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.

Baby Paleo Diet Cookbook Unhealthy and On Hold

Baby Paleo Diet Cookbook Unhealthy and On Hold

Publication of a paleo diet cookbook for babies has been put on hold after experts expressed concern over the health of babies put on the diet.  I have expressed concern over the paleo diet before.  Yes, some aspects of the paleo diet are healthy for kids, but there are lots of reasons why the paleo diet is unhealthy for kids (lots and lots).  Now scientists are warning that the new paleo diet cookbook includes dietary advice that could lead to the death of a baby.

Some of the central tenets of the paleo diet are the avoidance of processed foods, dairy, pulses, and legumes.  However, preventing babies from consuming these could be very dangerous for their health.  The new cookbook, slated to be published by Pan Macmillan and endorsed by celebrity chef Pete Evans, is called “Bubba Yum Yum: The Paleo Way” and includes dangerous dietary restrictions for babies and toddlers.

One of the recipes in the book in particular has garnered significant concern.  The “DIY baby milk formula” is based on chicken liver.  The book claims it “mimics the nutrient profile of breast milk,” is “the next best thing” to breast milk and is a “wonderful alternative” to breast milk.  Of course chicken liver in no way compares to breast milk, as it is full of proteins and fats foreign to human breast milk.  Experts have expressed concerns over the nutrient profile, which does not mimic breast milk at all – in fact, it contains dangerously high levels of vitamin A and insufficient amounts of other essential nutrients.

Exclusive breastfeeding is the ideal for healthy babies, but not all mothers can manage it.  Some women are unable to breastfeed and some babies have trouble with it, too.  Whatever the reason, if a baby is unable to breastfeed, World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines make it pretty clear that expressed breast milk is “the next best thing” to breast milk.  Infant formulas, although not the perfect food for babies, have been tried and tested for a long time, so we know that you can raise a happy, healthy baby by feeding them exclusively on infant formula.  They are scientifically created to have as close as possible to the right balance of nutrients a baby needs.  The paleo “baby bone broth” formula, on the other hand, will leave babies consuming dangerously high levels of vitamin A, while not consuming enough of many other vitamins and minerals.

The dangers to a baby who consumes this kind of diet exclusively are very real.  In an interview with The Australian Women’s Weekly magazine, the president of the Public Health Association of Australia warned:

There’s a very real possibility that a baby may die if this book goes ahead. … Especially if [the DIY formula] was the only food a parent was feeding their infant, it’s a very real risk. And the baby’s growth and development could be impaired.

The cookbook also advocates other diet dangers for babies, including feeding babies undercooked eggs and adding extra salt to their diet, which babies do not need.  The Australian federal Health Ministry has been taking a very close look at the cookbook, as the “department is concerned about the inadequate nutritional values of some of the foods, in particular for infants, and is investigating further.”

Of course, scientists have been expressing concerns about the health values of the paleo diet overall.  This diet is, theoretically, based on an ancient hunter-gatherer diet, but there are lots of issues with it, scientifically.  Ancient hunter-gatherers lived a very different lifestyle from the one we live today.  We drive cars, have sedentary jobs, and buy our food in a grocery store, none of which would have been even remote options for our ancient ancestors.  Ancient hunter-gatherers would also have binge eaten due to scarcity of food and lack of refrigeration.  Some meat may have been dehydrated or smoked, but in a typical hunter-gatherer society, any animal caught would have been eaten in its entirety by the group, right away.  Hunter-gatherers may have gorged themselves but then not found any more food for another few days.  Yet this is clearly not a healthy way to live.

Humans have changed physically, too, since the paleolithic days.  We eat a much wider variety of foods today.  The majority of hunter-gatherer societies subsisted on just a few different foods, as that was all that was locally available.  However, since the invention of agriculture, humans have been able to cultivate dozens of different food crops at one time, in addition to the production of animals for meat and milk, and have adapted accordingly.   Even domesticated dogs have physically adapted to a diet including grains, and so have humans. Avoiding giving a child any dairy can also place them at higher risk of developing an allergy to it in the future. Pulses are a much healthier protein alternative to animal fats and proteins, which humans do not digest well and which are linked to a lot of diseases ranging from heart disease to osteoporosis.

