Author Archive

Six Tips to Lower Sodium and Sugar in Toddlers’ Diets

Monday, February 2nd, 2015

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), a new study published in the journal Pediatrics finds that many commercial toddler meals and foods sold in the U.S. are high in sodium and sugar.

In the study, researchers looked at the amounts of sodium and sugar in 1,074 infant and toddler dinners, snacks, fruits, vegetables, dry cereals, juices and desserts. They found:

  • Out of 79 infant mixed grains and fruits, 41 contained at least one added sugar and 35 contained more than one third of their calories from sugar;
  • Seventy-two percent of toddler dinners were high in sodium (> 210 milligrams per meal);
  • On average, dry fruit-based snacks contained 60 grams of sugar and two thirds of their calories from total sugars –the most common added sugars included fruit juice concentrate, sugar, cane, syrup, and malt.

Cooking at home and preparing mainly fresh foods with little or no added sugar or sodium is a great way to help your infants and toddlers get started on a nutritious and balanced eating path. But it’s unrealistic to assume that parents won’t turn to foods and beverages that come in packages, cans, jars and containers at least some of the time—after all, they’re convenient and can save parents precious time when preparing meals.

To help you seamlessly lower sodium and sugar in your infants’ and toddlers’ diets while boosting nutrients, here are six tips from two top registered dietitian nutritionists, Jill Castle, and Bridget Swinney.

Get ‘em to the table. According to childhood nutrition expert Jill Castle, “One of the easiest ways to avoid too many packaged and processed foods is to get babies and young toddlers to the family table early on and to feed them more natural, wholesome, homemade foods.” Castle says that by one year of age, most toddlers can eat what the family eats as long as their food is chopped up (to the size of small dice). Low sugar, low sodium options include tender meat or cooked fish, baked potato (mashed with milk or water to smooth it out) or soft cooked noodles, soft cooked vegetables, or fruit canned in natural juices.

Make it at home. Bridget Swinney, author of Baby Bites and Healthy Food for Healthy Kids, says there are so many quick and easy homemade baby foods you can make without added sugar or salt. Some of her favorites include mashed banana, mashed avocado, and mashed apple (peel the apple simmer or steam in microwave, then mash) as well as boiled, baked or roasted carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower or any other vegetable you can easily mash with your fork.

Learn limits for sodium: When purchasing packaged food items, Castle says it’s important to know how to interpret the Nutrition Facts Panel to make sure sodium levels are low—especially since there is no standard for sodium Daily Values (DV) for children under four years. According to Castle, “Since the DV is based on a 2,000 calorie adult diet, infant and toddler foods that provide two or three percent or less DV per serving is a more appropriate (low) level of sodium for a toddler.” She also says that some foods designed for infants and toddlers may not list the sodium content, while common “kid” foods like macaroni and cheese, will. Swinney also recommends no more than 300 milligrams per serving for a meal and 150 milligrams per serving for a snack. She also says that while there’s no need to worry about sodium when serving fresh, homemade food, it’s wise to watch how much you add.

Offer smart snacks. According to Swinney, “Fresh and unsweetened fruits and vegetables, yogurt and boiled eggs make the easiest and healthiest snacks for little ones.” She also recommends adding your own soft fruit (pureed or chopped, depending on your child’s age) to plain Greek yogurt. Swinney also says that although small fruit cups packed in their own juice are convenient, so is a banana, grapes cut in half, and mandarin orange sections. She also recommends steaming chopped vegetables ahead of time to have on hand to pair with items like hummus or a yogurt dip for easy toddler-friendly snacks.

Blend and serve. “There’s no need to drag the food processor out when wanting to share your own dinner with baby. Simply take your portion out and season separately and then use an immersion blender or fork-mash to get to the right consistency for baby, right in the pan.”

Don’t forget iron and zinc: According to Castle, it’s essential to help babies six months and older get good food sources of iron, a mineral that’s critical for brain development and that babies six months and older need more of, and zinc, a mineral involved in many normal body functions and essential for normal growth. Castle suggests that parents slow cook lean beef or skinless, dark meat chicken or turkey (legs or thighs) with 1/2 to 3/4 cup of water or low sodium broth and puree in a blender, offering it as a stand-alone pureed entrée or using one tablespoon of pureed meat with jarred pureed fruit or veggies.

Click here to learn how to transition your baby from pureed to solid foods, and click here for new nutrition guidelines for 2- to 12-year-olds.

How do you limit sugar and sodium in your child’s meals?

Image of children eating healthy food via shutterstock. 

