Life Ever Changing

A pursuit to become a Registered Dietitian and to promote healthy living

Easy Foods Kids Can Grow in the Garden

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Parents and caregivers know how challenging it can be to get kids to eat enough fruits and vegetables, but gardening may help. An expanding body of research shows that when kids help grow fruits and vegetables, they are likely to eat more produce and to try different kinds, too. The benefits of gardening don’t end there. Gardening helps kids engage their curiosity, learn to be resourceful and gain self-confidence. It is also a great way to get the entire family outside for fresh air and physical activity.

Consider Your Kids

Depending on their age, children take to gardening differently. For example, preschoolers tend to be fascinated with exploring dirt, seeds and the garden hose, while older children are more interested in how a single seed turns into an edible plant.

Make Kids Part of the Planting Process

Ask children which fruits and vegetables they’d like to grow. While older kids can read seed packets and start to understand growing regions, younger ones may not understand that it’s probably not possible to grow oranges in northern Maine. Suggest fun, reliable plants such as purple carrots and striped beets, and make sure you plant a couple of sure bets for your region of the country.

Go Herbal

Herbs are perhaps the easiest plants to grow and can be a good place to start to interest kids in gardening. Herbs grow like weeds, so you’ll probably have more than enough. Choose one or two herbs to start, such as parsley, basil or rosemary. Don’t worry if you have too much by summer’s end. An excess of basil can be made into pesto, frozen in ice cube trays and stored in the freezer to use during the fall and winter. And, all herbs can be dried.

Dig What Grows Below Ground

What’s more fun for a kid than yanking a carrot she planted out of the ground, washing it and taking a bite? Beets, another “underground” crop are colorful and can be a great way to get a child to try a new vegetable. Potatoes are easy to grow and are kid favorites.

Gardening for the Space-Challenged

No yard? No problem! Try using large pots placed on the patio or porch to grow foods such as tomatoes, salad greens and even cucumbers. Most herbs can grow in small pots on indoor windowsills. Picking herbs is a great task for younger children. And, if they are old enough, let them cut the herbs with kitchen shears.

Take Gardening to the Extreme

Children are fascinated by very small and very large objects … including vegetables. Whether in the ground or in a pot, cherry tomato plants grow to the perfect height for little hands to pick the deep red orbs. Small kids may find it exciting to watch how low-maintenance, easy-to-grow and brightly colored butternut squash and pumpkins grow and expand during the season.

Keep Gardening Year-Round

The gardening experience doesn’t have to end with the last harvest. Make growing edible fruits and vegetables a year-round activity. Read through seed catalogs during the cold winter months with your kids and decide what to grow next summer. Buy a grow light and get started on those tomato, bean and squash plants in the early spring. Kids will be fascinated by the growing process, whether it’s indoors or out.

Adapted from: Elizabeth M. Ward, MS, RD

Tip of the Day

Clean as you go! Like to cook but don’t like to clean? Clean as you go. Fill up the sink with warm, soapy water and wash dishes as you cook. It will make clean up go much smoother!

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Kids and Portion Control

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When kids follow MyPlate recommendations for daily servings of foods, they are well on their way to healthy growth and development. Unfortunately, many kids today seem to be suffering from “portion distortion.” When talking about what kids eat or drink, keep these definitions in mind.

What Is a “Serving Size”? What Is a “Portion Size”?

A serving is a specific amount of food or drink that is defined by common measurements, such as cups, ounces or tablespoons. Examples include recommended servings from MyPlate (the amount kids should eat) and the serving size on a Nutrition Facts Label, which is the basis for all the other nutrition information on the label. In many cases, the serving size listed on the Nutrition Facts Label is different from the MyPlate recommended serving size. In fact, many of the MyPlate serving sizes are smaller than those listed on the Nutrition Facts Label.

