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Toddler Tips

Getting Your Family Diet Back on Track

From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 22, No. 1 January-February 2005 pp. 34-36

"Toddler Tips" is a regular feature of the magazine NEW BEGINNINGS, published bimonthly by La Leche League International. In this column, suggestions are offered by readers of NEW BEGINNINGS to help parents of toddlers. Various points of view are presented. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's life-style. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.

Mother's Situation

When my oldest child was a toddler, I was extremely careful about his diet. He ate lots of organic fruits and vegetables, there were no junk food or sugary snacks in our house, and I carefully monitored anything he ate when we were away from home. My second child eats far less fresh fruits and vegetables, I use more convenience food because we do a lot more running around, and he was exposed to junk food and candy earlier because we spend more time visiting friends. I am starting to get concerned about our family's diet. How can I get back on track with healthy eating and encourage my younger child to eat a better diet in spite of our busy schedule?

Mother's Response

This question about how to encourage your younger child to eat better in spite of your hectic schedule is so timely. Just recently, I started implementing some new ideas to help with this same issue. Here are some things we are doing so that everyone in our house eats more organic fruits, vegetables, and healthy snacks at home and on the run.

First of all, I pack snacks in an insulated lunch bag each morning before my two-year-old son, Coby, and I go to the park, shopping, or on other errands. I keep an ice pack in the bag and water for my toddler and myself, as well as a yogurt, cottage cheese, a spoon, and a couple pieces of whole fruit, and a fruit leather. If we'll be out longer, I'll also make an almond butter and honey sandwich on whole grain sliced bread and bring a package of string cheese. When my son or I get hungry, we have plenty of options to choose from. I always start by offering the fruit. Since my son can't finish an apple or pear (and rarely a banana) on his own, I finish what he doesn't want and get a wholesome snack, too. For shorter outings, I will only bring water and whole fruit. Taking five minutes each morning to pack up these healthy snacks saves us so much time (and complaining).

Next, I signed up for an organic produce delivery service in my area. Each week, a box of organic produce from local farms shows up at my door with at least 10 to 12 different items for less than $30. It is exciting to see what comes each week and has helped me get out of the food cooking rut I was in where I couldn't think of new ideas. The Web site for the produce delivery service even has recipe ideas for the items that get delivered each week. I keep a fruit bowl on the counter so that everyone notices the delicious fresh fruit when they want a snack. At the same time, I don't replenish the crackers and other less nutritious snacks in the pantry very often.

In the last couple of months, Coby has taken an interest in helping me cook, so together we'll make banana bread or something similar that we can snack on in the next few days. He seems to be more receptive to new foods when he helps me prepare them.

One last idea is to plan your meals a week at a time so that you don't have to scramble at the last minute to figure out what to make for dinner. With a plan ahead of time and a list of what groceries you'll need, you'll be less likely to pick up fast food or order take-out. If you need a little more encouragement, I recommend you watch "Super Size Me" on video. It will make you look at the fast food industry very differently.

Maria Abilock
Palo Alto CA USA

Mother's Response

Revising your toddler's and your family's diet is simple (but easier said than done, I know). First you know what to do already—don’t buy junk. Then if being on the run is what makes it difficult to feel as though you all can eat well, search out healthy, easy foods. For example: boxes of raisins; individual size packs of baby carrots (some even come with a low fat dip); bags of popcorn or whole grain pretzels; snack size yogurts or squeezable yogurt in a tube; even cheese comes portable as string cheese or individually wrapped pieces. And if you want organic, all of these can be found in a health food store. I also like to keep other dried fruits as easy snacks including apples, apricots, and prunes. You could also buy or make your own trail mixes. Also try cutting up fresh fruit and veggies into individual serving size baggies and storing in the refrigerator for easy packing. I find that if I make sure to have my own snacks with me at playdates or other visits, I can feed myself and my children what I want us to eat and not whatever the host has.

As for encouraging your toddler to eat more fresh produce, try slicing apples with a corer/slicer for easier eating; offer dip for everything—yogurt for fruit and berries, hummus or ranch dressing for vegetables. My three children love to dip carrots, celery, slices of red pepper, and sugar snap peas. I would also suggest offering a fruit and/or veggie at very meal. Even just banana slices or raisins on cereal is a start.

Finally, another easy way I upgraded my family’s nutrition was to buy or make only whole grain items, like breads and pasta. Use brown rice instead of white, sweet potatoes instead of white. And remember that there is nothing wrong with the occasional sweet treat!

Lani Siciliano
Monroe CT USA

Mother's Response

Having a nine-year-old, four-year-old, and 16-month-old in my own house, I know how challenging it is to keep healthy and quick snacks and food in the house. Here are some of the things that help me stay on track with our nutritious eating habits. First and foremost, I try and stay away from bringing junk food into the house. That way they can’t even ask for it. This especially helps when I am having a weak moment and might give in.

Another really good thing to try is to wash all of your fruit before you put it away and keep it where your children can reach it for a quick snack. This way, if you are nursing or otherwise unavailable, they can grab it themselves. I even know of some mothers who dedicate a lower drawer or cabinet to snacks. They use this place for things like dried fruit, trail mix, crackers, or cereal, all of which you can buy in bulk and put into small plastic bags for child-sized portions.

Spend one day a month preparing foods that you commonly use to cook with, like grated cheese, chopped onions, cooked meat, or broth. Freeze them so you can grab them in a hurry and not resort to pre-packaged foods that might not have the same food value. One last thing is to purchase the LLL book, WHOLE FOODS FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY. I have found it to be a valuable resource for our healthy family meals and snacks.

Diana Gifford
Garland TX USA

Mother's Response

One thing I have reminded myself is that it doesn’t take any longer to prepare some fresh fruits and veggies than it does to bake goodies!

However, maybe you will also have to take a look at your lifestyle and ask yourself if you are trying to do too much, to the detriment of your family’s health. That said, there are many healthier options available just about anywhere these days. Many mini-mart gas stations offer fresh fruits for sale individually, a much healthier option than a candy bar or cupcake!

Fast food places offer such things as freshly prepared sandwiches, veggie burgers, yogurt, and fruit parfaits. Learn to read the labels on prepared foods—if sugar is the first or second ingredient or there are more than 12 grams of sugar per serving, it’s a good thing to pass up. Fresh fruits are preferable to fruit juices or dried fruits, due to the concentrated sugars in the latter.

Youngsters may learn to enjoy fruits that are cut up and dipped in plain yogurt, which can be spiced up with a little honey and cinnamon. Fresh veggies are great with a dip made from low-fat sour cream or yogurt and a packet of ranch dressing mix. I bake a lot of muffins instead of cookies, using unsweetened applesauce instead of all or part of the oil, which adds some sweetness, so you can cut back on the sugar. Start making just one little change a day in improving your family’s diet, and before you know it, you will all be eating healthier.

Marsha Ransom
South Haven MI USA

Mother's Response

The trick is to make healthy foods convenient. Keep serving-size bags of carrot and celery sticks in the refrigerator so you can just grab them when you go out. Maybe fill small disposable cups with peanut butter for dipping.

Get one of those devices that peels, cores, and slices an apple all at once. You could also pick up pre-packaged tubs of applesauce (check the ingredients list to find unsweetened ones) and other fruits.

If your children just can’t give up their snack cakes, bake your own with real fruit and less refined sugar, like banana bread baked in muffin cups for easy portioning. Your children may really enjoy helping mix them, too.

Juno Farnsworth
Lafayette IN USA

Mother's Response

Over the years, I have found that the easiest way to clean up my diet (and the whole family’s diet at the same time) is to spend more money in the “good” parts of the grocery store and less time in the “junk” sections. Usually the fresh foods are found around the perimeter of most grocery stores and you can avoid walking up and down most of the aisles. The stuff you keep at home will make far more difference to the regular diets of your children than anything they eat elsewhere. And if they’re used to good food, they’ll turn away from the junk food out of preference, not pressure. Junk food has odd smells, weird aftertastes, and very little satisfaction once you are accustomed to natural foods. Even children can discern the difference.

Don’t feel guilty choosing healthy convenience foods like peeled baby carrots, pre-chopped fresh fruit salad, unsweetened fruit yogurt, fruit leather, string cheese (it really is just cheese), dried fruits and nuts, bagged salad fixings minus the dressings and extras, stir-fry mixtures from the produce section, even frozen vegetables and fruits.

It really doesn’t take any longer to hand out a carrot than it does a chocolate bar... and it’s much easier if one is handy and the other isn’t.

Linda Clement
Victoria BC Canada

Last updated Thursday, October 19, 2006 by njb.
Page last edited .


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