I met Caroll, a certified health counselor, through my local parenting listserv last year. She’s taught me so much about addressing some of our family’s health and dietary issues, I asked if she’d be willing to answer some of our bloggers’ burning nutrition questions. Read her thoughts on the Paleo diet, being gluten-free, pickiness, and much more below. Be sure to also check out her website Clee Wellness here where she posts recipes and nutrition tips, and her meal delivery service Provenance Foods NYC here.
Eat real food. We eat too many edible food-like products as a society right now. There are the obvious processed foods such as Doritos or Coke, which can only be created in a lab and not a home kitchen. We want to stay away from those as much as possible. They’re highly-engineered food products designed to trick the body into eating and drinking more and are laden with high fructose corn syrup, MSG, artificial colorings, preservatives and a bunch of other things I can’t pronounce that the body doesn’t recognize as food. There’s a great article in a recent NY Times Magazine called “The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food” that exposes how the food industry has encouraged us to consume more junk with total disregard to our health.
So besides the obvious sources of junk food, you have to be careful of what’s hiding in your produce, dairy, and meat as well. There are loads of pesticides, hormones and antibiotics in modern food that didn’t use to be there, so in addition to eating real food, I would recommend buying organic whenever possible.
Going gluten-free is definitely a hot trend right now. But behind the fad lies a serious truth, which is that gluten consumption is a contributor to obesity, diabetes, and chronic disease. And of the grains that contain gluten, wheat is the biggest problem of all.
Modern wheat has been crossbred and hybridized to the point where the gluten content is much higher, the starch is more fattening, and it makes you crave more food even when your stomach is full. This newer wheat seems to be the culprit for many people who have discovered that they can lose weight (especially belly fat), relieve digestive distress and improve energy levels just by following a gluten-free diet. And if you have one of those kids who is always hungry no matter how much food you give her, then appetite-stimulating gluten may be the culprit!
Personally, I think most people would benefit from eating less gluten in their diet. I encourage you to do an experiment on yourself and your kids to see how gluten affects you. It takes a bit of planning and changing your shopping habits, but go 100% gluten free for 3-4 weeks. Then have a bowl of pasta or a sandwich and gauge your reaction. I’ve found that most of my clients feel lighter and healthier without gluten in their diet, and I’ve had other clients lose a lot of excess weight when they go gluten-free. There have even been reports of kids with behavioral problems acting like little saints when the gluten is taken out of their diets, so if you’re dealing with a lot of temper tantrums, it’s definitely worth a try!
I’m a big fan of the Paleo diet because of its focus on eating real food like wild seafood, grassfed meats, eggs, vegetables, fruits, nuts/seeds and healthy fats. It’s also naturally gluten-free. When you follow the Paleo diet, you tend to eat fewer carbohydrates in the form of breads, pastas, grains, etc, so you’ll likely lose excess weight and experience incredible benefits to your health. Many of my clients find that nagging health symptoms they’ve dealt with their whole lives magically disappear on the Paleo diet!
That said, many people who eat Paleo tend to eat way too much meat. Meat makes the body more acidic, and when you’re more acidic, you’re more prone to illness. If the Paleo diet is followed properly, you’re eating abundant vegetables along with your proteins, and getting a good amount of healthy fats.
Also, Paleo can be very hard to follow since the strict version of the diet doesn’t allow any grains, dairy or sugar. I prefer a modified Paleo approach, aka a Primal approach, that makes it easier to eat with friends or in restaurants, and includes occasional cultured dairy products (kefir, yogurt, butter, cheese), gluten-free grains (rice, quinoa, buckwheat), and oh yeah, I gotta have my dark chocolate! And especially for women in their late 30s and 40s, it’s important to not cut out too many carbs, as “gentle” carbs such as gluten-free grains and starchy vegetables are important for hormonal health.
We eat gluten-free at home, but are a little less strict out of the house. My kids will eat pizza or cupcakes at birthday parties and special occasions. We also don’t eat much dairy. My husband completely stopped snoring when we took dairy out of his diet, so I’m extra motivated to keep the dairy to a minimum! I’m also very mindful of empty sugars and starches. So we try to avoid stuff made with white flour and not eat too many sweets. We all feel like we get plenty of treats, though. I have my occasional dark chocolate fix, and I love to bake gluten-free cookies with the kids.
Yes! Sometimes frozen vegetables have even more nutrients than a vegetable that’s been sitting on the shelves for a few days at the supermarket. Frozen fruit and vegetables are usually picked at the peak of ripeness and flash frozen immediately. I keep frozen spinach and kale as well as plenty of frozen fruit for smoothies on hand. It’s a great option for regularly including vegetables in your diet if you can’t make it to the grocery store frequently for fresh produce.
Protein and healthy fats are great for keeping milk supply up while losing the baby weight. And when you eat real food, you can just eat to appetite instead of counting calories. It’s not about the number of calories so much as the type of calories. If you’re breastfeeding and then filling up on starches and sugars to keep going, you’re not providing the right type of fuel for your body and your baby won’t get the nutrients s/he needs.
First off, you’re the parent, so you’re in control of what food comes into the house. If there’s something that you don’t want your child to eat, like candy or Goldfish crackers, then don’t buy it and don’t bring it into the house.
Second, only offer your child good choices. Kids like the power that comes along with making their own food choices. If you give them a choice of 2 good things, everyone wins. Give them even more control as they get older by having them help pack their own lunchboxes or choose which vegetables to buy from the grocery store.
