Thursday, June 26, 2008

Food for Learning: Allergies and the Hard Facts

A food allergy with a child usually focuses on one or two foods. But what are they? According to AHealthyMe, "Some bodies -- especially young ones -- react to certain foods as they would to dangerous intruders. Their immune systems unleash a barrage of chemicals against proteins in these foods, causing the misery known as an allergic reaction. If you or your spouse has ever suffered from a food allergy, there's a good chance your child will too. About 6 percent of children under age three and 2 percent of older kids have allergies of this kind."

Fortunately. most pre-school teachers are certified to handle emergencies - and if yours isn't, ask why. But often, allergic reactions can be confused with other symptoms and if ignored can become severe. Here are some important tips.

The Hard Facts:
Severe Food Allergies Can Be Life-Threatening

Allergy Alert:
Mild Symptoms Can Become More Severe

Initially mild symptoms that occur after ingesting a food allergen are not always a measure of mild severity. In fact, if not treated promptly, these symptoms can become more serious in a very short amount of time, and could lead to anaphylaxis. See The Hard Facts at left.

Following ingestion of a food allergen(s), a person with food allergies can experience a severe, life-threatening allergic reaction called anaphylaxis.

This can lead to:

  • constricted airways in the lungs
  • severe lowering of blood pressure and shock ("anaphylactic shock")
  • suffocation by swelling of the throat

Each year in the U.S., it is estimated that anaphylaxis to food results in:

  • 30,000 emergency room visits
  • 2,000 hospitalizations
  • 150 deaths

How to Order Print Copies of this Information:

Printed versions of this flyer is available from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN) by calling 1-888-SAFEFOOD or by sending an email request, including name address and phone number, to

For English request "CFS 26"; for Spanish request "CFS 26S".

AdobeThis information is also available in PDF (473 KB) and Spanish PDF (565 KB).


U.S. Food and Drug Administration: Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, February 2007

Monday, June 23, 2008

Food for Learning: Foods that Should be Better

Unfortunately, most of the following list of foods tends to be the food most loved by our children. And even more unfortunately, it is food that we find easy to prepare and serve to hungry impatient pre-schoolers. And there is one more even more unfortunate thing about the foods I am about to list: they are often disguised as healthy.

LiveScience recently listed the top foods in their research that we often mistake for healthy but find that they are something completely opposite. Although I won’t list all of them, it is important that you understand at least the basics.

Fish sticks – the fish is good, but the batter making the otherwise healthy fish more tasty is not.
Yogurt – Unless you can get your kids to eat plain, fat-free yogurt, they are mostly eating a dairy dessert.
Soup – Home made is best. There is no second best.
Russet potatoes – They are often disguised as mashed, fried, or boiled and no matter how you twist them into different forms, they completely lack taste and nutrition.
Popcorn – Unless you pop the corn in a hot air popper, you are completely missing the point.
Bread – White is the worst, followed by mass produced whole wheat, which contains sugars, salt, and softeners.
Cereal – If your kids have not seen it on TV, it is probably good for them. Make a batch of oatmeal or malt-o-meal at the beginning of the week and warm it up every day and add fruit or raisins.
Commercial organic – This may come as a surprise but if you are buying organic from Wal-Mart, it is only organic in name and not in the sustainable, healthy principles that makes organic worth the trouble to find.
Pizza – Dominos is not pizza. Buy your own dough, roll it out, top it with cheese that you pick, sauce that you make, and meat that is not processed by a national chain and you have what pizza was originally intended to be.

Sure, it takes a few additional minutes but your kids will be better for it and you will – save money.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Food for Learning: Your Kids and Carbs

The simple fact is: your kids need the energy that carbs provide and should consume about 50-60% of their calorie intact in carbs over the course of a day.

A harder fact to understand: not all carbohydrates are created equally. A good rule of thumb however in distinguishing between good carbs and bad carbs is accessibility, portability and cost. Generally the foods that are the easiest to consume on-the-go, cost the least and can be found in the "center-of-the-grocery-store" are the highest in carbs found from sugars.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves. Carbs comes as simple sugars and starches. Simple sugars, such as the kind found in fruits are often referred to as simple carbohydrates, easy to consume and absorb into the body. The complex carbohydrate, starch comes from the families of whole grains, breads, cereal, rice and starchy vegetables.

