Not All Are Ready For New Year’s Resolutions

happy_new_year_2013-1600x900 (2)After an embarrassingly long hiatus, I am reviving the Unlikely Homemaker blog! This is the first post of the new year. Let’s talk about New Year’s resolutions (original, right?).

As we move into a new year, nearly half of Americans will ponder the direction of their lives and resolve to make changes. These New Year’s goals or resolutions are often abandoned or remain unfulfilled at the turn of the next year.

Not all who set New Year’s resolutions are destined to fail. According to one study, about 40% of New Year’s resolvers are successful six months later. Are efforts to make these resolutions worthwhile?  More research says yes—by making a resolution, your chances of success are 10 times higher than those who fail to make resolutions.

The most common resolutions are to change a behavior, such as exercising more, eating healthier, quitting smoking, paying down debt, or being nicer to a family member. Success in reaching your goals actually begins before the New Year. It starts by setting goals that are realistic and attainable. In other words, set a goal that you have confidence in pursuing, even if you slip up occasionally.

Not everyone is ready to make a New Year’s resolution that will stick.  Some people aren’t really ready to make a change, even though may know that they should. Change doesn’t happen overnight—and according to researchers, there are five distinct stages that we go through when making any behavior change.


Tips to Make Exercise More Likely

If you aren’t exercising regularly, you’re not alone. Most Americans get too little exercise, and some don’t exercise at all. Even those with the best of intentions can find it hard to stick with an exercise routine. If you find your fitness motivation faltering, here are five tips that can help you get on track.

1. Know how much exercise is enough.

To reap the health benefits of exercise, adults should aim for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week. Aerobic activity, also called cardiovascular exercise, refers to activities that make your breathing harder and heartbeat faster. If you can talk, but not sing the words to your favorite song while you are exercising, you are working at a moderately intense level. Activities moderate to one person may be light to another. Intensity level depends in part on how fit you are.

If exercising 150 minutes each week seems daunting, keep in mind that this weekly activity goal can be divided into segments as short as ten minutes. This is especially important for those who have been sedentary. If you have been inactive, at first it may be hard to exercise for more than a few minutes. But it’s okay to slowly increase how long you exercise as your fitness improves. Try walking briskly for 10 minutes three times a day. Do this for five days and you will accumulate 150 minutes of exercise.

In addition aerobic activity, adults should strength train at least twice weekly, hitting all major muscle groups. Strength training is also called resistance training or weight lifting. There are many ways to strength train, including free weights or dumbbells, and resistance tubes or bands. You can even use your own body weight to help strengthen your muscles. Strength training is important to help maintain bone density and can help prevent osteoporosis. This type of exercise is especially critical for older adults to maintain independence and functional mobility.

2. Choose activities you enjoy.

The best type of exercise for you is the kind that you will do and stick with. Picking activities that you like and are capable of doing makes it more likely that you will continue to exercise. With warmer weather approaching, walking is an easy and inexpensive way to increase physical activity.

3. Find a fitness friend.

Many people find that the support of another person helps to motivate them. It keeps them accountable, making it more likely that exercise will be continued long-term. Exercising with a friend can help make it more enjoyable, too.

4. Make exercise a priority and schedule it into your day or week.

Without a specific plan for when and where to exercise, it becomes easy to avoid it altogether. Take a look at your calendar at the start of each week. Identify the days and times that you may be able to fit in some exercise. Treat this time like an important appointment.

5. Don’t be discouraged by lapses.

If you find you’ve neglected to stick with exercise goals, don’t be discouraged. Just start back again. Remember, some activity is better than none at all. If you only have ten or fifteen minutes, take advantage of this time and squeeze in a quick walk. You’ll feel better, and be more likely to continue exercising.

Thanksgiving for Two

Thanksgiving is the traditional time when families gather, but what if you are cooking for a couple instead of a crowd? Even with just a few at the table, the warmth and comfort of the holiday can be captured.  With a little planning, you can save time and calories, too.

Cutting calories

The average American eats 2,000 to 3,000 calories at the typical Thanksgiving dinner. That’s more calories than many people need for an entire day.  Make your Thanksgiving meal nutritious by including foods from each food group. Include plenty of fresh vegetables like sweet potatoes, winter squash, broccoli, carrots and green beans.

Apples, cranberries and pears combine easily for salads, fruit crisps or toppings for the turkey.  Try using whole-grain bread and wild or brown rice for the stuffing or as a side dish. Choose reduced-fat cheeses for salads and casseroles, and use low-fat or fat-free milk instead of whole milk in recipes.

