Interview with a nutritionist about raising healthy kids

So I was recently very honored to be interviewed by Shannon of Graytmama (a blog with a wealth of knowledge about all things baby) re Green & Plenty, being a nutritionist mom and raising a healthy family.  I thought I would share with my readers too as it gives a little insight into my food philosophy and (hopefully) a few helpful tips.  

Ok, so I must say your blog is so beautiful! Tell my amazing mommy readers what they can find over at green and plenty?

Green & Plenty is a lifestyle and wellness blog about raising a healthy family including recipes, research on health and nutrition and how-to tips on a variety of informative topics including surviving the first trimester of pregnancy, natural remedies for clear skinbuilding a better playroom and being a happier mom.  I’m a registered dietitian/nutritionist so I try to blog about topics that clients and friends ask about often and things I know and discover that I think are worth sharing.  I also love fashion anddesign so I like to throw a few posts in on those topics to keep it from getting too food/health intense and keep it fun.  Recently I started a feature on inspirational women where I interview moms who are doing a variety of cool things and get their tips and expertise.  One of the biggest things I, and I think most moms struggle with is finding balance.  Whether it be a balanced diet for your family (which yes, does include occasional french fries and cupcakes in my book) or balancing your personal, professional, social and romantic life, I think it’s really important to try to find your own version of balance and happiness.  Green & Plenty is my attempt to help us all do that.

So what’s your story, why do you have so many great and healthy ideas when it comes to food?
 Like I mentioned, I’m a registered dietitian/nutritionist so there’s that angle, and I’m also just curious and like to experiment.  I’ll try all kinds of ideas/techniques and recipes, and honestly, many of them are a flop or too labor intensive, but sometimes I find a huge hit.  I love searching Pinterest and Instagram for inspiration, but sometimes I’m just inspired to combine what we have in the house and just experiment.  I like getting the boys involved too as I think it’s a great way to encourage healthy eating and it’s educational.  We made these healthy muffins recently and the boys loved cooking and eating them!
I found once the sleep and milk feeding was under control, another curve ball was thrown by introducing solids! Super fun at the start ( I mean how cute is a 6 month old with yogurt all over their face?), BUUUT, now it’s one of the hardest parts of being a mommy.  Do you struggle with this? How do you handle a picky eater?
Ahh, picky eaters are tough.  When my 4 year old was just about Gray’s age I started to deal with the same thing.  Here’s some advice that should help, at least a bit.  I think my approach with our second, Oliver (18months), has been so much more relaxed and honestly, I think we’re both better off for it.  They say every parent should be a second time parent because you just don’t stress about the little stuff and it makes for a happier existence for everyone.  Expose them to all kinds of food, start early, don’t give up, but don’t pressure and don’t lose sleep over it.  I recently introduced the “experiment plate” where I put something together (it could be as simple as strawberries with almond butter and a splash of honey) and if Sam is in one of those moods where he doesn’t want to try something new, I just make it, get excited about it and put it out on the counter.  No pressure to eat, but he can touch, smell, look, whatever, just not throw it.  So far it’s working…don’t tell him!  His school does “you don’t have to like it, but it’s nice to try it” which sometimes works.   In my opinion, the most important thing you can do is set a good example.  If you never eat the broccoli on your own plate, why would you expect your child to?  They learn by watching you.  And I read once that what a father eats is really influential on the child (I really believe in this theory), so have a convo with your partner and if he’s not already including healthy items in his diet, try to convince him that he should be.
Healthy children =happy wife=happy life ;)
At what age do you suggest table food, and when does it turn into, ” You eat what I eat.”?
I always started my kids on solids at around 6 months.  Their first food was avocado, and we stuck with that for about a week or two.  They’re really just feeling things out at first, but those motor skills are necessary to develop and like you said, it can be fun.  I’m not a fan of jars or pouches of baby food because it can get expensive and it’s pasteurized which kills any harmful bacteria, but also destroys many of the nutrients in the fruits and vegetables.  We never really fed our kids those unless it was a time when not much else is available (on a plane for example).  From avocado, we went to banana, butternut squash, sweet potatoes, mashed chicken, grass-fed ground beef, oatmeal, meatballs, eggs, zucchini etc.  While I did give my youngest bread before 1 year, I tried not to with my second.  I’m all for making your own baby food, but for me, it’s not my thing.  It’s time consuming and not that tasty.  I can mash almost anything we’re eating and make it okay for baby (food grinders and blenders work well for this too if it makes you feel better).  I will say I was very nervous about choking at first, but baby’s have an amazing choking reflex.  So pretty much as soon as they get the hang of and taste for real food it becomes “you eat what we’re eating” (by 9 months at least).  I would just make sure the consistency was ok.  And to be honest, I always started nut butters early, around 10 months, but talk with your pediatrician about it, especially if you have a history of peanut or tree nut allergies in the family.
Once they get to the age where they can eat table food, what do you do at restaurants? It’s sups annoying always having to pack a bunch of food to bring for you little munchkin!
 When we eat out, there’s always something babies and toddlers can have: soup, beans, noodles, cheese, chicken, avocado…guaranteed you can find something on every menu that can be “baby food”.  I just usually give them some of mine unless I order something really spicy.  My theory is that if you start with them having special food, you’re setting yourself up for making them their own meal for years to come and who really has time for that.
Airport food is SO nasty! Any ideas on good options if your going to be airborne for awhile?
Airport food is getting a little better depending where you are.  There’s a Starbucks in almost every airport so in a pinch, oatmeal and banana is a good option.  Fresh fruit and trail mix is another decent option but we almost always pack some snacks of our own.  We traveled recently and I came up with some great calming travel snacks that really seemed to work wonders!
If you could pick 3 foods that your kiddo was magically obsessed with, what would they eat and why?
Salmon for the healthy fats that benefit the whole body, eggs for the quick and easy source of protein, healthy fats, vitamins and minerals and broccoli for all the nutrients because it takes no prep if you add dip and can be portable (and because I can put lots of other greens in smoothies and they’ll eat them, but haven’t loved broccoli in smoothies).  The boys do pretty well with these foods, especially eggs, not always broccoli, but again, I think it’s all about how often you serve them and eat them yourself....maybe I should be eating more broccoli ;)
Scenario: I’ve made a wonderful meal of salmon, green beans, and mashed potatoes. I offer all 3 to my gal, and she refuses all of them (she’s 16 months)! Do, I play short order cook, and get up to make her something I know she will eat, or just allow her to not eat? Does age matter on something like this?
 One would think that if she’s hungry, she’ll eat.  I try to have at least 3-4 options on the plate (say meat, veg, rice and cheese), there should be at least one thing she’ll eat and if not, she’s probably not that hungry.  At her age, she’s trying to express her independence and while I don’t think giving in is the right answer, you might want to offer one other healthy option like fruit and nut butter or a veg you know she will eat (but not until you’re finished eating...once I sit down I'm enjoying dinner and when I'm done, if someone still wants something, then we can talk).  Another trick is putting dip on the plate.  Sam will dip almost anything in ketchup or ranch.  I wouldn’t cook up an entire other meal.  She will eventually eat if she’s hungry and if you give in, she learns that you’re always going to give in.  With that being said, variety is important for both types of foods but also textures and colors, temperature etc. so make sure her plate has that.  I don’t think age matters so much as long as there is variety on the plate.
I try really hard to only give my chickadee one snack a day, do you think I am being a mean mommy?
This is another tough one.  I think it depends on her.  While I think throwing snacks at your kids every time they’re bored is definitely not a good thing, I do think they’re little metabolisms are going strong.  Age 2 is the most active year of a child’s life (Gray isn’t quite there yet, but she’s getting closer) and their tummies are small.  I give a morning and after nap snack and my boys are still often hungry.  Keep the meals and snacks balanced: always try to include a protein and fruit or veg and 3 meals and 2 snacks should do it.  I also think it’s important to let all the rules go sometimes.  If it’s the first beautiful day in a while, go out for ice-cream, any time of the day and have fun.  Food is for nourishment, health, happiness and for bringing people together socially.  I want kids to have positive feelings about food and too much restriction weighs on that positivity.

Moms are always asking and wondering if there child is eating enough. At least with bottles it’s clear that they are taking in a certain number of ounces. Do you have any advice on this one?

