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.

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 :

What is Your Fridge Telling You?

Recently I went without power because of the hurricane and had to throw out all the food in my refrigerator. As I started to restock it I noticed something. It felt really good to look into my fridge and not see it over packed with food. It gave me a sense of calmness and a bit of a thrill to actually see what I had to work with for dinner.

I also noticed that my life in the past two years reflected what was in my refrigerator. When I was working and taking care of the kids and didn’t feel overwhelmed I was able to plan meals and by the end of the week I could actually see that most of the food in my fridge was used up. I didn’t have tons of produce left over which would eventually rot. Then I got super buy launching a business and I didn’t see the bottom of my fridge for several years.

Shopping for me when I am overwhelmed and too busy looks like this: “I need to stock up on sunflower seed butter and other items at Trader Joes because I don’t know when I’ll have the time to get back there”. When I would run to the local grocery store I would buy whatever I thought I could use to feed my family but with no specific menu plan and as a result I spent more than my budget allowed. Basically I was running on fear; fear I wouldn’t have time to get back to the store, fear 20 people might stop by and I needed to be prepared. Are you familiar with that syndrome? I am Irish Catholic and was brought up always to expect to feed an army at a moments notice and I have to say that they haven’t shown up yet.

Are you so busy and overwhelmed that you don’t have the time to plan meals? Take a look in your refrigerator. If you have tons of leftovers, rotting produce and over stocked shelves I bet your life is super busy; maybe too busy. Perhaps your fridge is telling you to take a moment and breath; to cut back on some of the craziness in life and get to a place where planning dinner and shopping is not riddled with anxiety and stress but joy. It is possible; well maybe not so much joy if you don’t like to cook but perhaps less stressful for you.

Perhaps fear of your finances is what drives you most. Most of us are concerned about money and cost is a leading factor in what we buy. If your fridge has limited or no fresh fruits and vegetables at all than it is saying something different; it is saying that you lack vibrancy in your family’s diet and perhaps there is limited energy in your lives. I was once told by an ancient Asian medicine man that “life gives life”. Food that comes out of the ground unprocessed like green leafy foods support life, food that only comes out of boxes and cans is dead food and can not sustain a healthy life.

I would like to challenge myself and you to stop shopping out of fear? Fear of not getting back to the store, fear of not having enough money to pay for groceries, fear of a hurricane, tornado, flood or other natural or man made (terrorist) disaster? We live in a fear based society and any time we turn on the news we are reminded of all there is to be afraid of. How about you join me in trusting; trusting that it will all get done, that you will have time to get back to the store and the resources to buy what you need. My goal is to see the bottom of my fridge at the end of each week and not to overstock and over-buy just because something might happen. Let me know how it goes.

It is What You Choose Now That Matters Most

This July was my 18th anniversary of surviving non-Hodgkins Lymphoma.  Some may say it is a miracle seeing that I was given two weeks to live in my twenties but I think it was more than that.  I believe I survived because of the choices that I made after the diagnosis.  I never believed in the death sentence, instead I looked for the message that the cancer brought me.  So was my surviving a miracle? You bet, but if I didn’t step up to the plate as well and make different choices for myself, I don’t believe I would be here today.

That is the reason I have spent the last two decades teaching and coaching about making healthy choices.  I truly believe that the decisions that we make every day, the small and large ones, add up to us going down a path of health or disease.  It breaks my heart to see how this generation of kids is sprinting down the path of diabetes, heart disease, cancer, obesity and a shortened life span.

I spoke to a group of girl scouts last spring and there was an eight year old girl that caught my attention.  She was so afraid of getting cancer like her grandparent that she asked my exactly what she should and shouldn’t eat.  I didn’t want her to approach food fearfully so I called her mom and left a message. She never called back and I don’t think it was because she didn’t have her child’s best interest at heart. I came to find out that her mother has a very busy job and feeds her daughter pizza and baked chocolate chip cookies almost every night for dinner.  I don’t think the mom wanted to hear what I had to say.

In my experience, many busy parents think the junk and processed food that they feed their kids either won’t hurt their child’s health because they ate it growing up and they are fine, or else they really just don’t want to think about it too much because it adds up to one more thing to do and they already have an overloaded plate. I created the Build Healthy Kids program for exactly this type of busy parent. I spent three years researching and creating a plan that would not overwhelm parents or their children.  All a family has to do is to focus on making one change a month and by years end they will be living a healthy lifestyle; one that promotes health. All it takes is to make one choice at a time.

Dr. Deb on the Rhode Show!

I had such a good time on the Rhode Show today with Patrick, Danielle and the best sous chef ever: Courtney. Good luck with eating fruit! If you didnt catch it, click here to see me on the Rhode Show:​pp/rhode_show/rhode_show_cooki​ng/nut-butter-roll-ups-veggies​-and-fruit

Nut Butter Roll ups, veggies and fruit:

Is your child’s lunch cold or hot enough? Startling facts you need to know!

unhealthy lunch box


Did you ever wonder if the lunches that you pack for your kids for school or daycare are keeping their food cold or hot enough?  Well researchers at the University of Texas did. They analyzed 705 lunches of preschoolers to make sure that they were kept in the safety zone: below 40° F for food and beverages that you want to keep cold or above 140° F degrees for hot items. When food is kept at a temperature between 40° F and 140° F bacteria can grow and your child can potentially develop a food borne illness which can be serious.

What did the study find? It was shocking: only 1.6% of the food items that they measured were in the safety zone and that was 1 ½ before lunch time even occurred. These findings bring to light the importance of not only eating food that is healthy in terms of it’s nutritional value but also in terms of how safe it is too.  Cooking meat thoroughly, reducing the chance of cross contamination and following practices that keep food cold or hot enough are all very important practices to follow. In this study almost 40% of the lunches had no ice packs in them.

You do not need to stop packing your child’s lunches as long as you follow some safe practices for handling and storing food. Below are some tips for packing healthy lunches:

1. Start with a clean working surface at home so that you don’t transfer bacteria on a cutting board or counter to your child’s food. Keep pets off your counters!
2. Begin with cold ingredients as they will keep food in the lunch box cooler for longer; refrigerate juice boxes, milk boxes and fruits and veggies before putting them in your child’s lunch box.
3. For hot items, add boiling water to your child thermos to get it very hot before adding heated soup or heated leftovers.
4. Make sure to include at least one ice pack in your child’s lunch that is thick enough to last the amount of time necessary between leaving the house and eating their lunch.
5. When you include food that is susceptible to bacterial growth, make extra sure that you put that ice pack right up against it or even sandwich the following susceptible items between two ice packs. These foods need to be kept cold (do not leave at room temperature for more than 2 hours):

    • Meat, poultry, fish, eggs
    • Anything with mayonnaise in or on it
    • Peeled or cut fruits and vegetables
    • Dairy products like milk, cheese, and yogurt
    • Open container of applesauce or pudding

6. Use a top quality thermos, ice pack and lunch container to keep food hot or cold and don’t put hot and cold items in the same lunch box.

7. Pack non-perishable items for later use or if you are not sure how well your child’s lunch box holds up. The following foods do not need refrigeration

    • Prepackaged fruit cups
    • Dried fruit (raisins)
    • Dried cereal or crackers
    • Shelf stable, single serving milk or milk alternatives (soy or rice milk)
    • Nuts and seeds (if no allergies are present), nut butters and sunflower seed butter
    • Fruit in its original packaging: bananas, oranges, grapes, cherries, cherry tomatoes

8. Rinse and dry all fruits and vegetables before packing with water.

I am concerned that many families will take the results of this study and eliminate vegetables for non perishable items in their child’s diet.  This does not need to happen as long as you are careful when packing your child’s lunch and you use a quality lunchbox/bag and ice packs. Follow the safety tips above and pack several ice packs to make sure that you have all the essential elements to a healthy lunch: whole grain and protein, a fruit and a vegetable and a good source of calcium.

What’s Up With Dad?

