Thursday, February 20, 2014

What's in Your Lunchbox?

           So, I get it...I'm a mother of 2.  Mornings are rushed, evenings are super busy, and it feels like there is never enough time in the day to get things done the way in which you would like. Making a healthy lunch for your kiddo seems like an added chore, not just of your body, but also of your mind.  To find quick and easy options that are also healthy is a task!  This post will give you some great ideas for your kiddo's lunch box as well as the research behind the affect sugar has on your child's ability to learn.

Let's begin with the research:

       "We are a product of what we eat and absorb. Food cravings and addictions are a real biomedical problem. One known food addiction is to sugar. Sugar can be a contributor to learning disabilities, hyperactivity and it affects the educational process.  Learning requires optimal health and brain function. When a child eats inadequately or consumes foods deficient in proper nutrients, the possibilities for learning disabilities increase. With the belief that food affects behavior, memory and learning ability, diet and nutrition may be a contributing factor and assist with the remedy of a learning disability, ADD or ADHD. Sugar affects a child’s ability to pay attention and can contribute to symptoms of being overactive and irritable."
Taken from "The Sugar Connection to Learning" by Nancy Guberti (Gem Learning)

Well...Where's the proof?

A study completed by UCLA has concluded that sugar does, in fact, impair the brain's ability to focus and could do significant damage to one's memory.

     "Our findings illustrate that what you eat affects how you think," said Fernando Gomez-Pinilla, a professor of neurosurgery at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and a professor of integrative biology and physiology in the UCLA College of Letters and Science. "Eating a high-fructose diet over the long term alters your brain's ability to learn and remember information. But adding omega-3 fatty acids to your meals can help minimize the damage." 
       Sources of fructose in the Western diet include cane sugar (sucrose) and high-fructose corn syrup, an inexpensive liquid sweetener. The syrup is widely added to processed foods, including soft drinks, condiments, applesauce and baby food. The average American consumes roughly 47 pounds of cane sugar and 35 pounds of high-fructose corn syrup per year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
       Gomez-Pinilla and study co-author Rahul Agrawal, a UCLA visiting postdoctoral fellow from India, studied two groups of rats that each consumed a fructose solution as drinking water for six weeks. The second group also received omega-3 fatty acids in the form of flaxseed oil and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which protects against damage to the synapses — the chemical connections between brain cells that enable memory and learning.
       The animals were fed standard rat chow and trained on a maze twice daily for five days before starting the experimental diet. The UCLA team tested how well the rats were able to navigate the maze, which contained numerous holes but only one exit. The scientists placed visual landmarks in the maze to help the rats learn and remember the way. 
       Six weeks later, the researchers tested the rats' ability to recall the route and escape the maze. What they saw surprised them.
      "The second group of rats navigated the maze much faster than the rats that did not receive omega-3 fatty acids," Gomez-Pinilla said. "The DHA-deprived animals were slower, and their brains showed a decline in synaptic activity. Their brain cells had trouble signaling each other, disrupting the rats' ability to think clearly and recall the route they'd learned six weeks earlier."
      The DHA-deprived rats also developed signs of resistance to insulin, a hormone that controls blood sugar and regulates synaptic function in the brain. A closer look at the rats' brain tissue suggested that insulin had lost much of its power to influence the brain cells.
       "Because insulin can penetrate the blood–brain barrier, the hormone may signal neurons to trigger reactions that disrupt learning and cause memory loss," Gomez-Pinilla said. 
        He suspects that fructose is the culprit behind the DHA-deficient rats' brain dysfunction. Eating too much fructose could block insulin's ability to regulate how cells use and store sugar for the energy required for processing thoughts and emotions. 

What Now?

      Whether your child is a straight A student who never gets in trouble (lucky!), one who struggles with schoolwork and behavior, or falls somewhere in the middle; a daily dose of too much sugar can negatively affect him/her both physically, mentally, and emotionally.  Good news!  It's not too late to begin packing a healthy lunch that models good eating habits for your little one.  Here are some super simple steps to making it happen along with some quick and easy lunchbox ideas!
1. PLAN AHEAD!  This is the most important part of leading a healthy lifestyle.  Make a menu for breakfasts, lunches, and dinners when making a grocery list and stick to it at the store.
2. While making your lunchbox menu, try to think about what fruits and veggies your child likes that are just as quick and easy as throwing in a pack of fruit snacks.  Then, be sure his/her lunchbox contains some kind of lean protein in the form of beef jerky, deli turkey, left over grilled chicken breast, etc.  If a sandwich is the way to go for your child, be sure to get whole grain bread.  They may fight you on it at first, but eventually, they won't even know the difference.  
3.  Let your child help pack his/her lunch box so they feel like they have some say in this new way of eating.  If you made a healthy menu and stuck to it at the store, there won't be any junk food options to choose from.  Be sure to pack lunches the night before so there is no rushing around in the morning that leads to stress, which will, inevitably, lead to you throwing in the towel.

