Guest blogger: Our kids need your help getting active

Physical Fitness, P.E. and Recess: Our Kids Need Your Help Getting Active

By the age of 16 I weighed over 220 pounds. All my life, from the time I was a small child I struggled with my obesity. Then, one day I made a change. I went from one mile on the treadmill to running marathons and, in the process lost over 70 pounds. Today, just like me, nearly one in three children in the U.S. is considered overweight or obese. The rate of childhood obesity has nearly tripled over the past thirty years. Obesity puts children at increased risk for heart disease, high cholesterol and high blood pressure and dramatically increases the risk for Type 2 diabetes. Obesity related health care expenses and losses in productivity cost Americans more than $100 billion each year. Over 300,000 people die of obesity-related illnesses each year and will soon overtake smoking as the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S. In addition to the physical health effects, obesity takes a toll on children both emotionally and psychologically. Studies show that obese and overweight children are often socially ostracized and can lead to low self-esteem, decreased academic performance and impeded social development. Experts agree that inactivity combined with poor eating habits are at the root of these problems. While we come together here, on this blog, to improve the food our kids eat, it is but one piece of the puzzle.

Federal guidelines recommend 150 minutes of physical activity each week, yet less than 30% of U.S. elementary kids reach this goal. However, even this number can be deceiving as researchers have stated that the increased activity level of preschool and kindergarten age children artificially inflates this number. In reality, far fewer children, on average, are performing adequate physical activity. This explains why, after the age twelve, the percentage of kids achieving the recommended amount of physical activity plummets to only 8%.

Schools, unfortunately, are not taking enough action to combat this problem. Physical education classes in elementary schools are rapidly vanishing and, recess periods, where available, are wholly inadequate in providing children the recommended physical activity. In a 2006 study, the most recently published by the U.S. government, ONLY 3.8% of our nation’s elementary schools provided a daily physical education class during the school year. This number was down from 8% of schools in 2000. Only 14% of elementary schools provide physical education classes at least 3 days per week. Add to these abysmal numbers the fact that of those elementary schools that do offer physical education classes, even if only one day a week, an overwhelming 68% of them teach only dodgeball or bombardment! It is clear our children are not being given the opportunity to reach their physical activity requirements through school physical education classes.

On a slightly more positive note, school recess numbers are surprisingly on the rise, albeit very slowly. While only six states mandate that schools provide recess, this number is up from only two states in 2000. Further, a majority of elementary schools, 79%, provide daily recess for all grades in the school, though it is not clear how long the average recess is, and represents an almost 8% increase from 2000. Despite the fact that the majority of schools provide some form of recess and the number of such schools is on the rise, it is not enough. Research has shown that during an average 30 minute recess, children receive merely 3 to 6 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA). Thus, over a regular five day school week, kids, on average, bank only 15 to 30 minutes of their recommended 150 minutes of physical activity. Further research suggests that children need outside encouragement and prompting to achieve the recommended amount of physical activity. Recess alone is not the answer to our children’s fitness needs.

It is more important now than ever before to take action to get our nation’s youth active and, once again, put physical activity back in the schools and we need all of YOU to make it happen! This fall I have the honor and privilege of running in the 2010 ING New York City Marathon as a part of Team for Kids (TFKs), a community of adult runners from across the country and around the world who race to raise funds to support the New York Road Runners Youth Programs.

NYRRs Youth Programs provide free and low-cost running based fitness and nutrition programs to schools and after-school community centers, promoting physical fitness, good nutrition, character development and personal achievement. Currently, NYRRs Youth Programs serve over 105,000 children a week in hundreds of schools and community centers in all 50 states and in the Cape Town region of South Africa. NYRR has set a goal to serve an additional 10,000 children during the 2010-2011 school year. During the 2009-2010 school year, NYRR kids generated over 50 million minutes of physical activity and recorded over 2 million miles ran! In 2009, TFK raised $4.2 million for NYRR Youth Programs. By 2015, NYRR hopes to raise $10 million annually to be able to serve 500,000 children each week.

If you do but one thing, I ask you to take the time to support a wonderful grassroots organization that is making a difference in our children’s lives. No matter how small, every donation is vital to supporting this cause. No child should be forced to endure the harsh existence of a childhood spent overweight and unhappy, as I know all too well.

Be a part of something bigger – do something today to make a change. Visit to donate today or to learn more about Team for Kids, New York Road Runners or the Youth Programs.

Haylee Barney

What’s in your….crisper??

Top row from left: Pancetta for carbonara, clementines, jalapeno (my husband grew it from seed)
Bottom row from left: Broccoli, corn, potatoes, spinach, red pepper, garlic, avocado, carrots, apple, onions, green beans (from farmer’s market)
Very bottom: Little jars of our homemade concord grape jelly that we made last fall and still are trying to get through. We have grape vines in the backyard. It’s certainly not the best place to store.

I am a work in progress and so is my fridge. I took a picture of my “crisper” (I just love that word!) because I’m proud of how it looks. I have always worked hard to make sure that fresh food is in my fridge, but doing this project has made me even more aware of its importance. This is the best my crisper has ever looked.

In the past veggies used to spoil before I got a chance to use them. Now I’m more mindful about eating everything. The onion, red pepper, and two cloves of garlic went into a soup. I steamed the broccoli and half of the green beans. Today six potatoes, the rest of the green beans, all of the carrots, another onion and two cloves of garlic went into another soup. Since I don’t like spice, the jalapeno got sliced up by my husband and sprinkled onto his fish the other night (did you know that homegrown jalapenos can vary in spice level? he had one that had no spice and another that burned his mouth!). The avocado was sliced onto a spinach salad with walnuts and raspberries. And the apple and clementines were snacks. Still need to get through more of that darn jelly!

Now it’s your turn — take a picture of your refrigerator’s crisper, create a blog post on your blog, and post it below:

Guest Blogger: Allergic to Yellow Dye #5

The first time I discovered I was allergic to Yellow #5 was when I was in school to become an aesthetician. Part of the reason I had decided this career path was because I had battled with my skin for years. Here I was in my early 20’s and always had breakouts on my chin. I should specify that this type of breakout was unusual. Sure it looked like acne but it itched terribly and was extremely painful. This should have tipped me off that this was a typical allergic reaction. I met several people in school who had this same problem and by word of mouth one of us had heard of Yellow Dye #5 allergies. One of the girls swore that once she removed it from her diet her chin cleared up immediately. I decided that night to try to take it out of my diet. I had no idea how daunting this task would be. IT WAS IN EVERYTHING! Sure, I expected colored candies, chips and sodas but I had no idea how many regular items it was in. I quickly learned that just because something wasn’t “yellow” didn’t mean this dye wasn’t in it. White cakes mixes, vanilla canned frosting, pancake mixes, refrigerated biscuits and croissants. It seems Yellow #5 is used to create that off white color.

As tough as it was, I soon found a lot of alternatives. Surprisingly name brand items tend to be more likely to have it then a store brand. Within a week or two, I noticed an immediate difference. I was clear skinned for a month until I started breaking out again. I thought the project was a bust until I discovered the sneaky dye had made its way into my new toothpaste. Most green toothpaste has this color additive. Crisis adverted. Ditched the toothpaste and clear skin came back. I was fascinated by this and started sharing this information with every person I met. I started really researching and was amazed at all the side effects listed for Yellow #5. Just check out the Wikipedia write up on it

Irritability, sleep disturbances, hyperactivity, anxiety, blurred vision, migraines…even possibilities of lower sperm count! It made me wonder if the reason my migraines finally went away was because I removed this from my diet. It might seem silly to think that something so small could cause all these problems. However, I urge you to read the back of your food items and see how many things have Yellow Dye. Yellow #5 is one of the most used dyes in food. The more research I have done the more I realize I want to remove all unnatural dyes from my diet. We are stuck using them because apparently if food doesn’t have color than it is less appetizing to us. It’s a natural desire to have colorful foods. However, I think this is wired in us because we should want to eat colorful fruits and vegetables. There are lots of alternatives to artificial dyes. Turmeric is wonderful fill in for yellow dye. This is what gives mustard its bright yellow color. It’s natural and imparts no flavor. I promise you won’t miss out on anything special by removing these items from your diet. You might just discover some added health benefits!   

Today’s guest blogger is Patience Wallace and is on twitter at @pwallacetn

Comment policy

I started moderating comments in late April. I felt forced into doing it when I got some abusive comments that included expletives and some personal attacks. I don’t mind if I’m told I’m a dumb idiot, but some take it too far and don’t offer any actual points of discussion. A couple comments were so vile that I was physically ill and frankly a little scared.

I strongly dislike moderating comments because it is a cumbersome process and snatches little pieces of my day away from me when I have to run to the computer. By putting comment moderation in place, nasty comments have decreased to almost nothing. Aside from spam, I have rejected a total of FOUR comments in three months.

Additionally I read that the blog author is responsible for all comments on the blog (can’t find the citation right now). And there’s another reason to continue doing it. Some know my real name (they are my friends or interviewed me). God forbid someone slips and addresses their comment to my real identity. Even if my first name gets out that could jeopardize what I’m doing here.

One thing I dislike about Blogger is that if a reader chooses an old post and writes a comment on it I can’t find the blog post on which the reader commented. So it limits my ability to respond. Because of that in early July I went and closed all comments for all posts dated earlier than July 1st. Going forward I’m going to close comments on posts within a week or two of posting them.

