Showing posts with label Family Dinner. Show all posts

Working Through your Toddler Behavior Issues - How to Combat Picky Eating

As I've mentioned a couple of times on this blog already, I have a bit of a food obsession.  I love cook, to go restaurants, to talk about food, to think about what I'm going to eat, and pretty much every other activity surrounding food. And like all parents who have a kind of intense hobby, I wanted to groom my children to be into it too from the time they were born.

I had read the studies about babies learning to like the flavor of the food mom ate because it was reflected in the amniotic fluid.  I knew that data showed that babies were most receptive to the taste of new foods between 4 and 8 months, and that items introduced at this time would feel like culinary home to them for the rest of their lives.  I had seen the papers describing the fact that children who grew up in homes where adults consumed a varied diet would be far more
likely to grow into adults who did the same. I had done my reading and I was ready to raise little gourmands.  

I ate a healthy, varied diet full of fruits and vegetables while pregnant and breastfeeding, I made all my own baby food, and we fearlessly fed our first born from our plates once she developed the pincer grip.  When my daughter was a year old, she ate everything. I remember bragging about this to my boss at the time and him saying 
"Oh yeah, my daughter ate everything too until the day she didn't."
"Obviously" I thought to myself, "this will not be MY precious snowflake of a child.  I have read the studies and perfectly executed the plan.  My child will continue to be an amazing eater forever!"
Have I done enough foreshadowing here? Do you see where this is going? I think you do... At roughly 15 months of age, my daughter started dropping foods she previously ate with gusto.  First it was a refusal to eat blueberries, then beans, then eggs, and so on.  Foods previously eaten with joy were taken off the list of acceptable foods one by one until she was only willing to eat a handful of foods.

Eating what's for dinner - quinoa and tofu!
This was a dark time filled with much gnashing of teeth and soul searching in my house. I mourned the loss of my voracious eater. I wondered what I did wrong.  Then, after I had decided that I had wallowed in self pity long enough, I started to look for a book with answers. That is how I came across Ellyn Satter.  All across the internet, grateful parents whispered her name. I got one of her books - How to Get Your Kids to Eat: But Not Too Much and I started reading.

Ms. Satter is a nutritionist and a compassionate writer. She talks at length about the separation of duties between parents and children.  Parents have a responsibility to present their children with appealing nutritious food.  Children have the responsibility to eat how ever much they would like to eat.  This is exceptionally wise advice but very difficult for parents to internalize.  It's hard to sit at the table, having rushed home from work and prioritized cooking above everything else, only to have your child whine at the mere sight of what you've produced.  It's almost impossible not to feel like a monster when the toddler eats nothing at dinner.  Though, of course, Ms. Satter is right that no child has ever starved in a house with a full refrigerator.

It took awhile for our family to go "full Satter."  Once we did, it took about a month for our child to accept that the food on the table was all that was on offer.  However, in the last month we've had a real breakthrough. My daughter is trying (AND EATING!!!) new foods right and left - mangoes! green beans! horseradish cheddar! quinoa! This is a child who refused white rice a year ago. This method has not only been incredibly successful in getting our daughter to eat, but it has also reduced much of the stress around food in our house.  I plan and cook meals without obsessing about whether they'll be eaten.  After all, that's not my job. If you're struggling with this, I very much recommend her books.  She is a kind-hearted lady that saved this Mom's sanity at dinner.

   

Using a baby feeder: Review of Munchkin vs. Kidsme

Using a Munchkin feeder to smear blueberries everywhere,
occasionally even in the mouth...
As a first time parent, introducing solid food to your baby is probably equal parts daunting and exciting. You may be thinking:

  • "My little tyke is becoming a person!"

  • "Am I qualified to be in charge of a person?! I just barely have the hang of this baby thing..." (Yes you're qualified - you'll do great!) 

Once you actually start feeding, you may be surprised at how much the baby loves food, or hates it, or is indifferent to it (because I think all parenting firsts are ultimately a surprise, or at least they were to me...). Regardless, before you know it, your baby may be ready to self feed at least a little. As early as 6 months, your child can certainly bring a toy to their mouth to gnaw on - a fact that has surely not escaped your notice.  And as such, even if they haven't developed that fine motor pincer grip yet, they can self feed with a little help from a feeder.


