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Thrills Without chills

By Tim Jahn, M.ED

Want to know what’s really scary at Halloween?  Pre-teens and teens roaming the streets unsupervised after dark armed with shaving cream, silly string and raw eggs, that’s what.   Halloween mischief making is sometimes harmless, just a few smashed pumpkins, trees wrapped in toilet paper and kids covered in flour.  But there are lots of times when things get out of hand and someone gets hurt or property vandalized.  Some teens will prey on younger school-agers, committing “candy muggings” and prank beatings. Homeowners who have been targeted by Halloween high jinks may call the police and press charges; worse, some may take matters into their own hands and threaten violence. And when paintball or bb guns or firecrackers replace eggs, Halloween truly becomes terrifying.

Many pre-teens still want to dress up and go trick-or-treating with their friends.  They may not even care that Mom’s nearby, monitoring everything from a distance.  But some pre-teens and many teens care less about the treats and are more interested in the tricks.  It’s the risk, danger and masquerade they relish. They want to go out after dark without adults around and hang with their friends.  It’s a recipe for potential trouble on most nights, let alone Halloween. So, how do you handle Halloween without coming across as monster mom or demon dad?

If you decide to let your pre-teen prowl around with his friends, establish firm guidelines.  Stay together. No vandalism. No bullying younger children. Stay within 2-3 blocks of home.  Bring a cell phone and call at first sign of trouble.  Be home by 8 p.m. (or earlier). If he balks at these rules, tell him he can help you hand out candy to trick-or-treaters. Or you can offer to:

  •  Plan a Halloween party together in someone’s home or a community location.  Better yet, help him and his friends plan a party for younger kids in the neighborhood.
  • Turn your yard and driveway into a haunted house where your child and her friends can play live creatures and characters (though not too scary for very young children).
  • Take her and her friends to a haunted house, followed by ice cream.
  • Do something inspiring, not spine-chilling.  Many nonprofit groups have Halloween fund-raisers and need volunteers. Visit shut-ins and share songs, ghost stories and treats.  Or raise your own money for a good cause with your haunted house or by trick-or-treating.

You can search the Internet for Halloween party ideas, recipes, homemade haunted house decorations, community service projects and more.

Additional Resources:

SC Healthy Halloween parties and meals

CDC Halloween health and safety tips

NE Have a healthier Halloween

Tim Jahn is a Human Ecology Specialist with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s Family Health and Wellness Program. He can be reached at 631-727-7850 ext. 331 or at

Importance of Physical Activity

By Maryann Birmingham

Being physically active is important for good health. Most people of all ages need to be more active; being active means moving your body! Regular physical activity helps keep the heart, lungs, muscles, bones and joints healthy. It’s recommended that adults should be active for at least 30 minutes every day. For children and teens it’s recommended for them to get 60 minutes of physical activity daily.

Safety first while being active: be careful to prevent injuries. The most common injuries are to the bones, joints, tendons and muscles. Most injuries can be avoided by warming up before and cooling down after being physically active. People with heart disease or those that have had a heart attack, stroke or heart surgery should talk to a healthcare provider before participating in any type of physical activity.

Suggestions for some physical activities: walk, cycle, jog, skate, etc. to work, school or the store; park the car further away from your destination; take the stairs instead of the elevator; play with your children or pets; take fitness breaks to go for a walk-instead of taking cigarette or coffee breaks; work in the garden; dance or walk while doing errands. The options to add more physical activity to your daily routine are endless!

The benefits of being active are: Reduces the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes; helps maintain a healthy body weight; keeps bones strong; increases energy; improves sleep and mood.

There are 1,440 minutes in every day… Schedule 30 of them for being active!

President’s Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition

Maryann Birmingham is a Community Nutrition Educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s Family Health and Wellness Program. She can be reached at 631-727-7850 ext. 356 or at

Colder Weather Workout Tips

By Nicolette Casano

Summer has ended and Fall is upon us. You’ve become accustomed to your outside exercise routine in the nice weather of the summer, but now you are worried about exercising during the colder months. What’s your plan? How are you going to fend off the cold? Below are a few tips that will come in handy while exercising in the cold.

Dress in layers! Earmuffs, gloves, and warm socks will keep warm areas on your body that tend to get cold rather quickly. For those really cold days, wear a scarf around your neck and around your nose and mouth. The scarf will provide your lungs with warm air so breathing will be easier.

