Posts Tagged ‘nutrition’


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.

Seasonal Eating: 5 Fresh Fruits and Veggies to Incorporate this Winter

Monday, December 15th, 2014

You may not have been aware but there are some amazing, fresh fruits and veggies that we only have access to for part of the year! The winter season welcomes some very unique produce that is great tasting as well as highly nutritional. Take your meals to the next level this season by incorporating these healthy fruits and veggies while adding color, nutrients, and pizzazz to your dishes.

Parsnips parsnips

  • In Season: October-May
  • Nutritional Value: This root vegetable is high in vitamins and minerals such as vitamin C, dietary fiber, and potassium. It also contains antioxidants that have anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, and anti-fungal properties. The majority of vitamins and minerals found in parsnips are located very close to the skin. In order to maximize the nutritional value, it should be finely peeled or cooked whole.
  • Fun Fact: Parsnips are 100% edible; however, their shoots and leaves contain toxic sap that can cause a chemical burn or intense allergic reaction upon contact with skin!

Delightful Dish: Savory Parsnip Madeleines

Ingredients:

  • 1 large egg
  • ¼ cup crème fraiche
  • Grated peel of 1 lemon
  • ⅓ cup olive oil
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon white pepper
  • ⅓ cup grated parmesan
  • ½ cup peeled and grated raw parsnip
  • ¼ cup toasted and chopped pistachios

Grapefruit grapefruit

  • In Season: December-April
  • Nutritional Value: This fruit is a great source of vitamin C, fiber pectin, and the antioxidant lycopene. Consuming grapefruit can help lower cholesterol and burn fat.
  • Fun Fact: Grapefruit is eaten as a sweet candy in areas like Costa Rica. The fruit is cooked to remove sourness and then filled with dulce de leche.

Delightful Dish: Seared Mahi-Mahi with Citrus Compote

Ingredients:

  • 2 Oro Blanco grapefruits
  • 2 Page mandarins
  • 2 Owari Satsuma mandarins
  • 2 Fukamoto navel oranges
  • 1½ cups dry white wine
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 3 tablespoons powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons cold water
  • 1½ pounds mahi-mahi

Artichoke Artichoke

  • In Season: September-December/ March-June
  • Nutritional Value: Artichokes are high in dietary fiber, vitamin C, and magnesium. They also have one of the highest antioxidant levels compared to other vegetables. This funny flower can help with digestion, liver function, and blood cholesterol levels.
  • Fun Fact: The artichoke that we purchase at the store to consume is actually just the head of the flower. The stem that supports it can grow to be over 6 feet tall!

Delightful Dish: Shaved Artichoke Salad

Ingredients:

  • 1 minced shallot
  • A couple sprigs of mint leaves
  • 1 clove garlic, grated
  • Salt and freshly cracked black pepper
  • Juice from 1-2 lemons, plus 2 more lemons
  • 3 artichokes
  • Handful salad greens, washed and dried
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Olives, pitted
  • Feta cheese, crumbled
  • Almonds, chopped and toasted

Pomegranates Poms

  • In Season: September-December
  • Nutritional Value: This fruit is high in vitamin C, vitamin K, and dietary fiber. It possesses antioxidant and antibacterial properties within the juice of the seeds. These properties have potential health benefits of reducing risk of heart disease, lowering blood pressure, and fighting dental plaque.
  • Fun Fact: A single pomegranate can contain anywhere from 200 to 1,400 seeds. Each seed has a pulp and the white area that holds the seeds is called the membrane. In ancient Egypt, pomegranates were a symbol of prosperity and ambition and were used to treat many infections, including tapeworm.

Delightful Dish: Sweet Couscous with Fresh Pomegranates

Ingredients:

  • Several large pomegranates
  • 1 orange, juiced
  • ¼ cup + 1 tablespoon superfine baker’s sugar
  • 1 pinch freshly ground pepper
  • 1 tablespoon orange flower water
  • 1 cup fine-grain packaged couscous
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 tablespoons pistachios, peeled and crushed

Sweet Potatoes sweet potato

  • In Season: September-December (in market January-March)
  • Nutritional Value: This root vegetable contains complex carbohydrates, dietary fiber, and beta-carotene. While it is starchy, it is actually ranked highest in nutritional value compared to rice, wheat, potatoes, and corn.
  • Fun Fact: Sweet potato consumption has become increasingly popular in the US. It is often served as French fries or baked potatoes and paired with fun condiments like blue cheese.

Delightful Dish: Sweet Potato Stew with Greens

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, minced
  • ½ teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
  • 1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
  • 2 medium sweet potatoes
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 tablespoon rasam powder
  • 1 bunch of Swiss chard or collard greens
  • 1 (14-ounce) can full-fat coconut milk
  • ¼ cup finely chopped cilantro

Whether you are cooking in large quantities for the holidays or preparing small meals for yourself, incorporating these seasonal fruits and veggies will surely be satisfying. Get inspired by seasonal cooking and take a look at other fruits and veggies that are only available at this time of the year. Your body with thank you—and so will your taste buds!

