The Ask Anne column featuring District Dietitian Anne Gaffney, R.D. appears in EGUSD school newsletters and is designed to help families build healthy lifestyles. You can email questions to Anne at

Did any of your New Year’s resolutions include trying to lose weight?   With all the focus on weight in our society, it isn’t surprising that millions of people fall prey to fad diets and bogus weight-loss products.  Conflicting claims, testimonials and hype by so-called “experts” can confuse even the most informed consumers.  The bottom line is simple: If a diet or product sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Students as young as fourth grade have reported putting themselves on a “diet” to lose weight.  Parents can help students avoid fad diets by being role models and not going on fad diets themselves and by encouraging healthy habits.  The best way to achieve and maintain a healthy body weight is by choosing healthy food and being physical activity.

If a child is overweight, it is recommended that the family make lifestyle changes that incorporate healthy eating habits and more physical activity.  The goal with kids is to stop the weight gain and have them grow into their weight.

Remember, there are no foods or pills that magically burn fat. No super foods will alter your genetic code. No products will miraculously melt fat while you watch TV or sleep. Some ingredients in supplements and herbal products can be dangerous and even deadly for some people.  Steer clear of any diet plans, pills and products that make the following claims:

Rapid Weight Loss – Slow, steady weight loss is more likely to last than dramatic weight changes. Healthy plans aim for a loss of no more than ½ pound to 1 pound per week. If you lose weight quickly, you’ll lose muscle, bone and water. You also will be more likely to regain the pounds quickly afterwards.

Quantities and Limitations – Ditch diets that allow unlimited quantities of any food, such as grapefruit and cabbage soup. It’s boring to eat the same thing over and over and hard to stick with monotonous plans. Avoid any diet that eliminates or severely restricts entire food groups, such as carbohydrates. Even if you take a multivitamin, you’ll still miss some critical nutrients.

Specific Food Combinations – There is no evidence that combining certain foods or eating foods at specific times of day will help with weight loss. Eating the “wrong” combinations of food doesn’t cause them to turn to fat immediately or to produce toxins in your intestines, as some plans claim.

Rigid Menus – Life is already complicated enough. Limiting food choices or following rigid meal plans can be an overwhelming, distasteful task. With any new diet, always ask yourself: “Can I eat this way for the rest of my life?” If the answer is no, the plan is not for you.

No Need to Exercise – Regular physical activity is essential for good health and healthy weight management. The key to success is to find physical activities that you enjoy and then to aim for 30 to 60 minutes of activity on most days of the week. If you want to maintain a healthy weight, build muscle and lose fat, the best path is a lifelong combination of eating smarter and moving more.

Dear Anne,
With all the talk of flu this year, please comment on what can be done through diet to prevent getting the flu?
R. Henry, Elementary School Parent

Dear R. Henry,
Students and adults with good immune systems are less likely to become ill during cold and flu season.  To keep your immune system healthy, pack your daily eating plan with nutrient-rich foods like fruits and vegetables. These foods contain phytonutrients and may help enhance immunity.  Vitamin C may also help strengthen the immune system.  Guava, red and green bell peppers, kiwi, citrus fruit, vegetable juice cocktail, strawberries, Brussels sprouts, cantaloupe, papaya, kohlrabi, edible pod peas, broccoli and sweet potatoes are all considered good sources of vitamin C.

In addition to eating a healthy diet, get plenty of rest and keep your hands clean and away from your face to help avoid catching a cold or the flu.

Thanks for Asking,

Dear Anne,
My fourteen-year-old daughter announced that she is now a vegetarian.  I am concerned that she will not be getting all the vitamins and minerals she needs.  Can you give me any advice?
D. Lewis, Middle School Parent

Dear D. Lewis,
Preteens and teens often voice their independence through the foods they choose to eat. One strong statement is the decision to stop eating meat. This is common among teens, who may decide to embrace vegetarianism in support of animal rights, for health reasons, or because friends are doing it.
There are actually many different types of vegetarian diets, ranging from those that just avoid red meat (semi-vegetarian) to vegans, who do not eat any foods that contain animal products:

  • semi or partial vegetarian: avoids red meat only
  • ovo-lacto-vegetarian: avoids meat, seafood and poultry, but does consume milk products and eggs
  • lacto-vegetarian: avoids meat, seafood and poultry and eggs, but does consume milk products
  • ovo-vegetarian: avoids meat, seafood and poultry and milk products, but does consume eggs
  • vegan: avoids all foods that contain animal products, including meat, seafood and poultry, milk products and eggs

