Ep. 47 – Dr. Natasha Beck – 10 Ways To Get Your Child To LOVE Healthy Eating
- A guideline for kids who don’t want to eat or really do want to eat...a lot.
- How to set a tempting tone for gathering around your family table.
- Why we want to warmly welcome children into our kitchen and cooking.
Picky eaters. Slow eaters. Messy eaters. Overeaters.
With young children, mealtimes can feel more like endurance than enjoyment. Providing a healthy diet is one thing. Getting our kids to eat it is another.
In this episode, Dr. Natasha Beck (aka Dr. Organic Mommy) offers 10 creative tips for healthy eating, that you can start implementing right away.
Dr. Natasha BeckDr. Natasha Beck holds a doctorate in Clinical Psychology, specializing in pediatric neuropsychology. During her clinical work at the University of Southern California Medical Center, Natasha saw firsthand how diet and lifestyle affect children’s behavior; that a child’s ability to sustain attention, soothe and self regulate is helped or hindered by their habits around health and food.
Realizing many parents need support, Natasha shares online as Dr. Organic Mommy, posting for the public about parenting, pregnancy, and motherhood, with all proceeds from her site going directly to charities that support children and families.
Ep. 47 – Dr. Natasha Beck – 10 Ways To Get Your Child To LOVE Healthy Eating
Rachel Cram – Well, Natasha, thank you so much for joining me today in this conversation. For listeners, I have to say, you are about to meet a very kind and patient person because this is our third try at this interview and each time we’ve had to rebook due to technical problems. So Natasha, you are a much anticipated guest and a great sport.
Dr. Natasha Beck – Thank you so much for having me, Rachel. I really appreciate it.
Rachel Cram – Oh, thank you for enduring.
Dr. Natasha Beck – Of course.
Rachel Cram – We’re going to make this the best interview you’ve ever had.
Dr. Natasha Beck – I can’t wait.
Rachel Cram – OK, good. Well, you know, as I was driving to the studio this morning, I was thinking about our conversation and thinking about how even my relationship to food and eating habits has changed across my lifetime so far. And becoming a parent was definitely a pivot point for my perspectives on food because I wanted to raise healthy kids. But between the what, when and how’s of eating habits, there are many opinions. So I’m eager to probe into your professional and practical advice with some questions Natasha.
Dr. Natasha Beck – Can’t wait, I’m ready to answer them.
Rachel Cram – Thank you. Well, I know that in addition to your doctoral work in family health, you have a thriving and generous online presence offering support to parents. Can you give an overview of the focus of your work?
Dr. Natasha Beck – Sure. So I went to graduate school in clinical psychology and I chose to specialize in pediatric neuropsychology, which involves evaluating a child across a number of different facets. I would put together a comprehensive neuropsychological battery, looking at a child’s verbal skills, their visual perceptual skills, looking at more detailed spatial skills, their frustration tolerance, their working memory, to put together all the pieces of the puzzle to see how best to treat this child.
Rachel Cram – What would let a parent know that they needed to access somebody with your kind of expertise?
Dr. Natasha Beck – Any time your child is struggling with their typical daily routine, they’re struggling in school. If they are having difficulties with their peers, if they are struggling with their lifestyle habits, they have extreme separation anxiety past the typical developmental age, like if a nine year old just never wants to leave you and they just seem like they can’t overcome that. So any time you see your child struggling, there’s no harm in getting an evaluation just to get some peace of mind and get some more information.
Rachel Cram – Well, and obviously, you do a lot around food and eating habits as well. And that’s where we’re going to go today in the conversation. But before we jump into that, I’d love to ask a question just to get a little bit more about who you are as a person. So here’s the question. Aristotle stated, “show me a child at seven and I will show you the adult.”
And I’m wondering, Natasha, is there a particular story or experience from your childhood that you see as formative in the adult that you are today?
Dr. Natasha Beck – Yeah, that’s a great question. So at 15, I was diagnosed with dyslexia, which is commonly known as reading disorder now as well as ADHD. And it’s expensive to get testing. It’s hard to get someone who’s very thorough and to get those resources and recommendations and accommodations done. It motivated me to go into this area to help others have opportunities which I was given. A lot of children aren’t given those opportunities unfortunately. So that’s where I landed as I got older and that’s where I’m at today.
Rachel Cram – Before you were diagnosed, do you remember back into your childhood having struggles that that diagnosis at fifteen addressed?
Dr. Natasha Beck – Yeah, I definitely remember seeing my younger sibling approach things in a different way. I saw her handle things easier. And that’s also what my parents saw. And that’s what tipped them off that something may be missing in the puzzle with me. I would memorize everything. I could literally memorize the entire book. Reading, it was so hard for me.
Rachel Cram – So you had some great coping skills. But I find that encouraging because I think often as parents, when our kids are struggling, when they’re younger, you can feel like, “Oh, is their future going to be bleak?”
And here you are. You have your master’s, you have your PhD and you’re helping thousands of people. So that’s very encouraging.
Dr. Natasha Beck – Thank you.
Rachel Cram – Now, online, you are known as Dr. Organic Mommy, which is a great title, and you recently posted a blog that got a lot of response called Ten Ways To Get Your Kids To Love Healthy Eating. And I can see why people loved it because as parents we tend to carry stress around food; what, when and how our children eat. We read about obesity, malnutrition, eating disorders and it can leave us uncertain and even anxious. Can you speak to that anxiety?
