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Is Your Child A Proud Member of The Picky Eaters Club?

Written by Melissa Arca, MD., FAAP – This post appeared originally on Dr. Arca’s blog Confessions of a Doctor Mom. Dr. Arca is a pediatrician. She works part-time while raising her two young children, Big Brother (age 6) and Little Sister (age 3). She is passionate about writing and writing about motherhood, parenting, and children’s health is what she does best. Dr. Arca blogs regularly at Confessions of a Dr. Mom

Having a picky eater seems to be the norm these days. I’d almost dare to say that children between the ages of 2-7 more often than not wind up in the picky eater category.

Why oh why the sharp jump in membership of The Picky Eaters Club during this time? Researchers believe it could be evolutionary. That way young “cave toddlers” wouldn’t walk around tasting every potentially dangerous thing in sight. Can you imagine? Still, there are far more factors involved here: genetics, personality, and family eating habits to name a few.

My son is no exception. He is a proud card carrying member of The Picky Eaters Club and I am a reluctant member by association, trying to sway my son in another direction.

It all began at the ripe old age of 2. Previously my baby boy would gobble anything placed before him: peas, squash, avocados, blueberries, you name it. I was proud as could be, snapping up pictures of his cherub face smothered in green bean puree.

Then at the age of 2, it was like a switch was turned off (or on, depending on how you look at it), and he was suddenly suspicious of everything that was placed before him.

Pancakes, orange juice, and chocolate milk seemed like the only foods acceptable to his new found sensitive taste buds.

This sent me in a crazy spin for awhile. I wondered what I had done. Certainly I must have caused this sudden disdain for all things considered healthy. I was convinced it was because I introduced bananas first. Or, that I failed to introduce the veggies in the proper order.

Worse yet, I figured I must be missing the magic mommy touch. You know, I didn’t have the finesse to cajole, coerce. or otherwise threaten bribe my child to eat well.

I know (now) that none of that is true. He is five now and I finally took a step back and realized there is only so much I can do. I can’t force feed the kid.

Although I admit, the thought had crossed my mind. I finally made a mental list of the things I could do and stuck to those. The rest is up to him and his discerning palate.

I continue to offer him his daily dose of veggies. All I ask is that he give them a try. It’s up to him whether or not he eats the rest. Did you know it can take up to 10-15 times of being offered a new food before a child will try it? Except, in my son’s case, it’s more like a 100 times…I’m still waiting.

He’s old enough to understand that his body requires a balanced diet. We talk to him about needing protein, fiber, and the good vitamins found in fruit and veggies.

He gets it. Hopefully one day it will sink in enough to not gag at the mere sight of broccoli.

Getting upset at him because he won’t eat the peas on his plate won’t make him want to eat those peas. He knows that he must taste them. Then, we move on. No long drawn out bribing session. We do encourage and praise his efforts though.

I have to admit I still do modify his meals somewhat. If we’re having spaghetti and meat sauce, he gets plain spaghetti with Parmesan cheese and a side of chicken. This is a kid who used to scarf down spaghetti and meat sauce at 18 months old…and yes we have a picture of that too!

Him being a picky eater has nothing to do with my mothering ability. Thankfully my daughter taught me this. At age 3, she is a much more adventurous eater and will gladly eat carrots, broccoli, edamame, and tomato soup. I can’t take credit for that either. Just the luck of the draw really.

I remind myself to look at the big picture. Instead of dissecting what he eats at each meal, I look at how he eats over the course of the week. Some days are better than others but overall, I am usually surprised to discover that he covers most of the dietary bases.

He continues to broaden his food horizons over time. It’s not overnight and I give him a multi vitamin to fill in the gaps. I hope someday he will allow a green vegetable past the obligatory “no thank you” bite. However, I am confident that his membership in The Picky Eaters Club is not lifelong.

So my fellow reluctant members of The Picky Eaters Club, take heart, it won’t last forever. I promise. One day you’ll wake up and find your formerly picky eater can’t get enough of your famous beef stew with peas and carrots.

