How and what we feed our child can be a polarizing topic for many parents. But we can likely all agree that we want our children to have a healthy, balanced and open relationship to food.
Joining me on the podcast is the CEO of Square Baby and registered dietician & nutritionist, Katie Thomson. We’ll talk about ways parents can tune out societal pressures and instead tune into our own children’s cues, way for establishing balanced and realistic expectations of our kids (and ourselves), and how we can nurture a healthy relationship between our children and food, right from the start.
And it’s so important for us to understand our own intuition as parents, and to be able to listen to our gut about all the things, not just nutrition, but what you know is right for your family and your baby.
Dr. Sarah (00:18):
Whether breastfeeding, using a bottle, adding in purees or following child-led weaning tactics, feeding is a polarizing topic for many parents. But no matter what you choose, there are some overarching concepts that all parents can benefit from understanding – things like trying, not to infuse our own anxiety and pressure into meal times, avoiding labeling any food is either good or bad and learning to listen to our child’s cues. Joining me on this episode of Securely Attached is registered dietician nutritionist, and the CEO of Square Baby, Katie Thomson. We’ll talk about ways you can focus on the parent-child relationship as you nourish your child and promote a healthy, balanced, and adventurous relationship to food.
Dr. Sarah (01:03):
Hi, I’m Dr. Sarah Bren, a clinical psychologist and mom of two in this podcast. I’ve taken all of my clinical experience, current research on brain science and child psychology and the insights I’ve gained on my own parenting journey and distilled everything down into easy to understand and action parenting insights. So you can tune out the noise and tune into your own authentic parenting, voice and confidence and calm. This is Securely Attached.
Dr. Sarah (01:32):
Hi, welcome to the podcast. I’m really excited to introduce you guys all to Katie Thomson. She’s joining us today. She’s the founder and CEO of Square Baby, and she’s a registered dietician and we’re just really excited to have you on the podcast today. So thanks for joining us.
Thank you so much. I’m so excited to be here.
Dr. Sarah (01:55):
So tell me a little bit maybe you could share with us a little bit of like how you got into just this journey and how you ended up, you know, creating this entire company around feeding children.
Yeah. You got it. So registered dietician by trade. Got my master’s in nutrition. And then actually though I thought I would be much more of a clinical dietician. I ended up getting a job at Starbucks and took this three week contractor role and ended up creating the first nutritionist role there and helped to create new products and really transform the menu over the course of six years or so. And in 2008 had my first baby. And that’s when my focus really shifted towards the baby food aisle and how products were marketed and what options there were for me as a very, I mean, every mom’s busy, whether you’re working outside the home or staying at home with your baby, you’re overwhelmed, you’re looking for solutions and options. And what I found in the aisle were just a sea of one off products, a lot of fruit heavy, unbalanced meals that I felt weren’t really leaving me understanding, you know, how do I know that I’ve given my baby the right amount of the right foods each day? How do I know that I’ve given enough veggies and protein and healthy fats, and what really is in this jar, this pouch, is this just a bunch of marketing BS? And what I found was a, you know, a whole lot of apple sauce and a lot of, you know, shelf stable foods, obviously. And I just didn’t leave, you know, kind of feeling like I could give him the nutrition that I wanted that I would really have to sacrifice, you know, convenience for quality and nutrition. So left Starbucks to figure out how to create a solution for parents. Did a bunch of research on what infants need at each stage of development and created the square meal system, which provides a hundred percent of babies daily recommended veggies, fruit, grains, and protein in two to three meals per day, depending on their age and stage. Um but really takes that guesswork out of it for parents really removes that anxiety of, oh my goodness, am I getting him what he needs for proper development and for palate training and to make sure he grows up to be a healthy eater. We started the company in 2018, so my son just turned 13. So as you can imagine, it was a very long time of building up the company and creating recipes and the business plan and fundraising and all the things. But we launched in 2018, we’re a direct to consumer company, which means our meals are delivered right to your doorstep. The meals are made fresh with whole foods and you know, very balanced nutrition. But we’re really excited about our national launch coming up. So in a, in just a, a handful of months here, we will be expanding nationally across the US.
Dr. Sarah (04:41):
That’s so cool. Well, congratulations. That’s a big journey. And as a mom, you know, I always appreciate like, you know, female entrepreneurs trying to do this all while they’ve got kids. And I have empathy for the amount of probably late nights after bedtime that went into that.
That’s right. It’s a lot of nights and weekends. Yes.
Dr. Sarah (05:02):
I know. Yes. And I, but it’s funny cuz as you’re talking about this, I’m thinking like, okay, this was born out of what sounds like anxiety, yours and your perception that other moms have it too. And some of it’s like baseline, we are going to be anxious about what we feed our kid because we care as much as we do. And then there’s like other anxiety that I think we get fed and we swallow and absorb and embody that I, like do we need it? Like where is it coming from? Like, what’s your take on how much anxiety you saw as a nutritionist and a mom.
That’s so interesting. So I think you bring up so many good points about there is the pressure we put on ourselves, right. And infant nutrition. I mean that is, it’s not just like you’re picking the right stroller or you know, which diapers did you choose. Even, those are that’s are really important decisions. But this is, you know, their first bites and how you’re training their pallet and how you’re introducing food to them. Beyond just even the critical nutrients that they need at these stages. And for growth and development, but also what relationship with food am I helping my baby develop? Right? are they gonna grow up to be an adventurous eater because really these early months are so critical at developing this relationship with food. And so there’s definitely some of that pressure you put on yourself. And even though I’m a dietician, it’s funny because every, you know, you’re very often like at a cocktail party or something and people are looking exactly what you eat. They think that every single thing you eat is gonna be, you know, you know, kale with a side of kale, right? But no, you know, there’s balance to a, to all of us and there’s balance to, you know, your child and your baby’s diet as well. And even though, you know, we develop this a hundred percent daily nutrition meal system to say, Hey, we got you, you know, we’ll make sure that, you know, you’re able to offer these balanced meals that, you know, provide the, all the food groups that your baby needs in a day. It’s also so important for you to listen to your baby’s cues. So while we say, you know, for an 8-12 month old, any three meals is a hundred percent of the recommended nutrition. Hey, if your baby’s, you know, super full after two meals a day, let’s listen. Or if they can’t finish the whole jar, you know, that’s okay. I think in general, there’s so much place upon us. And I think now, you know, the baby that inspired this company, Jackson who’s now just turned 13. Social media was not a thing. I joined Facebook when he was born. And I was like, I don’t know what you know, this whole Facebook thing is, but you know, I guess I’ll join. So I can share pictures with my parents who aren’t on Facebook. But now I look at, there are opinions everywhere, and it’s not just the mom that you meet at Starbucks for a cup of coffee or go for a walk with it’s. There are a lot of voices in our head each day, not just our own, but there are opinions, you know, presented to us all day long. And it’s so important for us to understand our own intuition as parents. And to be able to listen to our gut about all the things, not just nutrition, but what you know is right for your family and your baby.
Dr. Sarah (08:11):
Yeah. I could not agree with you more. I think anyone who’s been listening to this podcast for a while has heard that, you know, over and over here. Because I think it doesn’t at the end of the day, like how you feed your baby, whether you breastfeed or formula feed, whether you do purees or baby-led weaning, whether you’re all organic or you are, you know, hitting fast food on the way home, because that’s just all you have the bandwidth to do. And that’s okay. Like how do we start to reclaim as parents, this permission to tune out some of the noise and tune into our needs, our kids needs and use that parent child relationship to guide a lot of this to help set up healthy relationships with food from the beginning, that’s about balance and hunger fullness cues, and mind body connection.
That’s right. I think that we have to be so careful to not become this us versus them society. That’s like, you have to do it this way. You have, you know, know your baby-led weaning or your purees, you know, you’re on one side or the other and you’re preaching to other people about the way that you’ve done it and how it’s worked for your family and how you think it’s, you know, better than another way. Right. But instead, really our whole lives are about balance. And if we’re thinking about what’s best for our child, we’re actually teaching them, you know, really amazing lessons by showing them that your life doesn’t have to be perfect. Like imagine how much anxiety you pass on to a child if they’ve grown up and they’ve never been presented, you know, sweets or fast food, you know, it’s not like I’m rolling my kids through McDonald’s all the time, but like, I’m also not gonna be the dietician mom who’s like, I’m sorry, my son could never, ever have that. And then they have, then they’re, you know, as an older kid, they’re put in a social situation where now that’s, that’s more a part of their, you know, story than it should be, right. Or their guilt or whatnot, but really, you know, even Square Baby is, all about balance, about balanced meals, about a balanced life and understanding that, you know, we’re here for you as a solution, but also understand that, you know, our meals and, and the choices that you make all fit into a healthy lifestyle. So give ourselves some grace, right?
Dr. Sarah (10:28):
Oh yes. I resonate with that cuz like I think, and this came up a lot for me, especially during COVID. So like before COVID I loved to cook, it was like something that brought me joy. I felt good about my cooking skills. I like looked forward to being like the mom that made dinner totally. And something just sort of snapped for me in COVID. And I was just like, I hate cooking. It was just, it was just, I was so burnt out. I was so trying to do beyond more than I had the bandwidth to do. And that was one of the things that I was just like, if I have to cook one more meal, I swear God. And so I just gave myself permission to stop doing it, but that meant, you know, I had to find, I went through iterations of figuring out how to be healthy with that process of like, okay, I’m I cannot just order in from restaurants all the time. We have to figure out ways to have balance in our meals where I’m not the one cooking anymore. Or I’m cooking a lot less. And so I do think I’ve actually had podcast episodes in the past where I’ve been like one of the things that you can do, like a huge hack for finding more time and parenting is to outsource meals, because right now and probably before COVID. But I think especially now, like parents are burnt out.
