Archive for the ‘Healthy Eating’ Category


Summer Treats to Beat the Heat: 6 Healthy Snacks Your Kids Will Love

Wednesday, July 5th, 2017

kids eating healthy and refreshing juice popsicles

The summer heat can be tough to deal with, especially for kids who are running around in the hot sun all day. Coupling cool snacks with healthy treats can require a bit of creativity, but it’s not impossible to encourage healthy eating over the summer break. To help your kids cool down and stay hydrated, consider these six healthy snacks that are great on hot summer days.

Fruit Salad

Fruit salad is one of the easiest recipes to prepare during the summer. All it takes is some chilled mixed fruit, and it’s perfect for breakfast, lunch or a snack. There are practically no limits to fruit salad, whether you want to pair melon, strawberries and grapes together or even throw in a bit of chopped papaya, kiwi, blueberry or oranges. Toss in a bit of lemon juice to keep the fruit from browning, or add a bit of orange juice for extra flavor.

Frozen Juice Pops

Popsicles are a staple for hot summer days to help you cool down, but they’re usually packed with sugar. The healthy alternative is frozen juice pops. Simply blend your favorite fruits or vegetables together in a food processor, pour the liquid mixture into popsicle molds, and freeze. Not only does this cut out the added sugar, but these types of pops are full of other healthy nutrients — and your kids won’t know the difference.

Pineapple Sorbet

Another frozen treat that will help your kids cool down is this healthy sorbet recipe. Start with one pineapple and scoop out the flesh, placing it in a blender. Add two tablespoons of agave or maple syrup, one cup of water, and the juice from one lemon. Blend until smooth, and then freeze. Once frozen, let the mixture thaw slightly, and then blend it again until you reach a sorbet-like consistency. That’s it! For extra fun, you can serve the sorbet in a half of the pineapple shell. It’s a tasty chilled treat your kids will love.

Guacamole

Guacamole is an avocado dip that is packed with nutrients. It’s made by mashing avocados and combining them with lemon juice, chopped red onions, garlic, salt, black pepper and diced tomatoes. You can use it as a dip with whole grain corn chips, as a spread on sandwiches and wraps, or mixed with cooked egg yolks as an alternative to mayonnaise when making deviled eggs.

Potato Salad

Potato salad is a great way to pack vegetables into your diet during the summer. Because it’s so tasty, easy and nutritious, it’s perfect for family summer potlucks and barbecues. There are tons of potato salad recipes you can turn to, and many people are lucky enough to have a secret family recipe they use. Even if you’ve never made your own potato salad before, with potatoes, celery, onion and eggs, you just can’t go wrong.

Chicken Wraps

The great thing about wraps is that there are endless delicious and healthy combinations. A basic wrap starts with a tortilla, lettuce, cheese and chicken, with additional fillings such as onion, tomato, bell peppers and avocado. To make it even healthier, opt for high-fiber tortillas, spinach tortillas or whole grain tortillas. Try experimenting with hummus, spinach, cucumbers, corn and beans as you please. You can even swap out the chicken for other lean meats, fish, or vegetarian alternatives.

Getting your kids interested in healthy eating this summer doesn’t have to be hard work. With these summer recipes, your kids will be able to cool off while filling their bellies with something healthy and delicious.

What’s your go-to healthy summer snack?

5 Ways to Teach Kids About the Food Groups

Tuesday, May 30th, 2017

The five food groups

Between teaching your kids how to read, write and behave, in addition to many other life skills, the topic of health can easily get lost in the shuffle. It’s important for your children to learn the importance of healthy eating so that they can grow up to make smart decisions concerning their diet. But what are the most effective ways of teaching children about food groups and helping them to recognize when food is healthy?

Here are 5 fun ideas to help you get started:

1. Make Learning Into a Game

Teaching the food groups through games is a great way to get your kids familiar with serious concepts without making it feel like homework.

Why not try one of these activities?

  • Start with a set of play foods and bring out 5 containers, each labeled with one of the food groups: fruits, vegetables, grains, protein foods and dairy. You might consider an extra container for junk food. Challenge your children to sort the play foods into their proper containers.
  • Cut out pictures of foods from magazines, and label 5 poster boards with a different food group. Your kids have to paste the right pictures onto the right posters in the form of a collage.
  • Set up a play grocery store at home that’s organized by each food group.

2. Help Them Pack Their Lunch

Getting involved in your children’s meal choices is an excellent way to lead by example and demonstrate how important a healthy diet can be. Try letting your kids pick out their food for their packed lunches, provided that they choose something from every food group. Present them with alternatives so that they learn the different types of food from each group. This could include the option of either a banana or an apple to reinforce that these foods are both fruits.

