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Sunday, December 28th, 2014
Since 2015 is here, I thought I’d put together a list of some great ideas to help you help your kids eat better during the upcoming year.
Don’t worry—I’m not suggesting any kind of complete dietary overhaul. But I do recommend all of these no-fuss strategies suggested by some top dietitians to help move kids’ diets and habits in a more healthful direction.
Whether you choose several strategies at once or one for each month in 2015, all are sure to help your kids incorporate more nutrients in their diets. And they’ll certainly make your meals even more delicious.
Read on for 12 expert tips to help your kids eat better in the New Year and beyond.
1. Create a produce calendar. Creating a produce calendar can help organize meal planning and help kids feel like they’re part of the process. It can also help them feel like they have some control over what is served and get them excited about produce. To do this, you can assign each family member one or two days a week to choose the daily fruit and veggie meal stars. For instance, Mom might have Tuesdays and Thursdays, and Bobby might have Wednesdays and Fridays (you get the drift). You can then write up a calendar and let each person choose the fruit and veggie star for his or her day. You can choose whatever fruit or vegetable you like or use a seasonal list like this one to guide your choices. Kids can help wash the fruit or vegetable and observe or help with their preparation depending on their age.
2. “Cook” in class. You can volunteer at your kids’ school by offering a hands-on no-cook cooking class. It’s a great way to highlight the fun you can have even if you’re not baking, but instead making nutritious items like fruit kebabs with yogurt dip or an edamame salad.
3. Take the rainbow challenge. For the game lover in all of us, Healthy Kids Concepts (HKC)*, a non-profit that encourages healthy eating habits through color-inspired lessons in pre-K and grade school children, offers check sheets (they can be downloaded for free here) to help kids keep track of how many different colors of fruits and veggies they eat each day. The goal is to eat the rainbow every day for an entire month.
4. Just dip it. Kids love to dip things, and studies suggest they may eat even more vegetables if they use them as dippers. So, why not make some tasty and affordable dips to offer the kids with their meals and snacks. You can buy canned chickpeas or garbanzo beans, rinse, and whir in a blender or food processor with some olive oil and a squirt of lemon. Frozen, thawed green peas plus olive oil, lemon juice and some minced garlic, salt and pepper can also work. You can also serve new dishes or foods previously disliked with a dipping sauce. For example, you can serve steak strips with no sugar added cranberry sauce or grilled chicken strips with some honey mustard.
5. Make your own fruit fantasy. Create your own edible fruit arrangement by slicing watermelon into popsicle shapes on popsicle sticks or fan orange segments out on a plate in a pattern that looks like the sun with a banana circle center. Making fruit look good can certainly make it more appealing to kids.
6. Let ‘em eat with their hands. Add edamame sprinkled with a little sea salt to your kid’s lunchbox. It’s a fun, hand-held, easy to eat food that’s rich in filling protein not to mention other key nutrients (it also counts as a vegetable).
7. How ‘bout veggies before dinner? Because so few kids meet their daily quota for vegetables, how about making it a rule to eat veggies in the hour leading up to dinner? Noshing on baby carrots, cucumber slices, celery sticks, plum or cherry tomatoes, plain or with a little Italian dressing or a tablespoon or two of dip can help kids eat enough vegetables to meet their needs and prevent them from noshing on nutrient-poor snacks that will fill them up and spoil their appetite before you can even say, “Dinner’s ready.”
8. Plant a garden. You can do this in your backyard or, if you live in an apartment, in a box on your terrace. Planting, watering, and picking vegetables, herbs and spices can teach your kids where food comes from and give them a sense of ownership and pride when the planted items are ready to be incorporated into meals.
9. Swap some usual foods. Once in a while, instead of offering the same old same old, mix things up a bit. For example, instead of carrots, offer parsnips. They offer myriad nutrients and have a similar taste and texture to carrots. Try them anywhere you’d use carrots, like in a stir fry dish or in a winter vegetable chili. And how about replacing some of the broccoli in dishes with cauliflower. You can buy it fresh or frozen and serve it in a mixed dish or by itself, chopped and steamed.
10. Rate your plate. Ask your kids to do a taste test at one meal each week. You can offer them several food options and have them give each a score of 1 to 5 on their color and taste.
