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Monday, February 2nd, 2015
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), a new study published in the journal Pediatrics finds that many commercial toddler meals and foods sold in the U.S. are high in sodium and sugar.
In the study, researchers looked at the amounts of sodium and sugar in 1,074 infant and toddler dinners, snacks, fruits, vegetables, dry cereals, juices and desserts. They found:
- Out of 79 infant mixed grains and fruits, 41 contained at least one added sugar and 35 contained more than one third of their calories from sugar;
- Seventy-two percent of toddler dinners were high in sodium (> 210 milligrams per meal);
- On average, dry fruit-based snacks contained 60 grams of sugar and two thirds of their calories from total sugars –the most common added sugars included fruit juice concentrate, sugar, cane, syrup, and malt.
Cooking at home and preparing mainly fresh foods with little or no added sugar or sodium is a great way to help your infants and toddlers get started on a nutritious and balanced eating path. But it’s unrealistic to assume that parents won’t turn to foods and beverages that come in packages, cans, jars and containers at least some of the time—after all, they’re convenient and can save parents precious time when preparing meals.
To help you seamlessly lower sodium and sugar in your infants’ and toddlers’ diets while boosting nutrients, here are six tips from two top registered dietitian nutritionists, Jill Castle, and Bridget Swinney.
Get ‘em to the table. According to childhood nutrition expert Jill Castle, “One of the easiest ways to avoid too many packaged and processed foods is to get babies and young toddlers to the family table early on and to feed them more natural, wholesome, homemade foods.” Castle says that by one year of age, most toddlers can eat what the family eats as long as their food is chopped up (to the size of small dice). Low sugar, low sodium options include tender meat or cooked fish, baked potato (mashed with milk or water to smooth it out) or soft cooked noodles, soft cooked vegetables, or fruit canned in natural juices.
Make it at home. Bridget Swinney, author of Baby Bites and Healthy Food for Healthy Kids, says there are so many quick and easy homemade baby foods you can make without added sugar or salt. Some of her favorites include mashed banana, mashed avocado, and mashed apple (peel the apple simmer or steam in microwave, then mash) as well as boiled, baked or roasted carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower or any other vegetable you can easily mash with your fork.
Learn limits for sodium: When purchasing packaged food items, Castle says it’s important to know how to interpret the Nutrition Facts Panel to make sure sodium levels are low—especially since there is no standard for sodium Daily Values (DV) for children under four years. According to Castle, “Since the DV is based on a 2,000 calorie adult diet, infant and toddler foods that provide two or three percent or less DV per serving is a more appropriate (low) level of sodium for a toddler.” She also says that some foods designed for infants and toddlers may not list the sodium content, while common “kid” foods like macaroni and cheese, will. Swinney also recommends no more than 300 milligrams per serving for a meal and 150 milligrams per serving for a snack. She also says that while there’s no need to worry about sodium when serving fresh, homemade food, it’s wise to watch how much you add.
Offer smart snacks. According to Swinney, “Fresh and unsweetened fruits and vegetables, yogurt and boiled eggs make the easiest and healthiest snacks for little ones.” She also recommends adding your own soft fruit (pureed or chopped, depending on your child’s age) to plain Greek yogurt. Swinney also says that although small fruit cups packed in their own juice are convenient, so is a banana, grapes cut in half, and mandarin orange sections. She also recommends steaming chopped vegetables ahead of time to have on hand to pair with items like hummus or a yogurt dip for easy toddler-friendly snacks.
Blend and serve. “There’s no need to drag the food processor out when wanting to share your own dinner with baby. Simply take your portion out and season separately and then use an immersion blender or fork-mash to get to the right consistency for baby, right in the pan.”
Don’t forget iron and zinc: According to Castle, it’s essential to help babies six months and older get good food sources of iron, a mineral that’s critical for brain development and that babies six months and older need more of, and zinc, a mineral involved in many normal body functions and essential for normal growth. Castle suggests that parents slow cook lean beef or skinless, dark meat chicken or turkey (legs or thighs) with 1/2 to 3/4 cup of water or low sodium broth and puree in a blender, offering it as a stand-alone pureed entrée or using one tablespoon of pureed meat with jarred pureed fruit or veggies.
Click here to learn how to transition your baby from pureed to solid foods, and click here for new nutrition guidelines for 2- to 12-year-olds.
How do you limit sugar and sodium in your child’s meals?
Image of children eating healthy food via shutterstock.
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Health, Meals, Must Read, Nutrition, Snacking, The Scoop on Food
Sunday, January 25th, 2015
According to a recent article in the Atlantic, the U.S. pizza industry serves about 100 acres of pizza daily. That’s enough pizza to fill about 77 football fields.
