Healthy School Lunch Ideas

nutrition-400The school year is has started and so has the lunch making. This year, consider these tips to help provide your student with a healthy lunch.

  • YMCA kids with healthy foodsSkip the sugared drinks: Instead of juice, pack a small bottle of water or have your child get low-fat white milk from the lunch line.
  • Pack the fruits and veggies: Take out the bag of chips and pile on the raw carrots, celery, red, orange, or yellow bell pepper slices, cherry or grape tomatoes. Add in a small serving of salsa, low-fat Ranch or other dip. Apple slices or a banana with nut/seed butter provide fiber, vitamins, minerals, protein and healthy fat. Berries, cubed melon, peaches, pears and more are all juicy and refreshing favorites too! The more variety in color the better.
  • Choose wholes grains: If packing a sandwich, choose whole grain bread with two or more grams of fiber per slice. Instead of bread, wrap the sandwich in a whole wheat or corn tortilla.
  • Change up your protein choice: Lunch meat is highly processed and high in salt. Instead, make a sandwich with a nut or seed butter spread, wrap a tortilla with cheese and refried beans, pack low-fat cottage cheese with fruit, or peel and pack a hard-boiled egg or two.

Are you looking for more information on how you and your family can eat healthy? Many of our YMCAs offer nutrition counseling for individuals and families. For more information on scheduling a consultation, please stop by your local Y’s Welcome Center.

Information provided by Ashley Cunningham, RD, LD, CDE.

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Giving to the Y Changes Many Lives – Including Yours

Whether due to unemployment, poor health, financial hardship or special circumstance, people struggle to provide for their families. And at the Y we strive to ensure that everyone, regardless of age, income, or background, has the opportunity to participate in our programs.

We rely on donations from the community to help support our mission and goals. If you are considering donating to the YMCA of Greater Houston, here are a few reasons why you should consider supporting the Y and help spread the word about how we’re helping to strengthen the community, one child and family at a time.

You Supporting a Worthy Cause

LIVESTRONG at the YMCA1By making a donation to an organization, you’re directly impacting your community. You can stop by anytime and see the smiling faces of adults and children who, because of you and people like you, can now take swim lessons, play in youth sports, participate in the LIVESTRONG at the YMCA program and, overall, have a healthier lifestyle.

Zach Oliva, Board Member at the Tellepsen Family Downtown YMCA, supports the Y by making his own donation as well as by raising money through our Annual Campaign.

“I tell others to give to the YMCA because I have seen the direct impact that fundraising dollars help with – the smiles on kids’ faces in the after school programs is usually enough to seal the deal!”


YMCA member walkingYou’ll shine from the inside out knowing that you invested in the community you live in. And no matter the amount you donate, you know your donation will go a long way: a week in summer camp, a session of swim lessons or even a month of child care at a community outreach site.

Tadd Tellepsen, YMCA Association Board Member, made donating to the Y a personal habit. The tradition of supporting the Y has been in his family for more than 100 years.

“I would tell people that to give to the Y is to invest in your community and in your fellow man,” Tadd said. “It is an impactful opportunity to be a part of something much greater than ourselves through an organization that has been doing this successfully for over 125 years in Houston.”

Tax deduction

When you donate to the Y, you receive a receipt, which can be used when you file for taxes with the IRS along with any other itemized donations you may make.

Strengthen our Community Through Your Own Passions

swim lessons at the YMCAAt the Y, there are a wide variety of programs you can support. Children learn about the value of participation over wining and how to stay healthy through youth sports. The Miracle League program allows children with disabilities to experience the joy and benefits that come from playing as a part of a team. Or you can support safety around water and save many lives through our swim lessons.

You can also support individuals who have lost their freedom, the most basic right we have, through the Refugee Resettlement and Trafficked Persons Assistance Program, offered through YMCA International Services.

You can make an impact on thousands of Houstonians’ lives with just a click of a button. Individuals will have the potential to thrive and be the leaders of tomorrow. Children, seniors and adults will find a second home at the Y, a place where they belong.

Zawadi Bryant, Y member and member of the Houston Texans YMCA Board of Directors, found a way to support one of her biggest passions through the Y.

“I give because I am passionate about providing learning opportunities to children and youth in my community,” Zawadi said. “I want our children to dream big and know their dreams are possible. I can’t express the importance of these learning opportunities. They made all the difference for me when I was a child.”

