Thanksgiving: Vegan Alternatives to Turkey

Thanksgiving: Vegan Alternatives to Turkey

On my first meatless Thanksgiving a dozen years ago, my family graciously bought my a “Tofurkey” so I wouldn’t be left out.  It was the most unappetizing act of lovingkindness ever.  Tofurkey back then was utterly disgusting.  And while Tofurkey products have since improved enough that I will now eat them again, I still don’t think of them as the perfect vegan/vegetarian turkey replacement.  So here are some better ideas!


Grilled Seitan Skewers Kabobs with Green Goddess Marinade

Seitan is made from wheat gluten, so it is not suitable for the celiacs or gluten-free fanatic amongst us, but for those of us (like me) who love wheat, it’s perfect.  It’s chewy and versatile and is sometimes called “wheat meat” because it so perfectly replicates the texture of meat.  Plus, because it’s made from gluten, it is protein, which makes it a good meat substitute.

Seitan is in my view the perfect meatless meat.  It has the right texture and it kind of takes on whatever flavor you want it to.  If you’re making it yourself, mix herbs and spices in with the vital wheat gluten as you mix it to give it additional flavor.  Plus, if you make it yourself, you can probably make it turkey-shaped.  You could always stuff it with actual stuffing and pour some yummy vegan gravy over it if you want a traditional healthy alternative to turkey at your Thanksgiving table!

Of course there’s no reason why you have to restrict yourself.  Give thanks in whatever your culture is!  Cook seitan into a curry or stick some hot sauce on it and call it faux chicken wings.  Or, my favorite, stick it on kebabs and bake it in the oven covered in green goddess dressing!


You thought I was going to say tofu, didn’t you?  Well, I will, but it doesn’t rank as high on my list as tempeh.  Tempeh is made from fermented soybeans and you can generally still see the soybean shapes in the block of tempeh.  Unlike tofu or seitan, tempeh has a very distinct, nutty flavor.  Although it can’t be easily shaped into “turkey” form, I think the distinctive nutty flavor makes it a great vegan turkey alternative.  The nutty taste complements other traditional Thanksgiving foods like cranberry, green bean casserole, and apples.

Tempeh is also a good option if you have vegan and gluten free guests at your table.  It’s also considered low FODMAP and is acceptable on a high alkaline diet.  For a main dish, consider glazing the tempeh with a cranberry sauce, or a maple syrup.  Crumbled tempeh can also be deep fried as a crunchy high-protein topping on your green bean casserole if you have nut-free guests!

TVP (Textured Vegetable Protein)

Textured vegetable protein, or TVP for short, is made from soy flour and comes in all sorts of sizes, shapes, and textures.  It can be sold as flakes or in chunks.  It is relatively versatile, which makes it a good Thanksgiving meat substitute.  It’s more highly processed than seitan or tempeh, but it is still vegan, high protein, and healthy.

One of the most popular forms is in the shape of “mince.”  It looks like and has the texture of minced meat (I would guess beef, but it’s been a long time since I had actual minced meat!).  As a Thanksgiving substitute and main course, I recommend making it into a meatloaf, and substituting the normal ketchup on top for a more festive cranberry relish!


Okay, it had to be mentioned.  Tofu does tend to be the classic vegan or vegetarian meat alternative.  However, the texture is often a challenge for people who aren’t accustomed to it.  It’s not my favorite turkey substitute, but it can still have a place at your Thanksgiving table!

If you have guests or children who you think might object to the bland taste of tofu or its unusual texture, try preparing it differently.  Drain the water from hard tofu by wrapping it in tea towels and placing a heavy plate over and under it and letting it sit for a half an hour or more.  Then marinate in flavorful sauces and bake to give it a good flavor, or deep fry it to change its texture.  Like tempeh, you can crumble hard tofu and deep fry it for a crunchy topping on savory dishes (if you want to do this, consider freezing the tofu first).  You can also crumble it to act a bit like TVP, although it might not be as convincing a substitute.

But to my view, much better than trying to use tofu as a Thanksgiving main dish is to use it in desserts.  Silken tofu can be used to create vegan versions of holiday puddings, cheesecake, and – of course – pumpkin pie!

Forget the Substitutes

sweet potatoes with marshmallows

Why bother with substitutes anyway?  Just make an awesome vegetarian main dish.  Want all-American fare?  Make homemade veggie burgers with whole wheat bread rolls.  Or go for a more exotic main dish such as a vegetarian moussaka.

Or scrap the idea of a main dish entirely.  Many traditional Thanksgiving meals have more than one main dish anyway – like turkey, ham, and brisket.  Avoid the trouble by simply making an abundance of side dishes.  This gives you all the freedom you need to make whatever you want!  And lots of traditional Thanksgiving dishes, such as stuffing, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie, can easily be made in vegan versions.

Happy Holidays!

Daviah with an apple pie

Just because you’re not having turkey at your table doesn’t mean you can’t have a traditional Thanksgiving… and you’re giving the turkeys something to be thankful about, too.

Happy Holidays!

Michelle Bridges’ 12 Week Body Transformation Program

Michelle Bridges’ 12 Week Body Transformation Program

Inspire Healthy Kids is not only about focusing on what we feed our kids.  There is so much more to it.  And a lot of that “more to it” lies in how we treat ourselves.  As parents, and particularly as mommies, we are primary role models.  How we eat, our lifestyle, and our attitudes all affect kids’ health and diets.  In Australia, as elsewhere in the developed world, obesity is rapidly on the rise among adults and children alike.  To respond to this trend, diet and exercise regime gimmicks have flooded the market.  One of those is Michelle Bridges’ 12 Week Body Transformation (12WBT) program.  But if we as parents are following this are we presenting healthy models to our kids?

My good friend Kylie Ryan recently referred me to a blog post by a friend of hers reviewing the 12WBT program.  (And any friend of Kylie’s is a friend of mine! Kylie is a huge positive force for good so please check out her site.)

So, what is Michelle Bridges’ 12WBT?  It’s a diet and exercise program based on the principle that if you burn more calories than you consume, you will lose weight.  Programs like this one take this to the extreme, by encouraging extreme dieting and lots of exercise.  Participants are told to restrict caloric intake to 1200 calories a day.  Anything less than this is considered starvation – 1200 is the minimum you need to survive.  The problem with consuming this kind of restricted diet for a long period of time is that your body goes into “starvation mode.”  If your body ideally requires, say, 2000 calories a day to maintain body weight, and you only consume 1200, plus you begin exercising and therefore burning more calories, you are in essence starving yourself!

When your body goes into starvation mode the instant you start consuming extra calories, your body immediately stores them away for future use, in case the starvation scenario recurs or gets worse.  This is a natural biological survival mechanism.  This mechanism is how humans survived throughout our long history of “feast and famine” cycles and seasons.  Unfortunately, dieters actually stimulate this survival mechanism in themselves, which leads to them ultimately gaining more weight after the diet finishes.


In her post on this subject, Bianca Aiono lists numerous reasons women might be suffering from carrying too much weight:

  • Polycistic ovaries,
  • Insulin & Leptin resistance,
  • Adrenal fatigue
  • Underactive Thyroid
  • High stress & Cortisol levels
  • Disordered eating
  • Low self esteem
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Food Intolerances
  • Chronic Inflammation

And none of those are addressed by dieting, certainly not by a crash diet program like Michelle Bridges advocates.

The worst part is that when we as role models for our kids engage in unhealthy dieting behaviors, we are teaching our kids to do the same.  The best way to get our kids to eat a healthy, balanced diet is to eat a healthy, balanced diet ourselves.  And the Michelle Bridges 12WBT is not a healthy, balanced diet.

Other criticisms of a program like this is that it takes over your life.  As mothers, we need to dedicate time to our kids and our families.  Of course it is important to focus on ourselves and our health!  But it shouldn’t be so all-consuming that it takes away from our kids.  We want to inspire healthy kids, not ignore them!

To make matters worse, programs like Michelle Bridges’ 12WBT can lead to development of eating disorders or can at least really screw up women’s relationships with food.  As a woman myself, I know how looking at yourself in the mirror loads an extra 10kg of weight on you that nobody else actually sees.  The long term impacts of something like this can be drastic.  For instance, what happens if a woman falls pregnant?  If she diets like this during the pregnancy in an effort not to gain too much weight, the baby will suffer as well.  And what about if she does this program for the very long term – say, 5 sessions in a row?  Long-term exposure to a famine-like state can have long term impacts on the baby.  Babies whose mothers had previously been exposed to famine are more likely to not only have a decreased birth weight, but also to develop type 2 diabetes later in life.  (See, e.g., David Barker, The Malnourished Baby and Infant Relationship with Type 2 DiabetesBr Med Bull (2001) 60 (1): 69-88.doi: 10.1093/bmb/60.1.69)

Of course, a program like the Michelle Bridges 12WBT does have its benefits.  It gives women a community, group support, and a financial impetus to do something about the extra weight they’re carrying.  But women can easily find those same supports via healthier regimens.

Studies show that a healthy vegan diet does wonders for both adults and children in terms of all diabetes and heart disease risk factors, including weight loss.  And the vegan community is strong, passionate, and supportive.  If women are looking for other women to connect with as a support on a weight loss quest, this is a great way to go.  Eating a healthy vegan diet may be a much slower way to lose weight, but it is a sustainable lifestyle change that can be carried on indefinitely.  It also has a lot of other health benefits due to the higher intake of fiber and other nutrients.

Another positive option is to hire a mind coach and a nutritionist to help you learn how to eat a healthier diet.  A mind coach like my friend Kylie Ryan can help you to view yourself more positively and determine root causes of unhealthy dietary habits, like binge eating, searching out junk foods, and emotional eating.  A nutritionist can teach you what foods are healthy for your body, given your lifestyle, budget, and sensitivities.

And of course there is the exercise aspect of the 12WBT.  Exercise is really important!  Hire a personal trainer to learn how to use equipment and get exercises personalized to you.  Or join a gym with group classes.  My gym, Goodlife Health Clubs, is amazing – they offer shorter term fitness challenges, small group training, large group classes, and even exercise classes for kids!  I love the classes because I’ve made lots of friends there, which leads to accountability: If I skip a class, my friends will inquire as to why not.

In order to inspire healthy kids, we first have to inspire a health us.  As parents we need to model good behaviors and choose holistic ways to improve our health.  The Michelle Bridges 12 Week Body Transformation program is not a healthy model of good dietary and weight loss behavior.


Quinoa & Lentil Salad Vegan Recipe

Quinoa & Lentil Salad Vegan Recipe

Recently, I’ve been posting about the important health benefits of fiber in kids’ diets.  I’ve also gone through a top ten list (part 1 & part 2) of the best high fiber foods to try on your kids.  But having a good recipe or two helps, so here’s one I made this week for my family: Quinoa & Lentil Salad!

Sadly, much of the processed food kids eat today is very low in fiber.  Refined carbohydrates, like white flour and white rice, have the fiber-rich outer casing of the grain removed.  And of course, animal products don’t contain any fiber at all.  Meat, poultry, fish, dairy, and eggs, are lacking in fiber.  Kids who eat lots of these foods are likely to not be getting enough fiber and can end up developing other health issues.  Constipation is the health issue most likely to arise first, and should be taken as a major warning sign.  Unfortunately, other more life threatening diseases such as heart disease and cancer are also linked to low fiber intake.  It is very easy to increase fiber intake if you have a few good recipes!

One of my favorite ways to increase fiber intake is to use juice pulp left over from juicing fruits and vegetables.  There are many ways to use this leftover pulp!  One of the most popular ways to use leftover fruit pulp is in muffins or cupcakes.  I also use vegetable pulp to make crunchy crackers we all love to snack on.

But the best way to get more fiber in your kids’ diets is just to give them fiber-rich foods as part of their daily diet.  That’s why I made this Quinoa & Lentil Salad.  My kids are both happy to eat it (my 2 year old likes to pick out all the lentils and eat them first).  It also keeps well in the refrigerator and is easy to pack in a container and take to school.  Unlike leafy salads, it won’t get soggy or gross, so make a big batch and it can easily be lunch for a few days!

This quinoa & lentil salad contains not one, not two, but three high fiber ingredients.  Quinoa, lentils, and artichoke hearts all feature in this delicious salad.  One one-cup serving of quinoa & lentil salad will give your kids more than half their daily fiber requirements! And it’s vegan and gluten free, too!

quinoa salad

Quinoa & Lentil Salad


  • 2 cups uncooked quinoa, rinsed
  • 1 cup uncooked brown lentils, rinsed
  • 8 large artichoke hearts, quartered
  • 1 large English or 2 smaller Lebanese cucumbers, chopped (peeling optional)
  • 2 large or 3 medium tomatoes, chopped (I omitted these because my hubby cannot eat them, but added them into the salad when I served to the kids & myself.)
  • 1/4 cup fresh herbs, finely chopped (I used dill, basil, and tarragon in equal amounts, but use whichever herbs you like best or have on hand.)
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbsp organic apple cider vinegar
  • pinch himalayan pink salt (optional)


  1. Cook the quinoa with 4 cups of water, per package instructions, until all water is absorbed.  Fluff cooked quinoa with a fork.
  2. Boil lentils until soft but not mushy (approx. 25-30 minutes).
  3. If using fresh artichokes (as I did), quarter & steam your artichoke hearts.  If using jarred/preserved hearts that are ready to eat, simply quarter them.
  4. Allow quinoa, lentils, and artichokes to cool.
  5. Combine quinoa, lentils, artichokes, cucumbers, and tomatoes, and mix.
  6. Mix herbs, olive oil, apple cider vinegar, and salt to make dressing.
  7. Pour dressing over salad and mix well.  Serve immediately while salad is slightly warm or place in fridge and allow to sit.  Keeps for 3-4 days.


  • For a non-vegan version, replace the salt with some finely crumbled feta cheese or some finely grated parmesan.
  • For a vegan alternative, omit the salt and add in some finely chopped olives (black, green, or kalamata are all fine).
  • Vary the vegetables!  Consider adding some other veggies or fungi, such as mushrooms, finely diced red onion, capsicum (bell pepper), wilted or fresh baby spinach, or baked pumpkin cubes.
  • Mix up the herbs.  Changing the herb mixture will greatly alter the flavor of the dish.  Quinoa, lentils, and atichokes all have mild flavors, so the flavor of this dish is pretty much controlled by the herbs in it.

This quinoa & lentil salad is pretty much a complete meal in itself.  Most of the major nutrients are featured in it.  Jazz it up by mixing in some baby kale or baby chard and you’ll be certain to have hit all the high points.  It is not only a high fiber dish, but a high protein one, too!  Quinoa is pretty much a complete protein in itself, but lentils are also very high in protein.  Other essential nutrients like iron and vitamin C also play a major role.

I hope you enjoy this salad as much as we have!

Fiber: 10 Great Sources (Part 2)

Fiber: 10 Great Sources (Part 2)

Last month I posted about the benefits of kids eating a high fiber diet.  I followed this up with the first half of a top 10 list of foods high in fiber, inspired by a list published this month in Today’s Dietician. Here are the next 5 in alphabetical order, with plenty of cooking and prep ideas on how to get your kids to eat them.