Of course the popularity of pizza among grownups and kids alike is no surprise. Not only does the concoction of dough, sauce, and cheese taste great, but it’s such an easily accessible food—something we can easily grab and go with (no utensils required). And as any parent or child knows, pizza is probably the most popular staple at kids’ birthday parties and other celebrations at school or otherwise.
Despite its popularity, some researchers believe that pizza is something that should be limited in kids’ diets. According to a new study in Pediatrics, national survey data revealed that although total calorie intake from pizza has declined 25 percent from 2003-2004 to 2009-2010, on days kids ate pizza they also consumed more calories, saturated fat, and sodium that they did than on days they didn’t down the doughy delight. The study also found that on pizza-eating days, children 2- to 11-years old consumed an extra 84 calories, 3 grams of saturated fat, and 134 milligrams of sodium than they did on non-pizza-eating days.
Researchers also found that having pizza as a snack or consuming pizza purchased at fast-food restaurants had the greatest impact on total calorie intake.
Because of the possible adverse dietary effects of pizza intake, the researchers recommend curbing pizza intake and improving the nutrition content of the beloved dietary staple.
I love pizza as much as the next parent and give it to my kids, usually once or twice weekly. In my opinion, the key to consuming pizza is to keep an eye on portion size. Less is more, and pairing a fast-food pizza slice with a colorful salad (with a tablespoon or two of an oil-based dressing), steamed or lightly sautéed vegetables (on the side or on top), or a reduced- or low-sodium soup are great ways to limit any possible perils associated with pizza intake and to help kids increase their intake of fruits and vegetables.
Blotting pizza is also a good way to make it less oily—it may even save some calories without taking away from the nutritional value of the meal. And instead of eating pizza by folding it in half, slicing it into two halves or cutting it into small bites and eating it with a fork also can help kids eat more slowly and mindfully and pace themselves better at their meal.
Limiting intake of pizza you order or take out from anywhere—a restaurant, a movie theater, a ballpark—and making it a once- or twice-a-week or once-in-a-while treat probably not a bad idea to help kids eat less and better. Making it more often at home can also help you have more control over portion sizes. Using more nutritious ingredients e.g. whole grain dough, low- or no-sodium sauces, and lower fat cheeses and having your kids help make the pizza can also help your kids not only eat better but have fun with you in the kitchen.
Perfect pizza toppers
According to culinary nutritionist Rachel Begun, MS, RDN, “Roasting vegetables brings out their sweetness, which kids particularly like.” Some of her favorite “sweet” toppings include roasted garlic and peppers, roasted squash or sweet potatoes (with sautéed spinach). She also recommends tasty herbal combinations to top pizza including pesto sauce with roasted tomatoes, or a bruschetta sauce made with tomatoes, onions and herbs, like cilantro or basil. And for kids who want the meaty, salty, crunch of bacon bits atop their pizza, Begun recommends this alternative which tastes remarkably similar: Thinly slice cremini or shiitake mushrooms, coat with olive oil, soy sauce and sweet smoked paprika, and bake at 375 degrees Fahrenheit until the mushrooms are browned and have shrunk. Let them cool for a few minutes until they are nice and crispy. Add them to your pizza in the last few minutes of cooking.
“I love to top pizza Roman style—with eggs,” says culinary dietitian and cookbook author Jackie Newgent. For simplicity, she suggests frying them separately in a little grapeseed oil and then adding on top of cooked pizza. She also likes to top prepared pizza with Haas avocado cubes, a squirt of lemon juice, and an optional sprinkling of organic bacon bits. And when it comes to white pizza—the kind made without red sauce—Newgent suggests black sesame seeds as a topper. “They act as “confetti” on pizza and give it extra crunch,” she says. An added bonus: kids can have fun shaking the seeds on. According to Newgent, a little bit of orange zest (grated orange peel) also works great as a flavor accent on white pizza. “Think of it like you might sprinkle on parmesan cheese, but it’s fresher and fruiter,” she adds.
Cookbook author and culinary instructor Robyn Webb also recommends the following combinations to give a spin to pizza: caramelized onions (in the smallest amount of olive oil) with walnuts (see photo); arugula with chopped tomatoes and parmesan shards; or roasted red, yellow and orange peppers with fresh thyme.
How often do you eat pizza with your kids, and what are your favorite toppers?
Image of caramelized onion and walnut pizza via Robyn Webb.
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Diet, Health, Meals, Must Read, Nutrition
Sunday, December 28th, 2014
Since 2015 is here, I thought I’d put together a list of some great ideas to help you help your kids eat better during the upcoming year.
Don’t worry—I’m not suggesting any kind of complete dietary overhaul. But I do recommend all of these no-fuss strategies suggested by some top dietitians to help move kids’ diets and habits in a more healthful direction.
Whether you choose several strategies at once or one for each month in 2015, all are sure to help your kids incorporate more nutrients in their diets. And they’ll certainly make your meals even more delicious.
Read on for 12 expert tips to help your kids eat better in the New Year and beyond.
1. Create a produce calendar. Creating a produce calendar can help organize meal planning and help kids feel like they’re part of the process. It can also help them feel like they have some control over what is served and get them excited about produce. To do this, you can assign each family member one or two days a week to choose the daily fruit and veggie meal stars. For instance, Mom might have Tuesdays and Thursdays, and Bobby might have Wednesdays and Fridays (you get the drift). You can then write up a calendar and let each person choose the fruit and veggie star for his or her day. You can choose whatever fruit or vegetable you like or use a seasonal list like this one to guide your choices. Kids can help wash the fruit or vegetable and observe or help with their preparation depending on their age.
2. “Cook” in class. You can volunteer at your kids’ school by offering a hands-on no-cook cooking class. It’s a great way to highlight the fun you can have even if you’re not baking, but instead making nutritious items like fruit kebabs with yogurt dip or an edamame salad.
3. Take the rainbow challenge. For the game lover in all of us, Healthy Kids Concepts (HKC)*, a non-profit that encourages healthy eating habits through color-inspired lessons in pre-K and grade school children, offers check sheets (they can be downloaded for free here) to help kids keep track of how many different colors of fruits and veggies they eat each day. The goal is to eat the rainbow every day for an entire month.
4. Just dip it. Kids love to dip things, and studies suggest they may eat even more vegetables if they use them as dippers. So, why not make some tasty and affordable dips to offer the kids with their meals and snacks. You can buy canned chickpeas or garbanzo beans, rinse, and whir in a blender or food processor with some olive oil and a squirt of lemon. Frozen, thawed green peas plus olive oil, lemon juice and some minced garlic, salt and pepper can also work. You can also serve new dishes or foods previously disliked with a dipping sauce. For example, you can serve steak strips with no sugar added cranberry sauce or grilled chicken strips with some honey mustard.
5. Make your own fruit fantasy. Create your own edible fruit arrangement by slicing watermelon into popsicle shapes on popsicle sticks or fan orange segments out on a plate in a pattern that looks like the sun with a banana circle center. Making fruit look good can certainly make it more appealing to kids.
6. Let ‘em eat with their hands. Add edamame sprinkled with a little sea salt to your kid’s lunchbox. It’s a fun, hand-held, easy to eat food that’s rich in filling protein not to mention other key nutrients (it also counts as a vegetable).
7. How ‘bout veggies before dinner? Because so few kids meet their daily quota for vegetables, how about making it a rule to eat veggies in the hour leading up to dinner? Noshing on baby carrots, cucumber slices, celery sticks, plum or cherry tomatoes, plain or with a little Italian dressing or a tablespoon or two of dip can help kids eat enough vegetables to meet their needs and prevent them from noshing on nutrient-poor snacks that will fill them up and spoil their appetite before you can even say, “Dinner’s ready.”
8. Plant a garden. You can do this in your backyard or, if you live in an apartment, in a box on your terrace. Planting, watering, and picking vegetables, herbs and spices can teach your kids where food comes from and give them a sense of ownership and pride when the planted items are ready to be incorporated into meals.
9. Swap some usual foods. Once in a while, instead of offering the same old same old, mix things up a bit. For example, instead of carrots, offer parsnips. They offer myriad nutrients and have a similar taste and texture to carrots. Try them anywhere you’d use carrots, like in a stir fry dish or in a winter vegetable chili. And how about replacing some of the broccoli in dishes with cauliflower. You can buy it fresh or frozen and serve it in a mixed dish or by itself, chopped and steamed.
10. Rate your plate. Ask your kids to do a taste test at one meal each week. You can offer them several food options and have them give each a score of 1 to 5 on their color and taste.
11. Shape ‘em up. Because kids love pizza, spaghetti, French fries and pancakes, why not encourage them to try more vegetables by having them help you make new versions of each of these. For example, you can make matchstick parsnip fries; portabello mushroom, eggplant or cauliflower-crusted pizza; beet or carrot pancakes; or zucchini muffins. You can also use a veggie spiralizer (the kids can even help) to make colorful, nutrient-rich “pasta” out of steamed or grilled zucchini, baked sweet potatoes or fresh cucumber. If you don’t want to make the switch to all veggie noodles, try mixing some in with pasta noodles.
12. Go fish! Kids and parents tend to not eat recommended amounts of fish in their daily diet. That’s a shame, especially since fish is a key source of high quality protein and potent omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These essential fatty acids are important for development and health of the brain, nervous system, heart, skin, and immune system. Current Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend anywhere from 3 to 8 or more ounces of fish weekly depending on kids’ needs and total calorie intake (see my recent Scoop on Food post for more information). Because that really isn’t that much, why not simply replace one or two of your family’s weekly meat dishes or one family meal and one of your child’s lunches with fish. Lower mercury fish options include salmon, shrimp, pollock, tuna (light canned), tilapia, catfish, and cod. White (albacore) tuna can also be consumed, but should be limited to no more than 6 ounces a week.
Sources: Patricia Bannan, MS, RD; Stephanie Clarke, MS, RD & Willow Jarosh, MS, RD co-owners of C&J Nutrition and board members of HKC*; Jessica Fishman Levinson, MS, RDN, CDN founder of Nutritioulicious; Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, author of Cooking Light Dinnertime Survival Guide; Lindsay Livingston, RD; Tammy Lakatos Shames, RDN, CFT and Lyssie Lakatos, RDN, CFT, a.k.a. The Nutrition Twins, authors of The Nutrition Twins’ Veggie Cure; Carolyn O’Neil, MS, RD, LD, author of The Slim Down South Cookbook and nutrition advisor to www.BestFoodFacts.org; Rebecca Scritchfield, MA, RD, HFS; and Rebecca Subbiah, RDN.
Image of 2015 written with food via shutterstock.
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Diet, Health, Meals, Must Read, Nutrition
Thursday, November 6th, 2014
This is a guest post by Parents staffer Brooke Bunce.
As Melissa d’Arabian, host of Food Network’s Ten Dollar Dinners, preps a row of different dishes for an ogling panel of onlookers (myself included), she whips out information and facts about vegetables faster than you can say “picky eater.”
“Only 28 percent of dinners have vegetables in them,” she explains while shaking a sizzling skillet of orange chicken. This statistic came as a bit of a shock to me, until I tried racking my brain for the last time I had a dinner that contained an abundance of veggies. Do the onions and garlic in pasta sauce count? I wondered ruefully.
Melissa, the winner of the fifth season of Food Network Star and a mother of four daughters from ages 7 to 9, is a resident expert when it comes to getting kids to try new foods. Along with her web series, The Picky Eaters Project, Melissa has also teamed up with Bird’s Eye Vegetables for the Step Up To The Plate campaign, a movement to push kids (and parents) to incorporate more veggies into their daily diet.
According to a report from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 9 out of 10 children don’t eat the recommended amount of vegetables. And we all know how tough it can be to make a plate of steamed carrots and cauliflower look appealing to kids, the toughest food critics of all. Sometimes pretending those broccoli florets are “trees” just doesn’t cut it.
So what’s the solution? Melissa is equipped with a full set of straightforward strategies and tricks to ease your child into unfamiliar veggie territory.
Add the familiar to the unfamiliar
To round out her plate of orange chicken, Melissa used a bag of stir-fry veggie mix, which contains veggies that her kids know and love, such as carrots and peas, to introduce other, more unfamiliar choices too, like water chestnuts and mushrooms.
“If you piggyback the new with something familiar, it makes kids more willing to try something out,” she says. “If it’s on the plate, chances are that they’ll try it eventually, maybe without even knowing it!” Plus, the chicken dish includes a sauce that uses fresh orange juice to create a flavor profile that kids recognize and enjoy.
Develop positive relationships with vegetables (and food in general)
As a celebrity chef, Melissa is used to explaining what’s in the dish she’s serving. The same goes for her daughters, who “present” each dish before the family digs in. “If we have our kids just saying the words, talking about the food, they feel like they own part of it,” she says.
Moreover, Melissa has her kids help with dinner prep whenever possible. Even if they don’t eat everything that’s on their plate, it’s still worthwhile for them to gain positive memories in the kitchen, she explains. Her oldest daughter Valentine loves to prepare salads but still isn’t too keen on actually eating them. “This is OK though, because once she decides to try eating salad, she’ll be way more likely to actually enjoy it since she’ll remember always helping me make it,” Melissa says.
Help kids overcome their “fear” of certain vegetables
A major factor that contributes to picky eating is the fear of the unknown, Melissa says. “Always have something kids know and like on the table so they don’t get so freaked out about new foods,” she advises. “The victory is that there’s something on the plate they don’t like and they’re not freaking out!”
If they don’t eat something one day, the chance that eventually your kids will try it is significantly higher if they see it over and over again.
Recognize the small victories
Conquering the great vegetable challenge is all about recognizing the tiny successes, even if they seem insignificant at the time. All veggies are good veggies, as Melissa puts it, and it’s important not to gloss over those times when your kid takes a nibble of something new, even if he doesn’t instantly gobble it up.
Keep at it!
Most importantly, don’t think that change will happen overnight, Melissa says. The best strategy is to just remain patient and calm. “It’s a continuous work in progress,” she says. “It’s a balance between feeling good about vegetables and actually eating vegetables daily.”
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Diet, Health, Meals, Nutrition, The Scoop on Food
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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Diet, Health, Meals, Must Read, Nutrition