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Monday, August 26, 2013

The Art of After-school Snacking

Remember the story of Goldilocks - too small, too big, just right?  That is the goal when it comes to after-school snacking.  I remember coming home from high school and eating an entire quart of peaches (ah the joys of teenage metabolism), but one or two peach halves for my grade schooler may be too much.  So let me throw out a couple guidelines when it comes to after school snacking:
  • Keep it snack sized.  This obviously changes as your child grows, and may vary quite a bit from day to day as their appetite waxes and wanes.  But try to teach your child that a snack is just that - not a meal.  You should eat enough just to take the hunger away, not enough to feel full.   That way, they aren't hitting the pantry all afternoon, and they will be hungry again for dinner.  Remind them that they should be hungry again in a couple hours when it comes time for family dinner. 
  • Think beyond treats.  If we are to get in 9 servings of fruits and veggies each day, or follow the Choose My Plate guidelines, we should make half of our snacks fruits and veggies as well as our meals.  I generally let my kids choose their own snacks if they approve it with me, but I always let them know that the crackers, or the granola bar are fine as long as they eat a fruit or veggie with it.  
  • Add protein for those extra hungry tummies.  A spoonful of peanut butter, a piece of cheese or even some nuts can add that little bit of protein that active kids need to get them through gymnastics or soccer practice.  Even a glass of milk with their snack can do the trick.  The protein will sustain them longer than just carbohydrates will.
  • Stock up on smart snack options.  Whole-wheat english muffins, crackers or bread that provides 3 or more grams of fiber per serving will generally let you work some whole-grain servings into snack time.  Replace the cookie jar with a fruit bowl.  Keep fruits, veggies and water visible and handy.  Choose higher-fiber, lower-sugar cereals on hand for a great go-to snack.  Add in some fresh fruit and viola!
The internet is full of darling, cutesy, snack ideas for those willing to put the extra time and effort in.  But when it comes down to it, sitting down to listen to your child's day over a bowl of nuts and some grapes probably shows more love on an emotional and healthful level than the cutest cut-out cookies ever will. 

Monday, August 19, 2013

Packing Smarter: A Better Brown Bag Lunch

Back to school time is here and not only does that bring a flurry of shopping for clothes and school supplies, but for school lunch fodder as well.  So how can you best encourage your child to pack a better home-lunch?  Try a few of these tips to keep those brown-bag contents out of the cafeteria trash can:
  • Child input - take your child shopping with you, or at least ask them what they would like to have in their lunch boxes.  If they choose it, they are less likely to chuck it. 
  • Be reasonable - try to balance health, nutrition and taste.  Just because my kids ask for a pre-packaged lunch kit from the store doesn't mean that I pack it for them routinely.  Instead, I try to encourage them to take something from each food group, and include some kind of treat or dessert item.  
  • Watch portion size - kids are often overwhelmed by adult portion sizes and refuse to eat any because it looks so overwhelming.  For example, you may grab 10-12 baby carrots for your lunch serving, but that may overwhelm a 7 year-old.  So ask your child how many carrots they think they'd eat at lunch and use that as a guide.  For my 10 year-old daughter, more than 7 or 8 small or 4 - 5 bigger baby carrots is doable.  
  • Balance convenience foods with whole foods - fun, prepackaged, snack sizes of crackers, dried fruits and other lunch items are fun to add into a lunch, but try to keep a balance of whole foods and processed foods.  For example: Sandwich (or half sandwich for smaller tummies), a bag of carrots & grapes, small snack-bag of crackers and a square of chocolate or cookie, milk or water.
  • Be beverage aware - milk or water are the best beverage options.  Milk provides protein, calcium and vitamin D, and water is always the go-to beverage.  Juices or punch add empty calories and extra sugar, so save those for once-in-a-while occasions.  
  • Think outside the sandwich - not everyone can eat, or wants to eat a sandwich at lunch.  Slightly outside that sandwich-box is the idea of wraps, or quesadilla type lunch items.  Other options that lie a bit farther outside that sandwich-box, are crackers and cheese, or even a bag of dry cereal.  Cereals that are high in fiber and low in sugar make a healthy main dish in a lunch bag.  It lasts a long time, doesn't need to be refrigerated and kids love finger food.  Pair it with some milk, veggies, and dried fruit and you've got a great lunch for picky eaters.   
Remember that kids portions sizes are smaller than adults - sometimes half the normal size depending on the age of the child.  Involve them in packing their own lunches and get their feedback on how their lunch went.  You might find that they need a little more or less of one thing or another.  The more feedback they give, the better chance you'll have to keep them from throwing away your food at lunch time.
I keep stacking drawers in my basement with lunch packing supplies.  They can choose a couple convenience items (crackers or applesauce) to add to their lunches.
Don't over-stuff your snack bags with produce - sometimes less is more when it comes to getting them to eat fruits and veggies.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Food & Emotion vs. Emotional Eating

Saturday morning I decided to put our initials into the pancakes forming our family's acronym with a special pancake love note for my husband.

Most of us understand that there are dangers associated with emotional eating.  However, emotional eating is distinct and separate from evoking emotion with food.  With emotional eating, healthy coping skills are lacking and food is used as an emotional salve, emotional numbing agent, or even a substitute therapist. 

Evoking emotions with food is a hallmark of good culinary culmination.  Chicken soup that is so hearty and soothing it transports you back in time to your grandma's kitchen, or eating a salad of heirloom tomatoes that have such vibrant flavor it takes you back to a warm August afternoon are just a few examples.  Food nourishes us in many ways, and nutritionally is just one.  Food also nourishes and sustains us in cultural, familial and historical ways.  So don't be afraid to communicate some emotion with food whether it be a love note written on a pancake, or passing on a favorite recipe to a friend.  In fact, the more we accept this connection, the less we will be tempted to abuse food with unhealthy, disconnected, emotional eating. 

Stay tuned for more info on my upcoming class series on healing the relationship with food. 

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Taste of Summer

I love summer for a bunch of reasons: flexible schedule with my kids, living outside, longer days.  But most of all, I love the taste of summer.  I love eating tomatoes with flavor, being a watermelon and raspberry junkie and I love how fresh produce deliciously infiltrates every meal and occasion.  Not only do all these fresh fruits and vegetables please our bodies, but our palates as well.  So whether it means being creative with your neighbors bumper crop of zucchini, eating straight of your backyard garden or hitting the local farmer's market, be sure to taste summer.  Here are a few of the ways I love tasting summer: 

My 4th of July dinner plate: local corn on the cob, caprese salad, crusty baguette, zucchini chips with watermelon and blackberries for dessert.

One of my all-time favorite desserts - a bowl full of raspberries sprinkled with mini, dark, chocolate chips.  Double Yum!

On my sister's night to cook she made a family favorite - Cambodian tacos.

No better time than summer to teach kids how to cook - especially with fresh produce.  My son and nephew made a main-dish salad as part of their Iron Chef (cousin edition) competition.
The winners with their appetizer, entree and dessert.
My daughter and niece were very close runners-up.  Produce figured into each of their courses.