Learning About Anti-oxidants

We always incorporate a nutrition discussion during snack time, and we are lucky that one of our parents is a registered dietician. Christine Reese, MS, RD, comes to the classroom about once a month and speaks to the students about an aspect of nutrition. Some of the concepts can be quite complicated, so Ms. Reese simplifies the lesson and provides colorful, interactive visuals to help the students retain the information. The children look forward to her talks and to the delicious snacks she brings! Ms. Reese sends home a handout filled with detailed information for the parents.

One of our students moves the skeleton's joints, helping to understand that anti-oxidants help our joints.

One of our students moves the skeleton’s joints, helping to understand that anti-oxidants help our joints.

Our letter of the week was “Oo,” so Ms. Reese discussed anti-“O”xidants. She provided us with valuable information:

Anti-oxidants are substances that help fight free radicals. Free radicals are elements produced in our bodies every day, for a variety of reasons. Normal bodily functions, such as breathing and generating energy; lifestyle choices, like smoking, excessive drinking, and even exercise; and external factors like environmental pollutants, pesticides, and x-rays, all create free radicals. If these free radicals are left alone, they attack healthy cells and cause damage to DNA, blood vessels and other tissues, leading to conditions such as early aging, cardiovascular disease, cataracts, arthritis, loss of cognitive function, and even cancer. This is a process called oxidation, and anti-oxidants protect healthy cells by binding and neutralizing the free radicals. For example, when you slice an apple, oxidation causes the apple slices to turn brown. However, rubbing the slices with lemon juice prevents oxidation from occurring, and hence prevents the browning/damage.

Fortunately for our preschoolers and us, nature provides numerous anti-oxidants:

Vitamin C–Necessary for growth and repair of body tissues; important to collagen formation, which is a protein found in skin, tendons, ligaments, blood vessels; helps regenerate vitamin E. Can be found in strawberries, peaches, kiwi fruit, citrus fruit, bell peppers, broccoli, potatoes

Vitamin E–Stops the formation of free radicals when fat cells are oxidized; prevents blood from clotting within blood vessels. Can be found in nuts, seeds, oils, spinach, wheat germ, peanut butter

Carotenoids (beta-carotene, lycopene, lutein, zeanxanthan)–Protect vision and eye health; maintain skin health. Can be found in tomatoes, sweet potatoes, winter squash (acorn, butternut), carrots, watermelon, guava, mango

Glucosinolates–supports liver in detoxfying cancer-causing chemicals. Can be found in brussels sprouts, broccoli, broccoli sprouts, kale, collards, bok choy

Catechins–Aid in the repair of damaged DNA; inhibit oxidation of LDL-cholesterol. Can be found in tea, dark chocolate, apple, grapes, raspberries, avocados.

Anthocyanins–Modulate cellular pathways and signaling, which may prevent cancerous cells from forming or growing. Can be found in purple or concord grapes, purple onions and cabbage; purple peppers and potatoes; eggplant; blueberries and blackberries.

Ms. Reese talks to the class about anti-oxidants while Ms. Taryn helps with the visual aid.

Ms. Reese talks to the class about anti-oxidants while Ms. Taryn helps with the visual aid.

Something else anti-oxidants have in common is that they are mainly found in plant foods, especially colorful produce, and is why nutrition experts often tell us to feed our kids a rainbow of foods every day. There are no specific daily requirements at this time, perhaps because researchers are still learning about them, but also because there are so many. When it comes to actual food, you cannot eat too many anti-oxidants, however, it is possible in some cases to consume too much in the form of supplements. Therefore, at this time, it is best to get anti-oxidants from food, especially because they appear to work best when they come from food. For example, anti-oxidants and other food constituents work synergistically to protect healthy cells and fight damaging free radicals, whereas supplements taken alone do not have the other food constituents in the just the right amounts to help them out, and can easy overwhelm our cells. In addition, no single anti-oxidant can offer the protection of anti-oxidants working together, and typically more than one anti-oxidant is found in each plant food.

Ultimately, the “more matters” slogan for fruit and vegetables is applicable for a variety of reasons, one being to ensure adequate anti-oxidant consumption for better long-term health, and as parents and educators, we can plant the seed for preschoolers now.

Nutrition Lesson: Vitamin K

NutritionDiscussionEvery day at snack time we talk about the healthy foods we are eating and why they are healthy. Once a month, we are treated to a very special nutrition discussion and snack by one of our parents who is a dietician. Since we are studying the letter “K” this week, we she talked all about Vitamin “K.”


Ms. Christine uses her awesome interactive poster to keep the students’ attention.

Ms. Christine brought an interactive poster as a visual aid, which kept the children guessing about what might come next, holding their attention through a subject that may be considered quite dry by many preschoolers. The students learned first about what foods contain Vitamin K, including broccoli, grapes, super greens, cashews, and olive oil. It was then that Ms. Christine revealed that their delicious smoothies had a secret ingredient that no one could guess…spinach! Super sneaky!

We then learned about what happens when we eat those foods rich in Vitamin K. Vitamin K helps our blood clot to form scabs, helps our body produce new cells, especially for our growing bodies, and, in cooperation with Vitamin D and Calcium (nutrients we learned about in weeks past), it helps our bones stay strong.

After the discussion, Ms. Christine handed out stickers to the children when they remembered what they learned. While reinforcing letter recognition with the letter “K,” the students had a great time learning about Vitamin K.

Healthy Halloween!

At Square Roots Preschool, we strive to educate our students about wellness and making healthy choices. Snacks are organic whenever possible and always healthy, and each snack time is accompanied by a nutrition discussion. But what about Halloween? Did we make an exception?

No way! But we didn’t miss out on the fun, either. We opted against candy and punch and, instead, had some healthy snacks at our class Halloween party.

ImageWhat was on the menu?

• Ghostly Eggs–hard boiled eggs with spooky faces

• Monster Mouths–apples, peanut butter, raw sunflower seeds

• Spooky Spiders–bananas, pretzels, raisins

The children absolutely loved the fun party food, and it helped to fuel them for the rest of their exciting day.

Organic Versus Non-Organic: the Impact on Young Children

About our contributor, Christine Reese, MS, RD: Christine has a Masters in Nutrition and has been a Registered Dietitian for 8 years. Although she is vegan and cooks accordingly, her 3-year-old son eats an omnivorous diet. Her background includes counseling on weight loss, diabetes, and kidney disease in adults. She loves talking about all things nutrition.

 ImageAs a child, I greatly enjoyed grocery shopping with my mom, especially when I used my own little shopping cart and added items to it (many of which my mom put back). I remember that we bought fruit and vegetables, but I do not remember any great availability of organic options. I do not recall many organic choices anywhere in the store. That was in the 80’s; today, organic food options abound, as well as controversy about whether it is necessary to purchase them.

In order to be labeled organic, a food must meet specific criteria set forth by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in the National Organic Program (NOP). Anyone who wants to use the term “organic” in relation to a food or product must be certified organic. The USDA uses certifying agents, such as Oregon Tith Certified Organic, to make sure all organically labeled foods and products meet organic standards. Some of the requirements for food to be labeled organic include: food production practices must improve, or at least maintain, natural resources, including soil and water quality; farmers must create defined buffer zones to prevent cross-contamination with non-organic fertilizer and runoff; crops are rotated for the management of soil fertility and nutrients; and farmers are prohibited from using any fertilizer that contains synthetic substances not listed on the National List of synthetic substances allowed in organic farming.

Due to these standards and regulations, we can be reasonably assured that the organic foods we buy are truly organic. The question remains as to whether any benefit exists in purchasing said organic food. This question is divided into four components:

  1. pesticide exposure

  2. nutrient composition

  3. antibiotic resistance

  4. environmental impact

Research confirms that consuming organic food decreases the level of pesticides in our bodies, but experts do not agree as to whether exposure to these residues poses any harm, or whether decreasing the residues actually improves health. Research does suggest that reducing pesticide exposure is particularly important for subsets of the population, including children, because: childhood is a time for rapid brain and nervous system development, children receive a greater dose of pesticides due to their lower body weights, and their bodies are not as efficient as adults in detoxifying the pesticides. Despite research that shows no adverse effects in rats to chronic low-dose levels of pesticides (note that the studies may not directly relate to humans), on November 26, 2012, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released a policy statement that outlined the deleterious effects to children of pesticide exposure and how to reduce such exposure. According to the policy statement, “Children encounter pesticides daily and have unique susceptibilities to their potential toxicity,” and that “prenatal and early childhood exposure to pesticides is associated with pediatric cancers, decreased cognitive function (defined in post titled “Importance of Early Childhood Nutrition”) and behavioral problems.” Thus, from a pesticide exposure perspective, it is imperative to limit the pesticides our preschoolers are exposed to, and one way to do this is to buy organic food.

Although some studies demonstrate superior nutrient composition in organic foods, including higher levels of vitamin C, vitamin E, and other antioxidants, a recent review of the research by Stanford University states that the nutrients in organic produce are not significantly different than those in conventionally grown produce. Proponents of organic farming claim that studies which showed no difference in nutrient content had flaws not accounted for, including that it takes at least 5 years to improve soil quality, and that it is soil quality which makes a big difference in nutrient composition of produce. In addition, organic farming practices differ markedly from one farm to the next, and this variability may confound results.

Perhaps, then, we do not buy organic produce because we believe it contains more vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, but if our families eat animal foods, then purchasing organic meats appears to help decrease exposure to antibiotic-resistant bacteria. According to the Stanford University research cited above, “consumers of non-organic chicken or pork are 33% more likely to ingest three or more strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria than those who eat organic meat.” It is the overuse of antibiotics in livestock that promotes the proliferation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and these antibiotics are banned in organic production.

Finally, from an environmental impact perspective, it makes sense to buy organic. According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), “synthetic pesticides can kill insect pollinators, harm wildlife and farmworkers, and often end up in the air and water.” I cringe when I am outside with my son and leaf blowers are blowing dust, and whatever has settled into the dust (i.e., pesticides, herbicides), into our breathing space. Conventional farming also contributes to runoff, which is when fertilizer, pesticide, and herbicide compounds end up in streams, rivers, lakes, and oceans. These compounds harm aquatic life and create dead zones in the ocean. In addition, some of them may make their way into our drinking water.

So, which is the winner: organic or conventionally grown food? Definitely organic, because it reduces pesticide exposure, decreases exposure to antibiotic resistance, and protects our environment. Perhaps organic food is not more nutritious than conventional, but at least it isn’t worse. Of course, organic produce tends to be more expensive than conventionally grown food, so a helpful tip is to use EWG’s Shopper’s Guide to show us which fruits and veggies are the most contaminated with pesticides, and to buy those products organic. It also lists the “clean fifteen,” which are the least contaminated produce items and thus can most safely be purchased conventionally grown. Another tip to save money is to purchase organic just for the foods you buy and eat the most. And as with conventional food, buy whatever organic produce is in season and on sale.


  1. Wikipedia Organic Food: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Organic_food

  2. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Marketing Service, National Organic Program: http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/nop

  3. Electronic Code of Federal Regulations, Title 7, Part 205-National Organic Program: http://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/retrieveECFR?gp=&SID=a236ae111e8353876e3561cdaa28b3b8&n=7y3.

  4. Environmental Working Group: Organic Produce Reduces Exposure to Pesticides, Research Confirms: http://www.ewg.org/news/news-releases/2012/09/03/organic-produce-reduces-exposure-pesticides-research-confirms

  5. Smith-Spangler C, et al. Are Organic Foods Safer or Healthier Than Conventional Alternatives: A Systematic Review. Annals of Internal Medicine. 2012 Sept; 157(5): 348-366. http://annals.org/article.aspx?articleid=1355685

  6. London L, et al. Neurobehavioural and neurodevelopmental effects of pesticide exposures. Neurotoxicology. 2012 August; 33(4): 887-896. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3371394/

  7. Pesticide Exposure in Children. Council on Environmental Health. Pediatrics 2012; 130; e1757; originally published online November 26, 2012; DOI: 10.1542/peds.2012-2757. http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/130/6/e1765.full.pdf+html

  8. Holzman, David C. Diet and Nutrition: Next Course in Organic Debate. Environ Health Perspect. 2009 October; 117(10): A439. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2897221/

  9. Swanson, A. What is farm runoff doing to the water? Scientists wade in. NPR The Salt: http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2013/07/09/199095108/Whats-In-The-Water-Searching-Midwest-Streams-For-Crop-Runoff

  10. Biello, D. Oceanic Dead Zones Continue to Spread. Scientific American. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=oceanic-dead-zones-spread

  11. Duhigg, C. Health Ills Abound as Farm Runoff Fouls Wells. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/18/us/18dairy.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

  12. United States Environmental Protection Agency. Protecting Water Quality from Agricultural Runoff. http://www.epa.gov/owow/nps/Ag_Runoff_Fact_Sheet.pdf

  13. Environmental Working Group Shopper’s Guide http://www.ewg.org/foodnews/

Healthy Eating Habits for Preschoolers: What Can I Do?

As parents, we are concerned our preschoolers are eating to ensure proper growth and health, both physical and emotional. Yet, sometimes, maybe more often, we feel powerless over their eating habits. What can we do to help our kids eat for success now, as well as for later development?

The good news is that we do have influence over how our preschoolers eat. The first step is to keep our message about nutrition positive, because positive messages tend to be remembered better in preschool-aged children. A positive message focuses on the benefit of a food, or why the food is important. For example, quinoa has a lot of protein that helps keep our muscles strong for play; or, broccoli keeps our bodies healthy and protects us from getting sick. Messages that focus on why we don’t eat a food, or don’t eat it very often, can also be useful in that they help our preschoolers understand we have good reason for not allowing unhealthful food more often. For example, soda is junk food because it doesn’t help our brains get smart or our bodies grow strong. Clear, clean water does, and we can try sparkling water, which has fizzy bubbles just like soda.

Something else we can do to help our children choose healthy food is to pay attention to, and possibly alter, the atmosphere at meal times. Do we eat as an entire family at least once per day? Research indicates this is beneficial for kids. If we are eating with our children, what is the emotional tone of the meal? Kids form associations with food, and the associations may be positive or negative depending on the atmosphere of the meal. For example, we sit and eat dinner with our families every night, and we do our best to make a balanced meal; unfortunately, there is a lot of stress at the table. Due to the negative atmosphere, our preschoolers may remember the foods served to be associated with undesirable feelings, and hence refuse them. On the other hand, when love, laughter, and respect are at the table, then these feelings may transfer onto the food our children are eating. Also, we should never force our kids to eat a food. We simply offer nutritious selections, and model eating and enjoying it.

Perhaps birthday parties are a reason kids love junk food. After all, they are playing with friends, having fun, and eating pizza, hot dogs, ice cream, chips, and cake. These foods become parts of fond memories for our children who may want them more because of the positive feelings they impart. Our preschoolers do not realize this is happening, of course, but we do and it is up to us to create a relaxed, enjoyable atmosphere during mealtime at home.

Something else we can do to help our kids choose nutritious food is to not give up. 2- to-4-year-olds are notorious for refusing new foods, even if they were once adventurous eaters. However, wait for 2-4 weeks, and try again. Then wait and try again. Research shows it can take anywhere from 8 to 15 (!) exposures to a new or different food before it becomes accepted by a child. Fifteen sure sounds like a lot, but there is no time like the present, and we’ve got their entire childhoods ahead of us. As stated above, we need to make sure our kids actually see us eat and enjoy the food we want them to eat. This simple act helps increase our child’s acceptance of the food.

Research also indicates that children do not innately know how to choose healthy food. It is something they must learn, and us parents must grab this opportunity to allow our preschoolers to develop a taste for what will help them grow and keep them well. Thus, although nutrition lessons at school are an important component of our children choosing healthy foods and beverages, we must also incorporate into our daily meals the strategies outlined in this post. It is this parental involvement that really sets the stage for lifelong healthy dietary habits.

One final thought: most nutrition professionals discourage parents from using food as a “reward.” A reward includes only allowing dessert after our children eat their spinach, or offering a cookie if they cooperate with us. Such a reward system sets the stage in later life for turning to food during stressful situations in order to feel better. This can lead to a negative relationship with food, which includes overeating, obesity, and all the consequent diseases. In addition, some types of food reward systems can actually backfire. For example, telling our children that they can have dessert only after they finish their vegetable makes them dislike the vegetable even more, research shows.

I realize no parent, including me, is perfect, and that life happens; this doesn’t mean we throw in the towel. Yes, it takes effort, and yes, it’s worth it. We do have influence! Just remember these four steps:

  1. keep messages about nutritious food positive

  2. maintain a relaxed atmosphere at mealtimes

  3. keep offering healthy options

  4. eat and enjoy the food, too!



