Top Lunchbox Picks for Back to School from a Nutritionist and Mom

I have to admit that as a nutritionist and a mom, I’m a bit obsessed with lunchboxes and finding the perfect non-toxic lunch containers for my daughter (and myself).  I own and have tried many.  While all of my choices at home are BPA-, phthalate- and lead-free, I’m still not thrilled with plastic options.  I’m uncomfortable that they may find out that they are not as non-toxic as they think they are.  I try to avoid as much plastic as I can for this and many other reasons.

As such all of the products and lunchboxes here are BPA-, phthalate-, lead-free, and the food and beverage containers are also plastic-free. Planetbox is our family favorite. It has held up for years. It’s easy for little fingers to open. It has individual sections and there are no containers or lids to lose.

Here are some of the best choices for non-toxic options. Let us know your favorite!

Full Lunchbox System

PlanetBox

Stainless lunchbox system with carrying case and place for water bottle. Be careful as not all of the compartments are water-tight although you can get waterproof containers that fit inside for yogurt, apple sauce, or anything liquid.  This is by far my favorite lunchbox system. My daughter has had this same lunchbox going on the third school year. Three years for a lunchbox is amazing! It’s very durable. There are thin ice packs to go with it and a carrying case.

Inside Lunchbox Containers

Lunchbots small (stainless steel)

Lunchbots medium (stainless steel)

Lunchbots large (stainless steel)

ECOlunchbox (stainless steel)

 

Water Bottles

Lifefactory

Finally a glass water bottle that doesn’t break, and no more metal tasting water!  Glass water bottles with a silicone sleeve. 9 oz bottles fit well into most lunch boxes.  Even better, these are Life Factory’s baby bottles with a solid cap so they can be reused after baby is older or purchased new if you’re just discovering them.  They also have 12, 16 and 22 oz sizes with straw, sport, and screw on tops.

Hydro Flask

If you can’t take glass to school or you want your beverage to stay insulated (from either the cold or the heat), this series of water bottles is one of my very favorites. We own several, including: one with a flip lid for hot beverages like coffee, and a couple with screw tops for water.

Reusable Sandwich Bags and Clingwrap (Plastic-free)

LunchSkins – These reusable storage bags are dishwasher-safe and resealable. They come in different sizes and are easy to open and close. They have a grease-proof and moisture-proof lining that helps keeps food fresh.

Abbego – Like a peel or rind, this wrap protects and breathes. It extends the life of foods by shielding it from air, light & moisture, while letting off-gas escape. And each ingredient comes from the earth!

What food to put in your lunch box

And, what about what to pack inside those lunchboxes? A special diet doesn’t have to mean boring or mean sandwiches everyday!

Here are some creative alternatives that can be adapted for any diet:

Packing school lunches doesn’t have to be another chore for you or boring! I know it can be tricky not feeling like you are stuck in a rut with the same things over and over again. With a little planning and creativity, your child can have delicious, allergen-friendly lunches every day of the school year. In fact, if you want a downloadable resource, I also have a list of 50 lunch box ideas for you.

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50 Gluten Dairy Grain Free Lunch Box Ideas How to Pack Lunch on a Special Diet

Download our handout on GFCF and Grain-Free Lunches

There are a lot of children on special diets. In our Nourishing Hope community the following diets are very helpful for kids with ADHD, Autism, and Neurodevelopmental Delays…

  • GFCF Diet
  • Paleo Diet
  • Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD)
  • GAPS diet

But for parents new to special diets, some of the most common questions I get when I suggest a gluten-free/casein-free or Paleo diet are,

“What is my child going to eat?”

“How do I pack lunch on a special diet?”

One of the challenges of school lunch is that we parents are not there to supervise and make sure/encourage they eat all of their lunch.

Many of you know it can be tricky. They will eat the same meal at home but then when they are at school the might not. On the other hand, if we give them the foods they love that are not as healthy “just to get them to eat” they avoid all of the healthy stuff and only eat the junk.

Being the mother of an elementary school child, I have been experimenting for a couple of years on what’s best to put in my daughter’s lunch box that is healthy and delicious.

And I’ve settled on a strategy that works best for us…

A Paleo lunch box

For example, if I feed my daughter a sandwich sometimes she will eat just the bread and not the meat/protein. If I put crackers or a sweet treat, she may eat them but not the vegetable and protein.

There are a couple ways we handle this, most often I do not make a sandwich (unless it’s a tuna or salmon salad sandwich which she tends to love and eat the protein).

I also avoid including the treats, which requires her to eat the healthy choices available. If I do include a treat, I tell her she needs to eat the meat and vegetable or I won’t serve the treat on the next special occasion.

This combination of nutrition and parenting techniques works well for her.

What I do most often choose from several categories of food (protein, vegetable, fruit) and put a Paleo style lunch together. This way we avoid the bread, starches, and sugars and focus on the healthy food.

Download our Lunch Box handout… post it on your refrigerator… add your own options and ideas… And get packing!

Ingredients for a Better Breakfast

September 26th is Better Breakfast Day! I think that is a perfect time to talk about what goes into a great breakfast. Our daughter Ruby actually cooked this breakfast for us in the photo, so whether you are cooking or you get your child(ren) involved, let’s talk about the “most important meal of the day.” First, this meal really depends on the bioindividual needs of the person eating that breakfast. But, speaking generally, here are some things I consider when planning breakfast for my family.

