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Dining with the Dietitian

Meat And Potatoes I am married to a “meat and potatoes” guy.  Not big on fruits and veggies.  A bit overweight (ex-college football player – you know the type).  No family history of heart disease.  As a matter of fact, his blood lipids are surprisingly intact based on what his dietary intake has been for our 23 years of marriage (thank goodness.) Given all these facts, it is quite challenging as a dietitian to get him to eat well.  Time and time again I try to get him to take one of his unhealthy habits and replace it with a healthier one.  Well, you cannot make a person change.  They have to want it themselves.  I know it is very, very difficult to make changes.  Let me be clear about that.

I recall an incident that happened when we went out to lunch recently.  He ordered a cheeseburger, and as is typical, it was to…

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A Day at the Ranch

I’ve been on sabbatical for way too long.  It’s summer!  It’s been crazy.  Kids going here, there and everywhere.  No set schedule.  Don’t get me wrong it’s been fun but unstructured (as always in the summer).  Sometimes it’s hard to get the creative juices flowing to write something as I have less alone time.   Recently something happened that I feel I need to share.  I have to write about something weighing (no pun intended) on my mind.  I need to cleanse my soul by admitting to an uncontrollable desire to consume an oldie but a goodie –  Hidden Valley Ranch Dip (which I will refer to affectionately as HVRD).  This is a true confession from a dietitian.


I work at a local kitchen gadget store and one day my manager brought in vegetables and dip.  Ok, no big deal.  I was really happy she brought the veggies as I was really feeling up for a good eating day.   She normally brings in something like hummus or Tzatiki.  Not this day.  I peered into the little covered bowl.  Could that be ranch dip?  When was the last time you went to a party and the host served HVRD? I bet you can’t even remember.  Let me tell you, it’s got a flavor like no other.  When I took that first carrot and enrobed the end in the velvety dip, the memories came flooding back.  The real fireworks went off when I tasted it.  It was delicious beyond belief.  Why did it taste so good?  Was I really hungry?  Maybe.  Was it the sodium, the MSG, the sour cream?  Perhaps.  Ahh, I know it was probably the maltodextrin.  As a dietitian, I can’t get enough of that.  Anyway, all I know is that it was rich, dreamy and creamy.


My manager brought a nice assortment of vegetables.  Carrots,  broccoli, and fresh cucumbers from her garden.  I started out dipping the tip of the veggie.  The more I ate the deeper I dipped.  Pretty soon it was about 90% dip and 10% veggie.  Then I spotted the snaps.  Do you know what a snap is?  Check it out below…


They are a crispy, crunchy, salty party in your mouth.  I decided to try the snap in the ranch.  Oh my god….you can’t imagine.  I still was unsure why I found the HVRD so delectable but I couldn’t fight it any longer.  For the rest of the day at work, I was dipping and double dipping snaps and veggies in my new found love.  The day ended and I said good bye to my co-workers…and scraped the bottom of the bowl with one last snap.

A day or two passed and I couldn’t forget about the HVRD.  On my weekly grocery shopping trip, my cart uncontrollably headed to the salad dressing aisle.   The HVRD should be with the HV salad dressing, right?  Why not make my own HVRD?  Surely, I could eat it in moderation at home.  Plus, the kids would like it and just maybe it would help them get their “five a day” of fruits and vegetables.  I put one, no two packets in my cart.  The sour cream came next and I knew what I had to do.  I had to get the reduced fat.  Yes!  That was the healthy thing to do.  I finished my shopping trip and sped home to make my HVRD.

