Saturday, December 17, 2011

Simple Ways to Be Active - and Give a Gift TOO!

In our busy, stressful lives, two things can be in short supply (especially at the holidays) - time and money. We don’t have time to go to the gym or stick to a fitness routine. And, we don’t have money for all the presents we want to give or all the donations we want to make. These simple, active solutions solve both problems at once!

1. Walk someone’s dog.

Both dogs and their walkers get real health benefits. For older folks or those with disabilities, getting a dog out and about can be difficult. Offer to regularly walk a friend or neighbor’s dog and everyone wins. You’ve given someone a real gift, plus both you and the dog will be in better shape. Shelter dogs also need walking, which can be your donation to the facility. To give equal time to both my grand-puppies, this is Lilli who lives in Philly on a walk to the local dog park with me this fall.

2. Play with someone’s kids.

Children nearly always have more energy than busy parents, especially single parents. And, most American kids aren’t getting anywhere near the 60 minutes of daily activity they need. Set up a regular playdate for sledding, biking, Frisbee® or shooting hoops - and you will give your nieces, nephews, or neighbors (and their parents) a precious gift.

3. Remove someone’s snow.

In Montana and many other states, getting rid of snow can be a regular fitness activity for several months of the year. Helping a relative, friend, or neighbor keep their sidewalks and driveway clear can be a real gift to them - and outdoor physical activity for you! (To be safe and injury-free, make sure to wear hat and gloves; warm up before starting; and shovel small amounts carefully.)

4. Help with someone’s yard work.

All across the country, yard work is a year-round activity (which can be very expensive to pay for). If working outside is something you enjoy, give a neighbor, friend, or relative the gift of your time and energy. Better yet, offer to share yard time with someone: By working together in each other’s yards, you’ll have someone to talk to and the time will go faster.

5. Introduce someone to your favorite fitness activity.

If you belong to a fitness center or gym - or take regular dance or yoga classes, invite a friend to go with you. Most businesses offer free passes to potential new members and many offer a two-for-one package, especially around the holidays. While there may be a small price-tag for this gift, you can offer courtesy ‘chauffeur’ services to get them there and back.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Furry Treadmills, Virtual Trainers, and other Green Fitness Tips

Green fitness is a way to improve your health while minimizing your environmental impact. These tips combine green principles with frugality: saving money, getting strong, and reducing waste - all at the same time.

1. Think of your dog as a treadmill with fur.

This is definitely my favorite form of green activity, especially during the winter when my “grandpuppy” Rok stays with me. How could anyone resist that adorable snowy face! We walk 2-3 hours every day in every kind of Montana winter weather. I keep a wide selection of warm outwear and boots near the door – ready for his wagging tail and “please-take-me-out” eyes. Going out for a dog walk is definitely the highlight of his day – and mine! It’s even better when we each have a friend with us to walk-and-talk.

Many dogs can use an activity upgrade as much as their owners! Getting serious about dog walks will be good for you and good for your pet. If you are both out of the shape you would like to become, start slowly and take it easy. A couple of shorter, vigorous walks (20-30 minutes) may be more effective and easier to fit into your day. No dog at home? No problem! Walk a friend’s furry little treadmill – or contact your local animal shelter or pet rescue group about walking their dogs.

2. Become a regular library patron.

No, reading is not a fitness activity (unless you read while pedaling a stationary bike). However, libraries are an incredible resource for information that gets used over and over again (a great way to reduce waste). Check out your local library for fitness information – DVDs, CDs, tapes, books, and magazines – which are all free (a great way to save money). To turn any library visit into a serious strength builder, walk or bike to the library with your books and other items in a backpack.

3. Turn your home into a thrifty gym.

It’s no fitness myth: You can get strong at home without fancy equipment or expensive club memberships. All it takes is a minimal investment (hand weights, a mat, and maybe a stability ball – remember to check garage sales) and some items around the house, such as chairs and a couple of stairs. For simple instructions, check out a book from your local library or use a no-charge, online virtual fitness trainer, like the one at Strong Women. Minimal cost, maximum strength!

4. Get good with a resistance band.

Resistance bands are probably the most versatile, flexible, and portable fitness equipment on earth. They take up minimal storage place and use no electricity (making them more environmentally-friendly than exercise machines). Best of all, they are cheap: less than $10 for one band or under $20 for a set with several sizes. Most bands come with simple instructions – and you can find dozens of videos for strengthening every part of your body online.

You may want to consider other possibilities that are not quite as cheap or as green, such as buying used equipment. Most in-home fitness stuff (treadmills, stationary bikes, elliptical trainers, gym sets, etc.) is never used again after the first six months, so it ends up in garage sales, online classified sites, and second-hand sports stores. Look for good quality items (read consumer reviews first) and test them carefully to make certain they are still in working order.

Monday, December 5, 2011

5 Nutrient-Rich Ways to Make Meaningful Food Donations

During this time of holiday giving for those in need, most food banks/pantries prefer cash donations, so that they can maximize their purchase of most-needed items. When you do donate food, focus on the nutrient-rich options listed below. Most locations will refuse perishable items, homemade products, unlabeled cans, home canned foods, and any open packages.

1. Donate protein foods.

These more expensive items are usually very welcome donations for hungry families. Options include canned tuna, salmon, and chicken. Canned meals - such as beef stew, chili, or hearty soups - are also good choices. Other shelf stable proteins include nuts, sunflower seeds, and peanut butter, as well as canned beans, peas, and lentils.

2. Donate whole grain foods.

Grain staples are important foods for every family. Maximize the nutritional value of your food donations by choosing whole grain options whenever possible. Meaningful options include whole grain pastas, quick cooking brown rice, and breakfast cereals that are lower in sugar and higher in fiber (ex. oatmeal, Cheerios®, and Chex®).

3. Donate canned/dried fruits and 100% juices.

Fruit and 100% juice are good sources of vitamin C (and sometimes vitamin A), as well as potassium. Excellent shelf-staple options include fruits canned in juice (pineapple, peaches, apricots, etc.), as well as applesauce and dried fruit (without added sugar, if possible). Purchase 100% fruit juice or juice mixtures in cans, boxes, or plastic bottles.

4. Donate canned vegetables and 100% juice.

Reduced-sodium veggies are also important sources of vitamins, potassium, and fiber, while veggie juice can be an excellent source of vitamins A and C. Tomato products - such as tomato sauce, stewed tomatoes, chopped tomatoes, prepared spaghetti sauce, and 100% tomato juice - are especially nutritious and versatile items to donate.

5. Donate shelf-stable dairy foods.

Dairy foods are important for families, especially growing children. Cash donations to food banks can help to purchase low-fat fluid milk, cheese, and yogurt. You can also make direct donations of shelf-stable products, including dehydrated milk powder instant breakfast, and evaporated canned milk.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Behind the Ridiculous Headlines to the Real School Lunch Heroes: From Pawtucket to Portland

Over the past two weeks, media coverage of America’s school lunches has – thankfully – gone from worse to wonderful. First, the pizza-as-veggie headlines erupted into ridiculousness after Congress voted on November 17th to make some changes in the proposed rule for new USDA school meal standards.

For the record, “Congress did not declare pizza as a vegetable” (Washington Post). Tomato paste did become one more topic for partisan political bickering In DC, as outlined by the St. Petersburg Times Truth-o-Meter on November 22nd.

Fortunately, “lunch ladies” set the record straight for themselves with a primetime performance on the November 22nd episode of Food Network’s Chopped. As four school nutrition professionals sliced and diced their way to TV fame, America saw, firsthand, the creativity and commitment that go into preparing millions of healthful meals for hungry children every day. It’s no wonder that White House Policy Advisor for Healthy Food Initiatives, Chef Sam Kass, declared, ”These women are heroes.”

The good news for American kids is that these Chopped Class Acts contestants, led by top prize winner Cheryl Barbara from New Haven, Connecticut, represent thousands of unsung heroes in schools from coast to coast. Here are three of my favorite school districts, representing the real revolution in our school cafeterias – positive stories and photos showing Washington, DC, that America's "Lunch Ladies" are way ahead of you on pizza AND vegetables.

Just northeast of NewHaven, in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, Solange Morrisette is the General Manger of the foodservice management
contract with the district (serving 9,000+ kids, 71% free/reduced) and Co-Chair of Rhode Island’s Healthy Schools Coalition. With ten HealthierUS School Challenge Awardwinning schools, Panini stations, and made-from-scratch sweet potato muffins, Pawtucket is dedicated to putting delicious nutrition – locally grown whenever possible – on school trays every day. Everything on this October fruit and veggie bar is Rhode Island grown except the grapes!

