Dealing with a hungry tweenager

It seems like quite a few of us are dealing with this situation right now! Increased appetites for growing kids is normal. Let me know if the tips below help you out.

First thing to do is to check they are having their main meals and that they do not need an increase in portion size, e.g. an extra slice of bread or fruit for the school lunch bag.

Next step: check that they are well hydrated! A jug of cold water should always be on hand for these hot days – get kids to fill up on this first when they get home.

Meal content: scrutinise their main meals. Is there whole grain and fibre which will help keep them full for longer? Is there protein at each meal? Are they chewing well and not rushing through a meal? Are they distracted when eating? All this impacts on satiety. Please consider seeing a dietician who will assess your child’s growth and their nutrient needs, and help you individualise an eating plan that suits them.

Get smart about snacks: yogurt and microwave popcorn are my stand by items for snacking at home and have the added advantage of requiring minimal / self preparation. Involve kids in their snack choices and meet them halfway. Be realistic – do not expect kids to grow up without chips or sweets. Have a dedicated snack bowl of a realistic size so kids learn to portion. Only buy mini sizes of the snacks kids love – like chips, sweets and chocolates. Prepare in advance and have the fridge and freezer well stocked for the week ahead. Look at ways to add nuts, dried fruit and oats to your baking recipes and to cut down on sugar.

Snack deas:
We all need some inspiration – here are a few ideas for you. I have organised them by cold, sweet and savoury.

Cold: frozen yogurt lollies, frozen fruit juice lollies, fresh fruit salad and custard, milk jelly, milkshakes, fruit shakes

Sweet: crumpets, pancakes, oat/nut crunchies, date and nut balls (roll in dessicated coconut and cocoa), cereal and milk

Savoury: scones with cheese/jam, scone mini pizza bases with baked beans or chicken, scone pinwheels with tuna or mince and grated carrots, sweetcorn muffins, zucchini fritters, fish cakes, quick mix chevda(cornflakes, nuts, sultanas, coconut), veg sticks, plain biscuits like cream crackers, or rice cakes and a dip (cream cheese, peanut butter, hummus, butter bean puree, liver or salmon pate for the experienced palates). Cater to their palates – plain yogurt (salted) and some feta and olives is regarded as a winner for my daughter.
P.S. This article has been tweenager approved


National nutrition week: healthy eating in the workplace

This years theme for national nutrition week in South Africa has been “healthy eating in the workplace”. I hope you have seen some of the media coverage on this. I will focus on a few tips for packing a healthy lunch box as I believe your own packed lunch is much less costly and can be healthier in the long run than relying everyday on store/canteen bought items. Off course depending on your age, and stage of life, your energy needs and portion sizes will differ. 

General tips for you to consider when packing your lunch for work:

· Plan plan plan…. Like with cooking – if you don’t have the ingredients at hand you are likely to go for a less healthy option

· Keep a general menu of what to pack for lunch each day

· Invest in good quality packaging items that keep items fresh and do not leak. Some of the lunchboxes with compartments for snacks / different ingredients are very handy

· Set up all lunch boxes and prep utensils at night so final assembly in the morning is quicker

· Sandwiches are good options for a packed lunch but you might want to try variety with a wrap, roti or pita bread

· Good filling options to consider: a protein (chicken / fish / meat / eggs / peanut butter / cheese) and a salad ingredient that you prefer. You can also pack salad ingredients on the side.

· Soups packed with some bread in winter and packed salads for summer are great too!

· You can also pack leftovers from supper for your lunch – they heat up well

· You can recycle supper leftovers in your work lunchbox e.g. roast chicken in chicken salad, left over curry in a pita with salad, etc.

· When thinking of your lunchbox – think of a slight upgrade to your child’s lunchbox – but you can keep the main dish of lunch the same

· Fruit is a great everyday snack, so is a small tub yogurt or milk based drink

· Stick to water and tea/coffee (with minimal sugar) for your drinks instead of juices and cooldrinks

· If you have an early start to the day you can also pack breakfast items – like instant oats or milk & cereal to eat at work

· If you have a long commute then invest in a good small cooler bag and ice packs

· Keep a stash for snacking at work – nuts, seeds, dried fruit, biltong, popcorn, a few small choccies/biscuits for treat time (not daily treats)

· If you have a job that requires you to be on your feet and running around then you can also consider making a large smoothie with fruit and cereal, and milk/yogurt (many delicious options!) – going hunger the whole day is not a good idea

 If you have a canteen at work that is helpful, but it does depend on the options that the canteen offers. Pies and greasy toasted sandwiches are not for everyday lunch. It is definitely worth it to discuss the canteen offerings with your employers – the canteen will serve what there is a demand for. At minimum speak about having a fridge for employees to store items like milk, or a microwave to allow you to heat up food.

