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6 Healthy Makeovers for Summer Snacks

The school year ends, and the parties, barbecues, vacations, carnivals and festivals begin — not to mention a kitchen that’s open 24/7. “It’s harder to get kids to eat healthy snacks in summer because of all the high-calorie temptations,” says Portland-based pediatrician Stephen Ames, M.D. It gets a lot easier when you’ve got healthy substitutions for their favorite treats. Your child won’t even miss the sugar.

Old Summer Snack: Ice Cream

New Summer Snack: Frozen Coconut Bar

Try “ice cream” made from coconut milk. “Coconut milk has germ-fighting and heart-protective properties,” explains certified health counselor Beth Aldrich, “and it may actually stimulate metabolism.” Another healthy frozen treat is mashed frozen bananas with your choice of toppings: Try crushed peanuts (they’re packed with protein and healthy fats) and dark chocolate chips (they contain antioxidants).

Old Summer Snack: Slushies

New Summer Snack: Watermelon Ice Pops

They’re easy to make and loaded with antioxidants and nutrients, says Aldrich. Puree watermelon chunks in a blender till smooth; pour into ice pop molds and freeze. (Add plain low-fat yogurt for a hit of extra calcium if you like.) Also try pureed strawberries, oranges and grapefruit with mint.

Old Summer Snack: Kettle Corn

New Summer Snack: Seasoned Popcorn

High in fiber and low in calories, air-popped popcorn can make a fun, filling snack –without the heavy sugar. Dress it up with a drizzle of fat-free chocolate syrup; a mix of cinnamon and stevia (a natural plant extract that has no calories); or combine with a handful of peanuts and toss with a blend of melted coconut oil and stevia (or agave) nectar for caramel-corn flavor.

Old Summer Snack: Hot Dog

New Summer Snack: Nitrate-free Turkey Dogs

You won’t have to worry about chemicals or bad fats with a nitrate-free turkey dog. Plus, the protein will keep kids satisfied for hours. Wrap the turkey dogs in all-natural, whole-wheat crescent rolls and top with mustard for a hearty, savory snack. Or try Tofurky Franks, made with tofu, for a meat-free ballpark taste.

Old Summer Snack: Packaged Potato Chips

New Summer Snack: Homemade Veggie Chips

Peel fresh carrots, parsnips, beets and sweet potatoes and cut into 1/8-inch slices. Place in a single layer on a cookie sheet; spray with vegetable oil and sprinkle with kosher salt. Bake for 10-15 minutes at 375 F. Kids can’t resist the colorful crunch — no dip needed!

Old Summer Snack: Lemonade or Cola

New Summer Snack: Fruit-infused Water

Slice fresh fruit — lemon, berries, watermelon or even pineapple — and let it float in a water dispenser or pitcher, suggests Aldrich. Sweeten to taste with Stevia; studies show that it may even prevent tooth decay by fighting the bacteria that cause it. Let kids choose the fruit and name the drink; they’ll think they came up with the idea themselves!

The Best Foods for Sick Kids

When your kid is miserable with a stuffy nose, fever or stomachache, it’s tempting to feed her what she wants (ice cream!) or let her skip dinner altogether. But research reveals that eating the right comfort foods can soothe her symptoms and strengthen her immune system. Even if your little one doesn’t have much of an appetite, encourage her to eat; in combination with symptom- and age-appropriate OTC remedies, she’ll feel better in no time.

Here are the best foods for sick kids:

For a stuffy nose … feed them soup. “The hot, steaming broth loosens mucus, so your child can breathe easier,” says Amy Jamieson-Petonic, a registered dietician and the director of wellness coaching at Cleveland Clinic. For even more relief, serve up a bowl of chicken soup: Researchers from the University of Nebraska Medical Center found that this childhood staple may relieve cold symptoms by inhibiting inflammation-causing cells in the body. “Plus, chicken soup has carrots, celery and onions,” says Jamieson-Petonic. “These veggies provide vitamins and minerals that boost the immune system.”

For a fever … feed them calorie-rich fare. Forget starving a fever! “You’ll only deprive the body of the nutrients it needs to get well,” says Jamieson-Petonic. A feverish child uses more energy, she adds, so they need to consume additional calories. If your kid doesn’t feel like eating, try adding nutritional bulk to every bite he takes: Slip banana slices into a peanut butter sandwich, mix dry milk powder in mashed potatoes or mac ’n’ cheese, and blend flaxseed into a fruit smoothie.

For a sore throat … feed them soft foods. Does it hurt to swallow? Scrambled eggs, oatmeal, soup and yogurt can coat a painful throat while providing nutrition. Another soother for children above the age of one: honey. According to a study published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, this sweet substance can also lessen nighttime coughing and improve sleep. So if your child can’t stop hacking, swirl a spoonful into a mug of herbal tea or a glass of warm milk.

