Transcript: Encouraging Healthy Eating in Childhood

This is a text transcript from The First Time Mum’s Chat podcast. The episode is called Encouraging Healthy Eating in Childhood and you can click on the link to view the full episode page, listen to the episode and view the show notes.

Helen Thompson: When your little one is ready to start solids, they may experience challenges such as constipation. As a baby massage instructor, I regularly teach parents techniques to help their little one through these challenges.

In this week’s episode of First Time Mum’s Chat, you’ll hear tips on how to help prevent constipation in babies from Jennifer House an author and Registered Dietician from Calgary in Canada. During our chat, you’ll hear Jennifer share tips and insights including the importance of how you feed your baby and why you must learn to be responsive to their hunger and being full signals, ways when your baby is starting solids to stop them from becoming picky eaters and how to determine whether your baby is gagging or choking.

And so, so much more….

Hi Jennifer, and welcome to First Time Mum’s Chat. I’m looking forward to chatting about baby led weaning and hearing some of your eating tips to help parents through some of the challenges they are likely to face. Can you start by telling us a bit about your background and what you do?

Jennifer House: Sure, well thanks for having me. I’ve been a dietician or nutritionist for about, geez, 18 years now I think. I know, time flies! I went to university for a nutrition degree and I’d always been interested in nutrition. My mom was one of those moms that only fed us whole wheat bread and the things that you hate as a child, but come to learn to appreciate as you grow up as an adult and I just figured that nutrition was always gonna be useful for me and my family, no matter what stage of life we were in. So I went to university, did a year internship, went back to a different university for my master’s because I loved learning, loved being a student and I worked for a bit at a children’s hospital and once I had my first child I decided I just wanted more flexibility. So for 15 years now. I’ve had 2 other children since, so 3 kids, I’ve run First Step Nutrition, which is my private practice, specializing in family and pediatric nutrition.

Helen Thompson: So you’ve had a wide range of experience in nutrition, which is great.

Jennifer House: Yeah, I really enjoy it and I’m still passionate about it after all these years, so it’s fun.

Helen Thompson: Yeah, and being a mom of 3, I think it’s really important to start your children at a very early age about good nutrition, because if you start them at an early age, hopefully they’ll pick it up and they’ll start eating more healthy.

Jennifer House: Yeah, exactly and I love baby led weaning. I have a book The Parents Guide to Baby Led Weaning, all about It, and that’s one of the things I love about that method of starting solids, although I’m fine with any approach or a combo. It’s just exposing the baby from the beginning to all those different textures, all those different tastes. It just, sets them up to appreciate them more later.

Helen Thompson: Yeah, I agree. Instead of giving them lots of pureed food, if they have that, it can help them with so many different things. If you feed them properly, you can avoid things like constipation.

Jennifer House: Yeah, it can help and I had two babies that were quite constipated and I think some of that, you know, is genetic and babies starting solids. It can take a while for their guts to figure out what to do with all these new foods. I t is fairly common when starting solids and I think we can definitely chat about some ways to help prevent or cure constipation in babies today.

Helen Thompson: Yeah, I teach baby massage and I know from the tummy side if a baby’s constipated what I can do. I think what you said is very valid that a lot of the time baby’s guts are just beginning to develop and once they’ve gone from just liquid to solids, it’s a huge transition for a baby. Their guts are just getting used to new textures and new food, as you mentioned.

Jennifer House: Yeah, exactly, I think some babies will be constipated no matter what you’re feeding them because it is a big change like you mentioned but one of the main things we can do to help move the food along is encourage extra fluid. So even from when you start solids, it’s okay to offer baby water. Now they don’t need a lot of extra fluids beyond breast milk or formula generally, in terms of their nutrition but I find adding a little bit of water can help prevent constipation and just, you know, 1 or 2 ounces at a meal.

Helen Thompson: I’ve always been under the impression if you’re constipated, prune juice and prunes are very good. Is that okay for a baby or not?

