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Food

Quick tips for healthier eating

Plan ahead for cost-effective, nutritious meals the entire family can enjoy

When I was a junior at Providence High School in New Lenox, one student decided to give up meat for Lent.

I remember thinking, “What will she eat?” I couldn’t even envision a meatless diet.

Now I’m not going to extol the benefits of vegetarianism (although I’ve eaten that way in the past). But her decision did spur me to learn about nutrition, the food industry and healthy eating in general.

When the kids were little and we homeschooled, we had planned family meals, three times a day, with healthy snacks available. Now that everyone is older and scattered, we’ve become a family of grazers.

This means, the refrigerator and cabinets are stocked with mostly healthy choices. And people simply eat from those choices when they are hungry.

Why am I mentioning this? Because family life seems to get busier with each passing year, and it’s hard to plan for healthy eating.

And because I recently received a news release from the Texas A&M University System with tips for busy parents to ensure everyone in their family eats well, starting with breakfast.

“The American Academy of Pediatrics has noted distinct benefits from children having a healthy breakfast,” Jenna Anding, professor and Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service nutrition specialist, College Station, said in the release.

“Among these are evidence that children who eat breakfast have a lower BMI than those who skip breakfast, and those who have breakfast have more energy and concentration. And this may lead to better academic performance.”

Breakfast doesn’t have to be elaborate and time-consuming, Anding said. With little preparation and waking up a mere 10 to 15 minutes earlier each day, a healthy breakfast is possible.

“In order to make the morning rush hour move smoothly, plan what the family will have for breakfast the night before,” she said in the release. “For example, if your family wants cereal as part of breakfast, have the bowls, spoons and a box of cereal on the table.

“Then the next morning you can grab the milk from the refrigerator, slice a banana or wash a handful of berries, and breakfast is ready.”

In the release Anding, also a registered dietitian, said a good breakfast should contain a nutrient-rich source of energy along with protein to help keep children satisfied until lunch.

Examples include cereal made with whole grains, eggs and smoothies made with low-fat yogurt and fruit, the release also said.

“A breakfast sandwich made with whole wheat bread or English muffins, an egg and a slice of ham or other lean meat works great for those who want to eat on the run,” she said in the release.

Need suggestions for planning meals around healthy, cost-effective recipes?

Odessa Keenan, AgriLife Extension assistant in Dallas for the agency’s Healthy Texas initiative, said the agency’s Dinner Tonight website at dinnertonight.tamu.edu contains breakfast recipes as well as recipes for healthy snacks and other meals.

“The Dinner Tonight website has recipes and videos for quick and easy morning meals and make-ahead breakfasts,” Keenan said in the release. “Two of our more popular breakfast choices are our simple breakfast smoothie and breakfast power bowls.”

Keenan also stressed the importance of healthy snacking and provided examples.

“Fresh vegetables such as carrots, celery and tomatoes, whole fruits, unsweetened applesauce, low-fat cheese sticks, whole-grain crackers and low-fat yogurt make for healthy snacking,” she said in the release.

“Nuts and seeds are good choices too because they contain healthy fats along with protein that can help keep hunger at bay. And a homemade cookie or whole grain fig cookie is fine to add as an occasional treat. A grain muffin can be one of the items chosen for a healthy snack of for breakfast.”

Preparing vegetables and fruits ahead as this will help save time, and research has shown that children consume more fruits and vegetables when they are cut up and ready to eat, she said in the release.

If packing them in a lunch for school, make sure they are kept cold, she said in the release.

“There are a wide variety of healthy snacks that can be made using sliced fruits and vegetables, peanut butter, almond butter, cheese, rice cakes, cottage cheese, popcorn, sunflower seeds, nuts, tortilla chips, salsa and other fairly common ingredients,” Keenan said in the release.

KNOW MORE

For family friendly menu suggestions, visit dinnertonight.tamu.edu/summer-snacks and dinnertonight.tamu.edu/recipes-kid-friendly.

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