Avoiding pitfalls in raising a healthy eater: Part 1

Over the past year, our foodie toddler has grown into a preschooler, and, while I don’t want to label him as picky (and by most standards, he isn’t!), he has been making his preferences known a bit more.

These days . . .
Legumes, which are an important part of our animal-product-light diet, are often a tough sell, unless we’re talking chickpeas or black-eyed peas.  Now, I love both chickpeas and black-eyed peas, but I don’t want to eat them every day.  Variety is important — each type of legume has a unique flavor, texture, and nutrient profile.

While he’ll eat 100% whole wheat pasta and bread (homemade, with lots of crunchy things in it!) until the cows come home, during meals where we serve non-wheat grains, like rice or millet, you’d think the kid was on the Paleo diet.

On the plus side, he’s pretty into almost any and all vegetables, and he is usually willing to try new things (and sometimes he surprises me by being into new things that I’m not-so-into, like the okonomiyaki).

Little by little, we’ve started allowing a few small sweets into his diet, but figuring out the balance is tricky.  We don’t have dessert every night, but we do like to bake, and sometimes it’s fun to share a bit of something special.  While I don’t want dessert to be a reward or bribe for eating a “good” meal, I’m also disinclined to offer him a cookie when he’s barely touched his dinner.

Avoiding food fights
In many ways, I felt like we were doing all the right things.  Offering a wide variety of nutrient-dense, wholesome foods — check.  Making one meal / he eats what we eat (no short-order cooking) — check.  Not using food as a reward or bribe — check.

But I also felt myself sliding into some not-so-great patterns, such as encouraging “just one more bite,” as well as my own overly-concerned response and frustration to what he was or wasn’t eating.

I sought some expert help, and found this post on the Raise Healthy Eaters blog, written by Maryann Jacobsen, RD.  While numbers 8 and 10 on Jacobsen’s “10 Things You Should Never Say to Your Child About Food” list are not issues around here, I recognized some form of most of the other comments as things I’d said (and often regretted as it was coming out of my mouth), not often, but more often than I liked.

A bit more digging led me to the book Fearless Feeding, co-authored by Jacobsen and Jill Castle (also a registered dietician).  Fearless Feeding is based on pediatric dietician Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility.  In this system, it’s up to the parents to decide What, When, and Where.  But it’s up to the child to decide Whether and How Much.

After reviewing the chapter on toddlers and preschoolers, I realized that I’ve pretty much got the What, When, and Where.  The trick is trusting Gabriel to the Whether and How Much — that’s where I struggle.  More on that tomorrow, in Part 2 . . . .



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