Get Fit With Play (and the Giants’ Victor Cruz)

Are your kids playing enough? There’s so much evidence that making time to just run around can benefit kids (and us parents) in more ways than one.

A review of 86 articles published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity concludes that physical activity in children is associated with numerous health benefits including reduced body weight and improved cardiovascular health.

While the review found that more physical activity was linked with greater health benefits, even modest amounts of physical activity were shown to have tremendous health benefits in high-risk children (e.g., those who were obese or had high blood pressure). And while moderate physical activity is recommended, vigorous activities also can provide even more health benefits.

The review confirms that although aerobic-based activities like running and biking have the greatest health benefit since they stress the cardiovascular and respiratory systems, high-impact weight bearing activities can benefit kids’ bones.

According to The Wellness Impact: Enhancing Academic Success Through Healthy School Environments, being active can be a boon to kids when it comes to academic performance and the ability to concentrate in class. Despite the health and other benefits of physical activity, only one in three kids are active each day.

Although children and parents know it’s vital to incorporate physical activity into their lives, knowing what to do and actually doing it are two different things. That’s why I’m excited about the new ‘For the Love of Play’ campaign.

Launched by Fuel Up to Play 60, the nation’s largest in-school wellness program created by the National Football League and National Dairy Council and in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, just the name of the campaign makes being active and fit sound fun and not like a chore that must be done. The goal of the campaign is to encourage not just children, but parents, teachers, and really everyone to get up, get active, and play for at least 60 minutes a day.

The campaign has enlisted the support of Victor Cruz, wide receiver for the New York Giants. I had the pleasure of speaking with Cruz about his own experience and thoughts about getting and staying fit. And who knew he could hula hoop?! Even more reason to love him! Here are some highlights from our interview:

EZ: What are some activities you enjoyed most as a kid?

VC: I grew up on a one-way block, along with seven boys who were all my age. I loved so many sports, and together, my friends and I played everything: dodgeball, baseball, wall ball, basketball, and of course football!

EZ: I read that when you were in college, you—like many student athletes—struggled balancing football with your academic studies. What helped you overcome that, and what would you tell kids who want to succeed both on and off the field/court?

VC: I always say to each his own. We each have our own goals. The key is to take advantage of your talents and passions when you’re young, and to learn to manage your time. You’re only young once, so it’s important to look at the big picture and decide what your goals are and how you’re going to achieve them whether that’s playing a specific sport competitively or studying for a specific career. Sometimes you’ll have to make choices and decisions—like choosing to study that extra hour instead of seeing friends. But if you stay true to yourself and learn to budget your time, and cut back if what you’re doing stresses you out too much, it’ll all work out in the end.

EZ: What are some physical activities you enjoy doing with your daughter?

VC: I spend a lot of time with my daughter and my nephews playing basketball, dancing, walking, or just jumping around. Even in the winter, when it snows, we play football and make snow men. And my daughter loves to make angels in the snow. No matter what the weather, we find something to do to stay active and have fun at the same time.

EZ: What’s your advice for children or adults who get sidelined with injury and can’t be as active as they’d like?

VC: Even if you’re hurt, there are different ways you can move to stay in shape and get some physical activity in. For example, if you hurt your arm, you can still workout your legs, do calisthenics, or walk outside or on a treadmill. Even if you’re sad or distraught by your injury, it’s important to try to continue your passion to lead an active life to stay ahead of the curve and competition (especially if you’re a competitive athlete). You also need to tell the negative voices in your head to stay positive and to keep positive people around you as you heal.

EZ: What excited you about the ‘For the Love of Play’ campaign?

VC: I wanted to get involved because I love helping kids get active. When I was young, I played a ton—mostly outside. Of course that was before video games, which now keep kids inside and on the couch. As a kid, I always wanted to get outside and play—and play hard. So this campaign is a perfect fit for me and gives me a great opportunity to encourage kids and the adults who care for them to get out and play for a total of 60 minutes a day at school, at home, and everywhere in between.

EZ: What are some perks (besides the obvious!) that you’ve derived from being active?

VC: Being active helps me feel more focused and provides me with a positive jump start to my day. Staying active keeps my body in line, and is a catalyst that makes me want to take care of my body and live a healthy lifestyle. It makes me want to not only put positive things (like healthy foods) into my body, but to put out positivity to the rest of the world.

Students, parents, and educators can get more information and learn more about ‘For the Love of Play’ campaign and how to participate in the #LoveOfPlay social media sweepstakes for a chance to win NFL prizes by visiting Fuel Up to Play 60.

