6 Secrets of Healthy Toddler Tummies (Guest Post)
Many of you told me that for #marchwellness you'd love to have some ideas on how to get your kids to eat healthy foods. Given that I have very little experience in that area(!), I am handing over today's blog post to one of my very dear friends – and one of the most talented writers I know – Beth Hendrickson. In addition to being a terrific mom to Isabelle (4) and Cora (10 months), Beth is the author of Paper Doll Tales, a fantastic blog full of tips about parenting (including the permission to cut yourself some slack!), hilarious stories, beautiful photos, AND healthy, kid-friendly recipes. Even though I don't have kids yet, I've been moved to tears many a time by her beautiful reflections on motherhood. She paints such an amazingly real picture about life with kids – in all of its beauty and frustration.
Beth and I go way back. We first met as 18-year-old freshmen English majors at Grove City College, and we instantly bonded over our love of France, fiction, and food (preferably non-cafeteria food). We shared many an experience over the next four years, from double dates to dorm rooms, but most of all we shared a love of adventure–whether that meant driving 45 minutes to get a hot donut from Krispy Kreme, road-tripping to NYC, or trekking around Portugal. We became restaurant critics for the school paper, and both dreamed of one day becoming writers. Which, amazingly, came true for both of us!
Beth is a huge inspiration to me, in her writing, in her passion for being a great mom, in her loyalty as a friend, and in the way she pursues excellence while still maintaining the ability to laugh at herself. With no further ado, here's Beth!!
6 Secrets of Healthy Toddler Tummies (Guest Post by Beth Hendrickson)
Isabelle ate kale chips before kale was cool. She chowed down tofu. She had tahini and flax seeds stirred into her yogurt on a regular basis. She ate what the family ate, with no escape clause for hot dogs, chicken nuggets, or peanut butter and jelly. Up until the age of about 2 ½, I could, for the most part, control what made it from her mouth to her tummy.
And then she turned three…
…and the culinary buck stopped there. At three, kale became very uncool, in Isabelle’s opinion. She discovered that McDonald had something other than a farm. She suddenly insisted on having a majority stake in her eating decisions. Three is the age when, more than ever, we parents have to model healthy habits and hold firm to boundaries that promote healthy decisions.
Unfortunately, toddlers seem to have banded together to ditch the food pyramid in favor of an alternative that’s more like a double Lego block: sugars stacked on top of carbs. Along with moms everywhere who have done battle in the cereal aisle of the grocery store, I fight the good fight against Isabelle’s preferred fare of sugar and white flour concoctions. Somehow, perhaps thanks to our efforts, Isabelle has grown into a remarkably diverse and healthy eater who devotes just a teeny-ish segment of her food pyramid to processed foods.
Let me pause in the interest of full disclosure: you’re about to consider advice from a mom who confesses to dosing her 10-month-old with kale chips. I buy cereal once a year: on my husband’s birthday, out of pity for the poor man. Isabelle now refers to it as “that cereal with lots of colors that’s crunchy and really good.” That would be Fruity Pebbles in the lingo of our house. If you want to raise a child who will not be mocked for her school lunch, just toss me a polite smile and stop reading now. But, if you don’t mind a bit of foodie love in your toddler, here are some tips that have helped me reach a healthy and livable balance with my family.
Or, as Isabelle would say, “Mom I think the dinners you make every day are delicious. Even the ones I don’t like.”
1) Develop a diverse palate as a baby.
A healthy toddler tummy begins at six months old. Babies are remarkably amenable to eating braised greens, tofu, tahini, hummus, unsweetened yogurt and all sorts of things that may earn a toddler’s ire. Isabelle celebrated her first birthday with a lunch at our favorite Indian restaurant. She’s used to unusual foods and tastes because she’s been exposed to them for four years. For ideas on how to introduce healthy and adventurous foods in your baby’s diet, I highly recommend stocking your kitchen library with some fabulous baby food guides: Super Baby Food, Real Food for Mother and Baby, and Nourished Baby.
2) Involve kids in the cooking.
We’ve devoted semi-permanent space in our relatively small kitchen to a red chair. It’s where Isabelle stands when she’s cooking with me. Starting at about 18 months, she became official taste tester in the kitchen, and now she’s worked her way up to a fairly competent sous chef. Invest in a chef’s hat or great apron (yes, boys can play too), a ready stool or chair, and hand over a spoon to those little hands. While you mix, stir, measure, and knead, talk about the ingredients you’re using. Laugh at the mess that’s relatively easy to clean up, and make memories that will last a lifetime. Letting kids take responsibility for preparing the food they eat gives them ownership, responsibility, and an invaluable confidence in their ability to do something “grown up.” I found that baking (taste testing all the way through the process and ending with a warm, yummy something) worked best from 18 months until about 3 ½, and now, at four, Isabelle has moved up to some produce washing, simple cutting, and supervised stirring on the stove.
3) Don’t let the Twinkie cross the threshold.
If you don’t want a Twinkie in your toddler’s tummy, don’t let a Twinkie take up residence in your house. Sometimes it’s as simple as establishing a “don’t buy” principle. We can’t control what a toddler is willing to put in his mouth, but we can control what our money buys. As a general rule, processed foods are full of sugar, unhealthy oils and fats, and processed grains. Keep processed foods out of the grocery cart. Sure, a toddler can put up an impressive hunger strike when Goldfish get slashed from the menu, but sooner or later, the strawberries and asparagus on his plate will earn a nibble or two.
4) Read ingredients. All the time.
I read the ingredients on everything I buy. Even toddler drinks labeled with the seemingly safe word “Water” can have high fructose corn syrup lurking in the ingredient list. Start a habit of reading the ingredient list on everything that goes in the shopping cart. A good rule of thumb is to put back anything that includes sugar in the first five ingredients.
5) Invest in high quality vitamins.
There’s nothing better at assuaging parental worry over a picky toddler’s health and safety than a good multi-vitamin. In our family, we opt for the superfood of fermented cod liver oil for adults and kids. We back it up with a multi-vitamin (which Isabelle adores like its candy) and a daily dose of elderberry syrup, which is especially helpful through flu season and can easily be made at home with this recipe.
6) Have a go-to healthy recipe and cut yourself a break.
Let’s face it. Sometimes you just need to order a pizza. Cut yourself a break—an overall healthy diet will not be ruined by Halloween harvest or a meal of processed foods on a day when you need some mental sanity and a break from the kitchen. In case of emergency, it helps to have a homemade meal waiting in the freezer. In our family, we have one recipe that has been a family favorite since Isabelle was a baby. With baby sister Cora now making her way through first foods, it continues to be a hit. Find a recipe that is easy to prepare, healthy to eat, and can be frozen for a quick meal later.[recipe:best-ditalini-e-faglio-soup-recipe]
Today's guest writer Beth Hendrickson is mom to Isabelle, age 4, who loves spaghetti, pizza, Halloween, Valentines Day and Easter, and Cora, age 10 months, who loves any dried-up food she can scavenge from the floor under the high chair. Beth’s amazing and supportive husband, James, enjoys a steady diet of kale but is happiest at his birthday breakfast. Beth is Director of Marketing for The Being Well Center and executive chef in her family kitchen. She blogs snippets of life, love, and toddler woes at Paper Doll Tales.