New Videos for At-Home Workouts on Frigid Days

As I write this blog, snow is swirling in the air and it is cold outside. Like really cold. As much as my kids and I enjoy sledding and being active outdoors, it’s not possible right now, since it is recommended to limit your time outside. This also means my kids are having indoor recess at school which usually isn’t very active. Therefore, I’m thinking of different ways we can be active inside our house.

This past week we’ve been doing different workout videos after school. We’ve done a couple that they do in school. And I also introduced them to the new stretching and workout videos we have on Spend Smart. Eat Smart. We have four new videos: Chair workout, Upper Body Stretches, Cardio Pyramid Exercises, and Chair Stretches. My 11 year old son and I did the Cardio Pyramid together. He thought it was pretty fun watching mom on the video! The videos are short so they work well when you need to add a little movement to your day or when you are short on time. And you don’t need a lot of space to do them.

If, like my family, you need to find ways to be active indoors, check out the new videos and let us know what you think.

Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood is a Registered Dietitian who enjoys spending time in the kitchen baking and preparing meals for her family. She does lots of meal planning to stay organized and feed her family nutritious meals.

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Nutrition Facts Label Gets an Update

 For the first time in 20 years, the Nutrition Facts label, found on packaged foods, has been significantly updated to make it easier to understand. The Nutrition Facts label can help you make food choices for good health. It is a valuable tool and we want to make it easy for you to understand all of the information it includes. Check out our video on Reading the Food Label.

The new label has some changes because needs and priorities related to food have changed in the last 20 years. Here is a summary of some of the changes:

  • The serving size is in a large, bold font and serving sizes have been updated to better reflect what people actually eat. Pay attention to the size and number of servings you eat or drink as it may be bigger or smaller than the serving size listed.
  • Calories are now shown in a larger, bolder font to better display this information. The thing to remember with calories is that you may consume more or less than is listed on the label based on the size and number of servings you eat.
  • Added sugars are included under total sugars to help consumers understand how much sugar has been added to the product. Some foods naturally contain sugar, like fruits and dairy. The new label helps you see how much sugar is naturally present and how much is added. Consuming too much added sugar can make it hard to meet nutrient needs while staying within calorie recommendations.
  • Potassium and Vitamin D are now required on the label because people need to consume more of these nutrients. Vitamins A and C are no longer required on the label, since deficiencies of these vitamins are rare today. Calcium and iron are still required on the label.
Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood is a Registered Dietitian who enjoys spending time in the kitchen baking and preparing meals for her family. She does lots of meal planning to stay organized and feed her family nutritious meals.

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Staying Active in the Winter

We are in the thick of winter here in Iowa and it’s not always easy to get enough physical activity. In the summertime there are options but many of those options disappear when the temperature drops, and the days get shorter. It is recommended to exercise at a moderate level for at least 150 minutes every week. If you need some inspiration to raise your activity levels in the winter, don’t worry, we have some ideas!

  • If you have ever shoveled snow, you know how tiring it is. It uses many muscles for an extended period of time. Take advantage of the next snowfall by shoveling your driveway/sidewalk and offering to shovel for your neighbors too! Remember to take breaks to warm up and get a drink of water.
  • Play in the snow with the family. Get the whole family active outdoors by going sledding, having a snowball fight, or building a snow family!
  • Scope out the parks and trails in your area, put on a coat and boots, and go on a winter walk/hike. Make sure you are dressed warmly, stay on marked paths, and watch for ice.
  • Try some living room workouts- there are many apps you can download onto your phone that will get your heart rate up with strength exercises or cardio. There are two At-Home Workouts on the Spend Smart. Eat Smart. website. Give them a try!
  • Start spring cleaning a few months early! Choose a project that is not included in your normal cleaning routine like dusting all of the baseboards or tackling something that needs to be scrubbed down like a shower or tile. 

Just because the nice weather is gone doesn’t mean your physical activity has to go with it. Get creative and get active with the whole family!

Written by Stefanie Jensen, ISU Dietetic Intern

Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood is a Registered Dietitian who enjoys spending time in the kitchen baking and preparing meals for her family. She does lots of meal planning to stay organized and feed her family nutritious meals.

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Preventing Food Waste at Jody’s House

Over the past few weeks you have heard lots of great ideas from Christine, Justine, and Katy on how they prevent food waste in their homes. As we wrap up our series today, I will share a few things we do at my house to prevent food waste.

