Posted Jan 2, 2012

Carol Ann Surles-Law, 9, pays rapt attention as Riverside dietitian Crystal Witte explains the fine points of good nutrition. Surles-Law is a student at Hampton Roads International Montessori School in Newport News, where “Practical Life” is part of the everyday curriculum.

“The activities include many of the tasks carried out at home, such as food preparation, washing dishes, polishing, and lessons in social grace and courtesy. … Their use is designed to inspire care for one’s self, others and the environment and help children gain self-confidence, coordination and a sense of order,” explains the school’s brochure.

Two dozen parents have assembled to hear Witte’s presentation, “Enhancing your child’s well-being through balanced nutrition.” Carol Ann is attending with her parents, Ken and Lisa.

Lisa Surles-Law likes the school’s attitude toward food. “The children eat snacks when they want to. They encourage us to take them with us to the grocery store. She makes her own lunch every day. That’s why she’s here tonight,” she says.

For her lunches, Carol Ann favors tuna salad, pretzels, strawberries and grapes, and water to drink. She sometimes includes pierogies, which she discovered through a friend. From Witte, she learned that she should step up the dairy content in her lunch box.

Witte shared the USDA’s MyPyramid food guide for children. She encouraged parents to involve children in food preparation to increase their willingness to try new foods; she urged the use of wholegrain breads; and warned against genetically modified foods, sodium nitrates in processed meats and trans-fats in baked goods, such as tortillas and tacos.

Jeanne Anderson, who has two children at the school, was most impressed by the graphic depiction of a bag with 17 teaspoons of sugar next to a bottle of Pepsi. “That will make you not want to drink that,” she said, conceding that she needs to pay more attention to what her children eat.

Susan Montgomery, a health and PE teacher in Newport News, whose 6-year-old daughter attends the Montessori school, started making changes in the family’s diet this year. “We’re making more organic choices and eliminating foods that contain dyes,” she said. She has found healthier substitutes for popular snacks; for example, she’s replaced “goldfish” with Annie’s organic “bunnies” and she now uses 100 percent fruit juices.

For those in a rush, Witte advises shopping the perimeter of the grocery store as a general rule to avoid the processed, canned foods on the middle shelves. If they must buy canned vegetables, she asks them to rinse them in order to reduce the sodium content.

Asked about recommended calorie intake for children, Witte suggests that parents encourage healthy foods and exercise rather than focus on numbers. “Get them to move more; let them grow into their weight rather than reduce calories,” she says.

After learning about numerous nutritional pitfalls, Anderson resolved to pack healthier lunches for her children. “I’m going to ask for a shopping list of what is healthy to eat,” she said.

Need help eating right?

Try these websites, recommended by Crystal Witte, registered dietitian with Riverside Wellness Center : ,,,,, and

©2011 the Daily Press (Newport News, Va.)

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