Beyond Carnism by Melanie Joy

Beyond Carnism by Melanie Joy

Carnism TEDx Talk by Melanie Joy

On this blog, I generally focus on health and the science around health and diet for kids.  I believe we can change the world by changing the foods we feed our kids.  Not only can we ensure that the next generation faces lifelong good health, but in doing so we can also help them grow up to face the world with joy.  Part of the joy that comes from eating a healthy diet comes from the attendant good values that come with it.  So it is that I wanted to share with you all this TEDx talk by Melanie Joy.

Melanie Joy, Ph.D., Ed.M. is a Harvard-educated psychologist, professor of psychology and sociology at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, a celebrated speaker, and the author of the award-winning book Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows. Melanie is the eighth recipient of the Institute of Jainology’s Ahimsa Award, which was previously awarded to Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama. Her work has been featured by numerous national and international media outlets, including the BBC, Germany’s ARD, ABC Australia, the New York Times, and Spiegel Online. Melanie has given her acclaimed carnism presentation on five continents, and she is also the founder and president of the project Karnismus erkennen and of Carnism Awareness & Action Network.

 

What is Carnism?

Carnism is the name Melanie Joy has given to the belief system that justifies human consumption of animal flesh.  This is the belief system most of us have grown up in, which conditions us to think of it as okay, as “normal, natural, and necessary” behavior.  And yet, most of us think it is perfectly acceptable to eat a pig or a cow but not our pet dog or cat.  So we do not think it is normal to eat any and every animal, just certain ones.  Why?

Carnism and Health

The consumption of animals is incontrovertibly detrimental to our health and wellbeing.  For children, whose bodies are growing at a rapid rate, it is even more important to eat a healthy diet as the foundation for their futures.  Feeding our children meat hurts them.  In the words of Melanie Joy:

We pay for our carnism with our health, as eating an animal based diet can lead to serious disease, while eating a plant-based or vegan diet can optimize health.

It is for this reason that I think you will all benefit from watching this video.  Older children and teenagers can also benefit.  Watch it and then have a discussion about what you have seen – your children may have some very interesting insights!  (Please be advised that there are some graphic images in this video that may be unsuitable for younger viewers.)

Beyond carnism and toward rational, authentic food choices by Melanie Joy at TEDxMünchen

Visit Melanie Joy’s Beyond Carnism website to learn more

The Banting Diet: Dangerous for Kids

The Banting Diet: Dangerous for Kids

In my last post, we looked at if the Banting Diet is safe for children.  It most certainly is not a safe diet for kids.  Youths, who are still growing and developing, are especially sensitive to changes in diet.  A healthy diet can do them an enormous amount of good and an unhealthy diet can do a tremendous amount of damage.  The Banting Diet is downright dangerous for children and teens.

Dangerous for Children and Teens

Actually, low carb diets can be dangerous for anyone.  Cutting out an entire nutrient group is not ideal to the human condition.  But children are especially sensitive, as they are growing and developing.  In fact, it could actually be downright dangerous.  Dr. Fuhrman, a well-known medical doctor, points out on his blog just how dangerous low-carb diets can be for kids:

Most recently, a sixteen-year-old girl who had no history of medical problems died after two weeks on the Atkins diet. When the paramedics arrived, she was pulse-less, and the electrocardiogram revealed ventricular fibrillation (a usually fatal loss of normal heart rhythm). Her emergency room evaluation showed electrolyte imbalances that occurred as a result of eating a diet of meat, cheese, and salads for two weeks. She was doing the diet together with her mother.

Of course most cases won’t be this extreme!  But the fact is that low carb diets of any kind can be dangerous and a high animal fat diet like the Banting Diet poses even greater risks.  The “low fat” diet that was touted as healthy for so many years has now been shown not to be the fastest way to lose weight, but that doesn’t mean that suddenly switching to the opposite extreme is the best reaction.

Animal fats are saturated fats, which themselves carry lots of disease-causing potential.  Saturated fats “have no double bonds between carbon molecules because they are saturated with hydrogen molecules.”  Their chemical structure means that we digest them differently than unsaturated fats.  This can lead to the development of high cholesterol, which is showing up in younger and younger populations. It is also a major risk factor for heart disease.  Indeed, reducing saturated fats specifically (as opposed to fats overall) is the most effective way to prevent coronary heart disease in women.  The American Heart Association recommends limiting intake of saturated fats to no more than 7% of your diet – well below what the Banting Diet insists on!  It is no coincidence that kids placed on a balanced vegan diet showed drastic improvement and major reductions in their heart disease risk factors.  Those kids were eating basically the exact opposite of the Banting Diet!

Bear in mind that the Banting Diet is doing more than just restricting carbohydrates and promoting animal fat consumption, the dangers of which we have already discussed.  The Banting Diet is also restricting the intake of other foods, too.  The whole long list can be found here.  We’re not just looking at a diet that cuts out wheat, like in a gluten-free diet.  This is a diet where corn, peas, agave, and any kind of fruit juice is absolutely forbidden.  Fruits are also on a highly restricted list, so you can have them, but only in small amounts.  For example, three small figs or one small banana is all the fruit you’re allowed each day.  Notice I said ‘or’ – not ‘and.’  This is not much fruit for a child, who needs that nutrition to thrive.

Children need a balanced diet in order to get all of the vitamins and minerals they need for their bodies to develop.  Lacking enough of certain nutrients can have long term effects even beyond what science can currently fathom.

What Do You Want For Your Children?

After reading all of this, what do you want for your children?  Hopefully you want to provide them with a balanced, healthy diet.  Hopefully your goal is to reduce their disease risks and give them the foundation they need to grow and develop optimally.  Doing so will help them live a healthier life, regardless of what choices they make later in life.

The Banting Diet is dangerous for adults and doubly so for children.  Tamzyn Campbell may be a nutritionist, but just having a piece of paper with your name on it does not mean you are always right.  Similarly, not having a piece of paper with your name on it does not mean you are wrong.  I hope I have made a strong case here for why Tamzyn Campbell, nutritionist though she may be, is wrong, dreadfully wrong, and therefore dangerous.

But you don’t have to take my word for it.  Here are the words of Dr. Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr., M.D. (whose father is one of my top nutrition idols):

One of the best examples of the low carb misconception is the Atkins program and Paleo both of which emphasize  meat which is so deleterious  to health.  And certainly not for children.

You are right to be alarmed about the Banting Diet……for anyone, especially children.

Do what is right for your children and choose a healthy plant-based diet.

The Banting Diet: Is It Safe For Kids?

The Banting Diet: Is It Safe For Kids?

This week an article came out touting the Banting Diet for children, starting from the age of 6 months.  The Banting Diet is yet another trendy Low Carb, High Fat (LCHF) diet, emphasizing eating lots and lots of animal fat.  The nutritionist in the article claims this is a healthy diet for kids – but is she right? Is the Banting Diet really safe for kids?

What is the Banting Diet?

The Banting Diet is a Low Carb High Fat (LCHF) diet.  It is similar to other carbohydrate-restricting diets in that most carbs are forbidden but it is different from diets like Atkins because instead of emphasizing eating lots of protein, the Banting Diet emphasizes eating lots of fat, particularly animal fats.

In fact, the number one rule of the Banting Diet is to eat a lot of animal fat.  Eating lots of animal fat is the number one solution on the Banting Diet.  Hungry? Eat more animal fat!  Getting the urge to snack (snacking is strictly forbidden)?  Eat more animal fat!  If you’re on the Banting Diet you might as well make eating more animal fat your mantra.

