Vitamin C and mix fruit on white background

‘Sup?? My thoughts on dietary supplements

I was reading an article in my local paper last week about how kids should be eating foods, not pills, to get their vitamins. I don’t disagree with that thinking one bit (I might lose my dietitian’s license if I did!) but I also live in real life and see what my kids eat…and don’t eat. And I’ll tell you what – I give my kids (and myself) multivitamins and supplements every day.

I like to think that as a dietitian and mom with a reasonable ability to get healthy food on the table at most eating occasions, my kids are set up for success. If I do pack a lunch, my child knows it will include a main dish, a fruit, a veggie, a carton of lowfat milk and *maybe* a treat. If she buys school lunch it’s the same option: she must be served a fruit and a veggie, some milk and a main course. The difference is that I see what she eats and what she doesn’t when she brings lunch. I also see firsthand what she eats and doesn’t eat at breakfast and dinner. And let me tell you, it’s not the picture of perfection.

But I don’t push it. Why? Because I believe in the Ellyn Satter approach to feeding children. That is, as parents and children there are divisions of responsibility. I can choose what she eats, but the child will choose whether to eat it. If I push, force, cajole, etc., the result could backfire and instead I could be promoting an unhealthy relationship with food for my child. As much as I’d love my child to eat salmon with brown rice and wilted spinach for dinner (the omega-3s! The fiber! The vitamins!), most likely she’d eat the tomatoes and baby carrots she gets as a salad and maybe one grain of rice just to say she ate it.

Do I depend on supplements to give my child all the nutrients she needs? Not at all. Supplements are meant quite literally to supplement an overall (hopefully still healthy) diet. And yes, I will still serve her the salmon, rice and spinach over and over and over again. And one day she may eat it. Or not. But I know that at least for today, I don’t have to worry about lacking certain nutrients.

Disclosure: As a dietitian who consults with industry, I work with the Global Organization for EPA and DHA omega-3s, but I did not write this post as a result of that relationship nor was I asked to. I wrote this because of what I see in the media and my own take as a dietitian and parent. All views and words, as always, are my very own.


Food Trends from FNCE® 2015

It’s been a week since I came back from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo™ (FNCE®). This year’s event was in Nashville, and it was about four days of nonstop learning, networking, eating (of course) and not enough sleeping. I liken FNCE to a marathon: there is the months-long prep. When you get there you just go, go, go – never giving into exhaustion. When it’s all over, you’re sore and really want a nap. You say, “never again will I put my body through that!” Then before you know it, you’re excitedly planning for the next one!

This year’s FNCE was no exception. It was wonderful to see many dietitian friends, old and new (reportedly there were some 10,000 of us?!?). I spent most of my time in and around the expo hall, which was a treasure trove of food trends. Here’s what stuck most with me:

  • What’s Old Is New: Growing up, grain foods were mainly flour, rice and oats. Now you can find quinoa, freekeh, teff – even sprouted grains.
  • There’s a Yogurt (or two, or three) For You: One day during the expo I realized I probably at the equivalent of three servings of yogurt by mid-afternoon. There were so many yogurt options available, from whole milk to nonfat, Greek-style or Icelandic-style, with or without toppings, even dairy free.
  • Love Those Lentils: Plant-based proteins are all the rage, and right now it is lentils’ day in the sun. Various lentil organizations were exhibiting, but you could also find this pulse as an ingredient in pasta and in snacks.
  • Snacks Reign Supreme – According to data from Mintel, 94 percent of Americans snack at least once each day. The expo floor reflected that with snacks of all kinds, from single-serve chips, dips and bars. My favorites? All KIND bar varieties and this bar from Kashi.
  • What Cereal Decline? While media reports suggest that Americans are eating less and less boxed cereal, there was little hint of its waning popularity when walking the expo floor. Noticeably absent from this year’s event was General Mills, but cereal companies such as Kellogg’s, Kashi, Nature’s Path, Barbara’s Bakery and others were doling out samples.
  • Eat Your Fruits & Vegetables! The latest CDC data show that American adults are awful at reaching their intake goals for fruits and vegetables. Thankfully, there are many options to fill this gap – and fresh may not necessarily be best! Convenience is key, as suggested by the various salad kit vendors. You can also get portion-controlled and portable dried fruit, canned fruits and vegetables, or blend fruits and vegetables into a grab-and-go smoothie. To eat well away from home, a 6-inch sandwich from Subway packs two full servings of vegetables if you choose to “run it through the garden” (that is, choose all the fresh veggies).

