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Archive for September, 2010


Children’s sporting events provide an extreme window into the temptations of childhood eating. The culture of snacking at these events is ingrained and almost a ritual.  Reversing this culture is an uphill battle and one that requires parents and sports organizations to survey several issues.

For parents who are interested in the quality of snacks at sporting events, it may be wishful thinking to expect healthy items like fruit or vegetables–they are not the norm.  Rather, parents are more likely to see chips, crackers, cookies, sugar-sweetened beverages, and desserts shopped around to their little athletes. If you are trying to focus on feeding your child in a healthy manner, sporting events are often a landmine of high sugar, high fat, nutrient-poor food items that will sabotage your healthy eating efforts!

Issue #1:  Do kids even need a snack at a sporting event?  When did we buy into the idea that kids need to eat their way through a soccer game?  Sure, if your child is playing an active game, in the heat, and for over an hour,  a re-fueling snack and fluids to maintain energy, focus and hydration makes sense.   A granola bar, cheese and crackers, fresh fruit, or a cheese stick is helpful and healthy—cookies and donuts are not.

Issue #2:  Why do adults think that children want sugary, high fat foods when they play sports?  Aside from the LACK of nutrients they provide, they do little for enhancing a child’s sports performance. Most children at recreational sporting events do not need this–a nutritious breakfast or lunch will do the trick.

Issue #3:  We are sending the wrong message.  Play a sport and get a food reward.  Eat sweets at the end of a game.  For children, sporting events have turned into a means to an end–eating treats.

Issue #4:  Many drinks at weekend games are inappropriate for children.  Drinks are often laden with added sugar–think juice boxes, Capri Sun, Koolaid, soda, etc.  Children’s bodies need water.  What about Gatorade or similar drinks?  Again, if your child is running and sweating for more than an hour, sports drinks can be helpful in repleting lost nutrients such as sodium, chloride, and potassium.  Many children are not “sweating it out” like this until they are at the high school level.

Encouraging children to be active is part of being a health-oriented parent and raising healthy children. Physical activity is an important part of maintaining a healthy weight and a healthy body.  Feasting after physical activity seems to negate its positive effects and promote untimely and potentially excessive eating.

My own child said to me once, “Mom, if I bring orange slices for snack, everyone will be disappointed”.

I have vowed to be the boring mom who brings the healthy snack to the soccer game.  Someone has to be a role model and take the heat…I mean lead.  I invite you to join me.

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Supertasters!


What’s that at the table?  It’s a bird…it’s a plane…no, it’s a…Supertaster?! These kids may not be able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, but they do have a very special ability: an enhanced sense of taste.  At mealtime, this power can transform an ordinary child into his or her alter ego, “Supertaster.”  But just like x-ray vision, super-hearing, and super-strength, there are times when super-tasting can both help and hinder your hungry little hero.

Could One Be Lurking in your Lair? Kids are known to have more taste buds than adults, and the supertaster is blessed with even more, making dinnertime a minefield of potentially unpleasant flavors. The taste receptors, sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and umami (savory), are experienced with much more intensity.  It’s estimated that 25% of all people, most of whom are female, have this super-tasting ability.  Be on the lookout, they may be disguised as picky eaters.

Hardwired for Hero Status. We are predisposed for many taste preferences, some genetic and others a basic survival mechanism.  Babies are born with an innate preference for sweet.  Sugar provides our brains and bodies with glucose for energy.  Fat stores help us get through times of famine.  Historically, our taste preferences and cravings helped us in the days of hunting and gathering, but can get out of hand in the modern world of convenience (and abundance).  Table sugar, for example, has only been widely available for purchase within the last century.

Bitter: the Evil Nemesis. The taste experience is not the same for everyone, but strong likes and dislikes are a commonality in the supertaster.  Bitterness is especially intolerable for most, and essentially like kryptonite to your supertaster’s food preferences and eating behaviors. Many of the beneficial compounds in fruits and vegetables are bitter; avoidance of these foods may put the supertaster at higher risk for nutrient deficiencies and some cancers.  It is thought that this natural aversion is linked to the fact that many toxic substances also have a bitter taste.

