8 Last-Minute Healthy Gifts For The Holidays

If you’re scrambling to find the perfect gift for that special someone, it’s not too late to give the gift of health.

Here are some healthy options:

  1. A journal for recording your thoughts, activities or goals
  2. A subscription to a health-related magazine. Cooking Light is my favorite
  3. A recipe organizer to keep track of your favorite recipes
  4. A membership to a gym or gift certificate for a yoga class
  5. A gift basket of healthy foods (olive oil, almonds, flax seed, dried fruit, flavored vinegar, sun-dried tomatoes, whole wheat pasta, etc.)
  6. Hand weights or an exercise ball
  7. A cool apron with a cookbook
  8. Cooking items such as a culinary knife, nonstick skillet, or a set of cutting boards

Step Up Your Shopping

You can even turn your last-minute purchasing expedition into an exercise in health and fitness for yourself.

One tip? Walk extra steps whenever possible:

  1. When heading out to the mall, look for the farthest parking spot in the parking lot.
  2. Start your shopping with a brisk walk through the mall or up and down the aisles of the store.
  3. When you arrive home, make a few trips to unload the car instead of trying to bring in all your packages in one trip.

After your big shopping expedition, relax with a cup of herbal tea or low-fat chocolate milk for a low-calorie beverage.  You can enjoy a couple of holiday treats, too.  Just remember that portion control is the key to eating healthy.

If you’ve struggled to be healthy given all your holiday demands, read 50 Small Changes for a Healthier Life for inspiration in the New Year.

 

Meal Delivery Services: Our Review of Home Chef & Kitchen Verde

Is meal delivery in a box for you? Maybe. These semi-prepared meals definitely get you out of a “cooking rut” and encourage you to change up your dinner offerings. Here’s my two cents on some of the more popular brands, plus feedback from my colleagues who’ve also used them and other services. (This review is not an endorsement of any brand.)

I’ve tried three — Martha & Marley Spoon™, Blue Apron and Sun Basket. My co-workers have also tried Home Chef and the Rochester-based service, Kitchen Verde.

Here are reviews of Home Chef and Kitchen Verde

Home Chef: Never Have to Run to the Grocery Store

Robin Hendrick of Rochester and her husband get two to three Home Chef meals a week.

“I absolutely love it,” said Robin. “I can pre-order up to six weeks in advance, cancel specific weeks when I won’t need to use it, and personalize our profile for offerings. I never have to run to the grocery store to get that one forgotten ingredient.”

Robin with her Home Chef meal.

“Weeks when I only need to order two dinners, I’ll add a fruit or smoothie which brings my total above the minimum to get free delivery,” said Robin. “It makes economic sense to pay $10 more for fruit than $6.95 for shipping.”

Home Chef: Menu Choices

Recipes are marked as “heart healthy” or “carb conscious.” There is a Classic Plan and a Value Plan. With the Classic Plan, you can complete a personal taste profile; you’ll then be matched with weekly meal selections that meet your dietary restrictions and preferences. Smoothies and fruit baskets can be added. Some menus contain breakfast and/or lunch items.

On the day we checked, these were some of the meals on the menu: Ribeye Steak Quesadillas, Garlic and Lemon-Crusted Salmon, Bone-in Pork Chop with Maple Butter, Hawaiian Turkey Burger, Roasted Skin-on Chicken, Pork Shumai Meatballs, Empada Rice Bowl, and Artichoke and Tomato Flatbread.

Check the website for pricing and special promotions. When comparing plans, be sure to check if there is a delivery cost, if packaging is recyclable, if you can skip meals, and how far in advance you can cancel.

Kitchen Verde – The Rochester Option

 Melaney Bernhardt of Rochester uses Kitchen Verde.

“The meals are plant-based and oil free and fantastic. They use seasonal ingredients and always taste great!” said Melaney.

Sarah Goodenough developed the Rochester, New York-based Kitchen Verde meal service after losing 156 pounds on a plant-based diet. A registered nurse, she’s working on certification in plant-based nutrition through the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies at Cornell University.