With all that sampling, I’m happy to say I’m back on my regular sleeping and eating routine. And now I finally have time to watch the recordings of the education sessions I missed!

Disclosure: I consult with NutriBullet but was not asked to write about them nor include them in this post. I have no other affiliations with any other brands or products mentioned. All viewpoints and words are my own.

Pacify logo

Breastfeeding support on demand, through your phone. Yes, really!

Disclosure: I am part of the Pacify provider network but was not asked to nor will I be compensated for writing this post. I work with brands and companies I believe in, such as this one. All views and words are my very own.

I consider myself lucky. My first child was delivered at a baby-friendly hospital which truly lived up to its distinction. There was breastfeeding support as soon as my daughter was born, and I wasn’t discharged until I had at least one visit from the lactation consultants.

Also available to me were weekly breastfeeding support groups at the hospital, as well as unlimited calls to the lactation consultant support line. I’d leave a message and get a return call within about 2 hours, or the next business day if it was late in the day. I used that line a lot, as I was a nervous first-time mom with a smallish little baby girl – the honor roll student in me did not understand how 30 percent(ile) could be considered “good” or “normal”,  but so goes the growth chart system! Thanks in no small part to the support of the lactation consultants, as well as to my support system at home and of like-minded mamas, I was able to reach my goal of breastfeeding for one year. (OK, 13 months. It’s that honor roll/overachiever in me!)

That’s why when I first heard about Pacify, I knew I wanted to get involved. Pacify is a new company, an app on your mobile phone that connects subscribers (usually moms) with health professionals. For a monthly fee you can have unlimited, on-demand access to nurses, lactation consultants and dietitians to answer questions when you need it, not to mention the support and reassurance from a qualified health professional quite literally right there in front of you (most calls are done via video chat). While a goal of Pacify may be to increase confidence in a mom’s ability to breastfeed which may also increase duration, Pacify providers like me may also help with non-breastfeeding-related questions like when to introduce solids and how to overcome picky eating in a toddler.

Like it or not, we are an on-demand culture: we want to binge-watch television shows, get questions answered by Google, and hate waiting for a call back or when business hours roll around. When it’s the middle of the night and baby is crying but won’t latch, mom wants help from a professional and needs it now. Thankfully, services like Pacify are now there.

D.C. area readers: Tomorrow you can meet Pacify directly! Visit the Pacify booth at the Big City Moms Biggest Baby Shower tomorrow, September 30, from 6:00-9:30 p.m. at the Georgetown University Hotel and Conference Center. You can get $15 off (that’s one free month) with a special code. No obligation – just try it out. Makes a great baby shower present, too!!

Everyone else: If you’re interested in trying Pacify and you’re in the D.C. area, Maryland, Virginia or California, leave a note for me in the comments and I’ll email you the code. Pacify is quickly expanding into other states, so stay tuned.

School Lunch

I Love School Lunch (and So Do My Kids)

A version of this post originally appeared on Stone Soup, a blog written by registered dietitian contributors. 

For the past several weeks, my social media feeds have been flooded with tips, tricks and gorgeous pictures of nutritious and appealing lunches for kids. It seems like kids across the country will be plunking down properly insulated and portion-perfect bento boxes of adorable cookie cutter-cut sandwiches and sides of fruit in caterpillar-shaped cuteness served with a carton of organic milk.

Not my kid.

