Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Staying Well during Flu Season

Despite what you may see advertised, there are no miracle foods or vitamins that can help prevent or cure any type of flu. There are, however, plenty of smart things you can do to keep your family as healthy as possible this season.

Cough like a vampire. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), you should cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Put your used tissue in the waste basket. If you don’t have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve or elbow, not your hands. Children, who rarely carry tissues, can easily be taught to "cough like a vampire" with a cape over their months.

Keep your hands clean. One of the best ways to stay healthy is to wash your hands properly and frequently. This will help protect you from all germs, including seasonal flu and the H1N1 virus. Use soap and warm water - and wash for 15 to 20 seconds. When soap and water are not available, use alcohol-based hand wipes or gel sanitizers.

Drink plenty of fluids. Water is always a refreshing choice. Tea, especially antioxidant-rich green tea, can be a nice way to warm up and stay hydrated anytime. 100% orange or other juice is also good, but don’t overdo it: A small glass a day is plenty. Drinking enough fluids (6 to 8 cups a day) will help keep your mucous membranes moist and able to fight off germs.

Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. Produce is packed with the nutrients that your immune system needs to fight viruses and bacteria of all types. Go for all types of brightly colored fruits and veggies. They will have more of the disease-fighting antioxidants, like vitamin C and beta-carotene. Fresh, frozen, dried, canned in juice, and 100% juice can all offer health benefits.

Choose nutrient-rich snacks. During flu season, your body needs every drop of nutrition it can get, so don’t waste your calories on ‘empty’ snacks. Skip the chips, cookies, and colas. Feed your body well with a variety of tasty nutrient-rich items. In addition to fruits and veggies, go for sunflower seeds, nuts (almonds, walnuts, cashews, etc.), low-fat yogurt, and beef jerky.

Consider a multi-vitamin/mineral supplement. This is the right time of year for a little extra nutrition insurance, a basic vitamin/mineral pill with 100% of the Daily Value (DV) for most nutrients. Although super-expensive supplements with mega-doses are mostly a waste of your money, you may want to look for a supplement with 800 to 1000 IUs of vitamin D. While there is still discussion about the value of D, many experts are recommend more than the DV of 400 IUs for optimal health and well-being.

For more ideas of staying well in flu season, read Beat the Bug on Kids Eat Right.

Friday, December 24, 2010


The article of the week from the Kid's Eat Right campaign is all about the importance of the Family Table (and there's also a yummy looking recipe for a Kwansaa cake with sweet potatoes, carrots, and raisins).

What better way to celebrate the comfort and the magic of the holidays ... and family meals ... than to cook with child. It doesn't have to be anything complicated or fancy ... some Christmas cookies, a Kwansaa cake, or a noodle. It's the time together that is important ... the planning, the shopping, the time together in the kitchen. Memories like these with last far longer than any toy you buy ... and they are worth all the mess that is part of the process.

5 Easy Ways to Make Cooking Cool for Kids

Cooking with kids helps teach many things in addition to food and nutrition skills. Cooking can help teach culture (different people enjoy a variety of foods); real life math (fractions for doubling or halving ingredients); organization (getting things ready); and following directions (reading a recipe). For more information about easy family meals, visit Enriching Family Mealtimes.

1. Get kids involved in planning meals and snacks.

Although you may see cooking as a chore, kids see the kitchen as an exciting and even a magical place. Everyone loves to be involved in choosing their favorite dishes for meals and foods for snacks. For small children, eating becomes something much more special when “I got to pick it out” – and even better when “I made it myself.”

2. Get kids involved in shopping for new foods.

Food shopping with children works best when they are well rested and not hungry. Use your trip through the aisles to talk about possible meals and different ways to prepare various foods. Allow children to choose a new item that appeals to them – like a fresh fruit or vegetable from the produce department, a local farmer’s market, or your garden.

3. Get kids involved in kitchen safety.

All children need adult supervision in the kitchen. Give frequent reminders about what is OK to touch and which items could be dangerous. Talk about which kitchen tasks are for grown-ups and which are for kids. Establish kitchen rules, like never touching a hot stove, being careful with knives, washing hands often, and keeping all surfaces clean too.

4. Get kids involved in preparing tasty recipes.

Children are able to manage different kitchen tasks at different ages. A preschooler can stir ingredients that have been pre-measured; an elementary age child can read the recipe and do the measuring and mixing themselves; tweens can learn to cut, chop, and dice safely; and teens may be able to try challenging techniques from a TV cooking show.

5. Get kids involved in setting an appealing table.

Children are justifiably proud when they make even simple dishes, like a fruit salad or a sandwich, themselves. You can reinforce their success (and desire to try cooking again) by making the table setting special as well. Put their creation on a ‘fancy’ plate, light a small candle, use colored napkins, or put some flowers in a vase.

Wishing you and your family all the blessings of the season!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Tis' the week before Christmas ...

... and every flat surface of our lives seems to covered with appealing holiday foods and beverages, with a few fruits and veggies thrown in as a garnish or after-thought.

