March 2012 | | 1-888-376-7136

[Volume 4, Issue 3]

Snacking and Empty Calories
I think most of us eat a snack or two every day (and maybe even more). The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently completed a study that examined the snacking habits of adults. Turns out many of us are choosing snacks that are high in solid fats and sugars.
Snacks provide one-third of ‘empty calories’ in US diets: USDA research

This article looks at the number of empty calories that come from snacks. Empty calories are those that come from foods that are high in solid fats and sugar. According to the USDA, about one-third of all empty calories come from snacks. It doesn’t mean snacking is a bad idea. In fact snacking can be good for you when you choose low-calorie fruits and vegetables instead of treats that are high in fat and sugar.

Thinking about snacks in school:
  • Teach kids how to choose healthy snacks
  • Talk about the health implications of getting too many calories every day.
  • Have young kids design posters showing some healthy snacks that are good to eat and some unhealthy snacks that we should avoid.
Fighting Childhood Obesity at the Museum

Most larger cities have a children’s museum, usually filled with fun exhibits and activities. We often think of science and art exhibits, but now some museums are expanding their exhibits to include social and health issues.

Obesity and other targets of children’s museums

This article takes a look at some cool new exhibits at a few different museums, including one in Children’s Museum of Manhattan that encourages kids to crawl through the digestive system to help kids understand more about how the body works. Other museums look at family issues and even how to help kids sleep.

Low-Carb Diets and Kids

Adults have tried low-carb diets for a number of years, but can this type of diet also help kids lose weight? These diets tend to be high in fat and since most research is on adults, do we really know if low-carb diets are effective and safe for kids? We may want them to control their weight, but we don’t want them to suffer from nutrition deficiencies in the process.

Low-carb diets help obese kids but tough to follow

This article looks at a study that involved 100 obese children and three different diet plans. One was a conventional diet with smaller portions; one was a low-carbohydrate diet; and another diet that involved a reduced glycemic load, which basically eliminated certain sources of carbohydrates. After one year, all diets worked well, but the low-carb diet was the most difficult one for kids to follow.  But, the good news is that all the groups lost weight and showed improvements in their cholesterol levels.

Children and Added Sugars

Added sugars are those that are added to your food or used as in ingredient in the processing of that food. They’re fairly obvious in sweet foods like jellies, jams and soft drinks, but they’re also found in foods that aren’t so sweet like ketchup and bread. Added sugars include white sugar, brown sugar, corn syrup, honey, and molasses, but not sugars found naturally in fruits and fruit juice.

Added sugars pile up on children’s plates

A new report form the National Center for Health Statistics describes some of the sugar consumption by kids. Older kids eat more added sugars than younger kids and boys generally eat more sugar than girls. The problem with eating too much added sugar is that it leads to weight gain and these sugars don’t have any nutritional value beyond those calories.

Help your students:
  • Talk about carbohydrates and sugars – we need some, but too much leads to weight gain.
  • Teach students how to read Nutrition Facts labels.
  • Help students choose snacks and foods that are lower in added sugars.
  • Show some examples – a typical can of soda has about 40 grams of sugar – use a scale to measure out that much sugar to see just exactly how much sugar that is.
  • Talk about carbohydrates and sugars – we need some, but too much leads to weight gain.
  • Teach students how to read Nutrition Facts labels.
  • Help students choose snacks and foods that are lower in added sugars.
  • Show some examples – a typical can of soda has about 40 grams of sugar – use a scale to measure out that much sugar to see just exactly how much sugar that is.
Loving Leftovers

Cooking a large meal usually results in some leftover food. Some people love leftovers – they’re easy to prepare, just heat them up and eat them. But other people aren’t so thrilled with leftovers – they probably don’t taste as good as when they were fresh. And there’s also the issue of how long can they keep in your refrigerator before they spoil.

Leftovers: tasty or trash?

This article looks at leftovers. Food is expensive and tossing the extra uneaten food into the trash is a waste of money and takes up space in the landfills. Some companies that make food containers are designing containers that allow just the right amount of air circulation to keep leftovers fresher. If you still don’t like leftovers, be sure to plan your grocery list so you can avoid having extra foods that will get tossed out later.

Talk about leftovers in foods classes:

  • Teach kids to prepare meal plans and menus that utilize similar perishable ingredients.
  • Discuss food safety – cold foods stay cold and hot foods stay hot.
  • Hunt for recipes that use up leftover ingredients.
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Tomatoes or tomato products can be found in almost everyone's kitchen. Fresh tomatoes are used in salads and on sandwiches. Canned tomatoes, soups and sauces are used in a variety of dishes. Technically, tomatoes are fruits, but most of us think of them as a vegetable. In fact, the U.S. Department of Agriculture classified tomatoes as vegetables when they designed the food groups and the system.

Tomatoes are easy to find in any grocery store. Fresh tomatoes range in size from large beefsteak tomatoes to small cherry tomatoes, and are available year-round. Select firm, ripe tomatoes that don't have any bruises or discoloration. Canned tomatoes, sauces, salsas and soups can be purchased and stored unopened in your pantry. After they're open, store any leftovers in the refrigerator.

Tomatoes are rich in vitamin A and potassium and low in calories, which is probably enough to qualify as a nutrient-dense superfood. Eating tomatoes and tomato-based products has been associated with a lower risk of some types of cancers and cardiovascular disease. While that may be true, eating a diet rich in all types of fruits and vegetables has been associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer, too. So it's difficult to say for sure how much of that affect is specifically due to tomatoes.

There is a compound in tomatoes called lycopene, which is a carotenoid that's related to vitamin A and beta carotene. Studies suggest that lycopene works as an antioxidant and may be one reason why tomatoes could have such health protective qualities as cancer prevention. Some population studies indicate tomatoes and lycopene may reduce the risk of prostate cancer, but more clinical studies need to be done to know for sure.
Lycopene may be also good for your heart. Research suggests that having ample amounts in your blood may prevent atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and cardiovascular disease in general. One study also found that 25 milligrams or more of lycopene reduces LDL cholesterol levels (the bad kind). It would be difficult to get that much lycopene from raw tomatoes, but lycopene is concentrated by cooking or processing. You could easily get that much lycopene by eating about 3/4 cup of tomato sauce every day.

One medium-sized raw tomato (2 3/5 inches in diameter) has 22 calories and 1.5 grams of fiber. It's a good source of potassium, vitamin C, folate, vitamin A, vitamin E and vitamin K. A tomato also has almost no fat, 1 gram of protein and about 4.0 grams of carbohydrates.
More About School Lunches and Healthy Kids

Ten Healthy Desserts

Ten diet treats – and when it’s okay to splurge

The science of cooking - geeks turned loose in the kitchen,0,3088139.story

Mars candy bars downsizing -- but will you eat less?

About Shereen Jegtvig

Shereen Jegtvig is a health and nutrition writer with two decades of experience counseling people on nutrition and diet. She has a master’s degree in human nutrition and is a member of the American Dietetic Association and the Association of Health Car Journalists.   Shereen writes about nutrition for the large website (, is co-author of Superfoods for Dummies ( and Clinical Anatomy for Dummies ( She also teaches Evidence Based Nutrition to nutrition graduate students and fundamentals of nutrition to undergrads at the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut.