Winter Wives’ Tale

The University of Maryland Children’s Hospital sets the record straight…

Put on your hat since you lose most of your body heat through your head.”
This is not necessarily true! Your body heat escapes from any exposed area- so if you had on snow pants and a T-shirt and you forget your hat and jacket, the most amount of heat would escape through your arms- since that would be the largest exposed part of your body. Putting on winter accessories such as hats, mittens and scarves is still a very good idea to avoid the outside dangers of frostbite and hypothermia.

You will get sick if you go outside with wet hair.”
This is another winter wives’ tale. While your kids may be cold, they won’t actually catch a cold by venturing outdoors with a wet head. Germs are spread by people, and temperature simply doesn’t play a part.

 

Brushing Twice a Day Keeps Decay Away – National Children’s Dental Health Month

By Zuryna Smith, System Communications Intern

Little boy teethNational Children’s Dental Health Month was introduced by the American Dental Association as a way to provide crucial information regarding oral health in children.

It started as a one-day event in Cleveland. As the importance of the issue of oral health became more prevalent, the one-day event spanned across a week and eventually became a month-long event that garnered global attention.

The ADA provides health fairs, free dental screenings, and other activities that promote the adoption of healthy oral health techniques.  This year’s campaign slogan is entitled “Sugar Wars,” a spin on the sci-fiction film Star Wars.

Tooth decay and loss is one of the main oral health issues that affect children. Preventative care is the only way to deter the loss of teeth. The rule of thumb is to brush two times a day for two minutes each time. In addition to proper brushing techniques, parents should be vigilant in their efforts to keep their children’s teeth shiny and healthy.

Here are a few tips that will encourage healthy dental habits:

  • Emphasize the importance of fluoride. Fluoride is a natural chemical that prevents decay and strengthens the enamel of teeth. It can be found in tap water and is also available as a supplement.
  • A healthy and balanced diet is a necessity in order to prevent tooth decay. While starches and fruits are essential to a child’s diet, certain foods need to be given in moderation. Starchy and sticky foods tend to stay on the child’s teeth and cause cavities as well as decay.
  • Daily cleaning should take place as soon as the child develops their first tooth. A small piece of gauze or a damp cloth can be used to clean the tooth. As the child gets older a toothbrush with a small amount of fluoride toothpaste should be used.

Dental sealants are another method of prevention for young children. Dental sealants are small, plastic coatings that cover the chewing surfaces of the back teeth. It helps to prevent excess food and germs from getting caught in the crevices of the teeth.

Childrens teeth

University of Maryland School of Dentistry students participated in an outreach program where they provided free sealant treatments to children in need at the Perryville Clinic. The overall purpose of the event was to provide assistance and education to those who would not normally have access to proper dental care providers.

For more information about an upcoming Sealant Saturday event please contact the Perryville Clinic at 410-706-4900.

Pediatric Dental Appointments are available at the University of Maryland Pediatric Dental Clinic by calling 410-706-4213. You can also search for a Dental Health provider by using our website.

Safe Summer Skin

By: Adrian Rabin, Editorial Intern

For many, the beginning of summer means spending lots of time outdoors. It’s tempting to spend full days outside enjoying the sunshine, but long hours spent in the sun can damage your skin, especially without proper protection.

One in five Americans will develop skin cancer throughout their lifetime, and the Skin Cancer Foundation reports that around 90% of non-melanoma skin cancers and 60% of melanoma skin cancers are directly linked to exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun.

Although invisible to the naked eye, the sun’s UV rays can permeate deep into the layers of the skin, damaging the DNA housed inside skin cells. Damaged cells in the deepest layers of the skin can lead to melanoma, the most aggressive type of skin cancer with the highest tendency to spread. Non-melanoma cancers arise from damage to cells closer to the skin’s surface.

A single sunburn can significantly increase your risk of skin cancer. After five sunburns, the risk of developing melanoma doubles.

Fortunately, the most significant way to reduce this risk is within our control. Scientific research provides powerful evidence that daily sunscreen use can greatly reduce the risk of skin cancer.

The Skin Cancer Program at the University of Maryland Greenebaum Cancer Center offers these tips as guidelines for summer skin safety:

Stay out of the sun. The most dangerous hours of the day are between 10:00 am – 2:00 pm, so try to plan outdoor activities for the early morning or later afternoon. Cover yourself with sun-protective clothing and sunglasses, and seek shade whenever possible.

Use sunscreens labeled as broad spectrum and high SPF. Broad spectrum sunscreens protect against harmful UVA and UVB rays. UVA rays permeate deep into the skin, while UVB rays cause the skin to redden and burn. The Sun Protection Factor, or SPF, is the direct measure of how effective a sunscreen is against the sun’s UV rays. Choose a sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher for optimal protection.

Apply sunscreen thoroughly and frequently. During continued exposure to the sun, reapply sunscreen to exposed skin every two hours, and always after swimming or sweating.

Think about the everyday. Don’t skip the sunscreen even if the forecast is partly cloudy–on cloudy days, over 40% of UV rays can still reach earth. For everyday activities, adults and children over 6 months should wear moisturizers or lotions with SPF 15 or higher, which can prevent skin damage from moderate sun exposure.

Never use UV tanning beds. The rays emitted by these machines can be over 12 times stronger than the sun’s natural rays.

Examine your skin every month for abnormalities. Spots or sores that are asymmetrical, growing, or do not go away within two weeks should all be examined by a physician

No sunscreen can block all UV rays, but with proper application and maintenance, you can significantly reduce your risk of skin cancer while enjoying the activities you love and keeping your skin healthy.

For more information, visit the Skin Cancer Program at the University of Maryland Greenebaum Cancer Center.

Poison Prevention Week: What You Need to Know

MrYuk

By: Andrea Rizkallah, Editorial Intern

Poisoning can happen at any time, often from everyday household items, and frequently to children under the age of 5. Please make sure you and your loved ones save the Poison Help line phone number (1-800-222-1222) and following these tips provided by the Maryland Poison Center at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy and the Poison Prevention Week Council.

Here are some helpful prevention tips to stay poison-free:

  • Install safety latches on cabinets used for medicines and cleaning products.
  • Buy products in child-resistant packaging whenever possible.
  • Teach children to always ask an adult before eating, drinking or touching anything.
  • Never borrow a friend’s medicine or take old medicines.
  • Read the labels of prescription and over-the-counter medicine carefully and always consult a doctor if you have any questions.
  • Never combine household products, as some chemical mixtures may release irritating gases.
  • Wear protective clothing when spraying pesticides and other chemicals.
  • Install carbon monoxide detectors near or in your home’s sleeping areas and on every level of the home.

If you’ve taken all the above precautionary measures, but someone in your home has become poisoned anyway, follow these emergency tips:

  • If the person has inhaled poison, get him/her to fresh air right away.
  • If the person has poison on the skin, take off any clothing on the affected area and rinse the skin with running water for 15 to 20 minutes.
  • If the person has poison in the eyes, rinse eyes with running water for 15 to 20 minutes.

If you believe someone has been poisoned, call the Poison Help line (1-800-222-1222) immediately. If the person is not breathing, call 911.

poisonHere are some things to know when calling the Poison Help line:

  • The person’s age and weight
  • Known health conditions or problems
  • The product involved
  • When and how the product contacted the person
  • What first aid has already been given
  • Whether the person has vomited
  • Your exact location and how long it would take to get to a hospital

While these tips are helpful, they are not all inclusive. Please visit the Poison Help website, the National Poison Prevention Week website and the Maryland Poison Center for more information.

Making Heart Health a Year-Round Priority

By: Hope Gamper, Editorial Intern

Heart Cardiogram 150858290

February and American Heart Month are ending, but just because March is around the corner doesn’t mean you should stop thinking about keeping your heart in tip-top shape.

