Thursday, February 26, 2009

Ever met an "orthorexic?"

A NY Times article today (link below) described a condition labeled "orthorexia" by Dr. Steve Bratman. According to Dr. Bratman, people with this condition display an obsession with health food and are fixated on "righteous eating." Although this diagnosis has not been established in the medical community, the article also described anecdotal evidence for an increase in children seen by mental health professionals who are displaying anxiety about eating "bad" foods. This highlights how important it is to be carefully balanced in the way we present information - intentionally or unintentionally - about food to our children. If we want our children to develop a healthy relationship with food, we should be mindful of the choices we make when we talk about what we or they eat.

Monday, February 23, 2009

New Initiative to Fight Childhood Obesity Announced

Last week a new initiative to fight childhood obesity was announced. Click on the link below for a fuller description.
One highlight of the plan appears to be that insurance companies would not pay for four visits per year to a dietician and four visits per year to a physician for guidance about controlling their weight. I'm always in favor of insurance coverage for preventive guidance, but what concerns me is what is going to be said during those covered sessions. Are children going to be shamed about their weight? Is the message of dietary restriction going to be drilled into them? We know that these approaches don't work. I hope that some of Ellyn Satter's work and ideas are incorporated into any new initiatives. For more information about Ellyn's work, check out her book "Your Child's Weight: Helping Without Harming" or visit her website

Thursday, February 19, 2009

A great recipe for leftover chicken

Last night we had one of my favorite dishes using leftovers. I made pasta with mushrooms and chicken (which was leftover and frozen from a meal of roasted chicken a few weeks ago). So how does this meal go over with the family? My husband, 11 year old, and I all enjoy this meal. My 7 year old dove right in, served herself (I noticed she even took two more helpings as the meal progressed), but ate it in a not unusual 7-year-old-way. She ate all the pasta first while pushing the mushrooms to the side of her plate. Then she ate all the chicken. She never ate the mushrooms. So what about my picky 13 year old? I had set aside some of the pasta before mixing it in with the chicken/mushroom mixture. I put this separate bowl of plain pasta with butter on the table along side the chicken mushroom pasta. Of course, my 13 year old served herself the plain pasta. She also ate the broccolini, snap peas, and bread which were also on the table. Although I still wish that she would exactly what the rest of us were eating, I don't give up hope for her expanded palate some day in the future. Some may argue that I was catering to her by keeping some pasta plain and separate. In this case, I didn't feel as though I was doing any extra work to make her a separate meal; the pasta was part of our meal anyway. I think she felt as if she were eating a "family meal."

Here's the recipe:


16 oz. package fettucine*
1 lb. fresh mushrooms, sliced
4 garlic gloves, minced
¼ c. butter
2 c. cooked chicken, shredded or cut in small pieces**
½ c. milk
½ c. grated Romano or Parmesan cheese

· Cook pasta according to package directions.
· Meanwhile, in a skillet sauté mushrooms and garlic in butter until softened.
· Add chicken and milk.
· Cook for about 5 minutes.
· Drain pasta and add to skillet.
· Add cheese and toss.

6 servings.

*can substitute linguine
**leftover roast chicken or rotisserie chicken work well

Also saw this on the Well blog this morning and wanted to share:

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The question of vitamins...and enjoy your food

A recent article in the New York Times reported on the lack of significant findings in studies which tried to find a link between taking vitamin pill supplements and disease prevention. For the full article, see the link below.

So what does this mean to me? For one, it reinforces the message that nutrients should be taken into our bodies through the foods that we eat rather than through supplements. Over time a variety of specific nutrients have had their day in the spotlight as being the must-have, popular supplement to have in order to prolong our lives and health. Vitamin C, Vitamin E, and anti-oxidants have all had their day in the sun recently. But is ingesting these nutrients in the form of a pill, the same as ingesting through food? Or can our bodies really benefit from isolating and taking in specific nutrients?

I prefer to eat and enjoy my food rather than thinking about which particular nutrients they may or may not contain. Since the favored nutrient recommendations seem to vary over time, it's hard to keep track and to really know what we "should" be eating. My philosophy has been to consistently eat a variety and hope that over time, I'm getting what my body needs. It's more important to me that my food tastes good and that I enjoy the experience of my meals (at least most of the time).

Speaking of enjoying my meals, I was blessed to be able to enjoy a fabulous lunch on Valentine's Day with my husband at one of my favorite restaurants (Esca in NYC). It was wonderful to be able to savor a variety of different flavors and tastes of dishes that I would not normally be able to prepare at home. Although my children weren't there for that meal, they have seen me enjoy my food on many other occasions. I think it's important that we treat food as something to share and enjoy rather than just the delivery of nutrients for our health. Children will eat better when they enjoy their food and will have little motivation to eat for their longevity or health.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Managing kids who won't sit down at the dinner table

I was fortunate to give a presentation on family meals to a group of lovely mothers in Ridgewood, NJ yesterday. One concern that several of the mothers shared was that their children would not sit during meals. Having daughters with varying degrees of hyperactivity myself, I am very familiar with kids who sometimes sit sideways, sit with only one leg on the chair, lie down, and/or stand up during meals. This can be very frustrating to say the least! Some moms complained that their kids behavior sometimes makes them want to avoid the family meal altogether even though they realize its benefits. So here are a few tips for trying to make mealtimes a positive experience for everyone.

  • Once in a while try to make some meals extra-special (e.g., picnic night, candlelight night)
  • Make teaching manners into a game, where children can earn tokens/points for good manners
  • Keep the conversation positive. Some ideas for conversation starters: What was the best/worst part of your day? What are you thankful for today? If you could go on a vacation anywhere in the world, where would you go and why? If you could have any special superhero power, what would it be and why?
  • And finally, manage your expectations for how long your children can actually sit at the table - for some children it may only be 15-20 minutes.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Balancing favorites

Last night my husband was out of town for a meeting so I took advantage of his absence to make one of my daughters' favorite meals, which also happens to be one of my husband's least favorite meals. What is the meal, you ask? At our house we call it "chicken in the oven". This is probably one of the easiest recipes you'll ever find. Take a whole cut-up chicken and place the pieces in a baking dish. Sprinkle with seasoned salt and bake for an hour at 400 degrees. My husband can tolerate, but does not enjoy, this meal. It is rather boring. But the kids really love it; my pickiest eater even took seconds. Maybe because it's simple. Maybe because they enjoy the rare treat of crisp chicken skin. It's not my favorite meal, but it does bring back some favorable childhood memories of similar meals made by my mom.

My point in writing about this is to highlight the idea of favorite foods. Sometimes as parents we cater to our children by always serving them their "favorites", whether that's mac and cheese, chicken nuggets, pizza, plain pasta, whatever. When we limit what we cook and prepare to what we know the kids already like, we limit their opportunity to learn to like new foods. We may avoid a battle and/or some whining and complaining in the moment, but in the long run we're setting ourselves up for more enduring sruggles over food. Everyone should have the chance to have their "favorite" sometimes, but no one should have their "favorite" all the time. Learning how to be relatively pleasant in the face of non-favorites is an important skill for all of us to learn.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Vegetable Stew...and my kids

My children love meat in many forms. We eat chicken, beef, turkey, and pork on a regular basis. The simpler, the better as far as my children are concerned. Lately though I've been making a concerted effort to have at least one meatless dinner per week. That could mean some kind of fish, seafood, egg, or vegetable dish. I'm making this effort for a number of reasons, including to increase the variety in our diets, to experiment with new recipes, and to decrease our meat consumption.

Last night I made a vegetable stew in my crockpot (see recipe below). My husband, my 11 year old daughter, and I all enjoyed it. This is a good recipe to make if you're working from home and can put ingredients in at different stages. This recipe won't work for you if you need something that you can dump in the crockpot in the morning and return to in the evening because it doesn't require a full day's worth of cooking time and some ingredients go in later than others. The recipe worked for me yesterday because I was working from home while my kids were in school and then I was not at home at all during the pre-dinner hours because I was driving my children to various activities.

So two out of three of my children enjoyed this meal. For the other two, forget about it for now. My 13 year old is my pickiest eater and she wouldn't even consider eating this meal. She went right for the rolls and leftover chicken from a previous meal that were also on the table. I didn't push her to try "just one bite" or anything. With her I've learned that she takes a very long time to get used to a new food. She prefers "white" foods like plain pasta, bread, etc. So for now, just seeing it, smelling it, and watching the rest of us eat it is enough. I used to push her more, but it didn't yield much success. She has, however, surprised me over time with reaching for and trying new things (like salmon, baked ziti, etc.) on her own without being coaxed.

My 7 year old is not as picky, but she does resist trying some foods. With her, though, I do push a little to try new things. Encouraging her to try something does not usually result in a power struggle (unlike her older sister). So she tried a little veggie stew, didn't like it, and moved on to the leftover chicken and plain green beans. I don't always serve leftovers as an option with our meals, but knowing that I was serving something likely to be unappealing to at least some of my kids lead me to include some other options for them.

So the bottom line is that how you approach presenting new foods to your children is going to vary based on the personalities and tendencies of each individual child. Being mindful of
avoiding power struggles, however, is important for all children.

We had a lot of leftovers with this recipe, which I froze for a future meal. We'll see how it goes next time!

Here is the recipe (modified from the Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Cookbook by Beth Hensperger and Julie Kaufmann):

Crockpot Veggie Stew

28-oz. can whole tomatoes with their juice (broken up)
2 1/2 cups frozen corn
8 oz. fresh green beans, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 15-oz cans pinto beans, with their liquid
1 cubanelle pepper, chopped
pinch of oregano
2 T olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 T chili powder
1/2 t ground cumin
1/4 t ground coriander
1/2 cup water
1 large zucchini, sliced in half-inch pieces
1 1/2 cups of shredded Monterey Jack cheese

Combine the tomatoes, corn, green beans, pinto beans, pepper and oregano in the slow cooker.
In a large skillet, heat the oil and cook the onions until softened. Add the garlic, chili powder, cumin, and coriander. Stir and cook for 1 minute. Add onion mixture and water to the slow cooker. Cover and cook on low for 3 hours. Add the zucchini. Cover and continue to cook on low for another 3 hours. Serve with cheese on the side for people to add and stir in as desired.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Family meals get support from President Obama

I watched the Matt Lauer interview with President Obama during the Super Bowl pregame show. I was so pleased to hear him talking about being happy to have breakfast and dinner with his family. I had read something similar in The New York Times ("White House Unbuttons Formal Dress Code", 1/28/09) last week as well. President Obama's senior advisor, David Axelrod is quoted in that article as follows:

“The chance to be under the same roof with his kids, essentially to live
over the store, to be able to see them whenever he wants, to wake up with them,
have breakfast and dinner with them — that has made him a very happy man.”

Not only can eating meals together make the parent happy, but it has so many benefits for our kids as well. I think it's great that we're all getting a positive example of family meals from the top.