Dr. Natasha Beck – Sure. So I find that allergies and medical issues aside, because those are very tough, typically parents, they have to address what’s going on with them.
Rachel Cram “Going on with them” as parents? That’s what they need to address?
Dr. Natasha Beck – Correct, because sometimes, when they were children, they might have had disordered eating. They might have struggled with a certain type of food, or they were so restricted, or they were concerned about their weight, and so they may be projecting that onto their child. So I find that parents really need to address that with themselves and have some reflection to figure out what are your concerns and why are you having those concerns because it comes down to modeling and education.
I was a child who grew up in the 80s and 90s. And, we were told, “Oh, it’s got to be fat free, or sugar free.” and the food system honestly was so messed up. So I didn’t want to project that onto my children. And I have a seven year old child, a five year old and a two and a half year old. And so I was very mindful of that, not to go too extreme, “OK, you can never have any of these things,” but to educate my children as well as provide a balanced diet for them.
Rachel Cram – So maybe before we jump into those 10 Ways To Get Your Child To Love Healthy Eating, for parents who are still at the stage of moving their child onto solid foods, you have great information on baby-led weaning. Could you describe that because it is that first step toward eating independence and education with our children.
Dr. Natasha Beck – Sure. So I find the best case for getting children to really pay attention to their body, to be attuned to when they are satiated, is to allow them to feed themselves. So instead of just jabbing the spoon into them, preload the spoon with the puree and hand the spoon to them. They take control over that. And then you’re not trying to figure out, are they hungry? Are they not? Oh, they’re turning their head. They’re not opening their mouth anymore. They’re not getting enough. You’re allowing your child to trust themselves and physically, the child knows how much they want to eat. Now, there are certain things that get in the way of whether or not the child is eating and so we can address those points later on. But it’s helpful to have that balance of letting your child feed themselves and then allowing them to really pay attention to their bodies, knowing when they’re full and stopping.
Rachel Cram – Two thoughts come to my mind. One is that is a messy approach.
Dr. Natasha Beck – And that is often a concern I get from parents. Yeah.
Rachel Cram – And I think the quick answer is probably, “Get over that if that’s better for your kids.”
But then also choking. I remember just being so worried about that when I was giving my children solid foods and chunks of it for the first time.
Dr. Natasha Beck – Yeah, that’s definitely a common question I get. So we’ll address the first part, the messiness. So part of eating solid foods is having that sensory component and then also manipulating the food in your mouth because you need to be able to move your tongue around to have speech development. They need to actually practice using all of those muscles. It happens when they’re breastfeeding, it happens when they’re bottle feeding. But as they start to eat solids, this is why you want to move away eventually from purees, because you can’t just keep eating soft foods. There’s over 200 muscles in the mouth. You’ve got to make sure that you’re using them. So that’s very important to keep in mind.
Now, speaking of choking, I always recommend parents to YouTube the difference between gagging and choking because gagging is a very normal reflex. It’s your child learning how to try and move the food toward the front or to swallow it.
You want to make sure your child is sitting upright before you start solids, that’s important, that they are in an ergonomically designed highchair where their feet are touching something, not just dangling. Because you need to have your feet on a stand. Some highchairs don’t have that.
Rachel Cram – Why do you need to have that? What’s the help of that?
Dr. Natasha Beck – So it pushes the child up. So it actually helps give them some core strength so that if they are choking, they can push up on their feet to gag it out.
Rachel Cram – That’s awesome information. Thank you. I know that wasn’t really part of your blog, but I know that you do speak of that. So thank you for throwing that in.
Dr. Natasha Beck – No problem.
Musical Interlude #1
Rachel Cram – So as we move into these ten ways to get your kids to love healthy eating, which, of course we all want for our children, you start off with number one. I’m going to kind of be like a little PowerPoint for you as we go through this, OK? I’ll review back for the listeners so they can remember what’s been covered. Your number one is, start in the morning.
Dr. Natasha Beck – Yeah, I think that parents often find that like, oh, breakfast shouldn’t have vegetables for some reason. And I find that so interesting because vegetables should be present at every meal. When you’re telling a child, oh, there’s no vegetables at breakfast, there’s this mystery. “What’s wrong with vegetables?”
And so what I love to do is put in some grated zucchini or grated carrots into oatmeal. Zucchini is very bland and doesn’t have a taste. Carrots have a natural sweetness to them giving you the fiber as well as a ton of different nutrients into your oatmeal.
Putting them into a smoothie, a frozen banana adds natural sweetness, frozen mango, frozen pineapple ton of kale, some fresh mint, coconut water, and add in some cashew butter and even some hemp seeds or freshly ground flax. And that’s a great smoothie, a great breakfast, not only for your child, but also for yourself.
Pancakes. I like to make blender pancakes. So I just throw in some softly sauteed spinach, frozen spinach with your egg, your plant based milk, a little bit of buckwheat flour or oat flour, and you’ve got your green pancakes for the morning.
Rachel Cram – That sounds amazing.
Dr. Natasha Beck – Exactly. You can even use those for snacks. So those are just great ways of incorporating veggies in your morning routine. Even when I make little pancakes, you’ll often find me putting little pink French radishes as the ears. They may not eat them, but exposure is key. And you just want to refrain from having that pressure of like, “Oh, but you didn’t eat that.”
I’ll eat it or honestly, my dogs love veggies, so it works out great for them.
Rachel Cram – So you’ve brought in veggies right into the morning because do you find in general children don’t get, or we don’t get enough vegetables in our diet?
