Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Family-Focused Food: A West Philly Mama's Insight

West Philly Mama is a mother of two from - you guessed it! - West Philly, where she was neither born nor raised, but the playground is, indeed, where she spends most of her days. She is actually a Pittsburgh native who has an insightful and entertaining blog on motherhood. Her blog profile states: “I blog about parenting as a queer, Latina, feminist reclaiming family values.” Another little fun fact? She's my sister!

West Philly Mama opened up to Sweat and Butter to share her transition from personal health to family-focused nutrition.
When did you start focusing on nutrition for yourself?
I suppose it's been life-long, but I didn't always have a clear understanding of nutrition.  I conflated weight and health and trusted information that turned out to be unreliable.  When I had trouble getting pregnant, I really started to explore my health concerns beyond fitting into a pair of jeans.  

What nutrition restrictions and goals did you have when you were pregnant?

Since I spent nearly two years trying to get pregnant the first time, I was already examining my food and health choices before I became pregnant.  I tried to prioritize fresh whole foods and made sure I was doing something active each day, even if it was just walking the dog. When I was a pregnant I maintained those goals but was also a big believer in listening to cravings.  Cravings can point to deficiencies. For example, I had very low iron during my second pregnancy, and I was craving iron-rich foods even before blood tests confirmed it.  Of course other times you just want a brownie fudge sundae, and that's ok, too.

What is important for you to teach your children about meals?

I think it's important to teach kids about where food comes from.  This makes the difference between whole foods and processed foods easier to understand.  It's harder to do this living in the city, but this is why we have a container garden with vegetables. We also try to visit farms at least once a season to pick produce and learn about how foods are grown.  I also try to involve them in the preparation of meals.  It takes a bit longer to let a toddler "help" you, but it makes them much more likely to try new foods, and it cultivates valuable life skills.  One of our favorite dinner table games is "Rainbow Day" - which is where we go through the fruits and veggies we've eaten that day and see how many colors we've included.  It's fun, and it emphasizes that we should be eating a variety of foods.  It has started conversations about colors found in foods naturally versus added dyes in processed foods as well.

Are there any improvements that you'd like to see in your family's eating habits?

I do wish it was easier to eat out.  Most kid's menus are awful and wholesome food tends to be more expensive in general, which is why we try to pack meals or eat at home as much as possible.  I think the kids are mostly on track with good eating habits. It's my own long-standing bad habits that I'm more concerned about breaking.  I'd love to cut my sugar intake in half, and I struggle with moderation.  Those are the two major things that make me feel like a hypocrite.

What has been the biggest challenge in moving to family nutrition from a focus on personal diet goals?

The hypocrisy I mentioned before.  The kids have a clean slate, and I want to preserve that as much as possible, but I'm still struggling with deep-rooted vices.  I try to avoid "Do as I say, not as I do" mentality, but I definitely don't always set the perfect example.  It's challenging having little eyes on you at all times.  I totally get why Mom ate ice-cream in bed after we went to sleep!

What would you like your children to take from your experience with food?

I hope they can grow up with an innate sense of moderation and balance.  It's a tall order, but it's my number one wish for them.  I hope they can see food as vital fuel for our bodies as well as a source of joy and indulgence.  I also hope they think about what they put into their bodies without obsessing over it.  I hope they love to eat and cook and share meals, and I hope those meals are nutritious, delicious, and at times even decadent.  

Play with your food! As an aunt, I have enjoyed sensory play with the kids by hiding objects the babies can mouth along with fruits in a large tray of yogurt. The babies can explore through the cool, wet, and slippery yogurt and discover their toys and food with their mouths. It’s really magical and messy!

Stephanie Telep is a co-founder and health coach at Sweat and Butter.  She received her training at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition and holds a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Duquesne University.  She is inspired to help others make necessary changes in their lives while fostering a positive and healthy path.
She can be reached at

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