Eating meals. It’s become rare in our culture. All-day grazing or “forgetting” to eat can have negative consequences on our energy and productivity. And, our digestion. In this video, I make the case for why I want you to sit down to eat meals.
OK, so you’ve heard me (and others) talking about how beans and lentils are super healthy. And you’d love to eat them more often. There’s only one thing holding you back – the aftereffects. Gas. Bloating. Beans ‘musicality” if you will. You’re not alone. Read on to get how to make beans and lentils less gassy.
Adding lentils and beans to your diet is a great way to provide your body with protein, fibre, and micronutrients such as iron, folate, and other B vitamins, all at a minimal cost. They are versatile ingredients, fitting into many different dishes, are gluten-free, and have a low glycemic index to boot.
What’s not so great is later in the day when that hearty chili turns into uncomfortable gas or bloating. While an undesirable consequence of a delicious meal, it’s important to keep in mind that this is actually a sign that your digestive tract is healthy and functioning as it should!
The gas is caused by the good bacteria found in our gut. Beans and lentils contain specific types of carbohydrates, and particularly fibre, that our body doesn’t have the ability to digest. As a result, it passes through our digestive tract until it reaches the bacteria in our large intestine, which happily eat up what our bodies couldn’t, and in doing so produce gases. These gases build up until our body has to deal with it and, well, you know the rest. So while passing wind is a good indication of healthy gut bacteria, it’s not so good when Aunt Ruth is sitting beside you at the dinner table.
So to help you continue to cook without worry:
Tips to Make Beans and Lentils Less Gassy:
- Rinse before cooking. Rinsing canned beans and lentils helps reduce the amount of those indigestible carbohydrates, which are released into the water. As an added bonus, it also helps remove any excess sodium. Rinse your beans and lentils under cold water for at least 1 minute to reap these benefits.
- Even better, soak them overnight. If you’re using dried beans or lentils, soaking them in cold water does the same thing that rinsing does, but because they are dry and uncooked, it takes a little longer to get the same effect. Aim to soak your beans or lentils for at least 4 hours, and preferably overnight. Dump the soaking water (i.e. don’t use it to cook the beans). Then be sure to give your beans/lentils a good rinse before cooking to wash away those gas-producing carbohydrates.
- Introduce them slowly. This can be particularly helpful if you’re introducing beans or lentils to your kiddos, but it’s also helpful if you find they tend to make you particularly gassy. By using beans and lentils in small amounts first, it gives your gut bacteria time to adjust to their increase in food supply, instead of overwhelming them with the feast of their lives. Then slowly increase your consumption and you’ll find your body has a better time dealing with it, which means less flatulence for you!
- Call in the reinforcements. If all else seems to fail and you’re still struggling with an uncomfortable amount of gas, digestive enzymes can be called in to help. Sold over-the-counter, look for supplements that contain the enzyme alpha-galactosidase, which breaks up the indigestible carbohydrates and helps ease the digestive process. One brand name is Beano. All of us can use a little extra help from time to time.
Try these tips the next time you’re cooking with beans or lentils and see how they work for you. Happy bean and lentil eating!
Ready to give beans and lentils a try? Check out my recipes.
A BIG THANK YOU to guest co-author (and student) Tanya Ruscheinski!
At a workshop that I led last week, I was asked whether it was worth eating lettuce because it doesn’t have any nutrient value. I knew that this would be a great so-called nutrition “truth” that I can bust for you too.
All over the internet, in books, even in grocery stores, you’ll see vegetables ranked based on a score of nutrient value. But just because these scores are popular, doesn’t mean that you should believe in them.
You see, I am a true scientist. A true scientist understands what we know, and acknowledges what we don’t know. The real truth is that the scientific understanding is in its infancy regarding exactly what it is in each and every vegetable that is healthy. We know of many vitamins, minerals, and other phytonutrients. But there are likely tens, hundreds, thousands more that we haven’t yet discovered. And that’s just the nutrients that are healthy for our bodies. We’re also discovering more and more about the many roles that our gut microbiome has on our health. Science has even more of a rudimentary understanding of what it is in vegetables that makes our gut bacteria happy.
Let me share a few examples to illustrate my position. When I did my undergraduate degree in nutrition from arguably the best nutrition school in in Canada during the mid-90’s, I was taught:
- There is no nutritional value in onions and garlic. Their only role was to provide taste. Now we know that there are health-promoting phytochemicals in onions and garlic. Onions and garlic certainly do count in your daily servings of vegetables.
- Nothing about phytochemicals. That’s because the whole class of phytochemicals had not yet been discovered. All that science knew at the time was vitamins, minerals and fibre.
- That the gut microbiome simply helped digest food. It didn’t play any other role in human health. Now we’re learning that it may be linked to depression, heart health, obesity, food allergies, and a wide range of other health conditions.
Now I want to be really clear here. I’m not telling you that vegetables aren’t healthy. Vegetables certainly are healthy. In fact, I want about half of what you eat to be vegetables. I just don’t want you to buy into these various rankings of the “best” vegetables. Also, I don’t want you to buy in to the idea that certain vegetables have no nutrient value. Yes, even iceberg lettuce.
Instead of thinking that a vegetable has no nutrient value. I recommend thinking that science has not yet discovered what’s healthy about this vegetable.
So how do you apply my message? Eat lots of vegetables. Make vegetables be about half of what you eat. As wide a variety of vegetables as you can get. Eat any and all the vegetables that you enjoy. And, try new veggies often. Eat them raw sometimes. Eat them cooked sometimes. Because our bodies better absorb some nutrients when the veggies are raw. And, our bodies better absorb some nutrients when the veggies are cooked.
Photo credit: Petra Cigale on Unsplash
Maybe you’ve heard the statistic. It takes kids between 10 – 30 times of trying a new food before they like it. But did you also know that a study found that parents typically gave up offering a food after 5 times? Yes, they didn’t even make the minimum 10 times and certainly were nowhere near the 30 times.
I use the term “challenging food” to refer to a food that your child has either:
- Never seen before. This includes new recipes/dishes/ preparations of a food they’ve known previously. For example, if your child is familiar with raw and steamed carrots but has never seen roasted carrots before, roasted carrots would be considered a challenging food.
- Seen many (many) times but has never tried.
A mistake that I see parents make all the time is to only offer challenging foods at dinner. Offering challenging foods only at dinner is a mistake for several reasons. First, is the purely practical reason that if you’re working your way up to 10 – 30 presentations of a food and you’re only serving challenging foods at dinner, it’s going to take years before you reach those 30 times. No wonder parents in the research study gave up after 5 times. It seems like you’ve been trying to get your child to eat that food forever.
The second reason is that this contributes to kids’ bad behaviour at dinner. Kids are smart. They figure out pretty quickly that they can get their favourite foods at breakfast, lunch, and snacks. But, that they’ll be presented with scary stuff at dinner. So, they try every trick in their books to get out of eating at dinner. They misbehave. They announce that they aren’t hungry (and then whine about being hungry 20 minutes later). They complain that they’re too tired to eat. In other words, anything that they can brainstorm that will push your buttons and get them out of facing the challenging foods on their plate.
So, what’s the alternative? Use any meal or snack as an opportunity to present a challenging food. Breakfast, lunch, morning snack, afternoon snack, and bedtime snack are all fantastic opportunities to present a challenging food. Mix it up from day-to-day. One day at afternoon snack, serve some of the challenging food leftovers from dinner the night before. The next day, serve a new fruit at breakfast. One day, pack in your child’s lunch a couple of pieces of the raw veggies that you’re packing for your own lunch.
A couple of key tips to making this strategy work:
- Always include familiar foods at the meal or snack. Remember: it’s unlikely that your child will eat the challenging food today. So, be sure that there are familiar foods from the other food groups that they can eat to satisfy their hunger and meet their nutrition needs.
- Provide a small serving of the challenging food. I’m talking one baby carrot in their packed lunch. This limits the amount of food waste when they don’t eat it. And, a small serving is much less intimidating than a large serving. When your child does try, and like, the challenging food, as they say in showbiz, always leave them wanting something more. In other words, when your child does eat the challenging food, you can repeat that food soon and provide a larger serving.
While presenting a workshop on Monday, a small group of parents pulled me aside and asked a question that I get asked all the time. “What do you think about sneaking in vegetables? Is hiding veggies okay?” You know what these parents mean. There are several very popular cookbooks, one by a celebrity, made up entirely of recipes that involve pureeing vegetables and hiding them in other foods. Classic examples are squash in mac and cheese and beets in chocolate cake.
Most parents who ask me this question do so with a sheepish look in their faces. They’re expecting me to tell them that it’s a horrible idea. However, my answer isn’t a simple – “good” or “bad”. Here’s the details.
Studies show that kids do eat more servings of vegetables in families where they add pureed vegetables to dishes. Also, most of us could use to eat more veggies. So exploring new dishes that include veggies is a fantastic idea. Go ahead, incorporate more vegetables into your eating habits!
However, if you are going to use this technique, there are two very important steps to take to make sure that you are both helping your child eat more veggies now AND helping teach them to choose to eat vegetables as a life-long habit. (And, not inadvertently creating an even more picky eater).
Hiding Veggies Important Step #1:
If all you’re serving your child is mac and cheese and chocolate cake, all they’re learning is to eat mac and cheese and chocolate cake. You may know that there’s squash in the mac and cheese and beets in the cake, but your child doesn’t. If you choose to sneak in veggies, also be sure to serve obvious veggies too. For example, serve steamed broccoli on the side of that mac and cheese. Even if your child doesn’t eat the obvious veggies, you’re role modeling choosing to eat vegetables – an important lesson for life-long healthy eating habits.
Hiding Veggies Important Step #2:
Don’t deny that there are veggies in a dish if your child asks. One book I read recommended waking up in the middle of the night to prepare your purees and freeze them so that you can sneak them into dishes without your kids seeing you. Um, no. Not what I recommend. First, I want you to get the few hours of precious sleep that you can get. Second, picky kids are smart and pay close attention to detail. They’re also little conspiracy theorists about food. They will figure out that you’ve been hiding veggies in your dishes. Then, they’ll wonder what else you’ve been hiding and will become even more suspicious of their food. Not the path you want to head down. Don’t deny what you’ve put in a dish. At the same time, you aren’t a waiter at a two Michelin star restaurant. You don’t need to describe every ingredient and every step that you took to prepare each dish. In other words, you don’t need to divulge what’s in a dish, but don’t deny what’s in it either. If your child asks, answer them directly in a neutral, matter of fact tone.
When kids enjoy being at the family table, they’ll eat better. Period. This is a strategy for dealing with kids who are picky eaters (fussy eaters) that is amazingly powerful, yet seldom used. When the families whom I work with adopt this tip they love it. It immediately makes meal times way less stressful (for everyone). Everyone is freed up to enjoy the meal.
