Monday, March 31, 2014

HEAL Project Celebrates National Nutrition Month

In honor of National Nutrition Month, Sankofa's HEAL enrichment class and after-school club have been focusing on nutrition awareness and ways for students to improve nutrition in their own lives. By providing students at a young age with the knowledge and tools they need to make healthy choices, we believe they will be more likely to make those choices throughout the life-cycle.

Our most recent classes have been about the food groups and sugar content in beverages. We utilized MyPlate (shown below) as a tool to demonstrate how students should be eating. There was a focus on eating more fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. These three food groups should comprise most of your plate. Students learned about the process of refining grains and the nutrients which are lost during processing (ie. fiber, vitamins, and minerals).  For this reason it's crucial to eat your grains in their whole form (oatmeal, brown rice, quinoa) or eat products made from whole grains (whole wheat bread, whole wheat pasta) for the best nutrition. We discussed different protein and calcium sources from both plants and animals. Ample protein can come from legumes (beans + lentils), nuts, and seeds, as well as animals. Dairy is a recommended part of the diet for the calcium it contains. Dark leafy vegetables (kale, broccoli, spinach) and soy products are also great sources of bone-strengthening calcium.

Sourced from:

To bring National Nutrition Month to a close, we had a Smoothie Day with the enrichment students. Prior to this class, the students learned about the high amounts of sugar in commonly consumed beverages. Highly sweetened beverages include soft drinks, most iced teas, sports drinks (Gatorade), energy drinks (Red Bull), and juice that isn't 100% fruit juice.

To show the students how to choose a healthier alternative, we helped them create one. The class was first divided into two teams.

Each team was provided with healthy ingredients from which they could choose to add to their smoothie. There were strawberries, blueberries, and bananas for them to choose from. Ice and 100% cranberry juice were also added to the smoothies to cool down the drink and add some liquid.

Bright red smoothie from the strawberry group
Deep red smoothie from the blueberry group
National Nutrition Month Fruit Smoothie

  • 1/2 cup 100% cranberry juice
  • 2 cups frozen strawberries (or frozen blueberries)
  • 2 bananas, peeled
  • 1/2 cup ice

  • Add juice, strawberries, bananas, and ice to a blender. Blend until smooth.

Lots of fruit about to be blended
The final product about to be enjoyed!
Happy National Nutrition Month! 

Monday, March 24, 2014

Composting Part 2 of 2: How to Compost?

Last week we gave you plenty of reasons to compost. Now we want to show you how.

Composting at home is easier than you might think. There's a bit of science behind it to understand, but that just makes it more fun and rewarding. Even if you have limited space outside (or no space) there are ways to do it. Below we'll discuss the basics of outdoor composting.

In case you're not sure what compost looks like, it's all that rich dark brown soil-like material. 

The basics:

One of Sankofa's Composting Containers
1. Get food scrap collection and composting containers. In order to compost you'll need a bin to collect your kitchen food scraps in. This can be as simple as a small plastic bin with lid from Walmart. You'll also need an outdoor bin for your scraps to turn into compost. This bin can be made of almost any material, as long as it can contain the scraps. Sankofa has a wooden container as seen on the right. If you're handy, you could build your own bin.

2. Collect food scraps. The next step is to start collecting kitchen food scraps (mainly fruit and vegetable cores, peels, and stalks). You can see our workplace collection bin full of food below. We've provided a list of compost do's and dont's at the end of the post.

Our "garbage", a worm's food

A nice mix of "greens" (food scraps-orange peels) and "browns" (leaves)
3. Start adding food scraps to your compost bin. Now that your kitchen collection bin is full of scraps, start adding those scraps to your outside pile. If you're using the vermicomposting method, you'll need to get the pile "started" before you add food scraps. This means laying down bedding (shredded newspaper/cardboard) and adding worms. You can then feed the worms by adding your collected food scraps. 

4. Rotate your pile. Every week or two when you add new food scraps, rotate the pile. Using a pitchfork bring the outside material inside and vice versa. This allows food scraps sitting on the outside the chance to decompose via worms. In addition to adding food scraps to the pile, you'll want to add more shredded newspaper, dry leaves, or wood chips. This keeps your pile well balanced.

5. Keep an eye on your compost. Monitor you're pile occasionally. For instance you don't want to see wild animals near the pile. Something that attracts animals is the addition of meat/bones to the pile (don't do that). See more tips listed below.

As mentioned before, even if you don't have space outside to have a large compost pile, there are small indoor composting container options. These all-in-one containers are very easy to use and can be found on sites like 

Be sure to...

  1. Get the right size compost bin. An ideal size for an outdoor compost collection bin is from 3x3x3ft - 5x5x5ft. The composting process doesn't work as well with containers too small or too large. 
  2. Have the right carbon to nitrogen ratio. Ideally the amount of carbon compared to nitrogen should be 25-30:1. Different materials will contribute different elements. In the world of composting there are "greens" and there are "browns". Greens are the food scraps you'll add from your kitchen, which contribute nitrogen to the pile. Browns are things like leaves, twigs, and wood chips, which contribute carbon. You'll want to add both to your pile.
  3. Keep the pile moist. Your pile should be moist without being overly wet. A good way to measure this is to pick up a handful of compost, squeeze it together and release it. The compost should stick together in a ball. If it falls apart in your hand, it's too dry. If liquid drips from your hand, it's too wet.
  4. Get the pile hot enough. In order for the composting process to work correctly, the inside of your pile should be between 130 and 150 degrees. This ensures any bad bugs in the pile will be killed, without harming the worms. Every week or so, you'll want to turn your pile, essentially getting the new food scraps to the inside of the pile and moving the decomposing material from the inside to the outside. As you do this, you should see steam rising and feel warmth from the pile.
  5. Ensure adequate air flow. Air should be able to move throughout the pile. Oxygen is required in the composting process. When the pile gets compacted and air is restricted, decomposition slows down. 

The do's and dont's

Do compost 
  • raw fruit and vegetable scraps
  • coffee grinds
  • tea bags
  • egg shells
  • nut shells
Don't compost
  • meat or bones
  • dairy
  • oily foods
  • onions or garlic
  • diseased plants
  • produce stickers

Compost in the making: from banana peel to humus

For more information on composting visit:

Monday, March 17, 2014

Composting Part 1 of 2: What is it and Why do it?

What is Compost?

Compost is simply the end result of the "composting" process. Food scraps, that otherwise would end up in the garbage, are set aside to decompose with the help of worms. Although there are other methods, vermicomposting (using worms) is the most common and very simple. The worms break down food scraps, creating a rich nutrient-packed garden soil called humus aka compost. 

With your resulting compost, you can spread it around plants in your backyard or garden. You're plants will thank you by growing stronger and healthier. 

Happily nourished kale growing in the Sankofa garden

Why is it important?

When you compost food scraps, you're making use and taking full advantage of purchased food. Instead of adding banana peels, apple cores, and used coffee grounds to an already overburdened landfill, you can return the nutrients they contain to the soil in your backyard.

Believe it or not the largest percentage of garbage is Food Waste!
It's not plastic, or paper, or glass, but our vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, and banana peels. 

Chart from:

According to the EPA. "in 2012 alone more than 36 million tons of food waste was generated, with only 5% diverted from landfills and incinerators for composting".

You may be thinking, "food will decompose in the landfill!". You're right but the process is different and takes much longer as food gets buried under plastic bags and other trash. In a landfill food rots instead of being decomposed by worms. This rotting becomes a major source of methane (ie. a contributor to global warming). Composting on the other hand returns nutrients from food to the soil to grow more food, such as the soon to be strawberries below.

Soon to be strawberries in one of Sankofa's gardens

Five ways soil benefits from compost

  1. Less store-bought (potentially chemical-filled) fertilizer needed
  2. Less run-off (compost acts as a mulch)
  3. Added soil structure 
  4. Increased drought resistance
  5. Potential higher yield and cost savings
Tune in next week for part 2: how to compost

Monday, March 10, 2014

What's in a Food Label?

Food Labels

Although often overlooked, food labels are very important and provide useful information to the consumer. They tell us what ingredients are in the product we're eating, as well as the amount of specific nutrients the item contains. While most of us never look at them, we think you should give them a glance.

So, what you should look for in a Food Label ? 

1.  Ingredient List

  • Ingredients are listed in descending order (1st ingredient is the most prevalent)
  • Common allergens are also listed on this section. Are you allergic to milk, wheat or nuts ? Its compulsory that products let the consumer know about known allergens. 
  • Keep away from products that have more than ten ingredients. This means that the product is highly processed. 

2. Nutrition Fact Panel

In the nutrition fact panel  you will find serving size, number of servings, calories per serving, total fat, sodium, total carbohydrate, and protein 

Look at the serving size: All of the nutrition information listed is based on the serving size presented in the top section. Therefore, if you eat more or less the numbers listed on the label will change.

Check calories : Calories provide a measure of how much energy you get from a serving of this food.
In general, for a 2,000 calorie diet :
- 40 calories per serving is considered low
- 100 calories per serving is considered moderate
- 400 calories or more per serving is considered high

Limit these :   Look for foods low in saturated and trans fats, cholesterol and sodium as they may increase your risk of certain chronic diseases, cancer or high blood pressure. Most of the fats you eat should be polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, those found in fish, nuts, and vegetable oils.

Sugar : Foods with added sugars provide calories, but few essential nutrients. Make sure that added sugars are not listed as one of the first few ingredients. Other names for sugars include: corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, fruit juice concentrate, maltose, dextrose, sucrose, honey, and maple syrup.

Get enough of these : Make sure you get 100 percent of the fiber, vitamins and other nutrients you need every day. These vitamins and mineral – calcium, fiber, protein, iron and vitamin A and C are essential to a healthy body! Eating enough of these nutrients can improve your health and help reduce the risk of some diseases and conditions.

3. Percent Daily Values (%DV)

The % DV section tells you the percent of each nutrient in a single serving, in terms of the daily recommended amount. As a general rule if a Daily Value is 5% or less is considered low. If a value is 20 % or more is high.

Top things to look for on a label:

  • Look for products with 10 or fewer ingredients
  • If sugar is listed as one of the first ingredients the item is high in sugar and you probably shouldn't eat it or eat it in moderation 
  • Generally, 5% DV or less is low, and 20% DV or more is considered high
  • Keep saturated fats, sodium, trans fat and cholesterol low as they may increase your risk of certain chronic diseases, cancer or high blood pressure.
American Health Association
US Food and Drug Administration