Archive for December, 2010

5 Realistic New Year’s Resolutions to Promote your Child’s Health

Wednesday, December 29th, 2010


Image Courtesy of Blueskyemama

New Year’s is just around the corner, and now its time to start preparing those New Year’s Resolutions. This year, many families across the United States are fighting childhood obesity by creating New Years Resolutions that successfully promote their children’s health. After all, healthy lifestyles are learned at a young age. Here are five realistic New Year’s Resolutions to help promote your child’s health next year:

1. Limit Sodas and Other Sugary Treats, to the Weekends

The key to a successful New Year’s Resolution is to start simple. First, educate your children about the downfalls of eating and drinking too much sugar, or sugary products. Then, move on to limiting their soda intake, or any other sugary product that they love, just to the weekends. If you do away with soda and sugar all together, chances are your children will be unhappy and quite upset (to say the least).

By allowing sugary treats on the weekends, your children won’t feel like you’re punishing them, and they’ll realize that they don’t need to consume their favorite sugary treats all the time. Start simple, and eventually you can phase some sugary products out of your child’s diet all together. Keep in mind, that moderation is the key to a healthy lifestyle, so don’t begin by cutting out sugars all together.

2. Prepare Healthy Meals Together as a Family

Children love hands on activities. What better way to get your children interested in eating healthy foods than by involving them in cooking healthy meals? Depending on the age of your children, they can help set the table, mix dry ingredients (that don’t involve using the stove or oven), or even plan the meals themselves. Teaching your children to prepare healthy meals also gets them involved in grocery shopping. Take your children to the store with you, or ask them to write the shopping list. There are many different ways of involving children of all ages in the process of planning and making a healthy meal.

Best of all, spending time together as a family is priceless. Studies have shown that families who eat meals together are much closer. Planning, preparing and enjoying a family meal together are wonderful ways to not only promote children’s health, but also family unity.

3. Get Involved in Sports

Eating healthy is just one aspect of a healthy lifestyle. Being active is another important part of being healthy. Getting children involved in sports, or other extracurricular activities is a fun way to get kids to enjoy exercise.

Traditional sports like soccer, football and basketball involve lots of cardiovascular activity and strength training. For children that aren’t as interested in traditional competitive sports, activities like skateboarding and dance are another fun alternative. Whatever activity your child chooses, it certainly beats staying in and playing video games on the couch!

4. Start a Garden!

Let’s face it; most children aren’t crazy about fruits and vegetables. And at times, it can be quite difficult to get them excited about eating broccoli, lettuce or anything else that’s green and leafy. One way of getting children excited about eating more fruits and vegetables is to plant a garden. Depending on your home, this can be a full-out garden in the backyard, or a few select plants in a windowsill. Keep in mind that many fruits, and especially vegetables, can even be grown inside your home.

Watching plants and vegetables develop from a little seed, to a real plant that provides food, is a fun experience for children and adults alike. Best of all, it is incredibly rewarding to eat the fruits of your labor (pun intended!). Planting a garden may be the extra push that some children need in order to try, and to enjoy, healthier foods.

5. Pack Lunches

Lots of schools are trying to be more conscientious about the lunch options they offer children throughout the day. However, in lots of schools, children are still able to pick and choose from different school lunch options. And let’s be honest, most children are going to choose fried foods or sugary options over a healthy meal. In order to make sure that your child is receiving a healthy lunch, pack lunch everyday instead of buying it. Feel free to involve your child in the process of packing lunch and have them help out with choosing more healthy options. Choose juices over soda, or fresh fruit over sugary snacks. By involving children in selecting healthy food options, your 2011 New Year’s Resolutions will have a lasting impact!

Christmas Gifts that Promote Activity and Nutrition

Thursday, December 16th, 2010


Image courtesy of

With childhood obesity at the forefront of parents’ and teachers’ concerns, it’s only natural that the commodities on the market around the holidays would follow suit. Here are some great gift ideas that will promote physical activity and good nutrition.


Video Games: There are plenty of exercising video games available for every gaming console on the market. A few of the most popular items are listed below.

  • WiiFit – KidFit Island Resort, Nickelodeon Fit, EA Sports Active
  • Xbox Kinect – Dance Central, Your Shape, Joy Ride
  • Playstation Move – Sports Champions, Sorcery

Toys: There’s no better way to encourage kids to get up and move than with traditional, fun activities. If you are looking for the perfect gift for your kids, consider setting up an area in your backyard for one of these great toys!

  • Trampoline
  • Swing Set
  • Tire Swing
  • Hula hoop
  • Jump Rope
  • Bicycle
  • Sled
  • Inline Skates

Visit to purchase your favorite exer-gaming systems or sports equipment for a friend, family member, or any kid you know!

