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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
Tuesday, December 3rd, 2013
In recent years, there’s been an upward trend in the incidence of type 2 diabetes among children and adolescents. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), type 2 diabetes begins when the body becomes insulin resistant and can no longer use insulin properly. As insulin needs rise, the pancreas gradually loses its ability to produce enough insulin to regulate blood sugar.
Although type 2 diabetes is caused by a variety of factors, having a family history of type 2 diabetes, being obese, and being inactive put children and adolescents at increased risk for what used to be thought of as an adult disease. Although diabetes can strike anyone, those who belong to non-white groups—especially American Indians—are at greatest risk.
Because type 2 diabetes may present with few, if any, symptoms, it may go undiagnosed in children. But if your child experiences increased hunger, thirst, or urination, weight loss, fatigue or other unusual symptoms, it’s worth a visit to the pediatrician to discuss these and get to their root.
To help your child ward off diabetes—and eat and live better—here are 5 tips from two pros—Toby Smithson, RDN, CDE, founder of DiabetesEveryDay.com and coauthor of the new book, Diabetes Meal Planning and Nutrition for Dummies® and Hillary Wright, MEd, RD, author of the new book, The Prediabetes Diet Plan.
1. Eat at home. According to Smithson, “Fast food equals more calories and fat, less fiber and nutrition. Eating at home offers opportunities to teach kids about cooking and also offers great communication opportunities.” Wright adds, “Sharing healthy meals as a family is critical to balancing out the non-stop messaging kids are exposed to outside the home encouraging them to buy junk food and eat on-the-fly. Kids learn by example, so demonstrating what healthy eating looks like while they’re living under your roof is a critical self-care skill they’ll need for life.”
2. Snack smarter. When it’s after-school snack time, Wright urges parents to offer their kids a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables, yogurt, or cheese sticks instead refined crackers or nutrient-poor packaged snack foods. She says, “Hungry kids may be more willing to try something new, so take the after-school time to introduce new foods to your kids since they may be more receptive to them then.”
3. Plan it, buy it. Encouraging your child to plan a meal (like dinner), write a grocery list for the items needed and then selecting those items when at the grocery store can be very empowering for children, says Smithson. She adds, “Giving them a say in what’s served, and in what new foods they (or the family) should try may make it more likely that they’ll take a taste when dinner time comes around.”
4. Help them read between the lines. Smithson says it’s key to teach kids, even from a young age, to be food media literate. “It’s important for parents and children to understand food advertising and to take a stand against it by not always giving in to it, Smithson says. Because children are exposed to thousands of hours of targeted advertising for fast food, snacks, and sugar-sweetened cereal, Smithson urges parents to help their kids read between the lines of food marketing strategies. (You can learn more about food marketing and children by checking out Food Marketing to Youth and other info from Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity.)
5. Play Actively. Wright says it’s key to keep your kids moving throughout the day as much as possible (and to join in on the fun when you can). She says, “Physical activity naturally stimulates chemicals that help clear glucose out of the blood and prevent diabetes.” Smithson agrees, and encourages kids not only to increase play time, but to make sure it’s active play. She says, “By increasing play time, kids are more apt to be physically active which will help balance their energy needs.” For most kids, 60 minutes or more of physical activity is recommended daily. (For more ideas to help your kids—and entire family—stay fit, check out Making Physical Activity a Part of Your Child’s Life by the CDC and Tips for Getting Active by the National Heart Lung, & Blood Institute (NHLBI)).
NEXT: Find out if your child’s growth is on track.
Image of woman at the supermarket with her son buying groceries via shutterstock.
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Sesame Street Lessons: Healthy Eating
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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Thursday, November 7th, 2013
Artificial trans fats—fats that are created during hydrogenation (a process in which hydrogen is added to vegetable oil to make it more solid)—are once again making headlines. That’s because the Food and Drug Administration announced today that it no longer considers partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs)—the major dietary source of trans fat in processed food—to be safe. They came to this conclusion citing a link between trans fat intake and an increased risk of coronary heart disease.
Previous public health concerns about trans fats led the FDA to propose in 1999 that manufacturers be required to list trans fats on Nutrition Facts labels. Seven years later, that requirement became effective, though many food companies had stepped up to remove trans fats prior to then—a move that many consumers (including my dad who once even made his own t-shirt that said NO TRANS FATS on it to taunt his dietitian daughter) appreciated. In their announcement, the FDA also cites the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimation that taking steps to reduce trans fat in the food supply even more can prevent an additional 7,000 deaths from heart disease each year and up to 20,000 heart attacks each year.
According to the FDA announcement, if their preliminary determination that PHOs are no longer “generally recognized as safe” is finalized, PHOs will become food additives and would require premarket approval by the FDA. Foods containing unapproved food additives would then be considered adulterated and could not be legally sold.
Hailed by the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest as “a major step in protecting consumers from artificial trans fat, a potent cause of heart disease,” the FDA announcement is likely to send food manufacturers who haven’t already done so to remove trans fats from their product lines.
Although fat has important functions in the body—it helps insulate and cushion your vital organs, and carries around important vitamins (including vitamins A, D, E and K) so that they can be better absorbed and used by the body—too much can contribute to excess calorie intake and promote heart and other diseases. While eventual removal of unhealthy trans fats from the marketplace can be a step in the right direction, here are 5 tips to help you and your kids be more fit when it comes to your fat intake right now:
1. Follow the rules. According to current dietary guidelines for Americans, children and adults aged 2 and older should aim for no more than 20 to 35% of their total calories from fat. For a child who consumes 1,400 calories daily, that’s about 31 to 54 grams. For an adult who consumes 2,000 calories daily, that’s about 44 to 78 grams.
2. Emphasize healthful fats. Use olive oil, canola oil, and other vegetable oils that are rich in monounsaturated fat to make popcorn* or to otherwise cook with; add avocado to salads or sandwiches or use it to make a dip for vegetables or whole grain crackers; and have nuts* and seeds* as part of a snack (with dried fruit and whole grain cereal, for example) or add them to oatmeal or low fat yogurt.
3. Skim the fat. Too much saturated and trans fats can increase heart disease risk—especially if that means you’re consuming more total calories than you need for growth (in the case of children) or weight management (in the case of adults). To limit total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol, choose low- or non-fat dairy foods, lean meats, skinless white meat poultry, and fish prepared in healthful ways (rather than battered and/or fried). Limit or avoid fried potatoes and other fried foods (choose roasting or baking instead). Limit portions and the frequency with which you eat high fat foods (fatty meats, margarine, fatty snack foods like chips and popcorn, and baked goods like cookies and cakes). Eating out less often and choosing appetizer-size portions or meals from so-called healthier menus can also save you some fat and calories.
4. Become label savvy. Learn to read Nutrition Facts Panels and ingredients lists on food labels. A food that’s low in fat has 3 grams or less per serving; a food that’s low in saturated fat has 1 gram or less per serving; and a food that’s really free of trans fat free has 0 grams listed on the Nutrition Facts Panel AND does not list any “partially hydrogenated oil” on the ingredients list.
5. Buyer beware. Just because a food does not have trans fats does not mean it’s low in fat or that it’s healthy. That’s why it’s important to read between the lines, especially when purchasing packaged and processed foods. If it’s hard for you and your kids to identify which food group an item comes in (as an example, think of your favorite donuts or cookies), it’s likely this food should be thought of as an occasional or once-in-a-while treat rather than a dietary staple.
*These foods are choking hazards for children under age 5.
Check out the 20 Best Snacks for Kids (and parents), then download our Homemade Baby Food Guide to make meals for her at home.
Image of chocolate chip cookies via shutterstock.
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Tuesday, November 5th, 2013
Despite the widespread availability and excessive marketing of highly palatable, nutrient-poor food in America, there are some signs that the times are, indeed, changing. And that help from consumer-driven petitions, parents (including the First Mom) and even puppets are leading the charge towards healthier options and better eating habits for our children.
Recently, the Associated Press reported that Kraft announced its plan to unveil in early 2014 several macaroni and cheese varieties made without controversial artificial dyes. Instead of having Yellow 5 and 6 as ingredients, the revamped Kraft products (minus the popular elbow-shaped “original” macaroni and cheese) will instead get their characteristic orange-yellow color from paprika and other spices. And to boost the nutrition of their macaroni and cheese products, Kraft will also add some whole grains and slash some sodium and fat in each serving. Although not conceded by the company, it’s likely this change is in part the result of a petition created by Vani Hari (also known as The Food Babe). In her petition, Hari asked the company to remove artificial food dyes from their macaroni and cheese products. Posted on Change.org, the petition garnered hundreds of thousands of signatures and most likely nudged the company to make the change.
In another recent move, the White House announced a two-year partnership between the Sesame Workshop (led by Elmo and Rosita), the Produce Marketing Association (PMA) and Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA) (for which First Lady Michelle Obama is the honorary chair). The campaign which has been written about in another Parents blog, Sesame Street Brings Fun to the Produce Aisle, is designed to promote fresh food choices and make more nutritious selections a little easier for busy parents and families to make.
I know that while these food developments aren’t solely going to magically improve the health and wellbeing of children, they’re a step in the right direction. Even Michael Moss, the Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times journalist and author of the highly acclaimed book, Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us, is encouraged. When asked about the removal of food dyes from some Kraft products, Moss said, “There’s no question that the food giants will respond to public pressure, especially if that pressure causes even the slightest drop in sales.” And while Moss does not view food companies as evil empires setting out to make us sick but as “companies doing what companies do to make money by selling products that meet people’s needs,” he says it’s important for people to act on their food-related concerns to facilitate healthful change in the food supply and eating habits.
And when it comes to pushing produce, Moss, a father of two sons aged 9 and 14, is excited by the prospect of Elmo being a driver and habit changer. In his recent New York Times article, Broccoli’s Extreme Makeover, he argues that promoting fruits and vegetables based on their health virtues alone hasn’t—and most likely won’t ever—encourage people (including children) to eat them. The article also suggests that changing the way we market produce may be what’s needed to move the needle. In his article, he sums this up beautifully with a quote by Jeffrey Dunn, a former president of Coca-Cola who now works for Boathouse Farms, a baby-carrot producer:
“We must change the game. We can help solve the obesity crisis by stealing junk food’s playbook, by creating passion for produce, by becoming demand creators, not just growers and processors.”
What do you think it will take to move the needle to help out kids eat better and enjoy a more healthful lifestyle?
Image of child with group fruit and vegetable via shutterstock.
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