Read an Excerpt
Why Do Families Need a Meal Makeover?
We'd like to begin this chapter on a positive note, so we'll start by saying: "You're amazing." You run in a million different directions all day--working, carpooling, volunteering, buying birthday presents, folding laundry, picking up toys, making beds, flushing toilets (let's not get too graphic here), setting up play dates, and hopefully squeezing in a quick workout. But just when you want to sit down and catch your breath, IT'S DINNERTIME! You scramble to pull something, just anything, together because everyone is hungry and homework still needs to get done. Somehow you do it. You manage to feed your family. Maybe it's not the same homemade meal your mom cooked when you were a kid (you know, the one with the meat, starch, and vegetable every night). But yes, it's behind you. Later that evening as you fold the last load of laundry, your day as a supermom is coming to a close. Yeah . . . you made it!
It's tough to do it all and do it all well. In fact, for years now, we've been talking to busy moms like you who say they're often too dog-tired to cook meals or pack school lunches and therefore way too tempted by all the convenience foods designed to make life easier. There's no doubt that the foods we've come to rely on--hot dogs, chicken nuggets, frozen pizzas, mac & cheese, lunch kits, take-out, soft drinks, snack chips, and fast food--have meant less time in the kitchen. It's hard to imagine life without them. But unfortunately all that convenience has come at a nutritional price.
Today, Americans eat 340 more calories per day than they did just two short decades ago. Sugar consumption is at an all-time high, and the number of refined carbohydrates that we eat--white bread, bagels, hamburger buns, muffins, crackers, pastries, white rice, and pasta--dwarfs healthier, high-fiber whole grains. And even though fruits and vegetables are readily available in supermarkets, most families don't make a habit of eating them at every meal. To add insult to injury, Americans are less active today, thanks in part to modern conveniences like cars, elevators, and drive-thru windows as well as leisure activities that revolve around the TV or computer. It's no wonder a growing number of children, teens, and adults are now considered overweight or obese. But besides our nation's battle with the bulge, many people--overweight, skinny, or anywhere in between--are opting for nutritionally stripped-down foods that provide little in the way of vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients (plant nutrients), and fiber--the very things that fight heart disease and cancer, protect our eyesight as we age, keep our skin looking young, and so on and so on.
Statistics to Chew On
* Sixty-one percent of U.S. adults are overweight or obese.
* Thirteen percent of children (ages 6 to 11) and 14 percent of teens (ages 12 to 19) are overweight.
* Children are more active than their parents, though 42 percent of girls and 26 percent of boys do not exercise vigorously on a regular basis.
* In 1991, 42 percent of U.S. children were enrolled in daily school-based physical education classes. The number dropped to just 29 percent in 1995.
Today's families can benefit greatly from a meal makeover. For your family, that makeover may end up being a simple one . . . like switching from blue eye shadow to a more flattering brown (oh, what were we thinking back in the eighties?). For others, it may be more extreme. Either way, the changes you bring to your table (large or small) will provide a lifetime of benefits, including feeling better, looking better, and staying healthier.
There's Trouble at the Table
Food: We Eat Too Much
Last summer, Liz and her husband took sons Josh and Simon to an amusement park. It was one of those hot, you-could-fry-an-egg-on-the-sidewalk sort of days, so they all decided to cool off with an ice cream cone. The trouble with the cones that Liz ordered, however, was their size: They were colossal. What Liz had asked for were four "kiddie" cones, but what she got were cones so large that even the adults could barely finish them.
Whether you're eating at a restaurant, fast food establishment, or even at home, standard portion sizes of everyday foods have gotten bigger and bigger. In a recent study comparing common portion sizes in 1977 to those consumed nearly twenty years later in 1996, researchers actually proved that Americans are indeed eating a lot more food than they used to.
Portion Sizes on the Rise: Changes Observed from 1977 to 1996
food item increase in portion size increase in calories
Salty Snacks 0.6 ounce 93 calories
Soft Drinks 6.8 ounces 49 calories
Fruit Drinks 3.8 ounces 50 calories
Hamburgers 1.3 ounces 97 calories
French Fries 0.5 ounce 68 calories
Mexican Dishes 1.7 ounces 133 calories
Source: JAMA, January 22/29, 2003-Vol 289, no. 4.
In the United States, there has been a definite trend toward "supersizing," now considered a significant factor in our growing rate of obesity. Consider that a person who adds just 100 extra calories to his or her diet each day without then burning those calories off will gain 1 to 2 pounds of body weight per year. Over a ten-year period, that's 10 to 20 more pounds on the waistline! Standard portions have increased slowly over the years, right before our very eyes. The change has been so gradual that our brains and stomachs have simply increased their capacity for bigger platefuls of food.
Sugar: We Eat Too Much
It has been said that Americans are conspicuous consumers of sugar. In fact, on average, people eat about 33 teaspoons a day (that's a whopping 528 calories from sugar alone). How much is too much? Well, consider that a person who consumes 2,000 calories a day is advised by the USDA to limit his or her intake to just 10 teaspoons or 40 grams of added sugar a day. To put that number in perspective and understand how quickly sugar can add up, consider that 1 cup of Frosted Flakes has 4 teaspoons (the same as four Oreo cookies), a 12-ounce soft drink contains 10 teaspoons, one Dunkin' Donuts coffee cake muffin has nearly 15 teaspoons, and a medium fast food chocolate shake contains about 20 teaspoons of added sugar. Sugar by itself isn't a villain, but keep in mind that sugar-laden foods often provide a lot of calories, few nutrients, and tend to displace more nutritious foods in the diet, including fruits and whole grains.
More than 20 percent of the added sugar in the U.S. food supply comes from one source: soft drinks. According to the National Soft Drink Association, the "average" American consumes 57 gallons of soft drinks a year (the equivalent of 20 ounces a day). Sugars are everywhere. They're in cookies, cakes, donuts, syrups, and sugary breakfast cereals. Some unlikely foods may also contain added sugar, namely hot dogs, pizza, soup, lunchmeat, fruit drinks and sports drinks (perhaps a bit more obvious), flavored yogurt, salad dressing, and some peanut butters.
Refined Grains: We Eat Too Many
Sugary foods aren't the only Achilles' heel of the American diet. As a nation, we're also hooked on fluff . . . and we don't mean the sticky, sweet white stuff in a jar. By fluff, we mean all the white, refined flour used for making bagels, muffins, hamburger buns, pizza crust, white bread, crackers, tortillas, cookies, and pasta. We eat more flour today than ever before. And therein lies the problem. We simply eat too much of it. In fact, on average, Americans consume about 10 servings of grain-based foods a day. And of those 10 servings, just 1 is a fiber-rich whole grain (experts advise eating at least 3 whole grains a day). So instead of choosing things like whole wheat bread, brown rice, whole grain breakfast cereals, whole wheat pasta, and whole wheat couscous, we're grabbing for fluff . . . and missing out on all those good things found in whole grains: fiber, zinc, vitamin E, and other phytonutrients.
Eating whole grains offers protection against heart disease and certain cancers. They're also filling--a bonus for folks watching their weight--and promote healthy digestion (something you can appreciate if you or someone in your family suffers from constipation, the number one gastrointestinal complaint in the United States). Whole grains offer a big bang for the nutritional buck.
Kids love to snack. A recent survey of school-age children found that 80 percent do it once or twice a day. Snacks account for 20 percent of a child's daily calories, but sadly, some of the most popular snacktime choices are those with the least nutritional value. Soft drinks rank number one while fruit weighs in a distant twelfth. But parents can take advantage of their children's snack attacks by offering healthier nibbles like fruit, nuts, lowfat yogurt, popcorn, or vegetables with dip.
What Kids Are Snacking On:
2.Salty snacks such as potato chips, corn chips, and popcorn
5.Artificially flavored fruit beverages
6.Whole milk and chocolate milk
7.2% reduced-fat milk
(Source: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey III)
From the Trade Paperback edition.