Here are a few tactics for tackling Thanksgiving turkey and trimmings.

The turkey

A whole bird is traditional, but refrigerator space may be unavailable for storing an uncooked bird.  Opt for a frozen turkey breast instead of a whole turkey.  Whole frozen breasts usually run about three pounds and can be found in the frozen food section at the grocery store. A three-pound turkey breast will be more expensive per pound than a whole turkey but will have less waste because there are fewer bones. Be sure to cook the turkey until it reaches an internal temperature of at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

Side dishes

Thanksgiving side dishes can be healthy, but creamy casseroles are often loaded with fat and calories and difficult to make in small portions. Opt for frozen or fresh vegetables instead. Many frozen veggie varieties steam quickly in the microwave. Save money by buying fresh vegetables in season and frozen vegetables when on sale.

Substitute frozen whole wheat dinner rolls for home-baked breads.  Buy a  bag of frozen rolls. Use as many as needed and save the rest.

Mashed potatoes, sweet potato casseroles, stuffing and creamy rice dishes are all traditional Thanksgiving favorites. If you’re watching your waistline and budget, consider preparing one or two side dishes instead of several. Modify ingredients in traditional recipes to reduce saturated fat and calories and increase whole grains and fiber. Substitute low-fat or fat-free dairy products for the full-fat versions, and use “light” margarine instead of butter.  Instead of white bread, try whole-wheat bread in stuffing and substitute brown or wild rice for white rice.


Avoid going overboard on the number of desserts. Sautéed apples with cinnamon and a little sugar, baked pears with honey, or fresh fruit with a low-fat whipped cream topping are all healthy choices. A sweet potato baked and topped with a small pat of butter and brown sugar can substitute for traditional sweet potato pie.

If the idea of cooking a Thanksgiving dinner for two at home is daunting and cost is not an issue, consider ordering a smoked turkey breast or ham from a retailer or smokehouse.  The meat will already be fully cooked and ready for you to add the trimmings.

Winter squash works for decorating and dinner

Nothing perks up a grocery store produce aisle like the array of winter squash on display in the fall.  The variety of shapes, sizes, and colors available make it ideal for inclusion in fall decorating schemes and dinner menus.  From acorn squash to the cute miniature pumpkins for sale by the bag, winter squash are an autumn staple.

Pumpkin is the most popular winter squash, but there are many great options at the grocery store, including butternut, acorn, hubbard, and buttercup varieties.  Winter squash is rich in vitamin A, dietary fiber, folate, and potassium.  If prepared without added fat or salt, winter squash is naturally low in calories, fat, and sodium.

Storing winter squash

Winter squash has a long shelf life and can be stored for up to three months in the right environment.  Store in a cool, dry place and you could enjoy winter squash purchased today into next year. Ideally, winter squash should be stored at temperatures between 55 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit.  There is no need to store in the refrigerator.

Choosing winter squash

When choosing winter squash, look for firm, well-shaped squash that are heavy for their size and have a hard, tough skin.  Avoid squash with cuts or punctures in the skin, and do not purchase those with sunken or moldy spots. Slight variations in color do not affect flavor. Unlike summer squash, winter squash is picked when fully ripe.  A tender rind indicates immaturity and signals poor quality in winter squash varieties, so be sure the skin is tough.

The flesh of winter squash varies from yellow to deep oranges, and most varieties have a sweet, buttery,  firm flesh.  Winter squash is drier, more fibrous, and much sweeter than summer squash.  With the exception of spaghetti squash, winter squash varieties can be substituted for one another in recipes.

 Preparing winter squash

Winter squash preparation techniques are numerous.  Most varieties of winter squash are eaten cooked.  Their hard shells and seeds are not edible.  In general, all winter squash bakes well and steaming works for cut pieces.  It can be roasted, baked, whipped, and mashed for use in a number of dishes including soups, pies, soufflés, cakes, cookies, casseroles and as fillers for stews and sauces. The squash can also be frozen, canned, dried, pickled and prepared in butters and preserves.

Try these tips for including winter squash in your diet. Preparation is easy and can add variety to your regular recipe rotation.

