Three Tips For Handling Holiday Stress


By Judy Brennan

It’s the most wonderful time of the year - or is it?

Holidays are supposed to be a time to gather family together to connect and enjoy each other’s company, but they can also be very stressful. It was only up until three years ago, I was able to host the family holiday meal calmly and with grace. It has taken me many years of practicing the tools I have learned as a Health and Wellness Educator, to truly be happy and live a more meaningful life, even throughout stressful times.

Here are three of my favorite tools, I use on a daily basis to help relieve stress and to navigate positively through the
1. A technique called STOP
S: Stop. Stop whatever you are doing.
T: Take three deep breaths. Take a few deep, belly-filling breaths with long inhales and exhales.
O: Observe. Tune into your physical sensations, surroundings, and emotions. Notice what you see, hear, feel,
and taste.
Label your emotions (without judging them) and identify your thoughts.
P: Proceed. Then carry on with more awareness (and I like to add with kindness and gratitude).
2. Live more in the moment
According to Psychology today, living in the moment makes people happier because most negative thoughts concern the past or the future.
As Mark Twain said, "I have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened."
The hallmark of depression and anxiety is worrying about something that hasn't happened yet and might not happen at all. Worry, by its very nature, means thinking about the future—and if you hoist yourself into awareness of the present moment, worrying melts away.
The flip side of worrying is ruminating, thinking bleakly about events in the past.
And again, if you press your focus into the now, rumination ceases.
Try practice being in the moment while driving, shopping, or talking with loved ones and notice how much more effective meaningful your moment will be. To me, this quote sums up living in the moment beautifully, "Forget yesterday - it has already forgotten you. Don't sweat tomorrow - you haven't even met. Instead, open your eyes and your heart to a truly precious gift - today.”
3. Lift the corners of your mouth
Yes, smile! You would be surprised how just putting a smile on your face can change not only how you feel but how those around you feel too. Make it a game and see how many people you can encourage to smile by sharing your own. I once tried this technique at a grocery store in my neighborhood and a woman on the receiving end came up and hugged me!

So, give it a try - STOP and take a breath, live more in the moment, and smile!
Wishing you peace and love during this holiday season,
Judy Brennan

Building a healthy plate


Teaching 180 5th graders about health and wellness in under three hours is no small feat but that’s exactly what Arpita Doshi pulled off at Hidden Hills Elementary School on October 24. Arpita is Hidden Hills PTA Health and Wellness Chair, a mom, and a physician. She has a passion for helping kids make healthy choices. She’s hoping that by educating kids early, it’ll reduce their chances of  getting the chronic conditions she is seeing in her patients.

During the health fair, small groups of kids travelled from table to table learning about nutrition, healthy cooking, exercise, vision and dental care, mindfulness, and more.

At the nutrition table I hosted, we discussed how to build a healthy plate, emphasizing the importance of eating more plants. While few kids reported eating the USDA’s recommended serving of fruits and vegetables, some eagerly listed their favorite produce. According to these children, their parents prioritized fruits and vegetables in their families.

Tips to increase more fruits and vegetables for your child:

  • Keep fruit washed and ready to eat in plain sight

  • Serve salads often. You’re busy. I know! Buy the pre-washed bagged salad or triple-washed spinach and make the prep easy.

  • Serve a vitamin A rich food everyday- e.g. squash, carrots, mangoes, tomatoes, broccoli, or spinach

  • Serve a vitamin C rich food daily - e.g. citrus fruit, strawberries, tomatoes, broccoli, or kiwi.

  • Model it! Eats fruits and vegetables yourself.

Visit Super Healthy Kids for ideas on how to bump up the fruits and vegetables on your child’s plate.

Harvest of the Month


Last week, I volunteered in my daughter's 4th grade classroom presenting the health benefits of kiwi as part of Harvest of the Month. For those of you who aren't familiar with Harvest of the Month, it's a public health nutrition initiative designed to encourage fruit and vegetable consumption among children. The produce of the month is introduced to children in a variety of ways and accompanied by a historical and nutritional overview. It's educational, tasty, and fun!

At Montair Elementary, Harvest of the Month was started in 2014 by Robin Clark, a mom, physician's assistant and child health advocate extraordinaire. In the early days, it began with just a few classrooms participating. Fast forward to today and the whole school participates.

When we introduce the fruit or vegetable of the month, we offer it to children both fresh and cooked. For example, this month I made kiwi muffins, kiwi salsa, and strawberry kiwi smoothies.  The latter was wildly popular with the kids (see recipe below)! While these recipes make kiwi highly palatable, Robin feels it's important to have kids taste the produce in it's natural state. Ultimately, they're more likely to encounter kiwi in a fruit salad than in a muffin!

Are you interested in bringing the Harvest of the Month program to your school? Robin has graciously created a website for Montair that can get you started. You can also download lesson plans from the California Department of Public Health's Harvest of the Month site. Harvest of the month requires a few dedicated parent volunteers willing to commit to a monthly lesson.

I'd like to think that the day ended with a few more kiwi fans than it started with, but ultimately, it is the exposure that matters. According to dietitian and family therapist Ellyn Satter, it could take 15-20 times of introducing a food before a child tries it, and that's ok.

Strawberry Kiwi Smoothie


  • 1 bananas, frozen

  • 2 cups frozen strawberries

  • 2 whole kiwis, peeled

  • 3/4 cup greek yogurt (plain, full-fat)


  1. Blend all ingredients until smooth.

Just Plum Good!


Plums are not only sweet and delicious, they offer many health benefits too. Naturally high in vitamins A and C, plums are a rich source of antioxidants. Antioxidants, especially when consumed through foods, can help prevent premature aging and some kinds of cancers. A study published in 2010.(1) showed that plum extracts were able to kill aggressive breast cancer cells without harming the surrounding healthy cells.

Dried plums keep our digestive tract moving. The insoluble fiber and the soluble fiber of the plum work in unison to help relieve constipation. The insoluble fiber found in the skin doesn’t dissolve and scrubs the digestive lining. Soluble fiber in the pulp makes a gluey mass that traps fats, sugars, bacteria, and toxins and moves them out of the body. In fact, research has shown that dried plums are more effective than psyllium.(2) Psyllium is commonly found in fiber supplements like Metamucil.

Good news for diabetics! While plums are sweet tasting, they don’t raise blood sugar drastically.(3) Remember all that soluble fiber we mentioned? When we eat a plum, thanks to the soluble fiber, it enters and exits the bloodstream more slowly, stabilizing our blood sugars. Avoiding spikes in blood sugars is key for managing diabetes.

Here’s another reason to increase your intake of this sweet and juicy stone fruit. Plums are good for our bones. The polyphenols and potassium in plums enhance bone density and can protect us from bone loss.(4)

Besides being amazing for our health, plums are versatile. They can be grilled, baked, broiled, or stewed. They come in a variety of colors from green to yellow to deep purple to red, with a gorgeous yellow or red flesh inside. They are healthy for our bodies, aesthetically pleasing, and delicious. What more could we ask for in a fruit?

Guest blog for The Urban Farmer

Listen to Your Gut


Have you ever had "butterflies" in your stomach when you were nervous? Or had a "gut feeling" about something? There is a strong connection between the gut and the brain. The gut, known mostly for its function in digestion, communicates with the brain via the vagus nerve. In fact, it's considered to be our "second brain."

Can food affect your mood? Researchers say that it can. Among other healthy habits such as exercise and getting plenty of sleep, diet plays an important role on how we feel... and it begins in the gut.

Maintaining a healthy gut isn't that hard. Start by adding some probiotics and prebiotics to your diet. Probiotics, live bacteria found in foods such as yogurt, kefir, fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, and miso, can help regulate the digestive system's bacteria. Prebiotics are fibers from carbohydrates that we don't digest. This fiber becomes the food that feeds the bacteria and help it flourish. Some examples of prebiotics are garlic, onions, apples, bananas, barley, chicory and burdock. To avoid gas and bloating, go slow when adding in these foods.

Exercising Patience and Creativity for the Picky Eater


At a couple of recent PTA events, the question of picky eating came up several times -- "My son won't eat vegetables," and "My daughter won't eat fruit except strawberries but only if smothered in chocolate." If this sounds familiar, you are not alone.

First and foremost, kids need to feel that they aren't forced to eat. Dinner should be a relaxing experience. Some find it more successful to offer vegetables/fruit at the table, along with other foods, in a bowl they can self-serve. Some kids need multiple exposures including touching, smelling, and even putting the food in their mouth and taking it out again before they'll even take a bite. That's ok. Exposure to "new" foods can take time, so be patient.

