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Saturday, May 3rd, 2014
We all know that kids typically consume way too many empty calorie foods and beverages—especially those laden with solid fats and added sugars. A new analysis of just less than 3,300 parents and caregivers of young children between ages 0 and 4 who are part of the Nestlé Feeding Infants and Toddlers Study (FITS) reveals that preschoolers consume nearly one-third of their total daily calories (about 400 per day) from solid fats and added sugars. The findings were presented recently at the Experimental Biology 2014 meeting in San Diego.
Researchers found that about half of the preschoolers’ calories come from milk, cheese, bread and rolls, ready-to-eat cereals, poultry, butter, margarine and other fats. They also found that whole and 2% milk, cheese and hot dogs are among the foods that contribute excessive amounts of saturated fat and sodium to the preschoolers’ diets. Along with bacon, poultry, butter, cakes and cookies, such foods represent 70% of saturated fat intake for preschoolers.
When it comes to snacking habits, the analysis also revealed that when children snack away from home they consume an extra 50 calories daily from snacks (including sweet ones like cookies, candy and fruit drinks) and drink less milk.
According to the lead author of the study, Kathleen Reidy, Dr. PH, RD, Head, Nutrition Science, Nestle Infant Nutrition, “Data from FITS reveals that, as early as 12 to 24 months, children begin to develop some unhealthy dietary patterns that may contribute to childhood obesity.” While she encourages breastfeeding as the best way to provide infants with ample amounts of much needed nutrients, findings from FITS illustrate that parents and caregivers need better nutrition guidance as young children transition through the second year of life to help develop healthy eating habits.
“Because dietary guidance is so critical in the “first 1,000 days of life” and because the nutrients a child receives during this period can impact growth and development as well as health later in life, being exposed to healthy foods early on is vital for all children,” says Reidy. She adds, “This is also a critical period during which food and flavor preferences develop.”
To help parents help their young children improve the quality of their diets and develop healthier eating habits, Reidy suggests the following simple changes:
Make a milk switch. Since milk is key in children’s diets and a top contributor of important nutrients including protein, calcium and vitamins A, D, B12, thiamin and riboflavin, rather than limit milk, instead offer appropriate amounts of low-fat and nonfat options.
Think of snacks as mini-meals. Snacks should be considered mini-meals, and parents and caregivers should offer healthy foods that contribute nutrition to a child’s diet—fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat yogurt and dairy foods.
Go lean. Replace foods high in saturated fat with lean meats, low-fat dairy products and foods high in healthier fats such as avocado, fish and those made with olive, safflower and canola oils.
Go lower with sodium. Offer children more foods naturally low in or made with little or no salt or sodium, such as fruits and vegetables. Offering fewer or smaller portions of higher sodium foods such as hot dogs, lunch meat and chicken nuggets and look for lower-sodium meat options when possible.
Give them water. Instead of sugar-sweetened beverages, offer water to stay hydrated and to allow more room (calorie-wise) for nutritious options.
Offer produce each time they eat. Include small amounts of fruits and vegetables at each meal and snack. When you offer mixed dishes, also offer a serving of vegetables on the side.
How much do you know about toddler nutrition?
How do you help instill better eating habits in your infants and children?
Image of cute baby sitting in a high feeding chair biting on delicious freshly cooked broccoli via shutterstock.
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children, diet, eating, food, infants, preschoolers, saturated fat, sodium, toddlers | Categories:
Diet, Health, Must Read, Nutrition
Thursday, April 10th, 2014
If you’ve ever allowed stress to make you reach for a cupcake, bowl of ice cream or jar of peanut butter—even when you weren’t hungry—you’re not alone. Several studies suggest that while not everyone eats in response to stress—in fact, some say they skip meals when stressed—it’s quite common to turn to food to cope. I know I have! Using food for comfort every once in a while certainly won’t derail an otherwise healthful diet. And sometimes, having that donut may just be what you need to settle down! But doing it often—especially if the foods we turn to are high in calories and easy to overdo—can set us up for unhealthy weight gain and its many consequences. And when our children see us use—or abuse—food to temper stress, it’s more likely they’ll model that behavior and suffer similar consequences.
Although few studies have looked at the link between stress-induced eating and lifestyle factors and health behaviors in children and adolescents, a new study published in BMC Public Health sheds a little light on the topic. Researchers looked at the prevalence of self-reported stress eating behavior and its association with overweight, obesity, abdominal obesity, food consumption, sleep, eating family meals and other variables among almost 7,000 16-year-old boys and girls in Finland, Followed since their mothers were pregnant with them, the adolescents underwent clinical examinations and filled out questionnaires about their eating and other behaviors.