The other half of the Banting Diet focuses on reducing your carbohydrate intake and replacing calories with fat.  Skip the milk and go for the cream; double cream is even better.  Even too much dairy is disallowed because it contains too many carbohydrates.  Instead, go straight for the butter, as much as you want.  Avoid carbs if at all possible, including disguised carbs like quinoa, peanuts, legumes, and beans. Starchy vegetables are also a no-no. Also avoid having too much fruit and too many nuts because they also have carbs and sugars.

Finally, the Banting Diet tries hard to distinguish itself from Low Carb High Protein diets like the Atkins diet by emphasizing that you are not to have too much protein.  In fact, you should choose the smaller protein portion if you eat out.  Choose the fattiest cut of meat you can.  And eat ALL the fat.

Is the Banting Diet Safe for Kids?

In a recent article, nutritionist Tamzyn Campbell claims the Banting Diet can benefit children by reducing obesity.  She claims it can even be started as young as six months, with severe carb restrictions waiting until six years.  But is she right?  Is it really healthy to feed a baby or even a child a diet overwhelmingly high in animal fats, with little to no grains and very little fruit, nuts, and protein?

Let’s consider first what experts say about the nutritional needs of children.  Children are growing and developing at a very rapid pace, in ways that adults are not.  Not only are children physically developing and growing quickly, but their brains are also growing and developing, with new brain cells growing and new synaptic connections being forged every day.  The way that children develop now, in their youth, will dramatically impact their health in the future, for the rest of their lives, including their mental and emotional health in addition to their physical health.

In order to achieve this rapid level of growth, children need to take in very high levels of vitamins and minerals, nutrients they need to grow and develop.  Their nutritional needs are different from that of adults and diets that severely restrict one major food group (carbohydrates), no matter what the source, are creating a danger for kids’ health.  A vegan diet, for instance, might omit animal sources of protein, but vegetable sources of protein are still permitted and encouraged.  The Banting Diet, on the other hand, emphasizes a very specific source of one food group (fats, from animals only – the Banting Diet goes so far as to claim that seed oils are toxic) with the exclusion of another entire food group (carbohydrates).  This will necessarily have an effect on growth and development.  Jim Bell, president of the International Fitness Professionals Association notes that:

[I]n children going through a development process, there can be permanent inhibition in their reaching full genetic potential when an entire group of macronutrients is eliminated from the diet. It doesn’t matter if it is fat, protein, or carbohydrates, it’s just not healthy.

But you don’t have to take my word for it.  Joan Carter, a Registered Dietician at the Children’s Nutrition Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine emphasizes the differing dietary needs of kids:

Low-carb diets are not a good choice for kids because children are nutritionally different than adults, and these diets are restrictive in many of the nutrients they need.  Growing children need more calcium than adults, and their tissues need vitamins and minerals that come from fruits, vegetables, and grains. With diets that restrict these and other important nutrients, it shortchanges kids in a way that can affect their growth and development.

Children also have much higher energy needs than adults.  Not only are kids using energy to run amok with their friends and tear your house apart like whirling dervishes, they’re using that energy to grow and to learn.  Over 20% of our calories are used to fuel the brain.  Restricting carbohydrates, the body’s most ideal source of energy, certainly will not help your child to learn.

Carbohydrates are fuel for the body and they encourage ideal performance.  Jim Bell, president of the International Fitness Professionals Association, points out that “carbohydrate loading is used by endurance athletes for a good reason — it gives their bodies an extra storage of fuel so their performance increases dramatically.  In full-grown adults, we know that restricting carbohydrates cuts down on athletic performance and endurance.”  So, too, with children.  Kids need carbohydrates in order to run around and get exercise, something we as parents should be encouraging them to do.  (If your child isn’t getting enough exercise, just putting them on a low-carb diet won’t solve all their problems.  Get them away from the screens and outside with their friends!)

While fat is an essential nutrient like salt, your kids don’t need very much of it.  Fat adds calories, but it’s not the optimum fuel for your tank.  It’s kind of like putting ethanol in a car designed to run on petrol – the car will probably still run, but it won’t be very efficient and it will damage the engine.  A small amount of ethanol mixed into the petrol can be a good thing, but only ethanol?  Not ideal.  So too with fat in kids’ bodies.

Carbohydrates are the ideal fuel for a child’s growing body and they come together with lots of nutrients kids need. Is fruit high in sugar? Sure! But fresh fruit also has enzymes, minerals, and vitamins kids need.  So too with healthy whole grains and vegetarian sources of protein like beans, legumes, nuts, and pseudo-grains like quinoa.

So what happens when the body isn’t getting carbohydrates as fuel?  Essentially the body begins to think it’s starving and in starvation mode it doesn’t work optimally.  The body breaks down fat for fuel, but in the process it creates what are called ketones, which are not good for kids and can actually impair their ability to learn.

Dr. Bruce Rengers, an assistant professor of nutrition and dietetics at Saint Louis University, explains why this is.  He points out that “ketones have a dulling effect on the brain.”  This is because ketones reduce glucose uptake by brain cells – in effect ketones keep the brain functioning, but at a reduced level from what it should be.  Joan Carter, RD notes, “Essentially, this quasi-starvation mode is not good for alertness, and it’s certainly not good for children.”  She’s right – how could a diet like this possibly be good for children?!

Gastroenteritis: What to Feed Sick Kids

Gastroenteritis: What to Feed Sick Kids

Gastroenteritis, or “gastro” as it is more commonly known, is a frequent visitor in most homes with children.  Young children in particular, who may share toys with little friends and put objects and hands in their mouths without washing them, are notorious for spreading this disease.  I should know: I have two little monsters spreading germs and, with my sensitive stomach, they never fail to share with me.  Which is exactly what they have done yet again.  Now that I’m down with this dreaded yet common disease, it prompted me to ask: When your kids come down with gastroenteritis, what should you give them to eat and drink?

What is Gastroenteritis, or “Gastro”?

Gastroenteritis is an infection of the gastrointestinal system, which is also known as the alimentary canal.  The alimentary canal begins with your mouth and throat, then proceeds through your stomach, intestines, and bowels.  Gastroenteritis can be caused by many different bacteria and viruses, so children can get gastro multiple times.  It can last as little as 24 hours or as long as 10 days.

The most common symptom of gastroenteritis in children is diarrhea, or watery stool.  Kids may also experience stomachache, cramping, or even vomiting.  Fortunately, the vomiting phase usually lasts only a short time, even if the diarrhea persists for a few days.

Gastroenteritis can be dangerous for babies.  If you have any concerns for your child’s health, please bring them to the doctor!  Especially look out for symptoms of dehydration, including a lack of urination (wet nappies/diapers), has a dry mouth/tongue, has sunken eyes, has unusually cold hands/feet, or is exceptionally sleepy.

Accordingly…

Children with Gastroenteritis Need to Drink!

This is essential no matter what the age of the child.  Children who are vomiting should drink clear fluids even if they are going to vomit them up again.  Vomiting on an empty stomach is awful and is not good for your kids (on an empty stomach, stomach acids or bile can still come up, which are not good for the lining of the throat).  All children should be given a drink of water immediately after they vomit, to wash acids out of the throat, to rehydrate, and also to put something back in their stomachs.  After that, kids should be offered a small drink (a sip or a mouthful) every 15 minutes or so to rehydrate and to see if they are able to keep fluids down.

