Rethinking the Bag Lunch

image of a bag lunchThe brown paper bag lunch was the only choice for school lunch when my son was in the elementary grades.

There was no school cafeteria, just a lunch room. He could purchase a container of milk. And, then sit with friends eating, sharing and trading what was in his brown paper bag.

Given the lack of refrigeration at his school, my daily challenge was to pack a lunch that wouldn’t spoil.  There were a few hours between the time he left for school and his lunch period.

Today’s elementary schools have cafeterias, where a child can purchase lunch or, if he or she qualifies, participate in a subsidized lunch program. However this is not the case in many daycare centers and preschools where a child must still carry his or her own lunch.

A recent study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, raised concerns about the safety of carrying and eating a bag lunch even when the lunch is in an insulated bag that contain ice packs or other coolant.

About half of daycare centers in the U.S. require kids to bring lunch from home. The investigators examined lunches of 235 daycare attendees at nine Texas centers. The individual contents of their bag lunches were assessed on three random days between 9:30 and 11 a.m.

Of the 705 lunches, 11.8% were stored in a refrigerator, but teachers often left them sitting out for a couple hours first. The rest were stored at room temperature without much air circulation.

While about 91% of the lunches were sent in insulated plastic bags, the mean temperature of food items reached nearly room temperature (63.7 °F). Just 22 of the 1361 perishable food items (1.6%) were in the “safe” range below 39.2°F.

Ice packs didn’t help much. Only five of the 61 perishable food items with multiple ice packs in the lunch bag stayed the right temperature (8.2%).

Investigators found nearly all lunches packed from home got too warm to prevent food-borne illness despite use of ice packs. Even with the use of multiple ice packs, more than 90% of perishables in the lunches reached unsafe temperatures.

The study points to the need for:

  • Preschool and daycare staff receiving more training in food safety
  • Parents finding better ways to pack lunches safely
  • Manufacturers developing ice packs and lunch bags that do a better job


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Keep Your Children Reading Over the Summer

readingWhat can you do to keep your children reading during summer vacation?

There are so many things to do during the summer other than reading. Yet, every child needs to keep up their reading skills. Family members can motivate children to read by using strategies that integrate reading into summer activities and events. Here are a few:

  • Before going to the beach, a park, visiting a historical site, a sporting event, or other activity make reading about the upcoming activity part of the planning, and then talk about the book and the activity over a snack, afterwards.
  • Check you library’s summer reading programs. Make attending these programs a summer activity, as well as stocking up on books to borrow.
  • Let your children see you reading regularly. Grab a magazine when you are in a waiting room. Bring a book to the beach.  Have a book on your night stand.
  • Talk to them about what you have learned and continue to learn from books.
  • Build reading time into your child’s  day, not as something to do when day is done and kids are too tired to do anything but zone out in front of the TV.
  • Much reading during the school year is required reading; make summer a time for fun reading on subjects of interest to your children

  • Give your children the opportunity to read a variety of materials, not just storybooks,  such as magazines, newsletters, and papers geared to their age and interests.
  • Road trips area great time for children to get in some reading
  • Encourage your children to join or start a  friends book club that can meet every two weeks to discuss a book they all read.

Reading during the summer will give your children a jump start when returning to school, not only with reading but with vocabulary and grammar!

 

 

 

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Home school Preschool Rocks!

With a growing number of parents choosing to home school their child(ren), I thought  a reprint of the following post, Home school Preschool Rocks! by MommieKate on October 25, 2010 might be helpful for some of our readers who are considering homeschooling as an option.

Six weeks ago I officially joined the many who have decided (at least for now) to educate my son at home. Let me just say: IT IS AWESOME!  I admit, I didn’t feel that way at first.  I was excited and then (while doing endless internet research) it hit me.  Hit me hard.  I mean, this is one of the biggest decisions that will affect my little boy FOR LIFE.  I started to panic. Have you seen the ka-zillion choices out there? There are so many different education styles and ten times that in curriculum choices. I became overwhelmed.  Nauseated even. And then…

I found some lovely blogs that helped bring me back to “OK, I can do this” state.  More on them later (plus links). While I am in no way an expert, I did figure out a few things over the summer.  Here is a summary of my Crash Course for Home School Newbies:

