Archive for the ‘ Nutrition ’ Category

Which Fish Are Safe For Kids?

Tuesday, June 30th, 2015

It’s natural to feel a little iffy about fish. On the one hand, you know it’s super-nutritious. On the other, the scary thought of mercury contamination is enough to make you skip it entirely. (And then there’s the small matter of whether your kids, after you spend the money on it and the time preparing it, will actually eat it.)

But this is a case where the benefits outweigh the potential risks, and thankfully, there are pretty easy, common-sense ways to minimize the risks. In fact, the FDA and EPA are so concerned about people avoiding fish that they’re releasing new advice to encourage people to eat it—and the information about safe consumption is clearer than ever.

Which varieties are safe?

The fact is, most fish contain some amount of methylmercury, a form of mercury that can be toxic to the brain in large amounts. Really big fish that live a long time tend to have the most contamination, which is why the FDA singles out tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico, shark, swordfish, and king mackerel as ones you should avoid completely for your family.

But many other varieties have much smaller amounts of mercury—in some cases, just trace amounts—and are safe for even small children and pregnant women. Some fish and seafood with the lowest amounts include:

  • Salmon (Atlantic, Chinook, Coho, Pink, Sockeye)
  • Tilapia
  • Pollock (Atlantic & Walleye)
  • Flounder
  • Haddock
  • Catfish
  • Clams
  • Oysters (Pacific)
  • Shrimp
  • Scallops (Bay & Sea)

See the full chart from the FDA, which lists mercury content, here.

How much is okay?

The FDA says that to get the health benefits, kids should eat fish 2-3 times a week—but their portions should obviously be smaller than for grown-ups. Here’s what an appropriate portion looks like:

Children younger than six: About 3-5 ounces per week

Children ages 6-8: About 4-6 ounces per week

Children ages 9 and up: Portions increase as calorie needs increase, up to 8-12 ounces per week (the amount recommended for adults)

Keep in mind that this advice is different for fish that you or other people catch in rivers, streams, and lakes. In those cases, limit it to 1-2 ounces a week for children under six years and 2-3 ounces for older kids (and don’t serve any other fish that week).

What about tuna?

Canned and pouch tuna is a popular choice for families because it’s convenient and affordable. Both light and albacore tuna do contain higher amounts of mercury than the varieties listed above, so it’s important to follow the FDA’s advice. They say that light tuna, which has less than albacore, is safe to eat but that you should serve other varieties of lower-mercury fish as well. If you choose albacore, kids should get half the recommended servings above (for example, no more than 2-3 ounces a week for kids ages 6-8).

Why is fish worth it?

Fish has a lot of high-quality protein, iron, and minerals. Some varieties (like salmon, anchovies, and sardines) contain omega-3 fatty acids, which are good for heart health and developing brains. Some (like salmon) even contain vitamin D, which can be hard to get through food.

How can I get my kids to eat it?

I’ve struggled with this too. My best advice is to try serving it in lots of different ways, and you may just hit on something they really like. For me, that was fish tacos. Wrapping it in a flour tortilla and letting them pile on the toppings they like was a game-changer (this is the recipe that won them over). Ditto for glazing salmon with barbecue sauce.

For more information about the safety of fish, read the FDA’s full document, “Fish: What Pregnant Women and Parents Should Know”, here.

Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian, educator, and mom of two who blogs at Real Mom Nutrition. You can follow her on Facebook Twitter Pinterest, and Instagram. She is the author of Cooking Light Dinnertime Survival Guide, a cookbook for busy families. In her spare time, she loads and unloads the dishwasher. Then loads it again.

How to Bread and Batter
How to Bread and Batter
How to Bread and Batter

Image: Mother and daughter preparing fish via Shutterstock

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Want Your Kids To Eat Healthy On The Road? Learn From My Mistakes

Wednesday, June 24th, 2015

I relax the rules a lot with my kids when we hit the road for vacation. Bedtime creeps later and later. Screen time limits become a distant memory. And eating means more indulgences and less structure. But I’ve learned the hard way that giving too much leeway means suffering the consequences, namely crabby, over-sugared, over-snacked kids—and that it’s better for everyone to aim for a balance between healthy eating and travel splurges. So learn from my mistakes:

Mistake 1: Not bringing anything fresh.

