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Saturday, December 7th, 2013
This is a guest post from Sharon Palmer, The Plant-Powered Dietitian™
More and more families are now beginning to turn to plants, rather than the typical beef, poultry, fish, or pork options when choosing “what’s for dinner.” This is certainly a step in the right direction for the health of our children. In a nation-wide poll conducted among 2,030 adults in U.S., it was found that 47 percent of the population eats vegetarian meals a significant amount of the time.
But, one area where even vegetarians can fall short is getting enough veggies every day. As a plant-lover and plant-based advocate, it makes me sad to say that children and their parents are crowding out health-promoting, energy boosting vegetables to make room for overly-processed snack foods and soy-based meat substitutes on our dinner plates. Only 26 percent of adults eat a full serving of vegetables three or more times a day. That’s a pretty alarming statistic for a food group so well touted for such powerful disease fighting properties – especially considering that children lead by the example of their parents. And the studies prove it. According to a 2009 study by researchers at Ohio State University, only 22 percent of children between the ages of 2 to 5 years meet government recommendations for veggie intake.
In fact, the United States Department of Agriculture advises that half–yes, half–of your child’s plate be filled with fruits and/or vegetables at each meal. This certainly leaves less room for the overly processed microwavable meals that tend to crowd their dinner plates. Keep in mind that the “whole” point of a plant-based diet is to reap the nutrition rewards of whole foods. So, load your child’s plate with veggies, fruit, whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes and simply pass on the faux, overly processed chicken nugget.
Here are 5 plant-friendly and kid-friendly ways to prove that eating vegetables is not only easier than you may think, it’s also delicious, and even fun!
1. Breakfast is an easy one. Pass on the sugary breakfast cereals, frosted breakfast pastries, and overly sweetened “fruit” punch. Instead, mix onions, mushrooms, and bell peppers into a morning veggie omelet or breakfast pita, prepare a homemade black bean burrito with salsa and avocado, or toss in a few handfuls of spinach into your little one’s morning fruit smoothie. The options to go “veggie” for the first meal of the day are endless.
2. Stock your fridge. Store pre-cut veggies in your fridge. Many vegetables are nature’s perfect finger foods –and when paired with hummus (see my recipe here), guacamole, or even a peanut butter yogurt dip, they make for a naturally delicious, filling and convenient snack.
3. Experiment. Make it a habit with your kids to experiment with one new vegetable each week. It could be as simple as baking sweet potato fries, roasting Brussels sprouts, or as bold as stuffing a winter squash with whole grains, herbs and chopped nuts.
4. Change the plate. Rather than centering your child’s meal on the protein component, focus on the veggie first. Load up their plate each night with two different kinds of vegetables. If you prepare more vegetables, everyone at the table will be more likely to eat them.
5. Transform your family favorites. Do your kids love pizza? Load up on the veggie toppings, such as arugula, tons of marinara sauce, or even broccoli. Is spaghetti night a hit in your household? Add spinach or mushrooms to your homemade tomato sauce. And move over plain ol’ macaroni and cheese. Add peas, cauliflower, or even kale to your favorite recipe.
How do you encourage your kids to eat their vegetables?
Check out our food guide full of nutritious recipes and fun tips! Then see the 20 fail-proof snacks that kids love.
Image of mother teaching daughter to cut cucumber via shutterstock.
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Sesame Street Lessons: Advice for Picky Eaters
Tuesday, November 5th, 2013
Despite the widespread availability and excessive marketing of highly palatable, nutrient-poor food in America, there are some signs that the times are, indeed, changing. And that help from consumer-driven petitions, parents (including the First Mom) and even puppets are leading the charge towards healthier options and better eating habits for our children.
Recently, the Associated Press reported that Kraft announced its plan to unveil in early 2014 several macaroni and cheese varieties made without controversial artificial dyes. Instead of having Yellow 5 and 6 as ingredients, the revamped Kraft products (minus the popular elbow-shaped “original” macaroni and cheese) will instead get their characteristic orange-yellow color from paprika and other spices. And to boost the nutrition of their macaroni and cheese products, Kraft will also add some whole grains and slash some sodium and fat in each serving. Although not conceded by the company, it’s likely this change is in part the result of a petition created by Vani Hari (also known as The Food Babe). In her petition, Hari asked the company to remove artificial food dyes from their macaroni and cheese products. Posted on Change.org, the petition garnered hundreds of thousands of signatures and most likely nudged the company to make the change.
In another recent move, the White House announced a two-year partnership between the Sesame Workshop (led by Elmo and Rosita), the Produce Marketing Association (PMA) and Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA) (for which First Lady Michelle Obama is the honorary chair). The campaign which has been written about in another Parents blog, Sesame Street Brings Fun to the Produce Aisle, is designed to promote fresh food choices and make more nutritious selections a little easier for busy parents and families to make.
I know that while these food developments aren’t solely going to magically improve the health and wellbeing of children, they’re a step in the right direction. Even Michael Moss, the Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times journalist and author of the highly acclaimed book, Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us, is encouraged. When asked about the removal of food dyes from some Kraft products, Moss said, “There’s no question that the food giants will respond to public pressure, especially if that pressure causes even the slightest drop in sales.” And while Moss does not view food companies as evil empires setting out to make us sick but as “companies doing what companies do to make money by selling products that meet people’s needs,” he says it’s important for people to act on their food-related concerns to facilitate healthful change in the food supply and eating habits.