Third, model good eating yourself. If your child sees you eating lots of green veggies, sitting down and enjoying your meals, that kind of behavior will rub off. Dinnertime should be a fun time for the family to get together and enjoy each other’s company.
Fourth, and this one is important, limit the snacks. I see so many parents sabotage their own healthy meals by allowing their children to eat snacks less than an hour before dinner. If you want your kids to eat, it helps a lot if they’re hungry! The same goes with milk, which has a lot of fat and protein. Don’t let your kids fill up on milk if you want them to eat at mealtime.
Finally, be patient. I’m sure you’ve heard the statistic that it can take up to 17 tries before a child will accept a new food. Don’t give up too soon, keep calm, and keep trying! If all else fails, add organic ketchup!
I know we’ve been told our whole lives that kids need to drink milk to grow up big and strong, but it’s not true. Milk is not required in order to be healthy. Pasteurized cow’s milk is very different from mother’s milk, and for some kids it does much more harm than good, creating a lot of congestion in the body which can lead to constant runny noses, allergies, ear infections, and asthma. With my 2 kids, I breastfed until they were 14 and 16 months, then switched them to goat milk. Goat milk has less lactose and casein (milk sugar and protein) than cow’s milk, and is more similar in structure to human milk. When they were 2 I started reducing milk and focused on getting adequate fat, calcium and protein in their diet through food.
I recommend breastfeeding for at least a year, then switching to raw goat or raw cow milk. If that’s not easily available, then organic pasteurized goat milk would be my next choice, and finally organic non-homogenized pasteurized cow milk. Look for vat pasteurized if you can find it. Don’t get the ultra-pasteurized products, and always choose the whole fat version. Low-fat and skim versions lack the essential fat soluble vitamins A, D3, E and K but still contain the proteins and sugars that can cause allergies, lactose intolerance and indigestion.
After age 3, I would recommend reducing milk intake dramatically and focus on the food. There are plenty of excellent sources for calcium that are not from dairy, such as dark green vegetables, legumes, sesame seeds, almonds, wild salmon and sardines.
Fresh squeezed is always best, and watering down store bought juice is a good idea, but juice is really no better than sugar water so I would advise limiting it.
My kids are great eaters. I would say I’m lucky, except that I’ve put an incredible amount of time and energy into making sure it happened this way! Here are some typical menu items for them:
- cream of buckwheat, quinoa flakes, or oatmeal with fruit and nuts/seeds
- pastured eggs and bacon or sausage
- smoothie (banana, blueberries, baby spinach, almond butter, coconut milk, chia seeds)
- crispy brown rice cereal with homemade almond milk and sliced banana
- And on weekends, we make gluten-free pancakes!
- sardines and avocado with white sushi rice and nori
- leftover roast chicken with steamed broccoli and fruit
- Italian salami and brown rice crackers, hummus with carrot sticks and cherry tomatoes
l- entil soup with sauerkraut and gluten free toast
- grassfed beef tacos with all the fixin’s
- roast chicken, brussels sprouts and a green salad
- shrimp or chicken stir fry with lots of green veggies (broccoli, snow peas, bok choy, etc) and rice
- brown rice pasta with grassfed meat sauce and a green salad
This really depends on the child, but healthy children have healthy appetites. If your child is not eating a reasonable serving of food at mealtime, then that’s a red flag to me that something is going on with their digestive health. That said, try to think of the amount of food your child is eating over the course of the week instead of at each specific meal, or even in the course of a day. If you’re offering real food to your kids at regular mealtimes and they’re not snacking all the livelong day, then you should trust your child’s appetite and let them eat in the amount that their bodies are telling them to eat.
I admit to not always following my own advice here, though! When my son was 2, I found the only way to get him to eat was to distract him with toys while I spoon fed him. And even today, with a 4 year old and a 7 year old, I tend to push my kids to finish what’s on their plate. I need to work to respect my kids’ appetites a bit more! If your child is not eating at mealtime, you can try offering a healthy snack 1 to 1.5 hours later and see if they will eat then.
We love Caveman Cookies in our house. These are sugar-free cookies sweetened only with fruit (and optional dark chocolate), that I really don’t feel bad about giving my kids as a treat.
Being hands-on in the kitchen is always fun for kids and usually leads to more willingness to try new foods if they’ve made it themselves. Letting them roll their own sushi is a great way to get healthy seaweed into their diet, as well as healthy fillings such as sardines, smoked salmon, cucumbers, avocados, strips of egg, grated carrots, etc. The possibilities are endless. If your child isn’t quite old enough to work the sushi roller, you could try Sushi Rice Balls instead.
I’m not above sneaking in veggies. Pancakes, muffins and smoothies are great ways to sneak healthy foods in. I will mix canned pumpkin puree into banana and egg pancakes, or grated zucchini into my gluten-free muffins, and my children are none the wiser. I put huge handfuls of baby spinach into their blueberry and banana smoothies, too.
Also, I’m always amazed at how well kids will eat foods once you create a story around them. When my son was younger, we used to pretend that green beans were people, and he was the people-eating monster at the zoo. I walked the unsuspecting zoo patrons around the table, got them too close to his “cage,” and bam! Into his mouth they would go. No bribing or threatening required!
Thanks so much Caroll!
ed note: The information on this site is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment, and is for education purposes only. Always seek the advice of a qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.