Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Texting at the Table

This week the New York Times has had two articles about the effects of texting on our social relationships. I was interviewed for the article that appears in today's paper, "Play With Your Food, Just Don't Text!", but alas, no quotes from me appeared. I'm both relieved and a little disappointed, and the experience has definitely been one filled with learning for me. I was originally contacted as a mental health practitioner working to help families have more meals together. I was excited as this is right up my alley and exactly the message I'm trying to get out. The article evolved into an article on texting at the dinner table. I had told an anecdote about my husband and I catching our 13 year old trying to hide her texting one night at the table. As soon as her eyes glanced down at her lap we knew what she was up to and confiscated her phone. Fortunately this was an isolated incident and we don't allow gadgets at the table. I was concerned how I would be portrayed in this anecdote - thus my relief that I wasn't portrayed at all.

But reading the article and some of the readers' comments on it has got me thinking. It can be really difficult to gather a family together to have a meal, but then once you're all there, other obstacles can get in the way of an enjoyable meal together. For my family, there are several - my children's sometimes picky eating, boisterous behavior, my husband's occasional emergency phone calls for work, and having to rush on to another activity after dinner are the obstacles that come quickly to mind.

What gets in the way of enjoying meal time together for your family? I'd love to hear about your challenges.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

"Are Calories Good or Bad?"

My 7 year old daughter asked me the other day, "Are calories good or bad?" Since she has asked me this question more than once in recent months, I'm feeling like something in my answer is not getting through to her. This time, we talked about it a little longer and as we were all in the car together (some of the best conversations happen in the car!), my 11 year old - currently learning about food and nutrition in her health class - also joined in. My answer has always been that calories are neither good nor bad and you need calories to live. This time, however, we talked more about the relationship between calories and energy. You need calories in order to do things like dancing, running, and even just sitting and breathing. My 11 year old drove home the point that different activities need different levels of energy and calories. We also talked about trying to eat the amount of calories that your body needs for growing and for different activities. She seemed satisfied with our answers. Whew...

I worry sometimes though about the messages my kids are getting about things like "calories." There seems to be so much value judgment in the education that they receive around the topics of food and eating. Some of that may be very well intentioned, but some of it may be misguided. I recently read the Academy for Eating Disorders Guidelines for Childhood Obesity Prevention Programs ( and was really impressed with how thoughtful they are. In our best efforts to prevent the growing problem of childhood obesity, we should be careful not to harm children psychologically and perhaps unintentionally create other problems.

I don't want my children worrying that calories are "bad." It's like worrying that inches, grams, or any other unit of measurement are "bad." I also don't want every decision my children make about what to eat to be based on the calorie content of food. I hope for them to be successful eaters - eaters who eat a variety of foods, eat when they're hungry, stop eating when they're full, and enjoy their food. I hope messages that they receive about food and eating from school, media, friends and other adults support my goals for them, but I'm not always so sure...

Monday, May 18, 2009

Delicious Asparagus Side Dish

This past Saturday we had no plans for dinner -highly unusual for me since I usually plan our meals a week at a time. But this Saturday was complicated with church, softball, and party plans. I wasn't sure who was going to be around for dinner or when or where dinner would take place, and frankly I was too tired to think of a plan. But alas we did have dinner! After softball - and the post-softball ice cream - two of my children, one of their friends, and my husband and I were home for a late dinner. I used some of my "emergency" freezer stash of pasta sauce (puttanesca, this time) and made spaghetti.

I also had some fresh asparagus and prosciutto with some vague idea, but no real recipe, of preparing them together. To find a recipe I went to, a site I would highly recommend. The site has a feature where you can search for a recipe based on ingredients you want to include. When I typed in asparagus and prosciutto, two recipes came up in the search results. Reading the recipes and others' comments on the recipes, I came up with the recipe below. I use this strategy often. I would recommend that you search for several similar recipes and adapt, combine, and modify them as suits your tastes and cooking style. There are a lot of great recipes out there just waiting for you to tinker with!

Asparagus with Prosciutto and Provolone

1 bunch of asparagus, washed and trimmed
8 slices of prosciutto
4 slices of provolone
canola cooking spray
  • Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
  • Wrap half a slice of provolone cheese, followed by a slice of prosciutto around a bundle of 3 pieces of asparagus. Place wrapped bundle in a baking dish.
  • Repeat with remaining asparagus.
  • Spray with canola cooking spray.
  • Bake for about 15 minutes.

I have to say that we enjoyed this and it was so easy to make.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Oops...I goofed on the low-fat cheese ingredient

In my last newsletter I included a recipe for Chicken Taco Rice which listed low-fat cheese as an ingredient. After the newsletter came out I received an e-mail from Ellyn Satter, the author of multiple books and creator of the model of division of responsibility in feeding for children. I attended an intensive workshop with Ellyn last fall and am fortunate to have received not only a great deal of education, but also encouragement from her.

Ellyn asked me why I listed low-fat, and not just regular, cheese as an ingredient in my recipe. To be honest, I hadn't really noticed. I copied and pasted the recipe from my files in my somewhat distracted efforts to get the newsletter ready before I became consumed with entertaining and hosting activities for my daughter's 1st Communion. But when it was brought to my attention, I realized that I almost never use low-fat cheese. I sometimes buy the Cabot brand of 50% Reduced Fat Cheddar. I think it tastes pretty good, but other reduced fat cheese reminds me of rubber. For me, taste is hugely important in guiding my choices for what I eat and what ingredients I include in recipes that I cook. So unless you enjoy the taste of rubbery cheese, I'd suggest you change the low-fat cheese to regular cheese.

In addition, Ellyn also provided me with some references for research showing that when people perceive foods to be "healthier" (e.g., "low-fat"), they actually eat more of it. People have been shown to ignore their own internal regulators of fullness and to eat larger quantities of food with low-fat labels regardless of the actual fat content of the food!

So what do you think? Do you use low-fat dairy products? How do you think labels affect your food choices and consumption?