Meeting the Holiday Challenge

November 27, 2017

Multi Generation Family Eating Lunch At Kitchen Table

The holidays are a good time to think about what is actually a “smart serving”!

No wonder it is hard for us to recognize a “smart serving.” We’ve become aware, over the years, that portion sizes have grown in restaurants and by manufacturers but may not recognize all of the ways they have become a “new normal.”

Think about it. Automobile manufacturers have expanded the size of cup holders to accommodate larger sizes of drinks. Our plates and other dishes are larger than those of years ago. Even in classic cookbooks, recipe servings have increased. When it comes to holiday comfort foods and goodies, it seems that too often we develop an attitude of all things go. And too often, around the New Year, we begin to regret it.

Using the following tips, it is possible to enjoy those holiday foods and develop healthier holiday habits:

  • Offer fruits and/or vegetables every time food is served. The fiber, volume and lower caloric density of these foods help to fill you up.
  • Cut desserts in half or serve in small portions.
  • Eat slowly and recognize feelings of fullness. Stop when feeling pleasantly full instead of uncomfortably full.
  • Rather than skipping meals, choose to eat them on a regular schedule.
  • Put food on a plate so you recognize how much you are eating.

The following recipe from The American Diabetes Association is an example of a portion controlled, festive holiday snack or side dish.

Caprese Kabobs

Ingredients

  • 18 bamboo mini forks or small skewers
  • 18 grape tomatoes
  • 18 small basil leaves, folded in half
  • 18 fresh mozzarella balls (1/4 ounce each)

Dressing

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1½ tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Instructions

  • Place 1 grape tomato, 1 basil leaf, and 1 mozzarella ball on each bamboo fork/skewer. Repeat this process for 18 kabobs. Place the kabobs on a serving platter.
  • In a small bowl, whisk together the dressing ingredients. Right before serving, pour the dressing over the kabobs to coat evenly.
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Happy kids preparing a meal in the kitchen

This week’s WOWS Newsletter discusses the benefits of implementing a “taste and learn” activity and provides guidance for creating one. In that spirit, following is an easy-to-implement nutrition education activity designed to encourage healthy holiday choices.

  1. Talk about Snack Attack, i.e., many snack choices are filled with “empty calories.” In other words, some snacks provide a majority of calories from sugar or fat with few nutrients or health benefits. Examples: cakes, cookies, pies and pastries, doughnuts, fries, jams, syrups, jelly, sweetened fruit drinks, chips, salted snacks, candy, and soda provide lots of sugar or fat but have no or minimal vitamins, minerals, protein or fiber!
  2. Suggest kids create some healthier snack alternatives, i.e., choices we can enjoy. Because the holidays are approaching, include some with a holiday twist.
  3. There are many ways we can begin to think about choices; however, let’s begin by getting creative with ways we might make a hearty snack out of an English muffin. Set up the activity by listing potential ingredients:
    • Start with:
      • A whole grain English muffin or bagel
    • Choose a spread:
      • Peanut butter (or other nut butter)
      • Low fat cream cheese
      • Spaghetti sauce
    • Be creative with choosing a healthy topping mix such as:
      • Grated carrots and dried fruit
      • Chopped apples (sprinkled with cinnamon and softened in the microwave) and raisins
      • Chopped kiwis, strawberries and drained crushed pineapple
      • Chopped bananas and a sprinkle (1 tsp.) of mini chocolate chips
      • Sliced peaches and blueberries
      • Mozzarella cheese and shredded ham
      • Mozzarella cheese, chopped green pepper and tomatoes
      • Thinly sliced cucumbers and shredded ham (toss ham with small amount of low fat dressing)
      • Sliced hardboiled egg and shredded low fat cheese
  4. Create a list of the ideas generated and encourage kids try them with the help of their family.

Healthy body healthy mind

The “secrets” of healthy eating include variety, moderation and balance. A consistent, repeated message is one key to learning. A daily, or even weekly, message targeted not just to knowledge, but also attitude and healthy behavior, is the aim. In the classroom, plan 5-10 minute nutrition education or physical activity brain breaks. It doesn’t have to be complex:

Nutrition Ed

  • Discuss how MyPlate shows us how to choose a variety of foods from different food groups.
  • Talk about moderation. What is it and how do we choose it? Point out how MyPlate gives us serving sizes for the foods we eat and also recommends the number of servings we should eat for our age, gender and how active we are.
  • Talk about how eating a healthy breakfast can make school easier. Breakfast provides morning “Go Power.”

Brain Breaks

  • Talk about how moving more balances “energy in” from the foods we eat with “energy out” for a healthy heart and weight. While moving, ask kids to call out their favorite choices for active play.
  • Between lessons, have kids do jumping jacks, jog in place or act out sports like swimming, tennis or basketball.
  • Play five minutes of “musical desks.”

If time is limited to implement a full comprehensive nutrition education curriculum, do something else. There are many “One-a-Day” ideas to help fill a gap. Contact Healthy Kids Challenge for more ideas. The Healthy Kids Challenge Balance My Day™ curriculum is full of discussion points, hands-on activities and worksheets.

Creative Cafeterias

October 16, 2017

Teenager eating healthy lunch with friends in school lunchroom

The National School Lunch Program serves more than 30 million children every school day. Of the 5 billion lunches served annually, the USDA reports (Source: USDA FY 2016 preliminary data) there are:

  • 20.1 million free lunches
  • 2.0 million reduced price lunches (students pay $0.40)
  • 8.2 million full price lunches

School Nutrition professionals are continuously asked to do more with less. Food isn’t their only cost; there are also the costs of labor, supplies, and indirects (e.g., electricity, custodial help). A recent School Nutrition Association survey revealed that nearly eight in every ten school districts have had to take steps to offset financial losses since the new nutrition standards were implemented. Actions include reducing staffing, deferring or cancelling equipment investments, and diminishing the meal program’s reserve fund, which is critical for investing in program improvement.

Despite these challenges, School Nutrition professionals are demonstrating their creativity and care for children. Conduct a search for school lunch (meal) success and sites like the following will pop up:

  • School Nutrition Association’s Tray Talk blog and Facebook page for parents feature school meal programs nationwide that are finding creative ways to improve menus and get students excited about healthier choices.
  • On Pinterest, Rock in School Meals has posted Grab-N-Go meal ideas.
  • School Meals That Rock is an organization that features school nutrition programs.

Creative successes include:

  • Student involvement: Healthy Kids Challenge worked with one Florida school to conduct a fun HKC Ready-Set-Cook-and-Eat event, during which students created dishes that became school menu items! A recent School Nutrition Association survey found that 72.3% involve students through taste tests/sampling.
  • Chefs Move to Schools: The program focuses on the interests and expertise of each chef volunteer and the needs of each school.
  • Farm to school programs to incorporate local foods into the menu.
  • School gardens.
  • Food trucks serving summer meals, and at another Florida school, a “Truck of the Month Program.”
  • Grab-and-Go Meals.
  • Food service directors “coaching” nutrition.

Celebrate these and other accomplishments! Share your success on the Healthy Kids Challenge Facebook page.

Health

The benefits of including nutrition education during the school day are hard to ignore!

Benefits for Schools

Helping students stay healthy through eating healthy foods and being physically active can help schools achieve better overall:

  1. Test scores
  2. Grades
  3. Attendance rates
  4. Behavior patterns

Benefits for Parents

Kids spend a great deal of their time in school. A healthy school environment can:

  1. Provide opportunities to learn and practice healthy behaviors

Benefits for Kids

Eating healthier and staying active in school can help kids:

  1. Gain knowledge and skills to make healthy choices
  2. Feel better
  3. Do better in sports
  4. Concentrate
  5. Get better grades and test scores

Source: National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion

If you are looking for assistance in choosing a flexible, easy-to-implement, comprehensive nutrition education program, contact Healthy Kids Challenge!

Kindergarten children eating lunch

The National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (NCCDPHP) resource HEALTH AND ACADEMIC ACHIEVEMENT makes it clear that healthy eating and physical activity are linked to academic achievement. This means it is very much worth ensuring that we take the time to make it the most effective.

The Healthy Kids Challenge curriculum foundation has set the stage with learning theories and evidence based content for the greatest success. The content is built on the foundation of six healthy habit messages: daily physical activity and choosing breakfast, fruits and vegetables, healthy snacks, right-size portions, and healthy beverages. The curriculum meets standards recommended by the CDC HECAT (Health Education Curriculum Analysis Tool). Hands-on learning activities are designed to build skills for making healthy choices. The following appealing messages are repeated in different ways:

  • Active Play, Balance My Day
  • Breakfast GO Power
  • Drink Think
  • Fruits & Veggies – Every Day the Tasty Way
  • Smart Servings
  • Snack Attack

Along with building skills for making healthy choices, we help educators set kids up for success by creating settings that support healthier choices. For some time, research has supported healthier environments. The USDA Local School Wellness Policy requirements are one way healthier environments are supporting kids.

School Caferteria Line

Preschools and daycare centers can help build a foundation for healthy eating and physical activity choices. In the most recent WOWS Newsletter, we shared the three actions that will help make a difference that lasts for a lifetime:

  1. Plan fun, hands-on learning activities
  2. Model and repeat the healthy message… play, taste and learn with kids
  3. Share the message with parents and caregivers

A 4th category of actions are “nudges.” We’ve used this term in our columns before. It is a word made popular by Cornell University’s Smarter Lunchrooms Movement.

Nudges are like the things retail marketers use to encourage consumers to buy. Good examples are retail store end caps or products placed by the checkout lanes. When it comes to kids’ places, consider these successful “nudges”:

  • A 2016 study reported in Pediatrics found that in school cafeterias with vinyl banners depicting vegetable superhero characters, more young children took vegetables from the salad bar.
  • Studies have also shown an increase in the selection of healthier foods when they are at eye level. In one example, preschoolers took cartons of lower fat milk when they were easier to reach than the higher fat choice.
  • Encouraging students to take fruits and veggies as they go through the line increases selections.
  • Giving fun menu names to fruits and veggies “nudges” healthier choices. So the next time you post a menu, have fun with creative names, like “Crunch a Bunch Salad,” “Rocket Carrots” or “To-My-Toes Tomatoes.” Better yet, help kids come up with silly names!

Make a Healthy Difference, Learn – Model – Share – and Nudge

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