I have always loved the combination of peppermint and chocolate – it is a classic. And mint chip ice cream? It’s like a Summer dream…well, except for the nightmarish amount of sugar it typically contains. And if you are dairy intolerant – the pain & discomfort that can follow.
Never fear – I have created a delicious, nutritious and easy superfood mint chip shake that rivals mint chip ice cream – but it has no sugar, no dairy, and is loaded with superfoods – yes, really!!
Also known as the horseradish tree and the drumstick tree, the moringa tree is native to North India – and it’s leaves & pods offer a number of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Moringa is an excellent source of iron, vitamin B6, protein, magnesium, vitamin A, potassium, vitamin C, and other important vitamins and minerals. It may help to reduce blood sugar, cholesterol, and chronic inflammation. There is not enough research to determine if moringa is safe during pregnancy – so therefore talk to your doctor first.
Did you know that peppermint can be a useful remedy for headaches and digestion issues? Peppermint has a mild numbing, cooling, and anti-spasmodic effect, and can even improve the flow of bile, and kill certain types of bacteria. Peppermint may help reduce bloating and gas, and indigestion. However, persons with reflux or GERD may wish to avoid using peppermint. Peppermint may also help to thin mucosal secretions and help to decongest stuffy noses. Applied to the temples (make sure to avoid the eyes!), peppermint may help relieve headaches in some individuals.
Please be very cautious with using peppermint essential oils – as they are very powerful and could burn if applied directly to the eyes or skin, or mouth. Peppermint oils should NOT be used on infants or small children, or taken internally with persons with GERD or reflux. Talk to your doctor before using peppermint oil if you are pregnant, nursing, or taking medications. If using peppermint topically – always dilute it with a carrier oil like coconut oil. If consuming peppermint oil internally, always make sure it is a certified therapeutic grade essential oil – and use only 1 or 2 drops diluted in your beverage or food. Learn more about doTERRA essential oils.
Article written by Nutritionist Sara Vance, author of the book The Perfect Metabolism Plan A regular guest on Fox 5 San Diego, you can see many of Sara’s segments on her media page. She also offers corporate nutrition, school programs, consultations, and affordable online eCourses. Download her free 40+ page Metabolism Jumpstart eBook here.
©2015, all rights reserved. Sara Vance.
If you know me – you know I am a fan of dark chocolate. I am kind of a chocolate snob actually – it has to be DARK, and high quality.
I am also a huge fan of coconut oil. Coconut oil is my favorite oil – it is high in medium chain fatty acids – which are boosting to the metabolism, and a good source of energy. Coconut oil does not require bile salts for digestion – so it is a good fat for people with gallbladder issues. Coconut oil is naturally antibacterial and antiviral, so it helps to prevent bacterial overgrowth while helping to lubricate the digestive tract. This makes it a useful remedy for constipation. There is even some evidence that coconut oil could potentially reduce the risk of developing dementia/Alzheimers (or reduce the symptom and progression of those with an early diagnosis). This is a very delicious way to get someone to eat their coconut oil.
I like to make my own chocolates using coconut oil – usually I use raw cacao, but this recipe is way easier – because instead of making it all from scratch, I just use chocolate chips and coconut oil.
This makes 1 batch/tray of mini chocolate squares – I used the square one of these silicon ice cube tray molds (this is nice as it comes with a cover). If using a larger mold like this heart shaped one, then double the recipe and cover with plastic wrap.
When there is a bit of a chill in the air, curling up on the couch with a nice cup of hot chocolate is a delicious way to warm up. My kids love hot chocolate – but I don’t love the kind made with those hot chocolate packets – each cup contains 20 grams of sugar (5 teaspoons!) and a bunch of other no-so-healthy ingredients we try to avoid. Here is the ingredients list from a popular brand:
SUGAR, CORN SYRUP SOLIDS, VEGETABLE OIL (PARTIALLY HYDROGENATED COCONUT OR PALM KERNEL AND HYDROGENATED SOYBEAN), DAIRY PRODUCT SOLIDS, COCOA PROCESSED WITH ALKALI, AND LESS THAN 2% OF CELLULOSE GUM, NONFAT MILK, SALT, SODIUM CASEINATE, SODIUM CITRATE, DIPOTASSIUM PHOSPHATE, SODIUM ALUMINOSILICATE, MONO- AND DIGLYCERIDES, GUAR GUM, ARTIFICIAL FLAVORS.
Then I found the perfect solution – delicious and healthy hot chocolate – thanks to Barleans Chocolate Greens! First of all, these greens are like no other – they do not taste “greenish” or look at all green – so they are great for kids, especially picky ones. They are not grainy at all either – they stir in totally smooth into your liquid. Each serving contains more than 5 servings of vegetables, probiotics, superfood greens, and much more! So when I read that it makes a yummy hot chocolate – we decided to give it a try – and it definitely makes a delicious and super healthy cup of hot chocolate (or chocolate milk, or chocolate smoothie)!
