Snacks. The latest controversy.

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Everything, and I do mean everything, is a controversy, debate, conversation to be had, thought provoking discussion, difficult, sensitive, whatever you want to call it – it is anxiety producing to broach any topic with anyone these days. The latest (or one of the latest) things up for discussion? Snacks.

I am not saying that I don’t have an opinion, because I do, and I’ll touch on that later. But, does everything have to be an either or, right or wrong, responsible parent or irresponsible parent, good citizen or bad citizen kind of thing?

You do you, I’ll do me. It will all work out. Our kids will be fine, and we will be fine.

Some of you reading this are very health conscious. Some of you are not. Some of you have children who need extra calories. Some of you have children who could stand to decrease their caloric intake. Some of you have super cooperative and even tempered children, some of you do not. And these are not things to shrug off … they impact the decisions that you make, the battles you choose, and how you feel about snacks – and apparently there is a lot to think about when it comes to snacking.

And who am I, or anyone else, to judge you for what you think makes sense for your family.

Do kids need snacks throughout the day? At the park? After a sport? Once or even twice a day at school? What should the snack be? Should they be FORCED to eat the snack? So many decisions, so many points for controversy.

Here are my thoughts:

  • If you want your child to be hungry at breakfast, lunch, and dinner, they cannot have free access to food throughout the day – whatever that food may be.
  • If you don’t want your children to eat junk food – don’t buy it. Personally, I think when out and about or at special events, treats are OK. Your definition of a ‘treat’ may vary greatly from mine.
  • If you stress out about whether or not to give your child snacks, try to refocus your energy on offering snacks that contribute to their overall nutrition for the day. Check out these great suggestions from my friend and colleague, Trina O’Boyle, over at O’Boy Organic.
  • Changing the world is not for everyone. If you want to fight school snacks or sport snacks, go you! If improving the culture of snacking in organized activities is not your calling, you can still control what your child eats, and what you offer as snack when it’s your turn. Send in the fruit and water bottles – most kids will accept it.

What are your thoughts? We would love to hear from you!

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Why I am OK making my kids cry.

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Disclaimer: The following post does not apply to children who have medical or sensory issues which impact on feeding, necessarily. Although my stance – that a certain level of discomfort or upset is OK – is the same regardless of a child’s diagnosis or lack of diagnosis, I would not take a blanket approach to managing distress in your child. If you struggle with feeding issues, part of my service is to help you manage those struggles in a way that you are comfortable with.

There are some parents, and professionals, who believe that any and all measures should be taken to avoid a child crying or showing discomfort or unhappiness. I am not one of those parents, or professionals. In my humble opinion, if you set up an environment for your child with little or no expectation, and little or no exposure to things that make them uncomfortable, uneasy, or just unhappy – they will not be adequately prepared for events and situations that they will encounter in real life.

I think it is better for a child to learn to navigate things that they find challenging at home, surrounded by adults who love and care for them, and have their best interest at heart.

Some professionals and many parents feel like if a child says ‘no’ to a certain food (or any activity, really), they should not be pressured to eat the food or do the activity. I don’t disagree that a child should be allowed to have taste preferences – we all have them (mushrooms – blech!), but you can’t dislike a taste you never tasted.

When you are certain that you are being reasonable in what you are asking your child to do – it is OK for them to have their reaction, and for you not to feel guilty about it.

Case in point: Last night, my 5 year old saw that I had made a skillet meal which included chicken, rice, broccoli, and red bell peppers. Also, it was covered in parmesan cheese. That is three ingredients that I know she loves (chicken, broccoli, and cheese). I had already decided that I would put each component of the dinner on her plate separately, and I intended for her to taste one bite of the red bell pepper. As soon as she saw the meal, however, she insisted that she would not eat the pepper.

We have a rule in my home, which I stand by because it is totally reasonable. The rule is, you must try a bite of each food on the table before declaring that you do not like it.

My daughter is prone to drama, and as soon as she realized that she was in fact going to have to eat the pepper, the water works started. Now, had I posted a video of her reaction on social media, I am sure I would have gotten a lot of comments along the lines of ‘how horrible, poor kid, everyone has preferences, etc. etc.’  … but I disagree, and the comments would have been taken out of context.

I KNOW that my daughter works herself up into a tizzy. I know that trying new things is hard for her. And I know that, so far, after eating a bite of a new food, she does not spontaneously combust. Sometimes she even likes it, in spite of herself.

Her reaction to stress is to cry. That’s ok. It’s not funny … but it IS actually a little bit funny, because her reaction is completely out of proportion to the situation.

