How to Choose A Healthy Snack Bar for Kids

How to Choose A Healthy Snack Bar for Kids

     When you go to the grocery store or your favorite big box retailer (ahem, Target!) looking for a healthy snack bar for your kids, the amount of choices on the shelves can make your head spin. Just a few years ago, it seemed that the healthy snack bar market only consisted of options for adults, but now I’ve noticed a ton of brands have come out with kid-sized versions as well.

In fact, according to a recent report by Grand View Research, the global snack bars market was worth an estimated 20.5 billion in 2018 and is expected to grow by more than 6 percent by 2025.

Of course, this growth is in response to consumer demand.

We’re more interested than ever before in health and fitness, and we’re busy so we need easy, convenient and healthy snack options.

There are plenty of seemingly healthy choices and bars made with good-for-you ingredients like fruits and vegetables and nuts and seeds, but sifting through all the ingredients and comparing labels is way too time consuming.

So let me make your life easier and walk you through everything you need to know about choosing a healthy snack bar for your kids, plus some of my favorite brands and homemade recipes.

Benefits of a Healthy Snack Bar for Kids

Kids love their snacks and serving up healthy options is aways a good thing.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), snacks are not only an opportunity to add nutrition into your child’s diet, but they can make it even healthier.

Although it’s always ideal to serve fresh fruits and vegetables instead of processed foods to maximize nutrition, a healthy snack bar with dried fruit for example, can be an opportunity to get more servings in your kid’s diet.

Related: [VIDEO] Is Dried Fruit Healthy For Kids?

Offering healthy snacks also helps to balance your kid’s blood sugar, stave off hunger and prevent overeating.

How many snacks should a child eat a day?

There’s no hard and fast rule about when and how many times a day kids should eat snacks.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) suggests toddlers need 2 to 3 snacks a day, while pre-schoolers need 1 to 2 snacks per day to get the nutrition they need.

According to Jill Castle, RDN, in addition to 3 meals a day, school-aged kids need 1 to 2 snacks a day and teens need one snack a day unless they’re athletes or having a growth spurt.

“A good rule of thumb is to offer snacks a few hours after one meal ends and about 1-2 hours before the next meal begins,” Jo Ellen Shields, MED, RD, LD, co-author of Healthy Eating, Healthy Weight for Kids and Teens, said in this article.

Cons of serving kids snack bars

Despite the benefits of healthy snacking, experts say kids are snacking too much—a trend that’s responsible for the one-third of children who are overweight or obese.   

According to a March 2010 study in Health Affairs, kids reach for snacks 3 times a day and consume up to 600 calories from foods like chips, crackers, candy and dessert bars.

What’s more, the largest increase in snacking over the years is among kids between ages 2 and 6, the same study found.

When kids snack non-stop, they’re also less likely to be hungry when mealtime rolls around. So although a healthy snack bar can have its place in your kid’s diet, it can also displace calories from other healthy, whole foods they might otherwise get at meals. 

Something else I think that’s important to consider is our snack culture and the habits we’re teaching our kids.

Relying on snack bars (or any other type of processed snack) every day teaches kids to eat out of a package instead of eating real food.

Convenient makes our lives easier, but kids are missing out on valuable lessons like eating mindfully, shopping for healthy food, and preparing and cooking healthy meals.

If we want to raise healthy kids who not only accept, but crave healthy foods, we need to teach them these life lessons.

How to choose a healthy snack bar

Before you head to the store, there are some things to consider as you look for a healthy snack bar.

While you shouldn’t scrutinize calories, some of the snack bars have enough calories to be a meal for kids.

Also, when considering things like the amount of protein, fiber and sugar, you have to think about your kid’s overall diet. If your kid is already getting too much sugar from other snacks for example, you’ll want to think about the amount of sugar in the bar you choose.

Pay attention to protein
Protein promotes satiety, staves off hunger and can prevent weight, so it’s the first thing you should look for on a label, especially because a lot of snack bars have little to none.

Look for filling fiber
Most kids don’t get enough fiber from fruits, vegetable and whole grains. In fact, 9 in 10 kids don’t eat enough vegetables, according to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and 39 percent don’t eat any whole grains.

When you’re looking for a healthy snack bar, be sure to choose one that’s high-fiber. Not only is fiber filling, but it balances blood sugar levels, is heart-healthy, supports gut health, helps to prevent weight gain, and can help prevent and cure constipation. 

Related: How Much Fiber Do Kids Need?

Watch out for sugar
The American Heart Association says kids should eat less than 25 grams of added sugar a day, but studies show most kids—even babies and toddlers—eat too much.

Also, sugar is sneaky and can be hidden behind at least 61 different names like fruit juice, cane sugar, sucrose and high-fructose corn syrup. When looking for a healthy snack bar, read labels and look for those with the least amount of sugar possible.

Avoid these ingredients
It’s best to avoid bars that have rice, due to concerns of arsenic, as well as artificial ingredients, preservatives and food dyes.

You may also want to avoid bars made with processed ingredients like chicory root fiber and soy, whey or pet protein isolates and stick to whole-food protein sources like nuts and seeds.

Look at saturated fat content
The long-standing myth that eating fat causes high cholesterol, heart disease and weight gain has been debunked and we now know that healthy fats are essential to our health and our kids’ health.

Fats are a vital source of energy for our kids and help satisfy their hunger. They’re essential for healthy cell membranes, they support kids’ brains and the growth and development of their nervous systems, and help their bodies absorb fat-soluble vitamins like  A, D, E, and K. Fat are also necessary to make hormones and immune cells and they help regulate inflammation and metabolism.   

While experts agree it’s the trans fats and some saturated fats that should be avoided, foods with healthy fats like omega-3 fatty acids, monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats from whole foods are beneficial.

So look for bars that have healthy fats like nuts, peanut butter, chia seeds, and flaxseeds, for example.

Some of my favorite healthy snack bar options

KIND bars
I’m a big fan of KIND bars because they use whole ingredients like fruit, whole grains, nuts and seeds and most are low in sugar. They have a wide selection of bars, including protein bars, breakfast bars and nut-free bars as well as their KIND Minis which are a good option for kids. Now through October 10, 2019, you can get 15% off their fall variety pack.

Larabar
Larabar is one of my favorite brands because they only use between 2 and 9 whole food ingredients, some of their varieties are nut-free and they’re delicious. They also have bars with ingredients like spinach and kale, and a superfoods line with bars made with turmeric, ginger and cacao. While they also have a set of bars for kids, they don’t have fruits and vegetables and have less protein and fiber.

RX Bar
RX Bar are a protein bar brand that prides themselves on simple, whole ingredients that are clearly labeled on the front of the package. For little ones, stick with their kids’ bars which have the right amount of calories, protein and fiber and come in kid-friendly flavors like PB&J and chocolate chip.

This Saves Lives
This Saves Lives kids bars are made with fruits and vegetables and whole oats, only have 5 grams of sugar and are allergy- safe. One thing to note is that this is not a high-protein bar and some of their varieties have more fiber than others so read labels. What’s unique about the brand and something you can feel good about however, is that for every bar that’s purchased, the company sends life-saving food packet to a child in need around the world.

Or make your own healthy snack bar

I love to make homemade Larabars with my kids because it’s fun and they learn how to prepare healthy snacks. So if you’re so inclined too, here are some recipes to try.

Homemade Lara Bars by Super Healthy Kids

No-Bake Chocolate Protein Bars by Mom to Mom Nutrition

Homemade RX Bars by Super Healthy Kids

Healthy Homemade Granola Bars by Yummy Toddler Food

 

What’s your favorite healthy snack bar? Let me know in the comments!

How to Eat Pumpkin Seeds + My Favorite Pumpkin Seeds Recipe

How to Eat Pumpkin Seeds + My Favorite Pumpkin Seeds Recipe

     Between pumpkin-spiced lattes and everything else pumpkin-inspired this time of year, pumpkin gets so much attention that pumpkin seeds—a bonafide superfood too—are often overlooked and underutilized. Perhaps it’s because many people don’t know how to eat pumpkin seeds, or how to cook them and incorporate them into their meals. Fortunately, there are so many healthy, delicious ways to eat pumpkin seeds that my family loves—and yours will too. But first, let’s look at the health benefits of pumpkin seeds.

Are pumpkin seeds good for you?

Pumpkin seeds, or pepitas, which in Spanish means “little seeds of squash,” are packed with nutrition and one of the healthiest foods you can feed your kids.

Packed with protein

Pumpkin seeds are a great source of protein— an ounce has nearly 7 grams which gives kids energy and staves off hunger.

Protein also helps to build muscle, carry nutrients through the body, regulate hormones, and strengthen skin and bones. Making sure you include protein at every meal also helps to keep blood sugar steady and prevent weight gain.

Filled with fiber

If your kids are like most and don’t get enough fiber in their diets from fruits and vegetables, serving pumpkin seeds can help fill some of the void.

Whole pumpkin seeds in their shells have about 5 grams of fiber per serving, while shelled pumpkin seeds have about 3 grams per serving. Although the latter has less fiber, pair pumpkin seeds with a high-fiber fruit like an apple or a pear for example, and you’ve got a healthy snack.

High in magnesium and other minerals

Magnesium is an essential mineral that’s responsible for several different biochemical processes in the body including protein synthesis, muscle and nerve function, blood glucose control and blood pressure regulation. Magnesium also helps to support bone health, and it can help ease anxiety and may also improve sleep.

Pumpkin seeds are also high in iron, which the red blood cells need to transport oxygen throughout the body. They’re also rich in zinc, which supports skin health, eye health, and may help boost your kids’ immunity and cut down on the amount of times they get sick with colds, infections or stomach bugs.

Related: [VIDEO] How to Boost Your Kids’ Immunity

 

May make bedtime easier

When you hear the word tryptophan, you probably think turkey and that post-Thanksgiving dinner slump you get when you eat it. Yet tryptophan is also found in pumpkin seeds.

Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that converts to serotonin, a chemical in the brain that’s responsible for sleep and a happy mood. So although there’s no guarantee, feeding your kids pumpkin seeds may help them sleep through the night.

High in antioxidants

Pumpkin seeds are high in antioxidants, including carotenoids and vitamin E, which reduce inflammation and help to prevent many types of diseases.

Lower risk for type-2 diabetes and heart disease

According to the American Diabetes Association, approximately 193,000 kids and teens under age 20 are diagnosed with type-2 diabetes and experts agree, those numbers are on the rise.

