Tools to be Cool for a Smooth Back to School

by Katie Martin, Healthy Learning Paths’ Instructor

With school right around the corner, the time for schedules is now!  Remember those melt downs that happen from too little sleep and too much anxiety during the early days of school?  Well, if you have had that “been there and done that” experience, it’s time to give your family a head start before school is in session, especially for those of us who have gone off schedule for the summer.

The new school year stirs up many emotions for children and adults.  Some kids are excited to start a new school year, but others long for never ending lazy afternoons and late summer nights. While this dream is quite normal, it is up to parents to guide children with schedules to decrease stress and anxiety and put kids on the path to school success.

Children show stress and anxiety in a variety of behaviors such as:

  • Difficulty falling asleep and/or staying asleep
  • Tearful with easily upset emotions
  • Acting out with temper tantrums
  • Being withdrawn and quiet
  • Poor appetite
  • Overeating
  • Headaches or stomachaches

Recognizing these changes helps you help your child. Be supportive and let your child know that the start of something new is a challenge for all of us.  Ask children how they feel and allow them to express concerns with your full attention.  Full attention means without screens or other interruptions. Often children cannot fully verbalize their feelings of inside anxiety.  Many kids cannot tell you why they have certain feelings, they just know those feelings are there.  You can help with these Tools to be Cool tips:

  • Let your child know it is okay to express how he or she is feeling
  • Actively listen without screens or interruptions
  • Help children express what they feel through words and facial expressions
  • Practice slow deep breaths in and out through the nose as a relaxation technique
  • Practice slow stretches with your child
  • Model other calming behaviors for and with your child

An excellent back to school stressbuster is to practice a schedule now.  Schedules help everyone transition to the new school year.  Schedules set children of all ages up for success for the entire school year.

Here is what you can do to start a schedule today and throughout the school year:

  • Set a bedtime routine at the same time every night
  • Have certain times for meals and set a no-screen rule at the table
  • Lay out clothes for the next day before going to sleep
  • Have lunches packed and water bottles filled the night before
  • Have backpacks and supplies ready before bed
  • Healthy after school snacks in the fridge
  • Outdoor activity after school
  • Homework routine when they get home

Stress is common for all of us at the start of the school year.  Stress is part of normal child development. Recognizing when children are stressed and helping them manage stress with support, healthy behaviors, and schedules benefits everyone.  Start your schedule today and you will be rewarded by the ease of that first day of school!

Hack Sleep Disrupters

by Katie Martin, Healthy Learning Paths’ Instructor

Has summer changed your sleep schedule?  How about the sleep schedule of your kids?  For some, summer is known as the sleep disrupter.  Can you relate? With school out and extra hours of daylight, sleep schedules for both kids and adults are disrupted.

So how do you hack the sleep disrupter?  A good night’s rest benefits both mental and physical health. Sleep recharges the body and brain for the next day.  Adults know how hard it is to function when you do not get enough sleep.  With sleep deprivation, even simple tasks become a challenge.  Imagine how a child feels and functions with lack of sleep. Remember children require regular sleep for growth, development, and even learning.

What exactly does sleep do for your child?  Healthy sleep:

  • Increases attention spans,
  • Promotes learning and problem solving,
  • Helps regulate emotions,
  • Promotes positive attitudes and behaviors,
  • Helps with tissue growth and repair,
  • Strengthens the immune system, and
  • Improves mental fitness, physical fitness, and social emotional fitness.

Eliminating distractions before bed and practicing a bedtime routine are the secret sauce to a satisfying night’s sleep. With the start of school right around the corner, now is the perfect time to practice healthy sleep routines. The High Five for Sleep routine is a great way to introduce your child to a healthy bedtime schedule.

So, what is the High Five for Sleep?

  • If your child is hungry, choose a healthy snack without sugar or caffeine.
  • A warm bath or shower is a terrific way to relax before bed.
  • Clean pajamas tells the child to get ready for bed.
  • Brush your teeth is an important part of any bedtime routine
  • Read a story or book signals the body and mind to relax.

Sugar and caffeine are barriers to healthy sleep.  These substances stimulate the brain telling it to wake up.  If your child is hungry before bedtime, a healthy snack can be part of the bedtime routine.  Keep in mind that there is no need to eat before bed, if your child is not hungry.  Some healthy snack ideas include:

  • Celery or apples with nut butter
  • Cereal (without added sugar) and fresh fruit
  • Yogurt (without sugar) and fresh fruit
  • Fresh fruit and vegetables
  • Whole grain toast with avocado

After a healthy snack, a warm bath or shower, brushing your teeth and putting on a clean pajamas are healthy and relaxing activities to practice with your child.

Last but not least are disrupters that interfere with brain relaxation and sleep.  Screen time with computers, tablets, TV, video games, or phones signal the brain to stay awake.  This disrupts the sleep cycle making it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep.  How can you teach children to overcome these sleep disrupters?  Two hours before bed, replace screen time with these activities:

  • Read
  • Draw or color
  • Play a board game
  • Build a puzzle
  • Deep breathing with stretching or yoga
  • Listen to calming music
  • Share a conversation about what happened during the day
  • Pack lunches and fill water bottles together
  • Help your child lay out clothes for the morning and load backpacks

Bedtime routines are powerful to keep your child on a sleep schedule that allows for healthy sleep.  During the day, encourage outdoor physical activity through play as physical activity improves sleep.  Summer offers great opportunities for outdoor activities even if it is a simple walk to the park or a family bike ride.

A good night’s rest helps your child develop healthy habits that last a lifetime.  Healthy sleep puts children on the path to mental fitness, physical fitness, and social emotional fitness.  Guess what?  Healthy sleep routines improve your health too!  So go ahead and hack those summer sleep disrupters at your house.  Try out the High Five for Sleep bedtime routine with your child tonight.  Pleasant dreams!

Brain Food For Mental Fitness

by Katie Martin, Healthy Learning Paths’ Instructor

Have you heard of “brain food?”  Brain food is used when discussing what makes kids smart.  Omega 3 fatty acids are one of those “brain foods.” But foods for the brain, go beyond academics.  Healthy foods have a strong impact on mental health of children and adults.  Our daily food choices make a difference for both physical fitness and mental fitness.

For example, have you ever experienced the sugar roller coaster?  Imagine that mid-morning crash after coffee and sweets for breakfast.  The brain experiences the sugar high jitters then quickly crashes and burns over a short period of time.  Now, imagine a child dropped off at camp after a breakfast of sugar laced cereal or a sweet breakfast bar. Within a few hours, the sugar rush converts to a sugar crash leaving the brain sluggish.  Suddenly, you have a tired, irritable, and hungry child who struggles to concentrate, learn, and manage mood.  Not a great way to enjoy camp or build mental fitness, wouldn’t you agree?

So what does “brain food” do for mental fitness?  The brain needs quality energy to function, just as cars need clean gas to run well.  Keep in mind that the brain of a child undergoes amazing changes as the child grows and develops. Pediatricians remind us that kids who practice healthy food choices experience less anxiety and depression and improved social relationships.  Healthy nutrition helps the brain perform better in school subjects such as math and reading.  Healthy nutrition strengthens the immune system to fight off illness and puts the brain in overall state of well-being.  In short, healthy foods make us feel good and do good, from mental, physical and social perspectives.

What are the “brain foods” for magical mental fitness?  Glad you asked, as it is never too late to make changes.  You can do it.  Here are a few tips to help kids of all ages:

  • Choose seasonal fresh fruits and vegetables to stretch your dollars and enjoy great tasty foods.
  • Choose whole grains for breads and pastas.
  • Brown rice, lentils, and beans are important sources of protein, fiber and other nutrients.
  • Choose healthy fats such as avocados, nuts, wild salmon, and lean proteins such as real chicken (not                   nuggets), turkey, and fish.
  • Summer is the perfect time to invite kids to shop and prepare meals with you.
  • Drink water throughout the day and remember summer heat means more water.
  • Have kids clean and slice fresh fruits and vegetables to store in the fridge for quick snacks.
  • Avoid sweet and salty snack aisles in grocery stores to keep your pantry and kids free of junk food jitters.
  • Control sugar cravings with fresh fruits.  Kids can make cool summer treats by freezing fresh fruits.
  • Plan an occasional family outing to make memories while sharing a special treat.

