What 2 Olympian Parents feed their Child
(photo credit: Nathaniel Miller)
Ok, so our two year old daughter eats better than an Olympic athlete. Looking at her diet inspires me to want to eat better – no joke. As a first time mother, I didn’t know what to expect with anything, including with meal times and young ones. I did some research, but not knowing all the answers I decided to stick with what I knew as an athlete. I have always taken lot of pride in my own nutrition and health as an athlete and, frankly, when it comes to feeding a growing little human being I thought that “healthy” was likely the best approach to take. Not all of us have the same definition of what “healthy” is. Here are some ideas of what two Olympian parents feed their child, and how we go about doing it.
Our 7 Household Guidelines (What can I say? As a heptathlete I like things in 7s):
Rule #1: Who’s the Boss?
Yes, our 2 year old daughter may think she knows what’s good to eat, but it’s not up to her to dictate what she can and can’t eat… at least not until she’s buying the groceries!
Rule #2: It’s OK to say “No”
When our daughter asks if she can have something unhealthy or “just try a little bit”, and there’s no good reason for her to have it, the answer is always: “No, sorry… you can have this or this instead”. We try to always have one or two healthy snack alternative available for her to choose from. At almost 2 and a half years old she hasn’t tried candies, hot dogs, pop, chips, cookies (to name only a few) and so far she doesn’t seem to mind one bit. Instead, apples, cheese, and plain crackers are treats to her in the same way that chips and cookies are to some other toddlers.
Rule #3: Follow the Leader
It’s important to lead by example. Saying “no” is a lot easier, and is less frequent, if we’re not the ones eating cookies, hot dogs and drinking pop. If it’s not good for them to eat it, it’s likely not good for us to eat either. I know there will come a point in time where Anika will start noticing me sneaking my occasional chocolate fix. When this time comes, I’ll have to make a decision on allowing her into my chocolate box (yes, I have a chocolate box), or I could choose to stop bringing chocolate into the house and instead, have my fix when I’m out of the house on my own (like a true addict!).
Rule #4: Grab ‘n’ Go
Whenever travelling, doing errands, going to birthday parties or restaurants, or taking her to daycare, we always pack her own food. I find it very stressful to be out and about with no reliable food options for her. Yes, we are “those” parents that bring their own food to kid’s birthday parties…and while the other kids are bouncing off the walls or throwing tantrums from their sugar highs, we can relax and enjoy the gathering. The little bit of extra time/planning it takes to get her snacks ready before we leave has been worth it, both for her health and for our sanity. At this point, it’s become second nature for us to grab ‘n’ go.
Rule #5: Routine Routine Routine
We have a routine for when she eats meals, snack times, timing of certain foods (eg. Milk in the morning and after nap). I find that if our daughter knows what to expect, there is less guess-work for her, which leads to her not trying to push the boundaries as much. If she knows what to expect, and if we’re consistent, then there are fewer negotiations, and everyone is happier!
Rule #6: Come and get it!
Sitting down as a family for meals has been our biggest challenge, with our often hectic & irregular schedules. I find that Anika is more adventurous in her eating, and tends to eat more when we’re sitting together as a family enjoying a meal. Eating is more than just food consumption, but rather it’s a time to share a meal and connect as a family. It’s become one of her very favourite things to do, and ours as well, so we try to make it happen as much as possible.
Rule #7: JUST DO IT!
Commit to the cause. It’s not always easy, but nothing worth doing ever really is. As her parents, Anika’s health and well being depends entirely on us. We don’t let her play with matches so she doesn’t burn herself, and even if the effects of unhealthy foods aren’t as immediately visible as a burnt finger, the long term effects are much, much worse.
Anika’s Nutritional Guidelines:
Water: Always have a water bottle (with water) accessible to her all day long. Juice is not in our house, since fresh fruit is always available.
Dairy: Follow milk intake recommendations for her age (whole or goat’s milk). Cheese is more of a treat than a regular food source, but plain (whole) yogurt is usually daily, with added nutrients (see below).
Veggies: Highly vegetable-focussed diet. We aim for vegetables with every meal, and as snack options. One thing I carried over from my diet as an athlete is putting pumpkin puree in my morning porridge. Ever since Anika started eating solids, she’s been enjoying this morning ritual, and now her favourite thing is to sprinkle on her own cinnamon.
Fruit (controlled portions): Anika could eat fruit all day if we let her. Fruit is great for nutrients, but still high in sugar content. We avoid giving her fruit before nap time and bedtime, and with meals. She eats seasonal fruit, when available.
Grains: Our family avoids gluten products in general, though there’s no shortage of grains in our house. Quinoa, kamut, amaranthe, millet, buckwheat, rice, and cormeal are our go-to grains. Since none of us are celiac, we also have oats and wheat-germ.
Protein: Anika has a protein source in every meal. Usually, 1 out of the 3 meals contains meat. For the other two meals, she has other sources of protien such as: legumes, tofu, high protein grains (quinoa, chia), eggs, nuts (eg. almond butter), and fish.
Meat options (organic, when possible): chicken, beef, bison, elk, ostrich.
Snacks/”Treats”: Some of Anika’s favourite snacks and treats include: plain rice crackers, seaweed snack strips, goji berries, golden berries, gluten-free bread (with almond butter), hummus + veggies, corn tortilla, baby tomatoes and cucumbers, cheese and fruit.
Added nutrients and/or fatty-acids (add to yogurt, shakes, dishes such as mashed sweet potatoes): Flax seeds, hemp seeds, Salba, chia, wheat germ.
Herbs/spices: As soon as Anika could eat solids we’ve played with her palette with different herbs and spices. I think this has helped to introduce foods with variety of flavours (instead of her thinking that bland food is the norm- as baby food can often be).
Side note: Sometimes texture, more than flavor, determines the foods she likes/doesn’t like. We try our best to cook with different methods to see what she enjoys most.
Sodium: A lot of “healthy” and organic options out there still have surprisingly high levels of sodium. Making our own food is the best way to avoid this. Foods to watch out for are: broth and soup (even low-sodium soups are not all equal), hummus, cheese, crackers, and any processed foods. Being aware of where Anika is getting her sodium helps us gauge her portions and her intake for the day.
General (when possible): Seasonal, Local, Organic.
In the end, the most important thing is that our daughter eats a healthy, balanced diet, and that she enjoys eating. Both my husband and I love to eat and, being athletes, we understand how “what” we put into our bodies has a direct effect on how we feel and how we function. This is just as true for anyone, whether you are burning your calories as an elite athlete training every day, or you are burning your calories running around non-stop like a crazy busy parent!
I feel fortunate to be able to raise our daughter in a way that her eating habits will be healthy and nutritious from day one. She’s a healthy active girl, and she loves to eat just like we do, even though she has never had a french fry or take-out pizza in her life. She gets excited with a little cheese shredded on her broccoli, and negotiates for extra raisins in her porridge the way I see some other kids bargain for another jube-jube. I know she’ll try all these things eventually, but our hope is that we will have given her the necessary tools for her to eventually choose to make healthy life-style decisions on her own.
Would love to hear from you! Please leave comments, ideas, suggestions, questions, and other great resources in the comment box!
There are a ton of great resources out there. Here are just a few that I’ve used:
Rubin, Jacqueline “Naturally Healthy First Foods for Baby”
Vann, Lizzie “Organic Baby & Toddler Cookbook”
Daulter, Anni “Organically Raised: Conscious Cooking for Babies and Toddlers”