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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. 


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


4 Tricks to Sneak Vegetables into Kids’ Food

February 19, 2015

By Jessica Vician

4 Tricks to Sneak Vegetables into Kids’ Food | It's tough getting some kids to eat their vegetables, but here are four tricks to sneaking the veggies into your child's food (hopefully without them noticing) | The image shows a boy smiling as he drinks a green smoothie.

We all know that some kids just won’t eat vegetables. It doesn’t matter how you prepare them—covered in butter, cheese, or some other concoction—they know the veggies are there and want nothing to do with them.

Covering up the vegetables isn’t enough to trick your smart little produce-hater. But by trying some of these tricks, you might be able to sneak a vegetable or two into your child’s next meal or snack.

  1. Make it mushy
    Sure, mushy food may sound gross to you, but these recipes feature broken-down vegetables, which means they don’t taste as strong and it’s more difficult to notice a vegetable texture in the food.

    Add broccoli to your next round of mac and cheese by boiling it in water longer than you normally would—until the broccoli is extremely tender—and then mix it in with the pasta and cheese. The broccoli will practically dissolve while you stir and your child won’t taste it.
  2. Chop chop chop until you can’t chop anymore
    If your child refuses even the sneaky mushy vegetables, try chopping and dicing and mincing them into the smallest pieces you can—you might even want to use a food processor to make them as small as possible.

    For example, with the broccoli mac and cheese, chop the broccoli florets as small as you can, then add to boiling water. Use a sieve or very fine colander, since there will be small pieces, and drain, adding the mushy small pieces to the mac and cheese.

    You can also use these tiny broccoli pieces (pre-boil) on homemade pizza, as well as any vegetable you purée into a paste. Just spread it on the crust in a thin layer before adding sauce or cheese and your child won’t ever know it’s there. 
  3. Soup is your friend
    The great thing about soup is that a lot of ingredients go in, but the flavors blend together so seamlessly that you often don’t taste exactly what’s in there. Think about it: carrots and celery are often key starters to soup, but by the time it’s done cooking, they’re either blended or so mushy that you don’t notice when you’re slurping.

    The next time you make a soup your child likes, add extra carrots and celery to the beginning of the recipe so you maximize the nutrients he or she is getting. Try a broccoli and cauliflower cheese soup—while the cheese isn’t the healthiest option, at least the blended vegetables don’t have a strong taste. Or use an immersion blender to make a soup thicker and creamier while disguising the vegetables.
  4. Sneaky smoothies
    As adults, we focus on sneaking vegetables like spinach and kale into our breakfast smoothies. Why not sneak those same vegetables into your kids’ smoothie treats? Make the green vegetable color part of the experience. Read Green Eggs and Ham with your kids, and then have a smoothie ready to go with bananas, strawberries, apples, and spinach. If the kids don’t see you add the spinach, they’ll never taste it but the color can be part of the experience. It’s all in the presentation, so make it fun and goofy and they’ll never notice.

Do you have tested techniques for sneaking vegetables into a picky eater’s food? Tell me your tricks in the comments below.


4 Food Assistance Programs for Families

February 4, 2015

By Jessica Vician

4 Food Assistance Programs for Families | A child's hands hold a piece of toasted bread with a heart cut out of the middle.

The winter months can be difficult—regardless of the part of the country in which you live, the weather is cooler and bills may be a little higher, which can make affording nutritious food difficult for some families. There are many assistance programs that will provide food, healthcare referrals, nutrition education, and discounts to families who qualify. If you are in need of food assistance this winter, read through this list of four popular programs to see if you’re eligible.

SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) provides nutrition assistance, including food stamps and other benefits, to families who need support getting food. Not all families are eligible, as the household’s gross monthly income must not exceed a certain number. For example, if you have a two-person household and make more than $1,265 per month (before taxes), you will not be eligible for SNAP. If you think you may qualify, contact your local SNAP office to apply. Many states allow you to apply in several different ways. For example, in Illinois, you can apply online, mail in a paper application, or apply at your local family community resource center.

WIC is a special program from SNAP that offers food, healthcare referrals, and nutrition education to certain women, infants, and children (hence the WIC name). Portions of the program can even help with formula purchases and buying fresh fruits and vegetables at farmer’s markets. To be eligible for the WIC Program, women and children must meet several requirements, including residential, income, and nutrition risk. Women must either be pregnant, breastfeeding (up to one year after the child’s birth), or postpartum (up to six months after birth or end of pregnancy), and the child cannot be older than five. If you are interested in scheduling an appointment to apply for the WIC Program, contact your WIC state agency by phone.

National School Lunch Program
Depending on a family’s income level, some children are eligible to receive a free or reduced price lunch during school, thanks to the National School Lunch Program. These meals, which are subsidized by federal and state funds, meet the latest USDA nutrition requirements. You can apply for this program by contacting the appropriate state department or organization on this website.

Feeding America
Feeding America is a network of local food banks, pantries, and programs that serve people throughout the nation. If you are in need of assistance, you can use the food bank locator tool on their website to contact your local food bank. Their website also has a great list of other assistance programs that you may be eligible for, along with their contact information.

There are many programs that can help you and your family this winter and throughout the year—you just need to find them. Hopefully this list helps ignite your search. Here’s to a healthy and fulfilling 2015!

Tags :  physicalhealthy eatingbudgethealth
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