Babies/Kids - Aviva Allen's Blog


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Using Food as a Reward

b2ap3_thumbnail_Food_as_Reward.jpgIn my practice as a Kids’ Nutritionist, helping families eliminate mealtime battles is something that I do on a daily basis. A common challenge for parents is how to get their kids to try new foods or eat their vegetables and parents will often resort to bribery. They may say to their child “If you eat all of your vegetables, you can have a cookie for dessert.” Offering food as a reward is a tactic that many parents use, not only at mealtime, but as a way to elicit any particular behaviour from their child.

Rewarding children with food presents several problems:

1) It teaches kids to reward and comfort themselves with food. Providing food based on performance or behaviour connects food to mood and can lead to emotional eating.

2) It teaches kids to eat based on the availability of food, not based on hunger or structured mealtimes.

3) It teaches kids that reward foods (i.e. candy) are more valuable and desirable than other foods. Turning sweets into a reward elevates their status.

Health and medical organizations such as the Canadian Paediatric Society and the National Eating Disorder Information Centre (NEDIC) agree that food should not be used as a reward, a punishment or a bribe. Using food as a reward, as a punishment or as comfort sends a message that food leads to love and acceptance and can teach our children to seek out food for comfort or self-punishment.

A wide variety of alternative rewards can be used to provide positive reinforcement for children’s behaviour. Attention, praise, or thanks, are often more highly valued by children than a toy or food. Rewarding your child with privileges such as extra time doing an activity they enjoy or a special outing is an option. Offering toys, books, puzzles or games can be another motivating reward for kids. Consider using a point system or sticker chart where accumulated points could be cashed in for a larger prize. It is important to note, however, that these methods should not be used as a way to pressure your child into eating specific foods or quantities of food at mealtime.

In the long run, food rewards or bribes often create more problems than they solve. If you are struggling at mealtime and have been relying on bribery or threats to get your child to eat a particular food a specific amount of food, it is time for a new approach.

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Is Your Child Getting Enough Protein?

One of the top concerns for parents is often - is my child getting enough protein?  This can be a particular concern for picky eaters and those who have trouble with the texture of meat, eggs or beans.


It is generally recommended that 10–35% of your daily calories come from protein. These are the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA) for different age groups:

Children ages 1 – 3     13g

Children ages 4 – 8     19g

Children ages 9 – 13   34g

Girls ages 14 – 18      46g

Boys ages 14 – 18      52g

A small piece of chicken, for example, would provide 14g of protein, which works out to an entire day’s worth of protein for a toddler.  One egg and a handful of almonds would also yield 14g of protein.  Even with the pickiest of eaters, most children are able to meet their protein needs.

So if you have been worried about your child’s protein intake and as a result, putting pressure on them to eat more protein-rich foods, put the chicken down and take a deep breath.  Chances are they are getting exactly what their bodies need.

Note: If you believe there is a real concern, do not hesitate to bring this up with your child’s healthcare provider.  If you would feel more comfortable having a professional look at your child’s to ensure they are getting a balance of nutrients, an individualized nutritional consultation would be recommended.

Why Your Child May Not Be Eating At School

b2ap3_thumbnail_Brown-lunch-bag.jpgOpening up your child’s lunchbox at the end of the day only to discover that they have eaten little to none of what you thoughtfully prepared is never a good feeling. When this happens, the first thing we often do is ask the child why they did not eat their lunch. Occasionally a child, depending on their age, is able to accurately articulate the reason, but most of the time we are given a handful of excuses that do not always paint the full picture.

Here are 3 common factors that can influence whether or not your child will eat their school lunch and tips for what you can do to help:

1. Insufficient time to eat - Most schools offer only 20 minutes for your child to eat lunch. For slow eaters, children who are easily distracted or those who love chatting with friends, this can be a concern.

TIP: Try to send your child with only one container that allows them to access all of the items in their lunch at the same time. Include easy-to-eat, nutrient-dense foods so your child can get more out of a smaller quantity of food.

