Fit Kids

This article comes from one of my favorite sites, Meals Matter.

How many times do you and your children snack each day?

o Morning break at school or work

o After school

o Before dinner

o After dinner

If you picked 2 or 3 then you’re about average. New research shows we are eating more often and more total calories each day than 30 years ago. Snacks can provide up to 1/3 of your child’s daily calories, so make the most of these eating opportunities.

Parents, try thinking of snacks as mini-meals.  Stock your refrigerator and pantry with nutrition-rich foods and limit the extra foods, like sweets, you have on hand. Younger kids may be happy with a container of yogurt or a plate of sliced banana and peanut butter.

Older children can be famished after-school and easily eat a large bowl of cereal.

It is also a good idea to keep snack time in the kitchen rather than in front of the television or while doing other activities. By focusing on the snack itself, you can help children avoid mindless eating.

Try these suggestions to make snacks healthier mini-meals.

  • Give ‘em something to drink. People often mistake hunger for thirst. Spring means warmer weather and active children need more fluids. Serve a tall glass of ice water either plain or flavored with lemon or a glass of milk. If they’re still hungry, give them a snack.


  • Dinner for snack. If after-school activities are in the middle of the usual dinner hours serve a full meal before the activity and offer a snack before bed. If you don’t have time to cook, warm up last night’s leftovers or a make-ahead meal from the freezer.


  • Trust your gut instinct. With the increasing availability of food and beverages it’s important for kids to learn what it feels like to be hungry and full. These internal cues should determine when they eat, not always the clock or availability.


  • Instead of offering snacks to keep little ones preoccupied, find something else they could do in the car or store.


  • Kids’ Choice. With little ones you can set something out and often they will eat it, but older children want to have more of a say in what they put into their mouths. Leave out a bowl of fruit and stock healthy choices in the refrigerator and pantry.

As a parent I know I’ve got to be creative and not get stuck in a rut when serving snacks at home. Focus on balancing snacks with meals and listen to your child’s hunger cues to help you teach children to make good food choices.

Subscribe to the  Eat, Play, Love: Raising Healthy Eaters blog series to find out more great tips.




There are a lot of reports about how obesity in America has reached epidemic levels, and it’s a growing concern with our kids. I remember when I was in grade school there was usually one overweight kid, who usually got picked on.

My kids take gymnastics every Tuesday, and last week I was kind of spacing off as I watched all the kids.

I started to notice the shapes and sized of all the kids.  There are twelve kids in the class, and five of them were overweight, two are seriously overweight. Has the tide turned so much that there are enough overweight kids that they can pick on the skinny kid in the class!

I think we all know the reasons for this shift in the tide. Children want to play video games, get online or watch TV. Combine that with high amounts of fattening food, lack of physical education classes in schools and lack of participation in organized sports and you can see how this has become such an issue.

As parents, we are the gatekeepers!  In your heart of hearts, you know whether you are doing a good job or not.  If you are letting too much crappy food flow through the “gates”, it is never too late to make some changes.

Exercise is critical; we should encourage and insist our kids to be active. Whether it is organized sports or playing outside, activity should be non-negotiable.

To help us become better gatekeepers, posted an easy to follow tip called the “5, 4, 3, 2, 1 rule” to help keep your kids within an acceptable weight range. Every day should include 5 fruits and vegetables, 4 glasses of water, 3 servings of low-fat dairy products, less than 2 hours of screen time and 1 hour of physical activity. This is an easy rule to keep you and children active and healthy.

“I am not going to eat that!”  “What IS that? It looks disgusting.”  “I thought you said we were having something good for dinner.”  These are the most common comments I hear before dinner. The dinner table with kids can be maddening and frustrating whether you have a picky eater or a good eater. So here are some strategies that we have been using to avoid power struggles and help my kids eat a more balanced diet.

One of the first things to recognize is that most kids get plenty of variety and nutrition in their diets over the course of a week. Learning this was a relief to me, because some days it seemed like my kids were eating “crap” all day. Until your child’s food preferences mature, consider these tips for preventing mealtime battles.

1. Respect your child’s appetite — or lack of one
Young children tend to eat only when they’re hungry. If your child isn’t hungry, don’t force a meal or snack. Likewise, don’t bribe or force your child to clean his or her plate. This may only ignite — or reinforce — a power struggle over food. Sometimes, I think that James actually likes a particular food, but says he doesn’t just out of “spite” (for lack of a better word).

2. Stick to the routine
Serve meals and snacks at about the same times every day. Nix juice, milk and snacks for at least one hour before meals. I know, this is sometimes easier said than done, but if your child comes to the table hungry, he or she may be more motivated to eat. This has worked well for us, but sometimes the battle over not getting a snack can be difficult.

3. Be patient with new foods
Young children often touch or smell new foods, and may even put tiny bits in their mouths and then take them back out again. Your child may need repeated exposure to a new food before he or she takes the first bite. Encourage your child by talking about a food’s color, shape, aroma and texture — not whether it tastes good. It took my daughter about six months to finally eat broccoli. Now she loves it with ketchup, of all things.

4. Make it fun
Cut foods into various shapes with cookie cutters. My daughter loves cut up bananas in the shape of a smiley face. Offer breakfast foods for dinner.

5. Recruit your child’s help
At the grocery store, ask your child to help you select fruits, vegetables and other healthy foods. My kids get a kick out of weighing all the fruits and veggies. Don’t buy anything that you don’t want your child to eat. At home, encourage your child to help you rinse veggies, stir batter or set the table.

