Archive for the ‘ Food & Nutrition ’ Category

Must Summertime Be a Food Free-for-All?

Tuesday, July 7th, 2015

That’s what I’m wondering these days. It’s only been two weeks since school ended, but I feel as though I’ve lost some control over what my daughters, 6 and 9, are eating. We start their day off with a decent breakfast and pack them lunch for camp each day, but we’re up against so many other outside factors: impromptu snacks and dessert at a neighbor’s, late nights at swim meets (plus swim-meet bake sales), camp snacks, the lure of the snack bar at the pool, our own stops for ice cream after the beach, not to mention our weekend road trips and upcoming vacation.

Brian Tanzer, of Scientific and Regulatory Affairs at the Vitamin Shoppe, has been there. As a certified nutrition specialist and dad of two daughters, ages 5 and 11, he’s more than qualified to give advice on how to stop the insanity. Among his tips:

Balance food, fun, and exercise. Tanzer suggests striking a deal like having the kids play outside, actively, for an hour, in exchange for a trip to get ice cream or off to the carnival.

When going out for a treat, manage your kids’ expectations. Ice cream or FroYo? How many toppings–if any? Are any off-limits? (For my kids, it’s gummies. Cold gummies can’t possibly even taste good!)

Set snack times and stick to them. In my house, this will work better on weekends than on weekdays. But on weekdays I’ll try to keep snack time at least an hour before dinner. My kids have been snacking way too close to mealtime, which makes them even less inclined to try something new.

At the grocery store, let your kids pick out five healthy snacks and one “splurge” snack for the week. I have to be careful not to refer to that one as the “fun” snack (or let my kids call it the “good” snack).

Make fresh fruit the default. If you’ve got young kids who aren’t as inclined to reach for fruit, cut it up in fun shapes to boost the novelty factor. And try ones they may not have eaten before, such as kiwi.

Offer ice pops instead of ice cream. Still no bargain, as far as sugar is concerned, but fewer fat and calories.

Even better, whip up a smoothie. One of Tanzer’s go-to recipes can either be blended, or–and I love this idea–poured into an ice tray. When frozen, you can put the cubes in a plastic cup and bring it to the beach!

     Summer Hydrator  Combine 2 cups coconut water, 1 cup organic cherry/grape juice, 1 tbsp raw honey, and a dash of sea salt. For a smoothie, add ice cubes and blend.

Our very own food editor, Jenna Helwig, has a brand-new book of awesome recipes, called Smoothie-licious. In this post she shares four secrets to better smoothies.

Kara Corridan is Parents’ health director. She’s sure to figure this summer-food thing out by Labor Day.

Image: Baby with ice cream via Shutterstock.

Healthy Snacks: Why Kids Need to Snack
Healthy Snacks: Why Kids Need to Snack
Healthy Snacks: Why Kids Need to Snack

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How My Family Is Paleo (in Our Own Way)

Wednesday, March 18th, 2015

We are a Paleo family. Paleo is such a trendy diet that admitting it makes me cringe a bit inside. It sounds as if I’m also the type who has a teacup pig as a pet that I carry in my LV backpack. But the truth is that I have been Paleo (or a version of it, which I will explain) since my son was born six years ago. And I have learned a lot from trying to feed a family of four healthfully when the whole world is tempting me (begging me?) not to. I’ve had to bend some of the rules of Paleo, which if you follow the hard-core definition includes no dairy, no legumes, no grains, no alcohol, all-free range meats, pro-organic and anti-GMO everything, and no processed foods whatsoever (cereal, bread, pasta, condiments, etc). I’m sure that the Paleo Police will put me in jail (what would they serve if not bread? nuts?) if they read this, but it’s how I manage it. (btw: we never went this far; yikes!) And honestly, it’s not that difficult after you get in the hang of it.

If you are looking for a way for your family to be healthier without going all whole 30, give my Paleo Light rules a try:

1. Only control what the kids eat in your own house. Outside of a few key things that I note below, we try to be strict within the walls of our own home. We eat homemade meals made from as little processed foods as possible (i.e., store-bought ketchup is allowed in the meatloaf, but no noodles in the lasagna). But I can’t control the outside world and I’ve stopped trying. Paleo is not like an allergy. It’s not going to kill my kids to eat “regular” food. So when they go to other kids’ houses, birthday parties, soccer games, Girl Scouts, and pretty much every other child-focused activity or event known to man they can eat the cookies, crackers, pop-tarts, cereal or whatever other crap is on tap. (I use to hold out hope that they’d resist, but let’s face it: What kid can say no to Oreos?!) When other kids come to our house? They get apples, clementines, dates … and if they are really lucky homemade almond crackers. (please don’t roll your eyes!)

2. Value your own sanity. Like any parent, I struggle to pack a healthy lunch every day. So much so that about two years ago, I passed the job off to my husband, who was the Paleo pioneer in our house. (“You want them to eat Paleo? You pack their lunch!”) And even he struggled to make a lunch without sliced bread. So now wheat bread is in the house for lunches. And peanut butter, too. But I check the product labels so sugar isn’t in the ingredients or is as far down the list as possible (quite a challenge!). I also cook from regular cookbooks — How to Cook Everything is still my bible — and adjust where necessary (skip the sugar in the pasta sauce, sub almond flour for bread crumbs, pureed cauliflower for mashed potatoes, etc). Having to use only Paleo-specific recipes can be exhausting. And no, I don’t use coconut sap. But I do try to use maple syrup, agave or honey instead of white sugar when I have to use sweetener.

3. Don’t buy all organic. My son alone will eat 2 dozen apples in a week if I put them all out at once after a Cosco run (which I’ve learned not to do). And the trouble with apples? They are always on the EWG Dirty Dozen list, so I suck it up and buy them organic. But there are a lot of fruits and veggies you can skip the organic markup (pretty much anything with a tough skin like watermelon, bananas, pineapple, etc.) And while I try to buy free-range eggs and meat and line-caught seafood, I can’t do it at the Farmer’s Market or even at Whole Foods even though I wish I could. Instead, I stock up when I can find these foods at Cosco and Trader Joe’s. (TJ’s is a Paleo Mom’s best friend; the cheap bags of almond flour alone is reason to go.)

4. Bake in Exceptions. Every Tuesday is Pizza Day at my kids’ school and they get to forgo their Paleo Light packed lunch and partake just like everyone else. (And Dad gets a day off packing it). Every Thursday is Pancake Day with maple syrup and yogurt (even though they are made with almond flour!). And on the rare occasion we go to Smash Burger the kids eat burgers and hot dogs with the buns (I do insist on subbing in sweet potato fries). All birthdays get a cake with real flour and (horrors!) white sugar. Except for my husband who prefers a flourless chocolate cake (you should try it; it’s amazing).

My own concession? I may skip the pasta, the bread basket, and the rice (and oh do I miss it all), but I will never rule out wine or my favorite cocktail. I mean, there have to be limits to everything. Seriously.

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

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Should Schools Be Allowed to Have Bake Sales?

Wednesday, February 25th, 2015

I’m a big fan of recent efforts to improve school lunch nutrition over the last few years. After all, about one in three American kids are considered overweight or obese (and even those who aren’t may still be enjoying too much junk food!) So I applaud everyone—whether it be Michelle Obama or a mom who packs healthy lunches for her children each day—who is focusing on this important issue.

That said, I can’t help but feel that the recent bake sale debate going on in Virginia is taking this issue a little too far. Long story short, students are no longer able to hold bake sales with homemade goodies to raise money for field trips, uniforms, and whatever else they need. That’s because new federal guidelines require that all food sold while school is in session must meet certain nutritional standards. And of course, the kids don’t want to pay for “gross” healthy food; a parent volunteer at Brooke Point High School told The Washington Post, “Since we’ve gone to the ‘smart snacks,’ sales have dropped by more than half. The kids just don’t want it.” Some lawmakers in Virginia are displeased about the situation, so they’re currently trying to come up with a bill that offers some exceptions to the rules.

Ultimately, I think we need to teach children the importance of moderation, rather than blocking them from ever enjoying an occasional brownie at a bake sale. My own mother is a health teacher who loves to bake, so she taught me to exercise, eat wholesome food, and also to indulge once in a while with a reasonable portion of a delicious dessert. By outlawing sugary or fatty foods outright, we risk making them more enticing to kids—who may find a way to eat them when adults aren’t looking, anyway. (See our earlier post from a nutritionist who lets her kids drink soda—she nails it.)

That’s not to say that I think kids in Virginia schools (or anywhere else) should be allowed constant access to homemade goods. If the lawmakers do pass an exception, I hope it allows just a few of these tasty fundraisers throughout the year, not an unlimited amount. After all, treats are often also available at birthday parties, club meetings, soccer games, and so on. But an occasional bake sale won’t destroy healthy eating habits—but it will teach kids important lessons about business, independence, and moderation. Those are lessons we can all support.

Healthy Lunch Ideas for Kids
Healthy Lunch Ideas for Kids
Healthy Lunch Ideas for Kids

Chrisanne Grise is an editorial assistant at Parents. She’s an avid runner, mainly to counteract her uncontrollable sweet tooth. Follow her on Twitter @xanne.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

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But Mommy, I’m Too Embarrassed to Eat That

Wednesday, January 14th, 2015

It’s common knowledge these days that the standard cafeteria lunch isn’t healthy. Even if you missed the thousands of blog posts on the subject, the special reports in magazines like Parents, and didn’t see the movie Fed-Up! (which I highly recommend, btw), you likely have heard first-hand from your kids what’s being served in the school cafeteria. Or have scanned the online school menu yourself.

So would you be surprised to learn that packed lunches aren’t any healthier? Yes, the ones that parents pack for their own children. Researchers from the Friedman School of Nutrition at Tufts University in Boston documented what’s in the lunch boxes of more than 600 grade-schoolers and found that only 27 percent met at least three of the five National School Lunch Program guidelines.

I have to say, I’m not surprised at all. My daughter, who’s 8, and my son, 6, come home with uneaten food in their lunch boxes nearly every day: carrots, cucumbers, celery with nut butter, butternut squash soup, grilled chicken, ham and cheese sandwiches, various nuts or dried fruits. … When my husband and I ask why they didn’t eat their lunch, it’s one of two reasons: There wasn’t enough time (OK, the lunch period is short) or, which my daughter is saying more and more these days: “I’m too embarrassed to eat that.”
I’m too embarrassed to eat that. This breaks my heart. Not because my husband agonizes over what to pack every morning (thanks, honey), but because I know she likes these foods. She will eat them at home, often gobble them up. But she doesn’t want to eat these perfectly normal healthy foods in front of her friends. She’s in third grade so fitting in is more important than it used to be. I want to respect that. I had a mother who embarrassed me, after all (who didn’t?) So I ask, What can we pack in your lunch then, honey? I dunno, she always says. Just not grownup food. I want, you know. Kid food*.

Kid food, as defined by my kids and likely by yours too, is what you’d expect: PB&J on white bread, pasta and butter, 100 calorie snack packs, little golden fish-shaped crackers that will go unnamed, hyper-sweetened squeezeable yogurts, over-salted crackers with fake cheese, chips, cookies, juice boxes, you get the picture. Pretty much the postcard of What Not to Pack In Your Child’s Lunch if nutritionists made postcards. This is what my kids want in their lunch. Because it’s what most other kids have in their lunch. I didn’t need the Friedman study to learn this; I’ve already gotten the full report from my jealous children.

