Archive for the ‘ Snacking ’ Category

Is There a Sweet Side to Sugar?

Monday, March 10th, 2014

If you’re a parent, you know that many kids—perhaps even your own—overdo their sugar intake. Whether they slurp on a sugary drink, nosh on candy at the movie theater, enjoy a slice of cake or a cupcake at a party or enjoy some cookies after school, many sugary foods and beverages are nutrient poor and contribute calories—and not much else.

Because OD’ing on sugar can reduce intake of more nutritious foods, contribute to excess calorie intake and unhealthy weight gain and increase the risk of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) like dental diseases (especially dental caries), the World Health Organization (WHO) recently drafted new revised guidelines for sugar intake.

Unlike current Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the American Heart Association recommendations to limit “added sugars”—sugars added to foods during processing or preparation and at the table—the proposed WHO guidelines recommend a cap for “free sugars”. These “free sugars” are sugars added by manufacturers, cooks or consumers such as glucose, fructose and sucrose (table sugar) as well as sugars that naturally occur in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit concentrates. Although the new proposed guidelines by the WHO include its previous recommendation of less than 10% of total calories from sugar daily, they also include a suggestion to reduce “free sugar” intake to below 5% of total energy intake daily for additional benefits.

For a child who consumes 1,200 to 1,600 calories daily, 10% of “free sugars” is the equivalent of 120 to 160 calories (or 30 to 40 grams); 5% of “free sugars” equals 60 to 80 calories (or 15 to 20 grams). To put this in context, one can coca-cola has about 39 grams of sugar and one package (1.69 ounce) M&M plain chocolate candies has about 31 grams of sugar. To find out how much total sugar and added sugar many products contain, respectively, you can check out the United States Department of Agriculture Nutrient Database and Food-A-Pedia.

As a registered dietitian nutritionist and mother of two, I applaud any effort parents make to help their kids reduce their intake of added sugars for the reasons cited above. Capping added sugar intake by keeping fewer sweet snacks and desserts in the home and encouraging smaller portions of sugary treats when eating and drinking on the run can allow more opportunities for kids to incorporate nutritious foods that help them develop and manage their weight as they grow.

Although achieving current recommendations for sugar intake (and current as well as proposed WHO recommendations) would require children to dramatically reduce their current sugar intake, doing simple things like replacing even a few sugary sodas with sparkling or plain water, having smaller portions of candy and baked goods and eating more naturally sweet foods like fresh fruits or even dried fruit (with no sugar added) can help.

But while I so support shrinking sugar intake, I also believe that sometimes sugar has a sweet side. Just like a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, sometimes, having a little sugar—white or brown sugar, honey, or even some maple or chocolate syrup or catsup—can help kids enjoy nutrient-rich foods like low fat or nonfat milk or yogurt, whole grain, high fiber cereals and fresh fruit. Dipping apple slices in some honey or chocolate sauce, sprinkling brown sugar or pouring some maple syrup on plain oatmeal, adding honey to plain yogurt or dipping grilled chicken slices in catsup can help kids enjoy the taste of the more nutritious foods and beverages. It’s all about context, and incorporating small amounts of sugar in otherwise nutritious meals that your kids eat is very different than allowing them to routinely drown in big boxes of candy or oversized cups of sugary sodas.

I also think there’s room in a child’s diet for small amounts of 100% fruit juice. Even though WHO considers fruit juice to be a source of “free sugars,” following American Academy of Pediatrics’ juice recommendations—up to 4 to 6 ounces daily for 1 to 6-year-olds and 8 to 12 ounces for 7 to 18-years-old—is prudent. Of course, fresh fruit is more fiber-rich and filling than juice, but many juices like orange, grape, apple and cranberry juice can deliver a good dose of key nutrients and other beneficial substances kids need.

Do you think there’s a sweet side to sugar?

Check out my previous Scoop on Food blog for tips to help kids satisfy a sweet tooth.

Image of strawberry on a spoon with sugar pouring over it via shutterstock.


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Helping Kids Eat Well When Others Feed Them

Monday, January 20th, 2014

It’s hard enough for parents to feed their children well and instill in them healthier eating habits both at home and when on the go. But while parents have plenty of control over the foods and beverages they bring into their homes to feed their families, it becomes more of a challenge to make sure children are fed well when they’re at daycare, at preschool, or with a nanny, a babysitter or even grandma.

Of course parents have to choose their battles when it comes to raising and feeding kids, especially as they get older and increasingly choose foods and portions on their own. But while kids are still young, it’s important for parents to help set the stage for healthier habits—not only because kids’ food preferences are still evolving, but because what and how much they eat impacts their growth, development and future health.

