Simplify Feeding

We all want our kids to eat well. We will try anything and everything to make it happen. But what if sometimes we try too hard and end up mucking it up in the process? There is plenty to be said about simplicity and feeding children–today we are exploring this topic more.

Feeding a family can feel anything but simple. When you try to juggle health and nutrition with preferences and moods, not to mention cost and time feeding a family can quickly feel overwhelming. This is a topic that I've long been interested in and not because I'm any kind of connoisseur in the kitchen, but because I'm a recovering picky eater, I don't think I ate a single vegetable until I was about 19. That coupled with my interest in child behavior and parenting. This is where I chose to focus my doctoral research. In particular, my dissertation looked at the parents' approach to feeding in the early years and the impact it had later in life. So, today I'm going to be sharing a combination of research and my personal experience. And the good news is there is a lot that we can do as parents to get our kids to eat well. And no surprise simplicity plays a huge role, and I'll be sharing more about that today.

Hi, this is Denaye. I'm the founder of simple families. Simple families is an online community for parents who are seeking a simpler and more intentional life. In this show, we focus on minimalism with kids, positive parenting, family wellness, and decreasing the mental load. My perspectives are based on my firsthand experience, raising kids, but also rooted in my PhD in child development. So you're going to hear conversations that are based on research, but more importantly, real life. Thanks for joining us.

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My husband and I have been using Native deodorant for several years. Now give the gift of native this holiday season, by going to, or you can use the promo code simple at checkout. This will get you 20% off your first order. And I promise this is the best deal that you're going to find on native. Make sure you get your order in before December 7th to get your products just in time for Christmas that's, or use the promo code "simple" at checkout. All right, back to today's episode, let's talk about feeding kids. I've long been interested in the intersection of parenting and child behavior and getting kids to eat well, actually, before I started simple families, I had another blog for a couple of years called crib to table, and the focus was on

Setting kids up for success in the early years, and when I started simple families, I knew I wanted to shift my focus more towards simplicity and minimalism, but I also felt called to continue my work in feeding families, but I didn't know how the two would tie together or if they would tie together. But as my children grew and I grew more experienced in feeding my family, I fairly quickly learned that simplicity plays a huge role in getting kids to eat well because the truth is that eating and feeding are things that are very much natural to us, natural and necessary for human survival. And as humanity has evolved and become more complicated, it's no surprise that the process of feeding our families has also become more complicated. I know that many of you listening strive to be responsive parents, and you know that it's important to give your kids options, but how does that play into getting kids to eat well?

Because if you start giving them too many options, it can be a slippery slope. All of a sudden you're cooking two or three meals every night for dinner. Maybe you have kids that will only eat four or five foods, whatever it is you have approached feeding your children with the absolute best of intentions. You want them to eat well and grow well and love food. Have a good relationship with it. Enjoy the time at the table. Universally, our goals are the same, but how do we get from point A to point B? And what if sometimes we try so hard that we end up mucking it up. As you want to preface this episode, by saying that if your child has a feeding disorder or some sort of medical issue that impacts the feeding process, it's going to look a lot different for you. The things that I share today are about the way that I've taken the research and applied it to my own family.

But by no means, is it absolute? What works for my family may not work for your family. So take what works for you and leave what doesn't. This is not meant to be prescriptive. When my first child was born, I was just in the earliest stages of my dissertation work. And in the earliest stages of a dissertation, you're reading every single piece of existing research on the topic that you're studying as a first-time mom. I was home with him while I was working on my dissertation. So we were spending a lot of time together. He was very much my Guinea pig. And to this day, he's always been an incredible eater. Now that's not to say that I can take all the credit for that because there is definitely a nature piece and a nurture piece to this. But with him, I quite literally did everything by the book. And it worked with my second child. I was super overwhelmed. I did what I could, but I also didn't have as much time. I didn't have as much energy.

And I spent much of her first year of life, really in survival mode. So I wasn't as diligent about getting her started off on the right foot. But she's still a great eater. She has a bit pickier and more opinionated, but those characteristics also very much aligned with her personality as well. It's not just food. And you'll find that feeding your own kids' personality and mood can play a huge role in how they eat, back in episode170, if you go to, I talked about over responsive parenting.

Is it possible to be too responsive to our kids' needs overly responsive to the point where it actually has a negative impact on their growth and development in feeding is one of these areas that we see this, that, those good intentions when you've done everything and tried everything and nothing seems to work. Sometimes that's part of the problem. Way back before, as a parent, I heard this piece of parenting advice that has always stuck with me and I use frequently. And it is when you've tried everything, try nothing.

