Checkable Health Podcast
EP15 Nutrition for Families: Ways to Teach Your Kids to Have a Healthy relationship with Food with RD Leah Roethel
If you have ever wondered or worried about your family's nutrition, our conversation with Registered Dietician and mom of 2 will help set your mind at ease and help you feel more confident in your choices for family dinner time.
In this episode of the podcast, we dive into questions mama’s may have about nutrition and how they can help their family get a variety of foods into their diets. We chat about picky eaters, creating a good relationship with food, making new food fun, and how parents can model healthy eating for their kids.
Shownotes: Learn more by checking us out on checkablehealth.com
0:00:00.1 S1: A lot of the time we actually over-serve our children, so we kind of give them a full plate of food and something to help for picky eaters is actually to know that less is more... They can be really overwhelmed if they have a plate in front of them that's full of food, so another tip is actually just put a few bites of each portion onto the plate, which can actually increase their likelihood of trying new foods and eating what's there. Another thing to reference when it comes to knowing if they're eating too much or not enough, is typically, we look at it as one tablespoon per year of age, so a two-year-old appropriate portion would be two tablespoons, so that’s not much. So it's kind of comforting to hear those things...
0:00:52.4 S2: Welcome to the Wellness Essentials Podcast, where we invite you to join the conversation and get inspired to be in the driver’s seat of your health and well-being. On this podcast, you'll get an all-access pass inside the minds of MDs, experts and thought leaders in the industry. No topic is off-limits, and we're asking the questions to get you the answers across the gamut of topics when it comes to optimizing your health. This is the WE Podcast. Today on the podcast, we're talking to Lea Roethel, who is a registered dietitian and mother of two with another little one on the way. Today she's gonna help us learn a little bit more about how we can make sure that our families are getting the correct nutrition and make sure that our kids are growing up strong and healthy. So thank you so much, Leah, for joining us. Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
0:01:59.5 S1: Yes, thank you for having me. My name is Leah, I am a registered dietitian. I've been practicing for about eight years now, currently working at the Fargo VA, so I’m serving our veteran population. I work with all kinds of nutrition therapy, ranging from diabetes to kidney disease, to general weight management. I also teach cooking classes and enjoy cooking at home. I have been married to my husband Eric for 11 years almost. And as you said, we have two little girls, we have a five-year-old and I... I'm sorry, almost five-year-old and almost three-year-old, as well as a baby due in August, so we're busy trying to navigate life and parenthood and work, but... never a dull moment.
0:02:54.2 S2: I'm sure with two little ones running around, I'm sure that keeps you pretty busy.
0:02:58 S1: Yeah, absolutely.
0:03:00 S2: So, we have a lot of mom listeners, and I know a lot of moms wonder if they are doing the right things and giving their kids the right food to make sure that they are staying healthy. So could you tell us a little bit about what nutrients we need to make sure that we're feeding our families and what typically we’re missing on our tables?
0:03:25.3 S1: Sure. Yeah, so I think nutrition is often over-complicated and there's a lot of pressure as parents to nourish our children perfectly, and I think sometimes that pressure can overwhelm us, so to simplify it... Variety is key. That's the biggest message I could give. So, think eat the rainbow, when we talk about food and superfoods, there's really not one food that is perfect, so that's something to remember is we couldn't live off of one single food, even if it was kale. So just looking at variety and the MyPlate method, I'm not sure you've heard of that before, but it's a really nice visual that simplifies nutrition a lot. So it's a picture of a plate, and it makes sure that we have that balance that we all need, so protein is one component of that, our carbohydrates and other components of that, and then we have our non-starchy vegetables and fruits, and when we think about the standard American diet, there are more so things that we are getting too much of. So rather than what are we lacking, it's also nice to start by answering it backwards and saying that most of us are getting too much sodium, added sugar, and unhealthy sources of that coming from heavily processed foods. So with that, looking to incorporate more of those whole foods, less processed foods from our fruits and vegetables and whole grains would be an area of focus, but with our little ones, we still need fat in the diet, so do adults, and that's something that is good to focus on too, is getting those heart healthy fats from oils and nuts and seeds, avocados, and a variety of things along those lines.
