One mistake families make is skipping breakfast.

Improving your kids’ health can be simple. Here’s how.

One in 5 school-age children in the United States is obese, and many others are overweight, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And even children at what is considered a healthy weight aren’t necessarily healthy.

“There is no magic diet, no one diet that is good for everyone,” said Dr. Bahareh Michelle Schweiger, a pediatric endocrinologist at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

Schweiger and Dr. Richard Brucker oversee the Step-Up Kids Weight Management Program at Cedars-Sinai. They and their colleagues, including certified diabetes educators (pre-diabetes and diabetes diagnoses in children are on the rise) work with children and their families to develop customized weight-loss and healthy-eating plans.

The Journal spoke with Schweiger — a Sherman Oaks resident, Valley Beth Shalom congregant and mother of three children — about changes families can make in their diets to improve their health. She offered the following suggestions:

Don’t Play Food Police

Going through the pantry when the kids are at school and tossing out every package of Oreo cookies and Cheez-It crackers may sound like a surefire strategy to prevent your kids from eating junk. But Schweiger advises against it. “Forbidding certain foods and trying to play police can actually be more of a draw for the kid to overeat those foods whenever they get a chance,” she said. Not to mention that it could set up an unhealthy relationship between you and your child. Instead, start with smaller, more manageable steps. And be a good role model.

Make It a Family Affair

Schweiger said she knows families are busier than ever, which often leads to eating on the fly and grabbing whatever is quick and easy. However, when families sit down to eat together, they tend to eat less-processed foods and share food that is higher in fiber. Your family can’t do weekday dinners? Try Saturday breakfast or lunch.

Involve your children, too. Let them choose their favorite fruits and vegetables at the market, or something they are open to trying, and enlist them to help prepare the meal. “They need to be part of the process,” Schweiger said. “Otherwise, there is going to be unwillingness to make any change.”

If your family likes to go out for the occasional treat, don’t go overboard. Everyone in the family can order a kiddie portion of ice cream.

Pay Attention to Portion Size

Portion sizes at some restaurants are four times bigger than what is healthy. So even if you eat only half of a serving, you could be consuming twice the portion size you really need, Schweiger said. So how do you figure out the proper serving of chicken or pasta or broccoli? Use your palm as an approximate measure, she said. And remember, since your child’s palm is likely smaller than yours, their portion size should be smaller, too.

Banish the Clean Plate Rule

Don’t expect children to eat everything on their plates. Conversely, parents should not be short-order cooks. If your child does not like what you make for dinner one night of the week, don’t whip up a special dinner just for them. If children are eating a variety of foods, they will manage. They can grab a piece of fresh fruit if they are famished.

Eat More Fruits and Vegetables

Half of your diet and your kids’ diets should be made up of fruits and vegetables. Research has found the fiber in fruits and vegetables helps to prevent certain cancers. And fruit juice isn’t a replacement. “Often, our brain doesn’t process those calories as food,” which can lead to weight issues, Schweiger said.

It can take 15, 20, even 30 introductions of a food for a child to learn to like it. A strategy to make fruits and vegetables more enticing is to serve them alongside something you know your child likes.

Eat a Healthy Breakfast

If there is one meal where many families go wrong, it is breakfast — or skipping it, Schweiger said. “You’ve already been fasting all night,” she said. “[Breakfast is] an important time to get some good nutrition in, especially before sending your kid to school. Get their metabolism up and going.” There’s research, too, that shows those who skip breakfast have an increased risk of obesity and pre-diabetes.

So what does a healthy breakfast look like? Schweiger suggests a piece of wheat toast with cream cheese, oatmeal, yogurt, or a hard-boiled egg, along with something else. Even some packaged breakfast bars are OK, she said. And cereal merits its own portion-size reminder, since many kids (and grown-ups) are in the habit of filling their bowls nearly to the brim, which could be two or three times the recommended portion, Schweiger said.

Snack Smartly

A quick snack can be healthy. Schweiger suggests a cheese stick or a portion of nuts, yogurt or hummus. Try putting out a plate of fresh fruit or veggies when you know your kids are going to be hungry — like when they get home from school. “They are more likely to grab it, as opposed to going to the cupboard and opening up a processed snack,” Schweiger said. If you are going to provide crackers or something similar, measure out a portion size and put it in a baggie. Eating directly out of a box is an invitation to overeat.

Also, make sure an after-school snack doesn’t turn into a full meal. It’s nice to be hungry come dinnertime.

Ditch the Electronics

Electronics and mealtime are not an ideal pairing. If your child has a smartphone, make sure it’s not part of the dinner party. That goes for Mom and Dad, too. If you are texting or watching YouTube videos at mealtime, you are not paying attention to the food you are eating and “You end up eating a lot more food,” Schweiger said.