Speaking of animal fats and proteins, the paleo diet places a heavy emphasis on fish and meat.  However, the meats we purchase today are typically much higher in fat content than wild meats – wild meat fat content is about 2%, while grain-fed commercially produced meat contains about 20% fat.  The paleo diet does recommend wild or grass-fed meat, but these meats are very expensive, so I would be surprised if no adherents cut corners on that little detail.  But I digress – the problem is that the majority of hunter-gatherer societies consumed very little meat at all, which is why humans are poorly adapted to meat consumption. “Meat was a celebration [because] you had to expend a lot of energy on the hunt,” says Professor Hayes of the Garvan Institute of Medical Research, and not every hunt was successful, making meat very scarce.  Any meat caught would have been shared with the entire tribe, as well, so individuals may not even have gotten a very large quantity of meat per person.

Certainly, hunter-gatherers would not have been feeding babies a formula made of chicken liver.  That would never have entered their minds.  All babies were fed breast milk – if not, they would die.  There simply was no formula.  If a mother could not breastfeed her baby, another mother in the group would suckle it along with her own baby.  Breast milk was the only option and there was no alternative. I suppose that if parents on the paleo diet want to force their kids to be on this diet as well, the most accurate way to do so would be to find a wet nurse if you are unable to breastfeed.

The reality is that if parents want to raise healthy kids, the paleo diet is not the way to do it.  It is simply not a nutritionally ideal diet for babies and children.  In fact, it could even be making them unhealthy or, in the case of the chicken liver infant formula, actually risking their lives.  By all means, take the good things from the paleo diet – avoid processed foods, cut out sugar – but keep the good things that are not paleo, too, like grains and pulses.  This is the way to inspire healthy kids.

Homemade Rice Milk – The Healthy, Cheap Dairy Alternative

Homemade Rice Milk – The Healthy, Cheap Dairy Alternative

For various reasons, which will be further explored on this blog in the future, I choose not to give my kids much dairy. I certainly never give them cow’s milk (I do give them some dairy products, to help prevent them from developing allergies), but at the same time, I prefer not to give them a lot of commercially purchased milks. My solution is to make my own milk substitute: rice milk!

Using leftover brown rice to make rice milk

There are a lot of concerns about feeding kids too much soy (yet another blog topic for the future – I’m going to be busy!), so I rarely give my kids soymilk. I prefer to limit their soy intake to tofu and tempeh. Almond milk is great, but it does contain nuts, which means it’s not a good ingredient to include in dishes for guests or that must be nut-free to be sent to school (it’s also a bit more difficult to make at home). Even oat milk and rice milk purchased at the store can contain additives, sugars, flavorings, and preservatives. Even if you do find a milk substitute that meets your standards, it becomes incredibly expensive to purchase on a regular basis.

Adding the rice to the blender to make rice milk

What if there was a healthy milk alternative that was both cheap and easy to make? Enter homemade rice milk!

Most people are amazed when I tell them how easy rice milk is to make. It really does take 5 minutes or less to make, per liter.

And how about the cost? Mine comes in at about 30 cents per liter, which is up to a tenth of what it costs to buy it in the store (of course where you live affects your savings, but where else can you get organic brown rice milk for so cheap?!).

Rice milk in blender ready to be made

Because the rice milk I make at home is so easy to make and so cheap, nobody in my family has any qualms about using it in large quantities. I substitute it for milk in almost every recipe.   Sometimes I even substitute it for water in recipes to give some added nutrition to a dish, added creaminess, and added flavor.

Bear in mind that rice is gluten free, so this is a good substitute for people who are allergic to many major allergens like wheat, soy, or nuts.

The best thing about making your own rice milk, which trumps even the time and money factors, is that you can customize it. Want it sweeter or less sweet? Adjust the amount of sweetener you add. Want it flavored? Add your own preferred amount of essence or flavoring – the sky is the limit! Now you don’t have to be limited to just vanilla and chocolate flavorings. Want your rice milk thinner? Add more water. Want it thicker? Add less water.   No matter what you want it for or what your personal preference is, you can make it to be exactly the way you want it to be.

Blending the rice milk

The only downside I find is that no matter how much I blend mine up, it still separates a bit in the fridge. But is this really a downside? After all, even commercially produced rice milks with homogenization equipment available still have to be shaken before use. And how much effort is it to shake up some rice milk before using anyway? But this is actually the only bad thing about homemade rice milk that I could come up with. I’m really grasping at straws here!

My kids love this rice milk and actually… so do I.   I can’t stand the flavor of commercially produced milk substitutes. They just do not have the right kind of texture to compare at all with the cow’s milk I grew up on. But fresh rice milk, straight out of the blender and ever so slightly warm…. Oh, yeah, that’s creamy and delicious, I have to admit!

At the very least, this recipe is worth a try. At best you and your kids will love it and it will revolutionize your cooking. It will help you and your kids to lead healthier lives and consume a healthier diet. And at worst? Well, you have a liter of rice milk that cost you 30 cents – add it to some baking and never worry about it again. But somehow I don’t think that will be the outcome.

