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The Community Lunch

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This year, my daughter’s kindergarten instituted a “community lunch” on Fridays. This means that families take turns bringing lunch for the whole class, a total of 11 kids and 2 teachers. I like this idea because I no longer have to pack my child a lunch on Fridays (the school does not have a cafeteria). But every three months, I have to make an appealing meal for a bunch of 5- and 6-year olds.

The teacher maintains that sharing a meal like this is an excellent way for the kids to feel a sense of community. And it’s also a great way to introduce kids to new foods. Apparently they will eat things at school, among their friends, that they would never touch at home. This is one of those times that peer pressure asserts its influence for good.

The kids themselves were relatively oblivious to these benefits, and did a lot of grumbling in the weeks leading up to the first community lunch: “What if I don’t like it, I’ll be so hungry…” I must admit, there was a lot of pressure on the first family who had to bring lunch, as this experience would likely make it or break for the kids. Wisely, they brought an irresistible honey puff pancake with maple cream, chicken sausages and strawberries. Breakfast for lunch — sheer genius! And just like that, the kids were hooked on the community meal.

Other families have brought alphabet soup, and make-your-own sandwiches. What fun! Another mother came into the classroom earlier in the morning to actually make pasta with the kids — which they then cooked and ate together. They were even serenaded by the head of school, who brought in his guitar and played the song, “On top of spaghetti, all covered in cheese, I lost my poor meatball…”

Recently it was our turn, and I had to figure out what to cook for a bunch of kindergartners — subject to the approval of my own picky eater, of course. I lobbied for her favorite macaroni and cheese, with broccoli mixed in. But she wasn’t going to agree to anything I suggested. That kid wanted her all-time favorite meal: quiche, made with eggs from our own chickens. It was hard to argue with that.

So one Friday a few weeks ago, I dropped my daughter off at school then rushed home to make two quiches, using a whole week’s worth of our own eggs. I hear the quiches were a hit, and I’m glad. But what really matters is that my kid felt proud that day, and shared something valuable with her classmates. And apparently she even convinced one friend that eggs really are yummy. So, as stressful as it is to make lunch for a classroom of kindergartners, I’ll be happy to do it again when our turn comes around…

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8 Ways To Keep You Fit

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I don’t know about you, but trying to get outside and go for a run in the winter time is nearly impossible. If you’re a skier or snowboarder, your exercise routine is set at the slopes; but for the rest of us, the gym can get monotonous.

Never fear, there are a surprising (and dare I say, fun) amount of outdoor activities that burn a ton of calories.

Snow removal doesn’t have to be all work and no play. Well, maybe it is – but you can feel good about the fact that, while shoveling, you’re burning 298 calories an hour.

Ice skating doesn’t need to be on a rink. Head out to a local lake or pond and burn 357 calories an hour practicing your figure skating moves.

Hiking isn’t just for the warmer months; you’ll be surprised how quickly you get tired. No wonder – you’re burning 408 calories an hour.

Take that hike to the next level and pop on your snowshoes. You’ll burn a tremendous 417 calories per hour.

Get outside with the kids

Take a load off and lay at the snow with this cold weather pastime: snow angels. Doing horizontal jumping jacks burns 214 calories per hour.

Building a snowman? You’ll burn 285 calories an hour. That’s worth building a whole snow family – and don’t forget the dog.

Building in the snow is fun, but throwing it around is too. Having a snowball fight will burn 319 calories an hour.

Last but not least…head back to the slopes with your toboggan. Sledding burns a whopping 357 calories per hour.

Note: All of the calorie statistics are based on a 40 year old, 150 lb. woman…

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What you don’t know…

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Right now you are riding on the information superhighway, the Internet. Where we are supposed to have every tidbit of information that we could need or want virtually (and literally) at our fingertips. But, do we really have all the information that we need, whether from the Internet or other sources? And, how easy is that information to understand, digest and put to use in our everyday lives?

I ask you these questions because there has been a tidal wave across the globe of providing nutrition information on foods and beverages at point of purchase. Menu labeling in chain restaurants is now law in four states including Maine, California, Oregon and Massachusetts. Menu labeling legislation has also passed in multiple municipalities, most notably and the first to pass this type of law was New York City. This wave has to do with a consumer’s right to know and have easy access to information that has a direct effect on their health. How are you supposed to make an informed choice if the information you need to make that choice is not easily available when you need it?

Menu labeling legislation has reached national prominence and is a part of health reform – H.R. 3962 Affordable Health Care for America Act.

The rationale behind the Nutrition Facts label is to provide consumers with information to help them make informed food and beverage choices that contribute to a healthy diet. While you can trust the information on the Nutrition Facts label as being sound and accurate, it may not be easy for you to understand and use. This is where programs such as Guiding Stars can help you make informed and easy decisions about which foods and beverages to use. Guiding Stars is based on the information provided on the Nutrition Facts label. I work in public health and am passionate about people having easy access to healthy choices where they live, work and play.

