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How to Make a Balanced Meal

Jun-29, 2020

food, school lunch, lunch box, balanced meal

When it comes to nutrition and our kids, it seems like everyone has an opinion! Fortunately, there are plenty of qualified pediatricians, nutritionists, and food scientists studying children’s nutrition every day and providing us with good advice. As a parent, creating a healthy relationship between your child and food is a high priority. So, let’s take a whole plate approach to our children’s nutrition.

Calories vs Servings

When it comes to your toddler, a serving-based approach tends to be better than counting calories. Toddlers are notoriously picky eaters, so keeping track of the categories of food they eat is much healthier than just trying to hit a number goal and potentially loading them up on sugary, salty snack foods. A typical serving for a toddler tends to be between a ¼ and a ½ cup, or 1-2 oz. Avoid over-feeding little stomachs, and pace meals and snacks throughout the day. This avoids battles during mealtimes and the expectation to clean the plate.

Food Groups

We all remember the food guide pyramid from our school days, and the wisdom of eating from different food categories hasn’t changed much since. Every food group contains different nutrients needed for healthy development, and eating a wide variety of foods eliminates the need in most cases for supplemental nutrition like multivitamins or fortified nutrition shakes. Of course, if they’re doctor prescribed, they should be integrated into your child’s meals. So how much of these food groups should our kids be eating? When it comes to grains and vegetables, between 4-6 servings of both groups each day is ideal. Milk, fruit, and meat should all be represented between 1-3 times per day. Remember, serving sizes change as kids grow up, so adjust accordingly.

Combining Food aka A Well-Balanced Plate

When it comes to combining food, there are a lot of myths. But science tells us that eating any combination of foods has no negative effect on weight or health. In fact, well-rounded meals which combine carbohydrates, fats, and proteins are essential, not only for our enjoyment, but for our nutrition. Since we process carbs faster than fats and proteins, eating a well-balanced meal can give us the boost of energy we need, and continue to sustain us comfortably until we get hungry again. So, get creative with your kids in creating cool, colorful, and eclectic meals. Here’s a couple of our favorites!

The Californian

  • 1 serving of soy-garlic marinated boneless skinless chicken breast
  • 1 serving of guacamole
  • 1 serving of cherry tomatoes
  • 1 serving of pita chips
  • 1 clementine or half an orange

The Toast with the Most

  • 1 large piece of multigrain toast (or oat nut toast for older kids)
  • 1 serving of nut butter on the toast
  • Sliced banana to cover nut butter
  • Drizzle of honey on top, cut toast into planks
  • Serve with 1 egg mixed with sautéed spinach and chopped broccoli on the side and a sprinkle of cheddar cheese

The Not-So-Square Roots

  • 1 serving of sweet potato, beet, and parsnip hash
  • 1 serving of orange juice glazed pork
  • 1 serving side salad with sliced radish, carrots, and a lemon vinaigrette

What kind of balanced combos can you make at your house today? Let’s get cooking!

How Much Sleep Does My Child Need?

Jun-22, 2020

mother and child, bed time, sleeping, parenting

Sleep is important at any age. But how much should we let our kids sleep? Is going to bed and sleeping the same thing, health-wise? How effective are naps? Let's learn more about how much our kids need to sleep.

How does age effect sleep?

Newborns and infants need a lot of sleep. Children under the age of 2 should be getting between 11 and 17 hours of sleep depending on age, with newborns closer to 17 and 2-year-olds closer to 11. By preschool ages, 3-5 years, aim for 10-13 hours of sleep per day. School-aged children should be getting 9-11 hours of sleep. Teenagers, despite their busy schedules, also need a full night's sleep. Kids ages 14-17 years should still be getting 8-10 hours of sleep per night. We all know as adults how beneficial 8 solid hours of sleep can be, so it's even more vital that older teens are allowed that time to rest and recharge.

How important are naps?

Turns out, napping is an important part of a child's sleep schedule. For parents, the goal becomes transforming the sleep patterns of a newborn over time into a reliable nap schedule, and finally a normal sleep schedule. By the time children reach preschool age, naps should be built around their school schedule. No naptime in kindergarten? Make sure your child is getting extra sleep at night to make up for the adjustment. These are the years when it is important to create an optimal sleep environment. Try to avoid nightlights if possible, opting instead for white noise machines to comfort a young sleeper. Just being in bed and actually sleeping are two different things, so avoid sending kids up to bed with their tablet or phone.

What makes a fussy sleeper?

Believe it or not, research shows that a fussy sleeper and a fussy eater can go hand in hand. The key seems to be structure. Enforcing routines with plenty of small indicators is the best way to keep children on a schedule that works for them. Have rituals and routines that lead up to sleep and meal times so that transitions are not jarring. Another tip for fussy sleepers: they might be too hot! Ditch the flannel pajamas, heavy blankets, and bed warmers for a simple sleep shirt, turn on a fan (bonus white noise), or turn up the AC before bedtime. Children tend to sleep better when they are on the cool side, so see how that works for your child!

Science-based tips!

