By Tara Cushing
We say that the kitchen is the heart of the home so how fitting it was that Habit Bergen, the Bergen County, NJ, branch of Habitat for Humanity, held a recent fundraising event literally in the kitchen. On November 19th, a crowd that included Real Housewives of New Jersey’s Jacqueline and Chris Laurita, and singer/songwriter philanthropist Lori Michaels, gathered at Modiani Kitchen Design in Englewood to hear the expert advice of Kristie Finnan, RDN. Finnan is a registered dietician who specializes in celiac disease, food allergies, and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). She also helps busy moms, like yours truly, tackle such challenges as meal planning, weight management, understanding the dietary habits of children, and picky eaters.
Finnan understands the challenges busy parents face when it comes to food. She is a former pharmaceuticals sales rep and mother of three, who took her passion for the gastronomical to the next level. In 2008 she self-published a children’s book titled Mommy’s High Heeled Shoes, which celebrates working mothers and teaches young readers about all the different “shoes” their working mommies wear. It was her own challenges with food allergies in her family that lead her to the road she currently walks down.
“A good dietician will tell you what to eat, not just what not to eat,” Finnan says. She aims to do just that by teaching her clients their endless options, as opposed to just lists of avoid this, avoid that. Her son follows a gluten free diet due to severe asthma. Finnan is cautionary when it comes to gluten free. “A lot of people aren’t doing (the diet) correctly. There is so much hidden gluten in products you’d never suspect.” She also warns that, although gluten-free seems to be the fad diet du jour, that it really isn’t for everybody. If you don’t have a gluten allergy, or sensitivity due to another condition, there really is no reason for people to avoid gluten.
Finnan knows that it’s not only parents of children with food restrictions that are challenged. “It takes 19 times for a child to accept a new food,” she explains when broached with the topic of picky eaters. Her belief is to keep on trying. “Introduce new foods when your kids are hungry,” she advises. She also encourages adults to lead by example, “Parents’ attitudes towards their food can influence what their children eat. If you don’t eat vegetables, or make a face when tasting a string bean, children pick up on that. Contrary, if they see that mom loves string beans they too will be more inclined to eat them.” Lori Michaels, who runs a fitness and dance studio called Vibe, agrees with this and extends it to fitness as well. She talked to the group about encouraging kids to be active, the other piece to good nutrition and healthy attitudes towards eating.
So what should we do when our children are refusing dinner? Finnan quotes her favorite family practitioner, “We should all eat like toddlers. Kids are tired (by dinner time), we don’t need this big expectation that they have a giant dinner. Just make sure they eat something, and you can do that by having at least one thing they do like on their plate with everything else.” She also recommends calendar rewards charts for encouraging good eating habits, as well as making food “cute” by getting creative with the ways you serve healthy snacks. Cute little fruit constructed critters anyone?
For more from Kristie follow her @KristieFinnan
To learn more about Bergen County’s Habitat For Humanity Chapter follow @HabitatBergen