Are you dealing with your own picky eater? Have you found ways to enjoy mealtime in spite of it?

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How to get your child to eat vegetables

Written by Jesse Hackell MD

Let me start by saying that I am not of the belief that the job of a parent is to FORCE a child to eat any particular food. Attempts to do so usually result in mealtimes which are unpleasant and stressful for both parents and children, and negate any attempts to have family meal times as a time of sharing and interaction.

That said, we all know that children are often picky in their accepted food choices, and that they do not always cooperate in eating the variety and selection of foods which we, as parents and physicians, would like. There is no dispute that a child’s diet should include fruits and vegetables, for many reasons: These foods provide vitamins lacking in other foods, they contain fiber which is needed for normal intestinal function, and they are generally lower in calories than processed foods, while still providing the same feelings of fullness, and thus may help to change the continuing trend towards childhood obesity.

Getting your child to accept and eat vegetables is a lifelong process, starting when the very first foods other than breast milk or formula are presented (it could even be suggested that breast-fed infants are introduced to vegetables through the maternal diet, knowing as we do that maternal intake does contribute to the taste and quality of the milk, but that is a different topic.)

There has recently been a change in what is recommended as first foods for infants. In the past, processed single grain cereals were the starting food, followed by the addition of vegetables and fruits. Now, however, researchers believe that the order in which foods are introduced to an infant makes little difference in eventual food tolerance. Thus it would make sense to introduce a child to foods such as vegetables which are both less processed and less sweet than other foods, and to let the child learn that these tastes (and some vegetables certainly do have strong flavors!) are just a natural part of eating. Adding whole grain baby cereals, as opposed to processed white cereals, further introduces stronger flavors, and makes them a part of the child’s diet from the start, and might well lead to better acceptance in the future.

As your child gets older, individual preferences become stronger. We can hope that early exposure might make this transition a non-issue, but that is not always the case. So we need to have techniques to make vegetables more palatable to toddlers and older children as well.

Many vegetables benefit from brief cooking, which softens them and make them more readily manageable by toddlers. Offering cooked or frozen and reheated pieces of many vegetables, such as carrots, will make them easy to handle for your children from their first attempts at self-feeding. And the nutritional value of these vegetables is far greater than the ubiquitous “puffs” of carbohydrates so often given to young children. Later, cooked and cooled broccoli spears, asparagus and carrots can be offered as a snack. Some children like to “dip” their vegetables in some sort of sauce, and I would suggest the use of plain balsamic vinegar as opposed to the common ranch dressing, which has far more fat and calories. For a child who will not eat a traditional tossed salad, vegetables and dip is a good prelude to dinner, and often can satisfy a hungry child home from school or play for long enough to enable the entire family to eat dinner together.

I do not believe that we need to “trick” our children, or disguise vegetables so they do not know that they are eating them, as so many people (such as “The Sneaky Chef”) are advocating. Nonetheless, common foods can and should be made with added vegetables, to benefit every member of the family. One favorite includes the use of vegetables in any dish made from ground meat—meat loaf, burgers, tacos or meatballs, for example. Using one pound of any ground meat (beef, veal, pork or turkey), take one cup of shredded carrots, one cup of shredded broccoli stalks (having steamed and cooled the florets for use with a dip), and one cup of shredded onion. Saute these in a little olive oil til soft, and mix with the meat, adding an egg if desired to hold things together. Add some bread crumbs, or even better, some rolled oats (not the instant variety), to add soluble fiber and beta glucans, which are thought to help control cholesterol, and form into a loaf, patties or balls, and cook as usual. The vegetables add moisture to the meat, as well as fiber to the diet, and they make the meat stretch further. You can also use chopped spinach or chopped artichoke hearts, which do not even need sautéing. Top with a tomato sauce, also prepared with added vegetables, for even more benefits.

I think the key here is to start doing this from the very first time your child eats these foods. Get them used to the fact that meatloaf simply has these flecks of orange and green in it, and they will not question the presence of the vegetables when they find them. If it becomes second nature for you to incorporate vegetables in everything you prepare, it will become second nature for your children to eat them as well.

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Introduction to Solids – 6 Myths

Written by Natasha Burgert MD

 

At the 6-month check up, nearly all of my patient families want to talk about starting their babies on solid food. The conversations usually start like this…

“I go get all of Gerber stage 1 foods and then do all the greens, then the yellows, then the fruit. After she eats all of the stage 1 foods, then she goes on to stage 2, right?”

Or this…

“I have gone to the farmer’s market and bought all organic produce to make his baby food. I am following the [insert name here] recipe book that I got from a friend, and their baby is such a great eater. Do you think bulgar wheat or quinoa is better?”

Or this…

“I have already given some rice porridge with scrambled egg, and some broth with root vegetables. Can I start tofu now?”

As these real-life conversations demonstrate, the plan and expectation for introducing solid food to babies is different for every family. The food items that parents first feed children is influenced more by culture and generational upbringing, than by any scientific research or product marketing plan.

And, that’s OK! In fact, it’s wonderfully liberating news for parents who are really stressed out about first foods.

So, what are my general guidelines when it comes to starting infants on solid foods?

  • I encourage the families of healthy, normally-developing children* to start solids near or after 6 months of age.
  • I want parents to give babies a great variety of real food, in a safe way.
  • I think of pureed foods as practice and play to develop the skill of eating; nutrition is still from breast milk or formula.
  • I try to challenge my families to think outside of the Gerber-defined box and give babies interesting tastes, but no raw honey until after the first birthday.
  • That’s it. Go. Eat.

Wait a minute…. There has to be more. What about the rule about veggies first? Babies can’t have dairy, right? What about spicy stuff? They aren’t supposed to have strawberries or oranges, either!? My mom wanted to give her yogurt, and I told her “no.” Please don’t tell me she is right!?! And you have said nothing about rice cereal.

OK, so maybe there is a little bit more. But, likely not what you expect. When continuing the food conversation with families, some common myths creep to the surface.

It’s tIme to bust some common “starting solid food myths” … for good!

Myth #1: Rice cereal must be first.

Rice cereal has traditionally been the first food for babies in the United States for generations. But, why rice cereal? It is convenient – easy to obtain and easy to feed. Baby cereal is also fortified with iron and other nutrients. This promoted as a benefit for those infants who need some supplemental vitamins and minerals in their diet. Click here for information about iron recommendations for infants.

Giving rice cereal as a first food is under active debate. Specifically, Dr. Alan Greene is noted for starting a “White Out Now” movement. He encourages families to feed infants whole, natural first foods instead of rice cereal.

Dr. Greene discusses how the food industry has marketed and advertised to parents so heavily, the industry has created doubts in our minds regarding what is best to feed babies. We, as parents, start to believe that the healthy foods that we eat are not “good enough” for our babies.

Dr. Greene’s is also concerned that rice cereal primes infants to crave only carbohydrate-rich foods, contributing to the obesity epidemic. Other physicians have debated his theory,but I think his general concern for the quality of first foods is worth notice.

For the first few months of eating solids, an infant’s nutrition is still based upon the healthy calories given by breast milk and formula. That allows pureed foods of all forms to be first foods, as they have for centuries.

Expand beyond the rice cereal “default”. What about some pureed red meat as a first food? What about whole grain cereal, oatmeal, or a pureed fruit or veggie? Maybe, something you have in the fridge? (see #2)

Myth #2: Making baby food is hard (A.K.A. I don’t have time to make baby food.)

I hear this a lot; mainly from parents whose only experience with baby food making is observing a few moms with fancy baby-food makers, complicated recipe books, and bags of locally-sourced organic ingredients. This “all-in” approach to pureed food making can seem overwhelming and unreachable.

But, let me offer a suggestion…

In my clinical experience and personal experience, the earlier you get your baby eating the healthy meals that you provide your family (in a safe, modified way), the better they will eat as toddlers. So, I challenge all my families to try to make some first food… simply.

I do not talk about making baby food with the claims that it is of greater superiority to jarred baby food. There are some great commercial baby foods on the shelves today. But, babies have survived for many years before infant food was available in aisle 4B of the grocery store; and I think only offering what a food company can put in a jar is actually quite limiting to a baby’s early taste experiences.

