8 Supermarket Shortcut Foods To Make Healthy Eating Easy

8 Supermarket Shortcut Foods To Make Healthy Eating Easy

The new year always comes with the best intentions: eat healthier, work out more, get more sleep and cut down on all that stress.

When it comes to your kid’ health, perhaps you’ve made a commitment to stock your kitchen with healthy food, cook more and share more family meals together.

Those are all great New Year’s resolutions to have of course, but so often we find ourselves back to our old habits come February.

Between work, after-school activities and every other obligation you have, carving out time to plan, shop and cook gets really challenging.

With some healthy eating hacks and a few supermarket shortcut foods on hand however, you don’t have to rely on processed foods, ready-made meals and grab-and-go options to make sure your family stays on track.

Here are 8 supermarket shortcuts that will make healthy eating a breeze all year long.

1. Salad kits

My family has become hooked on a salad kit made with shaved Brussels sprouts, shredded cabbage, pumpkin seeds and dried cranberries. Not only is it healthy and delicious, but having a salad kit on hand helps us pull together dinner in minutes flat.

When choosing a salad kit, always read labels since many salad kits are high in calories, sodium and sugar and use low-nutrient greens like iceberg lettuce instead of dark leafy greens.

2. Spinach

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

Pre-washed baby spinach (organic when possible), cooks super-fast and can be incorporated into almost meal you’re making.

Sauté spinach with olive oil and garlic, add it to soups, stews and stir-fries or incorporate it into a quiche or frittata. Raw spinach can be mixed with other salad greens or used for your morning smoothies or green juices.

3. Frozen fruits and vegetables

Since frozen fruits and vegetables are picked at their peak freshness and flash frozen, they may be healthier than fresh varieties. In fact, a June 2017 study in the Journal of Food Composition and Analysis found in some cases frozen produce is more nutritious than fresh that’s been stored in the refrigerator for 5 days.

Stocking your freezer with a variety of frozen options will help you pull together meals in no time. Add frozen veggies to pastas, omelettes, or a stir-fry and incorporate frozen fruit into smoothies and yogurt or serve it as dessert.

4. Beans

Beans are one of the healthiest foods for kids and make for a quick and easy meal.

Add canned beans to tacos, fajitas, soups and stews, serve them solo in your kid’s lunch box, or puree them into a healthy and delicious bean dip.

5. Tempeh

If you’re looking to add more plant-based protein sources into your meals, try tempeh.

With more than 5 grams of protein in every ounce, tempeh is also high in fiber and magnesium.

Since it’s made with fermented soybeans, tempeh is also a great way to get probiotics into your kid’s diet.

Marinate tempeh and bake it, slice it thin and sauté it with vegetables, or swap crumbled tempeh for meat in your favorite Mexican dishes.

6. Canned fish

One of the best supermarket shortcuts to help your family eat healthy is canned fish like salmon, sardines and anchovies.

Packed with protein, low in saturated fat and rich in micronutrients, fish is also an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, which support kids’ brain health and memory.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommend kids eat fish 1 to 2 times every week, starting at age 2.

If your kids refuse to eat fish however, try non-sneaky ways to incorporate small portions into their meals. For example, serve canned salmon as a dip paired with cut up raw vegetables, top toasted whole-grain bread with a bit of anchovies, or add a few sardines to pasta dishes.

7. Edamame

An excellent source of protein, fiber, iron and magnesium, edamame (soybeans) are high in calcium: one cup of provides 97 milligrams.

Purchase edamame frozen or fully cooked and add it to rice dishes, soups and salads or serve it as a side dish. You can also serve edamame as an appetizer before dinner when kids are hungry and more likely to try new foods.

8. Quinoa

Quinoa, a seed, is high in both protein and fiber as well as B vitamins, which support the nervous system.

Quinoa is also a quick and easy grain that can be served for breakfast with fruit and cinnamon, mixed into a yogurt parfait or as a side dish for lunch or dinner.

5 Healthy Holiday Gifts for Moms

5 Healthy Holiday Gifts for Moms

After you purchase gifts for your kids and everyone else on your list, bake all the Christmas cookies and attend the obligatory office parties and school events, there’s no doubt that holiday stress will get the best of you.

This year, instead of checking off all the boxes and running around until you’re completely exhausted, why not take a few minutes to put yourself and your health first?

Whether your goal is to eat healthy, get in shape or sleep better, these healthy holiday gifts will set you up for success in the New Year.

1. Headspace

We’re all stressed but that doesn’t mean you have to let it overwhelm you.

Studies show meditation is an effective way to reduce stress, improve sleep and boost focus.

In fact, a September 2018 study in The Journal Of Cognitive Enhancement found that a regular meditation practice over a lifetime has the potential to keep the brain sharp and ward off mental decline.

If you’re new to the practice, a guided meditation app like Headspace can help.

Andy Puddicombe, the voice of the app, is easy and soothing to listen to—not awkward like some other guided meditations I’ve tried. With 1-, 3- or 10- minute options, the app also makes it easy to fit meditation into your schedule no matter how busy you are. Multiple subscription plans, free-$399.99. Headspace.com.

2. Love Sweat Fitness

 

If you’re looking to shed a few pounds or just get in shape, Love Sweat Fitness’ quick, daily at-home workouts and meal plans can support you on your journey.

Founded by Katie Dunlop, a NASM-certified personal trainer, the program inspires women to “sweat anywhere” and “live guiltless.” $49.99-$129.99. my.lovesweatfitness.com

3. Prepara iPrep Adjustable Tablet and Phone Stand

Whether you consider yourself a bona fide chef or more of a beginner, the Prepara iPrep Adjustable Tablet and Phone Stand will make it easy to make healthy dinners for your family.

The stand allows you to access all of your favorite recipes on your iPad or smart phone while you cook without having to touch the screen. With a non-slip rubber base, four different viewing angles and a space to store the stylus, it’s one of the best healthy holiday gifts for moms. $29.95. BarnesandNoble.com.

4. HoMedics Deep Sleep II Therapy Machine

Once your babies sleep through the night, you do too, right? Not so much.

If your mind races at night, you have a hard time winding down or have a snoring partner, a good night’s rest can be hard to come by.

