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Sherry Coleman Collins is a registered dietitian, nutritionist, food allergy specialist, and consultant to the National Peanut Board. She’s also a mom and previous foster parent, so she knows it’s not realistic to eat healthy 100% of the time with kiddos. In fact, dessert is a treat that’s never skipped at her house.
On the latest episode of The Motherly Podcast, Collins talks to Motherly co-founder Liz Tenety about setting realistic expectations for healthy eating.
According to Collins, the first thing mamas need to ask themselves while establishing healthy eating habits is “how can we strip things down to the basics?”
To her, that means looking at foods we know to be healthy—like fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, and seeds—and finding a way to incorporate them into every meal and snack. But of course, living in the real world makes it a little more difficult to adhere to this mission at all times.
“Fruits and vegetables can sometimes take a little longer to prepare so I might go with a much more simple protein if we're going to have animal protein or I might go with something very simple, like tofu or cheese as sort of the protein source,” Collins explains to Tenety. “Then we love sweets. We love dessert. We do not skip dessert in my house.”
“We still enjoy those things,” she admits, “so there's this 80-20 idea that many people have adopted. 80% of the time we eat whole, nutritious, delicious foods and then 20% of the time we enjoy those sweets and treats and convenient foods that can make our life a little easier, but also keep everybody in the house a little happier.”
After revealing “there are a lot more questions than answers when it comes to food allergies,” she makes it clear that pregnant and breastfeeding mothers should eat a “liberal diet,” as long as it’s foods they like and aren’t allergic to. “There's no research that supports the idea of withholding or eating any particular food to prevent food allergy, either while you're pregnant or when you're breastfeeding,” she assures. On the flipside, if allergies run in your family it’s important to let your pediatrician know as soon as possible.
But if your baby isn’t high-risk, Collins is an advocate for early allergen introduction (with your pediatrician's blessing, of course), especially with eggs and peanuts. And that can happen as soon as your child is old enough to eat solids.
“One of the beautiful things about doing this allergen introduction is that these allergenic foods are super nutritious,” she says. “They're delicious, but they're also packed with nutrition and so getting those foods into the baby's diet ensures that they're going to be eating enough protein, that they're getting lots of other vitamins and minerals that may be hard for them to get from other foods.”
As far as the best way to approach introducing these foods to an infant, Collins says “you can start in a lot of different ways.”
What she’s found to be effective is a mix of baby led weaning and purees. Just make sure the texture is right. “In the case of peanuts, you don't want to give a baby whole nuts, that's not safe,” Collins explains. “You don't want to give them a big glob of peanut butter, that's not safe either, but you can take peanut butter, which most households already have anyway, thin it with a little breast milk, formula, and give it to the baby. That's a perfectly safe way to feed a baby peanuts.”
“You can mix the same kinds of things into puree, so if you're feeding the baby infant safe cereal, you can add a little bit of peanut butter,” she continues. “Two teaspoons is about what's considered a serving, so go two teaspoons of peanut butter, mix it into their puree, apple sauce or cereal. Or you can use powdered peanut butter, that's another safe way to do it. Or you can use puffs, there are a lot of puff products now in the market that have peanuts in them [like Bamba peanut butter puffs], baked into them, and they just melt in the baby's mouth. Or if the baby's very young and you want to use that method, you could even melt that with a little bit of breast milk or formula as well.”
To hear more about Collins’ experiences in motherhood and her career, listen to The Motherly Podcast for the full interview.