Monthly Archives: April, 2013

MCI Norfolk Employees Cook up a Storm

Since WellMASS has only been around for a little over a year, we’re still a growing program looking for innovative ideas to engage state agencies in wellness activities.  I often look to the Department of Correction as a model agency when it comes to wellness, as they have had a successful structure in place for quite some time, and employees are always eager and willing to participate in Lunch ‘n Learn seminars and other onsite activities.  The employees of MCI Norfolk are no exception, and they have truly raised the bar when it comes to innovative wellness programs with their 2013 Employee Cook-off. 

I was very excited when Wellness Champion Captain Arnie Larson invited me to be a guest judge at this year’s cook-off, which was held during lunchtime last Monday.  I knew I would be in for a fun-filled afternoon of healthy eating, but I had no idea how many tasty, nutritious  foods I’d have the privilege of judging.  Over a dozen employees prepared healthy dishes, from salads and appetizers to main courses and desserts, and all of them were delicious.  I, along with my fellow judges Superintendents Gary Roden, Donald Levesque, James Saba, Michael Thompson, and ADC Michael Grant, had a very hard time picking a winner, but we ultimately decided that Captain Andrew Rego’s pulled pork deserved top honors.  I usually associate pulled pork with a heavy, fatty meal at a BBQ restaurant, but Captain Rego’s dish was anything but.  He served up a lean cut of pork with a fat-free, low-calorie barbeque sauce that had everyone’s mouth watering.  Besides the fact that Captain Rego transformed a normally less-than-nutritious dish into something fairly healthy, I also voted for him because he made me actually like pork, which I haven’t eaten, or enjoyed, in years. 

From left to right:  CPO A/B Eileen Yelle, Capt. Andrew Rego, Superintendent Gary Roden, WellMASS Program Manager Ashley Rasmussen, Sgt. Maryann Lewis, Capt. Arnie Larson

From left to right: CPO A/B Eileen Yelle, Capt. Andrew Rego, Superintendent Gary Roden, WellMASS Program Manager Ashley Rasmussen, Sgt. Maryann Lewis, Capt. Arnie Larson

Captain Rego’s pulled pork was not the only noteworthy dish – top honors also went to Captain Larson’s Mex Bites, CPO A/B Eileen Yelle’s noodle kugel, and Sgt. Maryann Lewis’ chocolate truffle.  I left the cook-off well-fed and with new ideas for healthy recipes (some of which will appear on this blog in upcoming weeks).  If your agency is looking for a unique way to get employees excited about wellness, I recommend you consider following MCI Norfolk’s lead and hosting a healthy cook-off.


Healthy Ingredient of the Week – Pistachios

As I’ve mentioned before, nuts often get a bad reputation for being high in calories and fat.  But most nuts, pistachios included, are often high in heart-healthy unsaturated fat, as well as other beneficial nutrients.  Pistachios are one of the lowest-calorie nuts and are full of fiber, protein, potassium, and Vitamin B6.  For built-in portion control, choose pistachios with the shell on – they take longer to eat, so your brain will have time to register that you’re full from eating just a handful.  The recipe below puts a different spin on guacamole by combining pistachios with another great source of heart-healthy fat – avocado.


2 cups shelled pistachio nuts
2 ripe avocados
¼ white onion: finely diced
1 Serrano chile: stemmed, seeded & minced
½ cup cilantro sprigs
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
½ teaspoon coarse salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper

1.  Lightly toast the pistachio nuts. Finely chop or process in a food processor.
2.  Seed and peel the avocado. Dice the avocado.
3.  Combine all of the ingredients in a mixing bowl. With a spoon, stir the mixture while lightly mashing the avocado. Do not over process – the mixture should have a slightly coarse texture.
4.  Transfer the Pistachiomolé to a serving dish. Serve with tortilla chips.

Recipe from the American Pistachio Growers

Healthy Ingredient of the Week – Radishes

I have to admit, the only time I eat radishes is when they are shredded and put on top of a salad.  That’s a shame, because radishes are extremely low in calories, have a high water content, and are good sources of calcium, potassium, vitamin C, and fiber.  They’re in season right now, so I’m going to make a point to incorporate them into my diet by making them the star of a dish, like the one below. 

