2 New Reports Show Childhood Obesity More Of A Concern Than Ever

2 New Reports Show Childhood Obesity More Of A Concern Than Ever

We all know that childhood obesity is an epidemic and more than a third of kids are either overweight or obese in the United States, but two recent reports show rates of childhood obesity have no signs of slowing down—and addressing the issue now is crucial if we want our kids to live long, healthy lives.

World Obesity Federation: 250 million kids will be obese by 2030

On October 2, the World Obesity Federation released their first-ever Global Atlas On Childhood Obesity, which shows the number of children and teens who are obese is expected to rise from the current estimate of 150 million to 250 million by the year 2030.

While North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand have childhood obesity rates that have stabilized at high levels, Africa, Asia and Latin America are most at risk—a result of emerging economies and aggressive food marketing to kids, the report states. In fact, 70% of countries lack policies that restrict food marketing to kids.

At the World Health Assembly in 2013, it was agreed that rates of childhood obesity should be no higher in 2025 than they were between 2010 and 2012. Yet this recent report found that 8 out of 10 countries have a less than 10 percent chance of meeting that goal and the U.S. has only a 17 percent chance.

In the U.S., recent data shows 9.4 percent of children between 0 and 5-years-old are overweight. By 2030, up to 26 percent of children and teens will be obese.

Related: Childhood Obesity: Are Parents To Blame?


Robert Wood Johnson Foundation: 18.5 percent of kids are obese

A second report released last week by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, State of Childhood Obesity: Helping All Children Grow Up Healthy, includes the best available data on national and state childhood obesity rates as well as recommendations to quickly address the issue.

According to the report:

  • In 2015-16, 18.5 percent of kids ages 2 to 19 were obese.
  • Black and hispanic kids have higher rates of obesity (22 percent and 19 percent respectively) than kids who are white (11.8 percent) and Asian (7.3 percent).
  • 21.9 percent of kids who live in homes that make less than the federal poverty level are obese.
  • Between 2016 and 2017-18, there were no states that had a significant change in their overall obesity rate.

While most of the news was bleak, there was some progress made for families who participate in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), which provides healthy food, health care referrals and nutrition education to lower-income women.

The rates of obesity for kids 2- and 4-years-old in WIC decreased from 15.9 percent to 13.9 percent between 2010 and 2016, and that was true across all racial and ethic groups.

Related: 6 Facts About Child Hunger in the U.S. + What You Can Do

The report also included several key policy recommendations at the federal, state and local levels around both diet and physical activity to address childhood obesity including ongoing support and reform of WIC, the Child and Adult Food Care Program (CACFP), and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps), a program that the Trump administration is threatening to significantly cut.

Additionally, the report includes a recommendation to include children under 2 in the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which is still in development, urging them to take into account the 2017 Feeding Guidelines for Infants and Young Toddlers: A Responsive Parenting Approach and the new healthy kids’ drink recommendations which came out in September 2019.

They also recommend certain policies around food marketing, such as:

  • All food and drink advertisements and marketing in schools meet the Smart Snacks nutrition guidelines.
  • Soda and sugary drinks should be eliminated from kids’ restaurant menus and menu boards.

     

  • Maintain the nutrition standards for school meals that were in effect before rules about whole grains, sodium and milk were rolled back in December 2018.

Related: Why My Kids’ School Lunch Is Unhealthy (+ What I’m Doing About It)

Childhood obesity is a complicated problem that requires swift action from government agencies, schools districts, healthcare providers and parents. Although there’s no quick fix, without major changes within the next few years, our kids will face chronic health conditions and our healthcare system will continue to be taxed.

The way I see it however, is that fat or skinny, all kids need to have access to healthy, real food and they need to learn healthy eating and lifestyle habits.

What do you think about the new data and recommendations to address childhood obesity? Let me know in the comments.

How to Eat Pumpkin Seeds + My Favorite Pumpkin Seeds Recipe

How to Eat Pumpkin Seeds + My Favorite Pumpkin Seeds Recipe

     Between pumpkin-spiced lattes and everything else pumpkin-inspired this time of year, pumpkin gets so much attention that pumpkin seeds—a bonafide superfood too—are often overlooked and underutilized. Perhaps it’s because many people don’t know how to eat pumpkin seeds, or how to cook them and incorporate them into their meals. Fortunately, there are so many healthy, delicious ways to eat pumpkin seeds that my family loves—and yours will too. But first, let’s look at the health benefits of pumpkin seeds.

Are pumpkin seeds good for you?

Pumpkin seeds, or pepitas, which in Spanish means “little seeds of squash,” are packed with nutrition and one of the healthiest foods you can feed your kids.

Packed with protein

Pumpkin seeds are a great source of protein— an ounce has nearly 7 grams which gives kids energy and staves off hunger.

Protein also helps to build muscle, carry nutrients through the body, regulate hormones, and strengthen skin and bones. Making sure you include protein at every meal also helps to keep blood sugar steady and prevent weight gain.

Filled with fiber

If your kids are like most and don’t get enough fiber in their diets from fruits and vegetables, serving pumpkin seeds can help fill some of the void.

Whole pumpkin seeds in their shells have about 5 grams of fiber per serving, while shelled pumpkin seeds have about 3 grams per serving. Although the latter has less fiber, pair pumpkin seeds with a high-fiber fruit like an apple or a pear for example, and you’ve got a healthy snack.

High in magnesium and other minerals

Magnesium is an essential mineral that’s responsible for several different biochemical processes in the body including protein synthesis, muscle and nerve function, blood glucose control and blood pressure regulation. Magnesium also helps to support bone health, and it can help ease anxiety and may also improve sleep.

Pumpkin seeds are also high in iron, which the red blood cells need to transport oxygen throughout the body. They’re also rich in zinc, which supports skin health, eye health, and may help boost your kids’ immunity and cut down on the amount of times they get sick with colds, infections or stomach bugs.

Related: [VIDEO] How to Boost Your Kids’ Immunity

 

May make bedtime easier

When you hear the word tryptophan, you probably think turkey and that post-Thanksgiving dinner slump you get when you eat it. Yet tryptophan is also found in pumpkin seeds.

Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that converts to serotonin, a chemical in the brain that’s responsible for sleep and a happy mood. So although there’s no guarantee, feeding your kids pumpkin seeds may help them sleep through the night.

High in antioxidants

Pumpkin seeds are high in antioxidants, including carotenoids and vitamin E, which reduce inflammation and help to prevent many types of diseases.

Lower risk for type-2 diabetes and heart disease

According to the American Diabetes Association, approximately 193,000 kids and teens under age 20 are diagnosed with type-2 diabetes and experts agree, those numbers are on the rise.

Studies suggest along with a healthy diet and exercise, eating pumpkin seeds may prevent type-2 diabetes. In fact, a February 2014 study in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition suggests eating pumpkin seeds can help maintain blood glucose levels.

Another February 2012 study in the Journal of Medicinal Food suggests pumpkin seed oil may reduce high blood pressure and be protective of the cardiovascular system.

Healthy fats

Pumpkin seeds are a good source of plant-based omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, the heart-healthy, brain healthy fats kids need in their diets.

Healthy fats are a vital source of energy for kids and help satisfy their hunger.

They’re also essential for healthy cell membranes, they support the brain and the nervous system, and help with the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E, and K.

Fat is also necessary to make hormones and immune cells and to help regulate inflammation and metabolism.

Related: 5 Foods With Healthy Fats Kids Will Love

How to Eat Pumpkin Seeds

While you can eat pumpkin seeds that you get when you carve a pumpkin, making them edible is a process. First, you’ll have to scoop the seeds out of the pumpkin, clean and dry them, and then bake them for 30 minutes. If you want to add cinnamon or other spices, you’ll have to bake them for another 20 minutes.

I don’t know about you but who has time for that?

A quicker and easier way is to buy plain, unsalted pumpkin seeds at the grocery store. You can serve them alone or add them to any type of meal, but either way, there are so healthy and delicious ways to eat them.

Eat pumpkin seeds as a snack

The great thing about pumpkin seeds for kids is that they’re portable, but they don’t have to be refrigerated or kept cool, and they’re allergy-safe for school.

You can toss plain pumpkin seeds with raisins, roast them with cinnamon and sugar (see my favorite pumpkin seeds recipe below!) or your kid’s favorite spices.

Or you can make a pumpkin seed salsa for a healthy and delicious snack.

Add pumpkin seeds to oatmeal

Incorporate pumpkin seeds into oatmeal, overnight oats and baked oatmeal for a quick and easy breakfast.

Top muffins and breads with pumpkin seeds

There’s nothing better than fresh-from-the-oven muffins and breads, especially those made with pumpkin, apples or pears. Mix some pumpkin seeds in the batter or sprinkle them on top and you have a little extra nutrition and texture too.

Use pumpkin seeds in granola

I love making my own homemade granola because I can control the ingredients and the amount of sugar, plus it’s super easy to make a large batch that can last you awhile.

You can use pumpkin seeds in this recipe from Cookie and Kate which I made recently—it was gone in a few days!

Make homemade trail mix with pumpkin seeds

Trail mix can be a healthy snack option, but most types on store shelves are packed with salty nuts and seeds, load of dried fruit, “yogurt-” covered raisins, chocolate chips and M&Ms.

Instead, make your own trail mix with pumpkin seeds—it’s quick and easy and the best part is that you get to control the ingredients and the portion size.

Make pumpkin seed butter

If you’re looking for an allergy-safe option for school lunches, try making pumpkin seed butter, which is simple to whip up in your blender or Vitamix.

You can also add pumpkin seed butter to smoothies, swirl it into yogurt, drizzle it on top of fruit, or serve it as a fruit dip.

Need a recipe? Try Momables’ Cinnamon Pumpkin Seed Butter.

Add pumpkin seeds to salads, soups, and side dishes

Pumpkin seeds can be tossed into about any type of meal and side dish. Think: vegetable stir-fry, roasted vegetables, rice and grain dishes, tacos, chilis, soups and salads.

