Real Life Nutrition for 2-4 Year Olds [Kacie Barnes of MamaKnowsNutrition]
Ya’ll know that sleep is the foundation of your health. I share that with you often. The next thing that happens once your child is sleeping well, is that they are going through a growth spurt!! The growth hormones are only secreted during sleep. So, once your child is rocking sleep, they are starting to grow, they are hungry, and we need to focus on your child’s nutrition! On Podcast Episode 51, I asked Kacie Barnes of Mama Knows Nutrition to really focus in on the 2 to 4-year-old, notoriously picky eaters!! We dig deep about really taking those labels off, how we can take the battles of dinnertime away, and just enjoy your toddlers time at the table. I know you’re going to enjoy this transcribed conversation with Kacie from Podcast Episode 51!
Becca: Kacie, thank you so much for being here today. I’m so excited to introduce you to the Little Z’s community, and I am especially eager to talk about what you do, and I know so many of my clients, and so many of my listeners are eager to hear from you. Welcome! I would love for you to share with us where you’re located, about your family, a little bit about you and what you do.
Kacie: Hi! I’m so happy to be here! I could talk about nutrition all day long, so I’m excited to have this opportunity! I live in Dallas with my family. I have a four-year-old, who just turned four in January, and a baby who is sixteen months. I feel like I’m always losing track of how old she is because it just goes by so fast with the second one. I am a registered dietician/nutritionist and I focus on mainly helping kids who are birth to six years old. It’s such a crucial time in setting up a lifetime of healthy habits, so that’s what I like to focus on the most. I do one on one nutrition counseling with families and I also write a blog and I’m on social media. I love connecting with moms, so I try to find them where they are, and a lot of people are on social media, so that’s what I try to do.
Becca: You do a really great job of that as well because I gravitate towards … Of course, we all love images and things, but you do a really great job. If you aren’t following her at @mamaknowsnutrition, pause this podcast, go follow her, and then come back, but I just love how you really do engage really well with the pain points that we’re struggling with. You do that so well, through your stories, and being able to show that with your own kids and what you do, and giving advice, and you really do a wonderful job of all of that. I’m so glad that I found you because there are so many good things to pick up on. I love that you said that you work with birth to six because that is a huge range, I also love that you do one on one. We can talk about that later. I want to dig deeper into a niche of the toddler age, like two to four, toddler, preschooler. These are the bulk of listeners who are always struggling with the picky eater syndrome, labeling their child as their picky eater, and I would love to know for you, I see on your highlight reel on Instagram, you have a whole section about picky eating, is this something that is super common? Do you feel like it’s a label we throw around too often? What are your thoughts on picky eating?
Kacie: Yeah, this is something I talk about a lot because I get questions about it all of the time. The thing is, picky eating is actually really normal for this age range, especially the two to four-year olds, like you said. I call it picky eating because that’s what other people call it, but I would love to throw out that label all together just because it’s part of normal development, not every kid, it’s going to differ for every kid. They grow so rapidly as babies and then that growth really tapers off as they get into that toddler age range, and they just don’t have the same appetite that they did. A lot of times that lower appetite translates to them being more selective with what they’re eating because they’re coming to mealtime, they’re not that hungry, so they get labeled as a picky eater when really it’s just kind of normal development for them, and a lot of times they’ll pick back up as they get a little older, but it is a long couple years of feeling like my kid is not eating what I’m giving them.
Becca: Yeah, and that’s so frustrating. Even my kids, they are great eaters, I wouldn’t say they’re picky eaters, but day to day they can be picky, or meal to meal they’re picky. I can give them hot dogs at lunch, and then the next day give them hot dogs and they don’t like it anymore. I’m like, “What? No! You love these!”
Kacie: Yeah, as soon as I buy the Costco size of something, my kids decide they don’t like it anymore!
Becca: Yeah, I know that struggle. That’s real! I love that you want to throw out the label of picky eating, because I do think we toss that around so much, and label it just like we do that kids are bad sleepers. No, we need to learn these skills. My kid is just a picky eater, no, that’s normal, there’s things we can work through with it. I would love to look at, okay, we’ve got a mom who says their child is picky, and they’re approaching that dinner time, and we all feel this anxiety of what am I going to get my kid to eat? Are they going to eat it? Is this going to be a battle? As far as nutrition counseling goes, how do you want parents to envision dinner time? Should it be a battle of the wills for them? Or should it be something easy and breezy? How should we approach dinnertime?
