Thursday, April 21, 2011
As the month progressed, she sat smugly at dinner passing the steak, chicken, or pork and reminding us, “remember, I don’t eat meat.” We stressed to her that she still needed to take in enough protein and worried that her sullen mood was caused not by her impending hormones, but by her lack of protein.
Somewhere along the line I’ve become as brainwashed as the rest of America in to believing that meat = protein. The meat industry has worked hard to hammer home that thought. In fact, bring up the American Meat Institute’s nutrition site and the first words that greet you (surrounded by pictures of happy, healthy people and deliciously luscious meats) are: “Protein. Fuel for the body and mind.” Which doesn’t come close to the “Beef. It’s what’s for dinner.” But I’m sure it’ll grow on us.
As Mark Bittman points out in his book Food Matters (great book – informative, entertaining, and even has 75 recipes!), “per calorie, cooked spinach has more than twice as much protein as a cheeseburger.” Meat is not the only, or necessarily the best, form of protein. He goes on to say, what quickly becomes apparent when you read the stats on protein (see below) that Americans eat way more meat than they need. “If the American high protein diet were the ideal, you might expect us to live longer than countries where meat consumption is more moderate. We’re the second-to-last in longevity among industrialized nations.”
So is my daughter getting enough protein? Here’s the math on the body’s protein requirement for children (and the rest of us):
Ages 1-3: 0.55 grams of protein per pound of body weight
Ages 4-6: 0.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight
Ages 7-14: 0.45 grams of protein per pound of body weight
Boys ages 15-18: 0.4 grams of protein per pound of body weight
Girls over 15 and boys over 18: 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight.
How does that play out for my daughter? She is 11 years old and weighs about 75 pounds (soaking wet), so she needs somewhere in the neighborhood of 34 grams of protein a day. She can get that from any of the following non-meat sources:
1 oz cheese = 7 grams protein
1 cup milk = 8 grams protein
1 egg = 6 grams protein
2T peanut butter = 8 grams of protein
Throw in some whole grain breads and cereals (2-4 grams) and a few veggies (1-3grams) and there’s every reason to believe that my daughter is doing just fine on her protein intake despite her meat protest.
And what about the rest of us? I need about 55 grams of protein. Am I getting enough or too much? Well, the typical 8 oz steak serving has 50 grams of protein and the yogurt I eat each morning for breakfast has about 18 grams. Throw in the ridiculous amount of vegetable matter I consume and my fondness for cheese and I’d say I’m getting more than my fair share most days.
And what happens when you eat too much protein? According to protein expert, Gail Butterfield, PHd, RD, and nutrition lecturer at Stanford University, too much protein can lead to a build up of ketones in your system which will put your kidneys in to overdrive trying to flush them. This not only stresses out your kidneys, it can also lead to dehydration, bad breath, and weakness. Lovely. I would guess it can also lead to weight gain and cholesterol issues. Apparently excess protein can’t be stored so we either break it down and burn it as energy or we store it as fat. I like to run, but even my long runs couldn’t possibly require the amount of protein I’m taking in. Other researchers believe that eating too much protein can lead to calcium loss and to the immune malfunction that causes food allergies.
So what’s a person or a parent to do? Pay attention. Reduce the portion sizes of the meat you eat which will save you money and calories. Plan more meat free meals. Try to break the strangle hold that meat has on our understanding of a healthy meal. We don’t need to eat it every meal, let alone every day. Just reducing your family’s meat intake slightly will have a substantial impact on your health and your budget. And teach your children that protein can be found in many other sources beyond meat.
Even Janet Riley, Senior Vice President of Public Affairs for the American Meat Institute, agrees in her response to the new 2010 dietary guidelines for Americans, “I think we can all agree that Americans need to increase their fruit and vegetable consumption, but they can continue to eat meat and poultry at the same rate they’re eating it – 5-7oz a day…” I guess she’s assuming you won’t eat any other protein sources because 7 oz of meat a day is just about the protein limit for most of us.
My daughter does plan to go back to eating meat in May. I’m not really sure what that means. I’m guessing it means she’ll go back to eating hot dogs and nibbling around the edges of a small piece of chicken on occasion. Like I said, giving up meat wasn’t a huge sacrifice. I’m glad she did it though; it gave me a chance to educate myself about our need for protein. I’m convinced we don’t need to eat meat at every meal – our bodies don’t need it. But growing up an American, it will take some re-wiring to change my habits. How about yours?
