Archive for the ‘ Nutrition ’ Category

Creating a Slim-By-Design Kitchen

Monday, September 29th, 2014

According to Brian Wansink, Ph.D., Director of the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab and author of the new book, Slim By Design: Mindless Eating Solutions For Everyday Life, slim-by-design homes start with the grocery store. He says, “What you buy determines what you eat at home.” But before you even set foot in a grocery store, Wansink says it’s vital to do a few things to set your home up to help you and your children easily eat better without even thinking about it.

For starters, Wansink urges families to take steps to make their kitchens less of a place to hang out for extended periods of time. That’s a smart idea, because if you think about it, the kitchen probably is the most popular hub in the home. And too much time in it can make it more likely you and your children eat more than you plan to or more than your bodies need. So for starters, Wansink suggests moving comfortable chairs and television sets out of the kitchen. “Removing some kitchen comforts helps people spend less time—18 minutes less, on average—in the kitchen. And they tend to snack less,” he says.

In Slim By Design, Wansink also recommends giving your kitchen a 15-minute makeover and to make healthier foods really convenient and the so-called junk foods that provide just a little more temptation than most of us need more difficult to find. He suggests the following six tips:

*Clear the counters of any food other than a bowl of fruit;

*Put the healthiest foods out front and center in your cupboards and pantry;

*Put cut fruits and vegetables in plastic bags on the eye-level shelf of your refrigerator—this encourages people to consume up to three times more produce than if they’re in a crisper drawer;

*Wrap indulgent leftovers in aluminum foil or put them in opaque containers—  “Aluminum foil and opaque containers don’t stimulate cravings in anyone,” Wansink says;

*Have a separate, hard-to-reach snack cupboard with a child-proof lock to remind the whole family to think before they mindlessly reach for snacks, especially nutrient-poor ones—snacks can be in a more reachable location for younger kids, but they shouldn’t be so visible such as on a kitchen counter;

*Make it easier and more convenient to cook healthy food by keeping your countertop clear and cutting boards handy, having a well-stocked pantry filled with lots of basics, and having available a range of fresh ingredients.

Wansink also thinks it’s key to “fat-proof” your dinner using the following strategies:

*Using 9- to 10-inch dinner plates for adults, and smaller sized plates like salad plates for kids to match their smaller sizes;

*Pre-plating food from the store or from your countertop rather than serving food family style—According to Wansink, people eat on average 19% less when they serve themselves food right off the stove or off the countertop than from food in front of them at the table;

*Using tall or small glasses or half-filled sippy cups (for little kids) for any beverages that aren’t water;

*Using smaller bowls to serve food and tablespoons as serving spoons;

*Using the Half-Plate Rule—make half your plate fruits or vegetables (e.g. salad) and half whatever else you want to help you eat healthy food without feeling deprived.

Finally, Wansink also suggests never putting more than two foods on your plate at once. People who follow this strategy eat an average of 30% less than when they put more foods on their plate.

Slim By Design provides tons of practical and useful tips to help you and your family seamlessly improve your eating habits and make better food choices whether you’re at home, at the grocery store, at a restaurant, at work, or at school. And with his bestselling book, Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think, and more than 200 peer-reviewed journal articles to his credit, Wansink has really done his homework to help families everywhere eat better no matter where they are and even enlist the help of restaurants, grocery stores, and school to support their efforts.

To see whether your kitchen helps keep you slim or sabotages you, check out the Slim By DesignTM Starter Scorecard here. And for more information about the book and the movement, check out the Slim By DesignTM website.

How do you set up a healthy kitchen and home?

Image of Brian Wansink via Jason Koski, Cornell News Bureau.



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100 Days of Real Food Slow-Cooker Recipe

Thursday, September 25th, 2014

100 Days of Real FoodThis is a guest post by Lisa Leake, author of 100 Days of Real Food: How We Did It, What We Learned, and 100 Easy, Wholesome Recipes Your Family Will Love! and founder of the blog 100 Days of Real Food.

