When my daughter turned one and started displaying signs of very selective eating, I was left scratching my head. Where did I do wrong? I’m a nutrition expert, for goodness sake. I thought that meant I am omitted from this crap. So naive I was…
If you too find yourself with a picky eater, the first step is understanding that you didn’t do anything wrong! Although not everyone will face this challenge and there are many techniques we can use to minimize pickiness in our kids, release the idea that any of it is your fault. It’s a very common and normal developmental phase for a toddler to experience.
When faced with the challenge, like many parents, I began the work of turning my picky eater into a food explorer. This work is not for the faint of heart and it definitely resembles more of a marathon than a sprint. I have been working diligently on this for two years and am now starting to see the fruits of my labour (and it’s glorious!). If I wrote one post on picky eating, we’d be here for hours. There is so much to unpack, countless individual circumstances, and many shifts that may need to take place in the home around meal time. So, today I’m going to focus on one of my favourite strategies to encourage food exploration that anyone can try.
For many parents, during meal time, they will get the plates out for each family member and then serve each portion before bringing the plates to the table. They put their child’s dish down and say, “Dinner is ready!”. The child (maybe) comes up to the table, only to see exactly what has been provided to them and how much of it. With this method, we are telling our children, indirectly, exactly what we expect them to eat, taking a significant amount of power and choice away from them.
Now, if you’ve parented a young child, you know power struggles are REAL. How we’ve all made it through this stage of parenting is beyond me. Developmentally, a toddler is working to exercise their autonomy. They know they are an individual person with their own thoughts and opinions (oh, so many opinions) and they work very hard to exercise them. Feeling “in control” is extremely important to them, and that’s where a very delicate dance between parent and child begins.
One way to minimize meal time stress while giving some of that power and control back to your child is to offer your meals family style. Rather than plating their dinner for them, place each menu item on the table in a dish and let them decide what they would like to eat from said menu. They can either serve themselves, or if they aren’t quite old enough for this yet, you can invite them to tell you what they would like on their plate today, and how much. Now, you have to be prepared that they may take lots of one item and none of another, but to this I say… who cares? You have vetted each menu item and can feel good about your child eating whatever they choose, and know that this may just be the gateway you have been looking for to encourage a broader palette (more on that to come). You can let go of the frustration of putting food on their plate, only to watch them, once again, push it around with a fork, whine about wanting something else, or ignore it completely.
And this brings me to my bonus point, and what may just be a parent’s most powerful mindset shift when it comes to picky eaters. Are you ready for it? It’s called The Division of Responsibility. If you haven’t heard of this before, lean it, because this simple phrase has the potential to significantly reduce and possibly even remove meal time stress.
When it comes to meals, it’s your job to decide what to serve your child; it is their job to decide if and how much of it they will eat. That’s it. Now, let those words sink in. Then, apply them to your next dinner time. Whatever you decide to offer your child, your job ends there. This understanding alone can create a monumental shift in your family meal experience. Suddenly, you aren’t watching your child’s every move or encouraging them to try something else, or saying, “Just one more bite.” You’ve released that and, instead, are focusing on connection. “What did Liam bring for Show and Share today?”, “It rained a lot this afternoon. Do you want to put on our rain boots after dinner and jump in the puddles?”, “You’ll never guess who I saw when I was out for a walk today!”
Doesn’t the energy of the scenario sound more enjoyable?
And here’s the thing about family style meals: because you are transferring so much of the power back into your child’s hands, many parents find that their kids will reach for foods they never would have considered before! It’s truly remarkable what this power transfer can inspire. Perhaps they see the roasted carrots on the table, and since they aren’t being told (directly or indirectly) that they should be eating them, they feel more empowered by the idea that it’s their choice to put them on their plate and not someone else’s. It encourages them to exercise curiosity, exploration and decision making.
If you struggle with picky eating in your family, try the technique of family style meals for a few weeks (yes, weeks--give it time), and watch the shift begin from stressful dinners to nourished connection.
For many, choosing clothes for their kids isn’t complicated. Whatever is available and inexpensive is the name of the game. Maybe those are the only considerations they have the luxury of making. But, for others, there are a few more factors that come into play: How long do I need it to last? What kind of value am I getting for my money? Is style important to me? How do I want to show up and support this industry?
Having dressed two kiddos of my own and experiencing, first-hand, how quickly we jump from size to size, as well as what brands feel good while standing up to toddler play, I am becoming more and more aware of clothing waste, quality and source.
This week, I had the pleasure of completing a guest post for Pingo Apparel, one of my favourite sustainable, eco-friendly clothing stores for children (plus some great pieces for mom and dad--check out the adult panthera sweater I'm sporting below). Head over to their site to learn 3 Reasons To Go Sustainable When Outfitting Your Kids. This year, more than ever, let's support businesses doing it right--who follow fair and ethical production practices and consider the long-term health of our planet. And, of course, support local when you can. Small businesses need us now more than ever.
