This March, Make a Fresh Start

Farm to Table PIttsburgh Conference

There’s something compelling about phrases like “A Fresh Start,” “Getting Back to Basics” and “Rediscovering our roots.” When it comes to eating well, these phrases are often associated with fresh, crisp vegetables; juicy, ripe fruit and a certain glow that tells you (and everyone else) your body appreciates wholesome foods.

Make a Fresh, New Plan

Make a plan for change by identifying the basics that make sense for you. Stay tuned into reality, your body, and your lifestyle. For instance, families who choose to grow their own food may not be quite as successful if they also pack work, school, and extracurriculars into their everyday activities. Shopping local might be their best bet. On the other hand, rural residents may ask, why the farmer’s market when I can grow my own – especially if they have more space and a culture of tradition that encourages gardening. Either way, it needs to be personalized by you for your family. Once you’ve developed an outline of what “back to basics” means to you, chunk it into manageable steps. Each step should include a change from your plan along with the appropriate time to work on making the it “stick.” You’re ready for a fresh start – and so are we. Summer’s coming, along with the best produce of the year. Let’s get back to basics.

The Annual Farm To Table Pittsburgh Local Food Conference

Farm to table… it just sounds wholesome and good, doesn’t it? This is the ideal event to experience everything you need for a back-to-basics, fresh start. March 24 and 25, 2017 Pittsburgh is where you want to be. This year’s theme is “Growing Roots for Healthy Communities.” It’s all about getting back to our roots and celebrating the diversity of farming and traditional cooking methods – fun, educational, enriching and YUMMY! Information about the nutritional value of local foods presented by local experts… cooking demonstrations… gardening… education… and networking – you’ll be well on your way to developing a plan that will have you eating healthy, local foods that nourish and replenish deliciously.

Find out more at

Back to basics – how much is enough?

Gone are the days of the food wheels and pyramids. Now, there’s MyPlate. It was introduced in 2011, along with updated United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) food patterns for Dietary Guidelines. Ah… the Dietary Guidelines. Remember those? Most of us have had some education related to the USDA’s recommended dietary intake. Zealous elementary students have it right – they take it so seriously. Sadly, though, it doesn’t take long before the concept of healthy eating is lost when compared to the reality of tangible treats. Treats that get less and less nutritious, until finally, eating healthfully is just an unattainable idea, left in the (potato chip) dust. The USDA Dietary Guidelines vary a bit depending on whether you are female or male and your age. It is recommended that adults consume:

  • 3 cups of foods from the dairy group.
  • 5 to 2 cups of fruit
  • 5 to 2 cups of vegetables
  • 5 to 8-ounce equivalents of grains.
  • 5 to 6-ounce equivalents of protein
  • 5 – to 7 teaspoons of oils allowed

Let’s be like kids again and forget our history and what we’ve been taught by our culture. Because we know we eat way too much food! Most of it is not healthy – it may be unhealthy, even. Refresh your memory online at and read the guidelines at USDA’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion: in preparation for your plan development.

Avoid packaged foods

If you’re unsure of how to differentiate between healthy whole foods and unhealthy processed foods, it’s worthwhile to brush up on the details. When you’re at a fork in the road, knowledge is power… especially when making decisions choosing healthy foods and processed foods. According to American Institute for Cancer Research, “Minimally processed” vegetables, grains, and beans are prepared – commercially or at home – without large amounts of added fat, salt or sugar. That means flavoring your brown rice or whole-wheat couscous with herbs rather than using sodium-laden mixes, and using vinegar, lemon juice, garlic and spices to flavor vegetables instead of high-fat or high-sodium sauces. Although AICR most often refers to plant foods when encouraging you to eat more minimally processed foods, avoiding processed meats such as sausage and hot dogs is also good advice since consuming them on a regular basis increases risk of colon cancer. Processed food is not all bad: canning and cooking (which is technically a “process”) by steaming, microwaving or stir-frying can make certain nutrients more easily absorbed by the body. The bottom line is to choose plant foods such as whole grains, vegetables, fruit and beans more often and to look for those foods with little or no added fat, sugar and sodium.”

