Healthy Snacks for Picky Eaters

The last few months I have noticed a downhill spiral of eating habits in our house. Breakfasts and snacks became a free for all of low nutrient, high fat, high calorie foods. (Lunches are packed healthy, and dinners have become the only really healthy meal that the kids eat at home) I am guilty of buying too many snacky foods, which quickly has become the kid’s first choice. Now that our summer routine has set in, the snacks have become even more out of control.

Last week, I decided to throw out every snack food that was unhealthy and replace with healthy choices. No more otter pops, no more chocolate chip bars, no more Doritos, no more Skittles… But, I did tell the kids that they can have one day or two days a week where they can choose a treat.

So far, so good. The kids have not been complaining (okay, as much as I thought they would) 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 while they would never admit it, they like 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’s not there. Double bonus — you will not be tempted by your kid’s snacks.

I have super picky eaters, so here are some basic tips for healthy snacking that work for me. They are great for kids but also for parents:

1. Fruits and vegetables can be the first go-to snack choice. Make them a part of the daily routine, and aim to serve a fruit or vegetables at every meal. Make it easy for kids by keeping fruits and vegetables on hand and ready to eat. A fruit kabob is always way more fun than just eating fruit out of a bowl.

2. Other good snacks that my kids love include low-fat yogurt blended with fruit and some low fat milk to make a shake/smoothie,

3. Peanut butter and apples are a big hit at our house, along with whole-grain crackers and cheese, and even mini whole grain bagels and cream cheese.

3. Choose whole-grain cereals so kids get more fiber. Don’t be fooled by kids’ cereal marketing. Read the ingredients. We usually have Kashi or Kind cereal in the house. My kids don’t drink milk, so a bowl of dry cereal is a quick snack for us.

4. Chips and salsa. Yes, I got rid of the Doritos, but there are better choices of chips on the market like baked chips. My kids love salsa, so this is actually my attempt to help them expand their taste buds with something a little more ‘exotic’ like salsa. Also using carrots, celery, cucumber slices or other veggie faves for salsa dipping is strongly recommended.

5. Applesauce is always a winner. My kids love the squeezy applesauce, and even though it’s a bit more expensive, I always stock up when it’s on sale, since I know that is something they always seem to eat.

Not Losing Weight? – Six Things to Consider

Losing weight can be invigorating… and frustrating, maddening, overwhelming, etc. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could choose a diet plan that would allow you to lose 2 pounds a week (or 5 pounds, or insert your number here ____) every week until you reached your goal?

But if you have ever been on a diet, you know that’s not how it works. Some weeks your effort reflects the number of pounds lost. Some weeks you work your butt of and lose nothing. Some weeks (all be it rare) you slack a little and lose a pound or two.

Calories IN vs. calories OUT is definitely important, but there are other things that creep into the equation.

Here are 6 things to keep an eye on to make sure your effort reflects your outcome.

Eating too few carbohydrates It’s true that we need to be careful when it comes to carbohydrate intake to maximize fat loss, but we still want to make sure we are getting enough carbs. Did you know that fat molecules will not enter the fat burning cycle unless they have a little glucose (carb) molecule to take them there. It’s easy to get excited when you reduce your carbs and instantly lose weight, but often this is more of a factor of storing less water than fat loss.

Eating the wrong type of carbohydrates You might be eating the right amount of carbohydrates, but the type of carbs you eat has a big effect on weight loss. There is a buzz around high glycemic index (GI) foods and low GI foods, and the reason is that the type of carbs you eat will directly affect your weight loss. To keep it simple, low GI foods are good, high GI foods are bad.

Good carbohydrates are complex carbohydrates that take the body longer to break down. These carbohydrates typically are high in fiber, which takes the body longer to break down and helps stabilize blood sugar levels. The best sources of good carbohydrates include fresh vegetables, fresh fruit, whole grains and beans. All of these foods provide the body with energy, vitamins, fiber, minerals and phytonutrients. In addition to fresh fruit and veggies, good carbohydrates include whole grain cereals, whole wheat breads and pastas, and brown rice.

