With the 2010 emergence of his first book, entitled “Eat, Sleep, Poop: A Common Sense Guide to Your Baby’s First Year,” Dr. Scott Cohen of Beverly Hills Pediatrics ushered in a new kind of parenting philosophy that earned him the esteemed title of best-selling author and plenty of street cred. On June 4, Yahoo! spoke exclusively with the noted doctor turned doting dad of two, touching on subjects ranging from the importance of good toddler nutrition to the most important lessons he’s learned from his own kids.
What are the five things that every toddler needs in his or her diet?
Cohen: One is DHA. A lot of people actually don’t know about DHA, which is an omega 3 fatty acid that’s really important in brain growth. It helps with cognition, visual acuity, it may decrease respiratory infections, allergies, and atopy. Eighty-five percent of brain growth happens in the first three years of life, so getting DHA in the diet during those years is really important because toddlers are only getting about 25% of the recommended daily allowance of DHA. So I think DHA’s important, I think calcium’s really important for developing strong bones, muscles, and teeth. Protein is important. You know, a lot of parents say to me ‘well, my child doesn’t like meat or fish or eggs, the textures are weird, so where do we get protein?’ Well, they can get it from other sources, whether it’s cow’s milk protein or toddler formulas like Enfagrow , also soy products like tofu.
I think too overall philosophies are important for parents to know. It’s more important to worry about healthy eating habits than worry about volume. As you know, toddlers are very picky eaters and if you chase them around, if you let them eat in front of a television, you’re creating poor eating habits that are going to be lifelong. So you want them to sit at the table, you want to offer foods. If they’re not hungry, you’re not upset, you just get back to it when they are hungry. And obviously as parents we try a variety of foods. I always tell kids to try lots of different foods with lots of different colors and shapes, like fruits and vegetables, and find things that complement each other so at least a couple things that they’re eating do have the vitamins and minerals that they need.
You’re kind of preaching to the choir. I have four kids who range in age from preschool through the end of elementary school.
Cohen: Oh wow. I have four and six year old daughters. I get it. [Laughs]
Speaking of my own kids, they definitely go through phases when they’ll refuse to eat more than one of two things. Do you have any ways that parents can sneak healthy foods into picky eaters’ diets? And how long should we let them be picky before we actually get concerned about what they’re deficient in?
Cohen: Fortunately, as you know, kids enough up okay regardless, and let me guess: they like mac and cheese, pizza, and chicken fingers?
Cohen: [Laughs] A good source to think of as a complement to food is toddler formula, because it’s sort of like milk with a multivitamin in it, and it has DHA. So something like Enfagrow, if they took that, they’d be getting vitamins A, B, C, D, E, calcium, iron, and DHA, which a lot of those things are missing in just regular milk. I also think as a parent, not forcing it [is important]. You don’t want to create a challenge or a battle… between eating and not eating…. Thankfully, after that first year of life really the weight gain slows down so they will end up okay. I joke that kids live off sunlight and air. It’s just finding the few foods that they’ll eat and make them healthy.
That’s my six year old! He definitely lives off of sun and air, yet he’s totally fine.
Cohen: [Laughs] I never learned in medical school that photosynthesis works for kids, but I think it does.
I know that you wrote “Eat, Sleep, Poop.” Great title, by the way, love that. What are some of the most important key takeaways from your book?
Cohen: I think it’s just an overall philosophy of common sense parenting. To look at your child and really know what to worry about, and more important, what not to worry about. As you know you gain perspective as you have more children and I wrote this during my child’s first year. My medical advice has stayed the same, but I can say it’s not always so easy. Sometimes me and my wife didn’t agree on things and it’s okay. But don’t be on information overload or be over-anxious. Everybody’s going to end up okay.
What’s one surprising thing that your daughters have taught you?
Cohen: They’re taught me to relax a little bit. I think I was pretty laid back to begin with, but I think with kids you can’t force things. Every child has a very different personality; I don’t understand why there’s a nature versus nurture debate after having two children. As you know, they are who they are from the get go…. There are things that my daughters have done as babies and now as a four and six year old. I know exactly what they’re going to do and how they’re going to say it when they’re teenagers…. You want their own personalities to flourish. Every child is different and you want to cater to that. It’s not one size fits all.
Where can my readers go for more information?
A great website is enfagrow.com and that talks a lot about the important aspects of toddler nutrition. For the book, there’s my website, Common Sense Parenting . “Eat, Sleep, Poop” can be found everywhere.