Then don’t eat it…and others things I say

“Then don’t eat it” and other things I say to get my kids to eat, but not too much.

• Don’t eat it, eat more of something else.
• You can’t have more Cheerios, but if your belly is still hungry, you can have broccoli.
• If you don’t like it, just push it to the side.
• If you’re still hungry, I can get some carrots for you.
• You’ve had your milk, if you’re thirsty, you can have water.
• It’s not time for cookies right now, but you can have one with your snack.
• If you’re hungry, you can eat as much as you want at lunch.
• We just ate dinner, but if you think you’re still hungry you can have sliced peppers.

And my most common one,

“You don’t have to eat it,…
• …but you have to sit at the table with us.
• …but you have to leave it on your plate.
• …but this is dinner.
• …but you’re not getting anything else.

Taken out of context, some of these might seem harsh, but they’re not. There is always something on the menu that the kids like and routinely eat. There is always more than one option too, so if they truly don’t like “A” then they can eat “B”.

What are the phrases that you find yourself saying to your kids at mealtime?

Big Kids with Big Appetites

At SP’s two year doctor’s appointment we received a handout with “Tips for the 24 month visit” on it. Under the “feeding” section it said that we could expect our two year olds appetite to decrease and that it wasn’t uncommon for kids to eat only one decent meal a day. Ha! I said, I know this, I’m a dietitian, but this wasn’t my kid at all!
SP’s appetite has never decreased, she just keeps going and going. With all the childhood obesity concern every meal can feel like a minefield when you’re feeding a big kid with a big appetite. SP is two and a half, but she’s been an eater since day one! Well, maybe not day one, you can read about those troubles here. Once the breastfeeding problems were sorted out, SP got the hang of eating, big time! She quickly reached the 85th percentile weight for length, which means she’s right there – overweight! Luckily, I teach and practice the Division of Responsibility, which you can read about here, and it is this approach that has helped me feed SP and allow her to just grow.
How do I do it?

  1. I make sure her options are healthy, because I know that no matter what, she’s going to eat it all and then ask for more. This means a lot of fruits and vegetables (luckily, she eats both willingly) and lean protein. Protein is the most filling nutrient, so I make sure she has a good source at every meal, to keep her full.
  2. We start with small portions because she always wants more.
  3. When she’s already had what anyone would consider plenty of food, but she wants more, I offer a vegetable. Always a vegetable because I figure she’ll only eat that if she is truly hungry.
  4. B and I always direct her to her belly and ask her if her belly feels hungry or full. She’s getting to the point where she can tell me that she is full – success #1! As a result of my efforts to stick to the DOR, SP gained 3 pounds and 2.75 inches in 6 months – nearly perfect growth, and her BMI is at the 83rd percentile – success #2! I know that I need to let her body grow the way nature intends. I also know that if I ever try to restrict her intake I can pretty much guarantee that she will start to seek out food at non-eating times, she will almost certainly overeat at every opportunity, and her weight will skyrocket.

Restricting a big appetite always backfires. Your child will begin to display food-seeking behaviors and overeating, which will likely make a concerned parent restrict even more. Follow the DOR, serve healthy foods, and allow your child to decide when she is full.

Feeling Alone? Partner up for family health

I think I need to start off this post by saying feeding is parenting. You and your partner are, hopefully, on the same page with all other things parenting, you need to be on the same page with feeding too. Actually, you need to be on the same page with both feeding and nutrition (which are two different things). When one adult in the house is concerned about the health and well-being of the family it can weigh on everyone, especially when the second parent is unconcerned. I believe that, on some level, everyone knows that health is important and everyone with kids wants them to be healthy. But health can also be tricky – first of all it means different things to different people. For some, just not being sick is being healthy. For others, being at a healthy weight, disease-free, sleeping well, and with manageable stress is what it means to be healthy. Second, many people hear healthy and think “Uhg! Healthy is boring, healthy is bland, healthy is expensive, healthy is sweaty, healthy is hard!” So, what does one do? Instead of pounding concrete, try shaping clay.

Shaping is how families can get on the same page with feeding and nutrition. In most homes there is one primary shopper and one primary cook. Even in homes where these duties are split, there is always one who is making the majority of the food decisions. That person is the “gatekeeper” and the gatekeeper holds most of the control. The gatekeeper is the one who can shape the families diet and ultimate health by shaping the environment. The environment I’m talking about is the home – what does a healthy family need to have in their home? What do they need to keep out of their home? What does a healthy family do with their free time? How do they get that to happen? If you want to change the health of your family, first, think about what you want your environment to look like. What do you want in your fridge when your kids get hungry? What do you want in the pantry to make meals out of? What do you want in the yard for the kids to play on? What kind of toys do you want them to have to encourage healthy habits? After you assess what you want, assess what your currently have. How does what you want differ from what you have?

Now, begin to shape. Don’t do everything all at one, but make small, almost imperceptible changes.

• Buy one less snack food and one less dessert than usual.
• Buy one more fruit than usual.
• Start serving fruit at dinner.
• Serve two vegetables at dinner instead of one.
• Add a vegetable to lunches.
• Slip in some brown rice or whole wheat pasta when you get the chance.
• Put a pitcher of water on the dinner table and keep one in the fridge.
• Don’t turn on the TV when you get home and turn it off more often.
• Play actively with your children. Make it fun!

Of course, shaping is easier with support. How you talk to your partner about your concerns in the family is half the battle. Pointing out real facts and your feelings about the facts is the safest way to gain support.

“Today I learned that kids are supposed to get 60 minutes of active play every day! I don’t think our kids get that much. I’m concerned that they aren’t as active as they should be and that it could affect their health. What do you think we could do about this?”
This approach frames the conversation of health and exercise in a safe way that comes from a place of concern and avoids placing blame. Try shaping both your family’s environment and your words to get on the same page about nutrition and health in your house.

Party Hard with Your Little Big Eater

Big appetites and parties don’t go great together especially when you throw in the moods and whims of a preschooler and the nutritional desires of a dietitian Mommy. My plan when it comes to feeding both of my children from day one has been – follow the DOR and everything will be okay, but even with that mantra in my head parties are hard. Maybe it’s because I feel like people are looking at me and judging – Do you see your kid? She hasn’t moved from that bowl of chips since she got here! – is what I imagine them saying. So how do I navigate the endless stream of parties? Here’s how:

• Stick to the feeding schedule. If the party is at 4 but snack is at 2:30, still give the normal snack and allow your child to eat her fill. If it makes you feel better, serve only healthy foods at that snack, but still to allow your child to get full. Do not skip snack because she’ll be eating later.
• Plate the treats at the party. Give a generous plate or bowl of anything your child wants. Allow him to choose his treats. Add a few fruits and veggies if they are being offered, but do not force your child to eat them. Just put them there.
• Cut him off with a choice. “There is so much yummy food here! You’ve had a lot of treats and there’s still more to come! If your belly is still hungry you can have some of these carrot sticks, or you can go and play.” This lets him know that he can come back for more, and cues him into his hunger and fullness cues. Chances are, he’s full and playing is a lot more appealing than carrot sticks, but if he choose carrots sticks then – awesome, he’s eating carrots!
• Don’t call attention to her big appetite or publicly shame her. I know there is a trend to public shaming lately, but please don’t do this to your child, especially when it comes to eating.
• Watch the drinks. Since drinks really just add calories and do little to aid with fullness, I have no issue with putting your foot down on the number of sugary drinks you’ll allow.
• Help your child off-set the treats with a lot of movement that day. Give your child extra opportunities engage in active play on the day of the party, but please don’t tell him he’s working off the calories!

With the right mindset and tools you can take the stress out of feeding a big appetite at parties. Going in with the right feeding skills will teach your child that parties, and the food that comes along with them, can be enjoyed without guilt or shame.


~ Katie Mulligan MS, RDN, LDN. I am the past owner of Nurturing Nutrition. Now I’m busy raising and feeding two kids and working full-time. I will be doing a few blog posts for Stephanie. Hope you enjoy them! Comment and I’ll be sure to get back to you!

Kids Imitate You – Even When You Don’t Want Them To

This is another guest post from Dietetic Intern, Ruthann Sampson, MS.  I’ve been seeing more and more families with children that struggle with their body image.  It’s easy to make a comment with good intentions, but we often don’t realize the impact that our comments have.  I like Ruthann’s suggestion of putting the focus on having healthy habits instead of weight or appearance.

When it comes to body image your child may be getting ideas of how they view themselves from you, the parent. You are the adult role model for how to engage in positive talk about appearances. By the same token, when you engage in negative talk about yours or others’ bodies, you may be causing your child to do the same.

                As the saying goes, actions can speak louder than words. You need to be wary of your actions and how they may be impacting your child’s view on a healthy body image. Seeing their parent crash dieting or exercising for weight loss may make a child associate these behaviors with attaining an idealized appearance. The same concepts apply if you are concerned about your child’s weight. Don’t criticize their weight directly. Instead, encourage healthier habits by turning a balanced diet and exercise into a fun family activity for good health, not for looks.

                Your words about the appearance of yourself and others have just as big of an impact as your actions. In a constant media onslaught of what the “ideal” look should be, your child needs for you to be accepting of all body types. Even playful teasing with words like “husky” or “fluffy” may be seriously damaging to the way children views themselves or others. Instead, try to compliment your child on a regular basis. Focus on positive language, not just about their appearance (you’re so handsome), but also about their intelligence (you’re getting really good at multiplication) and physical abilities (look how fast you can run). Follow these same principles in your choice of role models. Instead of idealizing supermodels, speak positively with your child about national leaders, scientists, and individuals whose achievements have nothing to do with the way they look (Jane Goodall is my go-to favorite role model for children).

Furthermore, when speaking about your own body, avoid negativity. For example, instead of complaining about having large thighs, say that they are big and strong for hiking and picking up kids. Parent-child interactions should serve as a safe haven from negative body judgment. Keep it upbeat, keep it non-judgmental, and watch as your child’s opinion of themselves stays positive for the long term.


Commericals are Killing Our Kids

This post was written by my guest blogger and dietetic intern, Ruthann Sampson, MS. I have had the pleasure of knowing and working with Ruthann for over 4 years. She is just about to complete her dietetic internship at the prestigious Yale-New Haven Hospital and has a special interest in pediatrics.  She has done a great job on this blog and there is more to come from Ruthann!

As a parent, you are the food gatekeeper for your home. Thus, the first step you can take is to choose what items you purchase and serve to the children, regardless of what food may be featured in the media. You can prevent your child from having certain foods simply by the virtue of not keeping them in your home. This ties back into following the Division of Responsibility addressed in Katie’s previous posts.

Despite your good efforts on the home front, your child may still have access to less-than-healthy foods outside of your home. Arm them with the ability to understand the effects of food advertising so that they are able to make good decisions even when they’re away from your watchful eye. If you need help getting started in your discussion, PBS offers a kid-friendly interactive website called “Don’t Buy It: Get Media Smart!”. This website includes activities and discussion topics geared towards helping children question what they see in the media. Questions they suggest include: “What sound effects or music does the commercial use? Do the sounds make it more exciting?” and “Are there celebrities in the commercial? Do you think the celebrity really uses the product?”

If you prefer to take your discussion to the streets, then perhaps the next time you see a billboard for a soda or a commercial for food ask your child questions about it. Open up a discussion about why your child thinks a company would have a commercial or a poster. Your statement could be as simple as “See that billboard? Why do you think a company would pay to put that up there? Are they trying to get you to do something?” Discuss how companies advertise because they want you to buy their product, even though it might not be healthy for you.

As Mark Twain said “Many a small thing has been made large by the right kind of advertising.” As a parent, you have the power to help your child to avoid the negative impact of the glamour and exaggeration in food media.

by Ruthann Sampson


Part 2: Confidence with Feeding

This is the second installment in my three part series on Feeding Your Family and Loving It.  In the first piece I talked about how competence with feeding means being successful and feeling like feeding is going well.  In my discussion I said that being a competent feeder is more about HOW you feed your kids and not necessarily WHAT you feed your kids.  Today, I’m discussing the second C – confidence.

With competence comes confidence, which is why it’s our second C.  If competence can be defined as being successful then confidence is knowing that you’re being successful. 

Through following the DOR, you are probably gaining confidence in your ability to feed your family.  You know you can get a meal on the table, you know that you can put mostly healthy foods on your plates.  You may have begun to notice pleasant mealtimes with less stress, even if your kids aren’t eating everything on their plate.  That is because you have severed your emotional connection to whether or not your kids eat the food you’ve prepared.  You are now allowing them to make the “to eat or not to eat” decision and that is freeing!  What’s funny is that despite this, despite your kids not always eating the food that’s put in front of them or just taking 2 bites and saying they’re done, you are still confident- weird, I know.  This is again due to the DOR.  The DOR or Division of Responsibility tells parents that as long as you’ve set the WHAT, WHEN and WHERE of feeding that your job is done.  Since you’ve done all of that before your family even gets to the dinner table what is there to not be confident about?  On their own time your children will begin to try and like new foods and then you can really watch your confidence soar!