Living Well In The Panhandle

Celebrate National Nutrition Month

Celebrate National Nutrition Month

NNM 2016 Logo2Celebrating the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics National Nutrition Month each March is the perfect time to focus on your health needs and set new nutritional goals. A couple of key messages for this year’s theme include discovering new ways to prepare meals that trim sodium and practicing mindful eating behaviors. Make it your goal to incorporate at least one of the following tips into your lifestyle so you can “Savor the Flavor of Eating Right!”

Get Creative with Herbs and Spices

Instead of adding salt or condiments high in sodium to your food, consider using herbs such as rosemary, basil, mint, oregano, or cilantro. Spices such as cinnamon, ginger, paprika, pepper, and cumin are another great option to include in your favorite meals. Flavoring with herbs and spices instead of salt can help reduce your sodium intake without sacrificing taste.

Appreciate Each Bite

Take time to appreciate every flavor, texture, and the overall eating experience at each meal. Eating slowly and enjoying every bite gives your stomach time to tell your brain that you are satisfied. This practice may help you eat less overall, as well as assist you in reaching your nutritional goals.

Practice Mindful Eating

Think about where you eat a majority of your meals. Eating at your desk or in front of a television can be distracting and may cause you to overeat. Aim to find a place where you can focus solely on your meal instead of trying to multitask while eating.

To learn more about how you can savor the flavor of eating right, visit or contact your local UF/IFAS Extension Office.



Author: amymullins –

Amy Mullins is a Family and Consumer Sciences Agent responsible for coordinating the Adult Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program in Leon County. Amy is a Registered Dietitian and a graduate of The University of Florida and Florida State University.


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Crops in Season

OrangeWhat’s in season now is certainly variable, location being a major influence in this area.  Chances are, if you’re from a cold weather state and enjoying the Florida sunshine, expectations are a bit different than if you are from around these parts.  Nonetheless, according to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS), oranges are not a variable here.  They are one of the most popular fruits- folks from around the globe know about Florida.  For instance, did you know that the orange is the official Florida fruit? It’s no surprise that orange juice is the official Florida state beverage and the orange blossom is Florida’s state flower.

Oranges, a member of the citrus family along with other seasonal favorites like grapefruit and tangerine, are considered a nutrient dense food.  Oranges provide valuable calories in the form of carbohydrates and fiber plus they are high in vitamin C, the minerals potassium and phosphorus, plus other nutrients.  Not only do Florida oranges make for a delicious, refreshing FAST FOOD when eaten right out of the hand, they can be easily peeled and sectioned, zested, or juiced to add flavor and nutrition to many recipes.  Oranges flavor well with other seasonal fresh foods, too. According to FDACS they pair nicely with basil, chocolate, cinnamon, ginger, mangoes, olives, pecans, strawberries and vanilla.  Florida oranges can even make a beautiful garnish to enhance a beverage or dinner plate.


Expand your use of the Florida orange this October-June growing season by trying these simple tips:

Squeeze your own juice! Use it to:

  • Give seasonal vegetables a new taste
  • Make a simple marinade for poultry
  • Enhance the flavor of a fruit salad or beverage

Zest an orange!

  • Zest can be added to many dishes to enhance flavor (rice, vegetables, baked goods, beverages, salads)
  • Care should be taken not to remove the white pith along with the peel as this can be bitter.

Peel an orange! Add the segments to:

  • Garden fresh salads
  • Pasta
  • Poultry recipes

When choosing Florida fresh oranges, choose one that is firm and heavy for its size. Refrigerating prolongs the life an orange.

Why eat seasonally? Products are fresher and tastier, and nutritional value is optimized. Not only are oranges plentiful this time of year, but other seasonal produce is bountiful too.  Try some fresh local Florida produce today!


Orange and Tupelo Honey Bliss

(a delicious salad dressing, marinade or dipping sauce)

1 Teaspoon fresh grated orange *zest

Juice of one fresh Florida orange

1/4 cup Tupelo honey

1/4 cup plain vinegar

1/4 cup olive oil

Combine all ingredients and mix well.

Personalize this recipe by adding dried or fresh herbs, garlic, peppers or other Florida fresh citrus zest* and juice.

*Zest, also known as citrus peel, is a food ingredient that is prepared by scraping or cutting from the outer, colorful skin of or citrus fruit.


Author: Heidi Copeland –

Family and Consumer Sciences Extension Agent, Leon County Florida Educational Program Focus: •Food, Nutrition and Wellness •Child Development and Parenting

Heidi Copeland

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Crops in Season: February

strawberryAlthough cool weather certainly makes Floridians feel like they’re experiencing winter, Florida farms are working in overdrive this February producing agricultural products for a whole lot of people who, because of COLD weather, are not able to grow their own crops. .

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services states that “Consumers around the world look for and value the “Fresh From Florida” label”. Because seasonal products are fresher and tastier, nutritional value is optimized. Often, seasonal products are more economical. In fact, fall plantings are not only being labeled as Fresh from Florida but also as what is in season right now. February’s list is quite impressive; especially when you think about the delicate nature of a strawberry!

Can you believe that each winter close to 300 million pounds of strawberries are grown in Central Florida, earning the area around Plant City the title Winter Strawberry Capital of the World!

Florida strawberries are indeed delicious and they’re full of Vitamin C and other vitamins and minerals – a real nutrient dense food.


When shopping for Florida Fresh strawberries:

  • Know that strawberries, once picked, do not ripen further.
  • Only purchase strawberries that can be consumed in a few days. Even when properly stored in a refrigerator, strawberries last only a few days.

Choose berries that are:

  • Firm, plump, and free of mold.
  • Shiny, deep red in color with attached green caps.

Avoid strawberries that are:

  • Dull in color or have green or yellow patches.

If you are buying strawberries prepackaged in container ensure:

  • Strawberries are not packed too tightly (which may cause them to become crushed and damaged.
  • The container has no signs of stains or moisture, (indication of possible spoilage).
  • The cap, stem and white hull remain intact (this prevents unnecessary loss of moisture).
  • Strawberries are not left at room temperature or exposed to sunlight (this aides in their spoiling).

Since strawberries are very perishable, strawberries should not be washed until right before eating or using in a recipe.

  • Do not remove strawberry caps and stems until after they have been gently washed under cold running water and patted dry. This will prevent them from absorbing excess water, which can degrade strawberries’ texture and flavor and cause them to spoil.

To freeze strawberries:

  • Gently wash strawberries and pat dry. The cap and stem can either be removed or left intact, depending upon what you will do with them once they are thawed.
  • Arrange strawberries in a single layer on a flat pan or cookie sheet and place them in the freezer. (lining the tray with a piece of parchment paper makes for easy removal once frozen)
  • Once frozen, transfer the strawberries to a heavy plastic bag and return them to the freezer where they will keep for up to one year.

Try these simple ideas for including strawberries in your next meals and snacks:

  • Strawberry and Spinach Salad
  • Strawberry-Banana Smoothie
  • Strawberry, Pistachio and Goat Cheese Pizza

Fore more information, contact:


Author: Heidi Copeland –

Family and Consumer Sciences Extension Agent, Leon County Florida Educational Program Focus: •Food, Nutrition and Wellness •Child Development and Parenting

Heidi Copeland

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Surprise… Good Nutrition is “In the Can”!

Canned goodsSometimes canned foods get a bad rap. Often, concerns are valid because canned foods tend to be high in unwanted salt and/or sugar. The good news is that you can buy fruits canned in their own juice and vegetables or beans labeled “low-sodium or” no salt added”. By draining and rinsing your canned produce with water, you can also lower the sodium or sugar content and have a healthful – and inexpensive – solution to balancing your child’s nutritional needs. For example, draining and rinsing canned beans lowers their sodium levels by as much as 41 percent.

We know that buying local fresh fruits and vegetables in season is a smart idea but kids can be picky. The Brussels sprouts or turnips that are available in the winter might not appeal to a child who only wants peaches. Benefits of buying canned foods include:

  • Most canned fruits and vegetables are packaged within hours of being picked. This means the foods keep their peak flavor and nutrients.
  • Canned fruits and vegetables are peeled, cut and ready to use in recipes. They “get you there” quicker and easier, usually with the same or even more nutrition than fresh or frozen. For example, did you know that canned pumpkin has three times more Vitamin A than fresh pumpkin?
  • Canned fruit and vegetable selections are available year-round. Canned foods can offer reliable, great-tasting ingredients when fresh produce is not in season.
  • Canned foods can be used in recipe “hacks” to improve nutrition. (“Hacks” are tricks that aid in the preparation or reduce the cooking time in recipes.) For example, soups can be thickened with a combination of pureed canned white beans and low-sodium vegetable or chicken stock instead of the traditional – and fattening – flour and butter. Canned evaporated skim milk can be used in equal amounts to replace cream in recipes for a fraction of the fat content.

All in all, canned foods can be used in any season to create a healthy plate. Just watch the sugar and salt content to create inexpensive, healthful and tasty meals your kids will love!


