S3E6: Ahuva Magder: The Mental Load Of Meal Time | Baby's Best Sleep


Voice Over:

You’re listening to the Slumber Party podcast with your host Amanda Jewson, a mom of two girls, a child and infant sleep expert, and general sleep lover. If you’re a tired parent who is desperate for answers or just someone who loves sleep, this podcast was created just for you. Each episode is packed full of tips and tricks to help you maintain your sanity as well as your social life during the early stages of parenthood. So grab your headphones, it’s time to get comfy.

 

Amanda: 
On today’s podcast we have Ahuva Magder Hershkop who’s a registered dietitian and primarily focuses on kids and the mental load of meal prep and eating and all of that stuff. I know how stressful this is, mostly because I have children and I listen to you. So I think you’re going to find a lot of her tips super helpful. I had my own Oprah, ‘Aha!’ moment. Honestly, this was such a great conversation. You’re gonna love it. Enjoy.

Okay. Hi Ahuva, how are you? 

 

Ahuva: 
Good. How are you?

 

Amanda:           
I’m great. Thank you so much for coming on. I’m really excited because, you know, I deal a lot with toddlers and, you know, some of the… It’s funny, and I talked a little bit about this with Abbey Sharp last season about how connected food is to sleep for parents  and on what an anxiety producer it is if you feel like your child isn’t eating enough, and then you just go ahead and you put them to sleep.

 

Ahuva: 
Totally!

 

Amanda:       
That is extremely stressful, and I love that, when you reached out to me, you were like, I really want to talk about the mental load of this whole feeding thing. And I really think this is a thing, and there’s so much. There’s so much that we could jump into. And I think that we should, cause we have 20 minutes 30 minutes. So let’s do this. Tell me something, what you’re seeing with your family needs and what… Well, actually first of all, tell me who you are and why we should listen to you!

 

Ahuva:           
Totally. So I’m Ahuva, as you said, I am a registered dietitian, and I have a pediatric based practise in Toronto, as well as an online presence, where I create online courses to support parents in reducing the stress that they feel around mealtime cause so many parents are showing up to mealtime so stressed, and supporting Moms in reducing the mental load that they feel in feeding their families overall.

 

Amanda:              
Yes, for sure. And do you find, you know, I feel like the eating thing. I mean, my kids have the opposite issue where they’ll eat your picky child’s food. Whether or not you want them to. 

 

Ahuva:     
So my son does that to my daughter.

 

Amanda:        
But I have to say like I know, I know that picking eating can be stressful. Like, for both of my kids, we hit a spot at around two, where they’re like, “I don’t like anything!” and so I experieced a micro version of this. But on the other side, it can be really embarrassing, when you go to a birthday party and your children are like, “I’m here for the cake.” You’re like also just play for a little bit about the child or the children. 

 

Ahuva: 
Definitely. 

 

Amanda: 
And then they’re, like, stuck at the snack table, and you’re worried what you’ve done. We’ve come, we’ve come far like I’ve learned to kind of take some of the pressure off some foods and offer it another way. But I guess in your practice, so with a pediatric practice, what are your most common.. what are you seeing most from your client’s?

 

Ahuva:                
Definitely. So I think that, you know, a lot of times it is the picky eating. A lot of times I think that there’s the assumption that a lot of moms have that, and you, like so many things and motherhood and and like, sleep is well right. But we just we become moms and we’re like, “I should know how to do this”, right? I should know how to be able to put my child to sleep. I should be able to know how to feed my family or how to feed my kids. And, it’s not really as intuitive as it seems. And there often ends up being this power struggle that so many families are having at the dinner table. And you know, the constant thinking about it from the minute that moms are waking up in the morning to “what am I gonna start for dinner? How am I going to get it on the table?” Whether you know your during the mother at home with kids or whether they were working and only coming home at five o’clock, and ‘what am I gonna put on the table that my kids aren’t immediately going to look at and turn up their noses and you know, ask for cereal afterwards.’ And that really does weigh so much on parents. It’s really, I think you underestimate how much stress that adds when it’s that constant, you know, you can’t, you don’t get breaks, right? No, there’s no breaks and feeding your kids. They need to eat every day and so parents are doing this on top of every other responsibility we already have. 

