If you asked me a few years ago, what being “healthy” means to me, I wouldn’t have the slightest clue how to answer you. Imagine me 5 years back: I’m chugging Red Bull for a 9 AM class, and courtesy of the microwave, devouring mac & cheese for dinner 3 days a week. Yes, this was my freshman year at New York University, and at that time I knew nothing about the importance of nutrition (gasp!) Flash forward to present day, and I’m working at a private practice in NYC, providing in-home cooking classes, and working as the nutrition guru at Housing Works (more on that in my next post!) Without a doubt, you can bet my definition of what it means to be “healthy” has evolved tremendously over the past few years.
Just two weeks ago I was invited to a very special dinner with head chef, Dan Kish, and nutritionist, Katie Bengston of Panera Bread Co. here in NYC. On this evening Dan and Katie shared Panera’s big update on their next “clean” journey milestone. It was the No No List. And I was impressed! I am placing my stamp of approval on Panera Bread Co. as a place moms can take their kids for lunch now and especially after 2016. Panera is removing artificial ingredients including the likes of sucralose and words you can even pronounce. Now I am not sure why they were in there in the first place, but I am ecstatic they are vowing to deliver wholesome and real food.
The mechanics of nutrition are based on science, yet at every turn we hear new headlines and buzzwords that make it hard to distinguish the difference between true, research-based science and the latest fad. One such catchy concept is that of “clean eating’” heard regularly in gyms, on magazine covers and throughout social media. But what is it? And how do we navigate it when it’s aimed at our children?
My friend asked a simple question “I don’t personally like cow’s milk so do I have to give it to my baby when she turns 1?”. The question slowly turn into a conversation with other moms about organic vs. non-organic, grass-fed vs. non grass-fed cows, and why other milk options are or aren’t as beneficial to babies. Every mom involved had a strong opinion! Who knew a simple question could spark a debate?
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children delay receiving cow’s milk until after they are 12 months old. The organization recommends pasteurized, whole cow’s milk for most babies because of the high fat content helping to absorb vitamins and minerals and for brain development. If there is a history of childhood obesity, 2% milk may be recommended but families should talk to their pediatrician. (Source: www.aap.org)
But what to do if you’re not a fan of cow’s milk? Or worse, what if your baby has a milk allergy or intolerance? Cow’s milk is important for calcium, vitamin D, protein, fat, and hydration. There are so many milk options out there: soy milk, almond milk, hemp milk, coconut milk, cashew milk, and more coming to a store near you! Their nutrient compositions are similar to cow’s milk but nothing is exactly the same. It’s a very personal decision how to feed your child, and one that you should talk about with your pediatrician and Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. If you decide to switch to an alternative milk, make sure you supplement with other foods that contain the important nutrients your baby needs.
I was shocked that some moms would argue against cow’s milk, but why not try to see where they are coming from? There are a lot of nutrition myths out there about food and I heard a lot of them that day, ranging from hormones in milk to absorbable calcium. Nutrition information is everywhere, but moms should really look to pediatricians and Registered Dietitian Nutritionists for advice. I took the opportunity to educate my friends about dairy products and nutrition, and also stressed the importance that all foods fit into a healthy diet. Moms and dads shouldn’t feel ashamed about any nutrition decision they make for their family. After all, it’s a very personal decision as to how to feed your children. So what is this dietitian going to do? I will give my baby whole cow’s milk when he turns one year old. I will also let him try different kinds of milk with an attitude that all foods fit into a healthy lifestyle.
In the midst of figuring out my nutrition beliefs, I went from picky eater to vegetarian to vegan to omnivore. While vegetarian and vegan, my two favorite cookbooks were “A Celebration of Wellness – A Cookbook for Vibrant Living” and “Moosewood Cookbook”. I wanted to share with you what remains one of my favorite recipes from Moosewood Cookbook.
In a nutshell, BLW centers on the philosophy that babies are developmentally capable of reaching for food and putting it in their mouths at about 6 months of age. As stated on the BLW website “You just hand them the food in a suitably-sized piece and if they like it they eat it and if they don’t they won’t.” Please note that the word “wean” is not referring to weaning from breast or bottle, but instead refers to a term commonly used in the United Kingdom for adding complementary foods to the baby’s current diet of breast milk or formula. According to the BLW website, ideas for first foods include “chip size” steamed vegetables such as a broccoli spear with the stem as a handle, roasted potato wedges, meat in large enough pieces for the baby to grasp and chew, rice cakes, cucumber, celery and dried apricots.