Why it’s important to offer preferred AND non-preferred foods

Say you didn't read any of the information shared on last week's blog post, and you find yourself scolding your child, “You will eat this, or else!”

...or else, what?

Many new parents start out with eager little eaters who they assume will enjoy or at least try every food that they’re offered. Then, usually somewhere between 12-24 months, their child's preferences start to present more and parents find themselves offering foods as they did before, except this time they aren’t met with the same level of excitement and acceptance.

Instead, their child becomes oppositional. They may fight us for something us specific, avoid anything unfamiliar, or just flat out refuse this seemingly offensive meal we offered them.

If it is only one night of this kind of behaviors, parents would likely handle whatever happens without much stress or shame over if/whether their child went without the meal. However, when parents see this kind of food refusal meal after meal, day after day, I don’t know many families who can maintain a Division of Responsibility in feeding long term.

Often times, when we are faced with ongoing opposition at meals and snacks, bad habits and unintended feeding behaviors start to resurface. Even if you did read my article on parental feeding behaviors last week and have worked hard to establish a Division of Responsibility in your home, we can still hit a bit of a wall when it comes to how to handle the cycle of food refusal and constant force to get our children to eat.

So what is a parent to do?

While we don’t want to cater to our kids selectivity and only offer them foods we know they will eat, many parents wonder what that balance is between offering preferred versus non-preferred foods.

 
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That's what this week's blog post is all about.

In this post, I will answer one mom's question:

"So wondering why it’s important to offer preferred and non preferred foods and not just non preferred foods and ya snooze ya lose?!"

I will also share my simple strategy for how the Love it, Like it, Learning it framework can accomplish the Division of Responsibility without all the stress of what to offer an oppositional child while still making only one meal.


Many parents think that if they offer a preferred food alongside a non-preferred “learning it” food that their child won’t eat the learning it food.

And you know what? That is more often than not the case.

Let’s dissect this a bit though to evaluate what alternatives options we have in the types of foods we offer at a given meal. We could offer only preferred “love it” foods (so these “learning it foods” don’t go uneaten anyways), offer only non-preferred “learning it” foods (and restrict preferred foods while forcing non-preferred foods), or offer a variety of love it, like it, and learning it foods (and strike a balance between the two).

Let’s evaluate how each of these scenarios usually play out, particularly with apprehensive eaters.

 

What happens when we offer only love it foods

This can create a dynamic that is difficult to break. Children grow to expect caregivers to overly cater to their wants and short order cook (or rather make two separate meals). Usually this starts because a parent just want to make meal times less stressful and not have to face fighting or forcing their child to eat from what’s offered. Instead of using an authoritative approach (like the Division of Responsibility), they indulge their child in their every request. Often times, parents hope that if they cater to the more particular child, their feeding issues will go away (at least in the short term). Unfortunately, more often than not parents end up facing the impact of innocently deciding to initially cater to their child’s requests (of “love it” only foods) only to later find themselves stuck with a child who won’t eat anything else they offer (i.e. “like it” or “learning it” foods).

Beyond having let the child decide what is offered (the parent’s job), the entire feeding dynamic has shifted to one with loose boundaries and unclear roles and responsibilities. Neither parent nor child are thriving when meals are offered this way. Rather, parents tend to exhaust from always having to make a separate meal and children become increasingly picky in their food preferences because they are rarely given regular opportunities to learn to like new foods. As addressed in this post, the long term repercussions of offering meals this way leads to compounded stress for the parent, longstanding nutritional deficits for the child, and a backwards feeding relationship between both parent and child.

 

What happens when we offer only learning it foods

Alternatively to the above, some parents assume that if a child truly is hungry, they’ll just eat what is in front of them with a “ya snooze ya lose” type attitude (as this mom called it).

I admit, this is kind of how I pictured I would feed my kids. I knew what kinds of foods that I wanted in their diets and was pretty set on providing meal plans to include such variety, vegetables, as well as very few “filler foods” (void of much or any nutritional value). Since I was well-versed in the Division of Responsibility in feeding, I assumed I could carry out the behaviors that went along with this best practice without much struggle.

