Gardening with Preschoolers

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Garden Yoga pose “Seeds”—Photo courtesy Leanne Manning

This summer several sites across the U.S. are piloting a gardening curriculum with preschoolers.  This curriculum, developed by Nebraska Extension and Texas A & M Extension, teaches children about the parts of the plant.  While it sounds simple, they are learning much more than the parts of the plant as they go through  lessons like how to plants seeds, how stems take up nutrients to help plants grow,  eating healthy foods grown in the garden, and about being patient.  It is hard work to wait for your turn to plant your seeds or to wait for your seeds to sprout.  Here are some tips shared by the National Association for the Education of Young Children to help make gardening with young children go a little more smoothly.

  1. Be prepared. Find out what grows best in your area.  Prep the garden area before the children join you.  Have many tools available for lots of little hands.
  2. Chill out. Children will plant 25 seeds in one small hole.  They will plant the leaves instead of the roots in the soil.  Other children will undo what one child has just completed.  Things will happen and it is best to just relax and go with the flow.  Everyone will enjoy it much more if you do.
  3. Have a “can-do” garden. Find all the ways the children can be involved in the garden.  Yes, you may plant those seeds. Yes, you may dig in the dirt. Yes, you can use the hand tools, and yes, you can water the plants.  When attention wanders, allow the children to move to other tasks.  We have incorporated garden yoga into the gardening time and the children love the movement.
  4. Eat what you grow. Remember children are great imitators and if they see you eating and enjoying vegetables from the garden, they too will develop a liking for them.
  5. Have fun! Pretend play is important in all children’s development so see what ideas they come up with for garden fun.  Placing an old chalkboard along the garden path can be fun for impromptu chalk art. Bring out a small pool to have water fun in the garden. Old pots and pans can be hung on the fence and used as “musical” instruments.  The list of ideas is as varied as you make it.  That reminds me, we need to try some singing in the garden.  I fondly remember picking strawberries with my mother in the garden and learning many childhood songs.

 

Source: https://www.naeyc.org/our-work/families/7-tips-vegetable-gardening

LEANNE MANNING, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Lynn DeVries, Extension Educator, The Learning Child, Sarah Roberts, Extension Educator, The Learning Child

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Keeping Children Active

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According to the State of Obesity, Nebraska ranks 5th in the nation for childhood overweight and obesity in children ages 2-4.  Yikes!  Nebraska also has the 13th highest adult obesity rate in the nation.

I recently read the book What If Everybody Understood Child Development?  By Rae Pica.  The book is broken down into 3 parts with a total of 29 easy to read essays which reference real-life stories shared by teachers and parents.  At the end of each essay, Rae provides the reader with ideas for what teachers can do as well as where teachers (and other adults) can go to for more information on the topic.

Part two of the book is all about understanding the mind/body connection.  Rae discusses what the research says about active learning, how important physical fitness is to children’s health and development and why we should push our schools to review the research on recess and active play breaks for children.

Benefits of physical activity:

  • reduces the risk of dying prematurely
  • reduces the risk of developing diabetes
  • reduces feelings of depression and anxiety
  • helps control weight
  • increases the body’s infection-fighting white blood cells and germ fighting antibodies
  • helps build and maintain healthy bones, muscles and joints.

Based on research, it is clear that we need to keep our children and youth (and the adults too) more active.  Fit Activity For Kids, What’s Your Name? is a developmentally appropriate active activity for adults to play with the children.  To play, the player picks out the letters of their name, and then do the physical activity that goes with each letter.  You might be wondering what would your child be learning during this activity.  Literacy (Letter recognition), turn taking (social emotional), physical activity (healthy bodies, balance, core strength), and more!

Are you looking for new, creative ways to keep your children active and happy?   Visit The Learning Child on Pinterest at  https://www.pinterest.com/unlextensiontlc/.

JACI FOGED, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Lisa Poppe, Extension Educator, The Learning Child and Lynn DeVries, Extension Educator, The Learning Child

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Parents Ask Questions about Feeding Young Children

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This week a local parenting home visiting program invited me to present a short program on feeding infants and toddlers to a group of teen parents.  The topics requested included“picky” eaters and family meal times. I was asked to keep the program short and to the point.  I decided to turn to a trusted resource for feeding young children.  I first became aware of Ellen Satter’s work through my involvement in the Head Start Programs years ago.  What I like about her research, is that she translates it into simple terms that parents and childcare providers can easily understand and apply.

