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.

You can scream for safe homemade ice cream

chow_061915-87803330When we visit my in-laws during the summer, they always make homemade ice cream for the kids. When I object to the raw eggs they use in their recipe, they say they’ve never become sick so it’s not an issue. Is it safe to use raw eggs in homemade ice cream?

Food safety experts agree: Raw eggs that haven’t been pasteurized or otherwise treated to kill bacteria should never be considered safe to consume.

It’s true that chances are small that the eggs your in-laws use will cause a problem: It’s estimated that only about 1 in 20,000 eggs are contaminated with Salmonella Enteritidis, the type of Salmonella that’s associated with eggs. Still, with the tens of billions of eggs produced in the U.S. that aren’t pasteurized, that leaves about 2.2 million that would be contaminated in any given year. Fortunately, the vast majority are cooked before being eaten. But the U.S. Food and Drug Administration estimates that 142,000 illnesses each year are caused by Salmonella-tainted eggs.

Most people who get sick from Salmonella experience fever, diarrhea and abdominal cramps anywhere from 12 to 72 hours after consuming a contaminated item. The illness generally lasts four to seven days, but for those at highest risk — including infants, older people and those with a weakened immune system, such as pregnant women and anyone with a chronic illness, including diabetes — the illness can be serious, even life-threatening. Why take a chance?

There are plenty of recipes for homemade ice cream that don’t include eggs. But it’s likely your in-laws prefer the rich flavor and creaminess that egg yolks provide. If there’s no talking them into eggless ice cream, here are a few ideas from foodsafety.gov to play it safe:

  • Cook the egg base, also known as a custard base. Combine the eggs and milk as called for in the recipe. You can add the sugar at this step, too, if you’d like. Cook the mixture gently, stirring constantly, until it reaches 160 degrees F. That temperature is high enough to kill any Salmonella bacteria that might be present. Use a food thermometer to be sure. Afterward, chill the mixture before adding the other ingredients and freezing the ice cream.
  • Use an egg substitute instead of in-shell eggs. You might have to do some trial and error to determine the right amount.
  • Use pasteurized in-shell eggs. Although they’re more expensive, they are becoming more widely available. These come in a normal egg carton and are clearly labeled as pasteurized.

When it comes to adopting new food safety practices, it’s very common for people to resist unless they’ve experienced foodborne illness related to that particular food item. “We’ve always done it this way, and we’ve never had a problem” is a typical response. But when you’re serving other people, your first responsibility is for their health and well-being. Don’t let your relatives brush off your concerns, especially when your children are involved — and especially when there are perfectly reasonable alternatives available.

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 Linnette Goard, Ohio State University Extension’s specialist in Food Safety, Selection and Management

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

Planning vacation? Be a health-savvy traveler

chow_061215_178607548I don’t want to gain weight when I’m on vacation this summer, but for me that’s easier said than done. How can I keep my focus on a healthy diet during my trip and still have a good time?

Attitude is key. You really can have a good time on vacation and still make smart food choices. But it’s a lot more difficult if you think eating healthfully is all about self-sacrifice.

You’re not alone: There’s a very good reason for the term “comfort foods.” It’s not unusual for people to equate indulging in certain foods with fun, relaxation and good times, and those foods aren’t necessarily, say, carrots. So when you’re on vacation and focusing on pampering yourself, it’s easy to throw caution to the wind when it comes to food choices. But you’re smart enough to realize that you pay for that later.

One strategy you might want to try should begin before you even start packing your bags. It’s inspired by information about comfort foods from the Obesity Action Coalition (for more, go to www.obesityaction.org and search for “Comfort Foods — Why do they make us happy?”). It involves taking a few minutes to think about your vacation and writing down everything — as long as it’s not food-related — that you’re looking forward to about it. Will you be sticking your toes into a sandy beach? Seeing new sites in a favorite city? Visiting friends and relatives you haven’t seen in awhile? Giving yourself time to read a book or listen to music?

Writing these things down on paper will help you focus on them as the best things about your getaway. It will allow you put less emphasis on food choices that may, in the past, have been a big part of your vacation focus. By purposely shifting your focus away from food, it’s easier to make healthful food choices and not feel deprived. After all, you’re making that choice on a sunny beach — or wherever your itinerary takes you.

That said, making healthy choices while traveling does have its challenges. Here are some practical tips from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics:

  • When driving long distances, bring a water bottle and pack a small cooler to carry sealable plastic bags containing carrots, celery, bell peppers, snow peas, broccoli, cauliflower, grapes, cherries, strawberries or other favorite fresh fruits and vegetables. Also consider packing some yogurt and 2 percent milkfat cheese for some healthy protein options.
  • On occasions when fast food is the only option, be sure to get out of the car instead of using the drive-thru. Walk around for 5 or 10 minutes just to stretch your limbs and get some physical activity. Skip anything from the deep fryer and forgo cheese and extra sauces on sandwiches.
  • Breakfast offers a great opportunity to get some good sources of protein, whole grains and fiber. More often than not, choose eggs, oatmeal or other low-sugar cereal, low-fat yogurt and fresh fruit over doughnuts and sweet rolls.

See more at www.eatright.org; search for “travel.”

And one last thing: Every time you make a healthful choice, congratulate yourself. Don’t feel deprived. Feel great about pampering yourself in a whole new way.

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 Caroyn Gunther, Ohio State University Extension’s community nutrition specialist.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

Be sodium smart with soup, processed foods

chow_060515_468139785Does any canned soup contain just a small amount of sodium? Even the types marked as “healthy” seem to have quite a bit. Do I have to resort to making homemade soup?

You’re right — soups, like many other processed foods — can contain a frightful amount of sodium.

How much is too much? The recommendation is to limit sodium to less than 2,300 milligrams a day, or to just 1,500 milligrams if you’re 51 years or older, African-American, or if you have high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease. Americans in those categories account for about half of the U.S. population.

Unfortunately, the average sodium intake for Americans is more than 3,400 milligrams a day. Too much sodium contributes to high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke. Scientists estimate that reducing average sodium consumption by 400 milligrams a day could reduce deaths in the U.S. by 28,000 a year.

It sounds like you’re already reading labels: That is key. Besides looking at Nutrition Facts to find out how many milligrams of sodium there are per serving, also look for these terms and know what they mean:

  • Salt/Sodium-Free: Fewer than 5 milligrams of sodium per serving.
  • Very Low Sodium: 35 milligrams of sodium or less per serving.
  • Low Sodium: 140 milligrams of sodium or less per serving.
  • Reduced Sodium: At least 25 percent less sodium than in the original product. Note that these products often contain more than 140 milligrams of sodium per serving.
  • Light in Sodium or Lightly Salted: At least 50 percent less sodium than the regular product.
  • No-Salt-Added or Unsalted: No salt is added during processing, but these foods are not necessarily sodium-free. Check the Nutrition Facts Label to be sure.

One reason so much salt is added to processed foods is — you guessed it — flavor. Food manufacturers who try to drastically reduce sodium often find that those products don’t sell.

So, what can you do? Here are a few ideas:

  • Try looking in the organic or health food aisles for canned soup. Those products aren’t always low in sodium, but sometimes they are.
  • Do a web search for “no salt added soup” or “low sodium soup.” You might find brands to buy online that aren’t available at your local store.
  • Water down a favorite soup or broth enough so it reduces the sodium to an acceptable level. You can add back flavor and substance with garlic or other herbs and spices, including salt-free spice blends; fresh or frozen vegetables, such as chopped carrots, peppers and tomatoes; extra noodles or cooked chopped meat or poultry; or even a splash of wine or balsamic vinegar.

If you’re ready to try making soup from homemade stock, the American Heart Association offers ideas for boosting flavor. See them at bit.ly/AHAsoup.

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.