Good Nutrition Starts At Home


BY ERIN VLASAK – IF YOU EAT RIGHT AND TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF, YOU WON’T HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT BURNING OFF THE CALORIES! IT TAKES THE GUESS WORK RIGHT OUT OF THE PICTURE.   BY ERIN VLASAK, M.S. AND GINA FRISINA M.S.E.D   People choose what food they will eat for a variety of reasons. Some people eat out of stress, while others mindlessly eat in front of the television. Regardless of what food we put into our bodies, it is important that we model healthy eating habits for our children and those young adults around us. It all starts at home. What are our children learning from us about their meals? At dinner time, are our plates full of a lean protein, complex carbohydrate and a vegetable, or is dinner being served out of a paper bag as it was bought at a fast food chain restaurant? If you have not yet visited, now would be a good time. The United States Department of Agriculture provides a large selection of resources ranging from healthy eating tips to printable material to share with your family.   Good Nutrition Parents play a key role in educating their children and those around them about healthy food choices and good nutrition. Teachers also have a part in shaping the views and behaviors that students will use in their futures. At home, why not store all those processed food items in the cabinet or pantry, and display brightly colored vegetables and fruit on the counter tops. Have fun with it! Purchase some see-through food canisters, in all shapes and sizes, and add to them delicious healthy foods. If baby steps are needed in order to get your children to eat more healthy foods, try to find a healthy substitute for their favorite snacks/foods. If they can plow through a bag of Doritos in record time, perhaps try to substitute it with a multi-grain or baked chip.   One way to get your picky eater to try new foods is to play a fun game of “food fear factor.” Because most children are hesitant to try new or different foods, providing them the opportunity to try new foods, in a game format, may encourage them to do it as they may enjoy the challenge. Make the food appealing to their eyes and they will also be more likely to try it. Challenge them to try blue corn tortilla chips dipped in homemade guacamole. Once they like the taste of new foods, educate them on the nutritional values of the food and allow them to learn that by eating this, they are benefiting their bodies in that way. And one more helpful tip – playing food fear factor at a time of the day when your children are most likely to be hungry increases the odds they will try new foods. If you children do not already cook or prepare meals with you at home, it is highly encouraged to have them start. What better education do we give our children than having them cook alongside of us and teaching them, in the moment, what the food is and why it is good to eat. Why not teach our children which foods come from the ground, which grow on trees and contrast that with foods that are processed and packaged in a plant.   portion distortion Over the past 20 years, our portion sizes have increased, if not doubled in some cases. When we view oversized portions of food as normal, this can be called “portion distortion.” It is important to get children accustomed to accurate portion sizes in order to help them maintain healthy eating habits. Using items familiar to children to demonstrate portion sizes can be an easy way for them to remember how big or small the portion should be.

  • 1 serving of (1 cup) of ready-to-eat- cereal= a hockey puck
  • 1 serving (a medium piece or about ½ cup) fruit = a standard light bulb
  • 1 serving of pasta or rice = ½ a baseball

