How to Handle Holiday Feeding Struggles

Disclosure: This post was sponsored by Healthy Height. All opinions are my own.


The holidays offer one of “the best times of the year!” Between the food, family, friends, and festivities, there is so much I know we each find ourselves thankful for.

Inevitably amidst a season of gratitude and giving though, we parents too face a lot of stress when it comes to feeding our kids. Whether we have children who are apprehensive eaters or who eat everything, we are bound to still face holiday feeding struggles.

 
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That’s why this week, I have partnered with Healthy Height to bring you an article on, “7 Holiday Feeding Struggles and How to Handle Them.” In the article, I walk you through the following seven common holiday feeding struggles:

  • Struggle 1: The Child Who Won’t Eat What’s Offered

  • Struggle 2: The Child Who Doesn’t Like What’s Offered

  • Struggle 3: The Child Who’s Hungry Right After the Meal

  • Struggle 4: The Child Who’s Too Distracted to Eat

  • Struggle 5: The Child Who Throws a Fit at a Family Meal

  • Struggle 6: The Child With Relatives That Eat Differently

  • Struggle 7: The Child Who Handle Feeding Differently


No matter what holiday meal you find your family gathered around, I provide both simple solutions as well as practical strategies to set you and your family up for a season of success (so you don’t go into the holiday season stressing over these common struggles). Read the whole article here.

There is a reason they are considered COMMON! You’re not the only one wondering how to handle all the “what ifs” of if (or more likely when) these struggles happen over the holidays. Even as a dietitian mom I face these in my own family (did you read my reflection post from last week on Thanksgiving 2017?!). That's why I am honored for the chance to chime in personally and professionally with how to best handle each of these holiday feeding struggles.

For more from this article, visit my post:

7 Holiday Feeding Struggles and How to Handle Them

How to Handle the Halloween Sugar Rush

Disclosure: This post was sponsored by Healthy Height. All opinions are my own.

One of the first things that makes parents skin crawl around Halloween isn’t the spooky decorations or costumes. It is the sheer amount of sugar their kids are eating

We all recognize that the candy consumed on (or near) Halloween is “too much” compared to what most on average. For many parents though, they don’t know how much sugar is technically “too much” when it comes to our children’s everyday eating habits.

 
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That’s why this week, I am sharing a post I wrote over on Healthy Height titled, “How to Handle the Halloween Sugar Rush.” With several tips that apply to the very day to day questions and concerns you are likely facing right now surrounding Halloween candy, I know you will find the information and insight in this article helpful.

We discuss:

  1. How much sugar do kids need

  2. The difference between natural sugar and added sugars

  3. Why added sugar isn’t always bad

  4. Four Tips for Managing Sugar Around Halloween

If you’d like to learn more about each of the above topics and how they can help you to handle the Halloween sugar rush, visit my post:

How to Handle the Halloween Sugar Rush

How to Handle Halloween Candy with Kids

Y'all, these videos by Jimmy Fallon each year crack me up.

Not because I am some sick dietitian who just loves to see kid's Halloween candy taken from them, but rather because they show just a glimpse at how much kid's. love. candy.

How to handle Halloween candy with kids isn't a new issue of parenthood, nor does it come to any surprise to dietitians. I know it is one that a lot of you are probably wondering about though as we sit here just days away from Halloween.

Before we jump in though to talk about 13 lucky little lessons for how you can handle all that Halloween candy once it makes its way into your home, I want to encourage each of you to enjoy the festivities (including some nutritionally-absent food options in candy) on Halloween. On Halloween night, don’t stress over the sugar. Just cherish the times with your kids. See the joy in their eyes. Embrace their sticky fingers. Teach them to listen to their tummies. Foster freedom around food. Brush their teeth. Tuck them in agreeing that the day was the “best day ever” (in their innocent eyes).

Then tomorrow, you can begin to implement the following ideas for how all foods fit - including all that candy they carried home.

How to Handle Halloween Candy with Kids

Want to know how to make Halloween candy with kids a little less spooky?
Read these 13 lucky little lessons from a dietitian mom.

1) Remember the Basics of the Division of Responsibility.

If you want the most simple way to break down how I think we should handle allowing our kids to have Halloween candy, it all comes back to the basics of Ellyn Satter's Division of Responsibility. As a reminder, it is our job to determine what, when, and where our child eats. It is our child's job to determine if/whether and how much they eat. Connecting the dots between this and how it relates to Halloween candy, that means it is our job as the parent to set boundaries around what candy/treat is offered, when your child has it available, and where your child is allowed to eat it. Then, you can transfer the control and trust to let them determine if/whether and how much they eat (keep reading).

2) Don't make Halloween candy feel forbidden.