That’s where the HoMedics Deep Sleep II Therapy Machine comes in. With 12 different soothing sounds, 4 variations of white noise, water relaxation or nature sounds, and 30-, 60- or 90-minute auto-shutoff features, machine will help you get the sleep you deserve. $79.99. Homedics.com

5. Thistle Farms ReEnergize Set

I was so excited to discover Thistle Farms, a bath, body and home brand whose motto is “love heals.” All of their products are handcrafted by women who are survivors of trafficking, prostitution and addiction, giving them the opportunity to heal and have bright futures.

Their ReEnergize Set, which includes body wash, bath soak, shave gel and lip balm, are infused with tea tree and eucalyptus mint essential oils and are free of phthalates, parabens, formaldehyde and synthetic fragrances. $45. ThistleFarms.org.

 

Gestational Diabetes Diet: 7 Tips for a Healthy Pregnancy

Gestational Diabetes Diet: 7 Tips for a Healthy Pregnancy

If you’ve been diagnosed with gestational diabetes, you might be wondering what foods you should eat, what foods you should avoid and what else you can do to have a healthy pregnancy.

According to a 2014 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), up to 9.2 percent of women are diagnosed with gestational diabetes, a condition in which your body can’t produce enough insulin, which causes high blood glucose levels.

Gestational diabetes can lead to pregnancy complications and problems during labor and delivery, so managing it now is key.

What’s more, although gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that only occurs during pregnancy, it can still increase your risk for developing type-2 diabetes and high blood pressure down the line.

The good news is that through diet, exercise and an active lifestyle, you can manage the condition during pregnancy and create healthy habits that will benefit you and your children for years to come.

Here, learn what a healthy gestational diabetes diet looks like and how to stay healthy during pregnancy and beyond.

1. Talk to a nutrition expert

One of the most common pregnancy nutrition myths is that during pregnancy, you should eat for two.

During the first trimester of pregnancy however, you don’t need to eat extra calories.

And throughout your second and third trimesters, you only need an additional 300 to 450 calories a day, which can be spread across two healthy snacks.

If you’re overweight or obese and you have gestational diabetes however, the amount of pregnancy weight gain varies depending on your body mass index (BMI).

To get a better idea of how many calories you need each day, how much weight you should gain and what foods to eat, ask your OB/GYN or midwife to make a referral to a medical nutrition therapist or a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN).

 

2. Eat regular meals

If you’re dealing with morning sickness, it can be tempting to avoid eating, but skipping meals can cause your blood sugar levels to drop.

Eating breakfast is particularly important and will also help you make healthy diet choices the rest of the day. Aim for a combination of protein and fiber, such as an egg with blueberries or Greek yogurt with berries and a low-sugar granola.

Try for 3 meals and 2 small snacks a day and be mindful of your portion sizes.

3. Pick protein

 

Foods high in protein help balance blood sugar so it’s a good idea to get some at every meal and snack.

Eggs, fish, meat, beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, tofu, tempeh and edamame are all great sources of protein.

4. Be choosy about carbs

 

To avoid spikes in blood sugar, it’s important to pay attention to the types and amount of carbohydrates you eat.

Complex carbohydrates are typically high in fiber, which keep blood sugar levels steady and stave off hunger.

Complex carbohydrates such as whole grain bread, brown rice or quinoa (a seed) are best. Also, try to combine complex carbs with protein and a healthy fat like avocado to help you feel satisfied.

Avoid refined carbohydrates like white bread, white rice and potatoes as well as juice, soda, and sugar-sweetened beverages which lack nutrition and will spike your blood sugar.

5. Focus on foods with a low glycemic load (GL)

 

You’ve probably heard about eating foods that have a low glycemic index (GI), but glycemic load (GL) is a more accurate measurement of a particular food’s effect on blood sugar.

Glycemic load describes the quality (GI) and quantity of carbohydrate in a serving, meal or diet, according to this article.

Aim for foods with a glycemic load of less than 10 including:

  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Beans
  • Lentils
  • Chickpeas
  • Whole grain breads and cereals

Starchy vegetables likes peas, carrots, and butternut squash as well as some low-glycemic fruits are OK, but they should have less of a focus in your diet.

6. Choose healthy fats

 

Healthy fats give you energy, promote satiety and are important for your baby’s brain and eye development.

Focus on monounsaturated fats like avocado, olive oil, and almonds and polyunsaturated fats like those found in flaxseed and chia seeds.

Fish like salmon and herring are also excellent sources of healthy fats but because of mercury exposure, check the FDA and EPA’s chart for those with the lowest amount of mercury and how many portions are safe to eat.

7. Avoid foods that spike your blood sugar

 

It’s important avoid foods that will spike your blood sugar including processed foods, fast food and foods that are refined and high in sugar.

Be sure to read labels carefully because many foods like yogurt, salad dressings, marinades, and condiments are sneaky sources of sugar and should be avoided.

 

Have you been diagnosed with gestational diabetes? What were some ways you managed it?  

5 Healthy Holiday Gifts for Kids

5 Healthy Holiday Gifts for Kids

Whether it’s a gift they asked for or something you knew they’d love, there’s nothing better than the joy of watching kids open their presents.

Along with the toys, electronics and clothes, why not add also buy a present that will make them healthy and happy too?

Here are 5 healthy holiday gifts for kids I’m loving right now, and I’m sure you will too.

1. Kids’ Cooking Classes

I was so excited to interview Katie Kimball, the founder of KitchenStewardship.com earlier this year. Her story is in the current issue of FIRST for Women magazine—go grab a copy!

Katie and I have similar philosophies about feeding kids real, healthy, whole foods and agree that if we want our kids to eat healthy, we need to teach them how to cook.

But what if you don’t know how to cook?

That’s where her Kids Cook Real Food video course for families comes in. The easy-to-follow course teaches kids over 30 basic kitchen skills, builds their self-esteem and confidence and gives you easy recipes you can make at home. $49.95-$495. KidsCookRealFood.com.

2. Kids’ Activities Membership

 

If you’re always looking for activities to do with your kids, KidPass is your ticket. Once you sign up, search for activities by age, location and category, then book your tickets and go.

