A book review? Not just any book review… a review of a book that has been so incredibly helpful to me that I wanted to spread the word: Fearless Feeding by Jill Castle and Maryann Jacobsen.
The book takes a very practical approach to the recommendations it makes, and the suggestions are easy to put to use right away.
There are evidence-based sources for the information that is shared, while remaining easy to read.
At less than $13 on Amazon right now, this book is a huge value for the money!
Summary: This book gives a well-researched and practical approach to feeding children, broken down by age group from 6 months through the teenage years. It helps parents give their children a healthy foundation so they can grow up to be happy and healthy eaters for life. The book has been a huge help as I've been navigating the tricky waters of feeding a young child!
Currently under $13!
I recently wrote a post that discussed a few ways to make feeding toddlers easier. In that post, I mentioned this book as being one of my favorite go-to resources that I used when I was learning to feed my son solid foods. Today, I thought I’d write an actual review of the book, since I know I can’t possibly be the only one who felt clueless about the best way to tackle the common parenting struggle that is feeding young kids!
I mean, I understood nursing. I understood bottles. I understood formula. But food? Even my M.S. in Nutrition wasn’t helping me with the practical side of feeding this kid. I knew that there were some specific important nutrients that he needed at that stage of life. I also knew the we had to start slowly and not overly freak out about things. I knew that introducing allergens fairly early has actually been shown to be linked to a lower risk of allergies (which is super cool). But that’s where my practical knowledge stopped and my mom brain swooped in. I had so many questions swirling around in my head, and I needed help to gain some guidance and clarity.
When exactly do I start this process?
How do I actually do this “right”? I want to avoid food allergies and raise a kid who loves veggies!
What do I do first?
If you’re a fairly new mom, my guess is you’ve got similar questions. And any mom of older kids knows that the questions don’t stop when they’ve gotten used to solid foods either! There’s always something new when to comes to kids and food.
Enter Fearless Feeding!
New moms AND not-so-new moms!
As the subtitle explains, this book covers “How to raise healthy eaters from high chair to high school.” Talk about covering all the bases!
(And hey, with the holidays right around the corner, it would make an AWESOME gift for a mom or mom-to-be on your list!)
Most parents just want to do their best to raise their kids to be happy and healthy eaters. Many of us also grew up with various food issues that we don’t want to pass on to our kids - like always feeling like we have to eat everything on our plate even if we’re full “because there are starving kids in Africa,” or hiding away to eat a brownie in the closet so no one will see us eating a “bad” food. This is where the fear comes in.
We want so badly to do this “right,” to somehow magically impart a love of broccoli into them while also avoiding a sweet tooth. We want to be sure they’re getting the nutrition they need to grow up healthy and strong, and we want to make sure that they don’t grow up to have the same food issues we had. We have every intention of feeding them the “best” diet possible, but when the rubber meets the road and all they seem to want to eat is chicken nuggets, what do you do? Hide away in guilt and shame?
Nope! This book helps you do three things:
1 - Understand that due to NORMAL child development, some feeding difficulties are things you can prepare for and take steps to manage in the best way possible,
2 - Avoid creating feeding difficulties that are related to feeding practices, and
3 - Discover how to turn things around if you’re already finding yourself tangled up in feeding battles with your kids!
This book does a wonderful job of marrying science and practicality. It goes over so much more than just WHAT to feed kids. It also focuses on the often-ignored and yet critically important HOW to feed them and WHY certain difficult mealtime behaviors arise.
“Parents have so much on their plate when it comes to feeding that fear, stress, and worry have taken over their kitchen table. Instead of being sources of pleasure, feeding (and, by default, eating) have become chores that are riddled with feelings of self-doubt and guilt.” - Fearless Feeding
The book is broken down into a few different sections. First, is the introduction and the Fearless Feeding Strategy.
Next, there are several chapters dedicated to various age groups: 6 months to 2 years, 2-5, 6-12, and 13-18. See? It covers ALL ages!
Lastly, there are some troubleshooting chapters, which address common feeding problems, avoiding the “parent trap” of your own history with food and eating, and a super helpful chapter all about meal planning and shopping strategies!
The appendices include some great lists of snack ideas, food sources of various nutrients, lists of fruits and veggies, and bonus question+answer stuff.
For this review, I want to focus on the beginning of the book, which discusses the overall strategy and the “under 2” age range we’re currently in with our little guy. I plan to do a follow up review once we get to future chapters!
The main focus of this book, and the strategy they discuss, is finding a balance between the WHAT, WHY, and HOW of feeding kids. Most of us focus completely on the What and don’t think much at all about the How or Why. We have a short-term view of getting them to eat their broccoli at dinner tonight, but we don’t think about the long-term view of helping to teach them to eat well for their lifetime.
One idea that they mention, which I totally love, is that most of us already have this long-term view of other areas of our kids’ lives. They use the example of riding a bike. Most of us realize that it’s a skill that takes time and practice to master. Even if our specific child takes a while to learn, we’re pretty confident that they’ll eventually get it! We don’t tend to have the same confidence when it comes to eating healthfully. We think that pickiness today means they’re doomed to a lifetime of limited dietary variety. Not so! Kids can absolutely learn to eat well, it just takes the same practice, time, and patience, that learning other important skills does.
The WHAT: Here is where most of us are already putting all of our focus when we’re first starting to feed our kiddos. This part is all about the nutrients and foods they’re eating (or not eating). It’s the part where many of us focus very intently on making sure they get their veggies. It’s also the part where we tend to go too far to either side of the spectrum in regard to the less-nutritious foods - either giving up and letting them have free reign, or restricting these foods too much and not allowing our children to have them all. Just as I talk about in my post about the myth of good/bad foods, the authors of Fearless Feeding encourage teaching our kids balance, and that all foods are “legal” and can fit into the overall picture of a healthy diet.
The HOW: Do you actually have a chosen approach to feeding your child? Did you know that there are various types of approaches and most of us fall into one type or another? Some of us are a bit controlling (the Authoritarian style), while some of us are a bit too unstructured (the Permissive or Neglectful styles). The style that has been shown to be the most effective AND the most positive approach is one called the Authoritative style (not to be confused with the Authoritarian style mentioned above). This style combines necessary structure and boundaries around mealtimes, while also respecting the child’s food choices. It is centered on the idea of a Division of Responsibility (DOR) at meals. The parents are responsible for the when and where, as well as what is served. The child is responsible for whether he eats, and how much he eats.
What’s amazing, is that even though most of us put the majority of our attention on WHAT we feed our kids, the HOW can be even more important in the long run. “HOW you feed is a key to preventing many childhood eating problems, including obesity, picky eating, dysfunctional attitudes about food, and eating disorders.” Wow!
The WHY: Are you curious as to why the heck your kid behaves the way they do around food or meal times? Child development is actually fairly predictable, and along with that comes certain behaviors that we can anticipate, understand, and prepare for. Additionally, kids have their own personalities, which of course adds some flavor to each family’s experiences! Being able to understand the behaviors, and know how to respond to them, can be a huge help when you’re navigating the tricky waters of feeding little ones!
I already mentioned a little bit above about how I was feeling when it came time to transition our little man to solid foods. With the helpful guidance in this book, I went from feeling overwhelmed to feeling like I knew I could do this. I was able to feed my baby in a way that I knew I was providing the nutrients he needed, and also being responsive to his cues. Our little man is a BIG eater, and I was able to stop stressing about how much he was eating (or how little he was eating if he was having an off day). I was able to relax a bit, and know that whether I made the food myself or used baby food in jars, he was getting a great introduction to the joy of eating. I became confident in how I fed him, and how we progressed the textures of his foods. As he started to experiment with his independence and how “fun” it is to throw food, I’ve been able to stay relatively calm as I take it as a sign that he’s done and end the meal. Obviously, we’re still learning and making our way through, but having this book as a reference for the “real life” application of the nutrition info I already have rattling around in my head has been a huge help!
Here’s a little bit of an overview of the great stuff included in the chapter for infants and young toddlers:
When do we actually introduce the solids?
There’s a lot of talk on the interwebs about the 4-6 month window. Some experts say to wait until 6 months, others say you can start closer to 4 months. The most helpful way to decide what’s best for your little one is to watch for signs that they’re ready. There are certain developmental signs that can give you a clue that they’ll be able to handle more than just their liquid diet, including better head control and the ability to sit with support. This book talks a bit about when to start the introduction.
The book discusses the “honeymoon” period that most kids have with food when they’re under the age of two. Most kids will accept a wide variety of foods before the pickiness starts to rear its ugly head. For this reason, try to get them exposed to as many different foods, flavors, and eventually textures as you can! The more they’re exposed to them now, the less pickiness you’ll hopefully deal with later. Strategies, recipes, and ideas are included to help you get some variety into your little one.
Learning to eat
As your baby constantly grows and develops over the first 1-2 years of life, lots of things change with regard to feeding ability. The book does a wonderful job of guiding you through the various stages within this age range. My favorite part of this book is probably all the helpful charts. The example day chart of feeding broken down by age in months was SO helpful for us! I referred to it all the time as I was trying to navigate his ever-changing feeding and napping routines.
Much more than food:
Behavior challenges, constipation, too much versus too little milk, hunger and fullness cues and how to understand and respond to them, connecting during meals, and introducing utensils and cups are some of the other topics covered in the chapter for this age-range (yup, it’s kind of a big chapter!).
The other chapters are geared toward ages 2-5, 6-12, and teenagers. I've only browsed them very quickly, so I can't speak to them too much yet, but the 2-5 chapter goes more in depth about picky eating, refusing new foods, and testing boundaries. The 6-12 chapter delves into the nuances of eating at school and around friends, the challenges that come with puberty, and of course the continually changing growth and development of kids those ages. The teenage chapter expands on the one before it, and also deals with things like children who choose to go vegetarian, navigating diets, and more.
Don’t just take my word for it! This book has gotten a lot of praise on Amazon, some of which I’ve included below:
“I can say that this book discusses just about every aspect that can be thought of concerning what kind of food, how much food, and how to offer food to children to improve the likelihood that the children will have good nutrition and learn to make mostly healthy food choices in their futures. It is definitely a good reference book to have on the cookbook shelf and from my own knowledge and experience, I do believe that the techniques are sound. It has been proven that children need to be offered new foods numerous times, that foods should not be labelled "bad," that structured mealtimes are good for healthy eating, and that rewards or punishments should not be tied to foods. These concepts are expanded upon and the suggestions for how to implement healthy eating in a home are numerous and clearly described.” - Cilla on Amazon
“I am a dietitian specializing in pediatric nutrition and I have been looking for a book like this one for a while. I have been following the work of the authors who are both well recognized in pediatric nutrition field and could not wait for the book to appear on bookshelves. And I definitely was not disappointed! It is so helpful to see all the recent research I have been relying in my work in one place. The book is so well researched and practical that I am sure it will become a go-to-resource for many families. I especially like the comprehensive approach the authors use when talking about kids nutrition. I found from my own experience that the information on What to feed our kids is often easier to find both on the internet and in books. But what is often missing from many resources are the "why' and "how" aspects of feeding. In other words, parents are aware of nutritional guidelines but need help with evidence based guidelines on how to get their kids to eat nutritious food based on understanding why they behave in certain ways around the table. I keep recommending it to my colleagues, interns and all parents I know. Another thing I love about this book is how practical it is, with numerous case studies, Fearless Tips and super easy basic recipes helping parents put all the recommendations to practice immediately” - Natalia on Amazon
“I love this book personally and professionally! It's one of my favorite resources to recommend to clients and their families, but I also find myself looking at it for my picky eating son. The authors take the latest scientific recommendations and break it down to simple, realistic recommendations.” - Jennifer on Amazon
I really like the approach the authors took. They give you the research-based information you need to make informed decisions, without coming across as judgey. Not only do they give you the info you need, but they also provide lots of practical help by way of charts, examples, and even a few recipes! All throughout the chapter, they discuss the HOW and WHY along with the WHAT, to create a full picture of how the heck to feed your little one.
If you’re just starting to transition to solids and you want to do it in the best way possible, this book will be a big help.
If you’re already dealing with challenging situations when it comes to feeding your slightly older kids, this book can help you adapt your approach so that the battles lessen and the whole family can start enjoying meal time again.
I've found that the biggest hurdle most clients have is the Diet Mindset that's taken hold of them. They've been stuck hating their bodies and fearing "bad foods" for so long that they don't know any other way!
So I took all of the important mindset work I do with clients and compiled it into an epic resource of a book for you. It is a complete guide to repairing your relationship with food, so you can finally get rid of those diet-mindset shackles and find peace with food for good!