Depending on the type of vegetarian diet chosen, kids may miss out on some important nutrients if the diet isn’t well planned. The less restrictive the vegetarian diet, the easier it will be for your child to get enough of the necessary nutrients. In some cases, fortified foods or supplements can help meet nutritional needs.  A vegetarian diet that includes dairy products and eggs (lacto-ovo) is the best choice for growing teens.
Here are some key nutrients that vegetarians should be more concerned about and some of their best food sources:

  • vitamin B12: dairy products, eggs, and vitamin-fortified products, such as cereals, breads, and soy and rice drinks, and nutritional yeast
  • vitamin D: milk, vitamin D-fortified orange juice, and other vitamin D-fortified products
  • calcium: dairy products, dark green leafy vegetables, broccoli, dried beans, and calcium-fortified products, including orange juice, soy and rice drinks, and cereals
  • protein: dairy products, eggs, tofu and other soy products, dried beans, and nuts
  • iron: eggs, dried beans, dried fruits, whole grains, leafy green vegetables, and iron-fortified cereals
  • zinc: wheat germ, nuts, fortified cereal, dried beans, and pumpkin seeds

Even if your teen is approaching vegetarianism in a healthy way, it’s still important for her to understand which nutrients might be missing in her diet. To support your child’s dietary decision and promote awareness of the kinds of foods she should be eating, consider having the whole family eat a vegetarian meal at least one night a week.
If well planned, a vegetarian diet can provide all of the nutrients that your child needs to be healthy. If you aren’t sure if she is getting all necessary nutrients, check with your family doctor or a registered dietitian.

Thanks for Asking,

Dear Anne,
My son (4 years old) only eats fruits.  All kinds of fruits: cantaloupe, mango, grapes, watermelon, oranges, pineapples, bananas and apples are his favorites.  He doesn’t like strawberries.  However, I can only get him to eat corn.  He won’t eat any other vegetable NONE!!!!!   So my question is, do the fruits he is eating make up for the vitamins he is missing by not eating vegetables?  Just to be clear I continue to put vegetables on his plate in hopes he will start eating them one day.  I also try to hide them in his food but he just picks them out.  Please advise.

J. King, Raymond Case Elementary School Parent

Hi J. King
Yes, he is getting what he needs from the fruits.  The two main vitamins found in fruits and vegetables are vitamins A & C.  While fruits tend to be better sources of vitamin C and vegetables are typically a better source of vitamin A, both vitamins can be found in fruits and vegetables.  It is very common for young children to want to eat only fruits and it sounds like you are doing the right thing.  Keep offering the vegetables, let him see you enjoying eating vegetables and don’t make it a big deal.  If it becomes a battle, he may never like vegetables.

Sometimes trying vegetables in different forms can make them more interesting… raw, frozen (meaning not defrosted) or cooked in as part of a main dish (stews, stir-fry, soups).  Kids have taste buds over their entire mouths while adults only have them left on our tongues.  This means that foods (including vegetables) taste stronger to kids than to adults.

Thanks for Asking,

Are you interested in eating healthier? Do you want to have fun while trying to increase the amount of fruits and vegetables you eat?  This year, Food and Nutrition Services is expanding our Harvest of the Month program to reach more students and their families.  With funding provided by the Network for a Healthy California, Kaiser Permanente and Raley’s Family of Fine Stores, over 600 classrooms a month will receive fresh produce to study and taste.  The goal of the program is to educate students and their families on the importance of eating fruits and vegetables, expose them to a variety of produce and encourage them to eat adequate amounts of fruits and vegetables every day.

Have fun expanding your families’ fruit and vegetable fare by:

  • Buying what is in season.  While this means you won’t have the same variety all year round, you will have higher quality produce at its lowest cost.  Stores often have better sales on the produce that is in season because it is more plentiful and doesn’t have to be imported.
    • Through September, melons are in season.  In addition to watermelon, cantaloupe, ambrosia, and honeydew melons, several of the farmers’ markets also have different varieties of Indian and Persian melons. Try an exotic Kharbouza melon, or a traditional yellow-skinned casaba melon.
    • Red and yellow bartlett pears as well as a few varieties of Asian pears are now ripe.  A large Asian pear can provide 9 grams of dietary fiber.
  • Visiting your local Certified Farmers’ Market.  Farmers’ markets provide high quality, fresh produce and are able to keep the prices lower since there are no shipping and packaging costs involved.  Find the locations and hours of the farmer’s markets in this area at
  • Trying a new fruit and/or vegetable every month or trying a new way of preparing an old favorite.
  • If you like to stir-fry, there are carrots, onions, garlic, bok choy, and winter melon ready to go. Try adding fresh thai basil leaves and fragrant cilantro a moment before serving. If you like spicy, one or two thai peppers will do the trick, especially if you include the seeds.