Last week I closed comments very prematurely on the McDonald’s post. Within just a few hours of posting the blog post, it was unindated with more than 40 comments. I hadn’t expected that the post would elicit a response like that and as such I posted it on a day where I was not going to be able to be near a computer. When I noticed it exploding I made a decision to close comments. Had it been a different day where I had more time to dig into the comments, I might not have shut comments down. I thought that talking negatively about fast food was not controversial. Go figure. Don’t worry, I’m going to tackle fast food again on this blog, but hopefully it will be on a day where I can participate in the discussion more fully.

Also last week I shut down the comments on the tofu omelet post when two readers started getting into it. I like healthy discussions, but I could see that it was going nowhere. I really enjoy seeing readers interact in the comment section, but I will bust up a “fight.”

Comment policy:
1) Abusive language and expletives not permitted
2) Comments will be open for at least a week circumstances permitting.

I hope that explains my actions a little better. Please do continue to post comments. You have no idea how many times I smile every day because of you!


I have persistent fantasy of moving to a farm and buying a cow. It’s to the point that I often turn to my husband randomly and say, “let’s go buy a farm somewhere in Iowa.” He will occasionally indulge me and agree with a smirk, “it’s tempting.” I’m not sure if he’s being sarcastic. When my semi-rural dad first met Mr. Q (we had been dating a month) he told me, “He’s a fast talking city boy.” My husband fixes things around the house, has a terrific green thumb with houseplants, and gardens a little; it’s hard to say how he’d adjust to plowing. It would be tough for me, but sometimes I want to get away from it all.

I love living in the Midwest. But I’m not sure why “Iowa” pops into my head when I have more connections with other Midwestern states. I guess I just think of Iowa as a farming state. I also have the illusion that land is cheaper there and that our money would go “farther.”

My kid loves going to the farm. There is a small touristy (but functional) farm not too terribly far away and we go there more often than we go to the zoo. I wish every kid could have access to a working farm. There’s so many opportunities for learning as it offers a language rich environment (labeling animals and farm equipment, actions, cause and effect, etc). There are fewer animals in cages too. Not that I have a problem with zoos, but somehow it’s different seeing a domestic animal behind bars.

Actually the farm is quite possibly the perfect place for children under three. Looking through various park districts’ catalogs, there are tons of programs open to children three and older. But the little guys? Well, there is story time at the library and “play dates” with other mommies and kids, but for the under three set there’s “gymbor*ee” and that’s about it. Sometimes I feel doomed to letting someone run around at a playground, the pool or in the mall (admittedly there are few complaints).

For a toddler the farm is practically titillating! I mean, there’s poop and smells of unknown origins. Then loud “cock-a-doodles” coming out of nowhere to startle you. And cows with soft mooooos. The big wheels of a tractor to kick and try to climb. Little homeless kitties running here and there. My kid is in heaven.

It’s no wonder I want to move my brood to a different land, the land of raw milk and fresh eggs.


A reader emailed me and said that promoting organic food in schools is unrealistic. Um, duh. I would like to make it clear that I don’t equate fresh foods with “organic.” I’m not sure how that connection was made. In fact, I don’t remember even using the word “organic” in relation to school food.

I eat a lot of fresh fruit and vegetables at home, but purchasing organic exclusively is not financially viable for our family. Additionally it would be hard to do that just in terms of sourcing everything at the grocery store or even at the farmer’s market. I make sure to buy and eat the Ten Fruits and Vegetables To Buy Organic. That’s about it.

Just to be perfectly clear: a utopian world where all school kids eat organic food at school would be great, but I know that is not going to happen. What I want is a world in which my students aren’t eating 62 ingredient pizza and where tater tots and fries aren’t considered vegetables. I wonder is that too much to ask?

Open thread: Seasonality

I’m a newcomer to the food reform movement and although my family was health conscious and generally “granola” in many of our choices, we weren’t aware of which foods were in season. We left the farm and then lost that knowledge. I only know that asparagus is in the Spring….

Please comment with your knowledge about seasonality of fruits and vegetables, harvesting, and what to do over the winter season. Any farmers out there?

Soup up my lunch: tofu omelet

A commenter asked “what does your kid eat?” My kid eats a pint-sized version of what I’m eating (varies on choking hazard status of the food item, etc). I’m a big believer in not making more than one meal. Plus I don’t like the idea of a toddler dictating what the whole family eats.
So I made a tofu omelet for lunch (last week, delayed posting). I didn’t get a picture of the finished egg (hey, things get crazy around here). But the ingredients were three eggs, milk, butter in the pan, tofu chunks, and spinach. I didn’t serve this with bread or toast this time, but I usually offer a grain. What else should I have added to this meal? Is a grain necessary?