Heart-Healthy Ingredients to Pack in Your Children’s Lunchboxes

Wednesday, February 26th, 2014
In honor of American Heart Month, we’ve been covering some matters of the heart, including how to promote heart health in our children. Today, we’re talking about packing heart-healthy lunches to fuel their minds, bodies, and spirits all throughout the school day.
Check out these 10 ingredients to rotate through your child’s lunchbox to keep their tickers in tip-top shape.
Fruits and Veggies
An absolute must for a heart-healthy meal, fruits and veggies should take up the most tummy space.
Apples
There really is truth to the old adage, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” Apples are high in fiber and vitamin C and contain lots of potassium, too. And they taste great and fulfill that need for something crunchy and sweet.
Bonus tips: Pre-sliced apples are perfect for little hands. To make lunch prep a breeze, invest in an apple slicer ($5-10 online and in various stores). Put apple slices in a baggie or reusable container with some lemon or lime juice to keep them tasting fresh and from turning brown.
Bananas
Another good one for the lunchbox is the banana. Like apples, they have lots of fiber, vitamin C, and potassium. Unlike the apple, you can have a good bit of fun pretending to be a monkey while you munch your lunch.
Oranges
Lower in calories than apples and bananas, oranges are loaded with vitamin C, potassium, and fiber. They’re also a good alternative for kids who prefer their fruit sliced and peeled for them. Unlike apples and bananas, they don’t turn that “icky” brown color when sliced before serving.
Pears
Higher in vitamin C than a banana and more fiber and potassium than an apple, pears are another crunchy, sweet alternative for the healthy lunchbox crowd. Pears are also slightly softer and easier to chew than apples, which can be a mouth-pleaser for younger children.
Baby Carrots
These little orange beauties are chockablock full of vitamin A and are fun to eat both plain and with a healthy dip (see recipe below!). Skip the chips and dip these babies! Crunchy, sweet, and oh-so-good for you, too.
Broccoli
Raw, one cup of broccoli florets contains almost as much vitamin C as an orange. If your kids prefer cooked broccoli, lightly steam the florets and then chill them in the fridge. Steaming takes away some of the bite of raw broccoli and makes it easier for picky eaters to get their much-needed greens.
Cherry or Grape Tomatoes
Full of vitamin C and really fun to pop in your mouth, tiny tomatoes make another excellent lunchbox add. Pair them up with a tasty yogurt dip and you double the fun and the taste.
Protein and Fat
Two very important nutrients to pack in the lunchbox are protein and fat. While fat in general doesn’t have the best reputation, healthy amounts of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat are integral to a heart-healthy diet. Try these ingredients:
Low-fat cheese
No need to go overboard, but a serving-sized wedge of a tasty low-fat cheese gives your child protein, calcium, and a yummy lunch all in one.
Tuna
Skip the overly processed lunchmeats and go for heart-healthy tuna instead, which offers protein and the healthy fats mentioned above. If your child isn’t a fan of fish, choose the least-processed lunch meats possible or bake and slice free-range chicken and turkey breasts for delicious homemade sandwiches.
Tip: Choose only 100% whole grain bread made with the least ingredients possible. Skip brands that include extra sugar in their recipe, or go all-in and make your own bread.
Unsalted and/or Raw Nuts and Seeds
Whether it’s a serving of sunflower seeds, almonds, walnuts, or other wonderful crunchies, nuts and seeds add protein, healthy fats and variety to any school lunch box. Remember those apples, bananas, and pears from above? Wholesome peanut butter (the only ingredient you need is peanuts!) with a sprinkle of cinnamon makes for a tasty treat.
Whole Grains
We can’t forget the benefits of wholesome whole grains! Avoid processed flour products and go for 100% whole grain items that maintain the healthy components of the grain.
Crunchy breadsticks
Forget the high-fat, high-sodium chips, pretzels, and crackers. Pack yummy, crunchy homemade breadsticks instead. (If following this recipe, skip the all-purpose flour and use 100% whole wheat only. Choose a whole wheat baking flour, which will maintain a lighter, more pleasing texture.) Thick and chewy or thin and crispy, the choice is yours. Flavor them with herbs, garlic and onion, cinnamon, fruit—anything your kids like. Some homemade tomato sauce provides a yummy and heart-healthy dip on the side.
Brown Rice, Quinoa, or Oatmeal
These wholesome whole grains can be flavored any way you like them and fill up little tummies with fiber that keeps them energized all day long.
Healthy Yogurt Dip Recipe
Ingredients:
1 cup plain Greek yogurt like Fage (wholesome Greek yogurt has no extra sugar and lots of healthy protein)
1 tablespoon finely chopped green onion
3 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
1 tablespoon minced fresh dill (or use dried dill, but less)
1 tablespoon minced fresh chives
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste
It’s so easy—just mix everything in a small bowl and chill overnight. Store the dip in the refrigerator for 3 to 5 days.
Giving your kids healthy, appetizing choices for their lunchboxes ensures that they’re receiving support for healthy eating habits even when they are away from home. Some other good-for-you lunch choices are hard-boiled eggs, unsalted popcorn, and raisins/other no-sugar-added dried fruits.
And don’t forget to help quench little thirsts. Good choices for a reusable water bottle are unsweetened juice, water, and milk (add a little wholesome cocoa powder and vanilla extract for a chocolaty treat).
Lunch time doesn’t have to be boring, unhealthy, or stick to the same old routine. Give your kids a heart-healthy treasure chest of goodies they’ll be excited to munch on every day. While you’re at it, pack these wholesome ingredients in your own lunch, too!

