Category Archives: children

Mini Sunflower Seed Butter Pita Pockets


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School is just around the corner and now is a good time to start thinking about what you can pack for school lunches.  Many schools have become peanut/tree nut free, making peanut butter a “no-no” to send.  But, your child can still enjoy an equally tasty and satisfying substitute to yesteryear’s school lunch staple – the peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  Suitable peanut butter stand-ins include soy nut and sunflower seed butters.  They offer creaminess and a nutty flavor that will win over even the pickiest of eater’s taste buds.  Today’s recipe highlights the use of sunflower seed butter.  It is sweetened with a dash of cinnamon and a few raisins and then scooped into mini whole wheat pita pockets…read more.


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Filed under children, school lunches, sunflower seed butter

Factoring in Fiber

Whole-grains, dried fruit, and legumes can help you meet your dietary requirements for fiber.

When you think of an enticing meal, what do you imagine?  Flank steak and roasted red skin potatoes?  Or broasted chicken and creamed-corn?  Now envision a meal composed mainly of naturally fiber-rich foods.  Are you picturing a meal that would be considered a temptation to the palate?  My guess for a great number of individuals the answer is no.  For many, the suggestion of increasing daily fiber intake triggers boring thoughts of eating a bowl full of tasteless bran flakes – not a very exciting proposition to some.  Perhaps that, along with the gastrointestinal discomfort that can be associated with consuming too much fiber or increasing its intake too quickly, can explain why many of us consume less than half of the recommended daily amount.

The Institute of Medicine of the National Academies suggests that adults ages 50 years and younger consume 25 grams of fiber per day for women and 38 grams of fiber per day for men.  Women and men over the age of 50 years should eat 21 and 30 grams of fiber per day, respectively, as a result of eating fewer total calories.  A general goal for adults is to try to consume 14 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories ingested daily.

What are the recommendations for fiber intake of children?

  • 1-3 years = 19 grams/day
  • 4-8 years = 25 grams/day
  • 9-13 years = 26 grams/day for females, 31 grams/day for males
  • 14-18 = 26 grams/day for females, 38 grams/day for males
  • According to some sources, a general rule of thumb for calculating your child’s daily fiber intake is to add 5 to his or her age in years.  For example, a 6 year-old would need about 11 grams of fiber per day.

Fiber can be classified as either soluble or insoluble.  Soluble fiber dissolves in water, whereas insoluble fiber does not.  Foods rich in soluble fiber include oat bran, brown rice, barley, and certain fruits (e.g., plums) and vegetables (e.g., broccoli).  Whole- grain cereals and breads, wheat and corn bran, nuts, and seeds are examples of sources rich in insoluble fiber.

Adding fiber-rich foods to your diet offers many health benefits.  These include:

  • Lower cholesterol levels
  • Reduced risk for heart disease
  • Better blood sugar control in diabetics
  • Improved digestive tract health
  • Decreased risk for certain cancers (e.g., colon)
  • Weight management

How can you tell what is a good source of fiber?  According to the National Fiber Council, foods that offer more than 5 grams of fiber per serving are considered to be high-fiber sources. Those that contribute 2.5-4.9 grams of fiber per serving are classified as a good source.  Products that claim to have added fiber should provide at least 2.5 grams more  fiber beyond what would be traditionally present in the food.

To make your transition to a high-fiber diet more tolerable, follow these tips:

  • Gradually increase your fiber intake – adding too much too soon can lead to symptoms of bloating, cramping, and flatulence.
  • Increase fluid intake, particularly water, to avoid constipation (fiber absorbs water from your gastrointestinal tract).

A fiber-rich diet does not have to lack flavor.  Some suggestions to boost your family’s fiber intake include:

  • Toast slices of whole-grain bread and top with mashed banana.
  • Turn your cottage cheese into a parfait by alternating layers of it with dried fruit and nuts.
  • Add whole-oats to your favorite baked good recipe.
  • Add a small can of pureed pumpkin or sweet potato to a recipe for homemade mac and cheese.

