From First Bites to Picky Eaters: A Food Survival Guide For Parents

As natural medicine pediatricians we can’t overstate how critical good nutrition is for building healthy bodies and brains. However, we also recognize that hectic lifestyles and the convenience of packaged foods are real-life challenges to feeding your kids unprocessed, whole foods.

But as parents, YOU have the power to arm your children with a lifetime of healthy eating habits – and we’re here to help you do just that.

At GetzWell Pediatrics, we spend a lot of time talking to our families about what to feed their kids. Below we’d like to share some of the common concerns we encounter in our San Francisco pediatric practice and offer our expert advice for promoting healthy eating from the get-go.

1. Is there a simple approach for figuring out what to feed my kid?

Yes! If you stick with a whole foods-based diet (meaning few or no processed foods) and stay away from products (even organic!) that have more than 5 ingredients, you’ll be in good shape. A good rule of thumb comes from Michael Pollan who said: Don’t eat (or feed your kids) anything your great grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.

2. Is organic really that important?

Babies and children eat, breathe and drink more, pound for pound, than we grown-ups do. Combined with that they have immature detoxification ability (a fundamental biological process) so they are less effective at getting rid of the toxins they are exposed to. We know that toxins can cause behavior problems, ADHD, and allergies to name just a few. As natural medicine pediatricians we think it’s a priority to feed your kids things that are as whole food based and toxin and sugar free as possible. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has created a list of the “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean Fifteen” to help guide your purchases (and these are updated yearly). That way, you don’t have to buy organic everything, which can be expensive. Even stores like Grocery Outlet and Safeway in San Francisco offer a pretty wide selection of discounted USDA organic labeled products.

3. My baby is ready for solids. Where do I start?

Children form associations with food very early in life and parents have a real opportunity to influence their child’s taste preferences. You have the chance to create and nurture a food culture in your home, and beginning with baby’s first bite you provide information about what food is. If all food comes in a package and tastes bland or sweet, then that’s exactly what your child will prefer. If food is colorful and full of complex flavors and natural textures from the moment they start eating, then your kid is much more likely to be a healthy eater, for a lifetime! “Baby food” is an invention of the 1950s when anything you could buy in a package was considered better than what could be made at home. This is a misconception that is completely untrue. So ditch the constipating, highly processed rice cereal and offer your baby a pureed version of a stew (that you would eat and is delicious!). See #5 below for more details.

4. I have a picky eater on my hands. Is there anything I can do?

It’s important to set clear rules and boundaries and not become a short-order cook when your child doesn’t want to eat what’s prepared. The mantra we teach parents is, “It’s my job to decide what-when-where and it’s their job to decide how much or none at all.” This is obviously easier said than done at times, but for most healthy kids this works because they won’t starve themselves and eventually will eat a little. Also, involving children in cooking prep and having a one-bite rule can be helpful so that they try things, which eventually they may decide they like.

And don’t worry, kids aren’t going to like everything you offer them. The idea is not to give up after a single try. It’s all about opening their little worlds to a universe of food variety as early as possible.

5. I’m super busy. What’s a good no prep alternative to stuff I buy at the store?

Making “baby food” may seem daunting, but what if you just fed your baby what you eat (assuming we’re not talking pizza and cheeseburgers)? Some parents choose to make large batches of soups/stews or “one-pot” type meals and the adults eat half of it and they freeze the other half, pureed and portioned into glass or silicone containers for future use. Then, on any given day, you thaw one serving for baby. You might even consider “tweaking” it a bit by adding cinnamon one day, a pat of butter the next, perhaps a little curry powder the day after that and so on. That way you have a healthy base to which you combine additional flavor profiles so that your baby is exposed to and shaped by a wide variety of taste experiences. Fun!

GetzWell’s got the goods on nutrition.

One of the many personalized services we offer as natural medicine pediatricians is nutritional counseling to both parents and children. Give us a call at our San Francisco offices at 415-826-1701 – we’d love to design a nutritional plan based on your family’s unique needs.