Worried you won’t get fiber into your kids no matter how you push the veggies?  Don’t worry any more! Dates, those super sweet chewy fruits of the date palm, are also really high in fiber!  Just ONE medjool date contains 6% of the daily amount of fiber you need.  Of course, dates are really high in sugar, but the naturally occurring fruit sugars in dates have a low glycemic index, which means they won’t make kids’ blood sugar spike.  Dates contain a wealth of beneficial antioxidants, including phenolic acids and carotenoids, as well as vitamin B6, magnesium, potassium, manganese, and copper!*  This means that eating dates is not only a great sweet alternative to candy, but they can also help protect the stomach, liver, and nerves, stimulate the immune system, and protect against cancer and inflammation!**

Getting kids to eat dates is as easy as pie, literally.  Add them to any traditionally sweet recipe, such as muffins, oatmeal, or oatmeal cookies.  Chop them up and add them to salads or even some cooked dishes.  Of course you can always send them to school with kids as a sweet snack!  And guess what? You can use dates to make healthy alternatives to traditionally unhealthy sweet treats, like my favorite – gluten free brownies!

Lentils (and Beans)

Most people are aware of beans as a good source of fiber, but little lentils pack a huge fiber punch, too.  With over 15 grams of fiber in one cup of boiled lentils, one serving will give your kids almost all the fiber they need for the day!  Regularly eating lentils and/or beans lowers pretty much all of the symptoms and risk factors associated with type 2 diabetes.***  Lentils are also incredibly high in protein, with 18 grams per cup. They also contain abundant healthful phytochemicals, iron, thiamin, phosphorus, manganese, potassium, and copper.

Lentil stew is a delicious way to get kids to eat the little guys.  But there is no need to stop there – my favorite way to eat lentils is in a cold salad for lunch, with chopped tomatoes, scallions, and perhaps a bit of feta cheese.  They are also a great addition to an Asian noodle or rice bowl.


Surprised to see potatoes on a list of healthy foods?  Potatoes are often demonized as being starchy and having low nutritional value, but the hype is misleading.  Potatoes, like other vegetables, contain a wealth of healthy nutrients – including fiber!  One large russet potato (eaten with the skin) provides 6.9 grams of fiber, making it (along with beans) one of the most inexpensive sources of dietary fiber.  Russet potatoes are also very high in vitamin C and potassium, a very good source of vitamin B6, manganese, magnesium, and niacin, and a good source of folate, thiamin, pantothenic acid, iron, copper, and phosphorus.  Didn’t know your everyday potato contained so many benefits, did you?!  And if you want even more, choose a yellow or purple potato variety to take advantage of the antioxidants they contain that reduce inflammation and DNA damage!****

Try to get your kids to eat potatoes with the skin on, as that is where most of the fiber is.  I bake potatoes with spices and seasoning on the outside, making the skin the tastiest part of the potato.  You can also make lots of dishes using potatoes with the skin on, such as potato and leek or cauliflower and potato soups; potato kugel; potato latkes; home fries; or even mashed potatoes or skordalia.  Try using purple or blue potato varieties if that will get your kids interested!  Potatoes are so versatile the possibilities are endless and their bland flavor makes it possible to sneak them into all sorts of dishes.  Finally, if all else fails, slice whole potatoes into strips and turn them into French fries – make them crispy in the oven by soaking them first in ice water and you won’t need to deep fry!


Quinoa has gotten a lot of press as a superfood in the past few years and it is well deserved!  One cup of cooked quinoa contains 5.2 grams of fiber, which is more than brown rice!  It is also a good source of protein because although it doesn’t have the most protein out of all whole grains, the proteins it contains come in the right amounts of each amino acid, making it a complete protein.  It is also gluten free, and boasts of many nutrients, including magnesium, phosphorus, and manganese.

Rinse quinoa, then cook it as you would rice (although it cooks much faster than rice).  I often substitute quinoa for rice in dishes.  It can also be used in stews.  It also makes a good cold salad that can be sent to school for lunch.  Try pairing quinoa in salad with mango, feta cheese, and some veggies for a salty-sweet salad that will appeal to picky taste buds.


I always think of berries as a decadent treat.  My kids love any kind of berry as a treat or snack and of all the berries, raspberries are really high in fiber.  One cup of raspberries contains 8 grams of fiber!  That’s twice the amount in blueberries or strawberries!  They are also high in vitamin C, manganese, and vitamin K.  They are also full of antioxidants and can help reduce risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease.*****

Raspberries on their own make a great snack for school or as dessert with lunch.  My kids love them in their cereal or on top of yogurt.  Mix them into desserts, oatmeal, or parfaits.  Or drizzle a tiny bit of dark chocolate on top of them for a healthy, decadent dessert.  Hopefully these treats will be an easy sell for your kids!


I hope you have found this guide to high fiber foods informative and helpful!  With so many ideas for high fiber foods and so many ways to prepare them, surely you can find something that will appeal to even the most picky kids.


*Tang ZX, Shi LE, Aleid SM. Date fruit: chemical composition, nutritional and medicinal values, products. J Sci Food Agric. 2013;93(10):2351-2361.

**Vayalil PK. Date fruits (Phoenix dactylifera Linn): an emerging medicinal food. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2012;52(3):249-271.

***Jenkins DJA, Kendall CWC, Augustin LSA, et al. Effect of legumes as part of a low glycemic index diet on glycemic control and cardiovascular risk factors in type 2 diabetes mellitus: a randomized controlled trial. Arch Intern Med. 2012;172(21):1653-1660.

****Kaspar KL, Park JS, Brown CR, Mathison BD, Navarre DA, Chew BP. Pigmented potato consumption alters oxidative stress and inflammatory damage in men. J Nutr. 2011;141(1):108-111.

*****Kosmala M, Zdunczyk Z, Juskiewicz J, et al. Chemical composition of defatted strawberry and raspberry seeds and the effect of these dietary ingredients on polyphenol metabolites, intestinal function, and selected serum parameters in rats. J Agric Food Chem. 2015;63(11):2989-2996.

Fiber: 10 Great Sources (Part 1)

Fiber: 10 Great Sources (Part 1)

Last month I posted about the benefits of kids eating a high fiber diet.  This month the magazine Today’s Dietician came out with a list of their top ten foods high in fiber.  This list is great because it’s chosen by dietitians for dietitians.  It’s not just a list of foods that are highest in fiber – it’s a list of high fiber foods that are also overall really nutritious.  Here are the first 5 in alphabetical order, with 5 more to come soon.


Did you know that of all the nuts in the USDA database, almonds are the highest in fiber?  (Incidentally, this is also why homemade almond milk needs to be strained.)  Just one 23 nut snack provides 3 grams of fiber.   But not only are almonds the nuts highest in fiber, they are also the nuts with the highest calcium and Vitamin E.

Almonds also have the benefit of reducing heart disease.  They lower bad LDL cholesterol while maintaining levels of good HDL cholesterol.*  If your children are overweight and you are looking to help them lose some weight, including almonds in their diet may also help them lose weight faster.**  And if your kids have diabetes or a pre-diabetic condition, eating almonds in a meal that otherwise causes blood sugar to spike can help moderate blood glucose levels so they don’t rise so much or so quickly.***

My kids eat a lot of almonds.  They have some great snack cups that I fill with almonds for a snack when we go out.  I also often keep a small bag of raw almonds on the counter – when my kids come begging for a snack while I’m preparing dinner, a few almonds keep them happy but don’t fill them up so much that they can’t eat their meal.  I also mix chopped or slivered almonds into a lot of the foods I prepare.  I add them to muffins and cakes, muesli and cereal, plus yogurt and salads.  Finally, I always keep an abundance of almond meal on hand that I can mix into cakes, cookies, and muffins.  You can even make entire recipes that substitute almonds for flour for a gluten free, high fiber treat!


