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Growing a Reader

By Nancy Olsen-Harbich, MA

At 3 to 5 years old, your child is getting ready to read. You can help your preschooler grow into a reader by reading aloud with, not to your child—encouraging your child to become actively involved, talking about the story as it unfolds, and using his or her imagination to guess the ending or to make up new stories.

Good reading skills can help your child do better in school, develop language and writing skills, and have an easier time tackling life’s little and big chores.

Here are some tips to help you nurture a budding reader:

  • Be a good role model. Let your child see how you read to gain information that is useful or enjoyable in your own life. If your evening’s entertainment is sometimes reading a good book or magazine, your child can readily see reading as an alternative to TV.
  • Talk and sing together. Listen with interest to accounts of what happened at school and to stories your child makes up. Your child’s need and joy in communicating thoughts to you helps build vocabulary and the ability to get ideas across.
  • Visit the library often and select books with your child. Preschoolers usually like stories about children their own age, with playful animals, familiar objects, and simple plots. Rely on the expertise of the librarian to suggest books appropriate for your child’s age. Look for winners of children’s book awards. Resist the temptation to choose books about familiar cartoon characters. If your child has already seen the movie, sleeps on the sheets, and plays with the action figure, the book might just be overkill.
  • Select a regular reading time. Bedtime is a natural quiet time, but not necessarily the best time for everyone. Choose a time that works best for you and your child.
  • Read aloud slowly and with great expression. Be a real ham if you want to.
  • Encourage children to participate by saying favorite lines, acting out parts of the story, or guessing what will happen next.
  • Read signs, directions, and other printed words in your everyday life, such as signs, posters, and the names of stores. This will remind your child that reading is an important part of their lives—fun, but also very useful.
  • Read on the go. Bring books for the car or when you and your child might have to wait on long lines.

Reading with your child offers an opportunity to share some cozy, cuddly moments together that you both will treasure. As an extra added bonus, as reading time increases, TV time usually decreases.


Nancy Olsen-Harbich is Program Director and a Human Development Specialist with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s Family Health and Wellness Program. She can be reached at 631-727-7850 ext. 332 or at

10 Ways to Make Fruit Fun for You and Your Toddler

By Christina F. Toscano

It is recommended that at each meal, ¼ of your plate should be fruit. In fact, toddlers age 2-3 need 1 cup a day and children age 4-8 need 1 and 1/2 cups. Most adults need 2 cups. It is important to meet this recommendation because fruit provides important vitamins, minerals, and fiber that you and your toddler need in order to stay healthy and happy. But eating the same old bananas and apples can get boring. So how can you make sure that you and your little one are getting enough fruit, while keeping things delicious and exciting? Try these toddler-approved tips:

  • Make Fruit Kebabs
    • Teach your toddler about patterns while you put already chopped fruit on a kebab stick. When you’re done, they’ll love dipping the kebab in yogurt and shredded coconut or granola.
  • Toss Together a Fruit Salad
    • Try fun new combinations. My little one enjoyed eating a fennel, pomegranate, orange, and mint salad. She was willing to try it because she helped make it!
  • Warm up with a Cinnamon Baked Apple
    • Cut an apple in half and scoop out the seeds. Then let your toddler sprinkle on some cinnamon. For added flavor, fill the middle with granola, oatmeal, or a few dark chocolate chips. Place it in the oven at 350 degrees until the apple is soft and caramelized.
  • Cool Down with Frozen Yogurt Bites
    • In muffin tray cups place a spoonful of plain yogurt. Your toddler will have fun placing berries and chopped fruit in each one. Put it in the freezer until frozen, and enjoy!
  • Blend a Smoothie
    • Blend a base (usually milk or yogurt) with fruit. You can also add a healthy fat (nut butter, avocado, hemp seeds or flax seeds) or veggies! Get creative and experiment with new combinations. 
  • Create a Smoothie Bowl
    • Put your smoothie in a bowl. Then, top it with granola, chopped fruit, seeds, or berries. 
  • Try something new!
    • Let your little one pick out a fruit you have never heard of or tasted before! Make it a game and set a goal of trying one new fruit each week. If you start to run out of new options at your usual supermarket, look for an international supermarket in your area. 
  • Make your own ice pops
    • Fill an ice pop mold with fruit juice and have your toddler add chunks of fresh fruit or berries. Freeze until it is frozen solid and enjoy! 
  • Eat ice cream, banana ice cream that is!
    • When your bananas get over-ripe, freeze them. Then, blend bananas with a small amount of coconut cream or milk. The less liquid you add, the thicker it will be. Feel free to add toppings or experiment by blending in other ingredients. Here are some of our favorites:-Strawberry “nice” cream: Once the banana ice cream is blended, add a few strawberries and pulse. This way, there will be delicious strawberry chunks to enjoy.-Vanilla “nice” cream: add a few drops of vanilla extract before you blend the banana ice cream.

