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Retiring Child Nutrition Director deserves our thanks

KathyKolasa

Kathy Kolasa

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Kathy Kolasa

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

A big shout-out and thank you to Leann Seelman who is retiring from the position of Child Nutrition Director at Pitt County Schools. We will miss her caring commitment to the students, teachers, staff and families. When Seelman arrived eight years ago, Pitt County Schools had a statewide reputation for having an innovative and fiscally sound Child Nutrition Program. She not only maintained but enhanced that tradition.

Her list of accomplishments is too long for this space, but I must recognize that Seelman led child nutrition through the implementation of the “No Hungry Kids Act,” making huge improvements to the meal programs and improving the health of our kids. I admire anyone who can feed up to 24,000 children a day who pay no more than $1 for breakfast and $2.25 for lunch.

Valerie Lindsay, longtime child nutrition supervisor, described Seelman as creative, energetic and dedicated and said she is accepting of change, employs responsible fiscal management and sets high expectations of her staff. 

Seelman isn’t the only person who’s retiring this week after from a career that has contributed to the wellness of our community. Scottie Gaskins, my friend and wellness colleague at Vidant Health, shared these thoughts about an influential leader, Roger Robertson, who championed many wellness efforts that I also have played a small part in. “He has been an advocate for wellness, which led to many advances in wellness centers, outpatient nutrition services, healthy food policy and employee health programs. He led with a caring heart, exceptional ability to empower and mentor others, and by example through his own practice of health.”

Q: At a recent family reunion, my siblings and I were being nostalgic about the family meals we had growing up. We each had a job to do — setting the table, helping mom with preparation, doing the dishes (no automatic dishwasher in our home). At best, most of us now eat as a family only one or two days a week. Do you know if it’s worth trying to overcome all the modern obstacles to eating together more often? — K.G., Winterville

A: I share some of your memories, and yes, there are benefits for families eating together. One message that all my registered dietitian colleagues at ECU and at Vidant Health give to adults and children trying to manage their weight is “eat at home most of the time.”

There have been several studies that document if you eat more than seven meals a week out (and that includes eating at the cafeteria at work) you are more likely to struggle to maintain a healthy weight. The Harris Poll organization recently reported that family meals (let alone eating at home) weren’t very common today.

I wondered if there were studies that identified the benefits of family meals, and indeed I found the list included: better eating habits, healthier body weight, greater academic performance, less disordered eating and decreased substance abuse. Fortunately, it’s fewer than 5 percent of families that report never eating together. But only one in three families eats together four to six times a week.

There is no magic number, of course, but researchers have found that the most benefits occur if a family eats at least five meals together a week — and that means without the TV or other electronic distractions. The time it takes to prepare, eat and clean up is often cited as a big barrier. Just think about how much time you spend in the drive-through line or waiting to be served at a restaurant.

If you need suggestions on how to make family meal times work, check out the website from Harvard Medical School clinical psychologist Anne K. Fishel. She is co-founder of The Family Dinner Project (https://thefamilydinnerproject.org). Then as a family make a S.M.A.R.T. goal — one that is specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time bound.

Why not try to increase the number of meals during the summer, giving you time to establish a new habit before school starts again in the fall? If your meals don’t have fruits and/or vegetables in them, include that in your goal. 

If your family is only eating four meals a week together, you might set a goal to eat one more meal together a week. Be realistic in deciding when it’s most likely you can make it happen.

Say a family has agreed to eat Saturday breakfast together at 7:30 a.m. (before the activities of the day start), every Saturday for the next month. The breakfast will include at least a serving of milk, fruit and a whole-grain product.

If that works, then the family can make a new goal. If they find this doesn’t work,family members can think through how to overcome the barriers or select a different day and meal. Then watch the benefits roll in.

Professor emeritus Kathy Kolasa, a registered dietitian nutritionist and Ph.D., is an Affiliate Professor in the Brody School of Medicine at ECU. Contact her at kolasaka@ecu.edu.

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