The more you can keep Halloween candy neutral, the better. Research is clear that kids who grow up in an environment where restriction, pressuring, and bribing is used (to get them to eat either a certain way or a certain amount), the more often they crave forbidden foods like candy. Maybe you can relate? If you were raised in a family where sweets and treats were overly off limits, you may find yourself struggling with self-control when it comes to common triggers like candy. Conversely, when approaches like the Division of Responsibility are used as the main form of food parenting, our kids learn how to self-regulate all foods, including candy. So even though it may seem as though a more strict food environment serves our kids well when it comes to Halloween candy, remember that the more restricted this highly appealing food becomes, the more your tactics may backfire.

3) Consider your kid.

I’m not saying to cater to the sugar obsessed kid and become totally permissive as a parent. What I am saying is to address their sugar obsession head on. Rather than forbid them from eating these preferred sweets more because you know they tend to obsess over them, consider creating a more liberal dessert policy in this season to help see it past. By offering these foods more often for a given period of time, you can establish an environment that shows you trust your child(ren) to listen to their bodies and make healthy choices. Kids in turn learn to trust their own intrinsic cues while still appropriately managing cravings and making smart food choices. While kids don't need added sugars in their diets (see the next point), a small amount for a given period of time can help take it off its preferred food pedestal.

4) Determine "enough."

While the Division of Responsibility deems it the child's role to determine if/whether and how much our child eats of a given food, there are exceptions to this when it comes to candy and dessert. This gets a bit confusing but in general comes back to parents finding smart strategies for what amount of candy is age-appropriate or rather “enough,” so that it doesn’t crowd out healthier options of food but also doesn’t restrict the sweet stuff so much that kids cravings for it increase (beyond expected). The dietitian in me would say no amount is necessary. The mom in me, however, realizes that a 90:10 food philosophy allows just enough flex room with food, especially in seasons like these. So if you are wanting a number of pieces of candy per day that gets the pass, you can review this calculation to find a general gauge for how much added sugar still falls within appropriate limits. You can also read more here for ideas on how you can determine healthy in your home, encourage pleasure, and promote self-regulation so “a little can go a long way” with candy and other foods that fall in the 10% (of discretionary calories).

5) Be clear and consistent.

Being clear about when your child can eat Halloween candy during the day (or scattered throughout the week) helps keep both of you sane until the candy bowl runs out (or gets forgotten about!). Amidst your child's frequent initial asking for Halloween candy, decide on a consistent answer for when they can expect to have it using a predetermined time of day. While this may differ from family to family in timing and frequency, it is important that you stay consistent. This makes it so candy isn't the dangling carrot in front of their nose that they always chase and yet never actually get to enjoy. It also makes it less tempting to use tactics like bribing (i.e. "If you eat all of your dinner, you can have a piece of Halloween candy). Instead, these clear and consistent expectations take the pressure off of you from daily deciding if/when to allow it and in what amount, while also freeing up your child's mental energy to focus on something other than an elusive forbidden food.

6) Determine the when.

Just as we talk about the aspects that fall under the parent's role with the Division of Responsibility, also comes the clear and consistent expectations around the when candy is offered. Just as we addressed above when each day candy will be offered, here I want to highlight the when in terms of how long it will be offered. Determine for your family the following: When is Halloween candy welcome in your home? For one day post-Halloween? One week? One month? Until it runs out? While some kids do forget about candy when it is kept out of sight and out of mind, other kids tend to do better with time limits that are set for the whole family. In our house, all candy is over my the time of my husband's birthday (which conveniently is November 6th). This helps us to enjoy it for the week following Halloween, but then get back to our normal eating habits and family dessert policy of desserts only on weekends and birthdays.

7) Include Halloween candy as a snack.

Crazy, right? Especially when I tell each of my coaching clients to use snacks to fill in nutritional gaps with non-traditional "snack foods." But that can be done here too simply by pairing the candy alongside a more nutrient-dense item like a glass of milk, side of fruit or veggies with dip, or handful of nuts (age permitting to prevent choking). When spaced appropriately with scheduled meals and snacks, offering Halloween candy as part of a child's snack makes it so it doesn't compete with more nutrient rich meals.

8) Find other nutritionally void foods to cut.

While it might sound crazy to offer candy as a snack, think of all the nutritionally poor options we default to offering out kids for snacks. From snack crackers to fruit snacks and roll-ups, it isn't the calories in these I am concerned about. It is the fact that those calories come at a valuable cost: the real estate in our kid's stomachs. So take this as an opportunity to become more intentional about when you are working to get in important nutrients. While candy isn't an ideal option to be offering, it can compel you to think through what other, everyday options you otherwise may have offered that also are nutritionally void. Start making a commitment to watch for added sugar in the other foods you offer, and gradually choose healthier, lower added sugar alternatives. While the new food labels are only rolled out on some food products so far, you can still look at the ingredient list to identify sources of added sugar. Then consider how you can make healthier choices to cut down the added sugar in your family's everyday favorites. This will create a habit that serves your family well far after the candy runs out.

9) Keep candy out of sight.

Just watch, and I think you’ll be surprised about how much more out of mind candy becomes if their pumpkin pale isn’t on the counter in plain sight. As mentioned from a study I shared on this post about five ways to curb sugar cravings in kids, keeping candy out of plain view helps keeps not to focus on it as frequently. The less they think about it, the less they ask for it, the less of a nonstop issue it needs to be from a nutritional standpoint. So put it away and wait until your child asks for it. Chances are that even before all of the candy gets consumed, your child will forget to ask for it at the set time (discussed above) and your family can just move on without it again.

10) Talk about the characteristics of candy.

If you want your child to wolf down their candy, help remove each piece from the wrapper and prepare to see your kid mindlessly go after it. Instead, let me suggest you try this. Use inquiry-based learning to slow down the eating process. Ask questions about a candy’s taste, texture, flavor, color, size, etc., to help your child slow down and savor their candy. Just as we as adults have to remind ourselves to do this, let's equip our children at a young age to be mindful eating. Not restrictive from any one food (no food allergies, permitting), but rather remind them to be mindful about each morsel they put into their mouths. Not only does this help our kids to learn to appreciate specific elements to fun “sometimes” foods (in these off seasons when they are offered), but this helps our kids to consume less as well. For more on avoiding labels around Halloween candy or other “forbidden foods,” read this article on Six Simple Takeaways on the Sticky Subject of Sugar.”

11) Look at behaviors beyond the candy bowl.

We obsess so much about if/whether our kids eat Halloween candy that we divert our focus and honestly our accountability from the constant, day to day feeding behaviors we have irregardless of Halloween. While it is of obvious importance to limit added sugars as an overall feeding principle in our families, we also need to keep in mind that there are likely many other feeding behaviors that we could improve on also. So rather than getting too focused on the candy at hand, let's also take Halloween as an opportunity to consider what other feeding habits we could pay closer attention to.

12) Consider other creative options.

Just as Elf of the Shelf took the Christmas season by storm, many parents are also adopting a "Switch Witch" for handling the candy after Halloween. Many local dentist offices also participate in candy swap out programs, so ask your child's dentist if they do something list this.

13) Transition into a season of Gratitude.

As October ends and a time for Thanksgiving nears, teach your kids to consider how they could serve others with their candy. This may be sending the candy to troops, donating it to Ronald McDonald House for sick children who couldn't trick or treat, or by making a visit to a local elderly facility to share it with them. From a work site wellness standpoint, I tend to not encourage parents taking it all to work with them as the alternative. Instead, engage your kids in community outreach ideas that will help others to enjoy the candy when they otherwise wouldn't be mobilized on their own to do so.


Final Challenge: Be Big Picture About It

However you choose to handle all of that leftover Halloween candy with your kids, remember the big picture. Our goal in even having this conversation is to instill in our children a healthy relationship with all foods - even those that we don't always love or want them eating a lot of like candy. By teaching them when it's appropriate and how to self-regulate these types of foods, we empower them to handle all of the Halloweens to come with confidence around candy. That is no costume, but rather a true eating competence to aim for within each of our families.

Happy Halloween to all of you, my favorite guys and ghouls!

Simple Takeaways on the Sticky Subject of Sugar

Disclosure: This post was sponsored by Super Simple Online. All opinions are my own.

As we countdown to all the candy of Halloween with much anticipation by kids and often fear from parents, I want to spend the next few weeks highlighting some simple takeaways when it comes to the sticky subject of sugar.

 
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This week, I am sharing a post I previously wrote over on Super Simple Online, titled “Six Simple Takeaways on the Sticky Subject of Sugar.” While we may have fast-forwarded six months to another holiday season centered around sugar since it was published, the principles I share regarding sugar remain the same:

  1. Understand the real problem.

  2. Define healthy in your home. 

  3. Avoid labels. 

  4. Encourage pleasure. 

  5. Avoid reward. 

  6. Practice self-regulation.

If you’d like to learn more about each of these and how to handle the sticky subject of sugar in your home, visit my post:

Six Simple Takeaways on the Sticky Subject of Sugar


Then stay tuned over the next two weeks as I share more on How to Handle Halloween Candy with Kids (next week) and How to Handle the Halloween Sugar Rush (in two weeks).

If you aren’t already subscribed to my newsletter, now is the perfect time to sign up to receive once-weekly updates. As members of my community, you are the first to read insider information as well as receive updates when these and other upcoming blog posts are published. Just fill out your name and email below!

