Brain Boosting Foods for School

Last updated on March 2nd, 2018 at 02:54 pm

Brain boosting foodsKids are well into a new school year and each year requires more and more brain power. Every evening, I ask my kids what they ate that day so I can get an idea of what type of fuel they used to power out their day. My first interest in nutrition came from my energy high’s and low’s in high school back in the 1980’s. Why did I feel so tired in the morning and then have a short-lived super energy surge after lunch? I still remember my driver’s ed teacher – angry-at-the-world Coach Vitek – who would slam his textbook down next to anyone who fell asleep in his class. After my mega lunch, I would have Coach Vitek for 5th period and it was pure torture staying awake after my blood sugar crash from the amount of junk food I consumed. I would sit there in the dark watching 1950’s driving videos with my fingers acting as toothpicks to hold my eyelids open. I am still traumatized by that scenario! It was so hard to stay awake. It’s a wonder how I passed Coach V’s class that year!

I now know that skipping breakfast and then eating a mega meal at lunch didn’t do me any favors academically. As parents of young children, we’re usually good at making sure our little ones have breakfast before heading to school. But are we maximizing their choices for brain performance?

Nutrients for the Brain

B Vitamins. Thiamin, riboflavin, folate , niacin, B6 and B12 are all critical vitamins during times of stress. Believe it or not, our kids experience stress when it comes to the pressures of learning new – and sometimes – frustrating concepts. The more nutrients their body gets, the easier they can manage stress. Many of the B vitamins are found in fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains. But B12 is only found in foods that come from an animal – dairy, eggs, meat, fish and poultry.

Protein. No, we don’t need to put our kids on a high protein diet. However, many children don’t typically get enough protein at breakfast – which should range from 7-14 grams. Protein is made up of amino acids, which make up neurotransmitters to help the brain function correctly. Also, a good protein food source at breakfast such as Greek yogurt, lean ham or an egg are good additions to boost concentration abilities at the start of school and into lunch.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids. A specific omega-3 fat (docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA) found in marine life are utilized by the brain, retina and heart. Our body cannot make DHA on its own, so we must get it through our diet. Food high in omega-3 DHA include salmon, tuna, mackerel, trout and sardines. Start incorporating these types of fish into your regular family meals and eating fish will come naturally. If your family is vegan, try cooking with seaweed.

Iron. Iron is critical for oxygen transport to the body and brain, which helps with energy and cognitive function. If your kids don’t like clams or tofu (the highest foods in iron), make sure they get regular doses of other sources. Those include iron-fortified cereals and breads, raisins, beans, lean beef and spinach. All non-animal iron sources require vitamin C for absorption. Don’t just think of oranges for your vitamin C. Strawberries and potatoes have more!

Fiber and Water. Fiber helps decrease the rate at which your body digests food; and that helps with energy levels. A steady energy level helps the mind. Look for foods with at least 3 grams of fiber or more per serving. Water helps process the fiber, and also will keep energy levels normal.

Carbohydrates. I still see parents limiting carbohydrates in their home because of the low carbohydrate craze that, frankly, is dying a slow death. Children cannot be on a low carbohydrate diet. They utilize carbohydrates to grow normally, and the brain must have good, quality carbohydrates to function normally. Those include whole grains, fruits, low-fat dairy and starchy veggies.

Timing of Meals and Snacks

It’s non-negotiable. Kids must have breakfast. Make time for it because there is too much research out there that tells you about all the academic benefits associated with a good, solid first meal. Ask your children about their day, and when they have time to eat. If you want them to finish their homework before dinner, make sure they get a good snack before hitting the books. By that time, many kids hadn’t eaten for several hours and this could directly impact their ability to concentrate.

Limit Sometimes Foods

High-fat, sugary and overly processed foods have a tendency to carry little nutrition. Do an inventory of the pantry and fridge from the summer months, and remove most of those sometimes foods. Fill your kitchen with convenient, grab n’ go healthy snacks such as yogurts, low-fat cheeses, washed and ready fruits, veggies with low-fat dips. In almost every situation, they will eat the healthy food if it’s convenient.

