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Do you ever find yourself in a battle of wills at the meal table with your toddler? Trying to reason or coax your toddler into trying something new to eat? Or taking over feeding because things have gotten a little too messy?

Welcome to the third installment of our Your Child’s Development Series—and it’s all about the toddler.

Toddlers can be picky and erratic with eating.

Toddlerhood can be a time of frustration, struggle and self-doubt for parents, and in a nutshell: a test of your parenting skills. The toddler can rock the world of even the most capable parent (dietitians included).

For the toddler, it is a time of budding independence (separation from you), environmental exploration, limit testing, and understanding self-control.

A toddler’s physical growth continues to be steady, but slows down compared to babyhood.  Because growth is slower, the toddler appetite shifts, becoming voracious one meal and light or maybe non-existent at another.

How well your toddler eats from one meal to the next can be as predictable as the roll of a dice.

And toddler eating can worry parents.

Understanding how the toddler develops, both physically and cognitively (fancy word for brain development), can help you get a grip on why your toddler behaves the way he does, especially around food and eating.

Erik Erikson describes toddlerhood as a time of struggle—a time to figure out who the toddler is as an individual (autonomy) and figure out how to control himself from the feedback he receives from his environment (shame and doubt). And the drive to understand the world is so strong, it can get in the way of eating.

Combine your toddler’s desire for independence, self-control, and exploration with an unpredictable appetite and it’s no wonder your toddler causes you confusion, frustration, and worry!

Some of the most worrisome eating behaviors during toddlerhood are:

  • Refusing or being afraid to try new foods (called neophobia).
  • Only wanting to eat certain foods or getting stuck on one food for a long period of time (food jags).
  • Skipping meals or snacks.

These behaviors are a natural and expected part of toddler development. If you’re not prepared for them, they can test your patience and be the root of negative dynamics at the meal table.

Did you know that how you respond to this normal behavior is more important than the behavior itself?

Here are some things to think about when feeding your toddler:

Don’t be over-invested in how well your child eats at a particular meal or snack, the cumulative intake over the course of a week is what matters most. Great meals are often counteracted with disappointing meals.

Watch your responses when your child eats. Overly praising or obvious disappointment with your child’s eating behavior may not give you the results you want, like eating enough or eating vegetables. It’s best to have a neutral attitude and response when it comes to your child’s eating behavior.

Provide structure to feeding your toddler by keeping meals and snacks on a predictable schedule (about 3 hours in between) and within a reasonable time frame (20-30 minutes per meal and 10-15 minutes per snack).

Don’t sweat the skipped meal. This is just a result of the variable appetite that goes with toddlerhood. Use the meal/snack structure to your advantage. Toddlers need 3 meals and 3 snacks each day—if little Johnny skips his morning snack, he will be able to eat again at lunch (or at the other opportune meals and snacks during the day).

Avoid the traps of feeding the same old food everyday just because your toddler will eat it.  Eventually, this tactic will become an obstacle to getting your toddler to eat a variety of foods in the long run. Continue to offer new foods and old foods, in different combinations, keeping your toddler comfortable (he recognizes the old standbys) but also challenge him (introducing unfamiliar foods) at the same time.

Don’t interfere with your toddler’s eating by taking over the spoon, wiping his face after each bite, or pushing him to drink more than he wants to. Remember, eating is one of the ways you can support the natural progression to independence that your toddler is trying to achieve…interfering is just…interfering.

Start using the Division of Responsibility in Feeding— it provides a clear definition of what your responsibilities are (the what, where and when of feeding) and those of your child (whether and how much to eat). You can read more about this here.

Allow choices, but not too many. Try to keep your choices to two options and keep them within the same food group (bananas or pears; broccoli or peas; pasta or rice). Having a choice is the control toddlers are looking for—and an appropriate place to let them have it. While we do want toddlers to be in control of whether and how much they eat, we don’t want toddlers to be in charge of nutrition and feeding—that’s your job.

Pay attention to tasty meals that provide exposure to most of the food groups. Everyone enjoys food that tastes good–even toddlers!

Check your feeding style –a positive and effective style will go a long way in calming the waters at the meal table.

Toddlerhood doesn’t have to be terrible, especially if you know what to expect with development, and how it will impact eating. Is it possible to relax and enjoy toddlerhood? I think so.

Stay tuned for Your School-Age Child’s Development in our next installment.

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Children mimic your behaviors!

