Making Food Dollars Stretch: A Family Affair!

Last week I went grocery shopping at my favorite “big box” market, and once again I winced as I watched the total click higher and the printed receipt get longer. The printed tape makes it even more difficult to deny that the cost of food has skyrocketed over the past few years. My family of four, including two athletic teenage (hence HUNGRY!) boys, started to notice the price creep higher first on the foods that we regularly bought in the stores that we shopped at the most frequently, and it became a game to try to guess the final total price while we waited in line to pay. We certainly took notice of an increase of fifty cents per pound of meat, one pound of strawberries that used to cost two dollars now costing three dollars, and one pounds of grapes all of a sudden costing almost four dollars, even in the summer time! Feeding two growing adolescent boys was getting more expensive by the week. Now, we can’t get out of a grocery store for less than $300 for one week’s worth of groceries, and it seems the shopping basket is a little lighter each time.

Hard economic times can force families to consider their grocery budget a little more carefully, cutting out “extras” and skipping restaurants; the good thing is, this can often lead us to eating a healthier diet with smaller portions. Shopping with less food dollars requires more planning, including budgeting and deciding on a menu for the week, but this usually keeps the “extras” such as chips, cookies, candies, sodas, and other sweetened beverages from finding their way into the cart. As family members start to eat healthier, portion sizes may decrease, saving money on the grocery or dining out bill, and maybe even leading to weight loss.

If you need to make your food dollars stretch, involve your whole family in the process.

  • Take the cookbRed Dress Day 2014 008ooks off the kitchen shelf, look through smartphone apps such as Food.com or the Food Network app, or browse through magazines and TV shows to get recipes and meal ideas. Invite your children to pick a new recipe to help avoid the monotony that can happen at dinnertime.
  • Create a monthly calendar that is printed and pinned to the refrigerator or kitchen bulletin board. Plan breakfast, lunch, and dinner for each family member a week at a time. Knowing what foods you will need for the week minimizes the number of trips to the grocery store (where it’s always tempting to buy more than you need!) and prevents after-work trips through the fast food drive through because “there’s nothing to eat at home.”
  • “Eat down the pantry and the refrigerator.” We often have several different ingredients already in stock at home; have your spouse help you create a meal using only the ingredients that you have already. Be sure to check the expiration dates on the foods; use the First-in First-out method when putting your groceries away in the pantry (foods already in the pantry move to the front of the shelf and the newer foods are placed behind.)
  • Have your school age children make a shopping list from recipes they want to try or meals they know they will like, double-checking the pantry and refrigerator for items already on-hand. Wasted food is decreased when everyone likes what’s served!
  • Avoid being a “short order cook.” Cooking the same meals for the whole family generates less leftovers, encourages each family member to possibly try new foods, and saves time and energy in the kitchen by the “chef.”
  • Choose healthy, low-cost foods that can be used in more than one dish in the same week.
  • “Base” ingredients include foods like whole grain bread, skim or 1% milk, chicken breasts, romaine lettuce or spinach, and frozen vegetables. These foods can be used in a variety of recipes, are generally cheaper than other foods, and don’t spoil as quickly.
  • At the grocery store, shop the perimeter of the store first, stocking up on fresh produce and meats while avoiding the more expensive processed items that are most often found on the interior shelves of the store. Invite the kids or your spouse to go grocery shopping with you; it might at first seem like a difficult distraction, but family members who are more engaged with the selection of groceries will likely be more willing and adventurous eaters.
  • Making food dollars stretch can be a learning opportunity for the kids. Kids can use their math skills to determine the price per serving of various food items to determine which package is the best value. Remember, buying in bulk is not always the best investment if some of the package goes to waste.
  • Copy the children when taking your lunch to work: buy yourself a cute reusable lunch box or container that makes you want to take your foods to the office refrigerator.
  • Have the center of focus during meals be family time, not the quantity of food. Pleasant conversation can help you eat slowly and let your body be satisfied naturally by smaller portions.
  • Start a conversation at work about healthy shopping or food budgets, or even just eating smaller portions. You might be able to glean a tip or two from your co-workers on how they make their own food dollars stretch!

