What's The Healthiest Vegetable?

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I’m often asked my opinion about what vegetable is the healthiest. I also hear the “best-Mommy” contest that happens on the playground where each parent tries to one-up each other bragging about what weird & healthy veggie their child loves. It goes something like this:

“My Johnny loves carrots.”

“MY Suzie loves broccoli.”

“WELL, MY Nicolas loves kale.”

“Guess what. MY Olivia loves Brussels sprouts. Eats them like candy. Can’t get enough of them.”

You get the picture.

I understand why people ask me about veggies. And why parents feel pressured. The amazing powers of specific vegetables often are the subjects of headlines. It makes a great sound-bite. It’s a great way to sell newspapers & magazines.

But as is often the case, that which makes a great sound-bite isn’t always what’s true. Because it’s been pulled out of context, the sound-bite ends up being only partly-true.

Science’s understanding of exactly what it is in veggies that’s so good for us is crude. We’re constantly learning of new healthy nutrients. For example, when I was studying human nutrition as an undergraduate in the late 1990’s, I was taught that white veggies didn’t have any healthful substances. They may provide flavor and crunch, but they were nutritional zeros. However, we now know that onions, garlic, and their other cousins such as leeks, have healthful nutrients like antioxidants.

While science is constantly discovering new nutrients, what’s found again and again (and again) is that the people who eat the most veggies are the healthiest. Period.

I also like to balance current science with the tried-and-true. And, when I look at traditional diets around the world, I see that human beings have survived and thrived eating all sorts of plant foods.

Let me be clear. I’m not denying that dark green veggies (like kale) and brightly-coloured veggies (like carrots and purple cabbage) are really healthy. They’re fantastic choices! What I’m saying is to not consider veggies such as cucumber and celery as empty junk. While they’re today’s zeros, who knows if they will be tomorrow’s super-stars. And, they’re healthier than most processed foods which kids typically eat if they’re not eating veggies.

So don’t stress if your picky eater doesn’t like today’s super-star veggies.

When it comes to veggies, it’s about quantity. And, variety.

Instead of relying on the magic of any one vegetable (and trying to force your picky eater to eat it), enjoy a wide variety of veggies. Introduce your little one to many different veggies (and repeat those introductions, and repeat, and repeat…). Be a veggie variety role model yourself. Encourage your little one to enjoy the wide, wide world of veggies in all colours of the rainbow. Together explore all the different tastes and textures.

And celebrate when your little one eats ANY veggies - whether it’s kale chips or that French Breakfast radish that the Farmer convinced him to try at Saturday’s Farmers Market, or…

So, what’s my answer when I’m asked what’s the healthiest vegetable? Answer: The one that you’ll eat (because it doesn’t matter how healthy any veggie is – if you won’t eat it – it can’t do you any good).

Get more successful picky eater tips. Sign-up for my e-newsletter today HERE.

Photo credit: Keenan Loo on Unsplash

Do I Need to Soak Nuts and Grains (Anti-Nutrients)?

Do-I-need-to-Soak-Nuts-and-Grains-Anti-Nutrients

My favourite topics to write about are the topics that you, community members, ask me to address. Today’s topic comes from a community member. She asked: “Is there any truth to the idea that we should be soaking our nuts and grains to make these foods more digestible, more nutritious or to avoid so called ‘anti-nutrients’?”

Ah, the internet, such a double-edged sword. I love it – after all, it’s how I’m communicating with you today. And, I hate it. In my 23 years of experience in nutrition, I’ve never seen so many people so confused about nutrition.

This question is yet another example of how people are confused about nutrition. Both because of the powerful nutrition fear-mongering that unscrupulous people use to make money. And, because of well-intentioned people taking a fact so out of context that it no longer makes any sense.

In a nutshell (pun intended): no, you don’t need to soak nuts and grains.

Let’s get down into the details – because I know that’s what you like to get from me – the detailed story.

Anti-Nutrients

Anti-nutrients sure are a hot topic in the media (on-line and off-line). People are making a mountain out of a mole-hill. While the community member didn’t mention beans/ lentils in her question, I’m going to add them to the conversation because others of you have been asking me about the “poison” they’ve heard about in beans/ lentils.

Yes, it’s true that nuts, seeds, whole grains, bean and lentils have molecules called phytates in them. Phytates bind to nutrients, such as iron, making us humans less able to absorb the nutrients. Hence the term “anti-nutrients”. Note that the phytates make us absorb less of the nutrients – not zero. So their presence doesn’t render the foods devoid of nutrition. Also, these phytates aren’t poisonous – they don’t harm us.

Quite the opposite of being bad for us, whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans, and lentils are a key part of the foundation for a healthy diet. Combine these with vegetables and fruit and you’ve got a gold star in the eating habits department.

Whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans, and lentils have been eaten by human beings for generations. If they were poisonous, we would have stopped eating them a long, long time ago. Humans have figured out many ways to reduce the phytates in these foods:

  • Roasting nuts
  • Leavening bread made from whole grains
  • Soaking beans before cooking
  • Fermenting foods (e.g. making miso from soybeans)
  • Sprouting of grains, seeds, beans

So while you don’t need to soak these foods before eating them. Soaking, roasting, sprouting, fermenting is a great idea because it frees up more of the nutrients for us to absorb. In other words, it’s the concept of “need” with which I take issue.

Great choices to increase your nutrient-absorption:

  • Try new recipes that involve soaking, roasting, sprouting, and fermenting.
  • If you have a choice of sprouted whole grain bread or un-sprouted, choose the sprouted bread. But if un-sprouted is your only choice, it’s still a healthy choice.
  • Soak beans before you cook them (and throw away the soaking water) because it makes them less “musical”.
  • Many of the nuts that you find in the store are roasted, e.g. cashews, macadamia nuts.
  • If you find that you have a hard time digesting some of these foods in their un-processed state, give them a try soaked/ sprouted/ fermented and see if your digestion improves.

Note: Raw sprouts aren’t recommended for children under 5 years due to the risk of microbes (e.g. salmonella, e. coli) causing food-poisoning.

Looking for 1:1 help from me in sorting through all the nutrition myths? Check out my adult nutrition services and kids nutrition services.

Photo credit: chuttersnap on Unsplash

Is hiding veggies okay?

is hiding veggies okay
is hiding veggies okay

While presenting a workshop on Monday, a small group of parents pulled me aside and asked a question that I get asked all the time. “What do you think about sneaking in vegetables? Is hiding veggies okay?” You know what these parents mean. There are several very popular cookbooks, one by a celebrity, made up entirely of recipes that involve pureeing vegetables and hiding them in other foods. Classic examples are squash in mac and cheese and beets in chocolate cake.

Most parents who ask me this question do so with a sheepish look in their faces. They’re expecting me to tell them that it’s a horrible idea. However, my answer isn’t a simple – “good” or “bad”. Here’s the details.

Studies show that kids do eat more servings of vegetables in families where they add pureed vegetables to dishes. Also, most of us could use to eat more veggies. So exploring new dishes that include veggies is a fantastic idea. Go ahead, incorporate more vegetables into your eating habits!

However, if you are going to use this technique, there are two very important steps to take to make sure that you are both helping your child eat more veggies now AND helping teach them to choose to eat vegetables as a life-long habit. (And, not inadvertently creating an even more picky eater).

Hiding Veggies Important Step #1:

If all you’re serving your child is mac and cheese and chocolate cake, all they’re learning is to eat mac and cheese and chocolate cake. You may know that there’s squash in the mac and cheese and beets in the cake, but your child doesn’t. If you choose to sneak in veggies, also be sure to serve obvious veggies too. For example, serve steamed broccoli on the side of that mac and cheese. Even if your child doesn’t eat the obvious veggies, you’re role modeling choosing to eat vegetables – an important lesson for life-long healthy eating habits.

Hiding Veggies Important Step #2:

Don’t deny that there are veggies in a dish if your child asks. One book I read recommended waking up in the middle of the night to prepare your purees and freeze them so that you can sneak them into dishes without your kids seeing you. Um, no. Not what I recommend. First, I want you to get the few hours of precious sleep that you can get. Second, picky kids are smart and pay close attention to detail. They’re also little conspiracy theorists about food. They will figure out that you’ve been hiding veggies in your dishes. Then, they’ll wonder what else you’ve been hiding and will become even more suspicious of their food. Not the path you want to head down. Don’t deny what you’ve put in a dish. At the same time, you aren’t a waiter at a two Michelin star restaurant. You don’t need to describe every ingredient and every step that you took to prepare each dish. In other words, you don’t need to divulge what’s in a dish, but don’t deny what’s in it either. If your child asks, answer them directly in a neutral, matter of fact tone.

Get more successful picky eater tips. Sign-up for my e-newsletter today.

Do Babies Need Teeth for Finger Foods?

babies need teeth for finger food

At workshops I’m often asked by new parents whether babies need teeth to eat finger foods. The short answer is: no. Whether you’re choosing to start with purees or to follow Baby Led Weaning (BLW), we recommend starting to offer your baby finger foods by 7 months. Many babies won’t have any teeth at that age. And, most babies won’t have molars then. Our molars are the teeth that we use to chew food. We use our front teeth to bite and tear.

Babies’ gums are surprisingly strong. They can use them to eat finger foods. It’s the presence of things along their gums that helps them move their gag reflex from the young infant position to the mature position. And, it’s with practice that babies learn how to co-ordinate the chewing, swallowing, and breathing that are involved in eating. That’s why at this age babies put everything in their mouths – they’re practicing.

Introducing a wide range of tastes and textures before 9 – 12 months can help lessen picky eating in toddlerhood. You’ve got a developmental window of opportunity when babies are interested in tastes and textures. Use it!

What makes good finger foods?

  • Pieces of soft cooked vegetables
  • Ripe soft fruits (skins and pits removed)
  • Grated raw vegetables or hard fruits
  • Finely minced, shredded, ground or mashed cooked meat
  • Deboned fish and poultry
  • Bread crusts or toast

Some finger food examples:

  • Tortillas cut in narrow strips and thinly spread with nut butter
  • Omelet cut in to narrow strips
  • Salmon crumbled into small pieces
  • Grated carrot and grated apple
  • Extra-firm tofu steamed and cut in to skinny fingers

Looking for more finger food ideas (including iron-rich finger food ideas)? Check out my video on Youtube.

Healthier Chocolate Nut Spread

chocolate hazelnut spread

You asked for a healthier alternative to the famous (and delicious) chocolate hazelnut spread (you know which one). Today I'm sharing not just one, but 4 alternatives. All are much lower in sugar and have no palm oil. Just in time for back-to-school. I mention back-to-school because you'll not only be looking for packed lunch ideas, but also breakfast ideas for rushed mornings and quick after school snack ideas.

All of these contain nuts or seeds. That's the foundation of this foodstuff afterall. Some preschools and schools are nut and seed-free, some are nut-free (i.e. seeds are okay), and some are peanut-free (i.e. nuts and seeds are okay). Always check with your individual facility to find out exactly what is and what isn't allowed.

An important note, especially if you are introducing these to picky eaters who already are familiar with the famous chocolate hazelnut spread, none of these taste exactly the same. So, don't try to pull a fast one on your little one and swap one for the other. They'll notice the difference - kids have keen observation skills with their food. Call this spread by a different name. This way they will be expecting something different.

A huge THANK YOU to student volunteer Carla for her help with these recipes!

Enjoy!

nutfree chocolate spread

Healthy Nut-Free Chocolate Spread

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups toasted sunflower seeds
  • ½ cup cocoa powder
  • 4 tbsp icing sugar
  • 1/2 cup milk (optional)
  • ¼ to ½ cup canola oil

Directions:

  1. In a pan over medium-high heat, toast the sunflower seeds until light brown and fragrant, about 3-4 minutes. Set aside to cool.
  2. Using a food processor, process the sunflower seeds until powdery. Scrape the sides.
  3. Add the cocoa powder, icing sugar, milk (optional), and canola oil. Blend until smooth.

Homemade Chocolate Hazelnut Spread

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups hazelnuts
  • 3 tbsp icing sugar
  • ½ cup milk (optional)
  • ½ cup cocoa powder
  • ¼ to ½ cup canola oil

Directions:

  1. In a pan over medium-high heat, toast the whole hazelnuts with their peels on for 5 minutes. Set aside to cool.
  2. Once the whole hazelnuts are cool, rub them in between a kitchen towel to loosen and remove the skin.
chocolate spreads_medmed

Habibi's Chocolate Tahini and Powerplant's Chocolate Sprouted Seed Spread

(Note: In the spirit of being fully transparent, both of these were given to me for free. I did not receive payment to review either. I'm super picky about what foods I'll share with you in my reviews.)

I brought both of these to my co-working space last week so that everyone could try them. Yes, there are perks to having dietitians as friends and co-workers! Both received very positive reviews. Some people preferred one and an equal number preferred the other. Both products have a short ingredient list with only recognizable foods. They're made with nuts or seeds, providing healthy fats (and no palm oil). Each has just a touch of sugar/sweetener. Check each product's websites for a listing of what stores you can find them in.

Powerplant's spread has an intense chocolate taste for you dark chocolate lovers. It has a chunkier texture but smooth mouthfeel. So it's perfect for spreading on a cracker but not on soft bread. It totally screams to be included in your next smoothie.

Habibi's Chocolate Tahini has a milder chocolate taste. A few people found the tahini and chocolate flavours fought eath other. Most of us thought it was delicious (me included). This spread is the more classically kid-friendly of the two.

Looking for more healthy, kid-friendly recipes? Check out my recipe page.

Picky Eater Tip: Be Good Company

picky eater tip be good company

When kids enjoy being at the family table, they’ll eat better. Period. This is a strategy for dealing with kids who are picky eaters (fussy eaters) that is amazingly powerful, yet seldom used. When the families whom I work with adopt this tip they love it. It immediately makes meal times way less stressful (for everyone). Everyone is freed up to enjoy the meal.

This strategy has the power to create the family meals for that you wish for. Yet, if you’re like most of the parents I meet, you feel that you need to be doing more to be good a good Mom or Dad. You’re under the impression that to do a good job of parenting your child around food, you need to cajole them into eating their veggies. To refuse allowing seconds of rice/noodles unless they take 2 more bites of their meat.

If this rings true for you, I have big news. You don’t have to be the food police. Your job is to plan, prepare, and provide meals and snacks. And, to join your child at the table to lead the way in creating a positive environment.

How to do this? Be good company. Have pleasant conversations. Yes, that includes having pleasant conversations with your partner too – your child doesn’t have to be the centre of your attention for every second of the meal.

What to talk about? Choose any topic except the food you’re eating. One of my favourites is to play good thing, bad thing. This game is also known by many other names. What it involves is everyone at the table taking turns telling about the best and worst things about their day. Even preschoolers love playing this game. And you’ll connect as a family.

No, this doesn’t mean that magically you’ll no longer be concerned about your child’s nutrition. It seems paradoxical, but the more you back off telling your children how many bites they need to eat, the better they’ll eat. Kids respond positively to you removing the pressure. Hunger motivates kids to eat. You don’t need to. When you follow this “be good company” strategy, it’s a weight off your shoulders and it’s empowering for your children.

When kids enjoy being at the family table, they’ll eat better. Period.

Get more successful picky eater tips. Sign-up for my e-newsletter today.

Your Health is like a Bank Account

piggy bank

Today’s post is inspired by a conversation that I had with a client over the weekend. It’s a conversation that I have with most clients. We women tend to hold ourselves to a very high standard. There can be a good side of this; it helps us strive towards excellence. And, there can be a downside of this; being very hard on ourselves when we don’t live up to our expectations.

When applied to our relationship with food, I call it the dieting mentality. Going on a diet means that starting XX day, I’ll eat “perfectly” according to [insert name of plan]. I’ll never again eat sugar, highly processed foods, caffeine, [insert “bad” food]. Which sounds good. Except that life gets in the way. We get busy. We get stressed out. We get invited to a party. The holiday season arrives. Inevitably we eat the “bad” food. And, we slip back into our old habits. What follows? Our negative self-talk. We scold ourselves for misbehaving. We blame ourselves for not having the strength to stick to our new diet.

If this sounds familiar, I have some very, very good news for you. Being healthy doesn’t require us to eat “perfectly”. This dieting mentality has got it all wrong. Our bodies are amazing. They’re designed to be forgiving; to operate well even without the perfect fuel every day.

Here’s the analogy that I like to use to explain this phenomenon:

Our health is like a bank account. Every healthy meal and snack that we eat is like depositing money in a bank account. The more healthy choices you make, the more your bank balance increases.

There will also be days and weeks where you don’t make healthy choices – where you make withdrawals. If your typical eating habits are healthy, you have a big balance and it’s okay to take some withdrawals because your bank balance can take it. When life returns back to normal, you can start depositing money back into your account and build your bank balance back up again.

But, if your daily eating habits aren’t healthy, then your bank balance is near zero. When the crazy stressful times come, you don’t have much to draw from and soon you’ll be in overdraft. You’ll experience negative health consequences. You’ll be running on empty.

I hope that you can see how different this concept of healthy eating is versus the dieting mentality. The bank account mentality assumes that you’ll have times when you’ll eat unhealthy. Eating unhealthy isn’t “failure”; it’s a normal part of life. As such, there’s no need to be hard on yourself, to feel shame, to feel guilt. Instead, it’s an opportunity to be grateful – to recognize and congratulate yourself for building up your bank account to carry you through the stressful time. And, to be amazed at how resilient our bodies are.

Free yourself from the perfectionistic fear of food. Enjoy the journey of making deposits and withdrawals from your health bank account.

My kid used to eat just about everything…

My kid used to eat just about everything

Does this sound familiar?

“My kid used to eat just about everything and anything but she stopped eating meat all of a sudden. She's now 2.”

This, hands-down, is the single most common question that parents come to me wondering. Well, it’s not always meat that their children suddenly won’t eat. It may be vegetables, fruit, or most foods (i.e. they’ll only eat something like 5 foods).

If you’ve recently experienced this, the good news is that you’re not alone!

Most (but not all) kids will happily eat almost everything when you’re first introducing solid foods. From about 6 months onwards, these happy babies keenly gobble up most foods you put in front of them. In fact, they’re delighted with all the different textures, shapes, and tastes that you introduce to them.

Then, all of a sudden, something changes. This change can happen as young as 9 months, and most commonly happens somewhere between 18 months – 2 years.

Welcome to the picky eating stage.

It’s a completely normal developmental stage that most kids go through.

No, you didn’t cause your great little eater to suddenly “hate” foods that she loved previously. If you’re like most of the parents I’ve worked with, I know that I need to tell you to turn down the volume of the Mommy-guilt (or Daddy-guilt) voice in your head that’s telling you that it’s all your fault, that you did something wrong to cause this. That you “broke” your child. Let me tell you definitively: you didn’t.

The science doesn’t tell us why kids all of a sudden become picky. Some scientists have theorized that it’s a protective thing. From back when we lived in caves. At this age infants become toddlers and start wandering away from parents. It would be evolutionarily protective to have kids become scared to put random (i.e. potentially poisonous) plants in their mouths. It’s an interesting theory but who knows if this is true.

What I do know is that picky eating is a developmental stage. Kids become wary of foods. They honestly become scared to try things (yes, even if they’ve eaten them before). They don’t have the language skills to tell you that they’re feeling trepidatious about trying that food. So they simply say “I hate it!” (before they’ve even tried it.

The good news is that you don’t just have to wait until your daughter or son grows out of this stage. You can support them to be confident enough to try new foods, to increase the range of foods that they’ll eat, and to get the good nutrition that they need.

The bad news is that I can’t solve your question in 1 short and snappy blog post. I can, however, point you in the right direction.

As first steps, I encourage you to:

  • Continue serving your child small servings of every food that you eat in your household.
  • Role model eating these foods by joining your child at as many meals and snacks as possible.
  • Plan meals and snacks that include both familiar and challenging foods.

And of course, keep your eyes on your peeled for other strategies I'll share to help your picky eater transition smoothly through this difficult phase (while ensuring that they’re meeting their nutrition needs).

You can support your child to eat more foods. Get successful picky eater tips. sign-up for my e-newsletter today.

5th Annual Homemade Ice Pop Recipes

spinach-kiwi ice pop

It's back, my annual home-made ice pop recipe collection. Some may call these homemade popsicles or paletas. Or, frozen smoothies. Whatever you call them they're a delicious summer treat. I want to give a big shout out to Carla, the dietetic student who is volunteering with me for creating these recipes. My directions for her: the recipes need to be simple, include no added sugar, include fruit and even veggies, and only include easy-to-find ingredients. Oh, and of course, that they needed to be delicious. She sure delivered.

The directions for each recipe are the same:

  1. Combine all ingredients in a blender.
  2. Blend until smooth.
  3. Pour into molds.
  4. Freeze.

Enjoy her work!

Kristen

P.S. For more delicious, healthy frozen recipes, check out these links:

Spinach Kiwi

Inspired by: http://www.kiipfit.com/spinach-kiwi-popsicles/

Packed with fruit and leafy greens, the vibrant green color of these popsicles comes from blending both kiwi and spinach.

  • 1/3 cup spinach
  • 1  kiwi
  • 2 drops lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup water

Mango Lassi

mango lassi ice pop

Inspired by: http://revisfoodography.com/2015/04/mango-lassi/

Inspired from a classic Indian cold drink, mango lassi is a blend of yogurt, fruit and spice. Not a fan of cardamom? Simply omit the spice and you can still enjoy it as a mango-yogurt blend.

  • 1 mango
  • 160 ml greek yogurt
  • 1 small pinch cardamom (to taste)

Cantaloupe

cantaloupe ice pop

This very simple and refreshing recipe allows you to use ripe or extra ripe cantaloupes. No added sugar necessary.

  • ¾ cup cantaloupe
  • ¼ cup water

Get more healthy home-made ice pop recipes here:

5th Annual Healthy Home-Made Popsicles (ice pops, paletas)

4th Annual Healthy Home-Made Popsicles (ice pops, paletas)

My Least Popular (But Very Effective) Picky Eater Tip

picky-eater-tip

I’ve been doing workshops for parents on picky eating for 8 years now. At every single picky eater seminar there is one strategy that always causes resistance with the parents in the audience. I continue to share it because it’s a very powerful strategy for minimizing picky eating. Yet I can almost hear the thud it makes when I describe it and it lands on the floor. The problem for which it’s a solution? How to get kids (particularly toddlers and preschoolers) to stay at the table for meals. It’s the solution for meals that go on and on forever because your child sits down, takes one bite, then pops up from the table to do something terribly important, then returns to the table, takes another bite, pops up from the table (and so on and so on).

So, what’s this successful, but unpopular strategy? Create a rule that all meals and snacks are eaten when sitting down. In other words: Stop. Eat. Then Continue On. Yes, I do mean snacks too. You may wonder why I continue to share this strategy knowing that it’ll be so unpopular. I share it because it really is successful for supporting kids to do a good job of eating. If we allow the common practice of letting kids eat snacks “on the run”, i.e. while in the car, in the stroller, you chasing them around the house spooning bite after bite into their mouths, we’re teaching kids that there is an alternative to sitting still at a table to eat. As seen through a toddler’s or preschooler’s eyes:

Why is it that sometimes can I eat while playing. But other times I’m told that I have to stop playing and sit at a table to eat (which is bo-ring).”

Create the expectation that all meals and snacks are eaten sitting down. In families who set this expectation, kids come to the table when called. They eat. Then, they continue on with their day (i.e. go back to playing). Meals and snack go much more smoothly and are less stressful because the kids aren’t constantly getting up from the table.

I understand the initial resistance that you may have to this strategy. In our super busy lives, how are we supposed to carve out time to stop and eat snacks? And it seems like I’m saying that you can never leave the house again, because you always need to be home to give snacks. Not true. Let me clarify.

Does this mean that you never get to leave the house again? No. In the summer this is especially easy. Stop at the park bench, picnic table, or spread out a blanket and enjoy a snack. Use similar ingenuity at indoor locations. For example, you can stop at the bench in the recreation centre foyer or use a table at the food court at the mall.

The important point is to stop. Don’t feed your child in the stroller, car seat, etc. And, don’t hand out a snack while your child continues playing. I know that it’s tempting to do so in our busy lives. But, it sets you up for more battles at meals and snacks. What seems like an efficient use of time in the immediate, actually costs you more time in the long run. In families who establish the stop-to-eat expectation, meals and snacks are very quick. And, they are much more pleasant. When it’s meal and snack time the kids simply get down to the business of eating.

Simply put: Stop. Eat. Then, continue on.

Get more successful picky eater tips. Sign-up for my e-newsletter today.

Where to Start with School-Age Picky Eaters

helping school-age picky eaters

Being known as the picky eater dietitian, people expect that I work with toddlers and preschoolers. It’s true, many, if not most, of the families I work with have 2 – 5 year olds. But I also work with parents of school-age picky eaters. These parents thought that picky eating was just a phase that their kids would grow out of. But now their little ones aren’t so little, and they are still picky. Often what sparks these parents to contact me is their child expresses anxiety about social situations because of the food. They don’t want to go to birthday parties and sleep-overs because they are worried that there won’t be anything for them to eat.

The good news is that we certainly can help these kids to become less picky and more confident with food. The bad news is that change is slower at this age than when working with younger kids.

When working with school-age kids my approach is even more individualized than with toddlers and preschoolers because of their more advanced developmental stage. However, the actions in these family’s plans always start in the same place. If you’ve got a school-age child who didn’t grow out of picky eating, here’s where to start.

Challenge School-Age Picky Eater’s Self-Identity

Ford said (I may be paraphrasing a bit here):

“Whether you believe you can, or you believe you can’t, you’re right”.

These kiddos have a self-identity that they are picky; that they don’t try new foods. Therefore, we need to change their self-belief before they’ll be open to trying new foods. One simple, but powerful way to do this is to change how you speak about your child and food. As a caregiver, you are incredibly important for shaping how a child thinks about him- or herself. Stop calling your child “picky” or “fussy”. Stop saying things about food like “you won’t like this” or “I know that you won’t try that”. Yikes, talk about a self-fulfilling prophesy. Instead, say things that open up the possibility of change. Say things that communicate your belief that they will learn to like new foods. Examples include “you don’t like it yet” or “your taste buds change as you get older. You may want to try it again.”

School-Age Picky Eaters: Provide Opportunities to Try New Foods

You likely stopped serving your child new foods long ago because they never ate them and it seemed futile. However, if kids are never served new foods, how are they going to eat new foods? It’s like saying that you won’t take your child to the pool until they know how to swim. Herein lies the rub. Your child won’t learn to swim unless you take them to the pool, many times, and they take swimming lessons. Learning to like new foods works the same way. Kids need to see them and try them many times before they learn to like them. Now you’ve likely been serving your child a different meal from the rest of the family for many years. Suddenly switching to making one meal for the whole family and expecting your child to eat everything isn’t the answer. A successful, and gentle, first step is to use a strategy that I call the share plate. This means serving at least one food in a meal on a plate or in a bowl in the middle of the table from which everyone can serve themselves. Other terms for this are “family style” or “Chinese style”. Encourage everyone in the family, your fussy eater included, to serve themselves from this plate/ bowl if they wish. An example is to serve some cut-up fruit on a share plate at breakfast. This strategy works because it provides your picky eater with an opportunity to try something new if they choose so. But, it doesn’t force them to try it. It also communicates with your actions what I shared above – that you believe that your child will, one day, join your family in enjoying these foods.

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Don’t Make this #1 Mistake with Picky Eaters

Don’t Make this #1 Mistake with Picky Eaters

The most common mistake with picky eaters that I see parents make is that they stop serving their kids foods that they don’t eat. I understand why parents make this choice. It seems futile to go to the effort of making food only for your child to ignore it. Or, loudly announce that they hate it. Or, melt down from just seeing it on their plate. It seems like a waste of your precious time, a waste of food, a waste of money, never mind the heartbreaking feeling that your child is rejecting you. However, stopping serving the dreaded vegetables/ meat /[insert the foods your child doesn’t eat] is the wrong way to go.

I like to give non-food analogies because food is such an emotional issue that it can be hard to see what’s going on. So here’s my non-food analogy for kids and challenging foods:

Deciding that you’ll serve your child vegetables [insert the foods your child doesn’t eat] once they like them is like deciding that you’ll take your child to the pool once they know how to swim. Of course, you need to take your child to the pool so that they can learn how to swim. They aren’t going to suddenly wake up one morning knowing how to swim.

The same goes for foods your child doesn’t like. They won’t learn to like them if they never see them. Research shows that kids need to try foods somewhere between 10 – 30 times before they learn to like them. That doesn’t count the number of times that a child needs to see a food before they’re willing to try it. Of course each child and each food is going to vary in the magical number of times. I just learned to like Brussels sprouts last year and trust me, I’ve tried them way more than 30 times.

A study showed that parents usually give up after trying 5 times. So you haven’t even made it to the minimum number of presentations never mind the top end of the average range.

So what’s the solution? Plan meals that include both safe foods and challenging foods. One meal for the whole family that includes at least one safe food for your child. Yes, if you have more than one child you will need to include safe foods for each of them. What should the challenging foods be? Foods that you eat in your family. This way you aren’t making separate foods just for your child, which, when they aren’t eaten, feels like that waste of time. You’re cooking food that you’ll eat. If the kids don’t eat it – then more leftovers for you! No wasted time, food, or money.

The powerful word in this situation is “yet”.

Your kids don’t like it yet.

Serving a food again and again is how they learn to like it. Just like how a child who is starting swimming lessons doesn’t know how to swim yet.

Keep up with the practice and trust that your child will get there.

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What’s the Right Age to Start Solid Foods?

age-to-start-solid-foods

Parents have been sending me a lot of questions lately asking what is the right age to start introducing their baby to solid foods. They’ve heard 6 months before. Now they’re hearing 4 months from other health professionals. And, some places online say 4 – 6 months. They’re right to be confused with all this conflicting information. If you’re wondering what age to start your baby on sold foods, here’s the scoop…

The recommendations haven’t changed. The World Health Organization recommends 6 months¹. In Canada the recommendations from Health Canada, the Canadian Pediatric Society, Dietitians of Canada and the Breastfeeding Committee for Canada say 6 months². The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends “around 6 months”³.

I suspect that reports from a new, and important, study on preventing peanut allergy are behind the advice that these health professionals are giving parents. Now I’m not in the doctor’s office when the parents are being given this advice, so this is a best guess. But the study is being talked about a lot in the health provider community, which is why I’m suspecting it’s behind the advice that parents are receiving. Unfortunately the researchers chose to use a phrase that I’m suspecting is creating some of this confusion.

The research study found a significant decrease in peanut allergy with their intervention⁴. What was their intervention? To introduce, and regularly feed, peanuts to children starting as babies versus waiting until they were 5 years old. Giving peanuts to the babies reduced the incidence of peanut allergy. But here’s where I suspect the misunderstanding comes in. The children in the “early” introduction of peanuts group were between 4 – 11 months old. Because this is “early” versus introducing peanuts at 5 years old. The article doesn’t compare introducing peanuts at 4 months versus 6 months. However, I suspect that busy health professionals could have glanced at articles describing the study and mistakenly concluded that the “early” group meant introducing peanuts at 4 months versus 6 months of age. Especially, since the researchers didn’t report the older children’s age as 5 years, but as 60 months.

The reality is that the scientific and health communities still don’t know anything definitive about the perfect age to introduce solid foods to minimize food allergy.

What we do know is that babies start to run low on the iron that they’ve stored in their bodies at approximately 6 months of age. And so it’s at this time that we need to start introducing iron from a new source, i.e. solid foods. Iron is important for brain development in babies and young children.

And, babies show the signs of being ready to start solid foods between 4 – 6 months. Just like every other developmental stage, babies arrive here at slightly different ages. The signs of readiness for eating solid foods are:

  • The disappearance of the extrusion reflex.
  • The ability to sit up (with support) and hold their own head up (without support).
  • Can visually track your movement.
  • Becoming fascinated with watching people eating.

As we learn more about what causes food allergies and how to prevent them, the recommendations may change. There are some fantastic studies underway that I can’t wait to get the results from. Until we know more, I still recommend starting solid foods at about 6 months. If your little one is between 4 – 6 months, you’re seeing all the signs of readiness, and you’re keen to start – go ahead. If you enjoy the simplicity of breast or bottle feeding or you’re not yet seeing the signs of readiness in your child, hold off until 6 months of age. My advice for the last 7 years has been “start solids at about 6 months”. I’m not changing my advice yet.

References:

  1. http://www.who.int/nutrition/topics/complementary_feeding/en/
  2. http://healthycanadians.gc.ca/healthy-living-vie-saine/infant-care-soins-bebe/nutrition-alimentation-eng.php?_ga=1.150740528.74375254.1447739252
  3. https://www.aap.org/en-us/advocacy-and-policy/aap-health-initiatives/HALF-Implementation-Guide/Age-Specific-Content/Pages/Infant-Food-and-Feeding.aspx
  4. http://www.leapstudy.co.uk

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Spitting Out is OKAY

spitting out is okay picky eater

While it may be considered poor table manners (and perhaps somewhat gross) to spit food back out, it’s actually a good strategy for helping picky eaters gain the confidence to try new foods. Yes, spitting out is okay.

For toddlers and preschoolers, trying a new food is scary. One way to make it less scary is to know that if you do choose to put something in your mouth, and it doesn’t taste good (or has a “yucky” texture), you can spit it back out.

For some picky eaters, “tasting” the food by touching it to their outstretched tongue is even less intimidating than putting the food in their mouths. This too is okay. Because it’s them taking steps towards trying the new food.

Now just because you allow food to be spit back out, doesn’t mean that you need to allow the drama that often goes along with it – the loud exclamation of “yucky!” and over-exaggerated action of spitting the food back out (perhaps accompanied by the classic wiping of the tongue to get rid of the “disgusting” taste).

Even young children can be taught how to politely take food out of their mouths without the fanfare. And, as they get a little bit older, you can teach them how to subtly spit the food into their napkin.

Bottom Line: Spitting food back out is okay. Making a big fuss about it isn’t.

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Be Careful What You Say to Picky Eaters

careful what you say to picky eaters

You need to be careful when it comes to talking with picky eaters, toddlers and preschoolers, about food. Words are powerful. What you say can help kids open up to trying new foods. Or, it can backfire and make them more resistant to trying new foods. So what are the right and wrong things to say? It’s likely not what you think.

Right Things to Say to Picky Eaters:

Do use creative marketing. There’s nothing like an unfamiliar word to make a kid say “I hate it!” before they even try a food. On the other hand, kids respond both to fun names and descriptive terms. Use their extremely keen observation skills to your advantage by using familiar and descriptive terms. For example, broccoli can be “little trees”. Name a dish after your child’s favourite superhero.

Here’s a great example that a friend of mine shared with me recently. Her son is 4. A couple of months ago she announced that dinner was lasagna. She hadn’t served her son lasagna before so he responded with the classic “Yuck, I want something else.” As a friend of mine, she knows better than to believe him and make something different. Instead, she put a piece on his plate and while he was watching she said “see, it’s pasta cake” and separated it into it’s different layers. Her son knows what pasta is. And, he definitely knows what cake is. Sure enough, once he saw that “lasagna” was something that he recognized, he happily ate it. So far, her son won’t eat lasagna. But he happily eats “pasta cake”. As he matures, he’ll become comfortable with the word “lasagna”. Until then she’ll happily include “pasta cake” in the family meal repertoire.

Wrong Things to Say to Picky Eaters:

Don’t talk about the nutritional benefits of a food. Most parents I work with and who attend my workshops unfortunately get this one wrong. Of course you care about healthy eating. You think about it when you choose what foods to serve. But don’t talk about it with your child. Studies show that if kids are taught about how healthy a food is, they are less likely to try it. And, if they do try it, they rate the taste as yuckier than if nothing was said. So, as tempting to talk about how the broccoli will make your child grow big and strong, make the effort to zip it. In this case, your actions speak louder than words. By serving broccoli, and eating it yourself, you are teaching your child that they should eat broccoli. No words are needed.

Don’t call multiple dishes by the same term. Toddlers and preschoolers are not yet able to classify things. It’s just not where they are at developmentally. Sure, we adults can use the term “fish” to mean salmon and halibut and tuna. While these foods all have very different tastes and textures, we adults can use one word “fish” to refer to them all. The developmental stage for toddlers and preschoolers means that they use a word to refer to one very specific thing. Very specific. If you use the word “fish” to mean “halibut” then that’s what they expect. If you then say “we’re having fish” and serve them salmon, they’ll freak out. Because you lied. The food in front of them is something very different than halibut – that’s obvious to see. And their natural reaction is to not want to try it. Instead, use the technique that I shared above. If you’ve always called halibut “fish” and you want to serve salmon, call it “pink fish”.

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Stress During Meals Will Cause Picky Eating

stress during meals

There’s a common reason behind several of the techniques that I teach to prevent (and turn-around) picky eating with kids. It’s stress. If your child experiences stress during meals they will honestly lose their appetite. And it’s not all in their heads. There’s a physiological cause to their lost appetite. As such, if you want your child to eat well (and what parent doesn’t), you want to minimize the amount of stress that your child experiences while at the table.

Stress During Meals

Here’s how stress causes people to lose their appetite. I imagine that you’ve heard of ‘fight or flight’. It’s the signals that travel through our body when we’re scared/stressed. You’ve likely heard that adrenaline is involved. One of the many results of these messages is that the body moves the blood flow away from our digestive tract towards our muscles in our arms and legs. It’s preparing us to be able to fight or run away from that saber-tooth tiger that’s chasing after us. The body only has so much blood so it prioritizes saving our life from the imminent threat – not having lots of blood ready to absorb nutrients that we’ve eaten and digested. Because, we’re highly unlikely to eat a meal with that sabre-tooth tiger. We can eat later once we’ve found safety.

Unfortunately our bodies can’t tell the difference between a physical threat (like that tiger) and psychological stress. It creates the same reaction. So, when your child experiences stress or anxiety at the table, they honestly lose their appetite.

Now does this mean that you never serve your child a new food ever again? No. Nor does it mean that you need to go to great lengths to entertain your child at the table. I actually recommend no screens or toys at the table. Afterall, the opposite of ‘stress’ isn’t ‘entertained’. It’s ‘pleasant’ or ‘calm’.

Stress-Free Meals with Kids

Here are some strategies to create a stress-free meal environment for your child:

  • Be good company. Talk about your days, play eye spy, any pleasant conversation topic.
  • Don’t choose mealtime to be the time to scold or punish kids. Or, argue with your spouse.
  • Always serve at least one familiar food at a meal. This way your child can rest assured that even if they don’t like the other foods on the table, they can fill themselves up with their familiar food.
  • Don’t stress the mess. Kids gradually learn to use utensils. Don’t expect them to be proficient until they reach school-age. Allow toddlers and preschoolers (and younger school-age kids too) to use a mix of fingers and utensils. Constant nagging about utensils and manners can create anxiety.
  • Don’t have a one-bite rule. Now before I get a slew of responses from people who swear that it works, I agree that the one-bite rule (also called the “no thank you bite” or “polite bite”) can work with some kids without causing any stress. Some kids are just wired so that trying new foods doesn’t stress them out. For lots and lots of kids however, making them try a food before they’re ready (or even the anticipation that you’ll ask them to try a new food) can cause the stress reaction in their bodies before they even sit down at the table. The result is that they’ve lost their appetite before the meal has begun.

For a step-by-step solution to reduce stress at meals with picky eaters, check out my book.

NGC: One Treat a Day

This is a powerful technique that I’ve used for a long time with clients who want to gain control of their cravings. I use it in my own life too. I learned about it so long ago that I can’t remember where I heard/ read it. I may have even changed the story in my memory over time, so apologies in advance if you’re a health professional who knows of the exact case and recognizes that I’ve inadvertently taken liberties with the story. Regardless of whether or not I’ve remembered the exact details, it’s such a powerful technique that I feel compelled to share it with you. So what’s this story? A woman couldn’t control herself around ice cream. Over her lifetime she would go for periods where she was “good” and didn’t eat any. She also had periods where she would devour whole tubs of ice cream, barely taking a breath between bites. She hated feeling so out of control with ice cream. She also wanted to lose the extra weight that she was carrying (that the ice cream was contributing to). You may be guessing that she was told never to eat ice cream again. Quite the contrary! The astonishing recommendation that she received was to enjoy a small amount of ice cream every day. You know what? It worked! She no longer felt out of control with ice cream. If she started to feel panicky and out-of-control with ice cream, she could reassure herself that she will be able to enjoy some more ice cream tomorrow. Knowing that she could eat it every day removed her drive to eat as much as possible at a sitting. There was no more panic about scarcity. And, she successfully lots weight.

Now some could argue that she could potentially weigh less if she didn’t eat ice cream every day. Perhaps. But from her past history she knew that any weight loss that she experienced from not eating ice cream would just come back (and more) when she reverted back to eating mass quantities of ice cream. Along with that weight would come the feelings of guilt, shame and defeat. Allowing the daily enjoyment of ice cream freed her from that unhealthy cycle.

I was inspired from this story and I make sure that I enjoy a treat every day.

I use this technique with clients who express a similar feeling of being controlled by their cravings. And for clients who truly want to get off the yo-yo dieting roller coaster.

There are two key aspects of this technique that I believe are vitally important:

  1. Reasonable Size: Choose a reasonable size for your treat. One measly bite likely won’t be enough to reassure yourself that you can enjoy your treat every day. You’ll still feel deprived. At the other extreme, enjoying a jumbo-sized treat each day won’t likely allow any weight loss. So what’s the “just-right” size you ask? I don’t have a firm answer for you. Because everyone is different with how much they need to eat to no longer feel the power of that scarcity. If my memory is correct, the woman in the story had a ½ cup of ice cream every day. I can tell you that I personally need more. You’ll have to do some experimenting with yourself to find your “just right” size.
  1. Enjoy your treat. Pleasure is the whole purpose that we eat these foods (it certainly isn’t for the nutrients). If you mindlessly shove it in your face then that food truly was a waste of calories. Pay attention to how your treat looks, smells, tastes, and feels in your mouth. Enjoy the experience.

Halibut Avocado Tacos

halibut avocado tacos

I'm often asked for fish recipes that kids will eat. This is a good one for several reasons. First, halibut is a very mild (read: non-fishy) fish. Second, lots of kids enjoy "deconstructed" or "build your own" style meals because they get to have control over what's on their plate. The result is that they'll eat things that they wouldn't have otherwise. There's also something inherently fun in make-your-own tacos.

I've shared the basic recipe here. Feel free to add other veggies to make it your own. Examples include: shredded cabbage (particularly purple cabbage), thinly sliced radishes, tomatoes, shredded raw zucchini or even cucumber slices.

Halibut is widely available frozen, year-round. Fresh halibut season is typically in May. Feel free to substitute any other white fish (or even salmon) in this recipe.