Prepare a pesto

Swap pine nuts for pumpkin seeds in your favorite pesto recipe for a healthy and delicious addition to steak, fish or chicken or spread on your favorite toasted baguette.

Best Pumpkin Seeds To Buy

If you want to roast shelled pumpkin seeds but don’t have the time, there are some great healthy, store-bought options.

Both brands are non-GMO, gluten-free and free of dairy, egg, soy, peanut and tree nuts, which is important if you have kids with food allergies like I do

Go Raw Organic Sprouted Pumpkin Seeds pumpkin seeds are sprouted which makes them easy to digest and boosts their nutritional value.

SuperSeedz brand pumpkin seeds are roasted with only natural ingredients like dark chocolate, cinnamon (my kids’ favorite) and cayenne pepper. They also come in 1 ounce and 5 ounce snack size pouches.

My Favorite Pumpkin Seeds Recipe

My daughter loves roasted cinnamon sugar pumpkin seeds and although I’ve purchased them in the past, they can get pricey, so recently I made them for her.

I used this recipe for Cinnamon Toast Pumpkin Seeds but swapped out the white sugar for coconut sugar (I like Madhava).

Does your family eat pumpkin seeds? What’s your favorite way to serve them up? Let me know in the comments.

New Healthy Kids’ Drink Recommendations: What Parents Should Know

New Healthy Kids’ Drink Recommendations: What Parents Should Know

Last Wednesday, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the American Heart Association, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the American Academy of  Pediatric Dentistry jointly issued new healthy kids’ drink guidelines for parents.

Healthy Drinks, Healthy Kids as they’re called, are the first-ever consensus recommendations on what constitutes a healthy kids’ drink for kids ages 5 and under as well as the types of beverages parents should limit or avoid.

The new guidelines focus on a handful of key recommendations: breast milk, infant formula, plain milk, and water are best while fruit juice and non-dairy, plant-based milks should be avoided.

This is exciting news because these leading health organizations are finally taking a stance and stating that drinks are just as important as the foods we feed our kids.

Drinks can be a significant source of calories, vitamins, minerals and healthy fats for young kids and they can also fill a void from nutritional deficiencies that are typically a result of picky eating behaviors.

Since food preferences are formed at an early age—even in utero, the first 5 years is a critical time. Plus, serving up a healthy kids’ drink also encourages healthy choices throughout their lives.

What’s more, with childhood obesity still an epidemic and conditions like type-2 diabetes and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) on the rise, the beverages our kids consume are more important than ever. 

What are the new healthy kids’ drink recommendations?

So let’s take a look at the new recommendations:

All children ages 5 and under should avoid drinking:

  • Chocolate milk and strawberry milk
  • Toddler formulas such as toddler milks, growing up milks or follow-up formulas
  • Plant-based/non-dairy milks (with some exceptions).

Beverages with caffeine, low-calorie sweetened beverages including those sweetened with stevia, sucralose or labeled “diet” or “light,” sugar-sweetened drinks including soda, fruit drinks, fruit-flavored drinks, fruit-ades, sports and energy drinks, sweetened waters, and sweetened coffee and tea drinks should also be off limits.

Infants from 0 to 6 months should only have breastmilk and/or infant formula.

Babies 6 to 12 months should continue to stick with breastmilk and/or infant formula. Once they start solids, parents should offer a small amount of water at mealtimes. Introducing a few sips of water can help them get used to the taste.

Additionally, the healthy kids’ drink recommendations state babies should avoid fruit juice—even 100% fruit juice—because whole fruit has much more nutrition.

Babies 12 to 24 months can be introduced to plain, pasteurized whole milk and plain water to stay hydrated. Although the recommendations say 100% fruit juice is ok, it should be limited. An even better choice? Fresh, canned or frozen fruit without any added sugars.

Children between 2- and 5-years-old should stick with milk, ideally skim milk or low-fat (1%) and water. Again, small amounts of fruit juice are OK, but whole fruit is always better. 

If you’re looking for more details, you can read the full recommendations here.

Related: Is Chocolate Milk Good for Kids?

Do the new recommendations include non-dairy, plant-based milks?

In recent years, the amount of people interested in plant-based, non-dairy milks like almond milk, cashew milk, and oat milk have significantly increased. According to the Plant Based Foods Association, sales of plant-based milks were up 9% in 2018, worth an estimated $1.6 billion, while sales of cow’s milk were down 6%.

Despite their popularity, the organizations that developed the healthy kids’ drink recommendations say kids under 5 should avoid consuming them.

For starters, many plant-based milks have added sugars to make them taste sweet.

Although many also have added nutrients like calcium and Vitamin D, the amounts can vary by type and brand and studies show our bodies may not be able to absorb these nutrients as well as they can from cow’s milk, the panel says.

The one exception to the recommendation of avoiding plant-based milks is fortified soy milk, which stacks up nutritionally to cow’s milk.

Another caveat is that for kids who are lactose intolerant, have a dairy allergy or follow a vegan diet, unsweetened and fortified non-dairy milks may be a good idea.

Is fruit juice healthy for kids?

The new recommendations about fruit juice in particular, are a welcomed change and something I think can have a significant impact on our children’s health now and throughout their lives.

Fruit juice is often marketed to families as a healthy food for kids, especially those that are organic or not from concentrate.

Although juice has certain vitamins and nutrients and can count as a serving of fruit—a good thing if your kid is a picky eater—in reality, fruit juice is just concentrated sugar. Fruit juice also lacks fiber, something all kids need whether they’re constipated or not.

Drinking too much juice can also lead to cavities, weight gain and diarrhea.

What about healthy fruit smoothies?

The new healthy kids’ drink recommendations do not include a mention of smoothies, but I think it’s something to consider since parents often serve them to their kids to help increase their intake of fruits and vegetables.

Smoothies are often seen as a health food, yet take a look at most bottled or restaurant smoothies—yes, green smoothies too—and you’ll discover most are filled with sugar thanks to ingredients like fruit juice, honey, raw sugar and loads of fresh fruit.

Sure, fresh fruit has natural sugars and other nutrients, but sugar is sugar.

If your kids like smoothies, make your own at home, using only vegetables and fruit at an 80:20 ratio.

How much water do kids need?

Since infants 6- to 12-months-old should only be offered small sips of water at meals, between 4 and 8 ounces total for the day is enough but it shouldn’t replace breast milk and/or infant formula.

These are the recommendations for water intake for older children:

1- to 3-years old: 1 to 4 cups of water a day

4- to 5-years old: 1.5 to 5 cups a day

Tips for offering a healthy kids’ drink

Substitute sugary drinks
If your kids love juice or another sweetened beverage and you know going cold-turkey isn’t going to work, slowly swap it out.

Try adding water to juice in your kid’s sippy cup or cut down the serving size or amount of servings per day until you can nix it for good.

Encourage drinking water
Pure, simple H2O may not be your kid’s first choice, but water gives their bodies what they need and it quenches their thirst without any unnecessary calories, fat or sugar.

The best way to eliminate juice and sugary drinks from your kid’s diet is to simply stop buying it. At daycare or church for example, you can encourage the people who provide the food to eliminate it too.

Although there’s not much you can do at birthday parties for example, you can do your best to encourage your kid to drink water or milk instead or allow juice in small amounts for that day.

Simple changes like offering a cool new sippy cup, a fun straw or adding slices of strawberries or cucumbers to water, for example, can be enough to encourage them to drink up.

Talk to your pediatrician or a pediatric RDN
If you’re avoiding cow’s milk for any reason, it’s a good idea to check with your child’s pediatrician or pediatric registered dietitian nutritionist to make sure your child is getting enough key nutrients like protein, calcium and vitamin D in his diet.

What do you think about the new healthy kids’ drink recommendations? Leave me a comment.

15 Kids’ Healthy Eating Myths That Are Dangerous To Believe

15 Kids’ Healthy Eating Myths That Are Dangerous To Believe

When it comes to nutrition and healthy eating, it seems that a lot of what we read is confusing and contradictory, and separating fact from fiction is no easy task especially when you’re a busy parent.

Let’s take safely introducing nuts to babies, which is a new food philosophy that can make healthy eating tricky.

When my kids were babies—which was only a few years ago—I was told to wait to feed them nuts because of the risk of food allergies. Now that advice has changed and parents are encouraged to feed nuts to their babies early on.

Unless you’re a nutritionist, chances are, you don’t have time to sift through the research and figure out what’s true and what’s not. Although I can’t guarantee that a new study won’t come out tomorrow and influence how we should feed our kids, here are 15 kids’ healthy eating myths that you should stop believing today.

 

1. Healthy eating is time consuming

Serving healthy meals definitely takes time to plan, prep and cook—definitely more time than opening up a box of chicken nuggets or ordering take-out.

If you work, have more than one kid at home, care for an aging parent, and have other obligations, your time is even more limited.

A myth about healthy eating however, is that it’s too time consuming but I want to assure you that nothing could be further from the truth.

With easy, simple strategies like meal planning, batch cooking and sticking to the basics, it is possible to serve healthy meals everyday.

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

2. The Keto diet is healthy for kids


Low-carb diets like keto are all the rage for adults looking to lose weight, but in recent months, it’s shocking to see how many bloggers are posting keto diet recipes for kids.

When it comes to refined carbohydrates like those found in white breads, pastas and rice and processed foods, I agree, they should be limited.

These types of carbs break down into simple sugars easily, cause blood sugar levels to spike and don’t satiate hunger—which might be one of the reasons your kid is always hungry.

Complex carbohydrates on the other hand, provide kids with the energy they need and they support their muscle growth and brain development. They also take longer to break down, which keeps blood sugar levels steady.

Complex carbs are also high in fiber which satisfy hunger and prevent constipation.