Questions parents ask around feeding younger children include:

  • How often should I feed my child?
  • Am I feeding my child enough?
  • Am I feeding my child too much?
  • What should I do about my picky eater?

Begin with the Division of Responsibilities:

Satter explains the parent is responsible for what, when and where, and the child is responsible for how much and whether they choose to eat.  According to Satter, “Fundamental to parents’ jobs is trusting children to determine how much and whether to eat from what parents provide. When parents do their jobs with feeding, children do their jobs with eating: – See more at The Ellyn Satter Institute

 What about picky eaters?

If parents are consistent with the division of responsibilities, over time, their children will become well-adjusted eaters.  Ellyn Satter says that most children are more or less picky eaters. Their likes and dislikes can vary from day to day, and it may take time to warm up to unfamiliar foods. Parents may need to introduce a new food 15 times or more before a child is willing to try it.  A suggestion offered by Satter is to be sure to offer other options with a meal that are familiar to the child, but not to offer alternatives.  If there is something served with the regular meal that the child can eat, the parent is the one responsible. Let the child pick-and-choose from what is already on the table. The goal is to keep meals positive without putting pressure on the child to eat. Keep in mind that you should also try to stick to consistent meal and snack times, offering only water between these structured times.

 Will snacks spoil the child’s meal?

Growing children need snacks, as their stomach capacity is small and limited.  They need meals that are more frequent.  According to Satter,

Here is what to keep in mind about snacks:

  • Sit to snack, don’t allow yourself or your child to eat on the run or eat along with other activities.
  • Have snacks be sustaining: Include 2 or 3 foods. Include protein, fat, and carbohydrate.
  • Time snacks between meals so that your child will be hungry at the next mealtime.
  • Use snack time to work in foods you didn’t get otherwise, such as vegetables

Click here for more information on Sit Down Snacks

You can also check out The Ellen Satter Institute Facebook page  if you would like to hear more about their research on children’s eating.

What are some of your favorite recipes for children’s meals and snacks?  Comment below

Image source

Lynn DeVries, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Jaci Foged, Extension Educator, The Learning Child

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It Can Take A Village to Support Breastfeeding Moms

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I knew the many benefits of breastfeeding many years before having my own child. I taught education classes to soon-to-be parents about these benefits. I shared how breastfeeding is an important practice for both the baby and the mother. During these classes we talked about how breastmilk has nutritional, immunological, and psychological benefits and provides all the nutrition and sustenance a baby needs for the first six months. We talked about how the nutritional benefits continue into the second year of life and how the nutritional components of breastmilk change over time to meet the nutritional needs of the child. I shared how breastfeeding may help reduce the chance that a child becomes overweight or develops certain diseases in the future. We also discussed the benefits of breastfeeding for women. Women who exclusively breastfeed typically lose more weight after giving birth (who doesn’t want that!) than women who use formula, breastfeeding reduces the risk of breast cancer, protects against osteoporosis, and reduces the risk of cardiovascular diseases. Finally, breastfeeding can benefit both mother and infant by helping to create a close emotional bond.

Knowing these benefits, I was completely committed to the idea of breastfeeding when I learned that I was pregnant with my daughter. I was so excited to be able to finally have this experience with my baby. After a somewhat traumatic childbirth I was finally able to hold my newborn baby daughter and excitedly prepared to breastfeed her. Despite her “great latch” as described by the nurses, I was challenged to produce milk. I became anxious and worried. Nurses would come in and “rate” the quality of my continued attempts to breastfeed which only made me feel more anxious. A lactation consultant met with me and I cried. I felt like a failure as a new mom as I was told that I would need to supplement with formula. My husband was a great support and said, “you can keep trying and we can supplement too. You are the best mom.” Then my mom and sister visited and provided some emotional support as well.

