Today, we are excited to share this post by fellow blogger, etsy shop owner, and nutritionist: Megan Birkel. Megan is mama to her sweet toddler Olivia. Like many other mothers, she struggles daily to get her picky toddler to eat healthy foods. With her expertise as a nutritionist, she has some really valuable tips and advice for fellow mamas who are in the same boat. Megan will be sharing more posts in the near future about nourishment for toddlers. We are excited to have her!
One of the most glamorous parts of motherhood (besides the obvious diaper duties, snot patrol, etc.) is feeding those little ones and picking up the mess they leave behind. Except when they decide to stop eating.
Inevitably all kids are going to go through picky eating stages (this is usually at its worst during toddler and preschool age) and honestly, it’s not been my favorite time.
All mothers obviously want to give their kids the best and that definitely includes a nutritious diet. So when your toddler goes on a hunger strike, it’s unsettling and hard to know what to do. I’ve got a few pieces of advice from my own experience both as a Nutritionist and as a mother (to a currently hunger striking 20 month old) and hopefully you’ll find something in these 5 tips that you can add to your tool box to help you get through this exasperating time!
I have a hard time with this one, but honestly, pushing your kids to eat when they clearly don’t want to will only backfire. Toddlers are independent little buggers and choosing when/when not to eat is a way of asserting their newfound autonomy and it’s ok to let them do so. All you can do is continue to offer a variety of foods and they’ll decide when to eat.Let them have their own set of utensils and use it as messily as they want. It’s important for them to develop their own competencies around eating and that includes a giant mess, even if they’re just playing with their pasta. You can also include them in food prep and let them “help”. They love that and they just might pop a bite or two in their own mouths.One of the most reassuring things I tell myself when I’m feeling like she’ll never eat again, is that toddlers truly eat when they’re hungry. They haven’t figured out emotional eating yet, they clearly aren’t dieting, so they’ll eat when they’re hungry. Deep breath.
2. Stick to a schedule.
I have to admit that putting her in and then out, and then in and then out again, of the highchair isn’t my favorite, but it’s important. Yes, they want their independence and it’s ok to give them some, but it’s also important to maintain some structure. Sitting them at the table for each meal signals that it is time to eat. A common reason for the toddler hunger strike is that they are too busy/having too much fun to stop and eat. They just don’t want to slow down and sitting them in the highchair (and sitting with them) helps them make that shift. You can try saying “I know you want to keep playing, and as soon as we have a snack, we can go play again”. They might just throw their food and not eat a bite and that’s ok, but it will eventually reinforce that the highchair/booster is meal time and when they’re ready, they’ll eat.
3. Try not to assign “good” and “bad” labels.
Should kids have donuts every day? Well, no. But, but, it’s ok for them to have a donut hole once in a while. We get Liv a donut hole every Saturday and she loves it. This is just my personal stance, but I don’t believe in good or bad foods. I know there are foods that are higher in calories and fat, and foods that promote wellness, but all food is meant to be enjoyed and assigning a “bad” label to foods will only associate feelings of guilt with that food and that’s really not great down the road. It’s important to teach kids how to balance and moderate and that starts with exposing them to, and letting them, have all kinds of foods.
Olivia will eat green beans (the only vegetable she’ll eat at this time) with the same zest as she will a french fry, and I like to think that it’s due in part, to not knowing that one is “good” and the other “bad”. Don’t we all want what we think we can’t have?
4. When you’re desperate, a calorie is a calorie.
This ties in with number 3. If it’s been a couple days and Liv’s only logged 6 bites of food (this happens all the time), I’m not going to be picky about what she eats. Oh, you’ll eat a piece of pizza? Great. I’ll give you some avocado or carrots on the side, but if you ignore them, that’s ok. They’re available and at least they’re getting the calories their busy little bodies desperately need. I make smoothies a lot and I load those things up with as many fruits (and often veggies) as I can because she loves smoothies and it’s a great way to get some calories and nutrition into her, so feel free to play around with smoothie recipes. You can add some almond butter to increase the calorie content if you feel like it’s necessary.
5. Role Model
Kids are like little sponges and it’s our responsibility as parents to teach them about a variety of things, including eating. Showing them that you’re eating a variety of foods while sitting at the table for mealtimes will promote the same behavior on their part….eventually. Give her some cereal on her own and she won’t eat it. Give her some and sit her next to Gigi? Game on.
Bottom line: keep offering lots of foods, try to relax, and those kids will eat. I think sometimes we feel that our childrens’ well rounded eating habits are direct reflections of our parenting abilities, but it just isn’t so. Kids can be picky, that’s ok, and you’re still a good mother.
Thank you Megan for sharing your expertise with us today, we know that many people will benefit from your advice and are glad you shared!