Dr. Natasha Beck – Definitely. We definitely don’t get enough vegetables into our diet. We’re supposed to have at least three to five servings a day. Kids aren’t getting that, nearly that. They’re lucky if they get one.
Rachel Cram – Now what if you have a child who just does not want to eat in the morning? They say they’re not hungry and they don’t want to eat breakfast.
Dr. Natasha Beck – So I’d look at several things going on. One is milk consumption. That often gets in the way of eating solids. If they’re constantly getting up at night and getting a bottle every few hours, they’re never going to wake up hungry for solids. You can’t just get nutrients from milk. So I’d look at that. I’d look at over snacking. If kids are just grazing throughout the day, they’re not as likely to sit down for a meal. And then, of course, always speaking to your child’s doctor to see if there’s anything going on there.
Rachel Cram – OK, I love the suggestions you gave us already with the smoothies and what I imagine would be green pancakes. And on your site, you have a lot of great recommendations for meals like that and they are not complicated or time consuming, which is important, especially with young kids who are needing our attention. So number one is, start in the morning, and we’re going to keep moving because you’ve got a lot of good points. Number two, you have, ‘Eat with them.’
Dr. Natasha Beck – Yes. Modeling is so important. If you’re enjoying your food, your child’s more likely to enjoy food. But I often find parents are just so on the go that they never actually spend the time to sit down with them. And so when the child is just sitting there by themselves, “Well, my parent’s not eating, why am I supposed to eat? I don’t get it. What’s going on?”
Children learn from modeling. If you ever notice children, when they play, they act out, they’re cooking in their play kitchen. Why are they doing that? Because they see you cooking. They’re sweeping the floor. They’re doing that because they see you sweeping the floor. Whatever they see in their environment, they’re copying. And so the same goes for eating food. If you’re eating food with them, they’re more likely to try those things. If you’re eating salads all the time in front of your child, one of these days your child is going to try some of your salad.
Rachel Cram – There’s been a lot of talk about, ‘make family meals a priority, sitting down all together.’ Almost like a moral code. What do you think about that?
Dr. Natasha Beck – I think it’s definitely tough in this day and age, especially when you have two parents who are often working out of the home. And it’s tough, but hopefully you have the weekends. And so I would try to be mindful of that, if during the week, if two parents are both working outside of the home and children are in school or daycare, to try and have those times on the weekends where you’re eating breakfast, you’re eating lunch, you’re eating dinner all together. Try to build that into your routine. So children know, “Oh, it’s the weekend. I’m going to sit with mom and dad.”
If you have that routine and build it into your natural rhythm, it really helps children feel safe because things are predictable. When things aren’t predictable for kids, they feel like, “No, no one’s here watching out what’s going on for me.”
Children love predictability.
Rachel Cram – I do totally agree with that. If I can just dig in a little further with you because I know scheduling is problematic and I know routine is important, but I wonder if sometimes we allow family meal times to fall by the wayside because they can be challenging. Especially when our day has been busy, to sit down as a family when there might be negativity expressed or arguments, or if our children aren’t appreciative of what we’ve prepared, their picky around the food options, the time around the table can feel like an endurance test rather than a lovely family moment. I think it can make parents feel like, “Why are we doing this then? Putting all this effort into a meal that’s not appreciated.”
Dr. Natasha Beck – Yeah, I think it’s tougher, especially as kids get older and there’s more opinions and arguments about certain things, but they’ve done tons of studies that find that children who do have family dinners, they’re more likely to graduate high school, they’re more likely to stay in school because having that family dinner again creates that predictability and that routine for them that really does make them feel like, “OK, it’s safe.”
But again, if as a parent, you’re struggling with that, I urge you to think about and reflect why are you struggling? Why is that upsetting you if you’re not seeing your child eating something, or they’re just flat out saying no. Think about why you’re upset. And often I encourage parents to sometimes re-parent themselves while they’re parenting their child.
Rachel Cram – In your blog Natasha, you offered a mindset that was a really helpful backdrop to what you’re talking about right here I think. It was a guideline around how we respond to our child’s preferences, even their picky eating tendencies. Do you know the one I’m referring to?
Dr. Natasha Beck – So I think the mindset is you as the parent or caregiver decide when and what your child eats. Your child decides if and how much.
Rachel Cram – Um, that’s the one.
Dr. Natasha Beck – and I find that often there’s that struggle between parent and child because the parent has this pressure of wanting the child to eat and the child wants this control and so they get into this battle. And so I think that mindset, I think it makes it much easier.
Rachel Cram – OK, that’s great. We’ll flesh this out more as we keep going. So, number one, ‘Start in the morning.’ Number two, ‘Eat with them.’ Number three, you say ‘Don’t sweat it.’
Dr. Natasha Beck – Exactly. So I think the problem is that you get into this battle of control as opposed to a respectful relationship. Honor your child. If your child’s not hungry right in this moment let’s think about why. Did you have snack too late with them? Did you give them too much water? Water consumption often gets in the way of a child feeling hungry. The straw and the sippy cups that the kids are just unconsciously drinking all the time. And so they’re filling up and they’re not hungry. And then the parent gets frustrated. I’d rather you not give that straw and sippy cup to that child and have them ask for water. “I’m thirsty. I want water. Mama Wawa, please.”