What Should Kids with Gastroenteritis Drink?

When I was a kid, my mom always told me that ginger ale or another carbonated beverage would help settle my stomach.   To tell you the truth, it still works for me to this day!  But this is actually purely psychological – experts now tell us that carbonated beverages and soft drinks are actually not good for anyone (adults included) who has gastroenteritis!

So here is what to give your kids:

  • Water.  Water is the best prevention for dehydration.  However, kids also need electrolyte replacement to avoid dehydration, so you should also give:
  • Oral rehydration products, such as Pedialyte, that you can get from your local pharmacist/chemist – prepare them according to package instructions.
  • Sucrose solution.  Mix 1 teaspoon of maple syrup or honey in 1 cup of water.
  • All natural fruit juice.  Best if freshly juiced to retain all the enzymes!  Mix 1 part fruit juice to 4 parts water.
  • Cordial.  I use a homemade rosehip cordial for this – I do not buy the processed, packaged stuff.  My rosehip cordial is nothing but rosehip syrup with honey and a bit of agave nectar.  Rosehip cordial is also good because rosehips help soothe stomach pains.  Mix 1 part cordial to 16 parts water.
  • Weak herbal infusion of ginger, as ginger reduces nausea; peppermint, which also reduces nausea; or chamomile, which soothes the bowels.

Here is what not to give your kids to drink when they have gastroenteritis:

  • Soft drinks or carbonated beverages (sorry, Mom!).
  • Sweetened fruit juices (even with concentrate) or fruit drinks.
  • Sports drinks such as Gatorade.
  • Caffeinated beverages (such as black tea).
  • Alcoholic beverages (but you shouldn’t be giving your kids these anyway…).
  • Broth, even clear broth.

Babies with Gastroenteritis

When babies get gastroenteritis it is very dangerous.  Fortunately, there is now a rotavirus vaccine, which has dramatically reduced the number of cases.  Vaccinations for rotavirus are administered (in Australia) begin administration at 2 months of age, so please get your baby vaccinated as soon as he/she is able, especially when there are so many irresponsible parents about failing to vaccinate their children.  Remember, gastroenteritis can be fatal, especially for vulnerable babies.  Gastroenteritis kills 1.4 million people every year*, half of which are children under the age of 5!** If your baby gets gastroenteritis monitor them very closely or take them to the doctor.

Babies who are breastfeeding should still be offered the breast as much as they desire.  If you are exclusively breastfeeding and your sick baby will not take a bottle with some additional water to counteract fluid loss after vomiting, ensure your baby is latching on properly and actively sucking.  Offer them the breast frequently and for as long as they want, especially following every vomit.  Monitor them carefully and contact a doctor immediately in the event of any concern, as it is impossible to measure exactly how much milk they have consumed from the breast.  A good way to tell if your baby is adequately hydrated is to check that they have wet their nappy/diaper as frequently as normal.

Babies who are bottle-fed should be given the clear fluids listed above for the first 12 hours, taking care to check that the baby drinks after every vomit and is offered small amounts of liquid frequently thereafter to prevent dehydration.  (To administer small, mouthful sized amounts, I find a syringe very useful.)  After 12 hours reintroduce their standard formula, but offer it at first in smaller amounts and more frequently.

Should Kids with Gastroenteritis Eat?

Conventional thinking was that kids with gastroenteritis should not eat, should eat very little, or should otherwise be restricted.  But now experts have stopped this thinking.  Today, experts advise that if your child wants to eat, they can eat.

This actually makes really good sense, if you think about it.  Eating food starts up peristaltic contractions in the intestines, forcing digesting food through the bowels and “moving things along,” so to speak.

This does not mean you should force food upon your child!  If your child refuses food, this is perfectly normal.  But if your child does want to eat, you should allow them to eat.  If you are concerned about vomiting, you can give them food more frequently in smaller amounts.

What Should Kids with Gastroenteritis Eat?

Just because kids with gastroenteritis can eat as they normally want to, does not mean all foods are created equal.  If your child is vomiting, trust me when I say you don’t want to feed them dairy!  If you have never had to smell milk vomit, just ask my mother and she will expound on how much you never, ever want to.

When I was a kid (and even today when I get sick as an adult), my mom invariably puts me on the BRAT diet (bananas, rice, applesauce, toast).  Basically, the BRAT diet consists of bland foods, like plain rice or plain pasta.  The idea behind the BRAT diet is that bland foods cannot irritate the digestive tract.  However, today the BRAT diet is no longer recommended because it lacks the nutritional value to help the gastrointestinal system recover.  Children who have gastroenteritis should be able to resume eating a healthy, balanced diet within 24 hours of coming down with gastro.

Nevertheless, there are still some foods to avoid.  You want to make sure your child is getting fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains packed with nutrients.

Here are some foods to avoid if your child has gastroenteritis:

  • High-salt canned or packaged soups (homemade low-sodium soups are fine)
  • Fried or otherwise high-fat foods (e.g., potato chips, french fries, pastries, etc.)
  • Ice cream, sherbet, popsicles, and jelly (Jello)
  • Dried, dehydrated, or freeze-dried fruits and vegetables (these require extra water to digest and are not ideal when you are trying to prevent dehydration)
  • Fruits canned in syrup (too high in sugar – but kids should not eat this anyway!)
  • Spicy foods (spicy food can irritate the gut)
  • High-sugar foods, such as sugary cereals, candy, and chocolate

Prevention is the Best!

The best strategy for dealing with gastroenteritis is simple avoidance of spreading it in the first place!  Keep your children home from day care or creche and do not bring them to play dates so they do not spread it to other children.  Everyone in the family should wash their hands regularly, especially after going to the toilet or before eating, including children.  Remember to wash your hands well after changing nappies/diapers and before feeding babies.

Conclusion

The conventional thinking we grew up with is done!   We now know that it is okay to let kids eat when they have gastroenteritis.  Not only can they eat, but they can even eat a normal, healthy, balanced diet.  Kids today do not need their food restricted, nor do they have to eat just a bland diet when they get sick.  I hope you will find this guide helpful the next time a child you know gets gastroenteritis!

*Lozano, R (Dec 15, 2012). “Global and regional mortality from 235 causes of death for 20 age groups in 1990 and 2010: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2010.”. Lancet 380 (9859): 2095–128. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(12)61728-0. PMID 23245604.

**Walker, CL; Rudan, I; Liu, L; Nair, H; Theodoratou, E; Bhutta, ZA; O’Brien, KL; Campbell, H; Black, RE (Apr 20, 2013). “Global burden of childhood pneumonia and diarrhoea.”. Lancet 381(9875): 1405–16. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(13)60222-6.PMID 23582727.

Diabetes: How Kids Can Eat Healthy

Diabetes: How Kids Can Eat Healthy

My brother has diabetes.  He developed it when he was just 7 years old, so it dominated his childhood and my teenage years.  It had major impacts on our family.  For families with a diabetic child, it can cause major changes in the family diet.  Here are some ways to eat healthy with diabetes:

Types of Diabetes

There are two types of diabetes.  Type 1 diabetes (which used to be known as juvenile onset diabetes) is when the pancreas simply stops producing insulin.  There is no cure for Type 1 diabetes and diabetics with this form of the disease have to take insulin injections for the rest of their lives (or until a cure is found).  Diet and insulin injections are the best way to manage Type 1 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes used to be known as adult onset diabetes because it is strongly associated with obesity and used to occur predominantly in older adults.  Not so today.  With so many children today overweight and so many children consuming high sugar foods and refined carbohydrates that spike blood sugars, Type 2 diabetes is now increasingly common among children and can no longer be called “adult onset diabetes.”  With Type 2 diabetes, the pancreas still produces insulin but the body doesn’t regulate it well.  Type 2 diabetes is not as stark as Type 1 diabetes.  Indeed, it is more of a continuum.  Some people have Type 2 diabetes so mildly that it can be managed entirely by dietary modifications.  People who have a more severe form can take medication and people who have a very severe form need insulin injections like Type 1 diabetics do.

