From the March 2019 issue

Healthy Hacks

Somewhere between early morning drop-off, after-school activities and bedtime routines, parents struggle to give their kids healthy, nutritious meals. A registered dietitian and mom of four shares tips for serving up balanced meals in a snap.

As the number of overweight children began to increase back in 2012, Pediatric Associates of Livingston, located in Brighton, hired registered dietitian Jodi Nemeth to provide nutrition counseling to patients.

“It doesn’t matter what the diagnosis is, most of these families have something in common,” she says. “They are busy, overwhelmed and planning meals just isn’t a priority.”

As a mom of four, Nemeth can relate.

“Sometimes I see in a food journal that a child can go an entire day without a single fruit, vegetable or glass of milk,” she notes.

But poor nutrition can affect a child’s growth, immunity, physical and mental health. “It is so important to develop healthy eating habits young so kids grow up to be healthy adults.”

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When it comes to helping your kids get the nutrition they need, Nemeth offers these meal hacks.

Plan Your Meals

“Sporting events pretty much dictate our family’s schedule and eating meals at home can be challenging. The key for us has been meal planning,” Nemeth says.

Without planning, there can be an increase in the consumption of fast food and convenience foods. Mealtime should never be a struggle and the well-accepted meals are the ones that kids have helped plan, says Nemeth.

“Every weekend, I get input from my kids on what they would like for dinner the following week and we make a meal plan. It doesn’t have to be anything extravagant,” she says. “It can be something as simple as a slow cooker of chili, a salad topped with chicken or a pasta with a side of broccoli. I like stews that can be cooked in advance and warmed up during the week.”

Frozen Fruits and Veggies

Using frozen fruits and vegetables makes life a lot easier. Produce is picked fresh at the peak of ripeness and frozen to maintain all of their nutrients. “We go through bags of frozen fruits and vegetables by adding them to smoothies or oatmeal,” says Nemeth. “They can also be used in homemade soups, sauces or even used as a quick side dish.”

Smart Substitutions

A quick cooking hack for parents consists of swapping out less nutritious ingredients for more nutritionally dense ones.

“I substitute Greek yogurt for sour cream and make oatmeal with milk instead of water,” Nemeth says.

Nemeth also has a picky eater at home that she has to accommodate. Having simple alternatives for a picky kid can save you from cooking a separate meal for them “Sometimes an egg can take the place of the meat that’s being refused,” she says.

Quick Grabs

“I struggle like everyone else with teenagers who don’t give themselves enough time for breakfast,” Nemeth says. “Sometimes, a banana with a glass of milk before they run out the door is better than nothing and much better than a sugary alternative.”

Serving a glass of milk with meals is also a good habit for busy families, she says. “Moms have gotten the message to serve water to their kids and that’s great, but milk is more than a beverage—it’s solid nutrition.” That’s why she instructs her kids to pick up a carton of milk during lunch at school to complete the meal.

At home, try to have simple but nutritious snacks available, such as apples and nut butter, Greek yogurt with fruit or veggies with hummus. For a breakfast that’s ready before you wake up – and is quick to grab while scrambling out the door – check out the Overnight Oatmeal Bars recipe.

Shop Online

Many grocery stores are now offering a curbside pickup for your groceries, with some companies even delivering groceries straight to your door. As a dietitian, Nemeth secretly loves grocery shopping.

“But as a busy mom, even I have had to give in to ordering groceries online and doing a quick pick up to save time.”

Balance Meals

Don’t take it one meal at a time, blindly choosing snacks to fill gaps. When you start focusing on all the foods you and your child should be having each day, you run out of room for those empty calorie foods and can easily eliminate them, Nemeth says. It’s also helpful to serve a rainbow of colors of fruits and vegetables.

“Each color has its own nutritional benefits. Some help fend off heart disease, some are good for bones, eyes and teeth, for example.”

As nutritional needs fluctuate with a child’s age, measurements and activity level, Nemeth advises parents to find the recommendations for their child by going online to ChooseMyPlate.gov.

“Ultimately, we want kids to be familiar with a wide variety of foods, because we need an appropriate amount of fruits, vegetables, grains, protein and dairy every day.”

Overnight Oatmeal Bars

Makes 8 servings

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 1/2 cups old-fashioned oats
  • 1 cup almonds
  • 1/2 cup dried raisins
  • 3/4 cup fat-free vanilla yogurt
  • 1 medium apple, diced
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Combine all of the ingredients in a food processor. Cover and process until a ball forms, stopping occasionally to scrape down sides of bowl with spatula.
  2. Line 9-inch loaf pan with foil. Empty food processor bowl into loaf pan, pressing down mixture with spatula.
  3. Freeze for at least one hour to firm up. Remove from freezer and refrigerate until ready to serve.
  4. Slice into bars, and serve. Can also be covered and refrigerated overnight.

For more recipes, visit milkmeansmore.org/recipe.

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