Emotional Fitness

“Let go of your stress and smile!” shouted the aerobics instructor over the loud music as she cheerfully encouraged the class to follow her lead. My first couple of negative thoughts were, “Are you kidding me? I’m lucky I made it here, and I’m not in a good mood because I’m really behind on several things that I had to set aside just to make it to class!” I won’t go into detail about my other negative thoughts but suffice it to say that I was tired, irritated, and stretched beyond capacity. As I mustered through the workout I wondered, “How did I let this happen?” I’m usually very good at time management but somehow I slipped this time around, and I was not in a good place.

Have you ever been there too?  You know, where your thoughts are racing a million miles a minute, time is running out, and it seems there’s absolutely nothing you can do to catch up???

As I looked around the room, I wondered if others were experiencing the same thing. There were a few individuals who looked intense—those who were at the front of the class—but others seemed to actually be enjoying themselves in the moment. I’m usually part of that latter group but not today. What happened?

Thinking back over the week, I began to realize where I detoured: I watched a little extra TV a few days, I volunteered to help a friend at the last minute, and one night I stayed up late surfing the Web. While none of these things are detrimental in and of themselves, when added together they inevitably worked against me. Although I had fun doing each of them at the time, in the end I paid for it—dearly. As I said before, I wasn’t in a good place.

Yet right on time my compassion reflex kicked it and as I sent myself positive messages (“You made a good choice to focus on your health,” and “You are getting back on track”), I felt my mind and body slowly begin to let go of the anxiety and tension, and I was able to focus on the workout with thoughts of getting healthy and feeling better. Once I realized I didn’t feel so stressed, I began enjoying myself and wouldn’t you know it—I actually smiled. I guess the aerobics instructor wasn’t too far off after all.

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Reflecting back later that day, I recalled two important life skills: boundaries and mindfulness.

While exercising relieves stress and keeps us physically fit, practicing boundaries and mindfulness results in improved emotional fitness. When we establish healthy boundaries, we inevitably protect ourselves, which enables us to be responsible stewards over such things as our time. In turn, having healthy boundaries frees us up to practice mindfulness—having the capacity to be present in the moment and to connect with our senses and the environment around us. Good self-care not only includes taking care of our physical bodies but also requires active management of our emotional health. When we make both priorities, we ultimately safeguard our well-being which results in a manageable and balanced life. Are we always going to be perfect in practicing good self-care? No, my account above shows anyone can make a mistake from time to time, but the key is to recognize when you begin to take a detour and then take intentional steps to re-route yourself back to the skills that will help you to restore your emotional fitness.

Life Lessons from my Lab… GEORGE: Don’t always act your age.

GeorgeDog#2

“How is George this excited every time we arrive at the ranch? He acts like he has never been here before!”

We laughed aloud as we drove up the dirt road to the house. George was bounding out in front of the car. Though he had been here dozens of times, our older dog with white hair around his eyes and snout, was acting like a puppy. His paws kicked up dust as he sprinted toward the house. Suddenly, he cut hard to the left and pursued a jackrabbit for a couple of seconds, then veered back onto the road. His ears flapped in the wind, his tongue hung out of his mouth, and he was grinning from ear to ear. George’s pace did not slow as we pulled into the driveway and started to unpack the car. He continued to run around the front yard, tail wagging, as if to say, “We’re here! We’re here! What are we going to do first?!”

About an hour later, George was splayed out on the porch fast asleep. “He’s like a kid when he’s out here,” we commented as we turned in for the night, “young at heart.”

The phrase, “young at heart,” doesn’t even begin to describe the way George acts when he is in his element at the ranch. Though George is a dog, (Yes. I’m one of THOSE people that talks about her dog like he’s a person) the truth is that we can learn something from his example. A new research study in the November issue of the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry* says that feeling younger than one’s real age could help to preserve memory and cognitive function as people get older. The men and women in this study who felt older than their age scored 25% lower on memory and cognitive tests than those who felt younger.

So, in the midst of the hustle and bustle of life, don’t forget to run, bound, get dirty, pursue a passion, let your tongue hang out, and your ears flap in the wind. Find something, someone, or some place that brings you joy and excitement and makes you grin from ear to ear. Allow yourself to play so hard that at the end of the day you are splayed out on the porch… exhausted and happy. And someday at 95 years old, when your grandchildren ask you how your mind is still so sharp, you’ll be tempted to answer with a smirk, “I just acted like a puppy.”