Fresh artichokes can be a bit of a pain to prepare, but if you do they are worth it.  Just one medium sized artichoke has 10.3 grams of fiber, making it one of the highest fiber vegetables out there.  In addition to fiber, artichokes also boast high levels of Vitamin C, magnesium, and – especially good for pregnant mums – folate.  Artichokes were also the highest ranked vegetable for antioxidants in a 2006 study and were in the top 10 out of the more than 1100 foods examined.****

When I make fresh artichokes, I like to steam or boil them and then make a hollandaise sauce.  Kids can have fun pulling off the leaves, dipping them, and then sucking the meat off each leaf.  (Of course they may need some assistance when they get to the choke, depending on their age and familiarity.)  Personally, I find fresh artichokes can sometimes be a bit high maintenance, so you can cut corners by buying canned or jarred artichoke hearts.  Add them to all sorts of dishes, like quiches and salads, for a big fiber boost.


When I first learned that avocados are a good source of fiber, I was really surprised.  After all, they are so smooth and creamy!  1 cup of sliced avocado contains 10 grams of fiber.  Avocados are really a superfood, as they contain lots of Vitamins C, E, K, and B6, in addition to folate, potassium, magnesium, beta-carotene, and lutein!

Avocados are also really high in healthy fats.  Over 65% of the fat in avocados are monounsaturated fats, which are good for heart health, with over 10% of their fat polyunsaturated.  Avocados are rivaled only by olives for their heart-healthy fat content.  But another benefit of this type of fat is that it helps the body dissolve and integrate fat soluble vitamins like A, D, E, and K, as well as helping the body absorbing phytochemicals.

Avocados are one of the first foods I feed my babies.  With their neutral flavor and smooth texture when mashed, they go over well as one of a baby’s first foods.  They especially love a 50-50 mix of avocado and banana we call “avonana.”  Older kids will enjoy avocados mashed and used as spread on sandwiches in place of butter or mayonnaise.  Of course avocados are amazing sliced into salads.  You can add them to any green salad, but my favorite is diced avocado, halved cherry tomatoes, and sliced hearts of palm dressed with olive oil and lime.  Avocados are also great blended into a dressing for almost any salad you want to have a creamy dressing.  You can also cook avocados.  Cut an avocado in half  or quarters, brush with grapeseed oil and season and stick them on the grill.  If that’s too grown-up for your pint sized crew, they may have more fun with an avocado cut in half and the hole in the middle filled with something – try salsa or an egg.

Cloud Ear Fungus

I don’t like eating fungus myself, but mushrooms and their ilk are so nutritious I definitely feed them to my family.  My kids and husband just love mushrooms.  For a fungus fiber boost, try giving your kids cloud ear fungus.  A one cup serving contains 3/4 of the fiber your older kids need for the whole day!  Not only that, but they are also good sources of manganese, selenium, and riboflavin.  Animal trials of cloud ear fungus also show that it is better than aspirin for preventing atherosclerosis and heart disease by reducing plaque buildup.*****

Never heard of cloud ear fungus and don’t know how to make it kid friendly?  It is common in Asian cooking, so look for it in Asian supermarkets.  Add it to Asian dishes – try adding it to soups (we love egg drop and miso soups) or stir fries.  It has a crunchy texture and absorbs the flavors of the foods it’s cooked with, which makes it a versatile addition to other foods.  Experiment with adding it to less traditional dishes like pastas with sauce or various soups.

Collard Greens

As a Southern gal, I’m very familiar with collard greens, but many people today have not heard from them.  Not only are they a nutritious powerhouse like kale, but they contain 3 times as much fiber as kale!  They also have 3 times as much calcium as kale and double the amount of protein, iron, and riboflavin.  In fact, one cup of boiled and chopped collard greens contain 30% of the recommended daily value for fiber.  They also have 3 times the daily recommended value of vitamin A.   Furthermore, collard greens, like kale, bind to bile acids, which reduces risk of heart disease and cancer, which is particularly potent when they are steamed.******  They also contain amazing antioxidants called phenolic compounds, which further protect against cancer and heart disease, as well as the phytochemical sulforaphane, which may reduce the risk of stomach, breast, and skin cancers.*******

To prepare collard greens, first wash them well and remove the tough inner stems.  Then, slice, chop, or chiffonade the leaves.  There are as many ways to prepare collard greens as you can imagine!  Traditional southern collard greens are sauteed with onion, then simmered slowly in stock, before being served with hot sauce.  Try adding them to any soups or stews (unlike more wimpy leaves like spinach, they won’t fall apart into a gunky mess).  If you are simply sautéing them, try blanching or steaming them first to soften up the tough leaves – then add them to any stir fry, sauté them with other veggies, or just serve them on their own as a side dish.  You can even make collard greens into a salad!  Like kale, the leaves are tough and need to marinate first, so dress your salad in advance with olive oil, salt, and any other dressing you’d like, then leave it overnight in the fridge to cure.

I hope you enjoy learning about these fantastic fiber-full foods!  The wide variety of high-fiber foods and the huge range of preparation methods should make it easier to get your kids to have some!  If you want to recall some of the benefits of fiber in a kid’s diet, just click here!

*Berryman CE, West SG, Fleming JA, Bordi PL, Kris-Etherton PM. Effects of daily almond consumption on cardiometabolic risk and abdominal adiposity in healthy adults with elevated LDL-cholesterol: a randomized controlled trial. J Am Heart Assoc. 2015;4(1)e000993.

**Abazarfard Z, Salehi M, Keshavarzi S. The effect of almonds on anthropometric measurements and lipid profile in overweight and obese females in a weight reduction program: a randomized controlled clinical trial. J Res Med Sci. 2014;19(5):457-464.

***Josse AR, Kendall CW, Augustin LS, Ellis PR, Jenkins DJ. Almonds and postprandial glycemia—a dose-response study. Metabolism. 2007;56(3):400-404.

****Halvorsen BL, Carlsen MH, Phillips KM, et al. Content of redox-active compounds (ie, antioxidants) in foods consumed in the United States. Am J Clin Nutr. 2006;84(1):95-135.

*****Fan YM, Xu MY, Wang LY, et al. The effect of edible black tree fungus (Auricuaria auricula) on experimental atherosclerosis in rabbits. Chin Med J (Engl). 1989;102(2):100-105.

******Kahlon TS, Chiu MC, Chapman MH. Steam cooking significantly improves in vitro bile acid binding of collard greens, kale, mustard greens, broccoli, green bell pepper, and cabbage. Nutr Res. 2008;28(6):351-357.

*******Cartea ME, Francisco M, Soengas P, Velasco P. Phenolic compounds in Brassica vegetables. Molecules. 2011;16(1):251-280.

Nutrients Found in Fruits & Vegetables (You May Never Have Heard of!)

Nutrients Found in Fruits & Vegetables (You May Never Have Heard of!)


Fruits and vegetables are an essential source of vitamins and minerals.  Today, much ado is made about individual vitamins and minerals.  But there are many more beneficial nutrients in fruits and vegetables than just the Vitamin C and Vitamin A we hear about a lot in the media. Here are some of the beneficial nutrients your kids get in the fruits and vegetables they eat that you might never have heard of.


IMG_2365Flavanoids are what give fruits and vegetables the vibrant colors in their skins.  There are many types of flavanoids, some of which are covered in more detail below.  Different flavanoids have been shown to confer different benefits, but flavanoids in general are powerful antioxidants that can help improve help by reducing inflammation and even stopping the growth of cancer cells.


Bioflavanoids are found in citrus fruits and they have the benefit of extending the value of vitamin C in the body.  This is a main reason why eating fresh fruits and vegetables is so beneficial – just taking a supplement with a single vitamin or mineral misses out on benefits like bioflavanoids.  Bioflavanoids lower cholesterol levels.  They also support joint collagen in cases of arthritis.


Quercetin is an important antioxidant that is especially good at reducing LDL cholesterol oxidation.  It also helps the body cope with allergens as well as lung and breathing problems.  Quercetin is found in apples, onions, and citrus fruits.


Beta-glucan supports the body’s white blood cells, which stabilizes and balances the immune system.  It is found in mushrooms.


