Preschoolers and New Years Resolutions

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.

 

Many of us are familiar with new years resolutions regarding weight loss and improved eating habits. Perhaps this year we want to include our preschoolers in the desire for health-promoting eating behaviors. Why not? Children learn by watching us, and there is no time like the present to incorporate brain-boosting, immunity-enhancing, bone-strengthening foods into our kids’ snacks and meals. It is also a good time to reduce reliance on (and perhaps even addiction to) foods and drinks that more closely resemble a chemistry experiment than something edible and nourishing. 

With opinionated preschoolers, some of whom are highly selective eaters, it is easier said than done. Take heart, however, because the effects are worth the effort, and armed with some tips, we can start our preschoolers’ new year on a nutritious note that flourishes into long-lasting, health-promoting eating behaviors. 

Tip #1: Compliment the chef. Why do companies use famous cartoon characters and celebrities to market food (and toys) to our kids? Because our kids like and look up to the characters and are thus influenced by them. Though sometimes hard to believe, we parents have the most influence over our children, and it is my thought that we should try to sell our cooking. I speak from experience here, and think part of the reason my son so willingly tries, at least one bite, most everything I make, is because he frequently hears compliments about my cooking. And, fortunately for me, the comments are usually addressed directly to him, such as, “your mom is a good cook.” As his influential mind absorbs this information, he possibly comes to the conclusion that what I make tastes good and can be eaten. (Sorry to toot my own cooking horn; I just want to provide a tangible example). So give compliments freely to whoever is the chef of the family.

Tip #2: Repeat. Perhaps we feel great about our cooking, but our little ones are not into that new broccoli dish we made last night. If you and/or the rest of your family agree the dish is tasty, wait a few weeks and serve (and compliment) again. Research indicates preschoolers may need up to 15 tries to accept and like a new food. 

Tip #3: Let them have opinions. When deciding on the weekly meal plan prior to grocery shopping, I think of a few meals to prepare for sure. Next, I think of several more options and ask my son if he is interested in eating them in the coming week. If he answers yes, I am ready to go; if not, we come up with some foods that do sound good. Of course, they have to pass the “mom test” and be nutritious, but we usually reach an agreement. If worse comes to worse, or involving kids is not in the cards, then use your best judgment, and/or have PB & J handy. 

Tip #4: Dessert for all. As human beings, we are inclined to prefer sweet, fatty foods, because eating them helped ensure our survival when food was scarce. Our preschoolers seem to exhibit this desire more than anyone else, which can make it difficult for us to steer them toward healthy offerings. Although this post is about decreasing such sugary, fatty foods, it is not about entirely eliminating them. So, when you do have dessert, include everyone, whether or not they ate all their veggies. I am against using food as a reward, especially when it makes eating healthier fare a punishment. Either everyone at the table gets dessert (if desired), or no one. And when you do decide to have dessert, then…

Tip #5: Be selective. Not all goodies are created equal. The path of healthful eating will have many diversions, and we must choose the best direction for our preschoolers. When selecting goodies for my son, I try to choose the items that contain more substance than sugar. For example, dark chocolate, and dark chocolate-containing desserts, are my preference, and after that, things that don’t contain artificial ingredients. As for cake and cookies, homemade options are best, because you can control the quality of ingredients, including reducing sugar a little. 

Tip #6: Out of site, out of mind. This motto really works. If the cookies/candy/potato chips are not around to grab, they can’t possibly be eaten. Have alternatives available, including in-season fruit, pre-washed and chopped veggies with hummus, or blue corn tortilla chips and salsa. Skip the Capri-Suns and Sunny D and instead stock 100% fruit juice, sparkling water, even tea, depending on the tastes of your child. In this case, we say “in sight, in mind.”

Tip #7: Fruit/Veggie each meal. Speaking of “in sight, in mind,” one of the simplest ways to help our preschoolers eat more produce is to serve fruit and/or vegetables with each meal. Perhaps they will not eat it, but the idea forms in their minds that fruit and veggies are a part of the eating plan. If you consistently serve fruit/veggies they like, odds are they will eat it. For example, my son loves green peas, but not green beans, so I only serve the beans every so often. As many of us can attest, kids typically prefer fruit, and some days that’s what will be served at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Usually, I aim for vegetable servings at dinner, because I have a little more time to prepare this meal, and the veggie usually compliments the main dish much better than a lunch dish. Really, the goal is to get our children used to eating produce at each meal.

Hopefully, some of these tips will be useful to you and your family on your journey to nutritious eating. Just one more thing: it’s okay to not eat “perfectly;” I don’t know anyone who can manage that feat. The goal is to incorporate more fruit and vegetables in our children’s daily meal plans, and if we fall short one day, we try again the next. 

A Lesson in Hand Washing

Flu season is definitely upon us, and although we always stress the importance of proper hand washing in the classroom, preschool-aged children don’t always grasp this concept that they can’t see. We recently illustrated why proper hand washing is so important in a visual way.

First, we helped the children apply vegetable oil to their hands. They rubbed the oil in as much as possible.

