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It's no surprise that with the current economic conditions, three-quarters of what people eat comes from their home and healthy eating is largely dependent on what food families keep in their kitchens. After taking a peek inside family pantries, fridges, and freezers, Rutgers University researchers found that, in general, households are keeping nutritious foods on hand. What surprised researchers was the correlation between dads' body mass index (or BMI, a number calculated from a person's weight and height, which is used to identify those who may be at risk for weight-related health problems) and the food and nutrients available in the household, implying that dads' wellness is more strongly related to that of the family than previously thought. And, with more meals being eaten at home, what's missing are the cooking skills.
Published in the April issue of Appetite by Elsevier and commissioned by the Pittsburgh-based Canned Food Alliance (CFA), the study was conducted among moms of young children (n=100) across New Jersey -- a diversely populated state that reflects national demographics. The study inventoried food in these homes and compared the nutrient and food content in households with and without higher BMI(2) family members.
"People eat food, not nutrients, so it was important to take a look at the food families have in their kitchens," said Carol Byrd-Bredbenner, Ph.D., RD, FADA, lead researcher, Nutritional Sciences Department, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. "If the food people have in their homes does not support healthful eating, it can be more difficult for families to manage their weight and avoid obesity-related illnesses."
What’s Behind Closed (Pantry) Doors
Regardless of household BMI, the study found that the food families keep on hand is generally nutrient-rich and has a greater supply of protein, vitamin A and vitamin C than the baseline amount for the day established in the Daily Values. However, the research also uncovered differences in the foods on hand in households in which dads had BMIs higher than considered healthy (i.e., a BMI of 25 or more).
In these households, the fruits and vegetables available contained significantly more carbohydrates than in households where fathers had a healthy BMI. Plus, frozen vegetables on hand contained more fat in households where dads had a high BMI than in comparison households, because frozen potatoes (like french fries and tater tots) and vegetables in sauce were more common. The fresh and frozen meats in households with high-BMI dads also contained significantly more total fat and saturated fat than in comparison households with healthy BMIs.
"The Canned Food Alliance commissioned this study to find out how we could help families maximize their nutrition opportunities," said Rich Tavoletti, executive director, the Canned Food Alliance. "We learned that families generally are keeping nutritious foods on hand, so our challenge is to help parents learn to turn the contents of their kitchens into healthy meals. The CFA gives families ways to get those ingredients off the shelf and onto the table, helping to deliver necessary nutrition, convenience and much-appreciated value."
Maximizing Pantry Potential
The greatest influence on family eating habits is the person who buys and prepares the food. However, while moms have traditionally served as the nutrition gatekeeper, the whole family should get involved in healthy meal planning, shopping and preparation.
"The great news for all families is that nutritious, convenient and economical solutions for stocking the kitchen are available to everyone, everywhere. Families can easily serve up good nutrition by stocking their pantry with a variety of nutrient-rich canned foods," said Roberta Duyff, MS, RD, FADA, CFCS. "For example, canned beans are a true nutrition powerhouse and can serve as a lean source of protein, while also providing fiber, iron, folate and potassium. Protein-packed canned tuna and salmon are also sources of healthy oils. There are hundreds of ways to incorporate nutrient-rich canned fruits and vegetables at the dinner table."
Every household across America has a unique set of mealtime challenges, but family members can work together to create an environment for healthy eating. For more information on the study and hundreds of nutritious, delicious and easy-to-prepare meals and tips for cooking with canned foods, visit www.mealtime.org.