Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Meal Tips For Picky Eaters

photo credit: Natalie from Three Little Crowns
Hi! My name is Noelle and I am a Registered Dietitian and a mom of three active boys….three year old twins (Clay and Wesley) and a nine month old (Rhett).  I was thrilled to find this community of twin moms a few months ago and have enjoyed starting to follow some of you on IG. When Meredith asked me to write an article I told her about one I recently wrote for the sweet mamas from Three Little Crowns and she asked that I offer the same type of information with a focus on twins.  I thought for a bit about what would be a variation when applying this to multiple children.  What do I deal with that my friends with singletons don’t?  The reality is that advice that I have for you about establishing good eating habits in your children and dealing with picky eaters is equally applicable to singletons or twins.  

I think the main difference between feeding one child vs. multiple children (of the same age) is the incredible amount of influence that they have on each other.  This can be positive or negative.  Luckily, I have found it to be positive most of the time.  I have been blessed with very good eaters; however, I have had my share of “I don’t want this mommy”.  If you are dealing with one (or two) picky eaters right now, the first piece of advice that I can offer you is this.  Take a deep breath and relax ☺  You are not a bad parent and your child(ren) will never starve themselves.  They may go on a food strike, but they will eventually eat.  

Try to not get too caught up in what your children “should” be eating.  Instead ensure to offer a variety of healthy foods at both snacks and meals and create an enjoyable eating environment.  That is the end of your role!  Isn’t that calming?!  From there it is actually your child’s responsibility and choice as to what they eat and how much they eat of it.  So now here are my top 10 tips for optimizing what you offer your child(ren)…

  1. Don’t get caught up in meal vs. snack.  Keep the overall idea of intake in mind.  I offer veggies as a pre-meal snack while I am prepping a meal.  I find that my twins eat twice the amount of veggies if I offer them about 11:30 am or 4:30 pm, rather than only with a meal.  I let them play and snack on sliced cucumber and carrots or steamed broccoli and cauliflower and magically it all disappears.  I just put the veggies out on their own or with a little dip.  If I put crackers and cheese out at the same time as the veggies, then they will obviously fill up on crackers and cheese…who wouldn’t?!

    photo credit: Natalie from Three Little Crowns

  1. Serve fruit before anything else at breakfast time and serve fruit for dessert at lunch and supper.  My twins still think that fruit is a huge treat.  They seldom ask for cookies or ice cream at the end of a meal.  They ask for pomegranate seeds or berries or pear or apple (you get the idea) because they have always had these sweet (and nutritious) treats at the start of the day and at the end of meals. We established this habit early and hopefully it sticks with them for life.

  1. Toddlers LOVE to dip! So offer your child a healthy dip.  Try using Greek yogurt or pureed cottage cheese and fruit for dip rather than ketchup or sauce that is laden with sugar and colour.

    photo credit: Natalie from Three Little Crowns
  1. Allow a few “no thank you” foods.  Respect the fact that your children will have some foods that they just don’t like.  It may be texture or colour or taste or just the fact that they don’t feel like accepting that food.  Whatever the case may be, don’t push the foods they don’t like.  Instead, try to offer other foods that give the same or similar nutritional value.  Also, DO NOT become a short order cook.  For example, one of my twins doesn’t like cheese but loves yogurt.  The other one is the opposite.  I don’t force them to have the foods they don’t like; however, I also don’t cater to their individual desires every day.  Some days Clay eats a ton of yogurt while Wes will eat a few bites and other days Wes eats an insane amount of cheese (I have to cut him off) and Clay only eats a bite or two.  At the end of a week, they both have had an adequate amount of non-milk dairy products on average even if one had a more adequate intake one day and the other the next.  

    photo credit: Natalie from Three Little Crowns
  1. Offer small portions of a variety of foods to start.  If your child finishes one food type and asks for more, this is your chance to teach balance and moderation.  For example, if you offer a few slices of cucumber, a few pieces of avocado, a meatball diced into 4 pieces and 8 pieces of pasta.  They may finish the pasta and avocado and ask for more.  At this point, you can talk to the child about the fact that they are welcome to have more of the foods they like best once they eat some of their cucumber and meatball.  Remind them it is up to them what they choose to eat, but you are not willing to offer them more pasta and avocado unless they eat some of the other foods they have on their plate.  Talk to them about the fact that their body needs nutrition from all foods and before having extra of one food, we need to give the body nutrition from other foods.  Point out that you are doing the same.   If they have room for more pasta, then they have room for meatball first.  Of course this conversation will be more useful with a three year old than an 18 month old.  

  1. Be careful with amounts of liquids. Along with this, remember that toddler’s tummies are small and if we allow them to fill up on liquids, then success with whole foods will be much lower.  My strategy is to offer milk before breakfast, before naps, and before bed.  All of these are away from the meal table.  If milk is offered with meals or at the end of a meal, the child can either fill up on it at the start or just hold out for it as they know it is coming.  They can easily say no to the foods being offered if they know milk is coming and they can be satisfied with it.  The total amount of milk consumed in a day for any child over 1 year of age, who is done nursing, is 2 cups (16 oz.)  Anything greater than this volume will impact their food intake and overall nutritional status. Also have water available to your children at all times while they are playing, so they don’t come to the table super thirsty and then fill up on water just as you are about to serve them food.  PLEASE NO JUICE!!! Offer whole fruits.  Juice is never necessary or appropriate for babies, toddlers, or young children.

    photo credit: Natalie from Three Little Crowns

  1. Keep variety and balance in mind over the course of more than each meal.  Although it is great to offer a balance of different foods at a meal, try to remember that overall balance over the course of a day, week, or even month is okay too.  I remember when the twins were about 18 months old, Clay would eat huge amounts at breakfast and lunch and snacks, and then barely anything for supper.  Wes was the opposite…not very hungry at breakfast or lunch but then ate and ate and ate at supper time.  I had to plan for offering optimal balance all day long and knew that each child would meet their daily needs but at a different pace than each other.

  1. A big part of the toddler years is autonomy.  My twins want to do EVERYTHING themselves.  The week that our last baby was born, the twins decided it was time that they climb into their high chairs on their own, get into the van and their car seats on their own, put their clothes on by themselves, etc.  So, just as we added a baby to the mix, things that used to take 2 minutes with the twins, now took 10…or sometimes 20 minutes.  It was painful! But this is all part of them growing up and we had to embrace it…with a lot of prayer for patience!!! I totally capitalize on this autonomy when it comes to food.  Instead of asking the boys what they want for snack I ask them “Do you want apple and cheese OR berries and yogurt?”. That way, they are making the decision between two healthy choices.  

  1. They will do what you do.  Toddlers are incredibly impressionable and LOVE to mimic mom and dad so we need to model the behaviors we want to see.  Our kids need to see us snacking on fruits and veggies and filling our plates with healthy foods at meal times. With twins it is easy to assume they have each other to eat with and that is enough but they need us there too.  Eating with our children is one of the most important influences on their life long eating habits.  Meal times are about so much more than food.  We need to teach our children the art of conversation, as well as the art of eating.  Try to avoid talking too much about food at meal times, instead make it a natural time to chat about your day and their day.  Try asking your toddler what their favourite part of the day was and tell them what your day was like.  Toddlers love to debrief about their day and be reminded of what they did and have an idea of what is to come.  It is comforting to them. Meal times are a great time for this.  As is just before nap or bed.  

    photo credit: Natalie from Three Little Crowns

  1. Toddlers go through something called “food jags.”  This refers to the fact that they love something one day and completely refuse it the next.  I remember when my twins first tasted bananas.  They absolutely loved them so we started buying two bunches of bananas every week.  Then all of the sudden they both hated bananas.  We continued to offer them and they always chose an alternate fruit and then one day they started asking for bananas again.  It was so strange.  I had heard that this would happen but after experiencing it, I can attest that it really does.  It has happened with several foods now and I have just come to realize that I need not panic.  They are just exercising their autonomy and will eventually eat past favorites again.

As a final note, have fun with food with your kids!!! I have the twins help me make a grocery list and they do most of the grocery shopping with me or my husband.  When they get to pick out which head of broccoli or cauliflower we are going to take home to cook, they are more likely to be excited about eating it.  In fact, I now find them making a grocery list and “going to Costco” with their toy grocery cart on a daily basis.  One of my goals is to raise boys that will be great husbands.  Hopefully their future wives are excited that they know how to make a list and grocery shop!  The boys also love to be part of food prep.  Sometimes this is tough as I would prefer to just quickly get supper ready but if I let them help me with one or two steps in preparation, I find that meal time goes even more smoothly.  Toddlers want to help and make decisions and be “part of the action” of life.  The more we embrace this when they are young, the more they will continue to help as they get older.  
And I have to add, if you have a child that will “only eat hot dogs and French fries” then you NEED to stop buying these foods and start offering only healthy foods.  Your child will never stave themselves.  They may go on a food strike for a string of days but they will eventually eat.  Just to recap, it is our responsibility as parents to offer healthy foods in healthy portions.  It is our children’s responsibility to choose whether to eat them or not.  


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1 comment:

  1. I felt such relief reading this article. Thank you so much! I still worry about offering variety. All of the items pictures above I offer my boys but what about meats? My boys hate pasta and rice. I stress about offering them the same things every day, any ideas? Should I not even worry?