Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Healthy Eating With Kids: Ideal vs. Real

Welcome to the June 2013 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Parenting in Theory vs. in Reality
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants are sharing how their ideas and methods of parenting have changed.
Before having kids my husband and I would talk about the way we wanted to parent our children. I had definite ideas about our values and the kind of family life we wanted. We were ready to change our life for our kids and we were going to embrace it whole-heartedly. I wanted to live by natural parenting ideals such as extended breast feeding, bedsharing and cloth diapering. My children would be exposed to a wide variety of organic whole foods because fussy eaters were created, not born. We didn't want to over schedule our lives so that our kids could spend hours exploring, creating and yes, getting bored. We wanted them to make mistakes and learn naturally from them. My children were also not going to watch television until well out of the toddler years.

As a teacher I also believed that some structure and boundaries were important. We would have family meals together every night. My children would participate in the family by helping with daily jobs around the house. There would be natural consquences and they would understand that they were responsible for their actions. 

While I have been able to realize many of my parenting ideals, there is one key area (besides no tv) in which I failed miserably - healthy eating. 

My oldest enjoying a homemade organic meal I made for her.
I was determined to feed my children only the healthiest organic food and I spent hours reading about and making food for my oldest daughter. I felt frustrated because she didn't show any interest in solid food until about nine months old, which seemed late to me. Little did I realize that she would be my earliest eater. My second and third daughters were much later in starting solids. My middle daughter would not eat anything at all until 12 or 13 months old. My third daughter was really late, as in nothing, not even a little mouthful, until 18 months old (and she was very small - 3rd %ile on the WHO breastfed growth charts, so major momma anxiety). Looking back, I wish I had known more about child-led weaning (child-led introduction of foods) and let them take the lead. I supposed I did end up letting them take the lead but being more informed about it would have cut down on my stress levels. 

So I am living proof that fussy eaters are definitely born, and this simple fact has caused me a great deal of angst. The reality that I only had control over what foods I put in front of my children, not what they would eat, was devastating. With my first daughter I had rules about what she could and couldn't eat. With my younger two I was begging them to eat anything. I put foods in front of them that would have made pre-child me gasp. I remember begin ecstatic that one of them would eat a potato chip. One of them found an old chocolate egg in the couch? Hooray! She ate something without crying!
Funny how they never argue about eating treats like ice cream.
Mealtimes have been pure torture, even worse sometimes than bedtime (which were a special hell all on their own, of which pre-child me would be so judgemental). All of us sitting down to a pleasant meal together? How about being happy if my husband or I could eat a warm meal without children running around the table, playing with toys while eating, yelling or crying? Bribery and threats became part of our mealtime routine. "I won't be a short order cook," became, "please just tell me what you'll eat and I'll make it for you." Oh yes, pre-child me is giving me the side-eye right now.

So now I am having to undo all the horrible bad habits that we developed, such as actually eating at mealtime. My youngest was so fussy for so long that we would chase her around with snacks all day long to get her to eat. Now she expects food on demand and won't wait for even five minutes for a meal. She gets in the car or waits for a sister at an activity and thinks it means snack time, probably more out of boredom now. She is getting better at trying new foods but my middle daughter is absolutely opposed to trying anything new.

My oldest helping chop garlic scapes from our garden.
I know all the things I should be doing and I have read many blogs and books on ways to get kids to eat healthier. I have been to a paediatrician and dietician and have read all the literature they gave me. I have tried almost everything, with varying degrees of success, and I have certainly had advice bestowed upon me by anyone and everyone. Cue the judginess of other people and their perfect child/grandchild/friend who ate homemade organic sprouted heritage grain flatbread with bean spread and any vegetable because they were cut up into bite-sized pieces and served in muffin tins. If only I had introduced them to food this way they wouldn't be fussy. Or on the other end of the spectrum, if we  had just relaxed about the whole thing and put anything in front of them, like hamburgers, french fries and pop then they wouldn't be so fussy.

Now that my youngest is getting older I have more time to cook healthy whole food meals again. I am trying to include them in growing our own food and cooking so that they will be willing to try them, but it is very hard. For example, one daughter loves chicken noodle soup, which until recently has meant processed food. Now I am making my own soup stock and noodles, but she has been unwilling to eat it because it doesn't taste like the overly salty canned soup with MSG.
My girls like to be included in our Wednesday night  healthy pizza making ritual.
Slowly, though, I am making inroads and having success getting my kids to eat whole food meals and non-processed food. My oldest likes homemade sushi and kale chips, will use my homemade almond milk on her cereal, will eat quinoa and is open to trying new foods from around the world. It's just going to take (much) more time and patience with my other daughters.

I just wish pre-child me knew that I'm not a failure as a mother because I have fussy eaters. It just means that my daughters are individuals and I need to treat them as little people with needs and preferences, not vessels for my parenting ideals.

Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:
  • My little gastronomes — "I'll never cook a separate meal for my children," Maud at Awfully Chipper vowed before she had children; but things didn't turn out quite as she'd imagined.
  • Know Better, Do Better. Except When I Don't. — Jennifer from True Confessions of a Real Mommy was able to settle in her parenting choices before her children arrived, but that doesn't mean she always lives up to them.
  • Judgments Made Before Motherhood — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama looks back on her views of parents she came in contact with before she became a mother and how much her worldview of parenting has changed!
  • A Bend in The Road — Lyndsay at ourfeministplayschool writes about how her visions of homeschooling her son during the elementary school years have changed drastically in the last year - because HE wants to go to school.
  • I Wish Children Came with Instruction Manuals — While Dionna at Code Name: Mama loves reading about parenting, she's not found any one book that counts as an instruction manual. Every child is different, every family is different, every dynamic is different. No single parenting method or style is the be-all end-all. Still, wouldn't it be nice if parenting were like troubleshooting?
  • The Mistakes I've Made — Kate at Here Now Brown Cow laments the choices she made with her first child and explains how ditching her preconceived ideas on parenting is helping her to grow a happy family.
  • I Only Expected to Love... — Kellie at Our Mindful Life went into parenting expecting to not have all the answers. It turns out, she was right!
  • They See Me Wearin', They Hatin' — Erin Yuki at And Now, for Something Completely Different contemplates putting her babywearing aspirations into practice, and discussed how she deals with "babywearing haters."
  • Parenting Human BeingsErika Gebhardt lists her parenting "mistakes," and the one concept that has revolutionized her parenting.
  • Doing it right: what I knew before I had kids... — Lucy at Dreaming Aloud, guest posting at Natural Parents Network realises that the number one game in town, when it comes to parenting, is judgement about doing it right. But "doing it right" looks different to everybody.
  • A synopsis of our reality as first time parents — Amanda at My Life in a Nut Shell summarizes the struggles she went through to get pregnant, and how her daughter's high needs paved the way for her and her husband to become natural parents.
  • Theory to Reality? — Jorje compares her original pre-kid ideas (some from her own childhood) to her personal parenting realities on MommaJorje.com.
  • The Princess Paradigm — Laura at Pug in the Kitchen had planned to raise her daughter in a sparkly, princess-free home, but in turn has found herself embracing the glitz.
  • Healthy Eating With Kids: Ideal vs. Real — Christy at Eco Journey In The Burbs had definite ideas about what healthy eating was going to look like in her family before she had kids. Little did she realize that her kids would have something to say about it.
  • How to deal with unwanted parenting advice — Tat at Mum in Search thought that dealing with unwanted parenting advice would be a breeze. It turned out to be one of her biggest challenges as a new mum.
  • How I trained my 43 month old in 89 days! — Becky at Old New Legacy used to mock sticker charts, until they became her best friend in the process of potty training.
  • My Double Life: Scheduling with Twins — Mercedes at Project Procrastinot was banging her head against the wall trying to keep up with the plan she made during pregnancy, until she let her babies lead the way.
  • Parenting in the land of compromise — As a holistic health geek trying to take care of her health issues naturally, Jessica at Crunchy-Chewy Mama regrets that her needs sometimes get in the way of her children's needs.
  • Practice Makes Good, Not Perfect — Rachael at The Variegated Life comes to see that through practice, she just might already be the parent she wants to be.
  • 3 Dangerous Myths about Parenting and Partnering: How to Free Yourself and Your Family — Sheila Pai at A Living Family shares in theory (blog) and reality (video) how she frees herself from 3 Dangerous Myths about Parenting and Partnering that can damage the connection, peace and love she seeks to nurture in her relationships with family and others.
  • 5 Things I Thought MY Children Would Never Do — Luschka at Diary of a First Child largely laughs at herself and her previous misconceptions about things her children would or wouldn't do, or be allowed to do.
  • Policing politeness — Lauren at Hobo Mama rethinks a conviction she had about modeling vs. teaching her children about courtesy.
  • The Before and The After: Learning about Parenting — Amy at Me, Mothering, and Making it All Work reminisces about the perspective she held as a young adult working with children (and parents) . . . before she became a mother.
  • Parenting Beliefs: Becoming the Parent You Want to Be — Mandy at Living Peacefully with Children discusses how we can make a mindful decision to become the parent we want to be. Decisions we make affect who we will become.
  • The Great Breastfeeding Debacle — In Lisa at The Squishable Baby's mind, breastfeeding would be easy.
  • What my daughter taught me about being a parentMrs Green asks, "Is it ever ok to lock your child in their bedroom?"
  • Sensory Box Fail! — Megan at The Boho Mama discovers that thoughtful sensory activities can sometimes lead to pasta in your bra and beans up your nose.
  • Montessori and My Children – Theory vs. Reality — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now shares her experiences with Montessori parenting and describes the results she sees in her now-adult children.
  • I Like The Mother I Am Now More Than The Mother I Intended To Be — Darcel at The Mahogany Way thought she would just give her kids the look and they would immediately fall in line.
  • How I Ended Up Like My Tiger Mom With Peaceful Parenting — Theek at The Laotian Commotion somehow ended up like her Tiger Mom, even though she purposely tried for the complete opposite as a peaceful parent.


