Thursday, January 19, 2023

Healthy Heart Lifestyle Changes

Making healthy heart lifestyle changes is a positive commitment to yourself and your loved ones, but it is not always a simple process. Creating a healthy lifestyle can be stressful, time consuming, and often filled with confusing and unhealthy choices.

Along with healthy lifestyle activities such as regular exercise, not smoking, and lowering stress levels, eating a variety of healthy foods is excellent for your heart health. The American Dietetic Association recommends adding these foods to your regular diet to jump start your healthy heart journey.

  • Blueberries are packed with the colorful antioxidant, anthocyanin, fiber, vitamin C, and are easy to find year-round. Blueberries are great on their own, but they add amazing flavor to cereal, smoothies, or salads.
  • The American Heart Association recommends including omega-3 rich foods into your diet at least twice a week for a healthy heart. Salmon is loaded with protein and omega-3 fatty acids.  Salmon is easy to cook and has a pleasant flavor. Try grilled or baked salmon paired with a fresh spinach salad or grilled vegetables.
  • For many, oatmeal is a staple in a heart healthy diet. Whole grain oats are an excellent source of vitamins, minerals, and most importantly, cholesterol-lowering fiber. Oatmeal is tasty on its own or it can be dolled up by adding various fruits and berries. Oatmeal is a great substitute when baking. Replacing one-third of the flour in a pancake, muffin, or cookie recipe with oatmeal will add in fiber without taking away from the taste! If you are interested in trying overnight oats for an easy breakfast, visit for several overnight oat recipes.
  • The benefits of eating spinach are too long to list. Just remember, Popeye was on to something! Spinach is loaded with vitamins and minerals, notably folate and iron. If you or someone you know is pregnant or trying to become pregnant spinach should be a regular on the menu. Fresh spinach is delicious in a salad or blended up in a green smoothie.

Texas A&M AgriLife Extension’s Dinner Tonight Program is a great resource for healthy, tasty, and budget-friendly recipes. Visit or follow Dinner Tonight on Facebook for daily recipes and health tips.

Having a healthy heart requires a mixture of activities and lifestyle changes. Strive to create a healthy balance between exercise, diet, and lifestyle. If healthy habits are new to you, start out slow by making small changes over time. Healthy habits do not form overnight, so it is important to be patient with you progress. Remember, Rome was not built in a day!

If you have questions or concerns, please contact me, or (903) 473-4580. To view upcoming events or additional information please visit or follow Rains County AgriLife on Facebook.

Thursday, December 1, 2022

Holiday Health Tips

This most wonderful time of the year is known for cozy weather, family gatherings, and delicious holiday meals and treats. Many times, these foods are high in calories, saturated fats, sodium, and added sugars. Therefore, it is important to be mindful of the foods and portions we are choosing. “Holiday foods play an important role in bringing people together and connecting us with culture and traditions, but keep in mind that moderation is key”, said Amy Valdez, Extension Program Specialist with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension. “One should aim to include these recipes as a part of a well-balanced meal for a healthy holiday season”, Valdez continued.

Cooler outdoor temperatures might also encourage us to be more sedentary. Physical activity is just as important as making conscious food choices. According to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, adults should incorporate at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity and two days of muscle strengthening into their weekly routine. Physical activity does not have to be traditional exercise like running on a treadmill or lifting weights, it can be anything that gets your body moving. It can be an indoor or outdoor activity and can include gardening, dancing, or following along with an exercise video. With so many options, you are free to choose whatever activity you enjoy to help you get moving!  

Incorporating a few small changes can really make a difference during the holiday season. Here are some quick tips to make your holidays a little bit healthier:

  • Add to Your Plate - Instead of worrying about what to take off your plate this holiday season, add to it! Add colorful veggies and fruits, whole grains, lean protein, and low-fat dairy options to ensure you have a well-balanced meal. Don’t hesitate to enjoy and savor holiday favorites but eat those in moderation.
  • Avoid Distracted Eating - The holiday season is a prime time for endless snacking and many times we can eat mindlessly with distractions such as the television or an intriguing conversation. During this time, try setting a place at the table to eat and serving yourself a plate. Be mindful of the delicious foods that you are consuming and try to avoid distractions, if possible.
  • Include a Holiday Exercise Activity - Start a fun family tradition of incorporating physical activity this holiday season. Whether it be a family walk or a holiday 5k run, you’ll get your body moving by making memories and traditions with your family.