Adolescents and Adults


  • Yoga Mat
  • Exercise Ball
  • Weight Bench
  • Pilates/Yoga DVDs

Nutrition: It’s hard to encourage healthy eating without being forceful, but here are a few great ways to help your friends change their ways!

Fruit of the Month Club – There are many different fruit of the month clubs all across the country. Find one that supplies fresh, local fruits in the area of the recipient, then sign them up! Consider fruit every other month or so if you want to ease them into it!

Food Steamer – A great and healthy way to cook anything from vegetables to chicken is with a food steamer. You can even find some that will steam your eggs! Recipients will be excited to make every meal healthier with an easy food steamer.

Gadgets: For those friends that are already active, or are trying to monitor their workouts, these gadgets are a great way to get them excited about exercising!

GPS Watch, Pedometers, and Cadence Monitor – Great for runners, bikers, and swimmers, these pacers and monitors can store many work outs at a time, and give all beginners a great way to see improvement.

Heart Monitor – If losing weight is the goal, heart monitors help you keep track of how hard you’re working.

Safety Light – Many of us get discouraged in the cold winter months when the sun sets so early, but a great way to encourage your friends to get biking, running, or walking after work is to provide a safety light or vest! This eliminates the excuses!

Visit for a great selection of pedometers or other fitness equipment.

Any Age

Traditional Sports Equipment: No kids can say no to traditional sports equipment. Whether you just get a football and cones, or sport-specific training equipment, anything that gets encourages fun activity will do!

SPARK Comix for December…

Monday, December 13th, 2010

Reduce Screen-Time with “Screen-Time Vouchers”

Monday, December 13th, 2010

As a father, a physical educator, and a family health advocate, I know that managing children’s screen-time is a critical but often challenging aspect of family wellness.

That’s why we’ve begun to develop screen-time management tools like SPARK’s Screen-Time Vouchers. We feel it’s especially timely to share this resource as we hit the holiday gift-giving season. Each year more video games, handheld devices, and video screens top children’s gift lists.

Teachers, share this resource with your students’ families. Parents and caregivers, consider using screen-time vouchers to help manage family zombie zones. SPARK’s Screen-Time Vouchers help families align with 3 of the WeCan! Strategies for reducing screen time.

  1. Talk to your family. Use these vouchers to start and continue a conversation with your kids about why it’s important to limit screen time and increase activity time.
  2. Log Screen Time vs. Active Time. By turning in Screen-Time Vouchers, children are easily tracking time spent focusing on screens.
  3. Set Screen Limits. These vouchers instantly set parameters around screen-based devices and help families enforce screen-time rules.

Here are 3 important notes as we build off the great work of WeCan!

  • Set a Good Example. It’s “move it or lose it” time. If you don’t prove your point by moving your gluteus, you’ll lose credibility with your kids. Make vouchers valuable by proving their value with your example.
  • Next, don’t over emphasize vouchers by treating screen-time as a reward. Screen-time vouchers are tools for teaching responsible health management, just like an allowance is used to teach financial responsibility.
  • Finally, consider active screen-time separately. Nothing replaces the social interaction of real-live pick-up games or activity at the park. However, active video games are a great alternative to muscle melting sedentary ones. Plus, they’re pretty fun. For full benefits, participate with your children. You’ll sweat, laugh, and bond the new-school way.

Click Here to download SPARK’s Screen-Time Vouchers. Check back with SPARK often for new resources and ideas.

Have a safe and wonderful Holiday Season.

Aaron Hart

Development Director

The SPARK Programs

Healthy Eating Tip Sheets for Parents

Monday, December 13th, 2010

Guest Blog Post from our Nutrition Education Partner, Healthy Kids Challenge (HKC):

Childhood obesity statistics are alarming. Our Nutrition Education Partner Healthy Kids Challenge (HKC) challenges you to go beyond a focus on the obesity problem and Take Action with simple solutions that can help improve health for ALL kids and their families.

Use HKC healthy tips, newsletter, E-Challenge, toolkits, and programs to create or improve school, organization, and community policies and practices that support healthy food choices and physical activity.  Download their newest Health and Nutrition Parent Tip Sheet: “Fruits & Veggies – Every Day the Tasty Way”.

Come back for another new tip sheet the first week of every month. Enjoy these simple solutions to better health! Visit the online store for the whole set (18) of Healthy6 parent tip sheets!

For more information on our partner Healthy Kids Challenge Click Here

Help Your Family Have a Healthy Holiday Season

Monday, December 13th, 2010

The holiday season is here and with it come Christmas parties, New Year’s celebrations…and food, food, and more food! Not to mention that when the temperatures drop and the sunset comes early, it gets harder and harder to make sure you (and your family) are getting the exercise you need to stay healthy through the holidays.

Keeping up with healthy habits has benefits for your whole body – like helping to avoid holiday weight gain, helping to fend off holiday stress and fatigue, and helping to keep your immune system strong. Many people give up on healthy habits during the holidays but with these tips you can teach your children how to stay healthy during this busy time of year.

