How to Get Your Kids to Eat Right

How to Get Your Kids to Eat Right

We’ve all heard the outburst I’m not hungry!when a healthy meal is placed in front of an obviously low-fueled child. [And why, oh why, does this particularly happen after ordering an expensive dish or preparing a labor-intensive meal followed by said child eating half a loaf of bread?] Children certainly can be poor eaters, no doubt. With patience and creativity, parents can turn that into “Peas please, Mom!”

It all starts in infancy when the innate taste preference for sweet flavor (bitter foods were toxic in human history) is met with a bounty of fruity baby food; followed by edible treats from Grandma’s kitchen making their way into toddler hands. No wonder getting little ones to eat decent solid food can be challenging. It’s said that it may take 15 times of introducing a new food item before a child will eat it!  

If your kiddo seems to eat the same thing day in and out, you may not need to worry. Food jags are generally okay lasting anywhere from a couple of weeks to a couple of months. Continue to offer nutritious choices and a child will eventually eat when they are hungry enough. Remember, feeding your child is about nourishment. If you engage in a battle of the wills, your child’s attitude toward food in general may lean toward the negative and his or her long-term nutrition may lose out. 

Broccoli Battles and Other Vegetable Nightmares 

Let’s talk about the elephant in the kitchen – vegetables. Children are known for eschewing them from their plates and failing to consume the recommended number of servings (see highlight/box below). Only a handful of veggies satisfy children’s preference for sweet, namely: carrot, corn, sweet potato/yam, tomato and acorn squash. We could write an entire blog just addressing ways to get your kid to eat more vegetables, but here we’ll name a few.  

It may be the look. Who said they had to be served in leafy salad or in a naked cooked pile on the plate? Make it fun and appealing! Shred or spiralize vegetables to serve as a topping for sandwiches, burgers, pasta and more. Combine diced vegetables as ‘confetti’ with rice, quinoa or couscous.

Texture aversions present an opportunity to find ways of preparing foods in another manner with an acceptable mouthfeel. Slimy hot okra might be replaced by breaded okra bites. Stringy or leafy vegetables may be pureed into smoothies, soups or sauces. Freeze dried or lightly fried vegetable chips work well in lunch boxes.

Don’t forget about between meal eating. Snacks are necessary for continued energy and offer a valuable time for additional nutrients, especially for small bellies that can only get so much at mealtime. Serve beet-blended pink hummus with crackers or pita bread.

Increasing Interest in Healthy Foods

Involve Kids in Food Prep 

To increase interest in food, try to get kids involved in cooking or at least preparing a few meals here and there. Children are more likely to try the fruits of their labor than if food is just presented to them. A fouryearold can scoop and stir, a six year old can pour and peel, an eight year old can measure and assemble, while a ten year old can cut and become more confident in advanced tasks. Children like to feed themselves, so finger-friendly foods assure independence at mealtime. To help promote a desire to eat, make sure kids aren’t full of empty calorie foods before meals — keep sweets and treats at a minimum. 

Model Smart Food Choices 

Older children often make their own food decisions about what to buy from the school cafeteria or buy from vending machines and drive-through. There’s a reason why teens are stereotyped for their greasy fast food choices, soda and pizza consumption. In a way, adolescents are exerting their freedom from rules and parental control.

On the flip side, too much attention and focus on healthfulness of food can lead to dieting and an unhealthful preoccupation with nutrition among teenagers. Set clear expectations on how spending cash is to be used. It’s best to be a good role model, following habits and behaviors that demonstrate healthy choices, starting early when children are young. 

At any stage of childhood, parents should consult with a healthcare professional if their child’s growth is no longer on trend for them individually. For specific eating behaviors and nutritional concerns, look for a Registered Dietitian who is a boardcertified specialist in pediatric nutrition, designated by the CSP credential. 

Recommended daily vegetable servings*

Children  2-3 years old 1 cup
Children 4-8 years old   1-1.5 cups 
Girls  9-13 years old 2 cups 
Boys    9-13 years old 2.5 cups
Girls  14-18 years old 2.5 cups 
Boys  14-18 years old 3 cups 

Cup vegetable equivalents (1 cup = 1 baseball or fist of an average adult)

1 cup Tomato and other vegetable juices
1 cup Broccoli, Carrots, Green beans and other cooked chopped vegetables
1 cup Pumpkin and other winter squash
1 cup Peas, Corn and other starchy vegetables
1 cup Celery, Peppers, Cucumber and other raw crunchy vegetables
cups Spinach and other raw leafy greens

*Reference: Daily Vegetable Table. USDA. July 18, 2019.Accessed 9.6.2019 

How to Lose Weight on a Vegetarian Diet

How to Lose Weight on a Vegetarian Diet


I want to follow a daily routine which will help me reduce weight. Currently, I am 129 lbs. I want to reduce it to 120 lbs; however, I am a vegetarian. I don’t eat eggs or meat. Please help. 

– Swapna A.


Vegetarian diet or not, the same rules apply for reducing body fat to lose weight: eat less than you burn. Where vegetarians may have trouble is with concentrated sugars (in foods like smoothies, cereals, fruit bars) and excess fats (hidden oils in boxed/frozen foods). Restricting intake of processed foods while focusing on whole plant foods will ensure you control the amount of sugar and fat consumed. Basically, choose foods you need to chew! 

Consider a healthy vegetarian dish of lentils, mushroom, onion, chopped spinach, olive oil and carrot over sweet potatoes. Despite the correct balance of carbohydrates, fats and protein you still need to deal with volume. Do you fill a 10-inch plate, 20 oz. bowl or only a cup? Portion control is important, no matter the diet you follow. Just cutting back 50 calories a day can promote a 5-pound weight loss over a year.  

I wouldn’t advise a daily menu repeated over and over because you need a variety of produce, legumes, nuts and seeds to meet micronutrient requirements and provide beneficial phytochemicals. But, you can start with a few days mapped out for you! EatingWell® has a decent vegan 7 day 1200 calorie plan. For a week’s worth of lacto-ovo Indian meal suggestions, check out this traditional plan from Healthline. Also read the Living Healthy blog’s Ask Our Dietitian post How to Lose Fat as a Vegan for more meal and snack options. 

– Debbie J., MS, RD

This article should not replace any exercise program or restrictions, any dietary supplements or restrictions, or any other medical recommendations from your primary care physician. Before starting any exercise program or diet, make sure it is approved by your doctor.

Some questions have been edited for length and/or clarity.

Ask our Dietitian

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Did I Overdo It? – Signs You Pushed Your Workout Too Hard

Did I Overdo It? – Signs You Pushed Your Workout Too Hard

To get stronger, you need to push your body to certain limits, but how can you know what those limits are? There’s no easy way to define it because everyone is different, and what you are capable of today may not be what you are capable of tomorrow. 

There are some tell-tale signs that your workout is no longer benefiting your body. The farther you push past your limits, the longer your recovery will be, and the longer you’ll need to wait before you can train again. 

Contrary to popular belief, muscle soreness is not required for muscle gain, and you don’t need to feel like a zombie to benefit from your gym session. So, let’s talk about the signs so you can better understand your limits and get the most out of your workouts.  

Pain or Discomfort While Working Out

Because they occur in the moment, these pain signals are easy to identify and are the more obvious warnings of over-exertion. Just a few examples include: 

  • Pain in your side during cardio; also known as a side-stitch 
  • Any sharp, shooting, or stabbing pains  
  • Pain while stretching, especially if your muscles are not warm 
  • Difficulty breathing 
  • Muscle tingling or numbness  
  • Dizziness or feeling faint 
  • Chest Pain or Pressure 
  • Nausea or vomiting 

The more dangerous potential for injury is when we do not feel anything, so we continue to exercise. So, if you experience any of the above symptoms, or any other concerning pain or discomfort, that’s a good sign you should take a break or stop. 

Pain or Discomfort After Working Out

If you didn’t feel anything while working out, and then felt like a train-wreck in the days to follow, this is your body communicating its limits, just differently. 

Take, for example, a person experiencing a sudden adrenaline rush. In fight-or-flight mode, the body is capable of incredible things. Only once the body has settled from the rush does a person finally begin to notice various aches, pains, and even more extreme damage like bone breaks or severed limbs.  

It’s possible that while you’re in the zone, pumping iron to the right song, you may not notice that you’re pushing your body just a little too far. 

What You Can Do

Sometimes, you need to be your own critic. Try to carefully monitor the following things as you work out:

  1. Your Form. Look in the mirror and double check what you know about the correct form for the exercise you’re doing. If you don’t know the correct form, ask a professional or do your research to prevent injury.

  2. Are your muscles starting to tremble? This is a sign they’re getting close to reaching their maximum level of exertion. While a little bit of that can be okay, try not to push much further past this point.


  3. Is your body unwilling to cooperate? If you just did a few great sets of weighted squats, and now your body refuses to squat without any added weight, that’s it. It’s time to call it. If your muscles feel ready to give out, you’ve probably already gone too far. 

Closing Thoughts 

Overdoing your workout doesn’t just mean going full beast-mode and overworking your body. If you’re fighting sickness, or your body is sleep-deprived and exhausted, you may be better off staying home and resting. It’s possible that while your body is trying to manage other ailments, you won’t get much out of your workout anyway. It’s the safer choice to take a break and come back when you’re feeling better.  

Always pay attention to the signs and learn your body’s limitations so you can hit the gym with confidence and energy instead of with dread. 

For some workout nutrition tips, read out article on Pre- and Post-Workout Foods, or our article on What BCAA’s Can Do for Your Workout. To access our monthly blog post highlights, subscribe to our newsletter today! 

Safely Reducing Your Calorie Intake for Weight Loss

Safely Reducing Your Calorie Intake for Weight Loss


Hi, I wanted to ask a question about dieting. What is the lowest number of daily calories for an adult woman (34 years old, 5’6”, 140 lbs.) that is safe but will also allow for weight loss? I’ve been even eating 1,200 or so per day, but I’m not sure if that’s accurate. Thanks!

– Jess S.


First off, 140 pounds for a height of 5’6” makes your BMI 22.6, within a healthy range (18.5-24.9). In general terms, 1,200 calories for women and ,1500 calories for men have long been used as minimum recommended intake levels. Even at these amounts it’s difficult to meet vitamin and mineral requirements unless one’s diet is exceptionally nutrient-rich and balanced. 

Using personalized estimates based on standardized equations is more predictive of actual needs. Using your age, height, weight and gender, your calculated base energy requirement, called basal metabolic rate (BMR), is 1,352-1,376 calories daily*. Your body composition, genetics and physiology, among other factors, determine your true metabolic rate which may be higher or lower than estimated. 

It’s not advised to reduce intake to BMR minimum very long for successful fat loss. Restricting intake to that level creates such an energy deficit that lean mass starts to break down for fuel. The scale may show a weight drop – often significant – from the water released as stored glycogen is used to fill the energy gap. Neither of these conditions foster fat burning or improve body composition.  

My best advice is to increase physical activity which will help retain lean mass and allow you to get sufficient nutrients from a more generous diet. There’s a lot of nutrition you can pack into 150 calories of wholesome foods. A yogurt parfait or bowl of crunchy popcorn is worth a half hour of dancing, recreational biking or swimming in my book! 

*based on MifflinSt. Jeor and WHO equations. 

Suggested further reading: 

Resting Metabolic Rate: Best Ways to Measure It – And Raise It, Too 

Calories Burned in 30 Minutes For People of Three Different Weights 

– Debbie J., MS, RD

This article should not replace any exercise program or restrictions, any dietary supplements or restrictions, or any other medical recommendations from your primary care physician. Before starting any exercise program or diet, make sure it is approved by your doctor.

Some questions have been edited for length and/or clarity.

Ask our Dietitian

Have a nutrition question? Our registered dietitian is ready to help!

Email or submit your question below and it may be featured in an upcoming article!

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Fruits and Veggies – Part 2 – Podcast Ep. 32

Fruits and Veggies – Part 2 – Podcast Ep. 32

Welcome to the 32nd episode of the Living Healthy podcast, presented by LA Fitness.

On this episode of the Living Healthy Podcast, we continue our discussion with Debbie James, RDN, to dish out the details on super-fruits and veggies. We talk about how to incorporate more into your daily diet, whether they can help you bulk up or trim down, and how you can actually alter your taste buds so they taste better!

Listen in now!

How Are We Doing? 

This podcast should not replace any exercise program or restrictions, any dietary supplements or restrictions, or any other medical recommendations from your primary care physician. Before starting any exercise program or diet, make sure it is approved by your doctor.

Timecard Markers – Fruits and Veggies, Part 2 – Podcast Ep. 32   



Brittany’s Story 


Jumping into Part 2 with Debbie James, RDN 


Are There Certain Fruits/Veggies That Help You Bulk Up or Lose Weight? 


Is it Better to Eat Locally Sourced Fruits and Veggies? 


Is There a Better Time of Day to Eat Fruits and Veggies to Bulk Up? 


Which Ones Are the Super-Fruits and Super-Veggies? 


Can You Change Your Taste buds to Like Veggies? 


Are There Any Tips to Get Kids to Eat Veggies? 


Cooking with Olive Oil versus Coconut Oil 


Does Juicing Hold Long-Term Benefits? 


Actionable Advice 




Recommended Podcast Episodes 



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