Studies suggest along with a healthy diet and exercise, eating pumpkin seeds may prevent type-2 diabetes. In fact, a February 2014 study in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition suggests eating pumpkin seeds can help maintain blood glucose levels.

Another February 2012 study in the Journal of Medicinal Food suggests pumpkin seed oil may reduce high blood pressure and be protective of the cardiovascular system.

Healthy fats

Pumpkin seeds are a good source of plant-based omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, the heart-healthy, brain healthy fats kids need in their diets.

Healthy fats are a vital source of energy for kids and help satisfy their hunger.

They’re also essential for healthy cell membranes, they support the brain and the nervous system, and help with the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E, and K.

Fat is also necessary to make hormones and immune cells and to help regulate inflammation and metabolism.

Related: 5 Foods With Healthy Fats Kids Will Love

How to Eat Pumpkin Seeds

While you can eat pumpkin seeds that you get when you carve a pumpkin, making them edible is a process. First, you’ll have to scoop the seeds out of the pumpkin, clean and dry them, and then bake them for 30 minutes. If you want to add cinnamon or other spices, you’ll have to bake them for another 20 minutes.

I don’t know about you but who has time for that?

A quicker and easier way is to buy plain, unsalted pumpkin seeds at the grocery store. You can serve them alone or add them to any type of meal, but either way, there are so healthy and delicious ways to eat them.

Eat pumpkin seeds as a snack

The great thing about pumpkin seeds for kids is that they’re portable, but they don’t have to be refrigerated or kept cool, and they’re allergy-safe for school.

You can toss plain pumpkin seeds with raisins, roast them with cinnamon and sugar (see my favorite pumpkin seeds recipe below!) or your kid’s favorite spices.

Or you can make a pumpkin seed salsa for a healthy and delicious snack.

Add pumpkin seeds to oatmeal

Incorporate pumpkin seeds into oatmeal, overnight oats and baked oatmeal for a quick and easy breakfast.

Top muffins and breads with pumpkin seeds

There’s nothing better than fresh-from-the-oven muffins and breads, especially those made with pumpkin, apples or pears. Mix some pumpkin seeds in the batter or sprinkle them on top and you have a little extra nutrition and texture too.

Use pumpkin seeds in granola

I love making my own homemade granola because I can control the ingredients and the amount of sugar, plus it’s super easy to make a large batch that can last you awhile.

You can use pumpkin seeds in this recipe from Cookie and Kate which I made recently—it was gone in a few days!

Make homemade trail mix with pumpkin seeds

Trail mix can be a healthy snack option, but most types on store shelves are packed with salty nuts and seeds, load of dried fruit, “yogurt-” covered raisins, chocolate chips and M&Ms.

Instead, make your own trail mix with pumpkin seeds—it’s quick and easy and the best part is that you get to control the ingredients and the portion size.

Make pumpkin seed butter

If you’re looking for an allergy-safe option for school lunches, try making pumpkin seed butter, which is simple to whip up in your blender or Vitamix.

You can also add pumpkin seed butter to smoothies, swirl it into yogurt, drizzle it on top of fruit, or serve it as a fruit dip.

Need a recipe? Try Momables’ Cinnamon Pumpkin Seed Butter.

Add pumpkin seeds to salads, soups, and side dishes

Pumpkin seeds can be tossed into about any type of meal and side dish. Think: vegetable stir-fry, roasted vegetables, rice and grain dishes, tacos, chilis, soups and salads.

Prepare a pesto

Swap pine nuts for pumpkin seeds in your favorite pesto recipe for a healthy and delicious addition to steak, fish or chicken or spread on your favorite toasted baguette.

Best Pumpkin Seeds To Buy

If you want to roast shelled pumpkin seeds but don’t have the time, there are some great healthy, store-bought options.

Both brands are non-GMO, gluten-free and free of dairy, egg, soy, peanut and tree nuts, which is important if you have kids with food allergies like I do

Go Raw Organic Sprouted Pumpkin Seeds pumpkin seeds are sprouted which makes them easy to digest and boosts their nutritional value.

SuperSeedz brand pumpkin seeds are roasted with only natural ingredients like dark chocolate, cinnamon (my kids’ favorite) and cayenne pepper. They also come in 1 ounce and 5 ounce snack size pouches.

My Favorite Pumpkin Seeds Recipe

My daughter loves roasted cinnamon sugar pumpkin seeds and although I’ve purchased them in the past, they can get pricey, so recently I made them for her.

I used this recipe for Cinnamon Toast Pumpkin Seeds but swapped out the white sugar for coconut sugar (I like Madhava).

Does your family eat pumpkin seeds? What’s your favorite way to serve them up? Let me know in the comments.

[VIDEO] How To Boost Your Kids’ Immunity

[VIDEO] How To Boost Your Kids’ Immunity

If you have little kids, there’s no getting around the amount of times they get sick with colds, fevers and infections. Sure, you can do your best encourage them to wash their hands, keep their hands out of their mouths, and avoid putting toys, books, and everything else in their mouths, but chances are you’ll still want to find ways to boost your kids’ immunity.

Last year was particular difficult for our family in terms of the amount of times we all got sick.

If it wasn’t a fever, it was a cold and it seemed that my kids were sick every week. Although I rarely get sick, I too, had on again, off again fevers throughout the winter.

The ultimate blow however, was the flu. If you’re wondering, yes, we all had the flu shot—even my husband. Yet once my older daughter came home with the flu, we all got sick one after another.

Experts say that although the flu shot isn’t 100% effective—last year it was only 29% effective—it can still lower the severity of the flu if you get it. I find this hard to believe because it was so bad, I thought for sure I was knocking on death’s door.

This year, I’m hoping that because my kids are older, they understand better how to prevent the spread of germs and they’re taking probiotics, we’ll have better luck (Related: 10 Foods High In Probiotics for Kids)

So as we head into the fall and the flu season (experts say it’s going to be a bad one!), there are some things you can do to prevent your kids from getting sick so often. In today’s video, I have three easy ways to boost your kids’ immunity and keep them healthy.

What are some ways you have found effective to boost your kids’ immunity? Let me know in the comments! 

New Healthy Kids’ Drink Recommendations: What Parents Should Know

New Healthy Kids’ Drink Recommendations: What Parents Should Know

Last Wednesday, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the American Heart Association, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the American Academy of  Pediatric Dentistry jointly issued new healthy kids’ drink guidelines for parents.

Healthy Drinks, Healthy Kids as they’re called, are the first-ever consensus recommendations on what constitutes a healthy kids’ drink for kids ages 5 and under as well as the types of beverages parents should limit or avoid.

The new guidelines focus on a handful of key recommendations: breast milk, infant formula, plain milk, and water are best while fruit juice and non-dairy, plant-based milks should be avoided.

This is exciting news because these leading health organizations are finally taking a stance and stating that drinks are just as important as the foods we feed our kids.

Drinks can be a significant source of calories, vitamins, minerals and healthy fats for young kids and they can also fill a void from nutritional deficiencies that are typically a result of picky eating behaviors.

Since food preferences are formed at an early age—even in utero, the first 5 years is a critical time. Plus, serving up a healthy kids’ drink also encourages healthy choices throughout their lives.

What’s more, with childhood obesity still an epidemic and conditions like type-2 diabetes and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) on the rise, the beverages our kids consume are more important than ever. 

What are the new healthy kids’ drink recommendations?

So let’s take a look at the new recommendations:

All children ages 5 and under should avoid drinking:

  • Chocolate milk and strawberry milk
  • Toddler formulas such as toddler milks, growing up milks or follow-up formulas
  • Plant-based/non-dairy milks (with some exceptions).

Beverages with caffeine, low-calorie sweetened beverages including those sweetened with stevia, sucralose or labeled “diet” or “light,” sugar-sweetened drinks including soda, fruit drinks, fruit-flavored drinks, fruit-ades, sports and energy drinks, sweetened waters, and sweetened coffee and tea drinks should also be off limits.

Infants from 0 to 6 months should only have breastmilk and/or infant formula.

Babies 6 to 12 months should continue to stick with breastmilk and/or infant formula. Once they start solids, parents should offer a small amount of water at mealtimes. Introducing a few sips of water can help them get used to the taste.

Additionally, the healthy kids’ drink recommendations state babies should avoid fruit juice—even 100% fruit juice—because whole fruit has much more nutrition.

Babies 12 to 24 months can be introduced to plain, pasteurized whole milk and plain water to stay hydrated. Although the recommendations say 100% fruit juice is ok, it should be limited. An even better choice? Fresh, canned or frozen fruit without any added sugars.

Children between 2- and 5-years-old should stick with milk, ideally skim milk or low-fat (1%) and water. Again, small amounts of fruit juice are OK, but whole fruit is always better. 

If you’re looking for more details, you can read the full recommendations here.

Related: Is Chocolate Milk Good for Kids?

Do the new recommendations include non-dairy, plant-based milks?

In recent years, the amount of people interested in plant-based, non-dairy milks like almond milk, cashew milk, and oat milk have significantly increased. According to the Plant Based Foods Association, sales of plant-based milks were up 9% in 2018, worth an estimated $1.6 billion, while sales of cow’s milk were down 6%.

Despite their popularity, the organizations that developed the healthy kids’ drink recommendations say kids under 5 should avoid consuming them.

For starters, many plant-based milks have added sugars to make them taste sweet.

Although many also have added nutrients like calcium and Vitamin D, the amounts can vary by type and brand and studies show our bodies may not be able to absorb these nutrients as well as they can from cow’s milk, the panel says.

The one exception to the recommendation of avoiding plant-based milks is fortified soy milk, which stacks up nutritionally to cow’s milk.

Another caveat is that for kids who are lactose intolerant, have a dairy allergy or follow a vegan diet, unsweetened and fortified non-dairy milks may be a good idea.

Is fruit juice healthy for kids?

The new recommendations about fruit juice in particular, are a welcomed change and something I think can have a significant impact on our children’s health now and throughout their lives.

Fruit juice is often marketed to families as a healthy food for kids, especially those that are organic or not from concentrate.

Although juice has certain vitamins and nutrients and can count as a serving of fruit—a good thing if your kid is a picky eater—in reality, fruit juice is just concentrated sugar. Fruit juice also lacks fiber, something all kids need whether they’re constipated or not.

Drinking too much juice can also lead to cavities, weight gain and diarrhea.

What about healthy fruit smoothies?

The new healthy kids’ drink recommendations do not include a mention of smoothies, but I think it’s something to consider since parents often serve them to their kids to help increase their intake of fruits and vegetables.