Guest blogger: Canadian PTA lunches

I am a parent of grade 3 and grade 5 children in a small city in Southwest Ontario.  At our school, there is no cafeteria, and children bring their own lunches from home.  Just like many other public schools, the parent council provides a lunch which is used as a fundraiser to help pay for extras. The school’s SAC – what you call the PTA in the US – serves lunches once a month to raise funds.  We use the money to buy playground equipment, additional library resources and other items not provided by the government.  When my oldest son started at the school 7 years ago, they always served hot dogs, pizza, chicken nuggets or similar processed food, accompanied by a packet of chips and a drink.  Children paid a week ahead of time, and it took the volunteers hours to tally the orders.  I think many parents all over the world will understand exactly what a drag that task is!  The rest of the time, every child brings a bagged lunch.  A fair number of children bring lunchables, koolaid jammers and the like.  Our school is probably typical of most Canadian schools with children from middle and low income families.

The school does have a small kitchen with a regular oven.  Over the years, together with the school’s other fundraising efforts, we have been able to add playground equipment, literacy materials, books and shelving for the library, and a whole host of other items that are typically not provided by government funding, and which help make the school special.  In the past seven years, I have seen the school grow from under 400 students to an anticipated 700 in the coming academic year.   This has caused us to rethink the way we organize our monthly lunches.  Let me explain:

I started volunteering 7 years ago when a hot lunch typically consisted of a hot dog, a packet of chips and a drink.  In a concession to changing nutritional demands, pop had recently been outlawed, but canned iced tea featured prominently until we replaced it with apple juice and flavoured water. 
Periodically pizza or a purchased hot meal like restaurant chicken would be offered instead.  The amount of discarded cardboard and plastic on these days would be phenomenal.  
A challenge that many schools face is volunteer levels, and ours was no exception.  Order forms would be sent out some 10 days before each lunch and a handful of parents would painstakingly tally the orders.  The first time I did this, it took me almost 3 days to balance the numbers and different combinations offered!
About 2 years ago things started to change fairly dramatically.  It didn’t seem like it at the time, but a confluence of factors caused us to turn the lunch institution on its head.  The school had grown by more than 50% and the number of regular volunteers had dropped.  We were spending an inordinate amount of time tallying orders.  Those of us who were still volunteering were disenchanted by the nutritional value of what was offered and we knew we could do better.  We started by eliminating juice and flavoured water from the menu, replacing this with milk and chocolate milk (more about this below).
We also split the school into two groups, serving the kindergarten students on a different day than the older students.  This year we added a third group, and we now serve hot lunches on three separate days a month.  This means the parents running the lunches come to school more frequently than before, but our catering has become largely stress free.  Most surprisingly, it’s all run by just 4 parents!
In a bold move that took some chutzpah, we did away with order forms altogether, distributing flyers to the students instead.   We purchased sufficient supplies to cover more than enough orders, and would go to the classrooms on the morning of the lunch to determine how many children would be ordering.
We also raised the price of the lunch to an all inclusive $5.  Students now bring their money, usually in the form of one bill, to the room where we serve lunch.  This makes the payment processing a piece of cake.
For most of the past academic year we have offered one of two entree options, both of which are very popular with our students:  macaroni and cheese that we make from scratch, or spaghetti with canned pasta sauce.  This would typically be accompanied by a fresh salad dressed with a ranch dressing we make with yoghurt and mayonnaise.  By buying the ingredients ahead when they are on sale, we have been able to achieve really good margins.  As one of our parents likes to say, “work smarter, not harder”.
This month we are offering subs.  This is a very easy meal to throw together.  We’ve been doing this long enough to know approximately how much to purchase.  All the produce is locally grown and the buns are multigrain, as are the oatmeal cookies.   Any extras are either frozen for future use or purchased back by parents and teachers so nothing is wasted.  We use plastic cups, disposable paper plates and real forks picked up for pennies at thrift stores.  It takes under an hour last week to prep the veggies and set up tables for the children in an empty classroom.   We slice open the buns and spread them with turkey breast or cheese, allowing the children to add their own toppings from three stations.
In the future, we would like to eliminate chocolate milk from the menu, and I have nothing good to say about North America’s penchant for bottled water. Not too long ago I had some donated milk which I distributed to several of the classrooms.  When I asked the children, “Who would like a glass of milk?” there was no shortage of takers.  I feel very strongly that most children will drink milk if it is offered to them.  We have put the drinks choices to the parents’ vote, pointing out that chocolate milk contains more sugar than the equivalent volume of pop, but it still won out. 
When I look at how far we have come, I realize the discussion over chocolate milk and bottled water is not worth getting too excited about right now.  We have been able to turn the school’s hot lunch system from a fast food administrative nightmare into a slick, high-margin fundraiser that delivers great quality nutrition at a reasonable price.  The school year is almost over, and I’m sure we will be able to successfully tackle the beverage choices in the new year!