Pocket Depths Don’t Matter

Really, they don’t. You can donate as little as … $10. Or as much as you wish. Because all donations, no matter how big or small, add up. And they change lives, year round.

Donate Today – Strengthening Communities Can’t Wait

Start making a difference in our communities right now.

Donate to the Y today>

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Tips for Staying on Track for Weight Loss

weight loss scale1. Focus on Your Reasons for Losing Weight
Initially, your motivation for losing weight may begin with an upcoming vacation, high school reunion, or swimsuit season, but your primary focus should be directed toward what will keep you inspired for the long haul. Remind yourself why it’s important to stay on track by keeping a running list of reasons of why you want to reach a healthier weight. This detailed list may include motives that revolve around feeling healthier, living longer, increasing energy, improving mood, boosting your self-esteem, setting a good example for your kids or being able to reach a goal on your bucket list like mountain climbing or running a half marathon. Keep your list of motives in a place that will remind you daily of what you’re working toward.

2. Aim for Goals beyond the Limits of the Scale
Too much attention to the number on the scale can zap your weight loss motivation pretty quickly. The scale isn’t always the most accurate measure of your progress. When those numbers don’t want to budge, start evaluating your success in other ways. In addition to losing weight, what else are you striving to obtain? Other health goals may include being able to run a 5 or 10K or being able to master a two-minute plank. Achievements can be measured in the number of fruits and vegetables you consume each day or in lowering your cholesterol levels. The changes you make not only affect your weight but can also reduce your risk for diabetes, heart disease, cancer and increase your chances at living a longer, more fulfilling life. Success is not measured by our waistline or our body weight, it is measured in the steps we take to become a healthier version of ourselves.

weight loss journal3. Write “IT” Down
What exactly does “it” refer to? Everything related to weight loss! “It” includes yours goals, reasons to lose weight, exercise log, food journal and frequent weigh-ins. People who are successful at weight loss are also successful at self-monitoring. Keep a written or online food diary to help pinpoint your nutritional deficiencies and recognize any emotional or environmental triggers affecting your weight loss efforts. Invest in a pedometer and track your daily steps to closely monitor your activity level. Your weight loss journal will help keep you accountable and on track.

4. Make it Fun
Yes, losing weight is hard. No, it is not fun ditching the bowl of ice cream for a handful of carrots, but that doesn’t mean that the entire weight loss journey has to be continuously dull and excruciating. Find ways to spice up your boring meal plan by trying new healthy recipes, shopping at local farmer’s market for fresh produce you’ve never tried and by making sure you don’t eat the same thing week to week. Stuck in an exercise rut? Change it up by experimenting with different work out machines, sampling new exercise classes, finding an fitness buddy or by relocating your usual three-mile walk to a new location or path. Variety adds flavor to your recipe for weight loss.

weight loss living healthier5. Silence the All-or-Nothing Approach
How many times have you told yourself that the whole day is ruined due to one minor slip-up? One cookie sneaks in then the rest of the day is downhill! Or how many times did you avoid the gym because you couldn’t put in a full 60 minutes or not join a new exercise class because you might not last the entire duration? Our minds often cling to this idea of perfection and quickly give up when the slightest fault occurs. Weight loss is not like sobriety – you don’t fall off the wagon after eating one cookie. One slight fumble doesn’t destroy your weight loss plan but being inflexible and accepting no less than 110 percent of your efforts will backfire. Losing weight is not about being perfect, it is about being and feeling healthier. Don’t be too hard on yourself – give yourself credit for making each day the healthiest you can. There will be days that feel like you’ve “fallen of the wagon”, but only you can determine how far you fall. Keep in mind … the farther the fall, the harder it is to get back on track.

Jordyn Forsyth is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator. She specializes in weight management, chronic disease prevention and health promotion. Jordyn strives to educate, empower and encourage others to make sustainable lifestyle changes. She has a Bachelor’s Degree in Nutrition Sciences from Baylor University and a Master’s Degree in Nutrition from Texas Woman’s University.

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Physical Activity Tracking Devices: How to Choose What’s Right for You

There are many devices currently on the market that facilitate the tracking and analysis of physical activity. Most of these physical activity tracking devices are digital and designed to sync with cell phones, tablets, web-based fitness applications and social media applications. These devices are sleek and informative – but are they really worth buying?

