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Top 3 Ways to Get Your Child to Choose Healthy Foods

Teach healthy food choicesI spend a lot of time in my family nutrition practice helping parents with their “picky eaters.” That could be the primary reason for their visit, or the picky eating could be complicated by a diagnosis that requires a child to go on a special diet in which their favorite foods are no longer on the menu. This adds layers to their nutrition issues and it is my job to peel the proverbial onion.

How do we transition our kids to the right path with minimal conflicts? What are the underlying issues associated with food battles? Every child is unique, and that cannot be understated. But there are some common denominators with them and hopefully this post will provide you with some ideas to chew on.

It is not a news flash to you that kids want to make their own choices. When parents force things on their children, the natural thing they do is push back. But does that mean we should give children all the decision-making when it comes to eating? Absolutely not. Parents often take this thought too far in allowing their children to make too many choices on their own. It’s all about guiding them. With food, provide acceptable choices from which they may choose. That is the main theme, and here are three of the most important ways in which you can implement them:

  1. Expose your children repeatedly. Expose your children to a variety of foods. This should start super early in your child’s life and continue as they grow older. Do not delete a food off your child’s menu because they reject it one time or even multiple times. Avoid saying statements such as, “He/she does not like (fill in the food).” A child’s body is growing and developing – and that includes their taste buds! Parents provide the healthy meals and the child gets to choose to eat them or not. If they don’t eat dinner because they don’t like how it looks, that’s OK! But don’t provide an alternate meal of their choice, and don’t allow them to have a snack after dinner of their own food preference. This will never encourage them to try new foods! Stay strong, Mom and Dad. If they are hungry later, you can tell them that you are more than happy to heat up their dinner plate. If you stick to your guns on this one and your kids see that throwing a tantrum does NOT get their way, they will eat the dinner. If you have this in place from the beginning, it’s less of a struggle. They don’t know any different. But if you have done this wrong in the past, communicate that this is the new way and we are not going back.
  2. Assess your home’s food environment. Each new year should involve going through the kitchen and doing a food balance assessment. When you look into your pantry and/or fridge, are 90% of the available foods healthy? If not, you may need to make some changes. We must fill our home with “always” foods and if there are any “sometimes” foods that are being over consumed, remove them from your home. Make healthy foods ready-to-eat so those snacks are as easy as grabbing a bag of chips.
  3. Involve your children. Your entire family must be a part of the entire feeding process. That includes planning, shopping (or growing!), preparing, eating and cleaning. The parents are in charge (and must stay in charge), but the children should be involved as helpers in age-appropriate ways. A toddler can help set the table while a teenager can be in charge of cooking one night. Involve your children in the “why’s” behind healthy eating as well. A family is a team and teams must work together to stay healthy so they can meet all their life’s goals. Food is literally the fuel for our precious bodies! Use the MyPlate visual as a guide to help plan meals, and have your children (school-age or older) make their own school lunches that include all the items. If they buy their lunch, go over the school menu and encourage them to use the MyPlate when choosing their lunch.

How ironic is it that being a parent is THE hardest job on the planet and there is no training manual? When it comes to raising healthy eaters, constantly be thinking about the behaviors around feeding children. Empower them to make the healthy choices so they will choose them on their own. That, my friends, is the key to raising a healthy adult.

Post Halloween: Teaching Our Kids the “Why” Behind Moderation

Teach Post-Halloween Moderation2My son, Evan, was on quite a roll a recent morning! He started off by telling me his leg hurt. I asked him if he hit it on something and he said no. I then explained that when his body grows, it can cause his body to hurt sometimes. He said, “Oh, I know why! I think I ate too much candy for Halloween.” I stopped in my tracks and smiled. “Really? You think that’s why?” He said, “Yes. Mommy, will you give me something healthy to eat? I need to make my leg feel better.” I almost fell over. I explained to him that the foods he ate for breakfast were actually healthy (whole grain waffles, yogurt, orange juice) so that should make his leg feel better soon.

I think Evan remembered me telling him and his sister about how candy can make them feel “yucky” if they eat too much. I’ve explained that eating some candy is fine, but eating a lot can make them feel sick and can even take some of their “super powers” away. Even though I thought Evan wasn’t listening, I think that made an impression on him after all.

As parents, let’s remember to tell our children the “why’s” behind being healthy. Avoid making associations between food and weight or “to avoid getting granny’s sugar disease,” but instead mention things that matter to them right now.

Evan loves soccer, being strong, smart and running fast. I tell him that eating healthy foods help him with those things and he gets it. Get them invested in the healthy lifestyle for their own reasons; it will stick with them for the rest of their lives. [By the way, he recently started eating broccoli after over 3 years of rejecting it on his plate and now he says it’s his favorite food. Perserverance in healthy messaging and exposure pays off!]

Stick with those positive messages, Mom and Dad. They are listening even when you don’t think they are. I was reminded today that my son is listening to me!

Healthy Alternatives to Halloween Candy

Want some healthier alternatives to candy to pass out at Halloween?

Once you put your sugar-free but ghoulish thinking cap on, there are lots of healthy alternatives – edible and not – says Amy Jamieson-Petonic, a registered dietitian and an American Dietetic Association spokesperson and director of wellness coaching at Cleveland Clinic. Look for small accessories such as light-up rings or individual packs of baked chips or pretzels at local discount stores, party supply shops and wholesale clubs. “Have a few choices to satisfy different age groups,” she suggests.

Here are a few more of Jamieson-Petonic’s favorite affordable and healthy alternatives to candy:

  • Packs of sugar-free gum
  • Sugar-free hot chocolate packets
  • Individual packs of roasted pumpkin seeds or trail mix
  • Stickers or temporary tattoos
  • Glo-sticks or slime
  • Small bouncy balls
  • Jump ropes
  • Sidewalk chalk
  • Beanbags or hacky sacks

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Editor’s Note: We are all concerned about childhood nutrition these days, which makes Halloween a particularly “tricky” holiday. But there’s more than one way to skin a black cat!…as we see from two different perspectives on Halloween treats. Today’s post looks at candy alternatives, while another post by Mommy Dietitian talks about letting kids have their candy on Halloween (as long as moderation prevails after the holiday). We hope you found some useful ideas to safely satisfy your “ghouls”!

How to Make Fast Food Healthier for Kids

Research shows that kids consume an average of 55 percent more calories when they eat out than when they eat at home. While you should limit fast food to an occasional treat, it’s not a nutritional disaster if you make healthy choices:

Child-size it.

Keep your kids’ portions under control by ordering the child-sized meals that were meant for them — and try one yourself. Just this one move will cut half the calories and fat from your meal. Or share one order of fries with two or three people. This way, you still get to enjoy a little fast food without a lot of calories. Still hungry? Order a side salad with low-cal dressing.

Balance it out.

Cut calories and increase nutrition by making some smart substitutions. Chowing down on a cheeseburger? Forget the fries and order a baked potato or salad instead. Can’t give up the fries? Order a grilled chicken salad instead of a burger.

Skip the extras.

Save major calories by saying no to toppings like cheese, bacon, mayo and special sauces on burgers; pepperoni, sausage and extra cheese on pizza; and bacon bits, tortilla chips, Chinese noodles and regular dressings on salads.

Water it down.

A large cola weighs in at 310 calories, all of which come from sugar. Regular and diet sodas also contain phosphorus, which can prevent kids’ bones from absorbing calcium. The best bet for the whole family: water.

Do You Know What Vitamins & Supplements Your Little One Needs?

The average healthy American child probably does not need much of anything to supplement their diet and the emphasis should be placed on offering a healthy diet in moderation of all portions of that diet to include fats and carbohydrates (sugar). Most regular vitamins we all hear about are needed in very small doses that are easily supplied by a varied North American diet. Having said that, there are certain groups of children who definitely need supplementation; to mention just a few, certain chronically ill children, certain children from third world countries suffering from starvation or emotional deprivation, or severely abused children in this country who have been subjected to the worst possible environmental deprivations.

The Academy of Pediatrics recommends the following for other special groups:

  1. Since another recommendation is to limit sun exposure in children in order to prevent later skin cancers, and this restriction can lower amount of vitamin D normally produced in sunlight, and therefore, a supplement of 400 IU of vitamin D is recommended based on sun exposure (or lack thereof). For exclusively breast fed babies, 400 IU of vitamin D daily is recommended early after delivery. For those babies drinking 32 ounces of formula a day no vitamin D supplement is recommended since all American formulas have the correct supplement of this vitamin. Whole milk also has correct vitamin D supplement but whole milk not recommended for children over 12 months of age. Check with your baby’s Doctor about the need for this vitamin. Similar recommendations are made for calcium and phosphorus intake.
  2. Babies who are full term and have no problems have probably received enough iron from their mothers during the last month of pregnancy to last the first 3- 4 months so an exclusively breastfed baby should begin Iron supplementation beginning at age four. Iron in breast milk is only partially absorbed. Preterm and developmentally disabled children are also at higher risk for Iron deficiency while formula fed infants will receive the proper amount of iron as long as they continue formula. Fortunately, it is common place for Pediatricians to check a blood count as an indication of iron status at age 9- 10 months and again at around 15 months and if anemia is found iron can be added to the diet. The bottom line again is to check with your Doctor for the need and amount of iron needed for your infant and child.
  3. Large amounts of certain vitamins such as A, C, D and K has never been shown to provide any beneficial effects in normal healthy North American children and can be toxic– this is not a case of “if a little is good a lot is better”- often times this is not the best policy for anything.
  4. As far as other vitamins (such as A & B) are concerned, I stick with my original paragraph that most healthy children eating a fairly well rounded diet over all, (not day to day) does not need any extra vitamin supplement at.

Homeopathic supplements for children are very popular now but there are no adequate recommendations for amount used and frequency for children and therefore should be used with caution; further knowledge and research is needed.

