Eat More Plants! 5 Tips on How to Start

It’s no secret that a plant-based diet is the way to achieve a healthy lifestyle and preserve your body and mind into old age. Well-known plant based diets, such as the Mediterranean Diet, are constantly in the headlines for their role in lowering blood pressure, lowering cholesterol, helping with weight loss, controlling diabetes, providing anti-inflammatory benefits for women with PCOS, and so on. Most people in the United States are raised on a “Western Diet” which is a diet heavier in meat, specifically red and processed meats, as well as refined grains and simple sugar.

Eggplant lasagna made with baked eggplant, topped with tomato and fresh basil and mozzarella.
Eggplant lasagna made with baked eggplant, topped with tomato sauce, fresh basil & mozzarella.

In my years of counseling people in different areas of the country on their diets, I’ve noticed that 1. people tend to eat how they were raised to eat and 2. meat is usually the focus at each meal. The reason I mention the first point is because, although it can be really hard to break a habit, especially a habit that we learned in childhood, there comes a time when adults must be held accountable for their eating habits. At what age can we no longer blame our poor eating habits on our parents? At what point does it shift from naivety to willful ignorance? If you find yourself saying things like, “Well this is how I’ve always eaten,” realize that this is an excuse. Change is not easy, but the choice is yours. Okay, I’m getting philosophical here but my main point is that, if adults tend to eat how they were raised to eat, then we as adults have an obligation to set our children up for success. How? That brings me to my second point.

We need a shift… a shift in our mindset from “meat is the star of the dish and everything else is a side” to “vegetables are the star of the dish and everything else is a side.” Before you stop reading and go grab a cheeseburger, hear me out. I’m not telling you to become a vegetarian, unless of course you’re into that sort of thing. The bottom line is this:

Eat more plants and less meat.

The extended version: eat more vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans, and whole grains and less red and processed meats.

Why?

  • Plants have fiber. Repeat after me: fiber is my friend. Fiber helps to regulate our blood sugar/energy level; it helps build immunity; it fills us up quicker and keeps us full longer; it pulls cholesterol out of our bodies; it prevents constipation and can help control diarrhea; it decreases our risk of colon and rectal cancer; it helps to prevent diverticulitis… need I say more? Most people do not eat enough plants, therefore, they don’t get enough fiber.
  • Meats, specifically red and processed meats, have more saturated fat than their white meat, seafood, and plant-based alternatives. Processed meats (like bacon, sausage, bologna, and hot dogs) can be loaded with sodium and preservatives too, yikes! Saturated fat leads to inflammation and makes us more insulin resistant, which is detrimental for people trying to lose weight and those with diabetes, metabolic syndrome, or PCOS.

Tips for Eating a More Plant-Based Diet

  1. Eat 2-3 different vegetables at meals. While we downsize our meat portion we need to increase the plants at our meals so we don’t feel starving, since you should not be starving when eating a healthy diet. It might be a tad overwhelming to overflow your plate with asparagus (not to mention the dreaded “asparagus pee” you’d experience later on) so instead have a variety! Maybe you roast some asparagus, steam some broccoli, and have salad with your meal as well.
    • No time for roasting or steaming? Vegetables can be fresh, frozen, or canned! Microwave freezer bags are amazing, as long as they aren’t filled with a bunch of salty sauce. Don’t avoid canned vegetables, just choose ones that have “no added salt” or “low sodium” and rinse them under water.

      Spring lettuce mix topped with roasted Brussels sprouts, carrots, garbanzo beans, tomatoes, onions, and sunflower seeds.
      Spring lettuce mix topped with roasted Brussels sprouts, carrots, garbanzo beans, tomatoes, onions, and sunflower seeds.
  2. Use half the amount of ground meat you would normally use in a recipe and substitute that other half with plants! For example, when I make stuffed peppers or chili, I cook about 1/2 lb of ground meat then I dice 1/2-1 lb of mushrooms and toss them in with the meat. Mushrooms have a hearty or “meaty” texture and are so flavorful that you won’t even miss the meat. You could also use beans in place of the meat or try mincing onion, dicing zucchini, or shredding carrot and add them to your chili for a veggie-twist.
    • Not quite ready to swap your meats for veggies? Instead, try swapping ground turkey breast for ground beef or use half poultry half beef in your recipe.

      A vegetarian pepper stuffed with cauliflower and walnuts.
      A stuffed pepper filled with cauliflower and walnuts, seasoned to perfection. A dish like this is sure to please your vegetarian and meat-loving friends alike!
  3. Incorporate seafood into your diet. Seafood has so many incredible health benefits and can easily be substituted when you’d otherwise use meat. For example, instead of making chicken alfredo, try shrimp alfredo. If you typically order a burger for lunch, order a tuna sandwich instead. Throw some tuna steaks or salmon filets on the grill instead of your go-to ribeye. If the cost of seafood makes it prohibitive for you, choose frozen or canned options. Also remember, now that the meat portion of your meal is smaller, you can stretch a bag of frozen scallops or shrimp further than before.
Flavorful & healthy tuna in a toasted whole wheat sandwich with spinach, tomato, and avocado.
Flavorful & healthy tuna in a toasted whole wheat sandwich with spinach, tomato, and avocado.

4. Try new vegetables and EAT MORE. Feeling stuck in a broccoli rut? Getting tired of salad? Does the thought of mushy steamed cauliflower make you cringe? My best advice is to try different vegetables in different ways. My favorite way to eat vegetables is drizzled with extra virgin olive oil, topped with minced garlic and a dash of salt and pepper, then roasted in the oven. Roasting brings out the natural sweetness in vegetables and the slight char from the oven gives them structure and crunch. Dee-licious! We all know that a raw onion tastes a lot different than an onion in a soup, right? So before you write off Brussels sprouts or beets forever, try them cooked in a different way than you’re used to. You might surprise yourself!

  • Don’t limit your non-starchy vegetable intake. Load your plate with them AND have a salad on the side. These are the things you want to fill up on and go for seconds on. These are your non-guilty pleasure foods! Examples: lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, beets, radishes, green beans, asparagus, brussels sprouts, cucumbers, onions, peppers, zucchini.