And that wisdom can be incredibly effective because so often we want to try so hard to get it right, and to be everything and do everything that we end up overdoing it. And when we overdo it, we end up putting pressure on and the process becomes more stressful. Whether it's feeding or potty training, getting kids to do homework, there can be a lot of wisdom in this phrase. If you've tried everything, try nothing.

Now I have so much to say on this topic of feeding families, I could talk for hours on this. Actually I have a whole lesson in my foundations program on simplifying mealtimes. But for today I went to Instagram and I got a list of questions from you all. I wanted to be sure that I was answering specifically what you wanted to hear. So, I have a list in front of me and I'm going to try to get through as many as possible.

I'm going to start with the most, common question, which is how do you keep kids at the table? I got this from like 50 different people. There are a lot of different methods to keep kids at the table. You bring toys to the table to entertain them. You turn on the TV. There are definitely Ways that we can get kids to stay at the table that are somewhat contrived. And I do think we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to have our family sitting down for a nice meal at the table, which means we all sit down together. We talk about our day.

We talk about what's going on in the world. And in that vision, children are not getting up and down and leaving the table after two minutes. In that vision, children are not goofing around. They're not arguing. They're certainly not complaining about the food, but I want to take a deeper look at that vision. My kids are four and six and while they definitely can hold a conversation, they're not exactly expert conversationalists.

They're growing and learning their languages, developing, sitting at the table and having long discussions. Isn't where their brains are at right now. So they don't stay at the table that long, but they stay at the table longer now than they did a year ago or two years ago, or three years ago, little by little as they grow. And their language grows and their social skills grow and they enjoy spending time. And having discussions with us, they're going to stay at the table longer.

When we create the table as this welcoming space that they want to be, they will grow to love it. So my goal with our family is to ake the table a welcoming space where they want to be, here they grow to love. It's not a place that I'm going to bribe them to be or forced them to be, or even a place that they always love the food that's being served, because they definitely won't. You might be wondering what this looks like in practice. We start the meal together.

I had a question from here that said, how do you get your, the kids to eat with you? My three-year-old likes to resist our invitations. And every time the word invitation really stuck out there to me because I don't invite my kids to come to the table. I set the expectation that they come to the table and those are different things. Let's say you were finishing your Workday and you're excited to go home and see your family and your boss swung by your door and said, Hey, a few of us are going out to eat.

Do you want to come have dinner with us? That's an invitation you have to decide. Would you prefer to go have dinner with your coworkers and your boss? Or would you prefer to go home and spend time with your family? You have a choice. Now, if you're excited about going home to spend time with your family, that's probably what you're going to choose.

So you're probably going to decline the invitation from your boss. Now instead, imagine your boss swinging by your door and saying, Hey, there, we have a client in town unexpectedly, and we need to take them out for dinner tonight. That's not an invitation. That's your boss laying out the expectation. And it can feel uncomfortable because we want to give our kids choices. We want to give them options. So laying out at the expectation can sometimes feel a little too firm, but it's important.

The expectation is that you're going to come to dinner. It's not an invitation. It's not a choice. It's not an option. We're all going to sit down and eat together. It doesn't mean that it needs to be said in a harsh tone. It doesn't need to be yelled, but it's also not a question. You'll be surprised that when you shift from asking your kids to do things that aren't really optional to laying out the expectation that they do things that your demeanor shifts and that they start to see the difference.

I've done expect that this is going to be a cure all, and it's going to fix it every time. But I do think it's something that's important that we practice really deciding in our own minds. Is this an invitation? Is this optional? Or am I laying out an expectation? If it's the latter, make sure that your words reflect that. Okay. So we all start to enter together. I lay out that expectation. I don't invite my kids to the table, expect them to come to the table depending on what else they're involved in. If it's something that they really love, some kind of play. I may have someone that doesn't hear me the first time I may have to ask twice.

Usually I go and get down on their level, look them in the eye and tell them it's time to eat. Come to the table. I have found that pretty much. Anytime. Just shout from another room. Hey, it's time to eat or Hey, it's time to go to bed. No one hears me or no one listens rather actually being present with my kids. When I'm laying out, an expectation is far more effective. It takes more effort because I actually have to go and find them. But I get far less frustrated because if I'm right in front of them, looking them in the eye, they're much less likely to ignore me. So this is my long winded roundabout way of talking about keeping kids at the table. So we all start the meal together. And then when they're done eating, they're allowed to leave. They don't have to stay at the table, but they can't leave the table and disrupt.

That means I'm not going to go turn the TV on for them. I'm not going to read them a book. I'm going to continue to eat my meal. Now, if you have a kid that gets up and down a lot during meal times, you might just have a wiggly kid. I have one of those. I know that. But also take a look at your own behavior. Are you getting up and down a million times during a meal, every time someone forgets a fork or every time something needs pulled out of the oven, you might accidentally be modeling this up and down behavior. And when we're modeling a behavior, it's hard to teach our kids something different. So just keep that in mind. Now, if you have kids that are excited to do something after dinner, like if you serve dessert after dinner, they're excited to get to the dessert.

Or if you give them TV time after dinner, and they're excited to get to the TV, you can set some limits. So if you do TV time after dinner, or you say TV time starts when everybody is done eating, not just when you're done eating, but when everybody is done eating that way, there's no benefit in rushing through the meal, or if it's five 30 and you have a kid that wants to inhale their food in five minutes and go and run or watch TV, you can say, all right, it's five 30. Now you can watch TV at six o'clock. So there's no rush to eat your food. You have plenty of time. So you can actually set a time on the clock if they're rushing off to do something else, but overall stop putting pressure on yourself to get your kids to stay at the table.

Let them grow to love it. Remember that when they're young sitting still in one place for any amount of time can feel like a really big ask for kids. And it's going to take time and it's gonna take maturation. But trust me, as they grow, they'll come to enjoy spending longer and longer periods of time at the table. So aim to start the meals together, but also be open to the idea that your kids may want to excuse themselves a little bit earlier. All right. My next question comes from Erin. She said, what do you do when your kids hate everything? You make Erin, your kids don't hate everything that you make. They just don't prefer it. And there's a difference. We are guilty of talking about likes and dislikes of food as this finite thing. Either like it, or you don't like it. You liked it week and you don't like it this week.

Let's change and shift and start talking about preferences. Oh, you don't prefer that today. Sometimes I love Mexican food, but sometimes I don't prefer it. I'm just not in the mood for it. It's the same with our kids, but they don't have the words to talk about that in between that ambiguity around food. So you'll often hear love, hate, like dislike. We have to introduce that gray area to them. Oh, it sounds like you don't prefer this tonight. Oh, it sounds like you're not in the mood for this tonight. And that's exactly how I respond to comments. Like, Oh, I hate this or I don't like this, like, Oh, it sounds like you don't prefer this tonight. And what I'm doing there is I'm introducing new language to talk about the food in a new way to think about the food in a new way.That preferences are temporary. Actually, Marie, who was a former foundations participant wrote, okay, this is a question. But tonight for the first time, my four year old son said, I don't prefer this, which is definitely a big win. Getting our kids to talk more politely about food, getting them to start thinking about food preferences in a more fluid dynamic way.

Question from Nods804 on Instagram said, how do I have the ability to cater to adults and kids in one go, or that I would say stop trying to please everyone find a middle ground and understand that not everyone's going to be happy all the time or even most of the time. Personally, the only way that my kids would come to the table with a smile and joy, I would literally have to cook pizza every single night in order for my kids to come to the table happy, food wise, aside from desserts, there are very few things that really light them up. So that's not even my goal.

They really only light up about their very favorite things. Otherwise they just come to the table to eat. It's not this huge point of excitement for them. And that's okay. Often we eat just to eat. Not necessarily for thrills food serves a purpose to nourish our bodies every meal time doesn't have to be magical. Most mealtimes don't have to be magical. Pilot wife AK said my four year old has anxiety.

How do I know if refuses to try new foods is age-based or anxiety based? Food Neophobia is very common in the early years. That's the fear of trying new foods. And there is quite a bit of evolutionary evidence that thousands of years ago, as children were growing and they were starting to wander away from their mothers, that they developed these tendencies to avoid new foods as a protective mechanism. So they wouldn't eat things that were poisonous. Wouldn't eat things that were toxic or rotten.

So in the early years, usually starting around two, some of these tendencies still prevail. So for this, the same reason that kids will avoid new foods, they'll also avoid bitter foods in certain flavors because often bitter flavors could be associated with poisonous berries or harmful plants. It's kind of frustrating that even though our kids are not wandering around in the forests, foraging for survival, they still have retained these tendencies, these tendencies that used to keep them alive.

Now just kind of frustrate us when we're trying to keep them healthy. Katie Quick flowers said my 18 month old is going through a phase of barely eating anything. How do I trust her? Assuming there's nothing medical going on here. It's not unusual for kids to go through periods of time where they're really not eating that much. And we can think that we know their appetites and we can predict their appetites, but we really can't. They are the only ones who know the quantities that their bodies need. So we do have to trust them. Haynane said, I get stuck in a rut for feeding a nine month old carbs always seem to win in the first year of life.

Solid food is more about the learning experience, learning how to chew, learning, how to explore these new flavors. The real source of nutrition is breast milk or formula, solid food is more or less the icing on the cake. There's the saying before one, just for fun. So stay focused on fruits and vegetables in the first year. Will babies eat lots of carbs and bread and that sort of thing? Yes, definitely. If you give it to them, but they should really be filling up first, foremost on the source of milk that supplies, the key nutrients that they need. And then after that, mostly on fruits and vegetables, Deanna Damon said, how do I get kids not to waste food and understand that it's expensive. It's so hard. Start very small, give them very small portions on their plate. This is actually a really good strategy for introducing new foods as well.

Because if you want your kids to eat some peas and you give them this huge heaping pile of peas, it's going to feel intimidating. The mere placement of a giant pile of peas in front of them is setting this expectation that they're supposed to eat this big pile of peas. And the more likely that they're going to resist, if they're feeling pressured, they're going to resist. So instead, literally give them three peas. You don't know if they're going to eat them. You don't want them to go to waste and you also don't want to overwhelm and pressure them. So, if you're serving a food to your kid, that you're not sure they're going to eat, just make sure that you're giving them a very small quantity to start out. Not only does it decrease waste, but it also feels like less pressure, just Power22 said, what do you do if you're trying to have a more structured meal time and all they want to do is play.

I think you have to be really clear about what you're looking for in a structured meal time. Like I have a friend who grew up in a home where in order to come to the dinner table, the boys had to be wearing colored shirts. The girls had to be dressed just so that's what a structured meal time looked like in that family. It doesn't look like that in our family, and in our family I'm really careful to set age appropriate expectations around this, age appropriate expectations around how long they're going to stay at the table? How still they're going to be? How quiet they're going to be? I think you have to create the vision that works and is realistic for your family. LindseyThomas89 said, how do you tell if a child has sensory issues related to food or is just picky? I would say on some level, all children have sensory issues related to food because sensory sensitivities occur when we're not used to something.

So, I remember the first time ate sushi, the sticky rice, the slippery fish from a sensory perspective, it was all very new and different to me. And it was off putting at first. That doesn't mean that I have sensory processing disorder, just because I had a sensory sensitivity to sushi when I first ate it. So yes, I think most children have sensory sensitivities to new foods. And I think that's just a normal part of learning and growing and developing a varied palette. There's not really this firm dividing line between, is it something sensory or is it just pickiness experiencing the sensory input that comes with new textures can result in pickiness? I would say generally, there's no absolutes on sensory processing.

It's not, does a child have sensory processing challenges or does the child not have sensory processing challenges? If you think about a brand new baby coming into the world, all of their senses are being activated for pretty much. The first time, the bright lights, the loud noises, the new tastes, the new touches, a newborn is incredibly sensory sensitive as children grow so many of the experiences and the sights and the sounds and the touches continue to be new. Growing up might just be like one big sensory desensitization process. Try to say that fast.

So I would argue that all growing children have sensory sensitivities and exposure generally helps to fade those. Now there are some children whose sensory sensitivities don't naturally fade away and they do need extra support from a therapist or from a specialist in these areas. But generally remember that sensory sensitivities exist on a spectrum. All kids have some kind of sensory sensitivities as they're learning and growing and being exposed to new things, whether or not they are inhibiting their ability to grow and develop in normal ways. That's really the question are the sensory issues disrupting their daily life.

And if so, that may be the point where they need to seek extra support and extra help. Jasmine Power said, my kids proclaimed that they hate it and refuse to eat it. And I feel sad about all the work that I did. Okay. So my kids legitimately, didn't like what I cooked last night. I didn't even like what I cooked last night. I totally botched the recipe and it was pasta. So, you know, it was a rough night, but let me lay out how we approached dinner time and how I handled that because it was bad, but I still ate it. My husband's still ate it. It wasn't inedible a huge part of getting kids to come to the table. Getting could see you well. And just on hunger, if a kid has been snacking a lot and they're not hungry, they're not going to eat well at meal mealtimes.

