Lunchbox 101 - Fresh Ideas for the School Lunchbox


It’s back to school time which brings a flurry of emotions – sadness that the precious days of summer are over, joy that order and routine may be restored to your household and relief that you don’t have to figure out where your kids will be next week and beyond.

And, then there's the dreaded school lunch box. Such a yawner of a task!! How can you possibly face another year of packing school lunches when your lunchbox creativity expired a few years ago???

Well, relax, because here are some tips that will put the happy back into your lunchbox creations. To help you re-master the skill of lunch making, take this quick course in Lunchbox 101. In these pages, you’ll find simple strategies for streamlining the lunch making process while bringing excitement and nourishment to your child’s day. Hey, and how about getting the kids involved in this crusade!

Quick Tip: Print these pages and attach them to the inside of a kitchen cabinet between the pantry and the fridge for quick reference.

5 Basic Tips for Lunch Box Packing

1. Include these food categories in each lunch:

  • Protein
  • Vegetable
  • Fruit
  • Grain
  • Healthy dipper (opt.)
  • Healthy sweet treat (opt.)

Check out these tables for a variety of choices in each food category and get your children’s input into which options they would like each week.


2. Have a schedule of lunches for each day of the week.
Create enough ideas for 2 weeks of lunches and rotate these 2 weeks the entire school year. That’s more variety than most humans eat!

Struggling with creative ideas for lunch menus? Be sure to check out the lunch box menu web links and iPhone apps at the end of this blog!

Here are a few fun lunch themes:

All foods are round


Vanilla Greek yogurt with fresh or frozen blueberries
Individual Cheese Balls
Peanut Butter Pinwheels (recipe)
Grape tomatoes, carrot pennies and cucumber slices with ranch dressing for dip


All foods are square


Turkey chili in a thermos (recipe) – served in square bowl
Cornbread square
Cheese cubes
Pineapple, kiwi and watermelon cubes


All foods are stars


Star shaped bread, ham and cheese
Star fruit and/or apples cut on the horizon to expose the star in the middle


All foods are on sticks or shaped like a stick


Fruit kabob with grapes, strawberries, pineapple (on coffee stir sticks instead of wood)
Carrot and cucumber sticks
String cheese
Grilled chicken breast sticks
Bread stick


Includes all colors of the rainbow


Red – Spaghetti with meat sauce in a thermos (recipe)
Orange – Carrot sticks
Yellow – Pineapple spears
Green – Salad greens with ranch dressing
Blue/Purple – Blueberries and/or purple grapes


3. Freeze your child’s water bottle overnight and use it to keep cold foods cold in the lunchbox. It will be thawed by lunch so it then becomes the lunch beverage.

Or, buy thin ice packs and slide them inside the top of your child’s lunchbox or lunchbox tote. See link below.

4. On Sundays, pre-package any foods that can be proportioned in individual servings and keep in containers. Line the kids up on Sunday and pre-assemble lunches with any non-perishables. Store them, then grab and drop in the perishable items the day they are needed. This can cut lunch prep time in half during the week.

5. Also on Sundays, grill chicken, turkey and/or shrimp in large quantities to include in lunch boxes for the week. This gives your kids a break from processed luncheon meats.


Need More School Lunch Menus?
Check out these websites and apps for a goldmine of school lunch menus.

Blogs and websites
“What the Girls are Having” - Bento Box Blogger Mom and photographer, Dina Berlo, has prepared and posted 500+ healthy school lunch box menus for her 2 daughters.

Laptop Lunches® Bento Menu Library – 365 lunch ideas with seasonal healthy lunches for your kids.

Lunch Ideas by Laptop Lunches® - FREE
Easy to make lunch menus, enlargeable photos, step by step menu instructions and shopping lists.

52 School Lunches by - $1.99
Delicious, nutritious, quick and fun menus. Includes photographs, ingredient lists and recipes.


Tools of the Trade
Here are some new tools that can inject the fun factor into your child’s lunch while also protecting the planet:

Eco-Friendly Bento Lunchboxes
Planet Box® Stainless Steel Lunch Boxes with carry bag – part bento box, part TV tray. Quality stainless steel, No BPA, No plastics.

LunchBots® Stainless Steel Food Containers – Three and four section bento containers - No BPA or plastics.

Eco Lunch Box – Stainless steel lunchboxes with carrying cases – plastic free, waste-free, BPA-free, PVC-free, petroleum-free and vinyl-free.

Laptop Lunches™ by Bento Ware™ - BPA-free, phthalates-free, lead-free, PVC-free.

