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April 26
Want to make a healthy salad that passes the kid test?

Alaska kids tried 20 new salad recipes during the past year, and their top choices for salads, dressings, and seasonings were printed in the new Alaska School Salad Book, which is available online for free.

Alaska kids from the Alaska Gateway School District in Tok and the Boys and Girls Home of Alaska in Fairbanks taste-tested pizza salad, crispy ranch chickpeas, Mediterranean couscous, and more and then graded them with words, and scores.
"It is epic and good," said one child about one of the salads. “Awesome,” said another. 
When asked to rate a salad on a scale of 1-6, with 6 being the best, one student’s score went through the roof: 999,999.
It’s hard to question the deliciousness of a salad when one child says, “It’s the best thing in the world.”
The Alaska School Salad Book was published in partnership by the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS); the Department of Education and Early Development; the DePink Potato Salad 2.JPGpartment of Natural Resources, Division of Agriculture; the University of Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service; the Alaska Gateway School District; and the Boys and Girls Home of Alaska. The recipes come in bulk sizes so that schools can make them for the growing number of salad bars available in Alaska schools. But don’t worry if you’re not up for making a salad that feeds 100 people. The health department has also printed all of the salad recipes in quantities that feed a family of four. All of the recipes are saved as PDF files and can be printed and cut out for your personal recipe files.
The salad recipes provide fun new ways to help make fruits and vegetables a part of children’s daily diets because they are essential for optimal child growth, weight management and chronic disease prevention, said Diane Peck, a registered dietitian with DHSS. Unfortunately, Alaska children are not eating enough fruits and veggies. Only 10% of Alaska high school students eat the minimum recommended amount of five servings of fruits and vegetables per day, according to Alaska’s recent Youth Risk Behavior Survey.
The salad book, and the smaller-size family recipe cards, show off unique ways to mix fruits and vegetables in salads. Toss together wheat berries, green peppers, black olives, some spices and a little mozzarella cheese and diced pepperoni and you have pizza salad. It’s got all the flavors of pizza, but is served in a bowl and not on a crust. Fruits and vegetables are front and center in the Carrot and Mandarin Orange Salad. Want a surprise of color? Prepare pink potato salad with red potatoes – skin still on – and whole beets. Pizza Salad 1.JPG

 “It was exciting to see the kids trying new foods, especially foods that come from Alaska,” Peck said. “The students made great suggestions to improve some of the original recipes. They were so eager to try new foods when they were involved in the process.”
April 18
Bikeology: Bike safety class-in-a-trailer 

ASDBikeSafetyTrailer.jpgWhen the snow melts and warmer weather arrives, many of Alaska’s kids are anxious to get outside on their bikes. And many of Alaska’s physical education teachers are anxious to give those kids a refresher course in bike safety.

But some kids can’t get their bikes to school easily, some don’t own a helmet, and the bikes they bring often have mechanical issues that delay learning and safety skills practice while teachers help students get their bikes in working order.
Now, a cooperative effort between the Alaska Injury Prevention Center, the Anchorage School District, and the state Department of Transportation’s Alaska’s Safe Routes to School Program is providing an all-inclusive bike safety class-in-a-trailer that includes well-maintained bikes, helmets, and a curriculum.
Health and physical education teachers can reserve the trailer through an online request system and have it delivered directly to their school. White Spruce Trailers in Anchorage outfitted the 20-foot trailer with the hooks and storage for the bike fleet and helmets, and a supply cabinet filled with cones and signs for setting up a bike skills course along with the tools needed for simple maintenance and upkeep of the bikes.
trailer.inside.jpgThe bikes are Bike Friday’s OSATA bikes and are capable of adjusting to fit riders from 4’0” to 6’2” and up to 200 pounds. They are made in Eugene, Ore. of Made in America steel — a rarity for children’s bikes.
The curriculum includes classroom and on-the-bike instruction taught using the Bikeology curriculum, designed by ShapeAmerica (Society of Health and Physical Educators) with funding from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Bikeology is tailored for students in grades 6-12 and meets national standards for K-12 physical education.
 “We are excited to work with our community partners to enhance our current programs by finding innovative ways to engage our students,” said Melanie Sutton, the Health and Physical Education Coordinator for the Anchorage School District.  “This program allows us to increase our ability to provide an equal playing field for students to learn about the benefits gained from being physically active as well as the skills and knowledge to incorporate safe, satisfying physical activity into their lives.”
April 11
Active Brain Breaks Help Students Focus and Learn

brain.jpgLooking for a brain break?

