Joining Forces with Scary Mommy

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It might take a village to raise a child, but it takes a tribe to kickstart a writing career.  I’ve been very fortunate along the way.  I’ve met some incredible people along this journey, and Jill Smokler was one of the first bloggers to help me get started (or take pity on my obvious lack of blogging skills – either way, I’ll take it).

Jill gave me a place to share a different voice early on in her guest blogging forum, and that experience was eye-opening.  I made countless amazing connections in the blogging world.  They helped me find my way, and I turned around and paid it forward to other newcomers.  The world of mom bloggers sometimes gets a reputation for being super competitive (that’s the nice adjective there), but I have found many friends along the way who are kind, helpful, hilarious, and just all-around good people.  They stand by me and I stand by them.  And we all continue to do our thing.

So when Jill asked me to join her team of experts at Scary Mommy…I jumped at the chance.  You’d have to be living under a rock to be hearing her name for the first time, but in addition to her fabulous writing, both online and in print (seriously, read her books now), she also launched a non-profit, Scary Mommy Nation, to help feed families in need.  Jill is one of the good ones, and I am beyond proud to join her team.

Head over there and check out my first article about picky eaters, but stick around a while.  She’ll make you laugh, she’ll make you cry, and she’ll inspire you to take a chance and do something new.

See you there!

 

Take Back Your Kitchen! (Tips for Raising “Fearless” Feeders)

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I get a lot of questions from parents struggling to feed their, um, let’s say “selective” eaters.  Some kids eat everything and some kids eat four things.  Literally…four things.  And it’s hard.  Even when you think you’ve done absolutely everything to make eating happen…sometimes you just get one who digs in his heels and says, “Not me.  I’m not eating that!”  Jill Castle and Maryann Jacobsen have an AMAZING new book out that addresses this common childhood issue.  It’s packed full of interesting information and useful tips and strategies.  Plus…it’s entertaining.  I was introduced to Jill through our fantastic literary agent, and I love, love, love this book.  It’s a must read for all parents!  Jill is here today to share a few tips on ways to take back your kitchen.  Please give her a warm Practical welcome and leave her any follow up questions in the comments – she will be checking!

Are You in Control of Your Kitchen?

By Jill Castle, MS, RDN

“The kitchen is closed,” I said to my son, age eleven, who was heading in for a one o’clock snack, right after lunch. “Ahhh,” he moaned, “but I want a snack.”

“I’m sorry but the kitchen is closed, buddy. It’ll be open for afternoon snack at three.”

This dialogue happens quite often at my house. Even as a childhood nutritionist who knows a lot about nutrition and feeding children, my four kids are no different than most kids—they want to eat what they want to eat, and when and where they want to eat it.

Staying in control of my kitchen is a daily juggle. I’m really no different than most parents who juggle feeding, food and the kitchen. But, since I have worked with loads of families, I know that many parents struggle to stay in charge of their kitchen. It’s no wonder! With 23% of kids and 83% of teens snacking daily, more and more parents are trying to assert some control over their kid’s eating.

I’ve got the answer: reclaim control of your kitchen.

I wish I had a statistic to show you how many parents have lost control of their kitchen, but I don’t. What I can say is this: if you have a 24/7 kitchen (open for consumption all the time) or are struggling with your child’s appetite or eating, then you may have lost control of your kitchen.

But I bet you’d like to get it back.

When parents try to reclaim control, they may go about it the wrong way. Some will restrict portions, second helpings or access to all desirable foods in order to control how much their child eats or what they eat, while others will reward their kids with sweets to get them to eat the healthy food, or finish their meal.

You don’t have to use these unproductive methods.

The answer isn’t to strong-arm children to eat this or not that, but rather to reclaim the positive control and leadership that is part of parenting and feeding. Research on childhood development and education tells us that children thrive with routine, structure and boundaries. Just visit a preschool and it’s easy to see teachers showing kids the day-to-day routine, which helps them develop self-control and trust. Employing structure and boundaries to eating does the same, optimizing self-control, hunger management, and ultimately reinforcing the family diet.