Mango-Radish Salsa

3 cups diced mango, (about 2 large)
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon lime juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup diced radishes, (about 1 bunch)


1. Toss mangoes, cilantro, lime juice and salt in a bowl.
2. Stir in radishes just before serving.

Recipe from Eating Well

Healthy Ingredient of the Week – Tomatoes

Tomatoes are technically a fruit, but we often think of them as a vegetable due to their savory taste.  Most vegetables lose some of their nutrient content when they’re cooked, but tomatoes are unique in that the process of cooking actually makes them more nutritious.  Cooking tomatoes increases the amount of lycopene (a powerful antioxidant) that can be absorbed by the body.  A Cornell University study showed that lycopene levels were highest after 15 minutes of cooking.  Both of these recipes involve cooking tomatoes, which means you’ll be getting a good dose of lycopene, as well as Vitamins A and C and fiber.

Rustic Tomato and Vegetable Soup

2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic
2 medium onions, sliced
2 medium carrots, grated
1 medium zucchini, grated
2 28-ounce cans low-sodium diced tomatoes in juice
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons sugar

1.  Put olive oil in a medium pot over medium-high heat.
2.  Add garlic and onions and sauté until translucent.
3.  Add grated carrots and zucchini and cook for 5 minutes.
4.  Add diced tomatoes and juice and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
5.  Add salt and pepper, then sugar. Serve immediately. Serves four.

From the publication Vitality Magazine.  February 6, 2006.


1/4 cup olive oil, plus more as needed
1 1/2 cups small diced yellow onion
1 teaspoon minced garlic
2 cups medium diced eggplant, skin on
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1 cup diced green bell peppers
1 cup diced red bell peppers
1 cup diced zucchini squash
1 cup diced yellow squash
1 1/2 cups peeled, seeded and chopped tomatoes
1 tablespoon thinly sliced fresh basil leaves
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1.  Set a large 12-inch saute pan over medium heat and add the olive oil.
2.  Once hot, add the onions and garlic to the pan.
3.  Cook the onions, stirring occasionally, until they are wilted and lightly caramelized, about 5 to 7 minutes.
4.  Add the eggplant and thyme to the pan and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the eggplant is partially cooked, about 5 minutes.
5.  Add the green and red peppers, zucchini, and squash and continue to cook for an additional 5 minutes.
6.  Add the tomatoes, basil, parsley, and salt and pepper, to taste, and cook for a final 5 minutes.
7.  Stir well to blend and serve either hot or at room temperature.

Recipe from Food Network

Go green to get in shape. Walk/Ride. Do it.


By Guest Blogger Liz Layton, GIC

The WellMASS weight loss challenge was a good start toward changing some bad eating habits.  Now it’s clearly time to exercise more.  So beginning this month, I’ll be biking or walking all or part of my commute and logging in those healthier miles as part of the Green Streets Initiative 2013 Walk/Ride Challenge

What is the Walk/Ride Challenge? The Green Streets Initiative promotes Walk/Ride Days to encourage people to choose walking, bicycling, and public transit for their travel to and from work, school, and other destinations. Walk/Ride goals are to improve personal and environmental health by cutting back on individual car use and increasing physical activity. The Group Insurance Commission participated in the Walk/Ride challenge last year and, thanks to some dedicated walkers and bikers, won for participation rates in our category (public agency, under 100 employees).

The GIC is participating in the Walk/Ride Challenge again this year and we encourage other state agencies to participate, too.  You say you don’t live close enough to your office to walk or bike in?  Neither do half the people at the GIC – yet many of my coworkers who usually drive or take the train to work made small changes like parking further away from the office or getting off public transportation a stop early to walk a couple of blocks.  Extra steps add up – and we salute everyone who made these changes! 

The GIC’s Executive Director, Dolores Mitchell, says “We have been very happy to collaborate with The Green Streets Initiative.  It very nicely complements our own Wellness Initiative, and since cultural changes are more achievable when many players and many organizations support the same goal, we’re happy to be part of this effort to get Americans moving under their own power.”

You have until April 19 to register for the 2013 Walk/Ride challenge at

Let employees in your office know that whether they walk, even part-way, or ride a bicycle, bus, or train – those car-free miles count. Carpool miles count too.  Each participant logs in commuter miles on the last Friday of the month and becomes eligible for a monthly raffle prize and retail rewards like a free yoga class, discounts on exercise gear, home improvements, restaurants, and more.  Check out all the rewards details here.   

I’m looking forward to getting back on my bike to commute to the office during the warm weather months.  How will you change your travel habits?  Let us know if your office plans to participate in the Walk/Ride Challenge and what changes you will make.

Healthy Ingredient of the Week – Mushrooms

Mushrooms, like some of our other Healthy Ingredients of the Week, often get a bad reputation.  Due to their light color, and the fact that they are, in fact, a fungus, mushrooms are often dismissed as having little nutritional value.  However, the rule of “the lighter the vegetable, the lower the nutritional content” does not apply here:  mushrooms are actually a low-calorie nutritional powerhouse that should really be a dieter’s best friend.  They are extremely low in calories (once cup contains only 20!), and high in B vitamins (which help the body convert calories to energy), potassium (which can help lower blood pressure), and selenium (a powerful antioxidant).  Mushrooms can add “meat” to any dish without the calories or saturated fat of actual meat.  In the summer, I am a fan of putting Portobello mushrooms on the grill and serving them up like burgers.  This recipe makes a Portobello burger even better by adding pizza toppings.

Portobello Pizza Burgers

4 medium Portobello mushroom caps (each should be about the size of a burger)
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 ½ tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 springs fresh oregano, chopped (or 3 pinches dried)
Crushed red pepper flakes, salt, pepper, and garlic powder to taste
½ cup pizza or marinara sauce
½ cup sliced smoked mozzarella or sharp provolone cheese
4 whole wheat round rolls, split and toasted

1.  Wash Portobello caps with a damp paper towel.  Pat dry.
2.  Combine olive oil, vinegar, oregano, and crushed red pepper flakes in a shallow bowl.  Brush each mushroom liberally with this mixture.
3.  Heat a grill pan or outdoor grill to medium-high heat.  Cook mushroom caps, 6 minutes on each side, starting top-side up and flipping to cap-side down.
4.  Drain off excess juice that accumulates in mushroom caps.
5.  Heat pizza/marinara sauce in a small pan on low heat.
6.  Top each cap with sauce and cheese.  Place one Portobello pizzas on each roll. 

Adapted from Rachael Ray’s 30-Minute Meals Veggie Meals.  Lake Isle Press, Inc. 2001.

It’s Good to be a (Weight) Loser at the DCF Lawrence Area/Northern Regional Office

I have heard so many wonderful success stories from agencies that participated in the six-week WellMASS Weight Loss Challenge, but I was fortunate enough to witness the success of the Department of Children and Families’ Lawrence Area/Northern Regional Office firsthand.  Wellness Champion Nancy Ayapan contacted me shortly before the start of the Challenge, and I visited her office to discuss it with employees.  I returned to deliver a Lunch ‘n Learn during Week 2 of the Challenge and was impressed by the dedication participants showed for losing weight.  When I came to deliver another Lunch ‘n Learn during Week 4, my feelings changed from being impressed to being downright shocked by how much weight participants had already lost.  I could see a noticeable difference in the way participants looked and felt – this was a worksite that was really excelling at safely losing weight. 

Thumbs up for weight loss!

Thumbs up for weight loss!

I was invited back to DCF last week to help employees celebrate the end of the six-week WellMASS Challenge with a “Biggest Loser” recognition ceremony and healthy potluck lunch.  I was again blown away, not only by the delicious food participants prepared (I am a sucker for healthy potlucks), but by how much additional weight they had lost.  Overall, 21 DCF Lawrence Area/Northern Regional Office employees lost a total of 100 pounds, with several employees losing over 5% of their initial body weight.  One of their “biggest losers,” Pam Kelly was impressed by the changes she saw in herself:

“I lost pounds and inches and reduced my BMI.  Clothes fit again!”


