Sunday, October 30, 2011

5 Delicious Ways to Serve Up Leafy Green Vegetables

While the delicate greens of summer are a distant memory in most farmers’ markets, hearty winter greens can be found in many locations. This beautiful dinosaur, or lacinto, kale made a delicious stir-fry after a recent trip to a Raleigh, North Carolina.

When it comes to veggies, the experts agree: Enjoying 1/2 to 1 cup of nutrient-rich leafy greens every day is a super smart nutrition decision. Greens are packed with vitamins, minerals, and fiber - plus they may reduce the risk of heart disease and some cancers. Now, that’s the kind of news you can really dig into!

1. Toss leafy greens into a salad.

All the best salads start with leafy greens. In terms of veggies (and fruits), the darker the color the more nutrition in the produce. So, start all your salads with Romaine and red lettuces, baby spinach, or maybe some arugula. Then, add a variety of colorful chopped produce. Strawberries, craisins, and bananas go great with fresh spinach.

2. Chop leafy greens into a stir-fry.

Almost any vegetable works great in a stir-fry, especially when combined with thin slices of lean beef, pork, chicken, or tofu. Chopped leafy greens, such as spinach, kale, and various Chinese cabbages, are the perfect addition to stir-fried dishes. Since leafy veggies cook quickly at high heat, add them just before serving the stir-fry.

3. Stir leafy greens into a hearty soup.

Soups are another easy way to enjoy leafy green vegetables. Flavorful varieties, such as mustard greens, beet greens, and kale, are especially good in bean and lentil soups. Greens also cook quickly in hot liquids, so chop them into medium-sized pieces and add 10 minutes before serving. A few greens can really jazz up canned soups as well.

4. Roll leafy greens into a sandwich wrap.

Start with a tortilla or pita bread. Choose some protein (tuna or chicken salad, sliced turkey, or roast beef, low-fat cheese, etc.). Then, add a layer of leafy greens. Romaine lettuce, baby spinach, and arugula are great greens for wraps. They’re also really tasty on top of pizza (toss lightly with olive oil or lemon juice and serve on cooked pizza).

5. Steam or sauté leafy greens into a side dish.

Fresh leafy greens can quickly be made into a delicious side for any meal. Steam and season with a little lemon juice; sauté with garlic or green onions; or microwave for 2 minutes and top with a little olive oil. For additional flavor, sprinkle lightly with cheese (feta, blue, or Gorgonzola) or chopped nuts (almonds, pecans, or walnuts).

Friday, October 21, 2011

5 Fun Ways to Fashion a Greener (and Healthier) Halloween

Halloween is a wonderful excuse to have fall fun with children. Use these simple ideas to reduce the mounds of paper and plastic trash from a typical celebration. They’ll also make this year’s Halloween friendlier to the environment and to your pocketbook.

1. Fashion a Halloween party of your own.

Skip all the treat-or-trick worries about children’s safety and managing those gigantic piles of candy. Plan a neighborhood party at your home or larger event in a community facility. Have fun with old-fashioned, yet trendy activities and games, such as carving pumpkins (or squash) or Pin-the-Tail on the scarecrow (or donkey, if you want to be traditional).

2. Fashion costumes from reused/recyclable stuff.

Start with the basics: a pair of tights and a turtleneck. Then, convert a large cardboard box into a computer, TV, or colorful toy block with a little paint. Use twigs, flowers, leaves, and a green sheet to dress up as Mother Nature. Make masks with paper mache and dig through your closets for costumes. Pick up extra costume pieces at garage sales or second hand stores.

3. Fashion decorations from nature.

Decorate with nature: leaves, sticks, wheat, gourds, sunflowers, and other fall items create a wonderful atmosphere (and they can be composted afterwards). Make a scarecrow using old clothes stuffed with other old clothes or newspaper (reused plastic grocery bags can help prevent soggy stuffing). You can always add straw to the edges for the authentic touch.

4. Fashion trash into Halloween décor.

Make luminaries out of used tin cans: use a large nail and a hammer to punch out designs, paint the outside, and add some sand to hold a small candle. Turn glass bottles into candle holders and plastic containers into Halloween creatures like cats, ghosts, and pumpkins. Old sheets hung from ceilings or trees make good ghosts (wash and use for cleaning up later).

