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Farm to School Grant Program Funds Available

farm to schoolWe’ve seen a great interest from customers in Farm to School programs. They are a great way to support local economy and nutrition and get kids interested in nutrition and healthy choices. The USDA recently announced a grant program to support Farm to School programs

On February 19, 2014, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the availability of federal funds for the Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 Farm to School Grant Program. See the press release here.

FY 2015 Request for Applications (pdf)

FY 2015 Request for Applications (doc)

Program Description

The purpose of the USDA Farm to School Grant Program is to assist eligible entities in implementing farm to school programs that improve access to local foods in eligible schools. On an annual basis, USDA awards up to $5 million in competitive grants for training, supporting operations, planning, purchasing equipment, developing school gardens, developing partnerships, and implementing farm to school programs. New in FY 2015, USDA will make approximately an additional $500,000 available to eligible entities to support conferences, trainings, and events focused on farm to school program development. In this funding round, USDA is soliciting applications for four types of grants:

  1. Planning grants are intended for school districts or schools just starting to incorporate farm to school program elements into their operations.
  1. Implementation grants are intended for school districts or schools to help scale or further develop existing farm to school initiatives.
  1. Support Service grants are intended for state and local agencies, Indian tribal organizations, agricultural producers or groups of agricultural producers, and non-profit entities working with school districts or schools to further develop existing farm to school initiatives and to provide broad reaching support services to farm to school initiatives.

Proposals for planning, implementation, and support service grants are due at 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time, April 30, 2014. A 25% cash or in-kind match of the total project cost is required.

  1. Conference/Event grants are open to all interested parties. They are intended to support conferences, events and trainings that strengthen farm to school supply chains, or conferences, events and trainings that provide technical assistance in the area of local procurement, food safety, culinary education and integration of agriculture‐based curriculum.

Letters of Intent for Conference/Event grants are due at 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time, April 2, 2014.

Important Dates and Deadlines

  • February 19, 2014: Request for Applications Released
  • April 2, 2014: Conference/Event Letters of Intent due via email (11:59 p.m. Eastern Time)
  • April 30, 2014: Planning, Implementation, and Support service proposals due via (11:59 p.m. Eastern Time)
  • November 2014: Awards Announced and Funds Available (pending the availability of federal funds)

Let’s Move into the kitchen and improve family cooking skills

Earlier this month, First Lady Michelle Obama spoke to the Partnership for a Healthier America’s “Building a Healthier Future” Summit. She announced that Let’s Move! will focus on helping families start cooking again…

“And cooking isn’t just good for our budgets or our physical health, it’s also good for our kids’ emotional health. Research shows that when families share meals together, kids actually perform better in school, and they get along better with their peers. And let’s not forget that cooking together can actually be fun.”

We think this is exciting news and couldn’t agree more. Encouraging families to be more active was a first step in improving health and wellbeing – encouraging them to cook nutritious meals together is the next logical step and Learning ZoneXpress has a range of tools that will help get them started. Many of these tools are designed for a classroom setting – from a FACS classroom to community education. They are designed to help families make smart decisions together – so that they make the most of the their time, budget and calories. We’ll try to preview more of these products in the upcoming weeks, but wanted to share a quick list today…

Culinary and cooking videos:

3521 Kitchen Fundamentals DVD

300034 Cooking Fundamentals DVD

300024 Amazing Eggs DVD

300016 Fresh Ingredients: Healthy International Food Tips DVD

3502-DVD Herbs & Spices DVD

300030 Small Kitchen Appliances DVD

300015 Cooking and Children… A Learning Activity DVD

Culinary and baking lessons:

Meal planning, grocery shopping, and eating on a budget:

The FDA is investigating changes to Food Labels

Read Food Labels PamphletThe Food and Drug Administration is looking into changing how they label foods. One of the biggest changes is more realistic measurements – for example, they now give nutritional information on 20 ounces of soda on a 20-ounce bottle, rather than listing information for 8 ounce servings. After all, if you have purchased a 20 ounce bottle, you probably plan to drink 20 ounces. It makes perfect sense. Also there are just some small changes that make the labels easier to read – bigger letters and better organization.

CNN details some of the nutritional changes…

The proposed labels would remove the “calories from fat” line you currently see on labels, focusing instead on total calories found in each serving. Nutritionists have come to understand that the type of fat you’re eating matters more than the calories from fat. As such, the breakdown of total fat vs. saturated and trans fat would remain.

Put down that doughnut: FDA takes on trans fat

The proposed labels would also note how much added sugar is in a product. Right now, it’s hard to know what is naturally occurring sugar and what has been added by the manufacturer.

“Now when Americans pull a product from the supermarket shelf, they will have a clear idea of how much sugar that product really contains,” American Heart Association CEO Nancy Brown said.

The changes aren’t a sure thing yet – it’s still in the works, but we wanted to send a heads up…

With this announcement, the FDA has opened a 90-day comment period, during which experts and members of the public can provide input on the proposed rules. The FDA will then issue a final rule. Officials said they hope to complete the process this year.

Manufacturing companies will then have two years to implement the changes.

Nutrition labels have remained pretty much the same for decades. It wasn’t until the late 1960s that most food labels listed any nutrition information.

We’re keeping an eye on the changes and are already working on researching updates to our range of products on reading food labels. We’ll be sure to post any updates we learn about.

MyPlate Lunchtime Challenge & Kids’ “State Dinner” is back for 2014!

What a fun opportunity – please pass it on to any young chefs you know. Or maybe this could be used for some creative FACS homework assignments…

Together, with the help of their parents, children ages 8 – 12 years old are invited to submit an original lunch recipe inspired by MyPlate. They could win the chance to attend the Kids’ “State Dinner” hosted by First Lady Michelle Obama at the White House in Washington, D.C.

Entries must be received by April 5, 2014 for a chance to win!

To learn more about this amazing opportunity and to enter the Healthy Lunchtime Challenge, visit:

National Eating Disorders Awareness Week

recovering-anorexia-nervosa-and-bulimia-nervosa-dvdNational Eating Disorders Awareness Week is February 24 to March 2. This year’s NEDAwareness Week theme is “Everybody Knows Somebody” because awareness of eating disorders is certainly spreading.

We learned more about eating disorders working with Emmy award-winning documentary filmmaker and host Larkin McPhee on her follow up to Dying to Be Thin - Recovering: Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa. The DVD uncovers the challenges of coping with an eating disorder. It features experts in the field outlining symptoms, science behind the diseases and statistics. While real people recovering from the diseases talk frankly about their challenges coping with Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa. Their stories are eye opening.

Check it out – and consider how you can spread the word. Or on Wednesday afternoon, from 12pm-1pm PT, join a live conversation on the media’s obsession with critiquing celebrity bodies and its impact on youth, with the National Eating Disorder Association’s Proud2BMe campaign. Use #StopSnark to participate in the conversation and ask questions of our panel!

Nutrition Education Makes SNAP Better

Earlier this week we were promoting greater investment in SNAP-Ed. So we were delighted to find new research that backs up our contention that money spent on education for SNAP is an investment with an attractive return on investment. According to Tri-State Neighbor

The study, SNAP Education and Evaluation Study (Wave II), evaluated the impact of several nutrition education programs on fruit and vegetable consumption among low-income elementary school children and seniors. The study found that children participating in certain nutrition education programs increased their daily fruit and vegetable consumption at home by a quarter- to a third-cup, and were more likely to choose low-fat or fat-free milk. Participating seniors consumed about a half-cup more fruits and vegetables daily.

tri-fold MyPlate On a Budget Tri-fold BrochuresWe were even more excited to learn that nutrition education materials made a difference…

Two of the programs studied for this report provided nutrition education lessons in schools, take-home materials and activities to low-income elementary-aged children. Researchers found that the design, content, and messages of the programs were well-received by school staff. The most successful intervention utilized a variety of methods to educate students while engaging parents and caregivers through take-home materials that helped to address concerns about providing healthy foods on a tight budget.

The third program provided direct nutrition education, take-home materials and other materials to low-income adults aged 60 to 80 at senior sites and other gathering centers.

Researchers found that participants that completed take-home activities adopted healthier behaviors and were more engaged in discussions about overcoming the challenges and barriers to purchasing, preparing and consuming fruits and vegetables.

Learning ZoneXpress has a range of nutrition education materials to support SNAP-Ed, such as…

MyPlate On a Budget Tri-fold Brochures

This educational nutrition brochure helps identify ways to purchase and prepare healthful, nutritious foods without breaking the bank.

The MyPlate nutrition pamphlet explains a variety of tips to purchasing nutrient-rich foods, affordable MyPlate meal ideas, strategies for cooking at home, and more.

A Healthy Habit™ are a series of tri-fold brochures that are easy-to-read nutrition education resources for the doctor’s office, healthcare clinic, classroom, or workplace

SNAP-Ed ROI is 10 to 1: Time to promote nutrition education!

get the facsIf you could make an investment that yielded a 10 to 1 return on investment, wouldn’t you do it? Consider also that investment makes people smarter, healthier and improves the local quality of life.

It seems like a no-brainer yet, the University of Minnesota recently announced major cuts to their SNAP-Ed (Supplemental Nutrition Education Program); they will lose 67 of their 152 employees.

The University in cutting their program because of drastic reductions to federal funding. The Minneapolis Star Tribune recently reported…

After the cutbacks, 45 educators will be left to cover the state’s 87 counties.

“What it means is that we have [fewer] people to serve the needs of the state,” Durgan said. “That will be our challenge.”

The staff works with some 63,000 low-income people, at programs throughout the state, to teach them how to stretch their food budgets and make healthful choices, Durgan said. She noted that research shows the program saves $10 in long-term health care costs for every $1 spent on nutrition education.

In January, however, the federal government cut the SNAP grants nationwide by 28 percent, which cut the U program’s budget from $8.7 million to $6.3 million, Durgan said. University officials tried to make up for the shortfall by reducing expenses, including supplies, travel, meetings and administration, she said. Then, in October, the federal grant was cut by another 10 percent.

It seems like a very short sighted decision. One that will leave low-income families in the dark about health and nutrition. Eventually costing tax payers in health care fees, but more importantly leaving low-income children at a greater disadvantage and robbing the community of full, optimal participation of students. Because as we know in the field, a healthy body prepares a mind ready to learn.

Family and Consumer Science (FACS) in the schools might be a way to reach families with older kids but without the introduction to nutrition, low-income students will be at a disadvantage.

Learning ZoneXpress created materials to promote FACS – such as Get the FACS: Promoting FACS Guide. We encourage folks in the field to check it out and to consider utilizing the techniques discussed to promote FACS in your own community. Here’s a brief excerpt from the book…

This guides shares the secrets to that success and gives you ideas that have worked in creating a program that one school district cannot live without.

· In order to promote Family & Consumer Sciences you need the support of your faculty and administrators. Get involved in cross-curricular projects when the opportunity arises.
· You need activities that sell your program, activities that the students can’t wait to be a part of.
· You need to make contributions to your community. Many of the ideas here are ones that no other class can pull off. When parents and the community love you, what more can you ask for!
· Last, you need to have the total backing of your students. After all, they do a lot of promoting without even knowing it. When you hear comments like “I waited the whole day for this class” and “why can’t we have this class all year long?” then you know you are doing it right!

We commend the SNAP-Ed communities to look at the recommendations in see how they might be used to help support their programs as well. And as a community that promotes nutrition education – we all must find a way to get practitioners, policymakers and the general public to understand the importance of nutrition education program. With a 10 to 1 rate of return, money spent in nutrition education is not a cost it’s an investment. An investment we can’t afford to pass up!

November is National Diabetes Awareness Month, Spotlighting the Disease That Affects Millions of Children and Adults

diabetes myplate posterNational Diabetes Awareness month is held every November to promote a greater understanding and awareness of diabetes as well as the many  consequences surrounding this challenging disease.

According to the American Diabetes Association, nearly 26 million Americans – both children and adults ­– have diabetes.  Diabetes occurs when blood glucose (blood sugar) levels are above normal, a result of the body’s ability to either produce or use insulin.  If not diagnosed, managed and controlled effectively, diabetes can lead to serious health issues, including heart disease, stroke, blindness, kidney disease and nerve damage.

It is also estimated 79 million more people have prediabetes, a condition which places them at an increased risk for type 2 diabetes, which is the most common form of the disease.  The cost of treating diagnosed diabetes totals at least $245 billion annually.

“Education and making healthy lifestyle choices are the most powerful tools we have to fight against diabetes,” said Learning ZoneXpress (LZX) Founder Melanie Nelson. “Information leads to knowledge and that turns into proactive choices.  The more proactive our citizens are, the more success we will see in reducing diabetes.”

For diabetics or those who are at risk for the disease, being proactive means maintaining a healthy weight, engaging in regular exercise, consuming a diabetes-friendly diet, and controlling blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

To encourage these appropriate lifestyle decisions, LZX offers numerous engaging learning products that address diabetes.

The newest education LZX diabetes learning tools are four diabetes-friendly MyPlate products, including a tri-fold brochure, two-sided handout, Spanish-version handout and poster.  All of these resources feature colorful graphics and promote smart food choices for those who are either at risk or those who have already received a diabetes diagnosis.

The content in all LZX diabetes materials feature an adaption of the new USDA food pyramid that promotes diabetes-friendly foods and portions.  Also emphasized in all the diabetes materials is the importance of daily physical activity, the significance of carbohydrates in a diabetic diet and the positive impact of reducing intake of solid fats, added sugars and salt.