Special Considerations for Jewish Kids

Protein should be a part of most meals. “It can help make you feel full longer and keep your blood sugar more stabilized,” Schweiger said. But some Jewish schools don’t allow students to bring meat in their lunches. If a child also has a nut allergy, it could make it difficult to get enough protein during the day. Schweiger recommends hummus and avocado as good sources of protein.

Get Moving

In keeping with the recommendation of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Schweiger said children should get 60 minutes of moderate physical activity a day. The exercise doesn’t need to be done at one time. It can include, for example, walking to school, playing at recess, or participating in a dance class.

Of course, many kids don’t walk to school, and some may spend their recess on their smartphone. If your child loves electronics, Schweiger recommends they do 15 minutes of “Just Dance,” a popular game available for various platforms, or even 20 jumping jacks here and there. She also is a fan of many exercise videos geared for children. One of her favorite series is “Instant Recess,” available on YouTube.

Be Patient

It is important to be patient when looking for weight-loss results.

“This isn’t a quick fix,” Schweiger said. “There are always ways to be healthier and eat healthier.” 

Health science startup teams with Mayo Clinic on personalized nutrition

DayTwo, the world’s first provider of health improvement and disease prevention solutions based on gut microbiome research, is collaborating with the renowned Mayo Clinic in Minnesota to bring its first product, DayTwo Personalized Nutrition Solution, to early adopters in the United States.

Based on research from Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, showing that different people respond differently to the same food, DayTwo provides actionable health solutions for improving health and preventing disease by balancing blood-sugar levels in a personally tailored way.

As high blood sugar is linked to energy dips, excessive hunger, weight gain and increased risk for diseases such as obesity, diabetes and hypertension, balancing blood-sugar levels presents a significant health benefit.

The research generated an algorithm for predicting individualized blood glucose response to different foods based on gut microbiome information and other personal parameters. This algorithm was further developed by DayTwo and the Weizmann Institute, and predicts blood-sugar response to thousands of foods and meals.

The collaboration is managed by Dr. Heidi Nelson, director of the Microbiome Program at the Mayo Clinic Center of Individualized Medicine.

DayTwo CEO Lihi Segal says the collaboration is well aligned with the company’s U.S. launch targeting health-conscious and pre-diabetic individuals. “Providing our solution to U.S. consumers in a clinical trial setting with the Mayo Clinic allows us to calibrate our predictive algorithm for the U.S. market,” she said.

The Mayo Clinic will participate in Series A funding for DayTwo, which is registered in California and has offices in Rehovot.

The National Academy of Sugar

You might think an outfit calling itself an academy would be, you know, academic.  But “>in the New York Times and amplified by The Daily Show, the “>other news outlets, raised such a public stink that its endorsement of Kraft Singles “>And Now a Word From Our Sponsors,” the academy’s “>Dietitians for Professional Integrity, an organization of academy members who believe Americans deserve nutrition information “not tainted by food industry interests,” “>is back in the news.  This time it’s for an article about added-sugar labeling in an issue of its seemingly academic publication, the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.  The article reports the findings of a survey carried out and paid for by the International Food Information Council Foundation.  Whatta name! It’s like having, “We’re not lobbyists, pimps, propagandists or obfuscators – we’re legit! No, really!” tattooed on your forehead.  This Foundation, you will not be shocked, shocked to learn, is funded by the food and beverage industry.

Added sugar has no nutritional value; that’s why its calories are called “empty.” It’s not the sugar that occurs naturally in some foods, like fruit.  It’s the sugar added to a product during the manufacturing process, making it taste sweet.  That sugar, along with added salt and fat, changes our brains. The more we eat, the more we crave.  It’s not a moral failure – it’s chemistry.  As former Food and Drug Administration commissioner David Kessler “>recommends.   

What prompted the nice folks at the International Food Information Council Foundation (I love saying the name) to pay for a survey was an F.D.A. proposal to require packaged food and beverage labels to state not only the grams of added sugar, but also what percent of your daily max of added sugar calories is in it.  It’s sobering to read that the Venti Salted-Caramel Mocha you’re about to hoist contains 71 grams of sugar; it could be horrifying to learn that it blows past 140 percent of the F.D.A.’s daily added sugar limit.   

According to the International Food Information Council Foundation survey, consumers would be confused if food labels had to include an added sugar percentage. The label might be technically accurate, but people would believe that even more sugar had been added than actually was, and so they’d be less likely to buy the product.  In other words, what’s wrong with the labeling is that it would work. 