No matter how severe the diabetes or what Type, diet is a crucial part of any management program.  Of course you should consult you’re doctor before embarking on a particular dietary program, as I am not a doctor, nor have I even played one on TV (although I was once on an episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent, which is fitting because I am actually a lawyer haha!).  My advice regarding diet for diabetics is meant to be practical and helpful, not the be all and end all of diabetes dietary requirements!!

Impact of diet on diabetes

Diet can have an enormous impact on diabetes.  Insulin is a hormone our bodies produce that regulates blood sugar levels.  Blood sugar levels that are too high or too low can cause serious illness, coma, and even death, so managing diabetes effectively is really important.  Unfortunately, much of the food kids eat today is processed and full of sugar (it is hidden in all sorts of things you wouldn’t expect).  Kids also eat a lot of refined carbohydrates, such as white rice, white flour, and white potatoes – I like to say, “White flour, white potatoes, and white rice: If it’s white, it isn’t nice!”  Carbohydrates are converted into sugars by the body so it can use them as fuel, but refined carbohydrates are converted into sugars very quickly and simply, so they flood the system.  Think about it: eat one serving of white bread and compare how long you feel full to when you eat one serving of whole grain steel cut oatmeal.

In fact, in cases of Type 2 diabetes diet can even reverse diabetes entirely, just as diet can reverse obesity.  This has been tested in animals and also shown in scientific peer-reviewed studies to work in humans (especially effective if exercise is included).  This works because a healthy diet reduces obesity and heart disease risk factors – even in children.

Diets for Diabetic Kids

The Internet is full of different diets to help reduce or reverse diabetes.  As an adult, you can afford to buy into the starvation diet, but even if it is endorsed by a reputable university’s biomedical department, a starvation diet can be dangerous for children, whose bodies are still developing.  Do not starve your children!

However, the concept still works for kids.  Other studies (see above) show that reducing calorie intake can slow, stop, or even reverse diabetes development.  This is because reducing caloric intake has a twofold benefit for diabetics.  Firstly, if done in a healthy and balanced way, it normalizes blood sugar, avoiding blood sugar spikes and making blood sugar regulation easier on the body.  Secondly, it reduces weight and reducing obesity reduces the incidence of diabetes.

Another demonstrated dietary fact is that diabetics should reduce fat intake.  In more than one of the studies I cited above, fat and especially fatty liver played a stark role in the development and reversal of diabetes.  This is why the healthy vegan diet kids in the recent heart disease study was so effective in reducing heart disease risk factors in children: It was very low fat.

That said, there are three commonly endorsed diets for diabetics, all of which can be healthfully used by children:

The Plate Method

The Plate Method Diet for DiabeticsThe Plate Method is the diet for diabetics that is currently recommended.  It calls for 50% of the plate to be covered with non-starchy vegetables, 25% with starchy vegetables, and 25% with protein, as well as a serving of fruit and a serving of milk on the side for each lunch and dinner meal.  Of course, the efficacy of any diet like this relies on making good food choices. Non-starchy vegetables such as asparagus or broccoli should be cooked in a healthy way, like steaming, roasting, or stir fry, not doused in sauces and oils.  Not all starchy foods are created equal.  Whole grains like brown or wild rice and quinoa are preferable to refined grains like white rice or white bread.  Starchy vegetables like zucchini, peas, and parsnips are more nutritious than white potatoes (and also have more flavor, reducing the need for additives like butter and oil).  Non-fat protein choices like tofu or seitan will always be better than an animal product even if it is low in fat, due to the way in which the body metabolizes animal fats, and also due to the benefit of fat reduction in diabetic diets.  For children, consider serving the fruit during snack times rather than during meal times, thus eliminating the need for kids to have yet more calories in their diets during the day.  For the milk, I recommend making your own brown rice milk or buying oat or almond milk.  If done properly, this kind of diet is incredibly healthy.

A sample lunch would be:

  • 1 cup brown rice milk
  • Sandwich of whole grain bread, lots of hummus (for protein), and roasted spring vegetables or salad vegetables
  • Side of raw non-starchy vegetables (such as cucumbers, mushrooms, and capsicum) with some more hummus to dip them in.
  • 1/2 cup strawberries for morning snack
  • 1 small banana for afternoon snack

A sample dinner would be:

  • 1 cup brown rice milk
  • Stir fry of non-starchy vegetables like asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, and spinach with tofu over brown and wild rice mix

Diabetic Exchange Diets

There was a time when this method was very popular, but compared to the Plate Method, it seems like a bit of a pain to me.  Foods are divided into six categories: starch, meat (there are no vegan meat substitutes), non-starchy vegetables, fruit, milk, and fats.  Together with a dietician each individual will be given a number of servings to have from each category each day.  This method is easier in a way because it is easier to measure out servings, but it also basically forces adherents to eat a lot of animal protein.  This eliminates the potential benefits of following diets now shown to be effective for weight loss.

Carbohydrate Counting

This method counts each major carbohydrate source as one serving (15 g) of carbohydrate.  The list of carbohydrate sources includes starches, fruits, milk, and sweets.  Of course this does not necessarily lend itself to be the most healthy diet, although it does allow a lot more leniency for kids who won’t take well to being told they cannot have dessert.  That’s because if, say, a cookie counts as one carbohydrate, kids can choose to fill up their carbohydrate quota with unhealthy sources of carbs.  This type of diet requires a lot of parent monitoring because its permissiveness creates a sort of temptation for kids.  It also does not limit sources of other things affecting kids’ diet and weight.  For instance, fat and meat intake are not measured, so a child could eat lots of steak and then carbohydrate count for dessert, which would not be a healthy diet at all.  Of course, a parent who is conscious of their child’s choices and is committed to making good food choices and to dedicating extra time to their child’s diet can make it work.  But carbohydrate counting is definitely the most time consuming of the three methods.

Tips and Advice

  • Feed the whole family the same meals as the diabetic child is eating.  Diabetic children should be eating very healthfully, which will be good for the whole family.  Also, if a child is overweight, it is likely that other family members are also not at their ideal weights and can benefit from a healthy weight loss diet.
  • Don’t starve your kids, but do do portion control.  Don’t allow kids to eat as much as they want.  Overeating is often a contributor to obesity, which can lead to the onset of diabetes.
  • Reduce the amount of packaged and processed foods in your child’s diet.  Even so-called diabetic foods are not necessarily healthy.  Feeding your diabetic child sweets made with artificial sweeteners can cause other health problems.
  • Read nutrition labels.  You may be surprised to see how many carbohydrates are in your favorite foods and snacks.  Be aware that the serving size on a package may not match the serving size of one serving if you are doing an exchange diet.
  • Reduce the amount of fat – fat consumption increases risk of heart disease and diabetics are much more at risk of developing heart disease.
  • Spread meals out during the day.  For instance, breakfast, morning snack, lunch, afternoon snack, and dinner.  This will help keep your child from feeling too hungry and will also help the body metabolize sugars and nutrients more evenly.
  • Get your child active!  Diet can go a long way to reducing obesity and diabetes management, but exercise and burning up of some of that energy is also really important.  This is a good time to get your child involved in an activity that gets them moving, whether that is an organized team sport or just neighborhood games.  My gym even offers classes for kids!  You can also make exercise a family activity – going for walks, family bike rides, or hikes in local nature areas are great ways to bond as a family while increasing the health of everyone in the family!

