Promote healthy eating habits in children

Promote healthy eating habits in toddlers
Today I’m excited to be with Tori at The sTORIbook discussing healthy eating habits in children. For those who don’t know Tori, a bit of an introduction: she’s a mom to one-year-old Luke, hails from San Antonio Texas, runs her own business from home in PR and marketing and is your go-to gal for fashion, decorating and anything vintage. Tori is also a regular SSBE reader and you’ll often find her in the comments section.

If you’re here from The sTORIbook, welcome! Read through some recent posts, including:

You can also take a look through the most viewed posts for popular topics and tips. And if you like what you read, subscribe and receive free full-text posts in your email inbox. Or, follow us on Facebook and Twitter. Again, welcome to Sleeping Should Be Easy—so nice to have you here!

Without further ado, here are the first few lines of the post featured on The sTORIbook:

This past weekend, my two-year-old tasted chocolate for the first time. Sure, he had eaten pastries and baked goods before, but chocolate would be new. I was adamant about avoiding sweets and processed food for the longest time—anything from the obvious culprits like fast food and hard candy to the more innocuous ones like homemade treats that grandma made. A part of me was scared that he would morph into a sweets-only toddler boy that would shun all healthy food the minute his mouth bit into that chocolate chip cookie.

Thankfully, that didn’t happen.

Read the rest… and I’ll see you in the comments section at Tori’s blog!

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In praise of the family dinner

In praise of the family dinner
How often do you eat together as a family?
For those of us with young ones, eating with our kids is most likely a necessity rather than an ideal. After all, babies and toddlers still require a bit of supervision while eating, never mind that they still can’t fetch their own food from the fridge or serve themselves from the stove top. But the more my toddler has improved his self-feeding skills, the more I find myself stepping away to wash the dishes, or sneaking a peek on my iPhone.

It’s times like these that I remind myself to be fully present, particularly at the dining table. Even before we had kids, my husband and I decided that family dinners need to be a priority in our home. Neither of us grew up with an established dining routine—I remember eating with my family earlier on, but as we grew into middle and high school, we often had the TV on, or one sibling would be in another room doing homework, or each family member would grab his or her own food at different times of the night. I wanted something different with my husband and toddler, and so far, eating together as a family—with attention completely on one another—has garnered so many benefits for my toddler, including:

  • Improved vocabulary and social skills. By eating in the presence of adults, kids are able to eavesdrop on words and conversations they otherwise aren’t likely to hear. Because of topics my husband and I discuss with one another, our toddler has picked up a few “real life” words he wouldn’t normally find in children’s books. He is exposed to the art of conversation as well: turn-taking when talking with others, eye contact, and asking and answering questions.
  • A healthy relationship to eating and food. We take our time when we eat and appreciate the different tastes our dinners offer us (as well as the effort made in preparing them). Hopefully our toddler will grow up learning that food is delicious and enjoyable and not something to be denied, hoarded or gobbled up.
  • A chance to build a stronger family unit. Because dinner happens at the end of the day, we often discuss what took place while we were at work or while my toddler was at my aunt’s. We’re able to unwind from stress, laugh about funny episodes at work, and ask our toddler how his day was going. Some of our best memories happen at the dinner table and it’s no coincidence that a ton of videos I take of my toddler took place during dinner time.

With time as a premium, whipping up a dinner and getting everyone to sit at the table takes a bit of effort in our busy lives. And with a husband who works the most irregular 9-to-5 hours ever, many dinners often consist of just me and the little guy. Still, as much as we can, we try to eat together without disrupting LO’s routine, and always make sure that he has company for every snack and meal. How exactly do we make this happen? Below are several ideas we’ve implemented to spend quality time together around the dinner table:

  • Prepare quick and easy meals. Long gone are the days we cook lasagna and home-made gnocchi—now we are all about recipes that can be cooked in an hour or less.
  • Cook the night before. Leftovers can pale in comparison to freshly cooked, but you can save a ton of time by cooking the previous night. Unless both my husband and I are home, I usually reserve cooking for after our little guy is down for the night and reheat the next evening.
  • Take your time and talk. Isn’t it crazy that for working parents, we often see our coworkers more than our own families? For me, breakfasts and dinners tend to be the times of the day where all three of us are together, so we use those moments to talk and laugh.

We may not always be able to eat together, and sometimes I’ll slip and sneak a peek on my computer during dinnertime while my toddler isn’t looking (shame on me!). But I’ll always be a fan of the family dinner and all of its far-reaching benefits.

How often do you eat together as a family? Are mealtimes a pleasant experience, chaotic or a bit of both? What can you do to make dinner time a regular occurrence in your home?

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8 tips to stay motivated with breastfeeding

Flashback Friday: 8 tips to stay motivated when you want to quit breastfeeding
“Moo.”

For the first several months of breastfeeding, I felt like a cow, and it had nothing to do with my post-pregnancy body. If I wasn’t constantly breastfeeding, I was pumping. I didn’t realize how often babies need to eat, nor how long each feeding session would take. And at family parties, I was either draped with a shawl cover or locked away in a bedroom nursing my baby. I was a milking machine.

When I was pregnant, I had planned on breastfeeding my baby; I heard about its benefits, wanted to save some serious cash, and hey, it’s nature so how hard could it be? For me, very:

  • Physically, breastfeeding hurt. You would think something so natural would transpire so smoothly, but nothing beats the plugged ducts, engorged breasts and bloody cuts that my poor boobies had to endure.
  • Emotionally, I was drained. I felt burdened with a responsibility that I couldn’t pass off to anyone else. And waking up to feed, every hour and a half to two, was no joke.
  • Long-touted as convenient, breastfeeding also had its own nuances for me. Since boobs don’t exactly know when to turn off, I had to wear these nursing pads to soak up any “leakage.” If not the pads, then I was wearing these ridiculous plastic breast shields. I had to bypass some fun and travel—when I was a bridesmaid for a friend, I had to lug my pump to the bridal shower and couldn’t join in on the girls night out (pumping and a bachelorette party in Vegas don’t exactly mix).

But I did it. My goal was to breastfeed for a year, and I’m the last person who would have believed I actually did it. For someone who wanted to quit every day the first few weeks, I relied on the following motivational tips and tricks to keep me going:

1. Remind yourself about the benefits of breastfeeding
Just when I was ready to call it quits, I would log online and read about the benefits of breastfeeding: better immunity, brain development, healthy source of nutrients, more variety in taste (to potentially avoid picky-eating in the future), and cost-effective. Every choice we make has pros and cons, and when the cons seemed to loom over me, I fought back by reminding myself about the pros.

2. Use a double pump
Seriously. Forget manual, forget single electric. When a mom already has zero time for herself, the last thing she needs is doubling her breastfeeding time because she thought a single pump would do. If I were to do this again, I would gladly pay the extra cost of the double pump for the sheer joy of cutting my pumping sessions in half. Nothing worse than sitting in a room knowing you could’ve been outta here in 15 minutes instead of 30.

3. Set goals, even daily goals
During the first few days when I wanted to quit, I challenged myself and said, “Okay, just get through this one day, and we’ll take it from there.” When that day came and went, I upped my goal: “Okay, now let’s see if you can handle two more days.” This mental trickery kept going until I was setting monthly goals (“Let’s get to six months at least”) before eventually reaching a point where I didn’t need to set them any longer.

4. Find a comfortable way to nurse
The boppy was my BFF. I relied on that sucker to rest and even free my arms while he was nursing. In addition to pillow props, I also tried different positions (I still remember the “football hold”) to see which one felt most comfortable for that moment.

5. Work your partner
Being 100% responsible for your baby’s food intake gives you the right to tell your partner to handle other chores while you feed your baby. My husband made pretty impressive breakfasts, not to mention handling most of the chores and diaper duty.

6. Find support in other women who breastfed
I was thankfully surrounded by sisters and cousins who breastfed their own babies, so I felt completely comfortable calling them up for support, ideas, or just a good rant about how hard this was. Knowing that they breastfed despite similar difficulties gave me gusto to keep trying.

7. Realize that breastfeeding gets easier
I was in a ton of pain in the beginning, but eventually, my boobs adjusted and the pain subsided after a few weeks. At around eight months was when I reached the point where I didn’t feel the need to set goals or dread the impending months still to come (I suppose because I was drawing closer to my goal of one year).

