Dinner drama: 5 ways to improve toddler meal times

afitmess
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!).

 A Fit Mess

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?

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

afitmess
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!).

Matt

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.

Me

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.

Me

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…

Matt

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?

First day at our new preschool + rethinking toddler meals

afitmess
February 9, 2017
A Fit Mess

Hey there! Happy Thursday, friends.

 

The girls started their new preschool on Monday. I was pretty anxious leading up to their first day, but I made sure to act excited for their “big girl school”. We talked about how things would go that first day so they would have an idea what to expect in the morning. I made sure to tell them that I wouldn’t be staying long (I know from experience that it’s better to leave right away rather than to linger), but that I would be back soon. I think it helped to set that expectation right off the bat.

 

Driving to the school I could tell the girls were nervous. Madison kept saying, “I’m not sure I’m ready for big girl school.” And she asked to stay home several times because she wasn’t “feeling well”. I kept saying it was okay to feel a little bit scared. I reminded her that she will have sissy there and not to worry because everyone is really excited to meet them. At that moment I was reminded how incredibly lucky I am to have twins. The girls have each other to lean on and keep each other feeling safe.

A Fit Mess

When we arrived at school there were a lot of kids. Parents were busy leading their children to their classrooms. Lots of chattering and smiles. Everyone knew what they were doing and where they were going.

 

And the reality of it all set in.

 

In a way I felt like I was starting a new school.  I realized that this was just one of many, many new experiences and first days for these two.

A Fit Mess

We met our teacher (who was super sweet) and the girls put their jackets and bags away. I stayed for just a few minutes to talk with the teacher and get the girls settled. Lots of hugs and a few kisses. Then more hugs. Before I left Ashlyn whispered to me, “I’m scared, mommy!” and I melted for a second. I told her that I was counting on her to keep sissy safe and to be my big girl. She perked up a bit knowing she had this responsibility and then I quickly left. I felt a bit emotional leaving as I realized my girls were growing up.

 

I raced to work and walked into a staff meeting a little late (whoops!) and then worked for several hours until it was time to pick up the girls. When I arrived to pick them up they were happily playing on the playground. They looked like they were having fun!

Several teachers approached me to say how well M & A did. I was told they even got up in front of the entire class to sing a song! Excuse me… My children?! So proud.

 

The teacher sent me a few pictures from their first day and it looked like they had a blast!

A Fit Mess

When I asked them what they thought of their new school they said, “It was fun!”

 

Two thumbs up for big girl school.

A Fit Mess

As many of you know, the girls don’t eat gluten or dairy (aside from yogurt and butter) so we’ll have to adjust to a new routine and meal plan at school. Our previous Montessori school provided breakfast and lunch and the girls received special gluten and dairy free meals (for an extra fee). I didn’t have to bring anything to school other than almond milk (almost everyone there drank cow’s milk) and the occasional replacement treat for birthdays and parties. It worked really well.

Things will change slightly with our new school. We’ll have to have breakfast here before heading out. I’ll have to prepare daily snacks and lunches three days per week. Even though I’m used to preparing meals for the girls, it will be a bit challenging to stick to the school’s guidelines (no nuts, almond milk, etc. and food must be okay to be kept out for a few hours). I totally understand the need for these guidelines and in a way I’m hoping this will help me be a bit more creative with their meals.

 

For their lunches, some of my ideas for meals include:

  • rice + beans + avocado
  • sunflower seed butter and jelly sandwiches (on GF bread or GF waffles)
  • chicken (corn) tacos + sliced cherry tomatoes and cucumbers
  • turkey chili + sliced veggies (carrot sticks, celery, tomatoes)
  • GF chicken nuggets, ketchup, snap peas
  • hummus sandwiches + veggies for dipping
  • buttered rice noodles + peas
  • yogurt + dried fruit + sunflower seed butter

 

I recently bought these insulated lunch bags for the girls (they loved picking out their pattern) and I just ordered these stainless steel thermoses online. I’ve read they keep food warm for several hours so hopefully they will do the trick.

 

I would love some meal ideas from other parents. I don’t want the girls to get bored with their food. And if you have suggestions for lunch containers, please let me know. I’d like to eliminate plastic bags and foil to cut down on waste.

 

Thank you for reading!

 

 

Indoor activities for toddlers {that don’t cost a thing}

afitmess
January 11, 2017

Good morning friends. Thanks for stopping by. I hope your week has been great so far!

 

Today I’m sharing some of the girls’ favorite (and free) indoor activities. Although my kids get outside just about every day, some days the weather forces us to stay indoors. We try to limit screen time in our house, so I often have a list of activities I rotate through to keep my kids busy and engaged. While I love taking them to fun places like DefyGravity, Kidzu, and Notasium, these activities can add up fast (especially with two kids) so I try to incorporate activities that don’t cost much, if anything, into our schedule. Since I know many of you are parents, I thought I’d offer some of these today in case you wanted ideas for your toddlers.

Mall walking: We love, love, love mall walking! As many of you know, I haven’t actually shopped at a mall in years, but I enjoy wandering through the empty floors with the girls before the stores open. My kids can run around and explore and we all get a little movement in. Plus there’s usually at least one coffee shop open (thank you, Nordstrom!) so I can grab a cup while we walk. It’s a win-win!

Southpoint Mall in Durham has an indoor play space for kids which is fun for little ones. There’s tons of seating for parents, too.

 

Barnes and Nobles: I have been bringing the girls to Barnes and Nobles ever since they were infants. As a new parent, it was a friendly and comfortable place to visit when I needed to get out of the house with my babies. Years later, my kids still enjoy going to B&N to explore, play, and read. The kid’s area is a fun space where the girls can wander around, yet still be contained, and there’s always something new to discover.

My children love playing with the train table and can usually stay entertained for quite a while, especially if we stay for story tine. I love being surrounded by books (my favorite atmosphere) and having an interesting area for my kids to explore.

 

Kid cooking: The girls are super interested in cooking and making food right now, so I let them help me prepare some of our meals. Typically they assist with washing vegetables or adding ingredients to the mixing bowl. Other times, I just give them measuring spoons and bowls and let them do their own thing. I’ll put raisins, plantain chips, or Cheerios in bowls and ask them to sort them to help me cook. They usually just eat them! 🙂

Public library: Many local libraries offer story time and other free programs for preschoolers. The girls and I like to attend a weekly Music and Movement class at our library. Afterwards, we’ll stay to look at books and play. There is always something to do in the children’s section, like puzzles, games, and coloring. I also appreciate that there’s a kitchen area in the back where you can sit and enjoy snacks since my children become ravenous whenever we leave the house.

Arts and crafts – We’re big fans of arts and crafts in our home. There is so much you can do with construction paper, scissors, glue, and crayons. Lately I have been letting the girls cut out shapes from our Christmas wrapping paper and old magazines.

We’re always working on some type of project in our house. M & A are really into making beaded necklaces and bracelets. The yarn and beads below came from Michael’s, but you could also use string and buttons for a fun craft!

My friend recently gifted the girls a puppet making craft which they really enjoyed. The kit includes everything you need, like glue sticks stickers and bags. They were fun to put together and were easy to clean up. You could easily replicate this using brown lunch bags and some craft supplies, like markers and stickers. Puppets are fun for acting out plays and bringing stories to life.

 

 

There you have it! I hope this provided you some fun ideas for your kids. I would love to know what you would add! Please share in the comments below!