How Do I Change My Child’s Summer Eating Habits?

My husband doesn’t believe me. “How can we spend $300 on groceries and have nothing left by Tuesday!,” he laments. I get it … I wouldn’t believe it either if I didn’t see it with my own eyes. But I have seen it; every day this summer, my boys have eaten enough to feed a small village. And they’re still hungry!

I sat down with no-nonsense, Dallas-based nutritionist Caroline Susie, RD to find a solution to my problem. An award-winning, self-proclaimed “dietitian by day, foodie by night,” Susie frequently appears on NBC DFW, Fox 4 News, WFAA and more to share her honest and logical approach to health.

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Hi Caroline! My children are eating everything in sight this summer. Should children follow the same three meals/two snacks schedule recommended for adults?
Absolutely! The most important part of creating healthy eating habits in adults and children is keeping a regular eating schedule. There isn’t a “most important meal of the day;” it’s consistency that’s key. Your children should expect to eat every two-to-three hours from breakfast until dinner. This will keep their bodies properly fueled and safe from crashing. Just like adults, if they don’t eat enough earlier in the day, they are prone to overeat later.


How can I tell if my child is going through a growth spurt, or if he is just adopting the bad habits of eating too much/too often?
What I would say to you is that you can’t know for sure. However, if your child is eating on that three-meals/two snacks schedule, he should be full. There are a couple of factors at play here: making sure the meals and the snacks are balanced and making sure the portions are adequate.

In order to create the sensation of fullness, each meal and snack offered needs to be a combination of fiber and protein. This could be an apple with nut butter, yogurt with berries, “ants on a log,” homemade trail mix (nuts, dried fruit, pretzels, low-sugar cereal), string cheese and a pear, cheese toast, oatmeal with peanut butter, deli meat with cheese and fruit, etc. If your child is really going through a growth spurt, offer larger portion sizes of these foods instead of letting him eat more frequently.

Also be mindful about where your children are eating. If they are used to plopping in front of the TV and grazing all day, they’re probably just eating out of habit or boredom. Make sure meals are served at the table and not in the living room. This has nothing to do with keeping the couch clean and everything to do with establishing practices of mindful — and, therefore, more satisfying — eating.


When we’re talking about portion sizes, how much does the average child need?  Young children should get three-to-five ounces of whole grains, 1½ cups of veggies, 1½ cups of fruit, two-to-four ounces of protein and 2½ cups of dairy per day. is a great resource for parents who want to learn more. My best advice is to serve your children the same food you eat; their plates should look like mini versions of your own. Model good eating habits in front of them, and — even if it’s not immediate — it will eventually make a difference.

Any tips on getting them to eat those aforementioned veggies?
Please don’t force your children to eat anything. I get that it’s tempting, but don’t even use the “just try one bite” rule. Serve their meals with a safe food (something you know they’ll eat) on the plate, and just keep introducing the vegetables alongside it over and over again.

Always talk about color when you talk about food with your children. They are not interested in what is “healthy” or “good for you,” but telling them that blue foods help their brains or red food helps their hearts is pretty cool. Also, don’t rule out the possibility that you may just have a total pain-in-the-butt, picky eater. That has nothing to do with you! You did nothing wrong. If little Timmy won’t eat his veggies now, he will one day. Just stay consistent and quit worrying about it.

How often should I be allowing treats?
I think it’s completely fine for a child to have one “treat” (sweets, fried foods, chips) every day. As long as it’s a healthy portion, introducing one treat a day can help lay the groundwork for a healthy relationship with sweets/unhealthy foods. If you don’t demonize treats, your children will learn how to incorporate them into their balanced diets. They only become a problem if the portions are too large or if they are enjoyed too frequently.


Should I close the kitchen after dinner, or is that messing with my children’s ability to trust their own hunger?
As I mentioned earlier, predictable meal times are very important. However, if you have increased your child’s portion sizes and he is still waking up hungry in the middle of the night, you may need to add a bedtime snack to the schedule. Same rules of protein/fiber meal balance apply.

Should my children take a probiotic daily? And how important is dairy?
Probiotics certainly can’t hurt, but they’re not doing anything yogurt can’t do. As for dairy, I’m a big believer. It’s an important vehicle for calcium and vitamin D, and there are now studies linking children who drink milk alternatives with being shorter than their milk-drinking counterparts. People need to quit believing “Karen” on Facebook spouting dairy myths and instead consult the experts. Osteoporosis is a childhood disease with adult consequences.

