Super Starts Here.

MEGAN MONDAY: Vitamins and Supplements for Babies, Toddlers, & Children – The Low-Down On What You Should Know

vitaminsI can still remember the taste of the Poly-Vi-Flor fluoride vitamins my mom used to give my sister and me when we were kids.  The colored little chewable powdery squares had a very distinct taste to them – like grape Smartees with a hint of earthy, meaty chemicals.  Delicious.  While I now shudder thinking about giving my little guy anything to ingest with fluoride in it, I didn’t give it a second thought when I was a kid (and I am sure it was fine then…I turned out OK, right?).  My mom, along with the millions of other parents out there, just wanted the best for her kids and made sure she and my dad provided what was recommended (she and I still don’t see eye-to-eye on certain supplements, including fluoride, which is OK).  Many parents today still ponder about the effectiveness of supplementing with vitamins, and if they choose to do so, which ones do you choose from?  With selections ranging from sugary gummy vitamins that kids will think of as candy (I’ll get into my concerns about this later) to every cartoon character shape pressed into a pile of powdered raw materials, what ARE we supposed to be selecting for our kids?  Who wants to take vitamins anyway?  I know adults who even cringe at the thought of swallowing vitamins.  Well, the answer is not easy, so I will do my best to break it down as much as possible.

Foremost, I will start off by saying I am believer in vitamins and supplements to complement a balanced, healthy diet.  With that said, I by no means am supporting the use of vitamins to replace any healthy food source of vitamins, minerals, healthy fat, etc.  Sure, in a perfect world void of toxins, environmental issues, corrupt businesses manufacturing garbage products and claiming them to be healthy, and severe nutrient deficiencies in our soil that our food grows in, we wouldn’t need any vitamins or supplements (oh yeah, and that’s assuming that every person ate a perfectly balanced diet to boot).  Unfortunately, that is not the case in our world today and our bodies are on overdrive trying to maintain balance and homeostasis in an extremely unbalanced world.  As critical as proper nutrition is, many of us do not even start out with the necessary balance of nutrients to nourish our bodies as much as they should be, which can lead to health complications down the road.  We live in a world where unfortunately, it is becoming common practice to “fix everything with a pill,” and I do not want this article to be about that.  Rather, I have found through rigorous efforts, my own trial-and-error findings, and countless hours researching that through proper supplementation, we can help to “fill in the gaps” of what our diets (even “balanced” healthy diets!) are lacking for us.  Not to mention, children can be picky – VERY picky – when it comes to eating, which poses even greater challenges with making sure they are taking in everything they need to – on a daily basis – to grow strong and healthy.  In addition, there are some supplements that we take that I feel are simply best taking in supplement form, for the “all-natural” form is pretty hard to come by or just not feasible to “eat” on a daily basis (i.e. spirulina and chlorella tabs we take [a type of green algae superfood that is grown and cultivated for human and animal consumption]).

Something else to take into great consideration when deciding upon if you want to supplement with vitamins and/or anything else (like fish oil, probiotics, etc.) is the QUALITY, bio-availability (how well your body absorbs and actually utilizes it), potency, and effectiveness of the product.  A scary fact that I am realizing is that there are so many products on our shelves that are FULL of garbage – literally.  There’s an alarming amount of supplements being tested by labs and third-party independent researchers that are finding SCARY amounts of dangerous bi-products in supplements.  Take calcium supplements for example.  Would you expect to find LEAD of all things in something that’s supposed to build healthy teeth and bones?  Well, there are more and more samples being found that contain harmful substances like lead, mercury, fillers, other heavy metals and toxins.  And people are paying money for this stuff thinking it’s doing them well.  So…. What the heck are you supposed to buy!??!  How and WHY are these supplements allowed to be sold?  It’s a fine line, song and dance through the FDA and manufacturers (which I’ll have to go into another time).  Basically, you just can’t read a label and hope for the best.  Here are some suggestions:


While knowing the exact vitamin and mineral composition of your child would be best (yes, this is possible by a blood test that is not common nor routinely done) to determine what your child needs exactly, that’s not the case.  So, here is a list of my recommendations to help keep kids healthy, immune-charged, and building those bodies, muscles, bones, brains and eyes (also check out this previous post that lists the top 6 vitamins parents should make sure kids are getting enough of: :

  • A good multivitamin.  Multivitamins are a great way to “patch up” the holes in our daily diets when the healthiest meal didn’t make it to the table, little Johnny didn’t want to eat ANYTHING healthy, or there are stressors affecting the body on a daily basis (illness, environmental pollution, not enough sleep, etc.).  Many of the vitamins and minerals in a multi are water-soluble and will pass through the urine if the body does not need them.  Fat-soluble vitamins like A,D,E, and K and iron are the ones you need to watch out for too-high amounts as they are stored in the body and can build-up over time (although this is normally hard to do) unless supplementing in high doses.
    • There are a ton of cheap, low-quality brands out there that won’t even be absorbed the body most of the time.  Avoid these.  And by “these” I mean bargain-brands that you find lining the shelves of popular drug stores, grocery stores, and stores like Target, Wal-Mart, and K-Mart.  These brands are cheap for a reason – it’s because low-grade ingredients have been used to make them and the manufacturing process is probably less-than-ideal.  Even if it has a USP seal (this is a “certification” claiming that the vitamins have been tested and show purity, etc.), that does not mean it’s high-quality.  Bottom line: these are full of unnecessary ingredients like allergen-type fillers, artificial colors, artificial flavorings, SUGAR, and some questionable bi-products that you wouldn’t want entering your body.  Just read the label of a vitamin brand like “Nature Made.”  Hmm…did nature make Red 40 and artificial flavorings?  I didn’t think so.
    • I do NOT think gummy chewable vitamins are the best choice.  Many times, these are full or sugar – just as much as candy.  Not to mention, for young kids, it’s tempting for them to want to eat more…which is something you do NOT want to encourage with a product that a child can overdose on.  Just because they taste good, are marketed towards kids and have claims on the label does not mean they are good.  Believe me – there are other ways to get vitamins (healthy ones) into your kids.
    • You don’t need to use a chewable! Believe it or not, I give my 18-month old his capsule vitamins every day without him even knowing it.  I open up the capsule to shake the powder out into his yogurt that I mix with fruit.  This is actually a great way to get vitamins easily into young kids who really can’t be eating chewable vitamins.
    • Here are a few brands I like: these brands do not contain anything artificial, fillers, or any allergen-linked ingredients like soy, gluten, casein, etc. They are rigorously tested for purity, impeccable manufacturing standards, and bio-availability.  Some come in chewable form, but don’t use sugar or artificial ingredients to make them taste good.
      • Kirkman ( – this is the brand we use and that our doctor recommends.  This lab ultra-tests and has been in business for many years.  Instead of turning heaving profits, they re-direct their earnings into rigorous testing of every raw material they use to make the vitamins with.  Believe it or not, they turn away around 40% of ingredients brought to them due to any form of contamination or level of detectable harmful bi-product like heavy metals.  I feel very confident giving these vitamins to my child…and they aren’t too expensive at all.  You can buy them online at:
      • Mercola ( – has been a reputable brand that also does not use any questionable ingredient and tests for purity.
      • Vitamin D – Sun exposure without sunscreen for 15 minutes a day is the best way to boost Vitamin D levels naturally, but we all know that is not possible in many (or most) places.  I religiously supplement with Vitamin D, as I feel it is a HUGE immune booster and promotes healthy bones, teeth, brain development, etc. Ideally, having your child’s blood serum level is best to know where you are starting from, especially since the RDA for supplementation is so low (my son gets between 1,000-2,000 IU a day of liquid vitamin D, which is 4-5 times the RDA….but totally safe, and my son’s blood serum vitamin D levels are perfect).  We use Xymogen Labs liquid Vitamin D (Xymogen Labs only distributes through physicians and health care providers, but you can check online to order from  You can also check Kirkman and Mercola or for liquid Vitamin D.  I prefer liquid form for best absorption.  Vitamins D should be taken with fat as well, as it’s a fat-soluble vitamin.
      • DHA/Fish Oil – Another top-notch supplement I feel is critical to balancing mood, boosting immune function, and most importantly, brain and eye development.  My son was taking Nordic Naturals Baby DHA liquid fish oil from when he was around 6 months old and he still gets it every day.  I love Nordic Naturals brand, as they are ultra-pure, but there are other brands you can find in Whole Foods or online at,, and that are reputable.  My concern is mercury content in fish oil, which is why I only trust certain brands.  I have many people ask me about Costco brand or brands that you can buy in bulk.  I personally used these brands, but it’s just not certain how much mercury can be sneaking by, especially when they are produced in such high quantity and sold at much more affordable prices.  There are other products out there like chewable Omega gummies… if from one of the companies I listed above, I am not concerned about the ingredients or if lots of sugar is used.  I know Nordic Naturals uses natural strawberry flavoring with the oil we now give my son.
      • Probiotics – I have written about the numerous benefits probiotics have to offer the immune and digestive systems.  Read more here (and also about the brand I use; another great brand is BioKult).  Some people even make their own kefir and supplement with probiotics that way.
      • Vitamin C – believe it or not, not every human responds the same way to Vitamin C – meaning that not everyone’s body will take a supplement form and “use it.”  However, there is a great product we use from BrainChild Nutritionals called Liqui-C Complete that’s an antioxidant blend of Vitamin C and A in a delicious naturally-flavored orange cream liquid I mix into yogurt.  It’s great to supplement here and there (or daily if you choose) for immune-boosting, anti-radical fighting, and skin-protecting properties.  This company also has a wide-array of awesome supplements to help with any ailment or support any function of the body:

  • Calcium – If your child is not a fan of dairy or does not eat a combo of enough dark, leafy greens, beans, and dairy to meet calcium needs (children should be getting between 600-800 mg of calcium a day), you should be supplementing with calcium, but preferably a calcium/magnesium blend, as magnesium helps with absorption, in addition to muscle and neuron function. Please beware that calcium supplements tend to be the ones most commonly “polluted” with all kinds of fillers and dangerous bi-products.  Kirkman makes a great brand of pure calcium to use…and like the multis, I would open a capsule and mix the powder in to some food to disguise it, as hard calcium pills tend to be made with fillers and binders (and are not fun to crush to give to kids).
  • Iron – iron is very important to make sure children have enough of, and routine blood tests should be done to test for blood cell count AND ferritin levels (the protein that binds to help blood cells).  We supplement with iron in our house, and believe it or not, one of the best ways to boost iron intake is to cook with a cast-iron skillet.  Our doctor said he saw a drastic improvement in iron levels when parents cooked out of a cast iron skilled at least once daily.  If that’s not helping, an iron supplement is fine, but please note iron in too high quantity can be harmful and is also binding/constipating  (especially to children), so I mix mine in with fresh ground flaxseeds to promote healthy bowel movements. From, here is a list of how much iron your child should be getting:

Kids require different amounts of iron at various ages and stages. Here’s how much they should be getting as they grow:

    • Infants       who breastfeed tend to get enough iron from their mothers until       4-6 months of age, when iron-fortified cereal is usually introduced       (although breastfeeding moms should continue to take prenatal vitamins).       Formula-fed infants should receive iron-fortified formula.
    • Infants ages       7-12 months need 11 milligrams of iron a day.
    • Toddlers need 7 milligrams of       iron each day. Kids ages 4-8 years need 10 milligrams while older kids       ages 9-13 years need 8 milligrams of iron each day.
    • Adolescent boys should be getting       11 milligrams of iron a day and adolescent girls should be getting 15       milligrams. (Adolescence is a time of rapid growth and teen girls need       additional iron to replace what they lose monthly when they begin       menstruating.)
    • Young athletes who regularly       engage in intense exercise tend to lose more iron and may require extra       iron in their diets.

This is a basic list of things you can be doing to help boost your child’s diet with vitamins and supplements.  I completely understand that not every family is in the financial position or convenience position to do so.  This is just a list of recommendations and cautions to use when considering supplementing.  Please feel free to forward along any questions you may have regarding supplements, etc.  Every parent decides on different things that they feel are best for their kids; I just try to help parents and caretakers make educated and informed choices about things that they may not have known about, and I know the world of supplementation can be a scary one to navigate!

Megan Monday articles are written by Megan Kalocinski, a Certified Holistic Health and Nutrition Coach and Owner/Founder of Empower Health & Nutrition Coaching of Exponential Health and Wellness, LLC:




Kids Who Are More Active Have Better Focus

I recently came across this image

brain after walk

and thought, “everyone should know this.”  So much of what we read or hear or feel pressure to do requires quite a bit of work.  Especially if what we are currently doing is so different than what the experts suggest.  But 20 minutes?  Surely we can make that happen.  Maybe it’s a dance party while we make dinner.  Maybe it’s a walk outside after dinner while the weather is still warm.  Maybe it’s a weekend bike ride or race around the bases of a nearby baseball field on the way to the grocery store.  When we, as parents get involved it not only sets a great example for our kids but helps us too.  I know that when I can stop myself from lamenting how busy I am long enough to to engage in whatever physical activities my kids are doing, I feel better.

Race across the yard.  See who can balance on one foot the longest.  Play freeze tag.

Exercise, even a little bit, benefits the body and the mind.  I know I, for one, could use a few minutes to remember how fun it was to be a kid.

kids running

Leave a comment »

The Long and Short of It – Megan’s List of Things You Can Do to get and Keep Your Family Healthy

check listI often hear from clients, “Is there just a quick ‘to do’ list of suggestions we can follow to whip our household into shape to be healthier?”  With another school nipping at our heels and our households about to get super crazy, what better time to start implementing ways to get on the healthy path asap?  Some of you may be doing all, most, or some of these already; if not?  No worries.  You’re not a healthy failure!   Remember it’s never too late to start doing things – no matter how simple or grand – to boost the well-being of everyone in your family.  I’ve compiled a list of my top suggestions of things I feel make the greatest difference, with the most important being mentioned first.  Don’t let this list overwhelm you or send you into a downward spiral of beating yourself up over things you think you’re NOT doing right; rather, let it be a guide or even just plant an idea to help you start moving in the right direction.  EVERYONE has the potential to do well!

  1. PRACTICE WHAT YOU PREACH & LIVE BY EXAMPLE – As a teacher and parent, I know first-hand how children learn from what they see at home.  YOU are your child’s first teacher, meaning that they watch what you eat, drink, say, do…all day, every day.  If you want your children to grow up leading healthy lives, it starts with the home and the influences and examples set there.  I am not expecting you to be perfect – nobody is.  But simple things by leading by example – “walking the talk” – is the most powerful thing you can do for your children CONSISTENTLY.  If you don’t want them to eat junk food (even when they will be exposed to it when they’re out of your reign, which WILL happen), then model what it looks like to make smart and healthy choices.  We obviously don’t live in bubbles, so showing how to make a choice when faced with reality is key.  Your kids will look up to you and follow your lead – believe me.  This will also be important for everyone else you interact with, too – they will make note of your healthy habits and be inspired (and if they’re not, at least they had the chance to see what making healthy choices looks like and they may choose to do so when they’re ready).


  1. SET YOUR HOME UP FOR HEALTHY EATING SUCCESS – So many times I hear about how hard it is for parents to keep interest in healthy foods amongst the family.  I personally think this is hard when there are options available that may not be healthy, thus making it a challenge for sure to choose better option.  Lets’ face it – we’re all human – and kids especially have zero filter when it comes to being tempted by “treats.”  I understand that making baby steps to eating healthier sets the stage for long-term success… but know the longer you keep bringing foods into your home that can create a set-back, the longer it will take to really grasp and master “eating healthy.”  Why do that to yourself?  Call it “going cold turkey” or whatever term fits the bill, but when I coach clients on “cleaning their cabinets out” – I teach them how to FILL their cabinets with yummy, healthy choices (like MySuperFoods SuperSnacks!) instead of, let’s say, GMO/sugar/processed treats that may have been a favorite in the past.  There are so many options out there to ENRICH your cabinets with tons of healthier CHOICES for you and your kids to make, so please don’t think of it as a deprivation move by getting rid of unhealthy things from your home.  Praise your children every time they make a healthy choice – positive reinforcement is one of the best ways to foster and promote continuing desirable behavior.  Trust me – it will make a world of difference.


