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LANA Program Gets Preschoolers Excited for Snap Peas and Sweet Potatoes

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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.


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

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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

Five Reasons Thanksgiving is Good For You.

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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!!


An Exlusive Interview

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By Sofia Horvath, Master Facilitator and Mother of 3

This month I had the opportunity to sit down with our resident reptile, Lana, and learn more about the LANA approach to nutrition education. I wasn’t sure what to expect and was afraid I would be intimidated, but she was so open and friendly that I felt like I was chatting with an old friend. As I drank my coffee, she nibbled on some kale chips and talked about the LANA program.

Sofia: Lana, thank you for sitting down with me. I know you have a very busy schedule- a lot of schools to visit and a lot of children to meet! My first question for you is: LANA stands for Learning About Nutrition through Activities. Why is it so important and effective to use activities with kids when teaching about nutrition and healthy eating?

Lana: Activities help kids learn by creating memorable experiences. If you can tie positive experiences with fruits and vegetables to activities, then kids are more familiar with those foods and are more willing to give them a try.

Sofia: The LANA program targets 8 fruits and vegetables. Can you tell me why those 8 foods were selected for the program?

Lana: Well, they were picked because I really like red, green and orange colored fruits and veggies – they’re my favorite colors! No really, the 8 fruits and veggies are included in the LANA program because they’re nutrient rich and they usually are new fruits and vegetables for kids to taste and eat. The best part is that you can find them in your grocery store and they’re affordable too.

Sofia: So there are several reasons for those foods being in the program. Interesting! Do you have a favorite fruit or vegetable among the ones in the program? Can you choose just one that you love the most?

Lana: Oh, I don’t think I can pick just one! Each is tasty and delicious in its own way. I love all the fruits and veggies in the LANA program – I even love fruits and vegetables that aren’t a part of the program! I just LOVE to eat all fruits and veggies!

Sofia: The program has a cookbook that contains recipes using the program fruits and vegetables. Can you tell me what it was like to create your very cookbook? What is your favorite recipe in there?

Lana: Writing my own cookbook was honestly a dream come true. I love fruits and veggies and I want kids to learn to love them just as much as I do! I think the recipes in my cookbook make fruits and veggies a lot of fun. My favorite recipes are the ones that look like something else – like the Pretend Fried Egg, the Veggie Bagel Face, the Stoplight Snack or the Mousetail Snack. They’re just so much fun to make and then eat!

Sofia: Looking at your cookbook, I can say that Rachel Ray and Pioneer Woman have some competition, for sure!

Parents and teachers who have used and participated in the LANA program have seen fantastic results. They have seen the children eat more fruits and vegetables and, in general, be willing to try more new foods as a result of the program. Your program has gotten some rave reviews! Why do you think that LANA makes such a difference? What is your secret?

Lana:  I think the LANA program works because there’s no pressure placed on the kids to like the fruit or vegetable during tasting activities. It’s OK and perfectly normal to not like how something tastes the first time you try it. There’s a lot of fun involved- incorporating fruits and vegetables into the classroom and cooking activities.

Sofia: So no bribery or coercion. Got it. As a parent, that is something I have to remember! Speaking of parents, I know that the LANA program is not something that stops when the children leave school/daycare. There is a very important home/school component. Can you talk to me a little about how the LANA program bridges the learning between home and school?

Lana: The LANA program is really great because it gives parents amazing resources to reinforce classroom learning at home. There are tasting kits with samples of the fruits or vegetables for kids to take home to taste with mom and dad. There are also great resources for parents to learn about handling food battles.

Sofia: That is so important! Parents have a lot of questions when it comes to feeding their kids. It is great that the LANA program gives them some support.

Last question- I’m getting personal, here! Children love you! Those that participate in the LANA program see you often and learn a lot from you. Who are some of YOUR idols? Who do you admire?

Lana: So many people inspire me… teachers, Michelle Obama, kids, Oprah… oh gosh, I love Oprah – really miss her show… Jamie Oliver, parents, farmers… I could go on and on. Really any one who has a passion for healthy eating inspires me!

Sofia: Thanks for taking the time to talk with me and give me some insight into the LANA program. It is rare to see a program that not only delivers a strong message, but also does it in a fun and engaging way. After talking with you, I can see why you are so popular!