2. Presentation/visual appeal - If the food does not look good, your child will not eat it. Consider how well the food will hold up by the time your child opens their lunchbox, particularly if you are preparing lunches in the evening. How the food is presented can make a huge difference, so investing in a good lunchbox can be helpful.

TIP: Look for a lunchbox that has divided sections to ensure that items do not get mixed together when your child throws around their backpack.

3. Sensory-based considerations - Extra sensitive children can be particular about the smell or temperature of their food. For example, my 6 year old will eat chicken at home but not served cold in his lunchbox (although his 4 year old brother will eat it cold).

TIP: Packing lunches in a stainless steel container can minimize lunchbox-related odours compared to using plastic containers. Experiment with the use of an ice pack to keep foods cool or an insulated container to keep foods warm to ensure your child’s food is at the right temperature for them.

*Some children may also be affected the smell of other kids' lunches and even the lights and noisiness the lunchroom. Addressing these concerns on an individual basis and often speaking to your child’s teacher or principle can help creating a more positive eating environment for your child.

Another point to consider when packing school lunches is what you are trying to achieve. This should not be the time to try to introduce your child to new foods. Offer familiar foods that your child enjoys eating. The goal for school lunches is to give your child energy to get through the day and fuel for their brains so they can focus on learning. Introduce new foods at home and once your child becomes comfortable eating that food, you can then begin incorporating it into their school lunches. If you are struggling with your child eating lunch at school, you may also consider beefing up their snacks to balance things out. Remember - snacks do not need to be “snack” foods. Just think of it as a small meal or another opportunity to eat.

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5 Mistakes You Are Making With Your Picky Eater


As parents, we all make mistakes. Every parent loves their child and wants them to be nourished. Parents can be thoughtful and well intentioned but sometimes we interfere too much when it comes to feeding our kids. This is especially the case when dealing with a picky eater and sometimes we end up doing more harm then good. This information is intended to help you, not to place blame or make you feel any worse than you already do about your child’s eating habits. Watch out for common mistakes and learn how to implement best practices. It is never too early or too late to create a positive eating experience for the whole family.

  1. Offering an alternative meal:

    When you prepare a meal for your child and they refuse to eat it, your instincts may tell you to find something else that they WILL eat. Parents will often go back into the kitchen and either pull out leftovers, find a quick alternative such as a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or prepare a completely new meal for their child in the hope that they will just eat SOMETHING. Offering your child an alternative meal teaches them that there is no need to ever eat what is being served or to try something new. They develop the expectation that you will always cater to them.

  2. Asking your child what they want to eat:

    As parents, it is our role to decide what is being served at meals and snacks.  We must ensure that meals are nutritionally balanced and small children are not capable of making these decisions.  Have you ever prepared a meal that your child has requested only to have them completely refuse to eat it?  Children typically do not know what they will eat until the food is sitting right in front of them. Even though the parents are responsible for planning the menu, your child will still have choices at mealtime.  They will be responsible for choosing how much to eat of the food that is being offered.

  3. Plating your child’s food:

    Placing food directly onto your child’s plate is something that many parents do.  We assume that we know what they are going to eat and putting it together on their plate for them seems easier.  The problem is that plating your child’s food limits their exposure to non-preferred foods and limits their opportunity to try something new.  For the child, plated food can feel like PRESSURE. When you put the plate down in front of them, they interpret it as if you are saying “these are the foods that I expect you to eat and this is how much I want you to have.”

  4. Bribing or negotiating:

    When a child feels pressured to eat, they will usually end up eating less, not more.  It should always be the child’s responsibility to decide which foods to eat and how much, from what is being offered to them.  Although you may feel that your child should be eating more, when we pressure them to eat a specific food or quantity, we are teaching them to override their body’s internal cues. You may be conditioning them to eat everything on their plate, even when they are already full.  It is important that we allow children to listen to their bodies and learn how to self-regulate when it comes to their eating.

