As the co-founder of a healthy children’s food company, I am often asked what I feed my kids and how I deal with typical issues such as pickiness, requests for too many snacks etc. Funny thing is that I totally do not have this feeding children thing under control…at all! I often ask other people for advice and spend countless hours reading blogs and nutrition articles for ideas on how to do it. This was all much easier when my oldest (twins) were young toddlers, but once they hit the big 3, it was an entirely new world, for all of us. My son suddenly hated oatmeal, my daughter suddenly hated eggs, they both hated cooked carrots, but would eat them raw. They started complaining about food while it was still in the process of being cooked by entering the kitchen and making comments such as “that smells yucky!” and “what’s that yucky poo poo smell?”. Nothing like a toddlers sarcasm, while you’re trying to simultaneously care for three kids under 4 and cook a meal, to throw you over the edge.
The past year has certainly presented itself with more food/feeding challenges than I was expecting, but I have learned a lot and now that they are about to turn four, it seems like we may have weathered the worst of the storm (well, at least that’s I hope). Here’s what I do to stay sane.
1. Though I said I would never ever ever do this, I have made different foods for one meal. I don’t do it often, but my son really dislikes oatmeal now, he has actually gagged when I asked him to taste “just one spoon” recently. Though, my daughter loves it and could eat it everyday. So, there have been days where I feed two kids oatmeal and let the oatmeal-hater have a yogurt and a banana. This was the only way to feed 2/3 of my kids oatmeal and prevent one from throwing up, soooo, I went for it.
2. I talk to them often about the food they eat, why they need it, what it does for their bodies etc. I have found that while they are still unable to make the best decisions (ie. if given the choice between salmon and a lollipop for dinner, they would choose the latter), they are aware and do question things more, like what is cotton candy made of and why is it blue.
3. Dips are my friend. There is nothing like a dip to get kids excited about eating, so I use them often in order to get the job done. I will cut an apple and serve with strawberry yogurt in a cute cup, cut a carrot into thin straws and serve with hummus or guacamole, I have even allowed them to put whip cream (organic only) from that crazy can on a bowl of berries, and they were over the moon. It.works.everytime.
4. Though this sounds illogical, I do not use dessert or treats as reward for eating the healthy stuff. I want to. I really do. But all the research advises against it, so I have just trusted it and so far, it’s been ok. We have had dinners where my daughter has eaten two spoons of pasta for and is suddenly “sooo full she can’t eat another bite”, and while I may ask her to try to eat a little more so that her belly is not hungry at bedtime, I never threaten her with dessert; and even if she doesn’t eat any more, I still let her have dessert if she wants it (and she usually does). I was afraid that this would become a habit and she would cease eating dinner and only eat dessert, but that has never happened. The very next day, she ate her entire meal.
5. Soup is also my friend. My kids are definitely not the pickiest eaters I have seen, but they (like most kids) have cut back on the list of the vegetables that they will eat in their whole form. Soup allows me provide a variety of vegetables in a way the avoids texture and consistency issues. I try to use seasonal vegetables and change it up every week so they a good variety, ie. butternut squash & kale; beets and sweet potato; cauliflower and corn. I also add lentils to every soup I make in order to boost the fiber and protein.
6. Pestos – Pestos are a great alternative to traditional tomato sauce and you can make them easily with a variety of greens to pack them with nutrition. Typically, I heat some olive oil in a pan, add a few cloves of garlic, add my greens (collard greens, kale, spinach, chard…whatever you prefer) and cook for 5-7 minutes. I then place that mixture in a blender, add 1/4 parmesan, some walnuts or pine nuts and puree. If too thick, I add chicken stock. Pesto freezes really well too.
7. Baked goods – I am a much better cook than a baker. I really didn’t bake much pre-kids, but now I bake weekly. Kids love sweets and baking them at home allows me to control the sugar and boost the nutrition. I add chia/hemp/flax seeds to nearly everything, including pancakes. I replace white flour with whole wheat pastry flour, cut the sugar by at least 1/4 and replace any oil with coconut. I feel much better about giving them a homemade chocolate chip banana muffin for dessert than anything store bought.
8. Tomato Sauce – Kids love tomato sauce and I always try to make super nutritious by adding pureed lentils. It boosts fiber, protein and adds folate and many other vitamins. If I am extra desperate for vegetable consumption that week, I also add pureed spinach…both are completely undetectable.
9. Mac & Cheese – I always have Annie’s Organic mac and cheese on hand for a quick fix. I make it healthier by adding either frozen chopped broccoli or pureed winter squash (Cascadian Farms).