With partnerships at several kids’ gyms, playspaces, museums, bowling alleys, dance studios and more in 7 different cities, there’s plenty for your kids to do every month. $49-$189. KidPass.com

3. Kids’ Chef Tools

When my kids were toddlers, they’d pretend to cut vegetables with a kid-sized, dull knife.

They’re still young but now I let them use a real pairing knife because I want them to learn.

Still, every time we cook together I nearly have a heart attack yelling, “watch your fingers!”

With Curious Chef’s 30-Piece Caddy Collection, you can cook with your kids without worrying. The collection has all the basic kitchen tools that cut but are also safe for kids to use. Designed for kids 4+, the caddy includes their very own whisk, knives, measuring cups and spoons and more. They’re also BPA-free and dishwasher safe. $79.99 Curiouschef.com

4. Gardening Set and Wagon

 

Planting a garden in the spring is one of the best ways to teach kids where healthy food comes from, get them involved with meal planning, and encourage them to eat healthy. It also gets them away from the screens and encourages them to move.

With this 15-piece garden wagon and tool set by Dimple, your kids will love to tag along with you in the garden and get excited about all the fruits and veggies you’ll grow. $19.99. Amazon.com.

5. Yoga Dice

Help your kids find their inner OM and make Yoga a family affair with Uncommon Goods’ Yoga Dice.

Whether you’re an active Yogi or more of a dabbler, you and your kids will have fun discovering the poses and centering yourselves together. $16.95. UncommonGoods.com.

 

7 Ways Busy Moms Can Cope With Holiday Stress

7 Ways Busy Moms Can Cope With Holiday Stress

As moms, our lives are hectic enough but when the holidays roll around, our stress levels get ramped up even more.

According to a report by the American Psychological Association (APA), 44 percent of women (versus 31 percent of men) say they have more stress during the holiday season.

Whether you’re at home with little ones all day or a working mother, chances are all the holiday to-do’s fall on your shoulders.

Between sending Christmas cards, purchasing and wrapping gifts, shuttling kids to Nutcracker rehearsals and attending school performances and holiday parties, the list can seem endless.

Add to that the stress of traveling or hosting guests, combined with challenging family dynamics, and the holidays can make for one stressed out mom.

But the holidays don’t have to—nor should they be—a season of stress. With a small shift in mindset and a few simple tactics, the holidays can be filled with faith, hope and love.

Here are 7 ways to cope with holiday stress.

1. Focus on what matters most

 

To lower your stress level, think about what’s really important to you and your family and focus your energy on that.

For our family, it’s important that my kids know first and foremost that Christmas is Jesus’ birthday, what his birth means and what a magical event it is. As a result, when we talk about Christmas, we center our conversations about our faith.

Santa, the gifts and the cookies are a part of my kids’ experience, but they are all fun extras.

2. Rethink traditions

 

When I was child, our family’s annual Christmas Eve tradition meant that we didn’t get home until 2am in the morning. Everyone was expected to stay until the end and no one deviated from the tradition.

Like it or not, today’s generation is more willing to buck the trend.

Although our family continues the same type of tradition today, we’ve had to adapt the timing so we’re home at a decent hour to put out the gifts and cookies for Santa and to get sleep. Luckily, the older generation is more flexible and understanding of our desire to get home early.

When it comes to family traditions, the expectation might exist, but that doesn’t mean your family has to follow suit. You can make changes to the tradition or say ‘no’ altogether.

Although not everyone in the family will be happy with your choices, if changing the way things have always be done means your holidays will be less stressful and more enjoyable, so be it.

 

3. Be realistic

 

Your goal might be to make 5 dozen Christmas cookies, buy thoughtful gifts for all of your kids’ teachers, and meet your friends for your annual holiday dinner.

But if trying to do everything is going to leave you stretched thin, maybe it’s not realistic for you and your life.

Instead, think about ways you can cut back or cross things of your list. That might mean making one or two types of cookies, buying gift cards for the teachers and planning drinks with your friends in the new year, for example.

4. Have a holiday stress-busting ritual

The more stressed out you are, the less likely you’ll be to eat healthy, exercise and make sleep a priority—all habits that are important for combating stress.

Having a daily or weekly ritual can help too. It could be a weekly yoga class, 20 minutes when you wake up in the morning for prayer and/or meditation, carving out time in your schedule to attend your favorite HIIT class or taking a warm bath after the kids have gone to bed.

5. Forget the gifts

Every year, I get really stressed searching for the perfect gift for adults in our family. I also don’t want to feel obligated to buy gifts—I want to give from my heart.

That’s why this year, both sides of our family decided not to give gifts but to donate to a charity instead. We all agreed that gifts should be only for the kids.

If donating to a charity doesn’t fly with your clan, suggest a Secret Santa or a grab bag instead, which is more affordable and takes less time.

6. Get help

As women, we’re expected to do it all, but that doesn’t mean we have to.

Of all the tasks on your list, there are those you tell yourself you should do or you feel pressured to do, those you’re capable of doing but don’t want to do, and those that actually bring you joy.

We can make choices about what we’re going to do and what we’re not. For example, a few years ago, I decided sending Christmas cards wasn’t worth all the time and energy it took.

It was however, important to my husband, so he took over the task. He picks out the card and the photos, addresses them and sends them off. It may not be what I would have chosen, but letting it go means I won’t be so stressed out.

It can be hard to hand over certain tasks to our partners, but it is possible to find opportunities for them to help out. Perhaps it’s wrapping gifts, going grocery shopping or making a Target run for stocking stuffers.

Accepting that done is better than perfect can be freeing.

If getting your spouse to help out isn’t going to happen, think about other people who can.

Depending on their ages, kids can seal and put stamps on cards or wrap presents for their grandparents, for example.

You could also outsource tasks to a company like FancyHands.com for booking travel, making restaurant reservations or purchasing gifts.

7. Hire a babysitter

When time is tight and your list is long, getting it all done with kids underfoot is almost impossible.

Lean on your regular babysitter, a family member or swap babysitting with a friend.

Also, check in with your gym, kids’ play spaces and schools who may offer a few hours of care so you can get things done.

10 Ways To Deal With Picky Eaters When You’re Fed Up

10 Ways To Deal With Picky Eaters When You’re Fed Up

Having a kid who is a picky eater is one of the most frustrating parts about being a parent—right up there with potty training, sleepless nights and meltdowns.

Chances are, you’re already doing your best to offer plenty of healthy foods.

But try as you might, you can’t seem to put an end to the picky eating.

When you’re at your wit’s end and you’re ready to pull out your hair, it’s definitely easier to open up a box of mac and cheese and call it a day.

Yet raising healthy kids who will try, accept and even crave healthy foods isn’t something that happens overnight.

With some simple strategies however, it can be done. Let’s get started.

1. Recognize picky eating for what it is 

Many parents label their kids as picky eaters, but just because the behaviors are frustrating, that doesn’t mean it will be that way forever or that they have to define your child.

Picky eating is only a small, short-term obstacle to healthy eating.

Look at the bigger picture and realize that kids who eat healthy now are more likely to be healthy eaters throughout their lives, so it’s well-worth the effort.

 

2. Bring kids in the kitchen

When my kids are having meltdowns and it seems that no matter what I do, doesn’t work to get them to calm down, its extremely frustrating.

But when I’m empathic, hear them out and offer a hug, things usually get better.

Sometimes kids just need their cups refilled with quality time so rather than battling it out at the dinner table, try coming together in the kitchen.

Cooking with your kids is one of the best ways to teach them about healthy eating and it might be the way to end picky eating for good.

Empower your kids with choices: let them find a new recipe, then shop and cook the meal together.

At the very least, cooking can diffuse some of the frustration at the dinner table, create a positive environment around food, and slowly encourage your kids to be more adventurous eaters.

 

3. Have a play date

Children are more likely to do what other children do, and that includes eating.

According to a May 2016 study in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, preschoolers who saw a video of their peers eating a bell pepper ate more peppers themselves a week later and said they were more likely to eat the vegetable again.

If one of your child’s friends is a healthy eater, arrange for them to have a play date. Your kid might be interested in what his friend is eating and more likely to take a bite too.

This strategy can also work well with other family members, especially grandparents, who are skilled at getting kids to try just about anything they offer.

 

4. Serve bites, not portions

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

Instead of overwhelming your child with an entire plate, or even a portion of vegetables, try serving a tiny amount, such as a broccoli floret, a bean, or a piece of a shredded carrot.

 

5. Let kids play with their food

Kids who play with their food are more likely to try new flavors and a wider variety of foods, a July 2015 study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics suggests.

Rather than pressuring your child to take a bite or bribe them with dessert if he eats his vegetables, encourage him to touch, smell, and even play with his food.

Talk about the shapes, colors, texture and aroma of the foods on his plate. If he takes a bite, that’s great, but the goal is to let him explore his food without feeling pressure to eat it.

6. Change the scenery

 Sometimes moving your meals to a different environment can make mealtimes more interesting and less stressful.

Try packing a picnic lunch and head to the park, eat on the patio instead of the dinner table or take lunch to a friend’s house.

7. Let kids choose what they want to eat

 When kids feel they have a say in what’s being served, they’ll be more likely to try it.

At dinner, serve a salad and a cooked vegetable or put out a buffet of leftovers and let your kids decide what they want on their plates.

Or take a trip to the farmers’ market and let you child choose a new vegetable to try.

8. Take stock of your kid’s diet

If kids are loading up on snacks throughout the day, they probably won’t be hungry for meals.

Snacks like crackers, chips and cookies—even those that are gluten-free, organic and have healthy ingredients like fruit and nuts—can crowd out the calories they should get from healthy foods.

Also, feeding kids processed snacks that are high in sugar and sodium train their taste buds to prefer those foods over healthy, whole foods, so it’s best to limit them as much as possible.

9. Talk to an expert

When you feel like you’ve done all you can to get your kid out of his picky eating habits, consider getting help from an expert.

A pediatric registered dietician nutritionist (RDN) will work with you to understand your child and your family and address all the factors at play. They can also help you set realistic goals and offer strategies and meal ideas to help your child try and eventually accept new foods.

To find an RDN, ask your pediatrician to make a referral or search the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ site, EatRight.org.

10. Stick with it

 It might seem that your kids will be picky eaters forever, especially if you have toddlers who are inherently picky, but most kids can become healthy, adventurous eaters.

The key is to continue to offer healthy foods and teach healthy eating habits every day. This simple shift in mindset can help you muster up the energy and dedication to stay the course and raise healthy-eating kids.

7 Healthy Holiday Baking Tips

7 Healthy Holiday Baking Tips

I love baking anytime of year, but during the holidays, it’s even more special.

As a child, I have fond memories of making chocolate-coconut Christmas cookies and these Betty Crocker candy cane cookies with my own mom.

Now that I have my own kids, I love holiday baking even more.

This year, my daughters and I will make Skinnytaste’s pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving and my grandmother’s famous cheesecake for Christmas (it’s a secret recipe). We’ll also make coconut macaroons and a few varieties of cookies for their teachers, bus drivers and volunteers at our church.

During the holiday season, it’s inevitable that your kids (and you!) will eat sugar.

The great thing about baking however, is that you can often make simple swaps and substitutions in your recipes that cut down on the calories, fat and sugar, add some nutrition and don’t change the taste much at all.

Here, read on for 7 healthy holiday baking tips to make your recipes even sweeter.

1. Upgrade your flour

White, refined flour lack nutrition and fiber and spikes your blood sugar, so I tend to avoid using it.

Since my kids eat a mainly gluten-free diet anyway, I usually swap all-purpose flour for gluten-free oats that I grind up in the food processor.

True, sometimes only all-purpose flour will do, but when it’s not going to change the taste or the texture, try oat flour, coconut flour or almond flour, all of which have more fiber.

Almond flour, in particular, is a good source of protein—7 grams in about a cup—, as well as vitamin E and healthy, monounsaturated fats.

In some recipes, you can swap in the same amount of flour, but others may require a different ratio of liquids. Try to find recipes that call for the specific type of flour you want to use or find out how to adjust your ingredients.

2. Cut down on sugar

 

Sweeteners like coconut sugar may have a lower glycemic index than table sugar, and less of an impact on blood sugar, but it’s not as low as say, broccoli.

What’s more, just because these sugars and others like honey are naturally derived, they’re still considered added sugars and should be limited in our diets.

Of course, the holidays are a special occasion so I don’t see a big deal in indulging in sweets. But if you’re planning back-to-back holiday events or you’re looking to cut back, you can cut the amount of sugar in a recipe by a 1/4 or a 1/3, which probably won’t make that much of a difference in the taste.

While pies, cakes and cookies usually need sugar to taste sweet, adding dried fruit like dates, raisins or cranberries to bread or muffin recipes can be a healthy, delicious substitute for sugar.

3. Make mini versions of your holiday favorites

 

One of the best ways to keep portions healthy for everyone is to create miniature cookies and desserts. Try mini muffin tins, mini loaf pans or ramekins for smaller, healthier holiday treats.

4. Mix in vegetables

Pureed or grated, vegetables like zucchini, carrots, beets, squash and pumpkin all add fiber, vitamins and minerals and antioxidants to a holiday dessert otherwise devoid of nutrition.

Vegetables also add flavor and moistness to breads, muffins and cakes.

5. Substitute avocado for butter or oil

While you’re adding vegetables, try fruit too—with an avocado.

Avocado is one of the healthiest foods you can feed your kids, especially because it’s high in fiber, has 20 vitamins and minerals and healthy, monounsaturated fats.

Avocado is also an easy, 1 to 1 substitute for butter or oil. I’ve found that it often makes cookies or muffins have a greenish hue, which isn’t a big deal if you’re enjoying them at home, but it might be if you’re giving them as gifts or bringing them to a party.

6. Add chia seeds

High in fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, potassium, iron and calcium, chia seeds are a super food.

When you’re baking, chia seeds can easily be incorporated into cookies, muffins, breads, pancakes and cakes. They don’t change the taste or the texture but you may have to add additional liquid ingredients because they can thicken up the batter.

7. Swap cream for Greek yogurt

When a recipe calls for cream cheese, sour cream or buttermilk, try using full fat or low fat Greek yogurt which is an excellent source of protein, vitamin B12 and potassium and helps to cut down on some of the calories and saturated fat.

10 Ways I’m Avoiding Holiday Weight Gain

10 Ways I’m Avoiding Holiday Weight Gain

Between all the family dinners, holiday parties and special events, the 5 or so weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day are prime time for holiday weight gain.

Surprisingly, most people gain only about a pound during the holiday season, which doesn’t sound like much but it can take until summer to shed the weight, a September 2016 study in The New England Journal of Medicine found.

What’s more, with all those kids’ birthday parties, other holidays, dinners with friends, and date nights with your spouse and it’s easy to see how many of us pack on the pounds.

I, for one, have a serious sweet tooth and consider myself an emotional eater, so if there are desserts in the house, I’m going to eat them.

Although I eat healthy and I’m in great shape, it takes only one heavy meal or extra dessert for me to gain weight.

As I stare down the season of sweets and holiday spreads, I’m determined not to pack on the pounds. That’s not to say I’m not going to enjoy myself—I’m Italian-American after all—but there are some strategies I’ll be using to avoid holiday weight gain.

1. Avoid bringing holiday treats home

 

When you walk into any grocery store, convenience story or big box store during the holidays, you know how tempting all the decadent desserts, perfectly packaged cookies and holiday-themed treats can be.

There are aisles upon aisles of eggnog, red and green confections and peppermint-flavored everything.

Maybe you tell yourself you’ll buy them for teachers’ gifts or to put in your kids’ stockings, but once you get them home, you find yourself halfway through the package in minutes flat.

I’ve found myself doing this too and I’m not going to fall into that trap again this year.

Although I anticipate my kids will beg me for sweets, I won’t be bringing them into my home.

2. Hit the gym first thing in the morning.

I already exercise 5 to 6 days a week but a holiday party or staying up late to scour Amazon for gifts could easily derail my normal workout routine.

Still, I know that hitting the gym first thing in the morning lowers my cortisol level, burns off adrenaline and sets the tone for the day.

Plus, when I leave BODYCOMBAT feeling like a rock star, I know I’m more likely to make healthy food choices throughout the day.

In fact, science backs it up.

According to an October 2012 study in the journal Medicine and Science In Sports and Exercise, women who exercise in the morning for 45 minutes are less motivated by food and are more active overall.

3. Avoid late night snacking

I’ve been trying my best to curb the night snacking for quite awhile, but with several holiday dinners already on the schedule, I’m determined to keep up the habit to prevent packing on the pounds.
 

4. Fill up on vegetables

Vegetables, particularly the green leafy types, are low in calories, high in fiber and take up space in your stomach which promotes satiety and prevents overeating.

When I’m at home, I’ll be sure to fill up my plate 50 percent worth of green leafy vegetables like salad, broccoli and Brussels sprouts.

5. Be a picky eater

When there are passed hors d’oeuvres or a buffet dinner at a holiday party, I tend to have a little bit of everything until my plate is way too full.

This season, I’m going to head into the holiday parties with a new mindset.

I’ll take stock of what’s being offered and then choose 1 or 2 foods I really love, I won’t eat any other time during the year or those I have never tried.

6. Send leftovers packing

Leftover vegetables are always great to have on hand, but I don’t want to things like stuffing, potatoes, and desserts in my house tempting me after the holidays.

Since we’ll be hosting all of the holidays this year, I’m asking my guests to bring to-go containers so they can take home the leftovers.

 

7. Drink plenty of water

With the busyness of the holiday season, it’s easy to forget to drink enough water. Not only can dehydration often be mistaken for hunger, but drinking water before a meal can prevent overeating. 

To prevent holiday weight gain this season, I’m going to make it a point to drink plenty of water throughout the day and definitely before a holiday party.

8. Eat mindfully

Emotional eating and mindless eating go hand in hand, and often times the stress of the holidays leads me to overeat.

If I’m sitting at the dinner table after we’ve eaten and the food is still there, I often find myself going for seconds.

To curb mindless eating, I’ve been reading Dr. Susan Albers’ books. Implementing her tips such as eating slowly, putting my fork down in between bites and accessing whether I’m really hungry or just want another taste has really helped.

9. Eat before  holiday parties

If you know there will be a large spread of food at the event, it might seem like a good idea to skip meals or starve yourself beforehand, but that can backfire and cause you to overeat.

This can be tough especially if dinner is served at 3pm, when you’re not hungry for dinner but will be extremely hungry if your last meal was breakfast.

When this is the case, I’ll continue to eat the same meals and at the same time, although I may cut back on my portions.

Or if there will be several hours between lunch and dinner for example, I’ll have a small snack like carrots and hummus or a handful of almonds, before I leave.

10. Get plenty of sleep

When I stay up too late doing something meaningful (writing this blog) or time-sucking and frivolous (scrolling through my Facebook feed), it completely throws me off the next day.

My workout suffers and because I’m tired, I’m much more likely to snack, even on healthy foods like fruit and nuts.

I’m also not a very happy mother or wife to be around. 

Although there will probably be some late nights that will be unavoidable, my goal is to get to bed on time and clock at least 8 hours of shut-eye.

 

6 Subtle Signs of Postpartum Depression  For many moms, postpartum depression goes undiagnosed. I was one of them.

6 Subtle Signs of Postpartum Depression

For many moms, postpartum depression goes undiagnosed. I was one of them.

Four years ago, I found myself in the office of a therapist who specialized in postpartum depression.

My second child was already 18-months-old by that point and from what I had read and written about postpartum depression, there was no way I had it.

I thought moms with the condition felt sad, cried a lot and felt detached from their babies. I also thought those symptoms showed up within weeks after giving birth.

My story wasn’t like that at all.

I had a positive birth experience with a midwife and supportive husband by my side.

I felt so great in fact, that I spent only one night in the hospital.

The day after I came home, we even hosted family in our home for Easter and I was happy and energetic. I already felt like I was settling into our new life with a 2-year-old and a newborn.

Everything seemed just fine.

Two days later at my daughter’s well visit, I was asked to fill out a screening for postpartum depression and I was flippant about it. I quickly checked off the answers and thought, I don’t have time for this.

For the next year and half, I cared for my daughters, worked part-time and went to the gym regularly. I cooked our meals and made homemade baby food. I cleaned my home every week like clockwork and did everything else that had to get done.

I was high functioning for sure, not the disconnected mother I had envisioned a mom with postpartum depression to look like.

And besides, so much time had passed.

As I spoke to the therapist however, she explained that despite all that, what I was experiencing was in fact, postpartum depression.

As I did more research, I realized that I had likely had the condition since my first daughter was born and no one, not even me, picked up on it.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), postpartum depression affects approximately 1 in 9 women nationwide and in some states, as many as 1 in 5 have the condition.

Despite how common it is however, it often goes unrecognized and is not always an easy, clear-cut diagnosis. When it is diagnosed, less than half of women get treatment, according to a February 2015 study in the journal CNS Spectrums.

Whether you’re a new mom or know someone who is, it’s important to recognize the signs—no matter how subtle they may be—and know where to turn for help.

1. Anxiety

I was no stranger to anxiety, having experienced it since childhood, but after my daughters were born it ramped up even more.

When my kids were sleeping, I constantly checked to make sure they were breathing, they were still lying on their bellies, and their swaddles hadn’t come undone, potentially suffocating them.

When I was driving, I not only worried that we would get into a car accident, but that another car would hit my car on the side where my kids sat.

It doesn’t make much sense that you can be anxious and depressed at the same time, but anxiety is actually one of the symptoms of postpartum depression. In fact, The Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale, the screening tool used to diagnose postpartum depression, includes questions about anxiety, panic and overwhelm.

Some moms who have the same type of irrational fears I did, can suffer from postpartum anxiety or postpartum obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). These and other perinatal anxiety disorders, including generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and panic disorder are about as common as postpartum depression.

2. Irritability

The weeks and months after I gave birth felt so incredibly stressful. I lacked patience for everyone and everything.

I was constantly frazzled—trying to balance interviews, writing and pumping my breast milk, all in the short amount of time I had our sitter caring for my kids.

Unlike my first daughter who would breastfeed like clockwork and be done, my second liked to nurse what felt like all the time and would cry the minute I put her down.

If you feel on edge, you’re not able to relax, or you’re short and snappy with your husband and other people in your life, take note. True, you’re already exhausted and the lack of sleep can make you feel irritable but if those feelings persist, it could be due to postpartum depression.

3. Changes in appetite

A change in your appetite is perhaps one of the most significant, but subtle signs of postpartum depression.

Despite being a chef, cookbook author and foodie, Chrissy Teigan has said that when she had no interest in cooking or eating she realized it was time to seek help for postpartum depression.

When you have a new baby, it’s rare that you’ll have time to sit down to a meal so you might find yourself skipping meals or overeating when you do have time to eat.

Yet if you have a lack of appetite or find yourself overeating or binging to decompress, cope with tough feelings or to fight fatigue, it might also be due to postpartum depression.

4. Feelings of uncertainty, insecurity and regret

There are so many decisions you have to make when you become a mom.

Whether it’s choosing to breastfeed, going back to work and picking the right pediatrician, it can all feel very overwhelming.

If you get stuck and find it hard to make decisions, no matter how minor or significant they may be, or you doubt, regret or beat yourself up about a decision you made, it could be a sign of postpartum depression.

5. Insomnia

With a newborn at home, sleep is already hard to come by. If you have other children who don’t sleep through the night, it can be even more challenging.

If you find it difficult to fall asleep, or toss and turn throughout the night, talk to your doctor because it could be a sign of postpartum depression.

6. Feeling like a failure

After the birth of my first child, I constantly compared myself to other new moms including family, friends and those I knew in the community.

Of course, photos of happy moms with their cute, “perfect” children on social media didn’t help either.

Everyone else seemed to have it all together and handle new motherhood with ease while I felt like I had no idea what I was doing.

I struggled nearly every day with feelings of inadequacy as a mom. I frequently told my husband, I’m not a good mom, I’m not cut out for this and I’m failing.

