Gourmet Veggie Mama

Category Archives: Eating Habits

Snack monster no longer

I wrote a while back that Nora was becoming a bit of a snack monster — demanding snacks while we were out and about and the like. Thank you so much for all of your helpful comments! I now know that this is pretty normal toddler behavior, but, as with everything in parenting, it’s a good idea to set some limits. This is the follow-up, after putting some of your ideas into practice, to share how your advice has worked for me. Hopefully it will help someone else!

A couple of you, either here or on Facebook, suggested she might be having a growth spurt, and that, regardless, limiting her snacking was going to lead to a very unhappy kiddo (and, consequently, an unhappy mama). I certainly don’t doubt that a growth spurt was involved, as Nora seems like she’s grown about 2 inches recently. Even my mom, who hadn’t seen her for about 10 days, said recently that she’s looking longer and leaner. Throw into the mix that this all came to pass around the same time we weaned, and it makes sense that she’d be extra-hungry.

Be that as it may, I did recognize, as a couple of you pointed out, that I might be unwittingly fostering bad habits. Since I would give her something to eat every time she was in a shopping cart, the car, or the stroller when she yelled “snack” at me, she was coming to associate those things with eating, whether or not she was actually hungry. And, by feeding her things like graham crackers, Cheddar Bunnies, and freeze-dried fruit, I might be causing her to develop a taste for junk food.

I had to tackle this as a two-part problem: first, the developing snack habit, and second, the types of foods she was starting to prefer. For the habit, I started by modifying my behavior. Since we are more settled in now, and daily trips to Target, Ikea, and the grocery store to stock up on staples are not mandatory, I have started forcing myself to do a better job of planning and consolidating trips. That means less time in the shopping cart and more time for fun stuff like trips to the park, the pool, or the library, which keeps her busy and entertained.*

* As a bonus, it also means less money spent on impulse buys!

When a trip to the store is necessary, I started trying to go right after a meal or snack, so I’d know she was not really hungry. If she demanded a snack, I’d tell her it wasn’t snack time, and that we’d have a snack later. If that didn’t work (and at first, it didn’t at all), I’d offer her a piece of fresh fruit to munch on.

That bleeds into the second portion of the problem. On Emma‘s suggestion,** I started mostly offering her fresh fruit and veggies as snacks. Once in a while, she gets a cheese stick or a graham cracker for a snack, but if she asks for more, or another snack later, fruit or veggies it is. I’m trying to make sure she doesn’t get a taste for “snack foods,” and the more fruit and veggies she eats, the better. If she doesn’t want an apple, well, too bad. That’s what I have. If she’s hungry, she eats it, and if she doesn’t, I don’t cave and give her a graham cracker instead.

** Go look at her comments if you are struggling with this — she gives a bunch of great info and links to some fantastic resources.

After a couple of weeks of this, I can tell a pretty big difference. Not only can I now go shopping without having her yell for a snack the second her bum hits the cart, she has also gotten way better about eating fresh fruits and veggies as snacks. Part of that is because it’s easier for me to have them available if we are at home, but I have learned to bring more portable fruit with us (apples, pears, berries in a snack ball) rather than defaulting to Cheddar Bunnies or freeze-dried fruit.

I do give her graham crackers or raisins or dried cherries every so often when we’re out and about and I really need her to behave, or just as a treat, but, again, at Emma’s advice, I let her know that it’s a special treat. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that — everyone deserves treats once in a while!

Just a girl and her dump truck.

So that’s my story. I feel a lot better about Nora’s snacking habits now, and we can even go shopping without a non-stop snackathon — she’s usually content to play with a toy in the cart and flirt with passers-by. Success!

Snack monster

As the title suggests, my 17-month-old has turned into, well, a snack monster.

At first, I thought it was a growth spurt. Then it just went on and on. She’s started yelling “SNACK” at me in the grocery store while we’re shopping, and she’s not satisfied until I produce a box of raisins from my bag. Once that’s gone, she starts yelling at me again. She’s even started yelling for snacks in the car!

