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Dr. Nimali Fernando

The 5 Ways Sugar Sneaks Into Your Child’s Diet

Ask 10 parents how much added sugar their child consumes each day and there’s a good chance that at least 9 of them will have no clue or will underestimate it. In fact, research published in the International Journal of Obesity reported that 92 percent of the parents surveyed in the study underestimated the added sugar content in foods and beverages. The study also showed that kids are more likely to be overweight when their parents are misinformed about sugar in their kids’ diet. Since sugar intake is associated with an increased risk of being overweight and parents are a child’s nutritional gatekeeper, it essential that they know the ins and outs of sugar.

“Added sugars have infiltrated our lives in a pervasive way, making it crucial that parents know how to identify it and how much is too much,” says Dr. Nimali Fernando, a Fredericksburg, Virginia-based pediatrician who founded The Doctor Yum Project. “Without solid information regarding sugar intake, we may be setting our children up for possible health problems later.”

According to the American Heart Association, children should consume less than 25 grams of added sugar per day, which is equivalent to 6 teaspoons, and that children under the age of 2 should not have any sugar-added foods or beverages. They report that eating foods high in added sugar throughout childhood is linked to a higher risk of developing such diseases in adulthood as heart disease. It’s also linked to obesity and elevated blood pressure in both children and adults.

Childhood obesity has become a hot-button issue in recent years, as the number of children considered overweight and obese continues to rise, particularly among children age 2-5. According to a recent report in the New England Journal of Medicine, 57 percent of today’s children are predicted to be obese by age 35.

Parents are often confused when it comes to sugar intake with their children. Sugar that comes in the form of whole fruit is generally good, while added sugar is what parents need to really watch. Added sugars are those sugars that have been used by the food industry to enhance a food’s flavor. While a piece of fruit is a good choice, “fruit snacks” (the kind that come look like soft candy, for example) may not be, because of the added sugars. Even some foods that seem healthy may contain “hidden” added sugars, making it important for parents to get to know the terms and become label readers.

Here are 5 ways for parents to become savvy about the sneaky ways food companies add sugar to foods:

  1. Confusing food labels. Figuring out how many added teaspoons are in a recipe is not straightforward. First, food labels report sugar in grams. So remember this equation the next time you look at a label: 4 grams of sugar = 1 teaspoon of sugar. To further complicate things, food labels historically did not break down added sugar with naturally occurring sugar. So when we look at a label on a sweetened fruit yogurt, it’s often unclear how much of the sugar comes from natural milk sugars and fruit versus how much extra sugar the food company has added. Luckily, by the end of 2018 most food labels will be updated to break down total vs added sugar which will make reading a label more straightforward.
  2. Small portion sizes. A favorite food may not look like it has much sugar per serving, but if you look closely you may notice that the serving size is much smaller than what you may actually eat. Take the example of cereal. A typical serving size for cereal may be a half a cup or less than a cup per serving, which is much smaller than most people will actually eat (especially if it’s really sweet, because you are likely to eat more). If there are two teaspoons of sugar in a serving, but you can eat three servings, that 2 teaspoons quickly multiplies to 6 teaspoons, the recommended daily limit for a child.
  3. Sweetening with “healthier” sugars. Sweeteners like honey, agave and maple syrup may make a food appear healthier, but that doesn’t mean they actually are. While they may be more natural than refined sugar, manufacturers are still adding sugar to a food that may not need extra sweetness. Don’t be fooled by healthier sounding added sweetener ingredients.
  4. Using sneaky names for sugar. Sometime it can be hard to spot sugar in an ingredient list because there are so many code names. One nutrition source reports that sugar can be spotted with as many as 61 different names. Sugar’s many code names include: rice syrup, dextrose, maltose and barley malt, and high-fructose corn syrup. This is a great tactic, as companies are required to list foods by weight in decreasing order. By listing sugar with more than one name, companies may be able to bury sugar further down on the list, making it seem like there is less.
  5. Know the sneakiest foods. There are some foods that seem to have hidden sugars in them more often than others. Be aware of and read the labels carefully on such foods as granola bars, breakfast cereals, yogurt, fruit snacks, and juice. Juice is trickier because technically the sugar in juice is considered naturally occurring. However, it’s more like a processed food. There is nothing natural about a child drinking the equivalent of 5 apples worth of sugar. And when we drink apple juice, there is no fiber to help slow down the absorption the way there is when we eat an apple. Skip the juice and stick with water for hydration and whole fruit for fiber and nutrients instead.

“Childhood is where many of our food habits are formed, making it that much more important that we help our children learn to sensibly navigate the nutritional landscape,” added Heidi DiEugenio, director of the Doctor Yum Project. “The more we can help them learn better and healthier food habits now, the more they will benefit from those choices and habits into the future.”