5. Follow my Plate Method at meals for a visual reminder and to keep it simple.

  • 1/2 of your plate is non-starchy vegetables vegetables
  • 1/4 of your plate is whole grains or starchy vegetables
  • 1/4 of your plate is meat or protein
A delicious bowl of vegetables to include asparagus, beets, and lettuce with salmon and sweet potato on the side!
A delicious bowl of vegetables to include asparagus, beets, and lettuce with salmon and sweet potato on the side!

What vegetables do you love and how do you prepare them!

 

Things I Love

Welcome to my very first “Things I Love” post! These are where I’ll share various products, foods, etc I’m loving lately. These items might be baby-related, food-related, pregnancy-related, beauty-related, who knows. Although I’ve linked to the item and I do benefit if you click and purchase it, all of these items are truly things that I use, love, and recommend. I plan to do these posts often, so let me know if you use and love something that I should try.

earth mama organics diaper balm cloth diaper friendly

Earth Mama Organic Diaper Balm. Get it. Love it. Not only does this diaper balm smell wonderful with hints of lavender and melaleuca, it’s made with organic ingredients including calendula, and it’s cloth diaper friendly- hooray! I have absolutely no qualms about rubbing this on Laurel’s delicate skin. I love this product and I love this company. They truly care about the health and safety of moms and babies.

whey protein grass fed non gmo powder unflavored

Reserveage Grass-Fed Whey Protein Powder, Unflavored. As a dietitian, I’m often asked what protein powder I use, seeing as it’s one of the most commonly consumed supplements out there. Because there are so many on the market, fear, confusion, and suspicion surround this supplement. I advise people to make sure you find one without a bunch of added “junk,” such as sugar, caffeine, and/or artificial sweeteners. I love this specific protein powder because it’s 1. grass-fed and 2. tasteless (or at least damn close). This is one of the few protein powders I’ve tried that didn’t actually taste like protein powder. The beauty of this unflavored option is that you can add it to anything for a quick protein boost.

prenatal vitamin vegetarian gluten free multivitamin probiotics

Rainbow Light Prenatal Vitamin. This is the prenatal vitamin I took before, during, and after (still currently taking) my pregnancy. This prenatal vitamin stands out from many other “natural” options I looked at for a few reasons. First, I loved that it was only one pill daily. I will admit that the pill is fairly large, but that wasn’t an issue for me. Secondly, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that pregnant women get 27 mg of iron daily and this vitamin provides that (while many other natural options are lacking). Finally, this prenatal vitamin is vegetarian, gluten-free, and contains no artificial preservatives, colors, or sweeteners.

self tanner natural organic earth sunless

Beauty by Earth Sunless Self Tanner. My search for a natural sunless tanner started recently when Ryan, Laurel, and I were heading to Florida for vacation. I was still breastfeeding at the time and, since I had sworn off tanning beds a long time ago, I wanted to find a self tanner. My skin is naturally fair and I knew I was going to be in a bathing suit quite a bit (with loads of sunscreen on) so needless to say, I needed a tan beforehand! I found this, made with organic ingredients including shea butter and witch hazel, and I haven’t looked back. I’ve used it a few times now and it continues to impress me. I feel confident using it knowing the ingredients are safer than your average tanning lotion but, the best part is that it actually works!

foogo thermos straw cup bottle insulated stainless steel

Thermos Foogo Insulated Stainless Steel 10-oz Straw Bottle. I offered Laurel her first straw cup with water at 6 months old and she was able to use it within minutes. I tell people to just offer a straw to your child and you might be surprised at how quickly they teach themselves how to use it. Remember that babies under one year should only drink breastmilk, formula, or water. This is now the cup that I keep in my stroller, as it’s leak-proof and insulated, it’s stainless steel since I try to avoid plastic when I can, it’s dishwasher safe, and they offer different spouts so the cup can “grow” with your child. Winner!

Pictures are from Amazon.com. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

 

Scheduling, Feeding, and Weaning- Oh My! The Life of a Toddler Mom

Motherhood means different things to different women. For some, its chaotic and spontaneous and others it’s scheduled and predictable. We can all agree that motherhood is the most incredible, emotional, exhausting, and rewarding journey we’ve all been on. You can literally experience seven different emotions in the span of two minutes when your child gouges your eyeball then throws up on their freshly changed outfit only to stumble toward you arms stretched, lay their head on your shoulder, and say “mama” like they actually know who you are. Ahh yes, motherhood is beautiful.

My chunky little elephant.. I mean daughter, less than 24 hours old. Can I go back and live in this moment forever?
My chunky little elephant.. I mean daughter, less than 24 hours old. Can I go back and live in this moment forever?

Taking the plunge into motherhood means that you adopt a plethora of mandatory chores, to include keeping your child fed, entertained, well-rested, and the list goes on. You’ll get advice from experts and non-experts alike on the “right way” to raise your child. You’ll stress over the little things and cry occasionally. I’ve learned to remind myself that everything is a phase so even the tough times I know won’t last long. Although I’m no child-rearing expert, I’ll go ahead and give you my two-cents on how I went about raising Laurel over the past 15 months. I’ll throw some nutrition information in here, seeing as how that’s my forte.

Before I get started I want to mention, there are many correct ways to raise a child. People have been debating this for years and will continue to for years to come. My point is that you have to do what feels right to you and your family. I’ll share some things that worked for me but they might not work for you. Why? Because every baby/family/mom/day is different… and that’s okay.

"cleaning and scrubbing can wait for tomorrow
for babies grow up we've learned to our sorrow
so quiet down cobwebs and dust go to sleep 
because I'm rocking my baby and babies don't keep"

What the Experts Say

Recommendations* for feeding infants 0-12 months old:

0-4 months: 8-12 feedings, 2-6 ounces per feeding (18-32 ounces daily)

4-6 months: 4-6 feedings, 4-6 ounces per feeding (27-45 ounces daily)

6-12 months: 3-5 feedings, 6-8 ounces per feeding (24-32 ounces daily)

Recommendations* for feeding toddlers 12-23 months old:

Whole milk or milk products: 2 cups/day (or 16 ounces daily). This includes whole cows milk, lactose-free whole cows milk, full-fat yogurt, full-fat cheese, and other full-fat dairy.

If your child has a milk protein allergy or is being raised vegan, you can find suitable substitutes for dairy, with a focus to include foods with adequate fat, protein, Vitamin D, calcium, magnesium, and potassium.

