I think a lot of us will benefit from this question by newsanchormom reader Jennifer. I am excited to say I got some specific recommendations on brands from two dieticians. (often times people don't want to mention brands.)
"I work really hard to feed my family healthy meals and try to rely as little as possible on convenience foods. However, working full time and having two kids, I do rely on a few products to make my life easier, things like tortilla shells, frozen vegetables, rice mixes, etc. I always look at the labels but find myself questioning which data is the most relevant. Calories? Fat grams per serving? Sodium? For example, one product may be lower in fat, but higher in calories and salt. How do you know which is really the healthier option? (BTW, we don't have any health issues, so it's more about prevention than, for example, avoiding salt due to high blood pressure)."
Karen Hutton, the Patient Services Manager at Methodist Medical Center in Peoria and Julie Fehrenbacher, a Registered Dietician at Methodist, gave me some great insight on this topic.
Julie said she thinks Jennifer is on the right track. She said, "With the tortilla shells go for whole grain and make sure there's at least three grams of fiber in there. The frozen veggies are great as long as they don't have a pre-made sauce on them. The rice mixes, I would encourage a whole grain rice mix or brown rice that you could add seasoning to. " Karen said "rice mixes" usually have a lot of salt in them. "If you add your own seasoning, you wouldn't have as much salt. " She suggests using half of a seasoning packet so you aren't getting as much salt.
I wanted to know about the pre-packaged foods. Are those just absolutely horrible for my kids?Julie said, "There are some good prepackaged choices. I like Morning Star. It's a little more expensive, but they have veggie burgers that only take about 15 minutes to make and they taste good. I also like the whole grain Lean Pockets. " Karen said, "Healthy Choice and Lean Cuisine are also fairly good options. The portions are smaller than other frozen meals and it would be better than going to McDonald's."
Both dieticians agree frozen vegetables are one of the best options. Use the microwave to cook them and add seasoning like Molly Mcbutter. You can also add garlic powder like Mrs. Dash. Add frozen veggies to whole grain rice for a quick meal.
What do dieticians feed their kids/grandkids?
Here's one I haven't heard. Karens say to try making a pizza using Light Flat Out bread. She says it is high in fiber, low in calories and easy. She just puts pizza sauce on top, some low-fat cheese and veggies. Karen said, "The cheese doesn't have to be fat free, it can be low fat and you don't have to use a lot to make the pizza taste good. The Flat Out Bread comes with different crust. It's usually in the bakery isle or deli area. But make sure you read the package because some stores don't sell the "light" version. "Karen has seen them at Wal-mart, Schnucks and Kroger.
Julie suggests Vandekamp breaded fish for kids. She said, "It's baked so the fish sticks are healthier and they're approved by the Heart Health Association."
So what should you keep in mind when you're looking at the back of a package?
Calories, Fiber and Fat content are the main things to look at when you turn the package over. Julie says to compare like products. See which ones has the least amount of calories and fat and the most fiber.
What about the foods in the health food section?
Karen said, "The health food section has more organic and soy products. They don't have to come from there to be healthy options, but there are definitely healthy food products in that area."
What about little snacks to throw in the diaper bag? What would be your choice?
Karen said, "Julie and my favorite bars are Fiber One bars. I keep them in my purse, 140 calories, 4 g fat, 9 g of fiber. They have peanut butter, not just chocolate flavors."
Karen and Julie say to encourage kids to drink more water when making these choices because they can get bloated and constipated. "Water is so important."Mypyramid.gov will let you type in your personal information to give you a better idea of exactly what you should be buying at the grocery store.
What are your favorite food choices for kids?