Healthy Recipes from the Pumpkin Patch

September 27, 2013

The days are cooler and the smell of wood burning in the fireplace fills the air. Fall is finally here, and with it comes a healthy, nutritious ingredient used in many seasonal dishes—pumpkin!  Best of all, pumpkin is often an inexpensive ingredient.  You can buy canned pumpkin at your grocery store, or you can scoop out the flesh from a pumpkin yourself.

Fresh pumpkins are not just for carving or decoration. Pumpkin is a very healthy food–according to the Mayo Clinic, it’s packed with nutrients, such as potassium, vitamin A and iron.  As pumpkin-picking season begins, start thinking about what healthy recipes you can make using pumpkin to serve at upcoming holidays and get-togethers.

You can go pumpkin-picking at a variety of places—they can be found at grocery stores, nurseries and garden centers, and some local farms.  When picking pumpkins that you intend to use in recipes, choose pumpkins without blemishes that are firm and heavy for their size.

Not sure where to find pumpkin recipes that are both healthy and delicious?  Consider trying one or several of these ideas:

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

Don’t throw the seeds out! Pumpkin seeds are chock-full of healthy nutrients and are a good source of fiber, potassium, and protein. Once you’ve carved your pumpkin, clean off the seeds and place them on a baking sheet. Set the oven to 325 degrees and cook for about 5-8 minutes.  You can snack on them plain or toss them into a salad.


Pumpkin Bread

There’s nothing like the smell of freshly baked pumpkin bread to bring in the fall season.  This recipe is sure to be a crowd pleaser:


Pumpkin Soup

Don’t buy a can of puree to make pumpkin soup–create your own pumpkin puree. Scoop out the pulp and puree it in a food processor or blender. Try using it to make this tasty pumpkin soup:


Pumpkin Baked Oatmeal

This is a treat that turns plain oatmeal into a seasonal, yummy breakfast. Try this simple recipe:


Pumpkin Waffles with Maple-Walnut Syrup

Spice up your breakfast with this scrumptious recipe:,,10000001854046,00.html


Pumpkin-Walnut Cake

This autumn treat will put a smile on your family’s face.  Try this delicious dessert:


Southwestern Pumpkin Burgers

Check out this colorful, spicy entree that will turn up the heat at your dinner table.  Just add some fresh tomato salsa and avocado to give it a real Southwestern kick. Try this recipe:


These healthy recipes can help you and your family celebrate fall.  Still craving more pumpkin or other yummy, seasonal treats?  Visit our fall recipe board on Pinterest for more healthy recipe ideas!


Fall into Autumn with Apple Picking!

September 24, 2013

The days are getting shorter, the leaves are turning colors, and the weather is getting cooler. Summer has left and fall has finally arrived. Ring in the new season by picking apples with your family.  It’s a fun, low-cost activity, and afterward you can prepare fun, healthy apple-themed recipes at home.

According to the Mayo Clinic, apples are a good source of soluble fiber, which can lower blood cholesterol and glucose levels. Fresh apples are also a good source of vitamin C — an antioxidant that protects your body’s cells from damage. Vitamin C plays a key role in the growth and repair of tissues in your body and aids in the absorption of iron.  It is important to eat foods that are rich in Vitamin C since your body isn’t able to make it on its own.

So what are you waiting for? Time to get your family ready for apple picking! Health Advocate offers the following tips on how to make your outing fun.

Visit your local farms. This free resource can help you find farms in your area that allow you to pick your own fruits and veggies:  You can also do a quick Google search to see if your favorite local farm is featuring any pick-your-own fruit or vegetable events. The best time of year to go apple picking may vary a little between regions or states, so use this resource to find out the ideal time for apple-picking in your area:

Get your workout on. The weather is not yet cold, so enjoy this opportunity to exercise outdoors as a family. If you really want to burn off some energy, try some friendly competitions in the orchard. See who can pick the most apples in 10 minutes. Do jumping jacks between trees. Or, take a long walk through the orchard with your family.

Think creatively. If you want to encourage your kids to adopt healthier eating habits, get them involved in the kitchen. Put those freshly picked apples to good use. Let your children enjoy the fruits of their labor!

Some fun, healthy apple recipes include:

  • Baked apples with cinnamon, honey and raisins
  • Homemade apple butter
  • Apple sauce
  • Cinnamon-apple muffins
  • Apple cobbler
  • Slice an apple and dip the slices into hummus or a nut butter
  • Make baked apple chips: Lay thin apple slices on a baking sheet, sprinkle cinnamon on top, and bake until crisp.

There are so many healthy apple recipes you can make–brainstorm recipes together and have your kids wash the apples and help prepare the ingredients!  Plus, you can use this as a teachable moment, telling your kids about the different types of apples available, when they’re in season, and what recipes best bring out their flavors.

Stock up. You can make large batches of applesauce and freeze it so you have a nice stash for the colder months. You don’t need any special equipment to make applesauce. Just core some apples (peeled or unpeeled—your choice), add some cinnamon and perhaps a few tablespoons of water, and cook until soft.  Then store it in containers and freeze. Applesauce can be a great healthy dessert or side dish, and it’s easy to pack it into a portable container to put in your child’s lunch bag.

An apple picking outing can be a great outdoor activity for you and your family to share on a weekend to wind down after a busy week of work and school. Try it this fall!

For more healthy, low-cost ideas, check out The Healthcare Survival Guide!

Try one free week of yoga during National Yoga Month!

September 20, 2013

No matter what kind of job you do, fitting in some time to de-stress and relax can help you stay physically and mentally healthy. Many people turn to yoga for help, since it’s a fun, relaxing activity that nearly anyone can do. Yoga can benefit everyone, men and women alike–from frazzled executives to super-busy stay-at-home parents, and everyone in between!

September is National Yoga Month, designed to educate people about the health benefits of yoga and inspire a healthy lifestyle. Yoga promotes a healthy body, mind and spirit through a combination of stretching exercises, breathing techniques, and meditation. The potential health benefits of practicing yoga include lessening the effects of back pain, stress, obesity, asthma, and more! Another benefit of yoga is that it can be done pretty much anywhere (like your home or even at work), and you can do yoga with others or on your own.

If you have always wanted to give yoga a try to see if it’s right for you, now has never been a better time. During National Yoga Month, the Yoga Health Foundation is offering a One Week FREE Yoga trial that you can use at one of about 2,000 participating yoga studios nationwide. Log onto their website at, request the One Week FREE Yoga trial pass, and check out a studio in your area.

Here are some other ideas of ways you can try yoga without spending too much money:

  • Ask about new student promotions. Many yoga studios offer new student promotions, in varying degrees of value. Some studios may offer a free week, discounted first month passes or even a pay-by-the-class price.
  • Find deals online. Websites like Groupon or LivingSocial frequently offer money-saving deals on local health and fitness businesses.
  • Buy blocks of yoga classes. If you have a busier schedule or work odd hours and don’t think you have the time to go to a class every week, many yoga studios allow you to purchase blocks of classes (a card for 10 or 20 classes) and you can ‘drop in’ on a class whenever you can fit it into your schedule.
  • Community yoga classes. Check with your local community centers, like the YMCA, or local community colleges. They may offer yoga classes at a greatly discounted rate.
  • Practice on your own. You can do yoga no matter where you are!
    • On the go ideas: There are many free yoga apps with complete workouts and videos.  This is a great idea for those who travel a lot and are always on the go!
    • Athome ideas: Instructional videos and even video game systems, like the Wii Fit or Xbox Kinect, allow you to practice yoga by yourself, from the comfort of your own living room. Many cable systems also offer free on-demand yoga videos. You could also invite some friends over who have always wanted to try yoga, and make it a party!

Yoga may be able to help you become healthier and even happier.  If you’re interested in trying it, take advantage of one of these free or low-cost ideas and get started. Namaste!

Remember, before beginning any new fitness class or regimen, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor to make sure it’s right for you.

Low-cost workout essentials

September 20, 2013

People are often under the assumption that working out is expensive—but that doesn’t have to be the case.  There are plenty of ways to exercise without breaking the bank.  Read on to learn about low-cost workout essentials, and where to find low-cost workout gear that will have you sweating in no time!


