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Maureen Garner, MS, RD, LD

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What are the Nutrition Strategies for Baby Boomers and Wellness?

Posted by Maureen Garner, MS, RD, LD on Aug 30, 2017 11:00:00 AM

This is the fourth article in a 4-part series on the role that nutrition plays in the health of Baby Boomers. Click here to read more articles about Baby Boomers.

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Often, the terms "health" and "wellness" are used interchangeably. Do these terms mean different things? As a matter of fact, they do. Whereas most of us have a pretty good grasp of what it means to be healthy or fit, wellness is a bit more elusive and hard to pin down. How do you know you've achieved it? 

The Difference Between Health and Wellness 

To start from the beginning, the term "health" means that your body is free from chronic diseases like diabetes or arthritis.

The term "wellness," however, sets a much higher bar. Wellness means that you've found balance between your physical, emotional, and social needs. Some experts also include occupational or lifestyle balance and spiritual fulfillment under the umbrella of wellness.

Select Functional Foods that Help in Multiple Ways 

Baby boomers face a unique set of challenges when it comes to optimizing their health. Having good health is a baseline for creating a foundation of wellness or well-being throughout the different areas of your life.

Fortunately, many of the health issues that baby boomers might face - like diabetes, arthritis, heart disease, osteoporosis, and joint pain - can be improved with the right nutrition and fitness regimen. Functional foods can be one of your main allies in promoting a lifetime of health and wellness. For example, the antioxidant known as lycopene in tomatoes may reduce the risk of cancer or cardiovascular disease.

In learning more information about functional foods, you'll quickly see that one food can have multiple health benefits to different parts of the body. For instance, fatty fish like salmon have the omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA, which help to reduce your triglyceride levels, lower your chance of coronary heart disease, improve your mood, and help sharpen your memory. 

Oatmeal and Fiber for Better Cholesterol 

Oats and oatmeal are beneficial foods for reducing your total cholesterol numbers, and particularly lowering your LDL, or "bad" cholesterol levels. Eating oatmeal a few times a month could also help lower your blood pressure. Considering the fact that the CDC says one in three adults has high blood pressure, adding oatmeal to your diet may reduce your risk. 

Getting your blood pressure under control is very important for seniors because doing so takes stress off the heart and blood vessels, and improves circulation. Lower blood pressure levels could also translate into improved circulation, allowing for more nutrients from these wonderful foods to be delivered to your brain. The soluble fiber in oatmeal known as beta glucan, though, directly benefits your cholesterol and overall heart health. 

You can get these same benefits from other oat products, including: granola bars, whole oat bread, and oat flour that you can put in various foods. Oats may have special benefits for baby boomers since research shows oats could help older individuals fight infection, control their blood sugar levels, and provide significant heart benefits to postmenopausal women. 

Leafy Green Vegetables Boost Your Immune System 

Your doctor was right. Healthy foods like leafy green vegetables - especially cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower - boost your immune system and aid your cells in the fight against cancer. That might sound like an impressive claim, but the carotenoids in carrots, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, and dark leafy green vegetables also block carcinogens and keep them from harming your body's healthy cells. 

Wellness-promoting antioxidants known as lutein and zeaxanthin in kale, spinach and eggs, work to promote healthy vision as you age.

Foods That Could Improve Your Mobility 

The fact that nearly half of seniors (49.7%) have been diagnosed with arthritis, according to the CDC, should be a wake-up call for anyone wanting to attain optimal wellness as they age.

Arthritis is characterized by a breakdown of your body's own cartilage tissue, which can create or worsen joint pain and pose serious barriers to mobility and quality of life. Since arthritis generally is caused by inflammation, eating vegetables rich in antioxidants and fatty fish and omega-3 fatty acids to fight the body's inflammation, may help.

Eat well to live well. For more information on nutrients that help keep baby boomers healthy, download our free eBook:

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Topics: Nutrition, Chronic Disease Management, Aging Well, Senior Nutrition, Baby Boomers

Emergency Preparedness Tips for Summer's Weather Hazards

Posted by Maureen Garner, MS, RD, LD on Jun 14, 2017 11:00:00 AM

Road_Closed_LR.jpgThe Atlantic hurricane season began on June 1. According to forecasters at National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), there will be another above-normal hurricane season this year. The forecasters predict a 70 percent likelihood of 11 to 17 named storms, of which 5 to 9 could become hurricanes, including 2 to 4 major hurricanes.

