Monday, February 12, 2018

The Division of Responsibility

Remember that time, back in your childhood maybe, when you found yourself alone at the table, minutes, maybe hours even after the mealtime had passed, staring a pile of green something-or-other in the face?  Yeah, I think we all do.  The phrase "You may NOT get down from the table until your plate is clean," uttered emphatically by our parents, echoes fresh in our minds like it was just yesterday.  They meant well, really they did, but I think there are better ways to raise up healthy eaters than to engage in battle.

Although I am a nutrition expert by title, let me assure you that I'm right there in the trenches with you, maneuvering the challenges of feeding my own kids.  Feeding children is HARD and I've watched many-a-mealtime go downhill as it morphed into a battle of wills.  My growing passion is to help change the way families approach the table by removing some of the power struggles that can easily develop around food and mealtimes.  Since our kids will not reside under our roofs forever, my goal is to help others empower their kids to make their own good choices.  Are you in?

In our society, there is so much focus on WHAT to feed our kids and so little focus on HOW to feed them.  I'll fess up.  I like to go "under cover" when we go to my kids' well check ups.  Who knows, maybe it's written in giant red letters on the outside of each of their charts "SHE'S A DIETITIAN" but really, I just want to know what doctors are telling parents without a nutrition background about feeding their kids.  My children have an incredible pediatrician and you couldn't pay me money to switch to anyone else.  They have received wonderful medical care throughout the courses of their lives.  But, I must confess I've been a bit surprised by scarcity of how-to feeding guidance that has been provided to me.

So if you're looking for a little more guidance on this big, rather important topic, I can point you to some resources that can help.  Many of my favorites were created created by a fellow dietitian, Ellyn Satter, and I would highly recommend her books "Child of Mine: Feeding with Love and Good Sense" and "Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family" if you are struggling in any way with feeding your kiddos.  She also has a wonderful website with a lot more information if you are looking for additional resources. 

Before we begin the actual act of feeding our kids, we need to build a foundation and lay some ground rules.  And I think the best way to start this is by introducing you to "The Division of Responsibility," also known as "The Golden Rule of Feeding," which was developed by Ellyn Satter. In it, Satter outlines our responsibilities in feeding as the parents, and our kids' responsibilities as the ones being fed.  I believe having a clear framework that differentiates our jobs and from our kids' jobs is essential for maneuvering the endless eating and feeding obstacles our kids will throw our way. In the same way that establishing a family system of rules regarding how we treat and store our belongings helps keep us from living in constant chaos, operating under the Division of Responsibility in feedings helps us determine when to intervene in a feeding situation and when to let go. 

Okay, so what is this Division of Responsibility? Here goes!

Division of Responsibility

THE PARENT is responsible for...


...foods are offered.

THE CHILD is responsible for...


...they choose to eat.

If I totally just blew your mind, go back and read it again. 

Did you let the words sink in? 

You as the parents get to decide WHAT foods to serve, WHEN to serve those foods and WHERE to serve them (at the table, on a bench at the park etc).  Your child gets to decide HOW MUCH of those foods you served to eat and even WHETHER he or she wants to eat them at all. 

Have you heard of this approach before?  Are you following it?  Or does it sound totally foreign and maybe even foolish?  (Why yes, I just said your kid gets to opt out of eating the food you worked so hard to prepare.  How super annoying is that, right!?)  But don't bail on me and call it all blasphemy.  There is so much more I want to tell you. 

While you may not just yet be able to fathom how this methodology works in practice, I'm guessing it is news to no one that our relationship with food in the United States leaves something to be desired. Obesity is affecting kids at younger and younger ages, eating disorders are rampant and body image issues continue to wreak havoc on kids and adults alike.  I imagine you can rattle off a whole list of personal food and body struggles as easily as you can your own phone number.  Many of us have lost the ability to enjoy eating without guilt, we've lost our hunger and satiety cues after drowning them out for so long, and we don't know how to confidently nourish our bodies.  Let's do our kids a favor and not pass on all our junk, shall we?