Not only does stretching help manage stress, but it can also increase your range of motion and balance, reduce your risk of injury, and increase the benefits of cardio and strength training. Even better, no special equipment is needed for stretching, and you can do it almost anywhere, at any time.

These tips can help you add stretching to your daily routine:

• Create a stretching routine and stick to it! Make sure your routine includes 2-3 stretches for each muscle group, including back and shoulders, head and neck, arms, legs and feet.

• Stretch most days of the week, hold stretches for 15-30 seconds, and remember not to bounce!

• Stretch before and after your workouts. If you are pressed for time, try to fit in a few stretches after your workouts to prevent muscle soreness.

• Stretching should not be painful. Scale back, or try alternative stretches, if you notice pain associated with certain movements.

• For a low-cost way to learn more about stretching, download a free stretching app, buy a yoga or stretching book from a used bookstore, or check out this free online resource:


Treadmills, elliptical machines, stair masters, stationary bikes…  While these are great machines to use if you happen to have access to them, they’re not a necessity. If you want to build up stamina and get a good cardio workout, try these less expensive alternatives:

Jump Rope. Whether you call it skipping rope or jumping rope, the name says it all.  Jump ropes are a great way to get your heart rate up while also improving your agility. Jump ropes can be purchased for as low as just a couple dollars at mass market retailers or even the dollar store.

Stairs. Incorporating stairs into your exercise will strengthen almost every muscle group in your lower body, from your hips to your feet. Running up and down flights of stairs or even just walking up and down a staircase is a great way to tone your glutes, calves and thighs.

Walking. The National Center for Biotechnology Information recommends the average adult walks up to 10,000 steps per day. This number may seem high if you don’t exercise much now, but setting short-term goals to eventually work your way up to this number–maybe starting at 3,000 steps and incrementing this number by 500 a day/week–will give you a feeling of accomplishment and can keep you motivated with sticking to your workout routine. The best part about walking is you can do it anywhere! Walk around the mall, take your dog on an extra walk each day, or take a stroll through your local park.

Weight Training

Dumbbells. Dumbbells are great for building muscle in your arms, chest, back and wrists. Dumbbells can provide a more comfortable range of motion for many individuals than fixed position weight machines. Dumbbells are relatively inexpensive, but if you want to get them even cheaper, search the web for places selling new and used dumbbells at a discount. And if you want to use weights but don’t feel like purchasing dumbbells, get creative—cans of soup or jugs of water can serve as weights in a pinch!

Resistance Bands. Resistance bands are used similarly to dumbbells, but are even cheaper and lighter! Again, search online; you can find discounted new and used resistance bands on many sites.

Exercise Balls. These are great for constructing a solid core (the muscle groups in charge of bending, breathing, getting up and sitting down). Exercise balls engage your abdominals, hips and lower back and there are many different types of exercises you can do with them. A quick Google search will show you many sites to find exercise balls for a reduced price. Your local discount store may also have them in stock. Check out this link for specific exercises that can be done using the exercise ball:

Body Weight Training. Body weight training has recently become one of the most popular ways to workout. You may have heard of programs like Insanity, P90X, 10 Minute Trainer–these workout programs use a combination of circuit training, or a high number of exercises for short periods, using only your body weight (or resistance bands) to shed weight and tighten up your body. These DVD workouts often retail for around $100-$120, but you can find previously owned copies online for a reduced price.


Workout Gear

Sometimes it’s necessary to get new workout essentials like sneakers, appropriate clothing, a new water bottle, and sunglasses. You don’t have to spend top dollar on these things, but being comfortable while you’re working out is important. Check online or your local paper to see if any retailers have coupons, sales or are selling any of these items at discounted prices.

Looking for more helpful tips on how to save money while getting healthy?  Check out the Healthcare Survival Guide!

Low-Cost, Heart-Healthy Recipes

September 16, 2013

September 29th is recognized by the World Heart Federation as World Heart Day. And, with World Heart Day just around the corner, we thought a fun way to get into the spirit would be to offer some delicious, heart-healthy recipes from the American Heart Association (AHA). These heart-healthy meals are not only great for you, but they’re also great for your wallet –many of the ingredients are inexpensive, and some recipes include ingredients you may already have in your pantry. Here are just a few ideas—you can get more here at the AHA Nutrition Center.  Get cooking today!


