Open Wide

Think you’re a healthy enough eater? What about your kids?

Here’s a quick quiz to see how well you’re doing:

1. Did you eat breakfast today?

2. How often have you eaten out this week?

3. How many sugary drinks have you had today? This week?

5. Did you eat at least one fruit and one vegetable today?

Kimberly Kern, a registered dietician with Mercy Hospital Washington, posed those questions to the audience gathered to hear her presentation on “Pediatric Nutrition” last Saturday, March 9, at the “Wake Up to Wellness” health fair hosted by the new Washington Wellness Committee at the Washington City Park Auditorium.

“There are some important and simple things you can do to eat healthier,” said Kern, noting parents should not only be setting an example for their children — because children actually do mimic parents’ behaviors (girls more so their moms and boys more so their dads) — but they also should not give in so easily when kids put up a resistance.

“By ages 5 to 7, we have it set in our mind what we like and don’t like,” said Kern, “so we have to get to kids before then.”

So back to the quiz . . .

Eating breakfast is one of the single most important things people can do to establish a healthy lifestyle, Kern said, because it starts the day off right.

“You need to fuel your brain,” she remarked.

In fact, studies have proven that kids who eat breakfast do better in school than kids who don’t, said Kern. Kids who skip that first meal have a hard time focusing.

That goes for adults headed off to work as much as kids going to school, said Kern. And be careful what you’re eating for breakfast. Make healthy choices early in the day.

That includes the drinks you choose. Stay away from sugary beverages — soda, Hi-C, Sunny Delight, Kool-Aid, all of the “sports” drinks, like Powerade and Gatorade, said Kern.

They all have added sugar that may taste good, but “it’s good for nothing. They’re empty calories.

“There’s even sugar added to our milk — the chocolate and strawberry flavored milks.”

Fruit juice also should be limited, said Kern.

“We should be eating more fruit, not just drinking the juice, because that strains out the fiber,” she explained.

And while sports drinks may be beneficial while kids are playing sports or having any kind of extreme physical exertion, they still have sugar added and can be empty calories otherwise.

The same can be true of many of the “flavored water” drinks, Kern warned. Read the labels to be sure.

Plain water is best, she said.

“If your kids say they don’t like water, try freezing some fruit juice into ice cubes and then added them to a glass of water, so they get just a splash of the sweetness,” Kern suggested.

“That can help get them off the idea that everything they drink has to taste sweet.”

It comes down to this, said Kern: “You shouldn’t have more than one (8-ounce) sweetened beverage a day.”

She didn’t advocate diet soft drinks either, although they have no calories. The artificial sweeteners they use may pose other questionable health risks, she said.

Her recommendation is using natural sweeteners like Monk Fruit in the Raw or Stevia.

“These are natural sweetners,” she said. “You can grow them like sugar and turn them into a powder.”

Some drinks, like V8, which provides two servings of vegetables in an 8-ounce glass, are better choices than the sugary options, but may need to be limited due to the amount of sodium.

Again, said Kern, it’s better to eat the actual vegetables to get the fiber.

Current recommendations for daily fruits and vegetable intake is five serving each — five fruits, five vegetables.

“We all should eat more of them,” stressed Kern. “Every time you hear of a new ‘power food,’ it’s always a fruit or a vegetable.

“These can take the place of the higher calorie, less nutritious foods.”

People who find it challenging to increase their fruit and veggie intake should start slowly, said Kern.

“Try adding just one fruit and one vegetable serving a day to get into the habit.”

She also recommended keeping a food history, even if it’s just for one day, to see what kinds of things you are really eating and where you might be able to switch out unhealthy choices for a fruit or a vegetable.

And don’t make up your mind on a food based on one sample of it. Try it in a different form or in another recipe.

“If you don’t like canned peas, try them fresh or frozen, try different ways of preparing them,” Kern suggested.

For kids, try simple tricks like cutting the fruit or veggie into shapes or making “pictures” with them — anything to amp up the excitement about the food.