Posts Tagged ‘
Saturday, December 7th, 2013
This is a guest post from Sharon Palmer, The Plant-Powered Dietitian™
More and more families are now beginning to turn to plants, rather than the typical beef, poultry, fish, or pork options when choosing “what’s for dinner.” This is certainly a step in the right direction for the health of our children. In a nation-wide poll conducted among 2,030 adults in U.S., it was found that 47 percent of the population eats vegetarian meals a significant amount of the time.
But, one area where even vegetarians can fall short is getting enough veggies every day. As a plant-lover and plant-based advocate, it makes me sad to say that children and their parents are crowding out health-promoting, energy boosting vegetables to make room for overly-processed snack foods and soy-based meat substitutes on our dinner plates. Only 26 percent of adults eat a full serving of vegetables three or more times a day. That’s a pretty alarming statistic for a food group so well touted for such powerful disease fighting properties – especially considering that children lead by the example of their parents. And the studies prove it. According to a 2009 study by researchers at Ohio State University, only 22 percent of children between the ages of 2 to 5 years meet government recommendations for veggie intake.
In fact, the United States Department of Agriculture advises that half–yes, half–of your child’s plate be filled with fruits and/or vegetables at each meal. This certainly leaves less room for the overly processed microwavable meals that tend to crowd their dinner plates. Keep in mind that the “whole” point of a plant-based diet is to reap the nutrition rewards of whole foods. So, load your child’s plate with veggies, fruit, whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes and simply pass on the faux, overly processed chicken nugget.
Here are 5 plant-friendly and kid-friendly ways to prove that eating vegetables is not only easier than you may think, it’s also delicious, and even fun!
1. Breakfast is an easy one. Pass on the sugary breakfast cereals, frosted breakfast pastries, and overly sweetened “fruit” punch. Instead, mix onions, mushrooms, and bell peppers into a morning veggie omelet or breakfast pita, prepare a homemade black bean burrito with salsa and avocado, or toss in a few handfuls of spinach into your little one’s morning fruit smoothie. The options to go “veggie” for the first meal of the day are endless.
2. Stock your fridge. Store pre-cut veggies in your fridge. Many vegetables are nature’s perfect finger foods –and when paired with hummus (see my recipe here), guacamole, or even a peanut butter yogurt dip, they make for a naturally delicious, filling and convenient snack.
3. Experiment. Make it a habit with your kids to experiment with one new vegetable each week. It could be as simple as baking sweet potato fries, roasting Brussels sprouts, or as bold as stuffing a winter squash with whole grains, herbs and chopped nuts.
4. Change the plate. Rather than centering your child’s meal on the protein component, focus on the veggie first. Load up their plate each night with two different kinds of vegetables. If you prepare more vegetables, everyone at the table will be more likely to eat them.
5. Transform your family favorites. Do your kids love pizza? Load up on the veggie toppings, such as arugula, tons of marinara sauce, or even broccoli. Is spaghetti night a hit in your household? Add spinach or mushrooms to your homemade tomato sauce. And move over plain ol’ macaroni and cheese. Add peas, cauliflower, or even kale to your favorite recipe.
How do you encourage your kids to eat their vegetables?
Image of mother teaching daughter to cut cucumber via shutterstock.
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Tuesday, December 3rd, 2013
In recent years, there’s been an upward trend in the incidence of type 2 diabetes among children and adolescents. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), type 2 diabetes begins when the body becomes insulin resistant and can no longer use insulin properly. As insulin needs rise, the pancreas gradually loses its ability to produce enough insulin to regulate blood sugar.
Although type 2 diabetes is caused by a variety of factors, having a family history of type 2 diabetes, being obese, and being inactive put children and adolescents at increased risk for what used to be thought of as an adult disease. Although diabetes can strike anyone, those who belong to non-white groups—especially American Indians—are at greatest risk.
Because type 2 diabetes may present with few, if any, symptoms, it may go undiagnosed in children. But if your child experiences increased hunger, thirst, or urination, weight loss, fatigue or other unusual symptoms, it’s worth a visit to the pediatrician to discuss these and get to their root.
To help your child ward off diabetes—and eat and live better—here are 5 tips from two pros—Toby Smithson, RDN, CDE, founder of DiabetesEveryDay.com and coauthor of the new book, Diabetes Meal Planning and Nutrition for Dummies® and Hillary Wright, MEd, RD, author of the new book, The Prediabetes Diet Plan.
1. Eat at home. According to Smithson, “Fast food equals more calories and fat, less fiber and nutrition. Eating at home offers opportunities to teach kids about cooking and also offers great communication opportunities.” Wright adds, “Sharing healthy meals as a family is critical to balancing out the non-stop messaging kids are exposed to outside the home encouraging them to buy junk food and eat on-the-fly. Kids learn by example, so demonstrating what healthy eating looks like while they’re living under your roof is a critical self-care skill they’ll need for life.”
2. Snack smarter. When it’s after-school snack time, Wright urges parents to offer their kids a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables, yogurt, or cheese sticks instead refined crackers or nutrient-poor packaged snack foods. She says, “Hungry kids may be more willing to try something new, so take the after-school time to introduce new foods to your kids since they may be more receptive to them then.”
3. Plan it, buy it. Encouraging your child to plan a meal (like dinner), write a grocery list for the items needed and then selecting those items when at the grocery store can be very empowering for children, says Smithson. She adds, “Giving them a say in what’s served, and in what new foods they (or the family) should try may make it more likely that they’ll take a taste when dinner time comes around.”
4. Help them read between the lines. Smithson says it’s key to teach kids, even from a young age, to be food media literate. “It’s important for parents and children to understand food advertising and to take a stand against it by not always giving in to it, Smithson says. Because children are exposed to thousands of hours of targeted advertising for fast food, snacks, and sugar-sweetened cereal, Smithson urges parents to help their kids read between the lines of food marketing strategies. (You can learn more about food marketing and children by checking out Food Marketing to Youth and other info from Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity.)
5. Play Actively. Wright says it’s key to keep your kids moving throughout the day as much as possible (and to join in on the fun when you can). She says, “Physical activity naturally stimulates chemicals that help clear glucose out of the blood and prevent diabetes.” Smithson agrees, and encourages kids not only to increase play time, but to make sure it’s active play. She says, “By increasing play time, kids are more apt to be physically active which will help balance their energy needs.” For most kids, 60 minutes or more of physical activity is recommended daily. (For more ideas to help your kids—and entire family—stay fit, check out Making Physical Activity a Part of Your Child’s Life by the CDC and Tips for Getting Active by the National Heart Lung, & Blood Institute (NHLBI)).
NEXT: Find out if your child’s growth is on track.
Image of woman at the supermarket with her son buying groceries via shutterstock.
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Sesame Street Lessons: Healthy Eating
Saturday, November 30th, 2013
We all know that feeding kids in a healthful way that takes into account their individual tastes and preferences can be a challenge at any time. But with increased entertaining, celebrating and traveling this time of year, the challenges can mount—especially for a child who is considered “picky” or who has (or is at risk for) a feeding disorder. Of course being out of a normal eating routine and being exposed to unfamiliar foods can turn an otherwise joyful holiday party or family gathering into a battleground. To prevent this, it’s up to parents to find ways to help kids stay on track when it comes to eating so that they—and the entire family—can get the most joy out of the holiday season.
To help parents move in a better direction when it comes to feeding their kids this time of year—or at any time—I interviewed Peter A. Girolami, PhD, Clinical Director of the Pediatric Feeding Disorders Program at Kennedy Krieger Institute. Below are some highlights from our conversation.
EZ: What is the difference between a picky eater and a child with a feeding disorder? Are there any red flags parents need to look for?
PG: Many young children demonstrate eating behavior that can be considered “picky” including distinct food type or texture preferences and episodes of limited intake. Although for many children this is a perfectly normal phase of development, sometimes being picky develops into a more serious feeding problem (or disorder). In general, a child has a feeding disorder when he/she has significant difficulty consuming adequate nutrition by mouth. Feeding disorders are caused by a variety of factors including medical, developmental, psychosocial and environmental factors and they often leading to problematic feeding/eating behaviors. Feeding problems can contribute to poor weight gain, malnutrition and abnormal development when it comes to feeding skills. It can also cause a lot of disruption, especially during mealtimes, for the family.
EZ: Now that the holidays are here, parents of picky eaters may feel extra pressure when feeding their children with relatives and friends around. Should parents surrender to the situation and accept that all bets are off or should they still try to help their kids have better and more nutritious eating habits?
