School lunch may be healthier than packed

chow_082915-455188015Generally, which is healthier for kids, a packed lunch or a school lunch?

Obviously, this could go either way, depending on the content of the actual meal. But according to at least one study, school meals might have a significant edge.

The research, published in 2014 in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, compared 1,314 lunches of preschool and kindergarten students in three schools in Virginia. About 43 percent of the lunches were packed lunches, and 57 percent were school lunches. Like most schools, the schools in this study participated in the National School Lunch Program, and the research was conducted after that program upgraded its nutrition standards in 2012-13.

The researchers found that packed lunches had more vitamin C and iron and less sodium than the school lunches, but the packed lunches were also higher in calories, fat, saturated fat and sugar and were lower in protein, fiber, vitamin A and calcium. Packed lunches were less likely to contain fruits, vegetables, unsweetened juice and milk and were more likely to include chips, crackers or other savory snacks, and sugar-sweetened beverages.

Although many kids balked when schools started serving healthier meals, a 2014 study in the journal Childhood Obesity found that 70 percent of elementary school leaders reported that students had warmed up to them.

According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the trick to making sure your children’s lunch is a healthy one is to make sure it provides a good balance: some lean protein, a whole grain, a fruit, a vegetable and a dairy product. Take a look at the school menu and talk with your children about what they like and don’t like in the school lunches, or if they’d prefer to bring a lunch from home. If the school lunch doesn’t appeal to your kids, talk with them once a week about what they’d like to carry with them. It’s important to get kids’ buy-in: No matter how nutritious a lunch is, it won’t do any good if a child won’t eat it.

The nutrition academy offers these ideas:

  • Pack easy-to-eat foods: strawberries or an easy-to-peel tangerine instead of an orange, for example, or carrots, cherry tomatoes or bell pepper strips instead of a salad.
  • For sandwiches or wraps, choose whole grain options and lean meat or cheese.
  • Make it fun. Cut sandwiches into stars or other unusual shapes. Celebrate special days by packing an all-orange lunch for Halloween, for example, or an all-red lunch for Valentine’s Day.
  • Ask if your children trade food with friends at lunchtime. That will help you determine what foods they prefer.

For a beverage, consider packing a small bottle of water with lunch. Earlier this year, the Harvard School of Public Health reported that about half of children and teens aren’t getting enough hydration, and nearly one-quarter don’t drink any plain water at all. Children tend to think cold water tastes better than water at room temperature. Adding a frozen water bottle to your child’s lunch pack will help keep the lunch cold and will thaw by lunchtime, providing a nice cool drink.

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, Ohio State University Extension specialist in Community Nutrition Education.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

Plan ahead to save at grocery store

200246019-001My grocery bill seems to be getting more and more expensive. I noticed it especially when we stocked up the weekend before school started. What are some ways we can cut expenses but still have enough to eat?

The cost of food does inch up over time, but not as much as you might think. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s official figures, average costs for food for a family of four in June 2010 ranged from $134.50 to $265.90 a week, depending on whether you were being “thrifty” or “liberal” in your spending, compared with $149.50 to $296.80 in June 2015. Note that these estimates count food costs only, not cleaning products or other items that you probably also pick up at the grocery store. They also assume that you’re buying foods for a nutritious diet and that you’re eating all meals and snacks at home.

That said, here are some ideas from the USDA and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics to save dollars at the grocery store:

  • It’s often said, but it works: Don’t shop on an empty stomach. Going to the grocery store when you’re hungry can lead to impulse purchases that add up at the cash register.
  • Plan ahead. Look at your grocery store’s weekly circular for sale items that you can build meals around. The circular is often available online if you don’t see one in a local newspaper or with other advertisements delivered to your door.
  • Better yet, look through the dark corners of your freezer and pantry for items you may have forgotten about and determine how you can use them for meals in the coming week. Making use of the food you already have is a no-brainer, especially during weeks when you anticipate having extra expenses on non-food items — like toiletries or school notebooks.
  • Use your week’s menu to build your grocery list — and stick to your list. If you’re tempted to buy something that’s not on the list, think long and hard about it. Do so only if you know you need the item that week or if it’s an especially good bargain.
  • Check prices of sale items to see if you can get the same discount whether or not you purchase the suggested number of items. For example, if a sale item is marked “3 for $6,” you may be able to buy just one of the items for the sale price of $2. This policy varies between stores and among items, but it’s often listed on small print on the price tag on the grocery store shelf.
  • Speaking of price tags, be sure to look at the unit price (price per ounce or other unit of measure) to compare how much you could save over time by buying a larger quantity. Sometimes the unit-price savings are significant, but not always.
  • Take a close look at snack foods or other extras that you “always” put in your cart, examining not only their cost but the nutrition they provide, and determine if there’s a better option. If you typically buy snack crackers, look for those that primarily provide whole grains — or consider whether a bag of apples could take their place.

