For most of our friends, packing a healthy school lunch that your kids actually enjoy is a challenge. From complaints of gluten-free bread not being soft and missing out on school lunches, most parents I know have heard it all. So when Van’s sent us a pack of their newest addition to the gluten-free packaged products, we were happy to taste test. If we could find a yummy and healthy gluten free cracker that our son enjoys in his lunchbox (instead of pop chips) then we’re winning. And since we already love the gluten-free frozen waffles and healthy cereal options they currently offer, we figured this would be another home run.

So,  our son happily ripped open a bag of their new, Say Cheese! crackers and after the first couple of bites it was clear he liked them. After he happily ate the whole bag, we knew we had a winner. So we tried them ourselves. Trust me, you will love them.

To say these are reminiscent of smoky Cheeze It’s is only a slight stretch. While they don’t leave that finger-licking-good, processed-cheese-melted-on-your-fingers effect, they have a similar flavor. The kid in me says it’s pretty close to the joy I used to get from eating Cheeze It’s so we’re giving these an A+ review.

vanssaycheese!In their words, Say Cheese! is a seriously snackable multigrain crackers packed with delicious cheese taste. With totally terrific cheesy flavor and the perfect crispy crunch, these Say Cheese! Crackers are everyone’s favorite! And with 16g of nutrient-rich, gluten free whole grains, they’re a snack everyone will love.

Here’s a list of their ingredients…


Van’s Gluten Free Whole Grain Blend (Oats, Brown Rice Flour, Millet, Quinoa And Amaranth), non-GMO Expeller Pressed Sunflower and/or Safflower Oil, Potato Starch, Rice Flour, Cheddar Cheese (Cultured Milk, Salt, Enzymes), Whey, Brown Sugar, Salt, Buttermilk, Yeast Extract, Sesame Seeds, Sunflower Lecithin, Spices, Beta Carotene and Annatto Extract (for Color), Natural Flavors, Citric Acid, Natural Mixed Tocopherols for Freshness.

Contains: Milk.

Head on over to their site and check out where you can grab a pack of deliciousness today!


Every once in a while I run across an email that spikes my curiosity. Like most of you, I tend to get a lot of junk mail which is why I haven’t yet bothered to set up a newsletter for this site. Probably something I should get on top of though. Anyway, today I read an email from a group I  follow called the USA Rice Federation. Not honestly sure why I signed up for their newsletter, but there it was today sharing some pretty cool news if you ask me. Apparently they hold a once a year contest to encourage schools to improve their food quality and today the USA Rice Federation announces it’s ‘healthy brown rice on school lunch menu contest’ winners.

To take part in the contest, K-12 food service directors and menu planners used U.S. grown brown rice as the main ingredient in one or more recipes on their school menu. Six winners were selected—three Grand Prize and three runners-up—and three more received honorable mentions.

So why brown rice?

According to Greenmedinfo, ‘brown rice protects against heart disease. Some of the nutrients lost in the process of making naturally brown rice white may actually offer protection from high blood pressure and atherosclerosis (“hardening of the arteries”). Laboratory research attributes the cardio-protective effects of brown rice to a thin layer of tissue that’s stripped away when brown rice is polished to make white rice. According to the scientists, this could help explain why fewer people die of cardiovascular disease in Japan compared to the U.S.  In Japan most people eat at least one rice-based dish per day, but in the U.S. rice is not a mainstay of the daily diet.’

blackriceAs someone who avoids most grains, I do occasionally reach for some brown or black rice. As greenmedinfo continues to point out, ‘because of its dark color, black rice has the same antioxidants found in blueberries or blackberries, and is known for helping fight heart disease, cancer and other diseases. According to research from the Department of Food Science at Louisiana State University, a spoonful of black rice has more health promoting antioxidants than a spoonful of blueberries, but with less sugar and more fiber and vitamin E antioxidants.’


So now you can see why this email intrigued me and why I’m sharing it today. And not only were the dishes based on healthy brawn rice as their foundation, the presentations were creative and packed with healthy (and delicious) ingredients. Kudos to these schools for going the extra mile to keep our kiddos healthy and happy!

The Grand Prize winners of the 2014 “Healthy Brown Rice on the Menu Contest” each receive paid 2014 School Nutrition Association Annual Conference registration, a generous brown rice donation to their school from Uncle Ben’s, Riceland or Producers Rice Mill, a commercial size Aroma rice cooker for their school and a consumer size rice cooker for their home kitchen.

Here are the grand prize winners and the meals they prepared; I especially love the use of healthy grains such as quinoa and fresh ingredients. This is certainly nothing like the meals we see in our son’s elementary school (which is why we pack his lunch every day!)

Breakfast: Dimitra Barrios, Foodservice Director for Chichester High School in Upper Chichester, PA; Power Grain Breakfast Porridge includes U.S. brown rice, red quinoa, oats, ground flax-seed, golden raisins, sliced almonds, honey, bananas and a hint of cinnamon.

Lunch: Jill Patterson, Resident Dietitian for Weston Public High School in Weston, CT; Coconut Curry Roasted Chicken, Thai Style Brown Fried Rice, Steamed Fresh Broccoli features U.S. brown rice, Thai coconut milk, fresh ginger and lemon grass, chicken infused with curry spices and finished with fresh lime and shredded toasted coconut.

