Chickpea Celery Dip

Chickpea Celery Dip

A tasty plant-based snack…

This quick and easy Chickpea Celery Dip recipe is a delicious plant-based snack. Enjoy this dip, which only takes a few minutes to eat, after school or after lunch. Usually, we think of celery as something that you use for dipping, but in this recipe, the celery is in the dip! Celery is also a stem vegetable, which is a March Foods of the Month.

We love that this Chickpea Celery Dip recipe is full of nutritious ingredients like chickpeas, celery, herbs and Greek yogurt. Chickpeas are packed with fiber, protein, and other important nutrients like magnesium, and iron. Celery is naturally very low in calories and provides some fiber too. Impress your friends with this dip recipes. It’s a fun way to put a stem vegetable in a dip. Serve with whole grain crackers, pretzels or pita chips.


Chickpea Celery Dip
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  • 1 15 oz. can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 2 tbsp. fresh parsley, chopped
  • 2 tbsp. plain Greek yogurt
  • 2 tsp. dijon mustard
  • 1 tbsp. lemon juice
  • 1 tsp. capers
  • 1/2 cup diced celery
  • 2 chives, chopped
  • 1 large clove of garlic
  • Salt, to taste


  1. Add all ingredients to a food processor or blender and blend until smooth.
  2. Transfer the dip into a serving dish and serve with your favorite healthy crackers. Enjoy!

Baked Parmesan Asparagus with Breadcrumbs

Baked Parmesan Asparagus with Breadcrumbs

Baked Parmesan Asparagus with Breadcrumbs: A nutritious side dish…

Asparagus is a type of stem vegetable, which is a Foods of the Month in March. Stem vegetables are vegetables that are the stem of a plant, rather than the root or the leaves. Other stem vegetables include celery, rhubarb and fennel. Asparagus can be eaten in a variety of ways, but we love this recipe for Baked Parmesan Asparagus with Breadcrumbs. The cheese and the whole wheat breadcrumbs make it extra tasty!

Stem vegetables like asparagus are perfect for springtime meals, since this is when they are in season. Take advantage of asparagus in these months by making this recipe. By itself, asparagus is a healthy choice. One cup of cooked asparagus has only 27 calories, and provides a good source of iron, Vitamin A and fiber. It’s also a naturally fat free food (like most vegetables), so you can feel good about eating this Baked Parmesan Asparagus with Breadcrumbs recipe. Add some good fats from the extra virgin olive oil and some whole grains from the breadcrumbs and we give asparagus even more of a nutritional boost! We suggest serving this dish with fish, another March Foods of the Month, or chicken for a healthy and complete dinner.

Baked Parmesan Asparagus with Breadcrumbs
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  • 1/2 cup whole wheat bread crumbs
  • 2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 large bunches asparagus, ends trimmed and stalks peeled
  • The juice of 1 lemon


  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Using a small bowl and a fork, mix together the breadcrumbs, olive oil, parmesan, salt and pepper.
  3. Arrange the asparagus on a baking sheet. Drizzle with 1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
  4. Top with the breadcrumb mixture and bake until breadcrumbs are golden brown and the asparagus is tender, about 20 minutes.
  5. Remove from oven, add a squeeze of lemon juice, and serve.

Healthy Eating Habits for Kids

Healthy Eating Habits for Kids

According to the parent website sponsored by the Public Broadcasting System, as well as various other on-line resources, there are some simple guidelines for parents to follow to encourage their kids to eat healthy foods:

1.  Get them involved.

Don’t just take your kids along with you to the grocery store; actively involve them on the front end in meal planning. Let them help plan a menu and choose a recipe to follow so that they are participants in the meal preparation process. Have them take inventory of what is in your pantry or refrigerator so they know what ingredients are already on hand – then let them make a shopping list. If they are too young for that, let them help you decide what cheese or fruit to buy or help you make a simple, no-cook recipe like a fruit parfait with yogurt for a healthy dessert. Kids, like adults, like choices!

2.  Go to the source.

Don’t limit your grocery shopping to the local supermarket. Take your family to a farmer’s market or to visit a dairy farm. Pick berries together during the summer for a homemade dessert your child can serve to his or her friends on a Saturday play date.  Plant a garden – tomatoes and cucumbers are “no fail” choices your child can plant and watch grow. Teaching kids where their food comes from helps make them more environmentally aware as well.

3.  Make healthy snacks available.

Your children will eat what you provide for them. If you buy healthy snacks rather than those with unhealthy fat and a high-sugar content, that is what they will learn to like.  Putting those nutritious snacks on shelves where they can easily access them and keeping healthy choices available for trips in the car are also strategies that make healthy eating easier. Good choices are peanut butter, low-sugar applesauce, any kind of fresh or dried fruit, sliced vegetables, whole grain crackers, nuts and bottled water.     And don’t forget the importance of drinking lots of liquids. Your child doesn’t have to just eat five servings of fruits and vegetables a day, he can also drink them. Smoothies and mixed fruit drinks can be a fun way to introduce new fruits and serve as a healthy snack between meals.

4.  Don’t give up when introducing new foods.

Studies show that most children may need between 5 and 10 exposures to a new food before being willing to try it. If you plan family-friendly meals and let your child pick and choose from what is on the table, your chances for success will improve. Try to include a variety of options – some foods your child really likes as well as some new foods to try. Remember to be a role model for your child and sample some of everything and your child will learn to do so as well. And, remember – don’t give up the first time your child rejects something!

5.  Be a role model and teach healthy eating habits early

Studies have shown that children’s food tastes are highly correlated with foods that their mothers liked or disliked. If you order a healthy salad and drink water, even if it is at a fast food restaurant, your child is more likely to do the same. In a health study published in 2004 by Oxford Academic, researchers found that “a positive parental role model may be a better method for improving a child’s diet than attempts at dietary control.” In other words, rather than telling your child “no” relative to his or her food choices, model positive food choices yourself.

Use meal and snack times as teachable moments to help even the youngest children make wise food choices. Remember that as a parent, you are the #1 teacher of your child.  Much of what you teach them is transmitted through your actions more than your words. The choices we make for ourselves as adults, and what we model for our children, create lasting impressions that stay with your child way into their own adulthood. Stressing the importance of healthy eating habits for your family and for yourself encourages lifelong patterns from which both you and your children will benefit!

Easy Baked Salmon and Veggies

Easy Baked Salmon and Veggies

A wholesome meal in under 30 minutes…

For those of you who are in a time crunch when it’s dinnertime, we have the perfect recipe for you! This Easy Baked Salmon and Veggies recipe only takes about 5 minutes to prepare, and bakes in the oven for another 25 minutes. It’s a wholesome meal that you can have on the table in exactly 30 minutes.

This dish is totally packed with nutrition too. The salmon is full of omega 3 fatty acids which help brain development and keep your skin healthy. Pick two types of vegetables – we chose broccoli and cherry tomatoes but you can use whatever you have on hand. The vegetables ensure that you are getting a healthy dose of Vitamins and minerals to keep your bodies running smoothly. Also, don’t forget the serving of protein that comes along with the salmon. It’s really a filling and delicious meal!

For those of you who want to add a bit more bulk to this meal, know that you can serve it over pasta or whole grain brown rice as well. Simply prepare the pasta or rice while the the salmon and vegetables bake in the oven. It will make the protein and vegetables last a bit longer and will help you feel fuller longer by adding more fiber to this perfect meal.

Easy Baked Salmon and Veggies
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  • 2 lb. salmon
  • 5 sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 package cherry tomatoes, rinsed
  • 1 package precut broccoli, or 1 large head broccoli, chopped into pieces
  • 1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • The juice of 1 lemon


  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Arrange the salmon in the center of a baking dish and add the sun-dried tomatoes on top. Add the cherry tomatoes on one side and the broccoli on the other.
  3. Drizzle the fish and the vegetables with the olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  4. Bake in the oven for 25 minutes. The vegetables should look blistered and the fish should have some white fat coming out of it to indicate that it's fully cooked.
  5. Juice the lemon over the dish and serve plain or on top of pasta or brown rice.

Protein Needs of Babies and Toddlers

Protein Needs of Babies and Toddlers

We all know the importance of protein to maintain and repair the body, but many new parents worry that their baby or toddler may not be getting enough protein in their early, formative years. Because protein is essential to growth and development, it is critical that little ones get enough of this vital nutrient because they are growing so rapidly. In fact, babies and toddlers need more protein per pound of body weight than older children or even adults.

What exactly is protein and why is it so important? Protein, along with carbohydrates and fats, are three essential nutrients found in food that all of us need. We get protein from certain foods that our bodies then digest into small compounds called amino acids. There are many amino acids but humans use only 22 of them to grow and maintain our bones, muscles, blood, skin, hair and organs. Of the 22 amino acids we humans must have, our bodies can make 13 of them. We have to get the other 9 – called essential amino acids – from protein-rich foods, such as meat, eggs, dairy products and beans.

So what do babies do to get their protein? The good news is that breast milk or formula supplies all the calories and protein a baby needs until they are 4 to 6 months old. Before that time, a baby’s digestive system simply isn’t ready for more than a liquid diet. After 6 months, however, protein-rich solid foods should gradually be introduced to supplement the mother’s breast milk or formula. It is important that babies get protein every day because the body doesn’t store protein the way it stores fat and carbohydrates.

Protein is important for infants because the body weight of a baby doubles by age 6 months – and scientists estimate that about 10 percent of a young child’s energy comes from protein. Skimping on protein can slow down a baby’s growth and development, make them susceptible to illness, retard the development of the heart and lungs and gradually sap the energy that they need to grow into healthy children and adults.

The Ohio State University Extension Service recommends feeding infants strained or chopped meats and mashed beans at 6 to 8 months and mashed egg yolks, cottage cheese and yogurt at 8 to 10 months. At 10 to 12 months, babies can eat the same protein-rich foods the rest of the family eats, though the foods should be soft and cut into small pieces. The American Academy of Pediatrics also recommends starting your child on solids between 4 and 6 months and to look for some of these developments as signs of “readiness”:

    • Can sit upright and hold up his head
    • Is curious, looking at everything around him
    • Has mastered tongue movement
    • Seems hungry after getting a full day’s portion of milk (eight to 10 breast feedings or about 32 ounces of formula)

As your child grows, it is also important that your toddler gets plenty of protein. Once your child is up and walking, protein is needed to power muscles, and brain cells require sufficient protein to learn speech and language skills. Healthy 1- to 3-year-olds need 0.55 grams of protein per pound daily, which means the average 29-pound toddler should get 16 grams of protein each day, according to the Children’s Nutrition Research Center at Baylor University.

Here are some good sources of protein for your child:


Egg yolks can be mashed and given to a baby as part of a healthy diet. Egg yolks mixed into rice or pasta or served with toast can provide an easy snack or main course. Avoid egg whites until after the first birthday, says Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, and consult your pediatrician if members of your family have egg allergies before introducing eggs into your child’s diet.


Broiled, baked or grilled chicken that is diced very small is a good source of protein for babies.

Chicken can be tossed with chopped pasta or served plain alongside some steamed vegetables. Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta recommends chicken cooked at home over the jarred variety because it does not contain any fillers.

Dairy Foods

Protein is abundant in dairy foods, such as cow’s milk, yogurt and cheese. A baby should be 8 months old before cheese is introduced and dairy should be avoided altogether if an allergy is suspected.

Infant Cereal

High protein infant cereal helps meet protein needs for babies too young for chunky solid foods.

The cereal should be mixed with breastmilk or formula. Pureed baby fruits or vegetables can also be stirred into the cereal to improve the taste and boost its nutritional value.

Milk Options for Your Child

Milk Options for Your Child

It used to be that getting your child to drink milk every day was a “no brainer” in terms of what we believed were the long-term health benefits. Conventional wisdom maintained that every growing child needed calcium to build strong bones and teeth, and so parents worked hard to include multiple glasses of milk in their child’s daily diet.   Those children were served primarily whole cow’s milk, of course, because that was what was available. 