Main Dishes:

Lime-Jalapeno Chicken

What you’ll need:

  • 1/4 cup lime juice (about 2 limes)
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 jalapeno, sliced
  • 1 to 1 1/4 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed of fat, tendons removed

Cooking Instructions:

  • Combine lime juice, oil, vinegar, cumin and salt in a small bowl.
  • Stir in jalapeno.
  • Place chicken in a baking dish and pour the marinade you just made over it, turning to coat both sides.
  • Preheat grill to high heat.
  • Oil the grill rack.
  • Grill the chicken until cooked through and no longer pink in the middle, 3 to 4 minutes per side.
  • Let cool slightly; thinly slice crosswise. Serve warm or chilled.

Chef’s Tip: Serve with black beans and salsa!


Black Bean-Smothered Sweet Potatoes

What you’ll need:

  • 2 medium sweet potatoes
  • 1 15-ounce can black beans, rinsed
  • 1 medium tomato, diced
  • 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons reduced-fat sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

Cooking Instructions:

  • Prick sweet potatoes with a fork in several places. Microwave on High until tender all the way to the center, 12 to 15 minutes. (Alternatively, place in a baking dish and bake at 425ºF until tender all the way to the center, about 1 hour.)
  • Meanwhile, combine beans, tomato, oil, cumin, coriander and salt in a medium microwave-safe bowl; microwave on High until just heated through, 2 to 3 minutes. (Alternatively, heat in a small saucepan over medium heat.)
  • When just cool enough to handle, slash each sweet potato lengthwise, press open to make a well in the center, and spoon the bean mixture into the well. Top each with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkle of cilantro.

Chef’s Tip: Great for vegetarians!


Sides and Snacks:

Green Bean Salad with Corn, Basil & Black Olives

What you’ll need:

  • 2 pounds green beans, trimmed
  • 3 ears corn, husked
  • 1/2 small red bell pepper, finely chopped
  • 1 small red onion, finely chopped
  • 2/3 cup black olives, halved and pitted
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Hot sauce, such as Tabasco, to taste
  • Salt & freshly ground pepper to taste

Cooking Instructions:

  • Put a large pot of water on to boil.
  • Fill another large pot half full with ice water. Blanch about half the green beans in the boiling water just until tender, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and plunge into the ice water. Transfer to a large bowl. Repeat with the remaining beans.
  • Return the water to a boil. Add corn and blanch until tender but still crisp, about 3 minutes. Drain and immediately plunge into the ice water. Cut the kernels off the cobs.
  • Add the corn to the beans in the bowl. Add bell pepper, onion, olives, basil, oil, vinegar, lemon juice and garlic; toss to mix well.
  • Season with hot sauce, salt and pepper.

Chef’s Tip: This dish can be made days in advance and will last a few days if refrigerated properly.


Red and Green Bell Pepper Bites

What you’ll need:

  • 1 medium green bell pepper
  • 1 medium red bell pepper
  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds
  • 4 ounces fat-free or reduced-fat cream cheese, softened
  • 1 teaspoon no-salt lemon pepper seasoning blend
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

Cooking Instructions:

  • Cut each bell pepper in half lengthwise; discard the stems, ribs and seeds. Cut each half into six pieces. Arrange the pieces with the skin side down on a decorative serving platter. Set aside.
  • In a medium skillet, dry-roast the almonds over medium heat for 3 to 4 minutes, or until golden brown, stirring occasionally.
  • Transfer 1 tablespoon of the almonds to a small plate and reserve for garnishing. Process the remaining almonds in a food processor or blender for 15 to 20 seconds, or until finely ground.
  • In a medium mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese, lemon pepper seasoning blend, and lemon juice with an electric mixer for 1 to 2 minutes, or until creamy. Add the ground almonds and beat for 10 seconds, or until combined.
  • Spoon the mixture into a piping bag fitted with a wide star or round tip. Or snip the corner off a resalable plastic bag (a plastic freezer bag works well) and spoon in the mixture. Pipe about 1 teaspoon of the mixture onto each bell pepper piece.
  • Garnish with the sliced almonds.