From the Desk of The Nutty Nutritionist

Archive for the ‘Feeding your kids’ Category

Vegetarian Lifestyles

In Feeding your kids, Trends, Wellness on December 17, 2012 at 1:05 PM

19049967I have recently had a flood of requests to clarify what it takes to create a healthy vegetarian diet.   Not only are more and more adults choosing to adopt a vegetarian lifestyle, but teens and pre-teens are adopting the practice in record numbers as well.  For example, a friend of mine’s pre-teen daughter, a life-long “picky eater”, has decided to become vegetarian and limit her food choices to fruit, vegetables, crackers, and pasta.  Yikes!  This is far from the balanced diet required for healthy growth and development, thereby making “vegetarianism” a potentially dangerous practice for an uninformed, growing girl.

The vegetarian diet is a challenging topic to address in a forum such as this since becoming vegetarian can mean different things to different people— some folks are raised vegetarian for religious or cultural reasons, whereas others choose a vegetarian lifestyle during their teen or adult years as a means of weight control, healthier living, in support of animal rights, or for environmental concerns, to name a few.  Today, vegetarianism has taken on many forms and it is essential for an individual wishing to become vegetarian to decide which practice he or she will follow:  vegan, lacto-ovo vegetarian, lacto-vegetarian, ovo-vegetarian, pesce vegetarian, or flexitarian.    Say what?  Let me explain:

Traditionally, a “true vegetarian”, or vegan, is someone who does not eat meat (i.e. animal flesh) of any kind nor any foods containing animal products, such as milk, cheese, yogurt, eggs, or butter. This strict form of vegetarianism is the most challenging and the avoidance of ALL animal foods limits one’s intake of complete proteins, calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B12, iron, and zinc, putting one at nutritional risk when not implemented properly.  A nutritionally adequate vegan diet should include soy products, such as tofu, edamame, soymilk, and soy yogurt, which contain all essential amino acids to support bodily growth and repair (known as “complete” proteins); vitamin B12 and iron-fortified whole grain products (such as cereal, breads, rice); calcium-rich foods, such as fortified juice and soy milk, as well as almonds, green vegetables, and broccoli; legumes, such as kidney beans and lentils; fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds.  When you are eating vegan, you need to make sure that most of your choices are natural, nutrient-rich, whole foods, as opposed to vegan “junk foods” containing little or no nutrition whatsoever.  If a number of essential food items listed above are also avoided, vitamin and mineral supplementation is generally required.  If you are considering the vegan lifestyle, it is best to seek personalized advice from a dietitian in order to ensure nutritional adequacy for yourself and your family, rather than simply relying on the advice dispensed in this article.

The most common practice is as a lacto-ovo vegetarian—avoiding all animal flesh (beef, pork, lamb, chicken, turkey, fish), but including animal products such as milk, cheese, and yogurt (lacto) and eggs (ovo) in the daily diet.  Provided one is consuming dairy products and eggs on a regular basis, there is little need for concern over adequate protein intake, as animal proteins are “complete”, providing all essential amino acids for proper bodily growth and repair.   This form of vegetarianism is also likely to meet one’s nutritional needs for vitamin B12, calcium, vitamin D, and zinc provided fruits, vegetables, dairy products, eggs, whole grains, nuts, seeds, soy, and legumes are included as well.   To ensure adequate iron intake, incorporate plenty of iron-fortified cereals, breads, and grains, legumes, seeds, green-leafy vegetables, and/or dried fruit.  Including a source of vitamin C with these foods, such as citrus fruits, strawberries, or bell peppers, allows for better iron absorption.  Less common variations on this form of vegetarianism is an ovo-vegetarian who consumes eggs, but no animal flesh or milk products, or a lacto-vegetarian who consumes milk products, but no animal flesh or egg products.

Someone who adopts a lacto-ovo vegetarian lifestyle while including fish and/or seafood on a regular basis is considered pesce-vegetarian.  And, finally, the ever-expanding group of folks who limit their meat choices to lean chicken, turkey, and fish, while excluding “red meats” (such as beef, pork, and lamb) are considered flexitarians, as they are not truly vegetarian by definition, but are choosing to avoid specific animal meats and/or products.

In summary, if you are an adult looking to adopt a vegetarian lifestyle, first give some thought to the type of vegetarianism you desire to practice.  Next, plan to incorporate a wide variety of nutritious foods that fit within your chosen regime on a regular basis.  If you admit to being a “picky eater” or simply do not enjoy a wide variety of foods, such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, and whole grains, then it may be best to sit down with a nutrition professional, such as myself, to develop a personalized meal plan to best meet your needs.

Now, if you are a parent of a child or teen looking to become vegetarian, it is important to discuss his or her reasons for desiring a vegetarian lifestyle and to review the wide variety of vegetarian practices that exist today.  Many teens consider vegetarianism as an opportunity for weight loss or as a “legitimate excuse” for picky or disordered eating practices, without considering the potential nutritional or growth implications.  If you suspect an eating disorder, it is best to consult a nutrition professional to develop a healthy eating plan within the chosen vegetarian regime to nip any unhealthy practices in the bud…  I tend to encourage the lacto-ovo vegetarian lifestyle for most children and teens, as it is generally the easiest to follow and contains the widest variety of nutrients that growing bodies need.  Again, when dealing with very restricted picky-eaters, it is best to meet with a dietitian to develop a satisfactory eating plan.

If you would like to set up an appointment to develop a healthy vegetarian meal plan for yourself or your child, call me at 248-592-0875 or email at

Live well!  Eat well!



Eating Better–Family Style

In Feeding your kids on November 5, 2012 at 6:38 PM

The most important part of any meal shared at home is FAMILY—connecting with one another, discussing the day’s experiences, sharing some laughs (or tears), and enjoying healthy, nourishing foods together.  Got some picky-eaters at home? I’m not referring exclusively to children here—adult family members can be equally resistant to eating a well-balanced meal.  The good news is that setting a positive example by eating nutritious meals as a family can actually improve your children’s (or spouse’s!) eating habits—they are more likely to eat  fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and dairy products (like milk and yogurt) when shared with their parents and loved ones.   Children will also develop valuable social skills, table manners, and conversation by eating at the same table together.

Children learn by modeling themselves after their parents.  Eating together lets parents show their children, by example, how to choose nutritious foods, know when they are full, and how to try new tastes.  If you are a parent who loves to eat junk food, don’t chow down on cookies, chips, and fast food in front of your children on a regular basis.  If you are always bringing chips, cookies, and candy into your home and eating them with reckless abandon, you are sending the wrong message to your kids—they will likely grow into adults who regularly toss junk into their grocery carts for your future grandchildren.  The buck stops here—no more excuses about how you were raised—unhealthy habits need to stop with YOU.

Members of the “Clean Plate Club” also beware–if you always eat every morsel of food off your plate, regardless of how hungry you are, your kids will learn to lick their plates clean, hungry or not.  Yes, there are starving children in Ethiopia, but maybe you should start serving smaller portions (or using a smaller plate) so leftovers can be stored in the fridge for lunch or dinner tomorrow rather than in your belly.  No need to overstuff—-you all will have the chance to eat again tomorrow.  Unhealthy habits need to end with you if you want your kids to grow up healthy and pass healthy habits on to future generations.

A healthy, balanced meal contains at least 3 out of 5 major food groups:  lean meat, vegetables, fruit, whole grain starch, and dairy.  A  grilled chicken breast, small baked potato or 1/2 cup of brown rice, 1 cup (or more) of vegetables, such as green beans, broccoli, or asparagus, and a 6-8 oz glass of skim milk will be sufficient for most school-aged children, with the exception of teenage boys—they will generally eat you out of “house and home” and consume more calories than at any other time in their lives!  Just make sure they are filling up on the healthy stuff first, before they turn to junk foods.  That way, they will grow into lean young men, capable of making healthy choices and managing their weight.

Is dessert with dinner a tradition?  Fruit, another valuable food group, makes for a fabulous sweet treat—try baking (or microwaving) apples and topping with cinnamon for a special seasonal treat!  Teaching your kids that dessert is not always associated with calorie-rich junk food is a worthwhile lesson indeed!

If you want to set a good example for your family, it is time to develop healthy eating habits for yourself—then watch your family follow your lead!  For more information and ideas on this topic, turn to the “Feeding Your Kids” category in the Archives.

Any questions?  Feel free to ask!

Kids Gotta Eat Too!

In Feeding your kids, Snacking on February 9, 2011 at 7:10 PM

Most moms will agree that feeding children well is quite a challenge.  Cooking for a “picky eater”, encouraging kids to eat more fruits and vegetables, cutting down on junk food, or juggling busy schedules are just some of the concerns women face in trying to provide a healthy, balanced diet for their families.   These obstacles can be easily overcome with just a few changes in YOUR behavior…  sometimes it is “just the kid”, but in many cases, it is because the parents do not understand the significant role they play in shaping their children’s eating habits.

The secret to teaching children healthy eating habits is for parents and other caregivers to serve as good role models.  When children see their parents eating healthy foods, they are more likely to enjoy them too.  A kid is not going to willingly eat broccoli unless he or she has seen mom or dad eat it and enjoy it.  It may take ten or more tries before a new food is accepted, but it is bound to happen if healthy foods are always on the table.  For example, my two year old niece’s favorite vegetables are broccoli and asparagus.   Actually, she seems to enjoy ALL fruits and vegetables. (This makes her dietitian auntie very proud!)  Why does my niece prefer two pungent, bitter-tasting vegetables over mild tasting corn or green beans?  Her mom and dad serve and eat broccoli and asparagus regularly at family meals, setting a great example.   The bottom line is…..if the parents are picky eaters, the kids will be picky too.  If the only vegetable you like is corn, and that is the only one you serve at family meals, then your children are never going to be interested in trying any new vegetables.  If this sounds like you, your family will be well served if you try to expand your personal list of acceptable foods.  Set a goal to include one new food or recipe each week that the whole family can try together.

Another common mistake is tailoring the family meal choices around what you know the kids will eat.  You need to be the one in charge of their options, not them.    When you serve a meal, your son or daughter can CHOOSE to eat it or not.  Kids love to be given choices, right?  Don’t force them to eat anything.  Just present the foods and let nature take its course.  As I mentioned earlier, you may need to keep offering new foods over and over again before they are accepted, but it is well worth the effort.  If your child refuses to eat the family meal, do not offer to substitute it with a bowl of cereal, grilled cheese, or peanut butter sandwich.   YOU ARE NOT A SHORT-ORDER COOK!!!  Once children learn “this is what I get”, they will be more willing to try new foods, thereby expanding their own tastes and preferences.  Another suggestion is to involve your kids in meal planning and preparation.  They are more likely to eat what they help to make!

Want your kids to eat less junk food?  Then you need to set the example and stop eating all the junk yourself.  The best strategy to accomplish this is by not bringing it into your house in the first place.  Having only healthy foods available for kids to eat when they are hungry will ensure that those will be the choices they make.  Serve a vegetable or fruit with every meal AND at snack time.  Encourage kids not to equate “snack time” with “junk time”.  This is a common misconception.  You would not believe how many of my adult clients think I am suggesting junk foods (like candy or chips) when I encourage snacks between meals!!!  Stash healthy snacks in your pantry, fridge, purse, car, or even your desk at work—peanut butter crackers, nuts, trail mix, dried fruit, granola bars, pretzels, fresh fruit, whole wheat crackers, and popcorn.  From the fridge you can grab lowfat yogurt, raw veggies, string cheese, or some rolled up turkey or ham.  As you head out the door, these nutritious items are easy to grab and will keep little tummies satisfied while on the go.

Along the same vein, cutting back on added sugars is another smart way to improve the quality of your child’s diet.  Choose cereals and granola/snack bars with low (less than 9 grams) or no added sugar.  Offer water or low-fat milk at meals and snacks rather than sugar-sweetened sodas, juices, and fruit-flavored drinks.  (Bye-Bye Sunny D!) Allowing sweets in small amounts is perfectly fine as long as your child is eating fruits and vegetables too.  Less nutritious foods certainly have their place in an overall balanced diet, and limits feelings of deprivation.  To prevent any emotional attachment to sweets and other junk foods, however, be careful not to use them as a “reward” for good behavior.

Short on time for shopping, cooking, and having sit-down family meals?  Eating well requires time-management and preparation, no question about that.  Plan grocery shopping into your schedule once a week.  Before you go, figure out which nights the family can eat together and write out a meal plan/grocery list.   Allow kids to add their own healthy favorites to the shopping list, even if they don’t actually come to the store with you.  Planning for family meals may require you to change the time of your meals to accommodate everyone’s schedules, but it is important to fit it in.  If this involves a family picnic or tailgate before or after a practice or game, so be it.  Make it fun and make it your tradition!

Love your children.  Feed them well 😉

Snack Ideas for Kids

In Feeding your kids, Snacking on January 8, 2010 at 10:48 PM

What are some healthy snacks my whole family can enjoy?

The friend asking this question says her kids are tired of the “veggies and dip” option.  The best thing you can do to keep kids interested in eating healthy is to make fun and creative snacks, combining different foods to expand their taste horizons.  Kids are more likely to develop sound eating habits if their parents also enjoy a variety of healthy foods and model such behavior on a regular basis.  Including a source of protein in the snack is worthwhile especially if the next meal is likely to be delayed.

Here are some ideas to try today:

1/2-1 cup mixed fresh fruit with a dallop of light Reddi Whip  (looks more fun, right??)

1 mini blueberry muffin with 1/4 cup of orange sections

1 pretzel rod wrapped with a thin slice of lean turkey or ham  

1/2 cup canned peaches with 1/3 cup lowfat cottage cheese

1 tbsp. peanut butter on celery sticks

1 slice raisin bread with 2 tsp. apple butter

5-10 blue corn tortilla chips with salsa

1/3 cup sliced apple with mozzarella cheese stick

1-2 mini pita breads with 3 tbsp. hummus

4 oz. yogurt cup

Let me know what your family thinks of these ideas!

%d bloggers like this: