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Menu makeover

Wed., May 12, 2004

Dietitian Cheryl Dolven pointed to the grocery store’s produce section, and suggested three young sisters select fruits and vegetables by color. More variety means more nutrients.

Then she quizzed them: What could you eat that’s white?

Silence. And then 6-year-old Rachel Schilb brightened. “I would eat Ranch,” she said, naming her favorite salad dressing.

The Liberty Lake girls and their mom, Jill Schilb, were midway through a “pantry makeover” as part of an Albertsons campaign to promote healthy eating among kids. Schilb volunteered for the makeover, which included Dolven’s inspecting the family’s pantry and refrigerator before teaching them to shop smarter.

Schilb, a Girl Scout leader and substitute teacher who described herself as very overweight, wants to spare her daughters her own struggles with food. “I have tried all kinds of diets and am attempting to learn how to teach my girls the benefits of a healthy lifestyle,” Schilb wrote, “but I feel inadequate since I am not schooled in the correct choices that need to be made in order to make weight loss a success.”

Rachel and her sisters — Emily, 8, and Lauren, 10 — were a tad concerned about how their meals would look, and taste, when it was all over.

Early on, Dolven assured Schilb that healthy eating doesn’t mean taking away all her girls’ favorite foods. Compromise is key.

“It’s the small changes you make that will make a big difference,” Dolven said. “Once you know the basics, you’re going to be your own best friend in the grocery store.”

Ultimately, even Rachel’s beloved Ranch dressing would face scrutiny.

Dolven sat at the Schilb family’s kitchen table on a recent rainy afternoon. “Are you reading labels at all now?” she asked Jill Schilb.

“No, not consistently,” Schilb said.

It’s the first step in smart shopping, said Dolven, handing her a sample nutrition label. Even Dolven has been duped by failing to notice differences in serving size. What one food company calls a single serving, another might call two. So when a calorie count sounds too good to be true, always check portion size, Dolven warned.

Also check labels closely when considering processed foods hailed as non-fat or high-carb, she said. Some manufacturers remove fat only to replace it with sugar for better taste. Or, they replace carbohydrates with sugar alcohols, such as sorbitol, that aren’t easily digested and give some people severe diarrhea, Dolven said.

When Schilb mentions that Rachel’s breakfast staples include bagels and cream cheese, Dolven pulls the cinnamon swirl bagels from the pantry and winces. “This one bagel is four servings of bread,” she said. “A bagel should be (the size of ) a hockey puck, not a CD.”

Between that and the girl’s morning orange juice, Dolven said, “She’s running out the door pretty much on carbs, and she will get rundown by lunchtime.”

Capitalizing on the nation’s zeal for fast food, Dolven suggests all meals be “combo meals.” No, not one with French fries, but a healthy balance of carbohydrates and protein. And then, go ahead and “super size” it … but just the fruits and veggies. That way a person wanting seconds will easily make good choices.

To make the bagel breakfast work, however, Dolven suggested downsizing to half a bagel and then adding scrambled eggs or cheese. Make several in advance so in the morning they only need to be heated. A small glass of fruit juice is fine as long as it’s fresh, she said.

Next from the pantry came the girls’ favorite cereals: Frosted Flakes, Fruit Loops and Lucky Charms. Dolven contemplated the sugar content before conceding, “The good thing about cereal is that you can’t lose on it.” Most are fortified and eaten with milk.

Still, the best choices would include “whole something,” such as wheat, she said. “A cereal should have at least three to five grams of fiber per serving.”

Counting fiber grams in a child’s diet should largely be the parents’ job. “You want to be real careful not to make food an issue,” Dolven said. Instead, stock the right items and guide kids toward good choices.

When Liberty Lake Elementary School let out for the day, the girls joined their mom at the grocery store. By sticking mostly to the store’s perimeter, you’ll find the freshest, healthiest foods, Dolven told them.

That’s where the sisters learned to choose produce of varying colors, and where they tasted jicama before giving it a hearty thumbs down. The kiwi they liked, along with the strawberries.

Dolven gave each child a sheet listing fruits and vegetables — favorites and the more unusual. Take turns choosing different ones for the grocery list every week or month, she suggested. “If you don’t like it, that’s OK.”

The entire family has a serious penchant for bread and butter, and they eat it at most dinners, Schilb said. “So what can we do?”

In the dairy section, Dolven found a butter-flavored spray that contains almost no calories. At home, she sprays it lightly over whole wheat bread, adds garlic or seasonings, and no one knows the difference, she said. She also uses it on vegetables. It’s the difference between 150 calories or 0 calories, Dolven said.

Moving on to oils, she suggested olive oil as the best all-around choice. All oils contain the same calories, but olive is high in monounsaturated fats, which lowers “bad” cholesterol. Schilb nodded in agreement.

But not all Dolven’s ideas went over so well. The family didn’t seem interested in replacing white rice with bulgur wheat. And the girls nixed refried beans for healthy protein.

“I don’t blame you. I don’t like them either,” Dolven admitted.

They were enthused about yogurt, a regular in their refrigerator. Keep away from candy sprinkles, Dolven said, and buy yogurts containing live and active cultures for stronger immune systems. Pudding made with nonfat milk is a great occasional snack, she added.

Milk would be another simple place to cut fat, Dolven said. “Going from 2 percent to 1 percent can make a big difference since you have it daily.”

Overall, Dolven advised paying close attention to the fat and sugar contents of foods they eat regularly, and mixing in occasional treats. If one item in a meal is high in fat, make sure the others aren’t.

Don’t entirely ban a child’s favorite food and make eating a battleground, she said. Add carrots and/or peas to Lauren’s ramen, and use just a portion of the seasoning packet.

And then there’s that standby, Hidden Valley Ranch dressing, which Rachel considers a must for almost any meal.

Dolven picked up a bottle and looked at that all-important label. The Schilbs waited for the outcome. Then Dolven picked up another bottle.

Switching to Hidden Valley Ranch Light could save the day, Dolven reported. That lowers a two-tablespoon serving from 140 calories to 80 calories.

Maybe this makeover thing will work out after all.


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