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Breakfast in 15 Minutes or Less


Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, not only because that’s "what my Mom used to say," but because, as my kids will tell you, their Mommy (me) gets pretty grumpy when she doesn't have a good breakfast. In all seriousness, several studies point to the importance of breakfast for metabolism, mental acuity, as well as other key health and wellness factors. SparkPeople has made breakfast a key priority in its programs too.
 
At the same time, not everyone feels the same about breakfast. Too big a breakfast and my husband will feel ill. The wrong breakfast choices and my kids will stage an uprising, of which they’re usually on the verge anyway in the morning. To help other Sparkers who find breakfast challenging, I've gathered our best recipes that have a proper balance of complex carbs, proteins, and fats that are also quick, easy, and affordable to prepare. Start your day right with these breakfast gems. 
Posted 1/22/2013  12:00:00 PM By: Samantha Donohue : 30 comments   85,619 views
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13 Recipes High In Protein, Low In Fat


Are you tired of eating plain, boring chicken breast every night for dinner, or are you having a hard time eating enough protein to meet you daily needs? Studies suggest that eating protein helps you feel fuller for longer and keeps your body's systems function properly. At the same time, many high protein recipes are also loaded with saturated fat and cholesterol that work against your efforts to stay healthy. A health and balanced diet requires 10-35% protein. That's an average of 50-175 grams daily. To find the right balance of protein and fat follow these suggestions:
  • Grill, bake, poach or broil your food to limit fat.
  • Select nonfat or low fat dairy options.
  • Use egg whites in place of the whole egg.
  • Select lean meats and trim the fat and skin before cooking. 
Prepare these high protein, low fat recipes to help you stay on track and satisfied.

Posted 1/15/2013  6:00:00 PM By: Samantha Donohue : 21 comments   340,965 views
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My Best Fitness Tips for Busy Moms


Exercise is an important part of my life, not only because of my job, but because of what it does for me personally.  Exercise helps me relieve stress, makes me feel good about myself, and since I've become a mom, it's one of the few things I do these days that’s all my own.  I’ve blogged in the past about being a busy mom of three small children, and most of the time I put 110% of my effort toward my kids, leaving little for me.  I know that’s not good (and something I need to work on), but one thing I do try to make time for almost daily is exercise. 
 
Whether it means getting up early, squeezing in a few 10-minute workouts throughout the day or doing a quick video while they nap, exercise calms me and helps me get through a busy day without a (mommy) meltdown. 
 
Everyone has the same number of hours in a day, so whether or not you exercise comes down to how you choose to spend your time.  It’s not always easy, and just because I exercise regularly doesn’t mean I pop out of bed at 5 a.m., excited and energized to work out.  I have to drag myself out of bed most days, and some days, my scheduled workout doesn’t happen.  I do the best I can.
 
So if you’re a busy mom like me, how do you begin to find time for exercise?  Here are a few suggestions that work for me.
Posted 1/14/2013  6:00:00 AM By: Jen Mueller : 20 comments   35,667 views
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7 Perfect Pork Chop Recipes


Pork Chops are not just the "Other White Meat," but a surprisingly versatile, affordable, and healthy meal plan option. A few simple changes are all that's required to bring this slice of Americana--pun intended--into the health-conscious 21st century. Try baking, slow-cooking, or grilling them, and then add your favorite fresh herbs to boost the chop's natural flavor structure. Opt for a more nutritious sauce or topping, like all natural apple sauce, spiced yogurt-based sauce, or home made chutney. Another benefit is that it doesn't take long to cook, nor are the ingredients very costly. Feed your family a healthy meal with these pork chop recipes. 
Posted 1/4/2013  12:00:00 PM By: Samantha Donohue : 12 comments   18,674 views
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How to Help Children Deal When Tragedy Strikes


Our nation faced an unthinkable tragedy on the morning of December 14.  The school shooting in Newtown, CT, instantly became something that we could not wrap our brains around.  We try, but the answers that we seek do not come.  We struggle to comprehend it as adults and as parents, to choose the right words when speaking with our children, and to figure out how we can protect those around us who are more precious than anything on earth.

On the one hand, it seems an impossible task to try to write anything that can even remotely address people’s needs in response to the horrific  news that has been plastered on our television and computer screens, our mobile devices, and the black and white print around us.  On the other hand, it feels inappropriate to write about anything else at this time. (I began writing this less than 24 hours after the event.)
In the aftermath of a tragedy that is beyond our comprehension, people’s initial shocked reactions include the questions: "How could this happen?"  "Why?"  "Who would do something like this?" Even those in the news media, visibly shaken by the event as they reported on it, asked those questions.

With time, we can come up with intellectual answers to these questions that focus on the identification of the perpetrator, realization of the individual’s background and history, and a piecing together of the events that led up to the incomprehensible.  And with time, an increasing amount of the factual details will come together to tell a (perhaps fateful, and definitely tragic) tale. 

