August 24, 2017 Ashley Thurn
I have been a health nut for years, so when I had my first child, the responsibility of sustaining another human being's life was somewhat overwhelming. However, I remember feeling confident that with my knowledge about health, my OT background, and my love for cooking, it would all come together. I was going to have the "best-eating-child-known-to-man." (Cue the first time parent over-confidence chuckle.)
Truth be told, I did, initially. My son would eat anything I put in front of him. My sister would laugh when we were at the playground and he would sit down for his snack of salmon and sweet potatoes when all the other kids were eating Oreos. (Okay, I went a little overboard, don't judge me!)
Then my son turned three and refused to eat anything that resembled a vegetable. The more I pushed a certain food, the more he rejected it, and it drove me bonkers. It has been quite the learning process trying to figure out what works and what doesn't in terms of helping my kids enjoy healthy foods while still respecting their need for autonomy.
I'm sure every mother goes through a bit of a roller-coaster of emotions when it comes to food, especially with the first-born.
I'm happy to say I think I've finally found a good balance of letting go of control and encouraging healthy eating habits through fun and education not coercion.
For the record, I, by no means, have children who eat every vegetable offered to them. In fact, no matter how many times I have cooked broccoli, I know, deep down, both of my kids hate it.
There are, however, a few things that give me peace regarding food.
- I know (and my kids know) that I am in control of choosing meals, not them
- I know I do my best to provide healthy options
- My kids know that if they don't eat what is offered at mealtime, they will have to wait until the next meal or snack
- I know they will accept new and/or healthy foods on their own terms
I will admit I had some help along the way finding this new peace. I took a wonderful course by Nina Ayd Johanson (MS, CCC-SLP CEIM, CHHP) entitled The AEIOU Systematic Approach to Pediatric Feeding. It was an amazing refresher for everything feeding related (including sensory issues). But more importantly, it was precisely what I needed at the time in regards to my son's own picky eating.
While I don't want to give too much away from the course, I do want to tell you what the big take home message was for me, personally. I realized I had, unknowingly, created an environment of stress in regards to eating/mealtime for my son. The more I worried about what my son ate, the more he refused the foods I presented.
It wasn't until I decided it was time to finally let go of control and be intentional about creating an atmosphere of joy around the dinner table, that my son started eating well again. It took almost a full year to regain his trust in the kitchen. I am happy to say I actually enjoy mealtime with my kids again instead of dreading our nightly food battles.
Since new foods can be scary for children, I consciously try to ease the anxiety and fear through fun. Here are a few games we play around the dinner table that have been helpful for us.
- Our favorite game is talking about which foods do what for the body. (i.e. "Carrots make your eyes see really, really well!" and "Protein makes your muscles grow super strong!").
- A great ice breaker, when you can sense your child is nervous about what is on the plate, is to describe the food to the in words. It's like giving them a hint about what it's going to be like if they take a bite. Talk to them about the color, taste and the texture. Kids are afraid of the unknown so this works well. For example, "These sweet potatoes are mushy but they have yummy butter inside." "The skin on the chicken is really crispy today." "Cucumbers make a loud crunchy sound when you bite them, listen!"
- Cooking together also eases anxiety when introducing new foods. (Use simple age-appropriate tasks. Pre-measuring ingredients prior and letting them pour them into the pot, mixing, straining are all good ideas. If its taco night, let them assemble the ingredients of their choice on their own plate.
- Use their sense of smell if they are cooking with you. The olfactory system is closely tied to how we experience taste. If they become familiar with the way that something smells, they might be so inclined to taste it.
- If they try something and didn't like it, tell them it is okay to spit it out! Using a bowl next to their plate where they can choose to remove items they tried and don't like is helpful because it gives them some control
Do my kids still occasionally reject my food outright? Yes. The difference is that now I do my best to react from a place of genuine understanding. ("You didn't like that because you thought it was a little bit spicy? I bet in a few years you will get used to spicy flavors.)
Did you know that it takes anywhere from 10-15 trials for kids to accept a new food? Actually, some speech therapists have told me its even more than that!
So if you're in the throes of nightly food battles, ask yourself what type of environment you are creating around the dinner table.
I think too easily snack foods get excused from needing to be nutritious. We work hard enough to get a meal on the table three times a day, right? Who has time to make healthy snacks too? I think that's why packaged foods have become the norm for snack time - no work and easy access. Well, friends, I was thinking of you when I wrote compiled this list of my favorite snack foods. Because I'm a busy mom too!
Here is a list of my favorite, readily accessible, no prep, healthy and nutritious snacks. These snacks are either nutrient dense and/or high in protein and healthy fats in order to keep your child satisfied and to fuel their growing brains and bodies, not give them a sugar crash. I promise your kids are going to actually love them!
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1. Organic blueberries: Blueberries are full of antioxidants and they are so good for the developing brain! You can buy them fresh or frozen. The benefit of buying frozen is that you get more for your money (my kids eat a LOT of blueberries). Kids can enjoy them by themselves as a quick snack, blended into smoothies or in their morning oatmeal.
