01, April 2015 10:55 AM

planting seeds for lifelong healthy eating with farm to school Living in California is great for a lot of reasons, not least of which is our amazing, year-round produce, fresh meat, milk, cheese, walnuts, almonds and other agricultural products. And just as we teach our kids about the Gold Rush of 1849, we have the opportunity to teach them about our modern-day gold rush -- our bounty of agriculture.

California is a great state for learning about food and nutrition. It's not for nothing that our state is called the salad bowl of America. California ranks No. 1 in agricultural cash receipts, followed by Iowa, Nebraska, Texas and Minnesota. California produces more than 400 types of fruits, vegetables, herbs, poultry, dairy, livestock and related crops. Our state leads the nation in more than 110 of these crops, including some products that are only grown in California. Our rice, almonds and walnuts -- among other goods -- are exported around the world. 

April is Garden Month. What better time to put classroom nutrition lessons into real life context with gardens?  Teaching kids about the nutrition of our fruits, vegetables, nuts, dairy, meat and grains can encourage healthy eating and an interest in where food comes from. Once you’ve covered nutrition in the classroom, it’s time to make the connection between the food we eat and where it comes from by getting kids out on the ranch to meet the animals, on to the farm to see the seedlings or into a school garden and planting seeds of their own. As an added bonus, classroom nutrition lessons and Farm to School extension activities provide a variety of opportunities to practice Common Core State Standards

Farm to School programs create a link between local farmers and schools, they also can promote food literacy and encourage a lifetime of healthy eating from all five food groups. Combining classroom nutrition lessons with extension activities that teach kids about local farms, dairies and ranches is also a great way to support local agriculture, both in the short term and the long term, when kids grow up to be conscientious consumers. 

children sow seeds with school gardensStudents at Riverside Unified School District in Southern California have been learning about surrounding farms and their produce for a decade now, and Nutrition Services Director Rodney Taylor says he's seen the results. The students eat more local fruits and vegetables in the cafeteria, interact with the Registered Dietitian Nutritionists on staff who encourage healthy eating and learn about eating from all five food groups for optimal health.

"Students have demonstrated the will to make healthy choices for 10 years by consuming the fresh fruit and vegetables served on the salad bar daily," Taylor said. "At RUSD Nutrition Services, we firmly believe that early intervention truly can impact lifelong healthy eating habits, which is what we seek to do in our food service program."

Starting a campus garden can give kids hands-on experience with planting seeds, growing food, and can make learning about nutrition more immediate. It's a match made in heaven -- kids eager to expand their palates and learn about healthy eating, and a state that is well able to meet their needs with its fertile soil, frequent sunshine and booming farms, dairies and ranches. To start a garden this spring, visit our garden seeds page.

Whether you’re in California, Colorado or Connecticut, take advantage of all the resources available to teach nutrition in your classroom and make Farm to School connections with the cafeteria, school garden and more. For more information about the Farm to School program, click here

Tags: common core state standards farm to school nutrition education nutrition lesson plans
Categories: categoryNutrition Education

01, April 2015 8:00 AM

April is National Stress Awareness Month! Since both physical activity and food choices can go a long way towards managing and reducing stress, we’ve assembled some of our favorite recipes to help you all month long. Remember to choose foods and activities every month of the year that will reduce your level of stress, improve your mood, and promote a healthy lifestyle.

April Family Meal Recipes 

Take a Hike

Creamy Asparagus Pasta with Custard Berry Parfait and Walnut Parmesan Biscuits;  plus Blueberry Pomegranate Smoothie, Bran MuffinAll Natural Oatmeal Banana Cookies and Breakfast Burrito.

Improve Your Mood

Chicken Parmesan Sandwich, Fruit Cocktail Salad and Power Orange Smoothie; plus Chickpeas and Spinach Salad with Cumin Dressing and Yogurt Sauce, Creamy Broccoli Fish Bake, Vegetarian Reuben with Russian Dressing and Awesome Banana Walnut Shake.

Picnic Day

Tuna and Walnut Pasta Salad, Cheddar Bay Biscuits and Freckled Lemonade; plus Blueberry Crepes with Maple Cream, Stuffed Portabellas with Gorgonzola/Balsamic/Rosemary Reduction, Chicken Quesadillas and Mediterranean Quinoa Salad.

Stress Busters

Grilled Pork Tenderloins with Maple Mustard MarinadeLow-fat Cheesy Potatoes and Asparagus + Mushroom Salad; plus Blueberry Cobbler Breakfast Bars, Flaxseed Muffins, Carrot Salad and Italian Vegetable Hoagies.

Tags: family meals food group foods Healthy eating healthy eating patterns holidays
Categories: categoryHealthy Eating

24, March 2015 1:47 PM

healthy recipes for kids snacks When I was in high school in the mid-seventies, I took a sack lunch to school every day. During the morning nutrition break, I would take something from my lunch to eat as a snack, then finish the rest of my lunch later during the lunch period. 

My children, who graduated from high school in 2010 and 2012, also brought a lunch from home. However, they ate their lunch ALL day long- even during class. I don't know when it became acceptable to bring food and drinks into classrooms, but it did. Somehow I can't believe all teachers allow kids to bring food into their classrooms. How do they keep their classrooms clean?

Current consumer research shows frequent snacking has continued to increase, not only with teens but with all segments of our population. Furthermore, information presented during the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for American's Committee meetings shows there is room for improvement on the snack choices we are making. 

In the table below it is clear that snacks currently provide lots of food energy (calories) and not as many essential nutrients as meals.