  1. Well, I'm right there with you, if it's any consolation! We've been trying to make a lot of dietary changes here, and my older son argues about it with us constantly, trying to convince us to change back to the old ways. My younger son is like your littlest — below the third percentile in weight, a total outlier for us — and so, like you, we're just happy if he eats anything, even if it's a stale cupcake he stole from his brother. (Let me know if anything you tried actually helped your daughter gain weight. I'm nervous about our next ped visit.)

    We're always wanting to establish better eating habits, and I think we're (both of us) in the process of doing just that — but it's slow going, hey?

    1. No real advice on how to help them gain weight - I've now decided that they grow the way they are supposed to grow. My youngest really likes greek yogurt and butter, so I happily make things with these.

      Good luck with the ped visit! They are definitely stressful events.

  2. *high five* Another teeny second child mom here! She's my best eater, but weight gain is just not happening!

    My first, who ate rather well in the beginning,except for certain flavors went on a food strike shortly after he turned 16 months and since then... it's so hard. And some nights, I cry at the supper table. I have a friend who is a counselor and she repeatedly tells me that he is exerting control in this area because he knows it's important to me.

    In the end, we do the best we can and hope it all works out!

    1. Yes, I hear you about crying at the supper table, and begging and pleading and bribing.

      I've come to the conclusion that they eat and grow the way they are supposed to and if we tamper with that we will give them food issues (of which I'm sure I've done now). But I did what I thought was right at the time. Now I know better.

  3. That sounds tough! Kieran has had stages of picky eating, and he did not start really eating until he was a year old, but for the most part I'm ok with how he eats. With Ailia (our second), she ate *much* earlier than I was comfortable with. She also eats more junk than I ever put in front of Kieran, because we're out more places and I have less control over what she grabs. It's humbling, for sure!

    1. We can definitely control what the first eats, or at least more than subsequent children. In the end I don't think they'll suffer too much, or at least that's what I tell myself now, haha.

  4. We are just starting the solid food journey with my daughter. It is crazy how ideals around food and what actually transpires differ. Food and sleep are 2 issues as parents we try and control but I think it is very difficult to do so.

    1. Don't even get me started on the sleep issues, haha!

      Good luck on your own food journey with your daughter.

  5. Oh my gosh. Haha! This is me...this is me...

    Grayson, my 10 month old, has been soooooo hard to feed from the beginning. I have had periods of rapid growth and periods of no growth. I could not figure him out. At his 9 months appointment he was 17 lbs 6 oz and like 6%. Mind you he was over 10 lbs at birth.

    It has been a nightmare.

    When I breast fed him, he was sucking and swallowing like crazy. His pees and poos were normal and frequent. I just couldn't understand why he was so skinny. He was such a peanut.

    Then I stopped making him eat what a baby eats, and allowing him to eat until he stopped. He ballooned up like a puffer fish - seriously.

    I tell you that because it's my story of having to let go and let the child lead the way.

    My other two, they were fat as pigs all the way through infancy. No problems.

    My first was super picky. He wouldn't eat anything but chicken and french fries for like a year.


    Thanks for sharing!

    1. I totally concur with you - letting them eat what they want (within reason) is best, letting them take the lead. And baby food is definitely NOT for my babies. I have seen babies who eat pureed food, so I know they exist, haha!

  6. I totally get how stressful it is to have kids under the 3rd percentile, two of mine have been there (one of them caught up and the other is still very small and skinny). My kids are not really fussy eaters, I think they were just meant to be small, but they have their fussy moments, too.. and there were times when eating anything was better than eating nothing.

    I think you're doing amazingly well though to keep on doing what you're doing - growing your food, making soup stock and sushi. I have periods wheen I'm very good making all food from scratch and then other times when life just goes crazy and it gets too much.

    1. Thanks! I hope I'm doing ok. Yes, some kids are meant to be small - someone has to be the small one!

  7. Well said! And back-pedaling is, I swear, more work/harder than getting things going in the first place. I am SO failing at feeding my family healthy foods. :/

    1. Back-pedaling is going to be the death of me, haha!

  8. Thank you for sending me over here to read your story. So very familiar! I'm really impressed by your sushi and kale eater - there's hope for us all yet!

    1. Thanks! At least she's willing to try things, unlike the other two. :-(

      It's nice to know that we aren't alone and totally screwing things up.

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  10. I thought the same thing pre-children. I thought kids that were exposed to a variety of healthy foods would be great eaters. I have been proven wrong too! My eldest is so picky. (though he loves healthy food, just seems to hate every dinner I make unless it's plain, separated foods) Recently I read something, not sure where now- someone who was from a big family said there was no fuss in his family about who would eat or not eat. You ate if you were hungry and if you didn't eat that was fine, more for everyone else. I wonder if we just fuss too much about what our kids will eat, when they will eat, ect.? We give this issue so much power. I have lots of questions, very few answers.

    This is my first time to your blog, I love it!


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