A portion is the amount of food that happens to end up on the plate. Think of portion size as the actual amount of food kids choose to eat at breakfast, lunch, dinner or as a snack. Portions may be larger or smaller than the recommended serving size.

Visualizing Appropriate Portion Sizes

One reason kids may not be eating appropriately sized portions based on the recommended MyPlate serving sizes is that they may not recognize what a reasonable portion looks like. What does one-half cup of pasta look like? What about three ounces of chicken or two tablespoons of peanut butter? The good news is that kids don’t need a measuring cup or scale to measure the portions they should eat — instead, they can visualize them by using familiar objects, such as a tennis ball or CD, that are similar in size to recommended serving sizes. Before they eat or drink, they can think of the relevant object and choose a portion that matches its size.

Here are some tips to help you and your kids visualize portion sizes:

Food Portion Size About the Size of…
Grains Group
Bread 1 ounce or 1 regular slice CD cover
Dry cereal 1 ounce or 1 cup Baseball
Cooked cereal, rice or pasta 1 ounce or ½ cup ½ baseball
Pancake or waffle 1 ounce or 1 small piece (6 inches) CD
Bagel, hamburger bun 1 ounce or ½ piece Hockey puck
Cornbread 1 piece Bar of soap

 

Fruits Group
Orange, apple, pear 1 small fruit (2½ inches in diameter) Tennis ball
Raisins ¼ cup Golf ball

 

Vegetables Group
Baked potato 1 medium Computer mouse
Vegetables, chopped or salad 1 cup Baseball

 

Dairy Group
Fat-free or low-fat milk or yogurt 1 cup Baseball
Cheese 1½ ounces natural cheese or 2 ounces processed cheese 9-volt battery
Ice cream ½ cup ½ baseball

 

Protein Foods Group
Lean beef or poultry 3 ounces Deck of cards
Grilled or baked fish 3 ounces Checkbook
Peanut butter 2 tablespoons Ping-pong ball

 

Oils Group
Margarine 1 teaspoon Standard postage stamp
Oil or salad dressing 1 teaspoon Standard cap on a 16-ounce water bottle

Helps Kids Listen to Their Bodies

One core strategy for healthy eating at all ages is listening to internal hunger and fullness cues. Discuss what it feels like to be hungry and what it feels like to be full with your child. A discussion about the difference between physical hunger and boredom, sadness or tiredness is appropriate for older children. When kids listen to their bodies, the chances of overeating are lessened. Help them understand it is OK to stop eating when they feel full, even if there is food left on the plate.

Adapted from: Ellen Shield, MED RD LD and Mary Mullen, MS, RD

Tip of the Day

Remember to wash fresh fruits and vegetables! Rinse fruits and vegetables before preparing or eating them. Under clean, running water, rub fruits and vegetables briskly to remove dirt and surface microorganisms. After rinsing, dry with a clean towel.

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Fish Intake During Pregnancy Increases Risk for Childhood Obesity

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High intakes of fish during pregnancy increase the risk for overweight and obesity in offspring, according to a study published online in JAMA Pediatrics. Researchers monitored 26,184 women and their children for fish intake and BMIs, respectively. Those who ate fish more than three times per week while pregnant had children with higher BMIs through early childhood and increased their children’s risk for rapid weight gain when compared to those who ate less fish per week. Researchers suspect chemical pollutants found in fish may alter fat metabolism and thus contribute to weight gain.

Stratakis N, Roumeliotaki T, Oken E, et al. Fish intake in pregnancy and child growth: a pooled analysis of 15 European and US birth cohorts. JAMA Pediatr. Published online February 15, 2016.

Tip of the Day

Growing family? When a woman is pregnant, she has a higher need for some vitamins and minerals. It is important for expecting mothers to make healthy choices from each food group.

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Help Kids Cope with Food Peer Pressure

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Much of life revolves around eating, so you want to be sure that your child is equipped to make healthy choices when you’re not right there. The older a child gets, the more meals and snacks take place outside the home — from school to sleepovers to parties. As kids grow up and gain more independence, outings with friends often include eating in restaurants. Peer pressure, a social reality that affects many areas of life, can easily influence a child’s food preferences and selections in each of these situations.

