Back-to-school means our kiddos will be exposed to more. More kids, more teachers, more carpooling parents, and ultimately more germs. If you've mastered habitual hand-washing and are ready to move on to something more, consider the food-related practices that can aid in strengthening the immune system.
First, follow general food safety practices - cleaning, separating, cooking and storing foods properly. Here is a link to my favorite food safety tip sheet: http://bit.ly/1IOfQ5j.
Next, consider sources of Vitamin C and Zinc, which help our bodies resist infection.
Sources of Vitamin C:
There are A LOT of lunch box hacks, but these are the ones I found most unique and practical:
Even though I'm a dietitian, I HAVE to read labels like everyone else. No matter how much I think I know about a food, there are usually many different brands and varied packaging that can be quite deceiving. Quick and dirty, below is one label I picked up for a quick once over.
Thought #1: Go straight to ingredients. Besides learning which ingredients are used in a product, I want to know HOW MANY ingredients are used (usually the fewer the better), and how much of each ingredient are used (ingredients are listed in descending order of weight from most to least).
Thought #2: I look at Sugars and Carbohydrates. My rule of thumb is to shoot for products with less than 20g of sugar and carbs per serving. The recommended amount of total sugar is no more than 90g for adults, and there is no recommendation for children. Most people need between 45g and 60g of carbs per meal and 15g to 30g per snack. Note, I mention trying to find products with 20g or less of sugar and carbs because your meal will be comprised of multiple products and you'll no doubt get plenty of both sugar and carbs.
Thought #3: I look at sodium content. The adequate intake for sodium for 1-to-3-year-old children is 1,000mg a day. If a product has 600mg (or more than half a day's allotted amount) I would find this high.
Thought #4: I want a rough estimate of total calories for my meals so that I know what I'll most likely consume for the entire day. Toddlers need between 1,000-1,400 calories per day. I wouldn't want to give my toddler a protein bar snack like the one above if it was 400 calories.
Thought #5: Finally, I want to know how many servings per package so that I accurately assess the values above.
Note: I do all five steps in less than 30 seconds, and this is by no means everything I look for all the time (e.g., sometimes I look specifically for trans or saturated fats because I suspect they might be in a particular product).
The American Heart Association has a slightly different list from me, which is also worth checking out. Basically, whatever you are looking for, reading labels habitually can be one of the best tools you employ in managing the dietary health of your family.
I learn the few rules that matter to me, and I read almost every label I put in my shopping cart. There are many other things that go through my head, AND...the more you do this the easier it will become to understand where you can get the most nutritious options without having to dig through a haystack each time you shop.
I get a lot of feedback about the difficulties of getting a toddler to try new foods. One big one is regarding food waste. Parents don't want to buy a whole head of cauliflower if they're not sure their toddler will eat it. Not sure if it's cool to break that head of cauliflower in half? No worries, we've got this.
This morning, I interviewed Dylan who is an Assistant Produce Manager at my local grocery store. He gave me the lay of the land regarding grocery store etiquette.
Here's what you should know:
Oftentimes we tend to simplify the meaning of "being healthy" by focusing on singular measures such as weight. Health is really defined in terms of one's overall condition, which includes factors such as dental hygiene.
Developing good oral hygiene habits early in childhood is critical to longterm health. While I spend a significant amount of my time working with mothers and children, I also have experience working with older patients. One question I always have to ask these patients is, "How are your teeth?" I even follow up by asking them to actually show me their teeth. Why? I need to know that they can eat!
To pave the way for long term oral health, keep in mind that food choices over time can help prevent tooth decay and gum disease. Overall, foods and beverages that are high in sugar or are acid can be particularly harmful as they erode enamel and decay teeth.
Some basic rules of thumb:
My toddler had one juice box and never looked back. I bet this is the case for most of your kiddos. It's almost as if sugary drinks tattoo the tongue, leaving a permanent impression. In some respects, it makes sense. Our bodies get energy from sugar, which means we need it and ultimately might crave it.
However, certain sugars are better than others. For instance, fruits are healthier than candy because they provide fiber, vitamins and other nutrients. Alternatively, things like sugary drinks (e.g., many juices and sodas) are usually comprised of "empty calories" - meaning they provide calories, but little nutritional value.
One of the less obvious downfalls of sweetened beverage consumption is that those who drink them do not feel as full as if they had eaten the same calories from solid food. In the end, this results in more calories consumed and increases obesity risks. One study indicates that for every sugary beverage consumed by a child, their risk of obesity increases 60%. Similarly, sugary beverage consumption increases the risk of type 2 diabetes and other chronic diseases.
Overall, we have learned that people who consume sugary drinks are inclined to have relatively lower quality diets.
Besides the negatives of sugary drinks, there are many positives to drinking water; they include:
One last thing...if you believe your child is dehydrated or ill (e.g., he or she has signs or symptoms of sickness such as diarrhea) consult your physician before re-hydrating with anything other than water. Products such as kool-aid, boxed juice and broths may have the wrong make up of sugar and/or salts that could ultimately make your child sicker.
Meatless Monday is a global campaign with the goal of reducing meat consumption by 15% to decrease stress on our bodies and the planet.
I like Meatless Mondays for a variety of reasons. For one, I am reminded to include beans and other legumes into my weekly menu. I especially like leveraging organic canned beans on Mondays because it's a stress-free way of easing back into the work week. If you are not regularly including legumes in your meal planning, you are missing out!
Plant-based sources of protein, like beans, have my family eating more fiber, protein, folate, zinc, iron and magnesium. In addition, when we're consuming plant-based sources of protein we are NOT consuming proteins high in trans and/or saturated fats (e.g., steaks).
One other huge benefit of Meatless Monday is that my family learns to "deal" with not having their favorite meals every night. We all try new things together. This doesn't mean that we all like the new things we try. In fact, my husband is on the same learning trajectory as my toddler in terms of green vegetables. They are learning to broaden their tastes together...how sweet.
Here are a few of my favorite Meatless Monday recipes:
1. Meatless Monday. "Why Meatless?" Retrieved from http://www.meatlessmonday.com/about-us/why-meatless
2. Meatless Monday. "About Us". Retrievefd from http://www.meatlessmonday.com/about-us/
Convenience foods have long had a reputation of being unhealthy because they are highly processed. Additives like MSG, artificial food coloring, and high fructose corn syrup have historically been in what seems like everything! Luckily, new food trends (e.g., clean eating, the rise of functional foods) are bringing some healthier convenience foods to the table. Here are some of my own go-to packaged items my toddler loves:
The fruit-based items tend to be sugar and little else. The Clif Kid Fruit Rope, for example, has 17g of carbs, less than 1g of dietary fiber, 15g of sugar and 0g protein - not an ideal snack. Even the little raisin boxes can be overdone as the tiniest of boxes contain 10g of sugar, 1g fiber, and 0g protein.
Other reasons I steer towards vegetable-based products:
I recently ran across a genius tip sheet about how verbiage can really affect (both positively and negatively) children's eating behaviors. What and how you communicate about food can make all the difference in achieving healthy eating goals you have set for your family.
Some must do things include:
Adapted from “What You Say Really Matters?” in Feeding Young Children in Group Settings, Dr. Janice Fletcher and Dr. Laurel Branen, University of Idaho. Retrieved from http://www.choosemyplate.gov/sites/default/files/audiences/PhrasesThatHelpAndHinder.pdf.
Registered Dietitian, Austinite, Mom with a 2-yr old, Dog lover