PG: Great question. Parents often report that they feel some pressure during the holidays and/or special events to get their kids to eat a well-balanced meal. I can relate. I come from a family where eating is one of the main activities of the holiday and for the most part we (the adults) probably eat too much. However, as both a parent and practitioner, I do not recommend using holiday dinners or special events as the setting to initiate the trying of new foods/textures or increase consumption. First, if you are having trouble with your child’s picky eating and it’s become a battle, it may be increasingly difficult to implement any plan with all the relatives sitting around the table adding their two cents and encouragement. If you have been using some strategies successfully and want to generalize them to the group gathering, that’s great. But I’d suggest having an “exit” plan so that the holiday meal doesn’t become all about children not eating their food.
EZ: You suggest offering kids who are picky/selective small portions. I, too, think this is a good rule of thumb for all kids, whether they’re picky or not. Why do you think offering small portions is so important for kids?
PG: I once worked with a child who was reported to be very anxious about trying new foods so we prepared such a small bite of food that I was worried it would blow away. Eventually, we were able to increase the size of the bites of food and gradually introduce new foods using smaller bite sizes.
EZ: You also say decreasing texture and blending food can help. How so?
PG: Sometimes referred to as “sneaking food in,” blending and mixing non-preferred foods into preferred foods can be an effective way to expose a child to new tastes and smell and open up the variety. Similar to the idea of smaller portions, start with small amounts that may not be detectable and gradually increase the ratio. This can also be applied to condiments. You may not get to 100% of the target food, but consumption of the target food(s) in smaller amounts may be enough to lay the foundation for future gains.
EZ: You’re not a big fan of grazing, which is something so many kids—and parents—do. Why don’t you recommend it for kids?
PG: I think it’s important to limit grazing. It’s difficult to get someone (including typical eaters) to try something new if they aren’t hungry, especially if you’re asking them to try something they report they don’t like. In some more serious feeding situations, this may be difficult to apply because parents may feel that the only way to get in enough calories is to offer food/drink throughout the day. However, trying to set scheduled meals and limiting food in between is a strategy that could at least be tried (if it doesn’t work, you can always go back to the old system) since it may contribute to hunger and encourage the child to eat the food that’s offered.
EZ: You also recommend making kids part of the feeding process. What are your tips parents can use to do this?
PG: I’m a firm believer in modeling, sharing, and involving kids in eating and feeding as much as possible. There’s something to be said about trying to set a good example for your child. If you’re not eating the targeted foods, there’s a good chance the child’s exposure to the food may be more limited. Sometimes getting kids involved in the preparation of the food and cooking may also be associated with increased interest and squeezing in an extra bite or two.
EZ: Although many nutrition experts (present company included) have always urged parents to not use food as a reward, you encourage them to. Please explain.
PG: Some people are against providing some incentive to children to encourage them to try new foods/textures because they feel that children should intrinsically like food so they don’t provide reinforcement for eating. However, many children have increased their variety by systematically being given access to something preferred contingent on trying something novel. If you think the issue is “you’ll never know unless you try it” and exposure to new tastes and textures is important, then using a reward-based system to get them to try something new may be worth a shot. Keep in mind that for many children reinforcement can be faded out over time.
EZ: You encourage parents to be calm and patient when feeding kids—and I think that’s great advice as it keeps mealtimes more pleasant and enjoyable. You also think it’s important to have a plan and stick to it. Why is that so vital?
PG: It’s important for kids to have some predictability, especially if trying new foods seem to be distressing to them. I encourage parents to try to avoid excessive coaxing, wheeling-dealing, and verbal battles. Typically, these strategies don’t work and may make things worse. Getting kids to try new foods can be a long process. If parents do see some gains, they can then try to think about where they could be down the road if some of that progress continues on its current trajectory.
EZ: Finally, what should parents do if they suspect their child has a feeding disorder? Can you recommend any resources?
PG: Feeding problems are a source of great stress for parents because of the potential negative impact they may have on their child. Also, parents whose children have more severe problems often find it hard to relate or connect with other parents whose children’s issues are more of the traditionally “picky” variety. Parents of children with severe feeding problems often report that they are given advice from “everyone under the sun” and provided with suggestions that they’ve already tried. Parents who have tried all kinds of strategies and have had limited success, or see that things have gotten worse, may need some extra specialized help with your problem, such as the Pediatric Feeding Disorders Program at the Kennedy Krieger Institute. An evaluation may be a good first start to determine if your child’s problem meets the criteria of a feeding disorder. Generally, I would recommend finding a feeding clinic/program that encompasses a full team of professionals to rule out the variety of factors that may be associated with the onset and maintenance of the feeding problems. You also want to make sure that the feeding clinic/program has experience with the problems you’re reporting and can discuss various outcomes—aka “success stories”—they’ve had with similar children.
For more advice about how to raise healthy eaters, whatever their feeding style, check out the book Fearless Feeding as well as The Picky Eating Solution.
Image of Multi Generation Family Celebrating With Christmas Meal via shutterstock.
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Tuesday, November 26th, 2013
If your seasonal plans include traveling by plane, train or automobile, it’s likely you and your kids will experience at least a few moments when you’re hungry but find that the pickings (let alone nutritious ones) are slim.
Of course it’s always wise to plan ahead and arm yourselves with at least a few smart, portable, non-perishable travel snacks to have in-between meals (or just in case). A few better bets include nuts and nut butters; unsweetened dried fruit; high fiber, lower sugar whole grain ready-to-eat cereals; whole grain crackers; and low sugar granola and snack bars. But when it’s time for a real meal—and for those times when you find fast food to be among the few (if any) options—how do you help your kids choose the most nutritious, energizing picks?
The following restaurants participate in the Kids LiveWell Program, a collaboration between Healthy Dining and the National Restaurant Association. The program works with restaurants to provide more menu options that emphasize lean proteins, fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy and that meet stringent nutritional criteria. Each full kids’ meal (includes an entrée, side option and beverage) includes items from at least 2 food groups and meets the following Healthy nutrition criteria defined by the Kids LiveWell Program: 600 calories or less; ≤35% of calories from total fat; ≤10% of calories from saturated fat; <0.5 grams trans fat (artificial trans fat only); ≤35% of calories from total sugars (added and naturally occurring); and ≤770 mg of sodium. Each side option must represent 1 food group and meets the following Kids LiveWell nutrition criteria: 200 calories or less; ≤35% of calories from total fat; ≤10% of calories from saturated fat; <0.5 grams artificial trans fat; ≤35% of calories from total sugars (added and naturally occurring); and ≤250 mg of sodium.
The good news is that dozens of chains including Wendy’s®, Burger King® and Au Bon Pain® participate. Here are some the better-for-you bets if these outlets are among your options:
- Kids’ Meal that includes a Grilled Chicken Go Wrap served with Apple Slices and TruMoo Low Fat White Milk.
- Kids Meal that includes a Kids’ Hamburger served with Apple Slices and TruMoo Low Fat White Milk.
Other side options available include Juicy Juice® Apple Juice and Nestle® Pure Life® Bottled Water.
You can learn more about Wendy’s nutrition here.
- Kids’ Meal Breakfast Oatmeal with BK® Fresh Apple Slices and Fat Free Milk
- Kid’s Hamburger with BK® Fresh Apple Slices and Fat Free Milk
Other available side: Apple Juice
You can learn more about Burger King® menu items and nutrition here.
Au Bon Pain®:
- Egg Whites and Cheddar Breakfast Sandwich
Other side options available include: Oatmeal, Fruit Cup, Grapes or Watermelon.
Visit the Au Bon Pain® menu here.
Although McDonald’s is not part of the Kids LiveWell Program, it recently announced (as I covered in a recent Scoop on Food post) it’ll offer a side salad, fruit or vegetable option in place of French fries in value meals and will promote and market water, milk, and juice instead of soda as the beverage in Happy Meals. Also notable is that Happy Meals now include apple slices. McDonald’s also offers some favorites under 400 calories. Options your kids might like include:
- Fruit and Maple Oatmeal (I recommend asking for it made without brown sugar or light cream)
- Fruit ‘N Yogurt Parfait—a low fat vanilla yogurt layered with blueberries and strawberries and topped with granola.
- Premium Caesar Salad with Grilled Chicken, served with Newman’s Own® Low Fat Family Recipe Italian Dressing (You can save some fat and calories by using only a half packet of dressing).
Visit the McDonald’s® menu here.
Subway® offers Fresh Fit for KidsTM meals that pair Turkey Breast, Veggie Delight, Black Forest Ham or Roast Beef sandwiches with fresh apple slices and a 12-ounce bottle of low fat milk. They also offer 100% juices including apple and orange juice. There are also Fresh Fit® choices (options that can work for older kids with bigger appetites and adults) certified as heart healthy by the American Heart Association. You can see the Subway menu here.
