Pack kids’ snacks with nutrients, variety

I know my kids eat too many cookies and chips. What are some healthier snack options for kids?

Thirty years ago, children ate, on average, one snack a day. Today, they average three snacks a day, and some experts point to that increase as being at least partly responsible for the rise in childhood obesity rates over the years. Cutting back on snacking could be a good idea for both children and adults alike.

But eliminating children’s snacking altogether can be an impossible task for parents. Your idea to emphasize healthful snacks is a good one. And it could have huge nutritional payoffs.

As you think about what might be satisfactory replacements (in your children’s eyes) for chips and baked goods, you might consider providing options — sort of a combo plate. That’s a recommendation from a study published in 2013 that examined children’s snacking.

The study involved 201 children in third through sixth grades. The kids were brought into the study’s setting in small groups and watched about 45 minutes of television while being encouraged to snack as much as they wished.

Some groups were given potato chips and cheese curls. Others got raw vegetables and a variety of cheeses. Still others were given just vegetables or just cheese. Cheese and vegetables were chosen in part because they are nutrient-dense — important sources of calcium, protein, vitamins and fiber. Plenty of food was available. The children were asked how full they felt when they arrived, in the middle of the study period, and at the end.

The children who were given chips ate nearly 300 calories worth of snacks before they said they felt full, and consumed more than 600 calories during the 45-minute study period. Children given only vegetables ate the fewest calories, about 50, and children given only cheese ate an average of 200 calories. But those given the combination of cheese and vegetables ate an average of about 175 calories, and said they felt full at about 50 calories. In addition, those children ate just as many vegetables as the children who were provided only vegetables. The researchers concluded that providing an assortment of nutrient-dense snack foods such as cheese and vegetables not only offer many more nutrients than chips, but help children feel full on many fewer calories. Depending on their age, children require only 1,000-2,000 calories per day, so it’s important to make sure their snacks are not too high in calories and are packed with nutrients. To find the recommended calorie level for your child, see go.osu.edu/kidcals.

For other healthy snack ideas, see “MyPlate Snack Tips for Parents” online at go.osu.edu/snacktips. They include:

  • Have a variety of fruit on hand, including fresh, frozen, dried or canned fruit.
  • Include whole grains as snacks, including popcorn, whole-wheat bread and whole-oat cereals that are low in added sugar.
  • Provide high-protein items for snacking, including low-sodium deli meats, unsalted nuts or hard-boiled eggs.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH 43210-1043, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Carol Smathers, Youth Nutrition and Wellness specialist with Ohio State University Extension. OSU Extension is the outreach arm of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences at The Ohio State University.
For a PDF of this column, please click here.

When camping, keep food safety in mind

We are planning to go camping for a long weekend this summer and I want to be sure we’re smart about the food we bring and prepare. What should we keep in mind regarding food safety? 

Food safety rules don’t change just because you’re experiencing the great outdoors. You want to make sure that you keep perishable foods cold enough, separate foods to prevent cross-contamination, keep your hands clean as you’re preparing food, and cook foods thoroughly.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service provides detailed guidelines for Food Safety While Hiking, Camping and Boating online at go.osu.edu/outdoorfdsafe. Recommendations include:

  • Bring nonperishable foods: canned tuna, ham, chicken or beef; dried meat or jerky; dry pasta and powdered sauce; and dried fruit and nuts.
  • Pack all perishables in a cooler. Always use plenty of ice. If you are using ice cubes, make sure the melted water is contained to prevent cross-contamination from raw foods. Large ice blocks and ice gel packs stay cold longer than ice cubes. Pack the cooler full — that way the cooler will keep cold longer. Keep the cooler in the shade, or cover it with a beach towel or blanket to help further insulate it. The cooler’s ability to keep things cold enough drops significantly in direct sunlight. Do not open it very often. Use a separate cooler for beverages, which you can open more often without putting perishable foods at risk.
  • If you’re taking burgers, hot dogs, or any raw meat or fish, pack them in a separate cooler to keep the raw juices from cross-contaminating food and drinks that won’t be cooked. Consider freezing them before leaving on your trip, and pack them with large ice packs. Bacteria multiply quickly in temperatures between 40 degrees and 140 degrees, called the “danger zone.” They can reach dangerous levels within two hours, or within one hour at 90 degrees or above. And don’t make the mistake of thinking you’ll be safe if you cook the food thoroughly enough: When in the danger zone, microorganisms can produce toxins that remain in the food even after heat kills the bacteria. So, keep raw meat cold.
  • Bring a meat thermometer. When you cook meat outdoors, you don’t have as much control over the heat source. Meat that is charred on the outside can remain uncooked on the inside. Never rely on color to tell whether a burger is done. A burger can be undercooked even if it is brown in the middle. Cook all poultry products, chicken or turkey burgers, hot dogs and sausages to 165 degrees Fahrenheit, measured with a thermometer at the thickest part of the meat; cook ground beef to 160 degrees F; and cook steaks, chops and seafood to at least 145 degrees F.
  • Keep your hands clean. Clean and sanitize utensils and other cookware before and after handling food. Never use a plate that held raw meat for any other food, including cooked meat. Bring plenty of disposable wipes, biodegradable soap and fresh water to clean with.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH 43210-1043, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Sanja Ilic, food safety specialist with Ohio State University Extension. OSU Extension is the outreach arm of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences at The Ohio State University.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

Eat fruit, but know how it affects blood sugar

Fruit Harvest Selection in BowlsI know I should be eating more fresh fruit, but I have type 2 diabetes. Last weekend I enjoyed a few slices of watermelon, and I was surprised when I tested my blood sugar and saw that it spiked over 200. Should I forget about eating more fresh fruit?

No! Fresh fruit should be included in every diet, even if you have diabetes. Aim for 1.5-2 cups a day.

Fresh fruit contains all sorts of nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and fiber. As you probably experienced with the watermelon, fruit can also satisfy your sweet tooth while providing huge nutritional benefits that cake and candy simply don’t offer.

But you should be aware that, as with any carbohydrate-containing foods, portion size matters to your blood sugar. And, different fruits have different levels of carbohydrates and fiber, both of which affect your blood sugar, or blood glucose. You likely already know that unmanaged high blood glucose can cause serious, even life-threatening consequences, including blindness, kidney disease, heart and vascular disease, and neuropathy (a disease of the nervous system).

The American Diabetes Association recommends that people with diabetes keep their blood glucose level to less than 180 milligrams per deciliter of blood two hours after eating. For people without diabetes, the normal level is less than 140 mg/dl. You and your doctor may have set your after-meals target lower, but whatever the case, it’s good to recognize what might spike your blood sugar so you can take steps to reduce your risk.

Fruits lower in carbohydrate and higher in fiber will likely have less of an effect on your blood sugar. Below is the calorie, carbohydrate and fiber content for specific portion sizes of some common fruits. Find information about other fruits in the National Nutrition Database, available under “What’s In Food” atnutrition.gov.