If your children aren’t milk drinkers, try mixing in chocolate powder. Or how about making a fruit smoothie, mixing milk into their oatmeal, or finishing dinner with a pudding cup?

If we notice our child is putting on extra weight, how should we handle that?
You don’t. If your child is putting on some extra weight and his pediatrician is not concerned, just continue to serve him healthy foods on a regular schedule. He is most likely about to go through a growth spurt.

Keep offering balanced meals and snacks at predictable times. Stay active as a family, and have some fun! You don’t want to make the weight an issue and risk triggering an unhealthy relationship with food.


How much exercise or physical activity should our children get each day? Should we get them to “workout “ — creating that lifelong habit — or just play?
Whether you are a child or an adult, everyone should “play” for 30–60 minutes each day. Model this healthy behavior and make it a priority in your life. Explain to your children that you’re going to yoga or spin class because that’s what you love … that’s your “play.” Speak to them in these terms, and show them that you do it because it’s fun, not because it’s an obligation. It will make a difference to them.

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Get Caroline’s Must-Have Snack List, Trader Joe’s Staples and “Just Tell Me What To Eat” Meal Plan here.


Have you ever tried Recipe-Free Cooking?








What I Wish You Knew: My Child Has A Life-Threatening Food Allergy

By Guest Blogger Heather Elise Duge

A few bites of a scrambled egg changed our lives forever.

About six years ago, I had just finished feeding our baby and put her down to play. The moments that followed are a blur. I remember my husband calling for me to come quickly. Our baby looked unrecognizable — hives all over and facial swelling to the point that her eyes had closed. I remember praying the whole way to the hospital, begging God to not let it get any worse. As we pulled in, her lips had swollen to double their size. She struggled to breathe. Epinephrine saved her life that day.

And just like that, we were thrown into a whole new world of life-threatening food allergies … a world that involves lots of learning and navigating as we go … a world where we live with the jarring reality that one wrong bite could be fatal.

Kids making dough

Before we left the hospital that day, the E.R. doctor diagnosed her with anaphylaxis, gave us an EpiPen prescription and warned us not to give her any new foods until testing. But I didn’t realize what I ate could affect her, too. After a few bites of trail mix one day, I kissed her on the cheeks, and every kiss left a hive. Testing revealed it’s not just egg. She also has severe allergies to peanut, tree nuts, sesame, soy, mustard and shrimp.

Fast forward a few years, and I was pregnant with our baby boy. He underwent testing at four-months old, and — to our surprise — no food allergies were revealed. I was so relieved. But we knew in the back of our minds that he was more likely to develop them. Nearly three years went by and still no allergies, until a few bites of a peanut butter pretzel at a friend’s house changed our lives again. He vomited.

My husband was at work, so the three of us jumped in the car and headed to the hospital, just in case. I knew the drill — if the reaction involves two bodily systems, grab the Epi. It quickly progressed to hives and swelling. My shaky hands dug into my purse for my daughter’s EpiPen as I swerved to the side of the road and reached back to inject it into his thigh. The next thing I knew we were in the E.R. with my swollen and pale toddler hearing the doctor repeat those familiar words, “You saved his life today. Don’t ever hesitate to use the EpiPen.

And just like that we had two children with life-threatening food allergies.

Jack learning epipen

Food Allergies Are On The Rise
Unless someone has a child with food allergies, I don’t expect them to know the ins and outs of it all. That’s why education and awareness are so important. That’s why I’m writing this article. One in 13 children has severe food allergies, and 75% of these cases occur in children with no prior family diagnosis. Each reaction can be different and range in severity, but those with food allergies must always be prepared.

Chances are you already go to a place (like our church) that ensures a nut-free environment. Chances are your child will probably know someone with food allergies and could save a life. It happened to my sister, who has sesame and tree nut allergies, when she reacted to unlabeled sesame flour in a restaurant’s tortilla wrap, and her college roommate knew how to use the EpiPen.


