Healthier Halloween Options

By Jack Brady

Happy Halloween season! As the 31st approaches, it’s time to get into the Halloween spirit. As with other candy-heavy holidays like Valentine’s Day, it can be challenging to balance a child’s involvement in holiday activities with maintaining healthy food choices. Here are a few ways to have fun with your family this Halloween while reducing the intake of unnecessary fats and sugars.

  1. Donate excess candy

After trick’r’treating, what do you do with pounds of excess candy? Donate it! There are several organizations set up to benefit those who don’t have access to treats. Organizations like Operation Gratitude ( and Operation Shoebox ( send boxes of candy and other goods to American military personnel abroad as well as military families. Ronald McDonald House Charities also frequently accepts candy donations after Halloween for families staying at their housing locations ( Some religious organizations and food banks also accept; check to see what your city has to offer. In Chicago, some locations will weigh your candy donations and give your child $1 per pound, or even have raffles or competitions for heaviest donation. Check out Redtri for some locations and other suggestions on places to donate ( In order to avoid unnecessary drama, it’s a good idea to talk with your kids about your donation prior to trick’r’treating, and describe how their excess candy can put a smile on someone else’s face!

  1. Exchange candy for other types of fun

Another fun option is to have your kid exchange candy for other types of rewards or gifts. Maybe by giving up a portion of their candy, your child can choose a favorite meal for the following week! Other exchange options could be healthier treats, not having to do a particular chore, picking out a movie for movie night, or going to the library to choose new books.

  1. Make your own healthy treats

By making your own healthy treats, you can make delicious snacks with just as much flavor and much less sugar and fat. Additionally, this can be a great way to spend more family time together (or it can be a potential candy exchange option).

Everyday Health has some great options on their website for tasty treats, such as ants (or spiders) on a log!


Super easy to make, and kids love to assemble them! Spiders on a log is a twist on the classic ants on a log made of celery sticks, peanut butter, and raisins. By using natural peanut butter you greatly cut down on the amount of sugar that brands such as JIF contain, while retaining the great peanut taste. Simple to assemble, this is a great option for families with young kids! You can also mix it up by using dried cranberries or currants for new flavors. By making the food a little goofier, kids will enjoy making this creepy snack. (


Another option that kids enjoy making is dark-chocolate-dipped apples!


Dark chocolate is generally considered to be a healthier option compared to milk chocolate due to its lower sugar content. Though it does contain more fat, the dark chocolate and apple combination contains high levels of flavonoids that may help increase cardiovascular health. This doesn’t mean, unfortunately, that we can eat all the chocolate we want! The Cleveland Clinic has additional information about what benefits dark chocolate may have, but also cautions that additional research needs to be done to prove its positive effects. It’s still a treat! In addition, only certain chocolates contain these potential positive cardiovascular effects, so check out the link for more information! (

Kids will love spending time preparing the apples, and they can easily be halved or quartered before dipping for a more portion-healthy treat.

Thanks for reading; we hope you have a healthy and spooky Halloween!

Jack Brady

Packing a Better School Lunch

Lunch is an important part of each person’s day. It is a time to refuel energy for the remainder of the school or workday, but many children go to school with lunches that are missing fruits and vegetables. Many children don’t eat all of the food in their lunch boxes which can  cause them to have less energy throughout the day.    Here are  four ways to make healthy and fun lunches for your student.

1. Packing a lunch that is size appropriate

Every parent wants to make sure that their student has enough to eat but it may be too much. Children have much smaller portion sizes depending on their age and appetite. Websites such as provide portion sizes that are appropriate based a number of different factors. There are several different lunchboxes that have portion sizes built into the containers. Having these options available can you bring you one step closer to happy, healthy satisfied student.lunch-box

2. Including the major food groups

Balanced lunches that include the major food groups are essential to helping children thrive at school. If your child is young it may be easier to add different items into their lunch and start the good habits early. Preschool and kindergarten ages children are more easily influenced to change their food preferences which is important when aiming to get children to adopt healthier habits (Farris, 2014).  With older children it may be important to get them involved in the shopping and prepping process. Cooking together and finding healthy options that they enjoy making and eating can help develop better

3. Reviewing the school lunch menu

The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) has also made an effort to improve the quality of lunches, making sure that students receive the major food groups. They have also made an effort to give students and their families’ affordable options. In each school there should be a menu provided for the different meals for the days of the week. You may find that your student enjoys one or two different days on the school menu. By reviewing the menu of the school options with your student it may be easier to create a plan for days that lunch needs to be packed. This will be a way to make sure your student eats something healthy and enjoyable on a daily basis.

4. Keeping sweets healthy and low in sugar

Everyone enjoys a treat. It is nice to offer children something that is healthy and enjoyable and a little bit sweet to look forward to at lunchtime. Though this is true often times children’s lunches are piled high with unhealthy sugar packed beverages and snacks. Hubbard conducted an observational study of student lunches and found that a typical lunch was a sandwich, snack food and water (2014).  Having sweet fruits or fruit snacks can be healthy reward during lunch and snack times. This is an easy way to make sure that your child has one of the major food groups that is also sweet while remaining low in sugar. Students who consume too much sugar over time may be at risk for health problems such as obesity.doughnuts

Meet the Team: 2015-2016 Edition


Jocelyn Carter, Ph.D. (Associate Professor)

Dr. Carter received her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from Vanderbilt University in 2008 and earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Yale University. She completed her clinical internship at Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago, IL, and is currently an Associate Professor and the Director of Clinical Training at DePaul University. She teaches graduate assessment courses and undergraduate abnormal psychology courses. She is currently developing a clinical practica in primary care psychology through DePaul Family and Community Services. 


Draycen DeCator, M.A. (4th Year Doctoral Candidate, Clinical Child)

Draycen received his B.A. in Psychology from DePaul University, making this his eighth year at DePaul. His research interests are within pediatric psychology. Current and previous research study involvement includes: a) a study of youth with asthma and their families, b) a study of family mealtime interaction, c) an evaluation of an after-school soccer program, d) an evaluation of an HIV/STI education program, e) exploration of the roles family factors and active video games play in health-related behaviors, f) the psychosocial impact of a cancer diagnosis on youth and their families, and g) physiological responses to various forms of stress. Draycen’s own research is looking at the pediatric population broadly to understand what factors (such as executive functioning) may be relevant across medical conditions. He is looking forward to a long career in pediatric psychology.


Alescia M. Hollowell, MPH (4th Year Doctoral Candidate, Community)

Alescia is a doctoral student in Community Psychology at DePaul University. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Interdisciplinary Studies in Social Science – Health Studies from Michigan State University and a Master of Public Health in Health Behavior and Health Education from the University of Michigan. Alescia’s research interests include health behaviors and health education, the social determinants of health, community based participatory research, food access, and body image. Currently, her work examines the relationship between sociocultural norms around health, environment, and health efficacy on obesity outcomes in African American families. 


Carolyn Turek (2nd year Doctoral Candidate, Clinical Child)

Carolyn received her B.A. in Psychology from the University of Notre Dame in 2014. During her undergraduate career, Carolyn was involved in research regarding parent-child relationships and family communication. She also worked as an extern at the University of Chicago Kovler Diabetes Center; as a teaching assistant at the Drumbeat School for children with autism in London, England; and as a “Diabetes Sidekick” volunteer at Memorial Children’s Hospital in South Bend, IN. Carolyn’s primary research interests lie within pediatric psychology and she enjoys exploring this field as part of the Healthy Families Lab. She most enjoys working with families through projects encouraging healthy eating and exercise behaviors. Carolyn is specifically interested in the ways chronic illnesses impact the lives of children, teens, and their families as young people transition to adulthood; and in the ways families manage a diagnosis of type 1 diabetes and subsequent diabetes care.


Bridget Brush (1st year Doctoral Candidate, Clinical Child)

Bridget received her B.S. in Psychology from Florida State University. During her undergraduate career, Bridget was involved in various neuroscience research projects focused on behavior driven gene expression. Following graduation, she spent a few years working as an intervention coordinator for a child stress lab at Brown University, where she studied neural (fMRI) and hormonal (neuroendocrine) response to stress in adolescents. Bridget’s primary research interests are focused on understanding biological pathways related to mental and physical health disparities in childhood and adolescence. Specifically, she is interested in studying the relationship between emotion regulation strategies and neuroendocrine (cortisol) response to stress. In the future, Bridget hopes to use this knowledge to develop early interventions aimed at addressing health disparities for youth living in environments with high stress and low resources.


Jack Brady (1st year M.S. Student)

Jack Brady is a first-year Masters student currently working with Jocelyn Carter on both CHAMPs and The Active Project (TAP), focusing on parent-child cooking classes and nutrition. In the future, he plans to continue his studies in a Clinical Psychology Ph.D. program, working with Gender and Sexual Minority (GSM) adolescents.

Darrick Scott (Post-Baccalaureate Research Assistant)


A native of the Southside of Chicago, Darrick Scott earned his B.A. in psychology from Howard University in May 2012. His research interests are rooted within depression and anxiety along with coping and risk factors that contribute to the mental health of low-income adolescent youth within the inner city. In his leisure time, Darrick enjoys listening to music, watching films, and traveling.

Undergraduate Research Assistants: 

Michael Dabney

Mirella Escobar

Hilary Hernandez

Kaitlan Johnson

Yangxi Li

Mariya Sirman

Lab Alumni: 


Sabrina Karczewski, Ph.D. 

Sabrina received her doctorate in Child Clinical Psychology at DePaul University in 2015. During her time at DePaul, Sabrina served as a research assistant for four years in The Chicago Healthy Families Lab, and had the pleasure of working on projects ranging from obesity prevention (Urban Initiatives Work to Play) to examination of depression in youth with asthma (The Chicago Healthy Families Project), and served as the project coordinator for The Active Project (TAP) for Kids, a study of active video game use and health in low income families. While in graduate school, Sabrina gained invaluable clinical experience through practica at DePaul Family and Community Services and the University of Chicago Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Department. She completed her dissertation on youth with newly diagnosed type 1 diabetes and attended clinical internship at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford & Children’s Health Council in 2015. Currently, she is completing a Pediatric Psychology Postdoctoral Fellowship at Stanford University. Sabrina’s clinical and research interests include child and family adjustment to a newly diagnosed medical condition or medical event (e.g., solid organ or stem cell transplants), stress and coping in pediatric populations, and the interaction of psychological and physical health.

Trey Lab Website

Trey V. Dellucci, M.S.

Trey received his B.A. in psychology from Southeastern Louisiana University in 2012 and his M.S. in psychology from DePaul University in 2015. During his undergraduate career he worked on a research project examining school readiness in preschool-aged kids. In addition, he also worked as a crisis counselor for individuals experiencing suicide ideation for 3 years at the Baton Rouge Crisis Intervention Center (BRCIC). At DePaul he examined parental factors that influenced mental and physical health outcomes in adolescents with an emphasis on weight and weight related behaviors (e.g. diet and exercise). Currently, Trey is a research study assistant at Northwestern University’s IMPACT program, where he is examining behavioral, psychological, and social factors that influence physical and mental health in individuals who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and/or transgender (LGBT). In the near future, he plans to integrate his past experiences and explore the effects of minority stress on youth’s body image and suicide ideation, and will explore the potential buffering effects of parental support and community engagement.

Food and Families Conference 2015

Several weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend the Food and Family sponsored by Christopher Family Foundation Food and Family Program at the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign. I have been a huge follower of Dr. Barbara Fiese‘s work on family routines and rituals and appreciated getting to see the entire portfolio of research that occurs in their center.

The Food and Family Conference was interdisciplinary in nature including experts in food marketing to children, nutritional benefits of breastfeeding, picky eating, and food insecurity. Two highlights included seeing that children’s food refusal behavior varies according to setting (here’s looking at you, preschooler who happily ate broccoli and grapes at school, but later told her mother that she didn’t like them!) and hearing from Jeremy Everett of the Texas Hunger Initiative who shared moving stories of families who did not have enough money to feed their families and the creative ways that the initiative developed to help provide food to families.

This conference reminded me why I am so passionate about my work on families and health habits. To paraphrase Pampered Chef founder Doris Kelley Christopher, family meals are about so much more than nutrition, but they provide the bond that holds families together. Instead of just telling people that they need to eat meals together, let’s help them overcome the barriers to getting the meals on the table.

family table

some of my extended family around my table

fourth birthday cake for my daughter

fourth birthday cake for my daughter

Importance of Family Meals

As some sites have noted, having meals together as a family can be difficult. Work, school, hobbies, and other things can get in the way, reducing the time you have to plan, prepare, and cook a proper family meal. Yet, research has shown that family meals can have significant benefits: better diet quality for parents and children, better socioemotional development for kids, reduced likelihood of youth engaging in risky behaviors (e.g., smoking), less time spent sedentary, and lower rates of overweight and obesity in youth, just to name a few. With all of the benefits family meals can have, it’s worth putting in the effort to increase how often you have them. Improving your own eating habits can be a great start, and it can help you improve the eating habits of your children. Here are some tips supported by research to help establish a routine of eating family meals together, and to get the most benefit out of your family meals:

Continue reading

Hours of Netflix Later, I realized I haven’t Moved


Since the introduction of Netflix, Hulu, and DVR-ing in recent years, binge watching has emerged as a popular and prevalent phenomena in today’s life. You, yourself, might have found yourself captive of the auto play feature after watching the ending of an episode from your favorite 90s sitcom. Of course, you always start off by telling yourself that you will just watch one more episode. The reality is often that before you know it, the sun has set, the streetlights have turned on, and it’s well past time for bed.

Technology, such as the emergence of Netflix, has become a huge force in making it easier to become even more sedentary with an already sedentary lifestyle. Over the years, it has become very apparent that people are less physically active. In fact, a recent study found that only one in three children are physically active every day and only one in three adults receive the recommended amount of physical activity each week (National Association for Sport and Physical Education; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services). Instead of playing sports or participating in physical activities such as biking or walking, more people are choosing to stay in and watch television (Biddle, Gorely, Marshall, Murdey, & Cameron, 2004). If that describes you, don’t worry – you are not alone. A majority of us have simply stopped moving as much as we should. Not moving and not staying active has several negative consequences. In fact, it has been commonly said that sitting is the new smoking in today’s generation. People who live sedentary lifestyles are at increased rate for a variety of health illnesses and conditions, including increased cancer risk, increased cardiovascular disease risk, and mood disorders such as depression,  (Thorp, Owen, Neuhaus, & Dunstan, 2011).

Sedentary behaviors are also linked to weight gain (Must & Tybor, 2000). A major correlate of weight gain is excessive television watching, also known as binge watching. Watching television for long periods of time is linked to increased snacking, unhealthy eating, and caloric intake (Thorp, Owen, Neuhaus, & Dunstan, 2011). Similarly, people who watch a lot of television are more likely to eat foods enriched in fat and carbs, which contributes to weight gain (Robinson & Killen, 2001; Coon, Goldberg, Rogers, & Tucker, 2001). Specifically, a study has shown watching television increases your risk of becoming overweight or obese by 23% and developing diabetes by 14% (Hu, Li, Colditz, Willett, & Manson, 2003).

Adding or increasing your physical active has many health benefits:

  1. People who are physically active have also reported experiencing less stress, having better sleep, and having increased life satisfaction (Fox, 1999; Penedo & Dahn, 2005).
  2. Active people are also less likely to have health concerns, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes (Warburton, Nicol, & Bredin, 2006), and higher self-esteem and overall happiness (Taylor, Sallis, & Needle, 1985).
  3. Staying physically active actually helps save money. Physically active individuals had lower annual direct medical costs than did inactive people. (Pratt, Macera, & Wang, 2000).

How Can I Increase My Physical Activity?

ID-10096493Being physically active does not have to break the budget or even require extra time set aside in your daily schedule. There are a variety of ways that you can incorporate physical activity in your daily life and increase your overall activity level each day. For example, when you are faced with the decision to take the stairs or the elevator, try taking the stairs. It may not seem much at the moment, but taking the stairs daily or when you have the option to will eventually add up. Moreover, making the decision between the stairs and elevator does not have to be an all or nothing decision. If taking the stairs proves to be a challenge, try taking one or two flights of stairs and continue the rest of your journey on the elevator. There’s nothing wrong with taking baby steps!                                                            

Another way to increase your physical activity level is by deliberately parking your car a further distance away from the market door. This is a great opportunity to add extra steps to your day and get your heart rate pumping. Similarly, you can also deliberately take the long route when walking to work or school, or add a couple laps when shopping at the mall.

If you do find yourself trapped in an endless marathon of Friends, it’s still not too late to decrease sitting time and increase physical activity. You can try walking in place or even just standing during commercials. Or, another option is eating healthier snacks, such as apples and peanut butter or unbuttered popcorn.

Written by Trey V. Dellucci and Sophie Mir

For other simple tips on how to make small changes to increase your physical activity and better your health, please see:

* Television image courtesy of winnond at

* Walking up stairs image courtesy of a454 at


Biddle, S. J., Gorely, T., Marshall, S. J., Murdey, I., & Cameron, N. (2004). Physical activity and sedentary behaviours in youth: issues and controversies. The Journal of the Royal Society for the Promotion of Health, 124(1), 29-33. doi: 10.1177/146642400312400110

Coon K, Goldberg J, Rogers B, Tucker K. Relationships between use of television during meals and children’s food consumption patterns. Pediatrics [serial online] 2001;107:e7. Internet: (accessed 15 October 2003).

Fox, K. R. (1999). The influence of physical activity on mental well-being. Public Health Nutr, 2(3a), 411-418.

Hu, F. B., Li, T. Y., Colditz, G. A., Willett, W. C., & Manson, J. E. (2003). Television watching and other sedentary behaviors in relation to risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes mellitus in women. Jama, 289(14), 1785-1791. doi: 10.1001/jama.289.14.1785

Must, A., & Tybor, D. J. (2000). Physical activity and sedentary behavior: a review of longitudinal studies of weight and adiposity in youth. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord, 29(S2), S84-S96.

National Association for Sport and Physical Education. The Fitness Equation: Physical Activity + Balanced Diet = Fit Kids. Reston, VA: National Association for Sport and Physical Education, 1999.

Penedo, F. J., & Dahn, J. R. (2005). Exercise and well-being: a review of mental and physical health benefits associated with physical activity. Curr Opin Psychiatry, 18(2), 189-193.

Pratt, M., Macera, C. A., & Wang, G. (2000). Higher direct medical costs associated with physical inactivity. Phys Sportsmed, 28(10), 63-70. doi: 10.3810/psm.2000.10.1237

Robinson TN, Killen J. Obesity prevention for children and adolescents. In: Thompson J, Smolak L, eds. Body image, eating disorders and obesity in youth: assessment, prevention and treatment. 2001.

Taylor, C. B., Sallis, J. F., & Needle, R. (1985). The relation of physical activity and exercise to mental health. Public Health Rep, 100(2), 195-202.

Thorp, A. A., Owen, N., Neuhaus, M., & Dunstan, D. W. (2011). Sedentary Behaviors and Subsequent Health Outcomes in Adults: A Systematic Review of Longitudinal Studies, 1996–2011. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 41(2), 207-215. doi:

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Healthy People 2010. Available at:

Warburton, D. E. R., Nicol, C. W., & Bredin, S. S. D. (2006). Health benefits of physical activity: the evidence. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 174(6), 801-809. doi: 10.1503/cmaj.051351