I hope these tips make it easier to find a healthy diet for your diabetic or pre-diabetic child!  Together, we can manage diabetes and maybe even reverse it!

For More Information:

American Diabetes Association: www.diabetes.org

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: www.eatright.org

National Diabetes Education Program: http://ndep.nih.gov

Supporting Kids’ Food Choices

Supporting Kids’ Food Choices

Our children don’t always want to eat the same way we do.  Of course, many kids today are interested in filling up with junk food, but a lot of kids also go through a vegetarian phase. Parenting forums are filled with moms lamenting that their children are refusing to eat meat, and panicking over how to sneak meat into their diets or otherwise ensure they get enough protein.  As parents, the best thing we can do for our kids is to find ways to be supportive of their food choices.

When kids decide to follow a different path from their parents – whether it is dietary, religious, or political – it is hard as parents not to feel that we have in some way failed them.  It feels like a judgment to have your child refuse the food you always fed them.  Almost as if they are saying you are not a good enough parent and you raised them the wrong way.  Our task as parents is to raise ourselves above this natural inclination and to ask ourselves what is best for our child.

Research has long shown the health benefits of a balanced vegetarian or vegan diet.  A new study also shows major cardiovascular benefits for kids on a vegan diet, which is important because heart disease begins in childhood.  Many people are trying hard to get their kids to eat a more heart healthy diet.  Yet, if it is our children who make the decision to eat a vegetarian or vegan diet, we resist it.  Oh, the ironies of life!

Unfortunately, I know too many kids who become vegetarian and end up eating more junk food and processed, pre-packaged foods.  Today, vegetarian processed foods are widely available, which makes it easy for kids to access them.  Additionally, there is a natural human inclination that when we give one thing up, we should get more of another thing we like to replace it.  Kids who give up their steaks and fried chicken legs might feel justified in downing some extra potato chips.  But when this happens on a regular basis, it adds up to some pretty unhealthy eating.

As parents, we need to be supportive of kids’ dietary changes, even if we disapprove.  The problem is that if we are not, then our kids will not be able to make the healthiest choices within their range of options.  Vegetarian and vegan kids whose parents are unwilling to cook separate food for them end up replacing meat with canned or instant foods, or junk foods, which are high in sodium and sugar.

On a personal level, I have known in my lifetime far too many kids who gained weight and became much less healthy on a vegetarian diet.  When I spoke to them about it, I found they were carbohydrate loading.  Pasta and bread were their main foods.  Junk foods and other high-calorie convenience foods were also way up there in their list of things to eat.  Remember, potato chips and deep fried french fries are vegan and pizza and lasagna are vegetarian.  While these foods can be delicious treats, they should be “once in a while” foods, not everyday foods.  When I saw vegetarian kids gaining weight, I found they were eating these foods frequently, and were eating far too many calories (especially from fats and carbohydrates) overall.

As parents, it is our job to combat this behavior: Not by denying our kids the freedom to make some dietary decisions.  Not by forcing our kids to eat foods they don’t want to.  But by helping them make healthy food choices within reasonable parameters.

Here are some quick tips for busy parents whose kids want to eat a vegetarian or vegan diet:

  • Find healthy alternatives to bread, pasta, potatoes, and rice.  Quinoa is my favorite, but oats (especially steel-cut) are fantastic for breakfast (even pancakes!) and potatoes can be replaced with more nutritious root vegetables, like sweet potatoes or turnips.
  • Make sure all grains are whole grains.  Whole wheat bread, whole wheat pasta, and brown rice are all much more nutritious than white, refined carbohydrates.
  • Make beans! Beans are a great source of protein, fiber, and lots of other vitamins and minerals.  Don’t buy the canned kind – buy dry beans.  They won’t have any added sodium and they are much cheaper.  Soak them overnight, then boil them.  Do a big batch and keep them in the fridge.  Beans are incredibly versatile and can fill in as a meat substitute for many kinds of meals.  There are lots of kinds of sauce you can put on them, you can add them to eggs or other cooked dishes, and you can also puree them to make a spread for bread or a dip for vegetables.  As a bonus, there are many different kinds of beans, each with a slightly different flavor and texture, so you can offer your child some variety.
  • Make smoothies.   It’s easy to toss some fruit in a blender for a quick meal or snack.  For a vegetarian meal on the go, add some milk (or rice milk) and some nut butter for added bulk and protein.  For a snack, make it lighter, by adding only fruit and some ice.
  • Provide healthy snacks.  Healthy crackers or muffins are easy to grab on the go.  Even sweets like cookies and cakes can be healthy treats if they’re made right.  Providing the kinds of snacks you want your kids to have available makes it less likely they’ll grab a bag of chips when they’re out.  Package snacks in small, disposable snack size bags (I use biodegradable ones, which are now very good quality) and you make it even easier for kids to grab and go.  (I prefer to use reusable containers, but for many kids on the go this will be a deterrent, as they will now have another item they need to remember to bring home, even after they’ve finished their snacks.)
  • Use juice pulp.  Making fruit or vegetable juice is a great, healthy addition to any diet, but don’t throw away that pulp.  Many vegan and vegetarian kids are eating pasta and bread until they are full, whereas heavier proteins can make you feel fuller.  Help kids feel fuller, faster, by giving them some extra fiber in their diets.  Add fruit juice pulp to muffins and oatmeal.  Use vegetable juice pulp to make pasta sauce, burgers, and crackers.
  • If you can’t beat them, join them.   Try making all-vegetarian meals a few times a week.  You might find you enjoy them, too.  By including kids in family meals, they are more likely to eat a healthy diet.

I hope these tips help ease the adjustment when you have a child who decides not to eat meat anymore!

If you have other tips, please share them below!

Trick Your Kids Into Eating Healthy At Home

Trick Your Kids Into Eating Healthy At Home

Yesterday, we considered some clever psychological ways to trick our kids (and possibly ourselves) into eating healthier when out of the house.  But a lot of the food our kids eat is in fact eaten at home.  Fortunately, there are lots of ways to trick our kids into eating less and eating healthier at home, beginning with the way we do our grocery shopping, and continuing on to the way we serve (and even market) our homemade meals.  Bon apetite!

In the Store

Going food shopping?  We all know it’s a bad idea to go to the grocery store when we’re hungry – it encourages impulse buying, especially of convenience food items.  Shopping hungry doesn’t necessarily make us buy more, it makes us buy worse… and that unhealthy food will feed our families for the next week.

Another grocery shopping trick to still those cravings is to chew gum, especially mint flavor.  Chewing gum tricks your body into thinking its eating and, as your stomach expectantly waits for its (nonexistent) food delivery, you will be able to do your grocery shopping uninhibited.  People who chew gum while shopping buy 7% less junk food.