Dr. Sarah (11:47):
On top of being anxious about all the nutritional stuff and all of the food relationship stuff. I actually do think anytime we can take something off our plate, it’s just it’s we need to give ourselves permission to undo some of the beliefs we have about what’s like, you know, what’s our job and what makes us good parents and what makes us bad parents or the fear of being bad parents. Cause I think there are a lot of myths there.
That’s right. Well, it’s good. I mean, first of all, congratulations on realizing that yes, we as parents, it is okay that we do not wanna cook every single gosh dang meal when we all hadn’t left the house and we’re all getting bored with ourselves, bored with our recipes and all the things. So we do have to give ourselves these moments of, you know, whether it’s ordering out every once in a while or it’s, you know, finding those items in the Trader Joe’s frozen section, we’re like, you know what, we’re gonna have the frozen Noki, you know, and I’m gonna add some spinach on the side or whatever, you, you find your little shortcuts as parents and that’s completely okay. And from a, you know, as, as we talk about, you know, our service obviously you know, being a like homemade meal delivered to your doorstep. We have so many parents that are like either, oh my God, with my first baby, I made all of their, all of their own food. Cause I didn’t wanna go to the grocery store and I didn’t want, you know, to buy the shelf stable, you know, pouches or jars or whatnot. And so now you’re our solution. Or there’s, those are like, we use you for most of it, but you know, we totally have the pouch on the go. And, and while, you know, as a, as a dietician and someone, you know, very kind of focused on research and you know, what’s kind of sound science. I know that pouches, aren’t great for the mainstay of your diet. You don’t want your baby to be just sucking out of pouch and missing, you know, the motor development skills needed when you, you know, learn to eat from a spoon and learn to you know, pick up food with your fingers and explore food, you know, that’s in your bowl. There’s a lot of reasons why pouches and baby food is not a great thing for an infants development. However, are there those moments in your life when you in an airport, or in a park or whatnot, or your baby’s screaming and you’re like, oh my gosh, here, you know, that’s okay. Right. Just because you give your baby a pouch does not make you a bad mom and maybe it’s not organic, doesn’t make you a bad mom. Right. It’s about the balance of what we, we give them, you know, on a daily, on a weekly basis.
Dr. Sarah (14:17):
Yeah. And I think it’s about being intentional, right? Like, you know, and I love what you said about giving ourselves some grace. And I think with grace there opens up space for intentionality. Like I can make choices. I can actively choose to put that pouch in the diaper bag because it’s there for a good reason. And I’m gonna know that, I know that I’m gonna need it sometimes. Yes. And also I could, at the same time, be intentional about how I plan out my meals for the week. And when I do go to Trader Joe’s to say, okay, what could go with this? That would make it more balanced because I do want that shortcut. And I want that whole balanced nutrition. And also to say, you know what, towards the end of the week, I lose steam. And so those are the days that I need more help and maybe whatever it is, it’s like, if we’re filled with guilt, if we’re filled with anxiety, it clouds our mind. It really takes up all the space. And so it’s really hard to say I’m gonna make choices and create balance.
That’s right. Well, and our babies, whether it’s babies or children. And certainly now seeing my kids who are nine and 13, they see you’re cues, like how you’re feeling your energy. You know, again, if it’s a baby and you’re giving them their very first bites and you’re super stressed out and, you know, and the environment isn’t chill and welcoming to this new experience, your baby might, you know, feel that fear and anxiety and that pressure that you’re putting on yourself and not be interested, right. It might, their journey might be a little bit more different or they, you know, might take those cues and, and also maybe feel, you know, some stress or whatnot. Right. So I think it’s so important to balance the, you know, what we hope to do from a nutrition standpoint from the mom. We wanna be from, you know, all the things that we hope to do, but also to, to allow ourselves some, some gray areas so that if we don’t nail it every single time, or our baby decides to completely refuse food one day, or, you know, my kids decided for a whole year, both of them it’s like they had some pack, that they hated blueberries. And it could have been way worse. Right. They’ve gone through other phases, but I mean, it took me a year to get them, you know, back in into that, but they can be very, very, you know, strong in their feelings of what they’ll, they’ll eat and not eat. But I think that knowing that these moments are gonna happen, that, you know, some to times your children might, you know, not be in the mood or, or, you know, because it’s Tuesday, they’ve decided they don’t like peas or whatever, right. Like it’s just, it’s gonna happen. And instead of forcing something on a child so much, so that you’re just about in tears, they’re in tears and the whole meal feels like it’s a failure. You know, you have to pick those boundaries of, you know, when do I fall on my sword enough that they don’t win every negotiation and they’ve just realized that they can, you know, deny everything and win, but also have, have your moments of realizing that not every meal is going to be perfect. And that’s okay too, because, because at the end of the day, food, food should be, it should be enjoyable. You know, it should be fun. You should learn these they should learn lessons about, you know, as they grow up, how to try new foods and new flavors and textures and you know, be adventurous. But if food is too prescriptive and rule based and, you know, shaming and, you know, to the child and to yourself, you know, that’s a hard ship to turn around. Right. And not fun for anyone.