And you’ll hand them an open cup of water and let them drink it. Put it down. They can continue playing. So I think being mindful of those things and then not getting into those battles. So when I mean, don’t sweat it, if he says, “I’m not eating,”
“All right. You’re telling me you’re not hungry? Well, we can still enjoy each other’s conversations. And when we’re done, you may excuse yourself,”
And not putting the pressure on the child that they have to continue eating because you’re not always hungry. You know, like they don’t need to eat every single meal. Sometimes they’re just not hungry. They go through phases where they’re eating so much food because they’re growing and sometimes they’re just not in the mood for it, something else may be going on. And so I think you just have to be respectful of that and not sweat it. You want to look at a two week period. If your child’s not eating for two weeks, you take them to the doctor. Somethings going on.
Rachel Cram – Like not eating anything for two weeks.
Dr. Natasha Beck – Barely eating for two weeks. You always look at a two week period. There’s going to be days where they’re eating so much food and then the next day they might not eat as much.
Rachel Cram – Ok, so this is part of that mindset, letting them determine “if and how much they eat.”
Dr. Natasha Beck – Yes
Rachel Cram – Ok, so what do you do with that plate of food that you put in front of them then? I think sometimes we’re tempted to say, “Well, then you just need to eat the vegetables and you don’t need to eat your rice.”
Or you say, “I want you to have four more bites and then you can be done.”
Dr. Natasha Beck – So, I want you to throw all of that out of your vocabulary? Don’t use that language ever. It creates so much mystery of, “You have to eat the vegetables. What’s wrong with the vegetables? Why do I have to eat that? Does that mean, well, I won’t eat the fruit only. Why is the vegetable? What’s wrong with it? And they don’t taste as good. Well that’s why my mom’s pushing me to eat it.”
And so that’s where they get into the battles. “Four more bites and then you can do this.”
Because eventually, trust me, that will no longer work. You want them to pay attention to their body and then educate them. That’s the bottom line. When you’ve got a plate of food in front of your children and say they’re only eating the rice and they’re not eating anything else, and they say, “I want more rice.”
First, validate it and acknowledge it. “Oh, I see. You want more rice. The rice is really good. There are lots of different foods on your plate and you have to eat lots of different things to help your body grow.”
And then I pause, parents often have what I call word vomit, where they just talk too much. Children take time to process things. Let them sit there and when they respond, follow their lead. “No, I only want rice.”
“You really want the rice? I get it. Yeah.”
And then again, repeat it. Lots of repetition with kids. “You have to eat lots of different foods to help your body grow. Once you’re done with the foods on your plate, if you’re still hungry, then you may have some more rice.”
And so do you see the difference between that versus like, “Well, you have to eat four more bites of the broccoli and then you can have rice?”
You’re calmer. It’s not a threat. It’s just a different environment.
Rachel Cram – What if they decide they don’t want to eat anything more. They leave the table. Ten minutes later, they come back and they say, “I’m hungry.”
Dr. Natasha Beck – Great question. I always leave the plate for about ten minutes. And they say, “Oh, I’m not hungry anymore.”
I’m like, “Well, I’m going to keep the plate here for a little bit and you’ll let me know.”
Depending on the age of the child, sometimes I’ll allow the child to get up. Sometimes, like with my seven year old, I expect him to be able to sit through a meal with us. Not a long meal, but like a 20 minute meal. And meal time is not just for eating. It’s also to have conversations. It’s also to talk about our day. It’s also to have closure. When I pick up my kids from school, I don’t sit there and be like, “What happened at school today? What’s going on?”
Because most of the time they’re just so overwhelmed with what happened at school they need time to process it. You’ll notice your kids will be like, “It’s fine. I don’t want to talk right now.”
You give them time in the car or on your walk home just to process it. But have those times at dinner time to have conversations. “So what was something fun that you did today? What was something hard that you did today?”
It opens up that conversation.
And getting back to leaving the plate out for ten minutes. I will leave it out and then if they’re still hungry, I say, “Oh, your plate’s still here. You still have your food.”
And let them come back to eating because sometimes it’s trial and error. It’s like finding out what’s going on with your child. And then once they’re done, they can bring it to the sink. Depending on the child’s age, they wash their dishes, they dry them, put them away. I really do think that’s an important part of the rhythm, allowing your children all to help out together. The faster we get everything cleaned, the faster we can go upstairs or go to our room and read books.
Rachel Cram – Yeah, OK. So this might be a little bit tedious, but say it’s beyond ten minutes. So say it’s the evening now, you brush your teeth, you’ve read a book but then they’re like, “I’m hungry” then.
Dr. Natasha Beck – “Yeah I hear that you’re really hungry. Unfortunately the kitchen is closed right now.”
And that’s a struggle. It honestly, just happened the other night with my seven year old who insisted he wasn’t hungry for dinner. And I said, “All right,” and I gave him several chances. Let him know the kitchen’s closing soon. “Be mindful when it closes we’re not eating again until breakfast time.”
And so he was a little bit hungry. It may be more of a struggle for you as the parent too because the child will very much be upset. But for me, this is what works best for my family, is that I have boundaries there. I don’t want my children just grazing all the time. They have to be able to sit down at meals and pay attention to their bodies. But you as the parent have to be mindful as well of your involvement. “Well, did I push snack too late? Is that why they’re not hungry for dinner? I might need to adjust dinner time.”
Or if they got up too late from their nap and they don’t have time for snack, move dinner up a little bit earlier and extend the amount of time you have for dinner. So you’ve got to play with it. It’s not a strict schedule. It’s a routine.
Musical Interlude #2
Thanks for listening to family360 and our conversation with studied Pediatric Neuropsychologist Natasha Beck.
