Gone are the days of Barbie lunch boxes and Dora thermos. I have teen age girls now. In 12 years of being in school, they have never bought their lunches. Not because I didn’t let them. I was lucky that they typically liked what I packed in their lunch and never had to deal with chicken nuggets or pizza. We saved those battles for dining out.
These days are different. One has gone through a vegetarian phase while the other is suffering with orthodontic pain having had her braces tightened. It was easy to pack their lunches when they were little. But until they are able to drive and spend money on groceries (no times soon, unfortunately), we parents are still in charge of what goes in their lunch boxes.If your child does have braces, it can make eating a really unpleasant experience (for both of you)!
Here are a few ideas if your child has braces since they can’t live on just fruit cups!
- Yogurt- if your child will eat Greek yogurt, this is a lower sugar option with a thicker texture. It has more protein, which will fill them up between meals. If they’re not fond of Greek yogurt, get them traditional, blended yogurt without fruit chunks.
- Bean or lentil soup- this is a great option for both the vegetarian and kid with braces. It’s high in fiber and protein and you can make a big batch and freeze it if needed. Soup can be pureed or further processed to make “chewing” easier.
- High calorie supplements- I am normally not a “meal replacement” person, but if your kid absolutely cannot chew, this will get therm through the morning until they can resume oatmeal or toast. Ensure Plus, Boost or a store brand will do in these cases. Try different flavors to keep things interesting.
- Fruit cups- get a variety- applesauce, fruit cocktail, diced peaches or pears, etc. Pineapple not welcome right now!
- Nut or seed butters like Justin’s or 88 Acres. While your child might not be able to chew toast, soft crackers like saltines might be tolerated OK with a smooth nut butter.These come in convenient pouches that can be packed in your child’s lunch and eaten as part of a meal or for after school snack.They’re a great source of protein and healthy fat.
- Pudding- yeah, I recognize this is “dessert”, but when your child needs calories, let them eat what they can!
I wrote this post on community gardens for Today’s Dietitian’s “RD lounge”. My mom had a tiny garden in our yard when I was a kid and I loved having fresh basil and tomatoes at our fingertips. Sadly, my yard is not conducive to gardening. We have a small, shaded plot of land that the neighborhood deer run through often.
If you’re not traditionally a gardener, this is a great place to meet people, start a plot and learn from other gardeners that know the ropes. Check out https://www.civicgardencenter.org/ in Cincinnati to find a community garden near you!
Get Cooking in Community Gardens
Could your brain cells be the next weapon to fight the obesity epidemic? Scientists from the UK believe it could happen. With over 30% of the population defined as obese and between 15-20% of children and teens in this category, the discovery is welcome news. Nicholas Dale, a neuroscience professor in Warwick and his team discovered a group of cells called tanycytes that talk to the brain directly and tell it to stop feeling hunger. Tanycytes are glial, non-neuronal cells found in the hypothalamus that may control body weight and energy levels. The cells have been discovered to control satiety, the feeling of fullness, based on certain nutrients in our food.
Scientists already knew that tanycytes could find glucose in cerebrospinal fluid, but new studies find that essential amino acids can trigger these cells to make us feel less hungry. Calcium imaging was used to make cells fluorescent and easier to track in vivo. Several essential and non-essential amino acids were added to the brain cells. Tanycytes reacted to lysine and arginine, two essential amino acids, by sending signals to the hypothalamus which controls appetite. After deleting genes which detect umami (savory) taste in mice, scientists discovered that tanycytes did not respond to the amino acids.
The scientists concluded that amino acids are identified by umami taste receptors, and coordinate the relationship between amino acids and the brain. Umami is responsible for savory taste in humans and most non-aromatic amino acids in rodents. According to professor Dale, “Amino acid levels in blood and brain following a meal are a very important signal that imparts the sensation of feeling full.” 1
Sources of lysine and arginine include meat, poultry, avocados, apricots, almonds, lentils, mackerel and plums. These foods could possibly make us feel fuller sooner. The scientists suggest that dietary interventions could alter hypothalamic brain circuits responsible for appetite. Research shows that tanycytes can make new neurons and can be remodeled by dietary interventions. 2 While more research is needed, it certainly can’t hurt to add lentils to your diet a few times per week, almonds, plums or apricots as snacks and fatty fish like mackerel into your meal plan. Add avocado to salads or sandwiches as well.
1. Greta Lazutkaite, Alice Soldà, Kristina Lossow, Wolfgang Meyerhof, Nicholas Dale. Amino acid sensing in hypothalamic tanycytes via umami taste receptors. Molecular Metabolism. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.molmet.2017.08.015.
2. Timothy Goodman and Mohammad K. Hajihosseini. Hypothalamic tanycytes—masters and servants of metabolic, neuroendocrine, and neurogenic functions. Front Neurosci. 2015; 9: 387.
If you’ve been hearing a lot about “taking care of your gut”, it has more to do with the inside of your abdomen than the paunch many Americans may be worried about losing before bikini season. Your gut, or biologically speaking, intestines, are the home to millions of strains of bacteria known collectively as microbiota or the gut microbiome. And just like snowflakes, everyone’s gut microbiota is uniquely different.
The bacteria in our guts is responsible for metabolizing nutrients from food, acting as a protective barrier against infections in the intestine and making fat-soluble vitamin K, which is needed to help make proteins that help clot blood. In addition, researchers are just scratching the surface about how the microbiome may impact health conditions such as arthritis, heart disease and cancer. 1
There are several factors that influence your gut microbiota including age, diet, genes, environment and medications, in particular antibiotics, which can significantly alter gut bacteria. Of these factors, diet may be the most controllable.
Microbes thrive on various components of food such as fiber. Some microbes make compounds that seems to keep us healthier, while others produce substances that may worsen our health. For example, a scientific study found a link between pediatric obesity and antibiotic use early in life. Research has shown that in mice, a diet high in fat increases gut permeability and raises gut absorption of endotoxins that foster weight gain, inflammation, obesity and diabetes. 2
Our gut microbiota is very complex and it’s difficult for scientists to identify which bacteria would be the most beneficial in preventing disease. According to Dr. Hohmann, who works in infectious diseases division at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital, a few dietary tweaks may make a big difference, though gut microbiota change slowly over time and not overnight. She suggests adding the following foods to our diets:
- Fermented foods that contain natural probiotics include miso, yogurt, kefir and kimchi. Sauerkraut and pickles are also fermented, but may need to be limited in those with high blood pressure due to high sodium content.
- High fiber, complex carbohydrates such as beans, lentils, whole grain breads, cereals and grains such as barley, bran, bulgur, farrow and quinoa. The more variety of plant-based foods, the more diverse our bacteria become. 3
While it may be tempting to take an over the counter pro-biotic and call it a day, scientists suggest that probiotics do not typically change the gut microbiota on a permanent basis. Research indicates that a few strains of probiotics have been found to modify the gut, but once they’re stopped, the gut microbiome may reverse back to its previous state. Probiotics may be useful in treating loose stool related to antibiotic use, but for the most part, the data of their effectiveness is not very convincing. 4
Until research proves otherwise, our best bet for a healthy gut is to eat a high fiber, plant-based diet with fewer servings of high fat animal foods, salt and refined carbohydrates. This will not only improve the inside of our guts, but may also give us a more flattering gut on the outside.
- Kei E Fujimura, Nicole A Slusher, Michael D Cabana, and Susan V Lynch, PhD Role of the gut microbiota in defining human health. Expert Rev Anti Infect Ther. 2010 Apr; 8(4): 435–454.
- Cani P. et. al. Diabetes 2008; 57: 147-81.
- Mary Ellen Sanders. How do we know something called “Probiotic” is really a probiotic? A guideline for consumers and health care professionals. Functional Food Reviews 2009: 1; 3-12.
The teen years are difficult for any family. We often get in spats over semantics. I call studying, “homework”, my 13-year old doesn’t see it as “work” unless something is written and gets turned in. No family is perfect. Conflict, differences of opinion and other factors may play into issues. But there’s a silver lining. A recent study finds that families with teens that have dinner with each other are more likely to make healthy food choices, in lieu of parents and children that have problems talking or connecting emotionally. 1
The report in JAMA Network Open found that even when families had trouble juggling daily routines or were not exceptionally close to each other, more frequent family dinners were linked with more healthful eating among teens and young adults. 1
According to the lead author Kathryn Walton a doctoral student at the University of Guelph, Canada, “The big thing is that over and beyond family functioning, family meals still matter when you’re thinking about dietary intake for adolescents,”. Walton, now a research fellow at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto states several studies have evaluated the benefit of family meals. Time and time again, the have found that they lead to teens consuming more fruits and vegetables and less fast food and sugary beverages. 1
But, she said, “Critics have suggested that family dysfunction may interrupt the benefits of family meals because it may be harder for low-functioning families to organize and prepare meals or to have healthy foods available in the home . . . .” 1
Walton and her researchers reviewed data on teen and young adult children of men and women who were subjects in a large, long-term Nurse’s Health Study. The study included data on over 2700 young people aged 14 to 24 that were living with their parents in 2011. 1
Through a series of nine statements rated on a 4-point scale, family functioning was measured. The scale included: Individuals are accepted for who they are; I feel like I can talk about my problems or share a problem; I feel like I am heard in my family. 1
The researchers discovered that the more frequently teens and young adults ate dinner with their parents, the more often their overall diets contained fruits and vegetables and less fast food and sweetened beverages. The differences in healthy food intake were statistically significant despite being small. 1
The question now according to Walton is how to encourage more families to eat dinner together. She suggests that families who aren’t dining together can star with just one meal per a week and build on that success.
It may also be easier to achieve if parents don’t make dinner “a big affair”. Walton suggests using bagged salads or frozen vegetables as they’re just as healthy as fresh and simpler to prepare.
Another idea is to give teens meal prep tasks. Walton states this is really important in families that are extra busy. “Many hands make light work”. She notes there’s the extra bonus of kids learning food prep skills. 1
Dr. Mara Minguez of New York-Presbyterian in NYC, who was not involved in the study notes, “It’s really exciting to hear more evidence that eating together, along with decreasing risky behaviors and improving on mental health issues, such as depression, can also benefit overall health,”.2 One caveat to the study is that it was performed in a mostly white, highly educated population. Minguez works in NYC with many different cultures and wonders if “the findings can be generalized.” 1
Poorer families may find it more difficult to have sit down dinners as parents often work late. But they can compromise, Minguez says, by eating dinner later in the evening. “It’s just a matter of understanding why this is so important”.
“I love the idea of something simple for families to implement that has a substantial impact on health,” said Dr. Tammy Brady of Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland, who wasn’t involved in the study. We need more research in more diverse populations according to Brady, but the study shows that “the family functionality piece isn’t that important.” 1
Here are some easy ways families can dine together more frequently:
- Make dinner a priority. Set a time when everyone is home together and stick with it.
- Ask older children and teens to help with food prep.
- Keep items like eggs, beans, rice and frozen vegetables on hand for fast meals.
- Re-purpose leftovers to save time in the kitchen. One cooked chicken may make multiple meals.
- Keep cell phones and other electronics away from the table so family can focus on each other and the food.
bit.ly/2DCWQxD JAMA Network Open, online November 21, 2018.