How do you boost your family’s fiber intake?  Share with us, we want to know!


Instititute of Medicine

National Fiber Council




Filed under children, family, fiber, health, men, women

Sweet and Savory Saturday – Family Pizza Night

Give each individual a ball of pizza dough and let them create their own "one-of-a-kind" pizza. My children's creations clockwise from left to right are: yellow tomato and onion with cheese; lean turkey pepperoni and bacon with cheese; and, lean turkey bacon and extra cheese.

Welcome to Sweet and Savory Saturday here at the Health and Food Forum’s Blog.  For many families around the country, weekends mean spending quality time together.  What better way to do that than to have “Make your own Personal Pizza Night?”  Each individual is armed with his or her own ball of homemade pizza dough, pizza sauce, and toppings of choice to create a pizza that they can claim all their own.  This is especially great if you have a mix of vegetarians and meat eaters in the family or if one member has to follow a low-fat diet while the others do not.

I love pizza, but I don’t like the extra calories, salt, and fat characteristic of pizza from a pizza parlor.  I prefer to make my own so I have control of the pizza’s contents.  To compensate for the lower sodium content of homemade pizza sauce, I use fresh herbs from my garden and I roast the tomatoes, garlic, and shallots to make their flavors more robust before I puree them.  I also add a bit of balsamic vinegar to provide a “salty” taste without the sodium.  To improve the nutrition value of the pizza crust, I use part whole-wheat flour and part bread flour.  For the meat eaters in my family, I buy lean turkey pepperoni and bacon for them to use as toppings.  The basic pizza dough and sauce recipes are below.  Toppings are up to you, but I provide some suggestions.

Basic Pizza Dough Recipe (recipe is from EatingWell)


  • 1 cup whole-wheat flour
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour (note: I use 1 cup bread flour instead)
  • 2 1/4 tsp quick-rising yeast
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 3/4 cup hot water (120-130 degrees Fahrenheit)
  • 1 TBS extra-virgin olive oil


  • Combine all dry ingredients in a food processor and pulse to mix.  With food processor still running, mix oil and hot water in a measuring cup and then slowly pour contents into food processor.  The mixture of dry and wet ingredients should form a soft, sticky ball.  If it is too dry, add 1-2 TBS of warm water.  If it is too wet, add 1-2 TBS of flour.  After the ball is formed, continue processing it for 1 minute to knead the dough.
  • Place the ball of dough on a surface that has been lightly dusted with flour.  Place a sheet of plastic wrap that has been greased with non-stick cooking spray directly over dough (sprayed-side down) and let the dough rest for 10-20 minutes.
  • Divide dough into equal parts for each family member.  Each individual can roll and shape their own crust to preferred thickness.
  • Top with homemade pizza sauce (recipe below), cheese, and toppings of choice.
  • Place personal pizzas on a greased cookie sheet and bake in an oven preheated to 425 degrees Fahrenheit for about 20 minutes (or until crust is cooked to desired crispness).

Homemade Roasted Tomato and Garlic Pizza Sauce


  • 1 cup canned organic tomato puree
  • 3 medium fresh tomatoes, roasted
  • 3 garlic cloves, roasted
  • 2 medium shallots, roasted
  • 1TBS balsamic vinegar
  • 1 TBS extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/2 TBS chopped fresh oregano
  • 1  1/2 TBS chopped fresh basil leaves
  • 1/2 TBS fresh rosemary leaves
  • 1 TBS store bought no-salt pizza seasoning
  • 1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese (optional, but helps to thicken sauce)


  • Rinse and dry tomatoes.  Score the tops of the tomatoes and place on a lightly greased (with cooking spray) broiler pan along with the peeled garlic cloves and shallots.  Lightly spray ingredients with cooking spray.  Place on top rack in an oven that has been preheated to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.  Cook for about 5 minutes are until golden.  Remove from oven and let cool for about 5 minutes.  Place tomatoes, garlic and shallots into a blender and puree.  Set aside.
  • In a large sauce pan, combine canned tomato puree, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, herbs, and pizza seasoning.  Add tomato/garlic/shallot puree and heat on medium heat until a gentle boil occurs.  Reduce heat to low, add cheese, and cook until melted.  Remove from heat and let cool.
  • Place on dough, add toppings of choice, and bake in oven according to directions above.

Topping Suggestions

  • Roasted vegetables such as bell peppers, onions, broccoli, etc.,
  • Fresh vegetables and fruit such as mushrooms, onions, yellow or red tomatoes, pineapple, mango, etc.,
  • Fresh chopped herbs, such as basil
  • Sun-dried tomatoes
  • Reduced-fat cheeses
  • Soft cheeses – get creative and try blue cheese or feta cheese

How do you like your pizza?  Do you like thick or thin crust? Pepperoni or plain cheese?  What are your favorite toppings?  Share with us, we want to know!



Filed under children, family, family activities, family time, homemade meals, Recipes

Nutritional Supplement or Glorified Candy Bar?

Whole foods are best, but when you are constantly on-the-go, that option is not always possible.  Enter meal replacement bars – the go-to source of nutrition of many that has gained in popularity in recent years.  And, for good reason – when you are about to debunk and are faced with choosing between an empty calorie, high-sodium, fat-ladened meal from a fast food restaurant or an enriched energy bar, the latter choice wins out.  Care needs to be taken, however, when choosing the best meal replacement bar for you.  With all of the different choices on the market today, this can prove to be a challenge.  How is one to know if their bar of choice is a good supplement to their diet or just a glorified candy bar?

Manufacturers of supplement bars strive to reach different consumer targets.  Usually, the label tells all.  Descriptors such as “low-carb,” “high-performance,” or “high-fiber” give an indication as for whom the bar is made and what nutritional “needs”  it is intended to meet.  Supplement bars basically fall under two main categories – meal replacement and performance.  Subcategories within these would include bars engineered to meet the needs of different gender and age groups (e.g., women, children, etc.,), and/or those individuals with special dietary requirements/preferences (e.g., “vegan,” “organic,” “gluten-free,” etc.,).

When choosing the best bar for you, consider the following:

  • Who are you buying the bar for? You? Your child?
  • What are your goals? Are  you looking to increase exercise performance? Do you want to build muscle mass? Lose weight? Run longer?
  • Is the bar to replace a regular meal or to act as a nutritional supplement in your diet or your child’s diet?

The descriptions below of what to expect from the different categories of bars may help you to select the one that meets your needs and goals.

Meal Replacement Bars

  • Individuals interested in using supplement bars as part of their weight loss program want to ensure that the bars provide a nutritional equivalent to what would be achieved by consuming a small meal composed of whole foods.  These bars should contain fiber (at least 3-5 grams) to provide a sense of fullness.  Diet bars should be relatively low in fat (no more than 5 grams), contain a moderate amount of protein (10-15 grams), and should be enriched with a third of your daily requirements for vitamins and minerals.
  • When choosing a bar that will be a nutritional supplement to fill-in any “gaps” that may be in your or your child’s diet, be wary of claims such as “real fruit,” “yogurt,” etc.,.  Read the label carefully because the source of “fruit” may actually be from juice concentrates and high-fructose corn syrup rather than real pieces of fruit.  And, the form of yogurt present typically does not contain the live, active cultures that help with digestive and immune function.  Also, use caution when deciding upon meal replacement bars that are dipped in chocolate or have chocolates swirls on top.  These “extras” usually come with a price – added sugar and fat in amounts that equate or exceed those found in candy bars.
  • To round out your nutritional needs or those of your child, serve a piece of fruit, some yogurt, or a glass of skim milk along with the meal replacement bar.

Performance Bars

  • Although there is a range, performance bars can contain a higher caloric content than diet bars targeted for weight loss in order to meet the increased energy needs of an active individual.
  • Supplement bars that target bodybuilders tend to have the highest protein content, around 20-30 grams.  Choose a bar that lists high-quality protein (whey, casein, or soy) as one of the main sources.
  • Athletes who are looking for an energy bar to consume prior to a moderate- to high-intensity workout should look for one that is high in carbohydrates (around 25-40 grams).  Avoid bars that are high in fat and fiber which can interfere with digestion and cause gastrointestinal distress.
  • Endurance athletes looking for a supplement bar to be consumed during a prolonged exercise session (longer than an hour) would benefit from bars that are high in quick digesting carbohydrates (glucose).  Ideally, these individuals want to consume 30-60 grams of carbohydrate per hour of exercise.
  • Energy bars consumed post-workout should be relatively high in carbohydrates (30 grams or more) to replenish energy stores and have a moderate amount of protein (10 grams) to aid in muscle tissue repair.

What to Look for in all Supplement Bars

  • The fat source should primarily come from mono- and poly-unsaturated fats such as whole-grains and nuts (e.g., oats, almonds, etc.,).  Avoid bars high in trans and saturated fats.
  • Limit bars sweetened with sugar alcohols which can lead to gastrointestinal upset.  Instead, choose bars that are sweetened with natural sugars (e.g., fruit purees, honey, etc.,).  Avoid bars made with high-fructose corn syrup and/or have simple sugars listed as the first or second ingredient.
  • Carbohydrates should come from complex sources (e.g., whole-grain oats, wheat bran, etc.,).  Avoid bars made with unrefined grains (e.g., white flour).
  • The protein should come from quality sources such as egg, soy, whey, and casein.

Meal replacement and performance bars are a convenient source of energy and can have a place in your and/or your child’s diet when chosen wisely.  Care should be taken to avoid going “overboard” on supplement bars.  Since many can contain mega amounts of carbohydrates and proteins, you are at risk for consuming more calories than you expend, which can lead to weight gain.  If you are considering using meal replacement bars, meeting with a dietitian can help you find the best one for your goals and nutritional needs.

Do you eat meal replacement bars?  Which ones are your favorites?  Share with us, we want to know!


Sources for more Information “Meal Replacements: Choose Those Bars and Drinks Carefully,” Zelman, K.

Running Times Magazine, April 2007, “Raising the Bar – How to find the best energy bar for you,” Eberle, S.G.

“Kids and On-the-Go Nutrition,” Gavin, M.L.

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Filed under children, diet, easy meals, energy bars, nutrition, nutritional supplement, snacks, weight loss

A Diet for Kids that Promotes Bone Growth, Not Fat

Dark-green vegetables, such as the broccoli above, and deep-yellow vegetables are part of a diet that can promote bone growth while attenuating fat accumulation in children.

“Eat your dark-green and deep-yellow veggies and limit fried foods” is the message for parents who are interested in promoting bone growth, not fat, in their children according to findings of a study published online June 2, 2010 in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.  The study collected data on a total of 325 children (ages 3.8-7.8 years) over a 4 year study period during which measures of body weight, body composition, dietary patterns, physical activity levels, and time spent watching television and playing outdoors were assessed.  The researchers found that those children who consumed diets that were higher in dark-green and deep-yellow vegetables and lower in fried foods had higher bone mass and lower fat mass than those children whose diets lacked these characteristics.

Some interesting findings came out of the study.  The researchers found that even when total caloric intake was the same, a higher consumption of fried foods was associated with a greater accrual of fat mass.  The investigators speculate that hormonal shifts which favor fat growth, as opposed to lean mass development, may be a factor; but, they note that more research is needed.

The findings of the study also indicated that a high consumption of processed meats combined with the consumption of dark-green and deep-yellow vegetables was related to the development of greater bone mass.  They believe this increase is linked to protein which, according to data from previous studies, has been shown to play a role in enhancing bone mass in adults.  And, in this particular cohort of children, processed meats were a major source of protein in their diets.  However, the investigators stress that they do not advocate processed meats to be a mainstay in children’s diets due to the high sodium and saturated fat contents of these products.  The researchers believe that the role of dark-green and deep-yellow vegetable consumption has in promoting greater bone mass is related to the presence of alkalizing minerals, such as potassium, in these foods.

The investigators conclude that their findings have great implications because it is the study is the first of which, to their knowledge, to show that a certain combination of foods can promote bone mass while attenuating fat accumulation in children.  Many parents are aware of the health risks that children now-a-days are facing at increasing rates as a result of a poor diet.  Obesity and osteoporosis are two conditions in which their origins may be rooted in childhood dietary practices.  The challenge for parents is to provide their children with healthy eating habits that promote the growth of bone while reducing the risk for accruing high amounts of body fat.  There is limited information available to parents and caretakers as to what constitutes a diet that can achieve both of these goals.  The findings of the current study show promise that diets can be manipulated to optimize growth and development in children.

Suggested Dark-green and Deep-yellow Vegetables to Serve:

  • Spinach
  • Romaine lettuce
  • Broccoli
  • Carrots
  • Sweet potatoes

Does your child have a favorite dark-green or deep-yellow vegetable?  How do you prepare it?  Share with us, we want to know!



Filed under children, diet, obesity, osteoporosis, vegetables

Keep The Family Hydrated This Summer

With summer comes an increased risk for becoming dehydrated.  Even if you are just sitting in the shade, the warm and humid air can make you perspire.  Sweating is a protective mechanism of your body.  It helps you to regulate body temperature.  As the sweat evaporates from your skin, it cools your body.  This prevents your core body temperature from rising to dangerously high levels.

Because individuals tend to be more active during the warmer months, adequate hydration becomes even more important since the increased physical activity leads to a greater production of sweat.  Dehydration results when the amount of liquid you consume does not match the amount you lose through sweating.  When you are dehydrated, you are at an increased risk for developing a heat-related illness.  Disorders that result from abnormally high core body temperatures can range in severity from mild muscle cramps to heat stroke, which can be life-threatening.

Children are especially susceptible to developing heat illnesses because they have immature thermoregulatory systems.  It takes longer for children to start sweating compared to adults; and, the rate at which they produce sweat is not as fast.  Furthermore, because children have a greater surface area to body mass ratio compared to adults, they gain heat more quickly when exposed to hot environments.

An understanding of the signs and symptoms of dehydration can help you take the appropriate action to prevent complications.  These include:

  • Thirst
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Muscle Cramps
  • Weakness
  • Chills
  • Constipation
  • Sensation of feeling hungry (Note: this sensation can mislead you into thinking you need to eat; thus, you consume unnecessary calories.  If you have recently eaten and feel hungry, try drinking water first to see if the symptom is alleviated.)

How can you prevent dehydration?

  • Eat foods with a high water content, such as watermelon, oranges, etc., at every meal.
  • Drink plenty of liquids throughout the day, even if you do not feel thirsty (scheduling regular water breaks may help).
  • If you will be exercising in warm weather, you need to drink plenty of fluids before, during, and after the exercise.  About 2-3 hours prior to being physically active, you should drink 17-20 fluid ounces of water or sports drink.  Then, when it gets closer to the start of your exercise session, around 10-20 minutes before, it is recommended that you drink 7-10 fluid ounces of water or sports drink.  You will want to drink this same amount every 10-20 minutes during your session.  Following the activity, you will want to consume 16-20 fluid ounces of water or sports drink for every pound of body weight lost from the exercise.  This should be ingested within 2 hours of completing the physical activity.
  • Avoid caffeinated and alcoholic beverages which can increase fluid loss through increased urine output.
  • Limit intake of carbonated beverages which may lead to a “full” sensation causing you to decrease your fluid intake.

How can you optimize your fluid intake throughout the day?

  • Carry a water bottle with you.
  • Choose a water bottle that has measurement markings, making it easier to keep track of how much liquid you consume.
  • Opt for drinks that are palatable, such as flavored water or plain water with a lemon slice.
  • Keep your drink cool.  The ideal temperature range of your drink is 50-59 degrees Fahrenheit.

Keeping your body well-hydrated promotes health and well-being.  Becoming dehydrated can interfere with concentration and reduce your performance during daily tasks.  It also can lead to overeating, which has its own set of complications.  Children are at an increased risk for becoming dehydrated.  Because it may be difficult to get your child to drink more water, consider serving them foods high in water content and homemade popcicles from 100% unsweetened fruit juice.

How do you keep hydrated during warmer days?  Share with us, we want to know!



Filed under children, family, water

Fun Activities to Promote Healthy Eating in Kids

Yogurt, applesauce, and fruit and vegetable purees can be used as "edible" finger paint.

Raising a healthy eater isn’t always easy.  Many parents can attest to battles over meals with a picky eater.  Like any habit, healthy eating has to be conditioned – repeated over and over until it becomes part of the daily routine.  Although strategies to promote nutritious choices aren’t set in stone, and their success depends on the given situation and the idiosyncrasies of each individual child, it doesn’t hurt to have a battle plan.

By engaging your child and making healthy eating fun, you increase your chances of success.  Below are some activity ideas that may spark your child’s interest in nutritious foods.

Food Play – Skip the “Don’t Play with your Food” rule.  Children learn by manipulating objects.  Allow your child to explore the different tastes, textures, and smells that various foods have through play.

  • Let your child become a “food artist” by giving him yogurt, applesauce, and/or pureed fruits and vegetables to use as “edible” finger paint.  Apple and pear halves can be used as “stamps” to make neat designs in these “edible” paintings.
  • Make edible play dough out of peanut butter (or soy nut and/or seed butters if allergies are present) and have your child use his imagination to mold various creations.  He can eat them when he is done.
  • “Build it and they will eat it.”  A healthy take on the gingerbread house concept, give your child whole-grain crackers, dried fruit, small pieces of fresh fruit and vegetables, seeds, nuts, etc., and peanut butter or cream cheese (used as the “glue”) to construct a house.

Use whole-grain crackers and peanut butter to construct a healthy twist on the gingerbread house concept.

Food Time is Family Time – Food is deemed comfort  food when good times from the past have become associated with it.  Help your child develop positive associations with healthy food by spending quality family time together planning, preparing, and eating the meal.

  • Give your child cookbooks and/or recipe cards to look through and find something that looks good or sounds appealing.  Then discuss as a family if you will use all of the ingredients in the recipe or if you need to make changes to meet everyone’s personal likes and/or nutritional needs (e.g., replace whole eggs for egg whites, etc.,).
  • Take your child with you to the grocery store or farmer’s market to help you pick out and purchase ingredients for the meals of the week.  Many kids like the job of picking out the produce from its bin and placing it in the bag.
  • Have your child help you make the meal.  Older kids can measure and pour.  Younger kids can wash and rinse produce, as well as, stir the ingredients.

Grow your own Edible Garden – Growing a family garden is a very rewarding experience.  Children take great pride when they can reap the benefits of their efforts.  Let your child have a say in what will be grown.  You can even designate a plant or two as their own of which they are responsible for watering and picking when ripe.

An important factor to raising a healthy eater is to develop positive associations with healthy food.  Make proper nutrition part of family time and have fun doing it.  I would like to leave you with this response from my 10 1/2 year-old son when I asked him what lessons he felt I taught him about nutritious eating.  He said, “It isn’t so much lessons that were learned as it is a lifestyle that was taught.”  Healthy eating is a way of life that can be associated positive emotions when you actively engage your child in the process in a fun and nurturing way.

Do you have any tips on how to raise a healthy eater?  Share with us, we want to know!



Filed under children, edible finger paint, family, health, healthy food