Food Fights: Bring ‘Peas & Harmony’ to the Family Table

As a dietitian I’m obviously interested in all things food and eating. As a mom, I’m even more interesting in the eating and feeding habits of kids. Introducing kids to food is such a unique opportunity- they’re a completely blank slate just waiting for your input. There are no bad habits to break; just good ones to form. Kids have an amazing ability to eat when they are hungry and stop when they are satisfied. As adults, most of us have so many other associations with food that we forget those skills sometimes, and learning not to push them on to your children is a big deal.

food fights book feeding kids

Although I’m looking forward to introducing KB to solid food when the time comes, I don’t know a ton about feeding kids and toddlers. I was recently sent the book Food Fights from It’s written by two moms who are also health professionals, providing a good perspective from both sides.

The book provides a good introduction to all things kids and food, from breastfeeding, starting solids, teaching kids healthy habits, and appropriate weight gain, etc. I most appreciated the emphasis on being a good role model for your children and not teaching them to use food as a reward {i.e. you can have ice cream if you eat your broccoli}.

childhood obesity

The book is written in an easy to read and light-hearted fashion, with important tips and facts highlighted so you don’t miss them. Each issue surrounding eating is given a rating as to how much of a “fight” you should put up, or whether it’s not such a big deal. Parenting is all about prioritizing.

picking your battles toddler feeding

Here’s an excerpt from the book from a chapter about being a healthy role model and instilling good habits: {reprinted with permission}

Table-Time Tradeoffs: In the Name of Healthy Eating

As ironic as it may sound when you stop to think about it, perhaps the
most common way in which parents use food as a reward is to encourage
children to eat more and/or “better” foods. You hear it all the time—
the old “if you eat your ______ (you fill in the blank), then you can
have _____ (again, you fill in the blank)” technique. While your child
may eat what you want her to and end up with dessert to show for it, in
the long run you are likely to end up getting your just desserts as well.
We recognize that this tried-and-true technique may seem to work well
at first, and we’re very aware of the fact that practically everyone does
it. But we suggest you proceed with caution because it runs the serious
risk of backfiring for several fundamental reasons.

Things Can Quickly Go From Bad to Worse.From a child’s perspective,
if you have to bribe them to eat something, then it can’t possibly
be good. If a child is indifferent to squash, making a big deal out of
her eating it and bribing her to do so is, in fact, likely to foster a much
more active dislike. Studies show that bribing children to eat certain
foods causes them to resist eating those foods even more than if they
had just been left alone.

The Tables Can Be Turned. Part of never letting your children see
you sweat (see “Strategy #3: Never Let Them See You Sweat” on
page 11) is not letting
them know just how much parental self-worth
you have riding
on each morsel. Let’s face it—at its core, offering
children edible incentives is really a you have riding
on each morsel. Let’s face it—at its core, offering
children edible incentives is really a way of manipulating them to do
what you want. If, however, your child becomes aware of just how
invested you are in what she eats—and children are very good at figuring
this out—then look out! Kids who are “paid” to eat can become
quite skilled at learning to turn it around to their advantage and
either eat or refuse to do so as a way to get what they want. Once your
child catches on, you may well be the one left with pie on your face.

Elevating the Status of Forbidden Foods. When you promise your
child a scoop of ice cream in return for taking a bite of her dinner,
what you perceive as your accomplishment stands to be quite different
from what your child takes away from the meal and the deal.
Instead of Instead of developing a newfound appreciation for the healthy foods
you’ve managed to get her to eat, your child’s sole focus is going to
be on the sweets she’s earned in return. In fact, you’ll probably end
up elevating the status of whatever goody you’ve offered as a bonus—
making it more desirable than ever.

Learning to Follow Your Lead.If your child isn’t hungry but really
wants whatever tantalizing food lies at the end of the meal, she may
wind up eating more than she would otherwise. In this instance, all
you stand to teach her is to ignore her own internal cues and follow
yours. This clearly contradicts the recommendation only to eat for
hunger’s sake, since overriding internal (healthy) controls is a key
and concerning dynamic on the road to overweight and obesity.

For more information about Food Fights, please visit, the official American Academy of Pediatrics web site for parents.


Interested in reading Food Fights? Leave a comment below about your experiences, concerns, or thoughts about kids and food for a chance to win your own copy of the book!


Psst… I’m featured on the Women’s Day Dinner Diary blog today sharing one of my all time favorite recipes!

The Power of Adults: Teaching Kids About Food

Hi there! This is Elizabeth from over at The Bare Midriff, and I’m honored to be guest posting for Heather while she spends some quality time snuggling up to her brand new baby boy.


I’m particularly happy to be doing this post because Heather happens to be my stepsister, which means that all those snuggles and kisses are being showered upon my very first nephew. So keep em’ coming, Heather!


I haven’t had the chance to meet my nephew yet, but knowing his mother and father, I am certain of a few things that are in store for him:

1. He will be a WVU fan.

wvu fan

2. He will wake up to the smell of freshly-baked cinnamon rolls every Christmas morning.

vegan cinnamon rolls

3. He will be there on the sidelines cheering for his mom while she competes in triathlons/24-hour bike rides.

4. He will hear SportsCenter in the background while he does his homework at the dining room table.

5. He will love vegetables. And fruits. He will easily pronounce words like “quinoa”. And he will know approximately 413 different ways to prepare steel cut oats.

steel cut oatmeal

How can I be so sure of that last one? Because if there’s one thing I’ve realized through my work as a teacher (not to mention my lifelong role as my father’s daughter), it is this: A child’s relationship with food begins with the adults in his life.

I myself am Fearless in the Kitchen. I learned this from my father, though I didn’t outwardly express any interest in cooking until I was well into my college years. But starting in my earliest years, and continuing today, I’ve watched my father expertly dice onions, magically thicken gravy, patiently peel apples, sagely season stuffing, and my, oh my does that man know how to wield a wok!

My father carries himself with confidence when he’s in the kitchen. He shows no fear. He shows no mercy. And all the while, he keeps a dishcloth carefully draped over his shoulder.

I didn’t know it when I was growing up, but my father’s approach to food was molding my own relationship with it. I have never met an onion that I can’t handle. I have quite the knack for seasoning dishes with the perfect herbs and spices. And every so often, I’ll catch myself nonchalantly tossing a dishcloth over my shoulder.

As a teacher, I’ve seen the same pattern. Children of picky parents tend to be finicky eaters themselves. Children with a multicultural background are often the first to try “unusual” things like hummus or miso soup. Children develop their eating habits, their flavor affinities, and their general attitude toward nutrition by observing the habits, affinities, and attitudes of the adults around them. Young minds are naturally curious about the world around them. They effortlessly soak up information about how their food is grown, how it is prepared, and how it is shared. Food is culture, and it is quite literally a child’s innate mission to become a part of his or her culture.

I’ve had the pleasure of introducing children to chocolate in its natural, unsweetened form (you should have seen their faces pucker when they tasted the bitter flavor!). I’ve seen the wonder in their eyes as they spy the crimson crests of radishes poking out of soil they tilled with their own hands. When I had a pickle in my lunch one day (after not having them for a long time), one of my students asked me, “Is it because pickles weren’t in season?”

They want to know where their food comes from, and they want to know what to do with it.

Here are some tips on how to accomplish this, based on a few things I’ve learned about children and food:

1. Children aren’t as sensitive as we think they are. Are you afraid to tell your three-year-old that beef comes from those cute cows at the petting zoo? Or that Babe becomes bacon? Don’t be. I’ll bet you a hundred bucks that when you tell them, they won’t even flinch. Children have an understanding that is simultaneously spiritual and matter-of-fact. If they can handle the idea that cats eat canaries, then they’ll understand that people eat pigs.


2. Seeing is believing. Have you ever seen a toddler fall flat on his face at the playground, and the first thing he does is look up and gauge the expression on his mother’s face? If his mother looks concerned, he bursts into tears. But if she’s nonchalant, or even smiling? He gets up, forgets to brush himself off, and continues toddling. It works the same way with food. One “blech” at broccoli from a grown-up, and a child will spend the better part of eighteen years pushing the green stuff around on his plate. On the other hand, an adult exuberantly drooling over Brussels sprouts will most likely have a child popping them like M&M’s.


3. Children don’t mind getting their hands dirty; they love it. I am always happy when I get a parent in my class who, when their child is returned to them either dripping in paint or caked with mud, says, “Wow, looks like you had fun today.” That lets me know that they get it. Children learn with their hands – they love digging in the dirt to plant seeds, squishing tomatoes to make marinara sauce, and even using a whisk to make homemade whipped cream (it took forever, but we did it). If they can literally have a hand in preparing a meal, they not only learn about the process, but they get to experience the pride that comes with seeing people savor and enjoy all of their hard work.


Adults possess an enormous amount of power when it comes to children and food. I believe it is our responsibility to educate children about proper nutrition, but it’s the kind of education that doesn’t just come from a book – it comes from a garden. From a kitchen. From a table. And everywhere in between.

6 Foods You Thought Were Vegan But Aren’t

Just because it looks like vegetables & says it’s vegetables, doesn’t mean it’s only vegetables.

Some non-vegan things are easy to spot. Chicken? Easy. Cheese crackers? Got it. Butter-coated Brussels sprouts? Sure.

Others like to hide their non-veganness in the shadows, like ninjas. Sometimes it’s vegan, sometimes it’s not. Like these 6 things:

non vegan foods

1. Arnold Double Fiber Bread

double fiber bread

Culprit? Whey & nonfat milk.

2. Barilla Pasta Plus

barilla pasta plus

Culprit? Egg whites.

3. Progresso Light Savory Vegetable Barley Soup

progresso light soup

Culprit? Cooked beef. Yeah, not even vegetarian.

4. Morningstar Farms Spicy Black Bean Burger

morningstar farms spicy black bean burger

Culprit? Egg whites & calcium caseinate

5. Green Giant Healthy Weight Frozen Veggies

green giant frozen veggies

Culprit? Enzyme-enhanced butter. Scary.

6. Beer

michelob honey lager beer

Culprit? Filtering process {can use animal products like gelatin or bone char} or ingredients, like honey.

{Check out which beers are vegan or not before you drink here.}

Just goes to show you can never stop reading the label.

Check out more hidden non-vegan ingredients and surprising animal products in everyday foods.

What foods have ingredients that have surprised you?

Because Tater Tots are Vegan

Of course when I heard the topic of Tuesday’s Oprah episode, I immediately set up the DVR to record. “Oprah & 378 Staffers Go Vegan

vegan vegetable love

I’d barely hit play when the show was interrupted by an NBC Special Report. It didn’t matter though- the ideas were already concocting…

The poor, unsuspecting husband chose that moment to walk into the room. I’m sure he regrets it.

Me: “Hey. Oprah’sgoingveganforaweekyoushouldtoo.”

Husband: “Oprah’s doing it? Oh I can totally do that. Sign me up.”

Ok…that’s not exactly how it went. More like:

Me: “Hey…. I’ve got an idea.”

Husband: “What…?”  {He knew it’d be painful for him as soon as I said “idea”…..}

Me: “You should go vegan for a week.”

Husband: “Ha. NO. Why would I want to do that?”

Me: “It’d be interesting to see what you thought about it.”

Husband: “No way.”

Me: “It’s just a week.”

[Enter more protests here. Lots.]*

I’ll summarize. Eventually I got him to agree to go vegan for 5 days, with several stipulations:

– He can quit whenever he wants

– I have to prepare all the food

– He gets served steak, black-eyed peas, and cornbread when it’s over. {I don’t know why the black-eyed peas & cornbread….}

And no tofu.

Challenge accepted. He starts Monday.

barney stinson challenge accepted

* Some of the intermediary protests included:

“That’s for treehuggers.”

“But what if I want to eat out? You can’t eat out vegan.”

“It’s tree-hugging, hippie, granola crap.”

“It’s gross.”

“It’s grainy & disgusting. No texture.”

“No sweets.”

“I like meat.”

“I’m not eating tofu. NO TOFU.”

“Most super hippie-ish thing ever.”

“Tater tots are vegan? Let’s eat tater tots. And pizza. Pizza’s vegan.”

Keep in mind all of this is coming from a guy who’s wife eats vegan 85% of the time and therefore feeds him vegan meals regularly. Read: he should know better!!

If he’s clueless, I can only imagine what other people think. So of course I’ll be documenting how his week goes. He’s thrilled. Winking smile

vegan cartoon

So…send over your favorite vegan –but not hippie, gross, grainy, granola-y, or tofu-y—recipes to add to my arsenal. This meat-eater’s going down! {Ok, not really. I just want him to stop saying it’s gross.}

What vegan or vegetarian stereotypes or kinds of resistance have you heard?

What Kermit the Frog Can Teach Us About Being Vegan

“It isn’t easy being green.” Really, it isn’t.


While I’m not a tried and true vegan, I love the benefits a plant-based, low-dairy diet has for health, and I often make vegan choices.

Veganism is quite often a step that comes after vegetarianism. It seems easy- you’ve already cut out meat products, how hard would it be to cut out eggs & dairy?

Well, even if you’re someone who thinks that’s simple, it’s not as easy as it sounds. I told you Kermit knew what he was talking about.

kermit the frog

Can you identify these common ingredients and where they come from?

Cochineal extract


Confectioner’s glaze

Stearic acid


You guessed it: all animal products.

Cochineal extract is a red dye made from crushed cochineal insect carcasses. It’s also called carminic acid, carmine, and natural red 4A.

cochineal extract

Besides being something that Julia Childs has mastered, aspic is jelly made from meat or fish.


Confectioner’s glaze is not simply a sugary concoction- it’s a type of “food shellac” that comes from an insect.

Stearic acid is a fatty acid that comes from animal fat (tallow).

Last but not least, chymotrypsin is an enzyme extracted from ox pancreases.

What about things you can’t read labels on?

McDonald’s has revealed it uses animal products to cook their fries

Wine & beer can be made with animal based “clarifiers”.

wine and beer

Sugar is processed with bone char to remove the color.

Chewing gum can contain multiple sources of animal ingredients, like glycerol & lanolin.

chewing gum

Insulin- yup, the insulin used by diabetics comes from hogs.

I’ll stop now, but the list goes on forever. Here are some more non-vegan ingredients that tend to pose as veggie friendly (things like butter, caramel, and soy cheese).

Whether you’re vegan, vegetarian, or not- it’s good to know what’s in our food.

What ingredients have surprised you? If your vegan or vegetarian, do you read food labels? What do you do if you don’t know what an ingredient is? What do you do at restaurants?

Who’s the Expert? AKA How a Magazine Made Me Question My Profession

If you haven’t read the comments in yesterday’s post about the Hunger Diaries, I suggest you do.

hunger diaries Photo from Stephen Lewis.

Since writing my reaction, I’ve had a chance to read the responses of the girls highlighted in the article, and I’ve come to a firm conclusion on several bases:

1. Yes, blogs about food, eating, or exercise can trigger or encourage unhealthy behaviors.

2. Yes, blogs about food, eating, or exercise, can encourage or inspire healthy behaviors.

3. Lying to your contributors and blatantly ignoring an entire side of a story, and not disclosing your own personal bias, is poor journalism. If you have to get sneaky, you don’t have a good story.

The end.

swirl do thing

Yesterday Bess said  it’s not the reader’s responsibility to sift through good & bad information; bloggers are viewed as experts, especially those with more than just a blog.

Well I think it is the reader’s responsibility. Even if your doctor tells you something, don’t you weigh the options and decide what’s the right decision for you? (Ahem you should.)

But the more & more I thought about her comment, the more and more I realized she was right- whether they are or not, bloggers are viewed as experts by people that read them.

As I was sitting eating my lunch yesterday, I thought about my nutrition training. In school we learn about each nutrient thoroughly and in depth. We learn how to counsel. We learn how to perform and evaluate research. We learn chemistry. We learn biochemistry. We learn how to treat diseases with nutrients.

food pyramid

And we learn about calories. What they are, how to calculate needs, and how to gain or lose weight. Calories in equals calories out. I’ve talked about disagreeing with this before, but never really thought about it in terms of my education.

If I wrote an essay on an exam that said eating whole foods was a healthier weight loss option than counting calories, I would’ve gotten a big fat F. But I believe it.

F on exam

What I’m saying is that even the experts may not get it. I could spit out exactly what I learned in school word for word if you wanted me too. But it’s not what I’d tell you if you asked me how I eat or advice I would give you.

I graduated summa cum laude from undergrad, completed a highly competitive internship to become an RD, and am halfway through a Masters degree. And I’ll still tell you my own real life experiences with food are more useful than anything I’ve learned.

I know my education has had an influence on knowing what I’m eating, but I don’t think it’s responsible for my behaviors. I would’ve failed a class or two if I said brownies with real sugar are healthier than using a heap load of Splenda.

Sure, we’re taught healthy fats are good for you, but I don’t remember talking about eating peanut butter by the jar as a healthy behavior. (Ok, you know what I mean.)

empty peanut butter jar

I can honestly say I’m 100 times healthier now than I was in college, or even high school. Gosh especially high school. I’m not scared of fat, or sugar, or calories. I eat them with abandon. And if I didn’t have a nutrition degree and told you this, you’d still believe me. [I think].

So what’s the difference between a blogger without a health degree telling you what they do?

So this really has nothing to do with the damn over-discussed article. It’s just a personal revelation. I think it’s why I struggle in loving my profession whole heartedly…

(And I promise I will not write about this again tomorrow. Instead, I will write about something delicious like cinnamon rolls or enchiladas. Yes, enchiladas I believe. :))

And P.S. I don’t give two sh**ts about the food pyramid. In case you cared. 🙂