Back to school: fuel up with healthy foods

By CHERYL WALKER Milam County AgriLife Extension Agent

Good eating habits are not just for the younger members of the family. Teens should also be interested in nutrition because they either want to look good or improve their athletic performance.

Some are concerned about health, but let's face it, most of us don't think we'll ever get sick. So let's get down to the important stuff that really counts.

Girls usually want to lose weight, while guys usually want to build more muscle and get taller. The mirror (or your friends) may not be the best way to judge what you should weigh. Girls naturally add some fat as they mature. In fact, if a girl doesn't have at least 17 percent body fat, she won't have normal periods.

Think healthy and fit

For teens, DIET is a four letter word. That doesn't mean you shouldn't clean up your act and get more active and eat better, but starving yourself is bad for your brain, muscle and bones. In contrast, boys often want to become taller and stronger. Again nature doesn't always cooperate.

Boys begin their growth spurt up to two years later than girls, some as late as age 14 or 15. That's really frustrating because boys don't develop their full muscle mass until a year after they hit their full height, which could be as late as age 20. That can seem like forever, but eating a lot of junk food or drinking high-protein drinks isn't going to speed up Old Mother Nature. Boys who overeat just learn bad habits that will make them fat as they get older. And extra protein just gets used for calories and may hurt the kidneys.

The real goal is a healthy weight. A healthy weight is what you weigh when you eat a variety of healthy foods and are active every day.

Too many teens are so inactive that they become couch potatoes. If you sit more than two hours a day in front of the TV or computer, you are likely to be out of shape if not overweight. The real goal is to be fit, not just thin. You can help reach this goal by eating right and getting active!

Star athletes or a casual walker can all be fit, but the amounts of food they eat is different due to the amount of exercise.

• First, make every drink count. This may sound boring, but soft drinks and alcohol are not where it's at. You are building bone faster now than you ever have. The amount of bone you make now will protect you from bone loss later. You need at least 3-4 cups of skim or reduced fat milk every day. Then drink 4 more cups of water or juice to get enough fluid for your body to function properly. Drink an extra 2 cups of water before an athletic event, and another 4 ounces every half hour while you exercise. On hot days you will need to drink even more. Drink too little fluid and you may end up laying on the playing field instead of playing on it.

• Second, eat at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day. Fruits and vegetables are great sources of vitamins, minerals and fiber and are low in calories. People who eat the most vegetables and fruits stay healthy the longest. One serving is only the size of the palm of a girl's hand, or her fist if it's a piece of fruit or potato, so that really isn't much.

• Third, eat more whole grains and cereals. Bread won't make you fat if you don't eat too much. Depending on your size, you need 6-11 servings per day. The best choices are fiberrich whole grain breads, cereals and pasta. Again a girl's palm is about the size of one portion.

Eat enough protein but not too much. Most of us eat too much protein. That doesn't mean you should become a vegetarian, but try to eat smaller portions of meat, fish and poultry. Fill up on those veggies and grains.

• Finally, watch the junk. You know what that is—candy, chips, fries—whatever. Make fast foods a special occasion instead of a daily event. When you eat out, go for the grilled chicken, baked potatoes, bean burritos, chili, salad, milk and orange juice.

Remember habits are hard to break, so build good eating and exercise habits at a young age to help prevent you from becoming overweight and out of shape in later years.

Healthy, safe lunches for your child

With school starting, many families are thinking about packing lunches for their children and for themselves. Eating right for lunch can help improve school a nd work performance, so put a little thought into it.

Here are some simple ways to make lunch healthier, and still tasty:

• Include fruits and vegetables add some carrots or celery with some low-fat dressing,

• Offer grapes or pineapple chunks, or throw in some mixed dried fruits.

• Avoid lunch meats that are high in fat and sodium.

• Pack leftovers when possible.

• Don't always use white bread change it up with bagels, wheat or pita bread.

• Pack milk or water; try to avoid juices and sodas.

• Provide an occasional snack low-fat yogurt, applesauce, unsalted pretzels, apple slices with peanut butter or reduced fat string cheese.

Another thing to consider when packing a lunch is safety. When packing your child's lunch for school, it is important to keep cold food cold and hot food hot in order to prevent food-borne illnesses.

Here are some tips for keeping your child's lunch safe:

• Make sure you wash your hands before preparing the lunch.

• Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Include an ice pack to keep foods cold, and put hot foods in a thermos. You can freeze a water bottle or juice box and it will be thawed and ready to drink at lunchtime.

• Use an insulated lunch box rather than a paper bag.

• Tell your children not to leave their lunches in a warm location.

• Pack foods that have a long shelf life without being refrigerated. Wash and dry lunch boxes daily.

• Remind your child to discard perishable leftovers.

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2009-08-27 digital edition

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