The emotional dealings with the aftermath are a much different matter. 
Posted 12/17/2012  6:00:00 PM By: SparkPeople Guest Blogger : 11 comments   6,617 views
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13 Slimmed Down Dips


The holiday season has started and so have many fun gatherings and parties. Holiday festivities can be a time of nutritional temptation. Dips are an outstanding way to spice up a party. The bold flavors, creamy textures, and endless choices draw family and friends together for fun and conversation. At the same time, they are typically loaded with hidden calories, abundant sodium and saturated fat that are too difficult to resist and track. To prove that dips can be fun and flavor rich, we’ve chosen the top dips from SparkRecipes that substitute unhealthy ingredients with nutritional alternatives. Cut some fresh vegetables or whole-grain baked goods and bring one of these dips to your next party.  
Posted 12/7/2012  6:00:00 PM By: Samantha Donohue : 12 comments   23,317 views
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5 Easy Ways to Show Kids How to be Thankful


Gratitude can be a difficult thing to teach but a vital lesson for children to learn.
 
Psychologists have found that people who regularly say thank you and remember to be grateful for things in their life tend to be happier and more optimistic. They can't say there is definitely a cause-and-effect relationship between gratitude and happiness, but counting your blessings certainly doesn't hurt.
 
Teaching gratitude is something that should happen all year; however, the holiday season quickly can prove whether the lessons have been a success. The good cheer of the holidays can disappear in a whirl of greed and gluttony. That's true for all of us, young and old, but it's especially apparent when children, the prime gift recipients of the season, act ungratefully.
 
No one wants to have the kid refusing to thank Aunt Betty for the hand-made sweater – or even worse, declaring it ugly. Yes, we want children to be truly grateful in their hearts, but let's face it, we also want to avoid unpleasant scenes. Gratitude and politeness go hand-in-hand. 
 
Here are easy some ways to teach and show gratitude all year, and especially at the holiday season.
Posted 12/5/2012  6:00:00 PM By: SparkPeople Guest Blogger : 15 comments   11,062 views
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How to Ace the Parent-Teacher Conference


It was November 2010, my son's first grade parent-teacher conference.  I entered the room with my realist hat on and sat down in the tiny chair at the table with the teacher and my husband.  I was ready to hear positive feedback about my son's academic performance and likely some less than positive feedback about his silliness in the classroom (that was his pre-Kindergarten teacher's word for his very excitable-but-hard-to-bring-back-down personality).  I was prompt, aware, and ready to go.

What I was not prepared for was the teacher's opening line: "He is the impetus for all of the problems around him." 

She did not appreciate his silliness nor his desire to help (albeit, untimely) those around him during work time.  Ten seconds.  Eleven words.  Ten gallons of tears. 

Luckily, I have become a more seasoned parent-teacher participant.  Armed with more conference experience, anecdotal accounts from teachers, parents, and teacher educators, and published research on parent-teacher conferences, I can now offer some fresh perspective on the parent-teacher conference.  
Posted 11/28/2012  12:00:00 PM By: SparkPeople Guest Blogger : 13 comments   9,452 views
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Healthy Flying Tips for Families


The holiday season is rapidly approaching, and many people will take to the sky to visit family and friends. Despite appearances—a plethora of fast foods, snacks and lots of sitting around—flights and airports offer plenty of nutritious food and opportunity for activity, if you know where to look.


  • Make sure everyone eats a healthy meal before you arrive. You’ll be less likely to munch on high-calorie snacks just because they’re around or you’re bored.


  • If eating in an airport, it’s worth it to spend the time seeking out healthy foods. Look for salads, fresh fruit, vegetable-based soups, and baked or grilled chicken.
    Posted 11/4/2012  10:00:00 AM By: Nicole Nichols : 13 comments   11,297 views
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Do You Really Need a Flu Shot? (Everything You Need to Know about the Vaccine)


Fall is here. Apples are in season. Leaves are falling. Pumpkin just begs to be baked into a pie.
 
But with all of those good things comes at least one not-so-good thing: the flu.
 
Flu season can begin in October and end as late as May, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Influenza is caused by viruses and because these can change, each flu season is a different. Individuals also are affected differently by the flu, including fever, cough, sore throat, vomiting, diarrhea or respiratory distress. Typically the worst cases are in people 65 or older. CDC estimates of flu-related deaths between 1976 and 2007 range from 3,000 to 49,000, and in a normal year, about 90 percent of deaths are in people older than 65.
 
Several years ago, swine flu – the H1N1 virus – hit the U.S. and caused a great deal of concern because it seemed to strike pregnant women and younger adults much harder than the typical flu virus. Odd flu seasons like that are when you start seeing headlines about the flu killing people and urging people to get vaccinated against the virus.
 
But the CDC and other health organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a flu vaccine every year for anyone older than 6 months. The vaccine especially is important for people who might develop complications, such as pneumonia, from the flu – this includes people older than 65 or people with asthma or other respiratory illnesses – as well as pregnant women and anyone caring for someone who might be struck harder than normal with the flu.
 
How does the vaccine work?
Posted 11/1/2012  10:00:00 AM By: SparkPeople Guest Blogger : 107 comments   31,411 views
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7 Recipes From Around The World


One way to bring fun and excitement into your kitchen is to cook recipes that come from around the world. Even if you are not able to travel much, you can introduce your loved ones to other cultures and exciting flavors by using ingredients from the international aisle in most super markets, spice shops, or specialty markets. These recipes are simple to prepare and versatile. As you master them, start experimenting to create your own new international favorites. 
Posted 10/26/2012  6:00:00 PM By: Samantha Donohue : 6 comments   9,928 views
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Stop Apologizing for Being Different


Every day I work hard to be a good mom.  There are days where I’m proud of the job I’ve done, and other days when I’m not.   I think that kind of goes with the territory.  I know I’m not perfect, but I always try to make decisions based on what I think is right for my family.  Some of those decisions aren’t the norm, but instead of being proud of paving my own path, recently I’ve started apologizing for them.  It’s time for me to stop being sorry and start embracing my differences.
 
My daughter started kindergarten last month, which means I’ve been getting involved at school, going to meetings and introducing myself to other parents in her class.  A few weeks ago, I went to a meeting where moms were chatting about popular meals they serve for dinner.  Most of the foods they were mentioning were things my kids never eat, because admittedly, I’m pretty picky about what we have.  Most of our meals don’t come from a box or fast food drive through, and I try to serve healthy foods as much as possible (leaving room for special treats now and then.)  I stayed quiet through the conversation, because I didn’t want to come off as judging other parents.  Every parent has their own things they focus on, and one of mine happens to be the quality of our food.  When I came to pick my daughter up from a playdate a few days after this, her friend’s mom asked “What does she eat for lunch?” She named a few foods she asked if my daughter would like to eat, and my daughter had never had them before.   Yes, hotdogs are on that list.    
 
After these two experiences (as well as a few others involving the toys my children have compared to other kids), I felt the need to apologize to them.  “I’m sorry that I’m different than other parents.  I’m sorry I focus a lot on what you eat, and don’t just buy you everything you want the second you ask for it.”  When my husband heard me doing this, he pulled me aside.  “Why would you apologize for doing things for our kids that you feel are going to make them better, healthier people?  Don’t be sorry for that.”  The more I thought about it, the more I knew he was right.  My kids eat plenty of treats, just not all-day, every day.  My kids get new toys and we do lots of fun things together, even if I’m not buying the latest, most expensive gadgets on the market.  I do these things because I think they are right for my family, which is why everyone makes the choices they do.  I just need to get more comfortable in my own skin and not be so self-conscious about it.
 
The path towards a healthier lifestyle isn’t always the popular choice.  Sometimes you have to turn down seconds at the dinner table, or decide against the rich dessert that everyone else is devouring.  Have you ever felt the need to apologize for that, as if you’re doing something wrong?  Do you apologize to family or friends for making time to work out instead of things others might like you to do?  I think there’s a difference between being selfish, and just saying you’re sorry for making different choices.  In the end, we all have one life to live.  The way you make yours great isn’t going to be the same as everyone else, but that’s okay.  That’s what makes each of us unique.
 
What do you think?  
  
Posted 10/23/2012  6:00:00 AM By: Jen Mueller : 67 comments   10,968 views
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Healthy Pizza with Pizzazz!


Pizza can be a healthy choice, filled with complex carbohydrates, B-vitamins, calcium, protein, vitamin A, and vitamin C. However it often ends up being an indulgent, high fat, calorie-packed nightmare. When you’re starting from scratch (or ordering by phone) these pointers will help keep your meal healthy, while still pleasing your family's taste buds.
Posted 10/21/2012  10:00:00 AM By: Nicole Nichols : 19 comments   18,586 views
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Meals That Serve A Crowd


I recently came across my great grandmother's focaccia pizza recipe and was surprised that it served 100 people. Apparently, cooking for a crowd was the norm in my family. One thing my family has taught me is that cooking a big meal doesn't have to be complicated or unhealthy. My guests often mention how surprised they are how tasty a healthy dish can be and how inspired they are to try simple substitutes in their recipes. Here are seven SparkRecipes that can easily be doubled when cooking for a crowd.

 
Posted 10/19/2012  2:00:00 PM By: Samantha Donohue : 7 comments   49,104 views
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Super Meals for Big Batch Cooking


Cooking in batches is one of the best kept secrets for saving time and money, while promoting good health at the same time. With three school age kids, time is a rare commodity. Instead of turning to processed and packaged foods, I take advantage of the days I can cook and select healthy recipes that I can easily double or triple the batch. We enjoy these meals the next night as leftovers or we take them to work or school the next day in a thermos or Tupperware. Here are my favorite batch cooking recipes and resources. 
Posted 10/17/2012  6:00:00 PM By: Samantha Donohue : 14 comments   34,737 views
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