Wednesday, November 30, 2016

WELLNESS WEDNESDAYS: What Are We Cooking Next?

Learning lessons why organically grown is best
One of our Nutrition Scientists slicing locally  grown tomatoes

"Eat food.  Mostly plants.  Not too much."  
                                                                                                               --Michael Pollan

Cooking with kids is ALWAYS fun!  When parents tell me, “My kids would NEVER eat (fill in the blank), my response is, “Come back in an hour and leave the kids with us in the kitchen.”   My favorite part of this is when the parents come back and say, “I can’t believe those are MY kids eating (fill in the blank)."

Need a great gift idea for kids this holiday season?   Here's my suggestion:  basic cooking skills, locally grown ingredients, and great recipes provide kids with tools they will use for the rest of their lives.   Empower kids to eat good foods and you give them the power to eat well and to be healthy.  It is that simple. 

Combine the healing power of unprocessed whole foods with plenty of daily physical fitness, fresh air, add kindness, smiles, and love, and you have the basic recipe for growing healthy kids. 

Walking at Osceola Organic Farm

Give your kids the gift that keeps on giving - cooking skills.  Here is a story that both warms my heart and saddens me:  many of the adult volunteers in our programs for kids tell me they wish they had been in classes like ours when they were children.  These volunteers are dealing with diseases like diabetes, arthritis, and cancer and have eaten processed foods filled with added sugars, salt and fats most of their lives.   They see the joy of the children in our classes as they learn how to prepare wonderful, fresh ingredients.  They hear the messages in our classes about how eating real food can prevent diseases such as those with which they are dealing now.  

Let’s give our kids the power to be healthy the right way by providing them with access to healthy foods, basic cooking skills, and recipes filled with great flavors, tastes, and nutrition. If we don't give them this freedom, then who will?  

Harvesting organic lettuce with Kevin O'Dare at Osceola Organic Farm

What we are cooking next in our Growing Healthy Kids Nutrition Scientists classes is whatever local farmers are growing.   In Indian River County, Florida, headquarters for the Growing Healthy Kids project, farmers are growing beautiful salad greens, tomatoes, citrus, and winter squash.  We are preparing beautiful salads filled with salad greens and yellow tomatoes from Osceola Organics and sliced oranges from the wonderful family-owned Schacht Groves (  I just picked up some kabocha squash grown at Indiana native Mark Smith’s Aunt Zoraida Farm here in Vero Beach.  These winter squash makes delicious soups.  Here is a link to a fabulous recipe for Kabocha Squash Soup:  click here.   Kabocha squash, like all winter squash, is a rich source of dietary fiber that fills you up, helps regulate your blood sugar, and is also a great source of beta-carotene (found in all orange vegetables). 

Remember this lesson:  FRESH IS BEST!  

In gratitude,
Nancy L. Heinrich, MPH

Founder, Growing Healthy Kids, Inc.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016


"Gratitude can transform ordinary days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joys, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings." 
                                                                                                   --William Arthur Ward 

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What are you giving thanks for?  Gratitude is very powerful and has been proven to contribute to good health. 

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Here are ten things I am thankful for this year:
  1. My wonderful family
  2. Talking with my mother every evening
  3. The doctors and nurses who helped me when I broke my wrist in April
  4. The ability to travel freely throughout the United States
  5. Living in paradise and just minutes away from some of the best beaches in the world!
  6. My August visit to Prairie Creek State Park in northern California and walking in the Redwoods
  7. Best friends
  8. The opportunity to create educational programs for children and parents
  9. Sunrise Vero Beach Rotary Club’s support of Growing Healthy Kids’ Nutrition Scientists Program
  10. All the local farmers who grow delicious, real food for you and me to enjoy

What are YOU grateful for this year?

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Happy Thanksgiving, dear friends!

In gratitude,

Nancy L. Heinrich, MPH
Founder, Growing Healthy Kids, Inc. 

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Wednesday, November 16, 2016


"Being happy never goes out of style."  
                                                                                               --Lilly Pulitzer

November is National Diabetes Month.  Twenty-nine million Americans have diabetes, or about 1 in 11 people.  This is a great opportunity to talk about the foods we should be eating more of, whether we have diabetes or not.   

Diabetes is a disease where blood sugar levels are above normal. It is caused by eating too much sugar and simple carbohyrates like white bread and processed foods containing added sugars. Stress, lack of exercise, and lack of sleep can also cause one’s blood sugar to rise. When the pancreas does not make enough insulin (type 1 diabetes) or the body does not use the insulin it makes (type 2 diabetes), then sugars stay in the blood instead of being released via insulin into cells where it is needed for fuel.  When blood sugar levels remain elevated, one is at risk for complications from diabetes:  loss of vision, amputations, neuropathy in the hands and feet, kidney disease, heart attacks and strokes.

Having diabetes is a delicate dance of balance.  Learning how to enjoy fiber-rich vegetables, legumes, and whole grains is a big part of learning how to balance foods so you can achieve good daily blood sugar readings and great A1C results, if you have diabetes.  A big part of the balance equation to controlling and preventing diabetes involves exercise: walking 30 minutes or more every day is a great goal.  Exercise is the key to insulin working correctly.  

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Living a balanced life is why November is the perfect month for making my favorite fall soups, such as lentil soup* and veggie chili. When I teach classes for adults with diabetes this time of year, I always love to share my favorite pumpkin, butternut, spaghetti, and acorn squash recipes.  These delicious, nutrient-dense foods are full of dietary fiber, beta-carotene, and potassium.  They fill you up and keep you filled up without raising your blood sugar.  And did I say they are absolutely delicious?! 

Let’s talk about squash:  one cup of cubed butternut squash has more than 6 grams of dietary fiber (about 1/4 of what women need daily and about 1/5 of what men need daily) and only 76 calories. These squash are powerhouses filled with antioxidants and are also a great stress antidote.    Below are two of my favorite fall recipes.  Hope you enjoy them and are inspired by them to create your own fall favorites!

GROWING HEALTHY KIDS:  Our Recipe Collection
                            FALL LENTIL SOUP

In a medium saucepan, bring to a boil:
  • ¼ cup lentils (I like to use a combination of several kinds of lentils)
  • 1 cup water

Then cover, turn down to simmer and cook for 15-20 minutes. 

In another medium pan, saute for 5 minutes:
  • ½ cup sweet onion, finely diced
  • 1 carrot, thinly sliced
  • 2 stalks of celery, thinly sliced
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil

Make a hole in the middle of the vegetables, and add:
  • 1 more Tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 Tablespoon fresh turmeric, finely grated (use gloves or else you’ll have orange fingers!) (If you can't find fresh turmeric, use 1 teaspoon dried turmeric.)

Stir for 2-3 minutes until mixed.

  • 3 cups water
  • 1 Tablespoon white miso (available at most health food stores)
  • 1 bay leaf (remove before serving soup)
  • 1 cup cubed butternut squash or pumpkin
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 2” piece of Parmesan rind (remove before serving soup)
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • ½ teaspoon celery seed

Cover and cook on low for ½ hour. 

When the lentils are cooked, puree about ¾ of them (I use a blender stick because it is convenient and easy to clean up).   Add all the lentils, pureed and the remaining ¼ lentils to the soup pot.  Cook for a few more minutes, then serve.  
Add Bragg Liquid Aminos to flavor as needed.  

GROWING HEALTHY KIDS:  Our Recipe Collection

                   BUTTERNUT SQUASH SOUP

Peel, deseed and cut into cubes a medium butternut squash.

Heat a medium pan with about 1 Tablespoon olive oil and add a sweet onion, thinly sliced.  Cook over medium heat until browned and carmelized.

Place squash, onions, 1 large can of Italian plum San Marzo tomatoes, 4-6 cups of vegetable or low sodium chicken stock, and 1 apple, cubed, together with a 2” piece of parmesan rind and a bay leaf into a crock pot.  Cover, turn on low, and let cook for 6 hours. 

Remove bay leaf and parmesan rind.  Blend soup with an immersion blender.  Salt to taste.  Add ½ cup or so of heavy whipping cream. 

Serve with lightly toasted organic pumpkin seeds and sour dough croutons.  This simple soup is loaded with flavor and fiber to keep your blood sugar steady.

Diabetes can be prevented.  Lose a few pounds, exercise every day, eat lots of foods filled with dietary fiber such as lentils and winter squash.  Got it? 

In gratitude,
Nancy L. Heinrich, MPH

Founder, Growing Healthy Kids, Inc.

*Check out my WELLNESS WEDNESDAYS article published on April 6, 2016: "The Year of the Pulses" for more information about lentils.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

WELLNESS WEDNESDAYS: Sugar is the Elephant in the Room

"Sugar in excess is a toxin, unrelated to its calories.  The dose determines the poison.  Like alcohol, a little is fine but a lot is not.  And the food industry has put us way over our limit."    
--Robert Lustig, MD, professor of pediatrics at UCSF and President of the Institute for Responsible Nutrition

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November is National Diabetes Month. 

The fact is the 29 million Americans have diabetes but 1 out of 4 don’t know it.  Millions more have prediabetes.  The real and hidden costs of diabetes, however, are in the billions.  Costs include:  doctor visits, hospitalizations for complications, surgeries related to diabetes complications, medications, lost work, lost wages, disabilities, lack of healthy applicants for positions in our military and national security, plus decreased lifespans.  When kids are overweight and develop type 2 diabetes, a new diabetes epidemic emerges.  Type 2 diabetes has always been a disease of older adults and now it is becoming a disease of young adults and teenagers.  It is time to change the way we eat. 

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One of the primary risk factors for diabetes is being overweight.  As a result of the childhood obesity epidemic, my strong desire to prevent type 2 diabetes in kids is why I started the Growing Healthy Kids project more than 7 years ago.  Kids who eat too many foods and drinks containing added sugars become insulin resistant and develop type 2 diabetes.  Hidden sugars are in all kinds of food and drink products, disguised by colorful marketing and packaging and more than 50 different names to keep you guessing whether it is or isn't a sugar, for those of you who read food labels.  In all aspects of our work, we are passionate about raising awareness with kids and parents about the importance of consuming less added sugar.  Teaching kids how to recognize added sugars in foods and beverages is one of our core messages and it is Growing Healthy Kids' contribution to National Diabetes Month.  Instead of foods high in added sugars, our children should be filling up on foods high in dietary fiber (which does not raise your blood sugars) such as winter squash, broccoli, and cauliflower. 

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Too much sugar is stored as fat in the body.   Just ask Dr. Robert Lustig, pediatric endocrinologist, about what happens to kids’ health when they consume too much added sugar from sodas and processed foods.  Dr. Lustig is my hero for sounding the alarm among medical professionals about preventing kids from becoming overweight.  

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Here are my 2 recommendations for things you can do to increase your awareness of diabetes, for the sake of your family and the present and future health of your children:

  1. If you have diabetes, read the latest tips at or click here.
  2. If you have kids, watch Dr. Lustig talk about sugar; just click here.
Next week I will share a couple of my favorite fall recipes with you.  Have a beautiful, mindful week!

In gratitude,
Nancy L. Heinrich, MPH
Founder, Growing Healthy Kids

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

WELLNESS WEDNESDAYS: On the Road with Growing Healthy Kids

"We all need people who will give us feedback.  That's how we improve."  
                                                                                                --Bill Gates

In front of Northaven Elementary School with my cousin, Lincoln Crum and my wonderful mother, Anna.
Talking with kids around the country is always an opportunity to find out what kids are thinking. Recently, I spoke with 5th graders at Northaven Elementary School in Jeffersonville, Indiana (across the Ohio River from Louisville, Kentucky).  After learning that more than half of the kids in the class knew someone with diabetes, I talked about foods kids eat that have no nutritional value, such as the added sugars in processed foods, sodas, and flavored milk.  It was an amazing conversation with a mini-United Nations classroom of children. 

What took my breath away was the bravery of several children who asked questions about family members with Alzheimer’s and cancer.  The fact that 5th graders are aware of these diseases is hard enough to comprehend; the fact that they feel the weight of these diseases on their families and are brave enough to ask for answers is amazing. 
View of Louisville, KY from the new Walking Bridge (old Railroad bridge) across the Ohio River

The fact is that ALL kids are entitled to be healthy and happy. All children deserve access to good foods.  Good foods can put kids on a path free of diseases such as type 2 diabetes, cancer and Alzheimer’s.  

We know is that diseases such as type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer's and cancer often take years – and sometimes decades – to develop.  These are diseases of older adults, not children.  The Standard American Diet, filled with processed foods full of added sugars, preservatives, food dyes and other artificial ingredients, is not what children should be eating.  The younger kids are when they start on a path towards healthier eating with no added sugars and more whole, plant-based foods, the better their health outcomes will be.

Another view looking east from the walking bridge over the Ohio River.  

What happened at Northaven Elementary School in Jeffersonville, Indiana was a powerful lesson about why all kids deserve access to healthy foods and access to regular physical fitness. 

Thank you to the teachers and principal at Northaven Elementary School.  The children were so polite and attentive.  Thank you to my cousin, Lincoln Crum, for introducing me to the school and to the 5th grade teacher who invited me to share the lessons of Growing Healthy Kids with her students.

We are Growing Healthy Kids, one child at a time.  Because it's what America needs! 

In gratitude,
Nancy L. Heinrich, MPH

Founder, Growing Healthy Kids, Inc.