This strategy has the power to create the family meals for that you wish for. Yet, if you’re like most of the parents I meet, you feel that you need to be doing more to be good a good Mom or Dad. You’re under the impression that to do a good job of parenting your child around food, you need to cajole them into eating their veggies. To refuse allowing seconds of rice/noodles unless they take 2 more bites of their meat.
If this rings true for you, I have big news. You don’t have to be the food police. Your job is to plan, prepare, and provide meals and snacks. And, to join your child at the table to lead the way in creating a positive environment.
How to do this? Be good company. Have pleasant conversations. Yes, that includes having pleasant conversations with your partner too – your child doesn’t have to be the centre of your attention for every second of the meal.
What to talk about? Choose any topic except the food you’re eating. One of my favourites is to play good thing, bad thing. This game is also known by many other names. What it involves is everyone at the table taking turns telling about the best and worst things about their day. Even preschoolers love playing this game. And you’ll connect as a family.
No, this doesn’t mean that magically you’ll no longer be concerned about your child’s nutrition. It seems paradoxical, but the more you back off telling your children how many bites they need to eat, the better they’ll eat. Kids respond positively to you removing the pressure. Hunger motivates kids to eat. You don’t need to. When you follow this “be good company” strategy, it’s a weight off your shoulders and it’s empowering for your children.
When kids enjoy being at the family table, they’ll eat better. Period.
Does this sound familiar?
“My kid used to eat just about everything and anything but she stopped eating meat all of a sudden. She's now 2.”
This, hands-down, is the single most common question that parents come to me wondering. Well, it’s not always meat that their children suddenly won’t eat. It may be vegetables, fruit, or most foods (i.e. they’ll only eat something like 5 foods).
If you’ve recently experienced this, the good news is that you’re not alone!
Most (but not all) kids will happily eat almost everything when you’re first introducing solid foods. From about 6 months onwards, these happy babies keenly gobble up most foods you put in front of them. In fact, they’re delighted with all the different textures, shapes, and tastes that you introduce to them.
Then, all of a sudden, something changes. This change can happen as young as 9 months, and most commonly happens somewhere between 18 months – 2 years.
Welcome to the picky eating stage.
It’s a completely normal developmental stage that most kids go through.
No, you didn’t cause your great little eater to suddenly “hate” foods that she loved previously. If you’re like most of the parents I’ve worked with, I know that I need to tell you to turn down the volume of the Mommy-guilt (or Daddy-guilt) voice in your head that’s telling you that it’s all your fault, that you did something wrong to cause this. That you “broke” your child. Let me tell you definitively: you didn’t.
The science doesn’t tell us why kids all of a sudden become picky. Some scientists have theorized that it’s a protective thing. From back when we lived in caves. At this age infants become toddlers and start wandering away from parents. It would be evolutionarily protective to have kids become scared to put random (i.e. potentially poisonous) plants in their mouths. It’s an interesting theory but who knows if this is true.
What I do know is that picky eating is a developmental stage. Kids become wary of foods. They honestly become scared to try things (yes, even if they’ve eaten them before). They don’t have the language skills to tell you that they’re feeling trepidatious about trying that food. So they simply say “I hate it!” (before they’ve even tried it.
The good news is that you don’t just have to wait until your daughter or son grows out of this stage. You can support them to be confident enough to try new foods, to increase the range of foods that they’ll eat, and to get the good nutrition that they need.
The bad news is that I can’t solve your question in 1 short and snappy blog post. I can, however, point you in the right direction.
As first steps, I encourage you to:
- Continue serving your child small servings of every food that you eat in your household.
- Role model eating these foods by joining your child at as many meals and snacks as possible.
- Plan meals and snacks that include both familiar and challenging foods.
And of course, keep your eyes on your peeled for other strategies I'll share to help your picky eater transition smoothly through this difficult phase (while ensuring that they’re meeting their nutrition needs).
I’ve been doing workshops for parents on picky eating for 8 years now. At every single picky eater seminar there is one strategy that always causes resistance with the parents in the audience. I continue to share it because it’s a very powerful strategy for minimizing picky eating. Yet I can almost hear the thud it makes when I describe it and it lands on the floor. The problem for which it’s a solution? How to get kids (particularly toddlers and preschoolers) to stay at the table for meals. It’s the solution for meals that go on and on forever because your child sits down, takes one bite, then pops up from the table to do something terribly important, then returns to the table, takes another bite, pops up from the table (and so on and so on).
So, what’s this successful, but unpopular strategy? Create a rule that all meals and snacks are eaten when sitting down. In other words: Stop. Eat. Then Continue On. Yes, I do mean snacks too. You may wonder why I continue to share this strategy knowing that it’ll be so unpopular. I share it because it really is successful for supporting kids to do a good job of eating. If we allow the common practice of letting kids eat snacks “on the run”, i.e. while in the car, in the stroller, you chasing them around the house spooning bite after bite into their mouths, we’re teaching kids that there is an alternative to sitting still at a table to eat. As seen through a toddler’s or preschooler’s eyes:
“Why is it that sometimes can I eat while playing. But other times I’m told that I have to stop playing and sit at a table to eat (which is bo-ring).”
Create the expectation that all meals and snacks are eaten sitting down. In families who set this expectation, kids come to the table when called. They eat. Then, they continue on with their day (i.e. go back to playing). Meals and snack go much more smoothly and are less stressful because the kids aren’t constantly getting up from the table.
