Tag Archives: Raising Kids

Teach Your Children Well

One of my goals as a parent is to raise kids who enjoy food and for whom eating in a healthy way is second nature.  And though I’m a nutrition expert, even I am sometimes overwhelmed by this daunting responsibility. The problem I face is simple, really: my children are not mindless automatons.  Despite my fancy nutrition degree and years of experience, I can’t just snap my fingers and make them like the foods I like, eat the things I want them to eat, and make good choices when they aren’t with me.

Instead I have to teach them. (Sigh.)

So I teach by example –  I eat lots of vegetables, I eschew junky crap and go for homemade goodness, I shop at the farmers market and fill our house with fresh whole foods. I also talk with my kids about food and my food values: “I have had enough – I’m going to stop now”, “I like this one because it doesn’t have food coloring”, “I love when summer comes and we get to enjoy fresh tomatoes again”, etc.

And I can hardly believe it, but it appears that they are paying attention!

Playing restaurant the other day my little one (age 3) told her patron that he had to eat his healthy food first before picking out dessert. And my older one instructed the customer to choose a “side dish”, not just a meat.  Then there was the time that I overheard the 6 year old explaining to his sister that fruit snacks are “not really fruit.” Instead, he explained, “they are mostly sugar…and butter.” (Well, he  didn’t quite have the details right, but he had gotten the point.)  And recently he and I negotiated a deal wherein I agreed I would buy a “junky cereal” (Lucky Charms, Lord help me) after he suggested that he wouldn’t eat it for breakfast, only for dessert, and not all the time, because it’s a “sometimes food”.

Not to gloat, but it’s really gratifying when they show me that the messages are getting through. And of course there are plenty of occasions when they act like, well, normal kids – they pick the nasty blue ice cream at the ice cream parlor, they whine when the vegetable is Brussels sprouts, they complain that we never eat at Pizza Hut.  But in those moments I try not to react in a negative way (lest they learn that these are good ways to shock and annoy me) and instead I think about the times when they’ve given me hope that my positive teaching is having an effect.

And all this talk about setting examples and educating doesn’t diminish the fact that sometimes as parents we do need to dictate how it’s going to be – “No candy for breakfast”, “This is the only dinner you’re going to get tonight so eat it”, “Get that carrot out of your nose,” etc.  But just barking orders and being rigid isn’t a strategy that will work for the long haul.

So, I suggest that though it may feel sometimes like a futile effort, and certainly can be emotionally and mentally trying at times, if you teach your children, they will, in the end, be well.

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Follow-up: The Lunch Menu

I had a few requests to share the lunch menu choices that I came up with for my boy (see My Back-to-School Bento Strategy).  Here you go, along with some notes for clarification:

Main Courses (I have him pick this first)

  • Amy’s Black Bean burrito
  • Chicken nuggets (I prefer Applegate)
  • Hot dog (again, Applegate) with dipping ketchup
  • Broccoli and Cheese Quiche (Homemade and then frozen in individual slices)
  • Pasta w/ pesto
  • Pancakes (homemade in advance and frozen, usually oat-whole wheat-banana)
  • Chips & Salsa
  • Pizza bagel
  • Baked Ziti
  • Chicken Cheese Quesadilla
  • Mac & Cheese
  • Peanut butter and banana sandwich
  • Cheese cubes w/ crackers
  • Cheese and salami sandwich
  • Spinach Ravioli
  • Taco dip (leftover taco fillings) w/ tortilla chips
  • Tiny Meatballs with tomato sauce for dipping
  • Hummus w/ pita triangles
  • Hard-boiled Egg
  • Steamed dumplings (frozen or Asian restaurant leftovers) with soy sauce for dipping
  • Cheese and salami slices

Side Dishes (He tells me that he only has time to eat 1 or 2 other foods besides his main course)

  • Peaches (fruit cup or whole)
  • Cucumber spears
  • Edemame
  • Pineapple rings
  • Kiwi rounds
  • “Shell nuts” (pistachios)
  • Olives
  • Mini-muffins (homemade and then frozen – usually banana oat or pumpkin)
  • Fruit leather
  • Grapefruit slices (peeled)
  • Carrots w/ ranch dip (recipe from Weelicious)
  • Red bell pepper strips
  • Pears (fruit cup or whole)
  • “Candy carrots” (homemade roasted carrot bites)
  • Popcorn
  • Crackers
  • “Mommy’s Power Bars” (actually Ellie Krieger’s power bars)
  • New pickles
  • Grapes
  • Apple slices
  • Dried apricots
  • Fig bar
  • Cookies
  • French fries (leftover homemade or Alexia brand) w/ ketchup for dipping

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My Back-to-School Bento Strategy

Earlier this year, I wrote about the challenges I have packing school snacks for my 6 year-old  (See Snack Time).  I didn’t get into this in that post, but the thing that frustrates me most about his picky snacking is that he’s NOT a picky eater!  He’s actually an enthusiastic eater who will eat almost anything… unless it’s in his lunchbox. Here are some of the foods which he has enjoyed recently: sautéed flounder, red quinoa, stir-fried bok choy, golden beet yogurt smoothie, roasted potatoes tossed with garlic scape pesto, chicken in green curry sauce, duck bacon, broccoli rabe. Does this sound like a picky eater to you?

What happens at school (and this summer, at camp) is peer pressure, I think. It’s so annoying. And after forcing my preferred lunches on him for almost an entire school year, and seeing 75% or more of the food come home uneaten (and then having an over-hungry bear on my hands), I was really getting upset. And the daily arguments were really getting old.

A child psychologist who knows my son suggested that I needed to let go of lunch and let him select his own food. It was becoming a major power struggle and my nutritional ideals were no longer worth it. Fair enough, I thought, though the idea of letting him have free reign didn’t sit well. Then, my mother threw in the advice that tipped the scale: Make a list of ALL of the potential lunch and snack options that I would be comfortable serving him and let him choose the menu each week.  Brilliant, I thought. Let him THINK he’s getting his way while still holding my Dietitian dignity intact.

As part of my new plan, I bought a bento-style lunch box from Laptop Lunches. I don’t know why, but a bento box lunch is just more fun.  It allows for the provision of a variety of foods along with nice extras like dips or small tastes of sweet treats (in its tiniest covered container). And for some reason packing a lunch in a bento box gets the creative juices flowing – suddenly you think of new ideas and your packed lunches become so much more attractive and appealing.

With bento box in hand, I made a list of foods for my boy to choose from and tested the strategy during the last few weeks of summer camp. The verdict: Success! The fights have basically ceased, and he’s actually selecting more fresh fruits and vegetables than he was eating before. The illusion of power has mitigated his picky-ness.

So, now as the start of the new school year approaches I have a bit less stress. I may not know WHAT I’m sending in the lunchbox each day, but I do know HOW!


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Confessions of a Dietitian

At one time I considered calling this blog “Confessions of a Dietitian.” The plan was to document my dietary transgressions and share the tips and strategies that have helped me to improve. I’d empower people with nutrition info and the insight that there’s no need to strive for perfection when it comes to healthy eating and feeding, just to aim to do better. To show them that even dietitians have their nutrition challenges.

I decided not to take that route (for now) because it would be too much of a bummer to focus on my own  shortcomings all of the time. I mean, I’m actually really proud of the things I do right in feeding myself and my family!


I am, in fact, only a human Registered Dietitian and mom who faces the same pressures and challenges that many others face. Sometimes, I break “the rules.” And sometimes, it just feels good to confess. So, here it goes:

Recently, I bribed my kids (ages 3 and 6) with lunch at McDonalds.

Bribing and rewarding with food, and junk food at that?!  This is precisely the kind of thing I have advised other parents against!  Bad, Amy.

Now, don’t get me wrong, my kids have eaten at McDonalds a few times – with their grandparents, once or twice on a road trip. I don’t forbid them from eating it with other people.  But, when they ask me if we can go, which given the constant marketing and peer pressure, is quite often, I simply say something like, “No, not today.”  I think my older one understands by now that this reply is rooted in my healthy eating philosophy – he doesn’t appear too surprised when I deny him. The younger one doesn’t seem to give it too much thought.  I try not to make it a thing.

So anyway, a few weeks ago when the weather changed and we were once again able to walk to school, I was finding it hard to get out the door on time (walking adds 15 minutes to our morning routine). Nothing was working. They were sluggish, I was sluggish. And then it occurred to me that I should just bribe them with something highly coveted, get us back into the routine, and it will be smooth sailing from there.

I won’t bore you with the details, but let me just say that it worked. Spectacularly. It was quite magical, actually.

Did it reinforce the unhealthy idea that bad-for-you food is something to reward yourself with?  Maybe. Or maybe it just reinforced the very healthy idea that a meal from a junky place like McDonalds is a “sometimes” occurrence, not to be eaten often, but to be saved for rare occasions.  Isn’t that the best message to send my kids… the message of moderation and self-control?

Am I rationalizing? Perhaps, but hey, nobody’s perfect!

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