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Expert, advise thyself

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I enjoy writing about feeding my family here on my blog, but what you may not know is that it’s actually one of my areas of professional expertise. For almost 20 years, my specialty as a dietitian has been the art and science of feeding young kids. For the last 10, I’ve been a nutrition advisor for Happy Family, and in this role I’ve answered scores of parent questions and presented on the topic many, many times.

What really cements my know-how, however, is the picky eating laboratory that I run right here in my home with my own 3 kids.

By most standards, my kids are good eaters, but they’re still normal kids. They prefer the same junky foods that other kids like. They turn up their noses at healthy foods all the time. They sometimes refuse to eat what I’ve served. They whine and fuss and push me to my limits around the table every day.

The irony of it all is sometimes laughable. For instance, last month Happy Family hosted a Twitter chat about picky eating, featuring yours truly as their expert. For 30 minutes I confidently doled out sage advice, answering moms’ questions and suggesting solutions for common concerns.

A few hours later I was standing in my kitchen, plating up the chicken gyros I’d made for dinner, listening to a very angry 4yo yelling from under the kitchen table that he would not, in fact, be eating chicken. Because he HATES chicken. Instead, he wailed over and over, I had to make him spaghetti and meatballs. He refused to give up. With my own picky eating advice still lingering in the air from that afternoon’s chat, it was like the universe was testing me: OK, expert… how do you handle this situation?

Usually, when faced with challenges like this one, I do what I know is best; but let’s be honest, sometimes I do not. I take the path of least resistance because I’m only human and these kids can break you down! I’m pleased to report that I did manage to get the situation under control that night by taking my own advice, which I share with you here:

1. I stayed calm. I did not raise my voice. I said I know how much he likes spaghetti and meatballs, but tonight’s dinner is chicken, and please come up and sit at the table. This of course made him even more angry and resolute. (Though at least I was setting a good example with my tone.) So, I moved on to #2…

2. I did not call attention to his negative behaviors. I ignored him a bit to see if he would fizzle out after he realized that he wasn’t getting the reaction from me that he wanted. I served the other two kids, made small talk. Eventually, after what seemed like an eternity, he did stop yelling.

3. I did not give in. He didn’t know it, but I have a stash of meatballs in the freezer and it would have been very easy for me to heat them up. But of course this is a short-term solution that does nothing for the long-term goal, which is to have a kid who is not so picky. Giving in to their demands by being a short-order cook just reinforces their love of their favorite foods and their unwillingness to try different things. It also tells them that you don’t actually expect them to eat like everyone else in the family. So although it was tempting after a long day, I did not make him meatballs.

4. I chose my battles. I don’t make separate meals for picky kids. He had to select from the options already before him on the table. I was not budging on that point. But sometimes you can only fight one battle at a time. So… I did not punish him for yelling at me even though I don’t find it acceptable. And I didn’t punish him for staying under the table after I had asked him to come out. And when he finally came out from under the table, seemingly willing to take a plate of the dinner I had made, and defiantly said to me “I’m NOT sitting at the table today. I’m sitting in my tent.” I let my we-eat-dinner-sitting-at-the-table standard go out the window just this once and said “you got it!”

The little guy sat in his play tent and ate a few bites of pita, a bunch of tomatoes and cucumbers, and eventually, when he was very calm I told him that his brother and sister really enjoyed the chicken and I would like him to try a bite. To my surprise, not only did he try a few bites, but he emerged from his tent a few minutes later and told me that it was the “yummiest chicken he ever saw.” 4 year olds have no shame.

The thing about dealing with picky eating is that it’s daunting and frustrating, but it’s rarely a lost cause. There are loads of strategies you can try and you can find the ones that work for your child and for your family dynamics. I’ve been testing many of these strategies here at Camp Sunnyside and over the years I’ve shared some tips on Happy Family’s website – you can find them here if you want to read more.

