Dinner drama: 5 ways to improve toddler meal times

March 29, 2017
A Fit Mess

As most parents know, feeding toddlers can be challenging to say the least. I have to laugh when I think back to all the times when the girls happily ate the blended green beans and pea pudding I placed before them as babies. Matt and I used to get a kick out of how much they ate and the variety of foods they enjoyed (sardines were always a family favorite).


Now that my kids are older (the girls will be 4 this summer!) they have more defined preferences and tastes. As such, it can be difficult to get them to try new things and to incorporate the same kind of variety in their diets as when they were babies.


But as we all know: toddlers are completely independent, know exactly what’s best for them, and can make their own decisions. Period. Or as Madison likes to inform me, “No. I won’t listen to you, mommy!”


All joking aside, toddlers can be quite finicky when it comes to food, making their meals difficult at times. Over the last several months, we’ve incorporated a few things that have worked really well for our family and has made meal time easier and more enjoyable. I wanted to share these tips with you in case you, too, struggle with this as a parent.


I should probably premise this with stating that I am absolutely NOT an expert at parenting (far from it!) and some days these methods work and sometimes they don’t work at all. But we try to stay consistent with our practices and have found that they really help. As always, I would love your thoughts and suggestions. I want this blog to be a place where we can learn from one another (myself included!).

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1.  We sit together during our meal.

While this doesn’t always happen, we try to sit at the table for most of our meals. The girls and I have breakfast together almost every day (Matt leaves for work before any of us are awake), and they eat lunch at school most days. Dinners are spent eating together as a family. Some days Matt works late and will eat after us. Other times the girls are hungry as soon as I get home so I’ll prepare their dinner early and sit with them while they eat.

Why this is important to us: I don’t have many memories of eating around the table as a family when I was younger (mostly because my mom got sick when I was still little and my dad was trying to juggle everything). My dad cooked as often as he could, but we also had relatives make meals for us, various caregivers tended to us, and we ate a lot of prepared food. It wasn’t until I became an adult that I truly appreciated the act of sitting around a dinner table. Food connects a family in many ways. It’s a chance for us to come together and enjoy a meal. It allows us to talk and to share details of our day. It’s extremely important to me that we continue this tradition as a family so it’s definitely a priority in our house.

2.  Our kids eat what we eat.

For too long I was preparing items that I knew the girls would eat and got into the habit of making them “their” meal and then preparing something else for myself and Matt. I hated when I made them something and they wouldn’t eat it. I’d then run through the alternative items I could make them. The problem with this (other than the fact that I felt like a short-order cook) was that the girls weren’t being exposed to different tastes, textures, and smells. Not to mention all the vitamins and nutrients they missed. Sure, part of the issue was that I let them run the show. I worried they would go hungry so I tried to make them things I knew they’d actually eat. I eventually realized how crazy this was – my kids would NEVER go hungry and I needed to show a bit of tough love. Nowadays, the girls eat what we eat and I try to limit the items I prepare for them.  Sure, there are things that I make for them that I don’t often eat with my meals (buttered toast, popcorn, pasta) but for the most part they eat some version of what we are eating (protein, veggies, and starches).


3.  No toys or TV at the table.

Like a lot of toddlers, my kids can easily be distracted. While we try to limit their TV time in general, we definitely don’t let them watch TV during meals. And toys are to be kept away from the dinner table until they’re done eating. Meal time is not play time. This keeps the attention on the meal and the focus on your food. I’m trying to work on this as well since I often eat lunch at my desk and will inevitably skim emails and read while I eat.


4.  Keep portions small.

I used to load up the girls’ plates with a variety of food at once and I’ve recently transitioned to a different approach. Now I give them a little bit of food (protein, starch, and veggie) and I’ve noticed that they end up eating more than if I piled the food on their plates. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure why this works so well, but I think having a smaller portion encourages the girls to eat. And if they finish something and want seconds then I will give them more. Having smaller portions is also helpful if I want them to try something new (a vegetable, a tiny bit of meat, or something I haven’t prepared in a while). Additionally, I think sometimes my kids can get overwhelmed with choices if there is too much on their plate. And limiting the amount of food is a good way to check whether they are actually full or just eating for the sake of eating.


5.  Save fruit for the end.

My kids are fruit fanatics. If given the choice, they would eat fruit for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I’ve started to wait until the girls have eaten their protein and sampled their veggies before offering fruit. This encourages them to fill up on the important foods before going for the fruit. I know some parents who recommend serving food in courses so that their kids will at least try certain items, but Matt and I don’t eat like that personally so it doesn’t really make sense for us to introduce that style in our home.


