Monday, August 30, 2010

purple beans: kids are naturally excited about foods

M's summer camp had a lovely little garden. I was bemused when a note came home one day with, "she even tried green beans!" (They are a favorite.)

We don't need to make smiley faces out of foods, or over-sell foods with crazy names or try to get kids to try new foods with bribes, reward stickers or praise.

Case in point? Purple beans.
After camp one day, M and I harvested in the garden. I got to try two new foods (for me too) with my daughter. That was pretty cool! We picked the above deep purple beans and snacked on them right off the vine, and brought about a dozen home. We also tried "golden raspberries" which I insisted were simply unripe, but M assured me was how they were supposed to be and were actually glorious, champagne-colored raspberries...

So we brought some beans and berries home to share with Dad but ran into the gaggle of neighborhood kids across the street. M skipped over to show them the veggies she picked and then doled out beans to share. Of the 7 kids there, all but one (who has food allergies which can contribute to an understandable caution about food) eagerly tried and ate the beans. No bribing, no rewarding, no faces, no lectures about vegetables. "Cool! A purple bean!"
"That's awesome!" We ran out before D got a chance to taste them.

It just reminded me again that the HOW of food and introducing it is so important. It was positive, no pressure, fun and a reminder that kids are naturally curious about new foods and we largely screw it up as parents and caregivers when we try to control the process.
Also, research shows that kids are more likely to try foods that they grow or have a hand in, but it is not a guarantee :)

Have you tried new foods with your kids?

Addendum: THANK YOU for the comments. I knew all of these children VERY well, one mom was there, I know the specific allergies of the child in question. I was with my child and asked permission from the mom (the neighbors all tend to be pretty free with sharing foods with my M as well) But, you are RIGHT. Always check with a parent before offering food to any child (preferably ever) but especially if you don't know the child's allergy history. M often wants to share things with kids I don't know at school/parks etc, and I always either ask, or tell the kids kindly that I can't share food unless the parents OKs it. Kids are pretty savy and used to this these days, I find.

Friday, August 27, 2010

I didn't hit my child in public, but I did let her eat Cheetos: when feeding "well" seems like "bad parenting"

We were running errands the other day and stopped for an early lunch at Subway.

For some context, here is an excerpt from a post I wrote earlier this year about another Subway trip: "Another family was at Subway and it was painful to watch and listen to. Three boys- and every bite, every choice was argued, and counseled. First the argument for 9 grain bread, then trying to get some veggies on the subs, then the argument over the drink. (OK, chocolate milk) then over the chips, "You know you have to have baked chips, you can have baked Lays or Sun Chips..." Then the kids tried this one, "Mom, can we have cookies, it says they're baked and fresh! That sounds good, right?" Mom shut them down on the cookies, "I know what you're trying to do and it won't work..." Then there was threatening over eating the sub (all three were white bread with turkey,) not just the chips and chocolate milk... Ugh.

Back to this meal:

M had her standard turkey, cheese, tomatoes and extra pickles with mayo, oh , and a bag of cheetos and a juice box. I had my sandwich with Doritos which I enjoy on occasion. I wanted lemonade, but it was diet, so I had half fruit punch and half water. We enjoyed our sandwich. M ate about 2/3rds, and about half her Cheetos. She finished her juice box and asked to try my punch. She had orange stained fingers and a tell-tale fruit-punch moustache. I couldn't hide the crime! (sarcasm, or irony?)

I was a little bemused to note that I felt self-conscious when people looked at our table at our mounds of orange "junk food." I have to admit I would have felt "better" if people had seen M with a milk and apple slices, they would have thought I was a "better mother." I imagine that the current cultural norm about good feeding and parenting would have thought that the mother from the other post, who battled over every bite, who's kids likely would not eat "healthy" foods of their own free will, is the "better" mother- the one who cares about her child's health and weight.

