As part of our Eat for the Health of It nutrition challenge, WellMASS sponsored a recipe contest for all state employees, contractors, and temporary workers. Employees were challenged to create an original recipe, or adapt one from an outside source, that contained at least one fruit, vegetable, or whole grain. Recipes were judged by the WellMASS team and a group of Wellness Champions from various agencies on four criteria: originality, nutritional value, skill level, and most importantly, taste. We received over 40 entries to this contest, all of which looked just as delicious as they were nutritious. At the end of the day, however, there could only be one winner, and that honor went to Theresa Harkin of EHS and her recipe for Baked Nectarines with Pistachios.
Baked Nectarines with Pistachios
Recipe by Theresa Harkin, EHS
4 tablespoons shelled pistachios
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
¼ cup confectioners’ sugar
2 drops (less than ⅛ teaspoon) almond extract (optional)
⅛ teaspoon salt
2 nectarines, halved and pitted
½ cup vanilla Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
- Preheat oven to 400° F.
- Chop 3 tablespoons pistachios in a food processor until finely ground. Add butter, confectioners’ sugar, almond extract, and salt. Process until combined.
- Place nectarines, cut side up, on a baking sheet.
- Place a generous tablespoon of pistachio mixture on each nectarine half.
- Chop remaining tablespoon pistachios, and sprinkle on top of nectarines. Bake until fruit is tender and topping is crisp, 10 to 15 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes. Transfer to four plates.
- Whisk together yogurt and granulated sugar. Spoon over nectarines, and serve.
Theresa first saw this recipe, which originally appeared on the WellMASS blog, in the Executive Office of Health and Human Services’ TGIF newsletter. It caught her attention because, “In all honesty, I’m not much of a cook. When I saw this recipe in TGIF it looked easy enough to prepare and I liked most of the ingredients. I just tweaked it a bit to better suit my tastes. I have made it several times for various functions and it is always a big hit. You can even store the leftovers and enjoy the next day.”
Theresa, like many other home cooks out there, believes it’s important to prepare healthy meals and snacks, especially ones that have staying power: “Now that I’m getting older, eating healthy is more of a commitment; the pounds don’t come off as easily as they used to. This recipe is nutritious, delicious and repetitious!”
Our Wellness Champion judges chose Theresa’s Baked Nectarines with Pistachios recipe as the overwhelming winner of the contest due to a number of factors, most notably how great it tasted. When asked to comment on the dish, tasters shared the following remarks:
“Delicious! Great to bring to a party.”
“Hands-down winner!” I like that the Greek yogurt adds protein value.”
“Very nice flavors and textures.”
“Would bring as a dessert to a party.”
“Impressively yummy dessert! I would totally make this for a special treat.”
If you’re looking for a great healthy treat to bring to a party, or indulge in on your own, I’d encourage you to try these Baked Nectarines with Pistachios. Theresa’s recipe, along with our other contest submissions, will be published in a forthcoming e-cookbook; be sure to ask your agency’s Wellness Champion for a copy!
One of the best parts of my job involves visiting agencies all across the state and learning about the fun and healthy activities Wellness Champions have organized for their employees. Lots of agencies host healthy potlucks and have weekly walking clubs, both of which are great ways to get lots of employees involved in wellness. However, a few agencies and worksites hold a special place in my heart for the truly unique wellness activities they offer. One such worksite is the MassHealth Electronic Document Management Center in East Taunton. Led by Wellness Champion Lori Rodrigues, EDMC employees participate in a Kayak Club at nearby Lake Rico.
Spurred by her interest in kayaking and desire to make exercise a social event, Lori started the club last July:
“When it comes to being healthy, I am always looking for new ways to be active, so when a coworker shared her love of kayaking with me, the decision to start a kayaking club was a no-brainer. What I love most about kayaking is the overall effect it has on mental health, which provides a relaxing workout. Kayaking can be peaceful, meditative, or even exhilarating! It is also a great way to clear your mind. Starting the kayak club at the EDMC has been a fun social activity that will continue to grow!”
Lori recruited her fellow kayakers through word of mouth and clever emails that touted the benefits of kayaking (Did you know that you can burn over 200 calories just by kayaking for 30 minutes?). Although only a handful of employees participated in the club’s first outing, word of mouth spread quickly at the EDMC, and the club soon grew in size. Some of the participants already owned their own kayaks and were eager for an opportunity to take them out. Others were new to the kayaking world and ended up renting kayaks to try their hand at the sport.
So far, the Kayak Club has met three times at various locations throughout the area, and, although kayaking season has come to an end, Lori plans to start the club back up again next Spring.
By Guest Blogger Kayla Mantegazza, WellMASS Program Coordinator
A few weeks ago, I visited the Department of Public Health’s Hinton State Laboratory in Jamaica Plain to participate in a Boot Camp fitness class organized by the State Lab’s Wellness Champion, Jacki Dooley. Thanks to Jacki’s efforts, State Lab employees have the opportunity to participate in group fitness classes during their lunch breaks, which gives them an opportunity to step away from their desks and make time in their busy schedules for physical activity. I was lucky enough to have chosen a sunny, mild day to channel my inner G.I Jane, so we were able to move the class outside and enjoy the beautiful weather. The format of the class was very personalized and laid back. Participants were encouraged to perform exercises at their own pace, make modifications if necessary, and take frequent water breaks. The instructor of the class, Remy Isdaner from Soma Wellness, led us through bodyweight circuits for all of the major muscle groups such as jumping jacks, push-ups, sit-ups, planks, and yoga poses for stretching and balance. We also jogged a lap around the parking lot between each circuit to keep our heart rates elevated.
Aside from getting a great workout in a comfortable setting where each of us received individualized attention, my favorite part of the Boot Camp class was the camaraderie between employees. Everyone in attendance was encouraging and supportive of one another, and several people even asked about participants who were absent from that week’s class to make sure they were okay. For fitness novices who feel intimidated by the concept of group exercise classes because they are nervous about keeping up with their peers, this class proved the contrary. The group setting provided us with more social support and reinforcement than we would have gotten by exercising by ourselves (or not at all!), which benefitted both our physical and mental wellbeing.
Speaking of mental wellbeing, the mental health benefits of physical activity are often overlooked. For those of us who shed a tear at the sight of a treadmill, exercise may sound more stress-inducing than stress-reducing. However, aerobic exercise has been shown to improve blood circulation to the brain, which may help decrease anxiety and depression. Exercise also triggers the release of endorphins, which improve mood and in turn reduce the likelihood of turning to food for comfort. Studies show that aerobic exercise also improves quality of sleep, and that people who exercise are less likely to feel daytime sleepiness and more likely to report an increase in vitality. Increased mental sharpness during periods of stress is especially valuable in the workplace.
As if those benefits weren’t enticing enough to get you out of your seat, physical activity provides an outlet for social interaction and support. Whether you join a group fitness class or simply recruit a friend to take a walk around your building during lunch, being physically active in a community setting presents opportunities to meet people with common interests who can hold you accountable for sticking to your routine. Being able to take a mental break from your work day to exercise with co-workers also fosters a cooperative, positive, and team-oriented work environment. Therefore, physical activity isn’t just beneficial to the mental health of the participant, but to the overall climate of the workplace as well.
If you would like to learn more about the Boot Camp class at the State Lab or you would like some suggestions on how to set up group fitness classes at your agency, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Well, the Department of Transitional Assistance finished the Take 10! Challenge no worse for wear. We were 25 strong when we first started, but we ended with just four people successfully completing all four weeks of the Challenge.
During the Challenge, I found that if I started the day by doing a few of the exercises before I left the house, I felt better during the day. I continue to do some of the exercises during the day at work.
I liked being able to focus on different types of exercise each week; this kept me motivated to complete the Challenge. I would like to thank and congratulate all who hung in there to the end. Until next time!
By Guest Blogger Ana Karchmer, ELD
Many of us have to deal with one or more chronic health conditions. Learning how to successfully manage our conditions is key to living active and productive lives. Regardless of the particular illness we might have, we all have similar emotions when dealing with chronic illnesses. We might feel angry, depressed, anxious, frustrated, and afraid. Sometimes, we may wish we had a set of “tools” we could use to help us deal with these unpleasant emotions.
The Stanford University Chronic Disease Self-Management Program (in Massachusetts called “My Life, My Health”) gives us the tools we need to help us better manage our health conditions. This evidence based program consists of six group sessions that meet once a week for 2 ½ hours. The groups are limited to 10 to 18 participants and the sessions are facilitated by two trained lay leaders.
I coordinate a federal grant to promote and disseminate “My Life, My Health” in Massachusetts. Since 2010, over 6,500 adults have participated in workshops around the state. These workshops are typically held at senior centers, health care settings, residential facilities, and community centers. This past Spring, I had the opportunity to help bring this program to the Department of Revenue, working in collaboration with WellMASS and the DOR Employee Training & Development Bureau. The six-week series was held at the DOR offices in Chelsea on Friday mornings from April 25 to May 30. Fourteen employees participated in the workshop.
The implementation of the program had the full support of DOR Commissioner Amy Pitter. In the recruitment phase, she included information about the upcoming workshop in two of her weekly emails to employees. At the conclusion of the workshop she included the following in her June 6 weekly email:
“Last Friday, ten DOR employees along with four ANF/IT employees completed the six-week My Life, My Health workshop in chronic disease self-management. It was the culmination of a journey that was both an enlightening and inspirational experience for the participants. During the confidential sessions with external instructors, they learned not only how to manage their own disease – or that of their loved ones – but also how to deal with the impact the disease has on their lives and emotions. Participants learned the importance of action-planning, through which they were able to foster a deeper understanding and sense of self-efficacy. The Department is committed to strengthening its workforce in a number of ways and this program allows us to integrate chronic disease self-management education with current wellness efforts.”