  • Acorn squash is good for baking and goes well with sweet, nutty or spice stuffing. Cut in half, scoop out seeds, and bake cut side down at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.  Add a few tablespoons of water to the baking dish before baking. After baking, add brown sugar and cinnamon to taste.
  • Cooked butternut squash, with its fine-grained flesh, is perfect for pureeing. Cut pieces can also be included in soups and stews.
  • Hubbard squash grows so large that it is often sold as cut pieces. It mashes well after cooking. This variety of squash can be frozen or used in breads, muffins, pancakes and soups.
  • True to its name, cooked spaghetti squash resembles pasta. Lift out the sweet, mild-tasting, tender-crunchy strands and top with marinara sauce.
  • Cut the tops from mini-pumpkins, scoop out the seeds, and season the edible flesh with cinnamon, brown sugar and a small amount of butter or margarine.  Replace the tops and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

Prevent the spread of Listeria

The bacteria called Listeria are bad news. Eating food contaminated with Listeria can make you so sick that you have to be hospitalized. For certain vulnerable people, the illness can be fatal.

Listeria has been most recently linked to fresh produce, but past cases of Listeria have been connected to a variety of ready-to-eat foods. These foods include unpasteurized milk and dairy products, Mexican-style or soft cheeses made with unpasteurized milk, processed deli meats, hot dogs, smoked seafood, and store-prepared deli-salads.

Listeria can grow in the fridge

Unlike most bacteria, Listeria germs can grow and spread in the refrigerator. If you unknowingly refrigerate Listeria contaminated food, the germs could contaminate your refrigerator and spread to other foods, increasing the risk that you and your family will become sick.

Preventing the spread of Listeria

To prevent the spread of Listeria, wash all fruits and vegetables under running water just before eating, cutting, or cooking, even if you plan to peel the produce first. Scrub firm produce such as melons and cucumbers with a clean produce brush.

Check refrigerator and freezer temperature

Although Listeria can grow in the refrigerator, it grows more slowly at temperatures of 40 degrees F or less. Keep your refrigerator at 40 degrees F or lower and the freezer at 0 degrees F or lower. Place a refrigerator thermometer in the refrigerator and check the temperature periodically. If necessary, adjust the refrigerator temperature to keep foods as cold as possible without causing them to freeze. Place a second thermometer in the freezer to check the temperature there.

Keep the refrigerator clean

In addition to washing fresh produce and checking the temperature in the refrigerator, you can prevent spread of Listeria by keeping your refrigerator clean. Listeria can contaminate other foods through spills in the refrigerator. To protect refrigerated foods, wrap or cover with a sheet of plastic wrap or foil. Another option is to put foods in plastic bags or covered containers before refrigerating.

Use precooked and ready-to-eat foods as soon as possible. Longer storage times mean an extended opportunity for Listeria to grow. Check the use-by dates of processed meats like hot dogs and lunch meat.

Clean up all spills in your refrigerator right away, especially juices from hot dog and lunch meat packages, raw meat, and raw poultry. Use paper towels to avoid transferring germs from a cloth towel. Clean the inside walls and shelves of your refrigerator with warm water and liquid soap, then rinse. As an added measure of caution, you can sanitize your refrigerator monthly, just as you would kitchen surfaces.

Cheesy Pasta with Summer Veggies


4 cups sliced, assorted vegetables (zucchini, broccoli, peas)
1 cup grape or fresh tomatoes, chopped and seeds removed
8 ounces whole-wheat pasta (rotini, bow tie, penne)
1 ½ tablespoons vegetable or olive oil
2 medium garlic cloves, minced or ¼ teaspoon garlic salt
½ cup onion, chopped (about ½ medium onion)
1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
¼ teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
¼ cup parmesan cheese
½ shredded mozzarella cheese


  1. Wash and prepare vegetables.
  2. Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain water from cooked pasta and save ¼ cup of water.
  3. Heat oil in a large skillet as pasta cooks. Add garlic and onion to skillet. Saute over medium heat about 1-2 minutes or until soft.
  4. Add any uncooked hard vegetables and cook for 3 minutes. Add soft vegetables and continue to cook. Add Italian seasoning, salt, and pepper. Add tomatoes last and cook until warm.
  5. Add cooked drained pasta to the vegetables. Add a little of the water from the pasta if needed.
  6. Add cheeses to mixture. Stir until cheese is mostly melted.
  7. Serve immediately.

Serving size: 1 ½ cups
Serves 6

Nutrition information (per serving):

250 calories
8 g total fat
2 g saturated fat
10 mg cholesterol
240 mg sodium
35 g total carbohydrate
5 g dietary fiber
5 g sugars
10 g protein