Adequate Protein

This does not have to mean meat so for those who are vegetarian or vegan, there are other options with higher protein so don’t worry. Meat does provide us a lot of options when it comes to protein but protein doesn’t have to mean meat. Here are some of my favorites:

  • Sausage – homemade or with the least amount of additives as possible. This can be chicken, beef, or pork. 
  • Eggs – scrambled, hard boiled, over easy, poached, or a frittata, with so many ways to serve eggs, they can be a great protein source that kids love.
  • Higher protein muffins/pancakes/breads – using higher protein flours like coconut or almond, you can boost the protein and still give your child those traditional breakfast foods but boost the nutrition at the same time. These are also good for vegetarians. One note, coconut flour does usually require a lot of eggs so if you are vegan, almond flour will be a better choice for you.

Fruit

Fruit is usually a pretty easy sell for kids! Given their sweetness, many children love to have a serving of fruit with their breakfast. This is great as a topping to pancakes or waffles. Or, just have them on the side. You can also make a delicious fruit smoothie which is a favorite in our house!

Extra Nutrition With Vegetables

I take every opportunity to add vegetables where I can. Whether I am making scrambled eggs with some sauteed or shredded veggies, making homemade sausage with a little shredded zucchini or carrot, or even vegetable latkes, every little bit counts when it comes to the nutritional benefits of vegetables. Even throwing some greens into your fruit smoothie can add terrific nutrients to your breakfast!

Low Sugar

Many commercial breakfast cereals are high in sugar and low in nutrients. I tend to avoid products with added sugar and stick to things like fruit for the sweetener. Steady blood sugar helps with many things but especially in our kids with neurological issues, reducing sugars, dyes, artificial flavorings can also bring about improvements in mood, learning, and behavior. A hearty breakfast that includes adequate protein, whole grains, and some fruit can be an excellent start to the day. If you need an idea for a delicious whole grain breakfast, take a look at my recipe for Rice Porridge. Or if you like a more traditional breakfast, check out my Coconut Flour Pancakes.

September is National Whole Grains Month!

September is Whole Grains Month and this can be a great time to make an effort to add a few more servings of whole grains to your life.

Sometimes when getting started on a gluten-free diet, it can be confusing.

Which grains are gluten-free?

I want to take all of the guesswork out of it for you!

Gluten-Free Grains:

  • Quinoa
  • Buckwheat (yes, even though it has the word ‘wheat’ in its name!)
  • Rice
  • Corn
  • Sorghum
  • Amaranth
  • Millet
  • Teff
  • Oats (just make sure they are certified gluten-free)

And while we are on the topic of oats, by their nature oats are gluten-free. But, many grains are processed in the same facility as gluten grains and if you ever have dropped a bag of flour (gluten-free or otherwise) you know it gets everywhere. So, during the processing there can be cross-contamination which may not be as problematic for those who are not really sensitive, it is something to note if trying to adhere to a strict gluten-free diet.

Grains with Gluten:

  • Wheat 
  • Barley
  • Durum
  • Bulgar wheat
  • Triticale
  • Rye
  • Spelt
  • Kamut
  • Semolina
  • Farro

What are whole grains and why are they important?

  • Whole Grains – contain the entire grain: the bran, germ and endosperm.
  • Refined Grains – have been milled which is the process of grounding it into flour or meal, which removes the bran and germ. This gives a finer texture and improves the shelf life of the product but also strips the grain of important nutrients you need, including B-vitamins, iron, and dietary fiber.  

Whole grains are good sources of dietary fiber. Most refined grains contain little or no fiber. Dietary fiber can help you improve blood cholesterol levels and lower your risk of heart disease, stroke, obesity, and even type 2 diabetes. In addition to fiber, grains provide nutrients like thiamin (Vitamin B1), riboflavin (Vitamin B2), niacin (Vitamin B3), folate (Vitamin B9), iron, magnesium, and selenium. 

The following recipe is one of my favorite morning meals. It’s warm, creamy, and delicious… and it’s made with whole grains.

Rice Porridge (Slow Cooker or Instant Pot)

GFCF/ Nut-Free, Egg-Free

Can be made egg-free by eliminating egg – while it will not be quite as thick, it’s still delicious.

Similar to rice pudding but less sweet and great for breakfast.

Ingredients

  • 1 ¼ cup brown rice
  • 1 ½ cups (1 can) coconut milk
  • 1 ½ cups water
  • 1 beaten egg 
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon cardamom
  • ¼ teaspoon ginger powder
  • ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
  • 2-3 tablespoons of honey or maple syrup

Slow Cooker Directions

Place all ingredients in a slow cooker and cook on low for 5 hours.  Set a timer at night, and breakfast will be ready when you wake up.  

Instant Pot Directions

Place all ingredients in Instant Pot and cook on high pressure for 22 minutes.  Let it come down from pressure naturally for 10 minutes.  

If you don’t have or want to use a slow cooker or Instant Pot, you can combine all of the ingredients in a pot and simmer for 50 minutes or until done.

Kids Take Over the Kitchen Day

Today is National Kids Take Over the Kitchen Day!

At Nourishing Hope, I encourage parents to get their child(ren) cooking so they become invested in their nutrition and develop a love of trying new foods and eating healthfully. 

