Raising a Healthy Eater
I've seen those "Would you rather..." quizzes floating around facebook, the ones geared toward moms, where they can choose to have 2 of the following items FOR LIFE: 1. 8 hours of sleep every night. 2. A clean house & laundry done. 3. No more errands to run. 4. Children eat the meals you make them.
I want to know, who on this planet would choose #4?! I WOULD NEVER. I can't imagine children not eating their meals would ever trump #1 and #2... and I've had a perfectly prepped food of plate thrown on the floor by my toddler, I swear! I don't have a perfect eater, I don't think there is such a thing. I've been reading a book on intuitive eating, rightfully called; Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works, by: Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch - it talks about how babies and toddlers are born intuitive eaters, and have a great sense of what they need when they need it, and how much. Until we as parents (and the media) mess up their intuitive eating by forcing certain foods on them, and making them finish their dinner. I admit, I had been one to encourage Noah to take more bites of his food, after he clearly had shown he was done... but since reading this book, I do not do that anymore. Overall, Noah is not a perfect eater, but he is a great eater. He eats pretty much anything and everything, from mussels to broccoli, steak to eggs, and onion to pork; and I don't think it's by accident! Here is what has worked for us in terms of raising a healthy eater:
I'll start from the beginning. Though Noah breastfed until he was 18 months old, when he was about 4.5 months old, we started him on solid foods. I never bought baby food, we just boiled and food processed everything (blender works, too!). His first food was sweet potato, followed by peas, and mashed avocado. We never gave him rice cereal! Rice cereal is a single, white grain, which metabolizes the same as sugar in the body, not to mention it has very little or no nutrients, especially when compared to fruits & vegetables. In fact, we skipped grains all together: I wanted all of his calories to come from nutrient-dense foods, like vegetables, packed with vitamins and minerals. We also held off on fruits, for the most part. Noah would eat a mashed banana every once in a while, but his baby food primarily consisted of vegetables and protein. Fruits are easy... they are sweet and therefore preferred by many kids! I knew he'd happily eat his fruits some day, so for the first year of his life he had very, very little fruit, and hardly any sugar. I wanted him to develop a tasted preference for vegetables. We boiled and pureed every vegetable under the sun: Brussel sprouts, asparagus, squash, zucchini, carrots, green beans, etc.
Onto the next step: around 6 months we started pureeing our dinners to feed Noah. For example, if we were eating chicken, sweet potato, and corn, we'd throw a bit of all 3 in the food processor, and spoon feed it to Noah. He loved pureed shepherds pie (made with corn, sweet potato, and ground beef). We did this for a few months, until he had tasted everything from fish to chicken pot pie. As he got older, we'd stop pureeing and just cut our dinners into little bites. As for sugar - much to my relative's dismay, I refused to let anyone give him sugar for the first year. I'm more lenient now, and we do have treats here and there, but he doesn't ask for them all the time.
We have never and will never make Noah a separate meal. First of all, who has time or energy to make two different dinners?! We are truly in control of what our toddlers eat... it's not the other way around. For example, if we make a homemade pizza topped with a ton of veggies, that's what Noah eats. He would never need to eat a plain cheese pizza, because we have never offered him that. Kids who will only eat plain cheese pizza do so because that's what they were offered from the beginning! We don't order off of the kids menu if we go out. He can share a steak, chicken, or fish dish with either Mom or Dad... he's never asked for the chicken tenders. Of course, if one of us orders chicken tenders, he'll have some! So how to get out of this cycle if your toddler is refusing foods: stop offering separate meals! Offer what you are eating. Maybe he/she will take a few bites and discard the rest. That's okay, Noah does that sometimes too. Sometimes, you just don't feel like eating certain things, therefore they don't taste good to you! Keep trying. There are a few meals, like salads, that can be more difficult to give a toddler. In situations like this, I would give Noah the toppings: chicken, avocado, peppers... whatever is on my salad that day. After months of doing this, Noah started wanting my salad greens, too, instead of just the toppings. Seriously, they just want to be like us!
Hand in hand with this, we choose to sit down to eat as a family - we don't feed Noah before ourselves. We are all eating the same meal, at the same time, at the same table. You know your toddler watches your every move! This means what you eat, too. I bet your little boy or girl wants to be just like Mommy and Daddy, so let him or her. By eating the same meal, together, you set the stage for healthy family dinners for years to come, and your little person gets to be just like you. By modeling healthy eating habits, we are not only doing the best thing for our own bodies, but instilling that in our little ones as well.
It's 100% worth mentioning that it's not always a walk in the park. I can't tell you how many times I've given Noah a meal of foods that he has happily eaten many times, and he refuses it or worse - throws it on the floor! Ohhh boy is that frustrating. That's just toddler life. I've found that lately, trying to involve Noah in the food prep process has lessened these blows. Having an almost-2-year-old help you cook doesn't slow you down at all... said no one, ever! But it's been worth the experience. Simple things like keeping track of the sweet potatoes, and handing them to me as I need them, keep Noah engaged and feeling involved with the meal, instead of tugging on my shirt for attention. He's proud to watch what he "helped" make cook, and then see it on his plate. With a TON of patients and persistence, I'm sure every toddler is capable of finding healthy foods he or she enjoys.
What has worked for you in terms healthy eating habits with your kids?!