11. Shape ‘em up. Because kids love pizza, spaghetti, French fries and pancakes, why not encourage them to try more vegetables by having them help you make new versions of each of these. For example, you can make matchstick parsnip fries; portabello mushroom, eggplant or cauliflower-crusted pizza; beet or carrot pancakes; or zucchini muffins. You can also use a veggie spiralizer (the kids can even help) to make colorful, nutrient-rich “pasta” out of steamed or grilled zucchini, baked sweet potatoes or fresh cucumber. If you don’t want to make the switch to all veggie noodles, try mixing some in with pasta noodles.
12. Go fish! Kids and parents tend to not eat recommended amounts of fish in their daily diet. That’s a shame, especially since fish is a key source of high quality protein and potent omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These essential fatty acids are important for development and health of the brain, nervous system, heart, skin, and immune system. Current Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend anywhere from 3 to 8 or more ounces of fish weekly depending on kids’ needs and total calorie intake (see my recent Scoop on Food post for more information). Because that really isn’t that much, why not simply replace one or two of your family’s weekly meat dishes or one family meal and one of your child’s lunches with fish. Lower mercury fish options include salmon, shrimp, pollock, tuna (light canned), tilapia, catfish, and cod. White (albacore) tuna can also be consumed, but should be limited to no more than 6 ounces a week.
Sources: Patricia Bannan, MS, RD; Stephanie Clarke, MS, RD & Willow Jarosh, MS, RD co-owners of C&J Nutrition and board members of HKC*; Jessica Fishman Levinson, MS, RDN, CDN founder of Nutritioulicious; Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, author of Cooking Light Dinnertime Survival Guide; Lindsay Livingston, RD; Tammy Lakatos Shames, RDN, CFT and Lyssie Lakatos, RDN, CFT, a.k.a. The Nutrition Twins, authors of The Nutrition Twins’ Veggie Cure; Carolyn O’Neil, MS, RD, LD, author of The Slim Down South Cookbook and nutrition advisor to www.BestFoodFacts.org; Rebecca Scritchfield, MA, RD, HFS; and Rebecca Subbiah, RDN.
Image of 2015 written with food via shutterstock.
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children, diet, eating, fish, food, fruit, health, produce, vegetables | Categories:
Diet, Health, Meals, Must Read, Nutrition
Monday, December 15th, 2014
This month, McDonald’s USA introduced fresh fruit—Cuties California Clementines—as a side option for their Happy Meal and Mighty Kids Meal options.
The cuties, which provide an excellent source of Vitamin C, will be available during their peak season through March 2015.
According to a press release by the company, adding Cuties to the menu as a kids’ meal option or a la carte purchase “supports McDonald’s ongoing dedication to children’s nutrition and well-being.”
Other nutritious options currently offered as sides for McDonald’s kids’ meals include apple slices and Go-GURT low fat Strawberry Yogurt (though the latter option has six grams of sugar, some of it added; sugar is listed as the second ingredient).
I applaud the effort by the company to include Cuties on the menu. Even though each Cutie counts as only one quarter of cup of fruit, most kids fall short on recommendations for daily fruit intake. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), recent national surveys reveal that although two- to five-year-olds met their recommended daily fruit intake goals (0.9 cup-equivalents* per 1,000 calories consumed), 60 percent of children don’t eat enough fruit.
I hope that efforts to provide more nutrient-rich options to kids and all consumers—especially fruits, vegetables, and whole grains—will continue to appear on fast food and restaurant menus. Such options can certainly provide alternatives to nutrient-poor, highly palatable fare that in excess can contribute to the development of unhealthy weight gain, obesity, and myriad diet-related diseases.
The problem is, even if nutrient-rich foods like Cuties are purchased by parents and their children, that’s no guarantee that they’ll be consumed in place of French fries or milkshakes—some of the very items most go to fast food for in the first place. And if parents and their kids don’t buy such items when offered at fast food outlets, it’s likely the companies will be less willing to offer similar items in the future.
As I’ve written about in a previous Scoop on Food post, I’m not sure fast food will ever truly be health food. Don’t get me wrong—I welcome any effort by McDonald’s or other chains/restaurants to enhance their nutritious offerings. But unless more dramatic changes are made e.g. offering smaller portions, and cutting added fats and sugars in entrees and sides, adding a piece of fruit to the menu isn’t going to have a dramatic impact when it comes to consumers’ health and nutrient intake. That’s because most fast food options including kids’ meals are packed with more calories, fat, saturated fat, and sodium than kids need.
