Snacking Sense

Snacking Sense
By Christie Caggiani, RDN, LDN, CEDRD

 

If you’ve ever tried to have a clear and concise conversation with your child after school, you might find it a daunting and nearly impossible task.  Typically, you will find their attention, energy and desire to recount the day stretched thin, and much of that is simply because their bodies have run out of fuel. If it’s been at least 3 hours since their last meal or snack, or their previous amount of food was small, rest assured it is time for them to eat. They need a snack.

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As Ellyn Satter so beautifully explains in her Division of Responsibility, one of the parental roles in the feeding relationship is to “provide regular meals and snacks”.  This provides stability and the reassurance that food will always be available, thereby allowing children to develop a regular rhythm of hunger and fullness signals which will serve them well throughout their life.  As they trust that we will provide food in a regular and timely manner, they can best develop a sense of trusting themselves and their internal signals.

Snacks, however, have many stigmas and much confusion abounds as we try to determine the “best way” to provide them to our kids.  Here are some suggestions that may answer a few of your questions:

  • Snacks are typically best thought of as little meals, not a single stand-alone item. Our culture has branded certain categories as “snack foods”, however anything you would serve at a meal could feasibly be a snack and will undoubtedly be more satisfying than a single-serve package of baked crackers!  How about a slice of leftover veggie pizza and some grapes?
  • Include two or three foods from amongst:  whole grains, protein, dairy, fruits, vegetables, and fats.  Make certain to also offer some ‘fun foods’, and pair them with foods that have a little staying power, such as chocolate chip cookies and a glass of milk.  Having foods with a higher fat content will hold them longer, and create greater satisfaction.
  • Since all foods can be part of a balanced eating relationship, I tend to recommend buying full-sized bags of products (chips, crackers, cookies), rather than 100-calorie individual versions.  Not only does this save you some money, it most importantly avoids all of the subtle messages that we give our kids by placing “calories” as part of a food decision.  Have you ever had a 100-calorie bag of anything?  Were you completely and utterly satisfied after finishing it?  If you wanted another one, did you feel like you “shouldn’t”?  In my experience, they leave us hanging, wishing we had more. There is nothing magical about that number “100”, except that it’s an effective marketing strategy.  By focusing on the number, we have a much harder time listening to our tummies and the signals that tell us if we are still hungry or comfortably satisfied.  Instead, present these foods on a plate or in a serving bowl, allowing kids to fill their own plate and gauge the food amounts to their hunger levels.  For snacks you need to pack, keep some reusable snack containers on hand and make certain to include enough so that they can eat sufficiently.
  • A snack is not a treat, not a reward, not withheld in a punishing manner, not conditional.  It’s simply a consistent part of a normal day between meals.  It is just food.
  • Have your kids sit at a table for snacks (without TV, Instagram, or homework!), allowing them to better listen to their bodies and know when they’re satisfied, (not to mention the fact that running around the house is dangerous and messy if done while eating!).  If your child needs to go straight from school to a practice, event or appointment, make certain to have packed a few snack options, and give him time to fully taste and enjoy before running out of the car.
  • Sit down and keep your child company, listening to your own body’s signals of hunger or thirst.  Snack time is designed to relax and regroup.  Take a quick minute to breathe, stretch and transition from the busy day.  Don’t create a stressful conversation about the hours of homework they have yet to face!  Our children are watching us always, and modeling consistent snack and re-charge time is helpful for their development, as we as for our energy and patience.
  • Try to give at least two hours and not longer than 3½ -4 hours between a snack and the next meal.  For example, if dinner is at 6:00, aim to have snack time completed by 4:00, in time for your child to get hungry again by the meal.  In the meantime, make certain your little one has caught up on their water intake, adding in some fresh fruit, ice cubes or cucumbers for a little flavor and fun.
  • If your child is truly not hungry, they won’t eat.  They can then eat at the upcoming meal –  no grazing later on as the meal approaches.
  • When your kids are older, they can begin to make some choices about snacks, within the guidelines that you’ve demonstrated.  Remember to keep them planning and eating at a generally consistent time.

If you maintain the reliable consistency of meals and snacks, including a variety of foods, your child will regulate and be able to trust their body’s signals of hunger and fullness.  Happy snacking!

Sources:
Ellyn Satter, Child of Mine: Feeding with Love and Good Sense (n.p.: Bull, 2000), http://www.amazon.com/Child-Mine-Feeding-Revised-Updated/dp/0923521518/ref=pd_bxgy_b_img_y/185-4852629-9299211.
“Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility in Feeding,” Ellyn Satter Institute, 2014, http://ellynsatterinstitute.org/dor/divisionofresponsibilityinfeeding.php.

 

Finicky with Fruit?

