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Fancy Junk: Tricking You into Healthier

I really don’t enjoy grocery shopping anymore. In part, it’s the routine of it, but also the frustration of finding items I need while being overwhelmed by seeing so many choices in the grocery isles.

Some of the extra choices are a good thing but others really aren’t. The labeling trend for “absence claims” is driving the information food manufacturers place on the front of packages. These claims are marked on foods claiming they are “free from” some ingredient. This tends to suggest that the missing ingredient is undesirable in some way.

The confusion is compounded with food products using these claims about an ingredient that was never in the product in the first place. In the 1980s and 90s we saw many fat free claims, but we also saw a lot of “cholesterol free” claims on food packages that never ever contained any cholesterol (cholesterol is an animal product, therefore plant foods fried in vegetable fat are always going to be cholesterol free).

Well, nobody cares much about cholesterol anymore. Gluten, artificial ingredients, GMOs and “ingredients you can’t pronounce” are the new dietary devils (with dairy and soy taking runner up).

Take gluten for instance. While people are beginning to realize that choosing gluten free products isn’t a secret recipe to easy weight loss (Hint: there is not such thing as easy weight loss), it is a nice thing to have more choices for those who really need them in the gluten free isle.

Gluten free products have come a long way which is great for those with Celiac Disease or gluten intolerance. When I began my career, the products available weren’t too tasty. Now there are many types of gluten free flours on the market, and even gluten free convenience foods in the freezer isle.

There are also lots of unnecessary gluten free labels on foods however. Many foods labeled gluten free have never been a food with gluten. Does this help educate the consumer or confuse them? Let’s take a quick look at snack bars.

Fancy Candy

I recently attended my annual nutrition conference (FNCE® – The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Food and Nutrition Conference) and when grabbing a cup of coffee in my hotel’s lobby cafe, I snapped these photos:

Lots of “traditional” candy bars, and then on upper shelves, what I call “fancy candy” and other bars.

This was an overwhelming selection of candy and snack bars. Some of them, what I’ll call “fancy candy”, are newer to the market – bars that are gluten-free, soy-free, with added protein, and organic or “functional” ingredients (such as added vitamins or antioxidants). If you’re grabbing one of these it’s likely because you are craving something sweet or need quick calories.

At the end of the day, every single one of these bars can be proclaimed equal in my book – about 200-250 calories, 10 grams of fat, and 12-16 grams of sugar.

We could argue about whether eating all of those calories is better or worse depending on the ingredients (type of fat, organic versus conventional, gluten free, number of ingredients in the list, etc.), but if you are trying to lose weight, you should not eat a 250 calorie bar every day, whether it is sweetened with 65 calories of honey, 65 calories of organic cane sugar, or 65 calories of high fructose corn syrup. Unless you are eating this to replace a meal (and you add an additional 200 calories in nutrition to the meal to balance it out), it’s not the best choice for your overall diet.

A Menagerie of Syrups

Growing up in Pennsylvania, I was an early Hershey Kiss® adopter. I absolutely love them. My mother always had a pretty little bowl filled with them in our living room, and I’ve followed suit. My dream job would be “Hershey Kiss Spokesperson” – the perfect little sweet calorie-controlled package.

But Hershey’s? Do we really need this many syrups to choose from?

Regular, strawberry, caramel, sugar free,Simple, Boosting, Special Dark, LIte

As a child, my mother also always had a can of Hershey’s chocolate syrup in the house. It came in a can, and it was the only choice there was. We used it to make chocolate milk and to drizzle (not pour) on ice cream. Now we have nine choices?

“Simple” or “Simply” is another new term we see on packages in the supermarket. This food marketing claim wants you to believe that less ingredients are always better. This isn’t always the case, but Hershey’s, like so many other companies, is creating these products because they feel there is a consumer demand for them, even though it makes no sense.