These complex carbs all have certain characteristics. They all are broken down more slowly in the body. Because there is more to break down in such foods as whole grains, the carbohydrates enter the body slower, and that means is easier for your body to regulate them.

Because complex carbs are often high in fiber, the child will have fewer tendencies to over eat. And last but surely not least, complex carbs are packed with other vitamins and minerals. In addition to fiber, whole grains contain more essential fatty acids, vitamin E, magnesium, and zinc than their processed equivalents. All of these reasons are equally good for adults as well and if you noticed from the first in this series on food and learning, it is how you shape your child’s eating habits by example that begins the good eating habit process.

Just as Kidshealth recommends, the best way to achieve fitness through food is to:
    Eat a variety of foods, especially fruits and vegetables.

    Drink water and milk most often.

    Listen to the “fullness signals” your body is sending.

    Be active.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Pre-school Parenting and Those Adorable Chubby Cheeks

In the second of five posts on this subject, we look at those chubby-cheeked children, who, may or may not be overweight – which as many of you already know, is the last step before obesity.

Over the three years that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tracked, children ages 2-5 showed an increase in obesity, rising on average about 12%. Compared to 1980, those numbers are alarming.

Parents are increasingly dismissive when their pediatrician mentions the possibility that their child might be in the last several percentiles. (The medical profession use a body mass index to measure your child’s overall ranking as compared to other children of similar height and age, suggesting that those who are listed as above the 95th percentile are overweight.)

According to the CDC BMI or body mass index is defined as “a number calculated from a child’s weight and height. BMI is a reliable indicator of body fatness for most children and teens. BMI does not measure body fat directly, but research has shown that BMI correlates to direct measures of body fat, such as underwater weighing and dual energy x-ray absorptiometry (DXA). BMI can be considered an alternative for direct measures of body fat. Additionally, BMI is an inexpensive and easy-to-perform method of screening for weight categories that may lead to health problems.”

The site clarifies the measurement “For children and teens, BMI is age- and sex-specific and is often referred to as BMI-for-age.”
Here are some simple tips to guide you and your daycare provider in helping a child overcome this potential problem.

Stop! Offering your child alternative foods when they refuse to eat what you have given them sends the wrong signals.
    Go! Let them eat or not.

Stop! Don’t give up. Eating shouldn’t be a battle.
    Go!Many experts believe it takes as many as seven times for a child to accept a new kind of food.

Stop! This is as much your problem as the child’s.
    Go! Chances are, you received comfort foods as child and withdrawing them “because the child is overweight – and making the reason known, also signals the wrong thing to the toddler.

Stop! Limit the screen time.
    Go! Kids, by nature are conformists. Take them for a walk around the block after dinner or go out a play with them. It will do you some good as well.

Stop! Make it permanent and make it a family effort.
    Go! Everyone at the table will benefit form a better diet. Let them listen to their tummies and have fruits and vegetables available for them when they are hungry.

Even children who appear healthy and active can be developing problems with a diet too high in fat. Although children need more fat than their adult counterparts, it should be gained form healthy foods, not from the drive-up window at McDonalds.

Weight Status Category
Percentile Range


Less than the 5th percentile

Healthy weight

5th percentile to less than the 85th

At risk of overweight

85th to less than the 95th percentile


Equal to or greater than the 95th percentile

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Food for Learning: How Parents teach their Children to Eat

Over the next five posts, we are going to focus on the subject of food.

Once the child reaches daycare/pre-school, her or his habits have begun to take shape. They have already started to make food choices, engaged in doing what they see other doing (modeling), been exposed to familiar foods, created opinions, witnessed some swings in parenting style, and quite possibly begun to make decisions about what foods they like and don’t like.

I am often struck by the long list of items that a child will or will not eat at the tender age of eighteen to twenty-four months. Once they get here (or just about any good pre-school or daycare situation) they will be often be sitting in front of a plate of nutritious food. Numerous daycares take advantage of government programs that offer some reimbursement for this very important function (although in my experience it is more of a subsidy than a straight across, dollar for purchased grocery exchange leaving some of the pass-down cost to fall over into the tuition).

In these sort of programs, regular menus are recorded not only for the parents to review (and a good provider will offer these menus at the end of each day) but for the regular, often as much as four times annually, inspections. How your child eats at this point has little to do with what she or he likes. Many providers will attempt to make the food as attractive to the child as possible but if the child is unfamiliar with these types of food, they may balk at eating them.

This is where you, the parent come in. How your child progresses through the food pyramid, yes that good ole breads on the bottom, lots of servings a day to the sparsely inhabited sweets, fats and oils that tops the heart healthy, good-for the bones Food Guide.

Here are four easy steps to getting your child’s diet for the world that cares about what they eat.

    1. Give them numerous nutritional options. This can be especially difficult as food costs increase but offering them a small portion of several items, you can narrow down what the child prefers. The second part of this “give the child a choice” is to not lure them into liking the wrong thing. Adding a caramel dipping sauce to an apple snack doesn’t promote the apple. Smothering otherwise nutritious potatoes with gravy doesn’t give the child the opportunity to enjoy the vegetable just as a jelly smeared piece of whole grain toast doesn’t let the goodness of the bread shine.

    2. If you don’t eat it, they won’t eat it. Drop the words that paint a picture of the foods flavor. You know the ones: Yummy and Yucky and any other kid friendly description of taste, good or bad paint the wrong picture.

    3. Convenience out, home prep in. Far too many parents feed their kids with the wrong end of the pyramid first. Fast food doesn’t have to be bad food. A small sandwich will hold a hungry child at bay until you can out together a small meal. Refer to rule number 2 and you will probably see some room for improvement in your own eating habits.

    4. Consistency always should be what guides you. A married couple should discuss this each day and focus on how they can be on the same page. Talk with your provider about what they are serving and how you can improve your child’s diet at home. Peer pressure often helps at pre-school or daycare and knowing that if they do not eat what they are given, they will not have alternatives. Allowing the child to leave the table without eating allows you to retain your authority. Offer them the food later, and if they fail to eat lunch a second time, they should be able to wait until dinner. Kids have limited emotions promoted by physical surroundings and hunger (the refusal to eat, not the refusal to feed) can be very real. If you have given the child choices and they have made the wrong ones, as long as their safety has not been compromised, be consistent.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Applying for Daycare: What I Look for in Parents

As Edward G. Bulwer-Lytton, British politician, poet, critic and prolific novelist, 1803-1873 once said, “There is nothing so agonizing to the fine skin of vanity as the application of a rough truth.” To often, that vanity applies itself through the rose-colored world we see our children in. And while it is a noble and excusably parental right to believe that your children are, for all intents and purposes, the newly born saviors of the world – at least some day, the harsh realities often take a big bite out of that fantasy.

Consider your application to Daycare/pre-school. The process of applying often follows a search, which unfortunately can be mind-numbingly repetitive. Mt peer group often uses the premise of daycare as an easy way to make money. These are the babysitters, so to speak, the ones who will do drop-in, allow the children numerous hours of television viewing and for the most part, endless hours of play.

But you want more for your children – if you can afford it and you look for some education – albeit flexible – and some structure. And when you find it, you feel as though the long quest has ended. Your child will now be amongst those who will exceed expectations. But the search has left you with a problem. Is your child the right age, the right temperament, and more importantly, and this may come as a surprise, are you the right parents?

Every kid possesses a certain innocence for the world around him or her. As parents, you feel as though it is your obligation to shape that world. To do that, you need not only firm control over who you are, but control over that world. You are often unwilling to compromise those principles and will encourage the world to bend to your specific needs.

And often, this places you and your child in a sort of self-styled religious bubble. And it might be religion that puts you there but just as often, it is your lifestyle that gets in the way of making concessions to this wildly diverse world around you.

