Posts Tagged ‘ beverages ’

Our Family’s Food Rules

Tuesday, July 7th, 2015

Posted in our kitchen are some family rules I drew up several years ago when my kids were 3 and 7, and I thought I was losing my mind. They include such pipe dream as “Use your indoor voice when inside,” and “Be gentle with each other”.

I also have a set of unwritten “rules” when it comes to food. I use the word loosely because I don’t like a hardline approach when it comes to eating—and because there are always exceptions (tired parents, birthday parties, and holidays) that can render them null and void.

But for the most part, these are the guidelines that steer my meal planning and decision making when it comes to food. They’re the foundation for how I feed my family. And while they may not be the right rules for all families, these six work for us:


Is it just me or do all children suddenly become ravenous exactly 60 minutes before dinner will be served? So our policy is this: If you’re hungry in the hour before dinner, you may have an “appetizer” of veggies. Or you can simply wait for dinner. My older son typically waits. My younger son happily eats all manner of veggies, including a big carrot left whole or a bowl of crunchy romaine leaves. Read more about this strategy here.


I focus a lot on sweet drinks with my kids because sweetened beverages are such a problem in our current food culture, thanks to the loads of extra calories and sugar they supply. This is also one of the rules I find the hardest to manage, since sweet drinks are seemingly everywhere. What counts in my book as a sweet drink: chocolate milk, 100% juice, soda, lemonade, fruit punch, and anything else with sugar.


My boys, like most kids, love sweets. They each have a gallon-sized plastic bag (labeled with their name) full of all the candy that comes into the house via birthday parties, Easter baskets, and Halloween sacks. They’re allowed to dip in once a day. Since they like to do this after dinner (and yes, even sometimes WITH dinner—read why), I typically don’t pack a sweet treat in their lunchboxes or serve sweets at other times. (I also don’t count a sweet drink as a “sweet treat”, though I probably should.)


In my house (and maybe yours too), we don’t all like the same vegetables. My younger son and I love Brussels sprouts; my husband can’t stand them. We all eat salads except my younger son. Everyone but me likes peas. But as long as everyone’s got a veggie available that they like, I’m happy. (Here’s a broccoli recipe half of us love: 15 Minute Roasted Broccoli and a Brussels sprouts recipe three-quarters of us enjoy: Roasted Balsamic Brussels Sprouts.)


We only have these two beverages available for meals. Exceptions sometimes (but not always) apply at restaurants.


If my kids come to me saying they’re hungry for a snack, I always offer fruit first. Most of the time, they take me up on it. They might also add something else, like peanut butter with apples or a banana with some crackers.

Do you have any family “food rules” or guidelines that you eat by?

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.

Family Dinners: 4 Tips To Make Them Better
Family Dinners: 4 Tips To Make Them Better
Family Dinners: 4 Tips To Make Them Better

Image: Family preparing food via Shutterstock

Add a Comment

Are You Making These Mistakes With Summertime Drinks?

Tuesday, May 26th, 2015

When the temperature rises, it’s natural to guzzle down extra drinks. It’s definitely important to keep yourself and your kids hydrated—and tall glasses of lemonade and iced tea are summertime rituals I don’t begrudge anyone (we enjoy them too!). But the truth is, beverages can also be sources of extra calories, sugar, and caffeine that kids just don’t need. Be sure you’re not making these common mistakes:

Too much sugar.

Between all the sweet drinks, it’s easy to gulp down tons of extra sugar in the summertime. Though kids should ideally only get about 5-8 teaspoons of added sugar a day, a small fountain lemonade or sweet tea each contain more than an entire day’s worth (about 9 teaspoons). There’s also evidence that kids who drink a lot of sweetened beverages may be at higher risk for overweight and obesity. Sweet drinks are fine occasionally, but be careful that your kids aren’t sipping them all day long (which is also crummy for teeth). In our house, we try to stick with a one-sweet-drink-per-day policy. And because they get sugary beverages so many places outside the home—like camp, restaurants, and parties—we tend not to keep them in the house.

Too many sports drinks.

There’s a common misconception that any kid breaking a sweat needs a sports drink, especially in the summer. Though it’s true that some athletes may need them for extended exercise or intense heat (read more about that here), water is adequate hydration in many cases, especially for children who are simply practicing an hour of sports or playing in the backyard. Despite the marketing hype, know this: Electrolytes aren’t special, magical ingredients only found in sports drinks. They’re simply sodium and potassium, which are easily found in foods like crackers, bananas, and yogurt.

