13-1When I was in first and second grade, I took “special gym.”

I attended a public school in a small New Jersey town. The school building was about 100 years old, and the “special services” that my school offered were speech, reading help, and special gym.

I remember being THRILLED that I was selected to take special gym, because instead of just one day a week of bouncing balls and running races and turning somersaults during the school day, I got to go twice a week. I remember how upbeat and energetic the gym teacher was, and how much fun she made these exercises. I do not recall such words as “physical therapy” or “occupational therapy.” In fact, I did not realize the true point of the extra gym days until many years later, when I was in college and reminiscing about elementary school and caught myself mid-sentence:

“Well, when I was in first grade, I took special gym… hey… WAIT a MINUTE….!”

That’s when I realized that I had been flagged with a coordination challenge. Unbeknownst to me, in school I went to physical therapy weekly.

Now that first-quarter parent teacher conferences are over, you may be surprised that your child has been offered special services by the school. Teachers spend hours a day with our kids and are experts in the age group that they teach. Not all kids are good at learning all subjects and not all are equally sociable or equally physically adept. When teachers ask a parent’s permission to supply extra help, parents should not take this request as an affront or attack on their parenting. Rather, it is an opportunity to help kids  succeed.

I was never suspicious about my inclusion in special gym. No one made fun of me for being in the class, and in fact many were jealous. Kids in early grades may be aware that some of their classmates come and go during the day, but they do not distinguish between kids pulled out for a gifted program from kids pulled out for remedial education. As an adult, I appreciate that my teachers made me feel good about being included in the special gym club.

I have a magnet on my car now that says, simply, “13.1,” which is the number of miles that I ran to complete the Trenton Half-Marathon this past October. Special gym did not hold me back—it propelled me forward. I had no idea that my participation in special gym was emotionally charged for my mom until after I called my dad to tell him my race time (2 hours, 11.5 minutes). Only then did he tell me how crushed my mom had been about my inclusion in special gym. I am grateful that she hid that from me.

My message: Let your kids get extra help in school, allow them to be pulled out of a class they are failing and placed into an environment where they can learn and overcome challenges. Allow yourself to mourn the loss of the child you may have pictured. But know this: young children do not have enough life experience to independently think of themselves as failures in the early school years. They look to adults who are important to them for how to respond to challenges and frustration. Encourage them with the positive message that they will receive extra attention and extra time to work at reading or math or physical skills or speech skills. Who knows? They may become the kid who applies to medical school or runs a marathon (or a half-marathon) someday.

Julie Kardos, MD

©2016 Two Peds in a Pod®


teddy-bear-potty-trainingA shout out to Trinity Day School in Solebury, PA where we spoke with a group of parents yesterday about the pearls and pitfalls of potty training. Today we share some of what we discussed.

At Trinity day School

At Trinity day School

“Will it ever end?” many parents ask. Time moves in slow motion for parents teaching their kids to use the potty. For those trapped in a potty training time warp, take heart. It’s been seven years since we first released out podcast on potty training and we’re proud to report that the  parents who first listened to that podcast have moved onto new parenting challenges like helping with homework. For those in the midst of training, and those who are contemplating training, this post is for you.

Children master potty training typically between the ages of two and four years. Be patient, not everyone is “typical.”  More important than your child’s age is whether she shows she is developmentally ready to train. These signs include:

– is generally agreeable/ can follow directions.

– gets a funny expression before passing urine or poop, or runs and hides, then produces a wet or soiled diaper.

-asks to be changed/ pulls on her diaper when it becomes wet or soiled- remains dry during the day time for at least two hours (look for a dry diaper after nap time.)

-NOT because grandparents are pressuring you to start training their grandchild.

– NOT if the child is  constipated—the last thing you want to do is to teach withholding to a kid who already withholds.

-NOT if a newborn sibling has just joined the family. A new baby in the house is often a time of REGRESSION, not progression. However, if your toddler  begs to use the potty at this time, then by all means, allow him to try. 

Make the potty a friendly place. Have a supply of books to occupy your child while she sits. Make sure her feet are secure on the floor if using a potty chair or on a stool if using the actual toilet. If using the real toilet for training, consider placing a potty training rim on the toilet seat to prevent your child from jack-knifing into the toilet. If your child is afraid of the bathroom, put the potty chair in the hall just OUTSIDE of the bathroom.

Have reasonable expectations based on age. A two year old’s attention span is two minutes. Never force your child to sit on the potty. If he doesn’t want to sit, then he isn’t ready to train.

Your can lead a horse to water… Reward your child for sitting on the potty, even if she does not “produce.” Reward by giving a high-five, verbal praise, or a small, cheap trinket such as a sticker. Do NOT promise your child a trip to Disney for potty training—otherwise, what will you do when she learns to ride a bike or tie her shoes? Plus, unless you are prepared to leave right away, the toddler/preschooler does not developmentally understand the concept of long term reward. Accept that she may simply enjoy sitting fully clothing on the potty while singing at the top of her lungs for a few weeks.

Let your child learn by imitation  At home, have an open door bathroom policy so she can imitate you and her older siblings. At school, she will imitate her potty-trained classmates.

Initially, kids rarely tell their parents  they “have to use the potty.” For these kids, schedule potty visits every 2-3 hours throughout the day. Do potty checks at key times such as first waking up, right before nap, and before bedtime. Be sure to spend extra time a half an hour after meals or after a warm bath. Both meals and warmth stimulate poop!