Map out your routine; the time and the place. Exercising in the afternoon is a great idea because the sun is the warmest around noon, and the sun supplies vitamin D to the body and helps fight off depression. Avoid areas that are open and near the water because these areas tend to have stronger winds. Pick places surrounded by trees or tall buildings that will block the wind.

Warming up and cooling down are a must. Warm up indoors for about 5 minutes by walking or jogging in place. Once outside, start with a slow pace and take a few breaks every couple of minutes to adjust to the colder weather. Cool down by slowing your pace before entering your home. Once inside, adjust to the warmer environment before taking a shower.

Did you know your body works harder while exercising in the cold? Start off with a simpler workout and increase the length of time or intensity if you feel your body is up to it. It is also important to be flexible. If the weather is too cold or rainy, choose days to go outside that are sunny and clear. Your schedule may constantly change, but all that matters is that you are putting in the effort to get out there and exercise!

Additional Resources:

Holiday Placemat from Washington State

Tips for Cold and Wet Weather Physical Activity from Oregon State

Nicolette Casano is an intern with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk Country’s Family Health and Wellness Program during the Fall of 2013 and is currently a Dietetic Intern at LIU Post. She is also studying for her Master’s in Nutrition at LIU Post. She grew up on Long Island and received her BS in Nutrition from LIU Post in September 2013.

The Trouble with Treats

By Dinah Torres Castro

How many times have we heard a parent say, “If you eat your broccoli then you can have a cookie”? And for the most part the child will oblige. The problem with using food (the cookie) as a reward for a desired behavior (eating their broccoli) is that it works in the short-run. The reward system becomes expected for the child and ineffective for the parent. We need to look at the long-term message we are sending and decide whether these are the lessons we intend to teach.

If your intended goal is to help your child internalize healthy eating behaviors, do not use food as a reward. When we do this we are placing a higher value on one food over another and children learn to view these foods to be better than other foods. As a result they learn to prefer unhealthy foods that are given to them as rewards (candy, cookies, soft drinks, etc.) over the healthy foods. Research shows that a child’s preference for a given food increases significantly when the food is presented as a reward. Studies also show us that restricting access to particular foods increases preference for that food, rather than decreasing it. It’s a delicate balance–you have to find a way to give your kids limited but reasonable access to sweets and they will learn to make good choices. Remember you want to raise a child who knows how to eat sensibly at the school cafeteria, a slumber party or the local snack stop when they are older.

If you want to promote healthy eating and get your child to try new foods:

  • Make mealtimes fun–make healthy eating a fun family affair, don’t use mealtimes as an opportunity to chastise or focus on a child’s failure to eat.
  • Be a role model—set a good example for your child by eating a variety of foods.
  • Expose your child to a range of foods, tastes and textures early on.
  • Keep trying new foods–studies show it takes at least ten times to try a new food before a child learns to eat it.
  • Involve your child in mealtime preparations and grocery shopping–use this time to communicate with your child about their food likes and dislikes.
  • Give them choices–if vegetables are the source of your troubles find one or two that they are willing to eat and offer them as a choice along with a new vegetable. That way you are assured they will eat a vegetable and we already know young children love to make choices–it empowers them and gives them a sense of autonomy.
  • Try serving meals family-style allowing your child to put their own food choices and quantities on their plate.
  • Check out Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibilities for the parent/caregiver and the child–a parent is responsible for what food is offered, where it is eaten and when it is to be eaten; a child is responsible for deciding what to eat and how much.

Avoid falling into the treats trap…

  • Don’t restrict access to particular foods–this only increases preference for and consumption of that food.
  • Don’t force your child to eat a particular food–this will cause them to resist it and dislike that food more.
  • Don’t use sweets as a reward for eating their vegetables–it only serves to increase their preference for that reward.
  • Don’t use food as a reward–it can establish poor food habits that may last a lifetime and can contribute to obesity, Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and other health problems.

Dinah Castro is a Bilingual Family Well-Being Educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s Family Health and Wellness Program. She can be reached at 631-727-7850 ext. 351 or at

The Hard Facts on Soft Drinks

By Dinah Torres Castro

With so many drink choices in the market today it has become increasingly harder for parents to make good choices for their children.  As parents we control what is purchased and fed to our children in our homes.  Most of us are concerned about the increasing epidemics of childhood obesity, diabetes, and other health issues such as hypertension, hyperactivity and bone density loss that are now prevalent among young children.  But many of us don’t think twice about having a soda or serving our toddlers fruit juices or sweetened drinks on a daily basis.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that obesity rates in the US have doubled in the past 10 years.  Recent studies have shown some declines in obesity among young children implying that there may be a change in direction. However, we know that people who consume sweetened beverages are more likely to be overweight than those who do not.  Calories from sweetened drinks can add up fast and provide few, if any, of the nutrients important for good health.

