Six Tips to Lower Sodium and Sugar in Toddlers’ Diets

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), a new study published in the journal Pediatrics finds that many commercial toddler meals and foods sold in the U.S. are high in sodium and sugar.

In the study, researchers looked at the amounts of sodium and sugar in 1,074 infant and toddler dinners, snacks, fruits, vegetables, dry cereals, juices and desserts. They found:

  • Out of 79 infant mixed grains and fruits, 41 contained at least one added sugar and 35 contained more than one third of their calories from sugar;
  • Seventy-two percent of toddler dinners were high in sodium (> 210 milligrams per meal);
  • On average, dry fruit-based snacks contained 60 grams of sugar and two thirds of their calories from total sugars –the most common added sugars included fruit juice concentrate, sugar, cane, syrup, and malt.

Cooking at home and preparing mainly fresh foods with little or no added sugar or sodium is a great way to help your infants and toddlers get started on a nutritious and balanced eating path. But it’s unrealistic to assume that parents won’t turn to foods and beverages that come in packages, cans, jars and containers at least some of the time—after all, they’re convenient and can save parents precious time when preparing meals.

To help you seamlessly lower sodium and sugar in your infants’ and toddlers’ diets while boosting nutrients, here are six tips from two top registered dietitian nutritionists, Jill Castle, and Bridget Swinney.

Get ‘em to the table. According to childhood nutrition expert Jill Castle, “One of the easiest ways to avoid too many packaged and processed foods is to get babies and young toddlers to the family table early on and to feed them more natural, wholesome, homemade foods.” Castle says that by one year of age, most toddlers can eat what the family eats as long as their food is chopped up (to the size of small dice). Low sugar, low sodium options include tender meat or cooked fish, baked potato (mashed with milk or water to smooth it out) or soft cooked noodles, soft cooked vegetables, or fruit canned in natural juices.

Make it at home. Bridget Swinney, author of Baby Bites and Healthy Food for Healthy Kids, says there are so many quick and easy homemade baby foods you can make without added sugar or salt. Some of her favorites include mashed banana, mashed avocado, and mashed apple (peel the apple simmer or steam in microwave, then mash) as well as boiled, baked or roasted carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower or any other vegetable you can easily mash with your fork.

Learn limits for sodium: When purchasing packaged food items, Castle says it’s important to know how to interpret the Nutrition Facts Panel to make sure sodium levels are low—especially since there is no standard for sodium Daily Values (DV) for children under four years. According to Castle, “Since the DV is based on a 2,000 calorie adult diet, infant and toddler foods that provide two or three percent or less DV per serving is a more appropriate (low) level of sodium for a toddler.” She also says that some foods designed for infants and toddlers may not list the sodium content, while common “kid” foods like macaroni and cheese, will. Swinney also recommends no more than 300 milligrams per serving for a meal and 150 milligrams per serving for a snack. She also says that while there’s no need to worry about sodium when serving fresh, homemade food, it’s wise to watch how much you add.

Offer smart snacks. According to Swinney, “Fresh and unsweetened fruits and vegetables, yogurt and boiled eggs make the easiest and healthiest snacks for little ones.” She also recommends adding your own soft fruit (pureed or chopped, depending on your child’s age) to plain Greek yogurt. Swinney also says that although small fruit cups packed in their own juice are convenient, so is a banana, grapes cut in half, and mandarin orange sections. She also recommends steaming chopped vegetables ahead of time to have on hand to pair with items like hummus or a yogurt dip for easy toddler-friendly snacks.

Blend and serve. “There’s no need to drag the food processor out when wanting to share your own dinner with baby. Simply take your portion out and season separately and then use an immersion blender or fork-mash to get to the right consistency for baby, right in the pan.”

Don’t forget iron and zinc: According to Castle, it’s essential to help babies six months and older get good food sources of iron, a mineral that’s critical for brain development and that babies six months and older need more of, and zinc, a mineral involved in many normal body functions and essential for normal growth. Castle suggests that parents slow cook lean beef or skinless, dark meat chicken or turkey (legs or thighs) with 1/2 to 3/4 cup of water or low sodium broth and puree in a blender, offering it as a stand-alone pureed entrée or using one tablespoon of pureed meat with jarred pureed fruit or veggies.

Click here to learn how to transition your baby from pureed to solid foods, and click here for new nutrition guidelines for 2- to 12-year-olds.

How do you limit sugar and sodium in your child’s meals?

Image of children eating healthy food via shutterstock. 