Tis' the week before Christmas ... and stress levels are also topping the charts. Millions of ads urging us to buy, buy, buy to have the perfect holiday ... it's drive anyone to the egg nog (and I'll have a side of almond roca with that, please!). It's no wonder that the world begins to feel like a nutrition minefield.

Because I sincerely believe that is is possible to survive the holidays with your health and spirit intact, I wrote about Savoring Holidays Foods for Comfort, Joy, and Good Health in the December Healthy Families newsletter from Eat Right Montana. Download a copy today for fun tips on giving active gifts, enjoying nuts and seeds, baking better bar cookies, and a recipe for oatmeal, fruit, and nut bars. Here's what I wrote about the comfort and joy of slowing down to enjoy ...

“The national holiday food frenzy can be difficult to navigate,” says Dayle Hayes, MS, RD (registered dietitian) and president of Nutrition for the Future in Billings. “With a diet looming on the January horizon, many Americans throw caution to the wind and gobble up everything in sight. This overindulgence often leaves us overstuffed, physically uncomfortable, and feeling guilty.” Fortunately, there is another approach.

According to Hayes, you can survive the stressful eating season with your health and holiday spirit intact. The key is to slow down and take the time to really savor whatever you are eating. “As a nation, we tend to eat quickly and not pay much attention to the flavors and textures of our food,” she explains. “When we eat hurriedly, we often eat more than we want with less satisfaction.” In other countries, like Italy, France, China, and Argentina, mealtimes tend to be longer, with family and friends lingering at the table to talk.

To savor food means, “to taste appreciatively” or “to relish.” When we appreciate and relish our food, we often eat less and enjoy it more. If you are used to chowing down and moving on, paying attention to food may take a little practice. Hayes suggests these strategies to help you savor the food at any holiday event.

Prevent overeating by not getting overly hungry: It is difficult, if not impossible, to make smart food choices when you are super hungry. Deprivation naturally leads to overeating at parties or buffets filled with tempting goodies. Instead of starving before parties, eat regular meals and have a protein snack before you go out. A cup of soup, a string cheese, a piece of beef jerky, or a handful of nuts work well.

Eat and drink slowly while listening to internal cues of satiety (fullness): When you eat too quickly or while doing other things, it’s easy to overeat – past the point of pleasure and even past the point of physical comfort. Real satisfaction comes from eating slowly, from savoring the aromas, textures and flavors of food, and from letting your body say, “that’s plenty,” before you are overly stuffed.

Take a time-out from food to check your stress levels: Much of our usual holiday eating and drinking has nothing to do with hunger or fullness. It’s a way to cope with tense situations or difficult people. If this happens to you, move away from the food and spend some quality time with a friend – or walk around the block. Often, this is all it takes to realize that stuffing more food will make you feel worse rather than better.

“If you want to eat well this holiday, there is no need to call in the food police or hope that a Grinch steals all your Christmas cookies,” says Hayes. “By practicing some basic self-care and by listening to your body, you can enjoy all your favorite holiday meals and treats with comfort – and in good health.”

Friday, December 10, 2010

What I got to do on Wednesday!

On Wednesday, I worked with all these wonderful people on an upcoming video about making mealtimes pleasant in childcare settings: Pass the Peaches, Please

From left to right, this is Tay and Sam the video guys (MSU students), me, Molly from MT Team Nutrition (the director), and the WONDERFUL ladies from the ASMSU Day Care Center in Bozeman: Teacher Robyn and Director Mary.

This childcare center is wonderful in every way. Their meal service illustrate the absolute best in family style meals for children, which why we filmed Pass the Peaches, Please there!

More on the when it is ready for distribution ... which will be far and wide! For now, just a few shots of the table, the delicious meal (sweet and sour chicken, jasmine rice, mixed veggies, pears, whole grain bread, and pour-your-own milk), and the super sweet cleaner-upper!!

This was pretty much the most fun that I get to have "at work"!!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Such a wonderful week ... it almost felt like Christmas

From my perspective, so many cool things - big and little - happened in child nutrition last week that it felt like Christmas had come early this year.

The biggest news, by far, was the passage on Thursday of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. While it will take a while for the dust and regulations to settle in, the new bill has some significant benefits for several child nutrition programs - which I plan to discuss here over the coming months. FRAC has provided a thorough side-by-side analysis comparing the new legislation to the current law.

While not as far-reaching as child nutrition legislation, the American Academy of Pediatrics published a very important clinical report this week: Identification and Management of Eating Disorders in Children and Adolescents. The article addresses an issue of critical and growing concern - eating disorders among young people - and also discusses the largely unrecognized connection between childhood obesity and eating disorders. I will certainly be discussing the implications of this publication in the next few weeks.

Last week was also a good week in my professional world ... first, with the publication of an article about a best practice for schools. Scheduling Recess Before Lunch: Exploring the Benefits and Challenges in Montana Schools was published online in the Journal of Child Nutrition and Management, from the School Nutrition Association.
This study provides valuable information about the potential benefits and challenges of Recess Before Lunch (RBL), which can be used by child nutrition professionals to support school wellness efforts and to encourage implementation of RBL as an effective school-wide wellness strategy.

