When Kate Samela, a top pediatric nutritionist in Connecticut had her second child, it challenged some of her long-held beliefs about toddlers and picky eating. Her discoveries in parenting a picky eater for the first time not only gave her more empathy for her clients, but also motivated her to write her first book, Give Peas a Chance: The Foolproof Guide to Feeding Your Picky Toddler (Jan 2013, Parenting, $14.99).
“My first child Jake ate anything and everything you put in front of him. My daughter Maggie, however, was overall very skeptical about food, and was by today’s definition, a picky eater, to the extent that she used to spit out every third bite of food. For the first time I was testing the advice I had doled out so easily to parents and it was hard.”
“I challenged myself to really go back and look at the developmental phases of toddlers. I was also able to learn firsthand how little food toddlers really need. When parents say ‘my kid eats nothing’ I can now better help parents realize that they probably aren’t doing as badly as they think because the quantity of food toddlers need is really so little. What looks like three bites of food might actually be enough.”
I asked Kate how parents can create lifelong healthy eaters from the beginning:
“First and foremost, model good eating. Kids need to see their parents making healthy food choices. Second, be as neutral and non reactive as possible when a kid approaches the table or says they don’t like something. Your reaction is almost more important than them eating that food.”
“Kids are programmed to want the attention of their parents. When a toddler sees a parent overreact, they think wow, she or he is more invested in me eating this than I am, and it becomes a point of control.”
Give Peas a Chance includes detailed guidance about what and how much to feed toddlers. It also includes some innovative tips for how to expand kids’ food repertoires. One of Kate’s suggestions is to use kids’ favorite textures to broaden their list of accepted foods. The goal is to try and identify foods that are similar in texture and consistency to foods that s/he already eats and that have the same “mouth feel”. The familiar and accepted texture can be a bridge to a new flavor or food.
If they like …
Crunchy/Salty: Instead of Cheerios or Goldfish, try Terra Stix or mini rice cakes
Sweet and Squishy: Instead of pancakes, try freeze-dried fruit cubes or sweet breads like pumpkin or zucchini
Smooth and Slippery: Instead of string cheese, try a yogurt smoothie or pudding
Soft/Mushy: Instead of mac and cheese, try sweet potato pancakes or oven-baked eggplant Parmesan
Meatballs are a great form of protein for toddlers because their spongy texture is often more palatable and easier to eat, according to Kate. Older children will also enjoy eating a food that they can pick up with a toothpick and dip. I’ve included Kate’s favorite meatball recipe, one of several recipes in her new book. (By the way, if you are looking for more ways to use meatballs in family meals, you can catch me making Meatball Orzo Soup and Mini-Meatball Subs last week on Let’s Talk Live.)
Recipe: Chicken Meatballs
- 1 pound ground chicken (not fat-free or extra lean)
- 1 egg
- 1⁄4 cup bread crumbs, Italian-seasoned
- 1 slice bread, cut into small pieces and softened with 1/4 cup milk
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf Italian parsley
- 4 cloves garlic, mashed with a heavy knife, and chopped fine
- 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
- 1⁄4 teaspoon salt
- 1⁄4 teaspoon pepper
- 1 small yellow onion, chopped and sautéed in 1-2 TBSP olive oil
- 2 Tablespoons olive oil for frying
- 1 1/2 cups tomato sauce
Combine all ingredients except the onion and oil in bowl. Mix thoroughly; the mixture will feel quite sticky because the chicken consistency is soft.
Using warm running water to coat your hands, form the mixture into small meatballs and place all on a microwave-safe plate. Microwave meatballs for about 4 minutes; then turn them and cook 1 more minute.
In a heavy skillet, sauté the onions in olive oil. Add the meatballs to the skillet and brown the outsides of the meatballs. Add the tomato sauce to the skillet and simmer for 30 minutes.