It's crazy. I know I am feeding my child well, I know that she ate practically 2 grilled peppers with chicken and couscous for dinner. I know she gets a great variety of foods and feels good about eating and her body, I know that she stopped when she was full, and yet... I still feel the cultural pressure to be a "good" mom, and being a "good" mom, or parenting well these days means feeding a certain way...

I have had larger moms write in and say how difficult it is to feed children well when you, the parent, are fat. I can only imagine the stares, even comments some people would feel justified to make about a fat mom feeding her child the meal that M ate. There is so much misunderstanding about feeding, so much moralizing and assumptions about body size...

Feeding well today is countercultural, it's what less than one-in-five parents actually practice. It takes guts, especially if you're not a size two. People judge, watch, compare, think they know what good feeding is. When you ask for dessert with your child's meal, what kind of reaction do you get? When you let your child eat "junk" food, do you get comments? (I too have had the "Why are you feeding her that, you're making her obese!" comments...) It's no fun, it's not right.

Hang in there. Do what you know is best for your child, and know that I too struggle with a fear of judgement. (Trying to care less, but it's a pretty crazy world we live in, isn't it?!)

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

body diversity in Children's shows II: Lilo and Stitch

Most Children's shows seem to take their cues from Keeping up with the Kardashians with the Bratz-doll look-alike Disney fairies and an apparent obsession with short-skirts, glitter, fake eye-lashes, dating etc.
Most shows that do feature children of different size have the caricature of the fat child or animal (think the gluttonous and out-of-shape cat on the latest Shrek) who is funny, lazy, silly, stupid, mean, or all of the above.

I wrote awhile ago about a show called Caillou for the younger set, and I've recently let M watch Lilo and Stitch (Netflix, commercial-free electronic babysitter while my childcare issues continue...)
Lilo is active, has friends of all sizes who are active. There is no mention of "being healthy" or using someone fat as a cautionary case.
As a bonus, none of the little girls seem sexualized. I have to say, I don't like all the teasing, the "mean-girl" language about how she is "weird," but overall it's one of the least offensive shows out there.

Are there books, shows etc that you like in terms of body-diversity? (I'd be curious if there are any ethnically diverse shows out there in any real way...)

Monday, August 23, 2010

pretty spoons

I'm not much of a shopper for enjoyment, but I did buy one thing while I was in France. I found these little boiled egg spoons in a home-goods shop. They are made in Italy, plastic, not expensive and I just LOVE the colors. We eat boiled eggs fairly often, but I also enjoy using them with yogurt etc. They make me happy. M likes to choose her color and thinks they are pretty too. I think these would be great baby food spoons, but we're beyond that now... We also use them for jam in the mornings, and if we even have a party again would be nice for condiments...
Do you have a favorite dish, bowl or glass that seems to make a meal or an eating experience even more pleasurable? (I couldn't find them online for a link.)

Friday, August 20, 2010

"You're so brave!": how praise feels like pressure...

I blogged recently about how M tried snails, and just about everything else on the trip (she didn't like them much, and a few things got spit into a napkin, but she enjoyed herself at the table...)

Well, at camp, the counselor came up to me and RAVED about how "BRAVE!" M was to have tried snails. How they were all "so impressed!"

Stop it! I wanted to yell... "Of course she tried snails, and nutella and lots of other delicious things!" I replied, smiling...

What does it do to a child's natural curiosity, her natural drive and ability to try and learn new foods when adults praise?

Will she be as likely to try snails or a new food again, or did that praise feel like pressure? Did that word "brave" imply that there was something unusual about trying snails, or something scary about snails or new foods?

What do you think?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Helicopter Feeding: parents, you're working too hard and it's not helping!

We can't escape it, it's all around us. Pressure, power-struggles, picky eating, over-managing children's eating. Here is a great, succinct piece from Ellyn Satter on what I have come to call, "Helicopter feeding." It doesn't have to be so hard! I have also reprinted the article below, with permission. Thoughts?
By the way, this photo cracks me up. It's from an article on how to "get your kids" to eat veggies. Notice the "dad" is trying to feed some to the kid and she has her arm up pushing him away. Classic! A great unintended visual example of how pressuring kids to eat more fruits and veggies backfires...

July 2010 • Family Meals Focus #47 • Pressured on All Sides

The Feeding with Love and Good Sense Video and Teacher's Guide, published in 1987, is being revised! The Childhood Feeding Collaborative of the Santa Clara County Public Health Department in San Jose, CA funded the videography and recruited parent volunteers. I produced 30 hours of footage with as many families and am well on my way to turning the footage into about an 80-minute video that addresses feeding the (infant, transition, toddler, preschooler). I have lots of plans for making further use of this footage, but enough of that. Let's talk about what I saw.

To put a positive spin on it, parents work way too hard! To put a not-so-positive spin on it, parents are interfering. They sit down to a lovely meal and spoil it right away by telling the child, "you know the rules-you have to eat your vegetables." Often the "eat your vegetables" admonition reverberates, with one parent picking up the words of the other and the first amplifying the second and back again. Parents peer and arrange and wipe-wipe-wipe and scrape together the child's food. They tap the child's plate and interrupt her conversation to remind her to finish whatever-it-is. They insist on one bite of everything and reason and praise and feed children who are old enough to feed themselves and explain about nutritional superiority and make bargains about "first this and then that." They keep up a rat-tat litany: Use your fork, use your spoon, use your napkin. For their part, children do not easily give up their rights with eating. They argue, whine, cry, resist and evade, become defiantly messy, throw anything within reach, and press their parents to make increasingly ridiculous food bargains.

As a result of all this static, children are so stressed that they lose touch with themselves: their internal cues of hunger and satiety, their enjoyment and curiosity about food, and their pride in learning to do well with eating. But parents are stressed as well. They do not enjoy making their child miserable, but they do it anyway because they think it is good parenting with food. Why all the fuss? If children get the support they need - enjoyable family meals - they push themselves along to learn to eat the food their parents eat. Eventually they even do it neatly. Where do parents get the idea that they have to micromanage children's eating? This pattern is not confined to San Jose, CA, nor is it new. Thirty years ago, an experienced Pediatric Nurse Practitioner observed to me, "If a child eats, parents think it is all their idea."

Given this pressure on their eating, little wonder that children who are at all cautious and limited in with respect to eating develop extreme food selectivity or bizarre food behaviors. If fed according to a division of responsibility and allowed to move along according to their own tempo, slow-to-warm-up children learn to enjoy a variety of food. Really cautious kids, such as those with sensory integration disorders and autism spectrum disorders, still push themselves ever-so-slowly along to learn to eat. To do that they need structure, opportunities to learn and no pressure. Children with neuromuscular limitations struggle to manage the nipple or the spoon and eat until they run out of energy and it stops being enjoyable. Then they need nutritional support delivered in some other way so they and they and their parents don't have to wear themselves out satisfying their nutritional requirements.

The take-home message is that we have work to do. We must let these poor parents - and these poor children - off the hook by teaching parents the division of responsibility in feeding. Along with that, we must help parents identify when they are putting pressure on feeding, and give them the good news about how much happier they and they child will be if they stop it.

Copyright © 2010 by Ellyn Satter. Published at

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DISCLAIMER: The information contained in Family Meals Focus is intended to inform our readers about issues relating to feeding dynamics in general and family meals in particular. It is not intended to replace specific advice from a health care professional.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

nutrition "education," calorie counting for the preschool age

I was enjoying the local farmer's market this weekend and sitting next to my daughter who was coloring at a lovely little shaded area with beanbag toss (based on the food pyramid-ugh) when I read this piece of cow-dung. I was only happy that my little M doesn't know how to read yet.

The bottom part if you can't read it says: (exclamations are theirs, not mine)

Circle the healthiest choice (fewest calories)!
Ring the cowbell!

1/2 cup diced fruit salad (60 calories)

1/2 cup diced fruit salad with 2 Tbspn orange juice (88 calories)

1/2 cup diced fruit salad with 2 Tbspns light yogurt (96 calories)

Oh, where to begin!!

Nutrition education for children has the potential to do great harm. I wonder why adding yogurt is not "healthy" or the assertion that the definition of "healthy" is low calorie. Low-calorie and low-fat diets fail nutritionally for small children (and fail for adults too.) I won't elaborate on why this is garbage "nutrition" info which is more harmful than helpful. (Think of a table of first grade comparing calorie and fat counts in the name of health-it's happening people.)

I spoke with the nice folks who worked for this farm/education group and explained that I was a family doctor and feeding specialist and that their info was wrong and dangerous. I also said I would not stick around for the cooking demo (fruit salsa, could be great, but don't want M hearing about "healthy" eating from these folks...) The lady explained that they had a dietitian come up with the materials and that they "struggled" with them.

Brother. Stop. Don't wade in where you are not qualified, don't promote more craziness around food. Why not just color in the picture and talk about all the delicious foods at the market, talk about how gorgeous the colors are. Do your demo, be positive, be happy, let us taste the amazing fruits of our farmer's labors, just leave "health," calories, fat out of it. It managed to do what so much nutrition and health info does these days, take such potential and passion and energy- and poison it with misinformation and misguided food moralism.

(BTW, I couldn't help saying, "More cowbell!" ala SNL. I thought I was pretty clever...)

Keep your eyes out for garbage nutrition messages aimed at kids. Share them here! I think you'll be surprised what you find when you open your eyes...

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

morning TV and the best quote from Governor Huckabee

So I was walking on my treadmill yesterday flipping through morning TV (we are going to get a DVR box as I can't stand live TV, especially in the mornings...)

So the Huckabee Show was on Fox. He had three "experts:" Meme Roth, Miss Plus-sized Elite and Kathy Ireland. Same old same old from the guests (Meme-"but obesity is the devil!!!"/Miss Plus-sized "accept and love yourself...") but Huckabee came out with a few choice lines given his history...

I paraphrase as accurately as possible without a rewind or text:

"For the six weeks I'm doing this show, I'm back on my rigid health plan and I've lost 14 1/2 pounds in two weeks!" cue wild audience applause... (BTW, he looks somewhere in between the two above photos if you're interested...)

"But it's not about weight, it's about eating right and being healthy, and doing it for your Creator, or your family..."

Huckabee is the former governor of Arkansas (Also author of Quit Digging Your Grave with a Knife and Fork...) who brought in BMI monitoring to Arkansas schools, intense obesity prevention- in the standard approach- and celebrated having the first state to halt the increase in overweight in children (0.1% reduction.) Except that this was actually a national trend that other states also experienced without the expensive and potentially harmful intervention, and over the same time period in Arkansas, African American girls experienced continued dramatic weight increases, and the number of "underweight" children increased...

I try not to be snarky (not trying very hard this morning) but I guess he decided to pick up that fork again. He talks like it's easy, that anyone can "eat right and exercise" (like Meme Roth who won't eat until she runs 4 miles a day, even if it's in the afternoon) that anyone who honors God should be able to lose weight. His personal story makes me sad for him. Years of misery, self-loathing and crash yo-yo dieting, jokes about his large children etc. What I don't feel sorry for is his preaching, his use of his position of power to shove the same nonsense about weight loss, restriction, dieting (though couched in more palatable terms) on the public at large.

Ugh. I hope someone out there appreciates that I watched a full 10 minutes of Meme Roth and Huckabee so you don't have to! (By the way, The View featured "cleanses" that were "healthy and not a diet" with between 1000 and 1200 calories, and also had a family that "banded" together (the whole family, minor children as well had lap band.) I did not watch this...

Monday, August 16, 2010

SUGAR: trust your body, not your brain, oh and fat women can self-regulate too...

Here is an interesting article about sugar, weight and internal regulation. This apparently replicated findings on a similar study done on 'normal' weight women.