Her new lifestyle has motivated her to help others improve their health and quality of life.

Kitchen Verde Menu Items

Check the website for the week’s offerings and costs for breakfast, lunch/dinner, snack boxes, organic cold press juices and “guilt-free” desserts.

On the day I checked, here’s what was on the menu:

Breakfast meals: Spicy Tofu and Black Bean Breakfast Burrito, Chocolate Raspberry Parfait, Chocolate Almond Butter Pancake, and Spinach Artichoke Quiche.

Lunch/dinner meals: Chipotle Tofu Burrito Bowl, Lasagna, Chili Sans Carne with Cornbread, Goulash, White Bean Loaf Plate, Broccoli and Rice Casserole and Onion and Pepper Quesadilla.

Snack boxes: Mini Pumpkin Power Muffin, Apple Cranberry Walnut Salad, Apple Pie Chia Pudding

In Monroe County, meals can be delivered ($5 charge) or Sundays, picked up at 777 Culver St., Rochester, between 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

In Ontario County, meals can be delivered to the Sands Cancer Center for pick up Mondays, 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Other Meal Delivery Services

To learn more about the other meal delivery services, read our reviews on:

 

Meal Delivery Services: Our Review of Martha Marley Spoon™

Is meal delivery in a box for you? Maybe. These semi-prepared meals definitely get you out of a “cooking rut” and encourage you to change up your dinner offerings. Here’s my two cents on some of the more popular brands, plus feedback from my colleagues who’ve also used them and other services. (This review is not an endorsement of any brand.)

I’ve tried three — Martha & Marley Spoon, Blue Apron and Sun Basket. My co-workers have also tried Home Chef and the Rochester-based service, Kitchen Verde.

Here’s my review of Marley Spoon.

Martha & Marley Spoon

I was tired of the “same old same old” meals, tried and true recipes that didn’t require a lot of thinking or prep time. Salads, roasted vegetables and grilled meats in the summer; crockpot meals, soups and stews in the winter. When I received Martha & Marley Spoon as a gift, I was excited to mix it up in the kitchen. I could whip up something New! Exciting! Different!

Plus, there would be no waste such as the huge bottle of black sesame seeds I bought for a  recipe and haven’t made since.

The entrees were tasty. A change from my usual ho-hum suppers. My favorite was “Poached Cod in Tomato Broth.”

You can re-create some of the meals on your own, but some recipes require custom spice blends that may be difficult to replicate.

30 Minutes, Really?

I found the “30 minutes” of suggested prep to table time idealistic, even unrealistic. Maybe I’m just slow. There was a lot of slicing and dicing—almost every recipe called for minced garlic, chopped onion or other produce preparation.

Still, I was pleased. They meals were tasty. I continued the membership a few more weeks, then gave up. Between working full-time and caregiving duties, I didn’t have the energy to prepare all the meals. I still had to grocery shop for staples and ingredients for other dinners, plus breakfast and lunch items.

Meal Plans For Martha & Marley Spoon

Martha & Marley Spoon offers meal plans for couples or families (three to four people). You can choose two to four meals a week. You can opt for your meals to be vegetarian or gluten-free. Recent menus included Smoky-Spice Rubbed Steak, Inside-Out Chicken & Stuffing, Broccoli and Black Olive Pizza, Tomato, Rice and Sausage Soup, Roasted Butternut Squash Pasta, Lentils and Smoky Eggplant, Broiled Shrimp and Zucchini, and Tortelloni Minestrone.

Check the website for plan costs. When comparing plans, be sure to check if there is a delivery cost, if packaging is recyclable, if you can skip meals, and how far in advance you can cancel.

For special promotions, check Martha & Marley Spoon social media:

Facebook
Instagram
Twitter

Final Word

I’ve since tried other meal delivery services, including Blue Apron and Sun Basket. They each had their benefits and drawbacks.

But I’m back to my own devices for dinner, although experimenting with the meal delivery service has definitely got me thinking outside the box. The food prep takes about the same amount of time whether I buy it or it arrives at my door. Most of the services publish some of their recipes online.