  • In a 12 oz. can of soda you are likely to consume 150 calories containing 10 tsp. of sugar!
  • Drinking just one can a day would add over 54,000 calories to your diet in a year—the amount of calories in 15 pounds of body weight!
  • Consuming one 12 oz. can of soda a day can increase a child’s risk of obesity by 60 %!

As we have been increasingly drinking soft drinks and other sweetened drinks we have also been drinking less milk a good source of calcium which helps build bones.  Soft drinks can also affect bone and dental health.  These drinks contain phosphorous (phosphoric acid) which in high amounts can replace calcium in bones making them weaker and the acid along with the high sugars can damage the enamel on your teeth causing tooth decay.

Making healthy choices can be tricky…for example, take sports drinks.  They sound healthy and appeal to our children on a variety of levels—eye catching colors and flavors, and we assume that if our favorite sports stars drink them we can perform better also.  Actually sports drinks, as the name implies, can be advantageous for athletes with the ideal levels of carbohydrates and electrolytes these beverages can assist in replacing components lost through exercise.  Such beverages are most beneficial for those that engage in intense physical activity for longer than 60 minutes. As active as some of our little ones are—ask yourself, when was the last time your three year old ran track for more than an hour? Most of us are physically active for shorter durations and may benefit from water just as well.

In general soft drinks fit the junk food category—sugary foods that are high in calories and supply little or no nutrients. If you are looking for a great drink to quench your child’s thirst try water.  It’s perfect—no calories, sugar, fat, cholesterol, or caffeine!  The body needs water to help digest and absorb nutrients and vitamins into the body.  As responsible parents we can start teaching our children that cool refreshing water is healthy and essential for us.  We need to limit our consumption of sweetened soft drinks and offer milk more often.

 Instead of soda or juice drinks offer your child low-fat milk (1% after 2 years of age), water, or 100% fruit juice.  Although there’s no added sugar in 100% fruit juice, the calories from the natural sugars found in fruit juice can add up.  The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends limiting juice intake to 4-6 oz. for children under 7 years old.

Additional Resources:

Sugary Drinks and Obesity Fact Sheet

Dinah Castro is a Bilingual Family Well-Being Educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s Family Health and Wellness Program. She can be reached at 631-727-7850 ext. 351 or at

The importance of eating breakfast – and some yummy ideas to boot

By Brittany Sinensky

Breakfast literally means to “break a fast”.  It is the reintroduction of food into our body after going all night without eating.  Breakfast is especially important for kids because it helps wake up the body and get it ready for all of the activities of the day – including learning at school, running around outside, and helping us use all of the food we eat during the rest of the day.  Further, recent research is showing that breakfast also plays a key role in helping to prevent overweight or obesity in children.

The Healthy Growth Study, which examined lifestyle and dietary patterns in relation to the weight status of over 2,000 school children aged 9-13 years, showed that children who had higher dairy consumption and an adequate breakfast were less likely to be overweight.  Another study of 700 children who consumed more than three meals per day and also consumed breakfast daily were two times less likely to be overweight or obese.  Hence the now well-known phrase, breakfast is the most important meal of the day!

The interesting thing about breakfast is that it doesn’t have to be an elaborate production.  Combining a few simple items can give you a balanced meal that will get your body going and provide you with lasting energy.  Below are a few breakfast ideas for the busy weekdays and slower-paced weekends:

Weekday Breakfast Ideas

  1. A medium sized apple and low-fat string cheese
  2. Kashi Honey Almond Flax or Trail Mix Chewy Bar
  3. A turkey sandwich on whole wheat bread

Weekend Breakfast Ideas

  1. Yogurt, berry and granola parfait – Mix and match with different flavor granolas, yogurts, and berries!  Greek yogurts offer extra protein to help you feeling fuller for longer.
  2. Egg-in-the-bread – Cut a hole in the center of a slice of whole wheat bread, add a small amount of butter, and place in a frying pan.  Crack the egg into the center of the bread and fry until egg is cooked through.
  3. Peanut butter swirl oatmeal – Cook oats according to package directions, add 1 Tbsp of peanut butter and swirl while oatmeal is still hot to ensure perfect peanut-butter gooiness.

