Monday, July 13, 2015

I am back to blogging, I am proud to announce. I am vacationing on the Jersey Shore with my extended family, including my two children (ages 12 and 8), my nephew (8) and niece (9 months), plus my parents, sister and brother-in-law. Each time I travel I am reminded how difficult it is to keep kids on track to eat healthfully, especially when away from home. Years ago, when families seldom got the opportunity to get away and partake in soda, cookies, cake and the like on a regular basis, there might have been better justification for indulging full force in these foods while on vacation. Today, however, these items are readily available, affordable and ready to eat almost any day of the week. So these foods are, for most families, no longer a huge treat. We need to keep kids from going wild on junk food on vacation because it is, well, what they can do every day if we let them! My strategy, which seems to be working so far (by day 3 of a 7-day vacation) is the following: -Explaining to the kids that we have great meals coming...that filling up on junk will just prevent them from enjoying the next barbecued chicken or grilled pizza. Between meals, they can have one ice pop or one piece of fruit. -Keeping soda absolutely absent from the house (a key one). We have fresh juice, milk and water. -Keeping fruits and veggies cut up and highly visible in the fridge, plus ripe bananas in bunches on the main eating table (I see the kids grabbing fruit now before anything else.) -Keeping the kids hydrated (getting in and out of the pool and ocean all day dehydrates kids, which often leads them to believe they are hungry when they are actually thirsty.) This goes for adults, too. Don't forget that the sun is beating down, you are being active, and therefore your body is using more water than usual. Hydrate! -Keeping them busy! This sometimes involves jumping in the pool to start a game, getting out a board game on a rainy day, or simply saying that it is not time to eat yet and that they need to find an activity. Keeping kids active and engaged keeps them out of the refrigerator. -Helping the wind-down process before bed by disallowing chocolate and junk food. Try to cut off the munching an hour or two before bedtime. I hope that you all have a wonderful vacation this summer, one as great and rejuvenating as mine. I hope that you can benefit from these tips in order to feel better about what your kids (and you!) are eating on vacation. All of these tips apply to adults, too--stay active by swimming, sunning, reading and interacting with your friends and loved ones. Put on music and dance. Talk a walk or bike ride on the beach. Enjoy actively and remember, what you eat to excess on vacation, stays on your hips well after vacation. Indulge, but in moderation. You'll enjoy yourself more and feel mentally and physically happier if you are eating moderately and exercising. Good food and exercise are luxuries!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Let Them--and Me--Eat Cake on My Birthday

Although I am an RD, I've never been known to be the killjoy of the dinner party. I'm pretty permissive with myself and others when I'm out to dinner. I'm a big believer in living life to the fullest, and to me, that includes eating dessert when a delicious one presents itself. I think that it's quite alright to indulge and celebrate with your taste buds on occasion (but not every day), especially on one's birthday.

As I chatted with various well-wishers today, my birthday, some were surprised to find out that yes, I planned to have a decadent birthday cake (probably chocolate Oreo) and that I'd be sharing it with my family at home. The mental tally of sugar, fat and calories will sting a lot less than the 39 candles will. (We'll leave the "healthy eating at every age" blog for another day.)

I know that there is a lot of discussion about whether or not children should be able to bring treats to school on their birthdays and whether school celebrations should be marked by sugar explosions. For schools that seem to have a birthday or so a month in each class, the treats would probably not be too harmful. On the other hand, many parents I speak to perceive that their kids are "always eating junk" at school parties. They wish that teachers would insist upon celebrating with other types of fun, such as games, activities or healthy treats.

Although I still wax nostalgic about my mom's lovely birthday cupcakes, which were lovingly delivered to school each March 21 of my childhood, today I side with having your birthday bonanza outside of school. If we decide to declare our schools health zones and treat schools as what they are--places of learning (in every respect, including health and nutrition), then we need to forego junk food in school. If we weren't dealing with an overweight/obesity crisis, I would probably be softer on this point. Soft, like a moist, sprinkle-laden, frosted cupcake.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Better Nutrition in Schools - Continued...

The bill that improves school lunch, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, was signed into law by President Obama late last year. The USDA has written a "proposed rule," which means a proposed set of regulations that would serve as the rules by which schools and food operators must operate. April 13, 2011 is the deadline to submit public comments on the proposed rule to the USDA.

Members of Congress are gathering their constituents' opinions on the proposed rule, which, in short, would: increase fruits and vegetables in meals, lower sodium significantly over time, and lower saturated fat in meals over time. Congress is also interested in constituents' opinions on regulating the type of parent-school communication that would help protect allergic children, especially those at risk for severe reactions from such foods.

If you have comments, call your Member of Congress. Your opinion matters and picking up the phone, no matter what your opinion, calls attention to this important matter.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Better School Food and Better Food Safety - Heading in the Right Direction At Last

President Obama signed the School Nutrition Reauthorization Act, which will add six cents to the production costs of each school lunch. This may sound like chump change, but it actually buys an historically significant upgrade to child nutrition. Think about it. As one example, since whole grains sell for a higher price than refined grains, that extra six cents times the number of meals served at school may mean that kids will eat whole wheat bread (replete with B vitamins, iron and fiber) vs. white bread (of lesser nutritional value) more often. It means that school food service managers can afford to feed kids a bit better each and every day. And that's bound to make a difference over time. Thirty-one million American kids eat school meals every day, with school breakfast and lunch providing 2/3 of their daily nutrition.

The Reauthorization Act will also likely translate into tighter USDA regulations that limit total calories and grams of sodium per meal,but increase the number of fruit and vegetable servings at each meal. It will be up to the USDA to take public and expert input plus evidence-based recommendations from the Institute of Medicine and write a set of doable, but meaningful regulations that make bold changes to school lunch.

This, combined with the recent food safety legislation that is likely to be signed into law, are commendable steps towards helping ensure and/or repair the health of American children. Remember, these are the same kids that we predict as likely to develop Type 2 diabetes and other overweight-related conditions in their lifetimes. It is better nutrition that will help them to avoid this fate.

From my vantage point as a registered dietitian (RD) and nutrition educator, it seems that our legislature is heading in the right direction when it comes to child wellness--at last.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Mediterranean Diet –for Real

    My perception of the Mediterranean Diet was probably similar to that of most Americans: eating plenty of rice, lentils, red wine, hummus, diverse vegetables and small portions of fish and meat. That was the picture in my head until I took my third trip to both France and Israel—two Mediterranean nations—over the past two weeks. This time around, I sat back, and observed not only the French and Israelis, but my own family and how they ate when offered food.

    I suppose that I always "got" the food part. Many of the foods listed above are staples for me. And I've always tried to serve lentils, plenty of greens, peppers, cucumbers and tomatoes—even those grown in our family garden—to my kids and husband. But there's more to eating Mediterranean style than just tossing some lentils on a salad or having a glass of Merlot with dinner.

    The part that most Americans leave out--not because we reject it, but simply because it's not really part of American mainstream food culture--is the slow eating, a preference for seasonal food, and pure enjoyment of meals with family and friends. We also leave out the distinctly different portioning of the various food groups. Mediterranean plates are heaping with plant-based grains, fruits, and vegetables, and offer meat in proportions that seem like a "side dish" to most Americans.

    Sure, France and Israel, in many respects, are worlds apart culturally. But they share a number of foodways. First, food is taken seriously in these countries. It's not something you grab and snack on as you run down the street to your office. It's something to which you devote time to savor and to really taste. (When you actually taste your food, you'd be surprised at the flavors you can detect.)

Second, the meal is about more than sustenance. It's about celebration and enjoyment. In France, I sat down with my husband and two small kids to have a several course meal at a "nothing fancy" brasserie near our Montparnasse hotel. We enjoyed cantaloupe soup (delicious), stuffed mushrooms (also great), a simple salad, and then steak with pepper sauce and French fries. We had a half-bottle of red wine between us adults, and enjoyed every minute of it. We people-watched, held hands and caught up with each other and watched the passers-by. The kids enjoyed the food less, but did enjoy dining al fresco and the rare Coca-Cola that we allow them when on vacation. Not at all French, but somehow highly pleasing.

I am suspecting that the reason that this trip altered my thinking on Mediterranean food was that I had to get my kids to enjoy Mediterranean food as much as I and my husband do. And you know what? It wasn't easy. American kids are used to the very narrow category of fare that we've called "kids food." This category includes some of the foods highest in saturated fat, salt, cholesterol and sugar known to mankind. I have never allowed my kids to make these foods the bulk of their diets, but the security of seeing the foods on a menu in a country in which nothing seems familiar would be enough to make them dive into nuggets and fries all week long.

Fortunately, in this part of the world, there are no "kids'" foods—at least not at restaurants. There's only "food." And I like it that way. So I think that my kids were pretty hungry for several days, despite having plenty of food choices around them. If my kids would just try even a few of the various foods that are new and unfamiliar to them, they would get healthy doses of all the nutrients they need and they'd probably feel a lot better. They are opening up a bit after eight days in the Med region (out of pure hunger, I think), so there's still hope that they'll eat lamb, eggplant, and other delightful treats. They are also learning to slow down and enjoy time with their family while eating. After all, they've have no choice. They can't leave until we pay the bill!

It may be too much to hope for that my kids will go home asking for the foods they've experienced here. But I believe that this exposure—this opening of the mind and the observation of alternative foods on their plates—is a learning experience in itself. I am seeing that each time a plate appears before my kids (ages 7 and 3), their curiosity piques a bit more. At some point, they'll recognize these dishes as "normal," although it may not be until they are adolescents or adults. Without this real Mediterranean experience, these dishes may not have made the same impression. I am hoping that at least the 7-year-old will remember them.

There are nutritionists who would bemoan their kids' rejection of many of the healthy foods that these countries have to offer. I am actually thankful that my kids can experience them and taste them if they choose. Since I can't force-feed my kids, I simply encourage them to eat the foods and I explain why these foods are so terrific for the body. I hope that someday my kids will crave the same flavorful, fresh, healthful foods that they saw in France and Israel during their childhood. I have a feeling that it's a matter of palate maturity. My son is already digging pita and cheese. Well, it's a start!

So, parents, don't give up on trying to get your kids to keep plants top of mind while filling their plates—wherever in the world they may be. Keep eating your healthful foods, setting a great example, and presenting a variety of healthful foods—even if they are unfamiliar—to your kids. Exposure can be a key to future interest, tasting and then, if all goes well, regular consumption.