Check out my previous Scoop on Food post, 11 Tips to Nourish Active Kids, here.

How do you and your kids/students stay fit?

Image of Victor Cruz hula hooping via Greg Tietell.

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10 Tips For Transitioning From Purees To Solids

10 Tips to Transition from Purees to SolidsBabies typically begin their transition to solid foods around age six months, but it can be a balancing act to find what is nutritious and what they are willing to try. In this guest post, Parents contributing editor Catherine McCord shares her favorite tips to help Baby transition from purees to solid foods. This post originally appeared on

    1. Change texture, not flavor. When you’re cooking a meal for your family, make a little extra for baby … minus the spices and condiments. This way you are changing the texture—but not the taste—of the fresh flavors your baby is used to eating.

Find family recipes made for baby.

  1. Invest in a pair of kitchen shears. They’re much quicker than a fork and knife for cutting things like fruit and pasta into tiny toddler-size bites.
  2. Be careful with leftovers. Fresh is best: Foods that sit in the refrigerator for more than three days start to lose their nutritional value.
  3. Save the best for last. At mealtime, introduce new foods (or foods your baby doesn’t usually prefer) first, so baby doesn’t fill up on old favorites before trying healthy new fruits, veggies, and proteins.
  4. Get them involved. Toddler utensils like these Bambu forks and spoons will allow your baby to feel like he’s part of the process—even if he’s not quite ready to eat with them yet.
  5. Lead by example. If you eat the same foods as your baby, at the same time, she’ll be more likely to give the foods a whirl. You don’t need to be overly theatrical about the yummyness, either: kids naturally emulate their parents.
  6. Be mindful of teething. If your little one is pushing away the bite-sized meal in front of him, it may be because his gums are hurting. Try offering a cool puree instead.
  7. Have patience. Your baby won’t love everything the first time she tries it. You probably don’t love every type of food either, so try not to get frustrated. Have fun helping your baby discover her own palate.
  8. Don’t overwhelm your baby with too much food. Space out a few bites at a time on the tray, then replenish as necessary.
  9. When all else fails, make popsicles. You may not like the sound of a spinach puree pop, but your kids … they’re a different story. You can freeze just about any puree in a popsicle mold to make ice pops!

Get more expert tips to feed your kids better.

Try out some of these delicious recipes from Weelicious to help your little one ease into the world of solid foods!

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Baby Food: Butternut Squash Puree
Baby Food: Butternut Squash Puree
Baby Food: Butternut Squash Puree

Photo of little boy courtesy of Shutterstock.

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Kids and Carbohydrates: How Low Should They Go?

A recent study published in Annals of Internal Medicine found that, at least in adults, a low-carbohydrate (<40 grams/day) diet led to greater weight loss and more beneficial improvements in blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels than a low-fat (<30% of daily energy intake from total fat) diet. Researchers concluded that restricting carbohydrates may be an option for those who want to lose weight and reduce cardiovascular risk factors.

The study, highlighted on Good Morning America, in The New York Times, and in countless other outlets will likely have many parents, in their efforts to manage their own weight, continue with their low carb ways. And if parents are eating low carb, should they encourage kids—especially if overweight—to do the same? I hope not!

For one, carbohydrates provide the basic fuel needed by the brain, red blood cells, and entire central nervous system. Carbohydrates also supply the body with serotonin, a brain chemical that helps regulate mood, appetite and sleep. Too few carbohydrates—and serotonin—can very well make kids feel sleepy and irritable. And what parent in their right mind wants to do anything to encourage that?!

According to current Dietary Guidelines for Americans, about half of kids’ calories should come from carbohydrates. More precisely, the range suggested is 45 to 65% of total calories. Based on What We Eat in America, kids fall into that range, and get an average of 53 to 56% of their total calories from carbohydrates. But while many kids can certainly afford to curb their intake of carbohydrate by at least a little bit, especially with obesity rates as they are, it’s wise for them to reduce intake of sugary snacks and drinks that provide empty calories rather than forgo grains (even if refined, like pasta or white bread) and other carbohydrate-rich, nutrient-packed foods.

That doesn’t mean kids should OD on white bread, pasta, white rice, sugary cereal, French fries, cookies, and donuts to get their carbs. Going overboard on such foods, especially when served in bloated portions at fast food and other restaurants (not to mention ballparks), will most definitely leave less room for other nutrient-rich foods to help them optimally grow and develop.

