7 Health Benefits of Oatmeal

By Jenna Long, clinical dietitian at CHOC Children’s

January is National Oatmeal Month, and there is no better time to explore the health benefits of oatmeal, and fun ways to prepare it as a way to mix up the breakfast options you’re offering to your family. Even though we live in sunny California, the temperature is starting to drop and many of us start are starting to crave warming breakfast options.

Beyond its warming properties, oats are packed with many health benefits:

  1. Naturally Whole Grain. This, therefore, means it contains all three original parts – the bran, germ, and endosperm (refined grains only contain the endosperm). Each part of the grain has valuable health benefits: brain is fiber-rich and keeps you feeling full while preventing constipation, germ is rich in B vitamins and healthy fats, and endosperm is the calorie-rich portion of the grain.
  2. Help lower LDL (or “bad”) cholesterol which specifically may help reduce the risk of heart disease.
  3. Increase satiety – that is to say you’ll feel full longer, which can help with busy work and school days and assist in weight maintenance.
  4. Help control blood sugar due to soluble fiber.
  5. Promote bowel regularity due to their fiber content. Try eating oats in their whole form, or for an extra boost add 1 Tbsp oat bran to hot cereal, applesauce, yogurt or smoothies.
  6. Contain unique polyphenols called acetamides, which have anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant and anti-itching properties.
  7. Naturally gluten free. However, if you or your child are sensitive to gluten, look for certified gluten-free oats. Oats can become contaminated with gluten as they are growing and processed.

Old fashioned oatmeal, also known as “quick oats” is the most popular type of oat in the US. Steel cut oats require longer cooking time, about 20-30 minutes, but your patience will be rewarded. Steel cut oats create a rich and thick porridge with a nutty texture.

Try these easy to make, nutritious oatmeal recipes: 

Overnight Slow Cooker Apple Cinnamon Oats

Adapted from The Yummy Life

Ingredients:

  • 2-3 Apples, cut into ½ inch pieces (~3 cups chopped)
  • 1 ½ cups milk (or non-dairy substitute)
  • 1 ½ cups water
  • 1 cup uncooked steel cut oats
  • 2 Tbsp pure maple syrup (optional, or may use other sweetener)
  • 1 ½ Tbsp butter, cut into 6 pieces
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground ginger (or 1 Tbsp fresh ginger, peeled and chopped small)
  • 1 Tbsp ground flax seed
  • Optional garnishes: Chopped walnuts, raisins, additional milk

Directions:

  • Coat your slowcooker with cooking spray.
  • Add all ingredients (expect optional garnishes) to slow cooker and stir
  • Cook on low for about 7 hours
  • Wake up to a wonderfully smelling home, portion into bowls, add optional garnishes and enjoy!

Tips and fun facts:

  • It is important to not use old fashioned oats because the oatmeal will become overcooked.
  • Maple syrup is a sweetener, but also high in antioxidants.
  • Flaxseeds can be purchased in the bulk bin of your grocery store in small amounts. Be sure to choose ground over whole flax seeds, so your body can utilize its nutrients.
  • This recipe stores well in the refrigerator, which also makes meal prep for the week easy. It also freezes well.

 Oatmeal “Cookie Dough” Smoothie

Adapted from Running with Spoons

Ingredients

  • 1 medium banana, frozen
  • ¼ cup raw old-fashioned oats
  • 1/3 cup Greek yogurt
  • 1 tsp chia seeds (optional health boost)
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 Tbsp almond butter
  • ½ cup vanilla almond milk (or other dairy alternative)
  • 1 Tbsp chocolate chips (optional)

Directions

  • Place all ingredients in blender and blend until smooth

Tips and fun facts

  • This is a great recipe for those looking for an on the go breakfast
  • Try adding in ¼-1/2 cup of fresh or frozen fruit
  • Chia seeds, like oats, are rich in fiber. They are also high in heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants and calcium.

Healthy Homemade Granola

Ingredients

  • 5 cups old-fashioned oats
  • 1 Tbsp cinnamon
  • ¼ cup chopped walnuts
  • 2 Tbsp vanilla extract
  • ¼ cup honey*
  • 2 Tbsp canola oil

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 350 °F
  • Mix wet ingredients and dry ingredients in separate bowls, then combine.
  • Spread out thin on a large baking sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes until just golden

Tips and fun facts:

  • *Reminder: Do not introduce honey until your baby’s 1st birthday and speaking with your doctor
  • Adding granola and fruit to your yogurt can make a great well-balanced breakfast, but may store bought granolas are high in both sugar and fat. Making your own granola is easy, saves money and all in all allows you to control the amount of sugar and fat – plus you can experiment with fun combinations of dried fruit and nuts.
  • In addition try adding chia seeds to your granola after it has been cooked for a health boost.
  • Some of our other favorite things to add to granola also include: ground flax seed, dried blueberries, chopped pistachios, ground ginger, unsweetened coconut.

