Healthy eating: The gift that keeps on giving

My grandchildren are coming for an extended visit over the holidays. I’ve been concerned about some of their eating habits, but as their grandma, I don’t want to make a big deal about it. What are some subtle things I can do while they’re here to encourage them to eat a little better?

What a great grandma! You deserve kudos for noticing potentially damaging eating habits developing in your grandchildren and caring enough to nudge them in a healthier direction.

Here are some ideas to try from youth nutrition specialists with Ohio State University Extension:

  • Adopt a “water first for thirst” policy. When the grandkids ask for something to drink, pour a nice big glass of ice water for them instead of high-sugar soft drinks or other beverages. Experts generally recommend children 4-8 years old drink 4 cups of water a day (without added sweeteners), and that increases to 7-8 cups for ages 9-13, and 8-11 cups for ages 14-18. For teens, that translates into drinking enough water to fill a 2-liter bottle. Lowfat (unflavored) milk also is a nutritious option. However, limit 100 percent fruit juice to less than 8 ounces a day, and avoid sweetened drinks altogether. Consider dressing up water by adding strawberry and orange slices or cucumber slices and mint.
  • Start a tradition of making healthful smoothies for breakfast or an afternoon snack. Just pack the blender full of fruit, such as bananas, strawberries, pineapple, peaches or mandarin oranges, plus ice cubes, yogurt and juice. You could even add fresh spinach for green smoothies. No need for extra sugar or ice cream. For thicker smoothies, try using frozen fruit.
  • Speaking of fruits and vegetables, keep a good variety on hand and make it as easy as possible for your grandchildren to eat. Depending on how old your grandchildren are, try slicing fruits and vegetables into bite-size pieces. In one study, younger elementary-school students said they found whole fruit to be too cumbersome to eat comfortably, and started eating much more of it when fruit was sliced for them. For preschoolers, be sure to cut grapes and cherry tomatoes in half before serving to be sure they aren’t a choking hazard.
  • While you’re at it, double up on vegetables both for snacks and during meals — most children don’t eat nearly enough. For snacks, consider having a large clear bowl in the fridge with ready-to-eat baby carrots, celery sticks, bell pepper strips, cucumber slices, and broccoli and cauliflower florets.
  • Other healthful snacks to consider keeping around include nuts, whole-grain crackers, rice cakes and air-popped popcorn.
  • Pay special attention when you’re eating out, when it’s very easy to overconsume empty calories. Try to steer them away from fried and breaded foods, even fried fish, chicken and vegetables. If french fries or potato chips come with a meal, ask if it’s possible to substitute a salad, fruit or soup.

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, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Carol Smathers, field specialist in Youth Nutrition and Wellness for Ohio State University Extension.

This column is being distributed earlier in the week than usual in anticipation of the Thanksgiving holiday.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

Kids not eating fruit? Try cutting, slicing it

 How can I get my grandchildren to eat more fruits and vegetables when they’re visiting? I am lucky that I get to have them over often, but I can’t seem to entice them to eat much produce.

You’re not alone. Most children (and teens and adults for that matter) don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

But for kids, you might try thinking small. That is, if you don’t already, try slicing fruits and vegetables into bite-size pieces. You might be surprised at the results.

Research by the Food and Brand Lab at Cornell University indicates that slicing fruit could increase consumption, at least in school cafeterias. You might find similar success at home.

For the study, published in 2013 in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, researchers first interviewed 23 elementary and middle school students and found two primary reasons why they avoided fresh fruit. Surprisingly, younger students said they found whole fruit to be too large and cumbersome to eat comfortably. Students with braces or missing teeth said the same thing. The second reason? The older students, particularly girls, said they felt the whole fruit was messy and unattractive to eat in front of others.

The researchers decided to test how slicing fruit, specifically apples, would affect consumption. They provided eight elementary schools with a commercial apple slicer. When students requested an apple, a cafeteria worker would slice it before giving it to the student. By doing so, the sales of whole fruit increased in the schools by an average of 61 percent.

The researchers then followed up their study in middle schools. Of six middle schools in a district, three were provided the commercial apple slicer, and three weren’t. In all, the slicers increased average daily apple sales by 71 percent. The researchers also examined cafeteria waste to determine how much of the apples served were eaten. They found that in schools with the fruit slicers, the percentage of students who ate more than half their apple increased by 73 percent.

This all points to how important it can be to pay as much attention to how food is served as to which food is served when it comes to encouraging kids to eat fruits and vegetables. Other research has shown that promoting cafeteria salad bars with superhero-type characters can increase consumption of vegetables. And, of course, children tend to pick up habits from watching important adults in their lives, so be sure to model the behavior you want to see them imitate.

Another thing to consider, depending on how old your grandchildren are, is to make sure there are no choking hazards. The USDA suggests cutting foods like grapes and cherry tomatoes in half before serving them to preschoolers.