Midnight black grapes

Anthocyanins are the most common flavanoid antioxidant, 9 times more common than any other flavanoid.  They are most commonly found in fruits with really strong colors, such as berries, red grapes, red cabbage, eggplants, and blood oranges.  Anthocyanins reduce risk of cardiovascular disease, fight cancer cells, and can even improve cognitive function.

Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG)

Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) is used in many dietary supplements because of its immunity-boosting properties and its promotion of T-cell production.  It is also abundantly found in tea.  It also reduces the risk of colon and breast cancer.

Ellagic Acid

Berries in Jean Talon Montreal Market

Ellagic acid is an antioxidant and is also anti-carcinogenic, particularly in the gastrointestinal tract.  It also reduces cancer growth because it inhibits cell production of ATP.  Ellagic acid is found in walnuts, pomegranates, raspberries, and strawberries.



Beta-carotene is the most well-known of the carotenoids and one you have probably heard of.  Most people have heard that the beta-carotenes found in orange foods like carrots are good for eyesight.  This is because it is converted into Vitamin A in the liver.  But did you know it also decreases the amount of cholesterol in the liver?


Rose hips

One of my favorite supplements is grape seed extract, which contains antioxidants that can cross the blood-brain barrier to help heal the cells in your brain.  Proanthocyanidins, which used to be known as “condensed tannins,” are a flavanoid antioxidant found most potently in grape seeds and pine bark, but also appearing in apples, berries, barley, sorghum, rose hips, and rhubarb.  In addition to their powerful antioxidant properties, they also extend the life span of Vitamin C by 400% as well as increasing the amount of Vitamin E found in blood vessels.


Before making this soup, I toss all the tomatoes I need to use up in a big tub of water and wash them as I go.

Lycopenes have recently gained some fame for their ability to decrease the risk of prostate cancer.   They also help protect against heart disease.  Lycopenes are found most commonly in tomatoes, which has given ketchup and pasta sauce manufacturers cause to celebrate good sales as well as good health.  (Of course, fresh, raw vegetables are the best source of these nutrients!)



Flavones are another kind of flavanoid, responsible for the yellow coloring in foods like capsicum (bell pepper), yellow summer squash, and apricots.  They are incredibly powerful and have been shown to have the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of other flavanoids, as well as fighting allergies and cancers.  They also have neuroprotective properties, helping to keep brains functioning even better.  They also counteract stress-related diseases and can reduce the complications of diabetes.



Isoflavones may have helped get soy a bit of a bad reputation because of their tendency to mock estrogen.  However, isoflavones can help protect against hormone-related conditions in both men and women, including breast cancer and prostate cancer.  They also help increase bone density, reduce cholesterol, and reduce the risk of heart disease.




Lutein is another nutrient that’s really good for you.  Lutein, which is found in blueberries and squashes, is important for healthy eyesight (and therefore very important for pregnant mums and growing kids to consume).  Not only that, but it’s also good for your heart, as it helps to prevent coronary artery disease.


This is by no means an exhaustive list of nutrients.  However, these are some nutrients you may never have heard of.  The benefits of eating a broad variety of plant and vegetable foods cannot be understated.  These secretive little nutrients should give you even more motivation to get your kids to eat their veggies!

Fiber is Fantastic!

Fiber is Fantastic!

When we think about “fiber” and “staying regular,” we often default to thinking about those old ads for products like Metamucil.  We think of it as the kind of thing only old people have to deal with.  But I go on mommy forums and I see other mums posting all the time about how their kids, from infants on up, are constipated.  The most common pieces of advice I see are to give kids grape juice or sugar water to drink.  Wait, what?!  What those kids really need is a good dose of fiber.

How Fiber Prevents Constipation

My kids are never constipated.  Once, when I was a new mum, I thought my baby was constipated, until I realized that some newborns just don’t poo every day like adults do (or should).  Since then, we have never had a problem with constipation, which is probably because my kids eat lots and lots of fiber.

There are two kinds of fiber, both of which are essential to “staying regular.”  Soluble fiber retains water, which helps make stool softer and easier to pass.  (Think of the term “water soluble,” which means it dissolves in water.)  Insoluble fiber doesn’t absorb water, but it does add bulk to waste matter.  The more waste matter there is, the faster it passes through the gut.  When waste goes through the gut slowly and sits there for a long time, it gives that uncomfortable and well-known feeling of being constipated.  Erk!

How Fiber Works

The benefits of fiber don’t just stop at easing or preventing constipation, however.  Fiber does all sorts of great things for our bodies.  It is most well-known for helping ease digestive issues of all sorts.  I always think of it like this: Fiber doesn’t break down in our bodies.  This means it stays intact as it passes through our gut.  I imagine it as a kind of bristle brush passing through the intestines.  As it goes, it brushes up against the walls and cleans out all that gunk that builds up.  (If you want to know what builds up and you have a strong stomach, feel free to look at these cringe-worthy pictures.)  By cleaning out backed-up waste, fiber helps us avoid constipation, as well as other gut-related diseases.

When Do Kids Need Fiber?

Exclusively breast or formula feeding infants don’t need additional fiber in their diets.  After six months, however, babies need fiber in their diets.  And babies who are fed healthy, plant-based foods should get plenty.  Many babies at young ages do need some of that fiber broken down by cooking processes to avoid them getting upset stomachs, as their digestive tracts are still developing.  My babies got pureed steamed peas and broccoli, but what they loved the most was getting stewed fruit: apples, pears, peaches – whatever we had handy and in season!  Infants and children old enough to eat raw fruits and vegetables should be eating lots of those foods, which should supply them with plenty of fiber.

Unfortunately, processed foods today are often really low in fiber.  White bread and white rice have the fibrous outer layers of the grain removed, while animal products do not have any fiber in them.  Kids can go the whole day without getting much fiber at all.  From bacon and eggs with milk for breakfast to ham and cheese sandwiches for lunch to mac’n’cheese with hot dogs for dinner, kids can easily go the whole day without getting the fiber they need for good health.

While there are fiber supplements that can be administered, one of the main benefits of consuming high-fiber food is that fiber comes with other nutrients.  Foods high in fiber tend to be really high in nutrition.  A supplement won’t be able to give your kids the same complete nutrition that eating fruits and vegetables will.

Other Benefits of Eating Fiber

In fact, did you know that for every 10 grams of fiber you eat, your risk of death from all causes decreases by 10%?*  Don’t we all want our kids to lead healthier lives and to decrease their risks from all diseases?  Gosh, getting them to eat more fiber certainly seems like a great way to do that!

As I mentioned above, consuming dietary fiber significantly reduces constipation and prevents it from forming in the first place.*  Not only that, eating plenty of fiber reduces risk of breast cancer (which is probably of more interest to mommies than babies)** and even stroke.***  Many kids today suffer from all sorts of allergies and inflammations, which can also be reduced by increasing fiber intake.****  Heart disease is more of risk to children than ever before and a vegan diet has been shown to help dramatically, which is perhaps why the American Heart Association recommends eating more fiber.  Fiber can also help kids lose weight, which is possibly why the American Diabetes Association recommends eating more of it, in addition to fiber’s ability to help control blood glucose levels.

Fiber really sounds like the magic super nutrient we should all be eating and feeding our kids.  Just take some fiber supplements and we’ll all live healthfully ever after!  Well…. No. Not quite.  As I mentioned above, it is really the confluence of all those things that make up the foods that contain fiber.  It’s not just the fiber, it’s the vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals that are contributing to the benefits of a high fiber diet.  That’s why it’s best to get fiber from natural whole foods rather than a supplement or a food to which fiber has been added at the end.

How Much Fiber Should Kids Eat?

Just because fiber is good for kids doesn’t mean you should load them up on super high-fiber foods and supplements.  Too little is no good but too much can also hurt.  Too much fiber can once again cause digestive issues like constipation, cramping, or even diarrhea. Still, you would be surprised at how much fiber really is the recommendation: I find it unlikely that kids are eating too much fiber!

Here are the American Heart Association daily fiber intake recommendations for kids:

  • Babies 1-3 years old: 19 grams
  • Children 4-8 years old: 25 grams
  • Girls 9-13 years old: 26 grams
  • Boys 9-13 years old: 31 grams
  • Girls 14-18 years old: 26 grams
  • Boys 14-18 years old: 38 grams

Adults should continue to follow the 14-18 year old recommendations.


Fiber tends to be really overlooked as an essential part of children’s nutrition. Yet it gives kids the same health benefits it gives adults, and more! If we can give kids a healthy start and foundation, they will grow up to be healthier adults.  Get your kids eating more high fiber foods and soon they’ll be feeling the benefits of a healthier digestive tract.

*Yang J, Wang HP, Zhou L, Xu CF. Effect of dietary fiber on constipation: a meta analysis. World J Gastroenterol. 2012;18(48):7378-7383.

**Dong JY, He K, Wang P, and Qin LQ. Dietary fiber intake and risk of breast cancer: a meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. Am J Clin Nutr. 2011;94(3):900-905.

***Chen GC, Lv DB, Pang Z, Dong JY, Liu QF. Dietary fiber intake and stroke risk: a meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2013;67(1):96-100.

****Jiao J, Xu JY, Zhang W, Han S, Qin LQ. Effect of dietary fiber on circulating C-reactive protein in overweight and obese adults: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Int J Food Sci Nutr. 2015;66(1):114-119.

Emotional Hunger: Prevent and Stop Emotional Eating

Emotional Hunger: Prevent and Stop Emotional Eating

Earlier this week, I posted about emotional hunger. Emotional hunger is when we feel hungry because of our emotions, not because we physically need to eat.  This behavior shows up even in very young toddlers. What can we as parents do to prevent it from developing, intervene when it strikes, and prevent it from happening once it has developed?  Below are some of my top ways to deal with emotional hunger in kids.

How Parents Can Stop Emotional Eating from Developing

As parents, we cannot control our kids.  They are independent human beings with their own minds, wills, and desires.  However, we do have an enormous amount of influence on them, much of which they (and us) are not even aware of.   Kids’ relationships with food are often strongly influenced by our behaviors as parents.

One thing that has been observed repeatedly in many studies is that parents who use food to soothe their young children when they are experiencing negative emotions will raise children who experience significantly more emotional eating.*  Let me put this another way: If you use food to soothe your unhappy child, you are teaching your child to eat when they are unhappy.

As a parent, I know how distressing it is to see your child unhappy.  Not only do you not like seeing your precious baby upset, but it can also be embarrassing, frustrating, or annoying to you as a parent.  Trust me, even my little angels have thrown tantrums in the grocery store or dissolved into tears because they want something (usually a trip on an airplane, helicopter, boat, or train) that I just cannot possibly provide them with.

I have seen on so many occasions that parents will break down under such circumstances and distract their child with food.  Heck, even I have done it on occasion (but with dried fruit, not chocolate, as the proffered treat).  I think all parents do this every once in a while.  But when this method of dealing with unhappy children becomes the norm rather than a once off rarity, you are teaching your child to soothe with food.  You are educating your child that if they are unhappy, eating will make them feel better.  And as a result, they are more likely to become obese.

How to Deal With Emotional Hunger

Helping your child recognize emotional hunger is only half of the battle.  Once they understand that their hunger is emotionally motivated rather than physically driven, what should they do?  The first thing you must make clear to kids is that the food is not going to solve their problems.  Ultimately, it is not going to improve their emotional situation.

Tell them to wait

That said, do not forbid kids to eat when their emotions are in turmoil.  Children, like adults, always want what they cannot have.  You certainly cannot expect a child to have more self-control than an adult, and few adults can withstand emotional cravings.  Instead, suggest to your child that if they are in an unhappy mood and that is making them want to eat, that they defer it for five minutes.  Children are often mercurial and in five minutes their emotional state could change completely.  Alternatively, they may find another, more constructive, way of self-soothing, or they might simply forget that they wanted to eat.  Because emotional hunger is not physical, it is not enduring in the same way physical hunger is.

Give kids a toolkit

Another way to break the emotional eating habit is to give kids a set of tools to work with.  Kids have to learn how to self-soothe and need to be taught how to appropriately handle emotions.  Some emotions are uncomfortable and we do not like them.  Sadness, anxiety, or loneliness are not good feelings, but they are instructive.  They help teach us what we need and also help us learn to avoid potentially dangerous or counterproductive situations.  Explaining to kids the positive side of bad emotions can be a good way to start.  Then they can view uncomfortable emotions as their friends rather than enemies to be avoided or ignored at all costs.

Sadness: Help children come up with a list of activities that make them happy.  This could be anything from kicking a ball to finger painting to reading a book.  Certain activities like physical activity or singing actually release endorphins that make kids physically feel happy – and they’re healthy, too.

Loneliness: Most children experience loneliness at some point.  Maybe they’re alone in their room while mom takes a nap, or perhaps they just don’t have any friends who can come over to play.  Kids can also feel lonely in a crowd, especially if they are in a group of which they are not a part (such as a new school), or if they are missing a specific person (like a special friend or grandparent).  Suggest that kids who are lonely call a good friend or trusted adult, play with a pet, or connect with someone they care about by looking at photos or writing a letter/drawing a picture to send that person.

Anxiety: Even kids have things they worry about.  Whether it is schoolwork they don’t feel good at or a friend they’ve bickered with, kids have their own “kid-sized” set of concerns.  Never ever downplay your child’s cares!!! Each of us has our own set of problems that are important to us, regardless of anything else that may be going on in the world.  Do not invalidate your child’s worries.  It is amazing how soothing it can be for a worried child when a parent validates their concerns.  Ask what is bothering your child, listen to your their answer, and repeat it back, along with words of understanding.  (E.g., “I hear that you are nervous because you have a big math test tomorrow.  I know how that feels – it can be pretty scary.”) Sometimes kids are anxious without knowing why or you are not around to talk it through with them.  In those cases, encourage your kids to burn off nervous energy by doing something physical, such as dancing to a favorite song or running a few laps around the playground or schoolyard.

Tiredness: Feeling tired, exhausted, or run down can be the result of too little sleep, broken sleep, or too much activity or stimulation.  Like adults, when kids get tired they can also become cranky and might be tempted to reach for their favorite junk foods.  Tired kids should be encouraged to rest as much as the situation allows.  If they are home and it’s not too early they can simply go to bed a bit earlier than usual.  If it is too early for them to go to sleep, they can lie in the bed or on the couch and “veg out” by reading a book or watching a show (reading a book is better, though, as screens stimulate the brain and can make it harder to get a good night’s sleep).  To calm cravings for food, give kids a warm drink, such as a warm cup of milk (we prefer homemade rice milk). If you want to avoid extra calories, offer kids a warm cup of herbal infusion (some herbs and flowers can even be calming and aid in peaceful sleep – I use linden flower, which has a soft and neutral flavor).  Don’t want to give kids drinks before bed?  Use water in a different way: Give your kids a soothing bubble bath.

Boredom: Kids can get bored no matter how many toys you buy them.  To avoid boredom, try rotating toys.  We keep each set of similar toys in a box and no more than one or two boxes are out at any time.  If our kids get bored, they don’t turn to food – instead, they trade in an existing box for a new box full of toys they haven’t recently played with.  Try also making a list with your kids of projects, games, or activities they’d like to try some time when they are bored.  There are an endless amount of kids activity and craft idea books out there to help you come up with ideas.  Photocopy or scrapbook pages with activity or craft ideas into a “boredom book” your child can pull out when they get bored, rather than reaching for snacks.

Hopefully with a toolkit like this in hand, you will find it easier to determine both what your child’s emotional hunger triggers are and what you can do to fix them – without food.