Contrary to popular belief, children hear what you say and see what you do.  Your behaviors and comments can leave a lasting impression.  Even your body image or weight concerns can be passed on to your kids.  Evidence shows that stressing thinness and weight control promotes eating disorders, low self-esteem, decreased body image, and weight bias in children.  Furthermore, eating behaviors linked to a higher risk for obesity are known to develop very early in life.  A 2001 study showed family food environments and attitudes around food and eating affect even preschool-aged kids’ eating behaviors.  You may think youngsters don’t pick up on your drastic dieting or negative comments you make about your body like older children, but they do!

Several studies show that restrictive feeding can impair a child’s ability to regulate their intake, resulting in overeating and weight gain.  Worrying about your own weight can influence your feeding style.  For example, forbidding high calorie foods or sweets in your home can result in your child sneaking food or feeling deprived and overeating when given the opportunity.  Overly controlling or eliminating fun foods simply doesn’t work with kids – balance is key.

Have you ever found yourself saying out loud:

“I have got to lose weight, I am getting so fat”

“I am going to be good and skip lunch today”

“No more desserts for me, I don’t deserve it”

If so, you may want to censor your comments and think before you speak.   Remember, your words could promote your child’s weight gain!

As a parent, you can model  “good for you” behaviors without fixating on weight.  There’s nothing wrong with guiding your child towards adopting healthy habits that will benefit him or her – that’s part of your role!

Fortunately, there are several steps you can take to promote a healthy weight for yourself while empowering your child.

DO:

  • Be physically active and limit your own sedentary activities
  • Aim to eat when feeling physically hungry
  • Have a neutral view about all foods
  • Stock a range of nutritious foods in your home and choose these options more often
  • Offer balanced family meals as much as you can
  • Choose to talk about yourself and others with respect and appreciation

DON’T:

  • Get caught up in the latest fad diet or encourage your child to diet
  • Skip meals
  • Eliminate all sweets or high calorie foods from your home
  • Use food for rewards or punishments for yourself or for others
  • Eat while standing up or distracted (may lead to eating mindlessly)
  • Emphasize effects of unhealthy eating
  • Focus on anyone’s weight, especially yours or your child’s

Bottom line:  You are your child’s biggest role model – do you want your child viewing and treating their body the way you do?

Contributing Author:  Katherine Fowler, MS, RD, LDN

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I hope many of your were able to attend the Eat, Play, Love: Raise Healthy Eaters webinar today!  If not, here is the link–I think you’ll find it informative and enlightening.

This is the second piece to our Your Child’s Development series and today we are focusing on the infant.

The first year of life is an exciting time for all parents. Whether you are having your first child or your fourth, a new baby is a much anticipated and welcomed event for parents.

Infancy can also be riddled with uncertainty, questions, and sleepless nights. During a year of rapid growth and constant change, staying on top of what is going on with your baby can be challenging. Not only are the obvious physical changes of weight gain and overall growth occurring, but so are the subtle developmental changes that are just as important.

Achieve attachment through feeding.

Erik Erikson’s Psychosocial Stages of Development informs us that during infancy, the baby’s main task is to form an attachment with his caregiver. Basic trust is established and the infant understands that his parents are dependable and the world can be a safe place. The foundation of hope, confidence and trust–essential for future relationships– develops at this very young age.

Attachment should be one of our primary goals as parents and feeding your baby is an excellent way of setting this in motion. Whether you breastfeed or bottle-feed, you can successfully achieve a healthy connection. If you want to know more about attachment theory, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services provides a comprehensive document.

Here are ways you can connect and enhance attachment with your baby through feeding:

  • Mimic your baby’s sounds and actions.
  • Hold, touch, tickle (gently), and look at your baby.
  • Focus on your baby when you feed him—fully engage in the moment and show your complete attention.
  • Respond to hunger–baby demonstrates this by crying, rooting, and/or sucking on hands and fingers. Remember: the younger the infant, the more frequently hunger will strike. A newborn can be hungry every 1.5-2 hours and an older infant every 3-4 hours.
  • Recognize fullness–a baby who pulls away from the breast or bottle, turns their head away when a spoon is offered, or shakes his head “no” are all potential signs of fullness.

You need to be good at reading both the hunger and fullness signs so that you can help your baby maintain his natural hunger-fullness cycle (which he was born with and which helps him eat just the right amounts of food). Let your baby take the lead on how much he eats–but be watchful and attentive to his signals. Overfeeding or underfeeding your baby can happen when you don’t understand or accurately read your baby’s signs.

What is the opposite of attachment? 

Detachment.  The reality of our modern world is that parents are very busy and they look for quick and convenient ways to achieve the mundane day-to-day tasks (me included). Sometimes parents streamline their chores by multi-tasking–and multi-tasking can invade the kitchen and feeding kids.

