Top 10 Feeding Challenges -- and How to Solve Them

Food Fixes 9-10

My 5-year-old daughter has the appetite of a hummingbird and a real sweet tooth, despite her bitty size. She'd happily eat doughnuts and candy all day long. Sometimes the only way I can get her to eat anything is the promise of dessert afterward.

Cake and candy shouldn't be a regular part of your child's diet; depending on your child's weight and overall regimen, says Dr. Daniels, once a week or so is plenty.

Using sweets as a reward for finishing a meal is generally a bad idea. "This sets up a situation where some foods -- often less healthy ones -- are placed on a pedestal," explains Dr. Daniels. "And cues other than hunger become more important."

First, you're going to need to change your definition of dessert.

  • Instead of candy or cookies, offer fruit, low-fat pudding, or angel food cake.
  • Snacks can include pretzels, butter-free popcorn, and fruit smoothies, and can be just as satisfying as cookies.
  • Phasing out the treats your child is used to won't be easy, and will require you to be firm and consistent. It will be easier if the unhealthy stuff simply isn't around.

If your child won't eat her meal without the promised dessert, don't make a fuss. Your job is to offer a variety of healthy foods. Hers is to decide how much she's going to eat. Eventually, her hunger -- rather than the promise of dessert -- should motivate her to eat her meals.

I'm the nursing mother of a 4-month-old. My problem is that I don't eat well. I find myself grazing all day -- a handful of cereal here, a few bites of ice cream there. I know I have to stop, but how?

To put the brakes on mindless eating, preplan your meals as much as possible. "If you wait until it's time to eat or you're hungry, you'll just grab whatever is around," observes Bauer. "Put some thought into it. Resolve to have three staple meals -- breakfast, lunch, and dinner -- and regular snacks, and shop accordingly.

A good guideline: Don't let more than four or five hours go by without a meal or a snack, advises Bauer. And don't forget to drink; nursing moms need plenty of fluids -- at least eight cups a day, much of which should be water.

And preparing your meals doesn't have to be time-consuming. Breakfast can be a bowl of Cheerios with skim milk and a banana. A turkey or ham sandwich on whole-wheat bread with carrots and soy chips will be a satisfying lunch, followed by grilled fish with sweet potatoes and spinach for dinner.

For snacks, stock up on healthy staples such as rice cakes, soy crisps, and fruit. And feel free to indulge in a dish of ice cream after dinner. You're still eating for two!

Lauren Picker, mother of two, is a writer in New York City.

Originally published in American Baby magazine, April 2005.

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