Archive for the ‘Healthy Eating’ Category

Is PE Class a Good Time to Teach About Nutrition?

Tuesday, November 21st, 2017

A red apple sits on a teachers desk

Good nutrition is the bedrock of a child’s health and well-being, and ensures they are physically and mentally able to learn and concentrate at school. Whether a student is hungry, hopped up on sugar, or living with patterns of disordered eating, research has shown that poor nutrition will limit their capacity for academic growth.

It’s important for children to understand nutrition, so they can become aware of their health and motivated to incorporate healthy habits into their own daily lives. But just what is the best way to integrate a nutrition program into the school curriculum? At SPARK, we believe that physical education (PE) classes are the ideal opportunity for teaching students about nutrition. Read on to discover why PE is a great time for nutrition talk, and how you can effectively introduce this topic into your lesson plans.

PE Encourages Healthful Habits

With school-age children becoming increasingly sedentary and the consumption of sugars and unhealthy fats continuing to rise, it’s clear that healthy eating and physical activity go hand in hand among younger generations.

PE provides an excellent opportunity for students to make the connection between the food they eat and how they feel and move within their bodies. One of the main goals of a nutrition program is to help students understand that food is fuel for the body. The better the fuel, the better they can function – not just in PE class, but throughout the school day, and outside of school too.

Your PE classes may already encourage students to incorporate more physical activity into their free time, and nutrition can be approached in exactly the same way. Easy-to-follow tips and interesting information on healthy eating can allow students to become more aware of their nutrition and make some simple changes at school and at home. Even the smallest change is a step in the right direction – especially when exercise and healthy eating are combined.

PE Is a Time for Positive Empowerment

When students are empowered to understand how healthy portions, food choices, and hydration shape their development, mental clarity, and physical abilities, the power to live healthily is placed directly in their hands.

The habits children form in their developmental years have a lot of sticking power, and positive experiences are key to this. For many adults, PE lessons bring back bad memories of being picked last for a team or being punished with laps and pushups.

One of the reasons these memories are so difficult is because they are moments of disempowerment, rejection, or some sense of not “having what it takes.” As a result, some people have become discouraged from taking part in physical activity all together.

Fortunately, PE classes are becoming a more empowering and positive period at school for healthy living. A nutrition program is another way to empower students to look at their progress and the difference healthy changes can make to their lives, both now and in the future.

Help Your Students Get Healthy

In order to create an effective nutrition program at your school, it’s essential to set attainable goals, especially within the context of the students’ socioeconomic environment.

If you’re aware that your students aren’t receiving much nutritional education at home, you could start with a more introductory approach to food by explaining the food groups, the benefits of eating certain foods, and the foods to try to eat less of. You can then advance to having the students evaluate their own diets and coming up with healthy meal plans. By following a clear nutritional curriculum, you can ensure a framework that’s easy for students to understand and progress through, no matter how much they already know about nutrition.

For more ideas and support for your nutrition program, check out SPARK’s new Healthy Kids Challenge today. Healthy children become healthy adults, so let’s help them get there.

Guidelines for Enjoying a Healthy Thanksgiving

Tuesday, November 7th, 2017

young girl smiles while waiting to eat thanksgiving meal

With scrumptious side dishes, tantalizing turkey, and a decadent dessert table, the Thanksgiving holiday can put a major dent in you and your children’s healthy diet. But with a few tips from our past blog posts, you can change up your turkey day tactics with food swaps and fun games. It’s the perfect recipe for keeping festive, fit, and out of that food coma!

Thanksgiving Dinner Healthy Swaps

Thanksgiving dinner is designed to be deliciously indulgent, but with a few simple replacements you can create an equally delectable meal that your body will also appreciate – as we found out for our Thanksgiving post in 2011.


Although turkey skin isn’t all bad, it’s worth choosing your cuts carefully. With half the fat of dark meat, white turkey meat contains all the healthful body-nourishing unsaturated fat you need. Foregoing the deep fryer also ensures a healthier way of digging into Thanksgiving’s featured fowl.

Gravy is another high-fat, meat-based gotcha on Thanksgiving, but that doesn’t mean you have to eliminate a topping altogether. For a healthy kick with some tang, try swapping out your gravy with a healthier homemade cranberry sauce.


Many thanksgiving sides start with healthy vegetables, and you can choose how you’d like to prepare them. As their name might suggest, sweet potatoes are naturally sweet – simply roast them to bring out their natural sugars. Green beans are also low in calories at a meager 35 calories per cup. Try them au-natural with a touch of olive oil and lemon or garlic.

If a casserole is a must-have menu item, experiment with a version that is ‘souped up’ with healthy alternatives to the traditional canned soup ingredient. Not only that, but you can shake up your stuffing by using whole wheat bread, whole grains, and even more veggies.


The dessert table is often where we get into trouble, particularly when it comes to pie selections. In fact, pecan pie can contain 500 calories per slice! Try reducing the sugar and butter, and adding a whole grain crust to your homemade pie instead.

Another tip from one of our past holiday posts is to avoid buffet-style meals and dessert selections, because this encourages overeating. Even if you’ve made healthier options, it’s important to take a break from Thanksgiving indulgence.

Thanksgiving Themed PE Class Games

It may be hard to keep kids focused in the lead up to Thanksgiving, but we have the perfect lesson plans to keep them on track. Use these fun alternative lessons to keep your class in shape, as we recommended last Thanksgiving.

Turkey Tag

Turkey tag is ideal for all ages. Designate two players as turkeys, and send them running after other players to tag them. Once tagged, other players are transformed into turkeys and must stay in place and flap their wings until another non-tagged team member taps them to release them.

Capture the Turkey

Similar to capture the flag, this game is great for large classes that can be split up into 2 or more large teams. Each team needs a large outdoor space (or ‘turkey farm’), along with a small ‘turkey jail’ area. The teams get a rubber chicken or paper turkey that must be captured by the opposing team and brought back to their farm. If you get tagged, you have to go to ‘turkey jail’ and squawk loudly to be freed by your team!

Turkey Trot

For this game, divide your class into two groups and use a turkey mascot (rubber chicken or football) to throw back and forth between opposing teams while music plays. When the music stops, the team member holding the ‘turkey’ must run to avoid being tagged. If they’re tagged, they must surrender the turkey, flap their wings, and gobble three times before trying to recapture the bird. When the music restarts, the turkey is tossed back and forth again.

Whether feasting or frolicking, keep these Thanksgiving Day tips in mind to help you and your students enjoy a fun and healthy holiday this year. To learn more about how you can encourage healthy eating all year round, visit SPARK’s Nutrition Services page today.

Tips for Healthy Halloween Treats

Tuesday, October 24th, 2017

Children eagerly await their halloween treats

Halloween and sweet treats are practically synonymous. While sweets aren’t bad in limited amounts, it is all too easy for one night of Halloween treats to balloon into a week-long sugar spree.

Between the piles of trick-or-treat candy (that might hang around well into November) and the various Halloween parties and events a child may attend in the days leading up to October 31st, it is especially important to cut through all that sugar with some nutritious substitutes that will appeal to kids.

Here are some tips for creating healthy treats that aren’t loaded with added sugar and still evoke the fun spirit of Halloween. Teachers and educators can serve these in class or recommend them to parents.

A Fresh Face for Familiar Foods

These snack ideas don’t require much assembly time; perfect for the busy teacher or parent. The fun Halloween theme comes from arranging them properly on the plate.

These are great for classroom parties and gatherings because it’s easy to scale the amount of food up or down, depending on how many people you’re feeding. You can make an individual plate for one person (after-school snack, anyone?), or a big platter to feed an entire group of hungry little monsters.

All of the recipes below are vegetarian and can be made vegan depending on the ingredients used in the dip. Remember, presentation is key to give these snacks the Halloween look and feel.

Veggie Skeleton

Serve up a nutritious skeleton made out of vegetables. Use a small, round cup of healthy veggie dip (such as hummus or a yogurt-based dip) as the head. Construct the rest of the skeleton’s bone structure from slices of various veggies. Straight veggie sticks, such as carrots and celery, work well for arms, legs, and a nice bony spine. Curved bell pepper slices are perfect for representing ribs.

You can even sneak in a lesson about how eating healthy food helps keep your bones strong — so it’s cute and educational!

Veggie Spiders

Even simpler than the veggie skeleton, this spider’s body is formed by a round bowl (or large round scoop) of veggie dip or black bean hummus. Simply arrange veggie sticks strategically around the dip to form eight legs (carrots and celery are excellent for this one).

Veggie Pumpkin Patch

Spread your choice of veggie dip or hummus on a plate (or large platter, for a group setting). Slice large carrots into round slices and set them upright in the field of veggie dip. The effect works best if you use a green dip, such as one with spinach or kale in it, to evoke the vines in the pumpkin patch — or, add leaves of fresh baby spinach amid your hummus ‘field.’

Bugs on a Raft

This snack gives a Halloween spin to a classic favorite: Ants on a Log. Instead of a log of celery, this treat features a raft made out of an apple. Cut an apple into round slices. Spread the round apple slices with nut butter, then add raisins or seeds (such as pumpkin or shelled sunflower seeds) to represent bugs. Get the kids involved in making this one, by letting them add their own bugs to your ready-made rafts.

Snacks in Costume

Halloween is all about playing dress-up, and dressing up healthy food can make otherwise boring snacks feel extra special. It can also help to get kids in the mindset of thinking of these nutritious food choices as fun treats.

Some of the following suggestions require a little more time and effort than the quick ones above, but we promise, the results are worth it. Depending on the age of your children, they may be able to help decorate and assemble their own snacks!

Clementine Pumpkins

This is an easy one to do with students during class, or at a children’s Halloween party. Let kids use markers to decorate the peel of a clementine with a jack o’ lantern face (oranges and tangerines work just as nicely). Or, decorate them yourself ahead of time and arrange them as a basket of jack o’ lanterns.

Alternatively, you can peel the clementines and stick a piece of celery in each as a stem, to make “pumpkins” before serving.

Fruit and Veggie Jack o’ Lanterns

These are a bit more labor-intensive, but the results are downright adorable. Carve a jack o’ lantern face into a small fruit or vegetable, such as an apple or bell pepper — treating it like a tiny pumpkin. For a group, you can make several ahead of time and present them on a platter for the kids to admire before slicing them up to share.

Super Fruit Heroes

Using paper templates, trace and cut out small masks and capes from colorful construction paper that can be assembled and placed around an apple or similar fruit. This could be a fun classroom project to encourage students to bring home a superhero costumed apple — maybe it’ll steer them away from binging on too much candy after trick-or-treating.

Boo-nanas and Ghostly Graveyard Cups

Turn peeled bananas into tiny ghosts. Peel and cut a banana into segments about three inches long. Form a ghost face at the end of each banana segment, by pressing miniature chocolate chips to create two eyes and an open mouth. Set each boo-nana in an individual cup of healthy yogurt, add small chunks of chopped fruit if you wish, and serve with a spoon!

We hope these ideas spark your imagination, inspire sensible snacking, and help your students to have a happy and healthy Halloween!

9 of Our Best Posts About Food and Nutrition

Thursday, October 19th, 2017

Children eating healthy food in cafeteria

The world of physical education is about much more than just exercise — physical education programs also teach students how to eat well and take care of their bodies by making nutritious choices.

Healthy eating boosts physical and mental health, so an emphasis on good food is an important habit for any family. Kids who eat nutritious diets perform better on exams and show improved attendance over kids whose diets are lacking in nutrition.

We’ve posted a lot of blog entries about healthy eating and nutritional foods — because we know how important it is for our children to learn healthy eating habits as they grow!

Here, we revisit some of our best blog posts that highlight food and nutrition, from snacks to meals and healthy eating on special occasions.

Snacks for Kids


Healthy Snacks to Beat the Heat

When the summer sun is blazing, serve your kids treats that help them remain hydrated and get essential nutrients. From frozen juice pops to refreshing guacamole, these healthy snack ideas will satisfy your kids while providing vitamins and protein. Read on for summer snacking inspiration.

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

Healthy Pinwheels for Healthy Kids

This scrumptious tortilla and veggie pinwheel recipe was posted as a holiday snack idea for little ones, but it can be served year-round. Have your kids help you make pinwheels for the next holiday occasion, serve them at your child’s next birthday party, or prep them for sleepover snacks instead of ordering pizza.

Holiday Pinwheels Recipe from Healthy Kids Challenge

Adding More Veggies to the Snack Routine

One of the biggest challenges as a parent is actually convincing your kids to eat more healthy food,  especially when it comes to veggies! Consider asking them to pitch in when creating meals — when you get your kids involved in the grocery shopping and cooking process, they often get more excited about trying new things. Read our post for more ideas to help boost your kids’ love for this nutritious food group.

The 5 Best Ways to Get Your Kids to Eat More Vegetables

Holiday Eating


6 Healthy Recipes for the Holidays

The holidays can be a nutrition landmine, with platters of sweets and indulgent plates available around every corner. Seasonal festivities make it hard for kids and parents alike to stick to healthy food choices. The next time you invite friends and family to gather around your table, wow them with these six dishes that are just as delicious as they are calorie conscious.

Stay Fit and Festive with 6 Healthy Holiday Recipes

Learning What to Take Off the Holiday Menu

While you’re adding nutritious foods to your holiday menu, consider removing some of the worst offenders. Dishes like stuffing, pecan pie, and green bean casserole are tasty favorites — but they’re also high in calories and tend to be eaten in large quantities. Think about taking one of these five dishes off the table, or making low-fat ingredient substitutions in your recipes.

5 Dishes to Consider Removing From Your Holiday Dinner Plans

Stop the Halloween Binge in Its Tracks

It’s not just the holidays with big family gatherings that can get us in trouble — Halloween is one of the most difficult holidays for healthy eaters! Halloween candy can feel downright addictive. Kids and adults alike find themselves drawn to the plastic pumpkins filled with sugary treats. Read our post with tips to help you stave off a late-night Snickers binge, or a post-Halloween sugar coma.

4 Ways to Avoid Halloween Candy Overload

Meal Tips for the Family


Starting the Day with a Healthy Meal

Begin your day together with a healthy family meal. Not only does a hearty breakfast — with a balance of fruit and protein — support better concentration throughout the morning, but sitting down together allows you to set the tone for the day with some family bonding time.

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

Protein-Rich Foods for Your Kids

Any parent knows it’s hard to find time to cook up a well-balanced, nutritious lunch everyday. Most parents rely on easy, on-the-go lunch solutions. But just because you’re making a quick lunch doesn’t mean it can’t be filling. With these kid-friendly protein-fueled food ideas, both you and your kids can have a healthy packed lunch.

6 Ideas for Protein-Packed, Kid-Friendly Food

Making Easy and Nutritious Meals

Amending family favorites like quesadillas and sloppy joes by using low-cal ingredients is easy. You can whip up something for the entire family that you can feel good about – and they’ll love. These popular recipes include a mix of protein, vitamins, and healthy grains.

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 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)


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!


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


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!