5 Reasons to Send Your Child to Cooking Camp this Summer

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My eldest kid loves to cook and bake. Basic stuff mainly but I think he could do more. I was chatting with a mom of one of his high school friends who told me that her son has had a passion for cooking since an early age and that she even enrolled him in a 6 month certificate program which ended with him being an assistant to a sous chef. Very cool.

I told my son who promptly asked me to enroll him in a summer culinary program! Imagine that!

With the advent of television shows like Thee Food Network‘s Chopped Kids and Masterchef Junior, Americans are being exposed to masterful kid chefs out there.

The benefits of children learning to cook are endless.

First, with awareness of food comes acknowledgment of nutrition and value of whole prepared at home meals versus processed foods. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the percentage of children in the country considered obese has more than tripled since the 1970s to one in every five today. When you consider the amount of processed and fast food kids are eating, combined with their lack of exercise, it’s easy to see the root of the problem.

Many parents are turning to summer cooking camps to help give their kids a boost in learning about nutrition and how to cook healthy foods. Virginia-based pediatrician Dr. Nimali Fernando, a Fredericksburg, Virginia-based pediatrician founded The Doctor Yum Project with a mission to help transform kids and their diets, one summer cooking camp at a time.

 

“Our summer cooking camps are designed to help give kids a great foundation in meal preparation and in eating healthy,” says Dr.Fernando, who also goes by Dr.  Yum. “The kids have a great time, learn about nutrition, and they gain some valuable skills along the way.”

According to a release the camp put out recently: The project offers healthy cooking classes, child nutrition classes, cooking camps for kids, hands-on cooking instruction for families, first foods classes, a teaching garden, and online tools to help families make healthier meals. They also offer a preschool nutrition program, with 40 classrooms and almost 600 participating preschoolers.”

Indeed summer cooking camps are a great way for kids to spend some time off of school. Here are 5 reasons Dr. Yum’s camp offer as to why you should send your child to a summer cooking camp that stresses healthy eating:

  1. Lifelong skills. Learning how to cook is a lifelong skill and one that all kids can begin to practice early in life. Being able to learn how to cook and develop age-appropriate kitchen skills will go a long way toward expanding their interest in cooking and in helping them to be self sufficient.
  2. Healthy eating. Spending time in a cooking camp that focuses on healthy eating will help kids learn more about nutritious foods. They will learn more about what healthy foods are, what they do for their body, and how to prepare them.
  3. Kitchen safety. Being able to learn how to properly use a knife, stove, and other kitchen gadgets with adult supervision helps kids to stay safe when cooking or when spending time in the kitchen while their parents are cooking.
  4. Trying new foods. Many kids today eat the same few foods over and over. A healthy cooking camp will help to expand their palate and get them to try a variety of foods. Most kids want to eat the foods that they help prepare, which introduces them to new flavors and textures.
  5. Reinforce lessons. When you add it together, the National Institutes of Health estimates that kids may be spending as much as 5-7 hours per day looking at screens (i.e., television, phones, video games, etc.), with the average child spending at least three hours per day getting screen time. In a cooking camp kids can get off the screens and reinforce lessons they learned in school. They may practice science concepts, math concepts and vocabulary when learning to cook.
“Many people want their kids to learn healthy eating and food preparation skills, but are not sure where to start,” added Heidi DiEugenio, director of the Doctor Yum Project. “Our summer cooking camps are the perfect introduction, where kids will learn, taste, and have fun and be creative with food!”

Dr. Yum is also the creator of the Meal Maker Machine, an online site, found at http://doctoryum.org, that anyone can use at any time. The free site helps families create healthy recipes based off the foods they already have on hand.  Dr. Fernando also co-author of the book “Raising a Healthy, Happy Eater: A Parent’s Handbook” (The Experiment, October 2015).

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Quit Feeding Your Child Pizza, ‘Kid Foods’ and Juice Pouches with this 6 Steps

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According to the National Institutes of Health, on any given day one-third of children and 41 percent of teens eat from a fast-food restaurant. They also report that the restaurant meals often served to kids contain too many calories. The typical “kid food” being offered tends to usually include chicken nuggets, fries, macaroni and cheese, burgers, and pizza. The problem is that these meals often provide empty calories and don’t provide enough nutrition. They also keep the kids wanting the same types of foods at home, with parents often providing them. One expert, Doctor Yum, says it’s time to ditch the “kid food” and start giving kids better options.