Managing Meals as a New Mom

My husband is hard-working. My mom is a natural Nana. My nearby sister-in-law has survived to share what it’s like to mother three amazing kids. Yet despite a solid support system gathering around for the birth of our third child, close family and friends are still left to figure out the innards of our kitchen.

Consider the feeding basics that are intuitive to us but likely unknown to others:

When do we offer our daughters milk versus water?

Do we give snacks whenever the girls ask or is there structure around what, when, and where food is offered?

Are there foods we can or can’t send to school in the girl's lunchboxes?

What kind of bread do we buy?

Do we have anything ready for dinner?

What happens if the girls choose not to eat what's offered?

These may seem like overly simplistic basics to even address to some. They may be too obvious or totally unnecessary to answer to others. However no matter what your family dynamic is when entering into this exciting new season with a newborn, recognize that these little nuances in each family are what make us who we are.

They establish normalcy, create ease, and maintain security, especially with young ones whose eating habits may not be as clearly established or easy to articulate as with older kids or adults. They are also the key details that redirect the stress of making meals into the more-efficient process of managing meals as a new mom-- among as many hands as you have available to help.

 
 

For this reason, I think we can best prepare ourselves, our children, and our family's generous helpers in the upcoming season by eliminating the need for others to ask us seven-hundred questions  about food/feeding (or the tendency to always wing it when they can't!) and rather equipping them with helpful info for how to handle all things meal- and snack-related on their own.

 

This post will outline how to plan ahead for managing meals as a new mom.

As shared on previous posts about the Division of Responsibility in feeding, the more you can maintain the adult's role in feeding versus the child's amidst the "newness" of having a newborn, the less stressful it will be on everyone. Use the following links and guides to help you and whomever you have helping to assume your/their role as the adult while still encouraging your child in their roles as well!


Resources on WHAT to feed

Meal Plans

If you didn't catch my post on Freezer Meals to Make Before A Baby this month, be sure to check out those meal ideas here. In the post, you will have access to a download with the breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack ideas I actually used to prep ahead some freezer meal (and snack) favorites for our family!

You can also look back to the first half of 2018 and the family meal plans I included via the thumbnails below. While these posts only share ideas for the main course (as all the sides were already shared with newsletter subscribers (become a subscriber here!), they may help you think of some recipes you might want to make (or ask a friend or family to make on your behalf!) when in a tired-of-ordering-pizza-every-night rut. Some recipes are more involved while others are ready in under 15 minutes, so scroll through to see which ones sound both tasty and practical to you and your family!

 

Snack Ideas

While I have some favorite "go-to" snacks with my kids (and for myself!) shared on the freezer meals printable (available here), below are a few older blog posts that also might help give you some ideas for healthy snack options - be it at the pool for the final push of summer or non-perishable favorites to send as your children go back to school.

 

Love it, Like it, Learning it Meals

For FAQs on Love it, Like it, Learning it and a FREE download you can use as your template to writing out what foods your child loves, likes, and is still learning (with 150 suggestions for kid-friendly foods to categorize), visit this post. Having a list of foods on hand to help others know what your kid "does and doesn't like" makes figuring out what combinations of foods to offer at meals easier on everyone while still emphasizing the importance of ongoing exposure to new, "learning it" foods!

You can also coach caretakers on how to use a Love it, Like it, Learning it approach at meal times by sharing this article on How to Feed a Toddler at Meal Times.

 

Meal Planning Templates

This postpartum, I have a calendar of our whole first month penciled in with what dinners we are making from our freezer stash, some easy, ready-made options, when I anticipate meals will be made for us, and the occasional takeout too. For breakfast and lunches, I have seven ideas penciled in that we will use on rotation each week using the templates available here, modifying as needed (but hopefully not much until I have my bearings a bit more). Having these templates filled out helps me to already have ideas for what we will eat, so in my sleep-deprived state I don't have to also think about what to make nor if we have the ingredients on hand to make these menu ideas!

 

Grocery List

I plan to rely heavily on grocery pick-up in the postpartum window. In general though, I keep a magnetic grocery list up on my fridge so I can use that as my reference when I go online to place our grocery order. While magnetic lists are not currently available (will re-order and begin shipping again after maternity leave), you can access my free grocery download using the link below.

 

Costco List

Instacart does not yet service our zip code yet, but for many regions, you could order from Costco online as well. I created this guide as a visual grocery list for my 55 items I most heavily rely on getting at Costco. I can print, circle, and send this list with my husband to reference on his way home from work when he swings into Costco or while my parents while they're in town. Either way, they know the items to look for when I request a given item (without having to call or FaceTime me every 17 seconds to ask, "Is this the ________ you buy/want?").


