Its lunchtime at the office and you’re hungry. Your morning has been stressful, and your co-workers are pooling their money for some fried take-out from the local burger joint. You decline their invitation (even though comfort food sounds particularly comforting right now), and instead sit down with the healthy lunch you brought from home, complete with whole grains, lean proteins, raw vegetables, and lots of water. You know you have an afternoon full of meetings, phone calls, and errands, and the fiber and vitamins will carry you through your to-do list valiantly. Congratulations, you made a responsible adult decision, which will benefit your energy levels and probably your long-term health. Do you think you would have made the same decision in the lunch line in the third grade?
Kids in school face complicated lunchtime decisions on a daily basis. The decision to buy or to pack is only the beginning. On the way to the lunchroom, the hallways are lined with vending machines selling soda, chips and candy. The kids in the lunchroom flock toward the a lá carte counter, where they can buy French fries, hot dogs, and sugary drinks. And don’t forget about self-consciousness and peer pressure, which complicate this decision even more.
What a child eats for lunch at school not only influences their energy levels in math class but also sets the stage for adult eating habits. Too many wrong decisions can be a recipe for a nutritional disaster. But if you use lunchtime decision-making as a teachable moment, you can help your child learn to make nutritionally sensible decisions. Whether your child chooses to pack or to buy, here’s what you both need to know about lunchtime nutrition.
Current reports on the state of school lunches are disconcerting. According to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), “menus in most school lunch programs are too high in saturated fat and cholesterol and too low in fiber- and nutrient-rich fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes”. PCRM states, “Major changes are needed to protect the health of our nation’s youth and to reverse the growing trends of obesity and chronic disease among children and teens.” To compound the problem, many schools operate school stores, where the students can buy fast food meals (shipped in daily from national fast-food chains), instant soup-in-a-cup (with a day’s worth of sodium at no extra charge), and of course, candy and chips. These stores act as competitors to the school lunch programs, offering even less healthy alternatives.
The good news is that schools all over the country are modifying their menus voluntarily to include healthier options. In Madison County, Alabama, students returned from summer break to find many changes in the cafeteria, including smaller portions, more whole grains, and low fat milk options, all aimed at reducing the state’s growing obesity epidemic. In Berkeley, California, cafeterias are sourcing their ingredients from local organic farms, increasing the foods’ nutritional content as well as boosting the local economy and supporting sustainable agriculture. And in Crystal, Minnesota one school excluded fast food vendors from the school store. While reports like this are encouraging to parents, these trends vary state-by-state and school-by-school.
Here’s what you can do to help your child choose a healthy lunch when they’re buying:
Monthly Archives: August 2012
To Buy or To Pack?
15 Simple Ways to Eat Better Today
|Most people are creatures of habit. We go to the grocery store on the same day every week and fill our carts with the same stuff. If it’s Monday, chicken’s for dinner and Wednesday always means spaghetti. We are comforted with knowing what to expect—even if our meals aren’t that exciting, we know what we’re going to eat.That’s what makes eating healthier so scary sometimes. We are so used to eating a certain way that we rarely think about what we’re actually putting into our bodies. So to eat a healthier diet means actually waking up and paying attention to what’s on your plate.
Make Healthy eating a Habit
Before you start making any changes to your diet, take a week or two to observe your current eating habits. Track everything that goes in your mouth, including drinks and treats, no matter how small. Keeping a food journal will really open your eyes—realizing that you ate 10 cookies over the course of the week might make you think twice before reaching into the cookie jar again tonight, for example. You might not realize how bad your present eating habits are until you see an unhealthy pattern right there in black and white. Once you see that some changes are in order, then you’re ready to take the next steps.
Small Changes Mean Big Rewards
If you know you need to eat more fruit, start by adding some sliced bananas to your cereal in the morning or bake an apple with a bit of brown sugar for a yummy, low-cal dessert. Fresh berries and yogurt make a nice, light breakfast or snack too.
As you adopt this new style of eating, you will find that your food preferences will gradually change—when you cut out high-sugar, high-fat goodies, your cravings will actually go away in time. Your body wants healthy food!
One of the biggest challenges to eating healthier is finding substitutions for existing foods in your diet. Here are some tips to make the transition easier:
Eating a healthier diet doesn’t have to mean deprivation. You don’t have to cut out your favorite foods completely—you just have to make a few changes. Treat yourself to a mini chocolate bar instead of a full-sized one, for example. By trying to eat the most nutritious foods possible, you are creating a healthy lifestyle that will help you reach your best weight. You deserve the very best!
Healthy, Light and Guilt-Free
|Don’t let summer parties and cookouts derail your plans to eat healthier! You can keep the flavor and cut the excess calories by trying one of these healthy summer recipes.
More Healthy Recipes for Summer!
6 Myths and Facts about Back Pain
|This morning, you probably didn’t think twice about slinging a work tote over your shoulder or picking your sneakers up off the floor. But there may come a time when one of those simple motions will trigger a backache bad enough to cause you to call in sick, see a doctor, or at the very least, take a few painkillers. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, four out of five women will develop a back injury at some point in their lives. But with a few simple changes, you can prevent yourself from becoming a statistic. The trick, says Douglas Chang, M.D., chief of physical medicine and rehabilitation at the University of California, San Diego Medical Center, is separating the misconceptions from the facts. We asked Chang and other experts to set the record straight on how to best prevent and heal aches and pains.MYTH #1 Lifting heavy objects will strain your back.
FACT Most injuries are caused not by what you pick up, but how you do it. The proper form: Squat, keeping your back straight. Grab the object, bring it close to your body, then stand; your thigh and butt muscles should do the lifting.
Just grabbing a pen off the floor? It’s still important to be careful, because simply twisting the wrong way can harm your back. “One of the worst moves is bending over to the side while staying seated with your feet planted on the floor,” says Rahul Shah, M.D., an orthopedic spine surgeon in Winter Park, Florida. “Twisting your back in two directions at once may strain the disks that cushion your spinal vertebrae.” This repetitive trauma builds up over the years and can weaken your spine. “If your back is already vulnerable,” says Shah, “the wrong movement could easily trigger an injury.”
MYTH #2 Sitting up straight keeps your spine in line.
What’s a woman to do? Adjust your posture a few times a day, recommends Shah. “Lean back in your chair with your feet on the ground and make sure there’s a slight curve in your lower back.” That way, he explains, you’ll distribute your body weight more evenly, as your shoulders and upper back muscles will take some of the pressure off your spine. If you often find yourself slouching at your desk at the end of the workday, consider using a cushion to support your lower back and keep your spine in alignment.
What may be even more important than sitting correctly is taking frequent breaks from your desk throughout the day. To boost circulation in your back muscles and lessen fatigue, stand up every half hour and take a five-minute stroll or stretch every hour. Do some of your work while standing up to give your spine a little reprieve. Take a phone call on your feet, or place a report on top of a waist-high filing cabinet so you can stand and read it.
MYTH #3 Most exercise is hard on your back.
Still, it’s important not to do too much. Overexerting yourself—by lifting too-heavy weights or stretching past the point of comfort—is a surefire way to injure your back. To protect yourself while working out: Warm up with at least 15 minutes of light cardio to increase blood flow to back muscles. Next, observe your form in the mirror when lifting weights. Your back should always be straight, whether you’re working your biceps or your legs. Finally, avoid overstretching or bouncing; those movements jar the spine and muscles.
MYTH #4 Back pain is always caused by an injury.
So the next time you feel the pressure rising, make a point to work at least half an hour of relaxation into your day no matter how frenzied you feel. A hot bath or shower is one of the best ways to decompress, because heat can relax your back muscle fibers. To boost the benefits even more, use lavender-scented bath beads or soap: In a Japanese study, people who sniffed the calming scent had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Your back already in knots? Get a massage. Find a massage therapist near you through the American Massage Therapy Association.
MYTH #5 Alternative treatments don’t work.
MYTH #6 A super firm mattress is best for your back.
In order to do something, you have to first believe that you can do it! Once you believe in yourself, so many doors will open up for you. Take that first step today by doing something outside your comfort zone.
Think Outside the Box to Make Lifelong Memories
|Friendships seem to be front and center throughout childhood and early adulthood, but once careers get into full swing and families start to grow, female friendships often take a back seat to other priorities. Nurturing good friendships is hugely important throughout your life. Friendships are said to increase your sense of belonging, boost your happiness and improve your self-worth. Experts say they’re also great for reducing stress—and can be important for support when you cope with tough life situations such as illness or divorce.
We all know the classic girls night out (think dinner, drinks and dancing). But sometimes that night out at a loud bar doesn’t make for the best conversation or bonding experience. Instead of burning the midnight oil, swap night for a full day of friendly fun. Friends can spur you to change or avoid unhealthy habits, experts say, and many of these ideas for a girls day out incorporate a health boost! Mix and match these ideas to plan a day of bonding and adventure with a girlfriend or your whole group of pals. What could be more fun than a day of fun, fashion, food, friendship, and fitness?
Host a moviethon. Whether it’s a Gossip Girl marathon session or watching all of the Twilight movies, pick a group favorite, whip up some popcorn and enjoy relaxation and chatting. With just the cost of a few rentals and snacks, this fun-filled day is super affordable at less than $30!
Shop the thrift stores. Hit up thrift stores and consignment shops for great clothing deals and one-of-a-kind items. Browsing and playing dress up is fun at any age! Plus, it’s free to look.
Splurge on a new workout outfit. If your workout wardrobe is getting stale, go shopping with your healthy pals for new fitness wear that flatters and motivates you to move.
Hit a wine tasting. Whether you make a day of going to a winery or simply head to an upscale liquor store for a wine tasting, trying various wines is a great way for you and your friends to find new favorites. Wine tastings can range from about $5 to $20 per person, but oftentimes a tasting fee is waived if you make a purchase.
Go for manis and pedis. Ah, the classic girlie endeavor: head to a salon and get your fingernails and toenails shaped up and painted by the pros! From a simple fingernail polish change on the cheap to a full out spa pedicure, prices for services can range from $10 to $50.
Attend a yoga class. Take a yoga class (up to $20/person although your first class is usually free). Stretch, destress and bond while downward-dogging with your gal pals. Whether you’re brand new to yoga or a self-proclaimed yogini, this ancient practice turned fitness trend is something that women of all shapes, sizes and fitness levels can enjoy.
Simple Ways to Improve Your Health–Almost Instantly!
|When it comes to losing weight or making healthy choices, you probably think that it takes hours at a gym plus long nights preparing and planning nutritious meals. What you may not realize is that quick and easy changes can really improve your immediate health and wellness.
So just how quick is quick? One minute—that’s it! Try any one of these 60-second activities to easily reap the healthy benefits.
1. Drink a tall glass of water. We all know the many health benefits of drinking water, but did you also know that even mild dehydration can cause fatigue? So, the next time you feel your energy waning, grab a glass of cold water and guzzle it down!
2. Twist it out. So many of us spend every weekday seated in front of a computer. Not only can sitting all day wreak havoc on your posture, but it can also compress your spine and exaggerate its curvature. Not fun. A simple twist can help undo this. As you sit in your desk chair, simply twist your upper-body to one side, hold for 30 seconds, and then repeat on the other side. If you have the space to sit on the floor, try this torso twist stretch. It’s guaranteed to make you feel better!
3. Take a deep breath. How often do you think about breathing? If you are like most people, you probably don’t think about it often enough. For a quick pick-me-up, simply take five deep breaths. Slowly inhale for at least five seconds and exhale for 10 seconds each time. Your body will thank you for the extra oxygen.
