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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. 🙂

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.

INGREDIENTS

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

INSTRUCTIONS

  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.

 

All aboard!

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Lately, I’ve been maintaining a glaring double standard: JR and I have been eating clean and feeling great; the kids have not. During our recent 30-day nutrition challenge we planned meals and snacks around whole foods, eliminated added sugar, and ate a ton of vegetables. Sometimes, we served the same meals to the whole family, like this great chicken and rice bake and this yummy shrimp dish. But other times, while we were eating quinoa and buckwheat, they were eating heaping servings of pasta or freezer French fries. While we were snacking on nuts or plain yogurt or roasted parsnips, they were eating Goldfish or ice cream.

In the weeks since the challenge ended, I’ve continued to follow most of the rules because, well, I like to feel great. I’ve yet to eat a piece of bread or a bowl of pasta. I have a little dark chocolate as a treat but I’m still eating unsweetened oatmeal and choosing protein foods as snacks. I’m trying to find a new “normal” that I can maintain for a good long while. A balanced approach. And as I’m sorting this out, I’m resolving to bring the kids deeper into the fold. I think we need two big changes:

#1 – Cut the sugar.
Eschewing sugar for a month (and being kind of obsessed about it) really brought my kids’ eating habits into stark relief. Almost every night they had something sweet as “dessert”. It was not always junky – things like homemade goodies sweetened with maple syrup, dark chocolate-covered bananas, and 100% fruit ice pops were in the mix. But as I considered their overall diets, I noticed how much it adds up: sweetened breakfast cereals, granola bars, juice boxes, cookies, ice cream treats, lollypops…and that’s just at home! I’ll say nothing (ok, I’ll say a little) of the crap that other people feed my kids on a day-to-day basis at school, at sports (why does my kid need a donut after a 45 minute practice?!), at afterschool activities. I wouldn’t call them addicted to sugar, but their palates certainly have a strong preference for it, and they are definitely in the habit of having more sweets than I believe is healthy.

So, a few weeks ago we limited sweet treats to every other night, trying to wean them off slowly. At the same time, I’m trying to make and buy breakfast foods, after-school snacks, and desserts that contain less sugar. And, though I don’t believe that honey and maple syrup are so much better than cane sugar (your body has an insulin reaction whatever the form) I do think there are benefits to cutting out products that contain refined sugar, so that’s what I plan to do (except for special occasions and Halloween and whatnot… I haven’t completely lost my mind).

#2 – Carb control.
My kids are carbohydrate fiends. Pasta, cereal, crackers, pretzels, snack bars. I believe they need the energy provided by starchy carbohydrates – they are active and they are growing. But I also believe that more of their starches should be vegetables and whole grains. And, I’m thinking we could cut back on wheat products. It’s not that I necessarily believe that gluten is bad for us (though I will say, again, that I have felt GREAT without it) but I do wonder if the abundance of wheat in their diets is a good thing. When facing long-term unknowns I always like to hedge – split the risks by having a bit of this and a bit of that, not over-relying on any one kind of food. So, I’ll try to swap out some gluten-containing foods for gluten-free options. Try to help them learn to accept and enjoy a better variety of whole grains. Have fewer carb-y snacks available. Try to offer more balance.

Seems easy enough. Heh heh.

Will report back.

Challenging Ourselves

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For the last 30 days, I’ve been on a rather strict diet. Well, not on a diet so much as doing a nutrition challenge. Coach Tommy, the owner of my gym (Crossfit Immortal, woop woop!) organized it. I’m not usually one for “diets”, but since I have consumed the proverbial Crossfit kool-aid, I’m apparently down for anything now!

The challenge was a points-based contest based on the nutrition rules of the Whole Life Challenge, which you can read about here. But, Tommy decided to make it more strict. Because it’s only 30 days. And because he’s mean, he’s just mean. (j/k TC.)

So for 30 days JR and I have been off gluten (all forms of wheat, barley, and rye), dairy (except plain yogurt), corn, soy, white potatoes, white rice, processed oils (canola, soybean, etc.), added sugar (including all-natural sweeteners like agave, maple syrup, and honey), and alcohol. Participants lost points for cheating and earned bonus points for working out at the gym.

And it was a challenge indeed, even for a health-conscious eater like me. First off, it was time-consuming. I scoured the web for ideas and new recipes. I spent more time than usual meticulously planning our meals and with almost no packaged foods allowed on our menu, I spent many hours prepping food. I struggled (and cheated) when I baked chocolate cookies and birthday cupcakes for the kids. There were times, for instance after doing 60 snatches and a boatload of slam balls, when I felt like I would lose my mind if I didn’t have a big bowl of pasta. (I didn’t.) And one time I was rude to a bartender when he told me that they had no hot tea. Yes, I *may* have been a hangry b**ch from time to time. But, on the flip side, I also felt full of energy, my workouts seemed super-charged, my sometimes-plagued digestive tract was happy, and my body fat is now 2.5% lower! Not too shabby!

The final contest results are not in yet – weight and body fat will be compared to pre-challenge measurements and these changes will be factored in with the points to determine the grand prize winner. I know from the online tracking sheet that though I had a strong finish, I did not score the most points, so I don’t have much of a chance of winning.

Cash prize or not, I’m glad I did it, because as I ease back into “normal” life I’m taking a few improved habits with me as a result of some key realizations:

  • I can live without cheese and bourbon, but I don’t want to. It’s empowering to know that I can control my cravings in order to reach a goal. I have been proud of the mental toughness displayed by myself, JR, and our friends. That said, an entire life without Parmesan is too bleak for me, and so I will again eat cheese. But, I probably ate too much before, so I do intend to scale back. And as for the bourbon, I was floored by how difficult it was to give up alcohol. I don’t even drink very much socially! But, what I am is a mother’s-little-helper drinker: when dinner/bath/bedtime is particularly soul-sucking a drink helps me recover. It was remarkably hard to go without. I did it, though! And I didn’t beat my children. And I only lashed out at JR once or twice. And I now recognize that I can handle these tensions on my own, without muting them with alcohol. Ah, self-awareness. Now pour me a scotch.
  • Not only can I live without sugar, I thrive without it. Although I was a healthy eater before, I was probably eating too much sugar. I’m now a proponent of a cold-turkey break for sugar addiction. For me “I’ll just eat less” never worked. In the end, I found it was surprisingly easy to give it up altogether. I will still enjoy an occasional piece of dark chocolate or a good lemon bar but I no longer crave it. This, to me, has been the best outcome of this whole thing.
  • I needed more protein. I workout hard. I lift heavy(ish) weights. I need protein! For 30 days I was forced to find good sources of protein to eat with every meal and with snacks – otherwise I would be starving. (And maybe that’s where the pound of lean body mass that I’ve gained came from!) It’s a habit I plan to continue.
  • I pick at my kids’ food. A lot. Why do I do that?! From the first day of this challenge I became much more mindful about what I put in my mouth because even a small taste of a prohibited food would cost me a point. Thirty days later, I think I’ve truly kicked this habit. You can’t tempt me, pot of hot mac-and-cheese!
  • Clean eating is all well and good, but there is NO reason to suffer unsweetened granola or black coffee. During this challenge I often ate to live, consuming foods just to fuel myself and get by. Once or twice, I ate a meatball for “dessert”. I need something crunchy and carbohydrate-y in my yogurt so I made unsweetened granola (a.k.a. cardboard with nuts). I need caffeine in the morning so black coffee (ew) it was. But that’s not how I want to live. I like getting pleasure from good food, and I can get it from healthy, whole, clean foods. But, life is too short to eat something that tastes bad. You can quote me on that.

I was grateful to have my partner-in-eating JR doing this too. For him, the biggest challenge was switching from our typical starches like pasta, potatoes, and tortillas to a more limited list of options like quinoa, oats and buckwheat. It wasn’t easy, but it has forced both of us to change the proportions of our meals and snacks – more veggies and protein, with more moderate amounts of starch – which is probably better for us in the long-run.

Check out my Pinterest board for some of the new recipes we tried during this month. Many of these will remain in regular rotation here at Camp Sunnyside and I encourage you to incorporate them into your family’s menu. But not the unsweetened granola. Nobody should have to eat that $hit.

-A.

Field Report: Progress and Plans

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Wednesday marks 12 weeks of living at Camp Sunnyside, kitchenless. It has not always been easy, but I think that anyone who knows me would agree that my attitude has been pretty good. I’ve joked about our rustic existence, laughing my way up and down these darned stairs in order to use a sink. I’ve felt thoroughly blessed by the generosity and kindness of my friends, who have lifted so many burdens from me these last few months. It really has been fine. Happy, even. And people survive far worse, of course. But despite the fact that the end is now in sight, I’m feeling quite cranky today.

There’s no reason for the change in mood…The installation of my kitchen started last week and it’s coming along nicely.  There’s visible progress every day and it’s fun to see it all coming together. I think I’m just tired. I want a normal life back. And I have a feeling that the final few weeks are going to be the hardest yet.

The Kitchen, Before

The Kitchen, Before

The Kitchen, During

The Kitchen, During

So, to prevent myself from spiraling into a really rotten attitude, I’m daydreaming today of the stuff I’ll do when I have a kitchen back. Here’s my new-kitchen bucket list:

1. Marinate something myself (as opposed to relying on Fresh Direct chefs to do this for me). An extra dirty dish will be nothing to me!

2. Bake stuff. Pumpkin bread, apple pie, muffins, cookies, banana bread, cinnamon raisin bread. (Maybe not all the first week.)

3. Make soup. Gosh, I’ve missed soup.

4. Use real silverware.

5. USE NO MORE PAPER PRODUCTS.  Earth, forgive us for what we’ve done.

6. Make my own coffee. The McDs drive-thru ladies will miss us.

7. Put my electric frying pan into storage. I don’t ever want to see that thing again.

8. Drink water out of a glass. Like a person.

9. Pack lunches instead of coercing the kids to buy again. (“No honey, I think you like the meatball sub!”)

10. Have friends over for a meal. This place won’t really be a home until we share it with the people we love. JR says maybe we can host Thanksgiving 2015… but in the spirit of keeping my chin up, I’m inviting people for New Year’s Eve. 🙂

#CampSunnyside

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Through a haze of sawdust I have stumbled back to my blog. (Though I think since it’s been 7 months since I posted here this no longer qualifies as a blog. It’s more like an annual report.)

A few days after my last post, JR and I bought a lovely home, located on a charming street aptly called Sunnyside. In June we broke ground on an addition and kitchen renovation. In July we moved in.  So here I am, sitting in a kitchenless (and until last week, laundryless) dream-home-to-be.

Camp Sunnyside

A view from the construction zone.

We’ve been here at Camp Sunnyside (JR’s affectionate name for our rustic half-constructed abode) for about 8 weeks. And these 8 weeks have really tested my healthy meal planning and organizational skills. And my sanity. Here’s a snapshot:

  • We have no running water or sink on the 1st floor, so basic tasks like pouring out unfinished cereal milk, rinsing a can of beans, washing off an apple, filling water bottles, etc., all involve climbing at least one flight of stairs to the kids’ bathroom.  The sink there is too small to wash dishes in, though, so a bin of dirty dishes goes with me to work each day, to wash in the kitchenette at my office.
  • Until last week I was also driving my laundry all over town to generous friends’ homes. But now that the washer and dryer are hooked up I have it easy: all I have to do is open my dining room window, jump down into the under-construction addition, pull my laundry basket through the window, and maneuver through power tools and lumber to my laundry room.
  • As for getting food on the table, it has not been easy, but I have a nice little setup with an electric skillet, a convection/microwave oven, and an induction cooktop. There’s no way I could stomach (mentally or physically) three months of take-out, so I’ve been preparing meals with a combination of prepared foods from Fresh Direct (e.g., rotisserie chicken, pre-cut veggies, etc), the occasional meal-in-a-bag from Trader Joe’s, and home-cooked dishes.

Anyhoo… with this labor-intensive Little House on the Prairie lifestyle that we’ve got going here blogging is not really on my short list of to-dos. But I do feel like I’m figuring out some great one-pot meals, kitchen short-cuts, and other tricks that I’d like to share (and remember for when I get my real life back). So I’m going to Tweet and Instagram what I cook for dinner and any other ideas or observations worth sharing.  Follow me! Twitter handle: @RDAmy. Instagram: @freshsqueezedmom.

Until next time,

Amy

The Meals – Week 3

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Occasionally, I post my weekly meal plan in an attempt to keep myself on track with said meal planning. This week I’m a bit late in posting – it’s been somewhat hectic because I was in the city overnight on Tuesday to see Lionel Richie in concert. (Verdict: He’s still got it, and I still love it. Truly!) The recipe I have for broccoli quiche is super easy. It’s included below for your brunch-for-dinner enjoyment.

menu 3

Broccoli Quiche

1. Beat together the following: 1 1/4 cup milk, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp pepper, 3 eggs.

2. Cut a small head of broccoli into small florets (about 2/3 cup). Blanch these in boiling water until bright green, about 2-3 minutes. Drain.

3. Chop 1/2 red onion and mince 1 clove garlic. Sauté the onion and garlic in 1 tsp olive oil over medium-low heat until the onions are translucent. Add cooked broccoli and mix well.

4. Grate 3/4 cup Swiss or jarlsberg cheese. 

5. Put into a prepared pie crust in the following order: cheese, veggies, egg mixture. (Note: I purchase a bakery-prepared crust from Fresh Direct – it has no preservatives or hydrogenated fats. Many store-bought crusts are full of junk, so be sure to read labels if you’re trying to avoid junkiness.)

6. Bake in the center of the oven, preheated to 350 degrees, until the filling has set, about 30 minutes.  If the crust starts to burn, cover with foil or one of these handy crust shields. (I’m not one for filling my kitchen with nice-to-have-but-unnecessary gadgets, but this one is worth it.)

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