Dr. Sarah (18:02):
Yeah. I often recommend to parents to think, and I’m curious what you think of this. Because you’re actually the nutritionist and not me, but I often tell parents to think about like, you know, from when they’re introducing solids in whatever form it is, until maybe year one that think about it as a giant science experiment and less about a meal, you know. Like your child throughout that first year of life, the vast majority of their nutritional intake is coming from milk formula. And the food is like the sprinkles on top of the sunday for them. Like, it’s more about learning about texture, tastes, smells, gravity, relationships.
For sure. For sure. I think I think there’s a, there’s this kind of flavor training window that’s really, really important where you’re saying it’s like less about how much nutrition they get from food versus, you know, what they’re learning during that period of time. The research shows that like four to seven months is a really is when babies are most susceptible to taking in new flavors. So what used to be this whole, you know, introduce one food at a time three to five days apart, you do not need to do that, right. There is no reason why you can’t combine, you know, carrots with sweet potatoes, with butternut squash and, start to introduce combinations of flavors. I do love the idea that, you know, certain foods live on their own, right? So a kid really gets to taste what a beet tastes like and what peas and what broccoli tastes like. But creating such a rigid roadmap around, you know, waiting a certain amount of days now, certainly, you know, with certain allergens, you’ll want to do them one at a time. Right. So if there is a reaction, you know what it, you know, what it is. But other than that what you really are concentrating on is this flavor training window. So if you think about, you’ve got, you know, a few months, it’s not as though once that window is closed, first of all, it’s like, okay, you know, this is gonna be hard. But certainly thinking about like, how do you maximize cuz most babies aren’t starting at four months, right. So how do you maximize six to seven months, six to eight months of what you’re offering them. If you were to do, you know, one new food, every three to five days, that’s not very many new foods in a month, right. Versus I want them to learn, you know, to have herbs and spices and healthy fats and different proteins and different grains and savory and sweet. And you know, there’s a lot that you can be offering them that, you know, whether it’s pureed and chunking, whether, you know you know, there’s kind of whole mashed soft foods that they might be ready for truly, you know, the most important thing that you can do for your child is introduce a variety, you know, often, right. And to not give up, knowing that, you know it could take the 12 tries, right? My first baby opened his mouth, like a little bird for every single bite that I fed him and I was like, this is amazing. Right. He was the, the hardest to breastfeed. And I’m, you know, that’s a whole other podcast. I have so much respect and empathy because it can be such a painful, challenging, crazy journey to do that. But I feel like he was, he was really hard there in the, I was very, very easy with food. Whereas my second child, I was so excited cause it was actually when I had started developing the Square Baby meals. So he was eating our first recipes and that boy turned his head for every bite for like two weeks. And I was, I was working full time, another job. So I had come home exhausted, you know, having pumped all day, you know, at the workplace and you know, your are, you’re so tired and you put him in the Bumbo and you’re so excited for the like best moment of your whole day is feeding him this little bite. And he is like, Nope, no. I just remember being in tears. Right. But understanding that, keep going, keep trying, like try again tomorrow. And just because they didn’t like, you know, the sweet potato the first day does not mean, you know, on your fifth or sixth or 10th, try, you know, it doesn’t end up being their favorite food. Right. So that was, that’s been a huge learning for me.
Dr. Sarah (22:17):
And that’s so resilience building for parents, right? Like we always talk about like, how do we build up resilient kids who like keep trying and have perseverance and like keep going when things get tough. And it’s like, well, start with yourself. You know, when your child isn’t, isn’t receiving what you have to offer food wise, don’t write that off. As I failed at this, or even the food failed at this, or my child failed at this, but thinking like, it can take 10 to 12 exposures to a new flavor or texture or taste and that’s actually just their process. And so if you can sit there and say, I can keep going and I can keep trying and not get caught in this. Either feeling like I’ve failed and wanting to quit or getting real hard line about it being like pushing, pushing, pushing just one more bite, just try this, let me get you an airplane. Let me do anything to get it in your mouth. You know, I think those are like kind of the two extreme camps. Can we be somewhere in the middle space where we’re like, we’ll try again tomorrow. Okay. You’re in charge of what you eat. I pick what I pick, what goes on the plate? You eat, what you like and I’ll keep putting it on the plate.