 

Amanda:
Yep, for sure! I want to.. like you just said something that jumped out to me. When you are… so when your kid.. what’s your strategy? Like I mean, you said offer cereal instead, I feel like we don’t do that in our house, But should we

 

Ahuva:
So ideally not. So there’s something that we talked about a lot in the field of nutrition, and the way that I like to describe it to people is, you know, one day beef will be bad for you. The next day it will be good. Things change so often in nutrition and the one thing that we have really stayed true to was what we call the division of responsibility at meal times. And you know, that just describes what everyone’s responsibility is when they show up to the dinner table and that, or whatever table, and that means that, you know, as parents, it’s our job to decide what we’re feeding our kids, where we’re feeding them, how were feeding them, all of those bigger decisions. And our kids get to decide if they want to eat and how, and if they want to eat, how much of whatever it is that we’re offering that they want to eat. And often you know, a lot of the meal time stress comes down to, as you’re sort of saying, like the offering the serial afterwards is we say to our kids, “Please just eat anything. I don’t care what it is. Just eat something.” and that’s when it sort of opens up to “well, then I’ll eat yoghurt and ice cream, but only in the Blue Bowl, and only if I’m in my pyjamas and only if I’m in front of the TV…” and all of those stipulations that come with us becoming concerned just over the ‘anything is better than nothing.’

 

Amanda:
Yeah. Okay, so I like this. So you know, when, I did a couple of years ago, I did reach out to a dietitian just because I’ve had stuff with food and, 

 

Ahuva: 
I think we all have stuff with food

 

Amanda:
Who doesn’t? I feel like if you grew up in the nineties, you’re, you’re not immune. 

 

Ahuva: 
No, no

 

Amanda: 
But, so I really, I did this program called Precision Nutrition, and the whole aim of it, it was kind of like to create new habits and take the pressure off with, like, labeling bad foods, good foods or bad foods or whatever, and I really loved it. And I really think it changed my whole brain with food. So then I, when my daughter was showing some signs that she was becoming, like, kind of crazy about certain foods. Like, you know, we were, we were seeing some foods are bad and some foods are good or some food are like treats, and some or not… I was like, “Oh, I don’t want to, like, perpetuate this sort of diet culture or bad or good food thing. So I, I reached out to a dietitian and we had this conversation, and that was the first thing that she talked about, like, “Don’t label the food, but talk about the division of responsibility.” Your whole role is to make the food and serve it. They choose whether or not they want to eat. 

 

Ahuva
Completely

 

Amanda: 
And clearly, I felt like it took the pressure off. So now we’re kind of like this is what’s for dinner, we’d love if you try everything, try a little bit of everything, and our kids are pretty good – they’ll try everything. They may reject things. One of the funny things that we’ve done, and I don’t know how we’ve made this turn, but we always tell our kids that our taste buds always change. So we’re like sometimes like lemons taste sweet, sometimes they taste sour. You should always just try, and they’re like, “Oh!” So they’re very experimental about it, so we can get them to try foods. And whether or not they eat them is another thing, and that has been incredibly liberating for me.

 

Ahuva: 
That is incredibly liberating. And I think you know, what you’re saying is so important because as we said, so many of us have, we all have our our shtick with food. Right? And I think that when we have kids, a lot of times when we’re having meal times dress, the first step is even parents just sort of acknowledging that maybe our relationships with food aren’t perfect and that’s okay. And we’re always trying to do you know, better for our kids than maybe we even had for ourselves. But that is an amazing first step – to take away the good and the bad and just sort of present food neutrally, because that definitely helps to just reduce the stress at meal time. So I love that.

 

Amanda:               
Yeah, so I have, I would love your thoughts on this because, you know, in my line of work and maybe people listening to this podcast, a lot of the stress comes around like they’re going to starve, they’re not going to eat, if they don’t do this, they will starve, and everything will be bad. So obviously I am not a proponent of starving children, and you know, babies or children, I wonder, like, can we starve our kids? If they go like, I mean, I’m not talking about a baby. I am talking about an angry three-year-old who is just sayinng no to everything. Are they going to starve overnight?

 

Ahuva:                 
So the short answer is no. But I think that that is one of the ways in which moms, because we’re so good at doing this, make ourselves feel like crap. 

 

Amanda: 
Yeah. Yeah.

 

Ahuva: 
Because whenever we start and this happens for a lot of parents as we start to transition to the division of responsibility of, you know, I offer food when, when it’s, you know, when it’s appropriate and my kids can decide whether or not they want to eat. A lot of parents will come back to me and say, “What do you mean? You want me to withhold food from my child? Is this about withholding? I’m not going to give my child food when they’re asking for it?” And you know, right away started, put a negative spin on that. And I think that’s a lot of what, you know, leads into “Well, then I’m putting my child to sleep, and then maybe they’re not gonna see sleep well, and it’s gonna be my fault, and I’m starting this negative cycle.” And it’s one of the ways that we as moms often put a lot of stress on ourselves. And so often, you know, one of the first steps is just sort of re-framing that the idea of division of responsibility is to raise intuitive eaters, right? Is to raise kids who can listen to their tummies and can listen to their signals and can really learn to honour their hunger. And when a child is sitting down to a meal and they’re not eating anything and then 20 minutes later, they’re asking for a snacker they’re asking for the cereal or the yogurt, and we become so afraid they’re not going to sleep that then we sort of cave. What we’ve taught them is you were hungry 20 minutes ago because if you’re starving 20 minutes after dinner, it means you were hungry at dinner time, and you didn’t honour your hunger, and you should continue not doing that because it’s not a big deal. Right? So it’s not, it’s never about “withholding food from my kids, and they’re going to sleep and I don’t even care if they’re hungry.” It’s really supporting kids in developing that skill to honour their hunger, and I think just that reframe for a mom sometimes is so powerful because we’re not withholding food. We’re teaching a vital skill for our kids for the rest of their lives.

 

Amanda:           
I just had an Oprah ‘ah ha’ moment. When it’s not about well, I mean, this is essentially what I do with sleep all the time, is like your child can have big feelings about not wanting to go to sleep. We don’t say, “OK, then don’t sleep.” You know, like we just, that’s not allowed. They can have those big feelings, they can say “No, I don’t want to” but as the leaders of the house and the leaders of our pack, we can also say, “I hear you, I’m listening. I hear what you’re saying. But I’m holding this boundary firm for this reason.” And it sounds like, for me, it all comes down to like, what’s the most healthy option for my child? Sleep is a very – it’s a health and safety issue for me. Food feels like a very similar thing to me, where it’s like I am teaching you how to honour your hunger and eat when you’re hungry and actually part of the thing that, I realized when I spoke to the dietician that I worked with was that our kids were snacking all day. Snack snack snack snack snack. So maybe they actually weren’t feeling hunger, period. So then, then they were like, but never quite, it’s kind of like babies who snack and snooze and snack and snooze, like, momentarily satiate their hunger but then, like an hour later, are legitimately hungry because they don’t have the nutrients or whatever. So then when we eliminated the snacks or spaced them out, I should say, because we don’t eliminate snacks, we space them out. Our kids were like pounding their food.

 

Ahuva:            
So I often recommend for a ‘Kitchen Closed policy’ for an hour before dinner and an hour… like an hour before a meal and an hour after a meal for that exact reason, because, you know, oftentimes parents are seeing their kids showing up at mealtime, and if it’s you know, macaroni and cheese, their kids will go to town. But if it’s chicken stir fry, you know they’re not eating. And a lot of parents are like, “What is going on here?” And they always say, you know, when I’m feeling sort of snacky, if there’s something that’s good, I’m gonna eat it, right? If there’s something I like, I’m more than happy to get more full. But if it’s something that I don’t like, I’m not hungry enough to be motivated to try that new thing, because I’m not over hungry.