I continued to breastfeed with my limited milk supply and extremely sore bleeding nipples. I remember crying with my toes curled under with the first latch. I would nurse for what felt like hours hoping that my daughter was getting the nutrition she needed. Soon I received in home support from a certified lactation consultant who showed me different positions to use to breastfeed. She weighed my daughter and assured me she was healthy and growing. Eventually I was able to exclusively breastfeed and my anxiety dissipated. When I returned to work after 6 months, my in home child care provider provided a quiet relaxing place for me to breastfeed my daughter which allowed me to continue breastfeeding. I was not able to pump enough milk so having the opportunity to come at breaks and for lunch was immensely helpful. I share this experience in hopes that others see the value of serving as support system to moms. I share so that others do not pass judgement on moms as we never know the possible struggles they are experiencing.

I share so that moms know breastfeeding is beneficial and may be easy for some but not for all. I share because support for breastfeeding is important and can come from many different sources, including health professionals, mothers, grandmothers, trusted friends and community members. Think of how you can serve as a support to a mom if she decides to breastfeed. You never know what that support can do for a mom and her baby.

For additional information and resources, look at:

Kelly Mom Parenting and Breastfeeding http://kellymom.com/category/bf/


HOLLY HATTON-BOWERS, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

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16 Tips For Cutting Family Food Expenses

Cutting food expensesDoes your lettuce turn to mush? Mushrooms start to grow fuzzy? Do your bananas blacken before your family can eat them? In the US, the average family of four, loses $1,500 each year to food it has to throw out. This is like tossing one bag out of every four purchased at the grocery store.

Food is a necessary expense but there are ways to save money. Check out these tips!

1. Use a Grocery List

Keep a grocery list where it’s easily accessible, such as on Use a grocery listthe fridge, and take it with you to the grocery store. Always shop with a list. Stick to your list for added savings, but do stay flexible if you encounter a sale. Gas for an extra trip to the store easily can add a dollar or more to your grocery bill. And the less you shop, the less likely you’ll buy something on impulse.

Examples:

  • Gas to drive four miles for an extra trip to the store: $1.00 (or more!)
  • Impulse purchase of snack crackers at the store: An additional $2.50 spent.

2. Garbage Check

We lose money whenever we toss food because it spoiled before we got around to eating it. If leftovers get the “heave-ho” because they’re left too long, we’re putting money in the garbage can. Plan to avoid tossing foods.

Consider: If wilted lettuce frequently goes in your garbage can, serve more salads at the beginning of the week. If extra mashed potatoes get tossed because they’ve lingered too long in the fridge, make less next time. Some other ideas: Use ripe bananas in banana bread; add juice to smoothies or make popsicles; freeze leftovers for another meal.

Example:

  • Tossing a half bag of “tired” lettuce: $1.00.

3. Avoid Shopping When Hungry

Everything looks good on an empty stomach. And it’s all too easy to buy something to tide us over in the car until we make it home. Eating before going shopping not only helps forestall impulse buys, it may save calories. If you’re shopping with your kids, feed them in advance as well.

Example:

  • Buying an energy bar at the grocery store to tide you over until you get home: $1.50 more spent.

4. Brown Bag It

If you normally eat out at noon, consider brown-bagging it at least one day a week. The typical fast-food meal out easily can cost $5.00 or more. Take food left over from an Brown bag it and bring your own lunchevening meal to work the next day. A peanut butter sandwich and a piece of whole fruit can be quickly packed from foods on hand.

Note: You may save money on your children’s lunch by having them participate in the school lunch program. They can eat a balanced meal that is offered at a reasonable price.

Examples:

  • Eating a sack lunch once a week: Save $2.50 (or more!)
  • Eating a sack lunch five days a week: Save $12.50 (or more!)

5. Coupon Common Sense

Use coupons only for foods you normally would eat, rather than for “extras.” Don’t miss out on potential sources of valuable coupons. Check your grocery receipt — sometimes there are great coupons on the back that help save money. Also, if you have access to a computer, check online for coupons. For starters, check the Web site of the store coupon common sensewhere you shop or for products you use.

Often the Web site address for many foods is given on the product label.

If possible, shop on double- or triple-coupon days when a store increases the value of coupons. Grocery store loyalty cards may be another source of savings, offering in-store discounts to cardholders.