Other complementary medical treatments have no definite guidelines for use in children, but certain children may benefit from their use.

Always involve your child’s Doctor when considering going beyond the established guidelines in your children.

Overweight & Obese Kids: What’s Going On & What Can We Do?

The problem:

About one out of three American children can be considered overweight and that rate is growing very rapidly. Additionally, according to the CDC, in the years 2015-16, approximately 14-20% of our kids were considered obese. The causes are multiple and are most likely societal in nature and not caused by a health condition. Most parents who realize that their child is overweight come to the Doctor to have “their glands checked”. It seems just about everyone knows someone who has a thyroid or other glandular condition that has been blamed for that person being overweight. In fact, a medical problem in kids is one of the least likely causes for obesity.

If one takes time to carefully dissect our current society one would easily be able to notice the low rates of exercise in children and the high rates of sedentary activities. The television and the computer now rank among the chief contributors to the increase in overweight children. In addition, local budget cuts have resulted in elimination of some physical education and intramural sports. And yet another reason for obesity in our kids may be the result of the busy lifestyle of some dual working parents who have very little time to prepare healthy foods- so it‘s fast foods for the night, and it is easy to find the root causes for obesity in this country. As easy as it is to pinpoint some of the reasons for obesity, it is extremely difficult to do something positive about it.

Not only is it time consuming to prepare healthy meals but it is more expensive to buy than a typical American diet and in this economic slump it might not be the first place people wish to spend their money.

On top of these reasons there are certain environmental and familial factors that will contribute to overweight children. If the familial body type is not thin and wiry, this trend will tend to continue through generations and it becomes easy to “blame” the overweight problem on “genetics”. In fact most overweight kids have overweight parents who just do not recognize the “problem” in their children.

What to do

Again, the first thing to do if you think your child is overweight is to take him or her to the primary care provider for an evaluation, looking for the rare and very unlikely medical cause. The diplomatic nature of the approach your Doctor may take to this problem might belie the serious nature of the issue. Beware, it is very serious! The use, by your health care provider, of graphs and charts in the office at the time of the discussion can be very helpful to you, pay attention.

Your Doctor may discuss in front of your child and in a very frank manner, all the medical repercussions of becoming an overweight adult: high blood pressure, increased rates of diabetes, heart disease and strokes just to mention a few. Your child will probably be asked to help resolve this problem. That is very important because without his/her help any attempts will probably fail. After all, you can only control what your child eats when he/she is in the house: once out of the house for the day, it’s all on him or her- that’s tough!

The following are some ideas I believe can help when approaching your overweight child.

Diet related issues

Before you begin to count calories there are some simple mechanisms to put into place.

  • Feed your child on a smaller plate than usual but fill the plate- the visuals help to keep the total intake down.
  • Do not allow “seconds” and desserts should consist of such dishes as fruits and low fat products.
  • Watch out for the “innocence of toppings”. These may carry the majority of calories in the dish you are preparing: low fat or no fat substitutes can now be found in your supermarket for salad dressings etc. You can probably eat a pound of potatoes and gain somewhere near a pound, but if you add the butter, cream and bacon that usually accompany those dishes all bets are off as to the accumulated weight gain.
  • Begin to become aware of the information on the labels of just about all foods.
  • This is not a bad time to institute low fat and low cholesterol “diets” in hopes of altering adult behavior in the future as this is a major contributor to poor cardiac health in this country. In particular, stay away from foods containing, transfats, unsaturated and polyunsaturated fats as these can contribute to plaque buildup in arteries beginning at a young age; concentrate instead on fruits, vegetables and fiber.
  • Rid your house of all snack foods, whole milk and carbonated drinks as this must become an entire family affair.
  • While I approve of skim milk after the age of 2 years old I do not approve of artificial sweeteners for children, as many of the past artificial sweeteners have fallen into disrepute at one time or another, and carbonated drinks and juices are generally “empty calories” devoid of anything nutritionally useful except for sugar which he/she does not need.
  • Remember, the object of a “diet” is not necessarily to lose weight initially but to begin to alter life styles as your child grows into adult hood. Weight loss is a bi product or “collateral damage”, if you wish, of the particular “diet” you chose.
  • When you begin to concentrate on weight loss you should aim for no more than 1 – 2 pounds per week as anything faster has a high likelihood of failing.
  • Let your child enjoy an occasional birthday party filled with cake, ice cream, candy etc. Total abstinence will breed discontent.

Don’t forget exercise

The flip side of the coin is, of course, exercise: a reasonable diet without exercise or, vice versa, is like one hand clapping. Family endeavors will be most likely to generate the best results. Encourage sports of all kinds as this not only yields some of the exercise component but builds a sense of belonging and responsibility.

Build in “rewards” to recognize your child’s effort in trying to adhere to this new life style. You might very well encounter resistance at your initial efforts to begin this program but stick with it as it will greatly improve the quality of life for the entire family.

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