Our next episode is with award winning entrepreneur, author, podcast host and mom of 3, Elaine Tan Comeau. In 2018 Elaine woke to find half of her body would not work having suffered a debilitating stroke while she slept. In this coming episode, Elaine and her partner Ron offer discoveries made when life interrupts our best laid plans.
And now back to our conversation with Natasha, also known as Dr. Organic Mommy, as she continues from her 3rd point of 10 Ways To Get Your Kids To Love Healthy Eating.
Rachel Cram – Well, and I think with this third point, ‘Don’t sweat it,’ I think it’s not that it’s easy, because I can see kids becoming very agitated, which can make us want to sweat. But I think what relaxes that a bit is that you’ve got this calm plan of knowing how you will respond to the agitation. What opinions and wordings you will offer in response, because often if it’s left open to a decision like, “am I going to give them more? Am I going to do this?” then that’s what makes you start to sweat because you’re thinking, “What should I do? What should I do?”
But if you know, this is the plan and this will help my child form healthy eating habits, you can approach the agitation with a certainty that our children read and rest within. Even if it doesn’t make them happy.
Dr. Natasha Beck – For sure. And something I remind parents, especially when children become agitated, is it’s not your job to make your child happy. It’s your job to teach them how to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. That can apply across so many different facets of childhood and life in general that set the child up for success. So, yes, your child is agitated. “I’m hungry at night and I want a banana. I want this.”
Validating them. Letting them know you hear their feelings, they’re frustrated, they’re mad. Acknowledging what they want, and letting them know what they can do differently tomorrow. “Tomorrow, let’s try and sit down and pay attention to our body and have dinner.”
Rachel Cram – Which is different than, “I told you, you should have eaten your meal while you’re at the table.”
Dr. Natasha Beck – Correct. You want to try and refrain from the threats and the ‘or elses,’ that’s what we call them in our family. My kids like, “oh, you’re not allowed to say an ‘or else,’” because it just creates that battle.
But if you’re just constantly validating and acknowledging the child, it just helps set you both up to have a successful relationship.
Rachel Cram – OK, I’m loving this and I know more information will come. So number one, ‘Start in the morning. Number two, ‘Eat with them. Number three, ‘Don’t sweat it. Number four, you say ‘Cook veggies in different ways.’
Dr. Natasha Beck – Yeah. I find that often parents will just do the same thing over and over again. You’re just going to steam it every time. We’d get sick of that. I mean, my palate changes all the time.
Rachel Cram – Well, and I remember growing up where vegetables were kind of boiled to death all the time. They were like this little limp, floppy thing on your plate.
Dr. Natasha Beck – And you remember brussel sprouts being boiled and served to you as a kid. And no one liked brussel sprouts and now they’re super trendy because you roasted them and they got crunchy and they caramelized and they’re delicious.
Rachel Cram – Who knew that Brussels sprouts could be so delicious? I didn’t.
Dr. Natasha Beck – Exactly. And same with kale because it’s like, oh, you can roast it and make kale chips and like, put on olive oil and different spices and it just tastes amazing. So that’s what I mean by doing it in different ways. Throwing it into a smoothie. Throwing it into your blender to make pancakes in the morning. Finding different ways to use it and don’t only rely on yourself to come up with those ways, include your children. Children want to be included. They are naturally wanting to help you. And so when you involve them, they’re more likely to eat it as well.
Rachel Cram – Yeah, you had this one hint that it really captured my attention. You talked about having your toppings bar. Is that something you could describe? I thought this was an ingenious idea.
Dr. Natasha Beck – Sure. It’s something I also do on the weekends because I’m mindful of parents not having time in the morning during the weekdays, but making it interactive. So with the oatmeal in the morning, some parents are like, “Oh, my kids aren’t going to eat oatmeal.”
Well, if I have a toppings bar where I have a little bowl of frozen wild blueberries, a bowl of goji berries or raisins, a bowl of chia seeds, a little bowl of hemp seeds, some shredded coconut, and the child gets to choose what they put in and how much. You’re choosing, “All right. I’m serving, at this time oatmeal, and you get to choose what toppings you get to put on.”
And it makes it more fun, especially if you’re adding frozen wild blueberries. It can turn the milk purple. So it just makes it more interesting.
Rachel Cram – Yeah, well, I can see you doing that with so many things like omelets or different pizzas that you make, or whenever. And again, I think you can think it’s messy but back to what you were saying at the beginning, even with the infant, you’re learning so much more than just getting nutrition into your body. You’re learning, how to scoop up with a spoon, how to use, what we call in teaching, your pincer grasp, which is really important for printing and small muscle control, waiting your turn while your sibling chooses from the toppings.
Dr. Natasha Beck – Yes, and portion control. And from like the time they’re 18 months to six, imagine they’re at a practice training camp. They’re not at the World Series yet. They’re not at the playoffs. This is where they learn. “Oh, things get messy.”
You’re not going to scream, be like, “Oh, my God, what did you do? Don’t make a mess.”
But you’re going to say, “Oh, there’s a spill, let’s clean it up together. We all help together.”
So from that mindset constantly of, “I know my child’s going to spill and I want them to spill because if they don’t spill, they’re not going to know how to clean up. And I want to teach my child how to clean up.”
So that’s another very important part of the process, because I know people are mindful of the toppings bar that they feel like it’s just going to spill everywhere.
Rachel Cram – Yeah. Or I think you can also think, well, what if they put in like a heap of hemp seeds and you think that’s not going to taste good. Like, do you just let them figure that out?
