Sylvia Meo, R.D.
For the Love of Food and Our Kids
Updated: Jul 11, 2020
If there is one thing I have been most proud of is the love of food my daughter has shown from the very beginning. Of course, food being so important to me, not only because I LOVE to eat and everything that revolves around food, but I also love leading an overall healthy lifestyle, it was extremely important to me that my daughter be the same. Consequently, she started eating the foods that I love from early on and was introduced to foods and flavors that till this day people are surprised a toddler eats! Which always baffles me, because why should a child not eat or love the same things that we do? Isn't the food issue when it comes to children simply something we deal with early on that revolves around a food's texture and consistency due to their digestive system not being fully developed and so we need to move from an all liquid diet (breastmilk or formula) to purees to chopped pieces and then easy to chew finger sized foods? Perhaps, it’s because I’m a registered dietitian or in love with food or maybe it's due to being Italian (our parents made us eat everything, whether we liked it or not, we had to try it, even brains, yup! and no I didn't like it, and there wasn't another meal waiting for you or cooked up when you didn't like the meal that was served) but for me it never was a question of avoiding certain foods or frying them or adding sauces for them to be more appealing, nor was it about sticking to the tried and true basic flavors and foods. I don’t know what it is, but the idea that kids should have a kid menu or "kid-approved food" (whatever that means), instead of just a smaller portion or serving of whatever we are eating or is found on the regular restaurant's menu, literally has me see black! Especially in this day and age! Why should a kid be offered less than what I would eat? Peperoni pizza, hamburger, chicken fingers and fries...why not pasta with clams or roasted chicken with sweet potatoes or some octopus and grilled fish...that’s what my girl eats...I always get a small empty plate for her and serve her a bit of each plate my husband and I are eating! And juice?! No, she drinks water, flat or sparkling water is her favorite beverage, and the occasional sip of mommy’s macchiato. She is Italian after all...and yes it is decaf most of the time. Mind you I'd rather she get her little kick of caffeine from a touch of espresso in her milk than spoonfuls of "chocolate sugared powder" filled milk.
So no, my baby girl has never eaten off the kid’s menu or had junk food. Yes she has had the occasional few chips and chocolate or cake at special events/occasions and none of these before she turned two, and she still most of the time has a few small bites, maybe a few more if it's gelato or chips or chocolate croissants, and then gives me the rest which makes me so happy because at already such a young age, she is in tune with herself when it comes to food and knows when enough is enough, something I only learned in my late twenties. I love sweets and chips and all those foods just as much as the next person, but I also don’t care to have them in my every day diet. Thanks again to my parents these foods were not part of our daily life as a kid either, and I turned out pretty okay I think and don’t have any food disorders besides being obsessed with all food, so why should I suddenly change things or introduce less healthy habits to my daughter? I enjoy all foods, and make exceptions on occasions and with moderation and love to see my daughter react the same all on her own!
Going back to my girl’s love of food and her food preferences... You see, there are some foods I literally have to hide because she loves them so much! For instance, my daughter will open the fridge door at our home and grab the anchovy jar and DEMAND we give her some, while still standing in the fridge, and beware if you don’t abide! If there are kombucha bottles in there, watch out as she will find them and serve herself! Anything fermented, vinegary, salty, briny is her ultimate thing, but so is fish and seafood, and if you have fish skin on them, don’t you dare discard it, crisp it up in the pan and hand it over to her, she devours them like some of us would a bowl of chips (me included)...and fruit and veggies were never an issue in our home. In fact when we started purees I remember my husband say to me give her applesauce first, what kid won’t like applesauce...well mine. She loves her apples, but at 6 months old it was her zucchini, broccoli, chickpeas, lentils and butternut squash that were her favorite and then came all the fruits, mangoes, berries, pears, kiwi, avocados, cactus pear...and yes applesauce but it was one of the last flavors she tried as she wasn’t too impressed early on! Mind you I did start her off with vegetables when I started introducing purees, not the fruits, nor the applesauce as hubby suggested!
Anyhow, all this to say that my little girl is well on her way to being a true food lover like her mom and boy does she have the exact same taste as me when it comes to food...like her dad too, but I did have to work on him a little to get him to where he is today, luckily he was easy when it came to food!! I remember as a kid saying that the man I would end up with “had to love rapini or else he wasn’t marriage material”...hubby’s first reaction to my plate of rapini wasn’t a good one and then I made him a bowl of pasta e rapini and it was love. Lucky for him!
But like all kids, there are phases! She did for a few weeks refuse her favorite fruits I would cut up and serve her at each meal, and the vegetables she so adored (oven baked cauliflower, broccoli, beets, sweet potatoes, etc.) kept on suddenly being left behind untouched...yet every time she would see the BioItalia or Love Child fruit and vegetable pouches at the grocery store she would yell for me to give her one, right then and there, sometimes a bit too loudly, but I’d rather she yell out for pureed fruit and vegetable pouches than cookies or chocolate and candy bars. Unfortuntaley, most of the pureed fruits and vegetables out there for kids are pressed fruits and vegetables, with lots of sugar (even if mostly natural) and very little of the fiber left, which is one of the top reasons why we should be eating our fruits and vegetables to begin with, so why is it that what once again the foods that are marketed for kids and which we are feeding them barely has any of the good for you stuff in them?! Although I have used and fed my daughter these puree food pouches because they were perfect for on-the-go or a quick snack, as a dietitian I always felt disappointed because of the lack of nutrition in them, but I’d take that over junk food anytime, plus one of the perks of being a dietitian is that you could read labels pretty well, so I always made sure to choose the ones with the lowest sugar and highest fiber content!
So when she started opting out of eating her fruits and vegetables the food pouches idea came to mind. I needed to find myself some good reusable food pouches and get an amazing high powered blender (thank you KitchenAid for that one!) and make my own food blends! Fresh, organic, full of the good fiber, boosted with nutrients (chia, hemp or ground flax seeds, probiotics, ginger, turmeric, matcha, etc.) and have them ready for those on-the-go moments where she will need to snack or when she hasn’t had enough servings of fruits and vegetables in her day or is going through another “picky” moment! And so I started doing this over the last two weeks...and YES I now have to HIDE the pouches in my fridge and freeze the extras to take them out as we need each day, because she went through 3 pouches in one hour the first time I made them!!!!
The point of all this is, treat your kids like part of the family, even as infants and toddlers, introduce them early on to allllll sorts of foods and flavors, even those you may not like but that are healthy and good for them (fish, legumes, different types and varieties of vegetables and fruits) and don’t make faces when you feed these foods to them!!! Actually, maybe your kids are an opportunity for you to also change your eating habits, or give foods you have shunned out of your life a try again and maybe even fall in love with them…you know taste does change! And when they suddenly stop eating a certain food, don’t give up or stop giving it to them or think they don’t like it anymore. Maybe they are just fed up of it being served always the same way, get a little creative. They’re only human after all, they too get bored! Keep exposing them to these foods, just find new ways that may work. Think of what they're attracted to and love and introduce those foods back that way or switch things up a little. We develop our eating habits early on as kids, and for most of us these habits don't change much throughout our life. It’s our duty as parents to give our kids the best eating foundation, let’s try not to mess it up for them! Teaching them how to eat and to eat well is part of the legacy we leave them. Think about it, not only will you impact their lifelong journey with food and their body (weight and overall health), but also one day their kids and grandkids; thanks mom and dad! Let's do it right, let's give them the gift of foodful eating!
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