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Healthy Twists on Your Kids Favorite Foods

Let’s face it; kids have their favorite foods and those foods may not be the healthiest choices. Wouldn’t it be nice if we, as parents, could make healthier mango icecreamversions of foods that kids actually enjoyed? Well, you can! These recipes have been kid-tested and approved in my office (and home).

Below are a few ideas on healthy twists on your kid’s favorite foods:

Rice Cake Pizzas:

  • Brown rice cakes
  • Fat-free pizza sauce
  • Mozzarella cheese
  • Baby spinach, sliced tomatoes and/or diced green peppers

Take out one rice cake and place 1-2 tablespoons of pizza sauce on top. Sprinkle about ¼ cup of cheese and as many veggies as you can get on top. Heat in the microwave for about 20 seconds or until cheese is melted. One “pizza” is approximately 100 calories, which makes a great snack or part of a meal. These pizzas are also gluten-free.

Simple Homemade Mango “Ice Cream”:

  • 2 cups nonfat vanilla Greek Yogurt
  • 1 package (16 oz) of frozen mangoes

Let mangoes sit at room temperature for about 10 minutes to thaw slightly. Place all ingredients into a blender or food processor. Blend until smooth so that the consistency is similar to ice cream, or for about 5 minutes. Serving size is ½ cup, which is 100 calories. This is a great option for a healthy dessert. Mangoes are high in vitamin A and the yogurt is a great source of protein and calcium.

Kale Chips:

  • 4 large kale leaves, washed and stems removed
  • 1 tablspoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt

Preheat oven to 350. After washing kale and removing stems, tear kale into bite-size pieces (approximately 2 inches x 2 inches each). Put kale pieces into a large bowl with olive oil and salt. Toss to coat. Spread out on a rectangular cookie sheet and bake for about 10 minutes or until kale is crispy like chips. Recipe makes 3-4 servings;however, this snack is so healthy that there is really no limit to the serving! Kale is a superfood and is high in many vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients.

These recipes are all winners- for parents as well as kids. They are low in calories but high in nutrients, which is the best combination. What are some of your kid-approved healthy twists on recipes?  I would love to hear about your recipes in the comments section below!

3 Reasons Your Child Needs A Meal Schedule

Today, there is the great debate among parents to whether or not put their kids on a schedule. Should I give my child a daily routine or Family eatinggo with the flow of what they want, when they want it? In terms of feeding, schedules are very important for kids that are over 6-12 months old. Prior to 6 months old, feeding really should not be done on a schedule, but rather on demand. Breast or bottle feeding on demand helps infants learn to respond to hunger and satiety cues. In addition, it allows them to eat what they need to grow to their potential. At this age, eating is very instinctual and babies know best how much to eat and when to eat, with the exception of some cases of medical or developmental issues.

During the transition to solids, between 6-12 months of age, I advise parents to introduce a routine of “meals” from the beginning. Feed the infant at the same time as the rest of the family’s mealtime(s) every day. Then, as the child gets older, continue sticking to regularly scheduled family mealtimes and snacks that occur around the same time each day.

Below are three reasons why a meal schedule is crucial for children:

  1. Teaches good mealtime habits. Ask any parent and they will say that they have experienced mealtime struggles at some
    point. One way to eliminate mealtime struggles is to have set expectations from the beginning of introducing solids. Teach your young child that when it’s time to eat, we come to the table, sit in a high chair or booster seat and have a variety of healthy foods to eat. It makes the connection for them from the very beginning that sitting at the table means that it is time to eat.
  2. Prevents “grazing”. Grazing happens when we eat randomly all throughout the day. This can lead to over-eating unhealthy foods for older kids and it may actually lead to under-eating for younger kids. When children eat little amounts here and there, they fill up just enough to decrease their appetite for well-rounded meals.
  3. Promotes healthy digestion. Eating on a schedule means that we are filling up the gut at meals and then giving it time to empty before filling up again. The rhythmic filling and emptying of the gastrointestinal tract is the ideal pattern to stimulate regular bowel movements. Furthermore, a regular pattern of meals helps keep blood sugar balanced throughout the entire day, which helps to improve energy, concentration and moods.

If your family struggles with implementing mealtime schedules or routines, contact one of our registered dietitians to schedule an appointment. A registered dietitian can help you implement ways in which you can get your family back on track and address any nutrition concerns.


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.

Food-Related Activities for Kids

The way in which a child learns about food, health, and what foods they enjoy is influenced by what they are exposed to in their daily vegie rainbowenvironment. Younger children learn so much through playing freely with toys and with other children. All children learn from what they witness their parents do and say. Children at a preschool age through adolescence are influenced by their peers as well as a variety of media (television, movies, magazines, and Internet).

The important thing to recognize is that healthy eating is not necessarily intuitive, especially in today’s society. Consider all the ways in which your child is influenced about food. They see commercials on TV, observe eating experiences in the home and see what foods their friends eat. As a parent, these are things you can control in the feeding dynamic:

• What foods you buy, prepare and offer to your kids
• What foods you eat with them
• When, where and how you set up mealtimes

Being a good role model for your children when it comes to nutrition and mealtimes is a critical way in which their learning is shaped. If you wish to take it one step further, there are food-related activities you can do with your kids that “speak their language”. These activities help them learn the importance of eating healthy, and that it is acceptable to try new foods. Here is a list of things to try with your kids:

Food Activities For Toddler/Preschool Children:

  • Read simple books about food and eating.
  • Let your children watch you make meals. Talk to them about what you are doing. Allow them to do simple things like stirring and pouring.
  • Color pictures of healthy foods.
  • Have play food and even a play kitchen. Play with them and make sure to pretend eating the healthy foods you want them to eat.
  • Have them name foods that are the different colors of the rainbow. Make a “rainbow” meal.

Food Activities For Elementary Children:

  • Talk about the food groups as well as the basics of why each is important.
  • Take your children to the grocery store or farmers’ market and have them pick out fruits and vegetables.
  • Have them read you the recipe steps when you are cooking meals.
  • Plant simple vegetables with them in a garden. Harvest them together and use them in a meal.
  • Have “theme meals” (fiesta, rainbow, dippers, shapes, etc).

Food Activities For Middle School Children:

  • Ask them to help you with cooking.
  • Have them to develop meal ideas that you can then prepare.
  • Ask them to explain how foods affect health, then have a discussion about why nutrition is important.
  • Take them to the grocery store or farmers’ market and have them pick out fruits and vegetables.
  • Ask them to write a menu for the family dinners for a week.

Food Activities For High School Children:

  • Have them prepare simple recipes.
  • Let them experiment in the kitchen.
  • Offer to let them invite friends over for dinner.
  • Have positive conversations about what is occurring in their lives during breakfast or dinner.
  • Have a cooking competition in the family in which each family member creates a dish and everyone votes on the best one. In addition, you can ask your teens to participate in “taste-testing” new recipes and they can rate them on scorecards.

If your child has nutrition-related health issues or has a poor diet, schedule an appointment to see a registered dietitian at North Shore Pediatric Therapy. 877-486-4140. Our registered dietitians can utilize these activities along with other therapies and educational tools to help improve your child’s health.

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A Week of Meals for Mom and Toddler

Do you feel as if you are in a rut of making the same meals for your family each week? Are your kids eating the same things over and over? I sometimes breakfast for kidsfeel this way. Someone once asked me, “Do you really follow all of the nutrition advice you give people?” And the answer is: yes! I would never tell someone to follow nutrition advice that I don’t agree with or have scientific evidence to support it. So, I thought it might be fun to share what a week’s worth of meals looks like for this dietitian mom and her toddler.

Breakfast is usually a similar rotation of a few things:

  • Scrambled eggs and whole grain toast
  • Oatmeal and fruit (my daughter’s favorite)
  • Multi-grain pancakes with blueberries
  • Barbara’s Multi-grain Shredded Wheat cereal or Gorilla Munch cereal and some fruit
  • Yogurt-fruit-spinach smoothie with toast or cereal

When it comes to lunches, I often serve leftover dinner for lunch. Otherwise, we will have something such as:

  • Sunflower seed butter and superfruit jelly sandwiches with fruits and vegetables, such as peas or carrots.
  • Black beans or garbanzo beans, sautéed with onions and spices on soft corn tortillas with cheddar cheese and fruit.
  • Rice cake and hummus with peas, cheese and fruit.

So that leaves dinner. This was our week:

  • Day 1: Grass-fed, organic ground beef hamburgers on whole wheat buns with homemade kale chips and roasted potatoes.
  • Day 2: Went to a relative’s house and packed dinner to take there. I ate falafel on whole wheat pita with cucumbers and tomatoes. My daughter had a 100% beef, nitrite-free hot dog on whole wheat bun with carrots and grapes.
  • Day 3: Homemade chicken stew in the Crock pot (organic chicken, potatoes, carrots, celery, onion, vegetable broth) with a side of dried cranberries.
  • Day 4: Spaghetti made with grass-fed ground beef, whole grain noodles and organic tomato vodka sauce with green beans and mangoes.
  • Day 5: Black beans sautéed with onions and spices on soft corn tortillas with cheddar cheese. We also added applesauce with cooked quinoa to the meal.
  • Day 6: Baked organic drumsticks with Harvest Grains (Trader Joe’s product) and green beans.
  • Day 7: “Picnic dinner”, which means we ate on a blanket on the floor. My daughter is thrilled by this aspect of dinner. I had a leftover drumstick, string cheese, steamed broccoli and tortilla chips and salsa. My daughter had a sunflower seed butter and superfruit jelly sandwich on whole grain bread with steamed broccoli.

In terms of what foods I buy and cooking methods required to prepare them, my goal is to keep things simple. I do cook almost every night. In fact, it’s actually rare when I don’t cook. I do not often make very elaborate recipes and I only cook using whole food ingredients. My daughter has been raised by being offered these kinds of foods for the past few years and this is what what she is used to eating.   I hope you enjoyed a look into our week!

*If you are interested in meal planning for your family, please contact North Shore Pediatric Therapy to schedule an appointment with one of our registered dietitians. Stephanie can even come to the grocery store or visit your home to teach you how to make a week of healthy meals for your family. She will also get your kids involved, which helps to encourage them to enjoy new foods.

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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. Follow my tips and share other tips that you may have in the comments below!

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School Lunchbox Meal Ideas

It’s here- the new school year! Bringing lunch from home is great if it is feasible for your family. It can be tricky coming up with school lunchbox ideas that include variety, foods your kids will eat, and foods that will stay good until lunchtime. I recommend getting a lunchbox that can Child with lunchboxaccommodate a refrigerated pack to keep certain foods cold.

Here are 5 ideas, one for each day of the week, that are dietitian approved:

Sandwich Lunchbox

You can’t go wrong with the tried and true staple.

  • Whole grain or 100% whole w­­­heat bread, nitrate- and nitrite-free lunchmeat, real cheese (steer clear of the heavily processed ones that come individually plastic-wrapped), lettuce, tomato, mustard.
  • 2 mini oranges
  • Whole wheat pretzels

Vegetarian Tortilla Wrap Lunchbox

Although it’s vegetarian, it’s not lacking in protein.

  • Use your kid’s favorite tortilla wrap (spinach, whole wheat, etc), and fill it with hummus or pureed black beans or lentils, sliced red and green peppers, and shredded cheddar or mozzarella cheese.
  • To make a bean puree:  Saute ½ of a white or yellow onion in olive oil in a small skillet. Add pre-cooked lentils, beans, or canned beans and season with salt, pepper, and cumin. Cool after cooking, and stir in chopped cilantro and a little of your favorite salsa. Puree or fork mash the mixture.
  • Tortilla chips
  • Grapes

Lettuce Wrap Lunchbox

Kids like assembling their own foods, and although this might seem outside of the norm in terms of “kid food”, they are delicious.

  • 3 pieces of whole romaine lettuce leaves (approx 6” long ), 3 strips of baked, grilled, or otherwise cooked chicken or steak, thinly sliced carrots, and a mini Tupperware container of Asian salad dressing (be aware that many Asian dressings contain peanuts. If your school is 100% peanut-free, try French or Catalina dressing instead).
  • Clif Z bar or Larabar
  • Dried cranberries
  • Milk

Bagel, Nut Butter, and Jelly Lunchbox

 Again, you can’t go wrong with this kid favorite.

  • Use a whole grain bagel or a whole wheat English muffin. If your school is peanut-free, instead of peanut butter, try sunflower seed butter, almond butter or cashew butter. Add your kid’s favorite jelly (I recommend organic preserves that have less sugar- check at the farmers market too), and even a little drizzle of honey.
  • Carrot sticks
  • Whole grain Goldfish crackers
  • Milk

Cracker and Cheese Assortment

With the right sides, this does make a good meal.

  • Whole grain woven wheat crackers (i.e. Triscuits)
  • Brown rice cake or rice crackers
  • Whole grain round crackers
  • Two types of cheeses, sliced into 2”x2” squares, such as cheddar, swiss, muenster, or whatever you have in the house.
  • Shelled edamame
  • Banana

Each of the above meals includes (at minimum) a source of protein, a whole grain, a fruit, a vegetable, and a dairy serving. Give your child’s lunch experience a special touch by including a little note from you or dad, or put a sticker on one of the baggies or containers. And remember, fueling your child’s body and brain with healthy foods before and during school promotes better learning and school performance.

*Tip to encourage your child to eat the above lunchbox meals:  Share these meal ideas with your child’s friends’ parents. Kids tend to eat better in social settings where they see other kids eating and trying different things.

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