Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Kids in the Kitchen

My daughter enjoyed cooking at a young age

My youngest daughter turned seven at the end of September. One of her birthday presents was a "real" cooking kit with kid-sized cooking utensils. She has been asking me to cook with her since she got it. My response to cooking with my kids is mixed. As a dietitian, I'm thrilled that they have an interest in preparing food. I see a great opportunity to teach them about the healthy foods that we all need to eat more often. As a mother, I'm hesitant to cook with them. I'm so tired of cleaning up messes all the time and the surest way to a messy kitchen is to have your kids cook. I have come to realize that the kitchen is my area of control. Unless I'm cooking with a clone, I prefer to cook alone. Despite my need to feed and nurture with food, I'm not the most nurturing person the kitchen. I watch commercials of parents cooking with their kids and wonder why I'm not as happy as those parents seem when I am cooking with my kids.

Being aware of my flaw, I have been trying to overcome it and have been pleasantly surprised at how helpful my kids can actually be in the kitchen (hold on a minute while I adjust my blinders)! My two older children each had to plan and prepare a meal for a seventh grade class. I was impressed at how conscientious they were to choose a healthy menu and how much pride they had in executing the whole meal themselves. Of course, they came to me for guidance, but they did all the chopping, cooking, and cleaning. What a great school project! I now find myself focusing on the "teaching moments" that I have with my kids in the kitchen. Put the caps back on containers and put them away when you are finished using them. Don't lick your fingers, but if you do, you must wash them (we wash our hands a lot in my kitchen). Completely disassemble the blender when you are washing it, including the rubber seals. By focusing on what I can teach my children as we cook I am creating my kitchen clones, but I'm also teaching them about food safety, healthy eating and how to be more efficient while cooking.

I've had a few food-related surprises with my kids recently. This past Thanksgiving weekend, my seven year old daughter took an active part in preparing one of the many meals that my family serves during this time. She helped her grandma prepare for a dinner party and was there every step of the way from grocery shopping, cooking and setting the table. She even served herself Brussels sprouts at the meal and ate them all! My middle child and oldest daughter has gotten in the habit of making me and my husband breakfast. We are often awakened on a Saturday or Sunday morning to the smell of brewing coffee. This past month she didn't even ask us to take her to the mall later that day! Finally, my son, who is the first born, completely surprised me when he told me that he was joining the cooking club in high school. I can't tell you how proud I am of that, especially when he mentioned that many of his friends don't see the value of cooking when you can get prepared foods on any street corner. These are my sweet rewards for allowing my kids to make a mess in our kitchen! The mess is such a small thing compared to the lifelong skills you teach your children by allowing them to cook. I'd love to hear your stories about cooking with your kids. Perhaps some of them have gone on to become chefs, teachers or scientists. The skills learned from cooking can be used in many ways.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

5 Healthy Tips for Your Best Holiday Season Yet!

Keep your healthy habits through the holidays
'Tis the season for overeating and inactivity, but it doesn't have to be. You've worked hard all year to change unhealthy habits and now it's time to run the gauntlet of holiday parties and coworkers bringing cookies and treats to work. If you can make it through the holidays unscathed while practicing your healthy habits, you are truly a new person. Here are five tips to keep you focused on having a happy and healthy holiday season.

1. Be positive. Positive emotion is necessary for behavior change. To flourish, we should exhibit three positive emotions for every negative emotion. Flourishing is like navigating a sail boat. Negative emotion is your rudder and positive emotion is the sail that soars high into the air. Your sail should be three times as high as your rudder to keep you on course. Of course, you need both a sail and a rudder to navigate. The trick is to have enough positive emotion to balance the negative. We typically focus too much on negative feelings, so lighten up and be positive. You can track your emotions at positivityratio.com. Emotions change daily, so track yours often. It might help you focus a little more on the positive aspects of your life.

2. Catch up on your ZZZ's. During the holidays, most people overstuff their days and weekends with activity and short change sleep. Adequate sleep is vital for health. Lack of sleep is a risk factor for diabetes, heart disease, obesity, accidents and it lowers your immunity. You may have to resist the urge to be a party animal, but getting enough sleep will ensure that you enjoy your celebrations to the fullest. Allow at least one day a week to catch up on your sleep. You might have to delegate some holiday shopping or cooking, leave a party early once in a while, and resist the urge to stay up late watching TV, playing video games, etc.