On the heels of this news, the Times also “>research not funded by the industry, African-American kids in the U.S. – who have higher rates of obesity and other diet-related diseases – are more than twice as likely to see TV ads for candy and soda than their white counterparts.  Thirty-nine percent of Hispanic and Latino kids are overweight or obese, but “over two-thirds of the Spanish TV ads that are directed to [Latino children] are really pushing fast food, sugary drinks, candy and snacks.”

It’s hard enough to keep up with changing nutritional guidelines. But unless you’re an expert, it’s damn near impossible to tell the difference between independent research and research ginned up by trade groups and marketers. Not long ago, I was especially gladdened to learn that butter and eggs were back. Unfortunately, I now realize I have to go back and see whether my bliss was bought and paid for by the National Academy of Bovine Studies and the Global Galline Information Institute Foundation.

Marty Kaplan is the Norman Lear professor of entertainment, media and society at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.  Reach him at

Schmaltz is gluten free

If the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is saying that “>rendered poultry fat, a heart attack on a plate, the Jewish lard indispensable for making the crackly fried chicken skin treats called gribenes.

The metaphoric meaning of Kraft Singles is blandness – the absence of taste, texture or variety. (See also: Velveeta.)  Its literal meaning is as American as American cheese: shiny, rubbery, yellow-orange, imperishable plastic-wrapped slices of processed “pasteurized prepared cheese product,” as it says on the label, perfect for a lunch box or a “>wellness advice.

In the 1980s, products labeled “fat free” flew off the shelves. But “>the Gluten-Free Craze” the grocery business’s new cash cow. 

“>Annals of Internal Medicine review. I can’t believe I used to buy “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter! Light” by the tubful. What was I thinking?

It’s not just butter.  ““>2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee.  It turns out that dietary cholesterol and blood cholesterol aren’t as tight with each other as we once thought.  “>coffee – the high test, caffeinated brew – is back, too. 

And so is “>lack of medical evidence – is stacking up that the vitamin and mineral supplements we take to compensate for deficiencies in our diet don’t do us any good.  “>standing guard, don’t expect this to change. 

Exercise is also subject to pendulum swings. Stretching before working out used to be gospel; now “>yoga can wreck your body“>reports the Los Angeles Times, “recently concluded that high-intensity, high-mileage joggers die at the same rate as channel-surfing couch potatoes.” 

And don’t get me started on sunbathing.

If you’ve seen Woody Allen’s 1973 film “Sleeper,” a story set 200 years in the future, you’ll remember the doctors Dr. Melik: You mean there was no deep fat? No steak or cream fries? Or hot fudge?

Dr. Agon: Those were thought to be unhealthy, precisely the opposite of what we now know to be true.

Dr. Melik: Incredible.

That moment is funnier, sadder and truer now than when the movie came out.  Our wellness knowledge and ignorance are moving targets.  As each new study seems to contradict the previously contradictory advice that we’ve barely re-rejected, skepticism toward all studies looks like a reasonable response. Unstable norms make it easier for Kraft to cut a mutual endorsement deal with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.  It makes it likely that when Carl’s Jr. introduces a new “>recommended calories, and a full day’s salt and fat, hardly a jaw drops or an eyebrow hits the ceiling. When accepted wisdom about healthful living keeps getting turned on its head, the odds of beating “>recent study in Science by two professors at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine reports that “>random mutations – may account for two-thirds of the risk of getting many types of cancer.  I hate a universe that metes out morbidity and mortality like a casino dealer.  I’d much prefer a cosmos where randomness were a bit player.  I hope another study quickly comes along to counter that one.  Until it does, I wish I knew which eating strategy – savoring gribenes, denial or “everything in moderation” – will do me less harm than good. 

But even if everything really is a crapshoot, I gotta tell you: Kraft Singles are off the table.

Marty Kaplan holds the Norman Lear chair at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.  Reach him at

Jewish community at the forefront of child nutrition fight

Few things should be more important to America than the health and well-being of our children. Yet an astounding 30 percent of them are overweight or obese, and last year, kids in more than 500,000 American families went without the food they needed.

This means that many kids are not learning as well as they should in school because they can’t concentrate or have self-esteem issues. In the long term, it threatens the safety and prosperity of our nation, as fewer 18-year-olds are fit for military service, fewer folks have the skills they need to compete in a global economy and obese adults strain our health care system.

In December, President Obama took action to help us combat hunger and improve nutrition nationwide, signing into law the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act. Together with the president and first lady Michelle Obama, I have been fighting for this major victory for our kids since the earliest days of the administration. We were joined in support by many organizations, including from the Jewish community and communities of faith from across the country.

Since then, the first lady has launched the Let’s Move! initiative to help solve childhood obesity within a generation, and we have reaffirmed our commitment to ending childhood hunger in America by 2015.

The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act strengthens our safety net against hunger. It will increase the number of eligible children enrolled in the school meals programs by using Medicaid data to determine their eligibility. And in select high-poverty communities, we will eliminate paper applications altogether—freeing up school district resources and parent time while ensuring that kids who face some of the highest barriers to success in life never go to school hungry.

Finally, we know that hunger doesn’t end when the school bell rings, and this legislation will provide more meals for at-risk children nationwide by reimbursing providers of afterschool meals in all 50 states.

This measure also will help us make the first major changes in 30 years to serve healthier meals to America’s youngsters. We will update the nutritional standards for school meals so that they include more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy—and less sodium, sugar and fat.

We will provide additional funding to schools when they meet these standards. And to ensure that these efforts are not undermined by foods from vending machines, a la carte lunch lines and school stores, the U.S. Department of Agriculture will help make the healthy choice an easy choice for our kids by setting nutritional standards for all food sold in schools.

This landmark legislation would not have been possible without the incredible support it received from communities of faith all over the country. Affordable, healthy food for our children is a universal value to all systems of belief, and it was inspiring to see the way America’s many faith communities came together to urge passage of this legislation.

The Jewish community in North America was at the forefront of advocating for a stronger child nutrition safety net. The Jewish Council for Public Affairs and Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger helped to lead that charge. JCPA and their chapters hosted child nutrition seders across the country to raise awareness, and they helped to spearhead the interfaith effort “Fighting Poverty with Faith.”

“This bill is an acknowledgement that in a nation as bountiful as ours, no child should worry about when their next meal will be,” said Rabbi Steve Gutow, the head of JCPA. “We are grateful for the hard work of our coalition partners, the White House and Congress.”

Mazon asked its donors to raise their voice like the prophets of old on behalf of poor and vulnerable children.

Beyond advocating for this legislation, synagogues and Jewish organizations play a vital role in fighting huger in our communities every day. Mazon provides critical support to organizations that serve those struggling with hunger. The Jewish Community Centers of North America is a Let’s Move! partner and promised the first lady that it would expand its community gardens throughout the country.

JCCs are encouraged to join the effort to end childhood obesity and hunger through the establishment of community gardens and donation of a percentage of their respective harvests, an updated version of the commandment to glean the edges of one’s fields for the widow and the orphan.

Individual synagogues are actively involved in running food pantries, gleaning extra food, helping spread the word about USDA’s nutrition assistance programs like SNAP (formerly food stamps) and serving meals to those in need. Congregations also play an important role in teaching kids and their parents about healthy eating.

We all want to raise a generation of healthy Americans ready to learn, innovate, prosper and lead our nation. Our nation will not succeed if our children are not learning because they are hungry or are not achieving because they are unhealthy.

Thanks to the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, we will take important strides in improving school meals, combating hunger and supporting families. And to ensure a healthier future for our children and our nation, we must all continue to work together—from the local to the national level—to build on this success. USDA looks forward to being an even better partner in our mutual efforts to respond to the call to repair the world.

(Tom Vilsack is the secretary of agriculture of the United States.)

Do Day School Health Programs Make the Grade?

Twenty parents from the Emek Hebrew Academy in Valley Village have come on a chilly winter evening to hear Dr. Francine Kaufman, a national expert on diabetes and childhood obesity, talk about promoting children’s health. Although the school has 455 families, Rabbi Sholom Strajcher, the school’s dean, is not discouraged by the modest turnout.

“We have to change the culture…. It’s a challenge,” he said.

Strajcher (pronounced Striker) tells the group he’s been overweight since childhood.

“When I was growing up, no doctor or teacher ever mentioned my weight,” he said. “I am reaping the result of all those years.”

He is not alone. In fact, Strajcher’s students are even more likely to struggle with weight issues. According to the Institute of Medicine, an agency under the National Academy of Sciences, more than 9 million U.S. children above the age of 6 are considered overweight or obese. The litany of health consequences associated with obesity — diabetes, cancer and heart disease, to name a few — might result in today’s children becoming the first generation in American history with a lower life expectancy than their parents. For children born in 2000, their lifetime risk of developing diabetes exceeds 30 percent.

Many can name factors contributing to these alarming trends: An increase in sedentary activities, such as television and computers; greater demand for convenience foods; advertisements targeting kids with high-fat foods, and an environment that discourage walking and physical activity. Given the breadth of the problem, solutions require action on all levels of society — from government and business to schools and families. Jewish day schools, which may not see their role in the equation, have been slow to address these concerns.

But some have begun to take action.

Let’s Get Physical

At Jewish day schools, the demands of a dual curriculum coupled with limited outdoor space can cause physical education to take a back seat. This is decidedly not the case at Valley Beth Shalom (VBS) Day School. When Head of School Sheva Locke joined the Encino school four years ago, one of her first priorities was instituting an athletic program. The school now employs an athletic director and two full-time coaches who supervise physical education classes and activities at recess and lunch.

The athletic department also runs an extensive after-school team sports program. Kindergarteners through third-graders can join in a Junior Sports Club, while fourth- through sixth-graders can participate in competitive sports, including basketball, soccer, football and volleyball — and 98 percent of them do. The teams compete in the San Fernando Valley Private School League. VBS provides transportation to off-site games to make participation easier on parents and children.

“The focus was on getting as many children as possible to participate and to play,” Locke said. “The problem solving and goal setting that goes along with having a physical fitness program is equally as important.”

During the school day itself, VBS provides physical education twice a week, a figure fairly standard in the day school world. For students who don’t participate in after-school physical activities, that amount is woefully inadequate, according to physician Fran Kaufman, professor of pediatrics at USC’s Keck School of Medicine and head of the Center for Diabetes, Endocrinology and Metabolism at Childrens Hospital of Los Angeles.”

“Kids should be active for 60 minutes each day,” she said.

The state of California requires that children in first through sixth grade have a minimum of 200 minutes of physical education time per 10 days of school, which averages 20 minutes per day. In seventh through 12th grade, the time requirement doubles. (According to the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, 51 percent of school districts reviewed failed to meet the state’s minimum requirement for physical education time.)

Those numbers fall far short of the 60 minutes daily recommended by Kaufman and the USDA’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans. And as Emek’s Strajcher points out, not all of that time involves being active.

“Even when kids are supposedly playing, how much of that time is spent waiting for a turn?” he asks.

At Maimonides Academy in West Hollywood, instructor Alan Rosen has designed a unique program where lessons on character and values are integrated into physical education. On the play area used by the elementary school students, circles painted on the blacktop list such values as responsibility, humility, effort and cooperation. The words are incorporated into songs and games, and are referred to in the course of regular physical activities.

“If it’s important, you find the time,” said Maimonides’ principal, Rabbi Karmi Gross. “Physical activity doesn’t have to be divorced from what else is being done.”

By the Book

Inside the classroom, the content and amount of wellness-related curriculum varies from school to school. An informal survey taken by the Bureau of Jewish Education of Los Angeles on nutrition education garnered responses from only 10 schools out of more than 30. Of those, half had no “formal” nutrition curriculum, and relied primarily on teacher-generated materials.

Because health is not a subject for which the state requires standardized testing, public school districts vary in the degree of emphasis they give the topic. Los Angeles Unified School District specifies knowledge and abilities that students are expected to master in grades four, seven, and high school.

In both public and private schools, a dedicated health class is generally taught in middle school. Seventh graders at Abraham Joshua Heschel Day School in Northridge take a health and life sciences class that focuses on the physiology and biology of the human body. An eighth-grade nutrition unit includes a screening of the school version of “Super Size Me,” in which the filmmaker traced his odyssey eating McDonald’s fare exclusively three times a day for one month, and how his body suffered as a result.

“We talk about individual choices and about society, and we discuss where responsibility lies,” said science teacher Liz Wenger. “We look at how society is changing the way we eat, such as not eating at home as much, and eating larger quantities and higher fat foods.”

The students calculate their own caloric intake and use a calorimeter to measure the amount of food energy in various foods. They also build pumps to replicate the heart and use stoppers to illustrate cholesterol build-up.

VBS employs a full-time nurse whose duties include teaching health-related lessons to all grade levels. At Milken Community High School, ninth graders take a class, designed with input from a health educator and a rabbi, which explores physical, social and emotional health as well as sexuality and tobacco, drug and alcohol abuse.

Ess, Ess Mein Kind

Learning about nutrition doesn’t necessarily translate into action. Most of the schools interviewed expressed concerns about the food they provided to students, not only through formal meal programs, but also informal means such as class parties or incentives.

Eating can be an emotionally charged issue given its integral role in Jewish practice. The ubiquity of food is illustrated in the oft-repeated definition of Jewish holidays:

They tried to kill us. We survived. Let’s eat.

“Every time we celebrate, we celebrate with food — and there’s nothing wrong with that,” said Emek’s Strajcher. The question is what kind of food and how much. He said that traditionally, when students began to learn the aleph-bet (Hebrew alphabet) in school, the rebbe would put a drop of honey on each letter so that the children would associate learning with sweetness. Even in the synagogue itself, congregants throw candy for auf-rufs (engagements), bar mitzvahs and other celebrations.

Some parents are troubled by the amount of sugary snacks given to their children.

Kaufman noted that packaged kosher snacks can be some of the worst offenders in terms of saturated fat content.