Start with Food

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When I was growing up, my mother only bought soda for a party, and purchased one bag of Lay’s potato chips and one package of Oreos for the week. Today, parents purchase two to three bags of chips and cookies, plus more snacks. I remember my mom saying, “Go ahead and eat it now, but you won’t be getting any more until the next shopping trip.” Today, parents run back to the store when they run out.

Often, parents don’t realize how powerful the grocery list can be, as it is the key to setting the first boundary: the food that is available to eat. Remember, food that is brought into the home will be eaten. If it’s uncomfortable to watch kids snack on cookies, ice cream, chips or soda each day, then bring them into the home less frequently. Or, eat them outside of your home.

Kids need to see daily examples of nutritious foods, offered in varying patterns. Strike a balance of food that favors plenty of fruits and vegetables, eggs, nuts and lean sources of protein, whole grains and healthy fats, and low fat dairy items, and make sure to set a limit on sweets, fried foods and soda (but don’t exclude them). There is room for all kinds of food!  Balance is the key.

Build in Structure

Adopting a structure with eating is the best way to ensure children get the nutrients they need each day for optimal growth and development. With over forty daily nutrient requirements, children need to eat every three to five hours, depending on their age (younger kids eat more frequently than older kids), and in smaller portions than adults. Schedule meals (three a day) and snacks (one to three a day) at regular times, so kids don’t get too hungry or too full to eat. Close the kitchen between meals and snacks (no eating).

That’s right, I said close that kitchen. Today, many families have an open-door policy when it comes to the kitchen. Kids are able to help themselves any time of day, to almost anything. Even I tried the snack shelf in the refrigerator when my oldest was a toddler, but I quickly learned that she was hitting up the fridge every hour, on the hour, and not finishing anything she chose to eat! Grazing, which is what an open-door kitchen policy and similar approaches will encourage, sabotages a child’s appetite for meals, setting them up for eating poorly or selectively.

Add in More Boundaries

Set a consistent location for most eating. This helps children focus on what they are eating, and teases out distraction, which can abbreviate eating. Don’t cater–serve one meal for the whole family, and avoid meeting special requests for picky eaters. Make sure to set a menu that represents at least one or two things each family member can eat (milk counts!). Introduce new foods regularly, and make sure there is a food item or two that will be accepted by even the pickiest of eaters. Being a little bit unpredictable with the menu keeps interest up and allows you to be adventurous with food variety—a key to healthy eating.

While this may be an old-fashioned, common sense approach (remember how your grandmother fed the family?), it works. How will you take back control of your kitchen?

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Jill Castle, MS, RDN is a registered dietitian, childhood nutrition expert and mom of four. She is the co-author of the new book, Fearless Feeding: How to Raise Healthy Eaters from High Chair to High School (LINK: www.fearlessfeeding.com) You can also find her over at her blog, Just the Right Byte (www.justtherightbyte.com) or her website (www.JillCastle.com

Isn’t Jill great??  Now go ahead…leave her some questions below!!!!

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The Snowball Effect

Things can really snowball when you start bending the rules just a little.  In fact, sometimes it’s more like an avalanche.

My three year old is what we might call a picky eater.  A very, very, very picky eater. He lives on fruit, yogurt, whole grain bagels, carrots, and sugar snap peas.  He will eat waffles and French toast homemade by mommy.  Muffins and scones are high on his list of likes.  And milk.  Lots and lots of milk.

Sure, chicken makes appearances at times, and once he ate pasta because it was in the shape of a car.  But steak, grilled cheese, scrambled eggs, and most other foods in general?  He considers it an insult when I put small pieces on his plate.

It doesn’t come as much of a surprise.  I didn’t eat a piece of pizza until I was 18, and his father was equally as picky as a small child.

It’s more surprising that his big sister eats just about everything.  She will try almost anything, and she likes 95% of what she tries.  Her picky phase was short lived.  She was too busy enjoying new tastes to get stuck in a rut.

Not baby brother, though.  He is set in his ways.  Trying new things is not of interest to him, and he would almost always rather be playing than eating.  He has things to….

Please stop by Mommy Moment to continue reading “The Snowball Effect”.