Your instinct may be to load up on shelf-stable snacks that are easy to pack (like pretzels and granola bars), but packaged food often doesn’t satisfy like fresh food does. Packaged stuff is also typically missing the fiber that can make travel easier on the digestive system.

Instead: Bring a small, soft-sided cooler that includes pieces of whole fruit and zip-top bags of raw veggies. You can also toss in cheese sticks and small cups of yogurt or hummus. Offer that food first when your child asks for a snack in the car.

Mistake 2: Using food as entertainment.

I’m still guilty of this one when faced with a long car trip. But automatically feeding kids when there’s downtime in the car creates a bad pattern and means nobody is hungry when mealtime rolls around.

Instead: Pack enough food to handle hunger but encourage other ways to pass the time, like activity books, travel games, and audiobooks. It’s okay to answer a snack request with, “We’re stopping for lunch in a half hour; you can eat then.”

Mistake 3: Letting kids eat out of big packages.

If my kids were left alone in the third row of the minivan with a family size bag of pretzels, it would be demolished by mile 12. Research shows adults eat more when eating out of big packages—and kids are likely no exception.

Instead: I try to portion snacks into individual baggies or I fill up the bento-style lunchbox containers we have with reasonable amounts of snacks. Bonus: No sibling squabbles over the bag, since each kid has his own stash.

Mistake 4: Allowing too many sweet drinks.

My boys could live on sweet drinks if I let them. But I know that sweet drinks provide a lot of extra sugar and even increase kids’ risk for obesity. Caffeine in soda can disrupt sleep. Sweet drinks may also dull the appetite for actual food.

Instead: My kids each get a large bottle of ice water for their respective cup holders, and I try to stick to a “one sweet drink per day” policy when we’re on the road, like a lemonade or chocolate milk at a restaurant.

Mistake 5: Only ordering from the kids’ menu.

I get it: It’s sometimes tough to find healthy options at mealtime pit-stops, and the kids’ menu just feels like the easiest choice. But the standbys on the kids’ menu—chicken nuggets, hot dogs, and pizza—are typically high-fat, hyper-processed foods.

Instead: When you can, encourage your kids to branch out and choose something from the “grown-up menu”, even if it’s an appetizer or a meal that you share.

Find out more do’s and don’ts about healthy eating on the road in the “Eating On Vacation” episode of The Happy Bite, a podcast I host with Dina Rose from the blog It’s Not About Nutrition.

What are YOUR best tips for healthy eating on the road?

Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian, educator, and mom of two who blogs at Real Mom Nutrition. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. She is the author of Cooking Light Dinnertime Survival Guide, a cookbook for busy families. In her spare time, she loads and unloads the dishwasher. Then loads it again.

Manners & Responsibility: Eating Out with Kids at Restaurants
Manners & Responsibility: Eating Out with Kids at Restaurants
Manners & Responsibility: Eating Out with Kids at Restaurants

Image: Boy eating banana in car via Shutterstock

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Another Food Company Is Ditching Artificial Colors and Flavors

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2015

Trix cerealJust yesterday, another food company announced that artificial flavors and colors will be removed from its products.

By 2017, General Mills will integrate natural flavors and colors into its cereals while still achieving the same taste that customers are accustomed to.

Trix will use fruit and vegetable juices as well as spice extracts to achieve its bright coloring, and Reese’s Puffs, which already uses peanut butter and cocoa, will now incorporate natural vanilla flavor to maintain its taste.

Currently, more than 60 percent of General Mills’ products are already without these artificial additives—like Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Original Cheerios—and have been for quite some time.

The latest enhancement comes as a response to customers’ seeking foods with fewer artificial flavors and colors. According to a recent survey, 49 percent of households are actively trying to avoid anything artificial in the food that they consume.

“We know some products will present challenges as we strive to uphold the taste, quality and fun in every spoonful of cereal,” Kate Gallager, General Mills cereal developer, stated in a press release. “Cereals that contain marshmallows, like Lucky Charms, may take longer, but we are committed to finding a way to keep the magically delicious taste as we work to take out the artificial flavors and colors from artificial sources.”

