Diet Detective’s Fall/Back-to-School Tips 2011

by Charles Platkin, PhD

Take Advantage of the Fall Bounty
According to the Better Health Foundation’s Fruits & Veggies ­More Matters, these are the fall vegetables that are in season: Chayote Squash; Chinese Long Beans; Crab Apples; Cranberries; Delicata Squash; Daikon Radish; Endive; Feijoa; Garlic; Ginger; Grapes; Guava; Huckleberries; Jalapeno Peppers; Jerusalem Artichoke; Jujube; Key Limes; Kohlrabi; Kumquats; Muscadine Grapes; Mushrooms; Passion Fruit; Pear; Persimmons; Pineapple; Pomegranate; Pumpkin; Quince; Radicchio; Sapote; Sharon Fruit; Sugar Apple; Sweet Dumpling Squash; Sweet Potatoes; Swiss Chard; Turnips; Winter Squash. That’s some list. Try something new, and be sure to check out your local farmers market (see “How to Shop Better at Your Local Farmers Market”)

Healthier Meetings this Fall
Workplace meetings will soon be in full swing. Those meetings are a great source of excess calories. New York City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has created a wonderful brochure that offers tips and guidelines for healthier workplace meetings. It provides the dos and don’ts as well as sample menus for keeping any occasion healthy. Here is just an example of a healthier breakfast menu: mini whole-wheat bagels, pre-sliced and quartered; fruit spread, low-fat cream cheese and peanut butter on the side; low-fat plain yogurt with low-fat granola; bananas, whole tangerines and apples; coffee, tea, low-fat milk, tap water.

Create New Patterns
Fall is a great time to create new patterns of behavior; it’s the end of the summer, and Labor Day is a clear starting point for a new beginning.

Walk your kids to school. It’s a great way to start working in your daily exercise. Also, a simple morning walk to school can reduce stress reactivity in children during the school day, curbing increases in heart rate and blood pressure that can lead to cardiovascular disease later in life, according to a new University at Buffalo study.
Try new recipes. Check out Delicious Heart Healthy Latino Recipes/Platillos Latinos Sabrosos y Saludables (bilingual English, Spanish) (NHLBI produced publications). The free online guide provides recipes for 26 popular, easy-to-prepare, taste-tested Latino dishes created in a heart-healthy style (lower in fat and sodium than traditional versions). It includes heart-healthy food substitutions, food safety, a glossary of international terms for Latino cuisine, and nutrient analyses.
Exercise More. The summer heat is over, and fall is a perfect time to start your exercise program. Keep in mind, if you track your exercise patterns with a smartphone, a little feedback goes a long way. A study released by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) found that adults are more likely to stick with their exercise program when they get real-time feedback on their progress. The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh, found that “self-monitoring is important because it makes individuals aware of their current behaviors and encourages them to achieve a certain threshold of physical activity, either the study-specific goals or the current national guidelines for physical activity.” What kinds of messages worked? Phrases such as: “Don’t get disheartened; you still have time to meet your physical activity goals. Hint: Take a walk; it will pay off!” for adults who didn’t meet their exercise goals for the day, or “Super job on the physical activity. Try to repeat this tomorrow,” for adults who did meet their exercise goals for the day.

Create a School Lunch Schedule
Having difficulty with your child’s school lunches (or your own, for that matter)? Make a detailed weekly menu, with your child helping and approving every meal. Do this every Saturday or Sunday, and make it fancy, using lots of colors. Make sure to pick healthy snacks your child approves. Also, make sure all sandwiches are on 100 percent whole-wheat bread.

Sleep Better
Sleeping is the key to health. Do you have problems sleeping? Check your mattress and box spring. When was the last time you replaced them? Make sure the room temperature is comfortable and you have the proper bedding. Have a regular bedtime. Don’t stay in bed too long. Get rid of the TV in the bedroom. And make your sleep environment quiet — aesthetically and in terms of noise.

Get a Flu Shot or Nasal Mist
Why is a Diet Detective columnist telling you to get a flu shot? Last season, as embarrassing as it sounds, I didn’t get a flu shot. And guess what? I got the flu twice. I could not exercise for more than six weeks in all. These days you can simply go to your local pharmacy and get a shot — it’s that easy. Take precautions and see:

Have an Afternoon of Food-Tasting
I picked this up directly from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website, and I think it is a great idea. “Gather your family together to research at least 3-5 varieties of one type of food (i.e., fruit, vegetable, or nut). Talk about the unique qualities of the food and a little about its history (i.e., when it was discovered or what it is known for). Lead the family in a taste test of the different varieties of the food, or prepare the food several different ways and have everyone choose their favorite. For example, an apple could be prepared as apple snack wedges, applesauce, apple cider, and baked apples. You could also present similar types of vegetables, such as collard greens, spinach, kale, and mustard greens. Talk about differences in their taste. Pick fall favorites, or be adventurous and try new things.”

Enjoy the Fall Weather
The air is cooler, the leaves are turning and everything is more scenic. It’s the perfect time to go outdoors and do something: Take walks on the beach, by the lake, in the park — anywhere scenic. Go to the zoo or ride a bike. Look for colored leaves or collect pine cones with your kids. Keep in mind that once we set the clocks back, it gets darker earlier and there are fewer outdoor options for physical activities in the evening — so make adjustments to your schedule.

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