childhood obesity

Why Knowing Your Number is Important--especially when it comes to restaurant food.

I don’t count calories. Though I know calorie-tracking apps are hugely helpful for some people, I tend to veer down an unhealthy path of food fixation when I use them.

But I know my number: 1,600.

That’s roughly the number of calories I need daily to maintain my weight. Because I’m a woman, just over five feet tall, and not exactly 25 years old or as active as I’d like to be, that number is lower than the general 2,000 calorie guideline listed on food labels. Which is good to know, because if I ate 2,000 calories a day–even if it was “clean”, high-quality food–I would probably gain weight. I know this because it has happened to me. (Read: Too Much of a Good Thing: Why Calories Still Count.)

I don’t think too much about my number, but knowing it helps put things into perspective–like calories in restaurant food. I’m thrilled about the new FDA rules that will put calorie counts on menu boards and menus by December 2015. The new rules cover restaurants and food establishments with 20 or more locations, including popcorn at movie theaters, take-out pizza, and baked goods at coffee shops.

Thanks in part to mega-sized portions, restaurant food is notoriously higher in calories than what you’d cook at home. So high that most people grossly underestimate the calories in their order (because who would assume that a plate of seemingly harmless pasta could pack more than 1,000 of them?).

Because some chains have started posting this information, it’s already making a difference for me. Out to lunch recently at Noodles & Company with my six year old, I was about to order the regular Pad Thai. Until I saw the posted info: 800 calories was half my day! I opted for the small size instead, and guess what? I was totally satisfied.

Looking at posted calories is a good way to learn that the Egg & Cheese on Ciabatta at Panera has fewer calories than a basic bagel with cream cheese. And that a Starbucks Grande Eggnog Latte is the calorie equivalent of a slice of Iced Lemon Pound Cake.

Considering that Americans eat one-third of their calories away from home and that two out of three Americans are overweight or obese, posting calories on menus and menu boards has the potential to be hugely helpful. Not everyone will use this information–but some people will. And even if you don’t frequent any chain restaurants (and prefer to BYOP–bring your own popcorn–when you go to the movies), most of us can probably agree that giving consumers more information about what they’re eating is a good thing.

Want to find out YOUR number? Use this equation from the Mayo Clinic.

What are your thoughts about restaurants posting calories on menus? Will you use this information?

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Change Camp Food!

You may be in back-to-school mode, but if you were unhappy with the snacks or meals your child received at summer camp this year, now is the time to speak up. Why now? Because camps are sending out end-of-summer evaluations and surveys–and there’s plenty of time to look at parent feedback and make improvements for next summer.

This summer, I posted a sample email you could cut, paste, customize, and send to camp directors about junk food snacks (access it here). Turns out, Melanie of Cultivate Wellness found my post while searching for a way to express her displeasure about the food her daughter was getting at camp. She used it as a template to send a letter to the camp director. When she told me, I asked if I could post it here as another great resource for you:

Dear [Camp Director],

My daughter  is really enjoying her fifth year at [name of camp]. The smiles and stories she has every day when she comes home are priceless! Thank you for making it such a success!!!

She has filled me in on the food items provided at the overnight as well as the picnic lunch from last week. From what I understand it was Doritos with cheese and meat and “camp cones” (marshmallows, ice cream cones and chocolate) for the lunch, and when I picked her up from the overnight for a sporting event, she was eating Pop-Tarts, Froot Loops and chocolate chip pancakes. With the childhood diabetes and obesity rates rising higher and higher, I am wondering if you would be willing to consider some different items in the future. In fact, on the welcome flyer sent home with my daughter, one of your areas of focus is Healthy Living: Improving the nation’s health and well-being.

I am not opposed to treats, in fact, we incorporate treats into our lives at home in moderation. However, the overwhelming amount of sugar and trans-fats and processed food provided at the camp meals is concerning to me (and probably many other parents as well).

Bananas, air popped pop­corn and clemen­tines are per­fect exam­ples of inex­pen­sive foods that would help sat­isfy kids’ hunger, fuel them for camp, and ben­e­fit their bod­ies. For breakfast, might I suggest limiting it to just one of the sugary items and supplementing with scrambled eggs to provide some healthy protein. For the cookout, even grass fed local hot dogs with whole wheat buns, or even the Walking Tacos made with plain tortilla chips would be a better choice.

Perhaps I’m the only mom to have spo­ken up, but I am quite sure that with the health crisis our country is experiencing (where this generation of children is the first in centuries to be expected not to live longer than their parents did) that there are many other parents who are equally as con­cerned about junk food in their kids’ diets–and would be happy to know that the [name of camp] is help­ing by pro­vid­ing healthy snacks. And even if the parents aren’t clued in to the dangers of eating excessive amounts of sugar, trans fats and processed foods, I think you could do a real service in helping kids and families learn about healthy eating.

I know that the you care about our kids and want the best for them. Return­ing campers might miss all the processed food at first, but I think they would for­get about them quickly and grow to love and appre­ci­ate the healthy offer­ings just as much. My daughter mentioned that she was trying to figure out what was the healthier option at breakfast — the Froot Loops or the Frosted Flakes. It would be great for kids to go to camp knowing they don’t even have to think about that kind of thing.

Please consider this in the long run. I would be happy to work with you on choosing items that work for your budget and storage needs. Thank you so much for your time and consideration. I really do appreciate all your hard work.

Sin­cerely,

Melanie

Though she hasn’t heard back from the camp yet, Melanie sent a similar one to another camp director and got this response.

Hello Melanie,

I’m glad to hear you daughter enjoyed camp! We like to see campers having fun and learning new things.

I appreciate your feedback on snacks. It’s something we’ve long struggled with because of our budget constraints and sheer volume of campers we host. We’re currently working towards offering more healthy options in upcoming camps. Thanks again for your feedback!

Bottom line: Camp food doesn’t have to be all junk. Camp directors need to hear from parents. Parents CAN make a difference.

For more about camp food, read Camp Snacks: The Sequel and Changing Camp Snacks For The Better.

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Ambushed by Big Soda on the Soccer Field

April 19, 2013

Something happened on the soccer fields last weekend that made cupcakes seem tame by comparison: A rep from 7 Up worked the crowd, offering free diet soda to parents and kids. When I found out about this through some friends–and confirmed it with a call to our rec center–I felt my blood pressure rise about […]

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Why Are We Afraid Of Telling Parents What To Do?

April 13, 2013

Lately I’ve gotten a lot of success stories from parents who have joined the ranks of “That Mom”. They’ve spoken up and changed the snack culture in their child’s class or sports team (read “Change the Snack Culture: 3 Steps to Take Now” and  “Be Bold. Take Action. Make Change.“). But occasionally, I hear from […]

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Change The Snack Culture: 3 Steps to Take Now

April 4, 2013

Two years ago, I had a “light bulb moment” about snacking when I saw a mom and her child on the playground one day (read: “Snacking Insanity“). Since that moment, I’ve become much more aware of the snacks my kids are getting–and what I see isn’t good. It’s a problem, and not just in my […]

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Why I’m Worried About Chocolate Milk

March 4, 2013

It’s not for the obvious reasons. Though I get passionate about junk at school parties and junk at school breakfasts (read: “I Have No Love for Candy Valentines” and “The Trouble with School Breakfast“), I haven’t gotten fired up about chocolate milk. I know lots of people disagree–and I totally get why they do. I’d love […]

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We Ate Junk Food And Turned Out Just Fine…Right?

February 25, 2013

When I talk to people about soccer snacks or class parties or more recently, candy Valentines (read: “I Have No Love for Candy Valentines“), the discussion invariably turns to how how things were when we were kids: “But we had class parties, ate candy, and washed down birthday cupcakes with cherry Kool-Aid. And we turned […]

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The Trouble With School Breakfast

February 22, 2013

Seven words I never thought I’d hear my 8-year-old son say: “Mommy, I’m getting sick of Cocoa Puffs.” I don’t buy Cocoa Puffs. My son has been eating them at school as part of the free breakfast program. I am not happy about this. For months, I have wrestled with what to do about school […]

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Be Bold. Take Action. Make Change.

January 5, 2013

I meet a lot of parents who are angry about how their kids are being fed. They’re mad about school lunches and cookie dough fundraisers, about sugary snacks at preschool, about doughnuts on the soccer sidelines. But only a few of these parents act on their anger. Some don’t want to rock the boat or […]

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The Fabulous Food Stamp Diet!

December 5, 2012

Forget South Beach. Or The Abs Diet. Or the Raw Food Detox Diet. The quickest way to zip up those skinny jeans is to go on food stamps! At least that’s what Fox News’ Andrea Tantaros thinks. In a discussion about Newark mayor Cory Booker’s move to eat on a budget equivalent to food stamps (aka […]

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