Now she's happy.

I know part of this is boredom, but she must really be hungry, at least a little, because she chows down, and still eats plenty at the next meal. I don’t want her to turn into a snack-a-holic, but I also don’t want to deal with meltdown any time we go shopping or get in the car.

As long as I’m feeding her healthy snacks, I’m not sure this is a troublesome habit, but at what point do I need to draw the line? Fellow mamas, please weigh in. When does snacking cross over into bad habit territory?

Here are some of my go-to snacks for Nora:

  • Freeze-dried fruits
  • Dried apricots
  • Raisins
  • Graham cracker sticks
  • Pecans or other nuts (unsalted)
  • Plum Tot pouches (I recently discovered these and she looooooves them)
  • Cheddar Bunnies (okay, I know these aren’t great, but they aren’t terrible either… right?)
  • Pretzels, with or without peanut butter
  • Apples
  • Pears

Mostly, they’re healthy, and I try to balance them out with what she’s eating at meals, but this whole all-day snacking thing has me wondering about what’s normal. She is super-active, and I have zero cause to be concerned about her weight, but I hate to create bad habits.

So, what say you, mamas? What are your snack rules? Is snacking on the go a bad idea? If so, how do you manage on outings when your kiddo is hungry (or bored)?

Also, hit me up with your best healthy snack ideas! Inquiring minds want to know.

On the road again

Feeding a baby while you’re traveling can be a challenge. Heck, feeding yourself while on the road can be a challenge.* Now that we are almost through our Great American Road Trip en route from California to Texas, I can’t say I’ve managed to keep the little one 100% on track nutritionally, but I have done a pretty good job. At the very least, I have some handy tips and advice to offer if you are planning to attempt such madness.

* I may or may not have munched on Thin Mints the whole way from Tucson to the New Mexico state line at one point, and not eaten a good lunch as a result.

Road trip!

Be flexible, but plan ahead.** Don’t go crazy planning daily menus, but do stock up a cooler with your little one’s favorite nutritious things to eat. Also keep a bag within easy reach in the car with plenty of snacks to munch on.

** Like most good advice, this applies to pretty much everything in parenting, doesn’t it?

I know Nora loves tofu cubes coated with wheat germ for dinner, so I packed a block of tofu, plus some bags of frozen veggies (which I knew would thaw) for a quick dinner. I also packed yogurt, cheese sticks, and soy milk for some extra protein punch. I would have packed hummus, but it’s one of the only things Nora turns her nose up at every time, so I didn’t try it… but if your little one likes hummus, it’s super-portable and healthy, too! Include carrots for dipping.

I also packed berries, a bag each of apples and pears, and some heat-and-eat falafel.

Good stuff.

Squeeze pouches (like the ones from HappyTot) are extremely portable, and your little one can squeeze them directly into his mouth. It (usually) makes for minimal mess, and it’s an easy way to get some fruits and veggies in when you’re pressed for time. Even kids who won’t normally eat purées, like mine, tend to like them, so it’s worth a shot.

I also kept a bunch of snack foods close at hand in the car, including those Nora loves but doesn’t always get. I’m not a huge fan of puffs, but, as a friend of mine said, they are basically “baby crack.” We haven’t pulled out the big guns yet, but it’s bound to happen at some point on this trip. I also have plenty of freeze-dried fruit and veggies, teething biscuits, graham cracker sticks, yogurt bites, and other goodies within easy reach. I’m normally pretty scheduled with snacks and meal times, but to keep a little one happy on a long car ride, intermittent snacking is okay with me. When we’re all settled in in our new place, we’ll be back to our regular routine soon enough.

Also, take advantage of kid’s menus at restaurants. Sometimes it’s just grilled cheese or hot dogs (not that there’s anything wrong with that, once in a while), but other times you can actually find some great options. We ate at Union Public House when we stayed in Tucson, and their kid’s menu included white cheddar mac and cheese, plus a choice of two sides.

