Prepare children to make the right choices :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::
This is the last year my daughter is going to rely on me to put an apple in her lunch bag or keep a selection of healthy snacks on the kitchen counter.
A high school senior, she'll be making her own food decisions soon. And as a typically neurotic mom, I'm a little concerned.
We've had the talk about personal safety-I talk and she rolls her eyes. But what about the lessons in nutrition to assure her physical well-being?
That's a work in progress as I try to convince her that she's not going through four years of college on a ramen noodle diet.
I assume that most of you have younger children. However, they'll be making their own food choices soon enough, especially when they hit their preteens and are spending more time with friends. I recommend you find ways to help your children establish healthy eating habits now, before they pack their bags.
To help with this challenging and essential task, I asked for advice from Dr. David L. Katz, director of the Yale Prevention Research Center.
Here are his suggestions.
• Don't overwhelm your children with fearful messages. Fat-clogged arteries are the last thing on your children's minds. Instead give nutrition messages that are directed specifically to your children. For example, you can say a breakfast of whole-grain cereal and milk, yogurt and fruit is satisfying so your son won't be hungry and distracted during a midmorning exam.
• Don't get into food fights. You can tell your children they'll look better, feel better and have more energy if they eat fruits and vegetables instead of cupcakes. But are you really going to ground teens for drinking too much cola?
• Show, don't tell. Show your children how to enjoy healthier versions of their favorite foods. "I call this harm reduction. You make the best choice under the circumstances," says Katz, a father of five, who lives in New Haven, Conn. Read Nutrition Facts labels together, comparing such foods as baked versus fried tortilla chips. Your children may decide to switch to baked chips with one-fourth the fat of fried ones.
Check out the nutritional analyses on most fast food Web sites. Pizza Hut and McDonalds are two that allow you to calculate the nutritional content of your selection. Your teen may be amazed to see the fat and calorie savings to be had by switching from stuffed-crust to a thin-crust pizza.
• Encourage your children to be leaders with their friends. Instead of sitting around listening to CDs, your teens can get everyone up and dancing.
The same applies to nutrition.
"Your children can be the ones who stock fresh grapes and berries and baby carrots for snacking. They can be trendsetters for wholesome eating," says Katz, author of The Way to Eat (Sourcebooks, 2002).
• Set a good example. Despite the eye rolls and smirks, your children take their cues from you.
"Demonstrate that you eat well, and your children will pick up the idea," says Katz. "And make food fun. ...Never get so carried away with the nutrition message that you don't have fun."
Sausage Polenta Casserole To give my daughter an alternative to ramen noodles I'm compiling a packet of recipes that are just as easy to make. This hearty and delicious casserole is tops on the list. 1 (1-pound) roll prepared polenta (see note) 1 tablespoon olive oil 1 small onion, finely chopped 1 pound Italian-style raw turkey sausage 1 (28-ounce) jar pasta sauce.
Cut the polenta into nine slices and arrange in the bottom of a well-greased 9-inch square glass baking dish. Set aside. Heat the oil in a large skillet. Add the onion and sauté over high heat or until translucent. Add the sausage and crumble with a fork. Pour off any fat (there should be very little when using turkey). Stir in the pasta sauce and heat through. Pour the sausage mixture over the polenta. Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 15 minutes or until the mixture is thoroughly hot. Serves 4. Leftovers will keep up to three days in the refrigerator or up to a month in the freezer. Note: Most supermarkets sell cooked polenta in precooked, formed rolls in the pasta section. Choose plain or herb-flavored polenta. If desired, substitute 2 cups cooked rice or pasta and spread on the baking dish.
Bev Bennett is the mother of two and the author of 30 Minute Meals for Dummies (John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2003).