And a rule of thumb is you can eat as much as you want at meal times, but snack quantities are limited. Meals are meant for filling up. Snacks are meant for tiding you over, and in our house snack times generally are fruit, frozen fruit, dried fruit, fresh fruit. Sometimes we do some yogurt or popcorn, but I don't have a million really delicious options for snacks. I don't have a bunch of snacks that my kids would seek out and try to fill up on. We don't really keep a lot of sugar and processed food in the house and that makes it easier. We do however, go out for desserts and eat out and I don't regulate candy and sugar and that sort of thing outside of the house, we just don't keep it in the house. So I practice what I call meal windows, and this is something that I purely made up and it really works for our family.

Take it or leave it. So I do the school pickup at 3:30. My son is ravenous at 3:30. He needs a large snack, at least probably 300 calories in order to just not eat his hand. So when I pick him up, I have a snack in the car and I give it to him after school, we generally eat around five o'clock. So our meal window dinner time for us is really a two hour window of time. It's not just when we're sitting down at the table, it's the hour before dinner and the hour after dinner, we generally eat at five. So our dinner window is four to six. During that window of time, there's no snacking. If I'm prepping food, if they're helping me, they can snack on things that I'm preparing for the dinner. But other than that, they're not snacking the hour before the meal and the hour after the meal, if they're hungry and they're so wanting food, they can eat what I'm serving for dinner.

They can have what's on their plate or leftovers. So we do after-school snack right around three 3:30 at pickup, and then they don't eat anything until right around five when I serve dinner and usually by then, they're pretty hungry. And that helps them to eat well. Now, last night, they came to the table, fairly hungry at five and maybe ate like one bite or two bites because it was not very good. And then they decided not to eat anything else. And that was okay. So after the meal window was over at six, actually we usually do bathroom on six. So about 6:30 after their baths, they had a snack just like they do every night. And last night they had a more sizable snack. So they didn't go to bed hungry.

Now the thing about bedtime snack is if you have something that is really, really delicious, you might have kids who just hold out for bedtime snack. So I try to keep our bedtime snacks pretty neutral. We usually do fruit. Sometimes we do plain yogurt with honey, but we keep it simple. Sometimes after my daughter brushes her teeth and she's laying down in bed, she'll decide that she's hungry and that's super frustrating. So I have a rule that if you lay down in bed and you tell me that you're hungry, you can either have a piece of bread or a banana. Now it's these two things, because my kids don't really like to snack on these things.

We keep whole wheat bread and they eat it as sandwiches and what not, but it's not something that they love to eat just plain by itself. And the same with bananas. They really don't like to snack on bananas. They'll eat them, but it's not something that they ask for. And the reason I give those two options is because they're rather filling, but they're not particularly delicious. So if she's really hungry, she's going to take the bread or the banana. But if she's just kind of procrastinating and avoiding going to bed bored, she's probably not going to eat the banana or the piece of bread. And then she'll just go to bed. So it's kind of like a hunger litmus test. If you're really hungry, you'll eat the bread and banana. If you're just procrastinating bedtime, you'll probably pass on it. But overall, my kids eat well. They have a good relationship with food. They try everything without pressure. And they're slowly learning to sit and enjoy time at the table. I see them getting better and better at this. As they get olde.

I follow Ellen Satter division of responsibilities, which says the adults pick what the food is in the child Picks how much they want to eat, or if they want to eat at all in particular, when it comes to mealtime, I choose what I'm serving at meal times, usually avoiding anything that's too spicy or too zesty, which I know my kids have a hard time with and they choose what they want to eat for snacks. Aside from that one late night, bedtime snack. If you want to hear more on this topic, I went more in depth on some of these ideas in episode 101. So go to simple 101.

Now keep in mind. That episode was from close to two years ago. So a lot's changed as my kids have grown. And I've learned, I want to say Thanks so much for tuning in. I hope you found this episode to be helpful. I would love if you would take a moment to leave a rating or review on ITunes, have a good one.

Denaye Barahona

Denaye Barahona is a loving wife and mama of two. She's a therapist for moms, an author, and the host of the top-ranked Simple Families Podcast. Denaye holds a Ph.D. in Child Development and is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. She has been featured on the likes of The Today Show, Netflix, The Wall Street Journal, Real Simple, Forbes, and numerous other media outlets.