Adults who get crabby or a little shaky from spikes or dips in blood sugar levels are challenging enough, but it can be worse when kids get “hangry” or cranky.
That is why Clark-based food educator Alex Mathisen was busy roasting, blending, cooking and multi-tasking to prepare four different recipes to show parents how to combine foods to keep blood sugar levels in an optimal range. She shared her tips to hide vegetables in dishes to persuade young eaters to try healthy foods during a cooking class in late September at Old Town Hot Springs.
At the end of the two-hour class involving some hands-on help from parents, attendees tasted filling dishes such as Undercover Roasted Veggie Sauce, Creamy Mashed Cauliflower with sour cream, garlic and parmesan cheese, and Crispy Cheese Squares, which are a healthier version compared to highly processed store-bought cheese crackers.
The plant-based nutrition coach taught the class how to create balanced meals and snacks that combine protein, healthy fats and whole, unprocessed carbohydrates. Parents can help their children understand the connections about how they can feel better and have more energy for sports by eating to moderate blood sugar levels.
“A diet high in carbohydrates, especially refined carbohydrates, and high-sugar foods will spike blood sugar levels,” Mathisen said.
Experts say blood sugar swings from an unbalanced diet and stress can lead to symptoms such as brain fog, food cravings, irritability or fatigue. Some teachers and principals across the Yampa Valley sent home emails and letters at the start of this school year asking parents to choose healthy lunches and snacks with protein and without sugary or energy drinks or candy.
“I feel like I’m always looking for other healthy snacks,” said class participant Nicole LeCuyer, mother of an 8-year-old daughter.
Mathisen offered tips and tricks about reading food labels in the grocery store and reducing the purchase of highly processed foods with unpronounceable ingredients. She encouraged parents to try to buy products with five healthy ingredients or less.
Mathisen, who earned a nutrition therapist master certification through the Nutrition Therapy Institute, cautioned parents that some seemingly healthy foods packed in school lunch boxes such as some granola bars, fruit chews, yogurts and sweetened drinks can easily overload kids with sugar in one meal. She said many children consume 12-16 teaspoons of added sugar a day when the recommendation is six teaspoons or less.
A 20-year resident of Routt County, Mathisen is a cooking class instructor for Three Forks Ranch luxury resort, food lover, yoga teacher and wellness coach. She is available for personal nutrition consultations through her business A Rainbow A Day. Still, her biggest food critic is her 11-year-old daughter. So, Mathisen understands the difficulties facing parents when it comes to creating healthy meals and snacks.
“The more diverse we can make our child’s diet, the better,” Mathisen said. “Try to include all colors of the rainbow. Ideally give kids protein at every meal.”
Chia Basinger, dad to two children and in charge of his family’s evening meals, said he is always looking for new ideas that are appealing for kids.
The nutrition coach recommends whole fresh fruits instead of fruit juice as well as combining foods such as fresh-ground nut butter and banana, hummus with vegetables, or full-fat Greek yogurt with berries for more blood sugar stabilizing snacks. Preparing healthy after-school snacks in advance will keep kids from grabbing highly processed packaged foods, she said, as she demonstrated how to make peanut butter oat balls for on-the-go snacks.
She advised parents not give up too quickly when trying to introduce new healthy foods to kids because it may take 8-10 tries. She also recommends sitting down and eating together as a family to work toward a longer, mindful dinner.
“It takes a while to retrain our pallets and our taste buds,” she said. “If we start to swap foods, it can start to change or enlarge our taste buds. We do eat with our eyes, and sometimes we can trick our tastebuds.”
Although the plant-based cooking enthusiast makes her own almond milk weekly, makes pasta on cold winter days and eats chia pudding for breakfast, she said families should be realistic but wise with their cooking to make sustainable changes that function for their lives. Her advice is to focus on the one food their kids eat the most and make that from scratch, or buy the least processed version available.
For Mathisen’s monthly cooking classes at Old Town Hot Springs, the next offerings are Cooking with Herbs and Spices on Oct. 26, It’s Soup Season on Nov. 30 and Cooking for the Holidays on Dec. 13. Advance registration, at $35, is requested at OTHS online or by calling the front desk.