SchoolFamily Voices

Join our bloggers as they share their experiences on the challenges and joys of helping children succeed in school.

First Lady's 'American Grown' Book Promotes Family, School Gardens

Do your kids dislike most vegetables and some fruits? If so, have you ever considered helping your children grow their own produce by seeding, watering, weeding, and then harvesting their own garden?

 First Lady Michelle Obama says that’s just what it takes to get many kids excited—yes, you read that correctly: excited—about eating fresh produce. Her new book, “American Grown: The Story of the White House Kitchen Garden and Gardens Across America,” shows pages of colorful photos of vegetables and fruits planted, tended to, harvested, and eaten by schoolchildren.


Take Our Poll: Has your child been involved in cultivating a fruit/vegetable garden, either at your home or at school?


“When you grow your own vegetables and fruits, they taste really good,” Mrs. Obama told schoolchildren, who gathered at the White House in March for the 4th annual planting of the White House Kitchen Garden. “They taste better than a lot of stuff you’ll get in a grocery store, trust me.”

“My kids have done it,” she added, telling the children, “They’re not big fans of all vegetables, but if they help to work on it they’re much more excited about trying it out.”

During a promotional appearance this week on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” the First Lady demonstrated how easy it is to plant fruits and veggies from seed, accompanied by 5 children from Public School 107 in Brooklyn, NY. The school’s Sunshine Garden, which features produce grown in container gardens in the schoolyard, is featured in Mrs. Obama’s book.

P.S. 107 used a Lowe’s Toolbox grant, awarded through SchoolFamily.com’s sister site, PTOToday.com, to create the edible garden, and the school was also featured in a PTO Today magazine article on school gardening article in 2011.

Have you gardened with your kids? Has it helped raise their interest in—and consumption of—the produce they’ve grown? Any helpful hints you can share about the process for those who’d like to try it? And if you'd like some easy recipes to make with kids or recipes older kids can make themselves using your garden-fresh produce, check out SchoolFamily.com's Recipe Share.

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School Family Announces "Recipe Share"!

At SchoolFamily.com, we’ve got some exciting news…

We’re very pleased to announce the launch of Recipe Share, SchoolFamily.com’s new recipe section!

Looking for a great afterschool snack to made for—or with—your kids? Or how about one that older kids can make themselves? We’ve got ‘em.

Need some new ideas for your child’s school lunch box? We’ve got ‘em.

What about recipes for quick and easy weeknight meals for those evenings that seem completely taken up with kids’ afterschool activities? Or recipes for dinners that can be made ahead? We’ve got ‘em.

Crockpot recipes, recipes for those with food allergies, recipes for desserts, salads, pasta dinners and salads, dips, and side dishes? We’ve got ‘em all, plus some. In fact, we have more than 50 recipe categories from which you can choose to find just what you’re looking for!

And all of our recipes are printer-friendly!

Some of our recipes are from food bloggers you may already know, including weelicious.com and freshbaby.com. Others are from fairly new food bloggers—Organic Glory and Mummy’s Busy World.

And in an exclusive partnership, we have recipes from the Meal Makeover Moms. These two moms, who are both registered dietitians, take traditional recipes and make them over for better nutrition, without sacrificing taste! How about Healthier Hamburger Helper? Or Smiley Face Casserole? (See their lasagna makeover—Chock-Full-O-Veggies Lasagna—pictured above.) The Meal Makeover Moms section features dinner, afterschool and lunch box snacks, desserts, stews, and more.

But perhaps best of all, we welcome recipe submissions from you, our readers! Send us your family’s favorite recipes of all types—dinners to dips to desserts and more—and we’ll include them in our Recipe Share. Simply complete this easy online form, attach a photo of your completed dish (if you have one), and send it along to us! We’ll send you a link to your recipe once it’s posted!

Happy eating!

Carol Brooks Ball, editor



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Is Romance Dead For A Busy Family? One GoodnCrazy Plan for Valentine's Day


 Valentine’s Day is around the corner. What’s a busy mom to do? After throwing all our creativity (and plenty of Pinterest searching) into kids’ Valentine’s Day friend cards, I have no time to find a fabulous gift for my sweetheart. Instead I’m thinking we should create a wonderful family-fun night with dinner, candles, pink cupcakes, and call it a “Valentine Family Date”?


