5 Tips to Celebrate Food Day

This guest post by my esteemed colleague, Sharon Palmer, RD, is sure to inspire you. Known as The Plant-Powered Dietitian™, Palmer is the author of Plant-Powered for Life and The Plant-Powered Diet. Below she discusses Food Day, and shows you how to incorporate some of its principles into your family’s diet each and every day.

“Where does this apple come from?” “What’s in the casserole?” The next time your kids ask you a question about food, embrace their natural curiosity. It’s not too early for all parents to give them a life-changing education about their food supply. And now is the perfect time to embrace your child’s inquisitive side, because Food Day is coming on Friday, October 24th.

What’s Food Day? It’s a national celebration of real, sustainable food in America. It’s a day to get involved in your food system by changing the way you eat for the better. After all, the typical American diet is linked with obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and environmental degradation.

Every October 24th, thousands of events around the country help inspire all of us to kick-start a diet that’s good for our families, farm animals, and the environment. Check out the Food Day website to find an event in your own area. From farm tours to cooking classes, many events are perfect for family entertainment. And best of all, Food Day is a great way to get your family on track to eating better for the whole year.

In honor of Food Day, here are my 5 top tips to help you shift your family’s plate to real, sustainable food to promote optimal health and so much more:

1.    Swap animal foods for plant foods more often. You can benefit your family’s health—and the health of the planet—by serving up more meatless meals during the week. For example, you can serve veggie lasagna instead of meat lasagna, bean burritos instead of beef burritos, and an almond milk smoothie instead of an ice cream smoothie.

2.    Eat with the seasons. Try to avoid fresh produce flown in from across the world in the off-season. Instead enjoy what’s fresh, seasonal and local in your area. This time of the year enjoy winter squashes; root or tuber vegetables like turnips, potatoes, and beets; apples, pears, and citrus.

3.    Check out your local farmers market or CSA. Depending on your location, farmers markets and CSAs (community supported agriculture) offer fresh, seasonal, sustainably produced fruits and veggies throughout much of the year. It’s a perfect way for your kids to taste and experience new kinds of produce that will inspire good health.

4.    Plan a garden. Let Food Day inspire you to plan a family garden—that can be anything from an herb pot in your windowsill, a tomato plant on the doorstep, or a section of your flowerbed devoted to edible plants. Get your kids involved by picking out seeds, growing vegetables, monitoring its progress, and harvesting the food. After all, if they grow it, they will eat it.

5.    Cut down on highly processed foods. When you eat foods as close to nature as you can—a peach, carrot or bowl of brown rice—you gain all of the health benefits from the whole food. But when foods are highly processed—made into chips, cookies, sugary drinks—you waste added resources to process the foods and rob your body of the nutrients it needs. Give your kids the benefit of whole, minimally processed foods every day.

How do you help your family eat more real and sustainable food?

Image of vegetables at a farmer’s market via shutterstock.

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5 Smoothie Secrets from The Blender Girl

This is a guest post by Jenna Helwig, food editor at Parents.

My daughter and I are smoothie junkies, and judging by the proliferation of smoothie cookbooks and smoothie shops we’re not the only ones. Thankfully, this is one addiction that can be super-healthy for kids and adults. A classic smoothie of fruit and milk, either cow’s or non-dairy, provides a boatload of vitamins, fiber, and protein (if you’re using cow’s milk). But with a few tweaks, we can get even more nutritional bang for our buck—without scaring off the kids.

For ideas on how to make our smoothies even more healthy, but no less tasty, I turned to Tess Masters, a.k.a. The Blender Girl. Tess recently published her first cookbook with 100 gluten-free, vegan recipes including several smoothies. Even better for us smoothie fanatics is her new app, also called The Blender Girl, which is available through the iTunes app store ($4.99). The app features 70 recipes with a new one added each week. Tess kindly shared a few of her top tips for parents.

