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As the mother of teens, the benefits of planning seem to be an ongoing lesson for both my kids and me.  Sometimes it’s watching John run around in the morning trying to grab his stuff and run out the door to get to school on time (“If you had organized the things you need last night, you wouldn’t be rushing around this morning”).  Many other times it’s me trying to make sure we’re eating healthfully throughout the busy school/work week.  It’s a challenge to be sure, but I have found that things run much more smoothly and we all reap the benefits with a little bit of planning.

I’m a list maker by nature, so some of this comes naturally, but it’s taking the time to sit down each week and plan my grocery list and weekly menus that can be difficult.  I tend to shop at the same supermarket, so I start with the weekly circular that arrives each Thursday.  There are things I’m going to buy every week, like milk, but the items that are on sale help me to better map out my weekly menu.  Once I know what my meal plan is, I make out my full shopping list.

I also use my calendar to figure out what’s going on for the upcoming week and determine how much running around I’ll be doing on a particular night–this influences what we’ll have for dinner.  For example, an evening where appointments are scheduled until 5:30 would be ideal for my main dish to be via the crock pot.  It’s ready when I get home and I just have to make a few veggie side dishes.

For me, planning is also crucial for incorporating exercise into my schedule.  Let’s face it–it’s so easy to get home and want to slug out on the couch.  I’ll map out an exercise plan early in the week and stick to it (for the most part!).  Example: I drop Alex off at the orthodontist at 3:50 and hit the gym to do some strength training exercises and 20 minutes of cardio before heading back to pick her up at 4:50.  She also brings her homework along to do while waiting.  It may not be as long as I’d like to spend at the gym, but compromise is key with a busy schedule.

Fruits & Veggies–More Matters has ideas, recipes and tips to get you started.  Visit the Healthy Meal Planning section where you can even access weekly menus and shopping lists.  Trust me–you might take a few minutes out of your busy day to do this, but you’ll be so glad you did the remainder of the week!

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Halloween is my favorite holiday and it’s definitely not because of the candy.  I love the autumn season, the fun of dressing up and the silly, scary mood of the celebration.  If you’re like many parents who dread having their children gather bagfuls of sugary treats, why not try a different way to celebrate Halloween this year?

Honestly, I think for most kids the candy is secondary to what they really enjoy–the fun of costumes!  Think about how much time is spent by your little one deciding what he/she wants to be this year.  It’s easy to avoid the candy part of the holiday, but still have the fun of dressing up if you host a costume party.  Include fun games like bobbing for apples or painting/carving pumpkins.  Plus, there’s so many healthy, yet fun and tasty party treats you can serve.  Caramel apples, edible eyeballs (carrot chunks with a blob of cream cheese and half a black pitted olive) or homemade apple cider are items your partygoers will love.  You can even set up an apple dipping bar with toppings like chopped nuts and peanut butter.

Jack O Lantern

Another way to avoid candy, but still make the holiday fun for your kids is to make your house the neighborhood “spooky house” for Halloween.  Get your kids to help decorate your home with fake cobwebs and lit Jack ‘O Lanterns.  Play eerie music when it’s time for trick or treat and enlist them to help pass out the treats, but have them dress up as something spooky to go along with the theme.  You might want to also consider passing out individual bags of mini pretzels so you won’t mind your kids feasting on what may be left over.

Finally, you can opt to make Halloween family time.  If you live near a farm, many host bonfires or hay rides this time of year.  Depending on how old your kids are, you can visit a local haunted house attraction (a little advice–do some research beforehand–some are very scary, even for adults!).  Or, rent a spooky movie and gather in the family room together.  You can turn the lights off and have the room only lit by Jack O’ Lanterns to add to the “mood.”

My guess is if you make the holiday fun, your kids won’t miss the candy.  If you have other ideas for spending the holiday candy-free, please share them by commenting on this blog.  Happy Halloween!!

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As the days turn cooler, I find myself spending more time in the kitchen and one of my favorite things to cook is soup.  While soup tends to be seen as a first course on many menus, I prefer to make it my entree and build my meal around it.

Soup is an easy way to add more vegetables to your family’s day and it’s quite economical.  One pot of soup will make a full meal for my family of four with enough left over so that I can freeze a few servings for future use.  I also like to use produce that’s in season or add frozen vegetables to make it even more budget-friendly.  I typically serve it with some warm bread and a side salad for a really easy and nutritious dinner.

Fruits & Veggies–More Matters has a variety of healthy soup recipes, which I encourage you to try.  I’ll share my own standard chicken vegetable soup recipe, which is what I make most frequently, always mixing up the ingredients each time.  Having said that, realize that my recipe is very flexible–please add what veggies you and your family enjoy and don’t feel you have to stick to what I use.  Let me know what you think and please share any ideas for soups you enjoy by commenting on this blog.

Chicken Vegetable Soup

1 pound split chicken breasts (bone in and skin on)
1 cup chopped fresh carrots
1 cup chopped fresh celery
1 cup chopped fresh onion
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
1 8 oz. can diced tomatoes (I like to use the kind with roasted garlic and Italian seasonings)
Other veggies (frozen peas, diced zucchini, drained/rinsed, canned garbanzo beans, frozen mixed vegetables*)
Dried egg noodles (for a large pot of soup I tend to use about half a bag)

  • Place chicken in a large pot with carrots, celery and onion.  Cover with water and bring to a boil.
  • Reduce heat and let simmer one hour.
  • Remove chicken from pot and place in a bowl to cool.  Add canned tomatoes and any other vegetables you like to the soup.  Bring back to a boil.
  • Add egg noodles to boiling soup and reduce heat to simmer.
  • While noodles are cooking, chop cooked chicken into bite sized pieces.  Discard skin and bones.
  • Add chicken and parsley to soup when noodles are almost done cooking, salt and pepper to taste and let simmer another few minutes.

*Note that the more veggies you add, the heartier the soup will be.

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October is breast cancer awareness month and, if you’re like most people, you’ve either been personally touched by it or know someone who has.  I’d like to take this opportunity to remind you (and myself!) about the importance of a healthy lifestyle and how it can go a long way in helping to reduce your chances of developing many diseases, including breast cancer.

Go Pink for October: Breast Cancer Awareness: Fruit & Vegge Blog: Fruits And Veggies More Matters.org

The right nutrition is important in the prevention of disease and a huge part of a healthy diet is the inclusion of fruits and vegetables.  In fact, a study released last month states that a diet high in fruit and vegetable intake is linked to a lower risk of specific types of breast cancer.  In addition, another study published in July, states that phytochemicals found in cruciferous veggies like broccoli and cauliflower are shown to target and kill cancer cells.  I already love my veggies, but reading these reports gave me even MORE reason to load my plate with them!

Fruits and vegetables have also been shown to play a key role in helping people reach and maintain a healthy weight.  I know they are a crucial part of my own diet in that sense.  Studies show that people who maintain a healthy weight have less likelihood of developing some common health problems like Type 2 diabetes or high blood pressure.  Making half your plate fruits and vegetables keeps the calorie, sodium and fat content down while adding more vitamins and minerals.

Physical activity goes hand in hand with a healthy diet.  It’s something else we can control in our fight against cancer and disease.  Think about how good you feel when you get out and get moving.  Even a brisk walk gets your heart pumping, fills your lungs with air and works your muscles and joints.  I know when I’m regularly exercising it also helps me manage my daily stress levels and get a better night’s sleep.

The bottom line is that, while we can’t control everything that puts us at risk for developing breast cancer (think genetics) or other diseases, we can take steps to live healthier lives.  I’m all for doing something that is so simple and makes me feel so much better in order to reduce my own risks.

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