Add a Comment

Should Kids Pass on Pizza?

Sunday, January 25th, 2015

According to a recent article in the Atlantic, the U.S. pizza industry serves about 100 acres of pizza daily. That’s enough pizza to fill about 77 football fields.

Of course the popularity of pizza among grownups and kids alike is no surprise. Not only does the concoction of dough, sauce, and cheese taste great, but it’s such an easily accessible food—something we can easily grab and go with (no utensils required). And as any parent or child knows, pizza is probably the most popular staple at kids’ birthday parties and other celebrations at school or otherwise.

Despite its popularity, some researchers believe that pizza is something that should be limited in kids’ diets. According to a new study in Pediatrics, national survey data revealed that although total calorie intake from pizza has declined 25 percent from 2003-2004 to 2009-2010, on days kids ate pizza they also consumed more calories, saturated fat, and sodium that they did than on days they didn’t down the doughy delight. The study also found that on pizza-eating days, children 2- to 11-years old consumed an extra 84 calories, 3 grams of saturated fat, and 134 milligrams of sodium than they did on non-pizza-eating days.

Researchers also found that having pizza as a snack or consuming pizza purchased at fast-food restaurants had the greatest impact on total calorie intake.

Because of the possible adverse dietary effects of pizza intake, the researchers recommend curbing pizza intake and improving the nutrition content of the beloved dietary staple.

I love pizza as much as the next parent and give it to my kids, usually once or twice weekly. In my opinion, the key to consuming pizza is to keep an eye on portion size. Less is more, and pairing a fast-food pizza slice with a colorful salad (with a tablespoon or two of an oil-based dressing), steamed or lightly sautéed vegetables (on the side or on top), or a reduced- or low-sodium soup are great ways to limit any possible perils associated with pizza intake and to help kids increase their intake of fruits and vegetables.

Blotting pizza is also a good way to make it less oily—it may even save some calories without taking away from the nutritional value of the meal. And instead of eating pizza by folding it in half, slicing it into two halves or cutting it into small bites and eating it with a fork also can help kids eat more slowly and mindfully and pace themselves better at their meal.

Limiting intake of pizza you order or take out from anywhere—a restaurant, a movie theater, a ballpark—and making it a once- or twice-a-week or once-in-a-while treat probably not a bad idea to help kids eat less and better. Making it more often at home can also help you have more control over portion sizes. Using more nutritious ingredients e.g. whole grain dough, low- or no-sodium sauces, and lower fat cheeses and having your kids help make the pizza can also help your kids not only eat better but have fun with you in the kitchen.

Perfect pizza toppers

According to culinary nutritionist Rachel Begun, MS, RDN, “Roasting vegetables brings out their sweetness, which kids particularly like.” Some of her favorite “sweet” toppings include roasted garlic and peppers, roasted squash or sweet potatoes (with sautéed spinach). She also recommends tasty herbal combinations to top pizza including pesto sauce with roasted tomatoes, or a bruschetta sauce made with tomatoes, onions and herbs, like cilantro or basil. And for kids who want the meaty, salty, crunch of bacon bits atop their pizza, Begun recommends this alternative which tastes remarkably similar: Thinly slice cremini or shiitake mushrooms, coat with olive oil, soy sauce and sweet smoked paprika, and bake at 375 degrees Fahrenheit until the mushrooms are browned and have shrunk. Let them cool for a few minutes until they are nice and crispy. Add them to your pizza in the last few minutes of cooking.

“I love to top pizza Roman style—with eggs,” says culinary dietitian and cookbook author Jackie Newgent. For simplicity, she suggests frying them separately in a little grapeseed oil and then adding on top of cooked pizza. She also likes to top prepared pizza with Haas avocado cubes, a squirt of lemon juice, and an optional sprinkling of organic bacon bits. And when it comes to white pizza—the kind made without red sauce—Newgent suggests black sesame seeds as a topper. “They act as “confetti” on pizza and give it extra crunch,” she says. An added bonus: kids can have fun shaking the seeds on. According to Newgent, a little bit of orange zest (grated orange peel) also works great as a flavor accent on white pizza. “Think of it like you might sprinkle on parmesan cheese, but it’s fresher and fruiter,” she adds.

Cookbook author and culinary instructor Robyn Webb also recommends the following combinations to give a spin to pizza: caramelized onions (in the smallest amount of olive oil) with walnuts (see photo); arugula with chopped tomatoes and parmesan shards; or roasted red, yellow and orange peppers with fresh thyme.

How often do you eat pizza with your kids, and what are your favorite toppers? 