Thursday, April 14, 2011
We have a currency of corks and caps in our house. When someone treads dangerously close to the line of bad behavior, my husband or I caution, “That’s your warning. Do it again and it’s a bottle cap.” And sometimes when we see stellar behavior, as in when one sibling actually helps another, you’ll hear us say, “Aww, that was great. You get a cork for that.”
This system is the latest evolution of discipline in our long line of creative solutions to the age old problem of how-do-you-make-your-kids-act-right. It’s very simple really. Each of the kids has a large mason jar in a basket on the piano. Whenever we catch our children doing something good we put a cork in their jar. And whenever we catch our children doing something bad (or neglecting to do something good when the option is there to do, say, their assigned kitchen chore), we put a bottle cap in the jar.
Let me explain about the corks and caps. For this new system we needed something small that we already had lying around. As I’ve explained before I have difficulty throwing out things that can’t be recycled and could one day prove useful. Hence, the caps and corks. The colorful plastic caps from bottles were collected for sorting games for my toddlers, but once they outgrew the thrill of hundreds of small bright plastic disks, I couldn’t give up the compulsion to stock pile them. Lucky for me, the art teacher at the elementary school loves caps and puts them to use in beautiful mosaics. The corks have been collecting since I first attached myself to the man I call my husband. We used to write the occasion and date on the corks, but now we just toss them in a drawer. I have plans to make something useful out of them someday, but that day hasn’t arrived. So corks and caps we have in great abundance. Perfect for the latest parenting endeavor.
When any child accrues 8 corks, he or she may trade them in for a prize (see below). The corks continue to accumulate until they reach 15 corks and then the prizes get even better (see below). After that, the corks get dumped back in to the cork drawer. The bottle caps work a little differently. If a child manages to garner 5 bottle caps, he or she loses all screen privileges (ALL screens) for the following weekend. They may give up 2 corks to remove 1 bottle cap but only until they reach 4, but on that 5th cap there is no escape. (This was a technicality quickly developed by my youngest and wiliest child.) Each Sunday night all caps magically disappear and Monday morning begins with a cap-free jar.
Maybe this seems like a little too much effort, but it sure beats yelling and threatening and then trying to remember what you threatened. It helps us reward the good stuff like running up to shut the chicken coop in the dark when it’s raining, helping your brother with his homework, carrying in the groceries, or doing something thoughtful without being asked. My daughter recently spent an evening helping her little brother (the very same child who that morning she proclaimed she would hate FOREVER!) to master the hand brakes on his bike – 2 corks for that one!
Amazingly, no one has yet earned 5 caps. In fact, the mere threat of a cap usually causes the offender to turn the other cheek. Even I didn’t think this system would work so well. We are six weeks in and all I’ve had to give up is a couple sleepovers and a cherry cheesecake. Mostly they choose the extra time on the computer.
Just in case you’d like to adopt this system for yourself, here are the details on ours. We think it's only fair to spell out exactly what earns you a cap or cork. I’m sure yours might be different, but this’ll get you started.
Expectations - Consequences
1 Treat each other with respect and kindness. Consequences: One Cap (One warning)
2 Do not hit, kick, or in any way physically harm each other or the pets. Consequences: One Cap (no warnings)
3 No Back-talk or deliberate lying. Consequences:Two Caps (no warnings)
4 No Hurtful Words: “freak”, “idiot”, “shut up”, “hate” or others TBD. Consequences: One Cap (One warning)
5 Get yourself ready for school (fix breakfast, pack lunch, pack up back pack, take vitamins, brush teeth, and remember the things you need to have for the day like sneakers, instrument, etc.) Consequences: One Cap (One reminder)
6 Do your kitchen chore each weeknight. Consequences: one Cap (one reminder)
7 Take care of your pet (Raisin, Hans, Cody). Consequences: One cap (one reminder)
8 Put your dirty clothes in the laundry room sorted by color in to the separate bags by Monday morning.
consequences: no clean clothes (one reminder)
9 Put away your clean clothes the same day they are returned to you. Consequences: No Clean Laundry (one reminder)
10 Do your weekend chore each weekend. Consequences: Two Caps (one reminder)
11 Keep your room reasonably clean and vacuum it once a month. Consequences: No Friends In/out (one reminder)
Five caps in one week: Lose all screens for the following weekend.
When you earn 8 corks, you can choose from the following rewards (keep adding corks to get to 15)
When you have 15 corks, you can choose from the following rewards: