Posts By: Theresa Albert

Back to School Healthy Habits That Last All Year Long

Dear whomever is in charge,

Please help me through another back to school season; I know that summer’s freedom and lazy ways are about to be replaced by the hectic juggle of school schedules, homework, making lunches, extracurricular activities, work and stress. If you have tips to keep my family on track without resorting to using words of the four letter variety, packing processed lunches and providing drive-thru dinners, I am all ears!

Signed,

Parenting is hard enough

 

Dear Parenting,

Yes, this time of year can be hectic, and it can be difficult to serve your family healthy lunches and dinners. As a nutritionist I am inundated with food products that sent to me by organizations who want my endorsement. And well many are convenient most of them get tossed because they are unhealthy, and I can’t in all good conscience recommend them. As a nutritionist, I know that there are shortcuts though when you’re pressed for time to rush out the door in the morning, and out in the evening for after school activities. Here are some of my tried and true back to school systems that will help you plan, and give healthy meals, all year long.

Back to School systems:

  • Get kids to make a chart of what they will enjoy for lunches. The chart must be filled in under these categories: Protein, Vegetables, Fruits, Carbohydrates. Dairy can be a protein in a pinch and carbohydrates must be whole grain otherwise they are “treats” and that is a different category. You can change this list monthly as the lunches begin to becoming boring.
  • Prep veggies and fruits on the weekends. This way, they are ready to be lunchbox loaded.
  • Double up on dinners. Baked chicken, barbecued pork or beef and grilled tofu are all great cubed as protein for the following day as leftovers or packed for lunch.

Other things to keep in mind:

  • Fruit is best if it is whole but if you are looking for a packaged product, it should be sugar free. You need to know that even fruit juice or peeled fruit can spike blood sugar levels and that can create behaviour or fatigue issues. Be sure to serve these products with some kind of protein or good fat like cheese to slow them down.
  • Consider using ingredients other than bread for sandwiches and wraps such as: rice paper, sushi nori, lettuce leaves, steamed cabbage or kale leaves. They are just as good at holding fillings as bread but contain more nutrients and less sugar and salt.

Treats and Snacks:

  • Pure, unadulterated treats are fine once a week, like an ice cream on the weekends.  But, there is more evidence that daily sugar consumption isn’t just about cavities anymore. A diet too high in sugar can be directly related to diabetes, obesity but also dementia. In fact, the World Health Organization has reduced the recommendation of sugar consumption to about 6 teaspoons per day for an adult and less for children. One “fruit filled” snack bar can contain about 3 teaspoons if you don’t make the right choice.

 

  • I am frequently asked if there are any treat bars that I will endorse and I have discovered Nature’s Path Envirokidz line.  They are made with whole grain flours, natural sweeteners (like brown rice syrup, cane sugar and molasses) and are low sodium non-gmo, wheat and gluten free. These treats have an average of 1.5 teaspoons of sugar per bar, less than half of some of the more popular ones. Since they contain fibre and protein the sugar is slower on the uptake so your kid won’t be. Don’t be fooled by some products that say they are “naturally sweetened” but still contain too much sugar.

 

 

  • Consider using Xyla (often referred to as Xylitol) as a sweetener instead of sugar or artificial sweeteners. It is a natural sweetener derived from the sugar molecule but only has one portion of the entire composition. The net result is that it is lower on the glycemic index which makes it safe for diabetics and it has 33% fewer calories.  Canadian born, Xyla is derived from hardwood and looks like sugar, tastes like sugar and bakes like sugar and can be swapped 1:1 in any recipe. Yet unlike sugar, there are actually benefits to its consumption. It blew me away to discover that Xyla actually protects tooth enamel by changing the PH of saliva. It has also been shown to prevent ear infections in children. Xyla is available in a free pour bag but it is also used in products like sugar free ketchup (the ubiquitous kid dip), toothpaste and mouthwash.

And finally here are some of my personal food rules I consider non-negotiable no matter what time of year it is as I believe they help kids to become adults that can feed themselves well!

  • Parents decide what gets served, kids can decide how much.
  • Food is the fuel for our cells allowing us to function, think and grow. It shall be respected.
  • We will not fight or finagle over food.
  • The goal is to get kids to grow into adults who can feed themselves well when they are on their own (in a few short years…believe me)

Is All Pizza Bad for You?

When thinking about healthy eating one doesn’t necessarily think of pizza, though some are still convinced that it is the ultimate food offering something from all food groups. So does pizza have anything to offer nutritionally? Well unfortunately, any nutrients that you might get from the toppings are cancelled out by the high sodium, high sugar, high fat delivery system. No matter how much we try to count the tomato sauce as a vegetable, and the cheese as protein, most pizza recipes aren’t healthy recipes.  Does that mean you have to avoid pizza forever? Naw…

Don’t avoid pizza – make it healthy!

It is all about the nutritional ratio. H=N/C or Health = nutrients over calories. If you can keep the nutrients high and the calories low, you will indeed have a quintessential kid food that doesn’t derail your efforts at healthy eating.

For pizza delivery try these tips:

  • Thin crust beats thick or deep dish crust
  • Whole grain is only better if it is thin crust, the amount of fibre isn’t worth the extra dough
  • Chicken is the best meat, all other meats are too fatty
  • One cheese is plenty  but if you have to add some, add goat’s cheese, it is lower in fat
  • Add as many vegetables as possible to a veggie pizza; olives, sundried tomatoes and capers count
  • Ask for double the tomato sauce
  • Order double the salad and half the pizza that you think you will need
  • Skip all appetizers, they are never worth the calories

When opting for frozen pizza keep these things in mind:

  • Choose whichever thin crust pizza has the lowest sodium count
  • Avoid all meats other than chicken
  • Spread extra tomato paste on frozen top before baking and sprinkle extra herbs, ground flax or chia seeds
  • Add a shake of grated parmesan to keep your new toppings in place
  • Top with arugula or spinach after you remove from the oven
  • If you just can’t cope without a little meat, choose lean prosciutto into small pieces and add after baking

If you would like a crust dip, consider:

  • Tomato or marinara sauce or another healthy pizza sauce
  • Avoid all creamy or cheesy sauces
  • Salsa is low fat and high flavour nutrient dense dip, it goes with everything

So if you want pizza go for it! By following some of these nutritional tips to enhance pizza recipes you can still make this Italian treat a part of healthy eating.

 

About the Author:

Theresa Albert

Theresa Albert is a Food Communications Specialist and Toronto Personal Nutritionist. She is @theresaalbert on twitter and found daily at www.myfriendinfood.com

Sick of chicken? Try cooking lentils!

Protein packed lentils are one of the most ancient crops known to have been cultivated even as much as 8500 years ago! Loads of varieties are available and they are cheap and easily found at any grocery store.  They are one of the few beans that don’t require soaking or any other preparation which makes them perfect for making healthy meals at a low cost.

Getting your family to include lentil nutrition as part of an enjoyable, healthy meal may take some work but the effort is well worth it.  Studies abound on the benefits of lentils, which include the ability to reduce blood pressure and reverse heart disease.  Break the kids in early with mashed lentils as a first food.

Some of the more common varieties include:

Puy Lentils-these small blackish green, lower starch lentils are great for creamy side dishes

Green Lentils-firm, larger pods are ideal for cold salads

Red Lentils- these are actually the hulled inside of other lentils, and are perfect for soups as they disintegrate when cooked.

All lentils rank very highly on the protein scale and when paired with cheese and/or nuts make a complete protein just as effective at building muscle as animal protein. They are also one of the best forms of fibre. A one cup serving meets the requirements for just over half of your day’s needs. Just remember when cooking any lentils, pulses or beans not to add any acid like lemon or vinegar until the very end. Doing so stops the breakdown of the fibre so that they will not cook fully. Well this can be a good thing to prevent them from becoming too mushy at the end of cooking add it at the beginning and you’ll be crunching on pebbles! Here is one of my healthy lentil recipes for delicious homemade soup.

Red Lentil and Sweet Potato Soup

Preparation time: 25 minutes                                      Servings: 4                 

You can feed a family of four for under $2.00 with a soup of high-protein lentils, nutrition-packed sweet potatoes and onions. Cheese is optional and will cost a bit extra. I know it seems weird not to peel the sweet potatoes but the skins are full of nutrients and are just as delicious as white potato skins.  Just give them a good scrub and chop!

1 tsp                butter

1                      onion, chopped

1 cup               red lentils

1                      small sweet potato, scrubbed and cubed, skin on

4 cups              chicken or vegetable broth

1 tbsp              dried basil

½ tsp               black pepper

pinch               dried red chili peppers

1 tbsp              molasses

8 tbsp              grated cheddar cheese (optional)

Warm a large pot over medium-high heat and melt butter. Add onions and sweet potato; stir. Add broth and water; then lentils. Bring to a boil, turn down to simmer and cover. Let simmer for 20 minutes. Stir in basil, chili peppers, pepper and molasses. Grate cheese if using and serve at the table.

About the Author:

Theresa Albert

Theresa Albert is a Food Communications Specialist and Toronto Personal Nutritionist. She is @theresaalbert on twitter and found daily at www.myfriendinfood.com

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