Leftovers: In my house, we love leftovers. So each week when I do my menu planning, I include a day for leftovers. That means I don’t have to cook and we use up food before it spoils. We also like leftovers for breakfast and lunch. Leftover soup for breakfast, why not! Taking leftovers for lunch also means we save money because my husband and I aren’t going out to lunch.

Flexible Recipes: Christine mentioned using flexible recipes as one way she uses up leftover vegetables. I also like to use flexible recipes at my house. However, I like to use flexible recipes that allow my 11 year old son and 7 year old daughter to personalize the meal to their preferred taste. That way I know they are more likely to eat it and less food will be thrown away. These recipes allow children to help out in the kitchen and turn leftovers into something new:

*Instead of a large cookie crust, we like to make individual cookies. That way we each get to put on our favorite toppings. This works well to use up leftover canned, fresh, or frozen fruit.

Freezer: I use my freezer to extend how long I can keep food so that I can use it up before throwing it out. Right now my freezer has a number of ripe bananas in it that will soon be turned into bread or muffins! I also freeze leftovers if we aren’t able to eat them up within 2-3 days. Watch our video on freezing leftovers for tips on how to preserve the flavor, texture, and color of food.

I hope the tips we’ve shared during the past few weeks will be helpful for you in preventing food waste at your house.


Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood is a Registered Dietitian who enjoys spending time in the kitchen baking and preparing meals for her family. She does lots of meal planning to stay organized and feed her family nutritious meals.

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Cleaning and Disinfecting

Flu season starts in the fall, and this year, the COVID-19 pandemic is presenting new challenges for cleaning and disinfecting the inside of a home. Cleaning refers to reducing the number of germs, dirt and impurities on the surface.  It doesn’t kill the germs, but lowers the number of germs and the risk of infection.  Disinfecting refers to killing germs on surfaces by using an EPA-registered disinfectant.  Best practice to prevent COVID-19 and other viruses is to clean the surface first and then follow up with a disinfectant.   

Cleaning and disinfecting frequent contact hard surfaces in the kitchen, dining room and bathrooms have become routine. Additional cleaning of surfaces, like doorknobs, faucets, cabinets, and play areas is a sensible precaution against the spread of disease between household members and guests. A list of disinfectant products that are EPA-approved for use against the COVID-19 virus is available here. In addition to cleaning surfaces, washing your hands frequently is an excellent tool to prevent illness. When you do not have access to soap and water, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. It is good practice to wash hands well, for at least twenty seconds, every time you come in the house.

In particular, COVID-19 challenges homeowners and hosts to prevent the spread of disease when having guests for fall or winter celebrations or conducting business in a home. The safest approach is to celebrate with those who live in your household and connect with others virtually. If you will have guests visit your home, below are some steps you can take to reduce the risk of spreading illness.

  • Have guests wash or sanitize hands frequently. Make hand sanitizer available.
  • Wear face coverings when possible.
  • Offer paper towels for drying hands after washing.
  • Use disposable plates and glasses to prevent multiple people handling dishes.
  • Have one person prepare and distribute food. This will result in fewer people having contact with the food.
  • Open doors and windows for better airflow when the temperatures allow.

Stay well and healthy this winter.

Written by Holly Van Heel, Human Sciences Specialists-Nutrition and Wellness

Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood is a Registered Dietitian who enjoys spending time in the kitchen baking and preparing meals for her family. She does lots of meal planning to stay organized and feed her family nutritious meals.

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Stress Management Resource Round-up

Our blog team was inspired to focus on stress over the last few weeks because we see how uniquely stressful our current circumstances are for ourselves as well as our colleagues, friends and family. Many of us are balancing more than we are used to and living in a way that feels very different and perhaps even insecure. For the past few weeks we have had experts share how stress affects us and tips for managing that stress. Today’s blog is a round-up of resources that have been shared and can help us deal with this stressful time. We hope that one or more of these resource will be helpful to you.

  • Iowa Concern hotline has stress counselors that can talk with you over the phone or in one-on-one live chat.
  • COVID Recovery Iowa provides counseling, virtual activities, referrals and help finding resources to any Iowan seeking assistance or a listening ear.
  • Spend Smart. Eat Smart. meal planner and recipes can help keep you and your family nourished during this stressful time.
  • Stop. Breathe. Talk. can help you and your kids manage your emotions during stressful times and communicate effectively with each other.

Remember to take time to care for your mental and physical health during this difficult time.

Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood is a Registered Dietitian who enjoys spending time in the kitchen baking and preparing meals for her family. She does lots of meal planning to stay organized and feed her family nutritious meals.

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Stress and Family

Last week in our series, we looked at how stress affects our sleep. Today we look at how stress impacts family functioning.