Tess Masters, a.k.a. The Blender GirlTess’s Smoothie Secrets:

  • Fill your freezer with frozen berries, mango, peaches, pineapple, bananas, and—yes—cauliflower, broccoli, peas, and carrots. These combine for sweet delicious flavors, creamy textures, and beautiful bright colors.
  • One cup of mild leafy greens like spinach, romaine, and kale will go into any sweet blend undetected. Add vibrant crimson characters like cranberry, pomegranate, and grape juices, and beets, berries, and red grapes for a vibrant color rather than a murky brown. Or go in the other direction and hide the dark greens in chocolate smoothies that combine milk, cacao, and banana.
  • Unsweetened purees like pear and apricot, as well as pumpkin butter and applesauce are great flavor and nutrition boosters in smoothies.
  • Frozen vegetables make excellent sneaky additions to smoothie. Our taste buds are temperature sensitive and veggies are a lot milder when they’re frozen. In small quantities, you won’t even taste them. A quarter cup of frozen cauliflower, broccoli, peas, spinach, and carrots goes into most sweet blends undetected.
  • Make murky-looking green smoothies more appealing to children by adding 2 to 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder plus 1 to 2 fresh or frozen bananas for a delicious chocolate milkshake.

Ready to put this advice into action? Try this sweet and creamy recipe from Tess’s new app. Tell the kids there’s kale blended in, or just call it a banana smoothie. Remember what you named it, though, because your kids are sure to ask for it again.

Tastes-Like-Ice-Cream Kale SmoothieTastes-Like-Ice-Cream Kale Smoothie

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup raw unsalted cashews, soaked for up to 4 hours (if you have time)

1 cup torn-up curly green kale leaves (1 or 2 large leaves with stalk removed)

2 ripe bananas, fresh or frozen

1 tablespoon pure maple syrup, plus more to taste

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups ice cubes (a little less if using frozen bananas)

Put all of the ingredients into your blender in the order listed and puree for about a minute, until smooth and creamy. Tweak flavors to taste (you may like a bit more kale or sweetener).

Makes 2 servings

Find more smoothie recipes perfect for breakfast or an afternoon snack.

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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Healthier Sports Snacks: 4 Tips for Parents

I’m excited to share an informative and practical guest post by my colleague Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD. She’s a registered dietitian, educator, mother of two, and author of Cooking Light Dinnertime Survival Guide. Her blog is RealMomNutrition.com, so check it out!

Does it look like a vending machine exploded on the sidelines of your child’s soccer field, basketball court, or baseball diamond? Team snacks, once limited to orange slices at halftime, are the new normal in many communities, and the usual suspects are foods like cookies, chips, cupcakes, donuts, and gummy fruit snacks (sometimes washed down with sugary punches and sports drinks). Goodies that used to be reserved for end-of-season team parties are now doled out weekly—and it’s all contributing to kids getting too much junk.

There are two common misconceptions when it comes to youth sports snacks. The first is that “it’s just a few cookies”. Unfortunately, treats aren’t the exception anymore for children; they’re the rule. Kids routinely get low-nutrient snacks at places like preschool, camps, and church. Today, the average child takes in about 22 teaspoons of added sugar every day.

The second misconception is that players work hard enough in games to warrant the extra calories. According to research from the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, the average 8-year-old burns only 150 calories in an hour of sports—but the typical after-game snack can pack in anywhere from 300 to 500 calories.

So what can you do as a parent? Here are four tips:

*Encourage water: Though you’ll see sports drinks all over youth fields on game day, most young athletes simply don’t need them to hydrate. In a 2011 clinical report, the American Academy of Pediatrics stated that water is the best choice for hydration before, during, and after most exercise—and that sports drinks “offer little to no advantage over plain water.” For regular sports practices and games, any electrolytes lost through sweat can be replaced with the next snack or meal. Besides, an average bottle of sports drink contains multiple forms of added sugar (about 8.5 teaspoons in a 20-ounce bottle), artificial flavor, synthetic food dye, and potassium and sodium—nutrients they could find in foods like a banana and crackers.

*Bring fruit: When it’s your turn to be the “snack parent,” why not bring orange wedges, apples, or bunches of bananas. Fruit is easy, provides some hydration and carbohydrates for energy, and most kids don’t get enough of it on a daily basis. If you need ideas, see my list of 20 Fruit & Veggie Team Snacks (it’s available to print so you can distribute it to coaches and parents).