Yumbox® Leakproof Bento Box – Large one for older kids and adults – 6 compartment one for little kids

Silicone baking cups for placing into bento box lunch boxes
Silicone Baking Cups - Round
Silicon Baking Cups – Square
Silicon Baking Cups – Rectangle

Vegetable cutters – for making fun shaped vegetables, luncheon meats and cheeses
Stainless Steel Vegetable Cutters

Ice Packs
Slim Lunch Ice Packs

Water Bottles
Kid Zinger – lets your child make their own orange or lemonade directly into their water bottles. You get to control the amount of sugar (if any) that goes in.

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Finding time for health and fitness

If you’re anything like me, you are busy. Busy at work, busy at home, busy on the so-called weekend.  It never stops.  Even as a fitness professionals, my husband and I are right there with you in the constant struggle to find time to exercise and eat healthfully.  Here are a few things that work for us:

  1. Organize your pantry and refrigerator with the healthy options front and center.  For me, complete deprivation of treats simply does not work.  While there are some foods I do not keep in the house, we always have some variety of chocolate and for my husband, chips or pretzels.  The chocolate is stashed in my baking cabinet, only to be found when I'm looking for it.  Chips and pretzels are on the second shelf, below eye level, in our pantry.  When we’re ready for a snack, the first visible items are fruit in a basket on the kitchen counter, yogurt in the fridge, and when you open the pantry, you see rice, quinoa, and other items that must first be cooked.  Moving “treats” out of site, makes making a healthy choice easier.
  2. Plan out your workouts for the week and put them on your calendar.  While I am lucky enough to have a built in workouts as part of my work week, I don’t always carve out the time I need to workout on my own, especially if I go in with the thought/plan that “I’ll do it sometime today.”  Those frequently end up being the days I miss or get in less than what I was hoping.  What does work: on Mondays (and sometimes even the Friday before), I open my outlook and schedule my workouts.  For me, the earlier in the day the better.  On Friday night, my husband and I work out a plan for Saturday’s workout so we both get it in.Workout Plan
  3. Pack your snacks and plan when to eat them.  This keeps me energized throughout the day and ready to tackle that lunch time spin class or after work run.  It also helps me make it to dinner without the post-work munchies.
  4. Take some time to dig deep – Why do you want to eat better, exercise, and/or improve your health?  I’m talking about those reasons that truly motivate you like playing with your grandkids or making it through the evening as you run around after your toddler while carrying your baby.  Exercise, nutritious foods, and sleep give us the energy and keep us healthy to do the things we enjoy and spend time with the ones we love.  I exercise because it makes me happy, keeps me healthy, balances out the insanity being a full time working mom, and gives me energy and strength to take care of my family.
  5. Find a form of exercise that you enjoy (or at least tolerate).  I love running and cycling outside.  I love practicing yoga.  I love classes with good loud music.  I tolerate swimming because I enjoy participating in triathlons.  If you ask me Cycling in Chattanoogato join you for any of these, I’m in (if it’s on my calendar - see #2 ), but if you ask me to hit the elliptical 3x a week for 30 minutes, it’s not going to happen.  [Please note: I’m not in any way saying the elliptical is a bad thing. It’s a great cardio workout and some people enjoy it, it’s just not the cardio that gets me moving.]  If you’re new to exercise or getting bored with your routine, take a month to try it all: classes, nautilus equipment, get in the pool, or go for hike.  Note what you like and add it to your routine.  If you don't enjoy exercise (which you don't know, unless you try, right?), find something you can tolerate and refer back to #2 and #4 to get it done.

There will always be something that needs to be done – projects at work, laundry, bills, etc. By putting health on the top of your To Do List, you’ll feel good and be able to conquer those tasks and better yet, enjoy your life!  What do you do to make sure you get in your workout and/or eat healthfully?

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So, What Do I Do With All These Tomatoes?


Ahhh, summer!! It’s such a beautiful time of year. All the fresh produce comes out of the fields at a rapid pace giving us an abundance of deliciousness and beautiful colors to thrill our bodies and souls.

Tomatoes are plentiful in the summer and at my most recent trip to the Farmer’s Market, I was totally inspired by the varieties and colors of cherry tomatoes. Every color of the rainbow was represented in these sweet, beautiful orbs.

I bought some of each color and got to work figuring out what to do with them other than pop them straight into my mouth (which is ok, too). I found a yummy Roasted Tomato recipe and adapted it for cherry tomatoes. Find the original version here if you have lots of large tomatoes that you want to roast.

Are Tomatoes Good for You?

From a nutrition perspective, tomatoes are a good source of vitamin C, vitamin A and potassium plus they contain a powerful phytonutrient called Lycopene. Lycopene has been linked to the prevention of prostate, lung and stomach cancers and also shown to be good for bone health. Cooking tomatoes breaks down the cell walls of the tomatoes making the lycopene more available for absorption by your body. So eating tomatoes raw or cooked offers you great nutritional benefits.


