Healthy Travel Snacks for Toddlers: Airplanes

Healthy Travel Snacks for Toddlers

The boys and I on the planeTraveling with toddlers can be stressful under the best of conditions.  You don’t need to add worrying about food to your to-do list.  And yet, you cannot travel with your toddler(s) without some fuel for their energetic and growing bodies and minds!  Never fear, here are some ideas for healthy travel snacks for toddlers that you can easily grab and go!

My Story

Akiva at the Airport

Akiva is 3 years old now, which is 36 months, and he has already been on 48 flights. He’s been on road trips and traveled on cars, buses, boats, and bicycles.  He’s been in taxis, on ferries, and on vans and of course has traveled on foot and in a carrier.  He’s pretty well-traveled.

Akiva is also an eater.  He’s about average when it comes to food – he is neither a child without limits (I know some of those) nor is he a picky eater for whom one mouthful is a meal (I know some of those, too).  This makes him very good for experimenting on.  My child, my (healthy travel snack) guinea pig. 🙂

Kids Need Healthy Travel Snacks

Homemade healthy cookies are our favorite airplane travel snack

Homemade healthy cookies are our favorite airplane travel snack

As adults, most of us do not snack much during the day.  Our bodies simply do not require a constant stream of fuel to keep us going.  (Of course because I am writing about snacks, now I want one!)  But children have smaller stomachs and have a lot of energy, which uses up their fuel more quickly.  They need snacks to get them through the day.

Kids are also growing and learning constantly.  Every situation is an opportunity to learn.  Going through the airport scanner is an adventure.  Riding on a bus without needing to be in a car seat is like a holiday in Rome.  But all that learning means kids’ brains are burning through their calories, which means they are going to get hungry.

And you cannot rely on airlines or airports to be able to provide healthy food.  Yes, there may be a “vegan” or “vegetarian” option, but that doesn’t mean it’s a “healthy” option!  Even vegan or vegetarian meal options can come packed with sugar and salt, not to mention lots of unnecessary oil.  Airport restaurants are no better: Airport restaurants are designed for convenience and speed, not health.  There have been times when I have had to scour a dozen airport restaurants and shops just to be able to find some plain, uncut fresh fruit.  That said, in a pinch many airports today are now featuring juice bars.  Fresh juice can be good fuel but fruit juice also packs a whopping load of sugar.  (If you are getting fresh juice for your child, try if you can to get vegetable juice.)  Better are smoothie bars (smoothies contain whole fruit, which means the fiber in fruit, which slows and steadies fruit sugar absorption, is still being consumed).

Of course the temptation is out their to ply your kids with unhealthy travel snacks.  It is so easy to justify.  “They deserve something special for this special occasion,” or, “I need to give them something delicious to distract them/keep them quiet/make them stop screaming their heads off on the plane so the United stewardess doesn’t kick me off.”

But travel is exactly the time when your kids need healthy food the most.  They need balanced nutrition to help keep their hormones and emotions well-balanced.  They need the extra energy to be able to handle all the new experiences. They need extra fluids to help keep them hydrated on airplanes.  They need foods that will calm them and enable them to sleep whenever possible to alleviate the fatigue of travel and overstimulation. They do not need added processed sugars that will give them sugar highs and lows, and energy bursts and crashes they cannot control.  They do not need salty snacks or snacks high in sodium that will dehydrate them further.  And our of courtesy for the people who own and have to clean your conveyance, they do not need really messy snacks.  (Or courtesy for yourself – when I flew United and Akiva dropped some sandwich crumbs the stewardess made me pick them up.  Of course, United Airlines is evil incarnate and should never be flown, so this probably should not come as a surprise.)

(Also, a musical interlude because I can’t help myself) 

Healthy Travel Snacks for Toddlers When You Fly

There are lots of healthy and delicious snack options, even when you consider that flying has lots of requirements: You don’t want anything too heavy because you have to carry it, or too big because it will take up too much room you need for carrying other things (like diapers and iPad backup batteries).  You also don’t want anything too fragile that will be crushed into an inedible mush or will make a big mess.  And of course you can’t bring anything liquid above a certain size if you’re traveling in America.  With all those parameters in mind, consider these snack ideas:

  • Muffins – Muffins can be savory or sweet.  I often make savory muffins loaded up with fresh veggies like carrots or zucchini.  You can also add toppings/fillings to savory muffins – Vegemite, hummus, and tahini are our favorites.  Sweet muffins can be used as a yummy treat to distract kids without needing to give them a sugar rush.  I load mine up with fruit juice pulp – the extra fiber helps slow down sugar absorption and releases energy more smoothly, which is exactly what kids need!  You can also bulk up sweet muffins by spreading them with natural 100% peanut butter.  Muffins also hold their shape pretty well, even if they get a bit bumped around.
  • Oatmeal – If you need a good morning snack, oatmeal travels very well.  Snack sized servings should pass through security just fine (although I have never had a problem with food for my “baby”).  I make steel-cut oatmeal and load it up with chia and flax/linseeds, fresh and dried fruit, coconut oil, and make it creamy using rice milk.  Non-dairy oatmeal travels really well and with all the fruit in it, it tastes so great my kids never care if it’s hot or not.  (Some airlines will be happy to warm it for you though if you ask.)
  • Fresh Veggies & Dips – Fresh vegetables and dips are a great snack combination for kids.  Try cutting up celery, capsicum/bell pepper, broccoli, cauliflower, cucumber, and carrots.  Kids can snack on these on their own or dipped in something like hummus, tahini, babaganoush, beetroot dip, or red pepper dip.  If you’re in America, though, you will have to bring just a small enough portion to be able to get through security.
  • Peanut Butter and… Anything! – Maybe it’s wrong of me, but I do bring peanut butter when I travel.  It’s a nutritious food with healthy fats and proteins that give kids good fuel.  It’s great as a dip or as a spread.  Of course you can make the traditional peanut butter sandwich or spread peanut butter on two crackers and slap them together.  But you can also spread peanut butter on all sorts of things.  Use peanut butter to fill celery logs (you can stick raisins in to give it some sweetness), or slice apples thinly and make peanut butter apple “sandwiches.”
  • Fresh Fruit – Fresh fruit is sweet, juicy, and nutritious.  Choose a travel-friendly fruit like apples or oranges as opposed to bananas, which squish easily.  You can also cut up fruits like apples, pears, and peaches and put them in a disposable or reusable plastic container.
  • Crackers – I make my own vegan gluten free crackers from vegetable pulp, but you can also buy some really healthy crackers as well.  Crackers give kids the chance to crunch on something and are easily eaten by them on their own, freeing you to tend to younger kids or just to relax a bit.  Veggie pulp crackers give kids extra fiber to help keep their digestive tracts running smoothly and conventional crackers made of grains and/or seeds give kids needed carbohydrates.
  • Cookies – I pack lots of healthy homemade cookies for a treat when we travel.  In our house, cookies are a special pre-naptime treat, so when the cookies come out my kids usually settle in for a rest right away.  I have a couple different kinds of cookies I make, one with oatmeal and fruit and the other with oats, whole wheat flour, fruit, and carrots.  Either way, I know my kids can have cookies guilt-free, with whole fruits and no added processed sugar.
  • Dried Fruit – Dried fruit is my secret weapon.  My kids think of dried fruit as candy, which a lot of it is.  Dates are sweeter than most candies you can buy and tamarind is more deliciously sour than sour candy. Drying fruit concentrates its sugar and flavors.  When my kids are crying out of control on the plane, dried fruit inevitably quiets them down.  It also keeps them chewing hard during takeoff and landing, when they need to chew to equalize the pressure in their ears.

Happy Travels!

I hope these snack ideas make it feel easier for you to travel by air with your toddler.  Healthy travel snacks don’t have to be hard to make or find, they don’t have to be complicated, and they can be toddler friendly.

Getting a Dehydrator!

Getting a Dehydrator!

Our new dehydrator full of its first fruits!  You can see my kids were so excited to try them they wouldn't even let me take a photo!

Our new dehydrator full of its first fruits! You can see my kids were so excited to try them they wouldn’t even let me take a photo!

I’ve finally gotten a dehydrator!  I’ve been wanting one for years and finally hubby bought one for me as a belated birthday present.  Truthfully, it’s as much a present for him as it is for me – he loves dehydrated food to take with him on his many camping/hiking expeditions.  Plus, the dehydrator can be used to make all sorts of exciting healthy snacks for the kids.

What Dehydrator to Get?

Dehydrated apple slices

Truthfully, I only have the one and have only used a few dehydrators in my time, so I can’t recommend a particular brand.  It’s worth checking online to see reviews.  To me, the most important factor would be how reliable it is: does it dehydrate evenly at the expected temperature and is it going to break down?  The answer to the first question should be “yes” and the second should be “no.”  Everything else is a perk, so whether you want to spend extra to get a fancier model dehydrator is entirely up to you.

Some dehydrators offer fancier features.  One of my favorite features is a timer, which is handy when you’re dehydrating stuff for long periods of time.  However, if you don’t go for this option (which we ultimately did not), you can always use a standard wall timer to turn off the dehydrator when the time is up.  Other features include special trays for dehydrating more liquid ingredients like fruit puree or yogurt.  But if you don’t have the right tray inserts, don’t fret: a piece of parchment paper will work just fine.

You will also be able to decide what shape of dehydrator you want.  Some are round and some are square or rectangular.  I have used both and by far prefer square or rectangular machines.  Round machine trays have a hole in the middle.  Aside from your fruit leather coming out looking like a very flat donut, it’s harder to cut nice even strips.  I like the dehydrators with square or rectangular trays that make it easy to evenly arrange produce in neat rows, and to slice fruit leather or yogurt into strips.

Another detail to consider is what kind of tray to use.  The trays in our dehydrator are made of sturdy plastic that is dishwasher safe and easy to clean.  However, the holes are quite large, which means you need an insert or parchment paper to dehydrate smaller items like berries or peas.  Other dehydrators have finer, more mesh-like trays, which are good for dehydrating smaller items, but which are also much more difficult to get completely clean.

Finally, you have to consider the size of the dehydrator you want.  Today, you can get little dehydrators with just 3 or 4 trays that can sit on your countertop, or you can opt for a giant industrial-size model with 16 trays that might have to sit on your kitchen floor.  Some models allow you to add or subtract trays so you can purchase extras if your original turns out not to have enough.  Consider how often you will be using your dehydrator.  If you plan to use it for small amounts frequently, then perhaps a small model will be sufficient.  But if you want to preserve large amounts of fruits and vegetables or you have a lot of hungry kids looking for healthy and delicious snacks, then you’ll want a bigger model.  A bigger dehydrator will also be good for people who have bumper crops of produce periodically during the year: during those times you’ll want to preserve as much as possible, but during the times when you’re not using it, you can put your big dehydrator away.

Dehydrating Fruit

Dehydrated kiwi fruit and nectarine

Of course as soon as I opened up the dehydrator’s box, I immediately set to work slicing up some fruit to put in it.  I filled most of it with sliced apples but also threw in some kiwi fruits, peaches, and a stray nectarine.

Most fruit should be sliced about 1/4 inch thick and be placed peel side down (bananas should be sliced slightly thinner).  I have a mandolin that slices apples the perfect thickness.  I picked mine up super cheap at Kmart, so if budget is an issue for you a cheap mandolin won’t break the bank and will save you lots of time.  Soft fruits like peaches, bananas, and kiwi fruit, however, are more easily sliced with a knife.

