Power Your Lunchbox

It’s back to school (and tutoring and soccer and football and piano and lacrosse) time!

Even though my kids start school in mid-August, I don’t really take the school year seriously until September. Probably not great, but I just can’t get my mind around dealing with homework, bus schedules and tests when it’s 100 degrees. So now that we’re into September and the mornings are cool (at least here in Colorado!) I’m thinking about how to prepare healthy meals and snacks for my family. And (maybe more importantly) how to help them make healthy choices for themselves.

This year I’m partnering with Produce for Kids and taking their Power Your Lunchbox Promise. Check it all out here:

Basically, Produce for Kids provides lots of easy, yummy ideas for lunches (and snacks!), you make the promise, and they and their partners donate to Feeding America. It’s a win-win-win!

So as I made the promise this year, I again focused on snack foods rather than lunch foods. My kids all buy their lunch at school, so what we really need to focus on is a healthy, easy snack time. Here’s what we came up with this year:

Energy Bites

I don’t have a formal recipe, but I’ve been making these yummy snacks for years. I determine what goes in them based on what’s in my pantry. Here’s what I gathered today:

Sun-Maid Raisins, almonds, oat bran, oatmeal, a few mini chocolate chips I found in the way back, and peanut butter. In the past I’ve also added dried peaches, coconut, cereal and yogurt-covered raisins.  Anything goes as long as it’s small:

Once you’ve gathered all the odds and ends, simply dump everything (except the peanut butter) into a bowl:

Mix that all up, then slowly add the peanut butter:

Stir the mixture around until it is combined. Test the mixture to see if you can roll it into a ball that will stick together. Does it come apart? Add more peanut butter. Go overboard on the peanut butter? Add more dry ingredients. Here’s what mine looked like:

It’s ready to roll!

Grab a sheet pan and cover with foil. You will also need a scoop of some kind:

One down, about 100 more to go! The nice thing is, the kids can help:

I usually store these in the freezer, they stay nice and firm that way. And when the kids are ready, they can pack them up for a healthy, energy-filled snack on the go:

They’re easy to eat, and actually fill them up until dinner – which seems to be getting later and later as they get older!

Check out more recipe ideas and make the Promise:

 

 

Kids, Appetite and Medication

I’m so excited to be joining up with Produce for Kids for our new series: Ask a Psychologist. Last month I wrote a piece about how to cope when your child’s appetite is affected by medication. Here’s the intro:

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), about 6.1 million children in the United States had been diagnosed with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in the United States as of 2016. ADHD is a disorder that affects a person’s ability to maintain attention and concentration. Those diagnosed with ADHD can struggle to get work done in a timely fashion at home, work and school; social relationships can be tough to maintain as well.

Luckily, there are several, well-researched options for the treatment of ADHD. Behavioral therapy/counseling is typically recommended as a first option. This type of therapy involves a psychologist working with both the child and their family to implement strategies to increase desired behaviors (following directions, controlling impulses) and decrease those that are undesirable (disruptive behaviors). Accommodations at school are also an effective line of treatment. These might include: allowing for movement breaks throughout the course of the day, allowing extra time for tests, and strategically positioning the child in the classroom to reduce distraction.

Another option for the treatment of children diagnosed with ADHD is stimulant medication. Medication can be an important and effective tool for families, but a not-infrequent side effect is loss of appetite. If you notice your child’s appetite changing, or diminishing after starting a stimulant medication, it’s important that you contact the pediatrician or psychiatrist prescribing the medication immediately so that you can troubleshoot together. Some ideas your health care provider might suggest include:

New Podcast Coming!

An exciting new podcast is coming in June! Produce for Kids will be launching this new podcast and will showcase current bloggers, Advisory Board members and others.

“With more than 300 blog posts on produceforkids.com and a panel of 12 dedicated expert blog contributors, it only made sense to take this content and bring it to life in audio form,” Amanda Keefer, director of marketing communications at Produce for Kids, said in the release. 

“Our audience is evolving, and we intend to do the same, providing them with the information they need in the way they are choosing to receive it.”

and

Blog and future podcast contributors include registered dietitians Katie Serbinski, Holley Grainger and Jode Danen; psychologist Stephanie Smith; plant-based parenting expert Cory Warren; and meal prep planner Brenda Thompson.

Stay tuned!