I also got organic carrots rather than those round tipped precut  ones.  Another way to make this healthier.  Actually they really taste a lot better, too.   It was really easy to make – 16 ounces sour cream (remember reduced fat) mixed with the packet of unidentifiable ingredients.  It says on the packet to thicken and enhance flavor, refrigerate one hour before serving but I had no time for that.   I took my organic carrot and dipped….good but probably needed that refrigeration to get the texture right.   I dipped all day.  Carrots, Triscuits, hard pretzels, soft pretzels – anything that could withstand the force of being submerged in the dip.  Feeling full I went to put the HVRD in the fridge and saw the salsa.  The wheels started turning.  That just might be a match made in heaven!  I mixed the HVRD and the salsa.  YUMBO!!!   Time for the Tostitos.   I continued to dip until I realized I just wasn’t digging it so much any more.   I was so full I was ready to burst.

You know what I think happened?  I think I finally just had too much (surprise, surprise).  You know how that first taste of something is really good?  As you continue to eat it, not so much.   When your food starts to not taste as good as when you started, STOP eating.  That evening I felt so bloated someone could have used me as a life preserver.  The next day I didn’t feel so hot, either.

What did I learn from this?  HVRD is probably not so bad in moderation.   Are there other recipes I could make with that little packet?  Maybe HVRD pudding, cheesecake, or quiche?  Believe it or not, these things entered my mind.  I also think I might just try a home made ranch dip.  That way I can identify all the ingredients I put in it.  I have not done this yet but I plan on making it.

The other thing I learned is one that I already knew.  Even if you REALLY like something, pace yourself.  Fully taste each bite.  Chew slowly.  Savor the flavor.  There is no rush.  No one is going to take your food away.  You will be able to have that food again!  You don’t want to end it feeling full and sick to your stomach.  Obviously, you’ll enjoy your food more this way, be healthier and feel better!

FYI, that second packet of HVRD is still in my kitchen cabinet…not far from the packet of Lipton’s Onion Soup.

The Incredible, Edible Egg!


Holidays are over. As always, it’s kind of a relief when it’s all done. It was a special holiday season this year with some things that are going on with my family. We were able to really cherish our time together. I really feel blessed. As I was taking ornaments off the tree, one shattered on the floor (of course, it’s always one of our more expensive or sentimental ornaments). For some reason, it entered my mind that I was glad it wasn’t an egg because that would be a real mess to clean up. Don’t know why I thought that, I’m just telling you I did. Then I started thinking intensely about eggs. Odd, you may say (agreed). Well, as I was undecorating I was also thinking I needed to get back on track with my erratic dietary behavior that evolved about mid-December. I may have had one (maybe two) too many chocolate-caramel dipped pretzel rods. Time to decrease the sugar-laden, high fat goodies I’d been chomping down with fresh fruits, veggies, and lean protein choices. What better food to increase in your diet than eggs?

It seems everyone likes eggs. Kids and adults alike love these compact little orbs. Eggs can be hard-boiled, scrambled, fried, poached, over-easy, made into an omelette, put on a sandwich, etc. Eggs are economical at about fifteen cents per egg. Did you know that eggs provide 7 grams of the highest-quality protein available while containing only 72 calories (and only 17 calories if you’re just eating the egg white)? That’s a nutrition powerhouse! Not only do they provide a good deal of protein to help you feel full longer, but they also contain many other vitamins and minerals. Eggs are a decent source of vitamins A and D (one of the few foods to naturally contain vitamin D). They are rich in choline, a nutrient that has been shown to help maintain your memory. They are also high in lutein and zeaxanthin, two antioxidants which have been found to help maintain healthy vision and prevent macular degeneration. Many people think that eggs are a “bad” food because of the amount of cholesterol in them. While it can’t be disputed they contain approximately 200 mg of cholesterol, your body adjusts to this incoming amount by producing less. Saturated and trans-fat are the biggest culprits when it comes to elevating cholesterol. If this is a concern of your’s or your child’s, simply consume more whites than yolks. For example, instead of two whole eggs, have one yolk and two egg whites. Also, it’s probably best to limit your egg consumption to no more than four yolks per week. However, I would rather cut back on other foods which are high in saturated fat than cut back on eggs.


