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Think Healthy Thursday: Veggiecation

veggiecationEveryone needs a good advocate! Vegetables seem to have a great advocate in Veggication – a website and program that strives to…

promote and educate communities on the health benefits of vegetables and how to prepare them in simple, unique, affordable, and most importantly, delicious ways.

We ran across it recently and were very impressed. It started with one person – certified nutritionist and school food specialist – with a drive to help kids learn about nutrition. The program includes a range of services such as presentations, curricular materials and app!

Our favorite part of the website is the recipe section. Who can turn down a Shamrock Smoothie as a way to fit a little extra kale and bananas into your diet.

Think Healthy Thursday: Want to reduce heart attacks? Think Mediterranean

mediterranean posterWe have some unusual and pretty positive news to share from a recent report highlighted in The New York Times

About 30 percent of heart attacks, strokes and deaths from heart disease can be prevented in people at high risk if they switch to a Mediterranean diet rich in olive oil, nuts, beans, fish, fruits and vegetables, and even drink wine with meals, a large and rigorous new study has found.

It’s a potential game changer for folk in high risk categories. The results were recently published in The New England Journal of Medicine of a study that tracked 7,447 people in Spain who were overweight, were smokers, or had diabetes or other risk factors for heart disease to follow the Mediterranean diet or a low-fat one…

One group assigned to a Mediterranean diet was given extra-virgin olive oil each week and was instructed to use at least 4 four tablespoons a day. The other group got a combination of walnuts, almonds and hazelnuts and was instructed to eat about an ounce of the mix each day. An ounce of walnuts, for example, is about a quarter cup — a generous handful. The mainstays of the diet consisted of at least three servings a day of fruits and at least two servings of vegetables. Participants were to eat fish at least three times a week and legumes, which include beans, peas and lentils, at least three times a week. They were to eat white meat instead of red, and, for those accustomed to drinking, to have at least seven glasses of wine a week with meals.

They were encouraged to avoid commercially made cookies, cakes and pastries and to limit their consumption of dairy products and processed meats.

The scientists were measuring basic results: heart attacks and strokes and death. Again the New York Times reports…

The study ended early, after almost five years, because the results were so clear it was considered unethical to continue.

At Learning ZoneXpress, we’re pleased to report that we’ve been fans of the Mediterranean diet for a while now. In fact we have a colorful poster that promotes and explains the Mediterranean Diet. It’s a great addition to a lunchroom, classroom, staff room – even a Mediterranean Restaurant!

Think Healthy Thursday: Breakfast Week Party

Before work this morning, the Learning ZoneXpress team gathered for a breakfast potluck in honor of Breakfast Week. Complete with baked oatmeal, egg bake, fresh fruit and more, our breakfast energized and prepared us for a full and fun work day! How are you celebrating this week? Send photos of your celebration to, and we’ll share them on our blog and send you a gift!

If you’re looking for celebration ideas, check out our last blog post “Celebrate Breakfast Week with Free Activities from FreeMyPlate” for free downloadable breakfast activities to share with your children, students, clients or friends!

National School Breakfast Week with Learning ZoneXpress

Supporting Worksite Wellness – HealthSource Solutions

Wellness is at the center of living a quality and productive life. By spending time with others who share in this belief and support healthy behaviors, wellness can become a natural way of life for everyone!

People spend a significant amount of time at the workplace and companies who create a culture around wellness see employees who are healthier, happier and more productive. An environment that supports healthy behaviors creates healthy people. A strategic wellness plan will improve employee wellness and companies can play a significant role in helping employees’ live healthy lives!

The HealthSource Solutions team is dedicated to helping companies create a culture of wellness. They offer health awareness programs and services and help companies support employees in achieving a healthy lifestyle. HealthSource Solutions understands the value of employee wellness. The solutions they offer help impact company healthcare costs. By reducing health risk factors, a reduction in costs tends to follow.

The HealthSource Solutions team practices what they preach. In October of 2012, they piloted their newest behavior change campaign, Stand Up For Health. The goal of the program is to decrease sitting time and increase standing time. The program really changed the way they work! Some invested in an adjustable device for their computers, allowing them to elevate or lower their work station throughout the day, while most just rustled up some cardboard boxes to plunk monitor, keyboard and mouse on, creating a make-shift standing work station. The results: more energy, better concentration and an improved feeling of well being overall. Even when the program ended, everyone continued the new standing habits!

Check out the HealthSource Solutions website to see what services and programs are best suited for your work environment.

Think Healthy Thursday: Seasonal Affective Disorder and Vitamin D

super foodsWe are celebrating the fact that the days are stretching – but in Minnesota nights still seem long and cold. Many of us are feeling the drag ofso much darkness – some more than others. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) can take its toll at this time of year. According to Wikipedia, SAD…

is a mood disorder in which people who have normal mental health throughout most of the year experience depressive symptoms in the winter or summer, spring or autumn year after year. In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), SAD is not a unique mood disorder, but is “a specifier of major depression”

Wikipedia also details symptoms…

Symptoms of SAD may consist of difficulty waking up in the morning, morning sickness, tendency to oversleep and over eat, especially a craving for carbohydrates, which leads to weight gain. Other symptoms include a lack of energy, difficulty concentrating on or completing tasks, and withdrawal from friends, family, and social activities and decreased sex drive. All of this leads to depression, pessimistic feelings of hopelessness, and lack of pleasure which characterize a person suffering from this disorder.People who experience spring and summer depression show symptoms of classic depression including insomnia, anxiety, irritability, decreased appetite, weight loss, social withdrawal, decreased sex drive  and suicide.

I think many of us feel some of those symptoms, whether we feel we have SAD or not. It turns out there’s a nutritional answer to help ward against and alleviate SAD – Vitamin D. A study out of The Union Memorial Hospital in Baltimore compared the results of vitamin D and light therapy and found that vitamin D was better at warding off depression.

According to WebMD (via the Huffington Post) there are only a handful of foods that contain the nutrient naturally, which is part of the reason why only about 20 percent of our vitamin D comes from our diet. And apparently most of the vitamin D that we do get from the foods we eat comes from fortified foods, according to the Office of Dietary Supplements, like orange juice, milk and cereal. But there are some natural food that contain Vitamin D:

  • Salmon
  • Canned Tuna
  • Sardines
  • Mushrooms
  • Beef liver
  • Cheese
  • Egg Yolks

So next time you’re feeling blue, it might help to find a little cheese or cook up some salmon.

Think Healthy Thursday: Birke Baehr TED Talk: What’s wrong with our food system

If you have an extra 5 minutes and 14 seconds, I’d highly recommend watching this TED Talk. 11-year-old Birke Baehr presents “What’s wrong with our food system” encouraging viewers to think local. Through research, this passionate young boy “discovered the dark side of the industrialized food system.” He then asked himself how he could change it. I think we can all learn something from this young aspiring organic farmer. Take a look!

In the words of Birke Baehr, “Think local. Choose organic. Know your farmer and know your food.”

Think Healthy Thursday: Food Shelf Donations

Since the Summer of 2011 we have been promoting a balanced MyPlate diet for our families, student and clients. We want to remind folks to think healthy when they are making a food shelf donations too. We’ve heard stories of food shelves getting large donations of outdated or damaged food. Do everyone a favor and throw those out! Here are some ideas of what the food shelves need and want:

  • Choose low-sodium options for beans, broth, soup, and vegetables.
  • Choose low-fat or whole grain options for cereal, crackers, and pasta.
  • Fresh garden produce is often welcome. (Just call in advance to make sure.)
  • Single serving foods like fruit cups and 100% fruit juice boxes are easy and safe to pack for school lunches.
  • Consider donating money. In Minnesota we heard about a food shelf that got a 40-pound box of meat for $4.80 –one dollar can buy seven pounds of healthy food from the Food Bank of CNY in New York.

From Austin, Texas we got a list of the most-requested items:

  • Canned meats like tuna, stew and chili (pop-tops preferred)
  • Canned vegetables
  • Pasta & pasta sauce
  • Beans
  • Healthy cereals
  • Peanut butter

It’s a great time of year to give – just make sure you’re giving a gift that’s healthy and wanted!

Think Healthy Thursday: Wilson Elementary in Owatonna Receives School Health Connection Award

We, at Learning ZoneXpress, are proud to announce that one of our local elementary schools has recently won a $10,000 School Health Connection award to promote healthy activities.  Wilson Elementary in Owatonna, MN is one of just 10 schools to receive this significant award.  The award will allow Wilson Elementary School to have direct access to caregivers from our local Allina Health Clinic.  They will also receive online learning tools, teacher training and a health fair for the entire school.  In addition, the funds will allow the school to purchase needed equipment and supplies to encourage building healthy lifestyles.