Cross-Contact Is Like Playing Russian Roulette
Reading food labels has become second nature to us (who knew Chewy SweeTARTS contain egg?). You may notice some foods labeled with “may contain peanuts” or “made on shared equipment with peanuts, tree nuts and egg.” That equipment may or may not be cleaned thoroughly enough to avoid a rogue almond or sesame seed making its way into the wrong food. On top of that, each manufacturer can change its protocols at any time.

The U.S. has become better about labeling for the top eight allergens, but other foods — like sesame — can be tricky. Since sesame allergies are on the rise, legislation to include it in the top allergens has been passed in some states. Texas has yet to do that. Foods like crackers, cereals, bread and more may contain sesame and be labeled under “flavoring” or “spices,” as a teen’s father found out the hard way after watching his daughter collapse on a plane from eating a sandwich with unlabeled sesame in the dough.

Eating out and avoiding seven different allergens is hard, so we cook a lot. Thank goodness my husband has found he really enjoys cooking, and we all love the result. Our favorites so far are made-from-scratch pizza and donuts.

homemade donuts

Kids Are Learning To Be Their Own Advocates, But They’re Still Just Kids … 
A child with food allergies has big responsibilities. At age three, both of our children learned to recite their list of allergies. They know how to use their epinephrine auto-injectors. I’ve heard them describe their allergies to friends and why they can’t eat certain foods. They are both very aware and cautious, but that doesn’t change the fact that they are still just kids and need support and guidance from others on this food allergy journey.

Kindness Truly Does Go A Long Way
I remember thinking I knew we had to find the good that could come out of this. After six years, I’ve come to realize that the silver lining is watching our children learn what empathy means, like when teachers prayed each morning for a reaction-free day and taught the students, by example, what it means to put others before yourself. Or when a staff member in the lunchroom went above and beyond to make sure lunchtime was safe and enjoyable for her. Or when a neighbor with a cake business helped me frost my daughter’s homemade birthday cake. Or when a friend’s pinata broke open at her birthday party, and my daughter could eat all the candy. Or when a boy in her class took it upon himself to be the “peanut police” every day at lunch. Or when that same boy’s mom wrote to me at the end of the year to tell me that eliminating allergens had made them more creative with food, and that she was grateful to find healthier alternatives. Or when our neighbor threw safe candy with a sweet note over our fence. Or when moms asked to bring safe cookies for their child’s birthday because they wanted my daughter to be included. Or when moms in charge of a special day at school made sure she could eat all the snacks. Or when a sixth grader planned an allergy-free treat section at our school’s pumpkin patch. To say our kids are grateful for these acts of kindness is an understatement. And in turn, they have learned to think of others before themselves, knowing how it feels when others sacrifice so they can be included.

Allergy-free treats at pumpkin patch

I Rely On God In A Whole New Way
I get the question from mom friends all the time, “How do you deal with knowing that one mix up could be tragic?” The short answer is Jesus. I’m on my knees in prayer much more than I was before this diagnosis. The reality that a lick of peanut butter or a sesame seed could take my child’s life forces me to rely on God in a totally different way.

We Never Leave Home Without Our EpiPens
We are told to always carry two EpiPens with us. Because there have been times when one is not enough. But sometimes even three is not enough, in the case of Natalie Giorgi who unknowingly ate peanuts in a Rice Krispies treat.

For the Debbs family, their son Oakley is the driving force behind a campaign, Red Sneakers For Oakley, to educate others that epinephrine — not an antihistamine — is the only medication that will treat anaphylaxis. Oakley had always been vigilant to avoid nuts and experienced only a few mild reactions before one Thanksgiving when he unknowingly grabbed a piece of cake containing nut extract. His parents were not prepared for what was to come.

In “Lessons from a Teen Food Allergy Tragedy,” Dr. Robert Wood, director of Pediatric Allergy and Immunology at the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center said, “Epinephrine needs to be given promptly in the event of a reaction; the longer it’s delayed before being given, the greater chances that it won’t work.”

Sometimes food allergy parents may seem overprotective. But here’s the kicker. If we get it wrong, we don’t get to hit the reset button.


family beach pic

Heather Elise Duge is a freelance writer for pediatric hospitals in the DFW area. Before her first child was born, she was a writer for Children’s Health and story producer for a documentary, “Children’s Med Dallas.” Heather enjoys volunteering, teaching preschoolers at Sunday school and spending time with her husband and two children. 


