Posts Tagged ‘ nutrition ’

Vegan Diet for Kids: A Good Idea?

Friday, April 20th, 2012

This morning on the Today Show Matt Lauer hosted a segment on whether it’s healthy to put your kids on a vegan diet. The catalyst was the new children’s book Vegan Is Love, which is due out on April 24, and covers clothing choices and animal testing as well as following a vegan diet (no milk, cheese, eggs, meat, or fish). It’s a controversial look at veganism from Ruby Roth, who became vegan as an adult, and authored Why We Don’t Eat Animals in 2009.

Vegan Is Love is ruffling feathers because it includes violent images of animals being slaughtered and illustrations of wounded animals used in animal testing, as well as strong language about what it means to be vegan. “All animals raised for meat and dairy are captured and killed in the end,” Roth writes. “Their deaths are violent and sad. As vegans we do not bring the pain and suffering of any animal into our happy, healthy bodies.”

Roth’s 7-year-old stepdaughter diet Akira follows a strict vegan diet. When her classmates are indulging in a treat at school, Akira asks whether it’s vegan, and if it’s not, she declines to eat it. She says that her favorite food is kale.

On this morning’s Today Show segment, nutritionist Heiki Skolnik said that it’s possible from a nutritional standpoint to be a healthy vegan at any age as long as the diet is carefully planned and monitored. But she objected to what she called the book’s “scare tactics.”  “Teaching kids to fear food is not typically a healthy way to approach it,” she explained. Child psychologist Jennifer Hartstein, who joined Skolnik on the show, added that kids could interpret the title as people who aren’t vegan don’t get to feel love or are creating hate or bad feelings.

I have several issues here. For starters, childhood is stressful enough without freaking your kids out about what they eat. A vegan diet can leave a child deficient in certain vitamins and nutrients if it’s not carefully conceived. Furthermore, a 7-year-old should have the ability to explore different types of foods without such rigorous expectations from her parents. She needs to be educated about food and what it means to eat well, so that she can learn how to make smart dietary decisions on her own. Then there’s the social aspect. If you start your child on a vegan diet (or any very regimented diet) at a young age, are you setting her up to be ostracized at a time when she should be developing important social skills and learning how to deal with others?

I’m thinking about experimenting with vegetarianism, maybe even veganism, myself this summer–but I will not be putting Mason on any kind of special diet. (In the wake of my breast cancer scare, I’m re-evaluating various aspects of my life, including my diet.) I’ll be happy to educate Mason about alternate eating styles as he gets older, but right now he is too young for me to eliminate entire food groups from his diet.

What do you think?

Photo: Spinach via Julija Sapic via

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Getting Sneaky With Veggies & Fruits

Wednesday, April 4th, 2012

I don’t believe in “hiding” veggies and fruits to get Mason to eat them, but I recently made an exception. I found myself with 300+ ounces of homemade puree–and a toddler who wouldn’t eat any of it (with the exception of the applesauce), presumably because it was the food I fed to him when he was a baby. These days, it’s all about eating what we eat with his own spoon. So I had to be a little deceptive to avoid wasting a lot of fresh, nutritious food.

My puree bender wasn’t out of boredom or nostalgia–it was for work. I was writing a feature article for American Baby magazine (a sister publication of Parents), and part of the assignment involved some serious baby food recipe testing. By the time I was finished, I had pureed 12 fruits and veggies in about a week.

My biggest challenge was where to store the stuff. There was no way it would all fit in my freezer, so I gave about half of the puree away to local moms. It was so satisfying that my efforts would benefit my son and his little friends. Maybe I should start my own business. (More on that another time.)

Even after the giveaways, we have plenty of puree left, so I’ve been mixing it into some of Mason’s faves to give him extra vitamins and minerals. Both carrot and butternut squash purees blend beautifully with tomato sauce. Blueberry and plum purees add a fresh twist to applesauce. And I can change up his yogurt several different ways: butternut squash and peach, green bean and pear, peas and curry powder, applesauce and banana, and blueberry and pear (see the aftermath of this last combo in the photo, above!).

My plan has been working out pretty well. Mason’s been none the wiser, and I’m psyched he’s getting more vitamins. Maybe I should be a little sneakier while we’re dealing with this finicky one-year-old stage.

Do you hide veggies and fruits in your tot’s diet? Or, do you have another trick for encouraging him/her to eat  healthfully?

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Mom Who Forced Her 7-Year-Old to Diet Should Be Arrested

Tuesday, March 27th, 2012

I was horrified when I heard that a mother put her seven-year-old daughter on a diet.  Then I found out that Vogue paid Dara-Lynn Weiss to write an essay for its current issue about the Weight Watchers-style diet that she forced upon her child, and I was absolutely appalled, flabbergasted, disgusted. Honestly, there are no words to adequately express my horror.

In her essay, the Manhattan socialite writes about the unconscionable actions that she took to slim down her daughter Bea once she noticed she “had grown fat,” including depriving her little girl of dinner and berating her when she ate junk food. There are also images of her and Bea modeling in the magazine–just one of the “rewards” that Bea got after spending a year on the diet and losing 16 pounds. (She also received new dresses and a feather hair extension.) The warped message: Thin equals beauty and privilege, fat equals ugly and unworthy. I don’t know about you, but that’s definitely not a message I’d ever want to give to my kid.

Not surprisingly, Weiss writes that she has a history of struggling with her own body image, and I agree with this assertion by Katie J.M. Baker of Jezebel: “Weiss was projecting her hatred of her own body onto her child throughout her year-long diet.” Only that kind of self-loathing could motivate you to treat your daughter this way–and then fail to recognize (or care) how devastating it would be for her to have to relive it through an article in a very popular national magazine. Imagine having your peers read this kind of thing about you; Bea’s classmates might be too young to really get it now, but this story will haunt Bea through high school.

The editors who commissioned this manuscript, as well as the people who gave Weiss a book deal because of it–that’s right, a book deal–should be fired. And this “mom” needs to be arrested.

I’m not making light of childhood obesity; it’s an epidemic in this country that afflicts 17 percent of our children, according to the Centers for Disease Control, and we can’t ignore it. But this mother’s horrific actions are not an appropriate solution. Starving your child and therefore depriving her of the nutrients that she needs to grow is child abuse. Why not teach her how to eat healthfully instead? And to be active as part of a healthy lifestyle?

In fact, I don’t believe Weiss’ motivations had anything to do with Bea’s health. Instead she strikes me as one of those appalling parents who view their children as accessories that can enhance their own image, sort of like the latest Birkin bag. In this case, Weiss molded Bea into a shiny accessory that was fit for the pages of Vogue, and I’m afraid Bea will pay for her mother’s selfishness for the rest of her life.

Weiss met her own goals, but at what cost to Bea’s mental health, self-confidence, and general perception of right and wrong? As Weiss writes in her essay: “When I ask her if she likes how she looks now, if she’s proud of what she’s accomplished, she says yes. Even so, the person she used to be still weighs on her. Tears of pain fill her eyes as she reflects on her yearlong journey. “That’s still me,” she says of her former self. “I’m not a different person just because I lost sixteen pounds.”

I wish I could hold Bea and rock her. I’d tell her that being a good person is so much more important than modeling a skirt in Vogue, and then I’d pray that she believed me despite her toxic upbringing.

Photo: Girl on a scale via Tyurina Elena/Shutterstock

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Should Sugar Be Regulated As a Toxin? And What About Artificial Sweeteners?

Thursday, February 2nd, 2012

I’m passionate about mindful eating, particularly since I’ve become a mom, so I try to stay on top of the latest news about what we eat and drink. Sugar and artificial sweeteners come up a lot–after all, these substances can adversely affect our children’s health (and ours), yet so many of us consume them without a second thought. Two recent reports about sugar and artificial sweeteners came my way this morning, and I think both offer important information.

Let’s start with the report about sugar. According to a report: Sugar and other sweeteners are, in fact, so toxic to the human body that they should be regulated as strictly as alcohol by governments worldwide, according to a commentary in the current issue of the journal Nature by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF).

These researchers propose regulations such as taxing all foods and drinks that include added sugar, banning sales in or near schools and placing age limits on purchases, according to the report. They make a pretty convincing case that, as noted in the report, “added sugar–or, more specifically, sucrose, an even mix of glucose and fructose found in high-fructose corn syrup and in table sugar made from sugar cane and sugar beets–has been as detrimental to society as alcohol and tobacco.”

I love the idea of tougher regulations on sugar, particularly since, as writer Christopher Wanjek points out, it’s been proven to increase your blood pressure and cholesterol, as well as your risk for liver failure, obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. These regulations would affect me, too–sugary drinks are my downfall. As I write this blog post I’m sipping on a (sugary) caramel latte, and it’s absolutely delish.

But while we’re at it, why stop with sugar?

I also vote for controls on artificial sweeteners and products that contain artificial sweeteners. I try to avoid artificial sweeteners–and I don’t give Mason anything with artificial sweetener–but when I really need an Orange Crush or a Cherry Coke, the diet option sometimes wins out. As a busy working mom, I don’t have the luxury of my pre-preggo personal training sessions at the gym, and I worry about getting fat. Turns out my vanity, and perhaps even yours, could put us at greater risk for cardiac problems–and our logic appears to be wrong about diet soda keeping the pounds at bay, anyway.

A new study in the Journal of General Internal Medicine shows that drinking diet soda every day is linked with a higher risk of stroke and heart attack, according to a report published yesterday in The Huffington Post. (Researchers did not find the same risk with people who drank diet soda more occasionally, between six a week and once a month.) Why do some people drink so much diet soda? According to, the explanation is really quite simple:

Although diet soda clearly isn’t as addictive as a drug like nicotine, experts say the rituals that surround diet soda and the artificial sweeteners it contains can make some people psychologically — and even physically — dependent on it in ways that mimic more serious addictions. And unlike sugared soda, which will make you gain weight if you drink too much of it, zero-calorie soda doesn’t seem to have an immediate downside that prevents people from overindulging.

However, according to HuffPo, a study presented at the American Diabetes Association meeting showed that drinking diet soda is linked with having a wider waistline. So much for that diet soda = skinny waist logic. In a statement, study researcher Helen P. Hazuda, Ph.D., a professor and chief of clinical epidemiology at the University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio’s School of Medicine, says: “Data from this and other prospective studies suggest that the promotion of diet sodas and artificial sweeteners as healthy alternatives may be ill-advised. They may be free of calories but not of consequences.”

Thoughts? Share them here!

Photos: Shutterstock, area381 (sugar); Shutterstock, ER_09 (soda)

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Healthier Chicken Fingers Your Toddler Will Love

Sunday, January 29th, 2012

My little precious has a love-hate relationship with chicken. Sometimes he gobbles it up, especially if I serve it with a dipping sauce, other times he takes one bite and tosses the rest from his tray. As alternatives to roast chicken, I feed him chicken-apple soup and organic chicken-apple sausage. But I’ve been getting bored with these go-to chicken dinners, and I’m sure Mason is too, so I’ve been looking for a new kid-friendly, mom-approved chicken recipe to spice things up. A couple of weeks ago at a birthday party, I found just the recipe. We were celebrating Mason’s friend Lina’s first birthday and her mom, Elif (one of the LIC Mamas), served homemade chicken fingers for the kids–and they were a hit. Golden brown and crisp on the outside, and juicy on the inside, the chicken looked and smelled so delish even the adults were eating it up. Elif was sweet enough to share the recipe with me, so I made the chicken tonight for Mason’s dinner (it took about 10 minutes) and served it with steamed corn and applesauce. Hope your tot enjoys the chicken fingers, as much as mine does. Do you have a chicken recipe that your tot loves? Share it here!


Chicken Fingers


3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 cup Italian bread crumbs
1 egg
Olive oil (enough to keep chicken from burning)

Cut chicken breasts into strips and set aside. Beat egg in a large bowl. Place bread crumbs on flat plate. Coat chicken with egg and then transfer to bread crumbs. Heat olive oil in large skillet. Make sure oil is very hot. Slowly place the coated strips in oil until brown, turn over, brown other side. Remove from pan and lay chicken strips on paper towel to soak up any excess oil. Serve immediately.

NOTE: I call this chicken fingers recipes healthier because it’s not deep-fried and it uses heart-healthy olive oil. You can also skip most of the olive oil by spraying (or brushing) a baking dish with olive oil and baking the chicken fingers on 350 for about 25 minutes (or until center is no longer pink); broil the last five for a crispier texture on the outside.

Top photo by Elif Memisoglu

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