From the financial industry to wellness specialist, Jessica Lehmann went after her true calling after moving from New York City to Phoenix, Arizona. While pregnant with her first child, Jessica enrolled in a Masters program. Three children later, she became a registered dietitian.

Busy as she is, Jessica has managed to successfully have both a wonderful family life and a fulfilling career. We had a chance to catch up with her and ask her for some healthy tips on eating healthy, especially with little children.

You can follow Jessica on Twitter at @JessicaTheRD and check out her website at jessicatherd.tumblr.com for tons of helpful tips.



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You're a busy working mom of three boys with the youngest less than a year old. How do you balance work and home life?

The challenges of balancing my work and taking care of our family can be difficult, but it’s worth it in the long run because teaching college classes and writing make me a happier mom.  It feels really good to accomplish a lot every day.  Not every day is perfectly balanced, though.  It’s ok.  I can’t get caught up in the guilt because it’s a waste of time. 

 I try to be organized and plan ahead. I make lists of things that need to be done, and prioritize them.  I have a great network of loved ones to help out with the kids.  Fortunately, my husband’s parents live near us, and they can pick up our two older ones from school, take them to swim lessons or Little League games, and they’ll even take them for an occasional sleepover.   My friends and I are very supportive of each other’s struggles to balance work and family and we try to help each other out whenever possible.  It definitely takes a village!

 How and why did you get into the field of nutrition?

I’ve always been interested in food and health.  I grew up in a family that loves to eat!  In my twenties, when I was living in New York after college, I was having trouble with my weight and I had developed some food allergies. I wanted to understand what was going on, from a scientific perspective.  

As a Registered Dietitian, teaching and writing about nutrition means that I get to focus on the connections between food and health.  I believe in eating a whole foods, plant-based diet rich in fiber, phytochemicals, lean proteins, and heart-healthy fats. 

The less junk food, the better!  The fewer chemicals and additives, the better.  There are so many interesting scientific discoveries happening these days and they all point us back toward this way of eating for optimal health and effective weight management.  

Nutrition is the foundation of wellness.  In order to feel good, you have to feed your body what it needs!

 What do you love about your profession?

 It feels good to know that I am helping people improve their health through more nutritious eating.  Just think – if you eat three times a day, that’s over 1000 chances to do something good for your health in one year.  Preparing my college students who are tomorrow’s dietitians, nurses, physicians, and parents is really important for generations to come, too.  

You have a blog and made TV appearances talking about healthy food, what would be your ultimate professional goal?

I love to educate and inspire people to make more nutritious food choices.  Healthy eating is relevant to everyone in all stages of life and from all walks of life.  So I’d like to spread this message to as many people as possible.

Most people know they should eat healthy, but don't have the willpower to keep up with it. What are some suggestions that are easy to implement and to keep going?

 My favorite shortcuts to a healthier diet:

Add two servings of vegetables to every meal.  Make each serving the size of your fist.  A cup of raw leafy greens equals one serving, though. In general, adding vegetables to your diet will improve your health because you will be increasing the amount of fiber, vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and antioxidants.  

Choose foods in their most natural form.  For example, eat a whole apple instead of drinking apple juice or eating an apple-flavored snack bar.   

Find out how your diet measures up.  Step 1: keep a log of what you eat and drink.  Step 2: Put your data into a software program that will analyze your diet. The SuperTracker feature on www.ChooseMyPlate.gov is an excellent - and free - dietary analysis tool. There are also a lot of easy-to-use smartphone apps out there.   You’ll also input your own information (e.g. height, weight, age, gender, activity level, whether you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, etc.) and create a list of your personal nutrient needs.  Step 3:  Using the program, create a report that evaluates your actual intake against your needs.  Based on how your diet measures up, the SuperTracker program will give you specific suggestions that you can use to eat more healthfully.

Some parents feed their kids unhealthy foods because it's convenient. What advice would you give them?

I totally understand the need for convenience.  I recommend planning ahead and creating a menu of healthy meals and snacks for the week.  Try cooking in advance. Keep your refrigerator and pantry stocked with ingredients for simple, nutritious meals and snacks.  Eggs, soups, canned beans, and frozen vegetables and fruits are my favorite shortcuts.  I make brown rice and green smoothies in large batches and freeze them in small, easily thawed units.  