So instead of cutting carbs, offer a variety of foods with complex carbohydrates. These include:

  • Vegetables like pumpkin, squash, and sweet potatoes
  • Fruits like berries, apples and pears
  • Beans and legumes
  • Whole grains like brown rice and quinoa

Related: Is Keto Safe For Kids?

 

 

3. Sneaking vegetables is the best way to encourage healthy eating

Pureeing vegetables and sneaking them into sauces, baked goods, and smoothies can definitely give your kids the nutrition they need and otherwise wouldn’t get.

Yet sneaking every type of vegetable they eat into their meal isn’t going to make them into healthy eaters.

Our goal as parents is to raise kids who not only accept but LOVE to eat healthy.

And one of the ways to do that is to give them plenty of opportunities to smell, touch and taste vegetables in their whole form.

Sure, they may not love everything you serve, but they must have plenty of chances to learn what they like and dislike.

So while I don’t see anything wrong with green smoothies or adding a vegetable puree into a meal for extra nutrition, whole vegetables should make up a bulk of their plates.   

4. Kids should eat kid-friendly foods

I get it: it’s really easy and convenient to open a box of macaroni and cheese and serve it to your kids. It’s quick and easy and you know they’ll eat it.

I’m not saying that I don’t rely on some Annie’s macaroni and cheese when I don’t feel like cooking or we’re short on time, but here’s the thing: if you’re serving kid-friendly foods because you know your kids aren’t going to eat the healthy dinner you made, they’re missing out.

Without plenty of opportunities to taste and experience new types of food, they won’t develop the preference for healthy fare—and the picky eating behaviors will continue.

 

5. Healthy eating includes drinking milk 

Milk is a good source of calcium and protein as well as vitamins A, B6, B12, magnesium, niacin, selenium and zinc, and omega-3 fatty acids.

Yet one of the biggest kids’ healthy eating myths is that kids need to drink milk for calcium.

The truth is that there are far better sources of calcium than milk, and they also don’t contain growth hormones, allergenic proteins and antibiotics. Some include:

  • Chia seeds
  • Black turtle beans
  • Sardines (my kids love them!)
  • Sesame seeds
  • Almonds
  • Rhubarb
  • Tofu
  • Spinach
  • Bok choy
  • Collard greens
  • Salmon
  • Figs
  • Kale
  • Spinach
  • Turnip greens

Research also shows cow’s milk is inflammatory and linked to a host of diseases.

In fact, in February 2019, The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine called on the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee to update the new guidelines to include a warning about the health dangers of dairy.

6. “Gluten free” means healthy

If your kids are on a gluten-free diet because of Celiac disease, an autoimmune disease or another reason, it can definitely be a healthy way to eat.

Yet just because the food label says gluten free, doesn’t mean it’s healthy.

So many gluten free foods sold in stores contain artificial ingredients, sweeteners and food dyes you don’t want your kids eating. 

If you’re going gluten free, do it the healthy way and make sure your kids eat mostly whole foods including fruits and vegetables, lean protein, healthy fats and gluten-free grains like oats and quinoa.

7. Yogurt is a health food

Yogurt is an excellent source of protein, which can satisfy hunger and prevent weight gain.

It’s also a great source of calcium, potassium, magnesium and vitamin B12 as well as probiotics, the healthy bacteria that boosts gut health and strengthen the immune system.

Yet many yogurts, those that are marketed to kids or otherwise, are also sneaky sources of sugar.

Yogurts with pretzels, candy and crushed cookies are obvious sources, but those that are blended with fruit can also be high in the sweet stuff.

Read labels carefully and stick to brands with less than 11 grams of sugar, according to nutritionist Joy Bauer.

Siggi’s is one of my favorites for kids. Or serve plain Greek yogurt and add fresh fruit for a hint of sweetness and fiber.

Related: 10 Foods High In Probiotics For Kids

8. Kids who refuse to eat are picky eaters


When kids refuse to try a new food they’ve been introduced to once or even several times, it doesn’t mean they’re picky eaters.

Repeatedly introducing foods to kids is an effective way to prevent picky eating.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), it can take between 8 and 15 times of introducing a new food for a child to accept it.

Plus, a December 2007 study in the journal Food Quality and Preference found that when mothers introduced a vegetable their infants initially disliked, by the 8th day of serving it, their intake of it increased rapidly. And by the 8th exposure, their intake was similar to that of a vegetable they liked. Nine months later, 63 percent of the infants were still eating the originally disliked vegetable.

Introduce tiny bites of new foods alongside your kid’s favorite foods.

Also, instead of serving the food the same way over and over again, try a different cooking method (roasted vs. steamed), or serve it alone and mixed in (but not hidden!) with another food your kid enjoys eating.

9. Kids should only get dessert if they eat their dinner

When you’re frustrated with your picky eaters, you can beg, plead and negotiate—and bribe them with dessert but it’s not a long-term strategy for healthy eating.

Allowing them to have dessert after a certain requirement has been met, i.e. take two more bites or eat all of your vegetables, teaches them that dessert is more desirable than healthy food.

It’s also something they start to believe as they get older—just think about how most adults view dessert.

Bribing kids with dessert also interferes with their hunger and satiety cues. Telling a kid he must eat some or everything on his plate is a pressure tactic that doesn’t allow kids to recognize when they’re not hungry or when they’re full and makes mealtimes a negative experience.

Can we encourage healthy eating? We sure can. But just like anything else, we can’t make our kids do what they don’t want to.

So instead of trying to enforce “food rules,” serve healthy foods and encourage healthy habits.

If you decide to serve dessert, which by the way can be fruit, a muffin, or yogurt, for example, kids should be allowed to have it no matter what or how much they ate.

10. Store-bought baby food is just as good as homemade


Although many of the store-bought baby food brands don’t have preservatives or additives, open them up and you’ll smell—and taste—the difference.

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.

Store-bought baby food may also contain less than 20 percent of the recommended levels of many minerals and micronutrients, a 2012 study out of the U.K found.

There are some exceptions, however.

Once Upon A Farm uses fresh, whole, organic foods to make their cold-pressed, refrigerated baby food. There are also companies that deliver homemade baby food to your door.

Making homemade baby food definitely takes more time then opening up a jar but it’s also one of the best things you can do for your baby.

You know exactly what’s going into your baby’s meals and you can choose food that is organic, local, from the farmer’s market and in-season so it’s fresher and more affordable.

13. Kids shouldn’t eat eggs everyday

For many years in the U.S. experts said we should limit the amount of eggs in our diets because the saturated fat they contain was linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

Experts now agree, and studies (here and here) show that there’s not enough data to support that theory. Studies also show that dietary cholesterol doesn’t have much of an effect on blood cholesterol.

A January 2015 study in the American Heart Journal found eating up to one egg per day is not associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease and stroke.

Earlier this year, another study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that eating eggs can increase cardiovascular disease risk and death. Yet experts say the study has limitations and eating eggs in the context of a healthy diet is fine.

14. All processed food is bad and prevents healthy eating

You already know that kids should eat less processed foods and more real, whole foods.

Most processed foods are loaded with sodium, sugar, saturated fat and artificial ingredients you can’t identify or pronounce. They also lack fiber and the vitamins and minerals kids need in their diets.

Although highly-processed foods, which are those that that have sweeteners, oils, flavors, colors and preservatives should be avoided, not all processed foods are bad for kids.

Minimally-processed foods like bagged salads, washed and pre-chopped fruits and vegetables, or canned beans for example, can be healthy, encourage healthy eating and make your life easier.

Related: How To Cut Processed Foods From Your Kid’s Diet

15. Chocolate milk is healthy for kids

In schools, serving chocolate milk is seen by proponents as a way to encourage kids to drink milk when they otherwise wouldn’t. In recent years, it’s also been promoted as a post-workout recovery drink for athletes.

While chocolate milk is a good source of protein, calcium and other vitamins and minerals, it’s also high in sugar: 24 grams or more sugar than a Mr. Goodbar!

Suffice to say, chocolate milk isn’t something kids should be drinking regularly, but can be served as an occasional treat. 

10 Foods High In Probiotics For Kids

10 Foods High In Probiotics For Kids

In recent years, it seems that everything you read about when it comes to health is about gut health, eating foods high in probiotics and taking probiotic supplements.

In our family, I do my best to get probiotics into my kids especially this time of year when colds and fevers are almost inevitable. In the last few months, we’ve also been working with a naturopath to help my older daughter who has food allergies boost her gut health and lower her immune response with a protocol that includes vitamin D, vitamin C, zinc and probiotics.

My kids also eat (and enjoy!) foods high in probiotics like fermented vegetables— no matter how strange they may seem. Of course, there are other healthy, delicious and convenient options that you can start to incorporate into your kid’s diet.

But first, let’s take a look at why your kids need healthy gut bacteria, what can throw it off balance, and how to boost their gut health.

Let’s get started.

Why healthy gut bacteria is important for kids

Healthy gut bacteria starts with the microbiome, which is a vast collection of 100 trillion microbes or microorganisms that actually live in and on the body, but most are found in the gastrointestinal tract.

Bacteria are one type of microbes and although we do everything we can to prevent our kids from coming into contact with bad bacteria that can cause colds and infections for example, there are also healthy bacteria that our bodies need to stay healthy.

Although researchers continue to study the benefits of probiotics and figure out what all the different types are good for, there is a lot we know now about the importance of healthy gut bacteria for kids.

A strong immune system

Kids are like little petri dishes for germs, especially when they’re in daycare and school. They all touch the same surfaces, share the same toys and put everything in their mouths. So if you have young kids, you know how often they get sick. Kids under the age of 6 in particular, get 8 to 10 colds a year!

Perhaps one of the strongest areas of research that has looked at the benefits of probiotics is immunity. In fact, a June 2018 study in the journal Synthetic and Systems Biotechnology, which was conducted in adults, showed probiotics are safe and effective remedy for colds and flu-like respiratory infections.