*These recommendations may vary depending on source. Speak to your pediatrician or dietitian for specific individualized recommendations. 

The American Academy of Pediatrics, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and World Health Organization recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life. At 6 months old, it is recommended to begin introducing food into your baby’s diet, while still continuing to provide breastmilk (or formula) as their main source of nutrition. Click here to read my post all about nutrition for breastfeeding.

Starting a Schedule at 6 Months Old

My plan was to start Laurel on a nap and solids schedule around 6 months old, at the advice of my older sister. We agreed that 6 months is a good time to start a schedule since food is introduced at this age, letting “meal times” aid the schedule in flowing smoothly. At this time, I was still breastfeeding Laurel on demand, about 5-8 times per day. Click here to read my article on feeding your infant, including when to start, as well as how to make your own baby food. Before 6 months, I didn’t necessarily feel a need to alter my day around Laurel’s feedings or naps. She was great about sleeping in the stroller or car seat while I was out running errands. I wasn’t shy about feeding her in my car in the Target parking lot either.

Breastfeeding in the back seat of the car because #momlife.
Breastfeeding 13-week-old Laurel in the back seat of the car because #momlife.

Bedtime

Early on (around 12 weeks), however, Ryan and I made it a point to start a “bedtime routine” which consisted of a bath, night light and noise machine on, breastfeed, and putting Laurel into her crib. Then, of course, obsessively watch her on the monitor, am I right? We tried to have her in her crib by 8pm (with many exceptions made), even if she was only sleeping for a short period of time in the beginning. The idea was to get her in the routine of winding down at bedtime. Laurel was pretty consistent about waking up in the morning around 8am. If she woke up earlier than that, I was able to feed her and lay her back down for more sleep, hooray!

Laurel, 10 weeks old, taking a brief nap in her crib.
Laurel, 10 weeks old, taking a short test nap in her crib. She wasn’t transitioned to sleeping in her crib until around 12 weeks old.

Naps

Although I still breastfed Laurel on demand, throughout the day I would pay attention to her tired and hunger cues and make a mental note of the time. I then started to notice patterns develop, like around 11am she would start yawning, rubbing her eyes, and get a tad fussy if she wasn’t able to sleep peacefully. I decided to start a “nap time” around 11am. On a side note: the moms workout group that I’m involved in met until 11am, so I kept Laurel awake for our walk home to have her in bed by 11:30am. Call me selfish, but my workout time is not only good for my body but it’s good for my soul aka sanity as well. Once I had the first nap established at 11:30am, I added the next nap at around 4pm, when I noticed she was naturally getting tired again.

6 Month Schedule

8am: wake up & breastfeed

9am: breakfast <- added at 6 months

11:30: breastfeed and nap #1

2pm: breastfeed

4pm: breastfeed and nap #2

7pm: start bedtime routine

8pm: breastfeed and bed

Evolving Schedule from 6-12 Months

8am: wake up & breastfeed

9am: breakfast *<- added at 6 months

11:30: breastfeed and nap #1

1pm: lunch *<- added at 8 months

2pm: breastfeed <- eliminated at 9 months

4pm: breastfeed and nap #2

6pm: dinner *<- added at 9 months

7pm: start bedtime routine

8pm: breastfeed and bed

*I would breastfeed Laurel right before lunch and dinner as well, just to make sure breastmilk was remaining her main source of nutrition and food was remaining a compliment to it.

Why a Schedule?

I’m not an expert in this area, but Ryan and I feel strongly that infants, toddlers, and kids (and adults for that matter) benefit from routine and schedules. I’m sure there’s a ton of research out there supporting both sides, but I just feel that in the chaos of daily life, it could bring some security and predictability to a child, whether subconscious or not, in knowing they will have their most basic needs met. That being said, do I feel that every minute of a child’s life should be planned out? No. While still maintaining a degree of spontaneity, I do believe that kids flourish in a more structured environment. Furthermore, I have met people that are on no schedule whatsoever and their kids are intelligent, imaginative, and engaging – so I don’t think that schedules are for everyone. Do what works best for you and your family.

Weaning From Breastfeeding

Before she was born, I made the personal choice to breastfeed Laurel for at least 12 months. I was lucky enough to meet this goal, thanks to a combination of determination, optimal nutrition, a supportive husband, and a hungry baby.

As her first birthday was quickly approaching, I devised a plan to wean Laurel from breastfeeding, starting at 12 months. At this time, I was breastfeeding her four times per day, with the occasional middle-of-the-night feeding as needed. My plan was to eliminate one feeding per week until she was completely weaned. I started with her nap #2 feeding first, which coincidentally happened to be the time she was ready to eliminate this nap altogether. That was easy! For a week, we transitioned to one nap and three breastfeeding sessions per day. I ended up pushing her nap later, to around 1pm, since it was (and still is) her only nap of the day.

The weeks went on and I eliminated her other pre-nap breastfeeding session, then her bedtime session, then finally the morning session. I can say this now since I won’t jinx it but it was a smooth transition. My breasts never got engorged, my milk supply just slowly dwindled down over the weeks. I know I’m lucky. I had been researching ways to decrease milk supply and was ready to buy cabbage leaves if needed! In the weeks following her very last feeding when she was 13 months + 1 day old, she only cried and tried to pull at my shirt once or twice. Since then she’s seemed to have forgotten all about my boobs.

I must admit that the weaning process was bittersweet for me. I cried (a lot) the night I eliminated her bedtime feeding. Ryan gave her a bottle that night and I was just sad, but I could now enjoy a glass of wine with dinner without feeling guilty- bittersweet. She transitioned and tolerated cows milk from the beginning, which I was so thankful for. I think it helped that I introduced 1-2 ounces at a time over the first few days after she turned one. I must also admit that I made the mistake decision to give her cows milk in a bottle. I know typical recommendations are to drop the bottle at one year and switch to a sippy cup, but… well, I have no excuse. The bottle was more soothing to Laurel and I didn’t mind it. I actually went out and bought a bigger bottle because I only had 4 ounce bottles. So for now she drinks her whole cows milk out of a bottle, 8 ounces in the morning, 4 ounces before her nap, and 4 ounces before bed.

