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Nutrition Nuggets

Did You Know?

Swimming builds endurance, strengthens all muscle groups, and is easy on joints and bones.  Encourage your youngster to swim year-round with trips to an in-door community pool.  He might take swim lessons or sign up for a winter league.  Ideas: Join him in the pool and swim together, race against each other, or play tag.

Feeling Good About Sports

Participating in sports can build your youngster up...or drag him down.  Make athletics a positive experience for him with these strategies:

  • Keep games in perspective.  At this age, sports should be about having fun and developing skills.  Ask about his favorite part of practice or the most interesting play in the game, rather than focusing on his performance or the score.
  • Encourage your child to set goals - but make sure the goals are realistic.  He might aim to touch the ball three times during a game or to try a move that he's been working on.
  • Avoid comments about your youngster's size or body.  Concentrate on the friends he is making and the effort he is putting forth ("I love how you tried to get the rebound"). 

Healthy Shopping

When you go to the grocery store, "shop the perimeter" first.  The outside aisles are where you'll usually find fresh produce, healthy dairy products (milk, yogurt, and cheese), and fresh meats, chicken, and fish.  fill your cart mostly with those items, and then get what you need from the middle of the store.

Kangaroo Hop

Try this fitness idea from Down Under.  Have your children hop like kangaroos by jumping with both feet and holding their hands in front of their chests.  They can race each other by hopping from one end of a room (or yard) to the other.  Or they could take turns being the leader and play Follow the Kangaroo.

Snack Attack

"I'm starving!"

When your child bursts through the door after school or activities, she's probably hungry.  Try these tips for healthy snacks that will give her the energy she needs to play and do homework.

Stock the kitchen 

Whatever is in the house is what your youngster will eat - so shop with that in mind.  Get interesting fruits and vegetables in different colors. Buy mango or peach salsa, and let your child dip in veggie sticks (carrot, celery, jicama). Stock popcorn to air pop (rather than getting less healthy microwave popcorn). Then, offer her choices.  She'll have a say in what she eats, but she'll be choosing only from healthy foods.

Have a mini-meal 

Breakfast or lunch foods can make a good snack.  You could serve oatmeal with bananas and cinnamon or tuck scrambled eggs into a pita pocket.  Or try individual pizzas on whole-wheat English muffins.  Top each half with a little tomato sauce, shredded low-fat mozzarella cheese, and vegetables (sliced mushrooms, chopped onions), then bake until the cheese melts.

Build your own

Let your youngster get creative in the kitchen, and she'll be likely to eat the results.  She can make kebabs by threading fruit (grapes, melon chunks) and cheese cubes onto toothpicks.  Put out cookie cutters for her to cut sandwiches into fun shapes.  Or she could spread cream cheese on rice cakes or apple slices and decorate them with raisins or dried cranberries.

Bounce and spell

Activity Corner

Put an active twist on your child's next spelling test study session.  Get his word list and a tennis ball, then find a space indoors or go outside to play a few rounds of Spelling Bee Bounce.

Stand about 6 - 12 feet from your youngster, say a word from his list, and bounce the ball to him.  As he says each letter, he bounces the ball to you and then you bounce it back to him.  If he gets a letter wrong, say, "Oops, try again!" and he starts the word over.

Get creative in this game.  He could spin around before bouncing the ball, or he could pretend to shoot it to you like a basketball free-throw.

Before you know it, he'll have mastered his entire spelling list - and gotten exercise along the way! 

Did You Know?

Research shows that students who skip breakfast have shorter attention spans and don't do as well on tests.  Make sure your youngster gets up in time to have a nutritious breakfast either at home or at school.  Tip: If she's having trouble waking up early enough, move her bedtime back.

Find the right milk

Milk alternatives, such as soy, almond, rice, and coconut milk, are widely available today.  That's good news for youngsters who can't have dairy.  When choosing non-dairy milk, look for unsweetened varieties that are fortified with calcium and vitamin D.

Kid favorites: Baked, not fried

In The Kitchen

Chicken nuggets and french fries are popular with children-and they can be nutritious if they're not actually fried.  Rethink these favorites with the following healthy twists.

Chicken nuggets - cut 1/2 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts into bite-sized pieces, and brush lightly with olive oil.  In a bowl, mix 1/2 cup whole-wheat bread crumbs, 2 tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese, and 1 tsp. Italian seasoning.  Roll chicken in mixture to coat.  Cook on a lightly greased baking sheet at 425 degrees for 12-15 minutes, flipping halfway through, until chicken is fully cooked.

French fries - Cut 3 medium russet potatoes into strips.  Lightly coat two baking sheets with cooking spray.  In a bowl, combine potatoes with 2 tbsp. olive oil, 1 tsp. chili powder (optional), 1/2 tsp. salt, and 1/4 tsp. pepper.  Arrange on baking sheets, and place in a 400 degree oven for 30 minutes (turning over after 15 minutes) or until crispy.  Spread fries on a paper towel-lined plate to soak up excess oil.

Wake Up, Warm Up

Start your day with physical activity and help your sleepyhead wake up!  Ask your youngster to create an active morning routine.  for example, she might do 10 shoulder shrugs, 10 big arm circles, 6 lunges, and 5 toe touches before getting dressed.  In the kitchen, she could do 10 jumping jacks and run in place for 1 minute before breakfast.

Best Bites

Junior Chef

Get your child excited about helping in the kitchen by letting her dress the part.  Find a large white button-down shirt she can wear like a chef's outfit.  Have her write her name on a mailing label "Chef _____" and stick it on.  Hand her a colorful spatula, and enjoy cooking together.

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.

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).


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).


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.


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