As we head to the other coast, let’s make a stopover in Provo, Utah, where director Jenilee McComb oversees an award-winning Child Nutrition Program, serving 14,600+ students with about 45% eligible for free/reduced meals. The Provo Facebook page is a wonderful window into how local schools feed and support local communities, by buying from local farms and orchards, serving Thanksgiving family feasts, and celebrating Veterans’ Day with Heroes Lunch at school. Like many school districts, Provo has brought ideas from local chefs to school – and put some unexpected foods, like Quinoa and Black Bean Salad, on the menu.
Where Interstate 84 nears the Pacific coast, 3,000+ miles from Rhode Island, the large, urban Portland, Oregon, Public School District serves 46,000+ students (45% free/reduced) in 88 schools with 240 foodservice staff. In this ethnically diverse city, the Nutrition Services Department, directed by Gitta Grether-Sweeney, MS, RD, has menu descriptions in 6 languages and serves 11,000 breakfasts, 21,000 lunches, and 2,000 suppers daily – with no a la carte sales. Portland purchases over 30% of its products from local vendors for Farm to School programs like Harvest of the Month and Local Flavors, illustrated on this eye-catching tray with made-from-scratch lasagna and whole grain breadstick, plus Oregon apples, pears, greens, pasta, and more. With a strong commitment to school gardens and nutrition education, Portland is a prime example of excellence in school nutrition.

From sea to shining sea, three very different districts doing what’s right for kids’ nutrition every school day – and through the summer months as well. Breakfast, lunch, and sometimes supper, the everyday heroes in school cafeterias are helping our children to make smart choices for strong bodies and sharp brains. That’s what should make the headlines in DC – and every other American community.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

PIZZA-ON-THE-BRAIN (and on the grill)

The media has recently been obsessed with the pizza is schools - but they have gotten the story all wrong. There Are PLENTY of pizza veggies in schools - on top of pizzas (like the local tomatoes in this photo from Foster-Glocester High School in Rhode Island), as side dishes (summer squash, zucchini, green/red peppers, carrots, and onion here), and incredible varieties on salad bars.

Pizza at school us so much more than the inside-the-beltway food fight would have you believe! Check out the amazing pizzas being served from coast to coast on School Meals That Rock.

For at home treats, I heartily recommend pizza-on-the-grill. From much trial and error (uncooked, burnt-to-a-crisp, and everything in between), here’s what I have learned grilling pizza.
  • Get well organized beforehand. Once things get cooking, you need to keep the pizza assembly line moving steadily while the grill is hot. (I generally save my wine to drink with the pizza.)
  • Aim for a medium-hot grill with coals (heat) well-spaced underneath the cooking area. Too hot, you’ll have a burnt crust, too cold and nothing will melt on the top. You can put the crust directly on the grill or, as I prefer, use a metal pizza pan with holes.
  • Go minimalist with toppings. This is not the place for your favorite man-cave, five-meat, four-cheese pizza recipe. If you load up the toppings, the heat will have trouble getting through to melt the flavors together.
  • Make it a group effort. Actually, very little effort is required when many hands are involved. Guests and family can help chop and prepare toppings. Then, as the crusts come off their first round on the grill, folks can create their own unique and flavorful combinations.

  1. Prepare dough. Roll out smallish (1-2 person) pizzas that are thinner in the center and have a small rim around the edge.
  2. Grill crust on one side until golden brown. Time required may be as little as 5 minutes, depending on the temperature of the grill. Burst any dough bubbles that rise on the top of crust.
  3. Flip pizza and add sauce and toppings on the cooked side of the crust.
  4. Place uncooked side of pizza on grill; cover and cook until ingredients are heated throughout and bottom crust is golden. Cheese should melt but may not bubble as it would in oven.
  5. Remove from grill; let cool for a minute or two on a cutting board or counter top. Slice and serve with a tossed baby green salad, your favorite summer wine or ale, and fruit for dessert.