It seems that everywhere I go nowadays I am pulled aside by frustrated moms who try their best to feed their children a healthy diet, only to have it ruined by …the school cafeteria meal? ; the grocery store with it many junk food options? ; Grandma who feeds candy and soda to her grandkids?   No, the culprit undermining mom’s healthy diet efforts is most often their spouse!  Many moms tell me about their efforts to cook healthy meals and buy healthy food for the family only to have their hard work ruined because their husbands either bring ‘forbidden’ food home or cook a separate meal if “junior” does not like what she has prepared.  These moms plead with me to help them by telling their significant other (who often is standing right beside them) to stop doing that!  Does this sound familiar to you? I bet it does.


In fact, only yesterday I helped a wonderful family with 5 boys! The youngest two are what most would call picky eaters; they both eat little to no fruits and vegetables. This mom reached out to me to help convince her husband to stop sabotaging her efforts when it comes to feeding their boys a healthy diet.  The youngest son would drink 5 chocolate milks a day if mom did not place any limits on him.  She recently stopped buying flavored milk at the store, but dad would come home with several cases if he found them on sale.   

I decided to look at what was really going on, because it was obvious to me from the beginning of our meeting that these were two great parents who loved their sons very much and would do anything for them.  The father was never given chocolate milk as a child. He came from a large family and had to eat what was served; quickly before his many brothers and sisters beat him to it too.  When I questioned why he brought the chocolate milk home he replied that he thought it was a better option than the soda or juice his child drank and since his son was a picky eater to begin with, the calories and calcium would be good for his child. These were all very valid points.


In my experience, most dads are not setting out to intentionally thwart their wife’s best efforts to provide a healthy diet, nor do they want to harm their child.  In many situations the dads don’t realize the impact of their actions, or they have fond memories of certain foods from their childhood and they want to share that with their children.  When I had this dad pull 50 pounds of sugar out of grocery bags and place them on his kitchen counter, and I told him that this is what his 50 pound five-year old son drinks in sugar each year from the chocolate milk he brings home, his face fell and he was overcome with guilt. At that moment, his wife saw the truth in his eyes and was secure in knowing that this was the end to the chocolate milk battle. 

I realize it is easy to blame; we all do it. Next time you feel as if your spouse is sabotaging your efforts to feed your children a healthy diet, try taking the time to ask him about his relationship with food. You may just find a clue that will help you both work together in bringing up healthy eaters.  

Reading Between the Lines

In the stifling heat, while waiting for a train to NYC the other weekend, I met a really smart young boy.  He was about 6 or 7 years old and approached me drinking a diet soda.  His grandmother came over right behind him and commented on his choice of beverages. I replied with “there are so many things wrong with this picture that as a kid’s nutritionist, I think I’ll just keep my mouth closed.”   I really was prepared to keep my mouth shut, as I don’t like to impose my views unless asked, as it is everyone’s right to eat and drink what they prefer.


That was all it took though to strike up an animated conversation between us and her grandson.  He told me his dream was to one day to drink an entire monster drink; one of those large energy drinks he sees his mother’s boyfriend drink. He got very excited about it as it seemed to be one of those “big boy” things he saw adults and teens do that he wasn’t allowed to do yet.   

I proceeded to explain to him that there was nothing in a soda that could make him grow up big and strong and that those energy drinks that he referred to can actually be harmful. I mentioned that many people had to go to the emergency room each year from drinking these drinks and half of those were kids.  I also told him that a group of people that work with his doctor (the American Academy of Pediatrics) just came out with a report saying that kids should not drink these energy drinks and warned his doctor of the danger.   

I asked him how he felt after drinking some of his mother’s boyfriend’s energy drink and he said he felt lousy and didn’t even like the taste.  He was actually excited about the idea of drinking this harmful beverage but in reality he wasn’t looking forward to the taste and how it made him feel. At the end of our half hour conversation he told me he never, ever wanted to drink one and seemed very relieved to not have to drink it anymore. 


I think we underestimate children’s ability to understand the consequences of unhealthy eating.  I also strongly believe that as parents, we have been brain washed to trust that when a child says that they like or dislike a certain beverage or food that they actually mean what they say.  Most of the time, however, they are actually saying something different.  I don’t like this broccoli translates into I would rather eat more potatoes.  I want a monster drink actually meant to this smart young boy, I want to be cool.  It is our job of parents to learn how to read between the lines.