That’s an important thing. That’s what you can see as, as kids get older. And they start to have much more of an opinion about what they’re eating right. When you go from baby to a two year old right now, you’ve got a little one negotiating with you and they’re also, whether or not it’s even about the food. They might just be trying to find their independence and their own power as a little human. Right. And they’re like, I’m picking broccoli as my, you know, sword I’m gonna fall on. See how far I can push my mom to see how I can win. But what it’s so interesting is as you, as the kids get older, you start to experience so many other families and what their kids eat. And you know, how many parents will just say, well, oh, you’re so lucky that your kid eats, you know, whatever. My kid will only eat plain pasta and I have to make him separate meals. And it’s like, you don’t, don’t, you know, like it’s a lot harder ship to turn around when they’re eight and nine and 10, because now they’ve maybe developed some of these things, like my food can’t touch. And I don’t like that. And I won’t touch anything that’s green and my baby doesn’t like vegetables or whatever. But you know, a lot of, a lot of this is just that retry. And just to say that it’s still gonna show up on your plate. Right. and maybe you’ll try something else. Like, oh, if you don’t like steamed asparagus, let’s try it roasted or let’s try it dipped in ranch or whatever. Like just trying to understand how to get them to, you know, introduce that new flavor and to also not have them create their own internal fears and rules, because that really is so hard to, to have them turn around, right. Where they’re then able to accept some of these new flavors if for the last, you know, if you’ve got a 10 year old who for eight years, hasn’t been challenged to eat, you know, very many vegetables or, or very, you know, kind of diverse nutrition.
Dr. Sarah (25:25):
Right. I think there’s a, a lot there, right? That idea of if we are, if we constantly accommodate the rejection of a food by no longer putting it on their plate in a way we’re communicating to our child, that we’re actually not really confident that you can handle that food on your plate. And in reality, I think that’s not the message we consciously would like to be communicating to our child. I don’t think parents intentionally wanna say that to their kid, but I think they don’t realize that the action of saying, oh, well, that’s a food that doesn’t, we can’t put that food on our kids’ plate. He won’t accept that to being able to shift that, to say, well, my job is to put it on his plate. His job is to say, I don’t wanna eat that his job is to take it, you know, and move it around his plate and eat anything but that I don’t, that’s, that’s his, that’s where my job ends and his job begins. And he has permission to be in charge of what goes in his mouth. And, but just that, that shift in kind of what you’re really communicating to your child is you can, I’m confident that you can tolerate the presence of this food while not getting into a power struggle of I’m going to make you eat this right. Because that is where you start to get into real big power struggles. But like, I’ll often say to my kids, like, I’ll put something on their plate and they say, I don’t like that. And I’ll say, okay, then don’t eat it. And that’s it. I don’t get in. I just, I leave it at that.
Yeah. I think it is something important too about not creating good foods, bad foods. Like, well, if you eat your vegetables, then you can have the this, you’re already putting them in a category of like, we get it. These are disgusting. But if you do that, then you can do this. Right. It’s like, no, actually the roasted broccoli is like my favorite thing on the whole plate. And I can’t wait for you to try it. You know, like not reward. I’m very conscious to not reward my kids with food either. Right. I mean, there’s certainly like, you know, we have treats in our house and I think it’s really important to raise kids to understand how to be around sometimes foods and know how they fit into your overall diet. Right? Like, you know, you want to watch a football game, you want some, you know, potato chips or whatever, cool. Have a small handful of those. And some other, you know, like we talk about balanced nutrition. Okay, well, what veggies are you gonna eat with that? And what fruit? And, but understanding that instead of this whole good food, bad food, you know, we don’t have anything like that in our house. I grew up in a household like that. Right. And then you get off to college and you’re like, oh my God, all I’m gonna eat is cereal. I think I had cereal salad and ice cream for like my freshman year of college. I should not have said that. But that I grew up in a house where like, there just wasn’t anything like that. And I remember actually I got to pick, this is so anecdotal and off topic, but my parents, my mom would make me pick between having a sugar cereal or birthday cake. I mean, talk about putting a lot of weight on cereal and like what that meant to me as a young child. And I remember one time I was like, screw it. I want the sugar cereal. And I sat there in front of the TV and I ate the whole box of like cookie crisp or something. And I mean, talk about putting, right, that’s so much power and emphasis, put it on one food that I actually didn’t learn. And, you know, until my twenties really how to manage my own relationship with food, because I really wasn’t taught that moderation and balance. And in the overall diet, right, there was too much like too many rules around what we could and couldn’t have.
