Monday, February 11, 2008

Nutrition for Toddlers

“Toasties” are the kids’ name for my latest—and one of my greatest—culinary feats. These are created as follows: melt a bit of butter in nonstick skillet, break egg into saucepan and cook on both sides. Then the final step (my secret weapon) is sprinkle shredded light mozzarella on the top side… then, after melting the cheese a little, flip the cheese side down and press with spatula until the cheese is lightly toasted. Serve warm with cheese side on top. The end result is a thin egg patty concealed by a crispy, flaky layer of toasted cheese, with very little obvious “eggy” consistency or flavor. What’s not to like about that? And when my children devoured 3 each of these at lunch one day along with their usual dose of fruit, I was congratulating myself as the mom of the year for the rest of the afternoon. (Kids’ day to day acceptance of nutritious foods can really make or break a young mom’s confidence!) They’ve been eating toasties on and off ever since that glorious day.

Nutrition for busy, picky toddlers is a continuing struggle for me. They eat nothing green… in fact, they eat vegetables and chicken rarely if ever. Their diet is pretty simple: lots of dairy, lots of fruit, whole grain bread and cereals, some lean red meat, and OH SO MUCH natural PB and J. We don’t snack or drink much juice or else meals are ruined. This is very kid-typical and nothing to balk at, but I would like to add some variety.

So I’m asking for suggestions. If your children are good eaters, really good for you. Pat yourself on the back and go puree some pumpkin and avocado for tomorrow’s breakfast shakes. If they’re not, please help me. What are your tricks for smuggling in wholesome, varied foods or preparing them so that toddlers and young kids may entertain the idea of eating them? Especially veggies, meat, legumes, eggs. Here are some parameters:
(1) Nastiness factor: I’m not looking at using my extra-sour-curdled-unsweetened homemade organic yogurt as a vessel for smuggling in chopped spinach and broccoli (ahem, Texas Mommy/Mrs. Incredible). This needs to be palatable for non-superkids, not just Dash Incredible who would rather eat flaxseeds than M&Ms.
(2) Ease factor: “Toasties” take 4 minutes start to finish, and there’s almost no cleanup. Cooking is a means to an end around here, not a hobby.

A related question: how far do you go in catering to your kids’ tastes to get them to eat, especially at family dinner time? I think Red is more of the school where, if they don’t eat it for dinner, nothing else is offered, and then they see it again for breakfast. Her kids are great eaters. Maybe I need to get tougher. We offer them what we’re eating, but if (when) they don’t go for it, I usually offer other healthy, limited options like cheese, yogurt, cereal and fruit to supplement. Do you think supplementing with other options encourages them to remain picky because they know something else will be offered? I sure don’t like putting my tenth percentile kids to bed on an empty stomach!


k said...

Great post. Love the blog so far, which is saying something considering the fact that I am not catholic or actually a practicing anything right now. But I do love Alice and being a Princeton gal myself I appreciate all of your thoughtful, well-written, insights into motherhood, no matter what path we are choosing.

Now onto nutrition. My guy has always struggled with food and has always been a super skinny baby and toddler. This causes me loads of mommy guilt and has basically made me abandoned all my idealistic visions of meals as well as all of my discipline and resolve at sticking to mealtime rules (like eat what we are eating or don't eat).

Similar to Alice's suggestion (over at her blog) of Kefir & OJ, we do "smoothies" which consist of milk, plain yogurt, and some form of baby food in a sippy cup--shake shake shake. This started when he would eat nothing and the baby food was usually bananas or apples, but now I find that if we are having a veggie thin week I can stick in sweet potato or peas with some banana and he doesn't really care. My guy doesn't even eat fruit besides apples so we are sneaking that in as well.

I know there is a more official smoothie recipe in one of the Dr. Sears' books that my friend swears by, it involves frozen blueberries, peanut butter, flaxseeds, and some other stuff, but I am too lazy to use the blender most days.

I can sneak loads of veggies in with soup, oddly soup is ok with my guy as long as it is not chunky (immersion blender). Just made a great broccoli soup from rachel ray--he ate tons of it and it was 30 minute meal.

Also he will eat the Amy's Spinach pizza because the spinach is all pureed up as a pesto. Oh and he will sometimes eat pesto and pasta so I am experimenting with spinach pesto and other leafy green pesto.