Create your own “convenience foods”.  Make it easy for yourself or for your kids to find a healthy snack.  For example, wash and prep vegetables and fruits.  Slice or chop them into ready-to-eat bite-sized pieces and keep them in small containers or bags that are easy to grab on your way out the door.

More examples of convenient foods to pre-make: half of a turkey sandwich on whole grain bread with mustard, lettuce, and tomatoes, a cup of low-fat yogurt and chopped strawberries, a cup of baby carrots and celery sticks and 2 Tbsp ranch dressing, ½ cup cherry tomatoes plus 4 low-fat cheese cubes the size of dice, and homemade trail mix that includes ¼ cup sunflower seeds, ¼ cup pretzels, ¼ cup raisins, and 1/8 cup chocolate chips. 

 What are some typical meals you serve your family?

Pasta salads with vegetables and chicken, stir-fried vegetables and chicken with rice, bean and cheese quesadillas with salsa, homemade pizza, vegetable quiche.  And when my kids get baked chicken nuggets or fish sticks, I try to balance it out by serving them with lots of vegetables and fruits.   

Tip: serve the vegetables first when your kids are hungriest. I put out a plate of raw vegetables and dip on the table for my kids to snack on while they’re waiting for dinner.

Do your kids always eat what you put on their plates? If not, how do you deal with the situation?

Well, two of my kids usually eat whatever they get and they love it.  One of my kids is more particular and doesn’t even like different foods touching each other on the plate.  I always encourage them to try new foods.  Sometimes they don’t feel like it.  It’s important to give them choices, though.  For example, I offer at least two vegetables so they can choose which one they want.  If it doesn’t happen, it’s fine.  All you can do is offer.

You can’t force a kid to eat…at least, not without taking away some of their dignity.  It’s important to keep the power struggle away from the dining table.  So just keep offering the foods that you want them to try, and eventually they will.   

I recommend Ellyn Satter’s Child of Mine: Feeding with Love and Good Sense to parents who are concerned about their kids’ eating behaviors.

For some activities, parents are required to bring snacks and drinks for the group. Many parents hand out fruit juice and chips. How unhealthy is that for kids? Does having just played a sport balance it out at all?

Fruit juice and chips are full of empty calories.  There might be some vitamin C in the fruit juice, but there just aren’t enough nutrients to justify the caloric cost.  Chips are typically high in sodium and low in fiber.  Water and a whole piece of fruit would be a healthier alternative.   

Is feeding your child cheese crackers everyday for snack unhealthy?

In the context of an overall healthy diet, a few cheese crackers are fine occasionally, but for variety’s sake, it’s good to offer a different snack from day to day. Cheese crackers have artificial dyes and flavorings, which no one needs.  They’re also low in fiber and high in sodium.   Snacktime is a great opportunity to serve vegetables and/or fruits to kids.  

 How many sugary drinks can a 6 to 10 year old can drink a day without being "bad?"

 I don’t like to label any eating behavior or any food or beverage as “bad”.   But I would work on replacing that sugary drink with something else, like a club soda with a splash of fruit juice, a fruit and yogurt smoothie, or a nonfat or lowfat milk or other milk substitute.   

My 6 year-old son only eats fresh carrots for a vegetable. Granted he eats them for dinner everyday. Is that enough? 

It’s great that he eats carrots!  But he should be eating vegetables of different colors in order to get the different phytochemicals (plant chemicals, such as the red lycopene from tomatoes) that are good for his health.  

To increase the variety of foods he eats, start by offering vegetables similar to carrots, such as turnips, parsnips, beets, and sweet potatoes.  Also, serve carrots as one part of a dish mixed with other types of vegetables.   

How unhealthy are processed carbs? Should they be completely replace with whole grains? What are some good options in terms of taste and texture?

The USDA guideline is to make half of your grains whole.  Ideally, whole grains would replace refined grains because they are higher in fiber, vitamins, and minerals. 

Suggestions:

·         Switch to whole grain bread and pasta

·         Switch to brown rice instead of white rice

·         Try quinoa, which has more protein and fiber

MAY+JUNE 2013

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