Let Them Play

I am an adult dietitian. I’m not an expert in child nutrition…at all. So far I have one semi-picky child and two boys who eat just about anything you set in front of them. Like these dudes genuinely enjoy eating. I have pictures to prove the joy they get out of eating/playing. Is it a fluke? Maybe. Maybe not. Just last month I went to a conference and heard a speaker talk about eating behaviors in children. Letting children play with food can actually make them less picky. Seriously, no one wants a picky eater. So maybe letting them play can actually encourage them to eat better, healthier.

Because I have 2 kids who eat just about everything and one who eats fair (there are many frustrating meals and also some good ones thrown in there), I’ve learned that the oldest child is definitely the experimental one (I was the oldest too). Kids following the first may have a significant advantage! HAH! All kidding aside here’s what I see between my kiddos in how I fed them/allow them to eat. This may be the key to lessen picky eating…or it could just be a coincidence? Eh either way it’s worth a shot to try!

With my daughter I was going to do everything “perfect”. First-time parent syndrome. I was going to be the perfect dietitian-mom. All organic, low sugar, homemade everything, no fast food, etc. etc. etc. blah blah blah. Yep I was one of those. I made all of her food for the first 2 years of her life. Seriously. Day care provided lunch but I packed hers. I spoon fed her (obviously) when she was a baby. She never got very messy when she ate…at all. Despite my best efforts I made the same few foods over and over and over and over again because, as a working mom, I could only do so much.

The boys are a different story all together. They are rainbow babies and after a high risk pregnancy my outlook on raising children changed a little…and they aren’t my first AND there are 2 of them. I ain’t got time to be perfect! 😉 Besides watching their dairy intake, (they have an allergy) those dudes eat whatever.  I let them eat with their hands mainly because I can’t feed them fast enough before they go ballistic so I let them have-at-it. They are 17 months old and have eaten everything from sauerkraut to Thai food to salads and even spicy chili.

This is a Thai cabbage salad the boys devoured!

Meals are messy and, although clean up isn’t awesome, they enjoy eating. Surprisingly more goes into their belly than their highchairs or the floor. They feel their food, squish it, pick it up, pinch it, scoop it, lick it, taste it, and enjoy it. Would I have let my daughter do this? No. Should I have? Maybe.

 
Recently I started inviting my daughter to help me cook and it has worked wonders! She has tried everything she makes and is excited about new recipes, baking, and helping me prepare the food. It’s awesome! She’s playing, learning, trying, tasting, and expanding her palate!

So my conclusion is: let kids play with their food. No matter the age! There are researched benefits to allowing babies, children, and teens play and cook with food…it’s not just me 🙂

  1. Let babies explore food. Feel it, squish, mold, pinch, pick up, lick it, and smear it all up.
  2. Give toddlers a spoon and even if they have a difficult time, let them try to hit their mouth!
  3. Let pre-schoolers start to help in the kitchen.
  4. Kids can begin to help meal planning (and continue to help cook).
  5. Older kids can meal plan and cook simple meals.
  6. Teens can take over in the kitchen! Let them plan, try new cooking techniques, and find recipes.

Check out this great website for kids cooking by ages.

Other great tips:

  1. There is no such thing as “kid foods”. They can eat whatever adults eat…seriously.
  2. You are not a short order cook. What you make for dinner, the family should eat (outside of a food allergy).
  3. Kids do not need to clean their plates but they should taste everything on their plate.
  4. Even if they don’t want to eat everything, taking a “thank you bite” gives your child the opportunity to try the food without the pressure of eating it all. Thank you bites are shown as gratitude for the cook.
  5. Let your kids have foods they like too! Make your kids a meal they truly enjoy once in a while shows them you do know what they like. For instance, macaroni and cheese as their starch or having pizza night (with a veggie of course)!

 

Parenting isn’t about being perfect, it’s about doing your best and knowing what’s best for your children. My daughter probably won’t be picky for the rest of her life (many times it is a power struggle not necessarily the food itself). There are many picky eating “fixes” out there. Try them but don’t make yourself crazy. I hope this helps for some of you out there.

Calories don’t exist on your birthday and other things I want you to know

With all the fixes and diets and guilt about food there are some things I want you to know about eating to simplify your life. These are just a few things I’ve picked out from a list a mile long, but are my favorite. Enjoy!

  1. Calories do not count on your birthday. It’s your birthday! Just celebrate another year of life that God gave you! Go out to eat, get what you want most (not what has the least amount of calories), and for the love of food, eat cake or pie or ice cream or whatever gets you going for your birthday. Celebrate! Now, the days before and the days after should be like any other day but on your day, stop worrying and seize the moment!
  2. Be picky about what you eat. Listen, if you don’t like something don’t waste your calories on it. Seriously. There’s nothing less satisfying than eating a dull rendition of food just to eat it. Yuck. I don’t care if that bran cereal has 25% of your daily fiber needs if it is gross, get your fiber from somewhere else throughout your day. Similarly if its really high in calories but tastes bad, don’t waste those calories!
  3. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. If the diets you’ve been on in the past do not lead to life long weight loss THEY DON’T WORK. Sure they help you lose weight temporarily but if it is not feasible enough for you to stick with it for the rest of your life, it wasn’t a good diet and it didn’t work. An overall healthy diet, that is feasible for you to do for the rest of your life, is the secret to well-being.
  4. Choose one thing about your diet to change at a time. Instead of saying “I’m starting my healthy diet today” and doing a complete 180 revamp, just choose one change to focus on and stick with it. Once you have that down, move on to your next goal. Work on each goal for about 1 week until you feel confident that you can put something else on your plate. Having 3-4 changes in a month instead of 10 changes all at once is a lot easier to chew on. I call that the diet snowball or the nutrition snow ball. I don’t take all the credit, my husband coined the term 🙂
  5. Find what is motivating you from the inside. So you want to eat better. So what? What are you wanting from your diet? What about a better diet is important to you? It probably has nothing to do with diet and everything to do with what you find important in your life. THAT will keep you motivated. Write it down and put it in places where you will see it. Refrigerator, dashboard, computer at work, bathroom mirror, or make it the wallpaper on your phone.

A healthy diet or lifestyle isn’t about a bunch of rules, it’s about what works for you for the rest of your life. Change should be gradual. Start with what you want, make small changes to get to your goals, make sure your changes are feasible to continue for the rest of your life, don’t eat just to eat, and for the love of food just enjoy your birthday without worrying about calories!

Final thoughts: fad diets, exercise programs that “sell” nutrition, and people who claim to be experts are the quint-essential food rule makers. RED FLAGS!

Challenge – set a small goal for yourself this week. Want to drink more water? Pick an amount to strive towards. Want to eat breakfast instead of skipping it? Find something you enjoy eating (my personal favorite is hard boiled eggs!). Want to fit in more veggies? Start by having a serving for lunch and for dinner. Before you know it you’ll be a master at the change you’ve made and can start making more!