That’s the term a number of Alaska teachers are using when they add in a short burst of physical activity in the middle of classroom learning. Physical activity has benefits that go beyond helping children and teens maintain a healthy weight. Recent national studies show that physical activity can help our children think and learn better.
Since children and teens spend more than half of their waking hours in the classroom, school is a prime location to increase physical activity among children. Some Alaska teachers are seeing the direct benefits of short activity breaks in their classrooms, and they say it is a great way to help youth reach the goal of 60 minutes of physical activity every day.
“They say that with any muscle you need to work it, but also give it some rest, so we take little brain breaks throughout the day,” said Marisa Glieco, a teacher at Lake Otis Elementary School in Anchorage. “When the kids have been sitting for 20 minutes or so, listening, taking notes, or doing an activity, a brain break gives them a little chance to move their bodies and give their minds a rest. I am always looking for ways we can get them up and active, and re-engage their brains.”
Sarah Tunley, a health specialist with the Anchorage School District, said she uses the same approach in the health and life skills classes she teaches to students in kindergarten through 6th grade.
“In elementary school, a lot of the time we are still kind of focused on all of our content, and kids are sitting and being sedentary a lot throughout the day,” Tunley said. “I want to make sure the kids are getting physical activity throughout the day, and not just at recess or PE time.”
There are numerous sources online for active classroom break ideas, but Glieco and Tunley both said their go-to brain break activity source is
“Most of the teachers at my school use Go Noodle,” Glieco said. “The site has a wide variety of activities, so there is something for everyone from dancing, to Zumba, to weird YouTube videos the kids like to jump around to.”
Glieco said her principal encourages teachers to have their classes take short extra recess breaks when possible to help kids focus better. When the schedule doesn’t allow a full outdoor break, a 10- or 15-minute activity break in the classroom can be just as helpful.
“When we don’t (take an activity break), you can tell the difference (in their behavior),” Glieco said. “They enjoy that ability to not only connect with each other, but to be active.”
Glieco and Tunley also like the wide variety of activity levels they can choose from when using online resources.
“If you are having a really rambunctious class, there are calming activities and yoga that can help them focus on an activity and help them be mindful,” said Glieco.
Most online classroom activity resources require little or no teacher preparation, special equipment, or resources. Glieco said she particularly likes to show videos that the kids can follow along with for brain breaks because it gives her a chance to rest her brain and get active as well.
Looking for short classroom activity break ideas? Check out these sites:
In-school Breaks
March 29
Vitamin-enhanced Water Drinks: Are They a Good Choice?

Today, Play Every Day is looking at oVitamin400x300.jpgne of the most confusing drinks sold in the sugary drink aisle of the grocery stores. It’s called a vitamin-enhanced water drink. The confusion around this drink comes with how it’s marketed.

When you look at the front of a vitamin-enhanced water drink, it appears to be a healthy choice. The front label stresses that it’s packed with vitamins. If you turn the bottle around, however, the nutrition facts label tells the truth. A vitamin-enhanced water drink is actually loaded with sugar — about 8 teaspoons of added sugar in a 20-ounce bottle.
This January, the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans issued the first-ever recommended limit for the amount of added sugar we eat and drink every day. The limit states that everyone  — old and young — should limit their added sugar to 10 percent or less of total daily calories.  A typical adult consuming 2,000 calories a day should limit their sugar intake to 12 ½ teaspoons of added sugar or fewer each day. A moderately active 8-year-old boy should have no more than 10 teaspoons of added sugar each day. Just one vitamin-enhanced water drink gets a child or an adult close to the daily sugar limit, and that doesn’t count all of the other added sugar eaten each day in cereals, snack bars, desserts, even condiments like ketchup and salad dressing.

Play Every Day has been looking at several different types of sweetened drinks to find out how much sugar they contain. Earlier this month, we focused on the powdered mix.  While it’s often billed as a breakfast drink with added vitamins, a 16-ounce glass of a powdered mix can start your day with more added sugar than a can of soda.
For the best health, skip sugary drinks like vitamin-enhanced beverages and powdered mixes. Instead, serve your families water or low-fat milk.  If you want vitamins, stick with whole foods and all-natural sources, like fruits and vegetables.
March 22
Anchorage reduced childhood obesity rates, but more work is needed to improve health

Press conference at elementary schoolA national public health foundation has recognized Anchorage as one of four communities nationwide that reduced its childhood obesity rates. Obesity rates among Anchorage School District elementary and middle school students declined by 2.2% between the 2003–04 and 2010–11 school years, due to coordinated efforts among the school district, the Municipality of Anchorage, and the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS).

On March 22, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) released the results of the Childhood Obesity Declines project from the National Collaborative on Childhood Obesity Research. The project studied four U.S. communities — Anchorage, Alaska; New York City; Granville County, N.C.; and Philadelphia, Pa. — to better understand the strategies these communities used to reduce the significant health issue of childhood obesity.
The report discusses a number of strategies and collaborations that likely contributed to the childhood obesity decline seen in Anchorage between the 2003-04 and 2012-11 school years. Strategies completed through partnership by the Municipality of Anchorage, the Anchorage School District and DHSS had a positive effect on obesity rates.
At the Anchorage School District, the wellness team made the following changes: 
  • increased weekly physical education and health instruction time for elementary students;
  • no longer sold sodas during school hours;
  • improved school lunches to meet stricter health standards;
  • expanded the national school lunch program to high schools;
  • increased the number of students participating in the Healthy Futures Challenge — the free, school-based physical activity challenge run by Healthy Futures, an Alaska nonprofit organization; and
  • adopted a comprehensive School District Wellness Policy that improved the foods available in vending machines, school stores and classrooms.
At the same time, the Municipality of Anchorage’s Task Force on Obesity and Health increased public awareness of the health consequences of childhood obesity; improved childcare licensing requirements around physical activity and nutrition; encouraged a variety of agencies to engage in improving the health of Anchorage residents; and guided development and adoption of the Anchorage Pedestrian and Bike Plans.
 “Childhood obesity is a serious health concern in Alaska, and about 1 out of 3 children in this state is overweight or obese,” said Karol Fink, the DHSS Obesity Prevention and Control Program manager. “This report shows that a broad set of policies applied by a large group of partners over a period of time can affect health behaviors and reduce childhood obesity rates.”
While community partners are pleased obesity rates among Anchorage students have not increased since 2011, the collective efforts must continue to further decrease obesity rates. Many children remain at increased risk for weight-related health problems, including type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
At a public event at an Anchorage elementary school, Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz, Anchorage School District Superintendent Ed Graff, and Dr. Jay Butler, Chief Medical Officer and Director of Public Health for the state of Alaska, committed to continue working collaboratively to address childhood obesity in Anchorage.
March 14
​Get active outdoors for a good cause

Spring is on its way, and that means it’s almost time for running race season! There are two runs coming up in April that are great opportunities for families Superhero Showdown logo.pngto get active together while raising money for good causes.

The Skinny Raven Superhero Showdown on Saturday, April 9, is a chance to suit up in a superhero costume — anything from Watchmen to the Incredibles to the Avengers — and join dozens of other families on a Heroes vs. Villains 5K or Little Heroes 1.3K course (for kids under 10) along Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.

You can run with a team, decide if you are heroes or villains, and compete for fastest team, biggest team and best-costumed team.  Local food trucks, face painting, and a bouncy castle offer more fun at the finish line. Participants receive a T-shirt and a medal.

Register online before April 8 and pay $40 for the 5K and $25 for the 1.3K. Prices are $5 more for race-day registration.

Families also can request financial assistance for youth entry fees by emailing Healthy Futures. Skinny Raven will match all donations up to $1,000 for the Healthy Futures program.

Come out again two weeks later for the Alaska Heart Run on Saturday, April 23. Choose from a timed 5K, untimed 5K run and walk, or a 3K walk — all on the UAA campus. 
Register online before April 3 for the best prices: Adults pay $25 for the timed 5K and $20 for the untimed 5K, children ages 4-18 pay $10 and $5, and little ones under 4 are free.
According to the race website, all money raised at the Heart Run will benefit the American Heart Association to fund research and community programs that help to fight cardiovascular diseases and stroke.

Participants who register for the Alaska Heart Run on or before April 22 will be entered to win a free Alaska Airlines ticket. Children in 6th grade and below will receive a Heart Run medal and there will be awards for the top 5 male, female, and Mended Hearts runners (heart attack or stroke survivors), top fundraising teams and top participating schools.

Find more information about both races here:
Superhero Showdown
Alaska Heart Run

March 07
It’s not just soda:  Powdered mixes are loaded with added sugar

When you talk about sugary drinks, the most common one that comes to mind is soda.

But it’s not just soda anymore.
Today, sTang-wText500x358.jpgugary drinks can mean many different types of beverages that come loaded with added sugar and other sweeteners. Play Every Day is going to explore how much sugar is hiding in these drinks.
Sugary drinks are the source of almost half of all added sugars consumed by Americans. Several years ago, we talked with Alaska parents of children ages 5 to 12 — in Bethel, Barrow, Nome, Fairbanks and Anchorage. We asked these parents what kinds of sugary drinks they had on their cupboard shelves at home.
The most common drink at home for these families wasn’t soda. It was powdered drink mix.
The powdered drink mix is available in all kinds of flavors, including the popular orange flavor. It can be found stacked up in displays at Alaska rural grocery stores. These drinks are stable on the shelves for months at a time and can be stirred in by the scoopful — turning a healthy beverage (water) into a drink that contains almost as much sugar per ounce as soda.
A 16-ounce glass of a powdered drink can have 11 teaspoons of added sugar. If you serve that to your children at breakfast, they will hit the recommended cap for a whole day’s worth of added sugar before even arriving at school.  This January, the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans issued the first-ever recommended limit for the amount of added sugar we eat and drink every day. The recommendation states that everyone — old and young —  should limit their added sugar to 10 percent or less of total daily calories. A moderately active 8-year-old boy, for example, should have no more than 10 teaspoons of added sugar each day. That’s less than what’s found in that one glass of a powdered drink mix.
For the best health, skip sugary drinks like powdered mixes and serve your families water or low-fat milk. Learn more about sugary drinks on our website.

February 22
Alaska schools become Let's Move! Active Schools
We want kids to be more physically active — to get out and play every day for 60 minutes. Regular physical activity does more than help kids stay healthy and strong. The national Let’s Move! Active Schools program stresses that activity is also linked to higher test scores, improved school attendance, increased focus and better behavior in class, and other healthy habits.

Schools are a great place to help increase the amount of physical activity Alaska children get each week. Let's Move Active Schools logo for blog.jpg

“Since they spend so much time in school, it’s a great place to work on their activity levels,” said Nancy Blake, a physical education teacher at Goose Bay Elementary School in Wasilla and the Alaska state coordinator for the Let’s Move Active Schools program.  “The program provides a clearinghouse of information for people committed to improving physical activity for kids.”
Let’s Move! Active Schools is a free, national program that is part of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Lets Move! Program, which is supported by health, education and private sector organizations. The program assists schools in ensuring that 60 minutes of physical activity a day is the new norm in K-12 schools across the country.
As Blake explains it, anyone can register their school, from a teacher to a parent to a principal. Then they will be asked to take a short survey.
“The survey is to see what your school’s strengths are and where your needs are,” said Blake. “It’s also a way nationally for us to get an idea of what is happening out there in the schools. It gives us a way to answer the question:  How can we provide more activities before school, after school, and throughout the school day, for kids?”

In addition to accessing an online resource clearinghouse, registered Active Schools can learn about grants, discounts, and special offers from public and private sector sources to buy equipment or supplies to address the school’s needs or to attend training and professional development opportunities. Active Schools can also access experienced physical activity and physical education advisors. National experts provide customized support and virtual and in-person trainings.

“There are a ton of partnerships out there so you can access grant money to provide more programs in your school,” said Blake.

Furthermore, schools can get special awards and incentives for their efforts to provide a healthy and active environment. Seward Middle School was awarded a bronze Active Schools prize in 2014.

Yolanda Ifflander, the staff nurse at Seward Middle School, said the program looked at the school’s class instruction regarding physical activity and good nutrition, as well as the school’s wellness policy. The school provides 50 minutes of PE every day for every student, but that was just a starting point.
 “They examined our school menu to see if it meets federal requirements for low fat, low salt and servings of fruits and vegetables. It’s very detailed, and you have to provide proof that you are meeting their standards,” she said.

As part of the award, Ifflander received funding to attend a national Active Schools conference, where she shared ideas with Active Schools coordinators from around the nation and learned about new private sector grant and award sources to help schools continue their positive work. Ifflander later applied for a healthy eating prize from a blender manufacturer, and was one of only five schools nationwide to win. The school received $10,000 to buy fresh produce, along with several blenders and recipes. Ifflander spent three months teaching a group of about 40 youth how to make healthy smoothies every school day, using fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, almond milk and coconut water.

“It was my goal to expose kids to healthy fruits and vegetables they might not otherwise get exposed to, either due to family finances that limit what their parents can buy, or because of where we are located,” she said.

Ifflander said the kids in the program loved the smoothies, and she has carried on the effort to make smoothies for all the kids at the school as funds allow.

To learn more, email, call 1-855-972-0876, or go to

There are more than 17,000 schools nationwide enrolled in the Let’s Move! Active Schools program.  Find Alaska’s Active Schools on the Let’s Move website.
February 18
Public Good in Public Education – playing outside

It might be cold outside in February, but that doesn’t stop many Alaskans from getting active. If your family needs a little nudge to get bundled up and play outside, Public Schools Celebration Week might be just the ticket.

Great Alaska Schools is partnering with United Way and other Alaska agencies this week to celebrate the “Public Good in Public Education.”  Part of the plan includes designating Friday, Feb. 19, as “Play Outside Together Day.” The organizers are hoping to encourage young people and their friends and families to take advantage of the day off of school in Anchorage and other school districts to get outside and play.
“We are encouraging and supporting kids getting out and skating, skiing, walking, or doing anything fun outdoors,” said Andrea Cordano, one of the organizers of the week-long event from Great Alaska Schools Anchorage. “We are always happy when we can support what is healthy for kids!”
If inside play is more appealing, Thursday, Feb. 18, is designated as “Play and Learn Day.” In Anchorage, local child development agencies, public school after-school programs, and municipal library locations will be organizing indoor activities for all ages throughout the day and evening, including story time, music, yoga and more.
The week will end with a “Public School Spirit Day” between noon and 3 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 20, with a free, fun, outdoor event at Westchester Lagoon in Anchorage.
“There will be skating on the lagoon and Nordic skiing around the lagoon, and several dance groups, storytelling groups and music groups from our local schools will be performing, ” said Cordano.  She encouraged everyone to wear their school colors to celebrate their school pride.  A shuttle bus from West High School’s parking lot will help reduce parking headaches for the event.
Details of all planned events for the week are available at
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