It's rare for anyone to sleep through the night, and this includes children. Kids may wake up several times in the night, and that’s okay. Teach kids how to deal with waking in the night without having to get up from bed, thinking it means they can't sleep, or sneak out for a snack. Encourage drinking water, stretching muscles, and changing position before laying down again to fall back asleep untroubled. Also, it's very natural for children to want to sleep near parents, in safe spaces, or with one another. Having a positive attitude to this impulse helps soothe anxiety. Being understanding of your child's natural tendencies also makes sure your child is getting the sleep they need and keeps your relationship with your children strong.

Bedtime resistance is a very common problem reported to pediatricians, and can affect your entire day with your children. Being patient, paying attention, and creating a solid plan for your kids is the best way to transition them into being good sleepers who are healthy for years to come.

Five Facts About Volcanoes

Jun-15, 2020

plant science, caterpillar, twig, leaf, forest

When we think of the raw, untamed power of the Earth, what better way to portray this than an erupting volcano? Whether symbolized by the fearsome Te Ka from Disney's Moana, or the volcanic explosions of Anger in Pixar's Inside Out, the volcano means rage and destruction for many of us. But volcanoes also provide a vital life force to the Earth as well. Let's learn five cool facts about volcanoes together!

  • While we tend to associate volcanos with hot, tropical climates like Hawaii, volcanos are present on every continent on Earth, even Antarctica. In fact, the largest concentration of volcanos in the world is found on the frozen continent, 138 in total, all lying dormant under the ice. Will they ever erupt again? Scientists are monitoring the situation every day!
  • While Maui might like us to think that he pulled islands out of the sea with his magical fish hook, the truth is that many, many islands around the globe were actually made from underwater volcanoes erupting over time. Additionally, the shifting of tectonic plates can create a column of lava shooting into the water and hardening into a volcanic island. But it's okay, you can still say you're welcome!
  • We tend to think of volcanic eruptions as giant sprays of lava, but many volcanos around the world are much calmer with a lower output. In fact, some volcanoes have been steadily streaming for decades. What's the longest recorded lava flow That's still going today? That would be Mount Yasur in Vanuatu in the South Pacific. This volcano has been erupting several times an hour for 111 years! that's older than Mickey Mouse, Band-Aid brand bandages, and Oreo cookies!
  • Due to how lush and habitable volcanoes can make an area, it isn't surprising that human populations tend to cluster around active and dormant volcanoes alike. Cities like Legazpi City in the Philippines, Shimabara in Japan, Mount Etna in Sicily, and Auckland in New Zealand are all "hot" tourist destinations in part due to their nearby active volcanoes. Don’t worry though, humans have been coexisting with volcanoes for thousands of years, and thanks to modern science, there are many, many plans in place to keep everyone safe!
  • You might think Earth is the only place in our solar system you would find an active volcano, but it turns out that we aren't alone. Some of the moons of Jupiter, Saturn, and Neptune all have active volcanoes, viewable by our space probes as they float on by. Could a future space colony set themselves up around an active volcano, just like we have on Earth? Time will tell!

Volcanoes are beautiful, life-giving, natural wonders. Volcanology, or the study of volcanos, is an important part of science, not only to learn how our planet works, but also to keep people safe from unexpected eruptions. Would you like to be a volcano scientist? You'd always have a place to cook up s'mores!

National Candy Month!

Jun-08, 2020

candy, lollipop, m&ms, gummy worms, sugar, peppermints, fruit slices, swirls

Did you know that June is National Candy Month? Talk about a sweet celebration. June is the month we celebrate all things sugar. Beyond its incredible taste, sugar is actually a fascinating molecule with some pretty remarkable scientific properties. Let’s take a closer look at what makes sugar such a special substance in our lives.

The molecule which we call sugar is officially known as sucrose. There are several different kinds of sugar molecules. Sucrose is actually a combination of two of them: fructose and glucose. Fructose is found in fruit and honey, and gives things like apples, oranges, and bananas their sweetness. Believe it or not, fructose is sweeter than sucrose! Glucose is often found in grains like wheat, rice, and corn, and is not as sweet as either fructose or sucrose. Another kind of sugar is lactose, the sweet molecule found in animal milk, perfect for growing babies who need lots of nutrition for healthy development. Lactose is the least sweet of the four major sugars, probably because it’s meant mostly for infants to eat.

So where does sucrose come from? Certain plants like sugar cane and sugar beets produce sucrose instead of fructose or glucose alone, combining the molecules and creating a more complex and pleasing flavor. Their juices are boiled, leaving sugar crystals behind. The byproduct of making sugar is called molasses, a thick syrupy substance with a smoky, complex flavor. Originally thrown away, molasses has become a staple of many cuisines for its distinct taste. White sugar contains no molasses, but brown sugar has some of the molasses mixed into it, creating a deeper flavor and adding moisture. Many baking recipes call for a mix of both white and brown sugars in various proportions. Products that only use white sugar tend to by dryer and more brittle, like sugar cookies or shortbread. Products that use mostly brown sugar tend to be chewier and sometimes stickier, like chocolate chip cookies or Dutch apple pie.