And if we do, does it mean romance is dead?


Oh wait… Valentine’s Day is on a Tuesday?! Rewind. Scratch the homemade menu and fancy decorations. Tuesday afternoons=non-stop chaos and driving; piano lessons (round trip times 2); extra afternoon trips back to pick up the teen from play practice; and little boy has chess. What am I forgetting? Something… Oh yeah Tuesday means “old lady basketball” night. And I’m not giving that up for Valentine’s Day!


Time to send out a Valentine Mayday! (Do they make heart shaped pizzas? Blogger Brooke Leigh does; see her pizza photo above!


My GoodNCrazy Valentine’s Day game plan for this year includes:

Plan Ahead—The night before, rope the kids into creating a special dessert for our Valentine Family Date on Feb. 14. We’re choosing between a giant heart shaped cookie; Pink Lemonade Cake (my vote!); or tri colored cherry-chocolate cupcake brownies. Or, it could be any one of these equally delish sounding recipes for Valentine’s Day found on SchoolFamily.com’s Pinterest page.


Order Pizza For Dinner—Everyone wins with pizza. Mom can relax, and kid bellies are happy. (Another option would be to purchase store bought pizza dough and let all create their own mini pizzas with favorite toppings. Heart-shaped, optional.)


Keep Romance Alive with a Bit of Surprise—I’ll warn his secretary in advance that I’m planning a surprise attack on my husband’s office. Before he gets there, Love Bomb his door with heart Post-it notes, then leave a Valentine Card and treat on his desk, and, finally, show up with a “picnic” lunch from his favorite take-out joint.


Adult Time on the Weekend—I bought Friday night play tickets for a community theater (my sweetheart has a soft spot for local drama). The babysitting arrangements are already made, and two other couples are meeting us for dinner before the play!


See, who says romance is dead? You can have it all! Family time AND a hint of romance.


How do you fit in romance for Valentine’s Day?


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So, Junk Food in Schools Isn't to Blame for Kids' Obesity?

Wait a minute. Can this be true? Researchers at Pennsylvania State University have released the results of a study in which they found no relationship between children’s obesity levels and the availability of soft drinks, candy bars, and chips at school.


Are you as stunned—and perhaps annoyed—as I am? All the angst and hand wringing that’s gone into banning birthday cupcakes from 1st grade classroom celebrations and eradicating junk-food-dispensing vending machines from high schools has now all been for naught?


Well, not really. Junk food, after all, is junk: high fat, high-calorie, high salt, low-nutrition and, other than tasty, not good. But it turns out that a child’s propensity toward obesity has much more to do with what he eats at home— and after school, and on the weekends, and at friends’ houses—than the French fries he orders for his school lunch. That and the type of food he’s been eating all along. And let’s not forget portion size. 


Perhaps we all should have realized the folly of attacking schools as a source of the childhood obesity scourge. Or, perhaps it’s the only place where we felt we had some control?


What foods have been banned at your children’s schools? And after reading the results of this study, how do you feel about such bans?





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Food Allergy Tragedy: Parents, Check Your Child's School Action Plan

In a tragic case of a severe allergic reaction, a 1st grade-student at an elementary school in Virginia, died Monday, Jan. 2, after reportedly being exposed to a peanut product. 

This heartbreaking incident is a reminder to all parents about just how deadly exposure to a food allergen can be for children with food allergies. It’s also a reminder to parents of children with food allergies, to check and double-check that precautions and an emergency action are in place at their children’s’ schools. 

Read SchoolFamily.com's article on Food Allergies and School-Age Kids, which provides thorough tips on how parents should communicate with their child’s school about food allergies. As the article points out, while it’s important to speak with the school principal and the child’s teacher, it’s also critically important for parents to speak directly to the cafeteria staff where food products are prepared, as well as to school volunteers who might come in contact with their children.





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When School Lunch Is A Cold Cheese Sandwich

It’s happened to all of us. Your child tells you the night before that he’s out of lunch money in his account at school and needs it for the next day—or else.

That “or else” used to mean a stern dressing-down by the even sterner “lunch lady.” It was embarrassing for your child, but she got over it.

This week, a school in Rhode Island opted for a more punitive method that’s becoming the norm for more and more cash-strapped school districts—giving children who are out of school lunch money a cold cheese sandwich for their lunch.

The Rhode Island school’s policy allows for a child to receive three free hot lunches when their lunch money account is at zero before getting the “cold” shoulder, er, sandwich, for their fourth lunch.

Rhode Island isn’t alone in this policy: in 2009, large school systems such as the Albuquerque Public School district instituted the “cold cheese sandwich” policy—often referred to as a “courtesy lunch”—along with hundreds of other districts across the country.

Problem is, kids feel singled out and humiliated when handed their cold cheese sandwich, which comes with a piece of fruit and a carton of milk; that apparently makes the lunch nutritious according to Department of Education guidelines. But most kids and their parents say such a meal is not filling or appealing.

And for kids already stigmatized by receiving free or reduced-cost lunches, getting slapped with a cold cheese sandwich feels like insult added to injury.

But it gets worse. Students in the Edmonds School District in Washington actually have their hot lunch trays taken away from them in the lunch line if they owe money on their lunch account, and are presented with the cold cheese sandwich instead. Talk about humiliating.

The decision to give a cold cheese sandwich for lunch is a local one, according to information in a 2009 study done by the School Nutrition Association. In “The Bottom Line on Charge Policies,” a statement from the United States Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service read: “All full price policies for school meals are matters of local discretion. This includes decisions about whether or not to extend credit to children who forget their meal money or whether or not to provide an alternate meal to such children. Therefore, a school could decide not to provide meals to children who must pay the full price for their meals but do not have the money to do so. In some cases, the PTA or other school organization may establish a fund to pay for children who forget or lose their money. Schools should ensure that parents are fully aware of the policy adopted for children who do not have their meal money.”

What’s the policy in your children’s school? Have they ever received a cold cheese sandwich for lunch?

Editor's note: For healthy, nutritious school lunch and lunchbox ideas, visit our new SchoolFamily.com Recipe Share. Do you have a good recipe you'd be willing to share? Send it to us and we'll include it on our site!

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Helping Kids Develop a Positive Body Image

Does your son complain about his hair? Does your daughter say horrible things about her thighs? Do your other kids make occasional comments about being "fat?"

And do you worry what they'll be feeling and saying about themselves when they hit their teenage years?

Disturbing as that sounds, kids today are dissing themselves—and their bodies—at younger and younger ages, say child development experts like Lyndsay Elliott, a clinical psychologist in Newport Beach, Calif. Elliott says that kids even as young as age 8 are creating mental images of their body—ans they aren't necessarily positive.

But there are ways that parents can help. Read SchoolFamily.com's article, 6 Tips to Help Kids Develop a Positive Body Image, which offers specific ways to help your daughter or son develop a self-image that is honest, realistic, and self-affirming.




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Calling all cooks: SchoolFamily.com is looking for your recipes!

Calling all cooks!

SchoolFamily.com is launching a complete recipe section, and we’re looking for your favorite recipes to share among our readers! Do you have a weeknight dinner recipe that’s quick and easy? A no-fail school lunch recipe that your kids will actually eat? Perhaps there’s a dessert you make that’s to die for? Or, how about a recipe for something delicious that you and your kids make together?

Using our easy recipe submission form, send us your favorite recipes and we’ll include them in our recipe section when it launches in early 2012—you can even upload a photo of your culinary creation using the recipe submission form! We’ll email you when our new recipe section goes live, and if you have a website or blog that you’d like us to link to your recipe, simply include your url on the recipe submission form.

We have a wide variety of recipe categories so you can choose where your recipes should appear. Some categories include: Power Breakfasts; School Lunches; After-School Snacks; Quick and Easy Weeknight Dinners; Recipes to Make With Kids; Appetizers; Soups and Stews; Desserts; and much, much more.

Best of all, the recipes are free, printable, and can be emailed and shared with others.

Pull out all your favorite recipes, and upload them to SchoolFamily.com here, and you’ll be a part of our new recipe section!

 For any questions, please feel free to email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 Happy cooking!

Carol Brooks Ball, editor





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How to Help Overweight Students Navigate Back to School With Confidence

For many students, back to school means shopping for new clothes, purchasing new school supplies, and being reunited with their friends after the summer vacation.

For students who are overweight, however, the back-to-school period can be a dreaded time, fraught with anxiety and self-doubt.

There are ways to help students, and their parents, face down their anxiety. At fitsmiformoms.com, there are thoughtful tips for parents with ways they can help their overweight children return to school with confidence. Tips include everything from cutting out the tags of a child's new back to school clothes ("Don't let a number define your child") to having a student bring lunch from home to avoid eating the typically high-calorie school lunch offerings, and shopping for flattering and fashionable back to school clothes. 

Overweight students especially need a confidence boost at this time of year, a time that finds most students anxious about the return to school. For some overweight kids, their sense of confidence may be particularly low if they tried to lose weight over the summer and weren't successful.

All kids deserve to look and feel their best upon returning to school and facing the challenges of a new academic year.

-- By Carol Brooks Ball



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Searching for Balanced & Tasty Before-School Breakfasts

Is it just me or is getting your kids to eat breakfast before school a challenge?  I am ever-conscious of not being a helicopter parent, but when it comes to breakfast, this is one battle that I pick. 

As the school year progresses, my kids seem to be getting up later and later and doing a grab-and-go breakfast.  With exams looming, I decided to go back to the drawing board and come up with some new, quick but balanced breakfast recipes and ideas. Thought I’d share some of the latest favorites:

  • Homemade Granola with fruit and yogurt- Don’t tell my kids but I halve the sugar in the granola recipe and add in stuff like flax meal and wheat germ. And it still tastes awesome. Even if you’re running late you can throw granola in a container with yogurt and fruit to nosh on the bus. (Hopefully, they’ll remember to take the container out of the backpack at the end of the day.)
  • Whole wheat toast with fruit and Nutella®-  Sorry to say that my kids are not fans of whole wheat anything… they will tell you it’s because I was an evil mother and didn’t give them white bread  (only whole grain) when they were little. But If you spread some Nutella® on a slice of whole wheat toast, then top it with sliced strawberries or bananas, they won’t even notice that it’s whole wheat. Brilliant yummy-ness!
  • Smoothies- Another great way to sneak "better for you" foods into breakfast. I have found if I put too much protein powder in, I get complaints from the kids… and they were on to me when I added wheat germ… but, in general, if I add banana and vanilla yogurt to whatever I put in there, they love it. Mangos are the favorite frozen fruit to add to smoothies in our house. Add a little orange juice to the mangos, bananas and vanilla yogurt and it tastes like summer in a glass. As for the flax seed oil that I add-- well, we won't talk about that because no one knows it's there.

OK, now it’s your turn to tell your favorite, quick but balanced breakfast ideas! I am sure that I am not the only mom who is forever searching for breakfast foods that the kids will actually eat!

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Get Moving and Do Better in School

Last week was school vacation here in Massachusetts.  One afternoon I went to lunch with a few friends who were lamenting how difficult it is to get their kids outside and moving. Of course the conversation turned to limiting TV, computer and gaming time.  During the course of the conversation there were times when we each checked a text message or two... it could be the kids, right? Then it hit me. Here we are complaining about how our kids are being couch potatoes when in some ways, many of us contribute to living a sedentary life style. When you have down time with family, do you watch TV or movies... or do you go for walk or visit the gym together? When you get together with other families, is it all about food or do you go do something active together like snow tubing or bicycling? It's all about choices right? This revelation made me realize as parents we need to judge less and model more ... and make healthier choices.

That's why I was very excited to learn that School Family is partnering with Let's Move! 

Let’s Move! is a comprehensive initiative, launched by the First Lady, dedicated to solving the problem of obesity within a generation, so that children born today will grow up healthier and able to pursue their dreams.


What's nice about this program is that it gives you a framework for moving towards a healthier way of living. We have tons of new tools in our Print and Use Tools section to get your family involved in the Let's Move initiative: 

Let's Move! Take Action Schools Guide

Let's Move! Take Action Parents Guide

Let's Move! Grocery List Template

Let's Move! Family Activities Guide

Let's Move! Healthy Family Calendar

Let's Move! Screen Time Log

Let's Move! Goal Tracker

Research indicates that kids who get regular exercise do better in school. How's that for an added incentive? Print out the material, set some goals, and get moving! 

What does your family do to keep active together? How do you inspire your kids to get exercise? How would you like to change your family's  life style?

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Get Your Family Health & Wellness Questions Answered, Live by a Pediatrician!

Keeping kids healthy and in school is always high on a parent’s priority list. But sometimes, parents have questions about how to promote healthy lifestyles and when to keep kids home from school. We bet you have a few health and wellness questions or concerns of your own that need answering, which is why we’d like to invite you to join Dr. Jana for a live video chat this Wednesday, November 17th from 1 – 1:30pm EST on our Healthy School Kids page.

Dr. Jana is a pediatrician, mother of three, Lysol®* in-house health expert, and health communicator. She is well recognized nationally for her ongoing efforts to promote healthy lifestyles for children and offers credible, practical parenting advice.

Post your questions for Dr. Jana below in our comments section, ahead of time, or tune in to our Healthy School Kids page on Wednesday and ask her live! 1pm ET/12pm CT/10am PTF


* Lysol is a sponsor of the Healthy School Kids program.

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The Price for Being Absent from School

“School is more demanding for my kids than it was when I went to school.” How many times have you said this or heard this said?

Kids need to be at their best in order to do well and enjoy school. It seems that never before has it been more important have healthy school kids and to avoid absences from school. I talked to our teacher bloggers, Connie McCarthy and Livia McCoy and asked them how kids missing school affects their class room and the student.

Connie, focusing on early elementary school said, “It's the initial instructional lesson that is SO important. (Not written work that can be made up.) Repeated absences can cause a child to miss an important part of sequential learning. Two things can happen:

  1. Children fall behind because they are missing an important piece of instruction.
  2. Or, chronic absences can sometimes force teachers to slow the pace of instruction, in order to review lessons for children who missed crucial skills. This ultimately affects the entire class.”

Livia talked about how kids being absent from school affects kids in older grades:

“Because learning builds on previous learning, you can never truly make up for an absence. The hands-on activities, discussion, and interaction in class cannot be made up. At best, each teacher can meet with the child to go over what was done in class. You can even have them do the activities they missed. But they do not hear other student’s questions and interact with classmates.

If a child misses one day, they have to make up ALL their work in ALL their classes. Plus, they have to keep up with their current work. It is too difficult for them to do. So you have to hope that whatever they missed won’t leave too large a gap in their knowledge-base for the next learning to occur. If a student misses 1 day of school in a week, they missed 20% of what was taught that week. The net effect may be 30% loss in learning overall because of the scaffolding effect.”

Ugh. That’s a lot to think about. Makes me think twice about how to keep my family healthy this school year. No one likes to see their kids sick or stressed out from make-up work. Bottom line, though, is that schools are germy! That’s why we want to do some brain storming to come up with a list of ways to keep our kids healthy and in school. We are starting brainstorming session over on our Facebook page.

So head over to our Facebook page and tell us what steps you’re taking to keep your kids healthy and in school this year for a chance to win a gift certificate good towards a professional house cleaning and a gift pack chock full of Lysol cleaning products!

If you’re not sure how to begin, just start with an old fashioned fill in the blank: I am keeping my kids healthy this school year by ____________.

The price for your kids missing school is high but the pay off for you coming up with ways to keep them healthy is even higher. Look forward to brainstorming with you!

* The Healthy School Kids blog drawing runs from  October 6th through October 20th, at 11pm EST. At the end of that time period all Facebook fans that wrote a healthy kids idea on our wall will be entered to win a professional house cleaning gift certificate, and a gift pack full of Lysol cleaning products. One entry per person and one name will be drawn randomly from all the comments.

Disclosure: Lysol is a sponsor of the Healthy School Kids program. 

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Blog Give-Away: Win a Free House Cleaning & Lysol Gift Pack

Are your kids sniffling and sneezing already this school year? Yep, cold and flu season is upon us. You'll be happy to know that we just launched a new Healthy School Kids page that provides practical tips, tools and insight on keeping kids healthy during the school year.