It Starts At Home

Habits formed at home will follow your child out the door. While studies have shown that peer influences are associated with kids’ eating patterns, it is known that behaviors modeled by family members are a powerful force as well. A review article in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition notes that parents have the opportunity to model positive or negative eating habits, and that this can impact children’s choices in any setting. Finding a healthy balance at home is important.”Partner with your child by understanding your child’s food preferences, encouraging them to participate in food selection and preparation, and setting realistic guidelines on food intake per age,” says Nancy Farrell, MS, RDN, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Remember it’s OK to be a ‘B’ student with food intake. Perfection shouldn’t be the rule, as that can backfire and create distorted body image issues leading to disordered eating.”

Healthy Choices at Restaurants

Extravagant portion sizes present a challenge for health-minded kids who are eating out with their friends. “It’s easy to think that the portions of food we are served are what we should be consuming, so we eat everything that comes on our plate, in our cup or brought to the table,” says Farrell. “Social events can also trigger an increased appetite. Take the time at home to teach kids about true hunger levels and appropriate child or teen portion sizes so they will be better able to handle portion sizes on their own.”

Help children and teens practice mindful eating by encouraging them to eat at a slower pace and heed the internal cues that the body sends to let them know they are full. Tell them that cleaning their plate is not always necessary. Help them pick healthy options when you go out as a family.

Confidence Under Scrutiny

Friends and even family members may pose awkward questions — such as, “Are you on a diet?” — when kids make different food choices than their peers, or they may tease them for things including drinking water instead of soda at social gatherings. Kids with a strong sense of self-esteem will be more confident in their actions. Encourage them to open up to you regarding their feelings about conversations they’ve had regarding choices that have gone against the norm. Praise them for good decisions. Suggest that they explain that they do eat “sometimes” foods, but that they also want to make healthy choices as often as possible.

So Many Options!

School, visits with friends and “special occasions” are ever-present opportunities for kids to practice balanced eating. When there is an array of options, teach them that they can take a “sometimes” food along with a few healthier foods. Get together with other parents of children from school and talk about ways you can promote healthy eating in the group as a whole. Anticipating the kinds of pressures your child will face and preparing for them will give you confidence that he or she is going to do well when you’re not present. Congratulations on setting the stage for a lifetime of healthy eating habits!

Adapted by: Andrea Johnson, RD, CSP, LDN

Tip of the Day

Kid-sized snacks! Prepare single-serving snacks for younger children. Sliced fruit or veggies, whole-grain crackers, or single serving low-fat yogurts can all be healthy options!

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ADHD Link with Childhood Obesity

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Girls with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are more likely to become obese adults, according to a study published online in Mayo Clinic Proceedings. Researchers compared height, weight, and other measurements in 5,718 participants as part of the Rochester Epidemiology Project. Those with ADHD during childhood were more likely to be obese or become obese later in life when compared to those without ADHD. Researchers suspect neurological abnormalities as a result of ADHD inhibit satiety and satisfaction and recommend dietary counseling as part of treatment.

Castaneda RLA, Kumar S, Voigt RG, et al. Childhood attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, sex, and obesity: a longitudinal population-based study. Mayo Clin Proc. Published online February 4, 2016.

Tip of the Day

Serve with small plates! To help with portion control, use a smaller plate for meals, like a salad plate. That way you can finish your entire plate without overeating.

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High-Fiber Diet Protects Against Breast Cancer

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A high-fiber diet during adolescence lowers breast cancer risk, according to a study published online in Pediatrics. Researchers monitored fiber intake and breast cancer incidence rates in 44,263 women during adolescence and early adulthood as part of the Nurses’ Health Study II. Those women who ate the most fiber during adolescence or early adulthood lowered their risk for breast cancer later in life, compared with those who consumed the least.

Farvid MS, Eliassen AH, Cho E, Liao X, Chen WY, Willett WC. Dietary fiber intake in young adults and breast cancer risk. Pediatrics. Published online February 1, 2016.

Tip of the Day

Stay on track with small changes! This month continue to make small changes to what you eat and how you move. Try adding 10 more active minutes to your exercise routine, or serve a new healthy recipe at dinner.

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Preventing Relative Energy Deficiency in Young Female Athletes

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It can start innocently enough. A young female athlete pushes herself harder than usual, training intensely to gain a competitive edge. While this increased output naturally requires consuming more calories to meet the total demands of training and recovery-not to mention growth and development-her diet does not change. The result is a condition known as “relative energy deficiency in sport,” or RED-S.

Coined by an expert panel convened by the International Olympic Committee, RED-S is a more comprehensive term that builds on the condition known as the “female athlete triad” to describe an energy deficiency gap that results when energy intake is insufficient to support activities of daily living, growth, health and functioning. This syndrome affects bone health, menstrual function, metabolic rate, immune system function, protein synthesis, cardiovascular health and psychological health. While more common in females, RED-S also affects young male athletes. RED-S can develop when there is pressure to change eating habits, especially in sports with an emphasis on appearance, low body weight and endurance. A desire to “eat healthy” or lose weight in hopes of improving athletic performance can increase susceptibility to willful food restriction and rigid dieting.

Girls simply may not understand how their energy needs translate into daily food choices. An eating disorder does not have to precede the development of RED-S, though some level of psychological factors can be present before, as well as after the syndrome develops. Regardless of the starting point, serious short-term and long-term health consequences can occur in young female athletes who develop RED-S.

The Effects of RED-S

First, bone health is a major concern as girls build 60 to 80 percent of their lifetime bone mass by age 18. When preteen and teenage girls restrict their eating, body systems important to bone growth may shut down. Restricted diets also can be low in calcium and vitamin D, which contributes to poor bone formation. If RED-S continues without being addressed, poor bone growth can lead to stress fractures and even early osteoporosis, in which bones become fragile and more likely to break.

Another concern is reproductive development. Important markers of insufficient energy and resulting low estrogen levels are delayed menstruation and irregular or missed cycles. Other potential effects of RED-S include increased risk of injury, decreased endurance and muscle strength. Additionally, it can reduce response to training, decrease coordination, impair judgment and increase irritability and depression — results that no athlete wants to have happen. The good news is correcting RED-S does not mean a sacrifice in athletic performance. In fact, it should result in an improvement in athletic performance.

Parents can play a significant role in preventing RED-S. First, educate your daughters on the energy demands of their training and the interconnected relationship of proper nutrition, bone health and menstruation, as well as risk of injury and impaired training from insufficient consumption. Second, keep an eye out for weight loss, changes in menstruation and changes in mood. Finally, create a supportive environment in which girls can consume three meals and one to three snacks per day. Even missing one meal on a regular basis can result in an energy deficit. Make sure your daughter has a regular breakfast and packs or eats a full lunch at school. Many girls train after school, and an easily digested snack prior to practice can provide energy for training. Good snack choices include an energy bar, cereal, crackers, banana, fruit and fruit juice, pretzels, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

Adapted from: Monique Ryan, MS, RD, CSSD, LDN

Tip of the Day

Stock up! Stock up on frozen or canned veggies next time you spot a sale. Having some on hand makes it quick and easy to add veggies to meals.

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Now is the Time to Build Your Child’s Bone “Bank Account”

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When you think of how optimal nutrition impacts your child’s health, their bones may not be your first concern. After all, osteoporosis largely affects older adults. Children build about 40 percent of their bone mass between the ages of 9 to 14, reaching 90 percent of their peak bone mass by age 18 (for girls) and age 20 (for boys) so bone health is a health issue for kids. Think of bone health as a savings account. Bone is living tissue that is constantly turned over with regular deposits and withdrawals. During childhood and adolescence, bones are primed to make the highest rate of deposits possible, for use throughout the rest of a person’s life.

What Builds Healthy Bones?

Many nutrients work together to provide the framework for healthy bones. Calcium lies at the forefront, but vitamin D, magnesium, vitamin K and regular exercise are also important.

Calcium

Aim for a good calcium source in each meal and snack. Milk, cheese and yogurt are the richest natural sources of calcium. For instance, one 8-ounce glass of milk provides 300 milligrams of calcium or about one-fourth to one-third of the recommended intake. Other non-dairy food sources include almonds, broccoli, kale, turnip greens, figs, tofu prepared with calcium and soybeans. Some foods are fortified with calcium, including certain juices non-dairy beverages and cereals.

Vitamin D

Sun exposure triggers vitamin D production, but this can vary greatly with skin pigmentation, season and geography. If you live in the Northern United States, there is a good chance you won’t get enough sun exposure in winter for adequate vitamin D production. Also, sunlight exposure increases risk of skin cancer and sunscreen blocks vitamin D production. There is some limited natural food sources of vitamin D, including egg yolks and fatty fish such as salmon and tuna. You can find vitamin D in fortified sources such as orange juice, milk and some non-dairy beverages. Talk with your pediatrician about giving kids vitamin D supplements to reach the recommended 600 IU per day.

Magnesium

Look for food sources of this vitamin, such as almonds, spinach, black beans, edamame, peanut butter, avocado, whole-wheat bread and kidney beans.

Vitamin K

The best ways to get this vitamin are in foods such as green leafy vegetables (kale, turnip greens, cabbage, spinach and broccoli), peas and green beans. About 10 percent of the vitamin K we absorb is made from good bacteria in the colon.

Physical Activity

Regular weight-bearing exercise stimulates bones and makes them stronger. Try exercises such as running, hiking, dancing, tennis, gymnastics, basketball, volleyball, skateboarding, soccer and weight training to build bones. While swimming and bicycling are great for cardiovascular health, they are not weight-bearing. If these are your child’s preferred sports, encourage them to do weight-bearing activities also.

Avoid These Bad-for-Bone Actions

Just as important as what kids do to promote bone health is what they don’t do. Bone health can be compromised in these critical years by:

  • Smoking
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Dieting and disordered eating
  • Undereating for sports training which can result in compromised hormonal status
  • Absent or missed menstrual periods

If children receive the best combination of nutrients and exercise, while avoiding practices that harm bones, they can maximize their bone saving potential.

Adapted from: Monique Ryan, MS, RD, CSSD, LDN

Tip of the Day

Don’t forget to clean your appliances! Make sure to clean the inside and the outside of appliances and pay attention to buttons and handles where cross-contamination to hands can occur.

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Looking to Reduce Your Family’s Intake of Added Sugars? Here’s How

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High sugar intake has been linked to everything from dental cavities to obesity to Type 2 diabetes to heart disease to other health conditions, many of which last into adulthood. Minimizing added sugar is a priority for many parents, but it’s not as simple as trading cookies and soda for fruit and water. Avoiding obvious sources is one thing, but added sugar can be found in many foods where you may not expect it. According to the 2015 Dietary Guidelines, added sugars include sugars, syrups and other caloric sweeteners. Simply put, added sugars sweeten a food and although they add calories, they offer virtually no nutrition.

On a nutrition label, sugar may appear under many names, more than 50, actually. Some of the most common ones include cane sugar, evaporated cane juice, corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, raw sugar and crystal solids and, don’t forget brown sugar, honey, maple syrup and brown rice syrup. The 2015 Dietary Guidelines recommends Americans limit added sugars to no more than 10 percent of their daily calorie needs. That’s about 12 teaspoons (48 grams of sugar) on a 2,000-calorie diet. However, for kids, especially little kids, who may only need 1,200 to 1,400 calories per day, it’s even less but, rather than obsessing over grams and teaspoons, focus on reducing added sugar intake by limiting products that contain it.

Common Sources of Added Sugar

Some sources of added sugar are easy to spot, such as:

  • Sugary beverages (soda, fruit punch, sweet coffee and energy drinks)
  • Sugary cereal
  • Candy and chocolates
  • Flavored yogurt
  • Baked goods such as cakes, pastries and cookies

However, added sugar can hide in some surprising places, including:

  • Whole-grain cereals and granola
  • Instant oatmeal
  • Frozen foods
  • Granola bars, protein bars and cereal bars
  • Pasta sauce
  • Dried fruit, canned fruit, applesauce and fruit juices
  • Baby food
    Barbecue sauce, ketchup, salad dressing and other condiments

Tips for Avoiding Added Sugars

The first step in reducing your family’s added sugar intake takes place in the grocery store. Scan labels for added sweeteners and, instead, fill your shopping cart with healthier options. Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, a blogger and mother of two, recommends reaching for naturally sweet foods. Her favorites? “Fruit! Lots of veggies are naturally sweet too, especially bell peppers, carrots and sugar snap peas,” she says.

When it comes to beverages, Kuzemchak recommends water and milk. “Many other beverages have ingredients kids don’t need, like caffeine, added sugar and artificial dyes or sweeteners,” says Kuzemchak. You can also reduce added sugar intake at home by cooking from scratch. By making your own granola, pasta sauce and condiments and serving homemade baked treats, you are in control of the ingredients used. “With baking recipes, I frequently cut the sugar with no negative effect to the recipe or to how much my family likes it,” Kuzemchak says. “I usually start by cutting it by a quarter and go lower if possible.”

One common source of added sugar is flavored yogurt. You can start reducing added sugar intake from yogurt by mixing half a serving of flavored yogurt with half a serving of plain, unsweetened yogurt. This trick works with cereal too. As your family’s taste buds adjust, gradually use less and less of the sweetened varieties. Make a healthy relationship with food the overall focus instead of a completely sugar-free diet. Encourage positive associations with foods such as fruits and vegetables by playing up their good qualities and fresh taste and save the sweet stuff for special occasions.

Adapted by: Jessica Cording, MS, RD, CDN

Tip of the Day

Treat yourself! Are you looking to cut back on sweets for you and your kids? Fruit makes the perfect sweet snack or dessert. Serve baked apples, pears, or enjoy a fruit salad or serve yummy frozen juice bars (100% juice).

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Heart Disease Detected in Obese Children

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Obese children may show signs of heart disease as young as 8 years old, according to an abstract presented in November 2015 at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions in Orlando, Fla. Researchers used cardiac imaging technology to compare the hearts of 20 obese children with 20 nonobese children, and found that the obese children had 12 percent thicker heart muscles, a sign of heart disease. Forty percent of the obese children were classified as “high risk” because of the heart muscle thickening.

A study published in the Journal of Pediatrics (2015) found that vegan diets reduce the risk of heart disease in obese children.

Jing L, Friday CM, Suever JD, et al. Obese children with concentric hypertrophy and impaired cardiac strain: a potentially high-risk subgroup identified with cardiac magnetic resonance. Abstract presented at: American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2015; November 7-11, 2015: Orlando, Fla.

Macknin M, Kong T, Weier A, et al. Plant-based, no-added-fat or American Heart Association diets: impact on cardiovascular risk in obese children with hypercholesterolemia and their parents. J Pediatr. 166:953-9.e1-3.

Tip of the Day

Let’s Talk Trash! There is a growing concern about food loss and food waste in the United States. Make a plan to use all the food you purchase at the grocery store. If you don’t think you will be able to eat something, check to see if it can be frozen safely.

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