I am so excited and pleased to introduce all my sTORIbook readers to one of my fave bloggers, Nina, from Sleeping Should be Easy. If you are a parent and have never read Sleeping Should be Easy, add her to your subscription list now – trust me. I’m so grateful that I stumbled across Nina’s blog soon after I had Luke because I can’t tell you how much of a resource she has been to me. Nina is such a talented writer. She takes her experiences as a mother and captures them in her blog with such honesty and truly relates to the reader.
I am honored that she has agreed to do a blog post on something that is very important to me for Toddler Luke – healthy eating habits. To visit Sleeping Should be Easy click here.
Healthy Eating Habits
By: Nina from Sleeping Should be Easy
This past weekend, my two-year-old tasted chocolate for the first time. Sure, he had eaten pastries and baked goods before, but chocolate would be new. I was adamant about avoiding sweets and processed food for the longest time—anything from the obvious culprits like fast food and hard candy to the more innocuous ones like homemade treats that grandma made. A part of me was scared that he would morph into a sweets-only toddler boy that would shun all healthy food the minute his mouth bit into that chocolate chip cookie.
Thankfully, that didn’t happen. In fact, he still loves his fruits and vegetables, and even “adult food” such as the orzo pasta with tomato and blue cheese he just ate for dinner. I’ve been lucky: at an age when most toddlers, even the ones who used to eat anything, suddenly drop their healthy staples in preference for particular favorites, mine continues to indulge in wholesome food.
I’m willing to bet that part of it is his personality—that part I can’t control. But I’d also like to think that certain habits can help promote healthy eating in toddlers right from the start, including:
1. Serve and eat healthy food yourself.
Okay, I admit that I still sneak in a bowl of ice cream when the little guy is down for the night, but for the most part, we all eat the same food. Kids are more likely to model the behavior they see, particularly from their parents. By creating a regular habit of serving and eating healthy food that the whole family eats, toddlers seem more likely to follow suit rather than request their own special meal.
2. Serve food with something your toddler enjoys.
Sometimes when I know that my toddler isn’t likely to wolf down a particular meal, I’ll include his favorites so that at least he has something busy to feed himself with. For instance, I didn’t think he would much like a meal that included sun-dried tomatoes and jarred artichoke hearts; I just figured that the combination might be too salty or pickled for him. So while I handed him or even spoon-fed him his main meal, he munched on a side of cherries.
3. Offer a variety of meals.
When every week consists of ground beef—in hamburgers, pasta, or casseroles—convincing your toddler to give salmon a chance may pose a challenge. Instead, look for a variety of meals to try, from meat to seafood as well as salads and grains.
4. Don’t give up on the “denied” food.
Along the same lines, just because your toddler was ready to splat that spinach soup on the floor the first time you offered it to him, don’t get discouraged and cross spinach off your list just yet. Consider including the ingredient in another meal, or even serve the same soup a few days or weeks down the line. I remember thinking my toddler would forever refuse rice, cheese and eggs because he didn’t like them at first try. Instead, every time I happened to have rice, I would offer him a bit until he eventually took to all three.
5. Don’t force the issue.
Family mealtimes can often be some of the most chaotic. I remember when my toddler suddenly refused to eat when he had been so willing to try anything before that. We were arguing when I scooped a bit of the meal into his opened and crying mouth. Sure, he ate, but I’m willing to bet he didn’t feel good about it at all. I’ve since done my best not to repeat that again, as I would rather he enjoy mealtimes than associate them with power issues.
6. Keep mealtimes positive.
Similarly, make mealtimes fun and enjoyable. Family dinners are often the only times everyone can sit down to talk about their day. Kids can quickly learn that mealtimes aren’t simply about eating but about connecting with their families.
7. Let your toddler eat at his own pace and capacity.
It’s tempting to convince picky eaters to take just one more bite after they’ve already said they’re full. Shoot, I do the same with my not-so-picky eater because I’m just in disbelief that he could even refuse food. But we need to respect our kids’ pace and capacity to eat. Let him take his good old time, and don’t force more food onto his plate if he says he’s finished.
8. Include him in your shopping trips, particularly the farmers market.
Like our girl Tori, I’m a huge fan of farmers markets (well, most of the time). My toddler is able to see fresh food sold on the stands as well as other people buying the same healthy food he’ll be eating too. Your toddler can even help pick out an ingredient to cook with, or help place items in your bags or shopping carts.
9. Involve him with cooking and prepping.
Sometimes I pre-chop food and ask him to help scoop the bits into a bowl, or he pretend-cooks alongside me. You can also ask him to help put his utensils and napkins on the table. By involving kids in the kitchen, they’re more likely to eat the healthy food that they invested their efforts into.
10. Treats are okay, especially if you make them together.
I finally consented to offer my toddler his first ever taste of chocolate because we baked a batch of cookies together. He helped stir and mix the batter and eagerly watched the balls of dough rise inside the oven. Kids will likely associate treats with a ton of effort rather than something that simply came out of a bag at the grocery store.
When I handed my toddler his chocolate chip cookie, I feared the worst: that he would gobble it up in a second, ask for more, or worse, come to expect it at each snack time. Instead, he did the opposite—he savored each bite so slowly that I swear it took him a half hour to eat that one cookie. Nor did he ask for more when he finished, and he hasn’t mentioned the word “cookie” since then.
I’d like to think that he has a well-balanced view of all kinds of food. His first few years of eating healthy food has hopefully painted a positive picture of whole foods, while introducing sweets did little to steer him from his usual healthy meals. With a foundation and appreciation for good food and fun company, I’d like to think that he’ll continue to eat his orzo pasta and spinach soup… even with an occasional cookie on the side.
How do you promote healthy eating habits with your kids? What are some of their favorite healthy meals and snacks?
This is my sTORI being written as you read. – Love, Mommy Tori