles, the boys usually grab household staples off the shelves like Kashi Heart to Heart, Laughing Cow cheese and hummus. But on our last trip, Bobby decided to pull one out of left field and toss hamburgers buns into the cart. Hamburger buns?
Of course, my gut reaction was, “Ugh, why can’t my kids try a fruit or vegetable instead of another form of bread?” It wasn’t long before I came to my senses though, and thought, “Well, why not?”
I asked Bobby what he would use the rolls for (considering he doesn’t eat hamburgers), to which he innocently replied, “peanut butter.” Case closed. We bought them.
That night, I decided to take advantage of the rolls to whip up a “grilled chicken sandwich”—a hearty and wholesome meal I knew Bobby would enjoy. (I also knew getting him to try it would be a challenge. More on that to come.)
To create my masterful meal, I simply placed Bell & Evans breaded chicken tenders between the whole-wheat buns and slathered on some ketchup. As predicted, Bobby protested, screaming that he didn’t like it even though he hadn’t taken a bite yet.
Standing in the dining room, Bobby glared at the sandwich as if it were crawling with bugs. “You like all of these foods individually,” I told him. “Just try it.” It’s true; Bobby likes chicken and ketchup and bread. The idea that he could be so repulsed by the combination of all three ingredients was not beyond comprehension.
It wasn’t easy, but after a bit of gentle encouragement, I saw Bobby out of the corner of my eye as he walked over to the once disgusting sandwich and took a bite. And you know what? He did like it! In fact, Bobby liked the sandwich so much that he grabbed the remains and brought it with him into the living room, chomping away while watching TV.
Like I’ve said before, I’m by no means perfect. But on that fateful evening, Bobby and I actually accomplished something: he tried—and approved of—a new combination of food. It was a triumph in my mind.
Would I have preferred if he ate his chicken sandwich in the kitchen, at a table, near a napkin and while my husband and I, instead of staring at the TV? Yes. But sometimes, especially when dealing with a fussy eater, you have to pick your battles.
Do your kids claim to hate foods before trying them? How did you coax them into taking a bite?
Hints for Halloween from the RD in this mom.
What are you giving out for Halloween?
Trick-or-Treat: Keeping Halloween Healthier Yet Fun.
With Halloween around the corner, why not think outside the box? We can’t trick our Halloween visitors but we can treat them to new Halloween delights. Read on to get some healthier options, unconventional goodies, and finally a run down at the candy counter.
Clif Kid Twisted Fruit Rope, Clif Z Bar (granola bars), Organic raisins, Blue Diamond mini nut packs – almonds, Bearito’s No Oil No Salt Microwave Popcorn or Earth’s Best Organic Puree (fruit and veggies pureed like applesauce in squeeze pack)
Tattoos, bouncy balls, yo-yos, stickers, pencils, chalk and mini coloring books
For those that adhere to moderation the top 5 Halloween candy picks: Smarties, Tootsie Pops, York Peppermint Patties, Twizzlers and Milk Duds
**Just know I will be giving out Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups because they taste so yummy and a variety of the above!!
Optional Reading – nutritional information listed below:
- Smarties: 25 calories, 0 grams of fat, 6 grams of sugar (per roll)
- Tootsie Pop: 60 calories, 0 grams of fat, 10 grams of sugar (per lollipop)
- York Peppermint Patty: 60 calories, 1 gram of fat, 0.5 grams of saturated fat, 10 grams of sugar (per snack size patty)
- Twizzlers: 160 calories, 1 gram of fat, 0 grams saturated fat, 19 grams of sugar (4 pieces)
- Milk Duds: 170 calories, 6 grams of fat, 3.5 grams saturated fat, 20 grams of sugar (13 pieces)
You can have your cake and eat it too!
I am so excited to get to share the reality of raising kids here in NYC while trying to instill a philosophy of moderation and ensuring my boys, Billy and Bobby have a positive relationship with food. Last week I met with a coach named Jim. When describing my approach to food and nutrition, Jim phrased it perfectly: “You can have your cake and eat it too.” As caregivers, parents, teachers and or someone hoping to raise kids one day, lets join together and learn when, where, why, and how often our kids can eat “cake.”
You know that quote about how the shoemaker’s son always goes barefoot? In a way, I’m a lot like the shoemaker. Let me explain.
Hi, I’m Laura. I’m a full-time Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator, a social savvy New Yorker, and most importantly, a mom of two fabulous kids. Two fabulous, very picky kids who are tough to please come mealtime!
Professionally, I specialize in eating disorder prevention and recovery, weight management, family health and diabetes. So as you can imagine, I’m constantly helping moms much like myself to understand how they can make small behavioral changes in order to raise children who appreciate the value of nutritious, fulfilling foods—at least most of the time.
My husband and I do the best we can to foster this same mindset in our own household. Our philosophy is simple. In so few words, food is just that—food. An apple is an apple, and chocolate is chocolate. “Good” and “bad” foods don’t exist in my home or office, nor do right and wrong, or perfect and imperfect body types. (Beware: The word “fat” is practically taboo; all who enter know this.)
But let’s be honest here. Instilling these ideals is no easy task in this fast-paced, image-obsessed world, even for a mommy RD.
Which brings me to why I decided to start this blog:
Reason 1: My three-year-old son, Billy, won’t eat bananas unless they come from a fruit vendor on the city street. He prefers hummus with spelt pretzels for dinner and dried mango to snack on. While this sounds like a well-rounded toddler, Billy rejects pasta, meat and a lot of typical “American” foods. While, in true New Yorker fashion, he’ll never reject a slice of pizza (yes, my kids are allowed pizza in moderation), he’s nearly impossible when dining out.
Reason 2: My five year old son, Bobby, was every mother and RD’s dream. He seriously ate everything. I made him homemade organic baby food; and he loved grown-up flavors like sweet potatoes, ground turkey and beef, tomato sauce and oatmeal. Now, he won’t eat any of this. Like many finicky five-year-olds, Bobby loves macaroni and cheese, peanut butter and jam, and only two flavors of ice cream. Chips, cake and crackers are verboten—that’s his choice, not mine.
So there you have it. These are my kids, and this is my family. We are far from perfect and, despite my professional insight, every day is a new culinary adventure.
What I’ve come to realize is that, whether you’re a New York mom or a Midwest dad, raising a child to have a neutral mindset toward food and body image can be a struggle for any parent. The line of “moderation” is a fine one to walk, and yet it’s one of the most important responsibilities we have as parents.
My hope is for you, my reader, to be able to learn from my own experiences in the kitchen—the successes, the challenges and the comedic anecdotes—as a dedicated RD and mom. Follow along, and keep a notepad handy. Eventually, I hope that you can find it easier, more fun and less overwhelming to nourish your own children. Because, at the end of the day, it’s about working together to explore the best ways that we can all raise healthy and happy eaters.