Currently, kids consume most grains in their refined rather than whole form. So one key way to improve (if not slightly reduce) kids’ carbohydrate intake is to help them replace some of the refined carbs in their diet with whole grains. Current Dietary Guidelines for Americans urge three to six grains daily, with at least half as whole grains, for kids who consume 1,000 to 2,400 calories. (For reference (see page 16), two to five-year-olds require at least 1,000 to 1,200 calories; six- to 10-year-olds require at least 1,200 to 1,600 calories; 11- to 14-year-olds 1,600 to 2,000 calories; and 15- to 18-year-olds require at least 1,800 to 2,400 calories daily.)

Although they tend to get a bad rap (or is it wrap?!) because they’re carbohydrate-rich, whole grains are sources of nutrients such as iron, magnesium, selenium, B vitamins, and dietary fiber. Whole grain intake has also been linked with reduced heart disease risk. It may also help reduce constipation, and promote healthy weight.

Some whole grains that kids enjoy include popcorn, air-popped, with canola or vegetable oil; cooked oats or whole grain, high fiber cereal (eg low fat granola or another crunchy cereal mixed with fresh fruit, nuts and/or seeds, or low fat yogurt); and brown rice mixed with stir-fried poultry or beef and vegetables.

For ideas on how to enhance the taste and flavor of whole grains and to serve them and other carbohydrate-rich foods in appealing ways, check out the Meal Makeover Moms website. Also, there’s evidence that nudging your kids toward whole grains by making them more fun can also help. A recent study published in BMC Public Health found that presenting kids with whole wheat bread in fun shapes can help increase their intake.

When it comes to kids and carbs, it’s also important to remember that carbohydrates aren’t just found in grains. Fruits and vegetables (which kids don’t get enough of, anyway), beans, nuts and seeds, and milk are also sources of carbohydrates and can create the foundation for a healthful dietary pattern for most children. Depending on their individual calorie needs, current guidelines recommend that kids aim for one to two cups fruit (whole fruit preferable to juice), one to three cups vegetables (including dark green, red and orange, legumes, and starchy vegetables), and 2 to 3 cups dairy foods including low-fat or nonfat milk/yogurt.

I’m all for encouraging kids to have fewer carbohydrate-rich foods like French fries, potato chips, cookies, candy, and soda. But it’s essential that they not throw out of their diets fruits (despite their natural sugar content) and other foods that provide quality carbohydrates and other important nutrients to keep them healthy.  Such foods are also vital for kids who are very active or athletic since carbohydrates are the main fuel for their working muscles.

If your child is overweight, you may think that it’s perfectly fine to forget about any possible benefits carbs provide and to simply cut them from their diet. If you mean cutting many of the extras like cookies and cupcakes, I’m all for that. But if you mean cutting all pasta, rice, bread, or crackers, whether or not they’re whole grain, I say that sticking to small portions of those foods is better than not including any of them. Even refined grains provide nutrients (though not as much as whole grains). There’s also proof that cutting portions rather than carbs may be enough to promote healthy weight management.

A recent year-long study published in Journal of Pediatrics of more than 100 obese 7- to 12-year-olds found that lowering carbohydrate intake was just as effective as a standard portion-controlled diet (an energy-reduced, low fat diet) for weight management. However, the researchers also found that the low carbohydrate diet was more difficult for the kids to follow, especially over the long-term. They concluded that either diet can effectively help kids lose weight.

When it comes to kids and carbs, my bottom line is this: choose smart carbs in smaller portions rather than cutting them altogether. That way, kids can reap their many nutritional and other benefits carbohydrate-rich foods provide while still consuming a healthful and still edible diet.

Image of healthy cereal rings via shutterstock.

What’s your take on carbs and kids?

How to Make Snack Puppets
How to Make Snack Puppets
How to Make Snack Puppets

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100 Days of Real Food: Could You Do It?

100 Days of Real Food

This is a guest post by Parents Food Editor, Jenna Helwig

Four years ago North Carolina mom Lisa Leake and her family embarked on what seemed like an impossible challenge: eating only “real” food for 100 days. Many meals and a hugely successful blog later Lisa has published her first cookbook, the instant bestseller 100 Days of Real Food: How We Did It, What We Learned, and 100 Easy, Wholesome Recipes Your Family Will Love. Recently we asked Lisa about the challenge and how the rest of us can get started eating more real food.

