Skip to content

Ask Us Anything About… Family Nutrition

As parents, we know it’s a lot easier to grab takeout that we know our kids like than to cook something new. But easiest is not always best – as poor dietary habits can lead to obesity and all the health problems that come with it. In this interview with Kara Bowers, a dietitian with Penn State PRO Wellness, you’ll learn how to create a supportive nutrition environment in your home.

View full transcript of video


Description – The video begins inside Penn State Health Academic Support Building located on the Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center campus. Two people are standing next to each other inside a conference room. From left to right is Scott Gilbert and Kara Bowers

Scott Gilbert – From Penn State Health and Penn State Pro Wellness, welcome to Ask Us Anything About Family Nutrition. I’m Scott Gilbert. Well as parents we know it’s a lot easier to just grab takeout that we know our kids are going to like, rather than perhaps try to cook something new, but easiest is not always best as poor dietary habits can lead to obesity and all the health problems that can come with it. Today we’re going to discuss how you can create a supportive nutrition environment in your home with Kara Bowers; she’s a dietitian at Penn State Pro Wellness. Kara, thanks a lot for being here today. We’re going to start by talking about healthy lifestyles and what families should do first, and I imagine there are probably some things we should try to get out of the home before we try to bring other things into the home, right?

Kara Bowers – Yeah, of course. You know, right now, Halloween has just passed and those treats are certainly okay to have for a time because they are treats, but we want to make sure it’s not something that we’re– that our families are consuming every day, and so it’s time to start thinking about maybe donating some of that candy, taking it into the office and really making sure that we’re guarding the food that is in the house, and that also includes any junk foods that are in there. You know, people are so smart, they know healthy foods versus non-healthy foods, and so I think you can take a look at your pantry and your kitchen and your refrigerator and take a look and say what items would I rather my family not consume and start to pull those out of the house.

Scott Gilbert – Sure. And it’s probably okay to have a bag of chips or a bag of pretzels in there somewhere, but again, not as regular fare.

Kara Bowers – Exactly. And then along with that, we want to make sure that it’s not super convenient. So if you’re looking at it from the eye of a little child you want to get down at their level and see what foods are they going to see when they open the pantry or the fridge, and if you do have treats in there, for the adults every once in a while, maybe just stash them in the top corners so that they’re a little inconvenient for the children to reach.

Scott Gilbert – Are you suggesting that I sneak my kids’ Halloween candy away bit by bit without them realizing it?

Kara Bowers – Exactly. Absolutely.

Scott Gilbert – Alright. Don’t tell the kids we said that. You’re watching Ask Us Anything About Family Nutrition from Penn State Health and Penn State Pro Wellness. We welcome your questions for Kara Bowers, a dietitian here at Penn State Pro Wellness. Just put them in the comment field below this Facebook post. You can even add them there if you’re watching this video on playback, not even necessarily live, and we’ll answer in the comment field as well. So, I think we’ve all been through, as parents, the picky eater thing. We want to help kids explore some new options but we’re just not sure how to do that. What are some tips, starting with, I guess, maybe involving children in the process of making meals, getting them invested in it perhaps?

Kara Bowers – Yeah absolutely. So, anything that we can do to involve them in the meal planning process, the shopping, washing and rinsing the fruits and vegetables, and then also setting the table. So, the more we can get their involvement we’re kind of getting their buy-in on the meal that we’re serving. Gardening is another great way to do that. If they pick something from the garden that they grew they’re very likely to be curious enough to want to try it. And so, the more involved we can get them the better off we’re going to be. And then it’s also good to keep in mind, us parents, we have to offer food to a child 12 to 17 times before they’re going to accept it. So, if we offer it three, four, five times and they don’t like it, that’s okay. Continue to serve it and continue to offer it, and once you get up to that 15 times or more then they’re going to start to accept it without wrinkling their nose.

Scott Gilbert – So, they may not eat it those first several times, but if you keep presenting it, just don’t give up, also don’t force them, right. Like what do you think about the philosophy of you’ve got to eat your broccoli if you want to get dessert?