Enjoy the harvest!

Dear Anne,
Summer will be here soon and every summer my kids end up drinking too much soda.  Do you have suggestions for other beverages?

Dear Soda Concerned Mom,
Summer is a great time to “Rethink Your Drink”.  A 12-ounce can of soda has 150 calories and 10 teaspoons of sugar in the form of high fructose corn syrup.  If these calories are added to the typical diet without cutting back on something else, one soda a day could lead to a weight gain of 15 pounds in one year.

Try these tips to help you and your family “Rethink Your Drink”:

  • Help children learn to enjoy water as the thirst quencher of choice.
  • Make soft drinks a “sometimes” beverage to be enjoyed in moderate amounts.  Remember that soft drinks include fruitades, fruit drinks, lemonade, energy drinks, sweet tea and sports drinks.
  • Keep a pitcher of water in the refrigerator for easy access.
  • Add lemon, lime or other fruit, or a splash of juice to water.
  • Take the Soda Free Summer challenge.  For more information and to signup to take the challenge, go to:   Below is a chart from the Soda Free Summer web page, showing how much sugar is in different beverages.

Thanks for Asking,

Dear Anne ,

I read about the importance of eating breakfast, but have a hard time getting my kids to eat breakfast before school.  Do you have any suggestions?
Thank you, Breakfast Concerned

Dear Breakfast Concerned,

Many studies have shown that when students eat breakfast they perform better in school.  They have better attendance, better test scores and they feel better.  Here are a few tips to help encourage your child to become a breakfast eater:

  1. Keep quick, easy to fix foods available.
  2. Involve your student in shopping for breakfast foods.
  3. Discuss the importance of eating breakfast.  We tell our kids the importance of brushing their teeth and washing their hands.  We need to do the same with breakfast. Let your kids know that eating breakfast is one of the things they do every day to take care of their bodies.
  4. Model being a breakfast eater.  Let your kids see you eating breakfast.  Modeling what we want them to do has a much greater effect than telling them what to do.  (Besides, breakfast is important for adults, too.  Also, research shows that adults who eat breakfast have an easier time maintaining a healthy body weight.)

Here are some quick breakfast ideas:

  • Ready-to-eat whole grain cereal topped with fruit and 1% milk
  • Whole-grain waffles topped with peanut butter, fruit or ricotta cheese
  • A whole-wheat pita stuffed with sliced hard-cooked eggs
  • Hot cereal topped with cinnamon
  • Peanut butter on a whole-grain bagel or slice of toast with fresh fruit and 1% milk
  • Breakfast smoothie (milk or yogurt and fruit, whirled in a blender)

Another healthy option is to have your student eat breakfast at school.  Thirty-three of the elementary schools and all of the secondary schools serve breakfast every morning. There are hot entrees as well as fresh fruit, yogurt, and cereal offered every day.

Thanks for Asking,

Dear Anne,
My high school aged son is becoming interested in weightlifting.  He wants to gain muscle and is interested in using protein shakes and supplements.  Besides being expensive, I am concerned.  I would like to know if they are beneficial or even safe.
Thank you, Protein Concerned

Dear Protein Concerned,
Step into any health-food store and you’re likely to see stacks of protein-packed powders and bars, and the message is clear: If you want to build muscle, you can’t do it without products like Ultra Body-Building Protein Powder and Protein Bars. After all, it takes protein to build muscles, so mega-doses of protein must result in mega-muscles, right?  Unfortunately, many athletes buy into that premise.  A closer look at the facts will save money and may result in healthier eating.

It is true that weightlifters and other high-powered athletes need more protein than the rest of us. But the fact that is often overlooked is that most people consume more protein than they need already.  Most teen athletes get plenty of protein through regular eating.

It’s a myth that athletes need a huge daily intake of protein to build large, strong muscles. Muscle growth comes from regular training and hard work. And taking in too much protein can actually harm the body, causing dehydration, calcium loss, and even kidney problems.  There’s no clear-cut line between safe and dangerous amounts, but experts agree on this: Whether you are a weightlifter or not, it’s better to get your protein from a balanced diet than from a supplement.  Good sources of protein are fish, lean meats and poultry, eggs, dairy, nuts, soy, and peanut butter. Visit to learn how many servings of protein-rich foods are recommended for individuals based on gender, age and activity level.

Thanks for Asking,

Hi Anne,
How is a serving size determined?  For example, if you look at two boxes of crackers, the calories aren’t the same and the serving is not the same….
Thank you, The Label Reader

Dear Label Reader,
Nutrition Facts label serving sizes are based on the amount of food customarily eaten at one time (called the “reference amount”) as reported from nationwide food consumption surveys.  For crackers, the reference weight is 30 grams.  So for each different type of cracker, the nutrition label information is based on how many crackers it takes to equal 30 grams.  The gram weight listed may not be exactly 30 grams because only the weight of whole crackers is used.  In other words, when comparing two different types of crackers, the number of crackers per serving maybe a little different, but the gram weight of the two portions will be very similar.  For each portion (weighing approximately 30 grams), the calories and other nutrients will vary based on the ingredients in the different types of crackers.

The first place to start when you look at the Nutrition Facts label is the serving size and the number of servings in the package.  Pay attention to the serving size, and especially how many servings there are in the food package. Then ask yourself, “How many servings am I consuming”? (e.g., 1/2 serving, 1 serving, or more) In the case of crackers, one serving may be listed as 6 crackers. If you ate 12 crackers, you would have eaten two servings. That doubles the calories and other nutrient numbers, including the % Daily Values shown at the right side of a Nutrition Facts label.

Thanks for Asking,

Hi Anne,
I have 3 kids in the EG school district – 1 in middle school and 2 in elementary schools.  I just want to know is the district or dietitians like you taking active steps to make lunch healthier in schools?  I’m concerned about having too much processed food or trans fat in school lunches. I’m looking at the school menu and it serves food like pizza, chicken nuggets, cheeseburger, lunchables, etc and I know these food items have processed food and trans fat in them.  I understand that it’s not possible to completely eliminate processed food and trans fat in the school lunch but I’m just hoping the school district is carefully examining the amount of  processed food and trans fat in the lunch they serve and keep the food more natural/healthy and the processed food and trans fat to a minimum.  Please advise. Thanks.  Anna

Dear Anna,
Thank you for your comments and interest regarding school lunch.  Finding healthy foods that students will eat is a continual challenge and we go to great lengths to offer foods that students will choose while maintaining the nutritional integrity of the meal.  Our lunches are planned to meet 1/3 of the Recommended Dietary Allowances for a given age range, contain no more than 30% of the calories from fat, and are computer analyzed by nutrients.  The analysis is adjusted for secondary student to meet their increased calorie and nutrient needs.  As for trans fats, by law, no food item can contain more than .5 grams of trans fat.  Since we do not fry any foods, our meals are naturally trans fat free.

If you haven’t done so already, we encourage you to visit your students’ school at lunchtime.  Some of the healthy options you will see are a variety of fresh fruit and vegetables every day, milk products that are nonfat and 1% fat, and foods that are baked, not fried (the fryers from years ago have been removed). In addition, many of the foods offered have been specially formulated for school lunch programs.  They are lower in fat, higher in fiber and contain more whole grains than foods purchased in stores or restaurants.  For example, the cheese sauce is not the imitation cheese made from flavored oil, but is actually made from milk.  Many of the pizzas are made with whole grain crust and reduced fat cheese.  Our Fiesta Pizza is made with a whole grain crust and beans.  Even the recipe for our chocolate chip cookies, which are baked from scratch in the district’s bakery, has been modified and applesauce is used to reduce the fat content.

Another thing that we do to encourage students to eat a healthy lunch is provide five different entrée choices daily at the elementary schools and many more choices at the secondary schools. By providing many choices at lunch, we can meet the varied taste preferences of the over 34,000 students that we feed every day.  If a student skips lunch they are robbing their bodies of the energy and nutrients they need to pay attention and do their best in the classroom.  A hungry child cannot learn.

Thanks for Asking,

Dear Anne,
I am coaching my 11 year old daughter’s soccer team.  My assistant coach and I were talking about how our soccer girls need to develop good eating habits before practices and games.  Could you provide us a list with healthy snack ideas kids could have before practices and the night before game days.   We want them to have maximum energy on the field since they will have 60 minute games this year and a longer field to play on. Any advice in those two categories would be great.
Thanks, Coach Dad

Dear Coach Dad,
All kids need to eat a variety of healthy foods, and athletes are no different. Everybody needs foods that include:

  • protein (found in meat, eggs, and dairy foods)
  • carbohydrates (fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are the best sources)
  • vitamins (as found in fruits and vegetables, for instance) and minerals like calcium (found in dairy products)

Kids need some fat, too, but that’s not usually difficult to get. It’s found in meats, cheeses, nuts, oils, and butter, just to name a few.

