Mason's Peers Pressure Him to Eat Healthfully & I Like It

Mason always eats his whole grains, veggies, and fruits at school, which both thrills me and makes me feel like I have a paper cut that’s been spritzed with lemon juice. Since he turned 1 last August, mealtime is an…adventure. Sometimes he’ll eat a beautiful meal, while other times he refuses to eat anything but yogurt, graham crackers, and applesauce. So why is he willing to eat well so consistently at school and not at home? Peer pressure, according to a new study published in the journal of Current Biology.

Researchers discovered that even two-year-olds were more likely to copy an action when they saw it repeated by other toddlers, reports US News and World Report. “I think few people would have expected to find that 2-year-olds are already influenced by the majority,” said study author Daniel Haun, of the Max Planck Institutes for Evolutionary Anthropology and Psycholinguistics in Germany and the Netherlands.

There’s a lot to worry about when it comes to peer pressure–the documentary Bully immediately comes to mind–but in this case, peer pressure is an excellent thing. The kids in his class, who range from about 18-months-old to 21-months-old, eat breakfast, lunch, and afternoon snack together. The school only serves healthful food, and when one kid bites into a spear of broccoli or apple slice, the others try it out, confirms Mason’s teacher. In my opinion, that’s a win-win for everyone involved.

Dare I dream that Mason is a leader sometimes and not always a follower? Perhaps it’s time to invite the neighborhood tots over for dinner and find out.

Does peer pressure have a positive effect on your toddler?

Photo, above: Mason enjoys whole-wheat pancakes with a raspberry sauce and fresh apple slices at school

My Breast Cancer Scare

My friend Katherine saved my life. Last July we were wandering around Midtown east near our office (we work at the same company), trying to figure out where to go for lunch. Somehow mammograms came up and I confessed that I hadn’t had one since a few months before I got pregnant with Mason. Heather, you’ve got to go get one! she said. Of course I knew she was right.  I’m not 40, the recommended age to start getting mammograms–but I’m 34, which is the same age my mother was when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. And Katherine knows my history as well as I do.

I was dragging my feet scheduling my mammogram because my first one had been so mortifying, and not for the usual reasons (ie. You’re standing there topless while a technician manhandles your breasts and takes images of them). I mean, that part was embarrassing–but it got worse as the testing went on. Turns out, the technician had recognized my photo from a recipe newsletter that I edited and she freaked out. You’re a celebrity! she said. (Um, hardly.) The next time I get my newsletter, I’ll say, ‘I’ve seen her boobies!'” OMG. If this woman was excited to meet me–and, um, “see my boobies”– imagine how she’d handle a mammogram with Jennifer Aniston?!

At Katherine’s urging, I called my ob-gyn as soon as we got back from lunch and scheduled my annual appointment. My doctor agreed that I needed another mammogram so she gave me a ‘script for one. The earliest I could get an appointment was last month because my ob hadn’t noticed anything concerning when she examined me. I marked the date on my calendar and forgot about it. My own mother had discovered her breast lump while she was taking a shower, so surely if my doctor didn’t feel a lump–and I hadn’t felt anything abnormal during my monthly self-breast exams–everything had to be fine, right? Or so I thought.

The day before I left for BlissDom, I got the mammogram. I had been sitting at my desk all morning trying to think up excuses to reschedule the appointment. I had a million things to do and I was positive I was fine. Why waste the time? Then I thought of Giuliana Rancic. She was diagnosed with breast cancer last fall, and she hadn’t noticed a problem prior to her mammogram. She hadn’t wanted to go get the test either, but she did and it probably saved her life. So I went through with it.

Nearly a week went by without a call from my doctor, so I assumed I was fine. They always call quickly if something is wrong, my mother assured me. Just put it out of your mind, you’re fine. Then my doc called to tell me that there had been a “finding” on my mammogram and that I needed to go back for a sonogram. I did as she instructed. Nothing showed up on the sonogram but it did show up once again on a second mammogram (which is apparently common with some masses)–and it turns out the finding was suspicious. The timing of all of this totally freaked me out–like I said, I’m the same age my mother was when she had breast cancer.

The radiologist ordered a needle biopsy, which I had done this past Tuesday. I’m not going to lie, it sucked. It was invasive and painful. The mass is right next to my breast bone, and I’ve been sore and bruised all week. But it was so worth it: About an hour ago, my doctor called to tell me that the mass they discovered  isn’t cancer (thank God) but it is precancerous, so I’ll need to have surgery to have it removed.