Be careful not to slice fruit too thin.  I tried that once in a desperate attempt to get my apples to come out crunchy (this won’t happen with a dehydrator – you need a freeze dry machine to get nice crunchy apple chips without cooking the heck out of them).  If you slice fruit too thin, it sticks to your dehydrator trays and is unpleasant to try to get off.  Fruit shrinks as it dehydrates and a very thin slice will turn as thin as the finest paper (even to the point of being able to see through it) if you don’t leave some thickness to it.

Dehydrating fruit should be set at 135 degrees Fahrenheit (57 degrees Celcius) (strict raw foodists should not set it to be above 118 F or 48 C).  If you’re doing what I did and putting in multiple types of fruit, check that they all take approximately the same amount of time to dehydrate.

Healthy Food for Kids from the Dehydrator

Dehydrated peaches

Dehydrated fruit is a perfect healthy snack for kids.  They will love it if you give them a small bag of dehydrated fruit as a school snack.  Dehydrated foods keep for a long time as well, so you can do big batches and then vary what fruits you give your kids.  Apples one day, kiwi fruit the next. Or mix them up and give your kids a bag of healthy mixed fruit. Yum!

You can also mix other foods in with dehydrated fruits.  Add some nuts, pretzels, or puffed cereals to create a trail mix free of excess salt and processed sugar.  A snack like this is perfect for kids on the go, especially if they’re being rushed from one after school sport to the next.  Fruits give your kids healthy sugars, nuts have beneficial protein and fat, and cereals contain carbohydrates that provide energy more slowly to sustain your kids.  Sprinkle a little bit of Himalayan salt onto the nuts to replenish needed electrolytes.

Dehydrated vegetables can also make other everyday foods more exciting.  Dehydrated tomatoes, for instance, can really add some life a salad or pasta dish.  And of course the concentrated flavor in dehydrated vegetables makes them into tasty snacks.  (Plus, you can use your dehydrator to make healthier potato chips – don’t tell the kids!)

Have Fun with Your Dehydrator!

In the coming weeks I am sure I will get up more posts about the healthy snacks I am experimenting with in my new toy.  The most important thing is to have fun.  It’s a great opportunity to get your kids involved.  Find out what fruits they would like to try dehydrating, or have them blend up their own unique combinations for fruit leather.  If you do your shopping in the market, let your kids each choose a few pieces of fruit to dehydrate for snack that week.  Getting a dehydrator could become one of your most exciting purchases!

Breastfeeding: How to Eat Healthy

Breastfeeding: How to Eat Healthy

It was not so long ago that I had newborns in the house.  After all, my littlest one is not yet a year an a half and my oldest is not even three yet!  So I know the rush to do everything that needs to be done – the housework, cooking, cleaning, laundry, and of course looking after a demanding new baby!  Add to that the stress of sleep deprivation and interrupted sleep cycles and you have a recipe for disaster.   I am so glad I prepared meals and stocked my freezers well in advance of having babies (my husband jokes that we’re only allowed to eat out of the freezers after a baby comes).   If I hadn’t had the foresight to do that, goodness only know what I would have been eating!

I think a lot of new mums are in the same situation.  You’re so harried and busy caring for your house and family that it’s hard to care for yourself.  I remember a time when a shower felt like a luxury!  So it is extremely tempting to resort to convenience foods or to just grab whatever packaged food comes to hand that you can shove in your mouth in a spare moment between changing leaky nappies/diapers and rocking a colicky baby.

Here are some helpful ideas for way to eat healthy during that crucial and formative first six months of breastfeeding when life is hectic and sleep is short:

Prepare Before Baby

The best piece of advice I can give is to prepare lots and lots of meals in advance.  You can package some of them in bigger family-size containers for nights when you’re too worn out to make dinner, but make sure to package the majority of them in single-serving takeout containers so you can have them for yourself.  Be generous with portions.  Remember, breastfeeding can make you really hungry!  In the morning take one out to thaw and heat it up for lunch.  It’s amazing how refreshed a healthy, homemade meal will make you feel!

Stock up on Healthy Snacks

Not all snacks are created equal.  Find some healthy snacks that are energy and nutrient-dense so you can get the fuel you need in a short period of time.  Almonds are a favorite – they are so good for your milk and they will give you the healthy fats and proteins you need to produce thick, rich milk.  Healthy oatmeal cookies (recipe coming soon) are also good for milk production (add brewers’ yeast, wheat germ, and flax seeds/linseeds to turn regular oatmeal cookies into “lactation cookies” – although I have no idea if these really work!).  Other healthy snacks include healthy crackers like quinoa crackers, fresh and dried fruit, fruit leather (as long as no sugar is added), or crunchy freeze dried fruits and vegetables.

Drink Smoothies

Smoothies are so easy to make!  Just throw a bunch of ingredients in a blender and off you go.  Turn ordinary smoothies into a complete meal by adding whey or yogurt, nut butter, or even oats.  Boost the nutrient profile by tossing in seeds like chia seeds (high in omega 3s, which you will want to regain your memory after sleep deprivation and children steal it from you) and flax seeds/linseeds (good for boosting milk production).  Smoothies are great because you can put them in a travel cup and drink them as you go about your day.  You’ll discover you can even drink them while you nurse your baby!  They’re really filling and so easy.

Find Easy Foods

Keep a stock of easy foods on hand for when you have just a few minutes to prepare a meal for yourself.  Buy dry beans, soak them overnight, and boil them, then store them in the fridge.  They’ll keep for a few days and they make for a really nutritious and filling meal or snack.   Also, stock up on frozen vegetables.  Check that the only ingredient is the vegetables to avoid extra salt and sugar you don’t need.  Lots of veggies are available this way now, even in pre-made mixes.  For instance, you can get frozen stir-fry mix.  Toss it frozen straight into a hot pan and you’ll have a whole meal in a few minutes.   I am also a big fan of eggs (as I don’t eat meat) – they’re a pretty whole food and very nutrient dense, but they are also really quick and easy to prepare in a variety of ways.  Try baking an egg in the center of an avocado for some extra healthy fats.