School Meals That Rock, the Facebook page that I started in reaction to Jamie Oliver's attack on school lunch, topped 1,000 likes this week. From the beginning ...
The goal of collecting School Meals That Rock is simple. I want to showcase all the AMAZING things that school nutrition folks are doing from Maine to Montana and Michigan to Mississippi. I know that millions of delicious, nutritious, local, fresh, kids-friendly meals are being served every day across America – and I want to collect the photos that tell this story.

I got to visit another school doing amazing things this week - University High School in Philadelphia - photos and description to be published next week on School Meals That Rock.

A note about recent food art:
I want to acknowledge Sandra Frank, EdD, RD as the designer. Her work is free for use by dietitians. For more options, visit Sandra Frank Food Art. THANKS!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Kids Eat Right: New resource from ADA and the ADA Foundation

The American Dietetic Association (ADA) and the ADA Foundation have launched a new initiative, Kids Eat Right. The new website is packed with easy-to-use content - tips, recipes, and videos - all created by Registered Dietitians (RDs), including some by yours truly!

With three sections focused on how to Shop Smart, Cook Healthy, and Eat Right, Kids Eat Right offers a wealth of information for families with children from infancy to adolescence. I am particularly pleased that ADA/ADAF have chosen to focus on the nutrition that children are missing rather than on overweight and foods that should be eliminated. This positive approach is important to promote smart food choices for all children, not only those in a certain weight category. The site promises new tips and recipes every Monday - so you can sign up to receive the updates in a variety of ways.

Stay tuned for more on Kids Eat Right - and other efforts to shift the current conversation on childhood obesity in more positive and effective directions.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Some New (and FREE) Resources for Schools

Over the past year, I have had the pleasure of working on many school-related resources. Two of these have recently become available online - and can be freely downloaded for use by schools and others.

The Whole Grain In-Service Toolkit for Schools, from General Mills Bell Institute of Health and Nutrition, was designed for school directors and managers to easily train their staff on a variety of topics related to whole grains. The kit provides everything a school nutrition program needs to effortlessly provide 1-hour of training on whole grains, including a set of PowerPoint slides, a whole grain menu activity, and a quiz (for 1 Continuing Education Unit approved by the School Nutrition Association). I was privileged to write the content for this kit; the folks at General Mills used great graphics and wonderful photos made everything look beautiful!

I was also honored to serve as content advisor for a new position paper on Comprehensive Nutrition Services from the American Dietetic Association, the School Nutrition Association, and the Society for Nutrition Education. The joint ADA/SNA/SNE position paper was written by registered dietitians Marilyn Briggs, co-director of the Center for Nutrition in Schools at University of California – Davis (ADA); Constance G. Mueller, retired from the Bloomington (Ill.) Public Schools District 87 (SNA); and Sheila Fleischhacker, nutrition postdoctoral fellow at the University of North Carolina (SNE).The authors write: “Maintaining a long tradition of working together, ADA, SNA and SNE will continue to advocate for positive actions to improve students’ nutritional status, health and academic performance. Additional professional organizations, advocacy groups and stakeholders, with shared issues and values, are encouraged to join in supporting practices and research increasing the effectiveness of comprehensive school nutrition services.” Download a copy for your files - it offers great background and extensive references to support school nutrition services in your local district.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Gratitude for my Montana Roots and Sprouts and More

The thankful receiver bears a plentiful harvest. William Blake

In this time of thanksgiving, I am ever grateful for having roots firmly planted in Montana, personally and professionally. Personally, it has been an incredible place to raise adventuresome children and to spend time wandering the mountains and plains.

Professionally, my Montana friends and colleagues have made it possible for me to be a 'frontier' dietitian. Like our famous big skies, their open minds and "give it a whirl" attitudes have allowed me to sprout and grow positive, inclusive, comprehensive approaches to nutrition and well-being. With solid good humor, they have often allowed me to be a Rebellious, as well as Registered, dietitian.

A recent comment on a blog, by a Georgia colleague, Chris Rosenbloom, keeps running through my head ... "
it was a nice reminder that food is more than the sum of its nutrients." I sincerely appreciate all those who work together on our Eat Right Montana's Healthy Families Newsletters - 12 years and going strong - where nutrition has always been about more than nutrients and numbers: It is about food, flavor, friends, and families cooking and eating together. And physical activity is about more than heart rate and risk reduction: It is about fun ways to see Montana in all its outdoor wonder and about families playing and working together.

Thank you for all your support and friendship.

No one who achieves success does so without the help of others. The wise ... acknowledge this help with gratitude. Alfred North Whitehead

Saturday, November 20, 2010

'Tis a gift to be simple ...