  5. Feeding your child the same foods everyday:

    This can be tricky when you have a very picky eater on your hands.  How can you offer variety when you child only eats 10 foods?  If a child eats the same food everyday, prepared in the same way, (and in many cases, multiple times per day), you run the risk of them burning out on those foods.  One day they may simply refuse to eat it any longer. Seek professional help BEFORE this happens.  Children will often go through phases with the foods they eat but it is important to ensure that your child is adding more foods than they are losing.

Support for Parents and their Picky Eaters

If mealtime is a constant battle and you are struggling with your child’s eating, I invite you to contact me for helpful strategies that are tailored to suit the needs of your child and your family.

My approach is parent centred, which means I work with parents to support both the child AND the parents and ensure a healthy feeding relationship. 

For your convenience, I offer consultations via phone or Skype as well as in person at my midtown Toronto office.  Click here for more information about my services or to book an appointment.

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Is Your Child a Carbaholic?

b2ap3_thumbnail_Is-Your-Child-a-Carboholic_20151228-033030_1.jpgDo you find that your child is drawn to carbohydrates over any other food category? You are not alone. While I do encounter children with preferences towards fruits and vegetables and some who love meat, a large number of children I see in my practice prefer to eat grains and other starches. Carbohydrates are energy-rich foods that often have a consistent texture and typically do not overwhelm the taste buds. These characteristics can be very appealing to children, particularly the more selective eaters or those who struggle with sensory or oral-motor issues.

While many adults tend to avoid them, in fact, carbohydrates are the body's preferred source of energy. Children are generally more active and have higher metabolisms than adults, which means they require a greater supply of easily accessible fuel. Restricting carbohydrates can greatly compromise a child’s energy level and even their brain function. The brain needs glucose to function properly so without a ready supply, kids may have a harder time staying focused and alert. Instead of cutting down on your child’s intake, simply choose quality carbohydrates that are high in fibre. Try using whole-grain varieties of bread, rice, pasta, pancakes and waffles, or at least using half and half. Vegetables, whole fruits (not juice), beans and lentils are also good sources of carbohydrates.

Restricting a child’s eating, whether you are restricting the quantity of food eaten or restricting the type of food they choose, can often lead to trouble down the road with the child sneaking food or binge eating. Teach your child to listen to their body. If they are drawn to carbohydrates, there may be a good reason for this. As a parent or caregiver, our job is simply to offer nutritious options from a variety of food categories but it is up to the child to decide which foods they are going to eat and how much their bodies need. When we try to try to override their decisions we are simply teaching them to ignore their body’s signals and often create unnecessary mealtime battles in the process.

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Your Baby Foodie

b2ap3_thumbnail_Baby-Foodie---crop.jpgWeaning your child onto solid food is about learning how to eat, exploring new textures and flavours and creating an enjoyable eating experience.  The window between six months to one year of age is a key time for helping your child develop his or her taste preferences and offering a variety of flavours during this time is essential. 

It is often assumed that babies prefer bland foods, but this is generally not the case.  Your baby actually begins to taste what mom eats through the amniotic fluid in the third trimester of pregnancy and continues to taste what mom eats through her breastmilk.  Adding flavourful foods into your baby’s diet from the start is the next step in taste development.   

b2ap3_thumbnail_Chefs-Daughter---logo.jpgChef’s Daughter is a new baby food delivery company by prominent Canadian Chef and Top Chef Canada finalist David Chrystian.  He is devoted to encourage building blocks of great taste and nutrition with his seasonally curated, never pasteurized jars of food containing the freshest possible produce, nutrient dense oils and fat, organic meats and sustainably caught fish. 

