5 Things I Wish I Knew About Feeding My Kids

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5 Things I Wish I Knew About Feeding My Kids

An integrative health coach shares what she wishes she knew 13 years ago when she began the journey of feeding her kids.

By Lilah Fisher Wise

Within minutes of giving birth, it is our job to nourish our children. But no one really tells us how so I’m here to share what I wish I knew about feeding my kids 13 years ago. As a new mom I was obsessed with feeding my daughter enough – perhaps out of some innate response to my own restrictive dieting and years of a punishing relationship with food. My daughter just needed me, but I worried I would not be enough. What if she went hungry? I was scared of my own hunger, it seemed.

I also lacked knowledge about real nutrition back then. Now, as an integrative health coach, I know better. I’ve also been humbled by having two more children as well as healing my own issues with food. We live in a toxic food environment full of conflicting information and incessant marketing that creates confusion and stress about what to feed our children. But what and how we feed them impacts their behavior as well as their physical and mental health. Here’s what I wish I knew 13 years ago when I began the journey of feeding my children:

1. They don’t need baby food

By the time my third child came, the idea of patiently spooning mush into his mouth made me want to rip my hair out. So I instinctively did what we now know as baby-led weaning. I followed his lead, and he wanted what we ate. I cut tender meats and vegetables up into “fingers” he could gum. It turns out that chewing is a very important part of developing correct facial and dental structures, which can impact breathing.

Our obsession with pureed foods for babies is actually evolutionarily incorrect. Our ancestors didn’t have Vitamixes. Plus, exposing your children to the varied foods you eat will help you avoid the trap of having to order from the kids menu down the road.  Restaurants often pack kids menus with nutrient-poor fried food and white starch. Instead, keep the foods whole, and let them be a part of what you eat.

2. Kids don’t need “superfoods”

This is a marketing ploy, plain and simple. Don’t buy the corn and soy-laden puffs sprinkled with kale and broccoli dust. Whole foods — like meat, eggs, fish, vegetables and fruits — are always better than processed ones, even if they say “superfood” on the package. Animal foods are the most nutrient-dense, and children need ample protein and healthy fats for their developing brains. Start with those, and add in whatever vegetables and fruits you have on hand. Exposing children to new foods is a good rule of thumb, but don’t expect they’ll eat them at first. And above all, if they don’t eat the rainbow at every meal, don’t panic.

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3. They get to say how much

This is a big one that I truly regret. We used to push our daughter to eat more, but doing that is a surefire way to teach children to override their own hunger cues. There will be days when your child eats a lot, and some days when it seems they exist on air alone. It’s totally normal for their appetite to fluctuate. Be sure to allow plenty of time for them to eat, which can take an awfully long time for a toddler because they get distracted so easily. We found reading books during meals helped them sit long enough to get a good amount down.

But ultimately when they are done, they are done. You can keep their plate around for a few minutes to make sure they aren’t just distracted, but listen to them. Help your child understand what hunger and fullness feel like by empowering them to know and trust their own bodies. It took me years to recognize my own true hunger and satiety signals. This will also be helped by avoiding processed and sugary foods, which are chemically designed to spur on overeating. Pro tip: protein is the most satisfying macronutrient!

4. Don’t let food become a power play

Unless you are sending your child into the grocery store with your wallet, the food that ends up in your house is your decision. If you don’t want your kids eating plain pasta and Cheetos, do not buy them. We all know the family with the child that won’t eat anything but ramen noodles, and the parents throw their hands up as if they have no idea how it happened. Agree on a few healthy “treats” (like popcorn or low-sugar yogurt) ahead of time so you avoid the grocery store begging. What we put in our mouths is one of the only things that we can control in life, and children learn this fast. Remember, they will eat when they get hungry enough. The parents say what and when. They decide if and how much. Pro tip: teach your child when they are old enough to read nutrition labels. My kids are shocked by how much sugar is in processed foods!

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5. Food isn’t something to do — it’s nourishment

Another thing I wish I knew about feeding my kids is that they don’t need constant access to food. Pumping them full of processed snacks will leave them riding a blood sugar roller coaster all day. It’s perfectly okay not to leave the house loaded with snack cups of Cheerios. But if you truly do need to have some snacks on hand opt instead for some cheese sticks and fruit. Food is meant for nourishment and connection, not a distraction, a cure for boredom, or a reward.

The writer, Lilah Fisher Wise // Photo by Mikey Neff

If you feel stressed and out of control at mealtime with your kids, it’s time to take a breath and examine your own relationship to eating. It may also be time to switch up the way you approach food in your home. For example, try inviting your children into the kitchen to help chop, investigate ingredients, find recipes, and taste what’s cooking. You can also try giving them household jobs (kids love to feel helpful) like setting the table, making place cards, and clearing the dishes when the meal is over.

Cooking and sharing meals at home provide the kind of time with your child that you will cherish as they get older. Food is a way to nourish our bodies yes, but also a way to foster connection. Savor it. Remember to have grace; we all make mistakes, and learn as we go.


Lilah Fisher Wise is a certified integrative health coach specializing in autoimmune issues and elimination diets. She is also a certified Autoimmune Paleo (AIP) coach, certified Ketogenic coach, mother of three, and believer in the power of food as medicine. Find her on IG @lilahwise_wellness or on her website here.

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