Posts Tagged 'feeding children'

The Endless Eater

Although many parents are concerned about their children eating healthy foods, there are also some who need help with a child who seems to eat endlessly.  These parents have observed that if there is food available, their child will continue to eat.  So if the advice is to let your child decide when they have had enough to eat, what do we do with these children, let them eat endlessly?

That might not be a bad first step.  What would happen if you let the child eat until they decided that they had enough?  How long would they actually continue to eat, especially if you are choosing what foods to offer?  By demonstrating to your child that you are willing to let them make the decision to stop you are proving that you respect their ability to make this decision.  Sometimes allowing them to eat as long as they would like to, assures your child that they are truly in control of their food intake and that there will be enough food if they need it.  This may offer the child enough security to start to eat only what they need at the time.

There are other reasons why a child may seem to eat too much at a snack or meal.  Consider the timing of meals.  If meals are too far apart, then when a child is offered food they may eat as much as they can for as long as they are allowed.  They are protecting themselves from becoming over-hungry and/or because they don’t trust that the next offering of food will happen within a comfortable time for them.  Most children need to be offered a snack or meal every 2.5-3.5 hours.  If this is regularly not happening a child may eat for as long as possible when given the opportunity.

Some children have very high pleasure responses to foods.  These children are eating because it tastes good, eating gives them pleasure.  These children need to be reminded that we stop eating when our bodies feel full, or sated.  After a reasonable amount of food has been eaten ask this child, “Are you felling full, does your belly feel like you have had enough?” Keep helping your child to become sensitive to the feeling that food gives their body, not just their tongue/brain connection.  Guide them to feel a connection between food and reaching a comfortable fullness.  If a child appears to have eaten too much you might ask, “I know that food taste good, but how does your stomach feel?  Is it too full?” Remind them that they need to feel their bellies during eating to know when to stop.

Some children start a meal with gusto.  They can’t seem to get the food in fast enough.  Then you may notice that their pace starts to slow, they are becoming easily distracted, and they are engaging in more conversation or starting to play with others or their food.  As soon as that starts, ask this child if they have had enough food.  Let them know that they can have more later, but maybe now is a time to take a break.  Let them leave the table and find something else to do if the food will be too much of a distraction.

Keep in mind that children offered healthy foods at regular intervals over the course of their week will take in the nutrients and energy that they need.  Once you have done this your job is to only offer suggestions or observations when you feel that eating is becoming inappropriate. Connecting the inappropriate eating with an undesirable effect allows the child to realize that they need to make a change.


Save Money, Keep Food Cost Down

We all know that food is costing more and more.  But with a little planning and a few simple recipes your food dollars can go farther.  Many foods that we buy are made from a combination of oil, sugar and flour.  Sugar and flour are relatively inexpensive.  Although they are not nutritious foods, unless your flour is whole wheat, they do serve a purpose by providing delicious sources of energy.  Other grains, such as brown rice, oatmeal, corn and quinoa are also inexpensive when purchased in their raw, unprocessed form and supply many valuable nutrients.Learning to cook these grains is easy.  Most require only a pan, water and heat.  For exact measurements of water and grain read package labels or check your favorite cooking web site.  These grains can make great main courses, side dishes or breakfasts.

Many of us eat grain products in the morning.  Why pay $4.00 for a box of breakfast cereal when for the same $4.00 you can buy more than 5 pounds (15 cups) of flour, which will easily make 7 batches of cookies or muffins or 10 loaves of bread?  Top bread, preferably whole wheat, with any nut butter and fruit such as banana, strawberry or thin apple slices.  And bread making is easier than you might think.  The easiest method is with a bread machine.  If you want to get more involved, go to your local library and take out the book “Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes A Day”.  It really works.

Many, if not most, breakfast cereals are processed white flour and sugar so devoid of nutrients that vitamins and minerals need to be added in, thus the term “enriched”.  Boxed dry cereal is certainly convenient, but for a change of pace and a boost in nutrition you could try mixing oatmeal, and maybe some nuts and raisins, in the evening with yogurt, refrigerate and then eat it the next morning.  If you want a hot breakfast warm it up, adding milk 2:1 of the oatmeal mixture, simmering until most of the milk has absorbed into the oatmeal.

As for snacks, most are puffed (air) and fried grain products.  They have generally no redeemable nutritional qualities.  Instead try popping some popcorn, at only 6 cents per 1 ounce serving, that’s the most economical snack available.  Popcorn can be prepared on the stove in any lidded pot or in an electric popper (with oil or air popped).  If you are popping in oil, no butter or oil needs to be added.  If you are using an air popper, add just enough oil or butter taste.  Try adding flax seed oil after popping for added omega 3 oils.  To add even more nutrition and flavor use nutritional yeast instead of salt.  Nutritional yeast has great B-vitamins and zinc.

