“There's two parts to nutrition. Primary food is what nourishes our soul. Secondary food is what we put on our plates. And, functional nutrition actually deals with both of those. Both are vital to health. And, we need to be able to address all aspects of what raises blood sugar, or what raises blood pressure, or what raises weight. And, they're as much psychological as they are physiological.” ~ Carol Jensen
(Transcript available below)
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Heidi Higgins: Hi, there. I'm Heidi Higgins and you are listening to K12 On Learning. Few weeks ago, I introduced you to Chad Austin. He taught us about why it's important to fit fitness into our life. Today, we're going to discuss another key to a healthy life. Eating healthy food provides the nutrients bodies need to stay healthy, active, and strong. Children develop their eating patterns early in life and these habits often continue into adulthood. The early years at home are an opportunity to teach children healthy habits that will stay with them as they get older. As we prepare for the school year by taking a little bit of time and working in the kitchen with the children during the summer, you might be surprised at the good you will do for the future.
I want to introduce you to Carol Jensen. Carol is a functional nutritionist and she's the owner of her own practice called Interconnected Wellness. Although her children are grown and gone now, Carol schooled all of them at home and has some insight into what it takes to keep a family healthy and ready to learn. Carol, welcome.
Carol Jensen: Thank you. I appreciate the work that you're doing and I'm honored to be a part of it. It's wonderful that you provide these resources to parents. They were not available when I homeschooled. Part of why I'm doing what I'm doing today is to break the pattern, and so that parents don't have to go down the road that I went down. It was pretty rough. I homeschooled for about 14 years and during that time, was diagnosed with preliminary heart disease, high blood pressure and beginnings arteriosclerosis, metabolic syndrome.
It was because I was trying to do so much like our parents today, right? I had a baby, and a toddler, and a kindergartner and some grade schoolers when I started homeschooling and my husband was traveling, was gone five days out of seven. My health went down the tubes. I was eating way too many cookies, and sweet rolls, and chocolates. Struggled with weight, struggled with getting enough sleep and realized that if I didn't take care of myself, my children would be the losers because nobody could do it for me. I began looking for those answers and now I'm honored to be able to share some of those answers to parents who are feeling like they're on a similar path, ready to fall off the cliff, and I want to give them some tools.
Heidi Higgins: What is overall wellbeing?
Carol Jensen: I like to say that it's being able to move, and sleep, and eat, and connect and create without discomfort, pain, or fatigue. Now, that's a tall order, isn't it? But that's what functional nutrition addresses. See, we're looking for why we're not functioning as we should be, instead of just what we can do once we already have symptoms, how we can suppress those symptoms. We're looking to find that balance in the body and restore it using food as medicine, and so wholeness, wellness is not being stressed, and toxic, and inflamed, and infected, and malnourished and unrested. Wellbeing is laughing and weathering stress resiliently and finding joy. Wouldn't we all like to do that right now? The critical thing is the choices that we make every day. The choices about whether we move or not, what we put in our mouth, those are the choices that bring about wellbeing, even in the midst of challenging circumstances. Nutrition really is key to a grateful, happy outlook.
Heidi Higgins: What is good nutrition for our family? What do we need to consider?
Carol Jensen: There's two parts to nutrition. Primary food is what nourishes our soul. Secondary food is what we put on our plates. Functional nutrition actually deals with both of those. Both are vital to health and we need to be able to address all aspects of what raises blood sugar, or what raises blood pressure or what raises weight. They're as much psychological as they are physiological, but focusing on this secondary food, what we would call actual nutrients, they're what come from nature. They are unprocessed. They have a high ratio of nutrients per calorie. They work in harmony with our bodies. They come in a package with everything that our bodies need to metabolize or utilize them. One nutrient isn't broken apart from another nutrient. Good nutrition is those real whole things that our body can use to stay unstressed, detoxed, uninflamed, uninfected and so forth.
Heidi Higgins: Where do you recommend we start? We've got the kids at home. We're struggling a little bit with this. Weight's all over the place. Cookies look awfully good. Where do we start?
Carol Jensen: I get that. We go to comfort foods because we're not getting our primary food that we need, so we look to the sugar to fill that primary food need. It does seem like a tall order because on top of everything else, on top of working at home and schooling the children at home and staying well, we now have to add being healthy on top of it, right? We can make it fun and we can make it simple. I tell my clients, remember three words, maximize, minimize, prioritize. As you go throughout your day, just think those three words, maximize, minimize, prioritize.