Tips for healthy holiday eating:
  • Feed your children – and yourself – a light meal or snack before going to a holiday party. It’s harder to avoid overeating when you’re overly hungry.
  • Set a good example for children by eating fruits, vegetables, and whole grains with meals or as snacks.
  • Offer to bring a healthy, low-calorie dish to holiday parties so you’ll know that at least one healthy item will be available.
  • Teach your children to eat smaller portions of food, especially at a buffet, where they may want to try everything. Help them choose the items they want to try the most, and eat a small portion of each.
  • Sodas and other sweet drinks contain a lot of calories and many contain caffeine. For a healthier version of “soda” mix 100% fruit juice with club soda or seltzer.
  • The holiday season can keep you extra busy but try to avoid fast food – it may be handy, but is often high in fat and low in nutrition.
Tips for physical activity:
  • Hula Hoop, Jump Rope: If Rocky can jump rope for hours, it’s got to be good, right? Grab a few hula hoops and jump ropes, clear out one of your rooms, and turn on some fast-paced music. Your kids will love learning new skills, and you’ll love getting their heart rates up! You can even hold a tournament or a competition to make it more interesting.
  • Dance: In First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign, she encourages parents and children to get up and dance. Not only can you learn valuable moves on the dance floor, but merely dancing around for an hour can burn upwards of 200 calories! Take a leaf out of Michelle’s book: turn on some holiday music and dance around the house.
  • Active Video Games: Traditional video games, albeit fun and endlessly entertaining, are extremely sedentary activities and should be limited to just an hour or two a week. The new, active video games incorporate fitness, coordination, and even dance skills! Consider Dance Dance Revolution, Wii Bowling, Playstation Move or Xbox Kinect next time your kids want to spend hours in front of the television on a cold or rainy day.
  • The Gift that Keeps Giving: Give gifts that encourage physical activity, like active games or sporting equipment. Santa knows that even the simplest presents, like a ball or hula hoop, help support activity and leave open endless possibilities for fun family games.

Healthy Holiday Recipes

Monday, December 13th, 2010

Holiday Pudding Cups

A light delicious treat which is fruitful, festive, and requires very little work. Plus it is in its own dish, so less clean up after a holiday party.


  • 1pkg Philo dough (thawed)
  • 1pkg JELLO instant vanilla pudding (regular or sugar free)
  • Milk (for pudding)
  • ¼ cup Pomegranate
  • ¼ cup Strawberry (sliced)
  • ¼ cup Blueberry
  • ¼ cup Kiwi (diced)
  • Powder Sugar


  1. Preheat oven to 350
  2. Lightly spray muffin pan with cooking spray (for appetizer style use the miniature cup cake pans)
  3. Roll Philo dough into 1/8 inch thick sheets
  4. Cut dough into squares, so that when it’s laid into the muffin pan it will hangover ½ inch
  5. Gently press squares into muffin pan, shaping edges to form rims ¼ inch high
  6. Bake for 18 minutes or until pastry has a golden color. (Tip – for a glossy shine on the pastry cup lightly glaze beaten egg onto the top)
  7. Let cool
  8. Mix up the vanilla pudding per the JELLO package instructions
  9. Once the pastry cups have cooled, spoon pudding into each cup.
  10. Then top with a piece of each fruit and lightly dust with powder sugar.
  11. Serve chilled.
  12. ENJOY!

Stuffing with Sage and Chives


  • 1 spray(s) cooking spray
  • 12 slice(s) whole-wheat bread, cubed*
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 2 tsp light butter
  • 1 cup(s) onion(s), diced
  • 3 stalk(s) (medium) celery, diced
  • 2 tsp dried thyme
  • 2 tsp dried sage
  • 1/2 tsp table salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper, freshly ground
  • 2 cup(s) canned chicken broth
  • 2 Tbsp chives, fresh, chopped


  1. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Coat a 4-quart shallow baking dish with cooking spray.
  2. Arrange bread cubes on a large ungreased baking sheet in a single layer (use 2 baking sheets if there’s not enough room). Bake until lightly toasted, about 8 to 10 minutes. Remove bread from oven and set aside; leave oven set to 350ºF.
  3. Meanwhile, in a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat oil and butter together for 1 to 2 minutes. Add onion and celery; sauté until soft, about 3 minutes. Add thyme, sage, salt and pepper; stir to coat. Cook until herbs are fragrant, about 1 minute.
  4. Transfer onion mixture to a large mixing bowl. Add bread, broth and chives; toss to combine. Spoon mixture into prepared baking dish and cover with foil; bake 20 minutes. Uncover and bake until top is golden brown, about 15 minutes more. Divide into 8 pieces and serve. Yields 1 piece per serving.