I understand the initial resistance that you may have to this strategy. In our super busy lives, how are we supposed to carve out time to stop and eat snacks? And it seems like I’m saying that you can never leave the house again, because you always need to be home to give snacks. Not true. Let me clarify.
Does this mean that you never get to leave the house again? No. In the summer this is especially easy. Stop at the park bench, picnic table, or spread out a blanket and enjoy a snack. Use similar ingenuity at indoor locations. For example, you can stop at the bench in the recreation centre foyer or use a table at the food court at the mall.
The important point is to stop. Don’t feed your child in the stroller, car seat, etc. And, don’t hand out a snack while your child continues playing. I know that it’s tempting to do so in our busy lives. But, it sets you up for more battles at meals and snacks. What seems like an efficient use of time in the immediate, actually costs you more time in the long run. In families who establish the stop-to-eat expectation, meals and snacks are very quick. And, they are much more pleasant. When it’s meal and snack time the kids simply get down to the business of eating.
Simply put: Stop. Eat. Then, continue on.
Being known as the picky eater dietitian, people expect that I work with toddlers and preschoolers. It’s true, many, if not most, of the families I work with have 2 – 5 year olds. But I also work with parents of school-age picky eaters. These parents thought that picky eating was just a phase that their kids would grow out of. But now their little ones aren’t so little, and they are still picky. Often what sparks these parents to contact me is their child expresses anxiety about social situations because of the food. They don’t want to go to birthday parties and sleep-overs because they are worried that there won’t be anything for them to eat.
The good news is that we certainly can help these kids to become less picky and more confident with food. The bad news is that change is slower at this age than when working with younger kids.
When working with school-age kids my approach is even more individualized than with toddlers and preschoolers because of their more advanced developmental stage. However, the actions in these family’s plans always start in the same place. If you’ve got a school-age child who didn’t grow out of picky eating, here’s where to start.
Challenge School-Age Picky Eater’s Self-Identity
Ford said (I may be paraphrasing a bit here):
“Whether you believe you can, or you believe you can’t, you’re right”.
These kiddos have a self-identity that they are picky; that they don’t try new foods. Therefore, we need to change their self-belief before they’ll be open to trying new foods. One simple, but powerful way to do this is to change how you speak about your child and food. As a caregiver, you are incredibly important for shaping how a child thinks about him- or herself. Stop calling your child “picky” or “fussy”. Stop saying things about food like “you won’t like this” or “I know that you won’t try that”. Yikes, talk about a self-fulfilling prophesy. Instead, say things that open up the possibility of change. Say things that communicate your belief that they will learn to like new foods. Examples include “you don’t like it yet” or “your taste buds change as you get older. You may want to try it again.”
School-Age Picky Eaters: Provide Opportunities to Try New Foods
You likely stopped serving your child new foods long ago because they never ate them and it seemed futile. However, if kids are never served new foods, how are they going to eat new foods? It’s like saying that you won’t take your child to the pool until they know how to swim. Herein lies the rub. Your child won’t learn to swim unless you take them to the pool, many times, and they take swimming lessons. Learning to like new foods works the same way. Kids need to see them and try them many times before they learn to like them. Now you’ve likely been serving your child a different meal from the rest of the family for many years. Suddenly switching to making one meal for the whole family and expecting your child to eat everything isn’t the answer. A successful, and gentle, first step is to use a strategy that I call the share plate. This means serving at least one food in a meal on a plate or in a bowl in the middle of the table from which everyone can serve themselves. Other terms for this are “family style” or “Chinese style”. Encourage everyone in the family, your fussy eater included, to serve themselves from this plate/ bowl if they wish. An example is to serve some cut-up fruit on a share plate at breakfast. This strategy works because it provides your picky eater with an opportunity to try something new if they choose so. But, it doesn’t force them to try it. It also communicates with your actions what I shared above – that you believe that your child will, one day, join your family in enjoying these foods.
The most common mistake with picky eaters that I see parents make is that they stop serving their kids foods that they don’t eat. I understand why parents make this choice. It seems futile to go to the effort of making food only for your child to ignore it. Or, loudly announce that they hate it. Or, melt down from just seeing it on their plate. It seems like a waste of your precious time, a waste of food, a waste of money, never mind the heartbreaking feeling that your child is rejecting you. However, stopping serving the dreaded vegetables/ meat /[insert the foods your child doesn’t eat] is the wrong way to go.
I like to give non-food analogies because food is such an emotional issue that it can be hard to see what’s going on. So here’s my non-food analogy for kids and challenging foods:
Deciding that you’ll serve your child vegetables [insert the foods your child doesn’t eat] once they like them is like deciding that you’ll take your child to the pool once they know how to swim. Of course, you need to take your child to the pool so that they can learn how to swim. They aren’t going to suddenly wake up one morning knowing how to swim.
The same goes for foods your child doesn’t like. They won’t learn to like them if they never see them. Research shows that kids need to try foods somewhere between 10 – 30 times before they learn to like them. That doesn’t count the number of times that a child needs to see a food before they’re willing to try it. Of course each child and each food is going to vary in the magical number of times. I just learned to like Brussels sprouts last year and trust me, I’ve tried them way more than 30 times.
A study showed that parents usually give up after trying 5 times. So you haven’t even made it to the minimum number of presentations never mind the top end of the average range.
So what’s the solution? Plan meals that include both safe foods and challenging foods. One meal for the whole family that includes at least one safe food for your child. Yes, if you have more than one child you will need to include safe foods for each of them. What should the challenging foods be? Foods that you eat in your family. This way you aren’t making separate foods just for your child, which, when they aren’t eaten, feels like that waste of time. You’re cooking food that you’ll eat. If the kids don’t eat it – then more leftovers for you! No wasted time, food, or money.