I met David and his wife, Katherine when they stopped at my booth at last year’s Baby Show with their daughter Charlotte.  The were in the process of launching their new venture and decided to attend one of my introducing solids workshops as they were committed to ensuring they met the developmental and nutritional needs of the babies they would feed, including the chef’s daughter.

b2ap3_thumbnail_chefsdaughter.jpgAs a chef, David knows which combinations of ingredients will work well together to bring out the best flavours.  He also works hard to include nutrient-dense foods that you may not feel comfortable working with at home.  As a kids’ nutritionist and feeding expert, I do not like to see babies exclusively being fed purees for an extended period of time and I always encourage parents to prepare food for their baby at home whenever possible.  While you are in this phase, however, doing your best to maximize the variety and quality of ingredients as well as the flavour potential will help to jumpstart your child’s love for nutritious and delicious food. 

b2ap3_thumbnail_ChefsDaughter2.JPGFor those who wish to supplement their homemade offerings with exciting flavours or those who want the benefits of feeding their child nutritious, freshly prepared food but simply don’t have the time or lack the necessary skills in the kitchen, Chef’s Daughter is a great option.  They not only deliver right to your home but also offer convenient vacation kits. 

Check out their website at for more information.

Tips to Prevent Iron Deficiency in Children


Iron deficiency is one of the most common nutritional problems in children.  Do you know if your child is getting enough?

Signs of deficiency may include pale skin, poor appetite, lack of energy/lethargy, slow weight gain, frequent infections, poor concentration or behavioural difficulties.

Iron is a mineral found in food that is essential for formation of hemoglobin that carries oxygen throughout the body.  Severe deficiencies can cause anemia, but many symptoms of low iron can appear much earlier, as the iron stores are depleting.  

There are many factors that can affect your child's iron levels, including genetics, premature birth, health conditions and specific dietary concerns.  For example, children who drink too much milk are at greater risk of iron deficiency.  This is because high calcium intake can interfere with iron absorption, plus, children will often fill up on milk, leaving less room for iron-rich foods.  

Tips to prevent iron deficiency:

•  When possible, breastfeed until the age of one.  Breast milk is relatively low in iron, but it is very well absorbed.  If breastfeeding is not an option, give iron-fortified formula until the age of one.  

•  Avoid giving cow's milk or milk alternatives until after the age of one.

•  After the age of six months, include iron rich foods into your child's diet.

•  Offer iron rich foods with vitamin C sources to enhance absorption.

•  Cook food in cast iron pots/pans as this increases the iron content of your food.

•  Include food sources of iron such as meat, poultry, fish and eggs as well as plant sources such as lentils, beans, grains, nuts/seeds, dried fruit and leafy greens.

If you suspect your child could have an iron deficiency, speak with a nutritionist or ask your doctor/pediatrician for a blood test.


Milk Alternatives: How to make the best choice for your child

b2ap3_thumbnail_Milk_Alternatives.jpgMore and more parents are looking towards plant-based alternatives to cow’s milk for their children.  New products are constantly entering the marketplace and it is wonderful to see the variety of options available.  With so many choices, including milk made of soy, rice, hemp, coconut, flax, oats, quinoa, sunflower seeds and a variety of nuts, parents are left feeling overwhelmed and confused about which milk alternative is the best choice for their child.  

Before choosing a plant-based milk alternative, here are some points to consider:

1. Added ingredients:

Most plant-based milk alternatives will contain a range of added ingredients including thickeners and stabilizers, added oils and sweeteners.  Carrageenan is a thickening agent that many consumers are trying to avoid due to questions regarding its health and safety implications.  An increasing number of companies have been responding to consumer demands and removing carrageenan from their products.  If this is a concern for you, be sure the check the ingredient list as carrageenan is still found in the majority of milk alternatives on the market.  I always look for products with as few ingredients as possible and choose the unsweetened variety.  If necessary, you can always add your own sweetener.