Oddly he will eat spinach in risotto?

Any night we have mac & cheese I throw in baby food carrots or peas or sweet potatoes.

Oh and when I say baby food--I mean jarred. And no, he would never eat baby food when he was a baby, and still won't touch it now--it has to be hiding!

On the meat front, Rachel Ray again has some nice chicken and turkey croquette recipes that are easy & somehow in that form my guy always eats a ton of them (he eats straight up chicken too, but never as much as he does the croquettes)--they are baked, dipped in egg, and I usually toss some wheat germ in the bread crumbs. Again these are easy to make.

I have recipes if you want, but I'm sure you could find them on her website.

We also eat loads of hummus, I thin it with more olive oil and we dip Snyder's Honey Wheat pretzels in it all the time for a snack or part of lunch.

Ok so now this is long and I have probably admitted to being way too lazy and consuming way too much processed foods. But hopefully one of these ideas will be helpful! And I can't wait to see other ideas because desperately could use more as well (love the toasties).

Kat said...

Fun post, Juris Mater :)

In our household, we've recently witnessed a miracle: C, who will be 4 in April, has finally started eating willingly, and has even been known to utter the words, "Mommy, I'm hungry, can I have some more please?" Wow, music to our ears!

From the day that I introduced solids, C was a reluctant eater. It seemed like I tried everything, but I'm not sure that I was persistent enough, who knows. He has always loved any form of milk, and of course all of the usual "kid-favorites" that you mentioned (minus the PB & J). But for the longest time, he was not at all interested in meat, veggies, and a whole host of other foods.

For us, it seems like 3/3.5 years old was a turning point in C's eating habits. I think that part of it is that he's just HUNGRIER now than he was before and realizes that he needs to eat more food! He's also gotten over a lot of the major milestones - walking, talking, potty training - and is starting to take more responsibility for taking care of himself. I remember Mary Alice talking about something similar happening with PT around this age, and it always gave me hope - now I see that it's really true! I think that at a younger age, he was just so focused on whatever was happening in his life at that time that he wasn't very interested in sitting down to eat. We always seemed to have better luck feeding him in the car seat than at home in his high chair. Now he sees that eating is an important part of his day, and he's usually willing to sit down with us for a good meal.

A couple silly tips:

To get C to eat veggies, ET came up with the idea of being the "Jolly Green Giant" who would eat C's veggies if he didn't get to them first. Miraculously, this worked and C gobbled up his broccoli one night, realized that he actually liked it, and has been eating it ever since. Since then, I've just kept trying the veggies, and now he'll eat a few more. He seems more willing to try new foods now than he was at an earlier age.

Another tip: We do a lot of "storytelling" during dinner - it keeps C sitting at the table because he is engaged in the conversation, and our storytelling is contingent upon him continuing to eat his dinner.

In terms of meat, we started out with chicken nuggets that were in shapes (dinos, veggie tales) and for some reason, this got him to eat them. Now we've worked our way up to eating plain chicken and other meats but again, this is a recent development.

I think that it's important to remember that at this age, there is a BIG difference between a pre-3 year old and a pre-4 year old, or even a 3 year-old and a 3.5 year-old. So much maturing can happen in such a short period of time! Also, each child's personality is so different, so development happens at different points.

In terms of whether or not to offer other foods at dinnertime, I don't have a great answer. We've done it both ways...Now that C is older, we typically go by the rule that if he doesn't like what is served, dinner is over. At a younger age, I usually served him something that I knew he would be likely to eat and saved the "new stuff" for earlier in the day, when he wasn't as tired/cranky. Even then, he often wouldn't eat much of anything. Praise God for milk and vitamins!

B-Mama said...

Great suggestions by all! Our little M is also quite picky, but mainly on the meat/main course front. Occasionally we'll get a winner with foods like "pizza chicken", aka Chicken Parmesan and he'll eat a ton, but that has only started happening in the last few months and is not a guarantee every time.

He's also recently taken to turkey and loves a particular mesquite brand from the deli. How did we get him to start eating it? Well, it wasn't us who introduced it! M and my dad "Pappy" were together at the grocery store and lo and behold, he was eating turkey. I think he is more open to food when it is given to him by others!! (And thinking back, I was too and loved meals at friends' houses that I never ate at home!)

