Archive for the ‘ Food & Nutrition ’ Category

Michelle Obama, Congress Battle Over School Lunches

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014

Michelle ObamaChildren may already be out of school for summer, but their school lunches can’t catch a break.

First Lady Michelle Obama is fighting back after Republicans in Congress introduced a bill that would let schools opt-out of nutrition standards set in place in 2010. As part of a $143.5 billion Agriculture Department spending bill, schools will be given an extra year to comply with federal health standards that promote fruits, veggies, and whole grains and limit fat and salt.

“It gives schools an opt-out saying you don’t have to participate in the school lunch program because it’s hard,” Democratic Rep. Sam Farr of California told CNN. “Well, we don’t tell kids, ‘Look you don’t have to take math if it’s hard or science if it’s hard. You don’t have do P.E. if it’s hard.’”

Healthy doesn’t have to mean boring. Here are 25 ways to liven up your kid’s school lunch!

Last week, the healthy school lunch efforts suffered a setback when Democrats failed to get enough votes in committee to strip the language about school lunches from the proposed bill. This means the bill was sent to the House of Representatives for full consideration.

And the First Mom hasn’t been silent on the issue, either. Mrs. Obama often stays away from legislative issues, but when it comes to our kids, she has let her voice be heard.

“Remember a few years ago when Congress declared that the sauce on a slice of pizza should count as a vegetable in school lunches?” Obama wrote in a New York Times op-ed piece last week. “You don’t have to be a nutritionist to know that this doesn’t make much sense. Yet we’re seeing the same thing happening again with these new efforts to lower nutrition standards in our schools.”

“Our children deserve so much better than this,” she continued. “Even with the progress we have made, one in three children in this country is still overweight or obese.”

She has my support in this fight.

This isn’t about politics. Children have the right to the pursuit of happiness, and we can’t just sit by and watch that pursuit cut short due to preventable health issues.

As of now, 90 percent of schools already comply with these school-lunch standards. Standards that stop the promotion and sale of junk food in schools. Standards that require schools to provide REAL veggies and fruits instead of making it optional. (Even Elmo is helping the cause!)

In February, federal health authorities reported a 43 percent drop over the past decade in obesity among children ages 2-5.

“This generation is now entering our school system,” Executive Director of Let’s Move! and White House staffer Sam Kass said. “Our schools must be a place that really continue to foster and support their health and wellbeing, and that’s what this is all about.”

And while the argument can be made that the $10 billion of taxpayers’ money going into school lunches every year is excessive, just compare that to the $190 billion taxpayers shell out every year to treat obesity-related conditions.

But the fight for healthier kids is more than dollars and cents. A recent Atlantic article revealed most kids in a Los Angeles’ school system did not take a veggie from the lunch line, instead choosing a processed alternative.

If we know children who have the choice would pick sugary, processed food over healthier ones, why would we give them the option? As pointed out in the article, school cafeterias tend to give children what they want, and not what they need.

We are finally starting to tackle the childhood obesity epidemic. Why take a step backwards now?

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How to Eat Healthy: Raising Nutrition-Smart Kids
How to Eat Healthy: Raising Nutrition-Smart Kids
How to Eat Healthy: Raising Nutrition-Smart Kids

Everett Collection / Shutterstock.com

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The Cafeteria Crisis: How to Make Fruits and Vegetables More Appealing

Tuesday, May 27th, 2014

A recent Atlantic article reported that most kids in Los Angeles’ school system are not eating healthy lunches. On any given day, less than half of students took a vegetable from the school cafeteria’s lunch line and ate it. I’m not shocked by this statistic, but I wish the number of kids eating veggies were higher. Processed foods, which dominate many students’ diets, don’t have the nutrients they need to be healthy. Schools seem to care more about what the students want to eat than what’s best for them.  The L.A. school district has been and continues to adjust their cafeterias’ menu to fit what kids want to eat, moving away from their old healthy foods initiative. In the newest rendition of the school district’s menu, hamburgers are offered every day. Some might argue that kids, especially older kids, should know how to tell what’s healthy and what’s not and make the right decisions for themselves. If they want to eat junk food every day, that is their choice and we shouldn’t interfere. However, I think that the current system impairs kids’ ability to make the right food choices, and we should work to improve the situation. There are two changes that I believe would change the way that students eat their lunches:

  1. Make lunch periods longer. Many schools have inadequate lunch breaks. In order to encourage kids to eat salads instead of junk food, we need to give them the time to do so without feeling rushed. According to a 2013 poll by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health, 20 percent of students from kindergarten to fifth grade get only 15 minutes (or less!) for lunch. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that students get 20 minutes to sit down and eat their lunches, which doesn’t include the time it takes to walk to the cafeteria and wait in line for food.
  1. Add a nutrition section to home economics, health, or science class. Nearly all schools claim to have nutrition education, but at what age do students learn about nutrition — and to what extent do students learn beyond the food pyramid? I didn’t learn about nutrition until I was a sophomore in high school, and I don’t remember anything about the class except that we wrote in a food diary. The nutrition class should be a hands-on experience that helps students make informed food choices. Teachers should take their students to the cafeteria and teach them how to choose balanced meals in addition to lecturing in the classroom.

I hope that the Los Angeles school district reverts back to its old, healthier menu, and that other school districts follow in its footsteps. The cafeteria menu shouldn’t change; students’ attitudes should change, and we need to help make that happen. One out of every 3 kids is considered overweight or obese in the United States. Let’s work to reduce those numbers— starting with the way kids eat lunch.

Print out healthy on-the-go breakfast recipes and shop kids’ lunch boxes.

Sesame Street Lessons: Healthy Eating
Sesame Street Lessons: Healthy Eating
Sesame Street Lessons: Healthy Eating

Image via Shutterstock.