“Eating is not merely a material pleasure. Eating well gives a spectacular joy to life and contributes immensely to goodwill and happy companionship. It is of great importance to the morale.” Elsa Schiaparelli, Shocking Life, 1954

In terms of food, the important things are the simple things: meals prepared for loved ones; nurturing food given generously; homegrown produce eaten in the garden; and bread, the staff of life, broken together. In the words of the wise dietitian, Ellyn Satter: “Eating is about regard for ourselves, our connection with our bodies, and our commitment to life itself.” Secret of Feeding a Healthy Family, Kelcy Press, 1999

As the holiday season gets ready to kick into high gear, my nutrition thoughts are not so much about what to eat, but about how to eat. Since the beginning of human culture, eating together has been important to families and communities – and the rituals that bind us together. This is as true for a weekday family dinner as well holiday meals like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Passover, shared meals like church potlucks and office parties, celebratory meals like birthdays and anniversaries.

Sadly, in our fast food culture, everyday meals have too often been seen as something to get through quickly – so that we can get on to something more important. And holiday meals have become a double-edged sword – over-indulgence in way more rich food than anyone needs combined with nagging guilt about our thighs, waistlines, and cholesterol levels.

In any season, cooking and eating together are among the simple things that can being us comfort and joy. The connections we seek - nourishment, health, communication, and family bonds - are as close as our kitchens and dining rooms. Here are some very simple gifts that you can give your family - throughout the holidays and every day of the year.

Cook together. Preparing food is a loving way to share time and bring generations together. Measuring, stirring, and chopping can be as comforting as other routine, everyday tasks. Kneading bread can be downright therapeutic.

Eat together. Make family meals a real priority as often as you can. If you live alone, reach out to family, friends, or co-workers – and break bread together. Eat together at home, eat together at restaurants, eat together at work, eat together at a picnic.

Turn off the television. In our 24/7, panic-button news cycle, television makes it virtually impossible to eat well. The repetitive images of disasters, war, and political bickering can literally make us sick to our stomachs. Take a break from the news and focus on the tastes, smells, and textures of food.

Return to rituals. Families have many rituals for meals – prayers, a moment of silence, joining of hands, candles, or festive touches, like flowers and special dishes. Making rituals part of everyday meals ties us to the past and to hope for the future.

Take time to share. Slow down and share – food, fellowship, memories, tears, laughter, and the joy of time together. Even small children can learn to share in conversations at the table. Give everyone time to share what is important to them.

Invite others to join you for a meal. A sense of community contributes to everyday well-being and to longevity. By joining with others around the table, you can begin to take comfort from the nourishing food and loving companionship.

Monday, November 15, 2010

PASS Child Nutrition Reauthorization NOW!

If you care about kids, you need to ask the lame duck Congress (now back in DC for a short session) to pass Child Nutrition Reauthorization (CNR).

The next step is in the House and the message to your Representative is simple:

In less than 5 minutes, you can speak up for Child Nutrition Programs, including School Meals, Child and Adult Care Food Program, and WIC. Here are a few sites that will make it even easy for you.

If you are a member of the American Dietetic Association:
  • Log into the member website with your name and password.
  • Then go to the Grassroots Manger.
  • Follow instructions to send a message to your representative.
If you are a member of the School Nutrition Association:
  • Log into the member website with your name and password.
  • Click on Legislative Action on the main toolbar.
  • Click on Take Action on the bottom right of the page.
If you want to know more about CNR, SNAP, and hunger in America:

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Raising Veggie Lovers for Life

A recent report - the 2010 State of the Plate by the Produce for Better Health Foundation reveals why focusing on fruit and veggies snacks is as important today as it was when we created our FIT KIDS = HAPPY KIDS poster in 2004.
Most Americans consume anywhere from 30% to 80% of their recommended number of vegetables in a typical day. Only 6.4% of the population achieves their target for vegetable consumption in an average day. Only 8% of children, 7% of adult males, and 5% of adult females achieve their targeted goals.

The picture is less favorable for fruit. Two out of 10 individuals don’t consume even 10% of their recommended amount; two thirds don’t even consume 50% of their target. Just 7.6% achieve their fruit target in a typical day. Of note, children are most likely to achieve their recommended amount of fruit: 12% do so compared with only 7% of adult females and 5% of adult males. Keep in mind, however, that the consumption targets are lower for younger children.

So how can we raise kids who love to eat their veggies (and fruit). I believe that it is possible (even easy) to raise kids who enjoy eating a wide variety of vegetables. The secret is to never bribe or threaten them about eating green or orange things. I suggest to parents and other caretakers that they follow as many of these simple steps as possible:

Enjoy a variety of vegetables yourself. The most important thing that parents, grandparents, and other caregivers can do for children’s eating is to model healthy habits. If you enjoy eating a wide variety of foods, including vegetables, children will see it as the normal thing to do. There’s no need to make a big deal about your enjoyment, just make vegetables a tasty part of every meal.

Grow a small (or large) vegetable garden. Savvy adults know that the taste of freshly picked vegetables can’t be beat. Kids love to pick and eat almost anything that they have ‘grown themselves.’ Deliciously fresh vegetables can come from a container on the porch, a backyard plot, or your local community garden. Bottom line: If they help you grow it, they will eat it.

Cut vegetables up for meals and snacks. Children usually prefer the taste and texture of raw vegetables over cooked ones. Make a small plate of bite-sized veggies (broccoli trees, baby carrots, celery sticks, cucumbers slices, sweet pepper pieces, or sugar snap pea pods) a standard offering at every meal. Add some low fat Ranch dip and kids will naturally get into a crunchy, healthy habit.

Serve bright, colorful vegetables. Everyone eats with their eyes first. When vegetables are bright and colorful, they are naturally more appealing to children and adults alike. Overcooked, mushy veggies are likely to turn everyone off. When cooking vegetables, keep them brightly colored (and crunchy in texture) by steaming or microwaving for just a few minutes.

Be adventurous with vegetables. When children see veggies as tasty and fun, they are much more likely to enjoy eating them. Buying new items, trying new recipes, and playing games are easy ways to make nutrition fun for children. Need ideas for making vegetables more adventurous in your kitchen? Visit for recipes, games, coloring sheets, and more!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Nutrient-Rich Ways to Make Meaningful Food Donations

Most food banks/pantries prefer cash donations, so that they can maximize their purchase of most-needed items. When you do donate food, focus on the nutrient-rich options listed below. Most locations will refuse perishable items, homemade products, unlabeled cans, home canned foods, and any open packages.

Donate protein foods.
These more expensive items are usually very welcome donations for hungry families. Options include canned tuna, salmon, and chicken. Canned meals - such as beef stew, chili, or hearty soups - are also good choices. Other shelf stable proteins include nuts, sunflower seeds, and peanut butter, as well as canned beans, peas, and lentils.

Donate shelf-stable dairy foods.
Dairy foods are important for families, especially growing children. Cash donations to food banks can help to purchase low-fat fluid milk, cheese, and yogurt. You can also make direct donations of shelf-stable products, including dehydrated milk powder instant breakfast, and evaporated canned milk.

Donate whole grain foods.
Grain staples are important foods for every family. Maximize the nutritional value of your food donations by choosing whole grain options whenever possible. Meaningful options include whole grain pastas, quick cooking brown rice, and breakfast cereals that are lower in sugar and higher in fiber (ex. oatmeal, Cheerios®, and Chex®).

Donate canned/dried fruits and 100% juices.
Fruit and 100% juice are good sources of vitamin C (and sometimes vitamin A), as well as potassium. Excellent shelf-staple options include fruits canned in juice (pineapple, peaches, apricots, etc.), as well as applesauce and dried fruit (without added sugar, if possible). Purchase 100% fruit juice or juice mixtures in cans, boxes, or plastic bottles.

Donate canned vegetables and 100% juice.
Reduced-sodium veggies are also important sources of vitamins, potassium, and fiber, while veggie juice can be an excellent source of vitamins A and C. Tomato products - such as tomato sauce, stewed tomatoes, chopped tomatoes, prepared spaghetti sauce, and 100% tomato juice - are especially nutritious and versatile items to donate.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Remembering Hunger in the Midst of Abundance

When we have enough to eat - and are able to enjoy the cornucopia of fall produce, it is easy to forgot those who do not have enough to feel secure in what their next meal will be. It is also confusing for many people that food insecurity and obesity are highest among the same populations in our country.

Here is the the column that I wrote for today's Billings Gazette about this topic. While the agencies names and numbers wil be different for your community, the issues - sadly - exist everywhere in America.

Addressing Holiday Food Insecurity for Our Montana Neighbors

Ah November in Montana! As the holiday season begins to shift into high gear, families across the Treasure State begin to dream of gifts, celebrations, and festive meals. However, many of our friends and neighbors will need our help to meet their basic needs, as well as our donations to bring holiday cheer to the table.

Lost jobs and low wages in Montana have seriously impacted many families’ ability to nourish their children. Local agencies, including St. Vincent DePaul; Salvation Army; Family Services, Inc.; Billings Food Bank and the Billings Public Schools BackPack Program, face on-going challenges in coordinating services to address hunger among children.

“Hunger is a serious concern for many of our neighbors throughout the year,” says Minkie Medora, RD (registered dietitian) and chairwoman of the Montana Food Security Council. “We are especially concerned about increases in hunger among our most vulnerable citizens. More than 1 in 3 children are chronically at risk of hunger and food insecurity, which is over 92,000 children across the state. The Montana Food Bank Network has seen a dramatic increase in children needing emergency food from 2009 through 2010.”

Children who are hungry struggle with school and are at greater risk for academic problems. Since hungry children have difficulty concentrating, they often do poorly in the classroom and fail to advance from grade to grade. This affects their prospects of completing school or going to college, which in turn affects their earning power as adults. Being hungry or food insecure can lead to a cascade of negative outcomes – academically as well as socially. That’s why the Office of Public Instruction and Food Security Council sponsored a Montana Summit to End Childhood Hunger in September 2010.