Even without the threat of hurricanes, summer’s weather hazards include tornadoes, thunderstorms, lightning, and flooding. Now is the time to start preparing for inclement weather. Here are some tips to get you started:

Make a Family Emergency Plan

FEMA has a great basic plan to get you started. Have an out-of-town contact for your family members to call; it is easier to reach someone out of town. Arrange a meeting place in case you are separated. If you have school-aged children, include their schools’ contact information in your plan.

Stock Up on Shelf-Stable Meals

Stock up on canned items (or any foods with long shelf lives that can be kept in the pantry) and paper goods (no one wants to run out of toilet paper during an emergency!)

If you or a family member is disabled or a senior, look for a meal delivery program. These programs will deliver meals to you, even in bad weather. Select a program that provides shelf-stable meals to use as emergency food, in the event of severe weather, when roads are closed and 
delivery trucks can’t get through. (For more tips in selecting a home-delivered meals company, download this ebook.)

Emergency Supply Kit

Make sure to have at least a 7-day supply of you and your family’s medications. Keep a list of all medications along with dose, frequency, and contact information for the prescribing doctor, as well as write the name and phone number for your pharmacy. If you are a caregiver for a senior, keep the same list for their medications and pharmacy. It is also a good idea to keep back-ups of wheel chair batteries, oxygen, and other medical devices on hand. Include the information for those items on the back of the medications list.

If you have pets, stock up on food and medicine for your animals. Include your veterinarian’s contact information in your emergency plan. Make sure pets wear ID tags that include your cell phone number. If you get evacuated, take your pets with you.

Depending on the area you live, some other disaster preparedness items that might be helpful are a flashlight and a battery-operated radio with extra batteries for both!

Click here for an emergency preparedness checklist.

 

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Topics: Disaster Preparedness, Emergency Preparedness, Shelf-Stable Meals

Does your grandpa have the meal support he needs after a hospitalization?

Posted by Maureen Garner, MS, RD, LD on May 26, 2017 9:46:06 AM

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Food Insecurity in the United States

In the US, 48.1 million people live in households with food insecurity - meaning they do not have access to enough food for an active, healthy life. Of those people, 20% or 9.6 million are seniors. Seniors with food insecurity tend to have more medical and mobility challenges. Older adults above the poverty level can also be at risk for food insecurity, particularly if they are unable to shop for and prepare foods.

Many confuse food insecurity with hunger, but food insecurity is a social, cultural or economic status, while hunger is a physiological condition – the physical pain and discomfort someone experiences. Hunger doesn’t describe the scope of food insecurity. The scope is more than most realize. Here is a breakdown by state:

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In the News - Clarence Blackmon

One example of food insecurity is the story about Clarence Blackmon. Mr. Blackmon, age 81, was discharged from a rehab facility where he had spent many months battling cancer. When he returned to his apartment, his refrigerator was empty. He had money to pay for food, but not enough strength to shop for or prepare food. He didn't have any family in the area. Not knowing what to do, he called 911 and asked the dispatcher to bring him food. The dispatcher brought him food and even made him sandwiches for several meals. Unfortunately, many senior adults experience food insecurity after a hospitalization.

Food Insecurity after a Hospitalization

Food insecurity also has an impact on hospital readmissions. One study interviewed 40 adults with three or more hospitalizations within a 12-month period. They found, that like Clarence, 75% were unable to shop for their own food and 58% were unable to prepare their own food.

Last fall, the Food Forum of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine held a workshop on Nutrition Across the Life Span for Healthy Aging. One of the presenters, Mary Ann Johnson, emphasized the need to think about nutrition interventions when someone is discharged from a hospital and sent home without meal support. Many end up in acute or long-term care. She “mentioned an ongoing national conversation on how the medical health and social services health systems can work together and suggested that meals are an important link between the two.”

After a hospitalization, patients generally have decreased energy, pain, weakness, and a poor appetite, putting those with food insecurity at an even greater risk for malnutrition, and associated poor outcomes.

Meal Services after a Hospitalization

Connecting food insecure patients with resources such as home-delivered meals (HDM), decreases their need for shopping and cooking after a hospitalization. HDMs provide a regular source of nutritious food for those that need it for their recovery, reducing medical costs and the risk of a hospital readmission.

Many Medicare Advantage health plans, provide post-discharge meals for members after a hospitalization. Members who receive home-delivered meals after a hospital stay regain their strength and energy faster.

To learn more about nutrition care after a hospitalization, download our free white paper:

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Topics: Senior Health, Food Insecurity, Healthy Meals for Seniors, Senior Health Plans, Senior Nutrition

Make Long-lasting, Healthy Changes

Posted by Maureen Garner, MS, RD, LD on Mar 22, 2017 1:50:58 PM

healthy-lifestyle.jpgAs the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics continues to celebrate National Nutrition Month® with the theme, "Put Your Best Fork Forward", they encourage everyone to make long-lasting, healthy changes that will lead to renewed energy and help you age well.

The Academy recommends following a Total Body Diet lifestyle to help you reach your health and wellness goals. There are three principles to follow:

  1. 1. Balance your diet with foods from all food groups.
  2. 2. Get active every day with enjoyable movement.
  3. 3. Make your mental health a priority by fostering a positive attitude.

Total Body Diet

Foods that are high in sugar tend to be low in fiber, protein, and fat. For continuous energy throughout the day, eat meals that are high in fiber, lean protein, and healthy fats. Space your meals and snacks about three to four hours apart. Here are more ideas to help you follow the Total Body Diet:

  • Plan at least one meatless day into your week. Pile your plate with colorful vegetables!
  • Fuel your brain with foods like fruit, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, fish and avocados.
  • Clean out your pantry, fridge, and freezer - get rid of foods with a lot of added sugar, solid fat, and salt.
  • Drink water instead of sugary drinks.
  • Make physical activity a routine part of your day. Do activities that you enjoy!
  • Sit less! Stand while working with a standing desk and walk during your breaks.
  • Aim for 7-9 hours of restful sleep every night!

For more details on the Total Body Diet read Total Body Diet for Dummies by Victoria Shanta Retelny, RDN, LDN and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Nutrition for Seniors

Seniors have unique nutrition needs to consider. The most obvious difference between meals for seniors and meals for younger adults is portion sizes. As people age, their caloric requirements decrease, so senior meals should be smaller. Many restaurants now offer smaller menu options, though eating proper portions at home can still be a challenge! A great solution for perfectly portioned meals is to consider a meal delivery service. Home-delivered meals are pre-portioned, nutritionally balanced, and are tailored to meet the special dietary needs of older adults.

Download 9 Questions to Ask When Choosing a Home-Delivered Meals Provider

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Topics: Nutrition, Healthy Home Delivered Meals, National Nutrition Month, Healthy Meals for Seniors, Aging Well, Best Fork Foward NNM

Put Your Best Fork Forward for Healthy Meals

Posted by Maureen Garner, MS, RD, LD on Mar 15, 2017 2:00:16 PM

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Each year, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics celebrates National Nutrition Month® in March. This year's theme is "Put Your Best Fork Forward" and the Academy encourages everyone to make small, healthy changes when eating.

Choosing a variety of healthy foods across all food groups will help reduce your risk of chronic diseases like heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and obesity. Making small changes, one forkful at a time, will prevent diseases before they occur. Here are some ideas to get you started:

Make Half of Your Plate Fruits and Veggies

Fruits and vegetables are full of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that your body needs to be healthy. For many people, eating enough fruits and veggies each day is difficult. Try eating cut up vegetables for snacks. Keep a bowl of fruit on the kitchen counter so your family can easily grab a piece. Add grated vegetables like zucchini or carrots to sauces, meatloaf, and pasta dishes.

Cut Back on Added Sugars

Foods and drinks with added sugars contribute empty calories and often lack nutrients. Read ingredient lists and choose foods that don't have sugar or other sweeteners listed as the first ingredient. Quench your thirst with water instead of sugary drinks.

Make Family Meal Time a Priority

Studies show that family dinners have a positive impact on children's values, motivation,  and confidence. Involve your kids in meal planning and cooking family meals. Use this time to teach them about good nutrition.

Power Up with Breakfast

Mom was right - breakfast is the most important meal of the day. A healthy breakfast gives you the energy to start your day. Include a lean protein like eggs or low-fat dairy like yogurt, cheese, or milk. (Don't forget to fill at least half of your plate with fruits and vegetables!)

Be Adventurous

When food shopping or dining out, select a fruit, vegetable or grain that you have never tried. Foods like jicama, broccolini, purple potatoes or quinoa are tasty and nutritious. Also, explore other options for preparing foods. For example, broccoli roasted in the oven has a very different taste and texture than steamed broccoli.

Home-Delivered Meals

For healthy meals that are perfectly portioned, nutrient dense, and ready to go when you need them, try out a meal delivery service like GA Foods. Many health plans, including Medicare Advantage, offer home-delivered meals as a benefit. Check with your plan to see if you are eligible for GA Foods' home-delivered meals.

Want more healthy eating ideas?  Read this article.

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Topics: Nutrition, Chronic Disease Management, Senior Health, National Nutrition Month, Best Fork Foward NNM

5 Things You Miss with Holiday Stress

Posted by Maureen Garner, MS, RD, LD on Dec 15, 2016 8:17:40 AM

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Remember the excitement of the holidays as a child? Everything seemed sparkly and magical. As adults, a lot of time, money, and energy is spent trying to recapture that childhood magic. But as the holidays approach, you may begin feeling more like the Grinch than the child inside of you.

Why are so many people overwhelmed and stressed during the holidays? Common causes are unrealistic expectations, too many commitments, and financial pressures. If you are a caregiver, the stress is multiplied. Here are a few special feelings and moments you may miss if you let holiday stress control you:

1. Celebration

Let go of the holiday dreams portrayed by Hallmark movies and Pinterest. You do not have to recreate your grandma’s gingerbread cookies or decorate every room in your house. Instead of spinning your wheels, take the time to celebrate and truly enjoy your family and friends. Focus on a few traditions that make the holidays meaningful to you and your care recipient. Caregiving or caregiver burnout may change your current circumstances, so be open to new ways to celebrate*.

To prevent caregiver burnout download our free eBook, A Caregiver’s Guide to Taking Care of You.

2. Joy

Psychologists report that it is the giver, not the recipient that receives joy from gift giving. Anxiety over finding the perfect gift will rob you of the pleasure from giving. In addition, if gift giving causes financial hardship, it may lead to even more strain. Begin with a gift budget and be disciplined about staying within that budget. Consider donating to a charity or doing a family gift exchange instead of buying something for everyone on your list. If time allows, consider handmade gifts. Recipients will appreciate the time and thought you put into making their gift.

3. Peace

Planning ahead can lead to a stress-free holiday, particularly if you are a caregiver. There are many free holiday planners available online. (This site has fillable forms!) Several holiday tasks can be done ahead of time. Find recipes that can be cooked and frozen. Ask others to help – including your children. Kids love wrapping presents and decorating the tree. Instead of focusing on buying presents and decorating, focus on being present. Enjoy the moment and take time to give thanks. And, to keep peace during the holiday season, don’t set high expectations of yourself and others. Be flexible and willing to change plans, if needed. 

4. Fun

The first rule of fun during the holidays, is do not overschedule. It is ok to say no, especially to events that aren’t important to you. This will give you more time to do the things you enjoy. Visits with family and friends do not need to be limited to holidays only. If you are unable to attend a friend’s party, offer to meet them for brunch in January.

5. Good Health

Stress can affect your health, causing headaches, muscle tension, chest pain, fatigue, stomach upset, and sleep problems. If you do start to feel anxious or stressed, take a moment for yourself. Spending a few minutes doing something you enjoy may be all it takes to re-energize. Also, many caregivers neglect their own health, so be sure to make healthy choices during the holidays, such as eating healthy foods, exercising, and getting plenty of sleep.

Take Control

Preventing stress is the key to surviving the holidays. Take control of the holidays, don’t let them control you. If a holiday activity makes you feel overwhelmed, re-consider if it is necessary. This holiday season, focus on making memories and enjoying your family and care recipients.

If you or someone you know has caregiver burnout or is ignoring their own needs, download our free eBook, A Caregiver’s Guide to Taking Care of You.