Tasty goodness.

With grilled seasonal veggies and apple slices, it was actually a great meal for her, and we didn’t have to dip into our stash. Score! Of course, Nora also demanded food from our plates, as always, but she seemed mostly contended with her own meal.

Even if there isn’t a kid’s menu, take advantage of small plates or sides from the adult menu. Nora’s dinner last night consisted of edamame as an appetizer (one of her all-time favorites), bites from our plates, plus a side of roasted veggies (potatoes, carrots, and brussels sprouts).

Delicious and nutritious.

She was as contended as can be. Well, at least until the meal dragged on longer than she would have liked, and she ended up running laps around our table, but that’s another story for another time…

Although we’re only now in the home stretch, I think I can safely say that no permanent harm has been done, nutritionally or otherwise. I hope. As for my frazzled nerves from days on end of long car rides… well, they’ll heal.

Tricks of the trade

I am often asked how I got Nora to be such an adventurous eater. The answer, of course, is that I’m just lucky. She is a naturally good eater, and I’ve just taken advantage of that by offering her lots of different tastes and textures.

My little adventurer.

That said, sometimes she doesn’t really want to eat, or doesn’t really want to eat what I’m giving her, so I have figured out a few tricks along the way.

I have to preface this by saying that I’m not pretending to be an expert. I’m only an expert on my kid (and even that is debatable!). So, naturally, my first tip is to know your child. I know that Nora likes trying new things (usually), that she’s independent, and that she likes to figure it out herself, which guides my approach. If your baby is different, your approach to feeding him will be, too.

My main advice is to try and go with the flow, as much as you can. If the meal I’ve prepared for Nora isn’t something she’s into, I offer a little something else, and if she’s just not having a very hungry day, that’s okay, too.

I think one of the biggest feeding pitfalls for most parents is catering too much to your child’s preferences. I’m not saying don’t give them food they like — I’m just saying give them lots of new foods and re-try foods they haven’t liked in the past, too. Unless your child has an issue with gaining weight appropriately,* try not to stress too much over how much they are eating, or how much they eat at a particular meal. You baby knows his appetite better than you do!

* If your child does have problems with weight gain, you should obviously be following your doctor’s advice, not mine.

So, with all that said, here are some of the tricks I’ve figured out over the last few months. I hope they’re helpful to someone out there!

Tips for transitioning to table foods/self-feeding:

  • Start slowly: Try to sit your baby down when she isn’t super-hungry yet and offer her some finger foods. She may just play with them, but that’s okay. Eventually some will find their way into her mouth! Offer purée to top her up afterwards.
  • Practice makes perfect: I’m not the world’s biggest fan of processed foods, but puffs worked wonders for us in helping Nora develop her pincer grasp. They stick a little bit to your fingers, which makes it easier for baby to pick them up, and they dissolve in his mouth so they’re not a choking hazard. You can move on to more “real” finger foods once he gets the hang of it.
  • Get a grip: Coat anything that’s a little slippery (sliced strawberries, tofu) with some wheat germ to make it easier to pick up. It adds some nutrition and a little sweetness, too!
  • Learn from my experience: I’ve put together a couple of lists (here and here) of great beginning finger foods. Try some of them out!
  • Stick with it: The transition to table foods won’t happen in a day or a week. It’s a process. The important thing is just to keep trying every so often, even if you’re sure it won’t strike your little one’s fancy. One day it may just be like a switch was flipped!

Tricks for more seasoned eaters:

  • Switch it up: If your little one is not loving the apple slices she had previously scarfed down, try giving here a whole apple and see how she does. You might be surprised. Or, if she’s not wanting to gnaw on whole fruit, try small chunks or slices instead. Another option is to grate up fruit or veggies, or even cheese. Nora had grated cheese for the first time the other day and flipped for it. You can also try peeling fruit, if the texture of the skin seems to be icking her out.
  • Save the best for last: If I am giving Nora one of her all-time favorites (pears with cinnamon and vanilla, blueberries, or sweet potato, lately), I try to save it for after she’s eaten the rest of her meal, like dessert. Otherwise, she won’t want anything else until she’s had her fill!
  • Tickle the palate: Conversely, when your little one just doesn’t seem interested in eating, try offering a bit of one of his favorite foods. Sometimes that can be enough to get his appetite going, and he’ll start eating the other things you’re offering, too.
  • I’ll have what Mommy’s having: If there’s one thing toddlers especially like, it’s doing what the big people are doing. If Nora isn’t interested in something, and I take a bite and offer it again, all of a sudden, she’s all about it. Better yet, just give him food from your plate — it’s easier to only cook one meal!
  • Feeding the animals: Sometimes Nora likes to eat from my hand, like a little birdie. It’s pretty darn cute. She also likes a helping hand at times when she’s trying to take a big bite out of an apple or other fruit.
  • Be cool: I recently discovered that when Nora is teething, frozen berries are a great snack. I let them sit out to soften for a few minutes so they’re not a choking hazard, and then let her go to town. The cold feels good on those sore gums.
  • I’ll do it myself: I recently read this great tip from Half Pint Gourmet on helping your little one learn to use a spoon, so we are now giving Nora her own spoon when we feed her things like yogurt or multigrain porridge. She sort of gets the concept, but definitely not enough to reliably feed herself… but practice makes perfect!

The most important part, in my humble opinion, is to just keep trying new things until something sticks. Guess I could have just said that and saved myself some time in writing this post! I think that simple principle would just about put the publishers of parenting books out of business, though…

Do you have any favorite tricks for getting your little ones to eat? I’m always looking for new ones, since everything seems to work for a while, and then it’s back to the drawing board again.

All babies are different

“All babies are different.” It’s a parental mantra, but it can be hard not to compare your child to others. Maybe your friend’s baby said his first word earlier, or rolled over at a freakishly early age, or took her first steps while your baby was just getting the hang of crawling. It’s hard not to feel like your baby is behind, or that you’re doing something wrong. This definitely comes into play when you compare your little one’s eating habits to others around his age.

I am lucky in that Nora is a naturally good eater.* She’s adventurous and will try almost anything once.

Whole avocado? Sure...

* I am talking about solids here. We had a pretty bumpy start with breastfeeding (latch issues), but she is still going strong at just past one year, which was my original goal. Woot!

Even my good eater has her moments, though. She has hungry days and not-so-hungry days, and teething puts a damper on things sometimes. This morning, for example, she took about two nibbles of her waffle, threw every raspberry I handed her on the ground, and would only eat freeze-dried mango. Fun times.

Nora has always preferred feeding herself, and she started rejecting purées at around 8 months, so it was easy to know when to move on to table foods. Now pretty much the only thing she’ll let me spoon-feed her is yogurt, and sometimes not even that.

I'll do it myself.

Up until fairly recently, I thought that was totally normal. Then I talked to two people with kiddos about a year old who will still only eat smooth purées. Any hint of texture, and they’re out. Forget finger foods — that’s not their thing. Both moms were concerned and asked me how to get their little one to move on to “real food.”

On the other end of the spectrum, when Nora was still just doing purées, I talked to another mom who was giving her baby (who was less than a month older) whole plums to eat himself. I was still baking plums and puréeing them for her, and I felt like I must be doing something wrong! It was only recently that she figured out how to handle a whole fruit by herself.

The point is, all babies go at different paces, and that’s fine. I don’t know anyone who started college while still only eating purées, and some kids are just in a hurry to grow up. If you’re worried about your baby’s eating habits, it’s definitely worth talking to your pediatrician about it (that’s what they’re there for), but it’s likely normal. In fact, some babies don’t even show an interest in solid foods of any kind until 9 months or so!

As with all things in parenting, the key is patience. Patience, patience, patience. It’s a difficult lesson, but a necessary one, and one that I expect to learn over and over in the years to come.

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