Achieve a balance by focusing on quality not quantity

Community Health Apr 11, 2014 at 3:09 pm

Kalayaan_GdeVera_GREYI was invited to speak at a local elementary school during their Parent Engagement Night.

The topics covered were student health, mental, emotional and physical.  Along with the Public Health Nurse, I was one of the speakers and as a Nutritionist, I concentrated on the nutrition aspect of the student’s physical health.

I discussed how food should be seen as fuel as it provides the nutrients, vitamins and minerals that our bodies require to function, and for us to live.  I provided a simple explanation of digestion and how food is broken down in our bodies, specifically how Carbohydrates, Proteins and Fats are broken down and utilized through a Prezi presentation projected on a smart board.

I also explained how proper food combinations can make digestion and absorption of nutrients much more efficient.  Parents, students and the faculty were attentive and asked a lot of questions. The principal of the school asked me about how much food is enough when a child refuses to finish his or her food and it becomes an issue.  I simply replied that the amount of food is not as important as the amount of nutrition in the food.  I understand that some children can be picky eaters or just don’t have much of an appetite at certain times of the day.

Food-as-fuel-1For example, many children and adults alike don’t have much interest in eating breakfast. I like to call them breakfast-intolerant.  There is no need to have a big breakfast of eggs, sausage and home fries which would not provide much energy as you would use up more energy just by digesting all that food, and most likely feel fatigue after a meal that is more quantity and lacking quality.

Instead think of food as fuel. Ask yourself what sort of day do you have ahead of you, whether it be physical or sedentary and eat accordingly.  People often skip breakfast as a means to save calories, lose weight or just because they have no time. But it is the worst meal to skip. Upon waking is when we break our fast and our bodies are able to assimilate the nutrients optimally as metabolism is at its peak.

Start each day with a simple easily digestible source of protein, fibre rich carbs and colourful fruits and vegetables full of vitamins and nutrients and your body will thank you all day long.  Make sure that you have breakfast within one hour of waking to be able get your metabolism up and running to burn calories throughout the day otherwise it will remain sluggish.  For those who have no time for a sit-down breakfast, a morning smoothie is fast, nutritious and a perfect “to go” meal.

Try my favourite Good Morning Smoothie:

1/2 banana
1/4 avocado
1/2 cup frozen fruit (berries or mangoes)
1 cup raw baby spinach
1 scoop brown rice protein powder
1 tbs grounded flaxseed
2 cups of 100% orange juice

Directions:  Put all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Enjoy!

Feel free to substitute orange juice with unsweetened almond milk, soy milk or rice milk to reduce the sugar content and add your choice of protein powder or 3/4 cup of plain greek yogurt for a whopping 18g of protein!  I personally like to switch up my frozen fruits to get a variety of vitamins and nutrients.  This is also a great way to get more fruits and veggies into your picky eaters, big and small.

It is all about what you eat, not how much, if you make sure to provide meals and snacks that are packed with nutrition then you no longer need to worry about how much is eaten. Supplements come handy when the vitamins and nutrients just aren’t being consumed through food. A good quality multivitamin can help but should not be a replacement to nutritious food Try adding some pureed vegetables to food, for example pureed spinach into spaghetti sauce. It won’t be detected.  A great book by Jessica Seinfeld called Deceptively Delicious has winning combinations such as adding pureed cauliflower to homemade macaroni and cheese and even pureed spinach in brownies. She provides easy recipes as well as gives great tips on making healthy snacks and improving store-bought foods. Below is a recipe from Deceptively Delicious, a fool proof one that I have made for many kids:

Food-as-fuel-2Macaroni and Cheese (with butternut squash or cauliflower puree)

1 1/2 cups elbow macaroni
Nonstick cooking spray
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/2 cup milk or soy or nut milk
1/2 cup butternut squash or cauliflower puree
1 1/2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese or rice or soy cheese (8oz)
4 oz (almost 1 cup) cream cheese or (8oz)
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp paprika
1/8 tsp pepper

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add the macaroni and cook accordingly to package directions until al-dente.  Drain in a colander.

While the macaroni is cooking, coat a large saucepan with cooking spray and heat over medium heat. Add the oil, then the flour, and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture resembles a thick paste but has not browned, 1 to 2 minutes.

Add the milk and cook, stirring every now and then, until the mixture begins to thicken, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the vegetable puree, Cheddar, cream cheese and seasonings and stir until the cheese is melted and the sauce is smooth. Stir in the macaroni and serve warm.

The Parent Engagement Night was a success. Many parents thanked me for giving them a better understanding of food and nutrition for themselves as well as their children.  I always feel good about being able to provide some clarity when it comes to nutrition and how it affects our well-being and daily life. With the information overload that we get from the Internet to magazines and many books available out there, many are left confused not knowing what to eat, when to eat and how much.  When in doubt always ask yourself what you are eating and why.  Is it for nourishment or to satisfy a craving or a reward for a hard days work?  Eat food, real food that you recognize from nature not the “food-like substances” that are full of calories but leave your body hungry for nourishment.  As for when to eat, it is best to eat often.Smaller meals throughout the day will give you more energy than three large meals which usually take more energy to digest leaving you feeling tired.


(Kalayaan Garcia de Vera is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist who graduated at the top of her class with honours at The Canadian School of Natural Nutrition. As a member of the Canadian Holistic Association of Nutritionist Professionals, she has conducted weight loss studies and detoxification workshops. Her website is