I have a special treat for us today. Many people I know deal with a picky eater in their family, myself included. My six year old will eat pretty much everything, but my three year old has always given me fits about food. It can be very frustrating when you just want to feed your child well, but they turn up their nose repeatedly at dinner that you worked hard to make. I am NOT an expert on nourishing picky eaters, but I know someone who is. She has grown three girls who will eat everything in sight, including one that was a little bit more difficult. After seeing her fabulous lunch inspiration pictures day in and day out, I thought it would be fun to interview Renee from Raising Generation Nourished to glean wisdom from her on nourishing picky eaters. I’m sure you will love her. She has been a huge encouragement to me to keep on trucking and not get discouraged! I like a woman with a lot of grace and Renee oozes it.
On with the interview!
Tara: Renee, I’m always so impressed with your lunch inspiration Facebook posts. Can you tell me how old your girls are and what they typically eat?
Renee: My girls are 5, 3, and 17 months. My goal is friendly fats at every meal. Most meals are pretty balanced with protein of some sort (we usually have meat 1 time per day – sometimes 2 if our budget allows, so I use other sources of protein as well. Nuts/nut butters, pastured eggs, yogurt, etc), a vegetable, a carbohydrate/starch, and a fruit. The friendly fat can be anything from butter or coconut oil on the veggies, to whole raw milk/coconut milk, yogurt, raw cheese, avocados, olive or avocado oils in salad dressings. There is usually eggs or bacon/sausage at breakfast and/or butter stirred into soaked oatmeal.
Tara: Wow! That’s amazing! I feel like it’s pulling teeth to get my 3 year old to eat anything. How do you think you “grew” such good eaters? Any tips?
Renee: I think a lot of it just starts in the beginning. They have just never known any differently, ya know? I don’t keep them in a bubble, but I do have standards. I don’t do sugar or even many fruits until well after the age of 1. I started their palates out early per WAPF guidelines with friendly fats first (egg yolks, avocados, pastured meats/bone broth) and I feel like those first flavors they are introduced to become their favorite foods – what they crave even. I talk to them from pretty young about “grow food” – stuff that makes our bodies work right and how it helps. I am not afraid to talk about how too much sugar or the ingredients on the label for this food they saw at the store just doesn’t help their bodies work right. We certainly celebrate enjoying homemade birthday cake at parties and homemade ice cream in the summer, but we call them *occasional* treats. Sugar day in and day out, or processed/convenience foods day in and day out will eventually catch up and they get that. We don’t do a ton of snacking. I think there is a time and place for it (ie in the summer when they are running around all morning outside, or younger toddlers that are learning how to sit still for a full meal), but we start the day with a big breakfast and we don’t eat until lunch most days. They are good and hungry when they come to the table because they haven’t been munching on crackers or raisins all morning.
Tara: What advice would you give to someone (ahem..me) that feels like they are doing all of these things and not getting anywhere? ie. no junk in the house, no snacking in between meals, offering a variety of healthy food at every meal, etc.
Renee: Don’t give up My experience has been, when they are hungry, they will eat. (And I did have one of these – my middle one that is now almost 4 was your typical 2 year old – came to the table at every meal saying no before she even saw the plate, eating one or two bites and off to play etc.). If the meal isn’t touched it gets packed up for later when they are hungry. A lot of it at the age 18 months to 3 years old is big time control testing. They want to call the shots. If it is a big problem then sometimes giving choices helps in my experience. I still run the kitchen because I have to budget our meals, but would you like carrots or green peppers with your lunch? Would you like a piece of cheese or yogurt with your meal? Those questions will help them feel like they are making the decisions themselves, but you are still getting what you need to get on their plate. Let them help make the meals – I know every real food person says that, but at the height of my struggles with my little one that fought me it all boiled down to me slowing down to let her help me. She felt more a part of the meal – she made it and was proud of that. She wanted everyone to put “her” salad dressing on the salad. She wanted to have the veggie that “she” picked for dinner. And I guess the last thing would be…make it taste good Listen, veggies are big time boring. There is a reason God made veggies with fat soluble vitamins – they were meant to be eaten with fats! Veggies are not my main goal to get down them at every meal. I know that is a shocker. But for growing children, fats are where it’s at. It helps growing organs, hormones, and brains to work right. Yes those veggies are important – make them taste good with butter or homemade dips. They will digest better this way, and they will more happily eat them.
Tara: I have read that picky eating could be related to a problem in the gut. What are your thoughts on that? If you do think it’s related, how would you go about healing the gut? My son’s pediatrician recommends the GAPS diet, but that leaves me terrified! Do you have any experience with this?