  1. GO ORGANIC WHEN YOU CAN – I know it costs more money in many cases.  I know buying organic isn’t readily available in all areas.  I know everyone does not live where farmers’ markets and gardens are available.  However, when these options are available, please consider choosing them ESPECIALLY when it deals with THE DIRTY DOZEN, as these contain the highest rates of pesticides and contaminants that can do MAJOR DAMAGE to the human body.  Check out these MySuperFoods blog posts for reference:

  1. READ LABELS!  ALL THE TIME!  – I feel like this should be my motto, I say it so much.  However, I cannot stress enough how this is pretty much the ONLY way you will know what’s in your foods and products you use on your body and in your home (unless you make it yourself).  As parents, I cannot stress to you enough how you are the gatekeeper in so many ways of what gets into your family’s bodies.  It’s a HUGE responsibility, but one you can tackle and handle with ease with the one task of reading labels.  You have the choice to put something down and walk away after you’ve read what’s in it (or not in it, for that matter).  We all vote with our forks, too – so using your purchasing power will also help influence what shows as a “demand” over time in our stores.  If more people buy healthy products through their knowledge of what’s in what is bought, then those products will hopefully start to push out the unhealthier choices in stores.  Regardless, take the little bit of extra time to really read what something is made of and not fall for health claims on packages as a deciding factor as to whether or not something is healthy. In case you missed my recent articles on food labels:


  1. AVOID ARTIFICIAL INGREDIENTS! – I could write a book on how dangerous artificial colorings, sweeteners, flavorings, and additives are.  Ranging from causing cancer to ADHD symptoms, migraines, weight issues, behavioral problems, allergies, etc…. I cannot find ONE positive thing about artificial anything to make it worthwhile to buy and subject our bodies to.  I’ve been there, done that – I feel as if everything I ate used to be made out of something artificial….and my body paid the price.  I would see how the children in my classroom who ate foods with artificial anything in it would struggle to pay attention, settle down, or even stay awake.  I really got concerned when headaches became a “norm” amongst the 9 and 10 year olds who filled my classroom.  Reference these MySuperFoods blog entries to read up on the dangers to artificial ingredients:


  1. KEEP TOXINS OUT OF YOUR HOME AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE – Along the same lines as why it’s important to keep harmful chemicals and substances out of our bodies by what we eat, the same principle applies to our immediate environment.  Through the countless research I have done for my health coaching business and ways to help families get to the root of many underlying conditions such as food allergies, unexplainable illnesses and ailments, weight gain, and behavioral issues, somehow toxins always somehow come back as one of the main culprits.  Whether it be what we wash our clothes in, our counters with, or lather on our bodies…. You have to be mindful, educated, and aware that everything around and on us counts just as much as what we feed ourselves with.  Please reference these MySuperFoods blog entries and articles for a comprehensive list on toxins to avoid and strategies to keep your home and environment as “green clean” as possible:


  1. CROWD OUT THE BAD WITH THE GOOD – ADD AS MANY OF THESE HEALHY FOODS INTO YOUR HOME AND DIETS AS YOU CAN – In my health coaching practice, one of the foundation practices is called “crowding out” when educating and supporting individuals on how to transition to eating healthier without feeling like the rug is being ripped out from underneath them.  This is huge when people are trying to cut sugar and processed foods out of their diet…they can’t imagine what they will eat instead that will taste so good.  They are pleasantly surprised to see that when adding just one healthy food in here and there, it will be easy to phase out something that isn’t healthy.  More and more of this “crowding out” will eventually lead to a transformational adaptation the body will crave – for the good.  The same goes for kids.  I know some people advise against “hiding” healthy foods in things so the “kids don’t know”…but to be honest, when health coaching, I have to hide healthy foods in some adults’ foods so they’ll more willingly eat them.  Take the green smoothie for example.  I personally don’t like kale raw unless it’s in a smoothie.  I don’t like it in salads all the time… but I have to eat it every day as my body now craves it.  My solution?  I blend it up in a juice or smoothie every morning… and I love it.  My son loves it and has been consuming it since he was 8 months old…yet if I put a leaf of raw kale alone in his mouth…I have a scene from the movie Alien on my hands.  So, pick your battles.  I feel as long as the foods are being eaten (without having to use unhealthy foods as “transport methods”/disguises), see how you can incorporate them as much as possible.  Here are some great foods to add to your home if you aren’t already:

Be sure to check out the awesome array of healthy recipes on the MySuperFoods website for great ideas:


  1. BE PHYSICALLY ACTIVE – Exercise is just as important as eating healthy.  You can eat as healthy as you want, but unless you are keeping your body active, you’re missing a huge piece to the healthy puzzle.  Being active also keeps your kids engaged in activities that build confidence, teach about problem and conflict solving, team building, and just spending more time building a sense of who they are and what they enjoy.  It’s also a great way for the family to be involved and spend quality time together.


  1. STAY HYDRATED WITH AS MUCH CLEAN WATER AS POSSIBLE – Our bodies are comprised primarily out of water and without this essential nutrient, we would die within days.  While other beverages have flooded the market and have become usual staples households across the globe, I honestly cannot find a better replacement for water as to what should be drank most throughout the course of the day.  It replenishes our cells, it flushes toxins out of our system, it keeps us feeling awake and helps our brains function best, it lubricates our organs, staves off illness and headaches, keeps our skin looking fresh, it helps metabolism, and is the major way for our bodies to regulate temperature.  I know drinking water all the time can get boring, so feel free to jazz it up with some fruit or even things like cucumbers or herbs (sage water is delicious! [but not recommended for breastfeeding mothers, as sage limits breastmilk production]).  One major concern of water I have – its cleanliness and quality.  I hate to say it, but I am not a fan of tap water due to the amount it’s been over-processed and the amount of chemicals added to it.  Check out the articles below to refresh your memory on everything water:


  1. LIMIT SUGAR AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE – Some of you may be laughing at me right now, thinking, “Are you living in dream world, lady!??”  As a sugar addict myself who consumed enough sugar to fuel a trip to the moon and back as a child, teen, and 20-something, I understand.  I would find it, sniff it out, scavenger for it, treasure it, savor it, and eat it whenever I could.  And I paid a huge price for it.  Mood imbalances, sleep disturbances, dealing with hypoglycemia, hyperactivity, energy crashes, weight gain as a teen, hormone imbalance, headaches, and finally…withdrawal symptoms were all things I was ready to let go when I decided to kick the sugar habit.  I know this is something I do not want my son to go through, so I am doing all that I can to train his taste buds NOW to not crave sugar like I did.  My dad was addicted to sugar, many people in my family are, and it’s just not something I want to foster in my home anymore.  By nature, humans are drawn to sugar; yet it’s easy to cut the craving for it by not training ourselves to “need” it.  Eating diets high in fiber, healthy fats, lots of water, and enjoying the natural sugars of fruit are all ways to “crowd out” the craving for sugar.  Sugar is the favorite food for bacteria, viruses, and even cancer cells.  Why expose our bodies to this?  I see so many kids at a YOUNG age starting off on the sugar road…whether it be a lollipop from the doctor, or a piece of candy for using the toilet, sugar is used so often as a reward and form of celebration in our society.  Read up on ways to beat the sugar rush for your family:


  1. CATCH THOSE ZZzzzzzS – Sleep.  It’s important.  You know you feel miserable when you don’t get enough.  Not only that, but it can lead to some major health complications like hormone imbalance, adrenal fatigue, mood problems, difficulty thinking and processing, and immune imbalance.  It’s even more important for our little ones to get the right amount of sleep to let their growing bodies do just that – grow (and repair).  Check out the article below for some great sleep tips and reasons why it’s so important for ALL of us:


  1. FILL-IN THE GAPS WITH HIGH-QUALITY SUPPLEMENTS – I’m definitely an advocate for getting all of our nutrient needs met through a healthy and balanced diet, as foods are the best sources of vitamins and minerals.  However, we all know eating perfectly to obtain the targeted amount of recommended vitamins, minerals and other nutrients is not possible each and every day.  Not to mention, due to the state of our food supply across the globe being deeply impacted by the soil being robbed of nutrients in many areas, pollution, and chemicals (yes, even on organics), our produce does not contain the level of vitamins and minerals it used to in the past.  This impacts our body’s ability to properly absorb all that it needs (not to mention all of the environmental toxins that cause an interference of this in our bodies daily).  I do NOT feel that vitamins and supplements should be used to replace a healthy diet and lifestyle.  However, through tons of research and consulting with doctors and professionals, I have become a HUGE believer in using HIGH-QUALITY supplements to “fill in the gaps” and assist our bodies in maintaining optimal health.  With that said, I am EXTEMELY picky and selective with what supplements and brands I will allow in my home (in fact, I am writing next week’s article on supplements and what parents should look out for in particular).  I have found that through taking supplements like probiotics, high-quality multi-vitamins, and immune-boosting alternatives, my health has never been better.  Read the articles below for specifics:


  1. KEEP THOSE CHOMPERS CLEAN – I recently wrote an article on the importance of dental health.  I am a firm believer that the mouth and teeth are a gateway for the health and well-being for the rest of our body, and since we only get one set of adult teeth that will last us all of our lives, it’s so important to take care of them NOW.