  • Raspberries, 1 cup (4.3 ounces): 65 calories, 15 grams carbohydrate, 8 grams fiber.
  • Peach, medium (5.3 ounces, about 1 cup sliced): 60 calories, 14 grams carbohydrate, 2 grams fiber.
  • Strawberries, 1 cup halves (5.4 ounces): 50 calories, 12 grams carbohydrate, 3 grams fiber.
  • Orange, 1 cup sections (6.5 ounces): 85 calories, 21 grams carbohydrate, 4.5 grams fiber.
  • Blueberries, 1 cup (5.2 ounces): 85 calories, 21 grams carbohydrate, 3.5 grams fiber.
  • Apple, extra small (3.5 ounces, about 1 cup sliced): 55 calories, 21 grams carbohydrate, 3.5 grams fiber.
  • Cantaloupe, 1 cup diced (5.5 ounces): 55 calories, 13 grams carbohydrate, 1.5 grams fiber.
  • Banana, extra large (5.4 ounces, about 1 cup sliced): 135 calories, 35 grams carbohydrate, 4 grams fiber.
  • Honeydew, 1 cup diced (6 ounces): 60 calories, 15 grams carbohydrate, 1.5 grams fiber.
  • Grapes, 1 cup (5.3 ounces): 105 calories, 27 grams carbohydrate, 1.5 grams fiber.
  • Watermelon, 1 cup diced (5.4 ounces): 45 calories, 11.5 grams carbohydrate, 0.5 grams fiber.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH 43210-1043, orfilipic.3@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Dan Remley, specialist in Food, Nutrition and Wellness with Ohio State University Extension. OSU Extension is the outreach arm of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences at The Ohio State University.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

 

8 great ways to eat more veggies every day

photo: iStock

photo: iStock

I know I should be eating more vegetables, but I need inspiration. What are some easy ways to fit more vegetables into my diet?

You’ve already conquered the first hurdle: Making the decision to actually eat more vegetables. Now you need to get into the habit. Knowing how good they are for you should be just the motivation you need.

Vegetables provide vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants in a nice little package with relatively few calories or other pitfalls. Eating enough of them as part of an overall healthful diet can help prevent heart disease and some types of cancer.

Make sure you get a wide range of vegetables, such as dark green leafy greens and broccoli; red and orange vegetables, such as tomatoes, carrots and winter squash; legumes, including beans, edamame and chickpeas; starchy vegetables, including white potatoes, corn, plantains and green peas; and other kinds such as green beans, onions, cauliflower, cucumbers, celery, zucchini, mushrooms and peppers. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends working in all of these types of vegetables over the course of a week.

Unfortunately, most people don’t eat the recommended 2 to 3 cups of vegetables every day. In fact, only 9 percent of us eat that amount, according to a 2015 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. So, here are some ideas for boosting your veggie intake:

  • Start your day right by lightly sauteing sliced cherry tomatoes and a large handful of spinach and adding them to scrambled eggs. Next time, try finely chopped broccoli and red peppers.
  • Boost the bulk and the nutrients in canned soup by adding canned or frozen vegetables.
  • Making pasta? Saute some chopped onion, peppers, mushrooms, chopped spinach and summer squash. Stir them into the sauce along with some diced tomatoes.
  • Like to dip? Use baby carrots to dip into hummus. It’s great as a snack or as part of lunch.
  • Create a wrap with a whole-grain tortilla filled with romaine lettuce, red cabbage, shredded carrots, pepper strips, cucumber and julienned zucchini. Spread the tortilla with smashed avocado and add a little salsa.
  • Rinse off some asparagus, pat dry, coat with some olive oil and sprinkle with pepper. Broil the spears or place directly on the grill.
  • Make it a habit to eat a salad at lunch or dinner each day. It could be as simple as leafy greens dribbled with some oil and balsamic. Or, add as many fresh vegetables as you like. You can make it a meal by loading on some chickpeas, edamame or other source of protein.
  • Make a quick side dish by draining and rinsing a can of red or black beans and heating them with a little salsa. Another option: Drain a can of whole green beans and add some Italian-seasoned chopped tomatoes.

For more ideas, see the Fruits and Veggies: More Matters website at fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org. Choose “Meal Planning,” and prepare to be inspired.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH 43210-1043, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Carolyn Gunther, specialist in Community Nutrition Education with Ohio State University Extension. OSU Extension is the outreach arm of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences at The Ohio State University.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

In 2018, food labels will give more information

Original versus New Label - Side-by-Side ComparisonI heard something on the news about the Nutrition Facts labels changing. What are the details?