*Stephan, Yannick et al., Subjective Age and Cognitive Functioning: A 10-Year Prospective Study, The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry , Volume 22 , Issue 11 , 1180 – 1187.

“Doctor Speak”: How to understand what your doctor is saying

“Mrs. Jones, your CBC, BMP and TSH are all negative. Your BMI and LFTs are elevated and I’m worried about NAFLD so you need to diet and exercise more. You’ll need to stop taking the statins and I’ll order a RUQ US.”

Say What?!?!?!

Do you ever feel like your doctor is speaking in some secret code that you don’t understand? You’re not alone. About 90% of American adults have problems in health literacy. Health literacy is the ability to understanding information about your health but it has nothing to do with your intelligence.

Medical terminology is essential in the healthcare world, but it is often heard as gibberish by patients. This may be because often doctors speak to their patients as if they are speaking to another physician. I have to admit, I pride myself in being a good communicator to my patients but there have been plenty of times when I’ve said something and the look on my patient’s face clearly shows that I just rambled out a bunch of acronyms and abbreviations and I need to start over.

Health literacy is actually a bigger problem than most realize. Studies show that patients with low health literacy are more likely to be hospitalized, use medication inappropriately and receive fewer recommended preventative measures. So, before you go to another doctor’s appointment, here are 5 tips to increasing your health literacy.

  1. Ask questions. In fact, write down questions before your appointment. Most people have a lot they want to ask their doctors but by the time you wait an hour in the waiting room and the doctor starts with her own agenda, the questions usually are forgotten. If you write them down, you are more apt to remember and have your questions answered.
  2. Bring a list of all medications. This includes supplements, vitamins and all over the counter meds. It’s important for you and your doctor to know who is prescribing what meds and to watch for any potential interactions.
  3. Don’t pretend. If you don’t understand what your doctor is saying, stop immediately and ask her to use simpler language. Often patients are afraid to admit that they don’t understand medical terminology. It is absolutely ok to ask for clarification.
  4. Use reflective listening. This means restating what the doctor is saying. This will ensure that instructions are clear. Simply say, “Let me see if I understand. You are saying……”
  5. Take another adult with you. This should be a trusted relative or friend in order to have an extra set of ears and maybe to take notes.

The doctor’s office can tend to be an intimidating place. But it’s important to know that YOU are in control of YOUR health and your doctor is there to provide a service for YOU. Do not leave your appointment feeling unsatisfied. It truly could be a matter of life and death.

Keeping Your Young Football Player Healthy through the Fall and Winter Months…

Autumn…oh how we have missed thee! In Texas we only get to enjoy you for such a short time that we will wear our winter boots, sweaters, and jackets on days that Chicago and New York would consider laughable. We will line up at Starbucks for a pumpkin spice latte if the weatherman even whispers we may wake up to weather under 70 degrees. It is in these days that we lay off the water a bit because we don’t need it as much, right? WRONG it is also the days of good ol’ Texas football and our boys need to stay hydrated and healthy even through these months.

Did you know that heat stroke is one of the leading causes of death in athletes, yet it is largely preventable? Many of these strokes happen after the intense heat of summer in Texas as we do not have the luxury of ice cold fall days. We may wake up to 40 degree weather and by the time after-school practice starts we could be back in the 80’s. It is vital that our little athletes keep their bodies hydrated despite a slight change in the weather.

When an athlete exercises, the body temperature is elevated and the body sweats to cool down. Body fluids and valuable minerals (electrolytes) are lost, blood volume drops, and the heart works harder and harder to maintain blood pressure. More fluid is pulled from the tissues to make up the difference creating a dangerous condition. If fluids and electrolytes are not replaced, dehydration, and the risk of heat illness and death increase.

The choice of fluids depends on the activity and intensity. Water is very effective for activity bouts lasting less than one hour. Activities lasting more than one hour with multiple repetitive bouts in the same day require fluids containing carbohydrates, sodium, and potassium, which are standard formulations for commercial sport drinks. Remember that sport drinks are not health beverages, so improper consumption can lead to weight gain. But sports drinks are designed to replace fluids and nutrients lost during extended activity in the heat. Electrolyte replacement may take longer due to metabolic processes. Proper planning, fluid replacement, and education can not only make athletic participation less worrisome for parents but also more enjoyable for the athlete.

Here are a few tips to keep your kids healthy through the fall and winter season.

  1. Insist that they keep up the same water intake. If your young athlete takes water in a cooler to school daily make sure he/she does not change their routine. There is no need for it and this will encourage them to keep up this healthy habit as an adult.
  2. Encourage them to take water breaks often during practice.
  3. Try some new options – today you can get electrolyte infused water as well as coconut water at the grocery store, both are good sources for hydration and can add a little flavor as well.
  4. Go over heat stroke information with your athlete. Make sure they understand when to call for help. If they feel like their body temperature has gone up past 105 degrees or experience any of the below teach them to seek help immediately.
  • Throbbing headache
  • Dizziness and light-headedness
  • Lack of sweating despite the heat
  • Red, hot, and dry skin
  • Muscle weakness or cramps
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Rapid heartbeat, which may be either strong or weak
  • Rapid, shallow breathing
  • Behavioral changes such as confusion, disorientation, or staggering
  • Seizures
  • Unconsciousness

*Heritage’s original post on the dangers of heat stroke can be found here.

Parenting STINKS – How to maintain your sanity in those first weeks after baby…

As I stood in the middle of my kitchen holding a fussy four-week old, staring at a pile of dirty dishes, pondering when the last time was that I showered, I had a thought: Parenting STINKS. Where was MY new mom glow? Why didn’t my baby look like the perfect, giggly, Gerber ones on TV? Why did I feel like a ghost of my previous self? I was drained, sleep deprived, and seriously questioning God’s decision making skills in allowing me to care for another human being. I was obviously incapable of such a huge responsibility and the fact that I had made no immediate attempt to clean the poop sliding down my shirt was a clear sign that somebody should be driving me to an insane asylum immediately.

I could not, for the life of me, understand how I was not ROCKING this mommy thing! After all, I was the master of the multi-task. Why back in my day (6 weeks ago) I would have had this baby clean and primped, house clean, laundry done, and all while looking like I stepped out of Vogue magazine. Well, at least out of an H&M magazine – who am I kidding? What the heck happened to my life?? It was not one of my finer moments. Most of all, I was NOT enjoying the perfection of that tiny baby in my arms. I was not soaking in her smell. I was not memorizing the innocence in her face. I was not stopping to smell the poop scented roses ya’ll! And it was killing me. The thing is – the “stink” in my parenting had more to do with what was sliding down my shirt and less to do with what I was experiencing once I made a few adjustments. These tips helped me get out of a sleep-deprived fog and perhaps the can also make your new mom experience… well… a little less smelly.

1. TAKE THE HELP: Something about making it through the insanity that is labor and delivery makes us feel superhuman – as we should. You just went through one of the most excruciating experiences that you could ever put your body through. You did it! Your body did not fail you and you brought life into the world. WOW! You can do anything! Yes anything, but that does not mean you have to! It may feel like you can handle everything on your own after that, but the truth is it’s hard and you will only experience your child at this moment this ONE time in your life. You cannot get that time back once it’s gone. So when somebody offers to cook you dinner take that extra time to stare at that perfect little face you delivered. If somebody wants to do your laundry for you –take a nap so that you can enjoy every second with your little one instead of wishing you had some time for a nap. And when some saint offers to stay up with the baby over night so you can get a full nights rest…do a 30-second happy dance and get your tush to bed before they change their mind!

2. GIVE YOURSELF A BREAK: We have so much pressure in today’s society to do it all and do it well. We all have that mom-friend who makes it look so easy. The truth is all of us have different circumstances and I guarantee that just because that mom is not struggling with the same situation you are, she is struggling in another area. Stop comparing yourself to the supermom next door or on TV. Take some time to reflect on the challenges that are set before you and all that you have accomplished already…you already ROCK! So support the women around you who are struggling with their own issues and pat yourself on the back regardless of how many dishes you see or how much laundry there is to clean. You will get to it… but in this moment, enjoy the fruits of your literal labor—that bundle of joy.