  • Start with the legalities. Find out what the laws are in your state.  This will help guide you through your curriculum choices. You may not even want or need a curriculum. My state is one that has few requirements and gives parents great freedom.
  • Consider your own skills and limitations as well as your family’s. Do you follow a tight schedule, a flexible routine, or do you fly by the seat of your pants?  Are you creative?  Do you need the guidance of a curriculum? How much guidance?  What is your budget? I chose mine based on flexibility and budget.
  • What support will you have? Is your spouse on board?  Will he be able to help – to what degree?  Is there a homeschooling group in your area? I joined a local Christian HS group to get ideas & guidance from veteran parents and for the field trip opportunities.
  • Have a firm idea of why you want to pursue this. You will want it in neon flashing lights.  I’m not kidding- it starts with the curriculum choices, the HOURS of prep work, and ends with a lot of negative questions and comments from others. It’s fun, it’s rewarding, but it is HARD WORK.
  • Relax and keep it all in perspective. Nothing is set it stone. You will explore and change styles, methods, and curriculum many times as you grow and your school days go by.  You’ll learn as you go. You may even change your mind all together about home education. Homeschooling is ALL ABOUT FLEXIBILITY and doing what is best for each stage of your family’s life. What I’ve learned so far is Home school Preschool Rocks!
Don’t stress.  Trust God to guide you.  Trust yourself.  Have fun.

I want to give blog hugs to Sue, thehomeschoolchick and to Erica at confessionsofahomeschooler. These ladies gave me confidence, a place to start, and shared a sense of humor in the process. They have great links to other helpful sites. If you are homeschooling you probably already know them.  If you are still in the consideration stage, go check out their sites- you’ll be glad you did. Also, to find out your state’s laws visit http://www.hslda.org/laws/default.asp.  HAPPY HOMESCHOOLING!

 

 


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The Added Benefits of Taking Music Lessons in Childhood

Kids playing music demonstrating the added benefits of taking music lessons in childhood

 Beyond the obvious benefits of learning music, a study looks at the added benefits of taking music lessons in childhood.

The study was published in the  Journal of Neuroscience.  It states that adults who took music lessons as children have a heightened ability to process sounds. They are also better at listening.

Northwestern University researchers looked at 45 adults who had music training in childhood and compared them to those with no musical training during childhood. Those with even a few years of musical training in childhood had enhanced brain responses to complex sounds.

The participants were divided into three groups: those with no musical training, those with one to five years of lessons, and those with six to 11 years. Most in the study had begun music lessons at about age nine.

The study found that those who had music lessons were better at hearing fundamental frequency. This is the lowest frequency in sound and is crucial for speech and music perception. It enables recognition of sounds in complex and noisy hearing settings.

In a university news release, Nina Kraus, a professor of neurobiology, physiology and communication sciences, stated “Musical training as children makes better listeners later in life,” She continued, “Based on what we know about the ways that music helps shape the brain, the study suggests that short-term music lessons may enhance lifelong listening and learning.

Many children take music lessons for a few years, but few continue with formal music instruction beyond middle or high school. We help address a question on every parent’s mind: ‘Will my child benefit if he or she plays music for a short while but then quits training?”

Note: While the research showed an association between musical training and better listening skills, it does not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.

(SOURCE: Northwestern University, news release.

More Information: The American Music Therapy Association: other benefits of music.

 

 

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Dietary Supplements Are Popular, but are They Safe?

supplementsThe NIH offers a look at dietary supplements including vitamins, minerals, botanicals and more. 

When you reach for that bottle of vitamin C or fish oil pills, you might wonder how well they’ll work and if they’re safe. The first thing to ask yourself is whether you need them in the first place.

More than half of all Americans take one or more dietary supplements daily or on occasion. Supplements are available without a prescription and usually come in pill, powder or liquid form. Common supplements include vitamins, minerals and herbal products, also known as botanicals.

People take these supplements to make sure they get enough essential nutrients and to maintain or improve their health. But not everyone needs to take supplements.

“It’s possible to get all of the nutrients you need by eating a variety of healthy foods, so you don’t have to take one,” says Carol Haggans, a registered dietitian and consultant to NIH. “But dietary supplements can be useful for filling in gaps in your diet.”

Some supplements may have side effects, especially if taken before surgery or with other medicines. Supplements can also cause problems if you have certain health conditions. And the effects of many supplements haven’t been tested in children, pregnant women and other groups. So talk with your health care provider if you’re thinking about taking dietary supplements.

“You should discuss with your doctor what supplements you’re taking so your care can be integrated and managed,” advises Dr. Craig Hopp, an expert in botanicals research at NIH.

Dietary supplements are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as foods, not as drugs. The label may claim certain health benefits. But unlike medicines, supplements can’t claim to cure, treat or prevent a disease.

“There’s little evidence that any supplement can reverse the course of any chronic disease,” says Hopp. “Don’t take supplements with that expectation.”

Evidence does suggest that some supplements can enhance health in different ways. The most popular nutrient supplements are multivitamins, calcium and vitamins B, C and D. Calcium supports bone health, and vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium. Vitamins C and E are antioxidants—molecules that prevent cell damage and help to maintain health.

Women need iron during pregnancy, and breastfed infants need vitamin D. Folic acid—400 micrograms daily, whether from supplements or fortified food—it is important for all women of childbearing age.

Vitamin B12 keeps nerve and blood cells healthy. “Vitamin B12 mostly comes from meat, fish and dairy foods, so vegans may consider taking a supplement to be sure to get enough of it,” Haggans says.

Research suggests that fish oil can promote heart health. Of the supplements not derived from vitamins and minerals, Hopp says, “Fish oil probably has the most scientific evidence to support its use.”

The health effects of some other common supplements need more study. These include glucosamine (for joint pain) and herbal supplements such as echinacea (immune health) and flaxseed oil (digestion).

Many supplements have mild effects with few risks. But use caution. Vitamin K, for example, will reduce the ability of blood thinners to work. Ginkgo can increase blood thinning. The herb St. John’s wort is sometimes used to ease depression, anxiety or nerve pain, but it can also speed the breakdown of many drugs—such as antidepressants and birth control pills—and make them less effective.

Just because a supplement is promoted as “natural” doesn’t necessarily mean it’s safe. The herbs comfrey and kava, for example, can seriously damage the liver.

“It’s important to know the chemical makeup, how it’s prepared, and how it works in the body—especially for herbs, but also for nutrients,” says Haggans. “Talk to a health care provider for advice on whether you need  supplements in the first place, the dosages and possible interactions with medicine you’re already taking.”

For vitamins and minerals, check the % Daily Value (DV) for each nutrient to make sure you’re not getting too much. “It’s important to consider the DV and upper limit,” says Haggans. Too much of certain supplements can be harmful.

Scientists still have much to learn even about common vitamins. One recent study found unexpected evidence about vitamin E. Earlier research suggested that men who took vitamin E supplements might have a lower risk of developing prostate cancer. “But much to our surprise, a large NIH-funded clinical trial of more than 29,000 men found that taking supplements of vitamin E actually raised—not reduced—their risk of this disease,” says Dr. Paul M. Coates, director of NIH’s Office of Dietary Supplements. That’s why it’s important to conduct clinical studies of supplements to confirm their effects.

Because supplements are regulated as foods, not as drugs, the FDA doesn’t evaluate the quality of supplements or assess their effects on the body. If a product is found to be unsafe after it reaches the market, the FDA can restrict or ban its use.

Manufacturers are also responsible for the product’s purity, and they must accurately list ingredients and their amounts. But there’s no regulatory agency that makes sure that labels match what’s in the bottles. You risk getting less, or sometimes more, of the listed ingredients. All of the ingredients may not even be listed.

A few independent organizations conduct quality tests of supplements and offer seals of approval. This doesn’t guarantee the product works or is safe; it just assures the product was properly made and contains the listed ingredients.

“Products sold nationally in the stores and online where you usually shop should be fine,” Coates says. “According to the FDA, supplement products most likely to be contaminated with pharmaceutical ingredients are herbal remedies promoted for weight loss and for sexual or athletic performance enhancement.”

To make it easy to find reliable information, NIH has fact sheets on dietary supplements at http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/list-all/.  NIH also recently launched an online Dietary Supplement Label Database at www.dsld.nlm.nih.gov. This free database lets you look up the ingredients of thousands of dietary supplements. It includes information from the label on dosage, health claims and cautions.

“Deciding whether to take dietary supplements and which ones to take is a serious matter,” says Coates. “Learn about their potential benefits and any risks they may pose first. Speak to your health care providers about products of interest and decide together what might be best for you to take, if anything, for your overall health.

Safe Use of Supplements

  • Tell all of your health care providers about any dietary supplements you use. Some supplements can interact with medications or affect medical conditions.
  • Read the label instructions for use.
  • “Natural” doesn’t always mean safe. For up-to-date news about the safety of particular supplements, check http://nccam.nih.gov/news/alerts.
  • Too much might be harmful. Don’t take more than the recommended dose.

Source: NIH News in Health

NIH Office of Communications
and Public Liaison
Building 31, Room 5B64
Bethesda, MD 20892-2094
nihnewsinhealth@od.nih.gov
Tel: 301-402-7337

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