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*Be sure to check out next week's article! We will be sharing favority holiday traditions from GA Foods' employees!

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Topics: Reduce Stress, Caregivers, Stress, Caregiver Burnout

Does Being a Caregiver Keep You Up at Night?

Posted by Maureen Garner, MS, RD, LD on Dec 5, 2016 2:49:28 PM

Caregivers

Caregiving is demanding. Whether you live next-door or 1,000 miles away, it is challenging. It is estimated there are over 34 million people providing unpaid care to ill, disabled, and elderly adults. Caregiving can range from social calls to your uncle to providing direct medical care for a parent. Not knowing how to navigate through the responsibilities can make you feel helpless.

Tips for Caregivers

As a caregiver, you are not alone. Here are some tips to assist you:

Allow your loved ones to make their own decisions regarding their care, if they are able. Cognitive changes are normal as people age, causing older adults to be slower in processing information and making decisions. However, that doesn’t mean they are incapable. Include them in all discussions about their health and care needs.

Hire a geriatric care manager. Most are licensed social workers or nurses and are trained to identify the care needs of older adults, and help families put together a plan. Their goal is to improve the quality of life for the older adult and help them live as independently as possible. To find a care manager, click here.

Enlist others to help. With your loved ones, make a list of the tasks they need assistance with such as mowing the lawn, shoveling the sidewalk, or grocery shopping. Friends, neighbors, or community organizations might be able to support them with these tasks. Don’t be afraid to ask others for help; you don’t know who is willing unless you ask. Also, your local agency on aging might be able to provide resources for you. www.Eldercare.gov can direct you to the correct agency. Provide everyone with your contact information, so they can reach you if they have any concerns.

Arrange for a home health aide. Aides can help with personal care, homemaking chores, and even health care. Often these services are paid for by government agencies or health insurance.

Consider home-delivered meals. Good nutrition improves the overall health and quality of life for seniors. Studies have shown that home-delivered meals reduce the risk of hospitalizations and defers nursing home placement. Ninety-two percent of seniors receiving home-delivered meals, report these meals allow them to remain independent and living in their own home. Home-delivered meals may be available through the local agency on aging (www.Eldercare.gov) or provided as a benefit through your loved ones’ health plan.

Long-Distance Caregivers

Even if you are not the primary caregiver, there are still many responsibilities you can undertake. Offering emotional support to the primary caregiver as well as respite care will be appreciated. The primary caregiver may be hesitant to ask for help, so offer to pay bills, organize paperwork, or update family and friends. As a long-distance caregiver, you can also help the primary caregiver identify benefits and programs for which your loved one may qualify. The website, www.benefitscheckup.org, is a good place to start.

Caregiver Support Groups

You may benefit from joining a caregiver support group. Meeting other caregivers will help you identify resources and exchange ideas. Be sure to take care of yourself during this time. Read this article for more ideas and download our free caregiver eBook, A Caregiver’s Guide to Taking Care of You.

Profile of a Caregiver

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Topics: Senior Health, Caregivers, Care Managers

Confessions from a Caregiver

Posted by Maureen Garner, MS, RD, LD on Nov 16, 2016 3:13:44 PM


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Pictured is Maureen and her children with her mother, Alice. (And by the way, it was Maureen's 43rd birthday!)

My Back Story

In 1992, we placed my dad in a long-term care facility. He was partially paralyzed from a stroke, and we couldn’t care for him at home. After a year of living apart from my dad, my mother asked to move in with me. Despite living in a senior living community, she was lonely. She was only 71-years old. She had some health issues and limited mobility, but she was completely independent. At the time, my husband and I had a 2-year old daughter and another baby on the way. I had a busy and demanding career. The thought of having another person in our home to help out was very appealing.

Download our free eBook, A Caregiver’s Guide to Taking Care of You

True Confessions

However, over the 18 years that she lived with us, her health steadily declined and she became more dependent. Fortunately, she was never to the point of needing help with activities like bathing or feeding, but we couldn’t leave her alone overnight. She needed us to drive her to doctors’ appointments. (No Uber, yet!) Simple activities like grocery shopping, attending church, or going out to dinner required wrestling her wheelchair into our car. We had to run her errands, like going to the bank or picking up prescriptions. There was constant fear that she would fall and break her hip. And she hated having to rely on us for everything.