What I mean by that is what can I do to maximize fresh air, sunshine, water, oxygen, whole foods. It doesn't mean I have to be perfect on my diet today, but how can I maximize whole foods and then how can I minimize those broken foods? How can I minimize the stress, or at least do some things to manage the stresses in my life? How can I minimize toxins? How can I minimize trauma? How can I prioritize the things that will support healing instead of wear and tear? How can I prioritize play, and sleep and gratitude and joy? If we have that kind of a focus as we go throughout our day, there's a lot of fun we can have, and we're going to share some of those fun things that we can do throughout the day that support our health, that don't stress us out and don't overwhelm us.
Heidi Higgins: What kinds of nutrition goals might have family set and implement?
Carol Jensen: Sure. It's okay to start small. You don't have to start with a comprehensive plan. Start small. Maybe a family goal would be set a timer to go off every hour and take a five minute movement break every hour. We get in front of our screens and we sit, and we sit, and we sit and we sit. It's like we're driving down the road in a car with the exhaust vented into the car, right? We just get more and more sluggish. We have to turn off the engine and roll down the windows and let the car air out.
One family goal is when that timer goes off, have a wrestling match, play pillow tag, just race around the house. That's a movement fitness goal, just so we're not so sedentary. Another goal is to drink water, so small goals. Maybe a goal of one new vegetable a week. Mystery vegetable night, right? Try something new. Make it fun. Nutrition doesn't have to be burdensome. It doesn't have to be something that everybody dreads doing. We can make a game out of it. Maybe a family goal is just for the parent, you as the parent to stop and breathe when the stress gets too heavy. Right?
Heidi Higgins: No kidding. That can happen. I remember one of the things that saved sanity in my home when the girls were here was that we would get some of our work done for an hour or so, and then we would take a cleanup break because inevitably, things would be out of place. There were four of us, so we were working in different places or together at times. We would turn on some fun music. Beach boys was our choice. We would turn on the beach boys and we would dance and fun and put things away. In about 10, 15 minutes, the house was clean again and we could start a new subject. It helped.
Carol Jensen: And I think parents fear taking a break because they won't get their kids back on track, but I promise the kids will work better if they've had a break than if they just go, and go, and go because if they have to just push and push, they're going to start whining. They're going to start getting distracted.
Heidi Higgins: That's actually the beauty of being at home is that you don't have to sit, and sit, and sit, so don't sit and sit and sit. Get out there and move and do some things.
Carol Jensen: Right. I love the dance party idea. Yes, absolutely.
Heidi Higgins: Thank you for these suggestions. Do you have some resources so that we can begin to get a better life, a healthier life and involve the children and be an example of how to be healthier?
Carol Jensen: Yes. Yes, definitely. One of my favorites and this works for families of all shapes and sizes, all ages, is the 100 days of real food challenge. We've talked about our secondary food needs to be real food, whole, not broken, not processed, but how do you do that when you go to the grocery store and everything has a nutrition label on it, right? Lisa Leek is a mom who had two children who was appalled when she read a book at how far her diet had degraded from a whole foods diet, without her even realizing it, not even realizing she was doing anything wrong.
She was inspired to get on a more whole foods path. She and her family decided they were going to do 100 days of whole food. Now she has a blog, 100daysofrealfood.com. She also has several books, 100 Days of Real Food on a Budget, 100 days of real food with various situations that she has written. That's a great place to go to get inspired, to get ideas. What do you feed the family that's not processed or refined? She's a great one. If you have older kids, Pilar Gerasimo's book, The Healthy Deviant, can be very inspiring so that might be a fun one to discuss with teenagers.
Heidi Higgins: Thank you. Those are some fun resources. We will include those in our podcasts notes today. Carol, during the height of the pandemic, some of us may have had a anything goes attitude, thinking it was going to be-
Carol Jensen: Survival, survival.
Heidi Higgins: Exactly. Eat the cookies, it's COVID. Stay up all night, it's COVID.
Carol Jensen: It's real. It's real and we don't want to cast stones. We want to just recognize we're struggling, so how do we get back on track, right? It's helpful to have examples of people who are doing it. It's motivating to listen to or watch others who are making the choices that we wish we could be making. The podcast, The Living Experiment, gives real life experiments that you can do at home to discover the practicalities that work for you. That's a great one to turn to if you need some ideas, not just on nutrition, but also on some of our primary foods, our connections, our creativity, our stress levels. Then for more recipes beyond the 100 days of real food, I also like superhealthykids.com. She has a massive recipe bank that are quick and kid-friendly. Beyond the Recipes has an idea toolkit for fitness, for parenting, for home management. Those are just a few that I have used and enjoyed, and that also my children have used and enjoyed.