Brittany Sinensky was an intern with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s Family Health and Wellness Program during the Summer of 2013 and is currently a Dietetic Intern at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, MA.  She grew up on Long Island and received her BS in Nutrition from C.W. Post, Long Island University in September 2012.

The Benefits of Physically Active Play

By Kerri Kreh Reda, M.P.H.

Many people say that play is the work of children, but what they may not realize is just how essential play is to growing children.  Children use play as a way of exploring their environment and developing skills.  Play is needed for the development of the whole child – for healthy physical, emotional, social, and intellectual development.

Preschoolers benefit greatly from physically active play.  In addition to aiding physical development such as refinement of gross and fine motor skills, improved balance and endurance, greater strength, coordination and flexibility; physical activity has many mental health benefits as well.  It reduces the incidence of anxiety and depression, and alleviates stress.  Regular physical play may also reduce behavioral problems, improve sleep and provide an outlet for emotions.

Physical play is also crucial for maintaining a healthy weight.  More than 9 million US children are now overweight, triple the number since 1976. Children are being diagnosed with diseases usually seen among adults, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes.  Additionally, studies have found that physical activity in early childhood increases the strength and amount of bone mass that is developed.

How to keep your preschooler active

  • Reduce the amount of “screen time” your child has each day.  Screen time includes computer and tablet use, watching television, videos or DVDs and time spent playing videogames: essentially using anything with a screen.  The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under the age of two have no screen time and children over the age of two have no more than one or two hours a day.
  • Look for toys that encourage movement such as balls, dump trucks and ride on toys.
  • Get outside.  Go for a walk or bring your child to the park, playground or beach.
  • Turn on music and dance.
  • Allow plenty of time for unstructured, free-play.  Resist the urge to sign your preschooler up for organized sports.
  • Keep it fun.
  • Set an example by being active yourself.

Engaging you preschooler in regular active play will not only aid in his development and health outcomes, but may also improve behavior and build confidence.  Helping your child develop a love of movement now will give him a gift that will benefit him throughout his life.

Suggested Reading:
Your Active Child: How to Boost Physical, Emotional and Cognitive Development through Age-Appropriate
Activity by Rae Pica.

Kerri Kreh Reda, M.P.H., is a Human Development Specialist at Cornell Cooperative Extension in Suffolk. She can be reached at 631-727-7850 x. 330 or at

It Starts in the Cart: Making Healthy Choices at the Grocery Store

By Brittany Sinensky

In 2011, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) introduced MyPlate, a visual food guidance system illustrating the five food groups that are the building blocks for a healthful diet: fruits, vegetables, grains, protein and dairy.  It is any easy-to-understand tool that kids, adults and families can use together to create healthy, balanced meals and snacks.  Before our food makes it to our plate, however, it first needs to be purchased from the grocery store so that it is available for cooking and meal preparation at home.  So, that is why we are going to let you in on a little secret – making healthy food choices actually starts in the cart!

Making the right decisions about what to put in your shopping cart, basket, or environmentally-friendly reusable bag will make it easier to ensure you are putting the most nutritious items on your plate and, ultimately, into your body.  It is understandable that this sounds like an “easier-said-than-done” scenario, especially when the kids, pets or other family members are making the trip to the grocery store with you. That is why we have provided 5 useful tips below to help you make the right choices:

  1. Go in with a plan – Write a list to make sure you have items from each food group in similar proportions to MyPlate.  This will help you not only choose the right foods, but save money and time as well.
  2. Don’t fret if the plan doesn’t happen – Instead, “eyeball” your cart and think about whether the items you have selected are in the same general proportion as the items on MyPlate.  Ask yourself – is a quarter of my cart filled with each food group?  Is there a low-fat source of dairy?
  3. Stick to the perimeters, but use discretion – All of the items on MyPlate can be found on the outside perimeter of the grocery store, except for grains.  Therefore, your trips into the middle aisles should be limited.  Also, just because a food is being sold in the perimeter of the store doesn’t mean it deserves a place in your cart.
  4. Learn how to read and use food labels to your advantage – Food labels tell us a lot about what is in a product.  For example, look for whole wheat, oats, brown rice, quinoa or other whole grains as the first item in the ingredient list to ensure you are getting a whole grain product.
  5. Be realistic and give yourself leeway – Putting a box of 100-calorie Klondike bars in your cart is a better alternative than depriving yourself in the store and then splurging on an extra large ice cream cone from Mr. Softee later.  At least the former is portion controlled – an important part of MyPlate!