PedometersPhysical Activity Tracking Device Synced

Pedometers are essentially “step counters” that, if worn properly, quantify physical activity in terms of the number of steps taken. Often, you can upload information from digital pedometers to applications designed to track activity over time. Pedometers have been around for a long time and are frequently used in research studies related to physical activity. Most are reasonably accurate and provide a nice snapshot of daily activity levels. Accelerometers are similar to pedometers but also assess additional movement characteristics such as acceleration of movement, which can be related to exercise intensity.

Calorie Counters

Devices also estimate caloric expenditure. It is important to keep in mind that these are merely estimates based on the data the devices are reading – they are indirect measures of caloric expenditure. Calories are actually units of energy. To directly measure caloric Physical Activity Tracking Deviceexpenditure, one would assess changes in temperature within a closed chamber to calculate an individual’s energy metabolism. Clearly, wearable activity trackers are not measuring caloric expenditure in this manner (directly). Rather, the devices use algorithms to estimate caloric expenditure based on factors such as height, body weight, age, sex, activity mode, duration, and in some cases, intensity. While less precise than direct calorimetry, this can provide a reasonably accurate estimate of caloric expenditure. It is important to note, however, that, as with indirect estimates of any sort, such as body mass index (BMI), these are based on averages over large populations.

10,000 Steps Per Day
10,000 steps has become the consensus threshold for daily physical activity. (Probably because we have ten fingers and we love numbers with lots of zeroes.) This activity level has been associated with an array of health benefits, including weight, blood pressure and glucose level reduction. It is important to keep in mind that exercise benefits our health in a dose-response fashion – that is, the more we do, the greater the benefits (up to a point – overtraining isn’t healthy). So, increasing your activity likely will result in health benefits even if you aren’t quite making it to 10,000 steps; likewise, adding more steps may lead to additional benefits even if you are already getting 10,000 daily steps.

Sleep Quality Trackers

The current crop of digital activity trackers track not only physical activity and caloric expenditure – many track sleep “quality.” The idea is that the accelerometer tracks movement while the wearer is sleeping, and it uses the movement data to estimate the quality of one’s sleep. While interesting, there is some skepticism regarding the accuracy of sleep “quality” estimates provided by these devices.

Physical Activity Tracking Device

So it is clear these trackers may be thought of as data collection devices, able to provide us with information about our own physical activity habits and goals. This is valuable because many of us do not think much about how many steps we take or how many calories we burn. As such, the ability to quantify and track the data lets us know approximately how active we are, and whether we are on track to meet fitness or weight-loss goals.

There is a strong case to be made that this feedback mechanism may help to motivate us in and of itself. The Hawthorne effect is a phenomenon which dictates that individuals modify behavior as a reaction to being “observed,” generally in the context of participation in a research study. Tracking daily physical activity creates this observation scenario, and may serve as motivation to be active. The motivation may stem from the desire to accomplish daily or weekly goals, or from peer accountability via the social media applications, which can make the tracking “fun” through the ability to create groups and competitions and adding a social element to activity tracking. Whatever the source of motivation, an increase in physical activity is a positive result.

Contributed by Andrew Lorino. Andrew Lorino is the Senior Director of Membership Experience at the YMCA of Greater Houston. He holds a master’s degree in Exercise Science, with an emphasis in exercise physiology and statistics, and has served as an adjunct professor and graduate research assistant at the university and community college levels.

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Overcoming Cancer with a Community of Support

pink-ribbon-altered-y-colors-2-.jpgIt’s in movies, daily conversations, in schools. It breaks up and brings together families. It can affect every part of the body and every person on the planet.

Try as we might to ignore it, cancer demands our attention. October is Work Out for Pink month at the YMCA. We ask members to wear pink when they work out to help increase awareness of breast cancer and celebrate those who have overcome it. The Y has programs in place to support these overcomers and guide them to regain their strength after fighting such a difficult battle.

Cancer is devastating in many ways. “Not knowing what the outcome will be is emotionally devastating,” said Sheila McGill, Healthy Living Director at Katy YMCA. “It’s devastating financially because it’s so expensive with the treatments, doctor’s appointments and hospital bills. It’s physically devastating. One round of treatments can knock you out for a week.”


Y member and cancer survivor Jeanne M. with trainer

Y member Jeanne M. is familiar with this devastation. The months following her stem cell transplant and cancer treatments left her feeling weak and isolated. Simply walking down the hall made her winded.

Jeanne heard about the LIVESTRONG program at the Y and decided to sign up. LIVESTRONG helps cancer survivors improve their physical and emotional well-being. Some days participants go swimming, some days they take a yoga class and some days they just get outside to be active.

LIVESTRONG Coach Karen Peters said she has had participants come in to class who could barely walk. After four weeks of participating, these individuals were taking line dancing classes.

Jeanne says the class was the first “cancer perk” she experienced.

“The program is primarily an exercise program,” said McGill. “It focuses on getting cancer survivors back to their regular level of activity. More importantly, it provides a social setting to bring people together and help them know they are not alone.”


LIVESTRONG member working out with Y trainer

The Y provides this program with a community of support and a safe place to meet together. The first meeting of class is a time when participants can share their testimony or just listen to others’ stories. Because the class is normally around five to seven people, it’s easy for classes to bond quickly. This bonding and vulnerability helps participants heal.

“The Y is a place for all of us to heal and strengthen our spirit, mind and body,” said Charlotte Vargo, Healthy Living Director at Langham Creek YMCA. “Cancer survivors can do this in the pool, group exercise classes, wellness center or simply meeting with friends in the lobby for coffee. As a pioneer for healthy living, the Y offers community support in an environment hospitals and clinics cannot.”

LIVESTRONG is funded through each Y center’s Annual Campaign, so it is available as a free service to anyone who qualifies. Participants also have free access to the entire Y facility.

“Our goal is to introduce them to a lot of different classes, workout equipment and water activity so they can find out what they like and do it on their own after the class,” said McGill.

Thanks to her participation in LIVESTRONG, Jeanne rebuilt the muscles that had deteriorated as a result of the disease. It wasn’t easy, but she saw improvements in how she felt and what she could accomplish.


Breast cancer survivor and Y member Fran Campos

“We help cancer survivors become productive, strong and determined people,” said Peters.

Jeanne’s story is a testament to the impact the Y and LIVESTRONG have on a person’s life. “The LIVESTRONG program helped me so much,” said Jeanne. “I got my strength back so I got my independence back, which encouraged me and gave me hope.”

The class is offered to all ages of people from all walks of life. It brings together people who may not think they have much in common and forms a community that gives and receives help from one another.

“The Y is part of the support system that survivors need,” said Vargo. “We are all survivors in some way or another. We all fight battles, but it is an easier fight when we have a community behind us.”

Find out more about Work Out for Pink.

Find out more about LIVESTRONG.

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Beyond Banana Boats: Benefits of Summer Camp

YMCA of Greater Houston Camp Cullen—girls with c'sIt was a great summer at YMCA Camp Cullen – full of memories, friendships, confidence, skills, first-time experiences, cheers and laughter! More than just a retreat, camp was a valuable resource to grow and educate campers.


You’re probably familiar with the summer learning loss. Your children fall prey to it when they spend their summers not engaging in educational activities. Your children can help avoid this…at camp.

YMCA of Greater Houston Camp Cullen—boys huggingCamp Cullen’s priority is equipping children with new skills, opportunities for friendships and tools to become a better version of himself or herself. Character growth learned at camp leads kids to be more well-rounded individuals.

This growth is fun! Campers love the “camp experience.” When they first arrive, their excitement is tangible. They run, scream, take cabin photos, paint their handprints onto the session flag, learn cheers and meet counselors.

Camper Natalie T. says she loves coming to camp because “everyone is so nice and it’s easy to make new friends. The best part is that I get to do all the activities with my friends.”

These friendships provide a support structure children need. In addition, research supports that involvement in positive outside-of-school activities correlates with academic success. Children who are involved in extracurricular activities walk away with better test scores, attendance, homework completion, and grades.

YMCA of Greater Houston Camp Cullen—boy waterskiingACTIVITIES

During time on land, campers can take a film-making program, go horseback riding, climb the high ropes course and zip-line, learn archery or riflery, participate in geology, mineral discovery and more. During their time in the water, they can cut through the lake on Banana boats, learn sailing, kayaking and canoeing, hang on tight for a wild tubing ride, and perfect their balance on the paddle boards.

“Campers are free to choose what they do which develops their independence,” says Camp Director Mish Hood. “Most spend more time in nature than they ever have before.”

“Something I will always remember about Camp Cullen is the feeling of freedom and the outdoors,” says camper Sophia Q. “I will always remember coming here and making memories.”

YMCA of Greater Houston Camp Cullen—boy flying through airTOOLS FOR IMPACT

While the activities and time in nature may sound like all fun and games, they are actually the camp’s tools for impact. “Whether it be a Banana boat ride, a climbing tower or a horse,” says Mish, “we are looking to grow a child’s confidence, equip them to make good decisions, and help them form lifelong bonds with their new camp friends.”

Each activity challenges campers differently. Some push them to the limits of their comfort zone while others allow them to thrive while doing what they love. Camp Cullen’s award system focuses on expanding campers’ horizons and encouraging them to learn new skills they can take from camp to the real world.

YMCA of Greater Houston Camp Cullen—kids on Banana boat“It takes me out of my comfort zone and pushes me to be better,” says camper Audry S. “Being encouraged to participate makes me feel like I’m included in the group.”

This feeling of belonging fosters teamwork and collaboration; kids learn to communicate with one another to work in unison. These lessons are the ones that stick with a child into adulthood and follow them the rest of their lives.

If you’d like to check out YMCA Camp Cullen, come to one of our Weekend and Family Camps, a wonderful way to spend time with your family in the great outdoors and see what Camp Cullen has to offer.

Receive a discount of $100 off when you register your child for summer camp before September 30th!

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Healthy Choices, Healthy Kids: Three Steps to Heart Health

Childhood obesity has become the number one health concern among parents in the U.S. Kids today have health problems usually not seen until adulthood, such as high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol levels, and Type 2 diabetes. In almost all cases, these can be avoided by teaching kids healthy eating habits and encouraging exercise. Currently, 23.9 million American children are overweight, and of these 12.7 million are obese.

Summer is a great time to start making changes in your household by developing heart healthy habits to last all year long. Healthy living doesn’t have to be daunting. It’s easy (and free) to start, and the only thing it requires is a commitment from you to create an environment of heart health in your home! Here are three simple things you can do to start your kids on the right track to living a heart healthier life:

Step One: Rethink your drink!heart1

One of the primary culprits of childhood obesity is sugar-sweetened beverages including soda, sports drinks, sweetened waters and teas. According to the American Heart Association, consumption of sugary drinks has increased by 500 percent in the past 50 years and is now the single largest caloric intake for children.

Beverages like energy drinks can be deceiving because they advertise that they are healthy, but are usually loaded with calories and sugar. Common forms of added sugars are sucrose, glucose, fructose, maltose, dextrose, corn syrups, concentrated fruit juice and honey. Look carefully at labels, as many drinks provide more than one serving, which can double or triple your sugar consumption.

If you have sugary drinks on a regular basis, the American Heart Association recommends cutting out one of these a day. A week later, drink two less a day, until they are cut out completely from your diet. Replace sugary drinks with water.

Step Two: Healthy eating is a family affair!

When you get home from a long day at work, the last thing you want to do is wage war over broccoli at the dinner table. That’s why it’s so easy to fall into the trap of making mac-n-cheese or ordering pizza. It keeps you out of the “eat your vegetables” fight. There is good news: eating a nutritious meal doesn’t have to be a battle! Don’t be afraid to include your kids in the prep work. By being involved in grocery shopping and food preparation, your kids will have more ‘buy-in.’ If they feel some ownership over the meal, they may be more likely to eat it. It may take some effort and creativity to get kids to choose fruits and vegetables instead of the sweet and salty processed snacks they see advertised. Just remember that developing good eating habits early on helps set the stage for lifelong heart health.

heart2Step Three: Get up and get moving!

Physical inactivity is a major risk factor for developing heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. The American Heart Association recommends children and adolescents participate in at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day. Increased physical activity has been associated with an increased life expectancy and decreased risk of cardiovascular disease. Physical activity produces overall physical, psychological and social benefits, helps with controlling weight, reducing blood pressure, raising HDL (also known as “good”) cholesterol, reducing the risk of diabetes and reducing the risk of some types of cancer.

Summertime in Houston offers lots of opportunities to keep your children active and moving. Whether it’s spending time at the neighborhood park, going to summer camp, or participating in swim lessons at your local YMCA, there are many inexpensive options available to keep your kids active and engaged. Even if their physical activity is playing in the yard with friends or the family dog, the important thing to remember is by creating a routine that involves physical activity, you are making a difference in your child’s health.

Inactive children are likely to become inactive adults. Help your child develop healthy habits early in life that will bring lifelong benefits. The best way to lead your child to a healthy lifestyle is to set a positive example and create an environment of health and wellness in the home. Break the cycle before it starts and take steps today to start your child on the path of living a heart healthier life. For more information on the American Heart Association recommendations and ways to stay healthy this summer, visit

Contributed by Apiyo Obala. Apiyo Obala is the Director of Communications for the American Heart Association Houston Metro Division. The American Heart Association is the nation’s oldest and largest voluntary health organization dedicated to building healthier lives free of cardiovascular disease and stroke. Our mission is to build healthier lives by preventing, treating and defeating these diseases – America’s number one and number five killers. We fund cutting-edge research, conduct lifesaving public and professional educational programs, and advocate to protect public health.

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Too Much Sugar is Not So Sweet for Your Health

sugarA teaspoon of sugar may help your medicine go down, but high intakes often lead to obesity, tooth decay, inflammation, heart disease and unhealthy eating habits. The average American eats about 30 teaspoons of sugar per day which is over half a cup of sugar. This consumption rate adds up to individuals eating 96 pounds of sugar per year. Americans are consuming about 480 calories worth of sugar per day putting sugar consumption at an all-time high. Picture it: 19, 5-pound bags of sugar may match your annual sugar consumption.

Obviously, this is way more sugar than our bodies need. The American Heart Association (AHA )recommends  limiting your added sugars to 6 teaspoons (100 calories) per day for women and 9 teaspoons (150 calories) per day for men. Added sugars is a form that our bodies don’t need to function properly. Naturally occurring sugars are those found in fruit (fructose) and milk (lactose) that provide several healthy nutrients, like vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, in addition to the sweetness. Added sugars offer loads of empty calories and zero nutrients. Most added sugars come from sugary soft drinks, candy, cakes, cookies, pie, fruit drinks, ice-cream and non-nutritious grains.

sodaLook how fast your sugar intake can add up:

  • 6 ounces of non-fat yogurt – 2.5 teaspoons of sugar
  • 1 slice of whole wheat bread – 1 teaspoon of sugar
  • 1 cup of Honey Nut Cheerios – 3 teaspoons of sugar
  • 1 chocolate chip cookie – 4-5 teaspoons of sugar
  • 1/2 cup of vanilla ice cream – 3.5 teaspoons of sugar
  • 10 ounces of soda – 8 teaspoons of sugar
  • 4 chocolate Hershey Kisses – 2.5 teaspoons of sugar
  • 1 slice of cake – 8 teaspoons of sugar
  • 1 glazed donut – 3 teaspoon of sugar
  • 8 ounces of orange juice – 5.5 teaspoons of sugar

To calculate the teaspoons of sugar in a product look at the nutrition facts label and identify the grams of sugar per serving. Divide the grams of sugar by four (4) for your answer. One teaspoon of sugar equals 4 grams and 16 calories. The label will include natural as well as added sugars. Look at the ingredient list to find added sugars, including high fructose corn syrup, agave syrup, brown sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, glucose, lactose, maltose, sucrose, fruit juice concentrate, honey, invert sugar, malt sugar, molasses, raw sugar, and sugar syrup.

chocolate chip cookiesSugar makes taste buds happy and often leaves us craving more sugary goodness. It’s important to keep our sugar intake in check to keep our waistline from expanding and our health from deteriorating. Studies have shown that diets high in sugar are often low in important nutrients like calcium, vitamin A, iron, zinc and fiber. Choose to consume sugar wisely, in moderation and in combination with otherwise nutrient-rich foods.

Jordyn Forsyth is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator. She specializes in weight management, chronic disease prevention and health promotion. Jordyn strives to educate, empower and encourage others to make sustainable lifestyle changes. She has a Bachelor’s Degree in Nutrition Sciences from Baylor University and a Master’s Degree in Nutrition from Texas Woman’s University.

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10 Must-Grow Spring Vegetables

gardening31. Tomatoes

Best Time to Plant: March-April (transplant)
Tomatoes are one of the most popular home gardening crops. They are a good source of vitamin A and vitamin C. Slicing tomatoes, also known as beefsteak tomatoes, produce medium to large fruits that are great for burgers and sandwiches. Bite-size tomatoes are packed with flavor and available in a variety of shades from red to yellow. A $2 tomato plant can grow 10 pounds worth of produce!

2. Sweet Peppers

Best Time to Plant: March-May (transplant)
Peppers prefer a long, warm growing season. Peppers will start out green and change color as they ripen. As peppers change from green to yellow, orange, or red, both their flavor and their vitamin content improves significantly. Fully ripened, garden-grown peppers will tempt the taste buds of almost anyone. Peppers are great as a snack or can be grilled, stuffed or baked to accompany a variety of meals.

3. Hot Peppers

Best Time to Plant: March-May (transplant)
Hot peppers are great for bringing bold bursts of flavor to dishes and for making fresh salsa with your home-grown tomatoes. Chili peppers offer a numerous range of varieties that range from mild to fiery hot and ripen through a wide range of colors from yellow, orange, purple and even brown. One plant produces several peppers during a growing season, so it is best to plant transplants instead of seeds.

4.  Cucumbers

Best Time to Plant: March-May
Cucumbers are very easy to grow from seed and can be eaten fresh or preserved as pickles. Even though long, dark green, smooth-skinned cucumbers are most familiar, cucumbers actually come in a wide variety of colors, sizes, shapes, and textures. There are white, yellow, and even orange-colored varieties that may be short, slightly oval, or even round in shape while the skin can smooth or rough. To keep the trailing cucumber vines from sprawling across the garden provide a sturdy trellis. Cucumbers mature quickly, so be sure to pick cucumbers before they turn yellow and over ripen.

gardening25. Carrots

Best Time to Plant: February-March
Carrots are an excellent source for vitamin A and make a great snack for both adults and kids and add color to your meals. They will grow in small gardens and even flower beds and are able to tolerate a little bit of shade as well. One foot row of seeds will produce about one pound of carrots. Try to avoid skinning carrots to preserve all the nutrients.

6. Squash

Best Time to Plant: March-May
Squash is a popular warm-season vegetable that grows well in most areas and offers several different varieties, including yellow squash, scallop, zucchini, acorn, and butternut. Summer squash offers delicate flavors, soft shells and creamy white flesh that is a perfect addition to any summer meal. Summer squash is more fragile than winter squash and must be frozen if not eaten soon after harvesting. Winter squash is a rich source of plant based anti-inflammatory nutrients. Seeds from winter squash make a great snack food (similar to pumpkin seeds).

7. Beans

Best Time to Plant: March-April
From bush and snap beans to edamame, these are some of the easiest vegetables to grow. Beans germinate quickly and produce bountiful amounts of tasty delights. Choose between a wide variety of shapes, colors and sizes. Some bean plants produce pods, seeds and colorful flowers.

gardening48. Eggplant

Best Time to Plant: March-May
Eggplants are great baked, grilled, roasted, stewed, or stuffed to provide excellent source of fiber along with a fair amount of iron, potassium, and protein. The traditional “black bell” eggplant can produce four to six large fruits. To determine ripeness, remember that skin color and tone (glossy versus dull) is more important than size.

9. Broccoli

Best Time to Plant: February-March
This vitamin rich crop is an ideal choice for your home garden since it produces quickly and can be harvested several times. Broccoli is considered a nutritional superfood that will boost your immune system, help maintain strong bone, and protect against cancer and heart disease. Broccoli is delicious raw or steamed. The stems are also edible. Try peeling away the chewy outer skin, slicing them and then cooking the stems along with the florets. Garden fresh broccoli is very tender, so be careful not to overcook it.

10. Sweet Potatoes

Best Time to Plant: April-May
Make sure to plant in a warm environment with plenty of sun to develop the maximum flavor and sweetness. These flavorful tubers also produce colorful flowers, as well as sprawling vines often used as groundcover. Orange-flesh sweet potatoes aren’t the only variety available. White-fleshed varieties are good sources of B vitamins and minerals, while purple sweet potatoes are fully loaded with antioxidants. Sweet potatoes can be baked, boiled, mashed or stir-fried and can be enhanced with a wide range of spices and seasonings.

Several YMCA’s in the Greater Houston area are home to gardens. If you’re interested in becoming a volunteer at one of our community gardens, please contact the D. Bradley McWilliams Family YMCA, Trotter Family YMCAT.W. Davis Family YMCA or Vic Coppinger Family YMCA.

Jordyn Forsyth is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator. She specializes in weight management, chronic disease prevention and health promotion. Jordyn strives to educate, empower and encourage others to make sustainable lifestyle changes. She has a Bachelor’s Degree in Nutrition Sciences from Baylor University and a Master’s Degree in Nutrition from Texas Woman’s University.

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