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Breakfast + Dinner: A Student’s Meal Ticket to Success

August 11, 2015

By Jessica Vician

Breakfast + Dinner: A Student’s Meal Ticket to Success | Your child can't focus or succeed in school if they're hungry. Be sure that they have a healthy breakfast to help them focus in class and a healthy dinner to help them sleep so they're rested the next morning. | A family eats breakfast in the morning.

“Breakfast might not just be the most important meal of a child’s day—it might be one of the most important meals of their life.”

If that’s not a statement that makes you want to stuff your child full of eggs, fruit, and whole wheat toast in the morning, I don’t know what is.

That statement opens a report from CNN about a study on the benefits of students eating breakfast versus the disadvantages of those students not eating breakfast.

The study found that kids who eat breakfast miss less school and do better in math, which in turn makes them 20 percent more likely to graduate high school. That might seem like a stretch, but the long-term study gets even more real when revealing those graduates will earn an average of $10,000 more annually than non-high school graduates.

The takeaway? If you want to increase the chances that your child will graduate from high school and therefore have a better life as an adult, you need to start by feeding him or her breakfast.

Why? Breakfast gives your child energy and nutrients that can help him or her focus in class. If your child is hungry, he or she can’t focus on what the teacher is doing, which will prevent him or her from learning and retaining skills and lessons.

Need some quick and healthy breakfast ideas

Okay, so you know why your child needs a nutritious breakfast. You also know that he or she will have a nutritious lunch at school. But what about dinner?

Dinner is also critical for your child’s success for the same reasons breakfast is. A healthy dinner gives your child the nutrients he or she needs to grow and be a healthy child. It also helps your child sleep better.

Sleep is critical to helping your child succeed in school. Without a proper night’s rest, your child will have trouble staying awake, paying attention, and retaining the day’s lessons in class. To help your child get a good night’s sleep, include protein and carbohydrates (meats, fish, beans and fiber-rich grains) at dinner.

This article offers quick and healthy dinner ideas, including a recipe.

If you are unable to afford to provide your child with breakfast in the morning, talk to the school about applying for the free and reduced price lunch program, which may extend to breakfast. For help providing a nutritious dinner, seek out a food assistance program.

For more information on how your child’s physical health affects his or her academic success, see the YOU: Your Child’s First Teacher books. 


ADHD or Lack of Movement?

June 23, 2015

By Jessica Vician

ADHD or Lack of Movement? In an article published on, a pediatric physical therapist found that many children in the classroom aren't moving enough. | A girl plays hopscotch.

You’ve heard the stories, or maybe you’ve experienced them yourself—children are having trouble focusing and sitting still in school. Teachers are having trouble holding students’ attention and are recommending that some parents have their children tested for ADHD (attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder).

There are many valid reasons for recommending these tests. From a parent’s perspective, it’s important to know if your child is struggling in the classroom so that you can help identify and address the problem. Once your child learns to manage whatever the issue may be, he or she will be better prepared to learn. recently featured the article, “Why so many kids can’t sit still in school today,” by a pediatric occupational therapist who has been fielding frequent calls regarding childhood ADHD.

But what this therapist found through a day of observation in a fifth grade classroom wasn’t a bunch of kids with ADHD. She found kids who had poor core fitness—their abdominal muscles weren’t strong enough to support proper balance. That’s right—the same reasons adults go to the gym to exercise our abs and use stability balls as chairs at work are just as important for our kids. Because of the students’ restricted movement throughout the day, they weren’t ready to sit still and learn.

You can read the article in its entirety here. This therapist’s experience isn’t unique—it’s likely happening with your kids, too. There are many questions we should be asking:

  • What can parents do to address this lack of mobility inside the classroom?
  • How can you spend this summer helping your child build core strength and improve his or her fitness
  • What will you do when your child starts school in the fall to keep him or her active and fit for the classroom?

Help other parents and share your ideas in the comments below or in the forum. We want to hear your solutions.


Our Love-Hate Relationship with Food

June 9, 2015

By Amelia Orozco

Our Love-Hate Relationship with Food | As the parent and your child’s first teacher, you have the power to set the tone when it comes to how you approach food and what your family eats. | A family of four sit at the dinner table, full of salad, roasted chicken, water, and tomatoes.

We can foster love or harbor hatred in a relationship. When we are hurt, we can choose to just walk away. Why then is it so difficult to turn our back on that slice of cake? Even when we know that eating unhealthy foods is harmful, we may fall into temptation for a number of reasons. Some of them are time-related. You may be running around in the morning and it is easier to pop a couple of waffles in the toaster than to make oatmeal. In the evening after a hectic day, you may opt for the microwave chicken nuggets for the kids instead of baked chicken.

Although these are quick fixes to the everyday problem of time management, they can easily become a way of life and a way of coping with stress. And if you’re modeling that behavior with your kids, they will likely do the same as they get older.