As a matter of fact, I had one of the parents in my Nourishing Hope for Healing Kids program share this picture of her child in the kitchen in response to the changes their family was making as a result of my program! 

I love this! Seeing children embracing the diet that is right for their unique biochemistry and learning how foods can heal and contribute to their long-term health is the goal of the program and my work in general. 

And cooking is a great way to get them excited about nutrition and the nutritious food they are eating. In fact, cooking is a great strategy for helping picky eaters expand their eating habits.

Even young children can get engaged. 

Great skills for young children:

  • Shucking ears of organic corn
  • Breaking the ends off of green beans
  • Rinsing veggies and fruits
  • Pulling stems off of cherries
  • Peeling back the leaves of lettuce
  • Making “skewers” with various fruits for snack
  • Rolling out dough for cookies
  • Using cookie cutters to help cut out cookies
  • Scooping batter into muffin tins using a ¼ cup scoop
  • Peeling then cutting bananas with a butter knife
  • Rolling meatballs (gloves optional)

Great skills for pre-teens/teens (based on their ability, in addition to those above):

  • Chopping vegetables with supervision and based on their ability/safety
  • Peeling vegetables like carrots (for making carrot fries or just for salads) or cucumbers
  • Learning to work basic kitchen equipment like a blender safely (see my blog on Watermelon Popsicles where my daughter Ruby made the whole recipe herself!)
  • Making kale chips by rubbing them with oil and putting them in the oven
  • Separating egg whites and yolks
  • Scrambling and cooking eggs
  • Boiling gluten-free pasta
  • Cooking oatmeal
  • Cooking a burger on the stove
  • Practicing flipping pancakes
  • Grating vegetables (watch those knuckles!)

Of course children should always be supervised in the kitchen. But, kids from even a young age can begin to take ownership over their nutrition and usually that leads to better buy-in on getting them to actually eat as well!

Setting the table, folding napkins, making place cards/seating arrangements, making a fun centerpiece, and even helping carry dishes to the sink or for the older kids loading a dishwasher or washing dishes can be great opportunities to get more familiar with the kitchen in general.

Some of my best memories are with my daughter in the kitchen and I would love to hear (or see if you want to share) the fun experiences you have in the kitchen with your kids. 

So, in honor of National Kids Take Over the Kitchen Day, get your child(ren) into the kitchen today!

Fall Foods High in Vitamin A

As the weather changes and we begin to move into fall, it is always a good time to look at how our nutritional changes can support our overall health and wellness. Fall and winter are notorious for colds and flus and right now, I am sure many of us are focused on how to support ourselves nutritionally through the colder months.

That’s where vitamin A can come in! This vitamin is critical for maintaining your body’s natural defenses.

These defenses include the mucous barriers in your eyes, lungs, gut, and genitals which are designed to help trap bacteria and other infectious agents.

Vitamin A is also involved in the production and function of white blood cells, their job is to help capture and clear bacteria and other pathogens from your bloodstream.

This means that when you are deficient in vitamin A, that can increase your susceptibility to infections or delay your recovery when you do get sick. (1, 2)

In countries where infections like measles and malaria are common, addressing vitamin A deficiency in children has been shown to decrease the mortality risk of these diseases. (3)

But first, let’s back up a little and discuss some basics about vitamin A. 

Vitamin A (retinol) is a fat-soluble vitamin that is converted from carotenes, the most popular being beta-carotene. Beta-carotene is pigment found in produce that gives it its red-orange and yellow color. For more on the corresponding colors and nutritional value of produce see my article on Using Rainbows to Teach Good Nutrition.

Therefore, beta carotene rich foods are considered “provitamin A” foods, as the beta carotene converts to vitamin A. Fats and oils along with your consumption of provitamin A foods improves the conversion to vitamin A. So adding some salad dressing, butter (if you’re not dairy-free), or other oil to your vegetables has a great purpose beyond just great taste!

Animals make vitamin A so foods such as liver, egg yolks, and salmon are rich in vitamin A.

So which fall foods are highest in vitamin A?

  • Carrots
  • Pumpkin
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Winter squash
  • Dark green, leafy vegetables
  • Broccoli

I try to work these foods into our weekly menu. Roasted fall vegetables are easy and delicious and can go with virtually any protein. Check out my Candied Ginger Spaghetti Squash recipe if you need an easy and delicious recipe. Additionally, Pumpkin muffins with reduced sugar or stevia can be a wonderful way to get some nutrition into smaller children. And sweet potatoes are another great option, roasted, cut into fries, or even mashed, they are delicious ways to boost these high vitamin A foods.

Fall is the perfect time to boost these nutrient-dense foods and really enjoy the warming flavors so prevalent in this season. Share with me some of your favorite fall foods!

  1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/6496388/
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11375434/
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4832596/

Summer Grilling: Kid-Friendly Vegetables on the BBQ

Most dads love a good barbeque.

If you’re a dad planning a barbeque, or a mom creating a fun day for the dad in your family’s life, I’ve got some ideas for you!

When you think of BBQ, I’m sure most of you are thinking of meat.

But vegetables can be delicious on the grill! In fact, as a Certified Nutrition Consultant working with families (and picky eaters), one of my favorite ways to get kids (and adults) to eat vegetables is grilled.