In my family, which is made up of my wife and I, our two children, and our dog, I can honestly say stress is never too far away at any given time, even more so during the Covid-19 pandemic era.  

Stress impacts everyone in our family system, my wife and I as a couple, as parents, our children, and even our dog. When one member in the family is stressed, it can easily impact the whole family. For example, when I am stressed, I tend to be crabby with my wife, and then we as parents tend to be harsh with our children. And then our children are stressed, and the cycle continues.

But the good news is that we can help the whole family manage stress better by first taking care of ourselves. I remember every time I have flown on an airplane, flight crew members always remind passengers during an emergency to put on their own oxygen masks first before helping their children or others. At first, this did not make sense to me because in some ways I was brought up with the idea to always put others first before me.  This oxygen example now makes sense to me because if I as a husband and a parent am able to reduce my own stress, then I can deal with my children and others in a calmer way. This can lead to better parenting and happier children and ultimately may lead to a happier family.

So, let’s look at some examples of how we can “put on our own oxygen masks first.” In the previous blogs we have already learned about eating well and sleeping well. Here are some additional ideas:

  1. After a long day at work before coming home, perhaps listen to your favorite song.
  2. Couples can also do joint physical activities, which have been shown to increase greater relationship satisfaction and commitment. Children could also join in regular family physical activities like walking or bicycling. Generally, doctors recommend about 30 minutes of moderate activity 5 days per week for adults.
  3. You may have heard “laughter is the best medicine.” Being light-hearted in the midst of a tense conversation can help us calm down. Perhaps watching a comedy movie as a family can help the family be in positive mood.
  4. Another great way to decrease stress in the family is for family members to think positively about their lives. For example, instead of focusing on each other’s wrong doings or mistakes, we can focus on each other’s strengths.

Use one of these ideas, or others that you have found helpful, to take care of yourself so you can take care of your relationships.

Written by Anthony Santiago, College Projects Specialist and Licensed as a Marriage and Family Therapist

Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood is a Registered Dietitian who enjoys spending time in the kitchen baking and preparing meals for her family. She does lots of meal planning to stay organized and feed her family nutritious meals.

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Improving sleep during a pandemic

Many people experienced insomnia or had some difficulty sleeping before the pandemic. Now, with all the additional fear, uncertainty, isolation, and economic challenges, many with no prior sleeping concerns are struggling to fall asleep or stay asleep.

Getting at least 7 hours of quality sleep each night is even more important now, since it provides the foundation for our daily functioning, moods and decisions. Getting quality sleep also strengthens the body’s immune system, which is essential during a pandemic. Not getting enough sleep each night, on the other hand, is associated with weight gain, diabetes, high blood pressure and depression.

Here are some tips to help you get to sleep and stay asleep. 

  • Have a going to bed ritual: Just like children, who have a book read to them prior to bedtime, adults need ritual signs that tell our brain it is time to sleep. That may involve listening to relaxing music, reading a book or taking a warm bath.
  • Don’t use your bed as your office: Many are working from home during the pandemic and it may seem that a bed would be a comfortable place to work. Unfortunately, this just confuses the brain, rather than training the brain that a bed is a place to sleep.
  • Get some exercise during the day: Exercise reduces stress and possibly improves sleep since it tires the body.
  • Don’t take long naps: A short 15 to 30 minute nap is OK, if it’s not too late in the day. However, sleeping longer can disrupt your sleep cycle.
  • If you wake up in the middle of the night and can’t sleep, get out of bed: Again, a bed is for sleeping, not tossing and turning, so getting out of bed helps you reset. You will want to keep the lights low and then follow your going to bed ritual.
  • Limit alcohol and caffeine: Caffeine use before bedtime may make it more difficult to get to sleep and even though alcohol might help a person fall asleep, it does not necessarily help a person to stay asleep or sleep well.

If you are struggling with stress related concerns, contact the Iowa Concern Hotline at 1-800-447-1985.  Iowa Concern provides confidential stress counseling and resource/referral services 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. 

Free virtual counseling and consultation is also available through COVID Recovery Iowa at https://covidrecoveryiowa.org/ to any Iowans impacted by COVID.

Written by David Brown, Behavioral Health State Extension Specialist

Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood is a Registered Dietitian who enjoys spending time in the kitchen baking and preparing meals for her family. She does lots of meal planning to stay organized and feed her family nutritious meals.

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Reducing Stress through the Benefits of Nature

As daylight hours dwindle and the air becomes crisper, thoughts and activities tend to focus less on the outdoors and more on the long winter months inside. And yet, the benefits of the outdoors and experiences with nature in reducing stress apply all year round.

Cortisol, an important stress hormone, has been mentioned a few times in this series on stress. Conditions associated with the pandemic, like decisions related to activities, continued cancellation of events, financial changes and health considerations are all potential sources of stress that can increase cortisol levels. Cortisol may cause our muscles to tense, impact our appetite, and decrease our concentration. Getting outdoors, it turns out, has been shown to reduce cortisol and stress for all ages!

  • A University of Michigan study found 20 minutes outdoors can drop cortisol levels in adults by over 20%.1
  • A review of research on college students discovered as little as 10 minutes in nature increased happiness and reduced both physical and mental stress.2
  • Studies on access to nature have repeatedly shown positive impacts for children related to physical activity, weight, attention, mental health and stress.3

How can you apply the stress reducing benefits of nature to you and your family as the seasons change? Most outdoor advocates insist there is “no bad weather, just bad clothes”, so start with planning ahead for what you might need in colder weather. Dig out hats, scarves, mittens, and coats now, so layers are available when temperatures shift. Next, be intentional about increasing your time outdoors. Take short walk breaks during the daylight hours, pausing to enjoy the changing autumn colors or the crisp scent of snow. Iowa is one of only a few states with a county conservation system – take advantage of this incredible resource! Many county conservation locations have outdoor programs all year where you can try new activities, like fall scavenger hunts or snowshoeing. If you need ideas to get children engaged outdoors, check out resources available through trusted sources such as Nature Explore and Project Wild.

Finding time to get outdoors, especially as the seasons change, can be a challenge, but the benefits related to stress are worth the effort!

  1. Hunter MR, Gillespie BW and Chen SY-P (2019) Urban Nature Experiences Reduce Stress in the Context of Daily Life Based on Salivary Biomarkers. Front. Psychol. 10:722. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00722
  2. Meredith GR, Rakow DA, Eldermire ERB, Madsen CG, Shelley SP and Sachs NA (2020) Minimum Time Dose in Nature to Positively Impact the Mental Health of College-Aged Students, and How to Measure It: A Scoping Review. Front. Psychol. 10:2942. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.02942
  3. Together in Nature: Pathways to a Stronger, Closer Family (2013) Children and Family Network. https://www.childrenandnature.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/FamilyBonding_En_20141.pdf

Written by Cindy Thompson, Human Sciences Specialist-Family Life

Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood is a Registered Dietitian who enjoys spending time in the kitchen baking and preparing meals for her family. She does lots of meal planning to stay organized and feed her family nutritious meals.

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Eating and Stress

I’m so stressed! I need chocolate!

Last week we started our series on stress and discussed in general how stress affects the body. Today, the focus is how stress affects eating habits.

With many of us experiencing higher levels of stress the past few months, you may have noticed that your eating habits have changed. I know at my house, we have had more chips and ice cream in the house than we normally do.

Stress can cause both a loss of appetite and also overeating. Studies show that in the short term stress tends to shut down appetite. The nervous system causes the body to release a hormone called adrenaline which helps trigger the body’s fight or flight response and temporarily puts eating on hold.

However, if the stress continues, the body releases another hormone called cortisol, known as the stress hormone. Cortisol increases the appetite and may ramp up the motivation to eat.

Stress also affects food preferences. The higher levels of cortisol increases cravings for sugary, salty, and fatty foods. Now you know why there are more chips and ice cream in my house!

Here are some tips to help manage the effects stress has on your eating habits:

  1. Know that it’s okay to eat sugary, salty, and fatty foods sometimes. Having something like chips or ice cream now and then will not ruin your health. So don’t stress out about eating them!
  2. Plan ahead for meals and snacks. This way you will have healthier options on hand for snacking and meal time. Keeping yourself nourished during times of stress helps keep your blood sugar steady so when you are stressed your emotions aren’t further effected by being hungry or having low blood sugar. Check out our meal planner and recipes for ideas.
  3. Be mindful when you are eating. Put your phone down, turn off the TV, and move away from your computer so you are not distracted. When at home, get in the habit of eating in the kitchen and not in other rooms in the house. Mindless eating can lead to eating more than your body needs and not enjoying the food you are eating.
  4. Get moving. While cortisol levels vary depending on the intensity and duration of exercise, overall exercise can reduce some of the negative effects of stress.

If you are feeling stressed, consider how you might use these tips to care for your body.

Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood is a Registered Dietitian who enjoys spending time in the kitchen baking and preparing meals for her family. She does lots of meal planning to stay organized and feed her family nutritious meals.

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