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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!)

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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. I can now enjoy mealtime with my family, instead of dreading our nightly food battles.

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 kids wouldn't care if I never cooked it again.

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 and this is their own right as an individual who has different preferences than me.

I recently took a wonderful feeding course entitled AEIOU, an Integrative Approach to Pediatric Feeding by Nina Ayd Johanson. I learned so much from this course and it really helped me connect all the dots with my own kids at home and in my OT practice.

After delving a little more deeply into training in the pediatric feeding department, I came to an eye-opening conclusion regarding my son’s eating situation. 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.

I would LOVE to help you ditch the nightly food battles in exchange for a peaceful mealtime routine with your family too! So that is why I decided to put together every facet of information I have learned over the years in my OT practice about how to overcome picky eating.

First, consider that there is a huge difference between typical picky eating behaviors that develop around the age of 2-3 years old and a legitimate eating disorder that severely impacts nutritional intake and requires extensive therapy. I am speaking solely about typical picky eating patterns today.

Find peace just in the fact that picky eating is a normal phase that toddlers go through. A nurturing and accepting caregiver is the key to helping them pass through this phase so that it doesn't snowball into a bigger problem. If what you're currently doing just isn't working, accept the fact that you need to try something new.

So without further ado, here are my top tips to help kids overcome picky eating + enjoy a wider variety of foods:

1. Sit down and have a meal together as a family every weeknight (if possible)

Sitting down with your kids and eating with them as a family as frequently as you can is the most important and often most overlooked contributing factor to overcoming picky eating.

There are hundreds of studies proving the positive correlation between regular family dinners and increased vocabulary, academic performance and even the increased consumption of fruits, vegetables and micronutrients in children.

Since kids learn best through modeled behavior, they need to watch you eat and enjoy different foods to learn how to do the same. Through modeling, they learn how to chew and eat different food types and textures and how to use utensils.

A meal together implies everyone has the same meal, no short order chef action. Kids eat the same, healthy and balanced meal as their parents. It’s best to have a sense of shared control over mealtime, meaning some nights you cook adult favorites and other nights you ask for a little input from the kids on what they would like. This way, they know, while you’re in charge of what’s for dinner, they can have a say in it too.

2. Make a mealtime schedule + stick to it

Set designated times for meals and snacks and stick to the plan. This helps regulate kids' appetites and sets a peaceful rhythm in the home around meals.

Kids like to know what to expect.

Be sure to set a time when mealtime is over and the food is gone. This does wonders for kids who take hours on end to eat one serving of peas. Set a timer if you have to (it can be visible to you or both you and the kids) and let them know when the meal will end, the food will also end but don’t hold it over them, just state it as a fact.

A good time for a meal is anywhere from 20-30 minutes. There is no reason a meal should last for hours on end (I have been there!). In many social situations (think school, etc) mealtimes are usually around this amount of time.

3. Exposure to a wide variety of foods is key

Exposure to a large variety of food tastes and textures is crucial for future food acceptance, especially within the first year of life. Think of it this way; if your goal is to have your child eat more foods and be okay with trying new ones, how else do you expect them to get there without providing opportunities to try, see and learn about a larger variety of foods?

Every day, try to expose them to a new food type, vegetable or texture.

For textures, think finely chopped, fork mashed, soft table foods, meltable solids (crackers), crispy foods, mixed textures (more than one food texture mixed together), difficulty chewy foods.

Remember mixed textures (like lasagna or tacos) are overwhelming (this is why toddlers can find an onion in any food imaginable) Try deconstructing these types of meals.

For flavors, think spicy, sweet, bland, savory, sour, creamy, etc.spices too

To increase acceptance of more foods, you need to consider ALL sensory components of foods presented.

First, think of sight, does the food look presentable? If not, how can you make it visually more appealing? (i.e. cheese atop taco meat, noodles atop of soup)

Then think of the touch/tactile component, does the food have a new texture and is your child okay with touching it? If they won't even touch and explore it with their hands, they probably won't put it in their mouth.

Next, think of the smell, does it smell appetizing? Don't be afraid of the spice! Kids can have fun exploring with their sense of smell just by opening up the spice cabinet. The olfactory system (smell) is strongly linked to gustation (taste). This means if a child enjoys the way something smells, they are more likely to try a bite. Hold their hand in this process by helping them determine their scent preferences.

Finally, if your child has accepted all the other food sensory components up to this point, they are now more likely to be ready to taste it!

It can take around 15 trials of a new food for a toddler to accept it. Most parents assume their child doesn’t like a certain food because they rejected it the first or second time and subsequently don't present that food to their child again. Instead, keep presenting the food and wait patiently for when they’re ready to accept it.

Remember, even if your child doesn’t actually try a bite or the food presented, just interacting with it (by sight, touch, or smell) is still increasing their exposure to the food type. Maybe a few more exposures and they might take a bite!

4. Create an atmosphere of joy around the table

Be deliberate about making mealtime a fun and positive experience. Mealtime can be stressful and overwhelming for some children, especially when they spy something completely new on their plate.

Feeling overwhelmed or stressed when you sit down to eat? Take a deep breath and smile! Then just enjoy your kids and your meal. Take this time to connect and talk to your family. It will help everyone feel more relaxed and calm and maybe mealtime will even be something to look forward to with your child!

Remember to turn off all electronics so you can make eye contact with each other and focus on conversation as a family.

Here are some fun and playful mealtime icebreakers!

  • Painting with purees: Grab some baby foods and let kids paint with them on any surface (high chair topper, paper plates, etc) This will increase their tolerance to mushy textures and they might try a few bites and expose themselves to new vegetable tastes.
  • Talking about the colors on the plate: "It's important to eat ALL the colors of the rainbow to make our bodies strong. What colors of the rainbow are on our plate today?"
  • Asking: On a scale of 0-10 how everyone’s day was (take turns)
  • Food math + counting: “How many carrots are on your plate?” “Who has the most peas?”
  • Using a dip tray: Dips are great for encouraging vegetable consumption and they are a fun, modeled behavior you can do as a family. (Dip crackers or apple slices into peanut/almond butter, dip carrots into ranch, celery into hummus)
  • Use training chopsticks for kids
  • Use bento forks for trying new foods
  • Singing a silly song or saying a short blessing together as a family. This is simple and easy fun, and kids really enjoy taking part. Here is the one my son says at school and we also uses at home, it's so cute! "Thank you for the world so sweet, thank you for the food we eat, thank you for the birds that sing, thank you Lord for EVERYTHING!"
  • My personal favorite is truthfully teaching them about the food that they are eating. Tell them where it comes from and what it does for the body (I.e. “Carrots make your eyes super strong, Salmon comes from a fish in the sea and it makes your brain grow, etc”)

5. Describe whats on the plate: texture + color + size + flavor + size + temperature

Food descriptors can work wonders for kids who have difficulty trying new foods. Instead of thinking “She doesn’t like sweet potatoes,” think of how she may just be nervous to try it because she doesn’t know what to expect.

Children like things to be predictable and often the unknown becomes scary and can cause anxiety. Maybe the last time she tried sweet potatoes, it surprised her how smushy they were.

Instead of, “These are so yummy!” Be more descriptive. You can say, “These sweet potatoes are orange like the sun! Did you know you don’t have to chew them very much because they are so mushy? Watch how I eat them. Oh, I can taste the butter too!” Or instead of “I love carrots!” say, “This carrot is so crunchy! Watch how I make a super loud crunchy sound when I eat it!”

6. Get your kids involved in cooking + meal prep

Being involved in the cooking and food preparation helps to prepare them for the meal to come and eliminate the element of surprise. They can be the ones to help you chop and mix the bananas into their yogurt instead of being surprised at the chunk in their mouth when they were expecting a smooth texture

Cooking with kids can be challenging, but it also can be a lot of fun. They feel more in control which is so important (remember the idea of shared control). They are also more willing to try new things if they helped assemble it. My son tried hemp hearts (aka sprinkles) on his peanut butter toast because he helped me sprinkle them on.

Letting them get their hands on the foods prior to eating them will increase their chances of putting it in their mouth also because now they have experienced the texture of that food.

So take a deep breath, embrace the mishaps and the mess and try to break everything down into very simple steps.

7. Offer three or four choices + always include one safe choice

Anywhere from 3-4 choices is the perfect combination of allowing room for exploration of new foods and textures and allowing more choices to help balance the meal, regardless of the choices your child chooses to eat.

Having a safe choice or preferred food on the plate can help to alleviate tension over new foods and help your child feel safe and excited about mealtime. Think of it as “bait on the plate.” If you made a vegetable soup, maybe you sprinkle a few favorite noodles on top so visually that’s the first thing they see.

Another type of food bait, especially for vegetables, can be spreads, sauces or dips. I personally don’t like eating a dry sweet potato so I don’t expect my kids to either. Veggies roasted in olive oil, butter atop of potatoes, cream cheese atop of cucumbers or a side of dipping ranch with carrots are perfect examples.

8. Remove the words "eat it" or "try some" from your dinner vocabulary

Children instinctively resist persuasion and reducing coercion will help reduce the child's anxiety.

I’m sure you can recall an event where you tried to make your child eat something and the more you tried to “pitch” or “sell” the food, the more they resisted. My son refused to eat pizza for about three years because of this and then finally decided on his own terms to try it.

So offer the foods, enjoy your plate, and move on, mama!

9. Have a safe bowl handy

Make trying new foods safe and give them an out if they don’t like it. Children are more willing to try something if they know they can 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 over the situation

Here is how to use one.

Simply keep a small plate or bowl next to your child's dinner plate. Encourage by example when trying a new food and if they touch it and don't like how it feels or taste it and don't like how it tastes, they can spit it out or place it on the safe bowl.

10. Allow total autonomy (but offer help if they need or request)

Being an occupational therapist, my goal is to teach children skills for successful independence, so I have my own personal qualms with spoon feeding. Again, we are back to the control issue. Children (and all humans really) like to feel in control, especially when it comes to things that are coming directly into their mouths.

There are, however, certain types of foods that require a little more help. Or sometimes your toddler or baby simply wants or requests help, and that’s okay too. But for the most part, allow your child to feed themselves so they can feel in control of the eating experience.

So, let yourself off the hook for this one (except the mess, unfortunately) and let your child explore textures and food tastes on their own. They might even develop some new utensil skills along the way.

11. Accept where your child is on this journey to food acceptance + move on

This is by far the hardest for most parents, myself included.

Do your best to accept your child for where they are along their journey to enjoy a wider variety of foods. You cannot force them to be anywhere along this journey that they are not. Fortunately, though, you can be the single most important contributing factor to helping them move forward on this journey of food enjoyment and exploration.

So that's it, mamas! My hope for you is that using these silly simple steps, you can start enjoying mealtime with your children again (and hopefully your kids will learn to eat new and healthy foods along the way too!)

Originally posted on Helping Hands Occupational Therapy.

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There are few kids television shows as successful as PAW Patrol. The Spin Masters series has spawned countless toys and clothing deals, a live show and now, a movie.

That's right mama, PAW Patrol is coming to the big screen in 2021.

The big-screen version of PAW Patrol will be made with Nickelodeon Movies and will be distributed by Paramount Pictures.

"We are thrilled to partner with Paramount and Nickelodeon to bring the PAW Patrol franchise, and the characters that children love, to the big screen," Spin Master Entertainment's Executive Vice President, Jennifer Dodge, announced Friday.

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"This first foray into the arena of feature film marks a significant strategic expansion for Spin Master Entertainment and our properties. This demonstrates our commitment to harnessing our own internal entertainment production teams to develop and deliver IP in a motion picture format and allows us to connect our characters to fans through shared theatrical experiences," Dodge says.

No word on the plot yet, but we're gonna bet there's a problem, 'round Aventure Bay, and Ryder and his team of pups will come and save the day.

We cannot even imagine how excited little PAW Patrol fans will be when this hits theatres in 2021. It's still too early to buy advance tickets but we would if we could!

News

In the middle of that postpartum daze, the sleepless nights, the recovery, the adjustment to a new schedule and learning the cues of a new baby, there are those moments when a new mom might think, I don't know how long I can do this.

Fortunately, right around that time, newborns smile their first real smile.

For many mothers, the experience is heart-melting and soul-lifting. It's a crumb of sustenance to help make it through the next challenges, whether that's sleep training, baby's first cold, or teething. Each time that baby smiles, the mother remembers, I can do this, and it's worth it.

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Dayna M. Kurtz, LMSW, CPT a NYC-based psychotherapist and author of Mother Matters: A Holistic Guide to Being a Happy, Healthy Mom, says she sees this in her clinical practice.

"One mother I worked with recounted her experience of her baby's first smile. At eight weeks postpartum, exhausted and overwhelmed, she remembered her baby smiling broadly at her just before a nighttime feeding," Kurtz says. "In that moment, she was overcome by tremendous joy and relief, and felt, for the first time, a real connection to her son."

So what is it about a baby's smile that can affect a mother so deeply? Can it all be attributed to those new-mom hormones? Perhaps it stems from the survival instincts that connect an infant with its mother, or the infant learning social cues. Or is there something more going on inside our brains?

In 2008, scientists in Houston, TX published their research on the topic. Their study, "What's in a Smile? Maternal Brain Responses to Infant Facial Cues", takes data from the MRI images of 26 women as they observed images of infants smiling, crying, or with a neutral expression.

The images included the mother's own infant alternated with an unknown infant of similar ethnicity and in similar clothing and position. In each image, the baby displayed a different emotion through one of three facial expressions; happy, neutral, or sad. Researchers monitored the change in the mothers' brain activity through the transitions in images from own-infant to unknown-infant, and from happy to neutral to sad and vice versa.

The results?

"When first-time mothers see their own baby's face, an extensive brain network appears to be activated, wherein affective and cognitive information may be integrated and directed toward motor/behavioral outputs," wrote the study's authors. Seeing her infant smile or cry prompts the areas of the brain that would instigate a mother to act, whether it be to comfort, care for, or caress and play with the baby.

In addition, the authors found that reward-related brain regions are activated specifically in response to happy, but not sad, baby faces. The areas of the brain that lit up in their study are the same areas that release dopamine, the "pleasure chemical." For context, other activities that elicit dopamine surges include eating chocolate, having sex, or doing drugs. So in other words, a baby's smile may be as powerful as those other feel-good experiences.

And this gooey feeling moms may get from seeing their babies smile isn't just a recreational high—it serves a purpose.

This reward system (aka dopaminergic and oxytocinergic neuroendocrine system) exists to motivate the mother to forge a positive connection with the baby, according to Aurélie Athan, PhD, director of the Reproductive & Maternal Psychology Laboratory (a laboratory that created the first graduate courses of their kind in these subjects).

These networks also promote a mother's ability to share her emotional state with her child, which is the root of empathy. "A mother cries when baby cries, smiles when baby smiles," Athan says.

While there's a physiological explanation underlying that warm-and-fuzzy sensation elicited by a smile, there may be other factors at play too, Kurtz says.

"In my clinical practice, I often observe a stunning exchange between a mother and her baby when the latter smiles at her. A mother who is otherwise engaged in conversation with me may be, for that moment, entirely redirected to focus on her little one," Kurtz says. "This kind of attention-capturing on the part of the baby can enable and cultivate maternal attunement—a mother's ability to more deeply connect with her infant. The quality of attunement in early childhood often sets the stage for one's relationship patterns in the future."

Whether a physiological response, a neural activation, simple instinct, or the tightening of emotional connection, the feeling generated by babies' smiles is a buoy in the choppy ocean of new parenthood.

And while the first smile may be the most magical by virtue of its surprise and the necessity of that emotional lift, the fuzzy feeling can continue well into that baby's childhood and beyond. It keeps telling parents, you've got this!

[This was originally published on Apparently]

Life

Chrissy Teigen is one of the most famous moms in the world and definitely one of the most famous moms on social media.

She's the Queen of Twitter and at least the Duchess of Instagram but with a massive following comes a massive dose of mom-shame, and Teigen admits the online comments criticizing her parenting affects her.

"It's pretty much everything," Teigen told Today, noting that the bulk of the criticism falls into three categories: How she feeds her kids, how she uses her car seats and screen time.

"Any time I post a picture of them holding ribs or eating sausage, I get a lot of criticism," she explained. "Vegans and vegetarians are mad and feel that we're forcing meat upon them at a young age. They freak out."

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Teigen continues: "If they get a glimpse of the car seat there is a lot of buckle talk. Maybe for one half of a second, the strap slipped down. And TV is another big one. We have TV on a lot in my house. John and I work on television; we love watching television."

Teigen wants the shame to stop, not just for herself but for all the other moms who feel it. (And we agree.)

"Hearing that nine out of 10 moms don't feel like they're doing a good enough job is terrible," she said. "We're all so worried that we're not doing all that we can, when we really are."

The inspiration for Teigen talking publicly about mom-shame may be in part because of her participation in Pampers' "Share the Love" campaign. But even though Teigen's discussion coincides with this campaign, the message remains equally important. Advertising can be a powerful tool for shifting the way society thinks about what's "normal" and we would much rather see companies speaking out against mom-shame than inducing it to sell more stuff.

Calling out mom-shame in our culture is worth doing in our lives, our communities and yes, our diaper commercials. Thank you Chrissy (and thank you, Pampers).

News

Dear fellow mama,

I was thinking about the past the other day. About the time I had three small boys—a newborn, his 2-year-old brother and his 5-year-old brother.

How I was always drowning.

How I could never catch my breath between the constant requests.

How I always felt guilty no matter how hard I tried.

How hard it was—the constant exhaustion, struggling to keep my home any kind of clean or tidy, how I struggled to feed my kids nutritious meals, to bathe them and clean them and keep them warmly dressed in clean clothing, to love them well or enough or well enough.

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Those years were some of the toughest years I have ever encountered.

But mama, I am here to tell you that it doesn't last forever. Slowly, incrementally, without you even noticing, it gets easier. First, one child is toilet trained, then the bigger one can tie his own shoelaces, then finally they are all sleeping through the night.

It's hard to imagine; I really really get it.

It is going to get easier. I swear it. I'm not saying that there won't be new parenting challenges, that it won't be the hardest thing you have ever done in your life. It will be. But it will get easier.

These days, all of my kids get the bus to school and back. Most of them dress themselves. They can all eat independently and use the toilet. Sometimes they play with each other for hours leaving me time to do whatever I need to do that day.

I sleep through the night. I am not constantly in a haze of exhaustion. I am not overwhelmed by three tiny little people needing me to help them with their basic needs, all at the same time.

I can drink a hot cup of coffee. I do not wish with every fiber of my being that I was an octopus, able to help each tiny person at the same time.

I am not tugged in opposite directions. I don't have to disappoint my 3-year-old who desperately wants to play with me while I am helping his first grade bother with his first grade reading homework.

And one day, you will be here too.

It's going to get easier. I promise. And while it may not happen today or even next week or even next month, it will happen. And you will look around in wonder at the magnificent people you helped to create and nurture and sustain.

Until then, you are stronger and more resilient than you can even imagine.

You've got this. Today and always.

Love,

A fellow mama

Life
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