Eggs are an ideal food to get children cooking. There are many fun things kids can do with eggs. They can make scrambled, fried eggs or an omelette and gain kitchen skills by cracking the eggs and whisking them. You can use a variety of cookie cutters and make different shapes in the center of toast and fry your egg (as in picture below – called eggs in a hole). Kids can also pick out their favorite veggies, cheese or whatever else they think might taste good with eggs! Eggs be eaten for snacks, breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Hard boiled eggs are a convenient, nutritious snack to keep in the fridge to just grab and go. Egg sandwiches are not just for breakfast! Use eggs as your protein on a sandwich instead of lunch meat. Accessorize with spinach, arugula or the green of your choice to increase fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Add salsa or some diced tomatoes for extra flavor. Sprinkle some shredded cheese of your liking to finish things off. Honestly, this is making me hungry as I am writing this! For dinner, you can even make a combination of eggs, pasta or rice, and vegetables (check out One other breakfast suggestion, scrambled eggs in your oatmeal! Don’t make that frowney face, it’s really good (throw in a few scallions,  too).


I am making January egg month and will be posting egg facts and recipes on Twitter and Facebook. There are many “new” foods out there and I am all about learning about the latest superfoods. However, let’s not forgot the old tried and true egg and what an asset it is to our diets!

“I have had in my time, memorable meals of scrambled eggs with fresh truffles, scrambled eggs with caviar and other glamorous things, but to me,there are few things as magnificent as scrambled eggs, pure and simple, cooked and perfectly seasoned.” James Beard

How About Some Humility (and Humanity) with Your Holiday?

Ok, admittedly this is a weird blog to be putting out there around the holiday season, but I just can’t help myself.   Weird in the fact that it is not obviously nutrition related.  But I actually think it does affect the way we feel about ourselves, thus how we treat our bodies.  This is something I feel passionately about and is a missing piece for many  (adults and children alike).  Also, if you are looking for blogs on healthy holiday snacks, meals, or treats, how to keep the weight off during the holidays, low calorie recipes, high calories recipes, average number of calories in a Thanksgiving meal, high fiber foods, low fiber foods, energy drinks are bad, coconut water is good, gluten free anything,  alcohol packs on the pounds, cleansing diets, green smoothie recipes, etc., etc., etc., you can google any of these and find a ton of hits.  It might be more difficult to to find a blog on the topic above.  Although maybe not.  Just go with me here and if there is any piece of this that hits home or you can share with your child, please do so.

Is there anybody who can say they are not a fan of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas?”  It’s an absolute holiday classic and I could watch it a million times.  I found this picture above which is one of my favorite scenes from this movie.  The Grinch does his absolute best to take Christmas away from the Whoville people but he can’t do it.  The Whovillians wake up Christmas morning only to find all their presents, food, decorations, etc. are gone.  All the things we spend so much time preparing for the entire holiday season, gone.  The Grinch, expecting the Who’s to be miserable and sad, all gather outside, hold hands, and sing around the tree.  They are still smiling and appear happy.  Clearly, it’s a fantasy.   But wouldn’t it be great if it weren’t?

The people I admire most in this world are those that seem happy and at peace with themselves, no matter what their life circumstances.  I don’t feel envious of the person with a bigger house, designer clothes, or more Facebook “likes.”  I aspire to be that person that tries to see the glass half full (I said I ASPIRE to be not that I always am).   Or that person that doesn’t worry about what people  think of them.  They put on no pretenses.  They DON’T need approval from those around them.  They feel it from within and don’t need to advertise their new job promotion, how proud they are of a child, or how their “perfectionism” is their biggest weakness (as if answering a job interview question).   I also appreciate those that are able to admit their weaknesses, faults, and shortcomings.   To truly be able to search within yourself and  admit certain things about yourself, is invaluable.  How else do we improve upon ourselves?   For example, do you know any one that  supposedly has NEVER done anything they are ashamed of, wished they hadn’t, or maybe was not ethically the “right” thing to do (and neither have any of their relatives, by the way)?  And they will NEVER admit it.  It seems these people are perfect or wish to be perceived as such.  Would it be so bad to say they are sorry or have some regrets?   We are all human.  We all do and say things we shouldn’t.  We have all done things where we lay in bed at night and say “I shouldn’t have done that.”  Would it be so bad to admit it?  At least to maybe to a good friend or  two?  Is it best to present an image to the world that may not be authentic?  I try to figure out why people are like this.   I can only guess it makes them feel good or superior in some way.  Maybe pride gets in their way.