Smoothies are often seen as a health food, yet take a look at most bottled or restaurant smoothies—yes, green smoothies too—and you’ll discover most are filled with sugar thanks to ingredients like fruit juice, honey, raw sugar and loads of fresh fruit.

Sure, fresh fruit has natural sugars and other nutrients, but sugar is sugar.

If your kids like smoothies, make your own at home, using only vegetables and fruit at an 80:20 ratio.

How much water do kids need?

Since infants 6- to 12-months-old should only be offered small sips of water at meals, between 4 and 8 ounces total for the day is enough but it shouldn’t replace breast milk and/or infant formula.

These are the recommendations for water intake for older children:

1- to 3-years old: 1 to 4 cups of water a day

4- to 5-years old: 1.5 to 5 cups a day

Tips for offering a healthy kids’ drink

Substitute sugary drinks
If your kids love juice or another sweetened beverage and you know going cold-turkey isn’t going to work, slowly swap it out.

Try adding water to juice in your kid’s sippy cup or cut down the serving size or amount of servings per day until you can nix it for good.

Encourage drinking water
Pure, simple H2O may not be your kid’s first choice, but water gives their bodies what they need and it quenches their thirst without any unnecessary calories, fat or sugar.

The best way to eliminate juice and sugary drinks from your kid’s diet is to simply stop buying it. At daycare or church for example, you can encourage the people who provide the food to eliminate it too.

Although there’s not much you can do at birthday parties for example, you can do your best to encourage your kid to drink water or milk instead or allow juice in small amounts for that day.

Simple changes like offering a cool new sippy cup, a fun straw or adding slices of strawberries or cucumbers to water, for example, can be enough to encourage them to drink up.

Talk to your pediatrician or a pediatric RDN
If you’re avoiding cow’s milk for any reason, it’s a good idea to check with your child’s pediatrician or pediatric registered dietitian nutritionist to make sure your child is getting enough key nutrients like protein, calcium and vitamin D in his diet.

What do you think about the new healthy kids’ drink recommendations? Leave me a comment.

15 Kids’ Healthy Eating Myths That Are Dangerous To Believe

15 Kids’ Healthy Eating Myths That Are Dangerous To Believe

When it comes to nutrition and healthy eating, it seems that a lot of what we read is confusing and contradictory, and separating fact from fiction is no easy task especially when you’re a busy parent.

Let’s take safely introducing nuts to babies, which is a new food philosophy that can make healthy eating tricky.

When my kids were babies—which was only a few years ago—I was told to wait to feed them nuts because of the risk of food allergies. Now that advice has changed and parents are encouraged to feed nuts to their babies early on.

Unless you’re a nutritionist, chances are, you don’t have time to sift through the research and figure out what’s true and what’s not. Although I can’t guarantee that a new study won’t come out tomorrow and influence how we should feed our kids, here are 15 kids’ healthy eating myths that you should stop believing today.

 

1. Healthy eating is time consuming

Serving healthy meals definitely takes time to plan, prep and cook—definitely more time than opening up a box of chicken nuggets or ordering take-out.

If you work, have more than one kid at home, care for an aging parent, and have other obligations, your time is even more limited.

A myth about healthy eating however, is that it’s too time consuming but I want to assure you that nothing could be further from the truth.

With easy, simple strategies like meal planning, batch cooking and sticking to the basics, it is possible to serve healthy meals everyday.

Related: How I Work Full-Time and Cook Dinner (Almost) Every Night

2. The Keto diet is healthy for kids


Low-carb diets like keto are all the rage for adults looking to lose weight, but in recent months, it’s shocking to see how many bloggers are posting keto diet recipes for kids.

When it comes to refined carbohydrates like those found in white breads, pastas and rice and processed foods, I agree, they should be limited.

These types of carbs break down into simple sugars easily, cause blood sugar levels to spike and don’t satiate hunger—which might be one of the reasons your kid is always hungry.

Complex carbohydrates on the other hand, provide kids with the energy they need and they support their muscle growth and brain development. They also take longer to break down, which keeps blood sugar levels steady.

Complex carbs are also high in fiber which satisfy hunger and prevent constipation.

So instead of cutting carbs, offer a variety of foods with complex carbohydrates. These include:

  • Vegetables like pumpkin, squash, and sweet potatoes
  • Fruits like berries, apples and pears
  • Beans and legumes
  • Whole grains like brown rice and quinoa

Related: Is Keto Safe For Kids?

 

 

3. Sneaking vegetables is the best way to encourage healthy eating

Pureeing vegetables and sneaking them into sauces, baked goods, and smoothies can definitely give your kids the nutrition they need and otherwise wouldn’t get.

Yet sneaking every type of vegetable they eat into their meal isn’t going to make them into healthy eaters.

Our goal as parents is to raise kids who not only accept but LOVE to eat healthy.

And one of the ways to do that is to give them plenty of opportunities to smell, touch and taste vegetables in their whole form.

Sure, they may not love everything you serve, but they must have plenty of chances to learn what they like and dislike.

So while I don’t see anything wrong with green smoothies or adding a vegetable puree into a meal for extra nutrition, whole vegetables should make up a bulk of their plates.   

4. Kids should eat kid-friendly foods

I get it: it’s really easy and convenient to open a box of macaroni and cheese and serve it to your kids. It’s quick and easy and you know they’ll eat it.

I’m not saying that I don’t rely on some Annie’s macaroni and cheese when I don’t feel like cooking or we’re short on time, but here’s the thing: if you’re serving kid-friendly foods because you know your kids aren’t going to eat the healthy dinner you made, they’re missing out.

Without plenty of opportunities to taste and experience new types of food, they won’t develop the preference for healthy fare—and the picky eating behaviors will continue.

 

5. Healthy eating includes drinking milk 

Milk is a good source of calcium and protein as well as vitamins A, B6, B12, magnesium, niacin, selenium and zinc, and omega-3 fatty acids.

Yet one of the biggest kids’ healthy eating myths is that kids need to drink milk for calcium.

The truth is that there are far better sources of calcium than milk, and they also don’t contain growth hormones, allergenic proteins and antibiotics. Some include:

  • Chia seeds
  • Black turtle beans
  • Sardines (my kids love them!)
  • Sesame seeds
  • Almonds
  • Rhubarb
  • Tofu
  • Spinach
  • Bok choy
  • Collard greens
  • Salmon
  • Figs
  • Kale
  • Spinach
  • Turnip greens

Research also shows cow’s milk is inflammatory and linked to a host of diseases.

In fact, in February 2019, The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine called on the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee to update the new guidelines to include a warning about the health dangers of dairy.

6. “Gluten free” means healthy

If your kids are on a gluten-free diet because of Celiac disease, an autoimmune disease or another reason, it can definitely be a healthy way to eat.

Yet just because the food label says gluten free, doesn’t mean it’s healthy.

So many gluten free foods sold in stores contain artificial ingredients, sweeteners and food dyes you don’t want your kids eating. 

If you’re going gluten free, do it the healthy way and make sure your kids eat mostly whole foods including fruits and vegetables, lean protein, healthy fats and gluten-free grains like oats and quinoa.

7. Yogurt is a health food

Yogurt is an excellent source of protein, which can satisfy hunger and prevent weight gain.

It’s also a great source of calcium, potassium, magnesium and vitamin B12 as well as probiotics, the healthy bacteria that boosts gut health and strengthen the immune system.

Yet many yogurts, those that are marketed to kids or otherwise, are also sneaky sources of sugar.

Yogurts with pretzels, candy and crushed cookies are obvious sources, but those that are blended with fruit can also be high in the sweet stuff.

Read labels carefully and stick to brands with less than 11 grams of sugar, according to nutritionist Joy Bauer.

Siggi’s is one of my favorites for kids. Or serve plain Greek yogurt and add fresh fruit for a hint of sweetness and fiber.

Related: 10 Foods High In Probiotics For Kids

8. Kids who refuse to eat are picky eaters


When kids refuse to try a new food they’ve been introduced to once or even several times, it doesn’t mean they’re picky eaters.

Repeatedly introducing foods to kids is an effective way to prevent picky eating.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), it can take between 8 and 15 times of introducing a new food for a child to accept it.

Plus, a December 2007 study in the journal Food Quality and Preference found that when mothers introduced a vegetable their infants initially disliked, by the 8th day of serving it, their intake of it increased rapidly. And by the 8th exposure, their intake was similar to that of a vegetable they liked. Nine months later, 63 percent of the infants were still eating the originally disliked vegetable.

Introduce tiny bites of new foods alongside your kid’s favorite foods.

Also, instead of serving the food the same way over and over again, try a different cooking method (roasted vs. steamed), or serve it alone and mixed in (but not hidden!) with another food your kid enjoys eating.

9. Kids should only get dessert if they eat their dinner

When you’re frustrated with your picky eaters, you can beg, plead and negotiate—and bribe them with dessert but it’s not a long-term strategy for healthy eating.

Allowing them to have dessert after a certain requirement has been met, i.e. take two more bites or eat all of your vegetables, teaches them that dessert is more desirable than healthy food.

It’s also something they start to believe as they get older—just think about how most adults view dessert.

Bribing kids with dessert also interferes with their hunger and satiety cues. Telling a kid he must eat some or everything on his plate is a pressure tactic that doesn’t allow kids to recognize when they’re not hungry or when they’re full and makes mealtimes a negative experience.

Can we encourage healthy eating? We sure can. But just like anything else, we can’t make our kids do what they don’t want to.

So instead of trying to enforce “food rules,” serve healthy foods and encourage healthy habits.

If you decide to serve dessert, which by the way can be fruit, a muffin, or yogurt, for example, kids should be allowed to have it no matter what or how much they ate.

10. Store-bought baby food is just as good as homemade


Although many of the store-bought baby food brands don’t have preservatives or additives, open them up and you’ll smell—and taste—the difference.

In 2015, Good Morning America found that water was the most predominant ingredient in Plum Organics’ baby food and other ingredients like fruits, vegetables and meat, were in smaller quantities.

Store-bought baby food may also contain less than 20 percent of the recommended levels of many minerals and micronutrients, a 2012 study out of the U.K found.

There are some exceptions, however.

Once Upon A Farm uses fresh, whole, organic foods to make their cold-pressed, refrigerated baby food. There are also companies that deliver homemade baby food to your door.

Making homemade baby food definitely takes more time then opening up a jar but it’s also one of the best things you can do for your baby.

You know exactly what’s going into your baby’s meals and you can choose food that is organic, local, from the farmer’s market and in-season so it’s fresher and more affordable.