 

Amanda:               
Oh God, I’m triggered right now. Because my almost four year old is constantly in our kitchen. Like if we’re in the kitchen at any time, any time I’m recording myself so if you’re watching this on YouTube, you see my pain. But if we’re in there at any time, Norah is asking for what we’re eating. She’s hungry. She needs a snack. Like so it just means before dinner, it’s like this little fly – I’m hungry, I’m hungry – and I’m like, “Go Away!” But you know what I’m thinking. Like again, I’m always relating it back to my job, sleep, but I when I’m working with my toddlers, I talk about visual, visual representation of what we’re trying to communicate. So, in terms of bedtime routines, I like to do like a little a chart that you actually sit and work with with your child. Go through some magazines, find a bed, cut out the bed, talk about when they’re allowed to be out of the bed, when they need to be in the bed and then actually create visual representations of what their routine looks like: toothbrushes, books, jammies – all those things so they can see it and understand it. And when you said “Kitchen Closed” I was like, I’m gonna make a Kitchen Closed sign.

 

Ahuva:              
And then that works really well. I encourage families to do things like visual menus as well, because often there becomes this sort of, you know, your kids are asking “What’s for dinner, Mommy.” And then you tell them whatever’s for dinner and there’s that whole meltdown of: “I don’t want that for dinner. And why can’t we have whatever it is?” So you know, thinking about even doing something like a visual menu where kids can see, you know there isn’t that overwhelm of their showing up to dinner and you know, they really wanted something and something else comes out and the whole meltdown happens. Everyone knows, everyone’s on board. It’s there for everyone to see. That’s definitely something that I love for families to include as well.

 

Amanda:
Yeah. Oh, I love that. I loved that so much. So when do you start to see kids start to show any sort of picky behaviour? I wonder if this is in line of when I start to see this in, toddler stuff, because I can have awesome sleeping babies turn into toddlers who don’t want to sleep anymore. So it’s not about skill, it’s very behavioural, so I wonder if it’s in line with you as well.

 

Ahuva:              
So typically, we see, and again, you know, every child is different, but typically, 18 months to four years old is where there is that picky eating stage and it really, you know, comes with kids learning how to say no is essentially, you know, what happens.

 

Amanda:               
Yeah, it’s that development of the “I’m autonomous. I am apart from you. I realize it for the first time”, and it doesn’t mean that we stopped, well, I mean, this is such a great example. What a great parallel, actually, because a lot of the times parents are so…. this is the theme of my podcast, I think… but parents really feel like shit for saying no to their kids, 

 

Ahuva: 
Oh a 1,000,000% 

 

Amanda: 
And “No, I’m shutting the door right now and you’re going to bed” and, like, you know, we’ve all done it doesn’t feel great, but it’s also, it’s a really good thing to set that boundary, right? The first time you’re, like if your kids says “I don’t want to eat.” We’re not just gonna be like, “Okay!” like, No, I mean, I guess, to some degree, we do allow them to…. I guess if they’re rejecting these things, we’re not saying like, they’re never going to eat again or we’re just going to continue to give them macaroni and cheese for the rest of their life because this is what they like. We can’t be fully… And I think that most parents would agree with me with that. And, but it’s really in, like, I think this goes back to your division of responsibility, right? Like I am giving you this. It’s up to you how you want to deal with that. And you when you do this with kids, right, when you say “OK, this is what I’m giving, this is what you’re eating.” What’s the turnaround like in terms of like seeing progress of kids eating more, trying new foods? Like what? How what does that look like for you?

