Sharing the Organic Story at Natural Products Expo West

Sharing the Organic Story at Natural Products Expo West

The Natural Products Expo West is right around the corner and I am thrilled to be part of this event! From March 7-11, 2018, the world's top food pioneers, healthy food innovators and up-and-coming natural product brands shaping the future of food will come together under one roof.

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4 Green Halloween Treats Your Kids Will Love

Green HalloweenHalloween doesn't have to be scary for parents if you stick to a few simple rules: clean ingredients. No artificial stuff. Nutrient-rich where possible, without sacrificing taste or fun. And mindful of the impact on the planet. .

That said, here are 4 green Halloween treats that I am loving this season, broken down by category depending what you're looking for. Have others you’d like to share with me? I’d love to hear from you!

. justins peanut butter cups1) If You Crave: Classic Candy, but clean and green Try This: Justin’s Peanut Butter Dark Chocolate Cups

Why It’s a Green Treat: If you are looking for a cleaner, greener version of a beloved candy, Justins’ your man. Justin's peanut butter cups have 2 important third party certifications that give you the trust and transparency you want in your treat: USDA certified organic ingredients, and Rainforest Alliance Chocolate. Plus, that dark chocolate and real peanut butter may even give you a smidgen of health benefits while your tastebuds are going gaga.

 

YumEarth2) If You Crave: Easy to Find, Affordable Organic Treat Try This: YumEarth Lollipops

Why it’s a Green Treat: I actually adore lollipops for Halloween, because they deliver a pop of color, taste and fun, but can have surprisingly modest sugar and calorie levels: One organic YumEarth pop has a scant 24 calories, just over 5 grams of sugar (a bit more than a teaspoon) and are colored with natural fruit, vegetable and root extracts instead of scary artificial stuff. And they satisfy all dietary walks of life: they are soy-dairy-peanut-gluten- free, vegan. They are also a great way to provide organic treats on a limited budget: no need to hit a pricey grocery store to stock up on YumEarth Organic as you can find them at Walgreens nationwide.
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Pistachios3) If You Crave: Good For You, But Fun Too Try This: POM Pistachios

Why it’s a Green Treat: According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average American consumes about 25 pounds of candy a year-with a hefty bite of that coming from Halloween. If you want to sidestep sugary treats all together it’s now easier than ever to do that but still feel fun, thanks to the mini-sized (1 oz.) pack of Wonderful Pistachios. Instead of a long list of ingredients, there’s just a single, nutrient rich food inside that is plant based. And it comes in a fun “spooky” green and black package that will have kids feeling the Halloween love. And the nutritional creds are impressive: at just 80 calories you get loads of heart healthy fat, 3 grams protein and 2 grams fiber to keep your munchkins fueled with clean energy for all those Halloween activities. Bonus? Leftovers can power your child as a healthy, hearty snacks as long as they last.

Veggie Gos4) If You Crave: Fitting in Fruits and Veggies Try This: Organic Veggie Go's

Why it’s a Green Treat: Want to get a serving of fruits or veggies into your child’s Halloween haul-that is, one that they will actually eat? While we all know that handing out fresh fruit is a no no- (and for my kids, at least, dried fruits like raisins that they see in their lunch boxes feel suspiciously like mom trying to make Halloween healthy) -these organic fruit and veggie strips are super delicious and fun. Made with whole organic fruits and veggies-some of the most eco-friendly foods on the planet- and no added sugars-and with some fresh flavor combos (including Cinnamon Spiced Beet, Carrot Ginger Apple, and Mountain Berry Spinach)-the ingredient lists are super clean, and deliver an excellent source of antioxidants (such as beta carotene) and vitamin A. But my guess is that your little gobblins may be to busy gobbling them to notice.
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For additional tricks and tips to healthy Halloween treats, check out my other Halloween blog: 4 Tricks to a Healthy Halloween (With a Bit of Green, Too).

4 Tips to Help Your Kids Hydrate Right This Fall

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Child HydrationHydrate: In the Classroom Or On the Field

With the days growing shorter and the first blush of fiery color on the hillsides, it’s clear that fall-and the upcoming school year-are fast approaching.

There are 3 essential parts to the equation when it comes to helping your child bring his or her A game to school: Nourishing food, good hydration, and adequate sleep are the secrets to never running on empty.

Most kids fall short in at least one of these areas...and some fail to make the grade in all three.  Today I'm tackling the one that I think often gets shortchanged: hydration.

 Hydrate Infographic

Infographic Source: http://ga.water.usgs.gov/edu/propertyyou.html

Why Water?

Many reasons, actually. For peak energy. For a healthy weight. For optimal focus in school. For better performance on the sports field.  Oh, how to count the ways.

The best way to keep your child well hydrated, of course, is to encourage them to drink plenty of it, and to make it a mainstay of their day: as this fun infographic from the USGS Water Science School illustrates, water comprises about 60% of a persons body weight (and even a bit more in children). Yet while that prescriptions sounds simple, in this era of sugar sweetened beverages, juice drinks, energy drinks and even enhanced waters (many of which contain calories or artificial colors), new evidence  from the most recent NHANES data suggests that virtually no demographic of children in the US comes close to satisfying the Institute of Medicine’s recommendations for water. Like I said, shortchanged.

