Plan ahead for healthy school lunches – National Consumers League

The days are getting shorter, the summer heat is cooling down, and vacations are wrapping up, all of which means one thing: back to school season is officially underway. Whether your young ones are dreading going back or eagerly looking forward to reuniting with old friends and favorite teachers, a healthy lunch will go a long way toward ensuring that first day back is a good one.

This year children will have healthier options available at school, thanks to the enactment of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. New guidelines mean more fruits and vegetables and more whole grains at both lunch and breakfast. Additionally, schools will be substantially cutting down on salt in meals and enforcing maximum calorie limits. These options mean that school lunches will now be a healthier alternative to packing from home.

If your child buys lunch at school, view it as an opportunity to guide him or her to choose healthy options when faced with a range of choices. To help ensure that the lunch on your student’s cafeteria tray is a healthy one, consider the following tips:

Talk nutrition. If your child knows what constitutes a healthy meal, and why it is important to eat foods that are good for him/her (having energy, staying healthy, growing, etc.), it will be easier to establish an understanding of why healthy choices are important at lunchtime. Give your child some tangible markers for creating a healthy meal: including a fruit and a vegetable, choosing whole grains over white, picking a protein source, and opting for plain milk or water over sweetened beverages.

Underscore the importance of eating lunch. Particularly for younger children, the playground, friends, and other distractions can prove more compelling than sitting down to eat. Discuss with your child how eating a healthy lunch will help him/her feel good, have energy, and be able to concentrate the rest of the day.

Review the menu. Look at the daily or weekly menu with your child and discuss which items are good choices and which are “occasional” choices. Let your child choose when he/she wants to have a special treat (for example, “pizza Mondays” or “chocolate milk Wednesdays”), and come up with a game plan for making healthier choices most of the time. It is best not to create “forbidden” foods. By planning together when your child will choose a favorite, less healthy food, you increase the likelihood that your child will stay open, truthful, and guilt-free about choices made in the cafeteria. Refrain from judging your child’s less-than-ideal choices, and instead focus on doing better next time.

When possible, packing lunch for or with your child helps ensure a healthy midday meal. Whether you pack on a daily basis, or only occasionally send your child with a homemade lunch, keep these important points in mind:

Pack a safe lunch. Ensuring a safe lunch means keeping hot foods hot and cold foods cold, from the time your child leaves the house until he/she sits down to eat. Use a thermos for hot foods, such as soup, and include a cold pack with foods that need to stay chilled. If possible, pack your child’s lunch in an insulated bag. Remember not to put items that need to be hot and items that need to stay cold in the same bag. Finally, don’t forget to wash lunch bags in between uses.

Meet your child’s caloric needs. Children’s caloric needs vary greatly, depending on age, activity level, and other factors. Talk to your child’s pediatrician to get a general estimate of what his/her caloric needs are, and aim to provide one third of those calories at lunch time. Perhaps most importantly, talk to your child about whether he/she was still hungry after lunch, or had lots of leftovers. When consistently allowed to follow their bodies’ hunger signals from a young age, children have a much better chance of eating the amount they need and stopping when they are full. Include non-perishable lunch items (apples, trail mix) that can be saved for later, or even left in a backpack or locker for another day.

Pack foods your child will eat. The nutritional quality of the lunch you pack means nothing if your child refuses to eat it (or trades components away for more appealing options). Brainstorm with your child to come up with healthy options that he/she wants to eat. See if dinner leftovers, soups, or salads appeal to your child. If he/she is tired of sandwiches or more traditional lunches, think in terms of smaller “snacks” that together create a healthy meal.

  • Sample “outside the sandwich” meal: veggies and hummus, cheese cubes with whole grain crackers, and a piece of fruit provide the protein, carbohydrates, calcium, fruits and vegetables, and small amount of fat that growing children need. Be creative!

Pack healthier versions of the old stand-bys. If you have a picky eater who likes to eat the same things, day in and day out, try to up the nutritional content of lunches by making healthy substitutions that can go relatively unnoticed. Try the following swaps, and figure out the changes on which you and your child can agree:

  • Instead of high-fat lunch meats, choose lower-fat deli options such as turkey. If you face resistance, use mostly healthier deli meats with a slice of your child’s favorite for taste.
  • Swap out white bread for whole-grain bread. For picky eaters, even “white” wheat bread options are better than their white flour counterparts. When seeking out better options in the bread aisle, look for at least 3 grams of fiber per slice.
  • Substitute light mayo or mustard for full-fate mayonnaise
  • Offer baked chips, air-popped popcorn, or veggies with dip (if you can get away with it) in place of fried chips and similar snacks.
  • Offer low-fat, low-cal desserts or items with some nutritional value in place of junk. Instead of packing several cookies or a snack cake, send a favorite fruit, flavored yogurt, a small packet of fruit snacks, trail mix, or a small whole-grain muffin or cookie.

Be mindful of allergies. Check with your child’s school to ensure that there aren’t any items on the restricted list, due to other students’ allergies. Discuss with your child how food allergies make it particularly important that everyone eat the lunch that their own parent packed.

What health care reform means for young adults – National Consumers League

The historic health reform battle ended in March, with the signing of the Affordable Care Act of 2010. While many of the law’s programs and benefits will be rolled out over the next 5-10 years, there will be several, more immediate, benefits that we will begin to see in the coming months.

You can actually see – state-by-state – which benefits have already been made available. It is now easier than ever to get access to health insurance.   Everyone will begin to see the benefits of the expanded access to affordable care – whether young adults, Medicare recipients, small business owners, or those just seeking additional preventive services.

What reform means for young adults

The new health care law enacted in March of 2010 has numerous provisions that will impact young adults. This demographic, though sometimes referred to as the ‘invincibles’, faces numerous health issues. The Department of Health and Human Services reports one in six young adults has a chronic illness and 30% are uninsured; young adults also have the lowest rate of access to employer-sponsored health insurance. The new law contains numerous provisions to cover young adults, whether through insurance provided through their employer, their parents’ health insurance, Medicaid changes, or the new Health Insurance Exchanges. Although many of its parts will not take effect until 2014, some major changes will occur in 2010.


Before the law was passed, insurers could drop young adults from their parents’ health care plan when they turned 19, or upon graduation from college. The new law eliminates these practices. Starting in September 2010, dependent children up to the age of 26 will be eligible to remain on their parents’ plan, whether they are in college or not, living at home or residing in another state, or are single or married. The remaining exception, however, is that young adults offered coverage through their own job or if their parents’ existing plan does not qualify.

By 2014, all American citizens, including young adults, will be required to purchase insurance, with the threat of a fee for those who do not. There are various provisions in the new law, which make it easier to obtain coverage. Unemployed young adults with income up to approximately $15,000/year can look forward to an expansion of Medicaid for their health coverage. Individuals who make less than about $43,000 and who work at a place that does not provide affordable coverage can receive tax credits to help pay for insurance through new Health Insurance Exchanges. These exchanges will give consumers choice among plans and in a standardized format to help them find which is best for their needs. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, prices each year will be capped at $5950 for individuals and $11,900 for families, excluding premiums.

The new law also intends to make obtaining insurance easier for young adults who work for small businesses. Many young adults work for small businesses. According to Kaiser Family Foundation, 36 percent of working uninsured young adults were employed in a small business with fewer than 25 workers. Incrementally over the next four years, small businesses with less than 25 employees will be eligible to receive tax credits to help make health insurance more affordable for their employees. If the small business has fewer than 100 employees, they also will be able to purchase insurance through the new Health Insurance Exchanges.

Preexisting conditions

Starting in September 2010, insurers can no longer deny coverage to children up to 19 with preexisting conditions such as asthma and high blood pressure. However, young adults over the age of 19 will not have this protection until 2014. In the meantime, adults with preexisting conditions who have not had insurance for a six–month period will have the option to either enter a temporary national pool for high-risk individuals or join pools set up by their state. You can find more information about whether your state is covered by this national plan here.

Preventive care

Under the new law, young adults can also take advantage of the many expansions to preventive care.  New health plans must cover certain preventive services without having the consumer share the costs.  Consumers will not need to pay a deductible, co-pay, or coinsurance when receiving preventive care. The preventive services covered include blood tests, many cancer screenings, and counseling for a wide array of issues.

Get off to a healthy start this school year – National Consumers League

It’s back to school season for much of America. There are many ways – for the health and well-being of the entire family – that parents and their families can start the year off right.

Check-ups, screenings, and immunizations

It’s important that your child have routine exams and screenings to help track their development and identify (and treat) any potential problems. Make sure vision and hearing are among the routine screenings your child receives.

In addition to the routine trip to the primary care office, it is important that your child visit the dentist every six months. Mouth troubles and dental-related conditions account for the #1 reason kids miss school.

Check with your local school and your health care practitioner about vaccine requirements and recommendations, and what is best for your child. If possible, take advantage of being in the doctor’s office and schedule your child’s flu vaccine for October or November.

In order to avoid trips to the doctor throughout the school year, remind your kids to wash their hands. Send them with a bottle of hand sanitizer for those times they can’t suds up in a sink.


It is important for children to get several hours of quality sleep. They need the z’s in order to have energy, enthusiasm, and the capacity to learn.

Children ages 6-9 should aim for roughly 10 hours of sleep a night. Their older counterparts, the pre-teens, should get just over 9. All kids are different, however, and you should adjust their sleep schedule to suit them.


The American Academy of Pediatrics advises that kids not carry more than 10-20 percent of their body weight in a backpack. You should also double check that the weight in their bags are distributed evenly, and remind them to carry the backpack with both (ideally padded) straps.

Your child’s mental health: stress and anxiety

Anxiety and stress are normal feelings at the start of the school year – for both kid and parent. Remember that it should pass within the first few weeks of school. If children remain anxious, you should talk with your health care practitioner.

Stomp out stress and anxiety by showing enthusiasm for the start of school. Talk with your kids about what happened each day, and get involved in with school activities. In addition to watching your child’s physical development, you should also keep tabs on their social and emotional changes.

More safety tips

Double check with your child’s school to ensure that the emergency contact information, as well as information about medications your child may take (at home or at school), known allergies, and physical limitations are current.

Depending upon how your child will get to school, remind them of safety tips. If they ride the bus, for example, they should know to keep out of the street and to keep a safe distance from the bus at all times; they should also know to wait for the bus driver to signal before crossing the street. If walking or bike riding, they should use a buddy system, wear reflective gear, obey traffic lights and street signs, and always wear a helmet. For those traveling by car, remind children to stay in their safety seats or seat belted at all times.

Encourage your kids to get active after school. Ideally, children and teenagers should get 60 minutes of physical activity most days of the week.

Remind kids to practice good hygiene. In addition to washing their hands, remind them not to share combs/brushes or beverages.

Back to school a good time to revisit immunizations schedule – National Consumers League

You may have recently read about the whooping cough epidemic in California, or you might recall the chaos last fall when folks were scrambling to get their H1N1 vaccine. Immunizations are one of the most important public health tools available, and they greatly improved our quality of life over the past century.

Today, we often associate vaccinations with infants and children, and possible the elderly. It is important to remember, however, that adults can not only benefit from immunizations, but they can help protect their loved ones by getting boosters or new immunizations. The CDC establishes a recommended schedule of vaccines for both adults, children, and teens. You should talk with your health care practitioner to determine what is appropriate for you and your family.

Recently, the CDC revised its seasonal flu recommendations to reflect the value of the flu vaccine universally in the population. As summer turns to fall, it is important to remember to schedule a visit to the pharmacy or your family doctor to get your seasonal shot; it is often advised to get your seasonal vaccine in October or November to ensure that it protects you throughout the flu season (usually ending in early spring).

While many may grimace at the thought of a needle, it is important to remember the value of vaccines in preventing discomfort and illness.

Chinese workers facing dire consequences for speaking out – National Consumers League

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director

Chinese bank workers who have been openly protesting the downsizing of jobs in the white-collar banking sector in China deserve great praise for their bravery. Last month the Agricultural Bank of China went public, bringing in $22 billion. A few days after, bank workers, of whom 400,000 have been laid off in the past decade as banks have gone public and shed workers, staged a protest, and some were promptly arrested. What is interesting is this very capitalist act of a bank “going public” in a formerly centrally-run, communist economy is directly connected to the layoffs. The fate of the organizers of these protests is bleak: they are often put in “black jails,” according to the New York Times, where they are sometimes beaten. The unrepentant end up in labor camps, sometimes spending several years there without being charged with a crime.

