Question: How can I get my twins to eat well and develop healthy habits?
Answer:You would think that a dietitian would have an easy time when it comes to feeding their own children right? After all, we do consider ourselves the nutrition experts. I find it is quite the contrary. Knowledge does not always equal 100% success when it comes to feeding your kids. Along with being a dietitian, I am also the proud father of not-quite 3-year-old twins, Reuben and Shira. Being a father of twins and a registered dietitian, I think I’ve gained some unique perspective on feeding children.
Before being father, I remember sitting in school earning my bachelor’s degree, and learning about Ellyn Satter. I found out she was a dietitian who had very interesting insights into feeding children. I knew she wrote many books on the subject I never was motivated to read them until I found out my wife was pregnant. Until you have children of your own, you never really know what kind of parent you will be or how you will handle any given situation. You think you will handle it one way but until that actual moment is there, you never really know. Feeding my children was a perfect example of this.
What I loved about Satter’s theory is that focuses on responsibilities. She believes that a parent’s job is to provide healthy, balanced meals to their children. Then it is the child’s responsibility to eat the meal. A parent is not a short order cook and should not run to the kitchen to make a whole new meal just because he/she doesn’t like what is being served. Sounds simple? In theory it is but until you experience the five-minute tantrum that your son is having because he doesn’t want pasta with vegetables, you don’t know how hard that is.
Having twins adds another complexity to all of this. Some think that twins (no matter if they are identical or fraternal) should be similar since they have the same birthday, are raised together and share most of their experiences. Wrong! Twins are really just siblings who share a birthday and can be as different as night and day, especially when it comes to food. My kids eat the same meals as each other but how they react during a meal is totally different. One is more likely to get upset and the other is more likely to lose attention quickly and eat only one or two bites of food before asking to leave the table. We learned that there were differences very early on. Our daughter was colicky for the first four months of her life. We tried everything to relieve the symptoms. There was one point when she had different bottles, nipples and formula than our son. It was our first lesson that what applied to one would not necessarily apply to the other.
If you want some insight into chaos theory, come over for dinner one night. It is a bit of a circus but despite all of this, my wife and I have two kids that are actually very good eaters.
So how did we do it? They key is that with most things behavioral, there is no quick fix. It takes time and consistency but pays off in the end. Here’s what’s worked for us and maybe it can work for you too.
- Everyone sits down at the dining room table with the TV off for dinner. (Unless there is a big football game on!) This gives us structure at night and allows us to connect with each other
- Have regular snack times. If one child doesn’t eat at dinner for any reason (mood or not hungry) my wife and I know that they won’t starve. They will have a balanced and nutritious snack in a couple hours that will satisfy them
- As your children get older, involve them in the meals. I made falafels at home for the first time last month and the kids helped by adding the ingredients in the food processor. Since they were apart of the process they were more interested in trying this new food.
- Grow some vegetables with your kids. They will love watching the plants grow and be excited to see how a cucumber started from a seed to the long green vegetable that is now on their plate.
- As they get older, give them a choice between two things for dinner. Every night I ask, “Ok, do you want this or that for dinner tonight,” and that’s it. I don’t give them more choices and I try not to get into a negotiation.