In honor of American Heart Month, we’ve been covering some matters of the heart, including how to promote heart health in our children. Today, we’re talking about packing heart-healthy lunches to fuel their minds, bodies, and spirits all throughout the school day.

Check out these 10 ingredients to rotate through your child’s lunchbox to keep their tickers in tip-top shape.

Fruits and Veggies

An absolute must for a heart-healthy meal, fruits and veggies should take up the most tummy space.

Apples

There really is truth to the old adage, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” Apples are high in fiber and vitamin C and contain lots of potassium, too. And they taste great and fulfill that need for something crunchy and sweet.

Bonus tips: Pre-sliced apples are perfect for little hands. To make lunch prep a breeze, invest in an apple slicer ($5-10 online and in various stores). Put apple slices in a baggie or reusable container with some lemon or lime juice to keep them tasting fresh and from turning brown.

Bananas

Another good one for the lunchbox is the banana. Like apples, they have lots of fiber, vitamin C, and potassium. Unlike the apple, you can have a good bit of fun pretending to be a monkey while you munch your lunch.

Oranges

Lower in calories than apples and bananas, oranges are loaded with vitamin C, potassium, and fiber. They’re also a good alternative for kids who prefer their fruit sliced and peeled for them. Unlike apples and bananas, they don’t turn that “icky” brown color when sliced before serving.

Pears

Higher in vitamin C than a banana and more fiber and potassium than an apple, pears are another crunchy, sweet alternative for the healthy lunchbox crowd. Pears are also slightly softer and easier to chew than apples, which can be a mouth-pleaser for younger children.

Baby Carrots

These little orange beauties are chockablock full of vitamin A and are fun to eat both plain and with a healthy dip (see recipe below!). Skip the chips and dip these babies! Crunchy, sweet, and oh-so-good for you, too.

Broccoli

Raw, one cup of broccoli florets contains almost as much vitamin C as an orange. If your kids prefer cooked broccoli, lightly steam the florets and then chill them in the fridge. Steaming takes away some of the bite of raw broccoli and makes it easier for picky eaters to get their much-needed greens.

Cherry or Grape Tomatoes

Full of vitamin C and really fun to pop in your mouth, tiny tomatoes make another excellent lunchbox add. Pair them up with a tasty yogurt dip and you double the fun and the taste.

Protein and Fat

Two very important nutrients to pack in the lunchbox are protein and fat. While fat in general doesn’t have the best reputation, healthy amounts of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat are integral to a heart-healthy diet. Try these ingredients:

Low-fat cheese

No need to go overboard, but a serving-sized wedge of a tasty low-fat cheese gives your child protein, calcium, and a yummy lunch all in one.

Tuna

Skip the overly processed lunchmeats and go for heart-healthy tuna instead, which offers protein and the healthy fats mentioned above. If your child isn’t a fan of fish, choose the least-processed lunch meats possible or bake and slice free-range chicken and turkey breasts for delicious homemade sandwiches.

Tip: Choose only 100% whole grain bread made with the least ingredients possible. Skip brands that include extra sugar in their recipe, or go all-in and make your own bread.

Unsalted and/or Raw Nuts and Seeds

Whether it’s a serving of sunflower seeds, almonds, walnuts, or other wonderful crunchies, nuts and seeds add protein, healthy fats and variety to any school lunch box. Remember those apples, bananas, and pears from above? Wholesome peanut butter (the only ingredient you need is peanuts!) with a sprinkle of cinnamon makes for a tasty treat.

Whole Grains

We can’t forget the benefits of wholesome whole grains! Avoid processed flour products and go for 100% whole grain items that maintain the healthy components of the grain.

Crunchy breadsticks

Forget the high-fat, high-sodium chips, pretzels, and crackers. Pack yummy, crunchy homemade breadsticks instead. (If following this recipe, skip the all-purpose flour and use 100% whole wheat only. Choose a whole wheat baking flour, which will maintain a lighter, more pleasing texture.) Thick and chewy or thin and crispy, the choice is yours. Flavor them with herbs, garlic and onion, cinnamon, fruit—anything your kids like. Some homemade tomato sauce provides a yummy and heart-healthy dip on the side.