Resources on WHEN to feed

Daily Routine

Life needs to always remain flexible with kids, but there is something to be said for consistency and routine that makes the "newness" of seasons like having a new sibling easier for everyone to handle. That's why even if my kids aren't eating as many homemade nor well-rounded meals as our usual (during this postpartum period), I would say I care just as much (if not more!) that they are fed on as consistent of a routine as possible. I find with kids, it is easier to get "back on track" with the WHAT we feed after a season with more convenient foods than it is to reset their stomachs and appetites to a meal and snack schedule (after a season when grazing could easily become the norm!).

To help keep their meals and snacks happening around the same time each day, I use this daily routine template. This allows me to pencil in what they have from the moment they wake up through bedtime, but two sheets could also be used if you are including an infant feeding schedule with overnight bottle feeds.


Resources on WHERE to feed

At the Table

I hear parents, grandparents, and virtually all caretakers struggle with how to keep kids seated for meal times. So while these tips and tricks can be applied in a variety of places where food might be offered, the aim is that indeed we are conditioning our children to sit at the table for long enough for them to fuel their bodies until food is offered again. Rather than battle your child to "just sit still," read this article for Seven Ways to Keep Your Child Seated Through Meals (and share it with those who will be feeding your kids after baby comes too for added reinforcement!).

 

At School

Whether you have a child in Mom’s Day Out only a couple of hours a week, a preschooler in daycare full-time, or a school-aged child needing packed lunches for elementary each day, packing lunches takes an extra bit of effort and attention - especially if being packed by a caretaker who isn't used to owning this role.

To help them out with "what to pack," review these Five Secrets to Lunch Packing Success that I share over on the Super Simple blog [sponsored post]. Then, be sure to share any pertinent specifics for your child and/or their school with anyone who might be helping you pack lunches in the postpartum period. You can also download the a printable that runs through similar steps using the button below.


Resources on IF/WHETHER to eat

Family Food Rules

Handling how to have others feed our kids (when we are away/unable to) is constantly a topic of conversation and often an area of tension within families. While we might not always be able to get family members or friends to adopt our approach to what, when, or where they feed our children, something we can continue to articulate is our desire for HOW they feed our kids in terms of a pressure-free approach.

Just as you would respectfully share your approaches to discipline or sleep routines with a caregiver, consider discussing what some of your "family food rules" are before your new baby comes. Then, practice role modeling what this looks like to caregivers BEFORE baby is here with whatever meals such caregivers might be around to observe and engage in. Use this time to allow them to ask questions about What is the Division of Responsibility and How to Establish the Division of Responsibility. Furthermore, consider posting a list of feeding expectations up on the fridge for all to reference (like this 7 Steps to Feeding Success one). While this doesn't ensure that everyone will feed your child just like you would, it can help to redefine the boundaries you desire around the feeding environment.


In Summary

Remember it is just a Season

No matter what happens after a baby is born (or any time of major transition, really!), remember that children are adaptable. They will go with the flow often more easily than we as moms do and they can adjust back to healthy old habits or create new ones (when necessary) with consistency and reinforcement as things settle down. So even if mac and cheese is on the menu for the first month straight, remember there is grace in motherhood that will also cover some of the shortcomings in a season where our children might have nutritional voids or less than ideal eating habits.

If it gives you more peace of mind and helps your child to meet their daily nutritional needs better, you can also consider adding in supplements for the nutrients in food groups you know tend to be harder to reinforce and re-expose. My friends over at Feeding Littles have an excellent round-up of recommendations on Supplements for Infants and Children that might be worth reading and investing in.

Otherwise, I hope the above tools will help you to feel a bit more prepared and at peace about how to handle meals as a new mom. You got this!

Average versus Extreme Picky Eating

Disclaimer: This post is sponsored by Super Simple Online. As always, all opinions are my own.

Ever wondered if your child's picky eating is "normal"?

While I have worked with many families on How to Handle Picky Eating privately (through one-on-one consultations) and publicly (through blog posts and presentations), I will be the first to share:

Most picky eating is normal, but not all picky eating is average.

 
 

What I mean by this is that for most children, picky eating is as normal stage of development as toddler tantrums, sleep regressions, endlessly saying 'no' or asking 'why?', separation anxiety, and wanting to 'do it myself' as they exercise independence. As with all aspects of raising tiny humans however, some child fall into a more average pattern for these developmental milestones while others are what we may consider a bit more extreme in how they react and respond.

That's why over on the Super Simple blog this month, I share more about, What is “Normal” When it Comes to Picky Eating?

In the post (read it here), you will find a summary of what average and extreme picky eating individually are, how each normally presents, their unique impacts physically, socially, and emotionally on a child, and what the best solution for addressing each are. This way, if you find yourself asking, "Is my child's picky eating normal?," you can quickly identify what average versus extreme picky eating looks like, how each differ in their physical, emotional, and social impacts on your child, and what course of action may be most effective should your child fall into the more "average" picky eating realm or be a child with more extreme picky eating.

If you'd like to read more on this for yourself, click the button below to see the full article.

I know this will help put a lot of parent's questions and concerns at rest and/or in the direction of seeking the best-suited action plan to help a picky eater get the assistance they need to grow, thrive, and live out a healthy childhood!


For more on this topic, visit these posts:


Looking for more inspiration on how to help picky eaters?

Be sure to follow my Instagram where I share tips, tricks, and endless encouragement for raising healthy children (even if they are currently more apprehensive than adventurous)!

Milk Alternatives for Toddlers

Disclosure: This post is sponsored by Kabrita. All opinions are my own.

Milk Alternatives for Toddlers

Around the time a child turns one, many parents become privy to the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations for milk intake in infants. However in recent years, more and more parents are coming to me with questions about if cow’s milk is still the best milk option for their young children after transitioning off of breast milk and/or infant formula.

The question of if/how to use milk alternatives for toddlers usually comes up based on a variety of vantage points, making the “right” answer unique to a family’s personal food preferences and dietary priorities.

For children who cannot consume cow's milk due to an allergy or lactose intolerance, cow's milk alternatives are a necessity. Many other children have functional digestive symptoms associated with cow's milk, while some families are simply looking for a high quality, easy to digest choice. Here, I'll highlight some important considerations when choosing cow milk alternatives for toddlers.

As always, be sure to consult your child’s primary health care provider if you have specific questions or concerns about which milk might be best for your toddler.

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Your Child’s Nutritional Requirements

The transition from infancy to toddlerhood comes with changes to how your child meets their nutritional needs. As breast milk and/or infant formula is eliminated and more table foods are introduced between years one and two of life, toddlers begin to rely more heavily on the nutrition they get from the foods they consume and less on liquid calories. This makes deciding on which milk or milk alternative to offer your child all the more important.

Parents need to consider what role milk plays in their child’s existing diet and if/how these nutritional gaps will be met (or not) through the different options for milk alternatives on the market. Many of the key nutrients that were critical in your child’s diet as an infant are still important in toddlerhood. These include:

Calories

On average, toddlers need around 1,000 calories per day. While I don’t recommend parents count their children’s calories, this can be a helpful number to keep in mind when parents consider how many calories per day their child gets from milk (or a milk alternative). Often times, toddlers are meeting more of their calorie needs from dairy than necessary. A good target for toddlers is to get two servings of dairy per day, as this helps children to meet their calorie, vitamin D, and calcium needs for growth and development without taking over the role other foods have on helping them meet their overall nutritional needs.

Fat

More so than in any other age group, toddlers need fat in their diets. So much so that 30-40% of a toddler’s caloric intake should come in the form of fat, which is just under what they relied on getting from breast milk or infant formula. A variety of fats are necessary for key functions of a child’s health and development, including our children's ability to absorb important fat-soluble vitamins from food (like vitamin D). Fat also offers a mouth feel with the foods it is found in that can help reinforce pleasure and satiety (including with kids). Opting for a milk or milk alternative that offers flavor and a positive mouth-feel by way of fat instead of in the form of added sugars, flavors, or other additives is ideal.

Protein

Protein is a major component of every cell in the body and plays a part in helping keep young kids feeling full between meals.Young children, however, often need less protein in their diets than many parents assume, with the average 1-3 year old only requiring 0.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day (i.e. 13 grams of protein for a 26-pound child). While this may not be a lot of protein, milk or milk alternatives can play a key role in helping toddlers meet their protein needs as they transition to table foods and adopt eating habits that include protein-rich foods. Parents should consider the amount, quality, and variety of protein their child is getting from milk- and food-based sources when evaluating which milk alternative offers adequate protein to help their child meet their daily needs.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is increasingly being known not just for its role in the development of healthy bones and teeth but also in immune health and reducing inflammation. As toddlers, our children’s need for vitamin D increases from 400 to 600 IU daily. Although some foods have been fortified with vitamin D to help boost our toddler’s intake, many toddlers struggle to get enough vitamin D from naturally-occurring or fortified food sources alone. Since cow’s milk is often a key source of vitamin D for toddlers as they transition to table foods, parents ought to consider if and how much vitamin D their child gets from non-milk-based sources in order to find a milk alternative that best fills the nutritional void for vitamin D.

Calcium

From ages 1-3, children need approximately 700 mg of calcium per day to support their growing bones, bodies, and teeth. While cow’s milk is an obvious and efficient way to help toddlers meet their calcium needs, traditional milk is not the only means for children to get enough calcium. Other foods are naturally good sources of calcium and many milk alternatives are fortified to help children on dairy-free diets to meet their calcium needs. Parents should compare the calcium content of milk alternatives when considering which one is best suited for helping their child meet and maintain their calcium needs throughout childhood.

 

With these nutritional considerations in mind, parents can more keenly compare and contrast the following milk and milk alternatives to evaluate which is nutritionally the best option for their child’s diet.

 

Milk and Milk Alternatives for Toddlers

Cow’s Milk

Nutritional Pros

Many families are already accustomed to buying and consuming cow’s milk. This makes this milk option an obvious choice for the majority of toddlers (who aren’t avoiding dairy). It is an efficient way to help children get in calcium and vitamin D, as well as to add protein and fat to their diet (assuming a full or reduced fat milk variety is used). Cow’s milk can be an economical and readily available option for families who prefer a milk choice that is convenient both in accessibility and nutritional bioavailability.

Nutritional Cons

An obvious concern with cow’s milk is that it is not suitable for children with a cow’s milk allergy or lactose intolerance, or for families who have adopted a vegan lifestyle. Also, some littles ones may experience functional symptoms related to cow’s milk consumption, such as gas, spit up, constipation or diarrhea. Nutritionally speaking, some children consume more than the recommended daily amount of cow’s milk (or dairy), which may interfere with their intake of iron-rich foods and compromise their iron status since cow’s milk lacks iron and replaces iron-rich foods in some toddler’s diets. Ethically speaking, more families are becoming concerned with the quality of conventional cow’s milk compared to some of the more premium options for organic and/or grass-fed on the market. These premium milk options may be less available and/or cost-prohibitive for many families to consume exclusively.

Bottom Line

Cow’s milk is an appropriate pick for parents who want an affordable, readily-available milk option, as long as children do not have an allergy or sensitivity.  It also helps promote the nutrients a toddler needs as their diet continues to expand to include more nutrient-rich foods. When possible, I would recommend an organic, grass-fed whole milk as the gold standard for cow’s milk.

 

Goat Milk

Nutritional Pros

Goat milk is an often overlooked alternative to cow’s milk.  Goat milk offers a nutrient-dense option to help growing children get in the calories, fat, and protein they need. For children who are sensitive to cow’s milk, goat milk may be a gentler alternative before eliminating dairy-based milk options altogether. Goat milk protein is naturally easier to digest than cow milk protein. It forms a softer, smaller curd in the digestive system (the protein clumps formed during digestion), compared to cow milk. Goat milk proteins are also digested at a closer rate to breast milk than cow’s milk, making goat milk alternatives gentle for tiny tummies and helpful at improving digestive discomfort in sensitive babies.

Nutritional Cons

Goat milk is not suitable for children with a confirmed Cow Milk Protein Allergy, as majority of children with a Cow Milk Protein Allergy also do not tolerate goat’s milk. While standard goat milk is an appropriate option for older children and families, it lacks some important vitamins and minerals for toddlers and infants, such as folic acid, iron, and vitamin D. For these children, my recommendation is to choose an appropriately fortified product, such as Kabrita goat milk formula.

Bottom Line

Goat’s milk is an appropriate pick for parents who have a child with digestive symptoms associated with cow milk (i.e. constipation, diarrhea, spit up), but not a true Cow Milk Protein Allergy. Goat milk is also a good option for families who want an easy to digest alternative to cow milk, but aren’t looking to jump immediately to a plant-based alternative. Since a fortified goat milk, like Kabrita, offers more nutritional value than plant based milk options, it may offer the calories, fat, protein, vitamins and minerals a toddler needs better than other alternatives.

 

Plant-Based Milk Alternatives

Nutritional Pros

Plant-based alternatives offer vegan milk alternatives for families who may be avoiding cow or goat milk due to dietary preferences and/or food allergies. Depending on their selection of plant-based alternatives, families will find a variety of allergen-friendly options that allow them to avoid top allergens like dairy, soy, peanuts, and/or gluten.

Nutritionally, some plant-based milks have comparable calorie, fat, and protein content to cow’s milk. It is important to note, however, that not one plant-based alternative mimics the complete nutritional profile of cow’s milk as closely as goat milk does.

Calories: Oat milk followed by rice milk have the most calories of any plant-based alternative, comparing to the calorie content of a 2% reduced fat cow’s milk. Note these calories come predominantly from carbohydrates, as neither is high in fat nor protein.

Fat: Hemp milk offers more fat than any other plant-based alternative (being comparable to whole cow’s milk), including omega 3s. Coconut milk and pea milk have the next highest fat contents being comparable to 2% reduced fat cow’s milk.

Protein: Options like soy and pea milk offer the most protein content of any plant-based alternative, being comparable with cow’s milk.

Vitamins and Minerals: Since many plant-based alternatives lack the calcium and vitamin D found in cow’s milk, fortified plant-based alternatives are important especially for the toddler population.

Nutritional Cons

Some plant-based alternatives may not be suitable for children with allergies to soy (soy milk), tree nuts (nut milk), or gluten (some oat milk). Research has shown that children may also react poorly to soy milk if a milk protein allergy or intolerance is present, making soy an unfit alternative for some children with a dairy allergy.

Nutritionally, many plant-based alternatives overall contain less calories, fat, and protein than cow’s milk, as well as less vitamin D and calcium. In order to improve the taste and mouthfeel for plant-based alternatives, many have added sweeteners and stabilizers that are best avoided (especially with toddlers).

Calories: No unsweetened, plant-based milk alternative offers comparable calories to whole cow’s milk.  

Fat: Plant-based alternatives like almond, flax, oat, and rice all have a much lower fat content, making them comparable to 1% cow’s milk. Remember fat is important for child development, especially the brain!

Protein: Plant-based alternatives like almond, flax, coconut, hemp, oat, and rice all have a lower protein content than cow’s milk, with all but oat milk having only 0-2 grams of protein per 8-ounce serving.

Vitamins and Minerals: Homemade plant-based alternatives (like almond or cashew) will not be fortified like the options available in stores. Parents should consider this when switching exclusively to homemade alternatives to ensure such vitamins and minerals are being consumed elsewhere in the diet.

Bottom Line

Plant-based milk alternatives may be an appropriate pick for families who need a milk free from common allergens like dairy, soy, peanuts, and/or gluten. If a toddler consumes enough calories, fat, and protein from other food sources, these milk alternatives may be a healthy beverage alternative. For young toddlers around one year, most plant based milks do not offer sufficient nutrients to be a healthy alternative to cow milk. If/when milk alternatives are introduced, it is important that children prefer the taste in order to promote healthy habits that will last them through adolescence and into adulthood (when their needs for many of the nutrients in cow’s milk increase). Equally, families must consider how easy to find and afford plant-based alternatives are, as some are less readily available and/or economical for a whole family to consume regularly. For plant-based alternatives that have varieties with added sweeteners, parents should select unsweetened varieties to reduce unnecessary added sugar. Using such plant-based alternatives to cook with (in place of water) is a good way to include such milk alternatives on occasion (instead of exclusively) for families who would like to integrate more plant-based options without completely replacing more traditional milks.

 

Making a Decision on Milk Alternatives for Toddlers

In closing, it is important to note that each toddler’s food intake and taste preferences differ, making there no one-size-fits-all approach to selecting a milk alternative for families. Instead, each parent should consider their child’s diet, lifestyle, and nutritional needs for how a milk or milk alternative helps to support their overall growth and development.

While it can be wonderful for our food industry to expand our options to more products including milk alternatives, it is important for parents to consider what elements of their child’s nutritional needs are being met by milk versus food alone. After factoring in any potential allergies or sensitivities, a family’s first consideration when switching from cow’s milk should be to select a milk alternative that is nutritional suitable and sustainable to meet their growing toddler’s nutritional needs. Most often, this comes in the form of a fortified beverage that contains calories, fat, protein, and vitamins and minerals in an amount complementary to what the child already consumes.

Hopefully this review has helped provide you with a more comprehensive understanding of the pros, cons, and other considerations for choosing a milk or milk alternative for your toddler!

 

Thank you to Kabrita for sponsoring this review of milk alternatives for toddlers; if you'd like to learn more about their goat milk formula, click here.

How to Make One Meal for the Whole Family

Disclaimer: This post is sponsored by Super Simple Online. As always, all opinions are my own.

If you find yourself short-order cooking and amidst the stressful dynamics of making everyone a separate meal, you need to tune in to today's post.

Over on the Super Silly blog, I share how to How to Make One Meal for the Whole Family. With five considerations to avoid short-order cooking or fights over the food that is offered, this post will walk you through some of the steps to establishing set a new precedence at family meals. These act as a framework to help you begin serving one meal for the whole family.

I am confident that these five steps can help families find newfound freedom with what to offer at meal times, making the shared experience at the table a happy and healthy one! Which one will you start implementing tonight?


For more on this topic, visit these posts:


How to Make One Meal for the Whole Family Menu Ideas

I spent the first half of 2018 sharing family-friendly meal plans on the Veggies & Virtue blog. I also sent bonus content each week to subscribers on serving these up to more apprehensive of eaters, using my "Love it, Like it, Learning it approach to deciding "what to offer" so that everyone has something at the table they enjoy! To join the thousands of mamas who receive this newsletter each week, join here!

Otherwise, review the menus for Winter and Spring by clicking on the thumbnails below. You will find a variety of ideas of family-friendly meal ideas, all of which can be offered as one meal for the whole family!

Looking for more inspiration on how to offer one meal to the whole family?

Be sure to follow #onemealtwoways each week on my Instagram! With each, you will see how one meal is offered two ways for my child and my preferences and on each of our plates!