Mistakes Parents Make When Feeding Their Kids

Tried and true ways to avoid common pitfalls at the family table.

Whether your children are overweight, underweight, or perfectly fine, you probably still worry about how they’re eating. Here are 7 common mistakes parents make and how to avoid them.

Mistake #1: Encouraging Kids to Join the “Clean Plate Club”
For the most part, healthy young children eat when they’re hungry and stop when they’re full. They’re following their natural, internal cues, and you shouldn’t mess around with that by encouraging them to eat past the point of fullness. Teaching your kids to be in tune with their own hunger and fullness cues will allow them to have a comfortable relationship with food and avoid overeating as they grow older.

Recent studies have also shown that all children, regardless of age, eat more when served larger portions. In other words, the more we put on their plates, the more they will eat — regardless of how full they are.

The two takeaways from this?

  1. Do not encourage or bribe your kids to clean their plate.
  2. Provide small to moderate portions at meals (except vegetables — those are unlimited, of course). Encourage them to eat until they are comfortably full, and allow them additional servings if they request them.

Mistake #2: Offering Sweet Rewards
Trying to get children to eat their vegetables can be downright frustrating, and parents often resort to bribery: “Eat your broccoli and you can have ice cream for dessert.” Unfortunately, this technique teaches our kids that broccoli and other vegetables are less appealing (because their consumption requires a reward) and that dessert is the prize, something to be valued over other foods. Multiple studies have shown that, in the long run, preference for foods decreases when kids are given rewards for eating them.

What to do? Keep dessert a separate entity, and don’t make it the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Mistake #3: Depriving Kids of All Sweets
With all the loud, well-deserved messages about pediatric obesity, it’s no surprise that some parents have completely outlawed sweets. But that’s a pretty extreme measure. In order to help our kids have a healthy relationship with food (desserts included), we have to meet somewhere in the middle. While there is nothing wrong with limiting sweets and controlling the amount kids have access to, you certainly don’t want to outlaw them altogether. In fact, studies out of Penn State University have found that when kids are restricted from eating cookies or other snack foods, their desire to eat the snacks increases, and they’re likely to overeat them every chance they get.

Personally, I think it’s perfectly OK to allow school-age kids a fun food snack with their school lunch and some type of dessert after dinner. The key is to control what you can and to let them have reasonable dessert independence when you’re out and about.

  • Limit snacks/desserts to 150 calories (that’s two cookies or an ice-cream pop)
  • Read labels and choose healthy ingredients.
  • If you can sneak in a little nutrition along with the sugar, it’s a bonus. For example, low-fat puddings and ice cream provide calcium; strawberries with whipped cream provide fiber and vitamin C.

The bottom line? Control what you can, and allow your kids some freedom of choice — within reason.

Mistake #4: Letting the Little Kids Eat Like the Big Kids
A study in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that kids with older siblings are more likely to eat junk foods (soda, potato chips, cookies, cake, and candy) than children without older siblings. Because their older siblings request and have access to these treats, little sisters and brothers tend to be exposed to unhealthy foods much earlier than a firstborn.

Remember how you obsessed over everything your first child did, said, and ate? You probably didn’t let your baby eat junk food! Although it’s easier said than done, try your best to maintain the same age-based food standards for all your kids, not just the first.

The strategy? Allow your older kids to have snacks that aren’t appropriate for toddlers or preschoolers, but try to time them for periods when your youngest ones aren’t around. Put the treats in lunch boxes to take to school, or let your oldest enjoy them when your youngest are in another room, when they’re taking their evening bath, or after they go to bed at night.

And, of course, some foods, like soda, shouldn’t be in the house at all!

Mistake #5: Offering Too Many Snacks
Constant snacking throughout the day can leave kids uninterested in eating a proper lunch or dinner. And if they’re less hungry, they’ll be less willing to try new foods at dinner — like vegetables!

Looking for guidelines? Try these:

  • Try to stick to a consistent meal and snack schedule.
  • Allow at least two hours between snacks and meals.
  • No more than two to three snacks a day, and limit them to about 150 calories apiece.

Mistake #6: Getting Young Kids Started on Liquid Calories
An eye-opening 2008 study in the journal Pediatrics found that today’s youths take in 10 to 15 percent of their total daily calories from sugar-sweetened beverages (like soda, sports drinks, and fruit drinks) and 100-percent fruit juice. Further, kids’ average daily caloric intake from these beverages increased from 242 calories to 270 calories over the past ten years and continues to rise. Most of these drinks contain empty calories, meaning they provide simple sugars but little else in the way of nutrients. What’s more, although highly calorie-dense, beverages do not trigger the same satiety mechanisms as solid foods. This means that your kids are unlikely to feel full from drinking lots of soda or juice and therefore will not innately compensate for the extra liquid calories they slurp up, which can result in weight gain in the long term.

Your best bet? Limit the beverage choices offered in your home to water (including seltzer and sparkling water), nonfat or one-percent milk (after age two), and diluted 100-percent fruit juice on occasion. Don’t start introducing young kids to sugary, calorie-dense flavored waters, juice drinks, or soda at a young age. Set a good example by not drinking them yourself!

Mistake #7: Serving the Same Meals You Did Before Having Kids
Your vision of a healthy, satisfying meal might include plain grilled chicken, fish, salads, and plenty of steamed veggies, but chances are young kids will find these foods bland, unappealing, or downright disgusting.

If you want to persuade your picky kids to try healthier foods, you’re going to have to be a bit more creative in the kitchen. Try jazzing up meals with fun, flavorful marinades and condiments to make bland food more appealing and tasty, or play around with shapes, colors, and textures to liven up your dinner plates.

Need ideas? Try some of these on your brood:

  • Serve cut-up raw veggies with a fun dip, like low-fat ranch dressing or raspberry vinaigrette. If your kids like only one or two veggies, it’s okay to repeat often. Serve fruits with a sweet, low-fat yogurt dip — just like fondue!
  • Top poultry or veggies, such as broccoli, cauliflower, and asparagus, with your favorite jarred marinara sauce and/or part-skim mozzarella or Parmesan cheese.
  • Cut vegetables or fruits into fun shapes with small cookie cutters. This works really well with red and yellow bell pepper, raw beet (which is actually really sweet!), cucumber, apple, pear, and melon.
  • Take it a step further by using veggies to create fun objects, like celery boats. Fill celery stalks with low-fat cream cheese and top with red pepper “sails.” Cut veggies into strips and other shapes and use to design faces or artwork on whole-wheat mini pitas spread with low-fat cream cheese or ranch dressing.
  • Mix chopped or grated veggies (zucchini and carrot work well) into meatloaf, soups, chili, marinara sauce, casseroles, or other mixed dishes.
  • Dump extra veggies (frozen, bite-sized mixed veggies are ideal for this) into canned soup or frozen dinners at lunchtime. Your kids will hardly notice the extra vegetables!

I realize that food battles with your kids can be incredibly frustrating, which is why it’s important to keep issues like picky eating and veggie avoidance in perspective. Celebrate the small victories (even if it’s just getting your son or daughter to try one bite of a new, healthy food), and continue to model healthy eating behaviors for your children. As your little ones get older, your good habits will begin to rub off (really!), and you’ll reap the rewards of your persistent focus on good nutrition.

Joy Bauer

Matching Communication Styles

Sometimes we can say things to our partner and it can be taken in a way very different than what we intended. Some people are more visual while others more auditory. Some people need to see love while others need to hear it. Some people give gifts as a sign of appreciation, while others give hugs. If you give a gift giver a hug, or a hugger a gift, they may not interpret it as appreciation because you are not matching their style. You can improve relationships by coming to understand the other person’s dominant style, and then using that style with them.

-Ken Fields, MA, LPC

Walking away…

Active Listening Skills

Focus fully on the speaker, his or her body language, and other nonverbal cues. If you’re daydreaming, checking text messages, or doodling, you’re almost certain to miss nonverbal cues in the conversation. If you find it hard to concentrate on some speakers, try repeating their words over in your head—it’ll reinforce their message and help you stay focused. Describe more about how you see this as an effective tool for your situation. How difficult has this been for or your partner during your relationship?


Guest Post: Making Health a Habit

I’m sure that at some point, someone has reminded you that it takes three weeks to make or break a habit. Want to quit biting those nails? Keep them away from your face for three weeks and more than likely you’ll forget all about chewing on your fingers. Want to make drinking more water part of your daily routine? You got it…three weeks. Try to get in half of your body weight in ounces, or just shoot for a gallon. Water is your best friend anyway…so make it a habit to hang out every day!

A habit normally is looked at in a negative light, mainly because we as a people have a ton of bad ones. We willingly inhale poison in the form of cigars and cigarettes, we drink alcohol in excess, and to save time…we wait behind ten other cars for twenty minutes to trade our hard-earned money for things in a bag that someone hands us through a sliding window that wouldn’t even be good to feed to our dogs. We also have a horrible habit of making excuses for why we don’t take care of ourselves. It is so much easier to flop on the couch, shoot a pound of ketchup on tepid, flimsy fries, and mindlessly catch up on a couple hours of reality TV or cable news (the fast food of news) than it is to cook a meal and put in at least 30 minutes of exercise. Or is it?

Since this is a guest post, I guess I should introduce myself…the guest. I’m Ryan, and a few years ago, I was the guy with the bag of soggy ‘food’ and the date with the TV. Netflix and Chill was more like ‘Ancient Aliens and Wendy’s Chili.’ I spent a lot of money on doctor co-pays and trips to the pharmacy to get Crestor. I was also eventually put on allopurinol because something horrible-sounding like ‘hyperuricemia’ manifested itself into a shorter but equally painful word: ‘gout.’ I was 260 lbs and could sweat standing in a cooler. Now, let’s get one thing out of the way, and that’s that weight is merely number. It’s not an indicator of health. There are heavy people based on build that are in great shape, and there are really light folks who don’t weigh a thing that are in equally good health. Me, on the other hand…I was 260 on a 175 frame. I’m 5’-10” on a tall day. I was in bad shape. I agreed to write a post on this topic because in the past 36 months, I’ve done something I never thought I would ever achieve; I broke the 200-lb mark before my 2014 wedding, and now I’m staring at breaking the 180-lb barrier. I’m off all of my medications, and my arteries are no longer made of concrete and there aren’t shards of uric acid-glass in my joints. I now provide motivation, accountability, and coaching to anyone willing to make the changes I did in order to better themselves. My passion now is helping others kick their prescription bottles and cut those doctor bills. I love being a motivator for people. All of this forward progress in my life is due to three things:

1) A commitment to changing how I ate

2) A commitment to exercising

3) Waking up every day with a positive attitude

It was HARD. The first few months, I was impossible for my wife to motivate to even get out of bed. I said things like “I’m not wasting my Saturday morning at the gym…it doesn’t do anything for me anyway.” I had it in my mind that I wasn’t in that bad of shape and that I didn’t *need* to go to a cycling class, or a circuit class, or go for a jog to get in better shape. I could motivate myself. The problem with that was not only was I dead wrong (obviously), but I had gotten in that habit of going to the gym, doing 20 minutes of some sort of cardio, and then doing curls and calling it a day. Did I sweat? Yeah. Was I pushing myself? No. I was also leaving the gym and ‘rewarding’ myself with food. It was a vicious cycle that kept me out of shape and overweight, even if I tried to diet (more on this…keep reading!). It’s the same cycle that I imagine a lot of people experience every single day, and NOTHING is more discouraging than feeling like you are trying for something and never seeing a result. This lack of results is why so many people get gym memberships yet so few actively use them.

So how does the cycle get broken? How does that difficult and seemingly endless cycle of trying to exercise, eating the wrong things, and never taking a step forward get turned into a habit of doing what it takes to make a positive change in your body, mind, and health?

Well…it’s HARD. But only the first step. The first step is a commitment. It takes a willful, conscious choice to make a change and stick to it. “Hey wait a minute…it’s hard?” you might be saying at this point, and yes, honestly breaking out of that mentality that you may currently be feeling is not some magical epiphany that rains down out of the sky and all of a sudden you’re enlightened. It’s a choice. It’s choosing your HARD (don’t giggle). ‘Choosing your hard’ is a theme I visit a lot with people whom I coach. Is it hard for you to wake up early and get in a workout…or get it done when you get home from work? Yeah? OK! Is it hard to eat what you’re supposed to every day? Yeah? OK! But flip the coin…is it hard to get out of bed because your joints hurt? Is it hard to keep paying co-pays and pharmacy bills? Is it going to be hard later in life to travel, or watch your kids play sports, or extend the good years of your life? If you’re on the road I was…your HARD is going to be those later-in- life things…the health issues.

Maybe they won’t come so late though; my gout attacks happened at age 28. I was faced with choosing my hard before age 30. We have a huge issue with diabetes, heart disease, obesity across the board in every age group, stroke, high blood pressure and cholesterol, cancer…and it’s not showing signs of slowing. Choosing to make a change NOW is going to prevent those statistics from rising even further.

After choosing your hard (hint…it’s the one that involves exercise and eating right), you’ve taken that step in the right direction. Realizing that you need to eat better and exercise more, however, is not going to solve your problems immediately. Remember me mentioning trying to diet? Don’t diet. Chicken and brown rice and suddenly increasing your body’s exertion level through exercise is going to have horrible effects. Your body doesn’t need ‘food;’ your body needs ‘nutrition.’ You may notice some weight loss at first, but pretty soon a nutrient-deficient body is going to start slowing the metabolism and relying on what the body has stored. At that point…the brain has an ‘oh crap!’ moment and guess what? You get hungry for a Gordita. You leave the gym and tell yourself you EARNED that stuffed crust hotdog bacon ranch double cheese pizza, and then you’ve blown your diet. Cravings are killer, but they are inevitable when your body is not given the nutrition it needs. Dieting only ‘works’ for so long, and that’s why so many fads have made so much money over the years, because of the cycle of failure and repeat. Failure and repeat. It gets a lot of people nowhere.

Changing your brain to understand how to give your body the proper nutrition and eliminate cravings isn’t the easiest thing in the world, but it’s 80% of the total equation. Don’t fall for front-of-package marketing tools like ‘healthy,’ ‘organic,’ or all-natural.’ George Carlin did a bit about ‘natural.’ Toxic Nuclear Waste…is ‘natural.’ It comes from nature. But that doesn’t mean you should eat it. Eating things that don’t come in packages is a great way to start. Most grocery stores are mazes where people get paid a lot of money in a corporate office to figure out what to put at eye level, and how to lay out the store to keep you wandering around, putting things in your cart. Take note next time you shop; the outer perimeter of the store is usually where the good stuff is. It’s not even hidden! Produce takes up a huge chunk of the real estate in the store. Shop the perimeter, and anything with an ingredient label…READ IT! If it’s full of words that look like the back of the alphabet threw up, put it back. IF it’s got artificial sweeteners or flavors…put it back. If it’s got high fructose corn syrup…YEP! PUT IT BACK! Another hint: after the colon that follows the word ‘Ingredients’ is the ingredient which is the most concentrated in whatever item you’re holding. IF you are holding a plastic bag of Fuji apples, the main ingredient is Fuji apples. If you’re holding a bottle of barbeque sauce, that is probably going to be high fructose corn syrup…or if it’s ‘all natural,’ it’s going to be sugar. Sugar is bad, stay away. Shop the perimeter and buy as many vegetables and un-processed meat as you possibly can.

Once you’ve bought your groceries…go home and cook them. 80% of them. Save 20% for spot meals during the week, but cook 80% of them and portion them out to take for lunch. Eating subway is killing you. Eating McDonalds is killing you. Your portions should be about the size of your fist, and taking your lunch is going to save you a TON of money, and a TON of unnecessary ingredients in overly- processed food. Does it take a bit of practice to train yourself on making meal preparation and controlling your portions a habit? YES! It’s that HARD you chose. But it’s also the realization that food, at its very basic definition, is fuel for your body. Our ancestors ate to stay alive. Today, we can go to an all- you-can- eat-buffet. That’s why we have a health crisis, because we do not view food as a fuel, but as a reward. We love to feel full because it makes us feel good…but we are overly-full all of the time. If we weren’t, we wouldn’t have a problem with obesity and heart disease. Your food is your nutrition and your fuel.

The other 20% of this equation is your exercise. You have to train your body. Your body is not meant to be sedentary, and it responds in kind to how you treat it. If you exercise, your muscles and joints respond by staying toned and healthy for a long time. If your lifestyle is sedentary, as so many are, muscle fibers break down and give way to fatty tissue, and joints begin to deteriorate. Blood sugar escalates, arteries harden, triglycerides creep up in number, and pretty soon your body starts to turn on you and the doctor bills rise. Pushing your body to around 80% of your maximum heart rate for 30 minutes a day can help prevent this. Cardiovascular exercise works the most important muscle: the heart. Cardio is extremely important, but so is resistance training. Resistance and weight training doesn’t have to mean powerlifting. Hitting various muscle groups with resistance exercises, and adding cardiovascular moves and exercises for the heart for 30 minutes a day, paired with fueling your body with healthy, clean nutrition is the key to getting in shape. It’s the HARD that you choose with the most rewarding payoff: your life. You get to live longer with fewer problems.

Pick your HARD. Make that commitment to yourself to put better things into your body, get good things out of your body, and do it with a positive outlook. Know that making the decision to do right by yourself is going to bring you a positive outcome. Maintaining that attitude and that air of positivity is going to keep you motivated and become that good habit. Is it easy at first? No. But nothing worth having comes easy or happens overnight. That’s why ‘fast food’ is fast. It’s not good for you; you don’t have to work for it. That’s why diabetes is essentially free: Do no work to better your body, you get problems. Work to better your body, and you get rewards. Do this with a positive outlook and you’ll end up helping someone else, which is a reward and a feeling unlike any other. Make ALL of those things habits…and you’ve set yourself up for a great future.

I want to thank MegAnne (or Meg, as I’ve known her for over twenty years) for this opportunity to share her blog space and convey this message. I tried to hit as many highlights as I could as to my theory behind getting yourself healthy, without penning the next great American novel in length. My job is to motivate, and I hope I did that for at least one person with this information. I would LOVE to speak more with you if you have a health and fitness goal, or even if you have no idea where to start. I needed a push in the right direction, and you might too. I’m easy to find at www.healthyhammels.com or at ryanhammelfit@gmail.com. I’d love to be your coach; I’d love to talk about your goals with you. Meg has a great platform for health, and I’m thrilled that I get to be a part of it. Thank you for reading!


-Ryan Hammel

Tips for Grieving a Breakup


  • Don’t fight your feelings – It’s normal to have lots of ups and downs, and feel many conflicting emotions, including anger, resentment, sadness, relief, fear, and confusion. It’s important to identify and acknowledge these feelings. While these emotions will often be painful, trying to suppress or ignore them will only prolong the grieving process.
  • Talk about how you’re feeling – Even if it is difficult for you to talk about your feelings with other people, it is very important to find a way to do so when you are grieving. Knowing that others are aware of your feelings will make you feel less alone with your pain and will help you heal. Journaling can also be a helpful outlet for your feelings.
  • Remember that moving on is the end goal – Expressing your feelings will liberate you in a way, but it is important not to dwell on the negative feelings or to over-analyze the situation. Getting stuck in hurtful feelings like blame, anger, and resentment will rob you of valuable energy and prevent you from healing and moving forward.
  • Remind yourself that you still have a future – When you commit to another person, you create many hopes and dreams. It’s hard to let these dreams go. As you grieve the loss of the future you once envisioned, be encouraged by the fact that new hopes and dreams will eventually replace your old ones.
  • Know the difference between a normal reaction to a breakup and depression – Grief can be paralyzing after a breakup, but after a while, the sadness begins to lift. Day by day, and little by little, you start moving on. However, if you don’t feel any forward momentum, you may be suffering from depression.

-From Helpguide


5 Ways to Help Young Kids Communicate Their Emotions

One of the most valuable lessons you can teach your child is to identify and manage their emotions. Doing so shows them that experiencing a range of emotions is normal. Kids who learn healthy ways to express and cope with their emotions show less behavioral problems. They feel more competent and capable.

“Being able to talk about emotions sets the foundation for healthy problem solving and conflict resolution,” said Sarah Leitschuh, LMFT, a psychotherapist who specializes in helping families develop healthy ways to communicate about and cope with emotions. These skills also help kids to maintain healthy relationships right now and as they get older, she said.

Sometimes, however, parents teach or model the opposite to their kids: They inadvertently create a space where a child feels uncomfortable expressing their emotions, Leitschuh said. Parents might say, “That’s not a big deal” or “You shouldn’t be sad” or “You should be happy” or “Stop crying.”

They might not “give a child their full attention when they’re trying to share an emotion.”

Also, when a child expresses their emotion inappropriately, parents might miss the opportunity to teach them a healthier alternative, she said. Instead, they might jump right into the punishment. This can be confusing for kids because they might assume they’re being punished for their emotion—not the inappropriate behavior. (That’s why it’s helpful to let your child know that the consequence is given for their behavior, not for how they’re feeling.)

Teaching emotional regulation to kids isn’t easy. It’s tough especially if you’re not so comfortable experiencing and expressing your own emotions. But it’s something you can do, one strategy at a time. Below, Leitschuh shared five straightforward suggestions for helping your child identify and manage their emotions.

Help your child recognize emotions every day.

When you see your child experiencing an emotion, help them to label it “in the moment,” Leitschuh said. Help them explore what might’ve triggered their emotion. Point out emotions that other kids might be experiencing, too, she said. You also can share your own emotions with your child (without burdening them, of course), she added.

Read books about emotions to your child. 

Children’s books are filled with wisdom. They put simple but meaningful words to powerful concepts. Leitschuh suggested checking out this page, which includes kids’ books about exploring emotions, coping with anger and navigating different fears.

Look to shows and movies to jump-start discussions.  

While watching your child’s favorite show or movie, Leitschuh suggested asking questions to help them understand a character’s emotions: “What do you think this person is feeling? Have you ever felt like that? What could make the person feel this way?”

Teach your child coping skills.

“I encourage parents to help their children build a variety of effective coping skills that will work for their child,” Leitschuh said. The coping strategies that will be effective will depend on these factors, she said: family; the emotion they’re experiencing; the setting; and the available resources. That’s why it’s important to teach your kids many strategies.

For instance, teach your child positive self-talk. If they’re anxious, your child might tell themselves: “I can do this.” “I am going to be OK.” “I know how to cope with my anxiety.” “Everyone makes mistakes.” “I can ask for help.” “My family loves me for who I am.”

Other strategies include: counting to 10; asking for a hug; listening to music; using a stress ball; and talking to someone your child trusts.

“Experiment to find which strategies are most effective for each child,” Leitschuh said. She also stressed the importance of practicing these coping skills regularly—before they’re needed—and to model them yourself.

Get creative.

Brainstorm creative ways your child can express their emotions that might be more comfortable or natural than only talking about them, Leitschuh said. This might be expressing emotions through “art, writing, physical activity, play [and] music.”

Being in tune with our emotions is being in tune with ourselves. It helps us to better understand what we need. It helps us in communicating and connecting with others. Again, which is why it’s an incredible skill we can teach our kids and practice ourselves.

Feeling overwhelmed by your therapy?

There can be a number of reasons why people take a break from their therapy sessions, so it’s good for your therapist to know a little bit more so he or she can help you.

Some reasons people stop talking can be:

  • Something feels challenging to talk about.
  • Something your therapist has said is having an impact on you.
  • Maybe even your therapist said something you did not like, for whatever reason.
  • Life is busy and stressful.
  • You are not sure what to say or where to go from here.
  • You are not sure if therapy feels like it is working or you are getting what you need.

Whatever the reason, things come up in therapy, and it’s important to talk about them. Your therapist is there for you and has experience at working past these kinds of things.

As therapists, we want to be understanding and help at finding a solution. Let’s talk about it. We want to help.


Small changes…