Vegetables on the Barbeque

Grilling vegetables removes some of the moisture, so vegetables that might otherwise be wet and mushy like zucchini, are drier and crispy. Zucchini spears were one of my family’s favorites growing up. Cut zucchinis like you are making carrot sticks, in other words like thin spears. When you cook them they are like zucchini fries. You can also make “planks” which can be very good too.

Vegetable skewers are also fun for kids. And they are a great way to prepare vegetables that are smaller and might slip through the grill like button mushrooms. However, personally I like mine flat on the grill for more charring which makes them more caramelized and sweet.

You can even make kale chips on the grill, but place them on the cooler side of the grill and be sure to watch them because they can burn quickly.

Great vegetables to grill include:

  • Zucchini
  • Onion
  • Pepper
  • Asparagus
  • Green onions
  • Portobello Mushrooms
  • Corn
  • Potatoes
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Broccoli
  • Eggplant
  • Green beans
  • Summer squash
  • Carrots
  • Beets
  • Fennel
  • Kale
  • Cabbage

To be low salicylate, oxalate, and FODMAPs, choose diet-compliant vegetables and oil.

Marinade for Vegetables

You can make it with anything you like. I don’t usually use a recipe. I simply…

– Start with olive oil (about ½ cup)

– Add balsamic vinegar or lemon juice (couple tablespoons)

– Include some minced garlic and chopped onion.

– Add some salt and herbs such as thyme, basil, oregano, or anything from your garden.

– Consider some mustard (1 teaspoon).

Mix it all together and taste it. Adjust as desired. Then let the marinade sit for a little while so the flavors meld together.

I do not soak/marinate my vegetables in the marinade ahead of time.

Wait until you place your vegetables on the grill, then brush the marinade on vegetables.

On a side note… Personally, I love anchovies. I know. I know. Most of you are cringing right now. But I do love the flavor in caesar dressing, so when I saw a recommendation for anchovy paste in the marinade from Sam the Cooking Guy on YouTube I thought it sounded amazing (apparently it does not impart a fishy flavor) and wanted to share it with you. I haven’t tried it yet but plan to for Father’s Day! So I’ll let you know how it turns out and report back.

Share with us. Comment below and let us know your grilled vegetable favorites.

Using Rainbows to Teach Kids Good Nutrition

Have you been trying to get more nutrients (and vegetables) into your child?

As a nutritionist specializing in children with autism, ADHD, and related neurodevelopmental delays, I can share with you that most parents I work with are worried about their child’s nutrition.

But thankfully, with some understanding of good nutrition and a few creative ideas, they all became confident they could feed their child nutritiously, even those with picky eaters!

One great way to boost nutrients is to encourage kids to eat a rainbow of colored foods.

Firstly, kids love rainbows! And healthy veggies and fruits come in a rainbow of colors; in addition to vitamins and minerals, they contain phytonutrients derived from natural plant pigments that give them their bright colors! 

So eating brightly colored plant foods, a “rainbow” of them (not artificial dyes), provides a variety of nutritious phytonutrients for good health. 

Using a rainbow as your guide makes it easy for kids to understand and fun to pursue, and helps boost nutrients that parents are trying to get them.

Engaging children will improve your success. The more they are involved with their food choices, picking them out, preparing them, and maybe even growing them, the more they will enjoy and eat them. This also helps parents increase creativity with food choices. It’s easy to get stuck in a rut making the same one or two options everyday, invite fresh ideas and explore.

So a simple rule of thumb… remember to eat a rainbow of fruits and vegetables each day. And teach your kids to do the same.

Colors and their Nutrient Benefit

Here are some corresponding colors and their nutrient counterpart:

Anthocyanins: Anthocyanins produce the blue, purple, red color found in berries and grapes. Anthocyanin foods contain antioxidants that support health.

Lycopene: Lycopene is a carotenoid found in tomatoes. Studies show lycopenes have a positive effect on heart health.

Beta-carotene: The orange/yellow color in many fruits and vegetables. Humans convert beta-carotene to vitamin A. Vitamin A assists with growth and development and vision. It is also very important for a healthy immune system: specifically for regulatory T cells, which help prevent an immune response against “self” (i.e. an autoimmune response).

Lutein: Green and yellow plants produce lutein. Lutein is concentrated in the macula of the retina in the eye of humans and plays an important role in vision and eye health.

Zeaxanthin: Zeaxanthin is a compound very similar to lutein, which gives red bell peppers their orange and red color. Being the same chemical structure (with a different double bond) as lutein, it has similar benefits for the eyes.

Red:
Red pepper, Swiss chard, radish, tomato, beets, red onion, watermelon, strawberries, raspberries, cherries (pitted), cherry tomatoes, red grapes

Orange:
Butternut squash, carrot, pumpkin, sungold cherry tomatoes, sweet potato, mango, cantaloupe, apricots, peach, nectarines, papaya, orange, grapefruit

Yellow:
Yellow bell pepper, summer squash, golden beets, corn, lemon, golden raspberry, pineapple, banana, yellow tomato, pear

Green:
Artichoke, asparagus, lettuce, brussels sprouts, collard greens, kale, zucchini, green grapes, kiwi, honeydew melon

Blue:
Blueberries
Blue corn
Blue potato

Purple:
Beets, Purple kale, purple broccoli, purple brussels sprouts, purple cabbage, purple cauliflower, purple asparagus, purple carrots, blackberries, concord grapes, plums, eggplant

Fruits and vegetables also contain many other vitamins and minerals such as vitamin C, folate, potassium, magnesium, and calcium. One of the best nutrients fruits and vegetables contain is fiber. Fiber helps keep our good bacteria healthy and supports good digestion.

Children can choose their favorites 

As I mentioned, when kids are engaged, they eat more healthy food. 

One great way to do this is to let them choose what they want to eat or try for the first time.

You can make this a learning experience and get more nutrition into your child.

I created a handout for you that can help (download it here).

The handout includes a colorful chart for your refrigerator with a rainbow of fruits and vegetables for dozens of ideas, a 2020 Veggie Planner, and a coloring page to get your child involved in the fun!

Print out the chart and put it on your refrigerator. Show the chart to your child and discuss how different colors have different nutrients (and how cool it is!), and then let them choose which color category and/or food choices they’d like to try.

In addition to helping your child, the chart is a great tool to remind you of new vegetable and fruit options when you are shopping and cooking.

Even make it a game. Take on the challenge each week as a family of trying a new fruit or vegetable on this list. Sunday is often our day to cook something new and different together as a family. Make a side dish with a new vegetable, or even a gluten-free pie with a new fruit. If you do it week after week, you can sprinkle in some delicious desserts between your vegetable dishes to keep the game interesting and exciting.

Rainbow Meal Ideas

Here are some rainbow ideas kids love.

Fruit and Vegetable Kebabs

Fruit kebabs are a great way to get kids to try new fruits. They are easy to eat. Pretty and festive for a party. And loaded with nutrients. Use any fruits you like: such as watermelon, mango, berry, or melon. For those on a low salicylate diet, use complaint fruit (such as: pear, mango, golden delicious apples, or whatever works for your child).

Add Vegetables

For kids new to eating vegetables, the combination of foods they like (fruit) with unknown foods (vegetables) is a good way to encourage exploration of (and success in eating) vegetables.

Making them rainbow colored is so fun. People of all ages love them. And they are filled with nutrients.

One Sheet Pan Meal

One sheet pan meals are very popular these days because they are so easy to make and clean up. Place your meat and vegetables (as shown here as a rainbow of colors) on one sheet pan and cook until everything is done. Serve the meal on the table straight out of the oven, for a beautiful display of colorful vegetables.

Rainbow Salad

Another beautiful way to get a rainbow of colors is from a rainbow salad. When I’m trying to batch prepare meals for the week, I often prepare multiple salads in mason jars, so we can grab it and go. If you add salad dressing to the bottom it doesn’t make the salad mushy. You wait until you area ready to eat it, shake it to “toss” the salad with the dressing and you’re all set.

There are many ideas and possibilities. Make a smoothie and layer it in the blender in rainbow order, then blend to see what color it is. Make art; for example, your child can make a rainbow on a plate using fruits and vegetables. Then eat it. 

Share your favorite rainbow meals with us. 

My Approach to a Healthy Food Pyramid for Kids
[Is Choose MyPlate Best?]

It’s no secret that we live in a culture of fad diets and nutritional trends. In fact, the odds are that you’ve heard of several new ones this year alone. Mediterranean, keto, vegan, and more– with all these options, what’s the best choice for eating healthy? 

Especially as a parent, it can feel perplexing and overwhelming to understand what’s best for your child’s nutritional needs.

American dietary guidelines for children have changed over the past century; the most current standard is MyPlate. This newest iteration is an attempt by government to combat the wave of childhood obesity sweeping our nation.

While this protocol for kids is widely followed in the school systems, as a Certified Nutrition Consultant and Educator, and Mother, I know we can do better for our little ones. In this article, I will introduce to you a modern and healthy food pyramid for kids and I’ll explain how eating this way can improve their learning and behavior far beyond MyPlate.

Should you Choose the USDA’s MyPlate?

MyPlate is a fairly simple approach to children’s nutrition that aims to encourage kids to eat healthy. 

Their basic premise is to fill half your child’s plate with fruits and vegetables, avoid sugary beverages like fruit juices, and opt for more whole grains. It also urges children to have a glass of low-fat dairy (like a cup of milk) with each meal and to engage in regular physical activity. 

While this may be a starting point for those struggling to move past obesity, there are better ways to fuel the body long-term, and to provide the nutrition children need.

The MyPlate model doesn’t account for inflammatory foods that can aggravate issues like autism, ADHD, anxiety, and gastrointestinal problems. It also doesn’t consider common food allergens like wheat and dairy products, and there’s no mention of how to add good oils and healthy fats into your child’s diet. 

Regarding the “fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables” suggestion, almost half is reserved for fruit. That means the vegetable portion is merely a quarter of the plate, which may not allow for the levels of vegetables kids should really be eating.

Because vegetables have incredible properties including decreasing cancer risk, improving behavioral symptoms in ADHD, I’d like to see more description of the diverse types of veggies available in their veggie category.

And MyPlate makes no mention of the advantages of choosing organic. Pesticides in non-organic foods are the primary way children become exposed to these damaging neurotoxins. One recent study showed that children eating conventional produce had 6 times the level of pesticides in their bodies than those on an organic diet. To be most protective of children’s health, I’d like to see them recommend eating an organic diet, that includes high quality grass-fed meat as well.

