February National Snack Food Month

February National Snack Food Month

My favorite time – snack time!  For February, National Snack Food Month, let’s celebrate these tasty morsels for a whole month.

Go Beyond the Snack Aisle

Snacks often have a bad reputation, at least in terms of health.  It’s true that snack food aisles are often filled with high fat, high calorie, high sodium, and high sugar choices.  But snacks can be great sources of fiber, vitamins, minerals, proteins, and healthier fats and carbohydrates.  You may just have to wander to other parts of the store next time you shop.

Think Mini Meal

When you snack, think of it as a mini meal.  Though you could plan tomorrow’s dinner to be a plate of snack cakes with a side of potato chips, hopefully you come up with something more satisfying than that – both in taste and nutrition.  Additionally, when we snack on healthier foods in between meals, it gives our bodies the sustainable energy it needs to make it to that next meal.

Plate and skewer of healthy, fun snacks

Snacks – Fun, Tasty, and Healthy
Photo Source: Angela Hinkle

Snack MyPlate

Try snacking from all five food groups this month.

  • Whole grains – popcorn, granola, whole grain crackers
  • Fruits – apples, bananas, oranges, raisins
  • Veggies – pea pods, cucumber slices, carrots
  • Dairy – string cheese, yogurt cups, individual shelf stable cartons of milk
  • Protein – hard-boiled eggs, mixed nuts, healthy beef jerky

Make Homemade Mixed-Up Food Group Snacks

  • Whole grain pita or multi-colored pepper slices dipped in guacamole or hummus
  • Apple slices or carrots with peanut butter dip
  • Cherry tomatoes with mozzarella and basil
  • Fruit smoothies or protein shakes
  • Yogurt with granola and mixed berries
  • Banana Sushi – smear a whole wheat tortilla with peanut butter, put a banana in the middle, roll it up, then cut it into “sushi” slices

For more great snacking ideas, check out 10 Snack Tips for Parents, MyPlate Snack Tips for Kids, and 25 Healthy Snacks for Kids

Delicious, healthy, on-the-go snacks.  Be creative and keep it healthy this February – National Snack Food month.

Don’t Let the Flu Blow Your Fun Away

Don’t Let the Flu Blow Your Fun Away

vaccination

One of the best ways to help prevent the flu this season is to get vaccinated. Even if you still get the flu, the severity and length of illness may be diminished. (Photo source: UF/IFAS file photo)

The holiday season has passed and now we are well on our way into 2020 with a very severe flu season. You are the best person at making sure you do not get the flu.  Here are a few tips that you should consider as this flu season continues and still has not reached its peak.

  1. GET VACCINATED. It takes, on average, two weeks for the flu vaccine to reach its full potential, so if you have not gotten the flu shot, get it NOW. Even if you still get the flu, it will likely be shortened in time and strength if you are vaccinated.
  2. WASH YOUR HANDS. Washing your hands frequently will help protect you from the flu. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  3. AVOID CLOSE CONTACT WITH PEOPLE WHO ARE SICK. Be sure to avoid direct contact with anyone that is sick.  If you must come in contact with them be sure to wash your hands once you leave. If you are sick, keep your distance from others to protect them from getting sick too.
  4. AVOID TOUCHING YOUR FACE. Germs are spread quickly when a person touches something that is contaminated with germs and then touches his or her eyes, nose, or mouth.  So make a conscious effort to keep your hands away from your face.
  5. COVER YOUR MOUTH AND NOSE WHEN YOU COUGH AND SNEEZE. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing, or sneeze/cough into your closed elbow. These steps may prevent those around you from getting sick.
  6. STAY HOME WHEN YOU ARE SICK. If possible, stay home from work and school when you are sick. This is the best way to avoid spreading your germs to other people. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recommends you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities. They also recommend that your fever should be gone for 24 hours (without the use of a fever-reducing medicine) for you to no longer be considered contagious.
  7. PRACTICE GENERAL GOOD HEALTH HABITS. Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces at home, work, and school, especially when someone is sick. Wash backpacks, coats, and other items regularly. Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious food.

Follow the tips above and maintain the best health practices possible and hopefully you will be one of the lucky people that avoids the dreaded flu this year.  Wishing you all a healthy and happy 2020!

Source: https://www.cdc.gov/flu/prevent/prevention.htm

For MOST Taxpayers, Federal Income Tax Returns are due on Wednesday, April 15, 2020.

For MOST Taxpayers, Federal Income Tax Returns are due on Wednesday, April 15, 2020.