Rice Bowl: Kay Briles, Head Cook for Greenfield Elementary School in Baldwin, WI; Mexican Rice Bowl combines U.S. brown rice, chicken, black beans, sweet peppers, tomato sauce, corn, chili powder, cumin and minced garlic.

For more information and recipe ideas featuring U.S.-grown rice, visit

Social media has been an amazing addition to our lives; we are connecting with old friends we lost touch with, seeing current events unfold in real time and connecting with various information sources that can often times be a bit overwhelming.  So if you’re searching for some help to make some small lifestyle changes without feeling overwhelmed by the mass amounts of information online, I’ve put together some quick tips for you. These small changes will make a big impact on your health!

Here are some quick steps to help make a fresh start; you can apply these at any time and don’t need to coordinate with a challenge, or lifestyle/special diet change. These will simply help you achieve a healthier approach to food choices, and to get on track for a healthier you. 

1. Commit these to memory and live them daily: 

  • Eat whole, unprocessed foods
  • Eat a colorful variety of plants
  • Get healthy fats from sources like nuts, seeds and avocados
  • Choose nutrient dense foods

2. Add a big, colorful salad to your lunch and dinner – starting with a salad ensures you’re eating your greens, and prevents eating too many carbs or other nutrient-lacking foods.

3. Stock a healthy pantry – think non GM foods, gluten-free (but not sugary type replacement foods) and avoid processed foods as much as possible.

4. Choose lean, grass-fed protein sources when possible

5. Adapt your plate to focus on veggies first, then protein, with nuts & seeds as highlights for flavor.

6. Get healthy fats from whole foods – think nuts, seeds and avocados

7. Choose while grains over refined (if you’re still eating grains)

8. Avoid processed & refined sweeteners – think of fresh, frozen and dried fruits to sweeten meals instead.

9. Add nutrient dense oils to your routine – think Coconut and Olive Oil instead of vegetable, cottonseed or corn based oils.

10. Remember GIGO:  garbage in = garbage out. You are what you eat, so make sure you’re eating nutrient dense, whole foods whenever possible!



Jane Fonda vs Jack Lelane, Vegans vs High Protein diets, Paleo vs Southbeach – who had it right?

Both? Niether? Perhaps they were each onto something, but as the debates rage on as to whether the old adage about exercising to burn more calories than you intake is really the key to weight loss, and more people turn to Primal and Paleo ways of life, we can’t help but wonder… who really has it figured out? 

We follow many authors and experts; from Western MDs with a more Eastern point of view, Nutritionists, Personal Trainers and average folks who have transformed their bodies, it seems they all have a personal plan which they swear by. If you’re into Crossfit you probably follow the Paleo way of life. For those looking for a bit more flexibility, it’s common to turn to the Primal Blueprint diet by Mark Sisson

 A group of ND’s and Eastern medicine/personal training enthusiasts we follow as well are the Metabolic Effect guys. They have a very active Facebook page which you can view here, and they tend to promote a balanced way of life consisting of rapid, intense workouts which spark the “Metabollic Effect” or EPOC after-burn.  They tend to believe that you will gravitate towards the eating plan which best suits your metabolic make-up, and not necessarily to prescribe to any one particular dieting plan. 

One thing I definitely agree with them on is their belief that exercising more does not equal weight loss. Sorry Jane Fonda!  There are too many studies to support that it’s not a simple equation of calories in vs. calories burned.  Old school aerobic exercise burns some fat, but also strips the body of metabolically active muscle. Recent studies as well as a recent report in Time Magazine have shown convincingly that aerobic centered exercise provides little advantage in creating real body change.  According to Metabolic Effect, “the longer more traditional forms of exercise, like running or jogging, burn calories during exercise, but can negatively impact key hormones responsible for calorie use at rest. Smart exercise uses short, focused bouts of exercise focused on weight training and intervals to “turn on” fat burning hormones. Research shows these techniques increase fat usage for hours and even days after the activity has stopped and outperform “aerobic zone” exercises like running.”

That’s good news for those of us with little time on our hands! 

But perhaps you’re still not sure which group to believe? Overwhelmed by all the “experts” touting the advantages of their exercise methods, diet plans, etc? Here are a few articles which may help you shed some light on this ever-evolving approach to health, wellness and weight loss/management…


“Weight of the Nation”

This past May, HBO premiered a four-part documentary series called, “Weight of the Nation,” which it produced in collaboration with the Institute of Medicine (IOM), and in association with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). In addition to the films, Weight of the Nation encompasses an entire branded campaign replete with a book – called “The Weight of the Nation.” The aim of the entire campaign? To take an “unflinching look at the severity of the [obesity] crisis and its crippling effects on our health care system.” HBO has provided free online access to the entire documentary, as well as topic-specific segments, action steps, discussion guides, and other materials, available here.


Lack of exercise is not a key factor in obesity, study suggests

Lack of physical activity is not likely to be a key factor in Western obesity rates, according to a new study published in the journal PLoS ONE, which suggests that over-consumption of calories is the biggest culprit.



I hope these help you on your path to better health and looser fitting clothing! And remember, what works for one, is not necessarily going to work for you. We are certainly not a ‘one size fits all’ species, and I would argue that simply taking a step in the right direction – cutting down on sugar intake, decreasing starchy carbs, increasing fruit and veggies, and getting moving more than you are now. These are all heart-healthy measures that will help you feel better, if not shed some extra pounds and increase your sense of personal happiness. And confidence and happiness go a long way towards the journey to a healthier body, mind and spirit!