5 Tips to Help Kids Develop Healthy Eating Habits: July Carnival of Natural Parenting

July 13th, 2010 by Dionna | 38 Comments
Posted in Carnival and Special Series, Carnival of Natural Parenting, Healthy Living, natural parenting

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Welcome to the July Carnival of Natural Parenting: Let’s Talk About Food

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have written about their struggles and successes with healthy eating. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.


2009-07-18 04

Kieran eating his first corn on the cob last year.

Tom and I did not grow up with the healthiest of eating habits. Whole, non-processed (much less organic) foods were just not on the radar as much as they are now. Now that we have Kieran, we are taking positive steps to eat healthier and help Kieran make good food choices. Here are a few tips (from one reformed junk food addict to another) on how to help your child get a better start than you had:

1) Babies Need Breastmilk, Then Supplement with Real Food: Almost every medical association in the world says that all infants should receive breastmilk exclusively for at least the first six months.1  That is the minimum standard, it is not the “ideal” or the “best.”

Once your baby is ready to supplement breastmilk with solids, skip the cereals. Cereals are nothing more than sugar and are full of empty calories. Babies don’t even have the enzymes necessary to digest cereal until they are eight or nine months old. It is a myth that adding cereal to your baby’s diet can help them sleep longer at night. They can even constipate your baby, doing more harm than good.2 Instead of cereal, give babies who are ready for solids food that is healthy for their bodies: mashed up bananas, avocados, sweet potatoes, etc. And there’s no need to feed your baby from a jar – just give her the real stuff!

2) Offer Healthy Snacks: Toddlers don’t often need big meals, their body chemistry works better when they can graze throughout the day, eating small portions to keep their blood sugar stable. Help them fuel their bodies with the right foods by offering an assortment of healthy snacks: fruit, veggies, healthy dips (hummus or yogurt based dips are popular), nuts and dried berries (when they are able to chew them), etc. Don’t get into a habit of making snack time synonymous with crackers and other carbs.

To encourage grazing, keep your toddler’s snacks within reaching distance. Many parents like to offer the snacks in a muffin tin or ice cube tray – the little ones like the novelty and it can turn into a fun sorting game.

3) Cook Balanced Meals: Forget the boxed stuff. It is just as easy to throw some chicken breasts in the oven, a veggie on the stove, and grab some rice from the freezer (that you made previously). Plus, you’re not putting the chemicals and preservatives into your little one’s body that are found in boxed stuff. If your little one eats all of his green beans and leaves the rice, don’t sweat it. Our little ones are generally more in tune with their bodies’ needs than we are. Trust them and relax. Research has shown that forcing children to finish food interferes with a child’s ability to tell when they are full and their development of self-control.

One of the most helpful things that I do is to cook extra portions and freeze them. Our deep freeze is full to overflowing with containers of soups, pre-made veggie burgers, and more that I can thaw if I don’t have time to cook.

4) Have Easy Pick-Me-Ups for Pre-Meal Snacking: One of the hardest times of the day is when I am fixing dinner, and Kieran wants to eat all of the meal prep items (or has a meltdown because something is in the oven and he has to wait). I recently read that one great way to offer more veggies is to serve them as a “first course,” or before the regular meal. This study showed that kids will eat more veggies that way, but it won’t necessarily interfere with their appetite for dinner.

5) If You Don’t Want Them to Eat It, Don’t Buy It: It always floors me when I hear a mother griping that her child eats too many sweets (or juice or whatever). Here’s the thing: your child doesn’t do the grocery shopping alone. She probably doesn’t spend any money on groceries either. Yes, I agree that it’s educational and helpful to let children help menu plan and shop, but it is up to parents to help them make healthy choices. Does your child have a sweet tooth? Steer him toward fruit. Does your preschooler like salty chips? Try a healthier option: pita chips and hummus or trail mix.

Use menu planning and shopping as a chance to talk about how our food choices fuel our bodies. Eat healthy foods and they will help you feel awake, active, and good. Eat junk foods and the opposite will happen.

Need more of a motivator? If you don’t introduce craptastic foods into your child’s food repertoire, you won’t have meltdowns about them when you pass them in the store. I can’t tell you how many little kids I have seen crying and whining over the candy bars in the checkout aisles.3 Kieran has asked me about them, but we’ve not had a meltdown yet because he’s never had a candy bar. He has no idea what is in those brightly colored wrappers. And I plan to keep it that way for awhile longer.

If you need more ideas to avoid mealtime battles, this article on “gentle parenting ideas for toddlers and meals” might help.

What easy tips do you have for giving your little one healthy eating habits?




Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

  • Why I Love The Real Food Community — Much like many people who follow AP/NP values, Melodie at Breastfeeding Moms Unite! takes the parts of the “real food” philosophy that work for her family and leaves the rest. (@bfmom)
  • Feeding a Family of Six — Mandy at Living Peacefully with Children gives helpful tips for feeding a family of six.
  • Starting Solids at 6 Months — Did your doctor recommend that you give your baby cereal? Sheryl at Little Snowflakes discusses how whole foods are so much healthier (and more delicious) than traditional cereal. (@sheryljesin)
  • Am I What I Eat? — Andrea!!! at Ella-Bean & Co. has figured out a way to avoid grocery stores nearly altogether.
  • Are We Setting Our Kids Up To Fail? — Megan at Purple Dancing Dahlias found that cutting out the junk also transformed her sons’ behavior problems.
  • Changing your family’s way of eating — Lauren at Hobo Mama has techniques you can try to move your family gradually toward a healthier diet. (@Hobo_Mama)
  • Real Food — What kinds of fake foods do you eat? And why?! Lisa C. at My World Edenwild talks about why she chooses real food.
  • A Snackaholic’s Food Battle — Julie at Simple Life wants to stop snacking and get into the old ways of cooking from scratch and raising her own food. (@homemakerjulie)
  • Food, Not Fight — Summer at Finding Summer doesn’t want her kids to grow up like her husband: hating everything green. (@summerm)
  • How Do You Eat When You Are out of Town? — Cassie at There’s a Pickle In My Life wants some tips on how to eat healthy when you are out of town.
  • Carnival of Natural Parenting: Food! — Sybil at Musings of a Milk Maker hopes that by serving her children healthy, balanced meals, they will become accustomed to making good food choices. (@sybilryan)
  • There’s No Food Like Home’s — NavelgazingBajan at Navelgazing revels in the Bajan food of her upbringing. (@BlkWmnDoBF)
  • This Mom’s Food Journey — Kat at Loving {Almost} Every Moment made a journey from not paying attention to food to growing her own.
  • Who Knew Eating Was So Hard? — The challenges involved in changing to healthier eating habits take on a whole new dimension when you have a child who has difficulties eating. kadiera at Our Little Acorn shares her own experiences. (@kadiera)
  • Loving Food — Starr at Earth Mama truly believes food is her family’s medicine and is willing to spend days preparing it the traditional way.
  • Food Mindfulness — Danielle at born.in.japan details how her family spends money on each category of food. (@borninjp)
  • Food for Little People — Zoey at Good Goog wants to bless her daughter with happy traditions built around good food. (@zoeyspeak)
  • Eat Like a Baby — Have you been told that you should not equate food with love? Kate Wicker at Momopoly shows us why that’s not necessarily true. (@Momopoly)
  • Food — Deb at Science@Home tries to teach her children three rules to help them eat a healthy diet. (@ScienceMum)
  • Healthy Eating Lactose-Free — MamanADroit gives us tips on how to eat healthy if you are lactose intolerant (or just don’t want cow milk). (@MamanADroit)

  1. Peggy O’Mara, Case Closed: Breast is Best
  2. Dr. Paul M. Fleiss, Busting Breastfeeding Myths; Cynthia Lair, In the Kitchen with Baby; Dr. Jack Newman, Breastfeeding and Other Foods
  3. I *hate* the way stores place junk food where kids have easy access to it!

38 Responses to:
"5 Tips to Help Kids Develop Healthy Eating Habits: July Carnival of Natural Parenting"

  1. Kellie   MindfulLifeShop

    Great tips! We followed all of them with our children too. A cashier once snapped at Beanie for picking up a package of candy at the checkout and made us get it back from her. We did so with no problem and she said, “They will just open them and start eating them, so I always keep an eye on them!” As soon as we were out the door, dh went off about how Beanie doesn’t even know what that stuff is and she wouldn’t even think to open it and eat it. It was quite a comical situation.

  2. Jenn Collins   MBJunction

    Excellent article. I have always been confounded by parents who lament that their child eats too many sweets. The kids aren’t doing their own shopping, people!

