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Nutrition Nuggets

Just Add Water (or Milk)!

Does your child ask for juice boxes, soda, or sports drinks when he's thirsty?  Loaded with sugar and calories, these choices offer little nutrition.  The best way to quench his thirst is to drink water or milk.  Try the following tips to encourage healthier beverage choices.

Make it motivating

Let your youngster choose a special cup at the dollar store to use only when he drinks milk or water.  Or have him decorate a reusable water bottle.  Using permanent markers, he can jazz up a plain bottle with his name, colorful pictures, and creative designs. 

Add flavor

Enhance the flavor of water and milk with these healthy twists.  Fill an ice cube tray with water, invite your child to add a flavor mix-in (a mint leaf, a pineapple chunk, a raspberry) to each compartment, and freeze.  Then, he could choose a cube to flavor his water.  when he drinks milk, he might try stirring in a sprinkle of cinnamon or a few drops of vanilla extract.

Go for fizz

Your youngster may enjoy the fizzy effect of plain seltzer or sparkling water.  With zero calories, sugar, or artificial colors or flavors, this bubbly water is fun to drink - without all the unhealthy stuff that's in soda.  And seltzer is now sold in a variety of interesting natural flavors like mandarin orange, cucumber, and pomegranate.


Count the Ingredients

Best Bites

A long list of ingredients on a cereal box or a jar of pasta sauce often means the food is highly processed.  At the grocery store, let your youngster compare several brands of an item on your list (say, cereal bars).  She can count the ingredients in each - and put the one with the fewest ingredients in your cart. 



Explore the Great Outdoors

Cooler temperatures offer the perfect opportunity to discover outdoor community "gems" with your child.  Help him find local plants and animals while you walk along a trail or through a park or botanical garden.  For extra fun and exercise, bring along helmets and explore on bikes, skateboards, or scooters (where permitted).


Stretch Those Muscles

Warm Up

March like a toy soldier, then tuck in like a turtle!  Stretching improves your youngster's flexibility, and you can make it interesting with these playful stretches:

 * Together, imagine that you're toy soldiers.  Stand tall, and kick one leg high, trying to touch your toes with the opposite hand.  Repeat with the other leg and arm, and alternate until you've crossed the room.

* Pretend to be turtles in their shells.  Kneel with feet together, and sit back on your heels.  Then bend over, touching your forehead to the floor with you arms along your sides.  Hold for 15 - 30 seconds.

Note:  To prevent injury, your child should warm up before stretching with five minutes of light aerobic exercise (dancing, walking).


Did you know?

Calcium plays a key role in strengthening your child's bones and teeth - and it's not just found in dairy products.  Dark leafy greens also count toward the 1,000 mg of calcium your child needs each day.  And look for the phrase "calcium-fortified" on orange juice, cereals, English muffins, and non-dairy "milk" (almond, soy, coconut).



Dine Out in the Cafeteria

Does your child love to eat out? Do you want him to eat healthy foods during the school day? Encourage him to dine in the cafeteria.

Eat Breakfast at school

    Suggest that your youngster start a "breakfast club". He could meet friends in the cafeteria for a nutritious meal before school. It's easy and convenient - you won't need to make breakfast, and he'll be able to choose from healthy items like eggs, cereal, fruit, and milk.

Sample new fruits and veggies

     What does kiwi taste like? How about radishes? The cafeteria is a great place to try different fruits and vegetables. Read the school menu together each week and let your child circle foods to "taste test". After school, play a guessing game: He gives clues about items he sampled, and you identify them. Example: "White and crunchy," "tastes kind of like and apple" (jicama).

Serve "cafeteria foods"

     Try making cafeteria foods at home to help your youngster get used to new flavors. For instance, coat skinless chicken pieces with whole-grain breading for healthier chicken nuggets. He'll be more likely to enjoy the flavor of whole grains if he also eats them outside of school.



Festivals of Food

Best Bites

Explore new foods with your child by attending food festivals. Whether they feature peaches or persimmons, crawfish or crepes, strawberries or salmon, these events showcase interesting foods from farmers, vendors, or restaurants. Look for ones with free admission-and enjoy the free samples!



Get Excited About PE

Q & A

Q:  My son doesn't like to participate in PE class because he says he's "not athletic".  How can I help him get comfortable so he enjoys PE?

A:  PE is a great opportunity for your son to run and play with classmates while he learns and stays active.

     You could start by mentioning his hesitation to his PE teacher.  She might suggest activities you can do at home or pair him up in class with a student who seems more confident about PE.  Then, send the teacher occasional notes to check on his progress.

     Also, visit a playground, and encourage your son to teach you skills he is learning or games he plays in class.  As he shows you how he can do a chin-up or cross the balance beam, or explains the rules for kickball, he'll build confidence in his athletic ability.



Parent to Parent

Cutting Out Soda

I recently read an article on childhood obesity that got me worried about how much soda my son was drinking. I talked to the school nurse, and she gave me good ideas for cutting back.

     First, she suggested that I show him what's actually in soda. I put a 12-ounce can on the table. Then, I had him measure out 10 teaspoons of sugar and said, "That's how much sugar is in that can of soda." I asked if he would want to eat all that sugar at once - and boy, did he make a face! So I mentioned he could picture that pile when he wanted soda.

The nurse also said we could simply make soda less available. If we don't buy it, then he won't drink it at home. And when we eat out, I give him a choice of water or milk. I know it will take time, but he is beginning to get used to the change.




Three types of fitness are important for children (and adults): endurance, strength, and flexibility. Encourage your child to develop all three with a variety of activities. Aerobic sports like soccer or swimming will help improve endurance. Sit-ups and push-ups can build strength. And dancing, gymnastics, and yoga all promote flexibility.

Spring Cleaning

With winter in the rearview mirror, April is a good time for active spring cleaning. Together, list indoor and outdoor tasks that will get everyone moving. For instance, your youngster might work with you to wash windows or move winter coats into storage. Outdoors, he could sweep porches or clear sticks from the yard.

Go for whole grains

Try these strategies

Get your youngster used to eating whole grains while she's young, and you'll help her build a healthy habit for a lifetime.Try these strategies.

Give details - Begin by explaining why whole grains are good for her. You can tell her that these grains are still "wearing their coats" - they contain the entire grain kernel with all its fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Processed grains like white bread have the outer layer removed, so they've "lost their jackets" - where important nutrients are.

Make it gradual - Help your youngster adjust to whole grains by working them in gradually. For instance, make both white and brown rice and mix them together. Or prepare regular and whole-grain pasta, and toss them in a bowl with sauce. As she becomes accustomed to the taste, build up to three-quarters whole grains and then eventually to all whole grains.

Use daily - Try adding whole grains to foods your child regularly eats. You can stir oats into lean ground beef when you're fixing hamburgers. Or put barley or bulgur wheat in soups and casseroles. When shopping, go for the whole-grain varieties of bagels and tortillas.

Note: Many chronic conditions that develop later in life might be avoided by eating more whole grains. The fiber and other natural compounds many reduce the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers.

Healthy after-school snacks

Q & A

Q: I'm concerned that my son snacks too much after school. How should I handle this?

A: Most children are hungry when they get home from school - it's a long time since lunch and a few hours until dinner. So think of your son's snack as a bridge between meals.

    The important thing is to make sure the snacks he eats are healthy ones. This is a good time to get in nutrients he may be short on, like vitamins A (dried apricots), C (oranges), D (fortified milk), and E (avocado), plus minerals like calcium (bok choy) and magnesium (garbanzo beans). The best options are often smaller portions of foods you would normally eat at mealtime, such as turkey sausage tucked into a mini pita or a cup of tomato soup. In fact, try to avoid foods typically sold as snacks, like cookies, cakes, crackers, chips, and fruit drinks. They're loaded with sugar and empty calories that will give him only a short burst of energy - and won't satisfy his hunger for the long term.



Inspired by Dr. Seuss...

March 2 is Dr. Suess's Birthday. Celebrate his gift of rhyme with some cooking time!

Cat-in-the-hat fruit snacks

Your child can make the cat's hat by alternating strawberry halves and banana slices on a plate. To enjoy her snack, she could dip the fruit into Greek yogurt sweetened with a little honey.

Green eggs and ham

Heat 1 tsp. olive oil in a skillet. Add 5 oz. (about 3 cups) fresh spinach leaves, and cook until wilted, about 1 minute. Pour in 2 whisked eggs, and stir until they're set. The spinach turns them green! Serve with lean ham slices.

Who hash

In honor of the tiny Whoville-ians in Horton Hears a Who, dice potatoes, carrots, and radishes in a skillet, heat 2 tbsp. olive oil, and saute 4 cups of the vegetables until tender. Add 2 cups shredded leftover pot roast or chicken. Heat through.





Enjoy Your Food But Eat Less

Pay Attention

Take the time to fully enjoy your food as you eat it. Eating too fast or when your attention is elsewhere may lead to eating too many calories. Pay attention to hunger and fullness cues before, during, and after meals. Use them to recognize when to eat and when you've had enough.



Push it

Push-ups are a terrific strength-training exercise. They're also convenient - They can be done anywhere. When your youngster does them, have him keep his body "flat like a table" from the top of his head down to his heels. How many can he do? Even better: Do push-ups alongside him, and challenge each other to do one more!

Borderline Overweight

Catch it Early

Today, many children are on the verge of being overweight. If your youngster is showing signs of becoming too heavy, try these tips at the table:

Children don't need the same-size portions as adults. Start your youngster's meal with servings that are 1/3 to 1/2 the size of yours. He may ask for more if he's still hungry.

During family meals, stop "speed eating" by suggesting that everyone sip water between bites. Slowing down the pace will give your child more time to feel satisfied, making it less likely he'll overeat.

Serve fresh fruit for dessert. It's delicious on its own, paired with plain yogurt, or blended into a smoothie.

Did You Know?

White Whole-Wheat Flour

You can increase the whole grains your family eats by using white whole-wheat flour in recipes. This unbleached flour is milled from a type of wheat that is as nutritious as traditional whole wheat but milder in flavor. Replace up to half of the flour in your recipes with the white whole-wheat variety without noticing a difference.

Did You Know?

Vitamin C and Iron

Vitamin C helps your child's body absorb more iron. So along with iron-rich foods like red meat, fortified cereals, and spinach, he should have vitamin C-rich foods like oranges, tomatoes, kiwi, broccoli, and potatoes. Cooking in a cast-iron pan can enrich food with iron, too. Note: Children ages 4-8 need 10 mg of iron a day, and those 9-13 need 8 mg.

Parent to Parent

"As seen on TV"

My son was always asking for candy or other unhealthy foods he saw on television or online. When I mentioned this to our pediatrician, Dr. Dawson suggested that I ask Aidan if he knew who produced food ads or what they're designed to do.

Together, Aidan and I looked up answers. He was surprised to find out about tricks that advertisers use to make products look better in ads, such as putting dish soap in soda to make bigger bubbles or painting hamburgers with shoe polish to give them more color.

We also learned about "product placements" - how companies pay to put their foods into online games, on television shows, or in movies. Now when Aidan wants to try a new game, I'll ask, "Is that a game or an ad?" We've had interesting conversations, and I'm hoping he's getting a better understanding of advertising and how to make healthy choices for himself.

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