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!

Convenience Foods: How to Make the Right Choices

flatbreadWork, dentist appointment, grocery shopping, baseball game, laundry, dinner for four, help with homework…and it’s only Monday. For most people, this is a snapshot of everyday life. Living a fast-paced lifestyle finds many individuals relying on quick, convenient food items throughout the day. Unfortunately, we are drawn to drive-thrus, vending machines and whatever is available at the gas station. Quick, easy menu items do not always have to be unhealthy. Here is a list of foods to keep handy at the office, in your car and stocked up at home.

Breakfast:

  • Oatmeal packets: No kitchen should be without this hearty, fiberful breakfast staple. Look for the low-sugar or high-fiber varieties for the best picks. For $3.00 a box with 10 packets per box, this is a better choice than purchasing a oatmealMcDonald’s oatmeal meal that will cost $2.00 for a single serving.
  • Hard boiled eggs and cheese sticks: One nutrient that is usually lacking at breakfast is protein. Taking 15 minutes on the weekend to boil eggs can give you a quick, grab-and-go protein-powered breakfast addition or a quick snack. Cheese sticks are also convenient because they don’t take up a lot of space in the fridge or a lunch bag.
  • Greek yogurt: This yogurt packs in twice the amount of protein compared to regular yogurt. Extra protein can help you feel fuller longer. One setback to Greek yogurt is that it typically contains half the amount of calcium compared to the regular varieties.
  • Breakfast sandwiches: Special K flatbread sandwiches, which can be found in the freezer section, are excellent choices for people in a morning rush. At 180-240 calories, these protein-filled choices are much better than a Hardee’s Bacon Egg and Cheese Biscuit, which contains 450 calories.

Lunch/Dinner:

  • Frozen entrée meals: Frozen entrée meals, formerly known as TV dinners, have come a long way since they were first introduced in 1954. Thanks to Healthy Choice, Lean Cuisine and Smart Ones, you can now find lower calorie options with reduced sodium. Look for meals with less 600 mg of sodium.
  • Frozen Green Giant vegetable boxes: One common thing I see in patients is that they are not consuming enough vegetables. Vegetables are Mother Nature’s weight loss pills. Vegetables are low in calories and packed with nutrients, a win-win food choice. Each box contains at least two servings of vegetables. I’ve tried all the varieties and have been very pleased. Stock up on them when they go on sale, which is usually every third week at the grocery store.
  • Grilled fast food sandwich: If you absolutely have to go through a drive-thru, your best choice is to order a grilled fish or grilled chicken sandwich with one minor change: forgo the buns and add a side salad. By doing this, you will save yourself 200-300 calories worth of refined carbohydrates.
  • Pre-made salads: Most grocery store chains now offer pre-made salads in their produce section. You may find varieties like chef, Greek, Californian and strawberry spinach. Missing out on protein? Head to the deli section for some pre-cooked grilled chicken strips.

Snacks:

  • Pre-cut vegetables and fruits: If you don’t have enough time to cut up vegetables and fruits to take for the day, purchasing pre-cut varieties is a great option. I’ve seen mixed fruit, carrots and celery, broccoli and cauliflower, mixed bell pepper strips and more in the produce section at the grocery store. The only drawback is that these options are slightly more expensive because you are paying for someone else to cut the food for you.
  • Nuts: Nuts are great to always have on hand. They do not need to be refrigerated, which makes them perfect to keep at the office, in your purse, car, gym bag, etc. Watch out for pre-made trail mixes since they tend to be higher in added sugars from their dried fruit and chocolate candies.
  • Tuna packets and whole grain crackers: Due to its higher sodium content, this snack you would want to have less often. However, it is still better than most other vending machine items. The protein in the tuna will help keep you full. Try serving it on Special K multigrain crackers or a few whole grain Triscuits.green giant

Convenience foods don’t always have to be unhealthy. With a little training, we all can become much savvier shoppers.