Kara Bowers – Yeah, absolutely not. That presents a couple problems, the first one being that we’re presenting dessert as a reward. Dessert is not a reward. If we start rewarding with food it’s going to make children want it even more, and so I would recommend giving them a heads up; this is broccoli; this is what it’s going to feel like in your mouth; this is what it’s going to taste like. This is– it has a little bit of sodium– salt on it and so it’s going to be a little salty; it’s going to be a little crunchy so that they know what to expect. Hard to put something in your mouth blindly and if you put yourself in the shoes of a child that’s what they’re doing frequently. So, I would present dessert maybe once a week, at the most, and dessert is there regardless, but it’s not there frequently and not for kids to hold out for dessert.

Scott Gilbert – It’s not a must have, or like you say, a reward for a meal well eaten.

Kara Bowers – Exactly, and it’s for a celebration, you know, for birthdays it’s perfectly acceptable; for holidays, perfectly acceptable.

Scott Gilbert – Alright. You’re watching Ask Us Anything About Family Nutrition from Penn State Health and Penn State Pro Wellness. Your questions for Kara Bowers from Penn State Pro Wellness are welcome, just add them to the comment field below this Facebook post. And, of course, we encourage you to share this post on your Facebook page. You could even tag people who you know; other moms, dads, others who might find this information helpful; tag them in the comment field and this will get their way I’m sure. So young children, I– I’ve heard it’s a good idea to try regularly introducing new foods to them, right. I mean, in fact, I can remember when my son was tiny, he loved sweet potatoes; he won’t touch them now that he’s 12, but kids do when they’re really young, it seems like they’re a little more open to experimenting.

Kara Bowers – Yeah absolutely. So, it’s really important that we plan that and we continually introduce new foods when they’re young. So, a new food a week is perfectly acceptable. The other reason why sometimes kids may be less susceptible to enjoy the foods as they get older, well number one, our taste buds change, but also as kids get older, they start to taste things like candy and ultra-sweet foods and those ultra-sweet foods actually alter their taste perception. So, he likely doesn’t taste the sweetness of the sweet potato anymore without added sugar, because that’s what his palate used to. So, we want to make sure that we guard their taste buds when they’re young so that they can really enjoy the sweetness of some natural foods like fruits and vegetables.

Scott Gilbert – And so once we’ve got a good mix of things that they like, maybe we’ve navigated a bit beyond the picky eating stage what can– what can we tell– what can you tell us about portion sizes, because I imagine it may be tough, especially as a child is growing, to figure out how to adjust that portion size and also when to say no when they want more.

Kara Bowers – Yeah, absolutely. So, one of the biggest things that we can do that’s hugely underestimated is we can use the MyPlate guidelines. So, if you take a child’s plate and you fill it with half fruits and vegetables, a quarter grains and a quarter protein we’re guaranteed to give correct portion sizes. The other thing to keep in mind, if we’re giving them good options then we don’t need to limit how much they can enjoy. You know, if we’re giving them a plate full of french fries, then yes, we obviously want to limit that, but if we’re giving them good options, we want to make sure that they can eat until their satisfied. And so sometimes that means a child may not eat very much for a day or two, and then the next few days they may eat a lot and that’s perfectly normal and perfectly acceptable. We don’t want to force them to eat more than what they want to eat.

Scott Gilbert – Sure, and maybe that helps answer Elizabeth’s question. She was asking if we could discuss some tips for paying attention to portion sizes for adults and for kids. So, I mean, she does bring up the adult’s point; that’s a good point as well.

Kara Bowers – Yeah, 100%. So, once again, I always guide people back to MyPlate. So, if you think about a standard adult sized plate, nine, ten inches; it’s probably a small plate nowadays, but if we make sure that it’s filled with half fruits and vegetables, maybe a quarter vegetables, a quarter fruit, a quarter protein, and a quarter whole grains, just like the plate, we’re guaranteed to have perfect portion sizes. If you eat this and you’re still hungry I always tell people drink some water, number one, and number two, go back for more vegetables, and if you’re still hungry after that eat more protein. But more than likely, by the time you double your vegetable servings and you’ve got some water in your belly you’re going to be perfectly satisfied.

Scott Gilbert – You’re watching Ask Us Anything About Family Nutrition from Penn State Health and Penn State Pro Wellness. We welcome your questions, just add them to the comment field. Tyler’s asking, can you comment on a whole foods, plant based, low fat diet for diabetes. What can you tell Tyler about that?

Kara Bowers – Yeah. So, this is a huge topic right now, plant-based diets, and my favorite study that I’ve read about this in regards to diabetes is they took two groups of people; the one group of people, consumed a regular dinner, meat as their protein, vegetables and starch. The other group consumed beans as their protein, a vegetable and a starch. And then the next morning they both– both groups got a donut. And what they found was the group that consumed beans the night before, the plant-based diet, their blood sugar did not spike as high as the group that consumed the meat. So, we don’t know a lot about the physiology as why this is happening, but we do know that the more plants we eat, the more fruits, the more vegetables, the more protected we are against diseases. So, I would highly recommend that. But when you’re thinking about diabetes you’ve also got to keep in mind carbohydrates. So, if we go to a plant-based diet and consume donuts that don’t necessarily contain meat we’re not doing ourselves any good. So, we really need to focus on that whole foods piece; fruits, vegetables, and then a protein of some kind.

Scott Gilbert – When I look at the MyPlate model back here, a place that I’m thinking I often don’t follow that is at a restaurant, because, you know, often at the restaurant if we’re ever going to lose sight of what we should eat and go with more of what we want to eat, it’s probably there or with takeout. How can a family fit restaurants and takeout into their diet in a smart way?

Kara Bowers – Yeah, so first of all, I would definitely the amount of time that you’re eating out. Every time we eat out, we lose control over what goes in our food and also the portion that our family is being served. So, if we limit those times, number one, and then number two would be to ask the server for a box as soon as you get your meal. Pack up half your plate and then save it for another meal. And this, not only will control your portions, but it’s also going to stretch your food dollars much further. And so instead of eating out once, you’re going to feel like you ate out twice.

Scott Gilbert – I’ve also heard there are a lot of foods that are especially maybe salty or sugary in the restaurant setting because they want you to like them, right.

Kara Bowers – Yeah, absolutely. It’s really easy to make a meal that’s tasty if you have unlimited fats, sodium and sugar. And so, they’re focused on sales, sales, sales, but we want to be mindful at home and really start to look at menus and think about the options. And one place that this really becomes an issue is kids’ meals. You know, our kids are offered such crazy food, they’re– kid’s meals don’t look anything like MyPlate. And so, one thing that you can do is add on extra sides for your children to make sure that they have options besides french fries and applesauce. Make sure they’re getting that non-starchy vegetable at their meal as well.

Scott Gilbert – And, of course, before the meal kids want a snack sometimes. So, tell us a bit about healthy snacking and how I know how to regulate what goes into that snack and the size of it, especially if it’s something that I want to feed them between meals and I don’t want it to ruin their appetite for the big, say, dinner.

Kara Bowers – Yeah, so the biggest thing about snacks is to make sure that we include a whole grain or a healthy carb; that can be a fruit or a whole grain cracker, or something like that, and then a protein. So that protein could be a low-fat string cheese, it could be some peanut butter or nuts, but a small amount of each is really going to make sure that we feel full for longer. If we only consume carbs our blood sugar is going to spike, come back down, we’re going to be hungry again really soon, where if we pair it to that protein it’s going to lower our absorption rate; it’s just going to slow it down so we’re going to feel fuller longer and prevent the spike in blood sugar.

Scott Gilbert – You’re watching Ask Us Anything About Family Nutrition from Penn State Health and Penn State Pro Wellness. Kara Bowers, a dietitian with Penn State Pro Wellness welcomes your question. Add them to the comment field below this Facebook post and we’ll pose them to her live or we can even pass them along to her after the fact if you’re watching this video on playback, and still get you an answer. When it comes to drinks, you know, here we’ve been talking about food the whole time, but really what kids drink can really have nutritional impact as well, especially because a lot of things we may think are healthy, like juices, are loaded with sugar.

Kara Bowers – Yeah. So, we should keep hydration in mind 100%. So, we want to primarily be hydrated off of water. It’s tempting to get kids to drink with the sugary juices or even as adults, it’s tempting to be treated with a soda or something like that, and that’s okay every once in a while, but we have to keep in mind even juices, they consume– they include so much sugar that we really want to be mindful of how much our kids are consuming. And so, for children, the American Pediatric Association has actually said under the age of one they should not have any juices, and once again that comes back to forming their palate. We don’t want them to– their– we don’t want their sweet perception to alter so much that they don’t taste the sweetness in actual fruit. And the other thing with the juices is we’re missing all the fiber that you would consume in the whole fruit, and so that’s a huge component and a lot of kids these days aren’t getting enough fiber, and adults, we’re not getting enough fiber either.

