Posts Tagged ‘ nutrition ’

Why I’m Okay With Chocolate Milk

Tuesday, May 5th, 2015

There are few issues as hot-button as chocolate milk when it comes to school food. Kids love it. But some parents don’t—and those who don’t REALLY don’t. In fact, some have petitioned to have flavored milk removed from their children’s school completely.

As a parent (and a registered dietitian), I understand the concerns about flavored milk, namely the extra sugar it provides. But I just don’t think it deserves its bad reputation. Though I get fired up about birthday cupcakes in the classroom and candy valentines, I’m actually okay with chocolate milk in the lunch line. Here’s why:

1. The sugar content is greatly exaggerated. About half of the sugar in flavored milk is natural milk sugar. I cringe when I see people comparing a carton of chocolate milk (about three teaspoons of added sugar in a standard school milk carton) to a can of soda (almost 10 teaspoons of added sugar in a standard can) because it’s simply not accurate. And if we’re going to get outraged about the added sugar in chocolate milk, we should also get outraged about the added sugar in lunchbox staples like fruit snacks (2.5 teaspoons of added sugar), granola bars (2 teaspoons), and juice pouches (4 teaspoons)—but for some reason, those often get a pass as being “healthy”. (Ideally, kids should have no more than 5-8 teaspoons of added sugar per day.)

2. It’s loaded with nutrients kids need. Those comparisons between chocolate milk and soda? Hardly. While soda is a nearly void of nutrients (besides carbohydrates from sugar), a carton of flavored milk has all the same nutrients as white milk, including calcium, vitamin D, protein, and potassium.

3. There are bigger fish to fry. The lunch menu at my child’s school is dominated by chicken patties, hot dogs, and pizza that arrive at the school in plastic-covered trays. I would love to see fresher, healthier foods in schools—and I’d much rather have my child wash down a healthy whole-foods-based lunch with chocolate milk than eat a breaded chicken patty sandwich out of a plastic bag with a carton of white milk.

But balance is also important. So if your child’s school serves flavored milk, here’s my advice:

  • Talk to your kids about the sugar in flavored milk. Make sure they understand that foods and drinks with extra sugar should be a much smaller part of their diet than unsweetened foods—even if that sugar is in otherwise wholesome foods and drinks like milk. So if they’re choosing flavored milk in the lunch line, don’t pack a sweet treat in their lunchboxes.
  • Be sure your child has lots of access to water at school meals too. Pack a water bottle in their lunch bag or talk to the school about making water more available at lunchtime.
  • Stock white milk at home and limit other sweet drinks like juice, sports drinks, and punches. Sugar in beverages can add up quickly.

What’s YOUR opinion about chocolate milk in schools?

Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian, educator, and mom of two who blogs at Real Mom Nutrition. You can follow her on FacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. She is the author ofCooking Light Dinnertime Survival Guide, a cookbook for busy families. In her spare time, she loads and unloads the dishwasher. Then loads it again.

Valentine's Day Treats: Strawberry Milk
Valentine's Day Treats: Strawberry Milk
Valentine's Day Treats: Strawberry Milk

Image: Glass of chocolate milk via Shutterstock

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Got Dessert-Obsessed Kids? This Solution Sounds Crazy–But It Works!

Thursday, April 9th, 2015

Are your kids fixated on dessert? Do they rush through dinner to get it? Does it drive you bonkers? If so, what I’m about to suggest may change your life—but it may also sound a little nuts at first: Start serving dessert with dinner. Put it on the table, alongside the peas and the chicken and the rice. Don’t make a big deal about it. Let your kids eat it whenever they want. (Will they eat it first? Probably. And that’s okay.)

Serving dessert with dinner comes from the playbook of dietitian Ellyn Satter, an expert on feeding kids and author of Child Of Mine: Feeding With Love and Good Sense, among many other books about feeding. The idea is this: When dessert is taken down from its end-all-be-all pedestal—the grand finale of dinner, the good stuff you get after eating the yucky stuff—it becomes just another part of the meal. It loses its power, including as a bargaining tool (in other words, no more “two more bites of broccoli and you can have a cookie” negotiations!).