Dinner Tonight Cookbook

Tired of making the same thing over and over? Visit Texas A&M AgriLife Extension’s Dinner Tonight Program for delicious, budget-friendly recipes that are great to include in your holiday meals, visit

While the holidays can be a stressful time to stay healthy, trying these tips is a great starting point. More importantly, enjoy the family fun, make memories, eat those holiday treats, stay active, and have a happy holiday season!

If you have questions or concerns, please contact me, (903) 473-4580 or email To view upcoming events or additional information please visit or follow Rains County AgriLife on Facebook.

Monday, November 14, 2022

Let's Talk Turkey!

Even though Thanksgiving is quickly approaching, if you have not started your holiday meal planning, it is not too late! While you may still pay more for your turkey this year, the good news is you should not have as much difficulty finding one as earlier expected. So, whether this is your first or fiftieth year in charge of baking the bird, these turkey tips will help make your gathering safe and tasty.  

One of the most important parts of buying a turkey is figuring out what size you need based on how many you plan to feed. Generally, you should plan for 1-1.5 lbs. per person. If you are nervous about not having enough, plan for the higher end and if needed, you can get creative with your leftovers! If you prefer to purchase a fresh turkey, you need to purchase it 1-2 days before cooking and you need to make sure you have a supplier with an availability guarantee. If you purchase a frozen turkey, remember to keep it frozen until you are ready for it to thaw. For food safety reasons, it is recommended that you not purchase a pre-stuffed turkey.

Another extremely important part of Thanksgiving planning is remembering to include time for your turkey to thaw. For every 5 lbs. of turkey, you will need roughly 24 hours of thaw time. The safest way to thaw a frozen whole turkey is in the refrigerator (set to 40° F). Make sure you place it on the bottom shelf to prevent the spread of bacteria. A refrigerator thawed turkey is good for one to two days before cooking.

If you find yourself short on time, you can thaw your turkey in cold water or in the microwave. To thaw in cold water, allow 30 minutes per pound of turkey. Place the turkey in a leak-proof plastic bag and change the cold tap water every 30 minutes. Do not use hot water to thaw. If you choose to thaw your turkey in the microwave, follow the manufacturer’s defrosting instructions and plan to cook it immediately.

Thawing in the Refrigerator:

  • 8 to 12 pounds = 1 to 2 days
  • 12 to 16 pounds = 2 to 3 days
  • 16 to 20 pounds = 3 to 4 days
  • 20 to 24 pounds = 4 to 5 days

Thawing in Cold Water:

  • 8 to 12 pounds = 4 to 6 hours
  • 12 to 16 pounds = 6 to 8 hours
  • 16 to 20 pounds = 8 to 10 hours
  • 20 to 24 pounds = 10 to 12 hours

After thawing, you should remove the bag of giblets and the neck. You do not need to rinse your turkey. Bacteria may be present inside and outside of the turkey and it cannot be washed off. The only way to destroy bacteria is to cook your turkey to at least 165° F. Remember to wash your hands before and after handling your turkey.   

Now that you have your turkey thawed and ready to cook, you need to decide how you plan to cook it – oven, smoker, or fryer! Below are a few oven-cooking turkey tip; if you need tips on smoking or frying, please feel free to contact the Rains County Extension office.

Oven roasting is one of the most popular and easiest methods of cooking your turkey. With your oven at 325° F, insert an oven-proof meat thermometer into the thickest part of the breast or inner thigh, add a ½ cup of water to your pan, and season your meat. Cover your turkey with a lid or aluminum foil tent for the first hour and a half to keep it moist, remove it later for a crispy skin. Recover the turkey when it reaches the desired color.