Dr. Sarah (28:59):
Right. And I think moderation and bounds only is accessible if everything is on the table, that’s right. Like, we talk about this a lot in my work with emotions, right? A lot of times we have this belief, there are good emotions and bad emotions and, you know, anger, sadness, fear, anxiety, those are the bad emotions and like happiness and, you know, confidence. Those are the good emotions. And then parents can, partly because parents were trained to think that about their own emotional experience when their kids have the quote unquote bad emotions, they’re like, Ugh, I gotta shut that down. I gotta, you know, move them out of that into the, the good emotions. And I think so much of my work with parents is helping them realize like every single emotion is on the table. They’re all safe, they’re all healthy, they’re all human. And being able to have balance around them and confidence around your skillset with all of them is so important. And I think food maps onto that metaphor exactly.
Totally. Yeah. That’s such a good point. I, my, my older kiddo he, so I realized looking back on my life that I had anxiety as a kid, I just didn’t know how to name it. We didn’t talk about emotion very much growing up. And it wasn’t something. And, you know, I don’t think people general were talking about anxiety, you know, many, a decades ago seventies, eighties. But now, you know, as I, I grew to have it in my like late twenties, early thirties as maybe a lot of people kind of, you know, in that period of time have it. I recognized it in my son when he was 5. And he would feel very, very guilty and it was not any guilt that we ever put on him. It’s just sort of this innate thing in him that his first reaction to something might feel guilt. And then he gets anxious and we have taught him to name that feeling as having butterflies. And he’s, you know, now a teenager in seventh grade, and he’ll still come in and say, mom, I’m having some butterflies. And we’re like, all right, let, let’s talk about this. And what’s so beautiful is that I’ve got this son who has no shame in telling me, he can name it. And then instead of being like, well, let’s stop your anxiety. It’s like, let’s figure out like where that’s coming from. Cuz usually he doesn’t know. Right. He’s having some kind of physical feeling. But I think, you know, parents now, you know, this next generation’s gonna grow up with, I think a lot more like self-aware parents that are talking about feelings a lot. And I think it’s such a great thing that you said about like all those feelings are totally on the table. It’s about understanding why we’re having them and you know, and and maybe it’s totally, you know, there’s no problem that you’re having it right. Sometimes it’s just like, yep. Like that something that you’re dealing with right now and good for you for recognizing it. And most of the time them just saying something right, is enough to be like, okay, we’re good. You know?
Dr. Sarah (32:01):
Yeah. And I think that that’s so validating. And another thing that makes me think about is like when, in your response to your son’s anxiety, that parent-child relationship being the vehicle through which you’re helping him regulate. Right. You’re saying, I see it. There’s a name for that. I’m not going anywhere. I’m not changing my affect when you bring it up. I anxious when you’re getting anxious, I’m not, you know, going away when you’re getting anxious, I’m just, I’m this even present person. That’s the same. Whether you’re anxious or not. I can contain it for you. I can sit here in this space with you. I’m not making it go away. And I kind of think that’s another thing that has to do with the, the food stuff. Right? The parent-child relationship being the vehicle, by which we are helping our child develop a relationship to food, right? Like if I can sit at a table with you while you eat your meal and I can sit and share food with, with you and we can focus on all kinds of things, including our five senses, but also just the day and not about every single bite you’re eating, like what, like, you know, not putting your child under a microscope as they eat their meal.
Yeah. Because they will feel that they’ll feel that judgment. Right. so it’s interesting because I, I have two, but my kids have both gone through very different, like eating journeys. Like my second son who I was saying, turned his head for the first two weeks. And I was like, oh my God, this is devastating. Then by the age of like 18 months, two years old, he would walk over to me and eat whatever. Doesn’t matter what was in my salad, he would open his, he would eat every fresh veggie and whatnot. I was like, oh my God, he’s the most like adventurous eat. They both eat like sashimi. They’re very, I always say they very expensive dates when we take him to sushi, cuz they just want like all the raw fish. Right. It’s so fun. But then they, he has gone through phases, but then he is like, I don’t want, you know, where he used to eat tomatoes raw out of the salad. Now I’m having to tell him like, okay, get the burger. You’re putting the tomato, you know, on, on your burger. And it’s because what I see happening to him is right now he’s nine. He is going through this little phase of like starting to push some things away. Whereas I know that it, if he just keeps having them and he doesn’t get into too much of a rut of like, I don’t eat that now I don’t eat that now I don’t. And then all of a sudden it’s sort of this slippery slope. Right. So it’s sort of that balance of, I’m not gonna like, you know, make you finish your meal every time. Like that’s, you know, the clean plate club is something that was in generation growing up. That’s certainly not a part of our family. Right. It’s listened to your cues. In fact, my son last night helped me make dinner, sat down and he didn’t touch a bite of it. And I’m like, okay, he’s not hungry. And he’s, he’s usually a kid that I, you know, have to be like, okay, now drink some water. You know, he’s a really healthy eater. But you know, you know, it was like a beautifully plated meal and we all sat down together, the four of us and he was like, Hmm, I’m not hungry. And I’m like, all right, like that’s good for you to listen to that. He’s like, I really want the food. I’m like, I know it looks really good, but I think it’s good for you to listen to your tummy right now. And it’s saying I’m not hungry, so I’m gonna wrap that up and that’ll be your lunch tomorrow, you know? But those moments, like I couldn’t have sat through a meal growing up. Right. Been like, I’m not eating, you know, they would’ve thought there’s a thousand reasons why that was happening. They were gonna force me through the food that I, you know, didn’t want at that moment.
