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”
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”
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.
Playgrounds and museums, there’s no doubt that NYC is jam packed with kid-friendly activities and events. But are there children friendly food spots too? If the thought that restaurants might be ‘too fancy’ to take your kids along has ever crossed your mind, think again! Busy Moms and Dads, grab your partner and your kiddies too!
New York City is filled with healthy and affordable restaurants that are family friendly. If you want a night out, kids-free, you can always get hip and healthy with my list of NYC’s Top Chic Restaurants. In the meantime, navigate your way to these eateries for tasty and budget friendly neighborhood food.
Enjoy a fun and adventurous meal with your family and introduce your little ones to bison, boar, elk, lamb or ostrich! If that doesn’t suit your families’ taste buds, this restaurant has a little something for everyone. It also specializes in more traditional burgers with grass-fed meats like beef, turkey, chicken, and portabella mushroom for vegetarians. This Mom loves the all-natural bison burger on a whole grain roll!!
Come here for local produce and lots of flavor. While you pretty much make your own plate, it adds to the atmosphere, making it fun and casual. How does it work? You choose 1 protein, 1 grain or green, and a pick of your favorite seasonal vegetables, (perfect for sharing). With so many options sometimes it can be hard to pick. Go for the lemon chicken, raw baby spinach, tomato & cucumber salad!! My son Billy loves their hummus!
At Energy Kitchen, you don’t have to sacrifice health and nutrition for taste. With a kid’s menu and healthy sides, I love taking my kids here! The bison burger is > 90 % lean so this is always a heart healthy bet!! All meals are less than 500 calories so perfect for a kid’s dinner or a quick, healthy mom lunch. Mom Dishes It Out is offering a free giveaway to Energy Kitchen. Check out our blog for more details.
Choose food that you can feel good about. Kid friendly food from turkey burgers (large enough to share for young kids) to quesadillas!! The filet mignon and the sizzling fajitas are delic! Using 100% organic ingredients, with Latin American-inspired cuisine, the average kid can find something to eat here. My favorite part is that everything from the purified water to the packaging is based on organic and sustainable practices. This restaurant is actually the first and only certified and organic restaurant in New York – how awesome!
Start with fun finger food such as the edamame and or one of the many dumplings at this dairy free, health conscious restaurant. Whether you are vegetarian or a beef eater, you can find a simple no fuss dish. This mom loves the tuna burger and the fish specials. Picky palates can opt for the pasta with turkey meatballs or the roasted chicken with the smashed potatoes!!!
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.
I have three children and one wants nothing but meat, the other won’t eat anything that hasn’t been on a television commercial, and the last only likes certain colors of food. What is a mom to do? Well, here are some strategies to keep in mind that may work for your family:
Having more than one child means striking a balance. You want to be fair to everyone, but you don’t want to sacrifice nutrition. Give your kids a taste of the world of sharing and taking turns, and make sure you are more concerned about their health then their preferences. Every family is different, so make your own dinner-time rules to make sure your children grow up healthy and nutritionally well-balanced.
About Guest Blogger Monta Fleming:
Monta is the mother of three children serves as an Expert Advisor on multiple household help issues to many Organizations and groups, and is a mentor for other “Mom-preneurs” seeking guidance. She is a regular contributor of “nanny jobs”. You can get in touch with her at email@example.com.
Do you ever feel bad telling your child they can’t eat the ice cream while their friends eat ice cream? Are you the mom that always says yes to placate your child and hope that food will not be an issue if you just give it to them? Well, I am the mom trying to balance both scenarios at the same time. Working in the field of eating disorders and weight management plus living in a world focused on food and weight makes me sensitive to my children’s interpretation of all of these messages. Being that is the Fourth of July, I though it would be helpful to answer so many moms’ question “Am I restricting my child when I say “no”? Of course this is a fine line, but today is a great day to get practicing since food will be plentiful at the BBQ’s you are attending.
My Answer: Saying “no” is okay. Restriction can be the equivalent of boundary setting, not deprivation. There is a difference.
For example, say your child is eating food, and you are not okay with it because they have either had enough (meaning multiple pieces) or it’s nearing a meal. If the child’s snack-time choices will affect their overall daily nutrition, you can feel free to say no. If you are at the BBQ today and your kids are grazing on the chips and salsa near the meal and you fear they will not eat the burger, you can say “finish your chips and let’s save room for dinner. Mommy wants to make sure you get some protein and vitamins or enough nutrition before the day is over.”
Parents must recognize that boundaries are just as important when thinking about food as anything else in life. For some children, it is helpful to explain that the candy or cookies are a “sometimes” food and that it may hurt their belly and or even make them feel weak or dizzy if they eat a lot at one time. If you are concerned that your child will be too full to eat their next meal, remember to explain that lunch or dinner is not far away, and it is important to eat a well-balanced meal with the rest of the family. Whatever you do though, do not label the food as “good” or “bad.”
Besides BBQ’s and family celebrations, another instance in which this may come up, as it does in my home, is after a birthday party. My boys come home with goodie bags filled with “little nothings” all the time. Almost immediately, they start tearing through the bags like it’s Halloween, and the next thing I know, we have wrappers and hyper kids everywhere.
Sometimes, my kids ignore the candy, but most times it is a frenzy of excitement, and I must put my foot down. After the boys have had one to three pieces, I simply ask them to give me their bags, and we put them on the kitchen counter, into the cookie jar or on top of the refrigerator. Typically, when something goes in the cookie jar or on the refrigerator, my kids seem to forget about it. This is consistent with the “out of sight out of mind” philosophy. It doesn’t have to go to waste either; I may then give them this food item a week later as part of their lunch or as a snack at a later date.
In this scenario, I gave my kids some but not all of the candy, setting a boundary, without restricting them altogether. (Restriction would be saying they couldn’t eat the candy today, tomorrow or ever because it is bad or because they don’t need it.) Some may choose to restrict their children from eating less nutritious foods, but research has proven over and over again that limiting a child’s intake leads to binging and obesity—especially when restricting little girls or placing them on a diet. More often than not, deprivation is not the answer. Instead, focus on moderate choices now to equip your children with the ability to make healthier choices in the long run.
If you are thinking, well what about at the BBQ, consider this: For today, you can tell your kids they can take a piece of the Fourth of July cake home for tomorrow if they want the ice cream after the dinner, rather than both if they have already consumed a crazy amount of “sometimes” foods. Or you can let the kids have the cake and ice cream just a smaller portion of each to prevent a meltdown after a long hot day. Don’t make saying yes or no a big deal! Life is not perfect and as far as parenting goes, just try your best and lead with love!!
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.
Here is a quick quiz adapted from my Healthy Habits program. You can use this quiz, to see if you and your children are adept at the non diet approach or you can use this quiz to start a conversation.
I am personally using this piece tomorrow to initiate a discussion amongst the teachers at my son’s school. The head of the school asked me to help the teachers understand how food language can be a powerful tool in fostering both positive and negative relationships with food. Obviously we want to achieve a positive and healthy relationship that aids in the development of self esteem; That means removing subjective morals and values from food.
This week guest blogger Suzanne Quint discusses parenting books, and incorporating your culture into teaching children healthy eating habits.