Dr. Ayala's Blog

The latest science of healthy food and healthy living

Dr. Ayala

Dr. Ayala
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
V.P. Product Development
Herbal Water
I’m a physician (Pediatrics and Medical Genetics), artist, and mother of 3 school age active kids. I recently co-founded Herbal Water Inc. (www.herbalwater.com) with my husband, Albert. I am a serious home cook, and love to entertain. My expertise is vegetarian food (I have been a vegetarian all my life). I strongly believe that eating healthy and enjoying good food go hand in hand. My main interests are science, nutrition and art, and I am overall a very curious person that tries to learn something new every day. Dr. Ayala (Ayala Laufer-Cahana M.D.)


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SEPTEMBER 7, 2009 9:49AM

Back to school--five easy tips to improve your kids’ health

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I can’t believe the summer vacation is over and kids will be going back to school this week. This summer went by way too fast!

I was happy to get a letter from my daughter’s elementary school announcing new snack policies—the school will not be giving out any more snacks, will not give food as incentives, prizes or rewards, and birthday celebrations at school will become "food free." Parents are being encouraged to send healthy snacks from home, including fresh fruit, cut-up vegetables, dry fruit and trail mix (with no candy).

The reasons cited for this change of policy are dual—better nutrition to prevent childhood obesity and a precaution taken because many kids suffer food allergies.

I’m greatly encouraged to see that change in the way we feed our kids is indeed coming!
And to this hopeful note I’d like to add a few suggestions for simple steps that can add up to better health this coming school year. These steps are indeed small, certainly doable, and can have real impact, especially if they lead to the next small step towards wellness:

Eat breakfast - Many know that breakfast may be the most important meal in the day. Studies show that eating breakfast is not only associated with better nutrition, better concentration and performance in school but also with less obesity. Yet up to a third of teenagers skip breakfast regularly. Make sure your kids leave home after they’ve had a nutritious breakfast! I’ve written more about the importance of eating breakfast in my post here .

Teach your kids how to cook - Preparing simple healthy meals is a life skill that is a gift that keeps on giving. Give your kids age-appropriate healthy shopping and healthy cooking lessons, and if you feel you’re in need of a few lessons yourself, you can learn together from books, websites and cooking shows.

Take the junk-food out - While a little junk every once in a while will probably do no harm, having it available at home on a regular basis enables bad habits and teaches the wrong lesson. Make home a safe haven of healthy, nutritious food. Take the soda, sweet drinks, fatty sweet and salty highly processed snacks out, and replace them with readily accessible fruits, vegetables, nuts and other healthy snacks.

Find out what’s served in the school cafeteria - Unfortunately, the school lunch in many schools is not a healthy one . What’s more, competing with the school lunch are junk foods sold through vending machines and other sources. Find out what is served in your kids’ school, and if it doesn’t meet your standards, do something about it: Send your kids to school with a lunchbox and healthy snacks from home; speak up and try to effect change in the school lunch program in a practical and positive way.

Get them moving! - A third of our kids are overweight or obese, childhood obesity has tripled in the past thirty years, and although these skyrocketing rates are mostly a result of the food environment we live in, kids’ inactivity also plays a role. If your kids aren’t getting their daily dose of vigorous exercise, encourage them to join a sports team, pick a new hobby that will get them moving, and incorporate more movement in daily life. If school and other activities are close to home, consider walking rather than driving when weather and time permits. Choose family activities that are active, and get the whole family exercising and out in the fresh air! Many neighborhoods are quite safe, yet kids don’t play outdoors often enough; find a way to get the kids on your block back in the playground or on the open field playing unorganized sports the old fashioned way, with supervision if you see the need, or without.

A happy, healthy start to the new school year to all of us!
Dr. Ayala

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Great post! Your suggestions are ones that I try to do on a daily basis with my kids. If they are raised this way, their is hope for them to live happy, balanced lives ahead.
Good advice for all of us---are you related to Dr. Ayala in Santa Clara County?
I just want to say while I understand what you are saying I wish you would enter a school cafeteria and see the changes that are happening.
I do not talk about it as eloquently as some but I really need parents to realize that we in school food service land have a budget not a great one either. Out of our budget we pay all food, wages, benefits, maintenance and any new equipment needed. It does not go very far and we use snacks to supplement our income just to make ends meet and not be sold out to a management company.
I am not complaining I LOVE my job and the children and I do all that is possible to serve the healthiest foods I can find. I buy local produce and know what is in season and what isn't. I keep free fruit out from breakfast until I leave after lunch. That comes out of my budget but I feel children are important and I urge them to get a piece of fruit especially the ones who fall through the cracks and never have money for the healthy, wholesome snacks we offer.
The way children eat is changing and yes we are a part of it so please check out your child's cafeteria, talk to your friendly neighborhood lunch lady and then judge us. This week I ordered fresh peaches, nectarines, black plums, grapes, bananas and cantaloupe. We also offer fresh salad everyday with fresh spinach leaves tattered throughout. Just an FYI
Thanks for your insightful comments, everyone!

@gal80 Ayala is my first name. Always liked kids to call me by first name--less intimidating for them.

@lunchlady 2 really appreciate your comment, and I do understand your plight. The school lunches are underfunded. I think more forward thinking would realize that spending a little more on better food is a good investment, and will pay back many times more.