Other tips:

  • Shop the supermarket weekly ads for special sales or coupon items, and build your week’s meals around what’s on sale. If you are unsure of how to cook these foods or incorporate them into your meal plan, check the Internet or cookbooks for recipes or ask the grocery store manager for hints.
  • Look in the “markdown” bin of your grocery store; each section of the store seems to have foods on sale that are nearing the expiration date or are on overstock clearance. Ask the store manager what day of the week these “markdowns” are usually taken. Just be sure that you will use it quickly before it expires!
  • Buy frozen foods on sale, as these usually keep longer and still retain their nutritional value.
    When making large meals, freeze the leftovers to enjoy later in the week. Prioritize using the leftovers within a few days.
  • Try re-purposing leftovers: use extra meat and rice from dinner in breakfast burritos the next morning or send left over salad in your family’s lunch the next afternoon.

Remember, these are YOUR healthier habits, so make them work for you!

Janelle and Wendy

Janelle Walker, MBA, CLE is a lifestyle educator for Kaiser Permanente, with a special interest in helping families learn to live healthy together through nutrition, exercise, and other healthy habits.

Wendy Phillips, MS, RD, CNSC, CLE, FAND is a Division Director of Clinical Nutrition for Morrison Healthcare, with a background in pediatric nutrition and desire to help kids grow up healthy!

Nutrition Strategies for Children with ADHD – Part 2

Austin CookingThis week I introduced you to my son, Austin, and some nutrition interventions that do and do not work to help children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). While it’s true that impulsivity, inattentiveness, and hyperactivity are each hallmarks of ADHD, so are creativity, innovation, imagination, and usually intelligence! Children with ADHD are often the best little chefs if this imagination and creativity are fostered correctly. You see, while most of us can shut out the multiple distractions that come at us each day to focus on the task at hand, individuals with ADHD are not able to shut out that stimuli. Another child tapping a pencil, someone humming a tune, or a butterfly outside the school window are each enough to pull the attention of a child with ADHD in many different directions.

This inability to maintain focus is thought to be related to a disorder of the dopamine receptors in the brain and a decrease in serotonin activity (both of these chemicals are known as neurotransmitters that help control brain activity). Therefore, it’s believed that a child with ADHD has difficulty or the inability to shut down the right brain in favor of the left brain as many of us normally do. So while this can lead the child to be impulsive and inattentive, these children are also usually the builders, creators, engineers, inventors, and chefs.

Austin underwent 6 weeks of psychological testing a few years ago to determine the cause of his nervous tics and impulsive behavior. He was diagnosed as a genius with ADHD. We weren’t surprised – at the age of 2 he was building 500 piece puzzles and massive Lego structures. We originally thought he would be an engineer when he grows up, and we still think that is a possibility. But now we’re thinking he may become a chef – he has decided he loves cooking and baking if he gets to cook from scratch rather than from a box. The science of food intrigues him; he wants to know the role that each individual ingredient plays to make the final product. Even as a Registered Dietitian who studied food science in college he sometimes stumps me with his questions!

Working with my son in the kitchen has taught me several things that are helpful for all children, and not just those with ADHD:

  • Children are known to ask (sometimes repeatedly) “when will dinner be done?” For children with ADHD and other behavioral diseases characterized by impulsivity, it is especially difficult for them to wait for the meal (or really anything else). But when they are helping make the food, they don’t need to ask – they will know. Preparing the ingredients, assembling the meal, and placing it in the oven while setting the timer for cook time will give them something active to do while waiting and give them control and knowledge over the time to completion.
  • All children are more likely to eat new foods if they help prepare them. Developmentally and age appropriate tasks should be assigned to children to help with some aspect of meal preparation, even if it is simply setting the table.
  • Creativity and imagination should be encouraged, even in the cooking process! I let Austin experiment with new or substituted ingredients, just so he can see what will happen. Some of these are tried and true things, like substituting applesauce for the fat source in muffins to reduce the overall calories. While it’s a well-known cooking “trick” for those of us who have been cooking for years, it is still a fun novelty for my son while sneaking some “stealth health” into our food. Other times, I let him try things that will have unexpected results (like using baking soda instead of baking powder to see for himself the difference between the two, or using different spices and seasonings). If the meal doesn’t turn out right, we always have a back-up soup or crock-pot meal that can stand in its place. But the memories created, knowledge gained, and creativity fostered are priceless in comparison.