The American Heart Association (AHA), whose mission is to fight cardiovascular diseases and stroke, and the UM Heart Center offer a series of lifestyle recommendations for optimizing your heart health all year round.

Move More

Working out regularly is one of the best things you can do for your heart. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity at least 5 times a week (if you can’t do 30 minutes at a time, you can add up 10-minute sessions throughout the day).

Also try working in exercise to your normal routine:

  • Instead of driving to the store, walk or bike.
  • Park in a spot farther from your destination.
  • Keep dumbbells near the remote so you can stay active while watching TV.

Skip the Snacks

What you eat is just as important as what you do. Swapping out foods heavy with added sodium and fat for nutrient-rich foods can help you manage your weight, cholesterol and blood pressure. Here is a list of foods to fix and foods to nix.

Fix more foods high in vitamins, minerals and fiber, including:

  • Fruits and veggies
  • Whole grains – brown rice, quinoa, barley and buckwheat
  • Low-fat dairy products
  • Protein sources – poultry, fish and nuts

Nix processed foods and those that tend to be high in sodium and fat, including:

  • Sugary foods and beverages
  • Red meat
  • Deep fried foods or foods cooked in butter

Avoid Tobacco

Tobacco and other ingredients common in cigarettes frequently contribute to heart disease. Even secondhand smoke kills nearly 70,000 people each year.

The good news is that when you quit smoking you see short term benefits right away, and it only takes about 5 to 15 years to reduce stroke risk to that similar of a nonsmoker. There is still time to reverse the damage caused by tobacco and ensure that your heart keeps pumping for many years to come.

Click here for a list of Smoking Cessation Classes in your area.

 

Doctor Holding Heart 166695035

Heart disease accounts for 1 in 4 deaths each year, making these types of incremental changes vital to reducing your risk of heart related illness and keeping your heart well for all of life’s challenges, in February or any other month.

Winter Storm Warning: Hibernation Ahead!

By Mary Beth Sodus, RD/LD,ACE-CPT/RYT
Personalized Bariatric Nutrition Coaching
Center for Weight Management and Wellness

With a few days notice that a snowstorm is on its way, you’ve probably had time to make a run to your local grocer to stock up on essentials and favorite foods. Like a bear who eats as much as possible to store up calories for a long hibernation.

Bears need those extra calories for an extended period of no eating or drinking, but most of us will not. We’re more likely to eat because we’re inside and bored.  Here are some tips to avoid setting a trap for yourself:

Healthy Hibernation Habits

  • Practice mindful eating. Ask yourself this question:  What am I really hungry for?
  • Think: Are you eating from emotional triggers or true physical appetite?
  • Pay attention to boredom eating versus physical hunger. Physical hunger builds gradually, occurs several hours after a meal and eating results in a feeling of satisfaction.
  • Boredom eating can be triggered by the sight or smell of food, watching cooking shows or just because something tastes good.

To avoid that winter weight:

  • Focus on healthy and wholesome stews, soups or chili with a lot of vegetables.
  • Pause between each bite to focus and enjoy the sensation of eating.
  • Cultivate a strong support system that includes family and friends that you can call on.
  • Make sure to stay hydrated. The human body is approximately 75 percent water and needs every drop to function, especially if you are outdoors.

As you hibernate from winter’s cold, snow and wind, know that you can stay healthy for the warmth of spring in Maryland.

Mary Beth Sodus is a registered dietitian and nutritionist and a personal trainer and expert in all things healthy.  She provides personalized bariatric nutrition coaching in the University of Maryland Center for Weight Management and Wellness. 

 

Mid-Term Fall Nutrition: Easy as ABC

By Mindy Athas, RD, CSO, LDN

Outpatient Oncology Dietitian

Has that initial back-to-school resolution to pack healthier lunches and make more nutritious choices throughout the day started to wear thin? Have autumn tasks and responsibilities and pre-holiday stress led you down the junk food trail? It’s time to get back into healthy habits before the festivities and post-holiday winter hibernation kick in.  So grab your notebook, pencil and calculator, and meet me for some Nutrition 101.