The good news is that just as bad habits are easily made, so are healthy ones. As the parent and your child’s first teacher, you have the power to set the tone when it comes to how you approach food and what your family eats. Expect to work hard at replacing the old with the new. Even if it seems like a struggle, it’s important to persevere. In time, you will be happy with the results, and much healthier, too! Here are some obstacles you may face, and some suggestions to get around them.

On the Run
Days, weeks, even months can seem to go by in a blur with the frenzy of activities that both parents and children are involved in. Your son or daughter is in an extra-curricular activity that requires him or her to go there right after school. You have meetings or other get-togethers after work. For both parents and kids, it is important to plan ahead and avoid the pitfalls of eating fast food because it is convenient or on the way to your destination.

Plan ahead and pack healthy snacks such as baby carrots, a peanut butter sandwich on whole wheat bread, and a banana. Also, make sure each member of the family has a water bottle they can refill throughout the day and take with them everywhere they go.

Special Events
Whether it's a wedding, a funeral, or a family reunion, the central focus is always the food. So how do we get around the obstacles “out there” when we find ourselves in those situations? If any of these events are potlucks, you are in luck. Bring a dish that is healthy and fun such as a fruit salad in a carved out watermelon or chicken kabobs with colorful veggies. Even if it is not a potluck, you can still eat healthy from what may be offered. Just make sure your plate is full of more leafy greens, crunchy veggies, and lean chicken or fish instead of fried, breaded, or processed foods such as potato chips or pizza.

Always opt for water instead of a soft drink. In fact, many times our body may “act” like it’s hungry when, in fact, it may only be asking for water. According to registered dietitian Sioned Quirke, "the same part of your brain is responsible for interpreting hunger and thirst signals, which can result in mixed signals.

At Home
Finally, at home base, it can be much easier to control what ends up on the table and on our plates. It begins at the grocery store when we choose foods from the outer walls of the store first (most fatty and processed foods can be found in the middle aisles). Always take a list of what you need, basing it on the meals you plan to make for the week, including snacks.

Choose fresh fruits and vegetables with plenty of naturally wrapped snacks such as oranges, bananas, and pears. Pick the leanest meats, avoiding sausages and hot dogs if at all possible. These can be for a special occasion, but as your habits change so will your cravings, so don’t be afraid to excluded these items from the table. Challenge your family to try new flavors and textures. You may be surprised at their positive reaction.

We strive for healthy relationships with our children, with our significant other, and with people at work. Rarely do we pay attention to our commitment to our bodies and the food we consume.

Per the Centers of Disease Control, “more than one-third of U.S. adults (34.9 percent) and approximately 17 percent (or 12.7 million) of children and adolescents aged two to 19 years have obesity.”

With these statistics on obesity, we must make these changes with a sense of urgency in order to live happier and longer lives. In addition, a good attitude about exercise and physical activity in general (yes, even housekeeping) can make all the difference in how easy the transition will be for you and your family.

Learn more about modeling positive behavior for your child in our YOU: Your Child's First Teacher books, now available on Amazon

Amelia Orozco is the senior editor and writer at the Chicago Zoological Society/Brookfield Zoo and a community and entertainment reporter for TeleGuía Chicago and Extra Newspaper. A mother of three, Amelia also maintains an active role in her community and church by working with youth and promoting education and diversity through her writing and volunteer efforts.


Healthy Grilling Recipes

May 21, 2015

By Jessica Vician

Healthy Grilling Recipes for Memorial Day Weekend | Most people love good barbecue. On this Memorial Day weekend, expand your repertoire to include healthy grilling recipes that will have the kids begging for seconds. | A family gathers outside at a table in the lawn while kebabs are cooking on the grill.

It's (unofficially) barbecue season, when evening walks around the neighborhood are highlighted by smoky smells wafting from grills.

Most people love good barbecue, and I’m sure your family has a few treasured recipes that you cook throughout the summer. This weekend and throughout the summer, expand your repertoire to include healthy grilling recipes that will have the kids begging for seconds.

Skewers are a great way to grill your protein and vegetables at the same time, making for a quick and easy well-rounded meal. These marinated Greek chicken skewers feature lean chicken protein and multi-colored vegetables from red and green peppers and red onion.

Food on a stick
Instead of eating the fried food on a stick at fairs and festivals, try a few of these 38 healthy foods on a stick that may or may not require grilling, but still represent a slice (or stick) of summer.

Grilled seafood
Salmon on the grill is one of the best ways to enjoy this rich and flavorful fish, which is full of heart-healthy Omega-3 fatty acids. Plus, it keeps your kitchen from stinking for days. Try this honey soy grilled salmon with edamame for a satisfying dinner.

If your kids prefer shrimp to salmon, there are a myriad of grilled shrimp recipes available. As long as you avoid sugary marinades, shrimp are healthy and easy to grill quickly.