Examples:

  • Not buying that NEW dessert mix just because you have a coupon: Save $2.00.
  • Using two 50-cent coupons for items you do use: Save $1.00.

Check expiration dates6. Check Expiration Dates

Avoid buying a food that is past its prime. If it’s on sale and near its expiration date, use it soon.

Example:

  • Avoid dumping a half gallon of soured milk down the drain: Save $2.50.

7. Small-Scale Experiments

When trying a new food, buy the smallest size package. If your family doesn’t like the new food, you won’t be stuck with a big quantity.

Example:

  • Buy a small amount of an exotic spice until you discover if your family will eat it in the new recipe: Save $1.50.

8. Costly Convenience Foods

How much time do you really save when you buy a convenience food? It takes just a fewPre-cut vegetables seconds to mix your own sugar and cinnamon rather than buying it pre-mixed.
Microwaving a bowl of regular oatmeal rather than pouring hot water over the contents of a pre-measured package adds only a few minutes.

You’re likely to save by cutting fruits and veggies yourself. Plus, the precut ones won’t keep as long!

Example:

  • Buying one carton of old-fashioned or quick oatmeal that provides 30 servings vs. buying three boxes of instant oatmeal that contain 10 packets each: Save $5.50.

9. Staple Food Stock Up

Invest in staple foods when they’re on sale. Buying a boatload of bananas (or other perishable foods) isn’t a very good long-term investment. Stocking up on staple items such as reduced-price canned tuna or tomato sauce might be. Remember to check expiration dates.

Example:

  • Stocking up on 10 cans of tuna reduced by 20 cents apiece: Save $2.00.

10. Bulking Up When the Price Is Right and You Can Use It

Bulk of orangesFirst, do the math and check to see if you actually do save by buying a larger package.
The cost of two foods of a smaller size may be a better price than the larger one. Plus, will you
use the food while it is still tasty? Always check it out and if the larger size meets your criteria, go for it!

Example:

  • Buying a 5-pound bag of rice instead of a 1-pound bag: Save $1.50.

11. Store Brand Savings

Store brands are comparable in nutrition to name brands. And taste-wise there may be Store brand Mountain Dewlittle difference. In some comparisons, they have been preferred over the name brands.
Some store brands may vary more in size, color, or texture than the name brands. However this may be unimportant, depending on their use. A less-than-perfect-appearing vegetable may be just fine if used in a casserole or soup.

Don’t shop just at eye level. Store brands and lower-priced brands tend to be positioned on the top and bottom shelves. The national brands are more likely to be on the middle shelves.

Example:

  • Buying just two store brands and saving 50 cents on each: Save $1.00.

12. Prevent Food Flops

Check preparation methods for unfamiliar foods. A tropical fruit may look enticing at the store, but if you’re not sure how to prepare it or where to find more information once you bring it home, think again. Or that new cut of meat — do you slowly roast it or can it be grilled? Either way, find out or risk having a food flop.

Often the produce person or the meat manager at the store can give you some tips. Many produce departments have books with descriptions of all items, what they taste like, how to prepare them, etc.

Example:

  • Purchasing a bag of self-rising flour without first reading the recipe’s directions and discovering it won’t work: Lose $2.50.

13. Beware of Snack Attacks

Unless you’re fairly active and need the calories, limit snacks such as chips, cookies, Junk foodcandy, etc. You’ll save money and may lose unwanted pounds at the same time.

Example:

  • Buying one less bag of chips weekly: Save $2.00.

14. Shop the Specials

Plan your menus around sale items, especially more expensive purchases, such as meat. Buying several packages of meat on sale and freezing them may save quite a bit.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture advises that it is safe to freeze meat or poultry in its supermarket wrapping but this type of wrap is permeable to air. So, unless you plan to use them within a month or so, overwrap packages of meat for long-term storage using airtight heavy-duty foil, freezer plastic wrap or freezer paper, or put the packages of meat inside freezer plastic bags. Use these materials to repackage family packs of meat into smaller amounts.

While raw ground meat maintains optimum quality in the freezer for 3 to 4 months, larger cuts of meat like steaks or chops will maintain optimum quality for 4 to 12 months. At 0o F, frozen food remains safe indefinitely. The safest way to thaw meat is in the refrigerator on a plate on the bottom shelf so it doesn’t drip on other foods.

Example:

  • Buying meat on sale: Save $2.00.

15. Think Before You Drink

re-usable water bottlesBuy a reusable water bottle and fill it with tap water. Your investment soon will pay for itself. Limit consumption of soft drinks and fancy coffees. And if you do buy drinks occasionally, try to buy returnable bottles.

Example:

  • Drinking tap water vs. buying a 12-pack of bottled water: Save $4.00.

16. “Check-out” Temptation

As you wait in line, think twice about buying some last minute temptation at the check-out counter.

Example:

  • Resist that magazine: Save $3.50.

Grand Total

The more of these tips you use and the more foods you use with them, the family cutting expensesmore you save.

Case in point: If you were able to use each of the preceding examples in one shopping trip, you could save as much as $40 that week.

Multiply that by 52 weeks and the savings would be… over $2,000 yearly!

Note: Prices in this NebGuide were rounded to the nearest 50 cents and may vary by store and location.

Alice C. Henneman, Extension Educator, Nancy G. Frecks, Extension Educator, and Kathy Prochaska-Cue, Extension Family Economist 

(This article was originally published by the authors as a NebGuide. It is re-published here with their permission.)

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What Are Pulses And Why Are They Important?

Pulses, legumes, beansThe Year Of The Pulses

The United Nations has declared 2016 the International Year of the Pulses. What are pulses and why are they so important? Pulses that we are most familiar with here in the U.S. are dry beans, dry peas, lentils, and chickpeas to name a few. They are high in protein, fiber, minerals, and vitamins. This movement is an opportunity to raise global awareness in the role that pulses play in feeding the world and is an occasion to help communities learn about the nutritional value of pulses and the positive impact they can have on your health. Pulses are environmentally friendly and play an important role in our global food security.

Educating Children On Pulses

As an Extension Educator I found this an opportunity to introduce pulses to children through our summer programming in Scotts Bluff and Morrill Counties in Nebraska. Creating a culinary experience for children and allowing them to assist in food preparation makes children eager to give it a try and they often ask for seconds when they’ve helped prepare their own food!

In my effort to educate children about introducing healthy snack options, teach culinary skills, and introduce pulses, I searched for recipes that might appeal to children. My search lead me to Mango Black Bean Salsa and Roasted Chickpeas (garbanzo beans). In order to make them more kid friendly I altered the recipes by omitting the onions and using a light dusting of spices. Since I may be introducing some spices that may be new to children I only gave a light dusting of the seasoning or spices. In the month of June we introduced pulses to approximately 250 children K- 5th grade. The children gave our recipes a “thumbs up!”

Tips For Cooking with Children

  • Make certain you are aware of the food allergies that may be present in the children you are working with.
  • Many children often struggle with the textures of foods, especially with legumes, as their taste buds are changing and evolving. Always ask them to give it a try! They might not have liked it before, but because of their changing tastes, they may like it this time.
  • Always make the first serving a small “tasting serving” and remind them that they can always have more if they would like.
  • Ask children: How might you change these recipes? What other fruits would you add to the salsa instead of mangos? What other types of seasonings could you add to the chickpeas?
  • Have copies of the recipes so that the children can take home to share with parents.

Black Bean Salsa

Ingredients

  • 1 mango
  • 1 can (15 oz.) black beans
  • 1 can (7 oz.) Mexicorn
  • ¼ cup fresh cilantro chopped
  • 1 tsp. garlic salt
  • ¼ tsp. ground cumin (Instead of using garlic salt or cumin try using 1-2 tsps. of taco seasoning)

Instructions

  1. Wash and peel the mango. Cut into cubes.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients and mix well.
  3. Refrigerate until ready to use.
  4. Serve with tortilla chips. (You can also make your own tortilla chips by cutting corn tortillas into triangles and baking them in the oven!)

Roasted Chickpeas

Ingredients

  • 1 can chickpeas (15 oz.), rinsed and drained
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • ¼ tsp. ground cumin
  • ¼ teaspoon garlic salt (Instead of cumin or garlic salt substitute with taco seasoning)

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 450 F.
  2. Spread chickpeas on a paper towel to remove excess liquid. It’s important to make certain the chickpeas are dry the more liquid they have in them the longer they take to cook.
  3. In a small bowl, combine olive oil, cumin, garlic salt. Add chickpeas and toss to coat evenly.
  4. Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet with a rim. Roast for 30-35 minutes or until chickpeas are crunchy. Occasionally shake the pan to ensure even browning.
  5. Remove from the oven and cool. Store in an airtight container for up to 2 days.

Looking for more information on teaching children about pulses? Check out the Teachers National Year of the Pulses tool kit.

Jackie Guzman, Extension Educator | The Learning Child

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Tips For A Happy Healthy Halloween

CSpN9QGUcAAjpeY.jpgWith Halloween around the corner, grocery stores are coming out with sugary treats to hand out to the neighborhood children. Sweets such as candy and chocolate are full of sugar, high in calories, and lack many nutrients that children need. Although purchasing these sugar-filled treats may seem like the routine tradition to do on Halloween, there are other more healthful treat options to hand out to your local trick-or-treaters. Encouraging your community to have a healthy Halloween can be fun for both you and the children!

Be Creative With Food

hallloweenorangesHealthy foods, such as fruits, can be made into fun Halloween-themed treats. Mandarin orange cups or tangerines can be drawn on to look like jack-o-lantern faces. Or, decorate a the wrapper of string cheese like a ghost. These healthy treats provide fun, hands-on activities for your children!

Use Non-Food Treats

spiderringsWho said Halloween treats need to be edible? Local stores have great, non-food alternatives in bulk at the same cost as candy. Candy is there one minute and gone the next, but this list of non-food treats will bring hours of fun for children!

  • Spider rings
  • Halloween foam stickers
  • Halloween-themed pencils
  • Stretchy eyeballs
  • Plastic fangs
  • Halloween-themed erasers
  • Halloween-colored yo-yos
  • Plastic skeletons

 Be Safe

glowsticksSafety precautions should be taken on Halloween. Non-food treats such as glow sticks can provide a safety feature for children to wear while they trick-or-treat in the dark. Lip-shaped whistles are a fun way to have a child let you know they are close by.

Find Healthy Substitutions

Sugar-filled treats can be substituted for nutritious treats at a low-cost. Instead of a pack of M&M’s, hand out packs of mixed nuts. Snacks such as air-popped popcorn, pretzels, and cheese sticks make great alternatives to candy items.

Non-Food Halloween Treats at Local Stores

Walmart: 27th & Superior Street

Reward/Treat Pieces per Pack Price ($)
Stretchy Skeletons 12 0.97
Stretchy Eyeballs 6 0.97
Bat Rings 50 0.97
Foam Stickers 75 0.97
Spider Rings 50 0.97
Plastic Skeletons 12 0.97
Mini Erasers 50 0.97
Glitter Foam Stickers 50 0.97
Glow Bracelet 5 0.97
Plastic Fangs 12 0.97
Bounce Balls 12 1.97
Mini Gel Pens 12 1.97
Pencil Topper Stamps 12 1.97
Puzzle Mazes 8 1.97
Bubbles 12 1.97
Assorted pencils 28 1.97

Dollar Store: 27th & Superior St.

Reward/Treat Pieces per Pack Price ($)
Puffy Stickers 47 1
Skull Rings 50 1
Spider Rings 50 1
Assorted Pencils 50 1
Assorted Erasers 18 1
Assorted Erasers 12 1
Glow Bracelets 8 1
Assorted Stickers Varies 1
Creepy Creatures 12 1
Yo-Yos 8 1
Lip Whistles 6 1
Spin- Tops 8 1

Additional Resources & Links

This Pinterest board gives healthy ideas for Halloween fun.  

Authors: Kelsey Doerr, Jaci Foged and Dipti Dev | The Learning Child

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5 Ways To Support Children’s Healthy Eating Habits

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How do adults unknowingly overfeed children? Research has shown that adults are concerned if the child is eating enough, and a straightforward approach to alleviate this concern is to pressure children to eat.