Dr. Natasha Beck – I want them to figure it out. Now, be mindful of how much you put into those bowls. So I would always start off with those tiny, tiny little bowls where you only have a little bit and so they can’t put that much in there. So just be mindful of your child. If your child always goes for, like, a lot of something, give them a small amount. Same with water. I only give them like an ounce of water in that open cup when they’re first starting out so they don’t spill it everywhere.
Rachel Cram – OK, I love that focus, because you have said at the beginning that we’re not getting nearly enough vegetables into our children or even into ourselves and online you have great examples of using vegetables in topping bars. So those are some great reminders of how we can offer veggies in different ways.
Now, your fifth tip for helping children to love healthy eating is ‘Teach them.’ What do you mean by that?
Dr. Natasha Beck – Yeah, So number one, involving them in the cooking process and then educating them about what’s in our food and then teaching them to pay attention to their bodies like I’ve said before. So, “Let’s go grocery shopping. Let’s pay attention to what’s on the back of the package. What are all these ingredients? Do we know what they mean? Do we want to eat things that have something that’s called red dye 40 in them or yellow six or whatever it is?”
Let’s get them to be involved in that process and think, “I’d rather eat something that’s naturally dyed with strawberries or beets or real foods, not things that are fake.”
And so that’s what I mean by teaching them. Also, if you’re going out and you’re at a birthday party and they’re just eating up a storm, get them to pay attention to how they feel afterwards. “Oh, I have a tummy ache.”
“You ate a lot of different foods that aren’t growing foods.”
Rachel Cram – Yeah. Do you think there is a time or place for those party foods? Because that can be a complicated path to navigate without offending well intentioned friends and family. How do you avoid seeming judgmental or critical of what’s being so kindly offered?
Dr. Natasha Beck – Those are two different questions.
Rachel Cram – OK, answer however you want.
Dr. Natasha Beck – For me, I’m mindful of that at my own birthday parties. But I think when you’re going to birthday parties, one is you don’t have to say yes to all of them because it gets so overwhelming. And I think that was one of the silver linings of covid is that you don’t have to go to a birthday party every weekend or two or three because it becomes such a sensory overload, especially for kids.
Number two is feed them before you go. So I will make them a great smoothie right beforehand or a big snack plate and let them eat the snack plate on the way to the birthday party and fill them up so that when you get there you can’t control everything and you don’t want to be that restrictive mom or dad or caregiver because it’s just going to backfire, especially when your child is unleashed into the world and doing things on their own. So maybe they’ll take a bite of that pizza and then run off playing. But allow them that because if you’re going to say, “You can’t have that, you can’t have that,” it’s going to create this mystery and they’re going to want more and more of it.
Rachel Cram – And you can do that in those early stages because you’re at the birthday party with them. As they get older, you’re not there and they’re going to have to make their own decisions. And then I guess you’re just hoping that they’re going to carry over some of what you’ve tried to instill about healthy eating in those early years.
Dr. Natasha Beck – If you provide this foundation for them, they’re going to learn to make those decisions. Are they going to get it out of the park every time? No, they’re going to sometimes come home and be like, “Mom, I ate an entire bag of French fries and I feel like I’m going to hurl.”
Is it going to kill them? No, but they’re going to pay attention to how they feel afterwards. And that’s what you want to do as the parent. Make that connection so they really are paying attention to their body.
Rachel Cram – How controlling can you really be on this? Like I’m thinking when they go to their grandparents house, for example. Sometimes their at the grandparents and they want to spoil them in their opinion, you know, take them to McDonald’s and do some baking where you’re making cakes with Smarties all over the top of it together. How do you manage those complexities?
Dr. Natasha Beck – Definitely tough, and I think it depends if you’re seeing your grandparents every week versus just a few times a year, because honestly, with grandparents, it’s really about spending time. So finding an activity that they can do together. So like baking cookies, baking muffins, those are at least whole ingredients. I’d rather them eat that. And if you’re truly not comfortable, I think it’s just having a conversation with your family members and being vulnerable, letting them know it makes it hard for me when they have those refined sugars and they’re bouncing off the wall. And there’s lots of studies out there that actually show the impact of sugar now. So I want to be mindful about what I’m giving my kids. It would really help if we do this together and you just hear me out. So I think there’s a combination of things going on there. And so you just have to be balanced.
Rachel Cram – Yeah, it can be hard because you want your kids to love their grandparents so much and you want your parents or your in-laws to feel that they want to have you and your kids over so much. So you don’t want that tension of them feeling judged but I think a lot of our thoughts around food and health and nutrition have changed in recent decades. And so it can be a little bit complicated to navigate that I think sometimes.
Dr. Natasha Beck – Food is very different from how it was in their generation. And I think there’s lots of things to involve grandparents in your children’s life, not just through food, because that also sets them up for disordered eating. “Oh, the only time I’m going to have fun is when I get to have ice cream.”
Obviously they’re going to have times where, yes, they’re going to go out and have ice cream. But if it gets to the point where it’s every single week, with all the sprinkles, be mindful of it and have conversations with your family members.
Rachel Cram – Yeah. You just use the term disordered eating, which is a newer phrase I think. We used to talk a lot about eating disorders. Are those the same things or is there a difference between eating disorders and disordered eating?
Dr. Natasha Beck – Yes, when you have an eating disorder, it’s when it’s impacting your daily life. And when it’s taking over and you get to the point where you are struggling, you’re either binge eating or you’re not eating at all because there’s trauma there. There’s anxiety, there’s the need for control. And so you have to address that.
