Sunday, March 15, 2009

Good Nutrition Just Got Easier

I have always thought planning well-balanced meals was difficult. And, two of my four children won’t eat vegetables! It is always a struggle and I worry they are not getting the right nutrients. Two of children are easy. In fact, my son would rather eat fruits and vegetables so it is challenging to get him to eat protein.

I just attended an event hosted by the United States Department of Agriculture and Giant Food intended to teach consumers how to shop smart and healthy using the USDA’s MyPyramid Meal Planner in conjunction with Giant Food’s Healthy Ideas on-shelf labeling program. I was very surprised how interesting it was.

Dr. Robert Post, Deputy Director of USDA’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion walked us through an example using real food and a new program, MyPyramid Planner found on their web site showing how making just a few minor adjustments can make a dramatic impact on healthy eating.

March is National Nutrition Month® (sponsored by the American Dietetic Association) and this presentation really brought home the importance of thoughtful meal planning. Washington FAMILY Magazine has always published articles relating to nutrition in March but the system presented by USDA and Giant make achieving good nutrition much easier. These are perfect tools for families.

The USDA’s MyPyramid program online offers personalized eating plans and interactive tools to: plan and assess food choices, make smart choices from every food group, find balance between food and physical activity, get the most nutrition out of calories and stay within daily calorie needs.

The Healthy Ideas symbol, found in 182 Giant Food stores, identifies foods based on the USDA/FDA’s definition of “healthy,” the federal Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the USDA’s MyPyramid.

Over 3,000 products in Giant Food stores have received the Healthy Ideas symbol, meaning they have less fat, saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium according to USDA standards. It also means that they are a good source of at least 10% of the daily value for one nutrient (protein, fiber, vitamins A or C, or the minerals, calcium or iron).

Healthy Ideas criteria are based on the federal definition of a “healthy” food, which must:
· Be limited in total fat
· Be limited in saturated fat
· Be limited in cholesterol
· Be limited in sodium
· Contain at least 10 percent of the Daily Value for one or more of vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, iron, protein or fiber

Additionally, since the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend limiting trans fat and sugar consumption, Healthy Ideas includes additional criteria for artificial trans fat and sugar, taking natural sugars into account in appropriate food categories.

On the USDA’s web site contains a section for different ages of children. The preschooler planning page allows you to see if your child is getting the correct nutrition. They tell parents to not be concerned if your preschooler does not eat the exact amounts suggested. Each child’s needs may differ from the average, and appetites can vary from day to day and that average amounts over time are what is important. Every mom knows that some day’s one food is more popular than others and that you must be creative! With the Giant labeling system that challenge just got easier. On the USDA’s web site there is also a section on picky eaters and tips on how to develop healthy eating habits.

If you happen to be pregnant or planning on becoming pregnant, this site offers some really good information on nutrition for pregnancy and also breastfeeding. There is a specific plan for your criteria – easy to use and tremendously helpful. The site even comes with a warning in case you are expecting twins, triplets, or more! I guess this is a sign of the times for our increase in multiple births. Here is the url for the MyPyramid Plan for Moms.

The USDA site is easy to use and extremely helpful. And, with the Healthy Ideas labeling system at Giant, nutritious meal planning has just become a whole lot easier for all us moms.

Happy Parenting, Brenda

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