Category Archives: Childhood Nutrition

Diet Book for Kids

The title of my post may have you thinking that this is a review of a diet book for kids or that I am advocating this genre of books. I assure you that is the opposite of what this is about. I rarely get into controversial topics on my blog, but I couldn’t let this one go by without expressing my opinion.

Earlier today on Twitter I saw a retweeted post by a couple of tweeps I follow who advocate for positive body image. The post was about an article on The Women’s Blog of the Guardian website, “A diet book for six-year-old girls: the worst idea ever?” Before I even read the article I agreed with my fellow tweeps that a diet book for kids is terrible. Then I clicked through and read the article and was even more appalled.

According to the blog post, the forthcoming book, “Maggie Goes On a Diet” by Paul A. Kramer is aimed at six to twelve year old girls — the perfect age for girls to develop eating disorders, which will no doubt be further exacerbated by books like this. The book is about a teenage girl who “is transformed from being overweight and insecure to a normal-sized teen who becomes the school soccer star.”

maggie goes on a diet

I have so many problems with this that I don’t even know where to start. First of all, the cover of the book shows the young “overweight” girl holding up a party dress in a mirror, and the reflection back at her is a skinnier version of herself. No wonder we have a society filled with women with body dysmorphic disorder. Second, the fact that the blurb about the book says that the girl goes from being “overweight and insecure” to “normal-sized” and the “school soccer star” implies that to be a star you have to be a so-called “normal” size — whatever that is. That’s some way to build confidence in pre-pubescent girls who will be going through size changes any day.

I can only imagine the kind of parents who would buy this book for their daughters, and I would hope that they seek out some help and think twice before doing so.

What do you think about this book? Please share your opinions! 

Caprese Salad for Kids

As I mentioned yesterday, I am a big believer in children eating real food. In my new kid’s cookbook, We Can Cook, there is a variety of recipes including kid favorites like grilled cheese and fish sticks and more grown-up dishes such as roasted root vegetables and veggie quinoa salad. One of my favorite recipes in the book is caprese sticks.

What I love about this recipe is that it’s interactive for kids and introduces them to an advanced taste profile that they have likely never before tasted – tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, basil, aged balsamic vinegar, and olive oil. While this recipe may be too advanced for some children, exposing them to these foods early on will make them aware of the flavors and as they get older they will hopefully learn to love it!

How do I know this works? My 7 year old nephew loves caprese salads! (This is the same kid who was eating edamame when he was almost 6.) Last week I was on vacation with my husband’s family, and at almost every dinner my nephew started his meal with a tomato and mozzarella salad. At one particular meal the salad consisted of different colored heirloom tomatoes, which he had never seen. At first he was skeptical and did not want to eat the salad, but I let him know that the yellow and purple tomatoes were just as delicious (if not more!) as the red ones and I encouraged him to at least try them. He was a great sport and tasted the yellow ones. I can’t say he loved them right away, but at least he gave it a shot. I predict that in just a couple of years he will be devouring heirloom tomatoes just like he currently does with red ones!

caprese salad

My nephew and his heirloom tomato & mozzarella salad

What is the most adventurous food your child or a child you knows eats?

We Can Cook

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you know that I occasionally write about childhood nutrition issues: childhood obesity, children’s menus, cooking with kids, etc. One thing I am very passionate about is feeding children real food. What I mean by this, is that it is best to introduce children to the same foods you and other adults eat.

Kid favorites like mac ‘n’ cheese and chicken fingers are pretty much always available to kids at restaurants, but no child needs to eat those calorie-laden meals every time he eats out (or even when eating at home). If you knew me as a child you’d be saying “Who are you to talk?!” because I was what many parents would call a picky eater. Staples of my diet were chicken nuggets, pizza bagels, and mac ‘n’ cheese, and the only vegetables I liked were peas and carrots (especially carrots). Looking back at my diet, it’s a good question how I became a dietitian (and I didn’t even tell you about all the desserts I used to eat)! Lucky for me I didn’t have a weight issue, which may be why no one thought twice about what I ate. But from a nutrition standpoint, I would not want my children eating the same way.