Here is my confession – I didn’t make it easy for her. Between juggling my career, my family, and her needs, I was tired and exhausted. I resented her presence. Sometimes, I wanted to be alone with my husband and children for dinner. I wanted to be able to go away for a weekend with my family without having to make arrangements for my mom. I got tired of having to take time off work to take her to the doctor. And she knew how I felt about everything.

My mom never wanted to be a burden. So she asked a neighbor to take her shopping. She asked my kids to run her errands. She asked people from church to take her to the doctor. She visited my sister to give us time alone. And she tried to do anything she could to make life easier for me.

This made me feel guilty because now other people’s lives were being disrupted, not just mine. My neighbors, friends, and family shouldn’t be impacted to make my life easier. I should be able to do this on my own. She took care of me for over 18 years. As her daughter, it was now my responsibility to take care of her. And I could not have been more wrong.

No One is a Caregiver Superhero

My mom passed away five years ago after complications from hip surgery. (Yep, she fell and broke her hip.) I’ve had time to get some perspective, which leads me to my next confession – I’m not a caregiving superhero – actually no one is a caregiving superhero.             

Caregiving is hard. Caregiving comes from a place of love and can be rewarding, but it is hard. It is demanding. It is stressful. As a matter of fact, it is bad for your health. Studies have shown that caregivers are more likely to have a chronic illness than non-caregivers. Caregivers are at greater risk for depression and a decline in quality of life.

Caregivers aren’t limited to those caring for an aging, disabled, or ill family member. A caregiver can be a foster parent or a grandma raising her grandchildren. A caregiver can be a professional like a nurse, case manager, or social worker. A caregiver may provide full- or part-time care. They may live with the care recipient or provide care and support from a distance. The care may range from helping with tasks like shopping and cleaning to providing complex medical care.

The best advice I can give a caregiver is take care of yourself. Taking care of you isn’t selfish. It doesn’t mean you are a failure. It gives you the strength and energy needed as a caregiver. It actually helps you become a better caregiver.

I was fortunate -- I had great support from my sister. But if you or someone you know has caregiver burnout or is ignoring their own needs, download our free eBook, A Caregiver’s Guide to Taking Care of You.

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Topics: Senior Health, Caregivers, Care Managers

Teens and Food Insecurity

Posted by Maureen Garner, MS, RD, LD on Oct 5, 2016 11:00:00 AM

teen_food_insecurity.pngFood insecurity in children is a significant problem in the United States. According to United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates, 7.8 percent of American households with children were food insecure* in 2015 – a percentage that amounts to 3 million households that were unable to provide adequate, nutritious food for their children. Additionally, in 247,000 households, food security was characterized as very low, indicating periods of disrupted eating patterns and reduced food intake.

Food insecurity is known to have detrimental effects on children of all ages. However, according to recent research, teens experience its effects quite differently than younger children. This research, done by the Urban Institute (a research organization that focuses on economic and social policy) and Feeding America (a nationwide network of food banks), examined the unique perspective and struggles of teens who face food insecurity in their homes. This was done via the creation of 20 focus groups made up of teens, ages 13 to 18, in 10 diverse communities. According to researchers, findings were similar across all of the focus groups, and many of them were rather disturbing. Among the most notable findings are:

Food Insecurity in Children: Teens Feel Responsible

Unlike younger children, teens in household experiencing food insecurity frequently feel obligated to help provide for themselves and others. While parents typically try to protect their teens from hunger, as well as those feelings of responsibility, teenagers commonly take an active role anyway. Often, that role includes depriving themselves to ensure that younger siblings have enough to eat, finding ways to bring food into the household, and/or working out ways to stretch family food supplies – eating with friends or relatives, for instance, or saving school lunches to bring home.

Learn more about the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act here.

Fear Of Being Stigmatized Deters Teens From Traditional Assistance Avenues

Teens are well aware that food insecurity in children is a widespread problem. Among teens who participated in this study, even those who did not experience food insecurity in their own homes were aware of neighbors or classmates who suffered from hunger on a regular basis. However, in spite of that awareness, teens from food-insecure families were found to work actively to hide the problem in their own homes due to a fear of being stigmatized. That fear led many teens to avoid traditional means of assistance, such as food pantries or free school meal programs, accepting help only from close friends or family in private. 