For a stomachache … feed them crackers. “Bland foods stabilize digestion and gradually get the system up and running again,” says Connie Evers, a registered dietician in Portland, Ore. Once the worst is over, she recommends moving on to more substantial fare, like bananas, rice, applesauce and toast. Also steer clear of colas: The caffeine content can make nausea even worse.

For any type of illness … feed them popsicles. For sick kids, proper hydration is key. “Sleeping for long periods of time — as well as running a fever — can lead to fluid loss,” says Evers. To make sure your child sips often, place a water bottle on her bedside stand. Evers also suggests freezing 100% cranberry and orange juices into homemade popsicles; the treat serves up extra liquids along with a dose of vitamin C.

For recovery … feed them balanced meals. Even if they ask for it, don’t serve them their favorite fast-food meal or sugary dessert. “Foods high in sugar or saturated fat can increase inflammation in the body,” explains Jamieson-Petonic. “That can make kids feel worse — and even slow the healing process.” Fill her plate with vitamin-rich produce, whole grains and lean proteins instead. “These foods strengthen the immune system, which helps fight viruses,” she says. “It can also help lower the risk of complications, like bronchitis.”

Holiday Foods That Can Make You and Your Family Sick

thanksgiving_dinnerEvery host wants guests to leave the table with a full stomach, not a stomach bug. Unfortunately, 76 million cases of food-borne diseases occur in the United States each year, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 325,000 of those cases result in a trip to the emergency room. This time of year, with heaps of food and extra guests, it’s all too easy to contaminate meals with food-borne bugs or a nasty flu virus.

Luckily, there are a few simple safe-cooking precautions that will keep your friends and family safe and healthy this holiday season. Barbara Kowalcyk, Assistant Professor at OSU’s Department of Food Science and Technology and recognized expert in food-borne illness, shares her tips to help prevent both food poisoning and germ-sharing.

At the Store

Keep raw meats and poultry separate from packaged foods in your cart. The outside of meat packages can be contaminated with bacteria, and touching them means you can easily spread germs and bacteria to other products. “Don’t be afraid to use a plastic bag from the produce department as a glove when handling meats,” says Kowalcyk. “A little precaution now can save you from a big mess later.”

At Home

Proper preparation is the key to safe cooking. Before cooking any meals, clean your hands and all work surfaces. Designate different cutting boards for different types of foods to help prevent cross-contamination. It’s also important to pay attention to what you’re doing. “Don’t go from cutting a chicken to making a salad. Wash your hands,” says Kowalcyk.

Knowing which foods to wash also prevents illness. Always wash the tops of cans and all fruits and vegetables. “People are often surprised to learn that something like a salad can make them sick,” says Kowalcyk. She recommends skipping prepackaged bagged leaves and buying the whole head instead. Remove the outside leaves as well as any with tears, which are the most likely to be contaminated.

Don’t put meat and poultry in the sink. “It doesn’t need to be washed,” says Kowalcyk. Washing raises the risk of contaminating other surfaces in your kitchen. It only takes between three and 10 microbes to start an infection (more than a million can fit on the head of a pin). Just a few drops of dirty water can really wreck havoc on your kitchen. Washing the food won’t kill bacteria, but cooking your food to the proper temperature will.

If You’re Sick

If you’re fighting the flu or a cold, you should stay out of the kitchen altogether. Give instructions to another family member or consider wearing a mask as you prepare the food. If nothing else, wash your hands more often — especially after you cough or sneeze.

In the Oven

Testing meat for color, touch or until juices run clear is not a good way to tell if food is done. “Testing the internal temperature is the only way to know if it’s cooked to a safe temperature,” says Kowalcyk. She recommends you ditch the dial thermometers and pop-up buttons included with some prepackaged turkeys since both may not be calibrated properly. Instead, use a digital thermometer to test meat at its thickest point and poultry at the joint between the thigh and leg.

The United States Department of Agriculture recommends cooking foods to the following minimum temperatures to ensure safe consumption:

At the Table

Don’t let food sit out for more than two hours. This includes the time it may be on the counter or table before you serve it. Keep hot foods hot in the oven and cold foods cold in the refrigerator. “Don’t let your foods get to room temperature,” says Kowalcyk. “That’s where bacteria likes to grow. And the longer it sits out, the more you increase your risk of getting sick.”

After the Meal

Transfer warm leftovers to shallow dishes so they’ll cool down evenly and quickly in the fridge. Also keep in mind that the temperature increases in an overstuffed fridge, so you may need to adjust yours for a few days after a big meal to make sure it stays at a safe 40 F.

The Next Day

Everyone loves leftovers, but not everyone should reach for the cold turkey. Those vulnerable to illness — young children, pregnant women and people with chronic conditions — should reheat leftovers to 165 F before eating them. “Most people will be OK, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry,” says Kowalcyk.

