What Pediatricians Feed Their Own Kids

Spoiler alert: Feeding a toddler isn't any easier when you're a pro.

January 23, 2017
pediatrician
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Pinterest-perfect meals, DIY recipes that take two hours to make, foods that are bad one week and superfoods the next—is it any wonder we feel so much pressure, anxiety, and guilt about what we feed our babies and toddlers? To help clear up the confusion and offer some peace of mind, we asked three pediatricians to dish on what they serve their own kids. Here, some of their go-to meals, along with tips on how to make healthy eating a reality.

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scrambled eggs
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“I always start my kids’ day with protein.”

A good habit to get into now, while your child is young? Give them protein in the morning, says Tanya Altmann, a pediatrician at Calabasas Pediatrics, author of What to Feed Your Baby, and a mom of three. Not only is it filling, but it also helps them focus and provides energy.

In Altmann’s home, that means a breakfast consisting of scrambled eggs, oatmeal with nut butter mixed in, whole grain cereal, or yogurt with cow’s milk (it has more protein than almond milk). To save time in the morning, she often scrambles a dozen eggs on Sunday night and, over the next three days, serves them as-is or between two slices of whole grain bread.

Lunch is often a turkey and cheese panini—“sandwiches tend to fall apart with a toddler, but melting the sandwich with cheese or avocado will hold it together,” she says—or a peanut butter sandwich on whole grain bread. Fruit or cooked vegetables are offered on the side, and a glass of water or milk washes it all down.

Related: What To Do With A Child Who Only Eats Berries

fun bowl of oatmeal
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“We try to follow MyPlate at every meal.”

When mealtime rolls around in Preeti Parikh’s home, the New York City-based pediatrician and mom of twins takes her cue from MyPlate. The USDA’s healthy-eating plan calls for a proportional mix of whole grains, vegetables, fruit, protein, and dairy at every meal.

At breakfast, that may be a bowl of oatmeal topped with fresh fruit, or a plate of eggs with whole-wheat toast or muffins, plus a cup of milk. Lunch is often a whole-wheat pasta served with veggies (sweet potatoes, peas, and edamame are favorites); fresh mozzarella and diced tomato; chickpeas; or Dr. Praeger’s veggie cutlets. A popular dinner in her house is lentils mixed with peas and rice followed by a side of fruit or yogurt.

For snacks, Parikh sticks with healthy, fresh options, such as guacamole, hummus, homemade smoothies, or yogurt with fruit and granola.

asparagus and chicken stirfry
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“I make sure my kids experience a variety of tastes—and even ‘adult’ food.”

As a pediatrician in private practice in New Jersey, a clinical assistant professor at Rutgers University, and mom of two, Satya Narisety has a busy life. But she quickly learned that to keep her children eating healthy, she needed to vary what she served them.

Narisety found success by preparing a base food, like chicken thighs, a different way each day. “I think the fact that there is a food that they recognize in each meal but it’s prepared and presented in a different way or with a different side, allows them to safely explore new tastes,” she says. Narisety also combats food fatigue by serving familiar favorites in new, exciting ways, such as rolling sandwiches flat and cutting them into interesting shapes with cookie cutters or using whole wheat tortillas to make pinwheels.

Narisety is also adamant about serving her children what she and her husband are eating. At dinner, that could be anything from roasted or breaded chicken with asparagus, a spinach salad, vegetable fried rice, Indian curry with rice or roti, soup, or pasta mixed with vegetables and topped with marinara, pesto, or a cream sauce.

Related: 7 Foods You Should Never Feed Your Baby

little girl eating tomato
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"I serve the most nutrient dense foods first."

To help the kids fill up on the good stuff at dinner, Altmann serves protein, vegetables, and fruit first, and then introduces the quinoa, whole-wheat pasta, or brown rice.

Desserts are reserved for special occasions, and serving sizes are purposely small. “We keep desserts as natural as possible—we like to do the real thing,” she says. “We don’t need low-fat, sugar-free ice cream. It’s better to have real ice cream with fewer ingredients.”

bag full of groceries
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"We steer clear of packaged foods when possible.”

When it comes to snacks, Altman chooses on-the-go treats that are nutritious: yogurt with berries, nut butter or turkey on whole grain bread, string cheese, cut-up fruit or vegetables, eggs, and dry whole grain cereal that contains at least 3 grams of protein. “I try not to give stuff that comes in a bag with long labels,” she says. “That’s party food, not nutrition food.”

When it comes to labels, Altman says less than five ingredients is best. More than 10? Think again. “And if there are unpronounceable chemicals on there, it’s best not to buy or have in your house.”

sad girl refusing to eat veggies
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"I try not to micromanage or get discouraged"

Feeding a toddler can be tough. “They may love something one day and the next, hate it. Or they eat one really good meal and then another meal is horrible,” Parikh says. “The key is to always keep healthy options on the plate, and get them to try just one bite. If they don’t like it, don’t push it. It can take kids up to 20 times before they like a new food.”

Altman agrees: “Kids might have one good meal, and the next they might refuse,” she says. “Over a three-day period, you want to make sure they’re getting enough fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. But don’t beat yourself up. Your job is to serve the right things and model good behavior. If you put it in front of them, your job is done.”

To pique your child’s interest in healthy eating, Parikh recommends asking them to help you pick out fresh veggies and fruits at the store and pitch in during meal prep. Sticking to set meal and snack times can also help encourage them to eat.

Related: 6 Organic Store-Bought Baby Foods That Are Just As Good As Homemade

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