Got a picky eater? (Tips for ending the food battles)

Riley was a dream come true when it came to trying new foods as a toddler.  She loved garlic roasted potatoes, butternut squash risotto, various forms of grilled chicken, and just about any other adult food I put on her high chair.  The more spices, the better.  Then she went to preschool.  Suddenly my good little eater is offended by just about any smell (“Daddy I don’t like the SMELL of that salad!”) and sticks to a few favorites (although she will eat chicken in almost any form and loves steak, so I can’t complain).  And Liam has been hopeless since 18 months.  The boy who once ate a hamburger at a birthday party when he was nine months old is just about the pickiest eater in town.  While Riley will eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, and will try new things as long as they don’t “smell so bad”, Liam won’t even try.  Sean put a very small piece of a sourdough bagel on Liam’s plate this morning.  His response?  “I don’t like this.  No thank you Daddy”.  At least he was polite about it!  It makes life difficult, for sure.  It’s hard to go out to dinner or even to a friend’s house.  I used to pack some of Liam’s favorites whenever we left the house, but I’ve decided it’s time to introduce him to the real world of eating, where sweet potatoes aren’t always on the menu.  I’m not doing him any favors if he learns that mommy always carries his favorite food around for him.  He will eat any fruit you can find, and gobbles up snap peas at an alarming rate.  But other than that he sticks to a fairly consistent routine.  It’s a tough line to draw because he’s only two and I won’t ever let him go hungry, but I want to gently guide him toward making healthier choices in the future.  Sean refused to eat a grilled cheese until he was 11, and even then he ate it at a friend’s house.  I’m prepared for a long road ahead.  Here are the facts:  Many toddlers have sensitive palates, which causes them to stop short of trying new things.  Many toddlers are also weary of textures (Riley still won’t eat oatmeal because it’s to “clumpy”) and will stick to what feels good to them.  Teething and illness can lead to food aversions due to negative associations.  And many preschoolers go through a phase where they decide that they “hate” everything that they loved just one day before. Sometimes preschoolers will only want to eat one color, or stick to a few favorite foods for a while.  This can be the result of asserting their independence (more on control later) or a fear of new things.  The good news is that this behavior usually resolves itself during the fourth year.  Try not to worry too much about it.  Your child is probably eating better than you think, and the parent very rarely wins food battles.  Below are some tips to help you help your picky eater start eating a little more:
1.Take baby steps:  Try to avoid overwhelming your little one with a plate full of new foods.  Try one new item at a time.  Be sure to put a couple of foods on the plate that you know your child likes, that way he can have a good meal and choose whether or not to try to the new food (Liam immediately spied a ravioli on his plate tonight and declared “I don’t want this on my blue car plate”.  A mom can try…).  Keep in mind that it often takes multiple exposures for a child to try and to enjoy a new food.  Keep offering.  And remember, portions should be small for this age group (ex: 2Tbs of pasta or rice).  And ALWAYS model healthy choices.  If they see you eating it, it must be good.
2.Feed when hungry:  Sticking to a fairly structured eating routine ensures that a child will eat enough throughout the day and still feel hungry at meal times.  If your child is grazing on snacks all day, meals will seem inessential to him/her.  I have to cut Liam off from his snacks at a certain time, whether or not he’s finished so that he will want to eat his meals later.  Offer a new item when your child is hungry so that it will seem appealing.  When they’re hungry they are more likely to give it a try.  Again, just offer the one new item (like yummy mango slices) amidst the usual fare for best results.
3.Avoid battles:  I’ve said it before but I will say it again:  The only two things toddlers and preschoolers can truly control in this world is what they eat and when they poop.  Food wars are a losing battle.  Offer them healthy snacks and meals and then step back.  If you keep prompting them to eat they will quickly realize that the lack of eating is driving you nuts and getting your undivided attention.  Try to make meals fun and engaging.  Read a story. We always start dinner by asking, “what was your favorite part of today?”  If they don’t eat, or only eat one thing on the plate, don’t stress.  Some nights Liam barely eats at all, or only eats on the run.  He manages to sleep just as well and then loads up on breakfast the next morning.  Offer a healthy dessert as a reward.  When Riley is going through a phase all I have to say is, “you don’t have to eat your dinner, but if you do you can have some cherries” (or something else tasty) and she’s hooked.