      -Nutty “nice” cream: blend peanut butter along with the frozen banana. Top with just a few semi-sweet chocolate chips.

  • Head to your local farmer’s market.
    • There is nothing like a ripe piece of fruit, so head to your local farmer’s market and enjoy it fresh from the experts. The farmers are often happy to share cooking tips for their produce!

For more information, please visit:

Fruit kebab recipe:

Cristina is a Nutrition Educator for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s Family Health and Wellness Program’s Parent Toddler Nutrition Program. She can be reached at

Get your vitamin D checked!

By Greg Zacarese

Having low levels of vitamin D is very common, especially during the winter months. Vitamin D in the body comes from food consumed, and is made in the skin through synthesis. We need Vitamin D to maintain bone health and for calcium homeostasis. New areas of research suggest that Vitamin D can play a role in immunity and chronic disease risk reduction. It is used in the treatment of psoriasis and multiple sclerosis. Long-term Vitamin D deficiency can lead to rickets in children, a disease characterized by a failure of bone tissue to properly mineralize, resulting in soft bones and skeletal deformities. In adults, rickets can cause osteomalacia, resulting in soft, fragile bones and high fracture rates.

People at increased risk include:

  • breastfed babies
  • older adults
  • people with limited sun exposure
  • people with darker skin
  • people with fat malabsorption

Vitamin D is not found in a wide variety of foods. Supplementation is often necessary, especially during the winter time when our sun exposure is limited. Some foods that do contain Vitamin D include fortified dairy products, ready-to-eat breakfast cereals, salmon, liver, and eggs.

For more information:


Greg Zacarese is a Dietetic Intern with the University of SODEXO with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s Family Health and Wellness Program

Fiber Consumption and its Benefits

By Ruchi Shah, MS, RD, CDN

“Dietary fiber is a material from plant cells that cannot be broken down by enzymes in the human digestive tract.1“There are two types of fiber, soluble fiber and insoluble fiber. Soluble fibers absorb water during digestion, while insoluble fibers remain unchanged during digestion. Soluble fibers include “fruits, vegetables, legumes, barley, oats, and oat bran.1” Insoluble fibers include “fruits with edible peel or seeds, vegetables, whole grain products, bulgur wheat, ground corn meal, cereals, bran, rolled oats, buckwheat, and brown rice.1

According to the American Heart Association, the recommended intake of dietary fiber is 25 to 30 grams a day from the diet, with 6 to 8 grams of this total recommended to be from soluble fiber. Supplements are not included in this recommendation. Currently, dietary intake of fiber is about 15 grams a day in the United States, only approximately half of what is recommended.

Tips to Increase Fiber Intake, as recommended by

  • Include at least one serving of whole grain in every meal.
  • Choose whole grain bread, whole wheat crackers, whole-wheat flour, and brown rice instead of other options for those particular foods.
  • Pick cereals with at least 5 grams of fiber per serving.
  • Add beans to dishes, or substitute meat with beans.
  • Eat 5 servings of vegetables and fruits a day. Fruits are higher in fiber when eaten fresh with skin. Peeled or canned fruits are lower in fiber.

Why is Fiber Important?

According to the World Health Organization, eating more dietary fiber and whole grains protect against non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as Type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, and colorectal cancer. They found that eating from 25 to 29 grams of dietary fiber increased health benefits against these NCDs. Many studies state that soluble fiber may “reduce total blood cholesterol levels and improve blood sugar levels in people with diabetes.” Fiber is an important aspect of every meal. Fiber consumption within 25-30 grams is recommended for proper digestive health and protection against NCDs.