Baby says "Squash in a Kidsme feeder is fun!"
A feeder is a plastic handle that comfortably sits in your baby's hand and has a strainer of some sort attached. You put soft chunked food in this strainer (ex. baked yams, banana, avocados, blueberries, etc.) and the baby essentially turns that food into puree by chomping on it. We have had the opportunity to use two different brands of feeders - the Munchkin Fresh Food Feeder and the Kidsme Food Feeder.

The Munchkin one came into our possession from a work baby shower. Our baby instantly loved it and it made family dinner so much easier since everyone - both parents and children simultaneously - was feeding themselves. Unfortunately, it was super hard to clean. Yes I soaked it in hot soapy water, yes I ran it through the dishwasher, yes I tried a soft brush... All per the instructions on the package. It was still really hard to clean. The mesh strainer doesn't detach from the plastic frame and has seams that are perfect for holding on to little bits of food. Bananas were the worst.

Then one day I was discussing this with another parent at our day care and she said she had just ordered a different brand of feeder that was silicone! I honestly went home that night and did the same. Yes the Kidsme feeder is more expensive but so worth it. The silicone piece comes right out and has no seams for things to get stuck on - woot!  That 20 minutes several times a week I used to spend cleaning the feeder gets you a lot of blogging time. (Kidding, I actually write a lot when I pump... But really I can find some use for the time.)

Put your toddler to work! (i.e. how to cook dinner with your toddler) - Guest Post

I am thrilled to introduce today’s guest blogger - Miranda. Recently, we’ve started cooking with our toddler and Miranda has given us some great tips on gear, safety, and of course fun! We thought we’d share her wisdom with you too.  Though she is not a city dweller, this blog welcomes good ideas from all sources. And with that, take it away, Miranda!

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First off, I want to thank Dina and Lee for letting me to contribute to their blog. I’m so excited to be able to share some thoughts on cooking with toddlers!  Although, to be fair, I have only ever cooked with one toddler, my 2.3-year-old daughter, Mabel.

Why cook with your toddler?

First, it must be said, she does not make cooking easier. I do not ask her to cut the mushrooms or beat the eggs so that I can simultaneously perform some other task. I
ask for her help and then guide her, sometimes more than others, as she takes 100 times longer than I would have.  Cooking with Mabel is messier, slower, and a lot more complicated than cooking alone.

So, if it’s such a hassle, why do I bother to include her? For one, she loves it! She’s at the age where she wants to help with anything - the more grown up, the better. Involving her in cooking dinner also lets me cook while she is awake and reserves precious nap time for other things. Including toddlers in cooking is also widely thought to help with picky eating.  I am, so far, blessed with a child who will eat most anything (fingers crossed, knock-on-wood), but it still pleases me to no end when she tastes each ingredient in a dish and declares “Mum!” (i.e., yum).

How to make cooking with your toddler pleasant

I try to strike a balance between including my child to the fullest extent possible, keeping her from harming herself, and producing an edible meal. Between her continually developing skill set and my recognition and accommodation of those skills, no two dinner preparations are the same and what works for us may very well not work for you. I do, however, hope that the following thoughts provide some direction or at least a jumping off point for your own adventures in cooking with your toddler.

Plan ahead

In order for the actual cooking to go smoothly, I usually have to do a little game-planning ahead of time. I might knock out a couple of tasks that she definitely can’t help with and I know will bore her. I might assemble needed ingredients and tools so I don’t have to leave her alone for significant periods of time. Mostly, I try to make sure I am confident in my grasp of whatever we’re making so I can be relaxed while we’re cooking together.  Stressing about getting a recipe right while engaging with a toddler is, for me, impossible.

Incorporate Safety

Another thing to keep in mind is safety. I am not an overly protective parent.  I know my child will, at some point, cut her finger, burn her hand, and drop something heavy on her foot. I know this because I have done all these things, and more, many times over.  To some extent, it is just part of cooking. I do try, however, to keep her from permanently damaging herself.

  • - She has been taught, and is continually reminded, never to touch the cutting board while I am chopping (yes, she is close enough to touch the cutting board while I chop).

  • - She needs to ask permission before she nibbles stray bits off the counter (lest she accidentally ingest something like jalapeno seeds).

  • - I never leave sharp knives or hot pans within reach (although the extent of her reach continues to surprise me).

  • - I have found that having an induction cooktop is very helpful to my peace of mind. There is no open flame and nothing gets hot except the pot and the glass directly beneath the pot leaving the rest of the cooktop cool.


Set the Scene

When I began including Mabel in kitchen activities I would lift her up and let her sit on the counter next to me.  This was better than nothing, but not by much. For one thing, we had to have a conversation about how she needed to not wiggle or grab things every time I needed to turn around. It also put her at an awkward height. She could watch while sitting on the counter, but she didn’t want to watch, she wanted to DO.

Next we tried putting her in a clip-on high chair that was clamped to the overhang of the island. (We have an Inglesina Fast Table Chair. The Inglesina is great because the cover comes off easily and is machine washable.) This was a much better solution. She was contained; I could put her in the chair and she couldn’t scoot over to where I’d left the knife. She was also at a good height for seeing and helping. It wasn’t perfect, though, largely because it meant I needed to work while standing next to her at the island. She would get very upset whenever I walked over to the stove to stir a pot.  This was clearly a problem.

The solution was a step stool. You can absolutely use any old step stool but we had the luxury of it being the holidays and grandparents were looking for suitable gifts so we got the “The Growing Step Stool by Little Partners." (I have also heard wonderful things about the “Guidecraft Kitchen Helper” but it just looked too darn bulky for our space.) There are two key features that I love about our step stool. First, it has sides. During the brief period that we were using an ordinary step stool, Mabel nearly fell off the side repeatedly. She would step to the side to be closer to me and step off the edge or she would just lean farther and farther (again, to be closer to me and/or danger) and eventually lose her balance. With the Growing Step Stool, the sides keep her contained. Second, it is adjustable so as she grows we can change the steps to keep her at a comfortable working height. (Note from Dina: we use the strap we discussed in this post to secure our toddler to a bar stool we already had in our kitchen.)

Another thing to consider is clothing protection. I don’t always get out the aprons but I absolutely do when we’re working with something messy or staining. You could certainly use an art smock (I love these from Ikea). But Mabel and I have Mama and Me Aprons and, yes, we’re adorable.

Cooking Tasks Toddlers Can Help With

Here are some ideas of things your toddler might like to help with:

  • - Mixing, whisking, and stirring - You can take turns doing this because if your kiddo is anything like mine, she doesn’t do an adequate job.

  • - Pouring - Anything, all the time, my word she loves to pour!

  • - Scooping/measuring - Sometimes I level off scoops and let her dump them in the bowl. More fun, though, is to put the bowl on a kitchen scale and set her free to scoop until the desired weight is reached. Bonus: lesson in reading numbers with this method!

  • - Cutting - We got her the Curious Chef 3-Piece Nylon Knife Set. Note, toddler knives are not sharp (duh!) so they can only cut some things (ex. grapes, mushrooms, soft-ish cheeses, tofu) and they do not cut cleanly. 

  • - Peeling - Ex. garlic, sticks of butter, onions, hard-boiled eggs.

  • - Washing vegetables - She ADORES operating the salad spinner.

  • - Stripping greens - She can pull and pluck with the best of them, but we’ve also had good luck using a Greens and Herb Stripper.)

  • - Pushing buttons - On the food processor, blender, hand mixer, etc.

  • - Testing for doneness/taste testing (Mum!)

I am also trying to involve Mabel in cleaning up after cooking but that is very much still a work in progress around here. So far, I have found two ways to have Mabel help me clean up. First, I can ask her to put dishes and ingredients away.  Some things are safe for her to put straight into the dishwasher and some things, like baking powder, she can put back in the pantry. This can be a tricky one, though, because most cabinets at her height are toddler-proofed (imagine that!). Second, she loves to wipe down counters. I spray a little cleanser on the counter and then let her have at it with a sponge. She obviously has a limited range and is wildly ineffective at actually cleaning, but see above re: toddlers are not actually helpful.

The Payoff

After all this “helping” Mabel and I both find great satisfaction regaling the other members of our dinner party with all the ways she contributed. The foods we cook together are exactly the foods she will be eating at dinner. There are no special toddler meals in my house, so it’s a great way to remind her of the things she accomplished and of all the yummy foods we used to make dinner (Remember peeling the eggs? Tell Dad about how you cut the cucumbers with your knife. Did you like tasting the cucumbers? I see some more on your plate, have another bite!). Involving Mabel in cooking also helps her understand more deeply that preparing food takes time and effort and, I think, helps her be patient when food isn’t ready yet. And, hopefully, someday, will help her learn to love cooking as much as I do.


    


Miranda is a former librarian, current full time mom, and enthusiastic cook. She lives with her family outside of San Francisco.