What is it we want to teach our children?  I happen to live in an area that is very affluent with many kids that have not had to deal with adversity.  As parents, we make it easy for them to not take responsibility for themselves.  We just can’t do enough to try to make them happy.   Do we benefit them by ALWAYS being their advocate?  Can we help raise better children by sometimes letting them fail and pick up the pieces?  Do we help them by praising them when they don’t deserve it?  Is it in their best interest to post a Facebook comment (I assume people do this so their kids, others, and their children’s friends will see) informing the world of your inability to contain how special they are and how proud you are of them?  Do people know we all feel that way about our kids?

Let’s take this holiday season to really think about how we would like to raise our children and what the best ways are to help them become responsible, caring adults.   I’m going to make some suggestions that  will only benefit them in the long run and help prepare them for the real world.

Love your children unconditionally, always

Praise them WHEN they DESERVE it.  Do not use praise loosely.  The real world won’t.

Let them resolve their own problems.  Do not “fix” things for them.   Mom and Dad are the only ones who do this.  Their boss, college professor, or police officer, will not.

Do not accept disrespectful behavior.  This must start at a young age.

They are not your “friend” or “equal.”  Do not treat them as such.

Model and teach kindness and compassion.

Encourage them to be who they are.  Not who they think people want them to be.

Show them that material things don’t matter.   This could be the toughest lesson of all.  Especially if an expensive car, designer clothes, fancy dinners out, handing them money at the drop of a hat are how we are living our lives.  Children become defined by these things instead of who is at the inner core of their being.

Being their advocate is important, however, doing this when they have done something wrong sends the wrong message.  Again, in the real world no one is going to do this for them.  They need to learn there are consequences to their actions.

Just keep in mind they WILL lie to us.  They WILL skew a story that makes them look good.  Their friends are always the bad guys.  I personally do not want to have my children make me look foolish.  It’s embarrassing when everyone knows something about your child and you think they are God’s gift to this world.   I have experienced this personally so this one is near and dear to my heart.

Model and teach them how to be a good friend.

I’m tired of hearing “boys will be boys” or “that’s the way girls are today.”  That’s “normal.”  There are behaviors I just cannot and will not tolerate from my own children.  Do not accept meanness, cruelty, or not being a good friend as “normal.”  I am not saying I can control these things but I will not accept them if I do find out.  Some things are just wrong and our children need to know this.  Let’s stop making excuses as to why bad behavior is ok.

Children will make mistakes.  Let’s help them learn from them.

I could go on and on.  Bottom line is that there is too much egocentrism in general in our society.  I think as a community we promote it in our children.  Let’s teach them how to be kind to themselves and to others.  If they are kind to themselves, they will find it easier to be kind to their bodies.  Whether this means not being critical of their own body weight or appearance or making healthier food choices, this all ties together.  Let’s make our goal for ourselves and our children to love ourselves and others during good times and bad.  Even though we don’t get the grade we want, the designer jeans we need, or make the sports team, it’s ok.   My quote today is from a coffee mug that I got and I LOVE it:

“Peace.   It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work.  It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart.”  Unknown

