Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Kids with No Kids Menu

I'm just back from a weekend away at the lovely Benn Conger Inn near Ithaca, New York where my family gathered to celebrate my brother's wedding. My kids had a wonderful time frolicking with their cousins, some whom they haven't seen in five years. The children in the group range from age 6 to 13 years. It was one of those great weekends where the kids go off and have their own little society without hassles from their parents about what to do or what to eat. In fact, they ate at their own table in a room separate from everyone else for the wedding dinner.

What struck me about their eating was that there was no complaining (at least that I heard!) and no special requests. There was no children's menu. They were left to their own devices to serve themselves from the buffet. The buffet was very nice, but it was not one of those huge smorgasbord type buffets with lots of variety. Basically, there were about two starches, two proteins, vegetables, and bread at each dinner. All the kids did really well as far as I could tell. Everyone got by even if some of the food may have been strange to them (e.g., tilapia with fruit salsa, peanut chicken, chicken stuffed with brie and cranberry). They picked around it and made do. And all the parents were having such a good time that no one was hovering around their child(ren) to see what they did or didn't eat. The focus wasn't on the food.

Sometimes we may fall into the trap of worrying too much about what our kids are eating. And sometimes we cross the line of the division of responsibility by serving them only things that we think they will eat - that is, more traditional kids menu fare. I think we can learn from backing off and letting them explore and make do with what's made available. Our kids may impress us and turn out to be quite successful eaters.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

"Clever" Ways To Deal With Picky Eaters (?)

Earlier this week, I was going through e-mail first thing in the morning. One of the e-mails was from the Meal Makeover Moms. They are registered dietitians who have a cookbook that I really like (and recommend!) and a website with recipes and other food-related information for busy moms. Their e-mail was a link to survey which they are conducting to gather information for their upcoming new cookbook. It was before 7am when I was completing this survey so my brain was not yet fully functioning. One of the questions was asking for clever and "out of the box" ideas for getting children to eat better. I don't remember exactly what I said, but I remember feeling very boring for not really having any ideas that I would consider to be "clever."

But later in the day, as I woke up, I started to think more about it. I will be very interested to read the Meal Makeover Moms next book and strongly support their work. I'm always open to new ideas and will be looking forward to hearing what clever ideas other moms have, but I'm wondering if clever is always the way to go. I've had success with my "in the box" methods. Applying tried and true ideas works for many people. So if you're looking for ways to deal with picky eaters that are really new and different, I'm probably not your person. But if you're looking for ideas that have been studied and shown to be effective, I can help! I believe that dealing with a picky eater requires the following:
  • Have family meals and serve them family style.
  • Always include one or two foods that your child usually likes.
  • Maintain a positive social and emotional environment at the family table.
  • Understand the division of responsibility in feeding. Familiarize yourself with Ellyn Satter's classic work, stating that parents are responsible for the what, when, and where of feeding, while children are responsible for whether and how much.
  • Relax about the nutritional value of individual meals and look at your child's eating patterns over a broader time period (a week or so).
  • And finally, have patience! Teaching children to eat a variety of healthful foods takes time.
What works for you? Do you have any "clever" ideas you'd like to share - I may not be able to come up with them on my own, but I'd love to hear about them.

And if you like taking surveys, take the one by the Meal Makeover Moms, and while you're at it, take mine, too!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Dinner Together Summer Gift Card Giveaway and No-Cook Recipe Contest

Dinner Together Summer Gift Card Giveaway and No-Cook Recipe Contest

Summer is here and who couldn’t use a few extra bucks to pick up some things to help enjoy the season. Dinner Together is giving away a $50 giftcard to Target - one of my favorite stores. This contest is open to residents of the U.S. and Canada ages 18 and older. Contest begins on June 22, 2009 and ends on July 12, 2009 at midnight (EST). Void where prohibited. The winner will be selected on July 13, 2009 by a random number generated at www.random.org.

