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LANA & Head Start – A Perfect Combination

Posted Posted by Lana the Iguana in News and Events     Comments No comments

It’s no secret that Head Start programs lead the way in parent involvement and education when compared to other early childhood programs.  Research has consistently shown that care giver/parent education is a key factor to ensure quality of care and developmentally appropriate practice.  When Learning ZoneXpress exhibited at the National Head Start: Parent Engagement Conference in Atlanta, the booth was swamped with parents, providers, and policy council members hoping to get the latest nutrition and wellness resources for their programs.

Please Pass the Peas – a training session focused on reducing picky eating in children, offered by Maureen Lyons from Learning ZoneXpress, had standing room only, featuring tips, tricks, and tools to start children out on a healthy eating pattern from the start.  Ms. Lyons speaks from experience due to texture sensitivity and food aversions she has lived with throughout her life.  Understanding where picky eating comes from helps parents and care givers choose strategies to combat this growing trend.

LANA - Head StartThe LANA Nutrition Program, created by the Minnesota Department of Health through a research grant from the American Cancer Institute, was a hot topic of discussion at the conference because it includes a strong parent component as well as flexibility for easy incorporation with curriculum already in place.  LANA includes learning activities for all core subjects, introducing more fruits and vegetables – along with reducing competitive foods, and of course physical activity.

With childhood obesity rates at a record high, the LANA Nutrition Program is the perfect tool to promote improved health and wellness for tomorrow’s leaders and their families.

LANA Program Gets Preschoolers Excited for Snap Peas and Sweet Potatoes

Posted Posted by Lana the Iguana in Articles & Inspiration, Fun Ideas     Comments No comments

Successful childhood nutrition program establishes healthy eating habits early in life

Leave it to a bug-eyed reptile to get preschoolers to do what parents, caregivers and educators have struggled to get them to do for years: eat their fruits and vegetables.

A research-tested program developed by the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) and the University of Minnesota with grant funding from the National Cancer Institute aims to help young children establish healthy eating patterns early in life.

This comprehensive 24-week preschool nutrition program introduces children to eight targeted fruits and vegetables, like broccoli, snap peas, apricots and cherry tomatoes; foods that children may not have tried before but are easily accessible. The plan features weekly tasting and cooking activities and provides fruit and vegetable-focused activities for each domain of learning designated by the state of Minnesota. Instead of the teacher or a parent introducing the foods, it is Lana the Iguana, a green hand puppet who encourages fruit and veggie exploration with games, stories and activities in math, reading and art and tasting.  Children are really Learning About Nutrition through Activities (LANA).

Although LANA started in Minnesota, the program has been adopted in various early childhood programs nationwide and will reach thousands of preschoolers in Newark, N.J. this fall. Earlier this year, several Newark school nurses became trainers for the district so that nearly 400 early-childhood and elementary educators will be ready to bring Lana the Iguana into their classrooms. The implementation of the program in Newark follows a major rollout across the country, and marks a significant milestone for the developed-in-Minnesota program.

A research study conducted by the MDH discovered that by the time children reach second grade, their preferences for fruits and vegetables are already well established. This led to the idea of introducing fruits and vegetables at an earlier age, in preschool. The research also found that for an in-school nutrition program to be effective, it needed to be integrated into existing classroom curriculum (not added on to already full school days). It also needed to include parent engagement and education, as well as changing existing school menus to include more fruits and vegetables.

In 2009, the research continued as 75 licensed home child care programs in Dakota County, Minnesota used LANA. They reported that after implementation of LANA, children in their care were 67 percent more likely to eat fruits, 78 percent more likely to eat vegetables, and 92 percent more likely to try new foods. The program is aligned with National Association for the Education of Young Children Accreditation Standards and the Head Start Early Learning Framework. More information on the research and subsequent program implementation can be found here.

This program is being used at Kinderberry Hill child care centers in the Twin Cities area, where teachers see the program paying off. Maegan Recksiedler, Jen Matysik, and Jenny Stenzel teach three and four year olds together at Kinderberry Hill in Roseville. Once a week, they pick a snack from the LANA cookbook to make with their students. Lana the Iguana also joins them and asks them about what they created.

“We have really enjoyed using the LANA curriculum in our classroom,” says Recksiedler. “Since using the curriculum I have noticed that the children are more willing to try new foods during meal times. Plus, they love talking with Lana about their new snacks.”

Recksiedler, Matysik and Stenzel also give their students LANA take-home bags that include snack ideas, fruit and veggie stuffed toys, books, and family activities.