A child is potty trained when she can do the whole deal: use the potty, help wipe, help un-dress and re-dress, and wash hands.

If the child refuses to wash hands after using the potty, she is not trained. Ultimately, the goal is for her to gain independent  toileting skills.  However, she will need your supervision for a while.

Important note for parents of BOYS: First potty train your son to sit for ALL business. Teach him to gently press his penis downward so pee lands in the toilet and not all over the room. Once your son stands up to urinate, he may become so excited that he may never sit down again. Better to wait until he uses the potty consistently with few accidents before teaching him to stand up. Even after he begins to stands to pee, have him sit on the potty daily to allow him time to poop.

Don‘t be surprised if your child trains for pee before poop. In fact, many kids go through a phase when they ask for a diaper to poop in. After all, it’s frightening to see/feel a chunk of your body fall into an abyss.  Dump the poop from the diaper into the potty and practice waving bye-bye.

A note about night time and naps: Potty train for when your child is awake. Your child will spontaneously, without any training, stay dry at night and during naps. Some kids sleep more soundly than others and some kids are not genetically programmed to stay dry overnight until they are elementary school aged. For more information about bed-wetting please see our post on this topic.  No amount of daytime training will affect what happens during sleep. Moderate fluids right before bed and  continue putting on the diapers at night until you notice that the diapers are dry when your child wakes up. After a week of dry mornings, try your child in underwear overnight. Occasional accidents are normal for years after potty training, so you might want to put a water proof liner under your child’s sheets when first graduating to sleep underwear.

Disposable training pants: We like sticking to underwear while potty trainers are awake and diapers while asleep.  A reluctant trainer tends to find training pants just absorbent enough that he does not care if he is wet. However, the pants are not absorbent enough to prevent rashes from stool or urine. Plus they are more expensive than underwear AND diapers. Explain to your child  “sleep diapers” are perfectly acceptable until their “pee pee learns to wake them up.” Use the training pants when your child is older and is  mortified by the idea of a diaper or if your family is going on a long car ride and you don’t want to risk urine on a car seat.

Above all: avoid power struggles. If potty training causes tears, tantrums, or confusion then STOP TRAINING, put those diapers back on, and try again a few weeks later. 

After the training, keep an eye on how often he pees and poops. Older kids get “too busy” to go to the potty. Make sure he is in the habit of  emptying his bladder four to six times a day and having a soft bowel movement every day or every other day.

Ultimately… you just have to go with the flow. And remember, everything eventually comes out right in the end.

Julie Kardos, MD and Naline Lai, MD
©2016, 2013 Two Peds in a Pod®


recognizing obesity

In these posters put out by the Pennsylvania medical society, the children on the right are considered obese.


Nearly all parents of overweight preschoolers and most parents of obese kids are unaware their children are classified as such , say researchers at New York University and two other medical centers. Click here for  Happy Healthy Kids‘ interview with Dr. Kardos on the subject.

Julie Kardos, MD with Naline Lai, MD
©2015 Two Peds in a Pod®


how to read nutrition labels

Today, we welcome Health Coach Mary McDonald’s insight on how to read food labels for nutritional content…

Have you ever stood in the cereal aisle staring at the rows and rows of choices and feeling like a deer in headlights? You know that you want to select a cereal that is healthy for your family, but you are not sure which one to choose. So, you start reading the nutrition claims on the front of the box. “Multi-grain. Low fat. Good source of vitamins and minerals. No high fructose corn syrup.” You select a cereal that you think is a good option, only to find out later that the first two ingredients are sugar and grains that are void of nutrition. Navigating the nutrition information highway can be extremely complex, even for an educated person.

One of the reasons for the confusion is the mass influx of marketing from major food manufacturers. According to the Federal Trade Commission, the 44 major food and beverage marketers spent $2.1 billion marketing food to youth in 2006. A second report in 2012 compared data from 2006 to 2009 and found that total spending on food marketing to youth dropped 19.5% to $1.79 billion. But, spending on new media, such as online and viral marketing, increased 50%. The report found that the overall picture of how marketers reach children did not change significantly.

With the major food manufacturers sending constant messaging about the health benefits of their products, a consumer can get very confused about what is healthy to eat. Couple this with the fact that most formal nutrition education ends when a person graduates from high school. Therefore, the major food manufacturer, whose purpose is to sell food, has become the nutrition education for our society. This creates a perfect storm and makes it really difficult to know what is healthy to purchase and consume. So, how we fix this problem? Here are a few quick tips that can help you navigate the nutrition hype:

