Would you like to know a number one secret to happy mealtimes? The most common feeding mistake that ruins dinner for everyone? Just one change that will help your child eat better?
Of course, not all feeding problems are equal. Like anything else in life, they come in different levels of complexities that may require anything from a simple tweak to a comprehensive assessment and intervention by a team of specialists.
But without fixing this feeding mistake things around dinner table rarely get better. It is a foundation of good feeding strategy and, consequently, better eating habits in a child.
And it has little to do with what happens at mealtimes or what is served for dinner. Curious? I bet you are. Here it is: structure in snacks.
There are many reasons parents allow kids graze all day long. From our crazy busy life where eating happens on the go to a real fear that a child will not get enough food to grow and thrive otherwise, grazing has become a new “normal” of child feeding.
But even small kids, although their tummies are tiny, do not need to be snacking all the time, even on healthy foods like fruits and vegetables. Toddlers are capable of waiting 2-3 hours between meals and snacks and preschoolers and school age kids can go 3-4 hours without eating.
Here is an example of a typical 2 year old who is allowed to graze on “healthier” snacks throughout the day. At first, it looks like the child ate barely anything, but when we do the calculations, we see that he is getting so many calories from small snacks throughout the day that it is enough even without eating any lunch or dinner! Keep in mind that most 2 year olds need around 1000 calories per day.
▪ 6:30am: 8 oz whole milk – 160 calories
▪ 8:30am: 1/2 cup strawberries and 1/2 croissant – 140 calories
▪ 10am: 1/2 cup apple sauce in a pouch on a way to swimming class – 50 calories
▪ 11:30am: 1oz small pack of fruit snacks at the grocery store to distract child while mom is shopping – 105 calories
▪ 12:30pm: Not interested in lunch
▪ 12:45pm: A fruit and vegetable pouch (since lunch left untouched) – 80 calories
▪ 1pm: 8 oz of milk before nap – 160 calories
▪ 3pm: 1 oz of cheerios and 1/3 apple for snack at a playdate- 140 calories
▪ 5pm: Starving on the way home from the playdate, mom gives another apple sauce pouch – 50 calories
▪ 6pm: Not interested in dinner
▪ 7pm: 8oz bottle of whole milk before bed – 160 calories
▪ Total calories: 1045
As you can see, the child who does not “seem” to eat anything, in fact eats enough to meet his calorie needs. Pressuring him to eat at mealtimes will likely lead to stressful meals and even less interest in eating the meals parents prepare. And although he is getting the calories for proper growth, he is missing out on quality family time at mealtimes and exposure to the “grown-up” foods he is expected to learn to eat. Besides, his parents may be worried by his constant begging for packaged snacks and lack of interest in more nutritious chicken and broccoli they serve for dinner.
1. Schedule snack times. To take the first step, make a mental note of the time between meals when your child seems to be starving and plan a (preferably) sit-down snack for this time. You may need to serve 2-3 snacks per day, depending on the child’s age. Do not wait until your child asks for a snack. Have it planned in advance and remind your child when it will be coming.
2. Serve at least two food groups for a snack. Just a pouch of apple sauce or a bowl of crackers may not be filling enough to help the child “last” till next meal. So expect begging for another snack half an hour later. Instead, add some fat and/or protein for more substance. Examples are: apple puree and a slice of cheese, crackers with almond butter, or bread with butter.
3. Watch the milk. It is very filling. Did you know that one 8 oz serving of milk provides the same number of calories as 2 eggs? Schedule milk for snacks or meals, instead of letting your child sip on it in between and limit to 2-3 servings.
4. Avoid using food for distraction like giving snacks when kids get bored or wiggly. This is a good tip for kids (and adults) of all ages, helping them develop a healthy relationship with food and not use eating to soothe emotions.