Reading: start gathering healthy recipes from friends, family, books, magazines and online sites. Two great resources for healthy eating include www.cookinglight.com and www.eatingwell.com.  Head to the book store for the bargain cookbooks and look for words like “low-fat”, “heart-healthy” and “light or lite” recipes.  Or stop by the library and grab a handful of healthy eating cookbooks to peruse; if you find some keepers, you can always order the books online.  Cooking magazines include Cooking Light, Cooks Illustrated, and Bon Appétit, all of which also have online sites.  For more general healthy reading, check out www.eatright.org, www.mayoclinic.com, www.heart.org and www.diabetes.org, all of which have printable general information handouts geared to the basics.

 For more detailed info and healthy eating plates and pyramids, see www.choosemyplate.gov, www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/ and oldwayspt.org/resources/heritage-pyramids/mediterranean-pyramid/overview.  

You may want to start an online or paper recipe journal or folder to keep all your healthy fall picks in one place.  For specific cancer-fighting foods, check out American Institute for Cancer Research’s www.aicr.org/foods-that-fight-cancer/ , for a list of nutrition fact sheets, see the National Cancer Institute’s www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/diet  and the American Cancer Society’s www.cancer.org/Healthy/EatHealthyGetActive/index for cancer prevention nutrition strategies.

Writing: Jot down some weekly dinner ideas to help organize your food shopping list.  Start with protein but add in at least one meatless meal: good for your budget, your waistline and the environment!  Meatless meals can include beans, nuts, tofu or just a mixture of grains (think bean chili and pasta marinara).  Animal protein includes poultry, fish, eggs, and lean cuts of meats, but limit red and processed meats as much as possible. Then add vegetables (seasonal and local items should top the list), and finally a starch (if you even need one with all the wonderful root vegetables in season now).  Add fruit for a quick and easy dessert.

Check your local food stores’ weekly flyers for sales, which will change often, ensuring a nice food variety while helping you save money.  For some meal and menu ideas: www.makedinnereasy.com which includes a weekly grocery list to print, www.dinnerplanner.com with step-by-step photos and tips, www.health.com/health/eating  which includes a free email newsletter, and www.realsimple.com/food-recipes/index.html which has an A to Z foods list.

Remember to cut back on salt and salty ingredients and increase the amount of fruits or vegetables in the recipes.  Always aim to keep the base of your meal coming from plants: veggies, fruits, beans, nuts and whole grains.  Eat a rainbow of colors daily as well to ensure you get a myriad of different nutrients.  

School  Supplies: When making your fall food list, stick with some basics to keep in your kitchen all season. These include good quality olive oil (extra virgin), canola oil (expeller-pressed), balsamic vinegar (or red wine vinegar if you prefer), fresh garlic (don’t refrigerate), fresh herbs (which you can buy as plants and keep in a sunny window), dried herbs (curry powder, cinnamon, cumin), shallots and onions (organic if you can get them), a pepper mill for fresh ground pepper, and any other herbs and spices you like. 

Cutting back on salt at home will help you lower your salt threshold for when you eat out, encouraging better restaurant choices. Remember to pick what’s in season now, in your area:  in addition to a variety of apples, look for local pumpkins, gourds, pears, beans, turnips, sweet potatoes, broccoli, and honey.  Try acorn or butternut squash simply baked with some olive oil or real Maple syrup (which you can also buy locally and which is considered an antioxidant). 

For more seasonal eating information:, see Sustainable Table at www.sustainabletable.org/shop/seasonal/ , the Natural Resources Defense Council www.simplesteps.org/contact which has an Eat Local app for your phone, www.marylandsbest.net  which includes a listing of local markets and farms, and www.pickyourown.org/MDharvestcalendar.htm which has a complete annual harvest chart.  Taking a trip on a beautiful fall day to pick apples off the tree combines exercise, fun and sustainable eating: that’s putting your money where your mouth is!

