Raising Our Kids to Eat Healthy

I think a lot of moms would agree that they want their kids to eat healthy. I have a pretty big circle of mom friends and I see a lot of different struggles- some are picky eaters, others won’t eat at all, some may want to eat all the time, others hate vegetables but will eat fruit all day long, some have only 2 foods in their diet they will eat- there is a long list of feeding issues that are commonly seen in kids. Fortunately, when they are young they can be molded to appreciate healthy foods. It gets much harder when they get to be adults (trust me, I spent the first 4 years of my career trying to get adults to change their eating habits). The fascinating thing is, a child’s food preferences are actually already starting to form when they are in utero. The foods that a pregnant mother eats make up the flavor of the amniotic fluid that the baby gets. Hmmm….no wonder Carli loves cupcakes so much. In all honesty (and sympathy) for my pregnant mamas out there, I know how hard it can be to eat a super healthy diet while pregnant. My first trimester I couldn’t even look at vegetables and only wanted cheese pizza (deep dish) and mashed potatoes. Luckily by my second trimester I wasn’t so sick and enjoyed healthy foods again.

Acceptance for certain foods is also developed through the flavors an infant is exposed to through breastmilk. Babies who are breastfed are more likely to accept a variety of different foods into their diet at a young age because they are exposed to so many different flavors through their mother’s breastmilk. There is research to support this, but every child is different. I know of a couple babies who were breastfed until they were 2 and are very picky eaters (even as adults!). On the other hand, Carli is a poster child for this. I was able to breastfeed until she was 14 months old and she will eat anything you put in front of her. I’m not a picky eater either, and consumed a healthy diet with a variety of foods while I breastfed her. Does she like healthy foods and accept any food placed in front of her because I maintained a healthy diet while breastfeeding? I can’t say for sure, I guess we’ll find out with the next! I’m guessing that with the growing amount of evidence around this, it probably did play a role. image This doesn’t mean that it’s completely hopeless for your formula fed baby to accept a variety of healthy foods. It also doesn’t mean that if a mother who exclusively breastfeeds her baby and eats only potato chips and Chickfila during that time is going to have a kid that only prefers those foods. When kids start eating solid foods it’s our job as parents to guide them. This happens in a couple of ways. First, we need to be an example of what eating a healthy diet looks like. Kids who see their parents eat fast food for every meal aren’t going to miraculously prefer quinoa and Brussels sprouts over French fries. Kids learn by watching what their parents eat. It’s important to include kids at mealtime (eating together as a family) and provide a balanced meal to help our kids see what foods are included in a healthy diet. I encourage parents to have lots of color in the meal- brightly colored fruits and vegetables make the meal “pop” and can make it more fun for kids to eat. And bonus- the more color your kids are getting through fruits and vegetables, the more nutrition they are getting. Get them involved in the meal too. Help them pick the fruit (in my house fruit is dessert- it’s sweet!)- “Strawberries or pineapple tonight?” When kids get a choice in what they get to eat they are more likely to accept that food and eat it. After cutting up vegetables for a salad ask your child to place the chopped veggies in the salad and mix it. Ask their opinion on what color vegetable they would like to eat for supper that evening. If it won’t take years off your life, take your child(ren) grocery shopping and ask them to help you pick out healthy snacks and ingredients for meals that week. The more kids are involved in making these healthy choices, the more likely they are to accept them. image I understand that your child may be so picky that none of these tactics work. Be patient- it can take a child up to 10-15 exposures of a food for acceptance to occur. Each time you introduce a new food just ask them to take one bite. After that one bite is up, don’t fight it. Food battles can make the picky eating even worse. I advise to try putting unaccepted vegetables into some of their favorite dishes. Putting broccoli (chopped up very small is usually better accepted) into macaroni and cheese, adding finely shredded zucchini to spaghetti and putting red peppers on pizza are some ideas. Some kids may prefer raw veggies with a yogurt-based dip or hummus over steamed or roasted vegetables. Some kids may prefer the opposite- when roasting veggies in the oven with a little bit of Olive oil and spices they lose their sulfur taste and tend to become a bit sweeter. For kids that will absolutely not touch veggies no matter what you do- keep trying with the one bite rule. It took me probably 684 bites to finally accept broccoli- now it’s my favorite food! In addition to that I would use the good old hiding trick -aka squeezies- or pouches- or whatever you want to call them. Most kids who hate vegetables love these because they are essentially pureed vegetables with fruit. The sweetness of the fruit overpowers the bitterness of the vegetables. I’m not saying to go out and buy the pouches, you can just as easily make this at home in the form of a smoothie. Blend yogurt or milk (or both) with frozen fruit and vegetables. Vegetables that work best for this are spinach, shredded carrots, shredded zucchini, cucumber, sweet potato and broccoli. I recommend to add more fruit than veggies, otherwise it will probably be rejected. Keep in mind that toddlers need about 1 cup of vegetables per day and school-aged kids need about 1.5-2.5 cups per day. Lastly, don’t get stressed out if your child loves and prefers calorie-laden foods. This is normal and we are born with a natural desire for these foods. Preparing your child to make healthy choices most of the time as an adult should be a goal, and demonstrating balance with foods high in sugar and empty calories will help your child learn how to have a healthy relationship with food. image

My thoughts on dieting

Spring is here and everyone is wanting to fit into their bikinis by summer. After the holidays and a winter of hibernation, it’s easy to put on a few pounds. Then the snow melts, the flowers start to bloom and the panic sets in. “I need to lose 15 pounds by summer!” The quickest solution is often looked for- the latest diet fads are sought out and the fasting begins. Juicing, low carb, high protein, the latest Dr. Oz recommendation…but do they actually work? Of course they work! Anything that results in a dramatic decrease in caloric intake will result in weight loss. Will the weight stay off? Probably not. Can you maintain this diet for the rest of your life? I’m guessing no. The diet ends and you are hungry. REALLY hungry. So you eat all your favorite foods that you gave up for the past couple months. And the weight comes back, typically bringing more weight on along with it. After that the guilt and frustration set in the emotional eating starts which results in the number on the scale creeping up more and more. Finally you decide you’ve had enough and try another diet. The cycle continues.

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Extreme dieting almost never works long term. I’ve seen success in those who track calories and exercise, but that can lead to obsession with counting calories which can sometimes result in losing the ability to eat intuitively. Understanding the difference between high calorie food- especially those high in empty calories (soda, sweets, etc) and nutrient dense foods (“real food” high in nutrients such as fiber, vitamins and minerals) is important to making healthy choices. As a registered dietitian, I teach people what this means and how to differentiate between the two. Once this concept is understood it’s important to find balance in your diet and high quality nutrient dense foods should make up 80% or more of what you eat. However, to be successful in stopping the diet cycle you need to dissociate yourself from any guilt you may feel when eating foods that aren’t in this category.

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I recommend to focus first on shifting the focus away from losing weight to taking care of yourself. The scale doesn’t define your self worth and much of the time this is what lead to the guilt associated with eating. I suggest to focus on the following to get your body and mind in a healthy state. Practicing these will result in life-long health and satisfaction, while dieting will only lead to short-term results.

  1. Get hydrated. Not with soda (even diet soda), juice or coffee but with water. Our bodies often mistake hunger for thirst.
  2. Eat breakfast, lunch and dinner with balanced portions of high quality carbohydrate, protein and fat at each meal.
  3. Listen to your body and don’t eat if you’re not hungry. However, make sure you don’t skip meals (even if you’re not particularly hungry at one meal- just eat light at that meal). Skipping meals will set you up for overeating later, and most likely the foods you are going to seek are nutrient-lacking foods
  4. Make time for exercise. This should be a priority. Exercise not only keeps our bodies functioning well but can also help to diminish food cravings. Movement releases brain reward chemicals (endorphins) that improve mood and help you sleep better.
  5. Go to bed! Being overtired leads to overeating and we are most likely to reach for sugary junk food to increase energy levels quickly
  6. Don’t aim for perfection. More than likely you will never eat perfectly. If you have an off-day or week (holidays, vacations are common culprits) learn from it and move on. The strive to eat perfectly will either lead to an eating disorder or frustration that fuels mindless eating.

On a side note, I was very happy with the results of the marathon I ran a few weeks ago. My finish time was 3:16:50 which was over a 3 minute PR for me! I finished 4th overall female and 1st in my age division. Next up is the Indianapolis mini marathon in May (this will by my 5th time running) and the Columbus Mill Race marathon in September. I have a lot of family in Columbus so I am really looking forward to that one!