Bad carbohydrates are foods that are easily digestible and provide the body with limited nutrients and vitamins. Because these foods are so quickly digested, your body will experience a quick spike in energy followed by a crash. Examples of bad carbs include soft drinks, cakes, cookies, chips, white bread, white rice, alcohol.

Eating too little fiber When we are eating for weight loss and we restrict our carb intake, it also changes our intake of fiber. Fiber might be the single most important secret to weight loss, and it is an essential factor for maintaining health. It helps you feel fuller and therefore eat less. It also binds with acids in the body and helps carry out excess fat, and it speeds the transit time of the food we eat, keeping the intestines in good order.

Getting too little sleep When we are constantly sleep deprived the body secretes a hormone called ghrelin. Higher ghrelin levels have been shown to reduce energy, stimulate hunger and food intake, and promote retention of fat. Do you ever notice that some days you feel hungry all day, even though you are eating your regular diet. Think back to your sleep patterns, and you may realize that you haven’t gotten as much sleep lately.

Eating too little fat Low fat diets have been really popular, but too little fat may actually make it harder for us to lose weight. Essential fats (aka good fats) help burn fat by helping to transport oxygen, vitamins, nutrients, and hormones to the body’s tissues.

Good fats include foods like non-hydrogenated oils (olive, canola, sunflower, peanut, sesame), avocados, olives, raw nuts (almonds, peanuts, walnuts, macadamia nuts, hazelnuts, pecans, cashews), fatty fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring, trout, sardines), and tofu.

Bad fats include things like high-fat cuts of meat (beef, lamb, pork or chicken with the skin) whole-fat dairy products (milk and cream), butter, ice cream, commercially-baked pastries, cookies, doughnuts, muffins, cakes, pizza dough, packaged snack foods (crackers, microwave popcorn, chips), margarine or vegetable shortening, any fried foods (French fries, fried chicken, chicken nuggets, breaded fish), and candy bars. 

Drinking too little water Dehydration happens more than you think. If you want to have steady fat loss and high energy, it’s necessary to keep your body and liver hydrated every day. Our liver converts the fat soluble toxic chemicals (that we consume, breathe in, and absorb through our skin), into water soluble chemicals that are flushed out by the kidneys through urine. With limited water supply, the kidneys cannot completely flush out metabolic and foreign waste and weight loss can be more difficult.

 

Cooking Healthy – Swaping the Good for the Bad

It was trendy in 2011, and it will continue to be a trendsetter in 2012 — Simple substitutions for healthier meals.

Cooking healthy meals is really not rocket science. But because of old habits or lack of experimenting, we often fall into a rut with cooking methods and staple dishes. And get this; our taste buds are wired a certain way, which can make it tough to go two days without craving the very foods we need to banish from our lives.

One key way to dropping inches and pounds lies in being able to control these cravings. I am not suggesting to ramp up your willpower, but use simple substitution. It’s a great way of ensuring that you feel fulfilled with an old family favorite, but you can be satisfied that you’re eating healthy.

There are so many ways to swap out the bad for the good, so to get the most comprehensive list that not only includes basic substitutions (like milk for cream), but it also has a ton of creative and surprising ideas from some of the smartest people I know when it comes to nutrition. Click here and substitute your way to a fit and healthy you.  Happy New Year!

 

The Potato – Is it Friend or Foe

The potato has become quite controversial. There are camps that say it is definitely a dangerfood, and then there are those that are campaigning to keep spuds in schools. I recently wrote an article for The Greatist, and this is where my research took me.

The potato may not win any beauty contests, but depending on how it’s dressed up, the potato can be a good source of vitamins and minerals. Unfortunately, these starchy spuds can cause blood sugar to soar, some say even more than eating than pure sugar. Potatoes may be a good way to survive a famine, but their high glycemic load sends them to the danger zone.

The glycemic load refers to the effect a food has on blood sugar levels, as carbohydrates are broken down into glucose (simple sugar) and absorbed into the blood to fuel the body. Foods with a high glycemic load cause a fast absorption of sugars into the bloodstream, whereas a low glycemic load has a slower rate of absorption.