Wilson Elementary is serving as a community leader in encouraging the development of life-long healthy habits.  The school has an on-site garden that allows students to participate in planting, caring for, harvesting and tasting fresh vegetables.  Third graders at the school also have the opportunity to come early each morning to school for an exercise program led by one of the P.E. teachers.  Currently, about 25-30 students come regularly.  Teachers at Wilson are also proactive about including physical activity in the classroom by including short movement activities as transitions or as part of the learning experience (example: jumping jacks while counting by 5s).

5 Minute Physical Activities Book from Learning ZoneXpressYou or your school may not be the recipient of a $10,000 grant, but you can take steps right now to encourage children (and yourself) to build healthy habits that will last a lifetime.  Including frequent opportunities for movement in the classroom or office is one way to do this.  Children and adults spend much of their day sitting.  Learning ZoneXpress has a great tool to help you get students’ brains and bodies engaged through brief activities.  Our 5 Minute Physical Activities book is written by P.E. teachers and offers a wide variety of fun activities that will recharge you and your students.

Little by little, one healthy choice at a time, we can help our young people learn to make health a priority.  In the process, we as teachers, parents and community members can work on improving our own health as well.

Think Healthy Thursday: October is National Farm to School Month

According to the National Farm to School Network, there are an estimated 2,571 Farm to School Programs in the United States. These programs are active in all 50 states, and they aim to improve student nutrition by encouraging a connection between local farms and school cafeterias.

Farm to School programs are incredibly diverse and creative. No two seem to be the same. Educators typically take it upon themselves to create, establish, and maintain these programs with the help of their community.

In celebration of National Farm to School month, Learning ZoneXpress offers great resources to promote healthy eating with local foods offered on your serving line. Here are a couple of our favorites, but visit our Farm to School resources page to view all of them!

Farm to School Bulletin Board Kit from Learning ZoneXpressFarm to School Poster: Barnyard FoodscapesFarm to School Static Clings: Froma Farm Near You

Benefits of Farm to School programs from the National Farm to School Network:

  • The choice of healthier options in the cafeteria through Farm to School meals results in consumption of more fruits and vegetables with an average increase of 0.99 to 1.3 servings per day, including at home.
  • Schools report a 3 to 16 percent increase in school meal participation when farm-fresh food is served through Farm to School programs.
  • Farm to School programs open new markets for farmers and help expand their customer base by raising awareness about local food systems.
  • Farm to School programs are also known to increase school meal participation rates.

Do you have a Farm to School Program? If so, we’d love to hear about it. We may even feature it on our Smart School Lunch blog!

If you don’t have a Farm to School Program in place, October is the perfect time to change that. The National Farm to School Network has incredible resources on starting one in your own community. Visit their “How to Start a Program” page to learn more!


Think Healthy Thursday: Pathways to Financial Success

On Thursdays we try to offer some ideas or reasons to help you think about health – and usually we mean nutritional health. Today we ran across a program that helps kids learn about financial health and we thought it was worth sharing…

Pathways to Financial Success strives “to help bring financial education into classrooms across the country in a fun, exciting and interactive way and help children graduate understanding personal finance as well as science, history and math.” Their focus seems to be on working with schools and parents to help students get a cohesive and comprehensive education in financial health. As strong advocates of Family and Consumer Science (FACS) education, we couldn’t agree more. An integral part of the FACS curriculum is learning about budget and finances.

Pathways to Financial Success provides three services: advocacy, curriculum development and grants. We thought grants might be of interest to many of our readers. Grants are awarded to schools looking to implement or wishing to expand upon an existing financial education curriculum.

Here are some of the requirements to apply:

  1. Any public high school in the United States applying for the Pathway to Financial Success Grant must meet the following criteria:
    1. The school has implemented or is looking to implement a financial education curriculum;
    2. A measurement tool is or will be in place to assess participation in and comprehension of the financial education curriculum; and
    3. The school agrees to share overall results of the measurement tool’s pre and post-curriculum testing with Discover upon the program’s completion, to assess what worked and what didn’t.

The website is sponsored by Discover; they are investing up to $10 million in financial education. We recently heard about the program from a grant recipient. We applaud Discover’s investment and we encourage readers to investigate the opportunity for their own classrooms and schools. Good luck!