The powerful word in this situation is “yet”.
Your kids don’t like it yet.
Serving a food again and again is how they learn to like it. Just like how a child who is starting swimming lessons doesn’t know how to swim yet.
Keep up with the practice and trust that your child will get there.
While it may be considered poor table manners (and perhaps somewhat gross) to spit food back out, it’s actually a good strategy for helping picky eaters gain the confidence to try new foods. Yes, spitting out is okay.
For toddlers and preschoolers, trying a new food is scary. One way to make it less scary is to know that if you do choose to put something in your mouth, and it doesn’t taste good (or has a “yucky” texture), you can spit it back out.
For some picky eaters, “tasting” the food by touching it to their outstretched tongue is even less intimidating than putting the food in their mouths. This too is okay. Because it’s them taking steps towards trying the new food.
Now just because you allow food to be spit back out, doesn’t mean that you need to allow the drama that often goes along with it – the loud exclamation of “yucky!” and over-exaggerated action of spitting the food back out (perhaps accompanied by the classic wiping of the tongue to get rid of the “disgusting” taste).
Even young children can be taught how to politely take food out of their mouths without the fanfare. And, as they get a little bit older, you can teach them how to subtly spit the food into their napkin.
Bottom Line: Spitting food back out is okay. Making a big fuss about it isn’t.
You need to be careful when it comes to talking with picky eaters, toddlers and preschoolers, about food. Words are powerful. What you say can help kids open up to trying new foods. Or, it can backfire and make them more resistant to trying new foods. So what are the right and wrong things to say? It’s likely not what you think.
Right Things to Say to Picky Eaters:
Do use creative marketing. There’s nothing like an unfamiliar word to make a kid say “I hate it!” before they even try a food. On the other hand, kids respond both to fun names and descriptive terms. Use their extremely keen observation skills to your advantage by using familiar and descriptive terms. For example, broccoli can be “little trees”. Name a dish after your child’s favourite superhero.
Here’s a great example that a friend of mine shared with me recently. Her son is 4. A couple of months ago she announced that dinner was lasagna. She hadn’t served her son lasagna before so he responded with the classic “Yuck, I want something else.” As a friend of mine, she knows better than to believe him and make something different. Instead, she put a piece on his plate and while he was watching she said “see, it’s pasta cake” and separated it into it’s different layers. Her son knows what pasta is. And, he definitely knows what cake is. Sure enough, once he saw that “lasagna” was something that he recognized, he happily ate it. So far, her son won’t eat lasagna. But he happily eats “pasta cake”. As he matures, he’ll become comfortable with the word “lasagna”. Until then she’ll happily include “pasta cake” in the family meal repertoire.
Wrong Things to Say to Picky Eaters:
Don’t talk about the nutritional benefits of a food. Most parents I work with and who attend my workshops unfortunately get this one wrong. Of course you care about healthy eating. You think about it when you choose what foods to serve. But don’t talk about it with your child. Studies show that if kids are taught about how healthy a food is, they are less likely to try it. And, if they do try it, they rate the taste as yuckier than if nothing was said. So, as tempting to talk about how the broccoli will make your child grow big and strong, make the effort to zip it. In this case, your actions speak louder than words. By serving broccoli, and eating it yourself, you are teaching your child that they should eat broccoli. No words are needed.
Don’t call multiple dishes by the same term. Toddlers and preschoolers are not yet able to classify things. It’s just not where they are at developmentally. Sure, we adults can use the term “fish” to mean salmon and halibut and tuna. While these foods all have very different tastes and textures, we adults can use one word “fish” to refer to them all. The developmental stage for toddlers and preschoolers means that they use a word to refer to one very specific thing. Very specific. If you use the word “fish” to mean “halibut” then that’s what they expect. If you then say “we’re having fish” and serve them salmon, they’ll freak out. Because you lied. The food in front of them is something very different than halibut – that’s obvious to see. And their natural reaction is to not want to try it. Instead, use the technique that I shared above. If you’ve always called halibut “fish” and you want to serve salmon, call it “pink fish”.
There’s a common reason behind several of the techniques that I teach to prevent (and turn-around) picky eating with kids. It’s stress. If your child experiences stress during meals they will honestly lose their appetite. And it’s not all in their heads. There’s a physiological cause to their lost appetite. As such, if you want your child to eat well (and what parent doesn’t), you want to minimize the amount of stress that your child experiences while at the table.
Stress During Meals
Here’s how stress causes people to lose their appetite. I imagine that you’ve heard of ‘fight or flight’. It’s the signals that travel through our body when we’re scared/stressed. You’ve likely heard that adrenaline is involved. One of the many results of these messages is that the body moves the blood flow away from our digestive tract towards our muscles in our arms and legs. It’s preparing us to be able to fight or run away from that saber-tooth tiger that’s chasing after us. The body only has so much blood so it prioritizes saving our life from the imminent threat – not having lots of blood ready to absorb nutrients that we’ve eaten and digested. Because, we’re highly unlikely to eat a meal with that sabre-tooth tiger. We can eat later once we’ve found safety.
Unfortunately our bodies can’t tell the difference between a physical threat (like that tiger) and psychological stress. It creates the same reaction. So, when your child experiences stress or anxiety at the table, they honestly lose their appetite.