Motherhood didn’t come easy for me and I knew I wasn’t happy, but I thought it was my fault. I thought I simply didn’t know how to be a mom, but now I know that was the depression duping me.

Although I think it’s safe to say we all feel overwhelmed by motherhood from time to time and we doubt our decisions, when these feelings persist, it’s time to seek help.

How To Find Help

If you have any of these signs, or you simply don’t feel like yourself, it’s important to seek help.

Postpartum depression is not a sign of weakness or a character flaw and it doesn’t mean you’re a bad mom. It’s a real, diagnosable condition and there are effective treatments available.

Tell someone

Talk to your doctor or midwife about your symptoms, whether you gave birth 2 weeks or 2 years ago.

She can screen you for postpartum depression and refer you to a therapist who can help. If you feel like you can’t take that first step, talk to your partner, a family member or friend who can put the wheels in motion for you.

Find help

Postpartum Support International is an amazing resource for new moms. They offer phone and online support, referrals to local therapists and support groups.

Get support

Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS) was a lifesaver for me. They welcomed me with a warm breakfast, someone to watch my kids for 2 hours and a group of real moms who listened, understood and were supportive. Although it can feel hard to be social, try to find a moms’ group that provides a safe, supportive space.

Ask for what you need

As I said, I had no idea I had postpartum depression. I was checking things off my list, going full throttle 24/7, and having an I can do it all mentality but I rarely accepted help or took time for myself.

All moms need help, but if you have postpartum depression, it’s even more important.

Ask your partner to take a feeding, cook dinner or take over some of the household duties. If you can afford to do so, hire a postpartum doula, a baby nurse or an au pair.

If your parents or in-laws have the time and offer to help, take them up on it. They can take your baby for a walk in the stroller, read to your baby, or help prepare dinner.

Say yes to any help you can get.

If you have thoughts of suicide, please don’t suffer in silence. There is help. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255)

 

11 Easy Food Safety Tips For Moms and Kids  These food safety tips can help to prevent food poisoning and keep your family healthy.

11 Easy Food Safety Tips For Moms and Kids

These food safety tips can help to prevent food poisoning and keep your family healthy.

Whether you buy organic, local, non-GMO or local, and shop at Whole Foods or the famers’ market, you and your kids can still be at risk for food poisoning.

According to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 48 million people each year get sick from foodborne illness from exposure to germs like norovirus, salmonella, E. coli and listeria.

Pregnant women and children under age 5 in particular, have some of the highest risk for food poisoning.

Kids’ immune systems are still developing so they can’t fight off germs and illness as well as older children can. Food poisoning is also a particular concern for young kids because diarrhea and dehydration can land them in the hospital.

When it comes to pregnant women, they’re 10 times more likely to get a listeria infection than women who are not. Pregnant women who are Hispanic are 24 times more likely to be affected.

Contamination can happen at any time along the food journey to your kitchen table, but there are several ways to prevent the spread of germs.

Here, learn about the food safety tips that can prevent food poisoning.

1. Check restaurant health ratings

According to a 2018 poll conducted by C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital at the University of Michigan, one in 10 parents say their kids have gotten sick from spoiled or contaminated food and 68 percent attributed the food poisoning to eating out in a restaurant.

One of the best ways to prevent food poisoning when eating out is to check health inspection ratings—something only 25 percent of parents do, the same poll found.

To review health inspection ratings, check with your local or county health department or try the What The Health app.

2. Clean out your refrigerator

Before you leave to go to the grocery store, go through your refrigerator and throw out food that has gone bad and shouldn’t be eaten.

Food that has mold, smells unpleasant, or whose color or texture has changed should be tossed.

Leftovers that have been cooked should be thrown away after 4 days and raw chicken and meat after 1 to 2 days.

It’s also a good idea to know what the dates on food packaging mean to prevent food waste.

3. Do grocery shopping in this order

When you run errands, try to do all of your regular errands first and leave your grocery shopping until the end so you can take your groceries home immediately and prevent food from spoiling.

Also, consider bringing an insulated bag with an ice pack to transport cold, perishable food items.

4. Keep meat and fish separate

At checkout, place raw meat and fish in plastic bags to prevent spreading germs to other foods.

When you arrive home, store these foods on a plate or in a shallow pan on the lowest shelf of the refrigerator and away from ready to eat foods.

5. Wash your hands before preparing food

Before you handle food, be sure to thoroughly wash all surfaces of your hands with warm or hot water and soap for at least 20 seconds.

After handling raw chicken, wash your hands before moving on to other foods to prevent the spread of bacteria.

6. Use designated cutting boards

It’s a good idea to use one cutting board solely for fruits and vegetables and one for raw meat, poultry and fish.

7. Wash and sanitize cutting boards

Scrub cutting boards after each use with hot, soapy water, especially after preparing raw meat, fish and poultry.

To deep clean cutting boards, scrub them with a paste of baking soda, salt and water and wipe them with full strength white vinegar to disinfect.

Rubbing a sliced lemon on the boards also helps to sanitize them and remove odors.

8. Always rinse fruits and vegetables

Always rinse fresh fruits and vegetables under running water and consider using a produce brush to remove dirt and debris.

If you plan to peel fruit, you should still rinse it before eating it to prevent germs from contaminating the inside flesh.

Ready to go, pre-chopped produce like bagged salad and cut up vegetables that aren’t labeled pre-washed should always be washed at home.

9. Defrost foods properly

Never leave food out on the kitchen countertop or in the sink to defrost.

Instead, thaw frozen foods in the refrigerator on the bottom shelf on a plate or a shallow pan. You can also defrost foods in the microwave but they should be cooked right away.

10. Cook foods thoroughly

Instead of making a judgment call about whether meat, poultry and fish are ready to eat just by looking at them, use a food thermometer to ensure they’re thoroughly cooked.

Unsure of the right temp? NSF International has a handy chart.

11. Serve food at safe thermometers

Cold foods should be served at 40º F or below while hot foods should be stored at 140ºF or above.

When foods are left out and in the “danger zone” range between 40º F and 140º F, they’re only safe to eat for 2 hours or 1 hour in temperatures above 90 degrees.