Brittany Sinensky was an intern with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s Family Health and Wellness Program during the Summer of 2013 and is currently a Dietetic Intern at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, MA.  She grew up on Long Island and received her BS in Nutrition from C.W. Post, Long Island University in September 2012.

Choosing the Best Seafood for Your Family

By Alysa Ferguson

Seafood is delicious and can be very good for your family’s health. But choosing fish that is healthy, safe, and sustainable to the environment is a difficult task. The best choices would be high in omega-3 fats, low in mercury, and preferably not damaging to our oceans. Here is a list of fish that are low in mercury with no major caveats:

  • Anchovies (European)*
  • Catfish (US)
  • Clams (farmed and US wild)
  • Crab, King (US)
  • Crab, stone
  • Crayfish/Crawfish (US farmed)
  • Herring, Atlantic (US)*
  • Lobster, spiny (CA, FL & Mexico)
  • Mussels (farmed)
  • Oysters (farmed & wild)    Pollock, Alaska (US)
  • Salmon, Wild (from AK, CA, OR, & WA)*
  • Sardines, Pacific (Canada & US)*
  • Scallops (farmed or wild)
  • Shrimp (Canada or US wild)
  • Soles (Canada & US)
  • Squid
  • Striped Bass
  • Tilapia

(*High in omega-3)

The American Heart Association recommends eating fish (particularly fatty fish) at least two times (two servings) a week, so aim to have at least one of these be wild salmon, sardines, herring or anchovies for a healthy dose of omega-3’s. To keep the seafood healthy, limit deep-frying and butter sauce. Stick with baking, broiling, grilling, steaming, or even sautéing in a small amount of olive oil, and season with lemon, herbs and spices, or other low-sodium flavorings.

If you’re not a fish-eater you can get omega-3 from plant sources, such as walnuts, canola oil, flaxseed, soybeans and tofu. While these foods are very good for you and your family, they provide a different type of omega-3 that might not convey the same health benefits as the type from fish. Many have turned to omega-3 fish oil supplements, but unless you have high triglycerides, the research is lacking on whether this is of benefit to you or your family. New research is on the way…stay tuned for updates on this and similar topics.

Alysa Ferguson is a registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator and family health educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County. She can be reached at 631-727-7850 ext. 342 or at

Do as you say and say as you do!

By Kerri Kreh Reda

As your child’s first teacher, you teach her many things – how to talk, feed herself, dress herself and how to use the toilet.  You make a conscious effort to teach these skills.  What you may not realize is that you also teach many other things unintentionally by the example you set for your child.

Children are born mimics; they imitate the adults they love.  Children are constantly watching and learning without parents realizing the effects they have on their children.  Usually children learn as much from your actions or inaction, as they do from your words.  They learn how to behave by seeing how their parents behave and follow that example.  If your child isn’t listening to what you are telling him, consider instead what you are showing him.

You can tell children to read books, but the most effective teaching you can do is to show them that you love books.  If your child sees you reading, she is more likely to read.  If you listen to others and communicate respectfully, so will your child.  If your child hears you thinking through problems, listing solutions and considering options, he is likely to adopt a similar approach to problem solving.  If you say “please” and “thank you” your children will learn good manners.  If you manage stress and express emotions in a healthy way, your children will learn these skills also.

What do you hope to model for your children?  Perhaps traits such as responsibility, kindness, dependability, and honesty are important to you.  Maybe issues of health such as wearing a seat belt, using sunscreen, eating well and being active are messages you want to send.  Thinking about the kind of adult you hope your child will become can help you think about the kind of role model you want to be.

It is important to remember that parents are human and therefore not perfect.  We make mistakes, lose our tempers, have bad habits and may fail to set the perfect example.  What is important is that we do our best, admit our mistakes and resolve to do better.  Being a positive role model is one of the most important and rewarding things you can do for your child.


“Parents can teach, but the most powerful teaching comes in modeling the behavior you want your children to copy.”  Ohio State University Extension “Do as I Do: Parents as Nutritional Role Models.

“The only way to raise a decent human being is by being one.”  Eda LeShan 1988.  The best-kept secret about discipline. Parents, March

Kerri Kreh Reda, M.P.H., is a Human Development Specialist at Cornell Cooperative Extension in Suffolk. She can be reached at 631-727-7850 x. 330 or at

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