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How can I expand my picky eater’s palate?

Dear Mama Drama:

My two-year-old won’t eat anything, but macaroni and cheese. I’m afraid to give him other things because if he doesn’t eat it he’ll be hungry. I see other children, even younger than him, eating a wide variety of foods. I am amazed that they will eat things like tofu and vegetables.

How can I get my son to eat a wider variety of foods?

~Scared of starving

Dear Scared:

Many children have difficulty expanding their food choices once they have found a favorite food. Macaroni and cheese, PB & J, and mashed potatoes are common favorites. They may like the texture, smell, or associate a positive experience with that food. However, we have to offer them other foods on a regular basis if we want them to make other choices. Our job as parents is to provide healthy options for our children to eat, not to force them to eat it.

Children may need to try a new food several times before they develop a preference for it. Having a family rule that everyone tastes each type of food offered at a meal is a good way to start. Varying the ways that you prepare food can also make a difference. You don’t have to be a short-order cook, but cooking foods in a way that your child is more likely to eat them ensures a better chance of success. If your child doesn’t like slimy foods, don’t offer cooked spinach. Instead, offer him spinach salad with yummy cranberries or mandarin oranges and a sweet vinaigrette dressing. As parents, it is important to model trying foods we previously disliked as well.

Sometimes children are more willing to try new foods if they can dip them in something familiar. Barbeque sauce, salad dressings, and honey are just a few choices that may make a new food more appealing for your child.

Some children (and adults) don’t like their food mixed or touching. To those of us whom this does not bother, it doesn’t always make sense. But rather than forcing the issue, simply use plates that have sections in them to separate the foods. It’s an easy fix that eliminates an unnecessary battle.

If your child misses a meal or two, he will be hungry but will not starve. If you have provided healthy, kid-friendly food to eat and he has refused to eat, then you have done your job. Be sure you refrain from rescuing your child on these occasions by giving him the mac and cheese after he’s refused to eat other foods you’ve provided.

There are times when extenuating circumstances may be impacting your child’s willingness or ability to eat other foods. Some children have sensory processing issues that make eating different food textures almost unbearable. Others have very sensitive senses of smell that may cause them to avoid foods. Subtle reactions to unknown food sensitivities or allergies may also be an underlying reason. If you have concerns in any of these areas, please consult your pediatrician.  

-Lisa Vratny-Smith

I’ve fed my family WHAT!? Toxic secrets revealed in The Unhealthy Truth

Everyone senses that there’s a problem. I bet you have noticed it, too.

SO many people are allergic to peanuts, milk, soy, eggs, wheat. SO many moms are dealing with loved ones who have such allergies, ADD, ADHD, autism, Asperger’s, Alzheimers and various cancers.

And it wasn’t always this pervasive.

~~~~~

Along with some other writers, I was invited to lunch one day in July with a woman named Robyn O’Brien, founder of AllergyKids, for an event sponsored by Stonyfield Yogurt — which, to its credit, seemed mostly interested in getting Robyn’s word out and not so much in promoting its product.

I had no idea who Robyn was, but I can tell you that she rocked my world.

We were given Robyn’s book, The Unhealthy Truth, and many of us are participating in this blog hop, probably with differing views. So after you’re finished here, please hop around for others’ perspectives (links at bottom). Thanks to Stonyfield, there is a giveaway basket being offered on each participating blog.

~~~~~

Mom and overachiever Robyn O’Brien unleashed her inner Erin Brockovich several years ago when a routine breakfast served to her four children (toasted waffles with syrup, tubes of blueberry yogurt and some scrambled egg) ended with her youngest, in a high chair, enduring full-blown anaphylactic shock.

Once the crisis was over (the daughter is fine but has some severe food allergies), Robyn, trained as an equity analyst, put her research skills to work. She found that from 1997-2002, the number of children with peanut allergies doubled. She explains that food allergies happen when a person’s immune system sees a protein as something foreign and it launches an inflammatory response to drive out the foreign matter.

Her next question was, is there something foreign in our food that wasn’t there when we were kids? She learned that yes, beginning in the 199os new proteins were engineered into our food supply.

Robyn found that in 1994, scientists created a synthetic growth hormone that helped cows make more milk. No problem there — societies have always tried to get more output for the input, especially when it comes to keeping their people fed. Unfortunately the growth hormone also mad the cows sick, which required the use of antibiotics.

When faced with imports of engineered US milk products, governments around the world erred on the side of caution. Because the new science had not yet been proven SAFE, these governments would not allow US dairy products into their food supplies. The US, on the other hand, said that since it hadn’t yet been proven DANGEROUS, well, belly on up to the frankendairy, everyone.

“How many sippy cups have I filled with this milk?” thought Robyn. “How many bowls of cereal have I poured it on for my husband, not knowing that Canada, the UK, Australia, Japan, New Zealand and all 27 countries in Europe didn’t allow it?”

Other tidbits Robyn shared:

  • Scientists engineered soy in 1996, used primarily to fatten livestock. This engineering allowed soy to withstand higher doses of weed-killer. Once again, other governments decided that safety had not been proven so our soy products were banned. And once again the US agencies responsible for keeping our food supply safe took the approach, “We don’t need no stinkin’ proof it’s safe!” Not yet having proof of danger was sufficient.
  • Scientists then engineered into the DNA of corn its own insecticide. Consequently, that corn is now regulated by the EPA. Big Ag found a loophole, pioneered by the tobacco industry, that allowed such foods to be deemed safe even though no human trials were ever done. We are all guinea pigs in this experiment.
  • One of the concerns about these growth hormones, these synthetic proteins, is that they also elevate hormone levels that are linked to breast, prostate and colon cancer. Sure enough, the US has the highest rates of cancer in the world.
  • Robyn wondered how major US food companies like Kraft and WalMart were able to export their products if other countries don’t allow such engineered ingredients. She found that these companies offer formulations that DON’T include frankenfoods. The shelves of our supermarkets, though, have hidden and scary toxins in them that wreak havoc on our digestion and health.

Find 18 minutes in the coming week to watch and listen to Robyn on your own. Here is her TEDxAustin speech earlier this year.

While I was alarmed about what I’ve been feeding myself and my children, I also had reservations about making changes.

But healthy eating is SO expensive!

Robyn put is this way: You can manage your health at the grocery store or you can manage your disease at the hospital.

Or, in the words of that old oil filter commercial, Pay me now or pay me later.

Later is almost always more expensive. I vote for paying more at the grocery store (or farmer’s market). The costs of working it out at the hospital go beyond the financial.

It’s just too much to take on.

Robyn said repeatedly, Don’t make the perfect the enemy of the good.

Some of you have mentioned the discipline and willpower I must have in abundance regarding my new eating habits. Really, I have neither. What I do have is mindfulness. I’m paying more attention to what nourishes me.

And Robyn’s quote above rings true. At one time, the Perfectionist Lori would never have undertaken such a dramatic set of changes because, well, taken together they are simply too dramatic.

But as any athlete will tell you (and it’s only been 3 years that I consider myself any sort of athlete, of the yoga variety) a steady force will bring change. Water droplets will carve a canyon. Poses that were impossible to me just a year ago are now in my practice. All because I finally realized that steady effort and aim is so much more effective than all-or-nothing.

So what can I do?

If you’re called to action, as I am, consider these ideas.

  • Become aware of what you feed yourself and your family. Begin reading labels and ask, “Do I want that in our systems?” Beware of rBGH (recombinant bovine growth hormone), GMO (genetically modified organisms) and “artificial,” as in flavors and colors (oh, not, not the fluorescent mac & cheese!).
  • Begin shopping at markets that offer organic food. The more demand we create for healthy food, especially at the expense of frankenfood, the more available and cheaper healthy food will become.
  • Every time you go to the grocery store, ask the grocer and the butcher to show you the organic section. If you’re snarky like me, pooh-pooh how few offerings they have and ask if they intend to get more soon.
  • Watch for bills that would require labeling of foods. (I’ll report here if one comes to life.) At that time, mobilize to get your representative and senators to vote for such a measure. Ask your representatives to stop subsidizing frankenfood. If anything is to be subsidized, it should be healthy food.
  • For a demonstration on just how much trusted food companies rely on you to NOT read labels, see this video from the non-profit Consumer Wellness Center. You’ll never buy blueberry products the same way again.
  • Do one thing.

To see what other bloggers thought of our lunch with Robyn, and to enter their giveaways, check out the entries on LinkyTools, below.

Lori is a mom via open adoption to Tessa, 10, and Reed, 8, and they live in the metro-Denver area. She writes regularly at WriteMindOpenHeart.com, about mindful parenting and the pursuit of the perfect mojito. Organic, of course.

Cross posted on Write Mind Open Heart.

 

Out-of-town guests dropping in? Where will you take them to eat?

‘Tis the season for out-of-town guests. Sure, you’ve got all the activities planned — a hike in Eldorado Canyon, a viewing of the King Tut exhibit, perhaps an afternoon at one of the municipal pools — but the real question is: Where are you going to eat?

Choosing a place for guests is different from choosing a place for yourself. You want a place with good food, a place that shows off Denver well, a place where anyone in the party will be able to find something to eat. A place that’s not too expensive. A place that reflects your own sensibilities, but dovetails with your guests’ tastes, too. The Denver area is packed with options. Here are just a very few and be sure to leave a comment to share your own!

BREAKFAST

El Taco de Mexico

Nothing could be more Colorado than a Mexican breakfast, and there is no better Mexican breakfast in town that the smothered breakfast burrito at El Taco de Mexico. Whether you’re filling up for the King Tut exhibit at the Denver Art Museum, or headed west on Sixth Avenue for a hike, you’ll be fully fueled by El Taco’s generous breakfast. Just have coffee before and/or after your meal; you’ll find much better java elsewhere. This is also an excellent “last bite” in Denver before heading out to the airport. El Taco de Mexico, 714 Santa Fe Drive, 303-623-3926

Snooze

Pineapple upside-down cakes for breakfast? Why not? Even if you aren’t on vacation, your guests are, and dessert for breakfast is definitely on the menu. Fill up here on weekday mornings, when the line is relatively tolerable; waits of up to an hour on weekends are not unusual. Breakfast here will certainly fill you up for a visit to the Museum of Nature and Science, or a day at Elitch’s, or an afternoon by the pool. Snooze, 700 Colorado Blvd., 303-736-6200; snoozeeatery.com; additional locations downtown and in Fort Collins.

LUNCH

Biker Jim’s

Mama Drama: Food Fights

Dear Mama Drama:

My five-year-old son used to eat a wide variety of foods, but now he will only eat a handful. I am concerned about him getting adequate nutrition and that we are constantly fighting over food. This is becoming a huge power struggle and is a nightmare for all of us.

~Food Fanatic

(photo credit)

Dear Fanatic:

This is a frequent concern of many parents. Some children will eat anything and others are very finicky. Most children go through a picky phase at some point in their lives, but with time move past it. However, if your child has autism or other medical issues it will be important to consult with your medical practitioner or behavior specialist on how to handle this issue.

Food intake is one of the few things children have complete control over as adults make most decisions for them. Offering choices throughout the day is a wonderful way to empower children. They get practice at making decisions and learning about natural consequences. When children feel empowered, they are less likely to engage in power struggles over food and other issues.

When offering choices, make sure the choices are ones you can live with. Do you want to wear the red shirt or the yellow shirt? Do you want to tie your shoes by yourself or with help? Do you want to wash your face first or brush your teeth?

When extending these choices into food, again make sure the choices fit into the limits you are setting. Do you want cereal or eggs? Do want apples or pears? Do you want your noodles with butter or with red sauce? As you prepare meals, be creative with options for how you serve them. If broccoli is on the menu offer it plain, with butter, or with ranch dressing for dipping. If your son doesn’t like a particular food, try it again in a few weeks served a little differently.

Children who help prepare meals are more likely to eat them. Get your son involved in reading recipes, finding and measuring ingredients, stirring and serving the meal. There is an informative article at kidshealth.org that discusses fun ways to involve kids of all ages in cooking.

For your own sanity, and that of your son, it is critical to remember that your job as a parent is to provide healthy choices for your child, not to force him to eat. Only serving the foods your son wants perpetuates his limited diet. Have a family meeting about changing your food perspectives and set a rule about everyone tasting everything that is served. Set a good example by trying out foods you think you don’t really like, too…and remember that if your face is all scrunched up and you are already thinking “Eeewwww!” not even chocolate pudding will taste good. 🙂

If you have ongoing concerns you will want to rule out medical issues such as allergies, celiac’s disease, and sensory processing that could be impacting your son’s willingness to eat certain foods.

How do you help your child have a balanced diet?

Motherhood is an amazing journey that can have its share of Mama Drama. The Mama Drama column runs on Fridays with everyday mothering questions from readers and answers providing strategies to tackle these daily challenges. Send your questions and challenges to [email protected], and your Mama Drama could be in next week’s column! All emails and identifying information will remain confidential.

Let kids play with their food to get them to chow down

Fancy, fussy food isn’t likely to be welcomed at the children’s table. But kid-friendly presentation, from colorful ingredients to playful plates, can ensure that nutritious meals are eaten, not artfully avoided.

“If you present food in a playful way, kids are much more likely to try it,” said Shannon Payette Seip. She’s a mom and the co-author of a new cookbook, “Bean Appetit: Hip and Healthy Ways to Have Fun With Food” (Andrews McMeel Publishing, $14.99).

Seip and business partner Kelly Parthen (a Colorado mom!) drew inspiration for the cookbook from their popular cafe and cooking school in Middleton, Wis. Bean Sprouts is a family- oriented spot that features fresh, healthful food in fun new ways.

We’re not talking the old ants-on-a-log snack. Insect-inspired dishes are included, but they’re meal-worthy. Like the open- face turkey and whole-wheat pita sandwich made to resemble a dragonfly, or the avocado, mango and chicken roll-up with pretzel-stick legs and a tomato head, a.k.a. The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

With some key tools, whimsical presentations can be created with just about any ingredient. Lollipop sticks or wooden skewers with the ends clipped off can turn mini-pancakes and fruit into cute kebabs. Or skewer teriyaki chicken onto a pineapple round and top with spinach leaves for a tantalizing tropical scene.

“It’s just a stick, but somehow it makes it that much more fun,” Seip said.

Stacking offers another way to get kids to do the unthinkable: Eat their veggies. Seip’s children don’t eat a lot of

Mama Drama: Picky Eaters and Tall Tales

Dear Mama Drama:

My two-year-old won’t eat anything except macaroni and cheese. I’m afraid to give him other things because if he doesn’t eat it he’ll be hungry. I see other children, even younger than him, eating a wide variety of foods. I am amazed that they will eat things like tofu and vegetables.

How can I get my son to eat a wider variety of foods?

~Scared of starving

Dear Scared:

Many children have difficulty expanding their food choices once they have found a favorite food. Macaroni and cheese, PB & J, and mashed potatoes are common favorites. They may like the texture, smell, or associate a positive experience with that food. However, we have to offer them other foods on a regular basis if we want them to make other choices. Our job as parents is to provide healthy options for our children to eat, not to force them to eat it.

Children may need to try a new food several times before they develop a preference for it. Having a family rule that everyone tastes each type of food offered at a meal is a good way to start. Varying the ways that you prepare food can also make a difference. You don’t have to be a short-order cook, but cooking foods in a way that your child is more likely to eat them ensures a better chance of success. If your child doesn’t like slimy foods, don’t offer cooked spinach. Instead, offer him spinach salad with yummy cranberries or mandarin oranges and a sweet vinaigrette dressing. As parents it is important to model trying foods we previously disliked as well.

Sometimes children are more willing to try new foods if they can dip them in something familiar. Barbeque sauce, salad dressings, and honey are just a few choices that may make a new food more appealing for your child.

Some children (and adults) don’t like their food mixed or touching. To those of us whom this does not bother, it doesn’t always make sense. But rather than forcing the issue, simply use plates that have sections in them to separate the foods. It’s an easy fix that eliminates an unnecessary battle.

If your child misses a meal or two, he will be hungry but will not starve. If you have provided healthy, kid friendly food to eat and he has refused to eat, then you have done your job. Be sure you refrain from rescuing your child on these occasions by giving him the mac and cheese after he’s refused to eat other foods you’ve provided.

There are times when extenuating circumstances may be impacting your child’s willingness or ability to eat other foods. Some children have sensory processing issues that make eating different food textures almost unbearable. Others have very sensitive senses of smell that may cause them to avoid foods. Subtle reactions to unknown food sensitivities or allergies may also be an underlying reason. If you have concerns in any of these areas, please consult your pediatrician.

Dear Mama Drama:

I have a question about the blurry line between encouraging active imaginations and lying.  Lying is absolutely not tolerated and we have taken great measures to make sure that we never lie to our four-year-old daughter so that she knows that she can always trust what we say. However, over the last few months she has begun telling “stories” that are untrue, either in an effort to get out of trouble or just to gauge our reaction.

For example, she threw a tantrum in the car after school and reverted to her old standby of communication when she is angry with me- grunting.  We worked through the tantrum and later that night I tried to talk to her about how important it is for us to use our words when we’re angry so that we can work on the problem together.  Her response was, “I was just playing a game….I was playing grunt, grunt, who likes to grunt? And you lost, I won because I’m good at grunting.”

Creative, yes, and of course her delivery was impeccable and I wanted to laugh. However, I did not feel that her response was an accurate reflection of what happened and tried to explain how that she was not telling the truth and when she doesn’t tell the truth it is lying.

To me, always telling the truth is not a negotiable point, but am I overreacting? Where do we draw the line between imagination and untruth?

~Worried about overreacting

Dear Worried:

Lying is one of those issues that is a hot button for many parents. Being clear about telling the truth helps to foster that trusting and honest relationship you are trying to create with your daughter. Your commitment to always being honest with her is a great foundation.

That said, developmentally preschoolers are trying to figure out the difference between fact and fiction. Playing with storytelling is one way of testing out how it all works. When a child has gotten a positive response from the stories, she may tell more to get that response again – such as when you note your daughter is trying to gauge your reaction.

If it is a harmless silly story, feel free to play along with her and then end the conversation by saying something like, “Wouldn’t it be fun if that were really true. You have a great imagination!” This validates her imaginative skills, but also lets her know that you know this is fiction.

Common reasons children lie are because they want to avoid getting into trouble, they wish they had not done what they have, they engage in magical thinking that if I say it did not happen then it didn’t, and to save face in an uncomfortable situation. In the case of the grunting game, your daughter may have been trying to save face and deflect attention from the difficult feelings the situation produced. Admitting that she threw a tantrum may have felt uncomfortable to her and she may have been worried that she would get in trouble.

Using humor to deflect the situation is a great tactic, but it certainly presents a challenge for you as a parent. You can use the same type of statement as noted above to let her know you know this is a story and to avoid the loss of face that she may be fearing. Often it is enough to let your child know you are aware this is fiction in a gentle and light-hearted way without forcing her to admit it.

It can be easy to fall into power struggles and to overreact in response to lying. Taking a moment to view the situation from your child’s perspective can often help you respond with empathy and in a way that reinforces your beliefs about honesty. Using humor yourself can help to keep the situation lighter and allow your daughter the space to tell the truth.

Learning the value of honesty and trustworthiness is an important life lesson. Know that you and your daughter will have many opportunities to practice and clarify this as she grows.

Motherhood is an amazing journey that can have its share of Mama Drama. The Mama Drama column runs on Fridays with everyday mothering questions from readers and answers providing strategies to tackle these daily challenges. Send your questions and challenges to [email protected], and your Mama Drama could be in next week’s column! All emails and identifying information will remain confidential.