November is National Diabetes Month

November is National Diabetes Month and the theme this year is Diabetes is a Family Affair. To get the month started, the National Diabetes Education Program are hosting a Facebook event on November 1. Check it out to learn more about how Diabetes is a challenging disease that affects the entire family in many ways.

Learning ZoneXpress also has a range of nutrition education materials to help introduce and inform on diabetes through the lens of the USDA MyPlate icon. They are perfect for a classroom or waiting room setting – anyplace where educators and health care professionals have an opportunity to teach families about health care.

Diabetes MyPlate Handoutsdiabetes myplate handouts

Encourage good food choices with diabetes in mind with the Diabetes MyPlate Handout Tablet. This colorful nutrition education handout features an adaptation of the USDA food pyramid replacement, MyPlate, to show foods divided in a diabetes-friendly guide. Foods are categorized by adapted food groups: fruits, non-starchy vegetables, protein, dairy, and starchy vegetables, grains, and legumes.

The Diabetes MyPlate Handout addresses the significance of carbohydrates in a diabetic diet, the importance of daily physical activity and reducing the amount of solid fats, added sugars, and salt in your diet, the difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes, and more.
8 1/2″ x 11″, 50 sheets, 2-sided - Price: $9.95 

Diabetes MyPlate Posterdiabetes myplate poster

Choose healthy foods with diabetes in mind with the Diabetes MyPlate Poster. This poster features an adaptation of the USDA food pyramid replacement, MyPlate, to show foods divided in a diabetes-friendly guide. Foods are categorized by adapted food groups: fruits, non-starchy vegetables, protein, dairy, and starchy vegetables, grains, and legumes. The Diabetes MyPlate poster addresses the significance of carbohydrates in a diabetic diet, as well as the importance of daily physical activity and reducing the amount of solid fats, added sugars, and salt in your diet.
18″ x 24″ Laminated - Price: $14.95 

Diabetes MyPlate Tri-fold Brochure

diabetes myplate tri-fold brochure

Promote good food choices with diabetes in mind with the Diabetes MyPlate Tri-Fold Brochure. This educational nutrition brochure features an adaptation of the USDA food pyramid replacement, MyPlate, to show foods divided into a diabetes-friendly guide. Foods are categorized by adapted food groups, including: fruits, non-starchy vegetables, protein, dairy, and starchy vegetables, grains, and legumes. A Healthy Habit™ is a series of easy-to-read nutrition education brochures for the doctor’s office, healthcare clinic, classroom, or workplace.
50 copies, 8 1/2″ x 11″, tri-fold - Price: $16.95 

Trick or Treat – Healthy Alternatives to Halloween Candy

Halloween is fast approaching, a time full of festive costumes, spooky decorations, pumpkin carving, and loads and loads of sugary candy. Although there is nothing wrong with an occasional sweet treat, when our kids come home with pillowcases full, we have to wonder…are there any alternatives to bags of Halloween candy?

Of course there are! Here are five suggestions for nutritious and safe treats that don’t trick the body into unhealthy habits:

Stickers: Kids love stickers for their books, craft projects, or to add to their costumes. You can even hand out healthy eating stickers from Learning ZoneXpress. Best of all, stickers don’t have calories, sugar, or corn syrup!

Party Prizes: It’s not too hard to find spider rings, ghost erasers, and other Halloween-themed prizes. Other suggestions from our Facebook fans include glow sticks, silly putty, yo-yos, and even tiny tubs of Play Doh. Lots of fun for not a lot of money! Colorful bookmarks or temporary tattoos are fun options too.

Healthy Snacks:

  • Sugar free gum
  • Granola bars
  • Small bags of crackers or dried fruit
  • Mini bags of popcorn
  • Pumpkin-shaped pretzels
  • Trail Mix
  • Nuts
  • String Cheese
  • Fruit snacks
  • Mandarin orange cups with jack-O’-lantern face drawn on top in permanent marker

Safety-conscious parents appreciate something packaged, so fresh fruit, alas, is not such a great idea.

Kid’s Crafts: You can find all kinds of Halloween craft projects online or DIY craft kits can be found at local department of dollar stores. We also just learned of Wikki Stix from a Facebook fan!

Money: Think about giving out nickels, dimes or quarters. The best part? The kids can spend – rather than eat – the leftovers! (And at 20 cents per bite-size bar, it’s about the same price as candy.)

There you have it! Five healthy alternatives to Halloween treats! If you have any other ideas, please leave a comment in the space below or tell us about it on the Learning ZoneXpress Facebook page!

Have a safe, happy, and healthy Halloween everyone!