  1. Kendall, A.R. and Dahl, W.J. (2015). Shopping for Health: Vegetables. University of Florida/IFAS electronic publication:
  2. Jones, J.B., and J.R. Mount. (2009). Sodium Reduction in Canned Bean Varieties by Draining and Rinsing. 209. Institute of Food Technologists Conference Poster. Anaheim, California.
  3. Tavoletti, R. (2015). The Time is “Ripe” for Canned Food. Canned Food Alliance.
  4. Lydon, K. (2015). It’s No Trick, Treat Yourself to Better Nutrition with These Recipe Hacks. Canned Food Alliance. .

Author: Ginny Hinton –

Santa Rosa County Extension Agent with UF/IFAS. Focus areas include nutrition, food safety, injury prevention, and healthy families. Bachelor’s degree in Social Work from University of West Florida. Master’s degree in Public Health/Health Education from University of South Florida.

Ginny Hinton

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Even Hippocrates Endorsed Walking

hippocrates“Walking is man’s best medicine.” The ground breaking physician Hippocrates, said this around 300 BC.  It’s amazing that this still applies today. Walking is one of the easiest exercises that the majority of Americans can perform.  So what does it take? Not much – just the personal incentive to get started. Requirements are comfortable shoes and your choice of the place to walk. This can be the local school track, a park, your neighborhood, or even within your own home.

The current recommendation is 10,000 steps per day which equates to about 5 miles per day. This is the mission of the US Surgeon General, Vice Admiral Vivek Murthy, and the Shape Up America! campaign ( If you are a couch potato and are just starting out, you can simply time yourself and see how long you can walk before you get tired. Once you have established that amount of time, challenge yourself to walk for a longer time or distance. If you want to get technical, download a free app for your cell phone such as Map My Walk ( ) or purchase an inexpensive pedometer to count your daily steps and then begin to challenge yourself to exceed that number each day. Every extra effort counts!

Hippocrates realized the need for exercise long before our modern day physicians ever began their studies. Some things are just that simple, so slip on those comfortable shoes and take a walk!

tennis shoes


Author: Marie Arick –

Originally from Starkville, Mississippi, Arick obtained both her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from Mississippi State University. With her bachelor’s degree in Fitness Management/Exercise Science, Arick spent 18 years in the medical field primarily in Cardiology before obtaining her Master’s degree in Health Promotion. “I witnessed first-hand the impact on one’s health and overall wellness produced by a serious ailment and the need for more educational programs to aid in improving the overall quality of life for people. This is not just isolated to health education and wellness, but also financial literacy and job skill programs as well. I feel addressing issues with a holistic approach can help people maximize their abilities and that small changes over time can provide a very positive and beneficial impact on people’s lives”

Marie Arick

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Saving Just $50 of Your Tax Refund Could Mean Winning Big

Saving Just $  50 of Your Tax Refund Could Mean Winning Big

SaveYourRefund-without-D2D-300x83As W-2 forms and other receipts start rolling in, we’re reminded that tax season is upon us once again. It’s exciting to get back some of your own hard-earned money in the form of a tax refund! Saving a portion of your tax refund can be a big step toward meeting your savings goals, so it’s no surprise that a 2015 tax season survey found that a majority of those who receive a refund planned to save it.

This tax season, reward yourself for saving some of your refund by entering for a chance to win $ 25,000 through SaveYourRefund. SaveYourRefund has 101 cash prizes, including 100 weekly prizes of $ 100 and one grand prize of $ 25,000. Making smart financial decisions isn’t always easy, but splitting your refund couldn’t be simpler. Follow these quick and easy steps to enter to win in 2016:

  • Use Form 8888 to split your refund. Entry to win with SaveYourRefund starts with splitting your refund into savings.
  • Save $ 50 or more of your tax refund. In order to enter, use Form 8888 to save at least $ 50. There are a number of accounts you can save into including a savings account, a U.S. Treasury Direct account (savings bond), and a myRA retirement account.
  • Visit to enter. You will automatically be eligible to win one of ten $ 100 prizes that will be given away every week from the start of the contest until the end of tax season.
  • Upload a picture here that represents your savings goal or motivation, and you’ll be entered to win the $ 25,000 grand prize!

Need tax assistance? Take advantage of a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program. VITA programs offer free tax help to those who generally make $ 53,000 or less, persons with disabilities, the elderly, and limited English speakers.

Get ahead of your financial goals by splitting your tax refund into savings, and reward yourself with SaveYourRefund!