Scott Gilbert – As a youth sports coach I see a lot of kids bring– a lot of small young kids bring a 20-ounce Gatorade with them to practice, for a half hour, hour long practice. That’s not needed is it?

Kara Bowers – No, it’s not needed unless we are exercising at a professional athlete level. So more than an hour or two we can start thinking about those sports drinks, runners, things like that. But under that time, we should be hydrating with regular water because excess sugar can actually contribute to dehydration. So, we want to make sure that we’re hydrating properly so that we prevent hydration issues.

Scott Gilbert – I want to go back to fruit juice for a second too, there’s something I meant to mention, the juice itself can be loaded with sugar and maybe not that great for you, but the fruit that it’s derived from is loaded with fiber and things we miss when we drink juice, right?

Kara Bowers – Yeah. So, when we drink the juice, we’re still getting all the nutrients. We’re getting the vitamin A, the vitamin C, but we are missing that fiber component and the fiber component is really important and it’s really protective against things like colon cancer and it really just keeps our digestive system healthy. And so, when we drink the juice, although we get some of the nutrients, we’re not getting all of them that we would get if we ate the whole fruit.

Scott Gilbert – And so, what it all comes down to, we don’t want to throw a bunch of statistics out– out there, but the fact of the matter is obesity numbers are on the rise; they’ve skyrocketed, especially among children and adolescents. The latest figures from the CDC as of 2016 show that about 30% of adults, 16% of children are seen as obese. So, the numbers are headed in the wrong way, aren’t they?

Kara Bowers – Absolutely. And the really sad part of that statistic is a lot of us can become jaded to it because we constantly here obesity, obesity, obesity, fix my weight, but in reality, the reason why this is being emphasized so hard is because the next generation is not expected to have a longer life expectancy than what we have. And so, in order to help them live as long as we’ll live, we really want to make sure that we’re feeding them the correct foods and the correct portions; we’re being really mindful of everything that they’re consuming and also making sure that they’re active for at least 60 minutes a day.

Scott Gilbert – And because obesity has a lot of what we call co-morbid conditions attached to it.

Kara Bowers – Yes, including diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and what’s interesting is we’re starting to see these diseases that were once primarily seen in adults, we’re seeing them a lot more frequently in children, which is a really scary thing. Even fatty liver disease is being seen more frequently in children and so we really want to try to curb that now before it becomes a large ratio.

Scott Gilbert – And really, I think what it comes down to is adults, the parents being a role model, setting the right example because this kind of thing does tend to run in families, you know, healthy eating habits can be genetic, in a way.

Kara Bowers – Absolutely. And the other thing is that although there is a genetic piece to it, a lot of it is what are we consuming in the household; whatever we’re consuming in the household is what’s available to those kids. And so, while part of its genetics, part of it is that role modeling and supplying foods in the house. And one thing that we know is that if we protect the foods that are available in the house, we actually control 72% of what our family eats, and so that way the other 25% that they eat when they’re out we don’t have to worry about quite as much because we know that they’re only consuming the good stuff when they’re at home.

Scott Gilbert – That’s good stuff. And to do my part as a role model I have to go home now and take all my kid’s Halloween candy away from him, but before I do, anything else in closing?

Kara Bowers – No, that’s great. Once again, Halloween candy is perfectly acceptable for a time, for Halloween, but we want to make sure that celebrations don’t linger on too long.

Scott Gilbert – We’re going to put some links to some great content, including from Penn State Pro Wellness, from Kara and her team on the comment section below this Facebook post, so we’ll have a lot more information for you there. Thanks very much for your time today Kara and we thank you for watching Ask Us Anything About Family Nutrition from Penn State Health and Penn State Pro Wellness.

Show Full TranscriptCollapse Transcript

If you're having trouble accessing this content, or would like it in another format, please email Penn State Health Marketing & Communications.