Cooking for Different Shapes and Sizes

We all come in different shapes and sizes. Feeding your family is hard enough, but appealing to what you think your different-shaped kids need can be an overwhelming task.

Photo by: Chris Gramly ©2013 Chris Gramly

Chris Gramly, 2013 Chris Gramly

It's fun to find a dad’s eyes and a mom's smile on a toddler’s face, and when I can figure out the sisters in a group just by their mannerisms, I feel proud, like I just solved a puzzle. The sensitive me always notices a dad carrying a baby and wishes I could reverse time and hold my kids at that young age one more day. The professional me is quick to note when one kid appears thin and athletic and the other looks round and soft. Same gene pool. Same food in the fridge. Same access to exercise and likely similar lifestyles.

I parent this one myself: Rex has been called "string bean" and Maizy "juicy" by well-meaning friends. I cringe at these descriptions but, of course, love the beautiful little packages called bodies that they come in. I just want them to be healthy, fit and free from body-image issues. They’re kids, after all, and I don’t have a crystal ball to tell me if their body types will take after me, their dad, or a grandparent or great-grandparent from generations back. It doesn't matter what look like on the outside; I’m glad they are just as they are.

Just like there may be something to birth order or gender differences, eating to your body type may be something worth exploring. In Ayurvedic practices it is referred to as eating for your dosha. I notice that Maizy prefers the quinoa and sweet potatoes, and she wants a second helping of dessert. Rex can be less enthusiastic about his meals, but he reliably wants steak, sea bass, and late-night snacks of seaweed and peppers. It feels impossible to parent them the same way when it comes to food (oh, and everything else too, I guess!).

We all worry about our kid who seems like he eats more than he needs getting an imbalance or overabundance of nutrition. We worry that our other kid isn’t eating enough to support his growing body and immune system. Anyone with me on this one? I’ve done the research (and practice what I preach to the best of my ability, of course), and I’ll tell you this is one tough issue to parent. Here’s what I’d have us do:

Be consistent with your Food Culture. Just as there should not be short-order cooking for each kid, each kid should not be put on his or her own "diet." Your family needs a manifesto, philosophy or, as I like to call it, Food Culture that you follow. This Food Culture is a set of rules that work for your household. Make simple rules. Everyone sits together for dinner. We all taste everything offered. Dessert is offered every night. As you come up with your Food Culture, establish rules that promote healthy behaviors, good food choices and an opportunity for your kids to have some control and independence over their eating. An example of promoting independence is having your kiddos put their own veggies on their plates or choose what starch is served at dinner.

Focus on health and wellness, not body shape or size. I'll admit it freaks me out that Maizy could eat through the better part of a pint of ice cream while Rex may request more kale chips. I never let 'em see me sweat. "Kids, here's your ice cream. Enjoy." "Mom, can I have some more?" "Sorry, kiddo, ice cream is a treat and that's all you get. It’s not going to give you the power you need for gymnastics tomorrow. If you’re still hungry in 20 minutes, I’ll slice up some cucumbers." As your kids grow, they'll bring questions about their bodies to you. One of their friends calls herself "skinny" and another "fat," and your daughter will want to know what you think of her body. Tell her that you love her the most in the world, and it doesn’t matter what she looks like, but it really matters that she's as healthy as she can possibly be (which is why you keep trying to get her to eat the turnips). Don't just say it. Believe it.

Expect changes. Listen, there is a method to this growing-up thing. Babies and kids get plump. Then they get taller. Then they get plump. Then they get taller. Do not mess with this process by putting your babe on a diet, unless there is a medical reason to do so. Restricting calories and not meeting your child's needs is extremely dangerous. Overfueling your kid can have backlash too. Let puberty reveal what is to become of your child's body by offering a healthful diet, making sure physical activity is as important every day as brushing teeth and making sure your kids get enough rest to recharge their bodies. The gangly kid who is "all arms and legs" will fill out. The pudgy and round little one will lengthen and redistribute. Hormones do amazing things.

Walk the walk. Don't be afraid to talk about your own experiences and observe others with your kids. You can compare two puppies' shapes and sizes to start a healthy dialogue with your kids. You can talk about your own sister who got tons of attention as a ballerina and your success in field hockey. You can share your fears that if your children aren’t eating healthfully, they may have problems that come from poor food choices. Remind them (and yourself) that we each get only one body, and it may not look like anyone else’s in the family, but it’s up to you to take great care of it.

This recipe served with a side of brown rice has a funny way of appealing to your meat eaters, sweet treaters and carb lovers alike.

Raspberry Salmon
Total Time: 45 min
Yield: 4 servings
24 fresh raspberries
8 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
4 teaspoons freshly squeezed orange juice
1 teaspoon orange peel
2 teaspoons honey
Splash of red wine
Olive oil cooking spray

Four skinless salmon fillets (approximately 4 ounces in size), preferably wild

Mash the raspberries and vinegar with a fork in a small bowl. Stir in the orange juice, orange peel, honey and wine until combined. Set aside.

Coat a nonstick skillet with oil cooking spray and place over medium heat. Cook the salmon for about 4 minutes per side, or until the fish is cooked through. Set aside. Remove the skillet from the heat and carefully wipe away any liquid with a paper towel.

Return the skillet to medium heat and add the reserved raspberry mixture. Stirring constantly, cook 2 minutes, or until just thickened.

Pour the sauce over the salmon and serve with asparagus on the side.

Keri Glassman is the founder and president of Keri Glassman, Nutritious Life and The Nutrition School. She is a contributing editor and advisory board member for Women’s Health Magazine, the Health and Wellness partner for JW Marriott, was Lead Nutritionist for Turner’s health and wellness entertainment brand, upwave and the Nutritionist and Judge on the healthy cooking competition show, “Cook Your Ass Off”. She has authored four books and is regularly featured on The Today Show, Good Morning America, and Access Hollywood Live.

Next Up

Picture Cook: A Different Approach to Home Cooking

Composed of 50 recipe “blueprints,” Katie Shelly's upcoming cookbook covers snacktime to dinnertime with illustrated ingredients and steps.