Basically they took 'overweight' women (25-30 BMI) and fed two groups with a sweet beverage. One group had artificial sweetener and the other had a sugar sweetened drink. Neither group knew what they were drinking.

The coolest part? The women who drank more calories from the sugar sweetened beverage consumed less throughout the day. When their minds were taken out of the equation, their bodies regulated and compensated by consuming fewer calories. Those 'fat' women were able to self-regulate. They could trust their bodies.

(Different studies show that when women THINK they are eating low-fat yogurt for example, but it is high in fat, they actually eat MORE throughout the day. The so-called "halo" effect means people tend to eat more if foods are labeled low-fat or even organic.) The body does a better job than the brain. (Internal vs. cognitive control of intake.)

A few quotes from the article:

"The results show that overweight women do not suffer adverse effects, such as weight gain or mood fluctuation, if they do not know whether or not they are drinking a sugary or artificially sweetened drink. Instead women took in fewer calories elsewhere in the diet, to balance the calories in the drinks."

"Widespread publicity about the supposed harmful effects of sugar may make such effects more likely, as believing sugar to be harmful may encourage negative emotions after eating sugary food and lead to the abstinence violation effect."

Have you experienced the "abstinence violation" effect? In other words, the binge after the diet? The being 'bad' after the being 'good?' The "I've been starving all day and now I'm, stressed and can't hold myself back anymore?"

The good news is we can trust our bodies. We just have to learn how to get our heads and all the crazy around food out of the equation...

Thursday, August 12, 2010

harmful assumptions abound; calorie counts and BMI

Recently a study found that most Americans don't know how many calories they are "supposed" to eat in a day.

"... some simple calorie know-how would go a long way toward helping people lose or maintain their weight. " Really?

It went on in the typical manner of "tsk, tsk, if the people only knew how many calories they needed to eat, we could finally tackle the obesity epidemic."

This is an example of a cultural belief that goes largely unquestioned that more information, more cognitive control, more knowledge of calories/fat grams would help. I would posit that it is as likely to be harmful. Are there any studies that show that when people know how much, or what kinds of food they "should" eat that they are more likely to do it? I would guess that many life-long dieters and disordered eaters know better than anyone how many calories they should eat, the exact calorie counts of foods etc and still struggle mightily with eating and weight. If only knowing how much to eat would solve the problem, then Weight Watchers Point System would work, when in fact they have a similar failure rate of most diets around 90-95%...

Another example of unquestioned assumptions is the general belief that if only parents KNEW their child's BMI, had that note or diagnosis labeling their child as 'obese' or 'overweight' that we would finally get this childhood obesity thing under control! It is this thinking that is pushing ever more aggressive screening at doctor's offices and schools. Intuitively it seems to make sense, but several studies suggest that labeling children with BMI leads to MORE dieting, MORE disordered eating, LESS physical activity and MORE weight gain for children. Handing that parent the red-slip is more likely to do harm than help the child.

I would just like to see a little intellectual effort in our public health arena and health reporting.

Can you think of other "assumptions" about eating, health or weight that go unquestioned but are highly questionable?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

croissants vs snails, a reminder that feeding kids isn't just about the food

Well, I'm back from France with M, digging out from hundreds of emails. Thanks for your comments while I was gone. I will get to them and give them the proper attention soon (probably next week as I leave soon for an exciting workshop in Iowa on Thursday!)

I was reminded that there is so much more at play with food than the actual food. I think I've said before that it's 90% psychology. Here is a perfect example...

For weeks before the trip I was mentioning how much I was looking forward to croissants. Really, I love them, and when in France I eat a lot of them. I never said, "M, you'll love them, you have to try them!" More of just, "Wow, I'm excited to have some croissants next week!"

So, I rode the rickety old bike to the bakery and brought back bread, croissants, pain-au-chocolat (croissants with chocolate baked into them) and M wouldn't try it. She refused for almost 2 weeks. The one time she tried it was on the day when there was only one left from the day before and her cousins wanted it. (Scarcity is a great motivator...) Then she tried it and liked it. I am convinced that had I not talked about it before the trip, she would have tried it without a fuss, as she did with almost everything else on the trip, including the snails above (bigorneau) which I refuse to eat (I tried them years ago and I am not a fan...) It creeps me out when you pull them out of the shell with a little pin and they uncurl and then curl up again. (I think you can zoom in on the photo if you're interested and see the pile of meat on the bottom right...) Ew. (I of course did not share this with M.)

On another note, I enjoyed sometimes two croissants for breakfast that are loaded with butter and flaky and delicious. I felt no guilt or shame, and by the last few days, I had kind of had enough. I didn't want them anymore. I will look forward to them again in two years! In the past, before really accepting eating all foods and trusting my body, I had often felt some of the usual, "I shouldn't really eat this..." and had more conflicted feelings and never really felt I had had "enough."

I have also been up since 3:30, so this is a little rambly.

Have you had experiences where you felt that the psychology of the situation and not the food, the flavor or texture was what influenced whether your child (or you) tried or ate something or not?
(I have never tried my Dad's home-made chutney which I think is because I was pressured so much to do so over the years...)

Friday, August 6, 2010

feeding with ED in the kitchen, will you share your experiences?

This comment to a recent post made me teary. This is why I do what I do.

I am finding that about half of the mothers I work with on feeding issues will share a history of an eating disorder with me. This is an area I am really interested in. Would you share your story? How does feeding children trigger or heal you? Can you see potential for your own healing through feeding your children? Tell me whatever comes to mind. Are you struggling in recovery? Did you grow up with a sister or mother or brother with an eating disorder? Do you worry about it when you feed? Is it changing/spoiling your feeding?

"thanks for your blog....i have been bulimic for 18 years now (wow thats more than half my life) that i STILL struggle with... I am scared to DEATH of passing on my ed to my kids...and your easy intro to the family eating question has me making healthier choices and feeling far more at ease with what my kids eat....i have learned to quit freaking out when one child refuses to eat nothing but meat and potatoes (she obviously needed the fuel...she shot up 2 inches in the following week...and went back to normal eating after the growth spurt) ...and to see their rythms as natural....i have healthy food available for snack times and cook balanced meals.... thank you for taking the great fear around food and the family that i had."

I am out of town, but am working on some thoughts about feeding when you or a loved one are in recovery, your comments will be really helpful...

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

cambozola! Two great tastes that go great together...

I love this cheese. I just figured out it's a mix between gorgonzola and camembert. I'm a little slow! It's at Trader Joes and Costco. Creamy and mild, yummy with salami and pita bread and sour pickles on the side.... Yummo!

So you have a favorite cheese? My niece, at age 3 (lives in France speaking English too) said, "Moi, moi, moi, j'aime le Stinky Cheese!"

Monday, August 2, 2010

making muffins last

From a comment on Sneaky Chef or leftovers:
Restless Native wrote:

Here's the basic recipe I use for most muffins. It's infinitely variable--you can use nearly anything that strikes your fancy:

Pumpkin is our house favorite, but orange/pineapple or carrot/pineapple/white raisin are well-received, too. I also sometimes omit the sugar and add cheddar cheese and crumbled bacon. These are really good split and toasted for breakfast.

I have another muffin trick you might need if you're going to make a whole batch of muffins. A little old lady told me years ago that muffins stay fresh-tasting best if you let them cool and stick them in a brown paper bag, roll the bag down, and put that in the freezer. I'd been using plastic wrap or a ziplock bag if I thought to freeze extras at all. Well, I was curious (and skeptical), but I have to say that she was absolutely right! Now I do this with all muffins we're not going to eat right away. They thaw pretty quick on the counter, or are ready to go if you zap them for about ten seconds in the microwave. They'll keep at least a month in the freezer if you use a clip or something to hold the bag closed.

remember, I am still out of town! :)