Updated: Jul 2

Remote learning has been a test of many things, especially parents’ patience. It might seem easy to give in and let your kids graze on snacks all day, but here’s what can happen if you close the kitchen.




Parenting and snacking go hand-in-hand. It starts with Cheerios or Puffs in a little plastic, spill-proof container and moves on to adolescents raiding the pantry and fridge. Snacking is essential to children, especially young children, who need lots of nutrients to meet the needs of their growing bodies. But I have found that the pandemic has parents at their wits-end, taking on the struggle of working from home, teaching their children simultaneously, and providing a constant flow of snacks to satisfy the frustrated, or bored, child.


Is it OK for kids to snack?


Snacking is an essential way to provide nutrients to kids, especially toddlers and young children whose stomachs can only hold a small amount of food at a time. Unfortunately, the choice of snack is usually the problem. Snacking should really be an opportunity to provide nutritious foods that fill in the nutrient gaps.


In a meta-analysis of 23 observational studies, researchers found that higher calorie meals and snacks led to a higher risk of obesity in kids.


We’re feeding our kids Cheez Its and “natural” gummy fruit snacks, thinking it’s going to give our kids the energy they need. Instead, we’re increasing their tolerance and desire for these salty and sugary snacks and teaching them that these foods are appropriate for everyday - sometimes, all-day consumption.

Childhood is a time to set life-long habits and taste preferences. Kids can’t discern health consequences from foods as adults can; it is our job to do that for them. High fat, sugary snacks do not provide the nutrients required for kids to perform in physical activity. These highly palatable foods are a norm nowadays and can become addictive, leading to a pattern of obesity.


And, often, snacks are given on demand, as handouts, while running in the park, while waiting in line, on every car trip….and now, during remote learning at home.


For my family, it’s gotten to the point where a walk outside automatically triggers the question, “Did you bring any snacks, mom??”


As does the start of the remote school day...we may have finished breakfast 15 minutes beforehand, but the second their Zoom meeting connects, they’re already asking for snacks.


Instead, snacking can be a way to emulate how to appreciate food and remain mindful in eating.


What should you do when your kids beg for snacks all day?


Snacking is important but shouldn’t be doled out as dictated by your kids- it should be strategic. Snacks can offer nutrients that your child didn’t eat in the previous meal or that you suspect they may not eat in the next.


Constant snacking, or grazing, keeps kids just a little too full for meals.


To expect kids to sit for a meal and eat, they need to be a little hungry.


Strategic, planned snacks are the answer.

Here’s how to plan your kids’ snacks:


-Plan 2-3 snacks per day for toddlers, 1-2 for older children and adolescents.

-This will vary based on one’s activity and needs, and energy demands.


-Set a time between meals to offer nutritious snacks and only at that time

-Ideally, this will be spaced in between the main meals with allowance of enough time for everyone to develop a little hunger for the next meal.


-Sit down for snacks. Set snacks out at the table as often as you can. Even if you’re at the park, sit down on a bench.

-This teaches everyone that food should be enjoyed mindfully. (Besides the fact that eating while running around is a choking hazard. And, I don’t know about you, but I’m really tired of following my kids around with a broom to catch crumbs all over the house.)


What if my child cries that she’s hungry at other times?


If you’re providing nutritious, sustaining foods and snacks, you can start shedding that guilt at refusing extra snack handouts because you know (and she’ll know) that another opportunity to eat will be right around the corner. The more you set up consistent patterns of eating, the more your child can trust that if he decides not to eat now, they’ll be another chance soon. But not until then.


It also teaches your child to trust himself - he can gauge how much to eat depending on what his body feels like right now, how much he likes the food, and when the next time to eat will be. And isn’t that what we want for our children...to grow up and trust that they know their body best and not to fall victim to outside pressures?


What kind of snacks should I provide?


Unfortunately, kids’ snacks have become ubiquitous with sugary desserts or salty, crunchy, high fat, shelf-stable items.


The kinds of meals and snacks that will sustain kids (and adults, for that matter) are those with protein, fiber, and healthy fats. As Ellyn Satter, MS, RD, LCSW, BCD says, snacks are the “ace in the parents’ hole.” It’s a time to squeeze in those nutrients that they may have missed in a previous meal.


Filling, nutritious snack ideas for kids:


Here are some snack ideas for school-age kids for school, for home, or on the go. Adapt the textures and sizes according to your child’s development.


Apple slices with nut butter


Whole-grain pretzels with a glass of milk


Energy Balls like these
















Homemade ice pops like these cocoa chickpea pops















Homemade popcorn sprinkled with Nutritional Yeast


Cheese Sticks


Pumpkin Oatmeal cookies, homemade














Hummus and veggies


Chocolate hummus and whole-grain crackers


Homemade whole wheat pita chips and salsa


Whole wheat toast and peanut butter


Apple slices in mascarpone dip














Plain Greek yogurt with fruit and/or granola


Nuts


Trail mix with nuts and dried fruit


Turkey and cheese roll-ups


Edamame and whole-grain pretzels


Oatmeal



Should I give my kids a bedtime snack?


Ellyn Satter, MS, RD, LCSW, BCD suggests that bedtime snacks should be “filling, not thrilling.” This means the bedtime snack should not be a treat offered as a reward for eating dinner. The bedtime snack should be similar to other snacks throughout the day; full of fiber and protein, nutritious and hearty; not something for which the kids will intentionally skip dinner because it’s so tempting.


So the bedtime snack, again, offers the opportunity to nourish kids with healthy nutrients that they may not have otherwise consumed in their meals. Some of our favorites are:


Homemade pumpkin oatmeal cookies

Chocolate hummus with whole-grain crackers

Plain Greek yogurt with fruit/granola

Homemade peaches and cream ice pops

Healthy cocoa chickpea ice pops


So I said, “No” to Snacking and Here’s What Happened


“Can I have a snack?”

“Sure you can...after lunch, which will be in half an hour!” (Not only did I delay the snack until the appropriate time, I turned my negative answer into a positive one.)


It might be a battle at first...but it’s worth it. After just a few times of saying no, my kids accepted it. I feel confident that I’m planning healthy meals and snacks and that my kids are eating the right amount for their growing bodies and learning to trust their own hunger and fullness signals.


Of course, there are times when I want to give in and I don’t. And there are times when I do give in. But I’m consistent the majority of the time and my family knows what to expect.


Do you close the kitchen in between meals? I challenge you to try. Extra bonus if you tackle snacks on the playground or soccer field. 😉


Theresa 🥑



References:

Kerr, J.A., Jansen, P.W., Mensah, F.K. et al. Child and adult snack food intake in response to manipulated pre-packaged snack item quantity/variety and snack box size: a population-based randomized trial. Int J Obes 43, 1891–1902 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41366-019-0407-z


Nguyen V, Cooper L, Lowndes J, Melanson K, Angelopoulos TJ, Rippe JM, Reimers K.Popcorn is more satiating than potato chips in normal-weight adults. Nutr J 2012;11:71.


Wansink B, Kim J.Bad popcorn in big buckets: portion size can influence intake as much as taste. J Nutr Educ Behav 2005;37:242–5.


Rhee KE, Boutelle K, Jelalian E, Barnes R, Dickstein S, Wing R.Firm maternal parenting associated with decreased risk of excessive snacking in overweight children. Eat Weight Disord 2015;20:195–203.


Wouters EJ, Larsen JK, Kremers SP, Dagnelie PC, Geenen R.Peer influence on snacking behavior in adolescence. Appetite 2010;55:11–7.


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  • Theresa Gentile

Updated: Jul 2

A delicious alternative to lobster on a busy weeknight.



Crab rolls have become a staple on my monthly dinner rotation. They’re super easy to prepare, a meatless option, and, more importantly, everyone likes them.


Of course, lobster is my first choice, but crab is more reasonably priced. But a quick note on imitation vs. real crab meat. I remember the day I was sitting with my dietitian colleagues in our hospital cafeteria eating the imitation crab meat, thinking we were getting a heart-healthy protein source on our salad and gawking at the notion that imitation crab meat was high in carbs and sugar. “High in sugar?! But this is a protein and it’s not sweet!” The joke was on us!