Image of caramelized onion and walnut pizza via Robyn Webb.

 

Add a Comment

Is BPA Less Dangerous Than We Thought?

Tuesday, January 20th, 2015

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently reaffirmed its position on Bisphenol A (BPA), stating that the chemical—a structural component in polycarbonate beverage bottles (e.g. reusable water bottles) and a component in the coatings of metal cans—is safe at current levels that occur in foods. The FDA asserts that, based on its ongoing safety review of scientific evidence which included a four-year review (completed in the Fall of 2014) of more than 300 scientific studies, the available information continues to support BPA’s safety for currently approved uses in food containers and packaging.

In response to two petitions, the FDA recently amended its food additive regulations to no longer provide for the use of certain BPA-based materials in baby bottles, sippy cups, and infant formula packaging because these uses have been abandoned. According to the FDA, amending such regulations is not based on safety, but is based on the fact that the regulatory authorization is no longer necessary for the specific use of the food additive because that use has been permanently and completely abandoned.

Not everyone agrees that BPA is safe. According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), BPA is a synthetic estrogen that can disrupt the endocrine system, even in small amounts. The EPA asserts that BPA has been linked to a lot of ills including infertility, breast and reproductive system cancer, obesity, diabetes, early puberty, behavioral changes in children and resistance to chemotherapy treatments. In a recent article, the EWG criticized the FDA for its reliance on traditional methods of studying the toxicity of chemicals like BPA. It also asserted that the study upon which the FDA based its recent safety determination “suffered from methodological problems and unintentionally exposed its control animals to low doses of BPA, making it impossible to draw any conclusions about the safety of everyday BPA exposures for Americans.” (To read more about the EWG’s position on this, click here.)

As mentioned in a previous Scoop on Food post, recent studies suggest that BPA exposure in childhood can contribute to health risks including obesity in girls and accelerated growth in some young children. Being exposed to BPA prenatally also has been linked with diminished lung function and wheezing in young children as well as with increased behavior problems in school age boys. Another study posited that prenatal exposure to BPA and high-molecular-weight phthalates—chemicals used in hundreds of products including plastics—might also increase the risk of asthma symptoms and respiratory tract infections throughout childhood.

Although the FDA vows to continue to learn about BPA and to consult with federal agencies including the EWG, the National Institutes of Health (and the National Toxicology Program) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as international regulatory and public health counterparts, as a parent you may very well have concerns about BPA, especially when it comes to your children  We have a lot left to learn about BPA and its potential effects and it’s prudent to at least be aware of its presence in food packaging and to limit the exposure our families—especially growing children—have to it.

To reduce exposure to BPA, the EPA recommends the following:

  • Buy baby formula in plastic, glass or other non-metal containers. When possible, choose powdered formula because the packaging contains less BPA and because the powder is diluted with fresh water. If your baby needs liquid formula, look for brands sold in plastic or glass containers.
  • Limit intake of canned foods, especially if you are pregnant. If you do buy it, look for cans labeled as BPA-free or buy food packed in glass jars or waxed cardboard cartons. A few small companies sell cans lined with non-BPA alternatives (although findings from a recent animal study suggest that BPA-free products are not necessarily safer).
  • Repurpose old hard plastic containers including baby bottles, cups, dishes and food containers marked with the letters “PC,” for polycarbonate, or recycling label #7. (Not all #7 products are polycarbonate, but they may be.)
  • Do not microwave food in plastic containers.
  • Because store receipts can contain BPA, say no to them if possible. If you do keep receipts, put them in an envelope and don’t allow kids to hold or play with them. Wash hands before preparing or eating food after handling receipts. And don’t recycle receipts and other thermal paper to avoid contamination of recycled paper with BPA residues.

The FDA also recommends not putting very hot or boiling liquid that you intend to consume in plastic containers made with BPA since levels of the chemical rise in food when containers/products made with the chemical are heated and come in contact with the food. The agency also suggests discarding all bottles with scratches, as these may harbor bacteria and, if BPA-containing, lead to greater release of BPA.

Do you avoid BPA?

Image of BPA sign via shutterstock.

 

 

 

Add a Comment

Antibiotics and Chicken: What You Need to Know NOW

Tuesday, January 13th, 2015

According to a recent Reuters article, six of the largest school districts across the country will make a switch to antibiotic-free chicken. Created by the Urban School Food Alliance—a cooperative buying group that serves more than three million students daily in school districts such as New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, Miami, and Orlando—the new standards will require all chicken products served to come from birds that were never fed antibiotics.