Fortunately, providing calorie counts on menus and more comprehensive nutrition information upon request (and on company websites) potentially can help kids and parents make more mindful choices when eating out.
However, it’s prudent for all of us to limit the frequency of visits to fast food restaurants. And to make having a fast food meal or snack an occasional treat rather than a regular part of your routine. Studies suggest that children who eat more fast food tend to take in more calories and fewer nutrients than those who consume less or no fast food. Including fast food in the diet can also be a marker for less healthful habits overall. So, if you choose to go to fast food restaurants, I say do it infrequently and eat what you like (even if it’s a burger and fries). Such a strategy is likely better than eating fast food meals often.
If you and your kids find yourself eating fast food for whatever reason—you’re stranded at the airport, you’re on a road trip, you’re in a rush—choosing smaller portions and opting for the more nutrient-rich picks, like a Cutie, or something green and colorful (like a side salad with a small amount of oil-based salad dressing) and eating those first can help you eat better. They may even fill you up enough to leave over a few bites of that burger or a few French fries!
*One cup-equivalent of fruit is approximately one small apple, one cup applesauce or 100% juice.
What are your thoughts about adding fruit/produce to a fast food menu? Will it really make a difference in what kids and their parents choose/eat?
Image of Cuties via Elisa Zied.
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Monday, November 17th, 2014
If the upcoming holiday season gives you angst when it comes to food and all the temptations, this guest post by Elizabeth M. Ward, M.S., R.D. provides some great tips to help you and your kids eat better and still enjoy yourselves. Read on to see what Ward, my esteemed colleague and the author of My Plate for Moms: How to Feed Yourself and Your Family Better, has to say about how to navigate this time of year—and all year—without sabotaging your family’s healthy diet.
Healthy babies are born with the knack to regulate their appetite; they eat when they’re hungry and they stop when they’re full. But early in life, most of us learn how to override that inborn ability. We discover that brownies tastes better than broccoli, salty crackers trump fruit, and soda is more fun than plain milk, and we want more junk food whether we are hungry or not.
Sure, some kids (not my three!) naturally clamor for carrot sticks and hummus, and could care less about overdoing it on cookies, snack chips, and sugary drinks, but they are the exceptions. Truth is, many children, especially younger ones, lack self-restraint—putting the brakes on when they’ve had enough or avoiding a certain food altogether—in favor of instant gratification.
It’s really no wonder why self-restraint, a.k.a., willpower, is so difficult to practice. Restraint is pushed to the limits in a world where children and their parents are bombarded all day long with messages and opportunities to eat sugary and fatty foods, and lots of them.
As parents, we want to teach our children self-restraint (many of us parents would like to have more of it ourselves, at least sometimes). The trick is to help kids pay attention to their hunger without policing every bite they take and to avoid food fights. Excessive monitoring of a youngster’s food intake stifles his or her independence, and may lead to overeating when you’re not around.
How to Build Willpower
Self-control is a lot like a muscle; the more you use it, the stronger it gets, according to researcher Roy Baumeister, author of Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength. The authors of a recent study in Psychosomatic Medicine: Journal of Biobehavioral Medicine suggest that healthy lifestyle choices may help better preserve the part of the brain that governs self-restraint. The authors also theorize that certain environments help reduce the temptation to overeat.
Here are six tips to help you help kids limit their intake of junk food without becoming the food police:
• Plan to succeed. It’s much easier to make poor food decisions when you’re famished. Plan meals and snacks with adequate protein, such as dairy, lean meat, beans and eggs, and fiber-filled foods, including fruits, vegetables, and whole grains to help you and your kids feel fuller for longer. Don’t keep tempting foods like candy, cookies, and chips in the house (Note from Elisa Zied: If you do keep a few empty calorie, nutrient-poor treats in the house, store them on a high shelf behind closed doors to minimize mindless eating.)
• Sleep your way to self-restraint. Researchers suggest that when you’re well rested, it’s easier to walk away from that pint of premium ice cream that’s calling your name. It’s the same for children: self-restraint is more likely with a consistent pattern of adequate slumber. Show your children that you value sleep as part of healthy living.
• Model restraint. Actions speak louder than words. Limiting yourself to two cookies instead of gorging on six helps teach your children to better control themselves. In addition, by committing to modeling good eating habits for the sake of the kids by not overindulging, you strengthen your own willpower “muscle.”