Our society has painted an unrealistic picture of how moms are supposed to look and act. We’re basically supposed to be perfect and that, in itself, gives us anxiety. As if we didn’t have enough to worry about, we feel all this outside pressure to do better. The reality is this: Love your family and care for them the best way you know how. You’re only human. Some days you might feel like supermom while others you can’t remember your child’s birthday at the pediatricians office. That’s okay. I believe that our duty as a mother is to set our children up to be healthy and productive adults. We guide them by teaching them values and behaviors that are going to benefit them as they grow older; compassion, determination, imagination, bravery, empathy. Our children are the future, our future. I want my child and future children to respect me and actually want to hang out with me when they’re older. How do we do that? Well I don’t have the exact answer to that, only time will tell, but I think it involves being genuine. Take a deep breath and just be. Be thankful. Be happy. Be you!

Do you have your child(ren) on a schedule? When did you start? Comment below!

Within this post are links to products I actually use and recommend. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Feeding your Infant: Common Questions Answered

When your little one is approaching that age where he or she will start eating food, most likely you’re either feeling nervous or excited. You might have forgotten that babies start eating real food at some point, especially if you were like me and had a hard time remembering your name those first few months postpartum. I was so thankful we registered for a high chair and received it before Laurel was even born. That was one less thing I had to think about when food came into the picture. Although I was excited for Laurel to start eating, it definitely took some critical thinking as to how I would go about starting this process. I know the pediatrician mentioned something about it, but those appointments always seemed like a blur. I’d leave with a handout of milestones and a list of unanswered questions that I’d kick myself for forgetting to ask in the moment.

As a dietitian, I felt that it was my duty to expose my baby to all the healthiest food this planet has to offer. I devised a plan to start with all the vegetables I could think of, then add yogurt (for probiotics and fat), then seafood, legumes, poultry, fruit, and whole grains. I always knew I wanted to make her baby food and you’ll read why below.

Are you intimidated at the thought of making your baby’s food? If you feel like the process is too difficult, expensive, or time-consuming, continue reading to see how I was able to make Laurel’s baby food with minimal effort. It can actually be fun, I promise!

When should I start feeding my infant food?

Unless otherwise instructed by your baby’s pediatrician, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life. At 6 months old, it is recommended to begin introducing food into your baby’s diet, while still continuing to provide breastmilk (or formula) as their main source of nutrition. To make sure that food remains a compliment to your baby’s diet, try to always breastfeed or formula feed your child before offering food. That way, the food is seen as extra and they are able to have fun with it without the pressure to eat. Remember that food at this age is also about developing fine motor skills, exposing them to different flavors and textures, as well as eventually teaching manners while fostering family traditions, such as sitting at the table for dinner.

Laurel obviously loved pureed broccoli.
Laurel obviously loved pureed broccoli at 6 months. Now at a year she gobbles it up!

How much should my baby eat?

In the beginning, as in the first couple weeks or so, your baby might only take 2-3 spoonfuls of food. I remember Laurel’s first feeding being somewhat anti-climactic, as she only took one or two bites and seemed to lose interest. It’s normal if your baby refuses food altogether. Never force your child to eat, just try again the next day.

As a rule of thumb, 6-7 months is when food is introduced and your baby is becoming accustomed to new flavors and textures. At 7-8 months you might try to consistently feed your child one “meal” per day. It’s normal for a child between 6-8 months to eat anywhere from 2-6 tablespoons of food. At 8-9 months you can increase to two “meals” per day then at 9-10 months your child is eating three “meals” daily. Remember that they are still drinking breastmilk or formula for the entire first year of life. At 9 months old, as her food intake increased, I was able to drop one of Laurel’s breastfeeding sessions. From 9-12 months, I breastfed her four times daily.

What foods should I offer first?

Ideally, one of the first foods offered to your child would be an iron-fortified option, such as baby cereal or baby oatmeal. Many vegetables provide iron as well, including broccoli and spinach. Start with simple purees of a single food, such as pureed spinach. I mixed my purees with filtered water to thin them out. I had actually used pumped breastmilk to make some of Laurel’s first foods but since most of the food ended up on her bib and face anyways, I quickly learned that it wasn’t really worth it for me to use my saved milk.

Every a few days, I would offer Laurel a different vegetable. I actually kept a log of her very first foods and they include: broccoli, carrots, sweet potato, and spinach. I continued with the routine of offering a new food every couple of days to include legumes (such as peas), avocado, corn, seafood (Laurel’s firsts included lobster, scallops, salmon, and light tuna), plain full-fat Greek yogurt, beans, a variety of fruits, ground turkey, chicken, and ground beef, eggs, beets, sauerkraut, and cauliflower.

I fed Laurel pureed foods until about 8-9 months, at which time she became interested in eating small pieces of soft foods. Laurel is now 1-year-old and I have yet to find a food that she does not like!

Laurel at 6 months eating organic baby oatmeal.
Laurel at 6 months eating organic baby oatmeal.

What about the common food allergens?

The current recommendations are to introduce the common allergen foods to your child between 6-9 months.* This includes eggs, peanuts (not whole nuts due to choking hazard), wheat, shellfish, tree nuts, and dairy (such as yogurt or cheese). Cow’s milk is not recommended until after 12 months of age.

*If food allergies run heavily in your family, consult your child’s pediatrician or a registered dietitian for specific advice and supervision before introducing these foods. Wait at least three days between all new foods to watch for signs of intolerance, including diarrhea, rash, or fussiness.

Ways to incorporate these foods include adding them to a puree with a food your child is familiar with. For example, I made a puree of cauliflower and added a few small dollops of peanut butter. Peanut butter and almond butter also pair well with several fruits, especially banana or apple. You can add wheat germ to a puree for wheat exposure, as well as added fiber. Scrambled eggs are easily incorporated into purees and are also a good finger food, as small pieces tend to be soft and easy for small fingers to handle. Add scrambled eggs to a puree of strawberries and the Vitamin C in the berries will aid in the iron absorption from the eggs, high five!

Does my child need water?

Your baby gets the water he or she needs from your breastmilk or formula. Since constipation is common when food is incorporated into the diet, feel free to offer your child 1-2 ounces of water from a cup daily. Offer the water after they have finished eating.

What about juice?

