Let Them Play

I am an adult dietitian. I’m not an expert in child nutrition…at all. So far I have one semi-picky child and two boys who eat just about anything you set in front of them. Like these dudes genuinely enjoy eating. I have pictures to prove the joy they get out of eating/playing. Is it a fluke? Maybe. Maybe not. Just last month I went to a conference and heard a speaker talk about eating behaviors in children. Letting children play with food can actually make them less picky. Seriously, no one wants a picky eater. So maybe letting them play can actually encourage them to eat better, healthier.

Because I have 2 kids who eat just about everything and one who eats fair (there are many frustrating meals and also some good ones thrown in there), I’ve learned that the oldest child is definitely the experimental one (I was the oldest too). Kids following the first may have a significant advantage! HAH! All kidding aside here’s what I see between my kiddos in how I fed them/allow them to eat. This may be the key to lessen picky eating…or it could just be a coincidence? Eh either way it’s worth a shot to try!

With my daughter I was going to do everything “perfect”. First-time parent syndrome. I was going to be the perfect dietitian-mom. All organic, low sugar, homemade everything, no fast food, etc. etc. etc. blah blah blah. Yep I was one of those. I made all of her food for the first 2 years of her life. Seriously. Day care provided lunch but I packed hers. I spoon fed her (obviously) when she was a baby. She never got very messy when she ate…at all. Despite my best efforts I made the same few foods over and over and over and over again because, as a working mom, I could only do so much.

The boys are a different story all together. They are rainbow babies and after a high risk pregnancy my outlook on raising children changed a little…and they aren’t my first AND there are 2 of them. I ain’t got time to be perfect! 😉 Besides watching their dairy intake, (they have an allergy) those dudes eat whatever.  I let them eat with their hands mainly because I can’t feed them fast enough before they go ballistic so I let them have-at-it. They are 17 months old and have eaten everything from sauerkraut to Thai food to salads and even spicy chili.

This is a Thai cabbage salad the boys devoured!

Meals are messy and, although clean up isn’t awesome, they enjoy eating. Surprisingly more goes into their belly than their highchairs or the floor. They feel their food, squish it, pick it up, pinch it, scoop it, lick it, taste it, and enjoy it. Would I have let my daughter do this? No. Should I have? Maybe.

 
Recently I started inviting my daughter to help me cook and it has worked wonders! She has tried everything she makes and is excited about new recipes, baking, and helping me prepare the food. It’s awesome! She’s playing, learning, trying, tasting, and expanding her palate!

So my conclusion is: let kids play with their food. No matter the age! There are researched benefits to allowing babies, children, and teens play and cook with food…it’s not just me 🙂

  1. Let babies explore food. Feel it, squish, mold, pinch, pick up, lick it, and smear it all up.
  2. Give toddlers a spoon and even if they have a difficult time, let them try to hit their mouth!
  3. Let pre-schoolers start to help in the kitchen.
  4. Kids can begin to help meal planning (and continue to help cook).
  5. Older kids can meal plan and cook simple meals.
  6. Teens can take over in the kitchen! Let them plan, try new cooking techniques, and find recipes.

Check out this great website for kids cooking by ages.

Other great tips:

  1. There is no such thing as “kid foods”. They can eat whatever adults eat…seriously.
  2. You are not a short order cook. What you make for dinner, the family should eat (outside of a food allergy).
  3. Kids do not need to clean their plates but they should taste everything on their plate.
  4. Even if they don’t want to eat everything, taking a “thank you bite” gives your child the opportunity to try the food without the pressure of eating it all. Thank you bites are shown as gratitude for the cook.
  5. Let your kids have foods they like too! Make your kids a meal they truly enjoy once in a while shows them you do know what they like. For instance, macaroni and cheese as their starch or having pizza night (with a veggie of course)!

 

Parenting isn’t about being perfect, it’s about doing your best and knowing what’s best for your children. My daughter probably won’t be picky for the rest of her life (many times it is a power struggle not necessarily the food itself). There are many picky eating “fixes” out there. Try them but don’t make yourself crazy. I hope this helps for some of you out there.

Week 5 Challenge: Eat at Home

I love eating out. As a mom, I appreciate when a meal is prepared, delivered, and cleaned up for me…all I have to do is make a decision on where I want to go and what I want to eat. I like two types of restaurants…the old trusted places that serve my favorites and the new age modern farm to table type restaurants. I like different, ordering things I’ve never tried before, or what the wait staff thinks is awesome (they usually are pretty good judges). But eating out can get you in trouble with your weight management goals.

A lot of calories are hidden in the large dishes restaurants prepare. If you don’t remember anything else from this post remember that fat, sugar, and salt adds a lot of flavor so restaurants put a lot in their food. Why is that important? Making a similar dish at home can cut calories, fat, sugar, and salt, and quite possibly portion sizes, obviously helping with your weight management goals.

What does this mean? It means eating more homemade meals. It means cooking at home and preparing meals. For some of you this is scary. You’re busy, you have a full time job, you are a mom, father, you’re single and it’s hard to cook for one, you have a hectic schedule…I know, I get it. Not so long ago I was a wife, mom, and worked full time at a job I absolutely adored. Now I’m a full time stay at home wife/mom to an amazing husband and 3 beautiful children. Life is busy…and I have no doubt life will continue to be busy…for many years.

Even though life can be hectic I get so much joy out of making a delicious and healthy meal for my family. Since we have 3 little ones we don’t eat out much. We do get take out every week as a treat (mom doesn’t cook on Friday) but we save a lot of money and calories by eating homemade the other days.

Healthy cooking doesn’t have to be difficult, expensive, or time consuming. Cooking well does take some meal planning, grocery shopping, recipes (or ideas), and some kitchen equipment but it’s not as hard as you think!

So what are the real benefits of eating homemade food rather than eating out all the time?

  1. Saves you money. Sure the health benefits are there but if we are talking real life, it’s so much cheaper to make your own food than going out to eat.
  2. Less fat. Restaurants add butter, margarine, trans-fats, saturated fat, fat fat fat. Fat adds flavor…a lot of delicious flavor. At home you should definitely add fat to your food but use oils like canola, olive, grape seed, etc.
  3. Less salt. We eat too much salt. A lot of salt. Restaurants add salt because it tastes good. Even in while cooking pasta restaurants salt their water heavily.
  4. Less calories. From large portions to more fat and more sugar, eating out can pack on the calories! Cooking at home you can control the calories by cooking well and watching your portion sizes.
  5. It’s a good way to bring families together. From meal planning, to grocery shopping, and finally meal preparation cooking at home can include every member of the family. Kids can be an important part of eating well and kids tend to eat healthier if they are involved in meal preparation. Check out Eat Together PA for great tips!

Think about how much you eat out. Keep in mind breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks that you buy “out”. You don’t have to totally cut it out just cut back. Make it a goal this week to eat in (or pack from home) more than you eat out.

Week 5 Tips: Healthy Cooking

I thoroughly enjoy cooking. From looking for a recipe or making one up, to the grocery shopping, to the prep work, and then serving it the whole process is like my therapy. Eating well and living well starts in the kitchen. Here are my tips for cooking healthier at home.

  1. Saute in oil instead of butter. Look, don’t get me wrong butter tastes great but it’s also loaded with saturated fat and cholesterol. Oils like canola, olive, and one of my personal favorites grape seed are low in saturated fat and have no cholesterol. Fun fact: teaspoon for teaspoon oil and butter have the same calories and fat grams.
  2. Use tons of veggies. Just when you think you can’t add any more, try it 😉 But seriously half of your meal should be veggies so go for it! Instead of loading them up with butter, flavor instead with veggie/chicken broth, onions/garlic, lemon/limes, herbs, spices, hot sauce, and my personal favorite vinegar/vinaigrettes.
  3. Lean on whole grains instead of prepackaged processed grains. Sure Hamburger Helper is quick and easy but it’s also loaded with salt, fat, has no fiber, and little nutrition. To ease into the whole grain world you can definitely try the boxed grains with added flavor. They are higher in sodium than just plain grains but it’s a great start. Ideas include whole wheat pasta, barley, quinoa, farro, brown rice, black, rice, and wild rice.
  4. Choose lean meats. Beef, pork, and lamb are considered red meat. Loin (sirloin, pork loin), lean ground beef, pork chops, eye of round, top and bottom round roast are the leanest. Chicken and turkey breast (white meat) is leaner than the dark meat. Dark meat is leaner than red meat. Although salmon is considered an oily fish and is higher in fat, the fat is WONDERFUL for your health. White fish like haddock and cod are super lean.
  5. Don’t be afraid to play with flavor! Adding herbs and spices to your cooking makes the flavor of your dishes pop without adding too much salt. Admittedly I use some salt in my cooking but not a lot because of herbs and spices. I obviously have my favorites but will branch out depending on the type of food and recipe. Experiment with them and don’t be afraid of flavor!
  6. Gather kitchen equipment. Truth be told I don’t have many expensive items in my kitchen. I like to cook but I’m also pretty simple and use my favorites. These are the cooking tools I use every week: some pots and pans (I prefer stainless steel but you don’t need a huge set, just the necessities), sharp knives (I’m very picky about my knives and I don’t buy sets I just buy the ones I need), cutting boards (wood), silicon lid (to steam veggies in glass), slow cooker (I have a programmable one which helps people who work longer hours), pressure cooker (nothing fancy just works well).
  7. Keep the necessities. Herbs, spices, oils, vinegars, garlic, onions, frozen veggies (and fruits), grains, and beans can be on hand because they stay for a long time and you can use them in healthy cooking every week.

Eating out isn’t terrible. I actually think it is good to go out and try new things but make sure you’re eating in more often than out. Cooking healthy doesn’t mean you’ll be eating “cardboard” or spending a ton of money. I’ll be doing later blogs on saving money while eating well so stay tuned. Cooking well can be delicious, quick, and fun. Experiment. Being a good cook doesn’t happen over night. Ask any chef 🙂 Work at it, eat out less, and I assure you this will help with your long term goals.

Healthy Kitchen Must-Haves

Eating well requires meal preparation. That means I need to have quality foods in my pantry and the ability to prepare them. There is a list of food and kitchen items that are essential in my kitchen and I wanted to share. If you are new to the cooking world or maybe are wondering what a healthy kitchen could have to offer, here are some of my favorites.

Food Must-Haves (besides the typical foods on a grocery list…)

  1. Fats and oils. This is number one because they get a bad rap but these are essential for healthy living. From canola and olive oil to organic butter and vegan butter spreads these are a staple in my kitchen. The best oils include canola and olive but also include grape seed, avocado, and walnut oils. I like canola oil for its mild taste, high omega-3 content, high cooking point, and price tag. Grape seed oil is a close second but the price tag makes me shiver a little. It’s great for a special occasion or recipe. Olive oil is a power house in the heart health world packed with mono-unsaturated fatty acids. Great for finishing dishes like salads and pastas, not so great for cooking at high heat. Organic butter (or pasture raised/free range if I can find it) is an essential in my house. It works great at higher heats, wonderful for adding a pop of flavor to dishes, and doesn’t have the additives that some butter-like spreads have. Vegan butter spreads are also a staple in my house but mostly for buttering breads and throwing a little in steamed veggies.
  2. Herbs and spices. I cook with herbs and spices daily whether it goes into eggs for breakfast, salad dressing for my lunch, or any number of them flavoring dinners these are a staple. The top herbs I use are parsley, cilantro, chives, oregano, and basil. My spices of choice are black pepper, turmeric, paprika, cayenne pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ground ginger.
  3. Variety of vinegars. I. Love. Vinegar. Balsamic, white balsamic, red wine, white wine, apple cider, rice, champagne, the list can go on! I haven’t met a vinegar I didn’t like! I use vinegar daily. Mostly in salad dressings, marinades, and pops of flavor in sauces. There are specific vinegars I use depending on my mood and the dish. Apple cider is my most used. This is so versatile and so good for your body! Balsamic is more for sweet/savory dishes. Red wine is used a lot in Greek and Italian cuisine. Rice is a sweet vinegar that I like to add to salads and various Asian dishes. For a fancy vinaigrette dressing I’ll pull out the white balsamic, white wine, or champagne vinegar and add some fresh herbs!

Kitchen Must-Haves

  1. Sharp Knives. A good set (3) of sharp knives can be the difference between quick preparation and keeping all of your fingers and tedious cooking and stitches. For real you just need 3…a chefs knife, paring knife, serrated knife. They must be sharp, if not buy yourself a sharpener. Hand wash to keep sharp. You’ll thank me, I promise!
  2. Stainless steel pots and pans. Get rid of your non-stick stuff. As soon as it scratches the non-stick companies do not promise that it is safe anymore…take a look. Is it scratched? Then it’s probably not safe. Replace one pot at a time unless you have a budget for a new set of pots and pans. I have a variety of different brands of stainless steel pots/pans and I like them all for different reasons! It may not look fancy but I’m a simple kind of girl 🙂 Use healthy oils to cook with and if the pot gets burnt on the bottom (which it shouldn’t if you are paying attention while you cook) just use a bristled brush or a scour pad to clean.
  3. Wooden cutting board(s). Instead of the plastic stuff or the glass cutting boards that can make your sharp knives dull invest in some good wooden cutting boards. These do not dull knives and they stay a lot longer than plastic. Sure you can’t wash them in a dishwasher but a little soap and brush will get them clean quick. Side note: I do not cut meat. If you do just have 2 cutting boards an animal protein one and a plant one.

Those are the six items that I truly cannot live without in my kitchen. I build my healthy meals around these items every day!

Final thoughts: make sure you have some staples in your pantry and basic kitchen tools so that you have the ability to cook a variety of healthy meals for you and your family. Shop for discounts, head to a thrift store or yard sales for kitchen tools…I have found some great deals! I have a can opener that I got before graduate school at a yard sale and she’s still opening cans of beans for me 10 years later!

Challenge: think about the staples that you have in your pantry. Are they beneficial for your health?

Healthy Kitchen Shortcuts

I have 3 kids, 4 and under. Don’t be alarmed, two of those are twins. My goal as a wife-mom-dietitian is to provide the best food I can for my family. That means making healthy, homemade meals in between diapers, spit up, and toddler problems.

Cooking dinner tonight I came up with this blog post. You can read about me in my bio section but I like to get as fresh and as local as possible. But let’s get real, sometimes we are looking for healthy AND quick. Taking shortcuts has been my go-to since having children.

Here are the 5 quick and healthy items I keep in my kitchen always:

  1. Minced garlic. Yep, I buy the garlic in the glass container and I LOVE IT! Almost everything I cook has garlic in it. Any time I need a clover or two I get in my refrigerator, grab a spoon and boom, it’s done! Fresh garlic is delicious but when I need a time saver (which is daily at this point) I go with it!
  2. Diced frozen onions. Similar to the garlic, I could grow my own onions, dice, and freeze them and someday I will. But right now I need diced onions without having onion juice all over my hands when the babies are screaming. Frozen diced onions it is! This only works if you’re cooking, if you are making a dish that isn’t cooked (summer salsa, salads, etc) then use fresh onions.
  3. Frozen veggies of all types. When I’m making vegetable soup in the winter I buy frozen. If I have any fresh then of course they go in the pot but frozen is so much better than fresh in the winter. All year long I keep frozen broccoli and cauliflower bulk bags in my freezer. Corn isn’t a veggie but that’s also a staple frozen food that we keep on hand.
  4. Lemon and lime juice concentrate. There’s nothing better than fresh lemons or limes but in a pinch, concentrate can be a recipe saver. You can use the concentrate in any recipe that calls for lemon or lime juice so it works well in fish and chicken dishes, salsa, sauces, and tea.
  5. Quick grains like quinoa, farro, and brown minute rice. Quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) and farro (pronounced fare-oh) are whole grains packed with fiber, protein, and nutrients. All three of these power packed grains cook completely in about 15 minutes unlike regular brown rice or other grains that may take about an hour to cook. To flavor these up toast them in a dry pan first and then cook with vegetable or chicken broth or stock.

I’ve learned, after having twins, that sometimes shortcuts are A-OK and you have to be A-OK with the shortcuts. Cooking healthy doesn’t have to mean preparing a gourmet meal, using tons of ingredients or ingredients that you have to find at a specialty food store, or spending hours in the kitchen.

Final thoughts: We unfortunately do not live on a cooking show set where there are tons of fresh fruits, vegetables, herbs/spices, and any ingredient we so desire. Sometimes we need shortcuts to make our lives easier especially when cooking for our family day in and day out. Use some shortcuts to make your life simpler!

Challenge – if you are overwhelmed with cooking and menu planning for your family, figure out which shortcuts would work best for you and run with it! Share your shortcuts with us!