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Archive for December, 2009

A Healthy Break


Healthy…hmmm.  Many may think I am going to write about how to eat healthy during the holidays, but I am not.  Fooled you!  There are other ways to be healthy during this holiday season.  Moving your body.  Resting.  Thinking.  Prioritizing and organizing.

The holidays offer a much needed respite for many.  Moms get to enjoy a change of pace with children who are home.  Children get to sleep in and not worry about the daily grind of homework and classes.  Dads get time off too, and always seem to enjoy the break from work demands and hassles.

Many folks don’t eat right during the holidays.  How can you resist the traditional foods and the desserts?!  The holidays offer special foods and traditions, and a break in the usual routine.  Schedules are looser, meals are either highly planned or on the fly due to shopping or travel.  It is really a time to enjoy, kick back, rest, and re-fuel.  Is it worth it in the end to resist those foods we really want?  Is it OK to take a break from the usual routine of exercise, menu planning, and cooking?  Of course.   Eat what you want, and be smart about how much.  Take a break from cooking and make smart choices. Change your exercise routine but keep moving.

The holiday break is short.  Enjoy it!  All of it.  Enjoy the time away from work and away from school.  Enjoy the yummy foods served during the holidays.  Enjoy your time with your family.  Enjoy the break in routine.

January will come knocking quickly.  And we can all look forward to eating right, moving more, and being healthier. Our usual routine in the New Year.

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So this child is walking down the street carrying a 12 oz. apple juice in hand…he passes a teen guzzling a 16 oz. chocolate milk.  What’s wrong with this picture?  Some of you may say “fiddlesticks”—but I think there is an emerging and dangerous trend, of which we, as parents, need to be aware.  

We are a society bludgeoned by portion distortion at every corner we turn.  When given larger portions, over and over, we begin to believe that these are normal, and we get accustomed to consuming these larger quantities of food and drink.  Half-pound burgers.  Pizza slices on steroids.  Gigantic Gulps.  Double-sized bagels. 

Traditionally, juice and milk have been considered healthy drink options. When consumed, 100% fruit juice and milk, both flavored and non-flavored, can provide a healthy dose of nutrition–far better than your cola, lemonade, or sweet tea, right?! 

Here’s the hook:  Portion size!  According to the Institute of Medicine (IOM), the recommended portion size of 100% fruit juice is 4 ounces and according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the maximum consumption of juice for children is 4-6 ounces per day (aged 1-6 years) and 8-12 ounces per day (aged 6 years and older).  In turn, the recommended portion size for milk is 8 ounces, with a targeted daily intake of 24 ounces per day (3 cups). 

Currently, the distortion of portions is being imposed upon our traditionally healthy drinks.  What was once the standard 8 ounce portion of milk is now ballooning to a 12 ounce and 16 ounce container.    The standard 4 or 6 ounce juice box, can now be found in much larger quantities.  Certainly, some may say that individuals can make their own choice, and larger portions are just an example of another option. 

What is dangerous with this approach is the notion of “healthy options”–a very misleading concept in this context.  What would appear to be the “more is better for your health” approach preys upon the naivete of many Americans, especially children.  In the case of manufacturing larger containers of milk and 100% juice, a double, and in some instances, a triple impact on caloric consumption ensues.  Do our children really need to be drinking 200 calories from juice in one sitting?  And how is that different from the caloric content of soda?

What great confusion when children are given the options of 12 and 16 ounce portions of 100% juice and milk in school vending machines!  Not only are these portions excessive related to the recommended daily consumption, they fail to emulate normalized portions.  And because of this, they perpetuate portion distortion in our most vulnerable population, children.

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In a world where much attention is given to prevention and treatment of childhood obesity, the thin child lurks in the corner, causing his parent to sprout grey hairs and yell incessant pleas from the table to eat.  From toddlers to teens, the thin child who appears to barely eat is just as much a concern to a parent as the child who overeats.

If your child is thin and you are worried about whether he/she is getting enough nutrition, here are some guidelines to help calm your fears and feed your child:

Check the growth chart:  Children show us that they are thriving through normal growth and development and this is demonstrated on the Center for Disease Control growth charts.  Your pediatrician graphs your child’s weight and length/height routinely at well-visits.  Children who are growing normally will channel their growth predictably on their personal growth curve.  Children who are not gaining weight appropriately may demonstrate a flattening of their growth curve or show a decrease from their usual growth channel percentile.  The growth chart is a good indicator of your child’s overall nutritional status.  If your child appears to be maintaining a usual and predictable pattern on the curve, you can rest assured that your child is getting adequate calories for normal growth.

Consider an age-appropriate multivitamin:  Children who are thin may be selective or particular eaters and may not be getting adequate amounts of needed vitamins and minerals.  If your child eliminates a major food group (dairy, fruit, vegetable, grains, proteins), consumes more processed foods than whole, natural foods, or is having difficulty gaining weight, a multivitamin may be a prudent addition to his/her daily diet.

