Nutrition for Parents browsing by category


4 Tips for Picky Vegetable Eaters

Tuesday, July 3rd, 2012

1. Tempt the senses.  Vegetable by itself might not be very appealing but add a little something to it and your child may be more likely to
try it.  Steamed cauliflower – boring.  Steamed cauliflower topped with melted shredded cheese – more appealing.  Strawberries – boring.
Strawberries with a small bowl of melted chocolate chips for dipping – more appealing.

2. Be a good role model. Make sure your child sees you enjoying fruits and vegetables often at meals and snacks throughout the day.  Showing
them how to eat healthier can be a lot less stressful than lecturing them about being a healthy eater.

3. Offer them a choice.  Letting them have a say in what fruit or vegetable is served can often increase their acceptance.  Do you want
watermelon or strawberries or both?  Do you want carrots or broccoli or both?

4. Offer foods over and over again. Don’t take one “I don’t like it” as proof that they don’t like a food.  The first response to a new food,
regardless of what it is, is often “no” for many kids. Try the same food in different ways.  For example, a potato can be baked, mashed, roasted,
shredded, and more.

Cats (and kids) in trees

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012

A few weeks ago, my cat spotted a dog wandering around the yard and, in typical feline wisdom, bolted up the nearest tree. He skittered up to the first branch which just happened to be about 60 feet off the ground.  Ten minutes later, I had my husband at the top rung of a 40 foot extension ladder that was placed in the bucket of a front end loader that was placed at the base of the tree and raised as high as it could go. The next minute went as follows – the husband reached for the cat, the cat scratched and tried to get away, the ladder wobbled, the wife screamed, the husband lunged for the cat, the wife lunged for the ladder, the cat was captured and, everything turned out okay. 

What does this have to do with nutrition?  Well, after telling the story to a friend a few days later, the friend asked me if I had ever seen a cat skeleton in a tree.  Seeing my puzzled expression, the friend said that the cat would have come down on its own when it was hungry enough.  This is the link to nutrition – children will eat the food provided when they are hungry enough.  Being hungry will decrease their resistance to eating foods that might normally be declined, such as vegetables.  If a backup or alternative food is offered when the child refuses the original meal/snack, the child has no need or motivation to try something different.  This concept goes back to the golden rule of childhood nutrition.  Parents are responsible for what and when food is provided.  It is their job to ensure that healthy foods are given on a consistent schedule, even if the food offered is something that the child may not eat. Children are responsible for how much, if any, food is eaten.  If they decide not to eat any of the offered food, chances are, they weren’t hungry enough.  If meals and snacks are being offered on a predictable schedule, the parents do not need to feel as though they are starving their child.  For more on this concept, consider reading Ellyn Satter’s book, How to Get Your Child to Eat…But Not Too Much.  It is important to note that while this practice is recommended the majority of time, there are children whose picky eating is due to sensory issues or medical conditions.  A dietitian can help identify these situations and offer alternative strateiges to improve eating.

*Unhealthy foods can have a place in the diet provided that they are offered on the rare occasion. Having them in the diet teaches that all foods are okay.  Try not to limit unhealthy foods to special occasions or refer to them as treats which will paint them as things of value and healthy foods as things of little value. 


Is acetaminophen the chicken or the egg?

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

The incidence of childhood asthma has been on a sharp rise over the past thirty years and a new paper published in the journal Pediatrics has turned attention to acetaminophen as a possible culprit. Researchers first began looking at acetaminophen in relation to asthma when the increase in asthma was noted to coincide with the time when researchers found that aspirin was linked to Reye’s syndrome and doctors thus began recommending acetaminophen to their patients.  In this recent paper, multiple studies are mentioned which all found an increased risk of asthma among children who had taken acetaminophen.  The author suggests
that acetaminophen drives or worsens asthma due to the medications effect on glutathione.  Glutathione is an enzyme that helps repair damage in the airways, lessening inflammation. Acetaminophen reduces the body’s level of this enzyme.

Despite the suggestive evidence, researchers still caution against pointing fingers at acetaminophen.  It remains difficult to determine if acetaminophen itself is responsible or if there are other factors at play.  For example, the medicine is taken for a fever and fevers are often caused by viral infections which have also been shown to be associated with the development of asthma.  So was it the viral infection or
the acetaminophen or something entirely different?

Bottom line: Be aware of this suggested associated and watch for future findings.  Until then, discuss with your physician if ibuprofen would be an acceptable alternative, particularly if your child has asthma or is at an increased risk for asthma.  For parents that choose to continue to use acetaminophen, experts suggest using it sparingly and as directed.  Acetaminophen is intended for very high fevers and major pain relief, not for minor aches or pain preventative measures such as when having an immunization.

Cooking with…..children

Thursday, December 1st, 2011

 According to a recent study conducted by Mintel, a market research group, only 6% of Americans aged 17-34 had any substantial cooking skills, even among the 25% that “loved cooking.” These statistics illustrate the growing trend away from home cooking and towards pre-made convenience foods and dining out.  This trend was born in part from necessity as parents faced schedules packed to the brink with work, soccer practices, piano lessons, and chores, and it does not necessarily mean bad parenting. However, learning to cook is an important skill that increases food acceptance and awareness, teaches reading and math skills, helps build confidence, and fosters independence.

How many parents out there have purchased or been begged to purchase one of those large plastic play kitchens?  From a young age, kids are naturally drawn to the kitchen.  However, despite this initial interest, few kids learn how to cook real food and their interest to help in the kitchen eventually dies out.  Take advantage of this interest and involve them in the process.

  • Choose simple age-appropriate tasks.  Tearing up the lettuce leaves or opening and rinsing a bag of salad greens are great for a preschooler.  An elementary school aged child can help with measuring and reading recipes or instructions.
  • Plan meals together to create the feeling of a team.
  • Remember that messes are part of the process.  To keep your blood pressure down when the going gets tough, laugh, practice those Lamaze breathing techniques, and have towels at the ready.  Involve kids in the
    cleanup part of the cooking process as well.
  • Assign harder tasks for days when there is more flexibility and time.  Nothing is more stressful than trying to cook something tricky with kids on a tight schedule.
  •  If you lack the skills yourself, toot around on the internet. There are many blogs or YouTube videos these days giving detailed explanations on various cooking techniques. You can also look for local cooking classes. Healthy Living in South Burlington frequently has classes open to adults and kids alike. Another resource could be a family member or neighbor.

If not for the bonding that comes from cooking together, it may still be worthwhile to invest the time now teaching your child the basics of cooking.  Picture a day in the future when you are super stressed and running late from work and yet, your child has enough know-how and familiarity in the kitchen to get dinner on the table for you.  Sounds good to me!


Monday, September 5th, 2011

A few weeks ago, on one of those beautiful Vermont summer nights,  I took my children to watch an outdoor viewing of the movie Gnomeo and Juliet.  For those of you not familiar with this movie, it is a newly released animated children’s version of Shakespeare’s classic story of forbidden love, Romeo and Juliet.  However, in this case,  it is two garden gnomes that fall in love despite coming from dueling backyards.

So, midway through, I was all set to give this movie a Siskel and Ebert style two thumbs up until it happened.  One line, one unnecessary and casually made line, that made me cringe as a mother to two girls and made the nutritionist in me snarl and gnash my teeth at the screen.  The line was this (told to Juliet by her nurse) – “he won’t like you once he find out how much you weigh.”

Seriously?  In a children’s movie? This comment represents the body image issues and dysfunctional relationships with food that plague too many Americans these days. Some may argue that this was only one innocent comment but many of my clients with eating disorders  may disagree as many can often trace the start of their struggles back to a single similar comment.  The comment plants the seed that is easily watered by image-driven media and fertilized nicely by societal pressures.    Shine some sunlight from the popular ultra-thin celebrity role models out there and watch that seed grow!

Empower yourself and your child against these negative influences by creating a list of 10 things you like about yourself that have nothing to do with appearance.  Share your list with your child and encourage them to create a list of their own.  Consider writing this list down and posting someplace visible as a daily reminder that who you are is not about what you look like.


Tuesday, May 31st, 2011

The significance of the number “6” can be found in the food guide pyramid and the six different colored sections that make up the pyramid.  Five of the six sections illustrate the five food groups – grains, fruits, vegetables, dairy, and proteins.  The final section, designated by the yellow color, is for oils.  Oils are not considered a food group; however, a certain amount of unsaturated fats such as canola oil and the oils in nuts and fish, is needed for good health.  This method of nutrition education is different from the “Basic 4” Food Groups that many of us adults were brought up on.  See if your child can explain the food guide pyramid to you.  Can they name the 6 food groups?  Do they know how much of each food group they should be eating?  If not, use this opportunity to slip in a little dab of nutrition education.  Don’t know the answer yourself?  Visit and find the answers together.

Here is a tip for helping your child hit all six food groups during the day.  With you child, count the number of food groups they have chosen for a meal.   Encourage them to choose a food from a different food group if they want to go back for seconds.


Saturday, April 23rd, 2011

Higher fat foods such as whole milk and whole fat dairy foods are recommended over lower fat foods– that is, until the age of two.  After turning two, dropping the fat content of the diet from 30-50% of total calories to a maximum of 30% is best.  Why the switch?  During the first two years of life, fat is crucial to support the rapid growth and development that is occurring, particularly of the nervous system.  Myelin, a fatty covering around nerves, is formed predominantly during the first two years of life and restricting fat too severely during these years can result in delayed motor skills and brain development.

After the age of two however, a higher fat content in the diet is no longer needed nor is it recommended.  Excessive fat intake from this age on can result in a slew of health problems, including heart disease and obesity.  The heart is affected because cholesterol levels rise with the intake of saturated fats, or fats that are solid at room temperature.  Cholesterol is a waxy substance that travels in the bloodstream and can clog or block vessels if it builds up.  Some fats, unsaturated fats such as those found in fish and olive and canola oils, can be beneficial to the heart but still shouldn’t equal more than 30% of daily calories.  The relationship between a fatty diet and obesity comes from fat’s caloric density.  Fat contains 9 calories per gram, more than any other nutrient.  Good for fast growing babies, bad for older children and adults who can easily gobble up more than their daily caloric needs from high fat foods.  The body, with its unbelievable waste-not-want-not ways, stores those excess calories as body fat, resulting in weight gain.

Bottom line – if you are above the age of two, wean down your fat intake, particularly the saturated fats.  Keeping in mind Rule #1, that no foods are forbidden, the more often you eat a lower fat meal, the better.

Deceptively Wrong

Saturday, March 19th, 2011

By now, most people have heard of Jessica Seinfeld’s cookbook, entitled Deceptively Delicious.  In it, she provides recipes and techniques for sneaking vegetables into foods that don’t normally contain vegetables.  The popularity of this cookbook shows that many parents are struggling with their child’s vegetable intake, or lack thereof.   Unfortunately, hiding vegetables, as described in this cookbook, will not fix the problem.  Sure, your child might get in some extra vitamin C from the pureed spinach hidden in the blueberry crumb bar.  But will that create a child with healthy eating habits?  Absolutely not.  Instead, kids learn that vegetables are bad and need to be disguised or hidden in another food in order to taste good. 

Hiding vegetables is a temporary band-aid.  A long term solution requires more patience, time, and consistency around food.  Offer, offer, and continue to offer vegetables to show that they are an important part of meals and snacks every day.  Be a role model and enjoy vegetables yourself without complaining.  Avoid the “one more bite” battle and remain neutral about the amount your child does or does not eat.  It is okay to have a family rule that every food must be tasted but allow them to regulate their intake. 

If it makes you feel better to hide vegetables in other foods, do it but do it in addition to everything else.  If nothing else, it will at least relieve the guilt and worry that comes all too easily with parenthood.

Dark Green Leafys

Saturday, February 26th, 2011

  Kales, and all dark green leafy vegetables such as collards, turnips, mustard greens, and Swiss chard, are a must-have for your grocery card.  These nutritional superstars are chock full of vitamins A, C, and K, folate, magnesium, potassium, calcium, iron, lutein, and fiber.  Kale can be one of the milder tasting greens so if you and your family are new to dark green leafys, this one is a nice place to start.


Kale Chips

Rinse fresh kale and remove excess moisture with paper towels.   Remove and discard any tough stems and ribs from the leaves.  Tear into bite-size pieces.  Toss lightly in olive oil and season to taste with salt and pepper.   Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake in 375o oven until crispy, about 5-10 minutes. 

Optional dip:  Mix together 1 cup plain Greek yogurt, ½ tsp onion powder, ½ tsp garlic powder, and 1/8 tsp salt.


Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

A quick scan around the cafeteria during lunchtime shows that many of our children are packing a poorly balanced lunch.  Crackers, popcorn, chips and cookies are plentiful while fruits and vegetables are not quite as common.  And while this is not unusual in many American lunches, it is also not healthy. 

 Many kids (and adults) tend to base their meals on starches, such as breads, crackers, pastas, and chips.  The problem is that these starches are often in excess in diets, especially among children who frequently snack on starches.  Eating excess starches also displaces other foods such as fruits, vegetables, and proteins which are usually lacking in diets.  Change this habit early on and teach your child basic healthy meal planning with the Fruit-Vegetable-Protein (F-V-P) method.  

When packing a lunch, the first three foods that should be chosen are the fruit, the vegetable, and the protein.   Choosing these first underlines their importance in the diet and ensures that they are not forgotten.  Your child may want their protein paired with a starch, such as with a ham sandwich (ham=protein, bread=starch) and that is okay.  The important thing is that the protein is chosen first and the starch is added on. 

Print off this handout to help send your child to school with a F-V-P that has been packed with some TLC.