When I first learned about the Division of Responsibility, it went against nearly every grain in my body and I didn't think there was any way it could "work."  If I didn't force my daughter to eat her broccoli, "How would she ever eat broccoli?", I wondered.  As a type-A, self-proclaimed control freak, the idea of letting my child decide whether to eat made me feel very uncomfortable. How would I make sure she was getting everything she needed? 

Well, the thing is, I totally DO still have a say in what my kids eat because I am the one who gets to decide what I offer.  Since I am responsible for choosing which foods to prepare, it guarantees me a degree of control, at least when we are eating at home (when they are in others' homes, we are at the mercy of our hosts but I firmly believe that is healthy and ok).  Though my kids can opt to refuse what I serve, if I only serve nutritious options and don't break the Division of Responsibility and allow them to short-order something else for dinner, then what they consume will be healthy.  Are you following?

The truth is, sometimes, OK, a lot of times, actually, my kids don't eat vegetables.  But I don't sweat it (I will get to America's odd obsession with kids and their veggie intake in a later post...)  I don't freak out when my kids turn down vegetables at one or two or even twenty-two meals.  I have studied what is normal developmentally for children of different ages and know that it takes time and practice to learn to eat well. Thankfully, one meal or one week of meals or even one month of meals isn't the be-all end-all.  Our goal should be to aim for a variety of foods and a rainbow of colors over a period of time.  Not every plate will be perfectly balanced and that's OK.

If food fights are commonplace in your home right now and you wouldn't exactly describe your child's diet as "healthy," take heart.  You certainly aren't alone!  You would be amazed at how many battles are instantaneously defused when a child realizes you aren't going to force them to eat.

Feeling overwhelmed and confused?  That's okay.  We are just scratching the surface.  In the days and weeks ahead, I hope to dive into these concept even deeper, providing you with specific feeding "jobs" as parents that will help you wrap your mind around how this all works.  I also plan to flesh out what maintaining the Division of Responsibility looks like in practice with real kids and real situations, because we all know it's one thing to read something on paper and it's a whole different ball of wax to try and apply it to a specific scenario, right?  All right, more soon.

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Friday, February 9, 2018

Freedom From Food Fights - A New Series!

Let me see a show of hands – How many of you have ZERO concerns about how your children are eating? You are experiencing perfectly-smooth mealtimes and feel totally confident that your kids are getting everything they need and that they will grow up to be excellent eaters. Yes?


Gosh, it feels quiet out there.

If I were a betting woman, I would be willing to put my entire “Dream Kitchen Savings Fund” on the line (which is obviously a LOT of money because freelance writing is known for bringing in the bacon - read: I have yet to get paid a penny but I digress…) and venture to guess that no one out there is feeling perfectly secure about how and what their kids are eating. Yeah, me neither. Just because I have the head knowledge does not make me immune to the pressures of our culture and all the mama guilt about “doing things right.” I worry, just like the rest of you, about whether my kids are going to go their entire childhoods never allowing a green vegetable to pass through their lips. I wonder how many sweets are “too many.” I second guess whether it is really okay that my son, despite the plethora of options before him, consumes only milk for dinner 5 out of 7 nights a week. I get it, people. I’m in the trenches with you.

For a lot of us, mealtimes have turned into something approach with fear and trepidation and even dread. Food fights are rampant. We wonder…

“What tricks will my kids try and pull tonight?”

“Will they even taste anything that I prepare?”

Maybe things have grown so difficult around mealtimes your home that you find yourself asking “Is it even worth it to cook anymore?”

Or maybe you aren’t cooking because life is overwhelming, and time is scarce, and cooking isn’t really your thing, yet the guilt is SO HEAVY and you fear you are ruining your kids forever.

You have come to the right place. Pull a chair up to the table. There is room for you here, too.  

Over the course of my career, my passion for feeding kids has evolved. I have struggled personally since becoming a mom and I have watched those close to me struggle and grow frustrated with feeding their kids. I have spent a lot of time studying this subject area and I see a need for a better approach. I’m excited to share some strategies that I have learned from my professional life as a registered dietitian that will help you face the challenges head on with confidence.

If any of these struggles I’ve highlighted are the trenches where you find yourself, welcome. You might feel alone but there are approximately 126.22 million other families feeling just like you (2017 U.S. census data) so join the party and read on!

I’m launching into a series on my blog where I will dive into some of the common feeding challenges parents express to me and how to handle them. I have many posts already written that I will be re-sharing as well as a whole bunch of ideas for new ones, yet to be written. I would love to hear from you if there is a particular struggle that you would like me to address. Feel free to leave a comment on the blog (or any of my social media platforms) or send me an email and I will do my best to dive into some of your specific concerns and challenges.

You might be surprised that in most cases, the answer is much simpler than you think.

Stay tuned.

Friday, January 5, 2018

The thrill of hope

Two thousand seventeen was most definitely a Growth Year (okay fine, and so was 2016). We found ourselves being stretched in unexpected ways. As a family, we were presented with multiple new diagnoses, some expected and others, less so. Although it felt good to have answers, on other days, these diagnoses felt like labels, overwhelming and painful to swallow. We passed a lot of hours at appointments of all kinds, seeking wholeness and wellness mentally, physically and spiritually for all our members. It was trying, and I shed my fair share of tears. The journey is far from over, but I know we are all the better for it. Even though 2017 felt brutal, I hope 2018 is a Growth Year as well. I for one am praying for gentler growth in 2018 (no more growth spurts though, pretty please!), but I do want to continue to be stretched. It’s been amid all this growing that I’ve felt the nearness of my Savior like never before.

Through the encouragement of some wise friends, I have adopted the tradition of choosing a word as my theme for each year. More than anything, the word becomes my prayer over what I hope the year will hold for me. As one year comes to a close, I begin to ponder my word for the year that will follow. Last year, I chose the word “free”

What began as a year of letting go transitioned slowly into a year of releasing and I believe there is an important differentiation between the two. Letting go can occur against one’s will. An object might be torn from one’s grasp or one might fall and be forced to let go of the precipice that previously served as a support. But releasing, it’s an active choice. It involves conscious surrender. The dictionary says it means to allow or enable to escape from confinement; set free. That sounds like a pretty accurate description of 2017 to me. There was a lot of work put toward releasing concern over what people thought of me. Releasing insecurities. Releasing a past version of myself that had threads of shame and guilt woven throughout. Releasing achievable expectations. This leaning in toward freedom even required releasing some of my dreams. Or at least making peace with where I am currently in the process of pursuing them.

Most of the time it felt like “All pain, no gain,” rather than the other way around. I would peer closely, looking for that flickering pilot light of hope, the tiny little flame that told me one day things wouldn’t be this hard. It grew dim on countless occasions. I lost sight of it completely a few times. I didn’t feel much progress and I worried those around me would tire of me asking for their very-necessary support. (Spoiler alert: they didn’t! I have some truly amazing people in my life who have helped carry me).

But praise God for the tremendous ways He has been at work. He continues to meet me in my dark places and remind me of his presence time after time after time. I no longer find myself on knees, flashlight in hand, searching desperately for that pilot light. I know it is there, some days dimmer than others, but there nonetheless. There is much hard work still ahead, but my word for this year is


“….we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, HOPE; and HOPE does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” Romans 5:3-5

This past year was all about loosening my grip on that which I was clinging to. It was all about ripping off the bandaid covering some pretty deep wounds. But 2018? I have HOPE that it will be a year of healing. I find myself profoundly grateful for this hard and crazy journey because it brought me to a place where I can I say and actually mean it “He’s a good, good Father.” His provision is perfect. And at times so totally unexpected in it’s timing and presentation.

So in 2018, I’m holding fast to the one true source of HOPE I have and the promise that “He who began a good work in you will carry it on until completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6). I know the days ahead will be wrought with challenges, but I am beginning this new year hemmed in by the nearness of my Savior (Psalm 139:5).     

Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 21, 2017

You've got to go through it

Do you recall the classic children’s book, “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt?” There is a song too, often sung at summer camps, that depicts the story of 5 children and their dog who venture out into the wilderness in search of a bear. On their way, they encounter all sorts of obstacles – a river, mud, tall grass and a forest, to name a few. As they face each one, large and looming before them, they chant together:

“We can’t go over it.

We can’t go under it.

Oh no!

We’ve got to go through it!”

Recently, I was having more mornings than I cared to admit where I awoke unsure whether I could “do life” that day. My load felt heavy and very few things were bringing we joy. I was existing but unable to engage. It was like I witnessing the world happening around me from behind a glass wall. Everything appeared muted and distant.  

I related to those kids in the bear hunt story, unnerved by my environment yet unsure as to how best to proceed. Just as the book characters surveyed the landscape before them, wondering how they would get over to the other side, I too wondered if I would ever get past this tough season. The “other side” looked awfully appealing but getting there involved enduring uncomfortable circumstances and it was tempting to retreat from whence I came and give up on hopes of forward progress.

The things I knew would help me were hard to muster energy for. Running. Creating order in chaos. Eating well. Writing. Connecting with others. Instead, I longed to curl under a blanket and eat ice cream and drink coffee (or maybe wine?) all the live long day. And some days I did. After delivering  my girls safely at school, I would strip back out of my too-tight-right-now jeans and don some pants with an elastic waste band, a baggy sweatshirt, and slippers. Getting dressed was my least favorite part of the day - my body, oh how I loathed it!

I wasn’t feeling well physically or emotionally. I’m wasn’t practicing what I preached. I’d reached the unhealthiest state I could remember being in ages. This was me.

And what I was experiencing was most definitely depression.

There have been many times where I have surveyed the landscape before me and I have felt totally overwhelmed. I have wished I could skip the messy jungle, dark, and filled with unknowns lurking behind every bush. Certainly, it would be easier to just fly over it, to launch myself through the air and land on the other side, I would think. Or maybe I could simply dig my way under the rugged terrain to avoid all the bumps? I could tunnel “down under” and pop back up when I’d crawled past all the obstacles and the coast was clear and the way was smooth again.

But alas, it’s not that simple with life, is it? As the bear hunt book reads,

You can’t go over it. You can’t go under it. You’ve got to go through it.

This very idea of “going through it” brings to mind the art of glass-blowing. I’m certainly no authority in this field but I have seen it done a time or two. In making a delicate piece of blown-glass art, first the artist must dip the blowpipe into molten glass. Like honey, this syrupy glass isn’t yet anything to behold. It moves and oozes and threatens to run off the end of the pipe as it spins. For the artisan to shape and grow the molten liquid into what he envisions, he must first put it in the furnace until it is white hot. Only after it had endured the heat of the fire can the artist begin blowing into the pipe. Out of the molten mass, a beautiful ball of glass forms and takes shape.

Glass-blowing makes a good metaphor for us as humans. At different points in our lives, like the molten glass, we find ourselves feeling messy and sticky and formless. We may be questioning our purpose or wondering if we are living to our full capacity. We might be lonely or hurting. Maybe we received a sobering diagnosis, or we are experiencing relational strife. Or maybe we find ourselves amid a painful season due to no fault of our own. Perhaps we were wronged or harmed and now we are sorting through the aftermath. These circumstances come at us like a hot furnace, burning, scalding. When we are in the fire, in the middle of the process, it’s hard to see the good. But it is only in these moments when we are stretched to the point of discomfort that growth can take place.

It is in the furnace, when we are white hot with pain and exhaustion and bewilderment that we become malleable enough for a gentle breath to fill us and form us and grow us. We can’t skip the vital step of walking into the fire.

You can’t go over it. You can’t go under it. You’ve got to go through it.

I know what it’s like to feel numb, to wonder if you will ever experience joy again. To take a stab at the things you once loved, expecting a spark, and instead to detect nothing. I know what it feels like to question what’s wrong with you, to be scared out of your mind that “this is just how it is now.” I know well the temptation to settle. To decide the river seems too vast to cross and opt to stay put instead. To set up camp and convince oneself the other side was overrated anyway. I know what it feels like to long for a painful season to end, to be ready to get on with the next one. On better days, I can remember that “this too shall pass.” I recall that I am mid-process, that I am going “through it” as the bear hunt book would say. But on the average day, I often want to hibernate under a blanket until it's over.

We want to skip the hard, refining work. We don’t like the furnace because the heat feels unbearable. The stretching that takes place there is uncomfortable, and we’d rather skirt around or pass over the parts of our lives that are painful or ugly. Yet here we find ourselves, in the midst of our present circumstances.

And it is in this very midst that God longs to meet us.

It is in these moments where we aren’t sure we can take one more step, moments when we are acutely aware that we are incomplete and broken that the Spirit intercedes for us “with groans that are too deep for words.” (Romans 8:26). 

The verses that precede this passage encourage us not to lose heart. Romans 8:24 says “But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.”

Are you waiting for something? In this season of Advent, are you filled with longing? Are you in the midst of hard circumstances? I hope you will allow the breath of the Holy Spirit to wash over you and intercede “with groans that are too deep for words.”

It’s when you’re wading through the river, when you’re being refined in the fire that God meets and intercedes for you. It’s when you realize you are broken that growth happens. Brokenness is not the end of the story. We can’t hide from the broken areas of our lives. God is redeeming and making all things new. This is really the “other side” but he’s calling to us to a journey through. We’ve got to go through it.

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Friday, December 15, 2017

Saint Lucia Buns

If I were a TRUE food blogger, things would look a little bit different around here. Firstly, I would actually be posting about food (minor detail) and, secondly, I would be providing you seasonal recipes PRIOR to pertinent holidays to help you welcome said special day with greater preparedness. But since this has morphed into what my husband tells me is most definitely a “mom blog,” I suppose it is more fitting that I am posting this recipe AFTER the holiday has already passed, because us moms, well, don’t we always feel about three steps behind? But it’s all a matter of perspective! Consider yourselves 363 days ahead of schedule for NEXT year (you’re welcome) and don’t forget to check back about ten days into December 2018 to make sure you have all the essential ingredients for a traditional Saint Lucia Bun.

If American Girls were any part of your childhood, the mention of Saint Lucia might ring a bell in a distant memory. Blast to the past along with me and recall, Kirsten, the blond-haired American Girl doll who immigrated to from Sweden. I loved all the books about Kirsten but it’s “Kirsten’s Surprise” that we are going to focus on today. It’s in the pages of this book that Kirsten, as the oldest daughter in her household, rises in the wee hours of the morning on Saint Lucia Day. Wearing white and adorned with a wreath of candles on her head, she awakens each of her family members by delivering Saint Lucia buns and coffee to each of their beds. Thanks to Kirsten, every little girl who has ever lived has dreamed of dressing as Saint Lucia and delivering buns ever since.

I consider myself one of the lucky kids. My parents didn’t often splurge on trending toys, but for whatever reason, they did eventually break down and buy my sister and I each an American Girl doll after years of pleading.  I’m sure this is where I first learned about Saint Lucia.

Saint Lucia Day, also known as the Feast of Saint Lucia, falls on December 13th and commemorates a 3rd-century martyr who, according to legend, supplied food to Christians who had taken refuge in the catacombs. She is believed to have worn a white dress and a wreath of candles on her head to light her way, freeing her arms to carry as much food as they could hold. Calendar reform has since shifted things slightly, but the holiday once fell upon Winter Solstice, the shortest and therefore darkest day of the year. The holiday was often referred to as the “Festival of Light,” representing Christ’s coming to earth as our light. On Saint Lucia Day, girls would honor tradition by dressing in white light Saint Lucia and processing together carrying plates of Saint Lucia Buns and cookies, portraying this “bringing of the light of Christ” to a dark world.

Alright. Enough with the history lesson. Back to my sister and me. She sister was gifted the Kirsten doll (I had a special affinity toward Samantha, the better one, obviously) but I read the books about both all the same.  Over time, my sister and I collected quite the set up for our dolls – clothing (much of it hand-sewn by my mom!), a table and chairs, and a homemade four-poster bed, courtesy of my dad’s woodworking skills. At some point, we also acquired the American Girl Cookbook. It was filled with recipes and pictures of all the dishes mentioned in the books, each with some sort of historical backstory. I guess you could say I was always destined to be a foodie since a cookbook like this excited me to no end, even at the ripe young age of nine years old.

The recipe for Saint Lucia Buns was in that cookbook I received over two decades ago. I never made them but seeing that recipe must have planted a seed in my subconscious. Fast forward to last year when my eight-year-old got her hands on the Kirsten book series. Suddenly that seed sprouted to fruition and I found myself in the kitchen making Saint Lucia Buns so my eldest could emulate Kirsten and dress up as Saint Lucia on Saint Lucia Day, fulfilling the dream she and every girl who had gone before her shared. Donning a white dress, wearing a “wreath” and delivering homemade buns by candlelight in the wee hours of the morn was a hit for my daughter, as well as for every other member of the family (who are we to argue with warm carbs??) And so, despite our lack of Swedish heritage, a new tradition was born.

The making of the buns is straight forward, particularly if you have a Kitchen Aid mixer with a dough hook that does most of the messy work for you. The recipe comes together much faster if you actually have yeast on your person and you don’t have to take a 90-minute break wandering, sans kids, through the aisles of Target in search of some. Such additional steps typically result in excessive “accidental expenditures” on essentials like adorable Christmas mugs and journals because “they make great stocking stuffers.” But I digress.

The original recipe had you measuring the ingredients by weight (how European!) but since most home cooks do not own a kitchen scale, I did some math and some guessing and came up with a version that is American-kitchen-friendly.  

Lastly, since I’m a “mom blogger,” not a REAL food blogger, I will warn you that some of my descriptions might come across as, let’s say, less than scientific. I intend for this recipe to be something you can make WITH your kids which is why I consider phrases like “We’re looking for snakes here, not slugs” to be a perfectly acceptable descriptor for helping them visualize how thin they should be rolling their ropes of dough before shaping them. I made the dough all the way through the first rise before the kids came home from school and then they joined me for the remainder of the steps.

Even if you don’t plan to dress as Saint Lucia, these rolls make a delicious sweet bun to accompany your coffee. Feel free to serve them as a special dinner roll on Christmas or any other fancy occasion. They freeze well and are well served warm. Happy Saint Lucia Day…363 days in advance!

Saint Lucia Buns
(adapted from the New York Times)

12 Tablespoons (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, melted
2 ½ cups lukewarm milk (I warm mine in microwave for ~1 minute)
2 packages dry active yeast (or 4 ½ teaspoons)
¾ teaspoon saffron
1 cup sugar
½ teaspoon table salt
7 cups all-purpose flour
1 egg, beaten
Black raisins, for garnish

In a glass measuring cup or medium-sized bowl, combine melted butter and warm milk. In the large bowl of an electric mixer, dissolve the yeast in a small amount of the butter and milk mixture. Once dissolved, add remainder of the butter and milk mixture. Grind saffron in a mortar and pestle if you have one, or by crumbling with your fingertips over the butter, milk and yeast mixture. Add to butter/milk/yeast mixture along with sugar and salt and whisk well.

Add flour, a few cups at a time, beating with the dough hook of your mixer until a soft dough forms. Continue to beat dough with the mixer for about 5 minutes, adding a small amount of flour at a time, as necessary, to keep dough from sticking. Alternatively, if no mixer is available, add flour using a wooden spoon and then knead by hand for about 10 minutes once a soft dough forms. Return dough to bowl.

Cover bowl with a tea towel and allow the dough to rise in warm place until doubled, about 45 minutes to one hour. (I usually turn on my oven and leave the door open to allow some of the heat to escape. After a few minutes, I turn the oven off. Voila! The oven top has become a cozy spot where the dough can rise).

Now it’s time to gather the offspring and let them get in on the fun. Taking mandarin orange-sized lumps of dough, roll each into a long rope (here is where you tell them “we’re looking for snakes here, not slugs”), about the circumference of your finger. Form the rope into the shape of an “S” and then continue to curl each end toward the center until they form two pinwheels (see picture). When they rise a second time, the buns uncurl some which is why it’s important to roll out thinner ropes. Place shaped buns onto a greased cookie sheet, cover with a towel and let rise in your cozy place for another 45 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Brush each bun with beaten egg and poke a raisin into the center of each pinwheel. Bake buns for 12-15 minutes until golden. Eat warm.

Makes about 2 dozen buns