Archive for October, 2009

Having not had the experience of actually eating REAL, FRESH pumpkin, I was challenged this week to roast and toast pumpkin and pumpkin seeds for the entire elementary school in my area.  Admittedly, I was raised on canned pumpkin…and ate it very infrequently!

Inspired and instructed by the editor of Relish Magazine, Jill Melton, I managed to quite successfully roast and toast pumpkin for the first time…and the school kiddos enjoyed it!

Here’s how I did it:

Roasted Pumpkin:

4 small sugar pumpkins, washed and cut into 5-6 wedges, seeds removed and reserved

In a 400 F oven, place the pumpkin wedges, skin-side down in a large roasting pan, filled with 2 inches of water.  Cover with aluminum foil and roast for 20 minutes.  Remove foil and sprinkle with brown sugar;  let roast an additional 15 minutes.

Because the skin softens after roasting, you can eat it!  Cut the pumpkin further into chunks or slivers, whichever suits your fancy.  Roasted pumpkin is tasty by itself, pureed with chicken or vegetable stock for pumpkin soup, or used in the Thanksgiving classic, pumpkin pie.

Pumpkin Seeds:

Place washed pumpkin seeds on a parchment paper-covered cookie sheet and sprinkle with Kosher salt (or any other seasoning such as garlic powder, cayenne, cinnamon, etc).  Roast for 20-30 minutes, or until the seeds are lightly browned.

Pumpkin is rich in many nutrients, but especially the antioxidants, Vitamin A and beta-carotene.  Pumpkin seeds are a rich source of manganese, magnesium, copper, iron, and zinc. Both are nutrient-rich and fat-poor–a worthwhile source of calories and nutrients.

Take advantage of the plethora of nutrient-rich, tasty pumpkins in your area!



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When my daughter decided she wanted to try out for her school cheerleading squad, I was…ummm…ambiguous, concerned, worried, reserved.  I guess my long days of seeing young teen girls with low self-esteem and body image distortion were clouding my vision–or were they?  Maybe I was just a worried mother who was afraid of neck injury, back injury, and a wheelchair?  Or was I concerned that my daughter would get the message that perky prettiness was more important than brains and brawn?  Certainly, I knew the physical demands of cheering were equal to a vigorous workout and I had heard from other coaches that cheerleaders take on more bumps and bruises than perhaps, football players.  But, I was nervous…about all of it.

When my daughter came home and told me that she was to be one of the flyers (you know, the ones that get tossed up in the air and hurtled through space?!), I put on my brave and neutral face, and said, “Well honey, that’s great!”.  As time marched on, and twice weekly practices were the norm, I noticed that I tended to wait in the car for my daughter, rather than go in and watch the tail end of practice, like so many of the other mothers.   I told myself that I would wait to watch her …until when?  Until she told me she was perfectly perfect at all the stunts?  Safe?  Still grounded in her self, her spirit and self-confidence?  Still naturally beautiful?  I asked her questions targeted at her self-esteem and the dynamics of the group.  She always said, ” Practice was great!”.  I was searching for a drawback, a down-side to the experience, but was coming up empty-handed.

Despite my ambiguity, as the weeks turned into months, I couldn’t help but notice the little split jumps my daughter would do as she walked behind the couch, or the abrupt moments of getting up from the dinner table to bang out a move or two from her dance repertoire.  Our family enjoyed these moments.  We could actually see her improve and develop her skills throughout these months of dedicated practice.

Last night was the end-all, be-all cheer competition, the final finale of teams against teams, loud re-mixed versions of “Boom Boom Pow” and other songs I couldn’t begin to define.  As my daughter and her cheer team approached the stage, I sat amazed at the talent in front of me.  Their crisp movements. Their confidence and poise.   The wonderful show of sportsmanship to the fellow teams.  And the sweet and sincere support the team had for each other. 

I rest now, of clear mind and contented fears, assured that my daughter has benefited from cheerleading– in self-confidence, poise, and the knowledge that hard work REALLY does pay off.  The dividends of a positive team experience are numerous.  Yes, a trophy is always a nice reminder of the event, but the lasting pride, self-esteem, and inner satisfaction a girl, like my 7th grade daughter, can muster in the days to come  have exponential rewards.

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The teen years are a time of heightened growth and development, a time when optimal nutrition is critical, and a time when our children’s bodies become adult-like.  Nutrient needs are high and caloric requirements are peaking, all in an effort to prepare the body for its last phase of growth. A teen’s diet and eating habits can be a set-up for hunger, tiredness, lack of focus, weight gain, and disordered eating. 

Turn these common unhealthy practices into a healthy advantage!

The breakfast balk 

Breakfast is “the most important meal of the day”.  Breakfast gives a jump start to your teen’s metabolism, wakes up the brain for learning, and sets the tone for hunger management throughout the day.  Some teens don’t have the time to eat breakfast before they head out the door for school.  Opt for a “grab-n-go” breakfast such as a mixture of dry cereal, raisins, and nuts or a piece of fruit with a wedge of cheese.  Teens can drink their breakfast too, with options such as fruit smoothies or  milk-based breakfast drinks, both of which provide vitamins and minerals in addition to calories and protein.

Bring, buy, or skip?  

Lunch provides the nutrients your teen requires to continue processing and learning at school and also helps keep hunger under control at the end of the day.  When buying or packing a lunch, encourage your teen to select a variety of items from at least 3 food groups.  Food groups include dairy, fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and lean meat or protein.  Checking out the lunch menu and planning ahead can be a useful strategy to help your teen make healthy choices and avoid the “surprise” lunch.  And remember, brown bagging doesn’t have to mean a sandwich!  Try microwaving a potato, sending a chef salad, or assembling whole grain crackers with lean deli meat and cheese at the lunch table.  Round these entrees out with a piece of fresh fruit and a container of low-fat milk or yogurt and your teen will have a healthy lunch.  And chances are, your teen won’t come home over-hungry and clean out your refrigerator and pantry!