2. Sensory-based considerations:

Other items that should factor into your decision include taste, colour and consistency.  Depending on what your child is already used to drinking and their individual preferences, they may enjoy one brand or type of milk more than another.  Rice milk, for example, is naturally sweet tasting and this can be appealing to children.  Some brands, however, can be quite watery or have a bit of a brownish hue so it is not always easy to seamlessly transition a child who is used to a thicker, whiter milk.  Hemp milk is a great option from a nutritional standpoint and has a very white colour, similar to that of cow’s milk, but the taste can be quite grassy.  Some kids love it, but it’s not for everyone.  If you need to add a hint of sweetness in order for your child to accept a particular milk alternative, it is always better to do this at home with a little honey (if your child is over the age of one) or pure maple syrup rather than purchasing a product which has already been sweetened with refined sugar.  This way you can control the quality, the amount and can gradually wean off of the sweetener altogether at some point.

3. Where will your child be drinking it?

If you be using a milk alternative as a base for smoothies, the taste, colour and consistency concerns are not going to factor in as much since they can be easily masked with the right combination of ingredients.  An important consideration is whether or not your child be drinking this at daycare or school.  If so, chances are that nut-based milk alternatives such as almond, hazelnut or cashew milk will not be an option for them.

4. What are your child’s specific needs?

Think about why you feel the need to offer your child a plant-based milk alternative.  Perhaps there are certain dietary restrictions involved such as a milk protein allergy, dairy sensitivity or lactose intolerance.  Maybe you are a vegan family or making a personal choice to avoid cow’s milk (or milk from other animals in general).  Consider what you are trying to achieve.  Are you trying to wean your child from breast milk or formula and want another type of “milk" to transition to?  Are you looking for an easy way to ensure nutrients in your child’s diet?  Calcium and fat are important nutrients, however, they do not need to come in liquid form.  Rather than simply examining what is in your child’s cup, take a look at their diet as a whole.  A child with a good appetite and a balanced diet that includes a range of nutrients does not necessarily need to drink milk, whether it be from plant OR animal origin.  If you are trying to supplement your child’s diet, it may be helpful to have a nutritionist look at your child’s diet to determine the best way to fill those gaps.  Coconut milk, for example, can be a great way to include more fat into your child’s diet.  In Canada, however, coconut milk is not fortified with calcium so you would need to look elsewhere if ensuring calcium is your goal.

**Note: Some families enjoy making their own plant-based milk alternatives, such as almond milk.  This can be a very tasty beverage, just be aware that even though almonds and almond butter are an excellent sources of calcium, homemade almond milk is not.  When you make almond milk at home, the almond meal is strained out in the process, along with most of the calcium.  The reason that store bought almond milk contains approximately 30% of your recommended daily intake of calcium is because it is fortified.  

Hopefully this will help you navigate the supermarket aisles with a little less anxiety.  I encourage you to try different brands and different types of milk alternatives until you find one that both you and your child are happy with.  Keep in mind that you do not need to find just one.  In my nutrition practice, I will often recommend combinations of milks in order to achieve a specific taste profile or balance of nutrients.

Aviva Allen is a Kids’ Nutritionist specializing in helping parents with their picky eaters.  For more information about services, upcoming workshops or to set up a phone, Skype or in-office appointment, visit

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How Much Food Should My Child Be Eating?

b2ap3_thumbnail_How-much-food-should-my-child-be-eating.jpgAs parents we all go through periods where we worry about how much our kids are eating.  This is especially true when dealing with a child who is underweight or seems to have a small appetite.  It is also true when dealing with a child who is overweight and sneaking food.  Yet even when we are dealing with a child who has a perfectly healthy weight, parents will often still wonder if their child is eating enough or too much and how this will affect their future growth and eating habits.

While it is not our job as parents to determine how much our kids eat, there are ways in which we can support them in their eating.

Don’t interfere

Young children are very good at self-regulating if we let them.  This means not interfering with their quantities by the use of pressure tactics. They are the only ones who know how much their bodies need.  Even though at times they may eat more or less than they need, they will usually make up for this by making the necessary adjustments at other meals.

