Sunday, April 27, 2014

Ways to Get Your Kids to Eat Better

Ways to Get Your Kids to Eat Better

I hear it in my office all the time – “how can I get my kid to eat more vegetables?”  If you think you’re the only one having this problem, think again.  It’s the most common complaint I get from parents.  Here are a few suggestions to help you get your kids to eat a little better, & not just those infamous vegetables:

Make a schedule.  Children need to eat every three to four hours:  three meals, two snacks, and lots of fluids.  If you plan for these, your child’s diet will be much more balanced and they’ll be less cranky, because they won’t be famished.  The key is to make sure to plan ahead and bring food with you if you’re out and about.   And by the way, this works for adults too J

Plan dinners.  If thinking about a weekly menu is too daunting, start with two or three days at a time.  A good dinner doesn’t have to be fancy, but it should be balanced:  whole-grain bread, rice, or pasta; a fruit or vegetable; and a protein source like lean meat, cheese, or beans.  The key is planning and not trying to decide at 5:00 what’s for dinner.

Don’t become a short-order cook.  This is a bad habit to start and then an even harder one to stop – cooking a separate meal for the adults and a meal for the kids, just because you know they’ll eat it.  I know you want your kids to eat, but this can become exhausting.  The key is to make sure that there is at least one thing on the plate that you know the kids will eat.  Never try to introduce two new foods at once.  That’s what I call an epic fail.  Sure you’re excited to try that new recipe out, but if there isn’t something familiar on the plate the kids will not eat it.  Make one meal for everybody.  Children will mimic their parents’ behavior, so make sure you and your spouse are both on the same page.

Bite your tongue.  As hard as this may be, try not to comment on what or how much your kids are eating.  Be as neutral as possible.  Your job as a parent is to provide food that is balanced; your kids are responsible for eating them.  If you play food enforcer – saying things like “Eat your vegetables” – your child will only resist.  No one wants a fight at the table.

Introduce new foods slowly.  Children are new-food-phobic by nature.  They actually tend to like eating the same thing over and over (and no they don’t get bored easily.  This is otherwise known as a food jag).  Taste buds have to get used to a flavor before the kids actually begin to like the taste.  A little hero worship can work wonders too.  Next time your kid refuses to eat peas tell them that Lebron James eats his to stay big and strong.  Your kid might just want to eat his peas the next time!

Dip it.  If your kids won’t eat vegetables, experiment with dips.  My nephews love to dip their food.  I found a yogurt-based ranch dressing that isn’t full of fat and won’t bother my brother if all they do is lick the dressing off and won’t eat the carrot (of course that’s the ultimate goal, but there are times when all they do is lick the dressing off and don’t eat the carrots.  It’s what kids do!)  You can also try hummus, salsa, or even experiment and make up your own!

Make mornings count.  Most families don’t eat enough fiber on a daily basis, and breakfast is an easy place to sneak it in.  Look for high-fiber cereals for a quick fix.  Or, do what I do and make-up batches of whole-grain pancakes that can last all week (I am a kid at heart J).  For a batch that serves 6 (2 pancakes a piece), sift together ¾ cup all-purpose flour, ¾ cup whole wheat flour, 3 Tbsp. sugar, 1 ½ tsp. baking powder, ½ tsp. baking soda, ½ tsp. salt.  Next mix 1 ½ cups buttermilk, 1 Tbsp. vegetable oil, 1 large egg, and 1 large egg white.  Combine the liquid ingredients with the dry ingredients and there you’ve got your homemade pancake batter!  If you want to make up extra, they freeze well too!

Get Kids Cooking.  If your kids become involved in choosing or preparing meals, they’ll be more interested in eating what they’ve created.  Take them to the store, and let them choose the produce for you.  If they’re old enough, allow them to cut up vegetables and mix them into a salad.  Kids take ownership in things that they’ve made.  The odds are higher that they’ll try it if they’re involved in the process.

Cut back on junk.  Remember, you – not your kids – are in charge of the foods that enter the house.  By having fewer junk foods around, you’ll force your children to eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and dairy products.  What’s available is what they’ll go for, so make your house stocked full of healthy options.

Allow treats.  Having less healthy foods occasionally keeps them from becoming forbidden – and thus even more appealing.  The problem with treats is that kids are so used to having these daily that they expect a treat daily.  A treat is supposed to be exactly that, something to look forward to, not an everyday item.  Candy, soda, and cookies can be “sometimes” foods.  Eating out at a fast food restaurant of their choice every so often can be allowed.  It’s truly about balance and moderation.

Have fun.  The more creative the meal, the greater variety of foods kids will eat.  You can make smiley-face pancakes and you can give foods silly names (broccoli florets can be “baby trees”).  Anything mini is always a hit with kids as well.  You can use cookie cutters to turn toast into hearts and stars, all things kids will love.

Be a role model.  If you’re constantly on a diet or have erratic eating habits, your kids will grow up thinking that this sort of behavior is normal.  Be honest with yourself about the kinds of food messages that you’re sending.  Trust your body to tell you when you’re hungry and when you’re full, and your kids will learn to do the same.  I must mention this here as well, if one parent is not eating vegetables, the odds are your kids will not want to eat them either – Monkey see, monkey do.  Again, be a good role model.  If vegetables are not your thing either, find a new one to try all together.  I challenge kids when they say they don’t like vegetables.  There’s no way they’ve tried them all and they just need to focus on the ones that they do like versus thinking that they like none.

Adjust your attitude.  Realize that what your kids eat over time is what matters.  Some parents get upset at the dinner table when their kids aren’t eating the foods that they’ve prepared.  Don’t get caught up on focusing on just one meal.  Look at the whole day of everything that they’ve had to eat.  And even more broad, look at the whole week versus focusing on just one day.  Kids will eat when they’re hungry.  The key is offering the meals at set times as well as snacks.  This way even if they don’t eat that much at dinner (because it just wasn’t their favorite) a snack before bedtime is important to help  provide extra nutrients the kids need (and again if they’re hungry, they’ll eat!)

I made mango chia seed pudding with my nephew earlier.  After he wakes up from his nap we'll see if he eats it or gags in protest J

Sunday, April 6, 2014

"Let food be thy medicine and let thy medicine be food." ~Hippocrates

I go grocery shopping every week.  I plan for the week what I’m going to eat for lunch and what I’ll eat for dinner so that I’ll know exactly what it is I’ll need.  I pick up a few extra snack things and if I’m going to bake something sweet for the week I’ll pick that stuff up too.  Without a list or without knowing what it is that I’ll be eating I wouldn’t survive the grocery store.   So that got me thinking, do others do the same?  I think people’s grocery carts tell a lot about their life.  If you were to look at mine you’d be able to tell I’m highly organized and I don’t sway too far from the list of what it is that I’ll be eating (although with all my new found time I have had a meal or two out recently!)  Bottom line, I take time to plan my food because I know that I need food to eat but that I also can’t afford to eat out every meal (nor do I want to) but that I also want healthy food to nourish my body.  Yesterday at the grocery store I couldn’t help but look around and notice the items in people’s carts.  I even went a step further and actually stopped people to ask them why it was that they were buying certain foods.  (I’m pretty sure they left the store thinking, “esa muchacha Americana es loca!”)  I call it research, a need to understand – believe me there’s no judgment coming from me.  I’m here to help people make healthier choices.   If I can help people change one thing they are doing then maybe it might make a difference.   My normal 30 minute trip to the grocery store ended up turning into a 3 hour trip to the grocery store.  I gathered a lot of research:
The 1st family that I encountered was a mom along with 2 children ages 7 and 10.  One side of their grocery cart was lined up with Lunchables, neatly stacked 5 in each stack.  Throughout the rest of their cart was stuff thrown haphazardly in, no real rhyme or reason.  I stopped the mom and introduced myself and asked her if I could talk to her for a few minutes.  She said, “Sure”, but was definitely curious as to why I wanted to talk with her.  I gave her a little background information on myself and explained to her that this was going to be nutrition lesson, free of charge, and at the end she could either take my suggestions or not, but at least to think about them.   And so my mini-research study began:  I asked her and the kids the obvious question lurking in their grocery carts, “why Lunchables?”  The mom’s immediate response was one of convenience; everything neatly packaged into the box with all that the kid’s need for lunch.  The kids’ response was that they liked having something different each day and sometimes they even trade stuff with the kids at school, but it has to be lunchables in order to trade.  Interesting.  I started with some general nutrition information on a level that the kids could understand and then wanted to show them all how easy and simple it could be to make their own version of a lunchable.  The only catch, the kids were going to have to help.  As I explained to mom at their age they are plenty able to help and take the load off of mom (from the conversation you could tell the mom was overworked and doing everything for the kids and the husband and not getting any help).  The kids seemed to buy into it.  I simply grabbed the items they’d need to make a sandwich 3 different ways (some of the days of the week it could be the same sandwich and the kids seemed okay with that as long as they weren’t back to back days.   We then went to the produce section and tried to think of some fruits they’d like to have in their lunch box.  The main importance to the kids is that the fruit couldn’t get smashed and gross by lunch time, so even though they loved bananas, those weren’t a good option for lunch.  I tried to explain to them that’s why lunch boxes were invented and that would prevent that from happening but they weren’t buying it.  I challenged the kids to look for all the colors in the rainbow so they could make sure they were getting a variety of vitamins and minerals.  I showed the family a few other ideas of things they could include in the lunch for some crunch.  Instead of terming the foods good or bad I simply showed the mom what would be better choices.  We made a top 10 list so the mom and kids could choose together.  The main thing to remember there I told them is the portion control.  And last but not least the something sweet that the lunchables sometimes include.  We went to the candy aisle and I had to admit to the kids that I too include just a little something after I eat (again the whole portion control idea).  We picked out a few items that would be choices of things to include, one piece of dark chocolate, one Hershey’s nugget, etc.  To wrap things up with the family I continued to reiterate how important the kids would be in helping to pack their lunch the night before.  Mom’s job is to buy the food and have it available and their job is to put it together and make sure it’s ready to go for the next day.  The mom was so thankful for my help that she wanted me to stay and help with dinner ideas.   I told her to tackle one thing at a time and who knows maybe I’d see them in the store next week!

The 2nd grocery cart that I encountered was of a single lady, age 28, shopping for herself for the week.  She had everything in there from single frozen dinner entrees to her beauty supplies to lots of sweet items.  I stopped her just as I had the family I did before and started off with my intro.  I believe she was skeptical at first and definitely didn’t want me analyzing her eating habits.  I tried to explain that I was simply there to help and she hesitantly said she’d go along with it.  I didn’t pick the lady, I picked her cart.  I actually stood by her cart for about 5 minutes before she came back with items and put them in her cart.  The item that had me concerned were the frozen dinner entrees.  I began the nutrition lesson on sodium and how much we need, how much we’re getting, and the hidden places that it’s lurking.  Little did she know that her frozen dinner entrees were averaging 500 mg of sodium.  That was the average!  One entrĂ©e had close to 800 mg of sodium.  And she was utilizing these frozen foods twice a day.  I explained to her that they were perfect in the sense that they were an okay amount for portion control but might not even be enough to fill her up if we were to look at it closely.  She opened up and explained to me her using these were simply for the fact that she is single and doesn’t want to cook for one.  I said, “Hello, you’re preaching to the choir!” It is really hard to cook for one person, but it’s possible.  I told her some of my tricks of the trade – making pasta for the whole week (or rice or both to rotate the days) and how just by switching the vegetable and sauce each night allows me to have a different meal each evening.  (I let her know that I was a vegetarian and either use beans or tofu as my source of protein.  Regardless she could switch out meats to allow for variety as well as cook that for the week to have already prepared as well.)  She admitted that she struggles with cooking and has never found it interesting to want to do.  I simply tried to explain to her that the frozen dinner habit wasn’t always cost effective, wasn’t always tasty, and definitely had the lurking hidden sodium that I wanted her to now pay attention to.  She was honest in saying that she was still going to use these and have as back-up in her freezer but that she would definitely try to cook at least once a week.  I finished up her session by showing other foods that even though they don’t taste salty are high in sodium:  canned or pickled foods, snack foods, deli meat, cheese, condiments: sauces and dressings, breads, and cereal.     

My research continued on with 2 other families.  I kept hearing the same things from the families – there wasn’t enough time to cook during the week, they were too tired to cook, they were running out of ideas of what to cook, etc.  I always stopped them to tell them that I wasn’t there to judge them and the reality is what it is.  However, I was also there first and foremost as a dietitian, to help them be healthier with the food that they’re eating.  I encouraged them to look at the things/habits that they have and try to work on one thing at time.  If they were to try and change everything all at once it would never work.  I definitely told them that it would take effort, planning, and support from everyone in the family, not just dear old mom.  The grocery store can be overwhelming with all the choices that there are.  That’s why going in with a plan of attack helps all the more.  Sit down and write what the schedule is for the next week - include after school activities/meetings/etc. so that you know which days are going to be more difficult to cook.  Don’t look for answers in the supermarket at 5 p.m. where you’re harried from the day’s work and harassed by hungry children.  Plan, plan, plan.   The plan will help save money, save on time and help you improve your nutrition. 

I just started reading the book Cooked by Michael Pollan.  He talks about taking control of cooking and how that might be the single most important step anyone can take to help make the American food system healthier and more sustainable.  He goes on to say that, “we need to reclaim cooking as an act of enjoyment and self-reliance, learning to perform the magic of these everyday transformations, that it will open the door to a more nourishing life.”  Cooking starts in the grocery store (or farmer’s market). And the grocery store can either help or hurt one’s nutrition.  I hope I helped these individuals yesterday to see how changing one thing might help their path to nutrition and overall health.  Maybe Publix should consider hiring me part-time J