The tired teen 

Tiredness is a symptom of inadequate sleep, but can also represent dehydration.  Be sure your teen is drinking about 2 liters of fluid per day and even more if he/she is playing a sport.  A good rule of thumb:  if your teen feels thirsty, he is behind on drinking fluids.  Help your teen recognize thirst as dehydration and look for times during his day that fluid intake can be increased.  Excellent fluid sources are water, milk, or 100% fruit juices.

A jump start with breakfast, refueling at lunch, and adequate fluid intake can keep your teen healthy, energetic, and getting the nutrients he needs to grow into a healthy adult.

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Parenting is no easy feat, especially when it comes to feeding your child.  Encouraging a positive attitude about food and eating, consuming nutritious foods, and cultivating a good body image are fundamental to your child’s health and well-being.  The attention you give to food selection and the process of feeding your child will lay the foundation for a future of health and body confidence.  Here are five key concepts to consider as you raise your healthy eater:

Enrich the Plate and the Palate

Children require over 40 nutrients each day.  Offering a wide variety of whole, natural foods that include low-fat dairy products, fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains will help assure these nutrient needs are met.  Reduce consumption of processed foods and foods with artificial colorings, as these may be nutrient-poor and crowd out the necessary nutrients required by your growing child.

Focus on Family Meals

Sit down and eat together as often as you can.   Research indicates that five family meals per week may improve grades, reduce risk-taking behaviors, and prevent obesity and eating disorders.

Try family-style feeding—put  a variety of prepared food into serving dishes, pass them around the table and let everyone choose which foods they will eat and how much.  Be sure to include one or two food items that you know your child likes and is comfortable eating.  Family-style meals encourage your child to eat amounts that are right for him.

Provide, Don’t Deprive

Be a great provider!  Take care to keep your kitchen well-stocked with nutrient-rich foods.  Prepare good-tasting, healthy meals that appeal to your child.  Anticipate hunger between meals and serve healthy snacks that satisfy your child. 

Avoid being a depriver.  When it comes to your child’s appetite, be sure to respect his hunger.  Restricting or controlling how much your child eats may leave him hungry and promote overeating at other occasions.

Be Predictable and Consistent

Develop a rhythmic and timely pattern to meals and snacks, and be consistent.  Predictability and consistency helps your child keep hunger in check, be more relaxed about eating, and less fixated on food.

Watch what you say, heed what you do

Parents are the greatest influence, particularly in the first decade of life, on their child’s eating behaviors, food selections, and body image.  To raise healthy eaters, you have to be a healthy eater too!  Be a terrific role model for your child by enjoying nutritious, wholesome foods every day.  For more on role modeling, check out my expert blog post on http://www.littlestomaks.com.

Negative comments about your child’s food selections, how much or how little they eat, and how they look may hurt your child’s self esteem and body image.  At meal time, take the focus off of food and body size and enjoy a conversation about their school day or future activities on the family schedule.

Following these strategies will help you be a great feeder and raise a child who is a confident, healthy eater.

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The BMI (Body Mass Index) is a tool for understanding obesity and its use in children is growing.  If your pediatrician hasn’t used it at your child’s annual check-up, you may see it in the school setting soon.  

The BMI is an assessment tool that calculates the combination of  weight and height to determine the appropriateness of  a person’s body weight for their current height.  Results of the BMI calculation may include:  underweight, healthy weight, overweight, or obese.

The BMI is a screening tool developed for populations to determine public health risk for chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes.  Its use in children over the age of two has increased due to the rising incidence of childhood obesity.  Most pediatricians are routinely assessing BMI at your child’s annual check-up.  However, less common is the use of BMI as a screening tool in schools.  The BMI as a screening tool for school-age children is gaining momentum–thirteen states are currently using BMI screening methods to help pinpoint, prevent, and reverse the epidemic of childhood obesity.  Will this be effective? 

One of the key elements to the reversal of any trend  is awareness.  BMI data can help build awareness in families, IF it is presented in a responsible way.  Cultural sensitivity to parents’ perceptions of their child’s weight is important.  Evidence shows that some parents perceive overweight as healthier and better for their child.  Linking weight status to health risk is key to building awareness in these groups.  Also, many families have no idea that their child may be gaining too much weight –because when they look around at other children, their own child doesn’t look dissimilar. 

Education about the BMI measurement and its limitations is crucial.  The BMI measurement provides a total body index and does not differentiate body frame size and muscle mass from fat stores.  In other words, you may have a large-framed child that is muscular who may be classified as overweight or obese.  Looking at the child as an individual…what they eat, how they eat, how physically active they are, parents’ frame size, etc. can aid in keeping the right perspective when it comes to your child’s weight and interpreting his BMI result.

Communication of the BMI data results require sensitive wording and resources for parents who want to seek further help for their child.  Presenting this data without resources can be confusing and concerning to a parent.  BMI result information should include local programs and providers who can assist with healthier eating and lifestyle enhancement.

And if you are told your child’s BMI is too high?  Consult with your pediatrician, registered dietitian, or other health care provider to gather information and education that is tailored to your child, family, and lifestyle.  An elevated BMI and the associated risks for chronic disease can be normalized and/or reversed with healthy eating, physical activity, and lifestyle changes.  For a BMI calculator tool, go to http://apps.nccd.cdc.gov/dnpabmi/.

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