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!


{Recipe} Roasted Balsamic Brussels Sprouts

by Sally on August 7, 2014

Balsamic Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Poor, maligned Brussels sprouts. They’ve long been a punchline, shorthand for “yucky healthy food that nobody wants to eat”, and a dinnertime villain in children’s books–most likely because they were served boiled-to-mush one too many times by well-meaning parents.

Now Brussels sprouts are finally getting their due. Roasting has become one of the most popular ways to prep them, which means it’s possible that our kids will grow up actually thinking happy thoughts about Brussels sprouts. Imagine that!

Balsamic Roasted Brussels Sprouts

This recipe comes from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Kids Eat Right initiative, which seeks to offer families simple ways to cook healthy, eat right, and shop smart. August is Kids Eat Right Month, a campaign that spotlights healthy nutrition and active lifestyles for children and families. For ideas on how to get involved and bring this education to your school or community, visit their website.

Balsamic Roasted Brussels Sprouts

The Kids Eat Right initiative is also a great resource for family-friendly recipes. These Balsamic Roasted Brussels Sprouts were a bit hit with my six year old, who gobbled up the sweet, nutty sprouts. While the sprouts and nuts roast in the oven, you cook balsamic vinegar and apple juice in a saucepan until they become a thick, syrupy glaze. Then you toss it all together with dried cranberries. Enjoy!

Roasted Balsamic Brussels Sprouts
Serves: 4
  • 1 pound Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper
  • ¼ cup coarsely chopped pecans
  • ½ cup balsamic vinegar
  • ½ cup 100-percent apple juice
  • ¼ cup dried cranberries
  1. Preheat oven to 425°F.
  2. Combine Brussels sprouts, olive oil, salt and pepper in a large bowl; toss. Spread Brussels sprouts in a single layer on a large rimmed baking sheet and roast for 10 minutes.
  3. Add pecans (I used walnuts) to the baking sheet and stir. Roast 5 to 7 more minutes, or until Brussels sprouts are tender and slightly browned and pecans are golden.
  4. Meanwhile, combine balsamic vinegar and apple juice in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Then, reduce heat to medium, and simmer 15 minutes or until thickened and reduced to about ¼ cup (stir frequently to prevent burning). Remove from heat.
  5. Transfer Brussels sprout mixture to a large bowl; add cranberries. Drizzle with balsamic glaze, and toss until blended well. Serve immediately.

Visit the Kids Eat Right recipe page for more ideas.

Does your family like Brussels sprouts? Tell me your favorite way to prep them!

Balsamic Roasted Brussels Sprouts


Sweet-Tart Kale Salad (Plus How To De-Stem Kale)

June 6, 2014

Who takes kale salad to a potluck picnic? I do! (Is that weird?) Wherever I take it, this salad gets rave reviews–and many requests for the recipe. Now it’s featured in my new book Cooking Light Dinnertime Survival Guide. Bonus: This salad actually gets better with time, as the lemony dressing softens the leaves. Speaking of […]

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{Recipe} Peaches & Vanilla Green Smoothie

February 5, 2014

The Polar Vortex got me dreaming of warmer temperatures in faraway places–where thermometers have never seen minus 10 degrees at high noon and where you don’t need to wear a ski mask to take out the recycling. That was the inspiration for this smoothie, a new favorite of mine. Close your eyes and it’s part […]

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My Summer Bucket List: The Food

June 5, 2013

This summer, I want to… 1. Make many, many batches of homemade ice cream in my turquoise Cuisinart ICE-21. 2. Learn how to dry or freeze the extra herbs from my garden instead of letting them go to waste. 3. Go blueberry picking with my kids. Eat so many berries I feel sick. Repeat. 4. Drink a […]

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My Pre-Dinner Snack Strategy

April 1, 2013

There’s nothing more maddening at mealtime than sitting down to a dinner you’ve spent 45 minutes to prepare only to have your kids push aside their plates because they’re already full. On pretzels. Navigating the hour before dinner is tough with children–especially young kids, for whom “dinner will be ready in 10 minutes” sounds more […]

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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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Thanks, Mom & Dad

August 19, 2011

It’s a good thing my parents don’t read my blog. If they did, they’d have to endure all the references to my childhood diet of Steak-umms, cherry Kool-Aid, the canned corned beef (and of course, my mom would have to relive the Chocolate Milk Incident). But after spending several days with them at my childhood […]

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Friday Five: Simple Steps to Healthier Living

June 24, 2011

Just a few blocks away from me in my city neighborhood of Columbus, Ohio, urban homesteader and food educator Rachel Tayse Baillieul lives seasonally and sustainably. She raises backyard chickens, presses apples into cider, and makes homemade butter. I don’t do any of those things, and probably never will. But I still find a lot […]

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December 9, 2009

You’ve probably heard the term “Mindful Eating“. It’s the practice of paying close attention to your hunger cues, savoring your food–and of course, stopping when you’re full, not when your plate is clean or the jumbo box of Cheez-Its is empty. But sometimes mindful eating is hard. Sometimes it seems a little, well, impossible. Especially […]

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