10 Things I Do To Keep My Kids Healthy + Prevent Childhood Obesity

10 Things I Do To Keep My Kids Healthy + Prevent Childhood Obesity

With more than one-third of children who are overweight or obese in the U.S., obesity and obesity-related chronic health conditions will be a lifelong reality for our children if we don’t do something about it now.

Although my kids are healthy, we have relatives on both sides of the family who are overweight or obese.

There’s also a strong family history of hypertension, high cholesterol, heart disease and stroke, insulin resistance, type-2 diabetes, anxiety, depression and mental illness, so taking steps to keep my kids healthy is one of my priorities as a parent.

Here’s a list of things I do to keep my kids healthy now and throughout their lives. One word of caution: these ideas are meant to inspire you, not make you feel like a failure.

1. I cook and eat with my kids

Cooking breakfast, lunch and dinner (yes, seriously), is perhaps the best way to keep my kids healthy.

I know exactly what goes into their meals and how the meals have been cooked and I can better control how much they eat than when we eat out.

I also cook with my kids, which has made them more likely to eat healthy and try new foods.

In fact, a November 2014 study in the journal Preventing Chronic Disease found kids who took cooking classes or cooked at home ate more fruits and vegetables, were more willing to try new foods, and had an increased confidence in their ability to prepare meals.

Studies show eating family meals together—something we do every night—is also positively associated with kids who eat healthy and maintain a healthy weight.

2. I serve vegetables at most meals and snacks

Look in my refrigerator and you’ll find plenty of vegetables: broccoli, cucumber, celery, peppers, asparagus, and salad.

Veggies have filling fiber that satisfy kids’ hunger, balance their blood sugar, and take up space in their bellies to keep them feeling fuller longer.

Eating vegetables at every meal and snack is also one way to prevent them from gaining weight.

My kids eat salads and vegetables for lunch and dinner, they often have a fruit and vegetable smoothie for breakfast and munch on carrots and cucumbers for snacks, for example.

3. I watch their portion sizes

Although my kids eat a healthy diet, they often eat too much. They frequently ask for seconds or for fruit after dinner.

Fruit isn’t a big deal of course, but I try to teach them about portion sizes so they will learn healthy eating habits.

One way that helps them understand healthy portions is to encourage them to use a measuring bowl or cup.

When I allow them to have a packaged snack, I also talk to them about reading food labels. I explain the serving size and servings per container so they know how much they can eat and how much they have to save for another time.

4. I don’t buy a lot of processed, packaged foods

Crackers, cookies and granola bars are really easy and convenient, but most are high in calories, saturated fat, sodium, and sugar, all of which can negatively affect their health and lead to weight gain.

Many of the kid-friendly foods and snacks are mostly refined carbohydrates, which lack fiber, spike their blood sugar and increase their sugar cravings.

When my kids are allowed these snacks, they know it’s a treat and not something they’ll eat every day.

5. I read labels and watch sugar

Like most parents, I watch my kids’ intake of obvious sources of sugar like cookies and candy but sugar is sneaky and can show up in surprising places like cereal, yogurt and barbecue sauce too.

Kids should consume less than 25 grams of added sugars a day and with the new Nutrition Facts labels being rolled out this year, it will be easier than ever to decipher between natural and added sugars.

I make it a point to read labels and check the added sugars, but I’m also cognizant of natural sugars, which can be concentrated in foods like dried fruit, for example.

6. I get my kids moving

I’ll admit it: making sure my kids get the recommended 60 minutes of exercise every day is one area that’s challenging for me.

Between working full-time, school, homework, after-school activities and other obligations, it’s hard to carve out time.

Although it’s not ideal, my daughters take gymnastics class 1 to 2 times a week and then I find opportunities to get them up and moving.

For example, we’ll take a walk before dinner or go on a bike ride. When it’s raining or cold, we might play a game of Twister or have an indoor dance party.

7. I limit screen time

Much to my chagrin, my kids love the iPad just like every other kid in America. “I hate those iPads!” is something you’d hear me say if you were a fly on the wall.

Screen time makes my kids tired and irritable and they get addicted to it.

Studies also show too much screen time is linked to sedentary behaviors, which can lead to childhood obesity and other chronic health problems so I often set a timer and set limits.

In fact, a January 2014 study in the European Journal of Preventative Cardiology found teens who spent more than 2 hours a day behind a screen had a higher body mass index (BMI) as well as metabolic syndrome, a cluster of conditions that increases their risk for heart disease and stroke.

In August 2018, the American Heart Association released a scientific statement about the issue and strongly suggest parents limit all screen time to 1 to 2 hours a day.

8. I prioritize their sleep

Making sure your kids get enough sleep is just as important as eating healthy and exercise.

Without enough shut-eye, their hunger hormones can get all out of whack and make them more likely to reach for junk food and skip breakfast, one study found.

I do my best to make sure they’re in bed every night at the same time or within a half hour. If that means that our reading time is cut short, so be it. Sleep is too important.

9. I don’t serve juice and sugary beverages

Consuming fruit juice, soda, sports and energy drinks and sugar-sweetened beverages can easily spike a kid’s blood sugar and lead to weight gain.

According to a January 2018 review in Obesity Facts, 93 percent of studies found a positive association between sugar-sweetened beverages and obesity.

I let my kids have juice or lemonade for a special occasion like a friend’s birthday party, but otherwise they only drink water, homemade green smoothies or green juices.

10. I lead by example

I eat healthy and exercise for my own health and well being but it’s a really important way to keep kids healthy.

Although they don’t always like that I leave every morning for the gym, they know that it makes me healthy and happy, which makes me a better mom.

 

What are some habits you have to keep your kids healthy? Let me know in the comments!

Childhood Obesity: Are Parents to Blame?

Childhood Obesity: Are Parents to Blame?

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

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

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

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

Pediatricians’ part in childhood obesity

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

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

According to one pediatrician:

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

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

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

Is childhood obesity genetic?

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

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

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

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

According to the Harvard School of Medicine:

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

Parents influence their child’s obesity risk

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

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

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

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

What are we feeding your kids?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Food is just one part of the puzzle

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

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

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

Blaming parents isn’t the answer to childhood obesity

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

Positive change cannot occur however, if we blame parents.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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