If you’re looking to spice up your meals, give a service (or two or three) a try. Since most don’t require a contract, you can opt out any time. And, most have an introductory discount that’s appealing!

To learn more about the other meal delivery services, read our reviews on:

 

Meal Delivery Services: Our Review of Sun Basket

Is meal delivery in a box for you? Maybe. These semi-prepared meals definitely get you out of a “cooking rut” and encourage you to change up your dinner offerings. Here’s my two cents on some of the more popular brands, plus feedback from my colleagues who’ve also used them and other services. (This review is not an endorsement of any brand.)

I’ve tried three — Martha & Marley Spoon™, Blue Apron and Sun Basket. My co-workers have also tried Home Chef and the Rochester-based service, Kitchen Verde.

Here’s my review of Sun Basket:

Sun Basket: Organic, Low Calorie

An offer for Sun Basket popped up in an email. I liked its promise of organic produce and lower calorie (lean and clean) meals, and of course, the introductory discount.

Sun Basket deliveries arrived on my doorstep three times a week. In no time, I felt overwhelmed. When I called to cancel, the customer service rep suggested I switch to two instead of three meals a week. That was more manageable.

I liked the entrees, but after a short while, they started to sound alike, but with a different protein, e.g., beef versus fish tacos. When the company raised the price of the meals and the shipping, I suggested they forgo printing the four-color booklet that contained recipes for every meal that week—not just the ones I ordered. The individual meal cards I got from another meal delivery service, Marley Spoons, seemed less wasteful. (Read my review of Martha & Marley Spoon.)

My CNY colleague, Lindsay Speicher, agreed. She and her fiancé preferred Sun Basket over meal delivery services Blue Apron and Hello Fresh, but sometimes found it stressful to pull together three fairly complex meals a week.

“It was nice to have interesting meals at home using ingredients we don’t usually buy. We also had a good reason to make dinner together, dividing and conquering the steps,” she said, adding that she also appreciated Sun Basket’s lower calorie options.

“But, if our week was busy, we’d still have to make the meals or let them go to waste.”

Sun Basket Menus

 “Inspired farm-to-table” recipes serve two to four people a meal. Choices include Chef’s Choice, Paleo, Lean & Clean, Gluten-free and Vegetarian. Recent menu items included Green Goddess Steak Salad, Walnut-Crusted Chicken Diavola, Roasted Salmon, Black Bean Tostados, Almond Crusted Sole, and Red Lentil and Leek Pot Pie.

“Family friendly meals kids will like” serve two, three or four people. Choices are Chef’s Choice, Paleo-friendly, Gluten-free and Vegetarian. Recent menu items included Korean Beef Skewers, Black Bean Quinoa Burgers, Pulled Pork With Orecchiette, Mu Shu Pork, and Paprika-Spiced Chicken.

Check the website for pricing and special promotions and other menu choices. When comparing plans, be sure to check if there is a delivery cost, if packaging is recyclable, if you can skip meals, and how far in advance you can cancel.

Other Meal Delivery Services

I’ve since tried other meal delivery services, including Blue Apron and Marley Spoons, and my co-workers have tried a few others as well.

To learn more about the other meal delivery services, read our reviews on:

 

 

Meal Delivery Services: Our Review of Blue Apron

Is meal delivery in a box for you? Maybe. These semi-prepared meals definitely get you out of a “cooking rut” and encourage you to change up your dinner offerings. Here’s my two cents on some of the more popular brands, plus feedback from my colleagues who’ve also used them and other services. (This review is not an endorsement of any brand.)

I’ve tried three — Martha & Marley Spoon™, Blue Apron and Sun Basket. My co-workers have also tried Home Chef and the Rochester-based service, Kitchen Verde.

Here’s my review of Blue Apron:

Blue Apron: Mixed Reviews

Blue Apron’s introductory offer enticed me to try this popular brand. Again, the prep time was more than the stated half hour. I scrambled to make the meals before the produce wilted. Unless I planned to make the meal that day or the next, I froze the meat.