IRS logo with Eagle symbol

The deadline for filing your federal income tax return is April 15, 2020. (Photo source: IRS.gov)

The Internal Revenue Service has announced that they will begin accepting paper and electronic tax returns beginning January 27, 2020. The IRS encourages everyone to consider filing electronically and choosing direct deposit, as it is fast, accurate, and the best way to get your refund as quickly as possible.

Nonetheless, many software companies and tax professionals are accepting income tax return information now and promising instant refunds.  KNOW that money being promised comes with a charge. As they say, there is NO free lunch, especially around tax time.

By law, the IRS cannot issue refunds for people claiming the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) or Additional Child Tax Credit (ACTC) before mid-February. The law requires the IRS to hold the entire refund − even the portion not associated with EITC or ACTC. This law change, which took effect in 2017, helps ensure that taxpayers receive the refund they are due by giving the IRS more time to detect and prevent fraud

The IRS also wants taxpayers to be aware it will take several days for these refunds to be released and processed through financial institutions. Factoring in weekends and the President’s Day holiday, the IRS cautions that many affected taxpayers may not have actual access to their income tax refunds until the end of February 2020.  

The filing deadline to submit 2019 tax returns is Wednesday, April 15, 2020.  Procrastinators can request a six-month extension to submit their returns (Form 4868), but you only have until midnight April 15, 2020 to pay taxes owed without penalty.

It is amazing to know that the IRS issues more than 9 out of 10 refunds in less than 21 days.   Choosing e-file and direct deposit for refunds remains the fastest and safest way to file an accurate income tax return and receive a refund.  However, it is possible your tax return may require additional review and take longer. Where’s My Refund? has the most up to date information available about your refund.

Your refund should only be deposited directly into accounts that are in your own name, your spouse’s name, or both if it is a joint account. No more than three electronic refunds can be deposited into a single financial account or pre-paid debit card. Taxpayers who exceed the limit will receive an IRS notice and a paper refund.

Whether you file electronically or on paper, direct deposit gives you safe access to your refund faster than a paper check.

Additional Resources:
Free Tax Return Prep for Qualifying Tax Payers (IRS)
What to Bring to Your Local VITA or TCE Site (IRS)

Holiday Leftovers: Keep Them Safe and Delicious

Holiday Leftovers: Keep Them Safe and Delicious

Cooked turkey with green peas and roll

Safe and delicious holiday leftovers
Photo Source: UF/IFAS

For some of us, the best part of holiday eating is snacking on the leftovers. There’s just nothing better for a post-holiday lunch than a turkey sandwich with some cranberry dressing. With a little care and attention to detail, holiday foods can be safe and delicious for several days after the big event.

So, what do we all need to know about holiday food safety? Take a look below for some quick and easy tips.

Reheating foods in the oven: Set your oven temperature no lower than 325˚F and reheat to 165˚F for turkey or chicken. Reheat ham to 145˚F. You will need a meat thermometer to check the temperature. If you don’t already have one, they’re easy to find and fairly inexpensive. To keep your meat moist, add a little broth or water and cover it with foil or an oven-proof lid.

Reheating foods in the microwave: To keep your turkey or chicken moist, sprinkle a little broth or water and cover it. You won’t need a lot of extra moisture for microwave cooking. If your microwave doesn’t have a revolving tray, be sure to rotate the meat for even heating. Let it stand for a minute or two after heating, as it will continue to cook for a bit. Just like with oven reheating, use a meat thermometer and heat poultry to 165˚F, ham to 145˚F.

Storing your turkey: It may be a painful thought, but if any turkey, stuffing, or gravy gets left out at room temperature for more than two hours, it needs to be thrown away. It’s better to waste food than to risk getting sick, especially over the holidays! Divide leftovers into small portions so they will quickly and evenly cool. Store in the refrigerator or freeze in appropriate containers.

Important Tips: Use refrigerated turkey, stuffing and gravy within four days. If you freeze your leftovers, use them within six months for best taste and quality. Not sure how long something’s been in the refrigerator or freezer? The old maxim still holds true: When in doubt, throw it out.

Best wishes to you for a safe and happy holiday season!

Stress Management Tips for the Holiday Hullabaloo

Stress Management Tips for the Holiday Hullabaloo

The holidays are upon us! The holidays are a beloved time of year for many, but they are also a source of stress. Stress is defined by an individual’s values, beliefs, and perceptions, so it may look different to everyone. Whether you’re preparing for parties or family to come visit, dreading interacting with a certain family member, planning your holiday budget, or struggling with remembering a lost loved one, stress affects many people this time of year. Here are three tips for managing your stress this season.