Then I actually had a child of my own.

Funny how that happens, isn’t it?

I often say God apparently knew the amount of pride I had in being a parentless pediatric dietitian because it was all called out with my first kid. I implemented the Division of Responsibility from day one with her, well aware it was the gold standard approach for raising healthy eaters. What I couldn’t figure out though from my role and responsibility was the “what to feed.”

Everything I offered her by 13 months went untouched. She would literally hold out on snacks on Sunday mornings until Sunday school where she knew she’d get Goldfish crackers. Her cutesy lunchboxes came back untouched from school. She started refusing family meals in the evenings, and then would wake up overnight screaming because she was hungry.

And y’all, I was crushed.

I was a pediatric dietitian and I couldn’t get my own kid to eat.

That’s because when we serve only non-preferred foods (“learning it foods”), it becomes difficult to “get” our children to eat while also fostering a “no pressure” feeding environment (that’s reflective of a Division of Responsibility). When we offer them only foods that they knowingly are still learning to like, many kids won’t feel comfortable enough to try anything. Such neophobia towards new foods and anxiety around eating shuts down a child’s appetite. This often leaves children sitting at the table with an untouched plate, fighting us to be excused prematurely and a parent who’s tempted to use force, bribery, or other behaviors we want to avoid.

This all backfires in the big picture.

For one, it doesn’t reinforce to our child that we will always keep them in mind when planning meals. It is important for children, particularly those with more extreme forms of picky eating, to know that there will always be something they enjoy at the meal. If they think meals are planned independently of them and their unique food preferences, it becomes more challenging to get them to even join in on the family meal. Some children may revolt (to which parents might give in) while other children might shut down (to which parents might give up). Either way, our choices over what to offer our family doesn’t reinforce the type of positive, productive feeding relationship we want and are attempting to establish in the first place.

That’s why I developed the Love it, Like it, Learning it framework.

 

What happens when we offer love it, like it, and learning it foods

Love it, Like it, Learning it is a simple, roll off the tongue type of strategy that translates what researches already advises but many parents miss: the importance of pairing preferred with non-preferred foods.

As fellow pediatric dietitians often say, “eating begets eating.” Feeding experts and resources like the book, “Helping Your Child with Extreme Picky Eating,” share that the anxiety a child feels towards eating can keep children from eating altogether (affiliate link).

This is why offering safe, preferred “love it” foods alongside sometimes consumed “like it” and non-preferred “learning it” foods reduces the fear and eases the anxiety that often comes with the introduction of new foods. Familiar foods can also serve as a tool to elicit interest in new foods and combinations like chips (love it food) with guacamole (learning it food), yogurt (love it food) with granola (learning it food), or crackers (love it food) with tuna salad.

Using the Love it, Like it, Learning it framework reinforces a few key concepts that build trust and foster choice in the feeding relationship.

One, serving meals with this framework reminds your child that there will always be something offered that they enjoy. While it does not guarantee every meal in its entirety is something the child will love, it recognizes their apprehension towards new foods and fosters a feeding environment that gives them both the time and the space to learn to like such foods.

Second, offering foods with this framework sets clearer expectations for your child. They learn to trust you to not only provide options they prefer alongside others they don’t (yet), as well as trusting you to use pressure-free feeding tactics around new foods. This helps decrease their anxiety around new foods so that over time, they begin to open up to learning to like them.

Additionally, offering foods in this way allows parents to take their job back. By being in charge of the meal planning and what foods are offered, parents using this framework can begin to make one meal for their whole family again. While some find it does take a bit more advanced planning than winging each meal that is offered, parents who have applied this framework share that the effort put in pays off in lessening meal time stress and improving their child’s feeding success. One mom shared,

“Love it, Like it, Learning it is a game changer. There are less meltdowns at mealtimes for all of us.”