    My son is just six months now and I want to work on getting healthy habits started early. He’s a great eater (pureed carrots are his favorite) and we’ve recently started giving him fresh fruit with a mesh feeder, which he loves.

    I think your tips are great not just for kids but even for adults who want to change their eating habits in adulthood. If you don’t want to be tempted by sweets, don’t buy them at the grocery store.

    Great article!

  3. Cassie @ there's a pickle in my life

    Thanks for the reminder about not giving your kids cereal! I love this. My son loves cherios… and I just need to stop the habit right now. I don’t eat them, why should he? You should write a post about what kinds of snacks you do, like, what’s in your muffin tin… maybe a good wordless Wednesday.

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      Hey Cassie – just to clarify, I meant the baby cereal that people normally start feeding their little ones around 4-6 months. You know what I mean? Kieran eats cereal, but we stick to brands that are low in sugar, no HFCS, etc. (Kashi makes a few good ones)

      • Lauren @ Hobo Mama   Hobo_Mama

        It’s funny, though, because I actually have been thinking it’s odd that my son eats (breakfast) cereal. Have you ever read about the origins of breakfast cereals in the U.S.? Some weird, weird stuff. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Harvey_Kellogg#Breakfast_cereals Since you’re an intactivist advocate, Dionna, you might take a look out of curiosity. Kellogg wanted cereals bland for a reason.

        NOT that I think breakfast cereals are a bad source of grains if they’re whole wheat, etc. I just keep thinking there’s probably an even better way to source that. Sorry, off-topic!

      • Dionna   CodeNameMama

        You know, I knew Kellogg was involved in the circ movement, and I knew he was connected with cereal, but I never really connected the two in my brain. I just read that wikipedia page and laughed, laughed, laughed. What a fuh-reak!

      • kelly @kellynaturally   kellynaturally

        Did you ladies ever see “The Road to Wellville”? I believe it was based on Kellog & his weird ideas about sex & cleanliness. Funny. Matthew Broderick, if I remember…

      • Lauren @ Hobo Mama   Hobo_Mama

        Oh, I’m going to have to look for that now!

      • I assumed you were referring to “big kid cereals” because you say they are full of sugar and empty calories which many of them are. But baby cereals should have zero grams of sugar and often 1 single ingredient, such as earth’s best baby oatmeal or rice cereal, only containing the organic whole grain. These have no sugar or empty calories. I wouldn’t want the above commenter to stop feeding her child cheerios for no good reason. Cheerios have 1 gram of sugar per serving. Cereal consumption provides many benefits and research is clear that cereal eaters often have healthier BMIs than those who eat other breakfast foods (i did my thesis on a breakfast project for kids ;).

      • Dionna   CodeNameMama

        Isn’t cereal for kids different than cereal for babies though? 6 month old babies aren’t really going to do a lot with carbs, right? I can see why healthy cereal is better for kids than say, poptarts, though.

    • kelly @kellynaturally   kellynaturally

      Just to jump on the cereal bandwagon…

      We hardly keep boxed cereal in the house. Oatmeal has been the staple here since DD was an infant & we started baby-led-weaning. Just grind up some flax seed, add a little molassas, roll into balls for little ones or serve in a bowls with a bit of milk for older ones. Even add some fruit!

      Oatmeal doesn’t get stale, is high in fiber & protein, can be made into muffins, doesn’t have any preservatives, and you can buy it in bulk (so you save $$). Everyone wins!

      • Dionna   CodeNameMama

        Kelly I’d love to see a more detailed recipe for your oatmeal balls. What do you do with them after you roll them up? Cook them? Serve them plain? In milk? I’m intrigued!

    • kelly @kellynaturally   kellynaturally

      Nothing complicated, really! I just cook the oatmeal a bit more firm than usual (less water/milk whatever you use), add a bit of maple syrup or molassas, then roll them with ground flax seed. Like rice balls – it will stick when prepared “drier”. I’ve put berries in them too & walnuts (for myself). It was an improvisation when I was trying to switch to baby-led weaning with my first, and wanted to get away from spoon feeding. I ate oatmeal every day & she wanted it, so I wanted her to be able to do it herself!

  4. Melodie   bfmom

    I usually put out fresh fruit and veggies at lunch time before the main dish and my kids usually can’t even finish their sandwich or quesadilla or whatever because they’ve filled up on veggies! It’s great.

