Don’t Believe in the Nutrient Value of Vegetables


At a workshop that I led last week, I was asked whether it was worth eating lettuce because it doesn’t have any nutrient value. I knew that this would be a great so-called nutrition “truth” that I can bust for you too.

All over the internet, in books, even in grocery stores, you’ll see vegetables ranked based on a score of nutrient value. But just because these scores are popular, doesn’t mean that you should believe in them.

You see, I am a true scientist. A true scientist understands what we know, and acknowledges what we don’t know. The real truth is that the scientific understanding is in its infancy regarding exactly what it is in each and every vegetable that is healthy. We know of many vitamins, minerals, and other phytonutrients. But there are likely tens, hundreds, thousands more that we haven’t yet discovered. And that’s just the nutrients that are healthy for our bodies. We’re also discovering more and more about the many roles that our gut microbiome has on our health. Science has even more of a rudimentary understanding of what it is in vegetables that makes our gut bacteria happy.

Let me share a few examples to illustrate my position. When I did my undergraduate degree in nutrition from arguably the best nutrition school in in Canada during the mid-90’s, I was taught:

  • There is no nutritional value in onions and garlic. Their only role was to provide taste. Now we know that there are health-promoting phytochemicals in onions and garlic. Onions and garlic certainly do count in your daily servings of vegetables.
  • Nothing about phytochemicals. That’s because the whole class of phytochemicals had not yet been discovered. All that science knew at the time was vitamins, minerals and fibre.
  • That the gut microbiome simply helped digest food. It didn’t play any other role in human health. Now we’re learning that it may be linked to depression, heart health, obesity, food allergies, and a wide range of other health conditions.

Now I want to be really clear here. I’m not telling you that vegetables aren’t healthy. Vegetables certainly are healthy. In fact, I want about half of what you eat to be vegetables. I just don’t want you to buy into these various rankings of the “best” vegetables. Also, I don’t want you to buy in to the idea that certain vegetables have no nutrient value. Yes, even iceberg lettuce.

Instead of thinking that a vegetable has no nutrient value. I recommend thinking that science has not yet discovered what’s healthy about this vegetable.

So how do you apply my message? Eat lots of vegetables. Make vegetables be about half of what you eat. As wide a variety of vegetables as you can get. Eat any and all the vegetables that you enjoy. And, try new veggies often. Eat them raw sometimes. Eat them cooked sometimes. Because our bodies better absorb some nutrients when the veggies are raw. And, our bodies better absorb some nutrients when the veggies are cooked.

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Photo credit: Petra Cigale on Unsplash

5th Annual Homemade Ice Pop Recipes

spinach-kiwi ice pop

It's back, my annual home-made ice pop recipe collection. Some may call these homemade popsicles or paletas. Or, frozen smoothies. Whatever you call them they're a delicious summer treat. I want to give a big shout out to Carla, the dietetic student who is volunteering with me for creating these recipes. My directions for her: the recipes need to be simple, include no added sugar, include fruit and even veggies, and only include easy-to-find ingredients. Oh, and of course, that they needed to be delicious. She sure delivered.

The directions for each recipe are the same:

  1. Combine all ingredients in a blender.
  2. Blend until smooth.
  3. Pour into molds.
  4. Freeze.

Enjoy her work!


P.S. For more delicious, healthy frozen recipes, check out these links:

Spinach Kiwi

Inspired by:

Packed with fruit and leafy greens, the vibrant green color of these popsicles comes from blending both kiwi and spinach.

  • 1/3 cup spinach
  • 1  kiwi
  • 2 drops lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup water

Mango Lassi

mango lassi ice pop

Inspired by:

Inspired from a classic Indian cold drink, mango lassi is a blend of yogurt, fruit and spice. Not a fan of cardamom? Simply omit the spice and you can still enjoy it as a mango-yogurt blend.

  • 1 mango
  • 160 ml greek yogurt
  • 1 small pinch cardamom (to taste)


cantaloupe ice pop

This very simple and refreshing recipe allows you to use ripe or extra ripe cantaloupes. No added sugar necessary.

  • ¾ cup cantaloupe
  • ¼ cup water

Get more healthy home-made ice pop recipes here:

5th Annual Healthy Home-Made Popsicles (ice pops, paletas)

4th Annual Healthy Home-Made Popsicles (ice pops, paletas)

Beets: What to Do With Them

beets what to do

These versatile root veggies are one of my favourites! A classic storage, root veggie, you can find local ones throughout the winter. Beets have been making headlines lately because they may help boost exercise performance. Many kids like them because of their naturally sweet taste. However, people often wonder what the heck to do with them. So I’m sharing a couple of my favourite ways to use beets.  

Grated – Raw Beets

Beets don’t even need to be cooked. Simply wash them, peel off the outer skin, and grate them into a salad.

It doesn’t get any easier than that!

Roasted Beets

When I’m turning on the oven to cook something, I often pop a few beets in at the same time – either for a warm side-dish today, or for chilled as a salad in the future.

  1. Wash beets and cut off any long tails or furry top bits.
  2. Cut a piece of tin foil large enough to wrap the beet in. Lay it on the counter, shiny side up. Pour a dollop of olive oil in the centre.
  3. Roll the beet around in the oil to coat it. Wrap the tin foil tightly around the beet.
  4. Repeat for each beet.
  5. Place wrapped beets on a cookie tray or in a baking dish.
  6. Roast until tender, how long this takes depends on the size of the beets and the heat of your oven – at 350 degrees F it may take as long as 2 hours; at 425 degrees F it may take as short as 45 min.

Beet and Bean Borscht

From: Pulses: Cooking with Beans, Peas, Lentils and Chickpeas

This is a fantastic, hearty and tasty, full meal in one pot, vegetarian borscht (perfect for Meatless Mondays). While the recipe takes a little longer to cook, it makes a lot of soup. And, this soup tastes great re-heated. Freeze leftovers (without the yogurt or sour cream topping) in small batches.

Makes 6 Litres

  • 3 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 3 celery stalks
  • 3 cups green cabbage, shredded (a Cuisinart or food processor makes shredding quick work)
  • 3 cups beets, peeled and chopped
  • 10 cups vegetable stock (home-made or lower sodium)
  • 4 cups beans such as navy beans or white kidney beans (canned or cooked from dry)
  • ½ cup canned or fresh tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon fresh cracked pepper
  • 1 bunch fresh dill (or parsley)
  • plain yogurt or sour cream


  1. In a big soup pot, sauté onion and garlic in oil until softened.
  2. Add carrots, celery and cabbage and sauté for about 3 minutes.
  3. Add beets and stock and cook for about 1 hour or until beets are slightly tender.
  4. Add beans, tomatoes, lemon juice, pepper and dill. Warm thoroughly.
  5. Serve topped with a dollop of yogurt or sour cream.
  6. Enjoy!

Click here for more healthy recipes.

It's a Great Day to Start a New Healthy Habit

meditation photo_medmed

It may be Tuesday September 8th, but for me it’s the first day of a new year. It’s the day after Labour Day. For many kids it’s the first day of a new school year. And while it’s been 12 years since I was in school, I can’t shake the itch to start fresh at this time of year. Regardless of how long it’s been since you went back to school, this week is a fantastic time to start something new. I mean, any day is the first day of the rest of your life. Why not start a new healthy habit today?

If you’ve been connecting with me on Facebook or Instagram you’ve seen that 2 weeks ago I started a new daily meditation habit (that picture above is a shot from 1 of my meditation spots). I started meditating sporadically many years ago. Over the winter I increased the frequency to several times a week. I liked what it was adding to my life. So one random Sunday I decided to pick up my game and meditate daily. I’m aiming for 365 days. I admit that I’ve been tempted to skip days. But so far I’m proud to let you know that I’m 15 for 15.

What new habit will you start this week? Here are a few ideas to spark your inspiration:

  • Pack a lunch. Not only is this a healthier habit than eating out every day, but you’ll save money too.
  • Turn off the screens during meals. It’s a simple way to enjoy more pleasure from your food. And, by being more in-tune with your body, you’ll likely eat less (or should I say, over-eat less).
  • Buy a water bottle to stimulate yourself to drink more water.
  • Meal plan for the week.
  • Make a point of trying 1 new vegetable each week.

Share you’re new habit in a comment below. Articulating your commitment increases the likelihood that you’ll do it!

Nutrition Game Changer: Cook The Night Before


Last month I introduced the concept of nutrition game changers. Nutrition game changers are foods or simple habits that can make a big impact in your health. Some might use the term ‘nutrition hacks’. Today, I had planned to share with you a different habit. But I noticed that, with the nights cooling off again, I’ve been using this habit again. I do it a lot myself. And, it’s helped a number of clients too. I realized that this one simple habit can have a big impact on your health because it makes it easy to eat a lot of healthy foods that you might not otherwise eat. So, what’s this simple habit? Cook the night before.

Cook the Night Before

It’s a nutrition game changer for two huge reasons:

  1. It lessens the stress of getting dinner on the table.
  2. It makes it possible to eat healthy foods like whole grains, beans cooked from scratch, and longer-cooking veggies.

I’ve heard it called the witching hour. You know, that window of time between finishing work, commuting through traffic, picking the kids up from daycare, and making (and eating) dinner. For many people, it’s the most stressful time of the day. No one I know has an hour (or more) to cook dinner. Most people have somewhere from 20 – 30 minutes. Our modern lives have squished this time so much that it’s no wonder that take-out, drive-throughs, and pre-prepared food sales are through the roof. They’re survival techniques. You always ask me for help to get from survival to thriving. Cooking the night before can be a huge help.

No, I’m not talking about spending hours in the kitchen in the middle of the night! I’m talking about multi-tasking. You are likely home for several hours in the evening, after dinner but before you go to bed. Use this time to cook.

There are lots of healthy foods that take almost no work, but they take a long time to cook. Take a few minutes for prep, get the food cooking, set a timer, and then set off with your other evening activities. I personally do the prep while I’m already in the kitchen cooking my dinner for this evening. I don’t have kids so that works. If doing anything else besides preparing tonight’s dinner will take you over the edge, then do the prep later.

When the food is cooked, simply allow them to cool at room temperature and then store them in the fridge. They’ll store for several days in the fridge. On the day that you want to eat them for dinner, simply re-heat them in the microwave or steam them. (Place at least 1 inch of water in the bottom of a double boiler. Bring to a boil over high heat. Place your food in a bowl inside the double boiler. Steam until heated).

What Healthy Foods Can You Cook the Night Before?

  • Whole grains. E.g. pot barley, brown rice, wild rice, farro. They all take 45 – 60 minutes to cook. But the prep is easy. Just add them to a pot with water, bring to a boil, reduce the heat to simmer, set your timer and you’re done.
  • Winter squash. E.g. spaghetti squash, butternut, acorn squash. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. For all but spaghetti, cut the squash in half lengthways, scoop out the seeds. Pour a splash of water in the seed cavity. Place in a baking dish. Cover with tin foil. Bake for 45min-1 hour (until the flesh is soft when you test it with a fork). For spaghetti squash: leave the squash whole, pierce all over with a fork. Cover with tin foil. Bake for 1 hour or longer (until the squash gives easily to your touch).
  • Root veggies. E.g. beets, yams. There are lots of ways to bake these veggies. Techniques vary by veggie. But unless you take a long time to prep them by cutting them into small pieces, they’re going to take 45min – 1 hour to bake. Here’s one minimal prep time technique each for beets and yams: Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Wash but don’t peel the beets. Remove any stems or skinny roots. Rub with olive oil. Wrap in tin foil and place in a baking dish. Roast until soft to the touch. The time will vary based on the size of your beets. Yams can be cooked at the same temperature. Wash but don’t peel the yams. Pierce all over with a fork. Wrap in tin foil. Bake for 45min- 1 hour.
  • Dried beans. Cooking beans from dry is not only cheaper, but it avoids the exposure to BPA in the liner of most cans. Beans take 2 simple prep steps – one the morning before and one the night before. In the morning, measure out your beans, place in a bowl, cover with water (at least 1 inch above the beans), and sit at room temperature all day. At night, drain the beans,  place them in a large pot, add fresh water to cover at least 1 inch above the beans, bring to a boil, reduce the heat to simmer, set your timer and you’re done.

