1/17/11

Raising Healthy Eaters

While I was interning one day last week, I picked up our local Health Magazine called Natural Awakenings.
I came across an article written by Leannette Lee Bessinger (award winning lifestyle and nutrition educator) and Tracee Yablon Brenner, a RD who founded RealFoodMoms.com.
Although my children all have fur and four legs, I think many parents would agree that it is hard to raise healthy eaters. Regardless if you are trying to adapt more heart-healthy eating habits (alongside daily physical activity), it's tough to want to eat fruits and veggies when "all the other kids get to eat whatever they want".
I remember my childhood. Lots of candy. I became a vegetarian at the age of 12 but my diet didn't reflect heart healthy eating. My diet was filled with pasta, pizza (bagel bites), cheese, bagels, soda and more cheese and every now and then an ice berg salad drenched in ranch dressing.
While my healthy relationship with food, alongside heart-healthy vegetarian habits to support my endurance training and racing lifestyle, didn't happen over night, I feel confident that I have habits in my life that will last forever, because I enjoy what I prepare and put into my body.

Here are a few pieces from the article:
-About one in three older babies and toddlers are not eating a single vegetable on a given day and eating habits don't improve as children get older.
-According to a benchmark National Cancer Institute study, only 1% of all children between the ages of 2 and 19 years meet all requirements by the USDA Food Guide Pyramid.
-In 2010, the ADA (American Dietetic Association) reported that upwards of 23 million U.S. children and adolescents are now overweight or obese and currently at risk for other health problems associated with obesity. That's nearly 1 in 3 children.
-Key parental practices can have long-ranging benefits for the family:
1) Keep a neutral attitude about food, even if it's counterintuitive. When introducing solids to a child, it is helpful to present the foods in a relaxed, neutral way, with no pressure to eat them.
2) Avoid labeling certain foods as good, bad or even healthy to sidestep the response "This is good for me? I don't like it!"
3) Be patient. It may take up to 15 presentations before a child is willing to try something new and then several tastings before they decide they like it.
4) Offer a variety of flavors from a very young age to familiarize children with many dimensions of tastes and textures.

-A diet high in simple carbs (ex. crackers, sweetened cereals, 100% fruit juices) not only keeps sugar levels slightly elevated but prevents the true hunger signal from turning on fully. This, in turn causes little ones to act finicky about certain foods, like vegetables. It can also prompt them to eat less of more nutritionally balanced foods on their plate at mealtime.
-In children who have blood sugar sensitivity (any kind), the more sweet foods they eat, the more they will tend to want. If a parent wants to offer a sweet snack, include some additional fiber, protein or healthy fat to balance it, because these nutrients act as a time-release mechanism for sugars and will help to regulate a more natural appetite.
-According to the ADA's Pediatric Manual of Clinical Dietetics, vegetarian children tend to be leaner than their non-vegetarian peers: it doesn't mean that simply eliminating meat is a recipe for obesity prevention.
-According to the ADA, a varied and appropriately planned vegetarian diet can meet all of a growing baby and toddler's nutritional needs.
-To encourage reluctant youngesters to eat more vegetables, try roasting them, especially green produce and root veggies. Also serve a new vegetable in a way similar to one that they already like; eg. baking homemade sweet potato fries cut in familiar shapes. Kid-size veggies like mini-broccoli trees or baby carrots have appeal. Dressing up plain veggies with dips and shakers of a mild herb, spice, Parmesan cheese, ground seeds or wheat germ adds to the fun.
-Encourage toddlers to help out in the kitchen by asking them to wash and sort the veggies or arrange them in a pretty way on the platter. If children are involved in preparing foods, they are more likely to eat them.


What I really like about this article is that the article really relates to my life, my athletes and likely, everyone reading this blog. It's not about a number on a scale, a certain size clothing or calorie restriction/extreme exercise. Rather, healthy eating is all about living a quality life with quality food in the body. Regardless of your current diet, weight or lifestyle routine, incorporating more wholesome (foods close to or from the earth) foods into your daily diet will likely leave you feeling satisfied at and between meals and with more energy to meet your daily goals.

Any other tips for raising healthy eaters? I'd love to hear your tips for encouraging your children (or yourself) to eat more fruits and veggies.