Brown Rice, Quinoa, or Oatmeal

These wholesome whole grains can be flavored any way you like them and fill up little tummies with fiber that keeps them energized all day long.

Healthy Yogurt Dip Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup plain Greek yogurt like Fage (wholesome Greek yogurt has no extra sugar and lots of healthy protein)
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped green onion
  • 3 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh dill (or use dried dill, but less)
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh chives
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • Salt and pepper to taste

It’s so easy—just mix everything in a small bowl and chill overnight. Store the dip in the refrigerator for 3 to 5 days.

Giving your kids healthy, appetizing choices for their lunchboxes ensures that they’re receiving support for healthy eating habits even when they are away from home. Some other good-for-you lunch choices are hard-boiled eggs, unsalted popcorn, and raisins/other no-sugar-added dried fruits.

And don’t forget to help quench little thirsts. Good choices for a reusable water bottle are unsweetened juice, water, and milk (add a little wholesome cocoa powder and vanilla extract for a chocolaty treat).

Lunch time doesn’t have to be boring, unhealthy, or stick to the same old routine. Give your kids a heart-healthy treasure chest of goodies they’ll be excited to munch on every day. While you’re at it, pack these wholesome ingredients in your own lunch, too!

Tips for Heart-Healthy Children and Families

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014
February is American Heart Month, and we want to take some time to focus on how parents can promote their children’s heart health.
When it comes to raising healthy children, efforts should start at home, with parents and other immediate family members that have so much impact on kids during their formative years. The efforts extend into the community, where school officials, coaches, and so on help mold the youth into healthy, responsible adults. As they say, it takes a village to raise a child, and when we work together everybody wins.
Keep reading for some tips you can implement at home to help your children create heart-healthy habits.
Making Time for Healthy Habits
The first step is to make time to incorporate healthy habits. And while it seems like there already aren’t enough hours in the day, the secret is that you don’t have to find more time—you replace time spent on not-so-healthy habits with time spent on better-for-you ones. Try these ideas:
Schedule TV and Other Types of Screen Time
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children younger than two years old have no screen time and older kids have one to two hours of screen time per day with high-quality content. But children now spend an average of 7 hours per day in front of the TV, iPad, laptop, and/or gaming system.
One way to cut back is to schedule screen time. Try these:
Make a list of the family’s must-see programs—these are the ones you can watch together or separately, but do keep the list to a minimum.
Turn the TV only on a few minutes prior to the start of the shows, and turn it off immediately after. No channel surfing, no mindless watching.
Schedule a game night or award “time tickets” to allow your kids to get their video game fix without spending endless hours glued to the screen and controllers.
Track Your Meals
How often do you stop at the drive-through on your way to or from activities? You may not realize just how often you grab dinner to go or reach for processed convenience items unless you keep track for a couple of weeks.
The problem is that most of these items contain overly processed simple carbohydrates (such as sugar and flour) and oils high in omega-6 fatty acids (like sunflower, soybean, and corn oil)—huge culprits of inflammation. While the debate of whether inflammation or cholesterol is the direct cause of heart disease is still in progress, it is certainly a big cardiovascular health risk factor.
Curb fast food eating, and learn how to make better choices when hitting the drive thru window.
Making healthy meals at home is easier than you think. For example, heart-healthy meals can be slow-cooked in a crockpot so they are ready when you are, you can make homemade freezer meals that just need to be popped in the oven.
Replace certain ingredients in your pantry. Rather than all-purpose white flour, go with 100% whole wheat baking flour and flour products. Instead of butter, shortening, and margarine, try extra-virgin olive oil, which features heart-healthy fatty acids. Instead of canned or jarred fruits, choose fresh or frozen. Instead of sugary sodas and juices, try mixing 100% juice with water—even a splash makes for a refreshing treat.
Track Your Time
Being constantly on the go is stressful for you and your children. Extra-curricular activities are a good thing for children, but as they say, you can have too much of a good thing. A recent NPR story highlighted the new levels of stress children and teens are experiencing today have a negative impact on health. As too much continual stress has been identified as one of the causes of heart disease, it’s imperative that families come together and decide where to cut back on obligations and commitments.
While stress management techniques, such as yoga, deep breathing, and meditation, are great, healthy activities for everyone to practice, learning where to cut back and focus energy where it really counts is the first step.
Getting More Active at Home
After creating room in your lifestyle for healthy habits, fill it with fun activities at home! Why zone out or complain about boredom when there are so many valuable and fun activities you can do at home?
Become a Clean Machine
Getting everyone involved in household tasks and chores makes the work easier, faster, and healthier. And you can even make housework more fun!
Put sticky notes on everything that needs attention: Dust me, pick me up, sweep me, clean me, etc. Then race around the house to see which family member can acquire the most sticky notes and get the job done properly.
Put some tunes on the stereo and limit each household task to a certain number of tracks—3 for washing the dishes, 2 for scrubbing the bathtub, 4 for dusting the living room, etc. Get your toes tapping and the house clean all at the same time.
Go Green in the Garden
Backyard agriculture is all the rage these days, as we have rediscovered the joys and benefits of growing our own food. Gardening is also a great way to get, and stay, active. Those seeds and plants need planting, watering, weeding, and tending to. The fruits of your labor need to be harvested and prepared for storage and meals. Branching out to incorporate backyard chickens, rabbits, or other small livestock creates another dimension to your activity (and learning) time.
Besides the boost in physical activity, growing your own food is often healthier, cheaper, and more fulfilling than relying on the grocery store.
Take a hike
Or walk the dog, visit the neighborhood park or playground, play some hoops, go for a swim, set up the net and have a rousing game of volleyball in the backyard, and so on. Just get outside and get moving! Turning a lazy Saturday, Sunday, or weekday evening into a fun activity builds heart health, good habits, and memories, all of which can last a lifetime.
Doing What You Can
The easiest and most effective way to develop healthier habits as a family is by taking it one step at a time. No one said you had to do it all at once or all by the end of the month. Just start. Do what you can, when you can. Grow from there. When built upon and sustained over time, these habits will evolve into a full-blown heart-healthy lifestyle that will last you and your children a lifetime.