While MyPlate is better than the outdated USDA kids MyPyramid, I and many other nutritionists today believe that many improvements still need to be made.

The food our children eat is either nourishing or negatively impacting their daily lives. As a nutritionist and parent today, I believe we should be asking the question, “What are the best tolerated, easiest to digest, and most nutrient-rich foods my child can eat?”

My Approach to Food Groups

As a parent myself, I know you want to make the most of any time you spend in the kitchen. I believe that a food pyramid for kids should include a variety of foods and be based on scientific research and cutting-edge ideas.

That’s why the foundations of my pyramid include not only basic food groups, but more categories of natural foods and supplements. Through my thousands of hours of research, analysis, and clinical experience in the field of nutrition, here are the groups that I’ve found to be most healthful.

The Department of Agriculture’s “MyPlate” as five food groups, of which two are dairy and gluten-containing foods (under “Grains)”. My food pyramid for kids has seven. That’s because I know that the diversity of a child’s diet has a major impact on their health down the line. The groups include:

  • Vegetables
  • Animal protein
  • Good fats
  • Fruits
  • Nuts/seeds
  • Legumes and gluten-free grains
  • Nutrition foundations: organic, grass-fed… (described below)

Research shows that diet and learning are interconnected.

When we feed our children grass-fed, organic, non-inflammatory foods, we are setting them up for success in the classroom as well. Not only that, but better nutrition leads to better behavior, especially in cases of ADHD or autism. When we approach food groups with the idea that “food is medicine,” we can see major benefits for our children.

I find that, in my approach to food groups, allowing your child to understand healthy eating habits for themselves is a huge win. With children, I call protein “growing food,” vegetables “stay healthy foods,” and good fats “brain foods.”

When we can teach children what they need in terms they grasp, a kids food pyramid can prepare them for empowered, informed eating decisions into the teenage years and beyond.

The greatest challenge when implementing a varied diet is often patience. I frequently hear parents say that their child simply won’t eat the healthy food choices. But with a little planning and support using my guide on navigating meals with a picky eater, you can make progress and see lasting success.

The Nourishing Hope Food Pyramid for Kids

I believe that food isn’t just healthy… it’s healing. I created my own Nourishing Hope Food Pyramid to support parents in learning how to actualize this mindset. And it’s incorporated in my online nutrition program for parents, Nourishing Hope for Healing Kids.

This food pyramid values food for its nourishment and role as healing “medicine.” I begin with nutrition foundations that make foods more nutritious.

Nutrition Foundations

These foundations at the base of the pyramid include concepts that make foods more nutrient dense and easily digested, such as: fermenting, sprouting, juicing, raw foods, bone broth, quality water and salt, supplementation, and more. Additional principles include organic and grass-fed foods. These aren’t included on a broader guideline like MyPlate, but are incredibly effective in getting your child the nutrition they need to thrive.

Beyond the nutrients found in my food pyramid for kids, I’ve also filtered the foods by what they don’t contain. Some compounds found in “healthy” foods can be inflammatory — like gluten, lectins, salicylates, and oxalates. Just because something is a whole food doesn’t mean you should load up on it. The best way for health and healing is to eat a variety of nutrient dense foods for children’s growing needs, and to know what’s in your food.

It’s important to note that my Nourishing Hope Food Pyramid is not a fad diet. This is a way of eating that will boost your child’s quality of life, whether they need foods to combat ADHD symptoms, won’t put down the junk food, or refuse to try lentils. With the right basics, a properly proportioned food guide pyramid, and appropriate supplementation, your kids’ health can flourish like never before.

5 Principles of Healthy Eating

I’m a mother, a Certified Nutrition Consultant, and specialist in autism and ADHD. Therefore, I can look at a food guide from many different angles. Here are five principles of healthy eating I believe are important for a healthy child

1. Vegetables Go With Everything

Veggies for breakfast, lunch, or dinner? The answer is always, “Yes!”

I recommend organic veggies with every single meal. Don’t just stick with broccoli — healthy kids benefit from eating a variety of colors and types of vegetables. In my approach, I share how many vegetables belong in breakfast, lunch, and dinner, along with some meal ideas (and recipes!) to incorporate them.

I know that hitting a goal of six total vegetables each day sounds intimidating to some. Unfortunately, most children in the U.S. get far below the daily recommended amount.

This is why I created my V123TM method, part of my Nourishing Hope for Healing Kids program. I find that once you begin to intentionally add in vegetables and keep them on hand, it becomes increasingly natural to incorporate them into each meal.

2. All Children with Special Needs Can Benefit from a Specialized Diet

It’s no secret that diet can play a major role in reducing symptoms and improving life for children with autism and special needs. More and more research indicates that our gut (and it’s diverse microbiome) is our “second brain.”

Physiological symptoms can stem from what’s happening in our digestive system, and symptoms of ADHD and autism are no exception. This phenomenon has prompted me to study the creation of customized diets since the early days of my career.

3. Go Gluten-Free, Casein-Free, and Soy-Free

If your child struggles with gastrointestinal issues, ADHD, or autism, I highly recommend considering a gluten-free, casein-free, and soy-free diet. Studies show that removing gluten and casein (proteins found in wheat, wheat derivatives, and dairy) can improve symptoms of ADHD and autism. Furthermore, children with allergies are less likely to get proper nutrition, so ensuring a healthy gluten-free, casein-free and soy-free diet is a must.

Grains, and particularly gluten, can be most irritating to the digestive system. In my program, I leave out gluten-containing grains altogether and only recommend casein when it’s tolerated. They can cause gas, bloating, and inflammation in the digestive system.

When following my program you may be alerted of food sensitivities you didn’t recognize in your child before, and then can lower inflammation and improve digestion by making strategic adjustments to diet.

4. Every Child Is Different

While all families can benefit from the aforementioned healthy tips, the biochemical makeup and needs of each child are different.

And this makes sense… Every child is unique and every child has unique nutritional needs.

You may find your little one needs some extra protein, or less grain than you expected, as well as individually tailored supplements. Nourishing hope is about discerning and applying the most supportive food and nutrition plan for each individual child.

5. Parents Need Nourishing, Too

It takes time and energy to care for your child, especially when altering their diet to get them the nutrition they need.

I encourage you to extend that same care to yourself– to spend time doing things that are good for and nourish you! 

Don’t forget to feed yourself the same healthy things, spend time appreciating what you find beautiful, and get out in nature. When we reach burnout, our eating can be the first habit to go, so don’t neglect yourself. For more ideas, check out my guide to self-care for parents.

In Summary

  • While the USDA’S MyPlate is well-meaning, it doesn’t begin to cover the complexity of what a child needs for optimal healing and health. 
  • Nutrition foundations, like organic produce, grass-fed meat, broth, and fermented foods are crucial for children’s development.
  • By adding in these foundations, increasing vegetable intake, and avoiding food allergens/sensitivities, your child can actually heal through food.
  • My signature program, which includes these Nourishing Hope Food Pyramid principles, will boost your child’s nutrition and help them begin to heal, improving their behavior and learning.
  • Remember that your child is an individual, incorporate individualized nutrition into their healthcare plan, and take the time to care for yourself. 
  • Follow my program and food pyramid for kids and prepare to be amazed by the results in the classroom, home, and behavior over time.

Sources

  1. Fakhouri, T. H., Ogden, C. L., Carroll, M. D., Kit, B. K., & Flegal, K. M. (2012). Prevalence of obesity among older adults in the United States, 2007-2010 (Vol. 106, pp. 1-8). US Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics. Abstract: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22617494
  2. Fernandez, E., D’Avanzo, B., Negri, E., Franceschi, S., & La Vecchia, C. (1996). Diet diversity and the risk of colorectal cancer in northern Italy. Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention Biomarkers, 5(6), 433-436. Abstract: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8781738
  3. Howard, A. L., Robinson, M., Smith, G. J., Ambrosini, G. L., Piek, J. P., & Oddy, W. H. (2011). ADHD is associated with a “Western” dietary pattern in adolescents. Journal of attention disorders, 15(5), 403-411. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20631199
  4. Curl, C. L., Fenske, R. A., & Elgethun, K. (2003). Organophosphorus pesticide exposure of urban and suburban preschool children with organic and conventional diets. Environmental health perspectives, 111(3), 377-382. https://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/doi/abs/10.1289/ehp.5754
  5. de Wild, V. W., de Graaf, C., Boshuizen, H. C., & Jager, G. (2015). Influence of choice on vegetable intake in children: an in-home study. Appetite, 91, 1-6. Abstract: https://pubag.nal.usda.gov/catalog/5356012
  6. Bellisle, F. (2004). Effects of diet on behaviour and cognition in children. British Journal of nutrition, 92(S2), S227-S232. Abstract: https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/british-journal-of-nutrition/article/effects-of-diet-on-behaviour-and-cognition-in-children/54F8DA9C708A34A737D663BBEABED1D0
  7. Donev, R., & Thome, J. (2010). Inflammation: good or bad for ADHD?. ADHD Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorders, 2(4), 257-266. Abstract: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21432611
  8. Pelsser, L. M., Frankena, K., Toorman, J., Savelkoul, H. F., Dubois, A. E., Pereira, R. R., … & Buitelaar, J. K. (2011). Effects of a restricted elimination diet on the behaviour of children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (INCA study): a randomised controlled trial. The Lancet, 377(9764), 494-503. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0140673610622271
  9. Jyonouchi, H., Geng, L., Ruby, A., Reddy, C., & Zimmerman-Bier, B. (2005). Evaluation of an association between gastrointestinal symptoms and cytokine production against common dietary proteins in children with autism spectrum disorders. The Journal of pediatrics, 146(5), 605-610. Abstract: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15870662
  10. Knivsberg, A. M., Reichelt, K. L., & Nødland, M. (2001). Reports on dietary intervention in autistic disorders. Nutritional Neuroscience, 4(1), 25-37. Abstract: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11842874
  11. Whiteley, P., Haracopos, D., Knivsberg, A. M., Reichelt, K. L., Parlar, S., Jacobsen, J., … & Shattock, P. (2010). The ScanBrit randomised, controlled, single-blind study of a gluten-and casein-free dietary intervention for children with autism spectrum disorders. Nutritional neuroscience, 13(2), 87-100. Abstract: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20406576
  12. Ridaura, V., & Belkaid, Y. (2015). Gut microbiota: the link to your second brain. Cell, 161(2), 193-194. Abstract: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25860600

Rainbow Fruit Kebabs: Healthy Treats for Kids

For holidays, kids are often looking for treats. And those are usually in the form of sugar.

