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Meals ’ Category
Saturday, December 7th, 2013
This is a guest post from Sharon Palmer, The Plant-Powered Dietitian™
More and more families are now beginning to turn to plants, rather than the typical beef, poultry, fish, or pork options when choosing “what’s for dinner.” This is certainly a step in the right direction for the health of our children. In a nation-wide poll conducted among 2,030 adults in U.S., it was found that 47 percent of the population eats vegetarian meals a significant amount of the time.
But, one area where even vegetarians can fall short is getting enough veggies every day. As a plant-lover and plant-based advocate, it makes me sad to say that children and their parents are crowding out health-promoting, energy boosting vegetables to make room for overly-processed snack foods and soy-based meat substitutes on our dinner plates. Only 26 percent of adults eat a full serving of vegetables three or more times a day. That’s a pretty alarming statistic for a food group so well touted for such powerful disease fighting properties – especially considering that children lead by the example of their parents. And the studies prove it. According to a 2009 study by researchers at Ohio State University, only 22 percent of children between the ages of 2 to 5 years meet government recommendations for veggie intake.
In fact, the United States Department of Agriculture advises that half–yes, half–of your child’s plate be filled with fruits and/or vegetables at each meal. This certainly leaves less room for the overly processed microwavable meals that tend to crowd their dinner plates. Keep in mind that the “whole” point of a plant-based diet is to reap the nutrition rewards of whole foods. So, load your child’s plate with veggies, fruit, whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes and simply pass on the faux, overly processed chicken nugget.
Here are 5 plant-friendly and kid-friendly ways to prove that eating vegetables is not only easier than you may think, it’s also delicious, and even fun!
1. Breakfast is an easy one. Pass on the sugary breakfast cereals, frosted breakfast pastries, and overly sweetened “fruit” punch. Instead, mix onions, mushrooms, and bell peppers into a morning veggie omelet or breakfast pita, prepare a homemade black bean burrito with salsa and avocado, or toss in a few handfuls of spinach into your little one’s morning fruit smoothie. The options to go “veggie” for the first meal of the day are endless.
2. Stock your fridge. Store pre-cut veggies in your fridge. Many vegetables are nature’s perfect finger foods –and when paired with hummus (see my recipe here), guacamole, or even a peanut butter yogurt dip, they make for a naturally delicious, filling and convenient snack.
3. Experiment. Make it a habit with your kids to experiment with one new vegetable each week. It could be as simple as baking sweet potato fries, roasting Brussels sprouts, or as bold as stuffing a winter squash with whole grains, herbs and chopped nuts.
4. Change the plate. Rather than centering your child’s meal on the protein component, focus on the veggie first. Load up their plate each night with two different kinds of vegetables. If you prepare more vegetables, everyone at the table will be more likely to eat them.
5. Transform your family favorites. Do your kids love pizza? Load up on the veggie toppings, such as arugula, tons of marinara sauce, or even broccoli. Is spaghetti night a hit in your household? Add spinach or mushrooms to your homemade tomato sauce. And move over plain ol’ macaroni and cheese. Add peas, cauliflower, or even kale to your favorite recipe.
How do you encourage your kids to eat their vegetables?
Check out our food guide full of nutritious recipes and fun tips! Then see the 20 fail-proof snacks that kids love.
Image of mother teaching daughter to cut cucumber via shutterstock.
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Sesame Street Lessons: Advice for Picky Eaters
Saturday, November 30th, 2013
We all know that feeding kids in a healthful way that takes into account their individual tastes and preferences can be a challenge at any time. But with increased entertaining, celebrating and traveling this time of year, the challenges can mount—especially for a child who is considered “picky” or who has (or is at risk for) a feeding disorder. Of course being out of a normal eating routine and being exposed to unfamiliar foods can turn an otherwise joyful holiday party or family gathering into a battleground. To prevent this, it’s up to parents to find ways to help kids stay on track when it comes to eating so that they—and the entire family—can get the most joy out of the holiday season.
To help parents move in a better direction when it comes to feeding their kids this time of year—or at any time—I interviewed Peter A. Girolami, PhD, Clinical Director of the Pediatric Feeding Disorders Program at Kennedy Krieger Institute. Below are some highlights from our conversation.
EZ: What is the difference between a picky eater and a child with a feeding disorder? Are there any red flags parents need to look for?
PG: Many young children demonstrate eating behavior that can be considered “picky” including distinct food type or texture preferences and episodes of limited intake. Although for many children this is a perfectly normal phase of development, sometimes being picky develops into a more serious feeding problem (or disorder). In general, a child has a feeding disorder when he/she has significant difficulty consuming adequate nutrition by mouth. Feeding disorders are caused by a variety of factors including medical, developmental, psychosocial and environmental factors and they often leading to problematic feeding/eating behaviors. Feeding problems can contribute to poor weight gain, malnutrition and abnormal development when it comes to feeding skills. It can also cause a lot of disruption, especially during mealtimes, for the family.
EZ: Now that the holidays are here, parents of picky eaters may feel extra pressure when feeding their children with relatives and friends around. Should parents surrender to the situation and accept that all bets are off or should they still try to help their kids have better and more nutritious eating habits?
PG: Great question. Parents often report that they feel some pressure during the holidays and/or special events to get their kids to eat a well-balanced meal. I can relate. I come from a family where eating is one of the main activities of the holiday and for the most part we (the adults) probably eat too much. However, as both a parent and practitioner, I do not recommend using holiday dinners or special events as the setting to initiate the trying of new foods/textures or increase consumption. First, if you are having trouble with your child’s picky eating and it’s become a battle, it may be increasingly difficult to implement any plan with all the relatives sitting around the table adding their two cents and encouragement. If you have been using some strategies successfully and want to generalize them to the group gathering, that’s great. But I’d suggest having an “exit” plan so that the holiday meal doesn’t become all about children not eating their food.
EZ: You suggest offering kids who are picky/selective small portions. I, too, think this is a good rule of thumb for all kids, whether they’re picky or not. Why do you think offering small portions is so important for kids?
PG: I once worked with a child who was reported to be very anxious about trying new foods so we prepared such a small bite of food that I was worried it would blow away. Eventually, we were able to increase the size of the bites of food and gradually introduce new foods using smaller bite sizes.
EZ: You also say decreasing texture and blending food can help. How so?
PG: Sometimes referred to as “sneaking food in,” blending and mixing non-preferred foods into preferred foods can be an effective way to expose a child to new tastes and smell and open up the variety. Similar to the idea of smaller portions, start with small amounts that may not be detectable and gradually increase the ratio. This can also be applied to condiments. You may not get to 100% of the target food, but consumption of the target food(s) in smaller amounts may be enough to lay the foundation for future gains.
EZ: You’re not a big fan of grazing, which is something so many kids—and parents—do. Why don’t you recommend it for kids?
PG: I think it’s important to limit grazing. It’s difficult to get someone (including typical eaters) to try something new if they aren’t hungry, especially if you’re asking them to try something they report they don’t like. In some more serious feeding situations, this may be difficult to apply because parents may feel that the only way to get in enough calories is to offer food/drink throughout the day. However, trying to set scheduled meals and limiting food in between is a strategy that could at least be tried (if it doesn’t work, you can always go back to the old system) since it may contribute to hunger and encourage the child to eat the food that’s offered.
EZ: You also recommend making kids part of the feeding process. What are your tips parents can use to do this?
PG: I’m a firm believer in modeling, sharing, and involving kids in eating and feeding as much as possible. There’s something to be said about trying to set a good example for your child. If you’re not eating the targeted foods, there’s a good chance the child’s exposure to the food may be more limited. Sometimes getting kids involved in the preparation of the food and cooking may also be associated with increased interest and squeezing in an extra bite or two.
EZ: Although many nutrition experts (present company included) have always urged parents to not use food as a reward, you encourage them to. Please explain.
PG: Some people are against providing some incentive to children to encourage them to try new foods/textures because they feel that children should intrinsically like food so they don’t provide reinforcement for eating. However, many children have increased their variety by systematically being given access to something preferred contingent on trying something novel. If you think the issue is “you’ll never know unless you try it” and exposure to new tastes and textures is important, then using a reward-based system to get them to try something new may be worth a shot. Keep in mind that for many children reinforcement can be faded out over time.
EZ: You encourage parents to be calm and patient when feeding kids—and I think that’s great advice as it keeps mealtimes more pleasant and enjoyable. You also think it’s important to have a plan and stick to it. Why is that so vital?
PG: It’s important for kids to have some predictability, especially if trying new foods seem to be distressing to them. I encourage parents to try to avoid excessive coaxing, wheeling-dealing, and verbal battles. Typically, these strategies don’t work and may make things worse. Getting kids to try new foods can be a long process. If parents do see some gains, they can then try to think about where they could be down the road if some of that progress continues on its current trajectory.
EZ: Finally, what should parents do if they suspect their child has a feeding disorder? Can you recommend any resources?
PG: Feeding problems are a source of great stress for parents because of the potential negative impact they may have on their child. Also, parents whose children have more severe problems often find it hard to relate or connect with other parents whose children’s issues are more of the traditionally “picky” variety. Parents of children with severe feeding problems often report that they are given advice from “everyone under the sun” and provided with suggestions that they’ve already tried. Parents who have tried all kinds of strategies and have had limited success, or see that things have gotten worse, may need some extra specialized help with your problem, such as the Pediatric Feeding Disorders Program at the Kennedy Krieger Institute. An evaluation may be a good first start to determine if your child’s problem meets the criteria of a feeding disorder. Generally, I would recommend finding a feeding clinic/program that encompasses a full team of professionals to rule out the variety of factors that may be associated with the onset and maintenance of the feeding problems. You also want to make sure that the feeding clinic/program has experience with the problems you’re reporting and can discuss various outcomes—aka “success stories”—they’ve had with similar children.
For more advice about how to raise healthy eaters, whatever their feeding style, check out the book Fearless Feeding as well as The Picky Eating Solution.
Image of Multi Generation Family Celebrating With Christmas Meal via shutterstock.
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Wednesday, October 16th, 2013
My recent Scoop on Food Post, No More Soda in Kids’ Meals, sparked considerable online conversation and debate. As a registered dietitian nutritionist and mother of two, I support any attempt by a fast food company—or any restaurant—to offer smaller portions, or more healthful fare. I am also in favor or limiting the marketing of nutrient-poor foods to children who are quite vulnerable to the impacts of advertising on their eating choices and habits. Although I intuitively thought that most parents would support the move by McDonald’s to not offer soda with Happy Meals, many said it crosses a line when it comes to freedom and personal choice. And even though the federal government had nothing to do with the McDonald’s decision, many commented that they don’t want the government dictating what they should or shouldn’t eat or feed their families.
Here’s just a sample of some reader comments when asked if they agree with the change McDonald’s is making on the Parents Magazine Facebook Page:
Heidi M. Fanning I think that this is great! My kids enjoy a happy meal as an occasional treat and they always pick the milk anyway. I like that soda will no longer be MARKETED to children, even though their parents are still free to buy them soda if they so choose.
Erica Lopez Just because it is not listed does not mean you cannot get it. Personally, I feel as though it is a good thing that McDonald’s wants to encourage parents not to serve their children soda. There are not enough children who appreciate and drink water.
Shawn-Joy Martin …I don’t agree with the change. How about a little personal responsibility? Don’t get your kid a Happy Meal 5 days a week and then if they want a soda with it, it won’t be such a big deal.
Diane Pumpido Pallini …It’s not McDonald’s or the government’s or anyone’s business to tell me what I can and can’t order for my kids. This nonsense is going too far.
Ashley Howerton I think it’s crap. My kid very rarely gets a Happy Meal, but when he does, if I as the parent choose to let him have a tiny (because let’s be honest, those cups are tiny) cup of Root Beer, that’s my choice. I’m the parent! I’m so sick of people thinking they have a right to bully businesses into limiting my options as a parent.
Amber Loyd Has this group taken into consideration that they are making it more difficult to practice moderation even when occasionally splurging diet wise…we are raising our son that nothing is off limits but everything in moderation, which is why I support the fact that happy meal fries are smaller and there are apples included now…but now you are telling me that when I do occasionally treat my son to a happy meal and he wants a soda with it I’m forced to buy him a larger size and then fight the battle of not having a “full” cup… I won’t be spending my money at McDonald’s anymore, period.
Breanna Stephens Sure, you can still add a soda for a dollar if you’re really insistent on giving your child that. It’s not taking away your choice just taking it out of a kids’ meal to encourage better choices for our children. We all know it’s not good for them or us. I’ve never allowed my kids to have soda because to me it’s an unnecessary indulgence…It’s each family’s personal decision but I think logically this makes sense.
Victoria Wieting I wish parents were smart enough to not give kids soda on their own but since they are not and I often see kids as young as preschool drinking it, then it’s about time the policy changed.
Amy Sage NO, because it is one of the few times I allow my son to have soda. It’s called “Happy” meal for a reason, it makes kids HAPPY!
Katie Haynie Guess what? Parents who want to get their kids soda will still get their kids soda, but it will be a small instead of the kid size, which means it will be bigger. This whole thing is stupid. What are they going to do next, arrest you for giving kids soda?
Lorisa Griffith It still is not going to solve a thing and all the hype has gotten out of control. If you don’t want your kid drinking soda then don’t buy them soda. Stop dictating how businesses operate because you are too scared to tell your kids no. What’s next? No cookies or cupcakes or Dairy Queen?
Heidi M. Fanning I find it odd and silly that people are complaining that it should be their choice and not McDonald’s choice whether or not their child has soda, because IT STILL IS the parent’s choice! McDonald’s will still sell you a soda to give to your children if that is what you want to do, it is just not part of the Happy Meal. Seriously, no one is taking your precious soda away.
Cathy Vo What gives McDonald’s the right to decide if my child should have a soda or not? Getting my kids a Happy Meal was always an infrequent special treat that included the soda as a special treat, since I don’t buy soda to keep in the home! A stupid/unfair decision on their part!
I have no doubt this debate will continue, especially since similar nutrition and health initiatives by fast food and other companies will likely follow as obesity, type 2 diabetes, and other diet-related diseases remain prevalent in our society. For now, I agree with Margo Wootan, the Director of Nutriton Policy for the Center for Science in the Public Interest. She says, “Taking soda off the Happy Meal section of menu boards at McDonald’s is an important step toward healthier kids meals and healthier children. It doesn’t much matter to me why they are doing it—just that it is good for kids and will make it a bit easier for parents to feed their children healthfully.”
What’s your opinion? Should companies have a say in how you should feed your children?
Image of cola in glass via shutterstock.
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Tuesday, October 15th, 2013
We all know breakfast may very well be THE most important meal of the day, especially for growing children. But lunch is also important. Having a well-balanced lunch not only provides kids with an opportunity to meet daily food group and nutrient goals, but it helps kids stay energized. It also provides an important opportunity to get key food groups and the nutrients they provide into a kid’s day (not to mention his or her stomach as well).
A lot of parents send lunch with their kids to school daily—either out of need or to provide an alternative to lunches provided there. And oftentimes, they think these lunches are healthy. Many may therefore be surprised to learn that there’s at least some evidence that lunches brought from home may have a lower nutritional quality than lunches provided at school. A study published in Childhood Obesity found that children who ate lunches brought from home were less likely than those who ate a school lunch to have fruits, vegetables, and dairy for lunch. They were also more likely to have snacks that were higher in sugar and/or fat at lunch.
Fortunately, a little planning and nutrition know-how can go a long way to help you pack a healthy lunch. So before you pack your kids lunch to bring to school, daycare, or even for travel or a weekend outing, check out these 5 tips (and quick ideas) for fun, tasty, nutritious lunch box options from registered dietitian Holley Grainger. They take 5 minutes or less to prepare and are sure to please toddlers and school aged kids—even those with temperamental palates.
1. Get Creative with Veggies.
Don’t get discouraged if the raw baby carrots you pack for lunch day-in and day-out continue to be sent home untouched. Studies have found that children are more likely to eat their vegetables when offered with a dip, so pack some guacamole or hummus alongside raw veggies and see what happens. Also, consider your preparation method. Is your child more likely to eat grilled or roasted veggies versus raw? Try preparing foods like spaghetti sauce and meatloaf with shredded or diced carrots, onions, peppers and celery mixed in and send leftovers in the lunchbox.
Quick ideas: corn kernels/corn on the cob; raw broccoli florets with hummus/roasted broccoli/steamed broccoli with cheese sauce; baked sweet potato sprinkled with cinnamon/oven-baked sweet potato fries; oven-roasted potato wedges/potato cakes; raw zucchini rounds with ranch dip/zucchini bread.
2. Keep Your Child Hydrated.
Staying hydrated throughout the day is critical to maintain concentration and energy levels. If you’re worried your child doesn’t drink enough water at school, make sure to include water-packed foods in the lunchbox. You can also start the morning by offering oatmeal or ready-to-eat cereal made with milk and topped with fruit.
Quick ideas: watermelon, strawberries, pasta, salad greens, rice, cucumbers, grapes, bell peppers
3. Think Outside the Sandwich:
Sandwiches with lean, low-sodium deli meat are an easy way to boost protein in the lunchbox. But if you need to break out of the sandwich rut, consider some of the following protein-rich foods to keep your child feeling satisfied all afternoon.
Quick ideas: edamame, hummus, hard-boiled eggs, Greek yogurt, cheese, beans, lentils, quinoa, roasted chickpeas, nuts, cottage cheese, tofu cubes, smoothies made with yogurt or silken tofu, and nut or seed butters
4. Pack the Power Trio: Fiber, Protein, and Healthy Fat
Three nutrients—fiber, protein, and healthy fat—have “staying power” to keep your child feeling energized throughout the day and boost his or her daily nutrient quotient. When packing a lunchbox, choose foods that hit these target nutrients.
Quick ideas: whole wheat tortilla spread with nut or seed butter, topped with banana slices and flax seed and rolled up; leftover grilled chicken sandwich with spinach, grilled veggies and hummus; low-sodium turkey pita with tomatoes, cheese, arugula and a smear of fresh avocado; egg salad made with canola mayo or Greek yogurt atop salad greens with whole wheat crackers
5. Make it Fun
Just because you’re packing a nutritious lunch doesn’t mean you can’t offer healthier alternatives to the sweet or salty treats your child craves. Consider making some of the traditional favorites yourself so you can oversee the ingredient list and remember to keep portions in check. You can also pack stickers, notes, and small toys to keep lunch interesting and fun.
Quick ideas: trail mix with whole grain cereal, nuts and chocolate chips; baked potato chips; dark chocolate square; whole grain pretzels; mini whole grain muffin; yogurt-covered raisins
Use our Food & Recipe Guides to pack a healthy lunch
Image of turkey rolls in hummus, kiwi, cheese, and milk via Holley Grainger.
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Friday, October 11th, 2013
The Washington, D.C.-based consumer advocacy organization, Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), is smiling wide today. That’s because McDonald’s has decided to phase out listing soda on the Happy Meal section on menu boards.
As described in my recent Scoop on Food post, Will Fast Food Ever Be Health Food?, McDonald’s pledged to—among other things—offer a choice of water, milk, or juice instead of soda as the beverage of choice in kids’ Happy Meals. This pledge was the outgrowth of a partnership the fast food giant recently created with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation designed to help families make informed choices in the context of balanced lifestyles. Despite the promise, CSPI detectives noticed in the fine print of the agreement that soda could still be listed as an option on Happy Meal menu boards.
Known to not let such transgressions go unnoticed, a press release by CSPI’s Nutrition Policy Director Margo G. Wootan accused both McDonald’s and the Alliance of misleading the public and the media. In the press release, the CSPI also vowed to monitor the fast food chain’s practices. They’d even consider suing McDonald’s if it found soft drinks were mentioned in the Happy Meal section of menu boards or if employees offered soft drinks as an option with kids’ meals.
Fortunately, the CSPI won’t be calling a lawyer to sue McDonald’s anytime soon. In a new statement , CSPI explains that after discussing concerns with McDonald’s, its CEO agreed that listing soda on the Happy Meal section of menu boards wasn’t consistent with McDonald’s commitment.
We all know Americans guzzle down lots of soda and other sugary beverages. A new study published in American Journal of Preventive Health suggests that we may even consume more calories from added sugars in beverages than previously thought. The study estimated that Americans aged 2 and older consumed 171 calories (about 8% of total daily calories) per day from added sugars in sugar-sweetened beverages; soda, fruit drinks, tea, coffee, coffee, energy/sports drinks, and flavored milks were the top sources. Extra calories from soda can be a problem not only because they provide few nutrients, but because they leave less room in the diet for nutrient-rich foods and beverages that are needed in adequate supply to help kids grow.
To add insult to injury, a recent analysis of 32 studies—including 20 in children—published in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that intake of sugar-sweetened beverages (including soda) promotes weight gain in both children and adults.
Although soda will still be widely available, not having it promoted directly to kids and having other options at fast food restaurants will likely move us in a better direction when it comes to feeding kids. It may even help kids consume fewer calories and more nutrients depending on what beverage they choose in place of soda when they have fast food. If this initiative leads other fast food companies to follow suit—as encouraged by CSPI—this baby step may become a broad step to help kids improve their diet and reap the subsequent benefits.
Image of no soda zone via shutterstock.
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