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PANTRY RAID : Calories, yes; nutrients, no : On-the-go mom and teen sons should add vegetables and fruit, and cut back on the ice cream and cookies.

November 16, 2009|Jeannine Stein

In this second installment of our ongoing series on nutritional makeovers, we explored the kitchen of Kristy Noble and her sons Scott, 14, and Robert, 17.

Noble wants to prepare quick, nutritious meals on a budget while teaching her sons to eat healthfully. Those good intentions are hampered by erratic eating habits and a diet that supplies lots of fat and sugar but scant amounts of essential nutrients.

Registered dietitian Lisa Gibson, an Irvine-based private consultant, explored the Nobles' cupboards and analyzed their food diaries to get a better idea of where the family needs help.

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Kristy Noble's home is a tale of two diets.

Outside, cherry tomatoes grow abundantly in the well-groomed back yard; fruit trees yield apples; and a flourishing herb garden produces basil, sage and mint to spare. But inside, the freezer is stocked with 5-quart containers of ice cream; the cupboard holds tubs of cookies; and oatmeal, whole grains and skim milk share space with sugary cereals and fatty hamburger patties.

"I know we need to eat more vegetables," says the Mission Viejo woman, "but how do you do that when you have four minutes to cook?"

Noble is a substitute teacher and tutors students at home, so her daily schedule is rarely regular. The lack of routine means she might grab a quick breakfast, then not eat until evening. Time-consuming recipes are out of the question; sometimes she and her sons scrounge in the kitchen for a late dinner at 9 p.m.

Scott and Robert are busy with soccer, studying and school activities. They often prepare breakfast on their own but sometimes skip lunch and arrive home hungry. Very hungry. Their appetites are healthy, to say the least -- a snack can be an entire quart of yogurt or a couple of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Noble has trouble stocking enough food for them, although she shops regularly and frugally, visiting several area markets to get the best deals.

Registered dietitian Lisa Gibson is impressed with the garden and the fact that Noble cans her own fruits and vegetables but is less awed by the family's basic food supply. Starting in the garage, Gibson finds huge jars of Skippy peanut butter, cans of refried beans and large bags of cereal. She approves of peanut butter on principle -- it's a terrific source of protein and good fats -- but she prefers more natural versions, without vegetable oil stabilizers and added sugar. The refried beans, low in fat and packed with nutrients, get high marks. "This can be considered a serving of vegetables," she says. Some cereals pass muster, such as the Raisin Bran, but the crispy rice and cinnamon swirls don't. "These don't have a lot of fiber in them," Gibson says.

Gibson stops in her tracks at a 6-pound, 9-ounce can of pears; Noble says the boys might devour the entire contents in two days.

"They are getting some fiber," Gibson says, "but they're also getting a lot of extra sugar and no protein." A pattern is already emerging: "They need to get more nutrients," she says.

In the kitchen, Noble prepares a lentil stew for dinner while her sons do homework. Gibson continues searching the cupboards and refrigerator. She finds good-for-you oatmeal and a jar of whole grains, plus cans of beans and tomatoes -- even tomatoes that Noble has canned herself. She also finds a stash of nuts and raisins -- Noble's relatively healthy snacks when she doesn't have time for a formal meal. "They're fast, and they fill you up and keep you going," Noble says.

The refrigerator has bright spots: several gallons of skim milk, a whole chicken, grapes, carrots and green beans. But a block of mild cheddar cheese, which does provide protein, is high in saturated fat and cholesterol.

The quarts of yogurt are a good source of protein and calcium, but Gibson points out that if one serving is 250 calories, eating a whole tub of the sweetened, low-fat kind would amount to 1,000 calories, 11 grams of fat and about 180 grams of sugar.

The freezer holds several bags of frozen vegetables and blueberries but also packages of pre-made hamburger patties (330 calories and 23 grams of fat each) along with three 5-quart containers of ice cream, which the family eats almost daily. Although it's not premium ice cream, which has much more fat (a half-cup serving of the less expensive kind contains 140 calories and 7 grams of fat), it's usually eaten in larger quantities. Tubs of Trader Joe's cookies sit in the cupboard above the refrigerator. Then there's Noble's stash of dark chocolate chips. She says she might eat two to three handfuls at a time, depending on her stress level. Sixteen chips have 80 calories and 6 grams of fat.

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