  1. USDA Preschool Nutrition Research, Chapter 3: Nutrition Education for Preschool Children: http://www.csrees.usda.gov/nea/food/pdfs/roundtable_references_preschool.pdf

2.     Why is my child a picky eater? By Mary Mullen, MS, RD and Jo Ellen Shield MED, RD, LD:                                                                                                                   http://www.eatright.org/kids/article.aspx?id=6442467922  

About our contributor, Christine Reese, MS, RD: Christine has a Masters in Nutrition and has been a Registered Dietitian for 8 years. Although she is vegan and cooks accordingly, her 3-year-old son eats an omnivorous diet. Her background includes counseling on weight loss, diabetes, and kidney disease in adults. She loves talking about all things nutrition.

The Importance of Early Childhood Nutrition

About our contributor, Christine Reese, MS, RD: Christine has a Masters in Nutrition and has been a Registered Dietitian for 8 years. Although she is vegan and cooks accordingly, her 3-year-old son eats an omnivorous diet. Her background includes counseling on weight loss, diabetes, and kidney disease in adults. She loves talking about all things nutrition. 

 In the early days of U.S. nutrition goal setting, scientists and experts focused on preventing deficiencies and undernutrition. Unfortunately, in many parts of the world, these remain important problems for children. Here at home, however, we are faced with different nutritional problems; problems that stem from too much junk food, available 24 hours a day, and available incredibly cheap.

More and more the evidence is mounting that what our preschoolers eat has a great impact on their cognitive development, physical growth, immunity, and even emotional well being. Depending on what our children eat, that impact can be positive or negative.

I believe I speak for all of us parents in that we want our children to be successful, now and throughout all their life stages. In order to stack the odds, we need to properly nourish them to provide for optimal cognitive development. Cognitive development encompasses brain growth related to learning, memory, perception, attention, thinking, and decision-making. Brain development happens rapidly during these preschool years, and what we feed our children has a direct influence.

Nutrients important for optimal cognitive development include iron, zinc, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, B-complex, omega-3 fatty acids, whole grain carbohydrates, and protein. What foods contain these nutrients? Foods higher in protein also tend to contain iron and zinc, and these comprise meat, poultry, fish, as well as the non-animal options legumes (peas, lentils, beans, peanuts/peanut butter), nuts, and seeds. Whole grain carbohydrates are good sources of B vitamins, and include whole grain rice, pasta, bread, quinoa, and oats. The one exception to this is vitamin B12, which is only found in animal foods and fortified plant foods. Thus, if your child doesn’t eat animal products regularly, you will want to supplement his/her diet with an age-appropriate B12 vitamin. Vitamins A and C, to a certain extent vitamin E, as well as a host of numerous phytochemicals (chemicals produced by plants that affect health), fiber, and other vitamins and minerals are to be found in fruit and vegetables. Vitamin E is found in nuts, seeds, and many vegetable oils. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in some fish, as well as walnuts, walnut oil, canola oil, soybean foods, ground flax seeds, and chia seeds.

In order for our children’s learning capacities to be at their highest, breakfast is a must, and breakfast is a great way to incorporate protein, whole grains, fruit, and possibly nuts. For example, old-fashioned oatmeal made with milk or fortified soymilk (vanilla flavor is really yummy), topped with chopped nuts and/or dried fruit, and served with 100% juice provides a growing brain with protein, whole grains, nuts, and fruit, along with all the accompanying vitamins and minerals.

As a side note, although cow’s milk contains protein, calcium, and vitamin B12, it is a poor source of iron; if consumed in excess, it can actually inhibit iron absorption. Fortified soymilk, on the other hand, also contains protein, calcium, and vitamin B12; however, it does provide iron (and some omega-3 fatty acids).

Perhaps some of our children are not adventurous eaters. Perhaps they reject many of the foods that are best for cognitive development. In my next post, I’ll discuss ways we can help our preschoolers eat nutritious, brain and body boosting foods.


(1)Nyaradi, A., et al. The role of nutrition in children’s neurocognitive development, from pregnancy through childhood. Front Hum Neurosci. 2013; 7: 97. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3607807/

(2) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognition

(3) Ross, A. Nutrition and its effects on academic performance. How can our schools improve? http://www.nmu.edu/sites/DrupalEducation/files/UserFiles/Files/Pre-Drupal/SiteSections/Students/GradPapers/Projects/Ross_Amy_MP.pdf

(4) Linus Pauling Institute Micronutrient Information Center: Phytochemicals http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/infocenter/phytochemicals.html