For more information about overcoming barriers to eating healthy, take a look at the Cornell lab’s website at foodpsychology.cornell.edu. For tips from the USDA according to age group, see choosemyplate.gov/audience.

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

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

Turn tables on food ads: Make veggies fun

We tend to eat a lot of vegetables and fruit at home, not only during meals but for snacks too. But our daughter seems to be getting less interested in “good” food and is asking for more sweets and salty snacks. How can we steer her back to healthy eating?

First, good for you for being a good role model for healthful eating. That’s the first, and, some say, the most important step to influencing your daughter’s adoption of healthy habits to last a lifetime.

But as you’re finding out, you’re not the only influence on your daughter. It’s nothing new: Food and beverage advertisers spend nearly $15 billion each year targeting children and teens in the U.S. And, recent studies reveal that more than 80 percent of the food advertisements that adults and children see on television are for foods that are classified as unhealthy.

These marketing efforts have an impact. In the journal Obesity Reviews in July, researchers at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, analyzed 29 previous studies and found that children are significantly more likely to eat foods high in sugar or salt after seeing food commercials, print advertisements, video games, branded logos and packaging with licensed characters. That’s especially important because other studies reveal that children are exposed to an average of five food ads every hour, the researchers said.

Still, you don’t have to just throw up your hands and give up. In fact, other recent research shows that marketing techniques can also be used to encourage children to eat healthfully.

In that study, published in Pediatrics, researchers at Cornell University created a team of super-power characters called Super Sprowtz, including Miki Mushroom, Zach Zucchini and Suzie Sweet Pea. They put banners including the characters on salad bars in school lunchrooms, and in some lunchrooms they also played a video depicting the characters. In schools with just the banners, 24 percent of the students took vegetables from the salad bar, almost double the number before the banners were installed. In schools that also showed the video, kids choosing vegetables more than tripled, from 10 percent to almost 35 percent. As one of the researchers, who is now at The Ohio State University, said, putting time and resources into marketing healthy choices to kids can work.

What does that mean for your family? Limit your daughter’s exposure to junk food and beverage ads on TV and other outlets. And, be sure her school actively promotes fruits and vegetables, minimizes exposure to ads for unhealthy foods and beverages, and adheres to “Smart Snacks in School.” That regulation requires all foods sold in schools during the school day meet nutrition standards, whether they’re meals, a la carte items, or items sold in school stores and vending machines.

At home, try ways to keep the fun in healthy foods. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has a tip sheet with creative approaches to “Kid-friendly vegetables and fruits,” online at go.osu.edu/kidfriendly. Your daughter can regain her enjoyment of eating right by creating her own unique — and healthy — snacks.

Chow Line is a service of The Ohio State University’s 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, field specialist in Youth 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 file of this column, please click here.

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.

With kids, emphasize whole fruit over juice

chow_120415-496953208My grandchildren will be spending a few days with us during the holidays. My daughter, their mother, mentioned the other day that she hoped I wouldn’t overload them on soft drinks and juice while they’re here. I can understand soft drinks, but what’s wrong with fruit juice?  

Times have changed. Back in the day, pediatricians and nutrition professionals encouraged parents to serve children 100 percent fruit juice as a healthy source of vitamin C and other nutrients. It wasn’t unusual to see a toddler toddling around with a sippy cup of juice from morning till night.

But there are downsides to drinking so much fruit juice, too. That’s why, for more than a decade, authorities have recommended that juice consumption be limited to just 4-6 ounces a day for children 1 to 6 years old, and 8-12 ounces for older children. For people of all ages, fruit juice should be limited to half of your daily fruit consumption.

What could be wrong with fruit juice? The American Academy of Pediatrics, among other health authorities, offers these insights:

  • Too much juice can lead to the consumption of too many calories. Six ounces of orange juice, for example, contains about the same number of calories as a large orange, but the juice isn’t nearly as filling as the whole fruit. That could lead to eating other, less nutrient-dense foods with even more calories.
  • Drinking juice instead of milk could mean a reduced intake of protein, fat, vitamins and minerals such as iron, calcium and zinc — nutrients children need for healthy growth.
  • Excessive amounts of juice can cause diarrhea.
  • Prolonged exposure to juice has been associated with the development of cavities.

With all that in mind, the pediatricians’ association provided guidance on fruit juice consmuption in 2001. The recommendations include:

  • Fruit juice should not be introduced into the diet of infants before 6 months of age. It offers no nutritional benefits over breast milk or infant formula.
  • Infants should not be given juice from bottles or easily transportable covered cups that allow them to consume juice easily throughout the day. Infants should not be given juice at bedtime.
  • Children should be encouraged to eat whole fruits to meet their recommended daily fruit intake.
  • Infants, children, and adolescents should not consume unpasteurized juice, which may contain pathogens that could cause serious illness.
  • Fruit juice should be provided as part of a meal or snack, not served on its own.

It’s worth noting that these recommendations are related to 100 percent fruit juice, whether or not it’s reconstituted from concentrate. Similar beverages, often labeled as “fruit drink” or “fruit cocktail,” often contain added sugars and provide as little as 10 percent real juice. Look at the labels.

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 state specialist in Community Nutrition Education.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

Preschool ideal time to focus on healthy eating

chow_110615-179322257We recently moved, and my children are attending a new child care center. I’m surprised at how much it focuses on healthy eating and exercise, and I wonder if it’s a bit too much for preschoolers. Could it lead to a backlash later?

Actually, early childhood is the ideal time to establish healthy eating and physical activity habits. In fact, researchers of a recent study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology recommend promoting healthy diet and exercise with children as young as 3 to 5 years old to help prevent cardiovascular disease later in life. In their study, young children who were introduced to a heart-healthy lifestyle program showed better attitudes, habits and knowledge about heart health up to three years afterwards than children who weren’t exposed to the program. They were also less prone to be overweight or obese.

One way preschools and early child care centers can improve child nutrition is by providing healthy, locally grown foods. According to data gathered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, farm-to-school programs in schools improve acceptance of healthier foods in cafeterias by 28 percent and reduce the amount of food that students throw in the trash by 17 percent. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention supports such programs in early care and education settings, saying that such activities help to shape early taste preferences and support the formation of healthy habits to last a lifetime. “Farm to Preschool” activities include:

  • Purchasing locally grown foods for snacks and meals.
  • Garden-based educational programs.
  • Cooking demonstrations with local foods.
  • Classroom visits from farmers.

If your children’s child care center doesn’t already have a local foods program up and running, there are plenty of resources available to help. Both the National Farm to School Network (farmtoschool.org) and the USDA Food and Nutrition Service’s Farm to School program (www.fns.usda.gov/farmtoschool/farm-school) have information specifically for preschools and other early child care centers. Among their tips:

  • Start small, perhaps with a special local foods event or by providing one local food item each month.
  • Start simple. Fruits and vegetables are often the easiest locally sourced foods. Local milk is usually easy to find, too.
  • The child care center’s current food service company may be able to supply locally grown foods — the center just needs to ask. The center can also seek out local farmers willing to sell foods directly. State leaders with the National Farm to School Network can help link up your children’s center with local farmers. To find your state’s leader, see the listing at farmtoschool.org/our-network.

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 field specialist in Youth Nutrition and Wellness, and the state lead for Farm to School.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

Encourage your child to eat a healthy breakfast

chow_090415_87621125It’s always a struggle to get my children to eat a good breakfast before school. How can I make them get up early enough to be sure they start the day right?

Breakfast is important for kids heading to the classroom: The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics advises that regularly eating a nutrient-rich breakfast helps children in several ways, including improving school performance and helping with maintaining a healthy weight. A good breakfast — something that provides a variety of nutrient-rich foods — provides nourishment for both muscle power and brain power.

Eating a healthy breakfast doesn’t have to take a lot of time. Here are some ideas to help make sure the kids don’t skip out without fueling up first, courtesy of nutrition experts with various organizations, including the dietetics academy, the Food and Drug Administration, and eXtension.org, which is the online outreach presence of the nation’s land-grant university system:

  • Prepare the night before. Put breakfast cereal and bowls on the table or peanut butter and whole-grain bread on the counter to make breakfast easy to prepare.
  • Have easy-to-handle fruit available on the counter or in the refrigerator to eat on the way out the door. Bananas, apples, peaches, pears and plums are all easy to grab and go. Younger kids are even more likely to eat bite-size pieces of fruit. Try putting some slices of fruit in a small plastic bag to go.
  • Be sure to have plenty of healthful options on hand. Buy breakfast cereals or cereal bars made with whole grains and with 8 grams or less of sugar per serving. Choose nonfat or low-fat milk, yogurt and cheese, and whole-grain bread, English muffins and tortillas.
  • Leave your blender on the counter to make easy breakfast shakes. Combine frozen berries, milk or yogurt, and even some protein powder — or come up with your own recipe — and blend them together for a quick and filling morning treat.
  • Make breakfast wraps using whole-wheat tortillas filled with low-fat cheese and apple slices or peanut butter and banana slices.
  • Think outside the breakfast box. Nontraditional foods work just as well as scrambled eggs to fuel the body. Offer your kids string cheese, a handful of nuts or trail mix, tuna salad, leftover chicken breast, a peanut butter sandwich, or whole-wheat crackers with low-fat cheese.
  • Be a role model. If your kids see that you’re in too much of a rush and skip breakfast more often than not, then they will, too.

If you haven’t already, you should also check out your children’s school’s breakfast program. These days, more than 90 percent of schools that participate in the National School Lunch Program also offer breakfast, and in the last few years, new breakfast standards regarding whole grain-rich foods, calories, trans fats, sodium and other dietary considerations have gone into effect. If an at-home breakfast truly isn’t in the cards at your house, it’s likely a healthy breakfast at school is an option.

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.

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.