I recommend avoiding juice for at least the first 12 months of age. Children should be encouraged to consume whole fruits and vegetables. After 12 months, if you decide to offer your child juice, limit intake to less than six ounces daily and always encourage water intake.

If your child is underweight, I highly recommend avoiding juice. Children often fill up on this “empty calorie” beverage, then eat less food at meal times. On the flip side, if your child is considered overweight, I would encourage fruit and vegetable intake instead of juice, as juice provides the sugar without the fiber benefits of whole foods.

Are there any foods I should avoid giving my child?

Yes, you will want to avoid giving your infant (<12 months old) honey, under-cooked or raw meats, under-cooked eggs, and choking hazard foods, to include whole nuts, popcorn, raisins, large “chunks” of food, marshmallows, and whole grapes. I also recommend avoiding highly processed foods or any foods with added salt.

Can I season/flavor my baby’s food?

Although you might feel like plain carrots or plain broccoli is boring or bland, remember that your child has never tasted food. They do not have the mature and experienced palate that you have. This means that they might initially reject a food (ie. spit it out) just because it’s new and different. This doesn’t mean that you have to flavor it with salt, sugar, or butter to get them to eat it. Just put it aside and try again the next day. Refrain from habitually adding sugar, salt, or butter to their food just because that’s the way you like it. The best thing you can do for your child is help them avoid those habits from the start. If a baby starts eating plain, fresh foods, they will develop their palate to appreciate those pure flavors. After a couple months of trying a variety of foods and eating is established, feel free to add flavor to their food to include cinnamon, garlic, and mild herbs and spices. I recommend you always avoid salt, any seasoning with sodium, and anything too spicy.

Why make my own baby food?

The three main reasons I chose to make Laurel’s baby food were because homemade baby food is:

  • Fresh, which means better quality and taste. We all obviously want to feed our babies the best food possible. I figured that if I would prefer fresh food versus food from a jar, then I assume my child would too. My hope is that her exposure to fresh food from the beginning will develop her palate and foster a love for the flavors of whole foods. I think this can be lacking in children, and adults for that matter, today. I consider frozen fruits and vegetables fresh options, as they are flash-frozen shortly after they’re picked, which is usually at their peak ripeness. This means that the nutrients are locked into the food, nutrients that might otherwise be lost in transit from the farm to your grocery store. I actually preferred using frozen fruits and vegetables since it allowed for variety with minimal waste. For these reasons, frozen foods are wonderful options when making your baby’s food.
  • Cheap even when buying organic options. I bought a ton of frozen foods to puree for Laurel. Even organic options of frozen fruits and vegetables are cheaper than buying baby food jars. I also realize now that I would have wasted a lot of food (aka money) if I opened a new jar every time I fed Laurel, since she only took a few bites per feeding in the first few weeks.
  • Easy as long as you have a steamer basket and a blender. I didn’t use any fancy baby food making equipment, although I’m sure those things can be helpful. You don’t even need a food processor! All I used was a pot with a steamer basket and a blender. Writing this post now as Laurel is 12 months and I am no longer making her baby food, I have since purchased this food processor (which I used for the pictures you see). However, when I was making her pureed food from about 6-9 months, I used a regular blender.

Following the more detailed directions below, add food to your steamer basket or pot.

Frozen green beans waiting in the steamer basket.
Frozen organic green beans waiting in the steamer basket.

Once food is fork tender, transfer to food processor or blender.

babyfood2
Food + liquid + food processor = baby food.

Blended until there are no chunks remaining and food is completely smooth, transfer to freezer-safe container.

I would freeze my purees in these trays with silicone bottoms.
I would freeze my purees in trays with silicone bottoms for easy removal.

How do I make baby food?

Tools needed:

  • Blender or food processor
  • Rubber scraper
  • Freezer-safe jars or ice cube trays (I prefer silicone trays like these)

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 c liquid (either water,* breastmilk or formula) *Water can be any type of clean water, tap or bottled
  • 1 cup fruit or vegetable, fresh or frozen

Directions:

  1. Thoroughly wash, peel, and de-seed fruit or vegetable as necessary. Chop into smaller pieces.
  2. Steam in steamer basket or boil in water until soft, about 5-7 minutes or until fork tender. You can also bake/roast vegetables in the oven.
  3. Allow fruit or vegetable to cool slightly then add to blender or food processor.
  4. Add the water, breastmilk, or formula into blender. For thicker puree, use less liquid. To thin the puree, add more liquid until desired consistency.
  5. Blend until completely smooth. Scrape sides of blender with rubber scraper and blend again.
  6. Carefully pour into ice cube trays or jars, cover, and freeze.
  7. If freezing food in an ice cube tray, feel free to transfer the cubes into a freezer-safe bag after they are completely frozen.

To thaw:

Place 1-2 cubes in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave for 10 seconds. Stir and repeat as necessary.

Tips:

  • You want to cook (steam, boil, or roast) most fruits and vegetables before pureeing, with the exception of banana and avocado, in order to make them easier to digest (break down the fibers), as well as kill any bacteria that may be present on the food.
  • Vegetables like carrots and sweet potato take longer to become fork tender than broccoli, for example. Keep this in mind if combining and steaming foods.
  • Wash all fruits and vegetables, even if peeling, to include avocado (in case bacteria is present on the peel). I keep a spray bottle with vinegar next to my sink to spray fruit and veggie skin before peeling. Always use clean utensils and equipment, including knives and cutting board.
  • I liked to make single-ingredient purees, even as Laurel got older, so I could combine them in different ways to prevent boredom. Example: spinach + pear for breakfast, spinach + cauliflower for lunch, cauliflower + sweet potato for dinner.
  • I would sometimes add small amounts of baby oatmeal to reheated purees as a way of thickening them and adding iron.
  • Label your baby food with the date it was prepared and the ingredient(s) used.
  • Homemade baby food, if stored properly, should be safe in the fridge for 48 hours (fruits/vegetables) or 24 hours (meats/dairy/fish/eggs).
  • Use frozen baby food within three months, ideally within one month for best flavor.

Did you make your baby’s food? What are your favorite baby food combinations? 

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Does What You Eat Affect Your Fertility?