When our family decided to cut out all highly processed food back in 2010 there’s one thing I learned fairly quickly: planning ahead is key. You don’t want to be caught at dinnertime with hungry, cranky kids and no idea what you’re going to feed them. So with weeknights now ruled by sports and other activities, it’s more important than ever to map out an easy and realistic dinner plan.

That’s exactly why I included a special section in my new cookbook dedicated to quick “Weeknight Meals.” We are a busy family too – I totally get it. And some of the recipes in that section utilize one of the best tools I’ve found when it comes to quickly getting a wholesome dinner on the table: a slow cooker.

 Find recipes for our favorite slow-cooker soups, stews, and chilies. 

I use my slow cooker to make everything from whole chickens (see recipe below) to homemade broth (that cooks overnight while we’re sleeping) to steak fajitas to hearty soups and even homemade refried beans. There’s nothing better than getting all the prep work out of the way early in the morning (or even the night before) and coming home to the smell of a delicious dinner!

So today, I’d love to share a fan favorite …The Best Whole Chicken in the Slow Cooker! If you’ve never cooked a whole chicken before this is the perfect place to start. It’s not only cost-effective, but super easy and so delicious.

100 Days of Real Food Lisa Leake

Carrie Vitt

The Best Whole Chicken in the Slow Cooker 
From 100 Days of Real Food: How We Did It, What We Learned, and 100 Easy, Wholesome Recipes Your Family Will Love 


  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 onion, peeled and cut into large pieces
  • 1 large whole chicken (about 4 pounds), giblets removed
  1. Combine all the spices in a small bowl and set aside. Place the onion in the bottom of the slow cooker.
  2. Rub the spice mixture all over the outside of the chicken. You can even put some of the spices inside the cavity and under the skin covering the breasts. Place the chicken breast-side down on top of the onions and cover the slow cooker. (There’s no need to add any liquid.)
  3. Cook on high for about 4 hours or on low for 7 hours, or until the chicken is falling off the bone. Remove the chicken pieces from the slow cooker and serve.
  4. When dinner is over, don’t forget to save the leftover bones and juices to make homemade stock overnight!

Makes 5-6 servings, depending on the size of the chicken.

Get more chicken recipes for the slow cooker!

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

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Are Eating Habits Set in Infancy?

Sunday, September 21st, 2014

Are kids’ diet habits set in infancy, as a recent New York Times article suggests? According to the article, the findings of several new studies published in Pediatrics suggest that, “Efforts to improve what children eat should begin before they even learn to walk.”

In one study, researchers looked at the association between bottle-feeding practices during infancy with maternal feeding style and children’s eating behavior at six years old. They found that bottle-feeding practices during infancy may have long-term effects on both maternal feeding style and children’s eating behavior at age six. Frequent bottle emptying encouraged by mothers during early infancy increased the likelihood they’d pressure their six-year-old child to eat enough and eat all the food on their plate. Also, high bottle feeding intensity during early infancy increased the likelihood mothers would be especially careful to ensure their six-year-olds eat enough. Based on the findings, lead researcher Ruowei Li, MD, PhD suggests breastfeeding as the first feeding choice for infants. She adds, “When feeding at the breast is not feasible, supplementing breastfeeding with expressed breastmilk is a good alternative, but special attention is needed for infants’ internal feeding cues while bottle-feeding.”

Another study found that infrequent intake of fruits and vegetables during late infancy is associated with infrequent intake of these foods at six years of age. The researchers concluded that it’s important for parents to find ways to encourage their infants to eat fruits and vegetables despite perceived barriers to produce intake.

Two other studies, also published in Pediatrics, unsurprisingly found some perils associated with sugar-sweetened beverage (SSB) intake. In the first study, infants who drank any amount of SSBs were two times more likely to drink them at least once daily at age six. Based on their findings, the researchers point out the importance of establishing healthy beverage practices in infancy.

In the second study, 10- to 12-month-olds who drank SSBs more than three times a week were twice as likely to be obese at age six than those who consumed none as infants. The researchers concluded that SSB consumption during infancy can be a risk factor for obesity in early childhood.

We all do our best as parents to raise and nurture our kids, which includes trying to feed them well, and help them meet their basic nutrient needs. I know I felt empowered when my sons who were breastfed would grow at each and every visit to the pediatrician. It made me feel great to know that my milk alone, at least for several months when they were exclusively breastfed, fed them. But as kids grow, like everything else feeding gets a little more complicated. Transitioning from breast milk or formula to “real food” can be a real challenge for many.

Also, since food is love in many cultures, learning how to feed your growing infants and toddlers enough, but not too much, to meet their needs can be easier said than done. This makes it even more important that parents learn and respect their children’s mealtime cues e.g. that they’re hungry or that they’ve had enough. I always say that if your kids’ trips to the pediatrician show they’re growing at a rate that’s consistent for him or her, it’s likely they’re at least meeting their calorie needs. If they’re moving too much in one direction or another on growth charts, that’s when it’s important to really consider dietary tweaks. In such cases, working even a few times with a registered dietitian nutritionist can help parents not only know what and how much their child needs but how to help them meet those needs without food fights.

As infants grow into toddlers and then full-fledged school-age children and become exposed to more and more nutrient-poor options whether at school or when on-the-go, things get even more complicated and challenging. But as the Pediatrics studies illustrate, it’s vital for parents to simply try to feed their children well starting in infancy. We can do this by exposing them to a wide variety of nutrient-rich foods such as fruits and vegetables (pureed or mashed), by eating with/in front of them, and by making mealtimes calm and pleasant.

While it’s ideal to start kids off on a nutritious path when they’re very young by offering to them a variety of nutrient-rich foods and to limit their exposure to empty-calorie, nutrient-poor foods and fast food, even when kids are older it’s never too late for parents to make some changes in the home and when on the go or at a restaurant to help the whole family move in a more healthful direction. Food preferences can still change and develop as children grow, and just because your child doesn’t like or accept a particular food at a young age doesn’t mean he or she won’t at age 12 or beyond. The key is to repeatedly expose children to a wide variety of foods and to keep discussions about eating and food positive and encouraging so that they feel enticed rather than pressured to eat well.

It’s also helpful to present foods in different and appealing ways, and to involve kids, even when they’re older, in shopping for, preparing, and cooking food. That can help them develop a love and appreciation for quality foods and healthy eating practices and help them develop skills that they can bring with them as they grow.

Keeping more of the foods and beverages you want your children to consume more of around the house and limiting their exposure at home to items like SSBs and other empty-calorie foods and beverages can also encourage healthier habits. Enjoying family meals can also help infants and all family members feel more connected to one another and even can enhance nutrient intake, protect against obesity, and have other health benefits.

Even if eating habits are at least in part set in infancy, that’s no reason for us parents to not at least try to improve what and how we offer foods and beverages to our children. Habits can be enhanced and tweaked at any age, and if we make more nutritious choices for ourselves in front of our children, and show them through our example the joys of eating moderately and mindfully, it’s likely that over time our children will internalize that. And hopefully, that will also encourage them to follow suit.

You can check out new nutrition guidance for 2- to 11-year-olds in a previous Scoop on Food post here.

How do you help your infants eat well and develop more healthful food and nutrition habits?

Image of girl eating watermelon via shutterstock.

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10 Tips For Transitioning From Purees To Solids

Thursday, September 11th, 2014

10 Tips to Transition from Purees to SolidsBabies typically begin their transition to solid foods around age six months, but it can be a balancing act to find what is nutritious and what they are willing to try. In this guest post, Parents contributing editor Catherine McCord shares her favorite tips to help Baby transition from purees to solid foods. This post originally appeared on

    1. Change texture, not flavor. When you’re cooking a meal for your family, make a little extra for baby … minus the spices and condiments. This way you are changing the texture—but not the taste—of the fresh flavors your baby is used to eating.

