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Give Peas a Chance – Book review

peasFull disclosure: the publisher contacted me and offered a free review copy. So I may be biased by swag.

This is a great book for parents who worry that their toddlers don’t eat enough. I would say that the focus of the book is definitely on anxiety about getting enough calories in to your kid, with getting more variety a second goal, and more aspirational nutrition running third. So if your child eats plenty of food, is gaining weight well, and you mostly want to teach him to love whole grains and broccoli, this might not be your go-to manual. If, however, your doctor is concerned that your child has fallen off her growth curve and you find yourself chasing your toddler around trying to get extra food into her, this is going to be very helpful.

Samela does a good job of walking parents through both normal toddler behavior that can complicate healthy eating (can’t sit at the table for long periods, will graze all day on snack food if allowed, etc.), and the standard dietetic requirements. She discusses macro- and micro-nutrients, and cautions against common pitfalls such as depending on commercial “toddler foods,” letting a child drink vast quantities of milk, or expecting a toddler to eat far more food than they actually need.

The advice about what to feed your toddler seems pretty good, but a bit unambitious at times. Perhaps I hang with too crunchy a crowd, but I know a lot of mothers who would stroke out at reading the recommendations to feed your toddler a Nutella and Fluff sandwich, frozen yogurt sprinkled with Fruity Pebbles, or a pudding cup with vanilla wafers. However, if a parent is worried about getting enough calories in, these Whole Food heresies are probably defensible, and they are counterbalanced with many more healthy suggestions. As a mom whose children eat plenty of food, but gravitate to white starches too much, I would have loved more advice on nudging them in the direction of vegetables, but again, that doesn’t seem to be the main purpose of this book.

The one thing I found truly irksome about this book was its disregard of breastfeeding. This book is explicitly aimed at children 12-36 months old, and it has not one breath about continued nursing. I understand that nursing past one is very rare, but it is recommended by health professionals and organizations, and it deserves at least one sentence when there’s an entire section devoted to “Milk.” Even chocolate milk gets a positive side-bar, and  rice milk, almond milk, soy milk, hemp milk, and coconut milk are all discussed, but giving a toddler the biologically normal and most healthful milk is not even mentioned. Maybe sustained nursing is unusual, but is it really less prevalent than parents giving their kids hemp milk?

All in all, if I knew a pretty mainstream family with an underweight toddler, a parent who was anxious about getting enough calories in, or a mom who was “addicted” to processed foods from Gerber and Beech-Nut, I would heartily recommend Give Peas a Chance. For the average family dealing with a health-but-picky kid, I’d say it’s useful enough. For crunchy folk, or parents who are looking to make their child love kale and quinoa, I’d say another book would probably be a better fit.

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Review: The No-Cry Picky Eater Solution

So how does The No-Cry Picky Eater Solution stack up against my champion picky eater?  I think Elizabeth Pantley herself would say it’s far too early to tell, but overall I really like this book.

I think a great strength of this book is that Pantley acknowledges just how frustrated, concerned, and hopeless parents of picky eaters can feel, and then, rather than offering a flashy quick-fix, counsels patience above all else.  She manages to provide sympathy while at the same time reminding readers that you can’t change picky eating overnight, and more importantly, it’s not urgent that you do so.

Don’t get me wrong, she lays out great information about how important it is to get kids eating lower sugar, lower sodium, and more whole grains and produce.  But she also emphasizes that it doesn’t need to be instantaneous, and it’s more important to work on developing good habits for the long haul, rather than getting broccoli into your kid tonight.

I also like that the book addresses a wide array of kid pickiness.  Extreme kids like mine who will only eat beige foods and no vegetables are specifically mentioned, as are kids who don’t seem to eat enough, or who never eat whole grains, as well as kids who don’t seem compatible with the “always eat breakfast” rule or those who can’t seem to sit at a table with the family.

Pantley manages to address all these concerns by laying out a general structure that covers most situations: Attitude, Environment, Amounts, and Rule, and then offering a tips and Q&A section for specific scenarios, like how to picky-proof your young toddler, or how to reverse if you’ve already established a routine of being a short-order cook.  I really liked the Amount section, which actually tells you what a “serving” is for a little kid.  So many books, web sites, and info sheets from the pediatrician have instructed me to give my kids X servings of milk a day, without any guidance on what that means in ounces.  If you’ve ever been confused about this, it’s worth getting this book just for the serving size tables.

The Q&A section reinforced for me some things I already knew – serving a family dinner is hugely beneficial, kids need to have new foods on their plates 10-15 times before they’ll even take a taste, and consistency is key.  But it also alerted me to something I’ve been doing to undermine my own efforts – not making sure my kids are hungry when I serve them nutritious foods.  I especially love the idea of serving fruits or vegetables as an “appetizer,” so that the kids have only the healthiest option in front of them when they are hungriest.  I’ll also be more strategic about pre-dinner snacking and even about when I serve milk with a meal, in an effort to capitalize on hunger as a tool.

The one part of the book I found lacking was the recipe section.  It’s billed as “Recipes Even Your Picky Eater Will Love,” but to say that’s optimistic is an understatement.  There’s no way that my picky kid will be seduced by fried rice, black bean and sweet potato stew, or broccoli-asparagus-mushroom pancakes.  I certainly hope someday she’ll be up for stuff like this, but in my mind these recipes are decidedly in the “Advanced” category for a picky eater.  Much more helpful were the earlier tips Pantley gave about “food-chaining,” gradually morphing unhealthy favorites into more nutritious versions of themselves, using tiny baby steps like replacing one slice of bread in a peanut butter sandwich with a whole-grain blend, or adding a spoonful of healthful cereal to your kids favorite sugary cereal, then slowly increasing the ratio over time.

So on the whole, I found this book very useful.  Not only does it have some good information on nutrition and an array of ideas about getting a picky eater to eat better, but it offers support to frustrated parents, and reminders of why it is important to keep up our efforts day in and day out, even when we feel frustrated.