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The wellness program at my new job is AWESOME! Yay for employers that take a proactive position in their employees’ health. This month’s challenge: track (and reduce) our sodium intake.

salt shaker

Image: Carlos Porto / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I’ve gone OCD about lots of things in my diet and fitness life, from heart rate to ounces of water, carbs and fat, time of day I’m eating, and, of course, calories. But I’d never tracked sodium. This was going to be hard, because even though I rarely add salt to food, I crave salty snacks. Give me fries or chips or popcorn over ice cream any day!

Turns out, this challenge is even more enlightening than I thought. After only 10 days, my blood pressure had dropped from a normal 120/80 to 94/62! I realize lots of factors can affect blood pressure, so I probably can’t attribute it all to less sodium, but it was enough to motivate me to keep at it. I also felt like I was less…well, puffy. And it is amazing the sodium that hides out in foods, even those that you don’t think of as salty.

People do need SOME sodium for normal bodily functions, but most Western diets include many times the recommended amount. According to Mayoclinic.com, healthy adults should not exceed 2,300 mg of sodium a day. Our challenge is to keep it around 1,500 mg, which is very tough to do! I consider it a good day if I’m under 2,000.

If you’ve never paid much attention to your sodium intake before, try it out for a week. Or even a day! I think you’ll be surprised.

– albledsoe

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We’re planning a brunch wedding shower for my sister next month, and I needed some good food ideas (not that it’s a difficult task, brunch is my favorite meal!). Sara sent along this delicious recipe from Whole Foods that I knew I’d have to try. I did a test run recently on a rare Sunday when my husband was off work, and we both loved it.

Quinoa egg bake fresh from the oven

The dish was quick, simple, had few ingredients, and reheated well. I actually thought it was better the second day, and it was nice to have a fast and hot breakfast before work. Quinoa is a great plant source of protein, and eggs and garlic are superfoods as well.

...and on my plate!

We rounded out the brunch meal with Al Fresco apple chicken sausage (which I’d never have but highly recommend) and wheat toast with homemade apricot preserves (thanks, Eva!). Yummy way to start a Sunday, that’s for sure. I’m looking forward to serving this up at the wedding shower!

– albledsoe

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Even though the commercials promoting high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) have been out since late 2008, I just saw one this weekend and got all fired up about it. The campaign is an attempt by corn refiners to refute the bad reputation earned by HFCS.

Here’s the commercial I saw this weekend:

The commercial claims HFCS is made from corn, doesn’t have artificial ingredients, and is fine in moderation, “like sugar.”

Here’s the thing: made from corn doesn’t necessarily equal natural or healthy. The processing performed on HFCS renders it unrecognizable from its original form and I try not to eat much that doesn’t resemble actual food, even if it “doesn’t have artificial ingredients.”

It also may be fine in moderation (though I’ve rid my pantry of it), but it’s nearly impossible to avoid with its prevalance in food in America. HFCS is in a huge percentage of processed and packaged foods. It is not calorie free, it offers no health benefits, and can be harmful in the mass amounts we consume.

The commercial with all its ‘facts’ also forgets to mention the destruction to the environment caused by the farming and manufacturing of the corn needed to meet the massive demand for this stuff.

I do agree that people who blame the entire obesity epidemic in the US on high fructose corn syrup are a little extreme. But a commercial like this is not the answer (but is it worse than the Taco Bell diet?).

It’s just another cheap, convenient substitute for quality that is literally killing us. Check it out for yourself, and as the commercial says, “get the facts,” to make the best decision for you and your family.

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Wheat germ, that is. It may not sound all that appetizing, but this grain component is quite tasty and easy to incorporate into your diet. I began using it on the recommendation of my personal trainer because of it’s fiber content. But it’s also a great source of folic acid, magnesium, vitamin E, and many other nutrients.

Turns out the stuff can also help your body deal with stress, according to the YOU docs (Roizen and Oz) at http://www.realage.com. They recommend topping your oatmeal with wheat germ. I do that, but also put it on sandwiches and wraps, mix it in pasta dishes or veggies, stir it into yogurt or cottage cheese, and pretty much anywhere else I can fit in in. I was sprinkling it on cold cereal for awhile, but felt like it was getting wasted because I don’t drink all the milk and there was nothing to make it stick. As the RealAge article suggested, I’ve also baked with it, and it doesn’t change the taste of the food as far as I’ve noticed. I mixed it into the cornbread I took to a family dinner, and no one could tell.

Is there anything you add to your food to sneak in some extra nutritional value?

– albledsoe

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“Organization is like exercise. It’s not very effective if you do it only once; you have to keep at it.”
-Organizing Pro, Jill Pollack

Here are a few tips I try to practice regularly to help keep things in the kitchen running smoothly. Consider implementing one or two of these at your house this weekend.

Conquer and divide. After I head home from the grocery store, the last thing I want to do is stand there washing, cutting, slicing and dicing. Even though I hate it, I do it anyway. This is how I’m sure that I will take my lunch or eat a healthy breakfast during the week instead of eating out. Next up, pre-portion your snack foods like grapes, cherries, carrots, peppers and celery. If you have some extra time after tackling the produce, pre-portion your dry snacks for the week. Crackers, almonds, bread slices, whatever you use on a daily basis that makes life a little easier. It’s all about making the good for you stuff easy to grab and go.

If it is out of sight, it is out of mind. At our weekly grocery trip this week, my husband said to me, “You have to remind me that we have that, if I don’t see it, I forget.” I made a joke about that while we were in the store, but the truth is I sometimes have this problem too. Why do they put the veggie drawers in the bottom of the fridge? Even though I know what I buy at the store, I’m guilty of forgetting about what I actually have tucked in the bottom drawers.

A quick fix – stop giving away your prime real estate to bottled drinks and condiments. Put your freshly sliced, snack-worthy goods on the top shelf. Stick the drinks and condiments in the drawers; you know they are in there and if you really want them, you’ll take the time to find them. Think you’ll miss having a drawer to hold your fruit? No problem, they make clear storage containers in all shapes and sizes. You organize your closet so why not organize your fridge too? Next stop, The Container Store!

Make a menu for the week. It’s better for your waistline and your wallet. I have my mom-in-law to thank for this one. As long as I’ve known her, she has listed the meals for the upcoming week on her fridge. It’s brilliant! You won’t go out to eat, if 1.) you know you already have the groceries to make what is next on the menu, and 2.) you think about the money you’ve already put to good use on a healthy dinner at home. By actually writing down the options for dinner that week, you remove any stress associated with the age-old question of, “what’s for dinner?” Another bonus of the weekly menu – the first person home can get dinner started right away! Plan ahead and save big.

It’s okay to cheat. Working women of the world, you can’t do it all (even though we think we can). You should take advantage of the little things in life that save time and sanity. And, if these time savers help contribute to a healthy lifestyle, you get bonus points for putting them to use! Here are two items that are almost ALWAYS on my grocery list: Wholly Guacamole and Ziplock brand Zip & Steam Bags. I love guacamole, but I don’t love taking the time to make it. Wholly Guacamole makes 100 calorie packs that are perfect to throw in your lunch bag or top your homemade burrito. My number two item sounds hokey, but it really works. You can actually cook fish, chicken or veggies in these little bags in your microwave. You can go from frozen to dinner plate in less than 10 minutes. If you haven’t tried these yet, please do. I use these when I need a chicken breast to top a salad, or if I want to make a whole meal like fish and asparagus in a flash.

What are some of your kitchen organization secrets? Share your tips with us!

-Sara

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Soup’s On

b3357b93-e296-4265-97a4-99fac6a6b18aAs soon as the air gets crisp, I’m ready to trade the grill for the oven. I get super domestic when it gets cold outside and love to make a meal that will last through the week for lunches and at least a couple of dinners. I dread the cold weather that steals my days spent at the park, but enjoy logging some extra time in the kitchen. My go-to recipes in the winter are usually soups. They are warm, filling and make the whole house smell great as they cook. My all time favorite soup is homemade potato.

I don’t load mine with the bacon and sour cream you find in a lot of recipes, but it can easily be turned into a total comfort food. If I make my mom’s classic potato soup recipe, each bowl I have will inevitably be topped with shredded cheese.

So, in an attempt to satiate my potato soup craving last fall and stick to my diet I came up with a new recipe. It’s not milk based, it is loaded with veggies and it is nice and hearty. It can stand alone as an entree or you can pair a cup of this with a salad and stay full for hours. The soup is thickened by blending the potatoes instead of adding flour or cornstarch, and I add whole wheat orzo instead of high sodium meat like ham or bacon.  The best part – you can whip this up in 25 – 30 minutes. That means a work night can even turn into a soup night!

The ingredient list:

-5 cups of chicken broth
-4 cups of diced peeled potatoes
-1 large onion chopped
-3 celery stalks chopped
-2 carrots chopped
-1 red pepper diced
-1 yellow pepper diced
-1 cup of Marsala wine
-1/4 cup of whole wheat orzo pasta
-1/8 tsp. dried rosemary
-1/8 tsp. dried marjoram
-1/8 tsp. dried thyme
-1/8 tsp. dried sage

Combine the broth, onions, celery, carrots, potatoes, peppers, wine and herbs in a large soup pot. Cover the pot and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until the potatoes are tender (about 12 minutes).  Use a slotted spoon to remove the vegetables and place in a blender. Blend vegetables and two cups of broth until partially pureed. Add orzo to the remaining broth, and boil for about 5 minutes. Once orzo is cooked, return puree to soup pot and mix with orzo and broth.

The blended potatoes and whole wheat pasta will fill you up without weighing you down.

Give this soup a try the next time you need some comfort food. What is your favorite type of soup to make when it’s cold outside?

-Sara

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We’ve been shopping, gathering, and packing for the No Skirts Allowed Adventure Race for weeks now, but when the day came to actually leave for the event in Indianapolis, I was a little lost as far as how to pack. Heading into an event in which I’d never participated was a little daunting; I wanted to be prepared without over packing. Weather conditions were crazy, plus we were sleeping in a “cabin,” which I’ve learned can mean vastly different things to different people.

Here’s how I managed to have what I needed without forgetting anything, and without taking a ridiculous amount of extra stuff:

– I always pack as I get ready that morning. It may be risky to wait until the last minute, but it’s easier for me to lay things out as I use them.

– I made lists on paper and in my head leading up to departure day. So I had a few options for race outfits in my head, knew what bags I was taking, had compiled all my race-specific gear together. This helped eliminate last-minute oversights, since I’d really been brainstorming for over a week.

– I used the gear list provided by the race directors. Super helpful since I didn’t really know what to expect. Although it did kind of make me nervous wondering what I’d be using some of these items for…

Packed and ready to race!

Packed and ready to race!

– I collaborated with my teammates. This was essential, because the above-mentioned gear list included items that were 1 per team or required things that were 1 per person. So we Smarty Panties kept each other in check and checked in on what to wear, who was bringing what, etc.

– I went through the event in my head. This comes from my triathlon experience and mentally running through each event and transition so you can think of what you’ll need. Again, this was difficult since I didn’t really know what to expect. But I knew what the basic events were going to be (and that I’d need to pack bedding and food), so I visualized each of those and what I would need to use and wear.

– I unpacked. This is a must for me on any trip (unfortunately it took a couple extra-baggage fees before it sunk in): I throw everything I think I may need on the bed, and then thoughtfully remove about half of it. On my last business trip, this tip helped me carry on all my baggage for the first time ever!

I was confident I had everything I intended to take, but very worried I’d need something I didn’t expect. Turns out I was comfortably dressed and had everything I needed for the race. How’d we do? Stay tuned!

– albledsoe

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