Now does this mean that you never serve your child a new food ever again? No. Nor does it mean that you need to go to great lengths to entertain your child at the table. I actually recommend no screens or toys at the table. Afterall, the opposite of ‘stress’ isn’t ‘entertained’. It’s ‘pleasant’ or ‘calm’.
Stress-Free Meals with Kids
Here are some strategies to create a stress-free meal environment for your child:
- Be good company. Talk about your days, play eye spy, any pleasant conversation topic.
- Don’t choose mealtime to be the time to scold or punish kids. Or, argue with your spouse.
- Always serve at least one familiar food at a meal. This way your child can rest assured that even if they don’t like the other foods on the table, they can fill themselves up with their familiar food.
- Don’t stress the mess. Kids gradually learn to use utensils. Don’t expect them to be proficient until they reach school-age. Allow toddlers and preschoolers (and younger school-age kids too) to use a mix of fingers and utensils. Constant nagging about utensils and manners can create anxiety.
- Don’t have a one-bite rule. Now before I get a slew of responses from people who swear that it works, I agree that the one-bite rule (also called the “no thank you bite” or “polite bite”) can work with some kids without causing any stress. Some kids are just wired so that trying new foods doesn’t stress them out. For lots and lots of kids however, making them try a food before they’re ready (or even the anticipation that you’ll ask them to try a new food) can cause the stress reaction in their bodies before they even sit down at the table. The result is that they’ve lost their appetite before the meal has begun.
For a step-by-step solution to reduce stress at meals with picky eaters, check out my book.
I'm often asked for fish recipes that kids will eat. This is a good one for several reasons. First, halibut is a very mild (read: non-fishy) fish. Second, lots of kids enjoy "deconstructed" or "build your own" style meals because they get to have control over what's on their plate. The result is that they'll eat things that they wouldn't have otherwise. There's also something inherently fun in make-your-own tacos.
I've shared the basic recipe here. Feel free to add other veggies to make it your own. Examples include: shredded cabbage (particularly purple cabbage), thinly sliced radishes, tomatoes, shredded raw zucchini or even cucumber slices.
Halibut is widely available frozen, year-round. Fresh halibut season is typically in May. Feel free to substitute any other white fish (or even salmon) in this recipe.
Halibut Avocado Tacos Ingredients
- 8 taco shells
- 480 g (16.9 oz) raw halibut
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 lime, juiced
- 1/2 tsp spices, cumin
- 1/2 tsp chili powder
- 1/2 tsp oregano, ground, dried
- 1 dash cayenne pepper
- 1 dash black pepper
- 1 dash salt
- 1 cup chopped lettuce, green leaf or romaine
- 1 avocado, ripe
- 1/2 cup (4 fl oz) sauce, salsa, ready-to-serve
Halibut Avocado Tacos Directions
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
- Place the halibut in a non-stick or parchment-lined baking dish. Drizzle with olive oil and lime juice; sprinkle with spices and herbs.
- Chop lettuce and slice avocado.
- Bake fish 12 to 15 minutes, or until just cooked through. Remove from the oven and cool slightly. Heat taco shells in the oven for 1-2 minutes.
- Coarsely flake the fish. Stuff the taco shells with lettuce, avocado, salsa, and flaked fish.
Halibut Avocado Tacos Deconstructed:
- Serve taco shell on the side.
- Bake a small portion of halibut just brushed with olive oil.
- Serve in separate piles or small dishes, the lettuce, avocado and salsa.
- Serve a small portion of the “spiced” halibut.
Some sayings are true. Some aren’t. You’ve likely heard people say “kids won’t starve themselves”. I hear it all the time. And, I rarely read an online conversation about picky eaters where someone doesn’t say this. Unfortunately this is one of those sayings that just isn’t true.
Will Kids Starve Themselves? Yes, Sometimes.
For some picky eaters, mealtimes have become very stressful. They’re left between the two choices of 1) being hungry or 2) facing the stressful meal situation. Some kids choose to go hungry. Yes, in other words, they starve themselves.
These kids either aren’t eating enough foods and their growth starts to falter. Or, they eat such a narrow variety that they aren’t getting the nutrients they need (even if they’re getting lots of calories).
Now the answer to the problem is not to force kids to eat more. Let me repeat that very loud and clear: THE SOLUTION IS NOT TO FORCE KIDS TO EAT MORE. More often than not that approach just increases kids’ stress, causing them to eat less.
What causes this stress? There can be many causes. That’s why I do a full assessment when working with families, because it’s important to identify and address the root cause. Some kids are sensitive souls who need to approach new foods gradually. Some kids are at a boundary-pushing stage and choose to engage parents in a battle of wills. Some kids miss out on learning specific chewing skills and find a variety of foods difficult to eat. Some kids have texture sensitivity and find certain food textures unappealing. I could go on listing causes.
I want to be really transparent here. I went back and forth many times about whether or not to write this article. I don’t write this to cause you more panic. The last thing that I want to do is cause more mommy guilt because guilt and shame get in the way of making change. I’m writing this because I do see kids who are starving themselves. So I feel the need to address the myth that’s spouted so very, very often by well-meaning advice givers.
Will Kids Grow Out of Picky Eating?
I also write this because I see so many families who could use my services. But they don’t seek help because they think that their child will “grow out of” their picky eating and that “kids won’t starve themselves”.
Lastly I write this because sometimes I see clients whose child is 7, 8, 9, or 10 years old and who is still a picky eater. Creating change for these kids is really, really hard (and progress is painstakingly slow). I wish so much that I could turn back the clock and work with these families when their kids are 2 and 3 years old. Not only could we prevent years of poor nutrition and stress for the child, we could have alleviated stress for the whole family. Because the whole family is affected when feeding isn’t going well with one child.
