An embarrassingly long time ago, Natalie sent me a copy of her book to review. I was happy to do it and flattered she thought of me. I read it diligently on the train everyday. I tested recipes. Then I got a new job and my entire schedule and routine went right out the front door. So before I go any further, Natalie, I'm sorry I am irresponsible and suck at life.
Dr. Natalie Digate Muth, M.D., R.D., M.P.H., Super Lady. I've had the privilege of knowing her for a long time now, as we both married into a large Irish family. Our husbands are actually cousins. Our daughters are just a few weeks apart in age. The last time we saw one another, I asked her about this very topic: how can I get my daughter to grow up eating a wide range of foods and making healthy choices? We talked about how when foods are elevated and given special status, or completely forbidden, it makes them all the more desirable--for everyone, not just kids--so the true education comes from changing habits and mindsets, not just eating and shopping habits. I was very dedicated to getting Hannah a balanced diet, and I figured, "Who better to ask than the pediatrician and mom of two?" Natalie mentioned, "I'm actually writing a book about this very topic right now!" I thought to myself, "Well, that's cool." Silly me, because I didn't realize that Natalie was actively writing a book. I suppose I thought that she was writing for a medical journal or industry publication.
I was really excited to read this book, though when I first started, I sat smugly on the train because my child had always been a great eater. With a few exceptions here and there, Hannah ate everything we put in front of her. Natalie offered a lot of great tips, but I had convinced myself that they didn't or wouldn't apply to me because my daughter ate everything.
Fast-forward to September, and suddenly previously adored foods were on the NOT WANT list. Bananas? Garbage. Grapes? "Mom, don't even." Green beans and sweet potatoes? HAHAHAHAHAHA! As Hannah says, "Mommy silly!" I had started to give up. I mean, is it so terrible that she eats yogurt 4 times a day? It's got milk and protein. And macaroni and cheese....well, there are carbs, and dairy, and....shoot. I was falling into a trap, and I wanted to fix it. When all else fails, I turn to Natalie! I cracked open the book and got some really good, valuable advice on increasing Hannah's vegetable intake and teaching her to make good choices. While some of it initially seemed like common sense, it's good to hear it again and see it in writing. More than that, each chapter offers practical, delicious recipes from Natalie's colleage, Mary Saph Tanaka, making it impossible to say, "That won't work for us." Right now, Hannah loves her "macky cheese." She'd eat it 8 times a day if she could. Natalie's book reminded me that I could mix in peas or chopped up broccoli, and now it's her favorite way to eat her "macky cheese".
I really liked the way the book and chapters were laid out. I felt like the information was laid out well and made accessible for a Jane Q. Reader such as myself. For quick references, I liked that there are "Developmental Considerations" included near the end of every chapter, breaking it down for kids school aged all the way down to infancy. This was particularly helpful when Hannah started rejecting foods that she'd previously eaten with abandon. It was good to have these reminders as I started to feel like my parenting skillz were spiraling downward. "Why aren't you eating? What am I doing wrong???"
One piece I found especially valuable (and have put to use frequently since reading the book) was the message about packaging. I certainly remember being a particular child and had opinions about which brand of fruit snacks were the best, and that store-bought cookies were soooooooo much better than homemade. Natalie includes lots of messages about packaging and meal presentation that makes such a difference for kids. I know I certainly forget how much brand awareness my child has already, and that affects her choices everyday. And those of you who know my Hannah can testify that this girl has opinions! Keeping this message in mind, I've renamed some meals to make them more appealing to her. A few nights ago, for example, I made gluten-free pasta with a lightened up tomato cream sauce. It was full of ingredients I knew she'd love, but this kid has turned two with a vengeance. If I told her it was "pasta", she wouldn't touch it. So while I ate pasta with tomato cream sauce, Hannah ate "Pink Macky Cheese". We had the same meal, but hers merged two of her favorite things in one, and she gobbled it down and asked for seconds. When she first showed interest in cherry tomatoes, I noticed she turned up her nose at them when I called them tomatoes. When she saw a small bowl of tomatoes from our garden, she asked for a "grape". Instead, we called them "red grapes", and she'll eat as many as we let her, convinced she's eating a "red" version of her favorite fruit. Because it's a "red grape", she isn't put off by the fact that it tastes completely different from her favorite fruit.
Another great take-away from the book is the insistence that kids will reject foods time and time again, so Natalie encourages parents not to give up every time a child turns down a food. With my daughter, for example, she can turn down a food anywhere from 5-15 times before she tries it. With every meal, we offer something we know she'll eat, and we'll offer all the other foods we're serving, too. Most of the time, she doesn't want it. But, thanks to Natalie's support and the reminder that the more she sees it and sees us modeling healthy eating habits, my daughter has made some positive improvements and is a touch less picky about certain foods than she used to be. Those of you who are my friend on Facebook will remember my status update the other day, when Hannah threw a fit because I didn't have any "bwocowee" (broccoli) for her to eat. Six months ago, I'd have seriously doubted that day would ever come.
There are lots of other great tips to be found in the book, and I know I'll be keeping this book in my cookbook collection for years to come, especially as Hannah and any future kiddos go through their developmental stages. The recipes in the book are also really good. Their nutritional value is great, obviously, but they're done well so you don't feel like you're sacrificing taste. In the coming weeks, I'm planning on sharing a few recipes from the book. All Hannah-approved, of course. Hannah's personal favorites have been the Baked Garlic Basil Pita Chips and the Baked Honey Mustard Chicken Fingers, for sure.
Are you interested? Would you like a copy of your very own? Of course you do! Dr. Natalie has graciously offered to give away 1 copy of the book to a lucky reader today. The rules: To enter, just leave a comment on this entry, answering one of the following questions:
What healthy foods do you wish your kid(s) liked?
In what ways do you encourage your kid(s) to make healthy choices?
For an additional entry, head on over to Facebook and like How to Raise Healthy Eaters, then leave a second comment below letting me know that you liked the page. Alternately, you can tweet about this giveaway, and reply below letting me know and including your Twitter handle in the comment.
Contest ends and comments close at 12:00 a.m. Friday morning. Winner will be contacted via email on Friday and must reply within 48 hours of notification, else another winner will be chosen. Winner will be chosen by a random-number-picker-thingy, chosen at will by the powers that be. Good luck!
Disclosure: I was compensated for this review with a copy of the book. All thoughts, words, and opinions are my own.