Josie had her 18-month check up the other day. We flunked. Besides screaming through the various measuring tools that masquerade as torture devices from the perspective of a tired toddler, the one thing she was able to tolerate was the weighing scale and it read the same as her last visit. So our doctor put on the concerned furrowed brow and asked me what she eats. Now, for some context, let me say that I am someone who loves to feed people. Nothing makes me happier than having company over and cooking a smorgasbord that leaves them loosening their belts and exasperated when I pull out dessert. So when my doctor gravely puts on the why-are-you-starving-your-daughter look, it strikes a particular chord of failure for me.
Josie isn’t starving. Here’s what she looks like…..and what my doctor wishes she would look like:
I’m kidding of course, but I agree that she should have gained some weight since our past visit. It was a good wake-up to be reminded that no matter how much it seems like Josie is a ‘big girl’ she’s still growing like crazy and her metabolic needs are vastly different than ours. Over the last few months, we came to the perspective that, except for whole milk, Josie should pretty much just eat what we eat. Doing so would make her palate diverse, staving off the I-only-eat-white-food rut that some toddlers get in. It also saves time on making a whole separate meal. The problem is, that we eat a pretty healthy low fat diet. As an adult the last thing I’m trying to do is pack on the weight. Not so with little ones.
I’m not overly concerned though. Josie is a dainty eater, and always asks to leave the table with a ton of food left on her plate. My brother, on the other hand, has to dole out food at a reasonable pace for his 95 percentile son to inhale without choking. So even if Josie “should” be heavier, making up a little weight is something that is easily corrected. To help us with this, our doctor gave us a handout on high calorie foods that has recipe ideas and suggestions on how to pack the calories into a toddler. This handout is crazy. On it is a cartoon Arabian genie smiling with a bowl of fruit in one hand and a stick of butter in the other. Usually your doctor admonishes your eating habits and implores you to eat healthier. Here is a sampling of some of the meals my doctor is prescribing for my daughter:
- Cooked oatmeal, butter, syrup and cream
- Any fruit dipped in whipped cream
- Spaghettios cooked with added butter, vegetable and cheese
- Ravioli heated with added butter and cheese
- Macaroni and cheese with extra butter and cheese
- Mashed potatoes, butter and meat gravy
- French fries dipped in tartar sauce
- Fried chicken with skin
- Fried beans
- French fries dipped in ranch dressing
- Tator tots with melted cheese
- Cheeseburger and French fries
- Deli-sliced meat dipped in gravy and cooked vegetable with butter
- Deli-sliced meat spread with cream cheese, rolled up and sliced
- Fish sticks dipped in mayo or tartar sauce
- Meat pate
- Cheerios dipped in cream cheese
- Ice cream (avoid those with nuts and/or other hard pieces)
- Mashed potatoes with butter, gravy, or sour cream
My favorite lines in the handout are,
“Try not to use foods labeled as “light,” “low fat” or “fat free.” Some high-fat crackers are Mini Ritz Bitz, Cheez-Its, and Chicken in a Biskit.”
“Young children, and especially children with problems gaining weight, need higher amounts of fat to provide enough calories to fuel their greater growth requirements. Later, as growth reaches appropriate levels, the emphasis on fat can be reduced.”
This handout is kind of messed up. To it’s credit, it does have some healthier suggestions, but ‘Deli-sliced meat dipped in gravy and cooked vegetable with butter?’ ‘Chicken in a Biskit?’ Seriously? Can’t we do a little better? Where was fettuccine alfredo on the list? I remember being told once that a plate of that is equal to, like, three Big Macs. Or how about a croissant, or butternut squash soup with cream base and topped with sour cream and chives? This American idea that kids like to eat garbage reminds me of that Buzzfeed post that went around a few months ago featuring pictures of school lunches from around the globe – many of which look like combo meals from Baja Fresh or Panda Express. Then there are the photos of American lunches, which give the impression that we take our culinary inspiration for children’s lunches from what comes out of their rear ends.
And that last quote cracks me up. I’m pretty sure that many parents who receive advice like this for their growing children don’t let off on the gas once ‘appropriate levels’ are met, and I bet their children are all too happy to continue scarfing down tator tots slathered in mayo. After all, children continue to grow and put on weight until their teens, right? And I’m guessing in a few years if you try to take ‘little’ Jonny’s fried chicken, french fries and eggnog and replace it with a plate of pesto, green salad, and a glass of 1% milk, it’s not going to go over so well. Your taste and preferences for food are culturally conditioned from a very young age. No wonder, according to the CDC, the rate of childhood obesity in this country has nearly tripled since 1980, up from 7% to 20% as of 2008.
I agree that if your toddler, for a non-medical reason, isn’t gaining weight and has dramatically fallen from his/her typical weight percentile, then yes, by all means, grab the gravy and dust off your old college beer bong. However, I think we would be doing a disservice to our kids, and the larger health of our country, if we starting serving milkshakes made with Hidden Valley Ranch every time a kid goes sideways a couple percentage points. Yes, I’ll be adding some cream to Josie’s milk for the next couple months, some extra peanut butter to her sandwiches, and buttering her toast pretty thick. I’m just guessing, but I bet by her next weigh-in, I can get her back up to her “normal” percentile curve at her next weigh in without turning her into collector of Happy Meal toys.