I hope you find this compilation of ideas helpful, as I have seen through my years of health coaching these practices to be tried and true examples of what really helps make us all HEALTHY.  Again, please do not feel like you have to go rush out and implement all of them at once or feel like I am trying to make you feel bad if you are not doing most/any/all of these.  It’s just my way of trying to spread the methods that have not only helped me, but so many families I have worked with.  Please feel free to share any of your ideas, as I love to hear what others are doing, too!

Megan Monday articles are written by Megan Kalocinski, a Certified Holistic Health and Nutrition Coach and Owner/Founder of Empower Health & Nutrition Coaching of Exponential Health and Wellness, LLC:




Leave a comment »

What Do You Do With Your Empty MySuperSnack Boxes?

What do you do with your MySupersnack boxes???  We upcycle!  Check out our new house with stairs and a sunroom!

box 1

Here is how to make a fun house out of a MySuperSnack box!

  1. Open the bottom of the box.

  2. Cut out one of the superhero on the side of the box and make it come to life. Make sure you keep the bottom flap attached! Cut as close to the figure as possible. box 2

  3. Continue cutting a rectangular shaped hole around where the character originally was to make a door.

  4. Re-tape the bottom of the box

  5. To make a roof, secure the top of the box with tape in a triangle formation box 3

  6. To make a chimney, use scraps from cutting out the superhero and door and fold it into thirds.  Fold the sides in and attach on top with tape. box 4

  7. Get creative in your own way with the rest!  Make windows.  Invite friends over.  Have fun!box 5box 6

1 Comment »

Dates, Gorgonzola & Bacon? Yes please!

By guest blogger Anita:  A few years ago, some friends and I were at Table 8 restaurant in Montclair, NJ where we had the most delicious appetizer. Since then, we have NOT stopped bothering my friend, whose husband owned the restaurant, about those famous dates! We all loved them so much and had never really tried anything like that before. So delicious! This past weekend, I decided to pay her a visit to “catch up” and oh yeah … “can we make those dates?”

Dates are among the most ancient fruits, growing along the Nile as early as the 5th century B.C. They are very decadent and will satisfy your sweet tooth, but they are also packed with lots of nutrients, vitamins and minerals. Dates are an excellent source of iron, rich in potassium and fiber.

• Dates
• Bacon
• Sliced Almonds
• Gorgonzola Cheese

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

2. First up, slice the dates down the center, being sure not to cut all the way through. Slicing Dates

3. Fill the dates with cheese (by hand is best, but you can use a little teaspoon if you prefer) and place about 2 sliced almonds in each. Stuffing

4. Finally, wrap a small piece of bacon around each one and place on a baking sheet. Ready For The Oven

5. Bake until bacon browns (about 20-30 min), let cool and serve! My little helpers

Voilà! It’s as easy as that to make. This crowd-favorite app has been served and requested over and over.  It’s also a great, easy way to get the kids involved in the kitchen.

Thanks Demetri & Marisol for the recipe and Sabela & Malik for the extra help in the kitchen!! Oh yes, and our friend Yunetsi who decided to come over … once she heard we were making the dates 😉

Leave a comment »

Not Your Mother’s Lunchbox: Five of our Favorite Lunch Boxes Just in Time for School


Lunch Boxes have come a long way since this was a school lunch staple


The appeal of the lunch box is two-fold. On one hand, lunch boxes are convenient money savers. Why buy a greasy slice of pizza when you could save cash and calories by packing your own sandwich and salad? At the same time, the lunch box’s reusable nature makes it a greener alternative to a paper bag lunch. However, the school lunch box receives a lot of abuse throughout the course of a school year- as juice spills, yogurt splatters and chocolate melts, lunch boxes accumulate lots of stains and scars. And once lunch ends, kids shove lunch boxes to the bottom of their backpacks, so the ideal lunch box should withstand some wear-and-tear. And even though lunch boxes are a step in the right direction as far as green living is concerned, school lunches still create a lot of waste like paper wrappers, plastic baggies and drink bottles. 


But don’t lose hope, lunch-packers. The modern lunch box has come a long way from its tin forbears. Today’s lunch boxes come in aluminum, silicon and neoprene models that make them more durable, flexible and easier to clean. These five lunch boxes are my favorites because they’re green, they’re practical, and they’re totally cute



1. Smart Planet Collapsable Lunch Box 

My favorite lunch box is the Smart Planet Collapsible Lunch Box ($14.99). The beauty of this one is that this colorful silicon box collapses to a third of its size, which makes stuffing it into a backpack even easier once lunch is over. At the same time, it’s roomy enough to comfortably fit a wrap or sandwich as well as some fruit or chips. The other big bonus here is that it’s bpa-free and dishwasher safe which means that you can avoid the mess of a typical lunch box. Also, the separate compartments eliminate the need for plastic baggies while preventing foods from cross-contaminating. 


 2. Zojirushi Mr. Bento Stainless Steel Lunch Jar

Second place goes to Zojirushi Mr. Bento Stainless Steel Lunch Jar ($44.70). I like this lunch jar because it’s cylindrical design and stackable bowls are a different take on the typical lunch box design. Built like a thermos with the heat-sealing insulation to boot, the jar contains four bowls– a large main course bowl, a soup bowl with a lid, and two side bowls. The whole jar and all of the bowls are dishwasher safe, so cleanup is pretty easy. The biggest perk of this is that each bowl is microwaveable, so different courses can be served at different temperatures, making the Zojirushi Lunch Jar the perfect way to serve leftovers for lunch. That said, this is thermos is very much intended for Japanese style lunches (soup, rice, entree, pickled veggies) and won’t work for someone who prefers sandwiches or wraps. 

Image3. Lunchopolis Lunch Box 

Lunchopolis ($24.14) probably takes the prize for greenest lunch. Lunchopolis’s whole motto is “litter-free lunches” and this lunch pack with an included water bottle, five tupperware containers, and a neoprene lunch sack certainly delivers. The bottle and the containers are each microwave-safe, dishwasher safe and BPA-free, so they can be used again and again for both hot and cold foods without worry. Unlike some of the other lunch boxes featured on this list, the neoprene lunch sack is flexible, which makes this a real double win, since it’s easier to pack and harder to break. 


4. Planet Box  

Planet Box ($59.95 for middle size) is great because it introduces variety to the lunch box scene. Rather than producing a one-size-fits all lunch box, Planet Box makes three different models, cleverly named Launch, Rover and Shuttle. Each model is a different size to suit different appetites, and carries between three and six and a half cups of food. And although Planet Box is the priciest lunch box listed here, you get a lot of bonus pieces like a microwave safe “satellite” dish, a dipping plate and accessories. What’s extra cute about Planet Box is that lunch boxes come with magnets and carrying bags for accessorizing and for differentiating siblings’ lunch boxes. And although the carrying cases aren’t machine washable, the lunch box itself is dishwasher safe, so it’s easy to clean. 


 5. Dabbawalla Lunch Bags

Finally, Dabbawalla lunch bags ($30.00) marry science and style seamlessly. This British company makes lunch bags out of TPE, a biodegradable, recyclable bpa-free and machine-washable substance that also happens to be perfect for insulating food. Not only are these bags environmentally friendly and safe for storing food but they also come in impossibly cute animal shapes like owls, monkeys, and frogs. The only possible downside with these bags is that they’re a little big for small children to carry comfortably, even though they hold plenty of food for a well-balanced lunch. 

Lunch-Packers rejoice! Whether it’s a technicolor lunch bag, a personalized lunch box or a state-of-the-art thermos, how you eat lunch can be just as important as what you eat. Do you have any favorite lunch boxes or tricks to make school lunch easier? Let us know!