5. Fashion seasonal foods into party treats.

Purchase seasonal ingredients from your farmer’s market. Use pumpkin or squash for soups, breads, and muffins. Enjoy fall greens like baby spinach, with dried cranberries and nuts for a delicious salad. Slice local apples and dip in fat-free caramel or peanut butter. Challenge guests to make edible creatures with apple slices, PB, raisins, grated cheese, and other items.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

WELL FED or FED UP: 5 Facts Everyone Should Know About Food at School

Last week Sarah Wu revealed that, as Mrs. Q, she had documented a year of unappealing meals in her Chicago school classroom. Looking at the photos, I understand why she was fed up and, in fact, I agree with many of the action steps suggested in her book.

The problem is that Mrs. Q’s view of school lunch was a narrow snapshot in one school. The good news is that her book does not in any way represent the revolutionary changes that are leading what I like to call the Health-ification of School Lunch. This good news is showcased every day in the entries on School Meals That Rock.

I urge Mrs. Q and anyone concerned about food at school to visit districts of excellence taste the difference where the food meets the tray. Here are five key facts and outstanding schools where children are well fed every day:

1. There has been a REAL revolution in serving FRESH food in schools. Scratch cooking and local foods are two of the most important trends in school meals today. Many schools make their own pizza crust and at least one Missouri school even makes fresh mozzarella cheese! Even in large district’s central kitchens, they’re baking whole grain rolls and using local produce. Check out the beautiful trays and trends from dietitian Lisa Wiedner and the staff at Cypress-Fairbanks ISD outside of Houston (TX) on their website and Facebook page.

2. Over 1,500 schools have met the HealthierUS School Challenge. As one example, thanks to dedicated school nutrition professionals and leadership from the Office of Healthy Schools, dozens of Mississippi schools have won HUSSC awards, including 11 schools in Lamar County. Purvis High School received the first Gold with Distinction in the nation. In a state that gets a ‘bad rap’ for nutrition in general, leaders like Lamar County Child Nutrition Director Becke Bounds have stepped up to the ‘tray’ to make a real difference in children’s lives.

3. School nutrition programs serve amazing meals on minimal budgets. In the multi-cultural, high-risk, urban environment of Portland (OR) Public Schools, director Gitta Grether-Sweeney, MS, RD, and a staff of registered dietitians and public health professionals have created an outstanding Nutrition Services Department. Their amazing Harvest of the Month and Local Flavors programs are done with the 2011-12 USDA Reimbursements Rates of $1.51-1.80 for school breakfast and $2.77-2.94 for school lunch. When discussing school meals, it’s critical to remember that USDA reimbursement rates must cover both food and labor costs.

4. Food safety is job #1 in school kitchens everywhere. With heightened concerns about food safety (including in brown bag lunches from home), parents should know that school cafeterias are some of the safest and cleanest places to eat in American. In order to get USDA reimbursement for meals, schools must follow stringent requirements and develop extensive food safety plans. The recent ratings of the schools in Rutherford County (NC) Child Nutrition Programs are a perfect example, with all schools receiving an A rating with scores of 98.5% or above.

5. Supporting your local school cafeteria helps continue improvements. School nutrition programs do best when lots of students and staff enjoy their meals. If you want your school to serve more local foods, do more scratch cooking, and offer nutrition education, get involved in a proactive and positive way by reading Tips for Working with School Programs.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Five Easy Ways to Enjoy Mealtime Conversations

Family mealtimes really matter – to children and to adults. Mealtimes matter both for the nutrition from MyPlate on the Dinner Table and for the conversations family and friends have around the table.

More positive mealtime conversations can help family communication, language skills, and even performance at school. Here are five easy ways to enhance the quality of conversations at any meal.

Create a relaxed atmosphere.

Quality conversations require a calming atmosphere – with minimal distractions. This means turning off the TV and radio news programs; it also means setting aside cell phones (except for emergency calls, of course). Music can be a nice addition – if it is tranquil, peaceful, and played at low volume.

Focus on laughter and learning.

Meals are generally not productive times to discuss difficult or stressful issues. They are wonderful times to share funny stories and to learn new views on current events. Make a family commitment to focus only on the positive at the mealtimes. Save disciplinary matters and problems for another time of day.

Respect and involve every family member.

Even very small children want to be part of the conversation. Make a conscious effort to engage everyone at the table. Be patient with those who take longer to express a thought – and actively seek out the opinions of those who tend to be quieter. Sometimes it helps to go around the table person-by-person.

Use conversation starters.

Tired of conversations that fall silent after a minute or two? Conversation starter cards may be just what your family needs to keep things lively at the table. Eat Right Montana Conversation Starters can be downloaded from the website (scroll down to April 2007).

Enjoy different viewpoints.

Promoting positive conversations doesn’t mean that everyone has to agree on everything. Establish a few ground rules – like no teasing, criticizing, rude comments about other people, or talking while someone else is talking. Listen thoughtfully to each other – and help children learn to appreciate differences.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

MyPlate on the Dinner Table

The USDA MyPlate healthy eating icon is the perfect tool for starting a healthy makeover of your family’s evening meals. Eating the MyPlate way is delicious, convenient, and easy on your food budget. has pages of helpful tips, details about the food groups, and ways to plan personalized menus.


Want to save money on your food bills and make sure your family is getting the nutrition they need to feel great and stay healthy? The keys to dinnertime success are planning, planning, and planning. Seriously, planning ahead makes all the difference.

Write down a week of menus: Set aside a little weekend time to plan for the week ahead. You don’t need a fancy menu - plain paper or a computer calendar will do just fine. Consider each day’s schedule and how much time you will have to focus on dinner. Get family input - let everyone have a night or two for their favorite foods.

Keep the kitchen stocked with staples: Having plenty of healthy staples on hand makes it easy to follow your planned menus and to be creative when things don’t work out like you thought they should. Staples include canned beans and dry pasta in the cupboard, milk and cheese in the fridge, and frozen veggies in the freezer.


Put produce on half your plate: MyPlate’s key message is that we all need to eat more fruits and veggies. Fresh produce is fabulous, when it’s in season and the price is right. Remember, frozen vegetables are often less expensive and just as nutrient-rich! Canned produce works too, just rinse under cold water to reduce sodium or syrup.

Divide half into whole grains and lean protein: MyPlate suggests filling the other half of your plate with lean proteins and grains (whole when possible). Make a tasty combo with black beans in a whole-wheat tortilla; grilled fish and brown rice; baked chicken and pasta; or a bowl of beef chili with homemade cornbread.

Serve ice-cold milk with meals: Most of us are not getting calcium, vitamin D, and potassium. That’s why MyPlate recommends low-fat dairy with every meal. A refreshing 8 oz. glass of fat-free or 1% milk with every meal will help you fill those nutrient gaps - so that you can build and maintain strong bones for life.


The best part of a healthy dinner is enjoying it with family or friends. MyPlate also suggests we learn to savor our meals - eating more mindfully and slowly.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Putting the F-U-N into Walking and Biking to School

It's Walk to School Week 2011 ... with a brand new theme: Hike It. Bike It. I like it.

Walking and biking to school is a win-win-win for kids and communities. First, there are real health benefits. Kids, and the adults with them, get the activity they need for optimal health and well-being. Secondly, there are academic “wins” because children who are fit and healthy are ready to learn. And, finally, there are environmental benefits. When more kids get to school under their own power, it reduces traffic and vehicle emissions, especially in and around school zones.


  • Explore the safest routes: Teach kids how to walk with and without sidewalks and how to cross busy streets, as well as how and where to ride a bicycle properly.
  • Check all equipment for safety: Make sure that shoes fit well and are properly laced. Make sure that bike helmets fit properly and that bike parts are in good repair.
  • Create a walking school bus: Many communities have specific routes where adults are available to help many students walk together (


Walking and biking to school can easily become part of your family’s active lifestyle. Here are ten ways to put some fun into the transportation time to and from school:

  1. Tell a story: Walking and talking is a great time for make-believe and tall tales.
  2. Play a word game: Use creative ways to practice language skills for school.
  3. Do what “Simon Says”: Take turns telling people to hop, jump, skip, or twirl.
  4. Go geochaching: School routes are perfect for GPS hiding and seeking.
  5. Have a scavenger hunt: Choose a theme, like things that start with A or Z.
  6. Sing a song: Music - and easy lyrics - can lift the spirits along any path.
  7. Practice dance steps: Talk about fun! Pretend you’re in your favorite musical!
  8. Take a few photos: Digital cameras make it a snap to have lots of photo fun.
  9. Walk the dog: Furry folks need activity as much as their human families.
  10. Share some special time: Kids love to have time with adults who care.


Take a few extra minutes to get your children into the habit of walking and biking to school. Make it a win-win-win for their physical, mental, and emotional health.