3. BE REALISTIC: Having a new baby means you are not likely going to get a full nights rest or make it to most of those invites you keep receiving for showers and weddings and parties. Heck, going to the restroom for a few minutes can take some prayer and an act of God some days. Embrace it! One of my good friends told me words that I won’t forget – it’s just a season. One of the more challenging seasons but still just a season that will pass, and WAY faster than you want it to! You have a choice to focus on the sleep, sex, and “me” time you’re not getting or to try and soak in as much of it as you can before it all passes you by.

4. STOP GOOGLING: Being a new mom means a ton of unanswered questions. Heck sometimes you have a good answer but you want the BEST answer. Of course, we all want the best for our babies. The problem is when you are in a sleep deprived frenzy you check out all your apps, Google, BabyCenter, WebMD and any blog you can get your hands on to get an answer that might temporarily soothe you. You are so caught up trying to make sure you are doing something, anything, to get an answer you don’t stop to hear your own new mom voice. I encourage you to let the internet go, even for a week, and trust your instincts. You have some of those answers all on your own. Nobody knows your baby better than you. Seeking answers from so many different avenues can be more mind boggling than the question or concern at hand. Of course if you think your baby has a medical concern contact your doctor, but also allow your inner supermom to shine and allow yourself some room for mistakes. No mom is perfect but the mere fact that you would go to any length to find the answers for your child guarantees that YOU are perfect for YOUR baby.

5. VENT: Get out of the house for a few hours and get some fresh air! YES, you will think about your baby and it will be hard to walk away but give it a few minutes and you WILL feel better. Find a friend or neighbor and take a walk or get a manicure or even join a mom’s group that will allow you to get some things off of your chest. Talk about it with other mom’s-we totally GET IT. We have been there! Besides, dad and baby need some time to bond. A couple of hours away will do wonders to clear your head. A good chat with another mom will do wonders for your soul! Check out my new mom’s group below where you can meet other new mom’s, a therapist and even an MD. We are here for you too!

New Mommies Group Ad

The Anxious Athlete: Practical Techniques to Help Alleviate Your Child’s Fear

Every parent of a child who competes in any sporting event has most likely witnessed some level of pre-game jitters. Sports anxiety isn’t just for the professional athletes, especially considering the emphasis that our culture places on success and competition. That’s right, kids are more than just a little susceptible to pre-game pressure. This nervousness can either be channeled as a driving force of motivation or as a paralyzing numbness they can’t seem to shake. It’s important to remember that at least some degree of nervousness before and during a sporting event is completely normal. But, if the anxiety gets out of hand, there are a few strategies that may be helpful to alleviate the stress. Three of the simplest exercises associated with sports related performance anxiety are visualization, mindfulness, and breathing.

We’ll start with the easiest of the three- breathing. I know this sounds like a suspiciously simple solution, but when you help your player learn how to exhale effectively, you may be surprised at the outcome. Sports psychologists call this “performance exhaling”. Teach your child to experience the relaxation response that accompanies an intentional exhale. This technique can be useful in situations both on and off the field and can be practiced nearly every day. Once your child is able to associate the intentional exhale with relaxation, he or she can apply it during a game as a part of settling into the batter’s box or while approaching the free throw line.

This next technique involves visualization. Have you even been lining up a putt while thinking “don’t hit it left, you hit it left last time, don’t hit it left”? Chances are good that you ended up hitting it left. Think about it- the only information your brain was getting was left, left, left. Teach your child to 180o those thoughts and visualize what they DO want to do, instead of what they don’t want to do. When the night before the big game comes, encourage them to focus on and actively visualize not just hitting line drives, but the specifics of what goes into hitting that line drive: where the ball hits the bat, head down, elbow in, and “squishing” the bug with their back toe. Encouraging your child to visualize the positives, or what they would like to happen, also offers them that mental training that no amount of time in the cages can accomplish.