Want to know what life is like for other moms? Read our “What I Wish You Knew” series:

What I Wish You Knew: I’m Raising A Black Son In America


What I Wish You Knew: Life For Refugee Mothers

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Real Dinner: Sausage, Peppers and Rice

This is one of our favorite weeknight dinners, and it’s easy, cheap and healthy! Determine the amounts based on your family’s appetite and preferences. It’s that simple!



Preheat oven to 400° F. Slice sausage and peppers and place them on pan lined in parchment paper. Drizzle with olive oil, salt, pepper, paprika and Gateway to the North seasoning. Cook for 20 minutes.

Cook rice 90 seconds in microwave and serve sausage/pepper mixture on top. Voila!


Recipe-Free Cooking: Lemon Chicken Pasta

I try very hard not to use recipes in my daily life because they stress me out. I used to love cooking — the wine, the music, the sounds, the smells — and then I had children. And these children expect to be fed all. the. time. At the exact moment I begin a recipe, the whole brood storms the kitchen and demands immediate sustenance and libations. I lose my train of thought as I defend myself from the bombardment.

But, I digress …

For this reason, I try to just cook. Tonight’s recipe-free meal was brought to you by:

Here’s how I cook:

  • While cooking the penne, sauté garlic in olive oil and butter (amounts don’t matter; who cares).
  • Add chopped rotisserie chicken meat to pan.
  • Add peas (that you have already cooked in microwave).
  • Add fines herbs and lemon juice.
  • Put olive oil, salt and pepper on drained pasta.
  • Add chicken/peas mixture to pasta.
  • Add lemon slice to remind everyone that you are fancy.
  • Serve children pasta on one side and chicken/peas on the other side because you just know better than to mix them.Bon Appetit!

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The Girl Next Door’s Apple Bourbon Pie

My next-door neighbors’ daughter, Mallory, is not only beautiful and kind, she is an incredible baker, as well. She’s always delivering sweet treats to my boys … and they’re always delicious.

malloryBelow is her recipe for Apple-Bourbon Pie, a satisfying mix of cinnamon, sugar and apples with a kick! It would be perfect as the grand finale of your backyard barbecue.

You can find all of her recipes at Mallory, Inc. Oh, and don’t miss her Summertime Lemon-Strawberry Pie. Yum!


Apple Bourbon Pie

prep time: 30 min

cook time: 50 min

total time: 1 hr, 20 min

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1. You can cut your apple slices however you’d like them, but I find that slices of pie hold better with the long, lengthwise apple slices, rather than cut into cubes!

2. Slice your apples and let sit in all the goodness of the cinnamon sugar juices while you make your crust.

3. I make my own crust only because it’s my favorite part of the process, but you can use a store bought one! I use the pie crust recipe from Leigh Anne Wilkes’ blog, Your Home Based Mom, that I found a while back. Big fan!


pie crust

2 1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup butter, cold and cubed

1/2 cup crisco

2 teaspoon kosher salt

egg wash topping

1 egg

1 tablespoon water


3 granny smith apples, peeled and sliced

3 honey crisp apples, peeled and sliced

3/4 cup dark brown sugar

1/2 cup sugar

1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/4 teaspoon ginger

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1 teaspoon kosher salt

2 tablespoon of bourbon

1/4 cup tapioca starch

2 tablespoon arrow root starch



1. Peel skin from apples and slice into thin slices.

2. In a large bowl mix apples, both sugars, vanilla, salt and spices until completely combined.

3. Pour 2T of bourbon over the mixture, then add tapioca starch and arrow root starch.

4. Let rest while you make your crust or pour immediately into a ready made crust.

pie crust

1. While your filling cooks, measure flour and salt into a large mixing bowl. Add cubed butter and shortening on top.

2. Mix with your hands to incorporate ingredients, breaking apart the chunks of butter and shortening until the dough looks loose and pebbly. The largest chunk of butter or shortening you see should be the size of a pea.

3. Add ice water one tablespoon at a time, still mixing your dough as you add each tablespoon. Be careful not to over-water! You want the dough to stick together but not be too wet or sticky. (It’s okay that you still have some butter chunks!)