Philosophy of Food

Did you ever wonder about your relationship with food?  Do you eat to live or live to eat?  Do you think of foods as “good” and “bad”?  As a dietitian, you probably think I have it all under control.  Well, I don’t.  I love food.  I love exercising.  I am always striving to achieve a healthy balance between the two.  The older I get the more difficult it is to achieve the balance.  My goal for my young patients is for them to develop a healthy relationship with food.  The thing is, that can be different for all of us.  The picture above exemplifies the very last thing you want.  Would you look forward to a meal if someone were forcing  you to eat things  you didn’t like?  Even though I don’t think of foods as good and bad, I do think there are “anytime” foods, “sometimes” foods, and “indulgent” foods.  My ideal rules of everyday eating go something like this:

  • Everything in moderation.  You can eat any foods you want in appropriate portion sizes.  If everyone followed this one simple rule, I think the obesity rate would plummet.  Modeling this behavior for your children is key.
  • DO NOT LET YOURSELF GET TOO HUNGRY!!!! I cannot emphasize this enough.  When we are starving, we shovel in food so fast we don’t realize we are full yet.
  • Pick foods you like.  Just because you see a recipe for Tofu Baked Oats don’t think you “should” eat it because it is good for you.  Number one when making  your food choices – YOU HAVE TO LIKE IT!!!!!!  This does not mean you don’t try new things.  I am just suggesting that when you come to the realization you don’t like something,  such as kale smoothies, let yourself off the hook.  You’re not going to maintain any eating plan where you are forcing yourself to eat things you don’t like.  Not all of us like every single food that is “healthy” for us.

  • When you crave a food, give into your craving.  Eating an apple when what you  really crave is  Oreo cookies can eventually lead to overeating.  Your best bet is to have a cookie or two.  Usually this can satisfy the craving.  Of course, it may take some willpower to limit the quantity you eat but remember the “everything in moderation” rule.  Once you eat your cookies, the craving should subside.
  • Some days you may eat more than others.  It’s all a balance.  If you overeat on one day, try to get back on track the next day.  We’ve all heard this before, don’t give up because you’ve had a bad day.
  • Make sure to weigh yourself once a week.  Most of my patients report gaining weight during periods when they were not weighing themselves.  Seeing that number on the scale go up can help you monitor your eating habits and get back on track.

Below is a list of how I categorize my  foods

My “anytime” foods are primarily fruits and vegetables.  These are generally low-calorie foods that are packed with nutrients and fiber.  Consume these foods the most.

“Sometimes” foods encompass a huge list of things.  Just about everything goes in to this list for me.  This includes meats, dairy, snack foods, starchy vegetables, etc.  Sometimes calories may seem a little high, however, eaten in moderation it’s ok.  Scattered among the “anytime” foods should be your “sometimes” foods.  For example, in the morning you may have an apple (anytime), oatmeal (sometime), and orange juice (sometime).  Lunch may be half a hoagie (sometime) and carrots (anytime).  Dinner may be chicken breast (sometime), baked potato (sometime), green beans (anytime).  This is just an example but the key with the “sometimes” foods is portion control.

“Indulgent” goods are those that make your eyes bug out when reading the nutrition label.  For instance, you want to get a slice of cheesecake from the Cheesecake Factory.  One slice of Adam’s Peanut Butter Ripple Cheesecake provides an astronomical 930 calories and 59 grams of fat!!!   Ok, so get what I  mean by indulgent?  However, very occasionally these are ok.  It might even be a good idea to eat only half of food like  this.  Given the richness, chances are it will satisfy you.

I like to stress the fact that we should be able to eat all the foods that we enjoy.  Portion control along with good food choices is the best path to take.  Oh, and remember to think about how the food you are eating tastes.  Did you ever notice that the first bite of food tastes the best?  As we satisfy our hunger, the pleasure we get from the taste of foods diminishes.  Pay attention to this.

I hope this helps as we are fast approaching the holidays.  Remember your motto:  “Everything in moderation.”