Begin your shopping trip in the produce section.  Spend some time there.  Browse the vegetables and, if your kids are with you, talk to them about them.  Spend at least 10 minutes there – shoppers who spend this long in the produce section tend to buy more produce than shoppers who rush through… and fresh produce is the healthiest thing you can buy in the entire grocery store, really!

Don’t be afraid to “cheat.”  Who cares what people thing when they see you buying bagged salad?!  They may think you’re lazy, but do it anyway.  We’re all busy mums and bagged, pre-washed salads make it so much easier to serve salad for dinner.  Today, you can buy bags of just greens, but more and more grocery stores are offering complete pre-mixed options that come with other veggies already mixed in, or in separate packets in the bag.  Heck, I’ve even been know to cheat by buying the bagged Asian salad mix – and dumping it into the pan for a quick stir-fry.  If bagged salad means you’re more likely to serve salad for dinner, do it!!!!!  As parents, we tend to feel like better parents if we’re serving our kids fresh vegetables, so why not skip some steps and take credit for being a good parent?  Serve them bagged salad or steamed frozen veggies and feel proud while you do it!

Smart shoppers looking to save money will often buy the economy size, so save yourself some money and buy all means get the healthy option in the biggest size available!  But don’t leave it that way when you get home – subdivide them immediately.  Today you can buy special reusable cereal containers that even come in half sizes.  I have a whole pantry full of them and I use them for everything, from muesli to rice.   Seeing the smaller container when serving will encourage kids to take less.

At Home

Get organized!  People eat less when their kitchens are clean and organized, possibly because it sucks to make food when you know you’ll be messing up a clean, shiny countertop.  The same principle applies to other places where you tend to sit and eat, like at your desk at work.  People surrounded by clutter eat 44% more snacks.  And no matter how organized or nice it looks to leave certain food items sitting on the counter, put them away – studies show that people who leave containers of cereal (even super healthy cereal) sitting on the counters weigh on average 21 pounds (10 kg) more than people who hide their cereal in the pantry.

What kinds of dishes and utensils are you using?  Next time you’re looking to upgrade, don’t go with the fancy plates that match the food you’re serving, unless perhaps you’re serving kale on a dark green plate.  People consume 18% more food when they are eating off a plate that matches, so try to choose contrasting colors. And of course there is the age-old trick of using a smaller plate.  Most people have heard about this one already – it’s logically satisfying, since you can’t eat as much if you can’t fit as much on your plate.  Use a smaller plate, eat 22% less.

As for your cutlery?  Go with a bigger fork.  It may be tempting to serve kids with small salad forks rather than the big adult forks, but it’s time to give your kids a promotion to adult status, at least in this regard.  One study found that people who used larger forks ate on average 3.5 ounces less per meal than people who used smaller forks.  That’s because our brains take visual cues to determine how much we have eaten – our stomachs are just too slow to respond.  Seeing bigger bites tricks our brains into thinking we’ve consumed more, while seeing smaller bites makes us think we’ve consumed less.

Don’t stop there – think about what kind of glasses you are using to serve drinks.  Experiments have mainly focused on alcoholic beverages like wine, but it stands to reason that a kid’s equivalent of wine would probably be some sort of juice, soda, or other soft drink.   Soft drinks are a huge portion of calorie consumption by today’s children, so why not trick your kids into drinking less?  People drink 92% of what they pour for themselves, so the amount put in the glass really matters.  Pouring into tall, thin glasses, rather than short, fat ones, encourages people to pour in less, and thus consume less.  Of course, if all your glasses are short fat ones, you can just avoid the whole issue by serving only water at meals, which is what I do.

Keep healthy food around and visible, especially during mealtimes.  Placing a bowl of apples in front of the shelf of potato chips may seem like a hopeless and obvious attempt to get your kids to snack on the right foods, but it actually works.  Kids who are presented with healthy food staring at them when they make food choices are more likely to eat healthier overall during that meal.  Whether it’s guilt, shame, or subconscious influence, I don’t know, but it does work.  Of course, you could just remove the potato chips and replace them with apples completely… but how many of us have that much willpower?

How do you serve meals to your family? I’ve never been a fan of “plating” each dish – in my experience, this leads to a lot of food waste and grumbling because not everybody wants precisely one serving of every thing. Growing up, dishes were all placed on the table and each member of the family took as much of each as they wanted.  Lately, I’ve been lazy and I often serve meals directly from the stovetop in a “get it yourself” kind of manner.  Which of these three methods is best?  Well, studies show that serving yourself from the stovetop rather than family-style at the table results in eating 19% less, so if you are aiming to reduce the amount your kids are eating, go ahead – tell them to get it themselves!

Name the food you serve.  Yes, I know, most foods already have names, but are they names that mean something to kids?  “Green Bean Almondine” may sound elegant to adults (and it has a nice rhyme factor) but it is meaningless to a five-year-old.   To encourage kids to choose to eat the healthier foods you are offering, rename them with names that are cool for kids.  “X-Ray Vision Carrots,” “Popeye’s Super Strong Spinach” and “Silly String String Beans” will sound fun to kids and studies show they’ll eat more of them.

Finally, if you’re not above misleading (or blatantly lying) to your kids, try telling them their meal is less healthy than it actually is.  People who think they are eating fattening, filling, and high calorie foods fill up faster and feel more satisfied, leading them to eat less than if they think they’re eating the diet version.  By all means, serve your kids the healthy stuff… just don’t let them know.

Conclusion

If you employ these tips and tricks you will find your kids are eating far less.  Maybe not the more than 60% less that each of the “at home” tricks listed above add up to, but then again… maybe!  I think it all depends on your starting point.  But if your child has a weight problem or you think he/she is eating too much, these tricks are a completely painless way to persuade them to eat less, without ever needing to tell them you want them to eat less.  So go ahead, serve that rice on a red plate and that pasta with tomato sauce on a white plate – a small one – from the stovetop.  And make sure there’s a big bowl of salad on the table while your kids are eating.  Then, just have patience and wait for the results.

Go ahead, shamelessly trick your kids into eating healthier.

Slim by Design

Go ahead, shamelessly trick your kids into eating healthier.

*Many of these statistics have come from the research of Brian Wansink, who is a food psychologist and the director of the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab.  You can read more about tips and tricks for psychological food mind games in his new book, Slim by Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life.

 

 

Trick Your Kids Into Eating Healthy Away From Home

Trick Your Kids Into Eating Healthy Away From Home

If getting your kids to eat healthy food or choose healthy food options is a regular struggle, maybe you’re going about it the wrong way.  Most kids will be happy to learn to eat healthy foods using the techniques I have previously suggested (here, here, here, and here), but some kids really make it a struggle.  What if there was a way to get them used to eating healthier foods without fighting? If only there was some way to trick them into eating healthier.

The idea of tricking kids into eating healthy food may seem disingenuous, but it doesn’t have to be. The idea of tricking kids into eating veggies often means hiding veggies in cake, lying about the contents of a dish, or giving kids green juice in an opaque bottle.  I’m not opposed to disguising the color of an item or hiding vegetables in a food kids already enjoy, but outright lying is only going to damage your child’s trust.  If we want kids to value what we have to say and to really take on board the lessons we are trying to teach them, we have to maintain a high level of trust.

But we can still trick them into eating healthier.

There is a lot of research out there about how different psychological factors impact how much and what we choose to eat.  If we have concerns about obesity, we can start by reducing the amount of food our kids eat, and we can do it all without their even knowing.  We can do it by using psychological tricks.

