March Madness and the Healthy Food Challenge

It’s the perfect time of year for a healthy food challenge! March is National Nutrition Month and it’s also March Madness. So on a run, a time when I often get my best ideas, I decided it would be really cool to combine these two great activities into a Healthy Food Challenge!

healthy food

Healthy Food Challenge Bracket

Luckily our elementary school has a principal who supports healthy eating, I have a great working relationship with our PTO and the new Kids of STEEL club is a hit, and our new Food Services Director is setting a tone of cooperation with parents. So many factors came together just right for this activity.

Healthy Food Challenge:

I worked with food services to determine which eight fruits and vegetables would be available every day in the cafeteria. Then I created the match-ups, randomly setting up eight fruit opponents on one side and eight veggie opponents on the other.

vegetables for kids

The Veggie Conference

fruit for kids

The Fruit Conference

We sent the brackets home in advance so kids could fill them out and turn them in. I entered all the picks into a spreadsheet to track the winners. This took a lot of time! Over 200 kids turned in brackets, that’s about 1/3 of our school population.

The first round happened today. I walked around the cafeteria for each of our three lunch periods and asked kids what fruit or veggie they wanted to vote for. They could only vote for fruits or veggies they had tasted that day at lunch.

I must admit, I was surprised how many kids claimed they had not eaten any fruits or veggies for lunch that day. Some tried to claim fruit snacks were a fruit. Not a chance. One kid tried to tell me pistachios were a fruit. As much as I love pistachios and prefer them to fruit snacks, I still had to tell her no. But I told her to keep eating pistachios.

That’s why the title Healthy Food Challenge is perfect. We are challenging the kids to get more healthy foods into their daily diets.

Winners will be chosen from the most accurate brackets. We’re also pulling a few brackets from all the entries to give away some small random prizes.

My motivation to try some fun, healthy activities at school came from listening to a webinar hosted for parents by Action for Healthy Kids. I was really excited to learn tips and techniques for working with schools to increase nutritious foods and more physical activity in the school day, especially after some unfortunately negative experiences with a “wellness committee” that didn’t do much in our district when my oldest son was in kindergarten and first grade.

We have a great district and a great school. I think there’s a lot of potential here. And our principal really supports our Kids of STEEL running program. Unfortunately I’ve also received an automated call from him asking families to support a school fundraiser where teachers work behind the counter at a local McDonald’s. That activity drives me nuts.

I still have a lot to learn about increasing wellness at our school. Luckily there are more webinars from Action for Healthy Kids coming up. I have a dream of the school having a community garden before my youngest, who isn’t even in kindergarten yet, graduates sixth grade. I’m excited to learn more about why taking away recess time as punishment is bad for academic achievement.

 

 

Recipe for Success: Working Mom Tips

As a contributor to 30SecondMom, I have connected with interesting, motivated and funny moms across the country. These moms also offer some really excellent working mom tips, and as a working mom myself, I often find my balance shifts day to day, hour to hour.

That’s why I’m proud to share this interview with fellow 30Second Mom and author Marci Fair as she launches her book TILT – 7 Solutions To Be A Guilt-Free Working Mom as a part of my Recipe for Success feature. Marci is a wife, mom of four & friend who has worked in real estate for over twenty years. She founded kares4kids.com, which has served over 15,000 children since 2005.

working mom balance

TILT by Marci Fair

What is TILT?

TILT-7 Solutions To Be A Guilt-Free Working Mom is a practical parenting guide brimming with real life suggestions, tips, and advice for working mothers. It encourages them, as they help their children reach for their goals and dreams, to continue to reach for their own. It is filled with over 70 quotes from the author’s children, over 100 practical guilt-free tips and the wisdom of over 80 other amazing working mothers.

Was writing TILT self-motivated? 

As a working mom of four, I had to find my own meaning and peace within the chaos I had created. And balance was not an option. So, I TILTed instead.

I wrote TILT to cut through the commotion of my day-to-day life and find solutions that worked for our family. As I learned how to incorporate these ideas into our life, I found the answers I wanted to enjoy my mom-journey.

With so many of my mom friends also struggling with mom guilt, I wanted to share my best ideas with them on how to overcome that painful problem.

What are your favorite parts of TILT? 