Jennifer House: Yeah, for sure and if the water’s not working, we look at adding a little bit of fiber through the diet, like beans. Sometimes skipping the infant cereal for a couple of weeks because the iron in that can be constipating for some babies. Looking at other sources of iron like meat or eggs or legumes but prunes are great. You know prunes, pears. apples, even contains sorbitol, which is a type of sugar that helps to draw water into the bowel, so it softens the stool. So I would definitely recommend prune puree or, I have a recipe for fruit lax, which is a little bit of wheat bran and some prunes and a bit of juice and you blend it up and kind of use it like a jam, so you can mix it into plain yogurt or spread it on toast. But prunes are definitely a great natural laxative and babies can have them for sure.

Helen Thompson: Oh, that’s good to hear because I wasn’t sure if prunes were good for babies or not. When I’ve got constipation, if I have prunes, the next day I’m back to normal again. It’s brilliant prunes for that.

Jennifer House: Yep, there you go and it works the same way for babies. Just helps soften the stool a bit and moves it along. I think it’s the sugar in the prunes that will actually draw extra water into the stools to help soften ’em. So yeah, that’s how it works.

Helen Thompson: They’re dried plums is that right?

Jennifer House: Yep, they are exactly.

Helen Thompson: So if a baby is starting solids and they don’t have constipation and you don’t want it to be picky eaters, what would you recommend in that respect?

Jennifer House: I guess this could encompass a lot of different things. So definitely encourage lots of different tastes and textures. I often get asked, is it okay for my baby to have cinnamon, oregano, or garlic? Absolutely, you know, other than a lot of added salt or sugar, those spices are great for baby and perhaps they’ll be less picky a little bit later on.

It really matters how you feed your baby too. We wanna be responsive to their hunger signals, their fullness signals, rather than trying to get them to finish the jar so we really need to respect those signals from the beginning too.

Helen Thompson: Yeah, I think that’s the key, because if they’re not hungry, they won’t eat. But if they’re hungry, they will eat. And giving them the choice and giving them the respect to do that, I think is, is really good. Cause I’ve seen a lot of moms in childcare who do that. They force their babies to eat because they think they’ve got to eat but that’s not gonna help them. It’s probably gonna make them more into a picky eater when they’re older because they’re gonna think, well, mommy forced me to eat when I’m little and they remember that kind of thing. They’ve got a good memory.

Jennifer House: You know, it just makes meals unpleasant and there’s lots of research to show that the more we pressure our kids to eat, the less they actually eat, the less they weigh and the pickier they are. So while we think we need to get them to eat, that tactic of pressure, whatever it may be, just totally backfires on us.

Helen Thompson: Yeah, so with baby-led weening, cuz I’m a great believer in giving babies natural food, not the pureed food. Like giving them soft cauliflower and different textures like carrots and even meat if you eat meat. As a nutritionist, is there any particular food that you would recommend that you don’t give to a baby to begin with, especially if it’s baby led weaning and you’re not pureeing it.

Jennifer House: Right, so foods to avoid for babies in general would be anything with lots of salt or sugar or anything that could cause illness like undercooked food, sushi, things like that. In terms of safety, when self feeding and preventing choking, I know that’s a great fear of a lot of parents when it comes to feeding finger foods, we just wanna make sure the foods are soft, so the baby can cough them up, if it does happen to get past their gag reflex and they choke on it, as well as the shape as well can really do a lot to prevent choking. So we wanna avoid serving babies any foods that are really hard or perfectly round, like a full grape in terms of safety and preventing choking.

Helen Thompson: There’s a difference between choking and gagging, and I think a lot of parents find that hard to decipher, what’s the difference between choking and gagging? I’ve experienced both and for a parent who’s just starting to give their baby solids and they see them gagging, they probably think they’re choking. So how can we help them to find a difference between gagging and choking?

Jennifer House: Yeah, absolutely that’s so important because lots of parents do get terrified when their baby gags, and then the baby is stuck on eating purees for 2 years because the parent’s terrified of giving them finger foods. Gagging is just the normal part of learning how to eat. It’s protective against choking actually, and as baby ages, the gag reflects on their tongue will move further back. So as they age, as they get practiced with finger foods, they will become less gaggy. A little rhyme I like to use to tell the difference is loud and red, let them go ahead, silent and blue they need help from you.

Helen Thompson: That’s a lovely rhyme.

Jennifer House: Yeah, if the baby’s loud, right, they’re retching, they’re going red, you can model spitting the food out, but I don’t want you to go digging the food out or go pat them on the back cuz that may actually cause choking. In which case they tend to go blue, they’re silent because they’re not breathing and it’s quite rare compared to gagging of course, but that’s when you need to get out your CPR skills or call emergency services.

Helen Thompson: Yeah, I’ve seen both and I’ve probably gone over cautious when I’ve been working in childcare and somebody’s done that. I’ve either got another staff member to come in quickly or I’ve done what you’ve said, trying to push it up and that sometimes frightens them. Sometimes that might frighten the baby a little bit too, and it might not. They might be disencouraged to eat, I dunno. I’m just thinking of that on the top of my head.

Jennifer House: Yeah, absolutely so if the caregiver parent freaks out, is running around frantically, if their baby is gagging, then that is gonna scare the baby and then next time it comes to eating that food, or similar food or a finger food, both the caregiver and the parent and the baby are probably gonna be a little extra cautious and nervous and anxious, so try and remain calm.

Helen Thompson: I guess the best thing to do is to make sure it’s really soft and give them things like broccoli, but cook it really well, don’t make it hard, and give it to them so it’s really, really soft and not too crunchy because that way they can still pick it up. It’s still soft, but it’s not pureed and that way you know that if it goes down the wrong way, it’s not going to choke them because it’s so soft.

Jennifer House: Yeah, so I think that’s definitely accurate. So if you can squish a food between your tongue and the roof of your mouth, that’s nice and soft and it’s gonna be soft enough for babies. So if it does happen to get into their air tube, their coughing will be quite likely to expel it as opposed to harder food that can get lodged there. And in terms of, of shape if you have a mandolin at home, I’m not sure if you’re familiar with those tools, that’s my favorite.

Helen Thompson: Oh, I am, I think of them as old fashioned, the things that you put in and you turn.

Jennifer House: There’s a few great kitchen tools you can use to make foods that are a safe shape. So the mandolin, which cuts them in almost the potato chip shape, like thin and round and you could use that for a hard apple, pear, sweet potato, potato and then steam them so they’re nice and soft or a spiralizer, which kind of spiralizes them into those long coils.

You could do that with a raw cucumber or zucchini even because they’re soft and then they’re just that thin shape. So again, if they do happen to get past the baby’s gag reflex and they choke on them, they’re nice and soft and they’re not that perfectly round shape that could totally block the ear tube.

Helen Thompson: Yes, and it probably is good for them to help them suck. Their sucking reflex as well while they’re sucking it too.

Jennifer House: Yeah and then the trick though is when you’re just starting baby will palm the food.

Helen Thompson: Yes.

Jennifer House: They can’t pick up little pieces, right? So it has to be big enough for them to hold, stick outta their hand. They’ll eat down to their palm, drop what’s left, and then pick up another piece. So you know with the mandolin or the potato chip shape or a finger shape is fine too, as long as it’s a soft food. Those are some of the shapes that beginner babies can handle.

Helen Thompson: Even eggs are soft. I guess eggs are good cuz that wouldn’t be a choking hazard, would it?

Jennifer House: You’re right, it is nice and soft. So the baby might not be able to pick up pieces of scrambled egg at first, but you could fry an egg, slice it into strips or again, something that’s a little bit long that they could grab and that’s a great starter food.

Helen Thompson: I was thinking about boil eggs actually.

Jennifer House: Oh yeah.

Helen Thompson: They can pick it up and they probably squeeze it in their hand before it gets to their mouth, but at least they can sort of squish it themselves and feel it and that way they’ve got the texture. I don’t know, thought of scrambled eggs when you talked about the palmar grasp, how easy it would be to pick up.

Jennifer House: Right, I haven’t seen a baby eating a boiled egg before, but scrambled would definitely be soft. I know the yolk in a boiled egg is a little bit dry right? So I’ve seen that mixed with yogurt ,so you could try that. Mash up the yolk, mix it with a bit of yogurt and if your baby is self-feeding, you can buy these little spoons like dipper spoons, so they can just kind of dip in anything thick like oatmeal, Greek yogurt, mashed potatoes, and lick it so they can dip and lick.

Helen Thompson: Yes, I think that’s a good idea cause it helps them to stop being picky eaters too, because I know a lot of parents think, oh, my baby’s a picky eater, and they’re probably just being a picky eater because they may not like that texture or they may not like that taste. I don’t know.

Jennifer House: Yeah, that could be it and most babies aren’t too selective about foods until they turn into a toddler and their growth slows, their appetite slows, and they of course learn how to say no. Right? So that tends to be when they start crawling around to some people, hypothesize that children naturally become pickier, because a long time ago, we didn’t want them crawling around and eating all of these poisonous plants and things.

So kind of a natural phase that a lot of toddlers go through, but for babies, most parents are surprised they’ll eat, oysters or some things that have really strong flavors that even adults don’t like or may not like.

Helen Thompson: I think it’s quite funny watching baby’s faces when you give them a new texture. You can tell whether they’re gonna like it or not. They might think, mm, not sure about this, and they’ll spit it out. I’ve seen babies doing that, and it’s so cute.

Jennifer House: It is cute. It’s just kind of a natural shock reaction to a stronger new flavor, right.

Helen Thompson: Yeah.

Jennifer House: It’s important to keep offering those foods though, because often the parents will say, oh, you know, they don’t like that, and then they never offer the it again, but keep offering it again and again.

Helen Thompson: I know we weren’t gonna talk about allergies, but I mentioned eggs. I guess you’ve gotta be careful with things like eggs and nuts and all those kind of things for allergies, because, if they’ve got an allergy, it can give them a gagging, they might choke it up. So that’s something also to bear in mind, isn’t it?

Jennifer House: Yeah, so for the Allergens. So eggs, dairy, wheat, fish, nuts, tree nuts, soy, we now know that introducing these foods early is actually good to promote tolerance and potentially prevent allergy. Whereas we used to say, wait until one year to introduce egg whites, three years to introduce peanuts, and that just skyrocketed the rates of allergies.

So now these high risk allergens are actually good to introduce early and often but I recommend introducing them during the day, right, rather than right before bed. So you can notice if your child, generally a baby allergic reaction would be a rash. So notice if they get rashy, or vomit or, or any signs of other signs of allergy.

Helen Thompson: Yeah, I think a lot of parents are so scared. The 3 things I think they’re scared of, and this is my own assumption, is choking, allergies and not gaining enough weight and forcing them to eat. From my understanding, those are the three things that a lot of mums particularly worry about, that they’re not getting enough food.

Jennifer House: I think you’re right. When I talk to moms groups though, I find moms, they’re either on one end of the spectrum, so they’re worried that their baby is not getting enough, or they’re worried that their baby is getting too much. They’re usually on one end. And the parents that are worried their baby is getting too much wonder if they should cut their baby off, should they feed them smaller portions and again, that’s a technique that tends to backfire because if you restrict a person of any age they only crave that more and then once the child has the ability to eat as much as they want, if they’re restricted at home, whether it’s school or a birthday party, then they overeat and they’re training them not to listen to their appetite and to become a bit of a binge eater.

So again, it comes back to really trusting that your baby is the only one that knows if they’re hungry rather than trying to control them and make them eat less or more.

Helen Thompson: Yeah, I think that’s a really good tip because I think moms sometimes, as we say don’t realize that, and they just give them too much. Letting them choose what they want to eat and putting a few things on a plate and letting them choose I think is so important.

Jennifer House: I really love Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility, which helps raise kids to have that healthy relationship with food and really, the child’s only roles in eating are, if they eat of what you’ve offered them at that mealtime or how much they eat. Sometimes they’re not gonna wanna eat anything, and that’s okay, sometimes they might want three portions and, and that’s okay and we know that babies, especially their appetites vary wildly, right? We’ve all seen them go through growth spurts and it’s not constant like adults, so we can’t expect that and it’s very normal to go up and down.

Helen Thompson: What was the name of that book?

Jennifer House: It’s Ellyn Satter and she has a bunch of books and she was kind of the creator of this concept, which is called the division of responsibility in feeding. So, you know, letting the kids’ responsibilities be if or how much, and then the parents are what, when, and where.

Hmm. So, for babies, you know, what they’re offered to eat. I see parents becoming short order cooks, even from starting solids when they say, oh, well baby didn’t eat them dinners, so I’m gonna give them a banana. And then that quickly turns into the toddler who only eats chicken fingers and fries because they’re offered backup meals whenever they don’t wanna try.

Helen Thompson: That’s interesting you say that cuz it brings back to what we’ve just said. If a child doesn’t want to eat, well then they’re obviously not hungry and I think giving them an option, sometimes it’s good, but sometimes isn’t. When I was a child, I was always told, and I dunno whether it was a good thing or not, I was always told to eat everything on my plate before I got more and if I didn’t eat everything on my plate, well then I wouldn’t be hungry enough to want more. And I don’t know whether that’s a good theory or not, but that’s how I was brought up, to eat everything on your plate before you ask for more. I don’t know that I agree with that.

Jennifer House: Right and you know, there have been a number of studies of adults or college-aged kids, and we know that foods that they were made to eat as a child, often they still don’t like them and it’s not that maybe now they wouldn’t like them, but they just have this bad negative memory associated with it. So if you didn’t like broccoli or carrots and you wanted more pasta, but you had to eat your broccoli first, then probably creates a lifelong unnecessary hatred of broccoli, unfortunately.

Helen Thompson: Exactly, so you’ve written two books. So what are the two books and how can people find out about those books?

Jennifer House: Yeah, they both should be available on Amazon and they’re called the Parents’ Guide to Baby Led Weaning and Baby Food in an Instant Pot, if you have an instant pot. So about half of the books are starting solids information and then half are recipes. Many that the whole family can eat.

Helen Thompson: Oh, that sounds good. So they’re nice and easy for a mom to follow and understand. All about what we’ve talked about constipation and choking and fussy eating. So your books describe all of that.

Jennifer House: It covers all of that. Exactly.

Helen Thompson: So if anybody wanted to get in touch with you and have a chat with you and find out more about your nutrition and your books, how can they go about doing that?

Jennifer House: The best place is probably my website, which is and from there you can grab my freebies and find me on Instagram and Facebook and my email contact. It’s all listed on my website there.

Helen Thompson: Thank you, I’ve enjoyed talking to you. I could sit here talking to you forever about nutrition because I’m passionate about nutrition as well. It’s so important to introduce good nutrition to a baby when they’re very, very young, because then it encourages them to eat well when they’re older. Thank you for sharing your tips.

Is there any other tip that you would like to give to a mom about nutrition?

Jennifer House: That’s a good question and a hard one, but I think it, like we’ve been talking about, you know, new moms have so much anxiety and when it comes to feeding it’s all the things you mentioned, whether it’s allergies or choking or baby not eating enough. Not that this is an easy thing to do, but I think baby and mom would just benefit if they’re able to step back and relax and just have fun right? Just have fun with starting solids. It’s a fun learning and exploration process for your baby. Sometimes that’s all it is for a couple of weeks and months, and that’s okay. So, if you both can enjoy that and try and relax a little bit, you’ll both benefit. It’s easier with the second and third kid for sure.

Helen Thompson: Yeah, cause you’ve experienced all the sort of anxiety about the choking and the constipation and all that with the first child, so you’re a little bit more relaxed with the second. I can relate to that one. So thank you for that Jennifer, and I’ll put all those links to your books in the show notes.

So thank you for joining me. I’ve enjoyed talking to you.

Jennifer House: Well, thanks for hosting me.

Helen Thompson: Wow, Jennifer shared some great tips during our chat and I learnt a lot from her. I highly recommend checking out her website and social media and her freebies on family meal planning and picky eating for ages from 1 to 14. I’ve included links to Jennifer’s website and social media in the show notes which can be found at

Next week I’m chatting with mum of 4, previous Midwife, and now Holistic Pelvic Care Practitioner and Restorative Pilates Instructor, Prudence Todd. We will be discussing healing of the body after birth trauma. Be sure to listen to this episode when it comes out next week, and please subscribe to First Time Mum’s Chat via your favorite platform so that you can get quick and easy access to all of our episodes when they are live.