As a dietitian, I strongly believe that what we eat plays a huge role in our fertility. I mean, food affects everything when it comes to our health, reproductive health included. There are so many physiological functions that have to run smoothly in order for conception to occur. Giving your body the nutrients it thrives on might not only help you conceive, but could also help you enjoy a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby to boot!

There are countless stages that couples find themselves in when starting or growing their family. You might be wanting to start trying to conceive in the next couple of months. Maybe you’ve already been trying for a few months. Maybe you’ve been diagnosed with infertility, because you’ve been trying for over a year. Maybe getting pregnant isn’t even on your radar! If you’re not actively trying to get pregnant, but you’re considering it as an option within the next few years, it never hurts to start making healthy lifestyle changes now.

I’ve counseled countless people on the many benefits of living a healthier lifestyle, but no patient population is more engaged and dedicated than those women, and their partners, trying to get pregnant. At some point during the baby-making journey, especially if it’s taking longer than expected, an assessment of diet and lifestyle choices is imminent.

While an overall healthy diet itself can boost fertility, there are some specific recommendations that those aiming to get knocked up should focus on. These recommendations come from the research led by Drs. Jorge Chavarro and Walter Willett of the Harvard School of Public Health, which was ultimately published in a book, The Fertility Diet. Previous to their findings in 2007, research on the topic of nutrition and fertility was scarce. They used information from the Nurses Health Study, which looked at tens of thousands of women through their reproductive years, many of whom were trying to get pregnant. They were able to identify risk factors for infertility, specifically relating to anovulatory infertility, (when an egg is not released from the ovary as expected). Here are some of the specifics they discuss:

  1. Switch all grains to whole.

    Whole grains provide enormous nutritional benefits, such as fiber, protein, and vitamins that you won’t get in refined grains. The fiber itself helps to fill you up faster and for longer, a huge bonus if you’re one of those people that’s “always hungry” or never really feels satiated. By switching to whole grains, you are now omitting many simple carbohydrates from your diet. Why does this matter? Simple carbs cause blood sugar spikes -> blood sugar spikes can lead to insulin resistance -> insulin resistance is not good for fertility. Think of insulin resistance as your body not being able to regulate your blood sugar properly. A fluctuating blood sugar means that your energy level and mood will fluctuate as well. If you suffer from chronic “blah” feeling (yes, that’s a medical term I just made up), low energy, have been diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), or have stubborn fat around your abdomen that you can’t seem to lose, you could benefit tremendously from switching to whole grains.

  • How to get started: Mix it up, literally! The next time you make white rice, make wild or brown rice as well and combine the two. Do the same with pasta, mix white pasta with whole grain varieties. Check cooking times on the box, as you might start one before the other. This could be a realistic way to ease into the transition to whole grains… and bonus, your family might not even notice!

    A bowl of brown rice (simmered in broth) topped with steamed peas, roasted tomatoes & sweet potato, and a scoop of cilantro cashew butter.
    A bowl of brown rice (simmered in broth) topped with steamed peas, roasted tomatoes & sweet potato, and a scoop of cilantro cashew butter.

2. Swap unhealthy fats for healthy ones.

Notice that I used the word swap. Don’t just start downing avocado and guzzling olive oil without eliminating fertility-killing fats, called trans fats. Trans fats are found in items such as fried fast food, powdered coffee creamer, donuts, some margarines, and “movie theater butter” popcorn. You’ll know if trans fast are in a product if the ingredients list contains “partially hydrogenated oil.” Limit foods high in saturated fats too, as excessive intake of these contribute to insulin resistance as well. These foods include processed meats like bacon and sausage, fried foods, butter, shortening, and coconut oil. As you work on limiting unhealthy fat sources from your diet, focus on increasing foods like avocado, nuts, seeds, and seafood like salmon and tuna.

  • How to get started:
    • Instead of -> ribeye steak choose -> salmon filet
    • Instead of -> chips choose -> nuts
    • Instead of -> butter, bacon grease, or coconut oil choose -> extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil, or canola oil
    • Instead of -> salami, bologna, or spam choose -> sliced turkey breast or lean ham
    • Instead of -> deep fried choose -> baked or grilled

      wild Alaskan salmon with vegetables and salad greens
      Wild Alaskan salmon topped with goat cheese & pumpkin seeds + roasted asparagus, beets, and sweet potato (drizzled with EVOO and freshly cracked black pepper) over a bed of mixed greens.

3. Add one serving of whole-milk dairy daily.

This one seems contradictory since I just talked about limiting saturated fat, but according to the Nurses Health Study, it could decrease your risk of anovulatory infertility. The underlying mechanism is unclear, but you can’t deny the findings– in the study mentioned above, there was an inverse association between dairy fat intake and anovulatory infertility.

  • How to get started: Next time you’re tempted to reach for that fat-free yogurt for your mid-morning snack, instead choose the whole milk version and enjoy every scrumptious spoonful!

    Whole milk plain Greek yogurt topped with berries, pumpkin seeds, chocolate chips, chia seeds & ground flaxseed.
    Whole milk plain Greek yogurt topped with berries, pumpkin seeds, chocolate chips, chia seeds & ground flaxseed. Oh hey, I’m in the spoon!

4. Eliminate processed meat intake, limit red meat intake, and increase plant protein intake. 

The bottom line here is to try to replace some of the animal protein in your diet with plant-based protein. Intake of vegetable rather than animal-based protein was a dietary factor prospectively reviewed and related to lower risk of ovulatory disorder infertility. Processed meats like sausage, bacon, salami, and hot dogs contain loads of sodium, saturated fat, nitrates, and nitrites, which are all known fertility-killers. Excessive red meat intake can cause you to take in excessive amounts of saturated fat, potentially leading to inflammation and weight gain. Healthier protein choices than the aforementioned options include lean poultry, seafood, beans, peas, lentils, eggs, nuts, seeds, dairy, and nut butters.

  • How to get started: The next time you plan to use ground beef in a recipe, use half the amount you normally use and combine it with ground turkey breast or diced mushrooms.

    A sprouted whole wheat pita half stuffed with baked falafel, cucumbers, tomato, and creamy tzatziki sauce.
    A sprouted whole wheat pita half stuffed with baked falafel, cucumbers, tomato, and creamy tzatziki sauce.

