Childhood Obesity: Are Parents to Blame?

Childhood Obesity: Are Parents to Blame?

Childhood obesity continues to be an epidemic in the U.S., with more than one-third of kids who are either overweight or obese.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says childhood obesity is one of the most serious public health challenges of the 21st century and overweight and obese children are more likely to stay obese into adulthood and suffer from diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Although the nation has made inroads in creating awareness and affecting some change, parents will always be their children’s primary influence in all areas of their lives.

But when it comes to childhood obesity, are they to blame?

Pediatricians’ part in childhood obesity

For most parents, pediatricians are the first people they turn to when they have questions about their kids’ health. Pediatricians also play an integral role in preventing childhood obesity.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP):

Even when families have sufficient knowledge of healthy behaviors, they may need help from pediatricians to develop the motivation to change, to provide encouragement through setbacks, and to identify and support appropriate community resources that will help them successfully implement behavior changes.”

The AAP says pediatricians should encourage parents to be healthy role models, encourage a healthy lifestyle by offering healthy foods, having family meals and persuading kids to increase their physical activity and reduce their screen time.

Despite the responsibility pediatricians have however, the education and tools around childhood obesity are lacking.

According to a September 2010 report by the Association of American Medical Schools, U.S. medical schools offer an average of only 19.6 hours of nutrition education within 4 years of medical school.

That’s not even a day devoted to learning about the one thing that can make or break kids’ health.

And considering most pediatricians only have between 11 and 20 minutes to spend with parents, they’re extremely limited in the knowledge and guidance they can offer.

Despite all this, some physicians say parents are ultimately responsible for childhood obesity.

According to an August 2015 poll by SERMO, a social network for physicians, 69 percent of doctors think parents are either completely or mostly to blame for childhood obesity.

According to one pediatrician:

Clearly, parents need to shoulder some of the responsibility, and the blame. As parents, we have to set an example and to promote within our families healthy eating and healthy exercise. 

However, children are beset on all sides by their non-parental environment as well, which includes access to cheap, high-caloric foods; glitzy advertisements; a raft of screen and video entertainment; low-nutritional value school lunches; and on and on. Parents can be perfect role models, and still lose in this effort.

But at least they stack the odds more favorably for their kids.”

Is childhood obesity genetic?

When a child’s parents, grandparents and other family members are also overweight, it’s natural to chalk up childhood obesity to genetics and studies show there’s some truth to that theory.

According to a February 2017 in the journal Economics & Human Biology, 35 to 40 percent of childhood obesity is inherited from parents. The more overweight parents are, the more overweight their children are likely to be, the same study found.

It seems however, that what the study authors dub “intergenerational transmission,” is a combination of both genetics and food environment.

Experts say that although genetics play a role in our propensity for many diseases including obesity, we can also “turn on” and “turn off” our genes with diet and lifestyle.

According to the Harvard School of Medicine:

“…genetic factors identified so far make only a small contribution to obesity risk-and that our genes are not our destiny: Many people who carry these so-called “obesity genes” do not become overweight, and healthy lifestyles can counteract these genetic effects.”

Parents influence their child’s obesity risk

The healthy choices parents make also have a significant impact on their child’s risk for obesity, and research backs it up.

Take a July 2018 study in the journal BMJ, which included data from the Nurses’ Health Study II (NHSII), one of the largest prospective investigations that look at the risk factors for major chronic diseases in women.

The study, which included more than 24,000 children, showed 5.3 percent of children became obese within 5 years, between ages 9 and 14.

Children whose mothers had a normal body mass index (BMI), participated in moderate to vigorous physical activity for at least 150 minutes a week, didn’t smoke and drank alcohol in moderation, were 75 percent less likely to become obese than children of mothers who didn’t have those healthy habits.

What are we feeding your kids?

Food environment, including the foods that parents bring into the house, pack for school lunch, order at restaurants, serve for family gatherings, and bring on play dates, to the park or for after-school sports also play a role in the childhood obesity risk.

This is particularly important when kids are young and can’t purchase food at the store on their own or eat out with their friends, for example.

Kids who have access to plenty of fruits and vegetables, are much more likely to eat healthy than those whose pantries are filled with processed junk food.

In fact, an October 2014 study in the Journal of The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that encouraging and modeling healthy eating, setting limits on foods, and having healthy foods available at home are all positively associated with kids’ diets and their weight.

Studies also show that eating family meals together increases the likelihood that kids will eat healthy and may reduce their risk for childhood obesity.

Regardless of how diligent we are at feeding our kids healthy, food is everywhere and it has created an “obesogenic” environment that’s hard for any parent to contend with.

The food industry alone spends $10 billion dollar a year on food marketing. Brands use bright colors and recognizable characters on their packages and target kids on social media.

Supermarkets strategically place kid-friendly foods in locations where kids are most likely to ask for them.

Fast food restaurants include toys in their meals and restaurants host “kids eat free” nights.

Schools serve cookies, ice cream and potato chips in the cafeteria and have food available in vending machines, school stores and in the classroom.

Food also shows up in the least likely of places at places like convenience stores, bookstores, museums, banks, the dry cleaners, and even at church.

Food is just one part of the puzzle

Parents also teach and influence their kids in habits that have nothing to do with food but still contribute to childhood obesity.

For starters, we know physical activity plays a part in preventing childhood obesity but studies show most kids don’t get the recommended 60 minutes of exercise a day.

Other habits like allowing kids to eat in front of the TV, have their devices at the dinner table or eat in the car—even if it’s on the way to practice—can also affect their weight.

Blaming parents isn’t the answer to childhood obesity

There’s no doubt that parents play a significant role in preventing childhood obesity. Regardless of how strong outside factors are, the onus is still on them to offer healthy foods and teach their kids healthy habits.