Find family recipes made for baby.

  1. Invest in a pair of kitchen shears. They’re much quicker than a fork and knife for cutting things like fruit and pasta into tiny toddler-size bites.
  2. Be careful with leftovers. Fresh is best: Foods that sit in the refrigerator for more than three days start to lose their nutritional value.
  3. Save the best for last. At mealtime, introduce new foods (or foods your baby doesn’t usually prefer) first, so baby doesn’t fill up on old favorites before trying healthy new fruits, veggies, and proteins.
  4. Get them involved. Toddler utensils like these Bambu forks and spoons will allow your baby to feel like he’s part of the process—even if he’s not quite ready to eat with them yet.
  5. Lead by example. If you eat the same foods as your baby, at the same time, she’ll be more likely to give the foods a whirl. You don’t need to be overly theatrical about the yummyness, either: kids naturally emulate their parents.
  6. Be mindful of teething. If your little one is pushing away the bite-sized meal in front of him, it may be because his gums are hurting. Try offering a cool puree instead.
  7. Have patience. Your baby won’t love everything the first time she tries it. You probably don’t love every type of food either, so try not to get frustrated. Have fun helping your baby discover her own palate.
  8. Don’t overwhelm your baby with too much food. Space out a few bites at a time on the tray, then replenish as necessary.
  9. When all else fails, make popsicles. You may not like the sound of a spinach puree pop, but your kids … they’re a different story. You can freeze just about any puree in a popsicle mold to make ice pops!

Get more expert tips to feed your kids better.

Try out some of these delicious recipes from Weelicious to help your little one ease into the world of solid foods!

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Baby Food: Butternut Squash Puree
Baby Food: Butternut Squash Puree
Baby Food: Butternut Squash Puree

Photo of little boy courtesy of Shutterstock.

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Kids and Carbohydrates: How Low Should They Go?

Monday, September 8th, 2014

A recent study published in Annals of Internal Medicine found that, at least in adults, a low-carbohydrate (<40 grams/day) diet led to greater weight loss and more beneficial improvements in blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels than a low-fat (<30% of daily energy intake from total fat) diet. Researchers concluded that restricting carbohydrates may be an option for those who want to lose weight and reduce cardiovascular risk factors.

The study, highlighted on Good Morning America, in The New York Times, and in countless other outlets will likely have many parents, in their efforts to manage their own weight, continue with their low carb ways. And if parents are eating low carb, should they encourage kids—especially if overweight—to do the same? I hope not!

For one, carbohydrates provide the basic fuel needed by the brain, red blood cells, and entire central nervous system. Carbohydrates also supply the body with serotonin, a brain chemical that helps regulate mood, appetite and sleep. Too few carbohydrates—and serotonin—can very well make kids feel sleepy and irritable. And what parent in their right mind wants to do anything to encourage that?!

According to current Dietary Guidelines for Americans, about half of kids’ calories should come from carbohydrates. More precisely, the range suggested is 45 to 65% of total calories. Based on What We Eat in America, kids fall into that range, and get an average of 53 to 56% of their total calories from carbohydrates. But while many kids can certainly afford to curb their intake of carbohydrate by at least a little bit, especially with obesity rates as they are, it’s wise for them to reduce intake of sugary snacks and drinks that provide empty calories rather than forgo grains (even if refined, like pasta or white bread) and other carbohydrate-rich, nutrient-packed foods.

That doesn’t mean kids should OD on white bread, pasta, white rice, sugary cereal, French fries, cookies, and donuts to get their carbs. Going overboard on such foods, especially when served in bloated portions at fast food and other restaurants (not to mention ballparks), will most definitely leave less room for other nutrient-rich foods to help them optimally grow and develop.

