A new year means new resolutions – many of mine usually revolve around balance, good health, and grounding. This year for my kids it’s about better listening and more attention to meal time etiquette. I’ve said before they bounce around like jelly beans during meals and dinner can take an hour! I was thrilled to sit down with nutrition counselor Sarah Davis a few weeks back and she gave me some great ideas about helping my girls on that front. We also talked about what makes a balanced meal, the best foods for busy children, and why we must as parents helped our children to build healthy relationships with food in order to avoid eating disorders in the future. All of these topics are near and dear to my heart. I am thrilled to bring her thoughts to you.
Sarah Davis of BodyBalance365 is a Nutrition Counselor, wellness coach, and loving mother of three. She decided to become a health counselor to fulfill her passion for working with children and parents to improve their health and family life. Sarah received her training at the Integrative Institute for Nutrition in New York City. She is certified by the American Association of Drugless Practitioners, and has obtained a Continuing Education degree from Purchase College, State University of New York. Sarah leads workshops on nutrition and offers individual health and nutrition coaching to parents and families. Welcome to The Sent Sarah! We are thrilled to have you and your incredible insights.
Q&A with Sarah Davis, Nutrition Counselor and Wellness Coach
Why did you feel inspired to start your business?
My inspiration to start my company BodyBalance365 was a bit of a surprise—even to me! I went back to school to study nutrition because of my own PERSONAL interests, and because I wanted to learn more about food, health and cooking to utilize with MY own family. I had been spending years researching nutrition topics on my own (I worked in publishing before having children), mainly thru books, television, and the internet, in addition to reading anything and everything I could get my hands on about holistic health. I began to fancy myself a bit of an expert—though “self taught”—and when I discovered the Institute for Integrative Nutrition I knew it was the right fit for me. Even for months after graduation, I would offer friends and family “free” advice, until I realized that I actually knew enough to “really” help people! People began asking me if I could meet their spouses and children to help relay what I was telling them. I decided to start a nutrition counseling business out of my home to teach families the importance of healthy eating, and particularly to help parents who struggle with WHAT to feed their families…surely we can all relate to the dinner dilemma!
What is your main focus?
The main focus for me is to TRY to take charge of what you feed yourself and your family as often as you can, and what I mean by that is eating at home, and preparing simple meals on a regular basis. Even if you do not think your recipes are the healthiest in the world (I have parents lament that their children prefer the flavor of white rice to brown) I always remind people that any chicken and broccoli stir fry coming out of YOUR wok will trump take out Chinese food every time. Cooking intimidates people, so they often give up—not to mention it is frustrating to slave over a stove for hours, only for your family to announce they don’t like what you have served. By keeping meals and snacks simple—an apple with peanut butter couldn’t be easier!—and avoiding packaged, processed ones you are doing your family a tremendous service. I also focus on involving KIDS in the meal preparation…bring them to the store, let them help choose the snacks and dinner menu, involve them in the cooking, and you will be surprised how much it makes them more willing to try new things…my kids were making Kale Chips after school long before it was being served in hip restaurants in SoHo!
Why now more than ever is it important that we help children/teens to understand the importance of eating well?
I think that kids/teens lives have become so jam packed these days with schoolwork, sports and activities that they are home less and less…and have less time than ever to prepare their meals, or eat the dinners that their parents have prepared because they are racing out the door to the next event. Being “athletic” is not an excuse to eat poorly—despite what many parents think—and I don’t care if they “run it off” in soccer practice, its still a Happy Meal. You need to implement good eating habits at an early age instead of thinking kids will “figure it out” when they graduate from college and are faced with a grocery list—perhaps for the first time in their lives! We all know kids who are remarkable athletes who are still sugar addicts and chug Gatorade like water—so it is just as important for slim, fit kids to learn to eat well. If we can turn them on to the importance of eating well as kids, we are saving them a tremendous amount of struggle when they become adults. Who doesn’t know a few college All American athletes who now are carrying around an extra 50 pounds because they learned nothing about nutrition when they were young and now they no longer exercise three hours a day with a trainer…
Breakfast – most important meal of the day. True or false?
Breakfast is HUGE to me on a Monday thru Friday basis…if a kid wakes up on a Saturday and isn’t hungry, and you know that YOU will be helping them prepare their lunch I am okay with letting them take a pass until they become hungry. But on a school day, I could not be more adamant about having breakfast. My kids wake up with NO appetite at 6:30, but sadly I know they will be ravenous by 9:30 as they are strolling into their science test, so breakfast is going to happen. Nothing fancy either! A bowl of oatmeal made with almond milk and berries, an english muffin with natural peanut butter, yogurt with nuts and dried fruit, and in a pinch a smoothie with added protein is something they can literally slurp in the car while I am driving to school. I feel lunch is a big “gray area” in kids’ school schedule—and none of us know what (if anything) is actually consumed from their lunch boxes–which further makes me rant about a good breakfast.
What makes a healthy meal? What ratios of fat/carbs/fiber do young people need?