Imitation crab meat isn’t just various fish mushed together into a mold (surimi, it’s called, which is actually usually made from pollock). Surimi only comprises about 30-50% of imitation crabs’ weight. The remainder is be made of water, starch, egg proteins, sugar, sorbitol, unhealthy vegetable oils and sodium or MSG. Oh my….


So, although the calorie content of imitation crab meat is similar to real crab meat (about 80 calories for 3 ounces), imitation crab is much lower in protein, higher in carbohydrates, sugar, and salt and lower in omega-3 fatty acids and minerals.

So, it’s certainly not horrible to have a crab roll with imitation crab meat occasionally, but if this recipe makes it into your regular rotation, as it has mine, you may want to splurge for real crab meat. You can purchase real crab pre-shelled in the refrigerated section of the supermarket, frozen, or even canned.


These rolls would also be perfect for a barbecue, picnic, or easy summer lunch. I add a lot of lemon zest and herbs for extra flavor.


Easy Crab Rolls

Serves: 4


Ingredients:

1/4 cup mayonnaise (You can swap ~ 2 Tbsp plain Greek yogurt for 2 Tbsp mayo and no one will be the wiser...)

1 Tablespoon lemon juice + 1 teaspoon lemon zest

½ - 1 teaspoon hot sauce (optional)

12 ounces lump crab meat

1 Tablespoon chopped chives

1 Tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon or chervil (optional)

Salt and pepper to taste

4-8 lettuce leaves

4 brioche hot dog buns toasted

1 ½ Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted for rolls, optional


Instructions:


1. Whisk together mayonnaise, lemon juice, lemon zest, and hot sauce, if you’re using. Add the fresh herbs, if you’re using them.


2. Pick over crab meat for any shells. Add mayo mixture to the crab meat. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.


3. If brushing outside of buns with butter, do so, then toast until golden brown.


4. Layer lettuce into each bun, divide crab meat mixture and spoon on top of lettuce. Enjoy!


Tell me if you try it!



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Updated: Mar 26



Organic, natural, GMO...oh, my! What do the labels mean and what does it mean for your health? Read on to find out.

If you’re like me, I want my kids to know that chicken doesn’t naturally come in the shape of dinosaurs...or that fish don’t swim as breaded sticks. And that veggie straws aren’t really a form of vegetables. (Yes, sad, but true.) But maybe that’s not good enough...maybe I can do more for my family’s health.


Should I buy organic foods?

Maybe we should go GMO-free?

What is "Natural", anyway?


Organic foods and the labeling process can be confusing and so can the health implications. Here's the breakdown.

Who is in charge of labeling foods organic?

Here, in the U.S., the National Organic Program of the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service enforces the organic regulations.

What defines an Organic food?

Here is a breakdown of the food labels you might see in the grocery store:

Organic

The term ‘organic’ refers to the way farmers grow and process agricultural products, including crops and livestock. Organic farming techniques involve biodiversity, integration, sustainability, natural plant nutrition, natural pest management, and integrity.

Organic labels can be found on produce, dairy, meat, processed foods, condiments, and beverages. A food product can contain the “USDA Organic Seal” if it contains at least 95% organic ingredients with no synthetic growth hormones, antibiotics, pesticides, biotechnology, synthetic ingredients, sewage sludge, or irradiation used in production or processing. The products must also undergo the organic certification process.


Organic crops are those that are not grown with the use of synthetic herbicides, pesticides, fertilizers, or bioengineered genes (GMOs). Organic produce must be grown on soil that did not have a prohibited substance applied for 3 years prior to harvest (most synthetic fertilizers and pesticides).

Organic meat requires that animals are raised in living conditions accommodating their natural behaviors, fed organic feed, and not administered antibiotics or hormones.

“Made with organic ingredients”

This label can be used if a product has at least 70% organic ingredients and is produced without synthetic methods. (But they cannot use the USDA organic seal on their packaging.)


How many organic labels are there?

