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

Trying New Foods

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A mother asks us: My child sometimes gets anxious when I introduce a new healthy food. What can I do to entice him to try and eat it?

Elyse Falk, MS, RD, Mom and Laura Cipullo, RD, CDE, Mom answers…

Elyse Replies:

There are a few important things to remember when introducing your child to a new food.

First, it is a good idea to introduce the new ingredient with other foods that they already like to eat.

Next, make the entire process matter of fact. Tell your child that you found a great recipe that you know your friend’s kids really like, and you thought they would like it too. You can tell them what it is (a grain, veggie or protein) and maybe what nutrition it has. But that’s it. Keep it simple.

In my home, I eat the kinds of dishes I like in front of my kids so that I can be a role model and show them how much I enjoy trying new foods. Don’t get me wrong; there are recipes I have made that I just have to say, “Ugh, this really doesn’t taste good,” in front of them, but I think it also shows that I am human and that they can dislike certain foods too. The most important part is trying them. (Some parents choose to impart a “one-bite” rule in their homes, but I wouldn’t push it if it’s going to cause a tantrum.)

Don’t forget that food isn’t always love at first bite. It may take a few attempts for them to taste the new ingredient, so remember that exposure and repetitiveness is key. Try to introduce the new food in different ways by changing the flavor, texture (pureed vs. whole) or cooking method (steamed vs. roasted).

Friends and family may be your best allies too, as sometimes, siblings or friends could entice each other to try a new food. For example, if one sibling likes the food, and the other one has never tried it before and sees his or her sibling really enjoying new flavors, it usually draws interest and the desire to try them too.

At the end of the day though, remember that you don’t want to place too much pressure on your child. If they see you getting angry over the fact that they didn’t taste or like it, they may feel added pressure or anxiety the next time. Just teach them that, in certain instances, it is ok to reply, “no thank you,” and let it go. Children’s taste buds change every day, so don’t lose hope.

Laura Replies:

If your child is really picky, like my boys are, then start by exposing your son or daughter to the new food before even asking them to try it. Exposure is essential. Place the food on or perhaps just near their plate first. They don’t need to eat it, but they do need to leave it be. Even this can be a challenge. My boys still move the food away from their plate—and far away at that. But eventually, it gets on to their plate and stays there.

Once you’ve accomplished that simple yet monumental task, try implementing the one bite rule. If they refuse to take even a small bite, instead of making a big deal, instead try the one lick rule.

My boys are typically ok with the one lick rule. My oldest son, who is now 5 and a half, is even coming around to the one bite rule, of course, as long as he can spit it out if he doesn’t like it. At this point, if I can ask him to take one bite and swallow, he will—but only with certain foods.

Billy, my youngest, is still in the “one lick phase,” unless he sees something he actually wants to try. Billy has made a ton of progress. He tries a lot on his own now, even though he usually doesn’t like it. I know I was the same way as a child. I only ate macaroni with butter or cheese for almost two years. My mother took me to the doctor at the time; he said I would grow out of it, and I did.

I am still, however, quite picky with the quality of my food. I’ll try anything—even pig’s intestine—so long as it’s prepared well. In this sense, the kids definitely surprise me by which foods they will and will not try, so at least they inherited that from me too.

In the case that your child truly, adamantly does not want to taste an ingredient, you may benefit from simply letting it go and trying again a month later. You never know how their taste will evolve, especially at such a young age, so continue to offer and or expose them to new and different foods periodically. While it may seem like it at times, your children are not only going to eat mac n’ cheese and chicken nuggets forever, well – we hope.

Moms: Are your kids anxious around new ingredients? How do you get your kids to try new foods? Do they get their picky tendencies from you?

Mixed Berry Smoothies

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On Saturday, we had my son’s school spring fair. Being that I am the food and
nutrition chair, I was automatically given the responsibilities of the Smoothie Bar.
I never follow recipes so trying to forecast the amount of fruit we would need to
make 100 smoothies seemed impossible. Thankfully, Driscoll’s Berries offered to
donate to our event. The graciously sent us delicious raspberries, blackberries,
blueberries and strawberries. I used their recipe to determine the quantities to buy
and then just improvised on the day of. We didn’t need the OJ and we used low fat
organic vanilla yogurt. To my delight, we sold every last berry and my boys loved
the smoothie. Hence my blender is not going away. Both of my boys drank two
smoothies each over the 4-hour period. And, last night they had smoothies for the
night snack!!!

