Q. Are you and your children fostering a healthy relationship with food?

Here is a quick quiz  adapted from my Healthy Habits program. You can use this quiz, to see if you and your children are adept at the non diet approach or you can use this quiz to start a conversation.

I am personally using this piece tomorrow to initiate a discussion amongst the teachers at my son’s school. The head of the school asked me to help the teachers understand how food language can be a powerful tool in fostering both positive and negative relationships with food. Obviously we want to achieve a positive and healthy relationship that aids in the development of self esteem; That means removing subjective morals and values from food.

Answer Key

Guest Blog: Elyse Falk

Hi, I’m Elyse Falk and I am a registered dietitian in Westchester, NY and a mom of 3 wonderful, energetic boys, ages 11, 8, and 4. I initially decided to become an RD because I love good food—you know, the kind that makes your body healthy and strong—and immediately knew I wanted to raise a family that would grow up appreciating good, wholesome food as much as I do.

Through my education as well as my professional and personal experiences, I have learned that both parents and their children must play active roles in cultivating a healthy relationship with food.
As a parent, I am responsible for determining the types of food that are in the home and preparing these ingredients in a way that my family will actually eat and enjoy. In order to do this, I am always planning a day ahead and thinking about how to serve meals that include at least 3 to 4 food groups. Looking at my childrens’ diets as a whole, I ask myself: Did they get their fruits and vegetables for the day? What about lean proteins and low-fat dairy?

But it’s not just about what they eat; I am also in charge of structuring their meals and snacks throughout the day, deciphering how they eat too. My ultimate parental role is to educate my children so that they understand the difference between when to eat foods that “do good things” for the body versus when to eat “sometimes foods,” otherwise defined as those products or ingredients that don’t offer much nutrition for the body.   
Something I’ve discovered is that “sometimes foods,” like cookies (my boys love chocolate chip cookies), don’t necessarily need their own place and time. Instead, I find that they should be neutralized in order to eliminate the notion of treats. If they ask for cookies, for example, I allow my boys to eat them with their dinner, a decision which neutralizes dessert so that it is not necessarily the highlight of their evening intake. When I first started combining dinner and dessert, I was fascinated that my son actually went back and forth between eating his veggie burger and cookie at the same time, finishing both without an issue. This also proves how insignificant dessert really is to children; all they’re really hoping for is a “sometimes food” at some point during their meal.

All parents, myself included, need to serve as a role model for healthy eating. One way I accomplish this is by sitting down for meals with my children and showing them how I enjoy consuming delicious, wholesome food. As for the kids, at the end of the day, they are the ones who are in charge of how much food to eat and whether they want to eat certain kinds or not. While I encourage them to try new foods, I won’t ever push them to the point where it becomes an issue. (I do expect them to say, “no thank you” and “please,” though. Manners are important too.)

Photo Credit: ….Tim via Compfight cc

As my boys get older, they seem to be developing more adventurous tendencies. If one tries a new food, the others seem to want a taste too. (This is incredibly funny to watch as an outsider.) As they’ve grown, I’ve also learned a thing or two about their eating habits. For instance, I don’t celebrate if one of them tries a new food, because as soon as they see my contentment, they’ll stop eating it (it has to do with control). I’ve also discovered that some days they can eat me under the table whereas other days they’re just not as hungry.

Being an RD and working with clients with disordered eating habits has made me particularly sensitive to the way my boys experience food at home. As a mother of 3, I know that food can be both necessary and fun, and yet I’m also aware that it can cause stress and concern at times too.
Laura, my friend and colleague for 10 years, has asked me to join her efforts on Mom Dishes It Out and to contribute my experiences and expertise to give her readers yet another perspective on finding joy and balance in moderate parenting and feeding. I am happy to be a part of this project and hope all the feeders and eaters out there know that it is a constant balancing act, but it is one that is worth every minute.

Raising Children With Different Nutrition Needs

By Laura Cipullo, RD, CDE with Elyse Falk, MS, RD

Photo Credit: Marina K Caprara via Compfight cc

A Real Mom’s Question

How should a parent handle instances when one child has a HUGE sweet tooth, and is underweight but the other kids in the same family are a normal weight or overweight?  For example, at dessert time, all the kids want ice cream – maybe one child shouldn’t have a ton and the other really could use it.  How does a parent deal with this situation in a way that doesn’t create food issues?

Two Real Moms’ Answers

Focus on Equality

First and foremost, everyone should be treated equally at the dinner table. In order to prevent any type of discord between the kids, you’re far better off teaching them the importance of nutrition and their health in a more neutral setting.