Buy Some New Kitchen Gadgets

Certain kitchen gadgets are worth every penny.  My top three for a nursing mom would be: blender, rice cooker, and bread machine.  Blenders are amazing for making smoothies and pureed soups, but are also crucial if you want to make your own baby food.  When my husband came home with my first rice cooker, I looked at him as if he was crazy.  “Why do I need that?!  I always make it on the stove – it’s easy.”  Folks, with a rice cooker it’s easier.  Just put in rice and water, push the button, and walk away.  We’ve been using the same el-cheapo version from K-Mart for years and it’s still turning out great rice night after night.  Finally, the bread machine… if my husband was a salesman, he would probably sell bread machines.  Ours is a Breville and it’s been around for a good 12 years now.  I’ve even dropped it from a pretty high height and it’s still going strong.  A bread machine allows you to make healthy, fresh bread with the push of a button.  Think how nice it would be to take two minutes to put in some ingredients and out comes hot bread 3 hours later!  You can even put it on a timer and have it ready first thing in the morning for breakfast.  (Bonus: soup maker.  We call this the “wife replacer.”  Toss in all your soup ingredients, push a button and walk away.)  (Bonus for wealthy people: Thermomix.  This is one gadget that I have tried and used but not been particularly impressed by.  To me, the instructions take just as long to figure out as it would to prepare the food conventionally.  But for healthy quick meals it probably can’t be beat – if you can figure out the instructions!)

Resort to the Tried & True

There’s nothing wrong with resorting to tried and true classics!  Unsweetened muesli is packed with lots of good nutrition.  Try a bowl of plain yogurt with fruit (for the love of health, don’t choose one full of sugar!).  Or have a sandwich.  Fill it with veggies and spread the hummus and tahina on thick.

I hope you find these tips and tricks helpful.  I wish when I had my first baby I knew what I know now!

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.

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

(Raw) Vegan Gluten Free Pizza Crackers

(Raw) Vegan Gluten Free Pizza Crackers

Maybe it is because I am a child of the 80’s that I remember eating pizza-flavored crackers as I grew up. I’m probably thinking of the Combos Pizzeria Pretzel, pizza flavored bugles crackers, or the inimitable Combos Pepperoni Pizza Cracker, although the thought of pepperoni-flavored anything pretty much freaks me out now.  Still, I love pizza and it is probably one of my favorite foods.  So what could be better than a pizza-flavored snack?  A healthy pizza-flavored snack, of course!

Carrots, beets, and red capsicum/bell pepper cut up and ready to be juiced.

Carrots, beets, and red capsicum/bell pepper cut up and ready to be juiced.

So here it is, the ultimate snack of goodness that your kids will love because it tastes like pizza and that you will love because there is nothing that could even remotely be construed as unhealthy in it.  That’s right, they are vegan, gluten-free, raw (if you keep the temperature on your oven below 115 F/46 C), fat-free, and they are even kosher enough for the strictest of Passover-keeping Jews (and there is no diet more strict than that – they make gluten free and paleo look like wimps).  I am honestly convinced that this recipe is the snack recipe to end all snack recipes.  Because it is made of amazing.

Add spices to juice pulp to flavor it.  When the pulp is dehydrated, the flavor concentrates and makes these crackers FULL of flavor!

Add spices to juice pulp to flavor it. When the pulp is dehydrated, the flavor concentrates and makes these crackers FULL of flavor!

The key ingredient in this recipe is juice pulp, so you actually kind of get a two-for-one deal in this recipe.  Sure, you get a crunchy snack cracker that tastes like pizza, but you also get some super healthy (and yummy) juice to drink.  It really is an all-around winner.

Juice pulp and spice mix spread on a baking tray, ready to be dehydrated into crackers

Juice pulp and spice mix spread on a baking tray, ready to be dehydrated into crackers

Vegan Gluten-Free Pizza Crackers

Ingredients

4-5 packed cups juice pulp from red/orange veggies (I used carrots, beets, and red capsicum/bell pepper)
1 heaping tbsp tomato paste
1 heaping tbsp nutritional yeast (optional)
1 tsp rubbed oregano
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp onion powder
1/8 tsp black pepper
1/8 tsp salt (I use pink himalayan salt)

Instructions

  1. Juice your vegetables and discard the juice.  Just kidding! Drink the juice and keep the pulp to make these crackers.
  2. Mix all ingredients.  I recommend using your hands to ensure all ingredients are evenly distributed and to break up any clumps of pulp.
  3. Using the flat of your palm, press pulp mixture evenly onto 2 cookie trays lined with baking/wax paper.  Depending on how thick you want your crackers to be, this will fill 2 medium or 2 medium-large trays (or 1 giant tray).  Alternately, press into the trays provided with your dehydrator.
  4. If you are making thicker crackers, score the pulp with a knife so you can break the crackers apart easily later.
  5. Optionally sprinkle top of crackers with sea salt.
  6. Place the trays in your oven on the lowest setting.  I use 50 C fan forced, but keep it below 46 C if you are going for a raw option.  (Although this designation makes me confused, as it definitely gets above 46C in the Aussie outback on a regular basis, so I suppose nothing grown there could be considered raw… but I digress.)  Bake until crispy.  Times vary depending on your oven, settings, and thickness of the crackers.  I make mine quite thin and with fan force on it takes only 3 hours to fully dehydrate these crackers.  If you are doing thicker crackers, do not have fan force, or use a centrifugal juicer that does not get out as much juice as a masticating juicer, it may well take 5 hours to complete this.
  7. Break apart crackers and test.  If you made thicker crackers, break on the lines you scored.  If you made thinner crackers like I do, you will find they have shrunk and cracked on their own during the dehydrating process.  They won’t be perfect little squares, but who cares when they taste so good?!  If crackers are not crunchy and brittle, return to the oven and check again in 30-60 minutes.
  8. Enjoy crackers on their own or with toppings that pair well with pizza, like sliced olives, sun dried tomatoes, etc.  Store extra crackers in an airtight plastic container or ziplock bag.