Here’s to a healthy, and super brain-powered school year!

Facebook Changes Privacy Policy for Teens: Are We Ok With This?

Last updated on March 2nd, 2018 at 02:54 pm

On Wednesday October 16th, Facebook announced 2 significant changes to its privacy policies for teens.

First – the good:

FB Privacy SettingsIn general with Facebook, you can control who you share your status updates with – whether it be with a single person or multiple people simultaneously. Up until yesterday, when someone aged 13 through 17 signed up for a new Facebook account, the “audience” for their posts (i.e. who could see what you posted online) was set by default to “Friends of Friends”. Now the teen could change this, but this was the initial setting, which meant that unless the teen knew about this, and was savvy enough to change this, there was a fairly large audience that could see not only their initial post, but all future posts. The good news: Now, when a teen signs up for a Facebook account, the initial audience for their first post will be set to the more limited choice of “Friends”.

Next – the not so good:

According to the Facebook press release, teens now have the “choice to post publicly on Facebook… …In addition, teens will be able to turn on Follow so that their public posts can be seen in people’s News Feeds”.

Example FB Teen Public postsWhat does this mean? Teenagers (ages 13 to 17) can now post status updates, videos and images on Facebook that can be seen by anyone, not just their friends or people who know their friends. According to the press release, “the changes are designed to improve the experience for teens on Facebook…teens are among the savviest people using social media, and whether it comes to civic engagement, activism or their thoughts on a new movie, they want to be heard.”

In truth, teens can already post publicly (and are doing so) on sites such as Twitter, Instagram, and Kik. But the key difference, according to NY Times journalist Vindu Goel in his article Facebook Eases Privacy Rules for Teenagers, is that “Facebook requires users to post under their real identities”.

Of course this is incredibly attractive to companies that market products to children – the more information, the better the targeting. But how risky is this?

Pop-Up Privacy WarningAccording to Facebook, they have taken teen safety into consideration with inline reminders that pop-up whenever a teen chooses public as the audience for a post…and a second time if they continue posting publicly. But is this enough? Lawmakers continue to debate the threats to children from online sexual predators and cyber-bullying, particularly in the wake of the recent Rebecca Sedwick suicide and subsequent arrest of the two teenagers whose constant bullying – authorities say – led to her death.

One final consideration: according to the NY Times article mentioned above, the FTC is conducting an inquiry into other proposed changes in the Facebook’s privacy policies. One change in particular would give Facebook permission to take a user’s post and turn it into an advertisement to be broadcast to anyone who could have seen the original post. Implication – your teen’s foolish spur of the moment public post could one day turn into an ad that is broadcast to the world. And again, keep in mind – it was posted under their real name.

So, has Facebook upped the “risk” quotient when it comes to kids and the internet? I think so.

What do you think???

Take the Germ Quiz for Your Family’s Health

Last updated on October 21st, 2013 at 10:33 am

The Germ QuizWhether you’re trying to prevent the flu, the common cold or other illnesses, when it comes to outsmarting germs, knowledge is power. But how much you actually know about our invisible adversaries? Learn how to protect your family and yourself this season by testing your knowledge with our quiz – filled with tips from Charles Gerba, an environmental microbiologist at the University of Arizona and co-author of The Germ Freak’s Guide to Outwitting Colds and Flu.

1. What’s the best way to get rid of germs and viruses on your hands?

a. Soap and hot water

b. Soap and warm water

c. Hand sanitizer

Answer: b.

If you’re at home, washing your hands the old-fashioned way is best. But you’ve got to do it right: Rub the top and bottom of your hands with soap and water for as long as it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice, then rinse. No need for very hot water – it doesn’t kill more germs, and you’re more likely to wash longer if the water temperature is comfortable. Drying hands with a paper towel instead of a hand towel will further prevent germs from getting back on your hands. When you’re far from a sink, hand sanitizer is a good substitute. But choose one that contains at least 60 percent alcohol, suggests Gerba, to make sure it kills germs and viruses.

2. Where do most germs lurk in your kitchen?

a. Floor

b. Counters

c. Sink

Answer: c.