“At the summit, we discussed long-term solutions to hunger in Montana and dispelled some myths about hunger,” explains Medora. “There is a common misperception that if adults or children are overweight, they are not poor or hungry.” In fact, poor families eat when there is money to buy food, and do without when money runs out. This results in feast or famine eating, as well as choosing low-cost food that tends to be high in calories but low in nutrients. When families are not able to have healthful, nutrient-rich food throughout the month, they make do with what is available, leading to under-nutrition.

We can all help address food security, during the holidays and all year long. According to Medora, here are three effective ways to fight hunger and feed hope in your local community:

  • Donate cash: Food pantries and banks, like those in the Montana Food Bank Network (MFBN), are able to get their money’s worth from monetary donations. By buying in bulk and working with food brokers for deep discounts, MFBN can buy food for 8 meals with every $1.00 donation.
  • Donate nutrient-rich foods: If you prefer to donate food, buy needed or requested items rather than using unwanted packages from your kitchen cupboard. Useful donations include ready-to-eat protein foods (peanut butter and canned tuna or chicken), as well as chili, stews, hearty soups, and fruit canned in juice.
  • Support long-term solutions: Across Montana, local groups are getting together to explore new solutions for food security, including community gardens, improved access to affordable food, and more collaboration among hunger agencies. Check with your MSU Extension office to find a group in your city or town.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Fun Ways to Enrich Family Mealtimes – at Restaurants

Many American families eat away from home several times a week. Restaurant meals can offer the same benefits of meals at home, if you: order healthful options, watch serving sizes (sharing or taking half home are easy ways to smart-size portions), and take time to enjoy each other’s company. Here are a few tried-and-true ideas for positive activities to enjoy wherever you eat out. (If anyone stares, it is just because they wish they were having as much fun!)

Start by walking and talking together. Most American families do not get the physical activity they need to stay strong and healthy. A simple walk (before or after dinner) is an easy way to add 15 or 20 minutes of fun activity – and some quality talk time – to your family’s day. Choose a restaurant near a park or playground – or walk around a nearby mall when the weather is bad.

Reading aloud while you wait for food. Ask any teacher: reading aloud is one of best ways for children to improve their reading levels, increase their vocabulary, and enhance their overall language skills. If you choose a chapter book with the right reading level and give everyone a chance to read, this can become a real family activity. (If you forget to bring a book, newspapers can work too.)

Sharing make-believe stories. If you forgot a book and no one seems to have anything to talk about, you can always let children’s imaginations run wild. Given the chance, most children love to make up stories. Get everyone involved with a round-robin story, where each family member has a minute or two to tell what happens next (which is also a great way to teach about taking turns!).

Playing word games. Word games are more than a fun way to interact while you are waiting for the food to be served. They can actually help improve children’s language skills (a key to good grades in school). All you need is paper (placemat?) and pencil to enjoy a game of Hangman or Dictionary. Need more ideas? Check with your child’s teacher or childcare provider.

Playing other mind games. Riddles, puzzles, and card games also work well at restaurant mealtimes. Mind Trap© (online and at toy stores) combines all three in a popular family game. A small box (can be kept in the car) holds 100s of challenging puzzles, mysteries, conundrums, and trick questions. Someone reads the question off a card; then individuals or teams try to solve it.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Right-Sizing Children's Portions Anywhere You Eat

One of today's major nutrition problems is the super-sizing of many food and beverage portions. Research shows that when children are served extra large portions of food, they tend to eat faster and consume more calories than they need. This tendency to overeat usually starts around five or six years of age – and can become a lifetime habit. Up to this age most children tend to listen exquisitely to their natural, internal signals of hunger and fullness.

Here are five easy ways to smart-size children’s eating habits - and constantly allow them to eat when they are hungry and stop when they are full.

Use the right size dishes.

Children need small dishes, cups, glasses, and utensils for several reasons. Child-sized portions look just right in small dishes: not too much to be overwhelming and not too skimpy to feel restrictive. Age-appropriate tableware is easier for children to handle and makes less mess when spills naturally occur.

Let children start with a small serving.

Children have small stomachs so they need small portions – not the super-size servings so common in today’s restaurants! Teach children to start with a small serving of each food and to have more if they are still hungry. Child nutrition experts recommend starting with 1 tablespoon per year of life (which equals 1/4 cup for a 4-year old).

Encourage a comfortable pace of eating.

Eating slowly enhances our enjoyment of meals. More importantly, eating at a reasonable pace gives our brains time to register fullness and satisfaction. It generally takes about 20 minutes for messages to get from your stomach to your brain. Family meals, with lots of laughter and conversation, are the perfect way to create a comfortable pace of eating.

Get out of the eating-from-the-package habit.

Eating out of a food package – bags, boxes, or cartons – can easily become a risky habit. It’s hard to tell how much you have actually eaten and most people usually eat more than they actually want or need. The secret to smart portion sizes: Take a small serving; put it into a small dish, bowl or cup; then put the package away. Out of sight, out of mind.

