Why Meatless Mondays may not be health fix school kids need

Why Meatless Mondays may not be health fix school kids need

Meat’s been expelled from New York City schools on Mondays. But the substitute might not be much better.

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced this week that all New York City public schools will have Meatless Mondays — meaning that cafeterias would serve only vegetarian meals on the first day of the week — starting this fall. De Blasio debuted the news by proudly digging into a grilled cheese and a pile of baked beans at PS 130 in Kensington, one of the 15 Brooklyn schools that participated in a Meatless Monday pilot program starting in spring 2018. Officials say they were successful in getting kids to actually eat and enjoy the meatless options — which include vegetarian tacos, chili and, yes, grilled cheese — so they decided to expand the program to the rest of the city’s 1,800 schools.

De Blasio and school officials are patting themselves on the back for the move, which they say is good for kids’ and the planet’s health. They point out that using less meat will cut down on greenhouse gas emissions and one in five NYC kindergartners is obese.

But meatless doesn’t always mean better for you, according to health experts.

“There’s a very easy way to be less healthy by going meatless,” says Amy Shapiro, a registered dietitian, and nutritionist based in Noho who has three kids in the NYC public school system. “My kids might get a big pretzel or garlic bread at school — I don’t know where the nutrients are, but I know it’s meatless.”

Robin Barrie, a nutritionist who specializes in kids’ eating, agrees — and doesn’t think de Blasio should look so smug about that cheesy sandwich.

“Grilled cheese as part of a healthy balanced diet is fine,” says Barrie. “But I don’t consider it healthy on its own. The saturated fat in a grilled cheese is almost the same as the saturated fat in red meat.”

Plus, the one-day-a-week shift will have a limited impact if the rest of the week’s menu isn’t nutritious, says Barrie, who has worked with schools, including PS 6 on the Upper East Side, on their menus. At PS 130, where de Blasio announced the plan, vegetarian chili and veggie tacos are on the menu for the next two Mondays, but the following Tuesdays bring hamburgers and cheeseburgers — not exactly a dietary win.

And the kids are savvy to the fact that their “healthy” day goes by quickly. When asked about whether her classmates were annoyed by Meatless Mondays, 14-year-old Ella Rindler of PS 130 told CBS New York, “Some people say, ‘I want my chicken nuggets,’ but they serve that on other days.”

That’s why selling kids on healthy meatless meals is going to be such a challenge for New York City cafeterias, says Emily Burson, founder of California-based school-menu consulting company School Nutrition Plus.

“The [meals] with cheese are the biggest hits because it’s familiar to them,” Burson says. “That’s what they see on kids’ menus at restaurants, which are generally processed food high in fat and sodium. So we’re really fighting against those kids’ menus at restaurants.”

‘Grilled cheese as part of a healthy balanced diet is fine. But I don’t consider it healthy on its own.’
So, sure, kids will chow down on grilled cheese, but “it’s a little harder” to convince kids to eat vegetarian meals that are also legitimately healthy, she says.

Meatless dishes developed by her company generally have a lower success rate when they test them in schools — Burson estimates about half of their meatless dishes are flops among kids, compared to about 75 percent of the dishes with meat in them.

“They don’t want to see big chunks of tofu,” she says. “We have to crumble it up and make it look like meat,” like they did with their “Sloppy Jane” sandwich that has seasoned tofu crumbles instead of the beef of a Sloppy Joe.

And tastier meat substitutes, such as seitan, tend to be expensive for schools, so it may be more cost-effective to rely on alternatives including cheese, which is high in saturated fat and lacks the iron that meat has, and beans. The school district’s menu designers aim to make their meatless program cost-neutral, officials say, and sample menus appear to rely mostly on beans and cheese.

Plus, kids tend to not like trying new things, Burson says. When her company was developing a chili made with walnuts instead of meat and tested the dish on an all-girls middle school, it was a “hard sell,” she says.

“It took getting the most popular girl to try it for the rest of the girls to try it out,” Burson says with a laugh.

Nutritionists, such as Barrie, say that done right, the program’s main benefit will be exposing kids to a greater variety of foods.

“Familiarity breeds liking, so it might take a kid 50 exposures to one food to develop a liking for it,” Barrie says.

But only if it’s done correctly. “It’s pointless if their options are going to be meatless, but white flour- and sat-fat-laden,” she says.

Original Post Can Be Found Here

Super Bowl Swaps

Super Bowl Swaps

It’s almost game time!  Although you and/or your guests may enjoy and be looking forward to all the traditional football fare, you can try some of these tips to keep everyone healthy and happy!