Next Steps to Offering Preferred + Non-Preferred Foods

Some next steps that parents might find helpful when thinking through this framework and figuring out how to effectively plan meals using this framework include:

  1. Start out by having a good sense of what your child’s preferred foods even are. While the list may initially be very limited, you can still begin to use this practice with other productive feeding behaviors to gradually help your child accept more new foods and ultimately eat greater variety. You can get a read through the Beginner’s Guide to Love it, Like it, Learning it with a free download here. Or,  for more helpful tools and templates to use when applying this framework, you can purchase the complete Love it, Like it, Learning it Starter Kit here.

  2. Consider meal planning. This will help you to think through in advance the types of preferred and non-preferred foods you will offer at any given meal during the week. This will help you to plan only one meal for the whole family while also remaining consistent in your approach (to avoid short-order cooking). You can download meal planning templates including ones for Love it, Like it, Learning it here.

  3. Cycle through meals that work. Once you have a handful or more ideas for family meals you can offer that include the Love it, Like it, Learning it framework, begin to cycle through those on repeat. Work on becoming more comfortable in how you present foods and creating a pressure-free environment before trying to branch out too much and include too many new meal ideas. This will give both you and your family time to adjust to this framework so it can be as effective as possible. You can use one week or the complete month’s worth of meal ideas from my Seasonal Meal Plan to rotate through as you familiarize yourself with how to offer meals in this way.

  4. Share! I always love seeing how the Love it, Like it, Learning it framework is helping families achieve less meal time stress and more feeding success. Please make sure to tag @veggiesandvirtue on social media and use hashtag #loveitlikeitlearningit to share your mealtime success stories!

  5. Seek Support, as needed. If you find yourself wanting someone to walk you through the steps of adopting the Love it, Like it, Learning it framework at meal times, I can help. Many families have found it helpful to have me walk them through this framework. See below for more on my six week E-course (coming soon).

Where to Start

I can’t tell you how often I get emails and messages, like this:

I’ve been following your Instagram account for a while now and I love your approach to food! However, I’m finding it so hard to get my 2 year old daughter to eat healthy, filling foods. I try my best to only offer her nutritious options to help her get adequate fat, fiber, protein and veggies, but I’m telling you, her diet is largely dairy and fruit with some eggs mixed in when she’s feeling up for it. My husband and I have tried so many approaches, to backing off and seemingly “not caring” if she eats the food we offer her or not, to bribing, to ultimatums. We are at a loss! Do you have a course or something you offer? Any help would be so appreciated. 

Almost all of us parents need help in knowing how to feed our kids (myself included!), but only some will actually reach out to a registered dietitian to ask for it.

That’s why as we kick off the New Year, I want to make it as easy as possible for you to access whatever resources you and your family need to succeed in the year ahead.

 
 

Many of you have been asking me for courses, printables, and other easy to digest resources to help walk you through the best way to feed your kids.

While I have big hopes for all the resources yet to come (and based on more of your requests!), I have already created a few new offerings many of you don’t know about and yet could start using immediately!

You can find all of them on my new Start Here page.

 
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On my new Start Here page, I share:


As the year goes on, I will continue to update the Start Here page with new resources to help you, so keep checking back! Better yet, be sure you are signed up for my once weekly newsletter. You can join thousands of other moms who want FREE information for feeding their families better delivered to their inbox every Friday. I will also share exclusive promotions I run on products and services in my store!

To sign up, enter your email here:

I have so many Frequently Asked Questions in cue to post in the coming weeks that I can’t wait to share with you! Everything from how to handle bedtime snacks to what to do if your child only eats their “love it” food. I love receiving these questions from so many of you, so it is my goal in 2019 to connect you to the information, inspiration, and advice you need to raise achieve less meal time stress and more feeding success.

Thank you for including me in your journey!

Pushing Pause

I keep seeing all these posts pop up about giving ourselves permission to eat pie, consume what we want, stop when we are full, and many other rights that relate to intuitive eating over the holidays.

Why is it then that it’s so hard to give ourselves permission to push pause? Be it over the holidays or in life after a little one comes along, it seems so hard to give ourselves permission to push pause.

