Newspaper article by Laura Martin
Vineyard Gazette, Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts

Author Offers Healthy Snacks in a Snap

He wasn't a junk food kid, Laura Plunkett said of her son, Danny. He ate kid food. Mac N Cheese. White bread. Spaghetti. Bagels.

“I would have told you my kids ate healthy,” she said. “But I didn't fight everything – Danny's only vegetable was cucumber.”

Then healthy, active, seven-year-old Danny was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes. It was 2002. The self-described “Type A” mom turned her son's diabetes into a catalyst:“We made big changes, coming together as a family, with lots of teamwork and communication.”

The experience also turned the mother into an author. She will speak tonight at the Bunch of Grapes on Main St. in Vineyard Haven on the topic, Raising Wholesome Children in a Fast Food World.

The biggest changes for the Plunketts came in their diet. Danny had to use a monitor which showed the effects of the food he was eating.

“White sugar, white flour, white rice – there were certain foods setting off his body,” Ms. Plunkett said. “These have major effects on children, including of course our daughter, though because we weren't testing her blood sugar every two hours we wouldn't have other wise known that.”

Fast-forward to now. Laura Plunkett has written The Challenge of Childhood Diabetes: Family Strategies for Raising a Healthy Child. In the book, she describes how, slowly, over time, she road-tested revolutionary eating. Now she shares her many tips freely, so that it won't take other interested parents so long to improve their family's health.

Yet her first piece of overall advice is this: take baby steps. Set simple goals and take them one at a time. And take them as a family.“My goal was to go from white to whole grain,” she said.

The first thing she did was not buy white bread. “We started by going from Wonder to whole wheat, so the only change was in the color. Then, when they were used to that, I tried oat bran. Then stone grain. Tastes change.”

When the bread met with resistance, Ms. Plunkett cheerfully sent the bread on its own guerilla missions: whole wheat hiding in a grilled cheese sandwich, grain masked as French toast. “Then I wanted to go from cucumber to a lot of healthy greens, carrots – a wider range of vegetables,” she said. “First, I did not ask them ‘Do you want some vegetables?'”

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Stealth again was her tactic. When Danny and his sister Jessie got out of school, when they were really hungry, she'd have carrot of celery sticks for them to snack on in the car. When she got home, she would already have cut vegetables and fruit on a platter.

“They could pick their favorite dressing, and I'd just slide it on the counter as they settled in for homework, “ she explains.

There is hummus in the fridge now, and ranch, Caesar and balsamic vinaigrette dressing. There are no bags of chips or tortilla snacks in the cupboards for them to grab while watching television on a Saturday afternoon. “Instead, next to them as they watch are the cut vegetables and dressing, so that's what they grab,” she said.

Ms. Plunkett and her family once started the day with a bagel, “By 10 a.m. you are starving,” she said.

“If you have a fruit shake with protein – something with staying power – it holds you, and your body doesn't have the stress of a [blood sugar] spike [followed by] the low.”

She tosses various things into the blender for the breakfast shake: sliced almonds for protein (“the sliced ones kind of dissolve,” she said), soy or milk, bananas, frozen blueberries, plain yogurt or soft tofu (“the rest of the fruit masks the taste of this, so you just get more protein”), even unsweetened cocoa.

“So you can have a choc-banana-strawberry shake and get all sorts of nutrients,” she said.

The family also made tremendous strides – using the same easy, gradual approach – in exercise.

“After school, they need to really move,” she said. “In bad weather, we'd make up games, [such as] an obstacle course or something in the basement. If it was nice, we went on walks… There were some horrible times in the beginning. But then it was fun time, we all found it a stress buster.

“And for just say, 15 minutes, we move for a little while after dinner. It's so great to not sit in and clean up. We play a quick game of basketball, soccer, go for a bike ride.”

The rewards are worth the effort, she said. “It has been great for our communication – just to have time, sitting together. At an age where kids might've been going off and doing own thing [they were seven and 10 when Danny was diagnosed] we had to parent more intensely.”

Now, Ms. Plunkett said, Jessie “is radiant … and Danny has the best stamina on his soccer team.” Their parents' stamina is much improved, too.

Best of all, they did it without ultimatums. “We still have birthday cake or a slice of pizza now – but mostly, now we actually want to eat better. We feel better.”