10 Days or 10 Years


I have been advising parents and child care workers that a young child (ages 1-5) may need to see a new food 8-10 times before they may choose to eat it.  This
recommendation is based on peer reviewed studies from the best nutrition based
journals.  I guess none of these studies had enough time or money to study children over ten years.  Well I did. Granted my study population consists only of 1 child, my son.  However I have seen remarkable new food preferences and habits develop over the years, with a crescendo this year when he voluntarily started asking for and eating broccoli, eggs, and mixed green salad that includes raw spinach, carrots, jicama, red peppers and other vegetables.

My son’s case is even more poignant, as for 3 years he had not grown in height and he preferred fun foods to most healthy foods.  Last fall he was diagnosed with
Crohn’s, an autoimmune disease that strikes at the digestive tract.  Many children with Crohn’s have stunted growth.  Then my son started receiving treatment for Crohn’s.  He started to grow (3 inches in 9 months), and started to eat a wider variety of foods.  I believe that now that his body can absorb the nutrients it needed to support growth; it demands that he consume them.

So, keep eating what you want your child to eat.  Offer a variety of foods.  Give no food more or less distinction beyond being a healthy food or a food just for fun.
Then sit back and watch the show.  I have seen my daughter gravitate to dairy foods, which she had previously shunned, as she reached her pre-teen years.  This is a time when the body needs more calcium and without knowing this she asked for cheese, pizza, and yogurt.  My son has gone in and out of wanting raisinsin his lunch.  When he didn’t want them he told me that he hates raisins.  But then some months later he would ask for them.

Keep doing what you know you should do.  It may take 10 days or even 10 years for the message to sink in.  But once a child chooses to eat a food, they will eat it for a lifetime.  This cannot be said for foods a child is forced to eat.


Beverly Pressey is a Registered
Dietician with Master’s degrees in Education and Nutrition and
specializes in working with care givers of babies and children.  Beverly
has worked with individuals, presented at conferences, consulted with child
care centers, taught continuing education and college classes, and presented at
numerous parent groups.  As an experienced counselor, cook, teacher,
speaker and a mother of 2, she has a realistic understanding of infant/child
eating patterns plus the perspective of a busy parent.  Beverly lives in
Seattle, Washington, find out more about her and her book at




Berry Season

Yes, it is finally spring.  Even if your weather is not as spring-like as you may like, there are other signs.  Spring foods are showing up in the markets.  Asparagus is one indicator.  But think strawberries if you are feeding children.  Even some of our youngest eaters, perhaps at age 9-10 months, can eat bits of fresh strawberries.  After strawberry season look for raspberries in June, blueberries in July, and blackberries in August.

Serve the berries as soon as possible after purchasing, fresh is best.  Even better, pick your own berries.  Look for “U-Pick” farms in your area.  The native wild strawberries (small and irregular in shape) are the sweetest.  You can easily find blueberries and blackberries growing wild.  Blueberries are easy for young children to pick as many are low to the ground.  Blackberries may be difficult as the plants are covered with prickers.  One way to allow small children to pick these with more ease is to take a shears and cut off a large branch from the blackberry bush.  Lay the branch on the ground and let the kids pick, or eat, blackberries from this branch.  Let your child really taste the natural sweetness of the fruit.  Why alter a berry by covering it in sauce, cream, or baking with loads of sugar?  If you find you have picked too many berries to eat within the next several days, they freeze well.  Lay the berries in a single layer on a cookie sheet.  When they are frozen solid, transfer them to a freezer bag. 

There are also some great children’s books about berries.  My two favorite are “Jam Berry” and “The Little Mouse, The Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear”.   Both books have beautiful pictures of ripe berries.  “Jam Berry” will be enjoyed by even the youngest baby as it has a wonderfully entrancing rhythm and rhyme. “ The Big Hungry Bear” has a delightful, yet suspenseful story that can be enjoyed by the reader as well as young children.

Food Choices Are Not Erratic

Today in class I noticed that a child whose mother thought no longer ate cheese was eating cheese.  I asked mom about this and she responded that since the child was offered cheese in class several weeks ago she is eating it again at home, but not orange cheese.  I explained that although this seemed erratic, it is typical and normal.  Our children eat not just what they know they enjoy due to taste, smell, appearance or texture, but what they are nutritionally drawn toward.

 So how do we, as mindful a parents, know what our children need nutritionally each meal or day?  We don’t, so our job is to offer a variety of healthy food over the course of the day.   Don’t fall into the trap of offering what you think your child will eat or not offering foods that they have previously refused.  This back fires in two ways.  One, even though a child ate a food once, or even if that food has been the favorite food for a few days, that doesn’t necessarily indicate the child will eat it at this time.  Two, if you only offer foods you believe your child will accept, you will slowly narrow food choices and eventually decide that you have a picky eater.

 When it is time for a snack or meal, think: what would I like my child to eat, what do I have, what is manageable at this time (do you want to cook or not, do you have a short or long time for eating, etc?).  Once you have made this choice put the food in front of your child.  They can eat or not.  Of course you can always choose to offer the current favorite food once or twice a day, as part of any meal or snack. But keep rotating in a variety of fruits, vegetables, grains, meats, dairy products, beans, nuts, seeds, oils, and fish as every food has it’s own unique nutritional profile.  You have done your job.

Sugar, Salt and Fat, Oh My

Is it bad for my child to have chocolate chip waffles? What about salt in their vegetables?  I get questions similar to these all the time and my answer is always the same no matter what high fat, high salt or high sugar food I am asked about.  Allowing your baby or child an occasional food with a high amount of fat, sugar or salt will not harm them today.  Just be careful that these foods are used mindfully; that you are fully aware that you are serving a fun food, not a nutritious one.

We don’t want to feed high (saturated) fat, sugar and salt foods to our babies on a regular basis of several reasons, all health related.  We know that too much fat and sugar lead to a number of chronic diseases including heart disease, diabetes, and obesity.  Obesity can lead to the previous diseases and can also cause back pain, sleep apnea, and some cancers.  Too much salt can cause high blood pressure which can lead to vascular and kidney disease.  All of these medical conditions occur after a life-long pattern of too much salt, sugar and/or fat. 

The best defense is to not allow our babies and children to become accustomed to these tastes, flavors, and textures.  We don’t want them to have an excess of salt, fat and sugar in their diet because then they will expect it, it becomes normal.  Most processed foods and restaurant foods are too salty, sugary or fatty.  Beware of canned goods, frozen foods, boxed meals, even breakfast cereals.  A child fed mostly processed and restaurant foods will develop an expectation for too much salt, sugar and fat.  So a whole wheat waffle without chocolate chips butter and syrup, a baked potato without butter and salt, or strawberries not dipped in sugar become unacceptable.  To avoid taste dependence on salt, fat and sugar, serve mostly whole foods: grains, beans, seeds, nuts, fruits, vegetables, lean meats, eggs, fish, and some dairy such as unflavored yogurt or milk.  Babies enjoy the tastes, textures and smells of real, fresh, unprocessed and wholesome foods.  Don’t take that gift away.

No Dessert Unless You Eat Your Dinner

“No dessert unless you eat your dinner.”  Does that remind you of yourself when you come home from work?  Is that how you want your kids to remember you? As the parent that is gone all day, comes home, yells at the kids and denies them dessert?  Probably not.  You are likely a very loving, concerned, hard working parent.  So don’t let meal time make you in to the bad guy or girl.

 When the family sits down to eat, don’t comment on what your kids are eating or not.  Whoever provided the meal has already done the adult job, offering appropriate food at appropriate intervals.  At this point you have three jobs.  First is to model table manners, and correct inappropriate table manners.  Second is to model food acceptance by eating and enjoying the food.  Third is to have conversation with your children.  Don’t talk about anything that would make your child uncomfortable at the table, find other times to discuss problems.  Family meals are not the time to reprimand for past poor judgment, errors, or moments of downright meanness, or to warn against similar errors in the future.  Think of the dinner table as a place where everyone comes with a clean slate.

 If your child refuses to eat a certain food, or eat nothing at all, be nonjudgmental.  Feel free to remind them that if they are hungry now is the time to eat and that there will be no food offered after dinner.  Don’t let them have anything that is not on the table.  Don’t let them make a snack after dinner.  You don’t have to punish them for not eating; hunger will be a natural consequence if they choose not to eat. 

 Some children have eaten enough calories (energy) and met their nutritional needs in the 4-5 eating opportunities they had previous to dinner time.  Therefore by dinner time they can afford to be picky.  If a child hasn’t fulfilled their energy and nutritional needs and chooses not to eat, their body will provide appropriate feedback.  You don’t have to.  You can continue to enjoy your meal and your family.

What about dessert?  Let your child eat it whether they have eaten or not.  Don’t get into a power struggle.  An appropriate portion of dessert is not a big deal.  Arguing, bribing, or negotiating with your child every night is the problem, not the dessert  If your child has already consumed the necessary nutrients and calories they need for the day, they are eating the dessert solely because it taste good, which is why everyone eats dessert.  If your child did not get enough calories and nutrients during the day, eating the dessert will not satisfy their body.  They will be hungry in short order; their body is providing the feedback, not you.  If they ask for snack, remind them that they chose not to eat dinner and that now they need to wait for snack.  Some children do very well when the dessert is offered during the dinner.  The child will eat their portion of dessert first so the tension is gone.  Now they can enjoy the meal. They will eat if they are still hungry.  You are smiling, relaxed, calm, and happy to be home with your family.