As moms, I think part of it is the guilt game is strong. If we aren’t failing our kids, we often feel we are failing our careers or vice versa. If we push pause somewhere, that inevitably means we aren’t giving or being enough elsewhere.

We feel this need to do it all, be it all, and prove we can manage it all. Even when deep down, sometimes we just want to say, “No, this is enough.”

 
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“Enough”


That’s what maternity leave is for isn’t it?

A time when our lives are reduced down to the most simple and pure state of what is deemed “enough.” To settle into a season with a new little human (and possibly addition) in our families. To create space to heal and to grow, to allow margin from other demands, and to protect a small window of passing time when whatever we can give to the lives within the walls of our home is enough.

To say: My newborn snuggles are enough. My attempt at special time with each older kid is enough. My spit up covered shirt and less-than-cute nursing bra underneath is enough. My exclusive use of curbside pickup for groceries is enough. My reheated coffee (x3) today is enough. My sub-par freezer meals for dinner are enough. My one shared story before bedtime instead of two total is enough. What I am giving is enough.

The internal struggle though to truly accept “enough” in these early days of caring for a new life is real.

After our first, I was a full-time stay at home mom. I soaked up every second in the early days and had no other competing interest other than caring for her. My husband worked almost 80 hour weeks, so it was just she and I most the time. I knew I was her everything in that season and boy, I embraced it. But eventually, it got so lonely and “just” staying home didn’t feel like enough anymore. I didn’t have friends (yet) with kids and I began to want “something else.” What had been enough initially led me into a season of wanting more. I started being interested in food photography, the world of blogging, and how I could continue dabbling in my career from the comfort of my own home. In the Fall before our second child was born, I started a website sharing it only with my mom, best friend, and a few others.

After our second, my husband and I struggled. We wanted to love and bond with our new baby, but the endless crying nearly consumed us. We had prepared to help our oldest in the transition, but we were not ready for how hard some infants could be ourselves. The week we began to research hiring a night nanny, our daughter was almost three months old. She finally turned a corner and things began to get better in our home, but our life as a whole otherwise got turned upside down. After an intervention on my dad and ultimately his passing when our second was eight months old, everything with my business ambitions and professional aims were on pause. I was mom of two and next of kin with no mental or emotional energy to invest elsewhere.

Eventually I got back into finding a balance between work and home life and allotted any spare time I could create into building Veggies & Virtue. I had almost a solid year of twice weekly preschool days to invest in something that truly has become such a dream come true before we found out we were expecting our third child.

That’s what brings us to now.

We had our third child in August, and he couldn’t be any sweeter of a baby. We have been able to reclaim the joys of newborns that were honestly lost last time and own the desire to hog the baby versus hand him or her off. However with a family that is now full and a business that has grown, the very things that are all such a gift, a true blessing, and a humble reminder of all we have been given, are also a lot.

Compared to when I started out searching for and seeking “something else” as a new mom of one, life is different now. My baby is different, my marriage is different, and the needs of my older kids are different.

When there isn’t “enough of me to go around,” I have to be mature and mindful enough as a mom, as well as a health professional, to know when to push pause and prioritize what is in fact, enough.

Pushing Pause

I spent the summer months trying hard to get ahead for an intended maternity leave. I thought that by creating enough content for a projected six weeks of such “leave,” it would lend me some “time off” to care for the little people in my life.

The reality is though, in the now 12+ weeks since Owen was born, I barely feel as though I have worked less. My email autoresponder saying I was “unavailable” didn’t actually stop me from replying to many emails nor did it redirect any of my work elsewhere. My social media use has indeed been less and forced me to make a few modifications to be able to manage it, but it remains something that literally never sleeps nor stops. My blog has continued to post and my newsletters continue to be published. I launched a beta e-series for Love it, Like it, Learning it, which started only weeks after Owen was born.

I pretended I was “still here” with all the automation tools available and all it did was indeed, keep me mentally here, there, and seemingly everywhere… except the one place I so wanted to be: snuggled up with the sole job of loving on my three littles.