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Is Family Dinner a Priority in Your Family?

Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

This week is the Jewish holiday of Passover, and tonight we have the second seder, or Passover dinner. What I enjoy about Passover is the opportunity to have back-to-back dinners with family and friends, some of whom we might not see often. It’s an excuse to skip after-school and after-work activities and come together. The seder, with all of its prayers and traditions, slows down the night and allows us to enjoy each other’s company. For me, simply sitting down at a kitchen table and eating a meal is something that I don’t normally do.

The good news is that more families are regularly having dinners together. According to the Importance of Family Dinner IV, a 2007 report from the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University, a surprising 59 percent of families report eating dinner together at least five times a week, which is a 12 percent increase from 1998. Even President Obama and Lean In’s Sheryl Sandberg make sure they are at the dinner table almost every night. There are some great benefits from eating together as a family. Research shows that children who eat with their families regularly are more motivated, receive better grades in school, and get along better with others. Family dinner is also a way to strengthen communication and bond with your kids. Kids who eat with family members are more likely to eat healthy foods and less likely to become overweight. Moms benefit from family dinners, too! Researchers at Brigham Young University studied working moms at IBM in 2008 and found that sitting down for a family dinner relieved their tension and stress.

If you’re looking to get more use out of your kitchen table, there are plenty of online resources to get you started. On Dinner a Love Story, blogger Jenny Rosenstrach shares how she schedules family dinners around after-school activities and reveals her favorite recipes for busy parents. Our site also has plenty of easy, family-friendly recipes. If you’re worried about silence at the dinner table, check out the Family Dinner Project for their fun conversation topics, games, and activities. Have a great time with your family!

Try one of these one-pot suppers this week and browse kids’ place mats.

Family Dinners: 4 Tips To Make Them Better
Family Dinners: 4 Tips To Make Them Better
Family Dinners: 4 Tips To Make Them Better

Image via Shutterstock.

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Have a Happier Morning

Monday, March 24th, 2014

I love how small things can make such a big difference to kids. My daughter Jane had always been an early riser and eager to start every day. Maybe school was harder now or this winter had just been too long and too cold, but she’d started waking up grumpy.

Amazingly, seeing heart-shaped pancakes on her breakfast plate can turn her mood around.

I make them with my new favorite kitchen gadget: The Tovolo Pancake Pen ($9.99). I heard about it in an article in our February issue called “With Love, From Mom” that had fun Valentine’s Day recipes. One of them for was Kiss-Me Cakes: Pancakes shaped like XOXO, and our smart food editors used a pancake pen to form the perfectly-shaped letters. It’s so easy to use, and makes me look like such a pro.

When Jane had a slumber party for her birthday, I made letter pancakes with each of her friends’ initials. Big hit.

The dispenser holds 3 cups of batter (I add a jar of carrot or sweet potato baby food to each batch for some much-needed veggies), and I keep it in the refrigerator ready to go. The bottom of the pancake pen screws off to make it easier to wash thoroughly.

While she eats her pancakes in the morning, I also read to her. She’s a good reader herself now, but she still likes to listen to (slightly harder) books. Even we only have 10 minutes (it can take us a month to get through a long book), it starts our day off on the right foot.

Check out these other easy weekday breakfast ideas and shop for more kid-friendly dishes and utensils.

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Photo of pancakes via Shutterstock; photo of Pancake Pen via Tovolo

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Tags: | Categories: Big Kids, Food & Nutrition, Fun

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Breastfeeding vs. Formula: Let’s Call A Truce

Thursday, March 6th, 2014

Baby Feeding: Breastfeeding vs. Formula

Reading the flurry of recent online commentary about the new study that shows that the benefits of breastfeeding may not be as powerful as we think, reminds me of the way I feel whenever I read a story that reports that marathon running isn’t necessarily so fantastic for your health: Gotcha! Though I enjoy exercise, due to banal body reasons I will never cross a finish line after logging 26.2 miles. And “marathon running is bad for the heart” headlines, no matter how inflamed they may be, give me a wee bit of pleasure.

So it seems to be for those who write about breastfeeding. Put it in its place!  Take it down! The Ohio State University study, published online in Social Science & Medicine, appears to have been well-designed without any conflicts of interest. It found that among children age 4 to 14 years, there was no difference between those who were nursed versus those given formula on outcomes, such as body mass index, asthma, hyperactivity and math ability.

And that’s really great news—a relief, really, since even nursing moms need to supplement with formula sometimes. I nursed my younger two daughters until a little after age one, right in sync with what the AAP recommends. My oldest daughter received pumped breast milk until 6 months, and formula after that, and I can say with her teacher’s blessing that she’s not at risk of being crushed in math. In other words, there’s really no difference among my three girls now, though I do emphasize now. As babies, my oldest had more ear infections, and was much more prone to infections, in general, than my younger two. Is it because of the breast milk? Well, we’ll never really know, she was also born premature, but research does show that breast milk passes along immunities that help prevent ear infections, respiratory infections, and diarrhea. Not to mention breast milk is easier to digest than formula (and gas never makes for a happy baby) and, most importantly, reduces the risk of SIDS. Those are benefits not to be dismissed.

It’s time to rephrase our thinking that if a study finds that formula is good, it must mean that breastfeeding isn’t worth the cracked nipples and plugged milk ducts. A step forward for formula doesn’t have to result in a step backward for breast milk. And I would suggest to anyone who thinks that way to do what I do when I feel envious of my marathon-running pals: Sweat it out in a spin class.

To keep track of your baby’s feeding schedule, download our care charts for breastfeeding or formula feeding.

Common Breastfeeding Myths
Common Breastfeeding Myths
Common Breastfeeding Myths

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