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|May 15-21, 2008
• Comfort food classics
14th Street outshines the homemade
by Clay Fong
• Seeing the light in Portugal
by Fred Tasker
The battle to teach kids nutrition
by Joe Miller
The nutrition majors from the University of North Carolina sounded as if they were conducting an anthropological study of a primitive culture.
“One parent said her kid hadn’t eaten a veggie in years.”
“I had a kid ask if the carrots were real. I’m not sure she had ever seen one.”
“One kid told me, ‘I only like sugar.’ And I said, ‘Well, look. These are sugar snap peas.’”
But Mia Chabot, Michelle Tulley, Becca Wright and Stephanie Lu, all with UNC’s Nutrition Coalition, weren’t in a Third World nation studying undernourished youth. They were in Durham, N.C., at the Museum of Life and Science volunteering with the second annual Kids in the Kitchen exhibition sponsored by the Junior League of Durham and Orange Counties in North Carolina. About 450 kids — and some of their parents — got a chance to examine such exotic foods as carrots and snap peas close up. They even got a chance to taste them and, at various mini-kitchens in the museum, to discover ways to turn nourishing flora into tasty treats.
In the ongoing battle to get kids to eat better food, teaching them to make their own snacks and meals using healthful ingredients is a popular strategy. The Kids in the Kitchen event, like many aimed at getting kids to eat more healthfully, targeted the consumer, a consumer known for liking to have a say in things.
“They like the hands-on,” said Meghan Payne, a Junior League volunteer manning the trail mix station. “Maybe if they can make it they’ll be more apt to eat it.”
A quick recap of the declining state of our children’s health:
Ten percent of 2- to 5-year-olds and more than 15 percent of children between the ages of 6 and 19 are overweight.
For the first time in more than 100 years, the life expectancy of U.S. kids is declining, according to a 2005 study in the New England Journal of Medicine.
It’s a nationally recognized problem, this alarming growth of our youths’ waistlines. Alarming and perplexing, considering WakeMed pediatric dietitian Julie Paul’s take on the matter:
“For the most part, kids are really good at self-monitoring based on their appetite.”
Paul, like most pediatric dietitians, knows where a big part of the problem lies. “One of the biggest obstacles we face is parents who are not willing to be the role model.”
“Parents can be very set in their ways,” agrees nutritionist Ashleigh Miles. “If we can grab the kids in elementary school and teach them, they can actually convince their parents.”
“Getting the parents involved is definitely key,” says Liz Watt with UNC’s Meadowmont Wellness Center.
The nutritionists want to make clear that they aren’t pointing fingers. “They have a lot going on already with busy schedules,” says Paul, who has three kids. “They aren’t going to go to the store and read nutrition labels.
“I like to make it as easy as possible on them,” says Paul, who works largely with kids at risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.
To that end, we asked the dietitians to give some direction — both to parents and to their kids. Direction on what’s good to eat, what’s not and — perhaps most important from the kids’ standpoint — what’s good that tastes good, too.
“Kids are people pleasers,” says Paul. “If you tell them this is good for you, this is good for your body, they get excited.
“They’re more open to try new things.”
Tips for avoiding food traps
Practices that can make a long-term difference, parents:
—Have a snack drawer or snack shelf with preassembled bags of healthful snacks.
—Keep a pitcher of cold water or water bottles in the fridge (provides an immediate, attractive alternative to soda). Stick with water and milk (1 percent or less). “Kids need to get into a routine of drinking water, not soda or diet soda,” says Miles. “Your body just likes water better.”
—Supermarkets tend to put sugary cereals at the eye level of kids. Healthier choices are usually found near the top of the shelf or near the floor. Look for cereals with less than 5 grams of sugar per serving. Avoid cereals that are colored.
—Shop the perimeter of the grocery store, where fresher products are.
Watch for these
Lots of foods claim to be healthful, but are they? Because you don’t have half a day to scrutinize nutrition labels when you go shopping, here are two of the more deceptive food claims made by food manufacturers, according to nutritionists:
—Contains whole grains. A lot of cereals claim to have whole grains. And they might — but maybe not enough to do you much good. Instead, look for cereals high in fiber. “They should have three to seven grams of fiber per serving,” says WakeMed dietitian Julie Paul. “It will be on the nutrition label.”
—Sugar-free. We derive a lot of our sugar from carbohydrates. So while a product may have few sugar additives, it may have plenty of sugar in the form of carbs.
Get the facts
For more information:
www.mypyramid.gov. — Although the government’s revised food pyramid has come under some attack, Paul says the pyramid’s website contains a wealth of good information, especially on healthy foods to eat and good, simple recipes. “It’s usually where I point parents.”
www.kidshealth.org — Comprehensive website sponsored by the Nemours Foundation includes a variety of information on health and fitness, ranging from cooking with kids at various age levels to deciphering food labels to after-school snacks.
www.beactivenc.org — For a sobering look at the obesity problem in the U.S., visit this state-sponsored site, click on Stay Active, then Statistics/Trends.
www.eatright.org — Nutritional information from the American Dietetic Association.
Tasty snacks and mini-meals
Kids may be more apt to try something healthful if they have a hand in making it, but to keep them coming back it has to be tasty as well. Here are some proven crowd pleasers from a panel of nutritionists: Julie Paul, Ashleigh Miles and Liz Watt.
—Mini pizza. “Most kids get excited about this one,” says Miles. Take a whole-wheat English muffin (high in fiber; “It’ll keep ’em satisfied longer”), add low-fat cheese (good source of calcium) and marinara sauce (contains lycopene, a cancer fighter). “If they’re getting to feel wild, add veggies” such as mushrooms and spinach. For best results, toss it in a relatively kid-friendly toaster oven.
—Strawberry parfait. Spring/summer is the perfect time to get kids eating healthy because of the abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables. Especially tantalizing right now: Fresh strawberries. Combine with yogurt (calcium), low-fat-granola (fiber), and you have a balanced protein and carb dessert with about half the calories of ice cream. And, what the heck, a little whipped cream won’t hurt. “Use one of the lighter whips,” advises Miles, and “one small squirt isn’t an issue.”
—Smoothies. Tasty, nutritious and you get to use a kitchen appliance with a loud motor. (“They might want to be supervised,” Miles says of younger users.) Use frozen berries (their nutritional value isn’t affected) and 100 percent fruit juice (make sure it’s not a fruit “drink,” which may have added sugars.)
—Wrap sandwiches. Chicken, turkey or canned tuna married with veggies in a whole grain wrap work well. Or even lunch meat and low-fat cheese with lettuce and tomatoes thrown in for vegetable effect. And remember: mustard is fat-free.
—Hummus. A good source of protein, contains heart-healthy fats and it has a way of making even celery tasty.
—Peanut butter and celery. Another way to sell celery to kids is slathered with peanut butter. Make that “natural” peanut butter, made from little more than peanuts, oil and salt (check the label).
—Veggie dip. Take some low-fat plain yogurt or sour cream and weave in a seasoning of your choice (garlic or onion powder, perhaps). Best if used for dipping veggies, though nutritionists are OK with baked potato chips, which have 1-2 grams of fat per serving compared to 9-10 grams for regular chips. “I would even take that to a party and see if I could pass it off,” says Watt.
—Trail mix consisting of a high-fiber cereal (Cheerios are good), dried fruit and nuts.
—And how about those 100-calorie snack packs that everything comes in now, are those OK? “If a kid really wants something sweet and they can stop after one, then it’s a good way to sate your hunger,” says Miles. “I do think it’s a good concept,” agrees Julie Paul. “I still think it’s better to steer kids in the direction of not eating all this processed food.”
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