Childhood Obesity Awareness Month

September is Childhood Obesity Awareness Month. Did you know that one in three children in the United States is overweight or obese? Children with obesity are at a greater risk of developing other health problems like asthma, sleep apnea, bone and joint problems, and type 2 diabetes.

 

There are many factors that influence childhood obesity, making it difficult to prevent and treat. For one, diet has a significant impact on weight and obesity risk. Eating excess calories, saturated fat, and sugar contributes to weight gain. These foods high in calories, saturated fat, and sugar are widely available, inexpensive, and oftentimes are what’s most appealing to children, making it hard for children to decrease intake. An inactive lifestyle can also increase the risk of obesity. Eating too many calories combined with insufficient exercise can make it even more difficult to prevent overweight and obesity. Older children and adolescents are especially likely to not sleep enough, and inadequate sleep can also contribute to childhood obesity.

 

Weight gain is a part of healthy child development and growth, so it can be hard to know what the balance is between healthy weight gain and too much weight gain. Here are some ways to help your children grow without gaining too much weight:

 

  • Regular Pediatrician Visits: Your child’s pediatrician can use growth charts and your child’s height and weight to determine if they’re growing at a healthy rate. Annual physicals by a pediatrician can help catch any excess weight gain early and prevent progression to obesity.

 

  • Promote a Healthy Lifestyle: Providing adequate drinking water, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and lean protein can help ensure your children are eating enough nutritious foods and less of the foods that can lead to weight gain, such as chips, desserts, and sugar-sweetened beverages. Be a role model for your children by eating nutritious foods, getting enough sleep, and exercising every day.
  • Shape a Healthy School Environment: Knowing your children are in a healthy school environment can give you confidence that they’re in a healthy environment both at home and away from home. Encourage school officials to provide opportunities for children to get physical activity at school through recess, gym class, in-class activities, and after-school sports. Also, you may suggest removing or decreasing access to vending machines and other snacks provided at lunch that contribute to weight gain.

 

Children with obesity are more likely to be obese as adults and develop many health problems, so now is the time to take action and prevent obesity for children and adolescents!

-Cara

Storage of Fruits and Vegetables

With all the different fruits and vegetables available at the grocery store and Farmers Market, it’s hard to know exactly how to store all of them. Here’s a quick reference guide for storing your fresh fruits and vegetables:

 

Fruits and vegetables that should be stored in the refrigerator (at 40°F or below) include apples (if stored kept longer than 7 days), apricots, Asian pears, berries, cherries, cut fruit, figs, grapes, artichokes, asparagus, green beans, beets, Belgian endive, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, cut vegetables, green onions, herbs (not basil), leafy vegetables, leeks, lettuce, mushrooms, peas, radishes, spinach, sprouts, summer squashes, and sweet corn. They should be stored in separate, perforated plastic bags in produce drawers (one drawer for fruits and one for vegetables).

A circle arrangement of fruits and vegetables

Fruits that should be ripened on the counter, then refrigerated include avocados, kiwi, nectarines, peaches, pears, plums, and plumcots. When ripening, store different fruits separately in either a paper bag, perforated plastic bag, or ripening bowl away from sunlight.

Fruits and vegetables that should only be stored at room temperature out of direct sunlight include apples (if stored fewer than 7 days), bananas, citrus fruits, mangoes, melons, papayas, persimmons, pineapple, plantain, pomegranates, basil (in water), ginger, jicama, pumpkins, tomatoes, and winter squashes. Garlic, onions, potatoes, and sweet potatoes should be stored in a well-ventilated area in the pantry. Cucumbers, eggplants, and peppers should also be stored at room temperature but can be refrigerated for a few days if they’re used soon after removing from the refrigerator.

Remember to wash fresh fruits and vegetables under running water before you cut, eat, or cook them. Fruits and vegetables labeled “ready-to-eat” or “washed” don’t need to be washed again before using. After they’re cut, all fruits and vegetables should be stored in an airtight food storage container or a resealable plastic bag in the refrigerator. Refrigerate cut, peeled, and cooked fruits and vegetables within two hours.

Wash fruits and vegetables in cool running water before freezing. Fruits should be treated with ascorbic acid before freezing, while vegetables should be blanched before freezing. Only use freezer-safe containers or bags when freezing fruits and vegetables. Do not thaw frozen vegetables before using them. Fruit that’s been frozen is best served partially frozen.

  • Cara

Eating More Whole Grains

Grains have gotten a bad reputation these days. While refined grains may contribute to weight gain and health problems, eating more whole grains can help you lose weight and reduce your risk of chronic diseases like heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and colorectal cancer.

All grains started as whole grains with the whole part of the seed intact: the bran, the germ, and the endosperm. The bran contains antioxidants, B vitamins, and fiber; the germ contains B vitamins, some protein, minerals, and healthy fats; the endosperm contains carbohydrates, proteins, and small amounts of vitamins and minerals. Refined grains have the bran and germ removed, leaving only the endosperm. Because refined grains have part of the grain removed, they have fewer vitamins, minerals, and fiber than whole grains.Two hands full of grain

Examples of whole grains include whole wheat, brown rice, wild rice, quinoa, oats, buckwheat, whole grain corn, farro, millet, sorghum, and spelt. Packaged foods made with 100% whole grains usually list the whole grain they’re made with at the beginning of their ingredient label. Just because a product like bread is brown instead of white doesn’t mean it’s 100% whole grain. For example, “multigrain” or “wheat” bread aren’t necessarily 100% whole grain, so it’s important to read the ingredients list. Also, The Whole Grains Council’s “100% Whole Grain Stamp” indicates that one serving of the product has at least one serving of whole grains per serving and that all of the grains in it are whole.

Aim to make at least half of your grains whole. You can make these swaps for whole grains gradual. Start by making simple shifts to grains like 100% whole wheat bread, pasta, tortillas; brown rice, oatmeal, and grits. For foods like pasta, you can try starting with half white/refined pasta and half whole grain pasta. Include whole grains in your snacks, such as 100% whole wheat crackers or low-fat, unsalted butter. Some whole grains like brown rice take a while to cook. Save time by cooking double of what you need and refrigerating or freezing the leftovers. When baking foods like muffins, replace half of the all-purpose flour with whole wheat flour.

Like any lifestyle changes, switching to whole grains does not have to be all at once. Start with small steps towards eating more whole grains! What whole grain products can you try this week?

-Cara

Slow Cooker Safety

Slow cookers provide endless opportunities to cook all kinds of foods, from soups and casseroles to dips and vegetables. You can put ingredients in your slow cooker in the morning and come home to a ready-to-eat dinner. While we often think about using slow cookers in the cold weather months to make a hot meal, slow cookers are also great to use in the warm months because they put out less heat than an oven.

 

slow cookerSlow cookers work by heating food at a low temperature, so food will take longer to cook than they might in the oven or on the stovetop. This is great for tougher cuts of meat like shanks, chuck roasts, and shoulders, as the low temperature helps make them more tender. The direct heat and long cooking time help ensure that meat cooked in the slow cooker will reach a safe internal temperature for consumption. There are other food safety considerations to be mindful of when using a slow cooker, such as the following:

  • Before Beginning: Make sure your slow cooker and work area are clean. Place the slow cooker in a secure location, such as a high countertop, where it won’t be knocked, touched, or come in contact with other kitchen tools or food. The outside of the slow cooker can still become hot to the touch, so keep it away from children.
  • Ingredients: Thaw frozen foods like meat and poultry in the refrigerator before adding them to the slow cooker. Always keep perishable ingredients refrigerated until you begin preparing them. When cooking dry beans in your slow cooker, soak them first and boil for at least 10 minutes before adding to the slow cooker.
  • Preparation: Add vegetables to the bottom and sides of the slow cooker since they cook slower than meat. Starchy vegetables like potatoes, green beans, and carrots cook well in the slow cooker with enough time. After vegetables, add meat, then a liquid such as broth or water, as indicated by the recipe. Properly secure the lid and leave it on the whole time the food is cooking. Use the low setting for all-day cooking and for less tender cuts of meat.
  • After Cooking: Before removing food from the slow cooker, check the temperature with a food thermometer to ensure it has reached a safe internal temperature. After the slow cooker has finished the programmed cooking time, it will keep the food at a safe temperature until ready to serve. If you have leftovers, store them in a shallow container and cool within 2 hours at room temperature before covering and refrigerating.

 

For more information on slow cooker safety, visit https://www.fsis.usda.gov/shared/PDF/Slow_Cookers_and_Food_Safety.pdf

 

-Cara

Ways to Add Beans to Your Diet

dry bean assortmentLegumes are types of foods in the protein food group which include lentils, edamame/soybeans, split peas, chickpeas/garbanzo beans, and other beans such as kidney beans, lima beans, red beans, navy beans, black beans, pinto beans, black-eyed peas, cannellini beans, and Great Northern beans. Beans and other legumes are rich in fiber, folate, potassium, iron, magnesium, and are low in fat. Eating more beans and other legumes can help lower blood pressure, improve heart health, and regulate blood sugar levels. They’re inexpensive and can be added to a variety of dishes. Note that while string beans are a nutritious, starchy vegetable, they are not considered legumes like other kinds of beans.

When you buy canned beans, look for low-sodium options. Drain and rinse canned beans before eating or cooking reduce sodium even further. To prepare dry beans, soak them (for at least 48 hours to reduce gastrointestinal side effects), then drain and rinse beans in cold water. Place soaked beans in a pot, cover with water, and let them come to a boil on the stovetop. After boiling for 10 minutes, reduce heat to low and continue cooking until beans are soft and can be easily mashed (usually around 45 minutes depending on the bean). If you cook beans in a slow cooker, make sure to boil them on the stovetop before finishing cooking in your slow cooker.

Not sure what to do with your beans once they’re ready to eat? Here are a few ways you can eat beans!

Salads: Top your salad with beans for a nutritional boost. You can also make a bean-based salad, like this fiesta salad.

Soups: You can add beans of your choice to any soup, such as chicken noodle soup and potato soup. Also, try bean-based soups like taco soup and chili.

Rice and Beans: Rice and beans is a quick nutritious meal. Brown rice and beans together provide plenty of fiber, and you can add all kinds of vegetables and sauces. For example, you can try rice and beans with salsa, tomatoes, salad greens, onion, and bell pepper.

Hummus/Bean Dip: Hummus (made with chickpeas) pairs well with vegetables and whole grain crackers. Chickpeas aren’t the only bean you can use to make a bean dip–you can also try making bean dips with other types of beans like black beans and kidney beans.

Tacos: Use beans instead of meat for a less expensive taco recipe. If you want to include some meat, you can replace some of the meat with beans. This is a great way to slowly add beans to your diet!

Hidden: Add whole or mashed beans to recipes with ground beef (like meatloaf, meatballs, and hamburgers) and sauces (such as spaghetti sauce) where you may not even realize they’re there.

Eggs: Try Southwest-style eggs with black beans, salsa, onions, bell pepper, and other vegetables. You can also make an egg burrito with beans.

A common complaint about eating beans is the gastrointestinal side effects like bloating and gas. This is completely normal when your body isn’t used to eating beans. Make sure to rinse canned beans very well and cook dry beans until they’re very soft to eliminate as much of the gas-producing carbohydrates as possible. Also, introduce beans into your diet very slowly. Start with just a couple of tablespoons, then gradually add more by the tablespoon as you tolerate small amounts over time. Lastly, you can add spices like cumin and ginger when you’re cooking beans to help with digestion.

How will you try beans this week?

 

Kids Eat Right Month

adult cutting lettuce with child watchingAugust is a big month to recognize nutrition for youth health. A healthy diet is important for children and adolescents because it promotes needed growth and development and it prevents health problems later in life. To recognize Kids Eat Right Month, here are some tips for helping your children eat right every day:

 Quick Breakfasts

Most school-aged children are awake for school early in the morning, making it difficult to eat a good breakfast, or even eat breakfast at all. Set your children up for success from the start of their days by giving them nutritious breakfast options. Try to include a fruit or vegetable, whole grain (such as whole wheat toast, cereal, or an English muffin), and source of protein (such as eggs, milk, or yogurt) or unsaturated fat (such as nuts, avocado, and plant-based oils). Here are a few breakfast ideas to get you started:

  • Whole wheat toast with a plant-based oil (such as olive oil) and a piece of fruit
  • Overnight oats or oatmeal with fruit and nuts
  • Hard-boiled egg with a piece of fruit and a whole grain muffin
  • Whole grain English muffin with chopped fruit and peanut butter
  • Whole grain pancakes (made ahead of time) with chopped fruit and peanut butter
  • Whole grain cereal with nonfat or low-fat milk and a piece of fruit
  • Nonfat or low-fat yogurt with fruit and nuts
  • Omelet with vegetables and a piece of fruit
  • Egg burrito with a whole wheat tortilla, black beans, scrambled eggs, and vegetables
  • Egg sandwich with a whole grain English muffin, egg, and slice of low-fat cheese

You may think eggs take too long to cook in the morning, but there are ways to make it easier to eat eggs for breakfast. One way is to bake eggs in a muffin tin in advance and refrigerate them until you’re ready to reheat them. Also, you can cook scrambled eggs in the microwave instead of on the stovetop. If you like hard-boiled eggs, you can make a whole batch in advance and refrigerate them. Hard-boiled eggs make a great choice any time of the day!

At-School or Packed Lunches

Whether your child brings a lunch from home or eats school-provided lunch, there are many ways your child can get the nutrition they need to keep them nourished and focused. When packing a lunch, pack it the night before and refrigerate it so the lunchbox is cold when your child leaves for school, saving valuable time in the morning! Also, choose an insulated, soft-sided lunchbox and use frozen ice packs to keep cold foods cold. Use an insulated container like a thermos for hot foods like soup. If possible, have your children refrigerate cold foods once they get to school.

When packing a lunch for your child, try and include foods that don’t need to be microwaved since the school may not provide a microwave to students. Sandwiches are an easy and versatile lunch choice. Use whole wheat sandwich bread, whole wheat pita bread, or a whole wheat tortilla. Try spreads like hummus, mustard, and mashed avocado instead of mayonnaise. Look for low-sodium deli meats and low-fat cheeses. Go for as many vegetables as your child likes, such as tomatoes, greens (lettuce, spinach, arugula, Swiss chard), bell pepper, cucumber, carrots, and onions. For peanut butter and jelly, go “light” on the jelly or use fresh fruit to reduce sugar intake. For “salad” sandwiches like tuna or chicken salad, use low-fat mayonnaise and swap some of the mayonnaise for plain low-fat yogurt. In addition to a sandwich, put other foods in their lunch to get all 5 food groups and keep them full through the afternoon. This might include a piece of fruit, raw vegetables (such as carrots, celery, and broccoli), low-fat or non-fat yogurt, peanut butter, hummus, and whole grain crackers.

When buying lunch at school, children should avoid choosing packaged foods like chips and cookies. Encourage kids to choose grilled or baked protein options over fried, and load up on vegetables and fruits. Also, encourage them to choose drinks like water or milk instead of sugar-sweetened beverages.

After-School Snacks

With hungry children and teens coming home from school, be prepared with nutritious snacks that won’t spoil their dinner. Try a homemade trail mix with whole grain cereal or pretzels, nuts or seeds, and dried fruit. You can also pop your own popcorn (or buy low-fat, low-salt popcorn) and add seasonings and spices instead of salt, such as grated Parmesan cheese, chili powder, and cinnamon. For a cold treat, make a smoothie with low-fat yogurt and frozen fruit. Keep ready-to-eat vegetables like chopped celery and cucumber in the refrigerator that are convenient for children to grab and eat after school. Likewise, keep whole pieces of fruit on hand such as apples, bananas, oranges, and pears. Whole grain crackers with low-sodium deli meat and low-fat cheese are a more nutritious alternative to pre-packaged snack combinations.

Having children participate in preparing food is a great way to encourage them to try the food you make. Fruit salsa can be made in advance and children can help prepare it–and it tastes great with homemade cinnamon crisps!

Family Dinners

Dinnertime is a great time to get kids involved with cooking. As with any meal or snack, have your children play a role in shopping, deciding what to eat, and preparing the food to encourage them to eat the nutritious foods you buy. Preschoolers can help with gathering kitchen tools and ingredients, measuring ingredients, and mixing things together. Show them the recipe along the way to get them acquainted with following a recipe before they learn how to read. Young school-aged children can start learning how to use a plastic knife. Have them help cut softer fruits and vegetables like bananas and mushrooms instead of harder ones like apples and carrots. This is also a good age to have children start setting the dinner table for you. Pre-teens and teens, with enough practice, may be able to cook whole meals on their own, or can at least assist with most steps involved in making dinner.

Eating dinner as a family can help children do better in school, promote high self-esteem, lower risk of obesity, and much more! It’s also a great opportunity to teach children table manners and how to have a conversation without cell phones and other electronics involved. Eating nutritious, satisfying foods is important for your children’s health, but the time spent eating with your family is also a key part of their health, so try and eat together as a family every night.

Remember to set a good example for your children. Model healthy eating, physical activity, and getting enough sleep to encourage them to do the same. You’re their biggest role models–take advantage of this and help them eat right!