Leave a comment »

Summer Time Pasta

The other night, while enjoying another dinner of local fish and vegetables, I realized that I was beginning to miss winter’s yummy pasta dishes that my mom always makes.

Pasta reminds me of warmth, comfort and love. These three adjectives also describes my grandmother who was coming over for dinner. Then I asked myself, why not make pasta with a summer flare for my grandmother and I? I ended up making this dish using celery for crunch, onions, and peppers for flavor and tofu for protein.


For Pasta:

  • 3 cups of uncooked whole wheat or whole wheat pasta; type of pasta doesn’t matter. I used penne

  • 2 cups of green beans cut into 1-inch pieces

  • 2/3 cups of horizontally cut celery

  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped in small pieces

  • 1/2 small red onion, chopped into small pieces.

  • 2 cups of chopped, skinless, boneless chicken breast meat or 2 cups of soft tofu


– 2 tablespoons water

  • 3 tablespoons light mayonnaise; I used light Vegenaise

  • 4 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

– 4 teaspoons commercial pesto

– 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Seasoning for Chicken or Tofu:

  • 3 large lemons

  • 1 tablespoons dried rosemary)

  • 1/6 cup of olive or salad oil

  • 3 cloves garlic, minced

  • 1 teaspoon salt


  1. Boil water and cook pasta according to package directions.

  2. Add green beans during final 5 minutes of cooking. Drain water and set pasta and beans aside.

  3. Add all seasoning for chicken or tofu in a bowl and mix together.  Cook in a frying pan on medium heat.

  4. Slice chicken or tofu into 1/2” pieces and place in pan: cook each side for 5 minutes or until a light brown. katherine chicken

  5. In a new pan, sauté onions and peppers in light drizzle of olive oil.

  6. Place pasta, chicken/tofu, celery, onions and peppers in a bowl and gently mix. katherine pasta

  7. Add dressing ingredients together in a small bowl and mix until smooth.

  8. Pour dressing over pasta, mix and enjoy (grandma not included)! katherine grandma

Leave a comment »

MEGAN MONDAY – Cracking the Nutrition Label Code – How to Decipher What’s In Your Food

nutrition labelLast week, I went into detail about how to make sense out of particular nutrition claims plastered over many foods found in stores today. However, the label we should be paying most attention to EVERY time we consider choosing a food is the “Nutrition Facts” label (and when I quote my famous line, “Read the label!” this is what I am referring to, in addition to the ingredients list). Actually understanding what the numbers, categories, and percentages mean on these labels can seem like planning for a trip to Mars with the level of confusion that arises in most cases. If you go to the FDA’s website for help, you are thwarted to an endless page full of graphs, comparisons, and confusing (well, at least I think so) explanations. In many cases when buying or choosing food, we just quickly glance to see how much of a particular macronutrient (i.e. fat, carbohydrate, protein) or micronutrient (i.e. vitamins) are present. A word of caution though – just because something may seem like it has too much of this or too little of that in it may actually be misleading, as wouldn’t you guess it, Nutrition Labels are actually designed to benefit the food manufacturers, not the consumer. Nutrition expert Marion Nestle has done extensive research on this topic, as noted in her book, “What to Eat”:
“Until 1990, the food industry fought all attempts to require mandatory labeling of packaged foods. Companies only had to label nutrition information if vitamins or minerals were added of if the product label claimed that it contained these nutrients.” In addition, she notes how misleading nutrition labels can be to make a product more appealing to consumers at a quick glance – “If a food looks like it should have more calories than is stated on the label, it probably does.”
Something else to consider is that the Nutrition Facts labels is really geared for adults – the Daily Value percentage amounts of the ingredients are based on a 2,000 calorie diet, which exceeds most nutritional needs for children. A child’s diet might be more or less than 2,000 calories, taking into account age, gender, and activity level. Children may also require more or less of a particular nutrient, such as calcium and iron (children need to ensure they get adequate amounts of both).

Let’s start the breakdown in easy-to-follow guidelines:

1. SERVING SIZE – Start here since this tells you what everything else on the label is based off of. Is it an entire package? Is it just a cup? Do you have to divide the serving up to account for a children’s serving? Do you tend to eat more of what’s listed? Remember that many times, food companies will make the serving size unreasonably small to reflect “healthy” looking numbers in the fat and calories sections – just be aware of this so you don’t accidentally overindulge. In most cases, you’ll have to divide for children’s servings (unless it’s a children’s product that already takes into account the appropriate serving size, like MySuperFoods Super Snacks!). Be prepared to multiply the amounts in the nutrition label if the serving size is small and you know you will be eating more than what’s accounted for on the list. For example, many beverages, like a 16-ounce bottle of naturally flavored iced tea, actually have two servings per container. Therefore, you’ll have to double all the numbers if you end up drinking the whole thing. The label also tells you how many servings are contained in the actual package of food, so be sure to take that into consideration if you are making one whole package to portion out to several people. It’s OK to break out a calculator when dealing with food labels. No judgment here.

2. CALORIES (& CALORIES FROM FAT) – Calories measure how much energy is in the food, as calories can come from fats, carbohydrates, or protein. Unfortunately, many people consume more calories than they need without meeting recommended intakes for other nutrients. For adults, this is important, as we do not want to be consuming more calories than our bodies require to burn for daily function, as this can lead to weight gain.

However, and more importantly, as parents, calorie content is one of the least important numbers to pay attention to on the nutrition label for children under the age of 5 years old and at a normal weight. Believe it or not, young children are very in-tune to their actual hunger levels than adults are (who may eat out of habit, emotional influences, cravings, or boredom) and can regulate their own calories well.

For school-age kids (and younger, if they’re overweight) — you’ll want to pay closer attention to how many calories are consumed, so use this guide set by the ADA. The ADA’s recommended calorie intake:
Ages 2-3: 1,000 to 1,400 calories per day
Ages 4-8: 1,200 to 1,800 calories per day (boys need slightly more calories, and so do really active kids)
Ages 9-13: 1,600 to 2,200 calories per day for girls; 1,800 to 2,600 calories per day for boys.

General Guide to Calories

o 40 Calories is low
o 100 Calories is moderate
o 400 Calories or more is high

CALORIES FROM FAT – If you notice right next to the calories listed on the left-hand side of the label is the amount of calories from fat. This is important to check and monitor for adolescents and adults because it’s good to limit fat intake to about 30% or less of the calories they eat. However, children can get a little more of their daily calories from fat (some parents still stick around to 30%, but 35% is fine). An easy way to calculate fat calories: Look for a low “calories from fat” number. For example, a 100-calorie snack should have fewer than 30 calories from fat. The actual math? Divide the calories from fat by the total amount of calories and multiply by 100  this will give you the percentage of calories from fat. Beware that if something is relatively low-fat, it may not be low in calories!

3. The nutrients that should be LIMITED are listed first right under the calorie breakdown (see diagram below). They are: fats (total, saturated, and trans), cholesterol, and sodium. Eating too much fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, or sodium may increase your risk of certain chronic diseases, like heart disease, some cancers, or high blood pressure. Health experts recommend that you keep your intake of saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol as low as possible as part of a nutritionally balanced diet.

While we know some very healthy foods (such as avocados and nuts) contain “high” amounts of fat, we need to be aware of the “healthy” balance of good fats vs. bad fats in our diet….and moderation is key…even with the healthy fats! Things can get tricky in this section, however, as you are to compare the amounts of these nutrients to their DAILY VALUES (which are the upper limits recommended for diets that contain 2,000 calories a day  these limits are given at the bottom of the nutrition label in the footnote for diets containing 2,000 or 2,500 calories a day  the label gives a percent of the Daily Value)
a. FAT – Fat is an important nutrient that your body uses for growth and development, but you don’t want to eat too much. We all need some fat to absorb vitamins, help our internal organs work efficiently, and keep us feeling full after meals, in addition to helping food burn more slowly and help reduce the rate at which sugar is absorbed in the bloodstream (to help prevent sugar “highs” and “crashes”) — and fat is especially important for kids’ brain development (which is why children under the age of 2 should be eating full-fat versions of milk, dairy, etc.). As parents and caregivers, it’s imperative that we are cautious of the type of fat. The different kinds of fat, such as saturated, unsaturated, and trans fat, will be listed separately on the nutrition label. When you check out a label, look for a low saturated-fat content and ideally, NO trans fat. For both adults and children over 2, fewer than 10 percent of daily calories should come from saturated fat. Shortcut: Try to limit — or, better, avoid — packaged foods with a saturated-fat content over 1.5 grams per serving.