I have many parts that I really like about TILT – the funny Mom Quizzes, the silly children’s quotes (70+!), and the Guilt-free Tips at the end of each chapter. I also really appreciate the 86 ideas from other moms included in TILT.

As I have matured, I have also realized how much I still need to learn. So I asked other women to share their own hard-earned mom wisdom in TILT as well, to make it an even richer book for the reader.

What was your favorite part of the process?

I have been working on this “heart-project” to write TILT for many years now. It was very challenging for me to put all the parts and pieces together. I had it edited over, and over, and over again to make it the best that I could.

As it’s “construction” was challenging, I would say the most rewarding part for me has been after its publication, to hear and see how amazingly well-received it has been. I am so thankful that it has only “5” Star reviews on Amazon so far (40) and delighted when a mom tells me how much it has helped her in her life. The strength of the feedback and the conversations with the moms are my favorite parts!

Get your copy of TILT!

 

The Secret of Social Media

The Secret of Social Media

Right now, I’m working with the U.S. part of a major corporation to plan their social media strategy for the next twelve months. We’ve identified buckets of topics to discuss, like insider info on their brand, fun contests, debatable questions and lots, and lots, and lots of photos. We’ve selected people from the various departments in the company to contribute content so it’s not all one person. But after developing all that social media content, I told the client we were only half done.

“Half?!”

My client was a bit upset.

“What more do we need??”

“You need someone that you trust to listen and reply to every comment, every retweet, every mention, every question. Social media is a party. Sometimes it’s a business party, sometimes it’s a cocktail party, sometimes it’s a Sunday afternoon football watching party. When you go to a party you don’t stand there and shout out all your thoughts. If you did that, you’d be called a jerk and never invited back. You need, as a brand, to have conversations. And that’s the secret of social media.”

“What? What is the secret?”

“Listen, and then let your customers know you heard them.”

social media secret

Good listening is hard.

Why brands and businesses are like little children

This client conversation was especially important to me right now because I am having the exact same conversation with my children. I am trying to train my children on the art of conversation and building relationships with people, including their family members. And that means when someone (like Mom) speaks to you, you acknowledge that you heard (‘Yes, Mom”) and answer the question (“Yes, Mom I was the one who unrolled all of the toilet paper. I was trying to see how much was left.”).

The secret to social media is simple. Talk to your customers the way you would -hopefully- talk to people in real life. You would listen to what they say and reply.

Many brands are not practicing good listening on social media. A recent study by Simply Measured showed that 98 of the top 100 brands on Twitter tweeting daily, but only 54% replied to messages. Like my little children, this makes it seem like they are simply not listening.

Good listening is hard. Really, really good listening is a learned technique. It involves certain body postures and skills like repeating back what you have heard someone say to validate their comments. It can also involve asking more questions instead of jumping to the conclusion that you already know the real issue. Lots of adults are not good listeners.

I’m not saying parents are the best listeners. But I am saying when you’re looking for someone to manage your social media, it’s not really about whether they understand ‘the technology.’ The secret to social media is to find a skilled listener.

Thank You Notes from Kids

thank you kids thank you notes

Good habits start early

Do you send thank you notes?

Have you ever forgotten to send a thank you note?

I volunteered at our elementary school this month helping with an assembly and the launch of a new school activity, Kids of STEEL. Kids who join this program will get to run together once a week and learn about healthy eating. It’s right up my alley.

But after the assembly ended, our PTO president and principal realized they had forgotten to unroll the giant thank you sign they had created for these kinds of events.

“There’s just so much going on,” lamented our PTO president.

So I opened my big mouth and made this suggestion: “Let the kids take over saying thanks. Have the student government put together a gratitude team, and they can write thank you notes to volunteers and guests.”

We discussed photographing the large thank you sign and creating custom thank you cards. The principal is taking the idea to the teacher who advises student government, and I am hopeful they will give it a try.

The PTO can still write notes or send emails, but I think involving the kids has so many benefits. Writing thank you notes as a kid is almost as important eating healthy and exercises. Writing thank you notes is a physical, active way to help my children develop a strong sense of gratitude. I know that feeling gratitude can go a long way toward helping a child feel happy and satisfied in whatever path they follow in life.