The researchers found that stress-related eating, which was highly prevalent in the teens studied, was linked with a number of negative dietary and health behaviors. Stress-related eating was found to be more common among girls (43%) than boys (15%). Those who reported eating in response to stress were also more likely to be overweight, obese or have excess belly fat than those who didn’t report eating in response to stress. Among girls, less sleep, infrequent family meals and frequent consumption of chocolate and sweets were more prevalent among stress eaters. Among boys, those who ate in response to stress also tended to eat more sausage, chocolate, sweets, hamburgers and pizza.
A previous small study published in Appetite found that among 5- to- 9-year-old children, those who released more of the hormone cortisol in response to stress had higher body mass indices (BMI) and consumed significantly more calories without being hungry than those who had lower increases in cortisol.
As parents, many of us want nothing more than to help our kids live happier, more healthful lives. But unfortunately, lots of situations and circumstances can contribute to stress and lead to less-than-healthy eating and other behaviors in ourselves and in our kids. Sometimes it’s hard to tell if your kids are stressed, so a good first step is to look for the signs. To help you do just that, check out the American Psychological Association’s Identifying Signs of Stress in Your Children and Teens.
Although it’s much easier said than done, learning to manage our own stress in positive and productive ways is another great way to help our kids—especially when they’re young and impressionable—do the same.
Some ways we can help our kids better manage stress—and eat and live better—include encouraging them to get adequate sleep and having consistent sleep and wake times; providing an array of nutrient-rich meals and snacks that are eaten sitting down at the kitchen counter or table at designated times; eating family meals often and with minimal distraction; encouraging kids to stay active and fit; limiting screen time and time spent sitting; and having go-to, enjoyable activities that help them de-stress (examples include listening to music, doing a puzzle, talking in person or on the phone to a friend, reading a favorite book or playing cards or a fun board game). For more on stress and how to help kids cope, check out my previous Scoop on Food post.
How do you and your kids stress less?
Image of donut via shutterstock.
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adolescents, children, diet, eating, health, obesity, overweight, stress | Categories:
Diet, Health, Must Read, Nutrition
Monday, March 24th, 2014
The tide seems to be turning when it comes to obesity prevalence, at least among young children. According to recent national survey data, the rate of obesity went down from 12 percent in 2009-2010 to just over 8 percent in 2011-2012 among 2 to 5-year-olds. Although reasons for the decline are unclear, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that improvements in nutrition and physical activity standards in child care centers, decreased sugary beverage intake and higher rates of breastfeeding in the United States may play a role.
Regardless of the apparent improvements in weight status among the littlest of kids, a recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association shows that the overall obesity rate among 2- to 19-year-olds remains high at 17 percent—about 1 in 6 kids. And although a multitude of dietary and lifestyle factors synergistically contribute to the development of unhealthy weight gain among children, oversized portions of everything from fast food to empty calorie, nutrient-poor foods like sugary sodas and snack foods no doubt play a role.
As a registered dietitian nutritionist, one of the first things I recommend to parents who want to help their children grow into a healthy weight and prevent unhealthy weight gain is to pay attention to the portions offered both inside and outside the home. Here are some tips to show you how (and why) it’s vital to make minding portions a priority to help kids eat less—and better.
1. They need less than us. In a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers looked at 145 parents and their preschool children to see whether the portions parents served to their kids (and how much their kids consumed) were related to those they served themselves. The researchers found that there was a significant link between how much parents served themselves and their children. They also found that the amounts the parents served their children were strongly associated with the amounts their children ended up eating. The researchers also found that parents tended to serve more to their children when they served more to themselves. Because most kids (younger ones especially) need to eat a lot less than their grown parents, it’s key for parents to learn what’s appropriate in terms of portion sizes of foods from all the different food groups. My Plate is a great resource. Under each food group, click on “how much is needed” and “see the chart” to find recommended daily amounts for boys and girls of different ages and for parents as well.
2. Smaller plates means smaller portions. It’s important to think small when it comes to dishware. According to a study published in Pediatrics, 42 school-aged children were observed on repeated occasions during school lunch. All children served themselves entrees and side dishes using either child- or adult-size plates and bowls. The researchers found that the children not only served themselves more when they used the adult-sized dishware, but they also consumed more energy. Every additional calorie served led to a 0.43-calorie increase in total energy intake at lunch. Another study published in the International Journal of Obesity found that offering more food to children and using larger spoon sizes with which children could serve themselves led children not only to serve themselves more but to eat more at that meal. The lesson? Make less food and use smaller dishware, especially if you routinely serve food family style.