Lunchbox ALWAYS's, SOMETIMES's, and NEVER's

ALWAYS include in your child's lunchbox:
  • Fruit--try to stay away from always sending the same thing or your child will get bored
  • Veggies of some kind (this can be a tough one--try celery with a thin layer almond butter and raisins, cucumber slices with hummus, or fresh, whole carrots peeled and cut into sticks with guacamole.  Try to avoid sending processed dipping sauces such as Ranch dressing.)
  • Lean Protein--beef jerky, grilled chicken, or deli meat
  • A "Snacky" type item (still healthy, though) so they don't think you've gone totally bonkers!--pistachios, almonds, peanuts, popcorn, greek yogurt, and cheese sticks are all yummy, healthy options!

SOMETIMES include in your child's lunchbox:
  • A dessert item that still has some nutritional value--a square of dark chocolate, cookies (2 maximum), graham crackers, etc.  
  • A healthier option of crackers or chips (not to be included if you have already packed a "carb" item from the "Snacky" list above)--baked chips, NutThins, veggie chips, sweet potato chips, etc. (reduced fat is not a healthier option-read the labels--YUCK)
  • Bread--always whole grain 
NEVER include in your child's lunchbox:
  • Traditional peanut butter and jelly sandwich on white or wheat bread (327 calories and 32 grams of sugar!  Wow!  That's a LOT!).  Try sugar free, fruit only jam with almond butter instead.
  • More than 1 packaged, processed quick snack that comes in an individual serving
  • Lunchables--I understand that these are so easy to grab and go.  Next time you pick one up to put it in the cart at the grocery store, check out how long the list of ingredients is on the side.  If you can't read it, you shouldn't eat it!  The amount of sodium in some of them is enough for your ENTIRE day!
  • Sodas or other sugary drinks--Capri Suns, Gatorade, Powerade, Soda, Kool-Aid, etc.  Try flavored water or let them get some milk from the cafeteria!
  • Fruit roll-ups, fruit snacks, Fruit By The Foot, or other sugary "fruit" items--these are nothing but food dyes and sugar!  NOT a healthy choice for your kiddo.  There are some that are made with real fruit and nothing but real fruit!  You can even see the seeds in them!
  • Nutella--although marketed as a healthier option, it is extremely high in fat, calories, and sugar (21 grams of sugar, 200 calories, and 11 grams of fat in just 2 tablespoons!).
  • More than 1 dessert item--training your child to believe that dessert comes after every meal is a dangerous habit.
If you have any questions or need suggestions, e-mails are always welcome!  As always, thank you for participating in your child's future.  

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Health at Home

Hi again!  I am so excited to share with you some research and ideas I have found that you can use at home to practice motor skills and encourage exercise (and even a little housework) at home!  I will also be giving you some ideas for your child's lunchbox to be sure he/she is getting the proper nutrition during the school day.

Fine and Gross Motor Skill Practice
Your child's motor skill development begins at birth with the oh-so-important tummy time and continues through growth with the majority of skills developing by age 6 and improving over time.  Kindergarten is a HUGE year for kids as they learn how to manipulate and control their bodies.  This is the perfect time for your kiddo to practice and "get moving" at home as well as at school.  For older students, some may still be struggling with such things as balance and/or hand/eye coordination.  Making sure to encourage and support your child, at any age, is very important.  Be sure not to give them tasks that are difficult to the point of frustration--we want them to love movement, not view it as something that they "aren't good at".  There is a plethera of research showing that fine and gross motor skills are directly linked to brain development.  When a child has to use both sides of his/her body, it requires both sides of the brain to work together. This is a major factor in scholastic success (reading in particular).  Being able to "cross the midline (see link below)" goes hand in hand with eye tracking and reading stamina.  Don't miss this GREAT video on fine and gross motor skill practice that requires little to no equipment, all of which can be made at home.

Watch the video below to learn exactly what the midline is and a variety of fun activities to do with your kiddo.  Turn on some fun music and dance at home!

Exercise at Home
There are several ways to get your kiddo to exercise at home (the number one being to get outside and play!), but I have a couple that I would like to share with you!

1. Sock Basketball
This is super fun, gets kids to fold socks, which is great fine motor practice, and gets them strengthening their core muscles!  Place a laundry basket on the top of your couch.  Have your child lie down with their feet under the couch for support.  Place a pile of socks behind them (I try to include all socks of the same kind, or at least the same color).  Have your child reach behind their head, grad two socks, fold them together into a ball, and, as they complete a sit-up, try to throw them into the laundry basket.  What a great way to make chores into a game AND exercise!

2. Yoga Balance Pose (3-6 grade)
Not only is yoga extremely good exercise, but it is also challenging, fun, and promotes amazing flexibility and balance.  Allow your child to watch the video below about correct form and tips for completing "Crow".  This is the same video I used to "master" this pose (I am far from a master).  It was challenging, but I bet your kids will accept the challenge and keep trying and trying!  It's a good lesson on patience and perseverance. Make it a family activity and give it a try yourself! Send me a picture of your child's hard work (practice or the steady pose) and he/she will be featured on the Bulletin Board in the gym! Mine is shown below. Whew!  That was a tough one!

I hope you enjoy these fun activities at home with your children!  What a great way to have fun and develop those pivotal skills as a family.  

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

What Are We Feeding Our Kids?

Anyone's kiddo coming home to tell you that they can't eat the cereal in the cabinet?  This blog will explain why and might even convince you that your little one (or big one) is right.  In the gym at school, I have an "Eat This, Not That" bulletin board.  I change out the foods about once a month and take time to talk to the kiddos about good and reasonable nutrition choices.  It takes some research, but I love it because it grows my knowledge of a healthy lifestyle for me and my kiddos!  There was one piece of research I found that I just COULD NOT NOT blog about.  It is something EVERY mom and person should know.  It is in regards to a dangerous food preservative.  BHT is one of the most commonly used preservatives of foods, make-up, lotion, body wash, etc. in the U.S., however; it's BANNED in almost every other country with food regulations.  Canada would never dream of allowing this preservative to be used in its food.  What is it?  Well, for starters, it's used to preserve fats to prevent them from going rancid, thus, giving them a longer shelf life, thus making more money for the companies.  Surprise, surprise.  Going further with my research, I found that it is "prepared by the reaction of p-cresol (4-methylphenol) with isobutylene (which is 1 hydro-carbon away from common butane)".  

Do you want that in your body or your children's?  I sure don't!  That's basically a mosquito attractant mixed with lighter fluid and used to preserve the food that kids eat most for breakfast.

So, I researched and came up with some websites that are worth the read and a list of breakfast cereals (where it is commonly found) that are safe for your kiddos to eat.  It's also easy to find on the ingredient list on the side of the box (see above).  It will be the last thing mentioned--the alternative is Vitamin E--WHY aren't we using that in EVERY cereal?

BHT-Free Cereals that are safe to eat
Berry Berry Kix
Kashi Heart to Heart (most flavor varieties)
Lucky Charms (surprising--not my favorite choice because of the dyes and sugar, which are huge no nos for your kids)
Post Grape Nuts
Many organic cereals--still check the label--these are more expensive and would most likely be found in health food stores or at Price Cutter

Basically, everything else contains BHT.  Read this article if you're not convinced it's not worth the time, money, and effort to get your kids and family to switch over.

Curious about other dangerous additives and preservatives to stay away from and with which foods to replace them?  Read this article that lists the 10 most dangerous and healthy alternatives to them all.

Thursday, November 14, 2013


Hello!  I am Mrs. Kinkeade; the Physical Educator here at JTSD.  I have a strong background and a ferocious passion for health and kids.  You put the two together and it makes for lofty aspirations!  This blog is not only to educate parents, but also to help parents make smart food and lifestyle choices for their kiddos.  You will find tips and tricks on how to get your children to eat a healthy, balanced diet; lunch box ideas that won't leave your little one spinning in his/her seat, some fun exercise games in which the whole family can take part, and motor development activities that are easy to do at home.  You can look forward to at least 2 posts per month.  You can subscribe to get e-mails letting you know when there is a new blog post and e-mail me personally with any questions or comments you would like to share with me.  I am really looking forward to working together to make JTSD a role model school when it comes to health and wellness!