Gratitude and Thank You Notes

I recently finished local Pittsburgh author Britt Reints’ book An Amateur’s Guide to the Pursuit of Happiness. Reints dedicates an entire chapter to the science of gratitude. She cites research that argues when we feel and express gratitude, we are happier. She also emphasizes that gratitude is not the same as feeling indebted, and I am working hard to help my children understand the subtle difference there.

Working with volunteers gives me many times to feel and share my gratitude. Over the past ten years, I have often found myself struggling to find ways to express my gratitude that matches the value of the gifts these volunteers have shared. I collected a list of the 100 most creative and relevant ways I’ve said thanks to volunteers and these ideas are available to you as an e-book called Thanks! 100 Ways to Appreciate Volunteers.

Should you force it?

Some families don’t have a habit of writing thank you notes. I often give my grandmother credit for building the habit for me, but really my mom was just as influential. She would often say, “Write the thank you note, or we’ll never hear the end of it from your grandmother.” I guess they had a pretty effective good cop/bad cop system going because even now I say those things to my children.

Technology offers lots of ways to say thank you now beyond the traditional handwritten note. And my family has used a variety of them, like the photo at the top of this blog. But we never abandon the thank you note completely. I do agree that the way we say thank you isn’t as important as remembering to do it in the first place. A true, heartfelt “thank you” is all we need to offer.

I have two requests for feedback here:

Do you value handwritten note more or less than other ways of showing gratitude?

What creative ways you have helped your children – or you have used yourself – to express gratitude?

Healthy Snacks for Kids

Let’s Move Pittsburgh hosted their first ever Symposium on November 7, 2013 at Phipps Conservatory. The title was “Making the Healthy Choice the Easy Choice.” I really liked that title because so much research shows that when you give children choices at the grocery store, during preparation and during meals – and those choices are healthy choices – kids will choose good-for-them-food.

I also learned from Let’s Move that the USDA is rolling out a new Smart Snacks in Schools program.
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Healthy Snacks for Kids

I started thinking about places where I could increase healthy choices for my children, and our wonderful community soccer program came to mind. My boys have played soccer for about two years and I always cringe when they ask to buy Hugs at the snack bar after games.

So I started asking people about alternatives at the Symposium.

“Instead of Hugs, give the kids their water bottles at the beginning of the season and get them filled up at the snack bar,” suggested Jesse Sharrard, Food Safety and Nutrition Manager from Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank.

I loved that idea because water is so important for young athletes and getting rid of those Hugs would reduce litter on the soccer fields.

But I know the soccer league relies on snack bar sales to fund a lot of the program. And if the snack bar has candy for sale, the kids will ask for that.  So I asked parents on Facebook what healthy snacks their children would actually buy.

Here are some of their answers:

  • Squeeze applesauce
  • Peanut Butter and apples
  • Fig Newtons
  • Carrots and celery sticks
  • Kid-styled Luna Bars
  • Pirates Booty
  • Frozen Go-Gurts
  • Sunflower Seeds
  • Peanuts
  • Pumpkin Seeds
  • Bananas, Oranges, Apples
  • Yogurt-covered Raisins

So what are your thoughts? What healthy snacks would your kids buy at school or at concession stands?

How to Get Kids to Eat Vegetables

how to get kids to eat vegetables

Give kids a choice

The secret

The secret to getting kids to eat vegetables is really quite simple. Give them the choice. Before you click away saying, “My kid would choose not to eat them,” hear me out. I didn’t say give them the choice whether or not to eat vegetables. Give them the choice of which vegetables and fruits.

There is real scientific evidence to back this up, but let me begin anecdotally. The photo above is from our Pittsburgh-area elementary school cafeteria. How does our school get kids to eat vegetables and fruits? They offer a choice.

And when my boys buy lunch, which is about once a week, I tell them they need to choose a fruit and a vegetable, but it’s up to them what to choose. I offer them a choice.

My second son, who is a bit picky, usually sticks with applesauce and carrots.

My oldest son almost always chooses grapes and the crunchy vegetable mix of cucumbers, celery and carrots. Choices within choices.

The science

Now for the scientific evidence. This study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition concludes that offering kids a variety of vegetables and fruit and letting them choose which ones to eat led to them eating more fruits and vegetables!

The researchers observed that “children chose some pieces in 94% of snacks with variety and in 70% of snacks without variety” and “Providing a variety of vegetables and fruit as a snack led to increased consumption of both food types in a childcare facility. Serving a variety of vegetables or fruit as a snack could help preschool children meet recommended intakes.”

Think about your own eating habits. I am sure you prefer to have more than a little choice in the matter. We all love some control over what we eat. So if you are looking for ways to get kids to eat vegetables and fruits, offer a choice.

Have you given your kids choice in their foods? Has it helped? 

 

 

 

Kids Lunch Box Ideas (by kids)

Do you frequently look for kids lunch box ideas? Do your food choices differ from what your kids would choose?

For a school assignment my six-year-old had to draw what he would pack in his lunch box if he were in charge:

kids lunch box ideas

A pretty healthy lunch!

When he explained his drawing, I was pleasantly surprised. He ‘packed’ a Nutella sandwich, rice cake, square pretzels, a green apple and a water bottle.

I love these lunch box ideas.

My husband and I enjoy the convenience of the school lunch but I prefer to have a little more input on what my boys eat, at least until I can really can an understanding of how healthy our school district’s lunches are. I’m learning more from Let’s Move Pittsburgh about how to understand what is offered by our school’s food services program.

But for now, I want our boys to pack more often than they buy. After seeing this drawing, I feel like my effort to teach them about healthy food choices is having some good results. I like that when they are told to make their own choices, the choices include at least one fruit! That’s not too bad! I feel like I can give my boys some input on their lunches and I can continue to present them with good options.

I’m hopeful that we are building healthy kids lunch box ideas!

Fun Family Dinners at Skinny Pete’s in Pittsburgh

Join us for the first of many fun family dinners at Skinny Pete’s (click on Events) in Pittsburgh on Monday evening, September 16, 2013 starting at 5:30pm. Parents get to enjoy a peaceful meal while their children are happily engaged in creating a  a self-portrait flatbread from healthy, fresh, local ingredients!

We know the more that children encounter fresh foods, the more they are involved with cooking and selecting the ingredients of their meal, the more likely they are to try something good that’s good for them!

All kids also get a copy of My Food Notebook to record what foods they tried.

Fun family dinners aren’t just a dream – they are happening right here in Pittsburgh! Join us!

Fun Family Dinners this September!

fun family dinners Pittsburgh

Enjoy a great meal with the family!

Fun Food for Your Picky Preschooler

I know it’s tough to to the parent of a picky preschooler. They are not at the age when you can reason with them and their tastes change so quickly, it can feel so frustrating. But there’s another way to approach the challenge: make it fun.

I was so lucky to visit a Bright Horizons class this summer and bring one of my Tasting Party workshops. There was more than one picky preschooler in attendance. I was bringing some new foods to them to try so we decided to make it fun. Making pizza on a stick all by themselves was a delightful adventure. Take a look at these brave little faces!

picky preschooler

Do it yourself – it tastes better!

 

 

 

Fun for these kids means hands-on and the opportunity to examine the food options as much as possible before tasting it.They looked closely at the food, smelled it, touched it and then finally nibbled and tried! More than one child tried tomatoes for the first time. Not everybody liked them but they were giggling and chatting and no one whined! Can you imagine that kind of dinner?

picky preschooler

No one can resist food on a stick

Recipe for Success: Best Brain Food for College Success

Understanding the importance of brain food is not rocket science. Enough research has proven the value of breakfast and a balanced diet not just for kids but for adults, too. I do believe what we eat can impact our total well-being. If you want your kids to do well in school and if you want to get through work or a workout without feeling like a total zombie, then you must pay attention to what you put in your mouth.

So when Nicole from The Best Colleges contacted me about this infographic and asked me to review it, I happily agreed. And I felt that her advice was useful not just for college students but for anyone looking to do their best.

I was dismayed to read about the amount of fast food college students eat but relieved that coffee and dark chocolate (in moderation) can boost memory and reduce stress.

Since my own children are still in elementary and preschool, I control most of what they eat and include a lot of brain food. But parents of college students have to trust their children will adopt or continue good habits. I remember reasonably healthy options offered in my college dining hall, but when I moved off-campus and had to cook for myself an unhealthy amount of pepperoni Hot Pockets entered the picture. And what about campuses in big cities that might be in food deserts?

Did your nutrition get worse when you were in college? Does anyone know of colleges including farmer’s markets or increasing fresh produce options in campus eateries?

 

freshman 15, brain food

Boost Your Brain!