The new Nutrition Facts information won’t be on food labels for awhile, but you may like what you see when they do appear.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced the updated design on May 20. Large manufacturers have until July 26, 2018, to start using the new label. Smaller companies will get an extra year. This is the first update to the Nutrition Facts label in 20 years.

One of the most sought-after changes will be the inclusion of “Added Sugars” on the label. Currently, the label just includes “sugars” as a category under carbohydrates, but it’s impossible to tell how much of that is naturally occurring, from fruit- or milk-based ingredients, for example, and how much is added during processing.

The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that we limit added sugars to no more than 10 percent of our daily calorie intake. So, if you eat about 2,000 calories a day, you should consume no more than 200 calories, or 50 grams, of added sugars a day. The new labels will list the amount of added sugars in both grams and as a percent of a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet. This will not only help consumers interested in limiting their added sugar intake, it could encourage manufacturers to reduce the amount of added sugars they use in their products.

Other changes in the new label include:

  • Larger and bolder typeface for both calories and serving sizes. These two pieces of information are among the most important to help people make healthy food choices, but they don’t get much prominence on the current label.
  • Some foods will have “dual column” labels to indicate both “per serving” and “per package” calorie and nutrition information. These will be required on products that have multiple servings but could reasonably be consumed all in one sitting, such as a pint of ice cream or a 3-ounce bag of chips. The first column will provide nutrition information if you just consume one serving — 1 ounce of those chips in the 3-ounce bag, for example. The second column will provide the same information if you eat the entire package.
  • Labels will include information on vitamin D and potassium content. Some people are not getting enough of these nutrients, which puts them at higher risk for chronic disease. Labels will no longer be required to list vitamins A and C, because deficiencies in those vitamins are now rare. Calcium and iron will continue to be listed. A bonus: Instead of listing just a percentage, or the “percent Daily Value,” these nutrients will also have the actual amount listed in grams. Daily Values are helpful indicators of how much a food provides towards the daily recommended amount for a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet, but it also can be helpful for consumers to see what that equates to in actual grams.

For more details on the new Nutrition Facts labels, go to www.fda.gov.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH 43210-1043, orfilipic.3@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Irene Hatsu, Food Security specialist with Ohio State University Extension. OSU Extension is the outreach arm of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences at The Ohio State University.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

Smoothies can boost fruit, calcium intake

photo: Hemera

photo: Hemera

My teenage daughter has a sudden affinity for smoothies. She is making them all the time. Is this something I should encourage?

Smoothies can be a great way for anyone to consume more produce, and even additional calcium if milk, yogurt or calcium-fortified juice is part of the mix.

And most teens need more fruits, vegetables and calcium in their diets. A 2006 study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that less than 1 percent of boys and less than 4 percent of girls aged 14 to 18 years ate the recommended amount of produce. (For girls 14-18, the recommended amount is 1.5 cups of fruit and 2.5 cups of vegetables per day. Boys that age need an extra half-cup of each.)

Both boys and girls from 14 to 18 years need 1,300 milligrams of calcium a day — about the amount in 4.5 cups of milk. A national nutrition survey in 2005-2006 found that 42 percent of teen boys and only 10 percent of teen girls consumed enough calcium every day.

So, in a word, yes! If your daughter’s smoothies help her consume enough produce and calcium day to day, by all means encourage her on her smoothie craze. But it’s important to make sure they’re healthy beverages, not sugar-laden frozen slushies or milkshakes in disguise.

When prepared healthfully, smoothies can provide a big boost in nutrition. According to a study published in Health Education and Behavior in 2015, when smoothies were introduced as an option at school breakfasts at a middle school and high school in Utah, students eating a full cup of fruit during breakfast increased from 4.3 percent to a whopping 45.1 percent.

Another study, published in the Journal of Child Nutrition and Management in 2015, showed that 68 percent of high school students who chose yogurt as a breakfast option didn’t choose milk, suggesting that yogurt products — including many smoothies — may offer an appealing calcium-rich alternative for non-milk drinkers.