Heidi Higgins: Isn't it interesting that when we start to think about nutrition and meals and we've got our kids home, that we have a whole army of support and help and workers? Getting the children to get involved and actually making the meals, planning the meals, I like these resources. Again, we will include them in our podcast notes today because we want the children to be involved. We want them to learn also. I mean, we're at home. We might as well be learning, not just math and history and a few things. We need to be running life.
Carol Jensen: That is a skill that, unfortunately, has been missing in our rising generation. They microwave and they run to fast food because they don't know anything different.
Heidi Higgins: Exactly.
Carol Jensen: Yes. It is important and face it, you're much more likely to eat it if you cooked it yourself than if mom put it on the table and you say, "What's in this?" And she says, "Eat it. It's good for you."
Heidi Higgins: True that. It's true. It's been fun. It's interesting now that some of my children are grown, it's fun to watch that the skills that they learned when they were home, now they're implementing them with their families in their house. It's fun to be able to see how that works. Let's talk, Carol. I want to get a healthy meal on the table and I want to make sure that it happens. Let's talk about that meal and portions. How much should we be making and eating?
Carol Jensen: Very good question. We are consumed with calories because that's our world. We think that we need to restrict calories, but I like to have people be able to visualize a healthy meal instead of having to look it up on My Fitness Pal, or have to chart it. If you put your two cupped hands together, that's about how much whole food you need at a sitting. Now, if it's broken food, it's not going to fill you up and you're going to want more, but if it's nutrient dense, real food, two cupped hands is going to satisfy you. For your children, when you're filling their plates, their hands are much smaller and sometimes we want to give them adult-sized portions and then we complain because they're not eating their meal, but if you look at their hands and give them that much food.
Then to be able to visualize, maybe, how much of that should be protein. I like to divide my plate into quarters and I try not to have more than a quarter of my plate be what I would call the carbohydrate, the starches, the rice, the potato, the noodle. Not more than a fourth of my plate that. Then I like to make sure that I have at least a fourth of my plate, some sort of protein. Now, not everybody or meat eaters, so there are other ways we can get protein besides meat. Maybe people are using nuts, and beans, and legumes, or maybe they're using tempeh or some other things to fill that protein need.
Then I like the other half of the plate to be colors, fruits and vegetables, and fresh plant food. Probably heavier on the vegetables than on the fruits. We get carried away with our fruits and those tend to skew blood sugars. Whole fruits with the peel on where applicable to get that fiber, not in beverages, but we can visualize it that way. That's a normal meal. I want to give two tips that have been just life-changing for a lot of people.
The first is to make sure that breakfast contains 15 grams of protein. When we're talking about how much do I eat when I'm putting this meal on? It's about quarter of your plate. That's almost a palm full of protein. That can be eggs. It can be a protein shake that's maybe got a plant-based protein powder or something in it. Maybe you make a hash that has sausage in it, a sweet potato hash or something. Maybe you put almond butter on whole grain toast, or even leftovers from dinner. Who says we cannot have dinner for breakfast? That's the first tip is to not have an all carb breakfast. We are so used to a granola bar or a bowl cereal for breakfast, and then it drops us at 10:00 AM and then we're snacking the rest of the day. A whole food breakfast with plenty of ample protein in it.
The second tip is that if you do have to snack, then you're combining a fruit or a vegetable with a natural fat or protein. You're pairing up your snacks because the fruit or the vegetable will give you the blood sugar elevation. If your blood sugars have dropped and you're shaky, you need something right now, so the fruit or the vegetable will bring those blood sugars back up, but then the healthy fat or the protein with it will help stabilize so you can get off the roller coaster and not drop again in an hour or two.
An example would be baby carrots with hummus or cherry tomatoes with a hard boiled egg, or the kids love this one because we can put it on a skewer and make a little kebab out of it, grapes and cheese cubes, or almonds and apples. I mean, it's really a simple concept once you start thinking in terms of something that has some fat or protein in it and start pairing it with a fruit or vegetable. The combinations are endless, but those two tips will help people have healthier portions because then the inclination to just snarf the chips and the donuts bagfuls at a time will diminish.