Rice milk ready to drink and use, still frothy from the blender

Homemade Rice Milk

Ingredients

1 cup cooked rice (I recommend organic brown rice, but you can use any kind of rice left over from dinner – I have used basmati, jasmine, and other kinds of rice and they all turn out delicious)
1 pinch salt (I recommend pink Himalayan salt)
1 tbsp sweetener (I use agave nectar or honey, depending on whether or not I want the resulting milk to be vegan, but any kind of sweetener will work – I have used date syrup, unrefined molasses sugar, and maple syrup – just be aware these may slightly alter the resulting flavor)
4 cups filtered water

 

Instructions

 

  1. Cook rice if not done already. Whenever I cook rice for a meal, I make extra to use for this purpose. Alternatively, make a big batch and freeze one-cup servings of rice to use for making rice milk. Cooked rice freezes surprisingly well!
  2. Add all ingredients to blender.
  3. Blend on high for 4 minutes in a conventional blender or 2 minutes in a Vitamix/professional catering blender.
  4. Serve, use in cooking, or put in a container in the fridge. Keeps in the fridge for approximately 5 days.
  5. Shake before using if it has been stored in the fridge.

 

Variations

  • Add flavorings to make your rice milk more exciting and varied. Pureed strawberries for strawberry milk (or add whole strawberries when you blend the milk), cacao powder for chocolate milk (you may need additional sweetener), vanilla essence for vanilla milk. But don’t think you need to stop there. Why limit yourself? What about mango milk? Or try adding some interesting essences for different flavors. Almond essence can fool people into thinking they’re drinking almond milk, or better. Mix some mint essence into chocolate rice milk for mint chocolate milk. Any flavor you can imagine can be mixed in to make this drink more palatable for picky kids!

 

A glass of delicious rice milk

I use rice milk for everything. Pancakes, muffins, and bread in baking. I mix it into scrambled eggs, frittatas, and quiches. I use it in smoothies and desserts. And, of course, I use it on its own, for drinking or for cereal. Try using flavored rice milk with plain cereals like Weet Bix, pure shredded wheat, or plain puffed cereals. Adding a flavored milk like chocolate or strawberry will give the cereal the impression of having the fun flavor, too. This can help you cut the heavy artificial sweeteners and flavors out of kids’ diets by enabling you to eliminate heavily flavored and sweetened cereals from their diets.

 

I hope you enjoy this recipe for rice milk as much as we do!

Healthy Sweet Juice Pulp Muffins/Cupcakes

Healthy Sweet Juice Pulp Muffins/Cupcakes

Fruit Pulp Muffins

My husband has been doing a juice fast recently, leaving me with a massive amount of juice pulp.  Although most of the pulp has been vegetable pulp, he has provided me with some fruit pulp, which I’m excited to use.  There are so many ways to use fruit pulp!  Add it to oatmeal, mix it with yogurt, and even mix it into cookies.  Today, I decided to use some to make some sweet, fruity muffins.

Fruit pulp

What is the difference between a sweet muffin and a cupcake?  I kind of consider them to be very similar, but there are some differences.  Muffins, even sweet ones, are not too sweet, whereas cupcakes tend to be much sweeter.  Muffins are also more dense while cupcakes are a bit more fluffy.  I also tend to think that cupcakes come with icing on top, while muffins do not.  Therefore, this recipe is for muffins but I include instructions how to alter it to make it into cupcakes.

Ingredients in mixing bowl

These muffins are great for breakfast or as a snack.  They are only slightly sweet so they satisfy kids’ desire for a sweet flavor without giving a sugar rush.  (They do not contain processed sugar.)  The size of muffins is inherently a good serving size for sending in a school lunch.  Because they are made with whole wheat flour, they are actually a really healthy (and slightly sneaky) way to get kids to consume whole grains.  Because they are made with fruit pulp, they are not as sweet as if you made them with whole fruit – most of the fruit sugar goes out with the juice.  Yet, they still give the flavor of the fruit.  As a bonus, the fruit pulp is very high in fiber, which too many kids today don’t get enough of.  They don’t have too many ingredients and none of them are too hard to get ahold of (except possibly the juice pulp, if you are not juicing on your own).

Batter for fruit pulp muffins

The fruit used to make the pulp was a mix.  It was at least 50% strawberry, but also included a mix of grape, plum, and nectarine.  Really, any mix of fruit would work.  Of course it will change the flavor of your muffins dramatically, but that’s okay.  It means that every time you make this recipe it will be new and fun.

Sweet Fruity Muffins

This recipe makes approximately 2 dozen mini muffins and 6 regular size muffins.

Ingredients

1 cup fruit pulp (from juicing)
1 cup rice milk
1 free range egg
1 tbsp organic agave nectar (or honey)
1 cup self-raising whole wheat flour
1/4 tsp baking soda

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 175 C/350 F forced fan setting (increase by 10-20 degrees C if not using fan force).
  2. Mix together wet ingredients.
  3. Sift together dry ingredients
  4. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and mix well.
  5. Put in greased or lined muffin tins.  You can fill them to the top as these are muffins and don’t rise much.
  6. Bake until golden and a toothpick inserted comes out clean.  Let cool before serving.

Variations

  • To turn these muffins into cupcakes, do three things:
    1) Add 1-2 teaspoons baking powder (to give them the extra lift they need)
    2) Sweeten them extra with an additional 1-2 tbsp agave nectar
    3) Top them with healthy frosting or icing!
  • Add extra flavors for a new dimension.  A few drops of vanilla not only gives a nice vanilla flavor but also gives the sensation of increased sweetness.  Other essences work, too, such as almond extract or even rum extract.
  • Add spices.  Depending on what kind of juice pulp you’re using, you can pair it with certain spices that work well together.  For instance, if you are using pear or apple pulp, consider adding some cinnamon or nutmeg.  Grapes go well together with cinnamon, star anise, and cloves.  Strawberry and banana is surprisingly good with flavors like orange zest and Chinese five spice.

Fruit juice pulp mini muffins ready to go in the oven

These muffins were an absolute hit in our house.  It is almost worth it to make more juice just to get the pulp!  Enjoy – and let me know how yours turn out!

Fruit juice pulp muffin

Healthier School Lunches ARE WORKING!

Healthier School Lunches ARE WORKING!

Last month I posted a series about American school lunches and the changes they have undergone during Michelle Obama’s leadership.  The lessons we can learn from this “experiment” in good childhood nutrition are applicable all over the world.  However, at the time I was writing, there was no scientific report yet out about the impact of these changes on kids, although I did share about one inspirational case study.  That report was released just days after my post on the subject!

Lessons from the Lunchroom: Childhood Obesity, School Lunch, and the Way to a Healthier Future is a report by Lindsey Haynes-Maslow, PhD, MHA and Jeffrey K. O’Hara, PhD that was released at the end of February.  This report highlights that although healthier school lunches on their own will not solve the childhood obesity epidemic or make our kids instantly healthy, they do have a meaningful impact.  Kids who eat the healthier school lunches consume more fruits and vegetables, which is really important when so many kids today eat less than one serving of fruits and vegetables per day.

Obesity is a huge problem for the children of today.  Obese children are ten times more likely to become obese adults.  With one third of kids in America overweight, this means we are raising a generation of unhealthy children who will become unhealthy adults.  The United States alone spends $210 billion treating obesity-related diseases every year.  And those are just the obesity-related diseases, not the figure for all diseases that could be prevented with a healthy diet.  This affects everyone in society, as we are all affected by the economy that bears the brunt of this heavy burden.

Minorities are especially at risk, with African American kids 43% more likely to be obese and Hispanic American kids 59% more likely to become obese.  Interestingly enough, minorities are also those groups most likely to be granted free or reduced lunch status, as minority groups in America have a greater likelihood of having a lower socioeconomic status.  In a surprising twist of fate, this could actually be a good thing – it means they are most likely to benefit from positive, healthy changes to school lunch regulations.

Lessons from the Lunchroom reveals some surprising proof that healthier school lunches have a meaningful impact on kids who consume them.  The report analyzes kids’ eating habits over time and concentrated on kids who consistently eat school lunches, i.e. kids on the free or reduced lunch program.  This study found that kids in the fifth grade who receive free or reduced lunches ate three more servings of fruits and vegetables per week than their peers.  This benefit carried forward into the future as well, with the study finding these same kids ate more fruits and vegetables than their peers three years later.

Three more servings per week of fruit and vegetables on the face of it may not sound like a lot, but with 30% of 6-year-olds consuming fruit less than once daily and nearly 20% of 6-year-olds consuming vegetables less than once daily, adding an extra three servings of fruit and vegetables per week into kids’ diets can make a huge impact on their overall nutrition and health.

Furthermore, this study confirms yet again that positive dietary habits formed young continue to impact kids.  It is never too late to start teaching kids good nutrition habits!  However, the younger kids are, the more likely the changes are to stick.  Repetition helps as well.  Kids who take a fruit or vegetable with their lunch every single day are more likely to eat that fruit or vegetable and are also more likely to form a lasting habit.