The best of the basics: crisp vegetables & juicy fruits

To help us eat more vegetables and fruits, the USDA offers the following tips:

  • Buy fresh vegetables and fruits in season. They cost less and are likely to be at their peak flavor.
  • Stock up on frozen vegetables for quick and easy cooking in the microwave.
  • Buy vegetables that are easy to prepare. Pick up pre-washed bags of salad greens and add baby carrots or grape tomatoes for a salad in minutes. Buy packages of veggies such as baby carrots or celery sticks for quick snacks.
  • Use a microwave to quickly “zap” vegetables. White or sweet potatoes can be baked quickly this way.
  • Vary your veggie choices to keep meals interesting.
  • Try crunchy vegetables, raw or lightly steamed.
  • Select vegetables with more potassium often, such as sweet potatoes, white potatoes, white beans, tomato products (paste, sauce, and juice), beet greens, soybeans, lima beans, spinach, lentils, and kidney beans.
  • Sauces or seasonings can add calories, saturated fat, and sodium to vegetables. Use the Nutrition Facts label to compare the calories and % Daily Value for saturated fat and sodium in plain and seasoned vegetables.
  • Prepare more foods from fresh ingredients to lower sodium intake. Most sodium in the food supply comes from packaged or processed foods.
  • Buy canned vegetables labeled “reduced sodium,” “low sodium,” or “no salt added.” If you want to add a little salt it will likely be less than the amount in the regular canned product.
  • Keep a bowl of whole fruit on the table, counter, or in the refrigerator.
  • Refrigerate cut-up fruit to store for later.
  • Buy fruits that are dried, frozen, and canned (in water or 100% juice) as well as fresh, so that you always have a supply on hand.
  • Consider convenience when shopping. Try pre-cut packages of fruit (such as melon or pineapple chunks) for a healthy snack in seconds. Choose packaged fruits that do not have added sugars.
  • Make most of your choices whole or cut-up fruit rather than juice, for the benefits dietary fiber provides.
  • Select fruits with more potassium often, such as bananas, prunes and prune juice, dried peaches and apricots, and orange juice.
  • When choosing canned fruits, select fruit canned in 100% fruit juice or water rather than syrup.
  • Vary your fruit choices. Fruits differ in nutrient content.

Safety matters! Rinse vegetables and fruits before preparing or eating them. Under clean, running water, rub vegetables and fruits briskly with your hands to remove dirt and surface microorganisms. Dry with a clean cloth towel or paper towel after rinsing.

Shop local for seasonal vegetables and fruits or plant a garden

Enjoy local foods and flavors as part of your healthy eating style by choosing foods from local farms. Use fresh vegetables and fruits that are in season. They’re easy to get, have more flavor, and are usually less expensive. Your local farmer’s market is a great source of seasonal produce. Challenge yourself with a new ingredient. Farmers know delicious ways to use their products and are a great resource for food prep tips and recipes. Go with friends or family to a “pick-your-own” farm or orchard. Get active while learning where your food comes from. Get the family involved and start a garden – in the yard or a pot on the deck—for fresh, inexpensive, flavorful additions to meals. Herbs, cucumbers, peppers, or tomatoes are good options for beginners.

Creating a new plan can be daunting – no matter what the topic. When it’s as complicated as meal planning, shopping, prepping and eating, it’s easy to lose steam and fall away from the healthy, wholesome lifestyle we want and need. Take advantage of the Farm To Table Pittsburgh Local Food Conference, wellness emails, blogs, newsletters and anything else that can reach you, motivate you and help you go the distance. Get help when you need it, get back on the horse if you fall off and remember no matter where you are, if you look around you, most of the people you see will have similar hopes for healthier eating. Be their strength, let them be yours… and remember – we’re all in this together.

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