Last year, Emek parents formed a committee and worked with the school’s caterer and a nutritionist to improve the healthfulness of school lunches. Parent Amy Leibowitz, who spearheaded the committee, said it was a challenge to satisfy nutritional, budgetary and kashrut considerations simultaneously. The results included adding fruit and salad, subtracting dessert, serving foods that are baked instead of fried, serving leaner, lower-salt meat, and making water available at mealtimes. She said that classes now celebrate all the month’s birthdays at one time to limit the influx of sugary treats.

Maimonides also revised its lunch program, and modified the practice of using food as an incentive. Instead of giving Israeli chocolates as rewards, principal Gross now gives Israeli postcards.

“We’re not yet where we want to be,” he said. “But we’ll eventually get there.”
Vending machine soft drink sales — a tempting source of revenue for some schools — will likely decline due to a decision announced in May by the nation’s largest beverage distributors to discontinue selling beverages with more than 100 calories to schools. It is estimated that the practice will affect 87 percent of the public and private school market.

As schools grapple with decisions regarding food policies, Emek’s Strajcher says that they can look to Judaism for a model of dietary self control.

“Kashrut [shows us that] when it comes to food, there has to be a certain discipline,” he said.

And as Eileen Horowitz, principal at Temple Israel of Hollywood, noted, “The [mission] for a Jewish school is teaching how to make good choices. That applies to how we talk to a neighbor as well as what we put in our mouth.”

Just Do It

Some administrators cited the challenge of fitting in adequate time for physical activity and comprehensive health education on top of an already full dual curriculum.

“There’s tremendous pressure for time,” acknowledged Dr. Roxie Esterle, Heschel’s associate head of school. “It’s a very full day and it gets fuller and fuller,” she said, mentioning computers and technology as examples.

Secular schools also struggle with these issues. A recently released national report found that the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 was threatening physical education time because subjects that are not tested — including physical education — receive lower priority. In Los Angeles, 68 percent of high school students failed to meet recommended levels of physical activity according to a 2005 study by the CDC.

Yet, practicality dictates that schools take action on this issue: The California Department of Education states that healthy, active and well-nourished children are more likely to attend school and are more prepared and motivated to learn. The 2006 Shape of the Nation Report, issued jointly by the National Association for Sport and Physical Education and the American Heart Association, recommends that schools across the country “make physical education instruction the cornerstone of a comprehensive school physical activity program that also includes health education, elementary school recess, after-school physical activity clubs and intramurals, high school interscholastic athletics, walk/bike to school programs and staff wellness programs.”

Given that Judaism mandates the care of our bodies, Jewish day schools have an imperative to address these issues.

“If you’re not healthy, it’s hard to serve God with fullness,” Strajcher said. “Your soul can only do what it needs to do when your physical self is intact.”
He hopes to spare his students from facing the weight issues that have plagued him since childhood, and from the dire consequences which may result.

“If this is preventable and we can do something about it, it’s our obligation to do so,” he said.

Health Report Card for Schools

To determine how well your school promotes wellness, here are some questions to ask:

  1. How much physical education time is allotted?
  2. Is the physical education instructor certified?
  3. Are children actively engaged during physical education and recess?
  4. Does the school offer after-school activities or team sports?
  5. Do health lessons address nutrition and physical activity?
  6. What is the content of school lunches, and who determines this?
  7. Are fresh fruits and vegetables offered daily?
  8. Does the school have a policy on desserts and snacks?
  9. Is there a vending machine on campus? What does it offer?

The Baby Food for Grown-ups

Along with the wave of ergonomically correct strollers and SAT flashcards for the 5-month-old comes Homemade Baby. This baby food company certifies its products as organic, non-GMO (no genetically modified organisms), fair trade and kosher, and offers services like a Tasting Room and a Meal Integrity System to ensure that your child stays happy and healthy with every bite.

The owners, Theresa Edy Kiene and Matt Kiene, started Homemade Baby after Theresa received rave reviews for the home-cooked baby food she served her own three daughters. Kids and parents (who, when encountering the dishes at the Kienes’ dinner parties, did not realize they were being served baby food) demanded more. So the Kienes left successful careers in television to start the company, armed with a mission: to make fresh and nutritious food available to every child, giving them a “head start toward making smart, healthy food choices for life.”

Products are organized according to “a texture for every tyke.” The 6- to 8-month-olds can choose from four flavors — apple, pear, peas and squash — under the So Smooth label. Good Mushy (9-12 months) and Kinda Chunky (12-plus months) get more complex; flavors include Squapples and Baby Tex Mex. Homemade Baby’s Cordon Bleu chef, Troy Irvin, calls the flavors “taste adventures” perfect for “those little chewing muscles.”

Homemade Baby delivers anywhere in the USA. (If you live in the L.A. area, they guarantee next-day delivery to your front door.) Don’t want to pay for shipping? Not sure which products your child will like? Head to the tasting room at 10335 W. Jefferson Blvd. in Culver City, open Monday through Friday, 8 a.m.-4 p.m., where your child (and you!) can taste test new flavors and pick up an order. The tasting room also offers talks for parents concerning nutrition and other child development issues. Homemade Baby’s kosher certification is from Kosher Overseers of America, under the supervision of Rabbi Zvi Hollander.

For more information, call (800) 854-8507. For a link to Homemade Baby, visit


Healthy Diet Can Be a Heart Hazard

Johnny Carson used to have a joke about it. A friend of his had sworn off coffee, cigarettes, alcohol, red meat and sex. The guy was doing just fine, Carson quipped, until he committed suicide.

Well, I haven’t reached the brink of despair just yet. But I am having a hard time trying to figure out exactly what I’m supposed to swear off. Yes, I know that the information on nicotine and caffeine is cut and dry, so I’ve cut them. But what about alcohol? Word has it that consuming at least one glass a day (or is it two?) improves your cholesterol level. This comes in handy because all the confusion over everything else on the menu could lead a person to drink.

The most pronounced dietary mixed-message centers on carbohydrates vs. fats.

"Eat meat, cheese, avoid carbs at all costs," the protein-purveyors insist.

"Meat? Are you mad?" the carbivores carp. "Grains, vegetables, fruit and salad: those are the tickets if you want to live a long and healthful life."

Well, salad can get dull, but then death is no picnic, either. So we store up and dine on leaves and sprouts and anything green and raw, and suspect we’re so on top of this health thing that our virtue will be rewarded with pain-free longevity. And we begin to relax about our culinary well-being, when out of the blue, it hits us — that latest and hottest of ailments: heartburn.

Yes, heartburn has made a noticeable comeback. So, for anyone experiencing heartburn, or its more avant-garde appellation, "acid reflux disease," guess what? No raw fruit, no veggies, no salad. Yes, you read correctly, no need to put on the reading glasses. Raw fruits and vegetables are actually bad for something, and that something just happens to be the ailment du jour. Salad, it turns out, can be bad for your health.

So, it’s back to the cutting board. Trying to sort through it all — complex and simple carbohydrates, butter vs. margarine, monounsaturated fats (good), polyunsaturated fats (bad), the fats in salmon (good), the fats in a slab of bacon (bad), omega-3 oils vs. partially hydrogenated vegetable oils (good, bad, respectively) — trying to make sense of the myriad edibles at our disposal can make us quite anxious. And that, we know is bad.

Unfortunately, the conflicting messages regarding our health are not restricted to the kitchen. A few years ago, we women learned that an extensive study coming out of China threw the venerable breast self-exam into question. After years of being exhorted by the medical profession to conscientiously conduct these monthly examinations, we’re now told they make no difference whatsoever in our effort to get the jump on breast cancer.

Then there’s estrogen — the modern medical miracle that’s been found to temper our mood swings, forestall aging, maintain memory and increase the likelihood of blood clots and strokes.

And let’s not forget the much-ballyhooed medications that can retard, even reverse, bone deterioration. A generation of thin-boned women who remember all too well the broken hips of their female forebears have been popping these osteoporosis-fighting tablets with glee. Whoops, we learn, the pills might have a side effect or two: like blood clots and heartburn. OK, so we incorporate the medication into our ever-expanding repertoire of life-extending potions and vow to stay away from salad (to stave off the heartburn), dairy and meat (to beat the clots). We’ll limit ourselves to well-cooked carbohydrates.

What’s so bad about carbs, again? Oh, that’s right, they’re fattening. But then, just when we decide that we’re over being vain, that we can live with being a bit pudgy if it means we will, indeed, live, we remember that excess weight can kill us, too. And, besides, who’s over being vain?

It would seem there’s nothing for it but to drown our confusion in drink, our frustration in cupcakes, and to hope, as we binge, that Woody Allen turns out to be right. Remember when the long-comatose character in his film, "Sleeper," awakens at some date in the not-so-distant future to learn that our contemporary researchers were wrong? That hot dogs and Ding-Dongs and cigarettes were actually good for us? Yes, of course, this is just wishful thinking. But then what, I wonder, is the rest of it, the diets and medical breakthroughs? Science?

Elyce Wakerman teaches composition at California State University Northridge and is the author of “Father Loss: Daughters Discuss the Man That Got Away” (Henry Holt, 1987).

A Jewish Diet

The Tu B’Shevat seder, with its many fruit and nuts, challenges us to reconsider our usual diets, and the recommended Jewish diet. While the FDA recommends a diet high in grains, rich in nutrients and low in saturated fats, Judaism recommends a diet high in holiness, rich in consciousness and connection, and low in selfishness. These four factors guide not only a Jewish diet, but also a Jewish life.