Oven Time:

  • 8 to 12 pounds = 2 3/4 to 3 hours
  • 12 to 14 pounds = 3 to 3 3/4 hours
  • 14 to 18 pounds = 3 3/4 to 4 1/4 hours
  • 18 to 20 pounds = 4 ½ to 5 hours

When cooking your turkey, temperature is the most important thing to remember. Turkey meat must reach at least 165° F to kill harmful bacteria. Check the temperature in several areas to be safe. Insert an instant read thermometer into the thickest part of the breast, thigh (away from the bone), and innermost part of the wing, wait 20 seconds, and check the temperature. If you cook stuffing with your bird (inside or outside), it must also reach 165° F.

Allow your cooked turkey to rest for 20 minutes before carving to allow the juices to reabsorb. Resting your turkey will also make it easier to carve. Store any leftovers in the refrigerator within two hours of preparation or one hour if the temperature outside is above 90° F. Properly refrigerated leftovers should be used within three to four days and frozen leftovers should be used within 6 months for best quality.

If you have questions or concerns, please contact me, (903) 473-4580 or email To view upcoming events or additional information please visit or follow Rains County AgriLife on Facebook.

Friday, October 14, 2022

One Pill Can Kill - Halloween Safety Tips

This Halloween, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) and the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) are teaming up with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service’s Watch UR BAC program to spread awareness on the fentanyl epidemic spreading across our state. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid originally developed as a pain management tool for cancer patients; it is 100x stronger than morphine and 50x stronger than heroin.

The Drug Enforcement Administration warns the public of the alarming increase in the lethality and availability of fake prescription pills containing fentanyl and methamphetamine. International and domestic criminal drug networks are mass-producing fake pills, falsely marketing them as legitimate prescription pills, and killing unsuspecting Texans. These counterfeit pills are easy to purchase, widely available, and often contain deadly doses of fentanyl. Pills purchased outside of a licensed pharmacy are illegal, dangerous, and potentially lethal. These risks include overdose, forming new addictions, and traffic related crashes due to impairment.

Over the Halloween holiday, it is especially important that parents stay informed on this epidemic. One of these most prevalent trends currently involves rainbow-colored pills that have been laced with fentanyl and designed to attract younger kids. “Everyone loves Halloween… it is hard to beat, fall air, costumes, and candy!” said Texas A&M AgriLife Extension FCH Agent Sarah Latham, Rains County. “Unfortunately, we as a community must be aware of the ever-present dangers related to illicit substances. This is a growing threat to our children, and it is our responsibility to protect them”. It is important for parents to understand, one pill containing fentanyl can be lethal.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Association (DEA) is urging parents to be aware of rainbow fentanyl, a deathly opioid drug traffickers are using to “drive addiction amongst kids and young adults,” DEA administrator, Anne Milgram, said in a statement. Rainbow fentanyl is a drug in the form of a pill or powder that is brightly colored to look like candy and appeal to children and young people. Rainbow fentanyl is also being produced in blocks that resemble sidewalk chalk. As a parent, make sure you prepare and are always aware. 

Ahead of Halloween, local authorities are warning parents to keep a close eye on Trick-or-Treat baskets, just two milligrams of fentanyl, equal to 10-15 grains of table salt, is considered a lethal dose, per the DEA. Any candy-looking substance will get a lot of attention as Halloween nears, so parents should be on the lookout and kids should be reminded never to eat unpackaged candy without having parents inspect it first.

Make sure your children know, they should never accept any candy, pills, or other substances that look like they may have been altered.

Safety Tips:

If you plan to Trick-or-Treat this year, here are a few tips to help you and your kids prepare for a safe and happy Halloween.

  • Only accept and eat candy wrapped in an original, sealed, and unbroken package.
  • If you find an unfamiliar substance, do not touch it. Contact your local law enforcement agency. 
  • Watch your surroundings and stay away from anyone acting suspicious.
  • Stay in well-lit neighborhoods and do not talk to strangers.

By working together, we can save lives and help keep each other safe. Please join us in spreading this important message for the Halloween holiday, One Pill Can Kill.

If you have questions or concerns, please contact me, (903) 473-4580 or email To view upcoming events or additional information please visit or follow Rains County AgriLife on Facebook.