Archive for April, 2011

Guest blogger and registered dietitian, Katherine Fowler, shares her wisdom about whole grains for us this week.

Katherine Fowler, MS, RD, LDN

Can you identify whole grains?  More importantly, are you getting enough of them?  The world of whole grains is not easy to navigate.  Claims on packaging can be confusing and misleading.  No need to worry!   The answers to your questions can be found here.

What exactly is a whole grain?

All grains actually start out as whole grains.  The original grain consists of three parts: 

  • Bran:  Outer shell containing phytochemicals, B vitamins, minerals and dietary fiber
  • Endosperm:  Inner portion containing proteins, carbohydrates and B vitamins
  • Germ:  Inner core containing B vitamins, vitamin E, unsaturated fat, phytochemicals, and antioxidants

According to the Whole Grains Council, whole grains contain all three parts along with their nutrients after processing. It is believed that the fiber, vitamins, minerals and other substances contained in whole grains work together to provide maximum health benefits.

The making of white bread (many kids’ favorite!) involves processing the whole grain, removing (or “stripping”) the bran, germ and key nutrients, including much of the fiber.

Why go for whole grains?

Research shows that eating whole grains everyday can help reduce the risk for heart disease and diabetes, and may normalize blood glucose levels, lower blood cholesterol and blood pressure, and decrease risk for some cancers.   Whole grains add texture and flavor to foods and may help you feel fuller between meals, promoting a healthy weight.

How much whole grain is enough?

In a study published in the February 2010 issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, researchers reported young people ages 15 to 23 are consuming less than 1 serving of whole grains per day!

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines recommend that most Americans make half of their grains whole, or have at least three servings of whole grains daily.  Sixteen or more grams of whole grain ingredients equals a full serving.

Note:  Recommendations for whole grains are different than recommendations for grams of dietary fiber.  The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends 0.5 grams of fiber for every kilogram (2.2#) of body weight for children ages 2 and older.  Adding 5 grams to a child’s age is an easy and accurate way to determine minimum daily fiber needs. 

The Dietary Guidelines define a serving of whole grain as:

  • 1/2 cup cooked brown rice, whole grain pasta or other whole grain
  • 1/2 cup cooked whole grain cereal

    The Whole Grain Stamp

  • 1 slice 100% whole grain bread
  • 1 small (1 oz.) 100% whole grain muffin
  • 1 cup 100% whole grain ready-to-eat cereal

For more on the age-specific, minimum serving requirements for whole grains, click here.

How do you know if it’s whole?

Many products contain whole grain and refined flour, so recognizing good sources is not clear-cut.  These tips will help you evaluate products:

1. Look for the Whole Grain Stamp, a symbol now on hundreds of packages.  The 100% Whole Grain Stamp identifies products that are 100% whole grain while the basic Whole Grain Stamp appears on products containing at least half a serving of whole grain.

2. Check the package label.  Many whole grain products do not bear a stamp. Some list grams of whole grain on the package, or label a product as “100% whole grain.”  Be skeptical if you see phrases like “made with whole grain” or if the word “whole” is not used.

3. Focus on the ingredient list.  If a whole grain is listed in the first few ingredients, the product is a good source of whole grain.  If enriched wheat flour, or white flour appears at the beginning of the list, it is not a good source.

A product containing some whole grain is better than one made solely from refined flour.  Some whole grains are better than none!

Cooking Light has done the homework for you and determined whether popular products are whole grain or not.  Click here to see if your favorites pass the test.

What about white wheat?

For those that prefer the taste and texture of white bread, select white whole wheat bread. White whole wheat bread is made with white wheat, a variety of wheat that is lighter in color and texture.  It offers the same benefits of traditional red wheat.  Remember, if the label doesn’t say “whole” white wheat, it isn’t a whole grain product.

A word on fiber

A high fiber food does not imply a food is whole grain.  Different grains naturally contain various amounts of fiber.  Food companies have started to add isolated fibers such as inulin, maltodextrin, and polydextrose to their products that increase fiber content, however, they do not provide the same health benefits of whole grains.


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In a society that places a high focus on food (both healthy and unhealthy), it’s easy to get mired in the black and white thinking of “good foods, bad foods”. Parents easily fall into this trap while they are in the midst of  “getting food right” for their kids. And boy, does the job of “getting food right” get confusing for everyone!

What if we changed the language we use?  What if we try to label foods in a positive manner, so that kids can grasp what we are trying to teach them without fear and negativity?

Fun Foods taste good but need limits.

Enter the concept of FUN FOOD.

FUN FOODS are foods that are yummy (and sometimes irresistible), usually due to their sweet, fatty and/or salty taste.

Examples are birthday cake, cupcakes, cookies, soda, candy, chips and fried foods. FUN FOODS tend to be generous in calories, low in nutrition and naturally alluring (think about those pleasure-seeking taste buds–sweet, salt, and fat).

Parents tell me that FUN FOODS are everywhere, and they fear that FUN FOODS are becoming a mainstay in their kids’ diets. No longer just a treat at birthday parties, FUN FOODS are making regular appearances at school, church, and sporting events. While I am all for fun, too many FUN FOODS can get some kiddos into trouble.

Do you ever feel that FUN FOODS are invading your child’s daily plate?

If you answered ‘yes’, then you (and your kids) need a rule to live by! One that can keep the fun in food without ruining anyone’s health.

Enter the 90:10 RULE, a concept that many families find useful in tapering the influence of FUN FOODS.

It goes like this:

90% of what kids eat during the day is good-for-you, growing food (a balance and variety of foods from the MyPyramid guide: lean protein sources, dairy, fruit, vegetables, and whole grains)— and the other 10% is FUN FOOD.

For most healthy kids, a good rule of thumb is to eat no more than 1-2 FUN FOODS each day. Kids can understand this concept—and the best part– allowing kids to choose which FUN FOOD they will eat. Take a look:

     Sally knows that she will have the opportunity to have donuts after church on Sunday, as well as cake and ice cream at the afternoon birthday party she is attending.  Following the 90:10 Rule, she opts for cake and ice cream at the party and skips the donuts at church.  Good choice, Sally!

     Brent is playing baseball this afternoon and as tradition has it, he grabs a slushy drink.  He passes on the bowl of ice cream later that night, remembering he chose his FUN FOOD earlier that day. Home run, Brent!

The 90:10 RULE encourages kids to make choices and set limits on the amount of less-than-healthy foods they eat. It helps them pause and think through what they will eat during the day, and gives them an opportunity to think ahead and practice decision-making skills with eating.

As parents, we know there are endless options for FUN FOODS throughout the day. Eliminating FUN FOODS all together is a recipe for mutiny. Balancing FUN FOODs with GROWING FOODs is really the key to successful, healthy eating.

And kids need to be able to navigate the world of food.  Among the vast variety of FUN FOODS, the 90:10 RULE is a rule to live by for kids. It allows them to be in charge of choosing the FUN FOOD which is most important to them. And it helps them to set their own limits while learning to balance their eating.

For parents who want to know more about the role they can play in managing their kid’s sweets, check out the advice over at Raise Healthy Eaters.

What guidelines do you use to put a positive twist on managing FUN FOODS?

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Kids speak…and people listen.

Here’s a follow-up to my post from the 11 year old who had an opinion on junk food.  I was reminded by John, from the American Institutes for Research an assistant to  NHLBI in their health outreach efforts, that it isn’t just about food…there is more at play (literally) when talking about childhood obesity (and, I couldn’t agree more, John…).

Turn Off the TV!

John pointed out an important piece to the puzzle, and here’s what he has to say:

“It’s pretty amazing to see how perceptive an 11 year-old can be about the obesity problem in America.  But junk food is only part of the problem.  Every day, children and teens spend more than four hours watching TV and more than seven hours using entertainment media instead of engaging in physical activity. These children are more likely to be overweight than children who walk, run, and play more often.”

John reminded me that this week is Turn Off the Screen Week (April 18-24), a week of replacing TV (and other screens such as the computer) with more physical activity for kids.

Happily, spring is sprouting and the heat is usually enough enticement to get kids outside.  If you need tips for getting your kids to be more active, check out this list from WeCan! (Ways to Enhance Children’s Activity and Nutrition),a science-based national education program from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). And if that’s not enough, they have also come up with a tip sheet for reducing screen time.

Will you be turning off the TV this week?  C’mon….

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Did you know that child development influences how well your child eats? Picky eating, copying friends, independence, and risky behaviors are all normal behaviors during the course of childhood. Yes, NORMAL behaviors. Children move through these predictable and often frustrating phases as they grow into adulthood.

Yet, many parents find themselves embattled and struggling with their child, particularly with feeding and eating.

Messy eating is a normal part of child development

Why the Struggle and Strife?

Parents are missing out on information about typical childhood development. Not only are they missing this information, child development hasn’t been tied to eating behaviors or highlighted as a driving force behind eating. But child development is an important piece to the puzzle of feeding kids and kids’ eating.

Parents Need to Know What is on the Road Ahead.

And that’s what this series is all about: helping you get a handle on what to expect during each of your child’s developmental phases and most importantly, how it effects your child’s eating, the way you feed him, and his overall well-being.

