picky eaters

In Defense Of Ranch Dressing

by Sally on November 6, 2014

In Defense of Ranch DressingThere’s a bottle of ranch dressing in my refrigerator.

It’s not homemade. Its not organic. It has preservatives and added sweetener and artificial flavor.

But because of this dressing, my ten year old eats baby carrots and bell peppers in his lunchbox and digs into green salads several nights a week.

I have mixed feelings about this dressing. There are ingredients in it that I try to avoid. I make the vinaigrette my husband and I eat on our own salads (read: “5 Foods I Don’t Buy Anymore”). And frankly, as a dietitian, I cringe a little bit whenever I see someone at a restaurant dunking wings or French fries into little tubs of ranch.

But my kid likes ranch. And after homemade ranch was rebuffed, and he didn’t like the various brands of natural and organic I bought, I gave in. Because having this particular bottled dressing around means he’ll eat (and enjoy) a lot more veggies.

As much as I’d rather not rely on ranch, I don’t think it’s an enemy. Like ketchup, it can actually be a vehicle for trying new foods or enjoying foods that might otherwise seem bland or bitter. In one study published in the  Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, preschoolers who were especially sensitive to bitter flavors ate 80 percent more broccoli at snack time when it was served alongside ranch dressing.

Still, I feel a little guilty every time I pull the bottle out of the fridge. So I asked Katja Rowell, MD, aka The Feeding Doctor, for her take. I love Dr. Rowell’s reasonable, compassionate approach and was relieved that she gives the okay to ranch.

She says:

“I think parents are afraid that if their children don’t learn to like plain foods, they won’t learn to enjoy them, but for many kids it’s the opposite. Condiments and flavor, whether it’s Ranch, ketchup, hot sauce, or a little butter with a pinch of salt, help children learn to like more foods. A big part of feeding kids is creating a supportive environment where kids can learn to tap into good taste and variety, and Ranch can be a small piece of that puzzle. Having an open, positive attitude towards food helps children approach food with positivity and curiosity. You still decide what to serve your kids, but if you observe that Ranch is helping bring a positive attitude and openness to a wider variety of foods at the table, that’s a good thing.

Parents feel like they have to be perfect with nutrition and that can backfire. I see more and more kids with extreme picky eating and food aversions where the parents have tried to have only whole and unprocessed foods. But worry, conflict and anxiety can be toxic, and I believe is far more harmful than allowing Ranch dressing into a balanced intake.”

So yes, I’ll gradually try to broaden my son’s horizons when it comes to dressings and dips. (As a former picky eater myself, I also know that could take a while–and that’s okay.) But right now, for my son, a little bit of bottled ranch goes a long way toward both developing a habit of eating vegetables at meals and snacks and actually enjoying them. In the long run, I think that’s what really matters.

For more from Dr. Rowell, visit her website The Feeding Doctor. She is author of the book Love Me, Feed Me: The Adoptive Parent’s Guide to Ending the Worry About Weight, Picky Eating, Power Struggles and More. Her second book, about extreme picky eating, will be released next May.

Disclosures: This post may contain affiliate links. If you purchase a product through this link, your cost will be the same, but I will receive a small commission to help with operating costs of this blog. Thanks for your support!


5 Tips for Easing Mealtime Stress

by Sally on June 18, 2014

Tips for Managing Mealtime at Real Mom Nutrition

Whenever a new mom tells me what a great eater her one year old is, I smile politely and say something encouraging like, “Gee, that’s great!” But I’m actually thinking, “You don’t even know what’s coming!”

Feeding toddlers can be challenging–after all, their growth has slowed (which can lower appetite) and they’re testing out their newfound independence. But stay the course: Continue to offer your child an array of healthy foods because “research shows that when left to make their own choices children will, over time, eat in a way that is nutritionally balanced,” says Dr. Yvonne Gustafson, Ph.D., co-author of the new book Tools For The Toddler Years(You can enter to win a copy of the book in this giveaway that ends Friday.) 

She offers these reassuring pointers that ring true for kids of all ages:

1. Each meal does not have to be nutritionally “perfect.” It is what is eaten over the course of a day—some pediatricians suggest over the course of a week—that matters. So, if on Tuesday your toddler is on a cereal kick, remember that it can be balanced with other essential nutrients on Thursday.