Disordered eating encompasses so much. When you’re just obsessed with food in general and it’s causing so much anxiety there’s so many different ways of having difficulties and challenges with eating. So a lot of people refer to it as disordered eating now.
Rachel Cram – Which is totally what we are trying to avoid by addressing these healthy eating habits with our kids.
Dr. Natasha Beck – Yeah
Musical Interlude #3
Rachel Cram – Ok, I’m just going to do a quick recap again. So number one, “Start in the morning. Number two, ‘Eat with your children. Number three, ‘Don’t sweat it. Number four, ‘Cook veggies in different ways. Number five, ‘Teach them. Number six, ‘Eat in different locations.
Dr. Natasha Beck – I love this one. Sometimes you’ve got to change it up. Why do people like going to restaurants? Why do people like traveling? Because you change it up. You like a different scenery. The same thing happens with children. So if you find your children are in a rut or you’re in a rut, have a picnic outside, have an indoor picnic on the floor, have a trunk picnic.
Rachel Cram – In the back of your car?
Dr. Natasha Beck – Yeah.
Rachel Cram – Oh, that’s fun. What do you think about dinner in front of the TV?
Dr. Natasha Beck – Absolutely not. Everybody has different opinions on screen time, but I would say a hard no with screens while eating because again, it gets to that point of not paying attention to your body or how you feel because you’re unconsciously eating while being tuned out and zoned into the TV. You know, and I get that during covid it was super tough. Sometimes we just had to survive. No judgment. Try to just detox them off because you want them to pay attention to how they feel.
Rachel Cram – You have got strong opinions. I love that. That makes it such a great interview. Thank you. Number 7, make sure they are hungry at meal times.
Dr. Natasha Beck -Yes. So I spoke about this briefly before, paying attention to milk consumption. It’s going to be dinner time. You’re just sticking to that rhythm of here’s your breakfast, you’re mid morning snack, your lunch, your afternoon snack, your dinner. But you can move things depending on what’s going on in your life.
Rachel Cram – Yeah. What if it’s four thirty, dinners at five and they’re saying, I’m starving.
Dr. Natasha Beck – You move it up.
Rachel Cram – What if you can’t? What if you really would like to wait for your partner to get home.
Dr. Natasha Beck – I put out an appetizer plate of veggies. If they’re really hungry, go for it. Great. Have your snap peas, your cucumbers, put a little bit of guacamole or hummus with their veggies there.
Rachel Cram – And if they say, “But that’s not what I’m hungry for.”
Dr. Natasha Beck – “Oh I hear you. You really want something else? Well, this is what we have available or otherwise you may wait until dinnertime.”
Rachel Cram – OK. You make it all sound so easy. Number eight, ‘Let them use their best asset, their imagination. When I read this one, have you ever seen the movie The Christmas Story?
Dr. Natasha Beck – A long time ago.
Rachel Cram – Well, listeners might remember because it’s such a classic. There’s this one scene where the mom’s saying,“Randy, show me how the piggies eat.”
And the little guy sticks his head in the mashed potatoes and is just eating like a piggy and snorting and everyone’s laughing. When I read this one, use their best assets, their imagination, I was like, well, how far do you go with that?
Dr. Natasha Beck – I think you want to follow your child’s lead, too. But getting back to the ambiance, letting them set at the table with some placemats and if they had just gone to a restaurant and they’re like, “Oh, I want to be the waiter,”
We can put a little napkin over your arm and say, “I’m here and I’m going to bring the food over to you.”
Or they can design a menu and they can write out the menu. That’s always fun too.
Sometimes we’ll go for a little walk, we’ll pick some flowers and get a little mason jar for them because it adds to the ambiance of the meal time and bringing the family together.
Rachel Cram – My youngest three children are still at home. Sometimes our mealtimes can get quite loud and chaotic and wild, just because there’s so much energy going on and in preparation for this interview, I tried doing candles on the table and I was amazed at the difference that that made. And it’s not that I don’t want my kids to be wild and crazy at the dinner table, because sometimes I just think that they need to bring their whole selves. But I think adding that slightly classy element, I didn’t say anything. I just had the candles going. They came down. They’re like, “Oh, Mom.”
But it was quite a sophisticated dinner, I have to say. And I really think it was the candles.
Dr. Natasha Beck – I’ve got a huge smile on my face because it definitely makes it. It gets the kids more excited about it. “Oh, we have a candle. This is so nice.”
Rachel Cram – I know. It was quite amazing to experience and I will be repeating that. Continuing on with your thoughts around imagination with food as part of what might shape healthy habits, I remember creating stories to enliven my kid’s interest in their food. Talking about broccoli as trees and they are the giant about to devour that tree. Just to get them excited about eating it. Or pretending their spoon is a power shovel lifting the food into their mouth.
Dr. Natasha Beck – I honestly use that a lot. I call it lunchtime adventures and I explained to them their spoon is the digger where they’re excavating the guacamole, which is the dirt. And then they’ve got to put it into their mouth and so we make it like a construction time playset and so definitely use their imagination so they get excited about it.
Rachel Cram – That’s the goal. Excited about healthy eating. And it feels so good knowing our kids are eating well. I remember almost wanting to high five myself after they ate a good meal of broccoli and lots of vegetables. It almost feels like a gold metal match, especially if you’ve struggled getting your child to eat. But, there is also the fact that sometimes at the end of a busy day, or in the morning, especially around breakfast, it can also just feel like too much to pull off an imaginative mealtime. If your child is always needing that, it can start to feel like it’s our job to come in and be the entertainment.