Get into the habit of sharing at restaurants.

In restaurants, even kids’ meals can be two to three times larger than what most children need. Make a plan before you order and plan to share whenever you can. Sharing meals at restaurants is a great way to save money and calories too. You can also plan to eat half, and take half home: Ask the server to bring a to-go box to the table with your meal.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Taming the Fast Food Habit

When we first developed Montana's Fit Kids = Happy Kids poster with the Six Steps to Healthy Weight for Kids handout, step #3 read:
Save fast food for a once or twice a week treat.

As time went on, we realized that the words really didn't convey our intent - to reduce the number of times that families ate fast food. With help from our colleagues at the Washington State Dairy Council, the wording was changed to:
Eat most meals at home and eat fewer fast food meals.

A recently released study confirms that this advice is right on target for healthy families. Earlier this month, USDA's Economic Research Service published How Food Away From Home Affects Children’s Diet Quality. The topline results of this data analysis were straightforward and consistent:
  • Food obtained from fast food outlets, restaurants, and other commercial sources is associated with increased caloric intake and lower diet quality, especially among children ages 13-18.

  • About 35 percent of the caloric increase - and 20 percent of the decline in diet quality scores - is attributable to sweetened beverages.

  • Consumption of all food from school does not appear to have negative effects on the diets of younger children (ages 6-13). However, among children ages 13-18, all food from school has effects similar to those of food away from home (since many do not choose a reimbursable meal).

Stay tuned this week for simple tips to make fast food meals as nutrient-rich and family-focused as possible!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Creating calm, positive family mealtimes

Before we move onto fast food issues, I wanted to share one more post about eating together.

The key to calm, positive mealtimes is a healthy feeding relationship – with a division of responsibilities between adults and children. According to registered dietitian (RD) and child feeding expert Ellyn Satter:

Adults are responsible for what foods and beverages are served. They are also responsible for where the meal is served – and for making mealtimes pleasant.

Children are responsible for deciding whether to eat and how much to eat. As they get older, they can learn age-appropriate table manners and mealtime behaviors.

Here are five strategies to having meals without squeals – and for avoiding unpleasant food fights with children. If you need more details about developing a successful feeding relationship with your children, check out books by Ellyn Satter, MS, RD, LCSW: Your Child's Weight: Helping Without Harming and Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family.

Make regularly scheduled meals a family priority.

Young children need the reassurance of structured meal and snack times. Eating on the run may seem OK for adults, but it doesn’t work well for children. Whether you are eating at home or “on the road,” take the time to sit down and eat with your child.

Avoid pressuring or forcing children to eat.

Most adults have good intentions when they try to force children to eat “healthy” foods or to try new items. The problem with pressure is that it doesn’t work. Kids like foods less if they are forced to eat them – or if they are given bribes or rewards.

Model the habits you want children to develop.

Young children do not automatically know how to eat like “big people.” They learn how to eat and how to behave at the table by watching you. You are your children’s most important role model for developing lifelong, healthy eating habits.

Enjoy the foods you want your children to enjoy.

Children learn to eat new foods by watching other people eat and enjoy them. If you want a child to eat green veggies, serve them regularly in a variety of appealing ways. Eat your green veggies. Talk about how they good they taste and how they make you strong.

Have realistic expectations for mealtime behavior.

It takes time for kids to master new skills, like table manners. Adults need to lay out clear expectations for mealtime behaviors and to reinforce appropriate behavior. Kids need to know, ahead of time, that they will have to leave the table if they continue misbehaving.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Wrapping up the flavors of fall

Last Saturday I went to the last farmer's market of 2010 in downtown Billings. The growing season is short in Montana - and I am always envious of folks who still have months of fresh local produce ahead of them.

From my article recently published in Magic City magazine, here's a bit more about autumn and a recipe. For the complete story and a delicious Basil Vinaigrette, read Golden Fall Flavors: A Winning Combination

Autumn is perhaps my favorite time of year in Montana. From the bright yellow leaves of the aspen on my beloved Beartooth hillsides to the proverbial cornucopia of fall produce at farmer’s market, everything seems to be bathed in a golden glow. Here's a wonderful way to enjoy the nutrient-richness of winter squash or root vegetables (roasted sweet potatoes would be perfect).

Butternut Squash Tacos

This recipe reflects my usual approach to cooking: Check out numerous recipes online and in books; take bits and pieces from several; and mix it all up with what ‘must-go’ in the fridge.

The foundation for this version of a traditional taco served in southern Mexico and parts of Central America is butternut squash. Serve the roasted squash with as many of the following items as you wish – allowing everyone to create their own tacos. Note: If some of your diners don’t want to go completely vegetarian, include your favorite fajita meat (chicken, beef, or pork) or crumbled ground beef.