Kacie: Dinnertime should absolutely not be a battle. I know that it can be hard to get there, but you totally can get there to a place where dinner time is a relaxed experience. A lot of that comes from what expectations we have for ourselves for moms. I see that moms put so much pressure on themselves that they think they aren’t a good mom if their kid doesn’t eat vegetables, or they’re a bad mom if they don’t eat dinner. We just put so much of this on ourselves, and it doesn’t have to be. One of the main things that I say to approach dinnertime and all meals is that you are in charge of what is served, and your child is in charge of how much or if they eat. Simply dividing that and taking the pressure off of yourself of whether they eat or not, is a huge change in mindset for a lot of people, but it’s a really important one to adopt. You’re not going to get there overnight, but having that shift of if they don’t eat, it’s okay because kids aren’t going to eat at every single meal. We don’t need to cater to them when they refuse something we put out. I want parents to think of their nutrition as throughout the day and the week instead of at each meal. We don’t need to focus on if they eat at dinner tonight because maybe they had a big breakfast and that carried them throughout the day, which is really normal. When we come to mealtime, the most important thing is to try to come in relaxed. You’re not forcing your child to eat, you’re not even forcing them to eat one bite. It’s really up to them. You’re putting out the food, you have a variety of options for them. One thing I always recommend is to do at least one thing you know that they like, even if they don’t want to eat it today. You said, sometimes they like it, but something in general that they like, having one thing at dinner, so that you know that if they are truly hungry, they can eat this one thing. They can ask for more. There are nights where my son, like last night, my son ate pineapple and bread, and that was it, he was done. Some nights he would come to that same exact meal and eat absolutely nothing, but I know that he likes fruit, so I know that if that’s there, I know that if he’s hungry, he can eat it. All that to say, I just recommend that parents have that one thing that their kid likes, and that can help give them that peace of mind that if they are hungry, they will eat at least that one thing.
Becca: Yeah. There’s something that you said, I wrote down a couple notes because there were so many good things you just said, and all of that. I think, for one, I teach so often about toddlers. They want responsibility. They want to have a job so desperately, but they don’t know what to do with responsibility, so I love that you make that charge that mom’s responsibility is to make the food. Your responsibility is to eat something. You can choose what you want to eat, and you have that choice. I can’t will you to eat your green beans, but if you want to eat your pineapple, you can eat your pineapple. I think that is such a good mental shift for us to be like, I’m in charge of doing this, but you’re in charge of doing that. It’s not my job to force food down your throat. It is going to be what they choose. I think that is so powerful to recognize.
Kacie: Absolutely. I love that you talked about choice because for toddlers especially, it can be really great to give them a little bit of choice and they want to have some control, and a lot of times we get into those power struggles because they want control, but we’re trying to say, “I’m the parent”, so something that I do recommend is if you’re child can be involved with you in the planning or making of the meal, and you can say, “Would you prefer raw broccoli or roasted broccoli?”, or even at the grocery store, “Let’s choose a vegetable to try for dinner tonight, why don’t you pick”, and just giving them some responsibility and you’re including them in the decision making when you give them that choice.
Becca: Yes, we just started doing that. It just dawned on me the other day. They are good eaters, at two and four, but we do a delivery box meal service every week, and we have all our cards laying out, and lately the last couple nights, we’re like, “Do you want the pasta or the chicken?”, and they’ll choose together, and sometimes we just leave the card out all day and they’ll look at it and decide and sometimes they’ll change their minds, or they totally disagree, but it’s like almost for them they were enabled to have the opportunity to have a voice and then they’re much more likely to maybe try it, or at least have a bite of it.