Pouring Salt in a Wound. The upside for many supertasters is that they crave less fatty and sugary foods.  A little taste goes a long way, and less consumption may reduce the risk of heart disease for many.  Salt, on the other hand, is another story.  It is known to mask bitterness, which is probably why supertasters have recently been shown to crave more than usual amounts.  Given the current recommendations for lowering sodium intake, this may be another pitfall in an already compromised diet.

Be Your Child’s Sidekick in the Battle Against Bitter. Kick up the flavor of bitter foods with salt, sweet, and even some healthy fats.  Be creative, opportunistic, and persistent with food preparation.  It may take as many as 10-20 exposures for your child to find a food acceptable.  Here are some simple ways to tempt their taste buds when serving vegetables and fruit:

  • Roasting brings out natural sweetness
  • Add light cheese sauce, salted almonds, soy sauce, lemon, honey, or spices
  • Serve with low-fat ranch dressing or peanut butter
  • Monopolize on “fun foods”, like ice cream, by adding not-so-sweet fruits
  • One-dish meals, like casseroles, are a great way to introduce more
  • Add to family favorites, like oatmeal and lasagna
  • Pick naturally sweet varieties, like sweet potatoes and pineapple.

Don’t leave your super child bitter when it comes to fueling up for fighting crime (or just battling homework).  It’s up to you to help your child learn to use this power for good instead of evil.  Move over Superman, there’s a new superhero team on the block.  And they’re packing some tasty ammunition!

Contributing Author:  Cami Ruark

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When you look at this post, “Complex” is screaming at you!  Bear with me:  there is a lot to discover about B Complex.

B is for Body cells, where this family of 8 vitamins lives and works.  They help children process and use the foods they eat, which in turn helps them grow and develop.  The B vitamins also help protect your child from infections and other health problems, while performing some of the most Basic cell functions in the body.  These water-soluble vitamins are referred to as B-complex because they are found in similar foods and were originally thought to be one vitamin.  Due to scientific research and discovery, today we know that each B vitamin has a distinct job in your child’s Body.

Here are the 1-2-3’s (and aliases) of all the B’s:

Vitamin B1 (Thiamin):

  • Helps the body make energy from carbohydrates.
  • Deficiency is rare due to fortification of foods and widespread presence in foods.
  • Sources: pork, seafood, liver and other organ meats, potatoes, kidney beans, green peas, and whole and enriched grains.

Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin):

  • Helps cells make energy; changes tryptophan (an amino acid found in food) into niacin (another B vitamin).
  • Destroyed by UV light, so avoid products in clear containers.
  • Sources: dairy products, eggs, meat, chicken, salmon, organ meats, whole and enriched grains, leafy green veggies, nuts.

Vitamin B3 (Niacin):

  • Helps the body make energy from fats and sugars; builds healthy skin, nervous, and digestive systems.
  • Sources: high protein and enriched grain foods.

Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid):

  • Helps cells make energy from protein, fat, and carbohydrates.
  • Sources: meat, poultry, fish, whole grain cereals, legumes, milk, fruits, and vegetables.

Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine):

  • Helps break down protein, construct non-essential amino acids and body cells, and change tryptophan into niacin.
  • Helps produce seratonin (the “feel-good” brain chemical), insulin (the blood sugar balancer), hemoglobin (red blood cells), and antibodies  (part of the immune system).
  • May help pregnant women combat morning sickness, with doctor supervision.
  • Sources: beef, chicken, pork, seafood, some organ meats, potatoes, bananas, grains, nuts, and legumes.

Vitamin B7 (Biotin):

  • Helps make hormones; helps cells make energy from protein, fat, and carbohydrates.
  • Sources: eggs, liver, yeast breads, nuts, mushrooms, grapefruit, bananas, watermelon, and cereals.

