Sarah Remmer is a Registered Dietitian and Nutritionist. She believes that the way we feed our babies, toddlers and children now will affect their relationship with food and overall health for the rest of their lives. Subscribe us to get articles on child nutrition, picky eating, family nutrition, nutrition for breastfeeding and healthy weight loss for moms.
“Plant-based” continues to be the biggest nutrition buzzword, and I’m thrilled about it because there are SO MANY BENEFITS to including more plants in our diets. Specifically, “plant-based protein” is something that North Americans are striving to get more of, and national nutrition guides are encouraging. This is good news.
From a nutrition perspective, plant-based sources of protein such as beans, lentils, legumes, seeds, and tofu (to name a few) are not only great sources of protein, but they contain fibre, iron, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. They’re also low or free from saturated fat, which makes plant-based protein an excellent alternative to meat-based protein. They’re also, in many cases, gentler on the environment, more economical and quick and easy to prepare (which this mom of three appreciates). I’m not suggesting that we eliminate meat from our lives, because I also love a good ol’ steak (I’m Albertan after all), but we DO need to add more plants to our diets.
My favourite source of plant-based protein is–hands down–lentils. They’re easy to throw on top of salad, into baked goods, or to use in as a substitute for ground beef in soups and sauces. I will often use half ground beef and half lentils in things like taco mix, spaghetti sauce and even homemade hamburgers! They also make a great addition to smoothies and baked goods like muffins (as you’ll see below). They’re neutral tasting, so kids (and adults) don’t really notice them, but they add loads of nutrition, and are incredibly versatile.
Cooking or baking with plant-based protein can be a little scary if you’re new to it, but it’s not as hard as you may think. With Canada’s newest Food Guide recommendations encouraging the population to consume more sources of plant-based protein I asked some of my fellow Registered Dietitian’s to share their favourite plant-based protein recipes! And check out my interview at the end of this post for more family-friendly tips about incorporating plant-based protein into your meals! Hope you enjoy!
Valentine’s Day is here, and this year I have three of the cutest little Valentines to shower with sweets and treats. But wait, aren’t you a dietitian? Dietitians are supposed to only eat healthy foods, right?
This momma loves her chocolate and her kids have definitely inherited the chocolate-loving-gene. That being said, I am raising my kids to become healthy and mindful eaters, which means I offer a variety of food ranging from healthy to… not-so-healthy. And in my home, we try not to focus on the food (wha?). We instead try to focus on the enjoyment of food!
Valentine’s Day is a holiday just like any other, but with the emphasis on sweets, it can be a difficult one for kids (and parents) to navigate. After all, I am voluntarily giving my children chocolate! Managing treats for kids is one of the most common challenges of parenting because they can so often be linked to behaviour. And let’s be honest…who doesn’t love a treat? So, how do you offer treats to your child without turning them into a treat-obsessed monsters, you ask?
Here are my top three tips:
Treats, defined, and why I don’t actually call them “treats”:
Treats are generally defined as those foods that don’t contain a whole lot of nutrition, but DO contain a lot of calories, added sugar and/or saturated fats. You know… chocolate, cookies, cake, chips etc. They really shouldn’t be served to kids under two, and shouldn’t take up a lot of tummy space in kids two and older, but they’re part of life and are fun and yummy to eat. They will inevitably be a part of your child’s life, and we as parents need to teach our kids how to enjoy them mindfully.
Now, a treat in one household might not be considered a treat in another. For instance, in my household I always have baked goods like cookies, muffins, energy bites available. We also freeze grapes and bananas and sometimes dip them in a bit of chocolate. In my mind, all of these foods are considered “treats” (along with the kinds I mentioned above), but perhaps some of these wouldn’t be considered treats in other homes. Regardless, I try not to refer to any food as a “treat” around my kids. Instead I would just call them by their name. “Ice cream”, “cookie”, “chocolate covered strawberry”. Calling them “treats”, “junk” or even “fun foods”, in my mind, makes them more sought after, mystical, or more negatively, forbidden or bad. They’re just food.
