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!

Pesticides & Herbicides are Poison

Pesticides & Herbicides are Poison

Organic food is controversial in the eye of the public debate. Some people love it and some people hate it. But regardless of what you feel about it, when it comes to feeding your kids, it is the safest and most nutritious option.  Giving your kids organically grown produce is really the only way to avoid feeding your kids the pesticides and herbicides that are so liberally sprayed on conventionally grown produce today.

The produce you normally buy in supermarkets is what is known as “conventional” produce. It’s grown primarily by really big companies who have forced small farmers out of business, largely by cutting their costs as much as possible. They do this by farming in bulk and by trying to get as many fruits and vegetables as possible to grow on their land.

There are three main ways these companies use to grow as much as they possibly can: 1) they use fertilizers and chemicals to make produce grow faster and bigger; 2) they spray plants regularly with pesticides to keep bugs from eating crops; and 3) they plant as much as possible, as frequently as possible. All three of these things conspire to turn otherwise healthy fresh fruits and vegetables into vehicles of poison for your children.

Just as we are what we eat, plants are also what they “eat.” The soil they grow in provides them with all the nutrients that are then passed on to us. If the soil is full of chemicals and toxins, the fruits and vegetables grown therein will be full of chemicals and toxins. And if the fruits and vegetables are full of chemicals and toxins, then by feeding them to your children, you are feeding your children poison.

The same goes for plants that are heavily sprayed with pesticides or are coated with preservatives. Certain crops, like corn, greens (such as spinach or lettuce), and soft fruits (like berries or peaches) are sprayed more heavily than others. Other crops, like cucumbers and apples, are often coated with a preservative layer of wax to help them last longer in the cold storage they sit in until shops get around to selling them to you (which could be months and months). Now, pesticides really are poison, in every sense of the word. They are put on crops to kill animals that want to eat them. Just because your child is bigger than an insect and won’t die (at least immediately) from eating them does not make them any less poisonous. Would you offer your child some candy, saying, “Don’t worry, honey, it only contains a little bit of cyanide”? Of course not! Nobody wants to feed their child poison. The big companies are just hoping you don’t realize that the products they’re selling you are coated in it.

As an example, one of the most commonly use pesticides is taken from a bacterium called bacillus thuringiensis (“Bt”) that contains a powerful insect-killing toxin. When mice were fed vegetables sprayed with this chemical, they not only had powerful immune responses,[i] but the chemical even damaged their intestines![ii] But not only do mice[iii] and rats[iv] react to this chemical, so do humans.[v] People exposed to the chemical exhibit allergy-like reactions[vi] – even if they’re only handling the plants, not eating them.[vii] Yet, you are feeding your child this toxin, or any number of other pesticide toxins, every time you feed them conventionally grown fruits and vegetables!

Not only are plants sprayed with pesticides, but they are also sprayed with harsh herbicides designed to kill weeds. The most common, and strongest, of these is called Roundup (you have probably heard of it). Tests reveal that this herbicide is incredibly toxic. When rats were given water with trace amounts of Roundup in it (the levels legally allowed in our drinking water supply), they suffered from a 200% to 300% increase in large tumors. When they ate corn with trace amounts of Roundup, they suffered severe organ damage, including liver and kidney damage.[viii]   But you are feeding this poison to your children whenever you give them any food not grown organically!

To make matters worse, processed foods are often made with genetically modified (GM) fruits and vegetables. Many of these, such as rice, corn, and soy, actually have the gene for the harmful Bt toxin and/or the Roundup herbicide coded into their cells! Rats that were fed the same variety of GM corn used in breakfast cereals, corn tortillas, and corn chips developed large tumors and more than half of them died early deaths.[ix] So if you feed your child genetically modified fruits and veggies, there is no physical way to wash it off. You are literally feeding your child poisonous plants.

Organic farms are not allowed to use GM seeds.  They might use some sprays, but they are all natural, not the harsh poisonous chemicals used on conventional produce.  Unless you can grow your own fruits and vegetables, organic food is the best and healthiest option for your kids.

