I used baby led weaning when my daughter started solids and I am sure it has set her up for a great relationship with food, living in Ibiza in her early years meant that she has Mediterranean taste bud, with a love of garlic aioli, black olives, and paella! It was really only when she reached around 4 that she suddenly did not like foods like carrots and did not like mixed dish flavours at home, wanting everything separate (weirdly unless in restaurants) Now at 6-year-old her taste buds seem to change daily but she knows that and will say – can I try and see if I like it today! Hurrah for Green Eggs and Ham – she will TRY most things but sometimes I worry about her nutritional intake so I am excited to interview Kacie from Mama Knows Nutrition.
Hi Kacie, Welcome to No Mum Is An Island. I am a great believer that no mum should have to do everything herself, we can’t possibly know it all, and we need all the support we can get, there is a wealth of information out there to help us upgrade our parenting experience, to make our lives easier and this website is a hub for just that! I am an avid follower of your Mama Knows Nutrition Instagram account as building a healthy relationship with food for my daughter is really important.
Is it normal for kids to be picky eaters and what can we do reduce the struggles around food?
Absolutely yes, it can be normal! The ages 2 through 5 tend to be the pickiest, though some kids will start picky behaviors younger than 2. Their growth is much slower than when they were a baby, which means appetite goes down! So we often confuse this lower appetite with picky eating. It’s also very common for toddlers to have real fears of new foods, so that’s something we can try to be more understanding of. If someone placed a sea urchin in front of you and said, “here, eat this, it’s good,” it would be very normal for you to be hesitant and unwilling to try. One of the biggest ways we can help our toddlers is by eating healthy foods right along side them so they can see us enjoying them. Also, we can try to ease some of the fear by describing the food to them (name a food it is similar to, describe the temperature, texture, flavor, etc.). And, offer very small portions of new or unliked foods. They can always have more if they want it!
How do I know if my child is getting enough nutrition?
Proper growth is the first clue. If the pediatrician has concerns about their growth, that’s one indication they’re not getting enough. Next is to look at their normal daily intake. Do they eat foods from all of the food groups: fruits/vegetables, meats/seafood/eggs/dairy, nuts/seeds/beans/legumes, and grains? Do they have healthy fats every day too, like plant-based oils, avocado, and nuts/seeds? A lot of moms still have doubts, and that’s why I do a nutrient analysis with most of my one-on-one clients.
You give lots of great advice on “Instead of saying this…” “Try saying this” what have you found the most effective switch in language you have used to encourage your kids to eat healthy?
It’s hard to pick just one! There are two tips I really want to share. First- avoid any sort of forcefulness or pressure in telling them they HAVE to eat something, and instead be silly, upbeat, and not comment on what or how much they’re eating. And when I’m tired and cranky, I just try to say nothing at all, ha! We want meals to be a calm and happy time for them. Second- instead of asking, “what do you want to eat?” I’ll give a choice of two or three healthy options. Because when you leave it open-ended, they’re usually not going to pick something healthy!
One of your IG posts said ” 72% of adults surveyed said they won’t eat a food now that they were forced to eat as kids” why do you think that still affects us so many years later and what can we learn from that?
Yes! There are so many things about the way we grow up that stick with us for life. That’s why ANY step we take now to encourage healthy eating and a healthy relationship with food is something that will help our kids throughout their life. When kids are forced to eat something, they learn that it must not be tasty (why do they need to force me to eat this? It must taste bad!) and it’s something they have to MAKE themselves do. That’s why I am always encouraging exposure to healthy foods but avoiding pressure to eat it. I much rather my kid not eat zucchini until he’s 6 years old, rather than forcing him to eat a bite of it here and there, then him never wanting that food for the rest of his life.
You are very honest about your healthy family also loving pizza and ice cream, do you think parents set unrealistic standards around food? How much of what our kids eat should be healthy?
Yes, I do think they can set unrealistic standards sometimes! Many moms put pressure on themselves to feed their kids perfectly healthy, and end up feeling guilty when they have foods that aren’t up to those standards. I myself used to think that you had to always strive for the perfect diet to be healthy- but it’s just not necessary, nor realistic. Obviously, healthy foods are important. But if we overly restrict fun foods and treats, kids can develop an unhealthy obsession with them. Plus, it’s totally normal for treats to be part of celebrations and parties. I personally aim for healthy meals most of the time – but I do not stress AT ALL when we have things like pizza and ice cream, because they are not part of our everyday meals.
Lots of your recipes champion low sugar, why is this so important?
Excess sugar can have so many negative consequences – poor dental health, excess weight gain, and risk for conditions like diabetes, to name a few. I address that by promoting a regular diet that is low in added sugar. That way, I limit my kids’ added sugar intake to occasional treats, like on weekends and at parties, and I don’t worry about it negatively affecting their health. But natural sugar, found in fruit and milk, is totally okay to have every day, and my kids eat a TON of fruit! It has so many nutrients, and is much better for kids than the empty calories in added sugars.
What is your go to recipe when you want to give your kids a quick sugar-free treat?
A medjool date, sliced and topped with nut butter (and a sprinkle of sea salt if they’re into the sweet/salty combo). It’s so simple, but amazingly delicious!
Is there anything else you can share that will support other parents to upgrade their mealtime experiences?
Remember that you are doing a better job than you think you are! No one’s child has a perfect diet, and they can definitely still be healthy if their diet is far from perfect. Try to remember that your success is judged by providing them healthy options (most of the time) – not by how much of that food they choose to put in their mouth!
↓ Need some inspiration take a look at our book suggestions for Upgrading Your Kids Food ↓