To kick off our our new Healthy School Kids page we are doing a fun give-away*. Here's how it works: 

  • Head over to our Facebook page and tell us what steps you’re taking to keep your kids healthy and in school this year for a chance to win a gift certificate good towards a professional house cleaning and a gift pack chock full of Lysol cleaning products!
  • If you’re not sure how to begin, just start with an old fashioned fill in the blank: I am keeping my kids healthy this school year by ____________.


The Healthy School Kids blog drawing runs from  October 6th through October 20th, at 11pm EST. At the end of that time period all Facebook fans that wrote a healthy kids idea on our wall will be entered to win a professional house cleaning gift certificate, and a gift pack full of Lysol cleaning products. One entry per person and one name will be drawn randomly

Disclosure: Lysol is a sponsor of the Healthy School Kids program. 

Update on October 21, 2010. The winner of the Healthy School Kids blog drawing is Wendy Clough Braun. Congrats Wendy! Thanks to all that added their two cents on how they are keeping their kids healthy! Be sure to visit our Healthy School Kids page to pick up more great tips.

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Make-overs for School Lunches

What do Michele ObamaRachel Ray and the Hidden Valley company have in common? (No this is not a joke!) The answer: They all want America's school lunches to get an extreme make-over! I think I hear moms from coast to coast applauding loudly. 

How nice  would it be if parents didn't feel guilty when they couldn't send their kids to school with a bag lunch? That's why I think the Hidden Valley's "Love Your Veggies" grant is so cool. Their grants are helping schools provide healthful cafeteria lunches. Just recently they awarded ten elementary schools each with a $10,000  that will go towards getting fresh fruits & veggies into school meals.  Pretty interesting to read how the winning schools are using their grant money:   https://www.loveyourveggies.com/winners_2010.php

Has your school caught the healthy lunch fever? What steps are they taking to offer more nutritious choices to your kids? Would love to hear about it. 

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Math Fun with Snacks

Math Fun with Snacks

Turn snack time into math time with a few simple tricks and activities to make math fun and delicious!

  • Play “Roll for a Snack.” Use a small snack cup or plate. Take one die, from a pair of dice, and have your child roll it. Count out a raisin, goldfish cracker, small pretzel, or favorite small snack for each dot on the die. Keep rolling and counting until the small cup or plate is full.
  • Use small pretzel or carrot sticks to form the numbers 1 to 10. When the set is complete say a number (“8,” for example.) If she can point to it, she can eat it! Continue randomly saying the remaining numbers until they are all gone.
  • Use carrot sticks, pretzel sticks, or Cheerios to measure a clean, flat object. (Around the edge of a plate, the long side of a cereal box, the short edge of the table, etc.) Count, than eat the measuring tools.
  • Take a deck of playing cards, with all face cards removed. Have your child turn over two cards. Add the numbers, by counting the hearts, clubs, spades, or diamonds, and count out that many Cheerios, raisins, grapes, etc.
  • Make patterns on a small plate. For example, put a strawberry, grape, banana slice, and blueberry, than repeat the sequence until the small plate is full and ready to eat.

These fun activities will help your child with number sense, adding and subtracting, more than-less than, and measuring skills in an interactive and meaningful way.

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Healthy School Lunches: an Oxymoron?

Just came across this blog called "Fed-up: School Lunch Project" and was very intrigued. I've read with great interest countless articles about what parents are doing to reform school lunches, and how to have healthy school kids, but thought that this blog was unique. For starters, it's written by a teacher.  This teacher decided to eat school lunches (the same ones that students eat)  every day in 2010 and chronicle her gastronomic adventures. Yes, she is writing about what she eats (well sometimes eats) in her school lunch every day. The simplicity of it is almost Seinfeld-esque.  

What I like about her blog is that she is making a point about what our kids are fed in school cafeterias without shouting about it:

 Let's think about what we give students to ingest. For instance, I personally enjoy eating hot dogs maybe every 4-6 months, mostly in the summer cooked on a grill. Also I eat them when I go to the ballpark as a special treat. But I wonder if we should give a child a hot dog lunch and then ask them to take the ISAT (state test)... 

