Easy April Fool’s Day Recipes

Tradition has it that on April 1, back in 1700, English mischief-makers began propagating an annual tradition that became known as April Fools’ Day by playing tricks on each other.

April 1 has also been referred to as All Fools’ Day, and although it has been observed for several centuries by many different cultures, no one is really sure how it originated. Some historians think that April Fools’ Day started in 1582, when France swapped the Julian calendar for the Gregorian calendar.  It’s said that not all the population was aware of the switch. Some people were slow to get the news and didn’t realize that the New Year had moved to January 1 and continued to observe it the last week of March through April 1. These people became the victims of pranks and jokes. Still other historians point to April Fools’ Day being associated with ancient festivals like Hilaria, which Rome observed at the end of March and included people wearing costumes and disguises.

Wherever the tradition evolved from, everyone enjoys a reason to smile and laugh. A good April Fool’s prank should always make both the “victim” and the prankster laugh when the prank is revealed.

April Fool’s Day Sushi and Other Mischief

This week’s Eat Smart post invites you to play a prank with food.  Tell your kiddos they are going to “eat healthy” on April Fool’s Day and serve them a plate of April Fool’s Sushi – an adorable (but NOT healthy) recipe which is really a sugary concoction of Rice Krispies Treats for sushi rice, chocolate syrup for soy sauce and …. You get the idea. You’ll find this recipe over at The Food Network.

Another idea for an April Fool’s Day recipe (and a much healthier option) would be to make “fake” spaghetti using spaghetti squash and a delicious combination of black olives, feta cheese and tomatoes. You can check out the recipe for April Fool’s Day Spaghetti Squash here.

If you like the idea of making “mock food” for April Fool’s Day be sure to check out the photos below. Click on a photo if you see something you’d like to try. It will take you to the website where the recipe is found and you may just find yourself mesmerized by all the different creations people come up with for April Fool’s Day “cuisine.”

Have a Happy April Fool’s Day! Be safe, be smart, be silly and have FUN!

April Fool's Day Recipe for Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

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Why Your Employer Wants You to Wear a Fitbit (or Apple Watch, Garmin, etc.)

Corporate wellness programs are embracing wearable technology like never before. Experts point towards wearable fitness trackers (think Fitbit, Apple Watch and Garmin devices usually worn on the wrist) as performing larger roles in company wellness programs around the nation. Trends show we’ll see approximately 13 million wearable devices incorporated into the U.S. workforce in just two years (2018).

So, what is the big attraction?

Why does your employer think it’s a great idea for you to wear a fitness tracker?

One of the key reasons is that employers are able to receive greater savings from insurance companies based on the amount of participating employees and their results. Employers are seeking creative and fun ways to motivate you, the employee, while decreasing their health care costs. Everyone can agree that being healthier, getting fit and living longer are great goals to aim for. Still, there is no denying that it’s easier to motivate if more immediate rewards are on the table. With that in mind, more companies are taking steps to incentivize employees to help them become more active. Some employers offer decreased insurance premiums in exchange for wearing a tracker and reporting daily steps. Participating companies have been known to offer material rewards like blankets, t-shirts, gift cards and company discounts.

This is just the beginning. In late 2015, Target Corp. presented its 335,000 employees with the option to receive free or discounted Fitbits in an effort to encourage more walking and being active. On March 1 of this year, Qualcomm and United Healthcare revealed a new program, which allows employees to earn up to $1,460/year for reaching step and other designated goals. Several companies recently announced that their employees could purchase an Apple Watch for $25 in exchange for reaching their monthly fitness goals over a two year period – or they would have to pay the full price of the watch. This is all in an effort to encourage employees to be more active.

Why Count Steps?

Keeping track of our steps helps us to be more mindful of how active (or inactive) we are. The World Health Organization (WHO), U.S. Center for Disease Control, U.S. Surgeon General, American Heart Foundation and U.S. Department of Health & Human Services recommend that we take 10,000 steps a day because it improves our health and decreases the risk of so many different diseases.