HOil

Next, we sprinkled cinnamon on their hands to represent the germs.

HCinnamon

We observed how dirty our hands can be!

HHand

Next, we touched paper towels to demonstrate how germs can spread to the things we touch. Ewwwww!

HPrint

We all agreed that we needed to clean our hands, so we “washed” them in water.

HWash

Hmmmmm. The children observed that their hands still had “germs.” What was missing?

Oh! Soap! Then each of the students washed their hands properly with water AND soap. We had to scrub thoroughly to remove all the “germs.”

HSink

Once our hands were clean, we could go about the rest of our day, and we have all become better hand washers due to this fun activity!

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.

The Importance of Dramatic Play

Dramatic play is an important part of our school day. Preschool-aged children learn through acting-out and get to try on different roles, which is important part of development. By participating in our dramatic play areas, our students use their imaginations, participate in symbolic play, develop language, and have the opportunity to practice social interaction skills.

Each month, we rotate our dramatic play area. This year we have had a kitchen, a transportation area, and just this week, we rolled out the campground, which our students were excited about. The students had a pretend cookout, “slept” in our tent, “roasted marshmallows” over our pretend camp fire, and told ghost stories. What fun we had camping at school!

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our new classroom pets

Since preschool-aged children learn by doing, having a classroom pet that the students can interact with each day is not only fun, but an educational experience.

When students are allowed the opportunity to help care for a classroom pet, they learn responsibility and how important it is to care properly for a living thing. They get first-hand experience with the animal, which has more of a lasting impression than reading about animals in books (as important as reading is). The children learn caring and sharing, as well as how to be gentle as they take turns holding the animal. This can also be a fantastic way of pulling shy children out of their shells.

Not all animals are suited for the classroom. Preschool teachers should be sure to select a pet that is relatively low maintenance, doesn’t mind noise, and is docile and likes to be handled. Nocturnal animals should be avoided since they will be sleeping during class time and won’t give the children much of an opportunity to interact with them.

A couple of weeks ago, we introduced two gerbils, Jo-jo and Alexi, to our students. Gerbils make excellent classroom pets because they are docile and easy-going, very active, and don’t mind being handled and passed around. Jo-jo and Alexi are no exception. They love being a part of the Square Roots Preschool family, and the students love them.

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Our Naked Egg and Egg Drop Science Experiments

At Square Roots Preschool, we feel that science is an important part of our curriculum. Preschool-aged children have a natural curiosity about the world around them, and what better way to support that curiosity than by doing hands-on experiments that ask the children to make predictions, observations, and draw conclusions.

When we studied the letter “Ee,” we conducted our naked egg science experiment. The first part of our experiment required us to place an egg carefully in a glass and pour vinegar over the top. Some students predicted that the egg would float, and others predicted that the egg would sink. The students each got a chance to pour (with a little bit of help). They observed that the egg floated! The next part of our experiment required patience. We had to wait a few days to see what effect the vinegar would have on the egg.

After a few days, the shell of the egg became soft, and the yolk of the egg became rubbery, like a ball. Since young students learn best by doing, the students got to feel the egg and yolk and describe it. It was ooey-gooey scientific fun!

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Later in the week, we conducted an Egg Drop experiment, which taught us about cause and effect and prediction. Each student chose a material to protect his or her egg, and then everyone predicted what would happen to each egg. With no protection, the students predicted that

The yolk will go all over the ground!

Break.

I don’t know.

Drop it down!

I think it will break.

We then protected the egg with a paper napkin, bubble wrap, absorbent pad, plastic baggie, and a towel, in turn. Each student had the opportunity to drop their own egg and make observations about the results. We concluded that bubble wrap was the most protective material because the egg didn’t break at all!

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Too often, science is considered something “extra” for young students. Science lessons help develop so many skills, so we feel it is important to make the subject an integral part of our school day. For more information about the importance of science (and math) for young learners, check out Math and Science in Preschool: Policies and Practice.

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!

 

References:

  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

Meet Our Team: Kristen Carr, Teaching Assistant/Administrator

Square Roots Preschool has an exceptional staff. Get to know our team!

Kristen Carr, Teaching Assistant/Administrator

squareroots_kristenMrs. Carr earned her degree from CSULB in Art History and enjoyed an early career in graphic design management. She has gone on to own her own successful pet sitting business since 2005. She is an involved parent, logging countless volunteer hours at her children’s schools. She most recently taught the kindergarten Art Masterpiece program at Horizon Community Learning Center.

Mrs. Carr believes strongly in the home-based preschool option. Her passion for quality education for children under the age of five began when she was seeking out educational opportunities for her first-born. She has experience working as a teaching assistant for children from birth to age five and has a strong business background.

Originally from Southern California, Mrs. Carr moved to Arizona in 2005. Her husband, Brennen, works in restaurant management. She is mother to step-son, Brennen Jr., and children, Porter and Campbell.

Mrs. Carr handles Square Roots’ administration and is on-site most days as a teaching assistant. She has her fingerprint clearance card. She serves as substitute teacher when Mrs. Scholl requires it.