Kacie: Yes, this is something I do with my son every single morning. I actually have these as a download on my site, but I have these breakfast menu cards, and it’s just all of the common foods we have for breakfast all the time, and we are getting into this struggle of him wanting cheerios every morning, and would come downstairs and say, “I want cheerios”. I was like wait a second, I’m not even awake. So, to combat that, the night before, at bedtime, I’ll choose three of his breakfast cards of things I know I’m willing to make in the morning, and I have on hand, and then I can say, “Your choices for tomorrow are oatmeal, smoothie, or waffles”, and then he chooses. It’s been a life changer for me. Mornings are hectic, and it’s been so nice to give him some of that control, but I was the one who chose them.
Becca: Yes, it’s all about manipulation (laughter), it really truly is, and I love that, but we’re giving them the voice within our own boundaries. I think that is so important. The other thing I wanted to bring up, I love the idea, and I try to remember this, but it’s hard, that we aren’t looking at this one day did my toddler eat all their vegetables, all their fruit, all this, because it should be a holistic look at their week or a few days. Could you tell us a little more about releasing that stress about that one day and all the nutrition in that one day, versus the whole week, especially this two to four range?
Kacie: Yes, it varies so much, and even when I work with my clients one on one, and I look at their diet, I look at their three to four-day range to really give me an idea of what they’re taking in. One day is not going to show the whole picture. Their appetite really does vary from day to day. Think about your own self. You’re not hungry for the exact same amount of food every single day. Maybe you worked out that morning and you’re hungrier that day. Kids are the same way, and in this toddler time, development and growth, nothing is linear, it’s always changing. I want parents to really know that it’s okay if one day they seem to just not eat anything. As long as you’re offering those regular meals and snacks throughout the day, that’s really all you can do, and you’re giving them the opportunity. I know parents get worried, especially when you come out of that baby phase where they’re eating a lot, they’re drinking formula or breast milk, you know all day long, and then you come out of that phase, and it really does change and it takes some getting used to being okay with them not eating what we think is enough every single day. It’s okay as long as they’re growing well, and you’re going to your pediatrician check ups and they say everything looks great with their growth, then that can help give you peace of mind that even though there will be plenty of days where they don’t seem to eat much at all, or some days where they eat a ton, it’s normal to have that fluctuation.
Becca: I think that’s so true. Especially as we do have a hard time transitioning out of twelve and thirteen months old when you’re like, “Oh, you’re not having a bottle every three hours, how much do I offer you?” I know for my friends and my clients, that is a huge struggle, when you’re coming out of the baby and into the toddler zone, and again I know you have tons of resources on all kinds of things, and I would love to get into that, but I want to stay focused because I’m rabbit trailing my own brain, and I want to really look at still the two to four year old range. The one thing that we carry from their babyhood, and still sometimes struggle with toddler preschoolers is the amount of milk intake. A lot of my clients are really struggling with this picky eater syndrome thinking that if they are a picky eater, we’ve got to fill them up with milk so they at least sleep well all night long, and if you have followed or listened to me any amount of time, you know that I’m actually anti-milk right before bed for older kids because it does cause night time issues, and those are other podcasts I get into, but I would love to hear from you more about this idea that if you didn’t eat your food, then you can at least have a ginormous sippy cup of milk, and what are your thoughts on milk and snacks and food intake for children?
Kacie: Yes, milk is huge, and I don’t want parents to feel bad about this because we do go from that baby phase of them having milk all the time and then it really needs to shift. I see a lot of kids who come to me who are labeled as picky eaters and it’s really because they are drinking milk a lot throughout the day, and even though they’ve ditched the bottle, they still have that sippy cup and it really is a kind of self-fulfilling thing where the more milk they have, the less they want to eat, and if they know the milk is coming, they’re smart at this age, they’ll choose not to eat in favor of that milk because it’s comforting to them, they know what they’re getting. They like having their sippy cup. It’s this pattern that you fall into, and it’s not on purpose, but as a parent, you have that strong desire for your kid to get what they need, and a lot of parents think the milk is the way to get them what they need. I recommend to moms that they do no more than two to three cups. No more than sixteen to twenty-four ounces of milk in a day. I really even like to make that more like two cups of milk, and with meals, instead of having that milk by itself. One of the reasons for that is that nutritionally, they do absorb the vitamins and minerals in the milk better when they’re having it with food, but also just from the behavioral standpoint of shifting away from milk as our nutrition source and moving more towards eating meals with the family, where that’s where we have an opportunity to eat.
Becca: Yes! Ya’ll this is audio recorded, not video recorded, but I was like giving Kacie praise hands because it’s so important! It is such a struggle for so many of my listeners and my clients really wrapped up in the idea that we have to have three cups of milk a day, not even three cups, sippy cups, or sometimes even still bottles of milk and you’ve just so hit it perfectly that it is the comfort. Not necessarily in the sleep world that you have the sippy cup or bottle to go to sleep on, which is different, but that they still see it as a comfort that they don’t need to eat because they will have a giant cup of milk soon and they want that instead of eating their food. I didn’t know that it’s better for them to drink the milk with the meal for nutritional purposes, so that’s awesome! I am extremely grateful and excited that you just said all of that. It’s so, so, so important.
What are some things that you would share with a family as kind of a takeaway in a scenario where a mom who has a child that has three to four giant cups of milk a day, they say that their child is a picky eater? What is something that they can actionably do today to help start to change come of these habits?
Kacie: The first thing I would really say to do is just take one away. Reduce by one over a couple of days. You may get some pushback from your toddler, especially if this has been the routine for a while. It is going to be an uncomfortable change, but you will come out on the other side of this, and things will be a lot better for both of you. Just by reducing, taking away one cup of milk, is a great place to start. Another really great thing they can do right now is to switch away from offering milk at times where it’s not a meal and bring the milk to that meal. They may still only choose to drink milk at that meal, and not eat, but at least we’re shifting and saying this is a mealtime, we’re sitting together, and this is part of our meal. It’s not the only thing that’s available, and you don’t have to tell them you have to eat anything, it’s just that we’re now shifting that mindset away from milk time to family meal time.
Becca: I love that, and I also love that we want to make family meal time more of the standard with our two and four-year olds. We don’t want them to be having their meal of a sippy cup of milk over on the couch somewhere else. We need to have this meal time communally, together. I love that.
Kacie: Yes, eating is emotional, even for our youngest kids, and we want to start out with these habits really early on to encourage a healthy relationship with food, and just what our expectations are, and shifting that away from them drinking milk by themselves on the couch or in front of the TV, we want them to be with us. There are times where I’m doing dishes while my kids are eating because that’s life and I needed to do that, but overall, we do want it to be more of a family time.
Becca: That’s so good! I’m so grateful! I just wanted to go on a million different trails with you because there were some many things I was thinking of, I was really trying to remain focused on these toddlers and preschoolers who are a joy, but also a struggle, and frustrating, but wonderful, but I just really want families to recognize that mealtime can be fun. It doesn’t have to be a battle, just like sleep. I’m so grateful you were here, and for everyone who is listening, you’ve mentioned your breakfast cards, you mentioned you blog, how can we follow you? Get in touch with you? How can our listeners do that?
Becca: For sure, I will link everything in the show notes. I am so glad you were here and yes, Kacie, I’d love for just the last little bit, could you share how families can work one on one? Do you do that virtually? Can our listeners work with you one on one?
Kacie: Absolutely! I see most of my clients virtually, so they can just go to my website. I have my services listed there, but they can always email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I do work with parents on picky eating and we can definitely work through that.
Becca: Awesome! I love that! I think it’s so important, not just myself being a consultant, but I think it’s so important that we have people in our lives who can visually see us, even across a computer screen, and get to know us and actually help our specific situations. I think it’s so important, so thank you for being here, I really enjoyed chatting with you!
Kacie: Thank you! I did too! Like I said, I could talk about this all day long.
Becca: Awesome! I’ll hop on over to Instagram to hear more!
Kacie: Thank you!
As Kacie and I were talking today, there were so many moments where I wanted to absolutely get into other topics, so I know there are questions and things you want to ask Kacie and you can connect with her on Instagram and her blog and see what she has to say because I really value her take on making nutrition simple. I’m so thankful for Kacie being here today! I am just thrilled that you are here and if you are still hanging on, would you scroll down in the show notes and leave us a review here on iTunes because it means the world to here how this podcast has touched your family’s life, wherever you are in the world! Thanks guys! Sweet dreams! See you next time!