Lessons From Ferdinand the Bull

I took a walk this morning to the llama and cow farm down the street and said hello to Ferdinand, the name I gave the sole bull amongst the heifers. I watched as he threw up cud into his mouth a couple of times while we locked eyes. My instinct was to dry heave but I stayed with him and watched as no sign of uncomfortable-ness or fear or icky-ness passed his eyes. If I were to throw up into my mouth, I certainly wouldn’t be that calm.

I remembered that cows have 4 stomachs and their digestive tracts are set up so that a cow or bull needs to re-chew her/his food (cud) several times before he can digest the fibrous grass. This is from WikiAnswers: “The cow typically likes to swallow her food whole, so the process of fermentation is twofold: one after she initially swallows or eats feed like grass, hay or grain, then again after she regurgitates the partly digested matter, re-chews it to break it down even more, then swallows it again to complete the fermentation (or rumination) process’”

I realized that this action from Ferdinand was a metaphor for life. How many times have we tried to accomplish a goal and failed or “get over” an issue only to have it resurface? What if we remained calm and saw “failure” as actually one step closer to achieving our goal? Let’s try not judging ourselves so harshly or giving up because that issue we went to therapy about or talked with our friends about keeps coming back up.

So if you have “failed” another diet, couldn’t get your kids to eat the whole grains you purchased and have resorted back to feeding your kids what they want to eat instead of what is the most healthful for them try this instead of beating yourself up: look at the “failure” as not a failure at all but as a gift, an opportunity to try something new, a lesson in what did and didn’t work, and begin again. Perhaps you took on more than you could handle or you didn’t have the support to stick with it. That is what Build Healthy Kids is all about. Join me in making one small change at a time.

Nutrition Advice Hasn’t Changed since 1937!


I came across a magazine that was published in 1937 and distributed to new mothers.  Here is how the article started: “The American housewife today is offered an opportunity such as never before been known in the history of our country.  This opportunity is one of cooperating with her government in a national crisis, by intelligent planning, buying and preparation of daily food for her family. To make a strong nation, we must have strong individuals; and to have strong individuals, we must have proper nutrition.”  1937 was a time when finances were scarce, some food was rationed, and many had to live on little. Is some of that sounding familiar to many today?

4 types of food were listed to serve as a guide for mothers when making meals and snacks. Moms were asked to serve food from each group every day until “new discoveries produced a guide that was better”.  The 4 types of food were:

  1. Body building and repairing: protein and minerals. This included the food groups “meats/beans”, including legumes, “dairy” and whole “grains”.
  2. Body regulating: vitamins and minerals: Included “milk” and soy beans
  3. Energy foods: starches, sugars and fats
  4. Roughage or bulk materials: included “fruits”, “vegetables” and “whole grains”

It certainly looks identical to what we are asked to follow today. I guess in 75 years a healthy well balanced diet hasn’t changed despite the enormous efforts of scientists and nutritionists to fine tune it. That is not to say that we haven’t learned things along the way but I think the single most irrefutable fact is that a healthy diet is made up of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, dairy, meats and legumes. Taking these whole foods and processing the life out of them has cost many years off of their life. Stick to eating as close to nature as possible and you will never go wrong.


Don’t Let Your Child Eat Their Weight In Sugar Each Year!

This month is about limiting treats. Did you know that on average, kids are eating and drinking their weight in sugar every year?  The Dietary Guideline for Americans 2010 stated that on average children are consuming 23 teaspoons of sugar a day which adds up to 78 pounds a year. That is a scary statistic seeing that sugar in excess can cause so many ailments; from the subtle (acne) to the life threatening (diabetes and heart disease). Our children’s bodies are not designed to handle this load of excess sugar.

You may think that your child does not eat anywhere near that amount of added sugar in a year but you may be surprised to find that they are eating more than you realize.  Take some time to observe what your children are eating. Add up an average days amount starting with breakfast and finishing with their after dinner snack. Follow these steps:

1. Look at the labels of foods and beverages that your child commonly consumes and write down the amount of Sugar on the label that the product contains (if they eat or drink more than one serving multiply the grams of sugar by the number of servings).

3. At breakfast, don’t count the first 4oz of juice if your child is younger than 7 years of age and 8 ounces of juice if your child is 7 years or older. Beyond that count the grams of sugar; add to that the amount of sugar in their cereal, toaster cake or other breakfast item

4. Add up the grams of sugar in their morning snack. If they drink flavored milk, don’t count the first 12 grams of sugar in 8 ounces of milk as that is from lactose.