With the meals arriving in quick succession, I felt like I Love Lucy at the candy factory. She and Ethel failed to keep up with the candy wrapping as the chocolates arrived fast and furious on the conveyor belt. The next Blue Apron meals would arrive before I had gone through the previously delivered batch. It was too much too soon.

Lisa Weakley of Central New York has had better luck with Blue Apron. She’s been a subscriber for three years. Shrimp Thai Soup is a favorite.

“I like not having to think about what to have for dinner three times a week,” she said, adding that some of the ingredients are sourced from local small farmers, including Emmi’s farm in Baldwinsville.

Still, she’d like more grill options in the summer.

Although he’s only tried three meals, Jeff Borkowski, a vegetarian from the Rochester area, plans to use Blue Apron again. He cited the plan’s affordability and high quality ingredients.

“The portions are perfect. I always eat everything on my plate, even when I shouldn’t. I felt satisfied, but not stuffed,” he said, adding that “the food is absolutely delicious!”

Bryan Adams, also from Rochester, liked how easy it was to make meals with Blue Apron. “Very family friendly, too.”

He and his wife quit the service after a month citing the cost. A family plan for four meals a week was $143.84.

“It was more than my entire grocery budget for a 7-day week! And it didn’t include kids’ lunches, our lunches, breakfast, snacks and beverages,” he said.

Pan Sauce Pizzazz

Rochester area resident Lauren Daley started using Blue Apron on maternity leave.

“It was nice to cook something and have it all portioned out,” she said, adding, “The little bottles of condiments and vinegars and tiny packets of butter are adorable! Even the ice packs are cool!”

Some of Blue Apron’s little bottles of condiments and tiny packets of ingredients.

She continued the service after she went back to work.

“I learned some new techniques and to make something tasty with just a few ingredients,” she said.

“For example, I didn’t know how to make a pan sauce or a depressing little chicken breast have a little more pizzazz. It’s made me ’scrappier’ with ingredients I have on hand.”

Although she’s the “resident chef” in her home, Lauren said she and her wife make it a point to cook together.

“It was fun to pick our meals together online,” she said. “And, it transformed making dinner into an actual experience rather than a logistical daily need.”

With her wife’s sensitivity to gluten, their only option was to pick meals without starches. Although Lauren could sometimes substitute by using her own gluten-free ingredients, it felt wasteful. She tried to reduce each meal’s cost by stretching it to cover another dinner or lunch, but that wasn’t always possible.

“So, I can’t make it an all-the-time thing, but I go back from time to time just to spice up our menus and have a little extra time not dedicated to shopping and meal prep,” said Lauren, adding that a gift card to Blue Apron is their go-to gift for newlyweds and new families.

Blue Apron Menus

 Menu choices are non-vegetarian and vegetarian. There are two-person and family plans (feeds four).

On the day we checked, menus included Chili Butter Steaks, Spicy Honey-Lime Chicken Tostados, Baked Cajun Catfish, Lumaca Rigata Pasta, Shitake & Black Garlic Rament, Curried Cauliflower & Lentils, Miso-Butter Pork Chops and Roasted Turkey Breast & Farro-Endive Salad.

Check the website for other menus, pricing plans and special promotions. When comparing plans, be sure to check if there is a delivery cost, if packaging is recyclable, if you can skip meals, and how far in advance you can cancel.

Other Meal Services

I’ve since tried other meal delivery services, including Sun Basket and Martha & Marley Spoon, and my co-workers have tried a few others as well.

To learn more about the other meal delivery services, read our reviews on:

 

Hidden Gems: Unique Coffee Shops in Syracuse, NY

Ask any coffee drinker, and they’ll tell you: coffee has worthwhile benefits beyond the pleasant aroma and morning pick-me-up. Indulging in a local coffee shop’s special brew may be just what you need. Luckily, Central New York has several fair trade, sustainable, coffee shops to satisfy your caffeine needs. Each coffee shop has its own unique vibe for customers. Check out why these spots are more than your average java fix.

Recess Coffee

Drink Coffee, Shoot Lightning!

This slice of rustic, caffeinated heaven is located right on Westcott Street near the Syracuse University campus. At first, you might not notice it because it looks just like the surrounding houses. Owners Adam Williams and Jesse Daino source all their fair trade beans directly from farms that have a mission of sustainability and ethical practices.

Owners Adam Williams and Jesse Daino

“Our goal has always been to create an environment that is accepting of anyone who wants to come in,” said Williams.

Recess Coffee’s signature blend, “The Westcott,” is a medium roast coffee with African and Indonesian blends, infused with chocolate and cherry flavors. Williams says customers prefer it without cream or sugar because it’s just that good!

Feeling a little more adventurous? Then try “The Crazy.” This signature drink is a chocolate peanut butter mocha blend. Brewed with real peanut butter and espresso, this drink seems to drive customers “crazy” with delight.

“Customers can always count on us to give them guidance,” said Williams. “It’s fulfilling to help find something that works for them.”

 

Recess offers “Cupping Classes” once a month. The head roaster teaches the participants how to drink coffee, how to choose the right blend and how to identify certain flavors in Recess’s blends.

“We think it’s awesome there are this many local coffee shops in Syracuse. We’re just happy to be one of them.”

Café Kubal Coffee Roaster

Coffee for the Soul

Originally located in Eastwood, New York, Café Kubal has been another coffee lovers’ staple in Central New York. It now has six locations, including cafes in downtown Syracuse, by the Syracuse University campus and inside Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital. Owner Matt Godard said he’s committed to making sustainable and great-tasting coffee. For Godard, it’s more than just the coffee. It’s about the people.

Owner Matt Godard

“Coffee started to impress me as an important aspect of any vibrant community because it defines a segment of time—allowing people to connect and share ideas,” said Godard.

You won’t find one button push latte makers here, Godard said. Café Kubal puts a lot of effort and training into their baristas to perfect the art of making your coffee just how you like it.

Kubal’s signature menu item is “The Eastwood.” Named after its first location, the drink is poured with a heart within a heart—representing Eastwood as a village within the city. This drink has a higher strength coffee flavor instead of milk flavor.

   

This roastery imports coffee beans from around the globe, e.g., Guatemala, Indonesia, Kenya, Ethiopia and Brazil. Café Kubal even has a unique, naturally processed coffee from Ethiopia – Aricha that’s known for its distinctive blueberry flavor profile and a bright, floral aroma.

Salt City Coffee

Coffee…Where Stories Are Told

In this old colonial-style house on the westside of Syracuse, you’ll find baristas not only know how you like your coffee, but how your family is doing. Aaron Metthe and his wife, Maria, have been serving fresh, fair trade and earth-friendly coffee to this previously untapped neighborhood since March 2017.

Aaron Metthe and his wife, Maria, with their children.

“We get to know our customers on a personal level, and that’s why people come back every day,” said Metthe. “Connections being made here are deeper than coffee.”

Your pumpkin spice latte wouldn’t be the same without Salt City’s homemade pumpkin spice syrup. All Salt City Coffee flavoring syrups are homemade and seasonal, including lavender and maple sage flavors.

Its most popular coffee is from Guatemala. This smooth medium roast has hints of bittersweet chocolate. Another favorite is the coffee shop’s Sumatra coffee. A robust dark roast, Metthe describes it as “a coffee lovers kick in the mouth.”

What makes this spot unique is free delivery service with a purchase of online selections. Delivery areas include Syracuse, East Syracuse, North Syracuse, Camillus, Liverpool and Onondaga Hill.

“What gets me up in the morning is the hard work of my team and knowing that customers accept us as part of the neighborhood,” said Metthe.

Where’s your favorite spot? Tell us why it’s your go-to place for your coffee fix.

How to Build a Backyard Ice Rink

Given that current weather forecasts for our part of the Northeast are including numbers below the magical 32 degrees Fahrenheit, my mental homeowner ‘to do’ list includes clearing the leaves, starting the snowblower, and so on…standard stuff you may say.

But even now, I catch myself dreaming of the next item…re-assembling the backyard ice arena, aka “Kane Rink.”

You may then quip “Are you nuts? Sounds like a lot of work!” And I’ll agree, but smile, fueled by a fond, selective memory.

Setting up the ice rink: Lots of trial and error

For nearly 10 winters, my sons and I (and occasionally my wonderful wife/hockey mom) would spend the better part of each Thanksgiving morning:

  • Re-assembling the pressure-treated frame boards (aka our first deck frame) for the border of the rink,
  • Screwing in the assorted galvanized straps and connections to secure the frame,
  • Unrolling and leveling the huge marine grade tarp over the ground and frame walls,
  • Starting the two-day water filling process, with 4” – 6” depth the goal for ease of freezing and maintenance.

Though the instructions SOUND simple, there was a lot of trial and error, and talking to other “crazy” “North Coast” (Webster borders Lake Ontario) parents like us. Some other, much more sane parents, might even ask “isn’t the nearby Webster Ice Arena a half mile from your house?” “Yep, but you can’t turn those lights on at 10 p.m. and play till you’re tired, or any other time you want…and water is cheap!”

Second-hand hockey equipment is key

Only one of my boys actively played hockey. Yet both were good skaters and outdoor adventurers who had fun with friends at our house all the time.

We had spare skates and sticks of all sizes. Plus two goals and a shooting net behind one to enable retrieval of pucks without too many losses to the neighbor’s deck for springtime discovery.

Since hockey families pass along items to newbies as their kids age out, we were lucky too. One parent gave us about 50 extra pucks. Another lent me his “NiceIce Resurfacer.” It’s a water pipe and cloth that evenly spreads the water. This tool saved hours of frustration and would have been worth buying for one season alone!

Building and maintaining the 25’x55’ rink was a shared task and one with new lessons each year. Here are some of those lessons, just in case you decide to start your own “backyard rink” traditions this year.

Want to build an ice rink? Start online

  • Google “how to build a backyard hockey rink” and watch some of the videos. There are many, many theories, but you’ll get the idea and answers to questions you hadn’t even thought of.
  • Consider an online vendor such as NiceRink.com for supplies, brackets and such. There are so many other options, you can start simple when the kids are young and improve year to year.

Ice rink tarp tips

  • Try a marine grade or waterproof tarp instead of stapling sheet plastic. You can reuse the tarp for many years.
  • Try placing corrugated plastic drain pipe over the board edges to hold the tarp and protect it from skaters, pucks and shovels too.

Clean that rink

  • Leaves from nearby trees have to be cleared promptly, or they will freeze into the surface and melt at a different speed than nearby ice due to color and sunlight. They create pits/holes in the surface of the ice.
  • Once the ice formed for the winter, clearing ANY snowfall was crucial within hours. If not, snow would melt then refreeze and/or worse create slush on the ice surface and the upper snow would create a blanket effect. I was in the habit of clearing the driveway and the rink all before sunrise. Again, a “North Coast thing” perhaps?

Finding the best spot for your rink

  • If your yard isn’t 100% level, that’s OK, the boards can be deeper in some spots. You can also bring in loads of dirt to improve your yard. Sixteen loads helped us!
  • Having a nearby source of BOTH hot and cold water is crucial to success. Sometimes hot water melted and easily leveled the top surface after skating or snow fell. A walk-out basement with available laundry tub served our needs. It also gave easy access to get back in the house when too cold to skate.
  • Lighting – if you can point some spotlights from your house to the ice surface, you’ll have extended hours of fun!

End of season fun

  • Buy a ~$30 battery-powered floating water pump for the end of season draining challenge – you’ll thank me.
  • If you only take one end of the boards down in the spring, you can still mow your lawn AND save hours of work! Plus you can keep the goal up for summertime practice on a mat that might also save your garage door from round, black dents.