As mentioned earlier, calories from fat should not add up to more than 20 percent of the total number of calories. Like I always say, READ THE INGREDIENTS! Items are listed in descending order by weight, so the position of an item indicates whether there’s a little of it or a lot. Pay close attention to make sure you are not eating hydrogenated or highly saturated fats among the first five items—meaning butter, lard, cocoa butter, palm oil, palm kernel oil, partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, margarine, or shortening.

b. CHOLESTEROL – I have mentioned before that despite its bad rep, both children and adults need to take in around 300 mg of cholesterol per day to ensure optimal health (namely brain health!). Our bodies make some cholesterol, but we still need to ingest enough to adequately supply our bodies the amount it needs to make the myelin sheath that surrounds the body’s nerves, thus protecting neurological health. Cholesterol is only found in ANIMAL PRODUCTS (plants cannot make cholesterol), so look for it on any product made with animal by-products like meat, dairy, eggs, etc. Moderation is key, however, as it’s true that too much cholesterol can build up in the arteries and cause heart disease (and experts are now seeing through research that trans and saturated fats play a bigger role in raising blood cholesterol than does the actual cholesterol in food). A good rule of thumb? Aim for foods low in cholesterol, but you don’t have to avoid it at all costs (as in eggs – when rumors about cholesterol being the main culprit for heart disease sprung up, many people stopped eating eggs, which are a nutrient powerhouse for non-vegans).

c. SODIUM – Sodium, a.k.a. “salt” as we know it may make our food taste good, but in reality, too much is linked to numerous health issues such as hypertension, bloating/water retention, stress on our kidneys, heart disease, and can lead to major sugar cravings. Sodium intake has skyrocketed in the US due to food preparation and preservation practices. On average, we consume on average 1,000 mg more of sodium a day than we should be…thanks to the amount of processed foods and for those who eat out, restaurant food is typically highest in sodium. My word of advice? Make as many home-cooked meals as possible…or really monitor what prepared foods you buy. Many low-sodium choices are available now.

In general, the number of milligrams of sodium per serving should be less than the number of calories per serving. The average adult woman eats roughly 2,000 calories a day, and shouldn’t consume more than about 2,000 milligrams of sodium a day (ideally, 1,500 milligrams a day). So if you can beat that 1:1 ratio with each item you eat, you’ll stay under your salt limit. For children, it’s a different story. Since their bodies are smaller and their kidneys have to process much harder, daily intake should be even lower.
The daily recommended allowance for kids (which I think is even too high, in my own opinion):
Ages 2-3: 1,000 to 1,500 mg per day
Ages 4-8: 1,200 to 1,900 mg per day
Ages 9-13: 1,500 to 2,200 mg per day

4. TOTAL CARBOHYDRATES – Remember my 3-part article special on carbohydrates a few months ago? Well, if so, then you remember that carbohydrates are your body’s primary source of energy and can be obtained from sugar, fiber, or starch. When looking at the TOTAL CARBOHYDRATE content on a nutrition label, this number tells you how many carbohydrate grams are in one serving of food. This total is broken down into grams of sugar and grams of dietary fiber. For a good idea of the type of fiber and sugar it contains, check the ingredients list. Whole-grain fiber is ideal, and should be high on the list, while sugars (which may be hiding under names that end in “ose,” like sucrose and high-fructose corn syrup) should be lower, or best, non-existent (in my opinion).

As Marion Nestle points out in her book, something else to be aware of – the FDA makes no recommendation about carbohydrates other than to set the Daily Value for total carbohydrate at 300 grams for diets containing 2,000 calories (this would be less for children). While we know that some carbs are better to eat than others (fibers and whole grains versus sugars), the FDA chose to lump FIVE kinds of carbohydrates together in one 300 gram category:
– Whole grains (healthy if non-GMO and for those without gluten sensitivities)
– Refined grains (not great, as they lack natural health benefits)
– Natural sugars (not terrible because they come in foods that contain many other nutrients)
– Added sugars (should be avoided because they add calories, no other nutrients, and can contribute towards weight gain, diabetes, cravings, sugar imbalances, and other health complications)
– Fiber (very good for you…but avoid the processed “filler”-types)

What bothers me most about this list is that due to food politics, the FDA clumped processed sugars in with naturally-occurring sugars, rather than calling for them to be listed separately.
• SUGARS – This section can get a little tricky, as many foods contain natural sugars (like lactose in milk and fructose in fruit). Some nutrition experts advise to ignore the grams of sugar because that number doesn’t tell you what type of sugar the product contains – natural or added/processed. Definitely check the ingredients and keep a mindful eye – there shouldn’t be any added sugars in the first three to five spots. That includes brown sugar, invert sugar, brown rice syrup, agave nectar, honey, sucrose, evaporated cane juice, and high-fructose corn syrup. Personally, as a parent, I think it IS important to keep track of how many grams of sugar your little one(s) are taking in through the day, as I like to limit my son’s amount to 20-30g PER DAY.
• FIBER – fiber only comes from food plants – fruits, vegetables, and grains – never from meat or dairy foods. You should eat as much fiber as possible to maintain digestive and intestinal health. Take note when looking at grains for a fiber source – If the product contains grains, it’s better if they’re whole (containing all their naturally occurring nutrients) than processed. Scan the ingredients for these words: “cracked,” “rolled,” “stone-ground,” “crushed,” “graham,” and, of course, “whole.” (These are terms used to describe ingredients made from an entire grain kernel.) Another good test: Look for at least three grams of dietary fiber per 100 calories. While it’s higher than the daily recommended values, I suggest we aim for at least 30 grams of fiber a day for women and 45 for men (children may be a little less, as fiber is more filling and can cause sensitive reactions to digestion).

5. PROTEIN – Protein is necessary for your body to build and repair essential body parts such as muscles, blood, and organs. However, we eat so much of it in our diets that it’s not much of a dietary concern. The FDA lists protein on the label as general interest, but makes no recommendation for intake and provides no Daily Value. As long as you are getting enough calories from a variety of foods per day, it is assumed that your protein intake is suitable. I highly recommend steering away from foods that have marketing claims for “Protein-Rich” foods (i.e. Protein shakes or Special K products like cereals and shakes… it’s full of processed isolated proteins that I personally think are not healthy to take in, as they are so processed). Here is a general guideline for how much individuals should be taking in each day:
– Infants require about 10 grams a day.
– Teenage boys need up to 52 grams a day.
– Teenage girls need 46 grams a day.
– Adult men need about 56 grams a day.
– Adult women need about 46 grams a day.
– One important exception is pregnant or lactating women: The recommended intake for them rises to 71 grams of protein a day.

6. THE “EAT MORE” NUTRIENTS – This section is dedicated to vitamins, minerals, (and fiber) and how more should be eaten because they are essential for growing bodies and maintaining health. While the ideal situation would be your family eats an array of healthy foods to obtain essential and beneficial vitamins and minerals, we know that can be hard. The nutrients kids most often lack include vitamins A, B6, C, and D and the minerals calcium, iron, and zinc. See the % Daily Value to find out if a food is a good source of the vitamins and minerals listed on the label. Some foods are enriched with these nutrients to help boost their nutritional profile and add vitamins and minerals to help individuals meet their daily needs.

Regarding this section of the nutrition label, the FDA’s website notes:

“Most Americans don’t get enough dietary fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, and iron in their diets. Eating enough of these nutrients can improve your health and help reduce the risk of some diseases and conditions. Eating a diet high in dietary fiber promotes healthy bowel function. Additionally, a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and grain products that contain dietary fiber, particularly soluble fiber, and low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease.”

7. %DAILY VALUE – this section (found in the “Footnotes”/end of the nutrition label…..who actually reads this part anyway!?!?) basically describes whether or not the item is a good source of a particular nutrient. Remember that the percentages are keyed to a 2,000-calorie diet, so a quick guide is to use the percentage as a clue to whether a food is high or low in certain nutrients. A food that’s 5 percent or less is considered to be low in that nutrient; if it’s between 10 percent and 19 percent, it’s a good source; 20 percent or higher means it’s an excellent source.