[i] Vazquez et al, “Intragastric and intraperitoneal administration of Cry1Ac protoxin from Bacillus thuringiensis induces systemic and mucosal antibody responses in mice,” 1897–1912; Vazquez et al, “Characterization of the mucosal and systemic immune response induced by Cry1Ac protein from Bacillus thuringiensis HD 73 in mice,” Brazilian Journal of Medical and Biological Research 33 (2000): 147–155; and Vazquez et al, “Bacillus thuringiensis Cry1Ac protoxin is a potent systemic and mucosal adjuvant,” Scandanavian Journal of Immunology 49 (1999): 578–584. See also Vazquez-Padron et al., 147 (2000b).

[ii] Nagui H. Fares, Adel K. El-Sayed, “Fine Structural Changes in the Ileum of Mice Fed on Endotoxin Treated Potatoes and Transgenic Potatoes,” Natural Toxins 6, no. 6 (1998): 219–233.

[iii] Alberto Finamore, et al, “Intestinal and Peripheral Immune Response to MON810 Maize Ingestion in Weaning and Old Mice,” J. Agric. Food Chem., 2008, 56 (23), pp 11533–11539, November 14, 2008.

[iv] Joël Spiroux de Vendômois, François Roullier, Dominique Cellier and Gilles-Eric Séralini. 2009, A Comparison of the Effects of Three GM Corn Varieties on Mammalian Health . International Journal of Biological Sciences 2009; 5(7):706-726; and Seralini GE, Cellier D, Spiroux de Vendomois J. 2007, New analysis of a rat feeding study with a genetically modified maize reveals signs of hepatorenal toxicity. Arch Environ Contam Toxicol. 2007;52:596-602.

[v] See for example “Bt cotton causing allergic reaction in MP; cattle dead,” Bhopal, Nov. 23, 2005.

[vi] M. Green, et al., “Public health implications of the microbial pesticide Bacillus thuringiensis: An epidemiological study, Oregon, 1985-86,” Amer. J. Public Health 80, no. 7(1990): 848–852; and M.A. Noble, P.D. Riben, and G. J. Cook, Microbiological and epidemiological surveillance program to monitor the health effects of Foray 48B BTK spray (Vancouver, B.C.: Ministry of Forests, Province of British Columbi, Sep. 30, 1992).

[vii] http://news.webindia123.com Ashish Gupta et. al., “Impact of Bt Cotton on Farmers’ Health (in Barwani and Dhar District of Madhya Pradesh),” Investigation Report, Oct–Dec 2005; and M. Green, et al., “Public health implications of the microbial pesticide Bacillus thuringiensis: An epidemiological study, Oregon, 1985-86,” Amer. J. Public Health 80, no. 7(1990): 848–852; and M.A. Noble, P.D. Riben, and G. J. Cook, Microbiological and epidemiological surveillance program to monitor the health effects of Foray 48B BTK spray (Vancouver, B.C.: Ministry of Forests, Province of British Columbi, Sep. 30, 1992).

[viii] Joël Spiroux de Vendômois, François Roullier, Dominique Cellier and Gilles-Eric Séralini. 2009, A Comparison of the Effects of Three GM Corn Varieties on Mammalian Health . International Journal of Biological Sciences 2009; 5(7):706-726.

[ix] Joël Spiroux de Vendômois, François Roullier, Dominique Cellier and Gilles-Eric Séralini. 2009, A Comparison of the Effects of Three GM Corn Varieties on Mammalian Health . International Journal of Biological Sciences 2009; 5(7):706-726.

5 More Ways to Get Kids to Eat Healthy

5 More Ways to Get Kids to Eat Healthy

Fresh vegetable platter with kebabs

There are lots of creative ways to get kids to eat healthy.  Some of those ways to get kids to eat a healthy diet apply to all ages of kids, while some techniques work best with older kids and teenagers or with young children and toddlers.  The techniques explored have included talking to kids about how diet affects health, exposing kids to new foods, getting them involved in gardening, cooking, and shopping, and offering healthy foods repeatedly.  Now here are four more techniques you can try to get your kids to eat a healthy diet.

Set a Routine

Kids inherently prefer routine.  While they may seem to want lots of freedom and spontaneity, kids actually need some structure in their lives.  This can take lots of forms, but the most common one is to set some sort of schedule.  Kids sleep better if they go to bed and wake up at around the same time, and eating is no different.  Kids are more likely to eat healthy if they eat meals at designated times of the day.  Otherwise, they have a tendency to snack or to eat what is most conveniently at hand.  Eating on a schedule trains them, both physically and mentally, to expect nourishing food at predictable times.

Let Them Get Hungry

Kids are more likely to eat healthy food if they are hungry when it is put in front of them.  As the saying goes, “Hunger is the best seasoning!”  Kids do not need a snack every time they get hungry.  Set firm mealtimes (e.g., breakfast at 7 AM, snack 10 AM, lunch 12 PM, snack 3 PM, dinner 6 PM) and stick to them.  If your child comes to you complaining they are hungry and dinner is going to be soon, there is no harm in telling them they have to wait.  They will not starve in the space of a few minutes or even an hour.  Giving them a snack to quiet them will only serve to spoil their appetite for a healthy meal later.

Let it Be Their Decision

Prepare healthy meals at home, but let your kids serve themselves.  At first, you may feel dismayed when they take the least healthy of the options.  Perhaps they will load up on mashed potatoes but leave the peas and corn behind.  Or maybe they will eat only the soup and not take any salad.  Don’t force them to take these foods.  Yes, they may be the healthiest options and of course you really want your kids to eat them, but you also have to ask yourself what is the most effective way to get them to eat these foods in the long term?  It is more important to establish a lifelong healthy habit than to win the Phyrric victory of forcing them to eat healthy in the short term but making them resentful for life.  Keep serving healthy foods every day and let your kids see you eating these foods yourself.  Eventually they will decide to try them and will make them a part of their own meals, on their own.  When kids decide of their own volition to eat healthy, this sets them up for a lifetime of healthy eating.

Another option is to place a variety of healthy foods separately on the table and letting your kids choose which ones they want.  For instance, a platter of cut vegetables from which they can choose which ones they want to eat.  Or perhaps a salad bar, where they can add as much of each salad component as they want.  Then you do not need to force them to take healthy food, as all the options are nutritious, but kids still get the sense that they are in charge and able to make their own decisions.  Encourage them by telling them how proud and impressed you are with their choices.  This will increase feelings of positive association and self empowerment when it comes to good food choices, making it more likely they will choose healthy foods again in the future.

Don’t Just Tell Them: Show Them!

Make kids’ understanding of healthy food more visual.  It’s good to talk to kids about the difference between healthy and unhealthy foods, but find ways to make your message more visual.  Kids often understand and remember a visual message better than a spoken one.  Explain to kids how many teaspoons of sugar are in one bottle of soda, then have them put that number of teaspoons into an empty soda bottle so they can see just how much sugar is in each sweet beverage.  You can do this with healthy nutrients, too.  For instance, see if you can get a bunch of empty boxes for cheeseburgers from a local fast food restaurant like McDonald’s, then compare how many cheeseburgers you’d need to eat to get the same amount of vitamin C as in one cup of strawberries (150g) (the answer is approximately 75), or the same amount of vitamin A as in one cup of carrots (the answer is approximately 68).  It may seem extreme, but a visual comparison of this nature can be massively compelling.  They will not soon forget which type of food gives them the best nutrition.

Educate kids about other aspects of food as well by showing them.  Demonstrate portion sizes, for instance, in comparison to what is normally served at restaurants.  Next time you go out and order a meal, ask the server for some extra plates and divide the meal into healthy serving sizes.  For instance, a 9-ounce steak is actually three servings!  You can also show kids how small a serving of healthy veggies is.  For instance, cut a carrot into 1 cup’s worth of sticks (100-120 grams) and place it in the center of a big plate.  Kids will be surprised to see that one serving of veggies is not that much – it is more like a snack!  Then the idea of eating several servings of vegetables per day will not seem so daunting or unappetizing.