As Jews, we’re commanded to strive for holiness in every facet of our lives. One ritual and spiritual practice that helps us infuse holiness into our daily life, is offering blessings. Offering a bracha or a blessing with mindful consciousness — known in Hebrew as kavanah — helps us transform apparently mundane acts into moments rich with spiritual potential. Saying a blessing before and after each meal ensures that we stop to appreciate our food and its Ultimate Source. In our tradition, eating without blessings to thank God is like stealing from the Source of Life, while robbing ourselves of spiritual awareness. Judaism tells us a proper diet should include healthy portions of holiness — ideally beginning and ending each meal with blessings.

A second key ingredient in a Jewish diet is consciousness. Maintaining a traditional Jewish diet requires a high degree of consciousness in order to follow the ritual guidelines of kashrut commonly described as keeping kosher. The word kosher, which means ritually fit, can apply to a wide range of subjects from the food we eat to the wedding rings we may wear. In the dietary realm, the core ideas of kashrut are defined in the Bible. While the biblical Garden of Eden narrative clearly defines a vegetarian diet as ideal, our Noah narrative highlights the human lust for blood and meat. In Judaism meat eating can be seen as a concession to human blood lust, which was allowed, but highly regulated through ancient cultic ritual and the practice of kashrut.

As we know, the biblical traditions of kashrut include definitions, prohibitions and guidelines for treating animals. Kosher land animals have cloven hoofs and chew their cud (thus cows and most herbivores can be kosher, but pigs and all carnivores are treif, or un-kosher). Kosher fowl essentially include all birds except birds of prey. Kosher marine life must have fins and scales and may not be scavengers. According to kashrut, meat and dairy products may not be mixed, and traditional kosher homes have separate dishes, silverware, cookware and utensils for meat and dairy products.

While kashrut allows the slaughter and consumption of animals for food, it demands that the animals be treated with respect. Judaism requires the schochet (ritual slaughterer) to perform his duties consciously minimizing pain and maximizing reverence for life and the Life Source.

A third dish in the Jewish diet is connection. Our foods connect us symbolically to the teaching of our tradition, and sociologically to our heritage. This is best reflected in the Passover meal, or seder. Tradition teaches us that in this ritual meal, bitter horseradish represents the bitterness of slavery and saltwater reminds us of the tears of bondage, while fresh spring herbs symbolize the promise of hope. Through the Passover meal, food helps us symbolically reenact the journey from slavery to freedom. Similarly, the oily latkes and sufganiyot of Chanukah, remind us of the remarkable events surrounding the rededication of the oil lamps that burned in the ancient Temple.

A Jewish diet also connects people through a program of communal meals. One of the joys of the Sabbath is joining friends and family for a celebratory meal — by tradition this should be the best meal of the week. Every life-cycle event — bris, baby namings, b’nai mitvah, weddings and funerals — is accompanied by a communal meal. These meals and the food we often serve, connect us not only to our family, but to our particular familial heritage.

Our tradition demands that our diet be not only high in holiness and rich in consciousness and connection but also low in selfishness. We are commanded to share our bread with the hungry, even to feed our animals before we feed ourselves. At every Passover seder, we’re expected to call out to all who may pass, all who are hungry, let them come and eat. We strive to make providing food to the hungry a regular part of our Jewish practice, contributing to food pantries and volunteering at soup kitchens.

Mazon is a Hebrew word that means food. It is also an international Jewish organization that urges us to donate 3 percent of the cost of a celebration (such as a wedding or bar mitzvah party) to help feed the hungry the world over. Our blessing after meals includes the phrase "Chazan et hakol," praising God for providing food for all who live. We realize we must be partners with God to realize this promise.

As we know, there is enough food to sustain all who live on this planet if only we’ll be partners with God in the distribution of our resources — learning to share our abundant blessings with those in need. At times, in our world full of hunger, poverty and suffering, the blessings of holiness, compassion, connection and selflessness may seem distant ideals. The Source of Life and Sustenance, which we sometimes call God, may seem distant when we see the eyes of a hungry child.

Leo Baeck, a great rabbi who was sent to concentration camps by the Nazis, was once asked where God was during the Holocaust. His answer? Every time one prisoner helped another to drag a heavy wagon or shared one hard crust of bread with another starving inmate, God was there in the helping and sharing.

May we who are blessed with abundance, be blessed also with the strength, will and conviction to share what we have.

This is the foundation of a Jewish spiritual diet.

Sheryl Nosan-Blank is rabbi at Temple Beth Torah of the San Fernando Valley.