How come? The effort is designed to protect children in the wake of the recent rise in dangerous “superbugs”—bacteria that gain resistance to conventional medicines.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), all animals carry bacteria in their intestines. When given antibiotics, the antibiotics kill most bacteria. However, resistant bacteria survive and multiply. That bacteria can then spread to animal products (including chicken), to fruits and vegetables through contaminated water or soil, to prepared food through contaminated surfaces, and to the environment when animals poop. People, including children, can become ill with resistant infections through contaminated food or a contaminated environment. The infections they develop may cause mild or severe illness, possibly even death.

The CDC calls for judicious use of antibiotics in both humans and animals because of the role they play in creating and spreading resistant bacteria. According to a recent report by the CDC and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), an estimated two million people become infected by antibiotic-resistant bacteria each year in the United States. The report also states that at least 23,000 people die annually as a direct result of those infections and that many more people die from other conditions that were complicated by an antibiotic-resistant infection.

I applaud the Urban School Food Alliance for taking steps to offer antibiotic-free chicken as part of an effort to feed children more healthful—and potentially less harmful—food. Chicken is popular among parents and kids alike, and offering it at schools—emphasizing white meat varieties minus the skin and preparing it in healthful ways—provides kids with high quality protein to fuel and fill them as well as other vital nutrients including niacin, vitamin B6, selenium, and phosphorus.

Requiring that the chicken offered to kids is antibiotic-free can also provide at least a little reassurance to parents, especially if they’re concerned about the safety of chicken because of the recent outbreak of Salmonella linked to chicken intake not to mention a Consumer Reports survey that found a good proportion of chicken samples had bacteria that may be resistant to antibiotics or other drugs.

Whether or not your child goes to one of the schools that will soon mandate antibiotic-free chicken, there are several steps you can take as a family when purchasing, handling, and preparing poultry and other meats at home to reduce your chances for getting sick. When buying chicken, look for the USDA Organic Seal on labels. When handling or preparing raw chicken, keep it separated from other foods, and don’t re-use dirty cutting boards or utensils. Cook the chicken until it reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit (and don’t forget to wash the thermometer in warm soapy water in-between temperature readings).

For more tips, check out my previous Scoop on Food post, Is Eating Chicken Risky? What Parents Need to Know. And for more on antibiotic resistance in foods, check out the following infographic, Antibiotic Resistance from the Farm to the Table, by the CDC.

Cooking How-To: Cutting Up a Chicken
Cooking How-To: Cutting Up a Chicken
Cooking How-To: Cutting Up a Chicken

Add a Comment

Experts Offer 12 Tips to Help Kids Eat Better in 2015

Sunday, December 28th, 2014

Since 2015 is here, I thought I’d put together a list of some great ideas to help you help your kids eat better during the upcoming year.

Don’t worry—I’m not suggesting any kind of complete dietary overhaul. But I do recommend all of these no-fuss strategies suggested by some top dietitians to help move kids’ diets and habits in a more healthful direction.

Whether you choose several strategies at once or one for each month in 2015, all are sure to help your kids incorporate more nutrients in their diets. And they’ll certainly make your meals even more delicious.

Read on for 12 expert tips to help your kids eat better in the New Year and beyond.

1. Create a produce calendar. Creating a produce calendar can help organize meal planning and help kids feel like they’re part of the process. It can also help them feel like they have some control over what is served and get them excited about produce. To do this, you can assign each family member one or two days a week to choose the daily fruit and veggie meal stars. For instance, Mom might have Tuesdays and Thursdays, and Bobby might have Wednesdays and Fridays (you get the drift). You can then write up a calendar and let each person choose the fruit and veggie star for his or her day. You can choose whatever fruit or vegetable you like or use a seasonal list like this one to guide your choices. Kids can help wash the fruit or vegetable and observe or help with their preparation depending on their age.

2. “Cook” in class. You can volunteer at your kids’ school by offering a hands-on no-cook cooking class. It’s a great way to highlight the fun you can have even if you’re not baking, but instead making nutritious items like fruit kebabs with yogurt dip or an edamame salad.

3. Take the rainbow challenge. For the game lover in all of us, Healthy Kids Concepts (HKC)*, a non-profit that encourages healthy eating habits through color-inspired lessons in pre-K and grade school children, offers check sheets (they can be downloaded for free here) to help kids keep track of how many different colors of fruits and veggies they eat each day. The goal is to eat the rainbow every day for an entire month.