What’s important to remember is that treats can be food, but not necessarily the sugary treat. It’s important to remember that a treat can also be an experience, a visit to grandparents, a skiing adventure, you name it! My point here is what defines a treat is not necessarily the nutritional content of a food, but the experience itself. So, this Valentine’s Day while the kids are creating their Valentine’s Day cards to give to one another (and their grandparents) I think it would be great to offer a few heart shaped chocolates and treats. Or better yet, make a few chocolate goodies like truffles (with lots of red and pink sprinkles) to make as gifts for friends and loved ones. Yum.
Offer sweet treats regularly and without strings attached.
This is the tip I find the hardest to convey to clients. And in truth, it was the hardest to follow when I first started feeding my kids. It’s somewhat counter-intuitive, considering most of us grew up with the “clean your plate, or no dessert” mentality. Sound familiar? What we realize now is this form of feeding can create a compulsory need to finish everything on your plate regardless of hunger. What does this mean? That even if you’re not really hungry, or that you’ve already satisfied your hunger, you will likely overeat because that is what has been expected of you. Plus, rewarding your child for an empty plate with a treat-like food, puts that dessert food on a pedestal and increases its desirability. Crazy I know. Food should be reserved for feeding and nourishing your child (and sometimes for fun), but never for a reward or punishment.
Don’t treat treats any differently!
When I offer a cookie to my kids, I will often provide a few other things as well, such as apple slices and cheese, to put them on a level playing field. I might even use Ellyn Satter’s treat strategy of offering a treat WITH a meal. You heard me–alongside their chicken, broccoli and rice. Try it–it actually really works to create mindful treat-eaters!
Hiding, restricting or over-controlling treats will lead to treat-obsessed kids, which will create a whole other set of issues. If you’re restricting treats by saying, “we don’t eat sugary food in this house”, chances are, when they’re at their friends house or at grandmas, they’ll over consume because they know they won’t have access to it when they get home. Or when you finally do offer a treat, they’ll go to town on it. Instead of saying “no” to a Valentine’s Day chocolate, say “yes”! But define the parametres. Together with your child, come up with a plan of what, how much, where and when the treat will be consumed. This way, you’re not saying no, you’re giving your child some control, but ultimately, you’re in control of the when and where food is served, which is important.
Try the 90-10 rule:
A colleague and fellow Pediatric Dietitian Jill Castle came up with an interesting strategy that works really well for some families when it comes to treats and helps parents by giving them a more defined plan. The idea is that 90% of the foods served to kids are nourishing whole foods, and 10% is reserved for treats or as Jill refers to them as “fun foods”. This ensures that kids are filling up on nutritious foods but still able to enjoy the odd treat. For most kids, 10% works out to about 1-2 treat foods a day. This seems reasonable to me.
I hope these tips are helpful and that they help you come up with a treat strategy that works for your family. If you need more personalized guidance on this, or anything regarding nutrition and your kids, don’t hesitate to contact us at The Centre for Family Nutrition!
February can be a tough time of the year. The holidays are over, winter is in full force, and resolutions are starting to…break. I don’t know about you, but I am struggling with being creative in the kitchen, even though one of my resolutions was to get back to meal planning. We all have BIG LOFTY goals at the start of the year, but let’s be honest–most of them aren’t as realistic and long-lasting as we hope. I’m the first to admit this!
So… what should you do?!
It’s easy to get in a food rut. We’ve all been there! Having the same few meals on repeat week after week can feel boring and repetitive. Not to mention a lack of variety can mean you are loading up on some nutrients while missing others. But how do we get out of it? Hiring a personal chef is out of the question (for me at least), so I’ve come up with five ways to help you reboot your meals.
Treat yourself–buy a new cookbook
A cookbook is a lot less expensive than a personal chef, so treat yourself and go splurge on a new cookbook. Choose one that’s pretty and appealing and will get you inspired to cook again. But make sure that it’s realistic and simple too though–that’s key. Some of my new favourites are my friend Abbey Sharp’s new cookbook, Mindful Glow, The Sweet Potato Chronicles ladies newest book The School Year Survival Cookbook and my colleague Toby Amidor, RD’s newest The Healthy Meal Prep Cookbook. The library has tonnes of great recipe books too. I recently flipped through a library cookbook and found another reader’s post-it-note flagging a recipe as being delicious. It warmed my heart and was an easy first recipe to try.