What’s important is that if feeding isn’t going well, you look for a solution to the problem. Don’t believe this myth that kids won’t starve themselves.
Check out my book where I share my simple-step-by-step solution for picky eaters (2-5 years old).
These versatile root veggies are one of my favourites! A classic storage, root veggie, you can find local ones throughout the winter. Beets have been making headlines lately because they may help boost exercise performance. Many kids like them because of their naturally sweet taste. However, people often wonder what the heck to do with them. So I’m sharing a couple of my favourite ways to use beets.
Grated – Raw Beets
Beets don’t even need to be cooked. Simply wash them, peel off the outer skin, and grate them into a salad.
It doesn’t get any easier than that!
When I’m turning on the oven to cook something, I often pop a few beets in at the same time – either for a warm side-dish today, or for chilled as a salad in the future.
- Wash beets and cut off any long tails or furry top bits.
- Cut a piece of tin foil large enough to wrap the beet in. Lay it on the counter, shiny side up. Pour a dollop of olive oil in the centre.
- Roll the beet around in the oil to coat it. Wrap the tin foil tightly around the beet.
- Repeat for each beet.
- Place wrapped beets on a cookie tray or in a baking dish.
- Roast until tender, how long this takes depends on the size of the beets and the heat of your oven – at 350 degrees F it may take as long as 2 hours; at 425 degrees F it may take as short as 45 min.
Beet and Bean Borscht
From: Pulses: Cooking with Beans, Peas, Lentils and Chickpeas
This is a fantastic, hearty and tasty, full meal in one pot, vegetarian borscht (perfect for Meatless Mondays). While the recipe takes a little longer to cook, it makes a lot of soup. And, this soup tastes great re-heated. Freeze leftovers (without the yogurt or sour cream topping) in small batches.
Makes 6 Litres
- 3 tablespoons canola oil
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 2 carrots, diced
- 3 celery stalks
- 3 cups green cabbage, shredded (a Cuisinart or food processor makes shredding quick work)
- 3 cups beets, peeled and chopped
- 10 cups vegetable stock (home-made or lower sodium)
- 4 cups beans such as navy beans or white kidney beans (canned or cooked from dry)
- ½ cup canned or fresh tomatoes
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon fresh cracked pepper
- 1 bunch fresh dill (or parsley)
- plain yogurt or sour cream
- In a big soup pot, sauté onion and garlic in oil until softened.
- Add carrots, celery and cabbage and sauté for about 3 minutes.
- Add beets and stock and cook for about 1 hour or until beets are slightly tender.
- Add beans, tomatoes, lemon juice, pepper and dill. Warm thoroughly.
- Serve topped with a dollop of yogurt or sour cream.
Click here for more healthy recipes.
Discovering overnight oats, particularly when made with steel cut oats, has literally changed my mornings. I was always a breakfast eater. Usually toast. Then by 10:30am I was always hungry again. Not just a general hunger, I craved baked goods – donuts, muffins, anything sweet and baked. When I tried overnight oats made with steel cut oats, I no longer craved baking mid-morning. In fact, I wasn’t hungry at all until noon. I’ve recommended overnight steel cut oats for many clients and all have had the same improvement in their mid-morning hunger and/or cravings.
I shared the recipe for overnight oats last year - you can get that simple, delicious recipe HERE.
The recipe works with both rolled oats and steel cut oats. Today I want to talk specifically about steel cut oats. They’re even less processed than rolled oats – think of them as not-yet-rolled. As such, we digest them even more slowly. The more slowly we digest foods, the longer it takes before we get hungry again. Also, slow digestion prevents a blood sugar spike. Blood sugar spikes result in a crash and then craving more sweets.
Steel cut oats take a lot more chewing than rolled oats. And, they’re higher in fibre. Specifically, the “bulk-forming” kind of fibre (I’ll let you imagine why). Expect significant changes when you go to the bathroom. Because this kind of fibre helps our bodies get rid of bile and toxins, it’s fantastically healthy from a heart health and diabetes point of view.
One word of caution: be sure that you drink lots of water when you try steel cut oats. Otherwise you risk constipation.
Click here to see more delicious, healthy recipes.
There’s a very simple technique to get picky eaters to eat more. It’s something that I always look for when working with individual families. I can’t tell you how often it’s missed by parents. Let’s just say a lot. So, what’s this super simple tip? Make sure your child has their feet resting on something solid. Kids eat best when they have something solid to rest their feet on. Take a peek at your child’s feet when they’re sitting in their highchair or booster seat. Are their feet dangling? If you want your child to eat better, get them something on which to rest their feet.
Have you ever sat at a bar stool that didn’t have a footrest? Did it feel unsettling to have your feet dangling? Likely, yes.
This is something that I’ve looked for since I started my practice in 2008. But I never knew why kids ate best when their feet are supported. Then last month I attended a workshop and learned why. The reason is that while eating is a priority for our bodies, there are two priorities that supersede eating: 1) breathing; and, 2) staying upright (i.e. not falling on our heads). When your child’s feet aren’t resting on something solid, their bodies are required to focus on not falling over. This takes away from the focus on the task of eating. Babies and young children under 3 years of age are still novice eaters and they need to pay full attention to the task of eating. By providing a solid footrest, you’re removing a big source of distraction.
Some highchairs are adjustable. These are my favourites. Don’t have an adjustable chair? Not to worry, just MacGyver a footrest for your child. Inexpensive footstools (usually used at the bathroom sink) work well. As do a stack of phone books – although these are getting harder to come by.
The perfect height for your footrest is the height where your child’s feet are 90 degrees from their legs. In other words, your child is resting flat-footed.
Remember, check your footrest every couple of months. Kids grow!
Sometimes the classics are a classic for a reason. Bananas and peanut butter simply taste great together. Here's a fun way to bring this classic duo together in a healthy kids snack. I'm choosing to share it today because it's easy for young hands to manage. Perfect if you're gearing up to pack snacks or a lunch for little ones with back-to-school next week. This works well with peanut butter, other nut butters (e.g. almond butter) and the non-nut butters if your child attends a nut-free facility.
Hey, it's also a delicious idea for those of us who are young at heart :)
Banana Roll-Ups Ingredients 2 small tortilla wraps, whole wheat ¾ medium banana 1 tbsp natural peanut butter, nut butter or non-nut butter ½ tsp honey (optional) 1 dash cinnamon, ground
Banana Roll-Ups Directions
- Slice banana.
- Spread nut butter or non-nut butter on wraps.
- Top with bananas.
- Drizzle honey and add a dash of cinnamon.
- Roll (pack in lunch boxes) and enjoy.
Get more healthy, simple, kid-friendly recipes.
Last month I introduced the concept of nutrition game changers. Nutrition game changers are foods or simple habits that can make a big impact in your health. Some might use the term ‘nutrition hacks’. Today, I had planned to share with you a different habit. But I noticed that, with the nights cooling off again, I’ve been using this habit again. I do it a lot myself. And, it’s helped a number of clients too. I realized that this one simple habit can have a big impact on your health because it makes it easy to eat a lot of healthy foods that you might not otherwise eat. So, what’s this simple habit? Cook the night before.
Cook the Night Before
It’s a nutrition game changer for two huge reasons:
- It lessens the stress of getting dinner on the table.
- It makes it possible to eat healthy foods like whole grains, beans cooked from scratch, and longer-cooking veggies.
I’ve heard it called the witching hour. You know, that window of time between finishing work, commuting through traffic, picking the kids up from daycare, and making (and eating) dinner. For many people, it’s the most stressful time of the day. No one I know has an hour (or more) to cook dinner. Most people have somewhere from 20 – 30 minutes. Our modern lives have squished this time so much that it’s no wonder that take-out, drive-throughs, and pre-prepared food sales are through the roof. They’re survival techniques. You always ask me for help to get from survival to thriving. Cooking the night before can be a huge help.
No, I’m not talking about spending hours in the kitchen in the middle of the night! I’m talking about multi-tasking. You are likely home for several hours in the evening, after dinner but before you go to bed. Use this time to cook.
There are lots of healthy foods that take almost no work, but they take a long time to cook. Take a few minutes for prep, get the food cooking, set a timer, and then set off with your other evening activities. I personally do the prep while I’m already in the kitchen cooking my dinner for this evening. I don’t have kids so that works. If doing anything else besides preparing tonight’s dinner will take you over the edge, then do the prep later.
When the food is cooked, simply allow them to cool at room temperature and then store them in the fridge. They’ll store for several days in the fridge. On the day that you want to eat them for dinner, simply re-heat them in the microwave or steam them. (Place at least 1 inch of water in the bottom of a double boiler. Bring to a boil over high heat. Place your food in a bowl inside the double boiler. Steam until heated).
What Healthy Foods Can You Cook the Night Before?
- Whole grains. E.g. pot barley, brown rice, wild rice, farro. They all take 45 – 60 minutes to cook. But the prep is easy. Just add them to a pot with water, bring to a boil, reduce the heat to simmer, set your timer and you’re done.
- Winter squash. E.g. spaghetti squash, butternut, acorn squash. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. For all but spaghetti, cut the squash in half lengthways, scoop out the seeds. Pour a splash of water in the seed cavity. Place in a baking dish. Cover with tin foil. Bake for 45min-1 hour (until the flesh is soft when you test it with a fork). For spaghetti squash: leave the squash whole, pierce all over with a fork. Cover with tin foil. Bake for 1 hour or longer (until the squash gives easily to your touch).
- Root veggies. E.g. beets, yams. There are lots of ways to bake these veggies. Techniques vary by veggie. But unless you take a long time to prep them by cutting them into small pieces, they’re going to take 45min – 1 hour to bake. Here’s one minimal prep time technique each for beets and yams: Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Wash but don’t peel the beets. Remove any stems or skinny roots. Rub with olive oil. Wrap in tin foil and place in a baking dish. Roast until soft to the touch. The time will vary based on the size of your beets. Yams can be cooked at the same temperature. Wash but don’t peel the yams. Pierce all over with a fork. Wrap in tin foil. Bake for 45min- 1 hour.
- Dried beans. Cooking beans from dry is not only cheaper, but it avoids the exposure to BPA in the liner of most cans. Beans take 2 simple prep steps – one the morning before and one the night before. In the morning, measure out your beans, place in a bowl, cover with water (at least 1 inch above the beans), and sit at room temperature all day. At night, drain the beans, place them in a large pot, add fresh water to cover at least 1 inch above the beans, bring to a boil, reduce the heat to simmer, set your timer and you’re done.
Extra Tip: All of these foods make fantastic whole-meal salad ingredients. Cook extra the night before and enjoy them both (cold) as a whole meal salad for your lunch and warm as a part of dinner.
Looking for new recipe ideas? Find lots of great healthy recipes here.