4. Do 20 jumping jacks. Research has shown that long periods of sitting can be detrimental to the body and our overall health. So get up out of that chair and jack it out! Just one minute of jumping jacks is an easy way to get your heart pumping and blood flowing.
5. Smile. Smiling can actually make you happier. So go ahead—smile!
6. Go outside. You’ve probably heard the health buzz about vitamin D lately. Preliminary research suggests that vitamin D helps regulate the immune system, supports heart health, can help normalize blood pressure and promotes healthy aging. Vitamin D has also been linked to improved mood. If you have a minute to spare, step out into the sunshine!
7. Put on a favorite song. There’s nothing quite like your favorite music to perk you up and get you feeling good. Listening to music has been shown to improve immunity and release endorphins. Bonus points if you dance along!
8. Sit up straighter. Did you know that bad posture can put unnecessary stress on your low back? Take a minute to focus on sitting up straight with your shoulders down and back. Don’t you feel better already?
9. Be grateful. Write down five things you’re grateful for, no matter how large or small (your hair, your family, your morning cup of Joe—whatever). Do you feel more thankful, generous and overall happier after? Funny how a little reminder of what we have can turn a frown into a smile.
10. Tell a joke. Awake your inner child and tell a silly joke—whether it’s a knock-knock joke or even a funny line from a movie. Anything that gets you laughing is enough to get your happy endorphins flowing!
11. Do 10 pushups. Being strong is important, but having functional strength is even more important because it makes everyday activities easier to accomplish. A push-up is a great, quick exercise for building functional strength. Drop down and give me 10—or as many as you can do in 1 minute.
12. Encourage someone. Isn’t it interesting how you always seem to feel better after helping someone else feel better? Whether you post a supportive comment on a SparkFriend’s page or write a few kind words in a card or an email, taking a minute out to help someone can quickly boost your mood.
13. Set a goal for the day. Fact: People who set goals have more success than people who don’t. So why not take a few seconds and write down what you want to do today? Then, just commit to making it happen!
14. Focus on one thing you love about yourself. At times, we put so much effort in focusing on what we don’t like about ourselves that we fail to see the good. Take 60 seconds to think about what you like about you. Is it your eyes? Your strong legs? Your giving nature? Thinking about how great you are will instantly increase self-confidence.
15. Wash your hands. It seems like cold and flu season is always in full force (or just around the corner). One of the simplest and easiest ways to stay well year round is to wash your hands. All you need is warm water, soap and 20 seconds of rubbing to rid your hands of unwanted germs.
16. Compliment a stranger. What better way to make yourself feel good than to unexpectedly brighten someone else’s day? The next time you admire someone’s clothes, positive attitude or eyes—say so!
17. Try aromatherapy. A number of different smells can have a positive effect on your mind and body. For example, peppermint is known to calm the stomach while its smell can energize you through a workout. And the scent of jasmine has been shown to reduce anxiety. To benefit, grab some scented lotion and either take a whiff from the bottle or rub some on your hands.
18. Salute the sun. Sun salutations are a well-known set of yoga poses that are said to warm up the body and increase blood flow and flexibility. So grab your mat and do one or two sets—rain or shine!
19. Give yourself a mini-massage. Massage has a number of health benefits, including reducing stress, lowering blood pressure and speeding muscle repair. While you may not be able to spend the time or money getting one at a spa, pampering yourself with just 1 minute of self-massage by rubbing your own hands, feet or shoulders can do wonders.
20. Be absolutely present. When we are wrapped up with work, to-do lists, and just getting by, sometimes we can forget to focus on what we are doing in the here and now. Try spending a minute just being. Focus on sounds, smells and whatever else is going on around you; instead of thinking ahead to what you’ll do next, think about what you’re doing right now. You’ll be amazed at how peaceful you feel. Just be!
See? In the quest to be healthier, you don’t have to spend a lot of time. Even if all you have is a few spare seconds here and there, you can make a positive difference in your overall health!