Dr. Sarah (35:31):
Yeah. I think there’s a lot of power in trusting your kids because they learn to trust themselves. And you know, what, if he had come back and said, 10 minutes later, you know what? I got that wrong. I am hungry, can I eat that? You would have been like, sure, go grab it. It’s in the fridge.
Dr. Sarah (35:45):
You know, like, it’s not about like, well, we said no now. And so we have to hold that. It’s like, we’re not doing like behavior modification training at dinner time with our kids, you know, we’re just helping them be human beings who are sometimes hungry. Sometimes not. I trust that you’ll eat when you’re hungry. I, you know, and we’ll get there. Obviously, this is very different from, I’m mindful of like, you know, if you have someone in your family who has an eating disorder or who has a, even as a young child who has like sensory issues around food, or there’s lots of complicated things. Even like I treat families who have kids who have OCD, who a lot of things happen around mealtime. They become really complicated. But half the time what I’m doing with those families is actually helping parents strip away some of the over accommodating behaviors that they have kind of gotten into. Like you’re saying like the narrative that the child internalizes that, oh, this is something I can’t possibly eat. Now. I don’t eat this. That comes from a dance that you and your child do over time. That where you might inadvertently be reinforcing that belief. Yeah. You don’t eat this because I, I don’t challenge that for you.
Yeah, that’s right.
Dr. Sarah (36:59):
Which is different than forcing your kid to eat something.
Totally. Yeah, right. My older son definitely has a sensory. He, you know, in a lot of aspects of his life is kind of highly sensitive. And I always joke that I’m like, see, I didn’t give up on because he would not, he would not eat anything cold. Like he wouldn’t eat ice cream for a while. And I remember like taking him to a doctor and he was, he was actually highly sensitive at doctor’s appointments. Like, wouldn’t step on the, like, we would have appointments where he was clinging to me and he wouldn’t even have an exam done. Like she couldn’t get the thing in his ear to like, you know, anyway. And I was like, it’s okay. Like this time we’re just gonna to walk in and we’re gonna grab the balloon and that’s gonna be this well check like that. Right. I’ll step on the scale with him, like whatever. Anyway, but I remember they’d be like, well, would he like a Popsicle? And I’m like, he doesn’t, no. And he wouldn’t eat anything cold. And now when, when he eats ice cream and enjoys ice cream, I’m like, you see, I didn’t give up on you liking ice cream and look what happened. You know, I kept introducing it and look at this, you know? You know, so whether it, you know, whether no matter what it is, they can grow. They might have an aversion to a, to a texture, to, you know temperatures and, and all different things, colors of food or, or whatnot, but continuing to reintroduce things, whether broccoli or ice cream, they can develop that, you know, enjoyment for it.
Dr. Sarah (38:25):
Yeah. And I think a lot of it comes from how we, our own affect while we introduce it. Right. If you can be calm and confident and supportive and regulate your own, you know, emotions in that moment, it’s gonna be a lot easier to do that kind of exposure work like reintroducing, calmly and confidently over and over and over again, and being okay with their, how they receive it every time. And then eventually, oops, they tasted it. Oh, wait, hold on. They swallowed it. Oh, hold on. Now they’re asking for a second. It’s like, it takes a long time, but when we are anxious, we infuse that whole meal with anxiety
And they’re learning to trust us that it’s not gonna turn into a fight every time. Right. So they might be willing a little bit more willing to enter the conversation if they know it’s not gonna be some arm wrestling moment every single time. Yeah.
Dr. Sarah (39:18):
Totally, totally. I love this. I feel like one of the things that like I’m taking away from this conversation is like, don’t give up right away. Like, you know, like, are there, are there some takeaways we can kind of give to our listeners right now that just helps them feel a little bit more like they’ve got this?