In a Restaurant

Americans eat 43% of their food away from home, so it is good to have a few tricks up your sleeve when it comes to eating out.

Where are you eating out?  Most restaurants offer a range of healthy and unhealthy foods, so just picking a “healthier” restaurant may not be enough.  Consider the atmosphere and mood of the restaurant.  Sound and lighting can actually influence what we eat.  A restaurant with dim lighting and loud music will encourage you to eat more calories.  Also consider that certain types of music will enhance your dining experience.  Higher pitched music makes sweet food taste better while deeper notes improve the taste of bitter flavors, so if you’re trying to stick to an enjoyable savory meal and avoid the dessert, find a restaurant that tends to play deep orchestral music, rather than one with a piano in the corner.

Choose the right seat.  In a conventional restaurant, select a spot near a window, which increases the likelihood of ordering salad by 80%.  Avoid dark corner booths where nobody can see you – instead choose a spot near the front door – they increase your chances of ordering dessert by 73%.  And if you can, choose a high-top bar-style table.  These tables make you sit up straighter and reduce the risk of you ordering fried food.

When it comes time to order, resist the urge to order healthy food for your kids, or to pressure them to order that healthy salad.  People who are pushed to eat healthy food make up for it later by “treating” themselves, and you don’t want your kid dipping into the cookie jar as soon as he/she gets home.  (I think a lot of people do this with the gym, too, which is why exercise alone is not enough to lose weight.)  Instead, trick your kids into ordering a healthier option by asking them what someone else they admire – say, Batman or Dora the Explorer – would choose to eat.  Having to order for someone else encourages kids to think more deeply – and often they will change their order.

Going to a buffet?  Sit as far away from the buffet as you can – it encourages you to eat less.  Make sure your kids are facing away from the buffet, as well – they won’t be as likely to keep returning for more if they aren’t staring at it.  As above, encourage them to use small plates, rather than large ones.  Walk them through the buffet and look at each option before taking any food.  (Letting them take before looking encourages them to just grab the first things they see and end up eating those things in addition to what they really want.  Buffet-goers who look first only take those foods they really want to eat.)  Finally, if it’s an Asian buffet, teach your kids to eat with chopsticks.  Many Asian restaurants even have some special chopsticks for kids, to help them learn.  People who eat with chopsticks rather than forks tend to eat less, probably because chopsticks force you to eat more slowly, and allow the signal of fullness from your stomach to reach your brain before you’ve eaten too much.

At School

School lunches have improved in recent years… and also haven’t.  Consider packing a healthy lunch for your kids.  People at work who bring bag lunches eat less food than people who eat out, so why not apply this principle to your kids?  You also have more control over how healthy the food is that you are sending your kids.  Healthy lunch ideas like falafel plates, shish kabobs (and more shish kabobs), and roasted vegetables are filling and nutritious.  Homemade snacks like pizza crackers, fruity muffins, and even healthy cookies or mini cakes will be more nutritious than the snacks your kids are likely to eat from the school vending machines – even if they meet new health standards for “smart snacks”.

If you are going to send your child to school with snacks, consider some ways to get your child to snack less.  Try transferring snacks to clear bags.  If you are sending a snack that would normally fit in a sandwich size bag, send it instead in two or three small snack sized bags.  Studies show that snackers who have one big bag are likely to eat the whole thing, whereas snackers with the same amount of food in multiple small bags often only finish one of them.  And if you are concerned that your child might waste the healthy fruit you are sending, try cutting it up – one study found that 48% fewer apples were wasted when they were cut up, as opposed to served whole – and that there was a 73% increase in kids eating more than half of their apples.

Conclusion

These tips will help you trick your kids into eating healthier even if they are eating a lot of their meals away from home.  When kids are not eating at home, where are they most likely to be eating?  Primarily at school and a restaurants (whether with or without parents).  If you use these tricks, you can help get your kids to eat less and to eat healthier.

But that’s not all, folks!  Stay tuned for a new post soon, on how to trick your kids… at home!

Slim by Design

Go ahead, shamelessly trick your kids into eating healthier.

*Many of these statistics have come from the research of Brian Wansink, who is a food psychologist and the director of the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab.  You can read more about tips and tricks for psychological food mind games in his new book, Slim by Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life.

Patience: The Key to Achieving Results of a Healthy Diet

Patience: The Key to Achieving Results of a Healthy Diet

Today’s society places far too much emphasis on immediate results.  We just do not seem to have any patience anymore.  Instead, immediate gratification is the name of the game.  To make matters worse, most people today prefer even more if there is minimal effort involved in achieving results.  Living a healthy lifestyle doesn’t work like that.

Fad diets and quick fixes might yield pretty quick results, but they don’t last.  Indeed, lots of things can cause rapid weight loss, but that doesn’t mean they’re good for you.  Just like ebola would be a dangerous but effective way to get your child to lose weight, fad diets are also unhealthy and should be avoided, especially for children, who are still growing and developing.

If we want healthy kids, we need to inspire them to lead healthy lifestyles.  Weight loss and positive changes to their health profile will follow.  We have to have patience.

My family and I try to lead a healthy lifestyle all around.  We eat a healthy diet with an emphasis on fresh fruits and vegetables, very little processed food, very little dairy, very little fish, and no meat.  Both my husband and I exercise regularly in the gym (I do about 6 hours per week) and our kids watch shows (on the computer – we don’t watch TV) only a couple days per week, and even then, only for a half hour or so at a time.  The rest of the time our kids are out running around.

Yes, this kind of lifestyle is a challenge.  If there are excuses, I’ve made them all, in the past.  Junk food and meat taste good, when you’re tired you want to just zone out in front of the TV, and gym memberships cost money and take time.  But in the end, these are just that: excuses.  I have a million excuses I could make why I can’t find time to blog, but I push through and I do it.

I’m not trying to pass judgment in a holier-than-thou kind of way.  I’m a stay-at-home-mom, which has both benefits and challenges that working moms don’t face.  Sure, I have more freedom to take my kids to the park almost every day and I’m home more, making things from scratch.  But then again, I spend my whole day refereeing two rambunctious boys, who seem to have taken making a mess on as their goal in life.  Parents who don’t have their kids home all day don’t face the constant cleaning struggle that three meals a day (plus snacks) being prepared in the kitchen presents.  Kids who aren’t home aren’t dumping dirt all over the floors you just mopped and aren’t spreading the entire contents of their toy chests all over the house all day long.  I’m not complaining – but it doesn’t present its own set of challenges.

Eating a healthy diet is a lifestyle choice that hopefully also includes an active lifestyle.  It’s not easy, I know that, but it is important.  If we care about our kids, we need to feed both them and us healthy, nutritious diets, even if it is a challenge, even if it requires some sacrifice.  What are your excuses?

One of the biggest excuses I hear is that results are just not forthcoming.  Think about all those people you know who resolve on January 1 to go to the gym this year, but come June regular exercise is a thing of the past.  They didn’t see results fast enough.  The gym can yield results quickly, if you throw yourself into it in a way most of us do not have the time and motivation for.  But if you make the gym a lifestyle, you will see results, even if you only go a couple times a week.  You will see results, but they will take a while.

Changes to diet present the same exact challenge.  Fad diets are popular because the results are immediate.  But the change doesn’t last.  If we want healthy kids, we need to change their lifestyles.  They should eat a healthy, balanced diet as a whole life change, not just as a weight loss method.  The change will be gradual, but stick with it.  Have patience.