Let Them Be the Food Critic

I love watching cooking shows.  It’s really the only kind of television you’ll catch me occasionally watching.  I love food, nutrition, tastes, and flavors.  Let kids emulate the judges on these shows by being little food critics.  Give them a selection of foods and let them try them.  This is a good option for some snack time fun.  Prepare a few different kinds of healthy foods and have your child answer questions about the foods and describe them just like on cooking shows.  For instance, do a raw vegetable taste test and give kids red capsicum/bell pepper, green capsicum/bell pepper, cucumber, carrot sticks, cherry tomatoes, and broccoli.  Have them describe which are hard and which are soft, which are most juicy, which are the most crunchy, and which ones are sweet or savory.  This makes trying healthy foods fun and frees them up to safely form and express their opinions.  It also gives you more ideas what kind of healthy snacks they might enjoy in the future.

Conclusion

It is a challenge to get kids to eat healthy food, but there are new ideas and techniques being thought up every day.  Try a variety of techniques until you find some that work for you.  Get them involved and make it fun.  Make healthy food synonymous with good feelings and good experiences, instead of letting mealtime become a daily battleground.  Let’s inspire healthy kids!

How to Reduce the Amount of Salt in Kids’ Diets (Part 2)

How to Reduce the Amount of Salt in Kids’ Diets (Part 2)

Maldon sea salt flakes

Too much salt is dangerous for kids’ health.  Kids today eat far more salt than is healthy for them.  Yesterday we looked at some ways to avoid eating too much salt and to reduce the amount of salt in your kids’ diets.  Today we will look at a few more really important strategies to keep your kids from eating too much salt.

Read Nutritional Labels

Learn how to read nutritional labels and teach your kids, too.  Look for the line that says “sodium” and choose the lowest sodium option.  Look for foods with no added salt or low sodium labels.  Try to select foods with less than 120mg of sodium per 100g of food.  You will be surprised at how quickly the amount of sodium in what you eat adds up over the course of a day!  The Heart Foundation recommends that 4-8 year olds consume only 300-600mg of sodium per day.  Once you start reading nutrition labels, you will be surprised how quickly your child hits that upper limit!

Sea Salt Kettle Chips

Make Avoiding Salt a Game

Make avoiding high sodium foods a fun game for kids.  It is a great tool for teaching math skills, too.  Have kids help you plan meals with less salt, and get them to help you when you are grocery shopping.  Have them add up the amount of salt in each ingredient for each meal of the day.  Then talk about the amount of salt they will be eating each day and how to lower it.  Make a competition to see which child can come up with the lowest sodium meal plan for a week’s worth of breakfasts, lunches, or dinners, with the prize being that those will be the meals served that week.

The amount of salt in potato chips is unsurprisingly very high

Avoid High Sodium Processed & Restaurant Foods

Did you know that 43% of the salt kids eat comes from just 10 types of food?  That’s right!  Pizza, bread/rolls, cold cuts/cured meats, savory snacks, sandwiches, cheese, chicken patties/nuggets, mixed pasta dishes, mixed Mexican dishes, and soups account for 43% of the sodium kids consume.  Some of these foods most of us recognize as salty food items: salty ham cold cuts, pizza, cheese, and potato chips are all foods we recognize as super salty.  Some foods, we might not think of as high in salt until we really give it some thought, like pasta dishes, Mexican food, and soup.

But at least one of these items comes as a surprise to most people: bread.  Bread is often very high in both sugar and salt.  Bread is very easy to make at home.  If you are wary of making your own bread, investing in a bread machine will really pay off in the long run.  A loaf of bread that costs several dollars in the store costs just cents at home, and you can control what goes into it – no preservatives, low salt, low sugar, and whole wheat flour, plus the option to add seeds or dried fruit!

Cooking Salt

Some processed foods contain salt when they do not even need to.  One of the most common culprits is peanut butter.  Peanut butter marketed to kids in brightly colored containers is often full of salt, sugar, and oil.  None of these things is necessary to make peanut butter taste good!  Get a high quality organic pure peanut or almond butter.  Some stores now even offer to let you make the peanut butter yourself on the spot using a special machine.  If so, let your child participate, perhaps choosing which nut butter they want (if multiple options are available) and letting them pull the lever or press the start/stop button.

Another processed food high in sodium is the sandwich meat we often give our kids for lunch.  Cold cuts and preserved meats are generally very high in salt content.  If you do want your child eating a meat sandwich, make some extra meat with dinner and use that instead.  For instance, make a sandwich with sliced turkey or chicken breast that has been cooked in a healthy way, rather than using salty sliced deli meats.

Be aware of other processed foods that often contain a lot of salt as a preservative.  Canned food is often high in salt and/or sugar.  Consider replacing canned vegetables with frozen vegetables, which should not have any additives.  Avoid other canned convenience foods like soups or beans, which use salt to preserve them, and if you do buy canned vegetables or bean, rinse them off with fresh water before cooking or serving.  Food in jars often faces the same problem, as salt and sugar are used to preserve foods at room temperature.

Top 10 Sources of Salt in Kids' Diets

Also avoid eating high sodium foods in restaurants and fast food joints.  If you request it, these establishments should be able to give you the nutritional information for their products before you order.  Then choose one of the lower sodium options.  You can also ask that no salt be added to your food during cooking.  And definitely do not add extra salt to your dish even if there is a salt shaker on the table!  If you think this may be a temptation for your child, ask the waiter to remove it.

Conclusion

Simply by switching to lower sodium options and not adding salt to home cooking, you can dramatically reduce your child’s salt intake.  Making this switch does not have to be that difficult.  Just cook as you always have, but take the salt shaker off the table and stop adding salt to your food.  At first the foods may seem a bit bland, but as your taste buds adapt you will really enjoy the flavors of the foods themselves.  It only takes a few weeks for your taste buds to adapt!  For processed foods, check labels to choose lower sodium options, or scan them with a smartphone app like FoodSwitch that list healthier alternatives.

Reminders for how to reduce salt intake from the CDC

 

How to Reduce the Amount of Salt in Kids’ Diets (Part 1)

How to Reduce the Amount of Salt in Kids’ Diets (Part 1)

Australian Lake Salt

Over the last couple of days I have been looking at the dangers to kids’ health when they eat too much salt.  Recommendations for how much salt to consume are actually listing the maximum amount of salt one can safely eat daily, not how much one should eat.  And although they can’t seem to agree on the ideal amount of salt kids should consume, scientists and experts all agree that the maximum amount is way too high.  So, how can we reduce the amount of salt in our kids’ diet?

Great SALT ernatives USDA infographic

Take Salt Off the Table

The first step to reducing salt intake is to reduce the amount of salt kids are eating at home.  Many families place salt and pepper on the dinner table and each family member can season their food accordingly.  Studies show that kids who add salt at the table have higher systolic blood pressure than those who don’t.*  Remove salt from the table and kids won’t add it at the table.  This reduces their risk of having high blood pressure.  One in every six children has high blood pressure!  This increases their risk of suffering heart attack or stroke later in life threefold.  Taking salt off the table is a crucial first step to reducing this risk.

Taking salt off the table also teaches children not to add salt to prepared foods even when they are in a situation where it is available.  Kids who make it a habit to add salt to food might even develop the habit of adding it without tasting the food previously.  Restaurant foods and prepared foods, with their high amounts of sodium, then get extra salt on top of them, making them even less healthy.  Kids who add salt to their food at the table also begin to slide down the slippery slope of adding more and more as they become accustomed to the flavor and their taste buds are corrupted.  However, kids who do not see a saltshaker on the table at home do not become accustomed to adding salt to their food, nor do they get used to the flavor of salt and need it on everything.

Maldon sea salt flakes

Eat Fresh Foods

Replace processed snack foods with healthy, fresh alternatives.  Raw fruits and vegetables are great snacks for kids: portable, and delicious.  Instead of sending potato chips as a midmorning snack, send an apple or banana.  Make up a fresh fruit salad or blend fruits together to make a smoothie.  Using raw fresh fruits is a great way to get your child eating healthier and will also avoid excess salt.  Replace salty snacks with unsalted raw or toasted nuts (although this may not work for school, it will work at home!)  You may also consider dehydrated or freeze dried fruits and vegetables, as well.  Dehydrated fruit like raisins or apricots are commonly available.  Freeze dried vegetables like peas or green beans are becoming more widely available, as are freeze dried fruits like strawberry, banana, and mango.  Kids will enjoy freeze dried vegetables and fruits as a snack alternative because they are so crunchy and fun to eat.  They give the same feeling of eating a crunchy potato chip, but without the oil and salt!

Fresh fruit platter

Cook More at Home

Prepared foods are much higher in sodium than foods prepared at home.  Processed, packaged foods use salt both for flavor and as a preservative.  Restaurants apply salt liberally to enhance the flavor of their foods.  Foods cooked at home tend to be much lower in sodium because home chefs add less salt than the commercial versions.  For instance, last night I made a vegan bolognese sauce to put over pasta.  I did not add any salt to it at all and it tasted great!  In processed jars of pasta sauce one serving of sauce might have 300 mg of sodium all the way up to 1,000 mg!  1,000 mg of sodium in one cup of pasta with sauce is a crazy amount – it would mean a home chef adding nearly 1 tablespoon of salt per 1 cup of pasta with sauce.  I hope no home cooks do that!

Food cooked at home not only has more salt, but it tends to be healthier overall.  Kids who eat home-cooked meals eat more fruits and vegetables, as well as less salt, sugar, and fat.  Home-cooked family meals also promote togetherness and good relationships.  So cooking at home can really pay off!

Even super sweet rice krispie treats contain a large amount of salt.  Percent daily values are based on the maximum amount an adult should consume.  Children should consume half of that amount as an absolute maximum, and even then the ideal is to consume about one fifth of that.  50mg sodium may be closer to 10% of what a child should be consuming daily in a healthy diet!

Even super sweet rice krispie treats contain a large amount of salt. Percent daily values are based on the maximum amount an adult should consume. Children should consume half of that amount as an absolute maximum, and even then the ideal is to consume about one fifth of that. 50mg sodium may be closer to 10% of what a child should be consuming daily in a healthy diet!

Don’t Add Salt to Cooking

Most people add salt to food as they are cooking almost without thinking about it.  But salt is not necessary for food to taste good.  When you cook at home, you have the power to control flavors.  Most foods can use substitutes for salt.  Scrambled eggs, for instance, often include salt.  But perhaps instead of adding salt, you can add different flavors.  Season eggs with lemon and parsley, cumin, coriander, or ground pepper.  Seasoning common foods with fresh herbs and ground spices gives those foods a new, exotic, exciting flavor, and makes them seem more fancy.  Kids and adults alike will not miss the salt in a well-seasoned dish.

Absolutely do not add salt to food for your baby or infant!  Babies’ immature kidneys cannot handle the additional sodium.  Always be careful to feed babies homemade food or food specially formulated for infants.  Even if the ingredients list looks the same as it does for adult foods, adult food salt contents are higher.  Excess salt intake in babies can even be fatal.

If your dish needs some salt, add the tiniest amount possible.  A small pinch will usually suffice.  Use the healthiest kind of salt out there, so it will include other trace minerals rather than just the sodium and chloride that is in table salt.  I use pink Himalayan salt or natural sea salt if I need to season my cooking, and if I do decide to sprinkle my own dish with a bit of salt, I use Maldon sea salt flakes.  Choose the highest quality salt you can, preferably a kind with additional nutrients and minerals.  It might cost more, but you’ll be using it sparingly enough it should last for a long, long time.

pink himalayan salt

More great tips to come tomorrow! – Read on for How to Reduce the Amount of Salt in Kids’ Diets (Part 2)

*Gregory J, L.S., Bates CJ, Prentice A, Jackson L, Smithers G, Wenlock R, Farron M., National Diet and Nutrition Survey: young people aged 4 to 18 years. Vol. 1: Report of the diet and nutrition survey. 2000, London: The Stationery Office. 271-336.