When you get to the point where the kids go to college (unless you’ve developed your own backyard game and parents’ league), give away your gathered items. You’ll be amazed how much spare time you’ll get back in the winter! But it will be sadly quiet on those sunny, 15 degree days in January when you SHOULD be providing cookies and cocoa to a hungry crew. Savor those memories, they are worth the effort.

We know there’s a lot of fellow upstate NYers who are skilled at building the backyard ice rink! Please share your tips and advice. We’d love to hear them.

Yogurt… Is it Really Healthy?

Back in college, I didn’t have a lot of healthy habits. But I thought I was doing one thing right. Every day, I ate some yogurt.

I’d fill my fridge with yogurt flavors like “red velvet cake,” “key lime pie” and “black forest cake.” I never questioned why my healthy snack was named after a dessert. But, if I had checked the label, I would have noticed that my “healthy snack” had 21 grams of sugar. That’s about the same as a candy bar – yikes! So, what’s the deal? Is yogurt a healthy snack?

Not All Yogurt Is Created Equal

It’s true, yogurt can be a healthy snack. It’s rich in protein and calcium (FYI: Greek yogurt has almost twice the protein of regular yogurt, but not as much calcium).  In addition, research has shown that a daily serving of yogurt may protect against type 2 diabetes and heart disease. However, not all yogurt is created equal.

Check The Nutrition Label

  • Added sugar: Yogurt naturally contains some sugar. However, it has added sugar if the nutrition label says “fruit on the bottom,” “fruit-flavored” or it contains toppings like cookie bits. Eating foods with added sugar can contribute to health problems, like weight gain and tooth decay. So, is the 100-calorie, “light,” flavored yogurt free from added sugar? Check the label. To reduce calories, some “light” products contain artificial sweeteners. Choose one without added sugar or artificial sweeteners for a less-processed and less-sugary snack.
  • A long list of ingredients: Some products contain extra ingredients that enhance the consistency, texture, and stability of the food – things like modified corn starch. While not all of these ingredients are harmful, some may cause digestive issues or allergic reactions in some people. Other added ingredients, like carrageenan, are of questionable safety. Your best bet is to find a product with a shorter list of ingredients, like “milk and live and active cultures.”
  • “Live and active cultures:” Yogurt is made by fermenting milk with probiotic (“good”) bacteria, or “cultures.” These cultures may help support healthy digestive and immune systems. For the cultures to possibly have an impact, they have to be “live and active” and present in sufficient numbers. Not all yogurt packs the same probiotic punch. Look for a “live and active cultures” label or a special industry seal for the presence and activity of live cultures.

What’s the Bottom Line?

Whether you prefer Greek or regular (or even French) yogurt, check the label and aim for one that has less sugar per serving, a short list of ingredients and enough live cultures. Jazz up plain yogurt by adding fresh or frozen fruit, and nuts or seeds.

Looking for a different healthy snack? Try some Energizing PB Date Bites.

Binghamton High Poverty Area Gets Healthier

The north side of Binghamton, New York, was in desperate need. Not only does it have a high rate of obesity, but it also has the highest rate of poverty in the county. Making matters worse, the only grocery store in walking distance or on the bus line closed. It was hard to find affordable or quality fresh foods.

The Northside Healthy Lifestyles Program

The United Way of Broome County stepped up to help by creating the “Northside Healthy Lifestyles Program.” The program increased residents’ access to healthy food, in particular locally grown fruits and vegetables, and taught them about nutrition. The program also provided physical fitness opportunities for families to combat childhood obesity. But there was still something missing.

More Help Needed For Binghamton

Program coordinators soon learned that more was needed to improve the residents’ health. Community members wanted important health screenings and physical education activities for their families. They’d also benefit from health coaching and chronic disease management, which the program lacked.

“Families didn’t know where to get started,” said Kim Schwartz, program coordinator and physical activity specialist for the United Way of Broome County.

A Customized Approach To Getting Healthy

Excellus BlueCross BlueShield stepped in to partner with the United Way of Broome County with a three-year grant to enhance the Healthy Lifestyles Coalition Program. The program could now expand services to better support the community.

They added a new program, called the “Northside Health Coaching Program,” to provide individual motivational health coaching, physical education opportunities, peer counseling and free health screenings.

“The unique aspect of this program is that all participants will receive a customized approach to getting healthy,” said Jessica Renner, Excellus BCBS regional president.

Small Changes Have a Big Health Impact in Binghamton

The new partnerships and programs have helped the community. Northside community members are now learning about nutrition, taking yoga classes, learning stress management skills, and trying different programs to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

“Small adjustments add up to a big difference,” stated Schwartz. “Trained health coaches work with participants to make lasting changes together.”

After six months in the program, one program participant, Laura Race, has lost 89 pounds. She’s gone from a size 22 to a size 16.

“My blood pressure has improved, and my cholesterol has gone down. My doctor told me that health-wise, I’m a whole new person,” said Race.

Laura Race

Food, Fitness, and Bikes, too!

The enhanced Northside Healthy Lifestyles Program also has a new component called Fresh Cycles. The Fresh Cycles program helps kids and their parents with bike maintenance, including donated bikes, and recycling.

Adult volunteers provide hands-on instruction about basic bicycle maintenance and repair. They also educate about safe riding habits, e.g., wearing a helmet, following traffic laws and being visible on the roads. Group rides are open to anyone who wants to peddle through Binghamton’s neighborhoods, parks, and roadways.

“Together with Excellus BCBS, we’re making the health and wellness of Binghamton’s north side our top priority. Our goal is to get people to ‘Move More in 2017’ and take a more active role in their health care,” said Schwartz.

12 Tips for Using a Bike Share

Bike shares are popping up in cities like mine (Rochester, NY). They’re great for quick trips to the neighborhood store, or for a group ride when with friends or out-of-town guests.

It sounds like fun, but if you’re like me, you’re not quite sure how to do it. Yes, I know how to ride a bike, but how do I rent one?

Don’t worry. I have friends who’ve mastered this new service. Here are some tips:

  1. Bring your own bike helmet. Not sure how to find one?
  2. Carry a small backpack or messenger bag. You can clip your helmet to it and carry your sunscreen, water bottle, snack and wallet. Maybe even carry a spare pair of shoes? Many of the bikes also have baskets for those items you’re carrying.
  3. Put on sunscreen, and not just on your face. Make sure you protect your arms and legs, too!
  4. Wear “sensible” shoes like a pair of sneakers or closed-toe shoes. Come on, you know your mom would tell you not to wear flip flops, right?
  5. Know the route and the rules. Aim for routes that keep you off busy roads. Ride with traffic (riding against traffic is a leading cause of bike-car crashes), use hand signals when turning and use the bike lanes where they’re available. You can read up on many of the rules here.
  6. Get the app. Most bike shares are mobile-based. You simply download an app, preload your credit card, and you’re off like Dorothy and Toto.
  7. Look for bike share credits, if you’re using an app. My co-worker, for example, found a promo code on the Rochester Regional Transit Service (RTS) website for $5 in bike share credits!
  8. Know the bike share rules. Can you return the bike to a public rack, or should you return it to the bike share stations? How long can you rent the bike? The rules are usually detailed on the bike share app or website.
  9. Adjust the bike seat for your height! A quick tip: Sit on your bike, and push one pedal all the way down. You should have a slight bend in your knee, if your seat is adjusted correctly.
  10. Before you ride, squeeze the bike’s handles to test the brakes. Check the tires to make sure they’re not flat.
  11. Start easy. Consider biking along a trail or in a park, and skip high traffic areas. In Rochester, for example, there are spots to rent a bike along the Genesee Riverway Trail, an off-road trail along the Genesee River.
  12. Have fun!

When you’re done, tell your friends and family. Lots of people (like me) are thinking about it, but are too nervous to try. So share your story – whether it’s on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or just at the dinner table.

Here are a few bike sharing services in upstate New York. Please note that many bike share services close for the season around late October or November.

Enjoy the ride!