  • Grill
  • Metal pizza pan with holes. While I always use a pizza stone in the oven, I find that they don’t get hot enough on a charcoal grill.
  • Nice big spatula (for moving pizza around)
  • Plenty of cutting boards or counter space (to cool and cut pizzas on)
  • Rolling pizza cutter (easier than a knife)


  • Use your favorite pizza dough recipe. Make certain that it can be rolled (or stretched) to be relatively thin so it can cook quickly.
  • I let my bread machine do the kneading (so that I can take an afternoon walk). I use high-gluten bread flour and a simple recipe that includes olive oil and honey, adapted from Laura Werlin’s All-American Wine and Cheese Book (which also is the basis for one of my fav topping combos, noted below).
  • Go lightly with sauce, if you use any at all. Since the heat is mostly below the pizza, too much sauce can make the crust soggy and keep the other ingredients from heating up nicely. Instead of sauce, brush crust lightly with olive oil, flavored if you like. Instead of plain tomato sauce, consider a thin layer of pesto or spicy BBQ.
  • I favor light, local, fresh ingredients in unusual combinations. The combo that I love from Werlin’s book is Gruyere, wild mushrooms, and arugula (any tender green could be used). The mushrooms are drizzled with olive oil and lightly roasted in the oven or on the grill. The arugula is tossed with fresh lemon juice and olive oil; then placed on the fully cooked pizza.
  • Other delicious options: leftover Thanksgiving turkey (!!), grilled chicken, salmon, sausages, vegetables (asparagus to zucchini) and/or fruit (think pineapple) cooked just prior to the pizza. For cheese, think beyond the typical pizza blend to Asiago, blue, Chevre, feta, Gouda, Pecorino, and Swiss.

Sunday, November 13, 2011


I have breakfast on the brain. Not only am I going to New Mexico as a speaker at their School Breakfast Summit on Tuesday, but I also saw beautiful breakfasts in the Alma Public Schools last week.

Breakfast is essential for success at school (and also very important for how adults perform at work). Kids who regularly eat breakfast tend to have a greater ability to focus on tasks, better classroom behavior, and improved test scores.

When you skip breakfast, your brain does not have the fuel it needs to learn new information or concentrate on complex tasks. If your family’s morning schedule is sometimes too complicated for a sit-down breakfast, plan to get one on-the-go.


When you need breakfast on the run, a little planning can save both time and money. By planning ahead, you can skip the fast food drive-thru or convenience store stop - and make sure that your family has the high-octane nutrition they need to succeed.

  • Breakfast in the car: Bring breakfast from home for better nutrition and less money. While not all breakfast foods travel well, there are plenty of delicious options.
  • Breakfast at school: Many schools have great breakfast programs. Cost is minimal (free for eligible families) and the convenience is awesome. Ask about it at your school.
  • Breakfast at your desk: A mid-AM desk-fast may be an option for adults and teens who don’t like to eat first thing. Plan to use items that travel well in a backpack.


  • Whole grains: Whole grains are the best AM choices for high octane carbohydrate energy. Easy-to-carry choices include: multi-grain bagels, oatmeal-fruit muffins, trail mix made with a whole grain cold cereal, or a favorite sandwich on whole grain bread.
  • Calcium-rich foods and drinks: Most young people (and many adults) are not meeting calcium needs. Low-fat/fat-free dairy foods in AM (milk, yogurt, and cheese) can provide one of your 3-Every-Day. String cheese is perfect for eating on the run.
  • Colorful fruits: While veggies are for breakfast too, most of us are more likely to eat fruit in the AM. Fortunately, fruit - the original fast food - travels well, esp. dried fruit (by itself or in trail mix) and pre-sliced (for convenience) apples, pears, and oranges.


You can have a power breakfast anywhere -- at home, in the car, at school, or even at your desk. The key is to have a balanced breakfast every day, so that your brain is properly fueled for the learning and living.

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.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Weight and Bullying

Bullying is increasingly a major concern of parents, teachers, and school administrators. Kids may be bullied for a variety of reasons - or for no real reason at all. Weight-related bullying is not a new phenomenon. With all the current media attention to childhood obesity, this type of bullying seems to be increasing among students of all ages.

What we know

  • Being overweight can increase the chances of a child being bullied: Several recent studies have confirmed that obese children were twice as likely to be bullied than other kids.
  • Bullying can take a toll on a child’s physical and mental health: Medical experts say that being bullied can have serious effects on both physical and emotional well-being.
  • A student’s academic performance may also be affected by bullying: A 2011 study found that bullying victims often show a long-lasting decrease in grade point averages.

What parents can do

1: Talk to your children about all types of bullying.

  • Children are often afraid to talk about being bullying by their peers. They may be especially embarrassed if they already feel shamed or blamed about their weight.
  • Watch for signs that your child may be dealing with bullies, like problems at school or with previous friends. Keep asking and talking whenever you are concerned.

2: Take a zero-tolerance policy on weight-related teasing at home.

  • Teasing - or any negative comments - about a child’s weight can have long-lasting effects on self-esteem. They may even be the first step toward an eating disorder.
  • If you have concerns about a child’s health status, discuss them privately with your health care provider first. Make appropriate lifestyle changes for the whole family.

3: Help your school understand weight-related bullying.

  • If a child is bullied at school, find out who has responsibility for bullying issues in the district. Meet with them as soon as possible and keep a record of your meetings.
  • Request that weight issues be included in your district’s anti-bullying education. The Yale Rudd Center has useful materials at

4: Help all children enjoy Health at Every Size®.

  • Children of all shapes, sizes, and weights benefit from delicious nutrition and fun fitness. At home and school, encourage everyone to eat smarter and move more.
  • For more about Health at Every Size® for children, download Everybody in Schools Curriculum Unit Resource Kit

Friday, September 9, 2011

Revisiting 9/11 with Comfort Food

I originally wrote this column on September 18, 2001. As we focus on the 10th anniversary of this national tragedy, I believe that the benefits of eating together with family and friends are just an important. A recent issue of the Dairy Council of California Health Connections newsletter explored this issue in depth: Raising Healthy Eaters, Benefits and Challenges of Gathering Around the Table (Summer 2011).


“Food to a large extent is what holds a society together and eating is closely linked to deep spiritual experiences.”

[Peter Farb in Consuming Passions: The Anthropology of Eating, 1983]

When I wrote my Nutrition News column last week, the world was a different place. The events of September 11, 2001, have left our lives more complicated, intensely painful, and very uncertain. At this point, to continue writing about sugar and health seems trivial and unrelated to the rhythms of life after such a disaster. As I move back and forth through shock, anger, fear, sorrow and hope, I – like all of you – am trying to put this tragedy into the context of my work and my family’s life.

I believe that food, and nutrition, have important roles in our lives as we move through personal grief, national tragedy, and global insecurity. On Friday, the National Day of Remembrance and Prayer, I invited friends to dinner and began to make bread – to make bread by hand, not by machine. In kneading dough, baking bread, preparing dinner and setting the table, I began to feel calmer and more settled – the solace of simple things in troubled times.

Since then, I have listened carefully to wise thoughts from religious leaders, poets, counselors, musicians and others. Many themes for healing, recovery and “getting back to normal” begin to emerge. Some words are mentioned repeatedly – family, ritual and community among them. Many people have also spoken of reordered priorities, of reminders of that which is truly important, of refocusing our lives on those things that really matter. Naturally, from my nutrition perspective, all these themes keep bringing me back to food.

In terms of food, the important things are the simple things: meals prepared for loved ones; nurturing food given generously; homegrown produce eaten in the garden; and bread, the staff of life, broken together. In the words of feeding expert, Ellyn Satter: “Eating is about regard for ourselves, our connection with our bodies, and our commitment to life itself.” [Secret of Feeding a Healthy Family, Kelcy Press, 1999]

My nutrition thoughts today are not about what to eat, but about how to eat. Since the beginning of human culture, eating together has been important to families and communities – and the rituals that bind us together.

Think about those words – and special meals come to mind. Holiday meals like Thanksgiving and Passover, shared meals like church potlucks and office parties, celebratory meals like birthdays and anniversaries.

Unfortunately, in our fast food culture, everyday meals have too often been seen as something to get through quickly – so that we can get on to something more important. In this troubled time, as we search for a sense of safety, there may be nothing more important than rediscovering the joy and security of good food eaten with others.

As we face the uncertainty of the future, cooking and eating together are among the simple things that can comfort us. The strength we seek, as well as nourishment, health, communication, and stronger family bonds, are as close as our kitchens and dining rooms. Here are a few ways to make food and nutrition even better than “normal” in the weeks ahead.

  • Cook together. Preparing food is a loving way to share time and bring generations together. Measuring, stirring, and chopping can be as comforting as other routine, everyday tasks. Kneading bread can be downright therapeutic.
  • Eat together. Make family meals a real priority as often as you can. If you live alone, reach out to family, friends, or co-workers – and break bread together. Eat together at home, eat together at restaurants, eat together at work, eat together at a picnic.
  • Turn off the television. Even in normal times, television makes it hard to eat well. The repetitive images of recent destruction can literally make us sick to our stomachs. Take a break from the news and focus on the tastes, smells and textures of food.
  • Return to rituals. Families have many rituals for meals – prayers, a moment of silence, joining of hands, candles, or festive touches, like flowers and special dishes. Making rituals part of everyday meals ties us to the past and to hope for the future.
  • Take time to share. Slow down and share – food, fellowship, memories, tears, laughter, and the joy of time together. Even small children can learn to share in conversations at the table. Give everyone time to share what is important to them.
  • Invite others to join you for a meal. A sense of community is one of the strongest ways to fight fear and move forward. By joining with others around the table, you can begin to take comfort from the nourishing food and loving companionship.

“Eating is not merely a material pleasure. Eating well gives a spectacular joy to life and contributes immensely to goodwill and happy companionship. It is of great importance to the morale.”

[Elsa Schiaparelli, Shocking Life, 1954]

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Flavored Milk Wars: Is a tempest in a milk carton good for kids’ nutrition?

As a Registered Dietitian (RD) who has dedicated more than 30 years of my work and volunteer life to child nutrition, I’m bewildered by the intensity of efforts to ban flavored milk from schools. Petition drives, community forums, hyperbolic sound bites – really? Is this all about 10 or 12 grams of sugar? I wonder if these confrontational tactics are best the thing for improving children’s nutrition. Might our time be better spent collaborating on a school garden, a salad bar, or a campaign to get more calcium into kids?

First, let’s take a look at the facts about the flavored milk served in schools today. This is not a “milkshake” in a plastic bottle nor the flavored milk that you drank in school. In just the past five years, the dairy industry has responded to nutrition concerns and renovated their products dramatically.

  • From 2006 to 2011, the average calories in flavored milk decreased by 23 calories – to just under 143 calories in 8 ounces. This is only 39 more calories than white milk.
  • Decreasing calories has been accomplished by reducing fat (to fat-free milk) and reducing added sugar. Added sugar in flavored milk has declined by 30% – by 5 grams per cup – over the past 5 years.
  • Many dairies now offer flavored milk with just 10 to 12 grams of added sugar per cup. Some anti-flavor activists fail to remember all milk has 12 grams of natural sugar (lactose) straight from the cow!
  • For example, the fat-free chocolate milk served in New York City public schools has just 130 calories, 22 grams of total sugar, that’s 12 grams from naturally occurring lactose and 10 grams of added sugar.

Next, let’s keep our eyes on the nutrition prize. While some children in the US are getting too many calories for their activity level, a significant number of children are seriously under-nourished. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans listed four nutrients of concern for adults and children: calcium, vitamin D, potassium, and dietary fiber. These nutrients are “of concern” because our low consumption can affect our health today and in the future. Here ‘s how nutrients of concern relate to the flavored milk debate:

  • Just like white milk, flavored milk provides three of the nutrients of concern – all of them except dietary fiber.
  • All milks are nutrient-rich beverages. They are packed with what kids need for strong bodies – calcium, vitamin D, and potassium, as well as protein, phosphorus, and vitamins A, B12, riboflavin, and niacin.

Finally, let’s figure out how to work together to improve nutrition in schools and for families, especially those in low-income, at-risk neighborhoods. Improving child nutrition in the US is going to take serious collaboration – among parents, dietitians, chefs, and school nutrition professionals.

Banning flavored milk might have the potential for a tiny reduction in calories. However, several national and local studies have confirmed that it is also likely to reduce overall milk consumption. Is this really a smart approach? No one – not even dairy advocates – is suggesting that we should push flavored at kids. Let’s have fat-free flavored milk as one option in school cafeteria. Let’s not throw important nutrients out with misplaced concerns about small amounts of sugar.

Let’s put our passion for child nutrition toward effective collaborations on positive ways to improve access to delicious nutrient-rich, more-locally sourced foods at school and at home. Let’s get together on School Gardens, local Farm-to-School projects, and helping kids build “Best Bones Forever.”

Dayle Hayes, MS, RD, president of Nutrition for the Future, Inc., blogs at Nutrition for the Future and showcases the school nutrition revolution at School Meals That Rock. She is the immediate Past-Chair of the School Nutrition Services Dietetic Practice Group of the American Dietetic Association and also Co-Chair of Billings Action for Healthy Kids in her hometown of Billings, Montana. Dayle is proud to work with the dairy farm families represented by National Dairy Council and regional dairy councils, such as Western Dairy Association.