0:05:19.7 S2: So as a mom, I'm sure that you've had some experience with kids who might be picky eaters. How can we help them embrace those healthy foods, maybe trying new vegetables or fruits to help them have that variety in their diet?
0:05:38.6 S1: Yeah, so one thing that I have seen a lot is people will try to kinda sneak the fruits and vegetables into the meals, but I'm a big fan of not doing that and actually having it physical. So the biggest factor in giving that variety and increasing the chances of your child to eat a bigger variety of food is exposure. So they will eat 0% of what isn't there, so just remember that. Don't give up, exposure is really the number one area I would encourage parents to focus on. So the best thing you can do is to have it on the place, but we have to be careful with that is again, that pressure, we don't wanna create a stressful eating environment by trying to force them to eat those foods. So the best thing is to make mealtimes fun. Include something that you know that they will love. So for us, my kids, they love cheese sticks or bread, you know the carb food. The foods that maybe others might look at and say, “Oh, well, that's bad, I shouldn't put it on their plate,” but what I want to encourage is that they look at the plate and they don't look at it and see all unfamiliar foods. I know they're going to at least eat that cheese stick or bread or whatever it might be, but then I also have maybe a new item or have that fruit or vegetable there for them to eat.
0:07:08.8 S1: So, one thing to take into consideration is, as parents, we are in charge of when they eat and what is there. But our children's responsibility is to choose if they eat and how much. So that takes a fresh rap of us where we can then just know that we're providing a balanced meal, but we aren't there to say, “You need to eat this.” So after many exposures, they might not try it until 10 times or more, but once they kinda cross that threshold, they start to realize that they like that food. So it becomes just an easier situation for both the kid and the parents where we're not stressing about it.
0:07:55.5 S2: Absolutely, I think that's great advice to not give up, 'cause we know that we need to give a variety of foods, give them a variety of nutrients. I liked how you kinda talked about not putting a lot of pressure on the kids... I know as we kind of grew up in our generation, we were kind of told to finish your plate, like how can we help our kids have a better relationship with food then we did?
0:08:23.8 S1: Right, we call that the “clean your plate club”. And a lot of us did grow up in that era where you've sat at the table until you were done, and it's tough because now that's actually the very opposite of what is being encouraged, so really trying to allow the children again, to be in the driver's seat as far as what and if, where again, it's our responsibility to choose what is there and try to give them that variety, but we really want them to keep their intuition. So when we grew up in that “clean your plate club”, we kinda lost that intuitive eating concept where we could recognize when we were full and satisfying. Instead, we were told to eat until it’s gone and for everyone, our bodies are different, so you might have felt full but you were forced to keep eating, so it becomes a long, lifelong habit where we then feel obligated to finish our plate. So that's what's really nice about taking that pressure off is letting them keep their intuition of when they're full and something that has surprised me as a parent is noticing how they even have that with foods that a lot of us don't, such as sweets.
0:09:42.3 S1: So, my daughter will have a brownie and she will have really wanted that brownie and it's there and she eats it, but then she'll eat half of it and go back to playing and it's not a big deal. So it's really cool to kinda see that natural intuition still there, and I really, I'm gonna do my best to keep it there.
0:10:06.7 S2: Absolutely. So parents sometimes too, like you said, the kid might leave half their brownie, how do we know when it's worrisome that our kids might not be eating enough or eating too much like, what are our cues or guidelines that we should be following?
0:10:24.3 S1: Yeah, so that's a great question. A lot of the time we actually over-serve our children, so we kind of give them a full plate of food and something to help for picky eaters is actually to know that less is more... They can be really overwhelmed if they have a plate in front of them that's full of food, so another tip is actually just put a few bites of each portion onto the plate, which can actually increase their likelihood of trying new foods and eating what's there. Another thing to reference when it comes to knowing if they're eating too much or not enough, is typically, we look at it as one tablespoon per year of age, so a two-year-old appropriate portion would be two tablespoons, so that’s not much. So it's kind of comforting to hear those things and another thing to know is they might eat everything on their plate at breakfast and then not eat a bite at lunch. Don't be alarmed, don't let that concern you. Really, what we look at is the longer term questions of, “are they growing along their own curve?”, so you'll see when you go to the doctor, they have the growth charts.
