Overall, Gibson likes the fact that the family eats at home every night, grows some of its own vegetables, doesn't indulge in fast food and bans chips and soda from the house. But she worries that the mother's and sons' diets lack essential vitamins and nutrients -- important for Scott and Robert, who are active and still growing, and for Noble, who wants to lose 20 to 30 pounds.
Noble typically eats little all day -- perhaps a small bowl of cereal in the morning, followed by a few handfuls of nuts and maybe an apple, then dinner, which could be a tortilla with roasted chicken or an egg burrito. On one recent day, she consumed only 1,031 calories but didn't eat her first meal until 6:30 p.m. That consisted of a cheese sandwich, followed by toast with jam and then chocolate ice cream -- foods that provided too much fat. Other days, she consumes too many calories.
Scott and Robert get protein from good sources (skim milk and yogurt) and not-so-good sources (hamburgers). Although they're young and slim, they need to eat more balanced meals with many more fruits and vegetables and lean proteins. On one recent day, Scott consumed 3,476 calories -- largely from two bowls of Raisin Bran cereal, a chocolate shake, pasta, two hamburgers and a quart of yogurt.
Says Gibson to Noble: "I think you have good intentions, but you can't quite get there."
After the visit, Gibson notes that the family's diet is sorely lacking in fruits and vegetables. "Looking at their food diaries, I don't think they had one serving of vegetables in three days. If you're not eating fruits and vegetables, you're missing vitamins like A and C and phytochemicals such as lycopene [found in tomatoes], lutein [found in green leafy vegetables] and flavonoids [found in citrus fruits and berries] that may help reduce the risk of cancer. They're also missing vitamin B-12 and zinc, which are important for good blood formation and to prevent anemia."
More lean proteins in their diets, such as fish and chicken, will help the boys build muscle fiber. Eating protein in the morning, especially, will quell hunger pangs.
"They're filling up on comfort foods, which are easy to fix and inexpensive," Gibson says. She also notes that having large quantities of tempting foods, such as ice cream, can trigger overeating. She recommends re-routing some of the budget away from sweets and simple carbs and toward more fruits and vegetables.
Among Gibson's suggestions for Noble:
* Buy an inexpensive crock pot for simple main-dish recipes that include vegetables, such as chilis and stews. A dish prepared in the morning will be ready by evening, and most vegetables, which can be quickly rough-chopped, retain their nutrients and fiber after cooking.
* Add nutrition to pasta, which the boys usually eat with only olive oil and cheese, via tomato sauce and turkey meatballs.
* Mix fiber-rich plain cereals, which the boys don't like, with the sweetened cereals they prefer.
* Replace cheddar cheese with feta, which is lower in fat and usually consumed in smaller quantities because of its strong flavor.
* Cook entrees on weekends and freeze them, providing meals throughout the week.
* Overhaul the snacks. Although Noble usually doesn't prepare salads because the produce tends to spoil quickly, Gibson recommends combining dark, leafy greens, beans, tuna, canned salmon or chicken as an afternoon snack -- and topping it with an olive oil-based dressing that provides good fats. If the boys like it, chances are there won't be many leftovers.
* Eat more regularly during the day, focusing on lean protein, which may make Noble specifically less compelled to pounce on the sweets.
Noble should stop skipping meals if she wants to lose weight. Not eating for long periods can slow the metabolism.
"Change can be really hard," Gibson says, "but to make changes you can't just say 'I need to eat more vegetables,' you have to pack carrots for lunch or have a salad for dinner. Make it specific and something that's doable."