Friday, September 23, 2011

Feeding the Littles in your Life

We got an e-mail this week that asked for meal recommendations for toddlers.  I've been meaning to do a post about how to help your children want to eat healthy food, so I'll include some specifics of what are some meal options.

I really love food.  Eating and talking about food are two of my favorite activities.  I think there are few "daily legacies" we could leave with our children that are as important as teaching them how to fuel their bodies with wonderful, delicious, fresh food from the diverse bounty that God has given us for our health and enjoyment.

I fully recognize that every child is different and every parent is different--below you will simply see what has worked for me. And while all of these approaches have worked for us, it's not always easy and there's still plenty of progress we need to make.

Please share in the comments what has helped your children get excited about different food, and some tasty foods for tots.  Here are some tips from my personal experience.
  • Start young.  As soon as my boys are old enough to hold onto something and put it in their mouth, I hand them fruits and veggies.  A baby that puts everything in his mouth will also put a carrot, celery, broccoli, apple or whatever you hand him in his mouth (of course, don't give them anything so small they can put it all in their mouths and choke).  Veggies are great for teething babes.  I've never met a baby who didn't enjoy destroying a broccoli. 
  • Feed them what you're eating.  I never bought baby food, and I never really made anything different for my baby than we were eating.  When my first son showed an interest in eating, I tried to give him the baby cereal.  He would have none of it.  Then I tried it and found out why.  I started introducing foods to him slowly as recommended, but he didn't show a bad reaction to anything, so from then on I just fed him what I was eating.  The best invention ever is a baby food mill.  It's cheap (especially when compared to baby food!), easy, portable, etc.

    • Be excited about food.  For my 14 month old, I just stay happy and positive and expect him to like everything.  For my three year old, if he says he doesn't want his food, I say, "Oh great, can I have it?  I love it!"  That's usually enough to make him change his mind.  My parents are great food enthusiasts.  I always had the attitude growing up that if I didn't like something, it was okay because if I kept trying it, I'd like it as an adult because my parents liked everything. Worked for me with bell peppers and mushrooms.
    • Involve your child in the kitchen and garden.  I know, it's SO HARD!  We start dinner prep around 3:00 at our house.  It's a pretty big deal.  We have a stool for my older boy, and I usually end up wearing #2 most of the time.  If children are involved in the creation of beautiful food, they're more likely to try it.
    • Snitching is OK.  Well, depends on the kind of snitching.  At our house, the boys are always allowed to snack on raw vegetables.  While we're cooking, none of us can help but snack a bit.  And since I'm always cooking with lots of veggies, that's what we snack on.  I'm not worried he's going to fill up on vegetables and ruin the rest of his appetite.  And you know how it is--if you're hungry around 5:00 and you haven't eaten anything, even a raw broccoli is going to be pretty good.
    • If you don't want your kids to eat something, don't have it in your house.  At a pretty young age, kids understand "all gone."  If you are worried about their peanut butter/hot dog/mac 'n cheese consumption, give it all to a neighbor.  Then you can take your tot on a house tour and show them there are no hot dogs in the house.  He/she will just have to find something else to eat.
    • Your child won't starve him/herself.  It's important for your children to see that you're not going to make a special meal for every member of the family because of certain likes or dislikes.  Children need repeated exposure to some foods before they start liking them.  Offer to them what you're having.  Leave it on their tray/plate.  Let them explore the food and get a little dirty.  If they go to bed without having as much dinner as they would normally have, they'll have a good breakfast in the morning!  (I especially don't worry about nursing babies or toddlers getting enough food.)  
    • Stick to your guns.  Sit down with your spouse and figure out the rules of your house concerning food.  Do your children have to finish everything on their plate?  Do they have to eat their vegetables before the less-healthy portion of the meal?  Before dessert?  Are you going to make something different for everyone?  Some families eat all their vegetables before the rest of the meal is even brought out.  Decide what you're going to do, and then stick to it.  At our house, our 3 year-old has to eat a small portion of everything before he eats anything for a second time.  Perhaps some time we'll let him have a list of three things he never has to eat, but that hasn't been necessary yet.
    For more ideas, you can check out Amy Thompson's article in Edible Wasatch called Raising an Adventurous Eater

    Here are some of my kid's favorite foods.  Please share what your kids love!