3. Less can be more when it comes to nutrition. In a study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers served 3- to 5-year-old children different portions of an energy-dense entrée (macaroni and cheese) and fixed portions of green beans, unsweetened applesauce and whole-wheat rolls. Children who were given larger entrée portions had greater energy intakes and decreased intakes of the other foods served with the meal. Overweight children especially ate more of the entrée when given more of it. The researchers concluded that serving smaller age-appropriate entrée portions may decrease intake of energy-dense foods and promote intake of nutrient-rich foods (eg. fruit, vegetables, whole grains) served with the entree. The lesson? A great rule of thumb is to make half the plate produce and the other half a combo of lean protein (eg fish, lean beef, skinless poultry), whole grains (eg brown rice, whole wheat pasta) or starchy carbs (eg potato). But if the entrée is something like creamy macaroni and cheese, lasagna or a fatty beef or chicken dish, keep the portion to no more than one quarter or up to half of the plate—preferably a small (rather than oversized) dinner plate.
4. Dinner and dessert go together. In a study published in Appetite, 2- to 5-year-old children ate less total energy when served dessert with a lunch meal than when served dessert after the meal, regardless of the portion of the main course. To make dessert less coveted, I often recommend serving it, in small amounts, with meals—or at least alongside a nutrient-rich food, like fresh fruit. I usually offer my own kids things like ice cream or snack crackers in small (3 to 5 ounce) paper cups, usually with lunch or dinner rather than in-between meals. I find this strategy can help minimize feelings of deprivation and still help kids feel satisfied.
How do you help your kids eat smaller portions?
Image of elementary pupils collecting healthy lunch in cafeteria via shutterstock.
Test your knowledge of toddler nutrition.
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Saturday, February 8th, 2014
As any parent can attest, providing kids with healthful foods most of the time can be a real challenge. When it comes to family meals, Dianne Neumark-Sztainer, PhD, MPh, RD, lead researcher of the ongoing Project EAT (Eating and Activity in Teens and Young Adults) study at the University of Michigan, cites time barriers and conflicting activities of both parents and children as two of the biggest barriers to family meals. Yet the research, much of it from Project EAT, has demonstrated numerous benefits of family meals. As I’ve written about in The Scoop on Food, family meals have been linked with healthier body weights; higher quality diets; and less alcohol, tobacco and drug use, less disordered eating and less risk of depression among teens.
So how do parents who don’t see anything slowing down for them or their kids anytime soon find (and make) time to feed their growing children and entire family better?
I asked Self Magazine blogger Sarah-Jane Bedwell, author of the new book Schedule Me Skinny, to offer some tips to help time-strapped parents feed their families well. Below you’ll find five of her favorite time saving strategies.
1. Take 10 minutes to plan healthy dinners for the week. Half of each dinner plate should be filled with fruits/veggies, 1/4 of the plate should include lean protein foods, and the remaining 1/4 plate should be filled with healthy starch (like whole grains or starchy veggies prepared with healthy fats and herbs/spices). On two nights each week, make a double batch of any recipe so you have leftovers for lunches or dinners for other busier nights.
2. Make a strategic shopping list: The Food Marketing Institute reports that for every minute we spend in a grocery store we spend $2. That’s why it’s important to take five minutes each week to make a strategic grocery list that is organized by area of the store. If all the produce you need is listed together, all the meat is listed together, etc, not only will this get you in and out of the store faster, but you’ll also be more likely to stick to your list and therefore spend less money on impulse buys.
3. Prep for success. Part of the Schedule Me Skinny 30 Minute Power-Planning Session is to spend 15 minutes at the beginning of the week prepping food so that meals can be put together in just minutes all throughout the week. To prep, cook one large batch of whole grain or starchy vegetables (such as quinoa, brown rice, whole wheat pasta or potatoes). Next, wash and chop hearty veggies like peppers, cucumbers, broccoli and carrots. On a weeknight, you can throw together the items you’ve already prepped along with an easy protein source such as canned salmon or tuna or beans to make a quick, healthy dinner.
4. Pre-portion your food. Portion control is extremely important to help children enjoy foods in moderation and to grow into healthy weights. However, it can be hard to take the time to measure items during a busy week when you’re trying to feed your kids a snack before soccer practice or get dinner on the table in a timely fashion. If you simply take five minutes or less at the beginning of the week to measure commonly used items like fatty foods (like cheeses, nuts and salad dressings) and favorite treats (like chips, candy and snack mixes) and portion them into baggies or small containers for instant portion control later on, you’ll save a lot of time when you’re time-crunched.
5. Keep a snack stash on hand. To help kids keep their energy levels up, their metabolisms going strong and to meet (and not exceed) their nutrient needs to help them grow, it is important for kids to eat every few hours. Snacks can be a great way to go when time is short in-between meals. To help you stay armed when the munchies strike, it’s smart to take five minutes each week to make a stash of snacks that don’t have to be refrigerated in your car/purse/desk. Options include: dried fruit and nuts, apples, bananas and single serve peanut butter packets. A good rule of thumb is to keep snack options at around 200 calories and include a whole grain or fruit/veggie AND a lean protein or healthy fat for staying power. Examples include one small apple, sliced and a string cheese or 1/2 banana topped with one tablespoon almond or peanut butter and rolled in 2 tablespoons crushed whole-grain cereal. Keeping your own snacks on hand will prevent you from spending money on over-priced junk food from a vending machine or drive through and save you the time of trying to find or fix a snack!