Moms and Dads, I highly recommend this smoothie to help increase your children’s
intake of fruits and vegetables. You can use plain Greek yogurt and or add protein
powder to increase the protein content of the smoothie. The added protein
will prevent a blood sugar roller coaster. Yes, this can happen in children too,
so as adults we should always be thinking of serving our children wholesome
carbohydrates, with lean proteins and healthy fats at each meal and or snack.

So get refreshed this spring with this awesome antioxidant mixed berry smoothie.
Here is the Driscoll’s Mixed Berry Smoothie. I adapted it by eliminating the OJ and
ginger and using extra ice. You can use this version or modify to your heart’s desire.

The Light at the End of the Tunnel

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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!

How Do You Answer, "Is this healthy?"

 

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Recently, both of my boys have been asking the question, “Is this healthy?” Billy asks, “Is hummus healthy? Are hummus and pretzels healthy?” Bobby asks, “Is yogurt healthy? Is pizza healthy? Is Gatorade healthy?”

Kids ask so many questions, and the way we answer them shapes the development of their beliefs and habits.

I’m not exactly sure why both boys have started to ask this question. I just know they keep asking. And it can be hard to give a simple “yes” or “no” answer when my primary concern is trying to instill them with a moderate view of food. Here’s how I go about answering their questions quickly, yet also with thought.

Hummus? Yes, hummus is healthy. It helps your heart. (FYI, Billy eats hummus almost daily for dinner. He loves it so much that he eats it with a spoon at times.)

Hummus and pretzels? Yes, hummus and pretzels are healthy—if you also eat other foods like chicken and pasta. (I say this because Billy refuses to eat chicken, pasta and other seemingly normal foods. It’s my small trick for getting him to try new ingredients.)

On a related note, I can honestly tell Billy that pretzels are healthy because the ones he eats (unknowingly, of course) are made of either whole wheat or spelt. When we refer to chicken, again, it’s organic and hormone-free. And pasta is organic and whole wheat. The kids don’t need to know these details, and I don’t specify this regularly. Healthy ingredients are simply the norm in our house, and I think the boys will get this message over time. I do not want to inundate them at ages 3 and 5.

At times, I think parents and teachers can make children overly—and unnecessarily—anxious about the food they’re eating when using complicated details such as ‘whole wheat,’ ‘antibiotic-free,’ ‘hormone-free,’ ‘saturated fat,’ etc. Kids need to first understand the basics, like the difference between an everyday food versus a sometimes food. It’s okay to eventually teach them about the aforementioned specifics, but at the right time. Otherwise, your children could eventually rebel.

Keeping this in mind, I try to answer Bobby’s questions in this same manner. Greek yogurt is an everyday food in our home. The protein in yogurt helps us build muscles and strong bones. Pizza is a sometimes food, as long as we eat other foods like fruits and vegetables. Gatorade is a sometimes drink for athletes, like someone who is training for the Olympics or exercising at an intense level for more than hour.  Yes, you can have a sports drink, but not every time you swim or skateboard.

So, as I’ve discovered, and as I hope you can see, the answer to, “Is this healthy?” is not a straightforward one. But you can use these small tricks for helping your children to understand what they’re eating in a positive and healthful manner. How do you answer your kid’s questions about healthy and not healthy foods? Do you use words like “everyday foods” and “sometimes foods” in your household?

For more information on everyday foods and sometimes foods, read A Blueprint for Your Child’s Nutritional Intake.

Guest Blog: Guidelines for Feeding Kids

Dear Readers,

I asked foodie, mother and blogger, Alissa Stoltz to share her food wisdom. Alissa has a great understanding of nutrition. She left the NYC corporate world few years ago to raise her two beautiful daughters in a simply wholesome  and nutritious way. In addition to being a fabulous mother, Alissa has also been blogging recipes she uses to feed her family. 

