Summer Fun Begins With A Well-Packed Cooler

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Coolers help to keep your food and drinks cold, but can also keep your family safe from foodborne illnesses.

Are you heading to the beach or planning a picnic in the park? If so, you are probably using a cooler to tote along food and beverages for your outing. Coolers help to keep your food and drinks cold, but did you know a cooler also keeps your family safe from foodborne illnesses? The number of people that get sick from foodborne illnesses increases during the summer because of the many outdoor activities involving food.

Follow these tips on packing a cooler and keeping food chilled so you can enjoy your summer fun without the worry of foodborne illnesses.

It starts with the cooler.

  • If your cooler has been sitting in a garage or basement over the winter, bring it into the house a day or two before your outing.
  • Clean the inside with hot, soapy water, rinse and spray it with an equal mix of water and vinegar.
  • Leave the lid open so the inside can dry completely.
  • Pre-chill the cooler by filling it with ice or ice packs a couple of hours before you are ready to pack it. This helps to ensure that your food stays colder longer.

Packing your cooler correctly.

  • Ice blocks are best for keeping food cold. You can purchase ice packs or make your own by filling containers like plastic bottles with water and freezing.
  • Place ice in the bottom of cooler and pack perishable foods on top. Place items in the cooler in the reverse order that you will use them. Pack foods directly from the refrigerator.
  • You can even freeze some foods, like juice boxes, milk and meats so they thaw in the cooler.
  • Fill in the gaps with reusable flexible ice sheets or small water bottles.
  • Wash fruits and vegetables before packing so they are ready to eat when you arrive at your destination.
  • Keep meat and poultry separate from fruits, vegetables and salads that you serve raw. You may consider a smaller, separate cooler for your meats. Pack all meats in airtight bags or leak-proof plastic containers to prevent cross contamination and messy coolers.
  • Remember foods like lunch meat, cooked chicken, potato and pasta salad need to stay cold in a cooler.
  • Since people will be having drinks all day long, it may be better to pack a separate cooler for drinks. Pre-chilling or partially freezing drinks keeps them cold even longer. Place drinks in cooler first and then place ice packs on top.

Safety tips for protecting your family and friends.

  • Don’t forget a thermometer. One of the best ways to keep your food safe is to make sure the temperature inside the cooler is below 40°F. Instead of guessing, tuck an appliance thermometer inside the cooler for a foolproof reading.
  • Cold escapes every time you open the cooler so keep these times to a minimum.
  • If grilling is in your plans, pack a food thermometer to be sure you cook food to the proper temperatures. If you are not sure what temperature, check out for guidance.
  • If possible, keep the cooler in the front of the car when traveling where it is air-conditioned instead of the hot trunk.
  • Find a shaded area to keep your cooler and cover it with a heavy beach towel or blanket to protect it from the heat.
  • Be sure to use a cooler that is the right size for your needs. A full cooler stays colder longer than one that is half-full.

Food safety is important all year long but foodborne illnesses increase during summer months due to poor handling. Enjoy your summer fun by using a properly packed cooler to keep food safe for your family. For more information on food handling tips in the outdoors, check out the Food & Drug Administration’s safe handling tips.

Emphasize The Joy: Simplify The Holidays

Holiday festivities do not end after one day—they often linger through the whole week. If you count all the preparation, the demands of the holidays may already be taking its toll on your patience and blood pressure. Make this time more enjoyable for yourself and others by decreasing that holiday stress.

Stay focused on what is important
Start by setting realistic expectations. The holidays are a time to spend quality time with the special people in your life. To maximize the quality in that time, you may need to require that everyone take a break from phones, texts and emails—just for an hour or two—so you can connect with each other. Play games, watch a movie together, or take a walk. Just remind yourself to be flexible when plans change. You can also brainstorm with family members to create a new tradition this year, like learning a new craft or hobby, starting a new activity, having a movie marathon, or volunteering in your community as a family.

Do not neglect your health
You may not be able to keep your usual routine, but stay active, even if you can’t get to the gym. Squeeze in some activity by taking a 15-minute stroll or jog through the neighborhood, an extra lap or two around the shopping mall before heading home, or a quick walk around the airport if you have extra time before your flight. 

The holidays is not a time to focus on weight loss. Go ahead and enjoy your favorite holiday foods in small portions—just don’t overindulge. Sugary holiday food and beverages can make you feel sluggish. Drinking lots of water will keep you hydrated and give you more energy.

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That’s right! Go ahead and eat those holiday cookies! To keep yourself from cleaning out the cookie jar, make sure to eat a healthy meal and drink a glass of water first. Then indulge.

Holiday stress often leads to late nights and lost sleep. Sleep deprivation can lead to weight gain, low energy and attention levels, and irregular sleep patterns. Take time during the holiday break to rest up and get back into regular sleep patterns.

Get into the season of giving
Science has proven that our mood improves as we give to others. Leave small surprise gifts for neighbors, co-workers, or people who help you throughout the year. Make the day special for your loved one by leaving notes of appreciation for them around the house or in their pockets to find later. These post-holiday gifts makes the season last longer.

Take time for yourself
If you start feeling overwhelmed or stressed by all the commotion, excuse yourself and take some time to relax and reframe. Take a short walk or find a quiet place to relax. The holidays mean different things to everyone. Give yourself, and others, the space to find balance between the holidays and personal needs so that everyone can enjoy the time together.