As parents of school-age children, I thought you might be interested in following her blog as well.

Also interested in hearing how the lunch menus at your child's school to hers? Have you tried to champion a healthy eating campaign at your school? Tell us about it. 


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Why Breakfast Really Is the Most Important Meal of the Day

When I was growing up, my mother insisted that my sister, brother and I eat breakfast every morning. This was non-negotiable. Mom said, "You can't learn on an empty stomach." Just once, I wanted to go to school hungry to find out if she was right, but I never. First of all, there was no way my mother was letting me out of the house without breakfast. Secondly, she cooked serious breakfasts: scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage sandwiches, fried apples, pancakes, French toast, waffles, scrapple and eggs. (I’m getting hungry just thinking about it.) So, I ate breakfast, and I did well in school, but I had no idea if one thing had anything to do with the other.

Turns out, my mother was right (again). You can't learn on an empty stomach!

Children that regularly eat a nutritious breakfast have improved concentration, better problem-solving skills, more physical stamina, and are less likely to eat unhealthy snacks after school. They miss fewer days of school. They are more fit than students that don’t eat breakfast. They sit calmly in their seats, always raise their hands, and remember everything the teacher tells them. (Maybe that last sentence was a slight exaggeration, but not much. Students with full stomachs are much easier to teach, as any teacher will tell you.)

Most convenience breakfast foods are loaded with fat, sugar and preservatives. Refined sugar- found in those yummy breakfast cereals your kids beg for- is especially insidious. Sugar is a powerful drug that takes you on a high and then brings you crashing down in the middle of math.

Nobody is saying that you must get up at dawn and make your children a ten-course meal from scratch. Make sure that they eat something that will “stick to their ribs” and help them sail through the morning.

Here are a few good breakfast choices to mix and match: oatmeal, fruit, cereal, toast, yogurt, muffins, milk, soy milk, tofu, nuts, string cheese, fruit smoothie. Or, why not live a little and give your kids a veggie wrap, or a bowl of chicken noodle soup, or a ham and cheese sandwich, maybe even a slice of pizza and a glass of milk?

Like the Spanish proverb says, "The belly rules the mind."

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After-School Snacks and Homework

My children have been in school for a month, but for many families, the day after Labor Day is the first day of the new school year. It is also the first day of after-school snacks. What your children eat after school has a big impact on how well they are able to do their homework.

You want to give it some thought before they walk in the door.

My kids are polar opposites. My daughter likes to start her homework as soon as possible; my son prefers to wait until the morning. (How do I know this? The Homework Personality Quiz!) However, they both want a snack the minute they get home from school. In fact, if they don’t have a snack immediately, they might die of starvation.

So, I let them eat something. There are, however, a few snack rules:

  1. Easy. Easy to make and easy to clean up. I have enough problems with breakfast, lunch and dinner. There is no way I want to deal with planning, cooking or cleaning up another meal. After-school snacks must be quick and simple.
  2. Healthy. Basically, this means low sugar. I am not a health food fanatic; I just don’t want to give my children anything that will make them wild, fidgety and unable to concentrate all afternoon.
  3. Dinner-Friendly. Most of us don’t overeat fiber and protein- it’s the refined sugar and processed carbohydrates that cause the problems. Don’t make your children's after-school snack too much like dessert. It should tide them over until dinner, not spoil it.

My Favorite After-School Snacks:

  • apple or celery with low-sugar peanut butter
  • string cheese and a piece of fruit (grapes)
  • sliced vegetables (peppers, carrots) with dip (hummus, ranch dressing)
  • strawberries dipped in dark chocolate (believe it or not, this is healthy, and most kids love it)
  • cheese and crackers

I save these snacks for after school- rarely in lunches- so my kids don’t get sick and tired of them. Of course, there are many, many more healthy, easy, dinner-friendly snack ideas. Please, share some of yours!

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Do you allow your children to watch TV or play on the computer before doing their homework?

No - 37.4%
Sometimes - 25.4%
Yes - 31.6%

Total votes: 4919
The voting for this poll has ended on: June 25, 2016