I have really loved hearing all this feedback about feeding toddlers and preschoolers. I have gotten so many new ideas for things to incorporate into my own family meals, and I hope you guys have, too. This will be the last post on food for a while because I am pretty sure this is what you call beating a dead horse. But I’ve gotten lots of good follow up questions about our family’s eating routines, and I thought I’d tie up all the loose ends by answering those before moving on to other fun topics. Like teething. Oy.
How do you get your kids to eat all those fruits and vegetables? My rule at mealtimes is that you eat what you are given. As the kids get older, I will add, “…and you will be grateful for it, darn it!” but at this point, I’m happy if they just eat it. Mealtimes have always been fairly strict with that rule. Of course, this is easier if the kids LIKE what they are given. To start mine out when we started switching over to healthy, simple meals, I gave Bean a choice. He could choose one thing to put on his plate (out of several options I gave him). Usually, he got to choose between yogurt, applesauce, and Cheerios because I knew he liked all those things and I knew they weren’t bad for him. The kicker was that he could only have that one thing he chose after he’d eaten most of everything else. This was also a good substitute for dessert sometimes, too. Although, I do also reward a clean plate with a marshmallow. But he has to clean his whole plate for that treat. Gradually, Bean got into the habit of eating whatever was on his plate, and now he doesn’t even ask to choose anything anymore. But it was a very gradual process to get him to try and learn to like a variety of new fruits and veggies. Gracie is a slightly different because she’s still pretty little. She can’t reason as well as Bean. And, thankfully, she’s a really good eater on her own. If she starts to have problems eating when she gets a bit older, then we’ll start using some of these little tricks with her, too. I think the key really has been introducing the food to the kids without forcing it on them. They always have a choice. They can eat what they are given, or they can choose not to. But the food on that plate is their only option.
Another thing that helped significantly was changing the kinds of snacks they got. If they knew that they could blow off breakfast or lunch because they were going to get Cheez-Itz or Teddy Grahams for a snack, there was no incentive for them to eat when the food was in front of them because what was coming later was better. But when I traded out their regular snack-like snacks for fresh fruits, veggie slices, cheese, nuts, sunflower seeds, etc., they started to see those foods as both snack items AND meal items. Seeing the same foods at snack and mealtimes helped to reinforce that this was the only option. If they didn’t eat it now, they’d see it again at snack time. It might sound harsh, but there was not one meltdown about it. I don’t even think the kids noticed. It was just a conscious effort I made to make their meals and snacks similar.
What and when do you and Chris eat? So many people told me that I should only be preparing dinner once a night. That the kids should be eating what we were eating, and vice versa. And I tried that for a long time. But the kids never ate anything, and Chris and I had a miserable time trying to make them eat and enjoy dinner ourselves. Plus, the kids get really cranky if they don’t eat early. It would throw our whole evening off if I made them wait until Chris got home around 6:00. I see us getting back to that traditional family sit down dinner when they are a bit older, but for now we eat in two shifts. I feed the kids around 5:00pm, before Chris gets home from work. Because their dinners take so little preparation, it really doesn’t take me any time to get them to the table. Then, I sit down with them and eat a little snack (usually I have whatever they are having to set an example) while they eat their dinner. It takes about an hour for them to eat. It’s a process. Bean likes to get up 1,000 times, and I have to wrangle him back to the table. Gracie likes to feed the dogs, but she cries whenever they touch her, so that’s a mess. It’s not a calm dinner, but it’s healthy! Chris gets home around 6:00pm, and if the kids are still eating, he sits down with us while they finish. When dinner’s over, Chris gets some play time with the kids before baths and bedtime routines begin at 7:00pm. This really works out well for our family. Before, the only hour that Chris had to sit down with the kids was miserable while we all tried to eat. Now, they get good quality time together, and we all eat at times that are comfortable for each of us.
Chris and I do bath time with the kids together, and then I put Gracie down and he and Bean begin their incredibly lengthy bedtime routine (Bean has LOTS he likes to do before bed…). While Chris and Bean do their thing, I come back downstairs and start dinner for me and Chris. Usually, it’s ready (or close) by the time Chris comes back downstairs and we eat together so that we get some time alone each day. It really isn’t a lot of effort to prepare the kids meal and then cook our dinner. And this just works for our family. To each their own.
As for what we eat, Chris and I eat relatively healthy ourselves these days. A lot of grilled chicken, a lot of ground turkey, a lot of steamed veggies. Our favorite are tacos, and stir fry is also a big hit (and super quick!).
Where do you get your meal ideas and nutritional information? I get them mostly from the same places as everyone else. Pinterest is a big one these days (just search for healthy meals). I also use that Super Baby Food book I’m giving away (giveaway ends today!). But I think blogs are fantastic for food ideas for families because they are usually written by real moms with real families cooking real food. One of my favorites is Healthy Tipping Point. Caitlin is a mom, and blogs about feeding her active, healthy family with practical tips and ideas. Daily Garnish is also pretty good (I just made her strawberry banana bread this week – delicious!). My all-time favorite healthy living food blog has to be the famous Mama Pea herself, Peas and Thank You. Though their family is vegan, I still use a lot of her ideas. She gives simple ways to substitute what you might be used to using with more healthier options. She’s the reason I switched to whole wheat flour and whole grain pasta! Another go-to for me are the Gooseberry Patch cookbooks. You can find them, randomly, at Cracker Barrel, usually. But I have also ordered them online from Amazon. These are cookbooks by real people who submit them to be included. Usually, the recipes can be made with the ingredients in your kitchen already. They aren’t always the healthiest recipes (lots of cream of… soups), but I at least get a lot of ideas from them and then health-ify them if I need to. I have four or five of these, but my favorites are the 5 Ingredients or Less and Speedy Suppers.
