4 Tips for Healthy Hearts

By Leslie Stiles, MS, RD, CSP, LDN

February is heart health month, but the truth is that we should be thinking about heart health every month. Normally, most of us associate heart health with adults. However, as dietitians, we know that a lifetime of healthy eating starts early in childhood. Here are a few nutritious ways to celebrate heart health month that will hopefully last a lifetime.

  1. Focus on healthy fats. A diet high in healthy fats (i.e. “omega-3s” and “omega-6s”) has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease. Fish, nuts, avocados, and seeds are all excellent sources of healthy fats but there are other delicious ways to get these fats in your diet. The oils from these foods are a concentrated source of that good fat and they can be added to your family’s diet in a variety of ways. For example, try drizzling flaxseed, pumpkin seed or walnut oil on your grains, vegetables, chicken, fish, or salad for added flavor and nutrition. Flaxseed, pumpkin seed and walnut oil are high in omega-3s, which are very good for us but can easily go rancid so they should be purchased in small quantities and used quickly. Oils high in omega-3s also have a low smokepoint (meaning they easily breakdown when heated), so they should not be used for cooking. However, other healthy oils such as avocado, olive, canola, and grapeseed oil contain a greater amount of omega-6s in addition to omega-3s, making them great for cooking. Saturated fats are also part of a nutritious diet but should be consumed less than healthy fats. The most nutritious sources of saturated fats are from dairy and high quality meat.
  2. Eat more fruits and veggies. A diet rich in a variety of fruit and vegetables is always good for heart health and general nutrition. The key, for kids especially, is to make them taste good. There are so many ways to make vegetables flavorful and tasty. Simply roasting cauliflower or zucchini tossed with olive oil, salt and pepper is delightful. You can even experiment using some of the healthy oils discussed above or using spices, parmesan cheese or lemon juice. One thing I like to do is keep pesto on-hand and add it our broccoli or cauliflower for added flavor. The possibilities are endless! It’s important to not be too discouraged by kids who don’t want to eat certain vegetables. Instead, encourage them to keep trying new foods. They can be wary of a certain dish, so they might not love it the first time. But, don’t give up! It can take many times to get kids to like a new food. Keep making new foods and if you enjoy eating them yourself, your child is bound to as well!
  3. Soluble fiber.This kind of fiber helps reduce cholesterol. While most people aren’t considering their kids’ cholesterol levels, it’s important to set healthy habits early. Soluble fiber is in a lot of plant-based foods, such as beans. peas, barley and oats. Try adding beans to a pasta dish, roast them or add them to soup. Whole grains have more soluble fiber as well. Visit the bulk foods section and try new beans or grains. You can even take it home and Google it for a new recipe! It’s fun to try something new, and having your kids see you experiment with new foods will encourage them to do the same.
  4. Exercise as a family. There are so many simple ways to stay fit together as a family that don’t require a lot of time or money. Mostly it takes creativity and commitment. Try setting up an obstacle course for your little ones (even older kids can sometimes be convinced to join), have a dance party, do a simple workout from online (7-minute workout is a great one) or play ball inside or outside.

Introduce kids to new flavors and different foods right from the start. A lot of time parents don’t think their kids will like wholesome, healthy foods. But, the truth is these assumptions can shape kids’ taste preferences. Kids can learn to eat flavorful, healthy and even spicy food right from the start. Give your kids great food from the beginning, and you’ll be setting them up for future of appreciating good food and having a mature palette.

Leslie Stiles works as a clinical dietitian with F2S as well as with Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. She loves cooking and thinking about food and especially working with kids and families.



Leslie Stiles works as a clinical dietitian with F2S as well as with Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. She loves cooking and thinking about food and especially working with kids and families.

Teen’s New Diet Leads to a Healthier Life

Recently Hannah, the parent of one of my clients, reached out to me on Facebook to post a photo of her son, Ian, dressed in skinny jeans for school. It was a simple gesture on Hannah’s part, and I couldn’t help but share in her joy. For months I’ve worked with Ian and his family to help him make some changes to his diet, but in truth, it is Ian who has done all the work. I am so proud of the perseverance and self-confidence this 12-year-old exudes and am pretty sure that others can be inspired by his story.

