Archive for the ‘SPARK Blog’ Category


Why It’s Crucial For Kids to Enjoy Physical Education

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2016

Children, at their core, are naturally active, and the school year offers plenty of opportunities for them to hone their energy into productive activities such as physical education and sport. In fact, high-quality physical education is one of the best strategies available for reversing the present trend of unhealthy and overweight youngsters. What’s more, according to a CDC review in 2010, physical education could help to boost children’s mental capacity, as well as their physical fitness. The study showed that children classed as “physically fit” see higher success in school due to an increased blood flow and growth in the hippocampus.

physical education

With that in mind, it’s unfortunate to see that a study in 2013, showed that only 27.1% of students were engaging in the WHO-recommended 60 minutes of physical activity each day. What’s more, only 29% of the surveyed children attended P.E classes on a daily basis.

Participating in, and Enjoying Physical Education


Physical education is a crucial and necessary part of any child’s growth, but it will often provide better results in children who regard exercise as less of a chore, and more of a fun opportunity. After all — if nothing else, children are much more likely to reject chances to engage in activities that they don’t enjoy.

As kids get older, the developing demands on their time and technological distractions that pervade the world today can make getting that important hour of exercise all the more challenging. Everything from spending too much time on the internet, to excess homework can be enough to reduce fitness levels in students. However, being active is crucial for school kids of all ages, as it strengthens their bones and muscles, and ensures that their bodies have the right capabilities for healthy growth.

Some children claim that they dislike sport — but it’s worth noting that there’s usually a reason for this. For instance, some kids simply need extra support to help them deal with their worries, whereas others need practice to help them overcome fitness areas where they consider their skills to be lacking. Through a positive exercise environment, and the use of encouragement, children can begin to associate exercise with good connotations — therefore reducing their desire to automatically reject any form of physical activity.

Helping your child to not only participate more regularly in physical education and sport — but enjoy the activities they do, will help them to develop healthy habits that stay with them throughout their adult lives. These habits will ensure that they remain active through life, and could even reduce their risk of developing chronic illnesses such as type 2 diabetes or osteoarthritis.

The Dangers of Connecting Exercise and Punishment


When it comes to keeping children in line, finding punishments and consequences that work can be a complicated process. More importantly however, parents must be aware of the negative effects that using exercise as punishment can have on their children. Punishments push children to learn that their bad behavior will lead to something negative. This means that if you attempt to punish children by having them run laps when they’re late to a class, or engage in pushups when they behave poorly, they will see exercise a negative thing. The long-term effect of these kinds of punishment is that they teach your child to hate exercise, and rebel against it wherever possible.

The aim should be to convince your child that exercise is a positive, enjoyable, and beneficial way to spend their time. Using it as a punishment will only undermine these connotations, or destroy them completely. On the other hand, however – while it’s crucial that exercise should not be used as a punishment, it also shouldn’t be something that is taken away from a child in order to teach them a lesson. For instance, many teachers (77%) prevent children from participating in recess in an attempt to diminish bad behavior. Though this may reinforce the concept of outdoor activity as something positive, it also reduces a child’s chances to take part in crucial activities, from social interaction, to physical fitness and relaxation.

Teach Kids to Enjoy Exercise


Physical Education, and any other activity designed to offer children exercise opportunities should help to encourage the adoption of healthy habits, and promote a more active lifestyle. The right approach to physical fitness, both at home, and at school, is important for increasing physical competence in children, improving health, and developing good habits for the future.

A quality physical education program should support these healthy habits. SPARK has actually been proven to increase student enjoyment of physical education programs.

How do you encourage physical fitness and activity in your child? Let us know in the comments!


Early Childhood Education: The Power of Play in Physical Education

Tuesday, January 26th, 2016

School is not strictly about academic development, particularly when it comes to early childhood education. Numeracy and literacy are key, but so too is the moral, social, and emotional development that can come through casual interactions with fellow students and teachers. Playtime is the perfect opportunity to foster this development, and what better place to begin incorporating play than into physical education curriculum?