Positive change cannot occur however, if we blame parents.

Shaming parents for not reading to their kids, playing with their kids “enough” or even yelling when their kids misbehave, isn’t necessarily going to motivate them to be better parents.

Childhood obesity is a complex problem and the individual factors that affect a child’s weight can vary family to family.

For example, parents can eat healthy, exercise and encourage their kids to do the same, but if their kids are teens and would rather read a book, parents are limited in how much change they can affect in their kids.

Parental stressors may also affect a child’s risk for childhood obesity. According to a November 2012 study in the journal Pediatrics, multiple parental stressors such mental illness, employment status and financial strains are directly associated with a child’s risk for obesity.

When it comes to childhood obesity, I believe the solution is multi-faceted.

It starts with parents who want their kids to grow up healthy, know how to eat healthy and have healthy habits.

By educating ourselves, becoming aware of all the factors at play, seeking support from a pediatrician, a registered dietician nutritionist or a therapist, if necessary, we can stay the course and prevent childhood obesity.

When it comes to parenting, nothing is easy, straightforward or perfect, but it’s our job to stick with it.

What do you think: are parents to blame for childhood obesity?

10 Reasons Kids Should Eat Healthy That Have Nothing to Do With Childhood Obesity

10 Reasons Kids Should Eat Healthy That Have Nothing to Do With Childhood Obesity

If you’re a parent, you know your kids should eat healthy, but have you ever thought about the why?

Maybe it’s because you know a healthy diet is vital for their growth and development.

Or perhaps you’re sick of their picky eating behaviors and you want meals times to be peaceful.

If you’re an emotional eater and struggle with your weight, or have family members who do, you’re probably concerned about your child becoming overweight too.

With more than one-third of children who are overweight or obese, childhood obesity is definitely a good reason for your kids to eat healthy.

But fat or skinny, all kids should eat healthy. Here are 10 reasons why.

1. We’re a nation of (very) sick people

In the U.S., we’re facing a health crisis and 50 percent of Americans have at least one chronic health condition, mental disorder or substance use issue, a September 2016 study in the journal Psychology, Health & Medicine found.

We’re facing skyrocketing rates of:

  • ADHD and ADD
  • Allergies
  • Alzheimer’s disease and dementia
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Arthritis
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Cancer
  • Heart disease
  • Hormonal imbalances
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
  • Menstrual disorders
  • Obesity
  • Reflux
  • Skin problems
  • Thyroid dysfunction
  • Type-2 diabetes

Perhaps the most compelling reason kids should eat healthy is because food can prevent them from getting sick.

In his book, Food: What The Heck Should I Eat?, Dr. Mark Hyman states:

“Food is the most powerful drug on the planet. It can improve the expression of thousands of genes, balance dozens of hormones, optimize tens of thousands of protein networks, reduce inflammation, and optimize your microbiome (gut flora) with every single bite. It can cure most chronic diseases; it works faster, better, and cheaper than any drug ever discovered; and the only side effects are good ones—prevention, reversal, and even treatment of disease, not to mention vibrant optimal health.”

 

2. Mental Health

According to a 2017 report by World Health Organization (WHO), depression affects a whopping 322 million people worldwide.

As someone who has struggled with both anxiety and depression since childhood, I won’t tell you that nutrition is a cure-all for all people with depression and anxiety.

Food cannot override low levels of neurotransmitters, genetics, past trauma, low self-esteem and stress, for example.

But it can make a huge difference to improve mental health as it has done for me.

For some people, diet alone is enough.

Studies suggest nutrients like vitamin B12, omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamin D can support mental health.

In fact, a September 2014 study in the journal BMJ Open found consumption of fruits and vegetables was associated with mental well being in both men and women.

3. Boosts Brain Power

You can hire a tutor and encourage your kids to study harder, but for kids to learn, concentrate, and excel in school, they need to eat healthy.

Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids like fish, chia seeds, flaxseeds and walnuts are important to focus on.

According to a December 2017 study out of the University of Pennsylvania, kids who eat seafood at least once a week have higher IQ scores that are 4 points higher on average than kids who eat fish less frequently or not at all.

What’s more, a healthy diet is important for kids’ brain health when they’re young and throughout their lives.

In fact, a July 2015 study in JAMA Internal Medicine found in older people, a Mediterranean diet with foods like fish, nuts, olive oil and avocado is associated with improved cognitive function.

4. Sports and Athletic Performance

Playing multiple sports and joining travel teams are all great, but without the right nutrition, your kids won’t fuel their bodies with what they need to build muscle, strength and endurance.

Without a healthy diet, they’ll be sluggish and their athletic performance can suffer.

An April 2013 article in the journal Paediatrics Child Health states the right amounts of macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates and fat), micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) and hydration are essential for young athletes’ growth, activity and athletic performance.

5. Gut Health

A healthy gut is linked to a strong immune system but leaky gut syndrome or “intestinal hyperpermeability” is something that can develop over years due to a poor diet.

Although controversial in the Western Medicine world, leaky gut syndrome is believed to occur when the tight junctions or cells that line the inside of the intestines open up and allow undigested food particles and pathogens in, which causes problems in the gut and throughout the body.

Experts say a diet high in processed foods, sugar and synthetic food additives, which disrupt the balance between good and bad bacteria in the gut can leady to leaky gut.

6. Sleep

Sleep plays an important role in kids’ health and affects their overall function, mood and behavior, school and athletic performance.

But it’s an often-overlooked factor when it comes to eating healthy. Eating foods low in fiber and high in saturated fat and sugar is associated with lighter, less restorative sleep and more awakenings at night, a January 2016 study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found.

Without enough sleep, kids are also more likely to make unhealthy food choices. Studies show the less sleep they get, the more likely they are to make unhealthy food choices.

In fact, an August 2018 study in the Journal of Sleep Research found that kids who regularly fell asleep after 11pm were 4 to 5 times more likely to eat less than three breakfasts a week and 2 to 3 times more likely to eat junk food at least 5 times a week.

7. Eye health

A healthy diet can keep support your child’s eye health.

For example, vitamin A helps the eyes see in low light conditions and keeps the cornea healthy and lubricated.

Omega-3’s can prevent dry eye syndrome, often a result of too much screen time.

Research suggests lutein, a carotenoid or plant pigment found in pumpkin and green leafy vegetables could improve learning, memory, focus and concentration.

A healthy diet can also prevent cataracts and age-related macular degeneration later on in life.

8. Prevents some types of cancer

Cancer isn’t something any parent should have to worry about but laying the foundation for a lifetime of healthy eating can prevent certain types of cancer into adulthood.

A June 2017 review and multiple meta-analyses in the journal Nutrition Reviews found a healthy diet can reduce the risk of breast and colon cancers.

9. A longer life

It’s no surprise that eating healthy can prevent disease and extend your life.

But a March 2014 study in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health found people who eat 7 or more servings of fruit and vegetables a day cut their risk for premature death by 42 percent.

10. Your future grandchildren

What your kids eat now can set the stage for the way they eat throughout their lives and those choices can affect their fertility, whether they’re male or female.

What’s more, 2015 guidelines from The International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics state that not only is optimal nutrition before and during pregnancy important for women but it can affect their future generations as well.

11 Ways to Deal With Morning Sickness

11 Ways to Deal With Morning Sickness

When I was 6 weeks pregnant with both of my children, it was like someone flipped a switch: one day I felt fine and the next I woke up feeling nauseous.

 

On a few occasions, there was some vomiting thrown in but in general, it was a constant queasy feeling that lasted all day.

 

According to a 2013 meta-analysis in the Journal of Population Therapeutics and Clinical Pharmacology, approximately 70 percent of pregnant women have nausea and vomiting during pregnancy.

 

It turns out however, that “morning sickness” is a misnomer. For most women, that nauseous feeling is something that lasts 24/7.

 

In fact, less than 2 percent of women experience nausea and vomiting only in the morning, while 80 percent have it all day, one study found.

 

When you have nausea, struggle to keep food down and don’t have an appetite, it can be pretty miserable.

 

For most women however, morning sickness improves over time and there’s a lot you can do to prevent and deal with morning sickness.

 

1. Eat small meals

When your blood sugar is low, you’re more likely to feel nauseous so do your best to avoid skipping meals.

 

Focus on eating small meals made up of protein and complex carbohydrates about 3 to 4 hours apart to give your body a slow, steady release of energy and prevent huge blood sugar spikes and crashes.

 

2. Try the scent of lemon

The smell and taste of lemon is so refreshing and may help you deal with morning sickness.

 

A warm cup of tea or water with lemon and a bit of honey or adding lemon essential oil to a diffusor may do the trick.

3. Carry snacks

If the subway gets delayed or you get stuck at the DMV, having a snack in your bag can help you deal with morning sickness should it strike.

 

Portable snacks like dried fruit, nuts, seeds, granola bars (made with whole ingredients and low sugar), whole-grain crackers or a piece of fruit are all great options.

 

4. Add ginger to your diet

Ginger is well known for it’s ability to combat nausea and if you can tolerate it, it can be quite effective for morning sickness.

 

Processed ginger snaps or ginger ale, however won’t cut it.

 

The key is to consume real ginger root.

 

Try boiling a small piece of ginger in water, adding it to tea or a green juice.

 

Ginger root beer (it’s non-alcoholic), ginger capsules, gum or lozenges may also help combat that queasy feeling.

 

5. Vitamin B6

During my second pregnancy, my midwife recommended I take a vitamin B6 supplement and it ended up being a lifesaver for me. In fact, the nausea went away within a day or two.

 

Ask your provider to recommend a reputable supplement brand and explain how much to take and how often.

 

6. Eat magnesium-rich foods

Kale and spinach might be the last thing you want to eat when you’re dealing with morning sickness but a magnesium-deficiency can lead to nausea.

 

In fact, most women are deficient in magnesium during pregnancy, a September 2016 study in the journal Nutrition Reviews found.

 

In addition to green leafy vegetables, foods high in magnesium include almonds, cashews, black beans, edamame, and avocado.

 

If you don’t think you’re getting enough magnesium, ask your provider about taking a magnesium supplement, the type of magnesium and dose.

 

7. Sip on peppermint tea

Peppermint has a long history of being used for digestive disorders and experts say it’s safe to drink peppermint tea during pregnancy, although it may make heartburn worse.

 

8. Salty crackers

Saltines are pure, refined carbohydrates and not a food anyone should be eating on a regular basis because they lack fiber and spike blood sugar, but they can be really helpful in easing morning sickness.

 

Keep them by your bedside and munch on a few before you get out of bed in the morning or snack on them during the day when you feel sick.

 

9. Drink up

It sounds counterintuitive to drink water if you’re struggling to keep much of anything down, but if you’re dehydrated, you’re more likely to experience morning sickness.

 

You might find drinking in between meals, drinking ice water or a piping hot cup of herbal tea.

 

You can also stay hydrated by eating melon and citrus fruits which are really refreshing when you’re pregnant, and especially during the summer months.

 

Either way, avoid soda, sugary and sugar-sweetened beverages which are empty calories, spike your blood sugar and leady to unhealthy pregnancy weight gain.

 

10. Try smoothies, green juices or soup

If the sight or aroma of greens is enough to make your stomach turn, try getting a bunch of vegetables and fruit in a smoothie or green juice.

 

Or make a vat of broth-based, pureed vegetable soup.

 

You’ll pack in a ton of nutrition and in a more palatable way.

11. Avoid fatty foods

You might be craving a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich, but fatty foods and processed fast food are hard to digest and will most likely bring on nausea.

 

Not to mention a healthy pregnancy diet isn’t what you and your baby really need.

 

 

5 Reasons Your Kids Need to Eat a Healthy Breakfast

5 Reasons Your Kids Need to Eat a Healthy Breakfast

You’ve heard “breakfast is the most important meal of the day,” but if you’re rushing to get your kids awake, dressed, and out the door in the morning, breakfast can often take a backseat.

As it turns out, you’re not alone.

According to an August 2017 study in the British Journal of Nutrition, only 31 percent of kids eat breakfast daily, 17 percent never eat breakfast and the remaining eat breakfast only on some days of the week.

Yet kids who eat breakfast everyday have a higher daily consumption of key nutrients such as folate, calcium, iron and iodine than those who skip breakfast, the same study found.

A healthy breakfast shouldn’t be optional or an afterthought. Here are reasons why your kids need to eat a healthy breakfast every day.

1. Eating a healthy breakfast supports kids’ growth and development

If your kids skip breakfast, they miss a significant opportunity each day to get the nutrition they need for healthy growth and development.

Considering most kids don’t get the recommended amounts of nutrition anyway from fruits and vegetables, making breakfast a priority is vital for their health.

2. Eating a healthy breakfast helps kids’ mood and behavior

You know the feeling when you’re hangry: you’re tired, irritable and on edge.

And your kids are no different.

When kids skip breakfast, their energy and blood sugar dips, which affects their mood and behavior.

If your kids are snappy with you, have frequent meltdowns or seem cranky, try feeding them a healthy breakfast.

3. Kids who eat a healthy breakfast (even 2 breakfasts!) are less likely to be overweight

According to a March 2016 study in the journal Pediatric Obesity, kids who ate breakfast at school, even if they already had breakfast at home, were less likely to be overweight or obese than those who didn’t eat breakfast.

Although I don’t think we should encourage our children to eat two breakfasts, eating even a small, healthy breakfast can go a long way in preventing weight gain and childhood obesity.

4. Eating a healthy breakfast may prevent type-2 diabetes.

According to a September 2014 study in the journal PLOS Medicine, 9 and 10-year-old children who reported regularly skipping breakfast had 26 percent higher levels of insulin in their blood after a fasting period and 26 percent higher levels of insulin resistance, a risk factor for type-2 diabetes, than children who ate breakfast every day.

A healthy breakfast, one that has a balance of protein and fiber, will balance your child’s blood sugar and give him a steady amount of energy until lunchtime.

5. Kids who eat a healthy breakfast function better in school

Kids need to eat a healthy breakfast because it’s nearly impossible to stay focused and concentrate on anything when you’re hungry.

Breakfast fuels their bodies with the key nutrients they need to listen, learn, understand, complete tasks and boost their overall function at school.

In fact, a June 2016 study in the journal Public Health Nutrition, which included 5,000 kids, found those who ate breakfast and those who ate a better quality breakfast, were twice as likely to do better in school than those who didn’t.

What common challenges do you face getting your kids to eat breakfast in the morning?

How I Work Full-Time and Cook Dinner (Almost) Every Night

How I Work Full-Time and Cook Dinner (Almost) Every Night

I’m by no means a super-mom: I often lose patience with my kids, I’m not on the PTA, I’m not the class mom and I don’t volunteer much at school. I work full-time and my husband works long hours but I cook dinner most, if not every night of the week.

It’s the one thing I’m proud to say I do as a mom.

Is it easy? No way.

When my kids are vying for something to eat and everyone is unwinding from the day, ordering a pizza, getting take-out or eating out always seems like an easier option.

There’s nothing wrong with eating out every once in awhile, but cooking real, fresh, homemade food is ideal.

Not only is the food usually healthier, but your kids aren’t likely to overindulge on large portion sizes.

Cooking dinner most nights of the week doesn’t require you to invest in pricey meal subscription boxes or hire a personal chef.

With some planning and prep work, you can cook a healthy, delicious dinner every night of the week.

Here’s how I pull it off and you can too.

I use the chopping board a lot.

I won’t lie: if you want to cook dinner almost every night, it requires time in the kitchen.

Time spent on meal prep: lots of washing, peeling, slicing, dicing and chopping.

I carve out time on the weekends and find pockets of time throughout the week such as before my kids wake up, after they go to sleep, or while dinner is cooking to chop fruits and vegetables.

I don’t always cook right away but I’ll store the food in glass containers which makes it a breeze to get dinner on the table throughout the week.

I make lists

Making a grocery shopping list is a necessity if you want to cook dinner almost every night.

A list helps me know which foods and ingredients I’ll need before I leave for the grocery store, it prevents me from forgetting anything while I’m there and ensures I don’t make impulse purchases—especially when the kids are with me.

I batch cook

Although I’d rather be watching HGTV, I use large blocks of time on the weekends to batch cook a few meals.

I also soak and cook large batches of beans that can be used to make a variety of meals, cook large batches of broccoli and asparagus and make a large vat of vegetarian lentil stew that I portion out throughout the week for lunches and dinner.

I’ll also make gluten-free bread, bean burgers and brown rice that can be used in a variety of ways for dinner throughout the week.

I don’t overthink dinner

Although I love to cook, I simply don’t have the time during the week to try new dinner recipes and make meals that take more than 30 minutes.

That doesn’t mean however, that I rely on packaged, processed meals, frozen meals or boxed macaroni and cheese.

Instead, I stick to the basics.

I keep a lot of simple ingredients on hand at all times like salad, sliced peppers, avocado, beans, canned salmon and tempeh.

I also make a lot of the same easy meals every week. Some examples:

  • Roasted salmon and broccoli
  • Vegetable frittata
  • Roasted tempeh and salad
  • Egg “fried” rice
  • Salad with hard-boiled eggs and avocado
  • Baked chicken fingers and asparagus

I also use my Pampered Chef pan to make easy, delicious sheet pan meals.

I repurpose leftovers

When there are small amounts of leftovers in the fridge, I’ll put everything out buffet-style and let me kids choose what they want.

Leftover roasted chicken or salmon can be added to salad greens, and leftover vegetables can be transformed into a stir-fry, for example.

I start dinner early

I work from home so if I can sneak away for 10 minutes here and there, I do some meal prep or get dinner started early before my kids get home.

If you work outside the home, ask your partner or the babysitter to pitch in and get dinner started, if possible.

On these nights, stick to easy meals or do some of the prep work beforehand so they only to have to assemble the ingredients.

Or if time allows, you can make dinner before you leave in the morning, which is something I also do.

I have a back-up plan

When work is hectic, we’re running home late from an appointment or an after-school activity and I don’t have time to cook, I scramble eggs, boil pasta, re-heat bean burgers or serve leftovers.

I use my appliances

The food processor, blender and hand mixer all help me to cook dinner fast.

The slow cooker is also an excellent kitchen appliance because you can make just about anything and it couldn’t be easier. Add chicken, vegetables and rice and dinner is done by the time you come home.

I make it a team effort

When my husband is home in time for dinner and I’m out with the kids, he’ll get dinner started.

Sure, he used to be a chef so whatever he makes is usually better than what I come up with, but he uses the same strategies I do to cook dinner almost every night.

The sheer fact that he prioritizes a healthy eating just as much as I do also helps to ensure we cook dinner.

Most of our spouses aren’t chefs and many aren’t even comfortable in the kitchen but feeding your family isn’t your job alone.

Talk to your spouse and come up with easy, go-to meals that can easily be pulled together. Anyone can make a salad, a sandwich and boil pasta.

Or make a meal ahead of time that can be cooked or reheated.

Do you cook dinner almost every night? How do you do it?

How To Pack a Healthy School Lunch

How To Pack a Healthy School Lunch

Sending your kid off in the morning with a healthy school lunch can be better than school lunches you’ll find in the cafeteria, but getting the right balance of nutrition is key.

Surprisingly, most school lunches made at home are worse than those kids purchase at school. According to a July 2014 study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, only 27 percent of the lunches from more than 600 kids surveyed met at least three of the five National School Lunch Program standards.

The good news is that packing lunch doesn’t have to be difficult. Here, learn which foods you should focus on and how much and how to make packing a healthy school lunch a breeze.

Plan ahead

Without time to plan healthy school lunches, chances are you’ll resort to PB&J and processed, packaged foods everyday. Making a grocery list and having a list of healthy school lunch ideas will take the guesswork out of school lunch in the morning.

 

Start with fruits and vegetables

Fruits and vegetables are high in vitamins, minerals and fiber, which will help to satisfy your kid’s hunger and help him feel fuller longer. When packing your kid’s lunch box, 50 percent should be made up of both fruits and vegetables—not just fruit.

Do your best to “eat the rainbow” and offer a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables. If your kid is a picky eater however, pack fruits and vegetables you know he’ll eat. After a few weeks, start to add in small amounts (a teaspoon will do) of new fruits and vegetables you’d like him to try. If you’re consistent, he may eventually come around and they may even become his new favorite foods.

Pick a protein

Protein is important for your kid’s growth and development and meals with protein keep hunger at bay, balance your child’s blood sugar and give her enough energy to keep up at school.

Protein should make up 1/4 of a healthy school lunch but you’ll want to focus on lean, quality protein sources instead of processed foods like deli meats and cheeses or hot dogs.

Try chicken, beef, turkey, beans, edamame, tempeh, eggs, fish and seafood. If you’re worried about the mercury levels in fish, find out which types of fish are safe for your kids.

Choose whole grains

Grains should make up about 1/4 of a healthy school lunch box. When packing whole grains, think about other grains your child will eat that day since 50 percent of grains in his diet should be whole grains.

Whole grains have vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and filling fiber, which are stripped from refined grains. Try whole grain bread, pasta, brown rice, quinoa or another type of gluten-free grain.

Add calcium-rich foods

The USDA MyPlate recommends milk or sources of dairy with meals because of the calcium they provide. If your kids are dairy-free, or you’re trying to avoid dairy because it’s inflammatory, they can still get plenty of calcium from green leafy vegetables, chia seeds and other calcium-rich foods that aren’t dairy.

Focus on plant-based foods

Studies show plant-based diets are one of the healthiest because they’re high in vitamins and minerals, anti-inflammatory and prevent constipation.

Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans and legumes, sweet potatoes and nuts and seeds are all plant-based foods to include in your child’s lunch box.

Include healthy fats

Omega-3 fatty acids are part of a healthy diet and support your child’s brain health and memory.

Salmon and sardines are low in mercury and good sources of both protein and omega-3 fatty acids. Or try olives, a mist of olive oil on salad or vegetables, avocado and nuts and seeds, which are all excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids too.

Get a bento box

Kids love choices and a reusable bento box is a great way to serve up a variety of foods at lunch time and also ensure that you have healthy portions of all the major food groups.

Re-think treats

Packing a cookie with an “I love you!” note makes you and your kid feel happy, but most treats you’ll find in the grocery story are high in sugar, sodium and artificial ingredients, not to mention, kids don’t need them while they’re trying to learn.

 

If you decide to pack treats, read labels carefully or consider your own homemade healthy versions. Also, re-think what a treat could be. Applesauce, dried fruit or chocolate covered fresh fruit are just as sweet but a bit healthier.

 

Teaching balance is also a key component of raising kids who are healthy eaters so consider including a treat once a week instead of everyday, for example.

 

13 Ways To Add More Vegetables To School Lunches

13 Ways To Add More Vegetables To School Lunches

Getting your kids to eat more vegetables any time of the day is always a challenge, but school lunch can be even harder especially when most kids don’t pack vegetables, refuse to eat vegetables or end up throwing their vegetables in the garbage. If you want to raise kids who love to eat vegetables, it’s important to consistently offer them at every meal. The good news is that it’s not as hard as you think. Here are 13 ways to add more vegetables to kids’ school lunches.

1. Wrap it up

Ditch the sandwich and make a roll up with sliced turkey, cheese and lettuce or make a lettuce wrap and put your protein inside. Or add grilled or sautéed vegetables to a tortilla, burrito or wrap.

2. Add a dip

Kids love to dip so pairing a healthy dip with raw, cut-up veggies is a great way to add more vegetables to kids’ school lunches.

Try hummus, bean dip, a vegetable dip or salsa. Consider making your own homemade dip with fresh ingredients so you know exactly what your kids are eating. If you purchase a store-bought dip, read labels carefully because many have artificial ingredients and are too high in fat.

3. Make grilled cheese with vegetables

Add spinach, diced broccoli or slices of pepper to a grilled cheese sandwich made with whole grain bread and you have a fiber-filled lunch your kids will love.

4. Add veggies to pasta, rice or another grain

Mix in last night’s leftover vegetables with whole-wheat pasta, couscous, brown rice or another whole grain like quinoa.

5. Make veggie quesadillas

Quesadillas take minutes to make and lend themselves to so many types of vegetables. Encourage your kids to have a hand in making their own lunches by putting out a “buffet” of vegetables and letting them make their own.

6. Puree vegetables and add them to sauces

I don’t believe in pureeing vegetables as a sneaky way to get your kids to eat them, but it can be a great way to get extra nutrition in their diets and add more vegetables to their lunches.

Carrots, zucchini and eggplant make a great addition to tomato sauce and roasted butternut squash can be added to homemade macaroni and cheese, for example.

7. Bake vegetable “fries”

Slice zucchini, eggplant, yucca, carrot, or jicama, spray with some olive oil and roast them in the oven on high heat. You can also dip vegetables in egg and breadcrumb for more flavor and texture.

8. Batch cook soups, stews and chili

Making a large batch of your kid’s favorite soup, stew or chili is an easy way to have several meals throughout the week and add more vegetables to school lunches.

9. Whip up an omelet, quiche or frittata

Eggs are one of the healthiest foods you can feed your kids and adding vegetables to an omelet, quiche or frittata also makes for easy and healthy kids’ school lunches.

10. Bake veggies into bread

Add shredded zucchini, carrots or pureed pumpkin to your favorite bread recipe as a healthy treat for your kid’s lunch box.

11. Swap vegetables for grains

Instead of pasta or rice, swap in cauliflower “rice” and spiralized veggies and a protein for a healthy school lunch.

12. Assemble kabobs

Kids love food on sticks and kabobs can be an easy to assemble, healthy school lunch. Add sliced peppers, mushrooms, squash, onions, cherry tomatoes, and meat or tofu for a healthy portion of vegetables.

13. Add vegetables to pizza

Pizza may not be the healthiest option for kids’ school lunches but if you’re going to serve it, make the most of it by adding vegetables as a topping.

7 Reasons To Consider Making Your Own Homemade Baby Food

7 Reasons To Consider Making Your Own Homemade Baby Food

If you asked me what I think is the one thing I did to raise kids who eat really healthy, without a doubt, it would be making my own homemade baby food.

I don’t consider myself an au naturel, crunchy type of mama who only eats organic food, makes all of her own cleaning products and cooks every single meal from scratch, but I am a big advocate for serving up fresh, healthy, real food including homemade baby food.

When my kids were babies, I loved looking through cookbooks, whipping up new combinations of fresh fruits and vegetables and serving them up as my kids were exposed to all the new flavors and textures.

You might think making your own homemade baby food is time consuming. Truth be told, it does take time—more time than throwing pouches into your grocery shopping cart. But with the right tools to cook and store the food, you can make it in no time.

Still not convinced? Here are 7 reasons to consider making your own homemade baby food.

1. Homemade is healthier

Many of the store-bought brands don’t have preservatives or additives, but they may contain additional fillers and be less nutritious than homemade. In fact, in 2015 Good Morning America found that water was the most predominant ingredient in Plum Organics’ baby food and other ingredients like fruits, vegetables and meat were in smaller quantities.

What’s more, store-bought baby food is heated at high temperatures to kill bacteria but doing so may also lower the nutritional content. A 2011 study in the journal Food Chemistry suggests some store-bought baby food brands contain less than 20 percent of the recommended levels of many minerals and micronutrients.

2. You control the ingredients

Recent studies suggest store-bought baby food may contain dangerous chemicals. According to an October 2017 study by the Clean Label Project, a non-profit advocacy group, of 530 baby food products tested, more than 25 percent had detectable levels of lead. Another report, published by the Environmental Defense Fund in June 2017, found detectable levels of lead in more than 2,100 baby food samples.

When you make your homemade baby food, you control the ingredients and the nutrition. You can choose local, organic foods, pick up something new and interesting at your local farmers’ market and get foods that are in-season in your area, which are fresher and may be more affordable.

3. The potential for flavors, textures and consistenies are endless

Store-bought brands of baby food offer unique food combinations and go beyond the basic peas and carrots of yesteryear.

Yet when you make your own homemade baby food, you can expose your baby to a wide variety of new foods and flavors that you won’t find in the store. You can also use your kitchen tools to change the texture and consistency according to your baby’s age and preference and add herbs and spices to change the flavor every time.

When you go the homemade route, you’re also not limited to steamed foods alone—you can bake and roast your ingredients to bring out delicious, robust flavors.

4. Your baby is less likely to be a picky eater

If you want to raise a kid who is a healthy, adventurous eater, introduce real, fresh food early on. Studies show the more types of foods and flavors babies are exposed to, the more adventurous they’ll be as they get older.

A February 2017 meta-analysis in the journal Nutrients found that although children are predisposed to prefer caloric, sugary and salty foods and reject new foods during the pre-school years, and genetic differences for certain types of food can exist among kids, their preferences can change when they’re consistently offered healthy foods.

Regardless of whether it’s organic or has flavorful food combinations, store-bought baby food simply doesn’t come close to the taste of fresh, homemade baby food.

5. You don’t want your kid to eat out of a package

Baby food pouches are so easy and convenient especially when you’re at the park or traveling, but an important part of raising healthy eaters is teaching your children that fresh, whole foods are best.

Feeding kids from a pouch when they’re babies and letting them suck pureed food from the pouch as they grow, only reinforces this unhealthy habit of eating out of a package.

6. Your baby can eat what you do

When your baby first starts solids, you’ll probably stick to basic, one-ingredient fruit and vegetable purees.

As your baby gets older however, and you make combinations with more ingredients and complex flavors and textures, you can take a portion of the meal you make for your family and put it in the food processor or serve it as is to your baby.

Not only will this make your job much easier and save time, but your baby will get used to eating the same meal as the rest of the family and you won’t get into the bad habit of being a short-order cook.

7. Your baby will take to table foods more easily

When you’re ready to offer finger foods, you won’t have to sneak vegetables into meals, negotiate or plead with your baby to eat. Chances are, he’ll be more likely to accept the foods you serve because he’s already been eating those foods all along.

8 Healthy School Lunch Ideas That Aren’t Sandwiches  Ditch the bread and serve up these healthy school lunch options

8 Healthy School Lunch Ideas That Aren’t Sandwiches

Ditch the bread and serve up these healthy school lunch options

PB&J, turkey and cheese or tuna fish sandwiches make for a fast and easy school lunch but if your kids are gluten-free, you’re trying to cut down on the amount of bread they eat, they don’t like sandwiches or you’re simply looking for more school lunch ideas that aren’t sandwiches, there are so many healthy, delicious, and easy options.

Here are 8.

1. Beans and legumes

Beans and legumes are one of the healthiest foods you can feed your kids. An excellent source of folate, zinc, iron and magnesium, they have both protein and fiber to satisfy your kids’ hunger for hours. There are also so many varieties, you’re bound to find at least one your kids will love.

To make packing school lunch easy, I make a large batch of lentil soup for the week. I then re-heat and pour the soup into a thermos for lunch. You can also serve beans alone or incorporate them into quinoa, brown rice or pasta dishes or make a batch of homemade bean burgers.

2. Lettuce wraps

With a lettuce wrap, you’ll get an extra dose of vitamins, minerals and fiber and a nice texture without the bread. You can also use the same ingredients you would when you make sandwiches: sliced turkey, egg salad, leftover roasted chicken or chili meat.

 

3. Roll ups

If your kids are like mine, they’ll love a roll-up for school lunch and they won’t miss the bread. Roll-up sliced turkey, ham, or roast beef, cheese and lettuce and you’ll have an easy and delicious lunch.

4. Eggs

An excellent source of protein, 9 essential amino acids and choline which supports memory, eggs are one of the best school lunch ideas that aren’t sandwiches.

Eggs cook quickly and are so easy to incorporate into practically any dish. Try scrambled or hard-boiled eggs, make egg salad, egg “muffins,” a quiche or frittata.

One of my kids’ favorite ways to eat eggs is a lightened up version of egg fried rice: incorporate scrambled eggs with brown rice, edamame and a splash of soy sauce.

5. Spring rolls

Spring rolls are simple to pull together for lunch and a great swap for sandwiches. Grab a package of spring roll wrappers, add a protein, your kids’ favorite vegetables and seasonings and lunch is ready.

6. Salad

I know what you’re thinking: my kid will never eat a salad. Yet packing a salad for lunch is a great way to get in several servings of vegetables in one meal.

Making a salad can also be a fun activity with your kids because they can pick the ingredients, help you chop and toss the salad and add the dressing. When kids have a hand in making their meals, they’re more likely to eat them.

If your kids aren’t salad eaters, start small with a side salad alongside one of their favorite foods. Experiment with different add-ins like:

  • Peppers, cucumbers, carrots, radishes, etc.
  • Tomatoes
  • Leftover meat or fish
  • Tofu
  • Hard boiled eggs
  • Edamame
  • Beans
  • Cheese
  • Nuts and/or seeds
  • Fruit (fresh or dried)
  • Avocado

7. Tempeh

My children and I eat a predominately plant-based diet so to ensure we get enough protein, we often eat tempeh. It’s not every day or even every week, but it’s one of the best school lunch options that aren’t sandwiches.

Tempeh can be used in most recipes that call for meat but you can also simply marinate and bake it.

8. Soup

In the cooler months, soup can be a healthy and delicious school lunch. If you’re inclined to make your own homemade soup, you can incorporate several servings of vegetables—whole or pureed.

If you buy soup in a can, box or one that’s prepared in the store, read labels because most soups you’ll find are high in sodium.

How To Pick a Healthy Cereal For Your Kids

How To Pick a Healthy Cereal For Your Kids

When it comes to finding a healthy cereal for your kids, unfortunately there aren’t a ton of options to choose from. There are those that are obvious sugar bombs with their bright, artificial colors, marshmallows and favorite characters on their boxes, but cereals that have health claims like “a good source of fiber,” “gluten-free,” and “made with real fruit,” aren’t the best options for breakfast either.

In fact, a May 2014 study by the Environmental Working Group found kids who eat a bowl of cereal every day for a year get a whopping 10 pounds of sugar in their diets. What’s more, 92 percent of cereals contain added sugars, even those that are considered “adult cereals” or “family cereals,” the same report found.

So what should you look for in a kids’ cereal? And how can you cut through all the health hype and find one that’s actually healthy for your kids? Here are some things to consider.

Don’t buy kid-friendly cereals

One of the easiest ways to make sure you don’t buy some of the worst cereals for kids is to avoid those that are kid-friendly, marketed to kids and those that your kids are likely to beg you to buy when you’re at the grocery store. Think cereals that are neon-colored, in brightly colored boxes with animal characters and those that look more like candy than cereal.

Most kid-friendly cereals lack nutrition and are high in sugar—even those that are organic. Serving kid-friendly cereals also encourages picky-eating habits and prevents kids from craving healthy cereals and other healthy foods.

Avoid artificial ingredients

Studies suggest artificial food dyes like Red 40 can lead to attention problems. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests food dyes, preservatives and packaging materials should be avoided because studies suggest they can interfere with kids’ hormones, growth and development and may increase the risk for childhood obesity, according to a July 2018 report in the journal Pediatrics.

It may also be wise to avoid artificial sweeteners like sucralose, aspartame and acesulfame potassium (acesulfame K) because research suggests these may encourage cravings for other sweet foods and displace calories from nutritious, low-sugar foods. Studies also suggest consuming artificial sweeteners may lead to metabolic syndrome and type-2 diabetes.

Choose whole grains

When looking for a healthy cereal for your kids, look for those that are made with whole grains, such as whole wheat, brown rice, oats, or oatmeal. Whole grains contain vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and filling fiber which is stripped from refined grains.

Look for high-fiber cereals

Most kids don’t get enough fiber in their diets but fiber is important because it staves off hunger, balances blood sugar, boosts gut health, and prevents constipation. A diet high in fiber can also prevent weight gain and childhood obesity.

Read the Nutrition Facts labels, compare brands and look for cereals that have a good amount of fiber—at least 3 grams per serving or more.

Avoid cereals with added sugars

Feeding your kids sugary cereals prime their taste buds for sugar-sweetened foods.

Buy cereals for your kids that are low in sugar—less than 4 grams per serving—or have no sugar at all.

Also pay attention to added sugars, which most cereals contain and have no nutritional value. As food manufacturers roll out the new Nutrition Facts labels this year and over the next few years, you’ll see a line for added sugars so you can easily find the amount of naturally occurring sugars versus how much added sugar is in a cereal.

If you don’t see a line for added sugar, you can spot it by reading the ingredients. Added sugars can go by a variety of names but some include dextrose, fructose, honey, malt syrup, rice syrup, molasses, fruit juice concentrate, corn syrup, evaporated can juice, barley malt, and caramel.

Keep in mind that cereals with dried fruit, which although are natural sugars, are still concentrated sugars and the fruit itself may be coated with even more sugar.

If your kids are used to eating sugary cereals, they probably won’t like the switch. If they complain the cereal you choose lacks flavor, add cinnamon, slices of banana, or fresh berries for a flavor boost and added fiber. If there’s no other choice, they’ll eventually come around.

Consider fortified cereals

If your child is a picky eater and isn’t getting an adequate amount of vitamins and minerals from fresh fruits and vegetables and other whole foods, you may want to consider choosing a cereal that’s fortified with vitamins and minerals.

Look for cereals fortified with nutrients like calcium, vitamins C and D, folic acid, and iron.

Tips for Serving Kids’ Breakfast Cereal

Add protein

Most cereals don’t have protein, which kids need in their diets for their growth and development, to build strong muscles, and to stave off hunger.

Consider pairing cereal with yogurt, a handful of nuts or adding an egg on the side.

Don’t overlook oatmeal

Individual packets and containers of oatmeal that you add hot water to and microwave are fast and convenient, especially when you’re rushing to get your kids out the door in the morning. Yet most are low in fiber, highly processed, and high in sugar.

If your kids like oatmeal, make a large batch of old-fashioned rolled oats or steel-cut oats for the week that you can portion out in the mornings. Add fresh fruit, cinnamon or other spices, nuts or seeds for added protein and fiber, and a bit of honey for a hint of sweetness if your kid won’t eat it otherwise.

You can also make overnight oats by combining almond milk, chia seeds and spices with oats in a mason jar for an easy, healthy, and delicious breakfast.

Watch portion sizes

Typical portion sizes for cereal are 3/4 cup or 1/2 cup but kids can easily fill up their bowls and get double, even triple, the amount of sugar.

To help your kids learn about healthy serving sizes, give them a measuring cup or bowl to dish out their own cereal.