Extra Tip: All of these foods make fantastic whole-meal salad ingredients. Cook extra the night before and enjoy them both (cold) as a whole meal salad for your lunch and warm as a part of dinner.

Looking for new recipe ideas? Find lots of great healthy recipes here.

3 Ways to use Farmers’ Markets to Get Your Child to Eat Veggies

3 Ways to use Farmers’ Markets to Get Your Child to Eat Veggies

It’s the height of summer and farmers' markets are approaching their peak. Perhaps you already shop at your local farmers’ market. Or, you’ve been meaning to check out the one in your neighbourhood. I’ve been a big fan of farmers’ markets since before the locavore movement made it cool. I have fond childhood memories of waking up early, piling into the car, and driving out of the city to the big farmers’ market in the country. Shopping at farmers’ markets supports your local economy, builds food security, and promotes community. Farmers’ markets are also a fantastic opportunity to get your kids excited about vegetables – from toddlers to pre-teens. Here are 3 fantastic activities to harness the opportunity at the farmers’ market to maximize your picky eaters’ enthusiasm for veggies and fruit.

  1. Helping Hands. Let your little one pick your produce. For example, tell her that you need 10 potatoes (or 1 head of lettuce, or 5 pears, etc). Then, let her pick and bag the 10 potatoes. Encourage “help” from the vendor – ask him questions like “How do you pick the best potatoes?” or “How do you know that a watermelon is ripe?” This is a great way to engage the pickiest eaters because it doesn’t even involve tasting the food. However it gently gets them to explore and feel ownership for the veggies/fruit. Both of which help them move towards trying it.
  2. Different Varieties, Same Food. Another gentle way to help kids be open to trying new foods is to have a taste testing of different varieties of the same food. Choose a food that your child already eats. Then choose other colours and shapes of the same food from the farmers’ market. Prepare all the varieties and try them all, comparing them. Take cucumbers for example: pick up one each of field cucumber, lemon cucumber, long English cucumber, pickling cucumber, and any other variety that you can find. When you get home, cut slices of each variety and lay them out on a plate. Gather your family. Try each one. Describe all your senses – how do they look, smell, taste? Is one sweeter, one more sour, one have a thicker skin?
  3. Kids’ Choice. Let your child choose any one vegetable or fruit at the market. Let kids pick themselves, or have them talk with the vendors to get recommendations such as “what’s especially yummy today?” or “My favourite vegetable is broccoli and I don’t like radishes, what would you recommend that I try?” Prepare your child’s choice together later that day. Older kids can help research and choose recipes. This will inspire pride and ownership of this food which helps many kids be open to taste it. You may want to set a budget ahead of time – otherwise your child may choose the giant, $30 hubbard squash, LOL!

One final (and important) note: It’s all in the attitude. Yours. Do these activities with your kids in the spirit of fun and exploring. Not in the spirit of forcing. Their enthusiasm will soar. And, with their new-found enthusiasm, they may feel brave enough to try the veggies (and perhaps even like them).

4th Annual Home-made Popsicles (a.k.a. Ice Pops, Paletas)

Home-made popsicles, healthy, no sugar

I love that the healthy home-made popsicles trend is continuing (also known as ice-pops or paletas). Have you jumped on board? It's a fantastic way to enjoy some fruits and veggies. All these recipes are delicious. You won't believe that they have no sugar. Kids often love to help make them too. Here are 4 new home-made ice pop recipes for you to enjoy this summer. In case you're wondering why there are 4 recipes but only 3 in the picture, I ate all the banana-strawberry-orange ones before taking the photo :)

Home-Made Popsicles Directions

All the steps are the same for all home-made popsicles. And they're very easy:

  1. Combine ingredients in a blender.
  2. Blend until smooth.
  3. Pour into the ice-pop molds.
  4. Freeze.
  5. ENJOY!

Home-Made Popsicles Ingredients

Healthy Creamsicle

This simple 3 ingredient recipe is inspired by one of my childhood favourites – creamsicles. But unlike creamsicles, the only sugar in this recipe is that naturally found in orange juice.

  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 1 cup orange juice
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract


Use ripe bananas and in-season, local strawberries and these are naturally sweet – no added sugar is needed.

  • 1 medium banana
  • 10 strawberries
  • ½ cup orange juice


Don’t let the deep green colour of this recipe discourage you. It’s my favourite of the 4 recipes here – super refreshing and subtly sweet.

  • 2 cups watermelon, cubed
  • 6 large spinach leaves, thick stems removed
  • 2 inches cucumber, peeled and seeds removed
  • ½ cup coconut water

Pink Grapefruit

This recipe doesn’t need to be blended. Simply juice the grapefruits and combine with the soda water in a pitcher. Pour into the molds and freeze. If you find pink grapefruits too sour, you can substitute freshly squeezed orange juice.

  • 1 cup freshly squeezed pink grapefruits (approx 3 grapefruits)
  • 1 cup soda water

See more healthy, delicious recipes for home-made ice pops.

Are You Eating the Right Breakfast?


I don’t know if the old saying “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” is true. It may not be the most important meal. But it certainly is an important one. Starting off with the right breakfast raises your blood sugar gradually and keeps you full for hours. It’s like armor protecting you from the tempting, junky foods that surround us all day. In other words, eating the right breakfast can help with healthy weight loss. Are you eating the right breakfast?

The Right Breakfast

The great news is that there isn’t just one perfect breakfast. Many foods can make up the “right” breakfast. Here are the 4 important characteristics of the “right” breakfast (and some food ideas):

  1. Produce. I highly doubt that you’re surprised that I ‘m recommending that you include fruit or vegetables in your breakfast. Most of us could use to eat more and so why not get a serving or two in at the start of the day? Eat a piece of fruit, top your oatmeal with berries, add some spinach in your omelet, or warm up last night’s stir-fry leftovers.
  1. Protein. Here’s something that toast or cereal eaters often miss. Including protein will help your blood sugars be stable for longer, which means no mid-morning crashes and cravings for donuts. Sprinkle hemp hearts or chia seeds on your cereal, spread nut butter on your toast, or enjoy a couple of eggs.
  1. Real whole grains. This one is optional. You may just want to include protein and produce and you’ll be doing great. Others (me included) do better with some real whole grains at breakfast. What do I mean by “real” whole grains? I mean minimally processed grains. Something that you really have to chew. There’s a lot of highly processed breakfast foods that claim to be whole grain and/or high fibre. I recommend avoiding anything that’s super light-weight, like a lot of breads and puffed cereals. They digest really fast and your blood sugar starts to drop quickly. Instead look for something that needs a lot of chewing, like steel-cut oats and is heavy to hold, like many sprouted grain breads.
  1. Sugar. Again no surprises here (except where it can be hidden). Have as little added sugar as you can (ideally none). Watch out for it in “healthy” cereals, take-out smoothies made with fruit drink concentrates, and in “fruit”-on-the-bottom yogurt.

Here's a recipe for Overnight Oats - a fantastic example of the right breakfast. Try it tomorrow morning and see how great you can feel!

Baked Avocado Eggs

Baked avocado egg

I'm a long-time lover of avocados and so I'm excited to see that many others have realized how delicious they are. And, that their healthy fat is not something of which to be afraid. Browsing around Pinterest for some cooking inspiration (I love Pinterest), I found this recipe. I like to give credit where credit is due, so here's the original recipe: This baked avocado egg recipe has all the creamy deliciousness of an eggs benny - without all the work of Hollandaise sauce. In other words, it's a perfect recipe for Easter breakfast. Finger Food Version: Cook a few minutes longer until both the whites and yolk are set (it's recommended that babies under 12 months don't have runny egg yolks). Cut the egg and avocado into finger-food size pieces. Or, spread on long, skinny pieces of toast.

Baked Avocado Egg Ingredients:

1 avocado

2 eggs

salt & pepper

Optional: toast

Baked Avocado Egg Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Slice the avocados in half. Remove the pit. Scoop out enough flesh from the avocado,  so the egg will fit in the centre. Reserve this flesh for another recipe/snack.
  3. Slice a small piece off the back of the avocado halves so that they will sit flat without rolling around. Place the avocados in a small baking dish, making sure they fit tightly. If your dish is too big, scrunch up a piece of tin foil to fill the space.
  4. Season the avocado halves with salt and pepper. Crack an egg into each avocado half.
  5. Place in the oven and bake for 15 to 20 minutes. Cooking time will depend on the size of your eggs and avocados. And, how you like our eggs cooked.
  6. Enjoy scooped directly out of the avocados. Or, spread on top of toast.

Check out more healthy, delicious recipes here.

Healthy Shamrock Smoothies - Green Smoothies

green smoothies

I'm a true kid of the 1980's Canadian suburbs. Growing up, we went to McDonalds a couple of times a year. One of those times each year, guarenteed, was in March. Why? If you grew up similar to me, you already know the answer...Shamrock Shakes. I totally LOVED those green, mint milkshakes that McDonalds only had on the menu around St. Patrick's Day.

To be honest, I had totally forgotten about those shakes. Those childhood days are long gone. But last Spring, while on a surf trip in California, I had a smoothie that brought it all back. It was pistachio and mint, and it was DELICIOUS! Ever since then I can't get mint or pistachios off my mind. So, of cource I had to create recipes for a healthy, minty green smoothie in time for St. Patrick's Day.

I didn't remember exactly what was in that smoothie in California. So I bought all sorts of green ingredients. And, I created a second green smoothie. Why not?!

The directions are easy. Simply combine all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Adjust the amounts to suite your tastebuds. Too thick? Add more liquids. Too thin? Add more solids.

The two recipes are:

Green Smoothie Pistachio-Mint

  • 1 tablespoon flax seeds
  • 3 tablespoons pistachios
  • 3/4 cup milk (or plant-based alternative)
  • 1/3 cup plain yogurt
  • 1 cup (packed) baby spinach
  • 3 chopped dates
  • 2 tablespoons (packed) fresh mint
  • 1 teaspoon honey

Green Smoothie Avocado-Pistachio-Kale

  • 1 tablespoon flax seeds
  • 1/4 ripe avocado
  • 1/2 banana
  • 2 large kale leaves, centre ribs removed
  • 3 tablespoons pistachios
  • 1 cup milk (or plant-based alternative)

Don’t Be Heavy-Handed with “Nutrition” Talk - Teaching Nutrition to Kids

Teaching Nutrition to Kids

I had the best time on Friday! I was invited to the Valentine’s Day party at the local elementary school. I brought a variety of fruits and veggies and led an activity where we used cookie cutters to cut out hearts and thread them onto wooden skewers to make cupid’s arrows (thank you Pinterest). Do I have the best job or what?! But was I just playing? No. There’s a method to my madness. I’ve learned something in the (gulp) 20 years that nutrition’s been my world. It’s that teaching nutrition to kids isn’t the way to inspire people to have healthy eating habits. Sure, talking about vitamins, minerals, etc will change what some people eat. There will be the exception that proves the rule. But it truly is the exception. I learned this lesson the hard way. When I was a bubbly, enthusiastic nutrition student, I shared my new-found knowledge with anyone and everyone (whether they asked for my 2 cents worth or not). Guess what? Not surprisingly, most people rolled their eyes at me and went on with their same (unhealthy eating) behavior.

I’ve learned that the most effective way to influence people’s behaviour is to simply serve them delicious, healthy food. And don’t say anything about it.

With kids there is even more opportunity! You see they haven’t had 10, 20, 30 years-of habits that we need to break. With kids, all we need to do is to include healthy foods in fun and everyday activities. To make healthy eating the norm. That’s why I worked to get myself invited to the Valentine’s Day party. Because, it was a fantastic way to infuse a celebration day with healthy food. The kids totally got into it and had a fantastic time. In fact, we hardly had enough fruit to thread on the skewers because they were eating so much of it. I can honestly tell you that they didn’t miss baking cookies one bit.

Creating a positive association with healthy eating is more powerful than knowing that I “should” eat something because it has vitamin so-and-so in it.

Recently a study confirmed my experience. They found that kids were less likely to try a food. And, they rated a food as tasting worse, if they were told that it was healthy.

It’s so tempting to go on and on about WHY kids should eat a healthy food. But do your best to resist the temptation. It’s more effective if you aren’t heavy-handed with the “nutrition” talk.

As the saying goes:

“Actions speak louder than words”.

How do you incorporate healthy eating into fun activities? I'd love you to share in the comments below!

Get my e-newsletter for successful tips to teach kids healthy eating.

Secret Tip for Using Packed Lunches to Get Picky Eaters to Try New Foods

girl telling a secret

Guest Expert article at Health Your Way Online It’s back to school. Which is the perfect time for me to share this secret tip that’s been super successful with my picky eater clients.

In the 6 years that I’ve worked with Moms and Dads of picky eaters, I’ve noticed that almost every family makes the same mistake. The only time that they offer their picky child a challenging food is at dinner. (Note that a “challenging food” is either a new food or one that their child has seen many times but refuses to eat). This backfires because even toddlers and preschoolers will notice this pattern. And so they will refuse to eat, act out, or come up with any other excuse not to come to the table and eat dinner. For many kids, picky eating stems from being afraid of the food. It’s a developmental stage that I call “food-wariness”. Instead of facing their fears, kids will do everything that they can to avoid the dreaded challenging food.

The first step to getting these kids to try new foods on their own is to have them become accustomed to seeing a new food in front of them. It’s the first baby step in overcoming their fear. By frequently presenting a new food, they become accustomed to the food’s presence. Thus they become more confident. Eventually that confidence, along with their desire to grow up, is what motivates them to try new foods.

So what’s this secret, successful tip that I promised to share?

Include challenging foods in packed lunches.

Now take note that I’m not saying to pack a lunch that only includes challenging foods. What I’m saying is to frequently (not necessarily every day) pack one challenging food along with your child’s favorites. The “bento-box” style lunch kits make it easy to include a challenging food because the challenging food won’t touch your child’s favorites. And, we all know how much young kids don’t like their foods to touch. Even if your fussy eater doesn’t eat the challenging food, you’re building their food-confidence because you’re helping them become accustomed to seeing a challenging food in front of them. And, what’s even better is that you don’t have to watch your child not eat it (which I know drives so many parents nuts)!

Use After School Snacks to Get Picky Eaters to Try New Foods

picky boy eating new foods after school snacks

{Guest Expert Contribution to Kidzedge} If you’re like the parents of picky eaters I’ve helped for the last 6 years, you’re constantly on the look out for ways to get your kids to eat more (healthy) foods. After school snacks are a great (and often overlooked) opportunity to contribute to kids’ nutrition. Here’s why after school snacks are such a great time to get kids to eat more foods, how to do it, and some snack ideas.

After School Snacks Why it Works:

Have you ever tried getting a child to eat a new food when they aren’t hungry? It’s a lesson in futility. Many kids have big appetites at after school snack time. Appetite is a great motivator for kids to try new foods. Take advantage of this natural window of opportunity and use after school snacks to offer your child new foods.

After School Snacks Steps to Take:

Step #1: Plan snacks that include foods from 2 or more food groups. Often we think of snacks as a time for junk food. Or, as a time for a single food – e.g. an apple. But kids have big nutrient needs and small tummies. They need healthy foods more than just at 3 meals per day.

Step #2: Consider meals and snacks to be equal opportunities to eat. A mistake that many parents make is to give their child healthy foods at meals and favorite foods at snacks. This stacks the odds against kids eating well at meals. Instead, frequently, give your child a snack that includes either a new food or a food that your child has seen many times but hasn’t tried yet.

Step #3: Think outside the snack aisle. When looking for snack ideas, it seems natural to look in the snack aisle of the grocery store. But this aisle is mostly filled with highly processed, junk foods. Instead, look for easy to eat versions of meal foods. Focus on providing foods from the food groups where your child isn’t meeting the recommendations. To see the recommendations, check out My Plate or Canada’s Food Guide

After School Snack Ideas:

  • Edamame and an orange (2 food groups)
  • White Bean Dip* with a variety of raw veggies such as snow peas, carrots, and zucchini (2 food groups)
  • Hard-boiled egg and toast (2 food groups)
  • Yogurt with blueberries and hemp hearts (3 food groups)
  • Sliced banana on top of whole grain crackers/rice cakes/corn cakes spread with peanut butter, nut-butter, or non-nut butter. (3 food groups)

White Bean Dip Recipe

Makes 12 Servings

1 can (14 oz, 17.6 oz) cannellini beans, canned, drained 1 bulb garlic, raw 1/4 cup (2 oz) olive oil 1/4 cup (2 fl oz) lemon juice, fresh


  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Remove the outermost skin of the garlic bulb (the loose stuff). Cut off the very top of the bulb so the tip of each clove is exposed. Rub the entire bulb with some olive oil. Wrap in tin foil, shiny-side inwards. Place on a cookie sheet or in a casserole dish.
  3. Roast in the oven for approximately 45 minutes, or until the bulb gives off the distinct roasted garlic (not raw garlic) aroma and the cloves are squishy.
  4. Allow to cool.
  5. Drain and rinse the beans (rinsing removes some of the “magical” part of the beans). Place them in a medium-size bowl.
  6. To the beans, add half the olive oil, half the lemon juice, and half of the cloves of garlic. Using a hand-held blender, blend the mixture until it’s smooth. Adding more olive oil, lemon juice and garlic to taste and to get the texture to the desired smoothness.
  7. ENJOY with tortilla chips, crackers, apple slices, and raw veggies like carrots, celery and bell pepper strips.

Note: You can roast the garlic days in advance.

Check out my recipe page for more healthy after school snack ideas for kids.

Should I Feed my Baby Organic Food?

baby w fruits & veg One of the most common questions that I’m asked is: Should I feed my baby organic food?” I know what my answer is (scroll down to check it out). But it’s such a popular question that when two University of British Columbia dietetic students were looking for a writing assignment for class, I asked them to answer your question. Here’s what students Karalee Derkson and Connie Lau found in their research into the question of organic food for babies, and their conclusions.  

What is Organic Food?

There can be confusion with the term “organic food”. From the point of view of a scientist, all foods are organic – that is all foods are all living things (versus inorganic things like rocks). However, when most people use the word “organic” they mean foods that are grown or produced without the use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, antibiotics, and growth hormones (Dietitians of Canada). Instead, farmers use crop rotation, waste recycling, and natural pesticides to grow their crops (Dietitians of Canada).

Because all foods are technically living things, the term “organic” can be used for all of them. To distinguish foods grown using the methods listed above, groups have developed certification programs, such as the USDA, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, and the EU. This is why you often see “certified organic” on labels – these foods have gone through and passed the certification process. Of course, to go through the certification process, it takes time, paperwork, and money.

Not every farmer who uses organic growing methods will choose to undertake certification – especially if they’re a smaller farm. There are also farms that use many organic methods but who don’t quite fit all the certification criteria.

Factors to Consider when Choosing Organic Food vs Conventional Food

Nutrient Content:

  • There may be higher levels of phytochemicals (compounds that benefit health) in organic produce because they are a natural pesticide (Dietitians of Canada).
  • In the studies that have been conducted to date, organic food does not contain more or better nutrients than conventional food (Forman; Dietitians of Canada; Dangour et al.)

Health Implications:

  • Currently, there is no significant evidence that consuming organic food leads to health benefits or that conventional food has negative health effects (Health Canada; Dangour et al.).
  • Infants and children consume more food than adults on a weight for weight basis during development, therefore their pesticide exposure may be higher (Health Canada; National Research Council).

Environmental Impact:

  • Organic farms use less energy and produce less waste (Forman).
  • In organic farms, no synthetic pesticides are used. Therefore, there is little risk of chemically damaging the surrounding ecosystems (Forman).

Pesticide Regulation:

  • In Canada, pesticides are illegal if they have the ability to cause cancer or birth defects (Health Canada).
  • In Canada, The maximum acceptable amount of pesticides is set far below the levels that could pose health risks, even for infants (Health Canada).


  • Organic food costs 10-40% more than conventional food (Forman).

Do All Conventional Foods have the Same Amount of Pesticides? The short answer is no. The amount of pesticides in a conventional food is based on how pesticides are used (both how much, were they’re applied, and when they’re applied during the plant’s growth) and the nature of how the plant grows/ what part of the plant we eat.

To empower people who wish to avoid pesticides without always purchasing organic, an American organization called the Environmental Working Group (EWG) published the “Dirty Dozen” and  “Clean 15”. They look at the levels of pesticides in samples of foods in the USA and then rank them in lists. While many of the foods in the US come from the same places as those found in Canada, it’s worth mentioning that there can be differences. And, these differences may lead to differences in pesticide levels.

The EWG's Clean Fifteen™ for 2014:

  1. Avocados
  2. (Sweet) corn – i.e. the type of corn that we humans eat
  3. Pineapples
  4. Cabbage
  5. Frozen (sweet) peas
  6. Onions
  7. Asparagus
  8. Mangos
  9. Papaya
  10. Kiwi
  11. Eggplant
  12. Grapefruit
  13. Cantaloupe
  14. Cauliflower
  15. Sweet Potatoes

The EWG's Dirty Dozen™ for 2014:

  1. Apples
  2. Strawberries
  3. Grapes
  4. Celery
  5. Peaches
  6. Spinach
  7. Bell peppers
  8. Nectarines - imported from outside US (and assumingly Canada?)
  9. Cucumbers
  10. Cherry Tomatoes
  11. Snap peas - imported from outside US (and assumingly Canada?)
  12. Potatoes

Leafy greens such as kale and collard greens as well as hot peppers were highlighted for containing significant pesticides, but didn’t quite fall in the top.

For more information on the EWG click here

Our Opinions

Dietetic Student Connie Lau: To take the extra step of precaution I would choose organic produce as a priority, especially during the crucial developmental years of a child. Although there are tight regulations on pesticide levels of food, evidence of long-term effects is inconclusive.

Dietetic Student Karalee Derkson: Due to the high cost of organic foods, and the lack of significant health benefits, I do not buy organic produce. I feel confident that the regulations on pesticide levels of food will keep exposure well below dangerous amounts. I would be comfortable feeding my child conventional produce.

Kristen Yarker, MSc, RD: I’m a strong believer in organic foods.

While research studies haven’t been designed to measure it, I don’t know how we can look at our health out of the context of the health of the environment. It’s clear that organic foods are better for the environment.

Yes, growing methods that are healthier for the environment are more expensive. Wanting cheap foods, available all year long goes against Mother Nature. That being said, personally I don’t have the budget to buy 100% organic. I do make choices with my money to be able to spend more on food. For example, I choose to live in a smaller home, drive a fuel-efficient car, and not have cable TV all so that I can have more money in my budget for food. Buy paying for (local) organic foods, I know that I’m using the power of my money to create a market for organic farmers. The more of us consumers who do so, the more incentive there will be for farmers (locally and around the world) to choose organic methods.

In addition to the growing practices, I also consider the distance that a food has travelled. I’ve been shopping at Farmers’ Markets and roadside stands since I was a child (far before it became trendy). What I love about this is not only do I reduce the fossil fuels used to transport the food, but I’ve learned a lot about farming methods. I use this knowledge to decide what conventional foods I’m willing to buy. For example, I don’t buy certified organic eggs from the grocery store. I buy my eggs from an older couple’s home. I can see the (small number of) chickens running around the yard. This couple hasn’t undertaken the organic certification process. Heck, they’re so old-school that they use the honour system for payment - I put my money in an unlocked box on their front porch! But I do buy other long-distance organic staples from the grocery store, such as tofu, polenta, and pasta noodles.

Here’s the order in which I choose foods:

  1. Local organic
  2. Local conventional and long-distance organic
  3. Long-distance conventional

Bottom Line(s) This article has been longer then my usual messages. But I wanted to dig into the issue a bit since it’s an important one. As you consider it all, please keep in mind these three points:

  • I encourage you to talk to your local Farmers. And, maybe even grow some foods yourself. Become more aware of where your food comes from. With knowledge comes power.
  • Regardless of the balance that you choose for your family, the research is clear that eating LOTS of vegetables and fruit is healthy. As Micheal Pollan so eloquently said: “Eat foods. Mostly plants.”
  • It’s important to introduce your baby to a wide variety of foods in the first years of life.

Click here to get more tips on nutrition for babies directly to your inbox.

Sources Alan D Dangour, Sakhi K Dodhia, Arabella Hayter, Elizabeth Allen, Karen Lock, and Ricardo Uauy. "Systematic Review of Nutritional Differences Between Organic and Conventional Foods." American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2009).

Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Organic Products. 13 January 2014. Government of Canada. May 2014 < >.

Dietitians of Canada. Are organic foods better for my health? 16 July 2013. May 2014 <>.

Environmental Working Group. Environmental Working Group. April 2014. May 2014 <>.

Forman, J., Silverstein, J. "Organic Foods: Health and Environmental Advantages and Disadvantages." American Academy of Pediatrics (2012): 1412.

Health Canada. Consumer Product Safety: Pesticides and Food. February 2014. May 2014 <>.

Environmental and Workplace Health: Pesticides and Health. July 2008. May 2014 <>.

National Research Council. Pesticides in the Diet of Infants and Children. Washington, DC.: The National Academies Press, 1993.

More Super Smoothies (for Picky Eater Kids)!

smoothies picky eater kids It happened again yesterday. I was leading a workshop and a parent asked me: “Is it wrong to give my child smoothies with veggies in them? Is this considered hiding veggies?” Rarely a workshop goes by without a parent asking me about smoothies for their picky eater kids. They’re such a popular trend these days. While I touched on this in last week’s blog post; it’s such a common question that I get about healthy snacks for kids that I thought that it was worthwhile to expand on it today. And, share some ideas for smoothie ingredients.

I think that smoothies are a great way to provide vegetables, fruit, protein, and healthy fats for kids. BUT there are a couple of key points to follow to be using them to role model healthy eating and support your child to try new foods on their own:

  1. Don’t lie about the ingredients. This is when you start veering into the “hiding” territory. If you’re waking up at 2am to puree foods so that your child doesn’t know that they’re in a smoothie, then you’ve strayed in the wrong direction. This doesn’t mean that you have to read out to your child a list every last ingredient in a smoothie. But don’t deny a food’s existence. Having your child help make the smoothie (like I suggested last week) is a great way for them to know what’s in it.
  2. Continue to serve “obvious” vegetables (and eat them yourself). Yes, even if your child doesn’t eat them, you’re role modeling choosing to eat vegetables. You’re teaching an important life lesson that I promise is sinking in (even if the vegetables aren’t getting eaten currently).

As I mentioned above, smoothies are a great way to provide vegetables, fruit, protein and healthy fats in a way that many picky eaters will actually eat. Here are some ingredient ideas. Note that some of the ingredients (e.g. nuts) require a higher-powered blender. Mix and match the ingredients to find combinations that you love. And don’t’ be afraid to experiment to find new favs. My new favourite is pistachio-mint-banana, which I was introduced to while on vacation in California last month!

Smoothie Ingredients - Vegetables:

  • Spinach
  • Kale
  • Avocado (also helps a smoothie be creamy)
  • Carrot (I find carrot that’s already grated to blend better than larger pieces)

Smoothie Ingredients - Fruit (choose fresh or frozen fruit instead of juice):

  • Banana (also helps a smoothie be creamy)
  • Berries of any kind
  • Peaches
  • Mango
  • Pineapple
  • Orange
  • Kiwi

Smoothie Ingredients - Protein:

  • Yogurt
  • Cashews (or cashew butter)
  • Ground almonds (or almond butter)
  • Peanut butter
  • Pistachios
  • Pumpkin seeds (or pumpkin seed butter)
  • Hemp hearts

Smoothie Ingredients - Healthy Fats:

  • See all the nut and seed ideas above (including hemp hearts)
  • Avocado
  • Flax oil (or ground flax seeds)
  • Hemp oil
  • Fish oil
  • Vitamin D drops

Other tasty ingredients (that pack more of a taste punch than a nutritional punch):

  • Dates
  • Mint
  • Cocoa powder

Looking for more ideas? Check out the recipe for my Sunshine Smoothie (Orange-Pineapple-Fresh Turmeric) or these green smoothies.

A Super Way to Introduce Kids to the Kitchen: Smoothies

smoothies You’ve probably heard that it’s great to get your kids to help you in the kitchen to learn cooking skills, instill healthy eating habits, and more.


When I’m talking with moms and dads they often tell me one of two things about this:

  1. It sounds like a great idea. But they just can’t imagine how to make it happen when they think about the amount of work and the mess.
  2. Yes, they bake with their kids sometimes.


This is another great example of us health folks meaning one thing and parents hearing another.


Now don’t get defensive or let your mommy guilt kick in. I’m taking ownership of the miscommunication happening here.


When I mean “cook with your kids” I mean “get your kids involved in making healthy foods”.


I’m not against baking with kids. It’s fun too. Just don’t limit yourself to baking.


Invite your kids into the kitchen to help with simple, everyday tasks.


Choose one simple task for them to help with. Examples include:

  • Washing veggies
  • Measure out the dry quinoa/ rice and water
  • Spinning and tearing up the lettuce for a salad
  • Setting the table
  • Placing dirty dishes in the dishwasher
  • Smoothies


Smoothies are also a fantastic way to get kids in the kitchen:

  •  They’re something that they can make from start to finish.
  • They’re quick and relatively mess-free.
  • They include healthy ingredients.
  • I’ve never met a child who doesn’t LOVE to push the buttons on machines (from cell phones to elevators to blenders).

And, while sometimes parents confess to me that they “hide” foods in smoothies (e.g. kale, spinach), it’s not “hiding” when your kids are the ones putting the ingredients in the blender! They’re simply helping make a tasty dish that includes healthy ingredients!

Do you involve your kids in making smoothies? What are your favourite smoothie combinations? I'd love to hear from you (comment below)!

How to Stop Kids Begging for Food While You’re Cooking

stop kids begging food cooking Kids begging for food while you're cooking. Do you experience this common situation? You rush home from work and daycare pick-up, drop your bag and coat, and immediately get to work in the kitchen making dinner (or should I say figuring out what’s for dinner and then making it?). As you’re cooking, your little one suddenly is famished. They’re underfoot, claiming that they’re “staaaarrrvvving” and begging you for something to eat. Saying that they couldn’t possibly wait the 10 minutes until dinner is ready.

What do you do? Do you reach into the fridge or cupboard for a stop-gap snack? Hand them pieces of food from the cutting board? Shoo them away (again and again), telling them that dinner will be ready in 10 minutes?

If you’re like many of the parents who ask me how to handle this situation, then you likely give them a stop-gap snack or pieces of food from the cutting board because it feels awful to tell a hungry child “no”. The thanks that you get? When it’s time to sit down for dinner, your child tells you that they aren’t hungry and they misbehave to get out of having to continue sitting at the table.

Having kids underfoot while you’re cooking isn’t a good idea for several reasons:

  1. Safety. It’s not safe to have little ones underfoot when you’ve got sharp knives, hot pans, and scalding water. The kitchen should be a ‘no go zone’ for kids when adults are cooking. That is unless you’re cooking together.
  2. Speed. Stopping to give handouts slows you down and interrupts your thoughts about dinner. So it actually makes it take longer to get dinner on the table.
  3. Encouraging not eating dinner. Little kids find sitting still a challenge – including sitting still to eat meals. By feeding them a stop-gap snack or food off the cutting board, you’re taking away one of the most powerful allies that you have in getting kids to sit and eat a meal – hunger. Your good intentions are actually getting in the way of creating the family meal experience that you’re aiming for.
  4. Poorer nutrition. Studies show that kids who snack all day have less balanced diets. They eat more than the recommended servings of grain products and fewer protein foods and vegetables and fruit.

Strategies to Stop Kids Begging Food When Cooking

In working with families over the past 8 years, I’ve come up with a few, practical ways to stop what I call ‘panhandling for food’.  Perhaps one of these will be the right solution in your home.

They all start with you sitting down with your child and explaining that there will be a new household rule: kids aren’t allowed in the kitchen while Mom or Dad is cooking dinner.

  • After School (Daycare) Snack. Serve your child a planned snack while she is sitting at the table.  This is a great option for families who eat a later dinner (at least 1 hour after the snack ends). Serve foods from 2 or more food groups. It can be as simple as offering your child the food that she didn’t eat from her lunch. I’ve known countless kids who happily tuck into the very same food from their lunchbox that didn’t pass the test at lunchtime. I have no idea why but it doesn’t matter. If it was a healthy choice at lunch, it’s an equally healthy choice at after school/daycare snack. Enjoy talking with your child about her day while you start preparing dinner.  Why it works: you’re sticking to your role of choosing when meals and snacks are served, eating at the table is reinforced, you can control what’s on the menu at this snack time to keep balance in your child’s eating, your child gets fed when she’s hungry, there’s enough time for your child to build an appetite again before dinner, your child isn’t a safety hazard in the kitchen.
  • Crudites at the table. ‘Crudites’ is just a fancy term for raw veggies. Before starting to prepare dinner, cut up some raw veggies and place them in a bowl. Serve them at the table. Let your child come to the table and eat as many veggies as he wishes. Why it works: it’s perfectly normal to have hors d’oeuvres before a meal, you’re sticking to your role of choosing when meals and snacks are served, eating at the table is reinforced, you can control what’s on the menu to keep balance in your child’s eating, your child gets fed when he’s hungry, your child isn’t a safety hazard in the kitchen.
  • Screentime. First let me clarify that I’m not a proponent of copious amounts of screentime for kids. However, I do think that this is a practical case of the lesser of two evils. If you’re going to allow your child to watch TV, use a tablet, be on the computer, etc, I think that a good time to do it is to buy you 20 minutes to put a meal on the table. Why it works: you’re sticking to your role of choosing when meals and snacks are served, eating at the table is reinforced, your child isn’t a safety hazard in the kitchen.

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