 Lunch time is not only about nutrition, but taking a pause in your busy day and catching up with colleagues is good for health too.


Gluten: wheat is it all about?

I was asked by a journalist to answer a few questions about gluten – I hope you learn something new from this very topical subject and this motivates you to rethink your relationship with wheat.

When you ask people about gluten most people have heard about it and will probably tell you that it is perhaps not so good for you- but the majority don’t know exactly what it is or why it is “bad’’. 

This belief that gluten is bad for health, coupled with the growing and unfound fears of carbohydrates, has led to the growth of special aisles in our food stores dedicated to gluten free products.

So what are the facts?
Gluten is a protein found in grains like wheat, barley and rye.
Gluten is what helps dough get the stretchy consistency when you knead it & helps products keep their shape.

Where is gluten found?
Everyday foods like bread made from wheat flour contain gluten. Some meat substitutes may also contain gluten, as well as some sauces and spices (where wheat is a filler ingredient), and battered and crumbed products. 
Please check the product label – it should declare if it contains gluten.
Rice, potato, peas (gram dhal), maize, oats, and their flours contain no gluten.

Can gluten be a problem?
Some people can have an intolerance or sensitivity to gluten which means they have trouble digesting gluten and this may cause digestive problems like bloating, pain or diarrhoea. When they exclude gluten containing products from their diet they find that their digestive health improves.
Gluten allergy is when you have an allergic reaction to consuming gluten – this can only be confirmed by tests. People who have Coeliac’s disease (where the gut is inflamed) need to follow a gluten free diet.

What should you do if you suspect you are gluten intolerant?
If you have any digestive problems (irritable bowel, constipation, bloating) please speak to a dietitian and don’t self-diagnose and exclude foods from your diet unnecessarily. Your dietitian will also refer you to the right health professionals for further tests you may need.

I am gluten intolerant and have friends coming over for lunch – what can I serve that other guests will enjoy?
You have lots of options as many healthy foods are gluten free. If you are craving something that traditionally uses wheat flour, here is a lunch menu option that will work well for a summer lunch:
Main option: Surprise your guests with a flour-free crispy crumb for oven baked chicken served with a colourful crunchy summer salad. There are lots of recipe options online – try one that uses cornflour/maizena and oats for the chicken crumb or just use your gluten free bread to make crumbs. I would try a salad with lettuce, orange segments, avocado in a homemade honey mustard dressing and warm baby potatoes to complement the chicken. Check that the mustard contains no wheat.
Dessert option: sorghum and tapioca milk pudding with canned guava (my adventurous aunt introduced me to this combination – double thumbs up!)

Not all dietitians are the same

One of the best bits about working on my own has been the ability to schedule time to catch up with friends. A lot of my friends are also dietitians who consult, and it has been great to share ideas and support one another in our ventures.

This got me thinking about dietitians. Like all people, we are different: our qualification bonds us but there is a great variety – which is great news for you actually.

Some of us love exercise, some don’t; some of us love cooking, some don’t. We are all at different stages of life and have different work experiences and areas of interest. No doubt the counselling style of dietitians differ and you may find the experience very different with another dietitian.

What is important for you to consider (in my opinion), is that you connect with your dietitian in some way. I believe this will help you in the journey to achieve your health goals.  

You can look at the ADSA website for a list of registered dietitians in your area. See to learn more about what dietitians do. It may also help to talk to others you know who have seen the dietitian, and do some research work on them (google, Linkedin). Taking charge of your health is an investment, so make sure you have the right partner to facilitate this. Before you make your appointment, it is a good idea to phone the dietitian and ask them about the first session with them, what it will entail, and to confirm the cost and payment.

There are off course a lot of other ‘health’ practitioners out there. Their adverts and promises are very sexy and appealing. As registered health practitioners we unfortunately cannot market in this manner. Please do yourself a favour and enquire what their qualifications, registration and experience is. Many have done some short course, have no health science grounding or counselling training……but still call themselves nutrition coaches or something similar.  

As registered dietitians we are required to also stay up to date with the latest evidence or we can lose our registration. All of us may not hold the same view or approach on a subject, but I trust that the basic grounding and training received will ensure you get evidence based advice and not some of the nonsense that regularly hits our media pages.

Ultimately the choice is yours as to who you decide to see to assist you. Congratulations on taking the first step and thinking about doing something to improve your health!

Making healthier choices when you eat out

Here are some tips for you to consider when you eat out:

– if you eat at a buffet, plate all that you want to eat on one plate so you know how much you are eating

– unless you are starving, say no to the bread basket

– skip a starter and order mains only

– if you have a starter you can take half of your main away in a doggy bag

– choose to drink water or a diet cooldrink (no sugar)

– choose fruit based desserts or sorbets (off course if it is a special occasion…..enjoy the triple choc – you can always share that with a bestie)

– choose salad or veg based mains

– ask for sauces and dressings on the side 

– soups often have cream added – ask your waiter to understand how the food is prepared

– choose grilled, stir fried, baked and roasted over creamed, fried and battered

– taste your food before adding extra salt

– look for items indicated as healthier options on the menu, but please ask about it. Some of the options marked as Banting options are not often the best choice.

Bon appetit!

For more dining out tips by cuisine see:

A ‘healthy salt’? Really??

On the way to school each morning, I hear the radio ads from the same company marketing products that improve learning, your immune system etc., and recently I heard them talk about a ‘healthy salt’. Now that piqued my interest even more than usual!

OK I admit my science training has me hardwired to reject all claims until I examine the evidence. What caught my attention was the use of the word ‘heathy’ – not allowed on foods in South Africa. We may have some good legislation but our enforcement is where we fail. And if I had a rand – no make it a euro – for every time I had to discuss with a marketeer why ‘healthy’ should not be used in promoting a food product, even though other companies are doing so….well! 

Salt reduction has been a topic high on the health agenda in South Africa the last few years and we have food regulations coming into effect end June next year, which will see a number of products we regularly consume reduced in salt. In South Africa, our salt intake is roughly double what guidelines say we should be consuming. About half of the salt comes from the foods we eat everyday, like our bread, breakfast cereals, seasonings, and the other half from the salt we add during cooking and at the table.

Salt is sodium chloride, and too much sodium is the culprit linked to increased blood pressure and in that way, heart disease.

I was wondering what salt this ‘healthy salt’ could be. It definitely had to be lower in sodium than our regular table salt, right? Wrong! This is what I found out.

The salt used in the product is sea salt. From the companies website the product indicates 370mg sodium per 1g and table salt has 387mg sodium per 1g (reference USDA). That is pretty much the same amount of sodium in my assessment, and will not make any appreciable change to your sodium intake if you switch from table salt.

There are many other salts in the market with clever positioning inferring that they are healthier – some positioned as gourmet or natural – but if you take a closer look at the label – it is still sodium chloride.

All of them, including the ‘healthy salt’ cost in the region of ten to twenty four times more than table salt and do not offer the heath value they allude to. None of them had iodine added to them either.  According to legislation in South Africa, our salt has to be iodised. Iodine is added at a specific level to ensure we get what we need through usual consumption of salt. This forms an important source of iodine in our diets; a vital nutrient for pregnant mums and important in the mental development of children.

Breastfeeding also makes economic sense

You have may heard your health worker talk about the health benefits of breastfeeding for the baby and mum, but did you realise that breastfeeding makes economic sense too?

For mums:

  •  breastmilk is free! You don’t need to buy it, you need no extra utensils to feed your baby or to sterilise items
  • breastfed children are healthier so less medical expenses for you

For employers:

  • mums who are facilitated to continue breastfeeding when they return to work are happier and likely to be more motivated and productive
  • a happier employee is less likely to leave you so you save on recruitment costs too
  • there is likely to be lower absenteeism from these mums due to their children getting sick

For society:

  • more breastfed children means a healthier nation
  • healthcare costs are reduced
  • well nourished children are more able to develop to their potential and become economically active adults
  • Breastfeeding is the ultimate sustainable food (needing so extra water, plastic or heating) and comes in attractive packaging that can be re-used at each feed 😀