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, Ohio State University Extension specialist in Food Security.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

Food safety: Why older people face more risk

chow_081415_472218184I often hear that the elderly are more at risk from foodborne illness. Is that true, and if so, why?

It is true that older adults are at more risk for serious complications from foodborne illness.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people 65 years or older experience just 13 percent of all foodborne illness infections but account for 24 percent of hospitalizations and 57 percent of deaths.

What makes older people more susceptible to these complications? The U.S. Food and Drug Administration offers an explanation in its Food Safety for Older Adults guide:

  • As we get older, our liver and kidneys may not rid the body of toxins as readily.
  • The stomach and intestinal tract may hold onto foods for longer periods, offering foodborne pathogens more opportunity to cause problems.
  • Our immune system tends to become more sluggish as we age, reducing the body’s ability to fight off harmful bacteria or other pathogens.
  • Older people are more likely to have a chronic condition, such as diabetes, arthritis, cancer or cardiovascular disease, and are also more likely to regularly take medications. Both chronic conditions and some medications can further weaken the immune system.
  • As we age, our senses of smell and taste may wane, reducing our ability to spot warning signs of food that has gone bad. However, it’s important to note that many foodborne disease pathogens don’t provide such telltale cues anyway.

With all this in mind, it’s important for everyone 65 and older — and those who serve them — to take basic food safety precautions, including:

  • Wash hands and surfaces often. This helps prevent the spread of bacteria.
  • Prevent cross-contamination. Separate raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs from other foods. Consider using separate cutting boards for raw foods and foods that are ready to eat.
  • Cook foods to safe temperatures. Use a food thermometer to be sure you cook poultry (including ground chicken or turkey) to 165 degrees F, as well as hot dogs, soups, gravy, sauces and leftovers; ground beef to 160 F; seafood to 145 F; and beef, lamb, pork and veal steaks, roasts, and chops to 145 F with an additional 3-minute rest time after removing them from the heat.
  • Refrigerate food promptly — within two hours of cooking or purchasing.
  • Avoid risky foods such as soft cheeses made with raw milk; unpasteurized (raw) milk; raw or undercooked eggs; raw meat; raw poultry; raw fish; raw shellfish and their juices; and luncheon meats and deli-type salads (without added preservatives) prepared on site in a deli-type establishment.

For more food safety information related to older adults, see the FDA’s guide at bit.ly/fdsafeolderadults.

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, Ohio State University Extension specialist in Food Safety.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

Making the ‘see food’ diet work for you

chow_080715_99185593I started keeping a bowl of fruit on the kitchen counter to encourage my family to eat more produce. It works. What are some other ideas to help us eat more healthfully?

Putting healthful food within arm’s reach is a tried-and-true technique for helping make good food choices. There’s plenty of research to back that up ­— and it works both ways.

A recent study at The Ohio State University found that compared with normal-weight people, obese people tended to keep more food visible not only in the kitchen, but throughout the house. They also generally ate more sweets and other less healthful foods than their counterparts. It’s as if that old (not funny) joke were true: “I’m on the ‘see food’ diet. If I see food, I eat it.” Clearly, the food environment around us matters.

Cornell University’s Brian Wansink has been called the eating behavior guru. In a recent article in the journal Psychology and Marketing, he analyzed 112 studies and concluded that most people make food-related decisions based on three elements: They select foods that are convenient, attractive and “normal.” So, when a bowl of fruit is the first thing you see when you enter the kitchen, and it’s attractively displayed in a nice bowl, you will more likely choose to eat fruit rather than the stale corn chips on a shelf in a back corner of the pantry.

