Kids in the Kitchen

“Everybody out of the kitchen!” It’s the end of the day and you’re exhausted. Getting dinner on the table can feel like a major feat. Sometimes it seems easier to just evacuate the kitchen to get the job done. But before you make the “kitchen ban” official, enlist your kids for some help. Research has identified that kids who help cook and are included in the family meal process are less picky and more accepting of new foods. Kids who cook also have been shown to make healthier choices than their non-cooking peers. Kids stuck at home with another snow day? Cooking together can be a great indoor activity. Getting the kids involved doesn’t have to be dangerous or messy, just choose age-appropriate tasks. A 3-year old can wash and tear lettuce, while an 8-year old can peel carrots or cucumbers. Kitchen scissor and kids knives are useful kid-friendly tools. Here is a great info-graphic from our friends over at Cook Smarts identifying kid-friendly tasks at each step of the cooking process for any age!

Kids in Kitchen

Looking for some recipe ideas? Here are links to some of my favorite:

Now get Cookin’ !

Eat Well,

Katie Weller, MS, RD, LDN

Veggie Wars: A scientific explanation to why he won’t eat his veggies!

Veggie Wars

As a child, I remember my parents pleading with me to try a mashed sweet potato. “But, it’s soooo good”; “I promise you will like it”; or my favorite line “It tastes just like candy!”. Ironically, today sweet potatoes are one of my favorite foods; however, at age 5, there wasn’t a chance I was going to touch that neon orange mush on my plate, no matter how long I had to sit at the dinner table. And really, “Tastes like candy?!” Yes, they are sweeter than the average russet potato, but there is no mistaking a sweet potato for a chocolate bar… So why do kids refuse their veggies? I came across a very interesting article that may help better explain.

Alexandra Logue, PHD, is the Research Professor for The Center for the Advanced Study of Education (CASE) at the Graduate Center of The City University of New York and author of The Psychology of Eating and Drinking. Her research suggests that there is a strong genetic component to taste preferences. “It’s not kids’ or parents’ fault.” Logue describes “supertasters” who naturally taste lower concentrations of certain chemicals, making them sensitive to the tastes and textures of particular foods. Research shows that 70% of preschoolers taste the bitter compounds found in many vegetables called 6-n-propothiouricil (PROP), which is why young children often shun vegetables. A recent study showed both genetic and environmental effects on food preferences but found liking fruit, vegetables, and proteins is more likely to be genetically linked, while preferences for starchy foods, snack foods, and dairy is more likely to be due to a child’s food environment.

Having a picky eater can easily put stress on the entire family. I have witnessed many parents at their wits end. So, what can you do?

• First, RELAX and stop PRESSURING. Especially for young children, taste buds are still evolving. What they taste may not be the same as what you do. Research has shown it can take up to 20 times before a child develops a taste preference to a particular food. Kids are excellent at detecting stress and anxiety, and the more they know you want them to eat it, the less likely they will want to.

• Be a good role model and keep up with family meals: If kids don’t see how much their caregivers are enjoying a food, they will not deem it as safe.

• Involve kids in the preparation and cooking process. For younger kids, have THEM choose a vegetable at the market, let them hold it, smell it, even play with it. The more interaction and exposure a child has with a food the more likely they are to eventually eat it.

• Never, ever, force feed, hide, or sneak food into a kid’s meal, by any means. There is nothing wrong with amping up the flavor, adding breadcrumbs, sprinkling cheese, adding a dipping sauce, etc. to a food, but avoid deception. You will only weaken trust and likely create more resistance to the food.

It should be noted that children refuse food for many reasons. Behavior, age, and development often play a role in this; however, always consult with your pediatrician and healthcare team to rule out any underlying medical conditions.

Eat Well,

Katie Weller, MS, RD, LDN

Halloween Confessions of a Registered Dietitian

As a new homeowner and Dietitian, my friends and family have asked me, “What will you be dishing out to your first trick or treaters?”, or my personal favorite, “What are some healthy candy options?” My response seems to shock most…

Confession: I am a Registered Dietitian and I handout candy on Halloween. No, it is not some sick ploy to ensure my job security.  So why, with child obesity rates near tripling since 1970 and 1 in 3 kids overweight or obese, would I hand out highly processed, sugary treats?  Here’s why..

Halloween is only ONE day out of the year. Trick or treating and Halloween have gone together since the 1940’s, long before the rise of the obesity epidemic. More concern should be directed the highly processed, novelty snack foods that decorate the supermarket shelves 365 days per year.

I turn to renowned Feeding Expert and Registered Dietitian Ellyn Satter on how to handle the candy situation.

