Archive for the ‘ The Scoop on Food ’ Category

Is This Chemical The New BPA?

Friday, July 25th, 2014

This is a guest post by Brooke Bunce.

Phthalates (pronounced thal-eights) aren’t a new type of antioxidant-packed ancient grain. They’re actually hazardous chemical compounds that exist in food, packaging, cosmetics, personal care products, containers, and more, which is why we should be watching out for them around every corner. Primarily, they’re used to soften plastics and create lubricants in hygienic products, and there are a slew of different types of phthalates. Since they’re so ubiquitous (especially in our food)—and continuously released into surrounding materials—phthalates are even harder to avoid than most chemicals.

So why the worry? Aside from ingesting and inhaling an unknown toxin, many studies have shown phthalates to be endocrine disruptors,  which means that they can seriously mess with normal hormone production. Registered dietician Natalia Stasenko, of Tribeca Nutrition in New York City, notes that phthalates can target the reproductive systems of boys, reduce levels of testosterone, and even cause allergies and asthma. They’ve also been linked to diabetes, excessive weight gain, and premature births.

When phthalates were found to be in many toys and teethers, parents and doctors pushed back through protest, and the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 removed multiple toxins from toy production. Unfortunately, a new study from the journal Environmental Health found that infants still ingest twice the recommended amount of chemicals that the Environmental Protection Agency considers safe. Considering all the other precautions we take to keep our kids safe, this figure is quite unsettling.

High fat foods such as cream, full fat cheese, cooking oils, meats and poultry are partly to blame for increased phthalate ingestion, Stasenko says. But why are high fat foods more prone to phthalate contamination? No one’s quite sure, but it’s speculated that fat molecules are much easier for phthalates to latch onto. The Washington Post points out that plastic packaging and plastic tubing used to milk cows may be the culprit for high concentrations in dairy and meat products.

Despite these disheartening figures, there are still steps that parents can take to reduce the intake of phthalates. Even small changes can make a huge impact when it comes to kids’ health. Stasenko and other experts suggest the following:

  •  Stay away from toys made before February 2009, or any toy marked with a “3″ inside the recycling symbol. Look for alternatives to plastic toys, such as wool, wood, or cotton.
  • When reheating food, cover it in a paper towel instead of plastic wrap (especially wrap that’s marked with “N3″).
  • Reheat leftovers in glass, ceramic, or stainless steel instead of plastic containers. Likewise, avoid putting  hot foods in plastic containers.
  • Reduce plastic as much as possible in your kitchen—within reason. Try to use silicone or stainless steel instead for kid-friendly items like sippy cups or snack containers.
  • Reduce the use of personal care products that have “fragrance” in the ingredients, as this can be a catchall for numerous chemicals, including phthalates.
  • Try to get electronic receipts whenever possible, since they’re made with paper that contains phthalates. Or, wash your hands after handling receipts.
  • Switch to low fat dairy products. Note: low fat dairy is not appropriate for children under 2 year of age due to their unique calorie and nutritional needs.


Organic produce, dairy, and meat are also a safer bet when it comes to avoiding chemicals, since phthalates can be found in many pesticides. If you’re ever unsure, there are a bounty of resources that can help decode what’s in the products and food you buy, such as the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and the Environmental Working Group.

Babyproofing Your Home: Kitchen
Babyproofing Your Home: Kitchen
Babyproofing Your Home: Kitchen

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The Mediterranean Diet Bonus for Kids

Friday, July 18th, 2014

This is a guest post by Karen Cicero, Parents’ Contributing Food and Nutrition Editor.

Fish, whole grains, veggies—these probably aren’t your kids’ favorite foods (okay, they might not even like them at all), but it’s worth your time to work on it. Here’s why: A new study of 9,000 children ages 2 to 9 in eight European countries found that those who most closely follow a Mediterranean diet are 15 percent less likely to be overweight. I admit that it doesn’t sound like a huge deal, but considering nearly 1 in 5 American kids ages 6 to 11 is overweight, it makes a significant dent. Plus, since obesity rates increase as kids get older, it’s worth getting on the right track before the tween and teen years.

What’s so special about the Mediterranean approach? The researchers think that the high fiber content and healthy fats found in foods like nuts, avocados, olive oil, and produce may help prevent kids from overeating. “This is the first study I’ve seen that makes the connection between the Mediterranean and obesity in kids,” says Lauri Wright, R.D.N., a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and mom of three. “We already know that this type of eating plan is healthy in many other ways—like helping to prevent heart disease—so it’s wonderful that it may have extra benefits for children too.”