For him I think a lot of his eating issues revolve around stubbornness. :) Gotta love that iron will! Thankfully, for a majority of his youth, he's been open to quesadillas, where I can hide any and everything amidst cheese. He usually goes along with these pretty willingly...

Last thought--Danielle Bean posted on picky eaters awhile back and had well over a 100 responses. One mother of 10(!) wrote in that none of her children ate meat until they were 4. Boy was that wonderful to read!! Sounds like Kat is finding the same to be true!

Texas Mommy said...

Last night Dash was eating homemade mac and cheese with broccoli and started picking out all of the broccoli to eat, and they begged for more broccoli. I looked at Mr. Incredible and said, "Is this normal?" Jack-Jack, you'll be happy to hear, picked out the broccoli and threw it on the floor.

When Dash, our resident homemade-sour-yougart-and-spinach eater liked everything I patted myself on the back and thought I was a pretty stellar mom. Ha! Kids tates are so different. My jaw literally hit the floor when the mom of one of Dash's buddies could not get him to eat a COOKIE! He just does not like to eat.

I love to cook, which I think has rubbed off on Dash. I love having him help me in the kitchen. Granted, he has always eaten veggies, but maybe try letting your kiddos rinse the veggies in the collander and be involved with cooking. Or cut some chicken into strips and let them dip it into flour, egg and crushed up cereal to make chicken fingers. Then let them squirt the condiments. Make a big deal about presenting their food to PhDad. Maybe they will be so proud they'll eat it too!

Interestingly enough, I just came across an article today in Bon Appetit called, "Why is it so hard to get kids to eat their vegetables?" Much is attributed to the American diet. In China, veggies are on the plate 3 meals a day. The idea of hiding veggies in kids' food from a young age has a negative effect, argues the author. He also says preparation and balance are lacking in American veggies. I'll see if I can find a link.

Try more sauteeing (the process helps to carmelize the natural sugars and makes everything sweeter). Use sauces, salt, butter, etc. I add shallots and bacon or sausage to green beans, etc. I liked K's ideas about blending so much (Immersion blenders are a blessing when it comes to clean up!) because sometime getting over texture issues is a big part of the problem.

I fed Dash rice cereal exactly one time, tasted it, and vowed never to feed it to him again. From then on it was avocados and fresh veggies and fruits. Whole grains were mixed in as well. If I won't eat it, I won't make my kids eat it. That said, I am fairly tough. My 100 percentile boys can't make it between meals without a snack, so they have only healthy options available. Since they are always starving, they take what's available.

We also love beans in our house. Great, soft finger food even for the little guys with tons of fiber and protein, a great snack. I rinse canned black beans then add a little olive oil, some cumin, salt and pepper, and lime juice. Sometimes I add corn, which the boys also like. Refried beans are also a huge hit. And beans are cheap.

But, my suggestions may be meaningless until they emerge from picky eater phases!

I think eating and cooking are about taste and togetherness not just filling your belly to get on to something else(something I learned both growing up and living in Italy). I love the idea of trying to cultivate family meal time as much as possible in our busy, fast-food world.

Right Said Red said...

Great topic Juris Mater and great replies. Kat--I love that you make sitting at the table fun with stories, what a great idea. Texas Mommy, I agree so much with your thoughts on food, and I think involving the kids in meal preparation is so important for them, particularly when it comes to trying new things!

Some background things about my kids before I begin. Gianna is generally a very good eater and is in the 25th percentile for weight. Charlie is not a very good eater (very picky!) and is in the 50th percentile for weight.

I am no expert, but here is my approach to children's eating:

1. I do not offer snacks. 3 meals is more than enough for most children, and I find that snacks only mess with a child's eating schedule. A child doesn't have to eat lunch if he knows pretzels or fruit will be offered regularly a hour or two later. (I make an exception when we are traveling or otherwise off our schedule).

2. If you are having trouble getting your child to eat veggies, serve them at more than 1 meal per day. More often, not less, helps.

3. Serve a kid the food they are least likely to eat/enjoy first. For example, Gianna doesn't enjoy meat very much and Charlie struggles to eat his veggies. I serve Gianna meat first (5-6 small bite size pieces), and likewise for Charlie with a green veggie. If they eat their first course, Gianna gets her veggies and Charlie gets his meat. Only after meat and veggies have been eaten do I serve carbs. Why? Because even if the carb is healthy, like brown rice, my children will only eat the rice and nothing else. Kids crave carbs, so serve them last to increase the odds that kids will eat their meat and veggies.

4. If a child doesn't eat, don't stress. Most kids only eat 1 good meal per day (so says my doctor). Stress or pressure with regards to food rubs off on kids and makes things a power struggle. If a child doesn't want to eat, make it a simple missed meal, not a battle. I give 1 or 2 warnings, "dinner will be over if you don't eat soon." Then I say, "ok, dinner is over, go wash your hands." The child doesn't get fed again until the next meal. If the meal is dinner, I will usually give them another chance to eat their dinner (same plate of food) an hour later. , so they do not go to bed hungry. If they choose not to eat, I do serve that same food again for the next meal (this doesn't usually work for breakfast foods!)

5. No dessert for kids who do not eat their dinner. I find that dessert is a great motivator in our home, not to mention this instills the value in my kids that you only eat sweets after a good meal (a good lifetime plan for sweets).

6. Kids will always have some likes/dislikes, and this is fine and reasonable. It is not reasonable, for example, to refuse to eat veggies, or all green veggies. I will accept, however, that a particular child doesn't like brocolli, but will eat peas and green beans.

7. Offer a food at least 10 times before you determine that a child doesn't like the food. Most parents quit after 3-4 tries and determine the child doesn't like the food. On average, it takes a toddler/child 10 times of being offered the food before they will try it/like it. Don't give up too quickly.

8. Don't talk about how "so and so" doesn't like "x" or "y", as this only instills the "value" of disliking a certain food in a child. Most kids will even grow out of likes/dislikes with time, but talking about it makes it a permanent memory and they will be more likely to refuse to eat that food later in life.

9. Try to limit the amount of pre-perpared/packaged foods your child consumes. Unnatural textures (even in baby food) make children picky eaters and make them dislike the natural/rougher texture of raw and "slow" food.

10. Make mealtime an important part of the family day--don't make such a busy schedule for yourself that stopping for fast food (or heating up a pre-prepared dinner) is essential to accomplish all of your daily tasks. The pallet needs to be formed just like a child's morals--and good nutrition is an important "life skill."

Final thought--don't expect your kids to eat anything you wouldn't eat yourself--and this includes veggies without salt, I salt my food, so my kids can salt their food!

sixandthecity said...

Merry loves spinach and mushrooms sauteed with braggs aminos, and i have to admit that i like almost all veggies better if they are sauteed in olive oil with garlic and a little sprinkle of braggs at the end.

PT is 6. He has always been a picky eater but I now require that he eat what he is served. I do this not just for nutrition or learning to like something but because I think that as a young adult you must be able to go to smoeones home for a meal and eat at least some of whatever is served, even if it is the thing that you hate most.

Merry, who is very socially aware, has a great tip for this -- put it on your fork with something that you do like, and have a big sip of milk right after, then you can eat anything.

Growing up, apple sauce could make even the toughest pork chop palatable.

I have learned from Red not to offer snacks, it was a rough few days (we went cold turkey on snacks this summer), but it had a great effect on the way they eat. I serve all the food at the same time, but have begun to require that you eat everything before you have seconds of anything -- no more rice until you eat your chicken, etc.

I have read alot about how we don't do a good job in American cooking of making fruits and vegetables palatable -- overcooked unseasoned broccoli is the pits! A yummy salad dressing and some craisins or nuts tossed in can make baby spinach a treat.

We got this fruit bouquet once and my kids loved eating the fruit lollipops, they have never eaten so much melon! I was thinking that from now on all new foods should be offered on a stick!

My three year olds love to cut up their own bananas into "pennies" -- this is easy to do with a plastic knife, and they like their apples cut into bite sized pieces.

I do not remove skin from fruit! This is a personal rule. Also, Len just got John to eat all of the crusts of his bread by telling him to close his eyes and then magically turning it into "uncrusty" and feeding it to him!

PT makes his own bread (in the bread machine) and stirs in flax seeds and wheat germ -- and everyone devours it, warm with pumpkin butter, apple butter or jam.