I feel bad when she cries, of course, but I help her work through it. I am patient, I am kind … what’s that saying about love?

I’m ok with her reaction though because I know that I am not asking her to do something that is unreasonable, and I do not make her eat food that she actually tastes and does not enjoy.

I’d much rather her learn how to cope with her stress reaction at home, though, and not for the first time in the middle of the classroom, or with a group of friends, or while at a place of employment.

So what happened with the pepper? She has learned to cope by eating the offending food first. Although she was anxious about it, she ate it, she calmed down, and we moved on. She is learning how to cope with stress, and I am happy that I am there to help her through it.

So how can you feel good about challenging you child?

Be patient and kind. It IS hard word for kids to manage their feelings, especially when asked to do something that makes them uncomfortable – like trying a new food.

Be reasonable. Know your kid and know yourself. Is what you are asking them to reasonable? One bite of a new food is much more reasonable than a whole portion. Start small.

Be reliable. Create a predictable routine, where your child knows that there will be expectations, and that while there won’t be an ‘out’, you’ll be there to love and support them as they face challenges head on!

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Shake it off. Or, how to apply life lessons to feeding your kid.

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There was a time in my life when I would have totally engaged someone who called me out in an online forum for taking issue with what I wrote. Writing can be very cathartic, and very dangerous. Especially as a small business owner. It’s only me here at Toddlers and Tomatoes, and that is a lot of PR pressure! Recent events in my small little world were a great reminder to always be mindful of my actions, and my words.

I was also reminded that disengaging from a seemingly unwarranted hostile situation is always the best move. Do not be pulled into this I told myself. Thank goodness I listened. Sure, I’m writing about it here. But, everyone needs an outlet!

Life is way too short to absorb other people’s anger and hostility.

I always try to figure out how I can relate what I am writing about back to the land of feeding struggles. Here is my take away – you can’t control how other people [read: your children, amongst others] will respond to you, what their emotions will be, what transpired throughout their day that has led them to behave in the way that they are behaving. Their reaction is not about you. But, YOU can control your part in how things play out, and how you feel about it. You absolutely can decide how to react in any given situation. Mealtimes are no different.

Here are a few reminders:

  • Stay Calm – whether at a meal with your kiddo, or in line at the grocery store, try to stay calm. Even if things aren’t going your way, staying calm lets the other person (children and adults alike) know that you are not going to engage in a battle.
  • Stay Focused – what is your end goal? A stress free meal? Getting through the grocery line? Keep your eye on the prize and know what you have to do to get there. Have a plan for these types of situations. How will you handle yourself?
  • Move on – don’t dwell on a bad meal with your child, or a toxic conversation with a stranger. Shake it off and move on!

Whether it’s mealtimes with your kiddo or an unpleasant situation as you go about your day … diffuse and move on. It’s the best way to keep yourself on the right side of things (not to mention less stressed and more pleasant).

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Go with the flow. Or, go crazy.

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Go with the flow or go crazy. Go with the flow or go crazy. Go with the …. Sigh. Historically, I am pretty good at going with the flow. I narrowly escaped adolescence with only minor ‘girl drama’, I succumbed to some office drama, but I chalked that up to some really important life lessons, and I got out of the office scene. Whew that was a close one. But parenting, and trying to grow a business, and being involved in ‘good doing’, as I call the causes I’m involved in – that is tough. Mostly the parenting. There are so many times you have to choose to go with the flow, or set out to go with the flow, for fear of, well you guessed it – going crazy!!

I decided at the beginning that I was going to go with the flow, not freak out about all of the new mommy stuff –like germs, and screen time, and organic food. True to my nature, I don’t really get very riled up about these things as they pertain to my children. But actually dealing. With. Children. And other parents. And opinions and facts and news stories. Whew.

It is hard. Especially  if you are a go with the flow kind of mama – because other people don’t really like this relaxed attitude. It makes them uncomfortable. And I know this, and it has impacted my parenting.

It’s commonly accepted that people, children, should wear shoes when going places. They should wear jackets when it is cold. They should only watch X amount of television and eat food that has been branded with the appropriate whole grain, organic, non-GMO stamps.

Recently, I’ve stopped struggling with my three year old over shoes. Don’t want to put them on? Fine. No jacket either? Ok. If I put the TV on, will you be calm and quiet for 5 minutes so I can do something that … gasp…I want to do?? As for the food – I’ll say I do strive to offer mainly whole foods and healthy choices, but I don’t spend hours agonizing over it.

