From the time that your baby sprouts their first tooth, you promise yourself that you’ll raise an adventurous eater. But then real life sets in, and your baby starts showing their food preferences loud and clear. Before you know it, your tot is totally dominating dinnertime (and every other meal, too) and is only eating a very bland and boring diet. According to health expert and New York Times bestselling author Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN, though, the only way to eat is in color. These are her tips and tricks to getting your child (and your family) to eat better, brighter, and most importantly, healthier.
I always wanted to be a veterinarian and I was set on going to Cornell for vet school. I did get into their animal science program, and I did four years of that. And I thought, “Well, they’re teaching me to build a bigger and better cow or sheep,” but somehow that didn’t feel right. It didn’t resonate, but I really did like the animal nutrition classes. It all made sense to me; the carbs, the proteins, etc.
After spending a semester abroad in Australia, I came back and thought, “I’m going to do human nutrition.” So I stayed an extra year and I did that. I knew that I wanted to write but I wasn’t sure if I needed to become a dietitian. I called up an alum who was at Woman’s Day, and I said, “If you had two writers of equal quality and had great clips, but one was an R.D. and the other wasn’t, would you hire the R.D.?” and she said, “Absolutely.” I decided to invest the time and money to get a deeper knowledge of nutrition. I moved to San Francisco, and I worked at an alternative medicine clinic out there. We had an acupuncturist on staff; we had a watsu therapist, a massage therapist, a psychiatrist, two M.D.’s and me. It was an amazing first job as a nutritionist. I did that for a while and then I moved to D.C. when they launched The Discovery Channel.
So how did you achieve your dream of becoming a published author?
Even before I was pregnant, I was always fascinated when I would talk to pregnant women about their food likes, dislikes, and their cravings. I vividly remember a woman who told me, “My husband can’t eat almonds because when he walks in the room and he has almonds on his breath, it’s turning me off!” I thought it was fascinating how the change in your hormones could affect your food preferences. Before I was pregnant, I sold the idea for Feed the Belly, and then I got pregnant with Willa while I was writing it, which was actually better because I was able to infuse it with my own personal experiences.
You became your own personal focus group.
I did and of course I interviewed many other pregnant women. And the cravings were pretty standard: sweet, salty, meaty. That’s something that I’m still passionate about, prenatal nutrition and children’s nutrition.
Now how do you balance nutrition in your own house? As we speak, there are cupcakes behind us, but you were telling me that the frosting isn’t what you might think it is.
My philosophy for everyone when it comes to nutrition is 90% fuel, and 10% fun. You have to fuel your body and give it the nutrients it needs. There are so many options out there, and there are so many junky ones, and junky options wrapped in natural packaging, too. But kids and grownups need treats, too. You need to feel like you rewarded yourself for whatever it is. I think that there’s totally room for that. For adults, it might be champagne and chocolate, and for kids it might be cupcakes and juice. I think it’s all about balance.
So yes, these are real cupcakes made with butter and cream cheese, but I don’t use food dyes, which I think is an important choice that any parent can make. They’re making better options that aren’t made with food coloring — they’re dyed with beets or carrot juice. For me, I used strawberries, and we made strawberry icing. It made it pink, and it tasted great.
I can attest that they are good. We saw Willa eating one.
[laughs] Yes, and Willa is my oldest but she’s also my picky eater still. And that’s why I wrote Eating in Color because she was starting to develop a very beige diet. Just very plain, like chicken, bread, pasta – nothing wrong with these foods but that was the only thing she was eating. I thought, “I can’t deal with that because I’m a nutritionist,” and I wanted her to eat the brightly colored stuff. But you can’t talk to a kid and ask them to eat broccoli because it’s good for them. It’s more like, “Let’s eat pink” or “Let’s eat green” or “Let’s eat red.” So if I add some dragon fruit to a smoothie, it actually doesn’t have much flavor but the color is amazing. And then she’ll drink it just because it’s beautiful.
I think if you get your kids in the kitchen with you, they’re more likely to eat it because they’re invested in it.
Yes, and the same investment is true if you let them pick stuff out. Go to the farmer’s market or the supermarket and let them choose an ingredient and then you come home, and you choose a recipe together and make it together. Even if they don’t love it, they’re still going to try it because they picked it out.
Parents don’t always believe it when I tell them this, but the number one influence over what kids will eat is what the parents eat. So if you never eat salads, they’re not going to eat salads.
What is your preference in terms of nutritional focus?
I would say that the majority of people who come to me are women and moms. They’re working moms and they’re dealing with they don’t have time or the interest in cooking but they want to eat well. Sometimes I’m overhauling the whole family’s diet or the mom’s diet, but it really depends on what their goals are. Athletics is also a passion for me; it’s fueling for fitness which is another focus of mine.
But we are a time-starved society, so I teach people ways, even if they don’t want to cook, that they can eat healthy. Even in an urban environment, there are so many ways to get food these days.
How would you encourage families to eat healthier?
Even I don’t get to the farmer’s market all the time, but I just go on one Saturday. You will feel so inspired when you see the sugar snap peas, or the asparagus spears and the radishes. It’s all so pretty and so lovely and they don’t really need much to make them taste good. Maybe a little drizzle of olive oil and that’s about it. You can start grilling, too, so a simple meal of grilled veggies and a grilled protein and you’re happy as a clam.
I think people’s tastes change as the seasons change and every time the seasons change, it’s a great opportunity to try some new seasonal produce. My kids actually know when certain fruits or veggies are in season. Sometimes I think that they’re not absorbing what I’m saying about it, but they are. Willa will say to me, “Mommy, cherries aren’t in season right now,” and she’s right.
You’re a busy mom of three. How do you balance it all?
Well, I’m freelance so I get to work from home which is a real pleasure. I’m able to drop my kids off in the morning and then have my workday. I started a new YouTube channel called “The Milk & Honey Kitchen with Frances.” I would get up extra early to prep the food and stay up late to do some extra prep. But then you get it done and it’s all worth it because you’re happy with the results. Some days I don’t get to cook but I try to shut everything off by 4:00, cook from 4:00-5:00 and then go get the kids. It’s a lot of planning in advance and I really like using those meal kit deliveries. If you get three meals a week, then you know what you’re making that week. You have to make it because it’s already in the fridge and prepped. It incentivizes you to actually cook. In 10 years, I’d like to have a beautiful garden. It’s not happening now, though.
I’d also say to try to be adventurous. It can be hard because families tend to get stuck in a rut more than single people. It’s always a good time to evaluate your eating habits and your fitness goals. Every day is a new chance to make a new start. Every meal is a chance to make good decisions. You can always make small changes and they really add up. You might not see it overnight, but those small changes add up to big results. And when you see those results, it will motivate you to keep doing it more. Even adding an extra serving of fruits or vegetables, because none of us are getting enough.
Everyone has a food weakness. What’s yours?
Ooohh! [laughs] I do like champagne, and I do like cheese. I’m getting to be not so much a sweets person. But to sit down with some cheese and fig jam, I could sit down and have a leisurely picnic of that for hours — with a bottle of champagne or wine.