5. Add the grams of sugar from lunch; vegetables, fruit, and regular milk do not count towards their daily sugar intake. Count only those food or beverages that have a food label plus any sugar added to your child’s food.

6. Add the grams of sugar in their afternoon snack and beverage

7. Add the grams of sugar in any sauces, ketchup or other foods that have sugar added to them at dinner; marshmallows on potatoes etc…

8. Add the grams of sugar from any snack, dessert your child has before bed.  This will give you their grand total for the day in grams of sugar. Multiply that number by 365 days of the year.

To figure out how to translate grams of sugar per year into something you and your child can understand compute the following:

Total grams of sugar per year divided by 4 = teaspoons per year

Teaspoons per year divided by 48 = cups of sugar per year

Once you figure out how many cups of sugar your child is consuming every year, show your child how much this is.  This is an effective tool if you are having a hard to time convincing your child to switch from flavored milk to regular milk or  to stop choosing the sugar loaded yogurts or any other sweet treat your child has trouble limiting.  Calculate what this adds up to in a year from just that one food or drink and pour that amount of sugar into a glass or bowl to show them how much they are consuming. This exercise is sure to have an impact on them for years to come.

Totally forbidding your child sweet treats will probably backfire on you and cause your child to want more of them. Your goal is to limit the amount of sweet treats that your child eats to one a day. In reality some days they will have more and hopefully on some they will have less. Let me know what you found!


Diary of a Picky Kid

Follow the antics, trials and tribulations of a very, very picky eater. Meet Charlie: he doesn’t eat any fruit, will throw up if his mom makes him and doesn’t like anything to do with healthy food.  He would live on Halloween candy if he could.  Read along as Charlies mom, Cindy, blogs about her frustrations and interactions with Charlie as she tries to get him to eat healthy food.  You will be sure to laugh out loud, learn a lot and be able to turn around your picky eater if you have one.

Play With Your Food

Let’s play “Let’s Pretend”. What would happen if you were invited out to dinner at a restaurant, knew nothing about the food they served there: if it was healthy or even tasted good?  Once you arrived, you were not given a menu or asked what your preference was and suddenly a plate of something ‘unknown’ and ‘unidentifiable’ was put down in front of you.  Do you dig in with a smile on your face or say “no way”?  I would imagine that only the extreme foodie wouldn’t have a problem with this but the rest of us would.  I wouldn’t eat a meal if I didn’t know what it was made of and how it was prepared.

Doesn’t the same thing happen to our kids at dinner on most nights of the week?  Children have been so far removed from food; the growing, selecting and preparation that it is no wonder that when they see a candy that glows in the dark or blue applesauce or neon pink yogurt, that they think these products are food. We need to engage all of children’s senses around food so that they come to their senses when choosing what foods they will and will not eat. Let them read about a new food (vegetable, fruit, legume, grain) pick it up, squeeze it, smell it, wash it, cut it up, play with it and really get familiar with the new food before asking them to take a bite.  This ‘play’ also teaches children what food should look and feel like so that when they are faced with junk food it will look like junk to them.

We all fear the unknown when it comes to food.  There is actually a name for it; neophobia, and this fear is built into our genes as a survival mechanism.  It kept us from eating everything we found while toddling around as a two year old. Years ago a child would have helped his parents till the ground, plant a seed, water the seedling, and pick the vegetable before they were asked to eat it. They also most likely helped their mother and grandmother in the kitchen prepare dinner.   This generation of children has no idea where food comes from.

I am not asking that you turn your kitchen into a short order diner but I do want you to involve your kids so that they are familiar with what they are eating before it is put down in front of them. Have your child choose a new food; vegetable, fruit, fish, or legume for example, at the store once a week and bring them back into the kitchen to play with their food before serving it to them to eat.

Your Child’s Body is the Boss

Our bodies tell us which foods work for us and which ones do not but we often times don’t listen, probably because we don’t want to hear what our body is telling us. Who wants to give up dairy or wheat or chocolate if they don’t have to? Not many people that’s for sure. While it is interesting and informative to listen to the latest nutrition news, recent findings are never more important than what makes your body feel good and healthy.  I am not talking about eating a bowl of ice cream and feeling fantastic right after, I am referring to how you feel later that night or the next day.  Do you feel light and energetic, or sluggish and tired?  Most of us have overlooked these subtle messages for years and we wake up one day and feel old or in pain and think what happened, what drug can fix me now?

The same holds true for our children.  Every lecture I give has at least several parents in the audience who are worried about how their child reacts to a certain food; most of the time their concern is about dairy. They have usually already spoken with their child’s pediatrician and some have even had their child tested for allergies. If their belief is not confirmed from a standard allergy test many go back to giving their child the food that they believe their child reacts to.  It is easier to make a change in our child’s diet when we have definitive proof from a blood test.

What is a parent to do when their observation is not supported by an allergy test? What if you are convinced that sugar makes your child hyperactive and your doctor tells you that there is no scientific proof that sugar can do that (that’s the truth by the way)? You trust your instinct! I recommend that parents eliminate the suspected food or drink for 3 to 5 days, observe their child’s behavior and then add back the suspected food and observe again. Your child will either react and confirm your suspicion or they won’t. If you are not sure, remove the suspected food for longer but it is best to have guidance when you do this.

Depending on the food your remove you may need to follow the advice of a pediatrician or nutritionist that works in the area of food sensitivities; naturopaths are great for this. You don’t want to remove dairy from your child’s diet and not replace it with something else if that is their primary source of protein and calcium for example.  Once you are armed with the proof you need, make the necessary changes and inform your child’s pediatrician about it. Just don’t expect them to agree.

5 Steps to Switching Your Family to Whole Grains

Focus this month on switching your family over to whole grain products. Eating whole grains is a challenge for many of us and is up there in the top 2 ‘eating fights’ we have with our kids. Follow these five steps for success.

Step 1 Prepare Yourself by Being Label Savvy: Buying whole grain products can be very tricky indeed. Just take a look down the cereal or bread aisle: Made with Whole Grains, 100% Whole Grains, contains 1 serving of Whole Grains jumps out at us. What should you believe?

  • Select those items that have a whole grain as the 1st ingredient on the ingredient list: “whole wheat”, “whole corn”, “rye berries”, whole oats” for example
  • Don’t believe the front of the box. Avoid “made with whole grain” as these products can have only a tiny amount of whole grain in them
  • Look for at least 3 grams of fiber per serving (2 grams of fiber if the serving is 80 calories or less)
  • There are 2 Whole Grain stamps developed by the Whole Grain Council that you may see on the front or back of a package.

1. The Whole Grain stamp means that there is some whole grain in the product (a minimum of 8 grams of whole grain). Check the ingredient list to see what else in the product as these might not be the best choices.
2. The 100% Whole Grain stamp means the product is made with 100% whole grains. A minimum amount of whole grains in the product must be 16 grams. Products that have this stamp are a great whole grain choice.

Step 2 Begin with Breakfast: Most children start their day eating foods high in sugar and processed grains. Take one to two weeks to make over their breakfast to one that contains a serving of whole grains which will provide them the energy they need over a longer period of time

  • Switch cereals made with processed grain to those made with whole grain (whole oats, whole corn, whole wheat
  • Offer bagels or bread made with whole wheat (1st ingredient whole wheat) instead of processed wheat (white flour, enriched flour, wheat flour) bagels or bread
  • Toaster cakes, donuts, cinnamon rolls, and many muffins (those made with processed flour) are no better for your child than offering them a piece of cake for breakfast. Breakfast does not need to be fun; it just needs to be healthy. Save these items for occasional treats.
  • Serve oatmeal made with whole oats and less than 4 grams of sugar per serving

Step 3 Focus on Breads: Switching your child to whole grain bread is difficult and may require an incentive. Give younger children a sticker and older children 5 points every time they eat whole grain bread. When they reach a certain amount of stickers or points (you decide) reward them with something that they want: time with you alone or a toy for example.

Step 4 Find and Replace Processed Food: Look at the label of the crackers, pizza, pasta, rice, baked goods and other items made with grains and replace them with a whole grain product. You can do this slowly by adding ¼ the amount of whole grain to the processed grain. For example when making pasta, add some whole grain pasta (¼ the amount) to the pasta made with white flour. Continue until you have switched over to the whole grain product.

Step 5 Serve Other Whole Grains: There are many grains besides wheat, corn and oats that most of eat on a daily basis. Try quinoa, buckwheat, teff, Kamut, spelt, amaranth and millet to name a few.

Undernourished in a Land of Plenty?

The typical diet of a child in America looks like this: minimal amounts of fruits, vegetables and whole grains but lots of junk food, soda and juice. In fact many children and adults are eating their weight in sugar every year! If you look up the definition in the Webster dictionary of malnutrition you see the following: faulty nutrition especially due to inadequate intake of nutrients. Would the typical kids’ diet meet this definition?  I think so.