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10 Surprisingly Unfamiliar Nutrition Facts Label Facts

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The ubiquitous nutrition facts label. Mandated by the FDA and required on most pre-packaged food sold for public consumption, the nutrition facts label is meant to serve as a guide to a specific product’s ingredients based on an average 2,000 calorie a day diet.

Although the FDA sets specific and explicit guidelines (down to the typeface and font size to be used), there remains room for ambiguity.

Moreover, did you know that restaurant and packaged foods can actually have more calories than what is indicated on the nutrition label? Studies have found that the worst offenders are side dishes — sometimes exceeding the restaurant’s reported calorie content by as much as 200 percent. In fact, a recent study published in the Review of Agricultural Economics, found that fast food meals are actually smaller and have fewer calories than the food served at restaurants.

All of that aside here are 10 little known facts about the nutrition facts label:

  1. Foods with less than five calories meet the definition of “calorie free”
  2. If fat is present at a level below 0.5 g, the level of fat is expressed as 0 g
  3. The term serving or serving size means an amount of food customarily consumed per eating occasion by persons 4 years of age or older
  4. The serving size for maraschino cherries is one cherry
  5. Manufacturers determine the accuracy of the nutrient contents of their own product(s). See: Restaurant and Packaged Foods Can Have More Calories Than Nutrition Labeling Indicates
  6. The FDA does not check for the accuracy of product labeling (but will occasionally collect “surveillance” samples to monitor the accuracy of nutrition information)
  7. The FDA does not maintain a database of nutrition information, but instead reviews and accepts industry databases
  8. For products usually divided for consumption (e.g., cake, pie or pizza), the serving size shall be the fractional slice of the ready-to-eat product (e.g., 1/12 cake (tiny piece), 1/8 pie (tiny slice), 1/4 pizza – usually two slices)
  9. Sulfites are considered incidental ingredients and need not be listed among the label’s ingredients
  10. Allergens other than the eight major food allergens are not subject to FALCPA (Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act) labeling requirements. FALCPA’s labeling requirements do not apply to a sandwich that was prepared by say, a deli or a restaurant. Incidentally, the eight major food allergens as defined by the FALCPA are: milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, wheat, peanuts and soybeans.

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Breakfast battles

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The first few weeks of school were a little bumpy for us. The transition from the relaxed, carefree days of summer to the rushed, highly scheduled school days was not an easy one.

Grace, our kindergartner, would erupt into tears at the mere suggestion that she should get dressed. And actually choosing her clothes was another drama altogether (“No, that’s not pretty enough!”). So, by the time breakfast rolled around, emotions were high and patience was thin.

I would present the usual breakfast choices (oatmeal, cereal, eggs, yogurt) — the same selections that were happily accepted all summer long — and would receive only complaints in response. Grace would cry that she wasn’t ready to decide. Or she really wanted oatmeal but couldn’t possibly have oatmeal because her sister had already chosen it and they certainly couldn’t eat the same thing. Or I would suggest the very food that she had loved beyond words the day before, and she would proclaim that she hated it, and absolutely wouldn’t touch it if it were placed in front of her.

And just like that, I’d be unwittingly drawn into a battle over breakfast.

One day, after realizing I could no longer engage in wardrobe meltdowns AND breakfast battles AND pack a nutritious and appealing lunch while still getting the kids to school on time, I had an epiphany. Why should I be a short-order cook every morning, fixing each child exactly what she wants after many minutes of debate (causing them to have to scarf down their breakfast because they used up all of their time crying)?!

So, I made up a weekly breakfast menu. Monday was yogurt and fruit, Tuesday was peanut butter toast and fruit smoothies, and so on. No choices, no discussion, and most importantly — no tears. The selections were based on foods that both girls like in order to ensure maximum consumption and cooperation. This plan worked beautifully for about a week, until their father suggested that they add sliced banana to their oatmeal. So delicious!

Now I’m making oatmeal with banana EVERY SINGLE DAY. But as long as there aren’t any tears, I’m okay with that. Sooner or later, the breakfast battles will begin again, but this time I’ll be armed and ready…

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To travel is to eat

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If you’re anything like me, then you believe that one of the main reasons to travel is to experience new cuisines. I’ve had my fair share of variety on this trip so far, and I haven’t even left India yet. I began my culinary adventures at an ashram in Varanasi, where the food was reliable, but not very exciting. By the end of my month-long stay there I was happy to leave curried vegetables and white rice behind. Since then I’ve sampled many other kinds of Indian cuisine. This country is enormous, so it’s not surprising that there is a wide variety of food.