  5. Casey   CBerbs

    Thanks for the suggestions! We’ve started offering the veggies prior to supper in muffin tins. I’m amazed at how many vegetables my kids eat when I offer them like this!

  6. Jessica - This is Worthwhile   tisworthwhile

    Dude – here, here!! This is a great post because all your points are 100% true, particularly #5. That is a whooooooole other can of worms that I think a lot of the world is failing at dealing with properly. Anyway, thanks for the tips :)

  7. Lauren @ Hobo Mama   Hobo_Mama

    I LOVE that you started with breastfeeding as the first step of healthy child eating! Yea!

    That’s a great idea to serve an appetizer of veggies. I’ll have to try that. I totally agree that toddlers can have some strange eating habits, but they’ll figure it out. I’ve had to carry over my trust in Mikko’s breastfeeding ability to his relationship with solid food — to know he’s eating as much as he needs and what he needs, as long as I provide him with lots of healthful options.

    Our downfall with the junk food is that WE like it. We were supposed to stop eating junk as soon as Mikko was old enough to be aware. But, um, we haven’t. So he totally knows what it all is, and likes it. Sigh. I feel like a jerk eating chocolate or soda in front of him and refusing to share, so I was supposed to not eat it at all, but that didn’t happen. Fortunately, when we cut out fast food, he hasn’t begged for it. He’ll mention it if we pass a restaurant, but not in a whiny way, just conversationally. I hope in time it will fade from his memory completely. :) So maybe we’ll be able to extend that to other eating areas.

    I totally agree, though, that the way stores stock items at kid level is our downfall so often. Yesterday at the natural foods store, it was toys! Really, really expensive toys, right at toddler height. I couldn’t get him to put them back without a meltdown, so I kept explaining we weren’t actually buying them and then I had the cashier put them back for me. It actually worked!

  8. Mrs Green @ littlegreenblog.com   littlegreenblog

    HA! that last tip cracked me up. You are so right about this – I’m just about the stroppiest mother when it comes to the crap food aisle and I won’t even walk down there. DD has learned that it’s a no go area and I have NEVER picked up anything from the checkout while waiting in the queue, so that’s now a no go area. It’s great – shopping is so much easier!

    Number 4 is brilliant too – I never knew that ;)

  9. Oh I am completely in love with the ice cube tray idea! Such a simple yet great idea!

    I totally agree with not introducing negative foods into our children’s diets. My children NEVER have sugar; candy, desserts etc. at home at least. I have noticed that when we are out and sugary things are being passed around they might have a bite or so but that is it. They haven’t been trained to want it – I LOVE this!!

    Great ideas, thanks!

  10. Kat

    Great post! Thanks! I agree that #5 is soooo true! I really love the idea of giving snacks in muffin trays…I’m going to try that tomorrow and I bet my little guy (and his big sister too!) will love it!!! :-)

  11. kelly @kellynaturally   kellynaturally

    Oooo ooo oooo! Tip #4 – what a fablous idea! Both kids, but my son in particular loves to help with dinner, but that time of day is so hard & he wants to EAT when there’s food being prepared – but dinner (& Daddy) is still an hour from being here. Meltdown is right. Veggies to the rescue! Great idea, thank you!

  12. Cassie

    I meant eating cereal as opposed to real food- fruits and veggies
    But I know what you mean about rice cereal.

  13. Holly   becomingmamas

    Great tips! My son often has a melt down during dinner prep time. I usually end up giving him some fruit – a banana, blueberries, etc. It will usually keep him satisfied until dinner. I like to try and save the fruit for dessert, but sometimes I just have to do what will save my sanity ;)

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      I do fruit sometimes too, but I try to grab something that I know won’t be filling – frozen blueberries or something. It seems like fruit makes them more satisfied (so they won’t eat dinner) – I might be crazy though!

  14. All such great tips! This is such timely advice for me as I start my little guy on solids. And #5 — oh man. If people seriously do this, can I start complaining that someone keeps feeding me cupcakes, too? I may conveniently leave out that the someone is me.

  15. deb Chitwood   DebChitwood

    Great post—so many wonderful ideas! I also like making extra portions and freezing some. It’s helpful to have something nutritious to heat up quickly on busy days.

  16. katepickle   katepickle

    Great tips… I especially like the last one, just not buying things makes the battles much less. My oldest kids (twins who are now almost 7) used to oooh and ahh over the pretty shiny eggs and rabbits in the super market at Easter but they had no idea they had chocolate inside until they were in pre-school and a friend gave them an Easter Egg!

    Ok so you can’t keep them in the dark forever, but it is much easier to explain to a 4-5 year old why chocolate isn’t good to eat all the time than it is to explain to a 2 year old!

    The only problem is that my big girls haven’t kept the shiny egg contents a secret from their younger brother LOL

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      It would definitely be harder with older kids! I’m not there yet, so I have no advice ;) I’ll be coming to you someday for tips!

  17. Maman A Droit   MamanADroit

    I think I need to go buy a new muffin tray! (Mine is too stained and warped to be eaten out of by a baby!) Do you know when it’s considered safe for babies to have dried fruits and berries? My son loves them, but I break them into tiny bits because I’m afraid he’ll choke!

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      That’s a good question :) I had a gagger, so I was always nervous too (although a gagger is better since the food will usually come back up instead of choking them!). I think I just waited until I *knew* that he was really chewing his food. Of course he still sometimes doesn’t chew well (reconstituted raisins in a diaper = yikes), but we’ve talked about slowing down to chew nuts. He did eat raisins/dried cranberries & dried blueberries before we gave him nuts, and I’m fairly certain he had his first berries around 18 months (in small bits).
      I’m sorry that wasn’t more helpful!

  18. MomAgain@40   karentoittoit

    Thanks for reminding me again of all the healthy options. It is not that difficult!
    I agree completely with the statement that you shouldn’t force your child to eat his whole plate. I did that with my teen. She is now 17 years, and still practises it. She stops eating when she is full, and don’t struggle with her weight at all.

  19. Kate Wicker @ Momopoly   KateWicker

    Excellent tips. I find “if you don’t want them to eat it, then don’t buy it,” the most difficult rule to follow. Why? Because I am married to a man with a mutant metabolism who frequently partakes in midnight binges and wants some junk around the house. I’ve given him a hidden shelf in our new home, but everything that is eye-level for my girls is healthy and something I’d feel good about them noshing on.

  20. Great suggestions! I agree baby cereal is a terrible first (solid) food. It tastes so bad!!! My girls were easily constipated so we had to steer clear, though we did move to real oatmeal and other grain cereals pretty soon.

    Love the serving veggies first tip! My mom used to do that, and I think it worked well.

    I struggle with the grazing thing. My girls would graze the day away and the constant mess & time spent (sort of) eating kind of drives me nuts. I don’t believe they need to tank up at meal time & I still believe in frequent snacks (I have to eat often to feel good, too), but try to set limits on “snack time” to a specific times and places (doesn’t always happen, but I try).

    I also struggle with the carb snacks! Oh, crackers, how we all love you so! I do think carbs are an important food for kids– I just try to offer protein & fruits/veggies in addition and stick to whole grain crackers/breads when possible.

    Thanks so much for hosting the carnival — I had a crazy day yesterday so am only catching up now, and its all such great info! So happy to be a part!

  21. Beanma   TheBeanMa

    I love this, esp. the part about solids and moms complaining about their kids eating junk. Umm….

    Right now, the Bean is in a great phase where she eats anything I give her – I know this will change, but as long as I don’t introduce her to Doritos and Twinkies next, I think we have a good chance of carrying on with organic, homemade, non-processed foods.

  22. MomAgain@40   karentoittoit

    Hi Dionna I was so inspired by this post, I made a shopping list to carry with me to always make sure I have healthy options available in my cupboard/fridge. I made a blog post about it, with a link back to your site.

    The list includes:
    Plain yogurt/tatziki
    Avocados (can be cut into bite-size pieces as well – my toddler loves it!)
    Fruit (apples, pears, bananas, oranges, etc. – that can be cut into bite-size pieces)
    Raisins, dried berries
    Dried fruit
    Nuts (when they are able to chew it)
    Vegetables (raw – carrots, cucumbers, small tomatoes, etc. – that can be cut into bite-size pieces)
    Frozen peas (only takes three minutes to prepare)
    Frozen corn / corn on the cob
    Chick peas (in the can)

    What more can I put on the list?

  23. Seeing as my son is on the cusp of toddlerhood, this is handy advice to remember.

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