2. Understanding portion size can help you resist the urge to “push” food. In general, a serving size is one measured tablespoon per age of child. How many chunks of green bean can actually fit in a measured tablespoon? Two, maybe three?  When your toddler eats four bites of green bean she has probably eaten an amount appropriate to her age and size. Further, you may find that when portions are kept small it is easier for the child to focus, rather than be distracted by the science of mixing and smearing all the food before them.

3. Understand that your child may have his own internal eating clock. He may love a big breakfast and lighter fare for dinner. Or, he may not be ready for very much food until mid-morning. Noticing and planning your offerings to match your child’s preferences can create a more positive relationship with food.

4. Expect fluctuations. When a child is in a growth spurt everything about serving size and interest in food can shift. Some days it may seem your child packs away more food than you! In the absence of power struggles over food, trust her body to eat what it needs to maintain the energy she needs.

5. Be aware of alternative sources of nutrition. For instance, for the child not yet ready to handle the textures of meat, try mashed up beans or cubes of tofu for protein.

For more parenting tips, check out Your Parenting Matters.

6 Tips for Managing Mealtime at Real Mom Nutrition

Illustration by Greg Bonnell


Want Successful Eaters? Combat the Craziness!

May 13, 2014

Are my kids perfect eaters? No way! Neither am I. (Anyway, there’s no such thing–read: “The Myth of Perfect Eating“). But I do hope my kids don’t follow in my finicky eater footsteps and instead, become what psychologist Dr. Kathleen Cuneo calls “successful eaters”. Successful eaters don’t have to happily gobble up everything you put in front […]

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The Kind Of Eater I Want My Kids To Be

May 6, 2014

I don’t label my kids “good eaters”, just as I’ve never called them “bad eaters”–even when they’ve made me c-r-a-z-y (read “Dinner Drama“). Instead, I want to be able to call them “successful eaters”. I heard the term “successful eater” from psychologist and parent coach Kathleen Cuneo, PhD, who describes a successful eater as someone who, among […]

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6 Ways to Add Fun to Family Dinner

January 15, 2014

  On a recent Sunday, my husband and I were cooking together, and the boys were pretending we were on a cooking show. It extended to dinner time, when they wanted to judge the dish (a new-to-them chili). So we asked them to rate the chili on a scale of 1-5 for various categories like […]

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“Help! My child eats hardly any dinner…then wants a snack 10 minutes later!” Sound familiar?

January 10, 2014

This week, I reached out to readers on my Real Mom Nutrition Facebook page asking for their most frustrating feeding dilemma when it came to their kids–and promised that feeding expert and parent educator Dr. Dina Rose would address one of them on this blog. Dr. Rose, who is full of effective strategies for diffusing […]

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{Giveaway} It’s Not About the Broccoli

January 8, 2014

Three years ago when Sam was a toddler, he went on a strike. A dinner strike to be exact. It went on for months, with Sam sometimes eating no more for dinner than a lick of ketchup or a couple bites of fruit. I nearly lost my mind. (read: “Dinner Drama“). So I got in […]

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The Myth of Perfect Eating

November 19, 2013

This is what happens when my kids get hold of the camera: Me, caught in a moment of mom fatigue, surrounded by piles. Definitely not suitable for posting on Facebook. After all, there’s a reason it earned the nickname “Fakebook”: We put our very best selves on display for the world (or at least our “friends”) […]

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Starter Salads: Teaching My Kids to Love Greens

November 18, 2011

When I first started dating my husband, he didn’t eat anything green, except granny smith apples. (When he reads this, he will indignantly declare, “Also parsley!” but the rest of us know that does not count.) So I started making him salads in tiny bowls: just a few leaves with a whole bunch of croutons […]

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My Picky Eater Recovery

May 25, 2011

There’s a story that’s gone down in family history that ends with my mother pouring a glass of chocolate milk over my head. If you know my mother, you are likely lifting your jaw off the floor because she is the kindest, gentlest woman you ever will meet. But every mom has her breaking point, […]

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