“The take-home bags have helped to bridge the gap between home and school,” says Matysik. “They have provided a great resource for families with picky eaters.”

The program follows these basic strategies that can be practiced at school or at home:

  • Create a calm and pleasant experience with meals and snack time: Children are more likely to try new foods when they are enjoying themselves.
  • Involve children in food preparation: When a child helps create a snack or meal, they become invested and are excited to eat the food being served.
  • Offer fruits and vegetables first at meal times: Offering these foods first provides increased visibility and value.  A new food must be offered multiple times for children to try it and learn to like it.
  • Serve or offer age appropriate portions: Approximately one tablespoon per year of age of the child is an appropriate serving of fruits and vegetables, with a smaller amount for new foods.
  • Adults and children eat together: Children who see adults trying new foods are more open to try them as well.
  • Understand “normal” childhood eating habits: Spills and messes will happen, as will irregular eating and some food waste.

The emphasis on parent involvement has been a big factor in the success of this program. The take-home information and supplies for tasting kits are a key piece. Parents are surprised and pleased when their child comes home excited to try simple recipes for snap peas and kiwi.  When parent see the success children have at school with this program, they are more likely to offer new foods at home as well.

The teachers at Kinderberry Hill love that LANA is a fun, easy, yet effective program. “With the combination of creative snacks such as the ‘Stoplight Snack’ (which is made with graham crackers, cream cheese, strawberries, apricots and kiwi) and the high level of developmentally appropriate activities, this program works great for our kids,” says Stenzel.


My Moment of Fame!!

Posted Posted by SofiaLZX in featured, News and Events     Comments No comments

By Lana the Iguana

In March, I had the opportunity to appear along side Maureen Lyons from Learning ZoneXpress and Amanda Meredith from Kinderberry Hill Child Development Center on the local FOX news show in the Twin Cities. It was an honor to be there to talk about the LANA program and how it can help preschoolers develop healthier eating habits! Take a look!

It was nerve-wracking at first. It is a good thing you can’t see iguanas blush! I enjoyed my time on the small screen but don’t worry– I’m not giving up my day job!

Eat Right, Your Way, Every Day– National Nutrition Month!

Posted Posted by SofiaLZX in Articles & Inspiration, featured, Fun Ideas     Comments No comments

By Sofia Horvath, Master Facilitator and Mother of 3

Here in Minnesota, March can mean 12 degrees and a foot of snow one week and 70s and sun the next. Regardless of whether it actually comes in like a lion or a lamb, most Minnesotans (myself included) see March as a hopeful month, with spring-like weather right around the corner. Along with glimpses of spring and warmer temperatures, we start to think of other warm weather activities: picking out seeds and plants for the garden, walks to the community garden to weed and water, strolls through farmers markets, etc. The fact that I already have healthy, fresh produce on the brain is underscored by the fact that March is National Nutrition Month.

While it isn’t enough to eat healthfully one month out of the year, it is nice to take an opportunity – a month – to reaffirm our commitment to healthy eating, whole foods, and an active lifestyle. Eating right doesn’t have to be a chore, it doesn’t have to be expensive, it doesn’t have to be difficult, but it DOES have to be consistent if it is going to be beneficial. That is why it is important to eat right, your way, every day. But what exactly does that phrase “eat right, your way, every day” mean?

Eat Right. Focus on making vegetables and whole grains the stars of your plate while making meat (if served) a side. Choose a variety of fruits and vegetables; aim for getting produce that contains many different colors. Opt for simple foods made from fewer (and more recognizable) ingredients; avoid highly processed junk foods. Keep things interesting by trying new fruits, vegetables, and grains that you maybe have not had before.

Your Way. There are so many ways to eat healthfully and no one should feel like they have to jump through crazy hoops to make eating healthy fit their lifestyle. Eating healthy really can be done in so many ways that you just have to find the manner that works for you and your family. Some families find that advanced meal planning is helpful, allowing them to plan for a variety of healthy meals for an upcoming week or month while staying within a budget. Some families find that they eat healthier by taking advantage of convenience foods like pre-cut/cleaned/prepared vegetables. Some make healthy eating enjoyable by allowing input from all family members on meals and grocery selections. Many find it beneficial to eat many meals together so that children can learn from the positive example set forth by parents. Some parents sneak in extra vegetables into their kids’ brownies, while others prefer to serve vegetables whole. There really isn’t one RIGHT way to eat healthy. You need to find YOUR way.

Every Day. This is where the commitment to consistency comes in. Healthy eating needs to be a habit to be beneficial. Once it is a habit, it is part of your lifestyle. It isn’t drudgery, it isn’t something you need to think much about at all. It just is what you do. Getting to that point where it IS a habit means making healthy choices everyday. It means that splurge or treat days are just that– days here and there. The treat days are the exception in an otherwise healthy lifestyle. Make it a point to make healthy choices everyday.

Take the month of March to find YOUR way to eat healthy and begin to make it a habit and a lifestyle but eating right everyday!

Find more information and resources on National Nutrition Month here:


I'm Blogging National Nutrition Month

LANA In the News!

Posted Posted by SofiaLZX in featured, News and Events, Uncategorized     Comments No comments

We are always proud and excited when new schools and/or childcare centers adopt the LANA program. Recently some preschools and day care centers in Minnesota used grant money toward LANA kits for their classrooms. Read all about it here!


Five Reasons Thanksgiving is Good For You.

Posted Posted by SofiaLZX in Articles & Inspiration, featured     Comments No comments

By Sofia Horvath, Master Facilitator and Mother of 3

I believe, wholeheartedly, that Thanksgiving is a “healthy” holiday. Yes, we often overindulge, eat more than we should, lie around on couches, etc., etc. However, let’s take a look at the healthy aspects of the holiday:

1. On this day, more than most, the food is homemade– made with thought and love, as opposed to highly-processed convenience foods on which we often rely.

2. Think of all the variety we get to enjoy on this day! Often more dishes than we can even try. Variety is a wonderful and healthy thing in a diet.

3. Many traditional Thanksgiving foods are powerhouse foods: sweet potatoes, pumpkin, cranberries, green beans, brussel sprouts… It ain’t all bad!

4. Many families eat earlier on Thanksgiving than on a typical day. Eating your larger meal earlier in the day is a good way to go. Just ask the Europeans.

5. Thanksgiving dinner is often enjoyed at a slower pace. People taking time to visit with loved ones and share a long, luxurious meal. Dinner is (at least at our house) often rushed, another thing to “fit into the schedule.” Not on Thanksgiving. On Thanksgiving, things slow down. Everything revolves around the meal.


There is so much about Thanksgiving that is good! People spend a lot of time trying to “healify” (I just invented that word.) the holiday. Really, it is pretty healthy to begin with. This year, let’s dig into the veggie platter sitting on the table before dinner. Let’s go for a stroll or jog while the turkey is cooking. Let’s invite the kids into the kitchen to help prepare the meal or set the table. Let’s enjoy each other’s company. Let’s take our time and eat. Let’s have a bit of everything. Let’s savor the pumpkin pie. Let’s be grateful.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Back To School Checklist

By Lana the Iguana

Some of you may have started back to school already, many go back this week. Whether your school year is already underway or you are getting ready to begin, below is a checklist of things to consider as the kids get back into the school routine. Make this a healthy and successful school year!

  • Work with your kids to come up with a list of healthy (and portable) snacks to take to school or have before activities. Having a list on hand of things that you know your child likes (and you know are healthy) will save you when you feel like you have run out of ideas. Some ideas you might try: dried fruit, hard boiled eggs, hummus and veggies, celery with peanut butter, popcorn, string cheese, bananas with dark chocolate dip, mini pb & j sandwiches. Anytime you see something in a magazine or on Pinterest that you both like, add it to the list!
  • Check out an apple orchard! This is prime apple time. Find an orchard near you, take a tour, pick some apples! Can’t make it to an orchard? Grab several varieties of apples from the store and conduct a taste test at home. Which ones do people in your family like – and why?
  • Start a new mealtime tradition. It might be planning a biweekly meal and then shopping for ingredients as a family, letting a different person cook (or help cook) a meal on a certain day of the week, doing creative dinners like “make your own pizza” or a taco bar. Start a tradition that gets the family together and looking forward to meal and family time.
  • Eat a healthy breakfast! Children who eat a healthy breakfast perform better in school than those that skip breakfast. Stock up on healthy breakfast foods for the family. Early morning bus? Pressed for time in the morning? Set stuff up the night before and/or look for things that are fast or can be eaten on the go while, at the same time, are still healthy choices (e.g. clementines, apple slices and almond butter, whole wheat bagel with cream cheese).
  • Buy reusable water bottles. Go green and stay hydrated at the same time. Get some reusable water bottles for your family members so they always have water on hand!
  • Make a lunch date with your child at school! Not always an option for every parent, but if your school (and schedule) allows, have lunch at school with your child. See what they serve, what options are available for your child, and what your child chooses. (This also can provide an excellent opportunity to get to know the lunchroom staff and your child’s friends better!)

I wish everyone a safe, healthy, and exciting start to the 2012-2013 school year!!


Making Simple and Healthy Changes At Home

Posted Posted by SofiaLZX in featured, Tips,Tricks & Best Practices     Comments No comments

By Sofia Horvath, Master Facilitator and Mother of 3

Making the switch to healthy eating can be daunting. You want to provide the best nutrition for yourself and your family but the question of where to start can be overwhelming. Here are the top 5 (See! I won’t even throw 10 at you!) ways to simply work towards a healthier family:

1. Cook more at home. When you have control over the ingredients, you know what is in your food! By eating at home, you can also save money. And they don’t have to be crazy, elaborate gourmet meals. Ask friends for simple, time-tested recipes, visit pinterest for ideas, etc. And in that vein……

2: Plan your meals. Take one hour to plan your meals for the upcoming week and grocery shop based off that plan. What days will you need something exceedingly fast? Plan your meal with that in mind for that day. Buying stuff that might spoil sooner? Plan to have those meals earlier in the week. (Tip- asking for meal ideas from the family gets them excited for the week ahead!) Planning meals allows you to avoid unhealthy convenience buys. It also helps give you a big picture of what you are eating over the week. Are you getting a lot of veggies and high quality foods on the table or are you loading up on junk? This habit takes some getting used to, but I promise, it is worth the effort!

3. Make healthy stuff visible and easily accessible. If you want your family to consume more fruits and vegetables, make them the convenience foods. Wash fruit and put it in a bowl. Chop up bell peppers so that they are easy to grab. Buy baby carrots so they are easy to snack on.

4. Buy the foods with the simplest ingredient list. When faced with a loaf of bread with 41 ingredients (many of which are unfamiliar) and a loaf of bread with 10 ingredients (though many would argue that 10 is too many for bread… but let’s not worry about that now), pick the one with fewer and more recognizable ingredients.

5. Don’t swear off junk food. You will be at places where there will be junk food. Your kids will go to birthday parties. Feel free to indulge on special occasions – but keep in mind that they are treats on special occasions, not every day indulgences. Do the kids need a lollipop at every store or bank you hit when you run your errands? No. Enjoy your treats, but be selective.

Establishing healthy eating habits might seem overwhelming, but you can tackle it by honing in on the easiest and most effective changes first.  Tell me about changes you have made that were simple but effective? What would you add to the list?

Fail to Plan and Plan to Fail!

Posted Posted by SofiaLZX in featured, Tips,Tricks & Best Practices     Comments 1 comment

By Sofia Horvath, Master Facilitator and Mother of 3

‘Tis the season for activities and sports! As school winds down and summer begins, I always feel myself breath a sigh of relief because I have fooled myself into thinking that the summer is “relaxing.” I do this every. single. year. And then the summer activities begin and I have two kids going one place for an hour, another kid going somewhere else for 2.5 hours, nine different types of activities and camps and four clothing changes a day for each child. I need a spreadsheet just to keep track of where everyone needs to be and when. The delicate routine and structure that I have so meticulously perfected for the nine school months disintegrates faster than you can say “Mommy, I’m bored!”

During the school year, we get into a pretty predictable routine. Meals and snacks are served at relatively the same time every day. But when summer activities begin, I am not going to lie, it takes a bit to get my act together. I am (or at least feel like) the neglectful mom that forgets to pack a snack or water bottle. Leaving my kids to mooch off of other kids whose parents have sent them with 900 bags of fruit snacks or Cheetos and 20 ounces of Sprite because they simply can’t survive until they get home (said in a dramatic, whiny voice). It takes me awhile to get into a different sort of groove — one that requires some advance planning.

I am pretty (ok, VERY) deliberate in what I feed my kids and, except for the occasional treat, they eat fairly nutritiously. And they like it. But I can feel that unravel quickly when I don’t plan and am left floundering for a quick snack or meal. When I don’t plan ahead, I find myself ordering out, stopping for Subway or something else fast, grabbing more processed, pre-packaged snacks than I EVER would during the school year. And, truth be told, this doesn’t just apply to what my kids eat. If I am sitting at the swimming pool for an hour while they have lessons and haven’t eaten lunch or grabbed something healthy, I am much more tempted to hit the drive-through or vending machine and just settle for whatever is close and easy. Not good!

I am making a SUMMER resolution this year. I will not fail to plan! I am going to take some time each weekend, pack some healthy (and portable) snacks. I vow to plan ahead so that I am not forced to resort to junk food because it is all that is available. I vow to take advantage of all the fresh fruits and vegetables that come with summertime and spend some time preparing them so my kids can grow up associating summer with fresh and healthy food and not processed junk.


If They Grow It, They Will (Likely) Eat It.

Posted Posted by SofiaLZX in featured, Fun Ideas, Tips,Tricks & Best Practices     Comments 1 comment

By Sofia Horvath, Master Facilitator and Mother of 3

We are in prime garden-starting season and I would like to celebrate it by sharing a bit of my gardening journey with you. (Insert reflective music here.)

It was just about two years ago when I dabbled in gardening for the first time. Wait. That is not exactly right. I had “dabbled” before, but had only failed. Nothing grew, nothing survived. I spent money on containers and potting soil, seeds and plants. I never got anything to live, let alone thrive enough to actually pick! 2 years ago that all changed when I rented a plot in our local community garden about a mile from our house.

I had a 20ft x 20ft plot that was my own. It was more than enough space to try planting different things while, at the same time, giving my kids enough space to dig and play (and keep busy while I weeded). I tried a mixture of starting things from seed as well as buying plants and transplanting them. I tried planting a mixture of food we like and food I figured we could just try planting because they always seem to do well for others. (After all, I DID need a measure of success to keep going!) I can say that I had enough success that year to continue (this will be the third year I have worked the plot), and enough “failure” from which to learn. But it has been through these 2+ years of my gardening experiment that I have learned some really important lessons – not just about gardening, but also challenging yourself, including your kids, feeding your kids, and appreciating what we have.

1.  Make a plan.  Grab some graph paper, do a bit of research online regarding what plants grow well and when, decide whether starting from seed is best or buying plants,  figure out (roughly) how much space you need for what. Despite all your best efforts, things still won’t be perfect but a bit of planning ahead of time greatly increases your chance for gardening success!

2. Realize you have months for things to work. The first year I was ready to throw in the towel by Memorial Day until I was encouraged and reminded by a fellow gardener that you have all summer- and into the fall! There really is something to be said for patience and delayed gratification (good lesson for adults AND kids!). Just because something isn’t working right away, doesn’t mean it isn’t working.

3. Appreciate the little things and share them with your children. (Though I usually found that the kids shared the little things with me and helped ME appreciate them more.) Find a frog or a worm? Enjoy it! Name it as your garden mascot. Find the first teeny tomato on your tomato plant? Celebrate it! Take pictures! Get excited!

4. Let your kids in on the planning. Let them help you pick what you plant. Give them extra seeds and see what happens! My 5 year old had better luck with HIS zucchini plant last year than I did. I don’t know what his secret was, but it worked. And somehow, to him, his zucchini always tasted better at dinner. Not one to eat a lot of that vegetable, he gobbled it up on the night’s we served his…

5. Try some interesting things- purple carrots, broccoli rabe, brussel sprouts, yellow tomatoes. Give the kids (and yourself) the opportunity to try new things! Again, not everything will grow, but each misstep will be a learning experience.

6. Appreciate your ancestors. Gardening gave our family a much greater appreciation for the generations before that lived off of what they grew. They worked hard for what they ate and wasted far less. I still enjoy the opportunity to buy and eat items that I could never grow myself (e.g. avocados), but I enjoy talking to my kids, discussing what families would do for food 200 years ago, and lessons we can learn about providing for ourselves.

7. Connect with others. Whether it is by participating in a community garden or by going to online forums, talk to other gardeners. Veteran gardeners have a lot of easy tips to help you get started. It is fun to compare what you are growing and what is working for you. It is reassuring to hear that other people are having an “off” year with their tomatoes, as well.

8. Document what you do. Jot it down in a notebook, take pictures, blog, email friends. Keep notes on what you do so that you can remember what worked and what didn’t from year to year. It is also especially gratifying to look at pictures from the beginning of one season to the end as the garden fills out. Be proud of your accomplishments!

9. And last, but certainly not least, enjoy eating food that you KNOW from where it came. You know how it was planted, grown, and prepared. You know what went into the dirt to nourish it, and what you did to help it grow. We can’t say that about everything we eat, but if we take small steps, we can be confident about some of the food we consume. Baby steps.

Gardening has been a wonderful and fulfilling challenge for my children and me. There are so many lessons you can learn from it that I couldn’t possibly name them all here. But I AM looking forward to what else we will learn this year as we get our hands (and knees, and faces) dirty.

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For more information on gardening, check out these links (and feel free to share more, if you have some you have found helpful!):