The third technique for reducing your child’s pre-game anxiety is mindfulness. I realize this concept sounds a bit “new age-y” or possibly too advanced for a younger child. I assure you- helping your child develop mindfulness in age-appropriate ways is an excellent strategy for regulating any emotion, including pre-game jitters. For most of the older kids, the act of being mindful involves not just intentional breathing and visualization, but being actively aware of these experiences. Encourage your child to pick a moment before a sporting event. This can be breakfast the morning of a big game, loading up on the bus before heading to the stadium, or crossing the white line while running out onto the field. This is the moment that all the tension, all the anxieties, all the fears get put on the back burner and focus is turned onto the task at hand. The act of narrowing down the field of focus can result in your child reaching a peak-performance state, or what pros call “the zone”.

Helping to ease your child’s sports related anxiety can be achieved in a lot of ways. Sometimes, a child may only need a reassuring smile to feel better before the big game, and the best way to get to know the needs of your child is by creating and maintaining open communication. Whether you’re raising a 6 year old athlete or a 16 year old athlete, helping to reduce the pre-game jitters using these techniques will instill in them personal coping skills that will last a lifetime.

10 Stress Busters for Finals Week

Finals are just around the corner! But there’s no need panic. In fact, when studying for finals, panicking is totally counterproductive. So if you feel your blood pressure start to rise, try some of these strategies to stay calm under pressure.

1. Breathe!!! – When you hold your breath, you increase the neurotransmitter adrenaline. Adrenaline is great for regulating your metabolism, making roller coasters exciting, and helping you run quickly if you are ever chased by a tiger. But, adrenaline is the enemy when you are anxious, it can induce panic!  Try breathing in for 7 seconds, holding your breath for four seconds, breathe out for eight seconds.  Then repeat four more times.

2. Start studying early – The earlier one starts studying, the better. There is nothing worse than cramming the night before the test and realizing that you are out of time and you can’t find your study guide. Insufficient study time is one of the biggest underlying problems for students who suffer from test anxiety. When you start studying early and hit a roadblock, you will have time to ask for clarification or tutoring.

3. Find a furry animal – Playing or snuggling with a dog or cat has been so effective in reducing stress that many universities around the world have started having a “puppy room” during finals week.  It’s a room full of puppies!  How can that not be relaxing???

4. Go for a walk or a run – Whether you are a marathon runner or a strolling through the park kind of a person, get outside and go.  It’s great to step away from the books intermittently and moving around will increase the blood flow to your brain.

5. Drink plenty of water – Many people overload on caffeine during finals week.  Caffeine has been linked to increased anxiety and panic attacks.  Drink plenty of water!

6. Make time for your passions – Take a 15-30 minute break to do something you are passionate about.   Taking time for music, dancing, friends, and sports can rejuvenate your soul.

7. Get plenty of sleep – People think that it is wise to pull all-nighters when studying for finals.  It’s real simple: you don’t sleep, you can’t think.

8. Take a social media break – Anxiety is contagious.  If you are reading all about your friend’s anxiety about finals, you will start to feel it too.

9. Study with friends – Choose a (not completely anxious) friend and study together.  You can divide the work, quiz one another, and help each other when the work is confusing or difficult.  Also, one of the best ways to learn something is to teach it to someone else.

10. Get your parents to chill out! (Tell your parents to read this part.) “Are you studying?” “Why aren’t you studying?” “Do you care that finals are just around the corner?” “You don’t have time for that, start studying!” CHILL OUT PARENTS!!! Anxiety is contagious! Students are hearing about finals from every teacher, all of their friends, their friends’ parents, and all of your neighbors, etc. Your child is fully aware that finals are approaching and EVERYONE is anxious about them! In a calm manner, ask your child what you can do to help them. Offer to bring them healthy snacks, quiz them, take a walk with them, and help them get organized. Finally, find something absolutely ridicules to laugh about. Laughter is a wonderfully fun stress reducer!

Fall Into Flavor NOT Fads

Butternut Squash Soup

Pictured above: a Thanksgiving meal including the (top right) Roasted Butternut Squash soup and (top middle) Wild Rice and Chestnut stuffing. See recipes below. 