And when it comes to pushing produce, Moss, a father of two sons aged 9 and 14, is excited by the prospect of Elmo being a driver and habit changer. In his recent New York Times article, Broccoli’s Extreme Makeover, he argues that promoting fruits and vegetables based on their health virtues alone hasn’t—and most likely won’t ever—encourage people (including children) to eat them. The article also suggests that changing the way we market produce may be what’s needed to move the needle. In his article, he sums this up beautifully with a quote by Jeffrey Dunn, a former president of Coca-Cola who now works for Boathouse Farms, a baby-carrot producer:
“We must change the game. We can help solve the obesity crisis by stealing junk food’s playbook, by creating passion for produce, by becoming demand creators, not just growers and processors.”
What do you think it will take to move the needle to help out kids eat better and enjoy a more healthful lifestyle?
Image of child with group fruit and vegetable via shutterstock.
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Monday, July 15th, 2013
What parents don’t want their kids to eat their vegetables? In shades of green, red, orange, and even white, vegetables boast many virtues. With little fat and relatively few calories, vegetables pack in dietary fiber to fill kids up. They also promote healthy bowel function, and can reduce constipation. They also boast important vitamins and minerals including vitamins A and C, folate, and potassium. Studies suggest that eating a produce-rich diet is linked with lower body weight and reduced chronic disease risk—and it may even help kids do better in school.
Despite many parents’ best attempts to feed their families well, many kids continue to fall short on daily vegetable intake. And so do parents. A recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that overall intake of both fruits and vegetables is low. And national surveys show that, on average, kids fall short of getting the one to three daily cups of vegetables recommended. And despite the fact that kids need a wide variety of colorful vegetables, fried potatoes comprise nearly half of all the vegetables kids eat.
If you know your family isn’t making the grade when it comes to vegetable intake, keeping them on hand and offering them in an appealing way can provide a good start. Eating and enjoying vegetables in front of your kids can also help. Here are seven more expert and real mom tips to help you get more vegetables onto your kids’ plates—and into their mouths—without a food fight.
Say yay to the puree: “Sneaking vegetables into your children’s food is easier than you think—and it can help picky eaters get the nutrition they need,” says Sneaky Chef Missy Chase Lapine. “I puree whole veggies like spinach and yams to bump up the nutritional power of everyday meals. These are great additions to chicken nuggets, mac ‘n cheese, and pizza—foods kids already love.” Lapine blends the purees until they’re smooth. “Pumping up foods with purees is especially good for kids who are put off by foods made with large chunks of vegetables,” says Lapine.
Watch them grow. Learning how food is made, especially in the ground, is a great way to entice children to eat the food. Registered dietitian Rebecca Subbiah, a mother of two, has found that growing their own vegetables, picking local berries, and visiting farmer’s markets has helped her kids want to eat vegetables. Registered dietitian Zari Ginsburg, a mother of three, agrees. She adds, “It’s an incredible thrill to plant seeds, watch them sprout, and see the fruits (and vegetables) of our labor. Just the other day, we harvested some crispy, delicious string beans. My kids found watching the whole process from start to finish gratifying.”
Do a dip. According to Janice Newell Bissex, a registered dietitian and mother of two, “Offering small portions of flavorful dipping sauces can increase kids’ vegetable intake because kids love to dip.” She says low fat salad dressing, salsa, and even ketchup are just some of the dips that make her kids gobble up their vegetables. In fact, a recent study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that dressing up a reduced-fat dip with herbs and/or spices made preschool children more willing to taste, eat, and enjoy vegetables—even those they wouldn’t touch or didn’t like before. Mother of three, Kim Wakefield, says her three sons often ask for a veggie plate but only if it comes with the ultimate dip—hummus. “They love to dip cucumber spears, carrots, snap peas, baby tomatoes, and baby peppers into plain hummus, sometimes with a touch of spice added to it,” she adds.
Slip ‘em in. To encourage her four year-old who is somewhat risk averse to eating whole vegetables, Michelle Dudash recently told Parents.com she dices mushrooms and onions really fine in a food processor and adds them to meatloaf. The author of Clean Eating for Busy Families then serves the cut up meatloaf over whole-grain spaghetti with pasta sauce, which usually has more diced vegetables in it. Similarly, Wakefield adds shredded cauliflower to scrambled eggs or tomato sauce. “Finely chopped broccoli and zucchini also work great in tomato sauce to top pasta or other dishes,” she adds.
Just drink it. To jump start the day, Wakefield offers her boys smoothies for breakfast. Alongside carrots and spinach, she makes the smoothies with a combination of orange juice, plain Greek yogurt, frozen berries, flax, and protein powder. “The kids drink these up happily, and the frozen berries mean we don’t need to water down the smoothies by adding ice,” she adds.
Keep it simple. Dudash, a registered dietitian, makes sure to keep on hand plenty of “snack vegetables” like baby carrots well as canned vegetables. For kids who may not like vegetables served raw, Newell Bissex recommends simply roasting them. She says, “I find that roasting vegetables makes them taste sweeter and more appealing to many kids. Top with a sprinkle of kosher salt and you’re good to go.” Wakefield also stocks her freezer with frozen peas or green beans for her kids to snack on.
Read it so they’ll eat it. A study published in Psychological Science found that after being read books about digestion, foods, and nutrients, and being asked questions about them, four to five year-old children ate twice as many vegetables at snack time as they normally did. The researchers said that while they explained to children why their body needs different kinds of healthy food, they didn’t specifically train them to eat more vegetables. (You can check out Nutrition for Kids for some great resources to help kids learn about nutrition.)
How do you help your kids eat their vegetables?
Image of a beautiful vegetable garden via Zari Ginsburg.
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