Why 10,000 steps a day?

It turns out that the 10,000 steps a day recommendation originated in Japan back in the 1960s. Dr. Yoshiro Hatano and a team of Japanese researchers undertook studies, which showed the average person takes about 3,500 to 5,000 steps per day. He also theorized that if people were to increase their steps to 10,000 steps per day, they would be more physically fit inside and out.

Traditional Style Pedometer

Dr. Hatano’s calculations went on to demonstrate that if people were to increase their daily steps to 10,000, they could burn up to 500 extra calories per day and possibly lose up to 44 pounds in a year. Because of this study and its influence, one or two pedometers have long been present in most Japanese households. In fact, up until the recent surge in popularity of fitness trackers, annual sales for these devices regularly topped the seven million mark in Japan.

It took over twenty years for the modern pedometer’s popularity (or devices like Fitbit and other fitness trackers) and Dr. Hatano’s research on 10,000 steps/day to impact North America. With obesity rates increasing steadily, it wasn’t until the 1990’s that other researchers and consumers began to take a second look at Dr. Hatanos’ 10,000-step research.  Today, 10,000 steps is considered the “norm” when it comes to setting a daily step goal and some fitness trackers and walking programs are automatically set to 10,000 steps when you purchase them.

Everyone (Not Just Your Employer) Wins When You Wear a Fitbit or other Activity Tracker

Walking is a proven activity when it comes to lowering heart rate, decreasing blood pressure and even helps to combat depression and anxiety.

A walking program helps prevent stroke and high blood pressure. The Stroke Association and the American Heart Association both state that walking for up to 30 minutes can help prevent and control high blood pressure.  High blood pressure can lead to strokes and according to the Centers for Disease Control is connected to an estimated $51 Billion in health care costs.

Walking reduces the risk of Type 2 Diabetes.  Current statistics show that 86 million Americans are classified as “Pre-Diabetes.”   The American Diabetes Association released a report stating that the total assessed cost of diagnosed diabetes in 2012 was $245 billion, comprising $176 billion in direct medical costs and $69 billion in reduced productivity. The cost of diabetes alone is enough to make corporations sit up and take notice when structuring their yearly health care benefits.

If your employer is offering an incentive to help you live a longer, healthier life, this benefits you in the long-term as well as your employer for as long as you’re employed. Providing you with a fitness tracker or discounts on a fitness tracker is a win/win situation. As you track your steps and become more active, you’ll feel better, be in a better health and, ideally, visit your physician less often which means less health care claims for employers and less time taken out of your life on medical or physician visits. More time for you and doing the things you care about is definitely something to smile about.

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Savor Your Food! It’s National Nutrition Month

March is National Nutrition Month®.  NNM is a nutrition education and information campaign developed annually by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.  As you might guess, the campaign emphasizes the significance of making educated decisions about food and building solid eating and exercise habits.

The theme for 2016 is “Savor the Flavor of Eating Right.” Everyone is encouraged to savor food traditions and appreciate all the delicious flavors while enjoying and participating in the social experiences food can bring to meals and events.

How to Savor Your Food

Take your time. It’s worth noting that Americans are known for rushing through their meals. One Tennessee historian recorded a European visitor’s comments about early American eating habits. Apparently, our propensity to rush through our meals goes back to when we were just a handful of colonies1.

Our fast and furious eating behavior would be considered rude in some countries. In certain European restaurants, it is accepted and even expected that guests will take up to a half hour to decide what to order. It’s a part of the dining ritual to ask questions of the waiter and discuss different menu items.

Don’t Overeat. Did you know that it takes about 20 minutes for you to feel full? If you’ve ever eaten a meal and felt nauseous, sick to your stomach or as if you swallowed a watermelon, you’ve experienced the consequences of continuing to eat after your body is full. The next time you sit down to eat a meal, keep in mind that your body won’t usually “tell” you it’s full for nearly 20 minutes. Slow your pace. You’ll eat less; feel better and cut back on a few calories, too.

