How to Help the Pickiest Eaters

By Shari Karmen, Occupational Therapist and TLC Therapeutic Services Manager

Oh the picky eater! Some kids are super picky, some are “normally” picky, and some are selective or problem feeders.

Normal picky eating typically begins between 18 months and three years and is usually over by six years old. These kids will have food jags where they want to eat PBJ for lunch every day. They are looking for control and typically thrive well despite their picky eating habits.  Some kids are more picky and will want PBJ for lunch every day, and then will switch it to grilled cheese, but with an occasional PBJ thrown in.  Selective or problem feeders will want a PBJ, but it must have a certain type of bread, peanut butter, and jelly. Then they will decide they no longer want it. The difference is they will not add a new food to the repertoire, but instead will limit what foods they will eat even further.

Picky eating can be stressful for a parent who worries about their child's nutritional intake and teaching them to eat and try a varied diet. There is help for the parents of picky eaters, though. Below are a few ideas you can try at home.

Ten Ideas for Feeding Your Picky Eater:

1.    Involve your child in meal planning and preparation. This includes making a shopping list together, going to the store together, wearing an apron to help prepare food, and then letting your child help in preparing the food. The child's task can be as simple as tearing lettuce for a salad, as long as they are involved with the process.

2.    Use fun props and place settings for mealtimes such as colorful cups, fun placemats, and curly straws. Give you child choices and control in what utensils they use (the color of their plate, etc.)

3.    Keep a mealtime routine. Have meals at the same time every day. Create routines within the meal such as washing hands, setting the table, and then clearing food away after the meal.

4.    Eat with your child. Mealtimes are social so talk at the table, but not about what your child is not eating! For tips on engaging your child in conversation, see some of our previous posts on speech and language activities for kids.

5.    Use the timer on your phone so that your child knows how long the meal will last. Have an alert go off 2-5 minutes before the 20-30 minutes dedicated to mealtime is up. This helps everyone know that there is an ending to the meal.

6.    Watch mealtime language. Don’t bombard your child with questions or constantly say “take a bite”. Talk about the color of the food, how you can hear him crunching, and the texture of the food. Read some of our tips on using responsive language with kids.

7.    Focus on the meal rather than the TV, smart phones, and other electronic devices. You can have music playing, but keep the TV and toys away from mealtime.

8.    Reward your child for positive behavior outside of the mealtime with non-food items. Feeding can be very emotional, and linking food with a system of rewards can have a negative outcome for some kids.

9.    Only put a small amount of food on your child’s plate. Sometimes seeing three servings of three different foods can be overwhelming. 

10.    Encourage your child to try new foods. If he can tolerate the food on his plate without eating it, that’s success. Slowly up the ante by having your child touch, lick, and/or kiss the food. Eventually he will take a bite. Remember it takes 20 tries before a child likes a food.

If you feel like there are other factors impeding your child’s ability to eat, seek help from an Occupational Therapist or Registered Dietitian. An Occupational Therapist addresses motor skills, sensory components of eating, how to use your muscles in your mouth from feeding, and much more to help children move away from the habits of selective or problem feeding. 


Summer Balance Challenge

By Shelly Murphy, TLC Board Member, Mother of Three, Balance Seeker

As my kiddos (and I am sure yours, too) anticipate the unlimited possibilities and freedom that awaits them this summer, I am filled with a mixture of excitement and dread as I look ahead to the coming months.  Summer breaks are often a huge challenge for parents and usually we find ourselves in a panic scheduling our children’s activities and time. This summer, as I plan our schedules, I challenge myself to seek balance. Will you join me in this challenge? I do not mean that for every class, practice, game, therapy session or play date that we schedule for our children that we should schedule one for ourselves. Instead, my hope is that you are able to find some time for yourself; for your growth, your fun, your health. Schedule and find time for yourself like you do for your kids; seek balance.    

You may be asking who am I to be offering such advice?  Am I a therapist or a counselor or have a PhD in family matters? No. Rather, I am a Mom who recently learned that self-care is not an indulgence, but rather a necessity to live a balanced family life. While a vacation on a Caribbean beach sounds nice, the balance I seek is not that grand.   

 If you can, I encourage you to try some of the following activities to bring balance to your days:

  • Take a walk around the block (with the kids if necessary), and enjoy nature and the outside of your house.

  • Invite a friend to join you for an exercise class or a hike in our beautiful mountains.

  • Try something new or challenge yourself to do something you have always wanted to do. If you can, schedule a date night, or a girls’ night, or schedule everyone else for a night so you can spend some time alone (and don’t clean or do other chores).