When it’s time to practice or play, you’ll get energy from the foods you’ve been eating all week. But it’s still a good idea to eat well on that day. If you’re going to eat a meal, have it 2 to 4 hours before practice or game time. If you have a full stomach, your body will need to spend energy digesting food, leaving less for you to use in your game or practice. The best pre-game meal includes carbohydrates and protein for energy, but is low in fat and fiber, which can slow digestion.

But you don’t want to be hungry either. Bring a snack, especially for long practices, competitions, or all-day events. Half a sandwich, fresh or dried fruit, or a small handful of nuts are all good snacks. Sports bars, or energy bars, are convenient, but they aren’t necessary for athletes. You can get the same energy from healthy foods.

Avoid sugary stuff like donuts, sodas or candy bars right before you practice or compete. You might get a little energy boost, but it will fade fast, leaving you feeling drained. But eating and drinking the right stuff will help you play your best. Now, go out there and have a great season.

Thanks for Asking,

Dear Anne,
I have a daughter who will be entering 1st grade this year and has a severe peanut allergy. I will pack her lunch most days but need to know what is safe or off limits for her in the cafeteria. I know there is a peanut butter item daily but I believe those come from the central kitchen sealed?  Is it in the future or possible for allergen information to be added to the district website with the menus? We stay away from shared equipment foods. Any info you can provide is greatly appreciated.
Thanks-Tracy D.

Dear Tracy D.,
As you know it takes a group approach to manage a food allergy at school. Parents should make sure that their child’s teacher, the school office, school nurse and the cafeteria lead have all been notified in advance if a child has a severe food allergy.

The peanut products that are offered in the cafeteria daily are the Peanut Butter Sandwich or the Peanut Butter Bar. Both of these are produced and packaged by an outside manufacturer, and are delivered to the individual schools by the case.  This means they are not packaged in the district’s central kitchen. Some schools in the district offer snacks as part of an after-school program. Twice a month these programs have peanut butter cookies on the snack menu and the cookies are produced in the district’s bakery. If you are avoiding shared equipment foods your child should avoid the fresh baked cookies which are on the elementary menu on Fridays and muffins which are on the breakfast menu.

Currently the nutrient information for all food items served at school are available on the district website under menus. Due to the number of different types of food allergies and the large variety of products offered, it would be difficult to maintain an up to date list of all food allergens in each product. Instead, parents are encouraged to contact Food and Nutrition Services (FNS) to discuss their child’s food allergies. We keep a specification sheet on every food/ingredient and can verify which foods are safe on an individual basis. To contact FNS regarding a food allergy, call 686-7735, ext. 7863.

Thanks for Asking,

Dear Ask Anne,
I have been hearing that more and more kids are getting diabetes.  What can I do to help prevent my child from getting diabetes?

Signed, Diabetes Concerned

Dear Diabetes Concerned,
As a parent, you want to protect your child from everything, which is virtually impossible, of course. But can you prevent your child from getting diabetes?  First, let’s take a look at what diabetes is.  Diabetes is a disease that affects how the body uses glucose, the main type of sugar in the blood. Glucose, which comes from the foods we eat, is the major source of energy needed to fuel the body. To use glucose, the body needs the hormone insulin.  But if someone has diabetes, the body either can’t make insulin or the insulin doesn’t work in the body like it should.  There are two major types of diabetes:

  • In type 1 diabetes, a person’s immune system attacks the pancreas and destroys the cells that make insulin.
  • In type 2 diabetes, the pancreas can still make insulin, but the body doesn’t respond to it properly. In both types of diabetes, glucose can’t get into the cells normally, so a person’s blood sugar level gets too high. High blood sugar levels can make people sick if they don’t receive treatment.

Type 1 diabetes can’t be prevented. No one knows for sure what causes type 1 diabetes, and doctors can’t even tell who will get it and who won’t.
Unlike type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes can sometimes be prevented. Excessive weight gain, obesity, and a sedentary lifestyle are all factors that put a person at risk for type 2 diabetes.
To reduce your child’s risk for developing type 2 diabetes, help them maintain a healthy weight by encouraging a healthy diet consisting of low-fat, nutrient-rich foods – like whole-grain cereals and breads, fruits, vegetables, non-fat and low-fat dairy products, and lean proteins- and encouraging daily physical activity.
By the way, diabetes is not caused by eating too much sugar. This myth probably began when people with diabetes were absolutely forbidden from consuming sugar.

Thanks for Asking,

Dear Ask Anne,
I have been hearing a lot of advertisements for energy drinks lately and my kids want me to buy them. Are energy drinks good for kids and what is really in them?

Energy Mom

Dear Energy Mom,
Energy drinks are becoming increasingly popular with middle- and high-school students and while some energy drinks are clearly labeled as unsuitable for children, others are specifically marketed to kids as young as 4, promising boosts in energy and nutrition as well as enhanced athletic performance.

Most energy drinks deliver a stiff dose of sugar and caffeine — sometimes as much caffeine as in 1 to 3 cups of coffee. Too much sugar can put your child in the fast lane to the dentist’s office and also contribute to weight gain. Excessive caffeine comes with its own set of problems — especially in younger kids.  It can cause anxiety and disrupt sleep.

Until recently, caffeine beverages were mainly consumed by adults, so caffeine’s effects on growing students has not been well studied. At a minimum, we know caffeine is a powerful stimulant. As in adults, too much caffeine can cause: jitteriness and nervousness, upset stomach, headaches, difficulty concentrating, difficulty sleeping, and frequent urination. Because children are smaller than adults and haven’t yet developed a tolerance to caffeine, its effects on them may be more pronounced.

Many of these drinks also contain additional ingredients whose safety or effectiveness has never been tested in children — including herbal supplements, guarana (a source of caffeine), and taurine (an amino acid thought to enhance performance).

The bottom line is this: Energy drinks offer no real health or performance benefit for kids. Children who participate in sports should learn that they can improve their game through hard work and practice — values that will serve them well both on and off the field.

Remember that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Be critical when reading labels, and teach your child not to be so quick to believe the hype when it comes to power drinks. For athletes and non-athletes alike, nothing beats a well-balanced diet. Most kids who eat well, stay hydrated, and get enough physical activity and rest will have plenty of energy — naturally.

Thanks for asking,


Dear Ask Anne,
I have a hard time getting my kids to drink milk. How much do they need and are there other ways for them to get calcium? Thanks, Milk Mom

Dear Milk Mom,
Milk is a great source of calcium and vitamin D, both of which are important for healthy bones. An 8-ounce serving of milk provides 300 mg of calcium, or about 25% of calcium needs for an adult and almost half for children age 4-8. The same amount of milk provides about half a day’s worth of vitamin D for kids. Some individuals may not be able to consume the required number of servings of milk every day because of lactose intolerance, milk allergies or they simply may not like the taste.

If milk isn’t your thing, the same amount of calcium can be found in a variety of foods, including 6-8 ounces of yogurt (choose low- or non-fat); 1.5 ounces of cheddar, Swiss, or jack cheese; one tablespoon of grated parmesan cheese; 1 cup of calcium fortified orange juice; or 1 cup of fortified soy milk or rice milk. Try one or more of these tips to help ensure your child gets enough bone-building calcium:

  • Drink milk yourself. When your child sees you drink milk, they will be more likely to drink it.
  • Offer milk at meals, and let the child decide to drink it. Pressure to eat any one particular food will likely backfire in the long run. If at first it’s not accepted, keep trying while mixing in high-calcium foods from the list above.
  • Cook with milk. Use it to make oatmeal or hot chocolate instead of water.
  • Don’t forget snacks. Offer calcium-rich snacks like cheese and whole wheat crackers, string cheese, yogurt with fruit, and cereal with milk.
  • Serve non-dairy calcium sources like green leafy vegetables, edamame (green soybeans – fresh or frozen), tofu (check the amount of calcium on the nutrition facts panel), and almonds.

Thanks for asking,

How much calcium do you need?

Age in
Calcium needs Daily
Recommended Intake (DRI)
Cups of milk per
day to meet the DRI
Type of milk
Newborn About 250 mg Feed on demand No cow’s milk until age
1 – breast milk or formula only
1 to 3 500 mg 2 Whole milk until age 2,
2% or 1% until age 5
4 to 8 800 mg 3 2% or 1% until age 5;
non-fat (or skim) from 5 into adulthood
9 to 18 1300 mg 4-5 Non-fat
19-50 1000 mg 3+ Non-fat
51-70 1200 mg 4 Non-fat

Dear Anne,

As the New Year gets under way, what are some simple family nutritional goals we can set?

Thank you for the question.  As the new year starts, many of us think about setting a New Year’s Resolution. We set goals to lose weight or to get fit, and frequently those resolutions are abandoned as quickly as they were set.  Often the goals were too drastic of a change or too general and we simply can’t stick with it.  For most, New Year’s Resolutions revolve around changing their weight.

The goal shouldn’t necessarily be weight loss or weight gain, it should be better health.  By concentrating on the better health part, people will feel rewarded by achieving that goal.  Focus on health and the weight will take care of itself.  In other words, healthy eating and being physically active will benefit your health regardless of what you weigh. Weight is, after all, just an arbitrary number on a scale. Your weight doesn’t indicate the vast number of biochemical changes that occur when healthy eating and regular exercise become a habit. It’s about health at any size, any weight.

Even if your weight isn’t where you would like it to be, parents can be good role models for their children. The best way to teach kids to make healthy food choices and to be physically active is to let them see the adults in their lives eating fruits and vegetables and getting regular physical activity.

Ultimately, it’s about doing the best you can while focusing on the positive. It’s about adopting a lifestyle that will improve your heath overtime. It’s about eating more fruits and vegetables, being more physically active, and creating a healthy environment for your children.

My suggested resolutions: eat more fruits and vegetables, and be physically active for 30 minutes a day.


Dear Ask Anne,

Please tell me about Fruit Snacks.  My kids like them, but are they healthy?

Curious About Fruit Snacks

Dear Curious About Fruit Snacks,

Processed snacks promoting “real fruit” ingredients and flavors are popular treats for children of all ages. Brightly packaged and kid-friendly, these goodies sound like a parent’s dream – fruit your child wants to eat. But a closer look at the label reveals that most of these “fruit” treats are no substitute for the real thing.

Most fruit snacks are like candy.  Even fruit snacks proclaiming they are made with real fruit juice can be deceiving. The real fruit juice is generally concentrated grape or apple juice, and in that juice, you’re not going to get the fiber that you would get in an actual piece of fruit. The best type of fruit to snack on is the actual fruit, whether it be a piece of fresh fruit, canned fruit packed in its own juice or dried fruit.

Focusing on real fruit does not mean your child can never enjoy a processed fruit snack, but save the fruit snacks for a treat on special occasions. While fruit is an every day food, fruit snacks are an occasional food.


Dear Ask Anne,
My child’s class will be having a celebration for the holidays. I’m helping organize the food. I’d like to encourage other parents to send healthy snacks for the party. Do you have a suggestion for healthy party treats that students would like?

Party Planner

Dear Party Planner,
Typically, foods for school celebrations include cupcakes, candy, cookies and soda, and often, not in moderation. So what’s the harm? There is nothing wrong with an occasional treat, but unhealthy choices have become the norm rather than the exception. By offering healthy choices during a classroom celebration, students are learning that healthy foods are fun and good to eat.
Most kids are excited about having a party, not just about eating junk food. They will be even more excited and accepting of healthy party foods if they are involved in the planning. Below are some ideas for healthier party foods. Remember to check for food allergies and inform parents about foods to leave out to accommodate these special needs.

Healthy Party Foods: (*note: peanut butter, nuts may be allergenic)
• Air-popped popcorn
• Pretzels
• Crackers and peanut butter*
• Baked chips and salsa
• Cut up fruit with yogurt dip
• Cut up veggies with yogurt/ low fat ranch dip
• Low fat breakfast bars or granola bars
• Trail/cereal mix (whole grain, low-sugar cereals mixed w/dried fruit, pretzels, etc.)
• Nuts and seeds*
• Low-fat pudding
• Low-fat yogurt
• Squeezable yogurt
• Yogurt parfaits (yogurt and fruit topped with cereal, granola or crushed graham crackers)
• 1% milk
• 100% fruit juice
• Sparkling water or fruit juice

Thanks for asking,

Dear Ask Anne,

My son likes to take a sports drink to soccer practice instead of water. Are sports drinks better for him than water?

Soccer Mom

Dear Soccer Mom,

The idea is that sports drinks help replace the electrolytes that our bodies lose when exercising. The problem is that most of us, including children, do not exercise to a level where electrolyte replacement is needed. Electrolyte replacement only becomes an issue for individuals who are exercising for a sustained period of time, like a marathon runner. Studies have shown that in five out of six times, trained athletes performed just as well with water than with sports drinks during intense exercise of less than one hour.

While the name “sports drink” implies that it is healthy, sports drinks actually contain a lot of sugar. The average 20 oz. sports drink has eight teaspoons of sugar and 130 calories. So if a child substituted a 20-oz sports drink for water every day (and changed nothing else), he or she would gain 13 extra pounds over the course of a year. Water is best for hydrating our bodies before, during and after exercise.

Ask Anne

Dear Anne,

I realize that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but would like some ideas for healthy breakfast foods when you are in a hurry.

Breakfast Challenged

Dear Breakfast Challenged,

You are so right! Eating breakfast really is important, especially for students.  Many studies have shown that when students eat breakfast they perform better in school.  They will have better attendance and test scores.  Breakfast can be quick and healthy here are a couple of tips:

  • Read labels for sugar, fiber and fat content.
  • Avoid cereals that have more than 7 grams of sugar per serving.
  • Aim for foods that give you at least 2 grams of fiber per serving.
  • Eat a combination of foods so that you get protein and carbohydrate.
  • Select nonfat or low-fait dairy products.

Below are some simple, healthy ideas for breakfast:

  • Ready-to-eat whole grain cold or hot cereal topped with fruit and yogurt
  • Whole-grain waffles topped with peanut butter, fruit or ricotta cheese
  • A whole-wheat pita stuffed with sliced hard-cooked eggs
  • Peanut butter on a bagel with fresh fruit and 1% milk
  • Breakfast smoothie (blend milk or yogurt, fruit and teaspoon of bran)

Another healthy option is to have your student eat breakfast at school.  Twenty-three of our elementary schools and all of the secondary schools serve breakfast every morning. There are hot entrees as well as fresh fruit, yogurt, and cereal offered every day.

Thanks for asking,

Dear Anne,

I have heard in the news about cereal companies trying to make their cereals with less sugar.  My kids love sweetened cereal.  Are they really that bad?
Sugar Lover

Dear Sugar Lover,

Foods do not have to be considered good or bad.  Rather they can be thought of as more or less healthy.  When choosing a breakfast cereal, it is healthier to pick one that is high in fiber and low in sugar. Sugary foods cause a quick rise in blood sugar and energy in children.  About an hour later after consuming foods high in sugar, blood sugar and energy decline, often bringing on symptoms of hunger.

A breakfast that includes at least three food groups from the Food Pyramid (fruit or 100 percent juice, bread or cereal and milk) will keep blood sugar up so energy levels are sustained through the morning. Studies have shown that children who eat breakfast are better able to concentrate on learning and have higher test scores. For more information about the Food Pyramid, go to

One healthier option for breakfast would be to mix a high fiber, low sugar cereal in with your usual cereal.  You could also serve a low sugar cereal or oatmeal and add a teaspoon of sugar on top.  Add some fresh fruit and yogurt and you have a breakfast for champions!


Dear Anne,

I like to include a special treat in my child’s lunch. In the past, I gave her a snack size candy bar, but after reading about childhood obesity, I stopped. Lately, I have been reading about the benefits of dark chocolate. Would you recommend dark chocolate kisses as a healthy treat?

– Katie

Dear Katie,

There have been a number of recent studies on chocolate — particularly dark chocolate — and its health benefits. It appears that one of the main ingredients found in cocoa, is associated with a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease. Because chocolate is also high in fat and sugar, it is recommended that chocolate only be consumed in moderate amounts while incorporating a wide range of phytochemical-rich fruits and vegetables.

Thanks for asking, Anne

Hello Anne,
I was just wondering if diet sodas are okay to drink since they don’t contain calories, carbs, or fat?  Also, I heard somewhere that caffeine free soda’s can be counted towards your daily water consumption.  Is this true?  Anyway, any help would be appreciated!

Dear Michael,
Diet sodas don’t contain any sugar, so they are a better choice than regular sodas.  However, just like regular sodas, diet sodas replace more healthful beverages such as water and 1% or fat-free milk. Also, both types of sodas often contain caffeine and artificial ingredients. Since all sodas replace beverages that provide nutrients that our bodies need and contain artificial ingredients that our bodies don’t need, neither type of soda is considered a healthy beverage.

While caffeine-free beverages can count towards the amount of water that your body needs daily, I wouldn’t recommend having soda of any type daily. Soda should be considered as a seldom or occasional beverage, not an every day beverage.

Thanks for asking,

The Ask Anne column featuring District Nutritionist Anne Gaffney, R.D., appears in EGUSD school newsletters and is designed to help families build healthy lifestyles. You can email questions to Anne at