Archive for December, 2010

I am not  a fan of diets.  They don’t work.  Especially with kids.

Many adults argue that a calorie-restricted diet is just the nudge they need to launch their new eating habits and the resulting weight loss they desire. But for kids, restrictive approaches to weight management just don’t seem to work well. Maybe it’s the aspect of hunger, or the emotional responses that erupt, the growth influence, or just human nature that complicates weight loss for kids.  I suspect many adults would agree that some of these obstacles exist for them when using restriction as a diet attitude.  Maybe that’s why ‘diets’ aren’t working in a lasting way for adults.

We know that there are significant risks associated with dieting in teens, such as increased eating disorders and disordered eating, continued weight gain despite efforts at weight loss, and lowered self-esteem.  Diets dish up a mind-set of  “I can’t have this…”.  Human nature shows us that when we cannot have something we want, we want it even more…in the case of dieting and children, you can see where this path leads to: overeating. Having worked with many children and teens who need and begin the path to a healthier weight, I know first-hand how difficult and frustrating the process can be. And how much time it can take.

But I am here to tell you, be patient, healthy weight loss takes time. Especially for kids.

As we all get ready to begin the year 2011, I have compiled an analogy to describe the process and patience required for you and your child as you better your eating habits and your lifestyle.  It’s the Garden-Planting Analogy. I won’t get into the details of foods, portions, exercise, TV/screen time here, because you can find that in my Why Weight? blog series from last year, and the Family Pocket Guide that resulted from the blog.

Real change takes time. Whether it’s starting a new exercise routine, trying to be a better mom or dad, or getting to church regularly, making real change in your life requires a commitment to practice new behaviors every day. This is true for new health behaviors as well.  So how is planting a garden similar to waiting for weight loss? Let’s take a look, step by step:

The Garden-Planting Analogy

STEP 1: Prepare the soil Just like you prepare the ground to plant your crops, your child’s body must prepare for weight loss. This means getting rid of excess nutrients (like calories, sugar, and fat) and including nutrients that are missing from their diet.  Start a movement program that your child (and family) can stick with.

STEP 2: Plant the seeds Seeds are the nuggets of information from which change can root and thrive. Educate your child with credible nutrition advice that includes what to eat, hunger management, and fun, healthy activity. Educate yourself with how to feed your child, using positive attitudes and actions that include role modeling, daily movement, and meal routines that support healthy eating.

STEP 3: Water regularly Crops die without regular water and nutrients.  So will your efforts at weight loss if you don’t pay attention to your healthy behaviors every day. Practice good nutrition, adequate sleep and physical activity daily.

STEP 4: Wait for the roots to take hold Herein lies the frustration.  We want to plant the seeds and see an immediate garden.  But you and I know, an abundant garden requires daily care.  This same nurturing and care-taking is needed for child weight loss too.  It takes time for nutrition education and daily health practices to synchronize and internalize. Practice your health management techniques everyday, and wait.

STEP 5: Watch the plants bloom and grow Before you know it, a plant sprouts and takes hold.  The same will happen with your family efforts for better health. Soon, kids will be sleeping better, be more active, and eat healthier. And the scale will begin to move (or stay the same, depending on the weight goals for your child).  But even better than that, your family will have practiced and adopted skills and health behaviors that can last a lifetime!

A cup of  “Good things come to those who wait” blended with a pound of  “Practice makes perfect” and you’ll have a recipe with the right attitude, level of commitment, and patience to see your child (and your whole family) succeed with weight loss.


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This is a post from a year ago…almost to the day. I am taking my healthy break, officially.  The office is closed for the holidays, and I have already started a cooking whirlwind.  I love to cook, particularly with The Food Network or The Cooking Channel joining me for inspiration.  But cooking is different when I am working and juggling 4 children and a home: it’s much harder and less enjoyable.  So for a little while I will enjoy the flexibility and unpredictability of my 2 week ‘non-routine’.  I will enjoy cooking.  Though I do not look like the photo of this nice lady, I certainly hope I will feel like her!  I hope you enjoy your break as well. Thanks for your readership and following.  I wish only the best in life and health for you and your family!

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.

For me, I will enjoy the opportunity to cook without the pressure of working.  I will rest, enjoy my husband, children and friends, and enjoy planning my goals for the coming year.  I hope you find yourself enjoying a healthy break too.

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Winter is a great time of year to write a post about Vitamin C. As I write and fight my ‘going on 3 week’ winter cold (which has turned into a sinus infection…why do these illnesses hit at the most busy time of the year?!), I am reassessing the amount of Vitamin C I get in my diet.  Not only is this vitamin important for me, it’s important for my children too.  For many of us, Vitamin C is associated with preventing illness and boosting immunity.  I can’t tell you how many times I hear people saying, “Take Vitamin C for that cold!”.  But Vitamin C has other important roles within the body:  helping with the absorption of iron from foods, acting as a protector to cells, protecting the body from bruising, helping heal wounds and keep your gums healthy, and producing collagen (the connective tissue that holds everything together). Vitamin C should be consumed daily, as it is water-soluble and not stored by the body.