February is American Heart Month, and we want to take some time to focus on how parents can promote their children’s heart health.

When it comes to raising healthy children, efforts should start at home, with parents and other immediate family members that have so much impact on kids during their formative years. The efforts extend into the community, where school officials, coaches, and so on help mold the youth into healthy, responsible adults. As they say, it takes a village to raise a child, and when we work together everybody wins.

Keep reading for some tips you can implement at home to help your children create heart-healthy habits.=

Making Time for Healthy Habits

The first step is to make time to incorporate healthy habits. And while it seems like there already aren’t enough hours in the day, the secret is that you don’t have to find more time—you replace time spent on not-so-healthy habits with time spent on better-for-you ones. Try these ideas:

Schedule TV and Other Types of Screen Time

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children younger than two years old have no screen time and older kids have one to two hours of screen time per day with high-quality content. But children now spend an average of 7 hours per day in front of the TV, iPad, laptop, and/or gaming system.

One way to cut back is to schedule screen time. Try these:

  • Make a list of the family’s must-see programs—these are the ones you can watch together or separately, but do keep the list to a minimum.
  • Turn the TV only on a few minutes prior to the start of the shows, and turn it off immediately after. No channel surfing, no mindless watching.
  • Schedule a game night or award “time tickets” to allow your kids to get their video game fix without spending endless hours glued to the screen and controllers.

Track Your Meals

How often do you stop at the drive-through on your way to or from activities? You may not realize just how often you grab dinner to go or reach for processed convenience items unless you keep track for a couple of weeks.

The problem is that most of these items contain overly processed simple carbohydrates (such as sugar and flour) and oils high in omega-6 fatty acids (like sunflower, soybean, and corn oil)—huge culprits of inflammation. While the debate of whether inflammation or cholesterol is the direct cause of heart disease is still in progress, it is certainly a big cardiovascular health risk factor.

  • Curb fast food eating, and learn how to make better choices when hitting the drive thru window.
  • Making healthy meals at home is easier than you think. For example, heart-healthy meals can be slow-cooked in a crockpot so they are ready when you are, you can make homemade freezer meals that just need to be popped in the oven.
  • Replace certain ingredients in your pantry. Rather than all-purpose white flour, go with 100% whole wheat baking flour and flour products. Instead of butter, shortening, and margarine, try extra-virgin olive oil, which features heart-healthy fatty acids. Instead of canned or jarred fruits, choose fresh or frozen. Instead of sugary sodas and juices, try mixing 100% juice with water—even a splash makes for a refreshing treat.

Track Your Time

Being constantly on the go is stressful for you and your children. Extra-curricular activities are a good thing for children, but as they say, you can have too much of a good thing. A recent NPR story highlighted the new levels of stress children and teens are experiencing today have a negative impact on health. As too much continual stress has been identified as one of the causes of heart disease, it’s imperative that families come together and decide where to cut back on obligations and commitments.

While stress management techniques, such as yoga, deep breathing, and meditation, are great, healthy activities for everyone to practice, learning where to cut back and focus energy where it really counts is the first step.

Getting More Active at Home

After creating room in your lifestyle for healthy habits, fill it with fun activities at home! Why zone out or complain about boredom when there are so many valuable and fun activities you can do at home?

Become a Clean Machine

Getting everyone involved in household tasks and chores makes the work easier, faster, and healthier. And you can even make housework more fun!

  • Put sticky notes on everything that needs attention: Dust me, pick me up, sweep me, clean me, etc. Then race around the house to see which family member can acquire the most sticky notes and get the job done properly.
  • Put some tunes on the stereo and limit each household task to a certain number of tracks—3 for washing the dishes, 2 for scrubbing the bathtub, 4 for dusting the living room, etc. Get your toes tapping and the house clean all at the same time.

Go Green in the Garden

Backyard agriculture is all the rage these days, as we have rediscovered the joys and benefits of growing our own food. Gardening is also a great way to get, and stay, active. Those seeds and plants need planting, watering, weeding, and tending to. The fruits of your labor need to be harvested and prepared for storage and meals. Branching out to incorporate backyard chickens, rabbits, or other small livestock creates another dimension to your activity (and learning) time.

Besides the boost in physical activity, growing your own food is often healthier, cheaper, and more fulfilling than relying on the grocery store.

Take a hike

Or walk the dog, visit the neighborhood park or playground, play some hoops, go for a swim, set up the net and have a rousing game of volleyball in the backyard, and so on. Just get outside and get moving! Turning a lazy Saturday, Sunday, or weekday evening into a fun activity builds heart health, good habits, and memories, all of which can last a lifetime.

Doing What You Can

The easiest and most effective way to develop healthier habits as a family is by taking it one step at a time. No one said you had to do it all at once or all by the end of the month. Just start. Do what you can, when you can. Grow from there. When built upon and sustained over time, these habits will evolve into a full-blown heart-healthy lifestyle that will last you and your children a lifetime.

Unconventional Physical Education Activities

Tuesday, October 29th, 2013

In the United States, students and teachers are pretty familiar with the old stand-by PE games like tag, tetherball, kickball, dodge ball, and capture the flag. However, in some parts of the U.S., as well as internationally, there are physical education programs that incorporate non-traditional activities into their PE lesson plans. Instead of the typical jumping jacks, push-ups, and laps around the track, these programs are introducing students to a whole new side of physical activity and proper nutrition. Below we’ll take a look at a few of the uncommon PE games and physical activities that are being implemented today.

Yoga

The health benefits of yoga have been receiving increased attention in Western culture over the past several years, with the most recent popularity boom starting in 2001. Heralded for its meditative, relaxation, and strength-building benefits, yoga was first offered in North America for high school PE credit in Nova Scotia. Since then, several schools have begun to offer yoga as part of their standard physical education curriculum, although not everyone has been receptive. In Encinitas, California, concerned parents brought a lawsuit against the Encinitas Union School District with fear that teaching yoga to children might spread the message of Eastern religion. However, students who participate in yoga while in school are finding that the benefits extend to other areas of their academic lives, such as test preparation and focus in the classroom.

Tai Chi

Students of all ages, from elementary through college, are reporting increased levels of stress in their daily educational routines. Densely packed academic schedules, increasing workloads, and tougher standardized testing requirements have all added to the pressure that students face. In an attempt to combat these increased stress levels, some PE instructors are incorporating tai chi into their lessons plans. This ancient Chinese martial art has been practiced for centuries for its ability to oppose certain chronic conditions, lower stress levels, and improve one’s overall mental health.

Hiking

In rural and mountainous areas, hiking is being incorporated into the physical education curriculum. In some cases, the physical activity of hiking is included as part of an overarching lesson on wilderness education and outdoor survival. Hiking affords students the chance to explore the outdoors in a way that promotes interaction with nature and benefits their physical health. Hiking may also be combined with other outdoor activities such as kayaking, canoeing, or rock climbing.

Martial Arts

Classroom discipline can be a major issue in schools, particularly with younger students at the elementary level. In an attempt to enhance student’s focus and increase order within the classroom, various martial art disciplines are being taught to physical education students. Styles vary, from wrestling to karate to judo, providing students with basic self-defense skills through physical activity. Additionally, as UCLA Martial Arts Program Directr Paul McCarthy notes, “Martial arts can teach you about culture, history, society, friendship, loyalty, dedication, and so much more.

Dance

From ballroom to hip-hop to ballet, dance has been playing an increased role in physical education programs around the world. The physical health benefits of dance are many: improved coordination, increased cardiovascular capacity, weight loss, and enhanced muscle tone and strength are just a few. In some programs, PE instructors are also teaching cultural and traditional folk dance in order to combine physical activity with historical education.

4 Ways to Avoid Halloween Candy Overload

Thursday, October 24th, 2013

With Halloween just a week away, kids and parents are gearing up for the spooky festivities and sugary gorge-fest. It’s not only children who become increasingly excited as the end of October looms near—retailers and manufactures are also preparing for a big Halloween sales. The National Retail Federation estimates total Halloween spending in the U.S. to reach $6.9 billion. Of that spend, $2.08 billion is expected to be on candy alone, proof that we in the United States take our yearly Halloween candy binging rites seriously.

For kids, the goal is simple: visit as many houses as possible, filling up a giant knapsack with the largest amount of candy that you can manage to carry. Parents, on the other hand, have things a bit more complicated when it comes to Halloween. Yes, making sure your kids have a wonderful, memorable Halloween experience is important, as is keeping them safe while they are out there trick-or-treating.

