SOUND MIND, SOUND BODY: Colorful food paints a healthier picture

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Each March, the American Dietetic Association celebrates National Nutrition Month.

This year's theme is, "Eat Right with Color", encouraging families to incorporate a colorful variety of whole grains, vegetables, fruits, lean proteins and dairy on their plates every day. Most individuals understand the basics of good nutrition, what we don't seem to get is the practical application in today's busy society.

Recently the 2010 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee reported that Americans have diets deficient in dietary fiber, vitamin D, calcium and potassium. How is that possible with more than 60 percent of the American population being overweight or obese? Unfortunately, weight is not the measure of good nutrition. According to CBS News, 56 percent of Americans eat fast food at least once a week and 27 percent eat out every day. Increasingly people are using popular fast food restaurants as the "quick fix" meals and lose the nutritional value we could gain with a home cooked meal.

As a tired, single mother of two, working full time, I understand the benefits of those fast food places. As a new mom, I didn't want to acknowledge that better nutrition could play a significant role in our lives. As my children turned 4 and 5, I started concentrating on all of our nutritional needs. We cut out fast food and started making most of our meals from scratch. Even though life has become busier, we have found ways to make good nutrition an essential part of our lives.

One way to increase family involvement is to employ the Walla Walla Valley Farmers Market. The market is a fun family event full of healthy foods. Let your child choose the fruits, vegetables and whole-grain breads. By engaging children in the decisions, they are more likely to eat the food you bring home. Another idea is to have a bowl of washed, fresh fruits and vegetables in the fridge or on the counter. This reminds children and adults to grab a healthier snack.

Whole grain cereals, breads, crackers, pastas and rice are definitely better choices. Whole grains are truly incredible foods. Packed with fiber and full of antioxidant properties, whole grains can lower the risk of certain cancers and heart disease.

Americans also are not getting enough calcium or potassium.

Fortunately, it's relatively easy to consume the three servings of dairy daily. Try an 8-ounce glass of low-fat milk with breakfast, lunch and dinner; yogurt parfaits for breakfast or an after-school snack; or string cheese for an on-the-go energy snack. Finally, packing protein into every meal helps satisfy growing children. Start their day with eggs or a quesadilla, and then sneak in a few veggies. For snacks, provide peanut butter on whole grain breads, fruits or veggies. Make a dinner a family time with lean cuts of beef, chicken or fish.

We are well under way with National Nutrition Month but it is never too late to start coloring our plates with delicious healthy foods. Explore the farmers market, be creative with snacks and take the time to prepare healthy meals for the entire family. It is well worth the effort.

Christy Druffel received her bachelor of science degree from Oregon State University in exercise sport science and fitness program management She has been working for the YMCA for the last 15 years and is the Director of Healthy Living.

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