How much Vitamin C do children need?  The Dietary Reference Intakes (DRI) provides the following guidelines:

0-6 months: 40 mg/day

7-12 months: 50 mg/day

1-3 years: 15 mg/day

4-8 years: 25 mg/day

9-13 years: 45 mg/day

14-18 year males: 75 mg/day

14-18 year females: 65 mg/day

Large doses of Vitamin C, although not usually toxic, can cause some unpleasant side effects such as stomach upset, diarrhea, and kidney stones.  Vitamin and mineral supplements should always be used with caution, particularly with children. The safe upper limit for vitamin C in children varies by age and is lower than that recommended for adults (2000 mg/day).  Take caution when supplementing Vitamin C in children and avoid exceeding these limits:  1-3 years:  400 mg/day; 4-8 years:  650 mg/day; 9-13 years: 1200 mg/day; 14-18 years: 1800 mg/day.  The upper limit of Vitamin C in infants less than a year is undetermined.

Many people know that Vitamin C is found in citrus fruits!  It is also found in many other foods that can add additional vitamins, nutrients, and fiber to your child’s diet.  Broccoli actually has more vitamin C than grapefruit.  Red peppers, berries, melons, potatoes, papaya, guava, tomatoes, and green leafy vegetables are also great choices.  Pairing these Vitamin C-rich foods with other foods containing iron and folate, helps little bodies absorb them better.  This is good news, considering iron is the most common nutrient deficiency among children.  Parents should be aware of other sources of Vitamin C, such as beverages fortified with vitamins. Some of these drinks may not be appropriate for little ones, due to fortification.

The best way to ensure adequate vitamin C intake for your child is to get at least 5 a day of fruits and vegetables.  However, some benefits can be seen with just one serving a day.  Choosing natural whole food sources over fortified foods and beverages is best.

Contributing Author:  Cami Ruark

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Looking for a teacher’s holiday gift? Or a yummy treat for the holidays?  Try Dipped and Loaded Pretzel Rods — they please most and are fun and easy to make!

I like to use this delicious take on chocolate-covered pretzels because they are hand-made and easy for children to do with a little bit of supervision.

What you will need:

Pretzel rods

Chocolate: dark, milk, or white

candy canes or starlight mints, crushed

toffee chips

sprinkles, green or red

wax paper

Melt chocolate in a glass bowl placed over a pot of simmering water.  Keep the burner on low, as it will keep the chocolate in a liquid state and easy for ongoing pretzel dipping.  Place your topping on a plate. Dip pretzels in the chocolate, using a spoon to cover ~2/3 of the pretzel.  Move the chocolate-covered pretzel over the plate of toppings and, holding the pretzel, sprinkle the topping on the chocolate portion of the pretzel.  Lay the pretzel on wax paper to dry.  For quick drying time, place the pretzels in the freezer to set.

It doesn’t get much easier than that!

This year we (actually, my daughter) made:

  • dark chocolate-dipped, loaded with crushed starlight mints
  • milk chocolate-dipped, loaded with toffee chips
  • white chocolate-dipped, loaded with green sugar sprinkles.

The teachers will be happy this month!

What are your favorite holiday treats to make and give away?

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My pediatric clients know how difficult it is to go to parties, celebrations, or gatherings that have food as a central focus.  This is a problem with which adults are often challenged, but is a growing reality for many children, too.

School parties, birthday parties, end-of year celebrations, holiday festivities and sporting event gatherings are just a few of the regular party events that children face.  And many of the parents I work with are frustrated with the number of food-focused events their children have to tackle, especially if healthy eating is a priority, or weight is an issue.

“I can’t decide what to eat…I want it all!”.  “There are so many desserts and they all look good…”.  “All my favorite foods seem to be at parties.”  These are real sentiments from real children.  

True, it seems that parties and celebrations are loaded with temptations and often offer all the “fun” foods that may be regulated or infrequently found at home.  While you or your child may feel that attending a party is a lost cause when managing the balance of healthy eating during festive events, there are some strategies that can be useful in approaching the party scene.

Here are some approaches to think about BEFORE you get on the party eating circuit:

  • Survey the foodscape.  Check it all out (the food that is) without eating anything.  Look at all the offerings, make mental notes of what you’d like to eat, what looks interesting, and what is an absolute no-go.
  • Select the most important and special dessert (or junk food item) –the one you cannot leave without eating!  Being good or selecting the “healthier option” may leave you feeling deprived and unsatisfied.
  • First Course: Fruits and Veggies.  Fill your plate with fruits and veggies first (and eat them).  You will have started to quell the hunger pains, and contributed to the overall health of your day.
  • Don’t be a cow! Cow’s are notorious for grazing…eating all day long.  Individuals tend to lose track of how much they have eaten when they graze;  the same goes for drinking calorie-rich beverages.  Rather, be a dog–make your plate (or bowl!), eat it, and move on!
  • Limit your sodas.  The calorie and sugar content of sodas and other sugar-sweetened beverages are significant and can add up, especially when children are having a good time (and not paying attention to how much they are drinking).  Remember, all sweets are treats and count as “fun foods”, even the ones you drink.
  • Eat like a Spaniard…on a little plate, with a little portion.  Savor the flavor of little bites of different foods, rather than a large portion of one food.

These strategies may help your child be more thoughtful in their food choices, and make good decisions at parties. It also gives them strategies to use when faced with tough decisions: which “fun foods” and how much?

You wouldn’t give your child an unlimited budget for a shopping spree!  Take the same approach with smorgasbords– teach your child how to manage “fun foods”, especially at parties, for a lifetime of smart spending.

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