In our house, we nudge our school-age child toward buying a hot school lunch. If you haven’t been to a school lunch cafeteria in while, I urge you to visit with your child someday. You might be surprised. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 required for the first time in more than 15 years that school lunch standards conform to the latest dietary guidelines. This meant using only whole grain ingredients, serving more fresh fruits and vegetables, providing lowfat or nonfat milk only, reducing sodium and setting calorie limits, among other changes.

The foods served at my child’s school may look like normal kid fare, but they are made with better-for-you ingredients. Chicken nuggets and buns are made with whole grains, hot dogs are actually turkey dogs, and pizza is made with a whole wheat crust and lowfat cheese. All vegetables served on the side (and a child must take a vegetable) are either fresh or reduced-sodium if canned. There isn’t dessert served except on special occasions. Yes, not everything on her tray gets eaten and may end up in the trash, however more often than not the packed lunches I give her come home with untouched food as well. With lunchtime crunched into a 20-minute timespan, that barely gives enough time to get lunch, sit at a table, have some unstructured time to connect with friends, and, oh yeah – eat!

Another thing I like about having my child eat school lunch is that it allows positive peer pressure to work. If other kids at her table are eating the same thing and her good friend is gobbling up the pea-and-carrot cup with gusto, that may inspire her to give it a try. Exposure and modeling are powerful teaching tools, especially when it comes to trying new foods. It works great at my son’s preschool, where kids and their teachers are all served the same lunch and snacks. They even have paella on the menu, which apparently my son has gotten to like.

So parents, when you get tired of making broccoli tree and celery boat dioramas, packed lovingly but returned home as if an avalanche hit the scene, put some money in your kids’ school lunch account and send them off with a kiss and the knowledge that they’re getting a healthy lunch…served lovingly by someone else!

Disclosure: none. All opinions are my own.

FamilyMealsMonth logo

A Family Who Eats Together…

When our first child was born, my husband and I made a pact: we would always try to have dinner together, as a family. We knew so many young families who served two dinners: one for the kids, and one later for the parents after the kids had gone to bed. Being early-to-bed/early-to-rise people, dinner at 8pm or later just would not work in our house.

It wasn’t always easy. Those early weeks with our first child often had one of us eating while the other bopped around, trying to sooth the colicky child crying in the sling or baby bjorn. As our family grew and the kids got older, eating together was pretty easy. Highchairs were soon replaced with booster chairs which gave way to everyone sitting in the same type of seat. And dinnertime was always promptly at 6pm. It just was (and still is)…no questions.

As our children get older I worry about activities starting to encroach on our dinnertime. But for now I will hold onto the time we have for as long as I can.

September is National Family Meals Month, a time to commit to eating one more meal together as a family. It’s not just about nutrition – though there’s evidence that suggests home-cooked meals are healthier. Eating together as a family is a time to reconnect, to talk about the day, to do some subtle homework help, and to model good eating behaviors. Regular family meals may also help boost performance in school and help kids stay off drugs.

The dinner hour can be stressful, especially if family members had a hard day or the meal served isn’t a favorite. But here are some tips to make family mealtime enjoyable for everyone:

  • Take turns choosing the meal. This could mean macaroni and cheese one night and chicken curry another night. But giving everyone equal say in the meal decisions can help generate excitement.
  • Get kids to help in the kitchen. Even the youngest children can play with measuring cups or arrange vegetables on a tray. As they get older you can have them do simple tasks like measuring and mixing, and later graduating to boiling water or carefully slicing ingredients. Getting them involved gives them a sense of pride on the outcome.
  • Always serve something that each person would like with the meal. Not everyone in my house gets excited about Sloppy Joe’s night, but everyone will at least eat the bun and the carrot sticks. You never know when that bun may one day include a spoonful of Sloppy Joe meat.
  • Don’t force eating. According to Ellyn Satter, the expert on child feeding, it’s the parents’ job to choose what, where, and when to eat. It’s the child’s job to choose if and how much to eat. Maybe the Sloppy Joe meat will go untouched 9 times out of 10. But maybe, after a while, the child might be motivated to try it. Or maybe one day he’ll like it and the next day it makes him turn his nose. Either way, be patient and don’t badger.
  • Focus on the table. Even better, focus on the people at the table. Leave electronics turned off or in another room. Playing soft music is OK, but having the TV on as background noise is not. This is the time to truly connect with one another, without any outside distractions.
  • Have reasonable expectations. Not every dinnertime is going to lead to earth-shattering conversations or behavior breakthroughs. Some days having conversations may be like pulling teeth (anyone with teenagers know what I’m talking about???). It’s OK if dinner is 15 minutes one night when most nights it’s about 30 minutes. Just being together is what counts.