There’s a bit of overlap in the three aspects of food choice, but they’re all worth knowing more about:

  • Convenient. The concept of convenience includes both physical and mental effort. Put healthful foods at the front of the refrigerator, ready to grab and go. Buy 100-calorie packages of snacks instead of trying to guess what a reasonable portion is. Find restaurants that, as their standard options, serve fruit or vegetables on the side instead of fries or onion rings and include bottled water, unsweetened ice tea or even milk with meals instead of soft drinks.
  • Attractive. Making food attractive has to do with all manner of presentation, from how it is served to how much it costs to what it is called. Wansink’s research shows that more children will eat broccoli when it’s called “Dinosaur Trees.” The same is true when vegetarian burritos are served as “Big Bad Bean Burritos.” And, serving foods on china increases the value people place on it, compared with normal dishes or paper plates.
  • Normal. People lean toward food choices that they perceive as the norm. One example of “normalizing” healthy eating is to always put salad bowls on the dinner table, even on days when salad isn’t being served. That makes it seem like salad is a standard part of every dinner, rather than as an infrequent side dish.

Wansink calls this the CAN approach — short for “convenient, attractive, normal” — and he says the opposite is also true: Making less-healthy food less convenient, less attractive and less normal can decrease its consumption. Put less-healthful snacks in a cupboard in the laundry room, he suggests, or try the cupboard above the refrigerator. Learn more at his website at foodpsychology.cornell.edu.

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, Ohio State University Extension specialist in Food, Nutrition and Wellness.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

Decisions at the fair: Indulge, or be healthy?

chow_073115_464568131We’re planning to go to the state fair. I haven’t gone in a long time and I keep thinking about all of the horribly unhealthy foods that I know I’m going to want to eat that day. I want to enjoy myself, but I’m afraid I’m going to gain back the 12 pounds I’ve lost this year all in one day. Any guidance?

It’s certainly not likely you’ll gain 12 pounds in a day of overindulgence, but that doesn’t mean it’s a great idea to have an elephant ear for breakfast, stromboli for lunch, bacon-on-a-stick for dinner and deep-fried ice cream for dessert. Your gastrointestinal system would probably have a hard time forgiving you for that, especially if you’ve been eating healthfully for months and your system isn’t used to such excess.

Instead of planning for an entire day of gluttony, why not do this? Focus on one or two treats that if you didn’t have, you’d end up truly disappointed. Then make smart choices the rest of the day. If you’ve been looking forward to a funnel cake for years, go ahead and enjoy. An occasional splurge is nothing to feel guilty about. Just be sensible.

Not all the food at fairs is “horribly unhealthy.” Seek out charbroiled chicken breast, sandwich wraps or a Greek salad. In fact, the Ohio State Fair, at least, offers a phone app with not only a map and a schedule, but a searchable food finder to help you locate the type of food you want.

The fair also is encouraging food vendors to join the “Taste of the Fair” program, offering small versions of signature menu items at a reduced price. Think of this as built-in portion control. And if one of your favorites isn’t participating in the program, you can control your own portions by splitting a dish with a friend or two.

It can be difficult to make smart choices at the fair because nutrition information isn’t readily available. But if you plan ahead, www.calorieking.com does offer some nutrition facts: Search for “fair food” and see if your favorites are listed. Would you really choose to indulge in a tray of deep-fried Oreos if you knew it had 890 calories? Or an order of chili fries if you knew it had nearly 700 calories?

Here are a couple of other things to remember:

  • Most, if not all the time, choose water as a beverage. Not only is it the best way to keep yourself hydrated on a hot day outdoors, but you’ll save yourself hundreds of calories by foregoing beverages high in sugar. If you must have flavor, unsweetened iced tea is your next best choice.
  • Don’t fool yourself: Deep-fried vegetables are more fat than they are vegetables. Lemon shakeups are more sugar than they are fruit. Roasted corn is a better choice for a vegetable, especially if you go easy on the butter and salt. A piece of fresh fruit is also a great choice: Ask at an ice cream stand that offers banana splits if they’d sell you just the banana, or find the local foods and farming exhibits, which sometimes offer complimentary apples or other produce. If you need a sweet icy treat, frozen bananas are healthier than ice cream.

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, Ohio State University Extension specialist in Youth Nutrition and Wellness.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

As mercury rises, beat the heat with water

chow_072415_494040875Do we really need to drink more water when the weather is hot?