As Commissioner Pitter mentioned, participants were very satisfied with the program. All the participants felt valued and respected and stated they would use the new tools presented to help them manage their conditions. One participant wrote: “I wish this was a mandatory class for everyone. It’s a way of developing skills for better health and communication for people regardless of whether they have any health issues at all.” Another participant wrote: “The instructors were excellent. I would highly recommend this class to anyone, especially someone with chronic health issues.”
For a full calendar of program offerings please visit www.healthyliving4me.org. If you are interested in implementing this program at your agency, please contact Ana Karchmer at email@example.com or call (617) 222-7490.
This is it the final week of the Take 10! Challenge. Thankfully, after last week, I made it off the floor without yelling for help.
I can deal with the Legs and Arms exercises this week. I’m all for the modified pushups, as long as I don’t have to get on the floor. The lunges are manageable (Hint: if you’re not sure how well you can keep your balance, place a chair next to you) and the wall sits are a piece of cake – just make sure you don’t slide down too far and can’t get back up.
The second week of Po-Ke-No went well; the high winner was a Royal Straight Flush. I will be awarding token gifts for those who played the game and turned in their cards. I’ll be back in a few weeks with one last update on my progress.
Week 3 is here already – just one more week to go! The first two week of the Challenge went will for the group, although it is getting hard for some of us to stay motivated with other thing goings on in and out of the office.
The first week of Po-Ke-No went well; the winning hand for the week was a Royal Flush, Ace high, although a few other employees had Straights. The second week of the game is under way, and next Friday, the 30th of May, I will be awarding prizes (some good, and a few silly ones).
This is the week for more muscles to get a workout. I looked at all the pictures of the Core Strength exercises for this week. Gee, they’re all on the floor! I have no problem getting down and doing them; it’s just getting back up that I’m worried about. If you don’t hear from me next week, I’ll still be on the floor yelling, “Help I can’t get up!”
By Guest Blogger Delores Collins, DTA
Well, I made it through Week 1 of the Take 10! Challenge, and it was not too bad, although there were a couple of days where I was lazy and didn’t do all of the exercises. Most of the participants at my agency seem to be enjoying the Challenge. Some of us even got other family members to exercise with us. A few of us forgot there are 7 days in the week and only worked out for 5 days. Oops.
Week 2 started off good; we as a group have a new attitude to do better this week. The bonus attraction for Weeks 2 and 3 is that participants also get to play a board game called PoKeNo. Since we have 25 people participating in Take 10!, I split the game into two segments – half will play this week, and the rest will play next week. Prizes for the winners will be awarded on May 30 to coincide with the last day of the Challenge. I hope the game will be a nice incentive to keep participants motivated.
Stay tuned for next week to see how we’re doing!
By Guest Blogger Delores Collins, DTA
I began advertising the Take 10! Challenge to DTA staff on Thursday April 24, with a start date of May 5. So far, 25 of my co-workers have signed up to take the Challenge – congrats to them! We are all revved up to begin the Challenge this week.
Being the WellMASS Wellness Champion for my agency for the last few years has given me the opportunity to meet new people, learn more about the health issues that affect us all, and try to be an overall healthier and more active person.
I always try to motivate my fellow workers to attend the WellMASS seminars and participate in the Challenges, so I’m excited to see how we all do this time around.
Stay tuned for my next blog after we make it through the first week.
“This is the lowest you have weighed since the first time you came to my office, Nancy; keep up the good work.” Now, those were words that were sweet music to my ears. What a huge difference from the last time I visited with my primary care doctor and when we started the WellMASS Weight Loss Challenge. As I am sitting here writing my last blog and reminiscing on my experience with the Challenge, I can definitely say that it has been quite an adventure! Well, more like a roller coaster adventure, as I have had my ups and my downs, and lots of learning curves in between.
I learned that eating more fruits and veggies is tedious, but worth every effort. Preparing my meals and snacks helps me avoid eating junk food and feel great about the choices I make to eat healthier. Actually, the more I think about it, it also helped me with my children, nieces, and nephews, as I found myself eating healthier more and visiting McDonald’s less with them.
I learned that exercising (such as walking, core strengthening, and ab workouts) is important, but my mental and emotional wellbeing is not only just as important, but crucial. Yoga, meditation, and simply taking time to read or hear motivational “stuff” have helped me get closer to my goal every single day.
I learned that surrounding ourselves with those who encourage us, inspire us, and lift us higher (like my friend Maureen Saba) can only make us feel better and less likely to give up. I truly believe everyone should have a friend like Maureen; for that I am very grateful.
I also learned and felt a great deal of gratitude for those who joined me in the Challenge, because the fact that they showed up every week even though they were busy taught us that we all achieve something and that together, we can fight and win this battle called weight loss.
I may not have lost the 25 pounds that I had wanted to lose during this challenge; however, this time I feel optimistic and know that I can reach my goals because giving up is no longer an option. I learned that blogging is not only fun, but a great way for me to hold myself accountable, and I hope that my blog posts were helpful to others (thanks Ashley for picking me to do this!). Finally, I would like to leave you with this quote; Namaste!
“Develop an attitude of gratitude, and give thanks for everything that happens to you, knowing that every step forward is a step toward achieving something bigger and better than your current situation.” – Brian Tracy