How do you save time feeding your family?
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Image of vegetables on the wooden background and paper for shopping list via shutterstock.
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Monday, December 30th, 2013
In response to the current epidemic of obesity and a disturbing increase in eating disorders among children, registered dietitian Laura Cipullo has created a new healthy eating and exercise book called Healthy Habits. In the book, Cipullo aims to teach children how to develop positive relationships with eating and neutral relationships with food. Designed as a guidebook for parents or child educators, Healthy Habits provides lesson plans with hands-on activities with positive rather than good-or-bad messages—something I think is terrific and very useful. After all, shouldn’t we teach our children to enjoy just enough (but not too much) food with enjoyment instead of guilt or shame?
I interviewed Cipullo to learn more about her timely book and philosophy. Below are some highlights from our conversation.
EZ: What are some of the benefits Healthy Habits can provide for parents, coaches, teachers and others who work with children?
LC: Because not everyone can afford to personally employ a registered dietitian or nutritionist, purchasing a book or downloading a PDF can be a much more financially reasonable solution. As such, I wanted to create a user-friendly program that would be accessible and understandable to a wide audience. I also sought to spread the message (as I do in my private practice) that nutrition information should be shared in a positive tone—and relate specifically to health promotion, not weight loss! So, beginning with a program that I’d originally created for registered dietitians and once taught to my clients, I created Healthy Habits. I adapted it to appeal to parents and educators alike who could easily teach the program to one or more children (or even just read it). An individual simply reading Healthy Habits gains a greater understanding of what to say, what not say, and how to talk about nutrition with children from birth through adulthood. The 8 nutrition lessons are meant to be neutral in tone and to aid in learning/teaching about eating all types of foods since all types of foods are available.
EZ: You describe Healthy Habits as a “how-to” book for parents and teachers. Please describe what they should expect to find in the book based on your experiences working with families and individuals.
LC: Healthy Habits is designed to give adults the tools they need to teach nutrition to their children and/or students using encouraging tones and encouraging frameworks. The positive and empowering lessons were developed as an outgrowth of my 15 years of work with clients in the areas of family nutrition, eating disorders, weight management and diabetes. When I started my career, I knew diets didn’t work: deprivation caused binging and external weight emphasis resulted in yoyo weight cycling. Healthy Habits features “how-to” nutritional guidelines that do work; it’s based on real science, my knowledge as a diabetes educator, my experience as a certified eating disorder specialist and what has truly worked for my clients…and even my own family. Lessons discussing internal regulation, using an “everyday”/“sometimes” determination for food choices, and ridding food of moral or value labels form the learning foundation of Healthy Habits.
EZ: How do you suggest parents and educators use the 8 nutrition lessons that make up Healthy Habits most effectively?
LC: There’s no one simple answer to this. I personally prefer using books as references rather than reading them from cover to cover. And that’s why Healthy Habits keeps everything short and simple in an easy, usable format. A parent can choose a lesson and then perhaps just read about what carbohydrates are. Or he or she can actually complete the lesson handout with their children to learn and teach what carbohydrates are. A teacher can gather a group of students after school and implement an 8-week-long health program using the facilitator guides, handouts and child/parent homework assignments. Or a coach can combine Healthy Habits’ 8 lessons with exercise classes. The “how-to” guides are self-explanatory within the setup of the program—there are actual lesson plans to follow and even a free video tutorial.
EZ: What do you think sets Healthy Habits apart from other family and/or child nutrition books?
LC: Healthy Habits was created to prevent eating issues as well as eating disorders before they happen! The nutrition education offered is unbiased—it’s not focused on “good” or “bad” labels. Concentration is placed on how children feel when they eat or when they exercise. Many people use a 90%/10% approach to eating but I personally find this to be too restrictive for my clients. I prefer using a 75%/25% approach to healthy eating utilizing an “everyday”/“sometimes” determination for food selection. As parents, we definitely do not want our children creating food hierarchies or thinking of foods as treats or rewards. So many moms email me about their kids sneaking food and even hiding cookie and candy wrappers. And I have so many adult clients who remember feeling the need to do this when they were children because they weren’t allowed to have the “junk” food or “bad” food. We need to create an open and honest food environment. Our kids need the tools to learn how to eat all foods because, even if you don’t buy a particular food for your home consumption, I can guarantee it will be available to your children somewhere else! I’m especially proud of the video tutorial that now comes free with the purchase of the book. It provides a valuable extra benefit via its concise introduction to the entire program—easing the reader into this new positive food philosophy.
To learn more about Healthy Habits, click here; to purchase the PDF version for download, click here.
Image of a smiling girl eating apple via shutterstock.
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