Eating Issues and Kids with Special Needs

The "I'm Not Eating This" FaceSo many parents and caregivers struggle with issues surrounding food, with special needs kids and typical kids as well. For some kids the issues are medical so they require a specific diet, or they have a condition than includes low muscle tone. For others it’s a sensory thing, so they will only eat crunchy foods, or white foods, or the rules may change daily. For other kids it may be a control issue, and refusing food or demanding certain foods can be the only thing way they feel they can influence their world.

Whatever the underlying reason (and of course there may be more than one at the same time), the issues usually fall into two separate categories; getting kids to eat more, and getting kids to eat less.

All kids need to eat healthy foods and get all their vitamins, minerals and nutrients. Supplements and nutritional drinks can fill in the gaps for both kids who seem to exist on nothing as well as those who seem to only allow junk food to pass through their lips. My own child survived on Pediasure for years, but we never stopped encouraging actual food and expanding on her diet.

Both types of kids seem to be fairly picky about their eating. Pizza, chicken nuggets and hot dogs may be the only dinners that get their approval. Buying or making the healthiest versions is a good bet, so that each calorie will be full of nutrients and not just preservatives and chemicals – but something is always better than nothing, especially for the kids who need to eat more. For those who need to less, veggie-covered pizza is more filling than plain cheese pizza, and a salad eaten before the all white-meat chicken nuggets may keep the child from asking for seconds. At my house we have a strict veggies first policy. We also demand that a second helping of veggies is finished before a second helping of anything else. But we are mean at my house (LOL). Sometimes the veggies even appear as an appetizer while my ravenous children suffer through the torture of waiting for me preparing dinner. It’s amazing what will get eaten when a child is truly hungry.

All kids can benefit from a little undercover food. Fruits and veggies that might be refused (usually loudly) can be smuggled in undetected in many ways. Of course smoothies are a great way to slip in lots of ingredients, as well as protein powders. Pureed popsicles are also good, especially here in the hot weather. I got away with steamed, pureed cauliflower added to boxed mac and cheese and shredded zucchini in marinara sauce for years. Sadly, as my kids got older they also got wise to my tricks. Zucchini muffins, however, are still a big hit.

I grew up in a house with a VitaMix, which is a high-powered combination of a blender and a food processor. This workhorse is perfect for making your own nut betters or flours if you have specific dietary needs. It also makes killer smoothies and soups, and can even heat the soup. Check the customer reviews for great usage and cleaning tips. Nowadays we have a Magic Bullet, which is great for individual servings and smoothies as well as some chopping chores. The Nutri Bullet is an entire juicing system.

Fruitn_Cheese_Snack_MixThere are ways to sneak calories other than veggies into food for kids who need to bulk up. Try buttering bread before making a sandwich, or pair a favorite food with a new one to expand the child’s repertoire so it isn’t overwhelming – there is something familiar and comforting on the plate. Stick with whole milk, cheese and cottage cheese even if you swear by skim. I knew a mom who always served sandwiches with dip – salad dressing or veggie puree. Added calories and a bit of sensory fun, too! Food presented in a fun way or in fun shapes may also get gobbled up easier than the same old sandwich.

Both kids who need to eat more and kids who need to eat less should be involved in the food in the house. Take a trip to a local farm or a local farmers’ market so the child can see, feel, smell and taste the varieties. Getting to choose an item may make it seem more appealing on the table. Gardening is also great and lets the kids watch the growth and maturation of the fruits and veggies.

There are food and eating therapists who use exposure therapy and rewards. I heard of one that had a cute, friendly dog in the room – if the child licked the new food he or she got to pet the dog. Her patients made great progress and the dog got a lot of attention! There are also eating groups where kids come together to try new items in a fun atmosphere. If there is a control issue between you and the child then he or she may have more success with food away from you. My child is a social eater and is more likely to try something new if we are out at a restaurant or at a party. Then I can observe what she likes and try to make it for her at home. It takes about 6 exposures to a new food before a picky kid with actually try it, sort of how they naturally desensitize themselves, so try to be patient.

A nutritionist can also help. There may be a biochemical reason a child craves a certain food constantly. Get allergy tests done, too, especially if your child is avoiding an entire food group. Again, for older kids, it seems to help to hear advice from someone other than mom.

Food issues can be frustrating for everyone, whatever challenges they face. Try not to make mealtimes a battle; these kids have enough struggles in their daily lives.

Got a specific question about your child’s eating? Post it below!

Disclosure: this article contains affiliate links, fyi after all, a girl and her kids have to eat. Also, I am not a nutritionist so I am not giving anyone medical advice. Check with your pediatrician for any dietary questions.

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.

