Three Simple Details that Create School Lunches Kids will Love

By Kevin Dietmeyer, a Nutrition Communication student at Arizona State University


I’m sure you’ve had this type of a dream before.  You’re at work (since we all dream about being at work) and nothing seems particularly out of the ordinary until you look down at what you’re wearing.  Even worse you look down at what you’re not wearing and that’s enough to awaken even the champion sleeper.  You don’t leave the house without putting some thought into what you’re going to wear.  You make sure everything is balanced and at least somewhat cohesive, so why don’t you put the same thought into your child’s lunch?


Before you send the kids out the door, brown bag in hand, are you sure they have something balanced and cohesive?  Here are three details you should never skip when it comes to getting your child’s lunch “dressed,” before leaving for school.


  1. Mix it up with variety


Kids love variety when it comes to food and when you give them more options they’re likely to eat from a wider range of foods.  Human beings are social eaters and what’s cooler than being able to show off to all of your classmates a bag full of lunchtime options?


  1. Pay Attention to Portions


Younger children will enjoy snacking on a variety of smaller items and older children will want something more substantial to chew on.  Providing your children with the same size meal each day will train them to eat a certain amount at lunch every day.


Don’t let your kids fall prey to the “eat everything on your plate” syndrome if their portions aren’t under control.  After all, what if they encounter big plates too often?


  1. It’s a Balancing Act


Set your kids up for balanced health by setting them up with a balanced diet. Try to include something from each food group when you pack up the chilly bag.  This can be a great way to get them to try new foods and to ward off nutrient deficiency.


Curious about this variety and abundance of everything Arizona grows? Go to Fill Your Plate and look for our searchable “Find a Farm Product” section. When you click on that link you’ll find an endless list of the types of fruit and vegetables that Arizona grows.

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The Calcium Effect

By Jacob Gerdes, recent Arizona State University Nutrition Communications Student


We have been told from a young age about the importance of calcium in our diets. And now, many pass that same knowledge from their parents to their own children. But, are we continuing this tradition of mineral-based health knowledge while really understanding the reasons behind this so called important mineral?


We can all take comfort in the fact that calcium really is as important as our parents made it seem. The University of Maryland Medical Center discusses the importance of Calcium due to its abundance within the body; they list the functions of calcium in preventing many common health issues including:


  • Osteoporosis
  • Hypoparathyroidism
  • Premenstrual Syndrome
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Obesity and Weight Loss
  • High Cholesterol


Many people associate calcium with our bones and teeth. However, its relationship with our skeletal system is just one of the many uses of calcium in our body. Also, there are many contradictory studies, showing the insignificance between calcium consumption and bone density; these studies claim that weight-bearing exercise and Vitamin D are more important.


While Calcium supplementation’s prevention of bone fracture is widely debated, there are other studies examining unknown uses of calcium in the body. On April 3rd, 2016, the Department of Internal Medicine of Seoul National University Hospital in Seoul, South Korea published a 13-year long cohort study originally containing 4,589 men and 5,042 women of ages 40 and above. The study measured the effect of dietary intake of calcium on Cardiovascular disease, bone fracture, and stroke. Upon completion of the study period, 2,199 men and 2,704 women of the original participants were analyzed to measure the development of heart disease or if they suffered from bone fractures or a stroke, all which had not been experienced prior to beginning of the study by each individual. The results were inconclusive involving prevention of bone fracture and stroke, however, there was strong supporting evidence that high dietary calcium intake led to the decreased risk of cardiovascular disease.


While this research is new to the science community, it goes to show the potential unknown influencing factors of different vitamins and minerals on disease and that just because we are raised to believe certain nutrients have a specific purpose doesn’t mean they can’t have alternately equal beneficial effects.


Calcium will always play a leading role in the series of stages our bodies experience throughout life.  While that nutrition advice we were given as children may shift a little, understanding the broad differences in calcium use can help shift our perspective of other nutrients and their specific uses in general.




  1. Ehrlich S. Calcium. University of Maryland Medical Center. Last reviewed June 26, 2014. Accessed April 2016. URL:


  1. Harvard Medical School. What you need to know about calcium. Harvard Health Publications. Last reviewed June 9, 2009. Accessed April 2016. URL:


  1. Endocrine Society. More dietary calcium may lower risk of cardiovascular disease: Diet change did not affect stroke or fracture risk. ScienceDaily. Accessed April 2016. URL:
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Pumpkin Seeds for Life

By Kevin Dietmeyer, a Nutrition Communication student at Arizona State University


It’s a pumpkin spice time of year and pumpkin spice everything is trending with no signal of stopping anytime soon, and why should it?

Trends like pumpkin spice everything become more than a trend they become a tradition. Besides everything pumpkin spice, there are pumpkin seeds.


In my own home growing up, we always had a pumpkin spice tradition and that was before it went viral.  For me, fall came with the familiar aroma of freshly roasted pumpkin-spiced seeds and they were always the first signal of the holiday season.  I can remember being half seated, half climbing across the counter reaching into the swampy mess of a freshly carved pumpkin.  A stringy and moist room-temperature harvest of pumpkin seeds would yield to a pan soon piled with crispy and salty seeds of fall goodness.


Oven roasted pumpkin seeds always smelled and tasted like being home during the holidays.  I always knew that pumpkin spiced seeds meant handfuls of roasted, salty holiday flavor but I never knew they came along with an entire host of healthy nutrients.


Pumpkin Seeds are Power Packed with Nutrition

According to the USDA Super Tracker, 2 tablespoons of roasted pumpkin seeds pack 8 grams of protein, 4 grams of fibrous carbohydrates and 14 grams of healthy fats.  Before you toss the seeds you should carve out some time to oven-roast these nutrient-packed morsels.


Check out all the nutritional benefits packed inside of every pumpkin.


They’re full of bone-strengthening magnesium: Every home needs a strong framework in order to stand and growing children are no different.  Magnesium is a bone builder and adding some pumpkin seeds as a fun seasonal snack is a great way to keep their framework strong.


Pumpkin seeds are a great source of zinc: Zinc is an essential mineral, which means that your body won’t naturally produce it. Instead, it’s essential that you acquire this immune-boosting mineral from foods and pumpkin seeds are a great option.  Many immune-bolstering supplements start with zinc and it’s because of its reputation for fighting off that runny nose during cold and flu season.


They contain healthy fats that can keep you alive: Pumpkin seeds pack a powerful combination of linoleic acids and omega-6 fatty acids, both of which have been shown to improve heart health.  Some extra pumpkin seeds can set your children up for a long and heart-healthy life.


So, carve that pumpkin and carve out some time to oven roast your own pumpkin spiced seeds for a nutrient-packed snack.


Here are a few easy steps you can follow to roast your own pumpkin seeds at home.


Directions for Roasting Your Own Pumpkin Seeds


  1. Remove the seeds from the pumpkin while pre-heating the oven to 300 degrees F


  1. Use a spoon to scrape the pulp and seeds from the pumpkin into a bowl


  1. Clean and separate the seeds from the stringy pulp in a colander and shake until they air dry


  1. Spread the seeds onto an oiled baking sheet and bake for 20-30 minutes until dried


  1. Add olive oil, salt and your choice of spices before placing the seeds back in the over for 20 minutes



Go to Fill Your Plate for holiday recipes. Arizona Farm Bureau created Fill Your Plate, an online, searchable database of Arizona farmers and ranchers that can sell food products and certainly local Arizona food directly to you and me. That might even include pumpkin seeds.






Posted in Arizona, Cooking, Fall, Food, Food Facts, Health Tips, Healthy Eating, In Season | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Grow with your family: Benefits of Introducing Gardening to Children

By Jacob Gerdes, recent Arizona State University Nutrition Communications Student

Growing up, I loved being outside and that feeling has stuck with me to this day. However, I missed out on one opportunity that could have changed the way I thought about food and our environment, gardening.


It wasn’t until many years later after developing a love for food and nutrition where I decided to give growing my own food a shot. After gathering resources for a raised bed, watching YouTube videos on what to grow and how to tend to my plants, I soon was growing my own radishes, kale, spinach, tomatoes, and beets.  While in High School and still growing up, my small garden taught me patience, a sense of humor, and the confidence to grow my own food. Now that I am a bit older, I see the opportunity for today’s youth to garden and the benefits they would receive.


No perfect age exists for gardening but young children have a lot of energy and not a lot of patience so maintaining a garden offers the chance to develop patience. Gardening offers parents the perfect opportunity to spend time with their children and has therapeutic benefits that can help ease a stressful day.


Today, a variety of elementary school programs encourage participating in school gardens and Arizona’s own programs in this area are catching on well. In fact, the University of Arizona is host to a Community and School Garden Program.


Benefits of school gardens have a range of benefits including the development of different skills in areas of math, science, nutrition, and visual arts. Tending to a garden teaches children to respect and care for the environment along with nutrition skills that apply towards developing healthy lifestyles. The University of Arizona’s program, along with others throughout the United States show that besides increasing overall science achievement score, gardening helps children develop knowledge of emotions and communication skills, which leads to improved behavior.


It doesn’t take much to start a small garden if you don’t already have one. I always tell people you need some water, soil, seeds, and patience. Gardens offer a great learning experience for children and can help teach them many lessons that they are able to carry on throughout life. Plus, your local plant nursery can help you start out. Or, check out the Master Gardener program hosted by the University of Arizona’s Cooperative Extension.


Just try it out! If your plants die or seeds don’t sprout, try to assess what might have gone wrong. If you are successful, you could produce food for yourself to enjoy. Either way, your child will learn something and in the process, and you get to spend time with them; which is always precious!




  1. Tampa Bay School Gardening Network. Benefits of School Gardening. Accessed April 22, 2016. URL:
  2. NC State Cooperative Extension. Benefits of a School Garden. Accessed April 22, 2016. URL:
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Could A Healthy Lifestyle Include Fasting?

By Rebecca Rullo, a Nutrition Communication student at Arizona State University


Periodic fasting has been around throughout history but has evolved into several types of fasting today. Ever since studies on animals have shown that restricted calorie intakes may reduce disease risk and lengthen life, researchers have been studying the effects of fasting in humans. Intermittent fasting, particularly, has caught the attention of healthcare practitioners and people wanting to lose weight. And, of course, the major religions of the world have incorporated fasting into their faith practices for centuries.


Today, fasting is associated with many benefits and risks, indicating that some types of fasting may be part of a healthy lifestyle for some individuals.


The Skinny on Fasting

Fasting can vary in length and frequency, from several days or one day, to once a month or several days in a month. Some foods or all foods may be excluded, or one meal or several meals. In two studies from the American College of Cardiology, the test groups fasted one day every month and results showed that those who fasted had lowered risk of heart disease (Warren, 2011). The fasts in this study were infrequent and short-term since they were just one day every month. Besides lowering heart disease risk, several other physical and mental health benefits have been demonstrated by various studies (listed below), including:

  • Detoxification
  • Improved cardiovascular system and immune system
  • Improved insulin sensitivity
  • Hormone regulation
  • Decreased appetite and cravings
  • Focus, calmness, and clarity of mind
  • Lowered depression and anxiety

However, fasting can also produce negative effects on mood and physical functioning, such as:

  • Raised stress hormone levels
  • Low blood glucose leading to fatigue
  • Poor concentration
  • Starvation mode – ketosis
  • Dehydration and malnutrition
  • Weakened bones and muscles
  • Infertility
  • Mood swings

Some of these negative side effects, such as starvation mode, malnutrition, infertility, and weakened bones and muscles result from long-term or frequent fasting, after not consuming any food for several consecutive days or weeks. In this case, the negative effects begin after a length of time and grow worse from that point on. Starvation and eating-disorder studies show that deprivation can slow metabolism, causing the body to store fat and triggering a restrict and binge cycle (Whiteman, 2015). This is why skipping meals, starving to lose weight, and dieting are all unhealthy ways to lose weight and why some experts are concerned about fasting leading to disordered eating.


On the other hand, mood swings raised stress hormone levels, and poor concentration are negative effects that are intense at first but subside over time. Typically these result from short-term fasts or infrequent fasts. Because intermittent fasting falls between short and long-term fasting and infrequent and frequent fasting, some overlap of negative effects between the categories is possible. Alternating creates a long-term cycle of short-term fasting and any negative effects usually dissipate after a few weeks of beginning the cycle.


Some experts believe intermittent fasting is a healthy and effective way to lose weight. One expert quoted in Women’s Health Magazine states that since the fasting periods are just every other day and eating is unrestricted on the other days, the problems of dieting can be avoided (Monson, 2014). Other experts feel that intermittent fasting is too similar to a diet and fails to teach healthy habits, since people can eat whatever they want on non-fast days (Whiteman, 2015). The benefits of fasting certainly cannot replace a healthy lifestyle. Nutritious, moderated eating habits, and regular exercise produce many of the same health benefits and similar rates of weight loss. In an article published in Maturitas, the authors note that unlike dieting, intermittent fasting may be sustainable. However, if healthy-weight individuals desire to fast for health reasons then the cycle would have to be adjusted for them in order to prevent weight loss (Skaznik-Wikiel, Malgorzata, 2014).


Long or frequent types of fasting are typically more risky than short or infrequent fasting. The level of risk for all types of fasting varies depending on the individual’s age, physical activity level, and medical conditions. Pregnancy and vulnerability to eating disorders are other high-risk conditions. If the underlying motive is health, not weight loss, then short-term or infrequent fasting may be part of a healthy lifestyle for some individuals. It’s important to remember that eating nutritious foods, exercising, and meditating can produce similar health benefits and weight loss rates as fasting. These habits should be implemented along with fasting and can be used safely instead of fasting for anyone who might be at risk. It’s also probably wise to consult your doctor if you conclude that short, infrequent fasting is something you’d like to try.



A Johnstone. (2015). Fasting for weight loss: an effective strategy or latest dieting trend? International Journal of Obesity (2015) 39, 727–733 Retrieved from


Katie. (2016). Fasting for Mental Health – Does it Work? Retrieved from


Leslie, Mitch. (2015). Short-Term Fasting May Improve Health. Retrieved from


Monson, Nancy. (2014). Life in the Fasting Lane: Does Intermittent Fasting Work And is it Healthy? Women’s Health Magazine. Retrieved from


Paleo Leap, LLC. (2016). Retrieved from


Skaznik-Wikiel, Malgorzata E ME. (2014). The health pros and cons of continuous versus intermittent calorie restriction: more questions than answers. Maturitas Vol. 79. No. 3. pp. 275-278. Retrieved from


Seliger, Susan. (2016). Is Fasting Healthy? Retrieved from

Warren, Rachel. (2011). The Facts on Fasting for Your Health. Retrieved from


Whiteman, Honor. (2015). Fasting – Health Benefits and Risks. Medical News Today. Retrieved from



About Rebecca: Rebecca Rullo is a Nutrition Communication student at Arizona State University. She loves being outside, learning, having deep conversations, and getting to the source of an issue.

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