We are so excited to welcome Yaffi Lvova, a Registered Dietician Nutritionist and owner of Baby Bloom Nutrition! In this guest post, she offers excellent tips on picky eating and some creative strategies to get little ones to develop healthy eating habits.
Motherhood is a rollercoaster. The ups and downs in a single day, in a single hour, could drive even the most maternal person to the brink of craziness. Mealtimes are often the needle to the balloon that would otherwise be your sanity.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Mealtimes can be calm, even pleasant. No, you’re not hallucinating- I did just say that. Pleasant. How? With some small changes you can accomplish the impossible.
Want to hear a story you might relate to? Mikey was an 8-month old who loved yogurt. Until he didn’t. He would turn his head when the spoon approached his mouth. In fact, he was refusing all of the purees his mother so lovingly prepared. His mother was going crazy, holding down his arms, playing the airplane game, trying to mix different purees into his yogurt and oatmeal to change up the color or the texture a little. She was so frustrated- where did her good little eater go?
How about Julia, a two-year old who would NOT eat her broccoli? Her mother said she refused all green vegetables! Refused!
There are very few times when a child has control over their surroundings. From a very early age, since birth actually, kids have control over their nutrition. They can accept or reject the breast, the bottle, and the spoon. Even if the parent were to be aggressive in feeding, it’s up to the child to decide to swallow or not.
As the child grows up, the parent will see other instances where this is also true: brushing teeth, going to sleep, and the dreaded potty training. The child can decide they are not interested, and that’s it. It’s game over for the parent.
The solution is easier than you may think. Roll with it. Seriously, choose your battles. You don’t want to end up in a yogurt fight with a toddler. It’s not worth it for your relationship with them, or for their relationship with food.
Your child is establishing a relationship with food now that will serve them for the rest of their life. And what do you as the parent want from that? That they should listen to their body signals. Eat when they are hungry, stop when they are full. Listen to their body, not listen to their parent or to the amount of food left on their plate.
The million dollar question is- “how can I make that happen?” In the first case, Mikey might be refusing purees. He wants some independence! He sees mom eating a banana and he wants to do it too. He wants to try real food, not mush. He wants to practice his developing pincer grasp and work the muscles that he will soon be using for speech. Kids are driven by curiosity and development.
Concerning Julia, this is so common. How are the veggies prepared? Is she getting a pile of steamed spinach on her plate every night? It’s important to make meals educational and fun for kids. That’s not to say you have to kill yourself imitating Pinterest pics. But it might mean making a fruit and veggie smoothie- and letting her help. Throw some parmesan cheese on your broccoli and roast it. Let her see you eating the same foods at the same time.
Does she like other color veggies? Peppers that crunch? Or maybe a different shape- try zoodles. Involve her in the shopping, cooking, maybe even gardening! And really, when it comes down to it, is there anything you don’t like? I hate olives and mushrooms. And I’m a functioning adult.
When I’m looking for a recipe to make with my toddlers, there are a few guidelines I follow:
No raw eggs- when starting out anyway. Toddlers like to taste as they go. At some point, teaching them to crack eggs is fun too.
Lot of ingredients- they love to add ingredients to the bowl, so the more the better! Three ingredient pancakes might be convenient for mom, but it’s not as much fun for the kids.
Different actions- chopping (yes, chopping- supervised and with equipment appropriate for age and level of development. See this video about toddler knife skills!), stirring, grating, rolling, kneading, pouring, weighing, sprinkling, peeling, filling the pan or muffin tin
Here are a few recipes I love to make with kids!
And here is one with a fun game!
Your child also thinks you are the most important person in the world. They want your attention. Taking time to sit down with the child, as you would sit down with a friend, and eat a meal together is so important. You are modeling table behavior, showing them food is safe to eat, and you’re having uninterrupted one-on-one time with your child. Ignore the dishes, the laundry, the TV, and the cell phone.
Focus on enjoying a meal with your child. You probably need a minute off your feet anyway. If including a coffee or a glass of wine helps you get in the relaxing mindframe, go for it! Don’t focus on what is actually getting into your child’s mouth. Present varied healthy foods, and then focus on spending quality time together, with no pressure.
Serve meals family-style, and let your child pick what he or she wants to eat from family-bowls. Plating your child’s food can be overwhelming for them, especially if there is something they don’t want or something new.
Toddlers often decline new foods because of a throwback to cave-man times. The child would wander out of the cave and see new berries, fruits on trees,and foods growing from the ground. As appetizing as those colors and textures might be, they could be poisonous. So toddlers developed neophobia- or fear of new food- as a self-preservation mechanism. Yes, we wish they would develop past this, but knowing that history can help the mother to be a little more sensitive to her child’s mindframe.
You might find yourself concerned with a particular nutrient. In Mikey’s case, his mother might be concerned with calcium intake. We are told that calcium is so important for strong bones and teeth. But there are so many sources of calcium! At Mikey’s age, he is still getting his major nutrition from breast milk or breast milk alternative, which provides calcium. Calcium can be found not only in dairy, but in leafy greens, white beans, black-eyed peas, sesame seeds, fortified oatmeal, fortified milk alternatives, fortified tofu, dried figs, almonds, and even in certain fish (canned wild salmon and sardines).
When should you be concerned? If your child isn’t growing appropriately, isn’t meeting expected developmental milestones, or is limiting their food choices very dramatically, it’s time to speak with a professional for help.
For more information, and a members-exclusive webinar on this exact topic, please visit babybloomnutrition.com! For more recipe ideas, follow me on Pinterest at pinterest.com/yaffi and on Instagram as BabyBloomNutr.
Yaffi Lvova is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and twin mom who is passionate about providing nutrition education for the pregnant or breastfeeding woman and to new parents struggling with the many nutrition obstacles that the first few years of life can bring. She partners with families to grow happy, healthy babies and confident parents by breaking down complex scientific concepts, ideas, theories, and research into easier to understand language so that parents can make informed decisions about their child’s wellness.