Eat right, “bite by bite”

By Alexia Hall, clinical dietitian at CHOC Children’s

During March, we celebrate National Nutrition Month, an annual celebration promoted by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. This health observance is a wonderful opportunity to encourage everyone to focus on making positive choices for healthy food and physical activity.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics says it best, when conveying the importance of good nutrition:

Good nutrition doesn’t have to be restrictive or overwhelming. Small goals and changes can have a cumulative healthful effect, and every little bit (or bite!) of nutrition is a step in the right direction.”

This year’s theme “Bite by Bite” has several key weekly messages including; eating a variety of nutritious foods, the benefits of planning out meals each week, and identifying resources for learning culinary skills to create healthy food. Everyone can use these tips to become more mindful of what we put in our mouth — dietitians included!

Here are some specific suggestions to help us reach these goals:

Eat a variety of nutritious foods every day: 

  • Try to include healthful foods from all food groups. For example, try to choose dark green leafy vegetables as well as vibrantly colored fruits, especially berries. Strive for filling half your plate with vegetables and fruit at each meal.
  • Choose a variety of both animal and plant-based proteins and try to include heart-healthy fish, like salmon, twice per week.
  • Learn how to properly read the nutrition facts panel to understand the nutrition in your food. Here’s a guide to understanding how to read a food label.
  • Take time to practice mindfulness while enjoying your food each day. Chew your food slowly and focus on the meal, rather than the news on your smartphone. Studies show that when we are mindful, we may eat less and concentrate on more healthful foods.
  • Plan out meals each week:
    • Plan a week’s worth of menus by using inspiration from the web, such as recipes from healthy food magazine sites, or inspiration from your favorite healthy cookbooks. Check out CHOC’s healthy meal prep tips for busy parents.
    • Use a grocery list to shop for healthy foods and take inventory of what you have before leaving home. Here’s a list of tips for healthy grocery shopping.
    • Plan for what you will eat while traveling to school and work by either packing a healthy lunch or scoping out what healthy items you can buy at restaurants or markets near you.
    • Double up on recipes for healthy dinners so you can take leftovers for lunch.
  • Learn culinary skills:
    • YouTube videos abound with cooking techniques. My family learned out to make our favorite steak from watching a YouTube video of our favorite celebrity chef!
    • Most grocery stores or butchers offer tips and suggestions on how to cook specific proteins and other healthy items.
    • Many classes available at local community centers focus on culinary arts for both adults and children.

Consulting with a registered dietitian can help you achieve your nutrition goals. Both dietitians and dietetic technicians are trained in personalizing nutrition advice to meet your specific goals and unique needs.

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A registered dietitian’s tips for a healthy heart

By Carol Peng, a registered dietitian at CHOC Children’s

Increasing healthy lifestyle and awareness is a common theme in New Year’s resolutions. February is American Heart Month, and it’s a great opportunity month to focus on this resolution. Focusing on adopting healthy lifestyles can help prevent cardiovascular disease.

Here are six tips for heart healthy eating:

  1. Watch for portions and serving sizes –Using a smaller plate or bowl during meal or snack time can help limit food intake. Measuring cups and spoons can help us be more precise and intentional about the portions we are consuming.
  2. Increase fruits and vegetable intake –Fruits and vegetable are loaded with antioxidants, essential vitamins and minerals that truly nourish our bodies. They are also full of fiber to prolong the feeling of fullness.  
  3. Choose whole grain for more fiber – Fiber is proven to decrease bad cholesterol and prevent heart disease. If you have not already, perhaps this can be the year to try out some new grains like quinoa, barley, bulgur, farro or couscous. People with Celiac disease or gluten sensitivity have to be careful with wheat. Gluten-free products are recommended.
  4. Choose high-quality proteins – Good protein sources include skinless poultry, fish, eggs, legumes, nuts and There are biophysical and environmental benefits to choosing plant-based protein.
  5. Know your fats – Eliminate trans fats from your diet because they are known to increase bad cholesterol and put you at risk for cardiovascular disease. Trans fats are commonly found in fried foods and baked goods. sa Most trans fats come from processed hydrogenated fats, so avoid food products with ingredients such as partially hydrogenated oils. Choose good fats like monounsaturated fats such as olive oil or canola oil, or polyunsaturated fats that are, found in certain fish, avocados, nuts and Be mindful of how much fat is contributing to your daily total calorie intake.
  6. Limit sodium intake – The American Heart Association recommends less than one teaspoon of salt, 2300 mg of sodium in general, and ideally less than 1500 mg of sodium per day for adults. Sodium intake is associated with high blood pressure. To cut down on sodium intake, avoiding canned foods, frozen dinners and processed foods. Cook with fresh or dried herbs as a healthier alternative.

This month, we have the excitement of several events that may call for social gathering and planning. Here are some easy heart healthy snack ideas for your Superbowl Sunday and Oscar viewing parties:

  1. Crackerwiches – For these mini sandwiches with crackers, add a little bit of peanut butter and banana, or mustard with low-sodium canned tuna, on whole grain crackers.
  2. Yogurt sundae – Dress up a cup of low-fat yogurt (without added sugar) by topping it with crushed whole-wheat cereal, blueberries, strawberries or unsalted sunflower seeds.
  3. Dark chocolate duo – Dip half a banana in melted dark chocolate, then cool it in the refrigerator. Dark chocolate covered almonds is another good choice.
  4. Edamame with lemon – They are naturally low in sodium and easy to cook.
  5. Air pop popcorn – Air pop your own popcorn and toss it in honey and cinnamon for a sweet flavor or drizzle a little butter or olive oil and grated parmesan cheese for a savory flavor.
  6. Hummus dip – A plate with different vegetable and hummus.

As we settle into the new year, it is tempting to reach for those heart-shaped chocolates sold everywhere in beautiful bright red boxes around Valentine’s Day. While it does not hurt to indulge and reward ourselves once a while after a long day, it is important to maintain and sustain a healthy lifestyle and diet as we juggle many different responsibilities and roles.

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Organic fruits and vegetables vs. conventionally grown

By Colleen Trupkin, registered dietitian at CHOC Children’s

Many of us start the new year with a goal of eating healthier, but sometimes it’s hard to know what that means. Eating more fruits and vegetables is often a good place to start, but a common question is whether organic fruits and vegetables are a better choice.

For starters, it helps to understand what the label “organic” means in the U.S. For fruits and vegetables to be labeled as organic by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), it means that items cannot be genetically-engineered and no man-made fertilizers or pesticides may be used in the growing process. While people often think of organic produce as having no pesticide residue, this may actually not be the case. Organic produce may still have pesticide residue from the environment or processing facilities, but there is no need to panic! The USDA Pesticide Data Program  has been monitoring our food supply since 1991 to ensure safety. While pesticide residue may be found in both traditionally and organically-grown produce, levels are very low — well below the already low threshold set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for pesticide residue.

It is important to remember that whether you choose to buy organic or conventional food items, it is the quality and variety of your diet that is most important. Eating fruits and vegetables is an important part of a healthy diet, but only one in 10 Americans consume the recommended amounts. Eat a rainbow of color and variety of produce to get the most health benefits and aim for at least five servings per day, regardless of whether that produce is organic or traditionally grown. Don’t forget to wash all fresh produce before cooking or eating; it is dirty until washed!

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also recommends several tips for reducing pesticide residues and preventing foodborne illness from any produce:

  • Always wash your hands for 15-20 seconds with soap and warm water before handling produce.
  • Wash all fruits and vegetables before eating.
    • It is important to wash items before you peel or cut them to ensure residue from the outside is not transferred to the portion you will be eating.
    • Use a brush for heartier vegetables such as potatoes or carrots, especially if you will be eating the skin.
  • Throw out the outer leaves of leafy vegetables, such as the outer leaves from a head of lettuce.

Whether you choose to buy organic foods is a personal decision. At this time, there is not conclusive scientific evidence that shows that organically grown produce is necessarily healthier. However, if you choose to go that route, consider organic options for items without a protective skin to scrub or peel. Most importantly, kick off the new year with a resolution to get “Five a day” of fruits and vegetables from all colors of the rainbow!

Get important nutrition tips like these sent straight to your inbox

Kids Health, delivered monthly, offers “healthful” information for parents.

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Winter squash: Benefits, tips and recipes

By Kristen Miller, registered dietitian at CHOC Children’s

Winter squash appears in the supermarket during the fall and winter months. They come in many varieties and are often characterized by their thick, hefty rinds and bulky appearance. While the tough exterior may appear intimidating, it also gives the fruit a long shelf life. Winter squash can be stored in a cool, dry place for up to three months!

Various winter squash varieties share the health benefits of being  low in calories, fat and cholesterol and high in fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Three common winter squash varieties found in most supermarkets include acorn squash, butternut squash and spaghetti squash. Here are some of my go-to tips for choosing the right squash and preparing it, as well as a favorite recipe.

Acorn squash

Acorn squash has a distinct acorn-like shape and has a mild, buttery-sweet flavor. Choose acorn squash with a dull dark green color, firm rind and smooth exterior. Avoid any that are yellow or orange. The fruit is packed with nutrients, and is specifically high in vitamin C, thiamine and magnesium.

If the rind is too tough to cut, try microwaving for a short time to soften the exterior. Acorn squash can be roasted, sautéed, made into soups or even baked into pies.

Butternut squash

Butternut squash can be spotted by its bell shape and has a sweet nutty flavor. Choose butternut squash that has a tan-yellow rind. If you want a slightly sweeter flavor, choose one that is darker orange. But be careful, darker means riper! Make sure to check for soft spots or bruising, as this would indicate rot. The fruit is high in vitamin A, vitamin C and magnesium.

To make butternut squash easier to maneuver, cut the neck and work with the two halves separately. If you want to avoid the knife and cutting board all-together, many popular winter squash varieties, including butternut squash, can be found pre-peeled and cubed. The versatile nature of butternut squash caters to both savory and sweet lovers.

Spaghetti squash

Spaghetti squash has an oblong shape and a very mild flavor. The common supermarket varieties have a yellow rind. Choose a firm spaghetti squash that does not have any bruising. Once cooked, the flesh of spaghetti squash can be fluffed with a fork to form noodle-like strands that resemble spaghetti. The fruit is a good source of vitamin C, manganese and vitamin B-6.

Use the “noodles” mixed with your favorite spaghetti sauce for a vitamin-packed pasta alternative, turn the squash into a burrito bowl, or use in casseroles. See the recipe below for a savory dish that requires minimal ingredients and very little prep work!

3-Ingredient Twice-Baked Spaghetti Squash Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 spaghetti squash (medium size)
  • ½-1 cup pasta sauce (adjust according to preference)
  • ½- 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese (adjust according to preference)
  • Salt and pepper (to taste)
  • Optional: fresh garlic (fresh chopped basil , dried oregano or Italian seasoning)

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Carefully cut spaghetti squash in half lengthwise (before cutting, consider softening in microwave for a few minutes). Remove and discard seeds. Place spaghetti squash cut side down on baking sheet. Bake for 45 minutes or until a fork can pierce the shell easily.
  3. Remove from oven. With a fork, loosen and separate spaghetti squash strands from shell. Reserve shells.
  4. Place strands in a bowl. Mix strands with pasta sauce (and additional spices, if you wish). Spoon mixture back into the empty shell(s). Sprinkle with mozzarella cheese.
  5. Bake for 7-9 minutes or until cheese is melted, bubbly, and slightly browned. Spoon and serve directly from shell.

Get important nutrition tips like these sent straight to your inbox

Kids Health, delivered monthly, offers “healthful” information for parents.

Related posts:

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How to help your child develop a healthy relationship with food

By Amanda Regan, registered dietitian and certified lactation educator-counselor at CHOC Children’s

In a culture filled with fad diets and mixed food messages, it can feel confusing to try and be healthy. Today, we find so many labels on food telling us how we should already feel about what we’re eating —good, bad, clean, or guilt -free. These mixed messages about food can feel even more confusing for young children and teens.

Those at a vulnerable age can be more susceptible to triggers, such as product labeling, that could negatively affect their relationship with food or even contribute to the development of an eating disorder. Unfortunately, eating disorders have become increasingly more prevalent among all kids of different genders, race, shapes and sizes. Eating disorders also have the highest mortality rate out of any mental illness.

We as parents have an opportunity to help our children develop a positive relationship with food. A person’s relationship with food starts as young as infancy, so it’s important to make mealtimes as pleasant as possible from the very beginning. Here are some tips on how to help your child not only feel good about everything they eat, but also feel good about themselves.

Avoid putting your child on a diet

Research shows that dieting behaviors are most commonly linked to eating disorders in kids. Growing children should not be put on a diet unless it is deemed medically necessary. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, if a child is overweight, the recommendation should be to encourage a healthy lifestyle, rather than focusing on weight. Although we don’t always realize it, our children are always listening to us. So, try not to talk about weight, calories, or dieting in front of your child. Even if you, yourself, are on a diet.

Avoid attaching labels to food

Try not to think of food as either bad or good, but instead focus on nourishment for you and your child. Labeling food is a way of telling your child how they should already feel about the food they are eating, instead of letting them decide for themselves. Let your child know that all food can fit in a healthy diet, as long as the majority of their diet is a balance of all the food groups. This means that yes, even treats can have a place in a healthy diet.

 Refrain from body talk

Avoid talking about appearance or body image in front of your child. Your child’s body is constantly changing and developing — especially during the adolescent years — and it can leave them feeling awkward and self-conscious. Children are sensitive to comments about body image.

 Have family meals

Frequently eating meals together has been shown to prevent disordered eating behaviors such as restricting, binging and purging. Family meals provide opportunities for you to model healthy behaviors in front of your child. They have also been associated with overall improvement in dietary quality. When having family meals, try to provide the same food for everyone and avoid making separate meals.

 Know your role in the feeding relationship

With food, your role job as a parent is to provide nutritious food for your child; their job is to decide how much they eat. Try not to pressure your child in any way when it comes to eating. Helping your child build a positive relationship with food involves trust. Trust in your child to finish their meal when they are full and eat more when they are hungry. Force feeding or restricting food intake can turn mealtimes into a battle ground.

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