*Talk to the coach or the league director: If you’re concerned about nutrient-poor team snacks, voice your concerns to the coach or league director. You may even want to suggest a a radical solution—eliminating the snack completely. You can also recommend a new training resource developed for soccer coaches by US Youth Soccer and Healthy Kids Out of School. This free, 12-minute slideshow called “Coaching Healthy Habits,” explains why players should snack smarter, drink water, and move more during practice. And it can be used for any sport, and not just soccer.

*Get organized: Are the other team parents okay with junk food snacks—or are they just going along with it because it’s what everyone seems to do? If enough parents feel the same way, organizing healthier snacks for your child’s team is a no-brainer. For a sample email you can copy, customize, and send to parents on your child’s team, see this story I wrote for Parents called “The Snack Epidemic.

How do you help your child’s team incorporate more nutritious snacks?

Image of orange fruit slice via shutterstock.


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Do Your Kids Really Need to Eat Breakfast?

Do Your Kids Really Need to Eat Breakfast?

This is a guest post by Parents staffer Michela Tindera.

We’ve all heard it before: “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” But in the mad dash of school day mornings–making sure everyone is awake, dressed and on the school bus or in the car on time–completing all of that and providing a well-balanced breakfast can be a challenge worthy of an Olympic medal.

So, when a recent New York Times blog post asked the question, “Is Breakfast Overrated?”, many rejoiced to find that two studies published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reached the conclusion that, well, maybe breakfast isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.

But what about all of that research that says the opposite (“Skipping breakfast may increase coronary heart disease risk,” “Children who skip breakfast might raise diabetes risk”)? To settle the issue, we asked a couple of registered dieticians (and moms!) to find out just how this info applies to you and your family.

“It is too early to say that we should stop eating breakfast,” Natalia Stasenko, R.D. and mom says.

Both studies only evaluated the role breakfast played in adults’ weight loss and energy goals, not children’s. And Stasenko adds, kids have an entirely different set of nutritional needs that breakfast can help to fulfill.

Cereal for Breakfast: A Good or Bad Idea for Kids? 

“Sometimes we like to take research on adults and apply it to children, but that doesn’t really work,” Jill Castle R.D., mom and author of Fearless Feeding – How to Raise Healthy Eaters from High Chair to High School says. “There is a lot of research out there on the benefits of breakfast for children.” Breakfast helps kids pay better attention in school and is another chance for kids to consume key nutrients they need to grow, like calcium and complex carbohydrates and healthy fats.

“Kids aren’t like adults,” Castle explains. “They’re not able to tell themselves that they can hold off to eat until after school. It affects their behaviors. They just get tired and can’t focus. And for a child in school, that’s one of the worst things that could happen. Adults have this mind over matter thing that kids don’t have.”

Try out these 20 school-day breakfast recipes.

Stasenko also mentions that because children typically sleep for longer amounts of time compared to adults, they are technically fasting for longer, and so breakfast could be more important on that end too.

So keep giving your kids breakfast. And to make it even more effective, Castle and Stasenko share a few of rules of thumb:

  • Always include a source of protein. “Eggs, yogurt, milk, deli meat – whatever your kids like best,” Castle says.
  • Skip the baked goods. “I cannot think of any disadvantages of a balanced and nutritious breakfast. But eating croissants with butter every morning worth 700 calories can compromise quality of diet, so what you eat for breakfast is very important,” Stasenko says.
  • Avoid serving the same breakfast back-to-back. “Always rotate the meals. An egg-based breakfast on Monday, fruit and yogurt-based breakfast on Tuesday,” Castle says.

Need some more inspiration? Give some of our quickest and easiest breakfast recipes a try!

Healthy Breakfast: 3 Quick Meals for Kids
Healthy Breakfast: 3 Quick Meals for Kids
Healthy Breakfast: 3 Quick Meals for Kids

Photo of girl eating breakfast courtesy of Shutterstock.