0:11:43.6 S1: And every child is different just like us as adults, we're all different shapes and sizes, and not one body is meant to be the same, and so just making sure that you're continuing with those appointments and listening to the guidance from your providers if there's concerns as far as malnutrition, the medical team should be involved, and those are absolutely things that are real for some, where some children do need feeding therapy or have issues where they need that extra assistance. On the other side of it, when it comes to are they eating too much, again, still looking at that growth curve and also knowing that it takes some time where they're growing and then they might not grow in height and so don't be alarmed. Every child is different. I have a four-year-old and two-year-old that are fed the same diet, and one of them has always been in the 10th percentile or less, she's just very petite, and my other is in more like the 60th, or 70th percentile. So she looks a little more short and stocky, where the other one is, not necessarily tall, but she's very thin, but I have no concerns because I know that they're overall eating a balanced diet and they're on their own growth curve.
0:13:07.6 S2: What are some of the telltale signs that you might look for, 'cause you have your yearly appointments with your doctor, but outside of those, are there any signs you should be looking for that indicate that malnutrition or that they're not getting enough of something in particular?
0:13:29.3 S1: There's a lot to look for in that, and that's a great question. I'd say one good thing about nutrition that I would recommend for all kids is give them a daily multivitamin, a chewable multivitamin, just so you kinda know that the bases are covered. In general, I'm not a supplement pusher, but a multivitamin is a benefit to all. As far as when should you be concerned or red flags, if you notice your child really isn't eating much of anything at all or they really won't eat a certain food or will only eat maybe two or three items that even though you've really put an effort to put that balance on the plates and over and over, you are trying that no pressure, but see no improvement, it's always good to just put in a little word with your provider and maybe set up an appointment. There are signs of deficiencies, but those are things that health professionals would be more attuned to noticing. But if you see that they're not gaining weight, if you do weigh them at home or if you're noticing any issues with energy or even dehydration, those are things that you can look at as well. If their hair is falling out or they don't feel well, or things like that. But again, I don't wanna go into too much detail and get people concerned and have them trying to do a nutrition-focused physical exam. That's my job, but...
0:15:06.2 S2: So keep in touch with your doctor and reach out if you have concerns... So we encourage always to get your nutrition through food, but if parents are wanting to fill out the gap with a multivitamin, do you have any suggestions or tips of how they can make sure that they're giving the right type of multi-vitamin... And it’s not just full of like, sugar and other garbage.
0:15:31.2 S1: Yeah, great question. First and foremost, typically I say buy local. It's tough online to know if it's a reputable source, and the struggle with the supplement industry is it really isn't regulated, and so we really don't know the purity unless the company has put in the extra money to have their product tested for purity. But if you're buying local or even from big box stores: Walmart, Target, there are typically going to have good reputable brands there. As far as the type... Like I said earlier, the chewable is recommended over the gummy, that is more so for dental health. If you think of a chewable that's going to dissolve and easily wash down, whereas gummies, you think of when you're eating gummy candy, it gets stuck in the teeth and it's hard to brush our children's teeth really well. I let them do it themselves first and then I'll try my best, but they’re tough, so that's just one thing that can help with their dental health. You know, I really don't worry about the added sugars. The chewables, they like them and it helps them to get them down, and I just know that they're getting some good coverage with the general multi-vitamins and minerals that they need.
0:16:54.5 S1: Awesome. As a mom, are there any sneaky ways that you try and get different items in your family's diets? Maybe I don't wanna use the word sneaky. ‘Cause really, you don’t want to sneak things in family’s diets. Do you have any fun ways that you've ever presented it, that our mom's could try?
0:17:20.6 S1: Yeah. So that's a perfect way to put it, is having fun. Kids like to play, and I know I hear sometimes, don't play with your food, but I actually encourage that. We want mealtimes to be a fun time. Something that is surprising that I've learned over the past four years of being a mom is that something as simple as giving them a toothpick that's in the fruit or the food, that makes it fun for them. So it sounds so simple and it really is, but that right there makes them excited, they like to poke the food and take a bite and they're more likely to eat more of its fun shapes. I know Amazon has so many fun little food stampers where you can actually cut cheese into stars or make things into silly shapes, and that also helps encourage it. Something that I'm not very artistic with, but my husband has made faces out of the meal where he’ll just make it into something funny, or even on Christmas, he did a Christmas tree-shaped something or another. So things like that can actually make it more fun where we're not sneaking it where they can't see it. It's still visible what the food is, but they're able to have fun and enjoy it, and it...
0:18:38.9 S1: brings new interest. Another thing that I think is very important and helpful is to include them in the process of cooking, and it can really slow it down. I know I am kind of OCD when it comes to cleanliness, so it's been really hard for me. I'm not going to lie 'cause they are messy, but I've learned to accept that and embrace it and include them because I see how much joy that brings them and again, when they're included in it, you'll see that they actually then have pride and are more likely to then try the food. So that's been a really rewarding thing, and as they age, it's been fun to see them start to use a knife, a safe knife for a child, but just these skills that make them feel important and in charge.
0:19:34.8 S2: So if your girls are gonna choose what they're gonna make for dinner, what do they usually like to cook for you guys?
0:19:41.1 S1: Oh gosh, well, I'm not gonna lie. My kids still love the staples of mac and cheese or pizza, so pizza is something that's really fun for them to make, if you buy the crust and then let them do the toppings, tacos are another example where they can kinda add their own stuff, that's another way to bring involvement into the meal. And the one thing to know is, with that pressure, I don't feel like you can't have the pizza or the mac and cheese or the chicken nuggets. We still include those in our rotation, but kinda going back to the beginning, one factor there is balance it out, so it's not just the mac and cheese we're eating for supper, I include a fruit and vegetable as well so I know that they're still getting a nice balance, like the MyPlate method.
0:20:34.4 S2: Do you talk to your kids about what nutrition is and why foods are good for your body? What it does for your body?
0:20:45.5 S1: Yeah. So that is a really scary subject for me because our culture focuses so much on food being good and bad, and health being based on our looks or our size, and having two girls, that especially makes me very cautious. And as a dietician, I just really want them to have a good relationship with food and their bodies and how they feel about themselves, and so how we talk about food is not the biggest focus in our life, it's just a part of life. And the topics will come up, but you'll never hear me say that a food is good or bad. All food has some sort of a benefit, even if it's a sugar filled donut, there’s still energy being provided. Yes, that's a “sometimes food” that I don't include daily in our diet, but it's a part of their diet, and we talk about how food affects our bodies. So if it gives us energy or maybe we'll talk about the color of something and what it does, such as this orange carrot helps us to see at night or things like that, where we're trying to relate it to what it does for our body and not relate it to our looks.
0:22:11.8 S1: So we really want food to be neutral, that's kind of my goal is to be neutral and we don't restrict something that can actually help to take food off that pedestal of reward. Oftentimes, we think of, again, that “clean your plate club”, you might have been told if you want dessert, you need to eat your meals. We don't do that here. So here, I actually do kind of a strategic exposure at times where the brownie might be on the plate with the full meal, not a big deal, I don't say anything about it. Of course, they get excited and they might eat that item first, but not always. And so it's just kind of trying to lead it into a place that makes it more neutral and not a big deal, because if we restrict, that can actually backfire and lead them to sneaking or hiding food, binging on food. Again, just creating that not so great relationship with food.
0:23:17.1 S2: I think that more and more we're seeing how as adults, how people talked about food has affected our relationships with food. Is there any phrases or things that people say that you have found to be problematic that we should rethink about rephrasing them or even cleaning them out of our vocabulary?
0:23:42.4 S1: You know, there's no perfect way to parent, and so I don't want to criticize anyone and I'm not perfect, and I know there's been times that I say things that I don't mean to. I think actually, it's funny because my daughter loves books and she's really into the Berenstain Bears books right now. My husband ordered a handful of ones with her, and when they arrived, I saw that one was called “Junk Food”, and so of course I grabbed it and had to read through it and see if I approved of it. And that was something that I didn't really want her to hear is a message about junk food, and it talked about it making us chunky or fluffy, I can't remember the word that it said. But I think, again, that good and bad message is something I really would discourage parents to use or creating guilt around food, where again, it can lead them to hiding it or feeling bad or they might start to look at their body in a different way and blame the food. So really, that negativity towards food would be the top area that I would encourage parents to do their best to avoid, and trying to avoid food as reward, using other methods of reward and not having to rely on food itself, which is an easy reward, “yes, if you do this, we can go get an ice cream”, and not to say that food isn't still a celebratory thing, I mean, that's just our culture, it's gonna be there at all events, and that's okay, but we just really want it to not be, “okay in order to eat this food, I have to earn it first”.
0:25:31.7 S2: Absolutely. When we're talking about families and food, how important do you think it is to sit down as a family and have dinner together?
0:25:46.0 S1: I really think this is such an important thing because monkey see, monkey do first of all. When you are eating together as a family, not only is it a time to bond and maybe talk about each other's day, but it's also a time for your children to see you eating the foods that you're encouraging them to eat as well. And again, by encouraging just that exposure, having it there, I will say that I've noticed that a lot as well, if I'm taking a bite of something, I watch them watch me and then they take a bite of it as well. So it really does make an impact there. It also helps for mindfulness to eating because we are such a culture that focuses on where am I now and where do I have to be next, and we're run, run, run, and we end up maybe eating in front of the TV or while we're driving or walking around. And so we really want our children to have just that moment in their day where we're all together and eating, and another big thing that is important to me is eating the same thing as a family. We don't want mom making her TV dinners while everyone else is eating a separate meal, or we don't want to cater to our children who maybe look at that meal and say, “Oh, that looks gross, I don't want that”, and then the parent ends up making the mac and cheese and everyone else is eating maybe a grilled meal.
0:27:20.2 S1: We want it to be all the same, consistent, and again, that's where including a familiar food for them that you know they'll eat regardless of if you think, “oh, they're probably not gonna eat the sushi”, you'd be surprised.
0:27:36.4 S2: So we are in such a run, run, run lifestyle now, and moms are busier than ever, working full-time jobs, also shoveling kids to all their activities. Did you have any tips or resources that you've ever utilized that moms could learn how to make sure they're preparing meals on the go that fulfill those balances?
0:28:04.7 S1: Yeah, that is probably the biggest challenge in my life too, is working full-time, and by the time I get home, 5:30 and bedtime is 7, 7:30, or we have gymnastics, whatever it may be. It's rough, it's tough to get that nutrition in. So one of the biggest things that helps for us is planning ahead, so having a meal plan for the week. We sit down each week and take 10-15 minutes to figure out what meals we want, kind of taking into consideration what the week looks like, if you have something going on three nights a week, there's different options there. We rely heavily on leftovers, so making meals that reheat well can be a huge help in that regard, and it also can help save money too, and we're factoring in every meal of the day, as well as snacks. Another huge, I think time-saver and money-saver for me personally is ordering groceries online, that has been really helpful. I don't have to go to the store with my kids who might be cranky and spend an hour going through the aisles and they're trying to grab all the food off the shelves while I'm trying to stick to the list, ordering online was just so handy and you can pick it up for free at most stores, or you can pay to have it delivered.
0:29:30.2 S1: And then other things is be prepared with healthy snacks, so grab and go items, think of an adult or varied version of a lunchable. If we're thinking about balance, just trying to have some snacks with that might fuel you to get by until you are home, such as trail mix or fruit with peanut butter, veggies with hummus, you know, quick and easy grab and go items. And if all else fails, again, balance it out, maybe you do end up getting fast food every so often, or maybe you do have the pizza or macaroni and she's ready at home, but again, just trying to include that fruit and vegetable there and some protein, just so you're balancing it out and doing the best you can, we’re kind of in survival mode, so don't be hard on yourself.