Being able to work for myself is a blessing. I have tremendous flexibility to allow for family life, which I am so thankful for. With this, I also have constant temptation though. I never leave the office nor have accounted hours for work or to be with family. Between newborn nights and two preschoolers (neither of which who nap), my work days never go uninterrupted nor as planned. Sometimes my only dedicated time to sit at a computer only lasts for the twenty minutes it takes our little guy to nurse from both sides. I have no one to direct work towards when I’m away nor an organization that keeps operating in my absence while “on leave.” Even if someday a VA would be uh-mazing, I’m not there yet. So me, myself, and I have to be enough.

And right now, there is just not enough of me to go around.

What I know from this time last year is that my kid’s littleness won’t wait for me. The memories I want to be fully present in will pass whether I’m 100% there or not. The gifts I want to give others of my time and service aren’t those seen on social media. The needs most pulling on my heart strings aren’t those penciled on my planner. The “enough” I may never feel I have achieved professionally is actually rather obvious at home… when I am willing to push pause and choose that it is indeed enough for me.

That’s why for the remainder of 2018, I am giving myself permission to not post any new content on my site. I will still have plenty of work to do to get ready for the New Year, but in terms of blog posts, I am pushing pause.

I need to be there for my family. I also need to know that in a world of endless demands and competition, I’m not one more person to pull you away from your family with a few more posts. Since there never seems to be enough of us to go around, let’s instead be moms together that show our children how to push pause. To be present over posted. To value progress over perfection when we realize our plan didn’t pan out how we thought it would. To say, “this is enough and it is well with my soul.”

By making a post out of this announcement (and probably sharing TMI, I know), I am attempting to keep myself accountable to this commitment. I am also hoping that in sharing this piece of my heart, I might encourage another mom out there who needs such permission to push pause too.

I know in each of our jobs (be it at home or in an office), this type of “break” might not be possible around the holidays. But for those of us who might have the only thing holding us back being ourselves and our never-ending “yes” nature, my hope is that we recognize how sometimes saying “no” helps us see what is actually enough. Often when we step away from some of the to do’s that can wait and ambitions that are intended for another day, we can better enjoy the small, the simple, and the sweet moments we too often miss when we are so spread thin.

I am going to do this, and I hope to whatever extent you are able to, you do too.

Happy Holidays, mama. You are enough.

See you in 2019,

Ashley


Scripture that has really spoken to me in this season:
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?” Matthew 16:24-26



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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

Reflections from Thanksgiving 2017

This post was written shortly after Thanksgiving 2017. While we didn’t have phones at the table to show a close up of everything that occurred while eating, I wrote this personal reflection shortly after the holiday in hopes that it could later be used to inspire and encourage other families as we approach another holiday season.

To learn more about How to Handle Feeding Kids over the Holidays, be sure to subscribe here. Members of my newsletter will be the first to know when my link to next week’s blog post goes live - just in time to save a little sanity and restore a bit of joy before all the holiday gatherings!


We are about to speed into Christmas. Literally. We hosted everyone at our home for Thanksgiving less than 24 hours ago and I have already been in the attic most of the morning to pull out all of our Christmas decor. I love this time of year. But yesterday, as we gathered for Thanksgiving dinner, I had a few realizations I felt were too important not to jot down.

Because although this all may not come full circle again until next Thanksgiving (or another large family dinner), there is something that happens during the holidays that doesn't in the day in, day out of feeding our kids:

a realization of progress

I work with many parents who ask me, "How soon until my kid will: ‘…eat everything I offer?’ ‘...like vegetables?’ or ‘…not be so picky?’

Although I wish I had a quick answer to this, I am reminded why I approach my clients and my own family the way I do.

Because a Division of Responsibility in feeding works.

The consistency of what, when, and where we create a pleasant, no-pressure feeding environment pays off. Even when we don't always see it in the day to day, week to week, or even month to month. When we are faced with a more formal family gathering where the menu holds both meaning and a lot more effort than usual put into the meal, we begin to see that from year to year and through all the eating opportunities in between, our kids are learning to be what Ellyn Satter calls, “competent eaters.

For all of you parents who think you aren't making progress, or at least are not yet seeing it, take a seat and read a few reflections from my own weary dietitian-mom heart.


Reflections from Thanksgiving 2017

As I fed my almost two year old tonight, she ate a dinner roll with butter. LOTS of butter. A cup of milk. A handful of peas. A lick of turkey. A poke at cranberry sauce. No interaction with the butternut squash or Brussels sprouts. Then later, a larger than average portion of whipped cream for dessert (she turned down pie! I know, right?!).

I could see how any parent may feel defeated in this. She ate seemingly "nothing." Or at least not what I would have chosen for her to eat should I have been able to spoon feed her. But you know what did happen?

Her almost four year old sister, however, ate like a champ. That same child who has struggled with apprehensive eating for years. The same little girl who two years ago sat in her booster seat and ate a roll with butter. LOTS of butter. A cup of milk. A handful of peas. A lick of turkey. A poke at cranberry sauce. No interaction with the butternut squash or Brussles sprouts. Then later, a larger than average portion of whipped cream for dessert (no pie either…I know!)

But this year?

My older daughter was stoked we were having "turkey bones!" and ate two of them (thankfully I bought extras than just the two on the bird knowing she is on a more recent all-things-protein-on-a-bone kick). She has learned to like mashed potatoes. She accepts cooked peas now in addition to frozen. She was curious to try the cranberry "jam" and liked how sweet it was. She enjoyed one roll (still with a large amount of butter), but it wasn't her end all be all "love it" food that she ate nothing more than. It was just a part of the holiday dinner.

And you know what?

It felt uh-maz-ing.

There were no second meals made. No fits in front of our extended family and friends. No fusses about if/whether and how much she would eat from the meal I had worked so hard to prepare. No fights to eat more, stay seated, or show good manners around the meal and others at the table.

It was just a great time to see that all the hard work put into raising a competent eater had shown up in one of those moments when I really don’t want to have “that kid” who doesn’t eat anything at the holiday dinner.

And I didn’t.

 
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My pride as a dietitian mom has been put through the ringer many, many times, so this desire wasn’t about wanting to look good in front of our company. While no parent wants “that kid” at a big gathering, my desire for an enjoyable was more than that.

My mom heart longed to know the one thing I have wondered often, even as a dietitian:

“Are we even making any progress?”

It was then, amidst the wondering and worrying about all the what ifs for how the meal could go, I was reminded:

Indeed, we are.

I don’t know if next year I will remember these small wins. I don’t know if we will see them repeated again in our oldest, if our youngest will be on board with any new foods, or if the whole meal will be a hot mess despite my best efforts yet again.

What I do know though is that going into the holidays with apprehensive eaters can be stressful, particularly for parents. Our kids often absorb a lot of this stress over what will be offered and if they will even like or want to eat any of it, while most parents carry this weight with them as well. We all want to enjoy the food, the family, the friends, and the festivities of the holiday season. That’s why no matter where you are at in what feels like “attempting” to raise a healthy eater, I hope this personal reflection will help to encourage you to keep on course. You might not see “success” on your average Tuesday, seemingly at all over the past month, or in the moments when you cave and make mac and cheese once again.

My hope, however, is that in that moment you sit your sweet littles down at the beautifully set holiday table this year, you can choose to enjoy the meal and embrace any bit of progress alongside them.

There will be a day our children help us make the very holiday dishes they today turn down. Hang in there.


As we get ready for the holiday season upon us, I want to share with you some of my best advice on how to handle the stresses of feeding kids over the holidays. That’s why next week, I am sharing seven common feeding scenarios (AKA struggles!) from the holiday season plus advice for how to handle them so you can set your family up for success with all the family meals and holiday gatherings to come! It will give you all the tips and tools you need to make your family’s holiday meal one to remember…and not because it was such a hot mess it is scared into your memory kind of thing.

To get the direct link to this article in your inbox next week, enter your name and email below:

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!