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Get the Family Healthy in 2014, Part 1 of 2

The New Year is here, and it’s a great time to make a resolution to get healthy. In order to stick to that New Year’s resolution, be specific about what changes to make. This can help your family execute a plan to ensure positive outcomes. Here are some specific changes that you as a parent can implement to bring about real change for your family’s health this year. I recommend choosing as many of these as you think are realistic to do in your household. Even one real change is better than a handful of half attempts that fail. Good luck!

Easy New Year Health Swaps for the Family:

  1. Replace the refined grains with whole grains. This advice might sound like a broken record, but based on the wide range of clientele I work with, this healthy change is not actually happening in real families. Whole grains maintain the natural fiber, vitamins and minerals that have been stripped from their refined counterparts. Whole grains include whole grain bread, oatmeal, whole grain pancakes, whole grain pasta, brown rice, quinoa, millet, and whole grain cereals. Refined grains are the “white” carbs, such as white bread, white pasta, and the wide variety of processed foods that are made from refined flours. Sometimes it is harder for parents to make this change than it is for the kids, since our generation was raised on refined flours. Trust me, you will get used to it and soon the refined stuff will taste bland and leave you hungry an hour or so after eating. Because whole grains have fiber, they take longer to digest (making you full sooner and longer). Whole grain fiber also plays an important role in binding and excreting fat, both in digestion and circulating lipids in the bloodstream. From the very beginning of feeding your kids as infants and toddlers, remember- kids do not need “kid food”, and they can enjoy whole grain pancakes and whole grain pasta just as much as the white stuff. Be a good example for your kids.
  2. Replace snack foods with fruits or vegetables. And while you’re at it, limit snacks to two per day (one mid-morning or before bed, and one mid-afternoon). This might be the most effective change you can make if you or your family members are big snackers and grazers. Your job is to make sure there are always plenty of fresh, colorful fruits and vegetables available to your kids. When it comes to produce, quality matters. Kids will more readily accept things that look and taste fresh, so choose wisely. Local and organic produce is usually more fresh and flavorful than something that may have traveled half way around the world and then sat frozen in a warehouse for months. Enforce this change by telling the kids what their snack options are, then encouraging them to go play or do homework before the next meal (or bedtime).
  3. Limit eating out to once per week or less. Although it is possible to eat healthy when eating out, often it is easier to make unhealthy choices and overeat when eating at restaurants. It may be even more difficult for your kids to eat healthy when eating out as many kids’ menus are limited to foods high in fat and sodium and low in fiber. This may be a challenge for the busy parent who is not used to cooking. If you choose this resolution, be prepared to plan, grocery shop, and cook. Cut corners by using time-saving and healthy cooking methods such as the slow-cooker and stir-frying lean meats and veggies. It may be a difficult change to implement, but it will be very rewarding from a health perspective (and on your budget).

Check the blog next week for more healthy New Year’s resolutions for your family!

Click here for more advice on how to set achievable goals for the new year.

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.

How to Get More Whole Grains into Your Kid’s Diet

Whole grains are an important part of any diet.  Whole grains are more nutrient-dense than their refined counterparts. Whole GrainsRefined “white” starches have been stripped of fiber, as well as vitamins and minerals. Some of the vitamins and minerals are re-fortified into these processed grains, but refined grains remain nutritionally inferior to whole grains. The fiber in whole grains also helps create feelings of satiety, which in turn helps prevent overeating. Many typical kids’ foods are not made with whole grains. However, it’s easier than you think to sneak these healthy whole grains into your child’s daily diet.

Children’s Foods Made with Healthy Whole Grains:

  • Whole grain Goldfish
  • Whole grain bagels or English muffins
  • “White” whole grain bread, or 100% whole wheat
  • Oatmeal
  • Multigrain pancakes or waffles
  • Whole wheat pasta
  • Soft corn tortillas (made with corn, salt, and water)
  • Brown rice cakes
  • Whole grain cereals (look for those with less than 5 g of sugar per serving and 3+ grams of fiber per serving)
  • Cooked quinoa or uncooked oats in meatloaf, meatballs, stuffed peppers, muffins, pancakes, etc
  • Multigrain crackers

How to Spot Whole Grains at the Grocery Store:

When at the grocery store, labels can be a bit confusing. There are two ways to tell if a product is truly whole grain. First, look for whole grain as the first ingredient listed on the ingredient list. In other words, look for “whole wheat” or “brown rice.” Second, look for a gold and black, whole grains symbol on the box. Just be sure that your whole grain pick is an otherwise healthy choice; whole grains are only a part of the whole healthy food equation.

For other ways to clean-up your family’s diet, read here for ways to add more fruits and vegetables to your kid’s meals or simple ideas for cooking greens.   If you find your family has a hard time transitioning from refined to whole grains, contact a dietitian. They can help brainstorm recipes, come up with creative ways to help increase acceptance, and educate your family on the nutritional benefits of whole versus processed foods.

To learn more about nutrition services at North Shore Pediatric Therapy, call us at 877-486-4140.

Breakfast for a Better Kid and Day!

Breakfast often gets skipped in the haste of the typical morning. Mom and dad are getting themselves ready, getting the kids ready, and tying up loose ends around the house. Many people report not having an appetite in the morning. Often, this is caused by over-eating in the later part of the day. family breakfastKids will model their parents, so think about what example you may be setting for your kids. In any case, the fact is, this morning a lot of kids woke up late and got breakfast at a fast food drive thru or ate nothing at all.

Studies show that kids who eat breakfast do better on tests in school. Nourishment in the morning provides brain fuel needed for concentration and energy. Even behavior and general attitude is better. Have you been around a hungry, tired kid lately? Not so fun and probably not the kid who’s skipping to the head of the class, so to speak.

Not only do kids who eat breakfast do better in school, but kids who eat breakfast tend to have healthier BMIs. It’s hard to say exactly why this is, but likely it has at least something to do with kids having less energy during the day to be active, and then over-eating later in the day. Eating in a balanced way throughout the day will prevent over-eating later, and leave room for a good appetite in the morning.

Here are some tips for a breakfast for a better kid:

  1. Change your morning so that breakfast is a requirement. Would you let your kids go to school in their pajamas? Just like getting dressed is a morning requirement, eating breakfast should be too. Carve that time into the morning, for yourself and your kids. Remember you are the most important role model in shaping their eating habits.
  2. Make breakfast count. Breakfast is just as important as lunch or dinner in terms of creating a complete, healthy meal. Strive for the healthy plate model at breakfast, which is to include whole grains, a protein source, and plenty of fruits and veggies. Vegetables are not typically the stars of the breakfast show, but try things like homemade hash browns or omelets with a variety of veggies. Potato pancakes are usually a hit if you have time to make them.
  3. Something is better than nothing. I would really recommend avoiding the fast food drive thru breakfast. Usually this isn’t going to be the healthiest food, but also, eating on the run results in poor digestion and tummy aches.If on occasion, you are late and have to do breakfast in the car, try a trail mix with dried fruit, nuts, and cereal. Another option would be a Clif ™ bar or Larabar ™ with a string cheese.
  4. Use the weekend to make breakfast a special meal for your family. The weekend breakfast can be such a fun family (and friends) tradition. Eating breakfast at home gives kids another chance to have a family meal at the table, which builds good habits, communication skills, and relationships. Breakfast foods tend to be popular with kids, and can be made with a healthy spin.

Examples of a Better Breakfast for Children:

  • Multigrain pancakes with blueberries and scrambled eggs. Try a maple-agave syrup blend (it’s less expensive than 100% maple syrup but still contains whole ingredients instead of high fructose corn syrup). Another healthy topping is homemade strawberry-rhubarb syrup which you can make by simmering chopped rhubarb and strawberries with a few tablespoons of water.
  • Granola, fruit, and yogurt parfait. Make it seasonal by stirring in pumpkin spice granola or farmers market fruit. Make it a winner by setting bowls of yogurt at the kids’ places at the table, and allow them to pick from an array of mix-ins on the table that they can spoon in themselves.
  • Organic bacon or sausage, whole grain English muffin spread with fruit preserves.
  • Whole grain toast, egg scramble or omelet with any of the following: chopped peppers, spinach, broccoli, peas, mushrooms, onions, tomatoes virtually any vegetable, black beans, cheese.
  • Oatmeal, berries, and nut butter mixed in. Top with homemade coconut whipped cream, which can be made by whipping canned coconut milk with beaters on high until foaming and thick.

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