How to Ensure Your Holiday Dinner Guests Leave Smiling Not Sick

thanksgiving_dinnerEvery host wants guests to leave the table with a full stomach, not a stomach bug. Unfortunately, 76 million cases of food-borne diseases occur in the United States each year, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 325,000 of those cases result in a trip to the emergency room. This time of year, with heaps of food and extra guests, it’s all too easy to contaminate meals with food-borne bugs or a nasty flu virus.

Luckily, there are a few simple safe-cooking precautions that will keep your friends and family safe and healthy this holiday season. Barbara Kowalcyk, director of food safety at The Center for Foodborne Illness Research & Prevention in Grove City, Pa., shares her tips to help prevent both food poisoning and germ-sharing.

At the Store

Keep raw meats and poultry separate from packaged foods in your cart. The outside of meat packages can be contaminated with bacteria, and touching them means you can easily spread germs and bacteria to other products. “Don’t be afraid to use a plastic bag from the produce department as a glove when handling meats,” says Kowalcyk. “A little precaution now can save you from a big mess later.”

At Home

Proper preparation is the key to safe cooking. Before cooking any meals, clean your hands and all work surfaces. Designate different cutting boards for different types of foods to help prevent cross-contamination. It’s also important to pay attention to what you’re doing. “Don’t go from cutting a chicken to making a salad. Wash your hands,” says Kowalcyk.

Knowing which foods to wash also prevents illness. Always wash the tops of cans and all fruits and vegetables. “People are often surprised to learn that something like a salad can make them sick,” says Kowalcyk. She recommends skipping prepackaged bagged leaves and buying the whole head instead. Remove the outside leaves as well as any with tears, which are the most likely to be contaminated.

Don’t put meat and poultry in the sink. “It doesn’t need to be washed,” says Kowalcyk. Washing raises the risk of contaminating other surfaces in your kitchen. It only takes between three and 10 microbes to start an infection (more than a million can fit on the head of a pin). Just a few drops of dirty water can really wreck havoc on your kitchen. Washing the food won’t kill bacteria, but cooking your food to the proper temperature will.

If You’re Sick

If you’re fighting the flu or a cold, you should stay out of the kitchen altogether. Give instructions to another family member or consider wearing a mask as you prepare the food. If nothing else, wash your hands more often — especially after you cough or sneeze.

In the Oven

Testing meat for color, touch or until juices run clear is not a good way to tell if food is done. “Testing the internal temperature is the only way to know if it’s cooked to a safe temperature,” says Kowalcyk. She recommends you ditch the dial thermometers and pop-up buttons included with some prepackaged turkeys since both may not be calibrated properly. Instead, use a digital thermometer to test meat at its thickest point and poultry at the joint between the thigh and leg.

The United States Department of Agriculture recommends cooking foods to the following minimum temperatures to ensure safe consumption:

  • Beef, Pork, Veal & Lamb (steak, chops, roasts): 145 F (62.8 C) and allow to rest for at least 3 minutes
  • Ground meats: 160 F (71.1 C)
  • Ham, fresh or smoked (uncooked): 145 F (62.8 C) and allow to rest for at least 3 minutes
  • Fully Cooked Ham (to reheat): Reheat cooked hams packaged in USDA-inspected plants to 140 F (60 C) and all others to 165 F (73.9 C)
  • All Poultry (breasts, whole bird, legs, thighs, and wings, ground poultry, and stuffing): 165 F (73.9 C)
  • Eggs: 160 F (71.1 C)
  • Fish & Shellfish: 145 F (62.8 C)
  • Leftovers: 165 F (73.9 C)
  • Casseroles: 165 F (73.9 C)

click here to access a printable version of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Safe Minimum Internal Temperature Chart

At the Table

Don’t let food sit out for more than two hours. This includes the time it may be on the counter or table before you serve it. Keep hot foods hot in the oven and cold foods cold in the refrigerator. “Don’t let your foods get to room temperature,” says Kowalcyk. “That’s where bacteria likes to grow. And the longer it sits out, the more you increase your risk of getting sick.”

After the Meal

Transfer warm leftovers to shallow dishes so they’ll cool down evenly and quickly in the fridge. Also keep in mind that the temperature increases in an overstuffed fridge, so you may need to adjust yours for a few days after a big meal to make sure it stays at a safe 40 F.

The Next Day

Everyone loves leftovers, but not everyone should reach for the cold turkey. Those vulnerable to illness — young children, pregnant women and people with chronic conditions — should reheat leftovers to 165 F before eating them. “Most people will be OK, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry,” says Kowalcyk.

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Editor’s Note: This post first appeared on Pediatric Safety in November of 2010. The chart has been updated to include the most current information available on the minimum safe internal temperatures for food. If you’re preparing dinner for guests, print a copy and keep it handy. Wishing all of our readers a happy and healthy Thanksgiving!

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