“Eating is not merely a material pleasure.  Eating well gives a spectacular joy to life and contributes immensely to goodwill and happy companionship.  It is of great importance to the morale. ”  Elsa Schiaparelli

Too Much Information…

Sometimes I find there are just too many choices of EVERYTHING.  Food, clothes, tv channels, paint colors, pots and pans, carpets, cleaning products, and experts in EVERY subject!  I don’t know about you but I find this frustrating and overwhelming.  Don’t you ever just want three choices and you can pick one and be done?   Of course, food and nutrition is no exception from all of this madness.   It is abundant, contradictory, inaccurate, and sometimes can be misleading.  What is the best way to navigate through all of this information?  Listed below are some suggestions.  Also, be sure to share these with your tween or teen as they are particularly vulnerable to misinformation, misleading ad claims, and unhealthy weight loss gimmicks.

Pick your favorites (be it a person, magazine, website, blog).  Limit to no more than three to follow on a regular basis.  If you need information on a particular subject that your “favorites” aren’t covering, then research beyond your usual scope to get your answer.  Trust me this works.  At first you will feel like you might be missing something but you’re really not.  Daily MAJOR newsworthy stories  will be covered by a variety of venues such as tv, newspaper, radio, blogs, etc.  If you follow a couple of websites or blogs, you’ll figure out which ones you find the most pertinent to your life.

When reading or hearing information, don’t just assume it is true or accurate.  If it is a scientific study, what were the parameters they used to conduct the study?  Is Maxwell House funding a study touting coffee as reducing the risk of heart disease?  How many subjects were used in the study?  If it is subjective information or opinion, just use common sense.  Also, make sure you check out the credentials of people writing articles and blogs or proclaiming they are experts on a certain topic.   Recently I found out that Dr. Oz’s (yes, the Dr. Oz who now is everywhere doing everything) daughter, Daphne, is the nutrition and health expert on the show, “The Chew.”  Her credentials?  She is a 2008 graduate of Princeton with a BA in Near Eastern Studies.  Hmmm….she’s probably pretty knowledgable in the field of nutrition.  A blog I just read stated that Daphne Oz must be an expert by heredity.  I had to laugh when the blogger said by that logic if your parents were astronauts, you could be captain of a space shuttle (maybe with an accounting degree).   Again, just because someone can pass themselves off as an expert, doesn’t really mean they are an expert.  Valid credentials are at least a good starting point to have in order to call yourself an “expert.”

Be cautious when selecting nutrition products, especially ones that promise life changing results.  If a product claims things such as “immediate results,”  “five pound weight loss in five days,” or “cures all your ailments (most recently one that comes to mind is coconut water), be skeptical as to whether or not it will work.  Not that some of these products aren’t good or beneficial (and often expensive), but just as there is no magical method to lose weight, there is also no ONE magical food or beverage that is going to make you super healthy (or skinny)!

Some of these false advertising claims are extreme but some are much more subtle and harder to decipher.  If someone we trust seems to be promoting a product, things can really get complicated.  Jillian Michaels is a good example of this.  Many people gained respect for her as a trainer on “The Biggest Loser.”  Now this is the same person putting her face on a box  that says “America’s Toughest Trainer Makes Losing Weight Simple.”  Really???   Is losing weight EVER simple???  She has the magic pill!!  There is no way I will support her or her products.  There are thousands of Jillian Michaels out there not willing to endorse a  product making false claims.  Be careful of “big, well-known names” that start endorsing various products.  Red flag.  Some may be perfectly effective, reputable products but proceed with caution.
Lastly, limit the amount of time you find yourself sitting at your computer surfing the web.  I find myself doing this more than I would like to admit.  Sometimes I waste hours and by the time I’m done I can’t remember one thing I’ve seen or have read.  This is my own personal goal to limit the amount of time I do this.  TOO MUCH INFORMATION AND I AM OVERLOADED!!!!
Many of us know all of this.  Let this serve as a reminder.  All too often, a friend will ask me about a specific product or weight loss method.  We can all be vulnerable when we learn of something that seems like it could really address a particular concern or problem.  Always remember, when something sounds too good to be true, it usually is!
“Information overload is a symptom of our desire to not focus on what’s important.  It IS a choice.”  Brian Solis

