Toddler Going Off Veggies? Stay Calm & Carry On  

Say 'Peas!' -Dietitianmom.com

Say ‘Peas!’ -Dietitianmom.com

As alluded to in my previous post (see Toddler Regression), here are some counter tactics I’ve developed and am still using since my 29 month old toddler decided to have a strike on veggies. Hope you find some of these tips and strategies helpful:

GENERAL TIPS

  • Stay cool
  • Remember if it’s 5-9 servings of fruits and vegetables a day, go ahead and offer more fruit for now, that’s alright. Hopefully the child will eventually turn around to eat more vegetables on his own again
  • Keep offering vegetables as finger foods with foods and mixed into foods
  • Keep modeling

SPECIFIC TIPS

  • Find ways to mix vegetables into entrees (e.g., with chili or other meat dishes, as part of lasagna, in tacos or quesadillas)
  • Blend them (e.g., vegetables blended into tomato pasta sauce, smoothies, into soups or into bean, fish or meat patties)
  • Mash them or mince it in: if you’re able to mince or mash them in to mix them in enough as part of the main entrée (a small pair of scissors works really well here) then your toddler will not be able to pick them out easily, and may just resign to eating it. This is the main tactic I’m using right now, and it seems to work so far. It may also help to cook vegetables until they are softer or tenderer in texture, so that it is easier to incorporate.
  • Offer a variety of dips: Depending on the age of the toddler, you can offer thin strips of raw or cooked vegetables with a variety of dips like hummus, spinach dips and curries so that it becomes fun to eat and to try the different tastes!
  • Get creative! I tried a couple of instantaneous mini recipes over these past few weeks with varying levels of success. For example, I tried creating a kale chickpea patty (still needs work on that recipe), tuna cheese tomato quesadillas (successful), and a chopped tomato basil olive oil mix (somewhat successful). You might discover new recipes that your whole family can enjoy!
  • Dress ‘em up: Seen those pictures of foods on toddler plates arranged attractively into smiling faces, sailboats or flowers? This method gives varying levels of success with my toddler, but it’s still worth a try! When I tried giving the plate above, I was heartened to see that at least she was willing to put a pea in her mouth and test out the texture/taste again – even if she spit it out at the end! It seems that she would readily eat the foods she does like and is used to, like black beans, but still leaves most of the other vegetables/finger foods alone on the plate. However, she does enjoy her meal more when I make efforts with plate presentation, so who knows, the new foods and vegetables might still be eaten at a future point!
  • Offer ‘em in a different form: e.g., corn on the cob verses corn kernels. When I tried this, our toddler was willing to try corn on the cob and seemed to like it when she had been  off corn kernels for a few weeks. Now, two weeks later, she wants me to cut the kernels off the cob and then will eat them that way. Of course it also depends on the age of the toddler what form you offer the food in!

Think of these ideas collectively as a two pronged strategy approach; you are not only trying to incorporate more vegetables stealthily into your toddler’s food, but you are also continuing to offer them regularly on her plates (and your plates).  So don’t hide all the veggies in her food! Always keep some vegetables visible so that they become a familiar sight at meals, and are always there within reach if she wants to try them again.

Unfortunately, when trying to work more vegetables into the diet, it can at times feel like you’re having to go back to the basics of trying to mash in, mix in, and blend in vegetables to keep a good quantity in your toddler’s diet regularly. But take heart:  your toddler will likely outgrow some of these veggie ‘dislike’ fads at a later point in childhood. Now two months after she had boycotted peas, carrots and corn, our toddler is willing to occasionally eat corn and peas again. Just today at lunch she had a bowl of mixed fried rice with scrambled eggs, tomatoes and peas and she ate all the peas within the entrée! And once again, don’t forget the power of modeling! Our toddler used to refuse to eat seaweed (think sushi) but now after watching us a few times and having it put on her plate, she was finally willing to try it the other day and then asked for more!

Feel free to chime in with other tips/strategies you’ve found successful!