Some Teens Take Drastic Measures To Help Provide

Researchers found that the vast majority of teens who are determined to assist in providing for their families would prefer to provide that help via income from gainful employment. However, job opportunities for teenagers are very limited, particularly in communities with high poverty rates. Consequently, many teens resort to less conventional methods to bring money and/or food into the household. According to study authors, teens in 8 of the 10 communities involved in this research stated that young people engaged in criminal activity to provide for their families, including shoplifting, drug dealing and theft of items that could be sold for food money. Some teens discussed deliberately going to jail, as well as failing in school in order to be placed – and fed – in summer school. Teens in all 10 communities were aware of teens who resorted to prostitution, having sex in exchange for money to feed their families. Most of these incidents, according to researchers, consisted of exploitative relationships with older adults.

Effective Solutions are Needed

The picture that emerges from these findings illustrates the urgency of effective solutions in addressing food insecurity in children. Study authors stress the need for more research on the affects of food insecurity on teenagers in particular, an issue that has not yet received the attention it deserves.

Many school nutrition programs have had success in eliminating the stigma teens feel when receiving free and reduced school meals:

  • Universal School Breakfast combined with Breakfast in the Classroom - With this model, all students receive free breakfast. It is served in their first period classroom, so there are no barriers like needing to get to school early.
  • 2nd Chance Breakfast - Usually served after first period, individually-packed Grab n' Go meals are available on a cart in the hallways. If not utilizing Universal Free Breakfast, tablet-based point of service allows for a cashless system, charging agains student accounts or eligibilities. 
  • Healthy Meals Vending - These special vending machines are integrated into the school's point of service, allowing reimbursable meals to be charged against student accounts and eligibilities. Placing them in high traffic areas around the school provides easy access.
  • Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) - CEP is now an option throughout the U.S. Under CEP, a school district can offer all meals at no charge to all students, if 40 percent or more of the students are direct-certified for free meals.  CEP can be used district-wide or just in one school. 

While these options do not negate the problem of teen hunger, they do provide students with healthy meals without social stigma. More needs to be done to provide vulnerable teens with effective support and solutions they need to overcome the unique challenges they face in food-insecure households.

The Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act expired over a year ago. Congress still has not passed a reauthorization bill for programs that feed our hungry children and teens. For more information, click below.

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*Food insecurity is the state of being without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food.

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Topics: Child Nutrition, School Lunch, School Breakfast, Food Insecurity, National School Lunch Program (NSLP)

Back-to-School Nutrition Tips for Families!

Posted by Maureen Garner, MS, RD, LD on Aug 24, 2016 11:00:00 AM

back_to_school_LR.pngAs children head back to school, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics encourages everyone to celebrate Kids Eat Right Month by ensuring children are properly fueled to grow and succeed.

"The start of the new school year coincides with Kids Eat Right Month providing the perfect opportunity to revamp your families' eating habits," says registered dietitian, nutritionist, and Academy spokesperson, Caroline Passerrello. 

Here are some tips for developing healthy habits in your children:

Shop Smart

Get your children involved in planning and shopping for your meals. Make sure the planned meals have a variety of foods and include protein, vegetables, fruits, grains and dairy. At the store, encourage your children to pick out one or two new foods to try. Also, use this time to teach them about reading nutrition labels. 

Cook Healthy

Involve your children in food preparation. Let them cut and mix ingredients. Kids are more likely to try new foods if they help prepare them. This is also a good time to teach them about food safety practices such as washing hands before preparing food. For more tips about cooking with kids, check out this video.

Eat Right

School_Lunch_LR.pngEncourage your child to participate in school meals, such as breakfast and lunch. School meals now have strict nutrition standards that most lunches brought from home do not meet. A study done by Tufts University found that only 27% of the packed lunches met 3 out of the 5 nutrition standards for school meals. 

At the end of the day, sit down for a family dinner. Enjoy a healthy meal and share the day's experiences with one another. Research indicates that families who eat together have a stronger bond, and their children have higher self-confidence, and perform better in school.

 

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Topics: Child Nutrition

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