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Why I Let My Kids Drink Soda–And I’m a Dietitian

A couple of years ago, at a New Year’s Eve party, my kids discovered soda. Someone brought a one gallon bottle of Fanta, and the kids drank it all almost single-handedly. They just kept coming back for seconds, thirds, and fourths until it was all gone. As a mom and a dietitian, it was a very hard thing to watch as my mind was frantically trying to find a solution to this new problem.

Was I right to not expose them to soda before? They had never been into fizzy drinks so soda was easy to avoid. Scientists call it “covert” restriction, when we deny certain foods to kids by simply not bringing them to the house. But something seemed to have changed now. The kids clearly showed me their preferences, and I knew that as they grew up, creating a soda-free bubble around them wouldn’t work any more.

I knew I had two options. The one that felt most natural to me was to officially ban sweetened drinks from their lives and teach them a nutritional lesson about the not so hidden dangers of sugar, preservatives and artificial colors.

But I knew from well known research and from my experience working with families that overt restriction, i.e. when food is visible, but given only in controlled amounts, makes it even more appealing.

My second option was to teach them how soda can fit into an overall balanced diet. This was harder since neither I nor my husband ever drink it. We simply do not enjoy it. So seeing our kids guzzling orange or blue liquid full of artificial stuff was not something we were looking forward to.

But we wanted to give our kids tools to survive in this crazy food environment and learn to stay in control when surrounded with super palatable yummies. So our goal was to neutralize the soda appeal as much as possible and to show them how they can still enjoy it sometimes, without a heavy blow to the overall quality of their diet.

That is why soon after that New Year’s party, a pack of soda appeared on our kitchen counter. Not a pretty sight to a non-soda-drinker-dietitian’s eye, but the experiment didn’t go as badly as I feared. We maintain a fairly strict mealtime structure and Division of Responsibility at mealtimes. The rule was to treat soda like any other food or drink (except for water): have a glass only with meals or snacks and when sitting at a table. Over the first few meals the kids drank lots of it at first, then less, and by the time the pack was finished they seemed to have had enough, at least for the moment.

After that, we made sure that soda appeared somewhat regularly on our table. Although I do not bring it home often (covert restriction is hard to give up), the kids can choose it instead of a dessert when we eat out. We are also looking for compromises like offering fizzy apple or other juice drinks, and we’re considering buying a fizzy machine to add festive bubbles to any drink at home.

By treating soda just like any other food, I hope to take away at least some of its “forbidden” allure. I am also learning to respect my kids’ eating preferences, however different they may be from mine. Most importantly, I am embracing another lesson my little ones are teaching me, that being a parent is rarely about right or wrong, but rather about what works for your own family.

Natalia Stasenko MS, RDN is a registered dietitian and recognized pediatric nutrition expert. A mother of three, she uses evidence-based and always practical strategies to foster parents’ confidence and skills in feeding their children right. To read more of Natalia’s articles, visit her website, or follow her on Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest.

How to Eat Healthy: Raising Nutrition-Smart Kids
How to Eat Healthy: Raising Nutrition-Smart Kids
How to Eat Healthy: Raising Nutrition-Smart Kids

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Tags: | Categories: Nutrition, The Scoop on Food

Should Kids Pass on Pizza?

According to a recent article in the Atlantic, the U.S. pizza industry serves about 100 acres of pizza daily. That’s enough pizza to fill about 77 football fields.

Of course the popularity of pizza among grownups and kids alike is no surprise. Not only does the concoction of dough, sauce, and cheese taste great, but it’s such an easily accessible food—something we can easily grab and go with (no utensils required). And as any parent or child knows, pizza is probably the most popular staple at kids’ birthday parties and other celebrations at school or otherwise.

Despite its popularity, some researchers believe that pizza is something that should be limited in kids’ diets. According to a new study in Pediatrics, national survey data revealed that although total calorie intake from pizza has declined 25 percent from 2003-2004 to 2009-2010, on days kids ate pizza they also consumed more calories, saturated fat, and sodium that they did than on days they didn’t down the doughy delight. The study also found that on pizza-eating days, children 2- to 11-years old consumed an extra 84 calories, 3 grams of saturated fat, and 134 milligrams of sodium than they did on non-pizza-eating days.

Researchers also found that having pizza as a snack or consuming pizza purchased at fast-food restaurants had the greatest impact on total calorie intake.

Because of the possible adverse dietary effects of pizza intake, the researchers recommend curbing pizza intake and improving the nutrition content of the beloved dietary staple.

I love pizza as much as the next parent and give it to my kids, usually once or twice weekly. In my opinion, the key to consuming pizza is to keep an eye on portion size. Less is more, and pairing a fast-food pizza slice with a colorful salad (with a tablespoon or two of an oil-based dressing), steamed or lightly sautéed vegetables (on the side or on top), or a reduced- or low-sodium soup are great ways to limit any possible perils associated with pizza intake and to help kids increase their intake of fruits and vegetables.

Blotting pizza is also a good way to make it less oily—it may even save some calories without taking away from the nutritional value of the meal. And instead of eating pizza by folding it in half, slicing it into two halves or cutting it into small bites and eating it with a fork also can help kids eat more slowly and mindfully and pace themselves better at their meal.

Limiting intake of pizza you order or take out from anywhere—a restaurant, a movie theater, a ballpark—and making it a once- or twice-a-week or once-in-a-while treat probably not a bad idea to help kids eat less and better. Making it more often at home can also help you have more control over portion sizes. Using more nutritious ingredients e.g. whole grain dough, low- or no-sodium sauces, and lower fat cheeses and having your kids help make the pizza can also help your kids not only eat better but have fun with you in the kitchen.

Perfect pizza toppers

According to culinary nutritionist Rachel Begun, MS, RDN, “Roasting vegetables brings out their sweetness, which kids particularly like.” Some of her favorite “sweet” toppings include roasted garlic and peppers, roasted squash or sweet potatoes (with sautéed spinach). She also recommends tasty herbal combinations to top pizza including pesto sauce with roasted tomatoes, or a bruschetta sauce made with tomatoes, onions and herbs, like cilantro or basil. And for kids who want the meaty, salty, crunch of bacon bits atop their pizza, Begun recommends this alternative which tastes remarkably similar: Thinly slice cremini or shiitake mushrooms, coat with olive oil, soy sauce and sweet smoked paprika, and bake at 375 degrees Fahrenheit until the mushrooms are browned and have shrunk. Let them cool for a few minutes until they are nice and crispy. Add them to your pizza in the last few minutes of cooking.

“I love to top pizza Roman style—with eggs,” says culinary dietitian and cookbook author Jackie Newgent. For simplicity, she suggests frying them separately in a little grapeseed oil and then adding on top of cooked pizza. She also likes to top prepared pizza with Haas avocado cubes, a squirt of lemon juice, and an optional sprinkling of organic bacon bits. And when it comes to white pizza—the kind made without red sauce—Newgent suggests black sesame seeds as a topper. “They act as “confetti” on pizza and give it extra crunch,” she says. An added bonus: kids can have fun shaking the seeds on. According to Newgent, a little bit of orange zest (grated orange peel) also works great as a flavor accent on white pizza. “Think of it like you might sprinkle on parmesan cheese, but it’s fresher and fruiter,” she adds.

Cookbook author and culinary instructor Robyn Webb also recommends the following combinations to give a spin to pizza: caramelized onions (in the smallest amount of olive oil) with walnuts (see photo); arugula with chopped tomatoes and parmesan shards; or roasted red, yellow and orange peppers with fresh thyme.

How often do you eat pizza with your kids, and what are your favorite toppers? 

Image of caramelized onion and walnut pizza via Robyn Webb.

 

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Another Restaurant Removes Soda from its Kids’ Menu

Wendy

Wendy’s will no longer display soda as an option on their kids’ meals. Instead, healthier beverage options, such as 1% milk, water, and juice, will be advertised on menu boards.

This change is a result of children’s health advocate groups urging fast-food chains to make their kids’ meals more nutritious. Wendy’s is not the first to make the switch—McDonald’s agreed to make the same change in 2013–and its policy change will go into effect this year. Subway, Panera, Chipotle, and Arby’s also do not display soft drinks on their kids’ menus.

But health groups aren’t backing down yet—they believe there is still more that can be done. “Wendy’s could further improve its menus for children and adults by serving whole grain rolls, offering more fruit and vegetable options, reducing sodium across the menu, and dropping Frostys from the children’s menu,” according to a statement released by The Center for Science in the Public Interest.

All eyes are now on Burger King— the last of the three major burger fast-food chains to hold out. According to USAToday, “the company is currently in the process of analyzing the removal of fountain drinks from our kids’ menu boards.”

Although soda may no longer by pictured on menus, parents who choose to order soda with their child’s chicken nugget meal will not be turned down. It’s up to parents to educate their children about nutrition and good eating habits.