To make baby food, you need soft foods (fruits, veggies, whole grains, meats), a little water, and a machine to puree. The machine could be a food mill, a blender/food processor, or a strong arm with a fork. Voila! Simple as that. I bet there is something in your kitchen right now that you could whip up for baby. Last night’s grilled chicken breast? Leftover green beans? Melon? Avocado?

As a working parent, I certainly bought prepared baby food. But, I made a lot of food for my infant, too. For me, it was easy, cheap, quick, and just part of the routine.

So, I challenge you to try to make some of your baby’s first tastes. Experiment and have fun! Decrease your family’s food cost, decrease shipping and packaging waste, and increase the palatable options for your baby to try.

Myth #3: Starting solids will help my baby sleep through the night.

Nope. It doesn’t.

Starting foods too early may actually have some negative consequence including obesity, food allergy, and decreased sleep!

Yikes!

Currently, it is recommended that first foods should be started around 6 months of age. This age is preferred for both the developmental ability of an infant to take food off a spoon, in addition to decreasing the risk of food-associated allergies and obesity.

Eating solid foods is a developmental skill, not a way to “fill baby up” to sleep longer. So don’t let this myth determine when you start solid food.

Myth #4: Greens, then yellows, then oranges.

There is no evidence to suggest that if you offer baby fruits first, she will never eat veggies. Regardless of what order food is introduced, kids (and adults!) will always prefer sweeter-tasting food items. Offer your baby foods of all colors of the rainbow, in no specific order.

Myth #5: My baby can’t really have the food that I am eating.

I think the origin of this myth/concern stems from parents knowing the kind of diet they have. Feeding our children is often an examination of what we, as parents, feed ourselves.

If a parent’s diet consists of fast food, takeout, and late-night snacks then the thought of feeding baby exactly what you eat is ridiculous. Agreed. But, if you are not willing to feed what you eat to your baby, maybe it’s time to think about the nutrition and healthy eating choices for the entire family.

If a family eats a healthy, well-rounded diet then the concept of offering baby what you eat is not such a scary idea. Make healthy, positive food choices, include your baby, and see the long-term benefits for the whole family.

Myth #6: Oh, no.. baby can’t have that.

Currently, for healthy babies who are not in a family with significant food intolerance and allergies, the only thing babies under the age of 12 months cannot have is raw honey. Honey may contain harmful botulism spores that could make small babies very ill.

That’s it.

The research regarding introducing solid foods is actively changing. This means the foods that have been traditionally restricted until later in toddlerhood (eggs, shellfish, peanut butter) are no longer on the “Do Not Have” list. In fact, some recent data suggests that delaying the introduction of high-allergy foods (shell fish, nuts, eggs) actually increases the risk of developing a food allergy.

Other studies do not show an increase in allergic disease by starting allergenic foods early. In addition, adding dairy sources (cheeses, yogurt) and animal proteins (meat, chicken, pork, fish) can be added at any time.

Expand the box. Think about your own diet, and what you want your kids to eat. What is acceptable for your family, your culture? Don’t let Gerber or Earth’s Best or [insert baby food company here] make those definitions for you.

Your baby just might surprise you… mine certainly did. Within a very short period of time, my 8-month old son’s favorite food was my husband’s recipe for chili (pureed) – extra spicy!

Have fun!

Dr. Burgert is a pediatrician. She works at Pediatrics Associates in Kansas City, MO .  She is a distance runner and enjoys road races around the city. She also has a passion for travel that will certainly lead to many memorable family vacations with her husband and two children. And, of course, she bleeds Husker red. Dr. Burgert regularly blogs at kckidsdoc.com

* Starting solid foods may be very different for children with a significant personal or family history of allergies, milk intolerance, or skin issues. It may be very different if a sibling had challenges with foods. It certainly will be unique if a child is not growing correctly. If your child has any of these issues, or you have specific concerns about your child, please ask your pediatrician for guidance.