 

Ahuva:               
So I always tell parents to expect a couple of weeks of not so fun times because, you know, and I say this to parents whenever I’m working with a picky eater, is that especially at that age, sleep and food are two places where kids can so easily assert their authority. Right? You know, we overrule our kids for lack of a better term in so many areas of life, right? Like my kids – you want to run into traffic, I’m overruling that decision. You want to wear flip flops in the Winter? Like hard no, overruled right away. But at dinner time or at the table, your kids can close their mouths and I’m overruled. My kids, if they really want to will like, sit in their beds and be like “I’m not going to sleep right now.” And I’m like “Can you just lay down?” And they’re like, “No.” So definitely, you know, those are two different, different ways in which kids can really assert their authority. And I always tell parents that that that time really depends, right? The turnaround really depends on how, and I’m sure that you say this is well, is how consistent you can be, because you can try and make changes your meal time and it can take you a year of all-out battles at the dinner table. Or we can make changes in a couple of weeks and have it be completely seamless and the challenge really is how consistent you feel like you can be and how consistent all caregivers can be across what we’re doing. So if that means making you know one small change for the next couple of days, I a 1,000,000% would love for families to do that instead of saying, you know what, forget this, I’m 180-ing everything that we’re, that we’re doing and that sometimes is what parents feel motivated to do when you know they’ve reached that point of, like you were saying like that when we were talking before we recorded, you know at 3 a.m when parents are like “Why is my kid not sleeping?!” that happens at the dinner table as well. When parents are like “This is it. We’re done. You know, I’m changing everything now!” And that tends to, when we try to 180 everything in a day, we’re gonna go back to what we were doing tomorrow, because that’s too stressful for parents and for the kids that were trying to make changes to

 

Amanda:           
Totally. And I think too, like the other, like it’s really easy to be a consistent parent when you have small changes like that. And what I think our kids need to see in both like food related things and sleep related things is that we’re sticking to our guns. That we are, we’re very predictable and again going back to that thing where we’re worried about saying no, if you’re children understand that when I do this, my parent does this, that’s actually very reassuring for them, really comforting, and it is very normal and appropriate for your child to consistently test those boundaries again and again and again and again, just to make sure that you’re the one in charge. And that really might not actually have anything to do with you other than reassurance that they’re not the ones making the decisions, because children don’t want to be in charge and they don’t want to be making the decisions. But they’re going to explore what your boundaries are. And I’m sure you find this as well, like I tell my toddler clients especially, “Look, your kid is looking for the break in your game.” They are looking for, like, my my favorite example is when I’m talking about whether or not the door should be closed or open. If your child wants their door open, some of the things that they might say are like, “Okay, I want the door open all the way” or, you know, you open it a crack. “No, I want it opened up this much more”, and the moment you’re like, fine, I’ll just open up this much more, they’re like, there’s my in. There’s that moment and it seems so silly, but the more we are inconsistent or even, books is a good example. I want, you know, we say two books in the routine and then they beg and beg and beg for three. Well, then they’re going to beg and beg and beg for macaroni and cheese instead of your chicken stirfry as well. 

 

Ahuva:                  
So we had this went with my… We use a gro-clock for my kids to know when they wake up, and I made the most epic mistake of, it was like, you know, 6:50. My kids came into me at 6:53 or something like that. You know, the gro-clock goes up at seven. And they were like “Mommy, Can we come into your bed?” And I was like, “Okay, fine. Just because it’s almost the sun coming up”

 

Amanda: 
Dun-Dun! 

 

Ahuva: 
Oh, my god. The next day they were coming in like, 6 a.m. And they were like, “Mommy, it’s almost the sun…” I was like “it is NOT almost the sun!” And why did… Oh my god. But definitely it’s that sort of like, “Well, it’s almost this” and “It’s close to this” and “you almost took three bites of your chicken, so I’ll…” you know, and, and that constant, that those ins that our kids definitely look for all the time.

 

Amanda:               
Always they are always looking for them. They’re always looking for a way to push the boundary and see what the reaction is. Well, I mean, it’s so okay, we have a few more minutes. What is your top tip for parents struggling with meal time, struggling with that mental load? If someone can, you know, put their headphones down after this episode. What’s the one thing that you want them to be leaving with?