It’s cliche, but I feel like I dodged a bullet. Thank God I listened to Katherine. Thank God I have her as my friend. And thank God I don’t have cancer. To me, the biopsy yielded the best possible outcome. I’ll have this thing removed from my right breast–soon–and I won’t have to think about it anymore. And I’ll have a constant reminder (a scar) to take care of myself, which is something I forget to do sometimes now that I’m a busy mom. Get rest and exercise. Eat healthfully. Stop worrying so much. Stress less (my biggest challenge).

Seriously, if you have a family history of breast cancer–or you’re 40–schedule that mammogram. It’s just not worth it to take the chance. If not for you, do it for your kids.

Photo: Breast cancer awareness ribbon via Graphic design/Shutterstock

Project Weight Gain: We Did It!

Our 6 weeks were up. We had to take Mason to the pediatrician’s office yesterday afternoon for his weigh-in, even though it was the last place any of us wanted to be on our day off. Would we finally be on track with this whole underweight issue, or would we be going straight from the doctor’s office to the lab for testing? I was so nervous I felt sick. I couldn’t bear for anything to be wrong with Bug.

The nurse weighed him, and, we did it! We met our goal of increasing Mason’s weight just enough to get him back on the growth curve, and I’m very proud to say we did it in a healthful way (details below). He gained 1 pound and 13 ounces in 6 weeks; to put that in perspective, Bug gained just l pound between his 12-month and 15-month check-ups. He’s still in the bottom percentile for his weight, but he’s back on an upward growth curve, which was our ultimate goal.

Mason’s pediatrician was thrilled (“This is the kind of appointment I like to have!”), and, best of all, said he “wasn’t worried at all” about any underlying health problems. He explained that he needed to see whether Mason could gain an appropriate amount of weight if we increased his caloric intake. If Bug hadn’t been able to gain weight then it would have been a strong indication that something was wrong. Sound familiar? That’s because Richard Rende,’s resident expert in child health and development studies, totally called it when he re-framed the situation for me a few weeks ago.

I feel so blessed. I’ve tried to put my fears into perspective–after all, skinniness runs in both our families–but the anxiety of Mason’s impeding weigh-in, and the possibility of our doctor discovering that Mason had a serious health problem, got to me last Thursday night and continued to nag me throughout the weekend. By the time our appointment rolled around yesterday, I was both afraid of what I might hear and desperate to get it over with. Now that we know that it was just a matter of giving Mason more calories, I’ll work to keep Mason’s caloric intake up in a healthful way. And by “up,” I mean just enough to keep up with the curve, I’m not trying to turn him into a sumo wrestler or anything like that.

Ironically, I had trouble keeping weight on when I was pregnant, despite the fact that I ate constantly. I’m convinced Mason has hollow legs. It’ll be interesting to see what happens with the next one, if I’m lucky enough to have a second child one day.

The back story, in case you missed it:

At Mason’s 15-month check-up, our pediatrician told me that I needed to do “everything in my power” to fatten Mason up. (Mason’s tall–he’s in the 75th percentile for height–but he had completely fallen off charts for his weight.) We were to come in six weeks later and if Mason hadn’t gained enough weight then he was going to be tested for Celiac and the like. I silently freaked out–What if he’s really sick? I also felt bitter about the irony of having to fatten my kid up in a society where childhood obesity is a major problem. After all, as I said, skinniness is in Mason’s genetics..

Then I pulled myself together and got to work.

I put the extra weight on Mason by increasing his starch intake overall, with fruit-filled quick breads and whole-wheat pasta. I also added more healthful fats (a few drops of olive oil to sauces and extra avocado), as our pediatrician had recommended. I still made sure that Bug got a fruit and veggie with every meal, and I still served him lean chicken and beef as well as beans and lentils. And although I believe in occasional splurges, we kept the indulgences in check. He ate the same number of treats that he did before we were tasked with helping him gain weight. For me, it’s not just about weight, it’s about overall health. Diabetes and heart disease runs in Chris’ family and cancer runs in mine, and I believe that diet really does make a difference when it comes to these diseases. I refused to fill him out with sugary, fatty foods just to get him on some growth chart. Fortunately, it all worked out.

I’m sure lots of you have met exciting goals lately. Dish here!

And the Scary Juice News Just Keeps On Coming

Over Christmas, I joked that I was the only mom who was trying to get her kid to drink juice. As we were flying from NYC to Columbus, OH, to visit my family, I mixed a bit of orange juice into Mason’s water, since we didn’t have any whole milk on hand and he wasn’t interested in plain water. He stared at it, took a sip, shot me a disgusted look, and threw his bottle into the aisle. Well, excuse me. On Christmas Eve, at my grandma’s house, my niece was guzzling grape juice so I gave him a sip of the stuff and got pretty much the same reaction. My third and final attempt to give him juice took place at my in-law’s house in Bluefield, West Virginia. My mother-in-law was concerned that Mason was drinking too much milk, particularly since he was very congested (and she felt that milk can make mucus worse), so she suggested I give him tea. No dice. Then she suggested apple juice, and we struck out again. It was clear that Mason wanted his whole milk and whole milk only, so why keep torturing the kid?

Now I’m thinking perhaps his aversion to juice was a blessing in disguise–but I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a Worst Case Scenario Mom when it comes to food safety. Perhaps I’m freaked out unnecessarily, you be the judge.

In the wake of unsettling reports that arsenic was discovered in several major apple juice brands last September, Coco-Cola is reporting fungicide in its orange juice.’s news blogger Holly Lebowitz Rossi reports: “Coca-Cola, which manufactures both the Simply Orange and Minute Maid brands of orange juice, has reported to federal regulators that the company has detected low levels of the fungicide carbendazim in its juice and in an unnamed competitors’ juice.  The fungicide, which is illegal for use on food in the United States, is widely used against mold on orange trees in Brazil, which exports orange juice to many U.S. companies.” There has not been a recall, according to, because the FDA says that levels of the fungicide were too low to warrant pulling the orange juice off of supermarket shelves.

Do these juice reports freak you out? If so, will you change the kind of juice you give to your kid, or stop giving your kid juice all together?

Photo: Image via Shutterstock

Double Ear Infection + Olive Oil, Lots of It

Sitting on the exam table, playing with fun new gadgets, just moments before his meltdown.

Mason’s 15-month checkup was last night. I looked forward to it all day. I love seeing how much he weighs and how tall he is. I love chatting with his doc about milestones. And I was psyched that we had scored a 6:30 appointment — I could be home with Mason after his appointment and I wouldn’t have to miss any work. Since when do doctors’ appointments fit so well into real life? I imagined that our plum appointment time was foreshadowing to a wonderful checkup. Instead, it was a nightmare. Here’s how it all went down, from appointment to bedtime.

5:45 p.m.: Arrive at daycare. Learn Bug is happily playing with toys — but he refused to eat the dinner I sent.

5:47: Upon closer inspection, discover Bug’s nose is running, his eyelashes are crusted with goop, and his diaper is filled with poo. Change him, wipe his eyes, and wrestle him into his coat. Ignore sinking feeling in stomach.

5:55: Trudge to the subway in the rain, hauling Bug in the Ergo. Arrive at Grand Central, swipe Metro card. Insufficient fare. Stand in line for 5 minutes to add money to the card. Shush screaming baby.

6:07: Board train. Hand Mason his snack. Watch as he attempts to stuff a handful of puffs in his mouth but drops half of them on the ground instead. Accidentally crush fallen puffs with boot as we exit the train.

6:27: Arrive at doctor’s office, which resembles a zoo. Mothers take in Bug’s goopy eyes and conspicuously move away from us. Inform receptionist that although we’re scheduled for a well-visit I suspect we’re actually here for a sick visit.

6:37: Nurse calls us back. Weighs and measures suddenly charming, flirtatious baby. Chalk up the last 30 minutes to a typical 1-year-old mood swing and snap a photo of him playing with the gadgets around the exam table. So cute.

6:43: Doc enters the room and announces that Bug is very tall but “falling below the curve” in weight. Must coat his food in olive oil and bring him in for another weigh-in in six weeks. What if I just bathe him in olive oil every night instead?

6:47: Inform doc that Bug seems sick. His cold is better but now his eyes are goopy. Doc checks baby’s ears and reports he has a double ear infection. Hands me a prescription for Amoxicillin. Bug wails.

6:50: Pin Bug’s arms, legs, and head down so the doc can examine him. Attempt to quiet his screams for fear of traumatizing every child within earshot. Torture doc with my off-key rendition of Itsy Bitsy Spider.

6:53: Doc reports that Bug isn’t walking because he doesn’t want to yet, not because he can’t. Sigh. Must return to office in 2 weeks, after baby is well, so he can get his vaccines. Weigh-in four weeks after that. Maybe he’ll walk by then?

6:56: Leave office, schlep to nearest pharmacy, in the rain. Stand in line. Stranger informs me that Bug looks like he’s been crying. Another remarks that Bug looks sick. Grit my teeth. Pharmacist offers a pitying look and announces she’ll have Bug’s antibiotic ready in 15 minutes (a miraculous feat for any NYC pharmacist).

7:11: Trudge back to subway. Still raining. Board train #1 and hand Bug his snack. He throws snack on floor, screeches when I try to take snack away from him. Board train #2 and try to block baby’s attempt to throw snack. Fail miserably.

7:50: Enter apartment building. Doorman announces that Mason looks unhappy. Would I like to carry my grocery delivery upstairs now, in addition to my 19-pound kid, laptop, and diaper bag?

8:15: Baby finishes strawberry yogurt and olive-oil-soaked cheese toast. Spits out half of the antibiotic I’ve just given him. Screams.

8:20: Haul Bug downstairs to retrieve groceries. Use free hand to maneuver cart loaded with groceries back into the elevator and up to our place. Unpack groceries. Baby hides toys in now-empty boxes and pushes them around the kitchen.

8:45: Confirm baby don’t have hives, nor has he vomited. (Did I mention I’m allergic to Amoxicillin?) Hand him a frozen pacifier, cover him with kisses, and tuck him into bed, 45 minutes past his bedtime.

8:46: Attack dirty dishes in the sink, crumbs on the floor, heap of toys in the kitchen. Laundry? Mopping? Dinner?

Putting the Kabosh on Teething Pain with Chilled Fruits & Veggies

We had the Saturday from h-ll. Poor Mason’s cutting three new teeth and he has a brutal cold so he just clung to us and screamed most of the day. His little gums were horribly swollen and red, his nose was running nonstop, and his chest was rattling when he breathed. I’ve never felt so helpless as a Mom. He’s always been a good baby so we don’t have much experience with crying/screaming jags (yes, there’s an excellent chance we’ll get hit hard with #2). I kept wishing there was something I could do to make his misery go away, but I could only try to minimize his painful symptoms. At one point, I started to cry, too, out of sympathy and exhaustion and worry. I became Worse Case Scenario Mom and was convinced something was seriously wrong with him. Luckily Chris is an excellent voice of reason or I probably would have taken my baby to the ER…for teething and a cold.

To treat his cold, we turned on the shower and had him breathe in steam from hot water for 10-minute intervals (Chris and I took turns holding him and distracting him from the discomfort of the hot, wet air with his toy cars). He also slept with a humidifier running and a thick coating of Vicks on his chest. To help the teething pain, which seems to be the greater of the two evils, I gave him baby Motrin and frozen pacifiers. At mealtime, I coaxed him to eat a few different soft, squishy foods. He didn’t want to eat much (he even rejected mac ‘n’ cheese!), but here are the things that he would eat. We’d go through the list, try a few other things, and then repeat. (Other moms have recommended frozen bagels and waffles to us in the past, but unfortunately Bug wouldn’t go for either.) Any other suggestions to add to the list?

1. Homemade applesauce, chilled in the freezer for 20 minutes before serving

2. Beets, diced, cooked, and chilled

3. Banana, sliced and partially frozen

4. Full-fat Greek yogurt mixed with icy smashed pear; try one spoonful of yogurt for every two spoonfuls of fruit.

5. Ripe melon, diced and chilled– not the easiest thing to find this time of year but we lucked out.

6. Ice cold milk — a drink, I know, but Bug consumed more milk than anything else.

Other foods that Mason was willing to eat included chunks of Swiss cheese, toast with melted cheddar cheese, corn, and peas. He rejected eggs, pasta, turkey meatballs, blueberries, and grapes.

Tonight I’m making a chicken-ginger soup (recipe to come soon!). Now that both Bug and I both have his cold we need a little TLC and hot bowls of homemade soup just sound good!