Avoiding pitfalls in raising a healthy eater: Part 2

We left Part 1 with my struggles handing over the Whether and How Much reigns of meal time to Gabriel.  There are times we do a decent job of this, but there is certainly room for improvement.  The information in Fearless Feeding helped me see that G doesn’t need as much food as we do (by this age, growth slows dramatically, so it’s natural for appetite to decrease and choosiness to increase).  If he passes on the beans one day, it’s not the end of the world.

Little changes
Most nights, I plate meals in the kitchen.  We all get a bit of everything, with G getting slightly scaled-down amounts. But part of letting G take an active role is letting him serve himself.

I am a bit hesitant to do this for a couple of reasons: 1) it would mean he could take tons of, say, noodles, while ignoring the rest of the meal and 2) since we use dinner leftovers for lunch, this could lead to disproportionate amounts of things for those future lunches.  For now, I’m taking a scaled approach, plating some meals (or parts of some meals) and doing others as self-serve.  It’s fun to see him serving himself, and so far he does seem to take a bit of everything, even when it’s something he’s not crazy about, like lentil sloppy joes.

While it takes a bit of self-discipline, Matthew and I are both trying to refrain from encouraging G to eat “one more bite” of this or that, but rather to tune in to how he’s feeling.  If his stomach is telling him it’s full, then it’s fine to stop, even if it means leaving some food on his plate.

If we had already planned to offer a bit of dessert, and communicated those plans to G, we’ll go ahead with it, but make it a very small portion if he did not each much of his dinner (I know, that’s not letting him serve himself, but little changes, right?  Not to mention modeling that those foods are part of a normal, health diet in moderation).

Tummy troubles
Our new way of approaching meals and food may have other timely benefits.  A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about our stomach weirdness.  While Matthew and I seemed to get back in balance, Gabriel continued burping A LOT, and started asking why he was having “throw-up burps.”  Not good.

I got pretty freaked out about GERD and possible esophageal damage.  We started looking into possible causes (food allergies, high stomach acid, low stomach acid), tests (not fun to contemplate most of the tests on a 3-year-old), etc.  I wondered if the re-introduction of carrageenan-containing soy milk was to blame (though it had never seemed to be a problem for him before, the time-frame matched).  We started tracking symptom-timing and what he was eating.

At some point, we realized it might not be WHAT he was eating, per se, but how much and how fast.  He’s always had a big appetite, and, while it seemed a little crazy that he ate almost as much as me at some meals, I didn’t think much of it.

But it seems he somehow got into a habit of eating way TOO FAST, which led to him eating TOO MUCH (when you eat fast, you’re more likely to miss the “full” signals).  So, in addition to letting him serve himself and not pushing extra bites, we’re really focusing on eating slooooooooowly: taking small bites, noticing the flavors and textures in our mouths, chewing thoroughly, waiting until our mouths are empty before taking another bite — basically mindful eating.

This takes a good bit of effort, especially when he’s sooooo hunnnngry, but it seems to be paying off in terms of his stomach troubles.  The burping still surfaces after some meals, but not all, and usually to a much lesser degree.  We’re hoping that this is indeed a relatively simple solution, and we’re all benefiting from bringing more mindfulness to our eating.

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 . . . .