When I look around at what I see children eating at soccer games, in restaurants and at school for snack, I am reminded of a thesis question I was given during my oral examination for my doctorate in nutrition. The dean asked me if a person would be considered to be starving if they ate dog food every day. You may think that this is a weird question but eating pet food is a real issue for the elderly. Many older Americans do not have enough money to buy what they need so they resort to the cheap price of cat or dog food for nourishment.  My answer to this question was yes they were starving even if they got the protein, fat and carbohydrates that they needed every day. The question was challenging because there was no one correct answer. Nutrition-wise they could survive on dog food but humanity-wise it wasn’t right.

This question had a major impact on the way I practiced and continue to practice nutrition. Years later I am struck between the similarities of this question and what I see kids eating every day. When I look at children eating chips, and drinks dyed neon blue, candy, crackers, cookies, and diets full of processed “food”, how is that any different than the elderly eating dog food?  Nutrition-wise you can dump vitamins and minerals into junk food and soda but does mean that our children are getting what they need to grow up to reach their potential? My answer would be the same as it was for the elderly: our children are undernourished even if they may get their fat, protein and carbohydrates from junky sources.

Kid’s bodies, as well as our own, are genetically built to thrive on a plant based diet with a limited amount of animal protein added (if desired). Our bodies are not equipped to handle the enormous amount of sugar and unhealthy fat that a junk food and fast food diet delivers. Do we need any more proof of that?  Children who consume a diet high in sugar and junk food are at an increased risk of the following: being overweight, developing diabetes, developing heart disease and cancer, as well as an increased risk of having a behavioral or learning disorder. If you are worried about your child’s diet, don’t fret. Turning kids’ diets around does not need to be stressful; just make healthy changes one step at a time. Build Healthy Kids mission is to help you do just that.

The Great Apple Juice Debate

Dr Oz really stepped in it this week with his analysis of apple juice.  His team sent major brands of apple juice to a reputable laboratory and the results came back showing elevated levels of arsenic in some brands of apple juice.  This finding caused uproar within the scientific community to the point of Dr Oz being accused of fear mongering on television. The media went wild and many parents were left to yet again watch a cat fight occur between experts touting nutrition knowledge.

Regardless of whether or not experts agree with the results from Dr Oz’s apple juice experiment, several other issues have been swept under the rug because they are overshadowed by the arsenic debate. Parents need to be aware of the fact that:

  • Conventional apples are #1 on the dirty dozen list. This is a list from the Environmental Working Group that calculates pesticide residue on produce and ranks the top 12 offenders. Apples topped the list. It’s not just apples from overseas that are the problem,
  • Juicing concentrates the amount of pesticides and sugar found in a single apple. Our kids are drinking too much juice and as such are ingesting a concentrated source of pesticides especially if they drink more than the ½ to 1 cup recommended daily.
  • We import 60% of our apples from China. Because of this we have no jurisdiction over what types of chemical pesticides China uses on their apples, including arsenic. We banned the use of arsenic years back and some still lingers in the soil.  Let’s support our own apple growers where we can be assured of what we are getting. Let’s not have a repeat of the tainted dog food and baby formula that China sent us.
  • The amount of arsenic allowed in juice is higher than that allowed for in water (23ppb versus 10 ppb). I know many children who drink more juice than water and as such the levels allowed in juice should be lowered to reflect this potential.
  • The safety of inorganic and organic arsenic is still being studied so it may not be totally accurate to say one is fine while the other is harmful.  Scientists are still looking into this.

So in conclusion, something needs to be done about our food system as a whole and what we allow in and on our children’s food. I congratulate Dr Oz for being brave enough to step out and say “let’s look at this”. It will take us as parents to echo these words in order to have a chance of changing our childrens’ food supply.  Together we can do it!

Dr. Deb on the Rhode Show – Baked whole grain chicken fingers

Baked whole grain chicken fingers over a tossed salad with choice of light dressing, along with sliced apples dipped in caramel and glass of milk. with Dr. Debbie Kennedy on The Rhode Show.


  • Chicken breast
  • Milk
  • Whole Grain Bread Crumbs
  • Salad Dressing
  • Apples
  • Lemon Juice
  • Caramel Dip


  • Make chicken fingers
  • Pound chicken breast to tenderize
  • Dip in milk
  • Dip in whole grain bread crumbs
  • Bake in the oven
  • Peel and slice the apples
  • Spritz with lemon juice, so they don’t brown
  • Dip in a caramel dip
  • Select dressing for salad

Baked whole grain chicken fingers : foxprovidence.com