Finicky with Fruit?
By Christie Caggiani, RDN, LD/N, CEDRD

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When I was expecting our first child, I had visions of the utopian eating relationship he would have.  After all, I’m a nutritionist and I know the values of a balanced diet, the do’s and don’ts of introducing kids to new and exciting food, and the importance of family meals.  All I needed to do was be patient and continue exposing my little one to different items and he will eventually grow to like them.  I would make sure he fell in love with all things colorful and have a wide array of nutrients in his life.  End dream sequence.

 

While I was blessed with a fairly easy eater, the normal development of his personality led him to have…opinions.  Preferences.  Dislikes.  And his primary dislike around food was – horror of horrors – fruit! Really?  How could my child who loved berries and melon decide at about three years old that he was done with the sweet stuff?  And so we worked with it, and can now fast forward to the healthful existence of my 15 year old.

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How do you ensure that your child still includes a wide array of foods and is able to be a curious eater, if he tends to shun categories of food, such as fruit?  First, be careful to avoid labeling your child a “picky-eater”.  They are simply eaters making choices, and it’s our job as parents to keep presenting foods in ways that they can explore and gradually develop their own conclusions.  I have also found that approaching food from an adventurous angle, rather than a mission, not only engages kids, but also empowers them.

 

By noting your child’s preferences, you can begin to expand some of their choices.  While these ideas zero in on fruits, you may use the concepts to explore other food groups as well:

  • If your child has consistency or texture preferences, work with them.  It might be that a crunchy apple goes over much better than a soft banana.  A smoothie or 100% juice works beautifully if your little one doesn’t have “time” or a desire to chew their fruit.  Dried or dehydrated fruits are great for kids who may not enjoy the juiciness of the fresh version.
  • While we know that sweet is our first developed taste, some people may still have other taste preferences, finding certain flavors too strong.  Consider a juice that has veggie value, since they tend to be less intensely sweet.  A slightly green banana is a whole different experience from a fully ripened one.  You may also introduce ‘combo flavors’, such as some chocolate with those raisins, flavor-infused cranberries or Trader Joe’s chile dried mango for a kick.
  • Sometimes the temperature of our food makes all the difference.   While I love a good melon in any form, it’s particularly amazing when it’s cold.  Maybe your child likes grapes better at room temperature or completely frozen.  Keep some apples on the counter and some in the fridge, giving your child the opportunity to choose.
  • Toning down the intensity of the food exposure takes the pressure off. Don’t make it all about the fruit.  Try a handful of chopped apricot added to your couscous or my favorite: bananas &/or berries in the pancake batter.  Mixed in your blender, the kids will notice the sweet, but not be distracted by the pieces of fruit.

 

So while my son is still not a lover-of-fruit, I am convinced that the regular, non-pushy exposure to it will give him the willingness to eventually enjoy a little more of it some day.   As we enter fall, here are a couple of my favorite ways to add some fruit into our lives:

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Easy Applesauce

  • 4 apples, peeled, cored and chopped (I like to leave some of the peel on for more texture and nutrient value)
  • ¾ c water or 100% apple juice
  • ¼ cup white sugar
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

In a saucepan, combine apples, water, sugar, and cinnamon. Cover, and cook over medium heat for 15 to 20 minutes, or until apples are soft. Allow to cool, then mash with a fork or potato masher.  If you prefer a smoother consistency, use blender or food processor.

Photo Credit: [RAWRZ!] via Compfight ccApple Spice Mini Muffins

  • 2 cups peeled, cored and finely diced sweet-tart apples, such as Cortland
  • ½ c sugar
  • 1 egg
  • ¼ cup canola oil
  • ½ tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup whole-wheat flour
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • ¾ tsp. pumpkin pie spice
  • ½ tsp. ground nutmeg
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • ½ cup toasted, chopped unsalted pistachios nuts

Preheat oven to 325° F.  Coat two 12-cup mini-muffin pans with cooking spray.  In a medium bowl, toss apples and sugar.  In a small bowl, whisk egg, oil and vanilla.  In another medium bowl, whisk flours, baking soda, pumpkin pie spice, nutmeg and salt.  Add egg mixture to apple mixture; stir to coat.  Mix in flour mixture, then fold in pistachios.  Divide batter among muffin cups, filling ¾ full.  Bake until a toothpick inserted in center of muffins comes out clean, 10-13 minutes.  Let cool on wire rack.  Run a knife around edges to release.  Makes 24.

Recipes by Liza Schoenfein, EveryDay with Rachael Ray, October 2014

A Back-to-School Nutrition Guide

I tell all my young clients (and my own kids!) that I think it’s crucial for everyone from the age of 12–20 to sit down and chat with a nutritionist at some point. Now I know I may be just a tad bit biased, but I truly believe that having a down-to-earth convo about what’s real and realistic when it comes to food, eating, and being healthful can really help sort through the daily confusion that we hear on this topic.   Since this is also an age where even the most well-intended and brilliant parent is considered less than wise by their own children, having a neutral party discuss food can often save much frustration and reduce power struggles.  Here are some suggestions written directly to your kids; this may open up some questions and conversations after they read it, but know that even if it doesn’t, you’ve helped create just a little more info for them to become their own responsible self and a more connected eater.

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Next Stop:  School!
Nutrition Tips for Middle- and High-School Success
By Christie Caggiani, RDN, LDN, CEDRD

 

Voluminous —your vocab word of the day!  It also describes the amount of confusing and contradicting nutrition info that comes at you on a daily basis.  There’s just so much, how do you know what to believe?  Students are not only bombarded with social media messages about food and bodies, they are influenced by friends, parents, teachers, and coaches who each have their own individual belief and bias about nutrition and health.

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As you head back into the fast-paced routine of school, studying, and extra-curricular activities, it’s important to remember a few simple things to keep you, your body, and your brain in top-notch shape:

 

  • Avoid “diets” at all costs—not only does restricting make it harder for us to access and use our intelligence, it also leads us think more about food, taking away brainpower from other important things.
  • Include complex carbs/grains at all meals—your body is using up food at rapid pace, and it needs to eat about every 3–4 hours most days.  Grains give us immediate fuel and go straight to our brain to help us think.  In fact, carbs are the only macronutrient that feeds our brain.  Protein and fats help keep us satisfied and are also important at each meal, but they won’t give you the immediate mental or physical energy that carbs do.
  • Keep some food with you—pack some trail mix, fruit, and/or a whole grain granola bar for the times when your meal doesn’t come soon enough.  Ask your teachers if they allow food in their class, something particularly important if you’re going longer than 4-ish hours without fuel.
  • Breakfast—yes, it really does set the pace for your day!  Without it, you are more likely to feel and function unbalanced, and you may even eat more later in the day.  A pbj sandwich, yogurt parfait, or leftovers from dinner can all work for a fast, little-effort meal.   And yes, when you eat breakfast, you’ll feel a little more clearly hungry at lunch.  That is a GREAT thing, because it signals that your body is functioning just as it’s supposed to!
  • Try a new food—your taste buds are becoming more diverse at this age, and things you didn’t like earlier (green beans maybe?!) may not be so bad now.  Add your creativity to it—throw some salsa on veggies or melt a little cheese on a new-to-you protein.  And try the new food at the beginning of your meal.
  • Don’t skip meals—if you can’t stand school lunch, pack your own.  Make sure you take a few minutes to sit down for dinner.  Skipping meals will confuse your body and make you over-hungry later.  If you eat regularly, you can better know when you’re hungry, and stop when you’re just right.
  • Include some color—add some fruit and/or veggies at each meal.  Not only do they help you feel satisfied, but they also give you nutrients you can’t get from other foods.  Your whole body system is working at a crazy pace at this age and needs a greater mix of different energy, vitamins, and minerals just to keep up with you.

 

This One is for Moms

Is Restricting Really Normal?
By Christie Caggiani, RDN, LDN, CEDRD

 

“We don’t keep bread in the house.”  “One serving is enough – kids don’t need seconds.”  “We just have protein and veggies at dinner.”  “Why is my child sneaking food and snacking all the time?!”

 

Hmmm – at first glance, these may seem like separate, unrelated statements.  There is, however, a common thread and a chain reaction that is in play throughout the scenarios…and it all starts with restriction.   If you consider the unrelenting headlines that tell us obesity is an “epidemic”, that individual foods will either kill or save us, and the sneaking messages that lead us to think we’ll only be happy if we are a certain size, then it makes some sense that people are grabbing at the latest food rule (aka, restriction), to take control of their or their kids’ lives.   Yet the more we reach for restriction, the more out of control we become.

 

Let’s keep it straightforward.  There are some basic side effects of over-controlled under-eating:

  • It confuses body chemistry, triggering it to more readily lose muscle and regain weight as fat
  • It causes feelings of deprivation and depression that often rebound to overeating
  • It creates a lowered self-esteem, and disconnects individuals from their emotions and sense of well-being
  • It creates irritability, decreases concentration and memory, (especially if carbs are limited) and can cause tension in relationships
  • It can disrupt a female’s menstrual cycles
  • It makes exercise ineffective, because there isn’t enough fuel to run your body’s basic processes

 

So when you feel the need to snack on cookies and chips after the kids have gone to bed, notice if you’ve eaten enough during the day or pulled carbs out of the meal prior.  We can’t function effectively if we are depriving ourselves of enough fuel – and we are destined to swing the pendulum the other direction to try to create balance.

 

And the next time you feel the emotional tug to try the latest fad diet, label carbs as evil or tell your kids to stop eating, take a deep breath and remember:

Eating is Normal. Restricting is Counterproductive.