Over the years, I have had a few families that professed veganism. This movement has created numerous lines in what would have been an otherwise civil society. These people have a solid belief in what they eat, how they live, and how they perceive the world to be. Because they are not conforming to the world around them, they are forced to find people who aspire to the same type of lifestyle. Hence the bubble.

As adults, you can fluidly move from a situation that disagrees with your philosophy to one that accepts what you believe. But one day, your child will sit next to someone eating a bologna sandwich and wonder why they can’t eat meat. You can walk away from those omnivorous beasts but your child, as children often do, will wonder why can’t they have a meal with meat.

For parents looking to apply for a daycare/pre-school situation, there are three things you must keep in mind:

    First: You are applying for a guardian/educator for your child and although you are looking at the surroundings, what the little school has to offer, and whether you can see your child in such a setting, I am looking at you and asking: “can I work for you?”

    Second: When joining a small group, the dynamics, the chemistry and age are critical to not only your child – who will in almost every situation form quick friends and allies, you will often not see the situation the same way. You will want more than the group has to offer, forcing your lifestyle on the group. And by law, I am supposed to accommodate special needs, I have limits to what I can and will accept.

    Third: This is my business. I have right to refuse service to anyone and if I determine that you are not the right one, show some maturity and accept this as another obstacle to your way of life. Children are conformists but parents often are not. And unfortunately, neither am I.

Your daycare/pre-school provider is a default parent for your child often for the better part of fifty hours over a given week. I will influence them, teach them and nurture them. I will not be you, espouse your views of the world, or conform to what you believe in. Sure, I’ll give them special diet needs (organic milk or soy milk for instance) and I will keep them from some entertainment influences. But I can’t enforce your lifestyle on other parents nor will I attempt to on your behalf.

It may seem like you are interviewing me but in fact, I am looking at you as a client that may or may not want to work for you.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Pre-School and Daycare Vaccines

Some children who attend a daycare or pre-school encounter their first group situation. They may have been to parties or social events, but the steady atmosphere of such places as daycares and pre-schools in young person’s life beg the question to be asked: are vaccinations necessary?

This is a hot button topic and I only want to add my perspective not my recommendation – although I am required by the state of Oregon to ask what your preference is – do you or don’t you and require you provide proof. (the form and information on exemptions is found at a link at the bottom of the page).

The actual law states: “Shots are required by law for children in attendance at public and private schools, preschools, childcare facilities, and Head Start programs in Oregon. Nearly every place that provided care for a child outside the home requires shots or a religious or medical exemption to stay enrolled.”

By the time these children reach school and eventually college age, these vaccines and numerous others will be required. But the concern continues. Because some believe in herd protection – when a large number of people are vaccinated, those that are not are by default, protected – the child who does not receive the required vaccines runs a risk should the general populace be exposed.

Jonathan D. Rockoff of the Baltimore Sun recently wrote: "FDA officials said that the agency has been monitoring reports of vaccine side effects with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and that it inspects vaccine manufacturing plants at least every two years, all the while reviewing new research that might shed light on the causes of autism and the workings of the shots.”

Dr. Peter L. Goodman, the director of the Food and Drug Administration's vaccines division is quoted in the article as saying, “I don't believe there is evidence that links vaccines to autism, but I do believe these are concerns we need to take seriously."

With the supposed but still lack of conclusive proof of links to autism, “FDA Commissioner Andrew C. von Eschenbach said the agency plans to connect the latest discoveries about the causes of autism with new understanding about the workings of vaccines and genetics to probe for hidden links.”

According to the National Vaccine Program Office, immunization requirements vary from state to state but once the child reaches school age, those exemptions are only for specific reasons.

The NVPO information states: “The requirements for documentation of medical, religious, or philosophical exemptions vary.

“In some states, parents with philosophical exemptions may apply for an exemption for their child or children from the state's immunization requirements for school entry.

“Parents should be aware that withholding vaccinations leaves their child vulnerable to vaccine-preventable diseases in the event of an outbreak. As a matter of personal health, children without immunizations should remain home during outbreaks of the diseases for which they have not received vaccination. Also, as a matter of responsibility to the community, unvaccinated children should be kept at home if there is an outbreak of a vaccine-preventable disease within the family. Such illnesses should be reported to the pediatrician or family physician.

