Are Food Dyes Safe for Kids?

Are-artificial-food-dyes-safe-for-kids

Each year, UBC dietetics students have a class project where they practice writing nutrition articles for the public. This year, I asked students Mei Ho and May Hasegawa to research are food dyes safe for kids. Here's what they found ~ Kristen

When you are shopping for snacks for your child, do the bright colours make you think twice about about adding it to your basket? Many foods we come across in our everyday lives have colour added in order to make it appear more appetizing. It is very common to see vivid colours in foods and beverages marketed towards children, such as candies, desserts and chewing gums. Foods can be coloured by natural food dyes like caramel colouring, or artificial food dyes, which are colours made from petroleum1. Today we will be looking at food dyes in the context of artificial food dyes, which have been used more commonly in foods in recent years.

Are Artificial Food Dyes Safe for Kids?

As early as the 80’s, researchers began to study the effects of artificial food dyes on children’s health. The results of their studies have been controversial, and has stirred concern amongst consumers. Some have suggested a possible link between artificial food dyes and hypersensitivity in children3. Others have researched possible risks of organ damage, cancer, birth defects and allergic reactions1. While no study findings have been conclusive, countries in Europe such as the U.K. have banned artificial food dyes altogether for safety measures1.

What Are the Safety Regulations of Food Dyes in Canada?

Regulations in North America state that there is not enough scientific evidence to say artificial food dyes cause negative effects on children’s health3. Canada permits the use of food dyes in everyday foods from bread, butter, milk to cheese. All food dyes must first be approved by our federal regulatory body, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). At this time, Canada has approved ten dye colours for use in food and beverages.

However, it has not been ruled out that food dyes may affect children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and behavioural problems differently3. Researchers agree that more research on artificial food dyes is required.

Food Dyes Across the Globe

In 2009, the U.K. imposed strict regulations to remove certain food dyes from foods and beverages. This prompts us to think, why hasn’t North America followed along? It is interesting to note the different approaches used by North America and the U.K. when it comes to ensuring public safety through foods.4

  • North America: tries to find the strongest evidence available before implementing new regulations.
  • UK: uses a more precautionary approach, meaning that it will take action to protect the public even if the evidence is not entirely conclusive.

Moving Forward: What Can You Do?

With all this information, it can be confusing to decide whether you want your children to be consuming artificial food dyes. It may first be helpful to understand how to identify whether something contains artificial food dyes. By law, companies are required to list the name of the dye on the ingredient label. It may be tricky for shoppers to recognize the commercial names of artificial food dyes. Here are the names of 10 common artificial food dyes in Canada:5

  • Allura red
  • Brilliant blue FCF
  • Citrus Red No.2
  • Sunset yellow FCF
  • Tartrazine
  • Fast green FCF
  • Indigotine
  • Erythrosine Red
  • Amaranth Red
  • Ponceau SX

There are also ways to add colour into your cooking at home without using food dyes! Kids are drawn to bright colours, and baking at home can be more fun if your child has the chance to make their own colours. This can be done by boiling, blending, and/or pureeing vegetables or fruits for their natural colours.6

Ideas include:

  • Raspberries, pomegranate and beets - pink/purple
  • Carrots – orange
  • Turmeric powder – yellow
  • Blueberry – blue
  • Spinach – green
  • Red cabbage – purple and blue
    • For purple, boil cabbage in hot water until water is dark purple colour
    • For blue, slowly add some baking soda to purple water

Are Food Dyes Safe for Kids - May’s Opinion:

While there is not enough evidence to conclude that artificial food dyes are harmful to our body, I feel that more research is needed to fully understand their effects on our health. I like to refrain from using artificial food colouring in my own baking, and opt for more natural options like using juice from fruits or vegetables.

Are Food Dyes Safe for Kids - Mei’s Opinion:

As the research is inconclusive, it is ultimately up to the consumers to make an informed decision. New food labelling requirements in Canada will now include the commercial names of synthetic food dyes in the ingredient list, but it is questionable whether or not consumers will recognize these names or be able to associate them with food dyes.

Are Food Dyes Safe for Kids - Kristen's Opinion:

Call me conservative, but I am suspicious of foods that are highly processed. My motto is "foods closest to the way nature made them are the healthiest choice". Artificial food dyes are about as far from nature-made as you can get. So, I would recommend steering clear of artificial food dyes for day-to-day eating. But I'm also practical. Our bodies are amazingly adaptive. Eating foods with artificial dyes once in a while is likely not going to cause harm. So if your child is invited to a birthday party where they serve cake with bright green icing, let your child enjoy the cake right along with the other kiddos.

If your child has behaviour concerns, such as ADD/ ADHD, I think it's worth doing a food trial where you eliminate all food dyes and see how your child's behaviour responds. There may be no effect. Or, your child may be a member of the sub-set of kids who have a link between behaviour and food dyes.

Want more science-based nutrition tips for kids? Sign-up today for my e-newsletter.

Sources:

1Kobylewski, Sarah, et al. “Food Dyes a Rainbow of Risks”. Center for Science in the Public Interest. 2010.

2Stevenson J, Sonuga-Barke E, McCann D, et al. “The Role of Histamine Degradation Gene Polymorphisms in Moderating the Effects of Food Additives on Children's ADHD Symptoms.” American Journal of Psychiatry. 2010; 167:1108-1115.

3 “FDA panel concludes food coloring isn't associated with hyperactivity in children.” Nutrition Today. 2011; 46:104.

4Banned in Europe, Safe in the U.S. http://www.iflscience.com/health-and-medicine/banned-europe-safe-us/

5Food Colours - Permitted Synthetic Colours in Canada and Corresponding United States and European Names.

http://www.inspection.gc.ca/food/labelling/food-labelling-for-industry/list-of-ingredients-and-allergens/food-colours/eng/1348150903240/1348150959157

68 Ways to Make Organic DIY Food Colouring. http://www.networx.com/article/8-ways-to-make-organic-diy-food-coloring

Should I Take a Probiotic?

should-i-take-a-probiotic

You asked me to cover probiotics. And sure, I know about probiotics. But instead of listening to me, I decided to reach out to a true, leading expert in probiotics. I'm proud to call Desiree Nielsen a friend. And, I can tell you that probiotics and gut health are her jams. She's who I turn to for keeping up on this topic that the scientific community is rapidly learning about. So, I wanted to share her directly with you. Just like me, she gives you the real goods. Enjoy this interview!  And, if you want more of Desiree, check out her show Urban Vegetarian playing on Gusto TV!

Should Parents Be Giving Kids Probiotics?

If a child was born naturally and breastfed, eats a healthy diet and has no health issues, they may not need a probiotic daily. Of course, probiotics are a great choice when the time is right: the literature shows that probiotics may be helpful during cold and flu season to prevent respiratory infection or to prevent traveller’s diarrhea.

In addition, there are certain health concerns that are a clear indication for the use of probiotics daily such as colic, infectious diarrhea or tummy troubles like reflux or irritable bowel syndrome.

Should Us Adults Take Probiotics?

I always tend to err on the light side of supplementation but as adults, there are many reasons why a probiotic may be an excellent idea. Any chronic digestive or inflammatory concern, from IBS to eczema, is worth a three month trial of a clinical strength probiotic to assess improvement. If a probiotic works, you will feel it. I cannot tell you how often I have talked to someone who has been taking a probiotic for years with no result and when they make the right switch, they are shocked by how much better they feel. They can be taken therapeutically and discontinued when you improve…but for those with chronic concerns, I recommend continuing daily as part of lifestyle management.

Probiotics are also helpful on an 'as needed' basis for everything from recovering from food poisoning, prevention of side effects from antibiotics use and as a boost during cold and flu season. They are a great, natural remedy in the wellness toolkit.

For those who tend towards an ‘insurance’ mindset in supplementation, a small daily dose of an effective probiotic certainly doesn’t hurt and you may find an improvement in your day-to-day wellbeing.

What is the Difference Between Prebiotics and Probiotics?

Probiotics are live microorganisms that are part of the natural human microflora…and prebiotics help them thrive. Not too long ago, we would have said that prebiotics are non-digestible carbohydrates such as inulin. The low FODMAP diet for IBS works by drastically reducing these prebiotic compounds to alter fermentation in the gut.

However, the definition of a prebiotic is changing and it is thought that a whole host of compounds, from plant polyphenols to even the diabetes medication metformin, may help boost the growth of beneficial microbes.

Can We Get Probiotics from Fermented Foods, e.g. Yogurt? Or, Do We Need to Take Them as a Supplement?

Fermented foods are produced thanks to beneficial microbes…but not all fermented foods may contain truly probiotic microbes. This takes a bit of explanation: the definition of a probiotic is ‘a live microorganism, which when administered in adequate amounts, confers a health benefit on the host.”

So the issue with fermented foods is that in the fermentation, many of the microbes may die or there might not be sufficient amounts to actually have an effect. The research on fermented foods is surprisingly spotty, with kimchi and yogurt being two of the standouts. But the average yogurt contains about 1 billion live bacteria at manufacture (which may not be alive when you eat them) whereas most supplemental probiotics are in the tens of billions.

Eat fermented foods daily as part of a healthy diet…take a supplement when you need extra help.

What Should Someone Look for in a Supplement? There Are so Many Available, How Do You Choose?

It’s a tough call; in my mind, the only probiotics that someone should consider are those with high level evidence to support their use. They are very few in number and you can find them on a very helpful website called www.probioticchart.ca - choose one of the brands with level 1 or 2 evidence. Then, the decision becomes a lot easier. We can spend so much money on supplements but if they aren’t effective, we are better off spending our money on healthy food!

In general, good quality probiotics have enteric coated capsules (with a couple of exceptions for fresh or powdered formulas) with a minimum of 10 billion live active cells, guaranteed to a clearly marked expiry date.

Who is Desiree Nielsen? Bio:

Desiree-Nielsen-registered-dietitian

Desiree Nielsen is a dietitian based in Vancouver, Canada. She is the author of Un-Junk Your Diet: How to shop, cook and eat to fight inflammation and feel better, forever! and the host of Urban Vegetarian, a cooking show on Gusto TV. Passionate about integrative therapeutic approaches to nutrition, Desiree maintains a nutrition practice, with a focus on digestive health, plant-based diets and anti-inflammatory nutrition. Her new app, MyHealthyGut is an evidence-based resource for those looking to improve their digestive health.

Picky Eater Success Tip: When to Serve Challenging Foods

picky-eater-success-tip

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

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Is hiding veggies okay?

is hiding veggies okay
is hiding veggies okay

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.

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Do Babies Need Teeth for Finger Foods?

babies need teeth for finger food

At workshops I’m often asked by new parents whether babies need teeth to eat finger foods. The short answer is: no. Whether you’re choosing to start with purees or to follow Baby Led Weaning (BLW), we recommend starting to offer your baby finger foods by 7 months. Many babies won’t have any teeth at that age. And, most babies won’t have molars then. Our molars are the teeth that we use to chew food. We use our front teeth to bite and tear.

Babies’ gums are surprisingly strong. They can use them to eat finger foods. It’s the presence of things along their gums that helps them move their gag reflex from the young infant position to the mature position. And, it’s with practice that babies learn how to co-ordinate the chewing, swallowing, and breathing that are involved in eating. That’s why at this age babies put everything in their mouths – they’re practicing.

Introducing a wide range of tastes and textures before 9 – 12 months can help lessen picky eating in toddlerhood. You’ve got a developmental window of opportunity when babies are interested in tastes and textures. Use it!

What makes good finger foods?

  • Pieces of soft cooked vegetables
  • Ripe soft fruits (skins and pits removed)
  • Grated raw vegetables or hard fruits
  • Finely minced, shredded, ground or mashed cooked meat
  • Deboned fish and poultry
  • Bread crusts or toast

Some finger food examples:

  • Tortillas cut in narrow strips and thinly spread with nut butter
  • Omelet cut in to narrow strips
  • Salmon crumbled into small pieces
  • Grated carrot and grated apple
  • Extra-firm tofu steamed and cut in to skinny fingers

Looking for more finger food ideas (including iron-rich finger food ideas)? Check out my video on Youtube.

Picky Eater Tip: Be Good Company

picky eater tip be good company

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.

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My kid used to eat just about everything…

My kid used to eat just about everything

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).

You can support your child to eat more foods. Get successful picky eater tips. sign-up for my e-newsletter today.

5th Annual Homemade Ice Pop Recipes

spinach-kiwi ice pop

It's back, my annual home-made ice pop recipe collection. Some may call these homemade popsicles or paletas. Or, frozen smoothies. Whatever you call them they're a delicious summer treat. I want to give a big shout out to Carla, the dietetic student who is volunteering with me for creating these recipes. My directions for her: the recipes need to be simple, include no added sugar, include fruit and even veggies, and only include easy-to-find ingredients. Oh, and of course, that they needed to be delicious. She sure delivered.

The directions for each recipe are the same:

  1. Combine all ingredients in a blender.
  2. Blend until smooth.
  3. Pour into molds.
  4. Freeze.

Enjoy her work!

Kristen

P.S. For more delicious, healthy frozen recipes, check out these links:

Spinach Kiwi

Inspired by: http://www.kiipfit.com/spinach-kiwi-popsicles/

Packed with fruit and leafy greens, the vibrant green color of these popsicles comes from blending both kiwi and spinach.

  • 1/3 cup spinach
  • 1  kiwi
  • 2 drops lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup water

Mango Lassi

mango lassi ice pop

Inspired by: http://revisfoodography.com/2015/04/mango-lassi/

Inspired from a classic Indian cold drink, mango lassi is a blend of yogurt, fruit and spice. Not a fan of cardamom? Simply omit the spice and you can still enjoy it as a mango-yogurt blend.

  • 1 mango
  • 160 ml greek yogurt
  • 1 small pinch cardamom (to taste)

Cantaloupe

cantaloupe ice pop

This very simple and refreshing recipe allows you to use ripe or extra ripe cantaloupes. No added sugar necessary.

  • ¾ cup cantaloupe
  • ¼ cup water

Get more healthy home-made ice pop recipes here:

5th Annual Healthy Home-Made Popsicles (ice pops, paletas)

4th Annual Healthy Home-Made Popsicles (ice pops, paletas)

My Least Popular (But Very Effective) Picky Eater Tip

picky-eater-tip

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.

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Where to Start with School-Age Picky Eaters

helping school-age picky eaters

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.

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Don’t Make this #1 Mistake with Picky Eaters

Don’t Make this #1 Mistake with Picky Eaters

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.

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What’s the Right Age to Start Solid Foods?

age-to-start-solid-foods

Parents have been sending me a lot of questions lately asking what is the right age to start introducing their baby to solid foods. They’ve heard 6 months before. Now they’re hearing 4 months from other health professionals. And, some places online say 4 – 6 months. They’re right to be confused with all this conflicting information. If you’re wondering what age to start your baby on sold foods, here’s the scoop…

The recommendations haven’t changed. The World Health Organization recommends 6 months¹. In Canada the recommendations from Health Canada, the Canadian Pediatric Society, Dietitians of Canada and the Breastfeeding Committee for Canada say 6 months². The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends “around 6 months”³.

I suspect that reports from a new, and important, study on preventing peanut allergy are behind the advice that these health professionals are giving parents. Now I’m not in the doctor’s office when the parents are being given this advice, so this is a best guess. But the study is being talked about a lot in the health provider community, which is why I’m suspecting it’s behind the advice that parents are receiving. Unfortunately the researchers chose to use a phrase that I’m suspecting is creating some of this confusion.

The research study found a significant decrease in peanut allergy with their intervention⁴. What was their intervention? To introduce, and regularly feed, peanuts to children starting as babies versus waiting until they were 5 years old. Giving peanuts to the babies reduced the incidence of peanut allergy. But here’s where I suspect the misunderstanding comes in. The children in the “early” introduction of peanuts group were between 4 – 11 months old. Because this is “early” versus introducing peanuts at 5 years old. The article doesn’t compare introducing peanuts at 4 months versus 6 months. However, I suspect that busy health professionals could have glanced at articles describing the study and mistakenly concluded that the “early” group meant introducing peanuts at 4 months versus 6 months of age. Especially, since the researchers didn’t report the older children’s age as 5 years, but as 60 months.

The reality is that the scientific and health communities still don’t know anything definitive about the perfect age to introduce solid foods to minimize food allergy.

What we do know is that babies start to run low on the iron that they’ve stored in their bodies at approximately 6 months of age. And so it’s at this time that we need to start introducing iron from a new source, i.e. solid foods. Iron is important for brain development in babies and young children.

And, babies show the signs of being ready to start solid foods between 4 – 6 months. Just like every other developmental stage, babies arrive here at slightly different ages. The signs of readiness for eating solid foods are:

  • The disappearance of the extrusion reflex.
  • The ability to sit up (with support) and hold their own head up (without support).
  • Can visually track your movement.
  • Becoming fascinated with watching people eating.

As we learn more about what causes food allergies and how to prevent them, the recommendations may change. There are some fantastic studies underway that I can’t wait to get the results from. Until we know more, I still recommend starting solid foods at about 6 months. If your little one is between 4 – 6 months, you’re seeing all the signs of readiness, and you’re keen to start – go ahead. If you enjoy the simplicity of breast or bottle feeding or you’re not yet seeing the signs of readiness in your child, hold off until 6 months of age. My advice for the last 7 years has been “start solids at about 6 months”. I’m not changing my advice yet.

References:

  1. http://www.who.int/nutrition/topics/complementary_feeding/en/
  2. http://healthycanadians.gc.ca/healthy-living-vie-saine/infant-care-soins-bebe/nutrition-alimentation-eng.php?_ga=1.150740528.74375254.1447739252
  3. https://www.aap.org/en-us/advocacy-and-policy/aap-health-initiatives/HALF-Implementation-Guide/Age-Specific-Content/Pages/Infant-Food-and-Feeding.aspx
  4. http://www.leapstudy.co.uk

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Healthy Eating Storybook: Stargold the Food Fairy

Stargold

To celebrate the end of Nutrition Month, I caught up with fellow dietitian Claudia Lemay, RD to find out about her new nutrition children's storybook. It's available on Amazon. And, the e-book version is free today and tomorrow!

KY: Claudia, how old are your children now?

CL: My happy-go-lucky son is 9 years old and my CEO/corporate lawyer in-training (I swear!) daughter is 5 1/2 years old.

KY: Why did you write the book?

CL:I wrote it because my daughter, who never takes "no" for an answer, started asking for candies at every single meal and snack. She is a very insistent person and just explaining why she needs to eat healthy wasn't enough, so I had to think of something else. I made up a story for her (Stargold the Food Fairy) and when I saw the spark of real understanding in her eyes, I knew I was on to something.

KY: What ages is the book for? 

CL: Children of elementary school age is who it was written for, but I would say anyone from age 4-12 would enjoy and learn from it. The story is also available on my website as a PowerPoint presentation for teachers to use in a classroom setting.

KY: What is the book's message?

CL: The story is about a young girl, Lucie, who travels to a magical land of elves called Growland after she gets a "no" from her mother at her request for a candy dinner. In Growland, Lucie learns from Stargold the Food Fairy that every food she eats becomes a different building material for a house that is being built for her. The main message is that a house in Growland actually represents the body of a person, and so, by eating a healthy, balanced diet the house (and hence her body) will grow up strong and healthy.

KY: What's your favourite part of the book?

CL: Well, many of the people who have read my book said that their favourite part is when Lucie truly "gets it." Near the end of the story, after Stargold explains that every part of her body used to be the food she ate, Lucie looks down at her hands and has that "wow" moment where she truly "gets it."

KY: Where can people buy the book?

CL: On my website at www.stargoldthefoodfairy.com, under the Shopping Corner tab or directly on amazon.ca (search for Stargold the Food Fairy). It is available in hard copy and ebook, in both English and French. The ebooks will be offered for free for the last 5 days of March as a promotion for Nutrition month.

KY: Are you writing any more books?

CL: Yes, I am working on my second book for children to teach them about diabetes. It also involves Stargold the Food Fairy helping a boy named Brody understand living with diabetes.

KY: Anything else you want to share?

CL: Part of the proceeds of this book will go to Malala's fund, which helps promote children's education worldwide.

Spitting Out is OKAY

spitting out is okay picky eater

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.

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Be Careful What You Say to Picky Eaters

careful what you say to picky eaters

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”.

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Stress During Meals Will Cause Picky Eating

stress during meals

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.

Will Kids Starve Themselves?

will-kids-starve-themselves

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.

Stress

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).

1 Simple (and Overlooked) Step to Get Picky Eaters to Eat More

get picky eater to eat more

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!

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1 Simple Tip to Help Your Baby Gagging Less During Feeding

baby gagging

Pretty much all babies gag sometimes when then they first start eating solid foods. But, some babies gag more than others. Baby gagging can be very frightening for moms and dads and I get a lot of questions about it when I lead my Introducing Solid Foods workshops. I know that you are busy and exhausted so you like my blog posts short and to-the-point. If you’re really nervous about introducing your baby to solid foods, and/or are looking for a more fulsome description of gagging versus choking, I recommend coming out to one of my in-person workshops or getting in touch with me to find out more!

The focus of this post is on how to help babies who gag a lot to become less gaggy so that they can be more successful at eating solid foods.

For this tip, I’m assuming that you’re starting solids in that ‘just right’ window of about 6 months old. And, that your health professional has ruled out any medical cause for your baby’s gagging.

It’s often said that some babies have a “sensitive gag reflex”. But for most babies this isn’t the case. It’s not that their reflex is too sensitive, it’s that it’s in the wrong place.

You see, babies and adults have different mouth physiology. In adults, the majority of our tastebuds are on the tip of our tongues and our gag reflex is way in the back of our mouths. A fun way to test this is to place food in different parts of your tongue and notice how differently it will taste.

In babies, the majority of their tastebuds are at the very back of the mouth and their gag reflex is at the front of their mouth. This makes sense because for the first months of life babies are nipple-fed (either breastfed or bottle). To feed, babies place nipples to the very back of their mouths. So Mother Nature has the tastebuds at the back, where baby will taste their breastmilk/formula. The gag reflex is at the front of the mouth where it’s out of the way for nipple-feeding and where it protects babies from putting items in the front of their mouths that they could choke on.

Starting at about 4 – 6 months, the gag reflex and tastebuds migrate in opposite directions to swap places into the grown-up positions.

Most gaggy babies don’t have overly sensitive gag reflexes. Instead, their gag reflexes are still too far forwards.

What stimulates the gag reflex to move backwards? Having things in your baby’ mouth. Particularly things that your baby can stick towards the back.

So, your baby sticking their hands (and feet) in their mouth is really them working to move their gag reflex backwards. So is mouthing Sophie the Giraffe and other chewable toys that babies can stick deeper into their mouths. Toys like teething rings that stay at the very front of their mouths won’t help because it’s the presence of things ever deeper into your baby’s mouth that stimulates the backwards movement of their gag reflex.

So what’s the 1 tip to help baby gagging?

Let them play with toys they can safely stick in their mouths.

Now to be clear, I’m not recommending that you allow your baby to chew on things that they can choke on. I said “safely stick in their mouths”. What I’m recommending is to allow your baby to play with chewable toys and other objects that can safely go further back in their mouths. You want to look for long things that your baby can’t get a bite off of. Examples include:

  • Their own hands (and your fingers).
  • Sophie the Giraffe.
  • Toy key rings.
  • The spoon that you feed your baby with.
  • Whole, big, raw carrots or parsnips (big enough in diameter that your baby can’t bite off a chunk).
  • Ice cubes in a mesh feeding bag (I only recommend plain water ice cubes, not frozen foods).

Given the opportunity, babies will do lots of chewing on these objects. Know that they’re not just playing. They’re playing with a purpose. Playing is their job at this age. Your baby is playing with the purpose of developing the skills to eat.

Nutrition Game Changer: Cook The Night Before

cook-the-night-before

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:

  1. It lessens the stress of getting dinner on the table.
  2. 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.