4. Just dip it. Kids love to dip things, and studies suggest they may eat even more vegetables if they use them as dippers. So, why not make some tasty and affordable dips to offer the kids with their meals and snacks. You can buy canned chickpeas or garbanzo beans, rinse, and whir in a blender or food processor with some olive oil and a squirt of lemon. Frozen, thawed green peas plus olive oil, lemon juice and some minced garlic, salt and pepper can also work. You can also serve new dishes or foods previously disliked with a dipping sauce. For example, you can serve steak strips with no sugar added cranberry sauce or grilled chicken strips with some honey mustard.

5. Make your own fruit fantasy. Create your own edible fruit arrangement by slicing watermelon into popsicle shapes on popsicle sticks or fan orange segments out on a plate in a pattern that looks like the sun with a banana circle center. Making fruit look good can certainly make it more appealing to kids.

6. Let ‘em eat with their hands. Add edamame sprinkled with a little sea salt to your kid’s lunchbox. It’s a fun, hand-held, easy to eat food that’s rich in filling protein not to mention other key nutrients (it also counts as a vegetable).

7. How ‘bout veggies before dinner? Because so few kids meet their daily quota for vegetables, how about making it a rule to eat veggies in the hour leading up to dinner? Noshing on baby carrots, cucumber slices, celery sticks, plum or cherry tomatoes, plain or with a little Italian dressing or a tablespoon or two of dip can help kids eat enough vegetables to meet their needs and prevent them from noshing on nutrient-poor snacks that will fill them up and spoil their appetite before you can even say, “Dinner’s ready.”

8. Plant a garden. You can do this in your backyard or, if you live in an apartment, in a box on your terrace. Planting, watering, and picking vegetables, herbs and spices can teach your kids where food comes from and give them a sense of ownership and pride when the planted items are ready to be incorporated into meals.

9. Swap some usual foods. Once in a while, instead of offering the same old same old, mix things up a bit. For example, instead of carrots, offer parsnips. They offer myriad nutrients and have a similar taste and texture to carrots. Try them anywhere you’d use carrots, like in a stir fry dish or in a winter vegetable chili. And how about replacing some of the broccoli in dishes with cauliflower. You can buy it fresh or frozen and serve it in a mixed dish or by itself, chopped and steamed.

10. Rate your plate. Ask your kids to do a taste test at one meal each week. You can offer them several food options and have them give each a score of 1 to 5 on their color and taste.

11. Shape ‘em up. Because kids love pizza, spaghetti, French fries and pancakes, why not encourage them to try more vegetables by having them help you make new versions of each of these. For example, you can make matchstick parsnip fries; portabello mushroom, eggplant or cauliflower-crusted pizza; beet or carrot pancakes; or zucchini muffins. You can also use a veggie spiralizer (the kids can even help) to make colorful, nutrient-rich “pasta” out of steamed or grilled zucchini, baked sweet potatoes or fresh cucumber. If you don’t want to make the switch to all veggie noodles, try mixing some in with pasta noodles.

12. Go fish! Kids and parents tend to not eat recommended amounts of fish in their daily diet. That’s a shame, especially since fish is a key source of high quality protein and potent omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These essential fatty acids are important for development and health of the brain, nervous system, heart, skin, and immune system. Current Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend anywhere from 3 to 8 or more ounces of fish weekly depending on kids’ needs and total calorie intake (see my recent Scoop on Food post for more information). Because that really isn’t that much, why not simply replace one or two of your family’s weekly meat dishes or one family meal and one of your child’s lunches with fish. Lower mercury fish options include salmon, shrimp, pollock, tuna (light canned), tilapia, catfish, and cod. White (albacore) tuna can also be consumed, but should be limited to no more than 6 ounces a week.

Sources: Patricia Bannan, MS, RD; Stephanie Clarke, MS, RD & Willow Jarosh, MS, RD co-owners of C&J Nutrition and board members of HKC*; Jessica Fishman Levinson, MS, RDN, CDN founder of Nutritioulicious; Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, author of Cooking Light Dinnertime Survival Guide; Lindsay Livingston, RD; Tammy Lakatos Shames, RDN, CFT and Lyssie Lakatos, RDN, CFT, a.k.a. The Nutrition Twins, authors of The Nutrition Twins’ Veggie Cure; Carolyn O’Neil, MS, RD, LD, author of The Slim Down South Cookbook and nutrition advisor to www.BestFoodFacts.org; Rebecca Scritchfield, MA, RD, HFS; and Rebecca Subbiah, RDN.

Image of 2015 written with food via shutterstock.

 

Add a Comment