To enter:

  1. Each subscriber to the Dinner Together newsletter receives one automatic entry. If you're not already a subscriber, sign up at www.dinnertogether.com.
  2. Receive an additional 1 entry if you blog or tweet about this contest. (Be sure to e-mail me at info@dinnertogether.com to let me know how you spread the word.)
  3. Receive an additional 3 entries for completing the brief (6 item) Dinner Together 2009 Summer Survey at the following link: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s.aspx?sm=67ZpikKWDkomEJkYMJVwVA_3d_3d It only takes a minute!
  4. Receive an additional 5 entries for each new confirmed subscriber you refer to the Dinner Together newsletter (Again, be sure to e-mail me and let me know who you’ve referred so I can give you credit and check the updates to the confirmed subscriber list.)
  5. Receive an additional 5 entries for each recipe submission (limit of 3 submissions) to the recipe contest.*
  6. Receive an additional 15 entries for winning the recipe contest.*

*Recipe Contest

It’s summer. It’s hot. I know I don’t like adding extra heat to the house by turning on the oven or the stove. I’m looking for your favorite no-cook recipes to share in my August kitchen newsletter issue. The winning recipe will be chosen by a panel of judges, including myself, Michelle Stern of What’s Cooking (www.whatscookingblog.com), and Janis Bowers of The Dinner Spin (www.thedinnerspin.com). Recipes will be judged on kid appeal, parent appeal, and ease of making. No ovens, stoves, or grills allowed. You can use microwaves, blenders, and food processors though. Veggies, fruits, dairy, canned fish, rotisserie chicken, and any other ingredients you can think of are fair game! E-mail your recipe submissions to info@dinnertogether.com, subject "recipe contest."

Monday, June 15, 2009

Involving Kids in the Kitchen: A Developmental Perspective

Involving children in the kitchen from an early age can help them develop a healthy relationship with food and feel comfortable in the kitchen. I speak with many mothers who care about their children’s nutritional health and want to make healthy, home-cooked meals for their families, but feel overwhelmed and inadequate in the kitchen now as adults because they never learned how to find their way around the kitchen as children. It’s important to always keep in mind physical safety, food safety, and the child’s developmental capabilities when designing helping tasks for children in the kitchen. It’s also important to be realistic about involving children with cooking. You don’t have to include your children in the preparation process for every meal. They may not necessarily be able to offer help that you can rely upon and their help may slow the process, but think of yourself as both training today’s helper as tomorrow’s cook and as improving their chances of developing good eating habits. If you try to keep cooking fun and not make it a chore, you’ll likely get more enthusiastic participation from your kids.

The list below contains suggestions for cooking activities to be used as general guidelines. You know your children best and what their ability levels are. This list is not exhaustive, but it will give you a place to start and may spark some ideas of your own.

2 year olds
· Help set the table
· Help select fruits and vegetables when shopping
· Look at recipe books together and select things to make
· Rinse fruits and vegetables at the sink
· Tear lettuce
· Arrange frozen potatoes on a pan
· Stir and mix ingredients
· Brush vegetables with olive oil with a pastry brush before roasting

3 and 4 year olds
· All of the above plus…
· Squeeze and juice lemons and limes
· Knead and shape dough
· Count items (e.g., carrots, olives, grape tomatoes for a salad)
· Cut soft foods (e.g., bananas, strawberries, butter) with a plastic knife
· Use a salad spinner
· Push buttons on a blender or food processor (supervised)
· Pour or add measured ingredients to bowls

5 to 8 year olds
· All of the above plus…
· Measure ingredients
· Crack eggs (I recommend having them crack eggs into a separate bowl in case they leave
· Beat eggs
· Mix and form hamburgers, meatballs, meatloaf
· Scub potatoes and other vegetables with a vegetable scrubber
· Snap ends off green beans and asparagus
· Make a salad

9 to 12 year olds
· All of the above plus…
· Making scrambled eggs
· Baking (may require some supervision with using oven)
· Follow simple recipes on their own
· Cut using a regular knife – with training and supervision as needed
· Stir at the stove – with training and supervision as needed

Copyright 2009 Kathleen Cuneo, Ph.D., Dinner Together, LLC

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Worrying About What Our Kids Are Eating

I recently connected online with Stephanie Gallagher, and she and I share a similar view. Her philosophy is "if the food tastes good, and it's eaten together, the rest will generally take care of itself." She writes about about kids and eating and posts recipes on her site: http://kidscooking.about.com/. I'd recommend checking it out.

So if you're really concerned about what your children are eating, my strongest recommendations would be to do your best to prepare meals that taste good and then eat them together as a family. When you prepare meals at home, you have greater control over the ingredients and can make choices based on taste preferences and health concerns. When you eat together, your children have better odds of eating more fruits and vegetables and less fried food and soft drinks. When you are planning and preparing your children's meals, you're acting as their "nutritional gatekeeper" - deciding what they can and cannot have access to.