Teaching Kids How to Make the Right Choices

What do you think about when you look at this picture?    I often keep a bowl of candy on the coffee table in my family room.  This may surprise you that a dietitian would do this.  This candy bowl (I usually put M&Ms in it) can last for weeks, slowly but surely dwindling down.  Sometimes it gets depleted in a single day.  Those are usually the days my kids have friends over.  You would think these kids had never had candy in their lives and may  never be able to get it again.  Is it possible that being too restrictive with what we allow our kids to eat can backfire?  Of course, we have to guide our children and help them make good nutritional choices.  However, we must  be aware that being overly controlling or too restrictive may increase the chance that our kids will go nuts when they are in the presence of the food they are not allowed to have.  We need to teach our kids to have their own internal barometer.  Eventually our goal for them is to make decisions because they think it is a good decision for them – not to please their parents, conform to their friends ideas, or do what they think most people would do.

My mantra is everything in moderation.  An ice cream cake on a birthday is ok – it doesn’t have to be a tofu carrot cake.  Candy on Halloween?  It’s Halloween – what kid gets excited when they get an apple in their bag?  There is always talk about having mini-bran muffins, low-fat cheese sticks (you get the idea) at a school holiday party.  Really?   That sounds fun.  Heaven forbid the kids get a sugar rush!  Clearly, this is not desirable but there are worse things in life.  On the other hand, if these are the foods you and your children honestly prefer, go for it.   I think we all strive for that goal but for many it’s just not realistic.  When we make goals that are not realistic, we often fail.  I think the majority of people like to have an occasional indulgence – especially kids.

 We are human beings.  We desire and crave things that give us pleasure in life.  Decadent,  fat and calorie laden foods are one of those pleasures.  Remembering everything in moderation….there is a big difference between eating an occasional piece of cake and gorging daily on half a cake.  It is healthy to be trim.  It is life-threatening to be too thin with an eating disorder.  Having a nightly glass of wine or a beer is ok.  The extreme of that is alcoholism, which can lead to its own set of tragic outcomes.  Can we somehow teach our kids to eat a wide variety of food in portion appropriate amounts to promote lifelong good health?  To ensure good health are they never allowed to eat Oreos?  I’m not saying it’s easy to achieve the right balance.  I’m not saying I have all the answers.  I am saying an occasional “bad” food is not so bad.  Just like an occasional glass of wine is ok.  I am also saying we want our kids to make the same choices when we’re not watching them as they would if we were with them.  Realistic goal?  I’m not sure…

Modeling our own eating behavior, discussing food and nutrition with our kids (not talking at them), making sure you incorporate foods they enjoy into every day, and including them in making food decisions are some ways we can lead them down the path to opting for good choices .    But remember be cautious about being too restrictive or controlling with their eating habits.  This could just backfire when you’re not looking.

Eventually the child above is going to pick the apple over the lollipop because that is what they want – not you.   You don’t want them picking the apple in front of you but the lollipop when you’re not around.

“We are apt to forget that children watch examples better than they listen to preaching.”  Roy L. Smith

Label Reading for Kids

One of the best things we can do for our kids is to provide them with knowledge to help them make good choices.  We do this with many aspects of their life.  We educate them so they can make smart decisions when they are with their friends, doing school work, perhaps with a job if they have one.  Providing them with the information and resources needed to make good nutritional choices is also important.  We can tell them what we think they should and shouldn’t be eating, how much, how often.  Kids often respond better if they feel they have more control.  If they know how many calories or how much fat or sodium they should be consuming in a day, they can utilize this knowledge to help them make better choices.  For many adults, label reading is confusing but this skill is one way to obtain the facts needed to help make educated food selections.  Hopefully, this blog will help to clarify some things.