Roasted Cherry Tomatoes
Adapted from Oven Roasted Tomatoes by David Lebovitz
Makes 6 servings


· 2 tablespoons olive oil
· 1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
· 1 Tbsp. chopped fresh basil
· 1 tsp. chopped fresh rosemary
· ¼ - ½ tsp maple syrup (optional – not pictured)
· ¼ tsp. salt
· ¼ tsp. black pepper
· 2.5 pounds cherry tomatoes, variety of colors
cut into halves



1. Preheat the oven to 325º F.



2. Place tomato halves in a mixing bowl and add all remaining ingredients stirring gently to coat the tomatoes.






3. Spray an oven casserole dish with vegetable cooking spray. Arrange tomato halves in a single layer leaving some space in between each tomato half.





4. Bake for one hour or until the tomatoes are softened and start to wrinkle. Depending on the tomatoes, cooking times may vary so check it occasionally to determine your desired level of doneness. (Large tomatoes may take up to 2 hours.)



Another Reason to Roast Tomatoes

If you grow tomatoes, you know tomato plants produce lots of tomatoes all at once. It can be difficult to eat them up before they become overripe or spoil. So roasting provides a way to store them for later use. You can keep these roasted tomatoes in the fridge for up to 4 days or freeze them for six months.


Here are a few serving suggestions for these yummies:

- Serve them as a side dish.
- Add them to a salad.
- Load them on top of a burger (with or without bun) or sandwich.
- Serve them on top of melty cheese toast.
- Pile them on top of ½ of an avocado for a unique low carb
- Add them to your favorite homemade or store bought pasta sauce.


Nutr. Info Per Serving: Cal: 74, Pro: 2 gm, Carbs: 7 gm, Fiber: 2 gm, Tot. Fat: 5 gm, Sat. Fat: 0.5 gm, Trans Fat: 0 gm, Chol: 0 mg, Sod: 123 mg

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Summer Sweatin': Part II - Cool Off

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What’s not so great about summer? The post workout shower sweat.  You know what I’m talking about.  You had a great workout: 3 minute warm up, 40 minutes of sweaty intervals, followed by a 2 minute “cool down” tomato facewhich involved you walking from the gym into the locker room.  You jump in the shower, jump out, attempt to dry off, get dressed and get back to the office.  And then it happens – You arrive promptly at 12:58 for your 1:00 meeting and the first question is a very concerned “Are you ok?”  You think, odd way to start, but then realize (with a little help of a reflection from the window), that your face is the color of a tomato, there’s a bit a sweat dripping down your hair line, and you’d love to sit in a freezer right now.  “Yes, just had a great workout” you respond, “How are you?”

How do you cool off, tone down the post workout “glow,” and stay fresh after a workout so you are ready to safety step back into the office without co-worker concern? I almost always take a shower and wash my hair in the morning so my sweat will be “fresh” sweat.  Post workout, I use Trader Joe’s Peppermint, Tea Tree and Eucalyptus Body Wash in a cool shower, followed by a cup of ice water and fan when I get back to my desk.  The peppermint oil in the body wash has a cooling/tingly effect.  Here’s a few more tricks of the trade from the RFC Staff:

First, spend a few extra minutes cooling down.  Many participants skip the cool down (yes, I’m guilty too) trying to get as much high-intensity calorie burning out of their few and precious fitness minutes.  As the name suggests, a cool down, will help the body return to resting levels.  Then, take a cool shower; not hot.  Many of us forget this simple but effective strategy. Avoid lotion as it will make it harder for the sweat to evaporate off your body. Instead, use a light alcohol-based product.  Alcohol has a naturally drying effect.  While we typically look for ways to not dry-out the skin, post-workout it has its place and the alcohol will help your skin to evaporate sweat more quickly.  And, when all else fails, just go with it.  Red face and wet hair = natural blush and the slicked-back look!  ~Pam

For the Ladies:  a little matte face powder goes a long way to tone down a red, sweaty face. A tall glass of ice water on the walk back to the office.  I focus on deep, relaxing breaths – even as I rush to get ready. ~ Dany

I turn the shower on cold the last minute I’m in, refill my water bottle, and if I have the time, I take a couple minutes to stretch in the office. ~Cheryl

Take a quick shower to rinse off your sweat, and then jump in the pool for a nice cool down and stretch! ~Jenn     (The shower part before getting in the pool is key as your sweat toys with the pH in the pool. In addition, if you have sensitive skin and/or want to keep your hair soft, taking a shower prior to entering a chlorinated pool will fill up your skin pores and hair will fresh water minimizing the chlorine effect on your skin and hair.)

I take a shower with rosemary mint shampoo and body wash. Rosemary and mint have a cooling effect on the body.  ~Amy

Make the beginning/middle of your workout the hardest and the last part not so much—for example, do your cardio first and then lift weights. Add in a few minutes at the end of a workout to stretch while drinking ice cold water.  Take a cooler shower to help minimize the sweat and then finish getting ready (hair, makeup, lotion, etc.) in your towel before getting dressed since non-workout wear doesn’t “breathe” like our workout clothes. ~Brittany

I create an aromatherapy spray that consists of lavender and peppermint to provide a refreshing mist that I spray above me and it showers down on me.  In addition, if I wash my hands in extra cold water and finish my shower with cold water, especially on my feet, it helps.  ~Celeste

So next time you have a 1:00 meeting following your 12:00 workout, don’t debate! Throw on your workout clothes and get moving or opt for a cooler pool workout.  Keeping in mind every fitness minute counts, grab your ice water and substitute a few minutes of cardio for longer cool down and stretch.  Follow that workout with a cool, minty shower and a little matte powder and you’ll be back in the office, refreshed and ready to take on the rest of your day!

Do you have something that helps you cool down? Share your tips here.

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Spices for Health: Cinnamon

How you flavor your foods can have huge impact on your health. Many of the spices we use to enhance our foods have powerful medicinal benefits.

Cinnamon is one of those spices that has amazing benefits and a lot of research behind it.


Check out these other blogs on turmeric and ginger.

Cinnamon is one of the oldest spices known to man; it’s medicinal use dates back to 2,700 B.C. Cinnamon is the bark of the cinnamon tree, which when dried, rolls into that familiar tubular form. We can find cinnamon in either its whole form as cinnamon sticks or as ground powder.

While there are approximately one hundred varieties of cinnamon, Ceylon and Cassia cinnamon are the leading varieties consumed. Cassia is the most common here in the US.

The many benefits of cinnamon include:

  • Anticlotting actions
  • Antioxidant actions
  • Anti-microbial and anti-fungal activity
  • Strengthening the immune system
  • May help relieve headaches and migraines
  • Lower triglycerides and cholesterol
  • Lower blood glucose levels
  • Boost cognitive function and memory (just by smelling it!)

Many of us are interested in its affects regarding blood glucose regulation. There is a lot of new research on this subject. Some studies are showing that as little as ½ tsp per day of cinnamon can reduce blood glucose levels in those with Type 2 Diabetes. Studies are showing that it may help reduce blood glucose levels by slowing the rate at which the stomach empties after meals, which reduces the rise in blood glucose after eating. It may also increase the cells sensitivity to insulin, increasing the cells ability to use glucose from our blood.

With cinnamon, more isn’t always better. The cassia cinnamon can be toxic at large amounts. It contains a compound called coumarin. Coumarin is responsible for some of cinnamons health benefits like its anti-clotting and anti-fungal properties, but in excess it can do damage to the liver and kidneys. So make sure to enjoy cinnamon in moderation on your food, not in supplement form to be on the safe side.

Cinnamon can be used in sweet or savory dishes. For a special morning treat try sprinkling some in your coffee or on your oatmeal or yogurt. For a savory taste try it with a mixture of smoked paprika and chipotle powder on chicken or beef for something a little different.

Just like any other spice, cinnamon should be kept in a tightly sealed container in a cool, dark, dry place. Ground cinnamon will keep for about six months, while cinnamon sticks will stay fresh for about a year.

Caribbean Pork with Avocado Pineapple Salsa
Recipe adapted from Martha Stewart
Makes 5 servings


Here is one savory way to enjoy cinnamon! The sweetness of the pineapple along with the creamy avocado are perfect with the spicy pork tenderloin! Plus this is a quick and simple dish!

· 1 tablespoon light-brown sugar
· 1 teaspoon sea salt
· 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
· 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
· 1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
· 2 pork tenderloins (about 12 ounces each)
· 1 tablespoon olive oil

· 1 cup diced pineapple
· 2 thinly sliced scallions or 1 Tbsp chopped chives
· 1 diced avocado
· Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

In a small bowl, combine light-brown sugar, salt, cinnamon, cumin, allspice, and ground pepper.

Rub spice mixture all over tenderloin.


Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Heat olive oil in an oven safe skillet over medium high heat. Sear pork tenderloin for about 5 minutes on each side, then place into pre heated oven. Bake until internal temperature reaches 145 degrees. This will take about 10 minutes.

Let rest 5 to 10 minutes before slicing thinly. Make the salsa while the tenderloin is resting.

Salsa: Chop pineapple into small pieces, and add to a small bowl along with scallions and avocado. Season with salt and pepper; toss gently to combine.


Slice the pork tenderloin and serve topped with some of the salsa.