Dr. Natasha Beck – Yeah, that’s not your job. Your job is not to entertain your kids. I think that’s a myth that parents think I need to entertain my kids. I have to play with them all the time. I have to make things fun all the time. You don’t have to. They’ve got to be comfortable using their imagination, thinking about things, paying attention to their body. They’ve got to be comfortable in silence. And no. It’s not your job.
Rachel Cram – I think there might be some parents out there that are just leaning back in delight to hear you say that.
Dr. Natasha Beck – Oh, I’m so glad.
Rachel Cram – Ok, we are drawing to a close. We’re at number nine of your ten ways to get your child to love healthy eating. For number nine you, “Say take them to the store or farmers market?”
Dr. Natasha Beck – Yeah, Honestly, I love the farmer’s market where they get to; A, see where food comes from. They get to interact with the farmers. They get to sample things. They get to see all the different varieties. If you don’t have access to the farmer’s market, just going to the grocery store where they can actually choose a fruit or vegetable to try that week.
And then you can add an educational piece. “Let’s see, does it grow under the ground or above the ground? Does it need a lot of sun or a little bit of sun? How should we cook it? How should we prepare it?”
So it gets the child involved. There’s so much going on when they get to accompany you to the store, to the farmer’s market.
Rachel Cram – Absolutely. It was interesting, as I was looking at this I googled farmer’s markets and it’s surprising how many farmers markets are around that people don’t even know exist, tucked into little places. There’s a lot of farmer’s markets in cities. It’s worth googling for your home city.
Dr. Natasha Beck – Always Google. Look for local farmers. They are just so happy to talk to you. They’re happy to teach you. I spent hours at the farmer’s market. I pick every one of those farmer’s brains.
Rachel Cram – And it’s usually a nice environment for kids, too.
Dr. Natasha Beck – It’s great. My kids love going to the farmer’s market.
Rachel Cram – OK, so we are at number ten. Make your lunchboxes fun. And this is a great way to close out an episode that will fall at the start of a school year because I’m pretty sure creating fun school lunches is wearisome for most parents. I always start the school year with such enthusiasm and vigor, determined to this year be more dedicated to my kid’s lunch boxes. And by the end of the year, I’m just kind of shoving something in a Ziploc bag like Cheerios and thinking, “Just make it work.”
Dr. Natasha Beck – We’re good. So I think, one, I think parents get really frustrated when those lunch boxes come home and they’re not eaten. They’re excited to see their friends. They’re talking during lunch. So being mindful of giving things that are easy to grab or you can just make real quickly, like throw in some rice, avocado, seaweed, grab it. Sometimes I like making more interactive lunches so it makes it more fun.
Rachel Cram – What do you mean by an interactive lunch?
Dr. Natasha Beck – So kind of like Lunchables, if you ever remember lunch, but like the healthier version. What was so cool about Lunchables is that you can make it. You can take the cracker, you take the cheese, the meat, you put it together and eat it. But if you make a healthier Lunchables where you take your leftover rice from dinner, put that into a bowl, you’ve got some sliced veggies or avocado and then seaweed. You put the rice in, put the avocado in. Eat it like a little taco. And so they get to make it and it makes it more fun.
Rachel Cram – Yumm! You’re making me hungry. I want that for myself! My kids are going to be thanking you for this inspiration! Now, you started our conversation with a really great phrase. You said you’re the one that, you determine what and when your child’s.
Dr. Natasha Beck – Oh, yeah
Rachel Cram – What was that phrase?
Dr. Natasha Beck – So you as the parent or caregiver are responsible for when the child eats and what the child eats. The child is responsible for if and how much they eat.
Rachel Cram – Mm hmm. That’s such a great framework. When does that start to shift? There comes an age as your child grows where you don’t control it like that anymore. Do you have a general sense of when that happens for children and parents?
Dr. Natasha Beck – I think so. I think as they enter middle school, like the later elementary grades that starts to shift. They start to make those decisions. But your hope is that you’ve laid that foundation for them. And when they come home and say, “Hey, mom, I ate a bag of M&M’s.”
Well, how did you feel afterwards? Did you feel OK? And they may say, “Yeah, I felt fine.”
Or they may feel like it was a little too much. All right.
Rachel Cram – Yeah, well I ask because I remember with my older kids, I remember feeling very concerned and really quite stressed when that shift happened. Because it does become obvious that as a parent you need to stop regulating what your child eats. That starts to really feel overly controlling and like you said, they need to make those decisions. But it often felt like all my health eating habit work was getting tossed out the window. And I didn’t want to be shaming them or blaming them. But I have found as they went past those years, because my oldest kids are in their twenties now, they did really return to healthy eating. Which was such a relief.
Dr. Natasha Beck – So, everybody thinks of me as like the healthiest person on the planet.
Rachel Cram – I’m not surprised.
Dr. Natasha Beck – Yes. But a lot of people don’t know I used to eat Taco Bell every day. I used to live off of candy. Your palate changes but it takes time. So being patient is really important.
Rachel Cram – Excellent, Natasha I want to thank you so much for this conversation. Your 10 points were fantastic and they’re doable, especially with the guideline that as parents we decide what and when our child will eat and they decide if and how much. So helpful.
Dr Natasha Beck – I’m so glad it was helpful. And I had such a blast doing this. Such a great time talking with you, Rachel. Thanks so much Roy.