Nearly a year ago, Ian came to me after his pediatrician expressed some concern about his weight. We spent that first session together just talking and in some follow up sessions we came up with ideas on how Ian could adjust his diet. It’s not easy for anyone to adjust their diet, especially a growing, 12-year-old boy. Ultimately for Ian, it meant giving up refined carbohydrates.

Looking back, Ian says that at first it was hard to give up some of his favorite foods, like bagels and pasta, but then it became a lifestyle and was easier. He learned how “to move around the carbs” but still eat a lot of the food he enjoyed before in smaller portions or in a healthier, whole grain version. For school lunches, he always brings his from home. He’ll roll up meat and cheese so he doesn’t need the bread. After school, he’ll snack on an apple. For dinners, Ian’s family stopped having pasta and fast food and started cooking a lot more to accommodate his diet.

In the end, Ian has lost 20 pounds, and his BMI has dropped from 30.5 to 25.1 (and he continues to grow taller!). What matters most to him, though, is that he shaved 30 seconds of his long distance swim times during swim meets. He also has more energy throughout the day. He can enjoy some carbs now, especially before a swim meet.

Hannah says that Ian was able to succeed because he never felt pushed into any diet regiment. In the first few months there were ups and downs, but Ian knew that change was ultimately up to him. He was able to ease into the changes he has made and eventually succeed. Additionally, says Hannah, the whole family is now more aware of what they are eating, and they keep healthier food in the house because of it.

Looking back, Ian says, “It’s hard in the beginning, but there are results.”

That’s wisdom we can all use.

Super Bowl Party Dip

This dip takes only minutes to make, is healthy and tastes divine. You might just be the life of the party. Serve with tortilla chips, pita wedges or even toasted bread.

2 jars of artichokes (about 24oz.)
1 can of cannellini beans
1 bunch of chives or green onions
2 cloves garlic
2T mayonnaise or Veganaise
1 egg
1/4 cup breadcrumbs (use a gluten free alternative, like ground oats, to make it GF)
1/2t salt
freshly ground pepper
shredded cheese to top (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Process onions, garlic, beans and artichokes in a food processor until smooth. Add mayo, egg, breadcrumbs, salt and pepper and process until thoroughly combined. Spread evenly in a baking dish and top with cheddar cheese (optional). Bake for 40 minutes, until lightly browned on top. Serve warm.

Meatless Monday Burgers

Let’s just get one thing straight. Veggie burgers in no way taste like hamburgers.

They resemble hamburgers, hence the name, but don’t try and fool your family into thinking their vegan burger is actually meat.

And if you do find a veggie burger that tastes like meat–I warn you, DO NOT EAT IT! Veggie burgers with chemical smells and tastes are just plain scary.

With that all said and done, let’s get down to business. These veggie burgers are by far the meatiest burgers around–as in meaty texture. They taste absolutely fabulous, and as with any good recipe, they are quick and easy to prepare.

Top them with sauteed onion and mushroom and a special sauce if you want to get fancy.

Happy SUNNY Monday!

1 cup raw lentils
2 cloves chopped garlic
1 chopped onion
1/2 cup mushrooms
1 egg
1/4 cup breadcrumbs
1/4 cup Old Fashioned oats
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2t salt

Prepare the lentils by rinsing them and placing them in a pot with water to cover. Add 1 clove garlic and some salt. Bring to a boil and then let simmer until soft (about 30 minutes). Drain lentils.

Add lentils and remaining ingredients to the food processor and puree until it forms a thick mixture. Place mixture in the fridge for at least 10 minutes or overnight.

Heat a frying pan with olive oil on medium heat. Scoop spoonfuls  of burger mixture into pan and let brown for a few minutes and flip to brown other side. Serve warm on bun with hamburger toppings of your choice or try the special sauce below.

1/4 cup plain yogurt (could try using veganaise or mayonaise)
1t red wine vinegar
1T ketchup
1 clove chopped garlic
2T freshly chopped basil
1/4t salt