I realized that not struggling with an irrational three year old over their attire saves at least 15-20 minutes per day. That is priceless. It also occurred to me that I don’t actually care whether or not he has shoes on, or wears a jacket. I know that his feet will be protected if he puts the darn shoes on, and he will be warmer if he wears a jacket – but I also believe that that is something that will occur to him in time.

I am not a free for all mom. We have rules. We stick to them. But some things are not worth the battle, and I realized that I was having these battles to prevent other parents from casting judgment on me. That is no way to parent, or to live. I’ve helped many families understand what THEIR needs and goals are, and change THEIR families stress into peace – at mealtimes, and beyond.

I started this blog post outside, with the sure to be fleeting warm sun shining on my face. My children refused to come outside to play. Some parents would totally stress about this and INSIST that their kids come outside, for fear of lack of outdoor time and physical activity. I just didn’t feel like being stressed out like that – so I left them playing happily inside, while I sat outside (within ear shot of course, before anyone panics!). Win win. They will get outside time, and I will make them, sometime … but not right now.

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How my grandmom made me reconsider my stance on hiding food (sort of) …

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When I was little, my grandmother was always cooking or baking something. I look back on all my time in the kitchen with her fondly, although I don’t think I really appreciated it at the time, and I can’t say I really absorbed much of her cooking skill … though I’d love to be able to make some of her heirloom recipes and continue the traditions of wonderful food to enjoy with family. I’m thinking a lot lately about my childhood, being blessed with so much time with my grandparents, and the traditions they shared with me, and what they mean, and how they connect people.

I can only hope my kids have the same appreciation and love for their grandparents (that’s my mom and my first bubs! And her is my dad and bubs number two)

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Something that my grandmother always did while cooking was to try her best to ‘leave no waste’. Growing up in the depression era, she and my grandfather really knew what it meant to appreciate things and not take things for granted. For the longest time, I thought my grandmother just did these things on her own. It wasn’t until recently that I realized some of her habits were passed down and common place within the Italian American culture, and others I’m sure.

One thing that grandmom always did was take the leftover breadcrumbs and egg from breading chicken cutlets, and roll it into balls, then fry or bake it. These things were de-licious. I mean, they were gold. Everyone loved them, and they were considered a special treat.

Recently, I’ve been making these little treats for my family, in an attempt to 1. Taste those yummy things once more and 2. Share a piece of my past with my family. I add a little parmesan and garlic powder (which I think grandma did too), and fry them up. Yum. Yum. Yum. I should have snapped a picture, but I ate them up too quickly!

I was skeptical how the family would react. I mean, this was a cherished childhood memory, and I figured leftover breadcrumbs weren’t on the top of my hubby or kiddo’s list of foods to eat. Well, I was wrong, and apparently everyone knows a delicious dough ball when they eat one. Everyone LOVES THEM – This makes me happy on several fronts, not the least of which because it honors and continues a truly wonderful (and scrumptious) childhood memory.

So here is how my relationship with my grandmom and my desire to hold onto a childhood memory has led me to reconsider my stance on ‘don’t hide food in other food’. The other night I made an abundance of couscous with dinner. There was a bunch leftover. My kiddos each had the standard, non-negotiable, one bite of it – but no more. They just weren’t interested in it. So what was I going to do with all of the leftovers? ***LIGHTBULB***

I figured, correctly, that the couscous would easily mix into the breadcrumb dough balls. Not only was my mouth watering at this thought, I was pretty confident that the children would eat the couscous laden dough balls. And … they did!! And … I didn’t tell them what I added (hangs head in shame).

To be clear, I never denounced loading sauces, smoothies, and the like with nutrient rich fruit and veggies. On the contrary, I think it is a great way to get those added nutrients in, not only for kids but adults too. My concern is the ‘hiding’. Kids, and adults, should know what they are eating, what it tastes like, what it looks like, etc. I stand by this. It’s not a good idea to hide one food in another food and be sneaky about it. Your kids will learn that some foods are so horrible that they can’t even be talked about, or worse – that they can’t trust mom or dad ‘cause you never know what they’ve put in your food.

Therein lays my dilemma. I’d love to use my beloved dough balls as a base for all kinds of veggies and grains. But, to tell or not to tell?  The couscous was a slippery slope. If I tell, there is a high likelihood my children will turn their nose up simply at the thought of something different. If I don’t tell, I’m kind of being a hypocrite.

It makes me appreciate the approach I take with the families I work with – you have to find what makes sense to you, what works for you, what you believe in. You also have to know WHY you are doing what you are doing, and be forgiving with yourself. We are all learning through this parenting thing.

Grandmom and Grandpop Thanksgiving 2014

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