Q&A with Healthy Kids Challenge


January is finally here, and with it comes the usual list of well-intentioned New Years resolutions. For many of you, that means attempting to eat more nutritiously and live a healthier life, and here at SPARK we’re no different. But what about our students? Do we really believe they’re making the same healthy commitments? And if not, how can we ensure we create a healthier 2010 for them as well?

Well, we thought we’d enlist the help of our partner organization, Healthy Kids Challenge (HKC), to get some advice and answers on this topic.

Q: What evidence is out there to show why it is important to teach/promote healthy nutrition?

A: Many studies show a strong link between nutrition, physical activity, and academic success. A report from Action for Healthy Kids titled The Learning Connection is an excellent resource. (Get this version of the report as a powerpoint presentation and share it with others!) The link is just what you’d expect: Students who are well-nourished perform better, and students who are not well-nourished have weaker academic performance and score lower on standardized tests.

For example, we know research has shown increased participation in school breakfast programs is associated with increased academic test scores. In fact, eating breakfast is so important all year (not just right before testing times) that it is one of our 6 core healthy behaviors for which we’ve developed a theme, Breakfast GO Power!, and lessons/ideas for everyday fun learning.

Q: If I ask parents to bring in a healthy snack, what would be some recommendations of what they could provide?

A: First, I’d have you define for parents what is considered a “healthy snack.” Then list some healthy choices as examples. Consider getting the kids’ input – they will be more likely to eat if they’ve helped choose what is offered.

Healthy Snack How-To:

  • Choose snacks low in added fat and sugar – Think about More or Less! All foods fit when you choose MORE fruits and veggies and LESS sugary and high fat foods.
  • Recognize a healthy portion size – Check serving size on the label, and amounts of fat and sugar per serving: items should contain no more than 5 grams of fat or sugar per serving. Measure a serving to check it out!
  • Be aware of hunger levels –Are there distractions such as TV or videos while the kids will be eating? It’s easier for people of any age to keep from overeating if you eliminate distractions. Adding a little bit of protein to your snack will help kids stay full and focused.

HKC Top 10 Healthy Snack Choices
½ cup fresh fruit – with low-fat yogurt dip
½ cup vegetables – with low-fat dressing dip
5 whole grain crackers – with salsa or bean dip
1 cup whole grain cereal – with 8 oz. skim milk
3 cups popcorn – with 1 oz. nuts (10 almonds or 15 peanuts)
1 oz. low-fat cheese – with 1 thin slice lean meat and whole grain roll
8 oz. fat-free flavored yogurt – with cut-up fresh fruit added
1/3 cup low-fat cottage cheese – with pineapple chunks
1 oz. nuts (10 almonds or 15 peanuts) – with ¼ cup raisins
1 Tbsp peanut butter – with celery sticks

Q: Why is it important to eat more fruits & vegetables?

A: Less than 25% of school children (grades 9-12) and adults eat the recommended servings of fruits and veggies a day. (CDC, Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey, 2007). Obesity levels are lowest among those who have high intakes of fruits and veggies.

Eating more fruits and vegetables will ensure you get a great variety of vitamins, minerals, and fiber needed for good health. Fruits and veggies are also the only source of phytochemicals, which give them their vibrant colors, and give us special protection against diseases.

For a simple send-home activity click here and explore the “For Parents” section of our Fit and Fun Families Toolkit.

Q: Which is healthier, a burger or a salad, and why?

A: Well, it depends. We really need to look closer at serving sizes and what you might have added to them before eating them.

The burger will have more protein, but it will also have extra calories and saturated fat. Is your burger larger than ¼ lb? Does it have cheese or bacon? All of these add more calories and fat. But I put lettuce and tomato and onions on it, you say? Those healthy fixins don’t amount to even one serving of vegetables – think again.

The salad will be loaded with antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, but did you also “load” it with your favorite dressing? What about cheese, bacon bits, or croutons? If you add all these toppings, you’ve added not only calories and saturated fat, but salt as well.

Fix your salad right, or order it right, and you’ll be making the healthier choice. Get your choice of dressing on the side, and dip your fork in it before getting a bite of salad. You’ll eat less and still enjoy the flavor. Add vegetables as toppings instead of the other high-calorie choices. In this case, the salad is the healthier choice with less saturated fat and fewer calories than a quarter-pound burger. The burger, by the way, has the same amount of saturated fat as a third of a cup of ranch dressing.

Q: What is the difference between all the different types of fat (saturated, unsaturated, trans fat)?

1. All fats and oils are a mixture of saturated fat and unsaturated fats.
2. Solid fats contain more saturated fats and/or trans fats than oils.
3. Oils contain more unsaturated fats, such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.

Solid Fats = more saturated and/or trans fats:
Solid fats are fats that are solid at room temperature. Some solid fats are butter, stick margarine, and shortening. Foods high in solid fats include many cheeses, creams, ice creams, ground beef, bacon, and poultry skin. Trans fats can be found in many cakes, cookies, crackers, margarines, and microwave popcorns. Foods containing partially-hydrogenated vegetable oils usually contain trans fats.

Oils = more unsaturated fats:
Oils are fats that are liquid at room temperature, high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, and low in saturated fats. Some common oils are canola oil, corn oil, and olive oil. Foods that are mainly oil include mayonnaise, salad dressings, and soft (tub or squeeze) margarine with no trans fats.

Choose Oils
Saturated fats and trans fats tend to raise LDL “bad” cholesterol levels in the blood, which in turn increases the risk for heart disease. To lower risk for heart disease, cut back on foods containing saturated fats and trans fats.

Most of the fats you eat should be polyunsaturated (PUFA) or monounsaturated (MUFA) fats. Fish, nut, and vegetable oils are the major source of MUFAs and PUFAs in the diet. These oils do not raise LDL “bad” cholesterol levels in the blood. PUFAs contain some fatty acids that are necessary for health—called “essential fatty acids.” In addition, oils are the major source of vitamin E in typical American diets.

For more information, visit www.mypyramid.gov.

Q: What does vitamin A do for you?

A: Vitamin A is essential for healthy eyes, healthy skin, and keeping your immune system strong. It is an essential nutrient, meaning your body cannot create it, so you must get it from your diet. Dark green and orange veggies have the highest vitamin A content. Choose these: broccoli, spinach, collard greens, mango, carrots, sweet potatoes, and pumpkin.

Q: Why are some people allergic to nuts?

A: First you need to understand some allergy basics. I have an excellent resource to recommend for the answer you need, which is KidsHealth.org. According to them, “ An allergic reaction happens when someone’s immune system mistakenly believes that something harmless, such as a tree nut or peanut, is actually harmful. The immune system responds by creating specific antibodies to proteins in that food.” The following link will explain allergies, and also go into nut allergies in particular. If you need more information, let me know!
Click Here.

Q: When purchasing bread, what should you look for?


  • Whole Grains on the ingredient list.
    • The key word is “whole”. It must say “whole wheat flour”, for example. Words such as “enriched wheat flour” and just “wheat flour” indicate it is NOT whole grain.
    • The first ingredient listed is present in the largest amount. If the first ingredient doesn’t have the word “whole” included, then it is not truly a whole grain bread. The front of the package may claim “made with whole grains”, but read the ingredient list carefully!
  • Calories, serving size, and fiber on the nutrition label.
    • Is a serving 1 slice of bread or 2 slices? You can get whole grain breads that range from 70 calories per serving up to almost 200 calories per serving. Read carefully and know what you are getting in a serving!
    • 2-3 grams of fiber per serving is a healthier choice. Just be sure to check what the serving size is. 3 grams of fiber per slice is much different than 3 grams per 2 slices! Eating more fiber aids digestion and helps you feel full longer.

Q: How much sugar is in a can of soda?

A: There are 10 tsp of sugar or 40 grams in a 12-oz can of soda. Help kids do a Drink Think using our free downloadable activity pages.

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