8. INGREDIENT LIST – One of the most important parts of the nutrition label, this actually lists what the food contains or is made from. Keep your eyes open for questionable ingredients like processed sugars, unhealthy fats, artificial colors or flavorings, or unhealthy preservatives. Remember that ingredients are listed in order so you get an idea of how much of each ingredient is in the food. When something is listed first, second, or third, you know that this food probably contains a good deal of it. The food will contain smaller amounts of the ingredients mentioned at the end of the list. With that in mind, check ingredient lists to see where sugar appears. Limit foods that mention sugar in the first few ingredients because that means that it is a sugary food.

OK, got all of that?!? While your head may be spinning (or pointed down after falling asleep from trying to take all of this thrilling information in), my hopes are that you now have a little clearer understanding of what the nutrition label is, how to break it down, and what to watch out for when interpreting a food’s nutritional profile. While whole, fresh, non-processed foods like fruits and veggies are best (I call them the “non-food label foods”), be a super food sleuth when at the grocery store and choose wisely, especially for your children. I personally go straight to the sugar content on the nutrition label, while others may aim for something else. Try to get your children involved in learning about and how to read nutrition labels, too – empower them with the knowledge to make healthy eating choices. I listed some websites below that have some fun games and ideas to get kids involved with exploring nutrition labels.
Megan Monday articles are written by Megan Kalocinski, a Certified Holistic Health and Nutrition Coach and Owner/Founder of Empower Health & Nutrition Coaching of Exponential Health and Wellness, LLC:

1 Comment »

Fun Idea for Kids: Learning Letters with Rice

My three and a half year old daughters have been interested in letters for awhile, but mostly to the extent that they know the letter that their name starts with and can point it out in a crowded sentence. They know  a couple handfuls of letters and specifically that mommy starts with “M” and Daddy starts with “D” and “M” and “W” are sometimes confusing. They don’t know all of their letters or the sounds they all make and have only recently started to really try and write. There is a small part of me that gets caught up in wondering if this is normal, if they are ahead or behind the norm. I work hard to recognize that part and then listen to the larger part that has decided not to push the envelope. Or in this case, the pencil.

That said, I want to be sure and offer them fun ways to discover letters without making a drill out of it. So I was excited to find this great list of ideas from one of my favorite kid-inspired webpage, Learn With Play at Home.

I decided to start with Rice Play: Find the Magnetic Letters since it only required 6 items to begin.  All of which were in my kitchen.  I altered the instructions slightly, using:

(2) tuppeware tubs

(1) bag of rice

(1) set of plastic, magnetic letters

(2) plastic spoons

rice letter - C rice letter - R


I poured the letters into one Tupperware tub and then covered them with rice.  Then I handed each girl a plastic spoon and let them dig around the rice to find a letter.  Once they pulled it out, they got to try and identify the letter before depositing it in the empty Tupperware tub.  They loved it and have played 3 times since I unveiled it to them yesterday.  A lot more interesting than me, pointing to letters in a book and saying, “what letter is this?”  Even I think that’s boring!


Leave a comment »

MEGAN MONDAY: Misleading Nutrition Claims and Food Marketing Manipulation – How to Be an Educated & Informed Consumer

nutirion labelIf there’s one important piece of advice I could make stick in everyone’s head who is interested in wanting to eat and be healthier, it would be to READ THE INGREDIENT LIST AND NUTRITION FACTS LABEL.  This is easier said that done, however, due to the savvy ways food companies are allowed to market to consumers (a majority of them CHILDREN), the concept of “reading labels” isn’t enough anymore (not to mention deciphering what nutrition labels actually mean can be an art in itself…stay tuned next week for a lesson in that).  Many of these labels found dazzled across food packaging in bold, attractive fonts and colors are misleading and at times downright false pieces of health claims aimed to get you to buy a product rather than look out for your health and well-being.  I cringe many times when I shop in food stores and see the mass of unhealthy foods targeted at shoppers in strategic places on shelves (and yes, even the healthy stores like Whole Foods have products that may seem healthy, but aren’t, such a sugar-laden snacks boasting a “gluten free” designation).  With that, here are some of my top-offenders of nutrition claims to watch out for and why.  One of the easiest ways to avoid getting sucked into the food marketing manipulation vortex is to shop the perimeter aisles in food stores – the aisles that contain fresh produce, fresh meats (if you eat them), fresh dairy (if you aren’t vegan), and less-processed foods.  The center aisles tend to be traps of processed foods and less-healthy choices.

Marion Nestle (nutrition superwoman and one of my idols) puts it best from her book “What to Eat”:

“The foods that sell best and bring in the most profits are not necessarily the ones that are best for your health, and the conflict between health and business goals is at the root of public confusion about food choices.  At the supermarket, you exercise freedom of choice and personal responsibility every time you put an item in your shopping cart, but massive efforts have gone into making it more convenient and desirable for you to choose some products rather than others.”

The other unfortunate thing you need to realize is that the USDA and FDA are heavily influenced by food industry financing, lobbying, and lawsuit intimidation (heavens forbid the USDA say that eating too much red meat is unhealthy!  The beef industry has already been all over that, leaving the USDA backing down with shaking knees).  Many people ask me, “Well, the FDA or USDA wouldn’t allow something super unhealthy be put on the shelves, so it can’t be that bad for me, right?”  I hate to break it to you, but yes…. Yes, it most certainly can (and in most cases is).  No fear – empower yourself with the knowledge to shop smart and vote with your fork.  The more people who won’t buy into these false claims will eventually shift the market and hopefully change standards.  Already, the tables have turned with individuals and proactive groups filing lawsuits against food companies (and even the USDA) for misleading nutrition marketing and labelling….and some are even winning.