0:30:28 S2: Your girls ever help you with the meal planning?
0:30:32 S1: Well, if I ask them what they want, they kinda have their same things, so my two-year-old, pizza is always her answer, my four-year-old, mac and cheese, so hey, that's what they like. No matter what I do, I think that's just natural. I mean, who doesn't like mac and cheese and pizza. So I do also include them in what “fruits do you like” or “what vegetable should we get” in the whole conversation, and we each have kind of their things that they love and dislike or maybe haven't learned to like yet, I’ll say I haven’t exposed them enough, but they just love that involvement. Absolutely.
0:31:13.8 S2: I love that, getting kids to be involved with it and having some of that ownership to the family function of cooking and planning. So we talked a lot about kids so far, but I also wanted to touch on, we as women. What do you see that we as women are missing a lot of in our diets? Or things that we really should be focusing on, boosting our health through different foods?
0:31:46.2 S1: Yeah, that's a good question. So it varies by person, of course, but I think overall, when we look at moms in general, we don't prioritize our health very easily, or it's hard to do that. And so the main thing is just making sure we are fueling our body, it's just as important. You can't pour from an empty cup, so just trying to treat yourself as you do your children when it comes to prioritizing your health. And what's helpful is if we are encouraging eating together as a family and not cooking things separate and trying to get that variety. It will also help us too and so it's a win-win in that regard. I'd say a big area that I noticed a lot of in adults is hydration. We live off of caffeine, and sometimes it's sugary beverages like soda, other times it's coffee, but regardless, water is a big area that I would recommend really trying to focus on so that we're well hydrated. But then your fiber and our protein. So again, the fruits and the vegetables and getting protein through plant based sources as well as our lean cuts of meat. You don't have to be a vegetarian to be healthy, but we really like that kind of plant-based focus of fiber-rich selections from the fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans and legumes, nuts and seeds, really all areas there.
0:33:26.2 S2: Amazing. Before we wrap up the podcast, I just wanted to ask if there are any resources that you suggest we look into. Are there any books that you really like or recommend or podcasts, things that we can continue our education about fueling our bodies?
0:33:44.0 S1: Yeah, there are so many resources out there and it gets mucky when it comes to nutrition and what information we can find. And so again, trying to find reliable resources would be the first thing, and what I have really found helpful as a mom is following pediatric dietitians on Instagram. They provide some really great information that is free, so a couple that I really like are @kids.eat.in.color, and then the other one is @feedinglittles. So those are both registered dietitians, one of them includes a speech pathologist who also works with picky eating and feeding therapy so their a team, which works together really well. And with that, you get so many nice resources, they even provide programs where you can pay, and it's not really that expensive, and they have different meal plans like affordable bites, real easy week days, better bites. Those are the programs that I've seen where it actually menu plans for you and is intended to help with picky eating and balanced nutrition. Other resources, nutrition.gov is a good one and they have great resources for adults and children. They have coloring pages and games for children, that again, kinda bring the fun into that, but so many different options there. And Pinterest, I mean, they have really nice recipes too if you're just looking for some inspiration.
0:35:25.9 S2: Okay, well, before we close up the podcast, I just wanted to ask if there's anything else that you wanted to touch on to let our moms know about.
0:35:36.3 S1: I would say if there's one take away that our moms bring from this conversation is to know that you're doing a good job and to not put too much pressure on yourself. Seek it a day at a time, and do the best you can. No one person eats perfect, including ourselves, so we can't expect that of our children, and just know you’re doing a good job.
0:36:02.8 S2: Amazing. Well, thank you so much for taking the time to join us on the podcast. You gave us a lot of really great information, some things to think about. Love the resources that you gave, so we are very excited to put some of this information into action.
0:36:20.5 S1: It was a pleasure to participate today, and I hope that you have a great rest of your day.
0:36:33.8 S2: Thanks. Thank you so much for tuning in to today's episode. We hope you got a lot out of it. If you haven't already, be sure to subscribe to our podcast so you can stay up-to-date with our latest episodes. Also, you can find us on social media by searching Checkable Health. We look forward to seeing you again soon.