The 'New' Food Plan - 6 Months In


We've had ups and downs with the boys' eating, which I know is normal. I feel like they ate great as babies and young toddlers and then slowly they stopped eating certain things and as it get really annoying to keep wasting food, I slowly stopped offering those foods. Dave reminds me that even in their not-so-good phases, they're still pretty good eaters. We never have an ongoing issue with volume and they're both steadily gaining weight, so it's a bit easier to relax about how much they're taking in on a given day. They actually both eat quite a bit, George especially and right now they both seem to be in a growth spurt, or at least their eating habits would indicate such.

When I was in the hospital last year and then the summer when I was not at home making dinner every night, things definitely shifted. They were getting used to having the same 3 or 4 things from the freezer for dinner, some of it homemade but still, little variety. They'd have frozen peas or corn on the side. They've always done well with breakfast, but overall variety was the biggest issue which then lead them to eat fewer and fewer things as they knew they could always get a chicken leg or meatballs from the freezer instead. Once Colette got home, I started cooking more, but the damage had been done. They weren't eating much, if anything, of what I was making for dinner. Because they've always gained well and eaten enough during the day, I've never felt the need to force them to eat and am fine if they choose to eat nothing at all. I prefer the approach of 'this is what's offered and if you don't want to have any, that's fine, but the next meal is breakfast', but that was harder to re-implement after the period of them getting so much of what they wanted (we had bigger issues to stress about).

Multiple moms had recommended It's Not About the Broccoli and I'd had it on my list for months to read, but had never gotten around to it. Finally in January, I read it over the course of several days and actually skimmed it a second time to do a Cliffs Notes version for Dave to read on his plane trip home from NYC. The ideas of the book really resonated with me as they actually seemed like something I could implement. Of course Dave and I were a bit skeptical of how much it would really work, but he was immediately on board. There were a few points in the book that we needed to work out for our family specifically, like how many treat foods they could have a day. Once we worked that out, I put together the info so that we, as well as Jessica and my mom, could all be on the same page. It was important for me to do it now, to get the boys back on track, as Colette had just started solids and I didn't want the boys to be a bad influence on her.

The Plan: Stop focusing solely on nutrition (and what they’re eating each day) and instead teach them three habits (and shape taste preferences for the longterm):

  • Proportion - “We eat foods like fruits and vegetables more often than we eat foods like pizza or crackers”. 
  • Variety - “We eat different foods from day to day." 
  • Moderation - “We eat only when we’re hungry and we stop when we’re full.” 
We decide WHEN ('Eating Zones') they eat and WHAT is offered ('Rotation Rule'), but they choose if they're going to eat or not and how much.

Eating Zones are the periods when food is available. If they've chosen not to eat, we can remind them toward the end that Eating Zone is closing and they don't have to eat anything but if they get hungry, they'll have to wait until the next Eating Zone.

Rotation Rule: Never serve the same food (except milk) two days in a row. This can be tricky, especially if it's something healthy. What's the harm in serving a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast every day? The idea is that if you don't offer enough variety, they won't be open to new things when you eventually try to, plus, they may get sick of that one thing they're eating for breakfast each day. We started out somewhat strict about this but have eased up. Breakfast is especially hard as in a given morning, they'll have a bowl of oatmeal with fruit and yogurt, scrambled eggs, toast or a waffle and half a grapefruit. It would be hard to think of enough different things to give them that much food every morning that's different. We stick to the basics -- we had scrambled eggs yesterday so if you want eggs, how about fried? Toast - different topping (maybe peanut butter and honey instead). The idea is that the changes can be subtle if necessary, if your child is used to eating the same thing and will have a fit about anything different. You could even start by serving it on a different plate for example. We didn't have to get that extreme. There are days they are upset by the Rotation Rule, but generally they get creative with changing it up enough to make it work.

This also helped with things like fruit for G -- a few months ago, he only liked pomegrante seeds, cuties and grapefruit (this is after eating many fruits over the past few years). He even said he didn't like berries anymore. Grapefruit doesn't travel well so he was switching between pom seeds and cuties in his lunch every day. Until Trader Joes didn't have pom seeds for a few weeks. We talked about how we had to come up with at least 5 fruits he'd eat so we could rotate them. It took some time, but he eventually added raspberries and blueberries to the list. Recently, he's been much more open to trying fruits we've told him he used to eat. He's now added apple slices, watermelon, peaches, and bananas (!!) which he used to love but decided to stop eating one day.

