The Unknown World of Vegetables and Kids

picky-little-eaterKIDS and VEGETABLES—two words that are usually not found in the same sentence and many times not in the same meal.

Many children in today’s society have grown accustomed to pre-packaged, processed food items. In fact, researchers in 2005 discovered that 2/3 of three year olds were able to identify the McDonald’s golden arches. Favorite foods such as mac n cheese, chicken nuggets and pizza are packed high in fat, salt and added sugars. Fruit is typically consumed in the form of juice or fruit snacks and vegetables are commonly offered from a can or box mix such as green beans, corn or potatoes.

Yes, I agree that some fruits and vegetables are better than none, but what’s concerning is the lack of fresh ingredients in kids’ diets and the overall poor quality of nutritional intake.

Researchers have been investigating children’s eating behaviors and identifying strategies to get them to eat healthier. A recently published study in the Journal of Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 2012 http://www.andjrnl.org/article/S0002-8223(11)01498-2/fulltext found that vegetable consumption (specifically broccoli) increased in pre-school aged children when a dip was offered with the vegetable. These findings support many other studies of its kind. What we are discovering is that young kids are more likely to consume raw vegetables when they have something to dip them in! One possible reason why this method is working is that a dip may help offset bitter flavors that some vegetables have. But let’s face it—dip adds fun!

Light Ranch dressing may be the easiest dip/dressing to use, but there are many other nutritious, homemade concoctions that can be created:

  • Make your own dressing by using light sour cream or Greek yogurt mixed with Ranch seasoning. In fact, you could use any spice/herb blend to create new flavors.
  • Peanut butter provides a good source of protein when added to celery or carrot sticks.
  • Hummus which is made from chickpeas provides fiber, a scarce nutrient in most kids diets. Hummus doesn’t have to be bland! You can infuse garlic, roasted red pepper and other flavors to give this dip an interesting twist.
  • Dips for fruits can be made too. Try vanilla yogurt or add a small amount of honey or cinnamon to Greek yogurt to make a great dip for strawberries, bananas, apples, grapes or pears.
  • Be cautious with unhealthy dip varieties. Dips like caramel, marshmallow crème and chocolate sauce contain excessive amounts of added sugars and unwanted calories.

If the dip method still doesn’t make your young one want to consume more fruits or vegetables, it may be a good idea to experiment with blending and pureeing these foods. Steamed cauliflower can be easily pureed and mixed in with carrotmashed potatoes or mac n cheese. Shredded carrots or zucchini can be added to spaghetti sauces or casserole dishes. To make it less noticeable and less chunky, puree the vegetables with the sauce before serving. Two great resources that provide recipes for these nutritious puree blends are: The Sneaky Chef by Missy Chase Lapine http://www.amazon.com/Sneaky-Chef-Strategies-Healthy-Favorite/dp/0762430753 and Deceptively Delicious by Jessica Seinfeld http://www.amazon.com/Deceptively-Delicious-Simple-Secrets-Eating/dp/006176793X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1370628568&sr=1-1&keywords=deceptively+delicious

The goal for fruit and vegetable consumption is five servings per day. For additional tips and ideas for increasing your child’s fruit and vegetable consumption, please visit: http://www.choosemyplate.gov/food-groups/downloads/TenTips/DGTipsheet11KidFriendlyVeggiesAndFruits.pdf

School’s Out for Summer!

Well, maybe our kids have replaced the lyrics of Alice Cooper with the likes of One Direction and Taylor Swift, but the story remains the same. No more pencils, no more books, and a lot more freedom to eat, play and watch TV as children please.

appleIt’s important as parents to provide a wide variety of healthy, nutritious foods at home. By improving access to healthy food options and limiting unhealthy selections, you can feel more confident knowing that your children are consuming well-balanced meals and snacks at home. As a 12-year-old, my days usually started with a big bowl of sugary, sweetened cereal, followed by mac ‘n cheese, hot dogs and an unhealthy dose of soap operas. While I was also very active with swimming, riding bikes and jumping on trampolines, my diet certainly had room for improvement. It’s never too early or too late to teach your kids about nutrition and well-balanced meals. The simplest way to illustrate a healthy meal is using the plate method. The plate method encourages you to fill half your plates with fruits and vegetables, one fourth with lean protein and one fourth with grains (preferably whole grains).myplate

Here is a list of examples to help your kids put together healthy, well-balanced meals.