Stay strong, moms and dads. Don’t let those little mac-and-cheese lovers get you down. 🙂

Dear CrossFit Newbie,

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The other day at my gym, CrossFit Immortal, a woman was taking her first class. It was a grueling workout and I noticed her struggle to complete the exercises and to overcome her intimidation. Afterwards, a few of us told her that she’d done a great job, and we reassured her that it gets easier. But there was so much more I wanted to say, as someone who was in her shoes a little over a year ago:

Just keep coming back. You will be stronger, faster, and more flexible than you were before. I decided when I turned 40 that I needed to get in better shape. I had always been active, but never particularly strong or athletic. As a kid, I never earned that Presidential Fitness Award and rarely made it off the bench in sports. As an adult, I could run a few miles but I required the assistance of friendly strangers to lift my luggage into overhead bins. With CrossFit I’ve seen remarkable gains in strength and endurance. But it’s not just that I can squat more than 100 pounds now or that I’ve trimmed more than 30 seconds off my 2000 meter row. It’s that I have more stamina when I’m playing with my kids. I can carry heavier packages home from the store. I don’t need as much help moving furniture or shoveling snow. I don’t know what it is about CrossFit’s approach (e.g., high intensity intervals, heavy weightlifting, etc.) that works for me. I just know that I’m fitter today than I’ve ever been in my life.

Math may temporarily escape you, but this is actually good for your mind. For me, CrossFit has been kinda like yoga, but with no Sanskrit and lots of grunting. In the past, my attempts at meditation and other mindfulness exercises were never too effective at stopping my racing mind. But I find Zen at CrossFit. I discovered that if I don’t focus intently, I’m slow or ineffective or, worse, I could get hurt. So, during a workout my mind, body, and breathing are all tuned to the same channel and I am perfectly present. No other thoughts can enter my consciousness. I have joked that I feel dumber at the end of class – with every ounce of my mental energy devoted to the workout, I become a bit dazed, as occasionally evidenced by my inability to add up my reps without a calculator! But if you’re like me, your mind needs that break, and you will find that you leave the gym with a clearer head.

Warning: You will feel like you can accomplish anything you put your mind to. CrossFit is for people at every level of fitness – nobody gets off easy and nobody has to sit out. Even you, newbie, can do the workout. Just scale it down – go slow, put less weight on the bar, step onto the box instead of jumping. The most important factor driving your success will not be your physical ability. It will be your mental fortitude – your focus and your willingness to stay positive in the face of daunting challenges. I read a blog post the other day that put it well: “CrossFit is not life or death, but it can be about staring into the face of something you fear and making a decision about how you are going to handle it.” When you practice this day after day – putting aside fears and self-doubt and choosing to press on – you make progress and, in turn, you learn how capable you really are. It’s empowering. And, the magical thing is that this can-do attitude overflows into your life outside of the gym. (Why else would I have accepted the invitation to sing with my friend’s band in February?! I never would have had the nerve to do that before.) So just be warned, you may start to feel like a girl-power anthem…and who knows what you’ll agree to next?

You’ll become attached (but not in some weird cult-y way). Haters say CrossFit is a cult. Harvard Divinity School once compared it to religion. I don’t think you’ll find it to be either of those things, but I do think that the community that forms in a CrossFit gym is something special. People here are competitive, but it’s not about being better than someone else. It’s about being better than you were yesterday. So, there’s a friendly and supportive vibe. The person getting the loudest cheers is usually the person coming in last place. What you experienced as a newcomer that day – welcoming outstretched hands and kind greetings from everyone in the room – is standard practice. At CrossFit Immortal we’re stay-at-home moms, lawyers, teachers, students, corporate professionals, small business owners, doctors, nurses, retirees, cops, craftsmen… We’re aged 16 to 60-something. In some ways, we don’t have much in common, but it doesn’t matter. We are connected by our love of Nike MetCons and CrossFit t-shirts. Just kidding. We’re connected by virtue of the fact that we show up and work hard, and as we laugh and struggle and persevere together we develop a special bond. You’re going to love these crazy people.

I’d tell the new girl to come back again the next day. And the next. Not because it’s the only way to get in shape, or because running fast and lifting heavy things is so important. But because I know from experience that she will grow. She will face fears, overcome challenges and show herself what she’s capable of. (And, she may even pick up some cool new workout tees along the way.)

Win some, lose some

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Last week, I declared my intention to clean up the kids’ diets. Well, I’ve been working on it and it’s going okay. With a few principles in mind (e.g., less sugar, fewer processed foods, better-for-you snacks) I plucked some recipes off of Pinterest, and I’ve been trying to be more mindful about what I’m putting on the table. Here’s a report:

Win: Breaking the Dessert Habit. A few weeks ago we started cutting back on after-dinner treats. It was interesting how many people commented after my last post that they’ve never even considered giving their kids dessert every night. Well, good for you guys, because I was apparently out to lunch on this one! But anyway, I’m pleased to report that it’s not even a big deal. There’s no fussing on the no-sweets nights. They have found other evening snacks (like fruit, yogurt, trail mix, popcorn) to enjoy if needed. With this change alone their sugar consumption has dropped considerably.