I’m a sucker for the fall season. All it takes is one unusual Houston cold-front in early October and I’m smitten. I pull out my boots from the back of the closet, start making hot-teas throughout the day, open all the windows in our house and at the office, and then start scouring my cookbooks for recipes that offer a soup or squash in their content! My next endeavor this fall is to use this website http://www.pickyourown.org/TXhouston.htm to find some local farms within a day-trip driving distance to go and pick my own produce which may just inspire some new recipes. Beyond new recipes, cool weather, and looking forward to some time reading a good book… something else happens about this time of year…

Just this week, I had a conversation with a colleague regarding fall weather and how it seems to elicit thoughts, memories, and cravings for delicious holiday foods and treats. When I hear people talk about this, it seems like there’s a sense of dread. Almost a statement of, “Here it comes: the ruin of any goals I had for healthy eating because _______ just tastes so good!” This makes me wonder how we have come so far in thinking that fall, winter, and holiday eating MUST be unhealthy to be enjoyable. Folks think that you have to stick to some fad diet for the entire holiday season to prevent weight gain. Wrong! The key is to focus on maintaining flavor in your food while eliminating the traditionally processed ingredients commonly found in our favorite recipes for stuffings, appetizers, desserts, soups, and stews this time of year. Don’t believe me? Try a few of the following recipes and see if their flavors are as enticing as some of those fad-diets can be.

SMOKY BUTTERNUT SQUASH SOUP

My brother-in-law made this for our Thanksgiving meal appetizer last year and it is now a family favorite. We also made this for a cooking demonstration at Heritage last holiday season and the class participants were surprised at the complex flavors of the simple ingredients.

Ingredients for 4 large (1 cup) or 8 small (1/2 cup) servings:

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 medium onion, finely chopped

One 3-pound butternut squash, peeled and diced (8 cups)

1 small canned chipotle in adobo, chopped

7 cups chicken or turkey stock or low-sodium broth

2 tablespoons honey

Salt

1 cup crème fraîche (or 0% plain/unflavored Greek yogurt for a lower fat version)

1/4 cup finely chopped chives, plus more for garnish

Directions:

In a large pot, melt the butter. Add the onion and cook over moderate heat until softened. Stir in the squash and chipotle and cook for 1 minute. Add the stock and honey and bring to a boil. Simmer until the squash is tender, about 30 minutes.

Puree the soup until smooth; season with salt.

In a small microwave-safe bowl, stir the crème fraîche or Greek yogurt with the 1/4 cup of chives. Microwave until just melted, 30 seconds. Serve the soup with a swirl of chive cream/yogurt and a sprinkling of chives.

SEASONED KALE CHIPS

I’m shocked at how much it costs to purchase pre-packaged kale chips at the store when they are SO easy and inexpensive to make yourself. We usually make a batch of these before dinner parties for people to snack on while the main course is being prepared. Men and women alike say they are shocked at how kale can taste so good. 

Ingredients:

  • 1 bunch organic kale, any variety
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tsp. smoked paprika
  • ¼ teaspoon sea salt

Yield 8 cups

Directions:

Remove the center ribs and stems from 1 bunch kale.  Tear the leaves into 3-to-4-inch pieces. Toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1 teaspoon smoked paprika and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Spread on 2 baking sheets coated with olive or canola oil cooking spray. Bake at 350 degrees F until browned around the edges and crisp, 12 to 15 minutes.

WILD RICE AND CHESTNUT STUFFING

Here is a beautiful holiday stove-top stuffing dotted with ruby-red cranberries (or cherries, depending on your preference). Good-quality wild rice triples in volume as it absorbs a rich wild mushroom broth, offering an elegant contrast to the puffy nuggets of chestnut.

To reduce prep time, you can use bottled or vacuum-packed cooked chestnuts, but truth be told, they don’t taste as good as freshly roasted.

Yield: 6-8 servings

Ingredients:

1 ounce (about 1 cup loosely packed) dried porcini or other dried mushrooms

1 cup wild rice, rinsed

30 fresh chestnuts

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 ½ cups chopped leeks (white and light green parts)

1 cup finely diced celery

1 to 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh sage, plus more for garnish (or use ½ to ¾ teaspoon dried rubbed sage)

1 tablespoon dry sherry

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

¼ cup unsweetened dried cranberries or unsweetened dried cherries

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Soak the mushrooms in 3 ½ cups of hot water until they are soft, 15 minutes or longer. Strain and reserve the mushroom liquid. Coarsely chop any large pieces of mushrooms. Set aside.