3. Cook Dinner Together

When you’re cooking dinner, you probably want nothing more than to kick your kids out of the kitchen, but don’t miss out on this chance to offer them a valuable learning opportunity. Making food together is always preferable to putting together meals by yourself or providing your kids with pre-prepared meals from the grocery store. By turning mealtimes into a team effort, kids develop greater understanding and responsibility when it comes to their food. Let them suggest a side dish and help prepare the ingredients. In no time at all they’ll be able to cook by themselves.

4. Use a MyPlate Placemat

MyPlate is a graphic providing a visual demonstration of the food groups and their portions on a typical dinner plate. Using this graphic as a placemat serves as a reminder of how much of each food group you and your children should be getting in every meal. Search for placemats that show examples of a serving from each food group to help instill the food group theory. For a more interactive lesson, you can even print out a MyPlate placement for your kids to illustrate with their ideas for a balanced meal.

5. Tour Your Local Grocery Store

Instead of shopping while the kids are at school or daycare, bring them along with you so they can learn some important life lessons. Taking your kids to the grocery store isn’t only a great way to educate them about food choices; it also teaches them about money, if they pay attention to the prices. Talk about the foods you’re buying and why you chose that particular type or brand. Discuss what recipes you’ll use the ingredients for and why certain choices are healthier than others. You might even find that, as they gain a better understanding of nutrition, your children start making excellent dinner suggestions!

Teaching your kids about healthy eating isn’t a one-time discussion; it’s an ongoing process that relies heavily on good examples, open dialogue, and team activities to ensure nutritional understanding and awareness. If you try these fun tips, your kids are sure to enjoy eating a balanced diet, which will further support their physical health.

3 Reasons Why Breakfast is the Most Important Meal of the Day for Kids

Tuesday, May 2nd, 2017

breakfast as a family

Do your kids routinely eat breakfast each morning?

Eating a balanced breakfast offers a wealth of health benefits, both physical and mental, for the whole family. Teaching your children healthy habits from a young age by incorporating a nutritious breakfast into their daily routine is a vital life lesson. Breakfast will not only have a positive impact on their bodies, but also on their education. Numerous studies have found that eating breakfast improves a child’s concentration, mood and grades. What’s more, eating breakfast as a family every morning is great way to spend quality time together.

Here are 3 reasons why you shouldn’t wait one more day to make eating breakfast a part of your child’s lifestyle:

1. It Encourages Healthy Eating Habits

Children who make a habit of eating breakfast every day are more likely to continue to do so throughout their lives. Studies have also shown that eating breakfast on a daily basis helps individuals maintain a healthy body weight. Eating healthy meals, starting with breakfast, is just as important as physical education and activity for young children. Make sure your family breakfast is well-balanced and nutrient-rich. A breakfast high in protein and complex carbohydrates is ideal, so next time you’re at the grocery store, make sure you pick up some eggs and oatmeal.

If your children aren’t eating breakfast on a regular basis, try to incorporate it into their schedule by having them wake up a little earlier each morning. You can also involve them in writing the grocery list. When kids feel like they have more ownership over the foods in front of them, they are more likely to actually eat them. Skim milk, low-sugar cereals, fruit and whole grain waffles are healthy foods that they will probably be excited to buy and, more importantly, to eat.

2. It Improves Their Concentration

The Nutrition Consortium of NY State tells us that children who eat a well-balanced breakfast show improved academic performance, demonstrate a longer attention span, have better attendance and experience decreased hyperactivity in school. Children also score better on tests if they have had a healthy breakfast beforehand.

If your child is tired, restless or grouchy by the early afternoon, adding breakfast will help stabilize his or her blood sugar and mood. Breakfast will give kids more energy and the ability to concentrate better throughout the day. The key is to stick to nutritious items and to avoid the empty calories often found in sugary cereals, syrups and breakfast pastries.

3. It Boosts Family Bonding

In the digital age, family time is an increasingly precious commodity. Research shows that children greatly benefit from sitting around the table for a meal with their family, and breakfast is no exception. Mealtimes provide the perfect setting for a catch up with one another, so step away from the television and the cell phones, and appreciate some one-on-one communication with your kids. Children who are involved in family meals are also less likely to get into trouble at school and usually perform better in their classes.

While it’s important for kids to start their day with a wholesome breakfast, it’s beneficial for mom and dad, too! Children model the behaviors they see, which makes eating your own well-balanced breakfast with your child a must. If you prioritize a family breakfast, even for just 10 to 15 minutes each day, you will all enjoy a healthier and more positive start to the morning.

The old saying holds true: breakfast really is the most important meal of the day. The morning meal has a direct influence on how we perform mentally and physically. When you provide the best breakfast experience for your children, you give them the opportunity to have a fantastic and effective day. Make sure your child’s breakfast is low in sugar and rich in fiber, protein and complex carbohydrates. Fuel them with the food that will keep them fit and full, and you’ll maximize the benefits for the family, too.

6 Ideas for Protein-Packed, Kid-Friendly Food

Monday, April 24th, 2017

peanut butter protein sandwich

Protein is a powerful substance, responsible for building muscle, bone and tissue, as well as keeping your child’s energy levels regulated throughout the day. A regular dose of protein can even protect against infection. But if your child gets most of their protein from high-fat mac ‘n’ cheese or ice cream milkshakes, you may need to find new ways of broadening their protein palate.

Fortunately, there are plenty of easy-to-prepare, protein-rich meals your kids will love. Just open your refrigerator, grab your lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs and low-fat dairy products, and keep on reading.

Here are 6 simply delicious protein ideas for the whole family:

1. Play with Peanut Butter

Peanut butter is one of the best sources of protein, particularly for children who love the taste and the flexibility of the food. If peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are a strictly lunchtime staple in your home, why not inject some creativity into your PB experiments?

Try spreading a thick layer of peanut butter onto whole-grain waffles and decorate with raisins and a banana for a smiley face breakfast. For a fun and dippable snack, serve a bowl of peanut butter with celery sticks, crackers or thin slices of whole-grain toast.

2. Choose Chocolate Milk

Besides being an incredible source of protein, phosphorus, and vitamin D, calcium can also help to regulate energy in children. Since soda is perhaps one of the biggest causes of childhood obesity, it might be a good idea to remove it from the refrigerator in favor of healthy chocolate milk.

While chocolate milk does contain some sugar, chances are your kids will reach for it more often than regular milk. That’s great when you consider that each cup contains around 8-9 grams of protein much more than soda, or even juice.

3. Try Tasty Tuna Dips

Tuna is an excellent source of protein for kids because it’s virtually-fat free and brimming with great substances like Omega-3. While you should limit their intake to remain within safe mercury guidelines, there’s still lots of opportunities for delicious tuna treats.

Mix up a can of tuna with some fat-free mayonnaise and pickle relish, then serve with sticks of celery, carrots and cucumber for a quick and healthy lunch.

4. Build Chicken Burgers

Chicken is yet another low-fat source of protein, provided you avoid fatty favorites like fried chicken and breaded nuggets.

There are a whole host of ways to use chicken for a delightful and healthy meal, though chicken burgers are generally a good place to start. All you need to do is mash up some chicken breast and shape it into a set of patties. Once they’re cooked, you can serve them with thick slices of tomato, lettuce and whole-grain buns, so your kids can assemble their burgers themselves.

5. Develop Egg-cellent Dishes

Even the finickiest children often like eggs. Whether they’re mixed with low-fat milk to create French toast, scrambled and served with whole-wheat bread, or whipped up into omelets, eggs contain plenty of iron, protein and other crucial nutrients. Besides being a great source of protein, eggs also contain lutein and vitamins A and D, which will help to protect children from eye diseases as they grow up.

Mash some hard-boiled eggs into fat-free mayonnaise or low-fat yogurt, and chill. You can then spoon this chilled creation onto bread for egg-salad sandwiches, or even use cookie-cutters to stamp out different shapes for fun.

6. Enjoy the Ease of Cheese

Finally, protein-packed cubes of cheese can keep energy levels high while helping with your children’s health. Cheese can be easily prepared and served in a range of different, yet healthy, ways. As long as you pick something made with 100% milk, you probably can’t go wrong.

For an easy lunch favorite, try shaking up the classic grilled cheese sandwich with some reduced-fat cheddar and low-sodium ham. Use only a couple of spritzes of cooking oil over huge mounds of butter to grill.

The amount of protein your child needs each day varies according to age, body weight and the quality of the protein eaten. Although requirements range from 0.35 to 0.45 grams of protein per bodyweight pound, you’ll have no problem finding the perfect protein snacks to properly nourish your child, thanks to these tips.

Start boosting their protein intake and fueling their physical health today!

Heart-Healthy Meals that are Child-Friendly

Tuesday, February 28th, 2017

healthy meal

It’s not easy to get kids to eat healthy, and it’s even more difficult to get them to understand why eating a certain way is important; children live in the now and are blissfully unaware of how their habits as children will impact them as adults.

The sooner you help kids to establish healthy eating habits, the easier it will be for them to adopt them for the long term. But before getting into the most child-friendly heart-healthy meals, here’s a primer on how to eat healthy, specifically with the heart in mind:

Heart-Healthy Eating 101

Heart-healthy foods are low in both salt and saturated fat (with zero trans fats). But that doesn’t mean that they are completely free of fat! Instead, heart-healthy foods may contain polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats — and that’s ok. Not all fats are bad, and it’s important to accept this fact if you intend to follow a heart-healthy diet. Of course, anything in excess can be harmful, so make sure to follow a balanced diet that includes proportionate amounts of nutrients.