The smoothies made for the Utah school study included milk or juice, vanilla yogurt, and fruit — usually bananas, strawberries, pineapple and mandarin oranges, but sometimes cherries and pears — and even spinach for green smoothies. No extra sugar, frozen yogurt or ice cream was added — a good guideline for keeping the nutritional profile of a smoothie high. Adding ice will provide a nice chill and help lower the calorie count. Using frozen fruit — even frozen bananas — helps keep a smoothie thick with or without ice cubes.

For healthy recipe ideas, try the “Fruits and Veggies: More Matters” website atfruitsandveggiesmorematters.org. Click on “Recipes” and choose “Beverages and Smoothies.” You will find 16 pages of recipes for everything from an Orange Banana Frosty to a Watermelon Strawberry Shake (no ice cream included).

In addition, consider introducing your daughter to choosemyplate.gov/teens. This website encourages teens to adopt healthy food and activity habits to last a lifetime.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH 43210-1043, orfilipic.3@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Carol Smathers, Youth Nutrition and Wellness specialist with Ohio State University Extension. OSU Extension is the outreach arm of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences at The Ohio State University.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

Why food safety is vital during pregnancy

photo: iStock

photo: iStock

Why are pregnant women at greater risk of foodborne illness?

When a woman becomes pregnant, she undergoes all sorts of physical changes that are necessary for her body to accept and nurture the growing baby in her womb.

One of those changes involves part of the mother’s immune system called “cell-mediated immunity.” When it’s working normally, cell-mediated immunity helps fight the kinds of pathogens that move from cell to cell. This doesn’t affect the part of the immune system that involves antibodies, which remains fully functioning during pregnancy.

Cell-mediated immunity is the type of immunity involved when a person has an organ transplant and the body rejects the new organ, thinking it’s a foreign invader. When a woman becomes pregnant, the body suppresses this function to allow the body to accept the fetus.

That’s all well and good, but it does put the mother and fetus at higher risk for some types of foodborne illness.

According to foodsafety.gov, the federal government’s hub for food safety information, the top five pathogens related to food poisoning during pregnancy are bacteria Listeria monocytogenes, Campylobacter, E. coli and Salmonella, and a parasite, Toxoplasma gondii. Depending on the pathogen and the severity of the illness, these can cause miscarriage, premature birth, stillbirth or birth defects in the fetus, as well as serious health problems for the mother.

Food Safety for Pregnant Women, online at foodsafety.gov/risk/pregnant, provides details about each of these pathogens as well as other guidelines, including:

  • Avoid unpasteurized milk and products made from it. Soft cheeses, such as brie, feta, Camembert, Roquefort, queso blanco and queso fresco are frequently made with unpasteurized milk. Some hard cheeses are also made with raw or unpasteurized milk. Always read the label.
  • Avoid unpasteurized juice or cider. Even fresh-squeezed juice has been associated with E. coli.
  • Avoid raw seafood and be selective with smoked seafood. Both pose a risk from Listeria. Smoked seafood is OK only if it is canned or otherwise processed to be shelf-stable (the kind that doesn’t need refrigeration), or is an ingredient in a casserole or other dish cooked to at least 165 degrees F.
  • Avoid premade ham, chicken, tuna or other meat or seafood salads, such as those you can buy in a deli. Make them at home instead.
  • Don’t eat hot dogs or lunchmeats unless you’ve heated them to steaming hot — 165 degrees F.
  • Be sure any eggs you eat are cooked until the yolk is firm. Any casseroles or foods containing raw eggs should be cooked to 160 degrees F. Avoid foods containing raw or undercooked eggs, including unpasteurized eggnog, cookie or cake batter, Caesar salad dressing, tiramisu, eggs Benedict, homemade ice cream and freshly made hollandaise sauce.

