Thursday, January 16, 2014

My kids eat seaweed

My kids eat seaweed.

Happily devouring Seasnax Toasty Onion seaweed.
Hey guys, want to try some seaweed? I asked. Teagan reached for a piece and Quinn turned her nose up at it. No problem, I told her, giving a piece to T and taking a piece for myself. Teagan devoured it. Quinn was curious. Within minutes, she was happily eating it too. In our defence, Seasnax seaweed is delicious! It is a kid-inspired family company that states on their packaging that their product is "strangely addictive." It is!

People will often tell me that I'm lucky to have kids who "eat everything." I usually just smile and nod. I feel like I'm actually fooling them. My kids weren't born eating everything. They were trained to eat everything. And even then, they technically don't eat everything and love ice cream and cookies, like every kid. It continues to be a work in process. 

Well over a year ago, I read Bringing Up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman. It is the story of an American mother raising her young children in Paris. She talks about the differences in parenting between the French and her American friends and family. She talked quite a bit about the differences in the way that American and French children eat as well. 

French kids weren't born with refined palates, happily willing to eat braised leeks, legumes and any other vegetable put in front of them. Apparently the French believe that children (or anyone for that matter) might need to try a food up to 14 times before they will like it. Since reading that, it has always been in the back of my mind. The French also talk about a child's first encounter with a particular food as being the start of a lifelong relationship. Each experience is part of their culinary education. 

Even the pickiest of eaters can be transformed, but I understand that it isn't easy. Here are a few tips, from my experience as a mom and as a nutritionist, to help transform a picky eater:
  • Make one meal only. I know that this can be really hard if your child only eats bread, cheese and apples right now, so it might need to be a gradual transition. Always have at least one thing per meal that you know your child will eat. 
  • Don't give in. Toddlers won't starve themselves. If your child looks at his plate and refuses to eat a single bite, don't give in and make them something else. This is REALLY hard. I've done it before. He might be starving by lunchtime, but he will learn eventually that he can't control mealtime anymore. 
  • Don't make a big deal about it. When one of my girls refuses to eat, I simply say, OK, and I take the plate away. It is very rare that they don't choose to take the plate back and eat. Don't stress out about your child not eating. Keep meal time happy and enjoyable. 
  • Just one bite. It really did take me about 14 tries to get my girls to eat spinach. I tried making it in different ways. My rule is always, take one bite. Initially, that didn't always happen, but soon enough they started trying it. I've been really consistent with this rule and now, no matter what, they will try everything on their plate.
She finished her entire plate of
  • Eat together. Try to eat one meal per day with your children. Kids are more inclined to eat and try new things if they see their parents doing it. Our girls love when the four of us can sit down for a meal together. 
  • Limit snacking. My kids eat breakfast, lunch, afternoon snack and dinner. In the rare instance that they eat a morning snack, their lunch suffers. With that being said, I don't allow them to go for more than 3-3.5 hours without eating, so if breakfast was eaten early, a snack will likely be given. From a nutrition perspective, snacking is a dangerous habit to get into. 
  • Don't deprive them. I always asked my clients to follow the 80/20 rule. 80% of the time make healthy choices. 20% of the time, eat what you'd like. While my kids eat very healthy, they still get to go for ice cream on a hot day or or eat dessert when we're out. My Mom never had junk in the house when we were growing up, but when we went out or went on vacation, we could eat what we wanted. This is the approach I've chosen for the girls. 
Catering to picky eaters can be stressful and time-consuming, especially for busy parents on the go. Transforming a picky eater isn't an easy task and might end up taking more time in the short-term. It takes great patience and understanding as well. Do it gradually and talk to your child throughout. Stick with it. It can be done!


  1. I agree and I politely disagree. :) I have 5 children all of whom have a completely different relationship with food. I also have kids with sensory disorders and although we are working on is by no means a solution to refuse food or let a child go hungry because he doesn't like the way something feels in his mouth.
    I also know that I have 2 children whom this would work. I could totally force them to eat by refusing snacks or other options.
    And I have mostly 1 and sometimes 2 children who will eat most things.
    You are lucky. by saying that you have trained them is true in a way. but like saying that your child will sit quietly through a 2 hour movie while mine won't because you "trained" him to do just kind of unfair. Or that...your toddler doesn't hit because you don't allow it. Like the other mother is "allowing" her child to hit.
    Hard is right. I wish I could just wave a magic wand so that my kids would eat 100% healthy. (sigh)

    A side story. My aunt was pretty strict about food. She took these same kind of principles to heart with her kids. Her son is married and STILL has a limited palate.
    Who knows.

    I LOVE hearing your suggestions and thoughts. I appreciate your expertise and training. So please know that my disagreement is said out of kindness and personal frustration. :-)

    1. I definitely appreciate the comment and don't take it negatively at all!
      Perhaps my suggestions sound harsh. I'm not suggesting that we starve our children if they don't eat what's in front of them. That's why I suggested always including something that you know your child will eat. For the extremely picky child or a SPD child, changing eating habits might need to be very simple to start -- ie. adding one new food a week and letting them touch and play with it. Admittedly, I don't know much about sensory issues so I don't know how that plays into eating. It is something I should read about.

      I'm not suggesting that children can be trained to eat perfectly healthy 100% of the time. Mine certainly aren't. My kids LOVE ice cream and cookies, like any kid. I know how stressful it can be for parents who have to make 3 different meals 3 times per day because their kids refuse to eat the same things. I wanted to suggest a few things that could help bridge the gap and take some pressure off of mom or dad (or whoever cooks).

      And you're totally right. Nothing is fool-proof (the example of your aunt) and one way isn't going to work for every kid. I've seen that in all walks of parenting twins (as you obviously have too!). But, I'm sure out of my 6 suggestions, at least 1 could work for each child.

      Thanks again for your comment. I always appreciate your honesty.

    2. Oh and I definitely agree that kids are more "trainable" at different things. I am having serious hitting issues right now. It's been so bad that I've had to leave places. I don't allow hitting in our house, but it definitely still happens A LOT!

  2. We thought we had it figured out, following many of the rules you've applied. Then our kid turned 3 and suddenly needed much less food overall. I understand why parents end up capitulating and letting their kid eat anything just so they eat something (I haven't done that, but I get it). My kid now seems to subsist off air and a few carbs most of the time. We don't make a big deal out of it and emphasize the social aspects of meals as well as variety (even in carbs). Then, for a week or two here or there, he'll be ravenous and will eat anything we put in front of him (I then know I need to schedule in some clothes shopping as he'll shoot up an inch overnight). I exploit those windows, making sure what we put in front of him is healthy and expose him to lots of new things during those flexible times. Oy. 3ness. Their sole job is to constantly keep us on our toes!

    1. Yes! Mine go through phases of eating very little as well. Having seen the ravenous sides of them, I often wonder how they're managing to live on so little….but they do! Toddlers just seem to know what they need (like dogs - there are so many similarities). I also find it funny (and frustrating) that they can devour something one day and despise it the next.
      They keep us on our toes for sure!

    2. Oh, the devour/despise cycle! Just when we think we have it figured out! I'm finding that particularly challenging now that we send lunch to preschool. What to pack when you don't know what today's love/hate ratio is? I'd love to hear ideas for packed lunches or sources if you have good ones.

      Kelly (again, sorry I forgot to sign that last comment)