Here’s why water is the purest way to hydrate: It has zero calories, which helps promote a healthy body weight. And with a new science suggesting that drinking soda does more than just pack on the pounds, but may contribute to negative mood and behavior in young children as well, sidestepping sugary beverages makes especially good sense until we know more.

In the classroom, water helps your child have sustained energy for the task at hand: research suggests that as little as 1.5% dehydration can lead to a decreased positive mood, sluggish energy, as well as a reduced level of alertness, concentration and short term memory.

On the sports field, water helps to regulate body temperature and maintain maximum muscle strength (a 3-4% dehydration reduces muscle strength by about 2%). Simply put, smart sipping literally means keeping your water bottle on hand for regular drinking throughout the day. And did I mention it's free?

How Much?

Here are the daily water recommendations from the Institute of Medicine’s Dietary Reference Intakes. How does your child’s glass stack up? Keep in mind that things like higher elevation, temperature and humidity can also increase your fluid needs.

Age Daily Water Intake Recommendation

  • 4-7 1,700 mL (about 7 cups)
  • 9-13 girls 2,100 mL (about 9 cups)
  • 9-13 boys   2,400 mL (about 10 cups)

 

Ultra Quick Hydration Check: In children, thirst is not a reliable indicator of hydration status, because they can be distracted or their thirst mechanism may not be fully formed. And by the time we actually receive signals from our body that we are thirsty, we are already dehydrated, which means we’re behind the eight ball and not performing at our best mentally or physically.  For a quick check, check the bowl: urine that’s light in color (like lemonade) with no strong smell indicates good hydration, while urine that’s darker (like apple juice) and has a stronger smell is a sign you need to drink up.

CamelBak KidsTop Hydration Tips

  1. Use a BPA Free Reusable water bottle-reusable bottles help you save hundreds of dollars a year that you’d spend on bottled water. And it’s a much more eco-friendly choice. There are many fun children’s versions with leak proof lids that fit in lunchboxes and sports bags. I love the CamelBak line (Disclosure: I am a proud partner with CamelBak).
  2. Chill it to drink more. Research suggests that we drink more water if we find it cool and refreshing. Pop your reusable water bottle in the fridge or add ice if you prefer it chilled.
  3. Keep it handy and in your sight. If your child sees it, he or she will sip it. Put one one in the car, the backpack, and encourage them to have on their desk during the day so they will be encouraged to drink regularly. (these are great habits for grown ups, too!)
  4. Serve water with meals and snacks. In addition to the 3 servings of low fat milk or enriched non-dairy milk alternatives (like soy, almond, coconut or hemp) that the USDA Guidelines recommend for children each day, be sure to also put water on the tables for meals and snacks. This will help them cultivate healthy drinking habits for life.

 

Fuel with the Right Foods

For some fresh and easy lunchbox ideas check out my Deliciously Different Lunch Ideas Your Kids Will Love, and bookmark Chef Ann Cooper’s incredible stash of easy, inspiring lunches that will keep your kids fueled all year. As for sleep, health experts recommend 10-12 hours per night for children ages 3-12, and 8-9 hours per night for children ages 12-18.

Have other tips to help your child bring their A game this fall? I'd love to hear them!

American Academy of Pediatrics: Changing Their Organics Tune?

American Academy of PediatricsIn a total disconnect, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has issued two papers in the past month on two of the hottest topics in the nutrition and health world: organics and pesticides. And the messages couldn't be more mixed. First, on October 22nd the AAP weighed in on Organic Food for Children (I was lucky enough to attend the press conference live). Their conclusion? Looking primarily at nutrient value of fruits, vegetables and milk,  the authors concluded that organic foods provide the same vitamins, minerals, proteins, and other nutrients as conventional foods.

What happened next? For most major news outlets, some version of the headline “Organic no better than conventional” rapidly spread throughout the digital world.

While the report did acknowledge that there may be a reduction in exposure to potentially harmful pesticides and antibiotic resistant bacteria, and paid token respect to it better for the environment, these points seemed to get lost in the report’s final conclusion that “in the long term, there is currently no direct evidence that consuming an organic diet leads to improved health or lower risk of disease”.

 

But hold on...

 

This week, the AAP issued a surprisingly strong (in my opinion) policy statement which struck a different tone when it came to pesticides, one which painted the issue as potentially more serious in children, and something that pediatricians should bring up at your child’s next checkup.  The report, titled “Pesticide Exposure in Children” (and to be published in the December 2012 issue of Pediatrics) provided these takeaways:

There’s a real health benefit to children of choosing an organic diet. The Policy cites food as one of the primary sources for children of pesticides-writing "for many children, diet may be the most influential source" (p.e1758).

The case continues to build for organicsStudies are getting more sophisticated (for example, we are now able to look at things like combined exposures and genetic susceptibility), and the past decade has seen a great expansion in the evidence supporting the adverse effects of chronic pesticide exposure. In fact, according to the authors, prospective studies have found early life exposure to a class of insecticides used in agriculture - called organophosphates- is linked with reductions in IQ and abnormal behavior associated with ADD, ADHD and autism.

What To do? First, Do No Harm. Then, Choose Organic (even just strategically)

It’s true that the first step towards healthy eating is to be sure you’re plate is loaded with the right foods: a diet rich in a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and heart healthy fats is the cornerstone of good health for growing bodies. But then, if your goal is to continue to maximize health and minimize risk, the evidence suggests that minimizing pesticide exposure is a sound next step that may provide real health benefits-and choosing organically produced foods to the extent that you are able is the best way to do that.

While I can understand that the AAP doesn't want to discourage families from eating a wide array of fruits and vegetables (and agree with that logic), to mention food as a primary source of  pesticide exposure in this policy, and then not  follow up with a recommendation to minimize that exposure through choosing foods produced without them, seems a disservice to parents. In fact, if this disjointed line of thinking were happening in my pediatricians’ office, I’d probably start looking for another pediatrician.

All of us deserve access to the best possible food for our families. And many, many of us are concerned about how to do this on a budget. Even just starting with the Environmental Working Group's Dirty Dozen (which the organics paper cites as a viable resource) is a great step towards cleaning up your diet and protecting your family. Or check out my 9 Easy Ways to Go Organic on A Budget blog post for more tips and tricks.

 

Arsenic in Organic Baby Foods: Duped by the Organics Promise?

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A new study from Dartmouth University is making many moms pause and wonder if perhaps they have been duped by the promise of organics. The study, published in Environmental Health Perspectives  tested a total of 17 infant and toddler formulas, 29 cereal bars, and 3 energy shots for the presence of arsenic.  One ingredient in particular - organic brown rice syrup (OBRS)- seemed to be the common culprit, as products that contained OBRS contained up to 12 times the EPA’s safe drinking water limit for arsenic. Organic brown rice syrup is a commonly used sweetener (and carbohydrate source)  in organic foods, and is viewed by many as a healthier alternative to high fructose corn syrup. In the study, researchers found that the two toddler formulas containing OBRS as a primary ingredient had arsenic levels more than 20 times greater than the formulas that didn’t contain OBRS. The cereal bars and energy drinks containing OBRS also had significantly higher levels of arsenic than those bars and shots without the ingredient.  Arsenic is known to affect brain development in children (who, because of their rapid growth and development are particularly susceptible to the toxin), and may increase the risk of certain cancers, type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

 

What Does This Tell Us About Organics?

To be sure, headlines like “High Arsenic Levels Found in Organic Foods, Baby Formula” touches (or rather, stabs) at every mother’s soft spot and fear factor.  As a mother of two young children myself, the idea of arsenic in anything is at once terrifying and maddening, especially when it comes to our little ones. Many of us feel particularly irked by a finding like this if we’ve parted with our hard earned cash for organics in the belief that it’s a better choice for us and our children.

While the research is indeed newsworthy, here’s how I see the key takeaways.

Takeaway #1:  This story is about rice.

This study did not find that organic brown rice syrup contained more arsenic than conventional brown rice syrup. So the wrong conclusion would be something like “see, I knew organics weren’t any better!” or “shoot, does this mean organic is just as ‘bad’ as conventional?”.

What this study does do is highlight the fact that rice, because of how it likes to grow, can be a source of inorganic arsenic (“inorganic” in this case refers just to the chemical structure of the arsenic, not the USDA Organic certification program).  You see, rice plants like to absorb silica from the surrounding environment, which helps it stand up in waterlogged soil. The problem? Apparently arsenic looks a lot like silica to the rice plant, and is also absorbed to varying degrees depending on the rice variety (brown rice typically contains higher levels than white rice because the arsenic stays in an outer layer which is removed with polishing). To me, the takeaway is that we need to address lingering arsenic in our soil from past agricultural or industrial practices, especially when we are growing molecule-grabbing crops like rice. That we need a federal program to test arsenic levels in our food and beverages (see Takeaway #4). Or that if maybe (for now) it’s wise to limit products with brown rice syrup (including OBRS) listed as a primary ingredient until we have more information.

Takeaway #2:  Organics are still the best choice for you and your family.

Part of the clash in the “organic vs. conventional” debate comes in defining what we mean when we say  “better”.  While the science on the absolute nutritional benefits is still being established  (The Organic Center has the latest science here), when I personally use the word “better”, I mean that because organics protects you from added hormones, antibiotics, GMOs, irradiated food, potentially harmful pesticides and more (Stonyfield has a helpful list of specific differences between conventional and organic here ).  I believe you should buy organic as much as you can afford to-especially with key purchases like meat and dairy products, plus produce on “the Dirty Dozen” list. To help you, here are my tips to buy organics on a budget .

Takeaway #3: Organics are not immune to laws of nature.

Alas, just as organics isn’t immune to the laws of dieting (organic ice cream is still loaded with saturated fat and calories, for example, and organic candy bars are still candy bars), organic plants must still subscribe to Nature’s laws.  This study offers a good reminder that organics doesn’t automatically mean “safe”, but is a system like any other, that still needs to continually strive forward in best practices.

Takeaway #4: It’s time for federal regulations on arsenic in our food and beverages. 