Too much caffeine.

Your kids probably don’t drink coffee, but they may sip soda, iced tea, and even those whipped-cream-topped slushies at coffee shops. Caffeine can interfere with children’s sleep, worsen anxiety, and even mess with moods. So steer clear of energy drinks completely, and be aware of how many other caffeinated beverages your child gets. According to guidelines from Health Canada, a child age 4-6 should get no more than 45mg per day (the amount of caffeine in one can of soda) and kids ages 7-9 no more than 62.5mg (one and a half cans of soda). A bottle of iced tea can pack up to 40mg, and a small caramel coffee slushie has 70mg.

Too much milk.

Yes, even with a beverage that’s loaded with nutrients kids need—like calcium and potassium—more is not necessarily better. According to the USDA, children ages 2-3 need two cups of dairy per day (or fortified non-dairy) and kids 4-8 need two and a half. Yet I talk to parents whose kids gulp milk all day long. What’s the problem with that? Too much milk can spoil their appetites for food. And since milk is iron-poor, it’s possible for kids to become low in iron because they’re drinking too much milk and not eating enough iron-rich food. Read more here.

Above all, encourage everyone in the family to get lots of water. I know that not all kids and grown-ups are fans of plain water (my seven year old included—and in all honesty, me!) but don’t give up. Here are some tips:

  • Serve water when kids are really thirsty. It’s truly the best thirst-quencher and kids will start associating water with relief from thirst. Keep a pitcher of water or frosty water bottles on hand when your kids are playing outside and pack water for outings. Have your kids pick out a special water bottle or straw if that helps.
  • Consider carbonated water. I don’t think kids should always expect bubbly water, since it could turn into a soda habit. But an occasional glass of carbonated water, even with a splash of juice, is a fun break from the ordinary.
  • Freeze cubes of 100 percent juice and occasionally put one in a cup of ice water. It will add a little bit of flavor and color but not lots of sugar.

Got any great tricks for encouraging plain water? I’d love to hear them.

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: Variety of drinks via Shutterstock

Add a Comment

Should Kids Consume Caffeine?

Monday, July 21st, 2014

If you’re like most parents, you wouldn’t dream of getting through the day without some kind of caffeine pick-me-up first thing in the morning or midday. Not only can a cup or two of iced or hot coffee or tea, soda or other caffeinated beverage stimulate your brain and nervous system—and keep you awake for that early morning meeting, feeding or workout—it may also make you feel just a little bit happier! And what sleep-deprived parent of an infant or young child wouldn’t appreciate the perks caffeine can provide?

Unfortunately, it’s likely our caffeine-centric ways coupled with the widespread availability and marketing of caffeine-containing beverages and other products may prompt our children to seek out caffeine and possibly harm their health.

Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has yet to determine a safe level of caffeine for children, the agency—concerned about the proliferation of caffeine-infused products including chewing gum, jelly beans, bottled water and waffles—announced last year its plan to investigate the safety of caffeine in food products and the effects of caffeine on children and adolescents. And just last week, the FDA issued a warning to consumers to avoid powdered pure caffeine, sold on the internet. The substance is believed to have caused a caffeine overdose and subsequent untimely death of an 18-year-old high school wrestler in Ohio.

According to a recent ABC News report, the boy had 70 micrograms of caffeine per milliliter of blood in his system, an amount that far exceeds the 3 to 5 micrograms you’d find in a typical coffee drinker.

Even a tiny amount of pure caffeine powder, which isn’t regulated by the FDA, can be harmful. For example, a mere teaspoon provides just about the same amount of caffeine as 25 cups of coffee.

As a moderate caffeine consumer, registered dietitian and mother of two (my older son just turned 16, and my younger son is 12), the use of caffeine by children concerns me. Because children typically weigh less than adults, they’re much more vulnerable to caffeine’s effects. And although few studies have examined the effects of caffeine in children, a recent review published in the Journal of Hypertension found that the caffeine concentration in so-called energy drinks is high and their over consumption could contribute to insomnia, agitation, tremors and cardiovascular complications like sudden death.

Although I don’t mind if my sons have an occasional caffeinated soda at a party, I’ve tried to encourage them to play it safe by simply avoiding caffeine-containing beverages—at least until they’re older and until caffeine amounts are required to be posted on labels. But until the FDA provides guidance on how much caffeine is safe for children to consume, it’s wise for parents to heed the advice of the American Academy of Pediatrics or Center for Science in the Public Interest and to encourage kids to avoid caffeinated soda, energy drinks, and for most kids (except extremely athletic ones), sports drinks—at least most of the time.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), caffeine may dial down a child’s appetite—a problem if a child is underweight or already has limited food or nutrient intake. The NIH also discourages caffeinated beverage intake in children who are hyperactive since it can potentially exacerbate their behavior.

Caffeine can also exacerbate anxiety and depression or interfere with sleep. In large amounts, it can reduce calcium absorption and thin bones. None of these effects are desirable, especially in growing children.

At the very least, it’s prudent to follow Health Canada’s daily guidelines for caffeine use in children aged 4 and above:

  • Age 4 to 6: 45 milligrams (~one 12-ounce can of cola)
  • Age 7 to 9: 62.5 mg (~one and a half cans cola)
  • Age 10 to 12: 85 mg (~two cans cola)
  • Age 13 and older: no more than 2.5 milligrams of caffeine per kilogram of body weight

To see how much caffeine various beverages and foods contain, check out MedlinePlus or CSPI’s Caffeine Content of Food & Drugs.

It’s also critical to monitor children’s online purchases and to protect them from potentially harmful products like powdered pure caffeine and caffeine-loaded energy drinks that are easily available to virtually anyone online.

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 of family having breakfast in bed via shutterstock.

Do you let your kids consume caffeine? 

Add a Comment

Rethinking Kids’ Drinks: How to Foster Healthier Habits

Thursday, February 6th, 2014

We all know that sweetened beverage intake in kids can be a problem. Sugary sodas, energy drinks, fruit drinks and other sweetened beverages often provide extra calories with few nutrients. Drinking them is linked with poor oral health and cavities. They’re also easy to over consume, especially since they tend to come in large portions (12 to 24 fluid ounce servings are typical) and aren’t filling the way solid foods are. Sugar-sweetened beverages can also displace or leave less room in the diet for more nutritious foods and beverages.

There’s also evidence that higher sugar-sweetened beverage intake is linked with a higher risk of overweight and obesity among children and that reducing intake can reduce weight gain associated with their consumption. Initiatives to drink more water and to remove soda from kids’ meals will likely help to create an environment in which kids and their parents can make better beverage choices.

Two new studies underscore the importance of helping kids develop healthful habits when they’re young to prevent obesity and optimize health. One study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that children who were overweight at age five were four times as likely as normal-weight children to become obese by the age of 14.

Another study published in the Journal of School Health found that a lot of young children drank sugar-sweetened beverages and that the older they got, the more they drank. Compared with an infant less than one year-old, a child between the ages of one and two-years-old was 35 times as likely to consume fruity drinks, 17 times as likely to consume sodas, six-and-a-half times as likely to consume sweet tea, and about 53 times as likely to consume sweetened milk products. As compared with an infant less than one-year-old, a three to five-year-old was nearly 263 times as likely to consume fruity drinks, 30 times as likely to consume sodas, nearly 11 times as likely to consume sweet tea, and 375 times as likely to consume sweetened milk products. Led by University of Alabama researcher Jen Nickelson, the study concluded that interventions designed to prevent sugar-sweetened beverage consumption should occur early in life, ideally before children reach preschool age.

According to Nickelson, “To avoid the problems associated with sugar-sweetened beverage intake and to help ensure children have the nutrients they need for proper growth and development, its best to keep kids from drinking them to begin with. If children learn to love beverages such as water and milk early in life, they have a better chance of maintaining these healthier habits as they mature.”

Here are six tips from Nickelson to help you raise healthier drinkers:

1. Keep only healthful beverages in the house. For example, providing only water or milk in the home provides structure and helps kids know what to expect, at least when they’re home.

2. Be a good role model. If the kids see you drink water, they know you’re not asking them to do anything you wouldn’t do yourself.

3. Give them choices. Allow your children to choose healthier beverages in the form they enjoy. For example, they can choose plain water or water with lemon or other fresh fruit slices.