Yeah. Well, I think, you know definitely everything in balance and moderation is key, right? So this living by such strict rules is just setting yourself and your babe up for failure or for anxiety and stress that’s just undo. Right. So give yourself some grace. I think the repeated exposure is so important. Don’t give up on yourself or your child even, you know, give it a week or two, if they hated avocado or asparagus or peaches or whatever. Just give it some time and try again. And I think that, you know, with everything, listen to your baby’s cues and understand that what worked for your friend or for your mom or for your sister might not work for you and your family and your baby. And I always reminded myself, like, you know, when you have your first little one, especially all you do, I feel like is look around at other kids. Like, oh my God, your baby’s walking. My baby’s not walking. It’s talking how many words? Yep. Your baby has four words. You know, like my baby’s made up its own language, you know, like they will learn to walk. They will learn to talk. They will learn to eat from a spoon. They, you know, they might take a different path. They might do things at a completely different time, but they’ll get there. And if you don’t have so much anxiety about them failing, because they haven’t reached the milestone in the moment, or like the foods in the moment that you hope that they would they’ll understand that their journey is acceptable as well. Right. and especially, you know, as they are reading your cues and your stress and, you know, your excitement around mealtime or what it is. I think, you know, understanding that that every baby is different, that this isn’t some formulaic process being a parent and, and, and, you know, growing as a child. But that I think your point so much about, you know, the energy that’s that’s that you share and the space you give them to feel good about their relationship with food and, and and with you, right. And that trust in you to be their partner in this, as they grow, especially, it’s like, you know, my mom’s got my back, my parents got my back, we got this, like, this moment might be hard, but, you know, no, one’s freaking out. It’s gonna be okay. You know?
Dr. Sarah (41:59):
Yeah, yeah. That communication of safety. Right. That’s, that’s a huge factor. I love all of those takeaways. I feel like I’m always overdue to remind myself of my own rules. I’m like, I should go back and revisit this. Especially post Halloween. We’ve been having my, a lot of candy and I’ve been being very, trying to be very not, you know, yeah. That’s bad. Yeah. There’s good food. I’m trying to make it very neutral, but it’s hard because it’s a lot of candy.
Dr. Sarah (42:30):
I know, I know we let our kids have one a day. And although, you know, so no one didn’t, you know, want his, his meal last night. And I was like, well, the only thing that wouldn’t happen is that if he came back five seconds later, I was like, but can I have, you know, a lollipop? And I’d be like, yeah, no. So you can go have, if you’re hungry, you can have a few bites of your meal, but I totally hear you. There’s there’s room for indulgence in all of our lives. And it’s about how you frame their relationship with food, but also give them that like playbook of we’ve introduced you to an, you know, so many things that, you know, when you go to a restaurant or when you start, you know, growing up and start having more of your own meal choices and that you, you know, won’t have this tiny little play box of, you know a few foods that you’ll eat and like that you do have a bit more freedom to enjoy a lot of foods because you’ve been so exposed to them. They’ve been a part of your daily life and routine at home.
Dr. Sarah (43:24):
Yep. Yeah. Yes, no, this is all so valuable. And thank you so much for coming on here and sharing this with you. If people wanna learn a little bit more about, about the work you’re doing about square baby, like where can they, where can they connect?
So our website is squarebaby.com and in early 2022, right now we are waitlist only as we expand our operations from a west coast only to a national distribution. So check out our website, join our waitlist. And we will be launching nationally in early 2022.
Dr. Sarah (43:59):
Congratulations. That’s so exciting.
Well, it’s a 13 year old dream. Right? We’re getting there.
Dr. Sarah (44:08):
You just keep trying right. Keep doing it. It’s the exposure, just never give up. I love it. All right. Well, thanks for being here and we will, we’ll definitely be hearing more about Square Baby. I’m sure. So good luck.
Yes. Thank you so much. I so appreciate the opportunity to come on and chat with you. I feel like I learned so much today too.
Dr. Sarah (44:31):
Isn’t that the best when like we both walk away from a conversation, being like, yes, I’ve gotta take away here. That I can go home and think about.
I feel heard.
Dr. Sarah (44:39):
Thanks so much. Bye.
Dr. Sarah (44:51):
As we talked about in the episode, allowing our children to build a healthy relationship to food can take some resilience on our part, but here’s the good news. Resilience is a muscle. The more we work at it, the stronger it gets. And that’s true for our kids too.
Dr. Sarah (45:04):If you wanna help your child to build their resilience muscle, check out my free guide, Fostering Resilience From Birth. It’s important to focus on the things we have control over. So that’s why this guide gives you behavior modifications. You can make yourself as the parent, I’ll give you actual phrases. You can swap out. And of course explain the why behind them. That way you weren’t just reading off a script, but instead you’re learning the psychology behind these shifts, so you can adapt them to fit any situation that might arise. If you want to understand the building blocks of resilience so you can help your child to tolerate distress, develop a growth mindset and increase self-esteem, check out this free guide. Go to my website, drsarahbren.com, that’s drsarahbren.com and click on the resources tab to download. Thanks for listening. And don’t be a stranger.
Want to get more from Dr. Sarah Bren?
✨ Follow Dr. Sarah on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/drsarahbren/
✨ Subscribe to the weekly newsletter: https://drsarahbren.com/join-newsletter
✨ And check out her website for more free parenting resources: https://drsarahbren.com/resources