In the last few years, our milk choices have expanded exponentially. We now want more overall choices in our diets and are more concerned and knowledgeable about what is good for us. Many parents are also aware that dairy allergies are on the rise in America, and the conventional wisdom regarding the positive attributes of milk products is being challenged by major studies. In fact, researchers who once maintained that dairy milk was the healthiest food in the world are even exploring the possible association between dairy milk and several types of cancer.

The days when “milk was milk” appear to be over. Now there is a bewildering array of choices that confront parents in the grocery store. Let’s just start with the recent variations in cow’s milk available to any shopper.  A parent can now buy skim (1% or 2%), full fat, homogenized, organic, calcium-enriched and even lactose free milk from dairy cows. Regardless of your choice, remember that cow’s milk isn’t digested well by babies under 12 months, and it lacks essential nutrients supplied by breast milk and formula.  So hold off on introducing it until your baby’s at least a year old.

Milk Choices

But there are also many other milk choices now. One can buy milk from goats or sheep or drink milk made from almonds, rice, coconut, soy, hemp or flax. There is milk made from oats, cashews and even peas. And, if you add various flavorings or fortified elements to the mix, there are even more choices. It is confusing, to say the least. Here’s a summary of some of the most common ones available and some of the pros and cons of each to help you make sense of all the choices to be made in order to give your child the calcium and Vitamin D he or she needs.

Cow’s Milk

Cow’s milk (our dietary standby) is routinely pasteurized to kill potentially harmful bacteria. That milk will likely then be homogenized, a process in which the fat particles are mechanically broken down so they don’t separate, or it may be available non-homogenized, which results in an old-fashioned layer of rich cream on top. 

If cow’s milk remains your dairy drink of choice, it is now generally recommended that you choose whole milk rather than reduced fat options as the research is mixed as to the perceived benefits of low-fat milk unless children are overweight. Natural fats have been proven to be healthy and actually help to curb appetite so whole milk is a healthy option. Try to buy organic milk that comes from grass-fed cows who have not been fed synthetic hormones to increase their milk production or antibiotics to fight the diseases that come from being fed corn while standing around in feed lots. There is a direct connection between what a cow is fed and the quality of the milk produced.

Other Sources of Dairy-Based Milk

Some parents may choose to have their child drink sheep or goat’s milk as an alternative form of dairy. Because of the different protein and fat structures in goat or sheep’s milk, some people can tolerate them better than milk from cows. One drawback, however, may be the taste – these alternatives are stronger flavored than cow’s milk so your child may not like the taste. These milks are also generally more expensive and less easily found, especially when eating out, so those are also considerations.

If your child experiences symptoms such as loose stools, stomach cramping and gas, especially after eating foods containing dairy products, he or she may have problems digesting lactose, the main sugar in milk and milk products. If a doctor has found your child to be lactose intolerant, then you need to find a dairy milk alternative. Since lactose is present in ALL animal-sourced milks, sheep or goat’s milk is not an option. 

Plant-Based Milk

One healthy alternative is to serve your child soy milk, a highly-nutritional beverage made from an extraction of soybeans, water, sweetener (usually), oil, thickeners and some added vitamins and minerals. One controversy associated with soy, however, is that it contains phytoestrogens, plant-based estrogens that mimic the female sex hormone estrogen. Research has been mixed as to the potential risks or benefits of soymilk due to the presence of these estrogens. Soymilk is also relatively low in protein and most of its nutrients come by way of fortifying additives. So, if you go soy, look for non-GMO varieties and add additional protein elsewhere in your child’s diet.

Serving your child milk that comes from almond or rice can also provide a nutritional option. Almond milk – or other “nut” milks like those made with macadamias or cashews – has a light nutty flavor as a result of mixing roasted blended nuts with water so children usually like it. Rice milk is the blandest in flavor of all the milks, which is to some people’s preference. Using it in a smoothie makes it an instant favorite.