Even if they pass on eating the food, seeing it at the table makes it more familiar. They are more likely to eat it if parents are modeling it, and again, they don't feel forced. Ellyn Satter is a dietitian who is an expert on this subject and talks about the division of responsibility. "The parent is responsible for what, when, where. The child is responsible for how much and whether."

There are a lot of other ideas to make fruits and vegetables more enticing.

  • Take kids to the farmer's market and have them pick out their own.

  • Have them help in the kitchen.

  • Roast vegetables rather than sauté or steam - vegetables caramelize, release their natural sugars, and taste better.

  • Smoothies - create some sweet berry/mango/pineapple smoothies. Then start adding greens to it and give it a fun name like "leprechaun smoothie."

  • Start with the least bitter of the greens (such as spinach rather than kale).

  • Some kids are "super tasters" and texture and strong smells are a real turn off. They might be more open to vegetables if they are raw, and have a nice ranch dip to go with it.

  • If parents have time to blend vegetables and mask them into marinara sauce on pasta, there is no harm in that. Ideally, you want them to eat the right food but temporarily, it'll give parents peace of mind.

  • Nutrition education - educating a child through a healthy cooking class or fun workshop that includes nutrition education can make a big impact.

Children want to do right by their own bodies. Remember, they have so little choice and freedom over their lives and sometimes food is the only way for them to exercise some control. Give up the struggle, educate them on what will serve their bodies and what won't, model it, then let go and trust them.

When Teens Make Their Own Choice to Become a Vegetarian


As our children mature into tweens and teens, parents are sometimes faced with when, and how, to best support their kids' desire to make independent and conscious food and health related choices. A good example of this is when teens choose to give up meat, for any variety of reasons, including animal rights, health or the influence of their peers.

While avoiding meat, however, sometimes kids choose meals that are heavy on carbohydrates and low in fiber and protein (e.g. enriched pasta with marinara, french fries and soda, etc.). As parents, we are here to guide them as they assert themselves and start to make their own choices. It's important for parents of teens who choose a vegetarian lifestyle to be aware of the health aspects and to prepare food that will provide the necessary nutrients your child needs for his or her growing body. In a meatless diet, particular areas of concern are vitamin B12, vitamin D, calcium, protein, iron, zinc and fiber. Below are some good sources of these important nutrients:

  • Vitamin B12: dairy products, eggs, and vitamin-fortified products, such as soy and rice milks, and nutritional yeast.

  • Vitamin D: milk and vitamin D-fortified orange juice.

  • Calcium: dairy products, dark green leafy vegetables, broccoli, dried beans, and calcium-fortified products, including orange juice, soy and rice milks.

  • Protein: dairy products, eggs, tofu and other soy products, dried beans, and nuts.

  • Iron: eggs, dried beans, dried fruits, whole grains, and leafy green vegetables.

  • Zinc: wheat germ, nuts, dried beans, and pumpkin seeds.

  • Fiber: beans, legumes, vegetables, fruits, and whole grains 

A plant-based diet can be very healthy. Some of the latest research supports the idea that vegetarians and vegans have a lower risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, stroke, obesity and some types of cancer.

Do you want to learn how make nutritious, easy-to-prepare plant-based meals? Join me and Chef Lisa for Let's™ Get Vegucated: a plant-based nutrition talk and cooking demo on March 23 from 7-8:30pm at Gale Ranch Middle School. This class is geared for parents and teens but all are welcome. Please register for this free event!

Food and Mood - Are you Hangry?


When your blood sugar is out of balance, you can experience symptoms of shakiness, anxiety, hunger, headache, and moodiness. Have you ever heard the term "hangry," a combination of hungry and angry? This can be remedied by eating small frequent meals throughout the day containing protein, carbohydrate, and a healthy fat. The fat is really important to give a feeling of satiety. Kids need fat for healthy brain development so it's important they're not on a low-fat diet. Some snack ideas:

  • Whole grain crackers, cubes of cheese, and olives

  • A hard boiled egg

  • Apple slices or celery with nut butter

  • Nitrate free turkey and cream cheese wrapped around a pickle

  • Guacamole, carrot sticks and pita chips

With balanced meals and snacks, children (and parents) can focus throughout the day and maintain a good mood. It leads to better food choices throughout the day and less cravings for sweets.

Interested in learning more about the connection between food and mood? Join me at the Parenting Conference on Saturday, February 25. We'll connect the dots between what we eat and how we feel, and address how diet can impact stress and sleep. Register today!