New Teacher: don’t be afraid to try new foods! Check out the plethora of gourds, pumpkins, root vegetables, and colorful fruits showcased at the farmers’ markets this fall.  Don’t know what it is? Buy it and try it: your farmer or grocer will get you started. (Did you bring your recipe notebook?) Write down the names of unusual foods (Parsnip? Dragon fruit? Fiddleheads? Lychee?) so you can search recipes later.  Haven’t tried brown rice, amaranth, quinoa or chia seeds yet? Don’t be a flunky: get hip to the multitude of whole grains available at almost every supermarket.  Look for the words “100% whole”, “whole wheat,” “stone ground,” “multigrain” and “whole grain” on packages. Choose grains with the most fiber: aim for 3 grams per serving for breads and crackers, and 5 grams per serving for starches.  Fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts and seeds are also great fiber sources, and remember an apple for the teacher!  Some other nutrition superstars which always seem to be in season include mushrooms, beets, cauliflower, cabbage, carrots, Brussels sprouts, pomegranates, and kale.   For other great healthy food ideas: www.appforhealth.com/tag/healthiest-produce/ , www.whfoods.com/foodstoc.php and www.divinecaroline.com/22175/52070-twenty-healthiest-foods-1

A is for Autumn: Eat plenty of fresh (local and seasonal) produce this fall. Choose 3 or more servings of vegetables daily and 2 or more servings of fruit daily. This is equivalent to about 2 cups daily of fruits and veggies combined.   For details, see www.choosemyplate.gov/myplate/index.aspx

B is for Bread: think making your own bread is hard? You have mastered many difficult school subjects, so baking bread from scratch (or using your bread machine) is a veritable piece of cake!  Start with an easy basic recipe using a combo of all-purpose, bread and whole wheat flour.  Use up all those fresh apples and pears in muffins and fruit pies with added nuts to add healthy fats, fiber and protein.  Sprinkle in some oat bran or flax seed for crunch, and substitute some of the oil in the recipes with yogurt or applesauce.  Try this pear and granola muffin recipe from Martha Stewart, which includes whole grains and cinnamon: www.marthastewart.com/317980/pear-and-granola-muffins.   

C is for Cooking: Think how great your home will smell with a big pot of creamy butternut squash soup (yum!) on the stove. Throw in some cinnamon and the neighbors will be coming by.  Cook large batches of soup, stew, chili, casseroles, quiche, or tomato sauce. Cool in shallow dishes, then freeze in small glass containers for a quick dinner. Make chili with beans or try a white chili with ground turkey or chicken. 

If you’ve never had fresh beets, try: www.finecooking.com/recipes/jewel-roasted-vegetables.aspx?nterms=53248,50300. And for a low-carb pasta swap, try spaghetti squash instead, with turkey meatballs: www.wholeliving.com/131539/spaghetti-squash-turkey-meatballs?czone=/fall-recipes/main-courses&center=185179&gallery=185173&slide=131539.

For a twist on fresh pumpkin, consider a warm pumpkin salad over polenta: www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Warm-Pumpkin-Salad-with-Polenta-and-Candied-Pumpkin-Seeds-105581 or stick with the traditional soup: www.tasteofhome.com/Recipes/Curried-Pumpkin-Soup-2 where you can sub fresh pumpkins (look for the small round kind for cooking, not the big kind for carving at Halloween) instead of canned.

Watch your Math: Remember to watch portion sizes, added fats and sugars. With all the tasty fresh fall produce, you won’t need many calorie-rich condiments.  Cream, butter, excess oil, sweet sauces, salad dressings, cheese and fried items can easily overload your calorie budget.  Seek lower or no-sugar-added items and try making your own salad dressing with olive oil, vinegar and mustard or a squeeze of fresh lime juice.  Retrain your taste buds to appreciate the delicate flavors found naturally in fresh foods. Remember fresh garlic, shallots and onions in dishes for a pop of flavor and substitute fresh herbs for dried as able.  Use the plate method: half your plate (and try to use a smaller diameter plate) with vegetables and fruits, then ¼ whole grains and ¼ protein foods. For more ideas on adding produce: www.fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org.   Continue to add daily physical activity to your life: just walking 10 minutes after each meal can help keep your body healthy and relieve stress.  Try sleeping in a dark room at night for a solid 7- to 8-hour stretch and laughing more, both of which can strengthen your immune system.  For more healthy living ideas: www.fns.usda.gov/eatsmartplayhardhealthylifestyle/ and www.hhs.gov/safety/index.html.

Congratulations on passing your Mid-Term Fall Eating class: enjoy all of autumn’s bounty, and it’s OK to encourage others to copy.

 

UMMS “Spring Into Good Health” Event Gets Shoppers Dancing in the Center Court at Mondawmin Mall

By Sharon Boston

UMMC Media Relations Manager

Each spring, the University of Medical System (UMMS) hosts “Spring Into Good Health,” a free event attended by hundreds of people who receive medical screenings (such as blood pressure and cholesterol), talk one-on-one with University of Maryland Medical System health professionals and pick up information on men’s and women’s health, child safety, nutrition and more.

This year, the UMMS Community Outreach and Advocacy Committee wanted to put a focus on fitness and hosted a dance party right in the middle of Mondawmin Mall!

Several guests commented that they didn’t realize that fitness could be so fun, and that they plan to try to exercise more and eat better, thanks to the information that they picked up at the UMMS event.

Take a look at the some of the line dancing that got people of all ages up and moving.

 “The dancing was really upbeat and lively, it really got people moving,” said Donna Jacobs, UMMS senior vice president for government relations. “Several people told us that they’d like to see even more fun physical activities next year.”

Five of the 12 hospitals in the University of Maryland Medical System took part in the event — the University of Maryland Medical Center, Maryland General Hospital, Kernan Orthopaedics and Rehabilitation Hospital, University Specialty Hospital and Mt. Washington Pediatric Hospital. The event was also sponsored by Maryland Physicians Care, Total Health Care, Coppin State University School of Nursing and Radio One, Baltimore.

Maintaining Your Waistline When You Travel

By Ellen Loreck, MS, RD, LDN
Director, Clinical Nutrition Services

How do you eat healthy and maintain your weight when you have long flights ahead and eat out almost every night? Due to the limited variety of food on flights, many of us indulge in numerous fast foods before boarding. Also, we may choose beverages that can be dehydrating. Prior to getting on a plane, it is important to remember these tips.

Hydrate!

Dehydration is a concern when you are flying. Since there is a lower level of oxygen available, you breathe faster and increase your water loss. It is best to try to drink 8-16 ounces of water prior to flight departure and aim for at least 8 ounces for every hour on the flight. You may want to consider limiting alcoholic or caffeinated beverages that may contribute to dehydration. Remember that you cannot take any liquid beverages through security so hydrating is important prior to getting to the airport.

Pack Snacks!

Most airlines have cut back on serving food on planes. Packing healthy snacks from home helps you stay on track with your healthy eating and are friendly to your wallet. Here are suggestions of ideas to bring in your carry-on that are high protein, low fat, lower in sugar and contain fiber:

  • Nuts
  • Small package of water-packed tuna with whole grain crackers
  • Rice cakes and low fat cheese
  • Fat-free pudding
  • Protein bar
  • Low fat granola with at least 3 g fiber
  • ½ peanut butter sandwich
  • Raw veggies and small container of hummus

If choosing fast food at the airport, remember:

1. Aim for filling half your plate with vegetables or fruit by looking for salads and broth-based soups.

2. Limit high-calorie condiments, such as cream in coffee, mayo or full-calorie salad dressing.

3. Select grilled, steamed, stir-fried or poached menu items.

4. Be careful with smoothies and coffee drinks since many of these items contain more calories than a meal.

5. Limit fried foods, cream-based sauces and foods covered with cheese.

6. Many fast food restaurants have nutrition facts for their menu items so that you keep track of your calorie intake.

7. Check out the map of the airport before your flight for healthy food options near your gate.

Indulge Wisely!