Chew Your Food Completely. Here’s something to pay attention to the next time you are eating. How soon do you put MORE food in your mouth after the first bite? Many people do not finish chewing the food already in their mouth before adding more. Pay attention to how often you don’t finish chewing and swallowing before placing more food in your mouth. You will likely be surprised.

Notice Flavor, Colors and Texture. Yes, it might be your favorite meal. It’s easy to get excited and dig right in. But take a moment to notice the colors. It may sound corny (unless you’re a chef or a food photographer) but take a second to admire the texture and contrast. It’s not a bad idea to photograph the meal and share it with others if this will indirectly help you with your own nutrition goals. Many people also use “Photo Food Logs” to document their daily food intake and help them with their weight maintenance or weight loss goals.

Drop Your Fork and Knife. While you are chewing your food, put your utensils down. Don’t pick them up again until you are finished chewing the first bite. This will help you with the overall process of savoring your food. Placing your utensils on the table while you chew delays the next bite and gives you time to look at your food, noting colors, flavors, texture and contrast. It encourages you to eat slower while being mindful of not overeating.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics wants us to think about the how, when, why and where we eat.  Whether you are determined not to eat between meals or to stop stress eating or even to eat more, being mindful of these elements can help us develop healthier eating patterns, eliminate stress or boredom eating and improve our overall health.

Savoring your food and take time to notice all the delicious elements involved in creating a meal.  Whether quick and simple or slow and complicated, give your food a little love and you’ll find your body loving it right back.

1. Mindful Eating http://www.amazon.com/Mindful-Eating-Rediscovering-Relationship-Includes/dp/1590305310

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Instant Benefits of Exercise: 3 Things a Walking Program Can Do for You NOW

We hate to wait in line. We get impatient if a website takes longer than two seconds to load. In some cities, they have what’s known as a “honk-o-second.” That’s the teeny little space between the time the light changes to green and the person behind you honks before you can move your foot to the gas pedal.

And with a walking program or any other exercise? We get frustrated because we want results and we want them NOW. We hate to wait.

Remember the “goldfish statistic?” In early 2015, Microsoft Corp published the results of a study showing that the average American has an attention span of 8.25 seconds and reminded us that a goldfish has an attention span of 9 seconds. Ouch.

Speaking of your attention span, there’s another statistic that shows you’ll only read about 28% of the average webpage (approximately 593 words).  By the end of this paragraph, you’ll be at 178 words. So, hold on to you’re span, baby! We promise to get you what you need with just a few more.  Ready?

3 Things a Walking Program Can Do for You NOW

  • Improve Your Memory. Studies show that completing 15 minutes of moderate exercise leads to faster reaction times on working memory tasks directly after exercise. These findings imply that concentrated sessions of cardio exercise may help circulate your attention and memory resources more effectively. This helps to enhance your mental functioning. One of the most motivating conclusions in a published study showed moderate exercise can provide immediate benefits no matter your age. So, lace up your shoes, strap on your Fitbit or other wearable device and start your own walking program.
  • Provide Confidence and Improve Your Mood. Yes, that’s correct. One study surveyed nearly 2,000 young people over 23 different trials. They found that consistent exercise greatly improved self-confidence and provided a mood boost. Exercise significantly helped those showing anxiety and signs of depression.
  • You’ll Have Radiant, Glowing Skin. Everyone enjoys looking healthy and happy. A rise in your body’s temperature will increase blood flow to your skin.

You can do this! And you won’t even have to wait months and months to see results. It only takes 20 minutes of moderate cardio exercise to improve your mood and make you feel better.

Another study researched college students who exercised (jogging) at three different levels of intensity. Most of us would assume that those exercising at the highest intensity would benefit the most, right? Turns out that no substantial difference between intensity or mood benefits after exercise was reported.

This means that even if your really tired and can’t push yourself as hard, you’ll still finish your workout or your walk feeling better. It’s a win-win all the way around.

Document Your Feelings for Posterity (or Yourself)

You’re almost to the end of this page with a few words to spare.  If you finish it, you can pat yourself on the back for not being part of the 28% we mentioned earlier. We’re leaving you with a tip to help you keep exercising.

It’s easy to forget how great it feels when we are consistently exercising. So, we recommend an audio reminder. It’s quick and easy: Use your phone. Record a voice memo describing how you feel after exercising.  That’s it. Each time you feel like dragging your feet on the way to the treadmill, replay your audio clip. It’ll make you feel good about exercising. Immediately. No waiting. We like that.

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Using Photo Food Logs in Your Wellness Program

Face it, you want variety in your wellness program and a good wellness program includes smart meal choices. It’s Friday and after a week of rotating out meals with ground beef, chicken (or fish sticks for those with young kids), you may want to put together a meal that engages your senses, and makes you feel like it’s a special occasion.

Whatever recipe you choose, whichever wellness program you participate in, did you know that impressing your friends by posting dinner pictures on Instagram and Facebook can help you reach your weight management goals?

Introducing the Photo Food Log…

Instead of writing down everything you eat or using a food and calorie-tracking app, take photos of your food. Just pick up your phone and start snapping shots at each meal. It’s fun and it really helps you understand what you’re doing with your meals and food intake. Facebook and Instagram aside, you’ll be doing something healthy for yourself. If you decide to post your pictures online, you may find that your friends are happy to give you a thumbs-up and provide another form of motivation for you.

When you include a photo food log in your wellness program, you can look at your meals at the end of each day and mentally note what changes you’d like to make the next day. Another way to monitor your progress is to evaluate your photos on a weekly basis. For example, you can take photos of all your meals – then at the end of the week, take stock of your progress. Are you losing weight? Maintaining? How do you FEEL? Are you feeling healthier, better and more energetic? If so, your photos are a good reminder of what to keep doing.

If you feel tired, lethargic and generally not at your best AND your either gaining or not losing weight, you know that your pictures need to look different the next week.

The Importance of Food Tracking

Maintaining a daily food journal, whether written or photographic is an efficient way to track the calories you consume daily. Walkingspree members can also use Walkingspree’s online food tracker.

Perhaps one of the most misunderstood benefits of a food diary is the power of knowing what you’re taking in. Almost everyone thinks they know exactly what they eat daily. You might even go so far as to believe you know the amount of calories you’re consuming at each meal.  Still, the reality is most people eat more than three times daily. The majority of their extra calories undoubtedly come from eating between meals.

Bottom line: When you are able to see what you eat everyday, you’ll know which foods to cut from your meal plans.

A study, published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, discovered that women (who were overweight or obese) who were participating in a diet program only or diet plus exercise program all lost weight but the women who kept daily food journals actually lost an extra six pounds over the women who did not keep food diaries of some sort.

A Food Journal Can Help You Eat More of the Right Foods

Ever wonder if you are getting enough veggies? Well, when you record your entire daily food intake into a food journal – or when you photograph your food, you’ll begin to notice patterns and trends in how you feel as well as whether or not you reach your daily goals. Some people find that making sure their meals have a variety of color ensures their vegetable intake is optimal. Think red bell peppers or tomatoes, yellow squash, orange peppers, green peas, black beans, white cauliflower, green broccoli, purple eggplant. If you are purposefully building a colorful plate, you will usually have plenty of vegetables in your meal. With a photo food journal, you’ll enjoy taking colorful photos when you do this. You might even find yourself arranging food to make the plate “look prettier.”

Food Journals Can Adjust Your Habits Gradually

If you are writing down, digitally tracking or photographing your food, you might be surprised to notice, over time, that your eating habits change. You’ll find yourself naturally selecting healthier ingredients or menu options. It is as simple “if you feel better and healthier – you’re probably eating healthier.”

And, in any wellness program, that is always a good thing!

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