13. Kids shouldn’t eat eggs everyday

For many years in the U.S. experts said we should limit the amount of eggs in our diets because the saturated fat they contain was linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

Experts now agree, and studies (here and here) show that there’s not enough data to support that theory. Studies also show that dietary cholesterol doesn’t have much of an effect on blood cholesterol.

A January 2015 study in the American Heart Journal found eating up to one egg per day is not associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease and stroke.

Earlier this year, another study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that eating eggs can increase cardiovascular disease risk and death. Yet experts say the study has limitations and eating eggs in the context of a healthy diet is fine.

14. All processed food is bad and prevents healthy eating

You already know that kids should eat less processed foods and more real, whole foods.

Most processed foods are loaded with sodium, sugar, saturated fat and artificial ingredients you can’t identify or pronounce. They also lack fiber and the vitamins and minerals kids need in their diets.

Although highly-processed foods, which are those that that have sweeteners, oils, flavors, colors and preservatives should be avoided, not all processed foods are bad for kids.

Minimally-processed foods like bagged salads, washed and pre-chopped fruits and vegetables, or canned beans for example, can be healthy, encourage healthy eating and make your life easier.

Related: How To Cut Processed Foods From Your Kid’s Diet

15. Chocolate milk is healthy for kids

In schools, serving chocolate milk is seen by proponents as a way to encourage kids to drink milk when they otherwise wouldn’t. In recent years, it’s also been promoted as a post-workout recovery drink for athletes.

While chocolate milk is a good source of protein, calcium and other vitamins and minerals, it’s also high in sugar: 24 grams or more sugar than a Mr. Goodbar!

Suffice to say, chocolate milk isn’t something kids should be drinking regularly, but can be served as an occasional treat. 

10 Foods High In Probiotics For Kids

10 Foods High In Probiotics For Kids

In recent years, it seems that everything you read about when it comes to health is about gut health, eating foods high in probiotics and taking probiotic supplements.

In our family, I do my best to get probiotics into my kids especially this time of year when colds and fevers are almost inevitable. In the last few months, we’ve also been working with a naturopath to help my older daughter who has food allergies boost her gut health and lower her immune response with a protocol that includes vitamin D, vitamin C, zinc and probiotics.

My kids also eat (and enjoy!) foods high in probiotics like fermented vegetables— no matter how strange they may seem. Of course, there are other healthy, delicious and convenient options that you can start to incorporate into your kid’s diet.

But first, let’s take a look at why your kids need healthy gut bacteria, what can throw it off balance, and how to boost their gut health.

Let’s get started.

Why healthy gut bacteria is important for kids

Healthy gut bacteria starts with the microbiome, which is a vast collection of 100 trillion microbes or microorganisms that actually live in and on the body, but most are found in the gastrointestinal tract.

Bacteria are one type of microbes and although we do everything we can to prevent our kids from coming into contact with bad bacteria that can cause colds and infections for example, there are also healthy bacteria that our bodies need to stay healthy.

Although researchers continue to study the benefits of probiotics and figure out what all the different types are good for, there is a lot we know now about the importance of healthy gut bacteria for kids.

A strong immune system

Kids are like little petri dishes for germs, especially when they’re in daycare and school. They all touch the same surfaces, share the same toys and put everything in their mouths. So if you have young kids, you know how often they get sick. Kids under the age of 6 in particular, get 8 to 10 colds a year!

Perhaps one of the strongest areas of research that has looked at the benefits of probiotics is immunity. In fact, a June 2018 study in the journal Synthetic and Systems Biotechnology, which was conducted in adults, showed probiotics are safe and effective remedy for colds and flu-like respiratory infections.

Better mood and behavior

The gut is often called the second brain because of the strong pathways that are along the gut-brain axis. In fact, the enteric nervous system, which directs the function of the GI system, has 30 types of neurotransmitters and 100 million neurons.

So although we often think the brain is entirely responsible for mental health, mood and behavior, experts say the gut has a lot to do with it too. While your kid will still cry and have meltdowns, optimizing healthy gut bacteria with foods high in probiotics may boost his mood and improve his behavior.

Improved sleep

No parent is immune to bedtime battles especially with young kids, but research suggests probiotics may improve sleep. That’s because a whopping 90 percent of serotonin, the building block for melatonin, the “sleep hormone” is located in the gut.  What’s more, certain bacteria in the gut are important for the production of serotonin, a 2015 study out of Caltech found.

Cures constipation

A lack of fiber from fruits, vegetables and whole grains or dehydration is often to blame for kids’ constipation. But some kids have “functional constipation,” which can happen when they avoid going to the bathroom because they fear pooping will be painful. In those kids, an imbalance in healthy gut bacteria may be the cause and probiotics may help, according to a February 2019 review in the journal Frontiers in Medicine.

Eases colic and reflux

If you have a baby with colic or reflux, you know how tiring and stressful it can be but strengthening their gut health may help.

A March 2014 study in JAMA Pediatrics found when probiotics were given to infants during the first three months after birth they cried less and had less reflux.

Another 2018 study found in breastfed infants, probiotics can reduce fussiness and crying.

Improves allergies and eczema

Studies suggest probiotics may help with allergenic conditions.

In fact, a February 2018 meta-analysis in the journal PLOS One suggests taking probiotics during late pregnancy and while breastfeeding may reduce a baby’s risk for eczema.  Another study out of Vanderbilt University suggests probiotics can improve symptoms of seasonal allergies, but more research is needed to make recommendations, the authors noted.

Can probiotics help kids with stomach viruses?

Research suggests that probiotics can help ease diarrhea after a round of antibiotics.

Yet in recent years, giving probiotics to kids to help ease diarrhea and vomiting for any reason has become increasingly common but new research shows it’s not effective. 

According to a November 2018 study in the New England Journal of Medicine, a common type of probiotic called Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG, or LGG, which is sold over the counter as Culturelle, had no effect on kids’ symptoms. “Parents are better off saving their money and using it to buy more fresh fruits and vegetables for their children,” the study authors stated.

Are probiotics for kids safe?

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released a clinical report in 2010 which states that products with probiotics seem to be safe for infants and children but the long-term effects are unknown and more research is needed.

They also say there are safety concerns in children who have compromised immune systems, are chronically debilitated or seriously ill and have indwelling medical devices like catheters or endotracheal tubes.

It’s also important to note that the FDA doesn’t regulate dietary supplements as rigorously as they do for prescription and over-the-counter medications.

What can disrupt healthy gut bacteria?

It’s ideal to have good and bad bacteria in the right balance in the gut, but there are so many factors that can throw it off.

 

Antibiotics

If your kid has a bacterial infection, antibiotics are necessary, but they can also wipe out all the healthy gut bacteria which is why taking a probiotic can help restore balance.

 

Processed foods 

Experts say eating processed foods and those high with sugar over the long term can lead to intestinal permeability or leaky gut syndrome. Leaky gut occurs when the tight junctions in the large intestine open and allow undigested food particles and pathogens in, which in turn elicits an immune response.

Leaky gut syndrome has been linked to various conditions including allergies, asthma, fatigue, autoimmune diseases, migraines and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

If your kids eat a lot of foods that are in a bag, box, or package, chances are they’re  also missing out on key vitamins and minerals that keep their guts and immune systems strong and keep them healthy.

 

Lack of sleep

Researchers are also looking at how sleep may affect gut health. In fact, an April 2019 study in the journal SLEEP suggest better sleep quality and less sleepiness are significantly associated with a richer and more diverse gut bacteria.

 

Toxic chemicals

In September 2017, the FDA banned triclosan in anti-bacterial hand soaps, but companies still add the pesticide to some dish soaps, personal care products and Colgate Total toothpaste.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) says triclosan may cause changes in the hormone system, and harm reproduction and development, and studies show it may also alter healthy gut bacteria.

In fact, according to a May 2018 study in the journal Science Translational Medicine, mice who were fed a diet laced with triclosan for 3 weeks had significantly lower levels of a species of bacteria that has been shown to be anti-inflammatory. 

 

Lack of physical activity

Exercise is important for kids’ overall growth and development and of course, it can prevent childhood obesity but studies suggest a lack of physical activity can affect gut health, regardless of what they eat.

According to an April 2018 study in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, (which was conducted in adults) regular exercise increases short-chain fatty acids which promote gut health.

How to give kids healthy gut bacteria

Fortunately, there are several ways to improve your kid’s gut health, both with diet and healthy habits.

Eat the rainbow

A whole foods diet that contains plenty of fruits and vegetables of all colors gives your kid the nutrition she needs for a strong immune system. These foods also contain prebiotics, or non-digestible food ingredients, that work with probiotics, the live microorganisms found in the gut, to grow and work to boost your child’s immunity.

Add fermented foods

Kefir tastes too tangy for me but my kids love it and that’s a good thing. The probiotics found in kefir and other foods like yogurt, kimchi, and naturally fermented vegetables, including sauerkraut and pickles can help improve gut health.

Consider taking probiotics

As previously stated, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) hasn’t recommended regular use of probiotics in children because there’s a lack of evidence for their efficacy. Of course like any supplement, if you want to give your kid probiotics, check with his pediatrician first.

Get moving

Getting your kids outside is always ideal but during the dog days of winter or on snow days when you can’t get out, put on music and have a dance party or enjoy a game of Twister.

Let kids play in the dirt

Encourage your kids to get outside and get dirty—whether it’s digging up dirt, playing with the dog, or planting a garden together to expose them to healthy gut bacteria.

10 Foods High In Probiotics For Kids

Your kid’s diet is one of the best ways to promote a healthy gut and fortunately, there are many foods high in probiotics.

1. Kefir

Kefir has a healthy dose of probiotics but read labels and you’ll discover most brands of kefir are high in sugar.

If you’re going to feed your kids fruit-flavored kefir, it’s probably OK as long as they have a low-sugar diet but keep portion sizes in mind. A better option however, is plain kefir which you can add fresh or frozen fruit to and blend into a smoothie.

2. Green peas

Green peas are an excellent source of fiber, protein and vitamins A, C, B6, and K, magnesium and folate.  Surprisingly, they’re also probiotic-rich. In fact, a December 2018 study in the Journal of Applied Microbiology found that a particular strain—leuconostoc mesenteroides subsp. mesenteroides—can boost gut health. The study was conducted in mice however, so it’s not clear if the same findings can be replicated in humans.

3. Sourdough bread

Sourdough bread is made with a fermentation process that uses wild yeast and lactic acid bacteria that’s naturally present, making it a good source of probiotics.

Your kids may not immediately take to the taste of sourdough bread so serve a small piece with a pat of grass-fed butter, which has a dose of probiotics too.