1. Remember not to confuse hunger with boredom or anxiety.

2. Enjoy local foods and cuisine while on vacation.

3. Forgive yourself if you overindulge one day.

4. Make sure to sit down and really savor foods versus eat them just because you are hungry.

 

How to Raise a Veggie-Eating Kid

By Faith Hicks, MS, RD, LD/N, CSP

Senior Clinical Dietitian

Editor’s Note: A version of this article appeared in The Baltimore Sun 03/07/12, in the Taste section and online.

How is it that some kids will eat whatever is put in front of them, while others live on hot dogs and chicken nuggets and have a phobia for vegetables, especially anything green?  As adults, we know that we ourselves probably should be eating more fruits and vegetables, and we would like to raise our kids to have healthier eating habits and a varied diet right from the start.  There are a number of ways parents and other adults can promote good eating habits from early childhood and throughout the teen years.

Make a regular “date night” – a family dinner date night, that is!

One of the best ways of promoting good eating habits in children is to make eating meals together a priority. This is something that often gets lost in the shuffle of soccer practice and scout meetings, but try to identify at least one or two nights a week to have dinner as a family.  Children who are raised having regular family meals generally consume more servings of fruits and vegetables and develop a liking for a wider variety.  They also tend to have a diet lower in fat and are less likely to become overweight than children from families who eat on the run.  From the start, toddlers mimic their parents’ eating habits.  So a parent who includes fruits and vegetables at mealtimes sets the example that these foods are tasty and that consuming them is the norm and is expected.

There are other important benefits of having meals as a family. Children whose families dine together regularly develop better language skills.  During dinner conversation, they are exposed to a larger vocabulary. They become adept at participating in a higher level conversation.  Another benefit of family meals extends into the teen years, teens that regularly have dinner with the family get better grades and are less likely to try drugs, tobacco, and alcohol.  It seems that mealtimes help foster a sense of connectedness within the family and when parents are tuned into their teens, teens are less tempted to dabble in risky behavior. 

Lighten up and don’t turn mealtime into a “pressure cooker”

Another way of fostering a varied diet is to offer new foods several times and without undue pressure.  It may take more than several times trying a new food for a toddler or preschooler to accept it, so don’t give up after the first try! Place a small portion of each food that you are having on your child’s plate.  When they see that you eat it, the expectation is set that they will like it, too.  Beware of trying too hard to persuade a child to eat because this might backfire! It can send the message that the food item is not very appealing.  For example, if a child is rewarded for eating green beans by getting a cookie, the parent sends a message that green beans are yucky.  The child may think “that must not taste very good if I have to be bribed with treat.”  Rather, make a light-hearted request for the child to just to try “just a bite.”

Involve kids in food shopping and preparation.

Children and teens are more interested in foods they have selected, prepared, or even grown at home.  Wander the produce section of the grocery store with your child and let him choose a new vegetable or fruit to try each week.  Buy a colorful, child-oriented cookbook to provide ideas for foods you can prepare together.  Cooking together provides an opportunity to learn other skills, such as fractions.  Even small children can be safely involved in cooking activities such as washing produce or putting toppings on a veggie pizza. Consider planting even a small garden and check out seed displays with your child. Seed companies sell kid-friendly vegetables in packets bearing very appealing pictures. Children who are drawn to miniature things may be fascinated by picking cherry tomatoes or pulling from the ground the baby carrots planted earlier in the spring. Brussels sprouts might be a little more fun to eat once you have seen how they seem to march in lines as they grow from the plant’s stem! 

In summary, the key to raising a “good eater” is having fun with food together, right from the start.