Crush it with Crudités 

Instead of a couple of celery and carrot sticks to compliment the wings, make chopped veggies a colorful centerpiece. Use bell peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, tomato, asparagus, cucumber, jicama, zucchini or any other vegetable you like. Serve with healthy dips.  I love Cava brand for hummus/tzatziki as it lower in calories. Make sure there is no sugar added to your salsa.  Serve fresh guacamole or make your own. Try your own creamy creation using Siggi’s plain Icelandic yogurt as a base.  I love adding: olive oil, lemon juice, and Everything but the Bagel Seasoning for a savory snack.  Choose healthy alternatives for ranch dressing/dip. I like Sir Kensington’s and Tessamae brands for ranch. 

Root for Fruit!  

Whether it’s part of the cheese board, on its own, or for dessert, fruit is high in fiber to keep you full and sweet to curb that sweet tooth.  Add dried fruit to your cheese board (make sure it has no added sugar or oil) as well as all natural fruit spreads (Trader Joe’s, St. Dalfour, Polaner All Fruit are all good!). 

Change up the Cheese Board

Some of my favorite cracker brands are: Simple Mills, Mary’s Gone Crackers, Flackers and GG Fiber crackers. All are high fiber and made with healthy ingredients.  Many other crackers out there are made with white flour, hydrogenated oils, sugar and other additives/preservatives.  Choose some cheeses that are lower in fat: Parmesan, feta, mozzarella, goat, Camembert to name a few.  Add fruit as mentioned above: fresh and/or dry. Also add nuts. Make sure there is no oil or anything added to the nuts, expect a little salt.  

Salty Snacks

Select healthier versions of chips and popcorn for that crunch.  I recommend popcorn that is organic and contains ONLY popcorn, olive/coconut/avocado oil and salt (Note that non-organic popcorn is often made from GMO corn!)  Lesser Evil is a favorite brand in my house.  The same goes for potato chips: I recommend those made ONLY with potatoes, olive/avocado oil and salt.  My boys and I love Kettle Brand Chips made with avocado oil.  For tortilla-style chips, my favorite are Siete. They are grain free made only with cassava flour, avocado oil, coconut flour, chia seeds and salt!  Serve with salsa and guacamole as recommended above. 

Bites of Buffalo

Is it really SuperBowl without some sort of Buffalo something?!  I love recipes that use chicken breasts (instead of thighs or wings with skin because those have higher calories, fat, saturated fat and cholesterol). Try almond (you can substitute almond for regular flour in recipes), oat, brown rice or whole wheat flour for white flour. Use avocado or olive oil instead of vegetable oil. Also use ghee, coconut oil or olive/avocado oil in recipes that call for butter. Select a Buffalo sauce or hot sauce with all natural ingredients. I LOVE Siete foods hot sauces. And I like Noble Made Mild Buffalo sauce. It’s here but I found at Whole Foods. 
I really like these two Buffalo chicken recipes:
You can also sauté shrimp in Buffalo sauce. 
For my friends who prefer a vegan or vegetarian option, try these Buffalo cauliflower recipes! 
If you don’t have an air fryer, cook at 400 degrees in the oven for 10 more minutes!

Chill with Chili

There’s nothing better than a warm cup of chili on a cold winter day watching the Super Bowl.  Instead of traditional chili that can be high in saturated fat, made with ground beef, sour cream and cheddar cheese and mostly carbs (just beans), you can lighten it all up!  Even if you want to add meat (lean ground beef, chicken or turkey), I recommended starting with a mostly vegetable-based one like this one:
You can add the meat PLUS 2 cups baby spinach leaves (I always add more greens to all my cooked saucy dishes!) after step 1. 
For toppings try plain Siggi’s yogurt (instead or sour cream), shredded Parmesan or mozzarella instead of cheddar cheese, avocado, lime, or scallions to garnish. You could also dig in with your Siete chips! 

Not your Typical Nacho!

You can often enjoy the flavor of a favorite food with a twist on the traditional recipe. I love this Turkey Nacho recipe that doesn’t actually contain nachos. The turkey meat is placed inside mini bell peppers:
This paleo version is made with potatoes instead of chips and skips the cheese:

Pizza Power!

Why not try cauliflower pizza?!  Lots of your guests will thank you!!  I love the Cali’flour crusts that you can buy on Amazon. These are the best in my opinion. BUT I also have a super simple recipe where you can make your own. Check it out here:



Nourished for the New Year

Nourished for the New Year

Join us virtually from ANYWHERE in the world!  All you need is an email address, Facebook account, and access to a scale and measuring tape!

Join Registered Dietitian / Personal Trainer and Westport Mom, Robin Barrie Kaiden, MS, RD, CDN for YOUR CHOICE of 1 – 3 months to TRULY start 2019 out RIGHT.  Whether you want to lose a few pounds, get glowing skin, increase energy, learn simple meal prep tips and healthy recipes, or network with a like-minded group who will help motivate you to reach your own personal nutrition and health goals, this is for YOU!  Robin will guide you through healthy eating tips and tricks by sharing her Nutrition knowledge.  This is NOT a crash diet, but rather an eating lifestyle to ensure your body is NOURISHED to meet your nutrition needs and if you still want a special diet to lose weight, you can try the keto pure diet that help clean your body and achieve a healthy weight.