In a heavy 2-quart Dutch oven or saucepan, bring the mushroom liquid and wild rice to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat, and cook at a gentle boil, stirring occasionally, until some of the grains have “butterflied” open and curled up, and the rice tastes tender, 45 to 65 minutes (depending upon storage conditions and age).

If you’re not using canned or bottled roasted chestnuts, while the rice is cooking, roast the chestnuts: Set a rack in the center and preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

With the tip of a paring knife, cut an X on the flat side of each chestnut. Set, cut side up, on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast the chestnuts until the X puffs open, 20 to 25 minutes. Wrap the chestnuts in a kitchen towel for a few minutes. When they are cool enough to handle, remove the shells and use the towel to rub off the thin brown skins. Discard any chestnuts that are moldy.

Heat the oil and butter in a large, deep skillet or saucepan. Add the leeks, celery, and dried sage (if using) and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are soft, 15 to 20 minutes. Stir in the sherry, balsamic vinegar, and cranberries, and cook uncovered for a few minutes. Stir in the chestnuts and soak mushrooms. Cover and set aside until the rice is done.

Stir the rice (including any unabsorbed cooking liquid) and fresh sage (if using) to taste into the leek mixture. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and simmer until the celery and leeks are tender and the flavors have mingled, about 5 minutes. Add a little water during this time if the mixture becomes dry. Garnish with additional sage, if using fresh. 

Beyond the Usual Brown Bag Lunch

It seems like every time the TV transitions to a commercial, we are stuck watching the latest ad for where to find the best back to school deals on school supplies, trendy clothes, or sports physicals.  If we manage to escape the ads about these deals, there is no doubt we will be bombarded with the newest kid-friendly snack boasting its “kid-tasted, mother approved” status or newly added flavors.  So, as we prepare to head back to school in just a few short weeks… or maybe days for some of you… how do we prioritize and navigate this complicated question: What should I feed my children for lunch this year?

For some kids, a lunch provided by the school is not an option or is not acceptable.  So, many parents and caregivers worry about what to make or pack children for lunch. To prevent last minute panic or a return to the “same old thing,” I recommend having a repertoire of eight to ten lunches that work for your child. This can prevent boredom, promote variety, make shopping easier, and reduce the stress sometimes associated with packing a healthful lunch.

These tips can help make filling your child’s lunch box less stressful:

  • On a Saturday or Sunday when you have some minutes to spare, make several containers or baggies of items to include in your child’s lunches for the week (for example: baby cut carrots, grapes, dry cereal, dried fruit).
  • Organize your storage container drawer and have a staging area set up with everything you need in one place, including: at least two lunch boxes or brown bags per child, plastic baggies, storage containers in all sizes, spoons and forks, napkins, straws, thermos or water bottle, and a marker.
  • Buy 8-fl-oz bottles of water or fill several water bottles, and keep the refrigerator stocked for the week. In the summer months, you may choose to freeze these so the ice is melted into cold water by lunchtime.
  • Know what to pack
    • It’s OK if your child likes to have a conventional lunch that includes a sandwich, fruit, vegetables, snack item, and a drink.
    • If your kid prefers to “pick” and does better with yogurt or cheese, for example, make sure you balance the meal so that it contains protein, fruit and/or vegetables, some carbohydrate, and fat.
  • Involve your child in packing the lunch, as much as possible. Older children can often prepare and pack their own lunch with adult supervision.
  • If you are planning to pack dinner leftovers for lunch, pack the storage container as you are cleaning up for dinner. This saves time!