The power of play should not be underestimated. Play is defined as the unstructured and unmotivated creation of fun activities for the purpose of entertainment and as a byproduct, education.

Physical Activity and Beyond

While physical fitness is a main objective of physical education, including play during activity time can also provide a mental workout for children.

In an article for Earlychildhood News, Dr. Francis Wardle talks about why play is critical to academic success. He highlights how play provides a fun and accepting environment for children to learn important social concepts such as sharing, cooperation, participation, and the idea of give and take. These are lessons that could be taught in the classroom or reaffirmed through discipline, but play creates an organic environment for these principles to be taught.

Play can also reinforce the importance of rules and listening to the leadership of others. Many games and sports such as “Follow the Leader,” “Simon Says,” and baseball cannot proceed unless everyone is playing fairly and following instructions. This lesson taught through play is one that translates directly to the real world. Not only that, but playtime activities will help children gain the emotional intelligence they need to grasp concepts of winning and losing.

Play in physical education programs can also play a role in encouraging childhood adoption of healthy routines. A study from the Harvard School of Public Health found that worldwide, 43 million preschool aged children were considered overweight or obese. And while obesity rates are climbing, the hours spent in physical education classes are on a decline.

Including play in a physical education curriculum can turn these statistics around, creating the opportunity for children to have positive interactions with physical activity and their own bodies. These are experiences they will take into their adult lives.

Taking It Outside

An excellent way to foster play in a PE class is to leave the gymnasium all together. Outdoor physical education classes are increasing in popularity across America. Breakwater School, a private institution in Portland, Maine, has an adventure-based physical education program. As part of that program, students are taken outdoors and allowed to play and interact with nature. While there are a structured series of activities, the program is also gives children the freedom to explore their surroundings, build confidence, and learn in an atmosphere that does not feel like a classroom.

By being outside, children can also incorporate elements of constructive play. In nature, children arent just interacting physically with soccer balls, skipping ropes, and other traditional playthings. Instead, theyre creating or constructingtheir own items of play. Theres a reason why nature can be called a playground a fallen tree can become a bridge or teeter-totter, dirt can become a canvas for a new work of art, and a trail in the bush can become an obstacle course. By allowing children to discover and construct their own playthings in nature, you are not only increasing their physical fitness, but also fostering creative thought and a sense of ownership and responsibility over the natural world.

A Play Endemic

The role of playtime is being lost not only in PE classes but also in schools as a whole.

Early childhood development expert Nancy Carlsson-Paige recently defended the role of play during an acceptance speech for a national education award. At the podium, Carlsson-Paige spoke passionately about the decades of research in child development, and how best practices involving active and play-based childhood education are not being followed in the classroom.

In the end, teachers and school administrators must make an effort to bring play back into the curriculum. The internet is a great resource for teachers to find activities to create engaged physical education classes.


Ultimately a PE class that includes play is an opportunity for kids to have more fun and greater freedom and that will make them not only enjoy PE class more, but school as a whole.

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.


The Impact of Screens on Children, and How to Encourage a Healthier Lifestyle

Thursday, January 14th, 2016

Across the United States, children appear to be spending far more time in front of screens, and less time improving their physical and mental health through positive activity. The availability of smartphones, tablets, laptops, and various other media has changed the way that parents and children think about “play”, at a much younger age. Not only are most adults allowing screen time, but many actively encourage it as a cheap and easy form of passive entertainment. After all — giving your youngster a tablet to play with for a couple of hours is an easy way for adults to take care of bills, household chores, and other tasks, and many of the games and apps developed for children on tablets and smartphones are developed with an educational purpose in mind.

screen-time

Over the last decade, tablets and smartphones have evolved from rare luxuries into everyday essentials. The average 10-year old has access to five different screens in their home, and many are suffering from symptoms of depression or addiction as a result. However, it’s not just older children that are feeling the impact. Babies have jumped on the bandwagon with technology, with many children under five being exposed to screens on a weekly, or even daily basis. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the average child spends 7 hours a day using a screen – showing evidence of addiction in the unmanaged release of dopamine.