Here are the details: 

Report your beginning weight and measurements to Robin (instructions will be provided for self-measurement).  You can do your own at home or come for a quick visit during Week 1, if you are local to Westport, CT.  This will be repeated during the end of Months 1, 2, and 3 (depending on which months you sign up for).  **For those of you desiring increased accountability, weekly weigh-ins is also an options. 

Enjoy Access to:

  • A private Facebook page for our group to support one another and ask Robin questions
  • A weekly LIVE CHAT where we can all get together virtually to discuss our strengths and struggles 
  • Robin’s Online Meal Planning and Food Journaling program and app
  • Access to Robin via email/text for any additional questions/support

Starting Handouts:  
Grocery Shopping Lists, Meal Suggestions, the Rules of the Plan

Educational Topics to learn more about Nutrition and Healthy Eating

Recipes, Meal and Snack Ideas, Facebook support

This session will run from January 21 to April 15. Month 1 starts Jan 21, Month 2 on Feb 18, and Month 3 on March 16.  Robin will work with each of you to help you meet your goals.  The price for the 3 months is $175/month or $150 per month for those who sign up and mention Westport Moms!!!!  All 3 months can be paid upfront OR at the beginning of each month on the dates mentioned above.  Email Robin to sign up now!  You will receive your online access and the Guides to get NOURISHED for the New Year of 2019 and beyond as SOON as you sign up, so you can get started.  The Facebook group officially begins January 21st

The cost is HALF PRICE ($87.50/month) for clients who have participated in Robin’s groups in the past!!  Stay current with all the latest Nutrition research/information and learn about new products/recipes/tips.  AND you will have continued access to the group (with new members!) and ongoing support/accountability.

Contact Robin to sign up or ask any questions:

Robin Barrie Kaiden, MS, RD, CDN

Chicken Bolognese

Chicken Bolognese

I make some version of this sauce at least once a week-it’s really pretty easy and quick.  Sometimes I use ground turkey, sometimes chicken and different veggies end up in the pot. Traditional Bolognese often has carrots, mushrooms, red wine, tomato paste, but I often use what I have on hand and what is quickest. This meal is FULL of veggies (think tons of #antioxidants and #fiber .) The #lycopene – great for skin, bone, and heart health – in the tomatoes is made more bioavailable (meaning it works better in the body) by being cooked with olive oil, since it’s fat-soluble.

Tag me if you try and ENJOY!  

Don’t forget to make extra for leftovers. The sauce is even better the next day!

1 medium sweet onion chopped
2 Tbsp olive oil 
1 pound ground chicken breast 
1 bottle Rao’s Tomato Basil sauce (24-ounce size)
3 cups baby spinach leaves
1 Tbsp oregano 
1 tsp chili flakes (or to taste)
1 cup cauliflower rice (I used frozen organic from @traderjoes
1/2 cup steamed broccoli 🥦 (see my blog for the best way to cook!)


  1. Pour olive oil into large pot/saucepan on medium heat. Sauté onions until they are browned. (I love the caramelized onion flavor so I cook them awhile!) 
  2. Add ground chicken and break apart/cook until all pink is gone and it is just about cooked through (about 4-5 mins if fresh, longer if you start with frozen, which I often do.)
  3. Add in the sauce. 
  4. Add in spinach and stir until it wilts into the sauce. 
  5. Add oregano and chili flakes to taste. 
  6. Simmer on low for at least 20 minutes ( I sometimes do 30-40 minutes or make earlier in the day then reheat for dinner. This blends all the flavors together and helps develop a richer taste as some of the water evaporates.)
  7. In a separate pot or pan warm up or cook cauliflower rice. I use olive oil spray so it doesn’t stick. Both fresh and frozen only need 3-5 minutes to cook.
  8. Steam broccoli. (Recipe on my blog under  “Simple Solutions”.)
  9. Layer sauce and broccoli over cauliflower rice and enjoy! Top with grated Parmesan as desired. (My husband enjoyed his over whole wheat pasta. You can use zoodles too!)
Cranberry Sauce with Pears

Cranberry Sauce with Pears

Yield: Serves 8


  • 12 ounces fresh or frozen cranberries
  • 2 medium pears, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/4-inch chunks
  • 3/4 cup coconut sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 3 tablespoons agave
  • 2 tablespoons orange juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt


Combine cranberries, pears, coconut sugar, water, agave, orange juice, and salt in a medium saucepan.  Bring to a boil over medium-high heat.  Cook, stirring occasionally until berries start to pop, about 5 minutes.   Press berries against side of pan with wooden spoon and continue to cook until berries have broken down and sauce thickens to a jam-like consistency, about 5 minutes more.  Remove from heat and let cool for 30 minutes.  Adjust consistency with water as needed.  Stir in crystallized ginger.

Serve immediately or place in an airtight container and store in the refrigerator. Can be served cold or reheated.


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