I wasn’t expecting my daughter to like it, who is a mostly reformed, but still a little bit of picky eater, and definitely a supertaster – so when she gave it the thumbs up, I was totally elated.
There are a couple ways to make it:
Pour your hot chocolate into a mug, and serve. Optional – you could even use a mini organic
candy cane to stir – it will give it a nice minty taste. Or top with some Elyon gluten free mini marshmallows, available at Whole Foods markets.
Constipation is one of the most common intestinal problems in children, and is the number one cause of kids’ belly pain. Occasional mild constipation might be bothersome, but usually is nothing serious. But when it becomes chronic or extreme, constipation can negatively impact kids’ lives. Kids with chronic constipation suffer from bloating and discomfort which can cause them to miss school and activities, it even accounts for 3% of outpatient visits to general pediatric clinics and up to 25% of visits to pediatric gastroenterology clinics.
Chronic constipation is generally a signal that something is amiss in the digestive process. Dealing with the underlying problem is more effective than just dealing with the symptoms. Fortunately, most constipation in infants and children is not caused by serious medical disease, and can be treated with some simple changes to their diet.
Constipation can be caused by a long list of issues including:
Many cases of chronic constipation can stem from picky eating. Changing a picky eater’s diet may not be very easy. So tasteless and odorless medications like Miralax seems to offer an easy solution – just stir it into a glass of water or juice, and drink it down. But prescribing it to kids and for a long term basis is an off-label use, as Miralax is not FDA approved for use in children. According Miralax’s label – it is for use with people age 17 and over, and not for more than 7 days (without a doctor’s orders). Although many doctor’s prescribe it to children, the research on the long-term safety of propylene glycol (PEG) use in kids is limited at best. According to the NY Times, “the Empire State Consumer Project, a New York consumer group, sent a citizen petition to the F.D.A. on behalf of parents concerned about the increase in so-called adverse events related to PEG that health professionals and consumers have reported to the F.D.A. over the past decade.” And another downside to using prescription laxatives is that they only remove the symptoms, they do not identify or deal with the underlying problem causing the constipation.
The good news is there are lots of natural alternatives that are safe, effective, and offer lots of nutritional benefits. Ideally, the best way to handle constipation is with a long term foods-based approach, and try to prevent it before it happens. Because once constipation sets in, it can be habit-forming and hard to fix.
10 tips for preventing constipation/boosting digestion naturally:
1. Hydrate! Many kids who suffer from constipation do not drink enough fluids throughout the day. Without proper hydration, the stools will be hard and difficult to pass.
2. Increase Fiber.
Most Americans do not get nearly the amount of fiber they need each day. There are 2 types of fiber – soluble and insoluble. Soluble dissolves in water, creating a gel. Insoluble fiber passes through undigested, so it adds bulk. How much fiber should my child get each day? For kids ages 3-18, you should add the number 5 to your child’s age, and in general, that is the number of grams of fiber they need daily – so an average 11 year old, should have about 16 grams of fiber per day. A 6 year old needs about 11 grams. Adults need about 25 grams each day. Add fiber gradually and slowly over time, as it can cause discomfort if you add it too quickly. It is important to drink extra liquids as well when increasing dietary fiber, especially soluble fiber because it need to soak up water in order to work.
3. Identify Food Sensitivities:
When constipation is chronic, going on an allergy elimination diet might be prudent. Undiagnosed food allergies or sensitivities can cause inflammation, digestive troubles, problems absorbing nutrients, and constipation. It is also important to discover a food sensitivity because they can lead to damage in the small intestine, and many other very serious health issues.
4. Pitch out Processed & Sweetened Foods
– Processed or “enriched” foods lack enzymes, fiber and nutrients. Diets that are highly processed not only lead to constipation, but also malnourishment and hypoglycemia. Super sugary foods and drinks also work against digestion. Also – the more sweet foods a child eats, the less they will enjoy unsweetened foods like vegetables, so getting rid of the sugar for a little while helps to reset the taste buds and metabolism. High sugar consumption also raises our triglycerides, blood sugar, and increases our risk of many diseases.
5. Balance minerals –
Too much calcium and not enough magnesium can lead to constipation (it also has been linked to increased risk of heart attack, due to calcifications of the arteries). As many as 70% of Americans are deficient in magnesium. This can result in constipation, headaches, sore muscles, nerve troubles, restless legs, nervousness, and even increased fractures. Taking magnesium before bedtime is helpful with constipation. For some kids, taking magnesium before school is helpful – as it can help them to be calm in school. If you are craving chocolate, it could be your body telling you that you need magnesium, cacao is one of the highest known food sources for magnesium. You can take magnesium supplements, such as Natural Calm, or you can eat foods rich in magnesium – cacao the main ingredient in chocolate is one of the richest known sources of magnesium. You can also take magnesium salt baths – which is a wonderful way to relax before bedtime too. I like the brand Dead Sea Warehouse, they have high quality sea salt products for a reasonable price – including bath salts, soaps, and lotions. I also recommend that people toss out the table salt, and get high quality sea or pink Himalayan salt, which has many natural minerals that the body needs.
6. Boost Good Bacteria.
We need to balance out the bacteria in our gut – probiotics boosts the good bacteria, which is very important for healthy digestion, a balanced weight, and a strong immune system. Fermented and cultured foods and drinks such as kefir can provide natural probiotics, or you can add a probiotic supplement to the daily routine. Read The Importance of Good Bacteria to learn more.
7. Boost Enzymes!
The body naturally produces hydrochloric acid (HCL) and enzymes to digest foods. If we are low on HCL or enzymes, food may not get properly digested, so it will be harder to pass through the digestive tract, and also the body will absorb less of the nutrients. If you suffer from acid reflux, you might think that you need to reduce the acid in your stomach. But usually, it means you do not have enough acid or enzymes.
– kids who spend too much time in front of a screen and not out being active can suffer from constipation. Regular exercise is important for promoting regularity.
It is important to make sure your child has enough time each morning to sit and relax on the potty before going off to school. Sometimes kids will “hold it” at school, traveling, or if they are out in public. Some teachers might restrict bathroom breaks, to limit disruptions to the school day. If your child suffers from urinary tract, constipation or digestive troubles; make sure to inform the teacher so he knows to not to restrict your child’s access to the bathroom. If the teacher does not agree, bring your issue to the principal, there is a disabilities act that prevents kids who have continence issues from being restricted from using the bathroom.
One of my favorite ways to sneak lots of good nutrition, fiber and hydration into a glass are smoothies. Especially good for picky eaters – smoothies are a great way to sneak in healthy ingredients!
Orange Dream Smoothie:
Makes one 8 oz. smoothie
Put the liquid in the blender and add the chia seeds, let soak for a few minutes to soften. Then add the rest of the ingredients, blend well, and serve this delicious smoothie that tastes like an orange creamsicle! It contains probiotics, 8 grams of highly nutritious chia fiber, which promote healthy digestion, and 2.5 grams of omega 3s, which is brain food. Pour any extra into popsicle molds for a healthy snack for later. This recipe is picky eater tested and approved!
As a child, I was a picky eater and suffered from chronic constipation. But today, following a gluten-free and a mostly dairy-free diet, along with a high fiber, high plant-based diet; I rarely suffer from constipation or digestive troubles. The first thing to permanently change my digestion was the addition of 2 Tablespoons of chia seeds every day. For me, chia seeds were truly a miracle.
Digestion is extremely important to our health. Poor digestion over time can lead to problems with sleep, hormones, mood/depression, weight, and potentially serious diseases. There is an expression: “All disease begins in the gut.” Symptoms like constipation can be a warning sign that something is amiss and we need to take steps to improve our nutrition and health. Rather than removing the symptom with a prescription, we should look deeper for a solution. Promoting good digestion with a foods-based plan, is a step in the right direction towards long-lasting health.
Realize that digestion issues may take a while to resolve, and it might be a good idea to slowly ease into the changes. If the constipation and digestion issues continue to persist, it might be prudent to schedule an appointment with a holistic or integrative practitioner to see if there is an underlying issue that needs to be addressed – such as an infection, parasites, SIBO, or another issue.
Read more: Miralax, a Popular Cure, But Never Approved for Children.
“Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food.” – Hippocrates
*This content is not to be construed as providing medical advice. All information provided is general and not specific to individuals. Persons experiencing problems or with questions about their health or medications, should consult their medical professional. Persons already taking prescription medications should consult a doctor before taking the above foods, herbs, vitamins or supplements to be sure there are no interactions.
I am a big proponent of getting kids into the kitchen whenever possible. Because if they make it, they will be more likely to eat it! One of my favorite recipes for kids to help with is homemade fish sticks. My daughter and I first made these together when she was 6 years old – and she did most of the work! I just cut the fish and got an assembly line all set up, and she got to work making all the fish sticks – which freed me up to make the dipping sauce (which she could have probably done too). She tends to be a bit of a picky eater – but these are one of her favorites, I think partly because she thinks about them as “her fish sticks,” and they are!
Our family recently went gluten-free, and so I decided to try to re-create this family favorite with popchips in place of the breadcrumbs – and they were even better than the original recipe! The fish sticks turned out so great, that I decided to try to make a few different recipes with popchips! I like popchips because they are popped not fried, gluten free, all natural, and they come in lots of yummy flavors – great for these 3 delicious, fast & easy recipes!
popchips Fish Sticks
Note: These fish sticks are good brain & mood food because they contain chia seed, which is a SUPERFOOD. Chia seeds are high in minerals, protein, fiber and ALA omega 3s – which help boost:
*If you can not find ground chia seeds, you may replace it with flax meal, or just omit it from the recipe.
popchips Coconut Shrimp
Serve plain or with a Sweet Thai Chili dipping sauce; also great over a bed of baby greens with thinly sliced red onion, mango chunks, and a fresh lime dressing.
Sweet Thai Chili Dipping Sauce:
Directions: Put all ingredients into a small saucepan, heat on medium high until just boiling, then reduce heat to low and simmer stirring occasionally for a couple of minutes. Pour into a bowl and allow to cool slightly while preparing/cooking shrimp.
My daughter is not a big fan of coconut, so I decided to try one more flavor…
popchips Parmesan Garlic Popcorn Shrimp
Serve plain or with the dipping sauce recipe for the fish sticks (above).
Fall is here, and alongside the colorful leaves are a variety of colorful squash. Butternut squash is rich in fiber, vitamin C, manganese, magnesium, potassium, and vitamins A & E. A wonderful food for baby, butternut squash also makes a delicious soup. Pears are also in season and make a wonderful first food for baby because they are less likely to cause an allergy, and are easy on the digestive system.
If you are planning to make a butternut squash & pear puree for baby, you are already halfway to making Butternut Squash & Pear soup – so the whole family can benefit from Fall’s bountiful harvest! Making homemade baby foods and soups are a snap with the Baby Bullet, it makes beautiful fruit & vegetable purees.
Making the same food for baby and the rest of the family saves time and money, and it also means that the whole family can benefit from the nutrients and enjoy a meal together. Eating together as a family has many benefits, read: The Importance of the Family Meal.
Butternut Squash, Ginger & Pear Soup
Rinse & pat dry the outside of your squash, slice it lengthwise and place it cut side down on a lined baking sheet. Put it into a preheated 400 degree oven. Peel, slice and core the pears, cut the onion into large chunks and toss in a little olive oil, set aside in a bowl.
After the butternut squash has been in the oven for about 20 minutes, pull it out and put the pear slices, the onion and the garlic on the baking sheet. Return the baking sheet to the oven. After about 25 minutes, check to see if the squash, pears and onions are fork-tender. Once they are fork-tender, pull the baking sheet from the oven and allow to cool a few minutes. Return anything that is not fork-tender to the oven to cook longer.
The whole family can sit down to dinner to enjoy butternut squash and pears together!
Mom or Dad has to work late, the kids have soccer practice and lots of homework. With today’s busy schedules, its not easy getting a home cooked meal on the table, and everyone in the same room to eat together. It’s no surprise that families can find themselves hitting the drive-thru on the way home more often than they might like. According to USA Today, people consume 50% more fat, calories, and sodium when they eat out, so eating on the run too much is not good for our waistlines. And to those who think they are saving money eating fast food, some home cooked dinners can be more economical than a fast food meal according to the NY Times.
But the advantages do not stop there, it turns out that regularly sitting down to a family dinner can benefit kids and families in two other big ways:
So with today’s over scheduled calendars, how can a family fit in dinner in between after school sports and activities, homework, and work obligations? Here are seven tips that can help families bring the family meal back:
Degenerative diseases like diabetes are on the rise, with one in three kids predicted to develop diabetes in their lifetime. And as the saying goes, “pay the grocer now, or pay the doctor later.” Fast food can cost us way more in the long run in terms of our health. Creating healthy eaters can help to prevent obesity and many related diseases. So making time to cook a healthy meal and sit down to dinner together as a family is worth the extra planning and effort it takes. Give it a try, and remember – the more you cook, the easier it gets; you might just be creating a healthier, happier family in the process. Does it mean you are a bad parent if you pop a frozen pizza in the oven occasionally? Of course not – we might not have time every night to make a home cooked meal, but the nights that we do – will benefit the whole family.
The childhood obesity rate has more than tripled in the past 30 years. Dietary increases in sugar, processed and fast foods, picky eating and insufficient consumption of fruits and vegetables all have contributed to the obesity crisis – made worse by the rise in screen time and decline in exercise. Diabetes is just one of the diseases that is rising because of our children’s declining health, with one in every three kids now predicted to develop diabetes in their lifetime. Heart disease is now affecting people far younger than ever before. According to the CDC, 70% of obese youth aged 5 – 17 had at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Health problems translate into high medical costs as well. People who are obese are faced with medical bills that are 42% higher than normal weight people (The New England Journal of Medicine). It is estimated that our nation’s obesity epidemic’s yearly price tag is already more than $147 billion, over 9% of all U.S. healthcare spending (The CDC.) Annual obesity-related health care costs are projected to rise by nearly $265 billion a year between 2008 and 2018.
According to a new study out of Penn State, hiding vegetables into foods resulted in kids consuming twice as many vegetables, and 11% fewer calories overall. Barbara Rolls, the Helen A. Guthrie Chair in Nutritional Sciences at Penn State hails this method as a good way to get kids to eat more veggies, lower their overall calorie intake, and therefore battle childhood obesity. Considering all of these factors, I was surprised to read a blog posted on Yahoo Shine this weekend entitled, Should You Trick the Kids Into Eating More Veggies? I assumed that the conclusion would be a resounding – “Yes!” Especially if the kids happily eat them, and the taste is not negatively affected. But surprisingly, the author of the blog does not think this is a good approach.
The author had two main concerns with the “sneaky’ method. First up, he felt that hiding veggies does not teach kids anything. I disagree. Repeated exposures to foods helps to “train” or teach our taste buds to develop an affinity for those foods. So in addition to enhancing the nutrition and fiber content of the foods, adding purees to foods allows the taste buds to be exposed to foods that they might not normally be exposed to. After kids eat foods that contain purees in them, when they have the opportunity to try those vegetables on their own, they might have developed their palate for them. I agree that hiding vegetables does not teach kids to eat the actual vegetable, but Deceptively Delicious and the other cookbooks that enhance foods with purees suggest continuing to serve actual veggies on the plate as well.
The other issue that the author has with hiding vegetables in foods – is that he thinks that we are essentially tricking our kids when we “hide” things in their foods. But how often do we actually tell our children all the ingredients that go into a dish anyway? People often change the ingredients on a recipe – whether it is adding a spice, or swapping an ingredient – that doesn’t mean we are lying to our kids. It just means we are improving the recipe. Or in our house, we turned it into a guessing game. “Guess what the secret ingredient is in these buttered noodles or pancakes?” My kids loved to try to figure out the secret ingredient, and were happy that they got to eat a serving a veggies without even knowing it! In many cases, they preferred the version with the purees!
A former picky eater myself, and a parent of a (semi-reformed) picky eater, I am a big fan of the Deceptively Delicious and The Sneaky Chef cookbooks, that popularized foods enhanced with vegetable and fruit purees. It takes a little additional effort to plan, and prepare the purees to add them to the meals. But once you get into the habit of it, and if you can make the purees ahead of time and freeze them, so eventually, it becomes much easier.
Last week I got my hands on and tested out the Baby Bullet, when I saw how easy and fast it was to make beautifully smooth purees, I immediately thought what a cool tool it would be for adding vegetable and fruit purees into kid-friendly foods. When I started to make my own purees a number of years ago – I always used my food processor or blender. The purees in my food processor were not as smooth as the ones made with the Baby Bullet, and the clean up was way more messy. So unless you have a Vitamix blender (which is at least $400), I think the Baby Bullet is a good value at just under $60 (plus shipping). Even if your baby has moved on to finger foods – the Baby Bullet is a great tool. The whole family can benefit from enriching foods with vegetable and fruit purees.
Maybe hiding fruits and veggies in foods won’t solve the obesity crisis, but doubling our vegetable intake and cutting down calorie consumption by 11% certainly can’t hurt. I give it a big thumbs up!
To get more tips for helping transform your picky eater, read 20 Tips for Transforming a Picky Eater.
Friend Sara Vance at Rebalance Life or join Parents of Picky Eaters on Facebook to get and share ideas for helping to transform picky eaters.
If you have a picky eater in your family – you are not alone – most American households have at least one.
Picky eating is very common in toddlers, and as long as parents continue to offer a wide range of healthy choices and do not cater to their pickiness, many kids will outgrow this stage. But picky kids can become picky adults if allowed to continue eating “kid food.”
Our bodies need antioxidants, vitamins and minerals to support all cellular functions. Picky eaters generally consume a very narrow range of foods, which tend to be lacking in nutrients and fiber. This can lead to nutrient deficiencies, lowered immune system, constipation, and even other problems like delayed growth and bone strength/ density problems (read Building Strong Bones in Kids). Eating a highly processed diet also increased the risk for weight gain and all degenerative diseases including heart disease and diabetes later in life.
The younger you can start, the better, because as kids get older – their eating habits get more “set” and difficult to change, and they are more independent – making more decisions on their own. But it is never too late to start improving dietary habits – even picky adults can do it! But don’t expect a picky eater to change over night – it can take months, even years!
1. Ditch the “kid food.” Feeding kids a separate dinner, or always give them “kid-food” will not help a child to expand their palate. Besides the extra time it takes to prepare a separate meal for the kids each night, most “kid food” tends to be nutritionally deficient. In order for kids to develop their palate, they need to be exposed to a wide variety of foods, sitting down to the same meal together helps children explore different tastes and flavors. How else is your child going to develop the taste for salmon or Brussels sprouts? Sometimes due to parent’s work schedules this is not possible for everyone to sit down together, so having a family meal whenever possible is a good plan. A recent study showed that eating together as a family encourages kids to try new foods. Eating together as a family has also been shown to offer other benefits, read Bring Back the Family Meal for more info.
2. Follow a 90/10 rule. It is the things we do most of the time that have the biggest impact on our health. The 90/10 rule is a good “real world” plan. It encourages healthy choices most of the time, but allows for some flexibility. On this plan, 90% of the diet comes from “healthy” nutrient dense foods, and the 10% left can be “splurge” foods. The Obama family follows this plan, which is nice because it allows for occasional treats, but only if kids have eaten a primarily healthy diet, such as having 5 servings of vegetables and fruits. Even getting to an 80/20 ratio would be a big improvement for many! Too often, kids who eat very few to no vegetables at dinner (or all day) will then fix themselves a huge bowl of ice cream or another sweet dessert. My husband came up with this rule – “your dessert can not be bigger than the serving of veggies you had for dinner.”
3. Stop the power-struggles. Some kids are picky for attention, or to exert their independence. Instead of giving them attention for negative behavior, focus on and encourage the positive. You could set up a reward system – put out a jar, and let them earn marbles or coins for trying new foods, or eating their veggies. If they are getting more attention for making healthy choices – that will reinforce the “good” behaviors. Another strategy is to offer 2 choices that you can live with – “would you like a salad or broccoli with dinner tonight?” When kids are able to make a choice, they feel more independent and in control.
4. Have FUN! Humor is also a great tactic for breaking through power struggles – be silly and have fun at mealtimes. One way to make food fun is to cut it into fun shapes. I like to use little fondant cutters to cut fruit & veggies into fun shapes, kids also like to make melon balls. Put the shapes and melon balls onto skewers – and stick them into a watermelon that was cut in half and put upside down – and you have a beautiful centerpiece (see eHow video). Set up a salad bar at home. The kids get their lettuce, and then add the different veggies that they like – red peppers, carrot shreds, etc. Link this into the rewards system, and they get points for trying a new veggie, or for each one they add to the salad. Experts even encourage kids to play with their food – our kids like to eat their Brussels sprouts with their hands and peel off each layer – hey, they are eating and loving their Brussels sprouts, so why quabble about table manners at this point? If we were out to a nice dinner – we would probably discourage eating with hands however.
5. Keep Track. When kids are paying attention to how many fruits and veggies they really are eating every day – it can be eye-opening (for parents too!). Create a food chart, or I encourage kids to use 5 a Day Silly Bandz to track their daily fruit & veggie consumption. They put them all on their left wrist in the morning, and each time they eat a serving (not a bite) of fruit or veggies – they get to move 1 band to the right wrist. The goal should be to have at least 5 or more on the right wrist at the end of the day – it is a fun, visual & tactile way to keep fruit & veggies on the brain. If you are sitting down to dinner and all the bands are still on the left wrist, it says something about their diet that day (and often their energy and mood will coincide)!! Some families might decide to make dessert conditional – the daily veggie and fruit goal must be met in order to have dessert (this goes back to the 90/10 rule).
6. Food is Fuel. Help kids understand how foods affect how their bodies feel and function. Sugary cereals or doughnuts for breakfast can cause them to crash and burn, that kind of fuel won’t help them “ace” their test or help get their team to All-Stars. Teach kids to be “intuitive eaters,” to think about how a food makes their bodies feel or function. Many foods (like sugary foods) make you feel great for about 15 minutes, but then your body crashes, along with your mood and your brain function. Some foods can cause digestive troubles too. Help you child connect to how a food makes them feel – 30 minutes, 1-2 hours after eating it. So if they overindulge in candy, cookies or another food that leaves them feeling icky – use it as a learning opportunity. Ask them how all that sugar made their body feel. Some people live their whole lives and do not make the connection between what they eat and how their body feels. Helping kids to do this is an incredible skill to develop that could serve them for the rest of their lives.
7. Encourage Adventurous Eating. Instead of pointing out that they are a picky eater, encourage them to be an “Adventurous Eater!” In my School Assemblies – I ask kids if they would ride in a hot air balloon, or zip line in Costa Rica? Most kids say “yes.” I say that if they are adventurous with what they like to do, they can also be more adventurous with what they eat – they have nothing to lose! I always tell them that there might not be buttered noodles or pizza in Costa Rica, so they should start training their taste buds now to be a world traveler. Plus picky eating is soooo 2012!
8. Purge the pantry. Some families simply need to clean out the refrigerator and the pantry to remove the temptations for a little while. Toss out the sugary sodas and other sweet drinks, cookies, candies, sugary cereals, processed snacks, and more. Even fruit juice can be trouble – as even though it is natural, it is still a big jolt of sugar. Replace them with lots of veggies, whole fruits and whole grains, nuts, and other healthy choices. A week or two might be all you need to “rebalance” habits and cravings. The more sugar a person eats, the more they want, so getting rid of it for a while can be a good strategy to reset their taste buds. The kids will likely protest for a few days, but you might be surprised at what they end up choosing for dessert when there is no ice cream or cookies around.
9. Stop the snacking!! Kids today eat about 30% of their calories as snacks, according to a study from the U. of North Carolina. But many snacks and kid foods are empty calories, with lower nutrient-density. Kids that are allowed to snack all day long and right before meals, will come to dinner with their bellies already full of “snack food”, leaving no room for the meal being served. If kids sit down to dinner hungry, they are more likely to eat what is served. European kids snack very little, and they tend to eat 3 square meals a day, and eat the same meal as the parents, and therefore they have much more sophisticated palates. If your child has not eaten since lunch and is looking for a snack before dinner – put out a tray with a selection of colorful veggies with dip – some baby carrots, snap peas, red pepper and other chopped veggies. Put out some hummus or another dip to make it fun. We like to use colorful mini bowls for dips – it makes it more fun, and they use less of the dip. Summertime is a great time to boost the fruit and veggies – they are in season, so they are less expensive, more plentiful, and as ripe and delicious as ever! When you bring home the veggies, wash and cut them so they are ready to eat when the kids ask for a snack.
10. Experiment. Try raw, cooked, roasted… Someone who does not like cooked carrots – might like them raw dipped in dressing. Roasting vegetables brings out the natural sweetness of that food, so vegetables roasted in the oven tends to be sweeter than the steamed kind. Make sure to not overcook vegetables – mushy vegetables don’t look or taste appealing to anyone, plus much of the nutrition ends up in the water if overcooked. Baby spinach is very mild tasting – if you chop it up well – many kids might surprise you and eat a spinach salad, which is packed with nutrition.
11. Turn them into a Top Chef. If they cook it – they will eat it, or at least they will be more likely to try it! When kids cook “they come to at least try the food,” said Isobel Contento, professor of nutrition education and co-author of a study conducted at Columbia University Teachers College. So get your picky eater into the kitchen, or sign them up for some healthy kids cooking classes. If a kid cooks it – they will want to try their creation. Sometimes, kids can really get into cooking, and can even be a big help around the kitchen.
12. Ditch the sodas. Kids who drink sodas regularly eat more and also have a higher risk of heart disease later in life. Replace sodas with plain ole water throughout the day. A large percentage of kids simply do not get enough water during the day, which can lead to chronic dehydration and other related problems. For a treat, we like to make “fresh fruit fizzies.” To make them, you squeeze fresh citrus fruit into a cup, and add some sparkling water. If it is not sweet enough, stir in a little squirt of raw local honey or organic agave nectar – and voila! You have a fun antioxidant rich healthier soda, they are fun to make too.
13. Serve veggies first. Picky eaters often leave their veggies for last on their plate and claim they are “full.” Serve the veggies first when they are hungriest – or hold off on any seconds until the veggies have been consumed.
14. Whip up a smoothie! Smoothies are a great way to pack in the nutrition. Instead of a lot of juice start with a whole orange as your base. Add in some frozen blueberries, a frozen banana and some vanilla protein powder. I like to add spinach or a greens powder to my kids’ smoothies – if blended well, they don’t even know it is in there – and spinach is high in vitamin k, vitamin A, and magnesium. A Vitamix is a good tool for families with picky eaters, yes they are expensive – but they last for decades, and are powerful blenders that can remove all the texture from foods – important for a texture-phobe. They allow for easy inclusion of vegetables into smoothies.
15. “Enhance” foods. I don’t call it sneaking, or hiding, I call it enhancing. I enhance everything I make for myself whenever I can, why not my kids? Chia seeds and kale can boost the nutrition in smoothies, butternut squash makes a delicious “cheesy” pasta dish. This approach is great for texture-phobes – as the texture is removed by pureeing the vegetables first. Some people think this tactic is deceptive – read: Is Hiding Fruits & Veggies Deceptive, Or a Solution to the Obesity Crisis? Weigh in with your opinion in the comments below. Try cookbooks like The Sneaky Chef and Deceptively Delicious for some “boosted” recipe ideas.
16. Taste Buds Change. I always teach kids the “15 Tries Rule.” Because taste buds can change overtime, before you can say for 100% sure that you don’t like a food – you should try it at least 15 times. Studies show that it sometimes takes 15 exposures to a food for someone to develop an affinity for a particular food. So remind your picky eater that just trying a food once or twice is not enough – they need to try it at least 15 times. As long as they at least take one bite each time that food is served – they are giving it a try. Some people call it a “No thank you bite.” Encourage them to keep trying, and if they try it and do not like it, do not force them to keep eating it. Praise them for at least trying. They will be more likely to try it again next time. How do you know if you don’t like it if you don’t at least try it? I tell kids that if they have not tried a food in a while – they might just surprise themselves and love it! This is another reason that I like to enhance foods – even if we do not know the food is in there, or taste it consciously – our taste buds are getting exposed to it, and so it helps us to develop our palate for that food over time.
17. Boost spices & flavor! So often, picky eaters are fed a diet of bland and boring foods like buttered noodles and nuggets. Often parents mistakenly think that picky kids prefer foods lacking in flavor. Surprisingly, many kids are craving more flavor and variety, they just may not know it themselves. My former picky eater loves pestos and spicy foods – the more flavor the better! This is why Flamin’ Hot Cheetos are unfortunately so popular on playground – they are bursting with spice and flavor that kids are craving (and unfortunately also artificial colors, flavors, preservatives, and other toxic ingredients). So don’t be afraid to give them foods that have flavor – they might find a new excitement with food after eating a boring bland diet for so long.
18. Supplement. Because picky eaters diet is often lacking in nutrient rich plant based foods, it is a good idea to have an insurance plan. Get your picky eater on a high quality multi-vitamin and/or foods-based supplement. This will help to make up for some of the nutrients that they are missing in their diets. Work with a nutritionist or health practitioner – they tend to have access to higher quality supplements than the ones you might find on the grocery store shelf.
19. Check their zinc status – essential to the normal growth and development of animals and humans. Zinc is required for the synthesis of steroid hormones by the adrenal glands, required for growth. Low zinc levels can cause picky eating in kids. Supplementing with zinc can also sometimes correct unexplained slow growth in children. Contact a nutritionist about having your child’s zinc status checked – there are liquid zinc solutions that can be used to assess zinc levels right in their office.
20. Set a good example. Picky eating runs in families – but is it nature or nurture? According to a 2005 study, parents who consumed more fruits and vegetables were less likely to pressure their kids to eat and had kids who were less picky and consumed more fruits and vegetables. The study concluded that “parents should focus less on “picky eating” behavior and more on modeling fruit and vegetable consumption for their children.” Kids watch what their parents do, and tend to follow their lead. So when parents choose and eat more fruits and veggies, so will their kids.
Do not give up!! First of all, realize that transforming a picky eater is no picnic. Some kids can fit more than one of the above “types” of picky eaters, which can make the challenge even more difficult. Don’t expect a picky eater to change overnight – most kids who are picky will need a lot of encouragement, and despite improving, could always be a little on the picky side. But even little improvements in their diet – can add up over time. But realize – it is worth the effort, kids who do not eat a well balanced diet are going to be at an increased risk for diseases later in life. Obesity and diabetes are rising in this country, and changing that starts at home in the kitchen. Keep reminding yourself that it is worth every frustrating minute of your time and energy to help them expand their palate. Some picky eaters can be underweight because they do not consume enough foods to maintain their weight, but others can be overweight due to the over-consumption of high calorie, nutrient deficient foods. In both cases, nutrient deficiencies can exist. Your child’s pediatrician can monitor their growth to make sure they are on track for height and weight.
Consider Seeking a Specialist:
If your child says that a food gives them a tummy ache, a headache, or makes them feel nauseous or “sick,” I highly recommend seeing an allergist who can screening them for food allergies and a Nutritionist/Functional Medicine practitioner who can have a food intolerance panel run. Kids with food intolerances can be pickier, because they might be avoiding foods that just make them feel “icky.” Other possible symptoms of food intolerances can be unexplained muscle/joint aches, gas, constipation, diarrhea, frequent fractures, poor growth, mood imbalances/tantrums, weight gain, seizures, bed wetting, and asthma.
If you have ruled out food intolerances, and tried the above tips, and your picky eater does not improve at all after several weeks of trying – it might be worth seeing a feeding specialist who can diagnose what is going on, and provide therapy to help your child’s eating habits improve. Severe cases of picky eating are called Selective Eating Disorder and can last until adulthood if not treated. The definition of a true eating disorder is defined as abnormal eating habits that cause detriment to health, and can also interfere with social and professional relationships. Read No Age on Picky Eating in the Wall Street Journal to learn more.
© copyright 2017 Sara Vance