01, October 2015 9:00 AM

The first full month of fall brings fun food celebrations, seasonal produce and the start of the holiday season. This month we're celebrating the best that fall has to offer. From farm to school, to bobbing for apples, enjoy healthy balanced family meals together all season long.

October Family Meal Recipes

Kale Day

Peaches and Kale Salad with Tangy Jalapeno Chicken and Easy Bread Pudding; plus Gingery Salmon with Cucumber and Radish Salad, Quinoa Salad with Apples and Kale, Chicken and Cheese Enchiladas Verdes and Kale + Spinach Chips.

Farm to School

Creamy Crookneck Squash + Arugula Wraps, Homemade Yogurt and Apple Yogurt Coleslaw; plus Skillet-Seared Tomatoes with Melted Gruyere, Top Your Own Tacos, Berry Good Banana Smoothies and Baked Squash with Apples and Walnuts.

Pasta Month

Creamy Fettuccine with Brussels Sprouts + Mushrooms, Autumn Salad and Blueberry Blackberry Gratin; plus Rigatoni, Grilled Vegetable + Chicken Salad, Colorful Lemon Couscous, Low-Fat Spinach Lasagna and Warm Pasta and Spinach Salad.

How'd You Like Them Apples?

Apple Cheddar Mac + Cheese, Braised Greens with Garlic and Baked Apple Burnette; plus Apple and Horseradish-Glazed SalmonGingerbread Pancakes with Apple-Berry Topping, Apple Salad and Apple Bagel Sandwiches.

Tags: balanced meals family meals Healthy eating recipes
Categories: categoryHealthy Eating

21, September 2015 8:50 AM

I entered uncharted territory moderating a mini-plenary session at the 2015 Childhood Obesity Conference on Youth, Stress and Obesity: Rethinking How Emotion Plays a Role in Eating Behaviors. As a nutrition educator, this topic was personally inspiring and helped me understand the way stress can impact food choices. 

The room quickly reached its capacity of 400 attendees and by the end of the session we had strong recommendations to build out this topic area in future conferences. Much thanks goes to speakers Eleanor Tate Shonkoff, Joy Pieper and Lucy Vezzuto for their informative and dynamic presentations. As the back-to-school season can be stressful for children, parents and teachers alike, it's a perfect time to shine a spotlight on this topic and ways to reduce stress.

Under pressure

The American Institute of Stress defines stress as “physical, mental, or emotional strain or tension” or “a condition or feeling experienced when a person perceives that demands exceed the personal and social resources the individual is able to mobilize.” Childhood stress can be acute (today’s BIG test) or it can be ongoing, chronic stress. It’s the latter that is connected to increased risk of obesity. 

As children go back to school, they and their parents gear up for the rigor of the new schedule and an increasingly demanding workload. Demands that can certainly exceed individual resources, especially during the initial adjustment period. 

One speaker estimated that between parents, teachers and coaches, children are given 200 commands a day. Open your books, sit down, pick up your trash, clean your room, etc. All these activities and requests don't allow much time for our kids to learn to make choices or have time for quiet reflection. These mounting daily demands may be a source of chronic stress for children. But like in much of life, coping skills can determine a positive or negative outcome for children.   

Do stressed kids eat more cookies?

Creating healthy adults begins in childhood and forming healthy habits means more than just nutrition. Youth, Stress & Obesity highlighted how important it is to create environments that reduce chronic stress. 

In one research study involving childhood stress and cookies, children exposed to a stress task ate 3-4 times more cookies than kids in a non-stress control group.1 Chronic stress can impact food choices in terms of quantity and type. Kids who have parents who use food as a reward, or restrict access to foods, tend to eat more under stress.2

Parents and teachers can help young children learn to delay their gratification, build their tolerance for stress and develop better weight status and eating habits. One great example is this simulation of the Stanford Marshmallow Study. Preschoolers are given a marshmallow and told to NOT eat it. After about 15 minutes, about one-third of children successfully refrain from eating the marshmallow and therefore earn a second marshmallow. Fast forward to high school, these students performed better on the SAT test and 30 years after the study maintained better weights than the typical American.  In this age of instant gratification, how can we teach kids to develop greater self-control? 

One way to teach patience and reduce stress is to encourage children to talk about stressors rather than providing food to relieve stress. Regular family meals promote familial closeness and may offer a safe place to talk about stressors. 

Stress busting strategies

With research linking stress to a number of negative health consequences for children and adolescents, what are health professionals and families to do? Some of the excellent strategies shared during the Childhood Obesity session include:

  • Reduce parental stress. 
  • Have regular family meals.
  • Manage stress with physical activity, music or a conversation rather than with food.
  • Reduce the temptation to soothe emotions with less nutritious snacks using behavior economics tactics such as a fruit bowl on the counter.
  • Teach students, as young as preschoolers, to cope with stress through exercise, yoga and meditation. Great information is on the Orange County Department of Education's mental health and mindfulness website. 
  • Give kids time to self-reflect and self-evaluate. A food diary is a nutrition tool that teens and adults can use to track and evaluate eating patterns.

    It is clearer since the session that there are multiple factors contributing to childhood obesity, with stress being an often overlooked factor. What strategies will you take as a health educator or a parent to reduce stress in your child’s life?

Trina Robertson, MS, RDN


1. Pieper JR, Laugero KD. Preschool children with lower executive function may be more vulnerable to emotional-based eating in the absence of hunger. Appetite. 2013 Mar.

2. Farrow CV, Haycraft E, Blissett JM. Teaching our children when to eat: how parental feeding practices inform the development of emotional eating--a longitudinal experimental design. Am J Clin Nutr. 2015 May.

Image (c) 2014 little BLUEPRINT, illustration by Jessica Churchill. Source:


Tags: back-to-school food diary Healthy eating nutrition research obesity
Categories: categoryNutrition Education

03, September 2015 9:00 AM

Keep the focus on healthy eating as a family all month long. Celebrate the back-to-school season with recipes that will step up your snacking game, bring the family together over balanced dinners, stay budget friendly in honor of Hunger Action Month and explore the vast array of fruits and vegetables available in most groceries.

September Family Meal Recipes

Smart Snacks

Walking Meals with Cottage Cheese Veggie Dip and Warm Chocolate Pudding; plus Fresh Fruit Burritos, Turkey + Cheese Melt Tortilla Wraps, Potato Skins and Kale + Spinach Chips.

Healthy Meals, Happy Families

Pulled Pork TortaCabbage, Carrot + Pineapple Salad and Strawberry Orange Cups; plus Chicken Pasta Salad with Blueberries, Quinoa Stuffed Tomatoes, Pulled Pork with Caramelized Onions and Good News Breakfast Smoothies.

Hunger Action Month

Corn + Broccoli Calzones, Sauteed Peppers and Tomatoes and All Natural Oatmeal Banana Cookies; plus Red White and Green Grilled Cheese, Lentil Soup, Bean and Cheese Burritos and Fruity Yogurt Parfaits.

Fruits + Veggies More Matters Month

Apple Sauerkraut + Cheddar Quesadillas, Simple Sesame Snap Peas and Fruit Juice Coolers; plus Fig PizzaChicken, Broccoli Rabe + Feta on Toast, Ribollita Sicilian Supper Stew With Peppered Cheese Melts and Persimmon Cookies.

Tags: back-to-school balanced meals family meals food group foods Healthy eating
Categories: categoryHealthy Eating

28, August 2015 11:52 AM

Fearless feeding, healthy eating for kids Recently, the San Jose Dietitian's book club reviewed Fearless Feeding, a book about healthy eating for kids written by two registered dietitian nutritionists, Jill Castle and Maryann Jacobson. The authors wrote this book in response to what they increasingly see among parents: Fearful Feeding

Fearful feeding is brought on by less time and support for making balanced meals, crazy confusion on what constitutes healthy eating and an endless selection of food choices (both healthy and otherwise). These, combined with overwhelming pressure to feed in a way that their child grows up to be both thin and healthy, have created a large number of parents who are anxious about how to feed their children successfully.

This book proposes a Fearless Feeding solution. A child that is a Fearless Eater is one who consumes balanced meals, eats the right amount of food for his/her body type, enjoys healthy foods and doesn't feel guilty eating Fun Foods in moderation. 

Fearless Feeding encourages parents to:

  • Have confidence in when and how to introduce new foods
  • Offer balanced meals and snacks with regularity, striking the right balance between serving familiar foods and new foods
  • Read their child's cues rather than exerting force and pressure
  • Understand normal childhood growth spurts 
  • Make feeding yourself a priority to set a good example

This book outlines as much about how to feed kids as what to feed them. Parents need a feeding strategy that will serve as a road map to guide feeding choices from infancy through high school. This book clearly defines that path with a nice blend of theory, stories and recipes. The book is based on nutrition research and is well referenced with citations and appendices in the back of the book.  

In short, our book club gives this book a resounding two thumbs up. It is well laid out with an introductory chapter that defines Fearless Feeding, then the parent can skip ahead to the chapter that is relevant to their child's age. The main ideas in each chapter are formatted in Fearless Tips and Fearless Facts sprinkled throughout in easy-to-read call out boxes. 

The techniques described in the food definitely resonated with our book club since many of us have worked in the field of pediatric nutrition and/or have children of our own. One dietitian stated the book is a more current version of the groundbreaking books published in the 1980's by Ellyn Satter on the division of responsibility for feeding kids. 

In the interest of full disclosure, I recommended this book to our club since I know Jill and Maryann and am familiar with their nutrition philosophy and parenting advice. The Fearless Feeding approach aligns with my personal values and parenting experience. What I enjoyed most about the book is the wonderful stories shared in the book, both the authors' own personal struggles with feeding their children (hey, just because we are dietitians doesn't mean feeding our own kids is trouble-free) and their success stories when working with the clients they serve. As a former pediatric dietitian, stories from real life clinical experience, in combination with nutrition research provides the most believable nutrition advice for kids. 

Additionally, as a group, we had to admit that this book would not work for all parents. The Fearless Feeding approach is based on trusting children to make overall healthy choices given the right structure at home and some parents are so health obsessed and concerned about what foods to feed themselves that they'd struggle with this concept for their children.  As health professionals, it is our responsibility to assess our clients and determine their readiness to change and provide resources that will align with their current situation in order to move them toward a less fearful approach even, if they are not yet able to embrace a fearless one.  

Maureen Bligh, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist

Tags: Dietitians Book Review family meals Healthy eating Maureen Bligh
Categories: categoryMeals & Snacks; Family Meals categoryTotal Balanced Diet (5 food groups) for Kids categoryHealthy Eating for Kids

28, August 2015 11:24 AM

a dash of sodium controversy With the upcoming release of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines, there seems to be a surge in the controversy around sodium. At a recent session at the Institute of Food Technologists’ conference (IFT) in Chicago, scientists explored the growing body of research around sodium, diet and health to shed some light on this volatile issue. (See Heart Health Controversy: Reducing Sodium Intake and Heart Health and Diet: What Really Matters May Surprise You for more on the emerging sodium research.)

The conclusion of this session at IFT was that salt intake should be set by physiology, not by public policy, and that individual variation needs to be considered in sodium recommendations. While food industry professionals seem to embrace this concept, the public health professional sees this as controversial. The consumer may hear messages from both camps for a while, until some consensus can be reached.

Indeed, this lack of consensus means we have not heard the end of this story. The nutrition and health communities will continue their earnest dialog on the topic, and that discussion is spilling over into consumer media. The good news is that momentum is building in a way that looks beyond the “salt is bad for you” dogma:

This controversy may be frustrating, yet we need to realize that there is often a lag before policy catches up with science. The 2015 Dietary Guidelines sodium recommendation are not likely to change, but the 2020 ones may reflect the emerging body of science challenging the paradigm of severe sodium restrictions. In the meantime, practitioners should remember that the Guidelines are guidance for the general population and that in working with individuals, recommendations need to be tailored to meet unique needs and preferences.  

As the conversations continue, we’d like to hear your perspective on the sodium controversy. Are you influenced by the more recent science or do you align with traditional public health views? How are you handling sodium concerns in your practice?

Lori Hoolihan, PhD, RDN

Tags: Dietary Guidelines for Americans Healthy eating Lori Hoolihan nutrition research sodium
Categories: categoryNutrition Education

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