If you’re looking for a gluten-free option, I recommend Simple Kneads.

4. Yogurt

Yogurt is one of the best foods high in probiotics. According to a March 2018 study in the journal Clinical and Experimental Allergy, babies who ate yogurt on a daily basis reduced their risk for allergies and eczema by up to 70 percent. The authors note however, that it’s unclear what type of yogurt and how much is actually beneficial.

When reading labels, look for brands that state “live and active cultures.” Also, avoid yogurts that are fruit-flavored or contain fruit because they’re usually high in sugar. Sugar can feed unhealthy bacteria in the gut so to get the full immune-boosting benefit, aim for yogurt that has less than 9 grams of sugar per serving.

5. Fermented pickles

Most kids love pickles, but most pickles on store shelves won’t cut it. To get the benefits of probiotics, you’ll want to look for pickles in the refrigerated section and those brands that are labeled “naturally fermented,” like Bubbies.

6. Kimchi

A popular Asian side dish, kimchi is a naturally fermented cabbage that contains probiotics and is rich in vitamins A, C, K, B6, folate and iron. Since kimchi is a bit spicy, give your kids a small amount alongside their favorite foods and they may actually try it.

7. Sauerkraut

Sauerkraut, another type of fermented cabbage, is a good source of probiotics as well as fiber, calcium and magnesium, vitamins B6, C and K, folate, iron and potassium. Most store-brands of sauerkraut don’t contain probiotics however, so look for those that state they’re naturally fermented.

8. Miso

A traditional Japanese condiment that’s made from fermented rye, beans, rice or barley, miso is one of the best foods high in probiotics. A good way to introduce miso to kids is to offer miso soup since it has a mild flavor and it’s delicious.

9. Coconut milk yogurt

If your kids can’t consume dairy or your family is dairy-free, coconut milk yogurt is a great option.

Like many types of yogurt however, coconut milk yogurt can be high in sugar so read labels carefully. Or find plain, unsweetened versions and add fresh berries for added fiber and a hint of sweetness.

10. Tempeh

Made with fermented soybeans, tempeh is a great source of probiotics as well as protein, iron and calcium.

Add tempeh to your favorite stir-fry or salad, or use it in place of meat on taco night.

Don’t forget prebiotic foods

 

It’s also a good idea to offer your kids foods rich in prebiotics, which are non-digestible food ingredients that work with probiotics to boost your child’s immunity.

Prebiotic rich foods include onions, garlic, leeks, asparagus, bananas, barley, oats, wheat bran, apples, Jerusalem artichokes, flaxseeds, cocoa, seaweed.

 

Do you feed your kids foods high in probiotics? Which ones do they like the best? Let me know in the comments.

15 Companies & Charities Dedicated to Fighting Childhood Obesity

15 Companies & Charities Dedicated to Fighting Childhood Obesity

In August when Weight Watchers rolled out weight loss app Kurbo, it released a wave of sharp criticism from health experts, eating disorder specialists and parents alike—and once again shined a spotlight on fighting childhood obesity.

Although Kurbo is certainly extreme, it’s not anything new. Just think about weight loss camps or companies who have started to sell fitness trackers for kids in recent years.

Instead of putting kids on diets, segregating food as “healthy” and “unhealthy,” and encouraging kids to track their steps every day, kids need repeated exposure to healthy foods, and they need to have healthy eating and lifestyle habits modeled for them.

So although Kurbo, fitness trackers, or any other adult weight loss solution that’s re-packaged for kids isn’t the solution, the sad truth is that we are still facing a childhood obesity epidemic.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), obesity affects:

  • Nearly 14 percent of children 2- to 5-years-old.
  • More than 18 percent of 6 to 11-year olds.
  • More than 20 percent of 12 to 19-year-olds.

Of course, childhood obesity is just one part of an overall health epidemic in the U.S. Studies show kids who are overweight are at risk for other conditions including type-2 diabetes and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), both of which are on the rise.

Children who are obese also have risk factors for cardiovascular disease, including high cholesterol, high blood pressure and problems with blood glucose tolerance. Obesity may also play a role in kids who have asthma, obstructive sleep apnea, joint problems and mental health problems. 

In fact, a recent study out of the University of Alabama at Birmingham found teens who consume high levels of sodium and low levels of potassium in fast food and processed foods that are linked to obesity, are more likely to develop symptoms of depression.

Most of the responsibility of preventing childhood obesity starts at home but schools and communities also play a role especially for families struggling with food insecurity.

Fortunately, there are several companies, including many start-ups, and non-profit organizations that are dedicated to fighting childhood obesity. Here are 15.

 

1. Revolutions Foods

Founded in 2006 by Kristin Groos Richmond and Kirsten Saenz Tobey, two businesswomen and moms, Revolution Foods’ mission is to build lifelong healthy eaters and provide healthy meals to every child who is food insecure. 

To date, the company has designed, produced and delivered more than 360-million

kid-inspired, chef-crafted meals to childhood education centers, school districts, charter schools, and community and after-school youth programs in 15 states. 

With their community partners, they also offer nutrition curriculum, cooking classes, gardening lessons and other education events.

2. Chef Ann Foundation 

If you’re looking to change your child’s school lunch program like I am, the Chef Ann Foundation is an excellent place to start. 

Founded in 2009 by Ann Cooper, an internationally recognized author, chef, educator, public speaker, and advocate of healthy food for all children, the Chef Ann Foundation is dedicated to providing fresh, healthy school lunch every day. 

With tools, training, resources and funding, the Foundation helps schools create healthier food and redefine lunchroom environments. 

3. No Fuss Lunch

Founded in 2012 by Gabriella Wilday, No Fuss Lunch provides kid-centric, healthy school lunches, after-school snacks and meals for summer camps that exceed the National School Lunch Program’s standards. 

Their food is made without white sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, nuts, GMO’s or MSG and is safe for kids with food allergies. 

4. YMCA

For nearly 160 years, the YMCA has made it their mission to strengthen local communities and improve the nation’s health and well-being.

With programs that provide meals to those who struggle with hunger, teach healthy eating, encourage physical activity and healthy lifestyle habits and strengthen families, the YMCA is dedicated to fighting childhood obesity.


5. Sweat Makes Cents

Sweat Makes Cents is a non-profit organization with a particular focus on supporting millennial women who want to find a solution for childhood obesity.

The organization hosts jumping jack challenges, fitness fundraisers and city fitness teams that raise funds for nationwide childhood obesity prevention programs.

6. KidsGardening

Teaching kids how to garden is one of the best ways for them to be exposed to healthy food and learn where real food comes from.

KidsGardening is a national non-profit that offers grants, programs, curriculum, contests, and activities to create opportunities for kids to play, learn and grow through gardening. Approximately 70 % of the teachers who receive their grants say their students have improved attitudes about nutrition. In 2018, KidsGardening reached approximately 920,000 kids.

7. City Blossoms

City Blossoms is a Washington, D.C-based non-profit organization that develops creative, kid-driven green spaces. Their focus is on a combination of gardens, science, art, healthy living, and community building and they work with community-based organizations, neighborhood groups, schools, and learnings centers in the Washington D.C area and across the U.S.

8. Power of Produce (POP) Club

Bringing kids to farmers’ market is a great way to encourage access to healthy food and teach healthy eating habits which can go a long way in fighting childhood obesity.

At Power of Produce (POP) Club at the Oregon City Farmers Market kids get $2 every time they visit the farm to purchase their own fruits and vegetables, and they lean how to plant sunflower seeds, and make salads and jam, for example.

Related: 5 Reasons You Should Bring Your Kids To The Farmers Market

9. Hungry Harvest

Founded in 2014 and featured on Shark Tank, Hungry Harvest rescues “ugly” fruits and vegetables from farmers that would otherwise go to waste and sells them in discounted subscription boxes.

For every Hungry Harvest delivery, they also offer their reduced cost produce to SNAP (food stamps) markets and donate to local organizations whose mission is to solve hunger. To date, they have provided more than 750,000 pounds of produce to SNAP reduced-cost markets, food banks and local nonprofits.

10. Farm to School

The National Farm to School Network is an information, advocacy and networking hub that sources local food to be served in schools, establishes school gardens, and brings food and agriculture education into schools.

11. DrumFit

DrumFit, a cardio drumming physical education program for schools, is on a mission to teach kids to love cardio fitness for life. The company provides online video content, lesson plans and routines.

12. The Adventures of Super Stretch

The Adventures of Super Stretch app is a children’s yoga program that can be done at home, and in daycares, schools, and after-school programs. Free, iTunes and Google Play.

13. KaBOOM!

KaBOOM! is a national non-profit that creates safe, community-based play spaces.

Over the last 20 years they have built or improved more than 17,000 play spaces and in 2018 they built more than 3100 playgrounds. KaBOOM! teams up with funding partners to build safe spaces in one day.

14. My First Workout

Founded by Michelle Mille, a certified personal trainer and mom, My First Workout is designed to connect parents with their children and pull kids away from the technology and sedentary behaviors linked to childhood obesity.

The step-by-step strength and conditioning program is designed for kids 5- to 10- years-old and includes fitness equipment, a video and a poster so parents can feel confident performing the exercises with their kids.

15. Wholesome Wave

Wholesome Wave is a national non-profit that makes healthy food accessible and affordable for families who struggle with food insecurity through two types of programs.

Doubling Snap allows people with SNAP (food stamps) benefits to receive double the value to spend on produce at select farmers’ markets and grocery stores. Through their Produce Prescriptions program, people receive produce vouchers from participating hospitals and clinics to purchase fruits and vegetables. In 2017, Wholesome Wave reached more than 973,000 people.

Is Chocolate Milk Good For Kids?

Is Chocolate Milk Good For Kids?

My kids like to drink milk, but it’s not something they drink often. After interviewing experts about the benefits and drawbacks of different types of milk for this Fox News story, I was sold on the research that shows cow’s milk is inflammatory, linked to a host of diseases, and it’s not even the best source of calcium in the first place. From time to time, my kids also indulge in chocolate milk but it’s usually for a special occasion. Lately, I’ve been thinking more and more about why school lunch isn’t healthy and its link to childhood obesity, and because it’s on the school lunch menu, it begs the question, is chocolate milk good for kids?

Is Chocolate Milk Good for Kids?

Benefits of drinking chocolate milk

In schools, serving chocolate milk is seen by proponents as a way to encourage kids to drink milk when they otherwise wouldn’t.

According to DairyMAX, a non-profit organization affiliate of the Dairy Council, flavored milk is good for kids for some of the following reasons:

 

  • Kids who drink flavored milk drink more milk overall.
  • Kids who consume flavored milk get more nutrients than kids who don’t drink milk.
  • Kids who drink flavored milk are less likely to drink soda and juice.

When it comes to the benefits of chocolate milk, let’s take a look at the nutritional composition of one cup of  low-fat chocolate milk:

 

Calories: 157

Protein:  8.1 grams

Carbohydrates: 26.1 grams

Dietary fiber: 1.2 grams

Sugars: 24.8 grams

Fat: 2.5 grams

Calcium: 29 %DV

Vitamin D: 25 %DV

Riboflavin:  24 %DV

Phosphorus: 26 %DV

Milk also has other nutrients like vitamins A, B6, B12, magnesium, niacin, selenium and zinc, as well as omega-3 fatty acids.

Related: 5 Foods With Healthy Fats Your Kids Will Love

There’s no doubt chocolate milk has some nutritional value, including calcium, which kids need for strong teeth and bones.

Yet there are far better sources of calcium than milk, which also don’t contain growth hormones, allergenic proteins and antibiotics.

Some include:

  • Chia seeds
  • Black turtle beans
  • Sardines (my kids love them!)
  • Sesame seeds
  • Almonds
  • Rhubarb
  • Tofu
  • Spinach
  • Bok choy
  • Collard greens
  • Salmon
  • Figs
  • Kale
  • Collard greens
  • Spinach
  • Turnip greens

 

Is chocolate milk good for kids as a post-workout recovery drink?

In addition to school lunch, chocolate milk is also often promoted as a post-workout recovery drink for athletes.

Thanks to its’ protein, carbohydrates, fat and water and electrolytes, chocolate milk may be a great recovery drink that rebuilds and refuels muscles, according to research out of the University of Connecticut.

In fact, a June 2018 meta-analysis in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found drinking chocolate milk has similar—or superior—results compared to either water or other sports drinks.

However, it’s important to note that the authors say this isn’t definitive and more research is needed.

Interestingly, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says flavored milk in schools is OK, but instead of sports and energy drinks (which are also high in sugar) after a workout, water is best. Sort of contradictory, right?

 

Drawbacks of drinking chocolate milk

Although it’s a good (but not the best) source of calcium for strong teeth and bones, as you can see, chocolate milk is high in sugar: 24 grams or more sugar than a Mr. Goodbar!

The U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend we limit sugar to no more than 10 percent of our total calories for the day.

For kids, that works out to be about 30 to 35 grams of added sugar for little ones who get between 1,200 and 1,400 calories a day, according to Jessica Cording, a registered dietitian-nutritionist in New York City.

Diets high in sugar are proven to lead to weight gain and obesity, type-2 diabetes, fatty liver disease and heart disease—all conditions that can follow kids throughout their lives.

Chocolate milk, as well as soda, sweetened ice teas, lemonade, sports and energy drinks, fruit punch, and apple juice already make up a majority of the amount of sugar kids get in their diets.

In fact, between 2011 and 2014, 63 percent of kids consumed a sugar-sweetened beverage on any given day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The other drawback of drinking chocolate milk is that some brands add artificial ingredients and additives.

One more thing to consider is the motivation behind serving chocolate milk in schools.

Despite a lack of evidence that milk is the best food to build strong bones—and may actually lead to more fractures—the government mandates schools serve milk at every meal because they can’t get their federal lunch money unless they do, Dr. Mark Hyman states in his book, “Food: What The Heck Should I Eat.

Although studies show that when chocolate milk is removed from school lunch menus, milk consumption drops, I’m not so sure this is a bad thing.

In fact, in February 2019, The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine called on the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee to update the new guidelines to include a warning about the health dangers of dairy.

Regardless of where you stand on giving your kids regular milk or chocolate milk, I think it’s a good idea to take stock of their diets overall.

For example, if your child eats a mainly whole foods diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, healthy protein and fats, and whole grains, there’s probably nothing wrong with serving up chocolate milk for an occasional treat or dessert.

If your kids already eat a lot of sugar however, including sneaky sugars like those found in yogurt, cereal, dressings, sauces and dried and canned fruits, chocolate milk isn’t going to do their bodies any good.

 

 

Let me know what you think: is chocolate milk good for kids? Leave me a comment.

Is School Lunch To Blame For Childhood Obesity?

Is School Lunch To Blame For Childhood Obesity?

We all know the sobering statistics: 30 percent of kids in the U.S. are overweight or obese. We also know that consuming high-calorie, low nutrient foods like fast food, processed foods and sugary drinks, spending too much time watching TV or in front of devices, and lack of exercise and sleep are to blame. But there’s another topic that’s been debated in recent years: is school lunch to blame for childhood obesity?

Is cafeteria food healthy?

The USDA’s National School Lunch Program (NSLP), a program that provides federally subsidized school lunch and breakfast, serves more than 30 million kids in the U.S. every day.

Something that surprised me as I was conducting research is that 50 percent of the calories kids consume are at school.

This is particular important for kids who receive free and reduced lunch since what they eat at school can make up a significant amount of the nutrition they get all day.

When the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 was passed, the goal was to provide healthier school lunches.

Schools participating in the NSLP made some positive changes to their menus like adding more fruits and vegetables and whole grains, limiting the amount of calories and reducing the amount of sodium in meals.

The good news is that the changes seemed to work.

In April 2019, the USDA released the “School Nutrition and Meal Cost Study,” which found the Healthy Eating Index, or the nutritional quality of school lunches, increased 41 percent between school years 2009-2010 and 2014-15.

Another win is that studies show when school lunches became healthier, kids ate more entrees, vegetables and fruit. 

In December 2018 however, the Trump administration rolled back the school lunch standards, giving schools even more flexibility to serve foods that are within a budget but only worsen our kids’ health.

With the new changes in effect, schools can now offer 1% chocolate milk and strawberry milk and keep the same levels of sodium in meals, instead of reducing it.

School are also only required to have half of the grains on the menu be whole grains.

Whether the schools stick to the old guidelines or not, I’m not convinced that school lunch is healthy to begin with.

Let’s take my kids’ school lunch menu as an example.

Nearly all of the items that are offered are highly-processed, made with factory-farmed animal products, and are frozen foods that come out of a package.

Take a look at some of the foods they offer:

  • crispy chicken patty          
  • general tso’s chicken
  • beef nachos with tortilla chips 
  • hot dogs                  
  • tater tots
  • processed deli meats and cheeses                                                
  • popcorn chicken
  • chicken nuggets
  • mozzarella sticks
  • pizza
  • hamburgers and cheeseburgers
  • French toast sticks
  • Bosco sticks (breadsticks)

There are also several items on the school lunch menu that are high in sugar, including:

Of course, diets high in processed foods and sugar are associated with increased rates of childhood obesity.

Another factor to consider is that with a menu that’s made up of mostly foods like chicken nuggets, mozzarella sticks, macaroni and cheese and other kid-friendly foods, we’re explicitly teaching our kids this is a healthy way to eat.

Instead of having a plate made where fruits and vegetables are front and center, in the school cafeteria, they’re presented in a way that makes them look like they’re a side dish.

Plus, take a look at the nutritional value of some of these foods.

Consider the pancakes that the USDA encourages schools to offer as “breakfast for lunch.” With only 2 grams of protein, 1 gram of fiber and 3 grams of sugar, it’s definitely not what our kids should be eating.


School lunch might be healthy, but fruits and vegetables are being thrown in the trash

Another concern with school lunch is the amount of food that is wasted everyday.

One study estimates that the food thrown in the garbage at school accounts for $1.2 billion annually.

If you’ve had lunch with your kid (something I recommend you do), you know how crowded, loud and chaotic it is, particularly in the elementary schools.

According to a January 2016 study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, kids who had 20 minutes or less to eat lunch consumed 13 percent less of their entrees, 12 percent less of their vegetables, and 10 percent less of milk compared to kids who had 25 minutes or more to eat. There was also more food waste for kids who had less time to eat.

Yet more time to eat lunch, quieter cafeterias, and less crowding is associated with higher consumption of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, a January 2019 study in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior found.

So although kids might be offered healthy school lunches, if they’re not eating them, what’s the point?

If fruits and vegetables are being tossed, kids aren’t getting the fiber and water content these foods provide which satisfy hunger and aid in weight control.

Furthermore, if kids aren’t eating foods that fill them up, chances are they’re making up for it with processed snacks at other times of the day.

Is school lunch to blame for childhood obesity?

A 2009 report out of Northwestern University (before the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act was passed), suggests kids who eat school lunch are more likely to be overweight or obese than those who bring lunch from home.

What’s more, kids who are eligible for free and reduced lunch weigh significantly more than kids who are ineligible by the end of first grade.

The research that has looked specifically at girls is also important to note.

According to an April 2011 study in JAMA Pediatrics, the average Body Mass Index (BMI) for girls from low-income families who consumed lunches in the NSLP was the same for those who did not. However, girls who consumed the lunches gained weight faster and the differences between the two groups were significant. 

What is the school’s role in preventing childhood obesity?

When it comes to the responsibility of schools to offer healthy school lunches and do their part in preventing childhood obesity, parents say they play a significant role.

According to a June 2013 survey by Kaiser Permanente, 90 percent of Americans say schools should play the biggest community role in fighting childhood obesity.

Plus, according to a January 2019 survey by Revolution Foods, a provider of healthy school meals, 66 percent of parents say that while they and the schools should share the responsibility of offering and teaching kids about nutrition, they look to the schools to encourage healthy eating habits and offer healthy, delicious meals throughout the year.

 


Preventing childhood obesity starts with parents

If kids eat lunch every day at school, or even once in awhile, schools certainly play a role in the food that is being served, how it is served and the environment in which it is consumed.

Although I believe that schools have some responsibility for preventing childhood obesity, like anything else when it comes to our kids, childhood obesity starts with us.


Related: Are Parents To Blame For Childhood Obesity?


In fact, a June 2019 study in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior suggests that parents play an integral role in preventing childhood obesity.

In the study, researchers looked at two groups of parents: a Health Education group who were mailed information about nutrition and parenting strategies to make changes and the Developing Relationships that Include Values of Eating and Exercise (DRIVE) group, made up of parents who met with a psychologist and nutritionist. This group was encouraged to plan healthy meals, reduce the amount of screen time and move more.

The result? Researchers found kids in the DRIVE group gained less weight than the less intervention group.

Kids learn from their parents so if we’re not serving healthy food, teaching healthy eating habits and encouraging our kids to move more, get sleep and have healthy lifestyle habits—and show them how we do the same— we can’t blame the schools for childhood obesity.