Better mood and behavior

The gut is often called the second brain because of the strong pathways that are along the gut-brain axis. In fact, the enteric nervous system, which directs the function of the GI system, has 30 types of neurotransmitters and 100 million neurons.

So although we often think the brain is entirely responsible for mental health, mood and behavior, experts say the gut has a lot to do with it too. While your kid will still cry and have meltdowns, optimizing healthy gut bacteria with foods high in probiotics may boost his mood and improve his behavior.

Improved sleep

No parent is immune to bedtime battles especially with young kids, but research suggests probiotics may improve sleep. That’s because a whopping 90 percent of serotonin, the building block for melatonin, the “sleep hormone” is located in the gut.  What’s more, certain bacteria in the gut are important for the production of serotonin, a 2015 study out of Caltech found.

Cures constipation

A lack of fiber from fruits, vegetables and whole grains or dehydration is often to blame for kids’ constipation. But some kids have “functional constipation,” which can happen when they avoid going to the bathroom because they fear pooping will be painful. In those kids, an imbalance in healthy gut bacteria may be the cause and probiotics may help, according to a February 2019 review in the journal Frontiers in Medicine.

Eases colic and reflux

If you have a baby with colic or reflux, you know how tiring and stressful it can be but strengthening their gut health may help.

A March 2014 study in JAMA Pediatrics found when probiotics were given to infants during the first three months after birth they cried less and had less reflux.

Another 2018 study found in breastfed infants, probiotics can reduce fussiness and crying.

Improves allergies and eczema

Studies suggest probiotics may help with allergenic conditions.

In fact, a February 2018 meta-analysis in the journal PLOS One suggests taking probiotics during late pregnancy and while breastfeeding may reduce a baby’s risk for eczema.  Another study out of Vanderbilt University suggests probiotics can improve symptoms of seasonal allergies, but more research is needed to make recommendations, the authors noted.

Can probiotics help kids with stomach viruses?

Research suggests that probiotics can help ease diarrhea after a round of antibiotics.

Yet in recent years, giving probiotics to kids to help ease diarrhea and vomiting for any reason has become increasingly common but new research shows it’s not effective. 

According to a November 2018 study in the New England Journal of Medicine, a common type of probiotic called Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG, or LGG, which is sold over the counter as Culturelle, had no effect on kids’ symptoms. “Parents are better off saving their money and using it to buy more fresh fruits and vegetables for their children,” the study authors stated.

Are probiotics for kids safe?

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released a clinical report in 2010 which states that products with probiotics seem to be safe for infants and children but the long-term effects are unknown and more research is needed.

They also say there are safety concerns in children who have compromised immune systems, are chronically debilitated or seriously ill and have indwelling medical devices like catheters or endotracheal tubes.

It’s also important to note that the FDA doesn’t regulate dietary supplements as rigorously as they do for prescription and over-the-counter medications.

What can disrupt healthy gut bacteria?

It’s ideal to have good and bad bacteria in the right balance in the gut, but there are so many factors that can throw it off.

Antibiotics

If your kid has a bacterial infection, antibiotics are necessary, but they can also wipe out all the healthy gut bacteria which is why taking a probiotic can help restore balance.

Processed foods 

Experts say eating processed foods and those high with sugar over the long term can lead to intestine hyperpermeability or leaky gut syndrome. Leaky gut occurs when the tight junctions in the large intestine open and allow undigested food particles and pathogens in, which in turn elicits an immune response.

Leaky gut syndrome has been linked to various conditions including allergies, asthma, fatigue, autoimmune diseases, migraines and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

If your kids eat a lot of foods that are in a bag, box, or package, chances are they’re  also missing out on key vitamins and minerals that keep their guts and immune systems strong and keep them healthy.

Lack of sleep

Researchers are also looking at how sleep may affect gut health. In fact, an April 2019 study in the journal SLEEP suggest better sleep quality and less sleepiness are significantly associated with a richer and more diverse gut bacteria.

Toxic chemicals

In September 2017, the FDA banned triclosan in anti-bacterial hand soaps, but companies still add the pesticide to some dish soaps, personal care products and Colgate Total toothpaste.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) says triclosan may cause changes in the hormone system, and harm reproduction and development, and studies show it may also alter healthy gut bacteria.

In fact, according to a May 2018 study in the journal Science Translational Medicine, mice who were fed a diet laced with triclosan for 3 weeks had significantly lower levels of a species of bacteria that has been shown to be anti-inflammatory. 

Lack of physical activity

Exercise is important for kids’ overall growth and development and of course, it can prevent childhood obesity but studies suggest a lack of physical activity can affect gut health, regardless of what they eat.

According to an April 2018 study in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, (which was conducted in adults) regular exercise increases short-chain fatty acids which promote gut health.

How to give kids healthy gut bacteria

Fortunately, there are several ways to improve your kid’s gut health, both with diet and healthy habits.

Eat the rainbow

A whole foods diet that contains plenty of fruits and vegetables of all colors gives your kid the nutrition she needs for a strong immune system. These foods also contain prebiotics, or non-digestible food ingredients, that work with probiotics, the live microorganisms found in the gut, to grow and work to boost your child’s immunity.

Add fermented foods

Kefir tastes too tangy for me but my kids love it and that’s a good thing. The probiotics found in kefir and other foods like yogurt, kimchi, and naturally fermented vegetables, including sauerkraut and pickles can help improve gut health.

Consider taking probiotics

As previously stated, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) hasn’t recommended regular use of probiotics in children because there’s a lack of evidence for their efficacy. Of course like any supplement, if you want to give your kid probiotics, check with his pediatrician first.

Get moving

Getting your kids outside is always ideal but during the dog days of winter or on snow days when you can’t get out, put on music and have a dance party or enjoy a game of Twister.

Let kids play in the dirt

Encourage your kids to get outside and get dirty—whether it’s digging up dirt, playing with the dog, or planting a garden together to expose them to healthy gut bacteria.

10 Foods High In Probiotics For Kids

Your kid’s diet is one of the best ways to promote a healthy gut and fortunately, there are many foods high in probiotics.

1. Kefir

Kefir has a healthy dose of probiotics but read labels and you’ll discover most brands of kefir are high in sugar.

If you’re going to feed your kids fruit-flavored kefir, it’s probably OK as long as they have a low-sugar diet but keep portion sizes in mind. A better option however, is plain kefir which you can add fresh or frozen fruit to and blend into a smoothie.

2. Green peas

Green peas are an excellent source of fiber, protein and vitamins A, C, B6, and K, magnesium and folate.  Surprisingly, they’re also probiotic-rich. In fact, a December 2018 study in the Journal of Applied Microbiology found that a particular strain—leuconostoc mesenteroides subsp. mesenteroides—can boost gut health. The study was conducted in mice however, so it’s not clear if the same findings can be replicated in humans.

3. Sourdough bread

Sourdough bread is made with a fermentation process that uses wild yeast and lactic acid bacteria that’s naturally present, making it a good source of probiotics.

Your kids may not immediately take to the taste of sourdough bread so serve a small piece with a pat of grass-fed butter, which has a dose of probiotics too.

If you’re looking for a gluten-free option, I recommend Simple Kneads.

4. Yogurt

Yogurt is one of the best foods high in probiotics. According to a March 2018 study in the journal Clinical and Experimental Allergy, babies who ate yogurt on a daily basis reduced their risk for allergies and eczema by up to 70 percent. The authors note however, that it’s unclear what type of yogurt and how much is actually beneficial.

When reading labels, look for brands that state “live and active cultures.” Also, avoid yogurts that are fruit-flavored or contain fruit because they’re usually high in sugar. Sugar can feed unhealthy bacteria in the gut so to get the full immune-boosting benefit, aim for yogurt that has less than 9 grams of sugar per serving.

5. Fermented pickles

Most kids love pickles, but most pickles on store shelves won’t cut it. To get the benefits of probiotics, you’ll want to look for pickles in the refrigerated section and those brands that are labeled “naturally fermented,” like Bubbies.

6. Kimchi

A popular Asian side dish, kimchi is a naturally fermented cabbage that contains probiotics and is rich in vitamins A, C, K, B6, folate and iron. Since kimchi is a bit spicy, give your kids a small amount alongside their favorite foods and they may actually try it.

7. Sauerkraut

Sauerkraut, another type of fermented cabbage, is a good source of probiotics as well as fiber, calcium and magnesium, vitamins B6, C and K, folate, iron and potassium. Most store-brands of sauerkraut don’t contain probiotics however, so look for those that state they’re naturally fermented.

8. Miso

A traditional Japanese condiment that’s made from fermented rye, beans, rice or barley, miso is one of the best foods high in probiotics. A good way to introduce miso to kids is to offer miso soup since it has a mild flavor and it’s delicious.

9. Coconut milk yogurt

If your kids can’t consume dairy or your family is dairy-free, coconut milk yogurt is a great option.

Like many types of yogurt however, coconut milk yogurt can be high in sugar so read labels carefully. Or find plain, unsweetened versions and add fresh berries for added fiber and a hint of sweetness.

10. Tempeh

Made with fermented soybeans, tempeh is a great source of probiotics as well as protein, iron and calcium.

Add tempeh to your favorite stir-fry or salad, or use it in place of meat on taco night.

Don’t forget prebiotic foods

 

It’s also a good idea to offer your kids foods rich in prebiotics, which are non-digestible food ingredients that work with probiotics to boost your child’s immunity.

Prebiotic rich foods include onions, garlic, leeks, asparagus, bananas, barley, oats, when bran, apples, Jerusalem artichokes, flaxseeds, cocoa, seaweed.

 

Do you feed your kids foods high in probiotics? Which ones do they like the best? Let me know in the comments.

15 Companies & Charities Dedicated to Fighting Childhood Obesity

15 Companies & Charities Dedicated to Fighting Childhood Obesity

In August when Weight Watchers rolled out weight loss app Kurbo, it released a wave of sharp criticism from health experts, eating disorder specialists and parents alike—and once again shined a spotlight on fighting childhood obesity.

Although Kurbo is certainly extreme, it’s not anything new. Just think about weight loss camps or companies who have started to sell fitness trackers for kids in recent years.

Instead of putting kids on diets, segregating food as “healthy” and “unhealthy,” and encouraging kids to track their steps every day, kids need repeated exposure to healthy foods, and they need to have healthy eating and lifestyle habits modeled for them.

So although Kurbo, fitness trackers, or any other adult weight loss solution that’s re-packaged for kids isn’t the solution, the sad truth is that we are still facing a childhood obesity epidemic.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), obesity affects:

  • Nearly 14 percent of children 2- to 5-years-old.
  • More than 18 percent of 6 to 11-year olds.
  • More than 20 percent of 12 to 19-year-olds.

Of course, childhood obesity is just one part of an overall health epidemic in the U.S. Studies show kids who are overweight are at risk for other conditions including type-2 diabetes and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), both of which are on the rise.

Children who are obese also have risk factors for cardiovascular disease, including high cholesterol, high blood pressure and problems with blood glucose tolerance. Obesity may also play a role in kids who have asthma, obstructive sleep apnea, joint problems and mental health problems. 

In fact, a recent study out of the University of Alabama at Birmingham found teens who consume high levels of sodium and low levels of potassium in fast food and processed foods that are linked to obesity, are more likely to develop symptoms of depression.

Most of the responsibility of preventing childhood obesity starts at home but schools and communities also play a role especially for families struggling with food insecurity.

Fortunately, there are several companies, including many start-ups, and non-profit organizations that are dedicated to fighting childhood obesity. Here are 15.

 

1. Revolutions Foods

Founded in 2006 by Kristin Groos Richmond and Kirsten Saenz Tobey, two businesswomen and moms, Revolution Foods’ mission is to build lifelong healthy eaters and provide healthy meals to every child who is food insecure. 

To date, the company has designed, produced and delivered more than 360-million

kid-inspired, chef-crafted meals to childhood education centers, school districts, charter schools, and community and after-school youth programs in 15 states. 

With their community partners, they also offer nutrition curriculum, cooking classes, gardening lessons and other education events.

2. Chef Ann Foundation 

If you’re looking to change your child’s school lunch program like I am, the Chef Ann Foundation is an excellent place to start. 

Founded in 2009 by Ann Cooper, an internationally recognized author, chef, educator, public speaker, and advocate of healthy food for all children, the Chef Ann Foundation is dedicated to providing fresh, healthy school lunch every day. 

With tools, training, resources and funding, the Foundation helps schools create healthier food and redefine lunchroom environments. 

3. No Fuss Lunch

Founded in 2012 by Gabriella Wilday, No Fuss Lunch provides kid-centric, healthy school lunches, after-school snacks and meals for summer camps that exceed the National School Lunch Program’s standards. 

Their food is made without white sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, nuts, GMO’s or MSG and is safe for kids with food allergies. 

4. YMCA

For nearly 160 years, the YMCA has made it their mission to strengthen local communities and improve the nation’s health and well-being.

With programs that provide meals to those who struggle with hunger, teach healthy eating, encourage physical activity and healthy lifestyle habits and strengthen families, the YMCA is dedicated to fighting childhood obesity.


5. Sweat Makes Cents

Sweat Makes Cents is a non-profit organization with a particular focus on supporting millennial women who want to find a solution for childhood obesity.

The organization hosts jumping jack challenges, fitness fundraisers and city fitness teams that raise funds for nationwide childhood obesity prevention programs.

6. KidsGardening

Teaching kids how to garden is one of the best ways for them to be exposed to healthy food and learn where real food comes from.

KidsGardening is a national non-profit that offers grants, programs, curriculum, contests, and activities to create opportunities for kids to play, learn and grow through gardening. Approximately 70 % of the teachers who receive their grants say their students have improved attitudes about nutrition. In 2018, KidsGardening reached approximately 920,000 kids.

7. City Blossoms

City Blossoms is a Washington, D.C-based non-profit organization that develops creative, kid-driven green spaces. Their focus is on a combination of gardens, science, art, healthy living, and community building and they work with community-based organizations, neighborhood groups, schools, and learnings centers in the Washington D.C area and across the U.S.

8. Power of Produce (POP) Club

Bringing kids to farmers’ market is a great way to encourage access to healthy food and teach healthy eating habits which can go a long way in fighting childhood obesity.

At Power of Produce (POP) Club at the Oregon City Farmers Market kids get $2 every time they visit the farm to purchase their own fruits and vegetables, and they lean how to plant sunflower seeds, and make salads and jam, for example.

Related: 5 Reasons You Should Bring Your Kids To The Farmers Market

9. Hungry Harvest

Founded in 2014 and featured on Shark Tank, Hungry Harvest rescues “ugly” fruits and vegetables from farmers that would otherwise go to waste and sells them in discounted subscription boxes.

For every Hungry Harvest delivery, they also offer their reduced cost produce to SNAP (food stamps) markets and donate to local organizations whose mission is to solve hunger. To date, they have provided more than 750,000 pounds of produce to SNAP reduced-cost markets, food banks and local nonprofits.

10. Farm to School

The National Farm to School Network is an information, advocacy and networking hub that sources local food to be served in schools, establishes school gardens, and brings food and agriculture education into schools.

11. DrumFit

DrumFit, a cardio drumming physical education program for schools, is on a mission to teach kids to love cardio fitness for life. The company provides online video content, lesson plans and routines.

12. The Adventures of Super Stretch

The Adventures of Super Stretch app is a children’s yoga program that can be done at home, and in daycares, schools, and after-school programs. Free, iTunes and Google Play.

13. KaBOOM!

KaBOOM! is a national non-profit that creates safe, community-based play spaces.

Over the last 20 years they have built or improved more than 17,000 play spaces and in 2018 they built more than 3100 playgrounds. KaBOOM! teams up with funding partners to build safe spaces in one day.

14. My First Workout

Founded by Michelle Mille, a certified personal trainer and mom, My First Workout is designed to connect parents with their children and pull kids away from the technology and sedentary behaviors linked to childhood obesity.

The step-by-step strength and conditioning program is designed for kids 5- to 10- years-old and includes fitness equipment, a video and a poster so parents can feel confident performing the exercises with their kids.

15. Wholesome Wave

Wholesome Wave is a national non-profit that makes healthy food accessible and affordable for families who struggle with food insecurity through two types of programs.

Doubling Snap allows people with SNAP (food stamps) benefits to receive double the value to spend on produce at select farmers’ markets and grocery stores. Through their Produce Prescriptions program, people receive produce vouchers from participating hospitals and clinics to purchase fruits and vegetables. In 2017, Wholesome Wave reached more than 973,000 people.

How to Pick a Healthy Peanut Butter For Kids + Best Brands

How to Pick a Healthy Peanut Butter For Kids + Best Brands

Disclaimer: Please note that some of the links in this blog post are affiliate links and I earn from qualifying purchases. I recommend these products either because I use them or because companies that make them are trustworthy and useful.


Peanut butter has been a quintessential food for generations of kids in the U.S. who love peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, or after-school snacks like crackers with peanut butter. Although it can be a healthy, delicious part of your kid’s diet, when it comes to choosing a healthy peanut butter, not all are created equal.


Here, learn the health benefits of peanut butter, when to introduce peanut butter to babies, and how to choose a healthy peanut butter, plus some of my favorite brands.

Health Benefits of Peanut Butter

What many people don’t realize is that although “nut” is in their name, and they look and taste similar to other nuts, peanuts are actually legumes, just like lentils and edamame.

Regardless of how you think of them, peanuts and peanut butter have a ton of health benefits.

For starters, they’re packed with protein. With 8 grams of protein in two tablespoons, peanut butter promotes feelings of satiety, satisfies your kid’s hunger and helps to balance blood sugar levels.

Peanut butter also has a decent amount of fiber—nearly 2 grams per 2 tablespoons—which also helps to fend off hunger and can prevent constipation. 

Related: 10 Foods That Relieve Kids’ Constipation

It’s also rich in several vitamins and minerals including magnesium (the calming mineral), potassium, phosphorus, zinc, niacin, vitamin B6 and vitamin E, a fat-soluble vitamin and antioxidant that protects cells from the damage of free radicals.

Although peanut butter does contain saturated fat, it’s also made up mostly of heart-healthy unsaturated fats, including monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. It’s also a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, the healthy fats like those found in fish.

Related: 5 Foods With Healthy Fats Kids Will Love

When Can Babies Eat Peanut Butter?

A lot has changed in a few short years and instead of telling parents to avoid peanut butter, experts now say it’s not only safe, but a good idea to introduce it to babies early on.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommend parents with babies who don’t have eczema or food allergies “freely” introduce peanut butter (not nuts since they’re a choking hazard) between 4 and 6 months of age.

I recommend however, that before introducing peanut butter and other nut butters to your baby, you read all of the guidelines here and talk to your pediatrician.

Related: How To Safely Introduce Nuts To Your Baby

Tips For How To Pick A Healthy Peanut Butter

When you’re looking for a healthy peanut butter, it’s important to read labels carefully and know what ingredients to look for and what to avoid.

Choose brands with one or two ingredients

The peanut butter you choose should only contain peanuts (and list it as the first ingredient), and salt, depending on your preference.

Scan labels for oils, sugars and additives

Avoid peanut butter brands that contain hydrogenated oils, palm oils, added sugars like high-fructose corn syrup and fillers.

Also, don’t be fooled by the tubs of peanut butter that are made in-house at the grocery store because although they’re marketed as “natural,” I’ve found these brands to have added oils and sugars as well.

“Reduced-fat” or “low-fat” doesn’t mean healthy

You might think reduced-fat or low-fat peanut butters are a good option, but these brands usually contain added sugars. The full-fat version is fine, just be mindful of portion sizes.    

