When it comes to a home run dinner for the family, mac and cheese rarely disappoints. This cheesy pasta is a perennial kid favorite, easy to find in stores and simple to prepare. Depending on which brand you choose, macaroni and cheese can be high in fiber and protein, or it can be high in…Read more
Registered dietitians spend their careers giving evidence-based food and nutrition tips to their clients and patients. Nurture Life’s own pediatric registered dietitian, Lara Field, has been with us since the beginning—and her professional guidance has been behind almost every decision we’ve made!
As a child feeding expert, Lara assists with seasonal menu planning, makes sure we’re following nutritional guidelines and helps our team better understand childhood developmental eating habits. In this Q&A, we’re putting Lara’s expertise front and center to share what dietitians feed their family.
Let’s dive in!
Lara, you have two boys at home and a demanding career. What insider nutrition tips can you share for busy parents like yourself?
My most important tip is to maintain an open dialogue about food in the home.
My kids are school-aged (8 and 11 years old), and they’re eager to participate in everything. I try to take advantage of that interest and involve them in our family eating routine as much as possible, whether that’s grocery shopping, meal planning or meal prepping.
Instead of “Mom, make us dinner!” we approach food as a family to determine what’s on the menu. My boys feel included and view mealtime as something we’re all in together.
Another one of my best insider dietitian eating tips is to set realistic guidelines for what to offer during the week. Assess what your kids like and don’t like, and encourage them to participate in planning meals. For example, I might ask my kids, “What kind of green veggies do you want for dinner?” or “Which fruits you do want in your lunch box this week?”
Based on what they like, what they’ve recently tried and what they’ve requested, we can keep things interesting and incorporate some variety into what we’re eating. If I know I’ll be busy for a few days but still want to provide a variety of wholesome, nutrient-dense options , I’ll order Nurture Life meals for delivery and serve those.
What’s your favorite grocery store aisle?
I love the produce section because it’s so colorful and fresh! It’s also another great opportunity to involve my boys in meal planning. I’ll ask, “Why don’t you grab some peppers for lunch this week?” That way, the kids are involved in procuring food, and they can see, for example, the difference between regular carrots, baby carrots and shredded carrots.
Extra tip: For the freshest produce, go straight to the person stocking the shelves!
With everyone rushing out the door, breakfast can be especially challenging. How do you handle breakfast?
My husband is a habitual breakfast skipper, but I try to make sure that all three of my boys get some form of food from as many food groups as possible. A typical breakfast might look something like this:
- Fresh fruit on the table
- Some kind of quick protein, maybe chicken sausage or eggs
- Whole wheat English muffins or a piece of toast
- Yogurt, kefir or smoothies for bone-building calcium
Which breakfast food could your family never live without?
Eggs! They’re a kid-friendly superfood full of protein, vitamins and minerals. Though we sometimes eat protein alternatives like chicken, turkey or nut butter, eggs are a staple in our home to get us all going for the day.
Breakfast, lunch or dinner: What’s your secret weapon?
I’d say that my secret weapon is giving advance notice of what’s to come at mealtime. When kids know what to expect, foods are generally better accepted, which is especially helpful if you’re trying to feed a picky eater.
We also emphasize that food is fuel. It helps our bodies move, and it doesn’t have to be a life-changing, five-star dish at every single meal!
What’s your trick for last-minute meals?
To serve up extra-quick meals for kids that are still well balanced, the trick is to keep healthy, low-prep ingredients on hand. I like these ones:
- Quick-cooking whole grains like brown rice or pasta
- Frozen, fresh or packaged pre-cut veggies
- Ready-to-heat proteins: cooked shrimp, simple-ingredient chicken or turkey sausages, edamame
- Easy pizza kits: ready-made whole grain pizza crust, marinara sauce, cheese and veggies
- Chili or soup starter
If I had to choose a favorite staple food to stock up on, I’d go with frozen veggies. They’re great for last-minute meals, and you don’t have to worry about seasonality.
What are 5 things you never do at mealtime?
I’m glad you asked! Sometimes it’s not so much about what dietitians feed their family, but how. Healthy eating behaviors are about more than just what’s on the plate.
To establish healthy eating habits, here are 5 things that we never do at mealtime:
- No short-order cooks. If the kids don’t like what we’re making, we don’t change the menu or let them make something else. This is what the family is eating, and that’s it. We do try to avoid these situations in the first place by making meals collaborative—asking the boys what they want, serving approachable foods and building up independent eating habits. (This is a key part of Nurture Life’s philosophy, and part of why I love being on the team!)
- No distractions while eating. Enough said.
- No time limits or consumption limits. It’s not a good to idea to make your child sit for a certain amount of time or take a certain number of bites before being excused. These limits lead to resentment and negativity.
- No after-dinner snacks. If our kids don’t eat dinner but want food later, we’ll serve them what we had for dinner rather than a new meal.
- No food talk. We avoid hyper-focusing on our kids’ plates and stray away from food talk like “Take a bite!” or “Eat this!” or “Finish your plate!” (If you aren’t eating a full meal yourself while your kid is eating, and you’re having a hard time not obsessing over your child’s plate, try munching on some veggies so that you’re all just eating naturally together.)
What are 5 things you always do at mealtime?
In the Field household, we always:
- View meals as a family affair—not just parent vs. dinner.
- Talk about our days and engage in productive conversation.
- Use table manners: napkins on laps, not talking with our mouths full, proper eating etiquette and so on.
- Strive to be “family helpers” by clearing dishes and cleaning up messes together.
- Plate our food at the stove to reinforce healthy portion size. (We do keep the “good stuff” like veggies on the table, though!)
Let’s talk snacks. What’s your favorite healthy junk food?
Popcorn is a great anytime snack since it’s a whole grain alternative to junk food that kids still find fun. I also love throwing chocolate chips in popcorn or yogurt to make snacks more exciting without going bananas.
As a child feeding expert, how do you deal with nutrition trends?
Nutrition is a constantly evolving science, and I never want to have preconceived notions. I always try to keep an open mind when it comes to reviewing the latest trendy nutrition tips.
Sometimes, though, trends can take things a little too far, which is why I try to break them down into their most basic elements. Even if cauliflower is the hot new thing, there are other foods we need for a healthy diet!
If you could remove anything from your kids’ diet, what would it be?
Definitely sugar and artificial sweeteners! Every child feeding expert knows that the addictive properties of sugar have been scientifically proven. Sweets make our brains happy, but too much of a sweet tooth can prevent your child from getting the right nutrients. I realize that eliminating sweets completely is unrealistic, so focusing on moderation helps our family limit our sugar intake.
What are your thoughts on picky eating?
You might feel like your picky eater will never give in or that the mealtime tantrums will last forever…but when kids are hungry, they will eat. You don’t have to set harsh ultimatums, either! Just approach it like there’s really no choice—we’re all in this dinner together.
Have questions about Lara’s family nutrition tips or Nurture Life’s freshly made kids meal delivery? For more information or further guidance on how to feed your family, reach out to the Nurture Life team at firstname.lastname@example.org.