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Early last fall, I decided I wasn’t eating enough fruits and vegetables.  I promptly began incorporating more into my daily diet.  These were simple changes–I substituted a piece of fruit or unsweetened applesauce and a low-fat string cheese for my mid-morning snack (instead of my usual protein/snack bar).  In the morning I traded one of my morning cups of coffee for a glass of 100% fruit juice and I packed a tangerine with my lunch in place of pretzels.  I also began following the "half-my-plate" concept and tried to fill half my plate with fruits and/or veggies at each meal.  My reasons for the changes were all the research I had read about how fruits and vegetables help to keep you healthy and feeling good.  What I didn’t realize was that there would be another unexpected result from this change–dropping body fat without really trying!

I first noticed in late January that some of my winter clothes were fitting looser than normal and when I stepped on the scale I was surprised to see that I had lost 5 pounds–without even trying to do so!!  In fact, both my kids have been involved in sports and other extracurricular activities this school year, which has impacted my gym schedule on some evenings.  Now that it’s April and I’m beginning to pull out my warm weather outfits, I continue to find my clothes are definitely fitting better than last year.

In reality I wasn’t overweight–I had just put on an extra 5-10 pounds over the past 5 or so years and had been unsuccessful in my attempts to drop the extra weight via my usual methods (more exercise, cutting out all snacks, etc.).  The diet change I made last fall has been a long term lifestyle change and not restrictive at all.  I’m NOT on a diet and never feel deprived of anything.  In addition, my energy level has definitely gotten a boost since incorporating healthier alternatives into my meals.

So, if you are trying to get ready for bathing suit season, why not give this a go??  You’ll feel better and my guess is you may find yourself as pleasantly surprised as me with a drop in weight.  To get you started, check out our Healthy Weight section.  It will provide you with information abot how fruits and veggies play a role in losing and then maintaining your weight along with some tips on incorporating exercise into your daily routine.

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If I had to pick a favorite vegetable this time of year, I’d have to say asparagus is the winner.  I actually enjoy it year round, but spring it’s at its peak of flavor and the prices are low.  While there are many ways to prepare this versatile veggie, the key is to avoid overcooking it.  In fact, I find that many folks who say they don’t like asparagus haven’t had it prepared correctly.

My family loves asparagus–including both kids.  That’s why I was surprised when, a few years ago, the kids came back from a family dinner I was unable to attend, saying they didn’t like the asparagus that was served.  "What are you talking about? You guys love asparagus," I replied.  Yes, they told me–how I prepare it, but they said this asparagus was mushy, stringy and made them gag.  Aha!  Overcooking was the culprit.

It’s important to remember that asparagus cooks quickly and there’s a fine line between done and overdone.  The spears should give to a fork or knife, but remain firm to the bite.  I’ve found if I am boiling asparagus, I simply put the spears into water and bring to a boil.  As soon as the water boils, I wait about 30 seconds to test a spear–obviously the thicker the spear, the longer it takes to cook.  Usually the cooking time after the water boils is 30 seconds to 1 1/2 minutes.  Once done, remove them from the heat and drain.  I add a little margarine, salt and pepper to taste–it’s that easy!

Another great way to enjoy them is to saute in a little olive oil with some sliced shallots.  I tend to use thinner spears for this cooking method to speed up the cooking time.  In the spring and summer, one of the kids’ favorite side dishes is grilled asparagus.  For this you will have to use thicker spears.  I brush them with a little olive oil and place on the grill.  Try to keep the flame or heat low so you don’t char the spears.  Turn them frequently until done and you’ll find grilling gives them a pleasant smoky flavor.

So take advantage of the season and grab some asparagus the next time you’re at the supermarket.  Try my tips or check out our section on asparagus–it includes nutrition, preparation and storage info.

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Last week, I heard a disturbing news report about a popular retail clothing chain that is currently marketing a padded, "push-up" bikini top to girls as young as age 7.  What??!!   The report got me thinking about my own kids and all the things we face today as parents that encourage our kids to get on the fast track to becoming an adult.  I decided to gather feedback from 6 other moms who have children ranging in ages from 6 to 16 and see what their thoughts are on this topic.  I focused on three points: provocative clothing, cell phones and computers–specifically social networking sites like Facebook.

It turns out that when it comes to these subjects, we have very similar views.  Let me begin with provocative clothing.  While it’s easy to blame the retailer, we felt the real problem were the parents who buy the clothes.  No little girl should be made to feel she’s not perfect just the way she is or that she should look like an adult.  As one friend put it, "Stop buying the stuff and they’ll stop making it."

Cell phones are more complicated.  While they can serve as a safety device in some ways (you can reach your child wherever, whenever), they also offer many challenges.  I have learned the hard way that if you allow your pre-teen or teen to have a cell phone you must also keep tabs on their usage.  Cell phones that go un-monitored are like giving your kids access to their friends (and vice versa) 24/7.  Our rules are that phones are not allowed with them while doing homework, they must be turned off by 8:00 on school nights and we can review their call list at any time for any reason.

When it comes to social networking I found that most of the moms I spoke with feel this is something that should be reserved for teens.  Again, the key is to set firm rules around usage.  It seems to be the popular thing to see how many "friends" you can gather on these sites.  I’ve seen teens who have over a thousand "friends" on Facebook!  Do you think they really have that many friends?  Of course not–in most cases they don’t even KNOW many of these people who they’ve give access to their photos, status updates and info.  Scary, isn’t it?  That’s why it’s so important to make sure you know who your child is in contact with online.  Have access to her password and if you have an account yourself, it’s a good idea to make your child your "friend," which will give you even easier access to what’s going on.

Our kids are exposed to many things today and it’s important to monitor these many communication channels.  From my recent discussions with other moms, I have found most of us are taking an active role in what our children wear and how they use today’s technologies.  Don’t feel you’re being unreasonable if you won’t let little Susie wear that low cut top or have a cell phone before you’re comfortable with it.  As one mom said, "We as parents should stick together and support one another so one parent doesn’t feel as if he or she is the only one saying no to this stuff."

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