Vitamin B9 (Folic Acid):

  • Helps make new body cells through production of DNA and RNA (the cell reproducers).
  • Fortification of foods has reduced neural tube defects (spine and brain) by 50% to 70%.
  • May be protective against heart disease.
  • Works with B12 to form hemoglobin (red blood cells).
  • Excessive intake can mask a B12 deficiency.
  • Most common vitamin deficiency.
  • Can be easily destroyed during cooking and storage.
  • Sources:  orange juice, beans, leafy green vegetables, nuts, avocados, and grains.

Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin):

  • Important to many body chemicals and to growth and development; helps cells use fats and proteins, and aids folate in red blood cell production.
  • Deficiency can take up to 7 years.
  • Children of vegan families are at high risk of deficiency, which can cause irreversible neurologic problems.  Close attention to adequate food sources is important.
  • Contrary to popular belief, it will not boost energy if amounts above recommendations are consumed.
  • Sources: animal products, and some fortified foods.

B is beautiful! Due to the overlap of many functions and food sources, a deficiency of most B vitamins is a rare find, though not unheard of.  A well-balanced diet is the best insurance policy your child can have.

Contributing Author:  Cami Ruark

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Looking for a simple, quick breakfast that will wake the body, stimulate the brain, and satisfy your little one until lunchtime?  Here is a protein-packed, grain-filled breakfast that I use with my own children:

You will need:

  • 1 slice of whole wheat bread
  • 1 egg
  • cooking spray
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • a glass

Take the glass and press a circle into the bread;  remove the circle and reserve.

Spray a griddle or pan with cooking spray and place the bread on the hot griddle (in lieu of cooking spray, you may use olive oil or butter).  Crack an egg into the “hole” and cook on medium heat, flipping mid-way to assure cooking on both sides.  Simultaneously, place the circle on the hot griddle, and cook until browned on both sides.  

The crispy circle is delicious on its own, or can be used to dip into the egg yolk. Egg in a Hole is a quick and yummy breakfast and is sure to please your little (and big) students, as they scurry off to school.

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I love vacation, and recently I enjoyed some vacation time with my family.  I thought about food (of course, I always have my eye on what is going on with children, food, and eating!) and how we change our eating patterns while we are on vacation. Long ago, it used to bother me when my husband would go to the grocery store and purchase MANY FOODS that we normally didn’t eat at home.  I would feel worried. Worried that all the good measures I had taken at home to assure our four children were being fed healthfully would be erased by the presence of white bread, sugar wafers, and potato chips. In those early years of vacationing, what was stocked in the kitchen on vacation was often a bone of contention between me and my husband.

But, I think my husband was on to something, and I have to say that I have come to agree with his attitude about vacation and food.  And it has paid off in spades with our children. One of the things we all look forward to when we leave for vacation is our “vacation food”.

Vacation is a break from the usual routine.  Sleeping patterns change (I sleep later,and without an alarm clock!), exercise habits change, and eating schedules and foods are different. A break from shopping, cooking, and healthy meal planning is something I relish.  The children also get a break from the usual foods we eat, and get to indulge in foods that are not regularly purchased.

While we all savor foods like Pepperidge Farm White Bread, Cocoa Puffs, sugar wafers, chips, and more ice cream than usual, we also incorporate more fish, farm fresh vegetables, and fruit into our “vacation diet”. When I step back and weigh the balance and totality of what our family is eating, in general, it is still balanced…just the components have changed.

I see a benefit from shifting the overall eating pattern and embracing “less than healthy” foods on vacation, as well as the healthier, local, seasonal food items.  For the healthier options, allowing your child an opportunity to try other foods and expand their repertoire is always a good thing. On the other hand, offering “less than healthy” foods allows your child to have what is often tightly controlled at home, or infrequently available.  This escape from the usual food routine may help your child be relaxed about food and eating, as they learn that there is a time and place for ALL foods.  They may also learn to appreciate the act of balancing all kinds of foods, both healthy and not so healthy. Taking a vacation from the normal food routine can be an investment in your child’s future attitude about food balance, moderation and variety.

Here is the payoff for my family:  By the time vacation is finished, we are all happy to have had the break and ready for a return to the normal food routine.  As quoted by my 13 year old daughter on our recent summer vacation, “Mom, I miss your bread.”  Enough said.

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