Protein Power

I just returned from the annual conference of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. It was held in Atlanta this year, and I had a great time meeting up with colleagues and soaking in some of the latest food and nutrition facts. I’m planning on posting a few summaries over the next few weeks.

One of the popular sessions covered plant protein. While there have been some clinical trials that have shown a high protein diet can promote weight loss in the short term, it’s important to consider your protein source and other risk factors. stethoscope-heart

Some epidemiological studies have linked a high protein intake to lower risk of high blood pressure, but the type of protein is important. Studies have also linked high intakes of animal protein with increased diabetes risk.

The DASH Diet is a plant-protein based diet. DASH recommends only 5-6 ounces or less of animal protein daily (plus 2-3 servings of low fat dairy), but encourage larger portions of plant proteins (vegetables and whole grains). Research supports the role of plant-based proteins as a partial replacement for animal protein to prevent disease. The DASH diet research did show that including low fat dairy daily lowered blood pressure more than just increasing vegetables and fruits alone. For more blood-pressure-lowering power, include some low fat dairy as your total daily protein.

So if you have a some friends who are “Paleo-obessed”, or are consuming large amounts of meat, you may consider sharing some other research news with them about the benefits of plant proteins. There is a vast amount of research about plant-based diets and heart health, so there’s no question that these principles are wise to follow:

  • Add more plant protein to your diet: snack on small amounts of nuts, add nuts or seeds to green salads, include some whole grains in your diet, try some tofu or soy foods.
  • Eat more vegetables. Veggies contribute protein, and also loads of important vitamins.
  • Replace some of the red meat you eat with plant protein. Try a meatless meal once or twice a week. If you enjoy a steak (as I do occasionally), just eat a smaller portion, and eat it less frequently. It doesn’t have to be all or none, just less.
  • If you don’t want to include dairy, you can still follow the DASH Diet without it. Just include all of the other important food groups, healthy fats, and limit sodium, sweets, saturated fat (keep portions of meats small).
  • Rather than load up on protein at one meal, spread your protein throughout the day. Smaller portions of lean protein at each meal, including plant-based proteins, may help with satiety and weight control, as well as maintenance of lean body mass.

Easy Protein Power at Breakfast and Lunch

Often breakfast and lunch time may be where you are low on protein. It’s okay to include animal protein (including “red” meats – lean cuts of beef or pork), what’s key, is the portion.

  • Choose small portions (<5 ounces daily) of lean meats (skinless chicken, loin cuts of fresh beef or pork), and sub in plant protein on occasion.
  • Add in a variety – Try an egg, 1/2 cup of low fat cottage or ricotta cheese, or a tablespoon of nut butter for breakfast. An 8-ounce glass of low fat or non fat milk adds 8 grams of protein to any meal.
  • Choose a tofu wrap at lunch – add chunks of seasoned tofu and chopped lettuce and tomato with salsa to a wrap.
  • Grill a large portobello mushroom, or use chopped mushrooms to make “burgers”. At the conference, I enjoyed a tasty “blended mushroom burger” - cutting back on meat by adding plant protein.
  • Add 2-3 ounces of tuna to your green salad for lunch, along with 2 tablespoons of chopped nuts.
  • Or, try something new – sardines. Loaded with omega-3 fatty acids (the good fats). I sampled some canned sardines from Wild Planet foods, and have to say they were delicious! (their tuna is great too).

“Fen-see”: Countdown to the The Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo

It’s October. That means dietitians all over the country are getting packed up and ready to attend the annual Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo (aka FNCE®, pronounced “fen-see”). This year’s conference is being held in Atlanta Georgia, and I’m excited to be getting a Press Pass this year. I’ll be writing up some news for The Meadville Tribune, as well as collecting science tidbits for my blog here.

The conference is supported by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the world’s largest nutrition organization, with over 75,000 members. Members include registered dietitians who are credentialed through the Commission for Dietetic Registration.

It will bring together food, nutrition and health care professionals from around the world for four days of learning, debating and networking, all in the interest of improving the nutritional health of all people.

In addition to all of the updates on the latest nutrition research and food products, I’ll also have the chance to network with my colleagues from all over the country. Being a freelance writer can be lonely at time, so I can’t wait to chat with my colleagues as we share our passion for our profession! What a joy to love one’s work.

Look for some new information covered in the upcoming weeks. Off to Atlanta!

Eating for Fuel and Enjoyment: There are Options!

Think back. Was there a time when you ate, and didn’t even think about it? You just ate because you were hungry, your body needed fueled, and you enjoyed the food you ate. I can remember this. It was probably my entire life until about 10 years ago. The conversation about diet changed around then, and because my profession requires me to read about the latest research and trends in the food and nutrition world, I’m was keenly aware of the constant chatter about diet. The media began focusing on what to eat, what not to eat. Sure, there were occasional news reports in the 80s or 90s about diabetes and diet, or a certain type of diet that’s good for your heart, but in general, other than Oprah, prior to 2000 nobody was talking about it.

The media’s focus on “good food-bad food” didn’t really change my point of view, nor my eating habits, but it did subliminally make me begin to feel bad at times about eating certain foods. “Maybe the bread did make me gain those 5 pounds” I’d think. Of course I know it’s not, but there are so many negative messages circulating about food, that even us dietitians start to wonder. plate STOP

The 21st century has opened the floodgates for misinformation. The Internet has given a voice to anyone who can type and has some time on his or her hands. The notion that “skinny” is the ultimate goal is perpetuated by the media, particularly for women (you may think it’s motivated by “health”, but in most cases, it’s vanity, poor self-image, insecurity, and possibly an eating disorder). This issue is worsened by the self-proclaimed experts out there. Any old Facebook user can proclaim: “Well, I’m thin and don’t take any medication, and I eat healthy, so I obviously know what I’m doin’, and because of that, I feel entitled to tell you how you should eat!”


As a dietitian, who received both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in nutrition (and has literally spent thousands and thousands of hours counseling others), I find this incredibly frustrating. When do other professional areas of expertise follow suit? Let’s say a stay-at-home mom, or lawyer, or nurse, or refuse truck driver, just invested in a great stock that took off, would this accomplishment make the person feel comfortable publicly posting about financial planning advice on Facebook or Twitter? My son once installed a toilet in our home, a DIY lesson from my husband – do you think he is doling out plumbing expertise now? Heck no.

Everyone eats, therefore everyone has an opinion about what food is best. Some people really enjoy cooking, so they may post food pics or recipes. Some have good intentions:

“Hey, I tried chia seeds to my oatmeal, and it helps hold off my hunger through lunch” or “I make this slow cooker recipe once a week to get a quick family dinner on the table”.

Other times it’s just annoying:

“I never buy anything from the freezer case” or “Sugar will kill you.” or “If we do buy soda, it’s only the kind that’s made with pure cane sugar”

I chose the field of nutrition as a career because, as a young person, I had food sensitivities. I clearly understood that there is a link between diet and health. The more I learned about the science, and also my own food intolerances, the more I realized what and how you eat is a very individual thing, and there is no one way to eat a healthy diet. Thank goodness – options!

So why is there now such a desire to know what is “best” to eat. Does it make any sense at all? Consider the planet. What if, and how could, everyone eat the same things every day, every week? And why would anyone want to?

For many years, I have tried to convey to people that it’s not what you eat, it’s how you eat (and sometimes good health doesn’t have to do with eating at all). It’s also how you perceive yourself and your health (sadly in many cases, people choose to eat or avoid foods solely for the purpose of weight control, with no regard to a greater sense of health and wellbeing).

So the next time you dole out your advice about what you eat and why, consider:

  • It’s a challenge for most people to eat a balanced diet everyday (for many reasons – socioeconomic, busy schedules, health). It’s often a bigger challenge for folks who work 50 hours a week to fit in a regular exercise program. It’s not that they don’t want to, it’s that there may be a lot of other more important things going on. And, some people don’t like physical activity as much as others. For them I often encourage more daily movement, not exercise. Some people may not enjoy cooking either, and there are easier options.
  • I encourage you to enjoy healthy food but not to think that one food or food group is going to contain some sort of magical ingredient that will make you skinny or healthy (not synonomous). So when you read about Granny Smith apples – understand they also help with weight control because they fill your stomach and controls hunger. Not because it contains a singular magic ingredient. And you should enjoy eating them if you so choose.
  • It’s okay for food to be enjoyed for pleasure as well. Whatever your pleasure is – foods that you know aren’t real healthy (dessert, chips, candy), or don’t contribute any important nutrients – are still enjoyable, obviously. So enjoy them. Learn how to fit them into your life without excess.
  • Understand that everyone is not as obsessed as you are about dieting. I often hear people talking in public about what very particular foods they do eat (“you must try this coconut avocado shake. It is THE only way I’m able to lose weight), as well as what they “don’t eat”, and make open comments about demonizing certain ingredients (“oh I’m skipping gluten and all starches in general”).

Finally, don’t ask me out to lunch or dinner if you aren’t going to eat, because I still want to enjoy eating and the entire dining experience. I may even treat myself to French Fries.



Still in the Sweet Seat

As much as I try to steer clear of talking about sugar, I find I can’t get away from it. It’s constantly in the news. It’s been a major topic of discussion at the Dietary Guidelines for Americans roundtable.

Sugar continues to be a hot button topic in the nutrition and diet world. In addition to writing consumer books about heart health and weight loss, some of my work is in “the sugar arena”. I’ll be speaking about sweeteners and diet quality at an upcoming conference (and I’m expecting to see a few sugar-bashers in the audience). I also continue to provide my perspective about sugar (fructose in particular) to the Calorie Control Council, as they continue to clear up information about both caloric and non-caloric sweeteners.

From nationally promoted “sugar-free challenges” to the demonization of soft drinks, to the “no cupcakes allowed” rules at elementary schools – sugar is portrayed as the root of all evil. And it seems to be a no-win situation.

If you consume too much sugar or sugary drinks, you are also chastised if you switch to a diet (sugar-free) drink. Let’s say you reduce, by half, the sugar you put on your oatmeal in the morning – you’re still chastised for adding any sugar. When the American Beverage Association partners up with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation to reduce soda calories, they are still bashed, and their effort is written off as a PR ploy.

What gives?

Some of my fellow communications colleagues and I are either publicly or privately questioned on occasion because we consult for companies that manufacture sweeteners. “How can a nutritionist or dietitian be promoting sugar?” Well, as my Twitter handle states: “I have a sweet tooth but I don’t sugarcoat.”

The reality is that people are not going to just exist on plants, and they are going to want to drink something besides water sometimes.

I am passionate about getting factual, sensible messages out to the public about sweeteners because it’s natural to enjoy sweetness! Sweeteners are part of many people’s diets, and that’s okay.

Secondly, I am a dietitian, and my major focus in on health (I support the DASH Diet and I push messages about adding more vegetables and healthy fats to your diet as often as I say a little bit of sugar is ok). I would hope that other health professionals or advocates are also aware of how different people eat very differently. My profession focuses on health and disease, but it is also is focused around food and behavior. And, while I’m a dietitian who does her best to eat a healthy balanced diet, I still consume (knowingly and willingly) some added sugar.

courtesy of

courtesy of

People eat food. People celebrate life’s occasions with food. And drink. I’m even allowing my 17 year old son to brew his own sugary root beer! Why? (besides the fact that we are coolest parents in the world) – because he’s interested in the science of root beer making. What a great project to experiment with!

Imagine if I were to squelch his interest in this project by saying “Oh honey, no, you can’t do that, because fructose is toxic”?

Will the obsession over sugar define it as so taboo that it only becomes more alluring?

There is no one guideline on how much sugar you should consume, but there are guidelines. Still, no matter the guideline, everyone’s dietary needs are different. A triathlete’s needs are not the same as a 70 year old woman’s, or a 4 year old’s, or a 50 year old sedentary man with diabetes. The idea that sugar can’t coexist in a diet with healthy plants, grains, healthy fats, and lean protein, is unrealistic.

FACT: Sugar is a pleasure. It is not a need. There are no nutrients in it at all (including honey – negligible). It will not help your child grow. It will promote tooth decay (brush 3 times a day). It is what we call an “empty calorie”. Yet there is no research to prove that including a moderate intake of sugar causes poor diet quality.

FACT: We need to include more plants in a healthy diet. Taking a good look at what is missing from your diet can have far more benefit than the sugar you’re consuming. Let’s start focusing on that, because it’s easy to consume sugar, it’s much more difficult to consume vegetables (they generally require prep and cooking). Finding easier ways to do so, and placing more value in that effort, is key.


As a nutrition communication consultant I occasionally write about topics related to the food industry clients I may serve, but my thoughts and opinions are my own. 

Getting back to the Grind

I don’t know about you, but September hit hard! And it’s almost October! Any month of the year is a good month to begin making healthy choices in your life. Better to set up a good routine now, before the holidays sneak up on you. Small changes will result in improved health – lower blood pressure, lower blood cholesterol, lower disease risk. Instead of setting yourself up for failure, think about the positives. Think about the healthy food you’ll add to your diet. Think about how good a walk out in the fresh air will feel. DASHsaladphoto

Try not to fall into these diet traps:

  • Don’t set unrealistic goals. If you haven’t exercised in fifteen years, don’t say “Okay, next week I’m going to walk 10 miles, do a spin class, and lift weights for 30 minutes every day!” Your body won’t handle it, nor like it. The negative body messages (excessive soreness, heavy breathing) will get you down.
  • Don’t quit eating. If you go on a crash diet, you will lower your metabolic rate. This will cause you to burn fewer calories. Your goal is to burn more calories.
  • Don’t say: “I’m going on a diet” Realize that you can both enjoy your favorite foods, but also try some new ones. You simply have to change some habits related to your eating.
  • Don’t give yourself a time limit. Saying “I will lose 15 pounds by Christmas” will only make you anxious and pressured to lead a miserable life for the next 3 months.
  • Don’t under or over-estimate exercise. Both an aerobic workout (one that increases your heart rate) and weight bearing exercise is important to long term weight loss and management, but you have to reduce calories too.
  • Don’t underestimate the need for support. Having a good friend to meet you for your walk or exercise class is priceless. This can keep you both committed. You may even consider a personal trainer to get you started and keep you on track.

Work on doing this:

  • Set realistic goals. Work on small goals, 2-3 at a time. Say “I will eat 2 pieces of fruit or have a yogurt every day” and “I will take a 20 minute walk, and stretch afterward, 3-4 days a week.” Gradually working on goals leads to success and confidence. Keep a list, and check things off.
  • Eat! You have to eat to lose weight. Digestion burns calories, so shoot for 3 small meals with 2-3 healthy snacks in between. Choose well, choose foods naturally high in fiber, with volume, and eat often.
  • Enjoy eating. Take your time when you eat, enjoy every bite. Splurge on small portions of your favorites without guilt.
  • Be patient. Weight loss takes time. If you begin making better choices in your diet, and exercise regularly, you will absolutely see results. Life happens in between. Your daughter may get married, you may go on vacation, and a holiday may come up. These are times to enjoy, but it doesn’t mean you can’t be in control. Enjoy special times then resume your best habits the next day.
  • Stay positive. Think about what you are doing, not just the long-term results. Focus on the healthy dietary changes you are making and the exercise you have added to your lifestyle.

Overthinking Food

Eating continues to get really complicated. Or at least some people make it that way.

I recently listened in on a video interview of three doctors discussing which diet is best – Paleo, Gluten-Free, or Vegan. After listening to them for about 10 minutes, I thought – no wonder people are so confused as to who to believe, and what to eat! Only one of them referenced evidence based data (vegan), and one outright stated that he didn’t care about the science (gluten-free), and respects anecdotal information more.

I have to admit, it’s a little scary to me to hear a physician say he doesn’t care about science. I understand that building worthwhile evidence takes time, but the notion that all of the evidence we have isn’t valid or worth consideration, is ridiculous.

Let me clarify – if you view the video mentioned here, please understand that these three dietary approaches are in no way “the only 3 ways to eat”, and I don’t really relate to any of them. As David Katz recently put it – eat the way you want to. Because between the doctors who can’t agree (or more likely simply want their ego to be the one “diet” you follow. God forbid we collaborate), and the psuedo-nutritionist media personalities out there such as the Food Babe who spouts nonsense, deciphering nutrition advice, in the words of Roald Dahl, has become a clustercuss. MrFox

I mostly always agree with Dr. Katz about food, nutrition, and diet (Katz heads up Yale University’s Prevention Research Center, and is an MD and has a Master’s degree in Public Health). Of course, Katz has much more clout that I do, yet I fear still, that nobody is listening. Or at best, we are preaching to the choir.

Set aside, for a moment, your own set of rules (perhaps you are a vegan, anti-GMO, anti-packaged foods, anti-grain-fed beef, anti-Big food, or whatever your world view). Consider that physicians such as David Katz and dietitians like me, are not just thinking of you. We are thinking about a wide range of the population. People who span the full socioeconomic and sociocultural spectrum. People of all genders, races, and ages…There’s no way one set of food rules is going to work.

So – just eat good food. Work on the bad habits (because we all have them, and you know what they are). Use some common sense. Avoid fear-mongering.

  • Eat the best food you can.
  • Eat more fresh vegetables – buy what’s on sale, wash them, eat them raw, juice or blend them if you like, cook them, add them to soups. Find easy ways to include them into your lifestyle.
  • Have a fresh piece of fruit at least once a day as a snack.
  • Drink more water.
  • Slow down. Enjoy each bite. Try not to multitask when eating.
  • Enjoy whole grains, and limit the more processed ones.
  • Enjoy fresh bakery breads – but limit portions to about 2 slices a day
  • Enjoy small portions of poultry, lean beef, learn pork – choose mostly unprocessed meats.
  • Add more green salads to your diet.
  • If you have children, offer them milk with meals once they are weaned from breast milk or formula. Despite some fear-mongering that goes on about milk, data shows that children who drink milk have better diet quality, and generally consume less sugary drinks.
  • Enjoy the pleasures of eating and drinking – and do so without guilt, and without overdoing any of it.

Now get the cuss out of here and just go eat.





Cattle Farm Q & A

My previous post gave you a glimpse of my recent cattle farm tour. This post will offer you some facts about cattle farming.

I was aware, prior to my tour to the cattle farm, that there is a lot of misconception about cattle farming; particularly feedlot versus grass-fed. Cattle are amazing animals. Cattle are unique in that they are protein-builders. They can take grass, and create protein. As more people are wanting to know “where does my food come from”, I want to share what I saw and learned during this tour.

After our tour of the farm, we had the chance to listen to a panel of experts and ask questions. Farmlecturebarn

Dr. Scott Barao has a bachelor’s degree in nutrition and a PhD in beef cattle nutrition and management. In addition to serving as Executive Director of the farm, he currently develops and demonstrating profitable and sustainable models of beef cattle production for producers int eh Mid-Atlantic region.

Jim Hogue is a founding partner in Agri-Basics, Inc and is a Livestock Nutritionist. He formulates livestock rations, works in feed management, and provides nutrition recommendations to cattle feeders and producers in Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia.


Q: What is the difference between grass-fed and a feedlot?

A: While Hedgeapple is a grass-finished farm, raising and finishing the cattle at pasture on grasses and hay, other farms have different models. Barao told us farms should be managed based on their resources and land. In contrast to a pasture-raised system like the one at Hedgeapple Farm, other farms may raise calves on pasture, and then transport them to another farm. When old enough, they move them to a feedlot, which provides grain-based feed in addition to grass or hay in the pasture. Larger farms require higher production, and the animal adapts to a feed ration that promotes growth.

Q: Is a pasture-raised model safer or better than feedlot raised model?

A: Not exactly. The supplemental feed rations that include grain, fatten the cattle up a bit more quickly.  “We aren’t really feeding the animal, we’re feeding the rumen”, says Barao. The rumen is a digestive organ unique to cows and other “ruminant” animals (goats, sheep). The food they eat enters the rumen before the stomach and small intestine, and the bacteria and protozoa in the rumen work at breaking down the food so it can eventually be absorbed. When you hear the term “chewing their cud”, this refers to the partially digested material that the cow essentially “spits up” and then chews some more (letting saliva do some digestion) before swallowing for further digestion.

The bottom line is, in some parts of the country, there’s just never going to be enough grass available for cows to eat.

Life exists because of 6 inches of topsoil, and because it rains once in a while. ~ Jim Hogue

Q: It is true that cows can’t really digest grain, and all cows should only e eating grass?

Jim Hogue shared some great insight into how cows eat and what they tolerate.  It’s true that a cow can naturally digest grass, however it’s also true that they are adaptable. In addition, farms must also meet the demand for beef, and grain feeding helps with production. Mature cows (1-1 ½ years old) will be delivered to a feedlot and are “finished” there for 4-6 months by feeding on the ration. When a cow is introduced to grain-based feed, or other plant material (fruit, vegetables), it has to be done gradually over a period of about 10-21 days and with supervision. Once the rumen adapts, the food is digested without issue. This gradual introduction happens with any sort of new feed ration (consider that some farms may purchase leftover fruits and vegetables from grocery stores that would otherwise be wasted and end up in a land fill – cows doing their share for the environment). Rations may also include ionophores – FDA-approved antibiotics that alter the rumen by creating “good bacteria” (as a environmental bonus – these ionophores also reduce methane gases). So the next time you think, “cows were only meant to eat grass”, consider the scientific-balanced formula that is individualized for cattle on every single farm.

Q: Is grass-finished beef more nutritious or healthier?

A: While grass-finished beef touts a better nutrition profile (it’s is often lower in fat, higher in omega-3 fatty acids, and higher in CLA, and higher in beta-carotene) I don’t count this as significant.

It’s a great idea to buy local when you can, but it’s also still fine to include traditional cuts of lean grain-fed beef in your diet as well. While you do want to increase your omega-3 fatty acids, I wouldn’t suggest doing so by eating beef (you want to include plant-based sources of omega-3 instead, such as olive oil or walnuts). And you’ll also want to get your beta-carotene from eating more vegetables.

Summing Up

There’s one thing for sure – all of these animals are well taken care of. I’ve never doubted this myself, living in a 4-H area, but I know there are some Americans who may. Farmers, and the veterinarians and scientists that they work with, care about the land, and they care for the animals they raise. The other interesting point, is that cattle nutrition needs should be as individualized as human nutrition. Farmland methods also needs to be individualized based on land, manpower, and natural resources. Our future productivity of food depends on the science and strategy of experts such as the ones we met during this tour.

I’ll be following up this blog next week with some nutrition information about beef, and the BOLD study compares to DASH.

Disclosure: I was invited by the Northeast Beef Promotion board to tour Hedgeapple Cattle Farm, but I was not paid to write this post.

Close Up Look at a Beef Cattle Farm

I enjoyed the opportunity to tour Hedgeapple Farm (run by the Jorgensen Family Foundation, Inc) this week. The farm sits on about 310 acres near Frederick Maryland and raises Black Angus cattle.The tour began with a brief overview by Executive Director Dr. Scott Barao who shared th history of the farm and the definition of grass fed. While consumers may relate to the term “Grass fed”, the detail is actually in how the cow is “finished”. “Grass-finished” cattle are only offered pasture grass and hay through their entire life. This is the case with the Angus at Hedgeapple Farm. 

The tour began in the historic 1790’s cabin now used as the farm’s country store.

The tour began in the historic 1790’s cabin now used as the farm’s country store.

Fall calves on the pasture

Fall calves on the pasture

After our short chat in the country store, we jumped on a hay wagon and toured the property. Our first stop gave us a view of the fall calves. Calves are born in the fall and spring generally, and will nurse and graze for about 6-8 months at which point they are weaned from their mothers and moved to another pasture.


We then stopped by a field where cows were almost ready to be shipped for processing. It takes about 2-3 years to bring beef from farm to fork, and there’s a lot of care and attention that occurs during that time.

Bulls are kept in their own areas, of course.

Date with a Bull.

Date with a Bull.

Finally, we toured the barn, where cattle are brought for health inspection or any medical intervention. While there’s no reason to give antibiotics here unless there is an infection or illness, they will of course treat the animals if they get sick.

The day closed with a panel discussion and an opportunity for the dietitians in the audience to ask unlimited questions. I’ll have a follow-up blog with more news about that Q&A later this week.

Disclosure: I was invited by the Northeast Beef Promotion board to tour Hedgeapple Cattle Farm, but I was not paid to write this post.

To Snack or Not to Snack?

larabarI recently read a “Facebook conversation” about children and snacking. I was going to post a comment, but thought – This is not a cut and dry topic, and one comment won’t do the topic justice. Hence, today’s blog post!

The topic was brought up because a local school suggested a mid-morning snack to hold the kids over until lunch time. The parent however didn’t feel that her child needs a snack every day at that time, and on top of that, is concerned about the “soccer snack” that also occurs later in the day after school.

Ah….the Evils of the Soccer Snack

I chalk this one up to the same genius who invented [insert sarcasm] “party favor bags” (which often included wasteful plastic crap you’d throw away a few months later, or mini games and candy) . My children are older, and we are over both birthday party favors and soccer snacks, but let’s say I have for sure “been there, done that”. I admit that I played along with the party favor bags and I also played along with soccer snack (mostly providing a portion-controlled juice or water and a package of crackers or a granola bar). Now mind you, I’m aware that many granola bars are glorified candy bars, but some are calorie-controlled, low in saturated fat, provide some protein, and may even be fortified with some B vitamins – in general better than a snack cake or a bag of chips when looking for something easy and portable. But my purpose here is not to dissect the minutia of the Nutrition Facts about various packaged snacks, my purpose is to help you understand that everyone has different nutrition and eaten pattern needs.

As the Facebook mom said, “I brought oranges once. Nobody took them”. That’s sad but true. The soccer children have been conditioned to get some sort of sweet or salty treat afterward, and sadly they don’t view orange wedges as a treat (although they are the perfect post-soccer treat for a 7 year old).

And side note – water is the best beverage for little tyke soccer players and amateur athletes and exercisers alike. You don’t need a sports drink unless you’re sweating bullets after doing some long, intense workout (such as a 30 mile bike ride).

Who Should Snack?

I do encourage providing children with a healthy food and beverage at snack time, but snacks do not always have to be scheduled. One train of thought is that all children and adults need to eat every 2-3 hours (the 6-meals-a-day idea), but everyone actually has custom needs. This is the tough thing about parenting – there is no simple rule book! Young children (ages 2-7) generally do need healthy snacks to meet their complete nutrient needs, while older children may not. I prefer to allow a child (and an adult for that matter) to also learn to recognize their hunger cues (when they are hungry – eat. When the are full – stop). When this concept is introduced early in life, an active child can eat normally, and maintain a healthy weight. Of course, some children begin to gain weight pre-puberty no matter how they eat, and their needs should be individualized.

Five Simple Snack Guidelines:

  • Young children are growing rapidly, and their small stomachs often can only hold so much, so smaller meals, with healthy snacks in between is often a good fit for young children
  • Most young children only require a mid-morning and a mid-afternoon snack, but this may depend on their individual activity levels
  • It’s normal for children to be more hungry at times (perhaps during a growth spurt). Support their cues on this.
  • Do make snack time fun. While I encourage healthy snacks (fresh fruit, raw veggies, whole grain crackers or wraps, some protein, low fat milk or yogurt) for the most part, an occasional treat of chocolate pudding or two cookies is fine.
  • If older children (10-15) are participating in after school sports, they can carry a snack with them if hunger hits, and they should hydrate with water often. Some children prefer to go to practice on an empty stomach due to gastrointestinal upset. Be sure to provide a simple recovery snack for older children doing after school sports – a glass of chocolate milk, a 4 ounce yogurt, cheese with 6 crackers, or a small 8-ounce smoothie can do the trick.

This brings me to my final point: Meal planning is not one-size-fits-all. Every child doesn’t need a 10am snack. Some may need no snacks, some one snack, and some may need more frequent snacks every day. It depends on the child, their environment, their activity level, their genetic predisposition, and so on. If you are concerned about your child’s weight, or eating habits, consider setting up a meeting with a registered dietitian in your area. 


A Heart-Healthy Labor Day Weekend

Whether you use the backyard patio or deck furniture, or go boating, or take one last dip in the pool, Labor Day is typically regarded as “the last weekend of summer” (even though summer isn’t officially over until September 22 this year). tomatoesPIC

Labor Day was first celebrated in 1882, with New York state being the first to officially adopt the day (always the first Monday in Septembers) in 1886. It originated as the beginning of the labor movement, recognizing the social and economic achievements of workers.

As always, your health is a 365 day a year job, so this weekend will be no different. Many Americans will celebrate the Labor Day weekend with a picnic and family gathering, so here are some ideas to incorporate heart health into your weekend plans.

  • Take a walk, hike, or a bike ride each day
  • Mix up a big batch of kale and wild rice salad on Friday to eat through the weekend. There are a lot of versions of this recipe – make it your own!
  • Slice some melons and place them onto a platter for everyone to enjoy.
  • Chop more vegetables into your pasta salad
  • Mix up a chopped green salad with chopped nuts, chopped spinach, red leaf lettuce, minced bell peppers, celery, chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, and grape halves.
  • Serve fish tacos for your picnic instead of the traditional hamburgers and hot dogs
  • Make slider-sized burgers using a variety of low fat choices – extra lean ground beef, ground turkey breast, and garden-bean burgers
  • Offer healthy toppings for your burgers – sautéed onions, mushrooms, spinach leaves – in addition to the traditional catsup, mustard, or cheese.
  • Keep it simple. Sometimes we feel side dishes have to be fancy, or have a lot of ingredients. Try simply slicing tomatoes, chopping cucumbers, and adding an oil and apple cider vinegar mixture (1:1 ratio oil to vinegar). Done.
  • If you mix up some lemonade, water it down a bit to lower sugar and calories, and add fresh herbs for an extra pop of flavor: Try mint leaves or thyme sprigs.
  • Instead of mayo-based potato salad, try this one.
  • Extra zucchini in the garden? Bring these Zippy Zucchini Bites to the neighbor’s picnic!
  • Instead of gooey cupcakes, bake a simple sheet cake and top with fresh sliced berries and fresh whipped cream.

Just a bit of thoughtful planning and a few swaps can make your weekend picnic healthier! Enjoy the weekend.