Supporting Your Little Eaters: A Four-Part Series on Nutrition and Food Education

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*This series is intended to help bring ideas to support food education, and wellness in families; it is not intended to diagnose, treat or cure diseases.  Please always consult your practitioners if you have questions or concerns. 

Article 1 of 4:

I don’t want to start this article off by bragging, but my husband and I are blessed to have good eaters! I DO want to remind you; I am in the food and nutrition industry, so navigating some of the more difficult developments and challenges has been easier for me.  That is why I want to write this series, I want to be your support network when it comes to food education and hope that this series of articles will introduce families to fresh ideas, a new outlook, and provide you with resources and tools that will help your children grow to appreciate food and maybe stop some of the stress we as parents feel when it comes to mealtimes. 

The Stages of Child Development:

For the basics, understanding what stage you are in will help you determine how to approach feeding and nutrition demands.

  1. Newborn: Milk, milk and more milk.
  2. Infant: Mmmm mushy puree’s, especially pureed meats.
  3. Toddler: Yes, I asked for eggs…. Why did you give me eggs, I HATE eggs?
  4. Pre-school: Are there more snacks and do they come with a treat?
  5. School Age: Can’t I buy school lunch; I am the only kid who brings their lunch.

Along with these five stages come a multitude of other developments, some we are not even aware of.  These other developments are what potentially throw off a child’s eating habits.  Food seems intuitive for most people: we know what we like, we know what we dislike, we know if we have food allergies, we know what we grew up eating, we can figure out what a healthy balanced meal should look like, and we have had to feed ourselves as adults, so, we figure how hard can it be to feed a child? I don’t need to preach to the choir mama’s, feeding our kids can be a NIGHTMARE! Tumultuous eating phases are nothing new, however, if we can shift our thinking, even slightly, we will save our sanity while also providing our children with the ability to find their way and find what works for them. How is that for releasing some of the power struggle?   

Supporting our children’s immune system and their growth spurts with food is what weighs heavily on my mind.  Some days I get stressed that my toddler isn’t getting enough protein.  Protein is an essential building block of the human body; it is used for many important functions in the body.  While the daily recommended protein intake for young children ages 1-3 is 13g/day and children ages 4-8 is 19g/day, I still worry that she is not getting enough and will fall behind on the growth charts.  Then I remind myself (most of the time it is my husband reminding me) she ate an entire 12 oz. ribeye steak last night and then I wonder why the next day she only wants fruits and vegetables?  No one is more intuitive than children.  They listen to their bodies better than adults do because they are so present. They know nothing outside of what that moment offers, which is one of the reasons they often become adamant about their decisions.  I find that if I pause and stop pleading for “just one more bite” I realize, she is eating what her body needs in that moment, and she is listening to what it is asking for. We should trust our children more.  Now that does not mean that we should give into their every desire, request or demand. We are still in charge, and the best we can do is offer them a variety of foods, colors, textures and flavors.  The rule in our house is that you get what we make and if you don’t like it, you can wait till the next snack or meal (no kid will starve themselves).  I give my toddler two simple options at breakfast, the rest of the meals I make a variety of options and she either eats it all or picks at one or two things.  I love to cook and try to be creative to keep everyone interested. I have never made separate meals. You get what is served and typically there is one thing that they will eat.  Moods change and so do tastes, so what was their favorite on Sunday may be something they don’t like on Tuesday, but I keep offering those items.  Our 1-year-old eats EVERYTHING. I don’t think she has met a food she doesn’t like just yet.   

Some of my biggest lessons that turned into wins:

  • Start with green vegetable purees. When we introduced solids to our babies at the age of 6 months, I refused to start with fruit purees. It is almost guaranteed that babies will naturally love any sweet fruit puree.  I thought that I would build a stronger foundation if I offered green vegetables like, spinach, kale and peas.
  • Involve them in the grocery shopping. Mamas know we don’t usually get to do the grocery shopping alone, so utilize this time to educate and involve them in the shopping process.  I take my girls to the herb section and let them smell everything. I talk incessantly about what we were seeing and as I select foods, I name them, tell them the colors and count out how many of each item we get.  My girls LOVE going to the grocery store. They are easily entertained and love when I give them the opportunity to select the produce. 
  • As soon as they are of the age, involve them in the kitchen as much as possible. We built learning towers for our girls and they love standing at the counter. It is where all the action is.  I find tasks that are appropriate for them to help me with, or I just give them tastes of things as I am chopping.  To be honest, my oldest is like a rabbit, she will take things off the cutting board.  We found she has a huge affinity for raw white onions, broccoli, and peppers of all colors. She is an adventurous eater. 
  • When the going gets tough and we are in the rejection phase, I change the presentation. I find that if I am offering an interesting way to present food or meals, kids are willing to try things again.  So many times, I have offered something on a plate that has gone to the floor or to the trash and then I have offered it again in their GoBe snack spinner and it becomes a winner!
    Gobe Snack Spinner

  • Be conscious of your child’s ebbs and flows. Growth spurts can bring on eating binges; one day they may eat a handful of food and the next it may be adult sized portions with seconds for every meal. 

You have a good eater; you may need to lean in a little more to their silent requests.  I have come to learn over the last six months, our older daughter does not like to eat right when she wakes up.  I am in disbelief because I must eat as soon as I wake up. I used to force her to the table for breakfast and she wouldn’t eat but a bite.  When I started to listen to her and respect that she needs time to wake up, our breakfast routine moved away from fighting to enjoying time together making smoothies and not rushing to have something ready for her right as she woke up. 

That said, I am all about the resources.  I encourage you to please reach out directly and let me know what your pain points are around food, nutrition, supplementation and health.  I would love to do a Q&A session as a part of this series.  This article is just a gentle reminder that you are doing amazing.  Back to school time has landed and we have new routines.There will be many changes going on over the next few weeks, so remain as grounded as possible while knowing your children are all going through a lot. Be patient and firm: food is love, food is health, food is healing. 

Here are a few of my most cherished resources to kick off your school year and your toolbox.  I love collecting resources, please share yours because having as many tricks as possible up your sleeve is going to be what saves your sanity in the long run. 

Here are a few of my most cherished foodie bloggers:

Catherine McCord – Weelicious

Megan Roosevelt – Healthy Grocery Girl

Jennifer Anderson (Especially for Picky Eaters) – Kids Eat in Color

 

 

 

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Danielle is a mama of two daughters on a mission to empower other mamas, their kids and their families to create a happier, healthier and more balanced lifestyle. A marathon runner, triathlete, and aspiring wellness educator, Danielle is no stranger to challenges, however, motherhood presented unforeseen challenges; a move far from family, a baby during a pandemic, and trying to navigate life as a mama of two while learning who this new woman is that she sees in the mirror. Daily, she uses “Mama’s Joyful Challenges” as her mantra, trying to balance home life and a full-time from home job. The Nahas family relocated to Auburn in December of 2019 from Virginia, with only eight hours to decide on the move, Danielle felt it was the best opportunity for her family. Since landing here, so many things have happened, but out of some of the hardest challenges, she has found joy in discovering her footing; building a supportive community of moms and friends, which was one of her biggest goals when she arrived. Danielle’s favorite thing about Auburn is that she can be outdoors every day, being active with her kids and building memories like her upbringing. She is a certified health coach and nutritionist through the Institute of Integrative Nutrition; a master’s in Food and Nutritional Science from Howard University and a communications and marketing degree from American University in Washington DC.. Her hobbies include, horseback riding, anything beach / water related, wine, food, and now trying to be a “crafty” mom.