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.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Such a simple habit, such significant benefits

With all the fuss and discussion about childhood obesity, far too few commentators have focused on perhaps the most fundamental family lifestyle change that can benefit children's weight and their overall health.

I agree with many child health experts, including feeding guru Ellyn Satter, that enhancing and increasing family mealtimes is one of the most important gifts that parents can offer to their children. Enjoyable family meals benefit children's physical, mental, social, and academic well-being. They help build strong families, raise competent eaters, and create memories to last a lifetime. And, they can easily be delicious, nutritious, and fun.

While the official celebration - Family Day - A Day to Eat Dinner with Your Children - is just one day (Monday, September 27th), I going to spend the whole week on tips, tools, and resources to help make more frequent mealtimes at reality for today's over-scheduled, stressed out families. Fortunately, there is a lot to share, including some new research and tasty recipes. Stay tuned ...

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Fit Kids = Happy Kids: Be active by playing together inside and outside.

When Eat Right Montana created this FIT KIDS = HAPPY KIDS handout in 2004 (to go with our FIT KIDS = HAPPY KIDS poster), it was hard to decide whether the first tip should be about eating together or playing together. As you can see, we put the physical activity tip first - which I think was the best decision then and now.

While I am a dedicated foodie and nutritionist - when it comes to a healthy lifestyle and a healthy weight for kids, I actually think that active play is the place to start. Becoming more active - especially 'green,' outdoor activity - directly benefits children's bodies, brains, and behavior.

I believe that active play also promotes positive eating habits - because physical activity naturally helps maintain the natural signals of hunger and satiety. And, what better way to take care of those signal than with delicious family meals! So, on to my favorite topic in the the whole nutrition world ... Making family meals a special time to eat together.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Let's go play outside ... TOGETHER

Everyone from pediatricians and psychologists to teachers and legislators have recently focused on the importance of ‘green time’ for kids, time for being outside in nature. As it turns out, there are some very important benefits of outdoor activity.

Playing outside is fun for everyone.

Before we get into the physical, mental, and academic benefits, let’s be honest. Playing outdoors with friends and family is just plain, old-fashioned fun! There isn’t anything else like the joy of a good game of hide-n-seek or flashlight tag. There isn’t anything like the wind on your face during a bike ride - or the satisfaction of climbing a mountain (or a hill).

Playing outside is good for children’s bodies.

Physical health is one of the best reasons to play outside. Kids who enjoy outdoor activities (at least an hour a day) tend to be more fit and to maintain healthier weights. They can also make more vitamin D from appropriate sun exposure (15 to 30 minutes without sunscreen). Studies show that most youth currently do not make enough vitamin D for optimal health.

Playing outside is good for children’s behavior.

Parents and behavior experts agree on this one: Time spent in outdoor green activities, such as sports, walking, or free-play at a park, helps to improve the behavior of children with attention and hyperactivity disorders. In fact, the chance to run, jump, and burn off some excess energy usually improves the indoor behavior of almost any young person.

Playing outside is good for children’s brains.

Research suggests that the power of outdoor play extends to helping children learn more in academic settings. Outdoor time, especially in green settings like parks and playgrounds, helps concentration and focus in the classroom. Creative outdoor play, such as building a fort or treehouse, also helps kids develop active imaginations and problem-solving skills.

Playing outside is good for family connections.

Any outdoor activity - from vigorous games to quiet bird watching - is a good way for multiple generations to spend time making memories together. Playing outside can include goal directed activities (Let’s see if we can make some really big bubbles today.), as well as simple exploration and discovery (What kind of bugs are living on these flowers?).

This information is available as a one-page handout in Eat Right Montana's Healthy Families newsletter from September 2009.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Straight Facts about Video Games and Fitness

Active video games, such as Wii Fit™, Gold’s Gym Cardio Workout, and others, have become very popular in the past few years. They are found in family living rooms and even in school gyms. The American Heart Association and Nintendo have even teamed up to promote active play.

