Thursday, September 1, 2011

Back to School Nutrition Ideas

In the spirit of “back to school” I thought I’d offer a few thoughts on nutrition for kids. (Of course this advice applies to adults as well.) In all honesty, it is probably the most challenging aspect of my private client practice. While it can be difficult to get adults to eat healthier, kids can be even more so. The food producers and manufacturers have developed special foods that they call “kid’s food”. If you take the time to read the list of ingredients you will find that most of it is not food and should not be consumed by anyone, particularly our children. Our children are growing and need the healthiest foods available to properly fuel their minds and bodies.

The consumption of “kid’s food” and more sedentary lifestyles (lack of exercise, lots of television, computer, and video games) is greatly impacting the health of our youth. Here’s some scary statistics from the CDC. Obesity among children aged 6 to 11 more than doubled in the past 25 years, increasing from 6.5% in 1980 to 17.0% in 2006. The rate among adolescents aged 12 to 19 more than tripled, going from 5% to almost 18%. Keep in mind, before being classified as “obese” there is “overweight” classification, which I have seen estimates between 20 and 25%.

How do we get our kids to eat healthier foods? One successful strategy that I use is to make subtle substitutions to the foods they like to eat. Let’s take something as simple as the peanut butter and jelly sandwich. For the peanut butter use organic peanut butter that is nothing but peanuts and peanut oil. Most commercial peanut butters contain added sugar and hydrogenated oil (trans- fats). We know trans-fats are linked to cancer and that added sugar adds empty calories. I stress the organic because peanuts are one of the most highly pesticided crops, so non-organic peanut butter will contain potential chemical residues and toxins. Ever wonder why there are so many peanut allergies today? For the bread I recommend sprouted bread. It comes in a variety of flavors and is the healthiest bread option. It has more vitamins and fewer calories per slice. However, it is made from wheat so for those with gluten intolerance use another bread option such as flax and millet bread. For the jelly, find the most natural product you can. Look for spreads that do not add sugar or have less sugar added. The fruit already has plenty of sugar.

What are some other healthy substitutions? A major area to look at is the carbohydrates. Our kids eat a lot of them – bread, rice, pasta. Our goal here is to shift from the refined and processed white flour products to whole grains. In addition to the switch to sprouted breads, we can use brown rice instead of white rice and pasta from brown rice rather than refined wheat (the white pasta). All of these substitutions taste virtually the same. They just look a little different and that may turn off the kids. But, covered in tomato sauce they will never know the difference!

Then there are snacks. The kids get home from school and they are hungry and it is not quite dinner time. There are certainly some better choices than chips and dips. Another societal norm is this idea of “snack food.” Just like with “kid’s food” we need a little retraining. What is a snack? It is a small meal. So, think of something healthy that would be part of a meal. It can be a half of a sandwich, one hard boiled egg, a cup of yogurt, some fruit, something spread on a stick of celery, vegetables and dip. There’s nothing special about these foods, except that they are healthy. I like to tell people not to worry about if something is considered “breakfast” food or “snack” food – just eat healthy food when you are hungry!

A valuable resource is the web site It has lots of great ideas for school lunches and snacks. For more ideas and recipes go to the web site and click on “Brown Bag Lunch Ideas” or “After School Snacks.”

Bernard Rosen, PhD is a Nutrition Consultant and Educator. He works with individuals, groups, and at corporations to create individualized nutrition and wellness programs. He has offices is in Thiensville and Glendale. To learn more or to schedule an appointment, e-mail at, call (262) 389-9907 or go to

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