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How to Help Kids Have Healthy Bones

You may not think much about your kids’ bones, but it’s important to. A new report by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), published in Pediatrics suggests that a few simple steps taken during childhood (both literal and figurative) can make all the difference in the world when it comes to your kids having healthy bones when they’re grown.

To prevent the risk of brittle bones and osteoporosis, the AAP report encourages kids to start with their diets. It recommends that kids routinely consume adequate amounts of calcium and vitamin D from milk and other foods (including fortified ones). It also recommends that kids engage in regular exercise—something not only great for their bones, but for their bodies and minds. And when it comes to strengthening bones, simply playing and incorporating weight-bearing activities like walking, dancing and running are especially effective. And they’re so easy for kids to incoporate, even in short bursts, throughout each day.

According to the Institute of Medicine’s (IOM) Dietary Reference Intakes, daily calcium (expressed in milligrams) and vitamin D (expressed in International Units) recommendations are as follows:

*Infants up to six months of age: 200 mg calcium; 400 IU vitamin D.

*Infants six- to 12-months of age: 260 mg calcium; 400 IU vitamin D.

*One- to three-year-olds: 700 mg calcium; 600 IU vitamin D.

*Four- to eight-year-olds: 1,000 mg calcium; 600 IU vitamin D.

*Nine- to 18-year-olds: 1,300 mg calcium; 600 IU vitamin D.

Some calcium-rich foods kids can enjoy include:

*low-fat or nonfat yogurt (~300 to 400 mg per 8-ounce cup)

*low-fat or nonfat milk (~300 mg per 8-ounce cup)

*cheese—Swiss, cheddar, muenster etc. (~200 mg per ounce)

*fortified ready-to-eat cereal—preferably whole grain, low sugar, high fiber varieties (check labels since amounts vary)

*calcium-fortified soy beverage (~350 mg per cup)

*oatmeal, plain, instant—preferably with no sugar added (~100 mg per packet)

*tofu, firm (~250 mg per half cup)

Fish, beans, and greens (like spinach) also provide calcium. Here’s a more complete list of calcium-rich foods and the amounts each provides from Harvard University Health Services.

Although kids can get some vitamin D from the sun, it’s wise to seek this nutrient, vital for the absorption of calcium, from food sources. Eating vitamin D-rich foods not only helps them keep their bones strong, but it protects their skin from overexposure that can lead to sunburn.

Here are some foods rich in vitamin D that kids can enjoy:

*salmon, cooked (360 IU per 3.5 ounces)

*tuna fish, canned in oil (200 IU per 3 ounces)

*low-fat or nonfat milk (~100 per 8-ounce cup)

Fortified ready-to-eat cereal, eggs, and Swiss cheese also contain some vitamin D.

If your child follows current dietary guidelines—though let’s face it, most don’t—he or she should be able to meet current calcium and vitamin D intake recommendations. But if your child follows a diet that excludes or minimizes foods like milk, yogurt, or fish, or if he or she doesn’t have a varied diet that includes green vegetables, beans or other calcium-rich plant foods, be sure to consult with a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) for ideas to get more of these vital nutrients into meals and snacks. An RDN and a pediatrician can also help you figure out if your child needs or would benefit from supplementation of either calcium or vitamin D. Although it’s prudent to follow IOM current recommended intakes for calcium and vitamin D, many experts believe more vitamin D (mainly through supplementation) would be beneficial for kids. But again, speak with your dietitian or a pediatrician to discuss what’s best for your child in the context of his or her diet and nutrition status.

Although the AAP does not recommend routine calcium supplementation for healthy children and adolescents, it does support testing children for vitamin D deficiency if they have conditions associated with increased bone fragility.

It’s key when kids are young to help them set the stage for optimal health in adulthood. Helping them keep their bones strong with three key strategies—eating enough calcium-rich foods, meeting vitamin D needs, and exercising—can go a long way in helping them ward off brittle bones and osteoporosis (not to mention the mental and physical debilitation they contribute to) down the road.

How do you help your kids achieve and maintain strong bones?

Image of cute little girl and boy are drinking milk using straw via shutterstock.

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