Browsing all articles in Tips,Tricks & Best Practices

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.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

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



Can You Win the New Food Battle With Kids?

Posted Posted by Lana the Iguana in Articles & Inspiration, Tips,Tricks & Best Practices     Comments 2 comments

By Sofia Horvath, Master Facilitator and Mother of 3

The answer is: yes!

As a mom of three young children, I can easily relate to the food issues/battles/frustrations/whatever-you-want-to-call-it that so many other parents have. I have carefully watched my child out of the corner of my eye, looking to see if today will be the day that she does not spit egg out. Or if I have successfully disguised it enough to get her to consume it. I have slaved over what I thought would be a slam-dunk winning dinner (because it was something that had previously been a hit) only to have two out of the three kids decide they didn’t like it that day. And I have sat there when my 2-year-old pushed her plate away, declaring, “I don’t like it.”—before even looking to see what it was!

I’ve been there. I have traveled that road. I don’t think anyone caring for kids can avoid it.

However, despite their occasional resistance, I’m lucky to have three kids who eat a variety of foods, many of which include fruits and vegetables. So instead of dwelling on the failures and frustrations, I would like to celebrate the successes and share the (mostly) tried and true tricks I use to introduce new and healthy foods to my kids.

  1. Get them while they are hungry. You know that half hour right before dinner when the kids are at their crabbiest and begging for a snack, and you are trying desperately to throw dinner together as fast as you can without losing your mind? THAT’S IT! That is the moment! Take that moment to put out a plate of chopped up veggies and some hummus or guacamole. Don’t make a big production of it or try too hard. Just put it on the table and walk away. It looks pretty, the kids think they are getting away with eating right before dinner, and they will be eating something healthy, and (perhaps more importantly) they will be quiet and leave you alone.
  2. Don’t serve the new food with “competing” foods. If you try tip #1, but throw out some chips with the guacamole, you might as well bring the veggies right back into the kitchen. Of course, there are the kids that would choose the veggies over chips, but mine wouldn’t and I know they’re not alone.
  3. Let them help you pick out a new food or vegetable to try. Take a family trip to the grocery store. Ask the child to pick out something (from the produce section!) that they would like to try. If it is something you know how to prepare, awesome. If not? Google it, and enjoy the adventure of preparing bok choy, or kale, or whatever interesting thing they have chosen. It might be something new for all of you (and then you will be that much more informed when watching Top Chef).
  4. Have them help you prepare it. This could be as simple as putting cherry tomatoes on skewers or mixing something in a bowl. Give them the ingredients/meal components, a butter knife and tell them to come up with their own dinner. It is borderline ridiculous what my kids will eat if they had a hand in making it. I have seen my child dip tomatoes into yogurt and declare it delicious just because she came up with the idea herself.


Do my kids always eat what’s on their plate? No. But they do recognize that new foods can be fun and taste good. And in the back of my head, I am already counting on the wonderful meals they will serve me as they grow up to be accomplished chefs.

3 Tips for Positive (and fun!) Meals and Snacks

Posted Posted by Lana the Iguana in Articles & Inspiration, Tips,Tricks & Best Practices     Comments No comments

By Carrie Reynoso, Registered Dietitian & LANA Master Facilitator

In today’s busy schedule there are many different things that influence what and how much kids eat. Everything from enticing characters on cereal, juice and fruit boxes or the home cooked meals during dinnertime, to the new fruity apricot bug activity presented at school for snack  can affect a child’s food choices.  As time flies by we can easily forget the huge role both parents and teachers play in helping children develop those healthy eating habits that they will apply for a lifetime.

With that in mind, here are a few tips for changing habits by creating a more positive (and fun) mealtime:

Adults are responsible for:       Children are responsible for:

What food is offered                    How much food is eaten
When food is offered                   Whether they eat
Where food is offered


1. Encourage through words:

    • Encourage children to taste a variety of new foods
    • Praise and reinforce children for trying and tasting any new foods
    • Understand the consequences of bribing, forcing or rewarding children
      • Rewards can backfire~ devalue the new food being introduced and increase the value of the reward
      • Nagging or persuading can increase resistance to the new or desired food
    • Identify and emphasize the new food choices at meals

2. Encourage through behavior:

      • Model positive eating habits                                                 
      • Eat meals and snacks with children
      • Serve/offer appropriate portions to children
      • Understand “normal” childhood eating behaviors
        • Expect food waste
        • Irregular eating habits
        • Expect spills and a mess
        • There will be squirming
      • Involve children in age appropriate meal preparation tasks

3. Encourage through the environment:

        • Offer new foods every day at breakfast, lunch and snacks
        • Substitute or reduce availability of foods that will compete with the new food
        • Offer repeated opportunities for children to try the new food
        • Create a calm and supportive mealtime environment
          • Reduce distractions during meals
          • Create regular, structured mealtime routines
          • Promote positive conversation at meals
          • Encourage and allow children to eat at their own pace
          • Promote good table manners
        • Encourage children to serve themselves and regulate their own food intake