  1. “Increasing Fiber Intake.” UCSF Medical Center,
  2. “High Fiber, Whole Grains Linked to Lower CVD, Diabetes, Cancer Risk.” Medscape. Jan 15, 2019

Ruchi Shah is a Registered Dietician and Diabetes Educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s Family Health and Wellness Program. She can be reached at


Are you a dietitian or nutritionist

By Kim Manfried, RD CDN

I am often asked this question. The main differences between a dietitian and a nutritionist involve schooling, certification, and registration requirements. Dietitians can be called nutritionists, but nutritionists can only be called dietitians if they have the proper education and training.

Dietitians are required to graduate from college with a Bachelor’s degree, and most are mandated to earn a Master’s degree as well. In addition, a dietitian has to apply and be accepted to an accredited (by the Commission of Dietetics, CDR) internship program. After completing this program (which usually lasts about ten months) the CDR dietitian exam must be taken and passed in order to be considered, and practice as, a registered dietitian (RD). A dietitian has to maintain this registration status every five years by completing a minimum of 75 continuing education credits (that are approved by the CDR). Dietitians can also enter various fields and take other exams to have additional credentials in order to work with diabetes or renal patients.

Nutritionists do not need any specific training or education in order to call themselves nutritionists. They are not allowed to call themselves dietitians unless they pass the above stated requirements. Many people in various fields call themselves nutritionists merely by obtaining knowledge online, in books, or by simply having an interest in nutrition. This can lead to people providing nutritional information without the proper education and with lack of access to research-based information.

Education doesn’t mean that all dietitians know everything and nutritionists know nothing. It means that when a patient is referred to a dietitian, that individual benefits from a professional who has undergone many hours of schooling, has worked in various nutrition settings, and is able to provide tailored medical nutrition information.

Go online to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in order to learn more, find excellent resources, and search for a registered dietitian in your area.


Kim Mendel is a Registered Dietitian and Diabetes Educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s Family Health and Wellness Program. She can be reached at

Greek Yogurt

By Rachel MacKinnon

Greek yogurt is one of those foods that bring joy to the gut and our health. Nutritionally, it contains more protein and less sodium and carbohydrates than regular yogurt. Aside from the nutritional benefits, it also is a great probiotic for gut health, boosting the immune system. Selecting Greek yogurts can be tricky.

Many people prefer flavored Greek yogurts such as vanilla, strawberry, and even fruit at the bottom flavors. They look appealing and taste good, but are you aware of the amount of sugar in those yogurts? Many contain 15 grams of sugars in one serving, and this information is found on the nutrition label. You may think that all of those grams of sugar are from the fruit. The fruit has naturally occurring sugars, but look at the ingredient label. Many will include “evaporated cane sugar” which is an extra, added sugar. Yogurt, naturally, should contain some sugar. More than 6 grams of sugar on a label indicates added sugars. To avoid these sugars, select plain yogurt.

Plain Greek Yogurt


Strawberry flavored Greek Yogurt

Many people don’t enjoy the taste of plain Greek yogurt. Here are some ways to make plain Greek yogurt not so plain:

  • Add vanilla extract.
  • Add lemon, lime, and orange zests.
  • Add fruit to it, fresh or frozen. Either way you can still enjoy the fruit taste without the excess sugars the fruit at the bottom yogurts contain.
  • Add nuts and seeds to it. This is a great source of healthy fats, and will satisfy you more.
  • Make cold oats with Greek yogurt. It will sit overnight, allowing the flavors to soak in, providing you with a tasty breakfast in the morning.

Get creative and make your Greek yogurt the way you want it!


Rachel MacKinnon is a Dietetic Intern with C.W. Post LIU with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s Family Health and Wellness Program


Teens and Vaping

By Maxine Roeper Cohen, M.S.

E-cigarettes came on the market about ten years ago. They were originally marketed as a way for adults to quit smoking regular cigarettes. However, one effect was that these e-cigarettes (vapes) became very attractive to teenagers. Some vapes are fruit flavored, with ads and social media directly targeting teens. The sleek packaging of some of these products added to the “cool factor.” Peer pressure and easy accessibility skyrocketed these e-cigs to extreme popularity. 

