Friday, January 4, 2019

Home cooking: Healthy family meals

During the first year of life, naps are crucial for babies (who simply cannot stay awake for more than a couple of hours at a time), and crucial for parents and caregivers, who need breaks from the hard work of caring for an infant.

But as children become toddlers and preschoolers, naps aren’t always straightforward. Children often fight them (following the “you snooze you lose” philosophy), and they can conflict with daily tasks (such as school pick-up when there are older siblings) or lead to late bedtimes.

Here are some tips for making naps work for you and your child — and for knowing when they aren’t needed anymore.
Making naps work for your baby

Most infants will take at least two naps during the day, and early in toddlerhood most children will still take both a morning nap and an afternoon nap. Naps are important not just for physical rest and better moods, but also for learning: sleep allows us to consolidate new information. As children get older, they usually drop one of the naps, most commonly the morning nap.

Every child is different when it comes to napping. Some need long naps, some do fine with catnaps, some will give up naps earlier than others. Even within the same family, children can be different. A big part of making naps work is listening to and learning about your child’s temperament and needs. Otherwise, you can end up fighting losing battles.

The needs of a parent or caregiver are also important: everyone needs a break. Sometimes those breaks are particularly useful at specific times of the day (like meal prep time). While you can’t always make a child be sleepy at the most convenient time for you, it’s worth a try — which leads me to the first tip:

Schedule the naps. Instead of waiting for a child to literally drop and fall asleep, have a regular naptime. We all do better when our sleep routines are regular, even adults. If you can, put the child down awake (or partially awake). Learning to fall asleep without a bottle or a breast, or without being held, is a helpful skill for children to learn and can lead to better sleep habits as they grow.

A couple of scheduling notes:

    If you need a child to fall asleep earlier or later than they seem to do naturally, try to adjust the previous sleep time. For example, if you need an earlier morning nap, wake the child up earlier in the morning. It may not work, but it’s worth a try.
    Naps later in the afternoon often mean that a child won’t be sleepy until later in the evening. That may not be a problem, but for parents who get tired early or need to get up early, it can be. Try to move the nap earlier, or wake the child earlier. If the problematic afternoon nap is in daycare, talk to the daycare provider about moving or shortening it.

Create a space that’s conducive to sleep. Some children can sleep anywhere and through anything, but most do best with a space that is quiet and dark. A white noise machine (or even just a fan) can also be helpful.

Don’t use screens before naptime or bedtime. The blue light emitted by computers, tablets, and phones can wake up the brain and make it harder for children to fall asleep.
When is it time to give up naps?

Most children give up naps between the ages of 3 and 5. If a child can stay up and be pleasant and engaged throughout the afternoon, they are likely ready to stop. Some crankiness in the late afternoon and early evening is okay; you can always just get them to bed earlier.

One way to figure it out, and ease the transition, is to keep having “quiet time” in the afternoon. Have the child go to bed, but don’t insist on sleep; let them look at books or play quietly. If they stay awake, that’s a sign that they are ready to stop. If they fall asleep but then end up staying up very late, that’s another sign that the afternoon nap needs to go.

Whether or not your child naps, having some quiet time without screens every afternoon is a good habit to get into. It gives your child and everyone else a chance to relax and unwind, and sets a placeholder not just for homework but also for general downtime as children grow — and just like naps for babies, downtime for big kids is crucial.
There is no way to meet the need for substance abuse treatment through the current healthcare system. The number of people who need treatment for drug and alcohol abuse is far greater than the number of clinicians available to treat them. In more rural areas, patients might have to spend a lot of time traveling great distances to appointments, which can be difficult to do while working or taking care of a family. And, the cost and stigma of treatment can get in the way of getting help. Moreover, even if people do get to substance abuse treatment, they often do not receive the most effective ones. As illicit drug use increases in the United States, new ways to deliver treatment are urgently needed.

Computer-guided treatments are one way to overcome the hurdles of access to evidence-based treatments, including travel and scheduling, cost, and stigma. Additionally, using computers to treat one’s own substance abuse can be empowering, giving a sense of “I did it on my own.”
How well do computer-guided treatments work compared to live counseling?

Researchers from Yale University recently developed and studied the “Computer-based Training for Cognitive-behavioral Therapy” (or “CBT4CBT”) web-based substance abuse treatment as a fully standalone intervention. CBT4CBT provides cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) — an evidence-based treatment for substance abuse. The treatment is completely computer-guided, and does not involve interacting with a counselor or other healthcare professional. It combines online games and video vignettes with actors to teach how to manage one’s own substance use. Specifically, CBT4CBT covers: how to understand and change patterns of substance use; dealing with cravings; refusing offers of alcohol and drugs; problem-solving; noticing thoughts about drugs and alcohol and how to change them; and strengthening decision-making abilities.

Earlier research has shown that CBT4CBT can be an excellent complement to make live treatment with a counselor more effective and efficient. Recently, the research team conducted the first comparison of any standalone web-based treatment for substance abuse to “treatment as usual” — and data suggest that it may be better.
The study on CBT4CBT

The Yale team recruited 137 people seeking substance use treatment from the Connecticut Mental Health Center in New Haven; 49% African American, 34% Caucasian, and 8% Latino or Latina. Substances used were marijuana, cocaine, alcohol, opioids, and PCP. It was a real-world sample in that most participants used more than one illicit drug and most also used alcohol.

One-third of the participants were randomized to use CBT4CBT, with 10-minute in-person weekly checkups to evaluate their overall functioning, their safety, and their use of the online program. One-third of participants were enrolled in “treatment as usual,” which was either group or individual therapy, and covered topics including motivational interviewing, life skills, relapse prevention, harm reduction, mindfulness, and others. The other third were assigned to in-person CBT with a therapist who delivered the same type of content as the CBT4CBT online program.

The researchers found that drug use (measured by urine tests — which corresponded closely with self-reported use) in the CBT4CBT group was significantly less than treatment as usual, and remained lower over six months of follow-up. Persons who received live CBT had the same level of drug use as the treatment as usual group after six months. They also found that participants in the online treatment learned the CBT concepts the best, and had the highest level of satisfaction and lowest dropout rate of any of the three study conditions. Overall, after treatment the percentage of days abstinent from any drug use was 75% for the CBT4CBT group, vs. 67% of days abstinent for the treatment as usual group and 61% for the live CBT group. The study did not enroll a large enough number of participants to conduct a head-to-head comparison of CBT4CBT and live CBT. That may come later, and the results could inform how to conduct live CBT more effectively.
Getting access to computer-guided CBT

Computer-guided CBT for substance abuse should be studied further should be studied further, with different populations and in different settings, the next real challenge is to disseminate it widely across the US and beyond. According to its website, the CBT4CBT program is not yet available to the public, outside of clinical trials.

Building computer-guided treatment programs is often easier than building companies to deliver them. Barriers include acceptance by institutions, payment by insurance companies, liability, FDA approval, and resistance from healthcare providers — as well as coming up with viable business models. But if these obstacles can be overcome, the world could benefit from a highly effective and accessible treatment for drug and alcohol abuse. Family meals are beneficial for so many reasons. People who prepare meals at home tend to consume significantly more fruits and vegetables, and less sugar and fat. People who enjoy meals at home with others, sitting together and conversing, also have reduced stress and higher life satisfaction. The more frequently families with children have meals together, the more likely the children are to eat a high-quality diet, and the less likely to be overweight or obese. There are also other benefits: these children tend to have higher self-esteem and better academic performance, as well as lower risk of engaging in risky behaviors (like drug use) or developing an eating disorder.
Family meals without distraction

All those benefits go out the window if dinner is eaten in front of the television or other devices. This makes sense if we think about why the family meal has such powerful positive effects: it’s about closeness and connection. Sitting down to eat together is often the only time families can reconnect and communicate. Given our busy, technology-driven lives, the family meal is a rare (and critical) opportunity to unplug and check in. What’s even better is getting the kids involved in making dinner, which is also significantly associated with their eating a higher-quality diet.
One of my favorite family meals: Make-your-own soft tacos

The kids can get involved in preparing this simple and healthy meal, which is incredibly rich in protein and fiber, as well as calcium, iron, and potassium. Beans provide plenty of heart-healthy fiber, protein, and are associated with a lower risk of diabetes. Corn and masa (the tortilla flour made from corn) are considered whole grains and are loaded with vitamins and minerals. Avocados and olives provide heart-healthy fats, and the veggies are risk in fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants. All these easy-to-find ingredients, plus healthy veggies, the option of dairy, and protein from the pumpkin seeds, make this nutritious and fun to prepare with the family — and everyone will love that they can build their own taco!

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