Renee: Picky eating can be related to the gut. As a matter of a fact my little one that I described earlier as being more difficult around 2 years old did actually end up having a parasite issue that we discovered around age 3, and I noticed a tremendous improvement in her desire to eat after we took care of that issue. Unfortunately as it stands many children are struggling with gut issues these days because of multiple factors – from poor diet in utero to poor diet as toddlers, antibiotic usage wiping out the gut flora and not being replenished, and everything in between. It is hard to know where things have begun and how to heal as every child is different. I do believe GAPS works for some children. I don’t believe it is all inclusive however. Just as every kid is different in everything else, so are they different in what can work for them. I just don’t think you can blindly put everyone with a gut issue on the same program, one size fits all. My daughter with gut issues would have failed miserably on GAPS because her issues used to flare horribly with eggs (which are a big part of GAPS). I am a big time fan of many aspects of GAPS. The bone broth. The bland foods. The food rotation and letting the gut heal. The supplements and probiotics. I think it is wise to take children with gut issues off processed foods, period. I think it is wise to take children with gut issues off the main gut inflamers for a period of time to see if there are improvements. My daughter with the egg sensitivity had not only eczema but behavioral issues within 36 hours of eating egg. I kept a journal for a while so I could pinpoint if there was something bugging her and within a couple weeks had the eggs nailed down. I noticed improvements overall within just a couple weeks of her off eggs. I love the healing and sealing philosophy of GAPS. It isn’t just about the diet restrictions. It’s about getting gut healing bone broth in the diet daily. It’s about ensuring probiotics and gut healing supplements are a part of daily routine so that leaky gut can seal up. I also had a parasite bug to deal with though. We would have been on a merry go round of never ending gut issues had we not taken care of that part. I guess what I am saying is that there can’t be tunnel vision. You know your child better than anyone else – trust your instinct. Give some foods a break and observe. Try to keep foods rotating from an early age so their gut isn’t getting the same thing to digest day in and day out. It’s another reason why starting to form their taste palates early with a variety of food is helpful.
Tara: I love to talk yummy recipes. Any family favorites?
Renee: I love to talk about food too! We are sorta in the midst of soup season and the one that goes the fastest around here is spinach lasagna soup. We enjoy real food casseroles and Sunday dinner roasted chickens or beef roasts a lot. We are big time breakfast eaters and we love a huge variety. My husband makes the best lard fried potato hash on the planet and on weekends we have that with eggs and bacon – it is something I look forward to all week. During the school week I keep freezer pancakes, breakfast cookies, and large batches of oatmeal on hand to make the morning nourishing but run quick. I hard boil a dozen eggs to keep in the fridge for mornings I don’t have time to cook.
Tara: Personally I think all real foods are super foods when it comes to nourishing kids, but do you have some that you would consider extra-super and the most important in a child’s diet?
Renee: We mentioned friendly fats earlier and I think that ought be first and foremost in every meal. Butter, coconut oil, cod liver oil/fish oil, pastured lard or tallow, avocados, egg yolks, pastured/grassfed meats, and real whole milk/yogurt cheese preferably from raw grassfed sources. I think everything else just depends on your child’s needs. Balance is key. Rotation is good.
Tara: If someone is brand new to real food and their kids are used to cereal and frozen nuggets, what would be a couple of concrete action steps that they could take to help their child make the transition to real food?
Renee: Yes! I have a few ideas here. I realize that I have not had to transition an older child to real food…but I *have* had to transition a very “set in his food ways” husband to real food I think the key is just making it taste good, and keeping it familiar at first. You can still have that chicken nugget – just in a real food chicken nugget way. You can still have a convenient breakfast without the boxed cereal – see how fast it takes to pull out a breakfast cookie from the freezer and run out the door! You can still have pizza – just make your own pizza instead of store bought. Yep it takes a bit more time – but you can make a large batch and freeze the crusts par baked so you can pull it out just like a frozen pizza. I think we also talked earlier about getting the kids involved in the meal making and decision making. Let them get their hands in there and chop, peel, and stir. Get them out to the farmer’s market and let them pick out the veggies for the week. We are blessed with quite a few U Pick farms and community gardens where we live so in the summer the girls are right down in the dirt getting their own produce. Ask around at your markets or start your own garden! I am a super novice gardener and while I don’t have a lot of garden space I do keep it up every summer because it gives the girls something to be proud of and eat from. Half the time I have no clue what I am doing – just get some seeds or starter plants in the ground and try! The last thing on this subject that I wanted to add is…don’t make it negative. The last thing you want is a big fight at dinner every night. YES make the menu decision that you are not going to eat processed and are going to eat real food, but if there is resistance, don’t force it down their throat. Don’t yell and make a big deal out of it. You can sympathize with them! Man I know this isn’t what you are used to. And that is tough. I care about the food we are feeding your body to grow though and I am responsible for that as your parent. They can sit at the table and enjoy the conversation and if they eat great. If they don’t, well, in a couple hours when they are really hungry you can pop that plate of dinner back out and warm it up for them lovingly. You can be firm but loving at the same time. Keep the old stuff out of sight – just don’t buy it. If it isn’t there, then there isn’t a choice to have it. Let them help you look at the ingredient lists. Let them help you make the decision of – boy look at the junk on that list! That is probably not a great one to buy again. Let them see it. Tell them about what the junk does to their body *over time* – they may feel fine now at age 8, but down the road that stuff wrecks havoc on every part of the body. Tell them what the junk can do to their body right now too – you can point out how that red food dye makes them hyper and jittery if you have seen that in them before.