Here are a few fun menu ideas:

  • Unconventional sandwiches: hummus and whole-wheat pita bread; falafel; low fat cheese wedges and whole grain crackers; sunflower butter or almond butter on gluten-free toast; whole grain wrap filled with vegetables and cheese or nitrate-free deli meats.
  • Conventional alternatives to sandwiches: dinner leftovers (meat/chicken/fish/pork with sweet potatoes or a healthy side such as quinoa or tabouleh, vegetables); leftover pizza on whole grain crust with spinach and other bite-size veggies; soup or stew.
  • Unconventional alternatives to sandwiches: whole grain and low sugar cereal from home in storage container (just add milk); scrambled eggs or hardboiled eggs; Greek yogurt with low-sugar granola; homemade quiche; bean based chili with chicken; ¼ to ½ cup of nuts (if allowed at your child’s school); homemade protein smoothies (frozen the night before to defrost by lunch time); bean salad.
  • Fruits: apple, pear, banana, grapes, berries, oranges, grapefruit sections, cherries, pineapple chunks, melon, pomegranate, guava, papaya, tangerines, clementine, fruit salad.
  • Vegetables to eat raw, steamed, or with dip such as hummus or guacamole: cucumber slices, celery, carrots, green beans, snow peas, blanched broccoli, asparagus or cauliflower, grape tomatoes, beets, corn, salad.
  • Snacks: 100% all fruit leather, ¼ cup sunflower seeds, baked sweet potato chips, multigrain crackers, homemade granola bar, whole grain graham crackers, unsweetened applesauce, multigrain chips or tortilla, unsweetened dried fruit, nuts (if allowed at your child’s school), plain Greek yogurt with 1 tsp local honey, banana chips, dried peas.

Hopefully these tips will help you prepare for the upcoming days of your students’ eating needs. If you would like more individual coaching on this topic or your child has specific needs such as food allergies or food sensitivities, please call us at 713-365-9015 to set up an individual nutrition consultation with Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Licensed Professional Counselor, Danielle Mitchell.

*Some ideas from this article are adapted from material included at http://www.nutrition411.com. For other helpful nutrition resources, visit the Toddler and Kid Center tab on their website.

Freedom from Food Fights

It is mid-summer and maybe you are thinking that any nutrition goals you had for yourself or your kids will “just have to wait” until all of the vacations, summer grill-outs, and sleep-overs for the kids are behind you.  Let’s face it: most families admit that summer is a difficult time to change kids’ eating routines and food choices.  In fact, it is very likely that the last time you tried to suggest something green or unpackaged for a snack or meal, your kids threw a fit or rolled their eyes.  So, to avoid the energy drain and drama, you gave in to your kids’ pleas for “another snack”, “more dessert”, or their favorite fast-food drive thru pick-up.

Is there a way of out the family food fights without waiting for the school year to begin?  I believe so.  But don’t take it from me…  Here are a few of the tips that have worked best for the parents of my elementary and teenage clients who PREVIOUSLY claimed they had a picky eater at their table:

  •  There are no “good” or “bad” foods.  Experience tells us that as soon as we hear that a food is “bad for us” we want it and if it’s “good for us” we think it’s tasteless or boring.  Plus, many kids begin to associate their value as being “good” or “bad” with how mom or dad says they’re eating.  Instead, it is more helpful to refer to foods as “smart, in between, or empty” when it comes to nutritional value.
  • Nobody has to eat anything they don’t want.  I know, I know: this sounds crazy and does NOT jive with the “clean your plate” mentality that many of us had growing up.  However, research has shown that it takes  kids up to 10 exposures to a food (i.e., seeing, touching, smelling, tasting, spitting out, etc.) before they’ll eat and swallow the food comfortably.  So, the mere presence of that food on a kids’ plate counts as an exposure. They don’t necessarily need to eat it or try it before getting up from the table.  It may sound crazy, but it works!
  • Role model loving healthy food.  If you want your kids to eat broccoli, eat broccoli… without trying to convince them of how good it tastes or manipulate them into eating it, too.  Your kids are watching you and, eventually, will want to try the foods you are eating to feel grown up.  If you don’t believe me, you should ask the mom who was frustrated that her kids were only eating pop-tarts for breakfast.  They saw her eating a healthier version of eggs benedict with asparagus every morning and BEGGED her for some of their own.

These are just a few of many tips I teach for changing the food environment NOT just modifying the foods we eat.  Until we alter the language and “rules” we use in relation to food, we keep ourselves stuck in the food battles at the dinner table and feel trapped in the fights about food types.  If you are interested in more material like this, join us for our next Feeding the Kids Workshop: Raising Happy, Healthy Eaters at Heritage Behavioral Health Consultants. Click here for more details and to register.  There really is freedom  from this age-old battle with food for you and your children!