Variations

  • Finely chop up “pizza” toppings and mix them in.  My favorite is olives but other toppings such as sun dried tomatoes, spinach, broccoli, roasted red bell peppers/capsicum, crumbled tofu, mushrooms, tempeh, or vegetarian meat substitutes.  Be sure not to overdo it with the “toppings” as you still want your crackers to be crackers!
  • Change the spices added.  These crackers really smell and taste like actual Italian pizza, but mixing in other flavors like basil won’t hurt.  Or change the spice mixture completely, swapping for instance with Mexican spice mix to make “taco” crackers.
The final juice pulp crackers have a nice reddish-orange color that suits their pizza flavor.  They're very high in fiber and also have lots of great nutrition.  Because they are so highly concentrated, they also have a delicious flavor - you will be really surprised!

The final juice pulp crackers have a nice reddish-orange color that suits their pizza flavor. They’re very high in fiber and also have lots of great nutrition. Because they are so highly concentrated, they also have a delicious flavor – you will be really surprised!

I hope your kids love these crackers as much as mine do!  I’ve actually had to restrict my older toddler from eating too many or he’ll eat the whole lot of them.  Of course, if you have a child who suffers from constipation, eating the whole lot of crackers might be a good move – these snacks will keep your kids very regular!  But given that most kids today do not enough enough fiber, these crunchy crackers are a really healthy addition to your kids’ diets.  In fact, even my “big kid” had been sneaking crackers from their box constantly – and he’s the one who’s supposed to be doing a juice fast!

Hershey’s Follows Nestle in Eliminating Artificial Colors and Flavors

Hershey’s Follows Nestle in Eliminating Artificial Colors and Flavors

Hersheys Chocolate Syrup

Yesterday, Nestle USA announced that it would be eliminating artificial coloring and flavoring from its chocolate confections.  This will definitely not be making their foods “health” foods… or even “healthy” foods.  So it comes as no surprise that Hershey’s has jumped on the boat and followed suit by announcing its own additive purge.

In its press release, Hershey’s declares:

Hershey is focusing on three key principles:

  • Simple Ingredients: We are committed to making our products using ingredients that are simple and easy-to-understand, like fresh milk from local farms, roasted California almonds, cocoa beans and sugar – ingredients you recognize, know and trust. We strive for this kind of simplicity with all of our ingredients.
  • Sharing What’s Inside: We take pride in our products and sharing information about all that goes into them, from the ingredients to sourcing, manufacturing and labeling. We will make this information easy to find for those who are interested – whether that’s on our packaging, on our website or through new technologies.
  • Thoughtful and Responsible Sourcing of Ingredients: We will continue to work with our suppliers to responsibly source sustainable ingredients, building on our progress against commitments to source 100 percent certified and sustainable cocoa and certified sustainable and traceable palm oil.

Of course, I take all of this with a grain of salt – or a grain of sugar, to be more apt.  Hershey’s products, like Nestle’s, will still be unhealthy.

Simple Ingredients? 

The last time I checked, ingredients like E322, polyglycerol polyricinoleate, and E476 were not simple ingredients. They’re not even simple to pronounce!  Plus I doubt that anyone who is not an industry expert knows off the top of their head what E322 and E476 are. I certainly do not know. (If you do, please raise your hand – but Googling it doesn’t count!)  To me, this doesn’t make them simple ingredients.  Of course now the artificial flavor will be removed, but changing it to an equally ambiguous label of “natural flavor,” which abounds on food labels lately, makes their ingredients list no more simple than it currently is.

Sharing What’s Inside?

Oh, really?  Does just listing ingredients on the label count?  It must, because otherwise you would be explaining what the heck E322, polyglycerol polyricinoleate, and E476 are.  And what your new “natural flavor” is made of.

Thoughtful and Responsible Sourcing of Ingredients?

Hershey's Chocolate Syrup Ingredients

I don’t care how sustainable and traceable their palm oil is – palm oil will still be unhealthy.  High fructose corn syrup will still be unhealthy (much more unhealthy even then processed sugar – but that’s a post for another time).

Hershey’s has been out in front of the industry in its attempts to source sustainably grown cocoa.  I wonder, though, how successful they have been in actually obtaining fair trade cocoa.  That’s because they get their cocoa from farms in West Africa, where in 2009 the U.S. Department of State estimated that more than 100,000 children worked on cocoa farms in abusive conditions.  It is entirely possible – probable, even – that they are actually getting cocoa that is at least tainted by child labor, even if they do not know it.  Farmers that grow for them do have a vested interest in not letting Hershey’s know about child labor.

Nestle has also been trying to eradicate child labor on the farms where it sources its cocoa.  But Malian children are still being transported to the Ivory Coast to work on cocoa farms, and Cargill, the largest importer of palm oil to the United States, has been accused of purchasing palm oil from an Indonesian supplier who uses slave labor.

But I digress… No matter where their ingredients come from, those ingredients are still unhealthy.  If your kids’ health isn’t enough of a reason to avoid these products, then maybe slave labor is.  Either way, we have got to stop feeding our kids these foods.  And sure, hyperkinesis and diabetes have been linked to artificial flavors and colors, but even more diseases have been linked to sugar and high fructose corn syrup.

I wish I could applaud another company’s attempt to make their food healthier, even by baby steps, but I honestly do not believe that’s what this move is about.  This is a publicity ploy, a shameless attempt to get more customers and more money.  So take it for what it is and stay away from those candy bars!

