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Monday, January 20th, 2014
It’s hard enough for parents to feed their children well and instill in them healthier eating habits both at home and when on the go. But while parents have plenty of control over the foods and beverages they bring into their homes to feed their families, it becomes more of a challenge to make sure children are fed well when they’re at daycare, at preschool, or with a nanny, a babysitter or even grandma.
Of course parents have to choose their battles when it comes to raising and feeding kids, especially as they get older and increasingly choose foods and portions on their own. But while kids are still young, it’s important for parents to help set the stage for healthier habits—not only because kids’ food preferences are still evolving, but because what and how much they eat impacts their growth, development and future health.
Because others may play a role in caring for—and feeding—children, it’s important that parents initiate a conversation so that everyone is on the same page to help kids meet, but not exceed, their needs and have a positive feeding experience. To help parents do just that, here are 8 tips from the wonderful Melissa Halas-Liang, MA, RDN, CDE, founder of SuperKids Nutrition and author of the Super Crew books Super Baby Abigail’s Lunch Time Adventure and Havoc at the Hillside Market.
Partner up. Try to establish a working partnership with your child’s daycare center or preschool. Make suggestions and offer to help implement them, whether that means volunteering occasionally at lunch or chipping in to equip the facility with the tools it needs. Instead of being critical of the facility, take a positive and proactive approach to help improve the way your child eats at his or her home away from home.
Empower them. A recent study out of Penn State University investigated the powerful effect of choice on preschoolers’ fruit and vegetable intake. Researchers found that allowing preschoolers at daycare to choose between three different types of fruits and vegetables at snack time, rather than only one type, led them to put more fruits and vegetables on their plate and subsequently eat more of them. You can encourage your child’s daycare center (or even your nanny or the grandparents watching your children) to empower kids during meal times by giving them a few healthy choices. For example, you can ask, “Would you like red peppers or carrots, apple slices or orange slices?” Doing so can result in a child eating more of the healthy option they chose than they might have otherwise. If you put the proper spin on it and explain to the daycare center or to someone watching your child that this strategy not only empowers kids but it decreases food waste and helps them avoid food struggles, they’re more likely to heed your advice and try out the strategy.
Let them play. When you’re at your child’s daycare facility or preschool, take a look at the play kitchen area and see if the fake food set includes lots of healthy foods. Some research shows that children are more open to trying foods that they see often in their environment. If your child regularly plays with plastic broccoli, they are more likely to try eating it at home!
Serve Fruits and Vegetables First. Ask to observe a mealtime. Once you have a good relationship with your child’s daycare center (or wherever or with whomever your child eats some meals), offer some suggestions. For example, encourage them to serve fruits and vegetables as an appetizer rather than with the main meal. One study found that kids who were served fruits and vegetables first, before receiving their entrée, consumed 25% more fruits and vegetables than those who received vegetables with their main meal. Though it may seem like a small difference, over time switching up the mealtime routine can be a quick, inexpensive, and effective way to improve children’s eating habits away from home. You can also encourage the daycare center to share with other parents any positive results they see as a result of implementing this strategy.
Encourage Whole Foods. If you have a parent snack rotation donation at your child’s daycare or preschool, why not buy something you’d want someone else to serve your child every day. Some research suggests that whole, unprocessed, unrefined foods provide your kids with the most nutrients and fiber to keep kids full and satisfied longer. For example, a sliced apple will satisfy a child longer than applesauce, which will satisfy longer than apple juice. Similarly, grapes are more satisfying than raisins, which are more satisfying than a fruit roll up. You can also send some of these foods with your child that he or she can choose from when being cared for by others.
Suggest snacks. Sometimes it can be difficult for daycare, preschool professionals and caregivers to come up with new snack ideas for the children. So why not approach them with a helpful list of healthy, satisfying snack ideas. Examples include mixed frozen fruit such as strawberries, blueberries, and mango; 100% whole grain crackers, ideally without added sugar; cheese sticks; vegetables arranged on a platter in the shape of a rainbow; or a dip station for fruits and vegetables with hummus or herbed yogurt dip for veggies and peanut butter or vanilla yogurt dip for fruit.
Make food fun. Offer to help out at the daycare center or preschool a few times a year by doing a food-based project. Kids are much more likely to eat well if you make eating well fun. For example, kids can plant their own seedlings and learn how to care for their plants. Herbs like rosemary or chives are easy to care for and perfect for young children. Alternatively, you can suggest that the kids go on a field trip to a garden to learn about the connection between nature, the food they eat, and their own growing bodies. Even reading children’s books on gardening can help pique children’s interest in fruits and vegetables. A fun food game is to compare the sounds different foods make when you make or eat them. Have children try crunching on carrots or listen to popcorn being air-popped. Kids can also get excited about other foods and cultures by having themed lunch days eg. offering Irish foods on St. Patrick’s Day, or serving Native American foods on Columbus day.
Let them cook (or create). For those times when your child is spending the day or several hours with grandma or another relative, why not suggest they cook a meal. You can choose a healthy recipe that you know your child will love and provide the recipe and ingredients to the caregiver. If cooking isn’t an option, the caregiver and child can draw a colorful healthy plate of food or some favorite foods. You can then laminate the masterpiece and keep it at the caregiver’s house to reinforce healthful eating habits the next time the child is there.
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Image of couple and children playing with toys via shutterstock.
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Friday, January 17th, 2014
If you asked me to describe my kids’ eating styles, I’d say this: my older son is sweet and my younger son salty. I say this because my 15 –year-old is like the Candy Man. He loves cookies, cake, candy, chocolate and everything sweet. My 11-year-old, however, is more of a chip lover. He will eat sweet things like vanilla ice cream (with nothing on it), vanilla cookies and ice cream sandwiches, but he’s the only child I know who doesn’t like candy. We’re not sure where he came from, because both my husband and I have a bit of sweet tooth, but I guess we should count our blessings, right?
As a registered dietitian nutritionist, I know too much sugar—especially in the diet of a growing child—can be a saboteur. Eating too many empty calorie, sugary treats can provide too many calories to the diet and contribute to unhealthy weight gain. It can also crowd out more healthful, nutrient-rich options (including fruit, nature’s candy) and contribute to inadequate nutrient intake to meet kids’ needs for growth and development. Let’s not even talk about the dental effects of too many sweet food and beverages—we all know they can take their toll on teeth and contribute to cavities, degraded tooth enamel and so much more.
The good news, according to a recent analysis by the NPD Group for USA Today, is that children seem to be making progress when it comes to curbing sugar intake. The report, based on daily eating diaries kept by 5,000 people living in 2,000 households nationwide, shows that children eat and drink fewer sugary sweets than they did 15 years ago. Specifically, the report shows that the typical child ate or drank the 20 most common sugary sweets an average 126 times fewer in 2012 than in 1998—that includes 62 fewer occasions of drinking carbonated soft drinks and 22 fewer times eating pre-sweetened cereals.
Despite the fact that kids are, in fact, consuming less added sugar, their average added sugar intake hovers around 16% of total calories according to national survey data. Current Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend no more than 5 to 15% of calories from added sugars and total fats combined—or roughly 120 to 260 calories for children who consume anywhere between 1,200 to 2,000 calories depending on their age, gender and other factors.
To help you help your kids curb their added sugar intake, here are 6 tips from registered dietitian nutritionist Margaret Wertheim, author of Breaking the Sugar Habit:
1. Help them have healthy drinking habits. Habits develop at a young age, so if you offer water, low fat milk and other nutrient-rich beverages instead of soda and other sweetened beverages at home or when they’re on the go, they’re more likely to enjoy such beverages when they’re older.
2. Offer satisfying snacks. It’s pretty much guaranteed that if sweet nutrient-poor snacks lurk in your cupboards, they will be eaten. Instead, stock your cupboards with healthy snacks like unsweetened dried fruit or fruit leathers, nuts, natural peanut butter, whole grain tortilla chips, whole grain crackers and whole grain, high fiber, low sugar cereal. Some satisfying snack options include apple slices or whole grain crackers with natural peanut butter, fruit with plain yogurt, vegetables with hummus, whole grain tortilla chips or crackers with hummus or guacamole or homemade trail mix made with nuts, whole grain cereal and unsweetened dried fruit.
3. Sweeten foods yourself. Look for yogurts, hot cereals and other foods in their lowest sugar form and sweeten them yourself. For example, you can add fresh or dried unsweetened dried fruit and/or honey or maple syrup to plain low fat or nonfat yogurt. Or add cinnamon and a touch of honey, maple syrup or brown sugar.
4. Make sweets special treats. Instead of offering children desserts like cookies, pies, cakes, and chocolate daily, save them as special occasional treats. Offer fresh fruit or unsweetened dried fruit, a fruit smoothie, or unsweetened applesauce as sweet after-school or after-dinner treats.
5. Slash the sugar when you make dessert. Make lower sugar desserts like homemade applesauce or apple or berry crisp, or homemade ice cream or sorbet using only a small amount of added sugar. Alternatively, offer kids dark chocolate with at least 70% cocoa content. (Higher cocoa content usually means there’s less sugar in the chocolate.)
6. Use small plates and bowls for desserts. A small amount of ice cream in a large bowl may feel less satisfying than the same amount served in a small bowl. When you offer dessert, offer a set portion (like a small bowl of ice cream or one cookie). Avoid letting kids eat desserts out of containers or packages, as this can make portions get out of control. Instead, encourage them to eat slowly and savor the portion they have.
How do you help your kids eat less sugar?
Need some fun ideas for the kitchen? Click here for our Food & Recipe Guides.
Image of a beautiful little girl holding a big colorful lollipop via shutterstock.
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Sunday, January 12th, 2014
Over the years, you’ve likely heard mixed messages about whether it’s worth it—financially, nutritionally or from an overall health standpoint—to choose organic over conventionally produced foods. As going organic has become a popular trend and big business—the Organic Trade Association (OTA) reports the US market for organic foods and beverages continues to grow and reached $29.22 billion in 2011—it’s likely parents often wonder if they should replace some or all of the conventionally-produced foods they usually buy with organic versions. If the answer were that simple!
While the health and environmental effects of organic and conventionally-produced foods will continue to be researched and debated among health experts, a recent report by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) suggests the following, as outlined in a press release:
- While organic and conventional foods have the same vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, proteins, lipids and other nutrients, organic foods also have lower pesticide levels, which may be significant for children (who are especially vulnerable to their effects);
- Organically raised animals are less likely to be contaminated with drug-resistant bacteria; that’s because organic farming rules prohibit non-therapeutic uses of antibiotics;
- Because no large human studies have been performed, we don’t yet know whether long-term consumption of an organic diet improves health or lowers disease risk.
According to the AAP report, the bottom line when it comes to kids’ overall diet is that they should aim for a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low fat or fat-free dairy products, whether organic or conventional. Dave Grotto*, RD, author of “The Best Things You Can Eat” agrees. He says, “I usually spend my time talking to parents about what foods are most important for kids to eat rather than how they were grown.” Grotto says that, in fact, most research on the health benefits of fruits, vegetables and whole grains used conventionally grown—rather than organic—produce and grains. When asked his advice to parents about buying organic versus conventional foods to feed their kids, Grotto says, “It’s a personal choice. Either way you go is great as long as your kids are fitting in nutrient-rich foods to meet their food group and nutrient needs.”
Another registered dietitian, Melinda Hemmelgarn, who consults with Organic Valley, a cooperative of organic family farmers based in LaFarge, WI, says that while she fed her now-grown children conventional food, thinking there was no difference, she would have invested in organic food if she knew then what she knows now. When asked why, Hemmelgarn says, “As a consumer, buying organic food is my best guarantee that the food I put on my family’s table will be free of genetically engineered ingredients (never tested for long term safety on humans or the environment), artificial hormones, antibiotics and significantly reduced pesticide residues.” Her extensive experience as member of two organic farming boards taught her that organic farming can protect children today and in the future by helping to preserve functioning antibiotics, protect soil and water quality, and reduce the impact of climate change.
When asked if any foods were more worth it than others to buy organic, especially for parents who have budget constraints, Hemmelgarn says it’s most important to choose organic options for foods higher up on the food chain like meat and milk—especially because kids tend to drink a lot of milk. “But fruits and vegetables matter too.”
When it comes to produce, registered dietitian Sally Kuzemchak* recommends following the advice of the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and to buy organic versions of fruits and vegetables that are on the EWG’s Dirty Dozen PlusTM list (produce that contains the most pesticides). Kuzemchak says, “Because kids’ bodies are much smaller than ours, chemical pesticides become more concentrated.” This list includes apples, celery, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, grapes, hot peppers, nectarines (imported), peaches, potatoes, spinach, strawberries, sweet bell peppers, kale/collard greens and summer squash. Kuzemchak also says parents can feel comfortable choosing produce from the EWG’s Clean 15TM list (produce that contains the least pesticides). This list includes asparagus, avocados, cabbage, cantaloupe, sweet corn, eggplant, grapefruit, kiwi, mangoes, mushrooms, onions, papayas, pineapples, sweet peas (frozen) and sweet potatoes.
Do you feed your kids organic food? Why or why not?
Image of organic food via shutterstock.
Disclosures: David Grotto is a current spokesperson for California Strawberries who represents both organic and conventional growers; Sally Kuzemchak is a current spokesperson for ALDI and serves on the Applegate Meat & Cheese Board; and I am a current spokesperson for Got Milk?.
Get healthy finger food recipes your tot will love, here.
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Diet, Health, Must Read, Nutrition
Monday, January 6th, 2014
We all know kids especially need to listen to their parents and eat their fruits and vegetables. But because many, just like their parents, skimp on fruit and vegetable intake, it’s critical to figure out ways to increase intake in nutrient-rich produce. The key is to do it in a way that doesn’t turn them off to these powerful foods or create drama, especially when enjoying family meals.
Fruits and vegetables pack in so many nutrients and potent plant chemicals that help kids grow and develop. Collectively, they’re a key source of fiber and potassium—a nutrient that many kids (and their parents) fall short on. Many produce options also contain vitamin C, a key antioxidant nutrient, as well as folate, magnesium, vitamin A and vitamin K.
Eating fruits and vegetables has been linked with so many vital benefits as well. A 2012 review in the European Journal of Nutrition found convincing evidence that increasing fruit and vegetable intake reduces the risk of hypertension, coronary heart disease and stroke and may even lower cancer risk. Because studies also suggest that produce intake in childhood can predict produce intake when they become adults, it’s even more essential for parents to help their kids meet their daily quota for fruits and vegetables while they’re still young.
In order to help kids get the 2 to 4 cups of produce they need daily as recommended in MyPlate (individual amounts needed depend on their age and calorie needs), it’s important to first figure out what drives kids to eat (or not eat) produce in the first place. Then it’s important to find ways to get it on the table and into their mouths.
To address the first question, a 2011 study published in International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity found the following variables are among those that play a role in kids’ fruit and vegetable intake: the perception that fruits and veggies aren’t as filling as fast food; how the produce looks, how it’s prepared and its quality; its appearance, taste and texture; influences of peers (for example, are their friends eating it, too); and whether it’s available at school and if they think they have enough time to eat it.
A recent study published in The Journal of Human Resources even found that offering kids monetary incentives—a nickel, a quarter or a raffle ticket for a larger prize—at school led to an 80% increase in children who ate a serving of fruits or vegetables at lunch. An added bonus: food waste was decreased by 33%. Whether using incentives like this at school or even at home is a good thing to do is certainly something up for debate among parents and health professionals. Nevertheless, the study provides some interesting food for thought on how to help kids work toward meeting their daily food group and nutrient goals, no?
To help kids seamlessly and enjoyably get more fruits and vegetables into their diets, registered dietitian nutritionists’ Lyssie Lakatos and Tammy Lakatos- Shames (aka The Nutrition Twins) recommend encouraging kids to help buy and prepare them. While they say parents should never make a big deal out of it if their kids won’t eat any or much produce (it can, after all, take up to 20 tries before kids will accept and enjoy a new food), they encourage them to keep trying and to emphasize to their kids what’s in it for them when they eat nutrient-rich foods. “Telling kids that healthy foods, like fruits and vegetables, will make them stronger and faster on the playground, or make their skin, hair and nails look better can definitely be tangible incentives for them to eat more produce,” says Lakatos-Shames.
When it comes to vegetables in particular—cup for cup, current guidelines recommend more vegetables than fruit, though they’re both important—the Nutrition Twins recommend a few strategies such as getting kids involved in the cooking process. They say it makes sense that kids become more invested in enjoying what they eat when they take part in the preparation, and I concur! Also, any parent knows that kids, especially younger ones, have a lot of fun when they get to help in the kitchen. The Nutrition Twins recommend letting them stir ingredients together, sprinkle cheese on top of vegetables before they go into the oven and to watch the cheese melt or the veggies brown as they cook in the oven.
The bottom line when it comes to helping kids eat more produce is to buy it and to offer it. It’s also important to eat and enjoy it in front of them. Preparing produce—especially vegetables—in attractive and tantalizing ways can also help. With that in mind, below you’ll find a recipe for delicious zucchini fritters from the beautiful and useful new book, The Nutrition Twins’ Veggie Cures.
Sunday mornings were all about our mom making fritters for the family, so for us they are a comfort food. However, no need to feel guilty indulging in these for breakfast, lunch–or dinner! These good-size fritters will warm your insides and give you a mood boost for just about 100 calories each.
Servings: 4 (two 4-inch fritters per serving)
2 cups coarsely grated zucchini
½ cup coarsely grated white onion
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 cup cornmeal
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon fresh cracked pepper
2 teaspoons canola oil, divided
Honey, maple syrup, or apple sauce for serving
Salt to taste (optional)
1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees.
2. Place the grated zucchini over 3 layers of paper towels in a thin layer. Let sit for at least 30 minutes to lose some excess moisture. (Make sure the grated onion sits as well, for at least 5 minutes before using, to activate its powerful phytonutrient compounds.)
3. After 30 minutes, change the paper towel for new sheets and squeeze the zucchini a little to lose more moisture.
4. In a bowl, whisk together the egg and parsley. Add the zucchini, onion, cornmeal, baking powder, and pepper. Stir well to combine. The batter will be thick and chunky. Let rest 10 minutes.
5. Add 1 teaspoon of oil to a large nonstick pan over medium heat. When the pan is hot, drop in a scant 1/3 cup of the batter, flattening into a 4-inch fritter. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes or until the top of the fritter looks slightly bubbly and dry. Turn and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes on the other side. Use the remaining teaspoon of oil as necessary to cook the remaining fritters.
6. Keep fritters warm at 200 degrees Fahrenheit in the oven until all are cooked. Serve with a little honey, maple syrup, or applesauce.
Per serving (without salt): calories 216, total fat 4g, saturated fat 1g, cholesterol 53mg, sodium 152mg, carbohydrates 39g, dietary fiber 4g, sugars 4g, protein 6g
Percent Daily Value: vitamin A: 10%, vitamin C: 36%, iron: 17%, calcium: 10%
For more tips to help you help your kids eat more fruits and vegetables, visit this previous Scoop on Food post; you can also visit Fruits & Veggies: More Matters.
Image of zucchini fritters via The Nutrition Twins.
Full disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of The Nutrition Twins’ Veggie Cure from the publisher. The recipe was adapted with permission from the publisher.
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Wednesday, December 25th, 2013
There has been a lot of chatter about chicken lately—and for good reason. How safe it is for consumption has recently been questioned, no doubt due to two recent outbreaks of food poisoning linked with chicken products produced at Foster Farms. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the outbreaks have left 416 people from 23 states and Puerto Rico ill. Although no deaths have been reported, 39% of those who fell ill have been hospitalized.
What makes these outbreaks of foodborne illness especially troubling is the fact that they derived from seven strains of Salmonella Heidelberg—bacterial strains resistant to several antibiotics commonly prescribed to treat such illnesses.
A new Consumer Reports analysis of 316 raw chicken breasts obtained from U.S. retailers last July reveals that while almost all the samples contained potentially harmful bacteria, about half carried bacteria that is resistant to three or more antibiotics. Another 11% of the samples harbored two types of bacteria resistant to multiple drugs.
Fortunately, just this month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) released a Salmonella Action Plan. The plan is designed to make meat and poultry products safer and includes modernizing the poultry slaughter inspection system and enhancing salmonella sampling and testing programs.
But in light of the recent outbreaks—and the FSIS response to them—a new report by The Pew Charitable Trusts questions the government’s ability to adequately regulate Salmonella and protect public health. According to the report, “The two recent outbreaks of Salmonella Heidelberg bring into sharp focus the ineffectiveness of the FSIS approach to minimizing Salmonella contamination in poultry products.” It also states, “The agency’s response to the evidence collected by the states, the CDC, and its own investigation efforts was inadequate to protect public health.” The report concludes with seven recommendations to the FSIS to improve the control of Salmonella in poultry and to strengthen its response to outbreaks caused by bacteria.
Also, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently announced new voluntary guidelines to phase down the non-medical use of antibiotics (such as to enhance animal growth) in livestock over three years. This came on the heels of a joint statement on antibiotics released by 25 national health organizations and the CDC that, among other things, called for “limiting the use of medically important human antibiotics in food animals” and “supporting the use of such antibiotics in animals only for those uses that are considered necessary for assuring animal health.” The FDA also urged the FSIS to set levels for how much bacteria poultry can have and to give its inspectors power to prevent sale of poultry meat that contains Salmonella bacteria that’s resistant to multiple antibiotics.
Chicken, the most popular meat in the U.S., is a source of high-quality protein and other vital nutrients such as selenium, niacin, vitamin B6 and phosphorus. If you and your children enjoy it and don’t want to give it up, you don’t have to! But it’s wise to consider following steps when purchasing, handling and cooking it to reduce the likelihood of getting sick from it:
Buyer be aware. Organic poultry a good bet. That’s because it comes from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones. When buying poultry products, look for the USDA organic seal— that indicates the product is certified organic and has 95 percent or more organic content. According to notinmyfood.org, labels that say “no antibiotics administered” and similar labels—especially if they’re accompanied by a “USDA process Verified” shield are also a good bet. And according to an article in the New York Times, there are even some so-called healthier chicken options to choose from. One example is Bell & Evans chicken that’s infused with oregano oil and cinnamon instead of antibiotics.
Handle with care. To minimize your risk of getting sick from poultry, assume every piece you handle is contaminated. I say this not to reinforce food-fear, but to remind you to practice safe food-handling practices. Keep raw chicken separated from other foods, and don’t use cutting boards or utensils used to handle raw chicken with other foods. Cook chicken until it reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit, and be sure to wash the thermometer in warm soapy water in-between temperature readings. For more information about handling and cooking chicken, check out the USDA FSIS’s Chicken from Farm to Table.
Mix it up. Any food can be a source of, or become contaminated with, potentially harmful bacteria or viruses. Varying what you eat and choosing different options from different food groups including grains, fruits and vegetables, dairy foods and lean protein foods is a wise move—not only because it helps you get an array of nutrients, but because it could limit exposure to any potentially harmful substances found in individual foods.
For more general home food safety tips, check out the Holiday Home Food Safety and Storage by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Plus: Our Roasting Guide will help ensure you don’t undercook your meat.
Image of chicken fillet and knife on kitchen board via shutterstock.com.
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