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7 Tips for Staying Healthy During the Holidays

By Katherine Bennett, registered dietitian at CHOC Children’s

The holiday season is full of festive events, good food and cherished memories. However, it can also be a time for more stress, unhealthy eating and getting sick. Check out the seven tips for staying healthy during the holidays below.

  1. Keep moving! Although days are shorter and your schedule may be full, try to devote time to being active. Take a short walk while on break at work, do a free yoga video after your morning coffee, or ride your bike to grocery store to pick up that one forgotten item. Playing hide-and-go seek, building a fort, or having a jump rope contest are easy and fun ways to help the whole family stay active. Research shows being active can strengthen your immune system, decrease stress, and help keep unwanted weight off.
  2. Focus on fun, not food and drinks. Swap out the usual cookie baking tradition or gingerbread house decorating and establish a nonfood based holiday tradition like making homemade ornaments or volunteering.
  3. Get enough sleep. Being tired can lead to increased stress, low energy and making unhealthy eating and drinking decisions. Don’t overbook yourself with holiday events and try to stick to a regular bedtime every night.
  4. Don’t skip meals, especially breakfast. Skipping meals can lead to you making unhealthy choices and overeating at a later meal. If your schedule is busy, plan ahead and pack a snack so you don’t have an excuse.
  5. Drink water. Colder weather and indulging in holiday party drinks can make us forget we still need to drink water. Bring a water bottle with you wherever you go to help remind you to stay hydrated.
  6. Try healthier holiday favorites. Try to change recipes or ingredients for your favorite holiday dishes to make them healthier. Check out CHOC’s recipe box filled with healthy recipes.
  7. Don’t forget your fruits and vegetables. Just because there are more sweet treats, comfort foods and fun holiday drinks, don’t forget about the fruits and vegetables. They are low calorie and good sources of vitamins and minerals that can help keep your immune system strong.

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Healthy Thanksgiving Recipe Ideas

By Kelsey Childs, clinical dietitian at CHOC Children’s

Thanksgiving is a time for family and friends to come together and celebrate over a delicious meal. While most look forward to sitting down at the table to begin the feast, few enjoy getting up from the table feeling overly stuffed. Estimates from the Calorie Control Council suggest a traditional Thanksgiving meal may contain as many as 3,000 calories, and once appetizers and beverages are included, the total can climb to a whopping 4,500 calories!

This Thanksgiving, use whole food ingredients in place of processed products to boost the nutrient content of your dishes and lighten the calorie load. Swapping full fat dairy products with reduced fat versions can further cut back on calories without impacting flavor. Check out the healthy Thanksgiving recipe ideas below to see if one of these delicious dishes might have a place at your table this year.

Roasted Green Beans with Cranberries

Instead of relying on canned soups to flavor traditional green bean casseroles, try this recipe made from whole food ingredients. Cranberries, garlic, lemon, and balsamic vinegar combine to pair perfectly with roasted turkey.

Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds fresh green beans, stem ends trimmed
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced into quarters
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest, from one lemon
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice, from one lemon
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 cup walnuts (toasted if desired, see note)

Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with heavy duty aluminum foil.
  2. toss  green beans with garlic, olive oil, salt, pepper and sugar directly on the prepared baking sheet. Roast the beans for 15 minutes, then stir with a spatula to promote even cooking. Continue roasting until the beans are tender, slightly browned and just starting to shrivel, about 10 minutes more. Add lemon zest, lemon juice, cranberries and walnuts and toss well. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt, pepper and more lemon juice if desired.
  3. Note: to toast the walnuts, bake them on a sheet pan in a 350-degree oven until fragrant, about 10 minutes.

Recipe source: Once Upon a Chef

Garlic Mashed Potatoes

Use a combination of reduced fat milk and sour cream as mashed potato mixers to yield a creamy product without the need for large amounts of butter or cream.

  • 2 lbs. (4 medium) Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 4 large garlic cloves, peeled and halved
  • 1/4 cup light sour cream
  • 1/2 cup reduced sodium chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup reduced fat milk
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon fresh chives, chopped

Directions:

  1. Put potatoes and garlic in large pot with enough water to cover. Bring to a boil.
  2. Drain and return potatoes and garlic to pan. Add remaining ingredients. Mash until smooth.
  3. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Recipe adapted from Skinny Taste.

Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Honey and Cinnamon

Instead of smothering sweet potatoes in butter and brown sugar, try roasting your potatoes. The natural flavor of the sweet potatoes is complemented by the simple coating of olive oil, honey and cinnamon.

Ingredients:

  • 4 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 2  teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • salt and pepper to taste

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Lay the sweet potatoes out in a single layer on a roasting tray. Drizzle the oil, honey, cinnamon, salt and pepper over the potatoes.  Roast for 25-45 minutes in the oven, or until tender.

Recipe source: Food Network

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10 Things a Registered Dietitian Feeds Her Own Kids

By Stephanie Chang, clinical dietitian at CHOC Children’s

As a registered dietitian and a mom, I always try to keep my family eating healthy. When people imagine what a dietitian feeds her kids, most people assume we eat perfectly healthy all the time. However, I also struggle to get my kids to eat enough fruits and vegetables, just like everyone else.

Getting my family to eat healthy starts with the choices that I make at the grocery store. What foods I put in my cart influences the food choices that my family makes at home. Since younger children tend to eat most of their meals with family or at school with lunches they brought from home, I like to make sure there are plenty of good choices at home.

Older children and teens may be eating more meals outside the home with friends. Family has less influence on what they eat at that point so it’s important to teach good choices at an early age. If you feel your teen hasn’t had the chance to make good food choices, don’t worry. It’s better to start now while they still live at home with parents.

These are some of the choices that I try to make when offering food to my kids. Keeping things simple and easy is key, since life is so busy.

Water 

Water provides hydration without adding calories and sugar. At CHOC Children’s, we recommend that children drink the number of 8 ounce cups of water equal to their age, with a maximum of 64 ounces for children over age 8. This means your 1-year-old would drink one 8-ounce glass or water, your 5-year-old would drink five 8-oz glasses of water, etc. I found that my kids prefer ice water and will usually drink more if the water is cold.

Low-fat dairy: milk, cheese and yogurt

Low-fat dairy foods provide a good source of calcium and protein. They are also usually fortified with vitamin D. I try to choose lower sugar options when it comes to milk and yogurt. That doesn’t always work, but I want my kids to have good calcium intake rather than arguing about sugar. I can always cut back on sugar somewhere else in their food choices.

Avoid preservatives, additives and high fructose corn syrup

I always read ingredients on any packaged foods I buy. Usually a simple and easy-to-understand ingredient list means the food is less likely to contain a lot of preservatives and added colors. I try to avoid purchasing foods with high fructose corn syrup and keep things as close to natural as possible. The exception would be vitamins and minerals that are added to enhance the food. Those do have chemical sounding names, but are just added nutrients.

Hard-boiled eggs

Eggs are a good source of protein. The egg white contains most of the protein in the egg and children generally prefer the white over the yolk. Another perk for parents is that hard-boiled eggs are easy to prepare for a family who doesn’t have much time to cook.

Fruit (and hopefully vegetables)

I always offer fresh fruit and a vegetable with each meal. My kids will almost always eat the fruit and only sometimes the vegetable. I feel that it is important to offer these foods every day, but not force them to eat it.

Whole grains and fiber

Foods made from whole wheat flour or other less processed grains and flours provide more fiber in the diet. Sometimes I find it difficult to get my kids to eat the high fiber choice, but when I can, I think it’s well worth the effort for them to learn that breads and grains are not all white.

Chicken

Sometimes I buy organic chicken and sometimes I buy regular chicken. More importantly, I’ve found that chicken is a good protein source that my kids will eat all the time, as long as it’s prepared in different recipes. Some kids don’t like beef or pork as it may be hard to chew or too dry. I don’t want my kids to eat processed meats (like deli meats, hot dogs and sausage) all the time, so I find that choosing chicken works the best.

Veggie straws or veggie chips

Yes, you read that correctly. I do feed my kids chips when they’re starving between meals. They are high in sodium just like any other chips, but veggie chips don’t usually contain the artificial colors and flavors that traditional chips do. I find that veggie straws make a good car or airplane snack because they can be eaten neatly.

Well-rounded school lunches with emphasis on protein, fruit and vegetables

When packing preschool lunch, I always try to keep it well rounded and make sure to include a protein, fruit and vegetable. I also include a starch or carbohydrate food in the lunch, but I don’t emphasize that as the main part of the meal. Most preschool snacks offered by the school are a starchy or grain food, like crackers or cereal. I let my kids eat the carbohydrate snack with their classmates and eat the other healthy foods for lunch from what I pack from home.