Halibut Avocado Tacos Ingredients

  • 8 taco shells
  • 480 g (16.9 oz) raw halibut
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 1/2 tsp spices, cumin
  • 1/2 tsp chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp oregano, ground, dried
  • 1 dash cayenne pepper
  • 1 dash black pepper
  • 1 dash salt
  • 1 cup chopped lettuce, green leaf or romaine
  • 1 avocado, ripe
  • 1/2 cup (4 fl oz) sauce, salsa, ready-to-serve

Halibut Avocado Tacos Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Place the halibut in a non-stick or parchment-lined baking dish. Drizzle with olive oil and lime juice; sprinkle with spices and herbs.
  3. Chop lettuce and slice avocado.
  4. Bake fish 12 to 15 minutes, or until just cooked through. Remove from the oven and cool slightly. Heat taco shells in the oven for 1-2 minutes.
  5. Coarsely flake the fish. Stuff the taco shells with lettuce, avocado, salsa, and flaked fish.
  6. Enjoy!

Halibut Avocado Tacos Deconstructed:

  • Serve taco shell on the side.
  • Bake a small portion of halibut just brushed with olive oil.
  • Serve in separate piles or small dishes, the lettuce, avocado and salsa.
  • Serve a small portion of the “spiced” halibut.

Find more delicious, healthy recipes here.

Will Kids Starve Themselves?

will-kids-starve-themselves

Some sayings are true. Some aren’t. You’ve likely heard people say “kids won’t starve themselves”. I hear it all the time. And, I rarely read an online conversation about picky eaters where someone doesn’t say this. Unfortunately this is one of those sayings that just isn’t true.

Will Kids Starve Themselves? Yes, Sometimes.

For some picky eaters, mealtimes have become very stressful. They’re left between the two choices of 1) being hungry or 2) facing the stressful meal situation. Some kids choose to go hungry. Yes, in other words, they starve themselves.

These kids either aren’t eating enough foods and their growth starts to falter. Or, they eat such a narrow variety that they aren’t getting the nutrients they need (even if they’re getting lots of calories).

Now the answer to the problem is not to force kids to eat more. Let me repeat that very loud and clear: THE SOLUTION IS NOT TO FORCE KIDS TO EAT MORE. More often than not that approach just increases kids’ stress, causing them to eat less.

Stress

What causes this stress? There can be many causes. That’s why I do a full assessment when working with families, because it’s important to identify and address the root cause. Some kids are sensitive souls who need to approach new foods gradually. Some kids are at a boundary-pushing stage and choose to engage parents in a battle of wills. Some kids miss out on learning specific chewing skills and find a variety of foods difficult to eat. Some kids have texture sensitivity and find certain food textures unappealing. I could go on listing causes.

I want to be really transparent here. I went back and forth many times about whether or not to write this article. I don’t write this to cause you more panic. The last thing that I want to do is cause more mommy guilt because guilt and shame get in the way of making change. I’m writing this because I do see kids who are starving themselves. So I feel the need to address the myth that’s spouted so very, very often by well-meaning advice givers.

Will Kids Grow Out of Picky Eating?

I also write this because I see so many families who could use my services. But they don’t seek help because they think that their child will “grow out of” their picky eating and that “kids won’t starve themselves”.

Lastly I write this because sometimes I see clients whose child is 7, 8, 9, or 10 years old and who is still a picky eater. Creating change for these kids is really, really hard (and progress is painstakingly slow). I wish so much that I could turn back the clock and work with these families when their kids are 2 and 3 years old. Not only could we prevent years of poor nutrition and stress for the child, we could have alleviated stress for the whole family. Because the whole family is affected when feeding isn’t going well with one child.

What’s important is that if feeding isn’t going well, you look for a solution to the problem. Don’t believe this myth that kids won’t starve themselves.

Check out my book where I share my simple-step-by-step solution for picky eaters (2-5 years old).

Nutrition Game Changer: Eating Protein at Afternoon Snack

protein at afternoon snack

Something that I recommend for almost all of the women whom I’ve worked with is eating protein at afternoon snack. Why is this a nutrition game changer? Because in my experience, it helps with a lot of the problems that women come to me for help with regarding their eating in the afternoon and evening. Do any of these scenarios sound familiar?

  • Cravings for junk food in the late afternoon.
  • Energy crashing at about 4pm.
  • Constant nibbling while you’re cooking.
  • Getting too hungry to last until you can actually make dinner so instead you pick up take out/ go through a drive-through/ eat out.

If so, then eating protein at an afternoon snack is worth trying. Here’s why:

Human beings digest a meal and get hungry again in about 4 hours. As our blood sugar drops, our body sends signals to us that we’re hungry. If we don’t respond by eating something that subsequently raises our blood sugar, our bodies send more and more urgent messages. Messages that drive us towards the high sugar, fat, salt, very tasty foods. It’s what the feeling of ‘hangry’ is all about.

Assuming that you’ve eaten lunch at about noon, it’s natural that you start to feel hungry again at about 4pm. The food choices that you make at lunch will impact how long you last before you start to get hungry. Some choices will mean that you will feel hungry again in less than 4 hours. But that’s the topic of a whole different blog post J

The longer that you wait until you eat again, the more your body will drive you towards those high sugar, fat, salt, very tasty foods. It’s a physiological drive, not a lack of will power, that causes you to eat those foods before dinner.

The secret to making healthy food choices in the afternoon and evening is to prevent ‘hangry’ by having an afternoon snack. Including protein at your afternoon snack can help your body digest your snack more slowly, thus causing more even blood sugar and fewer cravings for junk foods.

Pair your protein food with some veggies and/or fruits for a perfect combination of nutrients. Examples include:

  • A piece of fruit and a small handful of nuts.
  • Raw veggies with white bean dip.
  • Chia coconut pudding topped with fruit.
  • Collard leaf wrapped around sliced hard boiled egg and bell peppers.
  • Plain Greek yogurt topped with fresh or dried fruit.
  • Apple slices or a banana dipped in nut butter (e.g. peanut butter, almond butter).
  • Protein powder smoothie made with fresh or frozen fruit and leafy greens (e.g. spinach).

Eat protein at your afternoon snack. It’s a nutrition game changer for preventing craving junk food in the late afternoon. And, it’ll help buy you enough time to make a healthy dinner before ‘hangry’ hits.

What's your favourite afternoon snack that includes protein? Share it in a comment below!

Curious about how I can help you achieve your health and nutrition goals? Schedule a (free) call to find out.