  1. Don’t look at the front of the packaging to determine if a product is nutritionally sound. Remember, the claims on the packaging are designed to sell more products. In our fast-paced society, it’s easy to fall into this trap, but ignore the marketing because there is more reliable information in the ingredient list. Which brings me to my next point.
  2. Read the ingredient list. You may be surprised if you open your pantry and start to read the labels on the food sitting on your shelves. Many products contain ingredients that are difficult to pronounce, let alone know what they are. What is more concerning is the fact that some ingredients are deceptive in the way that they are represented. For example, enriched wheat flour sounds like a nutritious ingredient, but in reality it is a refined grain that is very similar to white flour. Enriched wheat flour is milled to strip the bran and germ and then some vitamins and minerals are added back in. When reading your labels, don’t be fooled into thinking that you are eating something packed with nutrition when you see enriched wheat flour. If you are looking for a nutritious grain, then look for labels that say whole-wheat flour, and make sure that it is one of the first ingredients on the label.
  3. Five is the magic number. Michael Pollan, the author of Omnivore’s Dilemma, suggests that you should not eat anything with more than five ingredients, or with ingredients you don’t recognize or can’t pronounce. In my opinion, this is singularly one of the best pieces of advice. When you use this rule of thumb, it will naturally lead you towards healthier foods with less additives and preservatives. For example, compare labels on snack bars. According to Eat This Not That, the “coating” on Special K Double Chocolate Protein Meal Bar is made with trans fats, soy, and sugar with a little cocoa processed with alkali, artificial flavor, polysorbate 60 and other artificial ingredients. And that’s just the outside! Then there are the “Chocolatey Chips,” which is market slang for “not real chocolate.” Instead they are just more sugar, soy, trans fats, and artificial flavors mixed with a little cocoa that’s been “alkalized,” a type of processing that destroys up to 75 percent of the healthy nutrients in the chocolate. Compare that snack bar to Clif Kit’s Organic Peanut Butter bar that has only four (yes, 4) ingredients: Organic Dates, Organic Peanuts, Organic Almonds, Sea Salt. I recognize all of those ingredients!
  4. Positive nutrition messaging. One of the best ways to achieve success in any goal is to surround yourself with positive messaging. I have connected with a variety of websites that provide great nutrition education., a division of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and, a division of Center for Science in the Public Interest, are two credible sources. Search for a site that fits your needs and sign up for free newsletters. The information will come to you and you can choose when and what to read. It’s that simple.
  5. Cook more at home. Yes, cooking at home can be one of the most effective ways to navigate the nutrition information highway. I realize that this is not always easy considering work, school, and sports schedules. But, it is important to make time for the things that matter most. What can be more important than the health of you and your family?Just like a major roadway, navigating the nutrition highway is complex. Fortunately, we live in a time when there are a variety of ways to receive information.

Mary McDonald, MA

©2015 Two Peds in a Pod®

Mary McDonald has a Masters of Education from Arcadia University and completed her health coach certification from Institute of Integrative Nutrition. She is a high school teacher, a mom of four daughters, and an advocate for healthy food choices. For more information on her health coaching services, please contact her at or visit her website at

If you live in Bucks County, PA, the Doylestown Food Co-op will be hosting a screening of the documentary, Fed Up, hosted by Katie Couric. This is an eye-opening account of how we view the food that we consume. The screening takes place Thursday 3/26/15 at 7 pm at the County Theatre in Doylestown, PA.


picky eater vegetables

Crunching on kale

Resolved to eat more vegetables this year? Our pediatrician gardener Dr. Marion Mass shares with us the benefits of kale and how to prepare it so your kids will eat it.

Open one of those ubiquitous “Ten Superfoods” articles and kale is sure to be somewhere on the list. Are there really nutritional benefits to stuffing this leafy green into our pie holes? And can I easily grow kale myself? The answers are ‘yes’ and ‘yes,’ both emphatic!

Just one cup of cooked kale provides 100% of the US RDA of vitamin K, 70% of vitamin C, 10% of Vitamin B6, fiber, and calcium, and 7% of iron. Not much iron, you say? Au contraire, dear parent. The absorption of iron is enhanced by vitamin C, so that 7% is much more available to your child’s body. This information is especially pertinent for female teens, whose iron and calcium intake are likely to be deficient.

In addition, kale houses 45 different flavonoids, which are molecules with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. One of these, a carotenoid, is selectively absorbed into the retina of the eye and protects against age-related macular problems. If that’s not enough, kale (especially when steamed) has been proven to reduce the risk of five cancers: breast, colon, ovarian, prostate and bladder.

While beloved broccoli boasts many of the same nutritional benefits, kale wins the flavonoid content by a mile. Do not misunderstand… there is virtue in all veggies. I do not advocate eating kale nightly, just making it a regular part of you and your child’s diet.

Now what if I told you that even in my home state, frosty Pennsylvania, we are still picking kale from our garden and will be for another month? Kale, especially The Red Russian variety, and the Tuscan, (also called lacinto or dinosaur kale) is one of the most winter-hardy vegetables in existence. We plant a fall crop in mid August located where we have just dug up our potatoes. (Come to think of it, I should plant a spring crop in early April as well.) We start picking the outer leaves in October. The plant keeps producing new leaves from the center. Frost comes and sweetens the flavor. Snow comes, and Kale still grows! Throw a row cover over the top, and you get an additional 4-6 weeks of harvest after the really cold weather sets in.

While easy to plant, Kale has its enemies. Aphids love it, and cabbage worms take a bite. Both can be combated by the release of beneficial insects: ladybugs, lacewings and praying mantises. Thanks to my friends at Gardeners Supply Company for carrying all three insects.

How to get your kid to eat Kale? Ah, there’s the rub. Start with that dinosaur variety. Age 3-6 is what I call ‘the modern age of dinosaurs.’ Use your child’s love of the extinct beasts to your advantage! Dinosaur kale not only looks like a plant that would live in ancient times, but the deep ribbing looks like the skin of an ankylosaurous. Tell the little darlings they will be as tough as T-Rex if they eat it. Does little Emily like salad? Why not make it with kale added in, or even as the main ingredient? Remember the anti-inflammatory proprieties of the flavonoids mentioned above? Sick that fact on your aching adolescent athlete. After suffering two different inflammation-related problems this past cross-country season, my son practically inhales the stuff.