  • Leave the bread bag open and somewhat uncovered for 1 to 2 days (at room temperature) before making the recipe.
  • Feel free to substitute your favorite bread, such as whole grain, sourdough or a light variety..
  • For added flavor, you can also add about 1 cup of diced Granny Smith or McIntosh apples to the stuffing
  • You can make this stuffing in advance and bake it just before serving. The stuffing will last up to 3 days in the refrigerator or 3 months in the freezer. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator before baking as directed.

Servings:  8

Preparation Time:  15 min

Cooking Time:  45 min

Level of Difficulty:  Easy


Study: Physically Active Kids Perform Better Academically

Thursday, December 9th, 2010

kids-in-schoolFor children, it’s important to begin a regular routine of healthy exercise as early as possible to help them perform at their best. However, such activity is a means of improving more than just the body through building muscle strength and endurance. In fact, many studies are now showing that children who are physically active also perform better in the classroom.

Over the past decade, the positives of physical education are helping students and teachers to feel good about taking a break from the usual classroom environment and get moving. The original SPARK study is still the only NIH study to positively link physical education and academics and conclude that more time spent in physical education class did not result in a decrease in academic performance (SPARK study in Research Quarterly – Click Here).

Below is a short list of sources that have linked staying in shape with staying ahead in the classroom. And for more resources (articles/publications/webinars) on the link between physical activity and academic performance you can Click Here .   (Image Source)

1. The National Association for Sport and Physical Education notes a 2001 California Department of Education study that correlates school performance with maintaining good physical condition. Student standardized achievement test scores were compared to the state required fitness test, known as the FitnessGram.  Pupils being evaluated underwent the scrutiny of this test, as provided by the Cooper Institute for Aerobics Research. Different traits such as aerobic capacity, body composition, flexibility and more were measured. Results of the study found a direct relationship between physical fitness and improved academic achievement, especially in the area of mathematics. Findings also suggested that family involvement in physical activity with children outside of school helps to reinforce and foster life-long fitness habits.

2. For standardized math and English tests, studies have shown that children achieve more when they are able to pass a number of fitness tests. This finding published in the School of Journal Health studied a group of students between the 2004 and 2005 school year. Pupils performed better in both reading and math when they were also involved in ongoing athletic activities, regardless of gender or ethnicity. The idea that physical exertion will detract from a student’s studies is quickly becoming null and void, thanks to indicators such as these. Corresponding results help secure the belief that fitness programs may actually serve to enhance academic performance.

3. A 2005 report by the California Department of Education cites evidence that healthy, fit children are more prone to attend school and perform better than their sedentary peers. In response, the department encourages schools to make physical education an essential goal. This report expresses concern over the obesity epidemic amongst children in the United States, as well as illnesses it can cause later in life, such as heart disease and diabetes, among others. Physical education allows students to improve their bone density and motor skills, as well as boosts self esteem through exercise. The report further calls for legislation to continue ongoing support of health programs and improved nutrition for students while on campus. Emphasis on making sure that physical education teachers have the ability to give students the highest quality experience available is provided. Textbooks are available to help outline the skills that students should be learning from such programs.

4. The American College of Sports Medicine noted a 2006 study that supports the relationship between increased activity in children and higher grades. Children who participated in hearty exercise for no less than 20 minutes, three or more days a week, exhibited higher grades.  Those involved in less strenuous activities for 30 minutes over five days per week did not achieve the same improved grade results. Researchers advise the incorporation of strenuous physical activities into school programs and recommend teachers and parents assist students in balancing fitness programs alongside academic pursuits.

5. The California Journal of Health Promotion published findings in 2006 regarding explanations as to why physical education and academic achievement are associated.  A study was cited by California State University researchers who compared differences between schools that made fitness a priority and those that did not. When standardized pupil test scores were analyzed, it was determined that the leading schools also had formal, structured physical education programs based on the State Board of Education guidelines. Conversely, the lowest academic performing schools did not even have gym teachers.  The case for preserving physical education programs during school cutbacks is made, as well as the case for improving children’s health prospects in the future by remaining active.

6. A 2010 report in Science Daily cited a medical study presented at a conference for the American Heart Association that links physical fitness to better school performance.  For students who remain fit throughout their schooling years, there is a better chance of increased academic achievement. Standardized tests for students over time show that the students who perform best do so when they remain fit across different grade levels. Students should receive at least an hour of physical activity per day, with curriculum appropriate for their age group. Research indicates that healthier, happier children become fit adults as a result.


With the dangers of sedentary lifestyles becoming more apparent, it’s no wonder that exercise is being championed for all school-age students. Multiple scientific studies prove that there is more to academic performance than just book learning. The amount of exercise pupils receive in school can create positive habits that serve to compliment academic achievement. Promoting physical health in childhood can only serve to benefit our youth with the outcome of healthier bodies accompanied by brighter minds.