Nerd Alert!

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By Sofia Horvath, Master Facilitator and Mother of 3

I’ll admit it. I get a bit star struck at times. But instead of movie and rock stars, the people that make me silly and giddy are usually celebrity chefs and big names in the health and nutrition industry. I recently attended a webinar hosted by RD, Ellyn Satter. At the end of the webinar, she had time to take only two questions. Mine was one of them. I called my husband at work to tell him. I called my mom. I shared with friends! It was the highlight of my month!

Part of the LANA program is based on Satter’s Division of Responsibility In Feeding. The LANA program reinforces the concept that adults are responsible for what food is served as well as when and where food is served. Children can choose whether or not they eat and how much they consume.

In addition to the Division of Responsibility, Satter stresses the importance of family meals. To hear someone discuss mealtime in a way that promotes it as a pleasant, enjoyable time, where food and family interaction can be viewed positively, is refreshing. It reminded me that meals with young children need not (nor should they!) be a battleground. Mealtimes give us the chance to enjoy food in an appropriate setting, enjoy the company of our family, and share about our day (or the day to come – if the family meal is breakfast). It reinforces for me that family mealtimes have far-reaching effects for both the children and adults. Adults who partake in regular meals are healthier, eat better and are slimmer. Children that participate in regular meals are healthier, do better in school, feel better about themselves, and get along better with other people.

Reading about and listening to Ellyn Satter helped me recommit to more evenings where my entire family eats together. At the table. With no TV or other distractions. I want my children to know that this time is important. I want them to have the chance to talk to their parents when we are not driving or focused on something else. I want them to have the opportunity to enjoy food and family in a pleasant setting and to reap the benefits that positive mealtimes provide!

For more information on Ellyn Satter, creating positive mealtimes, and helping your children become competent eaters check out her website:

LANA and MyPlate for a Healthy New Year!

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By Lana the Iguana


Does this look familiar to you?


Maybe you learned about the food pyramid in grade school? Maybe you taught about it to kids in school? I won’t make you date yourself and say which one.

If you haven’t heard, there is a new kid in town. And its name is MyPlate.

The MyPlate icon was developed in an effort to promote the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. By using the plate image, it simplifies the message of healthy food choices and makes it easier to visualize what a healthy plate should look like. Instead of trying to keep track of how many “servings” you have had during the day (half the battle is figuring out what a “serving” is!) you can now just look at your plate, aim to fill half with vegetables and fruits, followed by (whole) grain, and a small portion of protein and dairy.

If you think about your typical family dinner plate, it may not – yet – resemble the MyPlate icon. It might be 1/3 meat, 1/3 grain, and 1/3 vegetable. Maybe. If we are lucky. I know plenty of people who go heavy on the proteins or starches. However, both the LANA program and MyPlate encourage people to pile on the fruits and vegetables first. Make vegetables and fruits the star of your meal while allowing the protein to take a supporting role.

As 2011 comes to an end and we begin thinking about changes we want to make in the new year, let’s start by giving our plates a makeover. Make 2012 a healthy year by focusing on adding more fruits and vegetables to your diet!

For more information about MyPlate:
For MyPlate-related products:






LANA Takes Orlando By Storm!

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By Lana the Iguana

This time last week I was basking in the sun in Orlando– and by “basking in the sun” I mean hanging out at the expo and sessions at the NAEYC (National Association for the Education of Young Children) annual conference. It was a wonderful couple of days, filled with learning, socializing, zumba, and even a concert! I could go on and on about how much we did, the people we met, and what we discussed, but that might be akin to forcing someone to look at your vacation photos. They might want to look at a couple, but not 3 albums-full. So in the interest of keeping things…. well, interesting, I am going to give you my highlights.  So here you have Lana’s top 4 highlights from the NAEYC conference!

#4. Sharing the Lana-themed products with the conference attendees. I was so proud to share my stuff!  The biggest hits were the “I tried it stickers” and my cookbooks – especially my wipe-off snack recipe/cookbook and the cookbook with LANA I Tried It Stickersmy favorite recipes. (Eat your heart out, Rachel Ray!)