Checking out these two syrups pictured here, the original product contains 12 ingredients, the Simply 5 contains only 5 (including organic sugar). In this case, the “Simply 5” product has the same calories per serving, the same amount of carbohydrate (for those with diabetes counting their carbs), but actually has one more gram of sugar. It’s a wash.

Both products contain safe ingredients, 45 calories per serving and 12 grams of carbohydrate.

What Is Driving These Labeling Trends?

Consumers choose different food and beverage products for a variety of reasons including:

  1. Taste, flavor, quality
  2. Price, value
  3. Availability in their market area
  4. Brand loyalty
  5. Personal views (environmental, religious)

Food manufacturer’s are keenly aware that consumers bring their emotions to the store. It’s not just about nutrition anymore, it’s about what foods make people “feel good” about purchasing. Not physically, but emotionally.

If you are trying to lose weight, manage your weight, or manage your blood sugar levels, calories do count. The impact on blood sugar or weight is exactly the same when you deliver the exact same about of calories and carbohydrate, no matter the source. (Yes, I know, I know, 100 calories of broccoli is more nutritious than 100 calories of soda). But if you’re eating a snack bar, fifteen grams of sugar is fifteen grams of sugar, and 240 calories is 240 calories.

If choosing these foods makes you feel good, great, but these “health halo” foods are not “better for you”.

It’s wise to use the majority of your food budget to buy foods from the basic food groups (vegetable, fruit, meat, grains, dairy) that fit your budget and that you are able to plan healthy, balanced meals around. Limit the junk food, and in my opinion it’s not worth extra food budget dollars to buy “fancy junk”.

 

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Enjoy a Skinny Signature Thanksgiving Cocktail

We’ve all heard about that Thanksgiving where Uncle Jim or cousin Johnny drank too much. Often it’s not on purpose – guests usually show up hungry, with a completely or mostly empty stomach, and then all of sudden that first cocktail hits them hard.

The best “medicine” is prevention, so to avoid getting too tipsy, too early, this Thanksgiving, use my strategy:

  1. Eat. Never drink on an empty stomach. Even if you can normally hold 2-3 drinks on a special occasion, one is going to wreck you if it’s on an empty stomach. If you don’t think your host or hostess will provide pre-dinner snacks, offer to bring something simple. Cut vegetables with dip, crostini, or olives with some chunks of cheese work well. Just a little bit of food helps.
  2. Go light, and pace yourself. Limit yourself to one cocktail before dinner.
  3. Try my Thanksgiving Cosmopolitan or simply add club soda to any cocktail to lighten the spirits.

Size Matters

Today’s cocktail glasses have something in common with today’s bagels and muffins: They’ve grown in size. A typical martini or daiquiri glass in the 1970s held 2-3 ounces. Today’s glassware, such as the one pictured on the left here, holds 4-5 ounces. Double the size, double the calories. While it may be a challenge to find smaller cocktail glasses, maybe you can put this on your Wish List?


How-to Guide for Dietitians: Review the Science

Nutrition is a tricky business. Everyone eats, and everyone has an opinion about what the best diet is, or which foods or beverages you should or shouldn’t eat. On top of this there’s the dietary supplement market – a multimillion dollar industry that’s poorly regulated.

Chew the Facts® stands for science. I’m passionate about helping consumers distinguish facts from myth. With daily headlines focusing on soundbites from the latest dietary study, even health professionals can be misled or get confused. 

Every study isn’t a good study, nor a conclusive one. I had the chance to interview Kevin Klatt about how to review the science. Kevin is a PhD Candidate in Molecular Nutrition at Cornell University, Division of Nutritional Sciences. Here’s what Klatt had to say about how to decipher the meaningful research from everything else.

What resources should dietitians use when validating research or nutrition topics in the news?

Nutrition topics in the news are often subject to ‘single study syndrome’ – the results get heavily publicized and spiced up, but are not placed into the context of the greater body of evidence. I think that its key for RD/RDNs to immediately ask themselves, “What do we know and how does this new research fit into what we knew before”. Apart from the occasional landmark trial, such as the recent peanut allergy prevention trial (the LEAP trial), few studies wildly transform our knowledge on a topic. Going to the Academy’s Evidence Analysis Library, the USDA’s Nutrition Evidence Library, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality’s database and Cochrane’s Library are great places to start when finding out what we (think we) know about a topic and contextualizing new research. In addition to these, there are many websites/blogs which get ‘fast takes’ from experts (sites such as the Science Media Centre and Health News Review are two examples) which RD/RDNs might consider in their analysis. 

What questions should dietitians be asking when reading research studies?

I ask myself a few core things when reading research studies:

  • What type of study is this? Where does it fall in the evidence hierarchy (e.g. meta analyses, trials, observational, animals/cells, etc)? Is the evidence causal and what level of bias is in the study?
  • What hypothesis is being tested and was it preregistered? Pre-registry is important for ensuring that authors are reporting on what they designed the study to assess; studies which aren’t preregistered or are reporting on un-registered outcomes exhibit a higher risk of providing false positive/biased findings (See here).
  • What outcomes were measured? How meaningful are these (both scientifically and to your patient/client)? 
  • What is the most ideal study design to answer this question? Did the authors of this paper employ that design? 
  • What conclusions can we draw from this study, given its strengths and limitations? 
  • How does this research fit into the greater body of evidence surrounding this topic? I often do that by identifying systematic reviews and meta analyses, as well as some narrative reviews by experts in the field, regarding the issue. 
  • The last but most important thing that I ask myself is: “Is this something that patients/clients would find meaningful/valuable?”. 

Increasingly, we’re seeing more systematic looks at the evidence, and the news is reporting on systematic reviews and meta-analyses. This is generally a good thing, because it reduces bias in the assessment of the literature, relative to more narrative reviews written by experts. Understanding how to interpret systematic reviews and meta-analyses is critical. Some tools for assessing the quality of this kind of research are the Cochrane Handbook and the AMSTAR quality assessment tool

Where is the best place to find the best nutrition research?

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the American Society of Nutrition journals are go-to reads for RD/RDNs. Relevant trials and cohort analyses are often published in specialty journals and there might be some additional trials which are published within these (e.g. American Heart Association journals for Cardiology focused RD/RDNs). Members of these societies will have access to these journals. The UAB Obesity and Energetics Offerings is additional resource; they do a great weekly roundup of research in the field that I highly recommend following: https://obesityandenergetics.org/

The National Academies of Medicine (formerly the Institute of Medicine) also regularly puts out reports related to nutrition and health. These reports provide a wealth of information and are often the basis of public policy – and they are freely accessible! I’m a huge advocate for going back and reading old NAM/IOM reports and keeping up with the news – it’ll give you the most well rounded perspective on evidence-based nutrition.

For those without a university library subscription services, probably the best place to find emerging nutrition research is through social media – a number of groups/pages on Facebook and accounts on twitter post and discuss current research, and kind folks may even email you a pdf of the paper! Nutrition & Dietetics is so broad and interdisciplinary; social media can definitely help find others in your research niche. 

Lastly, podcasts are fast becoming a great place to hear about research. Individual science podcasts often discuss research, and many journals have started to do podcasts with authors. There’s a ton of podcasts to explore but I’d specifically recommend the Sage Nutrition and Dietetics podcasts for updates from Nutrition in Clinical Practice and the Journal of Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition.

 

 

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How Do You Like Them Apples?

I had the pleasure of touring some of the apple orchards of Washington State in September upon invitation from Arctic Apples. Just when you think you know enough about farming, you realize there’s always more to learn. I was absolutely blown away about “where apples come from”. [The travel for the trip was covered by Okanagan Specialty Fruits, but the opinions I share here are my own].

One of my favorite lines in the film Good Will Hunting is when Will gets the girl’s phone number and throws it into his rival’s faces, stating

“Do you like apples?…Well how do you like dem apples?”

Soon, there will be a new apple in town. It tastes great, and won’t brown. The first question that many people ask is “Why would we need a non-browning apple?” So let me start there…

Have you ever cut into a perfect looking apple to see that it’s brown and soft inside? Have you ever sliced a bunch of apples for a fruit tray, and even though you squeezed lemon juice on them, some of them still turn brown? Would you like to chop apples into your salads without them turning brown? Have you ever spent time packing lunches for your children in the morning, only to find the bag of sliced apples come home uneaten at the end of the day?

Arctic Apples® won’t do that. Having a non-browning apple on the market will not only curb food waste, but it opens up opportunities for new recipes utilizing apples. Apples are great sources of fiber, vitamins C, and potassium.

  • Fewer apples wasted (currently about 40% of apples grown are wasted)
  • Less water and fuel
  • Higher quality apples reduces loss

Apple Farming

You may have an apple tree in your yard, like I do. Or you may even visit a local orchard. I grew up with several fruit trees in my back yard as a child – cherries, peaches, plums, pears, and apples. They were trees. The peach trees were small, but the cherry, apple and pear trees were pretty big.

Washington state boasts the largest apple production in the country. Apples are Washington’s largest agricultural grown product.

During this tour, we got to see the whole process of growing apples on large-scale apple farms. If you’ve ever visited a winery, these apple trees look more like grape vines – strung on a trellis, bearing many apples, from a fairly small trunk. They are not big trees at all.

Root orchard.

Modern apple farming involves using rootstock and grafting techniques.

Each stem will provide the root for the apple tree. This root is no particular apple until the variety is grafted onto it. Some rootstock dates back to the late 1800s!

Some apple farmers specialize in just rootstock. Hundreds of rootstock acres are planted and sold to other apple farmers who grow apple varieties, using grafting or chipping techniques. Farmers use different grafting techniques in which a section of a stem with leaf buds is inserted into the stock of a tree.

This “chip” will be inserted into the rootstock stem to create the desired variety of apple.

Another type of grafting is “budding”, in which a single bud or “chip” is inserted into a stock. All modern commercially grown apple trees are grown by grafting, rather than by planting seeds.

Why Arctic Apples®?

The fact is, people don’t like eating brown apples, and an apple farmer and scientist by the name of Neal Carter figured out a way to keep apples from browning by silencing the enzyme that causes browning. When an apple is bruised or cut, an enzyme called PPO (polyphenol oxidase) is triggered and causes oxidative browning. The non-browning apples have all of the same nutrition as regular Golden Delicious apples, but won’t brown when bitten, sliced or bruised.

Neal and Louisa Carter sought to address the stagnant apple consumption in North America by providing a new way to consume apples: Pre-sliced.

Less than two percent of apples are currently sold as fresh slices, and Arctic apples will change that statistic, without using preservatives. Their hope is that ready-to-eat sliced apples will increase apple consumption in more Americans, just as carrot consumption increased with the introduction of “baby carrots” sold ready-to-eat in bags.

At this time Arctic Apples® will only be delivered to certain undisclosed markets. There are currently two varieties: Golden Delicious and Granny Smith. They’ll be delivered to market pre-sliced in a zippered bag (similar to how some grapes are packaged).

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Does Antibiotics Use on the Farm Impact the Food on Your Plate?

I am working with the U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance’s Digital Voices Council through September 2017. This post includes a link to a blog that was sponsored by the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance, but are expressions of my own. 

Antibiotic resistance is the ability of a bacteria to resist the effects of an antibiotic. Bacteria become antibiotic resistant when the antibiotic kills sensitive bacteria, leaving behind antibiotic-resistant bacteria. You’ve likely heard news about this issue, whether in the context of human overuse of antibiotics or use in animals.

“It isn’t just a Midwest United States issue, it’s an international issue,” says Brad Greenway, a South Dakota pig farmer and member of the National Pork Board’s Antibiotic Task Force.

I recently discussed animal antibiotic use with Brad, who says farmers recognize the need to stay on top of this global issue. Antibiotic resistance is an issue that encompasses animal health and human health. Brad reports that antibiotics are highly monitored and only used when needed.

Your Children See the Pediatrician, Farm Animals See the Veterinarian

If you have children, you know that going to the pediatrician forcheck-ups and vaccines are important. Consumers may not realize that just as you work with your pediatrician, livestock farmers work closely with veterinarians on a regular basis. Since antibiotics can only be used when medically necessary, farmers are in weekly contact with the vets who monitor and advise farmers all of the time.

Are Antibiotic Residues Left in Our Food?

No. Vets advise farmers about withdrawal times as well as the type and dose of medicine. This withdrawal is highly monitored and assures there is no residue left in the meat we consume. There’s no trace of antibiotic is left in the animal when it goes to market.

What are Farmers Doing About Antibiotic Resistance

Me holding a healthy piglet from South Dakota University’s research barn.

The number one goal is to use antibiotics only when necessary. To meet this goal, he recommends that farmers have a strong relationship with their vet. Along with their vet, a farmer can continually evaluate animals that may be under stress when weaned or transported.

Every antibiotic, whether an injectable or oral antibiotic given in feed or water, requires a prescription from a veterinarian. Antibiotics that are medically important to human illness cannot be used to promote growth in animals either.

Farmers employ standards in the use and documentation of antibiotics:

  • Communication with the veterinarian: Farmers stay in touch with their vet, who determines any need to treat the whole barn to prevent illness or else experience losses
  • Document everything: Farmers document the type, dose, duration, and withdrawal periods when antibiotics are used.
  • Follow withdrawal schedules.
  • Improve documentation tools: Brad is concerned about proper use of antibiotics and looks for better tools that farmers can use to document and track antibiotic use. Currently, antibiotic use is documented based on sales. Farmers and vets are working on developing new tools that could better document use per animal, per pound.

Just as you want to keep your family safe and healthy, farmers want to keep their animals safe and healthy so they can get food onto your table, and their own. Responsible use of antibiotics is in everyone’s best interest.

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Food Safety from Farm to Fork

I am working with the U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance’s Digital Voices Council through September 2017. This post includes a link to a blog that was sponsored by the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance, but are expressions of my own. 

When you think about food safety you may think of employee hand washing practices in restaurants or other food service areas. Or maybe food recalls also come to mind.

You may be very surprised to learn that farmers continuously consider food safety measures too. Careful food safety measures are taken on the farm, in food delivery and processing, storage and handling. The food safety measures you practice in your kitchen are similar to the standardized safety measures used on the farm. Farmers have standards of practice just like any other industry, and continuously evaluate their practices to ensure the health and safety of their animals and to deliver a safe food product. 

How Farmers Maintain a Safe and Healthy Environment on the Farm

Brad Greenway is a South Dakota pig farmer and reports that livestock farmers are always focused on several key areas to be sure food is safe from farm to plate. Biosecurity is one of them.

Biosecurity on the farm refers to management practices that are designed to minimize or prevent infectious bacteria and diseases making their way onto a farm. This includes managing or limiting the number of people and vehicles that are on the farm, cleaning barns and equipment, immunizing animals, and monitoring and maintaining the environment where the animals live.

Brad is also a member of the National Pork Board’s Antibiotic Task Force and says farmers recognize the need to stay on top of this issue.  For instance, on his farm, he highly monitors the use of antibiotics among his pigs and only uses them when needed.

“If one or a few piglets seem listless or sick, they are treated with the right antibiotic, at the right time, in the right dose,” says Brad. “This is simply the right thing to do.”

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), antibiotic resistance is a world-wide issue of concern which encompasses the health care industry, health care workers, individuals, policy makers, and the agricultural sector. Farmers are highly aware that antibiotic resistance is a hot topic.

Food Safety at the Plate

Just as farmers care about food safety on the farm, you should do so in your kitchen. Keep your kitchen clean and be aware of proper food handling.

  • Check for proper cooking temperatures. Did you know that pork no longer needs to be cooked “well done”? Today’s pork can be safe by cooking to an internal temperature of 145 degrees F. The lower cooking temperatures make for a more delicious, juicy and tender end product too. Use a food thermometer to check doneness.
  • Understand sell-by dates. Food waste is a growing issue, by understanding these use by and sell-by dates, you’ll waste less food and money.
  • Always wash cutting boards in hot soapy water. Avoid “cross contamination” by never using the same knife, utensil or cutting board that you’ve cut meat on for other food (such as vegetable, fruit or bread).
  • Store foods properly. An easy rule is “keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot”. Bacteria begins to grow after about two hours, so if you are serving a buffet or having a picnic, be sure to refrigerator or keep leftovers in coolers at that time.
  • Always wash your hands frequently when handling raw or cooked food.

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Simple Pear Crisp

Who doesn’t love pie? But pie takes a bit more time and skill than a simple fruit crisp.

Instead of going to the trouble of pie crust, adding an oat topping to sliced fruit is a great way to enjoy a dessert that gets a serving of fruit into your day! To make this dessert in even less time, consider adding a peeler to your kitchen gadget cabinet. I love this one. It not only makes peeling and coring quicker, it makes even slices. Plus, the kids may enjoy helping you so it’s perfect for Family Meals Month®!

Adding this fruit crisp to this week’s menu may help your child succeed. Did you know that kids from elementary school to high school who eat meals with their families four times a week or more earn better test scores? Crisps are so easy to throw together and make a healthy dessert. Here’s how to do it.

Make Family Dinner Easy with a Slow Cooker and a Pan

Life can sure get hectic at times. If you’re a parent, then it may be even more hectic. Between work, grocery shopping, after school activities, and homework, evenings are often rushed and late. Getting dinner on the table should be a fun event, and it can be.

The key to creating balanced, easy suppers, is to plan ahead. Using a slow cooker allows you to whip dinner together quickly because you can get the time-consuming part done – your protein. And you can make extra for multiple uses. Vegetables can take a bit of extra prep time too, so chopping vegetables when you buy them, saves time when preparing the actual meal. You can also buy frozen vegetables such as sliced bell peppers with onions (sometimes called fajita mix), cubed butternut squash or frozen shredded potatoes.

Here are a few more tips:

  • Use the slow cooker. There are so many options here.
    • You can add 3 chicken breasts with seasoning and about a cup of water or low sodium chicken broth, cook on low for 5-6 hours. The chicken breasts can be shredded and used in tacos, burrito bowls, salads, or wraps.
    • Add 2-3 peeled, sliced apples, place a 2 pound pork loin, season lightly with salt and pepper. Add 1 cup vegetable stock. Cook 5-6 hours. Serve on hearty rolls for a hot sandwich supper, or add to rice for a one dish meal.

      Slow cooked pork loin sandwich with a side of roasted kale, Brussels Sprouts and sweet potatoes.

  • Roast Vegetables. Not only do roasted vegetables taste amazing, they are so easy. You can make a big batch, and save leftovers for another meal. Just cube a bunch of your favorite vegetables, spread on a lightly greased cookie sheet (I use olive oil), and place in a 400 degree oven for 35 minutes. This week I bought a bag of small Brussels Sprouts, sliced onion, and cubed a few sweet potatoes. I drizzled with olive oil, and sprinkled with cinnamon and a pinch of salt.
  • Think one-dish meals. Pasta and rice is a simple base to top with vegetables and protein. Skillet meals are easy and quick. I made this “Meatball Fondue” this week, and it was a hit. We added a tossed green salad to complete the meal. I made the meatball mixture ahead and refrigerated, the after work, the whole meal only took 20-30 minutes to put together. If you don’t have time for that, simply substitute frozen meatballs.
  • While they are higher in sodium than making a from-scratch recipe, boxed rice and bean dishes are an easy and nutritious starter to a meal. You can simply add a small lean steak or pork loin, or you can just enjoy a meatless meal of rice and beans, and add some fresh fruit or tossed salad to it.
  • Don’t forget dessert! A simple scoop of ice cream can’t get any easier. And a fruit crisp is pretty quick too. We had some pears from our backyard tree this week, so I used those. Simply spray an 8×8 baking dish with vegetable spray, place 4-6 cups sliced pears (or apples) onto bottom of dish, and add a crumb mixture on top (1/4 cup brown sugar, 1/2 cup oats, 1/4 cup flour, 3 TB vegetable oil or butter – mix to combine). Bake for 35 minutes in a 375 oven. 

The most important thing is that you set a goal to sit down and eat dinner as a family more often. Sure, I’d like you to offer a balanced, healthy meal, and try new foods and add more veggies, but start by sitting together. Set the table, use real dishes, use napkins, divvy up the chores, and enjoy a family meal!

 

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Balanced but Practical Lunches for Teens: What-ever!

With school back in session, it’s lunch packing season. Now that you have a teenager, you know that the days of love notes and cutting sandwiches into fun shapes for your finicky child are over, but lunch still needs to be enticing enough to eat, and still provide the nutrition your teen needs to stay healthy and learn. 

Even though nutrition is still so important during the teen years (they’re still growing), teenagers tend to take a “Whatever!” attitude about, well, everything you recommend. Anyone who has a 13 year old is all too familiar with the “eye-roll”, but once children reach middle school, what others think of them is one of their biggest worries. The eyes at school may even be on their packed lunch.

Lunch time at school is also a social time, a time where kids see what other students eat, exchange snacks, and become part of the lunch room scene. Give them the resources they need, but the struggle into their hands and let them be in charge of lunch.

If your middle or high-schooler is packing a lunch, consider this:

  • Even though they may not think they still need to drink milk, teenagers still do need calcium. The requirement for 13-18 year olds is 1300 milligrams a day. The easiest way to ensure they get it: 4 servings of milk. One serving is the equivalent of 8ounces fluid milk, 8 ounces yogurt, 1/2 cup ricotta, 2 cups cottage cheese, or 1 1/2 ounces cheese. I always encourage milk as a beverage with meals. You can’t force it on them, but you can remind them that calcium supports strong bones and healthy smiles. I often “get scientific” with my kids (if you don’t keep up with your milk, your bones will break when your my age).
  • Variety is important, but lunch periods are often short. Every school (and kid) is different, but be understanding of the amount of time they may have to sit down and eat it. Sometimes convenience items like an applesauce cup over an apple or a protein bar instead of a meal or sandwich, may be easier for a shorter lunch period.
  • Allow your teen to help plan and shop for lunch items. Encourage healthy choices but involve your teen in the choice. Allow a “junky” food by balancing it with a fruit or vegetable. Encourage fruits and vegetables, but let them decide which ones. Let this struggle go.
  • Some kids may choose monotony during the school year. My sons pretty much packed the same lunch every day during the school year (PBJ sandwich, applesauce/banana/grapes or other fruit, chips or a cookie, and milk). Offer a larger variety during the summer, and at dinner time all year. Simple and easy is okay.

[Of course the easiest way to ensure a balanced lunch is to utilize the school lunch program. School Lunch has come a long way and many schools are offering amazing options. The only reason my sons didn’t buy lunch was the time factor.]

Here are some simple packed lunch meal plans. Teens love nothing more than independence, so let them pack whatever, whenever they want, and drop the worries:

Old Fashioned PBJ

  • Peanut butter and strawberry jelly on whole wheat or white bread (don’t go nuts over white bread if that’s what your kids enjoy)
  • A serving of fruit and/or raw carrots or small salad 
  • 8-16 ounces milk
  • 1 ounce bag of chips or 2 cookies

New Age Hipster

  • Roasted chicken wrap
  • Quinoa salad with cranberries
  • 8-16 ounces Almond Milk
  • Baby carrots with hummus

Salad Lover

  • Chopped baby kale with slivered almonds, sliced strawberries, feta cheese (add tuna or leftover grilled chicken)
  • Whole wheat pita pocket
  • 8 ounces milk

Submarine Sammy

  • Crunchy French roll with baked ham, turkey, provolone cheese, chopped lettuce, tomato
  • 1 ounce chips
  • Bunch of green grapes
  • 8-16 ounces chocolate milk

Lunch packing doesn’t have to be fancy or stressful. Just encourage them not to pack a bag of junk, and no skipping! By keeping the healthy lunch ingredients they want in the house, along with brown bags, sandwich and snack sized zipper bags, and your teen can pack his or her own balanced lunch whenever they want (and there will be something in there, thanks to your behind the scenes grocery shopping). When they ask you about what they should pack for lunch, your new motto can be: “Whatever”.

Feel free to share your teen lunch tips or struggles in the comment section.

 

 

 

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Fall into Lifelong Healthy Eating Habits

Summer goes by so quickly and here we are starting a new school year. I find that the rest of the world tends to match the school year schedule, with less work during summer, and then Fall gets busy very quickly.

As this busy season begins, be sure to have your eating habits in check. What have you been working on? Consuming less refined carbohydrates? Less alcohol? More fiber? More dairy?

The best diet is a healthy plan that you can maintain. Not only is the DASH Diet plan something supported by science to lower blood pressure and manage weight, but it’s pretty easy to adopt. A Mediterranean style diet is similar, and also pretty easy and delicious to adhere to. If you’d like some help getting on track, try my coaching services. In the meantime, start working on these goals this fall:

  • Plan a good breakfast, and add some protein to it. Have a batch of hard cooked eggs in the fridge so they are ready to eat. Try a half-cup of cottage cheese or ricotta with some fruit to go along with a slice of whole grain bread. Spread peanut butter onto an English muffin, and enjoy with a latte. Oatmeal makes a great breakfast too.
  • If you have children, make your own lunch when you make theirs. I found that I’d pack a great lunch for my kids, and then not spend any time planning mine (and it’d often end up less balanced).
  • Think more vegetables. When dining out, look for the veggie side dishes to go with your entree.
  • Choose lean meat cuts. Many people think it’s “bad” to include meats such as beef or pork in their diet, and then they feel guilty when they eat them. Don’t feel bad! Just choose lean cuts and smaller portions (5-7 ounces) and go ahead and plan meals with beef or pork through the week. Including some beef in your diet is also an easy way to ensure you’re getting the iron you need.
  • Get your omega-3 fatty acids. Adding salmon, trout, eggs, walnuts or flax seed to your diet ensures you get some of these beneficial fats in.

Salmon over sautéed spinach and a side of penne.

  • Add some dairy. Choose a variety of sources – low fat milk, yogurt, full fat cheeses. Be aware that full fat dairy products are going to be higher in calories, so plan accordingly. Dairy foods have been shown to lower blood pressure and are part of the DASH Diet plan.
  • Don’t categorize foods as good and bad. Pasta is not bad. White bread is not bad. Sugar is not bad. Fat is not bad. Foods just need to be balanced in your diet. Variety and portion control are important. Yes you should try to include some whole grains, but you can still make your child a peanut butter and jelly on white bread if that’s what they like. Just balance that by including some other foods with fiber in your diet.
  • Add some beans to your diet. Beans are so nutritious and a great way to add fiber to your. They are high in B vitamins and provide some protein. Add them to salads and soups, rice, burritos, or chilis.
  • Choose beverages wisely. It’s easy to go overboard with calories when you drink them. Sugary or alcoholic drinks may go down easy, but don’t make you full. Alcoholic drinks also tend to increase appetite. Stick to moderation with alcohol (1 drink a day for women, 2 for men).
  • Move more. Any extra movement you can fit into a day is a good thing. Set small goals. When you’re short on time, accept the idea of a 15 minute walk. As I always say, “some exercise is better than no exercise”.

What are your back to school health and fitness goals? Share in the comment section.

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