Sugar is not a “brain food.”  In fact, kids do not need added sugar in foods.  Kids love to learn, so teach them how to recognize sugar on food labels.  Sugar is disguised as many names on food ingredients such as:

  • Corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup
  • Cane juice and evaporated cane juice
  • Juice Concentrate
  • Sucrose
  • Barley Malt
  • Dextrose
  • Maltose
  • Rice syrup

Sugar is listed as grams per serving.  About 4 grams (4.2 to be precise) of sugar is equal to one teaspoon.  For example, if ¾ cup of cereal has 20 grams of sugar, that is 5 teaspoons of sugar (20 divided by 4).  Yikes!  That’s a lot of sugar.  Want to make the point of how much sugar is in a cereal or other foods?  Do the math with your child and let them measure out the amount of sugar in a bowl.  Seeing what 5 teaspoons of sugar looks like, leaves a lasting impression for kids of all ages.

Healthy foods are brain foods.  Brain foods help kids develop mental fitness.  Healthy foods benefit the entire family. Put your family on the path for success by serving brain foods and staying hydrated with water.  Brain foods benefit everyone in the family by helping all experience mental fitness.  You can do it!

How to Teach Kids Mental Fitness

by Katie Martin, Healthy Learning Paths’ Instructor

Do kids need mental fitness?  This question is rarely asked until a crisis occurs.  What is mental fitness?  Mental fitness is the health of the brain.  Mental fitness includes the ability to think, problem solve, learn, manage emotions, express emotions, and manage social interactions.  Keep in mind that the brain is our control center for everything.  When kids learn skills for mental fitness, they can navigate social interactions, learning in and out of school, and gain a sense of power over their own well-being.  So the answer to, “Do kids need mental fitness?” is a resounding YES!

When exploring healthy lifestyles, mental fitness is often left out of the discussion.  Many parents may not realize that healthy nutrition, exercise, and sleep benefit the mental fitness of kids, as well as adults.  Mental fitness includes the ability to process and express emotions in healthy ways.  Children learn mental fitness skills by observing adult role models, practicing skills, and experiencing what works and where improvements are needed.  Mastering mental fitness skills require practice with face to face human interactions in real time.  Kids cannot master mental fitness over the internet in a social media experience.

When children experience frustration, they will resort to acting out behaviors that range from tantrums to self-harm such as cutting depending on the age of the child if they do not practice skills for mental fitness.  Practicing skills for mental fitness helps kids and parents learn how to manage stressful situations.  These skills result in overall well-being for the whole family.

With summer upon us, this is a terrific time to explore mental fitness for kids.  Summer gives a break from school schedules and more free time.  What is the best use of that free time to help kids practice skills for mental fitness? Glad you asked.  Let’s explore some skills for mental fitness.

Stifle Screen Time

More screen time means less movement for both kids and adults.  In summer, screen time easily increases to all day activities leaving less time for physical activities that promote mental fitness and healthy development.  Children who have high amounts of screen time with TV, computers, or video games, experience more psychological difficulties and emotional issues according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.  Summer is the perfect time for a turn off the screens movement and explore the outdoors!  Some tips for summer include:

  • No TV’s in bedrooms
  • Plan daily activities for kids such as walks, bike rides, hikes, swimming, visit parks, or school playground.
  • Discourage TV and other screen use for children ages 2 and under.
  • Limit screen time to no more than 1-2 hours a day for all other ages.
  • Use screen time as a family to watch a movie or favorite family show.
  • Turn off the TV and all screens during mealtimes and share conversation.
  • Remember children learn from what you model, so limit your screen time too.

Encourage Exercise

Being physically active is one of the best ways to stay mentally fit.  Best of all, there are plenty of activities that are free and create family bonds.  Children benefit from unstructured play.  Physical activity builds mental fitness.  Physical activity improves:

  • Blood flow to the brain and this manages stress and improves overall brain function.
  • Cognitive function and concentration in both kids and adults.
  • The brain-muscle connection.
  • Restful sleep at night.
  • Attitude and emotional regulation.

Most kids need and want more than 60 minutes of physical activity a day.  Engage children in planning and selecting healthy physical activities.  Unstructured play activities such as tag games, building forts in the yard, and walks allow children to be creative, save parents money, and are enjoyed by the entire family.  Unlike organized activities, children do not suffer burn out or overuse injuries from free play activities.

Luckily, the steps to achieving overall mental fitness and well-being are fun and enjoyable for everyone.  Incorporating a few of these suggestions into your daily routines improve your child’s mental fitness and development.  Guess what?  As a parent, you, too will experience the same benefits to your mental fitness!

So stifle screen time and replace it with cool and fun activities for the entire family.  Keep it simple, cheap, and explore what’s in your community.  Practice mental fitness and make memories for the best summer ever!

Sensational Summer

by Katie Martin, Healthy Learning Paths Instructor, Summer Kid at Heart

Do you remember what it was like to be a kid anticipating summer?  I do!  Summer was camping, bikes, friends, skinned knees, chalk, sprinklers, and not coming home until dark.  What does summer look like for kids today?

With more options on television and video games, are your kids experiencing the excitement of playing outside?  School will soon be out and with summer, kids have opportunities to move more and sit less.  It’s time to make a plan.  Let’s make it a healthy and happy one this summer.  Summer brings its opportunities for fun, and its challenges from heat and sun.

One way to get kids outside is checking out local recreation centers and pools. Many recreation centers offer fun outdoor activities for kids during a busy parent’s work day. When you have time off, plan outdoor activities such as walks, bike rides, visiting parks and, zoos, backyard forts, or even a game of tag at your neighborhood school’s playground.

When playing outdoors in Colorado, here are steps to protect kids from the sun:

  • Apply sunscreen that has at least SPF 30 labeled “broad spectrum” meaning it covers both ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays.
  • Look for zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as the active ingredients as they are less irritating for sensitive skin and eyes.
  • It is best to apply sunscreen indoors before putting on clothing, at least 15-30 minutes before going outside. Apply about an ounce, which is the size of a shot
  • Reapply every one to two hours or more often after swimming, sweating, or drying off with a towel. Read the label for recommended reapplication as most sunscreens have 40-80 minutes reapplication times.
  • Active ingredients in sunscreens offer great skin protection, but problems for the lungs. Therefore, spray sunscreens are not recommended for children.
  • Use sunscreen even on cloudy days, as the sun’s rays penetrate through clouds.
  • Wear wide brimmed hats, light colored loose clothing, and sunglasses.

So you have sunburns covered, what else is important for summer fun?  Are your kids drinking water throughout the day?  It’s easy for kids to forget about drinking water, so it’s our job to remind them.  Fill those water bottles with cool, refreshing water, and leave the sugar and caffeine out.

Did you know that sugar and caffeine can actually lead to dehydration?  That’s right, those sugary drinks and caffeinated culprits tell the kidneys to let go of more water.  How much water is a frequent question?  It’s all in the pee.  Look at the color of the pee, and teach kids that it should be pale yellow to clear.  Dark yellow pee is one sign of not enough water or dehydration.

Here are some tips to coach your child to stay hydrated:

  • Teach them to keep a water bottle clean and filled.
  • Add fruit, veggies, or even mint to water for fabulous flavors.
  • Snack on whole fruits and veggies such as melons, oranges, berries, carrots, celery, and others that naturally have high water content.
  • Teach kids to puree fresh fruit to freeze as popsicles for a cool summer treat.
  • Remind kids and ask the kids to remind you to drink water throughout the day.

During summer, plan to avoid emergency room visits by practicing these safety tips:

  • Wear helmets for biking, skating, skateboards, and other wheeled activities.  Brains have to last a lifetime!
  • Practice street safety and help children understand street signs.
  • Accompany your child to the pool and teach safe pool rules.
  • Have your child wear a life jacket when enjoying water sports and swimming, but stay within arm’s reach if they cannot swim.
  • Never leave children alone in cars as this can quickly lead to heat exhaustion, heat stroke, and even death.