Rice milk, made from one of the world’s most common and frequently cultivated grains, is typically found at a cheaper price point than other dairy-free milks. Naturally low in protein, however, both almond and rice milk typically must have other nutrients such as calcium and vitamin D added. Coconut milk presents the same dilemma. In general, these plant-based milks are low in protein and calcium and have to be fortified in order for your child to get the nutrients he/she needs. And, as when you rely on soymilk, it is a good idea to add additional protein elsewhere in your child’s diet.

Hemp milk is a lesser-known option. Its rich Omega-3 and 6 essential fatty acids, calcium, magnesium and phosphorous, its low allergen risk, and its taste and texture make it an appealing alternative to dairy. Hemp milk is made by grinding and soaking hemp seeds in water. It has less protein than cow’s milk and can be hard to find as well as expensive.  There is none of the active ingredient found in marijuana leaves, by the way. 

Flax milk is rich in a group of Omega-3 fatty acids which have been consistently shown in studies to help offset the effects of inflammation on the body. Flax milk has just as much calcium in it as regular milk, making it a sensible option for people who wish to maintain healthy, adequate levels of calcium.  And best of all, it is actually quite creamy and delicious and blends well with smoothies.

Milk is Essential, No Matter Its Form

Whatever your choices for your child, milk is still essential. Even though recent research has produced mixed results, there is still widespread agreement about the importance of some form of milk in every child’s diet. Strong bones are the results of genetics, physical activity and calcium. Since milk is the number one source of calcium, it is essential for your child. And almost all types of milk – whether dairy-based or plant-based-  are fortified with other essential nutrients, making milk a mainstay of a healthy diet for your child.

Healthy Shrimp Tower

Healthy Shrimp Tower

A restaurant-worthy Healthy Shrimp Tower… made in your kitchen!

Doesn’t this Healthy Shrimp Tower look like something that only an experienced chef could make? Good news, it’s not! This recipe really only takes a few minutes to prepare and is a super healthy weeknight dinner option, or it can be lunch too. If the structure of the Healthy Shrimp Tower looks too difficult for you to recreate, you could just mix all the ingredients together in a bowl and serve. But, we do love the pretty presentation that is the result of stacking all the ingredients! We also love that this recipe uses shrimp, which is a March Foods of the Month.

What is the secret to getting the “tower” look? A measuring cup! Packing all the ingredients into a measuring cup makes this perfectly compact shrimp and brown rice tower. To save time, purchase precooked, tailed removed small shrimp and precooked brown rice. You will love the speed and ease of recreating this delicious and gorgeous meal in your own kitchen.


Healthy Shrimp and Brown Rice Tower
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  • 1/4 cup cucumber, chopped
  • 1/4 avocado, mashed
  • 1/2 cup shrimp, precooked and ready to eat
  • 1 tsp. reduced-fat mayonnaise
  • 1/2 cup brown rice, cooked
  • Sprinkle of sesame seeds
  • Splash of soy sauce (optional)


  1. Assemble all your ingredients in front of you.
  2. Mix the cucumber and the mayonnaise together.
  3. Using a round measuring cup with a handle, start to assemble your tower. It will be backwards. Use a spoon to firmly pack down the cucumber and mayonnaise miture. Next, add the avocado, then the shrimp. Use the spoon again to make sure they are packed in tightly.
  4. Finally, add the brown rice, again using the spoon to make sure that everything is packed in tightly.
  5. Carefully and quickly flip over the measuring cup with the ingredients onto a plate. If you packed it tightly enough, you will get a layer tower like the photograph.
  6. Sprinkle with the sesame seeds and add an optional splash of soy sauce. Enjoy!

Healthy Activities for Kids

Healthy Activities for Kids

Parents feel responsible for the future well-being of their children. Whether that well-being is defined as physical, emotional, or psychological, we know that healthy children – who learn good habits at a young age – are more likely than not to develop into healthy adults. Interestingly enough, a focus on physical well-being can lead to beneficial patterns of behavior in both the emotional and psychological realms. Feeling good physically makes anyone feel better about themselves in general, and as a parent, helping your child stay active and engaged in activities other than watching television or playing video games is an important goal to try to achieve.

Recommendations Regarding Physical Activity for Children

The American Heart Association recommends that children over the age of 2 participate in at least 60 minutes of enjoyable, moderate-intensity physical activities every day. Those physical activities should be developmentally appropriate and varied so that your child enjoys the experience and feels successful.

If 60 minutes per day seem too difficult because of your work schedule or your childcare logistics (and there seems to be barely enough time for your child to even do his or her homework), try to provide at least two 30-minute periods or four 15-minute periods in which they can engage in vigorous activities appropriate to their age and stage of physical and emotional development. 

Strategies to Increase Physical Activity in Children

A related strategy is to work on reducing sedentary time (e.g., watching television, playing computer video games or talking on the phone). First of all, try to actually track how much time your child spends now on the phone or siting in front of an electronic device. Then, set limits and begin to reduce the allotted time for these activities to create time in the day for being physically active. 

Don’t forget to ask your child what kind of physical activity they enjoy. Remember, being active is supposed to be FUN! Being physically active doesn’t have to be hard. Riding bikes with friends, jumping rope, playing hopscotch, and running a relay around the park all qualify as meaningful physical activity. Any game that gets your child up and moving is a great way to stay physically active and make their heart, bones, and muscles strong.

Also, remember that parents should try to be role models for an active lifestyle and teach your children through example that you, too, value increased physical activity. Show them that you value the importance of daily exercise. Take the stairs or park the furthest distance from the entrance to the store so that you can more steps in your day. Take the family for a weekend hike, ride your bicycles together, walk to the store after school, sign up for a parent/child yoga class or just shoot hoops in the park. Any of these options will provide you both not only with exercise but also valuable time together. You will both benefit!

The results should be almost immediate. You will begin to notice that your child demonstrates improved psychological well-being, more self-confidence and higher self-esteem. Feeling good physically benefits your child’s overall health – a worthy goal for any parent and one that you can readily achieve.

Greek Yogurt Mac and Cheese

Greek Yogurt Mac and Cheese

A staple recipe!

Do you ever find a recipe that you just LOVE and know will be part of your regular rotation? That is how we feel about this recipe for Greek Yogurt Mac and Cheese. It never would have occurred to us to put Greek yogurt in a cheese sauce, but now that we have tried it, it makes perfect sense! The Greek yogurt adds a good amount of protein to this dish. In February, we celebrate reduced-fat dairy as an OrganWise Guys Foods of the Month. Greek yogurt is considered reduced-fat dairy. And, so is the cheese found in this recipe!

What makes this recipe for Greek Yogurt Mac and Cheese special in our books? There are a few things. Using whole wheat pasta provides a good serving of whole grains and fiber. Every pasta dish is better with some added vegetables, we think. The broccoli provides some powerful antioxidants like Vitamin C, Vitamin A, and Vitamin B6. Broccoli is also a good source of calcium. Add in reduced-fat cheese and Greek yogurt and this is the perfect meal to keep your bones healthy!

The key to the tastiest cheese sauce is making it from scratch. This is called a roux. We used extra virgin olive oil (a good fat) instead of butter to keep this Greek Yogurt Mac and Cheese recipe a bit healthier.

Once you make this recipe one time and see how easy it is, you will be back for more. It’s the perfect kid-friendly dinner that can be on the table in a snap!

Greek Yogurt Mac and Cheese
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  • 1 box whole grain pasta like elbows, bowties, or penne
  • 1 10 oz. package frozen broccoli florets
  • 2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbsp. all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup low-fat milk
  • 2 cups reduced-fat sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (we like to shred our own but you can buy prepackaged)
  • 3/4 cup low-fat, plain Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 cup Panko breadcrumbs
  • Salt and pepper, to taste


  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Cook the pasta according to directions. After cooking for about 3 minutes, add the frozen broccoli florets. When pasta is al dente, drain and set aside.
  3. Use a saucepan on medium heat to make the cheese sauce. Add the olive oil. When it begins to heat up, add the flour and mix together until smooth. Next, add the milk and mix. Finally, add the shredded cheese and mix well until no lumps remain.
  4. Let the cheese sauce cool, then add the Greek yogurt. Mix well and season with salt and pepper.
  5. Add the cheese sauce to the pasta and broccoli and mix together until the pasta and broccoli are coated in cheese.
  6. Spray a small casserole dish or glass baking dish with nonstick spray. Add the pasta and top with panko breadcrumbs. Bake for 15 minutes, until the cheese is bubbly.
  7. Serve hot.


Healthy Nutrition in Schools

Healthy Nutrition in Schools

As parents and as educators, we have the responsibility to help our children make good choices in a variety of contexts:  social, emotional, and intellectual. That same responsibility also extends to nutrition since we want children to develop healthy habits relative to what they eat and how much. Those good habits help to provide the necessary fuel for learning but will also serve them well throughout their lifetimes.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “The percentage of children aged 6-11 years in the United States who were obese increased from 7 percent in 1980 to nearly 18 percent in 2012. Similarly, the percentage of adolescents aged 12-19 years who were obese increased from 5 percent to nearly 21 percent over the same period. For adolescents, the percentage of children who are obese has more than quadrupled in the past 30 years.” Clearly childhood obesity is a problem.

Five years ago, Congress passed legislation that transformed how the nation’s public schools feed students. The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act required these schools to serve more fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and less sugar, fat and salt. These requirements align with the most recent 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines published by the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS) and of Agriculture (USDA). These two federal agencies must jointly publish a report every five years containing nutritional and dietary information and guidelines for the general public. The statute (Public Law 101-445, 7 U.S.C. 5341 et seq.) requires that these Dietary Guidelines be based on the most current scientific and medical knowledge.

The Guidelines, which are detailed below, support parents and schools in their efforts to help children learn good eating habits:

  • Follow a healthy eating pattern across the lifespan. All food and beverage choices matter.
  • Choose a healthy eating pattern at an appropriate calorie level to help achieve and maintain    a healthy body weight, support nutrient adequacy, and reduce the risk of chronic disease.
  • Focus on variety, nutrient density, and amount. To meet nutrient needs within calorie limits, choose a variety of nutrient-dense foods across and within all food groups in recommended amounts.
  • Limit calories from added sugars and saturated fats and reduce sodium intake. Consume an eating pattern low in added sugars, saturated fats, and sodium. Cut back on foods and beverages higher in these components to amounts that fit within healthy eating patterns.
  • Shift to healthier food and beverage choices. Choose nutrient-dense foods and beverages across and within all food groups in place of less healthy choices. Consider cultural and personal preferences to make these shifts easier to accomplish and maintain.
  • Support healthy eating patterns for all. Everyone has a role in helping to create and support healthy eating patterns in multiple settings nationwide, from home to school to work to communities.

This same general framework guides the preparation of meals served in public schools.  Breakfasts and lunches prepared in your child’s cafeteria must not only meet these Dietary Guidelines for Americans but also comply with the specific federal nutrition requirements of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act. If they are found to be out of compliance, schools lose their federal reimbursement for some of the major costs associated with feeding public school students.

This means that your child’s school must provide him or her with the right balance of fruits, vegetables, low-fat or fat-free milk, whole grains and lean protein with every meal. Meals served must also limit the amount of sodium, calories and unhealthy fat contained in all foods served.  There are also standards that apply to all foods and beverages sold in school during the school day at times other than breakfast and lunch. Foods sold in vending machines, snack bars and a la carte lines, for example, must also meet standards established in 2014 and provide healthy choices for your child.

Since the new standards took effect in 2012, school districts have worked hard to adjust, devising more effective ways to serve food that is healthful as well as appealing. Many have developed salad bars with more diverse and interesting choices, introduced a range of spices besides salt, and increased the use of frozen vegetables rather than canned, to improve taste and lower sodium content. If you want more information, contact your child’s school for menus, nutritional guidelines and other details. By working together, you can make a difference in your child’s eating habits now and throughout their lifetime!

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