Additional notes:

  1. We are snackers. The girls really like to graze and I think this is typical toddler behavior. If the girls say they are hungry, I will always offer them food. I know some parents discourage snacking, but I don’t agree with this. Kids are extremely active, have fast metabolisms, and process food differently than adults. Their nutritional and caloric needs are not the same as ours.
  2. Some days my kids will have less or more of an appetite. This is something I try not to worry about. As I said above, my kids will never go hungry. I don’t force them to eat if they don’t want to and I don’t deny them extra servings (within reason).
  3. We talk a lot about what food does to/for your body. We really enjoy describing the benefits of the food we eat. For example, we’ll say that meat contains protein and makes you strong or sweet potatoes give you energy and vitamin C. Before eating something the girls will ask us, “Is this good for your body?” which always makes me smile.


I would love to know what your thoughts are on this. Have you made any changes to meal time that has helped?

Friday faves 22

February 24, 2017

Happy Friday! Yay – we made it. How did the week turn out for you? Please tell me it was good! I’m diving in with some Friday favorites and fun things to share.


Friday faves 22


Jojoba oil – I have been using this a lot as a moisturizer for my face and hands. I love the slightly nutty smell and it feels great on my skin. I also use it to remove eye makeup (add a small amount to a cotton ball). Trader Joe’s carries it on the cheap, but you can find it just about anywhere.

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This “papa” shirt my sister gifted to the girls. Madison is modeling her blue steel look below. This girl kills me.

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All the 4T clothes ever made (courtesy of my sister). She’s the best. Seriously, this picture is only about half of the clothes she brought. It took us forever to sort through it all. No lie.

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Nail Stop: My sister and I took her girls to have mani-pedis done while they were here visiting. This place is so neat that I had to share for any local friends. First of all, it’s huge! There is a separate kid’s area as well as a private room for groups. There’s also an espresso/coffee bar and cocktail bar for adults. Perfect, right? Highly recommend!

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Here’s the darling kid’s section.

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This giant Mama NEEDS SOME coffee mug. #truth

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I had some photos taken with Amelya Jayne Photography and I am super happy with how they turned out. I’ve added them to my Workouts and About Me pages. Is there anything more awkward than having your picture taken?

Location: Carpe Diem Personal Training

The pizza Matt makes is honestly the best! We had it last week, but I’m still dreaming about it. The crust is from Julie Bauer’s Paleo Cookbook, but he does his own sauce and toppings. This one had a little Parmesan cheese sprinkled on top and roasted broccoli.

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Cousin love! <3 Such cuties!

Warm weather treats. The girls have been asking for “ice cream” a lot lately. I think we are all looking forward to spring!

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Fun/interesting links:

Want to try CrossFit? Here’s what you need to know.

Women like to compete against themselves: I found this NYT article interesting from a professional standpoint, but also from a fitness focus. I love competing against my past performance – it matters more to me that what others may be doing.

Chocolate covered vegan cookie dough bars – a long title, but looks soooo yummy!

This deadlift video demo that Matt shared with me (I love him because he sends me power lifting videos during the day).


What are you loving lately?

P.S. I did my first official CrossFit class yesterday and I am stupid sore today. Everything hurts.



The trade offs of parenting + our divide and conquer bedtime routine

February 14, 2017

Happy Valentine’s Day! I hope you have a sweet-filled day! My kids have a bit of the crud right now so we have been laying low today. I feel like we have been sick this entire season. Here’s hoping it passes soon. Today’s post has been in draft form for weeks, but I just couldn’t get around to finishing it. I would love to know how others split their time or if you’ve made some changes that have worked for your family.


Finding balance when you have a family and work outside of the home can be difficult. I’ve tried it all: full-time, part-time, flextime, daycare, etc. – and in each situation it felt like a trade-off in time, money, or memories. Like a lot of working parents, I’ve struggled with the guilt that often goes along with having a career and not being with my kids all the time. I’d think: I should do it all because I’m the mom. I’ve realized that this doesn’t exactly work for me and it’s not realistic to try to do everything.


What seems to work the best for us is a blended approach. The girls are in preschool three days per week, but we also have a nanny who cares for them on certain days. I now work part-time and I’m home with the girls two days per week. And although I still experience guilt that I’m not “doing it all” and occasional jealousy of my friends who don’t work, I honestly feel like this is the best setup for our family.

At school the girls can learn and be exposed to new ideas. They can interact with others and have a variety of experiences. They have a nanny who truly loves them and can care and comfort them just as I would. And I have my own time with the girls. I wouldn’t trade that for the world. I no longer feel stressed or pressured about work since I have dropped my hours and the time I have with them is truly OUR time. So for now it works. Will things change? Yes. And then we’ll try to find another routine.


I say this because sometimes it can feel like you have to do one thing or the other. Often the best approach can be a little of everything. I realize not everyone may have the ability to work part-time, or find (and keep!) a great nanny, but it’s worth exploring different solutions for your family. This requires a little give and take, asking for help, and recognizing when you need to change your approach.


Bedtime routine

Matt and I have made some adjustments at home to make managing the girls a bit easier. We call it our “divide and conquer approach.” I thought I’d share a few examples of the ways we partner on the bedtime routine since that seems to give us the most trouble (this is definitely not something we’ve mastered!).


Bath time – When the girls were infants, giving them a bath was unquestionably a two person job. It was impossible to bathe them without two sets of hands. As they got bigger, I began giving the girls their baths on my own. I really enjoyed doing it, too. Then things changed and they started fighting me about taking a bath. It was a battle to wash or rinse their hair and there was a lot of frustration on my part. I began to dread bath nights because I knew it would challenging. Matt kept offering to do the bath, but I hated the idea of giving it up because it was supposed to be “my” thing. More than that, I was afraid that Matt would do it better (which he did!). But it works so much better for us now. And I use the free time to straighten up the kitchen and pack meals for the next day.


Getting pajamas on and combing hair – This might seem like a simple task, but it’s not. The bath revves up my kids like nothing else. They run around half-naked, dancing like lunatics until I force their pajamas on them. And their hair can get really tangled (Pssst. I use this on Ashlyn’s hair and it’s the only thing that works). I let the girls pick out their pjs and then I help them get dressed and ready for bed.

Both of us

Brush teeth and potty – This is one we share, but Matt usually has the toothbrushes set up and ready to go. We let the girls brush (aka suck the toothpaste off) and then we do the actual brushing and cleaning. We also help them floss which is ridiculous. One of us will take the girls to the potty once or twice before bed.


Story reader – I pick out one book and then the girls add about a dozen more. 🙂 So I’ll read a few stories at night and then we’ll play a little bit with the lights low. We also talk a bit and go over what will happen the next day. Once I tuck them in, they usually ask me for snuggles, hugs, and one more story so I’ll make up a super short one that lasts around 30 seconds. It tends to be about a kitty who is lost or a hippo who ate too much. Then lights out.

Lights out continues for another 15 minutes…back and forth…in and out of bed…


Bedtime closer – Matt’s the “El Duque” of bedtime. If it were left soley up to me then our good nights would last an hour. The girls intentionally like to drag out the bedtime by asking for more snuggles, kisses, stories, etc. I secretly love it, but sometimes it becomes impossible to get them settled. So once I feel like the girls are ready I’ll tell them Daddy will be up to tuck them in and bring them a sip of water. He’ll have them out immediately – hah!


The End.


What is your schedule like?

Do you have a specific bedtime routine with your kids?

20 things you might not know about me

September 20, 2016
A Fit Mess

We’re still in the getting-to-know-you stage, right? Well, today I wanted to share a fun post that might help you get to know me better. I’d love to know some things about you, too, so play along below. Ready?


20 things you might not know about me


1.  I somehow managed to have two extra adult teeth in my mouth when I was younger. I had those – along with four additional teeth – pulled. No pain like teeth pulling pain.


2.  I am terrified of clowns. I blame this on my parents for letting me watch IT when I was a 8! #badparenting


3.  I won a regional storytelling contest when I was in middle school. It was kind of a big deal (for me). The story I told was “Wicked John and the Devil.” I can still recall parts of it! Ha Ha


4.  I was a french major in college for a hot minute before switching to business and then to law and finally to political science. I thought my advisor was going to kill me. I ended up minoring in business and then got my MBA.


5.  My favorite foods include: sushi, carrot cake, peanut butter, coffee, and wine (drinks can be food, right?)

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6.  When I was a toddler I bit into a tube of superglue and had to be taken to the ER to have my mouth pried open (I believe the doctors used a spoon). I’m not going to point fingers, but my dad was supposed to be watching me.


7.  99% of the time that I worry it’s about my kids.


8.  My idea of a perfect morning is to wake up early, drink coffee in a quiet house while I write, spend some time with my family having breakfast, and then get in a hard workout.

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9.  My happy place is definitely the beach. I love the salty air. I visualize being at the beach when I need to relax.


10.  I’m not a natural blonde <— you didn’t know that, DID you?! 🙂


11.  Things I hate: balancing my checkbook, getting my oil changed, snow, and anything involving the DMV.


12.  My parents named all three of their children with an “A.” And our last name starts with an “A”. Real funny, mom and dad.


13.  I am technically from Niagara Falls, but I lived in Buffalo for several years before moving to NC. Yes, chicken wings and pizza are awesome in Buffalo. No, I don’t love snow (see #11).

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14.  I can make some really amazing Paleo desserts. My favorite is a chocolate peanut butter fudge tart.


15.  I have a problem spending money on workout clothes, sneakers, coffee, and Orangetheory.


16.  I once had to defend my thesis in college to three (male) political scientist professors, including the department chair. My topic? The Gender Gap in the House of Representatives – Why Women Don’t Have a Place at the Table. Talk about nervous.


17.  I still get carded for alcohol (Ok, I secretly love it).


18.  I could run all day on the treadmill, but put me in a pool and I can barely move. Swimming is HARD!


19.  My favorite places to kill an hour of time: Target, Nordstrom Rack, Starbucks, the gym!


20.  I love being a mom to two girls. Our house is 75% female. Oh, yeah!

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Okay, now it;s your turn. Share one thing about yourself below. C’mon it’s fun!