Wednesday, August 13, 2014

WELLNESS WEDNESDAYS: School Lunch Tips for Parents

WELLNESS WEDNESDAYS:  School Lunch Tips for Parents

"Higher sugar, fat, and salt make you want to eat more," a high-level food industry executive told me.  I had already read this in the scientific literature and heard it in conversations with neuroscientists and psychologists.  Now an insider was saying the same thing.  My source was a leading food consultant, a Henry Ford of mass-produced food who had agreed to part the curtain for me, at least a bit, to reveal how his industry operates.  To protect his business, he did not want to be identified."

-- David A. Kessler, M.D., The End of Overeating (Dr. Kessler served as commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration under presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton and is a pediatrician.)

It’s August and the kids are heading back to school.  During my talks in the southeast U.S. on how to prevent and reduce childhood obesity, I speak with lots of parents concerned about the quality of what their kids are (or are not) eating at school.  One suggestion I give parents of elementary age kids is to eat lunch with your kids (or breakfast if they eat it at school).  With all the changes in the school lunch program, a lot of schools have not figured out that kids don’t like changes and if you change something you better let the kids test it first or the food all goes into the garbage can next to the cafeteria door.  I liken it to “The Rule of Law” that says government needs to tell you well in advance of a change and not just spring it on you. 

Here are four back-to-school lunch tips for parents:
1.  If your child buys lunch at school or is on the free and reduced meal program, then schedule to eat lunch at least once a month (and at least twice a month during the first month that school is in session) with your child, selecting your lunch from the same choices your child has in the school cafeteria.
2.   Let your child pick out a new lunchbox that uses minicontainers.  These are great for including small portions of several healthy veggies, fruits, and proteins so that the foods don’t touch each other (kid rule number 1).  I was in Target last weekend and saw a cool Rubbermaid product for under $10 that included an icepack.  Pack a bottle of water instead of a drink with added sugar. 
3.  Create your own family test kitchen where your child can design his or her own lunchable staple such as a whole grain roll-up sandwich or a whole grain pasta salad.  Both can be made and packed the night before for an out-the-door-in-a-hurry school lunch. 
4.  Check the sugar content on the milk sold at your school’s cafeteria and steer your kids to lower sugar products.  In the school district where I live, most of the kids choose the chocolate and strawberry milks which have a whooping 7 teaspoons of added sugar (28 grams) per serving!  This is more sugar than kids under the age of 9 should have in an entire day!  Low fat white milk is a much smarter choice than the sugar-filled strawberry or chocolate milk served in schools.

I would love to hear from you about what works for getting your kids to eat more whole grains, fresh vegetables and fruits for lunch.  Send me an email at

Remember to keep a big bowl of fresh fruit and veggies on the table so the kids can grab a healthy snack on their way into the house after school!    

In gratitude,
Nancy Heinrich

Founder, Growing Healthy Kids, Inc.

PS - Moms and Dads, check out this site I found in last week's Relish magazine about a dad who prepares easy-to-make, everyday food for his wife and three sons.  Click here. 

Wednesday, August 6, 2014



       "A century ago, food chemists discovered that they could solidify a polyunsaturated vegetable oil by heating it in the presence of hydrogen and finely ground particles of nickel metal.  During the process, called partial hydrogenation, hydrogen latches on to some - but not all - of the double-bonded carbons, changing them into single bonds.  At the same time, some of the remaining double bonds twist into a new straightened shape, which gives the fat new chemical and physical properties.
       "Why did anyone bother figuring this out?  It's easier to ship and store solidified vegetable oils than liquid oils.  Partially hydrogenated vegetable oil can be used in place of butter or lard (solid animal fats) in baking.  And a lesser degree of hydrogenation yields a still-liquid oil that doesn't become rancid as quickly as unprocessed vegetable oils.  Without this process we wouldn't have had margarine or vegetable shortenings such as Crisco.  We also would have less heart disease."  
--- Walter C. Willett, M.D., from Eat, Drink and Be Healthy (co-developed with The Harvard School of Public Health) 

How do we bring healthy foods into the lives of all of America’s children?  When I first started honing in on trans fats (what I call “the evil empire fat”), it became very clear to me that I wanted no part of trans fats in my food.  With many of my aunts and uncles on my father’s side of the family having lived and died with cardiovascular diseases, heart attacks, hardening of the arteries, high cholesterol, and strokes, my Heinrich cousins and I have all been motivated to learn how to reverse the trend of heart disease in our generation. 

When trans fats first started rearing their ugly heads in our food supply, I started reading labels looking to see which manufacturers were sneaking them in under the (legal) radar.  I learned to scan the ingredients section for any ingredient that included the words “partially hydrogenated” which is code for trans fat.  Very sneaky!

What are trans fats?  They are good fats that are changed by a chemical process from a liquid (good) fat to a solid (bad) fat.  They become “hydrogenated” or solidified.  The process of hydrogenation adds hydrogen to good fats to increase shelf life and flavor stability. Trans fats also do 4 very bad things that make us sick:
  • they raise our LDL (bad) cholesterol
  • lower our HDL (good) cholesterol
  • raise our trigylerides (another bad fat like LDL cholesterol) and
  • promote inflammation (a very bad thing which lights the fire of many disease processes in the body)

Image result for picture of stick margarine                     Image result for picture of frosting
Watch out for these five foods that are made with trans fats:
  1. Ready-to-eat frostings
  2. Cookies, cakes, frozen pies
  3. Stick margarines
  4. Refrigerated dough products like cinnamon rolls and biscuits
  5. Coffee creamers

Follow one of the rules for Growing Healthy Kids:  READ FOOD LABELS TO IDENTIFY TRANS FATS AND CHOOSE FOODS WITHOUT TRANS FATS ("partially hydrogenated"). 

The fact is that the Food and Drug Administration has finally decided that there is no safe level of trans fats.  I could have told them that a long time ago! 

In gratitude,
Nancy Heinrich

Founder, Growing Healthy Kids

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

WELLNESS WEDNESDAYS: Nutrient Density Matters

WELLNESS WEDNESDAYS:  Nutrient Density Matters

“When are you going to stand up for your children and their future?  It’s time to warrior up!”               

        --- Tsleil-Waututh Elder Amy George from Sierra Magazine, March/April 2014

How often do you think about your children’s future and what their world will look like in five years?  In full disclosure, the above quote came from an article in Sierra Magazine.  The article was about the impact of coal trains on a sensitive area of northwest Washington State where fishing for salmon and herring support a local culture, including the Lummi Nation of native Americans.

When I work with parents who are overweight or who have children who are overweight or obese, I often have the same thought as Tsleil-Waututh Elder Amy George.  Are we willing to let the large food manufacturers dictate whether our children will be doomed to a shortened lifespan because they are overeating foods with no nutritional value?  Will the McDonald’s dollar menu be your family’s demise?  Will eating too much of the bad foods (white sugar, white flour, and too much salt) cause health problems for your family?  Will the sugar-filled cereals and Pop Tarts intentionally placed at a child’s eye level of your grocery store rob your kids of their ability to focus in school? 

A lot of my work centers around teaching families about how to become more health literate and making better choices for themselves and their children.  Our children are getting fatter, but obesity is preventable.  Focus on eating nutrient dense foods (like wild salmon, kale, lentils, spinach) to replace foods of low value.  The most nutrient dense food is watercress.  High on the list is kale.  Green is great!   For a link to some great nutrient dense recipe ideas, click here.

As parents, whether we choose to fight to prevent coal trains from coming through environmentally sensitive lands or whether we choose to educate parents with the knowledge about how to eat well and economically to prevent obesity and obesity-caused diseases, we make choices every day.  It is time to warrior up! 

Thank you,
Nancy Heinrich

Founder, Growing Healthy Kids, Inc.