“Most food is kid-friendly. Kids just need to learn how to eat it,” says Dr. Nimali Fernando, a Fredericksburg, Virginia-based pediatrician who founded The Doctor Yum Project. “Kids who are taught healthy eating habits, which include eating a variety of healthy foods, will be far better off now and in the long run. They will be learning healthy habits that will last a lifetime.”

Here are 6 reasons to ditch the pizza and pouches and get your kids back to real food:

  • Kids can learn to eat real food. Most of us parents overestimate the amount of food children need. Therefore when a toddler takes two bites of their entree, parents may feel defeated instead of realizing they may have eaten enough. Parents then may be more likely to reach for those kid-friendly, addictive snacks (like crackers and gummy snacks) to fill their child’s belly.  It should be no surprise that grazing-style eating, where hunger does not fully develop, leads to a poor appetite at mealtime. Parents should continue to provide opportunities to practice eating healthy foods, and have realistic expectations for what their child should eat. With enough practice kids will get used to a healthy array of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Check with your pediatrician to see if your child is meeting expectations for growth to ensure his food intake is on track.
  • Restaurant kids meals are a waste of money. When eating out, say no to kid’s meals, which are usually variations on the same “kid-friendly” foods like pizza, chicken nuggets, and sweet drinks. Most of these menus have little to no vegetables or fruit. They may be belly fillers and provide calories but little added nutritional value for your dollar. Instead, order a healthy similarly priced appetizer and/or share your entree with your little one (restaurant meals are so oversized that chances are good that the serving is too big for you anyway). Alternatively, order a few entrees “family style” and ask the server to bring extra plates for whole family to sample. This encourages kids to be adventurous and get used to trying new foods.
  • Kid-friendly foods are misleading.  Recent studies of toddler foods show that many actually have more sugar and salt than what is recommended by experts. Food companies know that parents worry about nutrition, and know the buzzwords to attract those worried parents. It’s easy to make food choices based on the promise of “more protein” or “high in calcium.”  But reading the nutrition label (on the back of the box, not the front) will give you the big picture on whether a food is right for your child. Is there an abundance of additives and preservatives? Are the ingredients recognizable and safe? How much sugar is added? Think about the whole foods that might be used to get the same benefit (like a handful of nuts for protein instead of a protein bar).
  • Kids need real food to develop and thrive. While pizza and macaroni and cheese may fill a child’s belly, kids need fruits, vegetables and whole grains to provide the necessary, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients (plant nutrients) for optimal growth and development.  Furthermore, an important part of a child’s development is their oral motor skills, those functions of the mouth (lips, tongue, teeth and palate) that allow for speech, safe feeding and swallowing. Many kid-friendly foods are soft and easy to eat and don’t encourage development of those skills. Relying too heavily on these foods (like soft chicken nuggets and pouches with soft purées) can allow kids to lag behind in oral motor development and may lead to picky eating.
  • You don’t have time to be a short order cook. Making two or three meals to satisfy everyone’s preferences is exhausting and can lead to cooking burnout. Teach kids to eat what you are eating to save time and money and to encourage the spirit of adventurous eating. This can be done from the earliest bites of solid food. Instead of relying on store-bought baby food exclusively, find ways to make your meals into healthy baby food. Check out the Doctor Yum Project’s kid-tested, pediatrician approved recipes on doctoryum.org. Many of them have a “baby food shortcut” which shows families how to adapt a family meal and make a meal for a baby along the way. Eating in this way from a young age can avoid that picky eater trap and lead to a path to adventurous eating for a lifetime.
  • Nutrition shouldn’t be hidden, so stop hiding the veggies.  Kids that are very hesitant eaters may be benefit from a few hidden vegetables as they gain confidence in food, but in general parents should try to help kids learn to love healthy foods without hiding them. While hidden veggies may help nutritionally, the kids may not gain an understanding that vegetables can be delicious, so they may still try to avoid them when they are visible. Get kids loving their veggies by leading by example, preparing them together, growing a garden, and visiting a farmers market where they can pick out a couple of things to try. The more variety they are exposed to and realize that they enjoy, the better the eating habits will be.

“If kids can get involved in the food process, from shopping to preparing it, and they can learn about why eating healthy is so important to them, they are more likely to do so,” adds Heidi DiEugenio, a director at the Doctor Yum Project. “This will help them avoid the obesity problems, chronic health issues, and they will have a better opportunity to live a healthier life throughout their adulthood.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, healthy eating habits can help children maintain a healthy weight, as well as reduce their risks of such conditions as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, iron deficiency, dental cavities, osteoporosis, and high blood pressure. An unhealthy diet, on the other hand, can lead to being overweight or obese, increase risks for certain types of cancer, and negatively affect overall health, cognitive development, and a child’s school performance.