4.Avoid negative associations:  If your child senses your stress level rising with each meal there is the potential for him/her to build up a negative association with eating.  The latest research suggests that eating disorders are being diagnosed more frequently and being seen at much younger ages.  Don’t create food issues by forcing your kids to eat.  Check in with your pediatrician regularly or track down a pediatric nutritionist (for you to consult, not your child) if it makes you feel better.  But keep your stress away from the table.  Trust me on this one, make eating a stress-free activity.
5.Make it fun:  Preschoolers shouldn’t need the gimmicks to get them eating, but they might enjoy the fun along with a younger sibling.  Riley recently ate car shaped pasta with her turkey meatballs in an attempt to get Liam to try some pasta.  He took one lick.  This is a BIG step!  Use large cookie cutters to cut sandwiches into fun shapes.  Add food coloring to make meals fancy.  Have a Fancy Nancy fan on your hands?  Have everyone dress up for dinner…works like a charm!  I usually try to avoid toys at the table, but sometimes Liam will eat something out of the back of a little truck.  Do what you have to do to keep it fun!  Again, make sure you are keeping them engaged in conversation.  Wiggly toddlers won’t last long if you pay no attention to them!
6.Try a food chart:  Print out some blank food charts and let them color in the different sections as they eat the corresponding foods.  Toddlers and preschoolers love to fill out charts!  Get a customized food pyramid chart here: http://www.mypyramid.gov/preschoolers/index.html Riley likes to be reminded of how food helps her.  “Mommy, will I have so much energy after I eat this chicken?  How much did I grow from those snap peas last night?”  Play along, it’s good for them to understand how food fuels our bodies and helps us grow.  Find fun ways to teach kids how to “eat the rainbow” here: http://nutrition.preschoolrock.com/index.php/food-and-nutrition-activities/eat-the-rainbow-preschool-food-game
7.Milk refusal:  This is common when kids are taken off the bottle later or a new sibling arrives on the scene.  Talk to your pediatrician, but kids can get enough calcium, magnesium, potassium, and vitamin D through other foods such as yogurt, reduced fat cheese, calcium fortified orange juice, and possibly some supplements.  Not sure how to get them off the bottle?  Let them choose the sippy cup and keep offering in a very calm, non-stressed way until they accept.  It was about two months between Liam choosing his car cups and declaring “I ready for milk in a big guy cup!”  Let them lead the way, but plant the seed early (like 14-16 months).  If you’ve waited until after two you will have a more difficult transition.  Keep in mind that some kids (Riley) will only drink milk warm.  As long as it’s given well before bedtime and not associated with falling asleep, it’s ok.  You can also consider soymilk or rice milk, but make sure they are fortified and your child gets enough protein during the day.
8.Consider add-ins:  Add some grilled chicken to that macaroni and cheese or a slice of turkey to the grilled cheese.  Sprinkle wheat germ on cereal or yogurt.  Try tofu.  But don’t sweat it if they eat around it.  Just keep trying.  Riley used to pull apart her grilled cheese, remove the turkey, and then put it back together.  Now she loves turkey and cheese sandwiches!
9.Let them have treats:  You enjoy a good dessert once in a while, right?  Try to let your child have a treat here and there just because they can.  Bake cookies.  Go out for ice cream.  Do something fun.  If you completely avoid it they will find it eventually, and then they are likely to go overboard.
Hang in there.  I’m with you on this one.  Picky eaters can lead to a considerable amount of stress in your house if you let them.  But if you step back and let them approach new foods at their own pace, you just might be surprised.  After watching his Mimi make a salad a couple of weeks ago, Liam went over and plucked a tomato from the bowl when she wasn’t looking.  He ate it to mixed reviews and hasn’t asked for one since, but he was proud of his accomplishment…and so was I.  We’re still talking about it!
You tell me.  What lengths have you gone to get your picky eater to eat?


This just in from a girlfriend:  She added mashed bananas to pancakes for her VERY picky eaters and they gobbled them up! Which reminds me, my mom used to add applesauce and cottage cheese to pancakes, and we were none the wiser.  Keep sharing your tips in the comment section!