If we continue to only give and never care for ourselves, at some point we will get depleted. Remember those instructions on the plane that you are to apply your oxygen mask first before you assist others? There is wisdom in that concept. The same applies for us as we care for our children, our parents, our bosses and seemingly all others first.  

If all else fails and you cannot take a break or schedule something for yourself, I hope you can give yourself the gift of being present. Being present does not require any additional resources other than giving yourself permission to fully focus on the moment. Then, in August, when we send our kiddos back to school or the wonderful care (therapy, infant, toddler or preschool) at TLC Learning Center, we will be able to look back on these summer months fondly, just as our kiddos will.

Welcoming Mothers to Breastfeed

By Cindy Wickham, TLC Educational Services Manager

Did you know that breastfeeding helps reduce SIDS, illness, ear infection, and upset tummies in babies? And that despite all of the health benefits of breastfeeding for both infants and their mothers, it can still be challenging for a mother to find a safe, welcoming environment in which to breastfeed or pump?

TLC welcomes breastfeeding and pumping mothers, and is undergoing Breastfeeding Friendly training to further improve our ability to accommodate mother's with nursing infants who are part of our infant & toddlers childcare program.

Breastfeeding Friendly, in addition to HEAL (Healthy Eating, Active Living) training, is part of a center-wide initiative to develop an implementation plan and clear policies regarding healthy eating in our classrooms, educating families about the benefits of quality nutrition on healthy child development, and welcoming breast feeding parents and staff into our facility.

Materials to make TLC a Breastfeeding Friendly site include books and toys to help children understand what breastfeeding is, why it is important, and to normalize seeing it.

Why Breastfeeding Friendly?

By becoming Breastfeeding Friendly certified and implementing HEAL, TLC will be able to better impact positive development in children through increased nutritional intake beginning at birth, and through monitored obesity prevention by classroom teachers, aides, and therapists. Healthy development impacts a child’s behavior in the classroom on a daily basis, as well-nourished minds and bodies are able to focus and learn better.

The Benefits of Breastfeeding and Creating a Space for Breastfeeding

Babies don't need water or cereal, as all the liquids and nutrients they need are provided in their mother's milk. Introducing solid foods before six months of age can replace the nutritional and caloric content provided by a mother's milk, and should be avoided. A newborn’s brain is only about ¼ the size of an adult’s, and grows to be 80% of adult size by age three, and 90% by age five, the age when a preschooler graduates from TLC, making their time at TLC one of the most critical periods in their development for adequate nutrition acquisition, which starts in infancy. Poor nutrition contributes to delays in intellectual development by causing brain damage, illness, and delays of motor skill development. Early shortages in nutrients and exercise can reduce cell production; later shortages can affect cell size and complexity. Nutrient deficits also affect the complex chemical processes of the brain and can lead to less efficient communication between brain cells, potentially crippling a child’s cognitive potential for life.

By giving mothers who are able to breastfeed the space to do so during the day (both breastfeeding and pumping), whether on their lunch break from work, or before dropping off or picking up their child, we are helping mother's build a solid nutritional foundation for their child. This foundation is built upon in our classrooms when TLC teachers help establish healthy eating habits and food preferences.

Infant Feedings at TLC

TLC infant room staff respond to hunger cues from infants in their care. Research shows it is best to feed a baby when it is hungry, not on a strict schedule. Babies have fluctuating appetites as they grow, and may receive different amounts of calories each time they feed, resulting in a need for more or less milk at alternating variables. Cue-feeding has been shown to help babies grow better, stay calm for feedings, and learn to eat when they are hungry, which can prevent over-eating and obesity as they grow. Cues for hunger in infants include opening mouths, sticking out tongues, or moving head side to side. Hand sucking can also be a sign of hunger, and turning away from a breast or bottle a sign of fullness. Infant room staff can store both breast milk and formula on site, and mothers are welcome to come during the day and feed their infants at any time.

Advice on Breastfeeding & Child Nutrition from Boulder County Health

The recommended minimum amount of time to breastfeed an infant is for the first six months. In this time, it is recommended to exclusively feed babies breast milk. Babies don't need solid foods before they are six months old. Solid foods are difficult to digest before this time, and foods like cereal in a bottle can hurt baby's teeth, upset tummies, and interrupt sleep. Mothers are encouraged to breastfeed through the child's first birthday, and for longer if the mother wishes to do so.

A variety of positive food experiences and activities promote good eating habits and development in children. Focusing on programs about child health, breastfeeding, and healthy habits can improve a child's cognitive development early on, and thus impact their mental processing and performance throughout life, and improve a child’s ability to make healthy choices that positively impact their own well-being. TLC's programs for infants, toddlers, and preschool children, including the implementation of Breastfeeding Friendly, help build life-long healthy habits in kids.

