How to Deal with Picky Eaters? Expert Advice from Dietician, Author and Mom: Stephanie Middleberg
1. Tell us a bit about yourself. How did you come to do what you do today?
My first career was in healthcare PR and after a few years, I realized that I didn’t want my boss’ job! I had also developed some stomach issues and was frustrated by how the medical community at the time had little to no interest in talking about nutrition. Every MD I visited just prescribed me more medication instead of attempting to understand the cause of the issues. I realized that if I felt this way, others did as well. I picked up the US News and World Report Best Graduate Schools guide (this was well before Google) and started looking and health programs. I landed on NYU because you could become a registered dietician and get a Masters in Public Health. Midway through the program I realized I wanted to work more in a one to one setting so I refocused my time to get my Masters in Clinical Nutrition. Best decision I made.
I launched my practice, Middleberg Nutrition, eight years ago. Since then it’s grown organically, I have seen thousands of clients and now have 4 incredible dietitians and a resident chef on my team who keep me inspired every day! I’m lucky to be surrounded by great people.
I’m also the author of the The Big Book of Organic Baby Food (which just surpassed 70,000 copies sold!!!) and this week my second book came out.
Lastly but certainly not least I have 2 kids Julian (3) and Remi (six months).
2. On that note your new book “The Big Book of Organic Toddler Food”, just launched on August 21st. Congratulations! What inspired you to focus on toddler nutrition?
Thank you! It’s been a really excited journey.
I wrote my first book right as my son was taking his first bites. Even as a dietitian it was incredibly stressful! And as we were going through that stage, making our own baby food, while difficult, really allowed us to connect with and better control that process. We saw immediately that he took to our homemade concoctions better than anything we bought at the local store, and most importantly we had the piece of mind of having the complete picture of what we were putting into his body. This is so important, especially given the recent news about weed killers being found in cereals and heavy metals in store bought baby food. Everyone kept asking me for tips and recipes and that’s when a publisher approached me. It was very serendipitous!
I was really proud of the final product, and had no idea it would take off like it did. The sales aside, it’s been the incredible comments and outreach from parents all over the world that has been the true reward. I had a dad reach out on LinkedIn from France thanking me! I knew that I had to follow it up with something.
As my son grew into a toddler, he grew pickier and more OPINIONATED not only about what he was eating, but about how he was eating it. He also has food allergies so we had to be very careful about what he was eating. At the same time friends and clients were reaching out with questions about their toddlers. How to handle picky eaters, how to get them excited about food, how to cook one meal for the whole family, everything we were dealing with and just like that The Big Book of Organic Toddler Food was born.
3. What are your tips for dealing with a picky eater?
SOOO many! But a few tips are:
1. Try something new most days and start small. It’s pretty overwhelming to see a huge mound of sautéed spinach on your plate if you don’t know if you like it. Give them a piece of the new food and always ensure there is a safe food on their plate, meaning a food you know they like. The new food can be in any form… as a chip, roasted, in a soup or dip form, etc.
2. Be a role model - make sure you are eating the foods you want your little one to try -you can’t expect them to eat it if you aren’t!
3. Get your kids involved in the process - going to the market to pick out the food, helping you wash and cut (get them a toddler cutting set), mix ingredients, etc. Getting them curious about the foods and invested in the process is so key! I am a big fan of this company called Veggies Bud Club. Every month we get a box that is focused on one vegetable and is filled with games, recipes, books and seeds (to grow that various produce if possible). Julian loves it! We always make the recipes. Sometimes he samples and spits it out and other times he loves it. Either way I’m happy he is just game to try!
4. Finally, stress less! Remove stress from the kitchen table. The moment there is tension; your loving toddlers will rebel. If they eat the food, they eat it, if they don’t – they don’t.
4. We just celebrated Breastfeeding Month, can you describe your pregnancy and breastfeeding experience? What has been the most difficult part and what has been the most rewarding?
This is such an important thing to celebrate and talk about. I was so lucky that my friends were always so open about their breastfeeding experiences. I knew that it wouldn’t come “naturally” so I took a lactation class before Julian was born. My husband came as well, which was a huge plus. Not only was there someone else who understood how to help get a latch, but also someone to talk to about it, making those early days far less lonely.
My kids were big so keeping up the supply was and is been challenging. The best advice I can impart is start pumping early, even right after you feed, to keep the supply very strong (this worked for me and might not work for everyone so please be sure to talk to your doctor, doula, baby nurse, etc.). On the nutrition side, staying hydrated is key, keep drinking water, and add coconut water in to boost your hydration. Also you need to eat. There is clearly this race to drop the baby weight as quickly as possible, but your body needs the extra fuel, so don’t deny it. But remember, just because you need to eat more doesn’t mean you can eat just anything, eat well, just more of it!
I’m asked all the time, “How long should I breastfeed for?” That’s a very personal decision. What I do is set mini goals for myself. First, get to three months, then to six months, etc. Remember though, once it stops feeling right it’s okay to stop. You need to do what’s best for you and your baby.
5. What was your guilty pleasure while breast-feeding?
Netflix for sure. My baby nurse introduced me to Jane the Virgin. It became a bit of an escape during my feedings and it stuck!
As for food, chocolate chip banana bread ;)
6. What 3 things would you recommend moms to eat while nursing?
FAT! It’s important for brain development and increases absorption of key nutrients. Try to get at least 1-2 sources with every meal. Remember these are healthy fats; avocado, nuts/seeds, oils (olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil), grass-fed beef, fish (carefully for those that are high in mercury).
Omega-3’s + Choline - for brain development. The best sources of omega-3’s are from fish like wild salmon, sardines, etc. but you may need to supplement with a DHA supplement. Cod liver oil is a great option as you get the Omega-3 benefit and added Vitamin A + D. Eggs are a great source of choline also needed for brain development. Eat the whole egg, as the yolk is the most important part. Aim for organic, pasture raised eggs.
Probiotics - research shows that optimal gut health for mom and baby can reduce likelihood of chronic conditions like food allergies, eczema, allergies + ADHD. The gut is the center to our health so focusing on increasing the good bacteria is key. Food sources are things like fermented veggies; kefir, miso and yogurt but I also recommend a supplement for most breastfeeding woman.
7. We encourage women to celebrate the wonderful journey of motherhood and stand by the motto “a woman in every mom.” What are your tips and tricks for finding time for yourself?
I like that! I’m going to use that!
Me time is hard, just scheduling alone time without the guilt factor!! With Julian I raced home every day, me time didn’t matter as much as I craved time with him. Now with two, I find myself walking to the next subway stop instead of heading immediately underground. My daughter is going to read that when she’s a teenager and never forgive me…ha! But it is so important, even just an hour here or there. I’ve found that it needs to be scheduled, I know not very Zen, but if you really need something you have to work hard for it right? I used to be an early riser, get out before everyone was up, go for a run, and watch the sunrise. My daughter wakes up at 5:30am so those days are done for now. Today, I try to take every Friday morning, start work a little later, drop Julian off at school/camp and then do a workout class, have a proper shower, a cup of tea at this great coffee bar near us, and then head to work.