“Do you need a snack?” “Can I get you another helping?” “Eat just one more bite. You will be hungry later!”

Research has shown that children up to 5 years of age can self-regulate their energy intake, or will eat or not eat based on their hunger and fullness signals. Why then, do we feel compelled to insist children eat everything on their plate? Why do we mandate children eat all of their green beans and drink all of their milk? By requiring that children meet these conditions for eating (and more), adults are actually teaching children to follow our cues for being full rather than their own.

Have you said to your child, “If you eat all your veggies, you can have dessert”? Most of us have used food as a reward in an effort to get children to eat more fruits and vegetables. However, such controlling practices (such as pressuring children to eat or offering food as a reward) negatively impacts children’s eating habits and is a risk factor for obesity.

Sit Down At A Table Together

Children are also more likely to put food on their plate, which increases the chance they will actually try a new food when they see their friends, teachers or another adult with a particular food on their plate. If you are a parent or child care professional you might not get another chance to sit down, connect with the children and relax, so don’t miss out – this is your excuse to take a load off and enjoy a meal together!

Turn Off The Television

What is so important on the television that can’t wait until after dinner? Television is jam packed with commercials that have my kids saying “I want that”, “Mom, can we get those.” Plus, commercials about food make us hungry! It doesn’t matter if we just ate –seeing commercials advertising food often leave us feeling famished.

Ask “Would You…” Or “Are You…”

Parents and professionals should focus on asking rather than telling when it comes to meal times. Rather than, “You need to try the asparagus” consider, “This asparagus tastes fresh and yummy. Would you like to try it?” Positive peer pressure occurs when a child tastes the food and then asks a friend to try it.

As the meal time is winding down you might say, “Boy my tummy is full, I don’t think I could eat another bite”. If children are still eating you could say, “You ate all of your peaches, if you are hungry you can have some more”. Research has shown that when you use the terms hunger and fullness you are supporting children’s internal cues. Just asking if they want more may override a child’s internal signals. Since children can recognize their internal signals of hunger and fullness, it is important to support and cue them by asking if they are hungry, when offering them more food.

Practice Family Style Dining

Research shows that children learn over time to take the right amount of food based on their internal cues for hunger and fullness. There are plenty of times for you to wait on your little ones hand and foot – the dinner table doesn’t need to be one of those times.

A great way to practice with children serving themselves is to add kitchen items to the dramatic play area. This will give children an opportunity to balance trays of food and pour milk and tea. For actual meal times, consider using or purchasing small serving bowls, and a small pitcher for the milk. Items like table spoons, ¼ and ½ cup measuring spoons and cups are also great to use to teach not only appropriate serving sizes but math at the same time!

It is perfectly ok to state that children can have 2 chicken strips, or 3 brussel sprouts to start out with, and more if they are still hungry. Sometime children get overly excited about being able to take their own food so I recommend stating a number before the bowl starts going around.

Serve milk last. It never fails that no matter how careful kids are, milk inevitably spills – don’t cry over it (or yell), simply ask the little one to grab a towel or paper towels and clean up their mess. The littler ones may need some assistance at the end, but should still be given the opportunity to learn that they need to clean-up their spills.

Childcare Professionals And Parent Communication

Parents and child care professionals should be in constant communication about meal times. Child care providers should mention if the child didn’t eat anything and in turn parents should mention if that matters to them or not. Communication about food is a must.

Research has shown that children will eat when they are hungry, so you do not need to pressure them. I am not suggesting you withhold food. It should be made very clear to the child that lunch (or whatever meal you are currently eating) is all they get until snack which is served at a specific time. Communicate to families and with family members and friends that this is how you work meal times and ask for support before this comes about.

Remember, no matter how innocent your intentions are with your children or the children you serve, they should be making the decision about how hungry or full they are. Children will eat when they are hungry – make the most of your meal and snack times and enjoy these early years. They will be over before you know it!

To learn more about effective ways to support healthy eating habits in children, check out Dr. Dev’s Other Work 

Dr. Dipti Dev, Extension Educator | The Learning Child

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