I post “what Elle’s eating” on Instagram stories all the time and I have so many mamas ask me how I get our almost 3 years old to eat all that nutritious food. A great question and one I think countless parents are asking these days.
Since we have so many newly developed “kid” and “baby” foods on the market, I see so many parents turning to these foods as the “norm”. Kids don’t want to touch veggies and beg for the baby puffs, sugary cereals and mac and cheese they’re being served regularly...it’s just what kids eat, right!?
Of course kiddos love foods that are artificially flavored and perfectly designed to meet their palate’s every desire (hello super smart and crafty food scientists). The sad thing is that our little ones are suffering because of these foods and the ingredients they include.
The struggle is real.
Sure, I’m a Dietitian Nutritionist so it’s really no option for my kiddos to eat the junk, but the more I learn, the more I realize just how simple the whole “feeding littles” thing is. We complicate it significantly.
Actually, it’s a really similar conversation to the whole “feeding adults” controversy we’ve been up against for years. I am constantly telling my clients, “Just eat real, whole foods.”
It’s pretty simple when we take a step back from calories and diet this and diet that and get back to the root of the issue. Processed food is making us fat, sick and quite unhappy.
So I preach real food. To just about anyone who will listen. Sustainably raised meat, poultry and wild fish, organic veggies and fruits, nuts and seeds, real butter and whole unprocessed raw dairy, avocado and the like.
And you know what mama, feeding our little humans is really no different.
They, of all age groups, need nourishment from real, whole foods like no one else. Their bodies are rapidly growing, changing, developing, learning, moving, etc. They need whole forms of protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and water so they not only grow properly, but thrive.
I know you get it, you’re no dummy, but that doesn’t mean you don’t struggle to nourish your little one.
And because I see this struggle with just about every parent I come in contact with, I’ve put together my top 3 tips to get baby started on the right path and 3 tips to help with that little picky eater.
Top 3 Tips to Start Baby Off Right
Start with real food.
Right off the bat. Some of the best “first foods” for baby are organic avocado, frozen grated liver, soft boiled egg yolks from pastured chickens, soup stock, vegetables braised in stock/broth and stewed, pureed fruits (always with a little healthy fat like ghee or coconut oil). Not rice cereal. If you start them off with a variety of whole foods, you’re setting their palate (and bodies, of course) on the right path and keeping your chances of bringing up a picky eater at a minimum.
Avoid puffs, cereals and processed grain-based foods.
Babies are “functionally grain intolerant” as Dr. Katherine Erlich, MD puts it in my favorite book on feeding littles titled, Super Nutrition for Babies. Babies don’t begin making the enzymes to break down grains until around one year of age and aren’t fully enzyme equipped until around age 3. For this reason, I highly recommend avoiding processed grains all together and when baby hits one year, offering properly prepared grain dish
Focus on the fats.
Babies need plenty of fat and cholesterol for their rapidly developing little bodies and brains and I fear this is a nutrient many babies are missing in their diets today (fats are rarely found in pouches and other pre-made baby foods or even homemade blends). Saturated fats from organic, sustainably raised animals and animal fats help with nutrient absorption from foods, proper brain development, lung and heart tissue health, provide antimicrobial powers in the gut and so much more. Cholesterol, found in these same types of foods, is a healing agent and is necessary to protect cellular health, the nervous system, brain function and is critical for digestive health and intestinal wall integrity (no thank you leaky gut!), among other things.
Fats are also incredibly satisfying and will help to keep baby satisfied and their blood sugar stable (aka their mood!). Ensure baby is getting plenty of healthy fats each day by serving cooked fruits and vegetables with ghee or coconut oil up to 10 months of age when you can also add grass-fed butter as a fat option. Also include plenty of healthy sources of animal proteins and fats, preferably from sustainably raised meat, poultry and wild fish.
Top 3 Tips to Nourish Picky Eaters
Monkey see, monkey do.
Be an example to your littles, they’re watching you (ok, creeeepy!). You have such a huge job in growing up a good eater and being a good eater yourself is powerful in this respect. Practice trying new foods together, avoid using negative words or phrases around food like, “yuck” or “that’s gross”, and sit down together at the dinner table. Eating as a family can be a great way for your little ones to see what a good eater YOU are!
Many of us come from a childhood filled with the same “kid” foods we’re trying to keep out of our little one’s bodies (Lord knows this is part of my story) and often times we don’t quite know how to eat well ourselves. This is a journey sweet mama (or daddy!) and remember that we need the good food too.
Involve your little one in gardening, farmer’s markets and meal prep.
Don’t you feel empowered when someone you look up to asks you for a hand? Our little ones feel the same when we allow them to touch, feel, stir, scrape, and scoop along with us. I love to encourage my daughter to smell the spices we’re throwing in the bowl together, taste the different ingredients we’re using and touch the different textures. It’s not always easy to include them (I am so type-A when it comes to my kitchen and cooking), but this is a powerful way to open them up to the food world and encourage them to try new things.
Out of sight, out of mind.
Growing up I was a super picky eater, but when I look back, I do believe it was in large part because I always knew I had a different option than the “healthy” meal that was on my plate. Enter cereal. If I didn’t want to eat what was served, I didn’t have to. I was always given another option, like cereal, mac and cheese or another “kid-friendly” food. If you don’t keep the processed kid food and other junk foods in the house, there isn’t a temptation to eat it or offer it. For you and for your little one.
In our home, we employ the “if you don’t want to eat your dinner, that’s fine, but this is what you’ll get when you’re hungry again.” Elle has learned that most of the time, it’s better to just eat it while its warm than go back to it later. It can be challenging, of course, to not just give her some yogurt or another healthy option I know she’ll fill up on, but we’re laying down a precedence that she’s understanding quite well.
Offer “friendly” foods.
With that being said, try to always have an item or two that you know your little one likes and then rotate new foods in every week. It can take up to 20 tries for your kiddo to finally choose to willingly scarf down a food. Introducing new flavors during the first few years of life is one of the very best ways to ensure you grow up an adventurous eater.
Keep in mind that as your little one’s nutrient needs shift, taste buds change, and their will to be the boss stretches, you’ll need to practice patience mama. Remember that every meal is an opportunity to nourish, but sometimes life happens. Give yourself grace and take steps forward day by day.
Our perfect little eater has recently started playing with turning down foods she loved the day before, especially when we’re out of the house. What do I do? I say something like, “Elle, this is what we’re eating for lunch. If you choose not to eat now, that’s OK, but we are not eating a snack or anything after this.” Sometimes she eats up, sometimes she chooses to go hungry for a little while. This phase has been short lived as she’s learned we mean business.
I do believe that choosing to nourish your little one is truly one of the most important gifts you can give your child because it will affect them for life. Don’t lose heart, it will be challenging as you go against the grain of what our society says is normal, but it will pay off.
You got this!