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.