- Brain food - they contain high amounts of phenols that help to protect brain neurons
- Potent antioxidants - called flavanoids work to reverse toxin damage and remove free radicals
- Support healthy digestion - a great source of soluble and insoluble fiber
- Anti-cancer -due to high amount of antioxidants and phenols (gallic acid)
- Support healthy vision
- Contain vitamin C, A, E, selenium, zinc, phosphorus and manganese
- anti-aging properties (help to prevent signs of aging like wrinkles, age spots, cataracts, osteoporosis, hair loss, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease
- boost immune system **(4)
2. Wild-caught Smoked Salmon- You can find these near the fish section of your grocery store. My kids like to eat these salmon slices with a smear of cream cheese. Sometimes we layer cream cheese and salmon on top of a cucumber slice or a cracker.
The human brain is made up of mostly fat (DHA/EPA/Omega-3 fatty acids, cholesterol, polysaturated fats) (13) and since your babies brain will DOUBLE in size from birth to age 2, they literally NEED these fats in their diet in order for healthy brain development to occur! The AMDR for fat for children ages 1-3 years is 30-40% of calories. (11) and human breast milk averages around 50-60% fat content (12).
Do you feel your child is consuming an adequate amount of healthy fats?
- Rich in Omega 3 Fatty acids (DHA and EPA) - our kids (constantly growing) brains require these essential fatty acids to build neural connections! Both fatty fish and fish oil have been found to reduce depressive symptoms, protect fetal brain health during pregnancy, decrease anxiety, slow age-related memory loss and lower the risk of dementia.
- Great source of protein
- High in B vitamins, potassium, selenium
- Contains potent antioxidant - astaxanthin which has been linked to several powerful health benefits
- Fights inflammation in the body
- proper cardiovascular health
- correct muscle and tissue development
- boosted eye health
- efficient body metabolism
- rich in some essential minerals like iron, calcium, selenium and phosphorus, as well as vitamins like A, B and D**(7)
3. Cashews: Of all the nuts I've offered, this is the one that my kids prefer the most. I knew they were healthy but I honestly can't believe how many health benefits they provide (see below). They are a protein and a healthy fat mixed into one, easy-to-carry-in-your-diaper-bag, dream! I love that they are basically mess free.
- Contain several essential minerals including: copper, iron, magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, zinc and sodium
- Contain several vitamins including: Vitamin C, Vitamin B1, Vitamin B2, Vitamin B3, Vitamin B6, Folate, Vitamin K, Vitamin E
- Great source of oleic acid and provide a good quantity of monounsaturated fat and low amounts of polyunsaturated fats
- healthy heart - the healthy fats contained in them help to lower LDL levels
- strong nerve and muscle function
- improved bone and oral health
- aide in relief from diabetes, anemia and gallstones
- By offering antioxidant defenses, they also aid in the formation of red blood cells and encourage a better immune system.**(1)(8)
4. Almond butter and bananas: An excellent source of protein AND healthy fats paired with a tried and true kid approved fruit! Can it get any better? This is one of my favorite snacks for myself when I'm craving something sweet and my kids love it too. You can cut the bananas in slices and dab the almond butter on each one or your kids can dip the banana themselves. I love to add almond butter in my oatmeal for some extra protein or as a treat I like to eat it on a slice of sprouted toast with some honey. So easy and so good for your kiddos!
Banana Health benefits:
- includes vitamins like vitamin C, vitamin B6, riboflavin, folate, pantothenic acid, and niacin
- minerals include potassium, copper, magnesium & manganese
- intestinal disorders
- relieving constipation
- aid in relief of anemia, tuberculosis, arthritis, gout, kidney disorders, urinary disorders, menstrual problems, and burns
- reducing blood pressure
- ensuring healthy eyes, & building strong bones **(14)
Almonds Health Benefits:
- vitamins: vitamin E, calcium, phosphorous, iron and magnesium
- minerals: zinc, selenium, copper and niacin
- good for your brain: contain two vital brain nutrients, riboflavin and L-carnitine, which have been shown to increase brain activity, resulting in new neural pathways and a decreased occurrence of Alzheimer’s disease. Studies have shown that almonds in the diet, as well as almond oil, is nutritive to the overall health and functioning of the nervous system.
- increase the level of high density lipoproteins (HDL) and they reduce the level of low density lipoproteins (LDL)
- bone and teeth health - due to high amounts of phosphorus
- heart health - mono-unsaturated fats, protein and potassium contained in almonds are all instrumental in heart health. Vitamin E is an effective antioxidant and also reduces the risk of heart diseases, while the presence of magnesium in almonds can help avoid heart attacks. Furthermore, the flavonoids in the skin of almonds combines with Vitamin E to form a powerful shield against artery wall damage.
- Immune health
- Good for skin
- Decrease inflammation in the body
- help regulate blood pressure
- boosts energy - manganese, copper and Riboflavin in almonds helps in energy production and metabolic rate
- prevent against diabetes and cancer
- prevent constipation due to high fiber content **(9)
5. Seaweed Snacks: Asian cultures have long enjoyed the nutritional benefits of seaweed. It contains a massive variety of health-promoting components as compared to the majority of other plant and animal-based foods.(1) My kids and I happen to love the flavor of these seaweed snacks. They are so easy to bring along in car rides and for keeping kids busy while you cook dinner. The sesame flavor is our personal favorite.
- essential minerals: magnesium, calcium, copper, potassium, selenium, zinc, iodine, and iron
- vitamins: vitamin A, vitamin B, vitamin C, vitamin E and vitamin K
- contains healthy omega-3 fatty acids and amino acids
- contains cancer fighting agents
- excellent source of iodine which is essential for proper growth of all age groups, iodine also helps with thyroid function and myelination of the central nervous system, iodine is extremely crucial in pregnancy and breastfeeding for normal development of babies brain cells
- digestive health - aids in stimulating the release of digestive enzymes, supporting the absorption of nutrients, and facilitating the metabolism of fats
- dental health - prevents development of cavities
- anti-coagulation - helps to decrease blood clots
- can prevent against development of influenza
- good for skin, eyes and hair health **(10)
6. Applegate Nitrate Free Roasted Turkey: We make a lot of turkey rolls with these in our household! I love that these are nitrate free (nitrates have been linked to cancer), organic and the turkeys are humanely raised. A quick, easy and health protein for snacks! Add a little organic mayonnaise or mustard inside to give it more of a sand-which taste.
- rich source of protein
- contains minerals: iron, zinc, potassium, phosphorus and selenium
- contains vitamins: B6 and niacin which help with energy production, digestion
- selenium is essential for healthy thyroid function **(5)
7. Frozen organic peas: One of my mom friends told me how her twin boys love frozen peas and I couldn't believe it until I tried it on my own kids and they got thumbs up all around. Yes, I am talking straight out of the freezer! I love having these in the freezer for when my daughter is hungry but dinner is still cooking. Time for a few frozen peas to take the edge off and keep those little hands busy! They are a plant based protein, can you beat that?
- Great source of plant based-protein
- significant amount of fiber aides digestion
- High in several vitamins and minerals including: Vitamin A, Vitamin K, Vitamin C, Thiamine, Folate, Manganese, Iron, Phosphorus
- contain several factors that help control blood sugar levels **(6)
8. Organic raisins: These are so great to keep in your diaper bag and they are essentially mess free. I think you'll be surprised to find out the plethora of health benefits behind raisins!
- High iron content/treat anemia
- Cure fevers - Phenolic Phytonutrients are abundantly present in raisins and can cure fevers by fighting bacterial and viral infections
- Eye health-contain polyphenolic phytonutrients which have antioxidant properties which are good for eye health
- Bone quality- contain calcium and boron (boron is essential for calcium absorption)
- Dental care- contain oleanolic acid which plays a crucial role in protecting against tooth decay
- Relieve constipation
- Promote weight gain (a plus for a growing child)
- anti-cancer - high levels of catechins help remove free radicals from the body **(2)
So there you go mamas, you can't make excuses now about offering junk just because it's easy. So get to the store and start filling those tummies full of what is going to fuel growing bodies and brains!!
If you have a chance, check out this wonderful article on dietary fats for children!
Check out this article about healthy fats for kids too!
(This article contains affiliate links)
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- Organic Facts. 11 Surprising Benefits Of Raisins. Retrieved from https://www.organicfacts.net/health-benefits/fruit/health-benefits-of-raisins.html
- Kostyak J, Kris-Etherton P, Bagshaw, Delany JP, Farrell PA. Relative fat oxidation is higher in children than adults. Nutrition Journal. 2007; online version
- Dr. Axe. Health Benefits of Blueberries. Retrieved from https://draxe.com/health-benefits-blueberries/
- Body and Soul. The Health Benefits of Turkey. Retrieved from http://www.bodyandsoul.com.au/nutrition/nutrition-tips/the-health-benefits-of-turkey/news-story/a46ea3ecdbe41a64518e35eb27492387
- Healthline. Green peas are healthy. Retrieved from http://www.healthline.com/nutrition/green-peas-are-healthy
- Healthline. 11 Benefits of Salmon. Retrieved from http://www.healthline.com/nutrition/11-benefits-of-salmon#section10
- Organic Facts. Health Benefits of Cashews. Retrieved from https://www.organicfacts.net/health-benefits/seed-and-nut/health-benefits-of-cashews.html
- Organic Facts. 13 Surprising Benefits Of Almonds Nutrition. Retrieved from https://www.organicfacts.net/health-benefits/seed-and-nut/health-benefits-of-almonds.html
- Organic Facts. 15 Impressive Seaweed Benefits. Retrieved from https://www.organicfacts.net/seaweed.html
- 2010 Dietary Guidelines Report
- MaryannJacobsen. Kids Nitrition Part 3 Dietary Fats For Children- Are We Missing the Mark? Retrieved from http://www.maryannjacobsen.com/2011/07/kids-nutrition-part-3-dietary-fat-for-children-are-we-missing-the-mark/
- Organic Facts. 11 Surprising Benefits of Banana. Retrieved from https://www.organicfacts.net/health-benefits/fruit/banana.html