6. Set a good example
If you eat a variety of healthy foods, your child is more likely to follow your lead.

7. Be sneaky
Add chopped broccoli or green peppers to spaghetti sauce, top cereal with fruit slices, or mix grated zucchini and carrots into casseroles and soups. Pureeing is also a great way to add veggies. Pureed sweet potatoes go un-noticed in Mac-n-Cheese!
8. Minimize distractions
Turn off the television during meals, and don’t allow books or toys at the table.

9. Don’t offer dessert as a reward
Withholding dessert sends the message that dessert is the best food, which may only increase your child’s desire for sweets. You might select one or two nights a week as dessert nights, and skip dessert the rest of the week — or redefine dessert.  When my kids want dessert they can choose fruit, yogurt , apple sauce, or cottage cheese.

10. Don’t be a short order cook
Preparing a separate meal for your child after he or she rejects the original meal may encourage your child’s picky eating. Keep serving your child healthy choices until they become familiar and preferred. I have started a rule where each child can choose one item to be put on his or her plate for dinner. I give them choices of only healthy foods, but at least they feel somewhat in control of their choices, and I know they will at least eat one thing on their plate.

Remember that your child’s eating habits won’t likely change overnight — but the small steps you take each day can help promote a lifetime of healthy eating.



March is National Nutrition Month, and this year the theme for the campaign sponsored by the American Dietetic Association to promote nutrition education is Eat Right with Color.

Recently we were reading a Magic School Bus book, and it was about how and why we see the colors that we see.  One of the characters in the book was Dr. Roy G Biv.  I don’t remember Roy G. Biv when I was kid, but his name is an acronym for the colors of the rainbow (in order). Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet.

Have your kids choose foods from the color of the rainbow.

So our goal this month has been to incorporate all the colors of the rainbow into our meals.  The kids help with the planning by using our friend Roy G Biv.  They get to choose foods from each of the colors of the rainbow.  Here are some of our choices:

Red: Tomatoes, beets, watermelon and pomegranates all contain lycopene. This antioxidants in red foods protect us from hear disease.

Orange/Yellow: Sweet potatoes, carrots, pumpkin, and apricots contain a variety of carotenoids, which enhance immune function. Carotenoid-rich fruits and vegetables (not supplements) have been shown to possibly reduce the risk of cancer. Orange and yellow foods are also high in vitamin A to help protect the eyes and are thought to fend off colds by boosting immunity.

Green: Kale, spinach, broccoli, avocados and asparagus are nutritional powerhouses that are rich in vitamin K for bone health and lutein for eye health. Green fruits and vegetables are also good sources of vitamin C, folate, and magnesium.

Blue/Indigo/Violet: Anthocyanins, found in blueberries, black rice, red cabbage and cherries, are antioxidants that are believed to decrease inflammation associated with heart disease  and arthritis.  Anthocyanins also contain anti-aging properties, promote urinary tract health and may help with memory. Blueberries, likely because of the anthocyanins, have been shown to improve insulin sensitivity and lower blood pressure. These foods also contain resveratrol, an antioxidant specifically linked to protecting against heart disease and maintaining your eye health.

Here are a few ideas to add color to your family’s diet:

  • Mix fresh berries into morning oatmeal or whole grain cereal.
  • Each week or month, find a recipe for a fruit or vegetable you haven’t tried before.
  • Add spinach to fruit smoothies – your kids won’t even be able to taste it! Really!
  • Add a smiley face shape using a variety of veggies. Get creative!
  • Pack cut-up carrots to eat with lunch or a snack.
  • Mix pureed sweet potatoes or pumpkin into spaghetti sauce
  • Make a homemade soup with pureed or chopped vegetables including celery, carrots, sweet potatoes and peas. Or add extra vegetables to low-sodium, canned soups


The last few months I have noticed a down hill spiral of eating habits in our house. Breakfasts and snacks became a free for all of low nutrient, high fat, high calorie foods. (Lunches were packed healthy, and dinners became the only really healthy meal that the kids would eat at home) I was guilty of buying too many snacky foods, which became the kids first choice. This of course led to lots of battles.

I decided to throw out every snack food that was unhealthy and replaceeverything with healthy choices. Not a single unhealthy snack left in our house. But, I did tell the kids that they can have one day a week where they can choose a treat.

It is going on three weeks now, and the kids have not complained once about their snacks and food options. I am kind of surprised, as I thought for sure I would hear a lot of whining about nothing “good to eat”. The best part is that the kids are chowing on all the healthy stuff and loving it.

Kids, especially younger ones, will eat mostly what’s available at home. That’s why it’s important to control the supply lines — the foods that you serve for meals and have on hand for snacks. Kids can’t eat what is not there. A side bonus is that you will not be tempted by your kids snacks.

Here are some basic tips that are great for kids but also for parents:

1. Work fruits and vegetables into the daily routine, aiming for the goal of at least five servings a day. Be sure you serve fruit or vegetables at every meal.

2. Make it easy for kids to choose healthy snacks by keeping fruits and vegetables on hand and ready to eat. Other good snacks that my kids love include low-fat yogurt blended with some low fat milk to make a shake/smoothie, peanut butter and capples or celery, or whole-grain crackers and cheese.

3. Serve lean meats and other good sources of protein, such as fish, eggs, beans, and nuts.Choose whole-grain breads and cereals so kids get more fiber. Don’t be fooled by kids’ cereal marketing. Read the ingredients.

4. Limit fat intake by avoiding deep-fried foods and choosing healthier cooking methods, such as broiling, grilling, roasting, and steaming. Choose low-fat or nonfat dairy products.

5. Limit fast food and low-nutrient snacks, such as chips and candy. But don’t completely ban their favorite snacks. Instead, make them a special treat, so kids don’t feel deprived.

6. Limit sugary drinks, such as soda, juice, and fruit-flavored drinks. Serve water and low-fat milk instead

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