The first thing on a food label kids should be wary of is serving size.  Often they are not thinking in these terms when pouring a bowl of cereal and milk.  For instance, if they are having a bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios (serving size 3/4 cup) with 1/2 cup of skim milk they may look at the label thinking they are consuming 150 calories.  However, they could easily be doubling that serving size of cereal (220 calories) and maybe using either using more milk or whole milk.   Their 150 calorie bowl of cereal could easily end up being 350 calories or more.  That may be absolutely fine but the important thing is they are not mislead.  You can even take out some measuring cups and help them learn what different portion sizes look like.  Soon they will be able to eyeball it.  Also, sometimes so-called “individual” packages of things often mislead us into thinking there is only one serving inside.  Double check labels to make sure it is a single serving especially with potato chips, ranch or other individually packaged dips, cookies, popcorn, and many other snack foods.

Next on the labels are the total calories.  This tells you how much “energy” you will get from one serving of food.  Remind your young one to watch foods high in calories as energy that doesn’t get used will get stored as fat.

Calories from fat tell you how many calories come from fat in a particular food.    As a general guideline, try to select foods with 5 grams or less per serving.  Also, avoid foods that contain trans fat (raises LDL (bad) cholesterol, lowers HDL (good) cholesterol) and foods that are high in saturated fat.   Total daily saturated fat intake, on average for a child, should be about 20 grams.  Overall fat intake should not exceed 30% of total caloric intake per day.

Cholesterol should not exceed 300 mg a day for adults.   If your child has risk factors for a tendency to have elevated cholesterol, it would be wise to try to limit total intake to 200 mg/day.   Cholesterol is only found in foods that come from animals so pay special attention to meat, eggs, and dairy products.

Dietary fiber is an important part of all of our diets.  It has been shown to significantly reduce your risk of developing heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and certain gastrointestinal diseases.  It helps in reducing blood pressure and cholesterol.  Increased intake of soluble fiber improves insulin sensitivity not only in diabetics but also non-diabetics.  Clearly you can tell I am a fiber fan!  Getting our kids to incorporate foods that contain fiber in their diets and retain this as a lifelong habit can help maintain good overall health.  That being said they should consume 10-20 grams of fiber per day (or 5 grams plus your child’s age).  Fiber is found in many foods that come from plants.  Of course, awesome sources are fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

Sodium is another nutrient that we sometimes don’t get concerned about until adulthood.   Although there is no set recommendation for kids, adults should be consuming no more than 2,400 mg/sodium per day.   Those with heart, kidney, and other diseases should consume much less.  For reference, one teaspoon of salt contains 2,300 mg/sodium.  Teach your child to take note of how much sodium is in foods.  Check out the sodium in processed or convenience foods with your son or daughter – this  may really surprise them.  Also, be aware that restaurant foods tend to really overdo the sodium.

Sugar!!  How much is too much?   There has been a lot of talk regarding sugar lately.  The American Heart Association recommends children consume no more than 12 gms/day (3 teaspoons).  Realistic?  I think not.  I have seen suggested limits of 40 gms per day.  I think the key here is to check the label and BE AWARE!  For example, one half cup serving of Edy’s Cookies and Cream ice cream has 15 gms of sugar.  This already exceeds the AHA’s recommendation for the day!!!  There will be more to come on this topic…

FYI, the percent daily value on a label gives the percentage of certain nutrients that a person will eat in one serving based on a 2,000 calorie diet.   Based on this amount, 600 calories should be coming from fat.  When reading your label, if food contains 110 fat calories, you would have 490 left for the day.  Remember your child’s caloric needs may be higher or lower than 2000 per day, so just use this as a general guideline.

Finally,  when checking the ingredient list, remember items are listed in greatest quantities first.  Watch out for words such as high-fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, sugar, and dextrose especially when listed as one of the first few ingredients.  Also, try to avoid foods that contain hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, lard,  and coconut and/or palm oils.

My basic philosophy is everything in moderation.  However, learning to read food labels provides us with information to make choices.  The earlier our kids learn this, the more likely it is to become a lifelong practice.   Remember…

“Knowledge is power.”  – Sir Francis Bacon