How do you feed your kids when you are traveling and on the road? We used to get them Happy Meals. I loves me a Happy Meal, don’t get me wrong, but we finally stopped because they never ate anything except the apple slices! My kids don’t like French fries, which, had I not birthed them myself, would really cause me to wonder if they were actually my children. And since they don’t eat a lot of meat, they won’t touch a hamburger or chicken nuggets. Lately, if we’re on the road and we MUST stop for fast food, I go to Wendy’s and get a sweet potato for them to share, along with two sides of mandarin oranges. Bean will also eat those grilled chicken snack wraps from McDonald’s in a pinch because I told him they were the same as the wraps we make at home. Mostly though, we bring the kids their own cooler of snacks and meals that are basically just what we feed them at home. That’s the great thing about simple eating – it travels so well! I pack little snack-sized baggies of pretzels, grapes (but cut them up small so they aren’t a choking hazard on the road!), carrot sticks, strawberries, peanuts (don’t give to a toddler in a rear-facing car seat, if you ask me… If they choke, you can’t see them!), yogurt covered raisins (shhh… Bean thinks they are candy…), animal crackers, etc. Another thing I always pack on road trips are those individual cups of peanut butter for Bean. Gracie can use them, too, but I have to do it for her. But Bean Man can dip whatever he wants into his peanut butter cup. We also bring juice boxes and those baby food and applesauce pouches.
How do you handle other people feeding your kids foods that you don’t normally feed them? I’m assuming from this person’s question that they are talking about grandparents???? Ahhh…grandparents. I love my mom and dad, but they can wreak a little havoc on the kids’ diets. They feed them healthy foods, but they also feed them dessert after every meal, ice cream when it’s too hot, warm pie when it’s too cold, pudding if they get a boo boo, and cookies just because. It used to bother me. Sometimes it still does if the kids over indulge and get stomach aches. But for the most part, I’ve let it go because that’s just what grandparent DO. Mine did it to me. Chris’s did it to him. That’s their job. They get to give the treats and sweets and then hand them back to parents to clean them up and shove some broccoli down their throats. I just remind myself that the kids eat healthy 95% of the time. So, that 5% isn’t going to hurt them. All things in moderation. Even healthy things.
How do you get your kids to eat so neatly? I never see them wearing bibs, and you even have a tablecloth! First of all, let me clarify the “neat” comment by sharing this photo…
There. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about the tablecloth. I use tablecloths to cover up how crusty and nasty my kitchen table gets. I find it so much easier to let the kids go to town on a tablecloth, then I just shake it off outside and toss it in the wash. I have four or five different tablecloths that I rotate through. I don’t like the plastic ones because I don’t like how they feel. No pretense there. They just stick to my arms, and I hate that. So, I use the fancier $6.99 ones from Home Goods (living large!). If they get stained, oh well. They are strictly for our family’s use only. And I don’t mind putting a stained tablecloth on the table for our family dinners. I have several nicer tablecloths that come out when company is around. The kids also eat have a cheap plastic placemat that goes over the tablecloth, just to keep them from destroying the tablecloth in a single meal (which they could totally do).
The fact is that kids are messy eaters because they are learning. So, we use mealtimes as a learning opportunity. They occasionally pull on the tablecloth (though not as much as you would think, really), but we correct the behavior when it happens and move on. We also work on manner with the kids from the time they are Gracie’s age. She is learning to keep her plate on the table and to use a spoon. The plate on the table hasn’t been too bad. She doesn’t throw it or anything, but she has their weird need to GIVE me her plate when she’s done eating – even if there’s food still on it. Sometimes that’s messy. But she’s learning. She is messy because she still likes to use her hands to eat, and because that spoon thing can be tricky (see photo above), but we expect that and we allow for that. It’s not her fault she doesn’t know how to eat correctly yet. It will come with time, so we don’t try to force cleanliness on her. Instead, we try to redirect when things get… a bit dodgy. With Bean, we’re working right now on talking with our mouths full, using a napkin, and participating in dinner table conversation (we’re teaching him to wait his turn to speak, and so say, “excuse me,” when he needs something if someone else is talking). I think teaching table manners – really any manners – at this age is critical and it can be fun for the kids, too. Also, when I’m engaged in their mealtimes through teaching and correcting them, accidents and mistakes happen less often because I catch them. Whereas, if I’m just chilling in the kitchen or playing on my phone while they eat (terrible, I know), then there are a lot more accidents and messes made.
So, that’s about it. You now know every possible thing about how I feed my family! Whew! Don’t you feel smarter? Or dumber? Or are you asleep?
You can wake up now. I’m done.