Eczema is a common skin condition that many people can relate to. And more and more, we are seeing it show up in our children. In fact, Authors, Kathrine Erlich, M.D. and Kelly Genzlinger, M.Sc., C.N.C., C.M.T.A. of Super Nutrition for Babies say that, now, 1 in 2.5 (40%) of children have allergies (often presenting as eczema), compared to 30% of adults.
I started to do a deep dive into eczema treatments when my son turned two months old and broke out in eczema from head to toe. It was an extreme case that, like it would any parent, caused me extreme stress. I worked very closely with my naturopath and paediatrician to get to the root cause, as well as treat his immediate symptoms.
Today, Austin is 10 months old and is clear skinned and thriving. We still deal with a few patches of eczema here and there, but it is nothing compared to the case we were managing several months ago. And we did it naturally. So, how did we get here?
First, it’s important to address how common eczema is today. Why is that and what can we do about it? The Nourishing Traditions Book of Baby and Child Care notes that there has been a major shift in disease patterns over the course of just two generations. Genetically, it would take thousands of years to change as much as we’ve seen. The authors attribute this shift to the many dietary and lifestyle changes that have occurred over the last 50 years. Children spend far less time outdoors, exposed to fewer germs and less dirt; they have fewer close encounters with peers and animals and live in highly sanitized environments. As a result of this shift in lifestyle, our immune systems do not get to flex their muscles as much as they need to fight microorganisms when they come along. We are far more likely to experience a negative immune response because of this.
Using soothing oatmeal baths to help control inflammation.
Most people, when faced with the challenge of eczema, immediately turn to a cream or other topical treatment to heal a flare up. And although this can be helpful in the short term, it’s so important to understand that skin inflammation is a symptom of something bigger that must be addressed. Otherwise, you will forever be treating the symptom--a band aid solution to a larger issue. If a person’s gut flora is not thriving, due to things like a c-section delivery for babies, poor diet, a high amount of pro-inflammatory foods, additives in vaccinations not properly detoxed by the body, use of antibiotics, chloride and fluoride in water, etc. the cell-to-cell junctures of the gut are weakened. The villi become damaged and flattened and can’t do their job. Healthy villi produce enzymes called disaccharides, which break down foods like grains and milk products. Without them, digestion of these foods becomes difficult and the body gets run down with immune system dysfunction, allergies, rashes and asthma. We see holes or leaks in the gut lining, which allow allergenic proteins into the bloodstream. The immune response to these foreign bodies in the bloodstream can show up as--you guessed it-- eczema.
This helps us understand why going deeper than the skin outbreak is important in solving the problem of eczema. First, we must figure out why the body is having an immune response and begin there.
For many people, this will be a trial-and-error process, as it was (is) for us. This can be frustrating, but a necessary part of the journey.
If you’re experiencing eczema with your little one, know that your journey might look different than ours. But by sharing our story, you may have some fresh tools to try out or to talk to your healthcare team about.
"It’s so important to understand that skin inflammation is a symptom of something bigger that must be addressed. Otherwise, you will forever be treating the symptom."
Austin was born via emergency c-section, meaning he didn’t get that push through the birth canal that I had hoped for him, which helps populate a baby’s gut with healthy bacteria. So, even before his skin issues came about, I put him on a probiotic. I used this one. When his eczema began to flare up, I worked with my naturopath who also put him on a second dose containing additional bacteria strands.
He was exclusively breastfed, so knowing that what I was eating may cause him inflammation, I removed all dairy and eggs from my diet, common inflammatory foods. If your child is older and experiencing eczema, removing pro-inflammatory foods is a great place to start. These include: dairy, eggs, gluten, refined sugars, and bad fats like hydrogenated oils. Specifically in the case of foods like dairy and eggs, which may be a big part of your food culture, try removing for at least a month and then slowly reintroducing one at a time, to see if a reaction occurs. In Austin’s case, he still seems to have minor reactions to both of these foods in prolonged doses and will break out in a new (although, thankfully not severe) patch of eczema. So I continue to cycle them, trying small amounts at a time every few weeks.
Since we know gut health plays a primary role in healing eczema, I put a lot of emphasis on feeding Austin nourishing, gut-healing foods. From the day he began food, I made meat/bone broth to feed him on its own, as well as mixed it into purees. By slow cooking organic bone-in, skin on chicken legs, it draws out important nutrients and minerals that are incredibly nourishing to the gut. He still loves my homemade broth and eats it regularly. I also use fermented foods and high quality oils to nourish the gut and skin, like flax seed and coconut oil, and use supplements like cod liver oil. With these protocols in place, we watched as Austin's healing began.
A common dietary treatment for intestinal dysfunction like what I have described above is implementing the GAPS diet. This is a great place to start if you’re not sure where to start.