    Breakfast- If you start young enough, any baby will love hot oatmeal or porridge with raw milk or almond milk, apples, cinnamon and nutmeg, or any other fresh fruit.  Add a little natural sweetener if you need it, but I think it's tasty as is.  Add flax-seed or other grains and this is a super healthy, filling, tasty breakfast for anyone not too addicted to cold cereal :)
    Lunch- My kids will eat just about anything rolled into a (whole grain) tortilla.  My boys and I could eat a tortilla of tomatoes, brown rice, re-fried or black beans, lettuce, salsa and maybe sour cream just about every day.  If they can't or won't eat lettuce or tomatoes, cut it up really small and mix everything together.  Ben just shares mine, but he'd also eat it from a spoon mashed together.

    Dinner- Two dinners my boys love are vegetable lasagna and any kind of tasty soup with good bread (here's one good soup recipe).
    I was also given a recipe book, "Start Fresh" that has some good ideas for kid food.  I haven't tried many of the recipes, but what I have tried have been good.  I like the book because even the purees look good enough that I'd want to eat them!

    Good luck and happy eating!


    1. What wonderful ideas, Ariel! I'm already excited for the solid food stage, and my baby isn't even born yet. I hope when that stage comes I have time for some good cookin'.

    2. I love how you include you children with the meal preparation. When I was a nanny for my nieces and nephews they would take turns cooking with me. Some of my most cherished memories with them!! I look forward to having George cook with me.

    3. Great ideas, Ariel! We've always been impressed with how well Abe eats!


      Sammy has always loved working in the kitchen with me. Some of his first words were "basil" "oil" "garlic" etc. and for a few months once he wouldn't let go of his wooden spoon! We have pictures of him with it at Disneyland. :) He still often creates meals of his own with whatever he's playing with.

      Our favorite breakfasts are also porridges. For increased nutrient absorption and digestibility, try soaking overnight! Maybe I'll do a post on that sometime. We have breakfast smoothies a couple times a week (you can "hide" anything in a smoothie, some of my favorites being coconut oil, kefir, spinach, nutritional yeast, and even cal-mag if need be). Eggs are also a big hit with us. I actually started giving Daniel warmed egg yolks before he was eating any solids at all. They are incredibly nutritive! About once a week we do a maple syrup breakfast (pancakes, waffles...), which we also soak first, and always whole grains.

      At our house, "lunch" is often a couple different snack times, rather than a formal sit-down. One great idea for a young, explorative toddler is to fill a muffin pan or several cups with different veggies, legumes, fruits, nuts, meat, etc. for him to graze on. He will likely enjoy his favorites first, but I bet he'll eventually finish everything else if it's just available. This is a great way to introduce or encourage new foods and get a variety of foods in his diet.

      My boys are different eaters. Daniel will eat anything anytime and the utensil too! Sammy is more cautious, and as the day winds down, has a harder time concentrating on food. At this point, our main rules for dinner are that he has to stay at the table and give everything a try. When he has a hard time focusing on his meal, I try to say something encouraging like, "you took that bite so fast, I bet we'll have time for an extra story!" Once we had him fill in a square on a chart each time he finished his dinner. When he colored eight, he earned a dessert.

      Last night I made lentil pecan patties, which we were eating with cortido (latin american saurkraut) that I'd had fermenting for a while. The latter had a bit more zip than I anticipated and I didn't require Sammy to try it (I loved it!). But we did use it to entice him to chip away at his patty. If it was time to take another bite, we'd offer him a spoonful of "yummy cortido" as an alternative, and that bit of teasing helped him focus!

      Another idea I heard is to have a "first course:" a very small plate of veggies to be eaten before the rest of the meal. If the kids like it, they are encouraged to have more, but don't have to. We've done that a couple times and it works too. I think everything works if you're just consistent! :)

      Biggest tips from me for feeding kids: keep it real and plan ahead!

    4. Thanks for the great post Ariel! I definitely want to get a cooking stool for the kiddos to help with dinner prep. Nonie, I love the idea of using the muffin tin for a lot of different snack options. We had some good successes today! Jackson was willing to try fresh peas from the garden and ate several of them. He also amazed me at dinner by eating some of our Bean & Veggie Risotto. As long as he can use a spoon (but not his fingers) to feed it to himself he will eat it :) Mr. Independent.

    5. This is a really hard thing in our house right now. Isaac doesn't want to try anything and he has bad associations with the word 'dinner.' I love your suggestions. My doctor told me to say, "I'm not a short order cook." Put whatever he doesn't eat and put it in the fridge for later. The problem is that he will go to bed hungry and prefers to wait until breakfast to eat.

      I don't know what to do with him. He used to eat I have created a monster. It's my fault and I don't know how to reverse it...I'm so frustrated with this.