Still having a tough time getting your child to eat right? Try these expert tips to get him to make healthier meal choices.

How to Eat Healthy: Raising Nutrition-Smart Kids
How to Eat Healthy: Raising Nutrition-Smart Kids
How to Eat Healthy: Raising Nutrition-Smart Kids

Image: Wendy’s sign via Shutterstock

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Tags: | Categories: Health, The Scoop on Food

Is BPA Less Dangerous Than We Thought?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently reaffirmed its position on Bisphenol A (BPA), stating that the chemical—a structural component in polycarbonate beverage bottles (e.g. reusable water bottles) and a component in the coatings of metal cans—is safe at current levels that occur in foods. The FDA asserts that, based on its ongoing safety review of scientific evidence which included a four-year review (completed in the Fall of 2014) of more than 300 scientific studies, the available information continues to support BPA’s safety for currently approved uses in food containers and packaging.

In response to two petitions, the FDA recently amended its food additive regulations to no longer provide for the use of certain BPA-based materials in baby bottles, sippy cups, and infant formula packaging because these uses have been abandoned. According to the FDA, amending such regulations is not based on safety, but is based on the fact that the regulatory authorization is no longer necessary for the specific use of the food additive because that use has been permanently and completely abandoned.

Not everyone agrees that BPA is safe. According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), BPA is a synthetic estrogen that can disrupt the endocrine system, even in small amounts. The EPA asserts that BPA has been linked to a lot of ills including infertility, breast and reproductive system cancer, obesity, diabetes, early puberty, behavioral changes in children and resistance to chemotherapy treatments. In a recent article, the EWG criticized the FDA for its reliance on traditional methods of studying the toxicity of chemicals like BPA. It also asserted that the study upon which the FDA based its recent safety determination “suffered from methodological problems and unintentionally exposed its control animals to low doses of BPA, making it impossible to draw any conclusions about the safety of everyday BPA exposures for Americans.” (To read more about the EWG’s position on this, click here.)

As mentioned in a previous Scoop on Food post, recent studies suggest that BPA exposure in childhood can contribute to health risks including obesity in girls and accelerated growth in some young children. Being exposed to BPA prenatally also has been linked with diminished lung function and wheezing in young children as well as with increased behavior problems in school age boys. Another study posited that prenatal exposure to BPA and high-molecular-weight phthalates—chemicals used in hundreds of products including plastics—might also increase the risk of asthma symptoms and respiratory tract infections throughout childhood.

Although the FDA vows to continue to learn about BPA and to consult with federal agencies including the EWG, the National Institutes of Health (and the National Toxicology Program) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as international regulatory and public health counterparts, as a parent you may very well have concerns about BPA, especially when it comes to your children  We have a lot left to learn about BPA and its potential effects and it’s prudent to at least be aware of its presence in food packaging and to limit the exposure our families—especially growing children—have to it.

To reduce exposure to BPA, the EPA recommends the following:

  • Buy baby formula in plastic, glass or other non-metal containers. When possible, choose powdered formula because the packaging contains less BPA and because the powder is diluted with fresh water. If your baby needs liquid formula, look for brands sold in plastic or glass containers.
  • Limit intake of canned foods, especially if you are pregnant. If you do buy it, look for cans labeled as BPA-free or buy food packed in glass jars or waxed cardboard cartons. A few small companies sell cans lined with non-BPA alternatives (although findings from a recent animal study suggest that BPA-free products are not necessarily safer).
  • Repurpose old hard plastic containers including baby bottles, cups, dishes and food containers marked with the letters “PC,” for polycarbonate, or recycling label #7. (Not all #7 products are polycarbonate, but they may be.)
  • Do not microwave food in plastic containers.
  • Because store receipts can contain BPA, say no to them if possible. If you do keep receipts, put them in an envelope and don’t allow kids to hold or play with them. Wash hands before preparing or eating food after handling receipts. And don’t recycle receipts and other thermal paper to avoid contamination of recycled paper with BPA residues.

The FDA also recommends not putting very hot or boiling liquid that you intend to consume in plastic containers made with BPA since levels of the chemical rise in food when containers/products made with the chemical are heated and come in contact with the food. The agency also suggests discarding all bottles with scratches, as these may harbor bacteria and, if BPA-containing, lead to greater release of BPA.

Do you avoid BPA?

Image of BPA sign via shutterstock.

 

 

 

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