In this series I will present each stage of child development, starting with infancy, moving through toddlerhood and school-age, and ending with adolescence.  I will move sequentially through the stages, helping you understand how each developmental stage builds upon the next. And I will show you the ties that bind development and eating so that you can figure out the mysteries behind food preferences, desires and behaviors.

School-age children are ready to learn skills in the kitchen

Why Am I Convinced this is Need-to-Know Information for Parents?

Knowledge provides insight. Knowing what to expect and what is normal during each development stage will help you respond to your child in a positive and healthy manner. For example, when you know a tornado is coming, you prepare your home, take cover and weather the storm in a relatively relaxed manner. This knowledge allows you to respond appropriately– this bodes true for feeding your child through the expected storms of childhood development, as well.

Knowledge provides opportunity. Knowing what to expect lets you grasp opportunities to teach and promote your child’s skills. Knowing where your child sits along the spectrum of development will help you decide when it is best to begin and advance cooking skils, how and what to teach about nutrition and allow for independent food choices. And it will also help you be realistic–if you expect your preschooler to bake a cake, you may be frustrated and disappointed. Likewise, if you hold back the school-age child who wants to bake, he may be frustrated with you!

Knowledge minimizes negative interactions. Sometimes, parents and children do struggle. In this series, I will also give you some pearls of wisdom for how to interact with your child in a developmentally-sensitive manner. All in the hopes of equipping you with foresight and knowledge so that you can remain level-headed and calm, and frustration can be minimized for all.

We all know what happens when you’re not prepared or don’t have a sense of what is normal…you may panic!  And panic can lead to rash decisions, knee-jerk reactions and negative interactions with your child. We want to keep things positive, especially around food and eating.

Navigate Nutrition Successfully.

This requires knowing your child’s development and how it is affecting their eating. While some of these normal developmental stages will still feel frustrating at times, it’s how you respond and handle them which is your barometer for success.

I hope you will feel equipped with your new knowledge: able to recognize that some behaviors are simply normal, handle the difficult ones with positivity… and be ready for the next barrage of behaviors.

Stay tuned for the first part of the series: Your Child’s Development: Infancy!

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Remember the walking taco from those long days of summer ? A clever convenience, designed to eat on the go and a mimic of the taco with a fun twist. The “old” walking taco consists of an individual size bag of Fritos corn chips topped with taco fixings.  This Dinner Bar takes the old concept and gives it a healthy facelift– transforming it into a lean, nutritious Mexican-style favorite you can feel good about feeding your family.  Adding a banana mango smoothie for dessert builds a balanced, simple supper that can be enjoyed anywhere!

Walking Taco Toppings

You will need:


  • 1 pound ground chicken or turkey breast
  • 1 can black beans, rinsed


  • 6 individual bags of Sun Chips (original or garden salsa flavor)


  • Shredded lettuce
  • Diced tomato
  • Sliced jalapenos or chopped green pepper
  • Corn

    Yum! Walking Taco To Go!

  • Salsa
  • 1 small onion, chopped


  • 2 small sliced bananas (fresh or frozen)
  • 2 cups frozen mango chunks


  • Reduced fat (2%) shredded Mexican cheese
  • 2 cups 1% or 2% milk


  • 1 tablespoon olive or canola oil
  • Diced avocado
  • Reduced fat sour cream (optional)

    Banana Mango Smoothie adds fruit and dairy to the meal.


  • 1 taco seasoning packet
  • ¼ cup water

How to make the walking tacos (serves 6):

Heat oil over medium heat in a large non-stick pan.    Add onions and sautee until clear, about 5 minutes.  Add ground chicken breast to the pan and brown.  Once the meat is cooked, add taco seasoning packet, ¼ cup water, and black beans.  Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes.

While the meat/bean mixture is cooking, gently crush each bag of chips.  Once the chips are crushed, cut the bags lengthwise with scissors.  Prepare bowls of the meat/bean mixture, lettuce, chopped tomatoes, jalapenos, corn, shredded cheese, diced avocado, salsa and any other desired toppings.

How to make the banana mango smoothies (serves 6):

Use fresh bananas or sliced bananas that have been frozen (my personal favorite).   Put banana, 2 cups frozen mango and 2 cups milk in a blender and blend until smooth.

Place serving bowls and the bags of chips on your “dinner bar” and let your family choose their toppings.  Once all of the walking tacos have been assembled, pour the smoothies and enjoy this meal wherever you like!

Tip:  Use disposable bowls, spoons, and cups for effortless clean up.

Let us know if your kiddos like these–you may even use this idea for picnics, a day at the pool or a quick lunch!

Contributing Author: Katherine Fowler, MS, RD

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