Mitzi Dulan – America's Nutrition Expert
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Cook as a Family to help Prevent Childhood Obesity
by Mitzi Dulan, RD, America’s Nutrition Expert®
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One out of three children in U.S. are now considered overweight. The tradition of sitting down to dinner as a family has slowly been replaced by take-out pizza eaten while viewing the newest episode of American Idol. But where do parents find the time to teach their children the importance of healthy eating?

As America’s Nutrition Expert® and mother of two young girls, it’s been my personal experience that when it comes to teaching your kids to eat healthy, you can never have too many cooks in the kitchen.

Here are 4 tips to get your family cooking together.

1. Heat Up An Interest In Healthy Foods
Kids are bombarded today with advertisements for sugar-laden cereals, soft drinks and fast food, it’s our job as parents to encourage kids to eat wholesome and healthy foods. But how can we make meals fun and kid-friendly? Try creating healthier versions of foods that inspire the kid in all of us such as fruity milkshakes, sweet potato french fries, and Shrek-inspired green veggie dishes.

2. Preparation is Key!
One easy way to include your children in the process is to make them part of the preparation. Ask for meal suggestions, and draw up a shopping list together. At the supermarket, have your kids pick out fresh produce and other healthy ingredients, encouraging them to try one new fruit or vegetable they haven’t tried before. When kids pick out the foods themselves, they’ll be even more excited to try out new recipes, and you’ll feel great knowing that they are eating nutritious foods. Spark up a conversation over dinner about the interesting blend of tastes and flavors, and have the kids offer suggestions on possible variations of the recipe for next time you prepare the meal!

3. Sharpen Those Skills
The kitchen can be a wonderful learning environment for children. As your kids measure or weigh ingredients, they are reinforcing important math skills. Artistic expression flows as kids are allowed to decorate their own creations, or arrange the food attractively on the plate. Reading recipes, following directions, and practicing good table manners are all important skills to be encouraged. Want to brush up on geography? Have your family choose a country, pinpoint it on a map, then prepare an interesting meal that a typical family in that country would eat. Of course, choose healthier versions of those recipes whenever possible.

4. Savor Time Spent Together
Spending quality time with your family that doesn’t revolve around the television, laptop, or Blackberry can be delicious. When preparing food becomes a family affair, everyone wins. You’re actively involved with your children, working together to create healthy and delicious meals that everyone can enjoy, and which promote healthy habits that will last a lifetime. In fact, try one of my favorites that encourages great conversations at the dinner table. My girls love it!

Bon appétit to you all!

Build Your Own Personal Pizzas
-Whole wheat tortillas
-Tomato sauce
-Choice of cheese: mozzarella, goat, feta, gorgonzola
-Choice of toppings: spinach, red peppers, onions, tomatoes, mushrooms, broccoli florets, black olives, sundried tomatoes, pineapple, garlic
-Additional spices: Oregano, basil, thyme, dill

Preheat oven to 400F degrees. Spray tortillas with olive oil cooking spray. Spread tomato sauce, leaving room for the crust. Each family member chooses their own desired toppings. Place directly in oven for a crispier crust and bake for 15-20 minutes. Allow to cool, slice and enjoy!

Shrek-Style Veggie Towers
-Frozen spinach
-Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 350F degrees. Slice up the zucchini and carrots into circular shapes. Defrost frozen spinach and place on bottom of casserole dish. On top of spinach, alternately layer carrots, okra, and zucchini. Sprinkle lightly with parmesan cheese. Cook for 20-30 minutes. Allow to cool, then cut into squares (place toothpick to keep veggies stacked). Drizzle warmed pesto over veggie towers.

Strawberry Pineapple Smoothie
1 cup frozen strawberries
1 cup 1% organic milk
1/2 cup fresh pineapple
Handful of ice

Put ingredients in blender, and whip until desired consistency. Top with fresh blueberries.

By Mitzi Dulan with assistance provided by Kristen Carlucci.

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