Wednesday, December 30, 2015

WELLNESS WEDNESDAYS: Creating a Legacy of Health: Educating Parents

Image result for family eating dinner

“Because if we don’t, who will?"

Since Growing Healthy Kids was founded in 2009, our mission has always been laser focused on creating and deploying solutions that prevent, halt, and reverse childhood obesity and obesity-related diseases such as diabetes.  We deliberately work at two levels:  (1) educating children in our hands-on healthy cooking and garden programs such as the Nutrition Scientist program and (2) educating parents, especially those with diabetes, in workshops and healthy cooking classes.  Oh, what fun we have had!

When you start out early with good healthy habits and access to healthy foods, you will have those habits for a lifetime.  We have experienced firsthand that it is much easier to teach a 1st or 2nd grader to make good food choices than to teach a 9th or 10th grader who has been raised on honeybuns for breakfast, chips and soda for lunch and McDonald's for dinner.  We have gotten really good at answering the most common question from skeptical parents: “How can I afford to feed my kids healthy foods?”  

Here are 10 fabulous and real simple tips for parents to help you create a legacy of health for your children:
  1. Cook dinner at home.  Let your children help you. If they don’t learn to cook at home, they certainly won’t learn how to cook from going through the drive-through window at McDonald's.  This is an essential skill that all kids need as part of the solution to childhood obesity.  Our belief is that all kids need to know how to cook 10 basic recipes by the time they turn 10 (our "10 by 10" rule).  For some ideas, check out our book, NOURISH AND FLOURISH: Kid-Tested Tips and Recipes to Prevent Diabetes, available at  Pick up a copy for your family and buy an extra copy to donate to your local library. 
  2. Buy fresh, locally grown vegetables.  Take your kids to the farmers market.  Teach kids where real food comes from.  Meet the people who grow it.  This will encourage your children to seek out and enjoy real food. 
  3. Eat rainbows.  This concept is taught in every Growing Healthy Kids workshop.  We have it printed on our shirts and our aprons.  Teach kids to eat vegetables and fruits that are the colors of the rainbows.  Variety really IS the spice of life.
  4. Eat dinner together.  I know it won’t be every night for many families.  My son was in the marching band for all 4 years he was at Vero Beach High School so I know from experience.   Do, however, set aside at least 3 nights a week to eat together as a family.  Set the table.  Put all the cell phones in a basket in another room.  Light some soy candles.  Talk about the day.  Learning how to relax and dine is a habit that, sadly, many children never experience.  I know children who don’t have a dining table and eat dinner every night sitting in front of a TV. That is sad.  One of the best experiences in our Healthy Cooking classes for children is when we all sit down together to eat, laugh, and talk together.  Enjoy being together at mealtime as a family.
  5. Drink water, not soda.   
  6. No high fructose corn syrup.  Never buy foods or drinks containing high fructose corn syrup. Make this easy step your first strategy for eliminating added sugars and protecting your children’s health.
  7. Read food labels.  If there are ingredients you or your kids cannot pronounce, don’t buy it. Real simple. 
  8. Get enough sleep.  Lack of sleep is one of the risk factors in obesity.  If you get the right amount of sleep, your body is better able to do its job and process the food you eat during the day.   Makes sense. 
  9. Walk daily.  Real simple.  Plus it’s free!
  10. Laugh every day.  Send a joke in your child’s lunch box every day to school.  Read the funnies in the newspaper.  Watch comedies on your family’s weekly movie night.  Laughter is good for us.  Really good.   It relieves stress.  People who smile more also laugh more.  Smiling leads to happiness.  Happiness is healthy.  Happiness really is good for you!

What a fabulous year of WELLNESS WEDNESDAYS!   Thank you to all the children and parents who have played in the kitchen and on the farm with us.  Thank you to our collaborative partners including: Florida Veggies and More, Boys and Girls Clubs of Indian River County, Youth Guidance Mentoring and Activities Program, Hope for Families Center (formerly Homeless Family Center), Gifford Youth Achievement Center, and Rotary Club of Vero Beach Sunrise.  Thank you to Bob's Red Mill, Publix Supermarkets, The Fresh Market, and Seminary Covenant Community for your support.  

Thank YOU for allowing Growing Healthy Kids to be a part of your life.  Being a parent is the best – and often the hardest – job we will ever have in our lifetimes.  Our children are our legacy.  Give them the gift of optimal health.  Because the best is yet to come!