Of course, you’re not going to be able to switch your child’s eating habits overnight, but take these steps to make your family’s meals and snacks more Mediterranean:

* Do over dip. Swap the creamy salad dressings your kid drenches his baby carrots in for healthy hummus.

* Make pizza at home. Use thin whole-grain crust. Make it yourself (find a recipe here) or buy pick up a package of whole-wheat Naan bread (my daughter prefers it for her pizza!). Top it with whatever veggie your kid likes—even if it’s corn.

* Start working in more seafood. Let your child give it a try in a no-pressure situation, like when it’s on a buffet or when she’s having a bite of yours. When my daughter was a toddler, she used to swipe clams and mussels from my plate, at first mainly because she was intrigued by the shells. But then she began requesting a bowl of her own! Eventually, work your way up to homemade fish nuggets—Wright coats pieces of mild fish with applesauce and then rolls them in cornmeal before baking. When you’re ready to move onto grilled fish, top it with a salsa made from your child’s favorite fruits. That’s how I got my daughter to taste salmon and sea bass, which are now her faves.

* Build on veggie success. Chances are, your child likes a lot of different kinds of fruits and a few veggies. Combine a favorite with something that’s unfamiliar or not as well liked (such as corn with red onions or cucumbers with radishes or watermelon with baby spinach) to increase the chance that he’ll eat it. Salad can be a tough sell so start with mild butter lettuce and add a lot of fun familiar ingredients (like dried fruit, sunflower seeds, or orange wedges). Kids may also enjoy salads more if they’re chopped.  Even though it takes longer to prepare, you’ll have a happy, healthier eater as a reward.

Healthy Snacks: Why Kids Need to Snack
Healthy Snacks: Why Kids Need to Snack
Healthy Snacks: Why Kids Need to Snack

Image of Mediterranean food via Shutterstock.

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Cooking With Kids: Easy Homemade Salsa

Wednesday, July 2nd, 2014

This is a guest post by Christina Jedra.

Dawes cooks with her boys.

Finding quality time to spend with your kids can be tough while juggling many other priorities, but there is a way to schedule bonding time and get dinner to the table faster: Get your children involved in the kitchen.

By making them a part of an important family task, they’ll learn responsibility, practice math and reading skills, and learn about where their food comes from. Cooking also directly improves kids’ health: One study published in the journal Public Health Nutrition found that kids who cook eat more fruits and veggies. Plus, kids in the kitchen have an opportunity to learn about food groups and nutrition at a time when they are developing their food preferences. Even First Lady Michelle Obama stressed the importance of kids’ cooking skills when she announced earlier this month her desire to reinstate cooking classes in schools.



Nicole Bernard Dawes, Co-Founder and CEO of Late July organic chips (and mother of two), knows a thing or two about cooking with kids. Not surprisingly, she suggests piquing kids’ interest in cooking with a simple but fun summer classic: chips and salsa.

“Salsa is the perfect recipe to give kids a little independence in the kitchen, and it also happens to be my sons’ favorite to make. My seven-year-old uses a Kuhn Rikon kid’s knife so his tomato pieces are more chopped than diced, but he can almost make this whole recipe himself,” says Dawes, who usually dices the onions and jalapeños herself.

Dawes’ salsa recipe is delicious as is, but she encourages parents and children to make it their own.

“I included a list of optional ingredients as inspiration because sometimes we enjoy mixing it up to let their creativity really take over,” she says.

Whatever you make with your kids, know that in exchange for a little mess you’ll be teaching your kids an important life skill and hopefully making something delicious in the process.

The finished product!

Late July’s Homemade Salsa

3 medium-large heirloom tomatoes, chopped/diced
1/2 medium onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 small bunch of cilantro, chopped
1 jalapeño, seeded and chopped (optional)
1-2 limes, juiced
Salt to taste
Optional ingredients: Mango, avocado, tomatillos, sweet corn, black beans, imagination

 Combine ingredients, serve, and enjoy!



