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Sunday, March 2nd, 2014
In celebration of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ National Nutrition Month, I’m thrilled to share this wonderful guest post for The Scoop on Food by Sharon Palmer, The Plant-Powered Dietitian™.
Obesity rates among children aged 2 to 5 years old have reportedly plummeted by 43% over the past decade. This is huge news considering the efforts we’ve been taking as a nation in recent years to fight the obesity epidemic. There’s no denying there’s been an increased interest in food and nutrition, but as a registered dietitian who promotes the power of plant foods, I believe the improved health of our children may be linked to an increased emphasis on such foods. We can thank the growing list of best-selling vegetarian cookbook authors, vegetarian and vegan celebrities, and even our former president, Bill Clinton for giving the “veggie” lifestyle a whole new reputation. Even Jay Z and Beyonce adopted a vegan diet for 22 days this past winter.
While plant-based eating is slowly gaining momentum, many myths surrounding the “veggie” lifestyle still linger–especially when it comes to providing our children with optimal nutrition for their growing minds and bodies. Here are 5 misconceptions surrounding feeding our kids a vegetarian diet, debunked.
Myth: Children will not be satisfied with plant-based meals.
Truth: Your children will hardly miss the meat when you focus on all the whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes available in the plant world. Start with breakfast, for example: pile your child’s breakfast plate with fresh berries, whole grain cereal topped with toasted walnuts, homemade quick breads, or buckwheat pancakes with peaches or pears. The options to go “veggie” for the first meal of the day are endless.
Myth: It’s impossible to feed children vegetarian snacks throughout the day.
Truth: Store pre-cut veggies and fruit in your fridge, and chopped nuts and dried fruit (with no sugar added) in your pantry for snacks. Many plant foods are nature’s perfect finger foods and make for naturally delicious and convenient snacks. What’s not to love?
Myth: Children will not get enough protein if they don’t eat meat.
Truth: It’s a widespread misconception that it’s difficult to get enough protein from plant foods. We now know that it’s very simple to obtain all essential amino acids from plant-based sources such as legumes, soy, nuts and seeds. Incorporate a good quality protein at each meal or snack and your children will easily meet recommended protein intakes.
Myth: Children will not get enough calcium if they don’t eat dairy.
Truth: It’s important for growing bones to get adequate amounts of calcium–and two to three servings per day of green leafy vegetables, almonds and broccoli should help you and your children reach the daily recommended calcium goal. You can also add calcium-fortified foods such as tofu, orange juice, or plant-based milk alternatives to the mix.
Myth: Preparing plant-based meals is laborious, complicated and boring.
Truth: Plenty of kid-friendly and plant-friendly recipes are as simple as could be! And thankfully, gone are the days when vegetarian diets are considered to be about as hip and tasty as munching on alfalfa sprouts and chomping on seeds. Think: whole grain pitas filled with cucumbers, bell peppers and hummus, whole grain spaghetti with marinara sauce, and even a classic peanut butter and banana sandwich.
Image of girl cooking with vegetables via shutterstock.
Do your kids follow a vegetarian diet? If so, do you have concerns?
For vegetarian (and non-vegetarian) recipe inspiration, check out our Food & Recipes Guide!
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diet, food, health, plant foods, vegan, vegetables, vegetarian diet | Categories:
Diet, Health, Meals, Must Read, Nutrition
Thursday, February 27th, 2014
Confused or frustrated by food labels? There’s a good chance the dizzying array of numbers and information currently on food packages will be a bit more clear when new and improved food labels appear on your favorite packaged foods. Although the specific changes have yet to be fully fleshed out and will take time to implement, the Associated Press reports that the proposed changes by the White House and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) include the following:
- A more prominent display of calories;
- “Calories from fat” would be removed;
- A new line for “added sugars” would be added”
- Serving sizes that reflect amounts people eat –not what they should eat—would be listed;
- Both “nutrients per serving” and “nutrients per container” would be given for foods that are often consumed in a single sitting eg frozen dinners or a can of soup;
- Nutrients that Americans need more of—for example, potassium and vitamin D—would be included.
According to a New York Times article, the proposal will be open to public comment for 90 days, and it will take months to finalize the changes. The article also says the FDA will give food companies two years to put the changes into effect.
Overall, I like the proposed changes and do think they have the potential to help parents feed their kids—and themselves—better. Knowledge can be power, and seeing how many calories a seemingly small package, can or container of food has without having to do so much math can be an eye opener. In my opinion, at the end of the day, knowing calorie intake is key for long-term weight management, so having a more prominent display of calories—especially on single serve items—can be helpful. However, I do caution parents and their kids to realize that the serving size listed on a food or beverage is not always the amount they should consume in a single sitting. It’s always important for parents and their kids at all ages and stages to keep current Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the recommendations outlined in MyPlate in the back of their minds to guide how much of any food or beverage to consume. Getting rid of “calories from fat” is also a great change. It’s confusing, and doesn’t distinguish between healthy fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats) and those we want to limit (saturated and trans fats). And fat is not the enemy—about 20 to 35% of daily calories should come from fat according to current Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
Listing added sugars would also be an excellent move. Unlike naturally occurring sugars found in milk and fruit, added sugars are added during processing. Calories from added sugars contribute calories and not much else. Since kids and parents tend to over consume added sugars and solid fats—also referred to as empty calories—learning which products have them and how much they contain is key to reduce them in the diet. Currently, parents and their kids consume up to about one third of all their calories as added sugars and solid fats.
I also support an emphasis on nutrients on food labels. Although people eat foods rather than nutrients, highlighting how much of certain nutrients products contain—especially nutrients many (including kids) fall short on—can help kids and their parents meet nutrient needs and optimize their health.
Only time will tell if the new food labels of the future will help kids and their parents make more nutritious and mindful selections at the grocery store and eat enough—but no too much—to meet their needs and maintain a healthy body weight. For now, I think these proposed changes will help us all take one more step in the right direction to eat more healthfully and reap the many benefits of a nutritious, balanced and calorie-appropriate diet.
To learn more about food labels, check out Planning Healthy Changes to the Nutrition Facts Label on the FDA Voice, and my previous Scoop on Food post on food labels.
Do you like the proposed food label changes? Why or why not?
Use our Food and Recipe Guide to find quick and healthy meals for your family.
Image of woman and child choosing produce in grocery shopping mall via shutterstock.
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Sunday, February 16th, 2014
With the Sochi Olympics in full swing, what better time to provide top tips from a few nutrition pros to help active kids meet their nutrient needs?
Although a 2013 JAMA Pediatrics study that looked at national survey data of more than 1200 children aged 6 to 11 found that 70% of them met federal Physical Activity Guidelines—at least 60 minutes daily of moderate- to vigorous intensity aerobic activity (like brisk walking or running)—you likely have or know plenty of kids who spend more than seven hours a week participating in organized sports and other competitive activities including ranging from basketball, baseball, crew, soccer, dance and swimming to gymnastics, cheerleading, wrestling, tennis and squash.
While all this activity is great for our kids’ hearts and other muscles, staying fueled and energized with nutritious foods and beverages is essential to help them perform their best—not only on the field or on the court, but in the classroom too. As sports nutritionist Tara Gidus says, “You wouldn’t think of letting your kids play football without a helmet, right? Just like they need the right equipment on the field, they need the right nutrition to support their activities on and off the field.”
Whether your kids are going for gold, or simply engaging in various physical activities for the fun of it, here are 11 tips from Gidus and five other top RDs to help them nourish their active lifestyles.
Batter up with breakfast. While it may sound cliché, children who eat breakfast get better nutrition overall than those who skip this vital first meal. Eating a nutritious and filling breakfast may also help kids keep their cool even when other players, parents, coaches or referees lose theirs. If you’re short on ideas beyond that usual bowl of cereal, here are 20 breakfast ideas.
Eat like a champ. Kids can fuel their active muscles well beyond breakfast by having lunches and dinners that provide carbohydrates, protein and healthy fats. Some ideas for lunch and dinner include a turkey breast sandwich on whole grain bread with avocado, sliced and spread (or a bit of mayonnaise) and a piece of fruit or half the sandwich with a bowl of low-sodium vegetable soup; peanut butter and jelly on whole-wheat bread, a banana and cup of nonfat milk; cold pasta salad with deli turkey slices; whole-wheat pasta with lean beef meatballs and marinara sauce; or salmon served with quinoa and spinach.
Power up with produce. Eating fruits and vegetables boosts kids’ immune systems to help them stay healthy and active. Let them pick out a few of their favorites—like carrots, broccoli, asparagus, grapes, watermelon, strawberries or bananas—each week at the grocery store, and offer small amounts of these and others you buy at each meal and snack. Getting kids involved in grocery shopping and giving them a say empowers them, helps them take ownership of what they eat and also helps them meet their daily quota for produce.
Snack smart. Like meals, snacks should provide carbohydrate—the main energy kids’ brains and body needs—and some healthy fat and protein. Examples include whole-grain graham crackers with peanut butter; an apple or other fruit of choice with low-fat string cheese; reduced or low fat cottage cheese topped with cinnamon and chopped pears; cucumbers with hummus, nuts (like cashews or almonds) and a clementine; Pistachio Chewy Bites (a combination of whole pistachios and dried cranberries); or a container of low fat or nonfat Greek yogurt, a natural beef jerky and a piece of fruit (like watermelon or an apple). Fresh or unsweetened frozen fruit also work well in snack-time smoothies.
Change the rules after school. Calling an “afternoon snack” a “second lunch” instead can help kids think more about having a sandwich, burrito, bowl of cereal, hummus and carrots on pita or other “real food.” It can also reduce their intake of so-called snack foods like candy, chips and cookies. Having a hearty second lunch can also help kids be less hungry for dinner—but that’s OK because they’ll be better fueled when they need it most for afternoon play and sports.
Milk it after practice. Low fat flavored milk—like Organic chocolate milk—has a 3:1 ratio of carbohydrate to protein; that makes it a smart choice for athletes recovering from a long practice or event. Shelf-stable single serving portions are available and make a great recovery beverage within 30 minutes of practice or competition.
Move meals. Don’t be afraid to move mealtimes. Young athletes spend the entire day in school and often come home hungry. Rather than waiting until 6 PM for a full meal, consider moving mealtime to earlier in the day. Depending on the age of the child, kids often benefit from two dinners—one after school and one three or four hours later.
Don’t forget fluids. It’s always key to make sure active kids stay hydrated throughout the day. Send your child to school or sports with a water bottle. If you know they’ll be playing for more than an hour or hour and a half, it’s OK to give them a sports drink to prevent dehydration and providing essential electrolytes. The fluid paired with the fuel from food will keep them hydrated and energized.
Make a mini-cooler a must. Young athletes are often on the go; that means food is as well. Think of a mini cooler as part of your equipment and make sure the kids have one to take to practice and to sporting events to help them stay nourished and at the same time keep food safe for consumption.
Boost their energy at half time. To nourish, hydrate and cool off sweaty kids, offer orange slices, grapes and/or strawberries at half time. Or they can sip on a water bottle with fruits like orange slices, cut strawberries, and raspberries throughout the game.
Fuel often—but not excessively. It’s important to keep kids fueled at regular intervals. Because many children, especially younger ones, get so engaged in what they are doing and don’t always want to stop to eat, it’s important to build in breaks to refuel. At the same time, parents should be mindful about how much kids are eating in relation to their activity level. It’s easy to think that kids need a lot more calories if they’re being active, but unless kids are participating in competitive athletics for several hours on most days, most kids take in enough calories during the day to offset their exercise.
How do you fuel your active kids?
Need more food inspiration? Check out our food and recipe guides!
Image of happy smiling little boy holding prize cup via shutterstock.
Sources: Tara Gidus, MS, RD, CSSD, Board Certified Specialist in Sports Nutrition; Nancy Clark, MS, RD, CSSD, Board Certified Specialist in Sports Nutrition and author of Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook; Heather R. Mangieri, MS, RD, CSSD, Spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and Board Certified Specialist in Sports Nutrition; Heidi Skolnik, MS, CDV, FACSM, coauthor of Nutrient Timing for Peak Performance; Mitzi Dulan, RD, CSSD, Board Certified Specialist in Sports Nutrition; and Jessica Fishman Levinson, MS, RDN, CDN.
*Full disclosure: Dulan is a current spokesperson for Setton Farms for Pistachio Chewy Bites, and I am a current spokesperson for the Got Milk? campaign.
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exercise, fitness, meals, nutrition, snacks, sports | Categories:
Diet, Exercise, Fitness, Health, Must Read, Nutrition
Tuesday, February 11th, 2014
Feeling stressed has almost become the norm for many overstretched, busy American families. Think about it—when was the last time your family—or any family, for that matter— enjoyed a long stretch of together time without being glued to a smart phone or other electronic device or looking at your watch?
Although one type of stress called ‘eustress’ can actually be positive and productive—eustress is the kind of stress that’s healthful or helps you feel fulfilled (for example, the kind you experience when you do enjoyable exercise or challenge yourself in some way)—many suffer far too often from negative stress. All that stress leads us to cope in unhealthy ways that take their toll on overall health and wellbeing. Unfortunately, stress is not just a problem for adults. There’s evidence that teens are also vulnerable to stress and its effects.
The latest Stress in America SurveyTM by the American Psychological Association (APA) polled adults as well as 1,018 teens, ages 13 to 17, who live in the United States about stress over the previous month. While American adults continue to report higher stress levels than what they believe to be healthy, the survey also reveals that the patterns of unhealthy stress behaviors we see in adults impact teens as well. According to the survey, many American teens report experiencing stress at unhealthy levels, appear uncertain in their stress management techniques and experience symptoms of stress in numbers that mirror adults’ experiences. Stress during the teen years also seems to take a toll on activity, nutrition and lifestyle behaviors that no doubt contribute to current and future habits and health.
Stress impacts teens in myriad ways. The survey shows, for example, that 36% of teens report fatigue/feeling tired; 35% report lying awake at night; 32% report they have headaches; and 23% report skipping a meal.
The report also reveals that teens are less aware than adults about the impact stress can have on their physical and mental health. In fact, 42% of teens say they often don’t know what to do to manage their stress or they aren’t sure if they are doing enough to manage it. Fifty-one percent report that while stress management is important to them, more than 1 in 10 report they never set aside time to manage stress. And 55% of teens say they set aside time to manage stress only a few times a month at most. Although 37% exercise or walk and 28% play sports to manage stress, many teens cope with stress by engaging in sedentary behaviors. For example, a lot of teens report turning to screens to cope with stress. In fact, 46% report they play video games, 43% surf the internet or go online and 36% watch TV or movies to cope with stress.
When it comes to teen girls especially, the report reveals that stress impacts behaviors that relate to food. For example, 39% say they eat too much or too little, 35% report overeating or eating unhealthy foods, 31% report skipping a meal and 22% report a change in appetite when stressed.
It’s clear from this APA survey that both the young and old (and those of us in between) are vulnerable to the effects of stress. Whether it’s is related to school or work, relationships, finances, or any combination of factors, stress is an inevitable part of everyone’s life. If we often perceive all that happens around us in negative ways, and it makes us cope in less-than-healthy ways, stress can take a huge toll on us (not to mention those around us). Studies suggest that stress can have negative effects on our eating and fitness habits and on our ability to fall asleep—and stay asleep. As discussed in the Stress in AmericaTM survey, studies also suggest stress can weaken immunity and exhaust the body, increase inflammation in the body (and thereby increase cardiovascular disease risk), and make us more vulnerable to colds.
Because of the many perils of stress, it’s imperative that parents find ways to manage stress positively and productively. A tall order, I know. But because our kids see what we do and how we handle different situations and stressors, for better our worse, we need to model as best we can positive ways of perceiving and coping with stress. If we prioritize finding positive and productive ways to handle challenges, it’s more likely our kids will see our example and learn to cope better as well.
While there’s no one size fits all strategy to manage stress, a combination of behaviors can help us all cope better and enhance our overall health and well being. Staying physically active, engaging in exercise and sitting less can temper stress. Finding activities we enjoy—especially outside in the sunshine—can boost mood and help our hearts be healthier. Eating a wide variety of nutrient-rich foods from all the basic food groups—whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean protein foods, low fat dairy and healthy fats—throughout the day and at regular intervals can help steady blood sugar levels and have mood-boosting and other benefits. Connecting with others regularly, laughing and meditating can also help. Getting enough sleep by having regular, consistent bedtimes can also help us avoid fatigue that no-doubt can in and of itself contribute to unhealthy behaviors.