If you’re outdoors when it’s hot and sticky, and you become hot and sticky yourself, then, yes, that’s a good signal that you should drink more water.

You might not think much about it, but water is the most abundant substance in your body. Each and every organ in your body needs water to do its job. Water serves as a medium where chemical reactions take place — and the body is a veritable 24-hours-a-day laboratory bustling with such reactions. Water also helps control body heat through perspiration and helps lubricate your knees, elbows and other joints. And it does other jobs, as well — too many to list here.

As your body uses all that water, and loses it from perspiration, urination and other functions, the water needs to be replaced.

While you might need to consume a few ounces of protein, carbohydrate and even some healthful fats in your daily diet, you need a lot more water: It’s recommended that men get 3.7 liters of water a day, and women, 2.7 liters. And in certain situations, such as very hot weather, your body needs more than normal.

But before you start lugging around 2-liter bottles filled with H2O, it’s important to know that you do get quite a bit of water from other beverages and even from foods. With foods, fruits and vegetables generally contain the most water — watermelon is about 91 percent water by weight; raw broccoli, 89 percent. But even other foods such as beans, chicken, pasta and bread contain ample amounts of water that your body can put to use.

That said, don’t discount the need for a glass — or actually about eight — of good old-fashioned water each day. That’s about the amount of fluids you should drink to accompany the water you’re getting from food. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Complete Food and Nutrition Guide, the body’s need for water varies from day to day, with more needed when you experience:

  • Higher levels of physical activity. During exercise, the academy advises “drink early and often.”
  • Exposure to extreme temperatures, either hot or cold. You need water to maintain a normal body temperature.
  • Exposure to dry air, such as heated or recirculated air.
  • High altitudes. At about 8,200 feet, your heart rate as well as urine output could increase, both of which require you to drink more water.
  • Pregnancy, which increases the recommendation for fluid intake for women to 3.8 liters a day.
  • Illness that includes fever, diarrhea or vomiting. Plenty of fluids are needed to prevent dehydration.
  • Eating a high-fiber diet. The body needs more water to process the fiber through the intestines.

Nutritionists generally recommend water as the top choice as a beverage. Not only is it calorie-free, it’s cheap from the tap and provides everything your body needs to replenish fluids. So, tip back your glass and enjoy, knowing you’re doing your body good.

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, Ohio State University Extension specialist in Community Nutrition Education.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

Time is ripe to eat more fruits, veggies

chow_071715_460407859I was hoping I would begin to eat more fruits and vegetables during the summer, but I have to admit I haven’t gotten into the habit yet. Any ideas to help get me started?

It’s easy to get into a rut when it comes to what we eat day in and day out. If you’re not accustomed to snacking on fruits and vegetables and including them in meals, you might feel — just as with any new habit — a bit stymied on how to start.

That could be why a new study found that only about 1 in 10 Americans eats enough produce. That’s right — not only are you not alone in your produce-deficit diet, you’re in the vast majority.

According to the study, conducted by researchers with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 13 percent of Americans consumed the recommended 1.5-2 cups of fruit a day in 2013, and less than 9 percent consumed the recommended 2-3 cups of vegetables a day.

The report also provided a state-by-state analysis, and it showed Ohioans faring even worse, with only 11 percent eating enough fruit and 7 percent eating enough vegetables. If you’re interested in the details, you can read more by searching for “State Indicator Report on Fruits and Vegetables” on www.cdc.gov. The results are disheartening, given that research shows over and over that eating plenty of produce provides protection against heart disease, diabetes, some types of cancer and other chronic illnesses.

An easy way to adopt eating new foods is to make them readily available. Buy some easy-to-consume produce such as baby carrots, apples, peaches, plums, bananas, or any “grab-and-go” fruit or vegetable, as well as bagged salads or microwaveable steam-in-the-bag frozen veggies that you enjoy eating. Store them in a place where you can easily see them to give yourself a visual reminder. Incorporate them into your dietary routine throughout the day: If you pack your lunch, include a piece of produce. If you normally grab a granola bar to eat on the way to work, take some grapes or berries instead.

Be sure to congratulate yourself at every step of the process: when you buy the produce, when you take it from the fridge, and when you eat it. Even a very simple internal “Good for you!” is helpful to ingrain a new healthy habit into your daily routine.

For fresh ideas, go to the “Fruit and Veggies: More Matters” website at www.fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org. Among its recommendations:

  • Eat produce first. One study showed that serving produce first makes it more likely that people will put it on their plates than if it’s served last.
  • Incorporate fruits and vegetables into your regular dishes. Add grapes to chicken salad. Add a can of vegetables to your favorite soup.
  • Build meals around fruits and vegetables instead of serving them on the side: Think stir fries, stuffed peppers and cauliflower casseroles.

The website offers plenty of other information, including recipes, lists of produce in season, and ideas to getting more fruits and vegetables. Check it out and get 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 Irene Hatsu, Ohio State University Extension’s food security specialist.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

Chow Line: If you’re at risk, be aware of Listeria

chow_071015-87514165Last weekend at a cookout, I ate a raw hot dog. Someone there told me I should never eat raw hot dogs because of the risk of foodborne illness. But I always thought hot dogs are already cooked, and you really only need to heat them up if you want them hot. Who is right?

Hot dogs, or rather frankfurters or wieners, are cooked (sometimes smoked) sausages. Although most people can eat them “raw” without a problem, a foodborne illness outbreak in 1998 associated with unheated hot dogs and deli meats caused 108 illnesses, four miscarriages and 14 fatalities. The culprit was Listeria monocytogenes, which can cause the illness listeriosis, especially in pregnant women and other high-risk populations.

Those populations include people who are taking immunity-suppressing drugs, those with diabetes or other conditions that weaken the immune system, and anyone over the age of 60. If you’re in one of those groups, heat hot dogs until steaming hot and keep them at 140 degrees F until served.

Listeriosis is a relatively rare but severe disease. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about 1,600 people become ill with it each year, compared with an estimated 1.2 million illnesses from Salmonella bacteria. But of those who get listeriosis, an estimated 1 in 6 die. That’s one reason why you should take it seriously.

Another fact to keep in mind: Listeria is different from many other foodborne pathogens because it can actually grow in the fridge. The more cells there are of a pathogen, the higher risk it poses. Not to be a killjoy, but you should remember this the next time you consider eating a cold dog instead of hot dog.

Unfortunately, Listeria isn’t confined to lunchmeats and frankfurters. The largest outbreak in the U.S. was in 2011, when listeriosis associated with cantaloupes from a Colorado farm caused 147 illnesses, 33 deaths and one miscarriage. Earlier, in 1985, listeriosis from Mexican-style soft cheese contaminated with raw milk caused 142 illnesses, 18 deaths, and 20 miscarriages or stillbirths. Other recent outbreaks have been associated with ice cream, commercially sold caramel apples, cheese and raw sprouts. As you can see, many foods associated with Listeria monocytogenes aren’t normally cooked before eaten, so we lose that protective step with those foods.

According to the CDC, Listeria is found in the environment and we’re exposed to it regularly. If you’re at higher risk of foodborne illness, pay heed if you become very sick with fever and muscle aches or stiff neck, or if you’re pregnant and develop mild flu-like symptoms. These are symptoms of listeriosis — contact your doctor immediately.

To reduce your risk, avoid drinking raw milk or products made from raw milk; rinse produce thoroughly under running tap water before eating; and wash hands, knives, countertops and cutting boards after handling and preparing raw foods. For more information, see www.foodsafety.gov and look under “Food Poisoning” for listeria.

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, Ohio State University Extension’s food safety specialist.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

Spark interest in fruit, veggies on the Fourth

chow_070215_184369301I want to rev up the healthfulness of our Fourth of July cookout. I always make a veggie platter or fruit salad, but they get bypassed for burgers, hot dogs, potato salad and chips. What can I do to draw more attention to healthier fare?

Why not take your cue from Old Glory and focus on red, white and blue fruits and vegetables this weekend?

Too often, people at parties and holiday gatherings treat fruits and vegetables as the Debbie Downer of dining. But with a little thought and effort, you can make produce the star of the show:

  • Put strawberries, sliced bananas and dark grapes (not quite blue, but close) on skewers.
  • On a rectangular platter, arrange raspberries and cut apples in red and white stripes, and put a bowl of blueberries in the corner.
  • Layer red, white and blue fruits in a clear glass straight-sided bowl and let it show its colors.
  • Keep it simple and just line up three bowls of red, white and blue fruits or vegetables on the buffet line. You can use watermelon, berries, cherries or red peppers; cauliflower, cole slaw, bananas, apples or white grapes; and blueberries or purple grapes.

Focusing on the colors of fruits and vegetables isn’t just a gimmick. The color of produce often indicates what sort of phytochemicals it provides. Phytochemicals are plant chemicals that aren’t essential nutrients but still appear to provide health benefits.

There are many different types of phytochemicals. Some are antioxidants that help limit damage to cells resulting from oxidation, which is a normal process in the body. Some are carotenoids, which offer many benefits including lowering the risk of age-related sight problems. Some phytochemicals appear to have anti-bacterial or anti-inflammatory properties. And some have been linked with improved blood flow, anti-cancer properties and even other benefits.

Research is still nailing down precisely the effects of phytochemicals in the body. In the meantime, you not only want to get a good variety of fruits and vegetables in your diet, but you want to make sure you regularly consume produce of all different colors — dark green, yellow, purple, orange and, of course, red, white and blue — to make sure you’re getting a broad range of these nutrients.

The Produce for Better Health Foundation offers a wealth of information about phytochemicals on its website. Arranged by color group, you can find out what fruits and vegetables contain which phytochemicals and what health benefits they offer. It has information on flavonoids, from anthocyanidins to flavonols; carotenoids, from beta-carotene to zeaxanthin; and other phytochemicals, from indoles to resveratrol. If this sparks your interest, learn more at pbhfoundation.org/about/res/pic/phytolist/.

For more information and fruit and veggie recipe ideas, see Ohio State University Extension’s “Maximize Your Nutrients” web page at localfoods.osu.edu/maximizenutrients.

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.

Eating out? Help kids make healthful choices

bldar022405079We seem to be eating out more and more. Instead of just ordering for them, I want to teach my children (ages 9 and 11) how to make healthier choices, whether we’re at a sit-down restaurant or going through a drive-thru. Any tips?

You’re right to be concerned. A few years ago, the U.S. Department of Agriculture published a study, “How Food Away from Home Affects Children’s Diet Quality.” It found that for children ages 6-18, each meal eaten out contributed an extra 65 calories and lowered diet quality by 4 percent, as measured by an index based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, compared with meals prepared at home. About a third of the higher number calories were due to soft drinks and other sweetened beverages. For older children, the number of extra calories consumed per meal jumped to 107.

While eating extra calories every once in a while might not be so bad, doing so regularly is a sure path to becoming overweight or obese.

Eating home-prepared meals as a family (with family members engaged with each other — the television turned off) has its benefits. Studies indicate that children and teens in these families tend not only to have healthier diets and less risk of obesity, but better emotional well-being as well. Given that evidence, see if you can find ways to plan ahead so you can eat in more often than not.

But sometimes eating out is the only option. Here are some tips from the Nemours Foundation (kidshealth.org) and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (www.eatright.org):

  • Avoid fried and breaded foods, even fried fish, chicken and vegetables. Instead, let your children choose among healthier options, such as grilled chicken or a deli turkey sandwich on whole-grain bread.
  • If french fries or potato chips come with a meal, ask about healthier sides.
  • When available, choose a whole-grain option for bread or pasta. (Note that “multi-grain” doesn’t offer the same benefits as whole grains.)
  • Encourage healthier drink options, such as water or low-fat milk. Besides reducing sugar intake, they can help your children avoid the caffeine prevalent in many beverages. Keep in mind that flavored milk usually has a lot of added calories.
  • Watch portion sizes. Tell your children explicitly that they don’t have to eat everything on their plate. If sandwiches or other items are large, ask for them to be cut in half so your children can split them.

The restaurants you choose to go to also can have a big impact. Find ones with healthier options that are prominent on the menu. A study published earlier this year in the journal Obesity showed that when a family restaurant chain in the eastern U.S. changed its children’s meals to include fruit or vegetables as the default instead of fries, relatively few customers asked for fries on the side and the healthfulness of the meals sold skyrocketed. Having healthy food options as the norm on menus makes a difference when eating out.

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, Ohio State University Extension’s field specialist in Youth, Nutrition and Wellness.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.