Most of us are shocked to think that there are currently no US regulations regarding arsenic levels in food or juice. Hopefully, that’s set to change. Earlier this month, two U.S. Representatives introduced a bill that would require the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to set safety standards for arsenic and lead in juices within 2 years.  (Shortly after Dr. Oz broke a controversial story last year about arsenic in apple juice, Consumer Reports issued its own findings: of 88 apple and grape juice samples tested, 10% had arsenic levels that exceeded federal standards.

Health Transcending Borders, Language, and Culture: Childhood Nutrition

Childhood NutritionIn 2002 I partnered with Field to Plate  to bring 30 nutrition and foodservice professionals to Challans, France to look at an innovative school lunch program designed to tackle France’s growing childhood nutrition issue and obesity epidemic head-on. Our American group stared in disbelief as a roomful of kindergartners enjoyed a leisurely 45 minute lunch of 3 courses cooked completely onsite using local ingredients: a seasonal shredded beet salad, local fish and celery root puree, followed by an apple compote with (of course!) a small wedge of local cheese. Little baskets of freshly cut French baguettes were on each table, which the children happily passed around as they cleaned their plates (yes, really) and-brace yourself- there was even a bottle of house wine on the table of the “lunch ladies” who oversaw the meal.
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The crispness of that image has stayed with me for years after, both for the cultural implications of a country devoted to putting children’s health first, as well as a country insisting on a culture where food isn’t something to be rushed through all the time.
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As a mother of two young children myself, I know this for sure: no matter the country, one desire transcends across borders, language, and culture: every parent on the planet just wants their children to be healthy. And with childhood obesity being the number one health crisis our children face, the recent webinar by the Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition  put forth a refreshingly clear, straightforward course across disciplines that addresses the challenges of both a healthy diet and sustainable food systems.
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Their panel of experts left no stone unturned, and no ambiguity in the message:
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1. Our highly refined, ultra-processed diets, plus an inactive lifestyle are one of the primary drivers of the childhood obesity crisis. The result is a strong potential reduction in life expectancy for our children, and an alarming reversal of an established trend of gradual improvement from one generation to the next.
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2. Excessive intake of certain foods - generally the same ones that should be eaten less frequently – exacts the greatest toll on the environment and our natural resources. These include many of the higher impact foods that I wrote about in my book, such as red meat, cheese, certain fish, and highly processed foods and sugary beverages. In addition to creating obesity, the environmental impact of our  “SUV diet” (my term)  serves to magnify the effects of a reduced quality of life for our children. In other words, the data points continue to be plotted showing that personal health and planetary health are deeply connected, on a global scale not seen before.
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3. This makes it absolutely vital today to start a process of collective responsibility: families, pediatricians and schools all have roles to play and can be a powerful catalyst to bring good food to life. What are some things you can do locally?  Encourage your schools to stretch our children’s palates by offering new fruits, vegetables and whole grains alongside familiar favorites. Insist your local school lunch program offers more local foods, more freshly prepared foods, and more fruits and vegetables as snacks. Teach your children to savor recess as a time to recharge, and stretch their bodies before stretching their minds in class. And encourage schools to link learning with the kitchen, teaching nutrition from day 1 as an integral part of “self care”, tasting fruits and vegetables to talk about the 5 senses, or learning math concepts like fractions by preparing a recipe in the kitchen.
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On my last night during that trip to France, the mayor of Challans who had been instrumental in creating the school lunch program spoke to our group and said:
“In so many ways, France looks to and learns from the  Americans, but perhaps in food, and how we feed our children, America might learn from France.”
Indeed. And from Italy, too. This global crisis requires global dialogue and a look at best practices, and I was honored to partner with the Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition for this very reason.
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What are you doing to inspire healthy change in your school, your community, or with your pediatrician? I’d love to hear from you!
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You can watch the Barilla webinar or download their paper here: http://www.barillacfn.com/en/cibo-e-bambini/webinar
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Follow the ongoing discussion on twitter at or @BarillaCFN or Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/Barillacfn.
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Disclosure: This blog post is sponsored by Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition

Deliciously Different Lunch Ideas Your Kids Will Love

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…That are Fast and Easy on a Budget!

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While parents may be looking forward to ushering their kids back into school routines, the thought of whipping up inspiring, nourishing, delicious lunches that will that let kids perform at their peak seems to strike fear into of nearly every parent I know.
While it’s tempting to load up on single serving, pre-packaged snacks and foods to make loading up a lunchbox a breeze, remember that to help your kids stay focused, energized and satisfied.

The best lunch ideas have a combo of:

  • Whole grains and complex carbs 
  • Lean Protein
  • Heart healthy fats
  • Fresh, minimally processed foods (lots of fruits and vegetables)
And yes, you can have fun with it! Think of back to school as a fun opportunity for you and your kids together to freshen up the lunchbox - here are 4 delicious ideas that we use in our home that are are fast, easy on a budget, yet loaded with good nutrition and taste.

 

Tip #1: Build a Pasta Pleaser from Leftovers

In my book, leftovers are a busy parents best friend; they not only tend to be better for you than a processed lunch alternative, but they help you save money and time (it’s already cooked!).. pasta is the winning ingredient kids love:
So suppose that dinner last night was chicken and broccoli. Here’s what you can whip up for school:
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Herbed Chicken Tortellini Salad:
Cheese tortellini, cooked (or your favorite whole wheat pasta or whole grain cous cous)
Cubed chicken  (leftover)
Chopped broccoli (leftover)
Sliced cherry tomatoes 
Your favorite bottled Italian dressing (or if you want to be fancier, your favorite pesto)
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Simply toss all these ingredients together and drizzle with a bit of your favorite italian dressing. You can also and add all sorts of other items to this such as : Frozen peas, chopped spinach, sun dried tomatoes, roasted red peppers, even pesto or olive tapenade for more adventurous eaters.

 

Tip #2: Make Dipping Healthier with Tasty Guacamole 

Kids all ages love to dunk and dip...but the challenge is that oftentimes they are using a ranch, mayo, sour cream or cheesy dipping sauce, which is high in artery clogging saturated fat. Let your kids dip in guacamole instead! Bite for bite, avocados are one of the most nutrient rich foods your kids can eat-loaded with 20 vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals in each bite. And the rich, creamy taste of avocados gives kids that satisfying mouthfeel they love. Kids can use this simple guacamole recipe (below) to dip their favorite sandiwch, veggie sticks, or multigrain chip:
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Simple Hass Avocado Guacamole:
1 ripe Hass avocado
Juice of 1/2 lemon or lime  
pinch sea salt
in a small bowl, mash avocado with a fork, Add juice and salt and combine.
Serve with a whole grain or veggie based chip that has at least 3 grams fiber per serving for a nutrient rich snack kids will love!
(full disclosure, I work with the Hass Avocado Board because I LOVE avocados!)

Spinach Salad with Grilled Asparagus, Raspberry Vinaigrette, Fresh Cherries, Peach Bread

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Tip #3: Build a Bento Box: Hard Boiled Eggs and Simple Sushi Rolls

Hard boiled eggs are another place busy parents can find economical, fast, and kid approved protein. And kid's sushi and bento boxes are a fun trend right now. I love Laptop Lunchbox because they are BPA free and dishwasher safe Here’s a delicious, economical bento box idea loaded with nutrition:
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Sliced cucumber
Pumpkin seeds
Fresh fruit
1 or 2 hardboiled eggs, sliced in half
Sushi Rolls:
-Whole wheat tortilla
-Hass avocado
-Cream cheese
 

Tip #4: Custom Quick Fixes for Picky Eaters

Want something kids can easily do themselves, provide the right nutrition, and is economical? Instead of the same old granola or snack bar (which can be loaded with sugar and refined grains) try these nourishing and equally easy alternatives instead. Kids love to customize!
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Fruit Kebabs and Yogurt Dip:
Let kids select their favorite 3 fruits 
Build on kebab, serve with greek yogurt or nonfat cottage cheese (I love greek yogurt because it contains twice the protein and half the sugar of regular yogurt, with a rich creamy taste).
Tasty Trail Mix Bar: Set up a Trail Mix Bar in the morning and let your kids build a custom one just for them: if you put out different options each day, kids stay interested and adventurous:
Favorite whole grain cereal 
Sunflower seeds
Pumpkin Seeds
Hemp or Chia seeds (rich in Omega-3)
Banana chips
Dried veggies
Wasabi peas
Dried fruit: cherries, cranberries or raisins
Almonds
Walnuts
Pistachios
A few 70% dark chocolate chips
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What are your favorite fresh lunch ideas? I’d love to hear from you!
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Written with help from Lindsey Toth, MS, RD

5 Kids Staples Get a Green Makeover

Looking to give some of your kids’ favorites a green makeover? Check out some of my suggested swaps below! .

The Go To: Chicken NuggetsTurkey Hotdogs

The Greenover: All natural turkey hot dog

How many parties, play-dates and dinners have we all seen these come out of the freezer? I was committed to giving you something that's equally as kid-adored, "grab and go" at the supermarket, but something that's more eco-friendly and nutrient rich you can feel good about. I love Applegate All-Natural Turkey Hot Dogs (which also have acceptable amounts of sodium, something else nuggets can be super high in). Soy turkey or chicken dogs, like those from Yves, are another great option you can feel fantastic about. Wanna go a deeper shade of green? Check the label of the soy pups carefully; if you can find a Soy pup that's made with Non GMO soy grown in the USA, go vegan and be even more lean and green.

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PopcornThe Go To: Goldfish

The Greenover: Air popped popcorn at home with parmesan cheese sprinkle

While the growing number of organic, single serve bags of crackers are certainly better than conventional, they're still highly, highly packaged foods that should only be a small part of your child's diet. A much greener, antioxidant packed choice that's just a fun and kid friendly? Popcorn you make at home! Research has found popcorn packs 5x the antioxidants of processed snack foods.  If you don't have an air popper, simply put some kernels in a large saucepan, with a drizzle of heart healthy canola oil. Put a lid on and leave just a small crack on 1 side, turn heat medium high and pop away- you'll know it's ready when the interval of popping slows down considerably. Grate some parmesan cheese on top, and kids adore it. Portion out into your reusable bags or containers to send your kids packing with this greener snack idea.  Check out www.3greenmoms.com for great reusable snack bags.

Another saving? You'll save big bucks, as single serving snack foods can cost $4-$6 per box.

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The Go To: Apple juice

The Greenover: DIY seltzer with Soda Stream

My kids are 4 and 5, and I am shocked at how much kids their age are bombarded with sweet drinks; flavored waters, juices, punches, any mom can rattle off a litany of liquids their kids come into contact with during an average week. While up to 4 oz. of 100% organic apple juice, grape juice or other juice in small portions in healthy weight children is okay, loads of juice provides excess calories which has been cited as a contributing factor to childhood obesity. Another reason I like switching to water is because it helps prevent them from only wanting to drink sweetened beverages (see what's happening here with the debate about flavored milks in schools). Give kids bubble and fun while not over-sweetening their palate. Check out my previous post on the green benefits of using Soda Stream in your home here.

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The Go To: Fruit Roll Ups

The Greenover: Blood Orange Wedges

Of course 100% organic whole fruit leathers are a big step up from the cheaper ones loaded with added colors, sugars, and a smidgen of actual fruit. But leathers are still a highly processed, highly packaged snack (which detracts from green-ness), and all fruit leathers have a higher concentration of sugars since you remove all the water. Why not pack portable, seasonal superfruit instead? I recently did a segment on the Dr. OZ show about the anti-aging power of fruits and veggies, and included blood oranges on my list, but they’re a wonderful swap for kids too. Blood oranges have more vitamin C than any other citrus (1 medium orange packs 130% of the Daily Value of Vitamin C), and are the only citrus loaded with one of mother nature's most powerful antioxidants: Anythocyanin. That gorgeous crimson color and succulent sweet taste will have them asking for seconds. This is a seasonal superstar right now, and will hold up well for hours in lunch boxes, snack sacks, or even in a bag in the car (if you're like my kids) in between activities!

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The Go To: Ranch Dressing for Dip

The Greenover: Roasted Squash Hummus

I'm all for adding some dressing or dip sauce to encourage kids to eat more veggies - works like a charm - but if you're looking for a fresh twist (which many moms seem to ask me about), something that's a bit more nutrient packed and easier on the planet, you have to try this amazing dip blogged about recently by the "Meal Makeover Moms" , two amazing RDs (and friends of mine), Liz Weiss and Janice Bissex. Bursting with exotic flavor (thanks to garam marsala), pumpkin seeds and beta-carotene rich squash, this is a palate pleaser that's better for your kids and the planet.  It's a great place for any extra butternut squash; or simply roast some in the oven alongside your next dinner, then you can whip this up in no time the next day.

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What staples have you swapped out for greener living? I’d love to hear about them!

 

Written with assistance from Lindsey Toth, MS, RD

4 Ways to Turn a Brown Bag into a Green Lunch

Green LunchI have been a blogging slouch, big time, this summer, as my kids have been in full vacation mode and we have taken several summer roadtrips. But this week, as kids everywhere head back to school, parents everywhere are thinking about how to pack healthy, safe lunches that their kids will actually eat. So these are my top four tips to make sure your kids a green lunch. Ones that are eco-friendly AND kid friendly when they head back to hit the books. .

The Norm: Plastic bags for sandwiches and snacks.

The Problem: More than 20 million sandwich bags from school lunches go into landfills every day.

The Swap: It's been estimated that on average, a school age child using a disposable lunch generates 67 pounds of trash a year. Save money and the planet with reusable bags, like these super chic and cute ones from Etsy or Lunchskins (thanks to 3 green moms to sending some my way!). Feeling crafty? Grab the kids and make a fun project out of it using directions like the ones found here so they can add their own personal sense of style and creativity.

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The Norm:Brown paper lunch bags.

The Problem: One reusable lunch container can take the place of more than 200 brown bags over the course of the school year.

The Swap: Hello, retro! Invest in a reusable lunchbox and recoup your money well before the holiday season. There are tons of great new products to help keep your kids' lunch (or even yours!) eco-friendly. Laptop Lunch Boxes are an eco-chic brown bag swap out that your kids will love – I know mine sure do! These colorful recycled, food-safe plastic containers were created by two eco-friendly moms looking for a way to cut down on waste while still keeping lunch convenient and fun. Planet Box also makes a great alternative to plastic lunchboxes, with separate containers for each food item, making clean up a snap.

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The Norm: 100 calorie snack packs for snack time.

The Problem: Convenience costs you. These snacks cost about 3x as much as buying the regular size and portioning out yourself. Plus, the amount of petroleum based packaging increases dramatically.

The Swap: It's tempting for busy moms to load up on these convenience foods, but meet snack attacks a smarter way; slash your grocery bill and the level of packaging waste by making your own snack packs. Set up a "Do-It-Yourself" bar for kids loaded with whole grain crackers, dried fruit, pistachios, almonds, walnuts, seeds, and even a few 70% cacao chocolate chips so they feel the splurge. Let them pre-portion snacks into reusable containers or reusable fabric bags on Sunday night, and your kids will have eco-friendly snacks ready to grab-and-go all week long.

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The Norm: Bologna sandwich.

The Problem: Processed meats are linked with higher rates of heart disease and cancer, and about 50% of our "foodprint" comes from the amount of animal products in our diet.

The Swap: Lunch like a flexitarian! Swap your typical deli meat sandwich for a roasted red pepper hummus and veggie sandwich, like cucumber, spinach, sprouts, or zucchini. Or try cooking up a Sunshine Veggie Burger in a wrap – talk about delicious meeting nutritious! Not only will you be saving on your carbon footprint, but you'll also be cutting back on sodium and artery clogging fat – a delicious win-win.

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Looking for more ideas? Waste Free Lunches is a superb, one-stop shopping website for information and resources to build waste free lunches from home or get your school going a deeper shade of green in the cafeteria. Or check out Sara Snow's article on "Picking Your Greener Lunch Box" for more tips and tricks to send your kids back to the school cafeteria packing green.

What green rules do you live by for your kids' school lunches? I would love to hear your ideas! In the meantime, I'll be busy on my next blog!

Reboot Your Kids' Eating Habits for 2010

Healthy KidsFor all you moms out there, grandparents with tots in your lives, or anyone who's interested in feeding our kids in a better way, there's a fantastic website you really must bookmark, SuperKids Nutrition. I love it. It's run by a dietitian who's a mom, is loaded with real life advice and tips, and if you do one thing in 2010 to reboot your kids' eating habits, it is to start incorporating some of this stuff into your routine and your shopping cart.

I recently did an interview with SuperKids Nutrition, about simple, everyday changes families can do to pack more planet friendly eating. Below is a variation of that interview, with a few blog-friendly edits. I hope these tips help you and your family move towards leaner, cleaner, greener eating, one snack at a time in the New Year!

How can busy moms look beyond packaged foods to allow them to still have quick snacks on hand and be able to put quick meals together?

Focus on one-ingredient foods as the mainstay of meals and snacks. It is still fast and easy, but more nourishing in every sense. And it helps point you toward greener choices, too – what's not to love?

So, let's review the "one-ingredient" food list.

One ingredient foods may include oatmeal, canned beans, chicken, almonds/nuts, fresh or dried fruit, or frozen single vegetables (such as "frozen peas", no added sauces), bulk couscous, a bag of rice, a box of pasta, tofu, canned pumpkin, or even eggs. This simple philosophy immediately starts clearing the clutter from your food choices.

Do you have some ideas or tricks to get through the grocery store with less packaged food in your cart?

Registered dietitians always say, "shop the perimeter" but I think that's not so true anymore; marketers are catching on. Plus, there are some great things in those inner aisles: whole grains, brown rice, heart-healthy oils, to name a few. So I would say to be sure that you have about two-thirds fresh items in your cart (fruits, vegetables, poultry, dairy, tofu/soy, fresh-frozen fish) with about one-third packaged food items. This will allow you to have more real food and less packaged foods.

So, folks can limit packaged food but can still use some in a pinch?

Yes. "Packaged foods" is a super-broad category and you can find some great options to help you in a pinch. In general, my advice is to ignore the front label packaging (that's where all the hype is that the manufacturer wants you to see), and read the ingredient list. It should read like something from your kitchen, not a food lab. In general, choose packaged foods that have 5 ingredients or less, all of which should easily look like things you'd find in your home.

How can moms or dads help children understand the importance of "real food?"

Connecting our kids to food is so important. For instance, I was recently talking at a mom's event where a mom told me her child that would not eat a whole apple "because it turns brown". The child was used to only eating apple slices from a snack bag! Educating our children about nature and its variability is an important part of showing them the true experience of real food.

In your book, you talk about the idea of reducing our "carbon footprint." It's great to know we can make a large impact very easily.

Convenience not only costs more, but also adds carbon to the atmosphere. Cutting back on disposable items alone can have a huge impact, as can simply including more one-ingredient foods in your pantry. Aim for progress -- not perfection -- and focus on one change at a time. For example, you can try reducing your reliance on individually packaged snacks or choose to cut up your own fresh vegetables to start you on your way to eating greener. Maybe you feel that individual drinks are a must for the cooler when you go on a picnic or a hike. Save this convenience for those times and use pitchers of water, juice or beverages at home; it's a great way to save money too!

So what types of "one-ingredient" snacks can we offer?

Seeds, nuts, fruit (fresh or dried), edamame (i.e., cooked baby soybeans), fresh snap peas, fresh berries, and cherry/grape tomatoes are some options. You can also combine some of these to make a snack (think trail mix).

How can parents get their kids involved?

They can offer age-appropriate responsibilities for snacks. Consider using large, airtight jars with scoops for dry goods. Provide a "snack drawer" or have some chopped veggies ready to eat, bagged in the fridge. Right now my 3 year old loves it when I give him a bowl of pistachios, still in their shell, to open and eat while I make dinner (disclosure, Paramount Farms Pistachios is a client of mine). They love to participate!

Any tools we can use with our kids?

My favorite tool around "Edible Education" comes from Field to Plate. It is a great worksheet series you can do with your child to help map their palate and develop a real roadmap, based on taste and flavor, towards step by step healthier eating habits.

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Got other ideas to reboot kids' eating habits in 2010? I'd love to hear them!

3 Easy Steps to Deal with a Picky Eater

Meal Makeover MomsChances are you know a kid that's a picky eater. Or at least, you know a parent of one. Even before I had kids, I was fascinated by this classification. Living in Italy for 2 years back in the mid-90s without any bambinos of my own, I was keenly aware that the concept didn't even exist over there, and in the decade of dietitian/motherhood that has followed, I am still interested in whether it was nature or nurture at work. So here's my hunch: it's not nature. Turns out that picky eating is pretty much a distinctly American phenomenon. Did you know that in many languages around the world, the expression "picky eater" doesn't even exist?

Why is this the case? Here's my opinion: many kids are given too many food choices, they are surrounded by food all of the time, and they're often nibbling throughout the day, making true hunger elusive. Talk to any pediatrician these days and you'll usually find a combination of shock and dismay at just how frequently (not to mention what kinds of foods and drinks) we're feeding our kids.

How to best feed your kids is, to put it mildly, a polarizing topic, so I am about to tread cautiously. I know that feeding choices stem from the best of intentions on the part of the parents, often coupled with a bit of anxiety and desperation.  I also know that there are special considerations, say in the case of food allergies or an underweight child. But for most American families, I hope that you consider these tips, based on my own experience (as a nutrition professional and a mom), as food for thought when you're deciding how to raise your picky eater. Drop me a line and add to the conversation....

1. Hunger Can Be a Good Thing

I get the sense that many parents are utterly terrified of letting their kids be hungry, as if it's a sign of parental failure and will lead to malnourished children. As a result, our diaper bags, strollers, and the pockets of our minivans are laden down with treats, drinks, and a hodge podge of snacks at all times.

Why is this a problem? A couple reasons: (1) it is likely to increase the odds that your child is consuming too many calories overall, leading to overweight and obesity, (2) if you take the edge off of a child's hunger all the time, it makes it much easier for him to skip meals, or to consume much less during and "hold out" because they know another snack is just around the corner.

I think that kids should arrive to meals a bit hungry-they will likely eat more at the meal if they are hungry! Try it for a week and see what happens-I absolutely notice a difference in my kids (a 2 and 4 year old) dinner plates depending on what time they last ate. If you blunt this with a snack 30-60 minutes before you might be fostering a picky eater.

Of course I am a fan of appropriate, healthy snacking. With kids, their tiny tummies often need to refuel a bit in between meals, and it can add some valuable key nutrients (like calcium, Vitamin C or iron) if the foods choices are good ones. But if you have a picky eater, take a look at your snacking habits, and chances are they might need some tweaking.

2. Serve Real Food, Not "Kids Food"

To raise healthy eaters, serve your kids what YOU are eating at meals and snacks. Simple as that. Research has found that even by age 2 our food preferences are well established-based on what we've been given in the high chair and the stroller. A 2002 Feeding Infants and Toddlers Study tracked the diets of 3,000 babies and found that one-third to one-quarter of 6 month olds do not eat even one serving of fruits or vegetables a day. By 9 months, mashed or fried potatoes are the most commonly consumed vegetable.

By teaching your kids that they eat different foods than you do, it will only be harder and harder for them to make the transition to "grown up foods". Sure, you want to serve them some foods you know they will eat. But you also need to stretch them or they will only like those foods. I'll never forget the words of a Mom at one of my  worshops, who admonished the group "Picky kids don't magically turn into wonderful teenage eaters-they turn into picky teenage eaters." So start today.

To be sure, the older your kids are when you start a change at the dinner table, the more entrenched the behaviors and the longer it will take to right the ship-but remember your long term goal-your goal as a parent is not just to have your child's belly filled in the immediacy-you are also trying to raise a good eater-someone who is adventurous, eats a respectable range of food to foster good health and a healthy weight and who can go to a restaurant and order something other than the Mac n' Cheese.

3. Tune OUT Technology

We all accept that we can have basic rules in the playroom ("no hitting!") or the other zones of our day, but for some reason parents today seem worried about setting any sort of guidelines at the dinner table-and the result is a free-for-all. Toddlers have moms chasing them around  the living room with a spoonful of food, coaxing them to eat (see tip #1 to resolve), toys and technology litter the table...and now there's something else: I am shocked at how often I am seeing families "eating out" together, with the kids watching portable DVD players at the dinner table while the parents enjoy a peaceful dinner. This isn't family time, this isn't nourishing in any way, this is madness!

It's simple - iPods:off. TV: Off. Cell phone:Off. Toys: Off limits at the table. Sit and eat like a family-talk about your day, the food, whatever's on your mind. Go around the table and have each person say what they appreciate about the day-at the very least this will carry you through until the toddlers are done eating. What kids crave more than anything these days is your time & your attention. Give it to them over food.

Will it take some time? Yes. Will there by struggle? Yes. But is it worth it? Absolutely...your kids' health, their weight, and most importantly, their development as decent eaters all lie in the balance.

For help getting started with kid-friendly meals that are RD approved, visit The Meal Makeover Moms at www.mealmakeovermoms.com and join their Moms Club-their cookbook rocks, too.