Per serving: 270 calories, 12g fat, 2g saturated fat, 90mg cholesterol, 540 mg sodium, 12g carbohydrates, 4 g fiber, 30g protein

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Summer Sweatin': Part I

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Beach Feet

I love summer. I love the sunny days, the sound of the happy birds in the morning, growing tomatoes in my back yard, and playing outside with my family.  Beach or mountains – I’m 100% beach.  Sunshine or snow?  100% sunshine, palm trees, sand, and the beautiful sound of waves crashing as the salty breeze cools my face.  Summer just makes me happy.  In good ol’ NC, summer also means toasty temperatures and lots of humidity. If you’re headed outdoors to play, be sure to consider the following summer safety tips:

    1. Listen to your body and know the symptoms of heat stroke:
      • Fainting
      • Throbbing headache
      • Dizziness and light-headedness
      • Little or no sweating despite the heat
      • Red, hot, and dry skin
      • Muscle weakness or cramps
      • Nausea and vomiting
      • Rapid heartbeat, which may be either strong or weak
      • Rapid, shallow breathing
      • Confusion, disorientation, or staggering
      • Seizures
      • Unconsciousness

      If you suspect heat stress or stroke, seek cooler temperatures immediately and find someone to help you. If you witness someone with symptoms of    heat stroke, call 911 immediately and move the person to an air conditioned space or shady area and remove any unnecessary clothes.  Fan the person, apply a cool, damp cloth to their head, neck, arm pits, or back.  Heat stroke is a life threatening condition.

    2. Wear sunscreen.  The American Academy of Dermatology recommends a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher should be applied every 90 minutes to 2 hours you are in the sun and more frequently when you’re in the water or sweating.  Keep in mind, sunscreen may be sweat/water resistant, not sweat proof/water proof.  (Sunscreen companies are no longer even allowed to label their products as such.)  The thicker the better.  Sprays are also great, but tend to come off more quickly.  Hats are also excellent sources of shade for the face/neck.
    3. Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes.  Choose a pair of lenses that block 99-100% UVA/UVB rays.  If you’re driving with your sunglasses, gray, green, or brown tinted lenses to reduce color distortion and make it easier to see traffic light changes than pink or yellow tints.  Polarized lenses help reduce glare and are great if you spend a lot of time on/near the water or driving, however, they do make reading screens more challenging.
    4. Respect the water.  We have tons of gadgets and floatation devises for kids these days, but be sure not to get too comfortable with that puddle jumper at the pool or lifeguards watching your children.  Keep in mind your children are one of a whole pool of people to watch.  Wear a life preserver while boating.  While you don’t anticipate your baby jumping overboard for a swim, you never know what might happen.  My 15 month old and I flew out of a boat a couple years ago due to a bizarre freak incident.  Long story super short: the steering cable snapped and our boat did an unexpected 360 as we were headed home from an outing.  I was bruised and really sore, but my little guy popped right up to the surface of the water with the most beautiful, unscathed cry I ever hope to hear.  His life preserver saved his life.
    5. Exercise inside when it’s above 90 degrees.  Love to exercise outside?  Get it in early or later in the evening when temperature is not at its peak for the day and/or stay in the shade.  If you’re workout time is mid-day, workout in the air conditioner or pool to stay cool.
    6. Drink plenty of fluids.  Make sure you are hydrated when you start your workout by drinking plenty of non-caffeinated beverages 1-2 hours prior and continue to sip fluid during and after exercise.  If you’re really sweating, you may need to include electrolytes in your fluids during and after your workout.
    7. Wear technical clothing made for exercising the heat.  Cotton tends to hold sweat which can make you feel hot. Cotton also increases the chances of chafing.  (I’m not going to go into chafing a ton today, but Body Glide, Baking Soda, or Baby Powder can be life savers if this tends to be one of your summer-time troubles.)

Safety first to helps keep those fun summer memories fun! Check back on August 6th , for Summer Sweatin’ Part II for tips on cooling down after your workout.

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Are Your Medications Depleting You?


Did you know that almost 70 percent of Americans take at least one prescription medication? More than half take at least two, according to a new study by researchers at the Mayo Clinic. And according to the CDC, the average American is on six different medications by the age of 65. Many of these medications are not only lifesaving, but they can help improve symptoms, ease pain and have many other positive benefits. However, they are not without side effects that may have a profound effect on our health, and more specifically, our nutrition status.

Many of us may gloss over the list of side effects from over the counter or prescription medications and may not realize that the side effects may cause depletion or even a deficiency of necessary nutrients. Poor diet alone can lead to nutrient deficiencies, add to that multiple medications and the results can be devastating. It might surface as a weakened immune system, anemia, fatigue, depression, osteoporosis, skin issues, even GI issues like gas and bloating.

Below is a list of commonly used medications grouped by use, the nutrients that are depleted and where you can find those nutrients in food.

I have made some generalities below for simplicity; each specific medication can have a different impact.
Know your medications!