• Create positive peer pressure. Other children and adults may play a role in what your child eats. For the most part, surround yourself with people who will make it easier for your child to consume reasonable portions of high-calorie foods on limited occasions. Take the lead by serving healthy foods and limiting treats when your children have play dates.
• Recognize the limits of self-control. Willpower is a limited resource. All day long you and your child do things that sap your inner energy reserves, like get up early for work when you’d rather sleep in, or, in your child’s case, sit quietly at his desk when he’d like to be running around the playground. It’s much more difficult to control the urge to splurge when you’re feeling stressed, which makes it that much more important to organize your household and eating routine to reduce temptation.
• Trust your inner child. Your internal hunger cues may have dulled with time, but there’s plenty of hope for your son or daughter’s (and yours!). Start today to trust your child’s instinct by not overfeeding them. Don’t use any food, particularly sugary or fatty treats, as rewards. The earlier in life you start to do this, the easier it will be to teach self-restraint in the long run.
To help kids eat less and better, check out a recent Scoop on food post here.
How do you help your kids eat less and better?
Image of willpower via shutterstock.
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Tuesday, October 28th, 2014
Confused by food label lingo? You don’t need to be! Below you’ll find an informative guest post by registered dietitian nutritionist Bonnie Taub Dix, author of Read It Before You Eat It to help you and your children on your next grocery shopping trip.
As soon as my three sons were big enough to sit up in a shopping cart, they came to the supermarket with me. I’ll admit that some ‘shopping experiences’ (let’s just call them that!) were quite challenging including mediating between who would push the cart, who would get to ride on front, and of course, what we agreed would go into the cart.
When they were young, we’d play a lot of fun games in the produce aisle like focusing on foods that were round, or red, or really funny shapes. But as they got older, shopping took on a more serious note. Although the number one goal had always been to choose foods that tasted good, my kids began to develop a greater understanding about why certain foods were also good for them.
Comparing food labels became a hands-on learning experience where our props were the foods that filled our fridge and pantry. As an example, if someone wanted a cereal that displayed a favorite TV character on the front, and if this product had way more sugar than our typical breakfast choices, then the deal was that they had to mix the sugary type equally with another that contained barely any added sugar. I learned early on that compliance comes more readily when compromise is served as a side dish!
Before you walk down another supermarket aisle with one or more of your kids in your hand or riding in or pushing your cart, why not get familiar with some of the terms you’ll see on food labels. Learning how to read and decipher Nutrition Facts Panels and ingredients lists can help both you and your kids understand sometimes tricky terms that might cost you and your kids time, money, and calories:
Light: It’s not always best to lighten up. An item claiming to be “light,” like light bread, must have one-third fewer calories, fat or sodium than the regular version of that same product. However, for certain products, the calories may not be impacted at all! For example, light olive oil has the same calories as the thickest, darkest, richest olive oil you could find. It is just lighter in color and flavor than the regular counterpart. One cup of either oil has around 2,000 calories, so although oil is a healthy fat, a cup that runneth over could bring more calories than you might have imagined. And while light soy sauce has 50 percent less sodium than the regular type, if you eat it like soup you’ll get a lot more sodium (around 500 milligrams sodium per tablespoon) than you and your kids bargained for.
Serving size: Sometimes you may wonder if one serving of food, reflected in the serving size listed on the label, is the right size. A serving that is well suited for an adult may be way too much for a child, especially a young one.When you look at the serving size on a food label, don’t forget to multiply each of the numbers listed on the Nutrition Facts Panel by the number of servings you actually consume to know how much of that food you’re actually planning to consume.
Sugar: By any other name, sugar tastes just as sweet. Especially on food labels, sugar is the master of disguise. And it isn’t always spelled s-u-g-a-r. To know where your sweetener is coming from, check the list of ingredients for words like corn syrup, cane juice, or anything ending in “ose” (like dextrose). If, for example, your child loves yogurt, it’s wise to steer away from highly sweetened varieties that can be more like candy in a container than a healthy dose of dairy. Opting for Greek yogurt, which is thicker in texture, provides less sugar (and double the protein) compared with other yogurts. Checking the ingredient list can also help you see where the sugar in the product comes from and whether it’s a result of added fruit or added sweeteners.
Zero. Did you know that zero may not be your hero? A product can contain up to 0.5 grams of fat per serving and still be called “fat-free.” This term doesn’t say anything about calories or sugar content; one muffin could be fat-free, but could contain 600 calories and be loaded with sugar. Similarly, manufacturers can brand any product with less than half a gram of trans-fat per serving with “0 grams trans fat.” When it comes to harmful trans-fat, scoot down to the ingredient list: if you see the product contains hydrogenated or partially-hydrogenated fats, put it down and have your kids choose something else.
Sugar-free. Although “sugar-free” items might have less than 0.5 grams of sugar per serving, that doesn’t mean such items are calorie- or fat-free. Eating too many “free” foods could be costly, especially if they take the place of more nutritious foods your kids need for growth.
How do you make healthier food choices for your family when food shopping?
Image of woman and children with shopping cart via Shutterstock.
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children, diet, eating, food, food labels, health, serving, sugar | Categories:
Diet, Meals, Must Read, Nutrition
Monday, September 29th, 2014
According to Brian Wansink, Ph.D., Director of the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab and author of the new book, Slim By Design: Mindless Eating Solutions For Everyday Life, slim-by-design homes start with the grocery store. He says, “What you buy determines what you eat at home.” But before you even set foot in a grocery store, Wansink says it’s vital to do a few things to set your home up to help you and your children easily eat better without even thinking about it.
For starters, Wansink urges families to take steps to make their kitchens less of a place to hang out for extended periods of time. That’s a smart idea, because if you think about it, the kitchen probably is the most popular hub in the home. And too much time in it can make it more likely you and your children eat more than you plan to or more than your bodies need. So for starters, Wansink suggests moving comfortable chairs and television sets out of the kitchen. “Removing some kitchen comforts helps people spend less time—18 minutes less, on average—in the kitchen. And they tend to snack less,” he says.
In Slim By Design, Wansink also recommends giving your kitchen a 15-minute makeover and to make healthier foods really convenient and the so-called junk foods that provide just a little more temptation than most of us need more difficult to find. He suggests the following six tips:
*Clear the counters of any food other than a bowl of fruit;
*Put the healthiest foods out front and center in your cupboards and pantry;
*Put cut fruits and vegetables in plastic bags on the eye-level shelf of your refrigerator—this encourages people to consume up to three times more produce than if they’re in a crisper drawer;
*Wrap indulgent leftovers in aluminum foil or put them in opaque containers— “Aluminum foil and opaque containers don’t stimulate cravings in anyone,” Wansink says;
*Have a separate, hard-to-reach snack cupboard with a child-proof lock to remind the whole family to think before they mindlessly reach for snacks, especially nutrient-poor ones—snacks can be in a more reachable location for younger kids, but they shouldn’t be so visible such as on a kitchen counter;
*Make it easier and more convenient to cook healthy food by keeping your countertop clear and cutting boards handy, having a well-stocked pantry filled with lots of basics, and having available a range of fresh ingredients.
Wansink also thinks it’s key to “fat-proof” your dinner using the following strategies:
*Using 9- to 10-inch dinner plates for adults, and smaller sized plates like salad plates for kids to match their smaller sizes;
*Pre-plating food from the store or from your countertop rather than serving food family style—According to Wansink, people eat on average 19% less when they serve themselves food right off the stove or off the countertop than from food in front of them at the table;
*Using tall or small glasses or half-filled sippy cups (for little kids) for any beverages that aren’t water;
*Using smaller bowls to serve food and tablespoons as serving spoons;
*Using the Half-Plate Rule—make half your plate fruits or vegetables (e.g. salad) and half whatever else you want to help you eat healthy food without feeling deprived.
Finally, Wansink also suggests never putting more than two foods on your plate at once. People who follow this strategy eat an average of 30% less than when they put more foods on their plate.
Slim By Design provides tons of practical and useful tips to help you and your family seamlessly improve your eating habits and make better food choices whether you’re at home, at the grocery store, at a restaurant, at work, or at school. And with his bestselling book, Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think, and more than 200 peer-reviewed journal articles to his credit, Wansink has really done his homework to help families everywhere eat better no matter where they are and even enlist the help of restaurants, grocery stores, and school to support their efforts.
To see whether your kitchen helps keep you slim or sabotages you, check out the Slim By DesignTM Starter Scorecard here. And for more information about the book and the movement, check out the Slim By DesignTM website.
How do you set up a healthy kitchen and home?
Image of Brian Wansink via Jason Koski, Cornell News Bureau.
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