Family Dinners: 4 Tips To Make Them Better
Family Dinners: 4 Tips To Make Them Better
Family Dinners: 4 Tips To Make Them Better

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What is “Real Food?” Dietitians Weigh In

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014

For the past few years, you’ve likely heard how vital it is to feed our children and ourselves more so-called “real food.” Adding to—if not starting—the conversation, popular food writer Michael Pollan weighs in on all things food in his bestselling book, Food Rules. In it, he defines “real food” as “plants, animals and fungi people have been eating for generations.” Pollan also refers to most new products offered in supermarkets each year as “edible food-like substances” and describes such foods as “highly processed concoctions designed by food scientists, consisting mostly of ingredients derived from corn and soy that no normal person keeps in the pantry, and that contain chemical additives with which the body has not been long acquainted.”

Although many parents and experts alike may agree with Pollan’s point of view, there’s no formal, universally accepted definition for “real food.” Even if there were, it’s likely parents who want to feed themselves and their growing children better would go about doing so in different ways. Still, I thought it would be fun to take to Facebook and Twitter and ask my registered dietitian colleagues what they think “real food” really is.

According to Marty Yadrick, “real food” is anything edible. Sheryl Lozicki thinks of “real food” as food that is minimally processed and nourishing. Alexandra Lautenschläger concurs, adding that “real foods” have few ingredients.

Janet Bond Brill, PhD thinks of “real food” as food that is eaten the way Mother Nature intended it to be eaten—for example, an apple rather than apple pie. And Maggie Green says, “If “real food” means it’s tangible, then all food is real. If “real food” means it’s not processed, that excludes foods like olive oil and butter.” According to Lauren Slayton, “For many parents, “real food” is food they serve their children—it doesn’t come from a package or from a factory.”

Regan Jones concedes that that term “real food” means different things to different people (something that came across loud and clear when I posted the question on Facebook and on twitter in the first place). According to Jones, “In it’s truest sense, “real food” represents foods that we recognize in their most basic, natural form—how they grew from the ground, what animal produced the milk, or even the tree on which the fruit grew. But busy, modern day lives mean we don’t/can’t eat at that most basic root level—so for my purposes, “real foods” are foods that have been processed in a way to allow for convenience (like peeling or grinding) and safety (like pasteurization).” The co-creator of, an image-based recipe discovery platform—and the only site of its kind moderated by registered dietitians and solely focused on healthy food blogs—Jones says, “While we (at don’t shun all advances by food manufacturers, we do like to focus on ingredients that are easy to recognize and understand.”

Supermarket dietitian Leah McGrath thinks terms like “real food,” “whole food” and “clean eating” are elitist and simply give certain foods and eaters undeserved status. To McGrath, “real food” is anything we can safely consume. Rebecca Scritchfield also takes issue with the term “real food.” In her opinion, it’s a term that’s full of judgment. That said, Scritchfield thinks of “real food” as food you can make in your kitchen, even if you don’t. “I can make homemade corn tortillas in my kitchen for fish tacos or migas, but I can also buy them. I can also make chocolate chip cookies with real butter and sugar and don’t need to use applesauce or other “replacements” to call it real. Like Scritchfield, Danielle Omar thinks of “real food” as food that she can make or grow myself. She says, “I can make yogurt, but I can’t make Cool Whip or Velveeta cheese.”

Roseanne Rust believes that trendy and simple terms like “real food” that get pitched to and by the media as sound bites never explain the whole picture. She’s also tired of simple “X is bad” statements and “Avoid X challenges.” According to Rust, “Food and eating is personal. “Real” is not what matters. What matters are healthy eating behaviors and patterns.”

However you define “real food,” the bottom line is clear—at least to me. Most of us don’t own and run a farm, or grow most (if any) of our own foods. If we can produce some of our own food via a garden, or rely on a local farmer’s market for fresh, locally grown produce, fantastic! But if that’s not possible—or we haven’t yet made time for it (guilty as charged), following a few simple rules can help us feed and nourish our families without making ourselves crazy.

Eating foods—mostly plants, as suggested by Michael Pollan and so many of us registered dietitians—and choosing mostly foods that are made with minimal amounts of solid fats and added sugars (SoFAs) that provide empty calories can certainly help. Eating a dietary pattern consistent with MyPlate and keeping portion sizes of foods that don’t neatly fit into any recognizable food group can also help. (For example, foods like low fat chocolate milk or Hershey Kisses can be included as part of kids’ daily SoFA calories if that’s how they’d like to spend those extra calories).

For other tips on how we can help our kids eat better, check out How to Help Kids Eat Less and Better and Tips From Experts to Feed Kids Better from The Scoop on Food.

Kids' Favorite Snacks
Kids' Favorite Snacks
Kids' Favorite Snacks

How do you define “real food?”

Image of healthy lifestyle concept via shutterstock.


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Helping Kids Love Themselves

Tuesday, May 27th, 2014

On a recent episode of The View, I was introduced to and moved by the story of 25-year-old Lizzie Velasquez. Born in Austin, Texas with an extremely rare condition called Neonatal Progeroid Syndrome—a condition she shares with only two other people in the world—Lizzie stands at 5’2” and weighs in at less than 60 pounds. Because she was born without adipose (fat) tissue, she cannot gain weight. Although many (including kids) might think it’s great to be able to eat what you want without fear of weight gain, Lizzie’s small and slight appearance and protruding bones has made her a target of both disapproving stares and bullying in person and online. Her incredible strength and positive disposition that have no doubt resulted from being raised by extremely supportive parents, Lizzie has used her unique and at times very challenging life experiences to motivate others to overcome challenges and to not let negativity and criticism get in the way of setting goals and achieving their dreams.

Being what many would describe as bone-thin, Lizzie—who is also blind in one eye—was bullied in school for looking different. That experience, and seeing a video that labeled her as “The Ugliest Woman in the World,” led Lizzie to launch The Lizzie Project (aka The Untitled Lizzie Velasquez Documentary). The film will follow Lizzie’s life and journey to the other side of bullying, and hopes to inspire in everyone self-worth and compassion and a more positive environment online.

Seeing how Lizzie conducts herself—and noting she had almost 6 million views for her recent TED talk called How Do You Define Yourself? —made me want to reach out to her. Although we live and raise kids in a beauty-obsessed world, there’s a lot all of us, including children, can learn from Lizzie’s story. There’s so much more to each and every one of us than meets the eye, and Lizzie exemplifies that through her resilience and her positive self-esteem. What impresses me most is how she pays it forward through her great talks, books and her upcoming documentary.

I had the pleasure of chatting with Lizzie. Here are some highlights from our conversation.

EZ: What are some of the physical or health challenges you face because of your syndrome?

LV: Even though many people think I’m weak because I’m so small, I’m not. But even though my bones and organs are strong, I have a weak immune system that makes me vulnerable to getting sick. For example, when I get a cold, it can drag on for a few weeks.

EZ: Why do you think you’ve been able to get past bullying about your appearance and become as resilient as you are?

LV: From day one, my parents have raised and treated me normally. They have always been extremely positive and encouraging. They instilled confidence in me by telling me that I was pretty and by constantly reminding me that I was special and that I was who I was for a reason.

EZ: What would your parents say to you to help you feel better about yourself when you were bullied or when you lacked confidence about yourself for whatever reason while growing up?

LV: When I said I didn’t like the way I looked or otherwise criticized myself, my parents would encourage me to accept myself for who I was. They’d also remind me over and over to be patient and to have faith in God and in who I was and would become. I also remember coming home from school one day and telling my mother that I didn’t like my legs. My mother reminded me that some kids at my school who were in wheelchairs couldn’t use their legs. She made me appreciate all the things I was able to do and to understand the difference between my struggles and the real struggles of some others.

EZ: A reader recently asked, “My (normal weight) 8 year-old said to me the other day, “I want to be the skinniest person in the world.” Yikes! Any advice for parents who are trying to balance encouraging their kids to eat well while promoting a healthy body image?” Unfortunately, in a society that glorifies looks and thinness, many parents can relate to this mom. What would you say to help her help her daughter accept and feel good about herself the way she is?

LV: I’d tell the mother to encourage her daughter to learn to love herself for who she is from the inside out. She can encourage her daughter to make a ‘Love Yourself List’ in which she lists all the things she loves about yourself. She can then post the list so she can see it, and read it until she believes it. Of course, sometimes your self-confidence can be shaken when others judge or say mean things to you. We’ve all been there. But having a ‘Love Yourself List’ to refer to, especially when you feel low, can be a great and positive reminder of how truly wonderful you are.

To learn more about Lizzie Velasquez, check out her website. To learn more about or support her kickstarter campaign for Lizzie’s documentary (it runs through June 1st, 2014), click here.

How do you help your kids feel good about and love themselves?   

Parenting Style: Positive Parenting
Parenting Style: Positive Parenting
Parenting Style: Positive Parenting

Image of Lizzie Velasquez via The Velasquez Family.

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