By Sarah Vander Schaaff

The food of summer: abundant kale and soft serve ice cream. The contrasts in nutritional value abound. So, this week, I turned to Rebecca Rudy, a mother of two with a Masters degree in Nutrition. She gives us some tips both for summer and the school year ahead.

1. What is your background with nutrition and what got you interested in the field?

Upon graduating from Harvard, I accepted a fellowship to teach Classics and coach crew at a British boarding school. The experience was fantastic—and I learned from it that I wasn’t meant to teach dead languages to fresh teens! I pursued my interest in sports nutrition instead and earned my Master’s from Tufts University in their Nutrition Communication Program. Over ten years later, I reflect on the twist and turns of my career path and marvel at the variety of experiences I’ve enjoyed and the clients I’ve supported. Whether writing for Triathlete Magazine, tackling school nutrition programs, speaking to collegiate athletes, guiding prenatal nutrition choices, designing weight management plans or troubleshooting family food challenges, I’m grateful for the opportunity to positively effect change within individuals, families and communities. And, yes, I do believe that everyone should be able to enjoy both broccoli and brownies—just ask my own children!

2. What are three foods that you think pack a lot of nutritional value that parents might try to add more of into their children’s diets?

Speaking of broccoli, I would list it as a super-food which can be included in nearly any nutrition plan. Either make it taste good (a little olive oil, salt and pepper will do wonders) or hide it in a soup, pasta sauce or omelet (chop finely or puree). My son likes to smother his broccoli florets in grated parmesan cheese.

Another food group to focus on would be non-fat or low-fat dairy. It’s an excellent protein source which many people haven’t considered. With about one gram of protein per ounce, a cup of milk is equivalent to an egg. On the top of my list would be non-fat Greek yogurt, which can pack nearly twice as much protein as traditional yogurt. Stay away from “light” yogurts that contain artificial sweeteners in an effort to keep calories low. Instead, go natural and add your own fruit, honey or brown sugar. If I can mention a brand I would recommend Chobani, which now makes Bites (small cups, tasty flavors) and sticks (freeze for a cool summer treat).

Summertime and outdoor grills go hand in hand. Try grilling up fish for your kids—from a mild mahi-mahi to a slightly stronger wild salmon. The latter in particular is known for its healthful omega-3 fatty acids which support cardiovascular and cognitive health. The former can resemble chicken for less adventure eaters. Both are easy to prepare with easy marinades from a simple teriyaki glaze to an even more basic olive oil and lemon mist. Best of all, your kitchen won’t smell like fish thanks to the grill.

3. What are three foods that you think parents would do well curbing or eliminating from their children’s diets?

First item to trim from a kid’s (or an adult’s) nutrition plan would be sweetened beverages. Note: I do not dismiss all liquid calories because it is important to include milk/dairy alternatives especially for calcium’s contribution to growing bones and bone health maintenance. Additionally, 100 percent juice or juice-vegetable combinations (especially pureed or blended) can provide a variety of beneficial vitamins and minerals. However, sugar-filled, nutrient void juice drinks (read labels carefully), sodas, lemonades and sweet teas are just empty calories that either take the place of more nutritious choices or provide more calories than a child needs in a day.

Similarly, the second item to remove would be the analogous empty-calorie snack foods: crunchy, salty, and often fat-laden. Choose baked when possible and watch portions. Avoid letting kids have access to large bags, from which they graze endlessly especially during sedentary screen time. There is room for these foods in moderation: single-serving packages as part of a planned-out balanced snack. For example, offer a handful of baked chips with salsa and carrot sticks. Who knows, your kids might dip those carrots in the salsa as well and enjoy them just as much.

That leads me to my third and final point of caution. It’s not so much what children eat, but in what quantity. Children should be able to enjoy birthday cake and ice cream cones from time to time—just not after each meal. Most portions, however, are larger than grown men need. Read labels and demonstrate for your children what a serving size is for them. For example, pick up a pint of reduced-fat (double churned is a common description these days) ice cream or frozen yogurt. Show them that the pint should be divided into at least four bowls. This is a serving. If portioning out foods is a challenge, find single-serving, 100-calorie packs or “snack size” options from ice cream sandwiches to sandwich cookies.

4. If a child had an important test, what meal would you describe as “brain food” that would help the child feel good and concentrate well?

Many kids don’t like to eat breakfast; either they aren’t hungry yet or they simply don’t have time. A quick and easy way to pour a substantial first meal into them is by offering a power smoothie. You can throw together Greek yogurt, peanut butter, banana, cocoa powder and milk or ice. Blend to whatever consistency they like. It’s portable so they can enjoy in the car or during the walk to school. If peanut butter is an allergy challenge either for your kid or your kid’s classmates you can substitute almond butter or soynut butter (most schools allow as a safe alternative). Depending on ingredient choice and quantity you can make this as energy-dense as you’d like. That said avoid scrimping on calories in the morning as kids need the fuel to kick off their busy days.

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