The Weston A. Price Foundation lays this concept out well:
“Whether we are talking about foreign food antigens (food allergies), or auto-immune reactions, the issue is not so much stopping the toxic skin reaction that results in the eczema, but rather sealing and healing the gut in order to stop the leakage of foreign proteins into the blood stream, either from food or other sources. Healing the micro-flora of the gut, healing the micro-villi of the gut, and stopping the absorption of antigenic proteins is the key to stopping the vicious cycle that results in chronic eczema. All of this points to the GAPS diet (Gut and Psychology Syndrome diet), the modified traditional diet, to start healing the gut and restoring the micro-ecology in our GI tract. From a epidemiological perspective, when we moved away from our traditional diet, with its emphasis on lacto-fermented foods, good fats, bone broths and properly prepared grains, we created the situation that has allowed chronic illnesses like eczema to flourish.”
There are other treatments you can try to help the body detox like giving sea vegetables in capsule form, which bind heavy metals and other toxins and promote excretion through the bowels. If your child is vaccinated, you can use supplements that help boost the health of the body's systems and decrease inflammation from additives in vaccines that very commonly lead to eczema outbreaks (we use this one). Additionally, the authors of Nourishing Traditions suggest using a topical that includes Sephora as the primary ingredient, a shrubby plant used as an herb in Chinese medicine to counteract allergies by stabilizing the mast cells.
And although many people turn to treatment options like steroid creams, although they control the symptom, they will never heal the individual suffering from eczema or fix the root of the problem. They may also lead to other negative side effects that complicate health later in life. Personally, we do keep a very low dose of cortisone cream on hand for any outbreak emergencies, but we use it sparingly and very infrequently with Austin’s long-term health in mind.
Homeopathics are another option to incorporate into a treatment plan. We tried sulphur pellets with Austin, and although we didn’t see much improvement, others have had great success. You can also explore psorinum, graphites, and arsenicum album.
In terms of treating the immediate symptoms (because no one wants to see their child in discomfort), here are a few topicals that we tried with varying degrees of effectiveness:
Again, this will be trial and error in order to find the topical that provides your little one with the most relief, but the key to comfort is to keep the skin hydrated and prevent any open sores. In the case of open sores in the height of Austin's outbreak, we used Correct-X by Doterra. This was a natural solution to prevent any infection and promote healing.
If you or your child has eczema, know that you must begin the healing process from the inside out. Otherwise, you will forever be chasing the symptom. Gut health is paramount for long-term health and we all deserve to achieve this.
If you are currently on this healing journey and would like a little more guidance, reach out to me. I would love to support you.
I am always looking for fun snack recipes for Ayla. I want them to have a good nutritional profile, but they also have to be tasty for her to show any interest. I had seen lots of cookie recipes that used chickpeas in place of flour and thought that sounded like a great place to start for a winning, healthy snack. But as I began looking around, I couldn't quite find a recipe that I was happy with. So, taking ideas from a variety of sources, I got to work on my own creation. This hasn't always worked out for me in the past, so when I gave my first batch the official taste test, I was shocked that they were actually quite tasty!
To make things even better, these cookies are packed with fibre, and are gluten, dairy and refined sugar free.
But none of this mattered if the ultimate taste tester didn't approve. Luckily, Ayla gobbled them up! Huge mom win. I can't tell you how many hours I have spent in the kitchen coming up with what that I think will be great dishes for the babe, only to have her turn her nose up at them. I needed an ego boost.
What I love most about this recipe is that you throw all of the ingredients in a blender at once, making the prep work really quick and easy. You can have these cookies prepped and cooked in less than 45 minutes. They really do resemble the peanut butter cookie of my childhood, but with more nutritious undertones. I wanted them to be baby friendly, which means low sugar (natural or otherwise) but if you are making them for yourself or an older child, there a couple of alterations you can do to make them a bit of a sweeter treat. I used 2 tablespoons of 100% maple syrup as my sweetener, plus a banana. You could up the maple syrup for an extra kick of sweetness (perhaps 1/4-1/2 cup), as well as stir in chocolate chips just before scooping them onto your cookie sheet. Chocolate chips tend to go a long way in elevating most cookie recipes. The first batch I made definitely had a more "rustic" look to them. The second time around, I used damp hands to create more uniformed shapes and pressed down on the tops with a fork to resemble a more traditional peanut butter cookie.
Once your baby is old enough to eat solids, but is still lacking the chompers to eat anything and everything, baby cookies, or "teething cookies" as they're sometimes called, are a must. Personally, I like to have them on hand, if nothing else, to use as an activity. Grocery shopping and the baby gets fussy? Have a cookie. On a walk and your baby is getting bored in the stroller? Eat this cookie. Need to keep baby occupied in their highchair while you prep their meal? Cookie. They're a life safer in so many situations.
That said, they can often be filled with added sugars and lack any real nutritional value. So, I decided to come up with a cookie that was easy to gum, but also provided sustenance. Enter: my Real Food Baby Cookies. It's an activity and a snack all in one, packed with fibre, healthy fats and protein.
Just beginning your baby's journey with solid foods? Check out this Intro to Solids guide, which includes my own real-life experience of my daughter's food introduction from the perspective of a nutrition nut.
I'm no stranger to coming up with a healthy swap for a classic dish, like my quinoa breakfast bowl. Dreaming up a cookie recipe that you can feel good about giving your baby seemed like the natural move. And here's the great news: it's easy! There are only 6 ingredients and you likely have most if not all of them in your kitchen right now!
You can choose to use quick oats, or grind your oats into a flour if you'd like a smoother texture. My two and half year old loves this recipe too, so if you're cooking for older kids, you could consider mixing in some raisons or pumpkin seeds for added flavour and nutrients.
Check out the recipe below and tag me on Instagram if you give them a try! Don't forget to share them with any other mamas out there who are looking to step up their baby-friendly recipe game. Our babes deserve the best :)
I was on a roll. I had this mat leave schedule figured out. I was feeding my creative side by pumping out one blog post a week and sharing regular nutrition/health/mom related content on the gram. I was really leaning into a routine, joining several group workout seshes a week with fellow mat leave-ers, and soaking up quiet moments at home with Austin while pouring into Ayla when she got home from daycare. I had it all!
And then COVID hit. A tragic and impossible-to-anticipate world-wide pandemic that I certainly hadn’t imagined experiencing in my lifetime. And, like it did for almost everyone, it derailed any version of normalcy and routine we had. Nearly overnight, we were all pushed into some super uncomfortable territory. All of our kids were home… all of the time. Many people were told to work from home and to avoid going anywhere or seeing anyone. Others were deemed essential and asked to potentially put themselves and their families at risk with a virus we knew little about, while carrying out duties that supported the rest of society.
Suddenly, my two year old was home full-time. It was an abrupt full stop on the daycare scene, picking Ayla up at 5 on a Friday and learning by 6:30 that their doors would be closed on Monday. I was forced to quickly navigate life at home with a newborn, as well as with a busy toddler. All parents were asked to keep their children entertained, happy and educated without leaving their homes or relying on the support of anyone else. Working parents were asked to do this while simultaneously keeping up with their full-time work schedules and figuring out a new way of getting this done from their, likely, non-existent office.
We’re in month three now, so I don’t need to go on about how unnatural these asks were. I don’t need to tell you that we were never meant to live this way and do it all. You know this. I know this. But we’ve all had to figure it out anyway. Because when there is no other choice, humans adapt and evolve. That’s how we’ve managed to survive on this planet for so long.
So, like everyone else, I pushed through the growing pains (and, oh, were there growing pains). I am not afraid to tell you that I was in a dark place for a few weeks, mostly mourning the loss of the cushy mat leave life I had been lucky enough to create for myself, but also dealing with the incredibly hard transition for Ayla, which presented itself through big, sporadic emotions for the first month (her’s… mostly). It was rough, to say the least. And needless to say, any kind of social media presence or blogging inspiration went directly out the window, along with any other “me” time. I was struggling to find much joy in my days. I barely had time to shower. I was too busy helping Ayla through this massive life pivot--one she was too young to understand--and also taking care of the laundry list of needs of my very young children. Like most parents, I was drained by the end of the day with nothing left to give anyone. I would go to bed at night dreading the groundhog day effect I was bound to wake up to the next morning.
As if this wasn’t enough, Ayla decided to drop her nap. I legitimately couldn’t believe it. She was a new two and no nap felt extremely unfair, given the circumstances. After about three weeks of fighting her on this and wondering what kind of sick joke the universe was trying to play on me, I moved on to acceptance which, as it turns out, is an easier place to live in than denial. I began creating yet another new routine for Ayla by implementing mandatory quiet time in her room. A girlfriend introduced me to a great iPad app where a moon turns to a sun when quiet time is over and we have worked our way up to 35 minutes of independent, quiet play time. She tells me through the monitor when the sun comes up and, for the most part, is pretty good at staying in her room and playing with her books and blocks until I come retrieve her (this was after a couple of weeks of knocking on the door every 10 minutes. Teaching her that we could communicate through the monitor was key. “It’s like walkie-talkies!” I told her). Edit: today she partially ate a crayon. So… it doesn’t always go so smoothly.
Like I said, we adapt. Very slowly, we started to fall into something that resembled a routine. And, as more time passed, I tweaked that routine so that eventually it resembled something that I even enjoyed for the most part. I made it to a place where the idea of sending Ayla back to daycare made me sad. Don’t get me wrong--it will happen eventually. But we are full-out besties right now, spending every minute of every day together, and I’m going to miss her when she heads back to her classroom with her friends and teachers that she’s missed so much (my poor little extrovert).
The other thing that helped is that we basically jumped from winter straight into summer over here. Sunny, warm days that invited more outdoor play and relaxation helped everyone’s mood and opened up a few more opportunities for activity (even though we’re still missing our parks). Warmer weather also meant longer days, helping me to have more energy after the kids had gone to bed, to do more things for myself, or at least for the family, that left me feeling accomplished. Getting outside for a solo walk or errand, or spending some time in the garden, all made me feel a little more human again and gave me a chance to regain some sanity after a busy day fulfilling the needs of my kids.
So, here we are, like everyone else who was asked to navigate these unchartered waters, three months deep and feeling like we’ve done not too badly. The thing about discomfort is that you will almost undoubtedly break through the other side a little bit stronger. That uncomfortable feeling is where the change lives. It’s where you do the work to emerge a better human than before. And for this, I am thankful. I also have a lot of gratitude for this unexpected time with Ayla. At first, I mourned the loss of the mat leave I had envisioned and had guilt around the attention I wasn’t able to give Austin. I think these were important emotions to acknowledge and work through, but eventually I was able to let it go. Although very hard, at first, to balance a newborn and busy two year old, I can say with confidence that I know and understand Ayla on a very deep level, something I never would have gotten without this amount of time together.
As difficult as some days have been, a lot of good has come from this strange, strange time in history. I am thankful for being pushed into a slower-paced and simpler way of living. It allowed me to stay present with my kids and not worry if something wasn’t getting “done” all of the time. Nowhere to go and no one to see meant agendas weren’t so important anymore. As more information becomes available, strict distancing guidelines lift and businesses begin to reopen, I am thankful for the joy that very simple activities bring me today. Things I wouldn’t have thought twice about a few months ago now make me so happy (coffee from a local cafe, a walk with a good friend, time alone to read a book--time alone to do anything, really).
So that’s us. Despite it all, we managed to push through the dark days and come out the other side a little bit stronger and pretty happy. With a new-found comfort and routine, I’m looking forward to getting a little bit more content out and rejoining the rest of society again (even if it’s just virtually or from a six foot distance).
Tell me: how are you doing?
Having a baby is all kinds of wonderful and brutal mixed up into one crazy shitstorm of a few months. What do you think? Did I describe that accurately? It’s such a unique and complex experience that is difficult to describe accurately in a few lines. When you become a mother, there’s a lot of talk about survival. And, let’s be honest: that’s what it can be about many days--just getting by. That said, after having my second baby a couple of months ago, I feel better equipped to handle the ups and downs of newborn life and am pretty committed to creating a life that looks a lot more like thriving than surviving. I want to share my own lessons learned and tips to thrive through these crazy days in hopes that it can help other new moms live even a little above that survival baseline and maybe even create a life with her baby that she always envisioned.
#1 Get your feeds in and manage the daytime sleep
This is probably my most specific tip and may not win me any popularity contests depending on your parenting style or school of thought. But I’m ok with it, because I can honestly say that this rule helped me stay sane with both of my babes and, because of that and the nature of this post, I can’t not share it.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I love baby sleep. And I don’t just mean babies that sleep (although, ultimately that is what we’re aiming for here). I mean I love learning the ins and outs of baby sleep. There is a boatload of literature and resources on this topic and it can be difficult to figure out how you want to approach sleep and how to get your baby to actually do it. But, a common thread I’ve found amongst most sleep resources and professionals is this: have your baby consume most of their feeds during the day. I’m no expert, but this screams logic to me. If your baby consumes the majority of their food during the day, they are less likely to be asking for it all night long. So, I always suggest starting there. Feed every 2-3 hours. Now, this inevitably affects daytime sleep. Sometimes, in order to ensure your baby gets in all of their feeds, you have to wake them from naps (gasp!), thus also controlling their daytime sleep. And here’s the thing: another concept that makes sense to me is that a baby who sleeps all day long will, at some point, sleep less during the night. I know this is the part of my belief system that doesn’t always sit so well with every parent. But, hey, this is my blog. And because I want to provide something really practical and actionable, here’s a rough daily feeding schedule that I used with both of my children from very early days (once they had reached birth weight after that initial loss), and spoiler alert: both of my kiddos have always been awesome night sleepers. By no means are they perfect, but they’re really good. I’m not saying that this is why… but I’m also not saying it’s not. If you’ve never done something before, and you don’t have anyone to tell you where to start, it can feel like driving without a road map. A schedule gives you a starting point, and thus, a little bit of confidence.
I was in denial for a solid month before Ayla started daycare. I just chose not to think about it. It seemed easier than dealing with how difficult it was going to be. But, inevitably, Ayla’s transition plan showed up in my inbox one day and I had to face reality: my maternity leave was over and it was time to hand my child over to someone else’s care. This entire period seems a little unfair: going back to work, sending your child to daycare for the first time and celebrating a first birthday--a glaring reminder that their infancy is somehow over. It’s a lot to process. You may not be surprised to learn that I cried every day for a week leading up to my return to work. It wasn’t the work part I was upset about; it was worrying about Ayla. Would she learn to sleep at daycare? Would they be able to meet her needs? Would she be happy? Did we make the right decision? Was she ready? Should I have extended my maternity leave and kept her at home for longer? Would she feel abandoned? All of these questions played on repeat in my head. But, inevitably, time marched forward, and before I knew it, I was dusting off my work clothes and putting my professional hat on after a year of messy buns and stretchy pants.
Ayla began eating solid foods at five and half months. We started with vegetables, slowing introducing each food group until she had tried most things by the time she was ten months old. I was thrilled that she seemed to be a great little eater, rarely turning down new foods that were offered (with the exception of broccoli). We primarily chose to follow the methods of baby led weaning, but threw a few purees into the mix as well. All in all, Ayla was exposed to numerous textures and flavours by an early age. She didn’t experience any obvious allergies or intolerances and we moved confidently forward, much to this nutrition nut’s satisfaction.
I have learned over and over again that, when it comes to babies, nothing lasts forever. If you’re going through a challenging phase, most of the time it will pass and you just need to put your head down and shoot for survival. Alternatively (and unfortunately), if you’re experiencing a good phase, learn to enjoy every moment… because there’s a good chance it won’t be sticking around either. Knowing all of this, I shouldn’t have been surprised when Ayla began to turn her nose up at most foods. It all began around 12 months (she is now 13 months). Trusty, staple foods were being left on her tray or thrown to the ground. Lunch time would result in very little food being eaten at all. Ayla began to create a rather short list of acceptable food items and before we knew it, we had entered the dreaded picky eater stage.
I thought for sure I had another year before hitting this phase of our lives that most mothers talk about. If I’m being honest, I was thinking maybe we would even avoid it altogether… you now… because I was using all of the right techniques and nutrition is "my thing". Spoiler alert: even if you think you’re “doing it right”, your child is their own person and will do exactly what they damn well please, whether you like it or not. And that is precisely what the universe is taking the opportunity to teach me, yet again. And one more note on "doing it right": we loved BLW, but Ayla’s current favourite foods are smooth or pureed. So if you went down the puree route, don’t worry too much about your baby having a “texture” issue later on. We are a prime example that it can happen either way.
So, how am I navigating this phase of Ayla’s nutrition journey? The biggest thing I do is try to keep my stress levels in check. It’s easy to be concerned about whether your child is getting all of the nutrients and calories they need when they seem to be surviving on yogurt and bananas alone. But trust that, if you remain calm, and continue to be their nutritional guide, they will get what they need. Even with a short list of acceptable food items, there are still little daily hacks that you can use to boost the nutritional profile of each meal. For example, as you may have guessed, one of the foods that Ayla is currently always down with is yogurt. Yogurt is a great food in and of itself. If you choose the right brand, it is high in fat, protein and probiotics. I flavour it with different foods so she continues to be exposed to various tastes (nut butter, unsweetened applesauce, mashed berries, cinnamon, etc.). I also always add a fat like chia seeds or hemp hearts. This is also where I toss in Ayla’s vitamins, like fish oil and D. So, although yogurt may seem like a simple food, it can be a catalyst for a ton of other nutrients. Another hack I use is adding things like grated zucchini and eggs to oatmeal! If you make your oats on the stove top, you can stir in an egg until cooked without changing the flavour or texture of the dish much at all. So, although Ayla doesn’t currently enjoy eggs on their own, I know she’s getting the benefits of this nutrition powerhouse in other ways.
The other main thing that we continue to do during this picky period is expose Ayla to a variety of foods. This can be frustrating, preparing food that you are fairly confident is going to be left on the plate. But I encourage you not to give up, because exposure is the only way they will ever have the opportunity to enjoy new food items. It may not happen tomorrow or even next month, but you can bet it won’t happen at all if they are never given the chance to try it. I try to choose foods that we are already eating for dinner and preparing anyway, or add simple foods to her plate like sliced cucumber or cheese (hey Ayla, remember when you liked both of those things three months ago? Good times). I am not a child-specific nutrition expert. My training is primarily rooted in adult nutrition. But I have done extensive reading on this topic, as it has definitely become a passion since becoming a mother, and the one word that comes up time and time again is exposure. Just keep at it. Build it and they will come…
Dave and I work very hard not to have any sort of an agenda during meal time (easier said than done). We serve Ayla a meal that includes a few (but not too many) flavours and textures, providing her with some choice. We try not bring many items of food to her mouth for her (even though we’re sure that, if she just got a small taste, she would love it!) and we try to keep the mood light. This may sound kind of dumb since Ayla is only 13 months old, but I am very confident that babies can read your mood and that she understands a great deal more than she can communicate to us. This is also just a practice that I hope we continue well beyond Ayla’s toddler years, in hopes that it will help her develop a healthy relationship with food. We eat as a family as often as possible so that she sees us enjoying a variety of foods and has proper eating behaviours modelled for her daily.
Finally, I try to keep in mind where we are in our lives right now. I just returned to work four weeks ago after a year of maternity leave, and Ayla began daycare. She cut her first teeth and has been hit with about 37 viruses since being exposed to so many new children (feels like 37, anyway). All of these things have the ability to drastically affect her appetite, which makes sense. I remember that she won’t have the same hunger levels every day, just like we don’t, and that’s ok. It will take time to fully adjust to our new routine, and once she’s accepted it as her new normal, we may see another shift in her eating.
So, that’s where we’re at! If you are experiencing anything similar with your little one, know that I feel your pain. It can be a huge source of worry and frustration as a parent. But know that you are doing great. Our children are not robots. They are likely still getting most, if not all, of what they need and their eating habits will probably change again before you know it. Remember the old saying: you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink. Keep pushing forward, as I will be, and let’s all take a deep breath together….
Parents of picky eaters, unite!
Starting your baby on solids is a big day! Maybe more for some than others. I admit that I didn’t understand the excitement that offering peas and carrots to someone for the first time could bring until I had a baby. It was actually embarrassing how excited I was to start Ayla on solid foods. So when she began to show readiness signs, the nutrition wheels immediately began turning in my head. What should her first food be? Should it be a puree or finger food? How slowly should I introduce each new food? Do I want to hold off on anything for a few months?
I am a planner and a researcher at heart. I have always liked to have all of the information before I get started on a project, and I instantly become a sponge for knowledge. My favourite research topics are health and nutrition related, and over the years, I have done a lot of related reading. But when it came to the world of baby nutrition, I was a pretty blank slate. Sure, lots of basic nutrition principles apply to all of us, regardless of age, but I knew there was a whole world of baby-specific nutrition articles and healthy mamas to be inspired by for this chapter of my life. The first step is to decide: purees or finger foods? There are arguments for both.
Baby Led Weaning is very child driven. Baby's cues are at the forefront of their feeding. But purees provide parents with the power to ensure their young baby is receiving all of the nutrition they need during important developmental months. The Nourishing Traditions Book of Baby & Child Care suggests that many high iron foods, for example, may be difficult for a baby to self-feed at the six month mark.
In the end I decided to go with… both. Just like nutrition “labels”, I’ve never liked the idea of limiting or pigeon holing anyone into a category of eating. The same is true when it comes to feeding littles.
Here's what's enticing about Baby Led Weaning (or baby led feeding, as it is sometimes referred to): baby is in charge of what goes into her mouth and how much; it fosters a positive relationship with food from the very beginning. The self feeding method supports fine motor development and offers a variety of sensory experiences. Even though constant supervision is required, of course, it frees up mom and dad’s hands so they can eat at the same time. That means that family meal time can be established from the get-go, allowing parents to model eating skills at the dinner table. The women behind the Feeding Littles course really encourage this methodology when introducing solids.
Serving finger foods, as opposed to strictly purees, also means it’s easier to offer your baby a version of what you are eating, cutting back on the meal prep time. This particular feature of BLW is particularly attractive to busy parents. That said, in our home, it took a couple of months before we really saw that come to fruition. Because foods are introduced slowly, it takes some time before baby’s meals mimic your own. More on this later.
But what about purees? I think they have an important role in baby's diet too. One: smooth foods are a real-life texture, and it's important that your baby have plenty of exposure to them. Secondly, it was a more sure-fire way to ensure your child is getting a healthy dose of nutrient dense foods, daily, particularly during those earlier months. Lianne, from Sprout Right, is a big proponent of starting solids with purees, also emphasizing that your baby will most certainly get more nutrients through their food this way. For example, you may have a difficult time getting your babe to mow down on a slice of chicken, but when it is pureed with spinach and sweet potato, no problem. Personally, I love knowing my daughter had a healthy dose of iron-rich protein during at least one of her daily meals.
Know that iron-fortified cereals may not be as beneficial as many medical professionals suggest. The Nourishing Traditions author sites studies that state the iron used in fortification is not processed the same way as iron naturally occurring in food. Babies can get all of the iron they require through whole food sources (plus a host of other benefits).
So, where did we begin and why? This may be a point of contention for some, so I will preface it by saying that this was the direction our family chose to take, and by no means does that make it the only or right way. It’s what worked for us.
Against my family doctor’s suggestion, we did not begin Ayla on the very common rice cereal at four months. We decided to give her little digestive system more time to develop and hold off on all solid foods until around the six month mark. Up until this time, she was exclusively breast fed and we believed, based on current research, that this would be more than sufficient, even when it came to her iron stores. I did a lot of research, prior to this, as well as worked with her naturopath to determine when she was ready for solid foods and what to begin with. We decided Ayla’s first foods would be vegetables and fruits (Update: 2.5 years later, after further research and a second child, I would suggest that beginning with high quality animal products, including meat and/or bone broth would be another incredible option as a first food)
As you may know, we were traveling around Europe from the time Ayla was four months to six months old, and the initial plan, for simplicity reasons, was to wait until we got home to introduce solids. However, around the five to five and half month mark, she began to show us that she was ready for food! The boob is good and all, mom, but what’s that you have on your plate?? She was sitting fairly well, reaching for our forks and watching us like a hawk while we ate. So, while living in France, we decided to go for it. Much of this decision fell on the fact that we were in a country that offered easy access to high quality, organic foods. It is very important to us that we serve organic foods whenever possible. Babies are small, which means their body systems are small and cannot process large amounts of pesticides. I know eating organic can be challenging at times, particularly due to price. Use the Dirty Dozen list to guide your shopping choices and pick up the organic option of these foods whenever you can. If buying 100% organic isn’t an option for your family, The Clean 15 can help you decide which foods to buy conventionally.
Ayla’s very first food was carrots! She played and sucked on them more than anything else, but it was still a fun experience and gave me the confidence to really dive head first into her journey with solid foods. As a nutrition nut, I find it very exciting that I get to be Ayla’s initial guide to healthy eating and teach her all about fuelling her body. It’s amazing to think that these lessons start so early, simply by exposing them to great food from the very beginning.
So, what about the rest of the food groups? We took things very slowly (which I’ll expand on below), but after fruits and vegetables, we moved to egg yolk, followed by meats, legumes, dairy and grains.
Ayla is now 8 and a half months old and we have had so much fun introducing a variety of foods to her. I want to share more details from this experience by giving a few tips for feeding your little one that we have learned so far.
Tip #1: start slow
Making sure that you take this process nice and slow will ensure baby’s digestive system has a chance to adjust to its new roll of breaking down more than just breast milk or formula. I also think introducing new food groups is something not to be rushed. Various enzymes are needed for different kinds of foods, and taking your time to ensure your baby is fully ready for each of these may help prevent negative digestive repercussions that could be mistaken for intolerances or allergies. Many experts will suggests introducing a new food every 3-7 days. Although this is best practice for identifying negative reactions to a particular food, I would suggest it may not be practical, long term. There are a lot of foods out there to try! If you wait a week before introducing each new item, it will take a year! That said, don’t rush it. Follow your mom gut as well as your baby’s cues. Be mindful. You’ll know when you have been given the green light to introduce something new, as well as when it may be time to pull back a bit. Watch your baby’s skin reactions, temperament changes, bowel movements, etc. These are all good indicators of how quickly to move through the food list. If you’re looking for tips on what order to introduce different food categories, feel free to use the one that I listed above. It worked very well for Ayla and could be a good fit for your little one as well.
Tip #2: don’t mix a new food with her favourite food
Ayla hasn’t turned down many new foods (although not crazy about anything broccoli related…), but I quickly learned not to put something new on her tray with a food that we already know she loves. For example, when introducing cauliflower for the first time, I made the mistake of giving her sweet potato at the same time--one of her favourites. Needless to say, she went straight for the sweet potato and showed little interest in the weird looking white tree. So, next time, I offered cauliflower first and on its own. She gobbled it up! Give you baby a chance to test out and enjoy a new food without the distraction of a tasty favourite.
Tip #3: don’t shy away from new and bold flavours
I was hesitant at first to offer Ayla flavours that were a little stronger in nature, such as curry. But I realized just because she’s a baby, doesn’t mean she won’t enjoy something flavourful like this! I don’t suggest loading up a dish with hot peppers if your baby has never had them before. Take it slow and add in spices and exotic flavours a little bit at a time and see how they react. He might surprise you! If strong flavour profiles are a big part of your family’s food culture, introducing them sooner rather than later may help ensure he enjoys these foods later on.
Tip #4: prep ahead in bulk when you can and when it makes sense
I admit, I haven’t nailed this yet-- a combination of being on maternity leave (not always needing to prep in advance) and facing new challenges in the kitchen. But one thing I have been doing is creating a weekly meal plan, both for Ayla and Dave and myself. This helps with shopping and meal prepping in advance when it makes sense. Having a weekly plan means you know what you will be serving each day and can help pinpoint any dishes or parts of a meal that can be made up in advance when you have the time. Since we do a mixture of BLW and purees for Ayla, I like to make up a batch of purees and then freeze them in individual servings. Then, the morning of, I simply pop one out of the freezer so it’s thawed and ready for meal time. You can also make up things like pancakes and muffins, etc. Healthy baked goods are easy to freeze and give you a quick, nutritious snack when you’re short on time.
Tip #5: have a few go-to quick and easy snacks that you can rely on
Some days you just don’t have the creativity or energy to come up with new and exciting meals and snacks for your little one (or yourself). Having a few go-to snacks that you know you can fall back on is key, like my homemade real-food baby cookies pictured above. These are things you can quickly grab from the pantry or fridge before you run out the door. For me, I like to have a couple of healthy baked goods either in the fridge or freezer. I also bake sweet potato with cinnamon weekly, cut into strips and keep in an air-tight container in the fridge so I can use them as a snack or add them to any meal. There are a couple of packaged items that I grab from the grocery store too. I basically use Nature’s Path puffed kamut as a daily activity. I grab a handful and throw it on Ayla’s snack tray in the stroller when we go for a walk, or on her highchair tray when I need to keep her occupied before her meal is ready. I also like the Love Duck brand. They have organic freeze dried fruit bites that have no added ingredients and make for a great little sweet treat.
The journey of solid food introduction for your baby can be an exciting one, especially when you have a game plan going into it. Getting back in the kitchen for the purpose of nourishing my child has reignited my passion for nutrition, something that fell to the wayside when I was pregnant (due to the constant nausea…). When it comes to deciding what to feed your baby and how, be sure to do what works best for your family and use the method that you feel most comfortable with.
Comment below with your favourite baby-friendly meal or recipe!