“Halloween presents a learning opportunity. Work toward having your child be able to manage his own stash. For him to learn, you will have to keep your interference to a minimum. When he comes home from trick or treating, let him lay out his booty, gloat over it, sort it and eat as much of it as he wants. Let him do the same the next day. Then have him put it away and relegate it to meal and snack-time: a couple of small pieces at meals for dessert and as much as he wants for snack time. If he can follow the rules, your child gets to keep control of the stash. Otherwise, you do, on the assumption that as soon as he can manage it, he gets to keep it. Offer milk with the candy, and you have a chance at good nutrition.” © 2008 The Ellyn Satter Institute

The truth is, by “hiding” or secretly dumping half the stash when the kids go to bed, we are not teaching them how to manage their sweets. Halloween or not, our environment is filled with unhealthy choices, and when it comes down to it, the stash of bite-size individually wrapped morsels of saturated fat and sugar are one of the least of worries.

So what can you do?

Educate: Educate your child on the importance of fresh, healthy foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean meat.  These foods give us energy to run and play, nourish our bodies and help us grow, which is why we need to eat them everyday. Candy, along with cookies and chips, are considered “Treats”. Yes, they are tasty, but they do not have the nutrients we need which is why we only can eat them “sometimes”.

Here are some other options to consider

Once your child has collected the goods, have him split it into three piles “favorite”, “OK/ maybe”, and “don’t like”. Using Ziploc Snack Size Bags make individual packs of 2-3 pieces, an easy solution to daily portion control.

Taste Testing

Instill mindfulness… Have your child “explore” any candy he so chooses. Ask questions like “What does the wrapper look like?”, have him slowly open it, “What does it feel like”, “What does it smell like?”;  Ask him which are his favorite/ least favorites. “Does it melt?” “Is it chewy?” This can be an excellent opportunity to remind your child that we do not to eat just because it is in front of us but rather to savor and enjoy.

Candy Cash in

If the idea of sitting back while your child gorges himself to near vomiting is a little too nerve-racking, prepare a garbage bag of toys or prizes in exchange for “X” amount of pieces of candy, he can chose a toy from the prize bag OR offer a “cash upgrade” every time he reaches for some of his loot.

Excess candy can also be saved for Gingerbread Houses during the holidays or freeze chocolate for holiday baking.

Wishing everyone a Happy Halloween!

Katie Weller MS, RD, LDN

Registered Dietitian

Then don’t eat it…and others things I say

“Then don’t eat it” and other things I say to get my kids to eat, but not too much.

• Don’t eat it, eat more of something else.
• You can’t have more Cheerios, but if your belly is still hungry, you can have broccoli.
• If you don’t like it, just push it to the side.
• If you’re still hungry, I can get some carrots for you.
• You’ve had your milk, if you’re thirsty, you can have water.
• It’s not time for cookies right now, but you can have one with your snack.
• If you’re hungry, you can eat as much as you want at lunch.
• We just ate dinner, but if you think you’re still hungry you can have sliced peppers.

And my most common one,

“You don’t have to eat it,…
• …but you have to sit at the table with us.
• …but you have to leave it on your plate.
• …but this is dinner.
• …but you’re not getting anything else.

Taken out of context, some of these might seem harsh, but they’re not. There is always something on the menu that the kids like and routinely eat. There is always more than one option too, so if they truly don’t like “A” then they can eat “B”.

What are the phrases that you find yourself saying to your kids at mealtime?

Big Kids with Big Appetites

At SP’s two year doctor’s appointment we received a handout with “Tips for the 24 month visit” on it. Under the “feeding” section it said that we could expect our two year olds appetite to decrease and that it wasn’t uncommon for kids to eat only one decent meal a day. Ha! I said, I know this, I’m a dietitian, but this wasn’t my kid at all!
SP’s appetite has never decreased, she just keeps going and going. With all the childhood obesity concern every meal can feel like a minefield when you’re feeding a big kid with a big appetite. SP is two and a half, but she’s been an eater since day one! Well, maybe not day one, you can read about those troubles here. Once the breastfeeding problems were sorted out, SP got the hang of eating, big time! She quickly reached the 85th percentile weight for length, which means she’s right there – overweight! Luckily, I teach and practice the Division of Responsibility, which you can read about here, and it is this approach that has helped me feed SP and allow her to just grow.
How do I do it?

  1. I make sure her options are healthy, because I know that no matter what, she’s going to eat it all and then ask for more. This means a lot of fruits and vegetables (luckily, she eats both willingly) and lean protein. Protein is the most filling nutrient, so I make sure she has a good source at every meal, to keep her full.
  2. We start with small portions because she always wants more.
  3. When she’s already had what anyone would consider plenty of food, but she wants more, I offer a vegetable. Always a vegetable because I figure she’ll only eat that if she is truly hungry.
  4. B and I always direct her to her belly and ask her if her belly feels hungry or full. She’s getting to the point where she can tell me that she is full – success #1! As a result of my efforts to stick to the DOR, SP gained 3 pounds and 2.75 inches in 6 months – nearly perfect growth, and her BMI is at the 83rd percentile – success #2! I know that I need to let her body grow the way nature intends. I also know that if I ever try to restrict her intake I can pretty much guarantee that she will start to seek out food at non-eating times, she will almost certainly overeat at every opportunity, and her weight will skyrocket.

Restricting a big appetite always backfires. Your child will begin to display food-seeking behaviors and overeating, which will likely make a concerned parent restrict even more. Follow the DOR, serve healthy foods, and allow your child to decide when she is full.

Feeling Alone? Partner up for family health

I think I need to start off this post by saying feeding is parenting. You and your partner are, hopefully, on the same page with all other things parenting, you need to be on the same page with feeding too. Actually, you need to be on the same page with both feeding and nutrition (which are two different things). When one adult in the house is concerned about the health and well-being of the family it can weigh on everyone, especially when the second parent is unconcerned. I believe that, on some level, everyone knows that health is important and everyone with kids wants them to be healthy. But health can also be tricky – first of all it means different things to different people. For some, just not being sick is being healthy. For others, being at a healthy weight, disease-free, sleeping well, and with manageable stress is what it means to be healthy. Second, many people hear healthy and think “Uhg! Healthy is boring, healthy is bland, healthy is expensive, healthy is sweaty, healthy is hard!” So, what does one do? Instead of pounding concrete, try shaping clay.

Shaping is how families can get on the same page with feeding and nutrition. In most homes there is one primary shopper and one primary cook. Even in homes where these duties are split, there is always one who is making the majority of the food decisions. That person is the “gatekeeper” and the gatekeeper holds most of the control. The gatekeeper is the one who can shape the families diet and ultimate health by shaping the environment. The environment I’m talking about is the home – what does a healthy family need to have in their home? What do they need to keep out of their home? What does a healthy family do with their free time? How do they get that to happen? If you want to change the health of your family, first, think about what you want your environment to look like. What do you want in your fridge when your kids get hungry? What do you want in the pantry to make meals out of? What do you want in the yard for the kids to play on? What kind of toys do you want them to have to encourage healthy habits? After you assess what you want, assess what your currently have. How does what you want differ from what you have?

Now, begin to shape. Don’t do everything all at one, but make small, almost imperceptible changes.

• Buy one less snack food and one less dessert than usual.
• Buy one more fruit than usual.
• Start serving fruit at dinner.
• Serve two vegetables at dinner instead of one.
• Add a vegetable to lunches.
• Slip in some brown rice or whole wheat pasta when you get the chance.
• Put a pitcher of water on the dinner table and keep one in the fridge.
• Don’t turn on the TV when you get home and turn it off more often.
• Play actively with your children. Make it fun!

Of course, shaping is easier with support. How you talk to your partner about your concerns in the family is half the battle. Pointing out real facts and your feelings about the facts is the safest way to gain support.

“Today I learned that kids are supposed to get 60 minutes of active play every day! I don’t think our kids get that much. I’m concerned that they aren’t as active as they should be and that it could affect their health. What do you think we could do about this?”
This approach frames the conversation of health and exercise in a safe way that comes from a place of concern and avoids placing blame. Try shaping both your family’s environment and your words to get on the same page about nutrition and health in your house.

Party Hard with Your Little Big Eater

Big appetites and parties don’t go great together especially when you throw in the moods and whims of a preschooler and the nutritional desires of a dietitian Mommy. My plan when it comes to feeding both of my children from day one has been – follow the DOR and everything will be okay, but even with that mantra in my head parties are hard. Maybe it’s because I feel like people are looking at me and judging – Do you see your kid? She hasn’t moved from that bowl of chips since she got here! – is what I imagine them saying. So how do I navigate the endless stream of parties? Here’s how:

• Stick to the feeding schedule. If the party is at 4 but snack is at 2:30, still give the normal snack and allow your child to eat her fill. If it makes you feel better, serve only healthy foods at that snack, but still to allow your child to get full. Do not skip snack because she’ll be eating later.
• Plate the treats at the party. Give a generous plate or bowl of anything your child wants. Allow him to choose his treats. Add a few fruits and veggies if they are being offered, but do not force your child to eat them. Just put them there.
• Cut him off with a choice. “There is so much yummy food here! You’ve had a lot of treats and there’s still more to come! If your belly is still hungry you can have some of these carrot sticks, or you can go and play.” This lets him know that he can come back for more, and cues him into his hunger and fullness cues. Chances are, he’s full and playing is a lot more appealing than carrot sticks, but if he choose carrots sticks then – awesome, he’s eating carrots!
• Don’t call attention to her big appetite or publicly shame her. I know there is a trend to public shaming lately, but please don’t do this to your child, especially when it comes to eating.
• Watch the drinks. Since drinks really just add calories and do little to aid with fullness, I have no issue with putting your foot down on the number of sugary drinks you’ll allow.
• Help your child off-set the treats with a lot of movement that day. Give your child extra opportunities engage in active play on the day of the party, but please don’t tell him he’s working off the calories!

With the right mindset and tools you can take the stress out of feeding a big appetite at parties. Going in with the right feeding skills will teach your child that parties, and the food that comes along with them, can be enjoyed without guilt or shame.


~ Katie Mulligan MS, RDN, LDN. I am the past owner of Nurturing Nutrition. Now I’m busy raising and feeding two kids and working full-time. I will be doing a few blog posts for Stephanie. Hope you enjoy them! Comment and I’ll be sure to get back to you!