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Should Kids Be Paid to Eat Fruits & Veggies?

8 Jan

Should Kids Be Paid to Eat Fruits & Veggies?

The 2010 Healthy and Hunger-Free Kids Act mandates that subsidized school lunches include fruits and vegetables – whether or not kids want them.

And apparently…kids don’t want them, throwing about 70% of the produce away. One analysis suggests that the fruit and vegetable mandates costs an extra $5.4 million per day, meaning that kids are throwing $3.8 million away each day.

So what if kids were offered a monetary reward in exchange for eating their fruits and vegetables? Researchers from BYU and Cornell put together a number of studies to test just this.

One study rewarded students with a nickel, a quarter, and in some cases a raffle ticket that could be exchanged for a larger prize if they ate the produce. Fruit and vegetable consumption rose by 80% and waste declined by 33%.

So will bribing kids to eat their fruits and vegetables catch on mainstream? The sheer administrative nightmare it would entail makes it unlikely in a subsidized school foodservice program.

Instead of plopping a mealy apple on a school-kids’ tray, perhaps a more reasonable and cost-effective approach would be to encourage school foodservice directors to incorporate fruits and vegetables into menu items that kids are actually apt to eat.

Do Inmates Eat Better Than You?

9 Nov

Do Inmates Eat Better Than You?

As the consultant dietitian for the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department, I was honored to speak at this week’s Essentials of Correctional Medicine conference in Salt Lake City. The conference organizer, Dr. Jeff Keller – of the fabulous Jail Medicine blog – has a special place in his heart, and his practice, for the nutritional status of the incarcerated.

My talk – which was a focus on the positive changes my colleagues and I are making in improving diet and nutrition in correctional facilities – looked at the current state of nutrition in jails across the country.

In researching for the presentation, I found that a few trends are prevailing in correctional nutrition:

  • Calorie counts are trending down – a good thing in light of the high rates of obesity in prisons and jails
  • High sodium menu items are being phased out – most counties are aiming for no more than 2,500 mg per day
  • Fiber is on the rise – many operations are now averaging 30 grams per day

And by the way, 30 grams of fiber per day is nothing to shake your billy stick at! The average American only eats 14 grams – about half of what they need – per day.

How do inmates meet their fiber needs? It’s a combination of whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables and beans. A lot of beans. Our menu features an average of three 1/2-cup servings of dried peas or beans per week. They’re an affordable, low-fat way to fill up on dietary fiber.

So take a look at your diet – are you getting 30 grams of fiber a day? If not, consider eating more like the Prison Diet. Who knows…it could be the next, big, trending fad diet!

Produce Pump-Ups

22 Sep

Produce Pump-Ups

Just because September – Fruits & Veggies: More Matters Month – is coming to a close, doesn’t mean you have to stop powering your plate with more colorful produce!

The Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics offers the following ideas to get you packing your plate with nutrient-dense, lower calorie fruit and vegetable options:

Begin with Breakfast

  • Wake up to fruit; make a habit of adding fruit to your morning oatmeal, ready-to-eat cereal, yogurt or toaster waffle
  • Mix up a breakfast smoothie made with low-fat milk, frozen strawberries and a banana

Snack and Shop Smart

  • Try crunchy vegetables instead of chips with your favorite dip or low-fat salad dressing
  • Stock up: Fill your fridge with raw vegetables and fruits —“nature’s fast food”—cleaned, fresh and ready to eat

Mains that Matter

  • Make a veggie wrap with roasted vegetables and low-fat cheese rolled in a whole-wheat tortilla
  • Grill colorful vegetable kabobs packed with tomatoes, green and red peppers, mushrooms and onions
  • Make your main dish a salad of dark, leafy greens and other colorful vegetables; add chickpeas or edamame (fresh soybeans) and top with a low-fat dressing
  • Stuff an omelet with vegetables; turn any omelet into a hearty meal with broccoli, squash, carrots, peppers, tomatoes or onions with low-fat sharp cheddar cheese

Complement Your Plate

  • Add color to salads with baby carrots, grape tomatoes, spinach leaves or mandarin oranges
  • “Sandwich” in fruits and vegetables; add pizzazz to sandwiches with sliced pineapple, apple, peppers, cucumbers and tomato as fillings

Topping Tips

  • Variety abounds when using vegetables as pizza topping; try broccoli, spinach, green peppers, tomatoes, mushrooms and zucchini
  • Top a baked potato with beans and salsa or broccoli and low-fat cheese
  • “Grate” complement: Add grated, shredded or chopped vegetables such as zucchini, spinach and carrots to lasagna, meat loaf, mashed potatoes, pasta sauce and rice dishes

Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth with Fruit

  • Get saucy with fruit: Puree berries, apples, peaches or pears for a thick, sweet sauce on grilled or broiled seafood or poultry, or on pancakes, French toast or waffles
  • Banana split: Top a sliced banana with a scoop of low-fat frozen yogurt. Sprinkle with a tablespoon of chopped nuts

For more great nutrition tips, visit the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Nutrition Information page.

Source: Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics, Nutrition Care Manual: Resources, 2012.

Happy 150th Birthday USDA

15 May

Happy 150th Birthday USDA

It was 150 years ago today – May 15, 1862 – that President Abraham Lincoln signed off on legislation creating the United States Department of Agriculture.

While you might think of the USDA as nothing more than a stamp on your certified beef cheeks – they are actually the agency responsible for your nutritional well-being. The Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) arm of the USDA is tasked with administration of our nation’s nutrition assistance and education programs.

In an era of bad news about obesity and expanding waist-lines, here’s a short list of the nutrition milestones and accomplishments that the USDA is responsible for:

To learn more about the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service nutrition assistance programs, visit their website here.

School Lunch Set to Get Health Punch

24 Apr

School Lunch Set to Get Health Punch

Each year, the USDA’s National School Lunch Program serves school meals to over 32 million American school-children.

And, while school-lunch jokes abound about nutritionally void chicken nuggets and ketchup-as-a-vegetable, the free and reduced-price lunches served to children from income-eligible families in many aspects represent the most nutritious – or only nutritious – foods that child may have access to that day.

Now, after years of criticism about the easily circumventable nutrition standards of the NSLP, the USDA – in conjunction with First Lady Michelle Obama and her Let’s Move! campaign – have unveiled their proposed changes to improve the nutritional quality of school lunches, slated to start with the 2012-2013 school year.

The final standards put into place the following changes:

  • Ensuring students are offered both fruits and vegetables every day of the week
  • Substantially increasing offerings of whole grain-rich foods
  • Offering only fat-free or low-fat milk varieties
  • Limiting calories based on the age of children being served to ensure proper portion size, and
  • Increasing the focus on reducing the amounts of saturated fat, trans fats and sodium

These changes – a component of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 – aim to reduce the amount of calories from added sugars and fats in school-based meal and snack programs.

According to the USDA, these new standards are expected to cost an additional $3.2 billion over the next 5 years (the NSLP cost $10.8 billion to administer in 2010). Children from families under 130% of the poverty line are eligible for free lunch and children from families at 130-185% of the poverty line pay no more than $0.40 for reduced-price meals.

To see a comparison of the old menu vs. the new changes for a week of school lunches, click here. To learn more about the National School Lunch Program and other USDA nutrition assistant programs, visit the USDA Food and Nutrition Services website at