As I’m writing this, I just remembered: Growing up, there were three of us kids and a single mom. Eating meals together didn’t always happen – that is, until my mom instituted “Ritual.” Ritual was one night every week that we committed to eating together at home, all four of us (or three, when my older sister went away to college). The day of the week changed with the school years and around different activities, but it was usually a Monday or Tuesday. It was also a night that we ordered in dinner, so no one had to cook and everyone got to choose what they wanted. I don’t remember much about Ritual or whether it solved any major school-age crises for me. But here I am, a few decades older, and I’m still recalling sitting around that kitchen table, unpacking the takeout and eating together.

Disclosure: I learned about the Food Marketing Institute’s National Family Meals Month (#FamilyMealsMonth) and its campaign to #RaiseYourMitt to commit to one more family meal per week. I was not asked to write about this initiative nor was I compensated to do so. I just honestly believe in family mealtime and the bounty of benefits if can provide.


Field Notes: FNCE 2014

A few weeks ago I attended the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo™ (commonly referred to as FNCE®, pronounced FINN-see). This is the annual event in which 8,000 or so registered dietitians and others working in the nutrition field congregate and learn the latest nutrition science and research, sample new products, get a peek at the latest trends, and network like crazy. For me, FNCE is like an annual reunion, where I get to see – or meet for the first time – people I communicate with throughout the year on social media and via email. It’s fun, but hoo boy – is it exhausting!!

Which is probably why it took me this long to write up my FNCE recap. I needed the rest and recovery!

There is so much to do at FNCE, but my main job there was with Welch’s, working the booth and introducing its new Farmer’s Pick by Welch’s line of 100% fruit juices. Still, when I wasn’t at the booth I spent much of the rest of my time on the exhibit floor and came away with the following insights on the latest trends:

  1. We love our snacks! According to the USDA, about 96% of Americans reportedly snack at least once per day. That trend was certainly apparent at FNCE, with snack foods galore. And not only were these snack foods packed with nutrition and taste, the brands also wanted you to know what they didn’t have, like GMOs or nuts or gluten or high-fructose corn syrup.
  2. Kids are king! Maybe it’s the mom in me, but I was getting some good ideas for school lunches and snacks for my grade-schooler. With so many schools instituting no-nut policies, it was interesting to see all the nut-alternative products made with beans, peas and lentils, packaged in fun ways with kid appeal. But that’s not to say…
  3. We’re nuts for nuts! So many nuts were at FNCE (and no, I’m not talking about the attendees!) There were peanuts and almonds and pecans and so much more. Maybe it’s because…
  4. We’re also nuts for protein! Protein may be the one nutrient of which most Americans consume the right amount, but boy do we love protein! And there are myraid ways to get protein – not just the traditional sources like meat and dairy, but also protein-fortified bars and beverages.
  5. We like to mix things up! Setting aside the “yogurt gets a passport” trend (see previous blog post on that topic), we love customizing our own foods, mixing savory with sweet, crunchy with creamy. You could see that in action with yogurts (SO many yogurt options), cottage cheese – even strawberries.

Curious to hear from other RDs and the trends they picked up on at FNCE. Leave a note in the comments!


Disclosure: Welch’s is a client, but I was not compensated nor asked to write this post. All thoughts and opinions are my own.