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Easy Ideas for Packing a Healthy Lunch for Your Child

I wrote a similar post to this last year around this time on school lunchbox meal ideas, but as a mom and dietitian, I know I am always looking for fresh ideas for my family’s meals. When putting together lunch for school, it is helpful to think of the Healthy Plate Model to make sure all bases are covered:  whole grains, protein, fruits, and veggies.

Here are some ideas in each food category to try to branch out beyond the sandwich-in-a-baggie lunch:

  • Whole grains:  Whole grain bread, whole grain crackers, brown rice cakes, whole grain tortillas, granola, multigrain chips
  • Protein:  Sunflower seed butter, nuts (if allowed at school), hummus, yogurt, tuna or chicken salad, cheese cubes or string cheese, nitrate and nitrite-free lunchmeat, edamame
  • Fruits:  Any fresh and seasonal fruits, dried fruits or fruit leathers, applesauce
  • Vegetables:  Sliced bell peppers in a variety of colors, carrot or celery sticks, cherry tomatoes, cucumber slices, snap peas, broccoli or cauliflower pieces

Some parents might be thinking, if I pack XYZ, it’s just going to come home untouched every day, so what’s the point? Just like your kids are constantly growing and maturing, their palate and attitudes toward food are developing over time too. You never know when your child is going to give those cherry tomatoes a try, but he can’t try them unless you offer them consistently. Kids work up quite an appetite during the school day, and they are positively influenced by seeing their peers eat a variety of foods. So give your kids the chance to eat healthy, and you might be surprised!

Click here for more healthy twists on your children’s favorite foods!  For more information on our childhood nutrition programs, click here.

Cooking Greens Made Simple

Swiss chard, kale, spinach, mustard greens, collard greens, bok choy… the word “superfood” is synonymous with all dark, leafy green vegetables. The super greensreason why is because they pack such a large nutritional punch. In general, dark leafy greens are loaded in vitamin A, folate, fiber, and also provide minerals like calcium and iron. They are even a source of the heart-healthy omega 3 fatty acids. As if that’s not enough, eating your greens can help fight cancer, which you can read more about on the website for the American Institute for Cancer Research.

So we know how nutritious greens are, but what about the taste? And what do you do with those big tough leaves of chard and kale anyways?

Here are some unique recipes to help your family eat more of this nutritional superfood:

Stir Fried Shrimp or Chicken and Bok Choy*

  • 2 cups cooked brown rice (made ahead)
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 2 T plus ½ teaspoon soy sauce
  • 1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined, tails removed OR 1 lb chicken, diced
  • 6 scallions, chopped
  • 1 T fresh ginger, minced
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 3-4 bunches of bok choy, stemmed and sliced
  • 2 T rice vinegar
  • Asian chili sauce

Cook shrimp or chicken in olive oil and ½ teaspoon soy sauce over medium-high heat, until cooked through. Transfer to a plate. Add scallions, ginger, Read more

Eat These, Not Those: The Toddler Edition

When you think of the typical diet of a toddler, there are some common foods come to mind; however, the food industry has created many toddler-suited kids with cupcakes foods that may not always have a toddler’s nutrition needs in mind.For every not-so-great toddler food, there is a better choice.

Below is a list of toddler foods that have more nutritious alternatives:

  • Say no to: Flavored yogurts packaged for on-the-go.
    • These may contain artificial food coloring and some have up tp 20 grams of sugar or more per serving.
  • Instead, tryPlain yogurt with fruit and a little maple syrup or honey stirred in. Only feed honey to kids that are older than 1 year of age.
  • Say no to: Fruit snacks.
    • These often have artificial food coloring and minimal nutritional value as they are made of sugar or corn syrup, gelatin and other chemicals.
  • Instead, try: Dried fruit. Dried fruit is a great source of fiber. Try a variety, such as cranberries, blueberries, mangoes, strawberries, cherries and peaches.
  • Say no to: Processed meats.
    • These are often high in sodium and most have nitrates. Nitrites used as preservatives can form carcinogenic compounds during digestion.
  • Instead, try: Nitrate and Nitrite-free hot dogs and lunch meat. High quality products that are made of 100% meat without additives are a better alternative to processed meats. You may also forgo the processed part and stick with whole, cooked meats.
  • Say no to: Juice, especially if it is not made with 100% juice.
    • Kids do not need juice every day for nutrition. Drinking juice displaces room for other healthy foods.
  • Instead, try: Plain milk with meals and water throughout the day.
  • Say no to: “Puffed”snacks.
    •  Again, these snack foods often do not offer much nutrition and can take-up room for other more nutritious foods.
  • Instead, try: Whole grain crackers, brown rice cakes, or whole grain cereal pieces.
  • Say no to: Processed cheese.
    • If cheese comes in a package, read the label and take caution if there is anything other than milk, salt and enzymes.
  • Instead, try: Real blocks of cheese, grated or sliced by yourself or by the deli.
  • Say no to: Peanut butter products.
    • Read labels. If you see the words “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated”, the peanut butter includes trans-fats. These are particularly unhealthy fats that are highly susceptible to oxidation in the body, which leads to generation of free radicals that can contribute to cardiovascular disease and cancer.
  • Instead, try: Peanut butter or other nut butters that have only nuts listed in the ingredients.
  • Say no to: Cereals, specifically those with 10 grams of sugar or more.
    • The sugar content of some of kids-themed cereals should ultimately be categorized within the dessert aisle, rather than the cereal aisle.
  • Instead, try: Whole grain cereals with less than 5 grams of sugar per serving.
  • Say no to: Fast food, specifically the burger, French fry and chicken nugget variety.
    • Fast food, especially fried fast food, is high in sodium, calories and saturated and/or trans fats. Fast food is often chosen out of convenience.
  • Instead, try: Packing a lunch from home when you know you will be on the go.
  • Say no to: Candy, especially when given as a reward.
    • Many parents use candy as a bribe for potty training, for eating vegetables or for staying quiet in the shopping cart at the grocery store.
  • Instead, try: Dried fruit or a non-edible reward like stickers, stamps, crayons or hildren’s books.

It is the caregiver’s responsibility to make good nutrition choices to offer to children. Children, as they mature,  will then choose foods from the foods they are most often exposed to from an early age.  For more information on feeding toddlers or how to manage picky eating, contact one of our registered dietitians to schedule an appointment.

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Food Choices for a 1 Year Old | Pediatric Therapy Tv

In today’s Webisode, a pediatric registered dietitian provides food suggestions for a 1 year old.

In this video you will learn:

  • What model is used to determine food choices for a 1 year old
  • What food is best for a 1 year old to consume at different periods of the day
  • How many meals and snacks should a 1 year old consume in a day

Video Transcription:

Announcer: From Chicago’s leading experts in pediatrics to a worldwide
audience, this is Pediatric Therapy TV, where we provide experience and
innovation to maximize your child’s potential. Now, your host, here’s
Robyn.

Robyn: Hello, and welcome to Pediatric Therapy TV. I’m your host, Robyn
Ackerman. I’m standing here today with a Pediatric Registered Dietician,
Stephanie Wells. Stephanie, can you tell our viewers what are some food
choices that are preferable for a one-year-old?

Stephanie: Sure. When you’re making meals for a one-year-old, you want the
plate to reflect what’s called the Healthy Plate Model. So the plate should
be divided in half, where half of the plate has grains and protein, and the
other half has fruits and vegetables.

In terms of the grains, about half of the grains should be whole grains.
And in terms of the protein, it could be from a variety of sources, such as
meat, beans, eggs, tofu, and even cottage cheese and yogurt are good
sources of protein. The fruits and vegetables could be a variety of fresh,
frozen, dried, or cooked. One-year-olds should eat three meals and about
two snacks per day. They should drink whole milk with their meals and water
in between, and limit juice to zero to four ounces per day.

In terms of an example of a one day meal plan for a one-year-old, you could
offer at breakfast scrambled eggs, oatmeal or cereal and blueberries. A mid-
morning snack could be something just simple like crackers or pretzels. At
lunch you could offer grilled cheese, green beans, and cut up peaches. For
the mid-afternoon snack, you could do something like a rice cake or if they
like edamame, they could try that. Just watch out because it could be a
choking hazard. At dinner time you could offer something like spaghetti and
meatballs, and cooked carrots and apple sauce.

Robyn: All right. Well, thank you so much for even providing that menu as
well. Thank you to our viewers, and remember, keep on blossoming.

Announcer: This has been Pediatric Therapy TV, where we bring peace of mind
to your family with the best in educational programming. To subscribe to
our broadcast, read our blogs, or learn more, visit our website at
learnmore.me. That’s learnmore.me.

Healthy Barbecue for Parents and Kids

Grilling season is going to be wrapping up in the next few months, but not before one of the biggest grill-out holidays of the season:  Labor Day! Summer barbecues are a time to celebrate with good food. You can still have good food and be healthy at your barbecue.

Parents with both of their children sharing food at the Barbecue

Here are some healthy barbecue pointers that I follow for myself and my family:

Choose organic meats. My picks:

  • Organic chicken breast or drumsticks (the drumsticks are only $3.00-$4.00 for 5 large pieces at Trader Joe’s)
  • Organic, local, grass fed ground beef from Fruitful Yield (at about $5.00 per pound, it doesn’t cost much more than non-organic)
  • Trader Joe’s 100% beef, nitrate- & nitrite-free hot dogs
  • Applegate brand organic hot dogs, which can be found in many grocery stores

Choose whole grain or 100% whole wheat hot dog and hamburger buns

You can find these at any grocery store, and really, they don’t taste different. Especially with all the yummy grill flavor coming through, and of course condiments.

Choose produce from the farmers market

Add some veggies to your grilling repertoire. Right now in season there is plentiful corn on the cob, eggplant, yellow and green zucchini, onions, potatoes, fennel, all colored peppers, mushrooms, and more. If your kids are old enough, ask them to help wash and even chop some of the veggies for you into large pieces. Toss the veggies in olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Grill them, turning them once. After removing from the grill, drizzle a little balsamic vinegar over them and sprinkle with chopped parsley. Serve in a large dish- beautiful with all the colors!

Make fruit skewers with yogurt dip

Again, get your kids involved by having them help wash, portion, and skewer a variety of fruits. Be creative and make a rainbow of colors with different fruits. You can make a simple fruit dip with vanilla yogurt (or any fruit flavored yogurt really).

Try pasta salad instead of traditional potato salad

You can make a delicious, healthier version of pasta salad by using whole wheat pasta or quinoa, an olive oil and vinegar dressing, and plenty of veggies, olives, fresh herbs and spices to flavor it.

Manage portions

Of course, there will likely be a variety of not-so-healthy food choices at any barbecue. Make just one plate of food, and make it reflect the Healthy Plate Model:  half of the plate filled with fruit and veggies, the other half split between whole grains and protein. Have a small dessert and drink water instead of soda.

Very important

Avoid over-cooking or charring foods on the grill, as this results in formation of cancer-causing compounds called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). You can avoid these by cooking on lower flame for longer, pre-cook the meat a bit to decrease time needed on the grill, and trim off any charred pieces you do get.

Happy grilling!

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