My husband and I refuse to back down. We refuse to pack them junk because it’s what other kids eat. I’d rather them come home hungry and eat the bowl of apples, oranges, and bananas we have left out (which they do) than eat a bunch of sodium-laced, sweetened processed foods. They get enough of that already on their play dates, at their Girl Scout meetings, at the weekly in-class birthday party, after soccer practice, at the library reading hour. … I’m not going to send it in for lunch too. There has to be a limit.

Sadly, it seems my husband and I are in the minority of parents who feel nutrition is important. And we feel alone in this fight to raise healthy eaters. The same way my daughter must feel alone when she goes to eat her lunch every day. Like she’s a freak because she likes cashews and cucumbers. If you’re a parent like me, I’d love to not only hear how you get your children to be proud of their healthy lunches — but I’d also to know where you live, so my daughter can sit next to yours at lunch tomorrow.



*If I ever am in the same room with the person who coined the term “Kid Food” or who created the first Kids’ Menu at a restaurant I’m gonna beat the … OK; I’ll save that for another blog post.

Lunch Monitor: What Are Kids Throwing Away?
Lunch Monitor: What Are Kids Throwing Away?
Lunch Monitor: What Are Kids Throwing Away?


Chandra Turner is the Executive Editor at Parents. She lives in the ‘burbs with her two elementary-aged kids and her adorable new puppy, Blue.

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Why I’ll Never Be a Zero-Waste Mom

Tuesday, January 6th, 2015

Have you heard about Zero Waste moms, like Bea Johnson? Her mantra is “Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot (and only in that order).” Through her blog and her book she has made it her mission to help other families reduce their consumption and trash. Some of the tips on Johnson’s website include drinking tap water out of reusable bottles, using cloth napkins, swapping paper towels for rags, composting any leftover food, and bringing reusable jars to fill up at the bulk bins at the grocery store. She puts the loaf of bread she buys at the bakery in a clean pillowcase instead of a bag. Her family is so successful at the zero-waste lifestyle that they generate a mere quart-sized jar of trash every year. (Um, it’s possible my family generates that much every few hours.)

Families like Johnson’s live this way because, according to the EPA, Americans generate an average of four pounds of trash per person per day—about a pound and a half of that is recycled—so they refuse the plastic toys the dentist hands out, wouldn’t dream of using a toothbrush that can’t be recycled, and bring their own containers for leftovers to a restaurant when eating out. Zero-waste families do it to save money, have fewer possessions, and live less cluttered lives. They say the zero-waste lifestyle makes their lives more about experiences, not things.

I love it. It’s amazing and inspiring. But, I could never do it.

With an 8 year-old daughter who hoards every piece of plastic she receives in a goody bag, a husband who likes his mainstream toothpaste and shaving cream, and my own compulsive trashing of anything that is cluttering up my small apartment, zero-waste seems like an impossible dream. It is tempting to just throw up my hands and continue taking out bag after bag of trash.

Which, obviously, is just the wrong reaction.

So instead, inspired by this website, I have decided to start packing a less-wasteful lunchbox for my daughter. This means no plastic-wrapped granola bars or fruit snacks, no plastic packs of applesauce, and no plastic forks. I started today by packing an old cloth napkin instead of the usual paper.

I figure that will save 20 paper napkins a month, or 120 before the end of the school year. It’s far from zero waste, but it’s a step in the right direction. Assuming of course the cloth napkin makes it home and not into the garbage can at school. We’ll see.

Tell us: How do you try to reduce trash in your house? Could you ever go zero-waste?

Jenna Helwig is Parents’ food editor and the mother of an 8 year-old daughter who likes to keep every piece of paper she has ever touched a pencil to. Follow her on Twitter.

Lunch Monitor: What Are Kids Throwing Away?
Lunch Monitor: What Are Kids Throwing Away?
Lunch Monitor: What Are Kids Throwing Away?

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