Candy makers, or confectioners as they’re know, have found many interesting ways to cook with sugar. By mixing sugar with water, flavorings, and other ingredients, and then heating and cooling their concoctions to various temperatures, they can produce different textures to the candy they make. Sometimes it can be stretchy and chewy like taffy, or hard and clear like lollipops. Which candy contains the most sugar? That would be cotton candy, or spun sugar. It’s about as pure a sugary candy as you can find! There’s actually a lot of science that goes into candy making, and confectioners use many of the same tools that scientists do when creating experiments in a lab!

So, what do you think? Interested in turning your home kitchen into a candy laboratory? There are lots of experiments you can do to learn more about the cool properties of sugar! Be sure to share any tasty results with your family, that way they can celebrate National Candy Month with you!

Donating Blood - Giving the Gift of Life

Jun-03, 2020

woman with heart symbol Give Blood

“Be nice to me. I gave blood today!” You may have seen this phrase on stickers provided by the American Red Cross and other organizations and worn by adults in your local community. And while we strive to be nice to everyone, blood donation is a powerful gift, and individuals who donate their blood do deserve a little extra care and consideration!

But why is blood donation necessary? Every day, every hour, medical procedures occur in hospitals around the world, and many of them require patients to be given extra blood to make up for any that they are losing. That blood has to come from somewhere! As human beings, we are constantly producing fresh blood to keep our bodies strong and healthy. But did you know that your body can survive with a little less? It’s true! Because of our bodies’ amazing ability to make and replace blood, individuals are able to donate some of their blood to be used in hospitals. Now, this can make you feel a little weak on the day of your donation, but your body gets right back to work and within a day or two, you’re back at full strength. Plus, you’ve made a life-saving donation to someone in need.

So, how do you donate blood? First, you have to be at least 17 years old, but 16-year-olds are allowed to give blood as long as they have parental/guardian consent. This is for your own safety. Then, you find a blood donation drive or center who takes donations. Once you make an appointment with them, you are assessed. Certain individuals are not allowed to donate blood due to illness or potential complications, so a friendly technician will talk to you to make sure you are eligible. You also need to know your blood type. Do you know your blood type? There are four main blood groups: A, B, AB, and O, and each group can be positive or negative, which means there are a total of eight blood types. Some blood types can only accept certain types of blood, so it’s important to know what type of blood you are. One group, O negative, is known as the Universal Blood Type. But why is that? Well, because any human can accept type O negative blood, so people with that blood type are highly encouraged to donate!

In order to donate your blood, a technician will need to put a needle into a vein to get the blood out. While this procedure is safe, sterile, and almost painless, it can make many people uncomfortable. But facing your fears, when done in a kind environment, can help you grow and overcome anxieties. Many people have overcome their fear of needles by donating blood, since they know that they’re doing something good for the world. After you donate blood, it is important to relax. Many centers encourage donors to stay in the center after they finish, and provide sugary snacks like juice and cookies. Think of them both as rewards for a job well done, and fuel for your body as it replaces your blood. Wear your sticker proudly, don’t pick up anything heavy, and get plenty of sleep the night after you donate.

In the US alone, we use 31,000 pints of blood every day to help keep people alive. And it wouldn’t be possible without donations from kind and caring people. Do you know someone who donates blood? Do you plan on becoming a donor when you’re old enough? It would certainly be a very nice thing to do!

Outdoor Scavnger Hunt

May-29, 2020

child girl explore trees with magnifying glass in forest

As the weather gets warmer and circumstance prevents us from spending time together, it can be a challenge to figure out how to make time spent outdoors fun. Today, we have a suggestion for you: An outdoor scavenger hunt!

Scavenger hunts are fun for kids of any age. They’re engaging, exciting, and encourage healthy competition when they are run as a contest. Scavenger hunts encourage both the designers and the players to think outside the box, to look at their surroundings in a new way, and to really explore the world around them. The rules of a scavenger hunt are simple. Each participant has a list of items they must find. Sometimes there are clues instead that can lead players from one place to another. Sometimes the item requires participation or is some kind of action. You can get really creative with a scavenger hunt!

To plan your scavenger hunt, go to a place where your child can safely explore, like a local park. Maybe choose one that your family doesn’t normally visit. Then, go around the area looking for unique items to find. It could be a statue, a particular color of a flower, or fountain. It could also be a category of items that your child needs to find a certain number of, like three nests or two spider webs. While you’re looking, take into account the eye line and abilities of your child. A child who likes to climb might enjoy things that they need a high vantage point to see. Children with mobility issues should be looking for things close to paths and walkways.

Once you’ve compiled your list, it’s time to give it to the kids and get exploring! And though we may be apart, there’s no reason why they can’t compete with their friends. Share your scavenger hunt list with parents and arrange different times to explore the park. Take photos of your child next to the items on their list as they are found. Whoever can find the most items wins!

Keep checking the Best Brains Blog all summer long for more fun ideas like this!