Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Who is your lunch lady? And all things related to school lunch

Have you ever stopped to think about who your lunch lady is? If your child buys school lunch you know that they will have become very familiar with the lady that serves them 5 out of 7 days a week during her school year.

Things have changed tremendously since I was a kid and saw the "Grade D- but edible" box of burritos while I was waiting in a  school lunch line. If that box was available these days I would have taken a picture of it and shared it on social media. That pretty much ended my school bought lunch days except for the occasional cinnamon roll or other teenage junk food delight. Although things have changed, they still have a very long way to go. Schools went from making their own meals from scratch, to never making anything in house and purchasing all packaged processed foods. The packaged foods may have gotten "a little bit healthier", but in all honesty they still are processed memories of once upon a time whole clean foods. 
I struggle as a parent to allow my kids to buy school lunch, versus bringing a home packed lunch and it provides me with anxiety throughout the school year. I recently came across this blog posting by another RD and thought it was worthy of sharing. A link to Pam Dannon's blog and site can be found at the bottom of the page. 

 Published: 07/14/2014 
The Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act: A Top 10 List 

This featured post is by Pam Dannon, EdM, RD.
So far, so good. To date, the meal pattern and nutrition requirements of the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act (HHFKA) have done some great things for school cafeterias. Here are the top 10 examples of positive changes (in no particular order) and why they are important.

1. Free potable water must be available in all school cafeterias, increasing healthy hydration options.

2. Fruits and vegetables were divided into their own food groups in the new meal pattern, so that both must be offered each day. In the past, students could choose some combination of fruits and/or vegetables. Also, students must take a fruit or veggie for the meal to qualify for reimbursement from the federal government. Furthermore, certain veggie subgroups — dark green vegetables, starchy vegetables, red and orange vegetables, beans and peas, and other vegetables — must be offered over the course of the school week. These changes have increased the variety of fruits and vegetables offered to students.

3. The minimum amount of grains that must be served each week decreased, as fruits and vegetable offerings increased in the meal pattern, reflective of MyPlate recommendations.

4. The amount of meat or meat alternate that must be offered each week at some grade levels decreased, recognizing that yogurt and some vegetarian options, though lower in protein, can be healthy choices for students.

5. Targets were set for sodium, the first time that must be tracked by menu planners.

6. Calorie ranges rather than minimums were established, ensuring that menus were not too high in calories, averaged over the course of a school week.

7. All milk served in National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and School Breakfast Program (SBP) must now be skim or low-fat. Any flavored milks must be skim. This brings down the total fat content of meals, while ensuring students still get the necessary vitamins and minerals for their growing bones.

8. Menu planners now track only saturated fat, trans fat, sodium and calories and no longer track total fat, protein, vitamins A and C, and iron and calcium. Well-planned menus including all the food groups with lean protein and fluid milk tend to keep those nutrients in an acceptable range.

9. Breakfast meal patterns no longer require a meat or meat alternate, allowing students to choose their often preferred two grain (for example, cereal and muffin) options, and allowing schools to offer more grab-and-go breakfast options, which increase participation and get more kids eating breakfast.

10.  Individualized meal patterns were established for the logical age/grade groups of elementary, middle and high school students. In the past, there was a kindergarten through eighth grade meal pattern option, which did not meet the nutrient needs of students at both ends of the range.

Some of these implementations have not been without angst. Fruits and vegetables that must be taken by students, as mentioned in No. 2 above, may be thrown away by students. Also, those increased fruits and vegetables mean greater costs to school food service operations, even though the reimbursement only increased by 6 cents per meal. In addition, sodium targets, which will continually lower until 2020, can be tricky to meet since products are still being reformulated by manufacturers and student palates don’t always agree with low-sodium choices. And effective this school year, 100 percent of grains must be whole grain-rich — meaning they  must be made up of 51 percent or more whole grains — presenting a potential challenge not only for sourcing, but for changing recipes and production methods, and gaining student acceptance.

What's next for the HHFKA? Other than increased whole grain requirements, we will see competitive food regulations, more specific wellness policy regulations, and stepped up nutrition requirements for both breakfast and lunch. Stay tuned!

Pam Dannon, EdM, RD, works in Child Nutrition Services in a mid-size school division for the School Health Initiative Program (SHIP). She also writes a blog, F4: All Things Food and can be followed on Twitter.

We may have a long way to go to meet the best standards ever, but at least it is a work in progress. I encourage each and every reader to get involved with the nutrition side of your child's school. Remember that it is OK to ask questions and provide assistance via the way of a wellness committee and voicing your concerns to school boards and PTO's. The only way things will change is if we as parents take time and ask for change as well as support it when it does happen. Ask your children what they ate for lunch and support them when they make the healthy choices as school. Talk to them about the importance of nutrition so that they can build the healthy habits that they need throughout life. It will be a message that they will prosper and benefit from for many years to come. 

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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Hydrating the lunch box. A key to reducing fatigue and increasing energy as the school year kicks off.

Staying hydrated is an important part to staying healthy during the school year. Although children may not be in the hot sun as much they will still work up a thirst in the classroom as their biggest muscle organ (their brains) start exerting themselves in scholastic exercise.  

How much does a child need to drink? 
A child needs 6-8 cups of fluid per day. 
One cup is equivalent to 240 milliliters which is equal to 8 ounces. 

What counts as fluid? 
-Water (the best hydrating liquid around)
-Milk (low fat and skim milk)
-100% juice (limited amounts due to the high amount of sugar and extra empty calories)
-Anything that is a liquid at room temperature (soup, Popsicle, smoothies, pudding etc.)

What are the signs of dehydration? 
Fatigue or tiredness
Lethargy or sleepiness/less active
Vomiting or nausea
Dry skin
Dry or sticky mouth
And often times hunger

Thumbs up to low fat milk, water and 100% juice.

Thumbs down to sports drinks, energy drinks, sodas and non-100% juice drinks.

Join us all throughout August as we build a healthy lunch box and keep the kids healthy throughout the year! 

Monday, August 18, 2014

The BEST back to school breakfast ideas

Starting the new year can be a hectic time. Organizing the morning routine can be a tricky task and often breakfast gets left out of the picture. It's important to remember that breakfast is considered the most important meal of the day. Children, and adults, who eat breakfast not only perform better in school and sports but have reportedly have better behavior at work and in the classroom. 
Eating any old breakfast also won't do. So skip the sugary cereal aisle and focus on breakfast foods that are protein and fiber rich in order to provide the best nutritious punch for your  money.

Here are the top 5 best breakfasts to kick off 
the new school year! 

1. Yogurt parfait (layer nonfat Greek vanilla yogurt with granola and fruit (blueberries or bananas)
2. Whole grain waffle with peanut butter and banana

3. Scrambled egg with cheese sandwich on whole wheat toast and a banana to go

4. Smoothie (Add any variety of low fat milk or yogurt, nuts, seeds, peanut butter, frozen fruit, avocado, and bananas)

5. Trail mix to go (mix up Cheerios, nuts, seeds, raisins, dried cranberries and dried mangoes)

All of August don't miss our BACK TO SCHOOL Series!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

What is so wrong about packing a right (healthy) lunch? Top 3 excuses.

We have all been there and even as a Registered dietitian I struggle with making a healthy lunch everyday for our two kids. Tufts University recently did a study on what parents send in lunchboxes and why they sent what they sent. It was interesting given all the scrutiny that school lunch has been under in the past years. Here is what I have summarized as the top 3 excuses that parents have used to pack an unhealthy lunch box: 
1. My child is a picky eater
2. I don't have time to make a healthy lunch. 
3. I don't know what to pack. 

So what does the study suggest
NOT do to make it a better lunch? 

1. Justify Junk food by telling yourself that they have to eat something and you do not want them to starve or get dehydrated.

2. Don't stock up on "grab and go's". This makes it too easy to load up the refined foods and is an easy way to forget the healthy stuff. 

3. Convince yourself that they will not eat it. If you buy it...they will (eventually) eat it. 

Consider coming together with the teachers, lunch staff and other parents to encourage them to provide healthier fare. It's called Herd immunity. If everyone pitches in a little bit, eventually the kids won't see the junk food and desire it more. 

For tips on how to bring a healthier atmosphere to the classroom and lunchroom Click here for a lunch box basics printable to share with your classroom and post in your kitchen. 

Have a great school year and keep up with us on 
Facebook: ABCD Eat Right
Twitter:  @abcdeatright1
email me: 

Breakfast...Why is it so important?

Do you eat breakfast? Do your kids eat breakfast? Studies have shown that children are more likely to eat breakfast when their parents eat breakfast. Sometimes parents are short on time and tend to skip breakfast as a habit. This habit leads to a day full of trying to catch up to achieve a better diet and higher energy level.
If we break down the logistics of breakfast we see that it has been roughly 8-12 hours overnight without food and now the day is about to begin. A long day of work or school is ahead, and it will be at least 3 hours until lunch. The body needs to refuel and get ready to face the day with a strong start. Breakfast provides the body with energy needed to sustain activity throughout the day. Without breakfast the brain and muscles may not have the energy that is needed to meet peak performance.
Research has shown that kids that do not eat breakfast have poor concentration and problem solving ability. Those that start the day with breakfast usually meet their protein, calorie and vitamin requirements throughout the day which leads to a more balanced diet. So start the day off right and remember...

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day!

Here is a quick list of 15 Breakfast ideas:
1. Hard boiled, scrambled or fried eggs
2. Nut butter and banana sandwich
3. Yogurt and granola and/or fresh fruit
4.Cottage cheese and fruit
5. Milk and fruit smoothie
6. Frozen waffles with nut butter, fruit and honey 
7.Flavored milk (milk mixed with fresh fruit)
8. Trail mix ( dried fruit, whole grain cereal, nuts and seeds)
9. Cheese sandwich; Cereal with milk; Banana with nut butter; Pancakes made with bananas and flax seed; No cook muesli (see recipe below); Granola bars, nut bar or low sugar breakfast bars and milk; Oatmeal with raisins or frozen blueberries.

One or our favorite breakfast recipes: 

No Cook Muesli

1 cup plain nonfat or 2% yogurt
1 cup quick oats
1/2 cup slivered or chopped nuts
1 Tablespoon flaxseed
1 Tablespoon honey or syrup
1 cup fresh berries or a banana
In a blender combine the yogurt, oats, flaxseed and honey. Blend until the oats and nuts are in small pieces (about 30 seconds), then divide the muesli among 3 bowls and top with berries or bananas.
A quick and cool alternative to hot oatmeal.

Follow us on Facebook: ABCD Eat Right & Americas Dietitian

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Worst emails and uninspiring verbiage that got me mad and motivated

I recently received an email that was disappointing and discouraging at first. A message was left on my website that said "Why don't you clowns stay the hell out of school lunches and other peoples life. You and the clown first lady need to go find something to do". 

Really? I thought. Who would write something like that? Who would actually take time out of their day to write something so ridiculous and what would they have to gain from it? 

Many questions circulated my thoughts for the entire day after reading that message on a bright and sunny Sunday morning. Then  I thought that maybe I was making a difference in kids lives and that this person was not understanding the big picture. So where do I go from here? Well I am definitely not going to stop. I may be just one small dietitian, but I can make a difference!

August is Kids Eat Right month and I definitely have a lot of things to say about that! Kids Eat Right is an organization powered by Registered Dietitians, the nutrition experts, who provide resources solely for parents and teachers. For more information on the campaign visit: 

Another project I am excited about is FOOD DAY 2014! For the second year in a row FLIPANY ( an amazing non-profit in Broward County) was asked to organize the events and promotions for all of Florida. It's an honor and a huge task. This years focus is  "Justice throughout the food chain"- from farm workers to child consumers.  

I am also running a "Back to School" special event throughout August to help parents get back to school healthy and economically. Stay connected : ABCD Eat Right

Most children, globally, receive less than 4 hours of nutrition education PER YEAR. With that statistic alone I have been motivated to spread the word about healthy habits and increasing physical activity and YOU can help! Stay posted with our Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and webpages and help me spread the nutrition information that all parents, teachers and children need. You too can make a difference one post at a time. 

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Breakfast bonus! Inspiration from cherry season. What do you make for breakfast with cherries?

I love to make waffles. I am working on a side project that has me in the kitchen testing new waffle ideas. 
This morning my inspiration was cherries! I posted the recipe on my recipe site, click here for a protein packed, no sugar added, quick and healthy breakfast option! 

Join us for our Back to School jam 
packed blog extravaganza all throughout August!