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Parents’ Roles in Creating Healthy Eaters

At some point during your young child’s life, you may face challenges that involve getting them to eat well. Often, the first challenge family eating dinnerpresents itself during the toddler years, in which children can become quite picky and more defiant. As kids are exposed to so many unhealthy foods that are specifically marketed towards kids and teens, these foods can cause excess weight gain.

When parents come to me seeking nutritional counseling for their child, we spend a lot of time discussing their role in their child’s nutrition. The reason behind this is because children learn so much about food and eating from the family. Consider the paradigm of nature vs nurture. Yes, there are certain inborn physiological predispositions children may have toward food and eating. This is the “nature” side of the paradigm; however there is also the “nurture” side, in which you influence how your children eat. Your kids have 3-5 learning experiences with you that are related to food each day (meals + snacks), beginning from infancy. Children are only able to eat and learn what foods you choose to present to them and in what manner you present food.

Below are some tips about parents’ roles in developing healthy eaters:

  1. Be the eater you want your child to be. If you want your children to eat fruits and vegetables, then you need to eat fruits Read more

Ways to Help Your Kids Eat Fruits and Vegetables

Most babies start out loving fruits and vegetables as some of their first foods. But somewhere during the toddler years, their feelings girl eating fruitoften change. Or maybe fruits and vegetables fall off your kids’ radar later in childhood. What can you do?

Ways to Help Your Kids Eat Fruits and Vegetables:

  1. Prepare them in kid-friendly formats. Think of some of your kid’s favorite foods, and then think about how you can make fruits and veggies like those foods. For example, most kids love potato chips. Try making baked kale chips or zucchini chips. Another example is ice cream. Try making homemade mango or strawberry ice cream by blending nonfat greek yogurt with frozen mangoes or strawberries.
  2. Make them appealing. This sounds like a no-brainer, but consider the difference between a pile of pale green canned green beans or peas compared to fresh, bright green ones arranged into a smiley face or Read more

Food Journaling 101

Food journaling involves writing down everything you (or your child) eat and drink over a certain period of time. I often ask parentsfood journal and children to do this and they are often not thrilled about the “assignment”. The detailed record keeping of foods and beverages consumed may provide a lot of useful information and can be a great tool to direct the nutrition plan of care.

Below are five situations when food journaling may be helpful:

  • For weight management: Writing down everything you eat and drink during weight loss cases provides two benefits: First, you are accountable and aware of everything you are eating and drinking in a new way. You are seeing it listed on paper. Second, you don’t forget about the foods you consumed when asked about it during the visit a few days later.
  • For picky eaters: Again, recording everything a child eats throughout the day serves a few purposes. It helps me to identify the “gaps”- what nutrients are falling short and which nutrients are being met. It may also help you as a parent to reflect on how many things your child is actually consuming, especially if you review it over the course of a week. Finally, seeing the pattern and timing of what your child eats is very important. Adjusting or creating a structure around meals and snacks is very beneficial for picky eaters.
  • For suspected food allergies or sensitivities: If a child is having physical symptoms that I suspect are correlating with food, food journaling is one tool that can decipher whether the symptoms are food-related or not. In these cases, in addition to the foods and beverages consumed, it is also helpful to write down the times of a day. Through the course of the day, it can be difficult to remember every detail of what your child consumed. For example, you notice a rash on your child in the bath tub before bed and are trying to remember if it was the vanilla granola or oatmeal she had for breakfast? Or was it eggs today? Wait, was that yesterday? Did I send lunch to school or did she get hot lunch? Did she trade and eat something else at school? The goal of the food log is to provide clearer information.
  • For underweight kids: Similar to picky eaters, it is beneficial for a parent to keep a food log for the underweight child once in a while. The parent may be able to focus on whether the child is eating well and then troubleshoot with me on how to maximize calories and protein; however, I do not advise children that may be at risk for having an eating disorder to record everything they are eating, nor should parents of these kids keep a food log for them. The reason is because this can easily become a tool to control and restrict the diet further.
  • For general healthy eating goals: Any of us can benefit from doing food journaling every so often. If you find an area of your health that you would like to improve, start with a food journal. Examine what exactly you eat over the course of a few days. Establish where there are gaps, strengths and areas for improvement. Do you need more variety? Are you not actually eating as many fruits and vegetables as you thought? Do you eat more in the evening than in the morning? Is your calcium intake low?


If you would like a registered dietitian to do a food journaling exercise for your child, contact NSPT at 877-486-4140. One of our nutrition professionals can meet with you to create a food log template, guide you through the process and then analyze the nutrition for you.

Tummy Aches, Abdominal Pain, and Stools: What the signs and symptoms might be telling you about your diet

My professor in grad school spoke about how difficult nausea and abdominal pain is to manage. Think about the last time that your sick childstomach felt extremely upset. Have you ever experienced morning sickness during pregnancy? It is incredibly difficult to function on a daily basis when you are feeling that miserable. In addition, it is nearly impossible when you have to make frequent trips to the bathroom. What if this is how your child feels during the school day?

This is how many people feel almost every day, including children. They suffer from stomach aches, nausea, cramping and irregular bowel movements (diarrhea or constipation). Parents are unsure about what to do about this predicament when there doesn’t seem to be a medical reason for these symptoms.

If this is something that you or your child is experiencing, I would encourage you to speak with your doctor and schedule an appointment to see a registered dietitian. A dietitian can perform a thorough analysis of you or your child’s diet as well as eating patterns throughout the day. Following the analysis, recommendations can be made, symptoms can be tracked and adjustments to the diet can be made.

Here are some dietary factors that may be contributing to digestive issues:

  • Excessive intake of quantities of food
  • Inadequate (and sometimes excessive) fiber
  • Excessive sugary beverages
  • Excessive intake of processed foods
  • Excessive intake of sugar alcohols (found in diet foods and beverages)
  • Eating when stressed
  • Eating too fast
  • High fat diet
  • A diet that is imbalanced
  • Food sensitivities- a negative reaction in the body that manifests in response to certain foods.
  • Food intolerances- result from inadequate enzymes (or enzymes that are overwhelmed with volume) in the gut to digest certain components of foods.
  • Food allergies- an immune response in the body to certain proteins in foods.
  • Imbalanced gut bacteria.

Digestive pain is not normal and it should not be acceptable to suffer with digestive pain or other digestive issues. With the proper guidance, you and your family can be feeling much better while improving the quality of nutrition in your lives life. To schedule an appointment with a registered dietitian at NSPT, click here.

How to Make Your Own Baby Food

Are you interested in creating your own baby food? The good news is that it is actually quite possible and simple to make your own baby foodbaby food!

Supplies to make your own baby food:

  • A manual food mill. I personally used one made by KidCo. It is suitable for any soft or steamed fruits and vegetables, as well as cooked quinoa, oatmeal, millet and amaranth.
  • An electric food mill. I utilized an inexpensive, small electric food mill for more advanced textures of food that I needed to grind down slightly, such as soft-cooked meats and pasta.
  • Other options that you may choose to use include food processors and/or coffee grinders. A food processor is able to puree any food into the texture desired. As a result, this eliminates the need for a manual food mill or smaller electric food mill. A coffee grinder is useful for making your own “infant cereal”, using grains such as quinoa, brown rice, millet, amaranth and oatmeal. To do this, simply grind the whole grains in the coffee grinder and then cook them as you normally would.
  • Storage containers. You may use any refrigerator- or freezer-safe containers. There are containers that are designed specifically for storing baby food that closely resemble ice cube trays with a lid. I found these to be very helpful as I could produce 2-4 “cubes” of baby food to send to the babysitter each day.

Once you have acquired the equipment that you need, the next step will be to determine what food you want to make for your baby. Speak with your pediatrician or registered dietitian if you require guidance.

Below are the categories of infant-appropriate foods as well as general directions on how to prepare them yourself:

  • Vegetables: Try green beans, zucchini, squash, carrots, sweet potatoes, peas, cauliflower, broccoli, etc. The important thing to remember is to steam them or bake them until they are very soft and can be easily pureed in the manual food mill.
  • Infant cereal: Choose hypoallergenic grains such as brown rice, oatmeal, quinoa, millet or amaranth. Grind the uncooked grains in a coffee grinder or cook them and then let the grains cool prior to pureeing in a food processor. Cook the grains as you normally would.
  • Fruit: Try soft-cooked apples, pears, plums, peaches, blueberries, bananas, cherries, mangoes, papaya, etc. You can also purchase frozen fruit that can be thawed and pureed.
  • Beans: Once your baby is age-ready to consume beans (8-9 months), you may not need to puree them completely. You may give them cooked beans that are slightly smashed with a fork. Many babies enjoy eating black beans, lima beans, pinto beans and lentils. Observe them carefully as they eat as the skin of the beans may be difficult for them to manipulate in their mouth.
  • Meat: Cook meats for a significant amount of time (10+ hours) in a slow cooker with plenty of liquid to ensure that they are very soft. Puree the meats in the electric food mill or food processor. Meats can be offered to children that are around 8-9 months of age or when your child has the ability to consume foods with a little more texture.

One tip is to add a small amount of breast milk or formula to the cooked product so that your baby experiences a familiar taste when trying new types of foods for the first time. Making your own baby food is a great way to introduce your child to real foods that they will grow up to become familiar with eating. They will be able to consume texture-appropriate versions of the foods that the rest of the family is eating. As a result, making your own baby food can save you time as well as promote healthy eating habits.

If you are interested in creating homemade baby food, but require more guidance or do not have the time, I am now offering personalized home services. I am able to create weekly menu plans for your child. I can even finish personal grocery shopping for you to purchase whole, organic ingredients for your baby’s food. I am also able to come to your house on a weekly basis to make the baby food for you or to guide you with making the baby food yourself. Click the button below for more information:

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Should I Give My Child Dessert?

The word “dessert” can conjure up groans from many parents and cheers from kids. Parents may, at times, cheer about dessert too. On child with dessertthe other hand, dessert may cause more issues than benefits in several families. This is due to the fact that desserts tend to be high in sugar that are devoid of quality nutrients.

Here are some tips on how to handle desserts in your family:

  • Avoid making dessert a daily habit in the family. This also means that you should avoid buying dessert foods at the market as well as avoid keeping dessert foods in the house. Keep in mind that you are responsible as to what foods you provide to your family. If you do not have dessert available daily, then they will not likely eat it on a daily basis. Examine your own mealtime habits. Make sure that you are setting the example for how you want them to eat.
  • Avoid using dessert as a reward or not serving dessert as a punishment. It is common to use dessert in these ways in many families. “No dessert unless you eat your vegetables.” “If you take three bites of chicken, you can have dessert.” “If you behave, I will buy you ice cream after dinner.” It is important to avoid using unhealthy foods as bribes for children. It develops a bargaining tool for the child. They will then start seeking this reward more and may act out until they can get this reward again and again. It also sends a message to children that healthy foods you would like them to eat are not enjoyable or are part of a normal meal. Instead, they are a hurdle to get over so that they can have something unhealthy.
  • Help your child enjoy and appreciate all types of foods. As I discussed above, dessert is not the ultimate prize for finishing a meal. Encourage your child to eat a variety of foods by modeling good eating habits yourself. Offer 3-4 healthy foods at meals, including one or two foods that you know your kids enjoy.
  • Dessert foods DO have their place. Of course, these foods are enjoyable and can be a fun part of special occasions as well as family traditions. Allowing your kids to have dessert foods once in awhile is a normal part of life. This teaches them that these foods are perfectly fine to eat in moderation and they are intended to be consumed in that manner.

Remember, your child is capable of demonstrating good behavior as well as eating a meal without having to eat something sweet after doing so. When you do have dessert, try a healthy treat such as fruit puree popsicles, cinnamon almonds or homemade fruit and yogurt smoothies. For additional information on how to make mealtimes successful for your family, contact a registered dietitian at North Shore Pediatric Therapy.

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Eating Healthy on a Budget

There is a stigma that eating healthy foods results in spending a lot of money. This does not always have to be the case. Instead, we food and moneyhave to be wiser grocery shoppers, have open minds to cooking and trying new things and we must be willing to change our mindset toward spending money on food.

Rather than think of food as an expense that puts a dent in the family budget every month, think of food as an investment in you and your child’s future. The type and quality of food that you feed your family has a large impact on their overall health. Ultimately, poor health can result in costing a lot of money. The small choices you make every week at the grocery store as well as meal planning can result in having a large effect over time. Altering our perspective justifies the money that we spend on quality food, while also making food a priority in the family budget.

Here are some ideas for eating healthy on a budget:

  1. Buy local produce that is in season. Seasonal produce is less expensive because there is more produce available in the current growing season (more supply = lower prices).
  2. Shop around. Find what grocery stores in your area carry the best prices for the best quality foods. When it comes to food and your health, quality does matter.
  3. Reconsider buying in large bulk. Although it seems like you are getting a good deal when you save a little by purchasing a lot, consider the fact if your family really needs an excessive quantity of any given food around the house. Often, if it is there, it will be consumed. With this in mind, the family will likely eat more, which results in purchasing more than necessary.
  4. Incorporate new foods that are nutritious and inexpensive. Some of the most nutrient-rich and least expensive foods out there are legumes. These include beans, lentils and dried peas. Many adults and children are not huge fans of legumes. Search for appealing recipes that use legumes as the main ingredient. You will receive a lot of nutrition for your money! For example, a bag of dried green or yellow split peas costs less than $1.00 and can make a large pot of soup to feed a family of four.
  5. Consider decreasing the amount of meat you and your family eat. It is common for many Americans to over-consume calories and more specifically, protein. Meat can be a major expense. The recommended serving size for a piece of meat is 4 ounces. This amount is comparable to a deck of cards. Consider how much meat your family is consuming on a regular basis and determine if there is room to trim back. Replace excess meat portions with less expensive whole grains, legumes or seasonal produce.
  6. Eat out less; eat in more. Paying for food prepared and served by someone else is more costly compared to purchasing and preparing that food for yourself at home. In addition, when you prepare meals, you can choose healthy ingredients. Using the split pea example: A bag of dried yellow or green split peas that can feed a family of four costs less than $1.00, and a cup of plain coffee from a coffee shop costs almost $2.00.

For those who are financially able, I hope that healthy food is a priority in the family budget. It will pay off in the long run in terms of health outcomes and the quality of life. For more information on healthy meal planning on a budget, contact one of our registered dietitians to schedule an appointment.

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6 Ways to Support your Child through a Dining-Out Experience

I worked in the restaurant industry for many years as a hostess as well as a waitress. I recently observed a family out at dinner on a Saturday night. After seeing some of the behaviors of their son and hearing some feedback from their waiter, it became obvious to me that this family had a child with special needs.  Shortly after ordering food, the family had to request that their food be boxed up to take home instead of eating at the restaurant. I found this to be very unfortunate, as there were many actions the restaurant could have taken to accommodate this family’s needs.

Mother and daughter restaurant

Eating out at a restaurant is like participating in a dance. Everyone needs to know the right steps to make the dance smooth and make sure no one’s toes are stepped on. What diners don’t understand is that they are very much a part of this dance. Typically, waiters are able to read their tables and determine their needs. As a server, I am able to determine the timing and tempo desired by diners and make sure their food is delivered appropriately. Knowing what accommodations you can ask for is important.

The following tips will better prepare you to make the requests you need. A restaurant staff should be able to accommodate these needs no matter what time of day:

Know the menu

Before going out to a restaurant, look at possible food items you would like to order. You do not need to pre-order your food as cravings change when you get to the restaurant, but becoming familiar with the available foods will help make an order quicker. This can also assist in talking to your children about the restaurant. They could choose what they want to eat and become excited about going! It will also make an unfamiliar environment feel more familiar.

Request a quiet table

Request a table in a quiet area that has some space for movement. Try to avoid tables in the middle of dining areas or ones that are far from the exit or bathroom.

Call ahead and ask about existing reservations

Parties of 15 or more tend to be very loud and take up a lot of the dining space. Avoid going to restaurants during the time of the party. Once my restaurant had a reservation for 70 people! It took up the entire dining space. Also, the time it takes for the kitchen to prepare the food was extended for other diners in the restaurant at that time.  From the time the waiters placed the food order, it took the kitchen one full hour to make it!

Order everything all at once

Order your drinks and food all at the same time. Waiters control the pace of your meal and how soon your food arrives.  Let your waiter know what your dining experience looks like.  Do you want your food all at once?  Do you want your child’s food first?  If you need your meal fast, just inform them and they can make it happen. Restaurants are able to deliver food within 10-12 minutes of ordering, maybe sooner.

Tell your waiter about your child’s needs

Be an advocate for your child. Create a “menu” of your child’s needs before going to the restaurant. For example, you can say, “my name is _____. I like to have my food delivered quickly. When this does not happen, I can become upset. When I am upset, it may look like this­­­_______.”  By doing this, your waiter will understand your child’s needs and can work to have them met. This also helps further prepare your child for going out to eat.

Be prepared

Bring tabletop activities for your child to enjoy while waiting for the food to be delivered. Perhaps ask for a table with extra space so that there is plenty of room on the table for cups, plates, and activities.  Also, talk with your child ahead of time about the restaurant experience. Create a visual schedule to follow and label the dining expectations.  First, we sit down, then the server takes our order,  then we receive our drinks, then we color/read/watch a show for a certain amount of time ( you can ask your server how long the food will take),  then we receive our food,  and finally we eat.

Knowing what accommodations you can ask for is important.  By knowing these tips, you will be better prepared to make the requests you need to make your “dance” smooth.

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Thanksgiving Family Food

Thanksgiving Nutrition Crash Course

November is here and Thanksgiving is just a few weeks away. For most of us, the beginning of the holiday season startsThanksgiving Family Food the decline of our eating habits that continue through December and well into the New Year. This year, let’s start the holiday season off on the right foot with a Thanksgiving that doesn’t go completely overboard.

  • Remember the Healthy Plate Model, even at the Thanksgiving table. The Healthy Plate Model is a simple way to visualize how to put together an ideal meal, even without knowing details about each and every food available.
    • Half of the plate is reserved for fruits and vegetables. On Thanksgiving, this can include sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, cranberries and any other traditional dishes where the fruit or vegetable is the main star. Don’t stress too much about what extra calories or fat may have been cooked into the dishes. After all, this is a holiday.
    • The other half of the plate should be divided into two portions. Half of that side is for protein:  turkey!
    • The other half is for whole grains. Here, you may place stuffing, rice or a roll. Hopefully, the cook has selected whole grain options to serve. If not, place mashed potatoes here and choose an additional vegetable for the other side.
  • Portion control is key on Thanksgiving. As a coworker of mine once said, “Thanksgiving is one meal, not one week.” Treat this meal as you would any other. Make one plate and eat until you are nearly full, rather than stuffed sick to your stomach. There will surely be leftovers for the next meal. If you make one plate by following the Healthy Plate Model, you should be in good shape.
  • Don’t pour your calorie intake down the drain, or throat, that is. Liquid calories can pack a really big punch and are often found to be a primary cause of weight gain for both kids and adults. Due to the large quantities of sugar it requires to make a beverage sweet, this usually implies many more calories being consumed. High-calorie sugary drinks are easy to gulp down without realizing how much sugar you are consuming. Be mindful on Thanksgiving of what beverage options there are. Stick with water or tea rather than punch or alcohol.
  • Watch out for the desserts. Desserts have their place and a holiday is one of them. Consider sharing your favorite dessert with someone else and only choose one. If you are really watching your calorie intake, visualize your dessert as taking the place of the “whole grain” section on the Healthy Plate Model. As both desserts and whole grains are actually carbohydrates, following the Healthy Plate Model can save the overall calorie and sugar intake.
  • Take a stroll before and after the big meals. Going for a walk with family can be quite relaxing, peaceful and definitely healthy. When we participate in physical activities such as walking, our cells open up and help eliminate sugar from the blood stream for energy. This puts that meal to good use!

As someone who loves food, I believe it is important to enjoy eating with friends and family on holidays such as Thanksgiving. At the same time, no holiday is fun when we end up becoming sick and physically exhausted from eating too much.

Don’t Let Halloween Spook the Nutrition out of Your Kids!

Halloween and nutrition don’t exactly go together as do witches and brooms. I know, as a parent, I’m wondering how to balance the fun of the holiday halloween candyalong with the health of my young daughter. All foods have some place in our diets. Candy is one that should appear less often than most. Here is my advice regarding how to handle all the candy your kids bring home from Trick or Treating.

Keeping a nutritious mind on Halloween:

  1. Before Trick or Treating, as in the night before so you have their full attention, explain what the ground rules are going to be for the candy. Make sure they know what to expect ahead of time.
  2. Some example ground rules could be:
    1. The kids can pick 5-10 of their favorite candies from trick or treating to eat Halloween night. Save the rest and choose 1-2 candies to have each day from there forward.
    2. Let them keep half the candy, and allow them to eat a few pieces every day until it’s gone. Create a project where they give the other half away in little treat bags to people who might appreciate the thought (i.e., the mailman, the school secretary, grandma and grandpa, etc.)
    3. Pick a handful of candy to eat at designated times. Give the rest of the candy to both parents to take to work.
  3. Remember the ground rules. They may start whining about what their friends get to do and how unfair you are as their parents. You are in charge; you make the rules; therefore, you must enforce the rules.
  4. In addition, remember that a moderate amount of candy in one day is not the end of the world. Eating a little candy every day for a number of days is not all that bad either; however, having no rules relating to eating the candy can result in unnecessary sugar consumption in short periods of time. This will likely result in a huge crash in behaviorIt can start as hyperactivity and quickly escalate to emotional outbursts, anger or aggression and feeling ill. Also, they will probably not have an appetite for other food, making mealtimes a definite struggle.
  5. Be conscious to not use candy as a reward. It sends a message that there is some great value in candy when you use it as the ultimate reinforcer for what you want them to do. This will turn into a continuous battle once you decide that you don’t want to reward them with candy.

I will leave you with a few nutritious, kid-friendly Halloween recipes to balance all the candy:

Edible Eyeballs- carrots, cream cheese, pitted black olives
Slice carrots into 1 inch thick rounds, and top each with a blob of cream cheese and one half of a pitted black olive.
From Familyfun.com 2009

Eerie Eyeballs- apples, apricots, dried cherries or raisins
Slice apples horizontally so that you have ¼ inch flat disks; cut out the core centers. Slice apricots carefully in half (lengthwise) and place sticky side down onto the apple rounds. Do the same with raisins or dried cherries and place stick side down onto the apricots.
From Familyfun.com 2009

Witches Fingers- carrots, block of white cheddar cheese or string cheese, sliced almonds, peanut butter, cream cheese.
Use baby carrots or peeled thin carrots and put a small dab of peanut butter on the top of one end. Place one sliced almond on the peanut butter so that it is held in place. This is the witches fingernail and the carrot is the finger. Do the same with the cheddar or string cheese by slicing it into finger-like shapes and putting the almond on using a dab of cream cheese. Arrange on a plate and be sure to slice in “knuckles”.

Pumpkin Pancakes
Just add a few dollops of canned pumpkin and a little sprinkle of nutmeg and cinnamon to your favorite pancake batter. Try pouring the batter into greased pumpkin-shaped metal cookie cutters on the griddle to make festive shapes.

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