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Toddler Regression

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Mind the peas (carrots and corn…) – dietitianmom.com

When my toddler turned 29 months, I noticed a big change in the way she was acting. It’s almost as if she went into a phase of “toddler regression”. Whereas she used to love finger foods and would love all sorts of cooked and certain raw vegetable pieces to pick up (like peas, carrots, corn, tomatoes, cooked mushrooms, zucchini, squash etc.), now she won’t touch them with a 10 foot pole! Even tomatoes, which is her absolute favorite and she used to love picking them up on her plate. Now she is so picky that if she sees some vegetables pieces in her food, she might try to pick them out. She’ll even tell me spontaneously that she doesn’t like vegetables, but seriously, where did she learn this? She is still not around other children enough, and she doesn’t get vegetables for snacks at preschool. Even more puzzling is that while she’s developed an aversion to vegetables, her love and intake of fruits has skyrocketed. I thought it might be due to her teething so she didn’t want to eat vegetables that were too crunchy because it hurt her teeth, but discarded that theory when I saw her chomp down on apples. I’m wondering if it’s also because I’ve lately started giving her more dried fruit (which is naturally very sweet and some with added sweetness like dried cranberries) so perhaps she’s developing more of a sweet tooth compared to “blander” vegetables.

There were two other developments. First, it is like she has developed some kind of x-ray vision (without glasses). If she sees some specks of spices and herbs added to her foods like basil, she won’t hesitate to take time to painstakingly take out each and every speck that she sees. The other development, more astonishing, has to do with her using the potty. She has been potty trained pretty much for at least 6 months by the time she turned 29 months of age. However, just the other day she wet her pants 4-5 times in a day, and even had a poop accident in her pants! It wasn’t like she was in distress, and the potty was there within reach. It was almost like she was playing and just forgot to go in the potty, or lost her inner signal about needing to go (with her usual telltale little ‘I need to run to the potty’ jig).

Well as strange as all these behaviors were, I’ve had to come up with some ways to deal with them. The potty issue thankfully got a little bit better over the following few days, and now at 31 months, she’s back to her potty routine without issues.  This may be due to the fact that she has matured more developmentally and possibly also because we started implementing a strict no nonsense attitude regarding it. Since we know that she is potty trained and there’s no excuse for her not going in the potty, if we catch her with her pants wet, then she can expect a negative consequence. As for her behaviors eating wise, these also got a little bit better (not as picky about seeing spices in her food), but she’s still off lots of finger foods like peas, carrots and corn. See my upcoming post for some food ‘counter tactics’ I’ve had to implement!

Itsy Bitsy Black Bean Patties

blackbeanpattyvertical

Itsy Bitsy Black Bean Patties – dietitianmom.com

Here’s another easy to make recipe that packs a lot of nutrition for growing toddlers–Itsy Bitsy Black Bean Patties. Serve these as finger foods alongside cut up bits of fruits and vegetables, or dress these patties up by cutting pieces of bread into quarters and sandwiching the patties to make little sandwiches! Adding sweet potato into the recipe gives the patties a nice moistness. Once again, these patties freeze and thaw relatively well, and are toddler approved!

Ingredients:

  • 1 small sweet potato
  • 1 (15 ounce) can low sodium black beans, rinsed and drained well
  • 1 egg white
  • 3 teaspoons paprika
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1 minced garlic (or ½ tsp garlic powder)
  • 2 tbsp minced onion
  • ¼ tsp pepper
  • 1/3 cup breadcrumbs
  • 2 tablespoons cornmeal
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

Directions:

  1. Wash and scrub the skin of a small sweet potato thoroughly, then pierce the sweet potato with a fork a few times. Cook it in the microwave in a covered dish for 3 minutes. Let it cool, before peeling off the skin and cutting the sweet potato into rough chunks. Put this into the food processor.
  2. Add into the food processor bowl black beans, egg white, paprika, oregano, fresh minced garlic or garlic powder, minced onions and pepper. Blend into a chunky puree.
  3. Add breadcrumbs and pulse once or twice more to blend.
  4. With wet hands, form bean and sweet potato mixture into small patties. Dust both sides lightly with cornmeal.
  5. Heat the olive oil in a heavy, well-seasoned skillet over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the patties and cook on the first side for 5 minutes. Turn over carefully and cook 3-4 minutes longer, until browned. Makes about 10 patties.

 

Curry Chickpea Patty Cakes

chickpea patty recipeAs promised, here’s the first of a few baby/toddler friendly recipes I’ve developed—Curry Chickpea Patty Cakes. It’s super easy to make and cook, and even freezes (and thaws out) well. And the best part? It’s toddler approved!

 Ingredients:

  • 1 (16 ounce) can garbanzo beans (unsalted if possible), drained and rinsed
  • ¼- ½ cup of panko bread crumbs/regular bread crumbs (may add more if needed)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons dried parsley
  • 1-2 teaspoons curry powder
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • ¼-1/2 tablespoon ground black pepper
  • ¼ cup chopped onion (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice (optional)
  • Olive oil for frying, as needed

Direction:

  1. Place drained and rinsed garbanzo beans, ¼ cup panko bread crumbs, olive oil, egg, parsley, curry powder, garlic powder, lemon juice (optional), onion (optional) and black pepper in a food processor or blender. Puree until mixture thickens and can be molded. Add more bread crumbs as needed so the mixture is not too moist.
  2. Roll mixture into the size of a ping pong balls; place these on a plate.
  3. Press into patties and coat lightly with bread crumbs.
  4. Heat a small amount of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat
  5. Pan-fry patties until crispy, about 3 minutes on each side.

This may be a hit with all in the family. Enjoy!

Qn of the Month: How Do I Make Kale ‘Chips’?

DSC08680First, what is kale and why eat it? Kale is a dark leafy green packed with important nutrients like vitamins, fiber, calcium, antioxidants like carotenoids and flavonoids, as well as lutein and zeaxanthin compounds. Kale can be served in many different ways (see post The Wonders of Kale), but one way that may become a fast favorite in your household is to turn kale into ‘chips’! So how do you make them? Very simply! Here’s how:

All you need: A raw bunch of kale, olive oil and seasonings as desired

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 325oF (or 170oC)
  2. Wash and pat dry 1 bunch of fresh kale.
  3. Cut (or simply hand tear) the leaves off the thick stems/ribs and into bite sized pieces.
  4. Put in a bowl, drizzle with a generous amount of olive oil (at least 2 tablespoons to half a bunch of kale), then toss so that all the pieces are well coated.
  5. Put parchment/wax/baking paper on 1-2 baking sheets, then spread the pieces on evenly.
  6. Bake for 10-15 min, then turn the pieces over. Bake another 10-15 min or until the pieces are crisp, but not overly brown.
  7. Season and enjoy! Once cooled, keep in an airtight container and these ‘chips’ will stay crisp for up to 3-4 days!

If you like, you can sprinkle on a bit of salt or garlic salt once the chips are done. However, here are a few other simple but great tasting seasonings you can use for your family:
Parmesan cheese
Rosemary
Garlic powder
Onion powder
Finely grated cheddar cheese
Paprika (or cayenne pepper)
Pepper
Feel free to experiment and try a combination of seasonings. My favorite so far is rosemary and parmesan cheese with a touch of garlic/onion powder. Yum! And the taste? My husband says the kale chips taste a bit like Japanese seaweed because they are so crisp and papery thin!

Don’t want to make your own? I know that Trader Joe’s sells a small bag (2 ounces or 57 grams) for US $3.99. It has a long list of ingredients though: kale, cashews, sunflower seeds, carrot powder, red bell pepper powder, onion powder, apple cider vinegar, lemon juice concentrate, salt, garlic powder, chipotle powder. Not only is this relatively expensive (a bunch of raw kale costs only about US $1 and there is also the precut washed version for about a dollar more), this product may not be suitable for someone with particular food allergies like to nuts or seeds. And personally, I don’t think you need so many seasonings to make great tasting chips!

Whether your child normally likes vegetables or not, this is sure to be a winner for him/her and probably the rest of the family! By the way, you can bake and turn the leaves of other vegetables like swiss chard, beets, turnip greens or radish leaves into crunchy ‘chip’ snacks too!

Toddler Won’t Eat? Tips for Over Ones (Part 2)  

As a follow up to my first post  [Toddler Won’t Eat: Tips for Over Ones (Part 1)], I’ll like to provide 6 more tips that may help encourage and get your toddler eating:

Respect Independence/Share Responsibility
One of the marks of toddlerhood is an increasing sense of independence and desire to do things by one self. A good example is a toddler wanting to feed himself or herself with a spoon or fork without parental help. Such growing independence should be respected and encouraged, and this would mean an increasingly shared responsibility when it comes to meals/snacks. It’s helpful to remember Ellyn Satter’s ‘Division of Responsibility’ model where the parent decides what foods to serve and when to serve them. It is then the child’s responsibility to determine if he/she wants to eat and how much.

Limit the High Calorie Low Nutrient Drinks/Snacks
Like most of us, it’s often never a problem to get children to eat high calorie but low nutrient foods and snacks like soda, juices, chips, cookies, chocolate, doughnuts…you name it. But understandably a child can easily fill up on these foods and then not be hungry for more nutritious foods. So make an effort to limit or avoid giving those high calorie drinks like soda and fruit juices for your child, and limit milk intake as well to no more than a maximum of 18-24 ounces a day (especially if there are already other dairy rich sources in the child’s diet). As one fellow mom shared, she has a ‘one sweet item at home at a time (e.g., sugar cookies)’ rule–this might work for your home as well.

Offer a Variety!
It is important to keep offering those new foods, even if your child is in the midst of a food jag. Offer a variety of age-appropriate foods-even if it means offering the same food 10-15 times! Keep in mind that the same food presented in different forms may be considered new foods to your child (e.g., a boiled egg versus a scrambled egg). My now 20 month old toddler seems to be getting a bit more choosy and taste/texture sensitive (or as my sister says, “she now has a more sophisticated palate!”) so she is more wary of trying and accepting new foods which look different and have an unfamiliar texture. This is case with foods she used to enjoy in late babyhood like lentil shepherd pie but which I didn’t give her to eat for some time. But I have found some success with modeling my enjoyment and presenting the new food many times so that becomes a regular part of her diet. So my advice? Treat the ‘2 years and under’ period as a real window of opportunity to get your child exposed to as wide a variety of foods as possible. After that, it does get a bit more challenging but it can still be done!

Respect Eating Preferences (to a Degree…):
Foods eaten today may not be eaten tomorrow, like small pieces of broccoli versus the stems. Your child may also react differently to the same foods on different days. It is not necessary to always offer a substitute food. At times, you go with the flow because the child will most likely grow out of this and at other times you find a way to work around it. For example, my daughter at one point decided she only wanted to eat the crusts of sandwiches (which have the least filling) instead of the center white part where the filling was spread. So what did I do? I just served ‘crustless sandwich squares’ for a few weeks until she was used to eating those. Then I switched back to giving the regular sandwiches. It worked!

Don’t Be a Short Order Cook
In Part 1 of my post on this subject, I’ve already mentioned about the importance of sticking to a regular meal/snack schedule. This will often mean 3 meals and 2-3 snacks, as toddlers have small tummies, though some children eat 3 larger meals during the day and seem happy to go without snacks in between. If a toddler is not excessively hungry, he or she will be less grouchy and more willing to eat at meals. If the child won’t eat, still have him sit at the table until most of the family members have finished eating within reason.

If your toddler refuses a meal or snack, you can give another one in another hour or two and she can wait till then. If she was hungry but chose not to eat, she will be more likely to eat what is offered next time. Even if your toddler eats very little or not anything at all, be assured that he/she will make up the nutrition later that day or later in the week. Recently my toddler’s dinner was delayed by over an hour, because she had a late lunch and I (unwisely) gave her an afternoon snack as well. So the rest of the family had our dinner while she continued playing. An hour later, she was famished and ate all her dinner within 15 minutes! I’m glad I didn’t try to make her a different meal, but I did learn that the next time she has a late lunch I probably need to skip the afternoon snack!

Dessert
If you want to give your child dessert, know that you don’t need to offer it with every meal or even everyday. But if you do offer dessert, don’t make it a weapon. This means don’t withhold the dessert if your child refuses to eat. Otherwise your toddler will quickly realize that dessert must be better and something good, and will start to evaluate foods into different categories instead of being on the same standing. In our household yogurt is the sweeter second course for dinner, and often fruit is the dessert that we give at the end of the meal. So think of alternatives that you can give to the traditional dessert foods!

 

As always, make the meal time atmosphere as inviting and pleasant as possible. Have pleasant conversation, a clean and bright eating space, music if desired and limit distractions like TV viewing (and arguing). You can even inject a bit of fun into meal times for older toddlers/children by having themed nights and themed food. This can be as simple as a dress up, color themed food/dress, taco night or breakfast for dinner night!

Toddler Won’t Eat? Tips for Over Ones (Part 1)

Is your little one fussing and not wanting to eat? Are you worried that he or she might turn into a picky eater? Well don’t be. Here are 5 simple ways to help get your toddler eating and make sure what your toddler eats is as nutrition-packed as possible!

Boost the Finger Foods
Offer more protein and nutrient dense finger foods. This way, even if your toddler will only eat mostly those and less spooned foods, at least YOU feel better and know your little one is getting more nutrition than just pasta bits, rice, or Cheerios® for a whole meal. Examples of nutrient dense finger foods would be soft cooked beans, tender cooked meat bits, bits of cooked fish, tofu, boiled egg white pieces, cheese sticks, or pasta pieces coated in a protein rich puree sauce.

Offer Nutritious Snacks
During snack time, it’s easy to fall into the trap of only giving carbohydrate rich foods like goldfish crackers, Chex® cereal or animal crackers. Take a bit of time to think about your child’s snack time and alternatives that you can offer (e.g., using hummus, mashed kidney/black bean spread or commercial baby meat jar as filling between bread to make a few bite-sized sandwich squares). Other ideas include offering fruits or vegetables with spreads like peanut butter, hummus or sunflower spread, offering fruit slices with cheese, or making mini pita veggie sandwiches, or melted cheese and tomato quesadillas. Offer small nutrient dense portions at snack time so that your child will still be able to get hungry by the time meal time rolls around.

Don’t Delay Those Meals and Snacks
If your baby is used to a schedule of 3 meals 2 snacks, then stick to it. Don’t delay! Between late babyhood to early toddlerhood, there were times when I found that if my little one was over hungry, she tended to get more irritable and fussy, and this sometimes made it much harder to get her to settle down and eat properly in the high chair. So listen and look out for baby’s cues (my baby tends to get noticeably more irritable when playing with toys before a meal/snack time), and have food ready before you put baby in the high chair. This way you can immediately offer some food to baby or start spoon feeding him or her. The longer baby has to wait for food in the chair, the more fussy your toddler can become (plus, it’s not fun to be strapped in and unable to move much). Alternatively, you could put a few bits of finger snacks on the table to get baby started. Responding to your baby or toddler’s cues will also help him or her listen to internal hunger and satiety cues.

Go Easy on the Milk!
After a baby turns 12 months of age, it’s possible to end up giving too much dairy products (especially milk) in the course of a day. This can occur if a mother has stopped breastfeeding and wants her toddler to take more cow’s milk, or if a young toddler has been used to drinking a certain volume of formula every day as a baby.  What’s more, toddlers generally love milk, cheese, yogurts and other dairy products, so getting them to eat these foods is often not a problem. But a child could end up getting full on these foods and then not be willing to eat other foods which may be important nutritionally. Recommended calcium intakes for toddlers do vary by country (more on this in a later post), but if you are following US calcium intake recommendations then about 4-5 servings of calcium rich foods a day will suffice (depending on the portion size and calcium content of these foods). Recommended servings sizes for toddlers are generally a 4 ounce cup of milk, a slice of cheese and a 4 ounce pot of yogurt.  If your child has been used to getting milk with snacks and meals, you may need to offer water with snacks instead, so that your child has a chance to get hungrier for meal times.

Model Your Enjoyment
One of the best things you can do for baby is to have a regular family meal time together, where the toddler can be part of a relaxed meal time atmosphere witnessing other family members enjoying the foods served. Show your toddler how much you love the food you’re eating, especially if it is the same food the toddler is having! I find this often works, and my toddler is more willing to try a food on her tray, once she sees me eating the same food item on my plate.