Grains:

  • Whole wheat bread
  • Whole grain cereal
  • Whole wheat crackers
  • Brown or wild rice
  • Oatmeal
  • Whole wheat or corn tortilla
  • Popcorn

Proteins:

  • Chicken
  • Fish,
  • Turkey
  • Lean meat
  • Eggs
  • Nuts/seeds
  • Peanut butter
  • Beans

Dairy:

  • Low-fat milk
  • Low-fat yogurt
  • Low-fat cheese/string cheese
  • Smoothies

Fruits:

  • Apples
  • Bananas
  • Oranges
  • Grapes
  • Blueberries
  • Strawberries
  • Pineapple
  • Peaches
  • Pears

Vegetables:

  • Green salad
  • Tomatoes
  • Mushrooms
  • Fresh green beans
  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Red, yellow, green bell peppers
  • Cucumbers

Sweetened cereals like Frosted Flakes and Lucky Charms are not the best start for the day because they lack many important nutrients and contain excessive amounts of added sugars. Here’s a tip for weaning kids away from these sugar-packed cereal varieties: encourage kids to mix a healthier cereal such as Cheerios, Bran Flakes, Shredded Mini Wheats or other high-fiber variety into their favorite cereal. This will help reduce the portion size of the sugary cereal and help improve the nutrient intake of fiber. Apple chunks, blueberries, banana slices, chopped nuts or dried fruit can be easily added to oatmeal to make breakfast more well-rounded. Whole grain tortillas spread with peanut butter and banana slices or eggs, low-fat cheese, salsa and beans make two great protein-packed breakfasts.celery

Lunch meals tend to be heavy on the starches. A turkey sandwich, chips, granola bar and dessert were the typical items packed in my lunch when going to summer camp.

The results of this lunch meal: Starch=5, Protein=1, and Fruits, Vegetables and Dairy=0.

To make this lunchbox healthier, we can swap the chips with low-fat yogurt, trade the granola bar for carrot and celery sticks with one tablespoon of low-fat ranch, and include a clementine for the dessert. Mac ‘n cheese is okay to eat still, but it should be featured as a side item rather than the entrée. Pre-cutting vegetables and fruits and measuring individual containers of peanut butter, hummus, yogurt or low-fat ranch for dips can make healthy selections much more accessible.

Another valuable lesson to learn early on in life is that snacks do not equal desserts. That doesn’t mean that they can’t be fun. Try to create snacks that include at least two food groups. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Homemade trail mix with nuts, dried fruit and whole grain cereal
  • Celery logs topped with peanut butter and raisins
  • Small oranges with low-fat string cheese
  • Slice apples to make a mini peanut butter, granola sandwiches
  • Top a whole grain cracker with low-fat cream cheese and grape halves
  • Mix yogurt with fresh fruit chunks

grapesSometimes, rules need to be enforced on how much screen time is allowed each day. It is recommended that kids spend no more than two hours per day watching TV, playing video games, on the computer, etc. If you find  your kids do spend excessive amounts of time in front of the TV, try setting limits like “TV may only be watched from 1:00-2:30.” Physical activity should always be encouraged in a positive light and never used as a form of punishment. Encourage safe, outdoor activities; it’s summer time after all!

Choose Your Snack Wisely

Snacktime isn’t just for kids. Snacking can be a part of a healthy diet for adults, too! Just like mealtimes, good, nutritious snacks take thought, preparation and planning. Poor planning can result in unhealthy, convenient snack choices, such as candy, chips, pastries, crackers and soda.

One snacking mentality that I try to help people break is that “snacks” = “desserts.” Unfortunately, for a lot of people, this snacking-dessert association developed during childhood.  This is why it is so important to teach your kids at an early age to make healthy snack choices.

A healthy snack for most people typically ranges from 100-300 calories, depending on time between meals and how physically active you are. Some people believe that skipping snacks helps you save calories during the day, but healthy snacks may actually help you from overeating at your next meal. Snacks are also a great opportunity to consume nutrients that we need every day.

The perfect snack is hard to come by but here are some options I enjoy!

The perfect snack is hard to come by but here are some options I enjoy!

Try these healthy snack options from EatWell

Try these healthy snack options from EatWell

Remember, the best time to have a snack is when you are physically hungry for one! There are many influences that can make having a snack “sound like a good idea” but the real reason to snack is to satisfy an internal cue of hunger. Good snackers are able to distinguish the difference between physical and emotional hunger cues.

Emotional cues can be triggered by stress, boredom, even your co-workers. Planning ahead by cutting vegetables, buying fresh fruit or throwing some nuts in a Ziploc can help you satisfy those physical hunger cues in a more nutritious way.

Be careful not to overeat when snacking. This often occurs when we are distracted while snacking (on the computer, watching TV, talking/socializing). Distractions can lead to “mindless eating” habits that occur when we lose touch with our internal cues of hunger/satiety because our focus is on something else. A simple way to help prevent overeating is to pre-portion your snack instead of eating directly from the box, bag, container, etc. That way you know exactly how big your serving size is (instead of guessing how many handfuls of pretzels you’ve taken).

Tired of snacking on the same boring apple every day? Here are two handouts that can help spice up your snack options.

Snacking Tips for Adults

Kid Friendly Fruits and Veggies

Eat right, live well, and remember: When hunger attacks, make sure you grab a healthy snack!