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What to do when your child decides to be vegetarian

What to do when your child decides to be vegetarian

I’ll admit, as a dietitian and fairly decent cook, I figured it would be no big deal when my 12-year old daughter decided to become vegetarian this year.  She’d been on the fence about it for a while, so my husband and I knew it was coming.  She voiced being “grossed out” when we cooked a full chicken and would only eat half of a small hamburger because she claimed to be too full every time.  When she was little and disliked a food, she’d say it was, “Too spicy”.  Now she was able to clearly communicate, “I just don’t want to eat meat”.

Initially, it was a breeze.  We are well stocked with natural peanut butter, cheese and black beans- a handful of Maria’s favorites.  We make pizza once a week every Friday but now leave off the turkey pepperoni.  But after a few weeks, I realized she wasn’t really getting much variety in her diet. I made vegetarian chili, but she didn’t like the kidney beans.  We smeared hummus on a tortilla for something different, but she complained it tasted “weird”.  I’ll admit, I grew frustrated with her particularly picky palate.  It led to lots of food fights at the table, which  I knew had to end.  I didn’t want her to end up with an eating disorder over not eating chicken.

I had a conversation with her about nutrition and why it’s important to eat a variety of foods.  We talked about protein and vegetables, vitamins and minerals.  Oh my!  This was like talking to a kid about the mechanics of a car. But she listened and voiced a few things she’d be willing to try (lentils, tuna salad, 3-bean salad).  We talked about being strong and eating foods we enjoyed and felt good about.  I even admitted how I was frustrated trying to find new recipes for her.  Me. A dietitian. That loves to create food!  If you find yourself in this situation, here are a few suggestions.


  1. Don’t fight it. You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make them drink.  We’re all entitled to what we like and don’t like to eat.  Forcing foods that your child considers “gross” will not excite them to eat them and may only make them control or restrict food further.
  2. Provide easy alternatives. No one wants to be a short order cook.  Make a few dishes that can easily have the meat left behind such as Thai peanut noodles, bean soup or spaghetti.
  3. Give them a multi-vitamin. While my motto has always been “forks first”, in the case of my 12-year going through puberty, I know iron and zinc are essential.  If nothing else, it may prevent deficiencies and put your mind at ease.
  4. Encourage and teach your child to cook for themselves. This is a life skill ANY child will benefit from.  My daughter can make simple omelets, grilled cheese sandwiches and microwaved veggies.  The more involved they get, the more control they’ll feel they have.
  5. Include some vegetarian meals yourself! Consuming less meat is not only better for our bodies, but also our wallets and the planet. Stock up on eggs, beans, lentils, low fat cheese and nut butter.  Make meatless Monday the norm.  You probably won’t even miss that chicken carcass.
Fighting hunger, one can at a time

Fighting hunger, one can at a time

Click on the link to see my project grant with People’s Liberty:


As a dietitian, I am profoundly passionate about issues surrounding food insecurity- the inability to have regular access to safe, nutritious food.  Although I didn’t grow up impoverished, per se, my parents were products of the Depression Era, and with 4 siblings, we didn’t waste a thing.  I witnessed the result of food insecurity when I worked at the VA Medical Center, in Guatemala where my second daughter was born and in Cincinnati at my girls’ school.  Many don’t know that Cincinnati ranks SECOND in the US for childhood poverty.  And poverty is the main cause of malnutrition.

Malnutrition not only stunts growth, but also affects learning and the ability to earn a good living for years to come.  Children who are malnourished are less prepared to enter the workforce and earn less money than their nourished peers.  It is an issue that affects developed nations and neighbors in our own backyards.

About a year ago on the eve of my 50th birthday, I was honored to receive a People’s Liberty Grant for $10,000 to install 10 mini food pantries in low income/food desert neighborhoods around the city. Taking on a project like this was no easy feat!  But I am so excited and proud of the work I did with a small team and the help of People’s Liberty.

If you see an old Enquirer box decorated like R2D2 on Colerain Ave, you have seen my work in progress.  The other pantry locations can be found here:

Here’s how you can help:

  1. Donate to the Free Store Food Bank.  Their dollars fund several projects throughout the city and they have better buying power.
  2. Participate in food drives at work, church or school.  Your donations help those in need.
  3. Ask your dentist or Gyn office for donations for toiletries.  These items cannot be obtained on food stamps and are desperately needed by families.
  4. Keep some canned goods in your car to stock our pantries. Canned beans, tuna, peanut butter, fruits, vegetables, soup or extra toiletries are always needed.  Donate things you, yourself would eat or use.  Love your neighbor as yourself.
  5. Don’t waste food!  Buy what you need and eat it. If you have perishable food to donate, check out: 

For more information on People’s Liberty: 

Drop the food cop attitude

Drop the food cop attitude

As a mom of two girls growing up in a weight-obsessed society, I can’t tell you how nervous I am of them developing eating disorders.  Whether we notice or not, our kids are taking notice of our self talk and food choices.  They overhear us say, “Ugh, my pants are too tight”, or “time to get on a diet”.  The last thing they need, is for us to food shame them when they make a less-than-healthy choice for a snack or when packing their lunch.  If you didn’t want them to eat something, why is it in your pantry to begin with?  FOOD IS FOR EATING!  My philosophy is that any food can be part of a healthy diet.  Our food should not be punishment or used for reward.  The more food shaming we do, the more likely our kids are to sneak food, feel guilty about food and potentially develop eating disorders.


The article below is a great reminder of why we need to just shut up when it comes to our kids’ food habits.  Like mom used to say, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all”.

Live more by eating less

Live more by eating less

Several studies have shown that being overweight or obese is linked with risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease.  Even a 5-10% reduction in weight can prevent the development and aid in the control of hypertension and diabetes as well as lowering blood cholesterol. 1 Beyond trimming your weight and waistline, there’s an even more important benefit to reducing calorie intake.  New research out of Duke University in Durham suggests that biological aging can be stalled with calorie restriction.  Biological aging, according to the study author Daniel Belsky, is “the gradual and progressive deterioration of systems in the body that occurs with advancing chronological age”.  Belsky believes if biological aging can be slowed, it may help to prevent or delay chronic age-related illnesses and disabilities.2


The scientists at Duke University in Durham evaluated a total of 220 subjects over 2 years-145 who reduced calorie intake by 12% compared with 75 controls who did not limit calorie intake. The average biological age of both groups was close to 38 years.  Readings that included total cholesterol, blood pressure and hemoglobin levels were used to calculate biological age.2


In the calorie-restricted group, biological age increased by an average of .11 years each year compared to .71 years in the control group, over a two year follow up. This was statistically significant according to the researchers.  Previous studies have shown that calorie restriction slows aging in worms, flies and mice.  This was the first human study to test if calorie restriction can reduce measured biological aging in a randomized control study.  The authors believe this study can serve as a model for developing and testing treatment designed to copy the effects of calorie restriction to delay or prevent debilitating diseases.2


In 2014, the Obesity Society put out an official statement to raise awareness of the availability and consumption of energy-dense food contributing to weight gain and obesity.  Foods high in energy include high sugar foods like soda, ice cream and high calorie desserts as well as fried foods, large servings of meat and full fat cheese.  A diet containing foods rich in nutrients such as fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein sources and low-fat dairy products can help support weight management efforts.  The Obesity Society urges companies to test and market products that are lower in calories that will help consumers with weight management. The position paper can be found at: 3



1.    Klein, Samuel. Effects of Moderate and Subsequent Progressive Weight Loss on Metabolic Function and Adipose Tissue Biology in Humans with ObesityCell Metabolism, 2016; DOI: 10.1016/j.cmet.2016.02.005

2.    Belsky, Dan W., Huffman, Kim, Pieper, Carl, Shalev, Idan, Kraus, William. Change in the Rate of Biological Aging in Response to Caloric Restriction: CALERIE Biobank Analysis.  J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci glx096. Published:22 May 2017

3.    Shu Wen Ng, Barry M. Popkin. The Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation PledgeAmerican Journal of Preventive Medicine, 2014; 47 (4): 520 DOI: 10.1016/j.amepre.2014.05.030

When eating is not an option

When eating is not an option

Eating is by far one of life’s greatest pleasures and one that we take for granted on a daily basis.  Think of how exciting it is when your baby takes his or her first bite of food or when you experience a delicious food for the first time.  Eating is so important to living.

But what happens when you, a family member, friend or colleague can’t physically eat or doesn’t eat enough calories to maintain normal biologic functions?  Would they simply starve to death over time?  The answer is complex and often ethical in nature.


All of us need food and water in varying amounts to survive.  If you’ve ever had to fast for 8-12 hours for a blood test or for religious reasons, you recognize that it’s not exactly a picnic to go without food.  It’s short term and you forget about it.  But what happens when you can’t eat for a prolonged time due to medical reasons?


Say for example, your mom has a stroke and she can’t swallow safely.  Or your uncle is diagnosed with intestinal cancer and he can’t digest food appropriately.  What happens next?  In the case of a stroke, she may need to be fed “artificially” through a feeding tube until she can eat safely on her own. Tube feeding helps prevent or treat malnutrition and keep the gastrointestinal tract functioning. Without a functioning gut, intravenous feeding may be indicated.  This type of nutrition therapy is called nutrition support and can be used in any age and population.


Feeding tubes come in various shapes and sizes.  They can be used short term (< 4 weeks) or placed surgically for longer use.  The short-term type is called an enteroflex tube and is usually placed in the person’s nose.  It goes down the esophagus and into the stomach or duodenum (first section of the small intestine).  Dietitians work with doctors to come up with a feeding plan including the formula, amount and rate that the person will receive to prevent or treat malnutrition.  Long term tubes can be placed in the stomach or small intestine if a person is not expected to eat for a longer period of time (or God forbid, never again).  Tube feeding can be done in a hospital, residential home or personal home.  Formulas can be basic or highly specialized, depending on the person’s medical condition.  Each contains carbohydrates, fats, protein, vitamins and minerals to meet the RDAs (Recommended Dietary Allowances) for all nutrients.


In individuals whom cannot digest or absorb food appropriately (non-functioning gut) a type of nutrition support called TPN may be used.  TPN stands for Total Parenteral Nutrition and is provided through an IV catheter that is typically placed in the person’s subclavian vein (large neck vein) or through a PICC (peripherally inserted central catheter) in their arm.  TPN contains carbs, fat and protein, vitamins, minerals and trace elements in the form of dextrose, IV lipid and amino acids that are provided directly into a person’s bloodstream.  This type of nutrition is typically used for at least 1 week, but can be used longer if needed based on a person’s medical condition and function of their gut.  TPN is very specialized and requires a pharmacist, nurse, dietitian and doctor to monitor.


For more detailed information on nutrition support, check out

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