Sunday, August 23, 2015

Back To School

It’s That Time of Year Again:  Back To School
The school year is fast approaching.  For many, school begins tomorrow!  There are mixed reactions when it comes to this time of year:

Parents:  woohoo!!
Kids:  Groan. Already?

As the school year begins it’s important to pay attention to your child’s nutrition – nutrition helps children to focus and concentrate.   And if you’re dreading thinking of school lunches or how to grasp your mind around planning healthy dinners, here are a few suggestions to get you started back on the right foot!

5 Healthy Lunch Ideas


Many times in the hustle and bustle of the morning routine packing a lunch is the last thing on your mind.  Sometimes it’s easier to give your child lunch money rather than pack a lunch.  You may want to reconsider providing lunch for your child since you’ll be able to have better control over what your child is eating versus being at the mercy of what’s provided at school.   The key in packing a lunch is to aim for a balanced and varied meal.  Respect your child’s eating habits – they may find comfort in eating the same foods where as other children may not want to eat the same thing daily.  This is where it’s important to get your kids involved in the preparation.  Guide them to prepare their lunch the night ahead and make sure you’ve provided them with healthy selections of what to choose from. 
Here are a few ideas for some yummy and easy lunches:

1.       Tortilla wrap with shredded cheese and shredded chicken, and cut vegetables.

2.      2 Tablespoons peanut butter (or sunbutter if peanut butter is restricted at your school), whole-grain crackers, and fruit or vegetables.

3.       Bean-based soup or stew in a thermos, whole-grain roll, and a piece of fruit

4.       1-2 slices of leftover thin-crust cheese pizza with some cut-up fruit.

5.     The Banana dog:  a whole-grain hot-dog roll, nut butter of your choice, and a cut up banana for the filling, drizzled with a little bit of honey on top.

Remember kids sometimes have as little as 20 minutes to make it to the cafeteria, find their seats, eat, AND clean up after themselves.  So, definitely keep it simple and easy.  If you know your child has issues with peeling their oranges, peel the orange the night ahead so it’s easy to devour the next day and they don’t waste time peeling the orange with their limited time. 

Don’t forget FUN!! Yes, we know that “junk food” tastes good and is appealing to kids.  And if your child sees other kids eating this they’re going to want it too (or might even trade some of their food for the junk food).  My advice:  include some fun healthier alternatives and remember portion control when it comes to these foods:  baked chips versus the regular, trail mix with some dried fruit and a few pieces of chocolate mixed in, graham crackers or an actual piece of chocolate.  When we were little we always had something sweet mixed in our lunches – it really was the portion size.  If there was a twix bar, it was the “fun size” it wasn’t a full candy bar. 

The most nutritious lunches include foods from at least three of the food groups.  Think outside the box and don’t get stuck in the rut of a sandwich every day – having a balanced nutritious lunch helps your child have the right fuel to do better in school!

After-School Snacks – What makes a good snack??
Cakes, cookies, pies, and candy are NOT snacks.  Snacks are mini-meals.  Use the same things to make snacks that you use for breakfast, lunch, and dinner:  whole grains, lean protein, fruits, and vegetables -  It’s just the portion sizes are smaller.  Healthy snacks will provide carbohydrates, protein, fiber, and some healthy fat.  Foods that are rich in protein and high in fiber tend to help kids stay fuller longer.  Snacks can help keep kids’ energy up and also can help make up for a skimpy meal that they didn’t finish eating or was just not their favorite.  Snacks can range from 100-300 calories depending on the child’s age.  The key is to have healthy, balanced options available and allow for your child’s hunger to help rule what he or she eats.  Here are a few ideas to get you started:

1.       ½ banana with 1-2 tablespoons of a nut butter (peanut, almond, or cashew)

2.       1 slice whole wheat bread with 1-2 oz uncured, low-salt luncheon meat

3.       ¼ cup nuts (almonds, cashews, or peanuts) with a tennis-ball sized fruit

4.       6 Whole-grain crackers with 1 ounce cheese

5.       Plain yogurt (add cinnamon and vanilla) along with ½ cup mixed berries

Easy Weeknight Meals
Cooking after a long day at work is the last thing that people want/have time to do.  With all of the rushing around, i.e. sports, dance lessons, homework, it’s easy to slip into the fast-food lane.  Quick, easy weeknight meals are a must during the school year.  The key is planning your meals for the week (or better yet, the month!) to help minimize having to pick items up at the store which can take more time than you’re already pressed for.   Sitting down together as a family will be well worth the effort – not only can you find out what went on in everybody’s day but they’ll also receive the benefit of a delicious AND nutritious meal!  Again, make sure to have a plan of attack – plan for the week and have some menu ideas in mind, make sure to get everyone involved and have a task to complete.  This way when everybody pitches in, no one person will feel overwhelmed and as if they have to do it all – divide the tasks/responsibilities up.   

Here are a few links for “Easy, Weeknight Meals”:

I recommend to start a monthly calendar of meals.  Pick and choose which recipes work for you and your family and write them into the calendar – you will now have a rotation of meals for a whole month.  This helps with variety and helps to prevent boredom – we all get in the rut of repeating the same meals over and over.  You can always have Taco Tuesday, but simply look for four different taco recipes so that each week it’s a different Taco Tuesday night!  This will help to keep it fresh and different.  Always try to rotate a few new meals in – this helps to keep it fresh and not always predictable as well!

So if tomorrow is your first day of school or if you’ve already gotten into the swing of things, remember to keep nutrition a part of each and every day.  Healthy eating during childhood is important in order to have a good intake of nutrients for growth and development, improved concentration, as well as establishing healthy habits at an early age!  Have a great 1st day everybody!

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Kids Eat Right

Kids Eat Right™

“August is Kids Eat Right™ month.  Kids Eat Right™ month focuses on the importance of healthful eating and active lifestyles for children and families.  It’s a time to highlight the role that everyone plays in ensuring a healthy future for our nation’s children.”

As a Registered Dietitian I help teach parents and children how to eat healthy and learn the important role that nutrition plays in their growth.   However, that’s not to say preparing food for children can’t be a challenge.  Here are a few common complaints that I hear in my office:
“How can I get my kid to eat more vegetables? He/She hates them ALL!”  
"Should I give my child a vitamin?  This way I can make sure he/she's getting the nutrients he/she should be getting?"
 “My child is SO picky!”  “Dinner time leads to a fight/battle between myself and my husband to get my child to eat the food that’s been prepared.  Dinner time is stressful!”                        

If you think you’re the only one having these kinds of problems, think again.  These are just a few of the  complaints that 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:
Parents and caregivers supply the three “Ws” of meals and snacks:  What foods are offered, When and Where they’re eaten.  The child fills in the other “W” and “H”:  Which offered foods to eat and How much.
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!

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 cauliflower tell them that Dwayne Wade eats his to stay big and strong.  Your kid might just want to eat his cauliflower the next time! And of course remember to try introducing a new food in many different forms.  Kids like to have different tastes and textures and may not like a food simply based on the way it was prepared.  Keep this in mind when you think that you’ve tried them every way possible.  Here are a few cauliflower recipes that are quite tasty:

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, whether it’s with oatmeal  or whole grain toast.  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!)

Kids Eat Right™ month is designated as August every year, however, every month and every day paves the way for kids to eat right.  Teaching children healthy eating habits that ensure that they’re getting the nutrients that they need starts at a young age.  Getting kids to eat healthfully doesn’t have to be complicated.  Variety, Balance, and Moderation along with a little patience will help kids eat right and you’re on your way!