Home cooked meals

During the school and work week, I want my family to eat home-cooked meals. This requires a lot of meal planning, but this allows me to make healthier choices and save money at the same time. We try to limit restaurant food to weekends and only one meal in a day. Get healthy meal prep tips for busy parents.

As you can see from my list, it isn’t perfect. I don’t always buy organic, grass-fed, or the latest trendy health food. My kids do eat junk food and bug me to buy them cookies and candy. However, I feel that these basic and simple choices that I can make daily will improve my family’s health. These choices are available at the regular grocery store and don’t require trips to specialty stores. It’s important to remember that no child is going to eat perfectly all the time. Families are always busy, but making good food choices is important and doesn’t have to take a lot of time.

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How to Make a Healthy School Lunch

By Monika Frauzem, dietetic technician, registered at CHOC Children’s

It’s back to school time and that means thinking about lunches to go! Lunch provides nutrition for your child’s school day. A good nutritional foundation will support learning and deliver the energy needed for play time. The good news is that preparing school lunches does not have to be a chore! You can make this quality time spent with your child and a positive learning experience.

Here are some things to think about when planning lunches and meals:

  1. Get informed

The MyPlate model designed by the United States Department of Agriculture shows the ideal balance of nutrients you should strive for at every meal. Which food group some of your favorite foods fit into might surprise you.

nutrition
The MyPlate model shows a great visual way to balance our food groups.

2.) Get inspired 

The CHOC Children’s Kids Health blog is filled with healthy and fun recipes that are sure to please kids and parents alike.

3.) Get organized

  • Include meal planning into your weekly schedule. Sit down with your child and agree on a time that will work for everybody involved. CHOC offers healthy meal prep tips for busy parents.
  • Create a menu for the week and make a grocery list.
  • Create a menu for the week and make a grocery list.
  • Create a master list of lunch options to use if time is limited or life gets in your way.
  • Get containers in various sizes and make sure containers are easy to open—especially for younger children. Consider the environment, and remember that reusable containers are better for the environment and cheaper in the long run. There are many innovative options available.
  • Buy produce that is in season in bulk—it’s good for your budget and your body!
  • Create snack stations in the fridge and pantry for easy access for hungry kids after school and when you are in a hurry assembling lunches.

4.) Include your child in the process

When creating meals, it is important to include all food groups. It will help your child feel full longer and have the energy they need to say alert throughout the day. The main idea is to combine protein, complex carbohydrates (such as grains), fruits, vegetables and healthy fats. Variety is the key. Remember: Have your child help! If your child participates, he or she is more likely to eat their lunch.

healthy school lunch
Eating a healthy school lunch can help your child have the energy she needs to power through the school day.

What Nutrients Does My Child Need?

Protein – Growing children need protein because it is an important component for bones, skin and muscles. Foods that are good sources of protein include: cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, yogurt, string cheese, turkey or chicken for wraps or roll ups, eggs (such as hard-boiled eggs or egg salad), tuna- or salmon salad, peanut or other nut butters, tofu, edamame, beans, lentils and hummus.

Grain – Grain provides carbohydrates, fiber, minerals and vitamins. Read labels and choose 100 percent whole grains when possible. Carbohydrates give your children the energy they need to learn and play. Read labels to limit the amount of added sugar and unhealthy fats. Healthy grain options include: whole-grain bread, flatbread, pita pockets, bagels, tortillas or English muffins; crackers, pretzels, cracker bread and rice cakes; cooked brown rice, barley, couscous and quinoa; granola bars; whole grain cereals.

Vegetables – Vegetables are a good source of carbohydrate, minerals, vitamins and fiber. You may include a dip such as low-fat salad dressing, bean dip or hummus. Try to get a variety of colored vegetables as these provide different nutrients. Some options include: broccoli, cauliflower, sweet potatoes, jicama, sugar snap peas, carrots, celery, kohlrabi, beets, bell peppers, corn, cucumber, tomatoes and spinach

Fruit – Fruit is a good source of carbohydrate, minerals, vitamins and fiber. Just like with vegetables, serve a variety from all the color groups because they contain different vitamins and minerals. Some ideas include: olive oil, vegetable oils, canola and sunflower oil, avocado, cheese, nuts, sour cream, butter, mayonnaise and salad dressings

Sending your child to school with a nutritious lunch can be a rewarding experience for everyone! With a little planning and organization, it doesn’t need to be a hassle. Pack lunches the night before so they are ready to go before the morning rush.

Include your child in the process. There may be times when they want the same lunch multiple days in a row and times when their taste changes. Just offer a variety of foods and options during the other meals of the day.

Remember: the lunch your child takes to school should be one they will actually eat and not one you want them to eat.

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