Posts Tagged ‘ health ’

5 Advantages of Having a Picky Eater

Sunday, November 2nd, 2014

Think you’re raising a so-called picky eater? If the answer is yes (and if picky eating frustrates you) this guest post by Maryann Jacobsen, a registered dietitian, blogger and author of the new e-book, From Picky to Powerful: Transform Your Outlook on Picky Eating and End Food Battles Forever!, can help you out.

Have you ever noticed that books, articles and well-meaning friends and family seem to be on a crusade to fix picky eating? We know the advice all too well. Have them take a bite, serve one meal and get kids growing and cooking their own food. And there’s always the if-you-don’t-get-them-to-do-it-now-they-never-will sentiment as well.

As a result of this crusade, parents are left in a tough spot. They feel guilty when their actions don’t result in a child who eats willingly, and they often give up or feel like they are doing something wrong.

But what if I told you there are real advantages to having a picky kid? What if all those crusaders are, well, maybe a little off base?

Here are 5 advantages to having a child who is slow to warm up to food:

1. Food regulation: Excess weight, one of the biggest health issues of our time, stems from trouble regulating food intake, such as the inability to stop when full, etc. Normally developing picky kids (different from problematic picky eating I discuss here) tend to have low appetites, because their growth slows considerably after the first two years of life.

When you think about the health challenges your child is likely to face in the next 20 years, eating small amounts at dinner doesn’t seem so bad. I know from experience that parents who have kids who eat anything also have children with big appetites, causing them another type of worry. While that doesn’t have to be a bad situation either, it makes sense to look on the bright side of a child who doesn’t need a lot of food to be satisfied.

2. Discerning palate: Kids who are more cautious with food are often overwhelmed by different tastes and textures. We know this is why vegetables tend to be disliked–they are bitter. In fact, one study showed that 70% of preschool children are considered “tasters” of bitter compounds, also called 6-n-propothiouricil (PROP).

But this taste sensitivity mellows out over time and can turn into quite an asset. Having a discerning palate is helpful to chefs who refine recipes based on tastings. As long as parents keep serving a variety of wholesome food, picky kids can come to appreciate quality, the delicate balance of flavors and may even take an interest in cooking.

3. They challenge our cooking skills: Before I had kids, I cooked a handful of meals, but after having kids I can’t even count how many meals I’ve experimented with (and I’ve had more failures than I care to admit). I have attempted at least 5 different versions of macaroni and cheese. I have mastered easy meals in the slow cooker. I have discovered the beauty of roasting veggies which are great for kids because they are crunchy and less bitter. And I even came up with what I consider the best homemade chicken tender recipe.

Whether meals stick or not, cooking for choosey kids has enhanced my cooking for the better. But if my kids ate everything, I probably would still be in my rut.

4. They teach life lessons: Where do I start on the life lessons of dealing with picky eaters?  I’ve learned patience, how to put my own agenda aside and how to trust my kids instead of fight them. I simply cannot control what they eat or prefer but I can control the circumstances that help them eat well—meals, structure and how pleasant (or not) meals are.

But most importantly, I’m reminded of the small step-nature of lasting change and learning. There are no magic tricks to get kids to eat just like there are no quick fixes to obtaining good health. Kids are learning about food the same way they learn to read or write. We need to trust that they will get there in their own time and in their own way. Anything worthwhile is an investment and I am in this for the long haul.

5. Picky-ness is part of your child: My five-year-old son is very cautious and a late bloomer with everything, including food. I wouldn’t try to change this aspect of his personality because it is part of who he is. And I love him dearly.

Now that doesn’t mean I’ve given up. I just have accepted that his food acceptance will be slow and steady. And when you think about it, being extra cautious isn’t such a bad quality to have.

It’s time to start a whole new conversation about picky eating. Underneath the refusals and food requests, kids really do want to learn and grow with food. The advantages of having a picky kid are real, if you take the time to look at it—and your child—in a completely different light.

For additional tips to help feed ‘picky eaters’ over the holidays, check out a previous Scoop on Food post here.

Image of a young boy is making a funny disgusting face at a fork with a healthy piece of broccoli via shutterstock.

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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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How to Help Kids Have Healthy Bones

Monday, October 6th, 2014

You may not think much about your kids’ bones, but it’s important to. A new report by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), published in Pediatrics suggests that a few simple steps taken during childhood (both literal and figurative) can make all the difference in the world when it comes to your kids having healthy bones when they’re grown.

To prevent the risk of brittle bones and osteoporosis, the AAP report encourages kids to start with their diets. It recommends that kids routinely consume adequate amounts of calcium and vitamin D from milk and other foods (including fortified ones). It also recommends that kids engage in regular exercise—something not only great for their bones, but for their bodies and minds. And when it comes to strengthening bones, simply playing and incorporating weight-bearing activities like walking, dancing and running are especially effective. And they’re so easy for kids to incoporate, even in short bursts, throughout each day.

According to the Institute of Medicine’s (IOM) Dietary Reference Intakes, daily calcium (expressed in milligrams) and vitamin D (expressed in International Units) recommendations are as follows:

*Infants up to six months of age: 200 mg calcium; 400 IU vitamin D.

*Infants six- to 12-months of age: 260 mg calcium; 400 IU vitamin D.

*One- to three-year-olds: 700 mg calcium; 600 IU vitamin D.

*Four- to eight-year-olds: 1,000 mg calcium; 600 IU vitamin D.

*Nine- to 18-year-olds: 1,300 mg calcium; 600 IU vitamin D.

Some calcium-rich foods kids can enjoy include:

*low-fat or nonfat yogurt (~300 to 400 mg per 8-ounce cup)

*low-fat or nonfat milk (~300 mg per 8-ounce cup)

*cheese—Swiss, cheddar, muenster etc. (~200 mg per ounce)

*fortified ready-to-eat cereal—preferably whole grain, low sugar, high fiber varieties (check labels since amounts vary)

*calcium-fortified soy beverage (~350 mg per cup)

*oatmeal, plain, instant—preferably with no sugar added (~100 mg per packet)

*tofu, firm (~250 mg per half cup)

Fish, beans, and greens (like spinach) also provide calcium. Here’s a more complete list of calcium-rich foods and the amounts each provides from Harvard University Health Services.

Although kids can get some vitamin D from the sun, it’s wise to seek this nutrient, vital for the absorption of calcium, from food sources. Eating vitamin D-rich foods not only helps them keep their bones strong, but it protects their skin from overexposure that can lead to sunburn.

Here are some foods rich in vitamin D that kids can enjoy:

*salmon, cooked (360 IU per 3.5 ounces)

*tuna fish, canned in oil (200 IU per 3 ounces)

*low-fat or nonfat milk (~100 per 8-ounce cup)

Fortified ready-to-eat cereal, eggs, and Swiss cheese also contain some vitamin D.

If your child follows current dietary guidelines—though let’s face it, most don’t—he or she should be able to meet current calcium and vitamin D intake recommendations. But if your child follows a diet that excludes or minimizes foods like milk, yogurt, or fish, or if he or she doesn’t have a varied diet that includes green vegetables, beans or other calcium-rich plant foods, be sure to consult with a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) for ideas to get more of these vital nutrients into meals and snacks. An RDN and a pediatrician can also help you figure out if your child needs or would benefit from supplementation of either calcium or vitamin D. Although it’s prudent to follow IOM current recommended intakes for calcium and vitamin D, many experts believe more vitamin D (mainly through supplementation) would be beneficial for kids. But again, speak with your dietitian or a pediatrician to discuss what’s best for your child in the context of his or her diet and nutrition status.

Although the AAP does not recommend routine calcium supplementation for healthy children and adolescents, it does support testing children for vitamin D deficiency if they have conditions associated with increased bone fragility.

It’s key when kids are young to help them set the stage for optimal health in adulthood. Helping them keep their bones strong with three key strategies—eating enough calcium-rich foods, meeting vitamin D needs, and exercising—can go a long way in helping them ward off brittle bones and osteoporosis (not to mention the mental and physical debilitation they contribute to) down the road.

How do you help your kids achieve and maintain strong bones?

Image of cute little girl and boy are drinking milk using straw via shutterstock.

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