Thoughts on Feeding Kids

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Recently a saleslady at the mall asked what Sisi was munching on in her stroller. Her lunch box had a scoop of egg salad, sharp cheddar, black olives, and sweet potatoes.  A pretty typical lunch in our household.

"Wow, she's so gourmet!"  the lady said.

"Yeah, she loves food!" I replied.

But I was a little puzzled.  Since when is egg salad, cheese, olives and potatoes gourmet?

Sisi's good eating habits rarely evoke a neutral response from others. I seem to get a lot of negativity about it, to be honest. But there are some who are impressed, like the saleslady at the mall, and want to know my "secrets".  That's who this post is for!  These are not secrets really, in fact there is a popular infographic that I pretty much sums it up!

((Before I begin, how much does temperament have to do with our kids' eating habits?  I'm not sure.  I do think Sisi has a pretty compliant personality naturally, so that definitely helps at mealtime.  But believe me, she is a regular toddler with opinions of her own, and tantrums to back them up. I'm not raising a cherub here.  I happen to think a child's food openness is more nurture than nature, but that's just my opinion. Do French kids have some food-appreciation-gene we don't know about, or is their food culture conducive to healthy eating habits?))

1.  Introducing foods.   
We were very intentional about what we first offered her, hoping to stretch her tastebuds from the very beginning.  I actually let Joe take charge of her first solid food adventures because he had done more research than I.  He did a lot of egg yolks mixed with  avocado or breastmilk, sardines, and freshly pureed vegies and fruits. We went easy on fruits because we didn't want her to be accustomed to sweet food.  I thought Nourishing Traditions was a very helpful resource at the time. I wrote an article for Hellobee when Sisi was still a baby that gives a good idea of what she was eating early on, if you're interested.

2.  Watch the sugar and empty carbs!
I heard a piece on NPR about how kids nowadays eat so much sugar and processed food that their tastebuds remain in an infantile state for a long time.  And sugar comes in many "healthy" disguises- fruit snacks, cereals, fruit juice, granola bars, pb&j sandwiches, smoothies, pancakes, even super sugary fruits like bananas which should be eaten sparingly.  Once again, you probably think I'm psycho for saying this, since this stuff is the majority of what toddlers in America exist on.  But humor me here.  This is the amount of sweets Sisi typically consumes in a day:
  • in breakfast mush- 1/8 banana diced, 1 skinny slice of apple diced (just to sweeten it a bit).  
  • in lunch- 1 orange slice or pear slice for dessert.
  • snack- perhaps 1/2 a paleo cookie, or a small handful of dried fruit
  • dinner- sweet potatoes if she's lucky
  • after dinner sweet- tiny handful of frozen blueberries or small piece of 85% chocolate.  
Her carby-sweet intake is probably only 10% of what she eats in a day, and it's never processed white sugar.  It's always eaten with other healthy foods so it is less likely to affect blood sugar. Being gluten-free automatically takes away a lot of the carby-sweet choices out there, which make my job easier.  Why are we this anal about sugar?  
  • Teeth.  Sugar rots your teeth, even natural sugars in fruits.  
  • I believe sugar is very addicting.  There is research out there that shows the same reward centers in the brain are activated when someone does heroine.  I found out through genetic testing that I am particularly susceptible to heroine addiction :/ Coincidence that I am a former sugar addict?  Perhaps, but I would like to spare Sisi that addiction if I can.  
  • Sugar dulls the tastebuds. Even fruit doesn't seem sweet to a sugar addict. I'm hearing more and more dieticians make similar statements, that eating too much sugar stunts a child's ability to appreciate other tastes, like the bitterness in veggies or the savory taste of meat.  I totally believe this because even as a young adult, I was hooked on sugar and carbs and preferred them over every other food.  When I started eating healthier, I could finally enjoy the subtle sweetness of fruits and nuts and even veggies.  
3.  Eat the same stuff.
No kids menus, no "toddler food", she eats what I eat at almost every meal.

4.  Don't manipulate.  
Think of food as a wonderful gift from God, not as an easy way to probe certain behaviors or attitudes out of our kids, because that can backfire big time.

  • No food-related bribes. (Pee in the potty and you'll get m&ms!)
  • No food-related rewards. (You ate your veggies?  Good job!  Now you get a donut as a reward.)
  • No food-related punishment. (You were naughty, so you don't get dessert tonight.)
  •  No eating to distract or to cure boredom.  The only time I break this one is on airplanes.  Even so, I bring healthy foods onboard.  
  • Don't force feed!  My rule is that she must sit with us during meals, but not that she must eat. Chances are, if she hasn't been snacking too much and if I have done a decent job of cooking, she will gladly eat of her own free will.  If she only eats only a little, it's usually pretty healthy stuff that packs a big nutritious punch, so I don't worry about quantity.  I'd rather she eat 2 small sardines than an entire bagel.  
5.  Be prepared. Stock your pantry with healthy foods, pack a balanced lunch the night before, have a meal plan for the week so you're not tempted to say, "Screw it!  Let's just get pizza."  It helps that Sisi eats the same breakfast every day (the aforementioned morning mush), and has since she was an infant.  One less meal to worry about.