Take stock of the sodium

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 90 percent of kids get too much sodium in their diets every day. Too much sodium can lead to high blood pressure, which about 3.5 percent of kids already have, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

High blood pressure is a risk factor for heart attack, stroke, heart failure, kidney disease and vision loss, among other health conditions. So even if your kids don’t have high blood pressure now, if they continue to eat too much sodium, there’s  a good chance they will in the future.

The U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020 recommend the following limits for daily sodium intake:

  • Ages 1-3: 1,500 mg
  • Ages 4-8: 1,900 mg
  • Ages 9-13: 2,200 mg
  • Ages 14+: 2,300 mg

When looking for a healthy peanut butter, take into consideration your child’s overall diet and how much sodium they’re already consuming, and consider purchasing a brand that’s low in sodium or sodium-free.

 

 

 

Healthy Peanut Butter For Kids: My Favorite Brands

 

Here are some of my favorite brands of peanut butter but a word of caution: always read labels carefully because some varieties of the same brand contain palm oil and other additives, for example.

Santa Cruz

Stonewall Kitchen

Smucker’s Natural Creamy

MaraNatha Organic Creamy Peanut Butter

Teddie All Natural Smooth Peanut Butter

 


What’s your favorite healthy peanut butter? Let me know in the comments!

10 Kids’ Healthy Eating Tips That Are Evidence-Based

10 Kids’ Healthy Eating Tips That Are Evidence-Based

If you’re a parent, going to Dr. Google and searching for answers to health-related questions is a given. Whether it’s about cold and flu symptoms, an odd skin rash, or kids’ healthy eating advice, we all go online first.

In fact, an April 2015 study in the Interactive Journal of Medical Research found 80 percent of parents who searched online for information about their child’s health started with a search engine, while only 20 percent went to a university or hospital-based website.

Although it’s easier than ever to get the answers you need quickly, what you’ll find isn’t always credible.

Newsguard, a site run by journalists that rates the reliability of news sites found 1 in 10 websites include misinformation about health, a recent story by STAT found

When it comes to kids’ nutrition, it’s much of the same with bloggers promoting sneaky tactics to get kids to eat vegetables or kids’ Keto recipes. And more recently, parents posting videos of scare tactics to get their kids to eat.

In our fast-paced, high-stress, mobile-driven world, searching online for health information isn’t going to stop.

My advice however, is to use sites that have articles reviewed by doctors or medical professionals like Cleveland Clinic’s Health Essentials or EverydayHealth.com and be sure to check in with your child’s doctor too.

Through these channels, you’ll find information about health and kids’ healthy eating tips that are backed by research. Here are 10 tips to consider.

1. Eat more plant-based foods

Whether your family is made up of vegetarians, vegans, pegans or full-fledged meat eaters, getting more plant-based foods in your kid’s diet is one of the best things you can do for their health.

Plant-based foods are packed with the nutrition kids need for their growth and development. Most plant-based foods also have filling fiber to satisfy their hunger and prevent constipation.

Recent studies show plant-based diets are linked with a lower risk of type-2 diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol and obesity.

A January 2015 study in the Journal Of Pediatrics found children who followed a plant-based, vegan diet or the American Heart Association diet lost weight, lowered their blood pressure and improved their cholesterol in just four weeks.

2. Serve new foods repeatedly—up to 15 times!

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), it can take between 8 and 15 times of introducing a new food for a child to accept it.

A December 2007 study in the journal Food Quality and Preference found that when mothers introduced a vegetable their infants initially disliked, by the 8th day of serving it, their intake of it increased rapidly.

And by the 8th exposure their intake was similar to that of a vegetable they liked. Nine months later, 63 percent of the infants were still eating the originally disliked vegetable.

3. Offer more fruits and vegetables

According to a survey published in 2014 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 6 in 10 children don’t eat enough fruit and 9 in 10 don’t eat enough vegetables.

So no surprise here that one of the best kids’ healthy eating tips that are evidence based is to eat more. 

Yet studies show eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables can lower blood pressure, balance blood sugar, prevent weight gain and childhood obesity, reduce the risk for eye and digestive problems, heart disease and stroke, and prevent certain types of cancer.

Of course, when kids eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables it lays the foundation for healthy eating throughout their lifetimes.

4. Dish out fish and seafood every week

Fish can be a hard sell for kids but the nutrients they contain are those kids need for healthy growth and development, according to the AAP.

Fish and seafood are packed with protein, low in saturated fat, rich in micronutrients, and an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, which support kids’ brain health and memory.

Many types of fish also contain high levels of calcium and vitamin D and some types of shellfish are high in iron, selenium and iodine.

Studies suggest that consuming seafood may improve neurodevelopment in babies and decrease cardiovascular disease risk.

The FDA and EPA recommend kids eat fish 1 to 2 times a week starting at age 2. Despite its benefits, kids aren’t eating enough fish however, mainly due to concerns over mercury.

Yet salmon, sardines, shrimp and tuna (canned light) are all safe choices.

Related: What Types of Fish Are Safe for Kids?

5. Cut down on sugar, juice and sweet drinks

Diets high in sugar are proven to lead to weight gain and obesity, type-2 diabetes, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and heart disease—all conditions that can follow kids throughout their lives.

The U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend we limit sugar to no more than 10 percent of our total calories for the day.

For kids, that works out to be about 30 to 35 grams of added sugar for little ones who get between 1,200 and 1,400 calories a day, according to Jessica Cording, a registered dietitian-nutritionist in New York City.

The good news is that even cutting out small amounts of sugar can make a dramatic difference in your child’s health.

According to a February 2016 study in the journal Obesity, obese children who reduced the amount of sugar in their diets but didn’t change the amount of calories they consumed had improvements in their blood pressure, triglycerides, and LDL “bad” cholesterol after just 10 days. Researchers also saw significant improvements in their blood glucose and insulin levels.

Juice and sugary drinks are also high in empty calories, sugar, and carbohydrates, and drinking them can lead to weight gain, cavities and diarrhea.

The American Academy of Pediatrics says if you’re going to give kids juice, limit it to between 4 and 8 ounces a day depending on their age while infants under 1 should avoid it altogether.

Related: [VIDEO] Is Dried Fried Fruit Healthy For Kids?

6. Don’t be afraid of healthy fats

The long-standing myth that eating fat causes high cholesterol, heart disease and weight gain has been debunked and we now know that healthy fats are essential to our health and our kids’.

Healthy fats are a vital source of energy and help satisfy their hunger but the AAP recommends they make up no more than 30 percent of kids’ total calories.

Healthy fats are essential for healthy cell membranes, they support kids’ brains and the growth and development of their nervous systems, and help their bodies absorb fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E, and K.

They’re also necessary to make hormones and immune cells and they help regulate inflammation and metabolism.   

While experts agree it’s the trans fats and some saturated fats that should be avoided, foods with healthy fats like omega-3 fatty acids, monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats from whole foods are beneficial.

7. Avoid processed foods

Most processed foods are loaded with sodium, sugar, saturated fat and artificial ingredients you can’t identify or pronounce. They also lack fiber and the vitamins and minerals kids need in their diets.

Research shows processed foods, but more specifically the sodium, sugar, saturated fat, trans fat, and food additives they contain, are linked to weight gain and childhood obesity, high blood pressure, and mental health and behavioral problems.

But your child’s health now isn’t all you should be thinking about because eating foods with added sugars and sodium early on can affect their taste preferences, the foods they eat and their health later on in life.

Experts say the more processed foods you eat—and the longer you eat them—the more likely inflammation, leaky gut syndrome and a host of health conditions will crop up in the future.

In fact, a May 2019 study in the journal Cell Metabolism found adults who consumed ultra-processed foods for 2 weeks consumed 500 extra calories than those who consumed unprocessed foods.

Two other recent studies show that consuming ultra-processed foods are linked to a higher risk for cardiovascular disease and death. 

8. Get kids to drink more water

According to an April 2019 survey in JAMA Pediatrics, 20 percent of kids don’t drink water at all and instead drink soda and sugary drinks—a sneaky source of calories and sugar.

When your kids are mildly dehydrated it can make them feel tired, lack focus and make them struggle with easy tasks.

Studies show brain tissue can even temporarily shrink without enough water in the body. And even if your kids eat healthy, they could become constipated.

9. Make time for breakfast 

According to an August 2017 study in the British Journal of Nutrition, only about one-third of kids eat breakfast every day, 17 percent never eat breakfast and the rest only eat breakfast a fews days a 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.

Eating a healthy breakfast gives kid the energy and focus they need to get through the day, and they may even do better in 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.

Eating breakfast is also associated with a lower risk for obesity and serious health conditions.

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.

And a September 2014 study in the journal PLOS Medicine found 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.

Related: 7 Ways To Get Your Kids To Eat a Healthy Breakfast

10. Cut down on sodium

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 90 percent of kids get too much sodium in their diets each day and more than 40 percent of it comes from only 10 foods.

Too much sodium can lead to high blood pressure, which about 3.5 percent of kids already have, according to the AAP.

High blood pressure is a risk factor for heart attack, stroke, heart failure, kidney disease and vision loss, among other health conditions.

So even if your kids don’t have high blood pressure now, if they continue to eat too much sodium, there’s  a good chance they will in the future.

Related: 10 Sneaky Sources of Sodium in Your Kid’s Diet

15 Healthy Blueberry Recipes Your Kids Will Love  Blueberries are superfoods for kids and with these healthy blueberry recipes, you'll find new ways to serve them.

15 Healthy Blueberry Recipes Your Kids Will Love

Blueberries are superfoods for kids and with these healthy blueberry recipes, you'll find new ways to serve them.

“I love blueberries!,” my older daughter exclaimed.“Blueberries are delicious!,” she continued.

That was last summer when my daughters and I were visiting their grandparents and we decided to go blueberry picking.

As a toddler, she used to eat blueberries by the handful and would even come close to finishing off half of a pint.

But as she got older, bananas, mango, watermelon and cantaloupe became her new favorite fruits and getting her to eat one single blueberry was impossible.

Maybe it was the experience of berry picking (likely) or that her Italian grandmother, who can get her to eat just about anything, was there (even more likely).

Whatever it was, I’ll take it because blueberries are one of the best superfoods for kids.

Health Benefits of Blueberries

Not only are blueberries sweet and delicious, but they’re packed with nutrition.

Blueberries are a good source of fiber—1/2 cup has more than 2 grams—as well as vitamins C and K and manganese, an essential nutrient.

Blueberries are also high in antioxidants, including anthocyanin, a flavonoid which gives them their rich hue.

Anthocyanin is also known to support cognitive and motor function, improve visual and neurological health, and prevent disease.

In fact, a February 2019 study in the Journals of Gerontology conducted in adults found eating about a cup of blueberries a day can reduce the risk for cardiovascular disease by 20 percent.

Another reason blueberries are healthy is that they consist of nearly 85 percent water to help satisfy your kid’s hunger and prevent constipation.

Related: 10 Foods That Relieve Kids’ Constipation

Since blueberries contain high levels of pesticide residue however, consider purchasing organic blueberries, fresh or frozen.

Sweet, succulent and delicious in pancakes, muffins, oatmeal, yogurt and desserts, there are also a ton of unique ways to incorporate them into other meals too.

Healthy Blueberry Recipes Your Kids Will Love

Here are 15 healthy blueberry recipes to try.

Breakfast

Blueberry Zucchini Muffins

Blueberry Bliss Breakfast Bars

Magical Blueberry Vanilla Chia Seed Jam

Avocado Blueberry Baby Smoothie

Lunch and Dinner

Cranberry Blueberry Salad With Blueberry Balsamic Dressing

Blueberry Chicken Salad Wraps

Wild Rice Salad with Corn, Blueberries and Almonds

Blueberry Basil Chopped Veggie Salad

Vegetable Couscous With Wild Blueberries

Desserts and Snacks

Blueberry Cheesecake Bites

Blueberry Fruit Dip

Blueberry Muffin Energy Balls

Frozen Blueberry Yogurt Bites

2 Ingredient Vegan Blueberry Ice Cream

Wild Blueberry and Almond Butter Yogurt Popsicles

14 Healthy Foods To Feed Your Baby Before Age 1

14 Healthy Foods To Feed Your Baby Before Age 1

After I had my first child, I couldn’t wait until she started solids.

I was so excited to make homemade baby food, try out all the different flavor and texture combinations, and introduce them to her for the very first time.

I realized that one of my responsibilities as a parent was to feed her healthy food and raise her to be an adventurous eater.

Just as I was helping her brain development by reading to her and her gross motor development with tummy time, feeding her in a healthy way was helping her to develop her food preferences, expand her palette and set the stage for a lifetime of healthy eating.

In fact, research backs this up and shows the earlier and more frequent you offer healthy foods to your baby, the better.

According to a July 2013 study in the Journal of Nutrition, infants who were exposed to a basic artichoke puree 10 times were more likely to accept and like it up to 3 months later than babies who were fed either a sweetened artichoke puree or an energy dense artichoke puree with more oil and salt.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommend parents expose their babies to a wide variety of healthy foods, especially fruits and vegetables starting at 6-months-old. As babies grow, it’s also important to introduce a variety of textures to encourage chewing.

Here, read on for a list of 15 healthy foods to feed your baby before age 1.

1. Spinach

To increase the chances that your baby will love vegetables—not just sweet types like butternut squash—start out with the dark, green leafy types like spinach.

A good source of protein and fiber, spinach is also rich in vitamins A, C, E, B6, folate, calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium and zinc.

Since spinach is on the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen list for high levels of pesticide residues, consider purchasing organic spinach (fresh or frozen).

2. Nut butters


When my kids were babies just a few years ago, the advice from pediatricians was to avoid feeding babies nuts to avoid food allergies, but in 2017 all that changed.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) now say parents with babies who don’t have eczema or food allergies can “freely” introduce peanuts between 4 and 6 months of age.

I recommend you read all of the guidelines here and talk to your pediatrician before introducing nut butter—not nuts since they’re a choking hazard.

Once you get the green light however, nut butters like peanut butter and almond butter can be a healthy addition to your baby’s diet. 

They’re an excellent source of protein, high in omega-3 fatty acids which support brain and eye health, and vitamin E, a fat-soluble vitamin and antioxidant that protects cells from the damage of free radicals.


3. Avocado


With 20 vitamins and minerals including vitamins B5, B6, C, E, K, folate, potassium, and magnesium, avocado is one of the best healthy foods to feed your baby.

Avocado is rich in healthy monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats, which are vital for brain growth and development.

It also contains lutein and zeaxanthin, carotenoids, or plant pigments, found in the eyes that can improve memory and processing speed, an April 2015 study found.

4. Pumpkin


With 22 vitamins and minerals
including vitamins A, C, and E, plus fiber, pumpkin is a great first food for babies.

Pumpkin is also rich in lutein and beta-carotene, an antioxidant and plant pigment that gives the fruit its bright orange color.


5. Kiwi


Kiwi is a good source of fiber, vitamin E, potassium and copper, and an excellent source of vitamins C and K.

Since it’s sweet, juicy and soft, it also makes an ideal first food.

6. Eggs


Eggs are an excellent source of fat-soluble vitamins, minerals, protein and choline, an essential nutrient that is beneficial for heart health, brain and liver function and metabolism.

If you’re breastfeeding, feeding your baby eggs is also a great idea because the yolks are an excellent source of iron, and iron stores start to become depleted between 4 and 6 months old.

Eggs are delicious, have a delicate texture and are easy for babies to pick up. They’re also easily mixed into purees or meals with chunkier textures.


7. Carrots


Carrots get their bright orange color from beta-carotene, a carotenoid, or a type of antioxidant.

Carrots are a good source of fiber, potassium and vitamins A, B6, C and K, and are a perfect first food for babies because they’re easily steamed and pureed.

Their mild, but slightly sweet taste is also favorable to most babies too.


8. Fish


According to a June 2019 study by the AAP, although fish and seafood are high in protein and other nutrients like vitamin D, calcium and omega-3 fatty acids which kids need for their development, most aren’t eating enough.

Early introduction to fish and seafood may also improve a baby’s neurodevelopment, decrease the risk for cardiovascular disease and may even help prevent asthma and eczema, the AAP states.

Mercury exposure is always a concern, but salmon, and other types of low-mercury fish, are good choices.

Related: What Types of Fish Are Safe for Kids?


9. Broccoli

Broccoli is a great source of beta-carotene, vitamin C, folic acid, iron and potassium.

When starting solids, you can make a broccoli puree or if you’re doing baby-led weaning, steam the florets until they’re very soft.


10. Sweet potatoes


Sweet potatoes are a great source of potassium, vitamin C and fiber—a good thing if your baby is constipated.

11. Liver


It may not be a food you’ve eaten, but liver is surprisingly one of the best healthy foods to feed your baby before age 1.

Iron is an excellent source of protein, iron, vitamins A, B6 and B12 and minerals like zinc and selenium.

If you decide to try it, it’s a good idea to purchase liver that’s from pasture-raised, organic fed animals and from a butcher you trust.

12. Apples


Apples are healthy and delicious and a first food for baby that’s easy to digest.

A good source of vitamin C and fiber, apples also have quercetin, a flavonoid that work as antioxidants and may improve brain function, a March 2017 study in the Journal Behavioural Brain Research suggests.

13. Blueberries


Blueberries are rich in antioxidants and a good source of fiber, vitamins C and K and manganese.

Blueberries also make for a quick and easy finger food, or as a puree, you can blend them with other vegetables, mix them into oatmeal or drizzle on pancakes.


14. Beets


Rich in antioxidants, beets are a good source of vitamin C, iron, magnesium, fiber, folate, potassium and manganese.

Studies show beets may also be beneficial for brain health. According to an October 2015 study published in the journal Physiology and Behavior, drinking beetroot juice can improve cognitive performance.

While their bright red color will likely spark your baby’s interest, they can have a slightly bitter taste. To offset it, try roasting them, or mixing them with apples, pears, or sweet potatoes.

5 Reasons Not To Be A Short Order Cook  Being a short order cook makes meal times easier, but can create habits that are hard to break in the long run.

5 Reasons Not To Be A Short Order Cook

Being a short order cook makes meal times easier, but can create habits that are hard to break in the long run.

Although my kids eat just about anything I put on their plates today, when my younger daughter was a toddler—and a picky eater—I fell into the trap of being a short order cook.

If she didn’t eat the food I served, or didn’t eat what I thought was “enough,” there were times when I’d pull something different out of the refrigerator that I knew she would eat.

Although this short order cooking made my life a lot easier, I realized that if I made it a habit, it would be a tough one to break.

And more importantly, I wanted her to learn that what I served was the only option, and she could choose to eat it or not.

If you have toddlers or young children who are picky eaters or flat out refuse to eat, chances are, you’ve become a short order cook too.

Here, I’d like you to consider 5 reasons why you should nip it in the bud ASAP.

1. Your child misses out on opportunities to try new foods

The key to raising kids who are healthy and adventurous eaters is giving them plenty of opportunities to try new foods.

The reality is that we can’t expect our kids to instantly love broccoli or take to carrots on the first try.

In fact, studies show it can take serving small portions of the same food 15 to 20 times before kids will even take a bite.

Related: Feeding Toddlers: What, When and How Much To Feed 1- to 3-year-olds

If kids eat the same foods over and over again, they’ll never expand their preferences for new foods they may actually come to love.

2. Being a short order cook is too time consuming

Whether you’re a working mom, a stay-at-home mom, or somewhere in between, life is hectic and you’re exhausted after a long day.

Although short order cooking can make dinnertime less stressful, making one meal for the whole family and an additional meal for your picky eater takes more time—even if it is only opening a package of frozen chicken nuggets.

Something else to consider is that preparing a second meal for your child can also make your life stressful if you have to constantly make sure you have foods on hand that your kid will eat.

If you go to a family or friend’s house for dinner and they serve something you know your kid will refuse, you’ll have to pack foods for him which only reinforces the picky eating.

You start to believe, “my kid is a picky eater,” and will only eat a handful of foods, when in reality, you can’t expect any different when that’s all he’s being served in the first place.

3. Short order cooking creates power struggles

It’s normal for toddlers to be picky eaters and a part of that is their desire for control.

So if you continue to be a short order cook, your child learns that no matter what he wants, you’ll give in.

According to Ellyn Satter, an authority on eating and feeding, it’s the parent’s responsibility to decide the what, when and where of feeding, and the child’s responsibility to decide how much and whether to eat.

4. Short order cooking usually means less nutritious food

I think it’s safe to say that kids who eat separate meals from the rest of the family usually eat foods that aren’t the healthiest.

Boxed macaroni and cheese, kid-friendly frozen meals, pasta with butter, and processed snack foods are usually easy, go-to foods while fruits and vegetables rarely make their way on kids’ plates.

5. Kids may grow up to be picky eating adults

Perhaps one of the most compelling reasons not to be a short order cook is that you want to raise kids who will be healthy throughout their lives.

According to an article in the New York Times, 75 percent of adults who call themselves picky eaters say the behaviors started in childhood.

In the U.S., we’re facing sky-high rates of obesity, chronic health conditions like type-2 diabetes, heart disease and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NALFD), autoimmunity and depression and anxiety.

Not to mention, we have a nation of people who turn to food when they’re stressed, bored or frustrated instead of finding healthy, more effective ways to cope.

Teaching our kids how to eat healthy and have healthy eating habits is important because their lives depend on it now and well into the future.

How Not to Be a Short Order Cook

Offer choices

While scrambled eggs and toast is all you’ll be able to pull together for dinner certain nights, when you do cook meals, try to offer choices.

When kids feel that eating is in their control, they’ll be more likely to make healthy

choices—as long as those choices are offered.

Put out a cooked vegetable and a salad, serve one of your kid’s favorite foods along with a new food, or serve a type of fruit you know your kid will eat—even if he eats nothing else.

Eat meals together

Family dinners may not happen every night, but sitting down as a family to eat any meal can prevent short order cooking.

In fact, children who eat with their families at least 3 times a week are more likely to eat healthy foods, a 2011 meta-analysis published in the journal Pediatrics found.

Cook with your kids

When kids take part in cooking meals, they learn each step of the process and they feel empowered to eat healthy because they had a hand in making the meal.

Cooking with your kids provides another opportunity to expand their palates and try new flavors, tastes and textures.

Stay consistent

Teaching kids about healthy foods and healthy eating habits takes consistency—and plenty of patience—at every meal.

Kids who are picky eaters aren’t going to change their ways overnight—and we can’t expect them to.

It’s also important to realize that everyone has their own food preferences so he won’t love what’s being served all of the time.

Just like with anything else that you have rules about or teach your children, they may not like it but that’s the way it goes!

Did you used to be a short order cook? How were you able to put an end to it? 

Should you raise your child vegetarian?

Should you raise your child vegetarian?

In the last few years, I’ve been an on-again, off-again vegetarian.

I believe that a healthy vegetarian diet can be a great plan to follow but after having chronic anemia and not being able to correct it through diet alone, I now eat meat along with a ton of plant-based foods and as a result, my kids eat the same way.

If you’ve considered whether or not you should raise your child vegetarian, you may have wondered if a vegetarian diet is healthy for kids and what types of foods they should eat.

Read on to learn if a vegetarian diet is healthy for kids and what you should consider before deciding to raise your child vegetarian.

Vegetarian kids on the rise

In recent years, there has been a lot of attention paid to plant-based, vegetarian and vegan diets, with plenty of health websites, bloggers, and celebrities touting the health benefits.

Still, the amount of people who actually call themselves vegetarian or vegan is slim.

According to a 2018 Gallup poll, 5 percent of adults identify as vegetarian while 3 percent say they’re vegan.

And a 2014 national poll by the Vegetarian Resource Group found that 4 percent of kids 8 to 18 are vegetarian or vegan, up from 3 percent in 2010

While some parents decide to raise their kids as vegetarian because they follow the plan themselves or simply because they want to eat healthier, some kids also decide to do so on their own.

In fact, teen girls, in particular, may start the diet because it’s trendy.

“Food is the one thing kids at this age can control. Sometimes wanting to be a vegetarian is a phase that passes for some children, while others are more committed to it,” Tara Todd, a registered dietitian at St. Louis Children’s Hospital stated in this article.

Are vegetarian diets for kids healthy?

According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics position statement, vegetarian and vegan diets that are appropriately planned are healthy and provide adequate nutrition, have health benefits that prevent and treat certain diseases and

are appropriate for infants, children and teens.

Studies show that vegetarian and vegan diets can prevent type-2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and certain types of cancer.

The Academy says vegetarian kids are less likely to become overweight and obese, and tend to eat more fruits and vegetables and less sweets, salty snacks, and saturated fats than their meat-eating peers.

Research also shows that following a vegetarian diet early on in life can help to establish lifelong healthy, eating habits. 

Vegan diet for kids: the recent controversy

In May 2019, Belgian doctors from the Royal Academy of Medicine warned children, teens, and pregnant and breastfeeding moms to avoid vegan diets.

According to the position statement, they say veganism is “restrictive,” creates “unavoidable” nutritional shortcomings and, if not properly monitored, could lead to deficiencies and stunted development, this article states.

They even went so far as to say raising kids vegan is unethical because of the lack of animal protein and amino acids and called for parents who do so to be prosecuted, after deaths in schools, nurseries and hospitals.

In response, U.S. doctors from the Physicians Committee criticized the report saying it isn’t based on scientific evidence and could deter people from following a plant-based diet that can improve their health. They also said studies show people following a vegan diet get enough protein, iron and calcium.

What’s more, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says vegan diet for kids can be healthy and safe for infants and children, without lacking nutrition or affecting their growth.

What to consider before deciding to raise your child vegetarian

If you decide your kid will follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, there are certain nutrients you should focus on.

Protein

Although there are plenty of plant-based protein foods, because of differences in the amino acid composition and digestibility, children may need more protein, which may be between 15 and 35 percent depending on age.

Related: 9 Best Meatless Protein-Rich Foods For Kids (+Recipes!)

Iron

Iron is another nutrition kids who follow a vegetarian or vegan diet may become deficient in, so it’s important for your child’s pediatrician to test for iron deficiency.

Eating iron-rich foods such as beans, eggs, soybeans, and spinach with foods rich in vitamin C like peppers, tomatoes, and citrus fruits can increase absorption.

If your child still falls short, a supplement can help.

Zinc

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), vegetarians may need 50 percent or more of the recommended daily allowance for zinc than non-vegetarians.

To increase the bioavailability of zinc, they recommend vegetarians soak beans, grains, and seeds in water for several hours, and allow them to sit until sprouts form before cooking them.

Omega-3 fatty acids

Kids who are vegan or lacto-vegetarian and avoid fish could be missing out on omega-3 fatty acids, the healthy fats kids need.

As an alternative, kids will need to get plant-based sources of omega-3 fatty acids which include chia seeds, walnuts, flaxseeds and fortified foods like cereal.

Related: 7 Kid-Friendly Ways To Use Chia Seeds

Vitamin B12

Since beef and certain types of fish are excellent sources of vitamin B12, kids can become deficient.

Still, there are some great suitable sources of vitamin B12 such as tofu, tempeh, nutritional yeast, and fortified foods like non-dairy milk and cereal.

Calcium

Fortunately, if your child is avoiding dairy, you don’t have to worry that he isn’t getting enough calcium.

Green leafy vegetables, figs, sesame seeds, soymilk and fortified cereals are all great sources of calcium.

Related: 10 Calcium-Rich Foods For Kids That Aren’t Milk


Vegetarian doesn’t always mean healthy

 

If you decide to raise your child vegetarian or vegan, it’s important to make sure the diet is well-planned.

Just like gluten-free diets, it’s really easy to rely on too many processed, packaged junk foods and frozen foods, and grab-and-go grocery store or take-out meals that are often low in fiber and high in sodium and saturated fat.

Instead, focus on plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, plant-based proteins like beans, legumes, and nuts and seeds, and healthy fats like olive oil and avocado.

Related: 25 Healthy Avocado Recipes for Kids

Since many vegetarian and vegan foods tend to be low in calories, it’s also important to make sure your kid is eating enough to support his growth and development.


Separate meals can mean more time in the kitchen

Another thing to consider is meal planning and cooking and the time it takes.

When I was vegetarian, it wasn’t easy to simply grab a protein and pop it in the oven.

I had to plan ahead and make large batches of lentils and bean burgers, for example, to make sure I always had something on hand.

If your child is vegetarian but you and your spouse aren’t for example, you could also find yourself making separate meals for everyone which can be time consuming.

Making meals in bulk, or cooking with your kids can help.


Get help from an expert

Kids’ diets can include a variety of fresh, whole foods but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re getting everything they need.

If your child is a picky eater, that’s even more of a reason to pay attention to his diet.

You might consider speaking to a registered dietitian-nutritionist (RDN) who can take stock of what your kid is eating and where there might be nutritional deficiencies.

An RDN can also help with meal planning and recipes.

The bottom line: a vegetarian diet or vegan diet can be healthy for kids if it’s appropriately planned and kids actually eat the food.

Whether or not your child sticks with it or not, getting more plant-based foods in his diet is always a good idea.

Is your child vegetarian or vegan? What tips can you share for eating healthy?