The dismissals seem to follow a pattern: workers over age 40 are singled out first, offered paltry buyouts, and anyone refusing is let go without compensation. Many of these laid-off bank workers have never found other jobs since and are forced to live off their elderly parents. They share the same fate as millions of Chinese factory workers, who have found no redress in the Chinese courts. No union exists to help them take up their cause. One former banker profiled in the Times collects recyclables to feed her family. She’s recently been arrested for continuing to protest, and her son says he’s not sure when they will see her again, adding “she’s very stubborn.”

The plight of these workers is reminiscent of the struggles of American workers, except that the Chinese don’t even have the semblance of a democratic court system where workers can turn for redress. I admire the courage of these people, who face dire consequences for speaking out and little hope their actions will change the system. Like workers everywhere facing long odds, they deserve our support and admiration.

Consumer group calls on DeCoster-owned egg franchise to clean up act – across the board – National Consumers League

August 25, 2010

Contact: (202) 835-3323,

Washington, DC–The National Consumers League, the nation’s oldest consumer organization, today called on the Iowa egg producer at the center of the recall of 500 million eggs for Salmonella contamination to clean up its operations across the board, citing concerns about plant cleanliness, egg handling practices, treatment of workers and animals, and its disregard for the environment.

The National Consumers League, a Washington, DC-based nonprofit organization founded in 1899 to ensure the safety of workers producing the goods purchased by consumers, is calling for companies to recognize the connection between the quality of manufacturing practices and the safety of their products.

The following is the statement from NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg:

Consumers don’t want to buy products from companies that abuse their workers, mistreat their animals, or pollute the environment. And they certainly don’t want to buy food that contains pathogens that could make them or their families sick.

What some companies fail to grasp is the relationship between the quality of products they hope consumers will spend on and the way the company operates behind the scenes. Operations that disregard the welfare of workers, that allow unsafe work environments, treat farm animals inhumanely, and improperly dispose of waste thus creating environmental hazards, are more likely to flout the law and produce goods that turn out to be harmful to consumers who eat them. The current egg recall from the 5 million mega-egg DeCoster production operation reflects a history rife with violations of the law.

When a company is guilty of a litany of violations as DeCoster has been, violating the rights of workers, engaging in cruel treatment of animals, and disposing improperly of waste, it’s no surprise to us that this same company would have an outbreak of contamination of its eggs with Salmonella and foodborne illness as well.

The National Consumers League calls upon Jack DeCoster and the company he runs to review its operations at all levels and to agree to a set of principles that will address these issues across the board.


About the National Consumers League

Founded in 1899, the National Consumers League is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Its mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. NCL is a private, nonprofit membership organization. For more information, visit

Sweet revenge: auto warranty robocaller ordered to pay up (and sell his Benz) – National Consumers League

By John Breyault, Vice President of Public Policy, Telecommunications and Fraud

Remember those annoying robocalls from telemarketers “warning” consumers about supposedly expiring car warranties? It seems like everyone received one last year. Fortunately, the Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general investigated and cracked down on the ringleaders behind the scam.

In many cases, when authorities arrest those responsible for scams, they are unable to recover much in the way of assets from these criminals. For example, in this robocall scam, the FTC’s proposed settlement of $24 million was suspended because of the defendant’s inability to pay.

Fortunately, not all of the scammers responsible for the auto warranty scams have been able to escape paying up. Earlier this year, the FTC collected more than $655,000 from two of the defendants. On August 23, the agency announced that Damian Kohlfield, another of the fraudsters, will pay approximately $2.3 million in fines related to the scam. In addition, Kohlfield will be required to give up his Mercedes-Benz automobile in what must be delicious irony for victims of the auto warranty scam. All told, the agency will be able to use fines from this scam to reimburse consumers nearly $3 million.

The FTC also has a helpful fact sheet to help consumers avoid auto warranty scams and learn the differences between warranties and service contracts here. For a full listing of all FTC actions taken since last year against these robocallers, click here.

Consumers should also be on the lookout for auto dealerships that claim you must buy a warranty in order for your financing to be approved. Also be wary of salesmen who claim that if you don’t buy an extended warranty when you purchase a vehicle, you won’t be able to buy a warranty int he future. Be sure not to pay for a warranty until you see the full details in writing.  Also be sure to check out the dealership and warranty company’s records with the Better Business Bureau before purchasing the warranty.

In general, be very cautious of salesmen who want to sell you “extended” warranties. These warranties are almost always pure profit for dealers. Newer automobiles today are much more reliables that older cars. A Consumer Reports survey in December 2007 found that only 22 percent of consumers surveyed saved any money by using their costly extended warranties instead of simply paying for car repairs out of pocket.

Company at center of egg recall has troubled past – National Consumers League

Update: Since this blog post went live, an additional 170 million eggs have been recalled, this time by Hillandale Farms of Iowa, bringing the number of recalled eggs to 550 million. These recalled eggs were sold under the brand names Hillandale Farms, Sunny Farms, and Sunny Meadow. The plant numbers and Julian dates of the recalled products are as follows:

  • Plant number P1860, Julian dates 099-230
  • Plant number P1663, Julian dates 137-230

The Iowa company that is at the center of the huge egg recall – with 380 million eggs as part of the effort and underway as we speak  – has a history of inhumane treatment of animals,  bad labor practices, and has been sued for mistreating workers. August 22’s  Washington Post’s front page story on the Iowa based DeCoster family’s egg production operation finds that the company has far too often been engaged in a series of unfortunate practices.

In June of this year, the DeCoster company agreed to pay $34,000+ to settle allegations of animal cruelty in its 5 million hen facility in Maine. Apparently hens were being suffocated in garbage cans, kicked into manure pits to drown, and hanging by their feet alive over conveyor belts. A whistleblower with a hidden camera recorded this abuses, and thank goodness for that.

The company has a bad food safety record; a federal investigation into 26 outbreaks of the pathogen found in these eggs, salmonella enteritidis,  the second leading cause of foodborne illness, shows that 15 of the outbreaks point to Wright County Egg, owned by DeCoster.  According to the Washington Post,

  • In 1996, DeCoster was fined $3.6 million for health and safety violations. Then Secretary of Labor Robert Reich termed as “dangerous and oppressive as any sweatshop we have seen.” Workers had apparently been forced to handle manure and dead chickens with their bare hands and to live in filthy conditions.
  • In 1999 the company settled a class action suit for unpaid overtime involving 3,000 workers.
  • In 2001 the Iowa Supreme Court found that DeCoster was a “repeat violator” of state environmental laws including violations of hog farming regulations.
  • In 2001 DeCoster Farms settled for $1.5 a complaint at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, EEOC, for sexual harassment of 11 undocumented female workers, including assault and rape charges.
  • In 2002, OSHA fined DeCoster for an array of violations.
  • DeCoster also settled a suit with Mexican workers for $3.2 for discrimination  in housing and working conditions
  • Federal officials found over 100 undocumented workers in DeCoster’s plants in 2003, fining them $2.1 million.
  • In 2008 DeCoster was fined by OSHA for violations including forcing workers to retrieve eggs the previous winter from inside a building that had collapsed under ice and snow.

Some state regulators commented that the company has improved its approach in recent years.  That may be, but – this June alone – DeCoster was cited for mistreatment of animals.

The best outcome for a company with so many violations is addressing the myriad issues head-on. Consumers, animal rights supporters, and labor leaders should come together to challenge the DeCoster company practices and demand more from those who  produce the products – eggs – that we all eat.

Bad eggs prompt largest food recall in years – National Consumers League

Update: Since this blog post went live, an additional 170 million eggs have been recalled, this time by Hillandale Farms of Iowa, bringing the number of recalled eggs to 550 million. These recalled eggs were sold under the brand names Hillandale Farms, Sunny Farms, and Sunny Meadow. The plant numbers and Julian dates of the recalled products are as follows:

  • Plant number P1860, Julian dates 099-230
  • Plant number P1663, Julian dates 137-230

by Courtney Brein, Linda Golodner Food Safety and Nutrition Fellow

Do you have shell eggs in your refrigerator?  If so, take a close look at that carton before whipping up your next omelet – those eggs may be implicated in a 380 million-egg recall, the largest food recall in years.

On August 13, Iowa-based Wright County Egg voluntarily recalled 228 million eggs, due to possible contamination with Salmonella Enteritidis, and the company has since expanded the recall to include an additional 152 million eggs.  Several hundred cases of Salmonella in Minnesota, Colorado, and California have already been linked to the contaminated eggs, and FDA/CDC field investigation teams are currently determining whether they are responsible for clusters of Salmonella outbreaks in at least seven other states.  Individuals with confirmed cases of egg-induced Salmonella poisoning were likely exposed to the contaminated product in May or June of this year.

The contaminated eggs have been packaged under the following brand names:

  • Albertsons
  • Bayview
  • Boomsma’s
  • Dutch Farms
  • Farm Fresh
  • Hillandale
  • Kemps
  • Lucerne
  • Lund
  • Mountain Dairy
  • Mountain
  • Nulaid
  • Ralph’s
  • Shoreland
  • Sunshine
  • Sun Valley
  • Trafficanda

To determine if eggs in your kitchen from the above brands are subject to recall, locate the plant number and Julian date printed on the carton.  The plant number begins with the letter P, and the Julian date is listed immediately following the plant number (ex: P-1026 135).  The recalled products include plant numbers 1026, 1091, 1413, 1686, 1946, and 1951 and Julian dates from 135 to 225.

If you find the recalled product in your refrigerator, discard the eggs or return the carton to the store where you purchased it for a full refund.  DO NOT CONSUME THESE EGGS.  The recall includes all shell eggs produced by Wright between May 16 and August 13 of this year.

If you suspect that you may have become ill from eating recalled eggs, contact your physician or other health care provider.  Symptoms of Salmonella Enteritidis infection set in 12 to 72 hours after an individual consumes the contaminated product and include fever, abdominal cramps, and diarrhea.  Small children, the elderly, and those with impaired immune systems are at greater risk for more serious illness or complications.

For more information about the recall, visit the FDA Web site.

Maybe Steven Slater not so crazy after all – National Consumers League

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director

Steven Slater seemed a little crazy to me a few days ago, when I first read his story, but he doesn’t seem so crazy to me today. Who is Steven Slater ? He’s the Jet Blue flight attendant who blew his lid after landing the flight to JFK from Pittsburgh and spewed out a tirade of invective, then proceed to pull the emergency chute and leave the airplane.

I recently boarded an Air Tran flight from Minneapolis to Boston, with a stop and change of planes in Milwaukee at 12:20 in the afternoon. By 9 pm I was still not in Boston yet. Air Tran – a discount airline – is infamous in my family for canceling flights, delaying them, or re-routing passengers through circuitous destinations that take them from one end of the country to another, finally delivering them hours – maybe days – after their scheduled arrival.

So, was it weather that had me missing a long-planned gathering of friends and family outside Boston for one night’s enjoyment? No, the weather was beautiful. Was it an airport closure? No, airports were fine. Mechanical problems? No such problems. No, Air Tran had a computer glitch, so they delivered more than 50 passengers to Milwaukee who had connections to make in the same exact area – some to Boston, some to Orlando, others to Washington DC. And instead of holding planes for 20 minutes in my case and 10 minutes for the DC-bound passengers, they sent the connecting flights on their way and stranded the rest of us. To add insult to injury, I had asked the crew in Minneapolis and they promised me that I wouldn’t miss my connection. “Your flight to Boston is running late, so don’t worry, you’ll make it.”

A recent New York Times piece says that the Steven Slater saga is an “object lesson in the difficulties of flying today, a symbol of the dislocations in the workplace caused by the economy . . . “  Another expert noted, “this is a symptom of a much larger problem. The airlines need to say, we hear you, we feel this, and we’re not here just to get you from point A to Point B but to treat you with respect.”

Consumers are fed up with airline travel, but what choice do we have?  My fellow bumpees and I raised a fuss and got free trip and food vouchers, and better connections than originally offered. But still, I had to pay an extra $70 in taxi fare to get to the rental house, a place I usually get to by train for a fraction of the cost. As the sun went down on on Milwaukee, where I was stuck for a mere 5 hours, all I could think was, maybe that Steven Slater isn’t so crazy after all.