Sometimes, no matter what we do, stress will get the best of us. But when we try our best to cope and nothing seems to work, there’s no shame in seeking help from a qualified health professional (eg a psychologist). To find one near you, visit the APA website.
How do you and your kids manage stress?
Image of mother and son doing yoga exercise at home via shutterstock.
Need help finding fun ideas to keep your child engaged? Check out activity ideas using common household items.
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Saturday, February 8th, 2014
As any parent can attest, providing kids with healthful foods most of the time can be a real challenge. When it comes to family meals, Dianne Neumark-Sztainer, PhD, MPh, RD, lead researcher of the ongoing Project EAT (Eating and Activity in Teens and Young Adults) study at the University of Michigan, cites time barriers and conflicting activities of both parents and children as two of the biggest barriers to family meals. Yet the research, much of it from Project EAT, has demonstrated numerous benefits of family meals. As I’ve written about in The Scoop on Food, family meals have been linked with healthier body weights; higher quality diets; and less alcohol, tobacco and drug use, less disordered eating and less risk of depression among teens.
So how do parents who don’t see anything slowing down for them or their kids anytime soon find (and make) time to feed their growing children and entire family better?
I asked Self Magazine blogger Sarah-Jane Bedwell, author of the new book Schedule Me Skinny, to offer some tips to help time-strapped parents feed their families well. Below you’ll find five of her favorite time saving strategies.
1. Take 10 minutes to plan healthy dinners for the week. Half of each dinner plate should be filled with fruits/veggies, 1/4 of the plate should include lean protein foods, and the remaining 1/4 plate should be filled with healthy starch (like whole grains or starchy veggies prepared with healthy fats and herbs/spices). On two nights each week, make a double batch of any recipe so you have leftovers for lunches or dinners for other busier nights.
2. Make a strategic shopping list: The Food Marketing Institute reports that for every minute we spend in a grocery store we spend $2. That’s why it’s important to take five minutes each week to make a strategic grocery list that is organized by area of the store. If all the produce you need is listed together, all the meat is listed together, etc, not only will this get you in and out of the store faster, but you’ll also be more likely to stick to your list and therefore spend less money on impulse buys.
3. Prep for success. Part of the Schedule Me Skinny 30 Minute Power-Planning Session is to spend 15 minutes at the beginning of the week prepping food so that meals can be put together in just minutes all throughout the week. To prep, cook one large batch of whole grain or starchy vegetables (such as quinoa, brown rice, whole wheat pasta or potatoes). Next, wash and chop hearty veggies like peppers, cucumbers, broccoli and carrots. On a weeknight, you can throw together the items you’ve already prepped along with an easy protein source such as canned salmon or tuna or beans to make a quick, healthy dinner.
4. Pre-portion your food. Portion control is extremely important to help children enjoy foods in moderation and to grow into healthy weights. However, it can be hard to take the time to measure items during a busy week when you’re trying to feed your kids a snack before soccer practice or get dinner on the table in a timely fashion. If you simply take five minutes or less at the beginning of the week to measure commonly used items like fatty foods (like cheeses, nuts and salad dressings) and favorite treats (like chips, candy and snack mixes) and portion them into baggies or small containers for instant portion control later on, you’ll save a lot of time when you’re time-crunched.
5. Keep a snack stash on hand. To help kids keep their energy levels up, their metabolisms going strong and to meet (and not exceed) their nutrient needs to help them grow, it is important for kids to eat every few hours. Snacks can be a great way to go when time is short in-between meals. To help you stay armed when the munchies strike, it’s smart to take five minutes each week to make a stash of snacks that don’t have to be refrigerated in your car/purse/desk. Options include: dried fruit and nuts, apples, bananas and single serve peanut butter packets. A good rule of thumb is to keep snack options at around 200 calories and include a whole grain or fruit/veggie AND a lean protein or healthy fat for staying power. Examples include one small apple, sliced and a string cheese or 1/2 banana topped with one tablespoon almond or peanut butter and rolled in 2 tablespoons crushed whole-grain cereal. Keeping your own snacks on hand will prevent you from spending money on over-priced junk food from a vending machine or drive through and save you the time of trying to find or fix a snack!
How do you save time feeding your family?
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Image of vegetables on the wooden background and paper for shopping list via shutterstock.
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