Posts Tagged ‘ food ’

Making Sense of (Sometimes Tricky) Terms on Food Labels

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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5 Tips to Celebrate Food Day

Tuesday, October 21st, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Healthier Sports Snacks: 4 Tips for Parents

Monday, October 13th, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image of orange fruit slice via shutterstock.


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Creating a Slim-By-Design Kitchen

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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Are Eating Habits Set in Infancy?

Sunday, September 21st, 2014

Are kids’ diet habits set in infancy, as a recent New York Times article suggests? According to the article, the findings of several new studies published in Pediatrics suggest that, “Efforts to improve what children eat should begin before they even learn to walk.”

In one study, researchers looked at the association between bottle-feeding practices during infancy with maternal feeding style and children’s eating behavior at six years old. They found that bottle-feeding practices during infancy may have long-term effects on both maternal feeding style and children’s eating behavior at age six. Frequent bottle emptying encouraged by mothers during early infancy increased the likelihood they’d pressure their six-year-old child to eat enough and eat all the food on their plate. Also, high bottle feeding intensity during early infancy increased the likelihood mothers would be especially careful to ensure their six-year-olds eat enough. Based on the findings, lead researcher Ruowei Li, MD, PhD suggests breastfeeding as the first feeding choice for infants. She adds, “When feeding at the breast is not feasible, supplementing breastfeeding with expressed breastmilk is a good alternative, but special attention is needed for infants’ internal feeding cues while bottle-feeding.”

Another study found that infrequent intake of fruits and vegetables during late infancy is associated with infrequent intake of these foods at six years of age. The researchers concluded that it’s important for parents to find ways to encourage their infants to eat fruits and vegetables despite perceived barriers to produce intake.

Two other studies, also published in Pediatrics, unsurprisingly found some perils associated with sugar-sweetened beverage (SSB) intake. In the first study, infants who drank any amount of SSBs were two times more likely to drink them at least once daily at age six. Based on their findings, the researchers point out the importance of establishing healthy beverage practices in infancy.

In the second study, 10- to 12-month-olds who drank SSBs more than three times a week were twice as likely to be obese at age six than those who consumed none as infants. The researchers concluded that SSB consumption during infancy can be a risk factor for obesity in early childhood.

We all do our best as parents to raise and nurture our kids, which includes trying to feed them well, and help them meet their basic nutrient needs. I know I felt empowered when my sons who were breastfed would grow at each and every visit to the pediatrician. It made me feel great to know that my milk alone, at least for several months when they were exclusively breastfed, fed them. But as kids grow, like everything else feeding gets a little more complicated. Transitioning from breast milk or formula to “real food” can be a real challenge for many.

Also, since food is love in many cultures, learning how to feed your growing infants and toddlers enough, but not too much, to meet their needs can be easier said than done. This makes it even more important that parents learn and respect their children’s mealtime cues e.g. that they’re hungry or that they’ve had enough. I always say that if your kids’ trips to the pediatrician show they’re growing at a rate that’s consistent for him or her, it’s likely they’re at least meeting their calorie needs. If they’re moving too much in one direction or another on growth charts, that’s when it’s important to really consider dietary tweaks. In such cases, working even a few times with a registered dietitian nutritionist can help parents not only know what and how much their child needs but how to help them meet those needs without food fights.

As infants grow into toddlers and then full-fledged school-age children and become exposed to more and more nutrient-poor options whether at school or when on-the-go, things get even more complicated and challenging. But as the Pediatrics studies illustrate, it’s vital for parents to simply try to feed their children well starting in infancy. We can do this by exposing them to a wide variety of nutrient-rich foods such as fruits and vegetables (pureed or mashed), by eating with/in front of them, and by making mealtimes calm and pleasant.

While it’s ideal to start kids off on a nutritious path when they’re very young by offering to them a variety of nutrient-rich foods and to limit their exposure to empty-calorie, nutrient-poor foods and fast food, even when kids are older it’s never too late for parents to make some changes in the home and when on the go or at a restaurant to help the whole family move in a more healthful direction. Food preferences can still change and develop as children grow, and just because your child doesn’t like or accept a particular food at a young age doesn’t mean he or she won’t at age 12 or beyond. The key is to repeatedly expose children to a wide variety of foods and to keep discussions about eating and food positive and encouraging so that they feel enticed rather than pressured to eat well.

It’s also helpful to present foods in different and appealing ways, and to involve kids, even when they’re older, in shopping for, preparing, and cooking food. That can help them develop a love and appreciation for quality foods and healthy eating practices and help them develop skills that they can bring with them as they grow.

Keeping more of the foods and beverages you want your children to consume more of around the house and limiting their exposure at home to items like SSBs and other empty-calorie foods and beverages can also encourage healthier habits. Enjoying family meals can also help infants and all family members feel more connected to one another and even can enhance nutrient intake, protect against obesity, and have other health benefits.

Even if eating habits are at least in part set in infancy, that’s no reason for us parents to not at least try to improve what and how we offer foods and beverages to our children. Habits can be enhanced and tweaked at any age, and if we make more nutritious choices for ourselves in front of our children, and show them through our example the joys of eating moderately and mindfully, it’s likely that over time our children will internalize that. And hopefully, that will also encourage them to follow suit.

You can check out new nutrition guidance for 2- to 11-year-olds in a previous Scoop on Food post here.

How do you help your infants eat well and develop more healthful food and nutrition habits?

Image of girl eating watermelon via shutterstock.

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