Win: Better-for-You Banana Bread. Trying to provide some better options for breakfast, my 10yo N and I baked 100% whole wheat low-in-sugar banana bread from the wonderful 100 Days of Real Food (recipe below). With only 1/4 cup honey it was noticeably less sweet than a typical banana bread (which can have up to a cup of sugar), but still very tasty. 4yo JB and 8yo A gobbled it up. N, who was aware that it was a lower sugar recipe, remarked after his first bite that it wasn’t sweet enough, but then he “got used to it” and in the end he said he enjoyed it. I’ll definitely make it again.

Lose: Deceptive Pizza Bites. For snacks and lunches I found a recipe for protein-rich pizza bites made with a quinoa-based crust on the Super Healthy Kids website, where I’ve found many good ideas and recipes in the past. I am a sucker for mini-foods and these pepperoni-sized morsels came out of the oven looking quite appealing.  N eagerly took a bite of one…and promptly threw the remainder in the garbage. After witnessing that decisive action it was surprising that A and JB even wanted to try, but I’m telling you these things were adorable. So A took a bite, made a face like she was going to vomit and very politely placed it back on her plate. When JB declared them to be “yummy” I was excited. Then I noticed that he had only eaten the cheese and sauce off the top. I encouraged another bite. “EWWWW. It’s QUINOA!” he moaned. Mind blown: I had no idea he even knew what quinoa tasted like. But truth be told, it did have a very quinoa-y flavor. I *may* have skipped the very important step of thoroughly rinsing the grain before cooking it. It tasted rather bitter. Oops. I won’t be making these again.

Lose: I got distracted by wheat. Last week, I decided to find some non-wheat alternatives for my carb-loading kids. But I have to admit that in my eagerness to make changes, I led myself astray. It hit me the other night as I was piling pasta made of rice and quinoa onto their plates while a snack bar made with a gluten-free flour mix baked in the oven. It doesn’t make any sense to just switch from one form of processed carbs to another!  Wheat and gluten are not the enemy, over-processing is the enemy! I don’t know what made me even buy those things. They don’t need non-wheat pastas and gluten free granola bars. Maybe just some non-pasta dinners and non-bar snacks. I got carried away but I’m back on track now.

Win: I think maybe they’re paying attention. As a dietitian I’m hyper-focused on food, but I never want my kids to obsess about this stuff so I try not to talk about it too much. It’s better to lead by example and hope they are picking up good habits and healthy preferences through their experiences in our home. But, 10yo N has been interested in talking about nutrition, so I’ve shared a few thoughts with him, about how I’d like all of us to be mindful about what we put in our mouths, and about striving to eat more whole foods. A few days ago he told me about an over-the-top smorgasbord of sweets that was offered to the kids at a party in his classroom. There was jello, candy, cookies, AND cupcakes, among other snacks. He says,”I mean, of course I liked eating it, but Mom it was kinda bad. Nobody needs all that stuff!” So he enjoyed the sweets (because he’s a human child) but he recognized that they were superfluous to the point of being unhealthy… Well, it’s not a quinoa pizza bite, but I’ll take it.

Whole Wheat Banana Bread from 100 Days of Real Food

This recipe can be made as a loaf or as muffins. (I made a loaf – if you make muffins adjust the baking time accordingly.) I used my favorite whole wheat flour, Bob’s Red Mill ivory wheat flour, and coconut oil.


2 ¼ cup whole-wheat flour
¾ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
3 ripe bananas, mashed
¼ cup plain yogurt
¼ cup honey
2 eggs
⅓ cup oil
1 teaspoon vanilla


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and grease pan.
  2. Combine flour, baking soda, and salt.
  3. In a separate bowl mix mashed bananas with yogurt, honey, eggs, oil, and vanilla.
  4. Fold the banana mixture into the flour mixture until blended. Do not overmix.
  5. Pour batter into prepared pan.
  6. Bake large loaf for 40 – 50 minutes or until it comes clean with a toothpick.


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