Homemade soups for a cold, wintry day

Nothing says comfort like a warm mug or bowl of soup on a cold winter day. Soups come in a variety of styles including broth-based, thick and creamy chowders and bisques, and chunky stews and chili. Whatever you’re craving – there is a soup for you. The great thing about soup is that it usually includes several food groups and can be the main course of a meal or simply a side dish. Soups can provide protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals depending on its ingredients.

There are generally two options when preparing soups. The first comes from the grocery store as condensed canned soups, microwavable cup-a-soup, soup packets, frozen or hot ready-to-eat soups. The advantages are that they are quick and easy to prepare, often just adding water and heating. However, many prepared soups can be high in sodium so be sure to read the nutrition facts label. For example, one can of condensed tomato soup provides over half of the recommended daily sodium intake for American adults. Even though one can has two servings, most people eat both servings (one can) as a meal.

Vegetable soup photo, public domain food CC0 image from RawPixel.com.

The other option is making your own healthy, low-sodium soup. This can sound intimidating but it is not as difficulty or time-consuming as you may think. The first step is to start with a base, choosing either a broth or cream base. Low fat, low-sodium broths and stocks are available at the grocery store or you can make your own. Cook beef, chicken, sausage or turkey with water. After cooking, refrigerate to allow the fat to float to the top. Skim off the fat, remove meat and bones, and use the stock (broth) for soups. You can also freeze it to use later when making soup. The meat can be frozen as well to use in other receives or in soup recipes. Another alternative for your soup base can be a low-sodium canned soup.

The next step is to choose the ingredients you want to add to your soup. There are recipes to follow but you can also be creative and make up your own. This is a great way to clean out your refrigerator or freezer for leftover vegetables and meats. Some great choices are carrots, celery, zucchini, broccoli, tomatoes. Usually one cup to one-half cup of diced vegetables is good for most soup recipes depending on how chunky you like your soup. Meat options can include beef, chicken, turkey, fish, seafood, ham or sausage. Beans are also a great protein source to add to your soups. Some starchy choices for soups include rice, noodles, macaroni, barley and lentils. Flavor with herbs and spices from your kitchen cabinet to keep it low-sodium.

When making soup, do it big! It takes about the same amount of time to make a large pot of soup as a smaller one, so make it worth your time. A large pot of soup can make enough for several meals so freeze some or share it with others to enjoy. Once the soup is cooked, divide the soup into small containers for 1-2 servings. If you are going to eat it within 3-4 days, you can put it in the refrigerator. If not, freeze your soup and use it within 2-3 months. Be sure to label and date the soup before putting it in the freezer. Thaw frozen soup in the refrigerator overnight or in the microwave. To reheat soup, heat to boiling over low heat or in a microwave. Add water or broth if it is too thick. Add toppings to your soup like homemade croutons, grated carrots, grated cheese, popcorn or sour cream. Homemade soups are a great way to perk up your meals on a cold, wintry day!

Savings Goals for the New Year

Each January we get a powerful fresh start in the form of a new year. That clean slate for the year ahead encourages us to set goals, try new things, and improve our habits for the year ahead. Often fitness and health goals get all the attention. Our friends are on social media sharing their new eating plan or marathon training schedule. Health goals are important, but financial goals can be just as important for overall wellness! As we head into 2023, why not try out some savings goals and shift some focus to your financial health?

Changing our behavior is always a challenge. In many ways, our brains aren’t wired to give up the things we want now for something we might be able to have in the future. And as our goals get bigger and further in the future, this gets more and more difficult. We might really want to pay off our car loan or student loan, but those things can take small amounts of money over many years. Spending that money on things we enjoy now would definitely be more fun and using that money to pay down debt can feel pretty anticlimactic.

One strategy for improving our motivation is to create a vision board. Ideally, this vision board would focus on a specific large financial goal. It would include pictures that show:

  • How it would feel to achieve the goal
  • What you would be able to do when you achieve the goal
  • The kinds of characteristics you will have when you achieve the goal

Looking at the vision board reminds us that the goal is important, possible, and that achieving it will change our lives for the better! It helps us visualize that when we say no to something right now, it is because we want to be able to say yes to something else in the future. I made one recently and hung it where I would see it each morning. It was focused on a dream I have always had to travel. After 5 years of saving, my husband and I took the trip I had always dreamed of last summer! I’m looking forward to making a new one for this year because the previous one was such a great source of motivation.

I tried to find my old vision board and include a picture here, but we moved recently and I can’t find it! So instead, here is a picture of my husband and I in Venice, Italy after saving for 5 years to make this trip!

The vision board is an excellent tool for motivation, but it needs to be paired with strategies you can actually use to save the money. One option is to start small because it gives you the chance to create a new habit without having to stick with any really major changes. For example, my bank allows me to use rounding up to increase my savings. With rounding up, each of my purchases is rounded up to the nearest dollar and the rounded-up amount is placed in my savings account. For example, if I bought dinner and it was 19.20 then my bank would round that charge up to 20.00. Of that, 19.20 would go to the restaurant and 0.80 would go into my savings account. The amounts are small, but they add up over time!

If you’re looking to save in larger amounts, it might be good to look into your bank’s options on savings accounts. At my bank, it doesn’t cost me anything to open an additional savings account and I can do it from right within their app. Once I have the account, I can add a label to it. I usually label my accounts with what I want to do with the money in the account. An example would be an account labeled “Emergency Fund” where I save for emergencies, or “Summer Vacation” where I save to take a trip with my family over the summer. Some banks even let you set a goal for your account and give you a status bar showing how much progress you have made toward your savings goal.

Things like this can really help with motivation! It seems simple, but adding these labels can be a powerful way to change the way our brain thinks about money. If I am running short and need to move some money from savings to make a purchase, seeing that label makes me stop and think. Is it really worth it to me to take money from my summer vacation to buy this other thing? Sometimes it’s groceries or an important bill, and the answer is yes. But other times I realize I’d much rather go on vacation than buy whatever it is I’m considering.

These small changes can add up to some major savings over the course of a year. They can help you establish an emergency fund and save for future needs (and wants). Hopefully you try out some savings goals or other financial goals this year! Drop a comment and let us know, do you have a savings goal for 2023? Are there any strategies you use that work for you?

PFAS – Prevalent and Persistent Pollution 

Per- and poly-flouroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a family of over 4,500 manufactured fluorine chain chemicals that are used in a wide variety of non-stick, heat, stain and oil resistant products. Common applications and products containing PFAS include non-stick cookware, food packaging, stain resistant fabrics, cleaning products, shampoo, cosmetics, toothpaste and floss, paint, pesticides, and firefighting foams. 

Due to the extensive use, PFAS compounds have been observed in groundwater and drinking water supplies, invertebrates, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals, and humans throughout the United States and world. Due to the many carbon to fluorine bonds, one of the strongest bonds in nature, these compounds are very resistant to breakdown and therefore persist in the environment, giving rise to the term “forever” chemicals. 

Furthermore, studies have shown that over 95% of people in the US have measurable amounts of PFAS in their bodies, with certain PFAS compounds remaining in the body for 4-8 years. Compounding this prevalence and persistence is the fact that the amounts are increasing in the environment, some food products and animals, a process known as bioaccumulation, and as the use of PFAS containing products increase, the amount in surface and groundwater accumulate. 

The source of PFAS in humans is from food, dust and drinking water, with recent studies showing that the contribution from drinking water is as high as 90%. The effect on human health has been researched only on a dozen or less PFAS compounds including PFOA and PFOS, the most widely used PFAS compounds. 

Exposure to these two chemicals have been attributed to significant health risks including increased risk of cancer, increased cholesterol, hormonal changes and decreased fertility, thyroid disruption and low birth weight. PFOA and PFOS were phased out by the mid 2000’s, and concentrations in humans have decreased slightly since then. However, many more PFAS are being used and produced and there remains a significant gap of knowledge on the environmental and human health effects of other PFAS compounds.

PFAS concentrations in drinking water tend to be greater near manufacturing plants, military bases and airports were firefighting foam is used. The EPA has issued a health advisory (not a regulation) of 70 parts per trillion (ppt) for drinking water, whereas Europe and several US states have imposed more stringent limits of PFAS in drinking water. 

Even though our knowledge of the extent of risks of all PFAS compounds is very limited, the good news is that several filtration systems have been shown to be effective in removing many PFAS contaminants. These include activated carbon (10-97% removal), ion exchange (90-99% removal) and reverse osmosis (93-99% removal). These filters can be installed in homes to treat either the entire home (point of entry, POE), or point of use (POU) typically installed under the sink for drinking and cooking use. 

In addition to treating our drinking water, we can all be better stewards by the choices we make. Proper recycling and disposal of unwanted household goods and products may help contain some PFAS. Investing in learning what products contain PFAS could help in making better product choices, but unfortunately, only broad product categories, as described earlier, are published. Whether a specific product contains PFAS is not readily available since no labeling requirement exists currently. More info on PFAS can be found at: CDC: https://www.cdc.gov/biomonitoring/PFAS_FactSheet.html; EPA: https://www.epa.gov/pfas; and MDE: https://mde.maryland.gov/programs/Water/water_supply/Pages/PFAS_Home.aspx   


  • PFAS compounds are very resistant to breakdown and therefore persist in the environment, giving rise to the term “forever” chemicals.
  • Studies have shown that over 95% of people in the US have measurable amounts of PFAS in their bodies, with certain PFAS compounds remaining in the body for 4-8 years.
  • Health risks include increased risk of cancer, increased cholesterol, hormonal changes and decreased fertility, thyroid disruption and low birth weight.

New Year, New Couple Ritual

The New Year has everyone thinking of ways to improve something about their lives. While New Year’s Resolutions are often focused on creating new individual routines, such as regular diet or exercise, couples should remember that enhancing their relationship routines is a great way to improve both health and life satisfaction. So, how might couples take the first step in enhancing their relationship routines?

First, it is important to understand why couple routines and rituals are an important focus. Research shows that couples benefit from establishing and participating in regular activities that add meaning to their relationship. When couples fail to make intentional efforts to spend meaningful time together, they tend to drift toward isolation from one another. This slow drift apart can be hard to detect amidst the noise and distractions of modern, busy family life.  

Below we are sharing some ideas to add in some positive routines or traditions into your couple relationship during 2023. There is no need to try them all at once. Start with a practice that feels attainable to you, given your unique situation. 

Photos from RawPixel.com.

Actions to try out

Daily Routines: 

  • Kiss each other hello and good bye 
  • Spend some uninterrupted time chatting at the start or end of the day
  • Enjoy something relaxing together in the evening (e.g., a leisurely walk, tea, hot chocolate, snuggling under a comfy blanket) 

Weekly Routines:

  • Engage in a hobby together
  • Connect to the world as a couple via time in nature, community groups, or faith groups  
  • Go on a date

Annual Traditions:

  • Decide as a couple how you would like to celebrate important events such as anniversaries, birthdays, holidays

Another great way to kickstart the enhancement of your relationship is to participate in a Couples Retreat hosted by University of Maryland Extension. The retreat is focused on business-owning couples, especially in the agriculture industry. The retreat will cover information like the content in this blog, as well as a variety of other couples enhancement activities. Furthermore, we will provide information on business financial planning and succession/estate planning for business-owning couples. All couples are welcome to attend. Click here to find more information about cost and registration.

This post contributed by UME Faculty Specialist Alex Chan.

The 12 Days of Holiday Fitness (and Beyond)

Most of us don’t make fitness a priority during the holidays. We are busy, decorating, shopping, and preparing food for our jam-packed holiday calendar. We also look forward to spending time with family and friends, leaving little time for physical activity.

Instead of being a January 1st, ‘Fitness Resolutioner,’ delaying fitness/activity goals until the new year, why not start now? See my ‘12 Days of Holiday Fitness Tips’ for being active during the holiday and the new year:

Original image from Carol M. Highsmith’s America, Library of Congress collection. Digitally enhanced by rawpixel.com.

Day 1: Develop a realistic plan and track you activity. Use a fitness tracker or write it down. Tracking progress motivates us to be more physically active and increase our activity levels.

Day 2: Commit to 15 minutes of daily activity of something you enjoy: walking, cycling, hiking, dancing, swimming, etc.

Day 3: Take a daily lunch break walk with a co-worker. Map a route outside, around your worksite’s parking lot or inside, in the hallways. Use the stairs instead of elevators.

Day 4: Holiday shopping? Park the car a distance from the store or mall. Take a lap around the parking lot or inside the mall before you start shopping. This will provide you with added energy for getting your shopping done. Use the stairs instead of escalators and elevators.

Day 5: Feeling tired, stressed and unmotivated? Ironically, physical activity boosts energy and relieves stress,  Find an ‘activity buddy’ to keep you motivated. My running partner and I text each other weekly to get a 30-minute run (or walk) on our calendars. 

Day 6: Hydrate! Carry a water bottle during your activity, especially if your outside. Proper hydration can generate heat to keep you warm.

Image from RawPixel.com. Original public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.

Day 7: You’re halfway there! Add 5 minutes (or more) of physical activity to your day. You can do it!

Day 8: Plan an outdoor family and friends social activity. Ice skating, skiing or snowshoeing, hiking, or participating in an outdoor game keeps you active and reduces holiday stress.

Day 9: Traveling? Airports, train and bus stations are a great place to walk. After flying home from the Thanksgiving holiday, I walked 20 minutes around baggage carousels, waiting for my luggage. Also, forgo the ‘moving walkways’. You’ll burn more calories and strengthen your legs.

Day 10: Take a walk before or after a meal. I encourage my family (some members more than others) to take a walk after Thanksgiving dinner, before we indulged in dessert.

Day 11: Sign up for a local holiday walk/run. Organize a group and make it fun and wear holiday attire. Participating in a New Year’s Day walk/run is a great way to start the new year.

Day 12: Try a free group fitness class at a local community center or check out a discount gym in your area. Some gyms offer holiday specials that can fit into anyone’s budget.

With a plan and motivation, you can be physically active through the holidays and still have time for festivities. 

Happy Holidays!

Open Enrollment for Health Insurance and Medicare Is Happening Now

Guest post by Maria Pippidis, Extension Educator, University of Delaware Cooperative Extension

Are you spending too much on health insurance? It’s time to do a health insurance check up! 

Open enrollment for the Health Insurance Marketplace (November 1, 2022, through January 15, 2023) for those under age 65 and Medicare (October 15 through December 7) for those over 65 is happening now. Even if you have health insurance already, comparison shopping can help you save money and get better coverage. It is important to compare not only the premium costs but also other out of pocket costs like deductibles, copayments and coinsurance in relation to how often you use health care services. There are also options for dental insurance. Think back about how you have used health care services in the past to help you do an estimate of how much these other out of pocket costs might affect the choice of plans you consider.

Remember, for health insurance marketplace plans, prevention services like annual check ups with your primary care provider or gynecologist are covered at no charge.

For those under age 65, use the healthcare.gov website to see options for you and your family or for covering employees if you are a small business. Depending on your income and the state you live in you will have a variety of health insurance policy options and tax credits or tax subsidies. Here are some examples for a family of 4 with 2 children under 18 years of age in Delaware:

  • If your income is below $38,295/year you may qualify for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) or Medicaid. 
  • An income range between $38,295 and $69,375/year will provide coverage with tax credits on premiums and reduced deductibles, copayments, and coinsurance.
  • An income range between $69375 and $111,000 will provide coverage with reduced premiums.

This is just an example and the income ranges will be based on your family size and your state. By going to the website and adding your specific information, you’ll get a better sense of the costs and coverage. I personally have seen farm operators save thousands of dollars by exploring the marketplace for health insurance options. Even if you have off farm employment covering your whole family, it might be worth exploring the healthcare marketplace options for those not working off farm and your children.

You can explore options online or you can get help by talking to a health insurance navigator. The healthcare marketplace website in your state will provide information about who are certified providers that can assist you in better understanding your options. These individuals have been trained to provide information about the plans. Note that some insurance brokers have been certified as well; these individuals can inform you about the marketplace plans and other plans for insurance organizations which they represent. There are also navigators/assistors who work with non-profit, government or health care organizations who are certified.

For those who are 65 and older, use the medicare.gov website to see which Medicare Advantage Plans or Medicare Supplemental (Medigap) plans are available in your area. You can comparison shop these plans very easily on the website. My advice is to ignore the TV commercials and the junk mail regarding Medicare plans. Rather use your State Health Insurance Assistance Program. You can find your local contact by visiting this website https://www.shiphelp.org/ and searching by your state. This program can assist you by setting up a free counseling session with a trained volunteer at a convenient site near you. Their goal is to empower people with Medicare to better understand their options and enable them to make the best health insurance decisions for themselves. The counselors can help you better understand your options to help you make the best decision for you related to Medicare, Medicaid, Medigap (Medicare supplement insurance), Medicare Part D, long-term care insurance and other types of health insurance. There is no charge for the service.  

Though it takes a bit of time, invest in yourself  because no matter what age you are, reviewing your health insurance coverage is one of the best ways to stay financially and physically healthy in the coming year.

Walktober Comes to Maryland

Despite the recent weather, October is the perfect time to get outside and celebrate Maryland’s official state exercise — walking! Officially, yesterday was Walk Maryland Day with events planned across the state, but all month offers opportunities to get outside and enjoy the fall.

Walking offers many health benefits, and among them getting out in nature can improve your mental health. According to the American Psychological Association, spending time outdoors can lead to improved attention, lowered stress, better moods, and even increased empathy and cooperation.

Maryland offers ample places to get out and spend time in nature, from state parks to local trails, and we’ve collected a list of localities where everyone can work on improving their physical, mental and emotional health, just by taking a walk amongst the trees.

To find the list of walking trails by county, go to https://extension.umd.edu/resource/walktober and click on “County Walking Opportunities.” Also find more information about Walktober, how you can become a walk leader, or join in next year’s celebration.

Roll Out the Mat and Try Some Yoga

Here at Breathing Room, we are all about helping people find ways to improve their lives and reach their goals, whether they are physical, nutritional, mental, financial, or any other type of goal. One way to work on both the physical and mental or spiritual side of wellness is through the practice of yoga. Yoga, which has been gaining popularity in the U.S. lately, focuses on movement, breathing, and often meditation. According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, yoga can help:

  • Reduce stress
  • Improve sleep
  • Manage anxiety
  • Improve balance

For more information about the benefits, check out this article https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/yoga-what-you-need-to-know

I got into yoga in high school because I was having a hard time getting to sleep at night and my doctor suggested it as a way to relax before bed. I bought a book that came with a DVD (I know, its been awhile since I was in high school. We had DVDs then) and started practicing some basic yoga movements before bed. For me, slowing down my breathing to match the movements helped me to relax my body and calm my mind. I still find it to be an effective way to get to sleep if I’m having a hard time.

For me, one of the hardest parts of yoga is convincing my dog, Dakota, that I am on the floor to exercise and not to play with her.

After college, I would occasionally go to yoga classes at a local gym with my mom and sister. I really enjoyed exercising with them and felt my balance really improving from the exercises we did in class. But as life got busier, it became more and more difficult to get to the gym for the in-person classes. My sister then introduced me to some online resources where you can find free videos to guide you through many different types of yoga practices. One of these YouTube channels, Yoga With Adriene, has become very popular. The channel currently has 11.4 million subscribers!

For me, yoga has been an on and off journey. Some months, I will do several classes or workouts and some months I might not do any at all. While doing it more consistently is a goal of mine, I really appreciate that I can always find a way to jump back in when I’m ready. There are so many different options out there, so I always feel like I can jump back in without it being too difficult to get started again.

So, if you’re interested in seeing if yoga might be a tool you can use for reaching your wellness goals, give it a shot and check out some of these resources to help you get started!

  • https://www.doyogawithme.com/ – Do Yoga with Me is a website where you can sort yoga videos by length, type, and level of difficulty. It is really helpful for finding something that meets you where you are.
  • https://www.youtube.com/c/yogawithadriene – Yoga with Adriene has a ton of different videos and options, but I like her monthly playlists. There is a different video for each day of the month which range in length and focus. They are a great way to get started with building a habit of practicing yoga.
  • Senior Centers and Recreation Centers – If you check with your county or city, you might have a local center with free or low-cost classes available. They are usually led by a professional who can help you learn the movements. Also, it can be fun to workout with others in your community!
  • Local Gyms – Many gyms offer yoga classes similar to those offered at Senior Centers and Recreation Centers. But you might even have a local gym or studio that focuses exclusively on yoga. This can be great if you are looking for something more advanced or specific to your needs.

As with any exercise, it is a good idea to check in with your doctor before jumping in to a new exercise program (especially if you have any health concerns). But even if you are a total yoga beginner, there are some great benefits to incorporating yoga into your life. So, roll out the mat and see what yoga can do for you!