What about summer schedules?  For a healthy and happy child, keeping a summer routine is golden!  If you keep a summer schedule both you and your child will be well rewarded when school starts again in just a few months.

  • Practice regular bedtime routines and wake up routines.
  • Have a few chores for your child as a way to help the family.
  • Summer is great to teach children to plan meals, cook, and clean with your help.
  • Enjoy family meals together and at regular times.
  • Practice reading, art, music, science, math, history, and other activities to keep young minds engaged and curious about the wonderful world of learning!

Enjoy your children and the time you share this summer.  Explore the outdoors, experience new adventures, and create lasting memories for the entire family.  Don’t blink or you may miss it.  Summer flies by way too fast, so be sure to make your summer sensational!

You’re Invited to Our Community to Do Good

by Chris Marchioni, MD, Executive Director, Healthy Learning Paths

Returning from Spring break brings new energy to some and dread for others.  Escaping from busy schedules is a much welcomed change in routines and revitalizes kids and adults alike.  There is no doubt that sharing family time in a relaxed environment is good for all of us.

Want to hold onto a piece of that positive energy?  If you answered, “Yes,” then here is a special invitation for you and your family.  Please join us to be part of our community to do good.  We invite you to experience a morning of family, friendship, and fun on Sunday, April 9th at the 1STBANK Center in Broomfield.  Here’s your chance to keep those good feelings you have from Spring break.

What can you expect?  You will experience science demonstrations, try your hand at art and music, enjoy a massage, have your photo taken, register to vote, and even take a journey through Mega Brain to see first-hand what makes you tick.  Did I mention, that you will enjoy delicious food, yoga, and gifts all for free?

What’s the catch?  We invite you to be part of our community to do good at the 8th annual Frank Shorter RACE4Kids’ Health 5K and Expo:  Where Science, Engineering & Health Collide4Kids. This event rallies Colorado around the mental health and physical health of all kids.  Colorado offers tremendous resources when kids are sick.  Did you know that we can also work as a community to prevent kids from getting illnesses such as Type 2 Diabetes, obesity, and even anxiety and depression?

One way to help kids stay mentally and physically fit is exercise.  Taking a walk or run as a family also builds communication and trust.  So we have you covered.  You can sign the entire family up to walk or run the 5K.  Your kids are too young for a 5K, you say?  There is the Mazzola Miracle Fun Run that is less than a mile, a Buzz for kids 3-5, and even a diaper dash for kids 2 and under with an adult. No kids?  No worries.  We will amaze you with rockets and even the Flight for Life helicopter that will bring out that inner kid in all of us.

On April 9th, you have the chance to be part of a community to do good at the Frank Shorter RACE4Kids’ Health and Expo sponsored by Centura Health.  This event benefits the nonprofit, Healthy Learning Paths.  Our mission is to spread the power of health for children.  You can help.  Register today at www.frankshorterrace4kids.com and join our community to do good!

What Happens to Someone Who is Different

by Chris Marchioni, MD, Executive Director, Healthy Learning Paths

Why would anyone want to talk about their failures especially in front of a group of strangers?  One by one, an inspirational group of elite runners stood before students in a middle school gym to share stories of success and failure.

These individuals had the courage to share their mistakes, disappointments, and perseverance to overcome their shortcomings.  One story in particular stood out in my mind and touched my heart.  A soft spoken individual named Brent had a long list of accomplishments in his sport and in his life.  He set school records, was a 2012 Olympic Trials Finalist, and even owns his own business.  However, it was not these accomplishments that he emphasized.

At a very young age, Brent suffered severe burns over his body.  In fact, he was burned so badly that doctors were uncertain if he would be able to walk again.  Treatment of the burns required multiple skin grafts during elementary and middle school years.  The burns and the grafts left him with visible scars.  He looked different than most students and he even missed school at times.

What happens to someone who is different?  The eighth graders in the gym were not surprised that the student is picked on and bullied by others.  When someone asked Brent about what it felt like to be bullied, he shared his experience.  “You see, we all have choices to make.  We can choose something healthy or unhealthy.  Students who choose bullying make an unhealthy choice to deal with the bad feelings they have about themselves.  Sometimes people think that if they bully someone else, it will make them feel better about themselves.  It was too bad that they could not find something that was a healthy choice.  I don’t hold it against them for not knowing.”

Wow!  What a way to sum up bullying.  Individuals who make unhealthy choices to overcome bad feelings about themselves.  Think about this for a moment.  What if we taught all students healthy skills to overcome bad feelings about themselves.  Giving students time to practice these skills, at home and school with adult mentoring allows students to experience the power of these skills.  In other words, we give students the chance to make a healthy choice that leads to mental fitness.  While we are teaching these skills to students, adults benefit from the practice too.

At one time or another, each of us is the one that is different.  So let’s practice healthy choices to avoid the desperation of bullying.  Brent advised students to find the thing that they enjoy and use it to their advantage.  Use it to build yourself up and to help others.  For Brent, running is his passion and it is a passion that he never imagined when undergoing his painful skin grafts.

“Running may not be your passion, but find something that is right for you.  Find your passion,” suggested Brent.  Sometimes we are so distracted with all the noise around us that it is hard to be quiet enough to realize our passion.  We have a choice every day.  Let’s help one another find our passion and use this passion to spread the power of health.  When we do this, we may be ready to embrace the power of being different!

HEALTHY LEARNING PATHS AWARDED $15,930 GRANT FOR IMAGINATION PLAYGROUND IN A CART™ PLAY SYSTEM FROM TARGET AND NATIONAL NON-PROFIT KaBOOM!

WESTMINSTER, CO, Feb. 7, 2017 – Target and national non-profit KaBOOM! awarded

Healthy Learning Paths a $15,930 grant to use toward the purchase of an Imagination Playground in a Cart™, an innovative playground equipment system.

KaBOOM!, the national non-profit dedicated to giving kids the childhood they deserve through play, is working with Target to increase access to play across the country. Grants for Imagination Playgrounds are helping to achieve that goal by bringing active play to more than 430,000 kids across the country.

Imagination Playground in a Cart™ is an innovative design in play equipment that encourages creativity, communication and collaboration in play. With a collection of custom-designed, oversized blue foam parts, Imagination PlaygroundTM provides a changing array of elements that allow children to turn their playground into a space constantly built and re-built by their imagination.

“Play is power.  Active play is the power for children to learn, communicate, problem solve, and create.  Child-led play is a key factor in the health and healthy development of all children.  The best way for children to learn the benefits of play is through experience,” explains Dr. Chris Marchioni, family physician and executive director of Healthy Learning Paths.  “We are thrilled to partner with KaBOOM and Target to spread the healthy power of play for children and families!”

Children learn the benefits of play through the Healthy Learning Kids program created by Healthy Learning Paths.  During this program, children experience how play keeps the brain, heart, and emotions healthy, happy, and ready to learn.  The partnership of KaBOOM, Target, and Healthy Learning Paths brings more play opportunities to children in poverty in the Denver metro area.  The Imagination Playground will be featured for the public to experience free on Sunday, April 9th, 2017, at the 8th annual Frank Shorter RACE4Kids’ Health 5K and Expo at the 1STBANK Center in Broomfield.  Visit frankshorterrace4kids.com to register and for details.

Unstructured, child-directed play has proven to help kids develop physically, emotionally, socially and intellectually, yet today’s kids have less time and fewer opportunities to play than any previous generation. The grant is part of Target’s ongoing efforts to help make wellness more affordable, accessible and inspirational for its team members, guests and communities.

                          

Beyond the Picky Eater: Journey to Healthy Eating

by Katie Martin, Instructor, Healthy Learning Paths

Recently, a friend asked for help to get her six-year-old daughter, “a very picky eater,” to eat healthy foods.  Sound familiar?  In fact, picky eaters and lack of eating are common issues among children that can drive parents to embark upon a junk food journey.  Just what some kids are hoping for!

You may worry that your child will starve unless you give her exactly what she wants.  Children do not starve themselves and will eventually eat what is on their plates.  But consistency, patience and perseverance are necessary to help children abandon picky habits.  Here are a few helpful tips on how to put picky eaters on the path to healthy eating:

  • Provide healthy foods, especially fresh vegetables and fruits at every meal.  Experiment with color and texture for a colorful plate.  Offer choices of vegetables and fruits.  This empowers the child to practice making healthy decisions.  All kids need to practice choosing healthy.  Most importantly, model healthy eating too!
  • Constantly expose your children to new foods and how to prepare them.  Get your kids meal planning at the grocery store and cooking with you in the kitchen.  Look through cookbooks or explore online recipes together and have your child help chose the recipe.  When children help prepare meals, they are more eager to eat what they helped create.
  • Preparing food together is a terrific skill for children of all ages.  From washing vegetables to measuring, and even setting the table, these skills need lots of practice and are useful over a lifetime.  Practicing these skills also builds self confidence in children and responsibility.
  • Lastly, when you sit down for your meal, eat as a family.  Try lighting a candle on the table and see what impact it has on the conversation.  Remember a child does not want to eat alone.  Electronics at meal time, steal opportunities for discussion, sharing and even laughter.  These are precious moments for the entire family!

Try not to make food a stressful part of your or your child’s day.  Children feel anxiety when parents are stressed. Stress can create an unpleasant meal environment for everyone.  Practice the suggestions above and never give up.  Healthy eating is a lifelong learning process for children just like learning math or reading.   Remember you are not alone and we are here to help.  To learn about our Healthy Learning Kids nutrition lessons, visit healthylearningpaths.org.

Here are a few ways to add healthy foods to family favorites:

1.  Add chopped spinach to meat sauce of any kind (it doesn’t change the flavor)
a.  Taco/burrito meat
b.  Spaghetti meat sauce
c.  Lasagna

2.  Add vegetables into chili or macaroni and cheese
a.  Shredded carrots
b.  Chopped up spinach
c.  Shredded zucchini
d.  Peas
e.  Green beans

3.  Add mashed cauliflower into mashed potatoes

It takes time, practice, and patience.  But don’t forget to approach the process with a healthy dose of fun and humor along with way!  Bon Appétit!

The Best Gift of All

by Chris Marchioni, MD, Executive Director Healthy Learning Paths

December brings excitement, anticipation, and joy. For some families, it is also a time of reflection, memories, and unwelcome stress.  The holidays can bring a season of exhausting emotional roller coasters.

Although holidays are a time for family celebrations, for some there is a looming emptiness left from the absence of loved ones.  From serving in the military overseas to suffering from chronic illness to loss of a grandparent through death,  these situations often overshadow holiday joys and add to a hollowness we carry from missing family members.

As we struggle with this stressful burden, it is important to know that you are not alone.  We have a connection with many others around us, both friends and family.  As we rush in holiday preparation with shopping, decorations, and meal planning, each one of us benefits from a long pause—a pause to offer a smile or a gentle squeeze to the arm of a friend or relative.  A pause to offer a listening ear or an understanding heart for loneliness or sadness one may bear.  A pause to recognize how important every child, parent, and grandparent are to us and to others.  A pause to simply slow down and connect to others.

We all have soothing strengths and fragile weaknesses.  However, the holiday season puts each of us to the test.  Even young children and teenagers experience some of the emotional challenges of the holiday season.  To ease the pain of these feelings, sometimes it only takes talking with a friend, parent, or counselor.  What really matters is to find the courage to seek some help to work past the sadness or stress, whatever the cause.  Keep in mind that this does not mean that we are flawed because of these feelings.  It only means that we are amazing humans!

As we create our gift list this season, here are some unique ideas that will make shopping much more enjoyable.  Let’s take the time to listen and to talk with children and adults who experience holiday stress or sadness, this is more valuable than any brightly wrapped toy or gift.  Let’s connect to others with compassionate conversation and kindness, as this fills the hollowness and sadness with hints of peace and joy.  We cannot forget to make adequate sleep a priority, eat healthy foods, drink water, and venture outside the malls for a walk to sustain positive mind and body energy. These gifts are not sold in any stores or on the web.  In fact, these gifts are so valuable that they are priceless, utterly impossible to measure in dollars.

Perhaps the most important, the absolute best gift of all, the gift of kindness and connection to one another is what we all need under our tree.  Happy and Healthy Holidays!