Flu Season & Enterovirus 68 in Preschools

By Katie Dueber, Pediatrician & TLC Board Member

As a mom of two young children and a pediatrician, this time of year always makes me nervous. As kids head back to school, they are eager to see their friends and teachers, catch up from the summer, and share their germs. Now, this may not be the first concern on everyone’s mind, but it certainly is at the forefront of mine. Being well-aware of germs is especially true this year, as we are seeing an early spike of a particularly potent respiratory virus.

Enterovirus 68 (EV-D68) is making headlines as it clears out classrooms and fills pediatric intensive care units. Its victims include our youngest patients as they are always more susceptible to respiratory illness, and also asthmatics. Kids with even mild asthma are really struggling with this illness and these are the kids that are often requiring hospitalization for supportive care. This virus is causing severe cold symptoms, cough, and in some patients, wheezing and respiratory distress.

This virus is not new, but the effect it is having on children this year seems to be. There has been a lot of media attention around this virus, adding to parental concern but also increasing awareness about the virus and precautions to take against it. The largest numbers of reported cases seem to be in Kansas City and Chicago, but Colorado certainly seems to be seeing its share. There are more than 100 types of enteroviruses and they typically cause mild diseases that are spread through the oral-fecal route. EV-D68 is also spread by mucus and droplets in the air.

Asthma is a risk factor for more severe illness. If your child is on a preventive asthma medication, please make sure that he or she is using it. If your child uses Albuterol, even occasionally, start it with any symptoms of cough or illness. Even if you child does not have asthma, this virus can make your child ill. Prevention is the best medicine, but if your child does get sick, use over the counter medications as instructed by your physician, encourage fluids, rest and keep your child at home.  This is a virus, which means antibiotics will not help, so do not expect your doctor to prescribe them, but have your child seen if he is not improving. And have him seen right away if he is having any difficulty breathing.

EV-D68 is not the same virus as influenza, but we will likely be seeing that all too soon as well! To help prevent the spread of respiratory illness, wash hands often with hot water and soap, drink plenty of fluids, keep your child home if she is sick, avoid others when they are sick and get your flu shot!

Sophia washes her hands with soap in her preschool class to help prevent the spread of germs

Healthy Eating Before Five Years Old

Healthy eating habits begin early.

Did you know that a child's eating habits can be established as early as two years old? Or that 95% of a child's brain development occurs before age five?

These are just two reasons why TLC focuses on child health and nutrition both in our preschool classrooms and our pediatric therapy services. Our two garden beds, installed by TLC alum Cooper Knight, are just one way we integrate activities related to healthy food selection, overcoming fears of new foods, cooking, the science of healthy bodies, and the science of food production.

In our classrooms, students are fed healthy snacks in a nut-free, allergen-sensitive facility. Children in both classrooms and therapy sessions learn to make their own healthy snacks from fresh ingredients, many of which are grown by the children in our two on-site garden beds during the spring and summer.

Poor nutrition contributes to delays in intellectual development by causing brain damage, illness, and delays of motor skill development (e.g. crawling and walking). Early shortages in nutrients can reduce cell production; later shortages can affect cell size and complexity. Nutrient deficits also affect the complex chemical processes of the brain and can lead to less efficient communication between brain cells, potentially crippling a child’s cognitive potential for life.

A variety of positive food experiences and activities can help develop good eating habits and food preferences in children. TLC’s programs strive to provide these positive experiences daily, and provides opportunities for parents to gain further information on continuing healthy nutrition habits at home.

Toddler & Preschool Protein-Packed Superfoods:

  • Eggs

  • Oatmeal

  • Peanut Butter

  • Avocados

  • Salmon

  • Black Beans

  • Nuts & Seeds

  • Lentils

  • Green vegetables

Zero to Three, a program of the National Center for Infants, Toddlers, and Families, states that brain development is most sensitive to a child’s nutrition between mid-gestation and two years old. Children who are malnourished do not adequately grow physically or mentally. Their brains can be smaller than normal because of reduced dendritic growth, reduced myelination, and the production of fewer glia (supporting cells). A newborn’s brain is only about ¼ the size of an adult’s, and grows to be 80% of adult size by age three, and 90% by age five, when a preschooler graduates from TLC, making their time at TLC one of the most critical periods in their development for adequate nutrition acquisition.

If you'd like to learn more about how TLC works to build healthy minds and bodies through our birth - 5 preschool classrooms and birth - 12 pediatric therapy services, contact us today at (303) 776-7417.