By making decisions about what foods are brought into my home, I make decisions about what foods my kids can or cannot have access to all the time - although they may not always realize it. Each weekly trip to the grocery store involves numerous decisions about what to bring into the house. Will I spend the extra money on organic produce? Sometimes. Will I buy sugared cereal? Rarely, but Santa and the Easter Bunny bring them as treats. Will I buy my daughter her favorite lunch meat - bologna? Once in a while. Will I buy chips? Sometimes. What milk will I buy? Either 1% or 2% depending on the expiration date and organic availability. Weekly menu planning also determines which meats and non-meat proteins they'll be having.

Take your "nutritional gatekeeper" role seriously! Researchers estimate that parents control about 72% of what their children eat*. As a developmental psychologist, I would predict that the percentage varies with age. Establishing good nutritional habits when kids are young increases your chances that they'll carry good habits with them as they grow. But also take yourself off the hook. Notice that the number is not 100%. Do not feel that you can control all of your children's nutritional health. You're more likely to feel frustrated and get into battles with your kids if you think you can control it all.

*Wansink, Brian (2006), “Nutritional Gatekeepers and the 72% Solution,” Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 106:9 (September), 1324-6.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Do Parents' Eating Habits Influence Their Kids?

I just finished reading a brief article in today's NYTimes, Nutrition: Parents' Healthy Diet Has Little Influence, which reported that researchers found little resemblance between parents' healthy diets and their children's food intake. One of the study co-authors was quoted as saying, “This suggests that parents don’t play as large a role as people have thought in their children’s diet."

Something about that quote rubbed me the wrong way. I have not read the full study myself, but from the description of it, it sounds like reports of food intake and subsequent analysis of the nutrients in those foods, were the measures used in the study. I'm wondering if there were any measures of parenting feeding practices. Did the researchers look at any measures of how the parents were eating and how they were feeding their children? Were these families eating together?

I consistently recommend that parents be good role models for their children, with regard to eating and many other variables. But being a good role model implies more than just the food that you eat. It also implies the when and how of eating. And being a good role model is not enough to raise a healthy eater. Children do learn by observation, but they also need direct intervention and guidance. So eating well yourself is a start, but you also need to learn effective parenting practices to raise successful eaters.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Getting Kids to Eat Veggies

I often speak with parents who are frustrated because they "can't get" their kids to eat vegetables - and sometimes not fruit either. Some parents want to know if I have any tricks, "quick and dirty" techniques, or secrets to share with them about how to get their kids to eat veggies. As parents, we often worry about our kids. Undestandably, much of that worry is directed towards what our kids eat. We want our children to be healthy, to grow to their potential, and to be free from disease and obesity. Unfortunately, we can't fully control any of those desired outcomes - even if our children eat well-balanced meals with organically grown products all the time.

So what are we to do? My best advice for parents who want their children to eat more fruits and vegetables is to: 1) eat fruits and vegetables yourself, 2) serve fruits and vegetables often and prepared in a variety of ways, 3) make recipes that taste good, 4) eat meals together as a family, 5) let children decide for themselves if and how much they will eat, and 6) trust and be patient.

For an idea for a veggie recipe that tastes good to my children, check out my latest newsletter. If you're not yet a subscriber, sign up (free!) at http://www.dinnertogether.com/.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Free Weekly Menus

Since starting Dinner Together, I have met so many interesting women both near and far, thanks in part to the internet. I met Janis through The Mom Entrepreneur Support Group, where we are both members. Janis runs The Dinner Spin, which provides 5 kid-friendly, heart-healthy recipes each week. And the best part of all is that membership is FREE!

I have written before about the importance of planning meals (The 4 P's of Successful Family Meals) and believe it to be hugely important. I plan my family's meals a week at a time. I review our schedule for the coming week and decide which nights I'll have time to cook, which nights I'll have to use my crockpot, which nights I'll simply heat up something from my freezer stash of meals, and which nights we'll go out or order take-out. I also involve my husband and children when creating my menu for the week by asking each one if there's anything in particular they're wanting to eat in the week ahead. This thought and effort usually takes me about 15-20 minutes per week to create a plan, and the stress it saves me from during the week about what we're going to eat definitely makes it worth it to me.

If the thought of creating a plan makes you feel overwhelmed or lost, The Dinner Spin will do it for you. Or if you're someone like me who loves to read, collect, try, and get inspired by new recipes, the free recipes you'll receive are worth the time it takes to sign up. Check it out at www.thedinnerspin.com. By the way, I do not receive any compensation for endorsing this service. I just think it's great and wanted to share!