For severely obese kids on a very strict vegan diet, results can be seen in as few as four weeks.  But you don’t have to go to such an extreme to see results, nor do you have to have a child whose health profile is so dire.  Instead, make changes, even baby steps, to feed your family a healthier diet.  Don’t reassess to see if there has been progress after just a month or two.  Reassess for progress in the long term – six months to a year.  And if you really want to know how much progress is being made, don’t rely solely on checking your child’s waistline to see if they need slimmer pants.  Have their blood tested by a health professional before and after to see how their body is doing inside, not just the visible outside.

Dietitians agree that patience is a key to good health.  If we can get past our excuses and start taking steps toward eating a healthier diet, eventually we can get there.  I didn’t start doing six hours a week in the gym – I started with two and worked my way up from there.  Similarly, start with one or two homemade family meals every week and begin cutting out one unhealthy food item each shopping trip.

But most of all, have patience.

Passover: A Healthy Diet for Kids How-To

Passover: A Healthy Diet for Kids How-To

Passover Matzah

Apologies for my brief hiatus. I usually try to post every single day but I guess I have to admit my human fallibility in that I have not been able to keep up these past few days. I’ll try to get caught up now, but I hope in the meantime everyone will accept my sincerest apologies. I’ve been busy trying to come up with ways to feed my kids a healthy diet, even during Passover.

You see, we have a holiday coming up: Passover. Passover is a healthy diet killer. Basically, we have a week and a half of really strict dietary restrictions. We don’t eat any leaven, which basically eliminates all major grains, with the exception of matzah, a type of unleavened flatbread. We also keep additional restrictions as part of our family tradition. These prohibit eating pseudo-grains like rice, corn products, and beans, legumes, and pulses. Because of my husband’s family traditions, we also avoid any combination of matzah with any liquids (so we do not use it in cooking), and we also eat only vegetables we can peel, unless prepared before the festival begins.

Of course, these restrictions cut a lot of the healthy food out of our diets. Usually beans (including tofu or tempeh once a week) and pulses are our main source of protein during the week (along with some eggs and a small amount of fish once per week). We typically eat wheat (bread) just once a week, unless it’s a special occasion that calls for sandwiches. Instead, brown rice is our main staple.

Most families I know during this holiday eat an incredibly unhealthy diet. Meat is a main feature of almost every meal. Some families do not even use oil during the holiday, replacing it instead with schmaltz, or chicken fat. When families are not eating meat, they are eating lots of fish and dairy. A lot of matzah is eaten and many families cook with it, too. The main vegetable staple during this holiday is potatoes because they are versatile, filling, and are easily peeled. Because of the dietary restrictions during this period, or perhaps just because it is a celebration, families often see this as a chance to shower their kids with treats, like chocolates, candies, coconut macaroons, and marshmallows.

In short, Passover is a diet killer.

But it doesn’t have to be. Here are some ideas for ways to make your Passover diet healthier and potentially more tasty, too!

Eat More Fruit

Resist the urge to snack on specially produced Passover treats, like potato chips and chocolates. Try not to make batches of French fries just for snacks. Instead, make sure you have a ready supply of fruit on hand. Buy fruit you really enjoy, even if it’s more expensive. Processed Passover food is incredibly expensive, so instead of spending money on snacks, buy the fruit that you like best. Strawberries, mangoes, and papaya are good treats (the latter two can also be peeled easily). We buy a lot of melons for the holiday, plus pineapples, apples, and oranges.

You can also substitute fruit for desserts. Rather than baking some sort of cake, chocolate dessert, pudding, pavlova, or other sweet treat, go for natural sweetness. I like to serve hot baked or stewed apples with nothing but cinnamon and a drizzle of date syrup to complement the natural sweetness. Or simply cut up some fresh fruit and serve that!

Find Potato Alternatives

Potatoes are ubiquitous during Passover. They seem to be in everything. There’s potato and leek soup, potato kugel, potato pancakes, baked potatoes, potato salad, potato omelets, French fries… the list goes on and on. Potatoes aren’t the worst food in the world, but they’re not exactly the most nutrient dense either. Try substituting sweet potatoes for regular potatoes in almost any recipe. You can also use pumpkin for some recipes and vegetables like zucchini to make fries.

Think Outside the Box

Many people who think of Passover food have a certain set of classic dishes in mind. Chicken soup, brisket, maybe some matzah balls. But why restrict yourself? During the year I make lots of healthy dishes that are Passover friendly, but because they’re not “Passover food” we don’t think to make them on Passover. Ratatouille is one I make year round (on Passover, serve it over quinoa rather than rice, unless you’re Sephardi). Fresh, homemade pesto is beautiful over roasted fish or vegetables. The list goes on and on.

You can also consider changing existing recipes to make them Passover-friendly. Make a pizza base with (slightly overcooked and thin) sweet potato kugel, then top with homemade tomato sauce. We don’t do much dairy, but you can sprinkle with a bit of cheese if you want – other great toppings include fresh basil or sliced tomatoes, roasted capsicum (bell peppers), broccoli, sautéed onion, garlic, or olives. Replace rice, bulgar wheat, and couscous in traditional recipes like tabbouleh with quinoa. Instead of using noodles in soup, cook up well blended egg into very thin pancakes, roll them up, and slice them into strings. Instead of serving spaghetti as a dish, make zucchini noodles or use spaghetti squash.

Salad, Salad, Salad

It’s no secret that traditional Passover diets cause constipation. All that hard-to-digest matzah coupled with a diet heavy in animal products like meat, fish, dairy, and eggs, supplemented largely by floury white potatoes, leads to a diet low in fiber and constipation is the inevitable result. Some people say to counteract constipation by giving kids sugar water, but that is definitely not the healthier option. Instead, counteract constipation by giving your kids lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. Make salad part of their daily diet. There is no end to the variety of salads you can give kids on Passover. Israeli salad, with diced cucumber, tomato, and capsicum (bell pepper) and finely diced red onion, dressed with olive oil and lemon juice, is refreshing. Kids love the bite-sized cubes of fresh vegetables. Coleslaw can be dressed with a citrus vinaigrette rather than mayonnaise. Jazz up potato salad by using boiled potatoes, sweet potatoes, and beets in equal amounts, dressed with orange juice, apple cider vinegar, and olive oil. Make plenty of green salads and don’t restrict yourself to iceberg lettuce – romaine lettuce is much more nutritious.   Try making spinach salads with sweet fruits like strawberries, mango, or kiwi fruit, with nuts (like slivered almonds) sprinkled on top for some crunch and protein, and drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Eating lots of fresh fruits and vegetables will give your kids the fiber they need to “stay regular” even in the face of a massive onslaught of matzah.

Make it a Fun Challenge

I love a challenge, and one of my favorite kinds of challenges is how to use a new type of food in my cooking. At the market, select a fruit or vegetable you’ve never used before and try to integrate it somehow into your Passover menu. (This year I’ve got quince – can you believe I’ve never had quince before?!) By doing this, you guarantee you will have something new and novel in your Passover menu. This forces you to think outside your Passover food box and also gives your family something new to try.

Chag Sameach!

“Chag sameach,” or “happy holiday” is a traditional greeting and well-wish for any Jewish holiday, so I extend it to you now. Jewish or not, there is no reason why Passover has to be any less healthy or nutritious for your family than any other time of the year. Have a happy, healthy holiday!