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The holidays are filled with plenty of excitement and stress. Make sure to rest and take breaks so that you can enjoy the time with your family… or at least get through it without clenched jaws and fists.

Don’t Let Vacation Derail Your Nutrition

Eating on the road and in the air can be challenging, expensive, and unhealthy. But healthy eating does not have to take a backseat when you go on vacation. A little planning can keep your family and yourself on the healthy track.

Pack Healthy Options

Packing your own meals and snacks will save money and time, and prevent you from purchasing “junk food” or “fast food.” Bring a sandwich or salad, and pack snack bags with nuts, dried fruit, low-fat crackers, pretzels, unsweetened dry cereal, popcorn, or granola bars. If traveling by car, pack a cooler with frozen water bottles, cut-up fruits and vegetables, yogurt, cheese sticks and hummus.

Pick Healthy Food Stops

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Grab some berries while you’re at the store as a sweet, refreshing snack. Toss the leftovers in your water bottle to add a little flavor.

Food stops are a good time for everyone to stretch their legs on long car trips. But instead of stopping at a fast food chain, try a grocery store. Most stores now have soup and salad bars, or prepared salads and sandwiches. And if they don’t, you can buy the ingredients to serve up your own freshly made sandwiches. Enjoy your meal at a local park where the kids can burn off energy playing Frisbee, baseball and other simple toys packed in the car.

If fast food is your best option, there are still healthy choices for you and your family. Fast food and major chain restaurants must now provide nutritional information, so making healthier choices is easier than ever. Plus, many fast-food chains let you choose what goes into your meal, like substituting fries with fruit or a side salad. I like to get a salad, with low-fat dressing (on the side), and grilled meat. I also avoid sugary drinks like sweetened tea, soda and lemonade.

Stay Hydrated

Hot temperatures and flying can lead to dehydration. If you feel hungry, you may really be thirsty. Water is the best choice for staying hydrated. Avoid caffeinated beverages and alcohol as they dehydrate your body. Bring your own water bottle as a reminder to drink. Investing in an insulated bottle will keep your water cold for many hours, even in the heat.

Ask for a Mini-Fridge

If you’re staying at a hotel, request a mini-fridge and stock it with water, milk, fruits, vegetables, yogurt, hummus, cheese sticks, and ingredients to make sandwiches for lunch. Enjoy the regional cuisine by eating at local restaurants instead of national restaurant chains. Check with the local visitor’s bureau or And store any leftovers in the fridge!

Enjoy this time for family fun and relaxation, but don’t abandon your healthy habits. It’s ok if you eat too much ice cream one day, just go easy on sweets the next. Find a healthy balance so that you can relax, unwind, and rejuvenate yourself.

What Rhymes With “Gross”? Sugar.

During a recent family road trip, we stopped at a rest stop to grab a snack. It seemed like our only choices were designer Frappuccinos, sodas, pastries, granola bars, and candy. All these choices had one key thing in common: they’re all high in added sugar. Even granola bars, which are supposed to be a healthier choice, contain a lot of added sugar.

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Can you find the healthy snack option?

Added sugar continues to get a great deal of attention in the media and even in movies and documentaries. Netflix’s “Sugar Coated” calls sugar the “new tobacco,” because America’s taste for sugar is playing a role in causing serious health conditions like Type 2 diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure.  The American Heart Association recommends the following for added sugars:

  • Men limit added sugar to 9 teaspoons per day
  • Women limit added sugar to 6 teaspoons a day
  • Children limit added sugar to 3-6 teaspoons per day (amount depends on age and caloric needs)

By the way, there is a difference between added sugar and naturally occurring sugars. Added sugars are put into a food or beverage during processing and naturally occurring sugars are found naturally in foods such as fruit, vegetables, and some dairy products, like plain milk and yogurt.

Unfortunately, Americans, consume way too much added sugar. According to the Pew Research Center, the average American consumes almost 77-pounds of added sugar in one year, which breaks down to 3-cups per week or 26.7-teaspoons per day of refined sugar and corn-derived sweeteners, like high fructose corn syrup.  For men, that’s more than triple the recommended levels, and quadruple for women and children!!

How can this be possible? If you drink a 16-ounce bottle of soda, you’re consuming 45-grams of sugar. Eating a 2-ounce pack of bite size candy, like Skittles? That’s 47-grams of sugar. Both are equivalent to about 11-teaspoons of added sugar, more than the AHA’s recommendation for any group.

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You can find the amount of added sugars in food products listed under the “Total Sugars” line.

Here’s some good news: everyone seems to be listening. The food industry is reducing sugar in their products. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will be making it easier to find added sugars in food products. Beginning in 2019, added sugars will be included on the Nutrition Facts Label.

And American consumers are getting savvier. Added sugar consumption is declining (from 90-pounds per year in 1999), primarily due to people cutting out soda and drinking more bottled water over the past few years. Shoppers are also getting better at identifying different forms of added sugar on the labels.  Remember, sugars can be “hidden.” If the ingredient rhymes with “gross”, such as glucose, sucrose, dextrose, and fructose, it’s an added sugar.

So getting back to our rest stop. After a closer look, we found some healthier snacks. Instead of:

  • Designer coffee or soda, we chose regular and flavored, carbonated waters.
  • Pastries and granola bars, we chose pretzels and air-popped popcorn.
  • Candy, we chose bagged peanuts.

But, for future road trips, I think we will just pack a bag of snacks from home.