The following represent some of the best heart-healthy foods, and how to use them in child-friendly heart-healthy meals.

Whole Grains

The ChooseMyPlate website identifies grains as any food made from wheat, rice, oats, cornmeal, barley or another cereal grain. Luckily, it’s not too hard to get kids to eat grains — it’s just important to make sure that the grains they consume are nutrient-rich. Refined grains, like white flour, lose a lot of the best heart-healthy nutrients, while whole grains keep everything intact.

A few child-friendly heart-healthy meal ideas using whole grains:

  • A bowl of oatmeal with sliced fruit
  • A whole grain sandwich with lean meats (like turkey) and vegetables
  • Whole grain pasta with pesto (the olive oil in pesto has heart-healthy fats)

Vegetables

Everyone knows vegetables are good for them, but certain vegetables are better than others for heart health. Specifically, spinach, carrots, sweet potatoes, and red peppers (and many other red, yellow, and orange veggies) are known as being especially heart-healthy.

The secret to getting kids to eat veggies (and getting them excited about it!) is often to hide them in something else, or draw attention to another part of the meal so that they barely notice the vegetables.

A few child-friendly heart-healthy meal ideas using vegetables:

  • A veggie-filled omelette
  • Chicken fajitas with red peppers
  • Sweet potato and black bean salad (recipe)
  • Smoothies — it’s easy to disguise the taste of carrots and spinach with fruit!

Tomatoes

Most tomato varieties provide lycopene, vitamin C and alpha- and beta-carotene. Luckily, it’s usually not too hard to get kids to eat tomatoes.

A few child-friendly heart-healthy meal ideas using tomatoes:

  • Tomato sauce with chopped veggies and whole grain pasta (two heart-healthy ingredients)
  • Sloppy Joes made with salsa and ketchup, with lean ground turkey

Berries

Besides being delicious, berries are rich with heart-healthy phytonutrients and soluble fiber.

A few child-friendly heart-healthy meal ideas using berries:

  • Yogurt parfait with berries
  • Whole grain cereal with berries (two heart-healthy ingredients)

Dark Chocolate

Two things you might not expect to be heart-healthy: wine and chocolate. As you should certainly abstain from giving kids wine, you don’t have to deny them a delicious dark chocolate dessert. The chocolate should be at least 70% cocoa to achieve heart-healthy effects, and is most healthy in its purest form (aka, not as part of a sugar-rich ice cream or multi-ingredient candy bar).

Knowing the right inputs will make it easy to create child-friendly heart-healthy meals. But it’s always nice to have expert help when teaching nutrition basics to children. SPARK’s Nutrition Services can help fill any gaps, and provide a foundation for teaching kids about nutrition.

What would you add to this list?

5 Dishes to Consider Removing From Your Holiday Dinner Plans

Tuesday, December 20th, 2016

holiday dinner

Holiday seasons are the perfect time to have fun, bond with family members, and of course, eat. Most people use the holidays as an excuse to ditch their diets in favor of calorie-laden delicacies. After all, Thanksgiving is America’s “Biggest Cheat Day.”

Unfortunately, because of the season and the desire to enjoy the holiday, people tend to overlook the after-effects of gorging themselves on indulgent dishes. Most foods on the holiday dining table, regardless of how tasty they are, are bad for you if eaten mindlessly. The problems compound if you normally follow a strict health-related diet.

Luckily, being conscious with regards to the foods you prepare for your holiday dinner doesn’t mean dishes have to be bland and boring. Healthy options can taste just as good as diet hazards.

If you need some guidance as far as dishes to consider removing from your holiday dinner plans, you’ve come to the right place. Here’s what to cut down on, and how to replace them!

1.Mixed Nuts

Nuts are a favorite snack at every holiday party. They have a lot of health benefits:

  • Rich in Calcium and Vitamin E
  • Good source of folate
  • Contain heart-healthy fats

The problem is not the quality of nuts, but the quantity most people eat. Once you start eating nuts, it’s hard to stop. Most people munch on them until they’re gone. A couple handfuls of nuts can equate to 450 calories with 40 grams of fat.

If you’re not willing to remove nuts from your menu, consider creating a small batch of spiced-nut mix. The preparation will feel more like a treat and less like a snack. By serving spiced-nuts in small bowls, you’ll reduce overall snacking and make sure guests still have room for dinner!

2. Pecan Pie

The problem with nuts runs deep. Pecan pie is a dessert, which automatically gives it the “unhealthy” label. Unfortunately, pecan pie can be a worse dessert choice than others, despite it’s lack of candy coating!

Like other nuts, pecans can be a good source of nutrients, but are calorie bombs in large quantities. When you make a pecan pie, you’re also adding in large quantities of sugar, butter, and corn syrup. Depending on how generously you cut your pie, one slice of pecan pie can contain over 500 calories with 37g of fat and 26g of sugar.