Here are some tips to consider.

Serve fruits and vegetables as much as possible
Do your best to include fruits and vegetables at every meal and snack, which will give your kids the nutrition they need, help satisfy their hunger, and prevent overeating.

Make healthy food visible and accessible
According to the 2010 White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity report, “children’s choices depend on what is most visible and easily accessible.”

So resist the urge to stock your pantry with chips, crackers and cookies and other types of fake food and put healthy food at eye level.

Also, spend 30 minutes or so on the weekend to wash and cut up fruits and vegetables and store them in clear glass containers front and center in the refrigerator.

Cook healthy meals
Studies show kids who consistently eat meals with their families are healthier kids overall and are less likely to become obese.

Cooking healthy meals also shows kids what real food and a healthy plate look like and can help prevent picky eating.

Teach healthy eating habits
Lead by example and show kids how to eat slowly and mindfully, eat sitting at the table (instead of in the car or in front of the TV,) and how to recognize their hunger and satiety signals. Also, avoid using food as a reward.

Move more
Kids should get 60 minutes of exercise everyday and although it can be challenging to find the time, your kids won’t be motivated to be active if you’re not.

Try to take walks after dinner, have an indoor “dance party” on rainy or snow days or play Twister.   

 

What do you think: is school lunch to blame for childhood obesity? Let me know in the comments.

11 Healthy Breakfast Ideas For Kids

11 Healthy Breakfast Ideas For Kids

Growing up in the 80’s, breakfast usually consisted of cereal: Cheerios, Corn Flakes, Cinnamon Toast Crunch (still my favorite!), and Honey Bunches of Oats. Today, so much has changed and although as parents we want meals to be easy and fast, we also need healthy breakfast ideas that are packed with protein, filled with fiber and have plenty of vitamins and minerals.

Another thing that’s changed over the years is that because of our kids’ dietary restrictions, food allergies, food preferences and picky eating behaviors, we as moms have found ourselves focused on things like:

  • Gluten-free
  • Dairy-free
  • Plant-based
  • Vegetarian
  • Vegan
  • Low-carb
  • High-protein
  • Nut-free

So despite all of the choices we have, we’re all short on time (and patience!) and can’t sift through the tons of healthy breakfast recipes that will work for our kids. As a result, we tend to serve the same breakfasts day after day.

Nevertheless, the old adage, breakfast is the most important part of the day, still holds true today. So busting through the boredom and having healthy breakfast ideas you can put into rotation will help your kids thrive—and make your hectic life a bit easier.

 

Benefits of a healthy breakfast for kids

Serving up a healthy breakfast daily can:

  • Give kids the nutrition the need for healthy growth and development
  • Provide the energy they need at school
  • Help them stay alert and focused
  • Prevent weight gain, childhood obesity and type-2 diabetes
  • Improve their mood and behavior

 

More nutrition

Kids who eat breakfast everyday have a higher daily consumption of key nutrients such as folate, calcium, iron and iodine than those who skip breakfast, according to a August 2017 study in the British Journal of Nutrition.

Lower risk of weight gain and childhood obesity

According to a March 2016 study in the journal Pediatric Obesity, kids who ate breakfast at school, even if they already had breakfast at home, were less likely to be overweight or obese than those who didn’t eat breakfast.

Although I don’t think we should encourage our children to eat two breakfasts, eating even a small, healthy breakfast can go a long way.

Lower risk of type-2 diabetes

According to a September 2014 study in the journal PLOS Medicine, 9 and 10-year-old children who reported regularly skipping breakfast had 26 percent higher levels of insulin in their blood after a fasting period and 26 percent higher levels of insulin resistance, a risk factor for type-2 diabetes, than children who ate breakfast every day.

A healthy breakfast helps to balance your child’s blood sugar and give him a steady amount of energy until lunchtime.

Better mood, behavior and body image

You know the feeling when you’re hangry: you’re tired, irritable and on edge. And your kids are no different.

When kids skip breakfast, their energy and blood sugar dips, which affects their mood and behavior. If your kids are snappy with you, have frequent meltdowns or seem cranky, try feeding them a healthy breakfast.

What’s more, a February 2019 study in the journal Social Work In Public Health found teens who eat breakfast with their families have a stronger body image than those who skip the meal.

Improved academic performance

Kids need to eat a healthy breakfast because it’s nearly impossible to stay focused and concentrate on anything when you’re hungry.

Breakfast fuels their bodies with the key nutrients they need to listen, learn, understand, complete tasks and boost their overall function at school.

In fact, a June 2016 study in the journal Public Health Nutrition, which included 5,000 kids, found those who ate breakfast and those who ate a better quality breakfast, were twice as likely to do better in school than those who didn’t.

 

What should a healthy breakfast include?

 

Vegetables

I know it sounds like a pipe dream, but the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommend kids eat vegetables at every meal and snack. Depending on your kid’s age, they need between 1 and 3 cups of vegetables a day.

Serving vegetables at breakfast is actually a great opportunity to teach kids what a healthy meal looks like. And the more opportunities they have to eat vegetables, the more likely they will.

When kids eat vegetables at breakfast, they’ll get the nutrition they need for their  growth and development and to help prevent serious health conditions as they get older. Vegetables are also filled with fiber which will help them stay satiated and may prevent weight gain.

Related: 7 Ways to Feed Kids Vegetables for Breakfast


Fruit

Fresh, whole fruit has plenty of vitamins and minerals, as well as fiber and water which kids not only need to thrive, but promotes feelings of satiety and can prevent constipation.

Protein

Protein helps to build muscle, carry nutrients through the body, regulate hormones, and strengthen skin and bones. Making sure to include protein with breakfast staves off hunger, balances blood sugar and can prevent weight gain.

Whole grains

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend 50 percent of the grains we eat be made up of whole grains, which are a great source of B vitamins, zinc, magnesium and fiber. Unlike white, refined grains, whole grains do a better job of satisfying hunger and balancing your kid’s blood sugar levels.

Healthy fats

We now know that fats are not the villain they were made out to be for years. Healthy fats like those found in fish, avocado and nuts are a vital source of energy for our kids and help satisfy their hunger.

Fats are essential for healthy cell membranes, they support kids’ brains and the growth and development of their nervous systems, and help their bodies absorb fat-soluble vitamins like  A, D, E, and K. Fat are also necessary to make hormones and immune cells and they help regulate inflammation and metabolism.   

 


Healthy breakfast ideas with eggs

With nearly 30 grams of protein in one large egg, plus several key nutrients like potassium, vitamin D, B vitamins, lutein and omega-3 fatty acids, eggs are one of the healthiest foods you can feed your kids.

Hard-boiled eggs

Boiling a batch of hard-boiled eggs in the beginning of the week is the ultimate time saver and ensures you’ll have a quick and healthy breakfast that’s also a great option when you’re rushing out the door in the morning. Pair eggs with veggies, a fruit and whole grain option and you’re set.

Egg muffin cups

The great thing about egg muffin cups is that you can make a batch and have a quick and easy option ready to go. You can also customize the egg muffins with leftover vegetables and your choice of meat and cheese—or none at all.

Try this recipe: Veggie Egg Muffins

Frittata or quiche

Using eggs in a frittata, quiche or breakfast casserole is easy and a great way to serve vegetables for breakfast. Try this recipe: Broccoli, Cheddar & Spinach Frittata

Breakfast burrito

A breakfast burrito with eggs, veggies and beans is a great healthy breakfast to have on hand.

Beans are an excellent source of protein and fiber which will give your kids plenty of energy and brain power until lunch time. Also, the more often you serve them—at breakfast or at other meals—the more likely your kids will eat them.

Try putting out beans with their favorite extras: salsa, avocado, cheese and a whole wheat tortilla and let them make their own breakfast burrito.

 

Healthy breakfast ideas without eggs

Healthy overnight oats

Cooking oatmeal in the morning takes time but putting together individual mason jars of overnight oats takes just a few minutes. Start with rolled oats (I like Bob’s Red Mill) and add milk, fruit and chia seeds and you have a healthy and easy egg-free breakfast ready by the time your kids wake up.

Baked oatmeal

Baked oatmeal is my (and my kids’) new favorite way to serve up a healthy breakfast. Instead of waiting for oatmeal to cook on the stovetop, you simply add your ingredients to a loaf pan, bake it the night before and you have breakfast for a few days. Try this recipe: Baked Oatmeal With Pumpkin and Bananas.

Healthy breakfast smoothies and smoothie bowls

I’m not a fan of pureeing vegetables and sneaking them into meals so kids will eat them, but when you make a green smoothie or a smoothie bowl, it’s no secret what they’re eating.

Smoothies are a great way to feed kids vegetables for breakfast and get several servings in at once. A good rule of thumb when making smoothies or juices is to use 80 percent vegetables and 20 percent fruit. Add protein like your kid’s favorite nut or seed butter and serve with whole grain toast.

Yogurt parfait

Greek yogurt is an excellent source of calcium and protein and a parfait for breakfast couldn’t easier. Since most yogurt brands have plenty of added sugar, stick with plain Greek yogurt and add fresh fruit like raspberries and a low-sugar granola for extra fiber.

Related: How To Choose a Healthy Kids’ Yogurt


Avocado toast

Avocado is chock full of nutrition, and high in fiber and healthy fats. When it’s paired with whole grain toast and vegetables and fruit, it also makes for a healthy and easy egg-free breakfast.


Protein bars

Grabbing a protein or breakfast bar is quick and simple, but most bars are high in sugar and contain artificial ingredients. Read labels carefully and look for those with protein, fiber and low sugar.  Or, make your own breakfast bars with whole ingredients like oats, dried fruit and nuts or seeds.

Healthy breakfast pudding

Pumpkin is one of the healthiest foods you can feed your kids so I was so excited when—after interviewing Danielle Walker of AgainstAllGrain.com—I discovered her delicious recipe for Paleo Pumpkin Chia Seed Pudding.

If you’re trying to avoid gluten or simply looking for new breakfast options, try it out. My kids loved it and it was so quick and easy to make.


What are some of your favorite healthy breakfast ideas? Let me know in the comments.

[VIDEO] 10 Healthy Back To School Tips For Moms  These healthy back to school tips will help to keep you and your kids healthy and stress-free.

[VIDEO] 10 Healthy Back To School Tips For Moms

These healthy back to school tips will help to keep you and your kids healthy and stress-free.

When my daughters go back to school in a few short weeks, I’m trying to prepare myself for what happens every school year: they get sick.

Within weeks of returning to school last year, my older daughter would get a fever one day and then be fine the next. Despite my nagging to “wash your hands” and “keep your hands out of your mouth,” she missed several days of school.

I don’t want her to be sick of course, but as a working mom, all those sick days at home makes work challenging and adds another layer of stress to my already chaotic life.

It turns out, I’m not alone in feeling the back to school stress, especially when it comes to everything that has to get done. According to a survey by Coupons.com, 50 percent of moms with kids in school say shopping for and packing school lunches makes them feel stressed.

So here’s the good news: there are some easy, healthy back to school tips that can go a long way in helping to keep your kids healthy and you from pulling your hair out. Here are 10.

 

 

1. Don’t overthink healthy back to school lunches

Those photos of beautifully crafted bento boxes for school lunches that fill up your Instagram feed can definitely give you some inspiration, but who has time to make fruit into animal shapes and sandwiches into pinwheels?

Instead, stick to the basics.

Have a list of go-to foods that are healthy and quick, re-purpose leftovers, batch cook ahead of time, and set aside individual portions of grab and go snacks.

Also, focus on whole foods instead of processed foods: fruits and vegetables, lean protein sources, beans and legumes, whole grains and calcium-rich foods.

Related: 7 Hacks for Stress-Free School Lunches

2. Teach kids to wash their hands

Kids under the age of 6 in particular get 8 to 10 colds a year, not including the countless fevers, infections and stomach bugs they’ll get this year.

Although it’s probably inevitable that your kids will get sick, one thing you’ll want to do your best to avoid is the flu.

Last year, despite my entire family getting our flu shots, we still got the flu and it was horrible. In kids under 5, the flu can be dangerous, even deadly.

The flu spreads quickly, especially because at school, kids are in close contact.

So one of the best healthy back to school tips to garner is to teach your kids the importance of washing their hands.

Teaching your kids proper hand washing can prevent the spread of infection and cut down on the amount of times they get sick.

Show kids how to wash with warm water and soap, wash all surfaces of their hands including their fingernails and in between their fingers, and wash while singing “Happy Birthday” twice.

Also, remind kids to sneeze in their arm—not their hands—to prevent the spread of germs.

3. Don’t forget about healthy back to school snacks

According to a survey published in 2014 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 6 in 10 children don’t eat enough fruit and 9 in 10 don’t eat enough vegetables.

Yet studies show eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables can lower blood pressure, balance blood sugar, prevent weight gain and childhood obesity, reduce the risk for eye and digestive problems, heart disease and stroke, and prevent certain types of cancer.

Of course, when kids eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables it lays the foundation for healthy eating throughout their lifetimes.

So when it comes to healthy back to school snacks, do your best to swap crackers, pretzels and fruit gummies for fruits and vegetables.

 

Looking for crazy, easy ways to get your kids to eat their vegetables? Check out my video:

 

 

4. Add probiotic and prebiotic-rich foods

Another way to boost your child’s immunity is by serving up plenty of foods with probiotics, or the healthy, live microorganisms found in the gut. Probiotic-rich foods include yogurt, kefir, kimchi, and naturally fermented vegetables, including sauerkraut and pickles.

It’s also a good idea to include foods rich in prebiotics, which are non-digestible food ingredients that work with probiotics to boost your child’s immunity.

Prebiotic rich foods include onions, garlic, leeks, asparagus, bananas and Jerusalem artichokes.

5. Making sleep a priority is one of the best healthy back to school tips

According to the National Sleep Foundation’s 2014 Sleep in America poll, many kids don’t get enough sleep and some get less than their parents think they need. 

Not only can lack of sleep affect your kid’s energy levels, mood and behavior, and performance in school and on the field, sleep deprivation can also affect their weight.

When kids are sleep-deprived, the hormones that affect appetite can get all out of whack.

Ghrelin, “the hunger hormone” which tells our bodies to eat, ramps up while leptin, a hormone that decreases appetite, slows down, making it more likely that your kid will overeat.

Power down devices 1 to 2 hours before bed time, use black-out shades and help your kids wind down before bed with a story, prayer and some snuggle time.

5. Carve out time for breakfast

According to an August 2017 study in the British Journal of Nutrition, only about one-third of kids eat breakfast every day, 17 percent never eat breakfast and the rest only eat breakfast a fews days a week.

Yet kids who eat breakfast everyday have a higher daily consumption of key nutrients such as folate, calcium, iron and iodine than those who skip breakfast, the same study found.

Eating a healthy breakfast gives kid the energy and focus they need to get through the day, and they may even do better in school.

In fact, a June 2016 study in the journal Public Health Nutrition, which included 5,000 kids, found those who ate breakfast and those who ate a better quality breakfast, were twice as likely to do better in school than those who didn’t.

Eating breakfast is also associated with a lower risk for obesity and serious health conditions.

According to a March 2016 study in the journal Pediatric Obesity, kids who ate breakfast at school, even if they already had breakfast at home, were less likely to be overweight or obese than those who didn’t eat breakfast.

And a September 2014 study in the journal PLOS Medicine found 9 and 10-year-old children who reported regularly skipping breakfast had 26 percent higher levels of insulin in their blood after a fasting period and 26 percent higher levels of insulin resistance, a risk factor for type-2 diabetes, than children who ate breakfast every day.

If your kids don’t have an appetite in the morning or don’t have enough time, try moving back their bed time and getting them up earlier.

Related: 7 Ways To Get Your Kids To Eat a Healthy Breakfast

6. Carve out time for breakfast

According to an August 2017 study in the British Journal of Nutrition, only about one-third of kids eat breakfast every day, 17 percent never eat breakfast and the rest only eat breakfast a fews days a week.

Yet kids who eat breakfast everyday have a higher daily consumption of key nutrients such as folate, calcium, iron and iodine than those who skip breakfast, the same study found.

Eating a healthy breakfast gives kid the energy and focus they need to get through the day, and they may even do better in school.

In fact, a June 2016 study in the journal Public Health Nutrition, which included 5,000 kids, found those who ate breakfast and those who ate a better quality breakfast, were twice as likely to do better in school than those who didn’t.

Eating breakfast is also associated with a lower risk for obesity and serious health conditions.

According to a March 2016 study in the journal Pediatric Obesity, kids who ate breakfast at school, even if they already had breakfast at home, were less likely to be overweight or obese than those who didn’t eat breakfast.

And a September 2014 study in the journal PLOS Medicine found 9 and 10-year-old children who reported regularly skipping breakfast had 26 percent higher levels of insulin in their blood after a fasting period and 26 percent higher levels of insulin resistance, a risk factor for type-2 diabetes, than children who ate breakfast every day.

If your kids don’t have an appetite in the morning or don’t have enough time, try moving back their bed time and getting them up earlier.

Related: 7 Ways To Get Your Kids To Eat a Healthy Breakfast

7. Move more

My kids are constantly in motion and although I take them to the park and for bike rides, I still find getting them 60 minutes exercise a day a challenge.

Nevertheless, I do my best to make sure they get some form of exercise in every day.

Exercise has so many benefits for kids, and as it turns out, can improve their gut health and immunity. In fact, a study in the journal Gut shows exercise may diversity gut microbes.

During the dog days of winter or on snow days when you can’t get out, put on music and have a dance party or enjoy a game of Twister.

8. Help kids cope with anxiety

Most healthy back to school tips focus on physical health, but let’s talk about mental health for a second.

According to a June 2018 study in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, between 2007 and 2012 the amount of children between ages 6 and 7 with anxiety increased by 20 percent.

There are a lot of factors that play into a person’s propensity to develop anxiety and depression like genetics and family history, trauma and environment.

As someone who has had anxiety since childhood, I can tell you it’s not a crutch or a character flaw.

Anxiety is real so recognizing the signs is key.

Teaching kids techniques like deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation and meditation can all be helpful. If you suspect your child has an anxiety disorder or you simply need help coping, seek out a therapist who can offer treatments like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

Related: 5 Reasons Why Healthy Eating Makes Kids Happy

9. Make an appointment for an eye exam

Since vision problems can sometimes look like problems with focus and concentration or reading difficulties, and they can go undiagnosed. That’s why it’s a good idea to get a routine eye exam.

Another factor to consider is the effects electronic devices are having on kids’ eye health. According to a 2015 survey by the American Optometric Association (AOA), 41 percent of parents say their kids spend three or more hours a day using digital devices.

Digital eye strain can cause burning, itchy or tired eyes, headaches, fatigue, loss of focus, blurred vision, double vision or head and neck pain, according to AOA.

Research also suggests that the blue light these devices emit may affect vision and lead to age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which can cause blindness down the line.   

Related: 5 Best Foods For Healthy Eyes

10. And finally, one of the best healthy back to school tips? Learn to say “no”

Between homework, after-school activities and coordinating schedules, if you’re like me, you don’t stop all day.

I also find nearly every week there are extras that the schools ask you to help out with like school fundraisers, classroom parties and field trips.

I particular dislike “crazy hair day,” and “silly socks day,” that I just don’t have time for.

My advice is to get good at saying no. Sure, homework is a priority, but running the bake sale? Not so much.

Also, carve out some me-time anywhere you can get it.

Maybe it’s your favorite early morning class at the gym, meeting a friend for coffee on Saturday morning, or just taking 10 minutes to meditate after the kids go to sleep.

Whatever me-time looks like for you, put your oxygen mask on first. It will make you a better mom and better equipped to handle the school year. 

10 Easy and Healthy School Lunch Ideas  These nutritionist-approved easy and healthy school lunch ideas will make back-to-school stress-free.

10 Easy and Healthy School Lunch Ideas

These nutritionist-approved easy and healthy school lunch ideas will make back-to-school stress-free.

When it comes to packing a healthy school lunch, do you often find yourself in a rut, relying on the same ho-hum foods every day?

I certainly do.

Call me boring, but in an effort to make things easy for myself and my husband, I cook a large batch of lentil stew on Sunday that lasts most of the week.

We definitely switch things up a bit and use leftover chicken or salmon, make egg salad or crack open a can of sardines, but the key for us is that school lunch is healthy, quick and easy.

The funny thing is that my kids actually don’t seem to mind eating the same school lunches over and over again.

Still, I know that exposing them to a wide variety of foods is important if I want to raise kids who are healthy, adventurous foodies.

So on a quest for creative, easy and healthy school lunches, I found some great options.

All of these ideas were developed from nutritionists, so they have a guaranteed health stamp of approval, and they’re super quick to boot.

Related: 10 Best Tips For Packing a Healthy School Lunch