Medications are a necessary component of many of our lives. However there are sometimes drawbacks. Here are some tips to follow to help ensure optimal health:

  1. Always read the package insert that comes with your medications (prescription or over the counter) to understand any side effects.
  2. Always follow your provider’s instructions on when to take medications.
  3. Eat a nutrient dense diet.
  4. Ask your Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist or Provider before starting supplements. All supplements are not created equal. You want to make sure you are taking a good quality supplement with the appropriate form and dose of certain nutrients.

If you have questions about your specific medications and the impact they may be having on your nutritional status ask your provider or a Registered Dietitian.

Lentil Soup with Swiss Chard and Turkey Sausage

Adapted from: Deliciously Organic
Serves 5


This is one nutrient packed dish! The lentils, turkey and Swiss chard are great sources of folate, magnesium, calcium, potassium, zinc, iron, B5, B6, B12 and many other nutrients. This is one of those dishes that is even better the next day, plus it’s really easy!



- 1 Tablespoon olive oil
- 1 small yellow onion, chopped
- 2 carrots, chopped
- 2 stalks celery, chopped
- 1 teaspoons sea salt
- 2 Tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 cup dry lentils
- 1 cup crushed tomatoes (I used Muir Glen Fire Roasted)
- 3 cups low sodium chicken stock
- 1 pound turkey sausage, cut into 1/4-inch thick coins (I used a turkey kielbasa)
- 1-2 bunches of Swiss chard
- Freshly ground black pepper


  1. Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat.
  2. Stir in onion, carrots and celery. Let cook about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally until onion is translucent.
  3. Add sausage and cook 10 more minutes until slightly browned.
  4. Increase heat to medium and stir in tomato paste and sea salt.
  5. Add lentils, tomatoes and stock.
  6. Increase heat to medium-high and bring to a boil, cook about 10 minutes or until all veggies are tender.
  7. Stir in chard and cook 2-3 minutes more.
  8. Season with ground black pepper and adjust sea salt to taste. Serve.


Nutrition Information per Serving: 370 calories, 13 g Fat, 3g Saturated Fat, 65mg Cholesterol, 1180mg Sodium, 34g Carbohydrates, 8g Fiber, 30g Protein

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Welcome to Inspirations

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Welcome. I'm so glad you're here! This blog will feature tips, stories, and fun to help you on your path to wellness.  Look for posts on the first and third Wednesday of each month.

What is "wellness"? Wellness is defined by the The American Heritage Stedman's Medical Dictionary as the condition of good physical and mental health, especially when maintained by proper diet, exercise, and habits. Take a moment and consider your personal wellness. What do you do to take care of yourself? Are you healthy? Are you happy? Energetic? Productive?

Wellness effects our day to day interactions with others. If we're feeling good, then we typically interact more kindly to others who reciprocate.  This makes us happier and starts the happy flame.  Happiness is contagious! Who is your favorite person in the world? Consider your last interaction with that person. Good or bad, consider your personal state at that moment. Were you well rested? Healthy? Had you exercised lately? Had you had anything to eat in a while? Were you happy?

I absolutely adore my sons. I have 2 boys, ages 3 years and 9 months. They require A LOT of energy on my part. A LOT. I work early most days of the week and I am "second shift" parent. This means, our quality time may contain giggles or tears or both any given day. I've noticed, though, the days that I slept the night before, ate properly, and/or get in a workout before I pick them up are much more manageable (and even fun!) Here are two of my recent afternoons:

Day One:

The night before I stayed up 1 hour later than I should have and then, this night, this glorious night, my infant decides to cut a few teeth (or 6.) I feel for him. While I don't remember this myself, it sounds quite painful. My husband and I are up at least 4 times rocking, cuddling, administering Tylenol and what not. In addition, our 3 year old wakes up at midnight with a bad dream, 1:30 a.m. to go to the bathroom and get some water (Does he really need more water?!), and then again at 4:30 a.m. because "it's daytime, Mommy." I have to be up at 4:50 to get ready for work. My sleep this night: maybe I got a solid 3 hours somewhere. Maybe. (It happens. It's temporary. We will get past this.) Coffee, must have coffee. I head to work, wait a little too long to eat lunch but I get a decent amount done and then head to daycare to pick up my angels. ANGELS?! Who swapped out my angels for these two teary, cranky boys today? At this point I begin my bedtime count down. It's 3:00. We're all tired and hungry. The 3 year old "forgot how to listen" this afternoon and at least 4 times breaks down into tears because "he doesn't know." I hardly get through cooking dinner because my infant needs comfort due to those sabotaging teeth. I continue to count down the minutes and seconds until I can get them in bed which takes twice as long because "listening ears" have taken the night off. And despite the fact this all sounds ridiculous, I love these two, their very smiles and "I love you, Super Girl" from my 3 year old almost brings me to tears. YES! I made it to bedtime. (Yes, that does cross my mind at least twice a week.) Happy dance!

Day Two:

Second night: Well, sleep is not much better, but I made a conscious effort to pack my lunch and snacks the night before so I have no excuse not to eat during the day. I go for a run and even get in a shower before picking up my little rays of sunshine. I eat a snack in the car on the way to daycare. In effort to make this day better than the last and pre-fueled before daycare pickup, we stop at the playground on the way home. We share a smiles on the swings. Backyard Boys Water Color PencilWhen I say it's time to go, the three year old doesn't ponder this request, but marches to the car "like an ant, Mommy." My infant falls asleep in the car on the drive home. So far, so good. But good, just like bad, is temporary. On the way into our house, my toddler skins his knee. Today, I'm energized from the playground and my afternoon snack and "Super Girl" quickly saves the day with a band aide. The tears last for only a few seconds. The dinner, bath, and bedtime routine go down without a hitch so much so that we get to read 2 stories instead of one. Tonight, I wish bedtime could last forever. Happy dance!...but this time, it’s about a fun evening, not relief….

Wellness plays a part in your every day. Taking care of you makes life easier, happier, and much more fun. What have you done this week to take care of yourself?

Until next time - Amanda (A.K.A. Super Girl in the Pack House)



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Raising the Protein Bar

proteinbars2Protein seems to be everywhere these days from television ads to magazines to grocery store shelves. With all the publicity surrounding protein, you’d think Americans weren’t getting enough of it while in reality, most of us consume more than enough protein.

Protein is an essential part of every cell, tissue, and organ in our bodies. It helps stabilize blood sugar levels and keeps us feeling fuller longer so it’s very important to include plenty of protein in our diets throughout the day.

Protein comes in many forms (meats, legumes, eggs, nuts/seeds, dairy, etc) and while whole-food protein sources are among the best choices for meeting your protein needs, protein bars have become a mainstay for many Americans. They’re quick, convenient and can be eaten on-the-go and many of us eat them because we believe they’ll help "melt away the pounds" or "eliminate hunger."

But before you grab your next protein bar, be careful! Many bars today contain as much fat and sugar as a candy bar and are loaded with highly processed ingredients so be sure to always READ THE LABEL and CHECK THE INGREDIENT LIST.

Check out the video below to get the scoop on what’s really inside protein bars.


All Protein is Not Created Equal

When choosing a protein bar, be sure to read the entire ingredient list to see what type of protein the bar contains.

Soy protein isolate is the most common source of protein in bars because it’s cheap and easily accessible. However, this form of soy is potentially associated with negative health effects so it’s best to limit your intake.



Instead, look for whey protein isolate which is:

  • made from milk
  • easily digestible
  • very low in lactose or lactose free
  • utilized most efficiently by the body.


If you are unable to consume dairy, opt for 100% pea protein which is:

  • made from yellow split peas
  • easily digestible
  • utilized efficiently by the body.



Isolate versus Concentrate

When looking at protein sources or deciding which whey protein powder to purchase, it’s important to also consider if it is in the isolate or concentrate form.

  • Isolate is ideal because it contains 90-95% pure protein with minimal carbohydrates and fat.
  • Concentrate, on the other hand, is only 70-85% protein.

By choosing isolate, you’ll get a higher quality and quantity of protein.

Making Your Own Protein Bars

Now that you know what to look for and what to avoid in store bought protein bars, let’s explore an even better option…making your own! By making protein bars at home, you control the quality and quantity of ingredients and can save money.

Check out the difference between our homemade protein bar (recipe below) and a leading store bought bar. The nutrition profiles are basically identical, but why choose a bar with 5x more ingredients when you could have a clean, tasty alternative? Plus, you’re cutting costs by more than half…sounds like a win-win situation to me!


Powerful Protein Bars
Makes 6-8 Bars
Recipe from: He and She Eat Clean

This recipe has 4 ingredients, 4 steps and takes less than 4 minutes to prepare!



2 cups rolled oats, dry
½ cup natural peanut butter (or other nut butter of choice)
4 scoops whey protein powder*
½ cup milk or water**

Optional add-ins: dried fruit, drizzle of honey, dark chocolate chips, etc. (options are endless!)


  1. Line an 8x8 dish with parchment paper. proteinbar_step1
  2. In a large bowl, mix all ingredients by hand until well combined. proteinbar_step2
  3. Press mixture into dish, using a spatula to flatten. proteinbar_step3
  4. Freeze for approximately 30 minutes or until set. Cut into bars and then wrap individual bars in plastic wrap or bags and refrigerate.
    - Cut into 6 bars if you are planning to use these bars as a meal replacement.
    - Cut into 8 bars if you are planning to use these bars as a snack. proteinbar_step4

* You can use unflavored, vanilla or chocolate protein powder. If using unflavored, add 1 tsp vanilla extract. Choose a clean whey protein powder (whey protein isolate is ideal) with minimal ingredients. If you are unable to consume dairy, you can use 100% pea protein powder.

** I prefer to use milk in this recipe for an added boost of calcium and vitamin D and for extra flavor. You can use skim or 1% milk or almond, rice or soy milk.


Nutrition Information per Serving (meal replacement size): Calories: 280, Total Fat: 13gm, Saturated Fat: 2gm, Cholesterol: 30mg, Sodium: 146mg, Carbs: 25gm, Fiber: 5gm, Protein: 20gm

Nutrition Information per Serving (snack size): Calories: 210, Total Fat: 10gm, Saturated Fat: 1.5gm, Cholesterol: 23mg, Sodium: 110mg, Carbs: 19gm, Fiber: 3.5gm, Protein: 15gm


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Double Duty Kitchen Tools

kitchengadgetsThere are thousands of kitchen gadgets on the market designed to make cooking easier, quicker and more efficient. However, most of these gadgets serve one specific purpose and take up prime kitchen real estate. After a few uses they end up being thrown in the back of a drawer or cabinet, never to be seen or thought about again.

Before you consider purchasing the next "latest and greatest" kitchen gadget, stop and ask yourself if any of the kitchen tools you already own could do double duty, giving you the same end result. You’ll be surprised how often you’re already equipped with the tools you need which can save you the cost and clutter of additional, unnecessary gadgets.

Cooling Racks- Not Just for Baked Goods!

Most of us use cooling racks for one purpose- cooling baked goods. However, they can actually be used in other ways to help save you invaluable time and space in the kitchen!

Instead of purchasing an egg or avocado slicer, try this double duty trick:

  • Place a cooling rack over a large bowl.
  • Press a hard-boiled egg firmly into the rack.
  • The egg will fall into the bowl and you’ll have perfect, evenly diced eggs ready for egg salad or to use as a topping on salads.
  • You can also do this with avocados. Simply slice the avocado in half, remove the pit, and follow the same steps. Homemade guacamole has never been easier!


Deli Lids- Not Just for Leftovers!

Do you waste precious time chasing grape tomatoes around your kitchen trying to cut them in half? I know I do! Instead, put those old deli lids (that you’ve likely lost the matching container for!) to good use with this double duty trick:

  • Place 10-12 grape tomatoes into the top of a round deli lid (make sure the side that has a raised edge is facing up so the tomatoes won’t slip out).
  • Place another deli lid, top side down, on the tomatoes.
  • Holding the lid gently in place to not bruise the tomatoes, slice tomatoes in half with a sharp knife.
  • Now you have perfectly halved tomatoes ready to be used in any recipe!


Tomato Basil Bruschetta Bites
Makes About 30 Servings


This recipe is a crowd pleaser and a perfect, fresh appetizer for the warmer months. Use the time-saving, double duty tip above to help prep the tomatoes!


12oz grape tomatoes, diced
4-6 garlic cloves, minced
4 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup fresh basil, sliced into ribbons
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste
1 cup balsamic vinegar, reduced
½ cup part-skim mozzarella cheese, shredded
2 whole wheat baguettes, cut into 1-inch rounds (about 30 slices)


  1. Combine diced tomatoes (try double duty trick above!), minced garlic, olive oil and basil in a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  2. Preheat oven to 350° F.
  3. Slice bread into 1-inch rounds. Arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet. Toast in the oven for 5-7 minutes or until slightly golden brown (not completely toasted).
  4. While bread is in the oven, place balsamic vinegar in small saucepan over medium-low heat. Heat until vinegar has reduced by half, stirring occasionally (this will take approximately 15 minutes for 1 cup of vinegar). Remove from heat.
  5. Remove baguettes from oven. Top each round with a sprinkle of mozzarella cheese and a spoonful of the tomato mixture.
  6. Return to oven and bake until cheese is melted, approximately 5-7 minutes.
  7. Before serving, drizzle with warm balsamic reduction.


Nutrition Information per Serving (1 baguette bite): Calories: 90, Total Fat: 2.5gm, Saturated Fat: 0gm, Cholesterol: 0mg, Sodium: 125mg, Carbs: 13gm, Fiber: 1gm, Protein: 3gm

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  • About this blog

    The Employee and Family Services group at SAS includes the Health Care Center, Recreation and Fitness Center and Work/Life. Check this blog to find interesting recipes and nutrition facts, information on staying healthy and how to keep your work life and family life balanced.
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    SAS Health Care Center has three registered dietitians to assist employees and covered dependents with their nutritional needs. For more information on our nutrition services, please call the Health Care Center at 919-531-8809.

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