Loving and caring relationships go a long way to relieve stress. (Photo Source: UF/IFAS)

1. Be Meta

Metacognition is thinking about your own thought processes. If you feel your stress winding up, stop and analyze your thought processes and the environment around you.

Ask yourself a question such as:

“Why I am feeling this way?” or  “Why did I have this connecting thought and/or emotional reaction because of this specific event?”

Consciously recognize your signs of stress and do something about it:

“I’m feeling stressed because my muscles are tight and I’m irritable, so what is a healthy coping mechanism I like to use, and when can I take a break to go cope?”

Being more aware of your thoughts, feelings, and environment helps keep you in tune with managing your stress in a healthier way.

2. Take A Moment

Remember that to successfully help others, you first need to take care of yourself. The holidays make that even easier to forget, it seems. Too much psychological stress can lead to physical illness, which takes an even bigger toll on your overall well-being. So take a moment to yourself to refresh or recharge, whether it’s five minutes alone meditating or practicing mindfulness/awareness, going for a short walk, or taking an amazing 20-minute power nap. Reach out to friends and family to help you cover your responsibilities (such as caring for children), if needed, while you take a moment. Right now, I’d like you to take a moment and make a list of 3-5 simple things you can do to help yourself de-stress as the holidays approach, so you are armed with coping power when the stress arrives.

3. Don’t Deny

Denial is a poor stress management too; it’s a defense mechanism, not a healthy coping skill. It can be beneficial in the short-term, depending on the situation, but is largely harmful if used long-term. The refusal to believe there’s a problem only brings more stress. Not only does denial hurt you, but it hurts the people around you as well. Remember to trust those you love if they express concern about you or feel as though you’re denying something that’s negatively affecting you. Try not to defend yourself or attack them. First, take a step back, breathe in, and examine any validity to their claim with a good dose of humility. Chances are, they mean well and want to help, so it’s worth a self-examination. The ultimate goal is for you and your loved ones to be healthy and happy, and coping with stress positively is one great avenue to achieving that goal!

Enjoy yourself this time of year as you serve and spend time with others, but remember also to take care of yourself!

Source:

Boss, P. (2002). Family stress management: A contextual approach (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications.

 

Don’t Let Rice or Pasta Ruin Your Day!

Don’t Let Rice or Pasta Ruin Your Day!

Photo credit: UF/IFAS NW District

Rice and pasta are a staple of most family meals. But did you know these simple grains can lead to a foodborne illness? Uncooked rice and pasta can contain spores of Bacillus cereus, a bacterium that can cause foodborne illness. These spores can survive even when rice or pasta is cooked. If the rice or pasta is left standing at room temperature, like in a pot on the stove, these spores can grow into bacteria. These bacteria will then multiply and produce toxins (poisons) that can cause foodborne illness. Bacillus cereus, sometimes called B. cereus, can cause nausea, vomiting, and abdominal cramps.

Preventing Contamination by B. Cereus
Because B. cereus endospores are heat resistant, they are likely to survive cooking at temperatures that would destroy other foodborne pathogens. Bacillus cereus spores can grow when exposed to heat or improper handling.

Recommendations for Proper Handling of Rice and Pasta:

  • Cook rice and pasta at 135ºF or above and maintain at that temperature outside of the refrigerator.
    Serve rice or pasta as soon as it is cooked.
  • Cool in the refrigerator at 41ºF or below within 2 hours of cooking.
  • Store rice or pasta in the fridge using a shallow container or resealable bags.
  • Cooked rice or pasta can be stored in airtight containers in the fridge for 3 – 5 days.
  • Do not reheat rice or pasta more than once.

During the holidays, celebrations usually center around family and good food, and, therefore, our refrigerators easily can become full. We tend to leave rice or pasta out on the stove when there isn’t any room in the fridge. This is where the problem occurs. By following proper food handling techniques, you can ensure that everyone enjoys the holidays and the fabulous foods that are part of the festivities.

To learn more about Bacillus cereus or other foodborne illnesses, contact your UF/IFAS County Extension Office.

Resources:
UF/IFAS Electronic Data Information Source (EDIS), Preventing Foodborne Illness: Bacillus cereus

The Number of Food Poisoning Cases Caused by Bacillus cereus is on the Rise. (2015, April 1). Infection Control Today. Retrieved from https://www.infectioncontroltoday.com/food-safety/number-food-poisoning-cases-caused-bacillus-cereus-rise