But during the holidays, it seems almost sacrilegious to ditch dessert altogether. You can still have your pecan pie, and eat it too! A few suggestions to make it a little healthier:

  • Give yourself a smaller serving
  • Create a healthier pecan pie with low-fat butter, egg whites, and lighter corn syrup

Alternatively, you can opt for a healthier pie that still fits the season. Apple pie has less than a quarter of the fat per slice of pecan pie, and also offers a serving of fiber thanks to the inclusion of apples!

3. Stuffing

During the holidays, one of the must-have dishes on every table is turkey with a side of stuffing. Just think carefully before getting stuffed with stuffing! The standard preparation can destroy anyone’s diet.

Stuffing consists mainly of bread, butter/margarine, and sausage, and contains about 175 calories per cup. If it contains sausage, stuffing can reach up to 400 calories per cut with 26g of fat.

For a healthy stuffing alternative, substitute whole wheat bread for cornbread, replace sausage with cranberries, or try a gluten-free recipe.

4. Green Bean Casserole

This dish to consider removing from your holiday dinner plans might throw you off a bit. After all, green beans are a vegetable. Aren’t they supposed to be healthy?

On their own, green beans are nutrient-packed greens. It’s the ingredient additions to this classic holiday dish that move it into a different category.

Green bean casserole is calorie-packed, with loads of sodium thanks to cream of mushroom soup, fried onions, butter, and cheese. One serving has at least 230 calories and 500mg of sodium. Incredibly, a full batch has 785 calories and 4,128mg of sodium!

Skip your stretchy pants and make this holiday dish work for you. A lighter preparation of stuffing (with fewer calories and less salt) might include broccoli and water chestnuts.

5. Spinach and Artichoke Dip

Spinach and artichokes are two types of vegetables you probably wouldn’t suspect of being unhealthy. But just like all the other healthy ingredients that have been mentioned, it’s the add-on ingredients that make this one of the dishes to consider removing from your holiday dinner plans.

Spinach and artichoke dip includes large amount of mayonnaise, sour cream, and cream cheese. A half-cup serving is almost 300 calories – and that’s without the chips to pair with it!

Like many of these other holiday favorites, there are healthier ways to prepare this dish. Alternatively, you can reduce your calorie intake with raw veggies to dip, or salsa as a dip alternative.

Did we miss any of the major dishes to consider removing from your holiday dinner plans? We’d love to hear how you’re making the holidays healthy, yet delicious, in the comments below!

The Jekyll and Hyde Holiday Dilemma: How to Prevent Unhealthy Habits

Thursday, December 15th, 2016

holiday eating

The holidays are a time of year to gather round the table, spend time with family — and potentially break every promise you’ve made to yourself to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Who doesn’t love an extra helping? A little more eggnog? You’ll be sure to burn all those calories off during January, right? The truth is, you probably won’t. When you fall out of your good habits, it’s not just the extra calories that get to you; it’s the fatigue and the procrastination that set in from a period of overindulgence.

Half the battle of defeating poor decision-making comes down to identifying your own behavioral tendencies. If you don’t take the time to understand why you’re doing something, you’ll end up with your own personal version of the Jekyll and Hyde dilemma: “Part of me wants to keep up my exercise routine and my low-sugar diet, but the other part of me is saying to skip the treadmill and try some of Aunt Pam’s cookies!”

With a little foresight and advanced planning, you can nip the bad habits early, before your own personal “Mr. Hyde” gets the best of you. Here are some simple things you can do to catch yourself in the moment, and overcome these common holiday bad habits.

Mr. Hyde’s Holiday Mistake: Eating Until You’re Overstuffed

Dr. Jekyll’s Solution: Drink More Water

You should be drinking a healthy amount of water throughout the year, but this is especially important during the holidays. We’re ready to smother everything in gravy and butter. We all want that piece of pie and cobbler, and a few scoops of ice cream. If you’re going to enjoy these indulgences, do one easy thing to help counter that icky overstuffed feeling, and the extra calories. Drink more water.

Have a glass of water for every glass of wine, or beer. Carry your water glass around with you throughout the evening. Consciously try to drink more water during your holiday mingling. Sounds pretty simple, right? You’ll be surprised by how much better you feel. Plus, when your body is well hydrated, you feel less hungry — so, you’ll end up eating less while still satisfying your cravings.

Mr. Hyde’s Holiday Mistake: Overdoing it on the Gravy – or the Pie

Dr. Jekyll’s Solution: Eat Balanced Meals

Imbalance is really at the center of almost all food discomfort (aside from allergies). Even as young children, we learn that no one food group is the best or worst, because our bodies need a balance of all food groups in order to stay healthy. “Macro imbalance” is a technical way of describing how well fats, carbohydrates, and protein in your food are balanced for your body’s needs.