Regardless of weight, children need to focus on eating balanced meals and snacks. Sweets, like cake, cookies, and candy, are what we like to call “sometimes foods,” because they are foods that are okay to eat some of the time.

The child with the huge sweet tooth has to learn to eat an array of flavors – not just those made mostly of sugar – otherwise they may develop nutrient deficiencies or simply close their mind to the idea of fruits, vegetables, lean meats, nuts, eggs and low-fat dairy. Even an underweight child should not make sweets his or her primary source of nourishment. Instead, teach them to focus on increasing the amount of nutrient-dense foods they consume throughout the day. Young children need to learn to eat the kind of food that’s necessary for their bodies, and observe healthy role models who guide them, so that they can grow into confident eaters.

Reassess

Did your family’s pediatrician recommend that your child gain weight, or are you assuming this? Do your children’s height and weight fall into in the same percentiles on the growth chart? If so, it is probably safe to assume that both of your children are at appropriate weights. In general, the focus should not necessarily be on gaining weight. Instead, it should be on eating enough nutritious food on a daily basis. Consider seeking counseling with a registered dietitian.

If your child’s weight is truly beneath their height on the growth curve, your child has not grown in a year, or if a physician prescribed weight gain, then you’ll need to focus on increasing the quantity of food your child is consuming while simultaneously looking for ways to add nutrient-dense foods to their intake (this refers to a small serving of food that is high in calories). As Mommy Faulk reminds, children have smaller stomachs than adults and often can’t consume large amounts of food at a time. Because of this, they may need to eat smaller, nutrient-dense meals more often.

You may also want to ask yourself: Is my child a picky eater? Don’t forget that, just because school sets aside time for lunch doesn’t mean your child is eating. Perhaps something happened at school that is causing them not to eat, or maybe they don’t have enough time to eat. This may be the problem, especially if your child has lost a significant amount of weight in the past 2 months (>/= 2%) and could possibly put them at risk of developing an eating disorder. In other words, in order to remedy the situation, it’s essential to first determine why your child is not meeting their nutrition needs.

Quick Tips to Increase Intake Without Increasing Quantity

  • Add 1-2 tbsp of wheat germ to yogurt, meatloaf, cereal, muffins, etc.
  • Add an extra slice of cheese to their sandwich.
    • Add granola to low fat yogurt or allow them to eat it plain.
    • Put peanut butter on their muffin.
    • Make smoothies with protein powder and lots of berries.
    • Add a morning snack of raisins or nuts at around 10 a.m.
    • Provide a snack of crackers and a spread like hummus before bed.
    • Encourage healthy fats such as avocado, olives, olive oil, nuts, and nut butters.
    • Have all-natural nutrition bars and packaged low-fat milk available on the go.
    • Let them have a mini-meal when they get home from school, like a sandwich, grapes, low-fat cheese, hearty soup, homemade English muffin pizza, etc.
    • Add olive oil to whole-grain pasta and veggies; let child dip whole-grain bread into olive oil with their meal.

Behaviors to Implement

  • Talk to the school to help your child to remember to eat.
  • Help your child relax before meals and decrease anxiety to prevent emotional fullness.
  • Encourage your child to help choose the menu.
  • Do not discuss food issues and/or weight at the table.
  • Focus on your child’s behaviors around food and commend them for trying new foods or practicing self-care.
  • Make meals an enjoyable time so they are not rushing to finish and leave the table.
  • If the pediatrician is concerned, have them talk to the child with a parent in the room and explain why they need to get more nutrition.

Send the Message with a Cookie

My son’s school recently invited parents to share their jobs with the students. I happily agreed, but as the event got closer, I continued to struggle with what to do with the class. There are so many fun options. And while I had already made the new MyPlate with both Bobby and Billy’s classes (see the picture), I was still left to decide between taste testing different fruits and dips, coloring placemats portraying everyday foods like fruit, veggies, legumes and low-fat dairy products, or something else.

Anytime I participate in an event like this, my goal is for the kids to have fun learning about different foods so they realize that nutrition and being healthy is both easy and delicious. Easier said than done though; they are, after all, only four to six years old.

One of my ideas was to use a lesson plan from my program, Healthy Habits, to educate the kids on what it feels like to be hungry and full, and then have them take a quiz using their newly learned cues. When working with such young pupils, however, I also want to make sure that the message touches their bellies—not just their brains—and I was afraid that this activity wouldn’t achieve that.

Unsure of what to do, I went to my oldest son, Bobby, and asked what he would’ve liked me to do. He said he didn’t know. So instead, I tried another tactic: I asked him if he knew what I did—what a dietitian does. After thinking momentarily, he went on to share this very insightful response. “You teach people what is healthy and what is sometimes food,” said Bobby.

I don’t know why, but I was amazed that Bobby was able to give such a brief, succinct description of what I do, and I especially loved the fact that he used the phrase “sometimes food.” My efforts and practices are most definitely influencing my son. As an RD, but most importantly as a mother, I felt proud.

This is when I prosed the idea of making healthier cookies. From my encounter with Bobby, I knew that the kids could understand the idea of “sometimes foods” and “everyday foods.” (It doesn’t have to be cookies either; you can modify any recipe at home, like turning traditional spaghetti and meatballs into whole-wheat pasta with turkey meatballs and all-natural sauce.) For the purpose of my upcoming show-and-tell though, cookies would do just fine. They take just 20 minutes to make, and they’ll certainly send a kid-friendly message. Better yet, the kids may even bring the recipe home and share it with their siblings and parents.

So that is what I’m planning to do for bring your parents to class day: to turn a “sometimes food” into an almost-everyday-food and a decidedly healthy and delicious snack option.

Here is the recipe for our wholesome chocolate chip cookies (dark chocolate that is) if you want to try them out too:

Wholesome Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies

Tina Sweitzer – Mom to Young and Chef

 Laura Cipullo, RD, CDE – Mom to Robert and Dietitian

For ~ 2 dozen cookies

 

Ingredients Wet

  • 3/4 cup unsweetened apple sauce
  • 1/2 stick butter
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tsp. pure vanilla extract (not imitation vanilla)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 egg white

Ingredients Dry

  • 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup whole grain oats rolled
  • 1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. fine sea salt

Finishing touches

  • 8-10 oz. package of Whole Foods Dark Chocolate Chips or 60% Cacao Bittersweet Chocolate Chips
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Now just mix and bake them like a batch of normal chocolate chip cookies. In a mixing bowl, combine all the wet ingredients (partially soften the butter in the microwave, just be careful not to melt it too much). Stir them together with a spoon. In a separate bowl, combine the dry ingredients. Now carefully stir in the dry ingredients in with the wet. Now stir in the dark chocolate chips. 
Place cookies on baking sheet and bake at 350 for 10 – 14 minutes.

Download a PDF of the recipe here.

Guest Blog: Fluffer Nutters vs. the Apple… which one really wins???

This weeks guest blog is written by Collen Colletti and addresses school lunch. Colletti is a mom, teacher, writer and equestrian. She describes herself by the contents of her purse: “In the contents of my purse you would most likely find the normal necessities, with a few exceptions.  First there is my USB stick filled with lesson plans to teach my students.  I love the feeling I get when I see a child’s mind exploring and learning.  Next one may come across a pair of spurs, I have spent countless hours at the barn with my horses.  Riding is both competitive and therapeutic for me.  If you dig a little deeper, there is a small writers leather bound journal that goes with me every where. It is constantly capturing my story ideas.  Lastly, a package of Barbie bandages for my girls, the most rewarding job I have ever had.  They bring more joy to my life then I ever could have imagined!”

Fluffer Nutters vs. the Apple… which one really wins??? by Colleen Colletti

“Ring, “my alarm clock yells, indicating that Monday morning has arrived and the usual craziness of getting my husband, two children, and I ready and out the door for the day begins! Each morning I select a delicious energy filled lunch for my children, drop off at school and wish them a splendid day.

I arrive at work, a middle school classroom. Throughout my teaching career, I have watched as many of my students arrive to school sluggish. At lunch I see those same students enjoying a processed filled lunch, or trading aspects their nutritious meal for a bag of chips. The problem is simple, you send your child to school with a healthy balanced lunch and instead of eating it, it is traded for a sugar or additives overload. Not only does an unhealthy diet affect your child’s energy, it also may have health implications later in life. Yet how do we get our children to eat the lunch we send them? In kids eyes how does healthy food compete with what other students bring into the lunch room. Are we really reaching our kids or do the Fluffer Nutters win out?

Photo Credit: Ibán via Compfight cc

So how does one fight against the endless sea of fast food restaurants, bakeries, treats brought into the classroom, and the food exchange at lunch. In my household, we believe in providing a variety of food choices. My husband and I feel that banning certain foods simply makes the child want it more. Instead we allow our children to enjoy goodies, but provide healthy alternatives to the processed foods. For instance, instead of store bought chocolate chips, we offer cookies with all natural ingredients and dark chocolate instead of milk. Another big hit in our home are the fresh fruit ice pops. I liquefy strawberries, pour them into a kid friendly mold, and add a few strawberry or raspberry chunks and freeze over night. In the morning, they always love to have a fresh ice pop, and I don’t mind giving it to them, because it is all natural. An added bonus to these sweets is that it fosters quality time with my children. They love to put the cookie dough on the tray or berries in a bowl. I agree that between little league, ballet, or any other after school activities, it is much easier to simply buy pre-made treats, but are we really helping our kids? So in reality, how do I find the time to bake or cook? The answer is simple… make extra! I don’t bake or cook like my mother, whom every time you walked in the house the aroma of fresh goodies filled the air. Instead, I create fresh meals every few nights allowing for healthy leftovers. In terms of snacks, every few weeks I enjoy a Sunday afternoon with my children baking. Half our delicious snacks, I place into a jar and the other half go in the freezer. My children have become accustomed to natural fresh ingredients and in many cases shy away from the lack of quality and taste that processed foods offer. As a result, this method has helped expand my children’s taste buds in a way that is fun and healthy for them.

Photo Credit: indi.ca via Compfight cc

What about those of you with a younger or older clientele? Daycare or nanny is prevalent even more today with a two household income. These environments are wonderful both socially and academically, except children are also exposed to sickness at a younger age. A wholesome diet, aides a healthy immune system cultivating their emotional, cognitive, and developmental skills. Some may say that the little ones are much easier to feed then the big ones. So how do we reach those opinionated teens? My experience with the young adult age group reaffirms what I do at home. Teenagers who have enjoyed fresh fruits, vegetables, essentially an all natural diet since they were little, continue those habits through their adolescent years. They are active members of the classroom throughout the entire day. No late afternoon sugar crashing! While, the students who have grown up on macaroni n’ cheese or Ramen noodles, will pack just that for themselves when they are in charge of their lunch. I always cringe when I see a growing child diving into a fast food lunch and diet coke on a daily basis. How do they have the energy required of them to study, play sports, and become active participants in their educational career?

In conclusion, as long as we teach our children to make the right choices, healthy choices… we are one step closer to winning the battle!

This Mom's Early Path to Nutrition

Many of my clients often wonder what attracted me to the field of nutrition. In truth, there’s no single response, and the reason can be traced back to a progression of events throughout my life that affected the way I view health and wellness today. Here is my honest answer.

My journey began with the family in which I was raised. I come from an Italian and German household. I have one sister. My mother, who is 100% German, was fantastic about providing balanced, home-cooked meals. She made us oatmeal and pancakes, packed our lunches, and prepared dinner menus that included stuffed peppers, roasted chicken, veggies and grains. Our lunches typically had 2 cookies as a side (I distinctly remember envying my friends with bags and bags of snacks.), and we ate dessert nightly.

I remember observing my father’s eating habits along with those of my extended family, including aunts, uncles and cousins. My family is not on the lighter side; rather, many relatives weigh on the upside of 300. Holidays and celebrations were centered on food. If we had 30 people, then we had 30 pounds of mashed potatoes. Portions were without limits. However, my sister and I ate intuitively. I never thought about portions or my health until 8th grade, when I was diagnosed with high cholesterol.

The doctors told me that I had “inherited” high cholesterol, but before they would consider medication, I was instructed to change my diet. Physically, I was still very petite, and though I ran track and stayed in shape, I also consumed a ton of high-fat dairy products like cheese and drank whole milk like it was going out of style.

The doctor’s prognosis made me much more aware of my diet, and so my mother and I began to educate ourselves. I eventually learned to lower my consumption of high saturated fat foods, eating less cheese and switching to skim milk. I ate plain pasta. Within a month, my cholesterol dropped from 236 to 180. Wow! If observing my family’s eating habits signified the first time I’d recognize differences in dietary behaviors, then this was the first time I realized the power of those behaviors and what we put into our bodies.

When I hit middle school and high school, specifically between 7th and 10th grade, my habits changed significantly, mainly because I started eating outside of my home on a regular basis. I ate a lot more pizza, Chinese take–out, and tons of muffins while working at DePiero’s Farm, which had a bakery I absolutely loved.

I specifically remember people telling me I would gain weight if I kept eating those foods—especially the muffins. Well, they were right. The next time I’d have a revelation of this magnitude was when I couldn’t fit into my clothes—the result of eating endless baked goods daily for lunch while working one summer. Puberty and growth may have been partially to blame too, but the weight gain was largely caused by an increase in calories.

Another piece to the puzzle was when I quickly lost weight as a freshman in high school—the result of playing sports all 3 seasons. The weight loss was unintentional, and when my friends and family noticed, they brought it to my attention. In an effort to re-gain the weight, I began to eat even when I wasn’t hungry. This helped me put the weight back on, but this routine of eating for no reason and at any time stuck around.

Sophomore year was challenging for me. I could no longer run due to an injury and I was eating for behavioral reasons, as mentioned above. Fortunately, I began to learn about health and nutrition in biology class. I became fascinated, and before long, I was hooked.

It was also around that time that my uncle Gene was diagnosed with diabetes and started seeing a registered dietitian. Kindly, he was open to me joining his sessions.

Inspired by what I was learning, I knew I waned to become an RD and began apprenticing for my uncle’s nutritionist, Nancy. Just like that, my career path was set.

So like I said, my decision to become an RD can’t be pinpointed to any single moment in time. In the same way many others discover their passions in life, my desire to learn about nutrition and to teach others about its importance is the result of a confluence of experiences—from my childhood on. It was through all of these lessons that I personally found empowerment, balance and my ideal health. Today, as an RD and a mother, I can only hope to pass on my knowledge and enthusiasm for the field to others.

The Light at the End of the Tunnel

Photo Credit: Luca Nebuloni via Compfight cc

President’s Weekend marked a milestone in my home. Typically, my youngest, Billy, only eats bananas from fruit vendors on the streets of NYC, but on Saturday he surprised me by eating one while sitting at the dining room table. The produce trend continued when the boys watched me peel butternut squash as I prepared dinner. Bobby recalled peeling carrots and cucumbers with me when he “was little” and also told Billy he needed to eat some form of protein with his pretzels. My husband and I just looked at each other and smiled.

I was eager to see how the boys would react to a little taste test I prepared for them that evening. Billy will only eat pasta in yogurt (it sounds disgusting but is actually quite tasty), so I thought it would be fun to let the boys try different kinds of pasta sauces.: pesto, yogurt and natural tomato sauce. Test One: Billy spit the pesto and pasta right out; Bobby did the same. Test Two: Bobby went on to try the pasta with red sauce. He described it as awful, yet ate it anyway, and when I offered more he took another bite. We even performed a Bonus Test–sprinkling Parmesan cheese on top of the pasta– and amazingly, Bobby liked it better without it.

I was heartened by the boys’ willingness to try the little samples I had prepared. The changes were small, but as any mom knows, any sort of openness to new foods is a step in the right direction. It gave me hope.

In an attempt to continue this adventurous streak, on Monday night I prepared a meatloaf made by the butcher at Whole Foods. If you remember, Bobby loved Whole Foods’ turkey meatloaf but the store rarely has it and when I tried to make him a homemade version he refused to eat it. (My husband and friends loved the homemade meatloaf, by the way.) Bobby asked where this meatloaf came from, and  I told him it was from Whole Foods. I hesitantly handed him a plate of meatloaf served with whole-wheat pasta and apple slices, worried that he’d know it was beef and not turkey. Astonishingly,  Bobby never inquired. His only request was that I cut the hard edges off, which I obliged. “I love turkey meatloaf!” he proudly declared, as he proceeded to finish his portion. I didn’t want to ruin the moment by correcting him, so I just let it be and happily watched my son enjoy a new food. This was the first time Bobby ate beef since he was 12 months old.

I’m happy to share that the apple slices were a huge success too. While the boys played chess on the iPad with their dad, I had sliced an organic apple using an apple corer and set them on a nice plate. I left the plate near the boys on the table without saying anything. Suddenly, Bobby declared loudly, “I love apple slices!” and proceeded to gobble them up while Billy licked one slice. He even asked for more, which prompted me to cut up extra and serve it with his meatloaf dinner.  I don’t think I did anything particularly remarkable that afternoon when my boys were suddenly excited to eat fruit—it wasn’t magic. Rather, I think that the boys were under the influence of their cousins, Lily and Sophia, whom they saw eating apple and orange slices the day before. The girls ate the fruits with such zest that they made it look appealing to the boys, and they’ve been eating apples ever since.

Just this morning the boys tried blueberries again. Bobby ate buckwheat pancakes. And although Billy didn’t actually add anything to his small ingredient repertoire, the weekend was still a success simply because he was willing to try new foods. Bobby’s apprehension about trying new foods has definitely been decreasing as he matures— these President’s Weekend taste tests are evidence of that. All of the small changes this weekend lead me to conclude something pretty big: There is a light at the end of the picky-eating tunnel. I’m proud of the progress we’ve made so far and I’ll continue to encourage my boys to have fun and try new foods during the meals and snacks to come. My boys may become adventurous eaters and share a love of yummy food like their parents after all!