With the widespread usage of technology in the world today, many parents have started to question whether the introduction of these devices to young children could be detrimental. Below, we’ll discuss how screen-time affects children, and what parents can do to support better development.

The True Risks of Too Much Screen Time


According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, screen time should be limited to between one and two hours a day for children over the age of two, and should be restricted entirely for younger infants. Numerous recent studies have linked excess screen time to:

Obesity:

The more time a child spends attached to a tablet, smartphone, or television screen, the more chance they have of becoming overweight. Not only can children develop an appetite for junk food thanks to constantly playing fast-food ads, but they also tend to reduce their physical activity levels, and over-indulge on snacks when exposed to screens.

Irregular Sleep Patterns:

Research suggests that screen time for children under the age of three is often linked to irregular sleep patterns. What’s more, for children of any age, the more time they spend with technology, the more likely they are to struggle with falling asleep or maintaining a healthy sleeping schedule.

Behavioral Issues:

Children who spend numerous hours a day using computers, or watching television are more likely to have social, emotional, and attention-related problems. What’s more, recent evidence has begun to suggest that for children aged 1-5, excessive screen exposure could inhibit an infant’s ability to recognize emotions.

Reduced Academic Performance:

Children who spend too much time using electronic media regularly show problems with their school performance and academic scores. A study conducted by the Cohen Children’s medical center of New York determined that infants between 0-3 years old had lower verbal scores on testing when given touch-screens with which to play “educational” games.

What Can Parents Do?


Although giving your very young child some technology to play with while you deal with important tasks may not seem like a problem, the truth is that youngsters have nothing to gain, and a lot to lose when exposed to excessive screen time. After all, the more time they spend on smartphones and tablets, the less time they have playing creatively and interacting with loved ones. Fortunately, there are some ways that you can limit screen exposure, and encourage more active, healthier play.

For example, the best way to start is to set a good example for your youngsters by reducing the amount of time you spend on technology when you’re with them. Rather than setting your children aside so that you can watch your favorite television show, set your television to record the things you might want to watch before your kids wake up or after they go to sleep, then spend as much time as possible with them. Show your children the value of prioritizing family and social time wherever possible, and make a point of having enough time to sit down with your child for dinner, and speak to them about their day.

If you are going to give your child something to watch or play, get involved in the activity with them, commenting on the show, or asking questions about what your children see. This is the best way to make a passive entertainment experience into something more active and engaging.

Remember to Let Your Child Grow


Keep in mind that when you’re entertaining your child, the more that the toy does, the less your child will need to do. Your aim should be to find ways of having fun with your child that encourages learning, or helps them to develop their skills.

What techniques do you use to reduce screen time in your home? Let us know in the comments below!


Using Technology in Physical Education

Tuesday, January 12th, 2016

Teaching physical education can be challenging for any number of reasons, from a lack of equipment to keeping students engaged.  To meet these challenges, some educators are turning to technology to create more dynamic classes that work for students with a wide range of fitness levels. Here are some examples of technology and how you can use them in your classes.

fitness tracker

Pedometers

Pedometers are probably one of the first examples that come to mind when discussing technology and physical activity. Measuring steps is one of the easiest ways to measure physical activity, and pedometers can be used by a wide range of age groups. Another benefit of using pedometers is they can be used in a variety of tasks, such as doing household chores or scavenger hunts. One issue to remember with pedometers and heart rate monitors is that target rates are different for children with different abilities and activity levels, so be sure to plan accordingly.

Heart Rate Monitors

Heart rate monitors are used to measure a student’s pulse while engaged in activities. Using these devices allows educators and students to aim for an individualized target heart rate that is challenging to maintain but not too difficult to achieve. By customizing student goals, students feel more involved and more empowered to continue with fitness.  Once more, there are different target rates depending on age and ability, so remember to take those into consideration.

Health Tracking

Taking the data used by heart monitors and pedometers is vital to creating a long-term plan for advancing health. Some pedometers and heart monitors have connectivity built in, which makes the process easier. Using tracking programs or monitoring systems provides educators with tools useful in creating custom goals for the students. Using these kinds of programs allows for instant feedback that allows students the opportunity to adjust their goals and how they wish to achieve them.