The important question is: Can these games actually improve fitness in our increasingly sedentary society? The answer: It depends!

1. Active video games can provide moderate activity.

Based on independent research (not on company claims), games can expend more energy than just sitting on a couch watching TV or playing a regular video game. The energy expended is, however, highly variable from person to person. Overall, the calories burned by active video games are generally in the same range as moderate walking.

2. Active video games can help very sedentary folks.

One of the best uses for active video games may be helping very sedentary children and adults (including older adults) become more confident in their ability to do physical things. The games allow people to experiment in the privacy of their own homes - and to discover that they are able to enjoy moving their bodies in different ways.

3. Active video game measurements may be flawed for kids.

Several experts in kinesiology (the science of human movement) have questioned the accuracy of the measurements, such as BMI (Body Mass Index) and calories burned, reported in active video games. In particular, the BMI calculators on some games may not be using data that is accurate for children, whose BMI is calculated differently than adults.

4. Active video games must be used consistently.

Few long-term studies have measured active video games in ‘real life’ situations. A study at the University of Mississippi that actually measured the impact of Wii Fit™ use in several families indicated some possible pitfalls. While some fitness indicators did improve in the beginning of the study, the minutes of use - and fitness levels - declined over several weeks.

5. Active video games are not a substitute for outdoor play.

“Go outside and play” had been the mantra of parents for generations, until the advent of what some are calling the ‘Playstation Generation.’ The work of researchers around the world is confirming the wisdom of the advice to be active outside. Several recent studies have noted the physical, mental, and psychological benefits of outdoor activities.

Download a handout of these five facts (and MUCH more) in the FREE September Healthy Families from Eat Right Montana.

Up next ... why I believe that "let's go out and play" should be a mantra of every family every day!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Be active by playing together inside and outside.

When Eat Right Montana created our FIT KIDS = HAPPY KIDS poster and handout for Montana families, we put active play at the top of the list:
Be active by playing together inside and outside.

Although I am a Registered Dietitian dedicated to sharing the benefits of good nutrition, I believe that any effort to improve family health should start with active play. First, the benefits of physical activity extend to every part of our bodies and lives - from brain cells to our muscles, from fat cells to our emotions, from bones cells to our ability to learn new information.

Secondly, getting plenty of activity helps the natural signals of hunger and satiety to work well. It's really hard to know when you are truly hungry - or satisfied - when you are basically sedentary (often near large caches of very enticing foods).

Notice that I have not used the "E" word anywhere in this discussion. In fact, exercise is not something that most people (especially young people) want to do. While a few adults may love being at the gym, most children and teens prefer to play ... sliding ... running ... sports ... dribbling ... biking ... whirling ... dancing ... tumbling ... hopping ... skipping ... jumping. Truth be told, many adults prefer the "play" approach to activity as well.

Up next - can video games replace the need for outdoor play?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Fit Kids = Happy Kids

There's lots of talk this month about children's weights, how dangerously unhealthy they are, and what can be done to improve things. Since this blog started with my concerns about some current approaches to "childhood obesity" and what can be done "to prevent" it, it seems like the right time to focus on more positive and productive ways to approach the issue - for families, schools, and communities.

When it comes to children's physical and mental health, I am firmly in the camp of "above all else, do no harm." To avoid any potential harm of extreme attention to weight or BMI, I believe that any childhood weight discussion should be focused on what we can do to promote healthy weights for children all sizes and shapes. This avoids the potential harm of increased attention leading to increases is under-nutrition, eating disorders, and sized-based bullying. It also includes children and teens who may look "healthy" on the outside, but are not getting the nutrient-rich foods and active play that they need to grow strong bodies and smart brains.

To kick things off for Fit Kids = Happy Kids Month, I am going to take a look at what families can do to help children have healthy weights. I'm starting with the 2006 poster from Montana Action for Healthy Kids pictured here. Fortunately, with one or two small additions, it is just a valuable today as it was four years ago. Stay tuned for the update ... it's all positive!