Preventing and Countering Emotional Hunger

One of the best ways to deal with emotional hunger is to prevent it from arising.  As discussed above, as parents we can do certain things that discourage emotional eating habits from developing, but what do we do if our kids already show signs of emotional eating?  And what do we do if they develop the habit regardless of the way we raised them?  Everyone knows that no matter how good a parent you are, you can do everything right and still your child might do something different! So how can we help our kids to counter emotional hunger in the first place?

The key to stopping emotional hunger from arising in our kids is to set them up for success.  There are four aspects of your child’s daily routine that can go a long way to preventing emotional hunger from developing:

  1. Sleep.  Ensure your child gets enough sleep every night.  Tiredness and lack of sufficient sleep make it difficult for kids to process their emotions.  I know what it is like to have bedtime struggles, so the only advice I have is to set up a bedtime routine that gets your kids to sleep with enough hours left before school for them to get the rest they need.
  2. Exercise.  Too many kids today spend a lot of their day either cooped up at school desks or in front of screens – or both.  Physical activity and movement are scientifically proven to boost mood, so making physical activities and sports a regular part of your child’s routine will also help improve their overall mood.
  3. Connection.  Kids need to connect with others.  Social interaction not only teaches good social skills but it also improves kids’ “emotional quotient” by teaching them how to handle their own (and others’) moods. Close bonds and positive relationships also give a boost to kids’ sense of wellbeing and self esteem.
  4. Relaxation.  These days there is an enormous amount of pressure to fill kids’ every waking moment with activities and stimulation.  I know some kids who are on the go from 7 AM to 10 PM, every day.  This is an overwhelming schedule even for an adult!  Parents do this thinking they are doing the right thing for their kids, by entertaining them without pause.  But all that stimulation can produce stress and kids need a time out sometimes to cool down and relax.  Institute some sort of quiet time in your child’s day.  It may be a nap or it could simply be a peaceful half hour in their day.  Older children can read a book or listen to a book on tape.  If you have the time, reading a book to the family is a great quiet-time bonding opportunity all can enjoy.


Emotional hunger can plague anyone, from very young toddlers through to the elderly.  Eating just because we want to assuage our emotions can lead to overeating, unhealthy eating, and weight gain.  Unfortunately, kids can establish these habits and patterns very young.  Using the tips and advice in this post can help you learn what to do: A) as a parent, in order to prevent habits from developing; B) to help your child avoid eating for emotional reasons; and C) to prevent emotional hunger from arising by changing your child’s daily routines.  With these tips in hand, we can start to say goodbye to emotional hunger!

*Farrow C, Haycraft E, Blissett J. Teaching our children when to eat: how parental feeding practices inform the development of emotional eating—a longitudinal experimental design Am J Clin Nutr May 2015 vol. 101 no. 5 908-913

Emotional Hunger: What Is It?

Emotional Hunger: What Is It?

Earlier this week, I posted about using mindfulness as a tool to teach kids how to take control of their eating habits.  One of the most critical things kids (and all of us) can learn from being more mindful when we eat is to be aware of our hunger.  Some hunger comes because our bodies need fuel, but not all of it.  Some hunger is instead emotional hunger.

What is Emotional Hunger?

Emotional hunger is the hunger we feel when we are experiencing a certain mood or situation.  The emotional triggers are different for each person.  I know a lot of people who eat nonstop when they are stressed.  I, on the other hand, cannot even think about food when I’m stressed.  But stress and anxiety are not the only triggers that make people suddenly want to eat.  Some people eat when they’re happy or when they’re sad.  Some people eat when they’re in a relaxed mood, others when they are under pressure.

Often we eat simply because we are reminded of a food.  No matter what our mood is, we start to salivate when we walk past a chocolate or pizza shop.  Just smelling food can make our bodies respond as if we are about to eat.  Not only smells, but memories or reminders can also spur us to eat.  Thinking fondly of a family member who has just called can bring to mind memories about shared meals.  Remembering with pride a certain achievement can also recall the foods we used to celebrate it.

Being in a situation similar to one we’ve experienced many times can also trigger us to want certain foods.  I know a lot of people who insist on having chicken soup the moment they come down with a cold, whether they are hungry or not.  When my stomach is upset, I reach for dry crackers and ginger ale, even if I really don’t want to consume anything.

All of these moods and memories that spark our interest in eating are forms of emotional hunger.  We are hungry not because we need to eat but because something else internal to our mind has made us think we need to eat.  Emotional hunger is hunger driven by our emotions and our psychological needs rather than our physical needs.

Kids Also Experience Emotional Hunger

As adults, we may be tempted to think of emotional hunger as an adult experience.  Kids, who surely have less emotional baggage to carry around, should not be so susceptible, right? Right? Wrong.  In fact, there is an entire emotional eating scale adapted specifically for children and adolescents!*

Emotional Hunger Begins Young

It makes perfect sense that even very young children should associate food with soothing emotions.  Beginning at birth, babies are offered food as a soothing mechanism and feeding times are often an opportunity for intense parent-baby bonding.  Food is immediately associated with being a way to improve mood and overall feeling.  Having had two babies of my own, I can freely admit to many times having offered the breast to my babies to stop them from crying and to soothe their distress – even when I knew they weren’t hungry.

Actively eating as a result of emotional hunger can be observed in children as young as 2 years old.**  It has also been extensively tested in preschool children*** as well as in adolescents.****  There is no doubt that children use food to stimulate or still their emotional states just as adults do.

The Dangers of Emotional Eating and Emotional Hunger

The main danger of emotional eating and emotional hunger in children is that it is clearly associated with obesity.  Emotional eating leads to a greater body mass index (BMI) and a less healthy diet, which results in less healthy kids.***  If we want to inspire healthy kids, we need to deal with emotional hunger in a constructive way.

How to Identify Emotional Hunger

If your child(ren) is/are already displaying emotional eating habits, it is time to teach them how to identify emotional hunger and to separate it from physical hunger.  Mindfulness techniques can really help.  Mindfulness encourages children to assess their emotional state prior to eating.  However, there are some key identifiers that make it easier for a child to answer whether they are experiencing emotional or physical hunger. Use these lists as your guide, from Doris Wild Helmering and Dianne Hales Think Thin, Be Thin (New York: Broadway Books, 2004): 77 and Brian Wansink’s Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think (Australia: Hay House, 2010): 153.

Physical Hunger

  • Builds gradually
  • Strikes below the neck (e.g., growling stomach)
  • Occurs several hours after a meal
  • Goes away when full
  • Eating leads to feeling of satisfaction

Emotional Hunger

  • Develops suddenly
  • Above the neck (e.g., a “taste” for ice cream)
  • Unrelated to time
  • Persists despite fullness
  • Eating leads to guilt and shame


Emotional hunger can plague anyone, from very young toddlers through to the elderly.  Eating just because we want to assuage our emotions can lead to overeating, unhealthy eating, and weight gain.  Unfortunately, kids can establish these habits and patterns very young.  Stay tuned for my next post: I will tell you all about how to prevent and counter emotional hunger.

*Tanofsky-Kraff, M., Theim, K. R., Yanovski, S. Z., Bassett, A. M., Burns, N. P., Ranzenhofer, L. M., Glasofer, D. R. and Yanovski, J. A. (2007), Validation of the emotional eating scale adapted for use in children and adolescents (EES-C). Int. J. Eat. Disord., 40: 232–240. doi: 10.1002/eat.20362

**Farrow C, Blissett J, Stability and continuity of parentally reported feeding practices and child eating behaviours from 2-5 years of age. Appetite 2012;58:1516.

***Blissett JHaycraft E, Farrow C. Inducing preschool children’s emotional eating: relations with parental feeding practices. Am J Clin Nutr 2010;92:35965.

****Braet CVan Strien T. Assessment of emotional, externally induced and restrained eating behaviour in nine to twelve-year-old obese and non-obese children. Behav Res Ther 1997;35:86373.

Mindfulness: Using Awareness to Eat Healthy

Mindfulness: Using Awareness to Eat Healthy

It seems like buzzwords like mindfulness, meditation, and awareness are becoming more commonly accepted.  When I was younger, these concepts raised images of gurus, hippies, and quacks.  Today, the health benefits of meditation are undisputed, and mindfulness and living in the present are becoming lifestyles in their own right.  This made me wonder: Could mindfulness be used to teach our kids to eat more healthfully?

Mindless Eating

A lot of the food we eat, we eat mindlessly.  I am guilty party numero uno in this regard: I see mealtimes as my “time out” from the stress of being a full-time wife and mother, so whenever I can snatch a moment to sit at the table and eat, I grab a good book and read.  Of course there are many manifestations of this: some people eat while they watch television, some while they read, and even some while they’re driving.  Our kids are no exception.  If they’re not eating in front of the boob tube, they’re likely to be eating on the go or while horsing around with their friends.  Even in the hour-long child minding my kids attend while I go to the gym, the carers put the TV on while the kids eat their snacks.

The problem with eating mindlessly is that we don’t tend to think about what we are eating, or how much.  On the one hand this is a really bad thing because it often leads us to eat too much of the wrong foods.  We end up eating an extra dozen handfuls of popcorn, an extra bread roll, or an extra helping of pasta.  On the other hand, we can turn this to our advantage.  If our kids are eating mindlessly, they will end up eating more healthy stuff, like salad, veggies, and fresh fruit.  It is up to us as their parents to replace the cookie jar with a bowl of fresh fruit and to relegate the serving bowl of pasta to the sideboard while a big bowl of salad takes pride of place on the table.

Using mindless eating as a trick to get kids to eat more healthfully only works when our children are eating at home.  But as kids grow up, head off to school, and take on more and more activities, the number of opportunities we have to trick them into eating healthfully decreases.  This is when we need to educate our kids in the skills they need to make good eating decisions.

Applying Mindfulness to Eating

Mindfulness goes beyond simply living in the moment.  When it comes to eating, it is actually all-encompassing.  Often, we taste the first and last few bites of a meal, but the intervening majority of flavor is lost on us.  We frequently eat and cannot remember how much we consumed.  We habitually underestimate how much and how many we have eaten.  We don’t even know if we are hungry or full.  We don’t pay attention.  And the majority of us overeat as a result.  And that includes our kids.

By applying a mindfulness approach, we bring our focus back fully onto our food.  We pay attention to all those details, including:

  • How fast or slow am I eating?
  • How long does it take me to eat this meal/snack?
  • What is the texture of the food?
  • How does the food taste?
  • How does eating this food make me feel?
  • What memories, feelings, or emotions do I associate with this food?
  • Am I hungry, not hungry, or full?
  • Do I want to take each bite?
  • What will be the consequences of eating this food?

Teaching Your Kids Mindful Eating

Getting kids to slow down and savor their food may seem a daunting task, but it is a skill that can be taught.  Try this simple exercise with your kids and repeat it as frequently as possible until the act of being mindful and aware becomes familiar and a matter of course.

Have your child take a few raisins, some sunflower seeds, a cracker, a stick of celery, or another small snack the first time you try this, but you can also try this at the dinner table as a family.  Begin by asking your child to describe how they are feeling.  Are they hungry or full? Heavy or light? Relaxed or anxious?  What is their mood, and does it affect their desire to eat?  What do they think will be the consequences of their eating this snack?  (Will it give them energy, make them gain weight, or make them feel more or less hungry?)  Have your child pick up the food in his/her hand.  Ask them to describe it in intimate detail.  Is it heavy or light?  Is it wrinkled or smooth?  How does it feel sitting on their skin? Comfortable or uncomfortable?  What color is it?  What texture?  Have your child bring the food up to their nose and inhale.  What does it smell like?  Is the smell strong or weak?  Does this smell remind them of any thing, person, or experience?  Have them place the snack in their mouth or take a bite of it.  Before they chew have them assess how it feels in their mouth.  Is it dry or wet? Warm or cold? Does the texture feel different on their tongue than it did in their hand?  Does the food have a taste even before they begin to chew?  Does it feel heavy on their tongue or light?  Is it melting or solid?  Ask them to chew but not yet swallow.  What does the food taste like?  Is it sweet, sour, salty, bitter, or umami?  Does it remind them of anything?  Does it affect their emotions at all?  What is the texture of the food?  Is it chewy or crunchy? Hard or soft?  How does the texture change the longer they chew it?  How does the flavor change?  Tell your child to swallow.  As they do so, have them focus on the feeling of the food sliding down their throat.  Have them imagine it sliding down into their stomach.  Now ask them how they feel.  Do they feel more or less hungry?  How is their emotional state?  Do they feel satisfied? Guilty?  Repeat with the remaining snack.

The Results of Mindfulness

Mindfulness and awareness may or may not motivate your child to make more healthy food choices away from home.  They still might not choose to order salad when all their friends order greasy pizza.  But mindfulness can help them be more aware of their bodies and their emotions as they eat.  By nurturing mindfulness related to eating, you will make it impossible for them to continue to eat mindlessly.  Whether they want to or not, they will suddenly find themselves “zoning in” when eating instead of “zoning out.”  Unwittingly, they will begin to be aware of how much they are eating, how fast they are eating, and how they feel about the food they are eating.  It will make them stop and think twice before heading to the snack machines – asking themselves if they are really hungry right now.

Mindful eating can really help kids to make better food choices.  It can also help them to lose weight or to stay at a healthy weight.  It will also help them confront their emotions surrounding food.  If eating certain foods makes them feel sluggish or guilty, their awareness of this can help them choose to avoid those foods in the future.

Another benefit of mindful eating is that it gives kids a sense of consequences.  The judgment center of kids’ brains doesn’t fully develop until their early 20’s.  But by making consequences very clear and by teaching kids to consider the consequences of their eating habits, we introduce them to a useful skill that can be applied across the board in their lives.

Good for Relationships

Teaching kids the skills of mindfulness when eating can also be good for your relationship with them.  In effect, teaching mindfulness is a form of granting stewardship.  Instead of micromanaging and trying to control all of your child’s eating habits, you are teaching them the skills they need to make good food choices.  Handing over the control to your kids, at least when they are out of the house, gives them a sense of power and control.

Power and control are essential for any human being.  None of us likes the feeling of being powerless, and that includes even very young children.  Anyone who has had a baby spit their food or formula out at them or refuse a particular type of food has run into this head on.  If we want to inspire healthy kids, we cannot just focus on the last two words.  Of course we want healthy kids, but we also want inspired kids!

Mindfulness is one tool of many that we as parents can deploy to teach our kids to make good food choices.  By teaching them this skill, we can also give them the gift of being able to say to them that we trust them to make good decisions on their own.  Being granted power, control, and stewardship over their own eating habits can be hugely empowering for kids of all ages.  This does not mean they are without guidance!  This means we provide them the guidance, the help, and the aid they need to learn how to make good decisions without wresting the control away from them.

Happy Mindful Eating!

I hope this tutorial on teaching mindful eating proves helpful.  In fact, it is the kind of timeless wisdom we can all benefit from, no matter what our age.  Mindfulness can stop us from reaching into the office candy dish when we don’t really want another chocolate, and it can stop us from going back for seconds when we are no longer hungry.  But unlike conventional diets, mindfulness does not deprive anyone of the foods they want.  It simply makes us more alert to our behaviors and empowers us to make good decisions.  For an adult, this can be hugely liberating and for a child it is even more inspirational and empowering.

For anyone interested in using mindfulness and emotional awareness as the keys to resolving weight or food issues, I strongly encourage you to contact my good friend and personal inspiration, Kylie Ryan.  And no, she didn’t pay me to say that.  I just think she’s awesome and good at what she does, and I know you will, too.