Tag Archives: child nutrition

Halloween Candy is a Learning Opportunity

As @KPKiddoc I posted this recently on Twitter:

Don’t have 2 hand out candy on #Halloween Kids like stickers, pencils & sm toys as much! http://1.usa.gov/1N1HVcC 

Only to get this response from a follower:

#delusional

Beyond guessing this person had not read the study I linked the tweet to, I was sure she was not giving our kids enough credit. Sure, they like candy but, they enjoy toys and non-candy treats. If you allow Halloween to be a “learning opportunity” as the nutritionist Ellyn Satter advises, you will find that they learn to manage their own stash of candy and make wise choices. Those choices may be a cool Halloween pencil over yet another mini candy bar. And, I know this works – for 19 years I have offered both candy and fun non-candy items. The pencils and toys are definitely popular!

 

Before becoming a parent, there were many things I thought I’d never do as a mom. You know, like just wipe off the pacifier and plug it back in. Or, buy them a cell phone. Or, let teens wear sagging jeans. Or, let them eat as much Halloween candy as they want. I have had to eat my words a few times and Halloween is one of those.

 

I enjoy Halloween with its fall colors and crisp air. It has little in the way of obligation or work associated with it and feels for the most part, like pure fun. But as parents and teachers, we worry about the amount of sugar kids get each Halloween. This concern is for good reason. The average child in the U.S. is reported to eat 32 teaspoons of sugar a day.  The Centers for Disease Control tell us that American children eat 16% of their total caloric intake or 442 calories a day from added sugars. We buy nearly 600 million pounds of candy a year for Halloween.

 

Given this, Halloween offers us a chance to educate our kids about sugar, nutrition and exercise. Here are some ideas for how to navigate around these mounds of sugar:

 

  • Tonight at dinner, talk with your kids about sugar, candy, excess and moderation. Is it ok to eat small amounts of candy? Is it important to learn how to stop after one piece? How does eating too much candy make them feel? What can they do with extra candy?
  • Partner with your children’s teacher to teach about nutrition. Kids respond well to the graphics of http://www.choosemyplate.gov/kids/ . Consider using the statistics and articles about sugar consumption cited above.
  • Volunteer to bring a healthy snack to school for Halloween parties. One idea are these seasonal pumpkin muffins.
  • You don’t need to hand out candy on Halloween. Try packs of sugarless gum. A recent studyshowed that kids like getting stickers, pencils and small toys as much as candy!
  • If you hand out candy, give out one small piece per kid.
  • Start off Halloween night with a big, healthy, plant-based dinner. Full kids eat less candy (full grownups too!)

Then, after trick or treating comes the biggest challenge: what do parents do with all the candy? There are many approaches to this and you have to find what works for your family. I suggest that teaching kids moderation is important. Trying to control or prevent all sweet intake can backfire.

  • Some families allow a piece or two a day (many a mom takes one piece for herself each day too!)
  • Some parents “buy back” candy from their kids. For example, a pound of candy can earn a book.
  • Candy can be donated.
  • Show younger kids they can have fun by sorting the candy by color, shape and type. Make graphs of what they got.
  • Do some candy science– there are lots of fun experiments to try!
  • Make trail mix with dried fruits, nuts and small candies.

 

I asked my kids last night at dinner about Halloween candy. I asked why they end up with a pile of uneaten candy each year – rather than chowing down every last grain of sugar? They all felt that it had a lot to do with my unconventional approach. You know those things I said I’d never do as a parent? Well, I do tend to let my kids eat what they want out of their bag of candy. I recognize how crazy that sounds coming from a pediatrician, but – I temper my laid back approach with loads of education. It all comes back to using Halloween as a chance to talk with our kids about health choices, nutrition and exercise.

 

 

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All the Cool Cowboys Eat Yogurt (or, Nutritional Soundbite #3: limit drinks that taste sweet)

