Email Print Site Map
UC Food Safety
University of California
UC Food Safety

UC Food Blog

Parents can make healthful eating fun for kids

Guide for parents helps teach kids healthy practices early in life.
New parents sometimes joke that they wish babies, like consumer products, would come with an instruction manual. Because, ultimately, parents want to do what's best to keep their children healthy, but what's best to do isn't always intuitive. To help to make it easier for parents, UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources offers a short guide, called “Healthy, Happy Families” to help parents teach their kids about nutrition.

Studies have shown that we develop our eating habits early in life, according to lead author Lenna Ontai, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Human and Community Development at UC Davis.

“We know that it is not enough to just teach parents what to do. We have to support them in how they can take that knowledge home and use it effectively,” said Ontai.

Healthy, Happy Families provides parents with practical information about how children develop and tips for raising a healthy and happy child. It includes fun and easy activities for parents to do with their preschool-aged children to promote healthful eating.

Children who spend more time with their parents tend to be happier and learn better, the authors write. They recommend eating together as a family to help children learn to make healthy food choices. Letting children help plan and prepare meals helps them develop new skills. Children also learn social skills during family meals such as talking and listening.

Now available in Spanish!
Each of the eight lessons is designed to take 15-20 minutes. The book includes suggestions for encouraging positive behavior and activities such as cooking together. To entice children to try new, nutritious foods, let them explore textures, tastes, colors and sounds of food. Fuzzy kiwifruit, sour apples, red peppers and crunchy celery may pique their interest.

For cooking with kids, they recommend

  • Explaining why it's important to wash our hands.
  • Setting up an area for the child that is away from the stove and oven.
  • Using a low table or safe step stool.
  • Letting the child taste.
  • Using child-sized utensils.
  • And most of all, making it fun!

In a fun way, parents can create a healthy learning environment and teach their children healthful habits that will last a lifetime.

“Helping parents tune into their children's development and supporting positive interactions around food makes a big difference as children grow,” Ontai said. 

The Healthy, Happy Families workbook is available in packages of 10 for $15 in English and is now available in Spanish as Familia sana, familia feliz in Spanish. There is also a companion publication for teachers called the Healthy, Happy Families for Teachers curriculum. All three publications can be ordered at http://anrcatalog.ucdavis.edu.

Posted on Thursday, November 20, 2014 at 8:04 AM

Students' olive-oil fraud buster wins international prize

The iGEM olive-oil biosensor inventors are, from left, James Lucas, Sarah Ritz, Simon Staley, Yeonju Song, Brian Tamsut and Lucas Murray. Not pictured here was team member Aaron Cohen. (Karen Higgins/UC Davis)
A student team composed of some of the best and brightest young minds at UC Davis took the grand prize last week in an international competition for the high-tech biosensor they created to detect low-grade or adulterated olive oil.

The award was presented to the Aggie inventors during the finals of the three-day global iGEM (International Genetically Engineered Machines) competition in Boston. The competition, this year featuring 245 teams from Asia, Europe, Latin America and North America, challenges student teams to design and build biological systems or machines and present their inventions in the international competition.

The students had spent several months designing and building the palm-sized biosensor, which they dubbed OliView. The biosensor is equipped to quickly and easily evaluate the chemical profile of oil, providing producers, distributors, retailers and ultimately consumers with an effective, inexpensive way to ensure olive oil quality.

Verifying olive oil quality is a concern for consumers – many of whom are willing to pay higher prices for the health benefits and flavor of true, extra-virgin olive oil. And honest olive oil producers want to prevent other producers from passing off sub-par olive oil as the real deal, while retailers, distributors and producers want a quick, easy way to ensure olive oil quality.

In addition helping detect fraudulent olive oil, the students' new biosensor will also monitor for good oil that may have gone rancid with age. 

The team of undergraduate students included Lucas Murray, Brian Tamsut, James Lucas, Sarah Ritz, Aaron Cohen and Simon Staley, with Yeonju Song serving as the “shadow” or alternate team member. You can tune into Aaron Cohen's recent Nov. 6 Science Friday interview during a discussion of synthetic biology.

The full story and a brief video about the new olive-oil biosensor and this stellar team of young inventors are available at: http://news.ucdavis.edu/search/news_detail.lasso?id=11076.

Reports on olive-oil quality are available at the web site of the UC Davis Olive Center at: http://olivecenter.ucdavis.edu/research/reports.

Posted on Wednesday, November 12, 2014 at 1:17 PM

Science-based food safety tips

Jeffrey LeJeune
Last month, I attended ScienceWriters2014, a joint meeting of the National Association of Science Writers, Inc, and the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing, in Columbus, Ohio. Held in cooperation with The Ohio State University, the conference attracted 430 freelancers, students, editors, staff journalists, public information officers and other lovers of science and science-writing. I had applied for a public information officer travel fellowship to attend it, and was fortunate to be awarded one by the NASW, greatly facilitating my attendance.

One of the events that attendees could sign up for was lunch with a scientist at The Ohio State University, located a few miles away from the conference venue. I chose Prof. Jeffrey LeJeune, an infectious disease microbiologist and epidemiologist, because a focus of his research is food safety, one of the topics included in the UC Global Food Initiative that UC President Janet Napolitano launched on July 1.

On the day of the luncheon, a Sunday, we were driven to The Ohio State University in buses the university provided. We assembled in the lobby of the Ohio Union (it was homecoming on campus and the Columbus marathon was in progress nearby), and were soon escorted to the tables of the scientists we had picked. The university kindly (and safely!) provided lunch.

At LeJeune's table, we introduced ourselves to one another. LeJeune began his presentation to his 15 guests by rebuffing the five-second rule. According to this rule, food dropped on the ground will not become contaminated with bacteria if it is picked up within five seconds of being dropped. LeJeune said it does not work. “Eating off the floor violates all food-borne illness prevention advice,” he warned.

Perhaps because we in his audience were all science writers, he proceeded to discuss communication challenges facing scientists. He said most of the emphasis in graduate training is on making discoveries, with hardly any attention paid to communicating these discoveries in lay language to benefit the general public. Other challenges he mentioned are the information explosion we are witnessing, resulting in deaf ears turned to many scientists' voices; and language barriers between scientists and journalists that hinder effective communication.

LeJeune then introduced the topic of raw milk. He said that while consuming raw milk is dangerous (CDC data for 1973-2005 shows that 56 percent of dairy-associated disease outbreaks result from raw milk/cheeses), less than one percent of milk consumed in the United States is raw.

“The pasteurization of milk was a huge benefit to the health of the human population,” he said. “Most cheeses in the U.S. are pasteurized cheese products.”

We asked him many questions. He answered them all. He explained that the U.S. has the safest food supply. Despite this, pathogens can enter the food chain through live animals, he cautioned. Further, refrigeration could be inadequate. He said about 80 percent of food and vegetable contamination occurs post-farm. His tip for what to eat when traveling: “Avoid raw or unpeeled foods. It is best to choose what is fully cooked and hot.”

LeJeune noted there is no evidence to suggest that GM foods are problematic from a food safety perspective.

“There are some concerns for sure,” he said. “But these are largely economic or political. Nutrition-wise, GM foods can be beneficial. From a food safety and nutritional standpoint, I also see no significant differences between organic produce and non-organic or regular produce. There could be, however, some environmental impacts related to the different production systems.”

More questions followed. A discussion on E. coli bacteria gathered momentum, specifically how E. coli gets infected with a virus and how, when this virus decides to leave E. coli, it releases Shiga toxins, which, in turn, damage cells lining the kidney.

We were so engrossed in the discussion that it came as a surprise when one of the organizers of the luncheon strode into the room to inform us that our hour with the scientist was up and that the bus that had transported us to The Ohio State University was about to leave.

As we rose hastily from our chairs we thanked LeJeune for his presentation, which was clear and to the point – qualities all science (and other) writers appreciate. We know he had other topics to discuss with us: Can I cook my Jack-o'-Lantern after Halloween? (The answer is “Not if it sits out for more than two hours.”) And are raw diets for dogs a public health concern for humans? (The answer is “Your dog is more likely to have Salmonella if it is eating raw food.)

Although we didn't get to these topics, he left us with ample useful information about food safety. On the ride back to the conference, the bus was loud with conversation from the various lunch groups – what had been learned, how best it could be communicated, and how each one of us had made a new friend at the university.

Posted on Tuesday, November 4, 2014 at 9:08 AM

Make it a healthy Halloween!

Orange fruit cups with jack-o-lantern faces drawn on the plastic.
Around this time of year, candy is flying off the shelves and headed to a classroom or workplace party near you. 

It's not too late to mix things up this year, by bringing one of many creative fruit and vegetable goodies to your spooky bash.

What about healthy ideas for children's parties? Think outside the wrapper! Consider handing out non-food items this Halloween. You can purchase many of these items for the same price as sweets. Pro tip: check out your local dollar store or hit up the party favor aisle at most department stores for bulk buys at low prices.

Here are a few non-food ideas:

  • Pencils
  • Erasers
  • Crayons
  • Spider rings
  • Bouncy balls
  • Yo-Yo
  • Sidewalk chalk
  • Kazoos
  • Stickers

For more ideas about healthy holiday celebrations, visit ChooseMyPlate.gov, or contact your local University of California Cooperative Extension Nutrition Education Program.

Two creative and healthful Halloween party ideas.
Two creative and healthful Halloween party ideas.

Photo credit: http://feedingfourlittlemonkeys.blogspot.com/2008/10/veggie-skeleton.html and http://www.tasteofhome.com/recipes/holiday---celebration-recipes/halloween-recipes/fun-halloween-food

Posted on Wednesday, October 29, 2014 at 8:47 AM

Pests make it challenging to grow chile peppers

A selection of hot chile peppers, a California-grown vegetable that adds spice to life.
Ethiopian, Mexican and Thai cuisine all taste distinctly different, but they have something in common: chile peppers. Demand for chile peppers is growing steadily and California is a leading producer of the vegetable that adds spice to life. Cash receipts for California chile peppers increased from $59 million in 2010 to nearly $100 million in 2012, according to USDA statistics. In Santa Clara County, 70 varieties of peppers are grown. Peppers are challenging to grow because they are susceptible to diseases, many of them spread by insects.

“Tomato spotted wilt virus spread by western flower thrips is a big problem for peppers,” said Shimat Joseph, UC Cooperative Extension advisor in Monterey, Santa Cruz and San Benito counties. Tomato spotted wilt can cause a plant to produce discolored fruit that is unmarketable and it can kill the plant. Joseph advises pepper growers on integrated pest management methods to control insects.

“We believe it is critical to manage thrips early in the season because when the plants are small, they are more vulnerable,” Joseph said, “and the disease may not show until later in the season.”

He is currently studying the effects of applying insecticides a month after transplanting to discourage thrips from feeding. He also recommends removing weeds, which can host the virus.

Posted on Friday, October 24, 2014 at 10:17 AM
  • Author: Pamela Kan-Rice

Next 5 stories | Last story

Site Creation date 6/1/2009
Webmaster for site:  Zann Gates

Webmaster Email: zgates@ucdavis.edu