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Registered Dietitian Christine McPhail Reviews The Picky Eater Project: 6 weeks to Happier, Healthier, Family Mealtimes

Posted July 9, 2018 by Yoni Freedhoff

Today’s guest post, a review of The Picky Eater Project 6 weeks to Happier, Healthier, Family Mealtimes, was written by Christine McPhail MSc RD. Full disclosure: I was given a review copy of the book by Dr. Muth.

I work with parents, and picky eating is a common issue. Fortunately, there are some general recommendations that I can review such as following the division of responsibility in feeding, where parents are responsible for the what, when and where of feeding and children are responsible for whether they eat and how much they eat out of what parents offer. Within this, I ask parents to focus on neutrality when offering different foods, bridging from foods their family already enjoys, involving children in grocery shopping, growing food and cooking for buy-in and avoiding pressure in general to eat more or less of certain foods.

The most important part of addressing picky eating with my clients is working on practical steps collaboratively with them. That’s where I have found the resources within The Picky Eater Project: 6 weeks to Happier, Healthier, Family Mealtimes by Natalie Digate Muth MD, MPH, RDN, FAAP and Sally Sampson from CHOPCHOP MAGAZINE to be very insightful and useful.

Here is what I liked about this book:

  • It is a project. The book is very interactive and includes goal setting, action planning strategies, and ways to measure your progress at each stage of the project. Each section also uses to do/check lists.
  • Picky eating is defined and explained and the book follows examples from real life families as they progress through the project. This shows families that it’s OK to stumble when they are trying to make changes and it allows them to see the recommendations translated into realistic outcomes.
  • The concept of picky-free parenting allows parents to review their current behaviours around food to see if there is anything they could change in their behaviour that may be influencing their child’s picky eating behaviours. This also aligns well with learning about the Division of Responsibility in Feeding.
  • There is a focus on changing your home food environment with sample pantry lists, snack lists, a how to use herbs and spices resource, recipes etc. which can be a useful tool for parents especially when they are tried and tested!
  • Involving kids in the kitchen has its own section with a focus on age-appropriate kitchen tasks, tips for beginner chefs, meal ideas and recipes. This is so important for families to review and understand as we know that kids who participate in meal preparation are more likely to WANT to try new foods.
  • Similarly, there is a section on involving kids in grocery shopping, growing foods, and visiting local farms with a focus on learning about food but also math and literacy skills too. It’s all buy-in and family involvement.
  • Family meals are a primary focus of the picky eating project with tips on how to make them a priority, meal planning, meal time rules, and even packed lunch mix and match ideas.
  • The project does not leave out all of the other factors and people that can either support or hinder your efforts to have your family eat a wider variety of foods. Those important people include peers, school staff, caregivers, grandparents etc. As the section is appropriately titled…it takes a village!
  • To finish up the project, there is a section that addresses that behaviour change is hard! I think this is important for parents to understand but it’s equally important to for them to have tips on how to make changes stick. The focus is on starting small, using SMART goals, having a plan, anticipating problems, and involving your kids the whole way!
  • The last section of the book discusses severe picky eating and when to seek more professional help. I was impressed with this because it identifies red flags for parents to watch out for so they know when they may need to incorporate health professionals into their journey.

The only issue I had about the picky eating project was the risk associated with labelling your child as picky i.e. they live up to the expectation. On the other hand, with the family-focussed nature of the book the journey is not simply for the “picky” child, it’s for the whole family to expand their palette in an open and honest way that includes all family members.

Christine McPhail MSc, RD is one of our Registered Dietitians at the Bariatric Medical Institute (though is moving on soon to work with the eating disorders team at Hopewell). Christine has worked in academic, clinical and public health nutrition settings and has been fortunate to have worked on projects relating to food sustainability, food security, food policy and politics, childhood nutrition, body image, and school nutrition programs. She believes in the power of connecting with your food from farm to table. She feels fortunate to share this passion with her clients, as she helps them strengthen their relationship with food and learn more about nutrition.

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Why Have School Food Policies If They’re Not Followed Or Enforced?

Posted June 27, 2018 by Yoni Freedhoff
A recent photograph from a school cafeteria that’s clearly non-compliant with school food policy

It’s a simple question.

Why bother with school food policy making if schools aren’t going to follow and/or enforce them?

(And please don’t read this as me stating that the policies themselves are solid to begin with – that’s a whole other rant).

But they’re definitely not enforced.

From the treats and candies handed out to 8 year olds writing standardized tests, to the constant junk food fundraising, to the sodas above – the lists go on, and on.

And I’m not suggesting I’ve got a solution.

Clearly the resources to go from school to school to check aren’t there.

And clearly schools and their administrations care about the kids.

So it’s not about a lack of concern, and there’s no practical way to police things.

I think the fact that schools are still consistently selling, giving, rewarding, and entertaining children with junk food speaks simply to the fact that over the years those practices have become so entrenched, they’re considered normal, and hence, aren’t even considered as behaviours worthy of scrutiny.

I’m curious. What’s the most ridiculous example from your child’s school?

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Where The Hell Is Canada’s New Food Guide?

Posted June 25, 2018 by Yoni Freedhoff

In case you missed the news, New Brunswick recently banned the sale of chocolate milk and juice in their schools.

It’s a welcome move, and one that will be undoubtedly be adopted nation wide following the long delayed publication of Canada’s next Food Guide.

Canada’s Food Guide, last published in 2007, inexplicably and explicitly, reports that chocolate milk is a healthy dairy choice (that it also suggests dairy is such a magical food that it requires it’s own Food Guide category is a whole other kettle of inexplicability). Or maybe it isn’t that inexplicable in that on the then Food Guide’s 12 member advisory committee was Sydney Massey, the Nutrition Education Manager and Spokesperson for the BC Dairy Foundation, where their homepage at the time featured the campaign,

“Don’t tell Mom, but Chocolate Milk is good for you”

The next one, won’t.

I know this in part because back in 2014, Dr. Hasan Hutchinson, the Director General of Health Canada’s Office of Nutrition Policy and Promotion (the office in charge of the Food Guide), agreed with me during our then debate, that chocolate milk shouldn’t be deemed a health food by our Food Guide,

“One thing we’re doing right now is doing a reassessment of all of those things and certainly me personally, I agree with Yoni that it (chocolate milk) should not be there either”

And in May 2015 he was quoted by the CMAJ on juice stating,

You won’t be seeing that anymore … and there’ll be a fair number of new materials coming out in the next few months.”

I also know this because even McDonald’s appreciates that chocolate milk, with more calories and sugar drop per drop than Coca-Cola, shouldn’t be routinely offered to children.

So here’s my first question.

If, in 2007, Canada’s Food Guide had explained that chocolate milk is to milk what apple pie is to apples, and that it should be considered a treat rather than a health food, and that no, juice is not the same as fruit, do you think we’d be seeing these actual responses and comments posted on Facebook and on the CBC article in response to the news out of New Brunswick?

“How the hell can juice be bad for you I doubt orange and apple and cranberry juice is bad for your health CFDA would have ban the stuff decades ago”

“It is crazy and stupid. especially since the school officials are comparing the natural sugars found In the cocoa that makes it chocolate to the artificially added high fructose corn syrup used to sweeten coca cola.”

“Ugh get a life people! Chocolate milk is some parents only option to get their kids to drink milk. And as far as juices they sell apple and orange at school so are they now telling us apple and OJ juices are bad??”

“I agree, pop and juice fine. Chocolate milk is filled with nutrients.”

Because the thing is, though no one shops with Canada’s Food Guide in hand, its recommendations do permeate national consciousness. And more to the point of this post, they inform school food policies. Once the new Food Guide is published, and assuming it explicitly recommends limiting sugar sweetened beverages and juice (and it will), all provinces will undoubtedly soon fall in line with New Brunswick.

And here’s the most pertinent question. It’s been 4.5 years since Dr. Hutchinson agreed chocolate milk should be off the Food Guide’s menu, and 3 years since he went on record stating that juice’s days are also numbered, so how is it possible that we’re still waiting?

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ParticipACTION Report Cards Remind Us Every Year How Badly We’re Failing Canadian Children

Posted June 20, 2018 by Yoni Freedhoff

(Originally posted in 2016. Since nothing’s changed, reupping it with 2018 data)

We suck at helping our kids to be active.

Here are the past 14 years of ParticipACTION kids’ activity report card grades (click on 2018 for this year’s edition):

2018: D+
2017: Didn’t happen
2016: D-
2015: D-
2014: D-
2013: D-
2012: F
2011: F
2010: F
2009: F
2008: F
2007: F
2006: D
2005: D

So what has Canada done about it?

From my vantage point, it sure doesn’t seem like much.

As to what we could we doing, I’m honestly not sure.

One thing I am sure of though, simply telling kids to be more active (or telling them and/or their parents how inactive they are) clearly isn’t doing a whole heckuva lot. We need changes that change the default.

If you’re a parent, I’ve blogged about the simple solution you could employ to help your kids move more (move with them).

If you’re an educator, how about making every classroom/student reward an active one instead of relying on junk food (same goes for all of your various fundraising endeavours)? Oh, and get rid of inane over-protective schoolyard rules like bans on hard balls that effectively stifle active play.

If you’re a city planner, how about more time and attention paid to developing safe, comprehensive, and unified biking and walking infrastructure?

And consider too the fact that decreasing kids’ physical activity may well also be influenced by their rising weights (and not the other way around). I’ve worked with so many parents who report that as their kids gained weight, suddenly their interest in favourite activities waned. The why is something people either forget or overlook. Kids are cruel. Being picked last because you’re slow, or simply not being able to keep up, would make most kids not want to play. One comment about “jiggling” while a kid runs is liable to lead a kid to stop running. Not wanting to change in front of your peers because of fat jokes and weight bias makes is another common hurdle. Here we need to see calls to action to tackle weight bias, and continued work towards improving the way we use food with our children, and ideally ending the regular use of foods by our kids’ schools, teachers, coaches, cities, scout leaders, friends’ parents, etc. to reward, pacify, and entertain them at every turn.

So how many more years of reading these depressing report cards before we either stop issuing them, or actually do something about the problem?

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The American Heart Association’s Alliance For A Healthier Generation Labels Diet Coke and Pop-Tarts (And More) As “Smart Snacks” For Kids

Posted June 13, 2018 by Yoni Freedhoff

In case you’re not familiar with it, the Alliance For A Healthier Generations is the name given to the partnership program founded between the American Heart Association, The Clinton Foundation, and The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation with pretty what at first glance looks like pretty much every food industry corporation on earth.

The Alliance’s stated mission is,

to create healthy changes that build upon one another and create a system, a nation, that makes the healthy choice the easy choice

So what are some healthy choices according to the Alliance’s Amazon based,

One Stop Shop for Healthier Generation vetted Smart Snacks and products for students in and out of school?

Here are some select choices:

How is it possible that the American Heart Association, The Clinton Foundation, and The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation would describe a child washing down a bag of Doritos or a Pop-Tart with a can of Diet Coke as them consuming a Smart Snack?


(My answer of course is because the Alliance For A Healthier Generation is a partnership with the food industry whose job is to promote sales, not to protect health, but as to why these particular products were deemed Smart, and the larger question of why partnering with the food industry was a thought to be a thoughtful plan, there you’ve got me)

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You’ll Never Guess Why My 11 Year Old Daughter And Her Friend Are Excited For Their School’s Track And Field Day

Posted June 6, 2018 by Yoni Freedhoff

It’s not for the track and field.

It’s for the junk food.

In my daughter and her friend’s case, they’re specifically excited about the sport drinks the school sells the kids at the event (they also sell them Freezies, chips and popcorn).

You see neither have ever tried one.

Honestly, it’s not because my wife and I are dietary ogres who deny our kids any taste of sugar sweetened beverages, but clearly we don’t have sport drinks at our house because if we’re going to give our kids candy, we’re going to give them candy way better than sport drinks, and without sport drinks’ undeserved health halo.

And it’s a health halo that my daughter’s elementary school is helping to solidify given that according to my her, last year’s track and field day saw the school bringing all sorts of different brands and flavours of sport drinks to the meet.

A meet where by the way, if you ran every single event you’ll have run a grand total of 3km, done a long jump, and thrown a shot put.

Not a single kid on that field would benefit from or need a sport drink, yet plenty will further internalize the notion that exercise requires or deserves them.

Schools shouldn’t be in the business of peddling junk food to children, and instead should be taking advantage of events like Track and Field day to teach them that sport drinks are just liquid candy, bad candy at that.

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“Everything In Moderation” Does Not Apply To Giving Candy To Other People’s Kids

Posted May 31, 2018 by Yoni Freedhoff

I heard it most recently from a teacher explaining why it’s no big deal that she gave her 8 and 12 year old students Smarties (Canadian M&Ms), Lucky Charms Bars, Smart Food, Goldfish Crackers and Freezies for various reasons including most recently, writing a standardized test.

It’s just a variant of the, “but it’s just one” cop out.

Both suggest that the indulgence is small, therefore the questionable offering is no biggie.

And for individuals, it’s true. I don’t think that there should be any forbidden foods. We should all be consuming the smallest amount of indulgences that we need to like our lives (my four food kryptonites are Sour Patch Kids, Ruffles, dark chocolate Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, and scotch).

But it’s not true when referring to teachers choosing to give Smarties to 8 year olds because they were writing a standardized test.

Because firstly, it’s not just one, and consequently it’s not a moderate amount, because as anyone with children today knows, it’s “just one” for other people giving kids junk food virtually every day, and some times multiple times a day.

And yes, while I have zero issue with children eating Smarties (mine just came back from Manhattan where one of their favourite stores was the M&Ms store), teachers teaching their 8 year old students that there’s no occasion or effort too small to not warrant candy or junk food does not fit into my definition of a message that’s healthy even in moderation.

With very rare exceptions (like another kid’s birthday party, or Halloween), parents, and parents alone, should be the arbiters of how much candy or junk food their 8 year olds are offered, not teachers, who instead could/should serve as role models as to how to reward and inspire without messages like the one that same teacher who wanted me to know it was ok because “everything in moderation” posted to Twitter,

Nothing says #inspirationaltreat like @Nestle #Smarties!


Not an end of test dance party? An extra period of recess? Painting a celebratory class mural?

Though it’s harsher than might be fair, and clearly written in exasperation, there was a comment left on my Facebook page by Robin Nelson VanDyke that I have a difficult time disagreeing with,

Honestly, and as I’ve been saying over and over again, it’s not that teachers don’t care, they do, it’s that junk food for everything is so entrenched and normalized that when challenged people get defensive rather than reflective.

[If you’re a teacher looking for non-junk food ideas, here’s a great list and backgrounder to peek at]

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A School Principal Blocked Me On Twitter Because I Suggested That 8 Year Olds Need Not Be Rewarded With Oreos For Writing A Test

Posted May 29, 2018 by Yoni Freedhoff

In Grade 3 in Canada, many students write a standardized test for the Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO).

At one school, the kids’ Principal tweeted out her note of encouragement, along with a photo of the test packages that the school had prepared for the 8 year olds. Included with each was a package of Oreo cookies.

My response was to point this out as a great example of how there is no longer any occasion too small to not use junk food to reward, pacify, or entertain children.

She blocked me.

Next the chief psychologist of a school board weighed in to state,

I’m missing the reason for concern. I hope it isn’t unusual for children to be celebrated in schools for all sorts of achievements, activities, or just building a positive school culture.

Call me a dreamer, but I don’t think positive school culture needs to be built out of Oreos.

That a principal, and the chief psychologist of a school board, both of who I have zero doubt care tremendously about their students, see no problem with schools teaching 8 year olds that junk food rewards effort and/or relieves stress really speaks to just how entrenched and normalized our unhealthy relationship with junk food has become.

How about an extra 15 minutes of recess in between test blocks if stress is a concern? Or stickers for a job well done, or a come in your PJs to write day if reward is the issue?

And taking a step even further back, should we really be teaching 8 year olds that the simple expectation of their writing tests in life is an event worthy of anything other than being proud that they did their best in writing and/or studying for it?

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Kudos (Maybe) To Calgary Police For Handing Out Recreation Passes For Kids’ Good Behaviour Rather than Sugar (Like Here In Ontario)

Posted May 24, 2018 by Yoni Freedhoff

So here’s the story.

Recently I saw a tweet highlighting a new Calgary Positive Ticket campaign whereby Angie Thiessen’s daughter received a coupon redeemable for free access to a Calgary recreation facility because she was “caught” learning to ride her bicycle with a bike helmet.

When the @CalgaryPolice pull over and write a ticket while you’re taking the kids for a bike ride. 😁 Such a great idea – Liv was thrilled! And it had the neighbours calling… #yyc

— Angie Thiessen (@angie_thiessen) April 26, 2018

Fantastic, right? Here’s a longer piece discussing the program.

But then I saw this story about Calgary’s positive ticketing program having handed out 2,350 coupons redeemable for a Macs Milk hot chocolate or Frosty over the course of the past 18 months.

So if the program’s changed (and zero doubt that it should) from targeting kids with free advertising and emotional brand washing for sugar sweetened beverages, then kudos to Calgary.

Here’s hoping!

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