Our modern world also promotes early independence. ‘No-hands’ bottle feeders, cup holders in the car seat, packaged food products that young ones can eat while they multi-task (play) are maxing on convenience but potentially undermining the parent-child bond.

Don’t get me wrong–I am a busy mom too and am all for simplicity–but not at the expense of a strong trusting bond with my child. I wouldn’t be inclined to gamble or risk it.

Remember how many times we have to connect and form this strong bond with our child?  Over 28,000 times. Lots of opportunity to make it or break it. And when it comes to feeding your baby, creating a strong attachment is key to a healthy, happy and nourished child.

How do you bond with your baby?  And what gets in the way?

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We are rounding out this series with Vitamin K, a fat-soluble vitaminthat plays a starring role in blood clotting. Clotting is important—it helps bleeding stop. In fact, Vitamin K is responsible for producing 4 of the 13 proteins required for blood clotting.

Dark green, leafy vegetables are a good source of Vitamin K

Vitamin K also helps make other proteins in the body that are important for blood, bone and kidney health. Research indicates that low levels of Vitamin K in the blood are associated with low bone density in adults. Since childhood is the “bone building” period of life, it makes sense to pay attention to Vitamin K.

Additionally, like Vitamin D, our bodies can produce Vitamin K on its own. Vitamin K is made from certain bacteria in your intestines. Prolonged or frequent use of antibiotics may destroy the bacteria-producing Vitamin K in the gut, so we also rely on food sources to assure adequate intake of Vitamin K.

How much do kids need?

Why do babies get an injection of Vitamin K at birth? Vitamin K is poorly transported across the placenta, so babies are at increased risk for Vitamin K deficiency and excessive bleeding.

The levels for optimal Vitamin K intake are set as Adequate Intakes (AI). No adverse effects have been reported for intakes above the AI, and there is no Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL) established, however, avoiding excessive intake of Vitamin K (ie, from supplements) is advised.

Adequate Intakes for Children:

0-6 months: 2.0 micrograms/day

7-12 months: 2.5 micrograms/day

1-3 years: 30 micrograms/day

4-8 years: 55 micrograms/day

Boys & Girls, 9-13 years: 60 micrograms/day

Boys & Girls, 14-18 years: 75 micrograms/day

Adapted from the Institute of Medicine Dietary Reference Intakes

Where can we find Vitamin K in food?

Collards, spinach and dark salad greens are the highest sources, with broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and bib lettuce containing moderate amounts of Vitamin K. Plant oils (soybean, canola, olive, corn) and margarine are good sources as well. Wow, can you imagine sautéing collard greens or spinach in canola oil—a Vitamin K power-punch!

What if you don’t get enough?

Vitamin K deficiency is extremely rare in the generally healthy population; those who are deficient tend to have problems with gastro-intestinal function or have taken medications known to interfere with Vitamin K metabolism.

The Take-Away Message:

  • It is unlikely that healthy children will experience a deficiency of Vitamin K.
  • A varied diet including green leafy vegetables and plant oils are your best bet for maintaining normal clotting, bone health and Vitamin K status in your child.
  • Do you need extra Vitamin K from a supplement? Probably not.
  • If used, will a multivitamin supplement be excessive in Vitamin K? Probably not.

Thanks for reading our Alphabet Soup series!

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I wrote this post as a participant in the Eat, Play, Love blog carnival hosted by Meals Matter and Dairy Council of California to share ideas on positive and fun ways to teach children healthy eating habits. A list of other registered dietitians and moms who are participating in the carnival will be listed at the bottom of this post or can be found on Meals Matter.


“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.”

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

One of the ways you demonstrate love for your child is through feeding and the relationship that develops at the meal table. This feeding relationship grows over time, and is directly influenced by the ups and downs between you and your child at the meal table (or wherever you feed your child).

Feeding children is often layered with multi-tasking. These distractions can interfere with connecting at the meal table.  Yet, connecting, and the feeding relationship, is a necessary piece of good parenting and raising healthy kids.

What many parents don’t know is that feeding your child is full of opportunity for connection! It is estimated that there are over 28,000 opportunities to connect with your child through feeding.

Let me state that again.

There are over 28,000 opportunities to create a positive relationship around food and eating with your child.

With so many opportunities, the potential for successful feeding and eating is a no-brainer. But the reality is that family meals aren’t always touchy-feely and nurturing. They can be laden with ineffective feeding styles that promote negative eating habits and negative feelings. Or, they can be loaded with parenting practices like rewarding, pressuring or restricting that backfire, resulting in exactly what you don’t want–more pickiness, over- or under-eating, strained interactions and maybe even weight problems.

Where it all begins…

Eye contact is an important way of connecting with your child.

The feeding relationship begins the moment you first feed your baby. Whether you choose to breast or bottle feed, connection is underway. It is important that you hold and look at your baby. This is how the attachment between parent and child begins (more on attachment in our Development Series).

While you don’t hold your toddler, school-age child or teen when you feed them, your eye contact, conversation, presence, and attention all support the attachment that was started in infancy.

It’s important to keep this connection going, especially as your child gets older and you compete against the world of outside influences.

Let me count the ways…to strengthen the feeding relationship

Be engaged: Sit down with your child and pay attention to them. For tips on mealtime conversation starters, click here. Don’t make the mistake of multi-tasking while feeding your child. As tempting as it is, it distracts you from connecting with your child. Remember, meals are only 20-30 minutes of your time–your child is worth it!

Reciprocate: Feeding is a reciprocal relationship–you react to what your child is doing (whether it is good or bad behavior) and your child reacts to your behavior. Remember, you are the leader and your child will follow you. Keep mealtime positive and you are likely to get a pleasant response in return.

Trust intuition:  It’s important to listen to your child’s hunger and fullness cues, and respond in ways that honor those cues. Kids don’t always get the hunger/fullness thing right–sometimes they are right, and sometimes they mis-fire. They are figuring it out and need your help doing so.

Make sure you give your child feedback when they are right and when they miss the boat: “Boy, you sure know how listen to your body!” AND “Don’t worry, we’ll get this right next time…maybe if you eat a little bit more at lunch, this won’t happen again. What do you think?” In the long run, these are important lessons to be learned, for both you and your child.

Be reliable: Get those meals and snacks on the table–regularly. The more reliable you are with meals, the calmer and more secure your child may be with food and eating, at every age.

What’s Your Message?  Remember that you send messages to your child at the meal table: You are important to me. I care about you. I care about your health. AND Your hunger can wait. Something else (the dishes, the phone…) is more important.

Feeding your child is just one way to develop a strong, trusting bond and connection. You’ve got thousands of opportunities! Messing up a few of these interactions isn’t going to do irreversible damage–just make sure you tip the balance towards positive interactions and intentional connections at the meal table. Both you and your child will reap the benefits for a lifetime!

Join us for a free webinar: Eat, Play, Love: Raising Healthy Eaters on May 18!

Don’t stop here! Join the carnival and read other Eat, Play, Love blogs from dietitians and moms offering the best advice on raising healthy eaters. And if you don’t get enough today, for more positive, realistic and actionable advice from registered dietitian moms, register for the free, live webinar Eat, Play, Love: Raising Healthy Eaters on Wednesday, May 18.

The Best-Kept Secret for Raising Healthy Eaters, Maryann Jacobsen, MS, RD
Feeding is Love, Jill Castle, MS, RD, LDN
5 Quick Ways to Prepare Veggies with Maximum Flavor, Dayle Hayes, MS, RD
The Art of Dinnertime, Elana Natker, MS, RD
Children Don’t Need a Short Order Cook, Christy Slaughter
Cut to the Point – My Foodie Rules, Glenda Gourley
Eat, Play, Love – A Challenge for Families, Alysa Bajenaru, RD
Eat, Play, Love ~ Raising Healthy Eaters, Kia Robertson
Get Kids Cooking, Jessica Fishman Levinson, MS, RD, CDN
Kid-Friendly Kitchen Gear Gets Them Cooking, Katie Sullivan Morford, MS, RD
Kids that Can Cook Make Better Food Choices, Glenda Gourley
Making Mealtime Fun, Nicole Guierin, RD
My Top Ten Tips for Raising Lifelong Healthy Eaters, EA Stewart, RD
My No Junk Food Journey – Want to Come Along?, Kristine Lockwood
My Recipe for Raising Healthy Eaters: Eat Like the French, Bridget Swinney MS, RD, LD
Playing with Dough and the Edible Gift of Thyme, Robin Plotkin, RD, LD
Picky Eaters Will Eat Vegetables, Theresa Grisanti, MA
Putting the Ease in Healthy Family Eating, Connie Evers, MS, RD, LD
Raising a Healthy Eater, Danielle Omar, MS, RD
Raising Healthy Eaters Blog Carnival & Chat Roundup, Ann Dunaway Teh, MS, RD, LD
Soccer Mom Soapbox, Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD
Teenagers Can Be Trying But Don’t Give Up, Diane Welland MS, RD
What My Kids Taught Me About Eating Mindfully, Michelle May, MD

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Remember the walking taco from those long days of summer ? A clever convenience, designed to eat on the go and a mimic of the taco with a fun twist. The “old” walking taco consists of an individual size bag of Fritos corn chips topped with taco fixings.  This Dinner Bar takes the old concept and gives it a healthy facelift– transforming it into a lean, nutritious Mexican-style favorite you can feel good about feeding your family.  Adding a banana mango smoothie for dessert builds a balanced, simple supper that can be enjoyed anywhere!

Walking Taco Toppings

You will need:

Protein:

  • 1 pound ground chicken or turkey breast
  • 1 can black beans, rinsed

Grains:

  • 6 individual bags of Sun Chips (original or garden salsa flavor)

Vegetables:

  • Shredded lettuce
  • Diced tomato
  • Sliced jalapenos or chopped green pepper
  • Corn

    Yum! Walking Taco To Go!

  • Salsa
  • 1 small onion, chopped

Fruits:

  • 2 small sliced bananas (fresh or frozen)
  • 2 cups frozen mango chunks

Dairy:

  • Reduced fat (2%) shredded Mexican cheese
  • 2 cups 1% or 2% milk

Fats:

  • 1 tablespoon olive or canola oil
  • Diced avocado
  • Reduced fat sour cream (optional)

    Banana Mango Smoothie adds fruit and dairy to the meal.

Others:

  • 1 taco seasoning packet
  • ¼ cup water

How to make the walking tacos (serves 6):

Heat oil over medium heat in a large non-stick pan.    Add onions and sautee until clear, about 5 minutes.  Add ground chicken breast to the pan and brown.  Once the meat is cooked, add taco seasoning packet, ¼ cup water, and black beans.  Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes.

While the meat/bean mixture is cooking, gently crush each bag of chips.  Once the chips are crushed, cut the bags lengthwise with scissors.  Prepare bowls of the meat/bean mixture, lettuce, chopped tomatoes, jalapenos, corn, shredded cheese, diced avocado, salsa and any other desired toppings.

How to make the banana mango smoothies (serves 6):

Use fresh bananas or sliced bananas that have been frozen (my personal favorite).   Put banana, 2 cups frozen mango and 2 cups milk in a blender and blend until smooth.

Place serving bowls and the bags of chips on your “dinner bar” and let your family choose their toppings.  Once all of the walking tacos have been assembled, pour the smoothies and enjoy this meal wherever you like!

Tip:  Use disposable bowls, spoons, and cups for effortless clean up.

Let us know if your kiddos like these–you may even use this idea for picnics, a day at the pool or a quick lunch!

Contributing Author: Katherine Fowler, MS, RD

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Preparing Shamrock Crispy French Toast with Green Fruit is a simple way to add a St. Patrick’s Day touch to your breakfast table and Eat Right with Color, this year’s National Nutrition Month theme.  No green food coloring is required, so you can serve this guilt-free and clean up is a cinch!  Kicking off the St. Patrick’s Day festivities with this wholesome and enjoyable breakfast will get your entire family in the Irish spirit!

You will need:

  • 6 slices whole wheat bread
  • 1/2 cup reduced fat or skim milk
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1/4 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • Cooking spray
  • Shamrock cookie cutter (optional)
  • Pure maple syrup
  • Sliced Granny Smith apples
  • Sliced kiwi
  • Green grapes
  • Sliced honeydew melon

How to prepare the fruit:

Slice or purchase pre-sliced Granny Smith apples and combine with sliced kiwi, green grapes, and honeydew melon.  Prepare as much fruit as you think your family will eat!

How to make the French toast (this recipe serves three):

Beat the eggs. Add milk, sugar, and cinnamon and mix together. If you have a shamrock-shaped or other festive cookie cutter, you can cut its shape onto each slice of bread.  If you want to involve your kids in the fun, ask them to help with cutting the shapes.  Use a fork to dip each slice of bread into the mixture one at a time. Dip each long enough to soak well, but not too long.  You don’t want the bread to break apart.

Spray a hot griddle or skillet with cooking spray (in lieu of cooking spray, you may use oil or butter); heat over a medium-hot burner.  Cook bread for 2 to 3 minutes on each side. Use a spatula to gently press down so your French toast is crispy and golden in the center.

Top the French toast with a desirable amount of pure maple syrup and serve with side of green fruit and milk to drink.  Top o’ the morning to ya!

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