For more details, see foodsafety.gov/risk/pregnant.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH 43210-1043, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Sanja Ilic, food safety specialist with Ohio State University Extension.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

Takeaways from the Biggest Loser study

chow_050616-466368885I recently heard some discouraging news about the prospects of losing weight and keeping it off. What is the best course for people like me, who had a lifelong battle with weight?

You’re likely talking about the study that followed 14 “Biggest Loser” contestants six years after they competed on the TV show. The study, in the journal Obesity, has received wide media coverage.

One of the participants actually weighs less than she did at the end of the competition, but the other 13 regained some or all of the weight they had lost. While more than half retained at least a 10 percent weight loss six years later, five now weigh as much or more as they did before the Biggest Loser. Their level of physical activity had not changed significantly since the end of the competition.

What surprised the researchers most were the measurements of the participants’ “resting metabolic rate,” or the calories a person burns while at rest. It’s generally known that when people diet and they trim down, their metabolism slows and they don’t burn as many calories. But researchers found that as these participants regained pounds, their metabolic rates did not increase as expected. In order to maintain their weight, most Biggest Loser graduates must eat 200 to 800 fewer calories per day than other people who weigh exactly the same as they do.

In addition to that hurdle, researchers found that the participants continue to have significantly lower levels of the hormone leptin. Less leptin triggers hunger and cravings, and is normal when you diet. The participants had normal levels of leptin when they started the Biggest Loser competition and almost none when they finished. Six years later, the participants’ leptin levels had not returned to normal. They were hungry, all the time.

So, what does this mean for you? Since everyone is different, it’s difficult to say. But here are some things to consider:

  • Focus on health, not the scale. Eat 2 to 2.5 cups of vegetables and 1 to 1.5 cups of fruit every day, and round out your diet by focusing on whole grains, lean protein and healthy oils. And get plenty of physical activity: Make it your goal to walk, play sports or work out for at least 30 minutes five days a week. Even if the pounds don’t drop, regular physical activity lessens the risk of chronic disease.
  • Take guidance from the National Weight Control Registry, www.nwcr.ws, a database of more than 10,000 people who have lost 30 pounds or more and have kept it off for at least a year. Most report they have had success by maintaining a low-calorie, low-fat diet, and 90 percent say they exercise an average of an hour a day. But understand the hunger pangs you will likely feel are real, and you will have to work harder to maintain your weight than your lean friends.
  • Shed any shame or guilt you feel about your weight. As science learns more about individual differences in metabolism as well as leptin and other hormones that affect hunger and appetite, it’s easier to understand the biological underpinnings of why so many of us struggle with weight issues. Self-blame doesn’t help.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH 43210-1043, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Dan Remley, field specialist in Food, Nutrition and Wellness with Ohio State University Extension.

How to help your child eat a healthy diet

chow_042916-125754388Our toddler has a sweet tooth. Should we let him indulge, or is it time to start restricting snacks?

Guidance from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics says establishing healthy food habits early in life, along with a good dose of daily exercise, is key in helping children become healthy, active adults. So, yes. Just like the rest of us (adults), your toddler should be learning to eat small portions of sweets every once in a while, not all the time.

If you believe your child is already overweight, you should discuss your concerns with your son’s doctor. The academy suggests letting children “grow into” their weight without a special calorie-restricting diet. Children’s bodies are growing and developing, so you don’t want to put them on a weight-loss diet. Too much calorie restriction could deprive them of the energy and nutrients they need to properly develop bone and tissue as they grow taller. And, putting too much focus on weight could cause body image issues.

Still, a recent study indicates that it may be especially beneficial to pay attention to food choices in young children who crave sweets.