· Warm corn (or flour) tortillas, excellent with our own local Trevino’s Chipotle-Flavored tortillas

· Black beans, whole or mashed with garlic and jalapeƱos to taste

· Guacamole or simply diced avocadoes

· Chopped tomatoes and shredded lettuce

· Cheese – queso blanco (feta is a nice substitute) or a finely shredded cheddar

· Fresh pico de gallo or your usual prepared salsa

Roasted Butternut Squash

· 1 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into ½ inch cubes (substitute any winter squash with firm flesh, including pumpkin)

· ½ cup chopped sweet onion (½ inch pieces)

· 1 large sweet red pepper or 2 Anaheim chile peppers, chopped in ½ inch pieces

· 2 tablespoons olive oil

· 1½ teaspoons cumin

· 1½ teaspoons coriander

· 2 teaspoons chili powder
(more or less to taste)

· ½ teaspoon salt

· 1 fresh lime, cut into wedges

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

In a large bowl, toss vegetables with olive oil. Add cumin, coriander, chili powder, and salt (if desired). Continue tossing until all veggies are well coated with oil and spices. Transfer to a heavy baking pan.

Roast for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the edges of the squash and onions begin to brown. Rotate the pan and stir halfway through cooking.

Squeeze fresh lime juice onto roasted vegetables and serve with other taco fillings.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Roasted Roots for Family Mealtimes

Some amazingly delicious things happen when you roast some very inexpensive (and under-appreciated) fall vegetables. They get sweeter, more tender on the inside, and a little crisper on the outside.

Roasting vegetables is simple, simple, simple! All you have to do is scrub the veggies and then toss them in a little olive oil. Beyond that, you can tailor the flavors of your roasted roots to your family's taste buds ~ with minced garlic, rosemary leaves, chopped fresh parsley, freshly ground pepper, or the zest of some chili powder. (I always add a little lemon juice to my roasting beets.)

Them cook the veggies in a hot over for 45-60 minutes. For a page of deliciously simple instructions, download the October Healthy Families Newsletter from Eat Right Montana.

While your roots are roasting, you can make the rest of your dinner, like baking chicken breasts or cooking a small beef roast at the same time.

What to roast? Here are five of my favorite fall roots ... and coming up next: Turning Your Roasted Roots into TACOS!

Aside from carrots (one of the most popular veggies in the US), most other root vegetables don’t get the nutritional respect they deserve. These often forgotten residents of the produce department are packed with important nutrients, tasty in a variety of dishes, low in cost, and able to be stored for long periods of time.

1. Carrots

While most of us are very familiar with the bright orange version of this “rabbit food,” carrots also come in purple, white, red, and yellow. They are delicious and crunchy when eaten raw - whole or grated into salads. Carrots are great in soups and they can also add nutrition, color, and sweetness to desserts, like muffins, bread, and cakes.

2. Beets

Beets also come in multiple colors - purple, gold, and white. Small beets are usually sweeter and more tender, with greens that are perfect for adding to salads (raw), stir-fries, and soups. Beet roots can be stored the fridge for up to 3 weeks, then steamed in the microwave, roasted in oven, or grilled outdoors (in thick slices or on a kabob stick).

3. Sweet potatoes

Talk about nutritious, delicious, and versatile, sweet potatoes (sometimes labeled as yams) are a best buy in any produce department. Substitute these nutrient-rich veggies for their pale white cousins in almost any dish (peeling them first): baked, mashed, roasted, boiled and chopped for salad, or sliced, oiled, and baked for oven fries.

4. Turnips and rutabagas

While these roots come from the same family, rutabagas are usually larger and sweeter. Turnip shapes vary from round to cylindrical and come in colors from rose to black, as well as white. Both can be cooked like potatoes (baked, boiled, roasted, and mashed). They can be grated like cabbage into slaw and stir-fried with more colorful veggies.

5. Kohlrabi

One of the lesser known root veggies, kohlrabi tastes like a delicious, crunchy cross between a cucumber and mild broccoli (it’s from the same family as broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower). Look for purple or green kohlrabi bulbs. Both have white inner flesh, which can be eaten raw (like jicama) or cooked. Leaves can be used like beet greens.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Number 1 Reason to Enjoy More Family Meals

There are lots of good reasons to enjoy family meals. Here are some of the impressive benefits that accrue when families eat together five or more times per week:

School success: Mealtime conversations translate into academic success. As children listen to adults, they learn language skills, such as new vocabulary and sentence structure. These skills, which are necessary for reading comprehension and for verbal expression, help children do better in the classroom and on tests.

Better nutrition: When families make mealtimes a priority, they naturally tend to pay more attention to what is served. Children who have more family meals get more of the nutrient-rich foods that build strong bodies and smart brains: more fruits, veggies, lean meats, and milk; fewer fried foods and soft drinks.

Healthier weights: Smart eating habits help children avoid problems like being seriously overweight or developing an eating disorder. During family meals, adults can model positive habits for kids, such as eating slowly, enjoying a variety of foods, and stopping when comfortably satisfied rather than overstuffed.

While all these benefits are confirmed by research, the #1 reason is much simpler ... and more important: Kids like family mealtimes.