There is a lot of conflicting evidence about how many meals per day are best for you, but all nutritionists agree on one thing: it’s not a great idea to binge on one massive meal, or to eat from entirely one food group. It’s easy to get carried away with extra helpings of your favorite foods, leaving little room on your plate for much else. To help you eat balanced nutritional meals, make a point to grab equal portions of a vegetable dish and lean meat — along with a (smaller) treat to satisfy your sweet tooth. This is a great time to be a role model for your children, and encourage them to mix a balanced variety of foods on their plates, just like you.

Mr. Hyde’s Holiday Mistake: Napping Before (and After) Dinner

Dr. Jekyll’s Solution: Exercise, Exercise, Exercise

New Year’s resolutions are right around the corner, but why wait until January 1st? Now is a great time to get started (or to continue) with some healthy behaviors. Of course, the holiday season isn’t a convenient time to join a CrossFit gym, or a Zumba class. A much easier solution would be to a take a walk in the morning with the family, to socialize and get some cardiovascular activity in; perhaps do the same post-dinner, before you sit down for a nightcap, or some dessert.

Go for a stroll before and after meals, do 10 crunches at night before bed, read your holiday books or magazines on the treadmill — whatever you do, make a point to participate in some form of physical activity every day. Do some power walking laps around the shopping mall, if you like. Regular physical activity will help prevent unintentional overeating, give you more energy throughout the holiday festivities, and pay real dividends for your overall health as you head into the new year.

Mr. Hyde’s Holiday Mistake: Taking a Break from “Everyday Life”

Dr. Jekyll’s Solution: Maintain Your Routine

Other than excess calories — and a propensity for becoming a permanent resident of your couch — what often suffers the most during the holidays is your daily routine. Family comes into town, or perhaps you go out of town to visit them; and like hurricane-force winds, you feel forced to drop all of your usual day-to-day habits.

Maintaining a sense of normalcy is important for both mental and physical well-being; this is especially true if you have children. If you are used to getting up every morning and having a cup of coffee, then do so — even if you’ve got a few extra members around the table, or you have to learn to use Aunt Beth’s new coffee maker. If you are used to taking some alone time to decompress at the beginning or end of your day, schedule the time — even amid the trips to the mall, the extra baking, and the wrapping of presents. Try to keep your children as close to their usual routine as possible. That means getting them to bed at a decent hour, eating meals when you normally would, and not skipping out on your usual bedtime story or afternoon walk around the block. Your family will thank you; your mental health will thank you too.

How Food Influences Performance

Tuesday, April 12th, 2016

child nutrition

We know that nutrition influences children and how they grow. If a child has better nutrition, he or she has a better chance at success. Healthier students are better learners and are able to contribute more to the community. Here are some ways children are influenced by food choices.

Athletic

Children benefit from nutrition in many of the same ways as adults do. Iron is one of the most important nutrients to helping children play and grow. Iron also helps the body cells carry oxygen to keep energy going. You can find iron in foods such as meats, liver, and beans.

Protein is also important for growing children. Protein is the main building block of your body’s cells, an energy provider, and a part of fighting infections. Children who get this nutrient from food such as animal products, nuts, or beans are able to grow strong muscles and heal after injuries.

We all know about calcium’s important role for bone and teeth health, but this nutrient is crucial for other tasks in the body as well. Calcium is useful to help the blood clot, which is an important part of the healing process after an injury. Calcium is also useful in aiding nerve and heart functions. Dairy goods are a well-known source of calcium, but calcium is also present in foods such as broccoli and spinach.

Carbohydrates are critical to giving children energy to play, think, and grow. Carbs have recently received a bit of a bad reputation, but they are still important to a child’s growth and development. To make carbohydrates more effective, consider using them with protein and serving carbohydrates with high fiber and low sugar content. Eating carbohydrates high in fiber also has the benefit of creating healthier bowel health.

Academic

Just like the body, the brain benefits from multiple vitamins, minerals, and nutrients. One of the more important nutrient groups are fatty acids. These acids include omega-3, omega-6, and DHA. These fats allow the brain to develop and maintain effective functioning. People eating a diet rich in these fatty acids are less prone to mood swings, concentration problems, and forgetfulness. There are supplements of omega fats and DHA out there, but you can also find these nutrients in food such as oily fish (salmon and sardines, for example), nuts, seeds, and whole grains.  Foods such as eggs and milk are also available with additional omega-3 fatty acids.

The brain also uses large amount of B vitamins. The brain uses B vitamins (you might also see them called folate, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12) to send messages between nerves and the entire body. B vitamins are found in foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole or fortified grains. The brain also uses vitamin C to send neural messages more effectively. Using nutrients to enhance brain function has been shown to help with recollecting information, concentration, and focus.

When Nutrition is Suboptimal

Children who don’t get the best nutrition can face many health issues, especially if they miss out on nutrients early in life. Missing nutrition, especially a severe lack of nutrition, can result in a delay or stunting of physical growth. Lacking in nutrition can make it more difficult for children to fight infections and illnesses, leading to physical harm. Children who lack a balanced diet have also been shown to have cognitive impairments, trouble with staying awake and focused, higher rates of absenteeism, and behavioral issues. Nutritional deficiencies can also affect children emotionally, as malnourished children can be more withdrawn and less helpful than other children.

Substandard nutrition can come with an excess of substances as well as a lacking. Many families and school districts looking to stretch tight budgets have relied on foods with long shelf lives to avoid waste, but many of these foods are high in sugar and simple carbohydrates while lacking other nutrients. It is important to note that malnutrition is a lack of nutrients, not food—this means even an overweight child can still have malnourishment issues.

Eat Well for Optimal Performance

Nutrition influences how children are able to grow and develop. Many of the same ideas from adult nutrition are still important with children. Getting adequate nutrition help children learn, grow, play, and interact with others. We often think of nutrition as a physical issue, but children need nutrition for their mind and feelings as well. By paying attention to children’s nutrition, we can ensure they will grow up to be healthy citizens.

11 Healthy Packed Lunches For School [INFOGRAPHIC]

Tuesday, March 29th, 2016

Eating right is important—especially for kids. Here are a handful of kid-friendly lunch recipes that are easy to prepare and pack away, as well as some key info concerning the kinds of foods a child should eat on a daily basis.

What Should My Child Eat?

It’s important to remember that, unlike an adult, a child’s body is still growing. So they need a broader, more varied diet in order to properly fuel their growth. Here are some of the key nutrients that belong in every child’s diet.

  • Protein: Protein is critical: a child needs protein in order to fuel the construction of valuable cells, fight off infections and viruses, carry oxygen through the blood stream and break down food.
  • Fats: Fats, like those found in meat and milk, are important. They’re a vital source of energy. However, fat intake should be limited, and balanced with other crucial nutrients.
  • Calcium: Calcium is crucial when it comes to the development of a child’s teeth and bones. It also helps to boost muscle and heart function. 
  • Carbohydrates: Children need carbs to properly fuel their bodies. They also use carbs to break down fats and protein, which they’ll use to repair and build vital tissues.
  • Vitamin A: A child’s body uses vitamin A for overall growth. Vitamin A is also useful for preventing infections, fighting off viruses and for keeping a child’s eyes healthy.
  • Vitamin C: This vitamin helps to boost the immune system and it also helps the body to heal injuries and repair blood vessels. Citrus fruits, strawberries and tomatoes are rich in vitamin C.
  • Iron: A child’s body uses iron to maintain blood flow and also build blood cells.
  • Folate: This vitamin helps with cell and overall body growth. Whole-grain cereals, lentils, asparagus, beans and spinach are rich in folate.
  • Fiber: Fiber helps to promote bowel regularity. Eating a diet rich in fiber when young can help to prevent certain diseases, like heart diseases, when the child reaches adulthood.

 

Quick and Easy Packed Lunches
Here are some easy-to-make recipes that feature tons of healthy (and tasty) ingredients:

  1. Chicken Noodle Soup: Canned chicken noodle soup can be tasty, but homemade soup is even better! You can make the soup on the stove or in a crockpot, and the ingredients are straightforward. You’ll need low-sodium chicken or veggie broth, chicken breast, veggies (carrots, celery, garlic, peas and tomatoes are a must) and noodles—preferably whole-grain.
  2. Burrito: Sandwiches, depending on the bread you use, can be overly rich in carbs and sugars. Opt for some carb-light tortillas or whole-grain wraps instead and make your kids some burritos for lunch. Add rice, black beans, chicken, low-fat cheese and fresh salsa to a tortilla—now you have a simple burrito that’s bound to be a winner in your house.
  3. Chicken Nuggets: Dice up some chicken, cover them with some breadcrumbs, and then bake the bite-sized bites. Twenty minutes later, you’ll have a nice healthy snack or part of a perfect school lunch.
  4. Homemade “Lunchables”: Mix things up by making some homemade “Lunchables.” Slice up protein (like turkey, sausage or baked chicken) and add some cheese (like low-fat mozzarella) to a container. In a separate container, add some crackers, a dip (like hummus) and include some veggies too. Throw in a healthy dessert like grapes or strawberries in a small Ziploc baggie to round out the meal.
  5. Turkey Salad Roll: diced turkey, almonds, seedless red grapes (halved), celery and mayo to a plastic container. Pack the container into a bag along with some citrus fruit (like oranges), a whole-wheat hot dog bun and a spoon so your child can add the salad to the bun whenever they’re ready.
  6. Turkey-Cheese Pita: This one’s easy! Make a pita-style sandwich using some pita bread, cream cheese, roasted turkey, cucumbers and baby spinach.
  7. BBQ Chicken and Sloppy Joes: Shred some rotisserie chicken, add chopped tomatoes, carrots. Then toss in some BBQ sauce, and mix everything together in a skillet over low to medium heat. Add some parsley and pack the mixture into a container. Add the container to a bag, and then also pack a whole-wheat bun, some fresh fruit and some chocolate chips for dessert.
  8. Chips and Dip: Did you know that you could make your own dip? Chop up some tomatoes, and then add some white onions, fresh cilantro and lime juice. Your child can snack on the dip with some flaxseed tortilla chips. You can also add some avocados and Greek yogurt to change up the texture of the dip.
  9. Tacos: Add shredded chicken and lettuce to a tortilla—pack this away in foil. Then mix together an avocado with lemon juice and shredded cheese. Place the avocado mixture into a sealed container, and place both the tortilla-in-foil and the container into a bag. When the child is ready to eat, they can combine the tortilla and the avocado mixture together.
  10. “Healthy” Fried Rice: Add scallions, carrots, peas, corn, water and soy sauce to a skillet and cook them with vegetable oil. Add brown rice and more water and soy sauce. Add a few more scallions, sesame seeds and chopped peanuts. Pack away in a sealed container.
  11. Breakfast Sandwich: Slice a bagel in half. Add cream cheese, bacon, a scrambled egg and two tomatoes slices to the bottom portion of a bagel. Add some more cream cheese to the top portion of the bagel, and then place the two portions together—now you have a protein-rich sandwich that’s perfect for breakfast or lunch!

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The Best New Year’s Resolutions for Healthy Families

Tuesday, January 19th, 2016

Year after year, we reflect on our accomplishments and set goals for the New Year to come. Shedding a few pounds, exercising more, indulging in less sugar, and saving money are typical New Year’s resolutions people make. By participating in New Year’s resolutions with your friends or family, you can stay accountable and actually see the resolutions come to fruition.

Another benefit to including your whole family in on making New Year’s resolutions is that you can teach your children a valuable lesson about self-discipline and goal setting.  Here are some ways you and family can participate in making (and keeping) New Year’s resolutions that promote a healthy lifestyle.

healthy families

Plant a Garden Together

Placing an emphasis on healthy eating and engaging in an active lifestyle is necessary to achieve optimal health. This New Year, take your nutritional goals a step further and plant a garden together. This activity can involve the whole family and can be customized to fit your homes. Whether you have a large backyard for raised beds or a patio for planters, together you and your family can focus on your health by learning about seasonal fruits, vegetables and herbs.

Not only are you teaching your children about sustainability and an educating them about agriculture, but also as you are able to watch your garden grow and produce. You can then use those ingredients and cook together. There is no better way to stay fit and healthy than growing and consuming your own produce throughout the year.

Embrace Independence

As parents it is instinct to fight the battles for our children. We want nothing else but to protect them from all evil. This year, unless it is a dangerous situation, try to step back and allow your children to fend for themselves.

Fostering independence boosts self-esteem and builds confidence. Even though you may have your own way of doing something, allow your children to do it their way and recognize their accomplishments. This will benefit the family in two ways: it will free up some of the stress and pressure placed on the parents and it will teach your children how to be self-sufficient.

Plan a Family Night

Once a week — and it doesn’t have to be on the same day each week — designate a time when the whole family gets together for “family time”. This could be a dinner at home all sitting around the dinner table (with devices turned off), a quick getaway to for a hike, a movie marathon of all your childhood favorites, or board-game night. With busy schedules, a small tradition such as this will bring your family together to spend quality time digressing, sharing and making memories.

Learn a New Hobby or Sport

Staying active is one important element to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. One way to keep your family physically healthy is to participate in a group activity. By learning a new hobby or partaking in a group sport, you will teach your children the importance of fitness, and in the process you can keep each other accountable. There are so many great lessons to be learned from participating in sporting activities such as sportsmanship, team building, and boosting confidence, self-esteem and determination.

One great idea is to form a family softball team. You can make this activity extra fun by creating a quirky team name, designing personalized team shirts and participating in some good old competitive fun. Better yet, get your family friends involved, that way you can play against each other.

Create “Me Time”

For every individual in your family it is important to set aside some time each day that is uninterrupted and designated for that individual. This should be time not necessarily spent together, but time for every member of your family to focus on themselves. Whether they partake in journaling or listening to their favorite music without any disruptions, other members of the family should respect their space and leave the individual alone to take care of his or her needs.

This concept is not only important for the parents, who are constantly focused on their children’s needs, but this is also a great opportunity for the children to become comfortable in their own skin. By exploring new hobbies, reflecting on their accomplishments, or simply engaging in fun or creative activities, by setting aside some personal time each week your children will learn the importance in taking care of themselves.