Technically the Rotation Rule doesn't allow for last night's leftovers to be used until the second day but we don't follow that. Honestly, they don't eat many leftovers but I think the basic idea of more variety and not settling in for the same thing every day has really been established. They pick a new sandwich each day (could be PB&J on wheat bread, then the next day in a pita if they still want PB&J), but it's been helpful for things like snacks and fruit. They'll actually correct Jessica if she accidentally makes the same sandwich two days in a row. All this creates a lot more work for Jessica and I to constantly be coming up with new offerings, but I think we're flexible enough (and they've improved their eating habits enough) that they're getting enough variety without reinventing the wheel each week.

  • Growing Foods - Foods you know are fresh and healthy - fruits, vegetables, healthy protein, nuts, oatmeal 
  • Fun Foods - Foods that are sort of healthy, not totally junky - pretzels, chicken nuggets, pasta, waffles, cheese 
  • Treat Foods - Foods that you know are junk - cookies, french fries, ice cream
To teach proportion, start bringing in more growing foods (even just little tastes to start) at each meal. Kids can't eat what they're not offered and though I still throw out most vegetables for all three kids, I know I'm doing my part, and there has been some improvement. William now has a few more veggies he'll eat.

Then, VARIETY. First, I lowered my expectations and focused more on the longterm goal than what they tried today. We made Tasting Books which were a huge hit actually and G continues to get his tasting book out anytime he tries something new. Some things we kept in mind with tasting:

  •  They never have to taste anything they don't want to. We won't force them.
  • Avoid ‘Just taste it, if you don’t like it, you don’t have to eat it’. Leads them to believe if they do like it, they will have to eat it. Avoid ‘Just take a bite, if you don’t like it, all you have to do is say ‘no thank you’.’ Primes them for not liking it. 
  • Avoid: telling them it’s good for them or will make them tall or keep them healthy (everything I’d been doing and honestly, we still talk about growing a lot in association with food). 
  • Avoid: ‘Yum, this tastes good. Want to try it?’.  
  • INSTEAD: Describe it. This is crunchy. Or ‘this tastes like the chicken you like that we had last week’ -- Turn them into food critics - have them describe 
  • Talk to them in advance and tell them why we’re doing this and remind them that they never need to eat anything they don’t want to. Address that it can be scary to try new things etc. * Tiny tastes, go slow and slight changes in the beginning 
  • Tasting does not need to equal eating. A taste could even be just touching it, smelling it, licking it, slowly warming up to actually tasting it. 
  • Tell them it’s okay to spit it into a napkin if they don’t like it and to drink so water to get rid of the taste. 
  • Don’t ask ‘Did you like it?’. Multiple tastings is the goal, which is hard once they label it an ‘I don’t like it’ food. Ask them to describe - (Is it salty or sweet? Does it have a mild or strong flavor? Is it crunchy? What color is it? Does it taste like anything else you’ve had?) 
  • Rating Cards - we started ‘Tasting Books’ where they can note down any new foods they try and mark it with the appropriate smiley face from Really Yucky to Really Yummy. This was a hit! Try to respond with neutrality instead of: But you love X! 

  • Avoid: ‘you can’t be full/just a few more bites/finish that and you can have dessert’ 
  • Enforce the Eating Zones. If they get up before they’re full, they’ll have to wait until the next zone to eat again. 
  • Encourage the truth - I’m not hungry often means I don’t like what’s being served 
  • Serve small portions - they can always ask for more - or they can serve themselves  
  • Ask “Are you hungry, or are you full” instead the leading question of just part of it. 
  • Dessert: resist the dessert bribe    
    • We decided they can have one treat per day and can choose when they have it (breakfast is fine!)        
    • Flexibility when on vacation, holidays     
    • Portion size is controlled by us - not unlimited     
    • If they’ve had their treat earlier in the day, and they ask for dessert, we remind them they’ve already had their treat for the day but they’re welcome to FRESH fruit.   
Dessert is still a bit tricky. I have a hard time letting them have dessert if they don't eat any dinner, but if they haven't had a treat food for that day, then they can have it. It's really difficult to figure out how to deal with this while avoiding 'you have to eat this in order to get that'.

During the beginning month, we talked a lot about food, they went shopping with me, and still do each week, went to the Farmer's Market for tasting, did lots of cooking and lots of taste tests (even for things like juice which aren't healthy, but warmed them up to the taste test idea). We also got some great book recommendations and G still loves the first two:
  • Go Go Grapes
  • Rah Rah Radishes
  • Yoko
  • A Kitten Tale
  • Eat Like a Dinosaur
  • Good Enough to Eat
  • I will Never Not Eat a Tomato 

As if I didn't spend enough time on this project, I then wrote a little book for them with many of the themes above with the storyline of them having to teach Coco how to be a good eater. I included tons of photos showing all the things they ate when they were younger. As we were going through books the other day, George asked me why we had to keep that one, so yes, it's been a huge hit...

Other 'rules'/notes:

  • They don't have to taste or eat anything you don't want to.
  • They may not say ‘I don’t like it’ about something they haven’t tasted. They don’t have to taste it, but they can’t say anything bad about it.
  • They can choose to eat any part of the dinner that they want, but if they want to change it (pick something off, etc), they need to do it themselves. I will attempt to cater to them a bit more by keeping some ingredients separate but want to stress that it’s all the same meal so they know that a special meal is not being made for them.
  • It’s their choice if they want to eat or not - they will be reminded that they can wait until the next Eating Zone - or they can have their Backup Food (cottage cheese and a piece of fresh fruit are always on the dinner table).
  • General table manners have been a part of this new food plan too. Using napkins, taking their plates over to the sink, staying seated during dinner (still a work in progress for George).

Overall, I think both Dave and I would call it a success. We've changed some habits and made small improvements that have made a big impact on how they look at food. Do they eat everything now? No. Do they taste everything? No. But do they often taste new things? Yes. And have they found a few new things that they'll eat now? Yes. That's what the book presents as a success too -- that's it not about the broccoli, per se, but an understanding of putting a mix of good foods into our body and that treats, in a small amount, are okay. We've gone through phases though, the first month to 6 weeks was great. They were trying many new things (though still not necessarily liking them, which is okay) and Dave kept saying how he couldn't believe how well it was working. Then we went to Florida and I said I'd ease up for vacation and I don't think we slipped into bad habits necessarily, but the lack of consistency dragged past the trip, then we had the month of birthdays in April and the Hawaii trip, etc., etc. Anyway, lately, they've been super into tasting things again and picking out new things at the store to try and wanting to get out of their tasting books. The enthusiasm is back. I think this is likely how it will go, in waves, and that's okay. I think as a parent, I need to be consistent about the 'rules' and continue to offer new things but beyond that, it's on them. I'm okay with this.

I've recommended the book to many and even shared my 'cliffs notes' with several friends and I think if you commit to the approach and are consistent, then there's a high chance at success. Unfortunately it's a lot more work for me, as with the rotation rule I'm always thinking of new things for lunch or breakfast and just keeping up with the variety (especially considering the things they'll actually eat) is tough. I already see Coco getting pickier (and she doesn't like ANY veggies) but after reading the book, I'm really trying to stay committed to continuing to offer, even if she doesn't eat. Trying to preparations, offering new foods, or foods she used to eat and focusing on variety and not just settling for the lunch I know she'll finish. I feel like we're already starting to get out of that window of opportunity of establishing a strong palate, but I hope I can hold strong even if she goes through phases when she's not eating much or well. Really, my biggest goal is for my kids to enjoy food as much as I do. No, I don't like everything, and they know there are certain foods I say I continue to try but I just don't care for, and that's okay. But I love that I can go into any restaurant and find multiple things I want to get, or be open to trying things that don't sound good, have mushrooms, etc. I hope that we can eat out as a family and eventually avoid the kids menu and that they appreciate all the delicious foods that you can experience when eating out. That's the end goal, but I currently feel good about the progress in the right direction. We also often talk about how Dave and I go to dinner each Thursday night because we like to try new things that I can't always make at home. They know that once they eat a wider variety and have good behavior at the table, that they can start going to dinner with us. We have had a few of these dinners out, but often refer to these dinners that they can eventually come to so it is a goal for them too.

Our Superhero Turns One!

It was a bit of a whirlwind planning Colette's party since besides picking a theme and sending the invites, I didn't do any planning until after the boys' party at the end of April. I was a bit partied-out after the boys' bash and had a hard time getting the ball rolling on hers. There are so many ideas for a superhero party, but I wanted it to be a bit girly, but also appropriate for a one year old. It also didn't help that I don't know much about superheros at all -- every party I've planned in the past has been a theme that the boys have been obsessed with for a least a year so a lot of the ideas came naturally. After about a week of being stalled, I finally got on a roll and a lot of the ideas came together.

I fell in love with the idea of a superhero party as it really captures the year Colette has had. I wanted to acknowledge how far she's come but celebrate where she is now and I think I struck the right balance. The side yard, where people came into the party, had the posters I'd made for her NICU graduation party which documented her 114 days in the NICU. On the other wall, I had the monthly photos I took with the number blocks.

Since there were more adults than kids coming, I didn't focus too much on games and activities, but we had the picnic table set up to decorate a superhero mask. The boys helped me make a big spider web and then we used 'spidey' spray (silly string) to spray the web. I also borrowed a tent with balls for a ball pit and then used pool noodles to  make a little tunnel into the tent.

Built by Hans, of course!

The last thing was the photo backdrop which I didn't think was going to come together but ended up working well. We saved boxes for several weeks and then Jessica helped wrap all of them with black craft paper and I made the windows to make them look like skyscapers. We had those all around the party for decor. 

Other decor included sunburst designs with POW, BAM, WHAM etc. written on them and strings of photos from her first year.

For food, I kept it fairly simple and did a veggie tray and fruit options for a 'pick your super power' theme.


For the dessert table, I made a 'cookie cutter' mask out of cardboard and then cut out cookies (couldn't find the right style mask online), designed 'spidey strawberries' using melted chocolate to draw masks on hulled strawberries on a stick, added capes to lolipops and made TNT explosives out of twizzlers. I added some candy dots and rock candy mostly for decoration and then of course had the cake and the smash cake.


In a way I had high hopes for the smash cake since the boys' was the cutest thing ever, but we offered Colette a dessert on her actual birthday and she wasn't too interested so I had a feeling it wasn't going to be a hit. Luckily we put her in her highchair and gave her a burrito first, which she loved, so we got some cute photos of her happily eating that. She was fine for the singing, but wasn't into having a taste and then got really made. We took her out of the highchair and set her on the ground with the cake and she was okay then, though still not really into the cake at all. I even borrowed the photographer friend's adorable vintage baby bath that I put the boys in for after their cake smash but didn't get to use it since she had zero cake on her. Oh well!




It was fun pulling together the other parts of the party as well. For the guest book, we did Oh the Places You'll Go, which we had the nurses and doctors sign before she left the hospital so it was cool to add to that.

NICU graduation board and Birthday board:

Goody bags: POP bubbles, a superhero rubber ducky and a Captain America container with gummies.


Then and Now!
We feel so blessed that so many of our friends and family were able to celebrate the big day with us, even flying in for the weekend (or driving from LA!). It was so special to have everyone who played such an important role in her recovery, whether by treating her, or supporting us, together.

Her NICU primary nurses

In the end, the party itself turned out great, but unfortunately George picked up a bug and started throwing up Friday night while at a sleepover at Ma's hotel. We briefly debated canceling the party, but I had everything ready to go and multiple people were coming in from out of town so even if the party was canceled, we'd still be hosting people in some capacity. Many times with kids, it's a quick bug and thankfully doesn't affect much else. Unfortunately that wasn't case with this one. We now suspect he picked up norovirus at the Discovery Museum the day before because it was quite the domino effect. George stayed upstairs during the party, but we didn't do a very good job about keeping people from coming up to say hi to him. We had Colette's baptism on Sunday morning, which turned out to be a slight disaster since in the end my family didn't even get to attend. We all were feeling fine but because of street closures due to Bay to Breakers, my family missed the baptism. It went fine though but after we brought Colette up from the nursery to get some family photos, she started throwing up in the church. Then I started feeling sick, then William, then my nephews, etc., etc. Thankfully mine was short-lived (maybe a few hours of really being sick) and though Colette was throwing up every 15 minutes for a few hours, she recovered fairly quickly too. We didn't get a single photo at the church or with Colette in her white dress which definitely makes me sad, but I'm SO grateful she didn't start throwing up during her baptism! It was such a special milestone I had been waiting to make official at church and our pastor did a great job of conveying Colette's miraculous journey. It was just disappointing, and a bit embarrassing, to hear how many people ended up getting sick after the party and I feel terrible. If I had known it was so contagious, I never would have gone through with the party, but obviously you don't know and you hope for the best. It will be a memorable weekend to say the least.

UPDATE: Ma did get a few photos!

photos by Alyssa Hunter Photography.
Cakes by Sweet Vanilla Bakery.