What is also important is trying to curtail the ongoing consumption of tooth-rotting sweets that can last for weeks, or even months, after Halloween has come and gone. Not only is managing children’s candy intake necessary to avoid cavities, belly aches, hyperactivity, and future health issues—it’s also essential to avoid the inevitable glucose crash that follows an assault on the trove of Halloween riches.

So how do you go about helping your kids avoid the adverse affects of binging on Halloween candy? After all, they are sure to be up to their eyeballs in candy at every turn: at home, at school, and out in public. To start, it’s best to lay out a few ground rules: how much they’ll be allowed to eat and how much will be donated, saved for later, or set aside for ‘inspection’ by Mom and Dad. In addition to establishing rules, here are a few more ideas to help avoid Halloween candy crash.

1. Have Healthy Snacks on Hand

In the days following Halloween, it’s easy for kids to reach for that pillow case bulging with candy when they need a snack. One way to avoid this is to make sure you have other, healthier snack options readily available. While choosing a carrot over a chocolate bar isn’t likely to be your child’s first instinct, providing them with healthier food options—and helping them make the right choice—is key to avoiding candy binging. It helps make their Halloween candy stash last longer too.

2. A Little Goes a Long Way

Instead of giving your kids free reign over the now-overflowing candy jar, restrict candy intake to a few, or even better, one, piece of candy each day. To children, this might seem like a drag, but one way to make the process go more smoothly is to make a small ‘event’ out of it. Establish a set time each day, and encourage your kids to choose their daily candy very carefully. Tell them to eat their candy slowly and enjoy it rather than shove the entire thing in their mouth before running off. If you can manage to slow the process down enough, you will effectively bypass binge candy eating, while also teaching your kids the importance of savoring their food to avoid overeating and increase satisfaction and appreciation of food and treats.

3. One for Me, One for You

After the trick-or-treating has been completed, sit down with your children and take inventory of what they’ve managed to bring home. With all of the candy laid out, tell them that they need to decide which candy to keep, and which to set aside. In this way, you are allowing kids a certain level of control over selecting their favorites, but also cutting their candy total in half. Once they have chosen the candy they will keep for themselves, you can collectively decide what to do with the rest: donate it, share it among friends, or allow Mom and Dad to have some treats of their own.

4. Have a Plan for Leftover Candy

Aside from donating candy to troops overseas, selling it, or giving it away, having a few other ideas in place for leftover Halloween candy is a good idea to ensure it doesn’t go to waste. Of course, you can always freeze some of it, eating it later or using it as an ingredient in a frozen treat. You can also bake certain candies into cakes, use them in trail mixes, or even put them in a gift basket for Christmas. There are a ton of resources to help you with ideas for leftover Halloween candy, some of which even include healthy options!

Good luck managing that candy stash, and have a happy Halloween!

The Top 5 Worst Kids’ Lunch Foods

Thursday, May 30th, 2013

When it comes to providing kids with the best nutrition to keep them going strong, traditional PE programs alone may not suffice. Since kids are notorious for being picky eaters, this can make it difficult as a parent or after school program coordinator to find foods that kids will enjoy eating and that are healthy for them as well. Teaching healthy eating habits is just one of several elements of a coordinated school health program. Whether it’s the ingredients, labeling, or nutritional value, learn why each of the popular kids’ foods listed below that can actually do more harm than good in fighting childhood obesity.

Top 5 Worst Lunch Foods

Healthy People 2020 RFP: New Funding Available to Non-Profits

Wednesday, July 6th, 2011

New Funding Available to Non-Profits Working to Promote Improved Health at a Community Level!

Healthy People 2020 Community Innovations Project Request for Proposal

Summary:

The purpose of this RFP is to solicit community-level projects that use Healthy People 2020 overarching goals, topic areas and objectives to promote improved heath at a community level. Funding is intended to support activities above and beyond general operations. Using the projects funded through this RFP, the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP) intends to evaluate how the Healthy People 2020 overarching goals, topic areas and objectives are being used to improve the health of communities.

In order to be eligible for consideration, proposed projects must address at least one of the Healthy People 2020 topics and incorporate at least one of the following priorities that are linked to the Healthy People 2020 overarching goals.

Funding Information

  • This is a one-time funding opportunity.
  • Awards will range from $5,000 to $10,000.
  • Up to 170 projects will be funded.
  • Awardees will be chosen to represent a variety of themes, activities and regions.

Eligibility: Non-profit, community-based organizations with budgets less than $750,000

Deadline: August 5, 2011

Notification: November 11, 2011

Project Timeline: December 1, 2011 – May 31, 2012

Click Here for more information.

Click Here for the RFP.

SPARK & Skillastics Team-Up to Get Kids Active

Friday, May 6th, 2011

SPARK is proud to announce a partnership with Skillastics, the leader in engaging, reinforcing, and assessing large groups of children PreK-12 in standards-based fitness and sports specific skill development activities.

Skillastics, now a SPARK Recommended Resource, will enhance SPARK activities by providing an additional assessment tool, allowing the instructor the freedom to view a large amount of children engaging in activities supported by a SPARK lesson. This partnership was formed to foster greater access to quality physical activity solutions for schools and community-based organizations nationwide.

SPARK Executive Director Paul Rosengard adds, “I’ve been a big fan of Sandy (Spin) Slade and Skillastics for a long time. Their products are an excellent supplement for our SPARK teachers and youth leaders and I recommend them highly. I’m especially excited about Skillastics’ application in after school environments where space limitations and instruction of children from multiple grade levels are common place.”

Skillastics is considered a “new and improved twist” in circuit training, and allows 1 to 100 children of varying ages and athletic abilities to participate and enjoy being active at one time. They provide solutions for physical education, after school, and early childhood programs.

Their newest offering, “Character is Cool”, is designed as a teaching tool to help children interact positively with one another while participating in cooperative fitness activities that emphasize character traits such as good sporting behavior, respect, responsibility, teamwork, caring and honesty.

Since its introduction in 2003, Skillastics is enjoyed in over 20,000 physical education classes, after school programs, and community-based organizations throughout the world!

For more information on Skillastics please visit www.skillastics.com.

What is a PEP Grant?

Wednesday, April 13th, 2011

The PEP Grant, also known as the Carol M. White Physical Education Program (PEP) Grant, is a federally funded grant program designed to award money to local education agencies and community-based organizations, including religious organizations, to help them initiate, expand, or enhance physical education programs for K through 12 students. In 2011, the PEP Grant will award schools and community-based organizations anywhere from $100,000 to $750,000 for programs that help students work toward meeting state standards for physical education.

Money from PEP Grants may be used to purchase physical education equipment, provide support for students, provide training and education to teachers and staff members, bring in programs and teachers from outside the school or organization, and to initiate new physical education programs. Applicants are required to create a new program or improve an existing program that helps students make progress toward meeting state physical education AND one or more of the following initiatives:

  • Helping students understand, improve, and maintain physical well-being
  • Enhancing physical, mental, social, and emotional development through instruction in physical activities and motor skills
  • Development of cognitive concepts about fitness and motor skills that support healthy lifestyles
  • Education in healthy eating habits and nutrition
  • Professional development for physical education teachers to stay current on physical education research, issues, trends, and programs

Examples of Physical Education Programs

Past PEP Grants have been awarded to schools and organizations to implement programs ranging from innovative playgrounds to short-term auxiliary programs and after school programs. Some types of programs that have received PEP grant money in the past have included:

  • Evidence-Based Physical Education Programs
  • Community outreach programs
  • Integrating technology into PE
  • Purchasing equipment such as pedometers and heart rate monitors
  • Implementing “lifetime activities” rather than individual and team sports
  • Bringing in specialty organizations that help schools implement innovative PE lesson plans and programs
  • New, different, and innovative activities
  • Ropes courses
  • Adventure programs

Schools and organizations that are competitive in the application process include programs with elements that provide long-term benefits for students by encouraging a lifelong commitment to fitness that will decrease the costs of medical care associated with inactivity, poor nutrition, and obesity. Programs should include activities for all students, including those with disabilities. Competitive organizations and programs make a connection between physical activity, mental or academic performance, and general well being.

Over 150 PEP winners have chosen to implement SPARK Physical Education or After School programs in their schools. To see why so many schools successfully win PEP grants when they include SPARK as part of their proposal, Click Here.

PEP Grantwriting Information and Tips

If your school or organization does not have a grant writer on staff, consider hiring a professional grant writer with experience writing federal grants. If you use teachers or other staff members to write the grant, an outside consultant can help improve the grant by reviewing it and asking important questions about the essential elements of your grant. There are several websites and online documents available to assist you specifically with the PEP grantwriting process.

In your grant proposal, you must clearly outline a specific program, the goals of your program, and the steps your organization will take to reach these goals. It is essential to address how the program you plan to implement with the grant money will help students benefiting from the program to meet state standards for physical education. This should include a discussion of the PE standards in your state and how your program will help students work toward meeting these standards.

Assessment and evaluation are another significant part of the grantwriting process. Without a plan to evaluate the progress of your students, you will be unable to prove that your program actually met its goals. Having a way to assess the effectiveness of your program is the essential element of receiving current and future PEP grants. In your grant proposal you must outline a plan for the assessment of student progress that will show students met the goals of your program, and you must be prepared to implement this plan alongside the PE program you initiate.

In order to receive PEP Grant money, you are required to establish a need for that money within your proposal. This should include statistics your organization has collected that are specific to your school district, geographical area, or state. You will want to use statistics and data that prove there is a need for your organization’s program and that students will benefit from your fitness program on physical, social, mental, emotional, and/or developmental level. As a supplement to your local data, you may choose to use national research and statistics and professional literature.

  • For additional tips on preparing and submitting your 2011 PEP Grant Click Here
  • For Sample Text for PEP Grant Writers Click Here

To access the 2011 Carol M. White PEP Grant application Click Here.