Alternative burgers
Turkey, salmon, and even portobello burgers are all protein-rich and leaner alternatives to beef burgers. The next time the kids ask for burgers, try this California turkey burger recipe or this grilled portobello mushroom burger and see if they prefer it to hamburgers.

Barbecue Sauce
Did you know that most store-bought (and even homemade) barbecue sauces have lots of hidden sugar? From molasses to brown sugar, the added sweeteners can dose your kids with a sugar high (and subsequent crash).

Play around with your own homemade barbecue sauce, using as little added sugar as possible. This recipe from Whole Foods only uses chopped dates for the sweetened effect, which is a fiber-rich alternative to other sugar forms.

Grilled corn is so delicious. If you’re in the Midwest where there is sweet corn a-plenty, your family won’t even need to add butter—the fresh sweet corn flavors develop nicely when heated on the grill. The kids will love the slight charred look and sweet taste.

What are your family’s favorite healthy grilling recipes? Share them with us in the comments below.

For a complete guide to raising healthy, well-developed kids, check out our YOU: Your Child's First Teacher books, now available on Amazon


When Mom and Dad Are Smokers: Modeling Behavior

May 12, 2015

By Amelia Orozco

When Mom and Dad Are Smokers: Modeling Behavior | When you become a parent, lifestyle choices matter. Firsthand, secondhand, and thirdhand smoke affect kids in ways you might not even realize, like frequent sickness and asthma. Quitting smoking will model a positive behavior with your children. | A boy shakes his finger at his dad, who is about to light a cigarette.

What was once a status symbol is now a stubborn habit you wish you didn’t have. Smoking, while it may have seemed like the cool thing to do back in high school, is anything but that today. The constant pressure to lead healthy lives combined with bans on smoking in many public spaces such as restaurants and bars have caused smokers to become part of the minority.

Aside from new laws or the negative stigma that may convince some smokers to quit, becoming a parent is another reason to stop. Although it is a tough habit to kick, doing so helps parents create an all-around healthy environment for their children.

Lifestyle Choices Matter
Whether you are buying groceries, exercising, talking to a friend, or having a smoke, each activity has an impact on your son or daughter. Your children model their behavior based on yours. For example:

  • If the items in your grocery cart are unhealthy, your son or daughter may adopt the same habit of eating unwholesome food.
  • If your children constantly see you taking part in physical activity and enjoying it, they will soon want to join you in this positive experience.
  • If your language is negative and derogatory when they hear you talk to a friend or a stranger, they will believe it is acceptable to use swear words.
  • Whether you smoke in front of your children or step outside, your son or daughter may subconsciously accept smoking as a natural part of life.

The good news is that parents can take a holistic approach by making overall smart lifestyle choices and in effect, positively affect their children.

Avoid Sickness
Some of the reasons to not smoke around your son or daughter are the direct effects of any form of the smoke. This includes secondhand smoke, which is a combination of the smoke that emits directly from the cigarette and from the smoker’s mouth. Thirdhand smoke is that which settles on furniture and clothing that later makes its way into a child’s mouth and skin.

These indirect forms of smoke contain more than 7,000 chemicals, many of which are toxic and cause cancer. If a child suffers from asthma, the secondhand smoke can make breathing even more difficult. Whether a child suffers from asthma or not, cigarette smoke causes the airways to become swollen, narrow, and filled with a sticky mucus.

Tobacco smoke is responsible for 150,000 to 300,000 respiratory infections in babies every year. In addition, it causes a higher rate of preventable throat and ear infections. Up to 26,000 new cases of childhood asthma are reported each year because of tobacco smoke.

Another reason to stop altogether is to make sure you will be around longer for your children. Some of the fatal illnesses that affect adults who smoke are coronary heart disease, stroke, and lung cancer.

Be Their Hero
In today’s information-saturated society with images flooding the Internet and television, children seek someone to look up to and emulate. Whether they pretend to be princesses or monsters, chances are your sons or daughters first learned this behavior from their environment and the media. You, as your child’s first teacher, can also be their first role model.

Take advantage of this unique opportunity to make an impact on your son or daughter. You may struggle to quit smoking, to eat healthy, or just to complete a project at home. Whichever it may be, demonstrating your stamina and overall joy in getting it done will make a lasting impression on your children. It’s easy to take these little moments for granted, but often they are the most striking on young, impressionable minds.

Learn how to model positive behavior for your child in our our YOU: Your Child's First Teacher books, now available on Amazon.

Amelia Orozco is the senior editor and writer at the Chicago Zoological Society/Brookfield Zoo and a community and entertainment reporter for TeleGuía Chicago and Extra Newspaper. A mother of three, Amelia also maintains an active role in her community and church by working with youth and promoting education and diversity through her writing and volunteer efforts.
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