The federal government’s National Institute on Drug Abuse, in cooperation with the University of Michigan, in 2018 polled American teens on their use of nicotine vaping devices. Teens in the survey were in the eighth, tenth, and twelfth grades. Results showed that the rise in vaping was the largest spike in 44 years! About 21% of high school seniors had vaped within the previous month, compared to 11% the year before. The survey also found that the teens thought that they were only vaping the flavoring, but all brands include nicotine. The vaping container also contains aerosol which is unsafe due to heavy metals and chemicals. In fact, the Center for Disease Control-National Youth Tobacco Survey found that e-cigarette use greatly increased between 2017 and 2018, with 3.6 million middle and high school students vaping regularly.

Teens are a vulnerable group, motivated by peer pressure. Vaping is considered cool and stylish, and the “forbidden” aspect increases its popularity. Adolescents don’t realize how vulnerable to addiction they are. The adolescent brain’s prefrontal cortex is still maturing, and this part of the brain affects impulse and judgment. The nicotine in e-cigarettes can make underlying mental health conditions worse, and it can also lead to depression, anxiety, and hyperactivity. Common withdrawal symptoms include irritability, disrupted sleep, increased moodiness, and extreme anxiety. It has been found that teens still vape as a self-soothing medication, even after stopping.  

A problem for teens is attempting to stop vaping once they are hooked. There is a need for long-term studies in determining how to taper down and stop using vapes. There is no known method for quitting as it’s not the same as adults quitting. Medication has not been approved for teens, as it has been for adults. It is difficult to measure the amount of nicotine inhaled and absorbed through vaping, and patches and prescriptions are not prescribed for teens. 

As a parent, educate yourself. Don’t scare your teen children, but involve them in conversations and attempt to get them to see the impulsive nature of their behavior and the possible long-term harm of vaping. Teens need to understand the importance of quitting e-cigs for their own good health. Vape Out programs have been initiated in January of 2019 in a few Long Island school districts. The emphases in these programs include peer-to-peer education, parent education, and an enforcement program. Teens are not suspended from school when caught, but must be able to discuss the harm of vaping and show school administrators that they know how to refuse e-cigs. It has been found that cognitive behavioral therapy may be helpful in quitting. Yoga and meditation both help to decrease anxiety. Participation in sports can be useful as well.

Maxine Roeper Cohen is a Parent Educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s Family Health and Wellness Program. She can be reached at

Pets Can Provide Many Benefits for Young Children

By Dinah Torres Castro

Having a pet to play with, talk to, and touch can be a great benefit for young children, especially shy ones. Pets give unconditional love, and because they are non-judgmental pets can help a child who is lonely, shy, or emotionally distressed. Pets can make your children feel like they have someone they can “talk” to. They become a source of comfort and support. A positive relationship with a pet can help your child develop trusting relationships with others. A good relationship with a pet also helps children develop non-verbal communication, compassion and empathy. Research has shown that having pets can foster emotional, cognitive, social, and physical development in young children.

There are many other benefits of having pets, including some that affect the health of young children. Studies have shown that interacting with animals can decrease the levels of cortisol (a stress-related hormone) and lower blood pressure. We already know that children with pets tend to go outside more often, so they have the added benefit of fresh air and exercise. When growing up in a home with pets, children often require fewer doctors’ visits and have a lower risk of developing common allergies and asthma.

Children develop a sense of responsibility as they learn to feed and care for their pets. Taking care of a pet provides boys and girls with plenty of opportunity to develop their nurturing abilities, important in adulthood if choosing to become parents.

Pets can help emergent readers feel comfortable reading out loud, thereby contributing to their self-confidence. Children with pets have shown improved impulse control, social skills, and self-esteem.

As parents we must make sure that the experience of having a pet is a positive one by making sure the pets are cared for properly (treated gently and appropriately) and ensuring that our children are safe and healthy around our pets.

For help in choosing which pet is a good fit for your family, check the links below:

Selecting the Right Dog:

Determining if a Pet is Right for Your Family:

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

What’s in your Diaper Bag?

By Kerri Kreh Reda, M.P.H.

One of the best ways to have a successful outing with a little one is to be prepared with a well stocked diaper bag. The items you pack will change, depending on the outing and the age of your child. Here are some suggestions to get you started:

  • Diapers
  • Wipes
  • Changing pad
  • Plastic bags
  • Change of clothes
  • Diaper rash cream
  • Bottles
  • Blanket
  • Pacifier
  • Hat
  • Sunscreen
  • Toys/books

As your baby grows into a toddler and begins to feed himself, you may want to pack:

  • Sippy cup
  • Bib
  • Fork/spoon
  • Snacks

If your child is learning to use the toilet, you will no longer need to carry diapers. You will want a change or two of clothing, including an extra pair of socks and shoes, as well as wipes and plastic bags, in case of accidents.

Behavior tends to deteriorate when children get bored, so having things on hand to keep them busy is a good idea whether you are standing in line at the grocery store or enjoying dinner at a restaurant. Look for toys that are small, quiet, low-tech, age-appropriate and have few pieces, such as:

  • Board books
  • Rattles
  • Squeaky toys
  • Teethers
  • Non-breakable mirrors
  • Baby keys
  • Dolls
  • Crayons
  • Paper/notebook
  • Little people/animals/cars

Kerri Kreh Reda, M.P.H., is a Human Development Specialist with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s Family Health and Wellness Program. She can be reached at 631-727-7850 ext. 330 or at

Preschoolers and Computers: Less is More

By Nancy Olsen-Harbich, MA

How much time—if any—should a preschooler spend at a computer? Educators, psychologists, and scientists continue to debate the potential impact of computer use on young children’s development. What are the advantages and disadvantages? Three concerns weigh heavily in the debate:

  • Computer use adds even more sedentary “screen time” to the daily lives of children who are getting too much of it already, watching TV and videos. When physical activity – running, jumping, climbing – is replaced by sitting, there are negative consequences to both motor development and overall health. Childhood obesity rates are skyrocketing.
  • Although some computer software can offer engaging learning opportunities, even the best games can’t replicate the rich experience of using all five senses while playing with real objects and toys, much less the limitless possibilities of a child’s imagination to “create” play scenarios with these props.
  • The development of social skills that happens naturally during free play among children is lost when a child sits alone using a computer.

Keeping the above in mind, how should parents of a preschooler who loves to play computer games oversee the experience? Moderation and monitoring are the keys to protecting a child, and ensuring he or she gets the best of what’s available.

Choose high quality software designed specifically for young children.

Computer use by preschoolers should be about playing, exploring and experimenting. Avoid software with a “drill and practice” approach to skill building, which has been shown to decrease children’s creativity and motivation. Many public libraries on Long Island have children’s software to borrow from their collections, so you can preview software to assess quality before purchasing for your own collection.

Use the computer with your preschooler.

Teaching a child how to navigate a software program successfully can limit frustration, and observing how your child uses the software will provide you with insight into how he or she thinks. The computer can be a great tool for answering questions from curious preschoolers. Type “Why is the sky blue?” into a search engine to bring up simple scientific answers that will enhance your child’s understanding of such topics, and kick off a great dialogue between you and your son or daughter.

Encourage children to work in pairs at the computer.

Unlike adults, children treat computer time as a social opportunity. Putting their heads together to problem-solve and practice negotiation skills as they maneuver through a software program, they gain more from the technology when they collaborate. Paired use of a computer by siblings encourages them to cooperate and results in less fighting over computer time. For a child who is shy by nature, sharing the computer with a friend can provide the kind of mediated play that allows him or her to build social competence, especially if that child feels less skilled in other, direct forms of play.

Watch the clock.

Set limits on the amount of time your children spend in front of all screens (computer monitors, TVs, hand held and play station games).  No young child should spend more than one or two hours a day, combined, in front of screens. If a preschooler goes beyond that outer limit, he or she is probably missing out on another important activity. There are only so many hours in the day, and parents must think about what their children are NOT doing when their eyes are fixed on a screen. Helping mom or dad make dinner, building a castle out of a cardboard box with a friend, or romping outside with the dog should never be sacrificed to more time at the computer.

Some computer programs designed with preschoolers in mind:

  • Elmo’s Preschool 30th Anniversary Edition
  • Winnie the Pooh Preschool
  • Dr. Seuss Preschool
  • Jumpstart Preschool
  • Little Bear Preschool Thinking Adventures
  • Reader Rabbit Preschool

Nancy Olsen-Harbich is Program Director and a Human Development Specialist with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s Family Health and Wellness Program. She can be reached at 631-727-7850 ext. 332 or at

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