There are four distinct labeling categories for organic products:

-100 percent organic

-products must consist of 100% certified organic ingredients. The label must contain the name of the certifying agent and may include the USDA Organic Seal and/or the 100% Organic claim. -Organic

- these products must contain ingredients that are certified organic. The exception is these ingredients found on the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances. According to the USDA, “no more than five percent of the combined total ingredients may contain non-organic content. Additionally, the label must include the name of the certifying agent, and may include the USDA Organic Seal and/or the organic claim.”

-“Made with” organic ingredients

- at least 70% percent of the product must be certified organic ingredients; the organic seal cannot be used on the product, and the final product cannot be represented as organic

– Up to three ingredients or ingredient categories can be represented as organic. The rest of the ingredients don’t have to be organic but must be produced without genetic engineering.

-Specific Organic Ingredients

-Multi-ingredient products with less than 70 percent certified organic content

-don’t need to be certified

-cannot display the USDA Organic Seal or use the word organic on the principal display panel. They can list certified organic ingredients in the ingredient list and the percentage of organic ingredients.


Then there's these labels, in case you weren't confused enough....


-Certified Naturally Grown

-This label indicates that a food was not grown on a certified organic farm by the National Organic Program of the USDA, but was grown using the same standards as those for organic. As farmers have criticized the cost and process needed to participate in the USDA’s organic program, this is an alternative, non-governmental certification system where other farmers act as inspectors in a program administered by a non-profit organization called Certified Naturally Grown.

-Grassfed

-This grass-fed label is administered by the USDA for ruminant animals like cows and goats. It states that these animals must be fed only grass and forage during the growing season. According to Farmaid.org, “The American Grassfed Association is one organization that certifies beef, bison, dairy, lamb and goat that is fed only on pasture, in addition to being raised without antibiotics, synthetic hormones, confinement and with standards for high animal welfare. Other animals, like chicken and pigs, can be pasture-raised (and USDA organic standards require at least some access to pasture), but there are currently no specific certification standards for non-ruminant animals being grass fed or pastured.”


Are Organic Foods Healthier and More Nutritious?

The public’s perception that organic foods are healthier has created a multi-billion dollar organic food industry. Studies of the nutrient content vary and how they may contribute to health. Nutrient content varies from farmer to farmer and from year to year.

But reviews of multiple studies show that organic foods provide greater levels of:
vitamin C, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, antioxidant phytochemicals, (anthocyanins, flavonoids, and carotenoids), omega-3 fatty acids.

And lower levels of:

-nitrates, pesticide residues.

In four separate clinical trials, people who switched from conventionally grown to organic foods saw a rapid and dramatic reduction in their urinary pesticide concentrations, a marker of pesticide exposure.

The research also shows that the levels of harmful chemicals in conventionally grown produce may only be ~30% lower than organically grown produce. Remember, organic foods are not necessarily 100% free of pesticides.

Whether you choose organic or conventionally grown, you should still practice these tips:

-Choose a variety of foods and vary your intake so you decrease your chances of being exposed to a single pesticide

-Buy fruits and vegetables in season or or shop at a local farmer's market

-Keep an eye on the "Dirty Dozen" list. (Get the Environmental Working Group's 2021 List here.) (The EWG uses test data from the federal Department of Agriculture to assess residues of potentially harmful chemical pesticides on fruits and vegetables. Each year, they put out a list of the top 12 produce that contains these chemical residues. (Note to self: strawberries are almost always #1 😢)

-Scrub produce thoroughly

-this helps remove dirt, bacteria, and some chemicals from fruits and vegetables. Since this won't remove most pesticides, make sure to peel the skin off fruit when able and discard outer leaves of leafy greens.


What do you think? What do you do at home? Will this change what you do and the food you buy??


References:

1. https://www.farmaid.org/food-labels-explained/

2. https://www.usda.gov/topics/organic

3. Crinnion WJ. Organic foods contain higher levels of certain nutrients, lower levels of pesticides, and may provide health benefits for the consumer. Altern Med Rev. 2010 Apr;15(1):4-12. PMID: 20359265.

4. Vigar, V., et al., A Systematic Review of Organic Versus Conventional Food Consumption: Is There a Measurable Benefit on Human Health? Nutrients, 2020; 12(1), 7. DOI: https://doi.org/10.3390/nu12010007. Available at: https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/12/1/7/htm.

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