Last but not least, there’s Dunkin Donuts®. Although pickings are indeed slim at the popular donut/bagel chain, Dunkin Donuts® may be (somewhat) worth the trip because of their DDSmart and Fewer Than 400 (calorie) options including:
- Egg White Veggie Wake-Up Wrap
- Egg & Cheese on English Muffin
You can see their complete menu here.
To make better fast food selections all around, you can download the Kids LiveWell App (it’s free) here. It features more than 4,000 menu items served at more than 60,000 participating restaurants across the country.
And for more tips to save money when you shop for healthier fast food, check out this video with Parents health director Kara Corridan.
What’s your favorite nutrient-packed (or at least not-so-bad-for-you) fast food meal?
Image of mother and son having a meal in the airplane while flying via shutterstock.com.
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Monday, November 18th, 2013
It makes perfect sense that kids who sleep well perform better, whether in the classroom, on the ball field, or simply throughout the day. There’s evidence it can even help them eat less and weigh less. In a 3-week study published in Pediatrics, researchers looked at how changing the amount of sleep 37 8- to 11-year-old kids got affected their reported food intake and body weight. During week 1, children slept their usual amount at home. Then they were randomized to either increase or decrease their time in bed by 1.5 hours each night for 1 week. Then they did the opposite over the third and final week of the study. Researchers found that when kids increased their sleep time, on average they decreased their daily calorie intake by 134 calories. Their weight was also 0.22 kg (almost half a pound) lower during the increase sleep than the decrease sleep condition.
According to Chantelle Hart, PhD, the lead author of the Pediatrics study, “We know that a good nights’ sleep is associated with a number of benefits for children across domains of functioning, including memory and learning, mood and behavioral disturbances.” Hart also says the study findings suggest that a good night’s sleep may confer other benefits to children in terms of eating and weight regulation.
Hart, an associate professor of public health at the Center for Obesity Research & Education at Temple University, suggests that parents help their kids keep a similar sleep schedule throughout the week and on weekends, and to have a consistent bedtime routine each night. She adds, “Limiting screen time and caffeine prior to bed are also recommendations we provide to families.”
Although the role sleep plays in food intake and body weight has yet to be deciphered, any parent knows how vital it is for kids—and for them—to get adequate sleep. Here are some suggestions for parents to help kids get the sleep they need, when they need it, from David Katz, MD, Editor-in-Chief of Childhood Obesity journal, author of Disease Proof and father of five:
1. Be the parent. What if your kid REALLY wanted to try cocaine, or play in traffic? As parents, it’s our job to make and enforce rules that protect our kids. The only reason we find it hard to do this with regard to sleep, food, or exercise, is because we are ambivalent. If these are priorities for us, and we consistently treat them as such, our kids no more need to argue with us, let alone win, than they would about drugs, or skipping school, or…whatever.
2. Be reasonable. Younger kids need rules and guidance; older kids need options so they feel they are getting the respect they deserve and autonomy they need. Our teens always stayed up very late and slept in on weekends; we let them choose the pattern that suited them best—with a different pattern on school nights. Make and enforce the rules you need and avoid rules you don’t need so that your kids know (A) the rules are reasonable, and (B) when there is a rule, it IS a rule, and has to be treated as such.
3. Allow for experimentation. I had a poster in my dorm room in college: good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment! There is no substitute for experiential learning. Our job as parents is to protect our kids from bad judgment with irrevocable consequences—but allow for dabbling in using bad judgment vital to learning. So, we would let our kids have an occasional night to stay up as late as they wanted—and get way too little sleep—and see how they felt the next day. The experience of feeling exhausted and cranky said more about the importance of sleep than we could. That becomes a ‘see, I told you!’ kind of teachable moment, and makes the case better than words can.
4. Leave room for negotiation. As kids grow, there will be a lot of negotiation—and that’s OK. We parents have to decide where to give more ground, and where to give less. Any set of rules is easier to enforce if your kids know your rules aren’t arbitrary, and that you are prepared to negotiate in good faith, taking their priorities into account. Whenever my kids have disliked a rule of mine, I have found it very helpful to be able to say: we both know I listen to you, and often give in. When I don’t give in, it’s because I think it’s really important. If that give-and-take is combined with ‘being the parent,’ it’s a pretty tough formula for a kid to renounce.
For more expert tips to help your kids get more—and better—sleep, check out my previous Parents.com post.
How do you help your kids get the sleep they need?
Image of girl studying at the desk being tired via shutterstock.
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