Talking to Kids About Weight

Fat. Skinny. Over weight. Underweight. Chunky. Slight. Slender. Normal. Chubby. Short. Huge. Teeny. Average. Muscular. Frumpy. Flabby. Round. Skeletal. Portly. Tubby. Stick figure.

There are a lot of words we use to describe bodies. Ours, other people’s, everyone’s. And while we know that weight and Body Mass Index (BMI) can be an important piece of information when talking about someone’s overall health – those numbers are also so emotionally loaded that it can be tough to have a conversation about them without ending up with hurt feelings – no matter what our size.

I have recently started a new series over at Produce for Kids:

ASK THE PSYCHOLOGIST

My first column went live not long ago and is about this very topic. Here’s the question:

Many schools across the U.S. check-in yearly with kids’ BMI (Body Mass Index). What if your child has a bigger build and is a very athletic/healthy eater but falls into the BMI alert category (of being overweight or obese) simply based on weight/height ratio. Do you have any recommendations on talking to kids about this touchy subject? 

Want to read my answer? Check out the whole article here:

Are Work, School, Activities Getting In the Way of Your Life?

Is this what dinnertime looks like at your house? Yea, me neither…

I have a million good intentions at the start of each week:

  • I’m going to exercise
  • I’m going to meditate
  • I’m going to watch less TV
  • I’m going to cook fresh foods for every meal
  • I’m going to finally weed the garden
  • I’m going to clear out my email inbox

You know the drill: We all have the best intentions to live in calm, healthy ways. But then reality sets in and all the plans get blown up. I recently wrote an article about how to carve out time – at least a couple of times a week – to slow down and eat a meal with the ones you love. Here’s my favorite tip:

Want to read the entire article? Check it out:

#PowerYourLunchbox – Teen Edition

Do you remember being a teenager? A middle schooler? Let’s just say it can be a challenging time in life. Bodies, ideas and emotions are changing at lightening speed; nobody understands you; and life can feel like an endless series of demands, trials and challenges. Everything from clothes to hair to after school activities can be put to the test:

Is this cool or totally dorky?

And yes, I know those aren’t the terms today’s teens would use to describe good and bad, so I am reverting to my own adolescence (cringe.)

Anyway, it wasn’t until a year or so ago that I realized that school lunches were also judged in terms of being cool, or not-so-cool.  Here are how things work out for the teens/tweens in my house:

Buying lunch = cool

Taking lunch to school = not cool

But after discovering that my now-7th grader ate fried chicken sandwiches every single day for lunch last year, I decided we needed to make some changes this year.  So when Produce for Kids issued their annual #PowerYourLunchbox Pledge, I decided to get creative. The goal? To find a cool(ish), healthy lunch that my tween and teen would actually eat for lunch. In front of their friends. And not blame me for ruining their lives. Tall order, I know.

And here’s what I came up with: Mason Jars. They’re cheap, functional and Joanna Gaines-approved (that’s a good thing in our house). You’ve probably seen mason jar salad ideas floating around online for the past couple of years. I had too, but I had yet to try them. Here’s how it went:

I pulled everything out of my frig and pantry that could go into a salad:

I read that you should start with dressing, so I put that on the bottom, then filled up the jar from there:

I put the dry ingredients (tortilla strips, croutons, etc) in a little baggy on top so they would still be nice and crunchy at lunch time:

Then I realized I could put anything I wanted into the jars and it would look cute! Leftover pasta salad, fruit salad – nothing in the frig was safe!

…you see where this is going…

One of my kids took this for lunch today, doesn’t it look delicious?

In about 20 minutes we made several lunches and snacks.

And guess what? The kids actually took these beauties to school, ate the contents and brought the jars back home to be refilled – a HUGE SUCCESS! Next time we might try peanut butter, hummus or Nutella in a jar, with some fruits or veggies in another jar for dipping. The possibilities are endless!

Want more ideas for healthy, yummy and semi-cool lunches? Check out Produce for Kids.

Want to help support Feeding America as they provide meals for kids in need just by lifting a finger? Take the #PowerYourLunchbox Pledge!

 

Food, Mood and Mental Illness

At first glance, it doesn’t seem like food and mental health would have much to do with each other. But actually, they go hand in hand. Appetite changes (eating more, or eating less) can be an important red flag, or symptom, when it comes to diagnosing mental illness.  For example:

  • Some people who suffer from depression notice that their appetite wanes as their mood becomes worse.
  • Others who suffer depression, or other mood disorders, may notice that their appetite actually increases as their psychiatric symptoms intensify
  • Still others might notice that their appetite patterns change (they’re hungry at times they never were before, etc) as their psychological health changes

Psychiatric medications can also change appetite and eating habits.  Stimulant medications, anti-depressants, mood stabilizers and other psychiatric medications used to treat mental illness all come with possible side effects.  For this reason, mental health providers and patients often keep a close eye on eating habits when a new medication is started, or dosage changed.

Want more information about food and mental health? Check out my recent article at:

And for recipes, stories and other ways food and mood go together, check out my Food and Mood page.

Surviving Classroom Holiday Parties

Please note: This article originally appeared on LiveWell Colorado

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For lots of school age kids, the holiday season means school parties, pageants and plays. These can be a lot of fun, of course, but they can also mean an abundance of sweets and high fat foods.

Sure, we all love to have a treat now and then, but a recent LiveWell Colorado survey found that Colorado moms estimated their young kids can eat up to 2-3 sugary snacks per week (cupcakes, cookies, cereal treats) in the classroom.   As a mom of 3, I can assure you that many weeks my kids eat a lot more than 2-3 sugary snacks

That’s more than a “treat” – that’s a regular part of the diet! Oops!

Most of us enjoy an indulgence once in a while. In fact cupcakes and other desserts and snacks can be part of a healthy diet when eaten in moderation. Making sure that moderation (and not domination!) is in place, however, can be tricky, particularly when it comes to treats outside of the home.

So what is a family to do? How can we help our kids stick to a healthy eating routine while having fun at the same time? How can you be “that parent” who monitors nutrition at school but who isn’t at the same time annoying, embarrassing or pushy?

 

Plan ahead.

Teachers, room parents and administrative staff are often thinking about school celebrations months in advance. In order to ensure that healthy snacks and activities are incorporated into school celebrations, volunteer to help early and often.

Even though the winter holidays and Valentine’s Day are months away, now might be a good time to volunteer to coordinate the food for the parties. It will give you time to organize fun, healthy snacks and it will also be a relief to those in charge to know that aspect of the party is set.

Ask for help.

Whether it’s other moms or dads who share your ideas about nutrition or those whose children struggle with food allergies, lots of families are interested in providing a variety of food options at school. Ask your child’s teacher to put you in touch with families with similar interests, or send out a couple of emails to fellow parents. You may just find an enthusiastic and supportive group ready to help you provide healthy foods!

 

Keep it balanced.

Holidays and school parties can be excellent times to talk about and teach what it means to have a balanced, healthy diet. Talking about (and modeling!) a well-balanced diet is essential when teaching our kids about overall health. Providing lots of fruit, vegetable and lean protein options, along with one, small, special treat at a school party may be just the way to get started.

 

Have fun and get active!

Providing nutritious snacks is not the only way to encourage overall health during school parties. Consider holding a dance party, a limbo contest or a three-legged race during the event. Physical activity is not only an important part of overall health, it also gives the kids (and adults!) something to do other than hang around the snack table.

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Picky Eaters and Family Stress

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Having a picky eater in the family can be super stressful for all involved: the picky eater themselves, the parents, the siblings – everyone.  No one enjoys having mealtime conversation include nothing but:

Please, just one more bite!

I worked hard making this… you better $%**@ eat it!

You’re never going to grow if you keep eating like that!

Luckily, there are lots of strategies for making mealtimes more pleasant and healthy (physically and psychologically!) for all involved.  I was recently interviewed for an article on reducing stress around mealtimes by my favorite speech pathologist and feeding specialist, Melanie Potock.  The article appeared on the ASHA Leader Blog a couple weeks ago.  Check out the full article here:

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Parenting Kids With Different Body Types

Just because kids have the same parents, doesn’t mean they have the same body types – and that can be a tricky thing for parents to navigate.  I recently wrote some tips for parenting kids with different body types for the awesome group Produce for Kids.  To read the entire article (It’s short, I promise) check it out here.  And while you’re there, be sure to look at all the fun, healthy food ideas on their site.

Check out the full article over at Produce for Kids

Check out the full article over at Produce for Kids