Nestlé Removes Artificial Colors and Flavors: But that won’t Make Candy Healthy

Nestlé Removes Artificial Colors and Flavors: But that won’t Make Candy Healthy

Today, Nestlé USA announced that it will remove artificial colors and flavors from all of its chocolate candies by the end of 2015.  This is in response to consumer concerns and a massive push to “go natural,” using highly processed animal, vegetable, and mineral sources for colors and flavors, rather than chemical compositions.  But don’t rush out to buy a bunch of candy bars for your kids – this move is NOT going to make their candy any healthier.

I am actually not convinced that the natural flavors and dyes will be any less unhealthy than the chemical version.  As with most foods, anything so excessively processed loses its nutritional benefits and can acquire unhealthy side effects.  Okay, so most of these ingredients have not been so thoroughly studied, but we have enough examples of other highly processed foods to go off of: fresh-squeezed sugarcane juice versus white sugar, whole grain fresh-ground wheat versus white flour, etc.  White sugar is also “all natural” but that doesn’t make it good for you.  So don’t let this deceptive advertising move distract you from the real issues at hand.

Nestlé USA is not the first company to embrace a move toward the more natural.  Many companies are jumping on the bandwagon, eager to cash in on consumer concerns by advertising their products as “all natural.”  Recently, Arnott’s changed the formula of iconic Australian cookie Tim Tams to an “all natural” formula.  And while artificial colors and flavors are definitely linked to health concerns and child hyperactivity, removing them isn’t actually going to make these sweet treats any healthier.

Arnott's Tim Tams

The move to “all natural” has its pitfalls, too.  Take Arnott’s: Tim Tams now contain cochineal, a red dye made from crushed beetles.  This of course raises animal welfare concerns.  But more to the point: where Tim Tams used to be acceptable to people with dietary restrictions, now they are not.  Tim Tams are no longer vegetarian, vegan, and kosher.  They definitely contain dead animals.  But most consumers are unaware of changes like this, or they probably wouldn’t like it much.  Personally, eating cookies made with dead beetles sounds even less appealing than eating cookies colored with chemical dyes!

This has long been an issue in the kosher community.  In the United States, many foods come stamped with a certain icon to show that they are acceptable foods for those adhering to Jewish dietary laws. Many other people, such as those with food allergies or intolerances, vegetarians, and Muslims, also rely on kosher symbols to indicate that foods are safe for them to eat under their restrictions as well. However, the letter “K” is just a letter and cannot be trademarked.  Some companies stamp their products with the letter K to make it appear their products are kosher.  I will never forget the time I checked a Yoplait container’s ingredients list only to discover that cochineal (they list it as carmine) was an ingredient, showing me that their “K” was truly not kosher!  (Yoplait do still mark their containers with “KD” – kosher dairy – and list kosher gelatin as an ingredient; however, their use of this coloring renders their products neither kosher nor vegetarian – VERY SNEAKY!)  So sure foods might be more natural, but that doesn’t mean they’re not gross.

Nestlé’s switch to all-natural also won’t change the flavor or basic formula of favorite candies.  They are still going to be full of sugars and preservatives.  In its press release, Nestlé says:

“Nestlé is the world’s leading nutrition, health and wellness company and our commitment to remove artificial flavors and certified colors in our chocolate candy brands is an important milestone,” said Doreen Ida, president, Nestlé USA Confections & Snacks.

This made me simultaneously want to burst into hysterical laughter and cry piteously for the fate of humanity.  If Nestlé is the world’s leading nutrition, health, and wellness company, our kids are all doomed to die premature deaths because of preventable diseases.  Fortunately, I think this is just BS spouted by the president, who gets a super-sized salary (the VP gets nearly half a million dollars a year in compensation and the CEO of Nestle SA gets over $11 million dollars a year, so who knows how much President Ida is getting) for saying things that make good, if ludicrous, media sound bytes.

Let’s take a look at one of the 75 iconic treats set to undergo an “all natural” makeover.  Here are the ingredients of the revised Butterfinger, showing for instance natural annatto coloring rather than a chemical combo of Red 40 and Yellow 5:

CORN SYRUP, SUGAR, GROUND ROASTED PEANUTS, HYDROGENATED PALM KERNEL OIL, COCOA, MOLASSES, AND LESS THAN 1% OF DAIRY PRODUCT SOLIDS, CONFECTIONER’S CORN FLAKES, NONFAT MILK, SALT, SOY LECITHIN, SOYBEAN OIL, CORNSTARCH, NATURAL FLAVORS, MONOGLYCERIDES, TBHQ AND CITRIC ACID (TO PRESERVE FRESHNESS), ANNATTO COLOR.

Annatto coloring comes last on the list and, quite frankly, if my kids were eating this, the food coloring would be the least of my concerns.  My biggest worry would be that corn syrup and sugar are the first two ingredients (with molasses also on the list) and that ingredient number four is hydrogenated palm kernel oil.  This is coming from “the world’s leading nutrition, health, and wellness company.”  They are selling this garbage to our kids and presenting it as if, because of the natural flavors and annatto coloring, it is suddenly a healthy snack.  You have got to be kidding me.

Please, for the love of G-d and the health of the world’s children, do not give in to this ridiculous hype.  Sure, artificial flavors and colors are unhealthy, but do not allow yourself to become distracted from the fact that these are tiny, minor additives and the major ingredients of these foods are remaining incredibly unhealthy.  Giving your kids these candies will still be incredibly unhealthy and harmful to their health, no matter how natural their packaging says they are.

Common Sources of Sugar in Kids’ Diets (Part 2)

Common Sources of Sugar in Kids’ Diets (Part 2)

Yesterday, I wrote about some of the common sources of sugar in kids’ diets, but there was just too much to say, so here are the final three categories:

Problem: Bread

White bread is pretty much devoid of any good things for your child.  Sure, they might try to fortify it with vitamins, but they never fortify it with anything close to the amount of vitamins contained in whole wheat.  Plus, it is lacking in fiber.  And white carbohydrates like white flour and white rice break down directly into sugar in the body, and act like added, processed sugars.  And let’s not forget the biggest problem we’re discussing at the moment: added sugar.  You bet your processed white bread has plenty of added sugar.

But whole wheat bread is healthy, right? Not necessarily.  A lot of whole wheat breads are not 100% whole wheat and even those that are almost always have plenty of added sugar.  The fluffier and more tasty they are to kids, the more sugar content they are likely to have.

Don’t fool yourself that gluten free bread is any better.  A lot of gluten free breads are made with ingredients like white rice flour or potato starch – the same white carbohydrates that convert to sugar as white flour – and many do contain added, processed sugar, although it might come under different names.

Solution: Bake or Bakery

The best solution to the problem of not knowing what’s in your kids’ bread is to just bake it yourself.  Then you control all of the ingredients!  You can make it 100% whole wheat or rye and add healthy bonuses like seeds or even dried fruit.  Use honey or agave to feed the yeast (or make a sourdough loaf with wild yeast, which will happily feed on flour), and you don’t need much sweetener to feed the yeast because most yeast will happily eat some of the flour.  As a bonus, there are no preservatives or other added nasties in homemade bread.

Too busy to bake bread? Think again!! Buy a bread machine and you can make bread yourself in just minutes.  Most machines even have timers so you can put the ingredients in before you go to sleep and wake up to the smell of fresh bread for toast and sandwiches.  My favorite is the Breville BBM800XL Custom Loaf Bread Maker, although I have heard rave reviews about the Zojirushi BB-PAC20 Home Bakery Virtuoso Breadmaker. (Breville also sells lower models you can pick up for under $100.)  So far we’ve been using our Breville bread machine for more than a decade and it’s still working brilliantly!

Of course, you can still buy bread.  You just have to be really selective about what you buy.  90% of the time I bake my own bread, but occasionally when I do buy bread, I buy direct from a bakery where I know the owners and I can trust their ingredients.  I usually buy whole grain rye or black Russian bread, which my toddler calls “chocolate bread.”  One brand that has really impressed me is Ezekiel Bread’s sprouted grain breads, like Food for Life, Ezekiel 4:9 Bread, Original Sprouted, Organic. Sprouted grain breads offer a whole host of health benefits, including easier digestion and increased absorption of nutrients, plus more antioxidants and vitamins than normal grains could give you. They also offer a Brown Rice Bread that is Dairy,Gluten & Yeast Free!

Problem: Spreads

Peanut butter, jelly, jam, marmalade, spreadable cheese, cream cheese, butter, mayonnaise, ketchup, relish, salsa, pasta sauce, nutella, and marshmallow fluff are all common spreads for bread.  Of them, all except the cheeses and butter are full of sugar.  In fact, I’m pretty sure marshmallow fluff is actually made of sugar, and the worst sugar possible, at that! Holy high fructose corn syrup, Batman!

But most people are surprised to learn that spreads like peanut butter and nutella are chock full of sugar, salt, and oil.  Jelly, jam, and marmalade are usually 50% or more sugar.  Mayo, ketchup, relish, and store-bought salsas and pasta sauces often contain lots of sugar, even though they are “savory” foods.

The result is that you may think you are giving your child a healthy sandwich with peanut butter and jelly (protein and fruit, right?) but you are really giving them a huge dose of processed sugar!  And even though they are not full of sugar, spreadable cheeses, cream cheese, and butter are all huge sources of animal fats, proteins, and preservatives.  They may not be high in sugar, but they are still unhealthy.

But wait, what do I spread on my kid’s sandwich, then?!

Solution: Healthy Spreads

The best solution to the spread situation is to make them yourself.  I make my own ketchup, for instance.  Pasta sauce, salsa, and mayonnaise can all be made at home in a way that reduces or eliminates altogether added sugars.  (Although generally speaking, there’s really no healthy way to make mayo, you can make it healthier.)  By reading ingredients, you can also purchase some of these items in healthier form.  I actually love Follow Your Heart Original Vegenaise and I have to admit that I am a die-hard Hellman’s Mayo addict (we all have our vices, don’t we?), so that’s really saying something!

Living in Australia as we do these days, I have become a huge fan of Vegemite.  I actually have no idea how parents in other countries survive without it.  What the heck do you make sandwiches with?!  Okay, the truth is that Vegemite can take some getting used to if you’re an adult trying it for the first time.  It’s not my favorite food, but I don’t mind a Vegemite sandwich now and then… but my kids!  When we ran out of Vegemite two days ago, my toddler had a full-blown tantrum because he wanted a Vegemite sandwich so badly.  So yes, kids love it, especially if they eat it from a young age.  It is quite high in salt, so spread it very thin (my kids especially love it on veggie muffins), and it will give kids a huge dose of healthy B vitamins (which my vegetarian kids especially need).

Tehina, hummus, guacamole, babaganoush, and mustard are some other great spreads to consider.  Make them yourself and you don’t need to worry about preservatives or additives.  If you’re buying them, check the ingredients carefully to ensure nothing silly like mayo or straight up sugar has been mixed in.  Busy parents need not worry: Tehina paste can be easily mixed up into a spread in small quantities in a minute or two.  (Plus, it is an amazing source of non-dairy calcium!)  Guacamole can be as simple as spreading mashed avocado on bread and sprinkling a tiny bit of lemon juice on top.  Hummus and guacamole can both be made in advance and frozen in small containers.  Their consistency might be slightly affected but if you mix them up and spread them on bread, nobody will ever be able to tell.  This makes it easy to whip up a big batch and rotate through various spreads for variety.  Babaganoush is a roasted or grilled eggplant spread that also freezes nicely.  For the healthiest and most delicious option, ensure you are using a tehina-based Israeli babaganoush recipe.  Olive tapenade, when homemade, can also be a delicious sandwich or wrap spread.  Olives are very salty, but they also provide a lot of health benefits, ranging from their high levels of antioxidants and phytonutrients to their heart-healthy oil to their anti-inflammatory properties.

Finally, there are the nut butters.  There is no reason why peanut butter needs to be so unhealthy!  Why they add oil to a nut that’s already rich in oil is beyond me.  And peanuts have a natural sweetness that needs no enhancement.  Choose a pure peanut butter with no added sugar, salt, or oil.  The ingredients list should only have ONE item: Peanuts.  No preservatives, stabilizers, or anything else.  Yes, it will separate, but mix back in the oil and you’ll be looking at a peanut butter that’s healthier than the garbage they market to kids these days.

Want some variety of flavors and nutrients?  Experiment with other nut butters.  Cashew butter is delicious and naturally sweet.  Macadamia nuts make a rich, oily butter.  Walnuts, brazil nuts, pecans, and almonds all offer very different health benefits that make peanut butter look wimpy.  Boost your kids’ nutrient intake by changing the types of nut butters you use.  Going nut-free for school? Try coconut butter as a spread.  The health benefits of coconuts are the latest rage, so go ahead, jump on the bandwagon!  Afraid your kids will stage a riot if you cut out their chocolatey nutella spread?  Replace it with a raw cacao spread sweetened with organic agave nectar.

Problem: Sugary Cereals

Most parents have no idea how much sugar is in their kids’ cereals.  When I pointed out to a friend that the second ingredient in “healthy” cereals like Cheerios or Rice Krispies (Rice Bubbles in Australia) is sugar, she was shocked.  She thought her kids were getting healthy cereals but they were getting sugar in their cereals.  To make matters worse, most parents allow their kids to sprinkle some sugar on top of these “bland,” “healthy” cereals, which compounds the problem.

And those are the healthy cereals!  Indeed, a lot of cereals marketed to a health-conscious or dieting subset are either full of sweeteners or are full of fake substitutes (which have their own health implications – but that’s a post for another day!).

Most cereals marketed to kids today are overflowing with sugar.  Parents might know a cereal is sugary, but do you know just how sugary?  I just picked one out of thin air (first one that came to mind – I didn’t go hunting for the worst offender).  Gluten-free vitamin-fortified Fruity Pebbles are 33% sugar.  33%!!!!!!!!  Am I the only one who sees a problem with this? I really hope not.  (And as if that’s not bad enough, Post Foods encourages you to use this cereal to make “treats” using 1 box of cereal, 6 cups of marshmallows, and 1/2 stick of butter. That’s 336 grams of sugar per recipe.)

Fruity Pebbles Nutrition Facts

9 grams out of every 27 gram serving is sugar. That’s 1/3 of the volume of the cereal composed of sugar. 33%!

Personally, I think marketing cereals like this to kids is positively criminal.  Yes, many parents do not know how much garbage they are feeding their kids, but with so much marketing and so little free time, it is unfair to place all the blame on the parents.  I hope the executives of these companies suffer terrible insomnia from their incessant guilt over slowly killing an entire generation of children.

 

Solution: Healthy Breakfast Alternatives

There are healthy cereals out there, but goodness are they hard to find.  Even the organic health-food cereals are generally full of sugar.  It’s positively shameful.  My favorite cereal is Vita-Brits. It’s like the popular Australian breakfast cereal Weet-Bix but without the added sugar. I have no idea how you could get this cereal in the United States.  It is entirely possible that it is impossible to buy a cereal with no added sugar in America.  If you find a commercially available cereal with no added sugar in the United States, PLEASE post in comments!

Of course, there are other healthy breakfast alternatives.  Kids won’t die without cereal.  I think cereal is mostly a convenience food for parents.  But if you must give your child cereal, consider giving them a sugar-free muesli instead. Familia Swiss Muesli Cereal, for example, has no added sugar.  Neither does Alpen Cereal.   You can also make your own muesli.  That way you can add your own unique mix of grains, dried fruits, nuts, and seeds.  You can also include yummy spices like cinnamon and nutmeg, fresh chopped fruits, or even a sprinkling of agave nectar if your child still has a real sweet tooth.

Another great breakfast option is oatmeal.  You can make oatmeal on the stovetop really easily, in the microwave oven, or even overnight in the crock pot.  Add fresh banana to make it creamy and sweet, and mix in any types of fresh or dried fruit you like to make it sweet but still healthy.  You can also add chopped nuts and seeds, spices, or even fruit pulp from juicing.

Conclusion

Unfortunately, sugar really is in almost every food we buy commercially today.  It is a preservative, so companies have a strong incentive to use it liberally, as they can keep their products on the shelves longer with more sugar in them. This is why canned foods are often high in sugar and salt (I once had a woman get very annoyed with me one time when, after examining every canned food on the shelf, I could not find a single one with no sugar in it, and I then exclaimed in exasperation on how these vegetables were actually really unhealthy… meanwhile, she was trying to explain to her kids that vegetables in cans are good to eat. Oops? I somehow don’t feel guilty.).  Try buying snap-frozen veggies instead of canned ones, and boil up dry beans instead of just draining canned ones.

At the end of the day, almost every product on our grocery store shelves has sugar in it.  And it’s not just because it’s a preservative, but also because it’s a taste that has developed.  It’s an addiction we can’t kick – and the companies don’t want us to.  The reality is that if we want to inspire healthy kids, we have to let our voices be heard.  Buy the sugar-free products when they are available and make them at home when they are not.  Write to companies directly and tell them that we want more sugar-free options – and by “sugar-free” we do not mean “synthetic sweeteners!”  Write to our representatives in government and tell them we want a line included on all nutrition labels to show how much added sugar is in the food, so companies’ dirty tricks will be revealed for all interested consumers to see.

These are the changes we need to make to change our kids’ health and change their lives.