#3. Partnering with some great people! Being a part of the Learning ZoneXpress booth meant that I got to hang out with the Garden Heroes. Buddy Broccoli, Adam Apricot, Kimi Kiwi and I bonded a lot over those few days! I also got to help highlight My Plate products like the Preschool 1 Great Plate (which I love because it aligns nicely with the First Lady’s Let’s Move campaign). It really is about teaching young kids healthy eating habits and it was so great to work with other people who have the same goal. We were like the 3 Musketeers – or superheroes. Whatever you find more inspiring and heroic.

#2. Eavesdropping. I loved listening to all the comments people made about me. Very good for the ego! My favorites were: “Is Lana on Twitter?” (I am! @lanaprekprogram), “Please scan me!” (Scanning conference badges got people on the mailing list.), “I love Learning Zone,” and “I will take your stuff, not anyone else’s!”





And the number one favorite moment of the NAEYC conference for me was………

#1. Anne Roy’s well-attended NAEYC session on Learning about Nutrition through Activities (LANA).  Anne (who was my guest blogger last month!) gave a wonderful presentation that resonated with many as the U.S. looks to incorporate nutrition education into early childhood development programs. This is key to moving the needle on the fight against childhood obesity. It takes people by surprise that childhood obesity often begins before the age of two and that one in five children is obese by their 6th birthday. Anne’s presentation was not only informative, but also enjoyable. I am grateful that she spoke on my behalf…. I get horrible stage fright!

NAEYC was a wonderful time and I am already looking forward to what we will do next year in Atlanta!


I would love to hear about YOUR NAEYC experience! Feel free to share your comments and experiences!






LANA Featured on WCCO – CBS News Minnesota

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Reprinted from:


Video viewable here: WCCO/CBS News MN Features LANA

ROSEVILLE, Minn. (WCCO) – Children and vegetables can be like oil and water. They just won’t mix.

So when 3- and 4-year-olds are grabbing slices of green pepper by the handful, it’s easy to wonder how they grew to love eating their veggies.

During snack time at Kinderberry Hill Child Development Center in Roseville, teachers have been trying a new way to teach kids about healthy eating. A green iguana puppet named Lana encourages the kids to try fruits and vegetables.

“As soon as you put Lana on, (the kids’) faces light up and they know it’s time to try something new,” says Megan Recksiedler, a teacher at Kinderberry Hill.

LANA stands for Learning About Nutrition through Activities. The program was developed by the University of Minnesota for caregivers, whether at home or in a child care setting.

One example of snack time is having the kids learn about different types of peppers. Each of the children try a red, green, and yellow pepper and are then asked which one they liked the best.

“I liked all of them,” one student said.

The teacher then asks the children if they’d like “kisses” from the puppet Lana, which they really seem to enjoy.

Recksiedler says parents should be able to apply some of the techniques used in the LANA program at home.

“If you taste it with them, that’s a great way for them to try it too,” says Recksiedler.

Before the kids can eat their snack, they get familiar with the food, touching it and learning what color it is.

Teachers say including a “fun” sauce to dip the veggies in always helps as well.

If you want to learn some of the ways to get kids interested in eating healthier snacks, try out some of LANA’s recipes. Here are their tips for kiwis and strawberries.

Love for Lana at NAEYC Conference!

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By Anne Roy, Executive Program Director at Kinderberry Hill Child Development Center

Is it crazy to love an iguana named Lana?

Perhaps, but the NAEYC Conference is less than a month away, and I am so excited for the opportunity to talk about her and the LANA preschool program! At the conference I will share how we have been successful implementing the LANA Preschool program at our center. We love it!

Before LANA, I never would have thought we’d be serving the children sweet potato smoothies for a snack….or that they would actually enjoy it! The LANA program has so
many wonderful activities and ideas to get children excited about eating fruits and vegetables, and amazingly they work! The teachers and I are even eating healthier…when we need a little snack, instead of reaching for the animal crackers, we head to the kitchen for leftover sugar snap peas! So you see, I love the iguana and what she has to offer, and I am looking forward to letting everyone know more about it!

At the NAEYC conference, I will talk about all the various components of the LANA preschool program, the ways you can modify it for your needs, tips on how it has worked for us, and then you’ll even have the opportunity to make and eat a LANA snack! I hope you join me!