Apps

With the explosion in mobile technology, physical educators have a wealth of tools. For example, MapMyFitness and MyFitnessPal allow for movement tracking as well as nutritional help.  Some apps also assist with improving athletic activities such as basketball. Then, the students can compare what they with what the app instructs.  Another idea is to use Google Earth to show students distances and challenge them to walk those distances—for example, the height of Mount Everest or the distance between their home and another location.

Video Resources

Sites such as YouTube and Vimeo offer a wide range of tools for educators. If an educator wants to teach something such as dance or yoga, there is a wide variety of how-to videos that can apply to any age group. Additionally, some educators create video projects where student groups create an instructional video to teach something to the rest of the class.

Games

There is a steady market of “exergames”, such as Wii Sports and Dance Dance Revolution. To use these for a whole class, have a few students using the controllers (taking turns is crucial!) and have the rest of the class follow along with them. For these games, and any video resources, projecting the video on a wall or screen allows everybody to see what is happening.

Conclusion

Adapting to new technology can be challenging for instructors. Sometimes, physical education instructors can feel as if technology does not apply to their subject. However, by embracing technology, physical education instructors create a more varied and dynamic classroom. They are also able to appeal to the interests of many different students and ability types. Using technology to teach physical health allows educators to create more activities and show how important their goals are.

Finding Grants for Physical Education

Tuesday, January 5th, 2016

Finding funding for any school activity can be a challenge. Many teachers and faculty find themselves searching for grants to fill in the gaps that their original budgets cannot fill. Applying for a grant takes a lot of forethought, planning, and research, but obtaining a grant can be key to receiving the funding you need to provide for your students.

grant writing

Before You Start Writing Your Grant Request

Look at What You Already Have and How to Improve

Completing a “Needs Assessment” of your school should be the first step in determining what you have available. Doing this can show you problems that need fixing and can highlight resources that you can build on. For example, if your school is a rural area, you might not have specific sports equipment other schools will have. However, if your area has nature trails or hiking areas, you can build upon those resources to suit your needs.  During your research into what you have, ask yourself what you want to see happen and how you will know you achieved what you wanted.

Research Available Grants in Your State

Each state has different charitable trusts and programs for education.  It’s a good idea to do some preliminary research about what is out there for the kind of goals you have in mind. There are several sites that can give you a head start on finding funds, such as this list from the SPARK Grant Finder. You can also check with your state’s Department of Education for more local opportunities.

Plan Ahead

Between research, planning, and setting a timeframe, grants take a lot of time to prepare.  Some companies provide rolling grants where there is no submission deadline, but most have one or two deadlines per year.  Give yourself plenty of time for gathering your materials, organizing a theoretical timeframe, and writing (and rewriting) your actual grant proposal. Another issue to remember is that each provider might have different rules for how they want a grant to look, so consider asking them for a sample proposal to use as a guideline.

Find out What Others Have Done

Effective grant writers are able to show that what they are proposing has been done and will be an effective use of an organization’s money. Consider finding other schools that have done what you are planning to do and use them as examples in your research.

You can also use information from other sources to guide your ideas. For example, if you find research showing a relationship between physical activity and behavior, you can use that to support your claims. The key here is to be able to demonstrate that your idea has backing and will be worthwhile use of funds. Seeing what other people have done can also give you guidance in how to address your issues.

Combine With Other Classes

More and more educators are using information from other classes to create a holistic learning environment. This means you might benefit from teaming up with other educators. For example, if you want to integrate health technology such as fitness trackers, you can pool resources and ideas with a computer science instructor.  Working with other educators can help all of you learn new ways of engaging students.

Look For Smaller Grants

While federal grants will most likely be larger awards, applying for these grants means you are competing against educators from all over the country. This doesn’t mean you should not apply for the larger grants, but being aware of the volume can help you prepare more thoroughly. In addition, applying for several smaller grants can help you practice writing for grants, which can help you provide more effective grant writing in the future.

When You Write the Grant

Use Help

If you have access to professional grant writers, either through your school or your district, use them. They can give you valuable guidance in what you need to have and how to package it for your grant application.  They can also help you avoid using too much jargon or industry language.  This will keep your proposal clear and easy to follow.

Show What Others Have Done

All of that research is important here. Stats, percentages, comparisons—all of that specific information helps the grant committees get a more concrete sense of what you want to do.  Statistics are what transforms your abstract goal into something that can be measured and evaluated.  Remember that writing a grant is like giving a pitch—you want to prove that you can show your ideas are a good investment.

Be Specific in What You Will Do and What Will Happen

Organization is important when you write your grant. In a grant, you need to show every specific step and every outcome. Even if something seems basic to you, it may not be as obvious to where you are applying for a grant. The goal in writing a grant is to have a document that anyone could read and they would know exact what your goals are, how you want to achieve them, why your methods will work, who is doing what, and how long the process takes. There are sample proposals to look at for guidance, but keep in mind that specific agencies and programs may have specific wording or formatting requirements. SPARK also has an outline that is a good starting tool for most grants.

Have you ever written a grant for funding? What surprised you about the process?

4 Lunch Mistakes to Avoid (and What to Serve Instead)

Tuesday, December 29th, 2015

Packing lunches for children is always a challenge. However, it is important that parents look out for items that sound healthy, but are not healthy at all. By making a few substitutions and changes, parents are able to create healthy and interesting lunches that children of all ages can enjoy. Below are some foods to avoid and what to use instead.

healthy lunch

Fruit Snacks

Fruit snacks are loaded with sugar and dyes. Because they are sticky, they can also remain on the teeth and cause tooth decay.

What to use instead: Actual fresh fruit provides the sweetness with additional fiber and nutrients. Dehydrated fruit, such as raisins, is another option that can be a little more shelf-stable if there are no refrigeration options.

Juice or Soda

Juices and sodas are more culprits in bringing in additional sugar. Additionally, these drinks can provide a large amount of unneeded calories. In particular, juice boxes also create a lot of waste.  Remember, most children only need about three or four teaspoons of added sugar a day. Even juices marked as “100% juice” end up stripping fiber and other beneficial nutrients from the fruit.

What to use instead: Consider packing filtered water or milk in a stainless steel canteen. Diluting juice with water, or adding just a splash of juice to mostly water, creates a drink that has flavor and sweetness without extra sugar and calories. You can also consider juicing whole fruits, which keeps more of the nutrients and fiber of the whole fruit.

Pre-packaged Meals

These kinds of meals seem convenient, but they are packed with sodium and artificial ingredients.  Furthermore, they can be expensive without supplying much nutrition. Like the juice boxes, these also create a massive amount of waste.

What to use instead: Using leftovers of a family dinner is one way to meet these needs. You can also dress up leftovers in new ways. For example, if you have spaghetti and meatballs for dinner, you can use the meatballs in a meatball sub the next day.

Processed Deli Meats

Much like the pre-packaged meals, these also contain loads of sodium and artificial preservatives. These chemicals have been linked to a number of diseases, including heart disease and cancer.

What to use instead: Cutting up meat at home or choosing preservative-free meat at the deli is a small change that create a much healthier lunch. If you are using meat you prepared at home, think about grilling or baking meat instead of frying.

Other Lunch Ideas to Remember

  • Think about what and how your children eat at home. Chances are, if they do not like something at home, then they will not eat it at school.

  • If there are certain things your children like, you can try similar things. For example, a child who likes crackers might also enjoy naan or pita bread.

  • Get your children involved in picking out things for lunches. Being involved in the process makes them feel more at ease with food and can allow for parent-child bonding.

  • By cooking extra at home, you can control the ingredients. For example, you can use less sugar or add pureed vegetables in a dish for your own nutritional needs.

  • Think about your children store their lunches. If there are cubbies, but no refrigeration, make sure you freeze a water bottle or bag of fruit to keep food cold.

Conclusion

Packing healthy snacks and food for your children seems like a daunting task. However, making a few substitutions and slight changes to existing recipes can keep a lunch not only healthy, but interesting to your children.

Stay Fit and Festive with 6 Healthy Holiday Recipes

Tuesday, December 8th, 2015

We all love the holiday season, but we also know that it can be a nutritional minefield — full of unhealthy temptations and indulgences. The odd sweet treat or festive favorite may not seem like much, but without careful monitoring, those extra calories can quickly get out of hand. Studies suggest that on average, we pack on an extra pound of weight every holiday season. That may not seem like much, but if overindulgence becomes your yearly tradition, you may find that you’re loading up on extra weight — and setting a bad example to your kids at the same time.

healthy recipes

Fortunately, there’s a lot of healthy holiday foods out there that, when prepared in the right way, can help you and your family to reap numerous nutritional benefits — and even lose unwanted weight. With a little dedication, the right motivation, and the best ingredients, you could have the recipe for a happier, healthier, holiday season. Following are just some of our favorite options.

1. Figs and Prosciutto

Most people embrace color when decorating their home for the holiday season – so why not adopt the same mind frame when it comes to loading up your dinner plate? According to the American Heart Association, around half of any meal should comprise of a selection of vegetables and fruits in a variety of colors. Check out this figs and prosciutto recipe for an incredible addition to a main meal, or an excellent festive snack.

2. Sweet Potato Casserole

Nothing quite announces the arrival of thanksgiving and other festive celebrations like eating vibrant, yellow-orange colored foods packed with nutritional benefits like beta carotene and vitamin C. Sweet potatoes are also high in vitamin B-6, potassium and fiber, helping you to lower your blood sugar, and maximize your health. Try this indulgent sweet potato casserole recipe for food that has more to offer than just empty calories.

3. Honey and Thyme Turkey Breast

The first rule of thumb to follow when cooking turkey for a healthier holiday meal, is that white meat is always preferable to dark meat. The holiday season wouldn’t be complete without indulging in everyone’s favorite festive bird — the turkey, but make sure that you cook it right if you want to get the best, most beneficial results. Eating high-quality protein, such as that found in turkey breast, is likely to trigger satisfaction in your brain, so that you’ll be less likely to indulge in other poor food choices. Turkey is one of the lowest-calorie sources of protein you can get, especially if you’re willing to trim the skin before eating. This honey and thyme turkey breast recipe should offer you a tasty solution for your main meal. It delivers big on taste, and small on calories.

4. Orange and Cranberry Relish

Who doesn’t love a delicious helping of bright and colorful cranberries to go alongside their turkey dinner? Whether it’s a cranberry flavored drink, a cranberry sauce, or dried cranberries that you add to your holiday stuffing, these little bursts of flavor are an essential part of any festive fare — and for good reason too. Not only are cranberries delicious, but they’re also high in fiber and potassium – making them a crucial part of any healthy diet. What’s more, these berries also come packed with antibacterial compounds that can help to defend against urinary tract infections.  Try this cranberry and orange relish to add something special to your meals this year.

5. Horseradish Encrusted Beef Tenderloin

If turkey isn’t your meat of choice for your holiday celebrations this year, don’t be put off the idea of beef. Although red meat has gotten a bad rep over the years, it’s one of the most nutrient-rich foods out there, so long as you know how to cook and prepare it properly. A portion of lean beef, such as that offered by this horseradish crusted tenderloin recipe, is packed with zinc, for a healthier immune system, protein for stronger muscles, iron for reduced fatigue, phosphorus for strong bones, and B-complex vitamins.

6. Whole Wheat Holiday Cookies

There’s a good reason why sugar cookies are a holiday classic. Not only are they a fantastic option to bond with your children over festive shapes and icing decorations, but they can also satisfy your sweet tooth using less than 150 calories per cookie. This whole wheat sugar cookie recipe allows families to make the most out of the cookie tradition this holiday season, while cutting down on unnecessary fats, sugars, and calories.

Enjoy Your Holiday Season

Don’t let the temptations that crowd the holiday season ruin your festive celebrations. There are plenty of great foods out there for you and your family to indulge in — without ruining your devotion to a healthier lifestyle.

What are some of your favorite holiday recipes with a healthy twist? Let us know in the comments below!


Keep Kids Active With These Healthy Gift Ideas

Tuesday, December 1st, 2015

Unfortunately, it’s a fact of life that your children are likely to become less active throughout the winter months. From the end of October to the beginning of the New Year, candy, and treats means that unhealthy indulgence increases, while physical activity levels decrease.

Fortunately, with the right stimuli, most children love staying active, and this time of year is the perfect opportunity to introduce gifts that will encourage them to embrace a healthier lifestyle. This holiday season, consider giving your children a gift that facilitates active play. After all, learning to enjoy this kind of gift in the early years provides crucial building blocks for the future, and physical competence is ideal for building self-esteem at any age.

kid playing

Whatever their interests, here are some of our suggestions for healthy holiday gifts that will keep your children’s minds and bodies in action.

1. Interactive Video Games

In general, medical experts have been critical of video games because of their tendency to promote a sedentary lifestyle. However, the world of video games has come a long way over the decades – evolving from stationary hand-held devices, to active and engaging technology that relies upon physical motion and interactivity. Some studies have even suggested that certain video games, such as options for the Wii, or Xbox Kinect, allows individuals to access the same level of moderate-intensity activity that they would get from going to the gym.

Keep in mind that children are more likely to gravitate towards standard video games than physically active options, so if you do purchase a console for your kids, you’ll need to supply them with plenty of active games, and monitor their usage. While active games are better than sedentary options, don’t rely on them exclusively to promote healthier activities for children.

2. Toys Designed To Get Children Outside

One of the best things you can do for your children today is encourage them to spend more time outdoors, and less time cooped up in front of the television. Christmas provides a great opportunity to purchase a few special gifts that focus entirely on your child getting outdoors to make the most of their new toy. For example:

  • A toboggan can be the ideal choice for the winter if you’re in a location that experiences a lot of snow. Not only is it exhilarating, but it’s great for fitness, and a fantastic way for families to bond in a group activity together.

  • Kites can be a great solution for getting kids outdoors, because they work regardless of the season. All you need is a bit of wind, and you’ll be good to go.

  • Bikes and scooters encourage children to engage in a new hobby, and increase the chances that they’ll be happy to take trips using physical activity, rather than relying upon you to take them everywhere in your car.

  • Kids love to jump, so if you want to keep your little ones bouncing their way to a healthier lifestyle, a miniature trampoline for the backyard could be the perfect solution

Don’t forget, even if your children aren’t on a sports team yet, having sports equipment available such as a basketball and hoop, or a goal for soccer, could encourage them to practice their skills and create their own games. The right sports not only keep children active, but help them to develop their coordination skills, and self-confidence.

3. Personalized Sports Equipment

One great way to get your children interested in a more active lifestyle this holiday season, is to personalize the gifts you give them, to ensure that each item resonates with your child on a deeper level. For instance, if your child loves the idea of riding his bike, but complains about it being boring or scary, you could enhance the fun with cool helmet covers or light decals.

If your child has expressed interest in a certain sport or activity in the past, you can sign them up for lessons with a professional tutor or coach, and make sure that you also give them all of the equipment that they need to pursue their interest. For example, if your child wants to join a football team, get them personalized equipment with their name written on the shirt, or a signed ball from their favorite player. If they’ve shown interest in karate, buy them their first belt and karategi.

Encouraging your children’s interest in a particular sport not only helps them improve their health, but offers them the opportunity to build greater confidence and self-discipline.

4. Traditional Solutions for Younger Kids

If you think your child is too young to fully grasp the rules of sports, remember the benefits of art, dance, puzzles, and traditional toys. For instance, art and dance are great for helping children to express themselves, increase their focus, and develop hand-eye co-ordination. Similarly, though building blocks and puzzles don’t involve a great deal of physical activity, they do help children to enhance their fine motor skills and develop their minds.

Remember that encouraging your children to adopt a healthier lifestyle isn’t just about physical activity, it also means advancing their minds, evolving their understanding of the world, and helping them to pursue healthy goals.

Conclusion

As a parent your goal should be to encourage your children into remaining as active and engaged as possible – no matter the weather. Healthy, physically active kids are more likely to develop life-long healthy habits, as well as being more academically motivated, successful, and alert.

Healthy Thanksgiving Leftover Recipes

Wednesday, November 25th, 2015

After the holiday feast is over, you’re not just left with full bellies; you’re left with a fridge full of leftovers. Unfortunately, most people don’t want to eat turkey and stuffing for a week straight. Even so, it may surprise you that, according to the USDA, Americans throw away 35 percent of edible turkey meat.

turkey wrap

But you don’t have to stick with the traditional holiday recipes; opt for a variation once your feast is over. To make the most out of your leftovers, consider these tasty recipes you can enjoy the week following a holiday feast.

Turkey Noodle Soup

When you’re unsure of what to do with your mounds of leftover turkey, indulge in a non-traditional take on chicken noodle soup. Slice up your extra turkey and toss it into a pot of stock (which you can make from the turkey carcass) and fresh noodles. Then, add leftover veggies like potatoes, corn, and carrots. Throw in some fresh veggies like celery if you have them in the fridge. Serve with buttered dinner rolls if you have any remaining from your big meal.

Sweet Potato Biscuits

If your family didn’t manage to gobble up your candied yams or sweet potatoes, you can use them in this ingenious recipe. Start with your sweet potato casserole (the kind with marshmallows on the top), or use good old mashed sweet potatoes and add a couple of tablespoons of brown sugar. Then, mix these ingredients together in a food processor:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour

  • 1 teaspoon salt

  • 3 teaspoons baking powder

  • 1 teaspoon baking soda

  • 4 tablespoons cold butter, cut into pieces

  • 1 cup left over sweet potatoes

Add 1/8 to ¼ cups milk as needed. Then, roll your biscuits out, cut them to size, and cook at 450 degrees for 9-10 minutes.

Turkey Avocado Wrap

When you’re looking for a tasty turkey treat to take to work the Monday following Thanksgiving, consider stuffing your leftover turkey into an avocado wrap. Start with a flour tortilla—choose whole wheat for a healthier option—and then add turkey, avocado, lettuce, ranch dressing, and whatever other toppings you like. Food Network suggests mixing your ranch dressing with chipotle salsa and grated orange zest.

Thai Curry Turkey

If you need a change of pace to the traditional holiday flavors, switch it up with Thai curry turkey. This recipe will use up leftover turkey and sweet potatoes. Plus, when you use coconut milk instead of oil, you’ll be slashing calories for a healthier supper. To make, boil 1 cup light coconut milk, ¼ cup chicken broth, 1 teaspoon green curry paste, 1 tablespoon fish sauce, and 2 tablespoons brown sugar. Then, add 1 ½ cups leftover sweet potatoes, 2 cups leftover turkey, and ¾ cups green peas. Serve over rice and garnish with cilantro and red pepper strips.

Turkey Pot Pie

This recipe will help you use up any extra veggies and meat you have in the fridge. Start with the linked recipe as a guide, or get creative and make up your own recipe. The key is to get a thick turkey/veggie mixture using chicken or turkey stock as a base. Pour that into a prepared pie crust and cover with the second half of your pie crust. Food Network suggests cooking your pie at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until crust is brown.

Open-Faced Turkey Sandwiches With Cranberry Chutney

When you’re looking for a recipe that will help you use up your extra cranberry sauce, this recipe is perfect and fairly light—great for a quick lunch. Start with two slices of whole wheat bread. Spread each piece with mayonnaise and Dijon mustard. Add spinach, turkey, and a slice of Swiss cheese. Broil your sandwich in the oven for two minutes before adding a scoop of cranberry chutney to top it off.

Which one of these recipes will you try this holiday season?