The study, “Eating in the Absence of Hunger and Weight Gain in Low-income Toddlers,” is being published in the May 2016 issue of Pediatrics. Researchers looked at young children, specifically 209 children at 21 months, 27 months and 33 months old. They focused on those from low-income families because they are at a higher risk of childhood obesity. The researchers found that the toddlers who ate more cookies after a filling meal and who became upset when the sweets were taken away had gradual increases in body fat over the course of the study. Interestingly, the children who chose a salty option (potato chips or cheese puffs) instead of cookies did not experience the same weight gain. Still, the overall finding was that the tendency to eat when not hungry increased during toddlerhood, particularly with sweets, and this was associated with an increase in body fat.

So, it’s good that you’re paying attention. Noticing your child’s sweet tooth and looking for ways to help shows that you are aware of the importance of establishing a healthy diet early in life. Here are some suggestions from the academy:

  • Being a good role model is important: Children easily pick up on their parents’ habits. Be sure you’re eating properly.
  • Put the focus on health, and refrain from negative comments about weight.
  • Become aware of the difference between eating when hungry and eating for other reasons — because of boredom, for example. Teach your child to pay attention to their inner cues and to choose food only when they’re truly hungry, and to stop eating when they’re satisfied.
  • Don’t use food to pacify or reward children. That can lead to a pattern of emotional eating.
  • Make snacks healthful: Whole-grain cereal, graham crackers, fresh fruit slices and string cheese are among good choices.

For more good ideas, go online to see the academy’s guidance for parents at eatright.org/resources/for-parents.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH 43210-1043, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Carolyn Gunther, specialist in Community Nutrition Education with Ohio State University Extension.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

Dining out? Put focus on friends over food

chow_042216-86530086Now that spring is here, I seem to be going out for dinner with friends a lot more often. I have already gained five pounds. Besides choosing a salad as my main dish, what else can I do to be sure I don’t overeat when eating out?

First, don’t assume that all salads are necessarily lower in calories than other choices on the menu. A quick Internet search of nutrition information for one restaurant chain showed its entree-sized salads ranged from 440 calories for a salad featuring seared tuna to 1,510 calories for a Caesar salad with chicken.

Unfortunately, it’s often not easy to determine what would be the healthiest option or figure out what items have a reasonable number of calories. Rules requiring restaurant chains to include nutrition information on menus, in the works since 2010, have been delayed until next year at the earliest. And even then, they won’t cover independently owned restaurants and smaller chains.

There’s also a psychological hurdle: When you join with friends to enjoy a meal together, it’s easy to switch into “special occasion” mode and treat yourself to items you wouldn’t necessarily choose every day. But if you’re eating out more often, you need to be careful not to indulge every time.

Here are some tips from the Association of Nutrition and Dietetics (eatright.org) and the National Institutes of Health (medlineplus.gov):

  • Prepare ahead. If you know you’ll be eating out later, have a small, healthy breakfast and lunch, and a light snack — such as an orange, a small apple or a handful of baby carrots, and a full glass of water — before you leave for the restaurant. And if you know where you’ll be dining, check the restaurant’s website to see if you can find nutrition information ahead of time.
  • Watch portion sizes. Dietitians have long advised clients who are trying to lose weight to eat only half of what is served to them and take the other half home for another meal. Now, some say that even half of the oversized portions served at many restaurants might be too much. When you get your food, visualize what a sensible serving size would be, and eat only that much.
  • Look on the menu for items for seniors, which are often smaller portions, or those designated as healthful choices. Don’t overlook those options thinking they’re not for you.
  • Include a simple side salad with an oil-based or light dressing. Avoid creamy dressings. Ask for dressing on the side, and don’t use all of it.
  • Choose foods that indicate they are broiled, grilled, steamed, poached, roasted or baked, which tend to have fewer calories. Words that indicate an item has more calories include breaded, fried, buttered, battered, crispy, creamy and au gratin.
  • Watch the alcohol, which adds calories and may increase your appetite and lower your resolve to eat healthfully.
  • Finally, enjoy yourself, knowing you are mindfully making the right choices while savoring the company of good friends.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH 43210-1043, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Irene Hatsu, food security specialist with Ohio State University Extension.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.