6.  Limit snacks! This one is wildly important.  It will cure most food related tantrums. As the French say, "Hunger is the best sauce!"  Being a bit hungry between meals isn't a bad thing.  It will just make them more excited about mealtime and willing to try new things.  This is a hard one, too.  When Sisi was nursing, I seriously whipped out the boob whenever she so much as whimpered.  It was the easiest way to calm her down, but it led to a vicious snacking cycle and she was nursing as often as 14 times a day at 5 months old.  I was exhausted and so over it.  I am glad I learned then that waiting between meals is best for baby, and best for everyone.  

My final note:  I understand that many busy moms will read this and think they don't have the time and energy to devote to changing their kids' eating habits.  But here is my thought- how many minutes or hours per week do you spend battling and negotiating and pleading with your kids about food? Just redirect that time and energy into making a plan.  We established a healthy eating plan for our family, and it took some getting used to.  But now, I never have to  worry or think about what  Sisi's eating.  Eating is just a fun and carefree part of life, as it should be!


sk April 8, 2014 at 10:57 AM  

GREAT post. Our daughter is similar-- she's 19 months and actually your blog has really helped shape the way we feed her! When I read about you raising a Paleo Baby I sent the post to my husband and he got on board very quickly. I read the French book you're referencing here, and while I don't agree with everything french parents do (we lean more attachment-style over here), I love this list of reminders about food. It's our philosophy at the table too! We also love the Super Nutrition for Babies book (traditional foods ideas) and are following those guidelines more than strict paleo, because we do give her raw milk and cultured dairy/butter. And she does eat more fruit & sweet potatoes than Sisi, which I would like to cut down on. We probably will introduce some soaked/sprouted grains to her diet after she turns 2, but we have been SO happy with the results so far of avoiding grains and sugar. It is really a non-issue! Which makes me wonder why so many parents let their babies eat so much sugar. It's not doing them any favors! She doesn't know sugar (refined sugar) exists and is perfectly happy with her food. She truly enjoys sardines, eggs, steamed vegetables, etc. We, too, get some serious flak from others about her diet. Some of her grandparents are visibly crestfallen every time we say "no, she can't have a cookie" or something similar :) And at birthday parties we just distract her while everyone eats cake, and other parents act like we are denying her joy just because we aren't choosing to poison the well with sugar so early! If she's anything like me, she'll have a lifelong battle with sugar, so I'm not interested in starting that prematurely :) At any rate, thanks for this post. And as a mom who works full-time outside the home (and dad does too) I'm here to say it can be done! You can feed your baby in a nourishing way and still get stuff done!

Kristin @ Petal and Thorn April 8, 2014 at 1:45 PM  

@sk- thank you for your comment! super encouraging. sounds like you are raising a little "gourmet" too! so many people told me that once sisi became a toddler, it would be much harder to stick to the diet. i haven't really found that (yet.) one thing is i have to be sure to bring a special paleo treat to bday parties while the other kids are eating cake, but if you can distract your little one, more power to you! i hope you'll write a blog post about being a full-time mom and planning all the meals out. that seems daunting, but i'm so glad to know it's possible!

Kristin @ Petal and Thorn April 8, 2014 at 1:50 PM  

@sk, also, i think i'm not super strict paleo either. sisi gets goat keffir, some yogurt, some creme fraiche, lots of grassfed butter. you know, all the good stuff :))

Cynthia May 6, 2014 at 12:20 PM  

Just discovered your blog through Heart of Light. I love it! Thanks for sharing your life. I especially love your paleo posts/minimal living posts. :)

Anonymous,  May 29, 2014 at 12:56 AM  

Hi Kristen

I have a paleo toddler and he loves to eat! He has been curious about packaged foods that he sees his cousins eating. He will be going to preschool soon, and I know he will want to eat what other kids have. The school provides snack and I plan to send him paleo lunches, do you have any suggestions for me on keeping him on paleo when he is not with me? Or do I accept that he will end up eating processed foods at school? I worry that he won't want paleo food once he tries the sugar and gluten snacks at school.

Kristin @ Petal and Thorn May 29, 2014 at 3:43 PM  

@ jennifer i, i totally understand your worry. i hope to do a post about keeping kids paleo while sending them out into the world. for sisi, she knows as a rule that we don't eat things with "bread" or "sugar" in them (there are of course very rare exceptions). i've been explaining this since she was little, since everywhere we go- church, playdates, family functions- there is non-paleo stuff there to tempt her. she has accepted it as fact. at church, she automatically knows she cannot have the cake and cookies and crackers, but she can have the fruits and veggies. if i do send her to preschool or school, i will contact the teacher and explain that sisi has a "food intolerance" to gluten and sugar, and hope that the teacher will cooperate. i imagine there will be lots of kids at school who have some sort of food restrictions, so the teachers must know how to handle it i think. if it were me, i'd send her to school with a homemade snack, and not let her partake of the processed stuff. you hit it right on the head- the paleo stuff will definitely not taste as yummy after a sugary processed snack. some will probably think i'm extreme, but i will do almost anything to protect her diet. great question! thanks!

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