Currently, kids consume most grains in their refined rather than whole form. So one key way to improve (if not slightly reduce) kids’ carbohydrate intake is to help them replace some of the refined carbs in their diet with whole grains. Current Dietary Guidelines for Americans urge three to six grains daily, with at least half as whole grains, for kids who consume 1,000 to 2,400 calories. (For reference (see page 16), two to five-year-olds require at least 1,000 to 1,200 calories; six- to 10-year-olds require at least 1,200 to 1,600 calories; 11- to 14-year-olds 1,600 to 2,000 calories; and 15- to 18-year-olds require at least 1,800 to 2,400 calories daily.)

Although they tend to get a bad rap (or is it wrap?!) because they’re carbohydrate-rich, whole grains are sources of nutrients such as iron, magnesium, selenium, B vitamins, and dietary fiber. Whole grain intake has also been linked with reduced heart disease risk. It may also help reduce constipation, and promote healthy weight.

Some whole grains that kids enjoy include popcorn, air-popped, with canola or vegetable oil; cooked oats or whole grain, high fiber cereal (eg low fat granola or another crunchy cereal mixed with fresh fruit, nuts and/or seeds, or low fat yogurt); and brown rice mixed with stir-fried poultry or beef and vegetables.

For ideas on how to enhance the taste and flavor of whole grains and to serve them and other carbohydrate-rich foods in appealing ways, check out the Meal Makeover Moms website. Also, there’s evidence that nudging your kids toward whole grains by making them more fun can also help. A recent study published in BMC Public Health found that presenting kids with whole wheat bread in fun shapes can help increase their intake.

When it comes to kids and carbs, it’s also important to remember that carbohydrates aren’t just found in grains. Fruits and vegetables (which kids don’t get enough of, anyway), beans, nuts and seeds, and milk are also sources of carbohydrates and can create the foundation for a healthful dietary pattern for most children. Depending on their individual calorie needs, current guidelines recommend that kids aim for one to two cups fruit (whole fruit preferable to juice), one to three cups vegetables (including dark green, red and orange, legumes, and starchy vegetables), and 2 to 3 cups dairy foods including low-fat or nonfat milk/yogurt.

I’m all for encouraging kids to have fewer carbohydrate-rich foods like French fries, potato chips, cookies, candy, and soda. But it’s essential that they not throw out of their diets fruits (despite their natural sugar content) and other foods that provide quality carbohydrates and other important nutrients to keep them healthy.  Such foods are also vital for kids who are very active or athletic since carbohydrates are the main fuel for their working muscles.

If your child is overweight, you may think that it’s perfectly fine to forget about any possible benefits carbs provide and to simply cut them from their diet. If you mean cutting many of the extras like cookies and cupcakes, I’m all for that. But if you mean cutting all pasta, rice, bread, or crackers, whether or not they’re whole grain, I say that sticking to small portions of those foods is better than not including any of them. Even refined grains provide nutrients (though not as much as whole grains). There’s also proof that cutting portions rather than carbs may be enough to promote healthy weight management.

A recent year-long study published in Journal of Pediatrics of more than 100 obese 7- to 12-year-olds found that lowering carbohydrate intake was just as effective as a standard portion-controlled diet (an energy-reduced, low fat diet) for weight management. However, the researchers also found that the low carbohydrate diet was more difficult for the kids to follow, especially over the long-term. They concluded that either diet can effectively help kids lose weight.

When it comes to kids and carbs, my bottom line is this: choose smart carbs in smaller portions rather than cutting them altogether. That way, kids can reap their many nutritional and other benefits carbohydrate-rich foods provide while still consuming a healthful and still edible diet.

Image of healthy cereal rings via shutterstock.

What’s your take on carbs and kids?

How to Make Snack Puppets
How to Make Snack Puppets
How to Make Snack Puppets

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