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

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

WELLNESS WEDNESDAYS: Foods That Fight Depression

"Carbohydrates-sugars and starches-are essential, too.  To enter the bloodstream, starches and sugars must be broken down to glucose, a simple form of sugar.  Our body extracts glucose not only from sweets such as candy and cake, but also from starchy foods such as grains and beans.  Glucose is the body's main fuel.  Without glucose, we couldn't move and we couldn't think.  Our cells, particularly our brain cell cells, require a constant supply simply to maintain life."  

--from DIABESITY: The Obesity-Diabetes Epidemic That Threatens America-And What We Must Do to Stop It by Francine R. Kaufman, M.D., Past President, American Diabetes Association

My fascination with Alzheimer’s keeps growing, as does the epidemic.  There is a distinct connection between Alzheimer’s and diabetes.  Alzheimer’s and depression are also closely connected.  People with diabetes are at higher risk for depression than people without diabetes.  Depression and childhood obesity are intricately connected.  If we truly care about the present and future health of America’s children, we must learn from the emerging lessons from the Alzheimer’s epidemic.
Can foods fight depression?  What foods promote good moods?  Why, in this joyous month sandwiched between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, should we be concerned about depression?

Depression is more prevalent at the holiday time than other times of the year.  This is also the time of the year when we are eating foods high in added sugars and refined grains.  Please pass the Christmas cookies... 

Here are seven tips to promote good moods:
  • Limit foods containing added sugars. Starting in January, eliminate them. Start right now by eliminating foods containing high fructose corn syrup from what you are eating and drinking.
  • Stop buying sodas for you and your kids.  Drink water.
  • Eat green vegetables every day.  This week I am making arugula pesto using organic arugula from my local farmer to enjoy with some gluten-free pasta for a delicious, spicy holiday meal.  On tap this week, besides the arugula pesto, are meals planned around broccoli, brussels sprouts, and kale. 
  • Start cooking with turmeric.  Where I live, I am lucky to be able to get locally grown, organic turmeric.  I use it regularly with sautéed vegetables (HINT: always use gloves when you grate or microplane it or else you will have orange fingers the next day, trust me, I know).  If you can’t get fresh, then use dried turmeric.  Turmeric is the ingredient that gives curry its vibrant, golden color.  It is a cousin of ginger (they look the same outside, but when you cut the turmeric root, it is bright orange, whereas ginger is a whiter shade of pale).  This is one of the most powerful anti-inflammatory foods we can eat. 
  • A little coffee is excellent for promoting good moods.  A lot of coffee, however, can interfere with your sleep, especially if you drink it 8 or 9 hours before going to sleep. 
  • Get enough sleep.   This is essential for promoting good moods and preventing depression.
  • Eat something every 3-4 hours.  Eating every couple of hours may be one of the most important things we can do to prevent Alzheimer’s disease. 

In gratitude,
Nancy Heinrich

Founder, Growing Healthy Kids, Inc. 

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

WELLNESS WEDNESDAYS: Teaching Kids about Real Food

"The most important fact about Spaceship Earth:  An instruction book didn't come with it."  

                                                          --Buckminster Fuller

Image result for pictures of a child eating vegetables

When you buy a new TV, you get an instruction manual. When you get a new video game, you get an instruction manual.  So how come when you have a baby, there is no instruction manual?  

In a recent class with some wonderful 2nd and 3rd graders, the kids were kind of surprised to learn that parents don't get an instruction manual for children.  We talked about how kids can learn about real food and then teach their own parents.  They listened intently when I taught them about why eating vegetables and fruits that are the colors of the rainbows is a clue for identifying real food.  I brought several rainbow foods to the class for them to sample:  cucumbers, orange bell peppers and some beautiful grapes.  

At the beginning of the lesson, the kids were all focused on the grapes.  As we talked and I showed them my really cool tool for slicing cucumbers, they all wanted to taste the cucumbers.  Then they wanted more cucumbers.  One of the volunteers created artistically arranged plates of vegetables for each table.  As the kids continued munching on their healthy snacks, the noise level continued to rise in the room.  Staff at the after school program popped in to see what the noise was coming from our classroom.  All they saw when they peaked in was children having fun, laughing and eating vegetables.  Can you imagine!?!  They were surprised.  They smiled.  They laughed, too!   

Here are 4 tips for teaching your own kids about real food:
  1. When you go food shopping, encourage your kids to pick out a new vegetable.
  2. Google the vegetable to look at the health benefits. My favorite site for nutrition facts about vegetables and fruits is The World's Healthiest Foods: click here
  3. Teach your kids how to cut up the vegetable (when they are old enough to use a knife).  There is no substitute for the hands-on experience of playing with your food!
  4. Read food labels with your kids and look for ingredients that end in "-ose". That is a sugar.  Choose something with less grams of added sugars per serving. 

In gratitude,
Nancy Heinrich

Founder, Growing Healthy Kids, Inc. 

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

WELLNESS WEDNESDAYS: Happiness and Health

"Happiness is not something ready made.  It comes from your own actions."   -- Dalai Lama XIV

How do you define happiness? 

Do happy people live longer?  Do happy people enjoy better health?  When someone is chronically depressed, how does that affect their health and their happiness?  Is there a relationship between happiness and blood pressure?  Happiness and heart health? Happiness and gut health? 

Recently, a client said to me, “You are always smiling.”  I decided a long time ago that life is so much better when you are happy about what you do every day, when you treat people with kindness, and you work hard to make the world a better place. When I wake in the morning and see the trees gently dancing in my back yard, I smile and my heart sings.  When I see the glow of the fading sun at the end of the day turn the sky into a brilliant shade of soft orange and yellow, I smile and my body relaxes.   For me, happiness is defined by my relationship with nature, my family and friends. What makes YOUR heart sing?

There is an ultimate relationship between happiness and health.  I see it every day.  Working with parents and children around the country who are dealing with diabetes, I hear their stories about what they would like to change about themselves.  I hear about their daily struggles with depression as they learn what to do about out-of-control blood sugars.  Many diseases are the cause, or the result, of depression.  Diabetes is one of them.  Being overweight is another.  

Whenever I talk with an adult at a healthy weight now who was overweight or obese as a child, I hear the pain in their voices when they share how they still suffer from depression because they never stopped thinking of themselves as fat.  There is a sadness that reveals itself when I have a deep conversation with someone who was fat as a child or teenager, even though they might be a very successful corporate CEO now and it was 30 years ago when they were overweight. 

This is why the work of GROWING HEALTHY KIDS, INC. is so important.   We have an opportunity to impact the future happiness of our children by actively learning what we need to know to give them access to the right foods and other tools for great health.

As parents, we have a responsibility to provide our children with good, healthy foods.  One of the keys to happiness starts with being as physically healthy as possible.  Physical health is connected to mental and emotional health.  When we feel good about ourselves, when we have fresh plant-based foods to eat, and we know how to get a good night’s sleep, then we are on the path to happiness.

Please pass the brussels sprouts. To learn more about the wonderful nutritional value of these little gems, click here. 

In gratitude,
Nancy Heinrich

Founder, Growing Healthy Kids, Inc. 

Wednesday, December 2, 2015


"Your sense of humor is one of the most powerful tools you have to make certain that your daily mood and emotional state support good health."  --Paul E. McGhee, Ph.D.

After seniors watched a funny video in a 2014 study, their cortisol levels dropped and they did better on memory tests. "No matter your age, anything that lowers stress will improve memory."  --Majid Fotuhi, MD, author of Boost Your Brain

Last week’s Wellness Wednesdays’ article was about what happened in a controlled situation when the added sugars consumed by 43 obese children were replaced with the same amount of calories from carbohydrates that were not in the form of high fructose corn syrup and other forms of added sugars.  The results were pretty amazing.  The study, conducted by Dr. Robert Lustig, found that ALL of the 43 children showed improvements in their blood pressure, blood cholesterol and blood sugar. 

Considering that we now know that Alzheimer’s starts decades before the first symptom appears, there are millions of reasons – our children – to ensure that all kids have access to healthy foods.  Does food play a role in the development of Alzheimer’s?  Yes.  Given the increasing number of Americans with Alzheimer’s and the devastation and havoc it has on an individual and their family, the obesity epidemic in children is the canary in the coal mine.  Consuming too many calories, especially calories from added sugars with no nutritional value found in products such as sodas and sweet treats made with high fructose corn syrup, leads to obesity which leads to high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and high cholesterol.   Controlling blood sugars and preventing diabetes is critical to the long term health of our brains.  So is watching sodium intake and controlling blood pressure.  Increased blood pressure is a risk factor for strokes, which is a heart attack in the brain. 

Food matters to the health of our brains.  So does getting a good night's sleep, keeping stress in check, exercising, enjoying the company of family and friends, and the joys of a good laugh or two or five every day. 

There is one common denominator in every workshop conducted by Growing Healthy Kids:  the message about the importance of avoiding all foods and drinks containing high fructose corn syrup because of its negative effect on health.  Focusing on making this one change can set our children’s health on an entirely new – and healthier – path.  Given what we know now about foods that are good for brain health, such as olive oil, wild salmon, dark berries, nuts, and green vegetables, let’s all agree to make the change and be role models.  Please put down the high fructose corn syrup and pass the spinach.

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