Getting Children To Eat Well: Interview with Irene Swedak, Sunita Mohan and Christine Sachse

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Feed Me…I’m Hungry authors Irene Swedak, Sunita Mohan and Christine Sachse are registered holistic nutritional consultants (as well as parents) and the masterminds behind a new cookbook geared at getting the fussiest eater in the bunch to try something new . They also manage to demystify some parental concerns regarding getting your potentially (or confirmed) picky one to eat.

Here’s my interview with the three talented cookbook authors/nutritionists, geared at every frustrated parent out there who just doesn’t know what to do to put healthy food in their child’s body.

How did you come up with this cookbook concept and why now?

Authors: We were all actively working in our field (nutrition) and we were always being asked by our clients for recipes. What we found was that we were always modifying other people’s recipes and that there really weren’t any totally nutritious and delicious recipes out there, so we decided we would write our own instead. All of us are firm believers in preparing quality meals. Instead of masking flavours with additives, we suggest enhancing dishes with simple and natural common ingredients and fresh herbs, and preparation methods that retain as many nutrients as possible. Since children tend to first judge food visually, each selection in “Feed Me…I’m Hungry!” appeals to the eye as well as the palate.

Now is the time we need to look at what are we feeding our children; we need to develop healthy eating habits right from the beginning so as adults our children will be disease free. The childhood rate of obesity is increasing every day. There are too many convenient packaged foods out there. Canadian children aged 7–13 years are becoming progressively overweight and obese.

Any particular tips you can offer parents out there whose children are very picky or unadventurous eaters?

Don’t give up! As parents, we are more concerned with filling their children’s bellies than with feeding their bodies and minds. We encourage parents to try different foods and present them in a fun and inventive ways. Often, kids also need to be introduced to the same food a number of times before they will try it, and then perhaps a few more times after that before they learn to like it.

Educate your child’s palate to enjoy real food. Parents must understand and respect that their children have likes and dislikes, just like they do. Forcing a particular food on your child that he really dislikes is not the answer. Resolve to try it again, on another day. According to experts, it may take up to 11 tries for him to accept it.

From the age of about 1 year, it is essential to provide your child with a variety of textures, tastes, mild spices, and various food presentations. It is common for a child to refuse entire food groups – like meat or vegetables. Do not panic. He is developing his palate and probably going through a phase.

What’s the most effective way to introduce new flavours to children so as not to turn them off?

Food should be enjoyable so first of all, no pressure. Introduce the food in small amounts and with another food that they like. Don’t force them to try it, just expose them to it. Eventually curiosity will get the best of most kids, especially if it is presented in an appealing fun way.

Since vegetables are most often refused, try these tips:

  • Sweet veggies are winners- carrots, red peppers, sweet potatoes, yams, squash, pumpkin, peas, and corn-on-the-cob. Breast milk is naturally sweet, so this taste is well developed.
  • Avocado, apple, pear, apricot, pineapple, mango and papaya are fruits that will “sweeten” the taste of more bitter vegetables, when added to raw dishes or soups/sauces.
  • Use one of the sweet veggies above as a base for soups or sauces. Sneak others into omelettes, rice tabouleh, or stuffed mushroom caps or potato skins. They cook so well in an omelette pan!
  • Grate cucumber, zucchini, or carrot into sauces or soups, or use for garnishing. An in-expensive spiral slicer can help you make amazing “noodles” out of these veggies too!
  • Experiment with thick soups, which are easier to scoop for little ones: pumpkin, leek, gazpacho, borscht, minestrone, and split pea.
  • Soft veggie rollups: thinly shredded veggies, hummus or yogurt, rolled in a whole-grain wrap and cut into bite-size portions. They can even help with the assembly.
  • Offer veggies as a first course with healthy dip. They are more likely to eat them if hungry.
  • Sneak seaweed flakes, ground flax-seed and pumpkin oil into healthy homemade dip.
  • Curries, stir-fries and stews (ethnic dishes): start with these between 12 and 18 months. Keep it simple, with no more than 3 colours, 3 tastes and 3 textures per meal.

What’s the number one mistake parents make when feeding their kids (Is it giving into their every whim, feeding them only what they like- even if it’s “junk” food, giving them too much sugar…)?

What we see is parents being more concerned about filling their child’s bellies, rather than feeding their bodies. What we mean by that is that parents feel horrible if their child should feel a few hunger pangs and so they give in and end up feeding them the same junk food over and over, thereby perpetuating the problem of a picky eater. A child will never starve themselves. Children love options, give them two and let them know French fries are not one of them, end of story, even when they’re homemade in your convection oven or air fryer.

Always have water and healthy options/snacks available. If you give in by offering sugary or salty snacks, you set the stage for using food as a “weapon of sorts” in the future. It’s too easy to fall into this pattern. We recommend checking out the benefits of lemon and lime water!

Toddlers have different appetites – they tend to eat more just before a growth spurt and less during. Recognize and respect these stages. Do not allow toys or distractions (phone, T.V., doorbell, etc.) while eating. Juice, milk and other drinks consumed with meals will fill small children up quickly, leaving them hungry again soon after. Water is the only beverage that should accompany the meal. Make a healthy version of your juice by picking up a juicing book and making it in a juicer.

Like animals, small children refuse food when ill. Do not force-feed. Your child’s body needs energy to fight the illness. Digestion uses so much energy that it negates the body’s efforts to heal. More adults should heed this natural phenomenon. Offer plenty of water, an electrolyte solution, and vegetable-based broths if your child is sick. This is why we also purify our water in a water purifier, such as the BRITA water filter pitcher. This is even better than water that comes from your water cooler.

It’s also important that you cook your meals in safe, BPA free cookware. We recommend a Copper Chef Set, All-Clad Cookware Set, or Calphalon Cookware Set! They’re all BPA free and made of high quality materials.

What if you create a culinary masterpiece – and your toddler won’t try one bite?

Prevent a food war by having healthy snacks and finger foods available. As you prep your main course, leave out some single ingredients and prepare these as simply as possible for your toddler. Many tastes and textures in a mixed dish are refused because of their complexity. Small bowls with one or two ingredients each are often more palatable than combinations.

While you’re here, be sure to check out our kitchen product reviews!

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