5. Eat more vegetables.

Do you eat enough vegetables? If you hesitated before the answer to that question popped into your mind, you could probably benefit from eating more. While all vegetables are nutritious, those higher in iron and folic acid, including spinach, kale, and asparagus should be included into your daily diet. Although iron and folic acid may not necessarily increase your fertility, these nutrients are essential for a developing fetus, especially during those early weeks before some even know they’re pregnant. Vegetables promote health due to their high fiber content, high vitamin and mineral content, and their antioxidant benefits. It’s also a good rule of thumb to take a prenatal vitamin if you’re trying to get pregnant, but remember that a supplement does not replace a healthy diet.

  • How to get started: Add a salad to your lunch and dinner meals. If you often find yourself buying salad ingredients but they go bad before you use them, try this. Find the biggest bowl you have and make one huge salad. Keep it covered in the fridge.* You can scoop from this bowl over the course of a few days (depending on how much you make) until it’s gone. You’ve made it once but you benefit from it over and over. *Put a paper towel in the bowl with the salad to absorb any moisture that might accumulate. This keeps the veggies fresh for longer.

    A salad of mixed greens, Brussels sprouts, carrots, tomato, onion, sunflower seeds, and garbanzo beans.
    A salad of mixed greens, Brussels sprouts, carrots, tomato, onion, sunflower seeds, and garbanzo beans. Salads don’t have to be boring!

6. Exercise & maintain a healthy weight.

The physical and mental benefits that exercise provides makes it an essential ingredient in the recipe for getting pregnant. Not only does exercise reduce stress, improve blood flow, and regulate blood sugar, but it also aids in weight loss. For both women and men, obesity is associated with infertility. Maintaining a healthy weight is easier when exercise becomes a part of your lifestyle. Interestingly enough, exercise, regardless of your current weight, has fertility-boosting benefits in itself, according to the National Infertility Association.

  • How to get started: You know yourself. Set realistic goals for how often and how long you will exercise. Start with going on a daily walk and eventually make that walk longer and faster. If you don’t have a ton of motivation to work out on your own, consider joining a gym with group fitness classes. Enlist a workout buddy. Hire a personal trainer. It’s worth the money if you actually use it! Your body, and future baby, will thank you.
Pictured below: Laurel and I practicing yoga, an exercise I did frequently before, during, and after my pregnancy.

A Breastfeeder’s Guide to Nutrition

The #1 question I hear from postpartum women is: How do I lose my baby weight while still maintaining my milk supply? Oftentimes, when women try to lose weight by restricting their calorie intake, it impacts their milk supply. Exhausted and frustrated, this is about the time they come to see me. So what’s a mama to do?

Ultimately, the reason we choose to breastfeed is to provide our babies with the best nutrition this planet has to offer, right? Although you might feel pressure to get your “body back” right away, remember that the main goal during this time is optimizing your nutrition. Why? You want to have energy, feel emotionally stable, provide all of the nutrients your baby needs, and of course bond with your baby in the process. Are you ready to have your mind blown? A woman needs more calories when she’s breastfeeding than when she was pregnant! A breastfeeding mom needs approximately 450-500 extra calories per day. Yes, you need more calories to produce milk than you did when you were growing a human being. Your newborn is growing at an exponential rate, so it only makes sense that your body will be working overtime to facilitate this growth.

Women are often torn because they want to lose the baby weight so badly, but they don’t realize the impact that excess calorie restriction can have on milk production. Think about it this way, the average ounce of breast milk is about 20 calories. A new baby could drink up to 32 ounces of milk in a day. That means that in one day your body can produce over 600 calories worth of liquid gold! Goosebumps.

I’ll break it down and share some of the most important nutritional tips I tell breastfeeding women. These tips are not only important for maintaining a healthy supply of milk to nourish your little one, but also to facilitate healing your own body.

  1. Drink water. Lots of water. Remember those 32 ounces of breast milk you’re producing in a day? If you’re dehydrated your body would have a really hard time doing that. I recommend you add 32 ounces of water to the typically recommended 64 ounces daily. This means you want to drink about 96 ounces (or about 12 glasses) of water every. single. day while breastfeeding. An easy way I keep track of my water intake is by filling my 32oz EcoVessel at least three times a day. I actually received it as a gift and now I swear that it’s the absolute best thing anyone can give a postpartum woman.. along with food, banana bread muffins, peanut butter-filled anything.. okay I’m getting off topic. Bottom line: keep a water bottle or cup of water at each place you might rest your body during the day and night, such as the couch, next to your bed, the bathroom, everywhere.
  2. Have 2-3 snacks daily. Although you might feel like you’re always eating (which can’t be too bad right?) keep snack items at home and in your diaper bag for between meals. Snacks are optional but provide a nice energy boost and help to prevent you from going into your next meal ravenous. The key to a snack is that it has carbohydrates and protein. You can even add veggies for a bonus dose of fiber. *Snacks are crucial if you find yourself losing weight too quickly after having your baby.
  3. Try to eat two 6 oz servings of omega-3 fatty acid rich fish per week, such as salmon, anchovies, or chunk light tuna. The omega-3 DHA is passed through your breast milk so your baby can reap the benefits of optimal brain and eye development. If fish isn’t typically part of your diet, I would suggest a fish oil supplement that provides at least 200mg DHA. Looking for a vegetarian option? Incorporate nuts and seeds, such as walnuts and flaxseeds, along with DHA-fortified eggs into your diet, or consider taking a vegetarian DHA supplement, usually made from algae. Continue taking your prenatal vitamin throughout breastfeeding and beyond, as those vitamins and minerals are beneficial for healing and overall health.salmonbowl
  4. Eat three meals daily. Since life with a baby can seem like a blur and you’re not sure if it’s 6am or 6pm or what planet you’re on for that matter, the main idea is to eat a meal every 3-5 hours. This keeps your blood sugar stable and keeps a steady influx of calories your body can use to produce lots of milk. Every time you eat, you want to be taking in quality calories so your body can function as best it can, even on top of sleep deprivation and lack of personal hygiene. Ditch the empty calorie foods like chips and sodas that leave you still hungry and even more exhausted.
  5. Try to eat from all of the major food groups every day (is peanut butter a food group?) so you get a variety of beneficial macro and micronutrients. These include:
  • Fruits & Vegetables: Try to consume a ton of fruits and vegetables throughout the day so you can benefit from the antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and fiber (ahem… help with going #2) they provide. Stock up on frozen varieties so you have plenty of options to pair with a sandwich for a quick lunch, (microwave steamer bags are your friend). When your neighbor asks if she can bring anything when she comes to meet the baby, ask for a veggie tray or a homemade salad. That’s an easy task for her but a huge help for you since making a salad is the last thing on your to-do list right now. Other quick ways to get in more fruits and veggies:
    • Keep celery and carrot sticks in the fridge to dip in hummus for an easy late-night snack.
    • Fill little baggies with nuts and unsweetened dried fruit, such as raisins or apricots, to munch on during your afternoon feedings.
    • No time to cook eggs in the morning? Slap some peanut butter on a slice of whole grain bread and top with a 1/2 banana for a quick breakfast.
    • Enlist your significant other, mom, or friend to cut up a bunch of fresh fruit to keep in a bowl that you can just grab as you walk by.
    • Roast a ton of vegetables to keep in a container in the fridge, since they taste even better the longer they’ve been sitting in garlicy goodness. Spread chopped onion, bell pepper, zucchini, squash, broccoli, and/or cauliflower on a sheet tray and coat with olive oil, minced garlic, and salt & pepper. Bake at 375 for 10-15 minutes or until you see a slight char on the veggies.