Guest Blog by Alissa Stoltz, The Simply Wholesome Kitchen

Being a food blogger can be a bit of a double-edged sword.  On the one hand, it has provided such a great platform for me to share my views and hopefully inspire some others to get in the kitchen and make simple, real food.  But on the other hand, people often ask me for advice, expecting that I know the secret to feeding gourmet, perfectly balanced meals to enthusiastic toddlers every night!  Unfortunately, the reality is that even someone as committed to wholesome cooking as me experiences PLENTY of challenges.  Like the fact that my toddler won’t eat a single vegetable other than spinach (I know, I’m lucky about the spinach, but not even a carrot??).  Or the nights that I get home to an empty kitchen at 5:15 and have 15 minutes to plan and get some dinner on the table.  Fortunately, since my older daughter was born almost 3 years ago, I’ve been absorbing the advice of dieticians, foodies, sociologists, and, of course, my fellow bloggers to come up with a few guiding principles for feeding my kids in a way that I feel mostly good about most of the time.

1. Hungry children will eat when offered food.  This is really important, because I hear all of the time that “my kid won’t eat anything other than [insert processed, high fat, high sugar, high sodium food here].”  But in reality, most normal, healthy kids (without sensory issues, allergies, etc.) will not starve themselves because they do not like what you served for dinner.  If your child will only eat 1 or 2 things, you have to ask yourself how they learned it was an option to only eat those things?  So my approach is to serve a meal, and my toddler has the choice to eat or not eat.  Sounds great, but I cannot tell you how many times she has gotten to the table and burst into tears as if I was trying to force her to eat something out of a horror movie, even when presenting a meal that she previously loved.  This is unbelievably frustrating, but in the end, it’s is also why I don’t make anything that my husband and I won’t eat as well – it’s bad enough to have your child refuse to eat your food, but it’s even worse if you went to special effort just for them and then are rejected.  But before you think I’m totally mean, if I am serving a food that might be new or challenging for my daughter, I always make sure I am serving something that she generally likes as part of the meal (e.g., bread, pasta, or fruit).  This way I know I’m not torturing her by making her feel like she has to choose between starving and eating something she really doesn’t want, but I am also not giving her an “out” and adding to my own frustration by becoming a short-order cook.  I also try to eat with my kids as much as possible – I have found a dramatic improvement in my toddler’s willingness to at least try new foods when I’m at the table eating the same things.  And in the end, if she takes two bites (or no bites!) of a meal and tells me she’s done, I have to respect that and trust that if she was really hungry, she’d find something on her plate to fill up on.  And if she’s really not hungry or willing to eat what’s on the table, there’s always the next meal or snack!

2. NOT offering UNHEALTHY foods is as important as offering healthy foods.  Of course we all want our kids to eat lots of fruits and veggies and other healthy foods.  And some of us will be lucky enough to have truly adventurous eaters.  But the rest of us will have to deal with kids who avoid entire food groups, change their minds about what they like on a daily basis, refuse to eat something if it looks slightly different than what they’re used to, or are generally finicky about eating.  Food manufacturers know how to engineer foods that are easy to like, and that makes these foods easy to feed our kids, since they will very rarely complain about chips, pretzels, mac & cheese, chicken nuggets, etc.  But going back to guideline #1, if you fall into the trap of giving your kids these foods on a regular basis, they could quickly become the “only” food they’ll eat without a fuss, and even worse they may learn to hold out and refuse to eat their meals because an easier option is just a few minutes away.  So it’s not enough to just offer good foods at meal times and let kids fill up on junky snacks in between, or to offer a side of broccoli with the mac & cheese that will go untouched.   It’s just as important to make sure processed foods with minimal nutritional benefit are only an occasional option – that way you know that whenever they DO get hungry and decide to eat, they’ll have no choice but to eat something you feel good about!

3. Find a way to feed your kids healthy foods that is sustainable for YOU.  If cooking is not your thing, don’t try to be Martha Stewart!  I think the reason some people avoid cooking is because they think they need to put together elaborate, gourmet feasts every time, and that is way too much pressure.  Everything doesn’t have to be the best meal you’ve ever tasted, or the most beautiful – there’s really a lot of room for error in cooking, and you are doing your family such a huge favor by choosing to try rather than depending on processed, prepared foods.  Start by making a list of easy meals that you can easily stock the ingredients for and require no planning – my favorites are eggs (mix in some frozen chopped spinach or other veggie, or serve with a fruit or veggie on the side and some whole grain toast) or whole wheat pasta (take a bag of frozen broccoli or mixed veggies and add to the pasta water 2-3 minutes before it’s done cooking).   Every once in a while, try a simple new recipe (meals like tacos and baked ziti are generally big hits with kids!), maybe on the weekends when you have some time.  As you get better, build a repertoire of easy meals that you can rotate through – with some practice it becomes much easier to have the right ingredients on hand to throw together a dish your family will enjoy with minimal time and effort.

