By Bonnie Miller Rubin, Chicago Tribune reporter
March 7, 2012
Dr. Laura Jana and Dr. Jennifer Shu are co-authors of a new, updated edition of "Food Fights" — a real world guide to meeting the nutritional challenges of parenthood. The two pediatrician moms have cultivated a laid-back approach to instill healthy eating habits, without turning the dinner table into a battlefield.
Jana, mother of three, is also the owner of an Omaha child care center. She found time to talk to us about "Food Fights," published by the American Academy of Pediatrics and hitting bookstores in March.
Q. One parent of a toddler lamented, "Fruit is easy, vegetables are impossible." How important is it to eat both?
A. Good nutrition should be ranked right up there with car seats and immunizations. That said, kids don't need a big heaping serving of vegetables on their plate. ... We break it down to one teaspoon for every year of age. And while it's a good idea to expose kids to as wide a range of foods as possible, we adults don't like all vegetables … and kids don't have to, either.
Q. So how do you get them to try foods they automatically assume are "yucky"?
A. We know it takes 10 to 15 exposures for kids to like a new food. But usually, if the kids make a face and spit it out, parents just don't introduce it again. No one likes rejection.
Q. So if your child refuses to eat something, how do you keep from turning this into a high-stakes battle?
A. Just take the food away, say "That's OK." and try again another time. … If kids see you have this huge emotional investment in whether or not they eat broccoli, mealtime will become very stressful for everyone. So, that's why we say first, "Never let them see you sweat."
Q. Is there anything crucial about the color green?
A. We know green veggies are good — but it's also good to eat red and orange. So, again, don't make too big a deal of the color "green" … otherwise you're going to get push-back. A better approach in the produce aisle: Say, "Hey, this beet looks cool, let's take it home and Google beets and find a recipe." Now, you have something nutritious, challenging and a family activity. Success is also about the subtle use of words and painting (certain foods) in a positive light. I know it sounds Pollyanna-ish, but it actually works.
Q. So, knowing how you feel about not getting overly invested, I'm guessing you're against bribery?
A. If you say "You have to eat this" … or "If you eat X, then you can have Y," the message you're implicitly sending is "This is not going to be good."
Q. One mom says her 2-year-old will only eat meat when served in chili. How important is it to push him to eat other types of meat in other forms?
A. It might be the texture that's bothering him … some kids can't handle swallowing meat. But if you're worried that he's missing protein and iron, I'd try to find similar foods to make sure he's getting enough protein and iron. So maybe you want to try ground turkey? Or put ground beef in soups. Again, just keep trying the exposures.
Q. The same 2-year-old has very little interest in food. … If offered a choice between reading a book or having breakfast, he will always go for the activity. But he loves snacks in the car, so she dutifully packs cashews and dried fruit in a little pack for him. Do the snacks undermine his appetite at meal time?
A. Kudos to this mom for paying attention to healthy snacks. We know that the amount of calories — 34 percent — consumed today during snacks is significantly more than it was a decade ago, so we need to pay attention. But while there's nothing inherently wrong with eating on the go, I don't like the idea of 2-year-old eating nuts in the car because of a choking hazard. As for being too busy to come to the table, that defines 2- and 3-year-olds. They'll eat when they're hungry.
Q. Your kids are in the 6th, 8th and 9th grades. Any weird eating habits in your household?
A. I have a meat and potatoes child … and now that he's old enough, he can go up to the gas station and get Big Gulps and Doritos. I tell him "You're killing me." It's our job to teach them healthy habits, but you can't hold their hands their entire life. You want to teach them to live in the real world. Still, it's difficult to step back. … All you can do is keep plugging away … because I think they really do hear you."
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