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Children mimic your behaviors!

Contrary to popular belief, children hear what you say and see what you do.  Your behaviors and comments can leave a lasting impression.  Even your body image or weight concerns can be passed on to your kids.  Evidence shows that stressing thinness and weight control promotes eating disorders, low self-esteem, decreased body image, and weight bias in children.  Furthermore, eating behaviors linked to a higher risk for obesity are known to develop very early in life.  A 2001 study showed family food environments and attitudes around food and eating affect even preschool-aged kids’ eating behaviors.  You may think youngsters don’t pick up on your drastic dieting or negative comments you make about your body like older children, but they do!

Several studies show that restrictive feeding can impair a child’s ability to regulate their intake, resulting in overeating and weight gain.  Worrying about your own weight can influence your feeding style.  For example, forbidding high calorie foods or sweets in your home can result in your child sneaking food or feeling deprived and overeating when given the opportunity.  Overly controlling or eliminating fun foods simply doesn’t work with kids – balance is key.

Have you ever found yourself saying out loud:

“I have got to lose weight, I am getting so fat”

“I am going to be good and skip lunch today”

“No more desserts for me, I don’t deserve it”

If so, you may want to censor your comments and think before you speak.   Remember, your words could promote your child’s weight gain!

As a parent, you can model  “good for you” behaviors without fixating on weight.  There’s nothing wrong with guiding your child towards adopting healthy habits that will benefit him or her – that’s part of your role!

Fortunately, there are several steps you can take to promote a healthy weight for yourself while empowering your child.

DO:

  • Be physically active and limit your own sedentary activities
  • Aim to eat when feeling physically hungry
  • Have a neutral view about all foods
  • Stock a range of nutritious foods in your home and choose these options more often
  • Offer balanced family meals as much as you can
  • Choose to talk about yourself and others with respect and appreciation

DON’T:

  • Get caught up in the latest fad diet or encourage your child to diet
  • Skip meals
  • Eliminate all sweets or high calorie foods from your home
  • Use food for rewards or punishments for yourself or for others
  • Eat while standing up or distracted (may lead to eating mindlessly)
  • Emphasize effects of unhealthy eating
  • Focus on anyone’s weight, especially yours or your child’s

Bottom line:  You are your child’s biggest role model – do you want your child viewing and treating their body the way you do?

Contributing Author:  Katherine Fowler, MS, RD, LDN

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At a young age, health habits develop and can affect your child throughout their lives, especially when it comes to eating and physical activity.  You are the fundamental decision-maker when it comes to the well-being of your child and can help him or her make healthy decisions from early on.  Take advantage of your role and foster your child’s 7 healthy habits…they can make a lifetime of difference.

Healthy kids get physical activity every day!

Healthy kids: 

  1. Get at least one hour of physical activity daily.  Shorter bouts of exercise that tally up to 60 minutes count! Strive for vigorous activity at least three days per week.  Try to make physical activity a part of your family’s fun routine and schedule activities together.
  2. Limit “screen time” to less than two hours per day.  Researchers show a strong correlation with the number of hours spent watching TV to increased rates of obesity in children.  Regulating the amount of time your child spends in front of a screen like television, video games and computers, promotes less sit-down time which can result in more activity and less overeating.
  3. Avoid sugar-sweetened beverages.  Urge your child to drink water, 100% fruit juice or low fat milk instead of soda, sugar-sweetened fruit drinks, sports drinks, and sweetened iced teas.  These sugary drinks offer little nutritional value and excess calories that can contribute to weight gain.  Limiting sugary drinks in your home can support your child in choosing healthier options.
  4. Eat five or more cups of fruits and veggies daily.  Fruits and vegetables are nutrient-dense, low calorie foods that provide fiber, promoting fullness after meals.  Reaching 5 cups per day can be accomplished by serving fruit at every meal, and a vegetable at 2 meals and/or snacks.  If you want more fruits and veggies to be eaten, make sure you have ample choices in your kitchen.
  5. Eat 5 family meals weekly.  Eating meals together gives you a chance to help your child develop a healthy attitude toward food. It also allows you to serve as a healthy eating role model, make sure your kids are eating nutritious foods, and introduce new foods.  Set aside your meals as family time and eat together as often as possible.
  6. Eat nutritious snacks.  Plan meals and snacks to occur every 3-4 hours.  Skipping meals or snacks can be a trap for overeating later on.  Help your kids by having wholesome power snacks on hand that defy hunger.  Opting for whole foods will give your child a rich source of nutrients and will help them be physically satisfied.
  7. Eat “fun foods” in moderation. There are endless opportunities for fun foods like sweets, soda, and fried foods. Balancing “fun foods” with a variety of whole, natural foods from the new food guide (more on this soon) is the key to healthy eating.  Aim for 1 to 2 “fun foods” daily—it’s a good rule of thumb.  Help your child make decisions about what is most special!

The best time to start instilling these behaviors in children is when they’re young, before unhealthy choices become bad habits.  Research shows children are more willing to eat healthy foods and be active if they see their parents doing it first.   Just telling your kids what to do won’t work (that’s the Authoritarian way)—they need to see you choosing healthy behaviors!

The American Dietetic Association offers a free healthy habits for healthy kids guide and healthy habits quiz you can take here to find out if your family is on track.

Summer is a great time to work on the 7 Habits!

Contributing Author:  Katherine Fowler, MS, RD, LDN

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I wrote this post as a participant in the Eat, Play, Love blog carnival hosted by Meals Matter and Dairy Council of California to share ideas on positive and fun ways to teach children healthy eating habits. A list of other registered dietitians and moms who are participating in the carnival will be listed at the bottom of this post or can be found on Meals Matter.


“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.”

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

One of the ways you demonstrate love for your child is through feeding and the relationship that develops at the meal table. This feeding relationship grows over time, and is directly influenced by the ups and downs between you and your child at the meal table (or wherever you feed your child).

Feeding children is often layered with multi-tasking. These distractions can interfere with connecting at the meal table.  Yet, connecting, and the feeding relationship, is a necessary piece of good parenting and raising healthy kids.

What many parents don’t know is that feeding your child is full of opportunity for connection! It is estimated that there are over 28,000 opportunities to connect with your child through feeding.

Let me state that again.

There are over 28,000 opportunities to create a positive relationship around food and eating with your child.

With so many opportunities, the potential for successful feeding and eating is a no-brainer. But the reality is that family meals aren’t always touchy-feely and nurturing. They can be laden with ineffective feeding styles that promote negative eating habits and negative feelings. Or, they can be loaded with parenting practices like rewarding, pressuring or restricting that backfire, resulting in exactly what you don’t want–more pickiness, over- or under-eating, strained interactions and maybe even weight problems.

Where it all begins…

Eye contact is an important way of connecting with your child.

The feeding relationship begins the moment you first feed your baby. Whether you choose to breast or bottle feed, connection is underway. It is important that you hold and look at your baby. This is how the attachment between parent and child begins (more on attachment in our Development Series).

While you don’t hold your toddler, school-age child or teen when you feed them, your eye contact, conversation, presence, and attention all support the attachment that was started in infancy.

It’s important to keep this connection going, especially as your child gets older and you compete against the world of outside influences.

Let me count the ways…to strengthen the feeding relationship

Be engaged: Sit down with your child and pay attention to them. For tips on mealtime conversation starters, click here. Don’t make the mistake of multi-tasking while feeding your child. As tempting as it is, it distracts you from connecting with your child. Remember, meals are only 20-30 minutes of your time–your child is worth it!

Reciprocate: Feeding is a reciprocal relationship–you react to what your child is doing (whether it is good or bad behavior) and your child reacts to your behavior. Remember, you are the leader and your child will follow you. Keep mealtime positive and you are likely to get a pleasant response in return.

Trust intuition:  It’s important to listen to your child’s hunger and fullness cues, and respond in ways that honor those cues. Kids don’t always get the hunger/fullness thing right–sometimes they are right, and sometimes they mis-fire. They are figuring it out and need your help doing so.

