Archive for December, 2011

Top 3 “fitness” items on our holiday gift list for 2011…

Monday, December 12th, 2011

Looking for the perfect gift for that “active” person/people in your life? Ellen Ormsby, SPARK’s East Coast Program Representative, marathon runner and all-around fitness expert, shares the top 3 “fitness” items on her holiday gift list…

TRX Suspension Trainer Pro: Uses body weight for multi-functional workouts. Simple suspension system, includes two 1-1/2″ web straps, adjustable from 6′ to 12′ (1.8 to 3.6m) with durable carabiners. Includes fitness guide. Adjust your body angle from the suspension rigging to create workouts for core, upper body, arms, legs, balance, or flexibility. Attach to permanent fixtures, pull-up bars, weight racks, or the Sportime Suspension System. Click Here for more information and to purchase.

Aeromat Dual Color Exercise Foam Roller: Made of durable EVA foam material that maintains its shape. Great for core training and improves body alignment and flexibility. Light weight, resistant to moisture and easy to clean. 6” diameter x 12”. Orange/Blue. Click Here for more information and to purchase.

EcoWise Essential Yoga/Pilates Mat: EcoWise Essential Yoga/Pilates Mat Performance texture for good drip. Environmentally friendly closed-cell foam, with soft surface to enhance comfort of floor exercises. Latex, PVC, phthalates and chloride free. Easy to clean and maintain. Measure 72″ x 23″ x 1/4″ thick (183cm x 58.4cm). Rolls up for storage and transport. Green. Click Here for more information and to purchase.

Holiday Activity Lesson Plans for Physical Education

Monday, December 12th, 2011

Last month we held a contest for members to submit their favorite Holiday Tag activity for a chance to win and iPod. We had some amazing submissions, and we’ve posted the top 20 of them on!

However, for those of you that aren’t members yet, we wanted to share some of the good ideas with you as well. So we decided to share 7 of those great lesson plans with you, just in time for the holiday season.

Click Here to view the 7 “Holiday Tag” lesson plans presented in SPARK’s “Ready, Set, Go!” format.

Recipe for “Bernadette’s Healthy Holiday Butternut Squash Casserole”

Monday, December 12th, 2011

The following recipe is from Bernadette Garcia-Roger, Master Trainer for the SPARK Early Childhood program:

Bernadette’s Holiday Butternut Squash Casserole

Here’s one of my favorite comfort food dishes for the holidays. I love this because it’s a bit more healthy with the squash (seasonal vegetable) added in. I’ve made this quite often and there are never any leftovers! Ricotta and pureed squash give this familiar dish its creaminess.

Yield: Serves 6


1 small butternut squash (about 1 pound), peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch cubes (about 3 cups)

1 cup homemade or low-sodium canned chicken stock, skimmed of fat

1 1/2 cups nonfat milk

Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

Pinch of cayenne pepper

3/4 teaspoon coarse salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1 pound elbow macaroni

4 ounces extra-sharp cheddar cheese, finely grated (about 1 cup)

4 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, finely grated (1 ounce)

2 tablespoons fine breadcrumbs

1 teaspoon olive oil

Olive-oil, cooking spray

1/2 cup part-skim ricotta cheese


  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine squash, stock, and milk in a medium saucepan; bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium; simmer until squash is tender when pierced with a fork, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat. Mash contents of saucepan; stir in nutmeg, cayenne, and salt, and season with black pepper. Stir to combine.
  • Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add noodles; cook until al dente according to package instructions, about 8 minutes. Drain, and transfer to a large bowl; stir in squash mixture, cheddar, ricotta, and 2 tablespoons Parmesan.
  • Lightly coat a 9-inch square baking dish (4 inches deep) with cooking spray. Transfer noodle mixture to dish. In a small bowl, combine breadcrumbs, remaining 2 tablespoons Parmesan, and oil; sprinkle evenly over noodle mixture.
  • Cover with foil, and bake 20 minutes. Remove foil, and continue baking until lightly browned and crisp on top, 30 to 40 minutes more. Serve immediately.

5 Easy-to-Make and Healthful Meals

Tuesday, December 6th, 2011

As the American healthy consumer guides evolve, so has the food guide pyramid. This one triangular building block of choices has been altered to appear in the form of a plate. The plate is a more visual way to associate portion size and helps children and adults alike maintain a healthy balance. The new food guide also includes healthy habits such as:

  • Taking smaller portions
  • Making half your plate fruits and vegetables
  • Switching to fat-free or low-fat milk
  • Choosing whole grains
  • Watching your sodium intake
  • Drinking water instead of sugar-filled beverages

But even healthy choices are hard to make when you don’t have a healthy go-to meal plan on hand. Here are five easy-to-make recipes to get your weekday meal planning off on the right foot.

1. Toad in a Hole

This family-friendly breakfast is fun for all ages. With a good mix of all the food groups, this quick and easy recipe can help jumpstart anyone’s mornings.

Ingredients: toad-in-a-hole

  • Eggs
  • 100% whole wheat Bread
  • Fruit (such as an apple or a banana)
  • Low- or non-fat milk
  • Baking sheet


  • Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Cut out small circles big enough to hold a cracked egg in a few pieces of 100% whole wheat bread (enough to feed your family)
  • Grease a baking sheet and lay out pieces of bread
  • Crack whole eggs into the circles
  • Bake for 8-12 minutes.

Put these tasty pieces of bread on plates and add a piece of fruit and a glass of milk to round out this quick and easy morning meal.

2. Apple or Pineapple Chicken Quesadillas

Having a hard time getting your family fond of fruit? Try mixing it with a little Mexican flair to get this food group on your family’s good side.

Ingredients: chicken-quesadilla

  • 4 whole wheat tortillas (8-inch wide)
  • 1 cup cooked shredded or diced chicken breast
  • ¼ lb. low fat shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1 apple, sliced or 1 cup pineapple chunks
  • ¼ cup mild salsa (make from scratch for less sodium!)


  1. Heat a large skillet on medium heat
  2. Add a tortilla to the skillet
  3. Add shredded mozzarella cheese, chicken, and choice of fruit
  4. Place another tortilla on top and wait for the cheese to melt
  5. Let the cheese melt a bit and then flip the quesadilla over to brown the top tortilla
  6. When the cheese has melted and the tortillas are crisp, remove the quesadilla and let sit
  7. Cut the tortilla into triangular slices

Serve this recipe with a salad to sneak some fruits and vegetables into dinnertime for compliments instead of complaints.

3. Beef Barley Stew

Stew is a great meal to make ahead, and provides leftovers that are often even better than the first meal. Stew is a great family favorite that can also be packed for lunches, allowing you to get the most bang for your buck.


  • 6 ounces lean stew beef in bite-size chunks
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 3 large cloves of garlic, minced
  • 3 -4 large carrots, sliced
  • 1 pint sliced mushrooms
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 4 cups low sodium beef broth
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 stalk celery
  • 1/4 cup barley


  1. Lightly coat beef in flour and brown in a saucepan
  2. In a large saucepan or stock pot, heat oil
  3. Sauté garlic, onion, celery, mushrooms and carrots for 8-10 minutes
  4. Add broth, barley, bay leaves and beef
  5. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 45 minutes or until barley is tender, stirring occasionally

Serve with whole grain bread. Add a small fruit and yogurt parfait for dessert to round out the meal. You can pack this lunch for the kids by throwing soup, a small carton of milk, and an apple together for a quick and healthy solution.

4. Sloppy Joes and Fruity Jell-O

This family favorite is quick, easy, and fun. And with the right ingredients, it can be healthy too! Use 90% lean ground turkey in place of ground beef to lighten up your lean protein.


  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Half a small onion, diced
  • 1¼ pounds lean ground turkey
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ¼ cup water
  • ¼ cup tomato paste
  • 1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp. yellow mustard
  • Whole wheat hamburger buns
  • 2 cups baby carrots
  • 1 package Jell-O
  • Cubed fruit (apples, nectarines, pineapple, and tangerines)


  1. Mix Jell-O per package instructions, and add fruit.
  2. Cook beef and celery over medium heat until meat is brown. Strain any fat.
  3. Add remaining ingredients and cook over low heat for 15 minutes or until thick
  4. Over medium heat, cook beef and celery until meat is browned and celery is tender. Pour off fat, if any. Add remaining ingredients and cook over low heat, uncovered. Wait for flavors to blend and until slightly thickened.
  5. Steam baby carrots until still slightly crisp.

5. Tacos and Baked Apples


  • Shredded lettuce (use romaine for vitamins and minerals)
  • Chopped tomatoes and olives
  • Diced onions
  • Light sour cream
  • Shredded low-fat mozzarella cheese
  • Corn or wheat tortillas
  • Canned low-sodium black beans
  • 90% lean ground beef
  • Salsa
  • 1 apple per person


  1. Sauté onions in a large skillet
  2. Cook ground beef in a large skillet and drain any fat
  3. Rinse black beans and warm in a small sauce pot
  4. Warm corn tortillas in the oven

For dessert:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
  2. Scoop out the core from top of the apple
  3. Stuff each apple with 1 tablespoon light brown sugar and 1 tsp. butter or margarine.
  4. Sprinkle with cinnamon.
  5. Place apples in a baking dish.
  6. Bake in a preheated oven for 15 minutes, until sugar begins to caramelize and apples are tender.

This is a quick and easy dinner, offering a self-serve option with a built-in mix of grains, vegetables and black beans. Serve with a glass of low fat milk and follow it up with an easy apple dessert.

Use these quick and easy recipes to keep your family healthy and happy while whipping up dinner with less stress.

photo courtesy of satanoid and David Berkowitz

11 Ways to Instill Healthy Lifestyle Habits in Your Children

Friday, December 2nd, 2011

Children learn from the influences around them. Part of growing up is creating the habits that will follow your children throughout their lifetimes and shape them as they mature. Instilling a healthy lifestyle in your children when they are young can help build the framework for an entire lifetime of healthy habits.

Here are 10 ways lead your children toward a healthy lifestyle:

  1. Eat at least one meal a day as a family
    Eating at least one meal a day as a family ensures that your child is making healthy choices during that time of the day. This also gives you the opportunity to lead by example and use the opportunity to teach your children about food choices and healthy portion sizes. By modeling healthy cooking habits in the home, you are helping transfer your choices into your child’s lifelong habits.
  2. Get your children outside and involved
    This is another area where you can create these healthy lifestyle habits as a family. Play games in the yard, go on hikes, and just get outside. Playing ball with your kids or involving them in sports not only helps instill a healthy lifestyle, but it also helps them develop coordination and important social skills they can’t learn by sitting in front of a television. Teaching your children the joys of sports early can help them find their talents and teach them to appreciate exercise as a form of fun, not something to be abhorred.
  3. Turn off the technology
    With technology at every turn, it’s hard to pull your family away from the tube, the computer screen, the phones, the video games, the iPads, and all of the other gadgets that are such a part of everyday life. But getting your children out of their seats and aware of the world around them helps them become more self-aware in mind and body. Communicating in-person with other children and adults establishes social skills that can’t be learned online and are essential for a successful future.
  4. Stack on the support
    Talking positively, encouraging your children, and rewarding them with good behavior helps reinforce good behavior and healthy habits. When your children choose to be active, learn about a topic, choose a healthy snack or get involved with others, positively reinforce these actions by supporting your child and making sure that their good choices are noticed and applauded. This helps build your child’s self-confidence and can help create a strong future leader.
  5. Ask them to participate
    Teach your children healthy lifestyle habits by having them help create them in your own home. Let them help grocery shop for healthy lunches, send thank-you notes and holiday cards to friends and family, keep up the house, and make decisions. Teaching your children to make the right choices for the family can help them understand everything that goes into creating a positive atmosphere.
  6. Focus on extracurricular activities
    Extracurricular activities give your children a chance to make new friends, explore new skills and talents, and increase their self-confidence. A healthy lifestyle includes socializing, enhancing skills, learning new talents, and achieving goals. Extracurricular activities allow your child to explore these areas of healthy living in a safe and nurturing environment with children of their own age. They can also develop lasting friendships and learn from other children.
  7. Teach them responsibility
    Giving your child responsibilities is an important building block for future success. Giving your child responsibilities early teaches them ownership and how to complete tasks required of them, as well as consequences.  Giving your child the responsibility of planning their snacks or lunches, or planning breakfast for the family gives them the opportunity to take ownership, and also allows you the opportunity to correct their choices along the way.
  8. Never use food as a reward
    With the fattening of America, it’s incredibly important these days to watch how your children are relating to food. Without the built-in exercise of yesteryear and technology creating a sedentary lifestyle as the norm, making sure that you are instilling a healthy relationship with food starts with making good choices in the way you present it to your children. Using food as a reward is one way to create food motivation, which can be detrimental if your child grows up seeing food as a special reward and was not taught how to limit this reward.
  9. Lead by example
    One of the best ways to instill a healthy lifestyle in your children is to lead one yourself. Children are constantly picking up on our habits and behaviors, and parents are seen as role models whose habits should be taken after. Make sure that you are active, healthy, and also explore activities, socializing, and other interests outside of work.
  10. Expose them to good influences
    The more positive your child’s environment, the more positive your child’s outlook will tend to be. Exposing your child to a positive environment with positive role models, healthy food options, outside activities and intriguing mental challenges can help them become more positive individuals, which in turn will help them make choices that perpetuate a healthy outlook and a healthy lifestyle.
  11. Make sure their school offers daily, quality Physical Education
    Quality physical education programs are needed to increase the physical competence, health-related fitness, self-responsibility and enjoyment of physical activity for all students so that they can be physically active for a lifetime. Physical education programs can only provide these benefits if they are well-planned and well-implemented. And consistent! For more information on how to implement an evidence-based quality Physical Education program in your school visit