Dietary Guidelines Table with Snacking Information








Nutrition educators interested in helping clients improve their snacking choices can check out these options below:  

  1. Join us for a webinar on May 5, 2015: 

From Potato Chips to Mini-meals: Optimizing Nutrient Quality of Snacks

2. Read the latest Health Connections Newsletter:

Taking Snacks Seriously: Optimizing Nutrient Intakes

3. Check out these kid-friendly healthy snack ideas:

 Kid Friendly Healthy Snack Recipes

4. Share this video with families to encourage healthy snacking.

Tags: Dietary Guidelines for Americans healthy dietary patterns Healthy eating Maureen Bligh nutrtion research snacking
Categories: categoryMeals & Snacks; Family Meals categoryHealthy Eating

18, March 2015 8:00 AM

The saying goes that if you eat food, wear clothes or have wood in your house, you have some connection to agriculture. The dairy industry in particular is important to agriculture in California. Dairy is California's number one agricultural commodity, valued at $7.6 billion in 20131, and California is the top dairy producing state in the nation2

Since 1919, California's dairy farmers and milk processors have demonstrated their commitment to community health by funding education and outreach programs through Dairy Council of California. One such program, the Mobile Dairy Classroom Assembly, connects elementary students to agriculture on a daily basis. This original farm-to-school program has been in operation since the 1930s when a dairy farmer became concerned that children in Los Angeles were losing touch with where their food comes from. Today, six skilled instructors visit schools across California every day during the school year to teach children about dairy cow anatomy, five food group nutrition and farming basics.

Agriculture today looks very different than it did earlier in the 20th century. Today farmers increase efficiency by using robotic milking equipment, improve herd health by using radio frequency ID tags and may even create sustainable energy by installing a methane digester, turning waste into energy. But what has not changed is their concern about cow health and their communities. 

Please join us in celebrating National Agriculture Day today. Make a point to eat meals with foods from all five food groups. Learn more about agriculture in California- including top commodities- here. Or, get first hand stories about modern dairy farming here. No matter how you choose to celebrate, you're sure to learn something interesting that may help you feel more connected to those who produce the food and fiber that form our daily lives. 

Have you hugged a farmer lately?  




1. California Agricultural Productions Statistics 2013. Last accessed 3/17/2015.

2. USDA's National Agriculture Statistics. Last accessed 3/17/2015.

Tags: Healthy eating mobile dairy classroom nutrition education
Categories: categoryHealthy Eating

10, March 2015 9:42 AM

Whomever tells the best story winsMarch is National Nutrition Month®, a time when the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics promotes healthy eating and activity patterns, as well as sheds light on the important contributions of Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDNs) in our health care and food systems. Dairy Council of California relies on the nutritional expertise of a nearly a dozen RDNs on staff, including Maureen Bligh, RDN, author of the following book review. Tomorrow is Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Day, so the timing could not be better, as we, like the Academy, seek to increase awareness of RDNs as indispensable providers of food and nutrition services to help people enjoy healthy lives. 

In October 2014, I attended the Food + Nutrition Conference and Expo, commonly referred to as FNCE by attending registered dietitian nutritionists. I attended a session titled, Power of Storytelling to Inspire, Influence and Motivate and during this session the book Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins was mentioned. As dietitians we aim to the inspire, influence and motivate, so I recommended this book to our book club. 

We found this book very insightful on how we could be more effective in our instructional settings. Quotes from the book that hit home include:

  • "People don't want more information. They can't process the information they already have! They would rather hear true stories that feel like personal experiences."
  • "People can't trust someone they don't know. If you are so professional, so private that no one really knows you, you are making it twice as hard for them to trust you."
  • "Meaning is more powerful than fact. Actions result from the stories people tell themselves about what objective facts mean to them."
  • "The exclusive use of rational thinking tools is the root cause of feeling disconnected and overloaded."
  • "In the subjective world of perceptions, little details can make a big difference."

The author describes, in detail, six different types of stories: Who-I-Am, Why-I-Am-Here, Teaching, Vision, Value-in-Action and I-Know-What-You-Are-Thinking. She provides concrete examples (of course through stories) on how to use these various story types in appropriate situations. 

Now, all registered dietitian nutritionists share a common background perspective. We share a very extensive training in science. We take years of chemistry, physiology and clinical nutrition, while spending time in nutrition and science labs doing experiments. What do you mean, consumers don't want more information?! Why did we spend so much time learning all that information? This book is critical in helping us understand how to let go of some information to make room for stories that inspire and teach.

Thinking about our role primarily as influencers, it is important for health educators to use multiple techniques (storytelling being one of them) to reach consumers in meaningful and more effective ways. During our book club discussion (and subsequent follow up emails) we shared the following techniques that seemed to work well:

  • Let the food grower/producer tell their story about food. In one case, a cardiac nutrition class went to a fish market and learned from the owner how and where the fish were caught. The participants loved the class. Will these participants consume more fish based on hearing stories about how the fish is caught versus learning about the nutrients in fish?
  • Another dietitian decided to try a new ice breaker at one of her classes. She asked the participants which foods they were worried about not being able to eat based on their new diet. This open discussion greatly increased participation during the class and hopefully better compliance to the diet. 
  • I wrote a blog that had a story format, Exercise your Love and Heart Health at the Same Time. Since the blog included a personal story, it seemed to get more interest in social media and has more page views than other blogs I've written that did not include a story format. 

Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins goes into our "recommended" list for registered dietitian nutritionists and health educators. How have you used storytelling effectively in your educational settings? Please comment below so we can learn from each other how to be more engaging and effective educators. 

Maureen Bligh, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist


Tags: Dietitians Book Review Healthy eating Maureen Bligh
Categories: categoryNutrition Education

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