  One way to combat portion distortion is by downsizing the plates and bowls we use. By eating off of a child size plate, it not only allows us to eat more of a proper portion but what we see is a full plate and that can be appealing.   The Many Influences over Our Children’s Food Choices As our children grow and enter into school, they are faced with food options galore. They can choose that delicious pan of steamed broccoli to go with their hamburger, let’s say, or they can choose that pile of French fries and wash it down with a non-diet soda or sugary drink. Children are greatly influenced by their peers and can make decisions based on their social environment rather than what they would choose if they were with their family.   According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), “The dietary and physical activity behaviors of children and adolescents are influenced by many sectors of society, including families, communities, schools, child care settings, medical care providers, faith-based institutions, government agencies, the media, and the food and beverage industries and entertainment industries.”   Food marketing can affect our food choices by planting conscious and unconscious messages for us to purchase certain products, as stated by a project of the John Hopkins Center for a livable future. Food marketers use billboards, television, product packaging, the internet and other media to market products.   Many of these are specifically designed to market to children, and are primarily geared to convenience foods, snack foods and foods that are high in sugar and fat. Remember the days when cereal came with a toy inside? How many times did children pick the cereal they wanted based on the toy being offered? Knowing what we are up against, in dealing with food marketing, it is our responsibility to educate our children the “do’s and don’ts” of choosing food.   Healthy Recipes: Free and Only a Mouse-click Away The next time you have some downtime, why not spend them doing an internet search for new healthy recipes? There are countless free recipes for every meal of the day on the internet. Gone are the days where you had to purchase a cookbook to get the newest recipes. Finding new ideas for dinners not only helps you learn to cook with different meats or proteins, but it shakes things up for the family. No need to always make meatloaf on Wednesdays and chicken cutlets on Mondays, now, you can expand and create new dishes for free!   Even if your youngster will not let go of their beloved macaroni and cheese, re-invent it. Whether that entails using reduced fat cheeses, making your own cheese sauce or using whole grained pasta, there is always a way to make a dish healthier.   The Scary World of Food Labels For so many of us, having a sweet treat or dessert after dinner is a given. Take the time next time you are food shopping to look at the food label. It is quite revealing and eye opening to learn that in a chocolate cake snack, pork gelatin can be found. Even more alarming is when a small package containing one of your favorite

OUT OF PROPORTION: Portion sizes have increased, if not doubled in some cases, over the past 20 years. Portion distortion results when we view oversized portions of food as normal.


A DREAM REALIZED: It is so important to teach our children that after we eat lean proteins and vegetables rich in vitamins and nutrients, we have more energy and our bodies feel good. snacks has over 20 ingredients in it (and some of those ingredients cannot be pronounced so easily). Teaching our children that we truly are “what we eat” is so important in today’s society. Review with them how, after we eat lean proteins and vegetables rich in vitamins and nutrients, we have more energy and our bodies feel good. On the contrary, how do our bodies feel after eating a bowl full of sugary cereal followed by a candy bar? Our bodies do not like to process these foods as much and so in return, we feel sluggish and tired. The beauty of whole foods is that they do not have a food label! A red pepper is just that – a red pepper. You know exactly what you are eating. We should all strive to eat as pure and clean as we can.   Assisting in Your Child’s Development We can help our children make healthy food choices by learning about which foods and beverages are important for your child’s development. As for grains and starches, “Children need more energy from food and beverages as they grow and become more active, so their meals should be based around starchy foods like bread, cererals, rice, pasta, noodles and potatoes. Starchy foods are a good source of carbohydrates and energy, and can also contain calcium, iron and B vitamins. Fruits and vegetables contain vitamins and minerals and have many health benefits. Many children should be eating more than they currently do.   Fortunately fruits and vegetables come in many different forms including fresh, frozen, canned and dried, as well as juices and smoothies.” Visit to find this information and much more.   You Have to Move It to Lose It According to Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health research done in 2014, “adolescents who saw printed signs explaining the number of miles they would need to walk to burn off the calories in a sugary drink were more likely to leave the store with a lower calorie beverage, a healthier beverage or a smaller size beverage.” Apparently, it takes about 50 minutes of walking to burn off the calories in a 20 ounce bottle of soda.   Bottom line: If you eat right and take care of yourself, you won’t have to worry about burning off the calories! It takes the guess work right out of the picture.•

ABOUT THE AUTHORS: Erin Vlasak is the Director of Student Support Services for the New York Institute of Technology-Vocational Independence Program. Erin oversees the social counseling, residential life and fitness programs. She has a Master’s degree in College Student Development from Long Island University and a certificate in school counseling. Gina Frisina is the Director of Independent Living for the NYIT-VIP Program. Gina oversees the daily living skills and the banking and budgeting programs. She has a Master’s degree in special education from Dowling College.