Fortunately summer holidays like 4th of July and Labor Day are the perfect time for a healthy fruit based dessert. And nothing is more pure than fresh fruit.

So this holiday try Rainbow Fruit Kebabs.

They are easy, delicious, beautiful… and healthy.

Kids love things “on a stick,” so fruit kebabs are always a hit in my home.

My daughter loves making the kebabs for us. She can cut and skewer the fruit herself. And she loves making them. She even enjoys the process of going to the grocery store and helping plan and pick out the fruit we are going to use. It’s a great learning opportunity for kids to learn about the nutritional value of fresh produce.

For smaller kids that can’t use a knife, cut the fruit for them and supervise while they put the fruit on the skewers. You can find wood skewers at many grocery stores as well as online.

These can also be made with some vegetables like sweet red bell pepper, tomatoes (which are actually a fruit), or jicama. For kids new to eating vegetables, the combination of foods they like (fruit) with unknown foods (vegetables) is a good way to encourage exploration of (and success in eating) vegetables.

Use any fruits you like: such as watermelon, mango, berry, or melon. For those on a low salicylate diet, use compliant fruit (such as: pear, mango, golden delicious apples, or whatever works for your child).

Making them rainbow colored is so fun. People of all ages love them. And they are filled with nutrients. The colors in fruits and vegetables are derived from pigments natural in plants that provide phytonutrients.

Here are some corresponding colors and their nutrient counterpart:

Anthocyanins: Anthocyanins produce the blue, purple, red color found in berries and grapes. Anthocyanin foods contain antioxidants that support health.

Lycopene: Lycopene is a carotenoid found in tomatoes. Studies show lycopenes have a positive effect on heart health.

Beta-carotene: The orange/yellow color in many fruits and vegetables. Humans convert beta-carotene to

vitamin A. Vitamin A assists with growth and development and vision. It is also very important for a healthy immune system: specifically for regulatory T cells, which help prevent an immune response against “self” (i.e. an autoimmune response). 

Lutein: Green and yellow plants produce lutein. Lutein is concentrated in the macula of the retina in the eye of humans and plays an important role in vision and eye health. 

Zeaxanthin: is a compound very similar to lutein, which gives red bell peppers their orange and red color. Being the same chemical structure (with a different double bond) as lutein, it has similar benefits for the eyes.  

Red fruit:
Watermelon, strawberries, raspberries, cherries (pitted), cherry tomatoes

Orange fruit:
Mango, cantaloupe, apricots, peach, nectarines, papaya, orange, grapefruit, sungold cherry tomatoes

Yellow fruit:
Golden raspberry, pineapple, banana, 

Green fruit:
Green grapes, kiwi, honeydew melon

Blue fruit:
Blueberries

Purple:
Blackberries, red grapes, concord grapes, plums

Fruit also contains many other vitamins and minerals such as vitamin C, folate, potassium, magnesium, and calcium. One of the best nutrients fruit contains is fiber. Fiber helps keep our good bacteria healthy and improves digestion.

Assembling Fruit Kebabs

Wash fruit. 

Place fruit on skewers, either whole or chopped (but be sure to remove pits and seeds). 

I prefer bamboo skewers around 10-12 inches long, but any type and size will do.

Arrange on plate with a dipping sauce in the center. You can also take half a cantaloupe (placed round/skin side up) and poke skewers into melon to arrange kebabs in a creative manner.

Dipping Sauces

A dipping sauce can make it fun and nutritious.

Add some protein and fat for a more hearty treat, with a chocolate-nut butter dipping sauce. 

Or add some probiotics with a (dairy-free) yogurt dipping sauce

Yogurt Dipping Sauce 

GFCF/ SCD/GAPS/Paleo

This dipping sauce supplement probiotics and is refreshing on a hot day (as long as you have a way to keep it cool when storing it).

Ingredients

1 cup of non-dairy yogurt
1 cup of fresh or frozen ORGANIC strawberries, peaches or other fruit
1-2 Tablespoons raw honey

Directions

Puree fruit in a blender and add a splash of milk (enough to get it to spin) and honey. Add the yogurt and blend gently to mix.

Place chucks of fruits and vegetables on a bamboo skewer.

Serve sauce in a fun bowl.  Place skewers on plate with bowl of dipping sauce in the center.

Chocolate Sunflower Seed Butter

GFCF, SCD/GAPS, Paleo

To make SCD/GAPS use honey. 

This is similar to a Nutella-style butter but nut-free and more dip’able. 

Start with sunflower butter, you can make this or buy it. 

1 cup Sunflower butter
1 Tablespoon cocoa powder
Stevia, honey or other sweetener
3 Tablespoons non-dairy milk

Mix 1 cup of sunflower butter with 1 Tablespoon of unsweetened cocoa powder. Add sweetener as desired such as: 5 drops of stevia or 1 Tablespoon of honey or other sweetener. Melt on stove, add 3 Tablespoons of non-dairy milk to make it more dip’able.