  1.  One of my greatest concerns is how sugar-laden and processed foods are being marketed as boosting some sort of health function (like digestion, for example).  Case in point, here are some of the worst offenders:
  • Yogurts and/or frozen yogurt & ice creams boasting properties like “Probiotics” or “Immune Boosting” (examples – Activia, Danimals, GoGurts, Yoplait…).  In all honesty, the only yogurt products I think are worthwhile are PLAIN-styled yogurts with NO added flavors, sugars, artificial sweeteners, thickening agents, etc.  Have you read the labels of some of the false health-claim yogurts?  If they don’t have sugar contents looming close to the 20g a serving mark, they are full of artificial sweeteners and ingredients…. Nothing healthy about that, especially for kids.  Probiotics?  Healthy probiotics are plentiful in yogurt products like plain kefir, plain yogurt, and plain Greek yogurt.  If you want flavor, add fresh or frozen fruit; to sweeten, add something like stevia.  When I was a teacher, I was aghast when I would see kids suck down two or three GoGurts that were full of sugar and food coloring.  You can make your own frozen versions for dessert by adding fresh fruits or even nuts (like almonds) or granola and putting in the freezer. If you want healthy gut bacteria and an immune system, getting your probiotics from sugar and chemical-laden sources will not do it.
  • Cereals like sugary children’s selections that claim to have fiber and whole grains – in most cases, the “fiber” is some isolated processed form of fiber that could actually irritate the bowels and digestion system rather than help it.  In fact, these are not just limited to children’s selections.  I have seen these claims on pretty much any General Mills, Kellogs, General Foods, and Post cereals (and the list doesn’t end there).  Remember – the goals of these companies is to SELL and MAKE MONEY.  In order to do that, they need to make their products appealing….so in order to do that, they claim something to want you to buy it.  If you want genuine healthy, unprocessed fiber, eat some organic oatmeal, granola, chia seeds, hemp seeds, flax seeds…you get the idea.  Again, read the ingredients list on these cereals and I bet you will be shocked to see more words that you cannot pronounce than you can.  These processed, GMO-laden ingredients will give you calories and fat (if it’s not a fat-free choice), but not healthy energy your body could really utilize.
  1. FAT FREE – This health claim was HUGE starting in the 1990s when the food industry in conjunction with the USDA put the U.S. in a frenzy that saturated and trans-fats were evil (which I agree on about trans-fats…and saturated fats should be limited) and that in order to lose weight, everything had to be fat free.  If anything could be further from the truth, it would be this.  Your body actually needs healthy fats, as in the form of mono and poly unsaturated fats, to help burn fat.  Yes, you heard me right.  Not to mention, when food is processed to have fat taken out, other things (namely sugar, artificial ingredients, and fillers) need to be added to replace fiber and texture.  I don’t know about you, but that sounds too FrankenFood-like to me.  In fact, some of the highest sugar-filled foods and/or highest calorie-containing foods are fat free foods.  My advice?  Stay away from foods that tout being fat free; instead, read the nutrition label and make your choices for healthy fat-intake moderation from there (don’t forget that fat-soluble vitamins A,D,E, and K, in addition to some minerals are absorbed in the body through fats).
  2. SUGAR FREE, NO ADDED SUGAR, OR REDUCED SUGAR – Watching sugar intake is imperative – I agree.  However, eating something that’s made with artificial sweeteners is in my opinion, a huge setback for your health.  Food companies will market foods like this to diabetics or those who are carb-conscious.  However, again, read the nutrition label and ingredient list just to make sure what’s going on for real in the sugar department.  To replace taste, something else is usually added to make up for what’s lost.  Sometimes you will get legitimate items like Trader Joe’s organic fruit preserves that don’t have added sugars (which is a good thing considering the fruit used has enough of its own sugar!) or other ingredients you should be leery about.  With children’s products like juices, snacks, etc., food manufacturers think this will entice parents to buy more of a product that claims to have less sugar “added” – when the actual amount present in the product already is high enough (and should be avoided).
  3. GLUTEN FREE – I understand many individuals are gluten sensitive or intolerant (Celiac disease sufferers) and need to watch their food choices, as gluten seems to be present in everything today from health care products to most items in your cupboard.  However, over the past several years, going “gluten free” has become sort of a diet craze for some people, where they think that if they eliminate gluten or say they are going “gluten free” that they are doing something miraculous for their health or diets (and I’m not trying to make a jab at anyone who has done this).  My concern with the gluten free craze is that I feel it’s been perpetuated by food companies more – they bring attention to the issue by advertising that their food is gluten free and when consumers see that enough over time, they will begin to assume through human nature that gluten is something bad like trans fats and should be avoided.  While I agree gluten causes sensitivity in many people (and obviously needs to be avoided 100% by those with Celiac disease), many people don’t know enough about going “gluten free” before seeking out gluten-free products with health claims on them.  Going 100% gluten free is actually a lifestyle change, as gluten is present in so many products and is disguised under numerous ingredient names (and can also be contaminated on processing and packaging machinery).  The wheat protein gluten that is found in all wheat, barley, and rye products has invaded our food supply – and my main concern is that most of the sensitivity to it I believe is from the GMO-properties of the gluten products themselves.  With that said… many of these gluten free products that have claims on them are many times made with large amounts of fats and sugars and other added ingredients I would advise anyone to stay away from.  Again – read your ingredient lists.  Don’t just think something is healthy because it says gluten free.  Being gluten free for many families is a dedicated lifestyle shift that requires careful ingredient hunting to make sure it will not cause a reaction in those who are affected.
  4. CHOLESTEROL FREE – Cholesterol is only found in animal products (like meat, dairy, eggs, and butter), as it’s produced by the liver.  I crack up every time I see something that is plant-based (like olive oil) touting “Cholesterol free!”  OK – I understand not everyone knows cholesterol is only found in animal products, but the food company making that claim is trying to market their product as being better or healthier when in many cases, it may not be (I’m not saying olive oil is unhealthy, but again, moderation is key).  Additionally, cholesterol free doesn’t mean, literally, no cholesterol – cholesterol-free products must contain less than 2 mg per serving while low-cholesterol products contain 20 mg or less per serving. Foods that say reduced or less cholesterol need to have at least 25% less than comparable products. The American Heart Association recommends people consume less than 300 mg of cholesterol daily, which is important, as too high intakes can lead to heart disease and inflammation problems.  Yet our bodies require some cholesterol to function (especially the brain).  Just beware to read the ingredient list of products that claim to be cholesterol free to make sure they don’t have other harmful things like hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils (which are made out of plant oils).
  5. THE ORGANIC CLAIM – While I 100% promote buying organic produce, meats, dairy, and whole grains…please be aware of foods, especially prepared and “snack-type” foods that boast being organic.  Just because they are organic does NOT mean that they cannot be full of sugars, fats, and calories.  Unfortunately, so many people associate the label “organic” with automatically being healthy.  I mean, technically Oreos could be made organic…but that doesn’t mean they are healthy.  I really caution parents with organic yogurts for kids and organic food “pouches” for babies and toddlers that while they may be organic, giving your child something that contains between 15-20+ grams of sugar in a serving is NOT healthy.
  6. THE “ALL NATURAL” CLAIM – I see this one A LOT.  You’ll see “all natural” ice cream.  You’ll see “all natural” potato chips.  MMmmmmmm…. ALL NATURAL!!  Yea, if only that meant “all good for you” too, which in most cases, it does not.  Meat distributors are plastering this claim leading consumers to believe that if they buy “all natural” meat, it must be great, right?  Well, in fact, there really is no true definition to “all natural.”  While we want to have this enchanted envision that “all natural” would exemplify foods that are pure and not processed in any way, that is often not the case at all.  Since the Food and Drug Administration doesn’t define what “all natural” means, food makers won’t get in trouble as long as so-labeled “all natural” food doesn’t contain added colors, artificial flavors, or “synthetic substances.”  Sounds reassuring, right?  Well…like anything with the USDA and FDA, there’s always room for interpretation.  Even if a food is labelled “natural” it can still contain preservatives (which in many cases can be huge amounts of sodium, as is used in meats) and even some products will have high fructose corn syrup (but you know, since high fructose corn syrup comes from corn, that’s “natural”).  My take?  While some products may really be a healthier choice if it claims to be “all natural” (such as unflavored or sweetened oatmeal) – I would exercise extreme caution and read the ingredient list.  If there is anything added, it’s not “all natural.”
  7. NO TRANS-FATS – This is one of my biggest pet peeves with not only the food industry, but the FDA to allow downright LYING to occur on food labels regarding trans-fats.  Most of us know trans fats are horrible for our health and should be avoided at all times.  The ideal daily dietary intake is zero.  Yet products that claim “no trans fat” are allowed, per the FDA, to contain less than 0.5 grams per serving.  So let’s say you eat a bag of crackers that claim to be “trans fat free”…but you read the ingredient list and pick up on “partially hydrogenated oil”…which is TRANS FAT.  So how could it be trans fat free?  Well, next, check the serving size.  I bet the bag of crackers is probably 2 or 2.5 servings (in most cases, definitely over 1).  The amount of trans-fat for one serving would have to be below 0.5 g…but if the bag is actually 2.5 servings, you’re eating at least 1.5 grams of trans fat… when the label says ZERO TRANS FAT!  Um, what’s wrong with this picture?!? You have to realize that in most cases, if a product says 0 trans fat on it, it isn’t actually at zero.  You can avoid this trap by READING INGREDIENT LISTS AND NUTRITION LABELS… Check for words on the ingredient list such as hydrogenated oils, partially hydrogenated oils, and shortening, which mean trans fat is still present.
  8. BEWARE OF SERVING SIZE! The food package itself can be very misleading.  You look at a bottle of delicious organic iced tea and think that it’s a healthy choice.  Just to be sure, you check the back to scan for calorie and sugar count.  90 calories and 12 grams of sugar….doesn’t seem bad at all for a treat.  But wait… you notice something else on the nutrition label – that bottle is actually 2.5 servings… so now you can multiply the 90 by 2.5 and 12 grams of sugar by 2.5 and what you thought was a healthy treat is now turning out to be a sad realization of high calories and sugar content.  Many times, it’s so easy to think that one container of something is one serving size… when in reality, it’s not.  Food companies do this (even organic ones!) to catch the eye of someone quickly glancing at the nutrition label, hoping that they’ll assume the entire container or package (if it seems like an individual serving) is actually one serving… when in reality, it’s multiple servings.  Paying attention to this detail can help save lots of unnecessary calories, fat, and sugar from being eaten by mistake.


While this list is nowhere near as comprehensive as I could get in the complex world of misleading claims on labels and marketing tactics of food companies, I hope it raises enough awareness to help you carefully navigate through your way of becoming an educated and empowered healthy consumer.  Stay tuned next week for a lesson (or refresher for some of you) on deciphering nutrition labels.

Megan Monday articles are written by Megan Kalocinski, a Certified Holistic Health and Nutrition Coach and Owner/Founder of Empower Health & Nutrition Coaching of Exponential Health and Wellness, LLC:


1 Comment »

%d bloggers like this: