Archive for the ‘Healthy Eating’ Category


What is a Nutrition Ed Tool Box?

Friday, October 10th, 2014

What is a Nutrition Ed Tool Box?

Simply put, it’s a “toolbox” of nutrition education ideas you can fit into day to day practices no matter where you are. Of course the location of your toolbox is up to you. It can be a physical location, or one in cyberspace, but wherever you save your ideas, keep it easy to access on the go.

We often hear back from teachers, physical educators, school nutrition staff and youth leaders about how they tweaked HKC lessons or activity ideas to fit available resources or integrated them with other subject matter. This great feedback is super inspiring, and demonstrates how nutrition education can become a part of day to day practices.

Join the Nutrition Ed Tool Box Challenge to share and learn from others! From our trainings and work with teachers and youth leaders, we hear about how creative minds are meeting the challenge to incorporate nutrition lessons and more physical movement into their classrooms, gyms and cafeterias.

What: To meet the Challenge, send a description of how you integrated a nutrition lesson or project into other subject matter or adapted an existing lesson to fit your resources.

The project or lesson should use credible science-based nutrition content such as Healthy Kids Challenge resources (or those of HKC partners), MyPlate, or USDA nutrition content or guidelines.  The entry could be a lesson or project you have used in the past or one that you are developing.  Use this link for examples, additional information and a submission form.

When: Between October 1 and December 15, 2014

Why: To inspire KidLinks (educators, youth leaders, or others with a connection to kids) to make nutrition education awesome - Appealing and fun, Welcoming and inviting, Easy and simple – we’ll compile and share the ideas entered.

What you gain for meeting the Challenge!

  • A wonderful opportunity learning what others are doing and for building your nutrition tool box
  • Recognition of your creativity
  • For each educator who participates in the Challenge, we’ll send one free electronic copy of either our Healthy Kids Challenge Taste and Learn Recipes or our reproducible Parent Tips.

How to enter: In the spirit of AWE-some, we want to make it EASY for you to share.  Simply complete the easy to use online form.

We have many examples of how those creative minds have successfully met the challenge already, but we need more!

Here are just a few to get your creativity flowing:

Ready to submit your lesson or project? Enter it in the Nutrition Ed Tool Box Challenge Form.

Re-posted with permission from the Healthy Kids Challenge Blog.

What is a Nutrition Ed Tool Box?

Healthy & Easy Recipe for National Nutrition Month

Tuesday, March 11th, 2014

Healthy, Easy and Kid-Friendly Recipe for National Nutrition Month

Provided by our Nutrition Services partner, Healthy Kids Challenge

This Apple Almond Salad recipe is easy to use when teaching kids about healthy habits, and easy for them to learn some basic kitchen skills, too! At a school or community program (or even at home) use this activity to challenge kids to learn about what they taste. It works with many fruit & veggie-based recipes, but our favorite is this apple-almond salad!

Apple Almond Salad

Prep Time: 10 minutes Serves: 8 servings or 32 (½ cup serving) tasting samples

  • 1 cup non-fat, bottled raspberry vinaigrette
  • 8 small apples, diced
  • 1 cup Craisins® or other dried fruit bits
  • 1 cup chopped almonds
  • 8 cups bagged, pre-cut mixed greens

Directions

1. In advance, rinse and drain the apples and mixed greens.

2. In a large salad bowl, add the ingredients and toss gently.

3. Serve ½ cup tasting samples on small plates with a fork.

4. Clean work area and utensils with warm soapy water. Rinse with clean water.

Per full-size serving (1 3/4 cups): 221 Calories, 5.2g Pro, 5.9g Fat, 24% Calories from Fat

Recipe Source: (Modified) Education.com-Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed 6/11.

Taste and Learn Activity

Materials: MyPlate symbol

1. Fill half of a standard size meal plate with salad and explain it represents the fruits and veggies of the MyPlate symbol.

2. Discuss how eating that amount at meals helps kids get their suggested daily servings of fiber.

3. Ask kids to think of the fruits/veggies they ate yesterday.

4. Did the amount they ate fill half a plate? Have them draw a representation of their plate.

5. Ask kids to create a menu using the recipe and the other MyPlate food groups (grains, protein and dairy).

6. Have them create a grocery list for their menu.

At home, parents can empower kids to get involved too!

  • Allow kids to help create the grocery list
  • Parents and kids go grocery shopping together
  • Kids make the meal with parents and eat together

Download parent tip sheets to reinforce the messaging here:

Fruits & Veggies – Every Day the Tasty Way “Fruits & Veggies, Cool Foods”

Fruits & Veggies – Enjoy the Taste, Herbs & Spices Add Pizazz to Fruits & Veggies

Visit the Healthy Kids Challenge blog for more “Taste and Learn” Recipes, including the Turkey Veggie Wrap and a Yummy Fruit Combo!

Holiday Pinwheels Recipe from Healthy Kids Challenge

Sunday, December 8th, 2013

Our partners at Healthy Kids Challenge have shared one of their favorite healthy holiday recipes with us, so we’re sharing it with you!  Enjoy!

Take the Healthy Holiday Challenge: Help kids set a goal to choose healthy snacks during the holiday season, and join them in meeting the challenge!

How?SPARK Vegetables Dec 2013

1. Refresh your minds…
about why it’s important to choose healthy holiday snacks.

Utilize these printable tips to help get you started:

Curb Impulsive Holiday Snacking and

Explore What Influences Holiday Food Choices

2. Energize your bodies…
with this recipe, which you can make together with the kids.

Holiday Pinwheels (print this)

Serves: 4

4 (6-7”) whole grain tortillas

4 oz. fat free cream cheese

1 Tbsp plus 2 tsp tomato paste

4 oz. finely shredded low fat cheddar cheese

1-2 green peppers (to make 1 cup finely chopped)

knife, spoon, cutting board

Directions:

  1. Wash hands with soap and water before handling food or utensils.
  2. Rinse the green peppers, then finely chop to fill 1 cup measure.
  3. Blend cream cheese and tomato paste together in small bowl. Set aside.
  4. Place a tortilla on the cutting board and spread 1 Tbsp of the cream cheese mixture on top.
  5. Sprinkle 1/4 cup chopped green peppers and 1 Tbsp shredded cheese on top and roll up.
  6. Cut each wrap into 4 serving pieces. Use spatula to place them on
  7. Have kids clean up work area and utensils with warm soapy water. Rinse with clean water.

8 Ways to Improve Your Health by the End of the Year

Friday, December 6th, 2013

When January 1 rolls around, we are often more determined than ever to get fit and feel great. Research shows that only 8 percent of us actually achieve New Year’s resolutions, however. The main reason? We make dreamy resolutions but fail to follow up with the planning and work needed to achieve them.

Instead of waiting to make a New Year’s resolution when it comes to your health, get ahead of the game. Decide that instead of letting the holiday season get the best of you, you are going to get a jump start on a healthier 2014.

Ways To Improve Health - SPARKTake these 8 suggestions from SPARK to improve the whole family’s health by the New Year:

  • Just move. Our bodies were made for movement. Whether you take a family walk for an hour after dinner each evening, set the mood for the day with a morning yoga session, or even include some of SPARK’s lesson plans during playtime with your kids, just get moving. Park your car away from the crowds and put in a few extra steps when doing holiday shopping. Institute a friendly family football game each Sunday and teach the little ones how to throw a perfect spiral. If the holiday season seems too hectic to fit in a workout, think again! Movement in your everyday life counts.
  • Eat smart. There will be plenty of invitations to parties and gatherings this season, and you should definitely make the most of those and attend. But that doesn’t mean you have to fill your plate with the highest-calorie goodies at the serving table in the name of good cheer. Pack portable, protein-rich snacks for marathon shopping sessions rather than making a stop at the mall’s cafeteria. Gracefully turn down invites to go out to lunch with co-workers or bring your own meal packed from home along with you. There are so many delicious temptations during the holiday season, so save your splurging for the times when it means the most.
  • Buy an activity tracker. Many people track what they eat when they are trying to lose weight—but have you ever thought about keeping an eye on your activity levels? Upgrade your basic pedometer to a device like our very own Polar Active Monitor Watch that tracks all daily activity and progress. Some monitors even track sleep and have calorie-monitoring capability. When you have a high-calorie day, add some time onto your workout or take a long walk in your neighborhood. Don’t assume that your activity level is high enough to counteract what you consume. Have a device that tracks it for you and gives insight into your habits, helping you make healthy changes.
  • Drink more water. Of course, replacing calorie-laden beverages like soda with water is an instant health boost, but there are even more reasons to stay hydrated. People often mistake thirst with hunger and eat when they should really be pouring themselves a nice tall glass of water. Hydration can also boost immunity and energy level, a must during the fall and winter seasons. A good rule of thumb is to drink enough water in ounces to equal half of your weight in pounds. So if you weigh 150 pounds, drink 75 ounces of water every day.
  • Replace sedentary habits with active ones. Keep a journal each day that charts how much activity you get in a 24-hour period. Write down the amount of time you spend watching television on the couch, sitting at your office desk, and sleeping. Take a look at your typical habits after you’ve recorded them and look for ways to replace some of the sedentary stuff with an activity. Just four five-minute breaks from your desk for a brief walk add up to an hour and 40 minutes every week. Schedule gym visits during your favorite shows and watch them from a treadmill. You do not need to be on your feet every waking hour, but make minor adjustments to maximize your activity levels.
  • Improve sleep habits. Sleep is an incredibly overlooked but very important component of overall health. The Centers for Disease Control have declared American sleep deprivation a health epidemic because of its prevalence and negative health outcomes. Adults generally need eight hours of sleep to perform their best the next day. If you have trouble nodding off when your body is tired, take a look at what habits may be causing it. Avoid caffeine in the afternoon and evening and be sure to get that physical activity that makes for a good night’s rest. Consistent sleep will improve your entire quality of life so make it a priority going into the New Year.
  • Reduce stress. Stress is a part of life. That means stress management is a part of life. Try to approach every situation with a rational attitude and avoid negative thought patterns. What’s causing your stress? It’s a problem that needs a solution—and the solution is as simple as writing down what needs to be done to make the problem go away, and then following through. Practicing yoga, joining a church group, or simply taking a few minutes every morning to meditate will help keep your stress level low. Exercise, restful sleep, and a healthy diet help you manage stress too—see how it’s all connected?

Maintaining your health is a lifelong process, but there is certainly no reason to wait for January 1st to make some improvements. Instead of letting the holiday season steal your health, decide to make some changes now that will set you up for a successful 2014 and help you enjoy the holidays more.

How do you plan to tackle health goals this holiday season?

10 Ways to Avoid Over-Indulgence on Thanksgiving

Wednesday, November 27th, 2013

Thanksgiving is a holiday of gratitude. Most of us, however, associate it with a large meal complete with all the fixings and then regret stuffing our bellies to the brim with those special indulgences. In fact, the average Thanksgiving meal contains a whopping 3,000 calories.

But it doesn’t have to be, does it? You can enjoy the delicious traditional meal you’ve been waiting all year for without overdoing it. Here are a 10 ways to enjoy your Thanksgiving meal but not pay for it in pounds later on:10 Ways to Avoid Over Indulgence on Thanksgiving

  1. Load up on veggies first. Start by filling your plate with the healthy highlights of your meal and there will be less space for the richer options. If you are going to another person’s home, offer to bring the salad or a veggie tray and then dig in. Next, enjoy a nice serving of low-fat, high protein turkey for a well-rounded meal and a satisfied belly.
  2. Scale down high-fat recipes. There is no reason to completely avoid your favorite Thanksgiving dishes—but you can certainly find ways to slim them down. Try Greek yogurt in your mashed potatoes instead of sour cream. Fresh, organic green beans sautéed with garlic and olive oil make a delicious side instead of a creamy casserole. Try low-sodium vegetable broth in the stuffing. Use skim milk and low-fat cheese when recipes call for the higher-fat versions. Take a look at your favorite recipes and figure out where you can swap healthier ingredients to reduce your calorie intake and still have plenty of Thanksgiving flavor.
  3. Exercise first. The holiday is a perfect excuse to get out and get moving long before you sit down to Thanksgiving dinner. “Turkey trot” walks and races are popular on Thanksgiving morning. Or just get out in your own neighborhood on foot or bicycle. Weather permitting, take your kids to a park or even bundle up for some sledding before warming up to a hot meal. You may not burn enough calories to completely wipe out what you inhale at the table, but you can at least make a dent.
  4. Forgo tradition. There are no official rules on what you can and cannot eat on Thanksgiving. If you are trying to stay away from carbohydrates or high-fat foods, plan a menu that accommodates your lifestyle. Opt for fish, vegetables, and rice instead of the traditional turkey dinner. For dessert, serve fresh berries and whipped cream instead of calorie-laden pumpkin pie. Tailor your menu to fit your food preferences and not the meal you feel like you have to make. Who knows? You may start a new family tradition in the process.
  5. Think smaller. If you want to eat less, reduce your surface area. Instead of oversized Thanksgiving platters, use smaller plates. You and your guests may need to go back for seconds, but it prevents you from scooping too much on your plate at the outset and overeating as a result.
  6. Watch what you drink. If you aren’t careful, all the calories you cut back on with your plate will come back to get you in your cup. If you want to toast with alcohol, opt for a small glass of red wine which is relatively low in calories and contains antioxidants. Avoid fruity or creamy cocktails that pack in calories and plenty of sugar. Enjoy water with lemon or lime, 100% apple cider, and herbal spiced tea for some holiday cheer instead.
  7. Avoid leftovers. The only thing worse than one day of gluttony is several. Most families make much more than they will eat in one sitting. If you are hosting, buy some inexpensive take-home containers for guests and load them up as they are walking out the door. If just your immediate family is sitting down to dinner, really think about how much to make before you start preparations. Think about giving leftovers to any elderly neighbors or those without family nearby to brighten their holiday spirit.
  8. Prioritize food. Pick your favorite dishes and avoid the ones that are just so-so. Use your calories wisely! If you are a sucker for your family’s sweet potato casserole recipe but could go without green bean casserole, just go with the first one.
  9. Don’t clear your plate. Even if your mom is watching. When your head (and stomach) give you the signal that you are full, stop eating. Ideally, you won’t have much waste to throw away (see 5 and 7). But even if there is food left, put down your fork when you’ve had enough. Savor each bite rather than mindlessly shoveling forkful after forkful into your mouth, and you’ll register the fullness (and satisfaction) in time to put the fork down.
  10. Clean up after the meal. Don’t leave the food out buffet-style for the rest of the day after the meal is finished. The sight and smell of the deliciousness will encourage you to keep grazing and the calories will surely add up. Sit down and enjoy a proper Thanksgiving meal—and then clean up the food and walk away from the kitchen.

If at all possible, take the focus off of the food this Thanksgiving. Invest that energy and excitement in your family, friends, and the feelings of gratitude.

4 Ways to Avoid Halloween Candy Overload

Thursday, October 24th, 2013

4 Ways to Avoid Halloween Candy OverloadWith Halloween just a week away, kids and parents are gearing up for the spooky festivities and sugary gorge-fest. It’s not only children who become increasingly excited as the end of October looms near—retailers and manufactures are also preparing for a big Halloween sales. The National Retail Federation estimates total Halloween spending in the U.S. to reach $6.9 billion. Of that spend, $2.08 billion is expected to be on candy alone, proof that we in the United States take our yearly Halloween candy binging rites seriously.

For kids, the goal is simple: visit as many houses as possible, filling up a giant knapsack with the largest amount of candy that you can manage to carry. Parents, on the other hand, have things a bit more complicated when it comes to Halloween. Yes, making sure your kids have a wonderful, memorable Halloween experience is important, as is keeping them safe while they are out there trick-or-treating.

What is also important is trying to curtail the ongoing consumption of tooth-rotting sweets that can last for weeks, or even months, after Halloween has come and gone. Not only is managing children’s candy intake necessary to avoid cavities, belly aches, hyperactivity, and future health issues—it’s also essential to avoid the inevitable glucose crash that follows an assault on the trove of Halloween riches.

So how do you go about helping your kids avoid the adverse affects of binging on Halloween candy? After all, they are sure to be up to their eyeballs in candy at every turn: at home, at school, and out in public. To start, it’s best to lay out a few ground rules: how much they’ll be allowed to eat and how much will be donated, saved for later, or set aside for ‘inspection’ by Mom and Dad. In addition to establishing rules, here are a few more ideas to help avoid Halloween candy crash.

1. Have Healthy Snacks on Hand

In the days following Halloween, it’s easy for kids to reach for that pillow case bulging with candy when they need a snack. One way to avoid this is to make sure you have other, healthier snack options readily available. While choosing a carrot over a chocolate bar isn’t likely to be your child’s first instinct, providing them with healthier food options—and helping them make the right choice—is key to avoiding candy binging. It helps make their Halloween candy stash last longer too.

2. A Little Goes a Long Way

Instead of giving your kids free reign over the now-overflowing candy jar, restrict candy intake to a few, or even better, one, piece of candy each day. To children, this might seem like a drag, but one way to make the process go more smoothly is to make a small ‘event’ out of it. Establish a set time each day, and encourage your kids to choose their daily candy very carefully. Tell them to eat their candy slowly and enjoy it rather than shove the entire thing in their mouth before running off. If you can manage to slow the process down enough, you will effectively bypass binge candy eating, while also teaching your kids the importance of savoring their food to avoid overeating and increase satisfaction and appreciation of food and treats.

3. One for Me, One for You

After the trick-or-treating has been completed, sit down with your children and take inventory of what they’ve managed to bring home. With all of the candy laid out, tell them that they need to decide which candy to keep, and which to set aside. In this way, you are allowing kids a certain level of control over selecting their favorites, but also cutting their candy total in half. Once they have chosen the candy they will keep for themselves, you can collectively decide what to do with the rest: donate it, share it among friends, or allow Mom and Dad to have some treats of their own.

4. Have a Plan for Leftover Candy

Aside from donating candy to troops overseas, selling it, or giving it away, having a few other ideas in place for leftover Halloween candy is a good idea to ensure it doesn’t go to waste. Of course, you can always freeze some of it, eating it later or using it as an ingredient in a frozen treat. You can also bake certain candies into cakes, use them in trail mixes, or even put them in a gift basket for Christmas. There are a ton of resources to help you with ideas for leftover Halloween candy, some of which even include healthy options!

Good luck managing that candy stash, and have a happy Halloween!

County Fare: Dishes to Ditch When Enjoying Your Local Fair

Tuesday, July 9th, 2013

Another summer means another county fair! People flock to their local fairgrounds for some fun rides, interesting exhibits, challenging games, and a handy helping of food and drink. While summer does mean sitting back and letting loose, a dearth of fair food isn’t conducive to a healthy human body. Here are some of the foods you might see at the fair and some tips to keep your family healthy without sacrificing their fun.

A Feast of Fat

Spread among the rides and exhibits are the food vendors, who, for many, are the main attraction at the fair. Vendors serve the general tender vittles you’d find at the fair—funnel cake, cotton candy, pizza—but there are also interesting combinations you would have never even considered. Unique? Yes. But healthy? Not even. Some of the foods making an appearance at fairs around the country include:  County Fare: Dishes to Ditch When Enjoying Your Local Fair

  • Krispy Kreme Sloppy Joe: This is the headliner at the San Diego County Fair and is sure to show up elsewhere too: sloppy Joe mixture piled between two halves of a glazed donut. It’s the food that creates an equal mix of disgust and intrigue. In terms of flavor, savory and sweet go together well, but the ingredients are nowhere near healthy. A glazed donut consists of dough fried in oil and topped with sugar. The sloppy part—the meat, the sauce, the cheese—is high in fat and calories, and even sugar too.
  • Bacon: The world’s favorite pork product always seems to be a theme at the fair. The crispy, savory strips work their way into just about everything, from bacon cotton candy to deep-fried bacon-wrapped pickles. Various studies show that bacon is filled with sodium, fat, and cholesterol, none of which are good for your health. While it’s not bad to eat a few strips here and there, avoid bacon binges.
  • Bacon beer: Despite the name, this isn’t a hop-filled alcoholic beverage. It’s simply a bit of root beer served with a bacon swizzle stick. Nothing fancy, but the salty, fatty bacon mixed with the sweet, bubbly root beer makes for an interesting concoction, but the soda will do more damage than the pork. Soda contains caffeine, rots your teeth, and reduces bone density over time. If you’re not much of a soda drinker, now is a lousy time to start.
  • Deep fried cookie dough: Cookies are a delightful treat, a comfort food for whatever mood you may be in. Raw cookie dough is a guilty pleasure, but it presents a fair danger to your health. For one, raw eggs can potentially contain salmonella. Store-bought cookie dough generally contains pasteurized ingredients, killing off bacteria, but the flour in the cookie dough isn’t always treated. The flour can harbor various bacteria, including the lovely E. coli virus. Cooking the dough kills any bacteria, but the deep frying process won’t always cook the dough all the way through. Combine that with the sugar, processed carbs, and oil, and you’re looking at one unhealthy treat. It’s not worth the risk and you would be better off getting a fully baked cookie later.
  • Strawberry Cheesecake Funnel Cake: Funnel cake is a staple of fair food, and everyone loves strawberry cheesecake. It was only a matter of time until the two would meet. Strawberries, strawberry cream, and whipped cream are dolloped onto a hot funnel cake with a light dusting of powdered sugar. If funnel cake wasn’t already unhealthy enough, adding more sugar and calories to it certainly did the trick.
  • Hot dogs: Hot dogs are highly processed, contain lots of sodium and fat, and are made with all kinds of different “parts” that you might not want to eat.

Keeping It Healthy

So how do you enjoy the fair without putting on pounds or filling your veins with grease?

  • Go to taste, not to eat. Don’t go to the fair planning to eat a meal. Plan to sample some small dishes. Save your stomach and your money for food outside of the fairgrounds.
  • Go for the healthier options. It’s not all deep fried and sloppy. Many fairs also serve gourmet salads, paninis, and other healthier options.
  • Sharing is caring. If you go with your family or a group of people, share single servings. Instead of getting Krispy Kreme sloppy Joes for each member of the family, get one for the whole family to share. You get to taste it and experience its bizarre-ness without being weighed down.
  • Focus on fun. So eating food is definitely fun, but the fair has a ton of other stuff aside from food and drinks. Shop for knick-knacks and home accessories. Learn about farm animals at the petting zoo. Try your hand at one of the many fair games, or ride the Ferris wheel for some amazing views of your surroundings.

The fair is all about family fun, with or without the fried food, so stay safe and enjoy yourself!

Healthy Holiday Eating Tips

Tuesday, December 18th, 2012

Thanksgiving is gone and past, which means the holiday season is creeping up. The holidays are a time for celebrating what you have with your friends, family, and other significant persons. Festivities usually center on giving gifts and, of course, eating a ton of delicious food—the latter of which can pose a big problem for those kids and adults looking to stay fit. Here are a few healthy holiday eating tips for you and your kids this holiday season.Healthy Holiday Eating Tips

  • Cook with healthier substitutes. Cooking a healthy holiday feast for the family doesn’t mean turning everything into boring, tasteless mush. With some simple substitutions, you can still enjoy your holiday favorites without as much of the bad stuff.

-   A little salt is fine, but too much sodium can lead to hypertension and a variety of other issues. Cut back on the salt and replace with some more creative flavorings. Use more herbs, spices, garlic, and lemon or other citrus juices to tickle the taste buds. Rosemary and sage are two particular herbs that go perfectly with holiday meals.

-   Whether you’re baking up some holiday treats or making your classic noodle casserole, opt for whole wheat flour instead of white flour. Refined carbohydrates like white flour aren’t sustaining and cause a drastic spike in blood sugar. Not the best combination.

-   Sugary sweets are a staple of the holiday season. Spice cake, cookies, pumpkin and pecan pies, and oh-so-much candy. Too much sugar can only cause trouble. If you’re mixing up any batter for baking, cut down on the sugar and replace with vanilla, nutmeg, or cinnamon. A great sweet substitute in cake recipes is apple sauce—it keeps cake moist as well!

  • Have a plan when holiday shopping. Long bouts of shopping inevitably lead to some hunger pangs. Instead of dashing for the food court or drive thru, have some snacks on hand or make sure your kids eat before the shopping trip. If you must eat out, choose a proper sit-down restaurant over anything in the food court. Sit-down eateries offer healthier choices and menu items that can be altered to fit a healthier diet.
  • Eat something before the party. You and the kids will no doubt be heading to a whole host of parties, soirees, and get-togethers throughout the holidays. Before you head out, enjoy a healthy meal or substantial snack at home. This may fill your kids up so they don’t eat as much at the party, but primarily, it will allay any stress or worries. You know your kids ate something healthy to balance out all the snacks and cookies they enjoy at the party.
  • Don’t single out the kids. You may primarily be concerned with your kids’ weight, but the whole family could use some healthy eats over the holidays. Singling your kids out while you enjoy all those rich holiday foods will only discourage and alienate them. Practice healthy eating with all the family members, regardless of size or fitness level. This will be easy if you…
  • Focus on the size of portions. Instead of restricting foods—difficult with such a diverse mix of delicious foods and ingredients—focus on portion sizes. Make sure each dish contains a balanced assortment of veggies, fruits, protein, and whole grains. Controlling portions also means avoiding overeating. Enjoy as much as you can to reach satisfaction; you should not feel morbidly full after every meal.Healthy Holiday Eating Tips
  • Make each bit of food count. Teach your kids to make every bit of food count. Instead of piling food on their plates willy-nilly, your kids should choose their favorite treats and foods that are special and only available during the holiday season.
  • Incorporate plenty of physical activity. With the family around, take part in some fun physical activities. This doesn’t mean just heading to the gym. There are tons of ways to stay active without even realizing it. Instead of sitting idly around the house, take part in some classic snow activities, like ice skating, sledding, skiing, snowboarding, building snowmen, or partaking in snowball fights. Throw around the pigskin. Take a stroll through the neighborhood to check out all your neighbors’ Christmas lights and décor. Go on a short day-hike and come back in time for a delicious, healthy meal.
  • Enjoy the holidays. Take the focus off health and fitness during the holidays and concentrate on enjoying fun times with family and friends. Stress will only lead to overeating, poor choice of food, and grumpy spirits. It’s okay to let loose and indulge just a bit during the holidays.

How to Plant Your Own Spring Garden

Monday, February 27th, 2012

Spring is the perfect season to start a new garden. It’s a fun and satisfying activity for the entire family, a great way to get some exercise, and you can even eat the results. Here are a few tips to get you going.

Survey Your Space

No place is too small for a garden; you can even grow food in containers. You also need to consider the conditions. Some plants prefer a mix of sun and shade, while others require several hours of sunlight. Examine your soil–if it contains a lot of clay you will want to open it up and neutralize the pH. Your local garden or home store employees will know what products are best for your particular conditions.

Work out your water source. For a small garden a watering can is fine, but if you are planting some serious acreage you will need a hose and ideally an underground drip line system (this is also a good way to keep slugs and snails out because they are attracted to the surface water).

Choose Your Plants

Spring is a good time to plant herbs, which are easy to grow anywhere. Strawberries and blueberries are delicious super foods that you can grow in your own back yard as well. Tomatoes should go in the ground now, but don’t expect to enjoy that harvest until late summer. Peas are a great garden addition─you can eat them right off the vine in late spring and early summer or throw them into a salad. Kids love planting and eating them, too.

If this is your first time gardening, you may want to buy young plants instead of seeds. If you choose seeds, germinate them in a wet paper towel, put the sprouted seeds in some potting soil in small containers (yogurt cups with a hole punched in the bottom for drainage or a cardboard egg box) and keep them in a sunny area indoors until you see sturdy little seedlings.

Collect Your Tools and Supplies

These include fertilizer, garden soil (unless you’re fortunate enough to have lush, loamy dirt already) a shovel, a few trowels, work gloves, pest repellant, and possibly some lumber if you’re building a fence or raised bed. Some communities offer free compost or garden mulch to residents—check your city’s website and go early to pick it up.

You can also keep away pests without toxic chemicals. Neem oil mixed with detergent is a safe and effective bug killer. Mix crushed eggshells into the soil around your plants to deter snails and slugs. Marigolds not only attract bees and butterflies to your plants but they keep away pests, too.

Break Some Ground

If you are planting in an untouched space, you are going to need a good supply of elbow grease to prepare the soil. Strong teenagers are great for this, but anyone can do it. Even toddlers can help pick rocks out or pull weeds. Take it in stages and start early. Water the soil before you start, or do your digging after light rain. Pull all weeds out completely. If you leave the roots or just plow the weeds under, they’ll come back to compete with your chosen plants, and they will most definitely win. When your soil is soft, crumbly, and free of debris, you can add in garden soil, fertilizer, or any soil conditioners. Dig, turn, and turn again. The hard work really does pay off later.

Plant a Seed (or a Seedling)

Here’s another activity in which all members of the family can join in. Small children do better with large seeds, such as the aforementioned peas, or nursery plants, which have their roots protected in a ball. Homegrown seedlings can be very delicate, so save those for older fingers. Dig a hole, put the plant or seed in, cover loosely, water daily as needed, and pull any weeds. Then watch them grow!

Gardening has a learning curve and sometimes a green thumb must be grown through experience, so don’t be discouraged if not everything bears fruit, or even comes up. Your next garden endeavor will be that much easier. Enjoy your harvest and your new garden expertise. You are now a pioneer.

What’s in Season? How to Incorporate Winter Vegetables into Your Dinner Menu

Tuesday, February 14th, 2012

Just because you’re wrapped up in winter clothes doesn’t mean you have to lose the pleasure of fresh produce during those colder months. If you’re looking to bring seasonal vegetables to the dinner table, take a trip to your local farmers’ markets and produce Whats in Season? How to Incorporate Winter Vegetables into Your Dinner Menuaisles to take a tally of what vegetables are in stock. Some of these winter vegetables come at the greatest values of the year, and they taste the best during their bountiful cold season.

Not every vitamin-rich veggie closes up shop after the warm weather dies down. There are many winter-friendly vegetables out there to choose from.

  • Cruciferous Vegetables – Many cruciferous vegetables can be grown during any season if located in temperate climates. But these veggies taste best when harvested in the fall months. Those vegetables in the cruciferous family include: broccoli, cauliflower, kale, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, turnip, rutabaga, and radishes.
  • Root Vegetables – Although not as exciting or alluring as many spring vegetables, root vegetables are another cold season favorite. Available from local winter storage or grown during the cooler months, root vegetables are a great way to continue eating well throughout the season. Carrots, celery, and parsnips can all be found outside of the spring and summer months.
  • Potatoes, Squash, and Onion – Potatoes and onions can be stored for long amounts of time, making them an excellent source of vegetables during colder months. Also, aptly named winter squashes are grown in the winter months, and can be found fresh for use in soups and stews.
  • Beets, Belgian Endive, Cardoons, Celeriac, Chicory, and Treviso – These lesser-known vegetables are a fun way to experiment in the kitchen. Check your produce aisle for these infrequent offerings. Try throwing them into your daily meals in new and exciting ways, and use them as a reason to try out new cookbook recipes.

Just because many of the produce markets are low on crops doesn’t mean you have to stop incorporating vegetables into your meals. And although you can’t find them at the restaurants, it doesn’t mean they are not around or that you can’t use them to create a satisfying meal.

There are plenty of wonderful ways to warm up your winters. From great winter soups to stews and slaws, winter root vegetables make the perfect foundation for a great meal. Keep the following meals in mind next time you’re at the grocery store:

  • Butternut and ham bisque – Make this soup to incorporate a sweet winter squash and a salty kick for a welcoming dinner delight. Made with onion, rosemary, garlic, potatoes, squash and ham, this bisque incorporates winter flavors into a warm winter dish.
  • Lentils with wine-glazed winter vegetables – This warm recipe comes with a dramatic appearance and can include carrot, parsnip, onion, and celery root glazed with tomato paste. Mixed together and then added to a comforting lentil base, this dish is a snowy weather show-stopper.
  • Roasted parsnips – A great side dish to pork, roasted parsnips that are caramelized and bathed in balsamic vinegar and brown sugar can be combined to make a sweet and satisfying side for meat dishes.
  • Honey roasted root vegetables – Roast lively winter vegetables with honey to bring out the natural sugars of caramelized vegetables and help bring variety to starchy winter sides.
  • Brussels Sprout Gratin – Make a creamy cheese and bacon sauce to bring a welcoming twist to this usually dull vegetable.
  • Snow Pea and Cabbage Salad – Think outside the box with a slaw and snow pea salad. Throw in some radishes and broccoli for color and flavor, and bring the cabbage crunch to the dinner table.
  • Kale Chips – Tired of the old greasy potato chip? Throw some olive oil and salt on kale leaves and bake them into a crispy, healthy, vitamin-packed cold weather snack.

Blustery winter days are no reason to stay out of the produce aisle. Many vegetables can be stored and sold throughout colder months, and many others peak in the off-season. If you live in a temperate climate, keep an eye on your produce stand for picks of the season and bring home vegetables that are perfect for soups, stews, casserole, and side dishes to spruce up your cold weather suppers. Many year-round vegetables peak in flavor during the colder months, so don’t be afraid to sample the produce on display at your local store.

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photo courtesy woodleywonderworks