It’s the plight of parents everywhere, how many times do you have to tell your toddler or preschooler to stop playing and just “Eat your food!” I can’t even begin to count how many blogs I have seen that focus on feeding these little picky eaters healthy food in fun ways. However, in a society filled with concerns over childhood obesity I have an entirely different issue, my kids are too small. So for me it’s not just an issue of getting them to eat healthy food but eating it in larger amounts and with higher calories. Also unlike most parents who have no medical needs to fulfill, I cannot fight the picky attitudes by withholding meals until they are ready to eat what I offer.
Not all of my kids are so small that this is an impossibility, but as anyone who has multiple little ones knows if one kid gets something all of them had better get it or mutiny is close at hand. Even though my girls are healthy they are on the low ends of the charts and my son has had to see a specialist after the pediatrician showed concern over his lack of growth. So here I am with one more issue on my plate. Struggling with feeding my kids in a manner that is healthy but also high enough in calories to make a difference in their weight. The problem that I run up against the most is that the minute I make an ordinary dish, like a bowl of oatmeal, high calorie, by using half and half or instant dry milk, it fills up that tiny stomach so much that they than refuse to eat any snacks and instead push-off all meals until lunch!
So instead of eating more they are eating less and it is beyond frustrating. Add to this their complete lack of interest in vegetables, including root veggies like potatoes, and meal planning becomes a huge pain in the neck! Luckily after seeing a Pediatric Endocrinologist (who ruled out any serious medical reasons and chalked it up to genetics passed through their father’s side) we have been given a few tips that seem to work.
1. Feed them what they want when they are hungry within reason. I know this sounds like a no brainer but when my four-year old comes out of his bedroom at 1130 pm asking for Oatmeal and the kitchen is finally clean and we are heading to bed does not always end with an automatic “sure”. Or when Lunch or dinner is only 15-20 minutes away…these usually lead to a “wait just a few more minutes” because a snack that close to a meal means there will be little eaten. However, I draw the line when my son comes asking for Oreos at 715 am, sorry Charlie but that’s not going to fly as a breakfast option…ever. Ask me for Pancakes and eggs for dinner…no problem as long as they asked before I started cooking, the chicken can wait in the fridge.
2. Carnation Instant Breakfast mixed with whole milk. For about three years we gave each kid a Pediasure once per day with their breakfasts and it broke our bank! My parents often helped out and would come over for visits bearing 2-3 bunches of what my kids call pink milk (strawberry and berry were their favorites) but it was still far more than a family of five can afford on one military income. I had heard from some friends that our insurance might cover the drinks if we asked our pediatrician since it was recommended to us…they didn’t. However, what they did do was give us a much more affordable alternative. Now my son drinks three glasses of the milkshake a day and my daughters share a packet. Surprisingly, these shakes do not limit their appetites but instead strengthen them and leave them asking for a snack when complete.
3. Add high calorie/ high fat substitutes for recipe bases. For example if a recipe calls for milk I substitute whole milk for half and half or if possible I will add avocados to a recipe. I have read other sites that recommend giving smaller kids extra butter, or mounds of cheese on things like oatmeal but I cannot in good conscience create eating habits in my children that can cause heart disease or high cholesterol, both of which already run in our family. Instead I have increased the calories and fats according to the pediatricians recommendations. (Do you have any idea how hard it is to try to lose baby weight when more than half of your family needs to eat calorie rich foods?)
4. Serve more meals per day. This one has to be the hardest of all of the changes we have tried to make and I have to admit that we still haven’t made it a full part of our routine. It is so hard to try to fit extra snacks/meals in between the main ones because most time I offer and the kids refuse or because we are out and about or my son is in preschool. There are a few snacks that they will take anytime I offer: Fresh and Easy’s Organic Cheddar Pirate’s Treasure (it taste like White Cheddar popcorn but its a rice/corn hybrid so even my youngest can munch without the choking hazard), Mott’s Fruit snacks/Mott’s Medleys (made with fruit juice) are used as a special treat in our house due to the high sugar content, pretzels and whole grain goldfish. Each Snack is accompanied by fresh fruit (its the most healthy thing they eat in large quantities) and I try to add in cheese or yogurt but after a bite or two it is usually pushed away (except with our youngest who is a yogurt eating machine). Most days I am lucky if I can fit in one snack in a day.
Its a daily issue in my house, we have tried eating without the tv and that doesn’t make a difference. Lately I have combined our afternoon story time with the eating of lunch. They ask questions about the stories, add anecdotes while I read, try to jump ahead of me and read the words coming up but it is so much easier to close a book and remind them to keep eating with real results if there is some kind of incentive. If we are just sitting at the table than every movement becomes a joke, every word a distraction and there is nothing to help them get excited about eating when there is so much more to do away from the table. and so we trudge on in this fight that will hopefully one day fade, maybe one day my kids will tell me “mom we need to eat our food”…a girl can dream, right?