Check out online flyers (game changer)
You may not get a paper copy these days, but all the grocery store flyers are online! If your grocery store has a sale on ground turkey and sweet potatoes go for it. Plug in your ingredients to Google and you’ll find a recipe!
Get out of your comfort zone (even a bit)
Too often I serve raw vegetables–the same three (carrots, cucumber and snap peas). It’s easy and I’m often in a rush to get food on the table. But it also gets boring and repetitive. Switch up your usual but cooking the same foods a different way. So instead of raw carrots try roasting a huge batch of assorted veggies and reheating throughout the week.
Spice it up!
There are so many different spices out there other than oregano. I’m just sayin’. It’s easy to rely on the same few. So why not add some different flavours and literally spice up your life! Turmeric or curry powder on roasted cauliflower is a great start.
Don’t beat yourself for ordering in.
An easy way to get out of a food rut is to try something new. And that doesn’t mean you have to make it. I’ve often ordered in and thought that I could recreate the recipe at home. You can too! So, order in Greek food and then add feta cheese and olives to your grocery list next week.
If you’re looking for more inspiration check out some of the delicious recipes listed below.
If you’d like to reboot your family meal plan, and would like some extra help with meal prep and planning why not book an appointment with a Registered Dietitian! Check what we offer at The Centre for Family Nutrition.
After 13 years of practice as a Registered Dietitian, I might finally start using Canada’s Food Guide as a trusted tool and resource.
Since I became a Dietitian in 2006, I’ve resisted ever using Canada’s Food Guide as a resource or tool in my practice because I disagreed with so many of it’s messages and teachings. Everything from the global but prescriptive serving size recommendations, to encouraging refined carbohydrates, to the inclusion of fruit juice in the vegetables/fruits food group, I disagreed with most aspects of our national food guide.
The new 2019 Canada’s Food Guide was unveiled today, and although I was quite skeptical about whether the changes to the guide would be overly impressive, I’m…overly impressed!
Here’s are 5 reasons why:
1. No More Serving recommendations
That’s right — there’s no more recommendations on serving amounts or sizes in the Canada’s Food Guide. This makes me very happy, as the serving recommendations were confusing, and left people thinking that they had to weigh and measure their food, and meet a “minimum serving” amount for each food group. This didn’t make sense and added pointless pressure to reach a certain number of servings (and likely contributed to overeating). Everyone is different, has different preferences and nutritional needs. This new version allows for more mindful eating practices, and personalization.
You all know that I’m a huge fan of legumes such as lentils and beans, so it’s no surprise that I’m impressed with this recommendation. Encouraging Canadians to focus more on plant-based sources of protein is beneficial for many reasons. Nutrition-wise, plant-based sources of protein such as beans, lentils, peas, nuts, seeds, tofu, etc. tend to not only contain protein, but also dietary fibre, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and are low or free from saturated fat. There’s plenty of research to support the health benefits and health-protective properties of plant-based foods, so this is an excellent addition to the food guide. They’re also cost-effective, versatile, easy, and accessible. Although the food guide doesn’t necessarily discourage consumption of animal protein (because there are also many benefits to meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy), it highlights plant sources, which at this point, most people aren’t consuming enough of.
3. No More Juice!
This one made me do a big double fist pump. I love that 100% fruit juice is no longer part of the vegetable and fruits category — it should never have been in there in the first place. 100% unsweetened fruit juice contains as much sugar as regular pop/soda, so it’s certainly not something we should be encouraging as health professionals–especially when it comes to kids. In my house, juice is a once-in-awhile beverage, and is usually heavily diluted with water. Once in a while, at a birthday party or for fun?? Of course! But, juice lacks the fibre that whole fruit does, so it’s not as filling and doesn’t offer as much nutrition.