Two of my patients came into the office recently with their parent for check ups. I was a bit late coming in to see them so, started of with the all too familiar apology. Then we chatted about the heat and then summer books, movies, camps and camping. I asked what questions they had and, they asked if they needed shots (one did, one did not – always awkward to explain, that one!) All the while I realized I was stalling, dancing around the issue at hand.
Both children have weight problems. Technically speaking, their body mass indexes or, BMIs  are well out of the normal range or, in the range we physicians rather horribly term “obese.” They are both attractive, happy, smart and one is really quite funny. They like each other, they are respectful and fun. How on earth am I to find the words to tell them they are dangerously overweight without wounding their young confidence? Without alienating their parent?
I breathed in and began with the usual questions and followed with a display of their growth charts. It turned out the family had already been discussing change. They were walking each night. They were trying new veggies and thinking about serving sizes. I asked about what they thought I wanted them to drink?
Water!
And, what do you drink?
Juice! Apple and orange!
Ah, there was the change to focus on. I offered the rule of thumb that one 8 oz cup of juice a day has enough calories to cause a 15 lb weight gain over a year. That one usually works. But the parent looked at me and said with an exhale
But, it is just so hard to say no.
I get it. My 17 y/o son has a close friend that I adore. They have know each other since preschool days. I have watched this boy move from sandbox play to stellar sports play,  through cowboy costumes to awkward gangsta-style hats and now to be a rather stunning, clean cut young man. He is at my house often and when he arrives he walks straight through the door, around to the kitchen and opens the refrigerator. Spoon in one hand, he then heads to the boy-den in the garage with his bounty. It makes me happy every time. There is something in my refrigerator that he wanted? Cool.
We get such joy out of feeding our children. I cook well, my kids eat well and usually healthfully. My refrigerator staples are rather boring from a kids perspective. But, every now and then I will head off to the store and come home with some major treats. Watching the glee that comes as the kids root around and find these treats is fun. I feel, oddly as if I have done a good job. But after a bit, I get a bad taste in my mouth (and it is not from the chips 🙂 )
In fact, doing the right thing by our children means being a bit tough. Don’t buy the juice. Definitely skip the soda. Cut up the apples and put them in a central location. Skip the chips. You’ll never know what they learn to like. My friend the cowboy-gangsta-lacrosse star? He devours, container after container, case by case, high-protein, low sugar greek yogurts. And, go figure, all this time I thought I needed to bribe them with junk.

Son, Eating Your Beets Will Make You Run Faster

I heard once some time ago that my influence over my kids’ final outcome ended when they turned five. That by age five they had soaked up all the manners, values and habits they ever would from me. I have thought about this snippet of trivia often. Is my role as family educator done? Did I squeeze enough knowledge into them before they left for kindergarten? Now, on the occasion of my first child’s sixteenth birthday I find myself again wondering if perhaps I have become dispensable.

His manners are for the most part lovely. Check. He is usually kind and generous. Check. He is clean and well dressed. Hmmm…clean, check. But do the pants around the buttocks count as well dressed? (before having kids there were several silly things I said in the category of “I’ll never”. “I’ll never let my boys wear their pants sagging” was one). He works hard in school. Check, and room to grow. He has commonsense. Um, not always as demonstrated this week when he donated blood in the middle of lacrosse season and then wondered why he was so winded while running. Sigh. He understands the importance of physical fitness. Check! He understands the importance of good nutrition. Uh oh. Wait, yes, I am sure he understands. But this point is where I see the wisdom of the five year old rule.

As a mother there are household chores that I do happily, there are others that drive me slowly insane day after day. Making lunches leads the list of things making my hair go gray. One recent afternoon on the way to his lacrosse practice, my son asked if we could stop by his school locker to pick up something too big to carry on his bike. Indeed, the sack of old lunches filling his locker was big. And smelly. Turns out he wasn’t eating much of what I had packed. The carefully cut veggies, the fresh fruit, the wholegrain bread all…moldy. That was IT. Later that night I had one of those look out-mom’s-head-is-spinning moments that all children should see occasionally. Now I no longer make lunch, they do. I made some rules: each lunch must have a fruit, a veggie and some protein. It has worked well for the most part. Those were rules they knew age five, right?

Yesterday my friend told me a story. She was at the grocery store during the high school lunch hour and happened to see our sons there. She quietly watched them go through the checkout aisle. My son had a 2 liter bottle of Mountain Dew. Hers a family-sized bag of Cheetos and their friend had a bag of Oreos. Well, I guess that explains the lunches in the locker. Why eat vegetables when you can eat your Cheetos with Mountain Dew? So, by age five he knew the food pyramid well enough to scold me when I crept up too high on it, but by age sixteen he is apparently very comfortable at it’s apex.

Now, I am left both looking back and hoping I taught him enough and gazing forward and hoping that the knowledge will resurface in time. His recent choice of a birthday dinner reflects this split in a way. He requested steak (“to replace the iron lost from donating blood this week so I can run better”), potatoes and … a vegetable. Great! Which one? Asparagus?

Ew, no.

Beets?

Are you kidding Mom?

How about roasted broccoli?

No mom, just carrots.

The endless stream of baby carrots was part of what made me hate making lunches so much. Maybe if I show him this recent article about how eating beets before running can make you run significantly faster he’ll change his mind? ©

Nutritional Soundbite #2: You Serve, They Choose.

One day when I was a resident in Pediatrics I was assigned to work in the gastroenterology clinic. There were not many children to be seen that day.  As I waited for a small person with a stomach issue to arrive I picked a book off the shelf and started reading. It was small, had a friendly cover and looked approachable. Indeed, it was a gem. I passed my time that morning reading and the words I soaked up then have stuck with me as I have mothered my three and as I have talked with scores of parents through the years.

The words from this book by childhood nutrition guru Ellyn Satter form the basis of Soundbite #2.

There is an important division of labor in feeding children. Their adults should choose what food they are served. The children choose what to eat and how much. At times parents find it very hard to trust in nature: children are built for success, if trusted they will eat the right amount of food for their bodies. Only the child knows when she is hungry.

Your child will get hungry, eat, get filled up, and stop eating (even in the middle of a bowl of ice cream). Whether your child needs a lot or a little, she instinctively eats as much as she needs. If you follow the division of responsibility with feeding she will automatically eat the right amount of food to grow and be as active as is right for her.

However, if we as parents interfere with this natural rhythm we risk raising children who are either too heavy or too thin for what nature intended. Imagine how confusing it may be to a young child when on one hand her brain knows they are not hungry but their parent is telling them to eat more! Repeat this enough times and the child no longer listens to her body but eats beyond hunger and fills with unneeded calories.

So, fill her plate with good choices. You are obviously not offering soda, chips and sugary cereal all day long. Instead lay out fruits, veggies, cheese, yogurt, milk and whole grains. Then sit back, relax, and trust your very smart child. ©

My Top 10 Nutritional Soundbites

  1. make snacks count
  2. you serve, they choose
  3. limit drinks that taste sweet
  4. don’t worry
  5. don’t be a short order chef
  6. go with their strong suits; average nutrition over a week or month
  7. talk with your kids about nutrition
  8. allow treats
  9. raise cooks
  10. family meals

What’s a parent to do? The news is so full of nutritional advice it can seem impossible to know where to begin an attempt to feed children well. Sugar is increasingly viewed as a dietary mistake. Fiber is fantastic for preventing constipation, irritable bowel syndrome and is linked to a reduction in colon cancer. Blueberries and walnuts have antioxidants, salmon and tuna have vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids. Too much tuna has too much mercury. Too much cow’s milk can lead to iron-deficiency anemia. Too much soy milk is risky as well. How does a parent put all of this advice into action?

My patients’ parents often ask questions about nutrition. I offer them a collection of nutritional advice soundbites. Over the next few days I will share details of my top 10 of these soundbites. Please, comment and join in with yours!

Sugary Cereal, Cornchips and S’Mores or, Moderation in All Things

What’s a parent to do? The news is so full of nutritional advice it can seem impossible to know where to begin an attempt to feed children well. Sugar is increasingly viewed as dietary suicide. Fiber is fantastic for preventing constipation, irritable bowel syndrome and is linked to a reduction in colon cancer. Blueberries and walnuts have antioxidants, salmon and tuna have vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids. Too much tuna has too much mercury. Too much cow’s milk can lead to iron-deficiency anemia. Too much soy milk is risky as well. How does a parent put all of this advice into action?

My patients’ parents often ask questions about nutrition. I offer them a collection of nutritional advice soundbites; the top ten of which may form my next blog posts. One bit of “wisdom” I have always put out there is this: “Make snacks count”. Snacks are a great chance to get in the foods we most want our kids to eat. As a mom of 15, 12 and 10 year old kids I certainly try to practice what I preach. Sometimes though, I fail. It struck me today as I watched the 12 year old gleefully eat her bowl of very sugary cereal complete with colored marshmallow bits,  that there is something about summer vacation that seems programmed to allow these failures.

My childhood summer vacations were spent on the beaches of Virginia, North and South Carolina, in the woods around my grandparents home on the Chesapeake bay and on a lake in the Blue Ridge Mountains. They were formed of long days of freedom, swimming, exploring and happiness. Sand and heat, mosquitoes, crabs and fireflies, lemonade and Fritos formed the texture of the days.

Fritos? Yes. Now looking back on those days I realize how much of my summertime memories center around foods enjoyed only then. Some of course were healthy summertime treats, some were not. S’mores, Fritos and the occasional bowl of sugary cereal were a wonderful break from the extremely healthy diet my mother usually fed me. Now I realize that I have programmed my own children to expect the same sort of nutritional holiday. Sugary cereal never enters my house and to their credit, the kids don’t ask for it either. They know though, that on vacation away from home they are allowed to get a box of the junkiest cereal their little hearts desire. It seems to me that this kind of holiday has a place in their lives.

I may have benefited from being allowed to lie in a sunny spot on a houseboat with my bowl of chips. How? It taught me moderation. As the Roman writer Petronius said:

moderation in all things, including moderation.

Perhaps if we allow our kids the occasional nutritional holiday they will crave the junk less regularly. Outright prohibition doesn’t seem to work well, for adults or for children.  Allowing junk food holidays at times provides us an opportunity to discuss why it is usually not allowed. Maybe they will appreciate it more. I do know for certain that as I sit here now I am certainly enjoying my bowl of Fritos.