My interest in childhood nutrition and making sure children learn about all varieties of foods is what excited me to write my first kid’s cookbook, We Can Cook: Introduce Your Child to the Joy of Cooking with 75 Simple Recipes and Activities

The book is full of recipes that I developed using a variety of foods including ones that children may not be familiar with. Every recipe is designed to have children help in the preparation, this way they get to know the foods they are going to be eating and they will learn how to cook at the same time. While the book is geared to children ages three to six, children of all ages can take part in making these recipes — the older the child, the more he or she can do in the kitchen! There are also a handful of food-related activities written by Maja Pitamic.

You can read a review of the book at and taste a sample of the recipes in this post by my friend and fellow dietitian Elisa Zied.

And don’t fret — there are recipes for Mac ‘n’ Cheese and Chicken Fingers included!

You Can Get Active

In addition to National Mediterranean Diet month, May is also National Physical Fitness and Sports Month. Surely you’ve heard the obesity statistics, but just to refresh your memory, in the past 30 years childhood obesity has doubled among 2-5 year olds and tripled among 6-11 year olds. Not only are children not eating healthfully, they are also not living an active lifestyle.

To help out on the activity front, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has implemented a science-based national education program called We Can! (Ways to Enhance Children’s Activity and Nutrition). The program helps children ages 8-13 stay at a healthy weight and they offer materials to help caregivers and families encourage children to become more active.

we can program nih

Although the end of May is almost here, it’s not too late to celebrate physical activity. Here are some tips to get your family moving:

  • Take a family walk after dinner.
  • Have a dance party with your kids.
  • Park farther away from the entrance of  a store.
  • Take the stairs instead of the escalator  and race your kids to the top!
  • Acknowledge family efforts with non-food related activities like a day at the zoo or park.

Check out the We Can! website for many more tips!

What does your family do to stay physically active?

Disclaimer: I was not paid to promote the We Can! program or the NIH. All opinions are my own. 

Photo Credit: National Heart Lung and Blood Institute

Get Kids Cooking

I wrote this post as a participant in the Eat, Play, Love blog carnival hosted by Meals Matter and Dairy Council of California to share ideas on positive and fun ways to teach children healthy eating habits. A list of other registered dietitians and moms who are participating in the carnival will be listed at the bottom of this post or can be found on Meals Matter.

Although I don’t have any children of my own yet, I am an aunt to four adorable boys between the ages of 14 months and 7 years old. Last summer I wrote about the two older boys, their advanced palates, and their love of nutritioulicious food – one of them loves smoked salmon, the other could eat a 12-ounce steak on his own (and he’s only 4). As a dietitian, I get so much pleasure seeing these kids trying new foods and eating the same foods as their parents. Sure there are times when they make a fuss about not wanting to eat something, but what kid doesn’t?! (I’ve been around plenty of adults who are pickier!)

When it comes to raising healthy eaters, one of the most important things parents and caregivers can do is introduce children to all foods. Providing children with the same foods you eat will open up their minds and palates. Even if they don’t like a food the first, second, or tenth time, if you continue to offer it your kids may one day realize they do enjoy it. And if you don’t offer them something else in place (that means don’t be a short-order cook), they may just surprise you by eating what you’re serving.

Part of introducing kids to food is involving them in the cooking process. I am a big advocate of getting children into the kitchen and cooking as soon as possible. kids cookingOnce they can hold their heads up on their own, put them in a highchair (or Bumbo) right next to you while you’re cooking so they can see what you’re doing. As they get older, let them participate in the cooking process. As early as two years old children can tear lettuce and rinse fruit and vegetables. And as they get older they can do so much more: stir together ingredients, knead dough, help assemble pizza, cut soft fruit and vegetables, and use cookie cutters. (FYI, I have a kids’ cookbook coming out this summer!)

If your kids eat healthy food and play in the kitchen, they will have a love for food that will make you grin from ear to ear.

Do your kids cook with you?

Don’t stop here! Join the carnival and read other Eat, Play, Love blogs from dietitians and moms offering the best advice on raising healthy eaters. And if you don’t get enough today, for more positive, realistic and actionable advice from registered dietitian moms, register for the free, live webinar Eat, Play, Love: Raising Healthy Eaters on Wednesday, May 18.

The Best-Kept Secret for Raising Healthy Eaters, Maryann Jacobsen, MS, RD
Feeding is Love, Jill Castle, MS, RD, LDN
5 Quick Ways to Prepare Veggies with Maximum Flavor, Dayle Hayes, MS, RD
The Art of Dinnertime, Elana Natker, MS, RD
Children Don’t Need a Short Order Cook, Christy Slaughter
Cut to the Point – My Foodie Rules, Glenda Gourley
Eat, Play, Love – A Challenge for Families, Alysa Bajenaru, RD
Eat, Play, Love ~ Raising Healthy Eaters, Kia Robertson
Get Kids Cooking, Jessica Fishman Levinson, MS, RD, CDN
Kid-Friendly Kitchen Gear Gets Them Cooking, Katie Sullivan Morford, MS, RD
Kids that Can Cook Make Better Food Choices, Glenda Gourley
Making Mealtime Fun, Nicole Guierin, RD
My No Junk Food Journey – Want to Come Along?, Kristine Lockwood
My Recipe for Raising Healthy Eaters: Eat Like the French, Bridget Swinney MS, RD, LD
Playing with Dough and the Edible Gift of Thyme, Robin Plotkin, RD, LD
Picky Eaters Will Eat Vegetables, Theresa Grisanti, MA
Raising a Healthy Eater, Danielle Omar, MS, RD
Putting the Ease in Healthy Family Eating, Connie Evers, MS, RD, LD
Raising Healthy Eaters Blog Carnival & Chat Roundup, Ann Dunaway Teh, MS, RD, LD
Soccer Mom Soapbox, Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD
Teenagers Can Be Trying But Don’t Give Up, Diane Welland MS, RD
What My Kids Taught Me About Eating Mindfully, Michelle May, MD

Got Milk? Pour One More

Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of attending an event where the new face of the Got Milk? campaign was revealed — Susan Sarandon is now the proud owner of a milk mustache.

got milk? pour one more susan sarandonAs part of the National Milk Mustache campaign, a new initiative was announced on Tuesday — “Pour One More.” How appropriate that this campaign was announced on 1-11-11! The goal of “Pour One More” is to encourage people to increase their dairy intake by adding one more serving of milk per day in an effort to close the nutrient gap Americans face.

According to a report by the Milk Processor Education Program, “What America’s Missing: A 2011 Report on the Nation’s Nutrient Gap,” 9 out of 10 Americans are missing out on key nutrients. The nutrients we’re lacking the most of? Calcium, vitamin D, potassium, and fiber. Three of these four nutrients are found in the greatest amounts in milk. 85 percent of Americans fall short on the daily milk recommendations, and teenage girls and adult women have the lowest intakes — this is especially concerning since both of these groups really need the calcium.

The daily recommendations for milk intake is three 8-ounce servings of lowfat milk or milk products per day (or 2 servings for children ages 8 and younger). If you’re not consuming the recommended amount then it’s time for you to Pour One More. Use milk instead of water to make oatmeal, whip up a smoothie with fruit and lowfat yogurt, or have a glass of milk with a decadent (well-portioned!) treat after dinner. There are many ways you can increase your dairy intake so that you’re not one of the many people missing out on the key nutrients.

How do you Pour One More milk serving?

Be A Healthy Role Model & Giveaway

Last week I shared some tips on how to prevent and manage childhood obesity. I received a handful of positive comments about my first tip: Be a good role model. One of the comments I received was from someone involved in a new campaign, the Coalition of Angry Kids (COAK). I took a look at the site and think it’s an interesting take on childhood obesity. It truly highlights the point that parents (and all adults) are role models for children and if we don’t take action for ourselves we can’t expect kids to either. The saying “Do as I say, not as I do” really cannot apply when it comes to obesity.

The COAK campaign was motivated by many statistics, including the following:

If one parent is obese, there is a 50% chance that the children will also be obese. When both parents are obese, the children have an 80% chance of being obese.

Pretty scary, right?

So what can you do? Join over 12,000 people and take the COAK Pledge. When you take the pledge you get:

  1. Free 30-Day Anytime Fitness Membership (1300+ locations)
  2. Free 30-Minute Personal Training Session
  3. 30-Day Premium Pass to Anytime Health (an online resource for meal planning, workout tracking, and more)

If you take the pledge, let me know! Leave a comment on this post, tweet your commitment to me @JlevinsonRD, or post it on the nutritioulicious facebook page. If you do, you’ll be in the running for the following giveaway (valued at $230):

  1. A GRUVE calorie counter (valued at $180)
  2. A one-year premium pass to Anytime Health (valued at $50)

The giveaway has been extended! The winner will be randomly selected NEXT Friday October 1, 2010!