The carbohydrates in potatoes are quickly absorbed into the bloodstream, causing a rapid spike in blood sugar. And this invasion of too much sugar sends the body into damage control mode, by releasing extra insulin from the pancreas to try and keep the sugar situation under control. Insulin is like the messenger telling the cells to take in the glucose, and as the pancreas takes the “better safe than sorry” approach, it usually sends out too much insulin. But wait, there’s more to the message. The cells need to know what to do with all the extra glucose, so the excess insulin signals fat cells to store it as fat.

Potatoes are not the sole winner of the high glycemic load contest. Many other carbohydrate foods share the title, and while carbohydrates give the body energy, when foods with a high glycemic load are eaten in excess, not only does the pancreas get a little tired of sending out all that extra insulin, the cells don’t respond like they used to.

So the pancreas has to send out even more insulin to get the cells to do their job and take in the extra glucose. It gets to be a vicious cycle of excess carbs leading to excess insulin, and finally the body starts resisting the insulin all together, which can lead to serious health conditions like type II diabetes, coronary disease, obesity, and certain types of cancer.

Potato fans may say that the spudly nutrients are well worth the spike in blood sugar. Potatoes are low in calories and sodium, a good source of potassium, which can help muscles function and lower blood pressure, iron which is important for blood oxygen, and copper which is key for nerve function and energy metabolism. And let’s not forget the peel which is rich in Vitamin C, important for the growth and repair of tissues in all parts of the body.

It’s possible that the devil may be in the details like the oil, butter, and salt, not in the potato, as long as it is cooked and prepared in a healthy way. And with the many variety of potatoes, some will be have a lower glycemic load.

But potatoes become even more menacing when they are prepared in unhealthy ways, like fried, baked and loaded, or mashed and gravyed. Not only will a loaded baked potato or an order of fries wreak havoc on blood glucose, but each can have over 500 calories.

The saving grace for the potato may lie in the cooking methods, as it may reduce the glycemic load with boiling potatoes being at the top of the list, and it gets even better if they are left to cool or reheated later on.

So if the potato is going to remain part of the family, it may be time to boil the little spuds, and eat them as leftovers loaded with something like Greek yogurt, low fat cheese, or salsa— and skip the fries and gravy entirely

Tricks To Combat Mindless Eating

You have probably heard the term mindless eating. It actually refers to findings from scientific experiments showing that people make almost 20 times more daily decision about food than they realize – approximately 250 decisions each day.

Mindless Eating suggests that a considerable part of our hunger is psychologically-driven, which leads us to be easily driven by tiny cues around us, such as family, friends, packages, names, labels, lights, colors, smells, shapes, distances, containers, cupboards, and distractions. Is it possible that we are not calibrated well enough to know when we are full or to know when we are hungry?

The gist of the study goes like this:

Endless bowl group – participants ate from a bowl that automatically refilled from the bottom. The participants did not know this was happening.

Normal bowl group – participants ate from a bowl that did not automatically refill. As they ate, they could see there was less food left on the bowl.

Those in the endless bowl group ate 73% more food until they thought they were full, compared to those in the normal bowl group. This confirmed scientific hypothesis — that our eyes are the main factors in determining when we think we are full.

Obviously, mindless eating can lead to unhealthy habits and weight gain. However, mindless eating can also be used to your favor, so that your habits become healthier.

Some easy fixes or tricks are to get smaller plates and bowls. This works great with kids too. I actually just did this with all my kiddie plastic bowls. Now with smaller bowls, I don’t hear whining complaints like “that’s all I get?” or “that’s not enough!” when I pour an appropriate amount of food into the bowl. Reducing the number of times you look at unhealthy snacks is also key.  Either don’t buy them at all or keep them out of sight. You can move healthier foods to eye-level in the refrigerator or pantry. And of course, food should be eaten in the kitchen, rather than in front of the TV.

Most of us have too much chaos going on in our lives to consciously focus on every bite we eat, and then ask ourselves if we’re full. The secret is to change your environment so it works for you rather than against you.

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