roastedveg

  • Grains/Carbs: You want each meal you eat to contain starchy vegetables or whole grains, such as potatoes with the skin, corn, wild rice, oatmeal, whole wheat pasta, or beans. Repeat after me: carbohydrates are my friend. The key is selecting high fiber carbs like the ones mentioned above, while limiting refined carbs like white pasta. Tip: Buy convenience items, such as the microwave pouches of brown or wild rice, just make sure nothing besides oil and salt are added. Also look for frozen varieties of chopped squash, potatoes, peas, and corn.

*Anecdotally speaking, women I’ve counseled seem to notice the biggest drop in their milk supply when they limit carbs. Although this tends to be the go-to diet practice when trying to lose weight, it seems to be the most detrimental when trying to maintain a plentiful milk supply.

  • Protein: Lastly, don’t forget the protein. You have increased protein needs when you’re healing and breastfeeding which is why it’s important to incorporate protein into meals and snacks. Chicken, turkey, lean beef, and seafood are all wonderful options to cook up with your meals. Meats, poultry, and seafood can be purchased in bulk, separated into single serving bags, and frozen. Remember that you also get protein from yogurt, milk, eggs, nuts and seeds, nut butters, beans, peas, cheese, and tofu. Hard-boil a dozen eggs and keep them in the fridge for a quick, protein-rich snack. Canned beans are a versatile pantry staple, as you can add them to everything from chili to salads. When purchasing canned goods, always look for “no salt added” or “low sodium” varieties.

Meal Ideas:

Breakfast:

Option 1: 1 slice of whole grain toast smeared with avocado, topped with 2 eggs and a side of strawberries

Option 2: 2-3 egg omelette with spinach, minced onion, and bell pepper with a whole grain English muffin or

Option 3: Slow Cooker Oatmeal (Before bed, put 1 cup steel cut oats in your slow cooker, along with 4 cups milk or water. Turn on low and cook all night. Keep extra in fridge, reheat by adding a splash of liquid and microwave until hot. Suggested toppings include: walnuts, slivered almonds, pumpkin seeds, cinnamon or nutmeg, a scoop of peanut butter, diced apple or banana, chia seeds, or hemp seeds). Pair with 1-2 boiled eggs.

Lunch:

Tuna sandwich (tuna mixed with avocado, diced onion, and celery on whole grain bread), a salad (with a variety of vegetables, topped with sunflower and pumpkin seeds), and a pear. *Substitute diced hard-boiled eggs for tuna for another sandwich option.

Dinner:

Baked chicken breast (marinated in olive oil & garlic pepper seasoning) with a medium sweet potato (skin on; drizzled with olive oil), roasted asparagus (coated in olive oil and minced garlic), and a salad (with balsamic vinaigrette dressing). *BONUS: this entire meal can be cooked in the oven!

Snack Ideas:

yogurt (preferably plain; Greek or regular) with berries added

6 whole grain crackers with 1-2 scoops natural peanut butter

a small handful of nuts & unsweetened dried fruit

a rice cake topped with 1-2 scoops of almond butter and cinnamon

a piece of fruit with a cheese stick

1 cup of edamame pods (often sold in the freezer section in microwave steamer bags)

A granola bar (look for ones with lots of nuts, such as KIND bars) or protein shake

*Consider meals/snacks that can be made in bulk, separated into containers, and frozen such as chili, lasagna, and soups.

The recommendations above are what I personally think should be your focus if you are trying to eat healthy while breastfeeding. If you’re overwhelmed in any way, remember that the important thing is keeping your sanity and providing your baby with what he or she needs. Sometimes this means that you might supplement with formula or transition your baby to formula altogether. From one mom to another, that is okay. You are still a rockstar.

I truly understand breastfeeding is not easy and that all of this can be overwhelming. #thestruggleisreal. I’m going on eleven months of breastfeeding my baby girl, the first six were exclusive breastfeeding, and I too have experienced its trials and tribulations. Although Laurel latched within minutes of being born, my first five days of breastfeeding were absolute torture. I felt like her mouth was full of razor blades and every time she would latch, my face would turn beet red and tears would flow, ugh. After seeing a Lactation Consultant I learned how to get Laurel to latch deeper and our problem was solved (Thank you baby Jesus!). It took the next four weeks for my nipples to heal, since they were so scabbed and tender from that first week. Just as things were starting to get easier, and actually enjoyable, I was hit with mastitis. Uncontrollable shaking, a fever of 106, and a trip to the ER.. if you’ve ever had mastitis you know it’s not fun.

When I was pregnant I was told that the first six weeks of breastfeeding are the most difficult and that if you can get past that time it gets easier. In many ways I agree with this statement and I think it’s good advice. As things like breastfeeding and learning your role as a new mom gets “easier” with time, new challenges enter the scene constantly. I guess that’s what motherhood is, new challenges to conquer all while trying to keep your heart from growing out of your chest.

breastfeedingL2