My husband fears that my cooking career is on hiatus for the next 6 years until Austin leaves for college! In the meantime, I’m loving having a partner in the kitchen to expand my own skills and spend quality time with my son all while harnessing his ADHD in a positive manner. If you have a child with ADHD, I hope you will consider some of these tips and guidelines as a way to utilize their ADHD to their benefit while becoming more engaged in nutrition in the kitchen!

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Wendy Phillips, MS, RD, CNSC, CLE, FAND is the Immediate Past President of VAND and a Division Director of Nutrition for Morrison Healthcare. She is the mom of 2 boys, ages 12 and 15.

Breastfeeding in Winter

Oh the cuddles and coos and sweetness of a newborn baby! Snuggling in tight on a cold winter night in front of a warm fire brings such a soothing comfort. But what about those days when mom and baby must be out and about when the snow is on the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Appalachian Trail is lined with bare trees and frigid temperatures?

There are many reasons why breastfeeding is beneficial for both mom and baby, but breastfeeding during the cold winter months presents unique challenges for moms. Cold winter months can mean an influx of germs and sickness, and breastfeeding is not only nurturing to mom and baby, but is protective of baby’s immune system. In the earliest days of life when baby is most susceptible to germs, mom’s colostrum (foremilk) has the highest concentration of antibodies, immune molecules that mom makes against illnesses that she has been exposed to that she then passes to the baby through her milk. Even more amazingly, if baby is exposed to germs that mom has not been, the baby passes these germs to mom at the next feed, mom makes antibodies, and passes them back to baby! As baby grows and mom’s milk matures, this natural immunity continues to pass between mom and infant; the baby may still get sick, but the illness will be less severe and less lengthy than would have been expected.

Tips for managing winter illness and breastfeeding:

  • If mom must take medications for an illness she has, be sure the doctor prescribes a medication that is safe for breastfeeding.
  • If buying an over the counter medication, check with the pharmacist to ensure the medicine is safe for baby.
  • As always, it’s important to practice good personal care and hygiene by washing hands frequently, coughing or sneezing away from baby, and getting plenty of rest.

Removing jackets or sweatshirts to allow babies access to mom’s breasts exposes moms to the cold winter temperatures. This can be minimized by mom layering her clothing or choosing a long sleeved nursing top, zip-up sweatshirt, or button-up sweater to wear. Babies can be kept warm in swaddling blankets, one piece, long-sleeved sleepers or sleep sacks, and a removable lightweight jacket in case the day warms up unexpectedly. A set of hat and mittens will keep baby warm in especially chilly weather. Skin-to-skin contact promoting bonding between baby and parents, facilitating breastfeeding and regulating baby’s temperature should be continued throughout the winter to keep baby warm and cozy in their moms’ loving embrace.

Some mothers have reported a higher incidence of plugged ducts during the winter months. This may be due to the restricting nature of tighter cold weather clothes or from the colder weather itself. Treatment for plugged ducts includes frequent feedings, breast massage, warm compresses, and wearing looser clothing. Some moms may experience nipple coldness, pain, or discoloration when exposed to cold temperatures for a long time. This can be prevented by warming the rooms where baby will be breastfeeding, wearing warm clothing, and using warming packs before nursing.

Janelle Webb & Wendy Phillips, Certified Lactation Educators
Janelle Webb & Wendy Phillips, Certified Lactation Educators

Consistent and frequent breastfeeding will help establish and maintain mom’s milk supply, promote bonding, stimulate oral motor development for baby, and ensure a healthy start to life. Remember, breastfeeding warms babies’ bodies and hearts during the cold winter months! Contact your local agency for the Women, Infants, and Children’s (WIC) program through the Virginia Department of Health (http://www.vdh.virginia.gov/ofhs/dcn/wic/) or your local La Leche League at http://lllvawv.org/ for support and resources if needed!

~Janelle Webb, MBA, CLE & Wendy Phillips, MS, RD, CNSC, CLE, FAND

Janelle and Wendy are both Certified Lactation Educators, working with moms to help them breastfeed their babies and helping worksites develop baby friendly processes. Wendy is VAND’s immediate past president.