Source:  Tammy Greynolds,



Author: Judy Corbus –

Judy Corbus is the Family and Consumer Sciences Agent in Washington and Holmes Counties.;

Judy Corbus

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Take Care of Your Heart

Photo credit:

Photo credit:

Did you know that heart disease is the #1 killer of Americans, accounting for 1 in every 4 deaths? It has been called the “silent killer” because often there are no symptoms.

Your risk for heart disease can depend on many things. The good news is that 80% of risk factors are preventable!

Things you can do to reduce your risk:

  • Avoid use of and exposure to tobacco.
  • Avoid excessive alcohol consumption.
  • Be physically active every day.
    • 150 minutes per week of aerobic activity, equivalent to brisk walking, has been shown to lower obesity, blood pressure, triglycerides, and LDL (bad) cholesterol, and increase HDL (good) cholesterol
  • Aim for a healthy body weight.
  • Aim for normal blood glucose. Diabetes is the 7th leading cause of death in the US and can cause serious health complications such as heart disease, blindness, kidney failure, and amputations.
    • Fasting glucose levels over 100mg/dL could signify prediabetes
    • Fasting glucose levels over 126mg/dL could signify diabetes
  • Check your blood pressure regularly.
    • Less than 120/80 mmHg is normal
    • 120-139/80-89 mmHg is pre-hypertension
    • 140/90 mmHg or higher is hypertension
  • Check your cholesterol. People with high cholesterol have about twice the risk of heart disease as people with lower levels. Aim for:
    • Total Cholesterol (less than 200 mg/dL)
    • Low triglycerides (less than 150 mg/dL)
    • Low LDL (bad) cholesterol levels (less than 100 mg/dL)
    • High HDL (good) levels (60 mg/dL or higher)
  • Consume a healthy diet. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and ChooseMyPlate, a healthy eating plan:
    • Emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products
    • Includes lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs, and nuts
    • Is low in saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, salt (sodium), and added sugars
    • Stays within your daily calorie needs

Taking care of yourself is no easy job! Talk to your doctor and schedule regular checkups. Knowing what your risk for heart disease is literally can save your life. For more information about reducing your risk of heart disease, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.



Author: amymullins –

Amy Mullins is a Family and Consumer Sciences Agent responsible for coordinating the Adult Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program in Leon County. Amy is a Registered Dietitian and a graduate of The University of Florida and Florida State University.


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Sweets for Your Sweetie

Sweets for Your Sweetie

ChocolateValentine’s Day and chocolate just go together! Can you really have one without the other? I crave chocolate all year round and with some of the recent research I have read, I can feel all right about giving in.

A recent study reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition tested the effects of dark and white chocolate on healthy adults to determine whether either type played a role in blood pressure and insulin sensitivity. They concluded that dark chocolate can indeed help reduce blood pressure and insulin resistance. White chocolate did not provide these health benefits.

Keep in mind that although dark chocolate has health benefits, most chocolate bars are high in saturated fat, so moderation is key. Eating dark chocolate cannot substitute for everyday healthy food choices. Nor can chocolate replace regular exercise or medications that have been prescribed by your physician. It is so nice to know you can indulge in your Valentine’s Day chocolate, in moderation, without feeling guilty about it if you choose the dark.



Author: Shelley Swenson –

Shelley is the FCS/EFNEP Agent in Wakulla County. She joined the UF/IFAS Wakulla County staff in 2008 after re-locating in Florida. She previously worked for the Kansas State University’s Extension Service for 13 years in a county position. She also spent 15 years in various administrative roles in the Kansas community college system. She owned and operated an interior business for five years.

Shelley Swenson

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What’s in Season Now? January

Goodness, it is freezing cold in most parts of the country and Florida is gearing up for a record breaking harvest season!

According to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) Florida commercial farms rank second in the U.S. for value of vegetable production; first in production value for oranges (accounts for 63 percent of total U.S. citrus production), fresh market tomatoes, watermelons, grapefruit, fresh market snap beans, fresh market cucumbers and squash; second in the production of greenhouse and nursery products, bell peppers, strawberries, fresh market sweet corn, spring potatoes, tangerines and avocados. Florida ranks eighth in agricultural exports with over $ 4 billion in receipts.

It may be winter but wintertime in Florida is an incredible season for Florida agriculture. Look for these “Fresh From Florida” items in your grocery store during January: avocado, bell pepper, broccoli, cabbage carambola, cauliflower, celery, eggplant, grapefruit, guava, lettuce, mushroom, orange, passion fruit, peanut, radish, sap bean, squash, strawberry, sweet corn, tangerine, tomato.



And why not try something new?

According to the Tropical Fruit Growers of South Florida carambola, commonly known as a starfruit is just getting started and will continue into February. These lightly sweet fruits are crisp, juicy and perfect for adding to meals and desserts as well as for just snacking on.

If you purchase a carambola buy one with little or no bruising or brown spots on the ribs. Starfruit that is ready to eat is gold in color. If you can wait a few days, select a starfruit that is a light yellow, with a hint of green along the ribs because carambola that is yellow or a very light green will ripen on the counter at room temperature. (Don’t place it in the refrigerator as this will stop the ripening process.) Once the carambola is ripe, wash the fruit and then cut it crosswise to reveal its beautiful star pattern. The skin, the seeds and core are all edible, and delicious!

Ripe carambola can be stored in the refrigerator; it will keep for almost a week. Be aware that a frozen carambola will change consistency when thawed but can be successfully added to a smoothie along with other fruit.

Carambolas are a nutritious, low calorie fruit, and are a great addition to healthy meals and snacks. Try one!

Try this easy recipe found the Tropical Fruit Growers of South Florida website. 

Carambola and Lettuce Salad

1 head of Romaine Lettuce, washed and dried

2 large or 3 medium Carambolas sliced in their beautiful star patterns

2 T Balsamic Vinegar

4 T olive oil

2 T chopped mint

Salt and pepper to taste

On a large plate fan out the lettuce leaves, going all the way around making a ring and making a second layer if needed. (Larger leaves first and smaller ones subsequently) Lay the carambola slices in the center.

Combine the vinegar, olive oil, chopped mint, salt and pepper and drizzle over the salad.

Serves four


Author: Heidi Copeland –

Family and Consumer Sciences Extension Agent, Leon County Florida Educational Program Focus: •Food, Nutrition and Wellness •Child Development and Parenting

Heidi Copeland

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A Win-Win Super Bowl Party

A Win-Win Super Bowl Party

A Win-Win Super Bowl Party

A Win-Win Super Bowl Party

Get defensive about your health. These easy-to-tackle recipes are just as tasty, but lower in fat and calories than typical game-day fare. It’s a Win-Win situation.

Skip the six-foot-long sub sandwich usually drenched in mayonnaise. Instead, serve a soup and sandwich smorgasbord with a variety of low-fat cheeses, whole grain breads, fresh, low-sodium cold cuts, and lots and lots of fresh vegetables. Serve soups that are hearty and full of vegetables or grains.

Swap calorie-laden soft drinks with 100% fruit juice or vegetable juice. Prepare mock cocktails using half juice and half seltzer water for a healthy, refreshing beverage.

Set up a make-your-own sundae bar. Use low-fat, protein-rich Greek yogurt and add low-fat granola and fresh or frozen fruit like strawberries, blueberries, even dried fruit. Top off yogurt sundaes with nuts.

Replace chips with vegetable sticks or fruit, or try making your own tasty pita chips. Recipe follows and it only takes a few minutes. Serve a store-bought salsa or a homemade bean dip (see recipe) with carrots, celery, red pepper strips, and cucumbers instead of high-fat dips and salty chips.

If you are going to serve dessert, opt for fruit—fresh, frozen, or canned in its own juice, or there are sugar-free options.

These game day decisions will help you develop a winning game plan!


Garlic & Herb Pita Chips

4-6 whole wheat pitas

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon Italian seasoning

½ teaspoon garlic powder

¼ teaspoon salt

Coat 2 large baking sheets with non-stick cooking spray.

Cut pitas into 8 wedges each and separate each wedge at the fold.

Place the pita wedges in an even layer on the baking sheets.

Brush wedges with oil and sprinkle with Italian seasoning, garlic powder, and salt.

Bake at 350°F for 6 to 10 minutes or until golden brown.

May be baked ahead of time and stored in an airtight container for up to 4 days.


Pinto Bean Salsa Dip

1 (approximately 15-ounce) can pinto beans, drained and rinsed, or

1½ cups cooked dried beans

1 cup shredded cheese

½ to 1 cup chunky salsa

1 to 2 tablespoons chopped onion (optional)

¼ to ½ teaspoon chili powder or to taste (optional)

Mash beans with a fork. Mix in cheese. Stir in enough salsa until mixture is desired consistency for dipping. Add onion and seasoning as desired. Serve cold or cook, stirring, over medium heat until the cheese melts and the mixture is well-blended and hot (about 5 minutes).


For further information contact:

Dorothy C. Lee, C.F.C.S.

UF IFAS Extension Escambia County

3740 Stefani Road

Cantonment, FL 32533-7792

(850) 475-5230



Author: Dorothy C. Lee –

Family & Consumer Sciences Extension Agent in Escambia County

Dorothy C. Lee

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