What I’ve found in my practice over the years, is that parents think of juice as a healthy fruit or veggie alternative – something to give them peace of mind knowing that their kids are getting at least some fruit/veggies into them. And having it as part of the vegetable and food group in the old Canada’s Food Guide likely encouraged this thinking. Needless to say, I’m incredibly relieved that the new Food Guide has removed it. The new food guide now encourages water to drink, which I’m thrilled about. It’s also taken sweetened milk (like chocolate milk) out, which makes a lot of sense to me too. Once in a while? Sure. But not as a mainstay to get your calcium in for the day.
4. Encouraging healthy fats
The new Canada’s Food Guide encourages consumption of healthy fats coming from avocado, nuts, seeds, oily fish, oils and soft margarine. Now, the last one on the list I’m not a huge fan of, but the others I am. Instead of taking a fat-phobic approach like the old food guide did (which we know is archaic and based on bad science), the new food guide encourages the inclusion of healthy fats, and doesn’t limit the amount of overall fat consumed per day. For reference, the old food guide recommended 2-3 tablespoons of vegetable oil daily, which was a ridiculous recommendation, considering the fact that most people are not going to carry around a tablespoon with them to measure out every little bit of oil they consume. And what about fat from other sources?? This version is so much more practical. The focus is on healthier fats–eat oily fish, have some avocado on your salad, sprinkle some nuts and seeds on your oatmeal–which makes sense to me! And it will most certainly make more sense to most Canadians.
The new guide also recommends limiting unhealthy (saturated) fats coming from processed foods, baked goods, high fat dairy products, high fat and processed meats, deep fried foods, butter and lard. This seems reasonable to me and makes sense. Enjoy these foods sometimes, but limit them.
Encouraging cooking and enjoying food
In most of the content that I write, and certainly in my nutrition counselling practice, I talk a lot about “mindful eating”, enjoying and savouring your food (and encouraging your kids to do the same), cooking more often and the importance of family meals. Food is not all about nutrients and health benefits, it’s also at the centre of many cultural and social human experiences. This new food guide highlights the importance of eating as a family or with other people, eating less processed foods and cooking from scratch more, and enjoying and savouring the food we eat. I’m hoping this encourages more mindful eating practices, and cooking as a family.
Overall, I’m thoroughly impressed with the new food guide and it’s changes. It’s not perfect, but it’s a long-overdue move in the right direction. And it’s nice to know that I can now feel good about using it now and then as a teaching tool in my practice and writing.
I’ve partnered with my friends at Baby Gourmet for this post! As always, my opinions are my own!
As parents of little ones, we all know that feeding babies can be fun, messy and maybe a little nerve wracking in the beginning… there are so many conflicting messages out there about what, when and how to start solids. No doubt you’ve heard “you should start early–at 4 months” or “you’ve got to wait until 6 months” or “you should start with purees and then gradually feed lumpier textures” or “finger foods only–purees aren’t good anymore”. Gah! It’s confusing!
Well, I will put your mind at ease right from the get-go–there’s no “right” way to start solids. There are guidelines and suggestions and certain nutrients. And I have no doubt that you’ve received unsolicited advice from your friends, family and random people who feel the need to impart their feeding wisdom… They mean well, but it can add to the confusion and create stress that is unnecessary. As a pediatric registered dietitian and mom of 3, I’ve got your back, and I’m here to give you the facts, based on the newest feeding guidelines and science.
Babies should be introduced to solids around 6 months of age, when they’re developmentally ready, and are eager to dive into the wonderful world of solid foods. This is also when babies’ iron stores that they built up in the womb are depleted, so iron-rich foods like meat, poultry, fish, eggs, beans and lentils, or iron-fortified infant cereal should be offered at least twice a day to meet their needs.