I’ll admit, I was a little nervous the first time I tried this several years ago. A neighbor had brought over frosted cupcakes, and as we sat down for dinner, those cupcakes were all my kids could talk about. So I decided to let everyone take a cupcake and put it on their dinner plates. What happened? My older son ate his first and continued on with dinner. My younger son took a bite, decided he didn’t like it, and ate his dinner.

This strategy also works well at parties and buffets, when sweets are often presented on the table along with the other foods. At a birthday party we attended, mini cupcakes were set on the buffet with the dinner foods. My kids each put a cupcake on their plates, ate it, then ate the rest of their food. Other parents spent a lot of time bargaining with their kids and insisting they had a certain number of bites of the dinner food before they could get a cupcake. Their kids were whining, the parents were aggravated (and I’m sure a few people were giving me the hairy eyeball for setting a bad example of eating cupcakes first). But ultimately, it was a much saner solution. My boys each had a cupcake, just like everyone else, but also ate other food too (and I wasn’t stuck at the kids’ table bickering with my children).

One caution with this approach: Make sure the portion of dessert isn’t so big that it wrecks their appetites. Give only one serving. For little kids, that might be one small cookie or a small scoop of ice cream. With my kids’ fresh haul of Easter candy, we’ve decided on two small pieces as a reasonable dessert, which they can have with their meal or after. It’s up to them.

Have you ever tried this approach? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian, educator, and mom of two who blogs at Real Mom Nutrition. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. She is the author of Cooking Light Dinnertime Survival Guide, a cookbook for busy families. In her spare time, she loads and unloads the dishwasher. Then loads it again.

Snow Cone Cupcakes
Snow Cone Cupcakes
Snow Cone Cupcakes

Image: Kid focused on cupcake via Shutterstock

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Healthy Food IS More Expensive. So Now What?

Tuesday, March 24th, 2015

Whenever I hear someone claim that healthy foods don’t cost more than unhealthy ones, I can only shake my head. And take a bite from the $1.50 organic honeycrisp apple that I accidentally bought at the farmer’s market. I don’t know about you, but the more I focus on buying fresh, minimally-processed foods, the more money I seem to spend.

Luckily there are people at Harvard to back me up. A 2013 study from Harvard School of Public Health found that eating a healthy diet (rich in fruits, vegetables, fish, and nuts) cost about $1.50 more per day per person than eating an unhealthy diet (the kind full of processed foods and refined grains). Sounds like pocket change, but that’s an extra $2,200 per year for a family of four.

Here’s what gets me: I spend a lot more on a pound of fresh fish than I would for a box of fish sticks. I could easily pay $1 for a single orange. Organic chicken is $2-3 more per pound than conventional. Whole wheat spaghetti is more expensive than white. And the dyed, sugary kids’ cereals seem to be the only ones that are ever on sale.

Maybe the problem isn’t that healthy food is expensive—but that hyper-processed, sugary, salty, additive-laden food is so cheap. And of course, eating a healthy diet could mean lower health care costs down the road, so maybe a healthy diet is a money-saver after all.

In the meantime, though, I’m focused on our bottom line. And since feeding my family healthy food is important to me, I’ve accepted that I have to pay more for certain foods. But I still need to keep spending in check. If you’re in the same boat, here are some ways to do that:

  • Try not to get overwhelmed. I work hard to quiet the swirling worries in my head as I shop (is this organic? GMO-free? dye-free? local? fair trade? sustainable?) because it’s enough to make me crazy. Instead, I focus on the big picture: Am I buying lots of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains? Do fresh foods outnumber packaged? Read more about how I stopped stressing out about grocery shopping here.
  • Pick and choose where you spend your organic dollars. I simply don’t have the budget to buy all organic. So I compare prices for organic and conventional fruits and vegetables, especially the ones that tend to have higher pesticide residues (see the Environmental Working Group’s lists here). I tend to go organic on spinach, lettuce, and berries when I can. I go conventional on fruits that have a thick rind I’ll be discarding, like cantaloupe, pineapple, and watermelon.
  • Prioritize. Buying local or organic meat, milk, and eggs is important to me. I have concerns about usage of hormones and antibiotics, as well as humane treatment of animals. But since organic and local are more expensive, I have a bunch of items that I DON’T prioritize, like spices, baking staples, and grains like pasta and rice, so I buy all of those at a discount grocery store. Everyone’s priorities are different, and that’s okay. The point is to decide what your priorities are, put your focus there, then find ways to save on the other stuff.
  • Meal plan. This is by far the biggest way I stay on budget. I make my meal plan at the beginning of the week as I’m making my grocery list. My ultimate goal: No repeat trips back to the store. (Because how many times have I run in for “just an onion” and come out with $50 worth of groceries? Too many.) For a free, one-page meal planning worksheet that includes space for a shopping list and a week’s worth of dinners, go here.

How to YOU save money on healthy foods?

Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian, educator, and mom of two who blogs at Real Mom Nutrition. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. She is the author of Cooking Light Dinnertime Survival Guide, a cookbook for busy families. In her spare time, she loads and unloads the dishwasher. Then loads it again.

How to Buy Baby Food on a Budget
How to Buy Baby Food on a Budget
How to Buy Baby Food on a Budget

Image: Grocery shopping via Shutterstock

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Why I Don’t Make My Kids Take “Just One Bite”

Tuesday, March 17th, 2015

When we only had one child, we had the “one bite rule” at mealtime: You had to try at least one bite of new foods. At the time, we called it the “No Thank You Bite,” and it worked well. My son, an easygoing kid with that first-born drive to follow rules and stay in line, complied. Sometimes he even took two or three bites to decide if he liked something. We thought we had it all figured out.

Then along came son #2, who was stubborn and contrarian and didn’t like to be told what to do, especially at mealtime. A request to take a bite of new foods was met with anger and tears and enough negative energy to suck all enjoyment out of family mealtime. Not only would he not take a bite of new foods, he also wouldn’t eat the familiar foods either. You know, just to spite us.

I learned a few important things from this: First, if you think your parenting is brilliant because your first-born excels at sleeping/eating/behaving/potty training, your second child will come along to prove that you actually know nothing. Second, as food sociologist Dr. Dina Rose pointed out to me, the “No Thank You Bite” actually implies that your child won’t like the food and won’t possibly want a second bite (duh, why hadn’t I thought of that?). And lastly, the “one bite rule” can work—for some kids.

The logic behind the rule makes sense. It encourages kids to taste foods instead of rejecting them outright—and if they don’t like it, there’s no pressure to eat a bunch of it (or secretly feed it to the dog under the table). It can open kids up to discovering new favorites and expanding horizons. But temperament plays an important role too. If your child sees this rule as a threat to her independence, it may create a negative association with that particular food and with trying new foods in general.

So I scrapped the “one bite rule” at our table. I still casually say “Why don’t you try it?” when serving a new food. My older son usually will. My younger son usually won’t because, as is his personality, things have to be on his own terms. That’s okay. I keep offering different foods and striving for a positive, pressure-free vibe at the dinner table. And sometimes we play games that secretly advance the cause. When my younger son was a toddler and preschooler, we turned the bite rule on its head and teased him with the very earnest plea, “Oh no, don’t you dare eat that!” which made him giggle—and then take a bite (read more about it here). These days, I sometimes enlist them as “recipe reviewers,” asking them to rate recipes on a scale of 1-5 for taste, appearance, and aroma. And I take their feedback to heart: If a recipe gets a low rating on appearance, for instance, I might try serving it in a different way next time.

If you like the concept of the “one bite rule,” a fun re-branding might encourage your kids too. Check out Aviva Goldfarb’s list of ten alternatives to the “No Thank You Bite,” including the “Adventure Bite” and “Touch It With Your Tongue”.

Do you have the “one bite rule” at your table? Does it work well with your kids?

Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian, educator, and mom of two who blogs at Real Mom Nutrition. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. She is the author of Cooking Light Dinnertime Survival Guide, a cookbook for busy families. In her spare time, she loads and unloads the dishwasher. Then loads it again.

Manners & Responsibility: Teaching Table Manners
Manners & Responsibility: Teaching Table Manners
Manners & Responsibility: Teaching Table Manners

Image: Young girl eating via Shutterstock

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Nestle Dumps Artificial Food Dyes. Should You?

Thursday, February 26th, 2015

Can you guess which M&Ms have natural food colors?One of America’s iconic candy bars is getting a dramatic makeover, and it’s attracting a lot of attention. The Butterfinger is being reformulated and losing its artificial flavor plus the synthetic food dyes that gave its crunchy filling its signature hue. Nestle made the announcement last week, promising to rid its entire line of chocolate candies (more than 250 products) of artificial flavors and synthetic food dyes like Yellow 5 and Red 40 by the end of the year—and vowing that any newly-launched candies, including non-chocolate treats like gummies, will be free of them too.

The reason for the switch? Consumer demand. Food companies want to keep pace with what consumers want—and consumers want fewer food additives, especially synthetic food dyes.

Myself included. Like a lot of people, I’ve made an effort to shop simpler in the last several years, looking for shorter ingredient lists and fewer additives. I started noticing that artificial dyes were in some crazy places, like brown cereal and vanilla cake frosting and white marshmallows. Even pickles typically have synthetic food dyes added to them!

Then I spent months researching the topic of synthetic food dyes for Parents (read: The Food Dye Blues). I spoke with scientists, pediatricians, members of the food industry, and parents. I learned that there’s a growing body of evidence that these dyes may have negative effects on some children’s behavior, including inattention and hyperactivity. I talked to parents who saw a big change in their children’s behavior after removing dyes completely (and some parents who didn’t see a difference). I also learned that synthetic food dyes do nothing for our foods and drinks except add color–and that natural colors (such as beet juice) can mimc the same shades. In fact, natural colors are successfully used overseas in some products that are still colored with synthetic dyes here in the U.S. (The M&Ms made with mostly natural colors, the kind sold in Europe, are on the right in the photo.)

The European Union actually requires products that use synthetic dyes to carry a warning label about the possible adverse effects on children’s behavior. We don’t have the same rules here because the FDA says there’s enough evidence to support it. But moves like Nestle’s send a pretty clear message: Consumers want more products without dyes, and companies are ready to deliver.

Yoplait already swapped out dyes from their kids’ yogurts for natural colors. Kraft did the same for some of their macaroni-n-cheese products. Other companies and brands can’t be far behind. And that trend can only mean good things, namely fewer unncessary additives in the food supply. If synthetic food dyes do in fact negatively impact some children, phasing them out could help a whole lot of kids.

So should you go out of your way to avoid food dyes? To me, if a food ingredient isn’t necessary, if there’s a possibility it could have a negative impact on my kids, and if there are easy alternatives available, it makes sense to skip it. So I don’t buy products that contain them. But I also don’t stress about a blue-dyed cupcake at a friend’s birthday or some orange punch at a picnic (though if I thought my kids were dye-sensitive, I would!). A lot of brightly-dyed foods are nutritional lightweights anyway (think fruit punch, sugary cereal, and day-glo snack chips) so eating fewer artificially-colorful foods usually means eating less junk overall anyway.

I’ve love to hear from you. Do YOU avoid synthetic food dyes?

Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian, educator, and mom of two who blogs at Real Mom Nutrition. She is the author of Cooking Light Dinnertime Survival Guide, a cookbook for busy families. In her spare time, she loads and unloads the dishwasher. Then loads it again. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram.

Nutrition Labels: 3 Things To Avoid
Nutrition Labels: 3 Things To Avoid
Nutrition Labels: 3 Things To Avoid

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