Even though I’ve not traveled to the south, dishes from this region are delicious, dosas in particular, a kind of crêpe filled with potatoes and other vegetables. I am also now a full-fledged fan of Tibetan cuisine, which I discovered in Mcleod Ganj, home of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government in exile. There is one restaurant in particular there, Gakyi, which serves momos (dumplings) to die for, and Tibetan brown bread that I now crave daily. I tried to ask for the recipe, but to no avail. Guess I will have to experiment when I return home.

On more than one occasion, I have been told that Kashmir is a must-see destination, and Kashmiri food alone was enough to convince me. Favorites from this region include Kashmiri naan, naan filled with dried fruit and nuts, and Kashmiri tea, a delightful concoction of tea, black or green, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, and a hint of saffron. This I have been shown how to make by my Kashmiri friends, and I plan to make it a staple of my diet upon my return.

One of the best ways to learn about a culture is to experience its cuisine. It is also a great way to connect with people. Everyone eats, and there is nothing like sharing a meal to bring people from all walks of life together. So as you travel, don’t forget that to refuse a meal or a taste of something new, you might also be missing out on a chance to connect with new friends. Bon appétit!..

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Announcement from Guiding Stars: It’s Finally Here!

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It’s official! The new Guiding Stars website has launched and we’re excited by the great response it has received so far. The new website has a streamlined look, full social media integration including Facebook Connect, and features a blog offering the latest health and nutrition news, with contributors ranging from mothers to nutritionists. We welcome more feedback and encourage you to share your suggestions and submit blog posts.

Thank you to everyone who has contributed to the launch – all of our readers, subscribers, commenters, remixers, and of course to our amazing bloggers: Sarah Wallace, Jen McNally, Nicki Hicks, Lori Kaley, John Eldredge, Stefan Pinto, Heather Parker DeSimone, Heather Wasklewicz, Melanie Hansen, Erin Dow, Angie Muhs, Amanda O’Brien, Steve Clifton, and Jon Plodzik. Here’s to more interesting content and genuine discussions in Guiding Stars 2010.

Great work from the Guiding Stars team, Guiding Stars Street Team, and Shines and Jecker.

Latest Press Release

Guiding Stars® Celebrates the Relaunch of a Healthier, More User-Friendly Website
We’re building our online community by launching a healthier, more user-friendly website, with a community of dedicated bloggers, new social media tools and a healthy recipe contest.

Contest

WIN a week’s worth of FREE groceries!

Share your creative recipe idea for healthy eating before, during and after the “big game” in February. If your recipe gets 3 Guiding Stars you are automatically entered to WIN…

New Blog Post

Resolutions for 2010 by Lori Kaley (GS Scientific Advisor)
Well, it’s already January and I haven’t come up with my New Year’s resolutions for 2010. Oh, don’t misunderstand me, I have plenty that I can work on…

Thank you for helping us make the Web a more nutritious place one kilobyte at a time…

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Resolutions for 2010

Well, it’s already January and I haven’t come up with my New Year’s resolutions for 2010. Oh, don’t misunderstand me, I have plenty that I can work on: to be a better person, or to finally meet the high expectations that I’ve set for myself.

I feel as if I should have already gotten it right by now… Weren’t there a bunch of goals for 2010? Oh yeah –> Healthy People 2010.

Healthy People 2010

So, have we reached any of those health goals as a nation? According to the progress reported on nutrition and overweight, we are far from reaching our target goals. For example, overweight and obesity in children and adolescents is getting worse; there has been little or no progress in fruit, vegetable, or whole grain product consumption; little or no progress in sodium (part of salt) intake; and a glimmer with calcium (lots found in dairy foods) intake improving. The report shows that the weight status and diets of Americans continue to remain an important public health and economic concern.

…there has been little or no progress in fruit, vegetable, or whole grain product consumption; little or no progress in sodium intake; and only a glimmer of improvement in calcium intake.

Get involved

You might be asking, what can I do about this? Can I contribute to my own health and diet and help the nation reach its health goals at the same time? The answer is yes, of course you can. The real question is, will you? What will it take?

Maybe you are in a new phase of life as an empty nester? I am. My three lovely daughters have left the nest, one is a college graduate living and working in New York City. The other two are in college in Boston. While I am still a mom and a wife and work full time — it seems as if I have all kinds of time on my hands. What to do with that time? Shall I become a foodie or a weekend warrior athlete? And should I drag my husband along for the ride?

Make 2010 a year of healthier choices

When I googled New Year’s resolutions 2010, it came up with 17,300,000 sites. Apparently, there are plenty to choose from and everyone is doing it! Okay, here goes, yes, I can definitely lose weight and feel better. I will eat more fruits and vegetables every day by reaching for them instead of chocolate. I will be physically active at least 5 days a week and invite my husband to join me.

There, I feel better already. Have a wonderful new year that is healthy, happy and safe!

What will you do in 2010 to make healthier choices?

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