8. Tell yourself that you can always quit
I told myself that if breastfeeding got so difficult that my misery outweighed the benefits I sought, then I quit. I didn’t want to set myself up as a holier-than-thou, breastfeeding martyr if it meant my well-being. Quitting breastfeeding isn’t a sign of failure or that I wasn’t a good mom; it was just the time for me to stop. We all eventually quit breastfeeding; each of us just chooses when that time will be.

Tip #9: Now that you’ve read mine, what tips can you offer pregnant women and breastfeeding moms on how to stay motivated with breastfeeding? What worked for you and what didn’t? If you had a goal and quit before you reached it, what made you quit sooner?

p.s. Thank you for the continued growth of Sleeping Should Be Easy! Readers like you who tweet, like, pin and comment have made this site an amazing community.

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Ask the readers: how to deal with a picky eater

Ask the readers: how to deal with a picky eater
About a month ago, I wrote about my toddler’s propensity for eating. No matter how much food we placed in front of him, the boy would keep asking for more, more, more until I eventually figured out a system that seemed to work. Hooray for me… and the four other parents in the entire world who have this issue. Because based on your comments, I gathered that most of you would gladly trade in my problem for yours: what to do with picky eaters.

For instance, SSBE reader Lyle, from Ramblings of a Lyle wrote:

He’s getting into that picky stage where getting him to eat anything new is like pulling teeth. It’s frustrating because he used to be such a good eater when it came to trying new things. Now it’s “I don’t like it” before he even takes a bite.

Believe it or not, my toddler went through a semi-picky eater phase. He started denying certain foods (pretty much anything that wasn’t a sweet potato or a fruit). And just like Lyle experienced with her toddler, mine also pushed the spoon away before even taking one bite. Thankfully after a few weeks, he resumed eating a variety of food, and below are some tips I would offer Lyle:

  • Serve the “yucky” food along with the “yummy” food, even mixing them together if you have to. Why pasta and strawberries on the same spoon seemed appealing to my toddler, I’ll never know, but he somehow convinced himself that this was delicious. By putting something he liked on the same spoon as the food that I wanted him to eat, I was able to make sure that he ate something else besides fruit. Eventually after about five spoonfuls of mixed food, I started alternating between the two, so that one spoonful was the pasta, and the second spoonful was the strawberry, and he seemed fine with this.
  • Sneak vegetables into his mail meals. I borrowed Jessica Seinfeld’s book Deceptively Delicious book from the library. When I first heard about this method, I smugly thought, “No way am I going to trick my kid into eating vegetables! They’re going to see it on their plates and know they’re eating vegetables… and they’re going to like it.” Um, yeah… sorry Mrs. Seinfeld for dissing your method, but I resorted to the cookbook to see if there were any recipes that my toddler would actually eat. And it seemed to work! Somehow these recipes were okay in toddler’s book, and we got to sneak in some pureed veggies as well.
  • Don’t be a shirt-order cook. When my toddler rejected a food, I’d quickly run to the kitchen and whip up something else. I realize now that while he has the choice to eat the food in front of him or not, he can’t demand other food than the one I already prepared. Doing this exacerbated the problem and contributed to his picky eating.

Nowadays, my toddler is a champion eater. A bit too much for my taste, but I won’t rub it in. So while those techniques seemed to work for LO, I’m not sure if they would stand against a pure and true picky eater.

So readers, I turn to you for advice: how do you deal with a picky eater? What tips can you offer Lyle to get her toddler to try new food? How do you deal with kids who will only eat certain foods, or kids who won’t eat a lot? Chime in on the comments below.

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How to prepare homemade baby food


Two years ago when my toddler was entering his fourth month, I offered him his first solid foods. (I was secretly hoping eating solid food would help him sleep longer. It didn’t.) My husband and I tend to cook meals at home, so making our own baby food wasn’t too much of a stretch. So although we bought jarred food from time to time, we opted to make our own for most of our baby’s meals. I’m so glad we did.

  • Homemade baby food provided variety
    Choosing my own ingredients provided near-limitless combinations: strawberries and cherries, strawberries and pineapple, cherries and pineapple… I tried to make every possible combination from different fruits and vegetables but there was no way I could have done it.
  • Homemade baby food helped transition to table food
    When my baby outgrew the pureed stuff, I wanted him to eat what I’ve cooked for everyone else, whether that’s chicken breasts or salad, spaghetti or clam chowder. Because we gave our baby homemade food, introducing a simple “table food” recipe wasn’t too difficult, like zucchini sauteed with garlic and thyme, for instance. Eventually his palette widened enough that he was eating exactly what my husband and I had on our plates.
  • Homemade baby food was cheaper
    Just as I saved money cooking at home instead of eating out, making my own baby food was almost always less expensive than buying food already made. Since I love to save me a buck or two, the money factor was a nice nudge towards making our own baby food.

There were times though, when homemade baby food wasn’t the ideal choice. I ran out ingredients. I just about had it with peeling and steaming. Or I simply didn’t have time to prepare anything. Plus homemade baby food wasn’t conducive for travel—when we went to Big Bear, we opted for convenience and bought jarred food.

And if I could do this all over again, I would change a few things:

  • First, I would skip the cereal. I kept hearing (probably from clever marketing preying on new moms—oh, we are such easy targets!) that cereal is the best food to start with when introducing solid foods. I didn’t see any benefits to starting with rice and oatmeal cereals, or even including them at all. When my baby started eating grains regularly, I would simply buy the Bob Mills crushed grains. Not only were baby cereals more expensive, they were probably not as tasty as fruits or vegetables like sweet potatoes or bananas.
  • And second, I wouldn’t introduce broccoli so early. Or bananas so late. I thought that the first foods I offered my baby would magically be his favorite food. Conversely I thought if I waited a bit longer to introduce fruits, he wouldn’t develop a sweet tooth. But alas, food isn’t always love at first taste—tasting  broccoli before avocado doesn’t guarantee he’ll prefer the former over the latter. And delaying the sweet stuff did nothing for my toddler’s penchant for fruits. My advice: start off with more palatable flavors and work the stronger flavors like broccoli much later.

Need some ideas on what to feed your baby and how to prepare them? Below are some of the fruits and vegetables we introduced during the first few months of solid food-eating:

  • Sweet potatoes, taro and yams: Place an unpeeled sweet potato on a foil or pan and roast unwrapped at 400 degrees in the oven for 30 to 60 minutes, depending on the thickness. Let it cool, then peel and mash with a fork or masher. At a younger age, you’ll probably want to thin it out by adding some water.
  • Apples and pears:
    Peel, core and slice the apple or pear into chunks. Place the chunks into a steamer. (I just filled up a large pot with about an inch of water and left it at a low boil hot enough to emit some steam. then I placed a colander inside the pot and covered that with a lid.) Steam the apples or pears until they’re tender (anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes), then place the chunks into a food processor or blender to puree. You may want to add some of the reserved water (that one inch of water from the pot) into the blender to thin it out and make it easier to blend.
  • Zucchini and summer squash:
    Wash the zucchinis or summer squash but don’t peel them. Instead, trim the ends and cut the rest into small sections to steam until they’re tender. Then, puree in a blender until smooth. Since zucchini and summer squash have a lot of water, there’s probably no need to add extra water to the puree.
  • Peas: Make sure you’re using peas taken out of the pods (the actual circles or beads). Then, place in a steamer and cook until tender before blending into a puree.
  • Banana, mango, avocado, papaya and kiwi—These are the convenient foods! Simply scoop out the meaty parts and mash with a fork—no cooking necessary. Feel free to thin with water.
  • Broccoli and cauliflower: Be warned—these were not my baby’s favorite foods. That said, I probably didn’t do what I’m suggesting here now, which is to cut just the florets instead of the stem. This will make the puree tastier and smoother. Then, steam the florets until tender and puree.
  • Beets: Chop off the leafy tops of the beets completely, then wash and peel the beets. Cut them into smaller section and steam until tender before pureeing in a blender. Make sure to thin with new water, not the reserved water from the pot, in case any of the nitrates made its way into the reserved water.
  • Green beans: Wash the beans and cut off the tips from either end. Then, steam until tender and puree in a blender, thinning out with reserved water if needed.
  • Carrots: Wash and peel the carrots and cut into chunks. Then, steam the chunks until tender and puree in a blender. Make sure not to use the reserved water in case the nitrates seeped into it.
  • Peaches and nectarines: Peel and remove the pit, then cut into slices to steam. Once it’s tender, puree in a blender, thinning out with reserved water if needed.

Did you make your own or purchase baby food? What did you like and not like about preparing the food?

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