4. Form the dough into a large ball, then cut in half.

5. Transfer from out the bowl to a sheet of plastic wrap, placing one of the dough balls in the middle of the sheet. Fold the plastic wrap in half over the dough and roll out with a rolling pin to about ¾ inch disk. It doesn’t have to be a perfect disk! The wrap will just keep your dough together and be the final solidifying step. Do so for both dough balls.

6. Wrap up tightly and place in the freezer for about 20-30 min to firm up.

7. Remove from the freezer and place on a large floured cutting board and roll out into a 15” or so disk.

8. Once it’s rolled out, roll the dough around the rolling pin like a scroll. Do so, by starting at the top. Hold the top of the dough and roll the pin towards yourself, wrapping the dough around it.

9. Take your scroll of dough and lay on the edge of 9” pie plate. Repeat the step above, but instead of rolling, unroll the dough over the top of the plate.

10. Let the dough sink down into the pie plate, don’t push it or stretch it into the bottom of the plate!

You can fold the excess dough around the edges of the plate underneath itself to crimp or create a design.

11. Poke the bottom of the pie with a fork about 6-8 times to allow steam to escape.


1. Pour apple mixture into the crust.

2. The second dough disk, you can roll out into into a 12 in disk and place over the apples, crimping at the edges, and cutting 3 slits in the top to allow steam to escape. Or, you can try lattice work! Whatever, suits your fancy!

3. Finally, in a small bowl mix one egg and one tablespoon of water.

4. Using a pastry brush, brush over the top of the the pie. This will make sure you’re pie is golden brown and beautiful!

5. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 min, then cover with tin foil and bake for 10 more minutes.

My Favorite Mom Hack: Recipe-Free Cooking

I am not a chef. I wouldn’t even consider myself a cook. This is why the daily plight of feeding a family of five dinner gives me heart palpitations.

Though I am admittedly obsessed with reading cookbooks and watch Food Network religiously, I hate following recipes. Trying to keep three children entertained while following along and executing a recipe is just too much to ask. So, here’s my secret to getting dinner on the table every night: I just cook the things.

Once you have some basic kitchen skills and a rudimentary understanding of ingredients that work well together, JUST. COOK. THE. FOOD. Quit overthinking this cooking and meal planning thing. You don’t need to spend the only free time you have making a freezer full of casseroles and slow cooker “dump meals” (which, by the way, can we please as a caring society collectively rename?!). You don’t have to spend hours meal planning. You don’t even need a recipe or a plan of any sort. Here’s what you do need:

-Olive Oil and butter
-Lemons, limes
-Garlic, onions
-The ability to sauté, use an oven, boil pasta, and slice, dice and chop!

Now, take all of that knowledge and walk into the grocery store without a list … Exhilarating, isn’t it? You’ll want to know how many dinners — and, therefore, proteins/veggies/grains —you need. For instance, if I’m making 4 dinners I know I need 4 proteins, probably 6-8 veggies and 2-4 starches/grains, depending whether I’m making a pasta or not.

Now, buy what is on sale. I learned to do this the hard way. I would come to the grocery store armed with a list of ingredients based on fun, new recipes, and meanwhile I would completely miss out on the fact that salmon or steak was hugely on sale that week. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice …

Next, make your combos. So, let’s say salmon is, indeed, on sale. Now, I know that salmon goes well with asparagus and brown rice because I like to dine out. If brown rice is too expensive but pasta is cheap, I will put together some sort of salmon, asparagus, lemon pasta. Meal one is done!

Let’s try another one. Let’s say sausage is on sale. Sausage works well with peppers, so I’ll make that combo from brown rice, onion, peppers, and broccoli. Once I get in the kitchen, I’ll figure out what I want to do with it. I might throw the sausage in slow cooker than morning with the peppers and onions. Or, if it’s a crazy morning, I’ll just sauté or roast everything together and toss it over the rice. I’ll add my spices based on my mood. There are no rules! Just cook the food.

Once you cook like this for awhile, you learn to love it. The heavy weight of meal planning, shopping for ingredients and following instructions just lifts from your shoulders, and you’ll actually enjoy cooking again. At first you have to learn to trust yourself in the kitchen, but you’ll get more confident the more you do it.

You’ll save money, time, and — most importantly — headspace. Food should be fun, not just another thing “to do.” Now go cook some food and enjoy your life!