DCF's healthy potluck lunch

DCF’s healthy potluck lunch

The Challenge participants looked happy and healthy and, in a testament to their dedication to weight loss, were already talking about their next weight loss challenge, which begins this week.  Nancy, for one, is excited to continue on her weight loss journey:“Even though we completed the six-week challenge, as an office we are ready to begin another challenge on our own. My goal is to weigh 170 lbs. Right now I have 30 lbs. more to lose, but I am very confident that I can do it thanks to the WellMASS weight loss challenge that we just completed and everything we learned from it.. I will continue to put into practice every day the tools that were given to us through the weight loss challenge.  In addition, I feel that I can always log on to the WellMASS website and get informed on the things I can do to maintain my weight, and if need be, contact Program Manager Ashley Rasmussen, who was a tremendous support.

The DCF Lawrence Area/Northern Regional Office employees are living proof that safe and effective weight loss can be achieved in just six weeks, and that the healthy diet and exercise habits of successful “losers” can be maintained for far longer than that.


DCF Weight Loss Challenge participants definitely have something to smile about!


Healthy Ingredient of the Week – Almonds

It’s common to reach for nuts, especially almonds, for a quick, nutritious mid-day snack.  As a snack, almonds are a good choice because they are good source of fiber, protein, and heart-healthy unsaturated fat.  In addition, they only have one gram of heart-unhealthy saturated fat per serving.  They’re also full of the antioxidant Vitamin E, as well as manganese and magnesium.  Given their high nutritional content, it makes sense that, ounce-for-ounce, almonds are one of the most nutrient-dense tree nuts.  Since almonds (and all nuts) do have a high fat content (even though most of their fat is the “healthy” kind), they are fairly high in calories, so they should have eaten in moderation.  One handful at a time is all you need to satisfy your hunger in between meals.  Almonds are not just for snacks, however; they can be used in a variety of ways for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or desserts.  Until recently, I had never really considered using almonds as the base for a sauce, but this recipe, which I made for dinner a few weeks ago, totally changed my mind.  The sauce was so good that I saved leftovers to use as a topping for fish and other proteins later in the week.

Garlic and Herb Chicken with Romesco Sauce on Spicy Greens

5 garlic cloves
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
a palmful of dried parsley flakes (or a handful of fresh parsley)
black pepper, to taste
4 6-8 ounce boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
1 cup sliced almonds
1 slice sandwich bread (whole wheat is best!)
1 large red bell pepper
¼ cup red wine vinegar
1 plum tomato, cut into quarters
1 8-9 oz. bagged spinach

1.  In food processor or blender, combine 3 of the garlic cloves, about ¼ cup olive oil, the parsley, and black pepper.  Process the ingredients to a somewhat smooth paste.
2.  Scrape the contents of the processor over the chicken breasts to coat.
3.  Preheat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat, then add the seasoned chicken breasts and cook on each side for 5-6 minutes. 
4.  Remove the chicken from the pan and cover with aluminum foil to keep warm.
5.  While the chicken is cooking, toast the almonds in a medium skillet over medium heat until they are golden brown, about 3-4 minutes.
6.  To make the Romesco sauce:  Toast the slice of bread until golden brown.  With your hands, rip the toast into a few pieces and add to the food processor or blender (there is no need to clean it out after making the chicken coating).  Add the toasted almonds, red pepper, 2 garlic cloves, red wine vinegar, plum tomato, and black pepper.  Start processing and while the machine is running, pour the remaining ¼ cup olive oil in a slow, steady stream.  Process until all the ingredients are ground and the mixture is fairly smooth.
7.  Drizzle some olive oil along the bottom of a medium saucepan on medium heat.  Add the spinach and black pepper, to taste, and cook down until wilted.
8.  Arrange the spinach on the center of each plate, place the chicken breast on top, and top with a large dollop of Romesco sauce.  Serves 4.

Adapted from the cookbook Rachel Ray 365:  No Repeats.  New York:  Clarkson Potter/Publishers. November 2005.