Heidi Higgins: There's a running joke around here that if the bag is open, it's gone, so you have to be kind of careful. Thank you for these suggestions. Now, this is helpful to have a snack that's around, to eat a whole and healthy breakfast. Thank you for that. I want to lead by example, so I'm going to implement those kinds of things. What are the benefits when I lead that way?
Carol Jensen: Our children cannot aspire to excellence when all they ever see is mediocrity. What is there to learn from? How do they know that there's anything more to aspire to? But when they see us growing, it instills within them, the desire to reach for their own stars. Yes, that is the benefit of leading by example. We were talking about having examples of people that are doing it themselves for us to follow that are inspiring, right? We talked about letting the kids participate in the kitchen. That's inspiring, right? The key there is the education. When we know better, we do better. Do we not? Education is the key to our willpower. It really is. Here's another resource if our parents are avid readers. A great book to pick up is Dr. Gregor's How Not to Die. That might be an inspiring one.
Heidi Higgins: I like the title, for sure. Thank you. Carol, what's the best piece of nutritional advice you can give to our families?
Carol Jensen: If I were to put it as succinctly as I can, I would just say buy food that does not have a nutrition label, single ingredient foods, oats, eggs, butter, fish, apples, spinach, right? If finances are a concern, buy frozen vegetables instead of fresh ones. There's things we can do. As you shop, try to shop the perimeter, the meat and dairy and produce sections rather than the middle where all the packaged and boxed is, so food without a label.
Heidi Higgins: We also need to talk a little bit about time. Some of our families, because they're schooling at home, feel pressed for time and that's sometimes the reason they go to fast food or go to the boxed macaroni and cheese. What are some tips, may I ask if you... You'd recommend about utilizing time when it comes to preparing good nutrition for the family?
Carol Jensen: A couple of different ideas that I've used myself and had other families implement, the first is batch cooking. You cook once and you eat three or four times. That means perhaps on a day off, a non-school, non-work day, maybe it's a soup, or a salad, or a casserole, or a baked dish. Maybe it's an egg casserole that's a breakfast meal, but I can make... If my family eats a pan at a sitting, I can make two pans. Why do I have to cook every single meal? Why do I have to cook when I'm trying to work in and school? Why not have it in the fridge and then just pull it out? You spend a one day prepping and then you eat for three, or four, or five days. That really is a time saver.
Heidi Higgins: That's a good reminder, Carol. I learned very early that a Crockpot came in very handy.
Carol Jensen: Oh, absolutely.
Heidi Higgins: Now we have Instant Pots and air fryers. For those of us who don't always prepare well in advance, those are a lifesaver and I also like involving my children at breakfast time to cut up all the ingredients so we can be prepared for later and that our machines can be working for us while we are working.
Carol Jensen: I have a niece that I admire that has all of her children at home. Before they start their school, first thing in the morning, they all get in the kitchen and they're all chopping and peeling. They will do whatever food prep they need for that day as far as... Yes, vegetables do take a little more effort. Whole foods do take a little more effort, but if you get everybody in helping, it goes very quickly. You can spend 15 or 20 minutes and have it done and then have what you need.
Heidi Higgins: You can create wonderful meals. Some of my family favorite things are fajitas in the Instant Pot or Crockpot. Just some really nice, simple meals that do include the vegetables, do include the nice protein. I think that it's a doable thing if we really think about it, if we make it a part of our diligent effort.
Carol Jensen: Right. That Crock Pot, you can put the ingredients in while the family is eating breakfast and then dinner is ready. The end of the day is crunch time. Everybody's trying to finish up assignments. You're trying to go here and there for whatever meetings or things that you have, and then everybody's hangry and so front load meal preparation.
Heidi Higgins: Absolutely correct, to front load that. I love that term because it takes the pressure off. Sometimes as the day progresses, it can get heavy if we don't have some of those things crossed off. Thank you for everything today, Carol. Can you tell us where we might go? If we want to speak personally to a functional nutritionist?
Carol Jensen: A good place to go to find one is AFMC Certification. A as in alpha, F as in Foxtrot, M as in Mike, C as in Charlie certification.com to find somebody that has this background in balancing the body in a preventative measure through primary and secondary whole foods.
Heidi Higgins: Thank you for listening to K12 On Learning, sponsored by Stride. To learn more about online public schools powered by Stride K12, Stride career prep programs that foster lifelong learning or any of the private school or individual course offerings, please go to stridelearning.com or k12.com. Special thanks to Tree K Studios for providing the music for us. Remember to subscribe to this podcast and feel free to leave us a good review. We hope you'll join us next time for K12 On Learning.
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