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Feeding Your Vegetarian Toddler

By Dinah Torres Castro

Parents wishing to successfully raise their children as vegetarians need to learn all they can before venturing into this practice. Just because you have been a vegetarian for years does not ensure that your infant or toddler will benefit from your choice. That is not to say that it can’t be done as millions of parents throughout the world have vegetarian diets and manage to raise healthy, thriving children. It is recommended that parents making this decision consult with a Registered Dietitian to review the dietary needs of their children and ensure they are meeting those needs.

A well-planned vegetarian or vegan diet can be healthy and appropriate for all stages of the lifecycle, including infancy and toddlerhood. Parents must take the time to learn how to ensure that their children are getting all the nutrients they need for normal growth and development.

Before starting a vegetarian diet, become familiar with the different types of vegetarian categories and choose the one that is best for your family.

Major vegetarian categories include:

  • Lacto-ovo vegetarians eat no meat, poultry, or fish, but do eat eggs and dairy products (what most of us mean when we say “vegetarian”)
  • Lacto-vegetarians eat no meat, poultry, fish, or eggs, but do eat dairy products
  • Ovo-vegetarians eat no meat, poultry, fish, or dairy products, but do eat eggs
  • Vegans eat only plant-derived foods
  • Semi-vegetarians eliminate red meats, but may eat poultry and/or fish

Whichever type of vegetarian diet you choose, you should always give your children a variety of foods that provide enough calories and nutrients to enable them to grow normally. Every vegetarian must be aware of the nutrients that are hard to get when they don’t have animal products in their diet, including foods that contain vitamin B-12, vitamin D, calcium, iron, zinc, and proteins.

Good sources of these nutrients:

Nutrient: Food sources:
vitamin B-12 dairy products, eggs, vitamin-fortified foods such as cereal, bread, soy and rice drinks, and nutritional yeast
vitamin D vitamin D-fortified orange juice and other fortified foods
calcium dairy products, dark green leafy vegetables, broccoli, dried beans, calcium-fortified products (such as orange juice, soy and rice drinks, and cereals)
iron eggs, dried beans, dried fruits, whole grains, leafy green vegetables, iron-fortified cereals, and bread.
zinc wheat germ, nuts, fortified cereals, dried beans, and pumpkin seeds
protein dairy products, eggs, tofu, other soy products, dried beans, and nuts

Feeding toddlers is challenging regardless of what type of diet you choose. Toddlers can be picky, and, as a result, may not get enough calories from a vegetarian diet to thrive. Parents must plan meals carefully to ensure that they get sufficient calories. Small, frequent meals with nutrient rich snacks are recommended.

For more information on feeding your vegetarian toddlers, check out the resource below:

Vegetarian nutrition for toddlers and preschoolers:

Dinah Castro is a Bilingual Family Well-Being Educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s Family Health and Wellness Program. She can be reached at 631-727-7850 ext. 351 or at

Dealing with Loss and Grief

By Laura Keiley, RN

Loss is a part of everyone’s life, and grief is the price we pay for love. The death of a loved one is one of, if not the most, painful and difficult things we will experience in life. Whether the loss is expected or sudden, losing someone you love is emotionally devastating. There are stages/common feelings and emotions of grief, but everyone does not experience them in order, and not everyone experiences all of them. Sometimes you may feel several different conflicting emotions at once, including denial, disbelief, confusion, shock, sadness, yearning, anger, despair, and guilt, among others.

Everyone grieves and mourns after a loss, but every individual’s mourning is different and lasts different lengths of time. There is no right or wrong way to grieve. Grief can be expressed in many different ways – crying, feelings of depression, angry outbursts, stomach pain, lack of appetite or eating too much, sleep disturbances, fatigue, among many others. Some people try to deny their pain, but it is very important to allow yourself to feel the impact of the loss and grieve or it can lead to physical or emotional problems.

Some ways to live with grief:

  • Be patient and gentle with yourself. There are no “shoulds” or “should nots” in grieving. Allow yourself to feel whatever it is you are feeling without judging or being critical of yourself.
  • Spend time with loving and caring family and friends.
  • Seek out support groups with people who are going through a loss similar to yours.
  • Talk about your feelings.
  • Be in touch with your doctor. Keep regular medical appointments.
  • Try to eat well, get enough sleep, and try not to use substances to numb your pain.
  • Delay any major decisions such as changing jobs, moving, having a baby, etc. before you have had adequate time to become somewhat adjusted to your loss.
  • Understand there is no grief timeline you have to follow.
  • Seek professional help if you feel you cannot handle your pain alone.

When others are grieving:

  • Be there for them, talk to them about their grief. Talk about and allow them to talk about their lost loved one.
  • Don’t say things like “you’ll get over it”, “it was for the best”, “they’re in a better place now”, etc. People who are grieving often say that these expressions make them feel worse and that it minimizes their pain and loss.
  • Help them physically – with chores, shopping, cooking, cleaning, etc.
  • Give them all the time they need. Don’t hold them to a timeline of grieving. Those who lose a loved one do not “get over it”, they adapt to the loss by eventually accepting the finality of the loss and trying to make a life for themselves and their family without their loved one. They eventually open themselves up to happiness and joy again, and find ways to honor and remember their loved one and their bond. Everyone will do this in different ways.
  • Encourage professional help if you observe unhealthy coping behaviors or if you feel someone cannot handle their pain without help.

With the support from family, friends, and professionals if necessary, and patience with oneself, you will survive your grief. Eventually the pain will lessen to the point that you can move forward with your life, always with the precious and cherished memories of your loved one.


Coping with Grief – NIH


Bereavement and Grief – MHA


Laura Keiley is a Registered Nurse and Diabetes Educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s Family Health and Wellness Program. She can be reached at

What’s in your teen’s backpack?

By Cara Weiner Sultan, MSW

As your children move to middle and high school, their backpacks no longer contain markers, crayons, and scissors. Instead, school supplies become an interesting assortment of computers, phones, chargers, and other electronic devices. Did you know that the electronic-looking contents of your child’s backpack may actually be masking an e-cigarette or vaping device?

An e-cigarette creates an aerosol by using a battery to heat liquid that usually contains nicotine, flavorings, and other additives. Oftentimes, the amount of nicotine contained in one e-cigarette is equal to a pack of 20 regular cigarettes.

Over the past few years, specific types of e-cigarettes targeting teens have emerged as popular.  Social media has been effective in advertising directly to teens, even though the legal age to purchase e-cigarettes is 21. These new devices come in many appealing colors, shapes, and sizes, and may even appear identical to a USB flash drive which can plug into a computer. This makes e-cigarettes easily concealed at home, school, or even in the bathroom. They do not stand out among an assortment of flash drives and charging cords. These vaping devices are small and can be hidden easily in pockets, backpacks, or even a shirt sleeve in the back of the classroom.

Oftentimes, liquid nicotine refills in these new types of e-cigarettes are called “pods,” and come in enticing flavors, such as mint, mango, cucumber, banana split, and chocolate cake. These flavors spark curiosity and mask the harsh smelling tobacco. Youth are easily intrigued by these enticing flavors and quickly become hooked on nicotine. An added danger specific to some types of pods is that they use nicotine salts which allow higher levels of nicotine to be inhaled without as much irritation as traditional e-cigarettes. Alarmingly, the CDC reports that two-thirds of specific popular e-cigarette brand users ages 15-24 don’t even realize that the e-cigarettes contain nicotine.

The health risks of vaping and using e-cigarettes are significant. Nicotine is poison to the adolescent brain which is still developing until the age of 25. Using nicotine may change the way synapses or connections are formed in the brain, leading to poor impulse control, difficulty learning, mood disorders, and a propensity for other addictions. The long term effects of the chemicals specific to each vaping product are still being studied, but scientists agree they are not safe and advertising to youth must be curtailed. Over the past two years, the FDA has taken a lead role in a directed campaign called “The Real Cost” to educate youth about the dangers of e-cigarettes.

Take a moment, educate yourself as a caregiver, learn about what’s in your child’s backpack, and talk to your child if you feel this is a concern. Be patient, avoid criticism, and remember it should be a conversation, not a lecture. Most of all, set a good example by remaining tobacco-free yourself.

Please see below for additional resources:


Please watch this brief video from Tobacco Free California for a visual of what these devices look like:


Cara Weiner Sultan is a Parent Educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s Family Health and Wellness Program.  She can be reached at

Fun with Fennel

By Cristina F. Toscano, RD

It’s possible that you have never seen raw fennel. After all, it is not as common in the American diet as carrots, which happen to be in the same family. If you have seen fennel, you may have noticed it’s light green/white color and silly shape. In fact, its bulb and long stalks resemble a human heart, which is remarkable because it is rich in fiber and can be considered a “heart healthy” food.

Fennel is also an excellent source of vitamin C, vitamin K, and potassium. Fennel has a slightly sweet licorice taste, making it the perfect addition to salads, soups and more! It can be roasted, boiled, steamed, or eaten raw. Below is a simple, yet refreshing, salad that you can make in 5 minutes or less to get you started enjoying fennel!

Fennel Fruit Salad

       Makes 6-8 servings

1 fennel bulb

2 oranges

1 pomegranate

fresh mint leaves (to taste)

Supplies needed: large bowl, mixing spoon, knife

  • Rinse and chop the fennel into small pieces. Feel free to use the bulb, stalk, and feathery fronds, as all parts are edible and will provide a different texture and flavor to your dish.
  • Peel and slice the orange into small pieces.
  • De-seed the pomegranate.
  • Mix together the pomegranate arils (seeds), orange, and fennel in a large bowl.
  • Garnish with fresh mint leaves and enjoy! 😊

For more information, please visit:

Cristina is a Registered Dietitian, Diabetes and Family Health Educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s Family Health and Wellness Program. She can be reached at

Protein Sources for Vegetarians

By Ruchi Shah, MS, RD, CDN

As a vegetarian, I am always looking for protein sources to create healthy, well balanced meals for myself. It’s hard sometimes knowing what plant based protein sources act as the protein source in meals. Provided below is a list of some plant based protein sources and their protein content.

Tofu is a great source of plant protein that is easy to use as a meat substitute. You can use tofu in wraps, sandwiches, salads, and stir fries. Half a cup of raw tofu provides about 10 grams of protein.

Egg is a delicious breakfast protein with slice of whole wheat toast and a few slices of avocado. One egg provides about 6 grams of protein.

Greek yogurt is a delicious snack. Top it with some almonds and ¼ cup of fruit. Choose plain and low fat. One cup of Greek yogurt provides about 20 grams of protein.

Cottage cheese is a delicious snack or breakfast choice. Cottage cheese tastes great with whole wheat crackers, bread, or even fruit. Half a cup of cottage cheese provides 14 grams of protein.

Quinoa is a grain which provides protein as well. Quinoa tastes great in salads, and is also a wonderful rice substitute. One cup of quinoa provides about 8 grams of protein.

Soy milk is a delicious milk substitute. Be sure to choose the soy milk that is labeled as unsweetened. One cup of soy milk provides about 8 grams of protein.

Lentils and beans are great sources of fiber and provide protein as well. They are a major component of many cultural dishes. About ¼ cup of lentils or beans provides 4 grams of protein.

Peanut butter is a delicious source of protein. It’s great with fruit, in oatmeal, or on whole wheat bread or crackers. One tablespoon of peanut butter provides 3.5 grams of protein.

Nuts are a great snack and a wonderful source of healthy fat. Choose ones without added sugar or salt. Nuts are great to add to salads! Half an ounce of nuts provides 3 grams of protein.

Seeds are also a great snack and source of healthy fat. Again, choose seeds without added salt or sugar. Seeds provide 3-4 grams of protein, depending on the seed.

For vegetarians, finding sources of protein is very important due to the few options we have. I hope this list helps you add more variety to your protein sources!

Ruchi Shah is a Registered Dietitian and Diabetes Educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s Family Health and Wellness Program. She can be reached at

How to help your child be successful with remote instruction

By Kerri Kreh Reda, M.P.H.

If your child did not start the 2020-2021 school year with remote learning, it is highly likely that he or she will experience it, for at least a brief time, before the school year is through. Here are some tips that can help your child be more successful while learning at home.

Space – If your child is going to school in your home, he or she will need a space to work. This may be the kitchen table, an office, or perhaps a desk in his or her bedroom. The location will depend on your child, his/her age and ability to do work independently, how many other children you have, and your home. There is no one right way to set up a space. Be creative; perhaps a closet can become a learning station. Talk to your child(ren) and find out what is right for them. It may be a combination such as in the morning everyone is at the kitchen table working together, and in the afternoon everyone goes to their bedrooms or different rooms of the home for a little separation.

Organization – Be sure your child has all the tools needed to accomplish school work such as markers or a calculator, and a place to store them. If your child does not have a desk to store work and tools, consider providing a bin, basket, or file drawer where all school materials can be placed in at the end of the day. This will help your child to stay organized and possibly cut down on arguments when it is time to use the kitchen table to eat dinner.

Routine – Having routines are important under normal circumstances; they are critically important during a pandemic. Getting up and having the same morning routine each day gets your day started in a predictable way. Routines provide a feeling of security, keep us organized, and can decrease behavioral issues by helping children understand what is expected of them. When designing your family’s routine, consider what activities you expect them to do each day such as schoolwork, play time, time for socializing, non-academic screen time, chores, and sleep.

Setting up a daily school schedule may also be helpful if you have multiple children sharing technology, Wi-Fi, or parental supervision.

Communication – Regular check-ins, family meetings, or family meals offer an opportunity for all family members to stay connected and share feelings, concerns, solutions to problems, and make decisions together that impact the family.

Consider sending a note in the beginning of the school year with a positive comment about a book or project your child really enjoyed. This can help build a relationship early on so that if there are issues or concerns that come up, you already have an established relationship. Work in partnership with your child’s school so that your child can thrive.

Remember, these are unusual times. Expect things to be a little unsettled until we find our footing again. Try to be as patient and kind as you can to your child, his or her teacher, and to yourself.

Kerri Kreh Reda, M.P.H., is a Human Development Specialist with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s Family Health and Wellness Program. She can be reached at 631-727-7850 ext. 330 or at

More on Milk

By Christina Di Lieto

In the past few years many foods have been made into milk beverages, but are these nutritionally equivalent to cow’s milk? We know that cow’s milk is a great source of calcium which is important for bone health, and muscle growth and maintenance. Look for milk that is fortified with vitamin D. Cow’s milk also provides potassium which can help maintain healthy blood pressure. Choosing low-fat or fat-free milk will keep cholesterol levels under control.

One popular milk alternative is almond milk. It is important to keep in mind that milk beverages come in unsweetened and sweetened versions, so read the food label. Without being fortified, non-dairy beverages cannot offer the same nutrients as cow’s milk since they are diluted in water.

Oat milk is another non-dairy beverage that is an alternative for those with dietary restrictions (nuts, soy, lactose, and dairy). Similar to nut-based beverages, it is important to stay away from sweetened options and look for fortification with calcium, vitamin D, vitamin A, and riboflavin. Since this beverage is created from a grain, it contains greater amounts of fiber, carbohydrates, and calories when compared to other non-dairy products.

Similar to the other non-dairy milks, look for soy milk that is unsweetened and fortified with calcium, vitamin D, vitamin A, and riboflavin. Soy milk provides plant based-protein, and it is cholesterol free. It is the only non-dairy milk beverage recognized as an acceptable milk-substitute by WIC.


0-12 Months: breast milk/infant formula recommended

12-24 Months: 2-3 cups per day of whole milk; exclusive consumption of non- dairy milk is not recommended unless allergy is present

2 – 5 Years: 2 cups per day of low fat (1%) or fat free (skim milk); exclusive consumption of non- dairy milk is not recommended unless allergy is present

4-5 years: 2 1/2 cups per day of low fat (1%) or fat free (skim milk); exclusive consumption of non- dairy milk is not recommended unless allergy is present

For more information, visit:

Christina Di Lieto is a nutrition educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s Family Health and Wellness Program.  She can be reached at

Tweens and Teens and School Starting Time

By Maxine Roeper Cohen, M.S.

In a previous blog I wrote, entitled Teens and Sleep (please check the blog archive), I stressed the importance of a proper amount of sleep for youngsters’ physical, emotional and cognitive health. The average pre-teen and teen need about 9 – 9 ½ hours of sleep each night, about one hour more than a ten-year-old. During adolescence, a period of active brain and physical development, enough sleep is essential. Brain (cognitive) maturation depends upon the body being at rest so that these internal processes can occur. Tweens and teens are so busy with homework, clubs, sports, and work that they often become night owls in order to accomplish daily responsibilities. The normal delay in the biological clock that occurs in adolescence pushes teens’ bedtimes later and makes it hard for them to fall asleep before 11 pm. Getting sufficient sleep with a school’s early starting time becomes a major challenge.

California is the first state to deal with this issue. In the fall of 2019, California mandated later starting times for middle and high schools. Under this new law, high schools cannot start classes before 8:30 am, and middle schools cannot start classes before 8 am. These new start times must be in place by the 2022-2023 academic year. The three-year implementation period allows for communities to adjust and adapt to this new schedule.

Hopefully other states will follow California’s lead and adjust their schools’ starting times as well. Insufficient sleep puts teens at an increased risk for emotional and mental health problems such as self-harming behavior, depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, inattention, substance abuse, and suicide. This is a public health issue!

The American Academy of Pediatrics in 2014 recommended that middle and high schools start at 8:30 am or later. Other national organizations that have endorsed this recommendation include the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Parent Teacher Association, and the American Medical Association.

Sleep is important for everyone of us, child or adult. Our schools need to adapt to science research which stresses the need for sufficient sleep for optimal family health and wellness.

Maxine Roeper Cohen is a Parent Educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s Family Health and Wellness Program. She can be reached at

Staycation Ideas for Summer/Fall

By Dinah Torres Castro

Summer is almost gone, and most parents are consumed with the start of school this fall. Will it be done in person, remotely, or will school districts decide on a hybrid learning situation? What are the safety concerns for children and teachers? These are big questions and there is not much parents will be able to control. What we can do is make the most of the rest of summer time before children return to school.

Think of ways to enjoy these last few days of summer. Whether our current crisis situation or our economic constraints are key reasons, many families are opting for “staycations”. They are remaining in or around their homes and discovering new ways to appreciate their homes and neighborhoods. Make the most of a staycation by asking yourself what is it that you want to do regardless of these trying times. What do you want your children to remember? Our children will remember this summer…and it is up to us to make sure we create precious moments and positive memories for them. These summer memories don’t have to come with souvenirs. Here are some ideas of things to do on your staycation:

  • If you’re creative, think of an art project that you can do together as a family.
  • If you are on social media, take photos and post them—create a Summer/Fall 2020 montage and document the special moments (this also makes a wonderful holiday gift for family members who couldn’t visit this summer)!
  • Create your own private resort in the backyard or inside your home.
  • Sleep under the stars in your backyard.
  • Map out a neighborhood adventure walk
  • Organize a family cooking contest with prizes for the most creative, best tasting, and most likely to __________ (fill in the blank).
  • Organize scavenger hunts in your backyard and branch out to surrounding neighborhoods.
  • Have a fancy night out at home. Have everyone dress up and use the nice china. Dinner doesn’t have to fancy—it can be your favorite meal, even if it’s just pizza!
  • Have a do-it-yourself Olympics at home: indoor bowling (line up empty water bottles and knock them down with a ball); volley balloon (tie a string between 2 chairs to make a net, and hit a balloon back and forth over the line while on your knees); a human wheelbarrow race (have your child walk on his or her hands while you steer them by holding their feet), beanbag races (walk or run with a bean bag on your head).

You don’t need to spend a lot of money to create meaningful moments with your family. Keep in mind what is most important to you and follow your heart.

Dinah Castro is a Bilingual Family Well-Being Educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s Family Health and Wellness Program. She can be reached at 631-727-7850 ext. 351 or at

Intuitive Eating

By Ruchi Shah, MS, RD, CDN

Intuitive eating is a philosophy that promotes a healthy attitude towards food. It is feeding your body when you are hungry and stopping when you are full. Everyone’s body is different, so intuitive eating allows you to see what works for YOUR body.

This philosophy focuses on trusting your body and understanding what your body is telling you. You need to understand the difference between physical hunger and emotional hunger. Physical hunger is a biological response to your body needing replenishment, while emotional hunger is wanting food due to emotional stress such as boredom, sadness, or loneliness. With physical hunger, once you have eaten, your body is satisfied and is no longer in need of replenishment. With emotional hunger, however, cravings may take over, followed by feelings of self-hatred or guilt.

Research shows that intuitive eating has a positive effect on attitudes towards food, and helps to decrease BMI (body mass index) and promote weight maintenance. Intuitive eating keeps people on track with better retention rates and is a more sustainable way of eating.

In “The Intuitive Eating Book”, authors Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resche discuss the following key principles of intuitive eating:

  1. Reject the diet mentality.
    • Avoid dieting.
  2. Honor your hunger.
    • Respond to your body when it is telling you it is hungry.
  3. Make peace with food.
    • Don’t focus on what you should and shouldn’t eat.
  4. Challenge the food police.
    • Understand that food is neither good nor bad for you, and that you are not good or bad based on what you eat.
  5. Respect your fullness.
    • Listen to your body.
  6. Discover the satisfaction factor.
    • Make each eating experience enjoyable. Eat what you like to eat. Enjoy the meal.
  7. Honor your feelings without using food.
  8. Find ways to deal with your emotions other than using food as a coping mechanism.
  9. Respect your body.
  10. Love your body as it is.
  11. Exercise – feel the difference.
  12. Move your body. Do not focus on losing weight, but rather on gaining energy and strength.
  13. Honor your health – gentle nutrition
    • The foods you eat should make you feel good, and the overall food choices you make help to shape your health. One meal or snack will not cause harm to your health.

For more information, please visit

Ruchi Shah is a Registered Dietitian and Diabetes Educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s Family Health and Wellness Program. She can be reached at

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