Back to School Lunches: Fill their Brains with Fuel to Learn

The hustle and bustle of back to school has arrived. Last minute pencils and backpacks galore is all around us. But who dreads the packing of lunches?

Do you know that one of the most important impacts on learning is in our control? That is the food your child eats while their little brains are growing. Here's a little list of some ways parents can feel confident nourishing their children when they are not at home.

  • Homemade 'bento' boxes with sections for divided ingredients make food fun

  • Bring your child to the grocery store as a part of their “back to school” preparation to get the involved in the choices for their lunches. Encourage new items at each trip.

  • Consider packing lunches the night before and giving your child ONE task that they are responsible for in that preparation. Taking a part in packing helps them know what to look forward to!

  • Try these two simple rules for selection of items:

  • 1. Is it a color of the rainbow or clouds (all rainbow + white/tan)

  • 2. Is it alive or was it once alive? (this way cheetos don’t count!)

If you’re struggling with selections or where to start, working with an Integrative Nutritionist will help with the How-to's of several lunch ideas for Pre-schoolers to High Schoolers.

  • Learn how to balance proteins, fats, carbs AND treats

  • Gluten-free + Dairy-free lunches don't have to be difficult

  • Making meals colorful and inviting

  • The After-School crash, how to prevent it or get through it

  • Is your child eating enough for their energy needs?

  • Substitutions for selective eaters

  • Managing and identifying food sensitivities and allergies

  • It's ok not to fit in, providing nutritious alternatives to common school-provided lunches

  • Grab-and-go fridge and pantry ideas

Meet Aura Carlson for her free “Meet Your Integrative Nutritionist” session where she will be discussing back to school basics of a healthy lunch. Sign up here.

Organic vs. Conventional?


Dirty Dozen vs. Clean 15: Know When is Best to Select

Selecting the best for our bodies can be a constant struggle in our modern world. With flashy ads, hundreds of books on contradicting eating plans, and millions of food options available at our fingertips, making the wisest food choices on a regular basis can seem almost daunting and unattainable. But small changes in how we make our selections can have have huge impacts in supporting our body’s overall health.

The organic vs. conventional produce debate has been an ongoing question for most of us. The role of pesticides on produce is to kill insects during the growing process, but these same toxins remain in our foods and can have damaging effects on our own healthy cells as well. High levels of pesticide exposure have been shown to be associated with increased risk of cancer, respiratory diseases, Alzheimer’s disease, ADHD, autoimmune diseases, and birth defects.

While avoiding exposure entirely is likely impossible in today’s world, the good news is we can make healthy decisions every time we shop. The Environmental Working Group (a non-profit research and advocacy group specializing in toxins and agriculture), releases research each year testing and ranking the pesticide residue in our produce. From their research they release a Dirty Dozen list: the top twelve foods with the highest levels of pesticide residue that is most important to buy organic. They also release a Clean 15 list: fifteen foods with little residue and can be safely bought conventional if necessary.

We know that for most of us, our location and/or finances limit us from buying all organic, all the time. So having these lists available as a resource can be a great tool in our strive towards whole body health and well-being.

Dirty Dozen: (Important to be organic)

  • Strawberries

  • Spinach

  • Kale

  • Nectarines

  • Apples

  • Grapes

  • Peaches

  • Cherries

  • Pears

  • Tomatoes

  • Celery

  • Potatoes

Clean 15: (Can be bought conventional)

  • Avocados

  • Sweet Corn

  • Pineapples

  • Sweet Peas (frozen)

  • Onions

  • Papayas

  • Eggplants

  • Asparagus

  • Kiwis

  • Cabbages

  • Cauliflower

  • Cantaloupes

  • Broccoli

  • Mushrooms

  • Honeydew Melons

Here at BCIM we believe in the benefits of making small, healthy decisions each day that will have great impacts on our current and long-term health and wellness. To learn more about the benefits of eating organic and reducing toxic load in our food and household products, visit the Environmental Working Group at:

Sleep Well. Be Well.

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Sleep: A Key Ingredient for Optimal Well-being.

With so many stressors surrounding our every day, the thought of trying to sleep more can almost feel like another overwhelming task on our to-do list. And who has time for more sleep when there are tasks left undone, kids’ needs to be met, and social obligations to fulfill. But what if we reframed our mindset to put sleep first, with the promise that better sleep quality would in fact make us less stressed, more productive, and more richly engaged with enjoying our life.

Sleep not only helps our mind to function more efficiently, but it also increases our body’s ability to fight infections, regulate hormones, and properly metabolize nutrients. Studies show that quality sleep actually decreases our risks for infection, heart disease, obesity, and depression. And while many of us wish we slept more, it has been shown that while we all need between six and eight hours of sleep per night, it is actually the quality and length of staying asleep that is more important. So how do we get started? Let’s first remind ourselves that by making sleep a top priority, we are actually making our overall health and well-being a priority. Next, we can make small changes in our daily lives that have been shown to have significant and lasting impacts.

Here are a few tips to get steer us towards a better sleep life:

  1. Increase outdoor sunlight during the day. Studies have shown that just 20 minutes of outside, direct sunlight per day can help to regulate our body’s circadian rhythm and endorphin release, both leading to better sleep at night. Aim for morning or mid-day sun if possible, and during the winter months or in areas with less sunshine, a light box can be used indoors during the morning for 20-30 minutes with similar effects.  

  2. Use food as medicine. Making sure you are getting adequate intakes of Omega-3s, Magnesium, and Vitamins D and C are vital to ensuring deeper, more restful sleeps. Good sources of these important nutrients are salmon, oysters, walnuts, flax seeds, sunflower seeds, almonds, green leafy vegetables, citrus, acai, and elderberry. And if you’re not sure whether you’re getting enough, it is always best to have your levels checked by an integrative practitioner and consider appropriate supplementation and/or nutritional counseling in needed.

  3. Decrease blue light exposure from screens at least two hours before sleep. Many studies have shown that the artificial blue light in screens actually triggers our body to produce more daytime hormones, altering the regulatory sleep-wake cycle of cortisol, and actually delaying the body’s natural sleep preparation phase. If screens cannot be avoided, try downloading one of the many apps that block the blue light emissions during evening hours. Don’t forget this includes all devices: TVs, phones, tablets, and laptops. It is sure to be one of the fastest ways to improve sleep quality with immediate results.

  4. Aim for cooler than normal bedroom temperatures. Our body temperature naturally rises overnight, and too warm an environment has been shown to drastically decrease sleep quality even when we aren’t aware we are waking. Studies have shown that the optimal temperature for sleeping is actually between 60 and 68 degrees F. While this may seem to cool for some, adjusting to comforting but aiming for cooler is always a good idea when it comes to more restful sleep.

  5. Be mindful of alcohol intake. Consuming too much alcohol late in the evening (especially for women who tend to metabolize alcohol more rapidly) will alter our natural hormone production that regulates our circadian rhythm leading to poor quality sleep. While we may think the initial benefits of alcohol are sedative, in fact several hours later it is likely to have the opposite effect, leading to poorer quality sleep over time.

While it may seem challenging, getting adequate high-quality sleep is essential to our health and overall well-being. By adjusting just one or two aspects of your daily routine at a time, we can all make positive impacts on caring for ourselves and investing in our total body health.

Phytonutrients: Eating the Rainbow


Increasing Our Dietary Diversity with Natural Color

Winter is almost always the most challenging time to alter our eating lifestyle. While most of us start January off with promises to ourselves and others to make nutrition a goal for the year, the bleak days of grey skies and cold temperatures can leave us struggling to motivate ourselves to make changes. There is all too often too much pressure to cut out, cut back on, or cut off, and while certainly for some this is a necessary goal, for the majority of us making healthy eating decisions doesn’t have to be about restricting.

What if instead of attempting to pull things out of our diets we shifted our mindset to add more color. And what better time than the dark days of winter to boost our lives with a diverse array of natural colors. Initially designed to encourage children to incorporate more nutrients into their diets, the “Eat the Rainbow” philosophy is one we can all use to increase our dietary diversity and add phytonutrients into our eating lifestyle.

What are phytonutrients and why do they matter? "Phyto" is derived from the Greek meaning for plant, and these nutrients are compounds found in plant-based foods that aid in protecting the plant while it grows in its natural environment. Essentially they are the plant’s immune system, and turns out they have huge benefits to us as humans as well.

Here are just a few of the ways phytonutrients are vastly beneficial to us:

-Boost our immune system to fight exposures to viruses, parasites, and bacteria

-Detoxify our body naturally with antioxidants binding to unwanted free radicals

-Aid in balancing hormonal pathways

-Protect our body’s healthy cells from damage

-Slow, prevent, and reverse cancer cell growth

-Fight inflammation and slow chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease

-Reduce Alzheimer’s risk and aiding in overall memory function

So how do we know where to find these essential benefactors? Thankfully they are as vibrant in color as they are in health benefits. For example the deep blues of wild berries, the bold yellows of peppers, the rich greens of broccoli, and the fiery oranges and reds of citrus. Where we see natural colors at their boldest, we know those foods are packed with the phytonutrients essential to our wellbeing.

And while some foods we may enjoy in their raw form, others actually benefit from cooking. For example a light steaming of broccoli will draw out a more vibrant green, alerting us to its maximum phytonutrient power. Or the slow roasting of sweet potatoes that sweetens the taste and enriches the color help our bodies digest and use the phytonutrients best.

So next time we’re venturing through the produce section, instead of thinking about what foods we’re trying to avoid, let’s instead focus on how we can add vibrant colors into our winter days and our eating lifestyle. We can take that extra minute to examine our carts for the rainbow, and perhaps challenge ourselves to buying two different foods in each rainbow color. Because here at BCIM we believe food is our best medicine, and creating a diverse diet of natural foods will give our bodies the tools it needs to help function at its best and aid us in our journey to overall wellbeing.

The Art of Being


Incorporating Meditation into Daily Living

Many of us have all too often cringed at the question “are you taking time to meditate?” The constant pace of life with work and parenting and relationships so seldom leaves us with uninterrupted time to ourselves.  And the thought of sitting cross-legged on the floor in utter silence seems terrifyingly unattainable. But what if we re-framed our minds and our understanding of the idea of meditation to be something we long for and make time for every day?

The truth is that the healing benefit of just a few minutes of that utter silence, deep breathing, and release of the mind on a consistent basis each day will have profound effects on our mood, energy level, and immune system as we combat the rest of our daily life.  Studies have found that adding daily meditation can have major benefits in lowering blood pressure, decreasing levels of the stress hormone cortisol, increasing levels of calming hormones such as serotonin and melatonin, relieving symptoms of anxiety and depression, lowering chronic pain levels, curbing insomnia, as well as reducing irritable bowel symptoms. A more advanced form of medicinal meditation includes pairing with specific postures, breathing patterns, and reciting mantras, and the health benefits in these practices have been such to reduce medications, doctor’s visits, and hospitalizations in people over longer periods of time.

So how do we begin? Let’s start with choosing a consistent time of day when we can pause for five or ten minutes. Maybe early in the morning, or after the kids are off to school but before errands and work begins, or maybe as soon as the house is still at night but before we settle into the final hours of the day. Pick a location that can be consistent and alone..maybe the floor of the bedroom or a corner of the sitting room, and choose to sit or lie down in this place every day around the same time.

Thanks to technology there are some truly useful guided meditation apps such as Headspace, Calm, and Simple Habit that can get us started. But even without these we can set a gentle five or ten minute alarm on our phones and begin the practice of our mind-body connection. We start by closing our eyes, lengthening our spine, and letting ourselves breathe naturally. We want to try not to force our breathing, but rather focus our mind on our every breath as we inhale and exhale to the rhythm of our bodies. Naturally our minds will wander, but gently we want to take note of where our mind is going and then guide our focus back to our breath. Feel your body relax, take notice of the way your limbs feel heavy and your breath changes and deepens with time, and continue in this place for several minutes. At the end of your given time, slowly open your eyes and return yourself to your present place and time. Feel yourself re-enter the present moment, and gently ease yourself back into your normal posture with a simple stretch or some deep breaths before you continue with your day.

It may seem simple, obscure, or mundane, but the truth is it is worth a try. The consistency of place and time of day is important, and we know that making the time is the hardest part. But here at BCIM we truly believe, along with many others in the integrative medicine and wellness community, that practicing this art of being in the moment and meditating on our mind-body connection is an investment that can have real, positive impacts on many aspects of our well-being.  

For the Love of Food


5 Foods to Fall in Love With This Holiday Season

With the holiday season fast approaching, many of us already have anxiety creeping in about the indulgence of tasty traditions just around the corner.  But let's remind ourselves this season that food is meant to be enjoyed! And the best foods can nourish our bodies and our spirits as they bring together people we love. Here are a few holiday favorites we can enjoy in abundance and feel good about this season.

  1. Sweet Potatoes

    This classic favorite provides an array of vitamins and minerals and can be cooked a variety of ways that even the youngest family members will enjoy. A member of the root vegetable family, this superfood actually aids in regulating our blood sugar levels whilst simultaneously curbing our desire for something sweet. Packed with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory benefits as well, they can be enjoyed as a snack or addition to almost any meal. Try cubing and roasting with a touch of olive oil and salt, or steaming whole and mashing with cinnamon and a bit of butter. In addition to the traditional orange we often think of, sweet potatoes also come in purple and yellow which can add a vibrant pop of color to any holiday table.

  2. Pomegranates

    These tiny seeds are not only a beautiful addition to many favorite recipes, but are packed with tons of antioxidants as well as vitamins A and C, which can aid in boosting our immune function during the cold winter months. Try coupling with sprigs of rosemary as a last minute addition to a roasted turkey or tossed into a favorite spinach salad. They can also be paired with dark chocolate or eaten on their own to satisfy a desire for dessert, as well as popped into some sparkling water for a festive beverage anyone can enjoy!

  3. Oysters

    In some parts of the country seafood is a holiday staple, and while oysters are not everyone’s go-to seafood choice, this festive shellfish is certainly worth a try. Loaded with zinc which is vital for our immune function and hormone regulation, this high-protein food can be easily made at home with very little prep. Oysters are known to contain the fullest spectrum of nutrients per each bite than almost any other food. Raw, roasted, or broiled, they are full of flavor and may need only a touch of lemon and herb or brushed with butter and garlic to reach optimal flavor and add a flare to any holiday party.

  4. Brussels Sprouts

    As a member of the cruciferous vegetable family, this holiday staple is one of the most nutrient-packed additions to any festive meal. In addition to being rich in fiber and vitamin K, these tiny cabbage-like gems also are one of the best plant sources of Omega-3 fatty acids, which have massive anti-inflammatory effects throughout our bodies. For a nutrient-packed side dish that is also festive-looking, try slicing and tossing with olive oil and salt and roasting with pomegranate seeds and pecans.

  5. Mushrooms

    Gaining in popularity, medicinal mushrooms such as shiitake or maitake have an incredible amount of health benefit in every bite. In addition to being a great source of plant-protein and full of vitamins, mushrooms provide strong immune properties to boost both our gut function and overall immune response to fighting viruses, bacteria, and even pre-cancer cells. Roasted or sauteed, they can be a great addition to almost any meal. Try seasoning with herbs and adding to a breakfast quiche, tossing in a fresh salad, or dicing and folding into any holiday stuffing.

If you would like to learn more about the healing properties of foods or to explore more ways to add a boost to your favorite recipes, you can find us at Bucks County Center for Integrative Medicine. Here we believe food is our greatest source of medicine and meant to be enjoyed in its best forms, and we are passionate about helping others strengthen their overall health and well-being.