And don’t forget about the snacks!  Start by keeping your home stocked with healthy snacks like fresh, dried, and frozen fruit (my toddler loves to eat frozen blueberries!), veggies with hummus, ranch dressing or dip, nuts, seeds, whole grain crackers (read ingredient lists here to avoid too much filler and pretend whole grains!), cheese, plain yogurt and some whole grain pretzels.  If you’re interested, you could try some baking – I make mini-muffins, granola and nut bars, and whole grain pancakes and waffles to keep in my freezer.  A batch of muffins can be done in under 30 minutes and makes two dozen toddlers-sized snacks for whenever I need them!

4. Patience, patience, patience!  It takes time to learn how plan meals, it takes a million tries for some kids to even lick a new food, and it takes an infinite amount of patience to feed finicky kids who seem genetically programmed to declare UNHEALTHY new foods delicious, and HEALTHY new foods yucky.  Maybe by the time my kids go to college I’ll have this whole feeding thing figured out, but in the mean time, having some basic guidelines that make me feel like I’m doing a decent job trying to feed them most of the time is going to have to be enough!

The Hamburger Bun (minus the hamburger)

They boys absolutely love to go food shopping with me. So when it’s time to restock the kitchen, Billy and Bobby hop into the double stroller, and the three of us take a nice long walk to the Whole Foods in Tribeca (my favorite of their Manhattan locations).

It’s not just the boys who benefit from our little shopping excursions either; I love sharing this experience too, since it gives them the opportunity to pick out all their favorite foods while getting a taste for all the beautiful fruits and veggies on display. Quirky fun fact: They also love checking out ostrich and emu eggs.

While perusing the supermarket aisles, the boys usually grab household staples off the shelves like Kashi Heart to Heart, Laughing Cow cheese and hummus. But on our last trip, Bobby decided to pull one out of left field and toss hamburgers buns into the cart. Hamburger buns?

Of course, my gut reaction was, “Ugh, why can’t my kids try a fruit or vegetable instead of another form of bread?” It wasn’t long before I came to my senses though, and thought, “Well, why not?”

I asked Bobby what he would use the rolls for (considering he doesn’t eat hamburgers), to which he innocently replied, “peanut butter.” Case closed. We bought them.

That night, I decided to take advantage of the rolls to whip up a “grilled chicken sandwich”—a hearty and wholesome meal I knew Bobby would enjoy. (I also knew getting him to try it would be a challenge. More on that to come.)

To create my masterful meal, I simply placed Bell & Evans breaded chicken tenders between the whole-wheat buns and slathered on some ketchup. As predicted, Bobby protested, screaming that he didn’t like it even though he hadn’t taken a bite yet.

Standing in the dining room, Bobby glared at the sandwich as if it were crawling with bugs. “You like all of these foods individually,” I told him. “Just try it.” It’s true; Bobby likes chicken and ketchup and bread. The idea that he could be so repulsed by the combination of all three ingredients was not beyond comprehension.

It wasn’t easy, but after a bit of gentle encouragement, I saw Bobby out of the corner of my eye as he walked over to the once disgusting sandwich and took a bite. And you know what? He did like it! In fact, Bobby liked the sandwich so much that he grabbed the remains and brought it with him into the living room, chomping away while watching TV.

Like I’ve said before, I’m by no means perfect. But on that fateful evening, Bobby and I actually accomplished something: he tried—and approved of—a new combination of food. It was a triumph in my mind.

Would I have preferred if he ate his chicken sandwich in the kitchen, at a table, near a napkin and while my husband and I, instead of staring at the TV? Yes. But sometimes, especially when dealing with a fussy eater, you have to pick your battles.

Do your kids claim to hate foods before trying them? How did you coax them into taking a bite?