Make every bite count:  Be sure to add and/or cook vegetables with fat, such as butter and/or oils.  Adding sauces such as cheese, hollandaise, or sour cream can help boost calories as well.  Dip fresh fruit in yogurt, fruit dips, or peanut butter.  Dress your pasta–rinse and toss with olive oil, then add butter, cheese or sauce.  Choose 2% or whole milk, instead of skim or 1% fat.  Reconstitute soups and prepare oatmeal with milk instead of water.  Boost baked goods such as muffins, cookies, or  pancakes with an extra egg or dry milk powder.  Every bite of food and every gulp of liquid can make a contribution to your child’s ability to gain weight and grow.

Incorporate a pre-bedtime snack:  Smoothies, milkshakes, instant breakfast drinks or peanut butter toast are good snacks that pack extra protein and calories before sleeping.  Check out my Power Snacks blog for more snack ideas.

Stick to a schedule:  Eating meals and snacks on a consistent basis can help support the cycle of hunger and promote adequate nutrient intake.  Aim to offer meals and snacks every 3-4 hours.

Stay active:  Activity helps build and sustain the cycle of rhythmic hunger.

Don’t plead, beg, or threaten your child to eat:  These actions set up a negative dynamic around food and eating for you and your child.  These are also controlling behaviors, and may backfire in the long run.  Provide ample opportunity and nutritious, acceptable foods on a regular schedule and allow your child to control whether and how much he/she will eat.

Some children are naturally thin and some are thin due to suboptimal or inadequate nutrition.  Always seek further assistance from a Registered Dietitian or your pediatrician if you are concerned about your child’s weight.

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We are all role models to children.  Parents, especially, are under the watchful eye of their child.  How you behave, what you choose, your habits—both good and bad, influence a child each day.  And how you manage your body—what you eat, when and how much you eat, your activity level or lack thereof, all register with children and can set the foundation for a future of healthy eating and an active lifestyle, or not.

Parents have the unique responsibility of being the primary role model for their child when it comes to food and eating behaviors.  By the time a child is twelve years old, they will model many parental behaviors in this area.  So, if you are a meal skipper, chances are your child may be too.  If you diet off and on, so may your child grow up and do the same.  If you refuse certain foods or eliminate them from your diet, your child may adopt these practices also.  If you spend a lot of time watching television, don’t be surprised if your child comes home and plops in front of the TV, Nintendo DS, or laptop. 

It can be overwhelming to realize your child is looking at your behavior every day!  Here are some concepts to keep in mind as you consider your model behavior:

Trust your child to honor their hunger and fullness and eat the right amounts for their body.  Trust your child’s inner intuition about eating.  Trust that you can learn from your child’s natural self-regulation.  This foundation of trust will serve you and your child through the ups and downs of growth, body development, and eating in the future.

Predictability is the key to a happy child.  Set up a framework for meals and snacks—time them at regular intervals to avoid over-hunger.  Structure your meals to have most of the food groups represented, most of the time.  Offering fruit at every meal is a great way to ensure healthy eating and build predictability in mealtimes.  Predictability builds security—food security.  A child who is secure with food and eating tends to have fewer problems with weight and eating later in life.

Choose food for health.  Focus on foods that are rich in nutrients, fiber, and taste.  Choose more whole, natural foods such as fruits, vegetables, lean meats, low-fat dairy products, and whole grains.  Consider processed foods, food colorings and dyes, caffeine, and sugar substitutes as the “occasional food”, rather than a staple in your family’s diet.  If the drive through is a common stop on your way home, envision another way to bring convenience and efficiency to your eating—try a crock-pot,  a pressure cooker, or homemade frozen entrees instead.

Expose your child to a variety of foods.  Ensure that new foods accompany familiar foods.  Try ethnic varieties, exotic fruits, seasonal vegetables, and flavorful condiments.  Try different forms of familiar foods—instead of French fries, try roasted potatoes.  Instead of applesauce, try baked apples.  Don’t rule out a food because you think your child won’t like it—and don’t paint a grim face if you do offer it—stay neutral and trust your child to let you know their impression.

Adventure in eating is fun for kids. Show your sense of eating adventure by having a “new menu item” night during the week.  An openness to “try anything” also shows adventure in eating—let your child see the adventurous eater in you!

Move your body—daily.  If you want your child to be active, you need to be active too.  Show your enjoyment and enthusiasm for exercise!

Share your food.  This is a safe way for your young child to try new food items and a way to build trust and security with food and eating.  Sharing food sends the very basic and important message of generosity.

Communicate early and often with your child about food, eating, nutrients, health, and physical activity.  Promoting open and honest communication about nutrition will set a foundation of trust, health education, and realism in the world of food and eating.  Remember, children are curious and will ask the questions—let them know early on that you are their resource for reliable information.

Manners are important and beginning early with the basic “please and thank you” is a great place to start.  Make sure you “please” and “thank” your child early on—and you will be pleasantly surprised when you hear it stated, unsolicited from their mouths.  Practice common table manners—it pays off before you know it.

Role Modeling is not a choice for a parent—it comes with the territory.  Choosing to be a great role model with food and eating will reap lifetime rewards in your child’s food choices, eating behaviors, exercise patterns, and overall health.  Remember, your child is watching your every move.  Your moves don’t have to be perfect—just thoughtful and intended toward a healthful and active child.

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