What inspired you to start your 100 Days of Real Food challenge?
In 2010, I got the wakeup call of my life when I watched Michael Pollan talk about “where our food comes from” on Oprah. It made me realize that a lot of the foods I thought were healthy were actually highly processed. I then went on to completely overhaul my family’s diet, and decided to create a pledge (and blog about it) to draw attention to how dependent so many Americans have become on processed food. I thought if we proved this could be done then others might follow suit.

What exactly is “real food”?
We came up with a set of rules, which we feel helps us define real food:

  • No white flour (or any refined grains)
  • No sugar (or any refined or artificial sweeteners)
  • Nothing out of a package with more than 5 ingredients
  • No factory-farmed meat
  • Nothing deep-fried
  • No fast food

And your challenge was successful! Not only did you change your family’s eating habits, you also launched what has become a mission of sorts. Were you always interested in food and nutrition?

I’ve always been a lover of food and cooking, but NEVER nutrition! Before our real food pledge I’d never bought anything that was organic (at least not on purpose), never read an ingredient label, never shopped at a farmers’ market, and never eaten a full piece of whole wheat bread (because I didn’t like the taste). Part of the reason why I wanted to get our story out there is because I felt if I could do this then anyone could do it!

What are three simple things other families can do to start eating more real food?
My first suggestion is to start reading ingredient labels. That is the only way to know what’s truly in your food and how highly processed it is. Second, I would recommend switching to 100% whole grain products. Like it or not, grains make up the majority of the Standard American Diet so this is an opportunity to make one change and have it go a long way. Third, I would start offering your kids more real food. As a parent you have the biggest influence on your child’s diet, and most of the time they are going to just accept what is served. So start offering lots of fresh (and preferably organic) fruits and vegetables, and your kids might just surprise you.

Lisa Leake Author of 100 Days of Real Food

Photo by Kelly Trimble

Does real food have to be organic? Organic meat for example can be very pricey.
Organic is definitely a better choice because you know it’s free of unwanted chemicals. But here are some tips to make it more affordable. Reduce your overall meat consumption (and even “stretch” ground meat by mixing in a can of beans) to make it more affordable. Make inexpensive cuts of meat (like the whole chicken, pork shoulder, and beef brisket) taste great in your slow cooker. Utilize the dirty dozen list when deciding what fresh produce to buy organic, remember that frozen organic vegetables are often cheaper and just as nutritious as fresh, and don’t forget that eating conventional produce is far better than eating none at all.

Find healthy slow-cooker recipes your kids will love. 

What do you mean by “organic junk food”?
The food industry is, of course, out to make a buck and that means capitalizing on lots of “healthy” buzzwords like organic, natural, gluten-free, etc. But just because the packaged cookies or ice cream sandwiches are “organic” doesn’t mean they are good for your health and not highly processed.

Should you buy organic food for your family? Find out. 

What do you say to busy moms who feel like packaged foods are their only option for quick meals?
I would say it’s up to you to prioritize what’s important in your life. It’s a fact that you will find and make time for any activity that is important enough to you. And even though making food from scratch might take more time, you can get your kids involved and feel good about what you are feeding them as a result. The food we eat has such a big impact on our health, and making positive changes is more than worth the effort in the long run.

Can you take us through a sample day of what your kids eat?
This is what my 9-year-old daughter says is a “day in the life” of her meals: 1-ingredient wheat cereal with fresh berries and whole milk for breakfast; homemade tomato soup with whole-wheat noodles, a whole-grain lemon raspberry muffin, and an apple sandwich for lunch; teriyaki salmon with brown rice noodles and a green veggie for dinner; and a little square of dark chocolate for dessert. We also eat lots of typical family meals that we make from scratch using high quality ingredients like tacos, spaghetti and meatballs, pizza, macaroni and cheese, and even ice cream. In fact, real food versions of all those recipes are in my cookbook!

Tell me about your book.
100 Days of Real Food is an extremely realistic approach to this lifestyle and includes all the resources any busy family needs to get started including how to get your reluctant family members on board, a school lunch packing chart and pictures, and a list of real food substitutions so you can convert your own recipes at home. The book also contains 100 easy recipes (that are mostly new and not on my blog) that call for simple ingredients you probably already have on hand. I think it’s exactly what families need to get started. It’s important to remember that making any small changes in the right direction is better than none and there’s no better time to start than now!

We asked dietitians to tell us what “real food” is. Here’s what they said.

The book is selling very well. Why do you think the idea of real food has struck such a chord with people? I do think I was in the right place at the right time with my book. More and more people are waking up and realizing that their pantries are lined with highly processed packaged food and there is a better way.

Recipe from 100 Days of Real Food Cookbook

Cinnamon-Raisin Quick Bread

Cinnamon Bread from 100 Days of Real Food

Photo by Carrie Vitt

Slice the bread and layer with cream cheese to make a school lunch “sandwich.” You’ll have happy kids on your hands.


  • 1⁄2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted, plus more for greasing the pan
  • 1 1⁄2 cups whole-wheat flour
  • 1 1⁄2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1⁄4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1⁄3 cup pure maple syrup
  • 3⁄4 cup raisins


  1. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Grease a loaf pan with butter and set aside.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
  3. Using a fork, mix in the eggs, applesauce, melted butter, and syrup until well combined, taking care not to overmix. Gently fold in the raisins.
  4. Spoon the batter into the prepared loaf pan. Bake until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean, 45 to 55 minutes.

Nutrition Labels: 3 Things To Avoid
Nutrition Labels: 3 Things To Avoid
Nutrition Labels: 3 Things To Avoid

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Back to School Mindful Eating Tips for Kids

In her recent article in the Washington Post, Casey Seidenberg described the back-to-school mindful eating reboot she had planned for her kids after a summer filled with too many sweets and too much TV. Her story is something so many of us—even health experts—can relate to.

While my kids spent much of their summer at overnight camp, I know that their usual eating and lifestyle routines were altered. (Full disclosure: so were mine.) On most days, my kids ate at different times of day than usual, ate and were exposed to different foods, and had a far different routine (especially when it came to sleep) than the one they typically have during the school year.

But while I know my kids got more than enough daily physical activity and ate enough—but not too much—to meet their calorie needs, like Seidenberg’s kids and so many others, they too could benefit from a food reboot. Getting in touch with the taste, texture, and flavors of food and being mindful of eating rather than doing it automatically as so many of us tend to do not only can help them enjoy their food more, but it can help them feel more satisfied on less food and protect them from unhealthy weight gain. It potentially can also help them incorporate more nutritious foods into their diets to meet their nutrient needs for growth and development.

In addition to the tips provided in the Washington Post article that include encouraging children to thoroughly chew food (chewing contributes to satiety, which can prevent overeating) and teaching children to put their fork down between bites to encourage slower eating, here are eight from mindful eating expert and author Susan Albers, PsyD:

1).  Teach kids Dr. Albers’ S-S-S Model. Encourage them to SIT down while they eat, SLOW down, and SAVOR their food. Too often, kids run around while they eat. The S-S-S model teaches them to pay close attention to what they eat and to break out of autopilot in which they scoop food and eat it.

2).  Research indicates that location, location, location matters when it comes to snacking. Both children and adults will eat foods that are easy to grab. That’s why it’s important to place healthy food in a highly visible location such as on the counter or on a shelf kids can reach. It’s okay to have treats as well—just keep them out of sight.

3. Make a table rule: have snacks, but only at a table. Too often kids eat in front of the TV, the number one trigger for mindless eating.

4. Proportion snacks into small bags. That enables kids to come home from school and grab portions that are truly snack sized.  Put snacks in baggies or make up brown paper sacks that you keep in the fridge.

5. Consider bento boxes. In a bento box, food is artistically arranged to look like bugs, animals, and faces. These boxes are popular among kids in Japan and make food fun to eat. And making food fun is a great way to help kids enjoy eating and slow down. Google ‘bento box recipes’ to learn more.

6.  Encourage kids to get involved in making their own lunch or reviewing their lunch menu each week before it begins. If they know Thursday is chicken nugget day and they don’t like that, you can brainstorm other appealing ideas.

7.  Hydration is also a key to mindful eating. When we are thirsty, we often think it is hunger. Make a water bottle a staple item that kids carry around. Buy fun bottles (preferably BPA-free) and make it routine to fill them before you leave the house.

8.  It’s a great teachable moment to help your kids compare two different cereal labels while food shopping. See if you can find the cereal with the least amount of ingredients, the least sugar, and the most fiber. It’s a fun game that even little kids can play. This sets them up for caring about what’s in the food they eat.

How do you help your kids practice mindful eating?

Back-to-School Breakfast Ideas for Busy Moms
Back-to-School Breakfast Ideas for Busy Moms
Back-to-School Breakfast Ideas for Busy Moms

Image of mother and daughter shopping in supermarket via shutterstock.

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