Healthy Gifts from the Heart

img_1836_r1-low-resGiving gifts of homemade cookies, cakes, and candies is a happy holiday tradition. But for many people, the gift of a plate of high-sugar, high-calorie goodies may not be as welcomed as it used to be. Two-thirds of adult Iowans are overweight, and many of them are struggling to keep a healthy weight. For them, the holidays can provide too many temptations to overeat.

So how can you give a delicious food gift from your kitchen that will also support the health of your loved ones? Think outside the cookie box. You can make these healthier treats packed with good flavor and loving care:

Tracking Wildlife

White-Tail Deer Tracks in SandKids love discovery, and what better way to discover than by following animal tracks. Identifying and following a set of animal tracks can be like a giant treasure hunt. The thought that a white-tailed deer, wild turkey, or maybe an elusive bobcat walked nearby connects your child to the outdoors for years to come.

Any season is a good time to look for tracks, but winter and spring are prime times. Snow and soft ground create easy-to-find, distinctive imprints. A local park, family farm, river bottom, or backyard are places to look. Focus on well-used animal trails, sandy areas, or any muddy locations like a river or pond bank.

Print a few wildlife track guides off the Internet, and make a game out of who can find the most tracks. Make it a “teachable moment” by explaining how wildlife survives Iowa’s sometimes brutal winters and the importance of habitat. You can also take along a few plastic grocery sacks and gloves and make it a practice to pick up litter along the way.

For information on how to identify different animal tracks, visit

Source: January/February 2008 issue of Iowa Outdoors magazine.

Snowshoeing! An Easy Way to Enjoy Winter’s Beauty

Couple crouching in the snow wearing snowshoesMany people who enjoy a walk in the woods stay away from parks and nature preserves after a heavy snow. If you don’t know how to cross-country ski, it may seem that the trails are impassable.

Unlike skiing, however, snowshoeing is a way of getting around in the snow that nearly anybody can do almost anywhere. Snowshoeing allows you to enjoy the crisp, cold air and the sparkling beauty of a new-fallen snow while burning more than 400 calories an hour!

Snowshoes can cost from $50 to $300. If you want to try them out, you can rent them for as little as $10 a day from some county conservation offices, and also, for a little more, from bike, ski, and sport shops.

To learn more, visit or read how a woman discovered the joys of snowshoeing with dogs at

Sponge Safety

Clean sponge in sinkSponges are great at absorbing all things…including germs! Practice these tips to use them safely:

  • To sanitize, microwave damp sponge for one minute or put it in a dishwasher with a drying cycle. According to the USDA, these methods will kill more than 99% of bacteria, yeasts, and mold.
  • Clean sponges after two or three uses.
  • Avoid using sponges when wiping up meat juices and on countertops. Instead use a paper towel and a sanitizer or disinfectant wipes.
  • Wring out a sponge after each use and store in a dry location.
  • Once a sponge starts to smell, throw it out immediately.
  • Finally, don’t forget about the dish towels and dish cloths. Launder them frequently in hot water and consider using a separate dish towel for hand and dish drying.

Source: eatright,

Pumpkin Apple Cake

Bundt cakeServing Size: 1 slice
Serves: 24


  • 1 package (18.25 ounces) white cake mix
  • 1 can (15 ounces) pumpkin
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2/3 cup apple juice
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Nonstick cooking spray or flour


  1. Preheat oven to 350° F.
  2. Combine cake mix, pumpkin, cinnamon, apple juice, eggs, and vanilla in a large mixer bowl.
  3. Beat at low speed for 30 seconds. Beat at medium speed for 2 minutes.
  4. Pour into a 12 cup Bundt pan or a 9”x13” cake pan that has been sprayed with cooking spray and floured.
  5. Bake for 35–40 minutes or until wooden toothpick inserted in cake center comes out clean.
  6. Cool 10 minutes. Then invert onto wire rack to cool completely.

Nutrition information per serving: 100 calories, 1.5g total fat, 0.5g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 25mg cholesterol, 160mg sodium, 20g total carbohydrate, 1g fiber, 10g sugar, 2g protein

This recipe is courtesy of ISU Extension and Outreach’s Spend Smart. Eat Smart. website. For more information, recipes, and videos, visit

Less Waste, More Money

Woman Throwing Away Out Of Date Food In RefrigeratorIt’s that time of year when lots of food is made and enjoyed at holiday gatherings. However, sometimes too much food is made and then thrown away before it can be used. About 90 billion pounds of edible food goes uneaten each year in the United States. Yet 1 in 7 Americans struggles to get enough to eat. On average, $370 worth of food per person per year is thrown away. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) breaks this down by types of food:

Grains (bread, pasta): $22 per year
Fruits (apples, bananas, oranges): $45 per year
Proteins (beef, chicken, pork, fish): $140 per year
Vegetables (onions, lettuce, peppers): $66 per year
Dairy (milk, yogurt, cheese): $60 per year
Added Fat and Sugar (chips, candy): $37 per year
Total: $370 per year

The main reason food is thrown away is because it spoils before it is eaten. The USDA has created a resource called Let’s Talk Trash. In it they offer tips on how you can put a stop to food waste in your home.