Because others may play a role in caring for—and feeding—children, it’s important that parents initiate a conversation so that everyone is on the same page to help kids meet, but not exceed, their needs and have a positive feeding experience. To help parents do just that, here are 8 tips from the wonderful Melissa Halas-Liang, MA, RDN, CDE, founder of SuperKids Nutrition and author of the Super Crew books Super Baby Abigail’s Lunch Time Adventure and Havoc at the Hillside Market.

Partner up. Try to establish a working partnership with your child’s daycare center or preschool. Make suggestions and offer to help implement them, whether that means volunteering occasionally at lunch or chipping in to equip the facility with the tools it needs. Instead of being critical of the facility, take a positive and proactive approach to help improve the way your child eats at his or her home away from home.

Empower them. A recent study out of Penn State University investigated the powerful effect of choice on preschoolers’ fruit and vegetable intake. Researchers found that allowing preschoolers at daycare to choose between three different types of fruits and vegetables at snack time, rather than only one type, led them to put more fruits and vegetables on their plate and subsequently eat more of them. You can encourage your child’s daycare center (or even your nanny or the grandparents watching your children) to empower kids during meal times by giving them a few healthy choices. For example, you can ask, “Would you like red peppers or carrots, apple slices or orange slices?” Doing so can result in a child eating more of the healthy option they chose than they might have otherwise. If you put the proper spin on it and explain to the daycare center or to someone watching your child that this strategy not only empowers kids but it decreases food waste and helps them avoid food struggles, they’re more likely to heed your advice and try out the strategy.

Let them play. When you’re at your child’s daycare facility or preschool, take a look at the play kitchen area and see if the fake food set includes lots of healthy foods. Some research shows that children are more open to trying foods that they see often in their environment. If your child regularly plays with plastic broccoli, they are more likely to try eating it at home!

Serve Fruits and Vegetables First. Ask to observe a mealtime. Once you have a good relationship with your child’s daycare center (or wherever or with whomever your child eats some meals), offer some suggestions. For example, encourage them to serve fruits and vegetables as an appetizer rather than with the main meal. One study found that kids who were served fruits and vegetables first, before receiving their entrée, consumed 25% more fruits and vegetables than those who received vegetables with their main meal. Though it may seem like a small difference, over time switching up the mealtime routine can be a quick, inexpensive, and effective way to improve children’s eating habits away from home. You can also encourage the daycare center to share with other parents any positive results they see as a result of implementing this strategy.

Encourage Whole Foods. If you have a parent snack rotation donation at your child’s daycare or preschool, why not buy something you’d want someone else to serve your child every day. Some research suggests that whole, unprocessed, unrefined foods provide your kids with the most nutrients and fiber to keep kids full and satisfied longer. For example, a sliced apple will satisfy a child longer than applesauce, which will satisfy longer than apple juice. Similarly, grapes are more satisfying than raisins, which are more satisfying than a fruit roll up. You can also send some of these foods with your child that he or she can choose from when being cared for by others.

Suggest snacks. Sometimes it can be difficult for daycare, preschool professionals and caregivers to come up with new snack ideas for the children. So why not approach them with a helpful list of healthy, satisfying snack ideas. Examples include mixed frozen fruit such as strawberries, blueberries, and mango; 100% whole grain crackers, ideally without added sugar; cheese sticks; vegetables arranged on a platter in the shape of a rainbow; or a dip station for fruits and vegetables with hummus or herbed yogurt dip for veggies and peanut butter or vanilla yogurt dip for fruit.

Make food fun. Offer to help out at the daycare center or preschool a few times a year by doing a food-based project. Kids are much more likely to eat well if you make eating well fun. For example, kids can plant their own seedlings and learn how to care for their plants. Herbs like rosemary or chives are easy to care for and perfect for young children. Alternatively, you can suggest that the kids go on a field trip to a garden to learn about the connection between nature, the food they eat, and their own growing bodies. Even reading children’s books on gardening can help pique children’s interest in fruits and vegetables. A fun food game is to compare the sounds different foods make when you make or eat them. Have children try crunching on carrots or listen to popcorn being air-popped. Kids can also get excited about other foods and cultures by having themed lunch days eg. offering Irish foods on St. Patrick’s Day, or serving Native American foods on Columbus day.

Let them cook (or create). For those times when your child is spending the day or several hours with grandma or another relative, why not suggest they cook a meal. You can choose a healthy recipe that you know your child will love and provide the recipe and ingredients to the caregiver. If cooking isn’t an option, the caregiver and child can draw a colorful healthy plate of food or some favorite foods. You can then laminate the masterpiece and keep it at the caregiver’s house to reinforce healthful eating habits the next time the child is there.

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Sesame Street Lessons: Limiting Sweets
Sesame Street Lessons: Limiting Sweets
Sesame Street Lessons: Limiting Sweets

Image of couple and children playing with toys via shutterstock.


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Tags: , , , , | Categories: Diet, Nutrition, Snacking

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22 Expert Tricks for a Healthier Halloween

Wednesday, October 23rd, 2013

If the mere thought of having barrels of candy to dole out, sort through, and be tempted by on—and after—Halloween makes you break into a sweat, have no fear! Here you’ll find 22 expert tips and tricks to help you put all that candy in perspective (and keep your nutritious diet intact). Although some of the tips contradict one another—even nutrition pros don’t always agree—choosing several of them are sure to help you and your family eat better and still have fun before, during, and after Halloween.

1. Procrastinate. If you wait to buy candy until the day of or day before Halloween, you’ll minimize temptation to bust into it before you need it.

2. Minimize. Buy bite-size or “minis” candies instead of larger pieces; that way, if you have leftovers, the portion sizes will automatically be small.

3. Go beyond candy. In addition to buying a few favorites for the candy bowl, add to your bowl or bucket some sugar free gum, stickers, tattoos, pencils, and erasers (little kids especially love these).

4. Think outside the bar. Instead of offering ho-hum chocolate candy bars, offer KIND Healthy Grain bars* (in flavors like Peanut Butter Dark Chocolate)—they’re made with 100% whole grains and 3 grams of fiber to fill you up. KIND Nuts and Spices bars*, also made with all-natural ingredients, are a good source of protein and have 5 grams of sugar or less. They’re available in indulgently delicious flavors like Dark Chocolate Cinnamon Pecan.

5. Add some fun. Candy is not the only option to hand out to trick-or-treaters. Kids also love bouncy balls, festive stickers or glow sticks—they can even use these to walk around the neighborhood with!

6. Trade up. Instead of offering sugary, fruit-flavored snacks, opt for options like Trader Joe’s Organic Fruit Wraps. They’re 100% fruit and low in sugar (with no added sugar), and are free of artificial flavors and preservatives.

7. Forget “one for you, one for me.” Instead of grabbing something for yourself each time you pass out candy, plan ahead and make sure to eat a real meal before the trick-or-treat hours. If all else fails, chew gum to avoid temptation to ‘just have one’ when you have to reach repeatedly into that oversized candy bowl.

8. Set rules ahead of time. To reduce the risk of having a Halloween food fight, decide before you and your kids head out the door how many treats they can have that night. After they choose their treats, put the rest on a high shelf that only mom or dad can reach.

9. Stay fueled. Follow your normal eating pattern on Halloween to reduce your risk of being starved—and tempted to overindulge—when you’re faced with all that candy. Be sure to include at least half a plate of fruits and vegetables to fill up at each meal.

10. Eat before you trick or treat. Choose some protein-rich foods like cheese, turkey, chicken, nuts or hummus; a whole grain from bread, a wrap, pasta or crackers; fruits and/or vegetables from fruit salad to crudité to stay energized throughout the afternoon and evening.

11. Enjoy trick-or-treating without eating. Wait until you get home to go through the loot. Allow each child to choose one or two treats to enjoy and savor on Halloween night. Put the rest in a candy jar and enjoy one or two small treats a day thereafter.

12. Go for a pop. Lollipops take a long time to eat, so they’re a good, relatively low-calorie option for when you’re tempted while passing out or sorting candy.

13. Sort first, then eat. Instead of allowing your kids to eat candy on the go, check it over at the end of the evening to make sure it looks safe to eat (eg wrappers aren’t torn, the candy looks fresh). And if you have more than one child, let them trade what’s left so they can have more of their “favorite” things to save for another day.

14. Have a teachable moment. Having a big bag of candy in the house at the end of the day actually presents a great time to talk with your kids about treats—what a reasonable portion for candy is, and how they can fit it into an otherwise balanced diet.

15. Let them be in charge. If you allow your kids to eat as much candy as they want on Halloween night, and they overeat, they can learn an important lesson. That stomachache may teach them how important it is to pace yourself when indulging in sweet treats.

16. Use the 3-D approach: Devour: Halloween is a special day that comes only once a year, so don’t be a curmudgeon. Allow your kids to have some of their candy that night –just not all of it. A single candy feast won’t have a lasting impact on health. Divide: The day after, have each child divide the candy into the ones he/she likes and the ones he/she doesn’t care about. Give or throw away the latter. Divide the rest of the candy into small zip snack bags and store in your pantry or freezer. Distribute: Let each child have a small snack bag of candy each day along with a nutrient-rich food like milk, yogurt or fruit.

17. Pick 3. After you trick or treat, each family member can pick three treats to eat slowly and mindfully. Describing why you choose each piece and how each piece tastes can help you indulge more consciously and feel the power of your food choices.

18. Make your own 100-calorie packs. Pre-portioning leftover candy can help you feel satisfied without going overboard. Examples of homemade 100-calorie packs include 4 Hershey Kisses, 2 Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups miniatures, 2 mini Nestle Crunch bars, 4 Tootsie Roll midges, 4 rolls of Smarties, 3 Laffy Taffy candies, 2 fun size Milk Duds, 2 mini York Peppermint Patties, or 4 Jolly Rancher hard candies.

19. Buy it back. You can buy your kids’ candy, discard the non-freezable items, and freeze the chocolate candy. Then dole out a piece or two in their lunch boxes, or for dessert after dinner.

20. Stash it. After Halloween, put the leftover and collected candy in an out of sight location (like a hard to reach cabinet or in a closet); if you don’t easily see it, you won’t mindlessly eat it. After a few days, you may even forget about it altogether!

21. Pay it forward. You can send leftover candy to the troops via Operation Gratitude or call local nursing homes, food pantry’s, women’s shelters, or a Children’s hospital. Some libraries even have drop-offs for extra candy donations.

22. Become an artist. If you have older children in the house, visit Candy Experiments for safe science experiment ideas using all kinds of leftover goodies. This is a great way to make not eating candy fun!

Not sure what you’ll be yet? Use our Halloween Costume Finder, and then buy your favorite Halloween costumes at Shop Parents. 

Image of trick or treat Halloween candies in the barn with orange pumpkins via shutterstock.

Sources: Neva Cochran, MS, RDN, LD, (Tip 16); Melissa Joy Dobbins, MS, RDN, CDE, Spokesperson, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (Tip 18); Suzanne Farrell, MS, RD (Tips 1, 3, 7, 14, 20); Angela Ginn, RDN, LDN, CDE, Spokesperson, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (Tip 9); Carolyn Suerth Hudson, RD (Tip 19); Lyssie & Tammy Lakatos*, RDN, CDN, CFT, authors of The Nutrition Twins’ Veggie Cure  (Tips 4, 6); Angela Lemond, RDN, CSP, LD, Spokesperson, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (Tips 2, 15); Jessica Fishman Levinson, MS, RDN, CDN, co-author of We Can Cook: Introduce Your Child to the Joy of Cooking with 75 Simple Recipes and Activities (Tip 11); Danielle Omar, MS, RD, (Tips 5, 21, 22); Hemi Weingarten, CEO, Fooducate (Tip 8); Victoria Shanta Retelny, RDN, LDN, author of The Essential Guide to Healthy Healing Foods (Tips 10, 17); and Zari Ginsburg, MS, RD, CDN (Tip 13).

*Lyssie and Tammy Lakatos are compensated spokespeople for KIND.


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Healthier Snacks Coming to a School Near You

Thursday, June 27th, 2013

Worried that your kids are eating or slurping too many empty calories during the school day? If so, you’ll soon worry a little bit less. Starting in the 2014-2015 school year, schools will be mandated to follow new and approved “Smart Snacks in Schools” standards set by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), and announced today.

Part of first lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign, the new standards set specific limits for fat, sugar, and salt on snacks found in cafeterias, vending machines, and snack bars. According to a USDA press release, the standards require foods considered more healthy, like whole grains, low fat dairy, fruits, vegetables, and leaner protein. They also call for more nutrient-rich foods that are lower in fat, sugar, and sodium.

What these new standards won’t apply to are the many snacks consumed after school at sporting events or other activities. Foods included in fundraisers, bake sales, birthday parties and holiday or other celebrations that occur at school are also exempt from the new food rules.

Of course, feeding kids in a healthful way is something that should, first and foremost, be in the hands of parents. But because kids spend so much time at school, having specific nutrition standards that apply to meals and snacks offered during the school day is essential. Consuming nutrient-rich foods and beverages in appropriate portions throughout the school day—even starting with breakfast — undoubtedly help kids stay energized and focused. It can also help some kids get foods and nutrients they don’t usually get — or get enough of — at home.

Good nutrition helps all children perform better in the classroom, in P.E., and on the ball field. But just like Cinderella’s carriage turns into a pumpkin at midnight, having all-out access afterschool to potato chips, homemade brownies, and other nutrient-poor “fun” foods on school grounds undermines the day-time effort schools make to promote health and wellness in school-aged kids.

So while these new healthy-snack standards are a positive step towards feeding kids better, they don’t quite go far enough. What say you?

Image of school bag, healthy lunch box and apple with books and pencil via Shutterstock.


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