Related: Kraft Mac ‘n’ Cheese Is About to Change (for the Better)

Caitlin St John is an Editorial Assistant for who splits her time between New York City and her hometown on Long Island. Follow her on Twitter: @CAITYstjohn

Nutrition Labels: 3 Things To Avoid
Nutrition Labels: 3 Things To Avoid
Nutrition Labels: 3 Things To Avoid

Image: Trix Cereal via Shutterstock

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The Truth About Kids and Added Sugars

Tuesday, June 16th, 2015

If you believe everything you read about added sugars, you’ll be convinced they’re toxic time bombs just waiting to kill us all. So don’t believe everything you read. The truth is that sugar is not a poisonous substance. Your child can have a cookie without risking his life. Yet it’s also true that most people (especially most kids) are getting too much of it–and that a high-sugar diet isn’t good for health.

But what exactly, does “too much” mean? I talk to a lot of parents who are concerned about sugar, shocked that a can of soda contains nearly 10 teaspoons of the stuff, but really don’t know what that means in the grand scheme of things.

For starters, remember that ADDED sugars are what health experts are worried about. That’s the kind put in by manufacturers or by you at home. It’s NOT the natural kind found in fruit and dairy. (Ever noticed that plain yogurt or milk still has sugar? That’s natural.) Unfortunately, the nutrition facts label doesn’t distinguish between added and natural (yet!) but you can still use this label-reading trick: Every 4 grams of sugar = 1 teaspoon. So candy with 8 grams of sugar per serving has the equivalent of two teaspoons of sugar.

Though there’s no Daily Value for added sugars, word is that the new Dietary Guidelines for Americans will likely suggest no more than 10 percent of calories should come from it. For kids, that looks like this:

  • Children ages 2-3: No more than 100 calories from added sugar (about 6 teaspoons or 24 grams)
  • Children ages 4-8: No more than 120-140 calories from added sugar (about 7-8 teaspoons or 28-32 grams)

That sounds like an awful lot—until you consider how much is actually in foods and drinks:

  • Sheet of graham crackers: 1 tsp
  • Chocolate chip granola bar: 1 tsp
  • Small bowl of honey-flavored “o” cereal: 2 tsp
  • Package of gummy fruit snacks: 2.5 tsp
  • Packet of peach-flavored instant oatmeal: 3 tsp
  • Pouch of fruit punch: 3 tsp
  • Cup of sports drink: 3.5 tsp
  • 2 tablespoons chocolate hazelnut spread: 5 tsp
  • Chocolate cupcake with frosting: 9 tsp

Suddenly, the recommendations start to look a little tough. Have a day with a birthday party, soccer game snack, and a lollipop at the bank, and they look downright impossible.

So here’s my advice: Though it’s important to be aware and look at nutrition labels for sugar content, obsessing over numbers or counting up sugar grams for the day is no way to live. Instead, think big picture. What foods and drinks are providing the most sugar for your family—and is there a way to reduce that?

For instance, mix plain yogurt with flavored. Ditto for chocolate milk and regular milk. Designate a couple of “dessert nights” each week instead of serving it every day. Stop buying soda or buy it only occasionally. Cutting back on sweetened beverages in general can go a long way in reducing intake. The bottom line is that while there’s no need to cut it out completely, little moves like these can add up to less sugar for everyone.

Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian, educator, and mom of two who blogs at Real Mom Nutrition. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. She is the author of Cooking Light Dinnertime Survival Guide, a cookbook for busy families. In her spare time, she loads and unloads the dishwasher. Then loads it again.

Nutrition Labels: 3 Things To Avoid
Nutrition Labels: 3 Things To Avoid
Nutrition Labels: 3 Things To Avoid

Image: Spoon of sugar via Shutterstock

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The Downsides of Baby Food Pouches (And How to Use Them Right)

Thursday, June 11th, 2015

There is a pouch with pureed apples and pumpkin in my cupboard. Another one is tucked in the diaper bag together with a small spoon. My baby is 10 months old. She has been eating finger foods for the last five months and fully participates in family meals, eating the same food as the rest of us.

So why do I need puree pouches?

They are my emergency supply. Imagine I am stuck in a subway or car with my baby without a packed lunch or restaurants in the vicinity. Or I just want her to have a bite and then nap happily while my husband, two other kids, and I are enjoying a leisurely meal out. Yes, meals with two kids can suddenly seem leisurely when your third is sleeping!

But I would not rely on puree pouches every day and definitely not every meal. Here’s why:

  1. Labels may be misleading. Even if the front label proudly proclaims ingredients like kale and quinoa, rest assured that the ingredient list (the smallish print next to the nutritional information on the back) will start with a cheaper component — apple, pear, or carrot puree in most cases. This cheaper puree provides the bulk of the pouch’s contents. How much quinoa or kale is in there? No one knows since the manufacturers are not required to declare the percentages. (Beech-Nut, however, has begun listing the percentages on its website and is considering including them on packaging within the next year.)
    Related: Do You REALLY Know What’s In That Baby Food Pouch?
  2. Sucking purees from pouches does not promote the healthy development of feeding skills. Pouches encourage more sucking — something that babies do very well already. In my nutrition practice I have seen many babies “stuck” in a puree phase. They had trouble progressing to lumps and finger foods because the parents relied on pouches for too long. Their child missed the window of opportunity to learn how to handle varied textures and self-feed. Studies show that the late introduction of lumpy food has been associated with feeding problems in the future.
  3. Purees from pouches do not help to expand the palate. Most of them taste sweet, even those with kale, spinach, whole grains, and other generally not-sweet tasting ingredients. Kids already love sweet. Our goal as parents is to help babies develop a taste for the foods they do not like yet, such as savory vegetables, grains, and meats.

No one can argue that purees in pouches are a perfect fit for our crazy busy lives. And although not an adequate substitute for fresh fruit and veggies, purees in pouches still have a decent amount of nutrition and can provide much-needed vitamins and minerals, especially important for children with feeding difficulties.

I am confident that purees in pouches are not a bad thing unto themselves. We just tend to rely on them a little too much. Here is how every parent and child can enjoy the convenience of purees in pouches without contributing to potential feeding problems later on:

  • Instead of letting babies and children suck on puree pouches, empty the puree into a bowl and feed it with a spoon.
  • Alongside with offering purees, make sure to expose your baby to finger foods from early on. If introducing finger foods from 6 months, serve long graspable pieces of soft foods like mango or avocado, long strips of well-cooked chicken or meat, steamed or roasted veggie sticks, or long pieces of toast. When babies develop finger grasp close to 8-9 months, switch to small bites of well cooked vegetables, soft fruits, eggs, meats, beans and shredded cheese.
  • Try not to rely on pouches at every meal, and instead ensure that there is a variety of textures in your baby’s diet. An example of a meal with different textures appropriate for babies from 6-8 months is a soft chicken and vegetable stew, mango chunks, and avocado mashed with a fork.
  • Do not let older babies and toddlers walk around while sucking on the pouches. Make meals and snacks sit-down occasions. This will reduce the risk of choking and help children become mindful eaters who pay attention to their food and stop when full.
  • Introduce more challenging vegetables like leafy greens and broccoli as single-ingredient purees or finger foods rather than mixed with sweet purees so that your baby learns to like their flavor.

Purees in pouches can be a nutritious addition to our kids’ diets and a lifesaving solution for parents. But it is important to integrate them mindfully in eating without compromising the development of eating skills and taste preferences.

Natalia Stasenko MS, RD, CDN is a pediatric dietitian based in London and New York. A mother of three, she is passionate about feeding kids of all ages. Natalia contributed her nutritional expertise to the cookbook Real Baby Food, and when not writing, teaching online feeding classes or consulting, she is in the kitchen cooking and eating with her family. Follow Natalia on Twitter, read more of her stories on and download her guide on Smart Snacks That Help Kids Eat Dinner here.

How to Make Baby Food: Red Lentil and Spinach Puree
How to Make Baby Food: Red Lentil and Spinach Puree
How to Make Baby Food: Red Lentil and Spinach Puree

Image: Baby with food pouch via Shutterstock

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Tags: | Categories: Health, Nutrition, Snacking, The Scoop on Food