 

Ahuva:
So many things. But, you know, one is really just even if you have to write it out for yourself, is just remembering sort of what your role is at dinner time and what your kids roles are at dinner time because, you know, it becomes very easy. If we can write that down and look at it and, you know, start catching ourselves at mealtime, even if you’re not really looking to make any changes right now. But you’re feeling a little bit of stress at mealtime is just writing down. You know, what is my job here? And what is my child’s job here? To be able to go back and, those times where you’re about to say, you know, take three more bites of whatever it is before you leave the table. Really going back to that list and say, “is three more bites my job? Do I need to be thinking about that?” And if it’s not, then learning slowly to let those things go, right? If it doesn’t fall within your responsibility, that is, you know that it’s not your responsibility, really on that can start to just help to reframe how we show up to the dinner table. And the other tool that I really love for parents to think about is reframing their ideas of what a successful meal time looks like. And often for parents that looks like, did my child finish their plate? Did they try a new vegetable? Did they? Whatever it is for them and all of those goals that are so difficult for us to attain, have parents as we said sort of feeling like crap at the end of the meal when we can achieve them. And a successful mealtime in how we you know, it’s dietitians, look at building our Children up through meal time is you know, did we have any successful interactions? Did our Children sit with us at meal time? Did everyone laugh, did everyone show up to the table? Did… all of those kind of things. And so I always encourage parents to create what I like to call a successful mealtime checklist. And that can be four things that are not food related that happen at the dinner table. And for parents, who are having a lot of stress at the all time, sometimes, like, you need to give each other that pat on the back. You know, have both parents, like go and sort of fill out the checklist afterwards. “Okay? My child didn’t finish their food, but did they even see a new food on the table? Did we all tell a story about our day?…” Whatever that is for you, I should be able to start seeing meal time as a positive experience again instead of just the stressful “Ugh, is my child gonna eat anything tonight?”

 

Amanda:            
Yes, 100%. Oh, I love that. And it always goes back to that Oprah ‘Ah ha!’ moment for me where, are we helping our children learn how to trust their hunger cues? And that’s a skill, that is really a skill and honestly, what a blessing to give your child that. I didn’t learn about that until I’ve is, like 34 and like, that’s a lot of time.

 

Ahuva:              
So I always say, like the greatest, one of the moments that gives me the greatest joy is my daughter will rub her tummy before a meal and go: “My tummy’s not so happy. It’s not so happy.” And then at the end of the meal, when she’s when she’s full, what full means to her is: “Mommy, my tummy is very happy now.” 

 

Amanda: 
Oh my god! 

 

Ahuva: 
And her being able to do that, like there’s nothing that brings me more pride. You know that hearing that after a meal. 

 

Amanda:              
I love that amazing. Well, Ahuva, where can people find you?

 

Ahuva:             
So I hang out in a couple of different places. One is instagram, I’m there are a lot and my handle is @ahuvard which stands for Registered Dietician. And I also run a free community on Facebook for parents who are just looking for more strategies to reduce their meal time stress, to just streamline their meal prep routine and all those fun questions and that’s called The Busy Mom’s Guide To Feeding Your Family so you could definitely find either

 

Amanda:         
Awesome. That’s great. Okay. And I’m gonna put those in the liner notes of the podcast in the YouTube video as well for those of you not listening to this podcast with pen and paper. Amazing. Thank you so much Ahuva! 

Ahuva:
Thank you! 

Amanda: 
Have a good one.

 

Voice Over:
Thank you so much for joining us for another episode of Slumber Party. If you’re ready to help your little one gets the sleep that they need, and get your nights back while you’re at it, make sure to check out Amanda’s signature DIY sleep training courses or work with her directly. For more details head over to BabysBestSleep.com. Don’t forget to hit subscribe, like and review. Happy sleeping, everyone.