“Ninety percent of kitchen sinks harbor salmonella, as well as plenty of other germs that can make you very sick,” says Gerba. Wipe down your sink at least weekly with a product labeled “disinfecting” or “sanitizing” – it’s the only kind that’s been tested to kill germs. If anyone in your house is sick, clean the sink once a day. The kitchen sponge is another germ hot spot. “Disinfect it every time you use it to wipe up residue from meat, poultry or vegetables,” advises Gerba. The best methods: Microwave a damp sponge for two minutes (be careful when removing it) or run it through the dishwasher. Replace old sponges every two weeks.

3. When a family member is sick, what are the best measures you can take to protect yourself?

a. Don’t share the same tube of toothpaste

b. Wear an anti-germ mask

c. Don’t come within 3 feet

Answer: a. and c.

When applying toothpaste, people tend to touch theirs to the opening of the tube, which can pass along germs. Aside from using a separate tube of toothpaste, move all toothbrushes away from the ill person’s. After the person gets better, buy every family member a new toothbrush. In addition, try to stay at least 3 feet away from anyone who’s sick. Gravity prevents germy droplets from coughs and sneezes from traveling further. This is also a good rule to use elsewhere, especially on public transportation. Finally, be sure to disinfect all objects and surfaces the sick person touches.

4. How can you avoid germs in the bathroom — both at home and in public?

a. Put the lid down before flushing

b. Turn off the sink faucet with a towel

c. Don’t touch anything

Answer: a.

“Don’t forget to lower the toilet lid or you risk getting a volcano of germs right in your face,” says Gerba. No lid? Turn your back as soon as you flush and get out of the booth as soon as possible.

5. What’s the germiest spot at your office?

a. The office copier

b. The elevator button

c. Your desk

Answer: b.

The other two aren’t far behind. And germs that you pick up at work come home with you at the end of the day. Gerba suggests pressing the elevator button with a gloved finger or your keys (that goes for the one in your apartment building too). Be sure to squirt on some hand sanitizer after using the office copier, coffeepot, microwave, refrigerator and watercooler. And don’t forget to disinfect your desk (chances are the cleaning staff doesn’t do it): Your phone, computer keyboard and desktop all harbor more harmful germs than the average toilet seat. Wipe them down with a disinfecting product at the end of each day.

Child Health & Safety News Roundup: 10-07-2013 to 10-13-2013

Last updated on March 2nd, 2018 at 02:55 pm

twitter thumbWelcome to Pediatric Safety’s weekly “Child Health & Safety News Roundup”- a recap of the past week’s child health and safety news headlines from around the world.

Each day we use Twitter to communicate relevant and timely health and safety information to the parents, medical professionals and other caregivers who follow us. Occasionally we may miss something, but we think overall we’re doing a pretty good job of keeping you informed. But for our friends and colleagues who are not on Twitter (or who are but may have missed something), we offer you a recap of the past week’s top 35 events & stories.

PedSafe Top Headline of the Week:

Parents, beware of bullying on sites you’ve never seen – kids using apps like, Kik

PedSafe Headline of the Week #2:

Home Alone After School: Is Your Child Ready?
A must read for parents of school age kids

The Magic of Motivation…with a little help from Chuck E. Cheese

Last updated on October 16th, 2013 at 09:58 am

A while ago a friend asked me for ideas to help motivate her child to brush her teeth. I know many people struggle with issues of motivation, whether dealing with special needs children or typical kids, so let’s look at some ways to get your child to cooperate with your requests – or the teacher’s requests, or the coach’s requests….you get the idea..

ChuckECheese HW 1st CalendarKey in to what the child wants. Kids (and most adults) don’t believe in “something for nothing” but the simple “if, then” equation makes sense to them. The “then” part is up to you, but it will be more effective if the child is working toward earning something they value. Extra video game time seems to be a hot commodity in my house, but it could also be a certain item, a trip to a movie or a later bedtime. Make sure the task and the reward are equal – setting the table one night may earn an extra 5 minutes of bedtime, while an entire week of doing it can be rewarded with a bigger privilege like a trip to a movie.

By now you probably have the word bribery floating around in your mind, but remember that bribery is illegal and usually involves getting someone to do something that is also illegal. This is the very scientific method of behavioral conditioning. Basically you can increase a desired behavior (doing homework, brushing teeth) by positively reinforcing the act whenever it occurs. You can use a chore chart or marbles in jar or any other method of tracking behavior. You can also use these methods to reduce an undesired behavior, like nose picking or swearing or whatever else you find to be an issue in your house.

You can get pre-made behavior charts all over the internet, like here from Chuck e. Cheese, or you can make them yourself. They don’t need to be fancy, but they do need to be true to your child. And you need to be true to your word – don’t promise something you are not willing to actually provide (like a puppy) because if properly motivated your kids will shock you with their earning power. And don’t feel that the rewards need to be something that will break the bank – sometimes just a “mommy and me” afternoon is enough.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation – Stress-Reduction for Children

Last updated on June 7th, 2014 at 06:39 pm

Stress Reduction for ChildrenEarlier this year I wrote a post on stress and kids and promised to review a valuable stress-reducing technique for children and adults, progressive muscle relaxation, in my next post. It took longer than planned, but I wanted to make sure to highlight this useful approach.

Many children suffer from stress and anxiety, even at quite young ages, driven by grades and homework, family, and issues with friends and teasing. Even if there are no particular signs of stress, some kids just have difficulty relaxing, which can affect their ability to fall asleep easily. This was definitely the case with our son, Elliott, who figured out how to climb out of his crib at age two and struggled to nap or go to sleep at night ever since. He could most easily sleep when something was restraining him, like a car seat – so that it seemed like his brain needed to be told, “Stop! Calm down, no moving, now you need to sleep.” Over time, sleep became so challenging that I spoke to a child psychologist who recommended a CD for children to walk them through progressive muscle relaxation (PMR).

“Progressive muscle relaxation is a technique that involves tensing specific muscle groups and then relaxing them to create awareness of tension and relaxation. It is termed progressive because it proceeds through all major muscle groups, relaxing them one at a time, and eventually leads to total muscle relaxation” ( PMR is useful for stress, anxiety and sleep issues because one way the body responds to stress is with muscle tension – which you may know if you ever get a stiff neck or aching shoulders when doing stressful work. I first learned about progressive muscle relaxation through a public health graduate course on understanding and managing stress, and have used PMR to help me relax at night while going to sleep. Through the PMR process I realized that I had been holding the muscles in my neck and jaw tight, like when concentrating on some difficult work task. My ability to fall asleep or to go back to sleep in the middle of the night has greatly improved since oral hgh using the PMR approach.

ICanRelax-photoSo it made a lot of sense to me to try PMR for my son. I am willing to believe that we aren’t all born with a natural or at least optimal ability to relax, and this is a key life skill! The CD that was recommended to me is called I Can Relax!, and is produced by The Child Anxiety Network for children aged 4 to 12. The CD features the voice of Dr. Donna Pincus, a clinical psychologist and expert in child anxiety disorders, who walks children through playful versions of the PMR process for each part of the body. In the box below you can see the sections of the CD.

I Can Relax! CD Contents


Taking Deep Breaths

A Relaxing Place

The Worry Train

Making Lemonade

The Turtle and the Stream

Relax Your Face

Hungry at the Beach

Taking a Nap

The Strong, Tall Tree

I Can Relax!

I Can Relax! is available via Amazon for $17.95 and on iTunes for $9.99. It is also available in Canada via other online booksellers. It’s interesting to note that the reviews on Amazon are almost all very positive. One parent who gave a lower three star rating found that her younger child got great benefit but that her 10-year old wasn’t willing to try and got no benefit after being “forced.” I can say that was also an issue with my son, who was older when we tried it. He did get some benefit, but he resisted the idea. I, on the other hand, found huge benefit from squeezing my hands to “make lemonade!” So it may be better to try this out while your children are still young enough to be less resistant to parental suggestions. I also want to highlight that there are many free options for progressive muscle relaxation, with sample scripts online for parents to read aloud to their children, or videos online or at your local library. I hope you find this approach useful because there is nothing more challenging or disheartening than when your child is anxious or can’t relax.