Mama’s Helper : The HAPPY MAT

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Wow!  Am I ever impressed with this product!  In my experience, suction bowls have been a total and complete waste of my money.  They work for 3.5 seconds before the suction releases and bowl is victoriously tossed to the floor, or simply as far as possible.  I am a firm believer in touching food and making a big ol’ mess to learn how to eat sometimes the disaster is just a little much.  The game of “I toss and Mama picks up” also gets old really, really quickly.

This little number is a placemat and a dish all in one!  The suction is unbelievable.  The only way my little one has figured out how to move it, is to peel up one of the corners.  Otherwise, it has stayed in place FOR THE ENTIRE MEAL.  ON MULTIPLE OCCASIONS!!!

Pros: great suction, comes in a divided plate version or bowl version, easily fits in the dishwasher and is big so it catches a lot of mess.

Cons: Cost. It is expensive.  It may not fit on the tray of a highchair because it is meant to be used at a table.  Takes ++ surface area to store flat.  It’s big.

Available at West Coast Kids for $29.99.  The bowl version is $23.99.

Let me know what you think if you try it.

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Best words ever: More please!

I feel ridiculously awesome when my kids say: “Mmmm.  Mom, this is SO good!  Can I have some more?” I think most of me loves the fact that they are savouring and enjoying the food.  My hope is to whet their palate so they keep coming back for family dinners after they leave our nest.

In the past, I would have been happy that they asked for more because it erroneously reassured me they were taking in enough calories, vitamins and nutrients to grow and learn.   I’ve worked really hard on developing trust in my kids and have successfully reached a place where I could care less how much they eat from the dinner I’ve provided.  I don’t say much as long as they tell me, “Mom, may I be excused?  My belly is full.”  Of course I still have the normal regressions but overall, this has lead to more enjoyable mealtimes for everyone.  They now know that the kitchen is closed after lunch and will re-open for snack. Dieticians and feeding therapists commonly accept Ellyn Satter’s division of responsibility.  Her ideas about the feeding relationship are based on trust.  Trust that a child can recognize hunger and satiety cues and has the ability to self-regulate intake when they are offered structured eating opportunities.

My job:  to choose when and where I offer food.  To choose what I am going to offer for snack and meals.

Kids job:  to choose whether or not to eat.  To choose what order to eat things in.  To choose how much to eat.

This model is about respecting their choices and giving them autonomy with boundaries.  Ellyn Satter’s work suggests that children who are trusted to regulate how much to eat develop positive self-esteem, learn responsibility and self- care skills, appreciate their bodies, and do not become preoccupied with food.   Now, I appreciate how challenging this is to put into practice when you have a child who eats a total of 15 (or less) different foods and has a difficult time growing.

My other innate response to hearing those beloved words “Mom, can I have more?” is to offer that food repeatedly.  This response rings true ten-fold for a family whose child has a narrow food repertoire to start with.   It only encourages parents to offer that food every single day until the rest of time.  When you offer the same food on a frequent basis, prepared in the same manner, you are reinforcing rigidities.  Food jagging is when your child eats the same food, prepared in the same way every day or every meal.  Eventually he will get tired of the food and more often than not, loose it from his food repertoire all together, permanently.  Quell your inner desire to give your child the same foo, prepared in the same way at every meal, even if they only have a total of  5 different foods in their repertoire!  Make a very small change to the way you present or prepare it.

If your child loves peanut butter sandwiches:

-cut it differently each time (half, quarters, diagonal, cookie cutters)

-prepare it with a different type of bread or tortillas (peanut butter roll)

-mix peanut butter with almond butter or cashew butter

-add cinnamon

-add sliced bananas

You may need to make even smaller changes, depending on how particular or sensitive your child is.

Good luck!

Myth busting! Solid food and sleep duration

If people call your baby a “poor sleeper,” I will bet anything that some grandma has told you to add rice cereal to a bottle or offer purees before bedtime.  I have heard this so many times.  Grandma/Great-aunt/neighbour/perfect stranger will claim your baby will sleep longer.  There are few things a mom won’t do at the promise of a few consecutive hours of sleep!!!!

Literature DOES NOT SUPPORT this suggestion.  And it makes sense that it doesn’t.   A tablespoon of squash or carrots is diet food in comparison to a breast or bottle feed.  Rice cereal will certainly add some calories, but literature shows that it does not translate to babies who sleep for longer durations.  If anything, it will just cause logistical problems with nipple flow (you will need a cross-cut nipple to accommodate the thickness).   Or you will end up trying to spoon feed food far earlier than your baby demonstrates developmental readiness, which is associated with it’s own risks.

The myth-busting literature is all quite old so I have no idea why it is still such a common suggestion!

If your family is struggling with sleep and you are ready to completely loose your marbles, get some help rather than offering a small baby purees before bedtime.  By “small baby”, I mean a baby who is not showing readiness signs for starting solids, or developmentally younger than approximately 6 months.

The seemingly contradictory information that exists in the sleep world is overwhelming when you have a clear head, let alone when you are running on fumes. You are not a failure if you get help, you are an advocate.

Blessed sleep..... the accidental car seat nap that ruins the real nap.

Blessed sleep….. the accidental car seat nap that ruins the real nap.

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Catch yourself!

How many times do you say “take another bite” or “eat three bites of your carrot before your pasta” during a supper????  Get your partner to check on you and actually count how many times you make suggestions on how much your child should eat.

My therapy sessions always involve a snack or mealtime.  More often than not, I can’t help but be overwhelmed with the jackhammer nature of parent commenting at the table.  I was completing an initial assessment last week and brought out a food that was new to the child.  I simply placed it on the table without a word.  Before I had the chance to open my mouth, the mom suggested ” ______, eat the cracker”.  It was quickly followed by “do you want to try the cracker?”  And then “why don’t you take a bite of the cracker?”.  All in the span of literally 10 seconds.

I respectfully asked her to leave the cracker alone and we moved to a different topic.  Later, I put the cracker to my mouth and said “I wonder if this will make a loud crunch?” I popped the cracker in my mouth and without skipping a beat, the little boy did the same. Now, I know that I was a novel person, NOT the mom and likely that helped my cause.  At the same time, not once did I suggest that the child HAD to eat it. Now don’t get me wrong!  I know it is not always this easy and just because the child followed my lead the first time it doesn’t mean this is a new food in his repertoire.  I still see it as a success because it is a step closer to accepting the food.  He learned a lot about the food and even if he didn’t like it, maybe next time we can add something to it to make it more enjoyable (i.e. spread hummus on it or dip it in soup to make it less crunchy if the crunch turned him off).


force feeding

Think about your language during mealtime and how you can decrease the number of times you direct your child’s eating.   There are certainly going to be times when you ask if they want to take a bite.  Just be aware of how frequently you are doing it and back off if it is more than a couple times in a meal.

Talk about:

  • where the food grows
  • the temperature of the food
  • the sound the food makes in your mouth
  • how the food feels
  • what the food looks like

Food for thought.  We last talked about this in my picky eating series.

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Weaning a toddler from breastfeeding

Margot Byer of Sleephaven in Edmonton has done a lovely job outlining  gentle ways to wean a toddler from breastfeeding (when the time is right for you and your child).IMG_3918

Take a peek!

Bunged up babies & children

I have three kids with lazy bowels and feel like I’ve tried every single constipation management strategy that exists.   I’ve learned that three things exacerbate the frequency and intensity of meltdowns: lack of sleep, a poorly timed snack or meal, or difficulty pooping.  For my own sanity, I try to stay on top of all of it.

My wonderful colleague, Jennifer House, over at First Step Nutrition has posted up to date information regarding constipation and management on her blog!

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Make sure you tell Grandma how things have changed!

As recent as 2000, it was commonly recommended that certain foods should be introduced “late” for infants at high risk for allergy (i.e. wait until one year of age to introduce cow’s milk protein, two years for eggs and three years for peanuts).   Since then, evidence has accumulated that suggests this approach has not decreased the development of allergies but may have actually promoted it.   In 2008, the American Academy of Pediatrics concluded that the evidence did not support delaying solid introduction for allergy protection.

As always, current evidence suggests that more research is needed.   Recommendations from the Canadian Pediatric Society and Canadian Society of Allergy and Clinical Immunology are summarized below:

-continue to eat milk, egg, peanut or other allergens during pregnancy and while you are breastfeeding

-breastfeed exclusively for the first 6 months (total duration may be more important that exclusivity)

-if you have to use formula, choose a hydrolyzed cow’s milk based one.  There is no evidence that choosing a soy based one will prevent allergies

-do not delay the introduction of any specific solid food beyond six months of age, even in infants who have a sibling or a parent with an allergy.  Once you introduce a food, present it regularly. 

Take a read of the current position statement if you’d like.

Otherwise, Caring for Kids has a great Food Allergies and Intolerance Handout.

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Kicking the bottle to the curb….

You can see the light.  Your kids have hit a sweet spot and you feel like the fog is lifting.  Your 18 month old is sleeping well (usually), eating most things, using some words and understanding many requests.   Why mess with a good thing?!  This same little creature is also given a bottle of milk to fall asleep with at naps and bedtime.  This situation is far more common than anyone discusses because WE KNOW WE SHOULDN’T BE DOING IT.

Continue reading

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Yuck – the experience of a picky eater

We were on holiday in Mexico a few weeks ago, and I had to rely on very rusty, rudimentary Spanish to navigate the grocery store.   Add on three little humans who had travelled all day and were at the end of their ropes.  And it was hot.  Usually, I get nerdy about exploring grocery stores in new countries but this time it was a grab- and- go mission.

We have a tradition of making nachos whenever we are on holiday.  My non-existant Spanish lead me to the “queso” section and I grabbed my best guess for something close to sharp cheddar and mozza.

A couple days later, I went to open the “cheddar-like” brick and discovered that the orange color was simply a plastic wrapping under the saran wrap.  Once I got through that layer, there was another layer of saran wrap to take off.  I was immediately assaulted with the putrid, overwhelming stench of rotting, post-workout socks.  There was no way I was putting that thing near my mouth, nor on nacho chips.   I quickly wrapped it all back up and put it in a ziploc for one extra security layer.  I wanted to toss the whole thing out but forced myself to put it back in the fridge.  I thought it would be a “good” (AWFUL) experience to force myself through the steps of eating (looking at a food, smelling it, touching it, licking it, chewing it and finally chewing and swallowing).  We expect our kids to simply chew and swallow a new food, regardless of their feelings towards it.  A pre-verbal child can’t explain to you that the smell of the cheese makes them feel nauseous.  We simply forget what it can be like and too quickly pull out the “you need to sit here until you eat it” strategy.   I kept imagining if someone made me sit at the table until I finished that block of cheese.   I am gagging right now at the thought spending  more than three seconds looking at that blessed cheese.

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Another few days later, I took the block of cheese out of the fridge, carefully unwrapped it (in such a manner that I wouldn’t have to touch it), breathed through my mouth and squished a piece with my fingers.  I licked it, gagged and tossed the whole thing.

It was a good experience to help me empathize with a child when they refuse a food.

CELEBRATE WHETHER THEY LOOK, SMELL, TOUCH OR LICK IT.  Give them a couple days before you re-introduce.  Re-introduce the food in a different way (maybe the cheese wouldn’t have been so overwhelming if someone had crumbled it on a salad).

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An OT’s dream orange

This seems so silly but the OT in me can’t get enough of these little gems for my kids.

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Small enough segments for a finger food eater to handle, and a great way to practice bilateral skills!   Obviously the finger food eater is unlikely to be able to discern whether or not to eat the peel or the actual segments but a 2 year old could easily do the job!  I find myself giving a couple to the 3 & 4 year olds to peel while the littlest one devours segments in her high chair.

These things are the tiniest mini-mandarins I’ve ever seen!