Look at the recipes below. You might want to work up to the kale salad with beets, pepitas and golden raisins. Or just take it to a grown up potluck. Judging from the reactions from the two places I’ve taken it, it may be the best thing I’ve created in my kitchen.

For all recipes, de-stem the kale by holding the stem at its base, use your thumb and index finger to peel the dark green part away from the stem. Always thoroughly wash and salad spin dry kale before use in the following recipes.

Kale Caesar or Kale Vinagrette

1 bunch kale stemmed and torn into salad sized pieces
1 bottle Caesar dressing
juice of ½ orange or 1 lemon

Prep as you would a regular salad. The citrus juice cuts the bitter taste of the kale. Don’t like Caesar? Dress your kale with a sweetly flavored balsamic (fig, orange or cherry is nice), lemon juice salt and olive oil.

Kale Chips, the easy kind

1 bunch of kale de-stemmed and ripped into pieces
2 tbsp olive oil

Preheat oven to 300F. Massage the olive oil into the kale on a large rimmed baking sheet, sprinkle with salt. Option: add cumin, cayenne, curry, or any favorite spice! Bake for 10 minutes, stir, bake for an additional 10 until edges are turning golden.

Kale chips that have more protein, but take more effort

1 bunch of kale stemmed and torn into pieces
¾ cup garbanzo bean flour*
pinch of salt
juice of ½ lemon
¾ cup water
2 tbsp olive oil
optional add ins: pinch of cayenne, pinch of turmeric, pinch of cumin

Preheat oven to 300F. Brush a parchment lined cookie sheet with olive oil. Mix flour with salt, add spices, stir in lemon juice and water. Should be like thin pancake batter. Dip kale pieces in batter and place on cookie sheet. Bake 15 minutes, turn over with tongs, bake an additional 10-15 minutes. Kale will crisp as it cools.

Kale, bean, and sausage soup

1 cup dried beans, soaked overnight cooked until tender (cranberry or roman are my fave)
2 tbsp olive oil
2 medium onions, diced
1 tbsp minced garlic
1 lb sausage(we like Bolton’s local turkey sausage) cut into small pieces
2 bunches kale de-stemmed and chopped
1 ½ tsp dried thyme
8 cups your favorite stock

Sauté onions in olive oil until pale gold, add garlic and sauté for 1 minute, add sausage and cook until it’s edges are brown. Add kale and thyme, pour in broth and cook for 30 minutes, add beans during last 10 minutes. Salt to taste.

Kale and Quinoa Salad with Beets and Pepitas

2 bunches kale, de-stemmed and cut into ribbon thin pieces
¾ cup quinoa, cooked as per package directions (red looks best and has best taste)
5 medium beets, cooked until fork tender and cut into ½ inch cubes
juice of 1 lemon
2 cloves minced garlic
½ cup crumbled cheese (your choice, blue, goat or queso fresco)
¾ cup pumpkin seeds (pepitas), toast them in pan, they taste better
¼ cup olive oil

Mix first 5 ingredients, toss in rest just before serving. I make this from leftover quinoa and beets that I have cooked the night before. Less work!


Marion Mass MD, FAAP

©2015 Two Peds in a Pod®

In practice for 17 years, Marion Mass MD, FAAP graduated from Penn State and Duke University Medical School. She completed her pediatric residency at Northwestern University’s Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago. Currently Dr. Mass works at Jellinek Pediatrics in Doylestown, PA and serves on the Wellness Council of the Central Bucks School District, PA. Produce from her kids’ garden garnishes the plates of many local families as well as the plates of the restaurant Puck. All garden profits benefit Relay for Life.  When she is not in her home garden, you can find her also tending to her son’s middle school garden.


In spite of long TSA lines, rental car challenges and all the howling, the wolf family went to grandmother’s house every year for the holidays.

You don’t appreciate how much your baby has grown until you attempt a diaper change on a plane. For families with young children, Thanksgiving or any holiday can become stressful when travel is involved. Often families travel great distances to be together and attend parties that run later than children’s usual bedtime. Fancy food and fancy dress are common. Well-meaning relatives who see your children once a year can be too quick to hug and kiss, sending even not-so-shy kids running. Here are some tips for safer and smoother holiday travel:
If you are flying:

  • Do not offer Benadryl (diphenhydramine) as a way of “insuring” sleep during a flight. Kids can have paradoxical reactions and become hyper instead of sleepy, and even if they do become sleepy, the added stimulation of flying can combine to produce an ornery, sleepy, tantrum-prone kid. Usually the drone of the plane is enough to sooth kids into a slumber.
  • Not all kids develop ear pain on planes as they descend- some sleep right through landing. However, if needed you can offer pacifiers, bottles, drinks, or healthy snacks during take-off and landing because swallowing may help prevent pressure buildup and thus discomfort in the ears. And yes, it is okay to fly with an ear infection.

General tips for visiting:

  • Traveling 400 miles away from home to spend a few days with close family and/or friends is not the time to solve your child’s chronic problems. Let’s say you have a child who is a poor sleeper and tries to climb into your bed every night at home. Knowing that even the best of sleepers often have difficulty sleeping in a new environment, just take your “bad sleeper” into your bed at bedtime and avoid your usual home routine of waking up every hour to walk her back into her room. Similarly, if you have a picky eater, pack her favorite portable meal as a backup for fancy dinners. But when you return home, please refer to our podcast and blog posts on helping your child to establish good sleep habits and on feeding picky eaters! One exception is when you are trying to say bye-bye to the binkie or pacifier.
  • Supervise your child’s eating and do not allow your child to overeat while you catch up with a distant relative or friend. Ginger-bread house vomit is DISGUSTING, as Dr. Kardos found out first-hand when one of her children ate too much of the beautiful and very generously-sized ginger bread house for dessert.
  • Speaking of food, a good idea is to give your children a wholesome, healthy meal at home, or at your “home base,” before going to a holiday party that will be filled with food that will be foreign to your children. Hunger fuels tantrums so make sure his appetite needs are met. Then, you also won’t feel guilty letting him eat sweets at a party because he already ate healthy foods earlier in the day.
  • If you have a young baby, be careful not to put yourself in a situation where you lose control of your ability to protect the baby from germs. Well-meaning family members love passing infants from person to person, smothering them with kisses along the way. Unfortunately, nose-to-nose kisses may spread cold and flu viruses along with holiday cheer.
  • On the flip side, there are some family events, such as having your 95-year-old great-grandfather meet your baby for the first time, that are once-in-a-lifetime. So while you should be cautious on behalf of your child, ultimately, heed your heart. At six weeks old, Dr. Lai’s baby traveled several hours to see her grandfather in a hospital after he had a heart attack. She likes to think it made her father in law’s recovery go more smoothly.
  • If you have a shy child, try to arrive early to the family gathering. This avoids the situation of walking into house full of unfamiliar relatives or friends who can overwhelm him with their enthusiasm. Together, you and your shy child can explore the house, locate the toys, find the bathrooms, and become familiar with the party hosts. Then your child can become a greeter, or can simply play alone first before you introduce him to guests as they arrive. If possible, spend time in the days before the gathering sharing family photos and stories to familiarize your child with relatives or friends he may not see often.
  • Sometimes you have to remember that once you have children, their needs come before yours. Although you eagerly anticipated a holiday reunion, your child may be too young to appreciate it for more than a couple of hours . An ill, overtired child makes everyone miserable. If your child has an illness, is tired, won’t use the unfamiliar bathroom, has eaten too many cookies and has a belly ache, or is in general crying, clingy, and miserable, despite your best efforts, just leave the party. You can console yourself that when your child is older his actions at that gathering will be the impetus for family legends, or at least will make for a funny story.
  • Enjoy your CHILD’s perspective of Thanksgiving and other winter holidays: enjoy his pride in learning new customs, his enthusiasm for opening gifts, his joy in playing with cousins he seldom sees, his excitement in reading holiday books, and his happiness as he spends extra time with you, his parents.

We wish you all the best this Thanksgiving!

Julie Kardos, MD and Naline Lai, MD

©2014 Two Peds in a Pod®
Updated from our 2009 articles on these topics


vegetable recipes for kids

The many hues of cauliflower-photo by Dr. Mass

Pediatrician and mom Dr. Marion Mass writes this post in honor of Random Acts of Kindness Day, today November 19 in Bucks County, PA. This day is in memory of Abby Schumer, a friend of Dr. Mass’s family, who lost her life to a brain tumor at age 10. Gardening, cooking with her children, and donating meals to families in need is how Dr. Mass’s family celebrates this day.

* * * * * * * * * *

Despite the fact that it’s November and several frosts have hit the Northeast, we still have a surplus of fresh vegetables from our organic garden. If you would like to be in this enviable position next year, please see my former guest-blog post explaining why you should get started now!

We garden because we value healthy high quality organic food. There is a no more satisfying way for your family to get it than from your own yard. Right now, garden centers across the Northern Hemisphere are selling off their seeds for cheap. And these seeds can be saved until next year. How should you choose what to grow? Grow some produce you know your family is will eat. First, consider looking for seeds with different hues. For example, many kids will eat lettuce. How about a red or maroon-leafed variety? Ditto that with the gardener’s favorite, tomatoes. There are yellow, orange, pink, black and blue varieties. One of my pet hypotheses is that the more colors we ingest, the healthier we are…and kids love a rainbow plate. Grow some vegetables that are easy to grow: radishes, beans, beets, and the butternut squash and New Zealand spinach described below, all fall into this category.

Spinach is high in vitamins A, B2, B6, E and K, as well as numerous antioxidants and iron. Shockingly, one cup of spinach contains 25% of the US RDA of calcium, welcome information for those who do not consume dairy products. We grow New Zealand spinach because it does not get stringy and bitter like other varieties and doesn’t get mushy when cooked. In addition, two seeds of this variety grow a plant that is so prolific that it feeds my family and several others from late July (seed planted in May) until the hard frost takes it out.

Butternut squash is high in fiber and extraordinarily high in vitamin A. It is great to grow up a gate or fence, the flowers are edible, and if your kids don’t mind crushing stink bugs, easy to grow. This year only 6 seeds grew 65 pounds of our favorite hard squash!

Cauliflower is also high in fiber as well as vitamin C. Recent studies suggest that there are certain phytochemicals in cauliflower with cancer-fighting properties. It’s a little harder to grow, given its attractiveness to the cabbage loper caterpillar, one of my garden nemeses. Vigilance and a few tricks can help you! We purchase praying mantis egg cases and lacewing insect eggs from online stores such as Gardens Alive. These beneficial insects will eat the cabbage loper caterpillar. In addition, finding the green worms on the back of the leaves and hand crushing them depletes their population.

kid vegetable recipes

New Zealand Spinach

Mouth watering recipes:

Farfalle, Sausage and NEW ZEALAND Spinach

This recipe is good with any leafy greens, and would be OK with traditional spinach, but it is exceptional with New Zealand spinach which has a great bite and holds up after cooking. This  recipe is the creation of my wonderful foodie-friend Jeannine

Ingredients – (flexible on all quantities)

1 lb Italian sweet sausage, casing removed
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup red wine
salt/pepper to taste
New Zealand Spinach, washed/dried -enough leaves to cover (2) dish towels
Farfalle pasta, ¾ lb
Parmesan, freshly grated, to taste

Preparation – takes 15 minutes

1. Cook pasta in pot boiling salt water. Farfalle usually takes 10 minutes.
2. At the same time, in a deep skillet, cook sausage, crumbling with cooking utensil as it cooks; you can add a little water while it cooks, to prevent sticking, but don’t add too much; the meat sticking will help you when you deglaze pan later
3. Once sausage is cooked, add the minced garlic (1) minute
4. Add wine, simmering a few minutes, deglaze the pan with your spatula, all the stuck pieces of browned meats will come off bottom skillet.
5. Then add the dry spinach leaves; even if pan is overflowing with spinach, it will wilt to a much smaller amount. If using “new Zealand” spinach, it needs extra liquid to cook – scoop out a measuring cup of the boiling pasta water and add to the sauasage/spinach mixture to help cook. Cover with lid for approx 2 minutes. You want the spinach to be wilted, but not overcooked.
6. Season with salt and pepper to taste
7. Drain cooked pasta and mix in serving bowl with sausage mixture.
8. Pass grated parmesan cheese
9. Great leftover too.

kid butternut squash recipe

Butternut squash -photo by Dr. Mass

Roasted Butternut Squash with Pepitas and Pomegranates

Preheat oven to 375. Cube a medium butternut squash into ¾ inch pieces. I leave the skin on for extra fiber. Place on a rimmed cookie sheet and drizzle with 1-2 tbsp olive oil, sprinkle with ½ tsp salt. Roast in oven till fork tender, about 45 minutes. Remove from oven, sprinkle with roasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds) and sprinkle with pomegranate seeds. Serve warm or at room temp. Makes a great Thanksgiving vegetarian entrée, just add cubed fresh Mexican cheese (queso fresco)

Roasted Cauliflower

Preheat oven to 350. Cut 1 medium head of cauliflower into 1 inch florets and place on rimmed cookie sheet. Drizzle with 2 tbsp melted butter (it really tastes better than olive oil here) and sprinkle with 2 tsp organic cane sugar, ½ tsp salt, ½ tsp cumin, and a tiny pinch of cinnamon. Roast in oven for 30 minutes until fork tender. We serve this as an appetizer or a side dish. You can vary the spices used… We added chili powder last night, have done it with oregano and thyme or coriander.

Some of my favorite garden websites:

Kitchen Gardeners International (features forums, recipes, blogs and the ability for people to gather on a local level)

Chiot’s Run (garden journal of a small organic garden in the Midwest)

The Royal Horticultural Society (the UK’s leading gardening charity, promotes horticulture and gardening.)

You Grow Girl (unusual plants, recipes, beautiful pictures, and gardening tips)

Skippy’s Vegetable Garden (a Boston city vegetable garden)

Marion Mass, MD
©2014 Two Peds in a Pod®



IMG_8913As we said to Robin Young on NPR’s Here and Now, “a lot of life’s issues all boil down to the essentials of life…eat, sleep, drink, pee, poop and love.” Continuing our ideas and updates on all of those baby essentials, here’s the scoop on poop :

Okay, admit it.

Before you became a parent, you never really gave much thought to poop.

Now you are captivated and can even discuss it over meal time: your child’s poop with its changing colors and consistency. Your vocabulary for poop has likely also changed as you are now parents. Before your baby’s birth, you probably used some grown-up word like “bowel movement” or “stool” or perhaps some “R” rated term not appropriate to this pediatric site. But now, all that has changed.

As pediatricians, we have many conversations with new parents, and some not-so-new parents, about poop. Mostly this topic is of real interest to parents with newborns, but poop issues come out at other milestones in a child’s life, namely starting solid foods and potty training. So we present to you the scoop on poop.

Poop comes in three basic colors that are all equal signs of normal health: brown, yellow, and green. Newborn poop, while typically yellow and mustard like, can occasionally come out in the two other colors, even if what goes in, namely breast milk or formula, stays the same. The color change is more a reflection of how long the milk takes to pass through the intestines and how much bile acid gets mixed in with the developing poop.

Bad colors of poop are: red (blood), white (complete absence of color), and tarry black. Only the first poop that babies pass on the first day of life, called meconium, is always tarry black and is normal. At any other time of life, black tarry stools are abnormal and are a sign of potential internal bleeding and should always be discussed with your child’s health care provider, as should blood in poop (also not normal) and white poop (which could indicate a liver problem).

Normal pooping behavior for a newborn can be grunting, turning red, crying, and generally appearing as if an explosion is about to occur. As long as what comes out after all this effort is a soft poop (and normal poop should always be soft), then this behavior is normal. Other babies poop effortlessly and this, too, is normal.

Besides its color, another topic of intense fascination to many parents is the frequency and consistency of poop. This aspect is often tied in with questions about diarrhea and constipation. Here is the scoop:

It is normal for newborns to poop during or after every feeding, although not all babies poop this often. This means that if your baby feeds 8-12 times a day, then she can have 8-12 poops a day. One reason that newborns are seen every few weeks in the pediatric office is to check that they are gaining weight normally: that calories taken in are enough for growth and are not just being pooped out. While normal poop can be very soft and mushy, diarrhea is watery and prevents normal weight gain.

After the first few weeks of life, a change in pooping frequency can occur. Some formula fed babies will continue their frequent pooping while others decrease to once a day or even once every 2-3 days. Some breastfed babies actually decrease their poop frequency to once a week! It turns out that breast milk can be very efficiently digested with little waste product. Again, as long as these babies are feeding well, not vomiting, acting well, have soft bellies rather than hard, distended bellies, and are growing normally, then you as parents can enjoy the less frequent diaper changes. Urine frequency should remain the same (at least 6 wet diapers every 24 hours, on average) and is a sign that your baby is adequately hydrated. Again, as long as what comes out in the end is soft, then your baby is not “constipated” but rather has “decreased poop frequency.”

True constipation is poop that is hard and comes out as either small hard pellets or a large hard poop mass. These poops are often painful to pass and can even cause small tears in the anus. You should discuss true constipation with your child’s health care provider. A typical remedy, assuming that everything else about your baby is normal, is adding a bit of prune or apple juice, generally ½ to 1 ounce, to the formula bottle once or twice daily. True constipation in general is more common in formula fed babies than breastfed babies.

Adding solid foods generally causes poop to become more firm or formed, but not always. It DOES always cause more odor and can also add color to poop. Dr. Kardos still remembers her surprise over her eldest’s first “sweet potato poop” as she and her husband asked each other, “Will you look at that? Isn’t this exactly how it looked when it went IN?” If constipation, again meaning hard poop that is painful to pass, occurs during solid food introductions, you can usually help by giving more prunes and oatmeal and less rice and bananas to help poop become softer and easier to pass.

Potty training can trigger constipation resulting from poop withholding. This poop withholding can result in backup of poop in the intestines which leads to pain and poor eating. Children withhold poop for one of three main reasons.

They are afraid of the toilet or potty seat.

They had one painful poop and they resolve never to repeat the experience by trying to never poop again.

They are locked into a control issue with their parents. Recall the truism “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.” This applies to potty training as well.

Treatment for stool withholding is to QUIT potty training for at least a few weeks and to ADD as much stool softening foods and drinks as possible. Good-for-poop drinks and foods include prune juice, apple juice, pear juice, water, fiber-rich breads and cereals, beans, fresh fruits and vegetables. Sometimes, under the guidance of your child’s health care provider, medical stool softeners are needed until your child overcomes his fear of pooping and resolves his control issue. For more information about potty training we refer you to our post with podcast on this subject.

Our goal with this blog post was to highlight some frequently-asked-about poop topics and to reassure that most things come out okay in the end. And that’s the real scoop.

Julie Kardos, MD and Naline Lai, MD

©2014 Two Peds in a Pod®

modified from original 2009 post


In the next month, we’ll be updating our posts on baby basics. As we said to Robin Young on NPR’s Here and Now,  “a lot of life’s issues all boil down to the essentials of life…eat, sleep, drink, pee, poop and love.”  Over the next month we’ll be giving you ideas and updates on all of those essentials. We start off with “eat” and how to transition your baby to solid foods:

starting baby foods


While starting your child on solid food isn’t always “love at first bite” it also does not have to be complicated or stressful.

Here are some overriding principles to keep in mind when feeding your baby:

1) It’s not just about the food. It’s about teaching your child to eat when hungry and to stop when not hungry.

2) Eating a meal with family is social as well as nutritious. Keep eating pleasant and relaxed. No need to force-feed or trick your child into eating. Feed your baby along with other family members so your baby can learn to eat by watching others eat.

3) Babies start out eating pureed foods on a spoon between 4-6 months and progress to finger foods when physically capable, usually between 7-9 months. Teeth are not required; hand to mouth coordination is required.

Before four to six months of age, a baby slumps when propped in a sitting position and tends to choke on solids. After four months, babies are less likely to reflexively “tongue thrust” food right back out of their mouths.  Putting cereal into a bottle doesn’t count as “eating” and is not necessary.

Timing matters when offering solid food for the first time. Babies learn to expect a breast or a bottle when hungry. So make sure your baby is happy and awake but NOT hungry the first time you feed her solid food because at this point she is learning a skill, not eating for nutrition. You should wait about an hour after a milk feeding when she is playful and ready to try something new. Keep a camera nearby because babies make great faces when eating food for the first time. Many parents like to start new foods in the morning so that they have the entire day to make sure it agrees with their baby. Watch for rash or stomach upset.

What should you feed your baby first? There is no one right answer to this question. The easiest food to offer is one that is already on the breakfast, lunch, or dinner table that is easy to mush up.  In some cultures, a baby’s first food is a smash of lentils and rice. In other cultures it’s small bits of hard-boiled egg or a rice porridge. Just avoid honey before one year of age because honey can cause botulism in infants. The bottom line: it doesn’t matter much what you start with, as long as it’s nutritious. Dr. Kardos is proud to say that she fed her nephew his first solid food this summer: watermelon! (He loved it). Even if you start with a mashed up  banana or a yam, plan to add iron-containing foods sooner rather than later. Pediatricians recommend a diet with iron-containing solid foods because a baby’s iron needs will eventually outstrip what what she stored from her mother before birth as well as what she can get from breast milk or formula. Iron-containing food include iron-fortified baby cereal (such as oatmeal or rice) and  pureed meats (such as chicken, beef or fish). Note, with baby cereals, make them up with formula or breast milk, not water or juice, for more nutritional “oomph.”

Some babies will learn in just one feeding to swallow without gagging and to open their mouths when they see the spoon coming. Other babies need more time. They may tongue-thrust the food back out, cough when trying to swallow, cry, or appear clueless when the spoon comes back to them. To avoid the tongue-thrust reflex or the gag reflex, place the spoon gently to one side of your baby’s tongue during a feed. If you see your baby is distressed, just end the meal. Some babies take several weeks to catch on to the idea of eating solids. Try one new food at a time. Then, if your baby has a reaction to the food, you’ll know what to blame.

Some babies just never seem to like mushed up foods and prefer to suck on foods at first (like Dr. Kardos’s nephew did with his watermelon). One practice called baby-led weaning describes another way of introducing solids.

Stage one and stage two baby foods are similar. No need to test all stage one foods before going onto stage two. The consistency of the food is the same. The stages differ in the size of the containers and stage one foods do not contain meat. Some stage two foods will combine ingredients. Combinations are fine as long as you know your baby already tolerates each individual ingredient (i.e. “peas and carrots” are fine if she’s already had each one alone). Avoid the dessert foods. Your baby does not need fillers such as cornstarch and concentrated sweets.

Not all kids like all foods. Don’t worry if your baby hates carrots or bananas. Many other choices are available. At the same time, don’t forget to offer a previously rejected food multiple times because taste buds change.

Be forewarned: poop changes with solid foods. Usually it gets more firm or has more odor. Food is not always fully digested at this age and thus shows up in the poop. Wait until you see a sweet potato poop!

By six months, babies replace at least one milk feeding with a solid food meal. Some babies are up to three meals a day by 6 months, some are eating one meal per day. Starting at six months, for cup training purposes, you can offer a cup with water at meals. Juice is not recommended. Juice contains a lot of sugar and very little nutrition.

Offer finger foods when your baby can sit alone and manipulate a toy without falling over. When you see your baby delicately picking up a piece of lint off the floor and putting it into his mouth, he’s probably ready.  Usually this occurs between 7-9 months of age. Even with no teeth your baby can gum-smash a variety of finger foods. Examples include “Toasted Oats” (Cheerios), which are low in sugar and dissolve in your mouth eventually without any chewing, ½ cheerio-sized cooked vegetable, soft fruit, ground meat or pieces of baked chicken, beans, tofu, egg yolk, soft cheese, small pieces of pasta. Start by putting a finger food on the tray while you are spoon feeding and see what your child does. They often do better feeding themselves finger foods rather than having someone else “dump the lump” into their mouths.

Children should always eat sitting down and not while crawling or walking in order to AVOID CHOKING. Also, you don’t want to create a constantly munching toddler who will grow into a constantly munching ten year old.

Finger food sample meals: Breakfast: cereal, pieces of fruit. Lunch: pasta or rice, lentils or beans, cooked vegetables in pieces, pieces of cheese. Dinner: soft meat such as chicken or ground beef, cooked veggies and/or fruit, bits of potato, or cereal. need other ideas? Check out this post on finger foods. By nine months, kids can eat most of the adult meal at the table, just avoid choking hazards such as raw vegetables, chewy meats, nuts, and hot dogs. You can use breast feedings or formula bottles as snacks between meals or with some meals. By this age, it is normal for babies to average 16-24 oz of formula daily or 3-4 breast feedings daily.

Avoid fried foods and highly processed foods. Do not buy “toddler meals” which are high in salt and “fillers.” Avoid baby junk food- if the first three ingredients are “flour, water, sugar/corn syrup”, don’t buy it. We are amazed at the baby-junk food industry that insinuate that “fruit chews,” “yogurt bites” and “cookies” have any place in anyone’s diet. Instead, feed your child eat REAL fruit, ACTUAL yogurt, and healthy carbs such as pasta, cous-cous, or rice.

Organic and conventional foods have the same nutritional content. They differ in price, and they differ in pesticide exposure, but no study to date has shown any health differences in children who consume organic vs conventional foods. For more information, see this American Academy article and this study as well as our own prior post about organic vs conventional foods.

A word about food allergies: Even the allergists lack a definitive answer of what makes a child allergic to a food, and the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology now recommends offering foods, including the more “allergic” foods, early to avoid later food allergy. This is a change from recommendations issued about 15 years ago. For safety concerns, if a household member has a life threatening allergy to a food, continue to avoid bringing that food into the house to ensure the safety of the allergic person. However, if no one at home has a peanut allergy, then a thin spread of peanut butter on a bit of toast or cracker is safe for your finger-feeding baby. Focus more on avoiding choking hazards than on avoiding theoretically allergenic foods.

And a word about fish:  For years, experts fretted about pregnant women and children exposing themselves to high mercury levels by eating contaminated fish. However, the  realization that fish is packed with nutrition, and the data that show only a few types of fish actually contain significant mercury levels, now leads the FDA to encourage fish intake in young children and pregnant women. Please check this FDA advice for specific information about which fish to offer your child and the nutritional benefits of different kinds of fish.

Bon appetite,

Julie Kardos, MD and Naline Lai, MD
©Two Peds in a Pod®

Updated from our original 2009 post