  • Plan and Save: Plan your weekly menu. Then look in your pantry, freezer, and fridge to make a list of what you need to buy before grocery shopping. This can help you buy only the food you need and keep money in your pocket.
  • Be Organized: Keep your food pantry and refrigerator organized so you can see what needs to be eaten first. Write the dates on food containers so you know what needs to be used first.
  • Repurpose and Freeze Extra Food: Reuse leftovers in another recipe. Use leftover taco meat to make a taco pizza. If you chopped up vegetables for a salad, use leftover vegetables to make a vegetable soup. Make a smoothie with overripe fruit. Freeze extra food to enjoy at a later time.

For more tips on reducing food waste, visit Spend Smart. Eat Smart at

Source: Let’s Talk Trash,

Just Dance

Smiling people doing power fitness exercise at yoga classDancing is an excellent source of physical activity and provides many health benefits. Some of these benefits include the following:

  • better heart health
  • stronger muscles
  • better balance and coordination
  • stronger bones
  • reduced stress
  • more energy

The amount of calories burned depends on the type of dance. Ballroom dancing, for example, is a form of moderate exercise that burns about 260 calories an hour. On the other hand, Zumba is a form of aerobic exercise that can burn up to 500 calories an hour.

To get started, find classes at your local health club, community center, or dance school. If you don’t have a partner, many classes will find you a partner. Dance DVDs are available for use at home by purchasing them or renting them from your local library. Your local cable provider may provide channels as well. Or better yet, turn up the music at home and dance it out.


Slow Cookers: Be safe and smart as you use this great kitchen tool

Slow CookingThere are many recipes on the internet that encourage putting frozen food directly into a slow cooker. This is not safe. The USDA does not recommend the direct from the freezer to slow cooker process because it provides an excellent opportunity for bacteria to grow as the food slowly makes its way through the temperature danger zone.

Instead, take the food out of the freezer at least one night before you want to prepare the meal and allow it to thaw in the refrigerator. If you are thawing large pieces of meat, one overnight might not be enough, so plan ahead.

As you are getting ready in the morning, put the food in the slow cooker on high to give it a jump start. Turn it to low before you leave the house. If you forget to turn it on, you will need to throw the food away when you get home because bacteria have had all day to multiply to a level that could make you and your family sick.

USDA “Kitchen Companion” available at

Loaded Potato Soup

loadedpotatosoupServing Size: 1 cup
Serves: 6


  • 1 1/2 pounds potatoes (about 6), cooked
  • 1 tablespoon tub margarine
  • 1 medium onion (coarsely chopped) (about 1 cup)
  • 1/2 cup green pepper, chopped (optional)
  • 1 can (14.5 ounces) low sodium chicken broth
  • 1 cup nonfat milk
  • 1 cup frozen peas, thawed
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 4 slices (3 ounces) American cheese
  • Optional garnishes: sliced green onion, bacon bits, shredded cheese


  1. Remove skins and mash potatoes into small pieces to make about 3 cups. Set aside.
  2. Melt margarine in a large saucepan over medium heat. Stir in onion and green pepper, if desired. Cook until the vegetables begin to soften (about 5 minutes).
  3. Stir in the broth and heat to a boil. Stir in milk, potatoes, peas, and ground black pepper. Heat through, stirring occasionally.
  4. Add the cheese slices. Cook and stir about 2 minutes until cheese melts. Add more milk if soup is thicker than you prefer.
  5. Add garnishes, if desired, and serve immediately.

Nutrition information per serving: 230 calories, 6g total fat, 2.5g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 10mg cholesterol, 270mg sodium, 35g total carbohydrate, 5g fiber, 6g sugar, 10g protein

This recipe is courtesy of ISU Extension and Outreach’s Spend Smart. Eat Smart. Visit the website for more recipes, information, and videos.

How to Get Your Vitamin D

Sour cream, milk, cheese, yogurt and butterMost Americans are not consuming enough vitamin D. A study by the Centers for Disease Control found some groups of Americans were deficient in vitamin D—a fat-soluble vitamin that is essential for human health. Vitamin D helps sustain bone health, but it may also prevent chronic disease (e.g., heart disease, diabetes) and cancer. It is made by the body when skin is exposed to sunlight and is found naturally in very few foods. Therefore, fortified foods are the primary way we can get enough vitamin D through the diet. It is recommended that people up to the age of 70 years consume 600 International Units (IU) and those over the age of 70 consume 800 IU of Vitamin D.

Vitamin D has been used in milk and soy beverages for some time. Recently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved an increase to the amount of vitamin D that may be added as an optional ingredient to milk; to plant-based milk alternatives like rice, almond, and coconut beverages; and to plant-based yogurt alternatives. This new allowance by the FDA for increased amounts of vitamin D for milk and milk alternatives will be another valuable source of this important nutrient that is not always easy to obtain.