Nutrition Coaching a Single Mother and Daughter – Day 1

This post is the first in a series I’m publishing over the next 10 days. It will be about my experiences with a client that has hired me to do in-home nutrition coaching for her and her daughter over 6 consecutive school days. I will be in their home early in the mornings to help prepare breakfast, lunch to-go, and then again for dinner. The mother, I’ll call her Becky, is athletic and in good physical condition. She was a client several years ago. She’s read a few books about Paleo and after removing grains from her diet no longer gets stomach cramps. Her challenge is executing the details of the diet, feeling confident about selecting the best foods to eat, and modifying her daily routine so it’s easier to plan and prepare meals.  Sylvia is 11 years old, overweight and addicted to sugar. Becky is a stage performer with variable work hours. She’s often not home in the evenings and doesn’t get home until her daughter is asleep in bed. Sylvia sees her father on weekends. Unfortunately a weekend with Dad consists of watching sports on TV with pizza and sweetened drinks.

On the first day Mom asked me to explain the rationale of eating whole foods to Sylvia. At first I thought it would be better for her to hear this from her mother but also understood the advantage of an outsider explaining this. I’m accustomed to working with adults and found myself a bit challenged to do this in a way that is palatable for a child. I gave Sylvia an overview of the major food groups and quizzed her on which foods are considered protein, fat and carbs. I talked about the importance of food combining. That a great meal is one that has all three food groups and in the right proportions. We talked about how damaging sugar and too much fruit can be. Because of her age I kept it simple and light. I didn’t want this to feel like a lecture. Sylvia has a quick mind but I could see that she got bored quickly. It was a challenge to keep her engaged while maintaining a sense of playfulness. I’ll reinforce the food combining later in the week by asking her to design a meal that we can prepare together. I want to be sure that she at least understands why it’s best not to eat even healthy carbs without fat and protein.

IMG_2867Early in the morning after our first evening session Becky and I roasted a beautiful leg of lamb so Sylvia could take it with her to school.  There was left-over sweet potato and half of an avocado. She likes raw bell peppers so we threw in some of those too. As she left she seemed happy about taking a colorful, well-balanced meal to school.  And I was feeling good about myself for designing a lunch that excited her.

When she got back from school I greeted her with anticipation and asked how it went. She looked a bit scared to tell me. Uh oh. At her school, students cannot put lunches in a refrigerator, nor do they have access to a microwave. They do not have their own lockers which means she has to carry a backpack around all day and leave it outside during recess, before lunch, potentially exposing the food to high temperatures.

When she opened her lunch container she looked at the 4-hour old lamb and thought it might not taste good because it had been at room temperature for so long. It was cold. She had 2 bites of it and couldn’t stomach anymore. She also didn’t like how the avocado had browned nor how the sweet potato next to it had been invaded by the browned avocado that was smushed into it. She did eat most of the vegetables. But alas most of the protein had not been eaten. She ended up going hungry most of the day until the after-school cooking class which, ugh, baked wheat- and gluten-laden cookies that day. She admitted to eating one. Becky and I applauded her honesty. I tried not to show my disappointment but I’m sure she sensed it. I felt like I had failed her. Was this a harbinger of things to come? Would she be reluctant to eat protein at lunch? How could the school make it so difficult for kids to eat well?

I asked her which protein options would work for her. She listed sausages, bacon and salami. Smart girl. She correctly identified protein foods. Then the three of us brainstormed how we can pack meat that will still be enjoyable to eat after 4 hours at room temperature. IMG_2881She came up with cold bacon and cold cuts as her preferences. I can live with cold cuts but since these are usually not the best quality meats I was down on that one. The idea Becky and I liked the best is to add meat (in this case lamb) to a butternut squash soup that’s inside a thermos so it can stay warm. We’ll try this for Monday. Becky and I, mostly Becky, made this soup from scratch. The day I arrived she had chicken broth going in her stock pot and the squash baking in the oven.

As expected Sylvia has been asking to eat refined carbs and high-sugar fruits. We’ve been presenting her with low- or no-carb alternatives and she has mostly been satisfied with them.  Becky had already transitioned her off of sweetened drinks and grains. This is huge.

Lessons For Me: Know the specifics of the school lunch environment. Does the child have access to a microwave? Can lunch be stored somewhere inside to at least to keep it away from outdoor sun? Would the school accept a donation of a microwave? Know which proteins have previously been packed for lunch. A child may say they like something but then after a bite realize they don’t.

© Eddie Eriksson, 2014