What a lot
of parents don’t realize, is that right from 6 months of age, babies are ready
to practice self-feeding with soft and safe finger foods! And self-feeding or
practicing “baby-led feeding” has many benefits such as:
Finger foods that are safe and nutritious for babies are things like meat, poultry, fish, eggs, beans and lentils, soft cooked vegetables, soft fruit, whole grain foods, and cheese. If you’re comfortable with it, you can do “baby-led weaning” which essentially means that you skip purees and go straight to soft and safe finger foods (and baby self-feeding). But it’s also ok to do a combination of spoon feeding and self-feeding if you’re more comfortable with that. Again, there’s no one “right” way. Read more here, here, here and here about starting solids and baby-led weaning. But it is important to always let baby lead (in terms of how much and how fast they eat), and to choose real, unprocessed foods the majority of the time–we want them to develop a palate for, and become really familiar with the feel, taste, and texture of a nice variety of real whole foods like fruits, vegetables, meats, legumes, and whole grains.
But, life happens, and sometimes we need something really convenient and easy for when we’re on the go (or let’s be honest–when attempting to make dinner without losing your mind). Enter: baby snack food. Now, I’m not a huge fan of the baby snacking selections out there. Typically what you find down the baby aisle are packaged finger food snacks that are made primarily with rice and contain little to no nutrition. Trust me–most of these are super unimpressive nutrition-wise. And because our babies’ tummies are so small (nut nutrient needs high), we need to be picky when choosing these convenience foods.
This is why I’m so thrilled that Baby Gourmet has JUST come out with 100% high quality plant-based chickpea and lentil snacks (no rice or weird ingredients here) that are perfect for babies right from 6 months of age. I’ve partnered with this amazing company for a reason–they’re breaking ground when it comes to finger food snacks for babies and toddlers and I’ve had the pleasure of being a part of the innovation. Most of you know how much I love lentils, so you can imagine my excitement about the fact that these are made with only lentils and chickpeas. There’s both a carrot stick, and a tomato slice with basil that make for a great addition to a meal or a great snack while on the go. They’re perfect for babies who are learning to self-feed AND they offer nutrition like protein, fibre, iron and even probiotics!
Check out my video below where I share my top tips for starting solids (and where my adorable nephew William gets to taste test (and devour) Baby Gourmet’s new Finger Foods:
Finger Foods for Babies: Why You Should Encourage Self-Feeding - YouTube
Bottom line is this: babies need to be exposed to a variety of foods, tastes, and textures within the first few months of starting solids–including soft, safe finger foods. It’s safe to allow your healthy baby to self-feed right from six months (and there are many benefits to this!) and it’s important to include baby in family meals. No matter how you’re feeding your baby (or allowing them to self-feed), it’s important that ALL feeding is baby-led, meaning that you follow their cues, letting them lead and letting them be in charge of how much they eat, and at what pace they eat. Focus primarily on real, whole unprocessed foods, and when it comes to convenience baby foods, be really selective. Read ingredients lists and compare different products, looking for quality whole-food nutritious ingredients that you recognize.
If you want to learn more about baby-led weaning and why you might want to consider it, check out this blog post. And if you’re worried about choking and baby-led weaning, check this one out!
POP THE PROSECCO AND ENJOY A GLASS – MODERATELY AND RESPONSIBLY THAT IS
If you’re a breastfeeding mom it’s important to know that it is okay to enjoy a glass of wine this holiday season. In all honestly, a glass of wine was something I really missed being able to have while pregnant, so when my baby finally arrived, mamma popped the cork and had a glass… while breastfeeding. And here is why.
Alcohol present in breastmilk is the same as the maternal blood concentration. This means that if your blood alcohol level is 0.05% your breast milk will also contain 0.05% alcohol. Typically, within 30-60 minutes after consuming a beverage, there will be alcohol present in both your bloodstream and your breastmilk. I can recall being at a family Christmas party and breastfeeding standing up with a glass of wine in hand. With three kids under my belt my multitasking had hit new heights! He was drinking completely alcohol free breastmilk and I knew that by the time he needed to be fed again my breastmilk would be free of alcohol.
We now know that “pumping and dumping” is not necessary. The reason most people pump while consuming alcohol is to feel more comfortable (not become engorged). If you plan on consuming more than one alcoholic beverage in a night plan to pump prior to consumption so that your babe has a ready-to-consume supply of breast milk. It’s important to remember that alcohol clears from breastmilk the same as it does in the bloodstream. For the average individual this will be 2-3 hours per standard drink (see below), depending on your weight.
12 ounces (355 milliliters) of beer (5% alcohol)
5 ounces (148 milliliters) of wine (11% alcohol)
1.5 ounces (44 milliliters) of liquor (40% alcohol)
The bottom line is there’s no level of alcohol in breast milk that’s considered safe for your baby. The effects of maternal alcohol intake on the breastfed infant are limited, but some of the risks to the infant (after consuming breastmilk with alcohol) include disrupted sleep and decreased intake (due to reduced lactation). So if you do decide to have a drink, have it safely. This means paying close attention to how much you’re drinking and the timing of each drink, to ensure that you keep your baby safe.
This post was written by my friend and colleague Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD of Real Mom Nutrition. I’m thrilled to help spread the word about her new book The 101 Healthiest Foods for Kids. And ooh boy do I agree with her list below!
There are foods we know are healthy for our kids, like spinach and quinoa. There are foods we consider occasional fun foods, like cupcakes and Cool Ranch Doritos. And then there are a whole bunch of foods in that middle gray area: packaged stuff that’s often billed as wholesome and nutritious—but may be more hype than healthy. Here are ten to consider:
Even 100 percent fruit juice should be limited (here are the latest guidelines). That’s because juice provides a lot of extra (natural) sugar without the fiber of the whole fruit. Sipping on juice all day also ups the risk for cavities—and may fill little bellies and dull hunger for meals. Many brands boast “100% vitamin c” on labels, but it just isn’t hard for most kids to get enough C each day (about three medium strawberries does the trick for young kids!).
These can certainly be brimming with wholesome ingredients like nuts and oats, but just be cautious. Some are also loaded with sugar—and even if the sugar grams seem reasonable on the label, check the serving size (serving sizes for some granolas are a tiny quarter-cup!).
Gummy Fruit Snacks:
Some parents mistakenly believe these are a “better for you snack” because they’re often labeled “made with real fruit”. But that fruit might be fruit juice concentrate, which is essentially a form of added sugar. Most are made with very little (if any) actual fruit, and some contain synthetic food dyes and oils. They’re fine for an occasional treat, but they’re truly more like candy than a nutritious snack.
These seem great in theory, but some of them are just potato chips with food coloring added. Veggie chips can be a bridge food for fresh vegetables for some very reluctant eaters, so if you’re buying them, choose a veggie chip that lists a vegetable as the first ingredient (not potato flour).
Bars can be an easy convenience food when you’re on the go, but a lot of bars pack serious sugar. Serve whole foods most often at snacks and save bars as an in-a-pinch solution.
Breads labeled as “wheat bread” are typically made with enriched white flour, which means some of the healthy grain components were stripped off during processing. What’s even trickier: “Wheat bread” is sometimes colored with molasses to give it the appearance of whole wheat bread. Always look for “whole wheat” as the first ingredient to get the real deal.
Here’s another sneaky bread label. Just because a bread is contains multiple grains doesn’t mean that any of them are actually whole grain. Check labels for the word “whole” in the first ingredient.
Yes, it’s calorie-free–and for people with diabetes, switching from regular soda to diet can help blood sugar control if they don’t want to give up soda. But some research suggests worrisome side effects, including a higher BMI and boosted risk for metabolic syndrome. If your kids like some fizz, try seltzer with a small splash of juice.
Most people get enough protein, and kids’ protein needs aren’t high enough to warrant regular protein shakes (here are age-by-age visuals of just how much kids need every day). Some are even marketed as a solution for picky eating.
Fro-Yo is fun for sure, but the frozen stuff doesn’t have the probiotic power that the regular kind does. And besides, kids are mostly in it for the toppings anyway, amiright?
Bottom line: I always recommend reading the ingredient list and Nutrition Facts Panel to see what’s really inside instead of relying on label claims, which are more marketing than anything else.
For the very best whole foods to fuel your kids’ bodies and brains, check out my new book The 101 Healthiest Foods For Kids. It features profiles of 101 healthy whole foods, answers to your most common questions about feeding kids, and 26 simple recipes you can make with your kids.