Remember, as taxpayers we are all paying for school lunches.  School lunches are subsidized not only directly, in the form of free or reduced lunch programs, but also indirectly, through agricultural subsidies.  Later in life taxpayer dollars help underwrite the healthcare system that pays for obesity-related diseases.  The health of our nation’s youth depends on us making a statement and pushing for healthy change!

This is of concern to all of us, now.  This is not some nebulous issue or even something that requires you as an individual to overhaul your local school lunch program (although I applaud you if you do attempt this!).  This is an issue that each and every one of us has a stake in and has a say on.  The report’s press release says it well:

By September 30, 2015, Congress must again reauthorize the National School Lunch Program and related programs—another chance for Congress to improve school nutrition. UCS recommends that Congress maintain the gains made in the 2010 law, while increasing funding to programs that support serving nutritious produce in schools. Congress should also increase the federal reimbursement rate for school lunches to assist schools with providing healthier lunches.

So go forth and contact your representatives in Congress! Let them know what you think and agitate for change.  Together, they will listen to us.  Together, we can make a change.

The Union of Concerned Scientists also published a snazzy infographic summarizing the report, which you can share with your friends:

Teaching Good Nutrition Begins in Infancy

Teaching Good Nutrition Begins in Infancy

We hear the mantra that the very beginning of life is when babies learn the most as the reason why we should focus on their education from the very beginning.  But we all know from personal experience that nobody actually remembers being a baby.  It’s hard to associate a period of our own lives that nobody can even remember with being the most ideal time for learning.  Yet, even nutrition needs to be taught from the earliest stages, even in infancy, before your child even reaches the age of one!

Late last year yet another study was released that confirms this once again.  What babies were fed in infancy directly correlated to what they consumed later in life, at age six.  Babies who were fed unhealthy foods in infancy grew into children who were more than twice as likely to consume unhealthy foods as children – and of course, many other studies confirm that behaviors cemented in childhood are carried through into adulthood.  In essence, what you choose to feed your baby directly impacts how they will choose to eat during the rest of their lives.

Did you know that over 30% of 6-year-olds consume fruit less than once daily?  Nearly 20% of 6-year-olds consume vegetables less than once daily.  (Personally, I do not even know what these kids could possibly be eating, since fruits and vegetables are virtually all my kids eat!)  Even the US government recommends a minimum five servings a day of fruits and vegetables, so these kids are definitely not meeting nutritional guidelines, not even nutritional guidelines I find sorely lacking.

This study, done by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), found that kids who were fed less than one serving of fruits and vegetables per day in infancy were more than twice as likely to eat less than one serving per day of fruits and vegetables when they were six years old.  No wonder the AAP is getting desperate to get kids to eat their fruits and veggies in any way possible!

Starting babies out eating fruits and vegetables is the easiest thing in the world.  Babies are a captive audience when it comes to food.  They only experience as much variety as you provide them with and their taste buds are uncorrupted by flavors like sugar and salt.  All babies naturally gravitate toward sweet flavors (actually, I think most people do), which makes it even easier to give them fruits and vegetables as kids.  I fed my babies a wide variety of sweet foods when I started them on solids: stewed fruits like apples and pears, mashed soft fruits like bananas (especially delicious mixed with some mashed avocado) and ripe peach flesh, and steamed sweet vegetables like purple and orange sweet potatoes or carrots.

My kids generally had one to two servings of oatmeal (cooked using expressed breast milk for added nutrition), one serving of a sweet fruit or vegetable, and one serving of a savory vegetable (such as pureed spinach or peas) per meal.  I would also mix savory and sweet vegetables together (such as peas and carrots or spinach and butternut squash/pumpkin) and might even add fruit (pears with peas and carrots, for instance).  For ideas, look no further than your local grocery store – what fruit and vegetables combinations are being sold in prepackaged baby foods?  Those foods are tried and tested, so you know the flavors go together well.

I always made all my own baby food, which is easier than it sounds.  I often made extra of whatever I was preparing for dinner and simply set it aside and pureed it.  Other times, I would specifically cook up a batch for the baby but I would freeze the majority of it in quarter-cup ice cube trays.  That way it took maximum a half an hour of time per week to make separate food for the baby.  Of course, you could just buy baby food! Today the range of organic baby food free of added sugar, salt, and preservatives is growing.

Studies like this one show just how important it is to start educating your kids about nutrition from the very beginning.  Their first lessons start when they first start solids!