It’s time for the weekly FAQ post with your feeding questions! Have a question you’d like me to answer next week? Post it in the comments or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q: As a mom, how do you stay motivated and find the energy to prepare dinner, lunches, etc, when a picky eater rejects new food? I find myself consistently falling back on the kids’ favorites because I figure “at least they’re eating something!”. It’s especially frustrating because I have a picky husband who won’t eat leftovers and tends to eat cereal most nights. It’s not my cooking, honest!
If you can stack the deck in their favor, you won’t have to make them a separate meal. Here are the strategies that I use in my house so that we always (or almost always!) eat the same family dinner.
1. Include foods you know they like. Now, this doesn’t mean that you only serve foods they like, but you can surround a familiar food with less familiar ones as a way to ease them into trying new things. Which is to say, try not to serve an entire meal of newness. So maybe that means pasta and red sauce with roasted broccoli or another new veggie on the side. Or grilled cheese made on a whole grain bread that they haven’t had before. Or stir fry with their favorite rice or noodles and a new veggie in the mix. Ease them in. Sure, they might pick out the offensive foods, but at least they will have something to eat and you won’t become a short order cook.
2. Think family style. I don’t often serve an entire meal family style, but I do almost always include at least one thing on a shared plate. Often it’s sliced fruit or veggies—like the green beans and sliced egg above—and I’ve found that this drastically improves the little one’s disposition at the table since she gets to control part of the meal in terms of what she chooses to put onto her plate.
3. Provide a few extra options. Unless we’re cleaning up leftovers, we always have the same family dinner. But that doesn’t mean that’s what’s on each of our plates is literally the same. If I know that one of the items that I’ve made might be a tough sell with the little one, I give her other options in her meal. On a recent night I made grits with shredded zucchini and I knew I had a 50/50 chance that she’d try them. She didn’t but I’d put out a bowl of white beans and some yogurt for her to eat with the parts of the dinner that she did like (sausage and green beans) and everyone was happy. When we have enchiladas, I usually have mine on a bed of spinach and the girl has hers with extra salsa. If we have yogurt and granola, she gets honey on top and I sprinkle on coconut. Customization is key!
(I also think you need to have a really frank conversation with your husband about how his habits are affecting family meals and creating a lot more work for you. The kids are watching what he’s doing and it’s certainly not helping. Maybe he can help plan the meals so his preferences are being met too? Isn’t marriage fun?!)
–>Further reading: Last week’s post about family-style meals / The Benefits of Family-Style Meals
Q: How do you encourage your little ones to stay at the table to eat and not run off to play with toys, the dog, etc?
Strap them down! Kidding (sort of). Toddlers are notoriously distractable, which is a blessing and a curse. But at mealtimes, it can be especially frustrating. First, I’d make sure to limit snacks 2 hours before a meal and serve only water in between to make sure they are actually hungry. Second, keep meals short. If they start playing, end the meal, plain and simple. I say, “It looks like you’re starting to play, so we’re going to get up from the table.” If you do that consistently enough, they will learn that they need to eat first and play second. (Or you will at least know what your plan is.) But also, toddlers have small stomachs so they might fill up quickly and really just be done sooner than you are expecting. And they aren’t as interested in talking about our days as we adults are. Third, try (as much as is possible) to have everyone sit down together so that the focus is on the table. And while we don’t do this at home, but at my daughter’s school they sing the “Open Shut Them” song when they sit down at the table which signals that it’s mealtime. So perhaps instituting a little ritual as soon as everyone is at the table could help!
Further reading–> 10 Tips for Happy Meal Times / 5 Reasons Your Toddler Does Not Sit at the Table for Dinner
Q: I have a one year old who chose the BLW route and enjoyed trying new foods. She was never a big eater but loved her fruits & veggies (didn’t eat fish, chicken or meat) until the day she turned one and overnight just went on a food strike 🙁 she eats only 1/3rd of an egg for breakfast, isn’t loving her fruits and veggies and just wouldn’t sit in her chair anymore! Too distracted to eat! And she hates purées. I just don’t know how to get some food into her as she’s so petite. She’s EBF and doesn’t take whole milk either though I keep trying.
Since you said that everything was okay at her 12 month check up, I’d try a few things. First, though, is she teething? Because that can mess everything up! If not:
1. Try feeding her breakfast before nursing, or delay breakfast for an hour or two after nursing to let her build up an appetite. She simply might not be hungry—and her growth might have slowed down from when she was younger—for real food after she gets a belly full of breastmilk.
2. If she’s getting distracted at the table (seems like a theme this week!) try serving smaller meals more often and ending them as soon as she starts playing. See the question above for more.
3. Let her feed herself as much as possible with foods that are easy to hold—roasted sweet potatoes, meatballs, little sandwiches, roasted chickpeas, cheese, little muffins, toast, pancakes, soups or mashed foods in reusable pouches, popsicles—and help in prepping meals if possible. Give her the chance to peel her own clementine (start it about halfway, then let her finish it) or peel a banana. Let her help you stir together some yogurt and jam. Involving her a little in meal prep might inspire her to taste more foods in the process—and it might also be fun!
–> Further reading: Appetite Slump in Toddlers
Q: Do you ever use nutritional yeast? I just picked some up for my 13 month old who has to go dairy free, hoping it will add a cheesy quality to dishes, but I don’t really know how to use it!
I have not ever used it, but I know many vegans who swear by it! It’s high in B vitamins, it has complete protein, a
nd a little iron. Folks seem to like the kind from Bragg’s and I’ve most often seen it used exactly like you’d use Parmesan cheese or shredded cheese since it has a cheesy, nutty flavor. So try it sprinkled over pasta, rice and beans, over eggs, bean soups, over peas (or corn, or carrots, or any other veggie, really!), in place of Parmesan in pesto, to make vegan mac and cheese, and more.
–>Further reading: Check out this list from Whole Foods / This article from Natural Health.