This is a good—and loaded—question. Because I do not subscribe to a particular diet—Paleo, Atkins, vegan…I really prefer to tell my kids/students/adults to BALANCE their plates…we take a peek together and make sure we see something green (or two or three if its a salad) and a protein/grain combination. That being said, I remind parents that it doesn’t have to moo, baa, or cluck to be a protein…if your child doesn’t love meat there is a ton of protein in beans, nuts, and ancient grains as well. Brown rice and veggies works! As far as carbohydrates go, I always urge COMPLEX and not simple carbs…because they enter the bloodstream more slowly and therefore we avoid the dreaded Crash and Burn that we get from simple carbs. It disturbs me when kids tell me there parents don’t “let” them eat pasta or bread…I am questioning why whole wheat penne and turkey meatballs became the enemy…or a simple peanut butter sandwich with sliced apples on multi grain bread when your child truly and deeply just doesn’t like what you made for their dinner. And ps. I put a salad on the table EVERY night…hearts of romaine, baby spinach, grape tomatoes, cukes, red pepper, shredded carrots, sliced green apples, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, avocado, dried cranberries…you name it! And there is balsamic vinegar and olive oil on the table to serve yourself. Inevitably every one takes some…I always feel good about that.
Have you noticed greater issues with eating disorders in recent years? What should parents be watching for?
I think eating disorders and body image issues are something every parent should be mindful of—and not only if you are raising daughters! Ironically parents (mothers frequently) who are quite healthy can sometimes inadvertently give their children detrimental advice about food and eating. In their efforts to be slim and fit, they can set up food as the “enemy” and create an unhealthy relationship with food for their kids. There are very few adults that I know who do NOT worry about their weight, and can understand that, but I warn them to be mindful of their children. Children learn from example, as we know, so if you create a household that emphasizes healthy food, home cooked meals, staying active, and limiting sugar and processed foods, it speaks volumes to your family. You have to walk the walk…sipping Diet Coke and lamenting your thighs in front of your young daughters, is a disaster in the making.
What do clients get when they work with you? Can you describe a traditional program you would set up with a new client?
I love to meet my clients through a Health History before we even lay eyes on each other. I don’t want to waste their time asking them a bunch of questions when I first meet them, so a Health History gives me a background to work from and tells me what they would like to achieve. I usually teach a 10 Step Program—over ten weeks—explaining what I have learned about nutrition and spelling it out for them in the simplest of terms. For example, we discuss Fruits and Vegetables in one session, and discuss ways to incorporate more of them into our diets…we also discuss Carbohydrates and the important difference between simple and complex carbs…we discuss Protein, what it does for our bodies’ growth, and both animal and plant sources. I love all my sessions but I really adore teaching people how to read LABELS and how to grocery shop, Sports Nutrition is always so important, and of course Self Esteem and Body Image are topics I could spend an entire year discussing! Though I discuss the same “general” topics with all my clients, because of their Health Histories, I know what their specific concerns are and focus on addressing these particular issues every week when we meet (perhaps a child with gluten intolerance). Some people just want to meet me once or twice—which is fine, and others are on their third set of sessions, because they just love their “me” time talking about a subject that they feel passionate about.
Can teens be vegetarian and get all the healthy things they need in their diet? How?
I have a few teenage clients and adults who are vegetarian and as a non-meat/poultry eater I fully empathize with their reasons for choosing to not eat meat. Unfortunately this can also become a license for people to eat buttered bagels and potato chips because nothing “died” to make their lunch. I am not fanatical about protein, and most people don’t realize their is protein in both vegetable and grains, so if a person is happy to make a meal of hummus, gluten free crackers, sliced red peppers and carrots, with a bag of popcorn and some clementines (like one of my girls) I am okay with it. Eliminating meat is fine as long as the “remaining” food groups are full of protein, fiber, and vitamins… ps. animal protein has NO fiber—zero, zip, nada, so even if you love steak, please have a large serving of spinach on the side!
What would you recommend parents do with young children who are really picky and only want to eat one or two foods?
If you have a picky eater—and who doesn’t, I would recommend you meet him/her halfway. No one in my house is having cheerios for breakfast (God forbid honey nut cheerios) because it will convert to straight sugar (glucose) in about 20 minutes and leave them edgy and ravenous. Ditto buttered pasta or plain bagels—on that I hold my ground…that being said, you need to know your enemy and overwhelming a child with too many choices at each meal OR introducing new foods is a very delicate issue. We have often had upside down days, where I make scrambled eggs for dinner with sliced melon and toast with butter—I am okay with that! A whole wheat wrap with peanut butter, Nutella and sliced strawberries has been served for Thanksgiving dinner at my house, and I would encourage parents to try to avoid the fight when they can…NO to Munchkins for dinner, but sometimes you are just going to have to wrap up the salmon and make toast! Rome wasn’t built in a day, and a month long obsession with string cheese will not kill a child—just give them an apple too so they can still go to the bathroom. 🙂
With slow eaters – should we really continue to feed them or should we let them eat as much as they want and assume they will eat more at the next meal if they are really hungry? (For young kids!)
I am a little bit “tough love” on this issue because I find it is often not about the food…parents tell me their children sit for over an hour at the dinner table sporadically taking a nibble of food and the parents beg and plead them to finish their meal. This would not fly in my house…while I encourage dinner to be a RELAXED time of day, and often tell my own family to slow down, chew, breathe, and put a fork down between bites, young children spending an hour at the table should be discouraged. If for example, you put out chicken, roasted potatoes and broccoli, do NOT insist that everyone clean their plates…I have three children with wildly different appetites…that being said, I would ask for most of the broccoli to be eaten, half the chicken and they can 86 the potatoes…if they would like something else, offer an apple with greek yogurt or peanut butter. There is no dessert and no one is going to sit at the table with them for an hour. Being a slow eater is GOOD thing, but if you are feeding a family, you need to go with the group.