Make sure you give your child feedback when they are right and when they miss the boat: “Boy, you sure know how listen to your body!” AND “Don’t worry, we’ll get this right next time…maybe if you eat a little bit more at lunch, this won’t happen again. What do you think?” In the long run, these are important lessons to be learned, for both you and your child.

Be reliable: Get those meals and snacks on the table–regularly. The more reliable you are with meals, the calmer and more secure your child may be with food and eating, at every age.

What’s Your Message?  Remember that you send messages to your child at the meal table: You are important to me. I care about you. I care about your health. AND Your hunger can wait. Something else (the dishes, the phone…) is more important.

Feeding your child is just one way to develop a strong, trusting bond and connection. You’ve got thousands of opportunities! Messing up a few of these interactions isn’t going to do irreversible damage–just make sure you tip the balance towards positive interactions and intentional connections at the meal table. Both you and your child will reap the benefits for a lifetime!

Join us for a free webinar: Eat, Play, Love: Raising Healthy Eaters on May 18!

Don’t stop here! Join the carnival and read other Eat, Play, Love blogs from dietitians and moms offering the best advice on raising healthy eaters. And if you don’t get enough today, for more positive, realistic and actionable advice from registered dietitian moms, register for the free, live webinar Eat, Play, Love: Raising Healthy Eaters on Wednesday, May 18.

The Best-Kept Secret for Raising Healthy Eaters, Maryann Jacobsen, MS, RD
Feeding is Love, Jill Castle, MS, RD, LDN
5 Quick Ways to Prepare Veggies with Maximum Flavor, Dayle Hayes, MS, RD
The Art of Dinnertime, Elana Natker, MS, RD
Children Don’t Need a Short Order Cook, Christy Slaughter
Cut to the Point – My Foodie Rules, Glenda Gourley
Eat, Play, Love – A Challenge for Families, Alysa Bajenaru, RD
Eat, Play, Love ~ Raising Healthy Eaters, Kia Robertson
Get Kids Cooking, Jessica Fishman Levinson, MS, RD, CDN
Kid-Friendly Kitchen Gear Gets Them Cooking, Katie Sullivan Morford, MS, RD
Kids that Can Cook Make Better Food Choices, Glenda Gourley
Making Mealtime Fun, Nicole Guierin, RD
My Top Ten Tips for Raising Lifelong Healthy Eaters, EA Stewart, RD
My No Junk Food Journey – Want to Come Along?, Kristine Lockwood
My Recipe for Raising Healthy Eaters: Eat Like the French, Bridget Swinney MS, RD, LD
Playing with Dough and the Edible Gift of Thyme, Robin Plotkin, RD, LD
Picky Eaters Will Eat Vegetables, Theresa Grisanti, MA
Putting the Ease in Healthy Family Eating, Connie Evers, MS, RD, LD
Raising a Healthy Eater, Danielle Omar, MS, RD
Raising Healthy Eaters Blog Carnival & Chat Roundup, Ann Dunaway Teh, MS, RD, LD
Soccer Mom Soapbox, Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD
Teenagers Can Be Trying But Don’t Give Up, Diane Welland MS, RD
What My Kids Taught Me About Eating Mindfully, Michelle May, MD

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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:

Protein:

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

Grains:

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

Vegetables:

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

    Yum! Walking Taco To Go!

  • Salsa
  • 1 small onion, chopped

Fruits:

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

Dairy:

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

Fats:

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

    Banana Mango Smoothie adds fruit and dairy to the meal.

Others:

  • 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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This is the last installment of our eating disorder series by guest blogger, Katherine Fowler, and we are ending with prevention.  Next week we will feature a post on the question many parents get asked, but don’t know how to answer.  Join us for an expert perspective on how to handle the tough question–Do You Think I’m Fat?  For now, read on for what you can do to keep your child in a healthy state of mind and body.

Part 2 of this series discussed the warning signs of eating disorders and what to do if you witness them.  This segment will focus on primary prevention, or what you as a parent can do to stop the occurrence of eating disorders before they begin.

Studies have shown that eating disorders do run in families.  Even if you do everything you can to control your child’s environment, he or she still has a chance of developing an eating disorder. So what is a parent to do? It’s impossible to control all the influences outside of your door, but your actions can have an impact.

DO:

  • Encourage positive body image.  Be a model of healthy self-esteem.
  • Become a critical viewer of the media.
  • Choose to talk about yourself with respect and appreciation.
  • Choose to tell your child you love him/her for what is inside, not because of how he/she looks.
  • Have a neutral view about all foods.
  • Allow your child to determine when he/she is full.
  • Emphasize positive aspects of healthy eating rather than effects of unhealthy eating.

DON’T:

  • Make negative comments about your own or others’ weight.
  • Label foods as “good” and “bad”.
  • Use food for rewards or punishments.
  • Follow fad diets or encourage your child to diet.
  • Focus on the calorie content and grams of fat or sugar in foods.
  • Restrict sweets and high calorie foods from your child.
  • Make your child clean their plate if they are full.

There are 3 major things you need to remember:

  1. What you say sticks. You definitely don’t want your comments about food, eating, body weight, shape, or size to affect your child’s self-esteem.
  2. Your feeding style is important.  An authoritative feeding/parenting style is associated with preventing childhood obesity and eating disorders and has a “love with limits” approach.  What type of feeder are you, and is it having a positive or negative impact on your child?
  3. Family meals matter.  Regular family meals are associated with preventing disordered eating and promote healthier body weight, less behavioral problems, and better grades in school.

To reap the benefits of family meals:

  • Make mealtime peaceful. Save arguments, TV, and phone calls for another time.
  • Make mealtime fun! Involve kids in planning meals, shopping, and cooking.
  • Offer balanced meals. To create balance, serve nutrient dense foods like lean meat, vegetables, fruits, and whole grains in larger quantities and serve less nutrient dense foods like high fat dairy and processed grains in smaller amounts. Offer fried foods and sweets less often.

You have a number of chances to interact with your child each day.  Each is an opportunity for you to promote a confident eater that has a healthy relationship with food.  You can make a difference!

Contributing Author: Katherine Fowler, MS, RD, LDN

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Vegetables take the show this month with a classic pasta primavera (pasta and vegetables).  If you have been following the Vitamin series, you’ll realize this dish supplies many of the important nutrients your child needs. We showcase this dish with a crowd-pleasing light alfredo-tomato sauce.  Pour it over the pasta and vegetables, dip the veggies in the sauce, or seperate the two and have a traditional pasta with sauce and veggies on the side. The combinations are many, and up to your children, as the Dinner Bar allows your child to mix, match, and create their own dinner.

You will need:

Protein:

  • (See dairy)
  • Chopped walnuts, optional

Grains:

  • Whole wheat penne pasta
  • 1 tbsp. all-purpose flour

Vegetables:

  • Marinara sauce, jarred
  • Squash
  • Carrots
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • 1 clove garlic, minced

Dairy:

  • ¾ c. grated Parmesan cheese, plus additional for topping
  • 1 c. cold low-fat milk (1%)
  • ½ c. evaporated nonfat milk

Fats:

  • Olive oil (EVOO)
  • Margarine

Fruit:

  • Gala or Fuji apples, small (plan on about 1 per person)
  • 1/2 c. 100% apple juice
  • Raisins, optional

Other:

  • Honey
  • Cinnamon
  • Nutmeg
  • Salt and pepper

To Make the Apples:

Remove the core from the center of the apples.  Spray a microwave safe baking dish, just big enough for all the apples, with cooking spray.  Arrange apples upright along the bottom.  Place ½ tbsp.  margarine inside each apple.  Pour ½ c. apple juice and ¼ c. water in the bottom of the pan.  Drizzle each apple lightly with honey, and sprinkle with ½ tsp. cinnamon and ¼ tsp. nutmeg.  If desired, add raisins to the liquid in the bottom of the pan. Cover with plastic wrap; pierce with a fork. Microwave for about 4-8 minutes, depending on the number of apples.  They should be tender when pierced with a knife.  You can also add a small bowl of chopped walnuts to your dinner bar to top off the dessert.

To Make the Pasta Primavera:

Cut the vegetables into 1-2” bite-size pieces.  Place each into separate large plastic baggies, along with 1/2 tbsp. EVOO and salt and pepper, to taste.  Make sure the bag is sealed tightly.  Shake the bags to coat the veggies; pierce with a fork to allow steam to escape.  Microwave each on high for 3-5 minutes, or until just tender.  Let stand for two minutes.  Be careful when opening the hot bags, as steam can cause burns.

Prepare the pasta according to package directions.

To Make the Alfredo sauce:  (adapted from Ellie Krieger, www.foodnetwork.com)

Whisk the flour and low-fat milk in a bowl. Place the garlic and 1 tbsp. EVOO in the skillet and cook over medium-high heat, 30 seconds. Add the flour-milk mixture and bring to a boil, stirring. Reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring, 2 minutes. Add the evaporated milk, 1/2 tsp. salt, and the grated parmesan cheese; stir to melt, 1 minute.

Add the jar of marinara to the prepared Alfredo sauce, stir, and heat through.

Place pasta, sauce, and the individual veggies in separate bowls, along with the apples and nuts, on your dinner bar.  And let the dinner begin!

Note: You may use fresh vegetables in microwavable bags from the produce section.  If you don’t have a corer for the apples, simply slice the apples and layer the ingredients in the dish.

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Italian Chicken Kabobs: Parmesan Whole Grain Pasta: Banana, Pudding, & Wafers

You Will Need:

Wooden Skewers, soaked in water

Protein:

  • Chicken Breasts, plain or pre-marinated, cut into 2″ cubes

Veggies, cleaned and cut into 2″ cubes:

  • Sweet Onion
  • Green or Red Bell Pepper
  • Button Mushrooms
  • Artichoke Hearts

Marinades and Seasonings:

  • Italian Dressing
  • Pizza Herb Blend
  • Lemon

Pasta:

  • Whole grain pasta, small shape (Ditalini, macarone, orzo, etc), prepared according to package directions
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil, 2 Tbsp. to toss
  • Parmesan Cheese, 2-4 Tbsp. to toss

Fruit/Dessert:

  • Low Fat Vanilla Pudding
  • Bananas, sliced
  • Crumbled Vanilla Wafers

To get ready for this  meal, clean and rinse your chicken, and cut into 2″ cubes, and season.  Prepare veggies in a similar manner, cutting to a similar size.  Place each ingredient in a bowl or on a platter and place on your Dinner Bar (table, counter, island, etc);  be sure to keep your raw meat and veggies in seperate containers.  Allow the children to carefully pierce meat and veggies with the kabob sticks–you may need to prepare a sample kabob so they get the general idea.  Sit back, observe, and enjoy your child’s creative concoctions and food combinations!  Place all kabobs on a hot grill or grill pan and cook until done, 170 F for poultry.   Prepare the pasta and place into a serving bowl.  Slice bananas and crumble wafers, place into bowls.  Be sure to soak kabob sticks in water to prevent burning during cooking.

Place the grilled kabobs and the whole grain pasta on your Dinner Bar.  And don’t forget the healthy and yummy dessert—which can be assembled by your child as well.  This can be included on your Dinner Bar with the kabobs and pasta, or assembled later.   The Dinner Bar is “open”:  It’s time for your family to serve themselves.  Your child will likely remember which kabob is his/hers!   Children enjoy the experience of making their own kabobs, using the foods they prefer, and selecting the foods and amounts that satisfy their bodies. The Dinner Bar allows for this independence and a self-regulation with eating.

Don’t forget the clean-up– turn on some upbeat music and have your children help with dishwashing and kitchen cleaning!

Personal notes:  I squeezed fresh lemon on my chicken, then seasoned with Italian herb mix.  I prepared a package of low-fat vanilla pudding in a large bowl, and let my children portion their own dessert (they loved this part!).  As you can see, I placed all items on the Dinner Bar and they selected their dinner and dessert at the same time.  For more photos and “kid comments”, visit Pediatric Nutrition of Green Hills on Facebook.

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