“If you are considering a philosophical or religious exemption for your child, you should be aware that outbreaks tend to occur in waves: One group becomes ill; a second group becomes ill within a week or two, and so on. This means that the time an unvaccinated child must miss school can run into months.”

Such quarantine procedures were standard before vaccines made the general populace safe from outbreaks.

Additional Reading:

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Your Child's Play

This topic doesn't surface often but when it does, parents and pre-school educators often find themselves in two different camps. Presenting a child with a new toy, one that provides them with what you would consider a thoughtful experience, often finds you wanting to teach the child how to play with the toy. Should you?

Probably not. Think about Christmas morning when your pre-schooler seems more interested in the box the gift came in rather than the toy "Santa" brought that will teach them calculus in a fun way! There is a reason for this.

According to, "Play can help children develop the knowledge they need to connect in meaningful ways to the challenges they encounter in school. Play also contributes to how children view themselves as learners."

While it is important to teach a child how to play a piano or chess or instruct them on the rules of soccer, teaching a child "how to play" with that new cognitive toy designed to help them do-something-or-other later in life is robbing them of the learning experience.

Playtime has changed over the years. Television was allowed to intervene in this otherwise inventive time in a child's life. And your patience, the cost of the toy and where you believe your child should be on the learning curve has also changed. Children by nature are imitators but that doesn't mean they will play by example.

Don't be frustrated with how your child plays or with what. Instead, take a moment a remember how you played for hourson end with little or no "products designed to enlighten and teach".

To help, it will pay to keep these three simple rules in mind.

First: Buy the age appropriate toy for your child. Little Johnny is only three. Don't give him toys designed for a child aged five to eight in the hope that your little progeny will play-up.

Second: Give them time to play. Allow them the opportunity to have that epiphany. Give them the opportunity to have one of those, "oh, that's what this toy does" even if they can't actually vocalize it. This doesn't mean you shouldn't give them a gentle push in the right direction but too often, we want them to grasp the meaning right away.

Third: Allow them to invent. It generally worked for you as a child, playing with dolls or climbing tree to look for pirates on the horizon. Puzzles may need a little bit of intervention but not too much. Showing them how to get started is okay. Doing it for them is not.

The most difficult thing you will have to do is redirect your child away from some of the more violent media influences they may have encountered.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Another look at Glitter

Dear parents,

Tom Coffee, father, humorist and blog author at offered his take on pre-school art projects in a recent post.  Addressed to caregivers in general (kudos for not referring to this profession as babysitters) and their often over-liberal use of glitter, almost to the point of calling these tiny artists pint-sized glitterati, his post suggested that we either back-off or better yet, stop with the use of these colorful metallic shreds.

To this, I offer your caregiver and Mr. Coffee several insights on what exactly this "overuse" of glitter offers.


There will be a time in the near future, when that precious cherub of yours will be in their teens, exhibiting typical or atypical teen-type behavior.

It is then, at the most unexpected turn, you will find some piece of this pre-school glitter, tucked under a sofa cushion, at the bottom of a closet, or attached to a piece of clothing you haul from the back of your dresser where you unwittingly stored some father' day project for safe keeping.

Your breath will hitch and a tear will form at the corner of your eye.

And you will wish you had found a display case to store those early-year treasures.  And then you will think of me.

Career advancement

Those bright shiny objects teaches your child to see all of the distractions that adult life presents to us each day.  We face our own glitter problems each day as we trudge off to work, hoping to draw attention to our work in the hopes of advancement.  These pre-school art projects will be training for those days ahead when we will wish we could smear a report with glitter and glue in the dire hope that we get noticed among the masses.

Messages from our planet to...

It may also be training for that day when your child rebels and decides to go into a career of car upholstery, serving the masses of people who wish to trick out their autos even if they can no longer afford to drive them.

Imagine how they will shine from outer space when we (them) turn our (their) cameras on the earth from some far off distant planet.

Enjoy the glitter while you have the chance.  And really, you have to admit that the dog probably needed the highlights!