Archive for June, 2010

Whether you are a proponent of the highly debated soda tax or defiantly against it, you need to know the baseline on soda and its contribution to your child’s diet so you’re both not in the outfield!

Strike One:  Phosphoric acid.

The acidic component of soda that contributes taste and color. Phosphoric acid is a known bone calcium depleter.  During the teenage years, when the accumulation of bone mass is at its greatest, drinking soda may be detrimental. If soda is a mainstay of your teen’s beverage diet, you may want to re-think this drink. Instead,

crowd out soda with healthy drinks such as milk, water, and 100% juices.

Strike Two:  Caffeine.

A stimulant found in many sodas, particularly dark-colored sodas; often added to enhance taste. It is difficult to know the amount of caffeine in a given cola, as manufacturers are not required to label caffeine content.  Caffeine consumption on a regular basis may alter brain function in adults.  Even scarier, there is very little research on the effects of caffeine on the developing brain.  Caffeine may cause dependence and withdrawal symptoms in children, including “the jitters” (often confused with hyperactivity), dehydration, and headaches.  Caffeine may also interrupt a good night’s sleep. Not something we wish upon our children (or ourselves!).  Beware of diet colas; these may have more caffeine than regular cola.

Strike Three:  Extra calories in the form of sugar.

Research suggests that soft drinkers consume 200 more calories per day than non-soft drinkers. Additionally, it appears that the human brain may not register liquid calories in the same manner as food calories.  In other words, people may not realize that drinking soda contributes to their total daily calorie consumption.   A standard cola has about 135 calories per 12 oz. can, or almost 9 teaspoons of sugar.  Of course, diet colas do not contribute to calorie intake, but some research suggests that people who drink diet cola may eat more sugary foods in response to their “no calorie choice”.  It pays to think before you drink.

Three strikes, soda, and your out!  Remember, soda counts…for calories and sugar, caffeine, and phosphoric acid, providing few nourishing benefits for children who drink them.


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Often, in my sessions with parents and their children, I use phrases to help support healthy changes around feeding and eating.  One of the phrases that has been particularly handy for parents is,

The Kitchen is Closed.

Is your kitchen always open, always a mess, always in production?  Ever wonder if this is healthy?  Sustainable?  Or the makings for a crazy momma-lady and an out of control eater?

While some parents may believe that closing the kitchen is a cruel act toward children, I find it to be a healthy way to set limits.

The kitchen is closed:

  • allows for space between meals and snacks
  • encourages predictability with timing of meals and snacks
  • supports the foundation of structure and rhythm for daily meals and snacks
  • promotes food security in children, through knowledge that food will be available at predictable times

If the kitchen is always open:

  • No limits are set around food and eating
  • It’s “food for everyone, all of the time”
  • Regular and rhythmic eating may change to impulsive and less intuitive eating
  • Overeating becomes a strong possibility

The kitchen is closed is particularly useful when you have done a good job at providing meals and snacks to children in timely intervals.  Make sure you have regular times when “the kitchen is open…for breakfast, for snack, for lunch, etc”.  Then, when your child comes to you an hour after eating dinner, wanting something else to eat, the kitchen is closed is a clear boundary. If this is initially upsetting to your child,  assure him/her that another meal or snack will be available soon.  Encourage your child to eat at meals and snacks, when the kitchen is open.  Soon, your child will learn to eat at meal and snack times, learn to do other things in between, and feel secure that his/her hunger and nutrient needs will be met regularly.

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Italian Chicken Kabobs: Parmesan Whole Grain Pasta: Banana, Pudding, & Wafers

You Will Need:

Wooden Skewers, soaked in water


  • Chicken Breasts, plain or pre-marinated, cut into 2″ cubes

Veggies, cleaned and cut into 2″ cubes:

  • Sweet Onion
  • Green or Red Bell Pepper
  • Button Mushrooms
  • Artichoke Hearts

Marinades and Seasonings:

  • Italian Dressing
  • Pizza Herb Blend
  • Lemon


  • Whole grain pasta, small shape (Ditalini, macarone, orzo, etc), prepared according to package directions
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil, 2 Tbsp. to toss
  • Parmesan Cheese, 2-4 Tbsp. to toss


  • Low Fat Vanilla Pudding
  • Bananas, sliced
  • Crumbled Vanilla Wafers

To get ready for this  meal, clean and rinse your chicken, and cut into 2″ cubes, and season.  Prepare veggies in a similar manner, cutting to a similar size.  Place each ingredient in a bowl or on a platter and place on your Dinner Bar (table, counter, island, etc);  be sure to keep your raw meat and veggies in seperate containers.  Allow the children to carefully pierce meat and veggies with the kabob sticks–you may need to prepare a sample kabob so they get the general idea.  Sit back, observe, and enjoy your child’s creative concoctions and food combinations!  Place all kabobs on a hot grill or grill pan and cook until done, 170 F for poultry.   Prepare the pasta and place into a serving bowl.  Slice bananas and crumble wafers, place into bowls.  Be sure to soak kabob sticks in water to prevent burning during cooking.

Place the grilled kabobs and the whole grain pasta on your Dinner Bar.  And don’t forget the healthy and yummy dessert—which can be assembled by your child as well.  This can be included on your Dinner Bar with the kabobs and pasta, or assembled later.   The Dinner Bar is “open”:  It’s time for your family to serve themselves.  Your child will likely remember which kabob is his/hers!   Children enjoy the experience of making their own kabobs, using the foods they prefer, and selecting the foods and amounts that satisfy their bodies. The Dinner Bar allows for this independence and a self-regulation with eating.

Don’t forget the clean-up– turn on some upbeat music and have your children help with dishwashing and kitchen cleaning!

Personal notes:  I squeezed fresh lemon on my chicken, then seasoned with Italian herb mix.  I prepared a package of low-fat vanilla pudding in a large bowl, and let my children portion their own dessert (they loved this part!).  As you can see, I placed all items on the Dinner Bar and they selected their dinner and dessert at the same time.  For more photos and “kid comments”, visit Pediatric Nutrition of Green Hills on Facebook.

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The      Dinner      Bar

No, this is not a new restaurant, or a drinking establishment, or a meal replacement bar.

This is a new, monthly feature on Just The Right Byte!

Each month, Just The Right Byte will feature family-friendly, quick, and healthy meals that will please the whole family!  But, instead of a regular recipe, The Dinner Bar is a concept that your kids will love–because they are in control of what and how much they choose to eat.  You will love it too, because you get to determine the menu, without the headache of extensive cooking and preparation, and Just The Right Byte will help make sure your family meals are well-rounded and nutritious.  The Dinner Bar will always present a “square meal”, with representation of most food groups.  Simple, uncomplicated items which are easy to prepare for mom and dad, and easy for children to assemble…and yummy to eat!

Why start The Dinner Bar?  As a pediatric dietitian who works with families every day, I am frequently asked for dinner ideas that work for busy families, particular palates, and a rising sense of health-consciousness.  Families generally do well with breakfast and lunch, but get hung up on dinner.  Families are REALLY busy, with little time to cook meals, let alone plan, shop, and prepare foods at the end of the day…I know, I have one of those families!  AND, many families have children with variable appetites, taste preferences, and nutritional challenges.  Parents tell me frequently that it is SO HARD to choose a meal that will satisfy every family member’s needs, while healthy, nutritious, not overly processed, and acceptable to their children.  Plus, recipes sound good, and ARE good,  but somehow they got lost in the busy-ness of schedules and family life.  The Dinner Bar is an approach that is different!

What is The Dinner Bar?

  • Envision entree ingredients assembled on a table and each family member chooses which foods, preferred combinations, and how much they want to eat.  The Dinner Bar presents the components of the main entree as seperate, to be chosen and assembled by the eater.  The Dinner Bar will feature family-friendly dinner entrees that are fun, tasty, and engage members of all ages.
  • The Dinner Bar offers a variety of  ingredients for individuals to “build their own” entree for dinner.  Other meal items such as fruit, a veggie, grains, and milk are available to choose as well, to complete a nutritious meal.  
  • The Dinner Bar meals are easy to prepare and are based on simple, uncomplicated ingredients.
  • The Dinner Bar allows children to prepare their own meals, choosing the items they want, and in the amounts they desire, while encouraging a child’s self-regulation and promoting trust between the parent and child.
  • The Dinner Bar allows for variability in appetite and promotes a child’s capability to choose which foods they wish to eat (within what is offered) and the amount they wish to eat.
  • The Dinner Bar offers simple, healthy, FUN, and varied solutions to your crazy, busy life.
  • The Dinner Bar is a “healthy smorgasbord”, offered in a “build it yourself” atmosphere, sure to please your family.
  • The Dinner Bar is a healthy alternative to dining out, for those busy family evenings.

I hope you will enjoy this feature of Just The Right Byte!  I’ll keep it going for as long as you like it…of course, feel free to send your ideas along as well. 

Stay tuned for next week’s Dinner Bar feature:  Italian Chicken Kabobs!

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