3. Keep moving. The best way to avoid weight gain over the holidays is to move daily. Face it, we are made to move and without movement we couldn't survive. Preserve your regular exercise routines as much as possible. If you notice that you can't exercise as much as you used to, wear a pedometer and track your activity as daily steps. The goal is to log at least 10,000 steps a day which is equivalent to walking about five miles. I did this last year between Thanksgiving and New Year's. It was a great way to keep moving. When I noticed that I was short of my goal, I would take the dogs for another walk (god for the dogs as well as me) or take an extra lap in the mall while shopping. Taking a walk after a larger meal is also helpful. The artery clogging effects of one high fat meal can literally be visualized. Fortunately, so can the health promoting effects of one bout of activity. So get up after your meal and take a walk!

4. Maintain your weight. Most people only gain about one pound over the holidays, but that one pound hangs around long after the holidays are over and is often joined by more pounds the next year, and the next, and the next... Setting your sights on weight loss may be too difficult at this time. The goal should be to maintain what you've already lost. You have to measure this somehow. I encourage my clients to weigh themselves daily. You will notice small changes in your weight that you can equate to your eating and exercise habits. If you notice a weight increase in one day, examine what you ate earlier. If you ate a meal in a restaurant, chances are the meal was excessive in calories, fat, and sodium. You can make corrections in your eating and activity and work to bring your weight back to where it was. If you don't measure, you won't know to correct. Before you know it that one pound will be sitting on your hips or mid-section and will be hard to lose.

5. Be thankful.  There is so much flurry around the holidays that is is easy to forget what they are about. Enjoy the time that you are allowed to be with your family, friends, colleagues and coworkers. Humans are social beings and having a supportive community around us is one of the best ways that I can think of to be happy and healthy. We bring the burden of the season upon ourselves. It is within our power to lighten that burden with humor, love, kindness, thoughtfulness, friendship and thankfulness.

I wish you the best holiday season yet!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Do Your Food Values Make You an Elitist or an Oddball?

 I can't help but feel a little odd!
 Sometimes I can't help feeling odd, a little eccentric and different from most people. I'm consumed with passion for being a dietitian and spreading the message of how much better life can be when we eat healthy foods responsibly, exercise regularly and get adequate sleep each night. I think about food all the time. It's not odd to think about what you do in your profession, even when you're not working. I feel odd because of the blank stares I get when I tell people I'm vegetarian. I feel odd when there is nothing for me to order in a restaurant except a salad or processed veggie burgers. I feel odd when I won't let the server in a restaurant refill my children's beverages, except with water. I feel odd because I suggest that people cook more meals at home using fresh ingredients rather than serving Tyson chicken tenders. I feel odd because I won't eat the foods that many other Americans will eat. Does that make me an elitist? Am I perceived as thinking that I'm better than others because I won't eat fast food? The truth is I'm not an elitist and I've been known on occasion to buy fast food for my children, albeit the smallest meal and beverage that I can buy. But feeling odd because of my food values is a feeling that I can't seem shake.

This feeling of being odd became overwhelming when my thirteen year old daughter asked me to buy a birthday present for a friend. As we drove to Wegmans, my daughter told me that she wanted to buy her friend's favorite chocolate which happened to be Hershey's. I recently wrote a blog post on my views about Hershey's and have banned Hershey products from my house in lieu of fair trade and organic chocolate (elitist?). I apologized to my daughter that we would not be buying her friend's favorite chocolate. As a thirteen year old will do, she pushed back exclaiming that four bars of chocolate wouldn't make a difference to the world. An argument ensued and ended with my retort that she was asking me to be a hypocrite. We entered the store and proceeded to buy several bars of fair trade and organic chocolate. I went home feeling the burden of my values. I disappointed my daughter and felt like I didn't "fit in" in a world where trading commodities and making money was more important than human life, protecting the environment, or any other value that is different from popular opinions.

Even though the pendulum of popular belief with respect to food is swinging in my direction, I still feel the burden of my beliefs heavy on my shoulders. In a world where the majority of adults are overweight and greater numbers of children are becoming overweight and obese, I'm hopeful that the choices I make in small measure will influence others, who in turn will influence even more people. But then I wonder...am I a food fascist (sic)?

I asked my daughter if she told her friend that I wouldn't allow her to buy Hershey's chocolate. She did and her friend enjoyed the fair trade chocolate that she gave him. I felt a little vindicated when she told me that another friend replied, "Oh yeah, I know about Hershey's. They stink!" Perhaps I'm not that odd after all.