Planned meals and snacks

Planning scheduled meals and snacks is one of our feeding responsibilities.  Your child should be allowed to eat as much as they want at each sit down meal or snack and will be better able to regulate their amounts compared to being allowed to graze throughout the day.  Snacks do not need to be what we tend to think of as “snack foods”.  Think of them more like small meals and ensure the same balance that you would at breakfast, lunch and dinner.  We should be offering our kids 4-5 opportunities to eat throughout the day so that would mean 1-2 snacks.

Proper spacing between meals and snacks

Use snacks to support mealtime and space them out properly to ensure your child comes to the table hungry, but not too hungry.  If you wait too long, some children will be cranky and more likely to have a meltdown at the table while others may overeat.   If your meals and snacks are too close together, your child will be more likely to reject what is offered at the table or eat only a small amount.  This often results in parental pressure to eat in the form of negotiations and bribery.  Your child may legitimately not be hungry and teaching them to ignore their internal huger cues can lead to trouble down the road.

Ultimately it is not our role to determine the appropriate quantity for our children to eat.  We provide healthy and balanced meals and snacks. We provide them with a positive mealtime environment. We provide them with structure.  Then we need to take a step back and let them do their job.  Sometimes they will eat too much, sometimes they will eat too little and sometimes they will not choose to eat from all of the important food/nutrition groups but we need to let them make these mistakes in their eating and then learn to make up for them.

For advice on nutrition and feeding that is specific to your child and your family, call/email or book online to set up an in-office, phone or Skype consultation.

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Encouraging Kids to Drink Water

Are you having a hard time getting your kids to drink water?  Some children love drinking water from the start, while others need a little extra encouragement to hydrate with water. 

If drinking more water is a new initiative for your family, try explaining to your kids about why you are making this change together.  b2ap3_thumbnail_20130603_132052.jpgSimply explain, in an age-appropriate way, how water is so important for our bodies and why it is a healthy choice to make every day.  Creating a water-friendly environment is also key, so make sure water is always accessible, whether your kids are indoor, outdoors or on the go.

Make drinking water a life-long habit for your kids by starting with these 5 tips:

1. Limit other beverages: Avoid pop and other sweetened beverages and limit milk/milk alternatives and fruit juice.  There is only so much liquid your child will be able to drink in a day and you want the focus to be on water.

2. How does your water taste? Children generally have more sensitive taste buds than adults and may not enjoy the taste of tap water.  I know I can certainly taste the difference.  If this is the case, you can try purchasing a water filter or having filtered or spring water delivered by companies such as Cedar Springs.  They are even available in glass jugs and can be used with or without a cooler dispenser.

Another option is to add fresh fruit to your water.  Slice up any combination of lemons, limes, oranges, cucumbers or fresh mint and place into a pitcher of water.  Frozen berries are also great in place of ice cubes.  This will enhance the taste of the water and also make it more appealing to drink with the addition of vibrant colours. 

3. Set an example: Have you ever noticed that you feel thirsty when you see someone else taking a sip of their water?  It's a great subtle reminder for them to take a drink, and great way to keep yourself hydrated at the same time.  So make sure to your kids see YOU drinking water (and not pop or alcoholic beverages) whenever possible.  Spoken reminders are important too, as long as it doesn't start to feel like nagging.

4. Travel with water: Take water with you on the go.  It is cost-effective and eco-friendly to carry a reusable water bottle, rather than purchasing bottled water.  I prefer insulated stainless steel bottles such as these bottles from S'well or Klean Kanteen as they will keep your water cool for up to 24 hours.  I  prefer drinking room temperature water and with this bottle, I can keep it in my car during the winter and it doesn't get too cold and in the summer it prevents my water from heating up.

5. Make it fun! Let your child choose the colour of their water bottle.  At home, try offering water in a glass with a straw as this can often help kids (and grown ups) drink more.  Try a reusable straw such as this one from Strawesome.  If your child needs some extra motivation, keep a chart on the fridge so that they can track how much water they drink.  You can have a reward system, or even start a water drinking contest for the competitive members of the family.