Wednesday, February 3, 2016

WELLNESS WEDNESDAYS: Essential Ingredients

"All you need is love.  But a little chocolate now and then doesn't hurt."  

                                                                  --Charles M. Schultz

Cacao beans

What is your “go to” ingredient in your kitchen?  What are the foods that you want your children to enjoy and love? 

A couple of weeks ago, I did a healthy chocolate tasting class at the local Boys and Girls Club in Sebastian, Florida.  This was part of Growing Healthy Kids’ program called The Art of Healthy Eating.  The 2nd and 3rd graders were excited because over the past several months they have been learning about – and tasting - foods that make you healthy and smart.  The lessons in The Art of Healthy Eating have centered around teaching the kids how to recognize hidden sugars in foods and drinks and reading food labels to look for sugar ingredients that end in “ose”.   

One of the essential ingredients you will always find in The Growing Healthy Kids Test Kitchen is dark chocolate.  Nothing better than a small piece of dark chocolate in the afternoon for a good mood pick-me-up!  Health benefits of dark chocolate include better moods, prevention of memory decline, decreased risk of cardiovascular disease, and improved (lower) LDL cholesterol.  

Most kids have only eaten milk chocolate, which is mainly sugar.  Eating too much of this unhealthy, sweet chocolate contributes to dental caries, or cavities.  

Here are 2 clues to help you and your kids select healthy, dark chocolate:
  1. Is the first ingredient cocoa (NOT sugar)?
  2. Does it say 70% (or higher) cocoa?

Eat good food every day.  Make healthy chocolate one of YOUR essential ingredients for good moods and great health!  

In gratitude,
Nancy Heinrich

Founder, Growing Healthy Kids, Inc.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016


"Eight parts of a full stomach sustain the man, the other two sustain the doctor."
                                                     --ancient Japanese proverb

collage representing healthy living and healthy food choices

For children aged 2-19, the prevalence of obesity has remained fairly stable at around 17%, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Obesity rates have tripled in the past 30 years.  Some complications of childhood obesity can last a lifetime and may shorten a child's lifespan significantly.   If a youth develops type 2 diabetes as a result of obesity, they will have about 17 years less of a lifespan than a youth who does not develop diabetes.   

Have you heard of “hara hachi bun me” (also referred to as hara hachi bu)?   In The Blue Zones Solution, Dan Buettner writes about communities around the world where residents routinely live to be older than 100.  In Okinawa, Japan, Buettner learned about hara hachi bu, a Confucian teaching that instructs people to eat until they are about 80% full. 

I have always instructed adults and children in Growing Healthy Kids’ workshops about the importance of eating slowly and mindfully, taking at least 20 minutes to eat.  This is because it takes that much time for the stomach to send a message to the brain that one is full and no longer needs to eat.   Americans eat too fast, which causes us to overeat.  There is no mindfulness in the drive-through window at McDonald's.  

In a 1965 book called Three Pillars of Zen the author shares a message written around 1300 by teacher Hakuun Yasutani who advises practitioners to “eat about two-thirds of their capacity.”  Yasutani “advises his students to eat only eighty percent of their capacity, and he repeats a Japanese proverb:  “eight parts of a full stomach sustain the man, the other two sustain the doctor.” 

This proverb is what conscious, or mindful, eating is about.  Before a meal, take a moment to reflect and decide to practice hara hachi bu.  Eat good food.  Eat slowly.  Enjoy your meal.  Make a conscious choice to stop eating before filling up all the way.  

You may not only add years to your life, but life to your years!   A simple solution, that of conscious eating or hara hachi bu, could well be a principle for our childhood obesity solution toolbox. 

In gratitude,
Nancy Heinrich

Founder, Growing Healthy Kids, Inc.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

WELLNESS WEDNESDAYS: Solving the Childhood Obesity Epidemic

“Only a life lived for others is a life worth living.”  --Albert Einstein

When was the last time you took your child to their pediatrician for a checkup and the doctor gave you a prescription to feed your child vegetables every day? 

There are easy, creative ways to include vegetables into daily meals.  In the healthy cooking workshops we offer for children, we give kids opportunities to learn about food preparation firsthand.  Most kids embrace the chance to try a new food when they learn how to grow it, harvest it, chop it up into little itty, bitty pieces and then taste it.  My favorite response to parents who tell me, “My child will never eat that!” is to invite them to go away for an hour. When they come back to pick up their kids, our favorite thing to hear is, “What did you do with my child?  That can’t possibly be my child eating those vegetables!”  All I can say is that magic happens in the kitchen when you let kids be kids and you let them learn.  

With obesity affecting one in six children in the United States, we need solutions that work.  Here are a couple of ideas:

Families need to be able to earn a living wage so that children do not suffer in poverty.  There is a direct correlation between poverty and childhood obesity.   What is the poverty level in your community and is it trending down or up?   

Women who are pregnant need to be supported to breastfeed because breastfeeding lowers the risk of a child becoming overweight or obese.  Does your workplace have a wellness policy that supports employees who are breastfeeding? 

Communities need to be encouraged to increase access to fresh vegetables and fruits, especially in areas considered to be “food deserts”.  How many of the local convenience stores in the food deserts where you live feature fresh “healthy in a hurry” sections with the support of your local health department?

Children need access to safe outdoor play areas and communities, together with the local police departments, needs to ensure kids can get outdoors.  They need sidewalks so it is safe to walk.  Does your neighborhood have sidewalks and outdoor play spaces?

School guidance counselors, psychologists, and cafeteria managers need training on recognizing and protecting children who are being bullied or ostracized because they are at unhealthy weights.  When was the last time your child’s school staff received training in how to reverse, prevent and halt childhood obesity?

The minimum wage needs to be raised to $15.00/hour by 2020 so that families living in poverty do not have to work 2 and 3 jobs to pay the bills and then have no time left for a family dinner.  Does your county have an economic council and how do you become a member to advocate for livable wages for your neighbors?

Eating dinner together is one of the strategies which can prevent childhood obesity.  Families benefit from sharing a meal with real food instead of burgers from the dollar menu at McDonald’s while having conversations that are not rushed.  When you take at least 20 minutes to eat a meal, you don’t overeat (because it takes about 20 minutes for the stomach to send the brain the message that you have eaten enough and are full).  How often do you make eating dinner together a family priority?

Throughout the year, I will share more strategies that are effective in halting, reversing, and preventing childhood obesity.  Stay tuned and be the change you want to see in the world.

In gratitude,
Nancy Heinrich
Founder, Growing Healthy Kids, Inc.

*To learn more about childhood obesity, go to or click here.