Done right, snacks will help children meet their nutritional needs and have the patience to wait for main meals with the family. Done wrong, they may ruin the mealtime experience for everyone and affect nutrition. Think about structure to avoid this feeding mistake and enjoy the convenience and flavor of snacks without compromising eating at main meals.
Natalia Stasenko MS, RD is a pediatric dietitian based in London and New York. Mom of three, she is passionate about the science and art of feeding kids of all ages. When not writing,teaching online feeding classes, or consulting, she is most likely in the kitchen cooking and eating with her family. Follow Natalia on Twitter and download her guide on Smart Snacks That Help Kids Eat Dinner.
My kids love strawberry yogurt drinks. The problem is that with three kids, this little snack can get expensive, especially considering my boys often drink two at a time.
Then, there’s the fact that the ingredient lists in some brands leave much to be desired. Some of these yogurt drinks are made with refined sugars, contain artificial colors and sweeteners, and no fruit! In fact, I often see the words Strawberry Flavored right on the packaging. That leaves me wondering, where are the strawberries? I don’t want flavoring from concentrate; I’d like my kids’ yogurt drinks to contain actual fruit.
I’m sure I’m not the only parent frustrated at the promise of good nutrition from packaged snacks. But with busy after-school activity schedules, it can be hard to find food that is kid-approved, nutritious, and portable.
This recipe for strawberry yogurt drinks is made with real fruit, milk and Greek yogurt for calcium and additional protein, and honey as the an optional sweetener. The ingredient list can’t get any better.
And, it’s portable. This homemade version can easily be made ahead of time and sipped on the go in a 3-4 ounce lidded container (available in many stores and online) that you can re-use it time and time again.
Of course, you can use fresh or frozen fruit to make these homemade yogurt drinks. One of my kids’ favorite flavors is made with frozen peaches. When kiwis are in-season, I make sure to make a strawberry-kiwi batch for a natural boost of vitamin C.
Some of the best and most exciting flavor combinations submitted by my Momables community have been: strawberry + beets, banana + carrots, pineapple + spinach, and mango + kale. As you can see, the possibilities are endless and the consistency will be right as long as you keep the liquid and fruit ratio intact.
My hope is that your family will enjoy this homemade version as much as mine and that experimenting with new fruit combinations brings additional excitement to the recipe-making process.
When it comes to breakfast, kids in the U.S. are used to eating something savory, like bacon and eggs, or something sweet, like a muffin and yogurt. But when some rice porridge, fermented eggs, and salmon-on-toast shows up at the breakfast table, the world seems to have turned upside down.
In the video, as bowls and plates of foods from different countries are placed in front of each child, their expressions and actions run the gamut from smiling faces to shaking heads, spitting out food or clapping hands.
Personally, I think the Asian boy in the blue blazer (see right) steals the show — his wide range of reactions (from incredulous grimaces to awesome giggles to beatific smiles) make for a great #fridaylaugh. Plus, he says one of the best lines of the video — after tasting Brazilian coffee, he shouts: “It tastes like cow poop!”
Here are favorite quotables from the video:
(Eyeing a black fermented egg from Vietnam)
“It has a portable toilet smell or rotten egg smell.”
(Noshing on toast with chocolate sprinkles from the Netherlands)
“People eat this for breaskfast?!”
(Being told where certain foods come from)
“I don’t study geometry” (Um, we think the kid really meant “geography”!)
Sherry Huang is a Features Editor for Parents.com. She loves collecting children’s picture books and has an undeniable love for cookies of all kinds. Her spirit animal would be Beyoncé Pad Thai. Follow her on Twitter @sherendipitea
In the study, researchers looked at the amounts of sodium and sugar in 1,074 infant and toddler dinners, snacks, fruits, vegetables, dry cereals, juices and desserts. They found:
Out of 79 infant mixed grains and fruits, 41 contained at least one added sugar and 35 contained more than one third of their calories from sugar;
Seventy-two percent of toddler dinners were high in sodium (> 210 milligrams per meal);
On average, dry fruit-based snacks contained 60 grams of sugar and two thirds of their calories from total sugars –the most common added sugars included fruit juice concentrate, sugar, cane, syrup, and malt.
Cooking at home and preparing mainly fresh foods with little or no added sugar or sodium is a great way to help your infants and toddlers get started on a nutritious and balanced eating path. But it’s unrealistic to assume that parents won’t turn to foods and beverages that come in packages, cans, jars and containers at least some of the time—after all, they’re convenient and can save parents precious time when preparing meals.
To help you seamlessly lower sodium and sugar in your infants’ and toddlers’ diets while boosting nutrients, here are six tips from two top registered dietitian nutritionists, Jill Castle, and Bridget Swinney.
Get ‘em to the table. According to childhood nutrition expert Jill Castle, “One of the easiest ways to avoid too many packaged and processed foods is to get babies and young toddlers to the family table early on and to feed them more natural, wholesome, homemade foods.” Castle says that by one year of age, most toddlers can eat what the family eats as long as their food is chopped up (to the size of small dice). Low sugar, low sodium options include tender meat or cooked fish, baked potato (mashed with milk or water to smooth it out) or soft cooked noodles, soft cooked vegetables, or fruit canned in natural juices.
Make it at home. Bridget Swinney, author of Baby Bites and Healthy Food for Healthy Kids, says there are so many quick and easy homemade baby foods you can make without added sugar or salt. Some of her favorites include mashed banana, mashed avocado, and mashed apple (peel the apple simmer or steam in microwave, then mash) as well as boiled, baked or roasted carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower or any other vegetable you can easily mash with your fork.
Learn limits for sodium: When purchasing packaged food items, Castle says it’s important to know how to interpret the Nutrition Facts Panel to make sure sodium levels are low—especially since there is no standard for sodium Daily Values (DV) for children under four years. According to Castle, “Since the DV is based on a 2,000 calorie adult diet, infant and toddler foods that provide two or three percent or less DV per serving is a more appropriate (low) level of sodium for a toddler.” She also says that some foods designed for infants and toddlers may not list the sodium content, while common “kid” foods like macaroni and cheese, will. Swinney also recommends no more than 300 milligrams per serving for a meal and 150 milligrams per serving for a snack. She also says that while there’s no need to worry about sodium when serving fresh, homemade food, it’s wise to watch how much you add.
Offer smart snacks. According to Swinney, “Fresh and unsweetened fruits and vegetables, yogurt and boiled eggs make the easiest and healthiest snacks for little ones.” She also recommends adding your own soft fruit (pureed or chopped, depending on your child’s age) to plain Greek yogurt. Swinney also says that although small fruit cups packed in their own juice are convenient, so is a banana, grapes cut in half, and mandarin orange sections. She also recommends steaming chopped vegetables ahead of time to have on hand to pair with items like hummus or a yogurt dip for easy toddler-friendly snacks.
Blend and serve. “There’s no need to drag the food processor out when wanting to share your own dinner with baby. Simply take your portion out and season separately and then use an immersion blender or fork-mash to get to the right consistency for baby, right in the pan.”
Don’t forget iron and zinc: According to Castle, it’s essential to help babies six months and older get good food sources of iron, a mineral that’s critical for brain development and that babies six months and older need more of, and zinc, a mineral involved in many normal body functions and essential for normal growth. Castle suggests that parents slow cook lean beef or skinless, dark meat chicken or turkey (legs or thighs) with 1/2 to 3/4 cup of water or low sodium broth and puree in a blender, offering it as a stand-alone pureed entrée or using one tablespoon of pureed meat with jarred pureed fruit or veggies.
Click here to learn how to transition your baby from pureed to solid foods, and click here for new nutrition guidelines for 2- to 12-year-olds.
How do you limit sugar and sodium in your child’s meals?
According to CSPI, letters to the five candy companies were also signed by prominent organizations including the American Heart Association, the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood, The Yale Rudd Center, Prevention Institute, MomsRising.org as well as other physicians and public health experts.
On the plus side, CSPI reports that three of the nation’s largest candy companies—Hershey, Mars, and Nestle—already belong to the CFBAI, a voluntary self-regulation program founded in 2006 and administered by the Council of Better Business Bureaus (BBB).
As described on the BBB website, the CFBAI “is designed to shift the mix of foods advertised to children under 12 to encourage healthier dietary choices and healthy lifestyles.” Currently, the three biggest candy companies in the United States—The Hershey Company, Mars, Incorporated, and Nestle USA—currently participate in the initiative. More than a dozen companies including The Coca-Cola Company and Burger King Corporation have also signed on.
According to Maureen Enright, Deputy Director, CFBAI, as part of the initiative, candy and other companies voluntarily agree to use CFBAI’s uniform nutrition criteria to govern what foods are in child-directed advertising (CFBAI covers advertising on TV, radio, print, on the internet, and in mobile ads and apps) or do no child-directed advertising. Currently, CFBAI participants that make candy, including Hershey, Mars, Nestlé and Ferrero, don’t advertise directly to children.
In a press release, CSPI notes that according to both the National Academies’ Institute of Medicine and the American Psychological Association, children under age eight aren’t mature enough to understand the persuasive intent of advertising. The press release states that, according to the Institute of Medicine, television food advertising affects children’s food choices, food purchase requests, diets, and overall health.
I fully support this initiative as well as the encouragement of CSPI to have candy companies (and all food companies, for that matter) to do more to protect the health and well being of children. I’m all for anything we can do to better the environment to encourage kids to eat more healthfully and moderately, especially since kids fall short on many foods including fruits and vegetables and whole grains and tend to over consume foods made with solid fats and added sugars (collectively, these are called SoFAS according to current dietary guidelines).
According to national survey data, kids’ between the ages of two and eighteen consume an average of 646 calories from SoFAS—or about one third of their total calorie intake. Current guidelines suggest up to five to 15 percent of daily calories from SoFAS. For a child or adolescent who consumes anywhere from 1,000 to 1,800 calories daily, that’s about 137 to 161 calories, the amount you’d find in 5 to 6 Hershey kisses.
Besides focusing on advertising of unhealthy foods to kids, I strongly believe that we have to rethink our ubiquitous access to such nutrient-poor foods. Why is it that so many checkout counters at places ranging from gas stations to electronic stores are decorated with shelves of candy wrapped in colorful wrappers? And what about all those coolers, many also at checkout counters, packed with sugary beverages? And vending machines…they’re everywhere, and they’re usually packed with a range of snack foods, many of which fare more like dessert (fortunately, those with 20 or more locations are now required to follow new federal calorie labeling guidelines).
It’s hard to resist the urge to buy impulse items, and what parent hasn’t given in to their kids’ demand for something at a checkout counter or vending machine at least on occasion? It seems to me that besides limiting or altogether obliterating candy and other nutrient-poor food advertisements, especially those that are geared to impressionable children, we also need to have rules about what and how stores sell food.
You might argue that businesses of all kinds have a right to sell what they want and to position such items where they want. But isn’t it wrong on some level to sell candy and other such items at a store that’s not really in the business of selling food? Or to sell food on low shelves, at eye level, where it entices kids? If we are going to make any progress in helping to teach our children to eat well, we need to create an environment—not just at home, but outside the home—that doesn’t sabotage practicing healthy eating and lifestyle habits and teaching them to our kids.
CSPI has been extremely successful in many of their initiatives, and I hope this latest attempt to get candy companies to step up to the plate to limit potentially harmful advertising of less than healthy foods to children catches on. I’m not sure the rules will ever become mandatory, but achieving this would at very least be a big step in helping our kids eat and live more healthfully.
What’s your opinion?
Image of chocolate bar with caramel via shutterstock.