Kids  surprisingly need less food than you may think, and they definitely have a great internal regulator telling them when they’re hungry and when they’re full.  There are established guidelines on a toddler’s needs: Fruit=1 cup, veg=3/4 to 1 cup, Protein= 30 grams ( 3 oz of chicken and a couple Tbsp of nut butter and you’re there), Dairy = 2 cups and Grains = 55 grams (just over a cup of rice or oats, 2.5 packs of cheddar bunnies, or a few pieces of bread).  Keep this in mind, but don’t let it stress you out.  Each toddler is different and each day is different.  If you offer this amount of food throughout the day and your child doesn’t always take it all, that’s ok, or if she wants more, that’s okay too.  My only advice would be to keep the treats to a minimum so it’s not replacing the good stuff (especially fruits and vegetables)
How do you handle it when you go to play dates, and some wacka- doodle mom pulls out Cheetos, cookies, and pop for her kid, and offers your kid some? I was always told in school that you shouldn’t eat in front of people, unless you have some share! I don’t want my kid eating that crap!
I’ve never experienced this kind of trifecta ;) but some version of this happens all the time.  My best advise is try to distract or offer something else (which means you always have to be prepared with something if this is your tactic) but as they get older, the string cheese and apple or trail mix might not cut it anymore, and I can understand why: kids are curious! The reason they put everything in their mouths when they’re babies is to explore and learn about the object.   When tempted with a shiny colorfully packaged or sweet treat, it’s natural for them to want to try it.  With that being said, when my older son Sam was around 2 years I started to notice that he would get aggressive after eating certain foods (here’s some info on what foods were causing this and why) and that made it really hard to be in those types of situations, so if there is an allergy or intolerance, you might want to discuss this with your friends before play dates.  Now, my theory is when we’re at home we eat one way (most of the time) and when we’re out and about, I have to loosen the reigns a bit.  I don’t want my kids to rebel at age 12 after never having had a soda and start sneaking them…which is what they’ll likely do.  I read a study once that if you put a jar of cookies on a table in front of kids and leave it open and free for the kids to enjoy, the children will eat fewer cookies than the kids sitting at the table where they’re not allowed to have the cookies until after a certain amount of time.  Kids want what they can’t have (think cell phones, remote controls etc.) this is natural.  So try to divert, replace and distract all you can, but if you can’t, then it’s probably okay to be flexible every once in a while.
I'm so sick of clicking on sites on Pinterest labeled ” Toddler Meal Ideas”, only to find they have the amazing idea of grilled cheese or some version of a PB & J. Give me something good here Heather! What are your best healthy, easy, creative ideas for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack?

Like I said, I like experimenting with new recipes (when time permits), but with 2 young boys who are hungry NOW when they’re hungry, I often stick with the things I know we all like.  And I think that’s okay as long as the meals are balanced and nourishing.   Here are a couple ideas:


1/2 cup greek yogurt mixed with 1 container of Yo-baby Pumpkin Banana Yogurt (my boys love their yogurt and 2 of the Yo-baby’s is too much sugar and get’s expensive.  The greek yogurt adds a little more protein and takes down the sweet factor).

If we’re on the go, these no-bake oatmeal bites are perfect.


I’m combining lunch and dinner b/c they’re often one in the same.  I think it’s important to have some versatile but basic whole foods on hand like these and you can make a variety of healthy, easy meals.

We also love meatballs (beef, veg, turkey etc.)

Lentil burgers

Soup: we eat a lot of soup, especially lentil and tomato (Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods have nice options if you’re not able to make them yourself).

I also LOVE the slow cooker!  Here’s a few of my recipes:

Pulled pork tacos

Slow cooker whole chicken

Slow cooker vegetable curry

Snacks:  I always make sure there’s some protein and a fruit or a veg with each snack…even if they don’t always eat it.  These nut and seed bars with fruit, simple cheese and veg or fruit, smoothies (with leftovers turned into popsicles), and sweet potato chips with guacamole or baba ganoush is a recent favorite.  I’m working on my own sweet potato chip recipe!

Thanks Graytmama for having me!  You can check out my interview with Shannon here.

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