Tag Archives: Nutrition

Ontop of a Potato…all covered with Cheese (read to the tune of ‘On Top of Spaghetti’)

I’d like to begin this post with a quote from the band Guster, “step on a kid he’ll grow up hating you” from their song Either Way, is a real summarization of how kids are most vulnerable to influencers and role models in the early parts of their lives.  As adults we meet people all the time who influence our life.  But the difference is, as adults we’ve already established a foundation for who we are based on the people from our childhood.  And by human nature we surround ourselves with people who are similar to us.  So the hope is by the time you are an adult you are being influenced by good people.

With that in mind, every year I volunteer as a counselor at Camp Happy Times.  This is a week long camp for kids ages four to eighteen who have survived or are going through cancer treatment.  I’m going to make a very bold statement and say that for some of these kids Cancer saved their lives.  Many come from rough neighborhoods of New Jersey and their ticket to life outside the chain link fence and cracked pavement is behind a hospital wall where they find people who care about them and instill the will to survive not only for the sake of living but for the chance to make something of themselves.  The role models at the hospitals have a different job from us camp counselors.  Our week with the kids is an insight to their social lives.  Each year my range of problem-solving skills expands.  But the real skill comes in how you build trust and negotiate with these kids so they trust you.  Which in turn will make you a role model and influencer.

The skill that was added to problem-solving file cabinet this year was a mix of body image and nutrition.  One of my food fantasies is to have an army of Top Chef constants come into the challenge of making a healthy meal out of camp food.  The food needs to be rich in vitamin c, as many of these kids are still sick,  while also delivering protein, energy and hydration.  Oh yea and it has to taste good and be fed to about 200 people.  For me each meal was a personal Top Chef challenge, to dig out some nutrition from the meals presented and also be subject to the poor eating habits of thirteen-year-old girls.   While camp is a time for these kids to let loose I felt I looming responsibility to influence their eating habits.

By the middle of the week the baked potato bar was really taking its toll on their energy levels, and they were all starting to develop little baked potato beer bellies.  It wasn’t until I explained that their friend Mr. Potato Head while rich in vitamin c and potassium was not giving them any nutrients by day three especially when topped with a man-made river of cheese whiz.  With a cliff notes version of complex carbs and high glycemic
index I explained this is why you feel exhausted by 2:00 everyday.

Other mealtime characters included salt-shaker-Sally and two-bite-Betty.  There were some kids who were trying to eat healthy by going to the salad bar.  But I just cringed at the sound of them chomping down on Iceberg lettuce swimming in Ranch dressing and Bacon-bits.  I was faced with a moral dilemma to hide the salt shaker, shove a chicken finger down a kid’s throat and begin preaching Michael Pollen style about knowing where your food comes from.

Making a healthy version of Sesame Chicken with the girls in the kitchen.

My best advice to these girls was as follows:

At the ripe old-age of thirteen your little bodies have already had some pretty toxic chemicals to deal with.  Between school lunch and mall food courts it’s not easy for you to find healthy choices.  Food will fool you into thinking it’s giving you nutrients when it’s not.  And you might not think eating a cheesy baked potato covered in Bacon-bits and a river of cheese three days in a row will matter much right now, but I promise you it will come back to visit you later.  Your body is precious, it’s already been through a lot, feed it what it deserves.

On a lighter note, here is a link to Sesame Street singing ‘On Top of Spaghetti’


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Eat Your Water

70% of our bodies are made up of water and it is estimated that we lose on average about ten cups of water each day through normal bodily functions such as breathing, sweating, and going to the bathroom.  While topping off eight bottles of Poland Spring sounds like the way to go, frankly it’s quite boring and an unrealistic expectation.  In fact, even if you do manage to make it to number eight you can still be dehydrated.  The secret is to have a good balance between two key minerals: sodium and potassium.  Sodium, from a culinary standpoint is a key ingredient to enhancing flavor but also is often abused and superfluous in our society.  But, for the purposes of this article sodium blocks water absorption into the body.  Bear with me for a minute while I get a little scientific.  The cells in our body have these little doors that open and close based on mineral balance.  Potassium triggers the release of sodium from inside our cells (bodily absorption) to outside our cells into bodily fluid that will eventually be excreted.  So due to our sodium rich lifestyles, we have a lot of sodium build up in our bodies and just because there is water coming through doesn’t necessarily mean the sodium is washing away with it.  Sodium needs the potassium to give it a little nudge and open the cell door to let the sodium out and the water in.  Phew!   

Okay so how do I get more potassium?  The potassium heroes are avocados, baked potato with skin, cooked spinach, lentils, and of course bananas.  Also, coconut water has a high percentage of potassium.  Try mixing coconut water with club soda and frozen fruit to off-set the initial unflattering taste.    

So now that we have our little potassium doorman in place try getting creative with alternatives to water.  Moisture rich foods include: cucumbers, all types of melons (which are actually 90% water and a good source of potassium), strawberries, lettuce, celery and even cold soups like gazpacho.  An additional benefit to eating foods with high moisture will help keep you full on fewer calories!  And while we’re on the topic of waistlines, retaining water happens when you don’t have enough fluid and your body fears famine and holds onto every ounce of water it can get.  Which results in bloating.  

– Don’t always rely on thirst, sometimes by the time you’re thirsty you’re already dehydrated
– Beverages at moderate temperatures are said to be consumed in greater volumes
– Despite the popular myth, a frozen water bottle is a good way to ensure a cool beverage for a few hours

– Chugging your way through 8 cups of water – spread it out through the day
– Avoid frozen coffee drinks, sugary fruit drinks and teas.  Look for ‘no sugar added.’  Always read labels because ‘100% fruit’ and ‘All Natural’ can be misleading.   

Hydration Fruit in Season:
-Peaches – 89% water and a good source of vitamin C and moderate levels of potassium (285mg)
-Nectarine – 87% water and a good source of vitamins A and C and fiber
– Tomatoes – 95% water, and a half-cup is about 15 calories, and a good source of vitamins A and C and moderate levels of potassium (194mg)

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