4. Encourage children to finish their milk at their own pace. Children resent being forced to do something, so if they haven’t finished their milk during a mealtime, you can save it in the refrigerator and offer it later when they’re thirsty.

5. Plan ahead. When you know you’ll be out and about, plan beverages ahead of time. Carry a sippy cup of water for toddlers and a trendy sports bottle for older kids. Water never goes bad; and if it spills, it won’t make a smelly, sticky mess.

6. Offer to bring drinks to your kids’ sporting events or parties. Bring bottled water (sugar-free squirtable flavorings can also make these more fun; I know my grandchildren love to squeeze the flavorings into the bottles and shake them up). Also bring permanent markers to label drink bottles to avoid mix-ups.

As a registered dietitian nutritionist and mother of two, I believe it’s perfectly fine to also offer 100% fruit juice to children. Of course whole fruit packs in fiber and is more filling than juice. But if you do offer fruit juice, limit portions to no more than four to six ounces daily for children between the ages of one and six-years-old, and to no more than eight to 12 ounces daily for older children as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Low fat flavored milk is also OK, though it’s wise for kids to cut back on their added sugar intake that day (eg have one small cookie instead of the usual two cookies for dessert) when they consume flavored milk.

How do you help your kids drink more healthful beverages?

Full disclosure: I’m a current spokesperson for the Got Milk? campaign.

For more ideas on where you can substitute healthier foods into your everyday routines, download our free guide.

Image of child drinking water from a glass via shutterstock.

Add a Comment

New Food Labels Coming Soon

Monday, January 27th, 2014

After a decade of working toward revising 20-year-old nutrition facts labels, the Associated Press (AP) reports that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has sent guidelines for the new labels to the White House for review.

Although we don’t yet know exactly what will change on labels and when manufacturers will have to implement such changes, calorie listings will likely be more prominent. As noted by Time, serving size information may change as well.

The AP article outlines a few desired changes that health and nutrition advocates’ hope for. These include adding a line for sugars and syrups that are not naturally occurring in foods and drinks and added when processed and prepared; adding the percentage of whole wheat to the label (currently, a product can say it’s “whole wheat” even if there’s only a small percentage of it in the food); using more clear measurements (eg for added sugars, using teaspoons instead of, or alongside, grams); using serving sizes that make sense (eg basing them on portions one might or should eat in one sitting); and providing labels that highlight certain nutrients on the front of packages.

I, too, hope that the new labels make calories more prominent. Although I don’t necessarily recommend that parents and children start counting calories, it is important—especially for children—to meet, and not exceed, daily calorie needs to achieve and maintain a healthy body weight as they grow. Using calorie information can be especially useful when comparing items that don’t fit neatly into food groups or that tend to have lots of empty calories and are easy to overeat such as condiments, snacks and desserts.

Besides listing total sugars that include both naturally occurring sugars like fructose in fruit or lactose in milk and added sugars—sugars (like white sugar, brown sugar, honey) and syrups (like high fructose corn syrup) that are added when foods or beverages are processed or prepared), I really hope labels will specify how much of the total sugar comes from added sugars. Listing them not just in grams but also in teaspoons would also be helpful, especially when the American Heart Association and dietitians’ recommendations for sugar intake are often in calories or teaspoons. Having information like this can be especially helpful when choosing foods that can have added sugars including canned or frozen fruit, flavored milk and yogurt, cereals, baked goods, ice cream, condiments and beverages.

I’d also love to see standardized serving sizes for similar foods such as ready-to-eat cereals. Standardizing serving sizes for cereal to 1 cup—a portion many people (including kids) consume—will make it that much easier to make comparisons and hopefully choose those with the least calories, most fiber and least sugar.

I also agree with my colleague Wendy Jo Peterson who told me on Facebook that she’d like to see Daily Value percentages removed since they’re confusing and don’t apply to everyone.

As soon as labels are officially updated, you—my loyal Scoop on Food readers—will be the first to know. Of course I’ll also share with you ideas for how to use them to feed your children well. In the meantime, you can use this guide from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics to understand current Nutrition Facts Panels.

What information would you like to see on the new food labels? And what information would you like to see removed from labels?

Need some inspiration in the kitchen? Click here for our recipe guide.

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

Image of nutrition information being studied under a magnifying glass via shutterstock.

Add a Comment