Thursday, July 16, 2020

Eating a Healthy Breakfast

We have always been told, “breakfast is the most important meal.” Making sure you and your family eat a healthy breakfast is the best way to start each day on the right track. A healthy breakfast can help optimize mental function, support healthy weight goals, and build a strong immune system. The U.S. Department of Agriculture ( recommends a healthy meal include a balance of fruit, vegetables, grains, and protein.

A healthy breakfast should include, but is not limited to, the following components:
  • Whole grains such as oats, whole wheat bread, or quinoa
  • Lean protein such as eggs or turkey sausage
  • Fruit or vegetables such as berries, bananas, broccoli, or spinach

These breakfast components assist our bodies with day to day bodily functions. Whole grains give us energy and fiber. Protein helps to keep us fuller longer, and fruit and vegetables provide us with vitamins, antioxidants, and fiber. Amy Valdez, Extension Program Specialist with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension adds, “this combination of food is going to make sure you stay satisfied throughout the day and will keep you energized and focused.”

Meal planning and prepping are two relatively simple ways to help you stay on track.
  • Plan - Planning is key when it comes to breakfast. Create a menu of breakfast options for the week. When shopping, stick to these foods to help reduce the chance of choosing unhealthy options and to save you time and money.
  • Prepare– If time is limited in the morning, we tend to choose the first foods we see, which may not always be the healthiest. This can be avoided by either preparing the entire week’s meals or simply prepare portions of your breakfast to save you time.

If you need a few ideas to get you started, Overnight Vanilla Oats and Egg Muffins are two of my favorite breakfast on the go recipes (click here to download recipe cards). 
  • Overnight Vanilla Oats – 1 cup oats, 1 cup vanilla flavored almond milk, and ¼ cup of your favorite nuts and/or fruit are optional. Mix the oats and almond milk together and pour into two 8 oz wide mouth jars with lids, splitting evenly. Secure the lids and refrigerate overnight. You may add your optional items with the initial mixture or in the morning, depending on how you like them (depending on your optional add-in, soaking overnight in the mixture may make them mushy). Oats may be stored up to five days in the refrigerator, just remember, the longer they sit, the softer your oats will become. (Makes 2 servings. Serving Size: 8 oz. Per Serving (before optional add-ins): 195 Calories, 3.9g Fat, 34.7g Carbohydrates, 5.9g Protein.)
  • Egg Muffins – 5 eggs, ½ cup real bacon bits, ½ cup grated cheddar cheese, salt and pepper to taste. Preheat oven to 400°F. Grease a 6-count muffin tin (or use silicon muffin baking cups). Mix ingredients together in a bowl. Divide evenly in muffin cups (about ¾ full). Bake until muffins are set and beginning to brown (roughly 12-15 minutes). Muffins may be stored up to five days in the refrigerator. Just grab one, heat it up (or eat it cold), and go! (Makes 6 servings. Serving size: 1 Muffin. Per Serving: 124 Calories, 8.8g Fat, .4g Carbohydrates, 11g Protein.)

If you have questions or concerns, please contact me, (903) 473-4580 or email Follow Rains CountyAgriLife on Facebook for additional information and upcoming events.

Friday, June 26, 2020

July is UV Safety Month: Take Steps to Protect Your Family

Are you ready for summer? Did you know summer brings the longest days giving us more time to spend outdoors having fun? From vacations, biking, and hiking, or just enjoying ice cream, watermelons, or popsicles, summer brings memories of younger days and family togetherness. As we look forward to making new memories, we can plan for a safe summer by reducing the risk of harmful effects of UV exposure. July has been designated as Ultraviolet (UV) Safety Month by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; whose goal is to spread the word on the harmful effects of UV rays on unprotected skin. 

Ultraviolet light is radiation emitted naturally from the sun, but can also be man-made, an example being tanning beds. Classified in wavelengths, UVC light is blocked by the Earth’s ozone layer, but the sun’s UVA & UVB affect the skin differently with UVA causing wrinkling (premature aging) due to penetrating deeper into the skin and UVB causing sunburns. Overexposure increases risk of developing skin cancer.  Cautions are placed on the times of exposure due to UV radiation being strongest between 10 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

A benefit of UV radiation is Vitamin D production, which helps calcium and phosphorous to be absorbed by the body and helps in bone development. According to the World Health Organization, 5 to 15 minutes of sun exposure 2 to 3 times a week is recommended[1]. Prolonged UV exposure can cause premature aging, cataracts, and skin cancer, not to mention painful sunburns. The most dangerous UV radiation is artificial indoor tanning. “By taking precautions before we head out the door for summer activities and all-year round, we can reduce the risk of UV radiation by following some simple steps,” states Julie Tijerina, Extension Program Specialist with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension.

Tijerina offers the following safety tips to protect the skin during exposure:

Stay in the shade: Look for shaded areas under trees or bring an umbrella or pop-up shelter, especially during peak hours. Know the EPA’s shadow rule: If your shadow is taller than you are, UV exposure is lower.  If your shadow is shorter than you, UV exposure is higher[2]. Remember that surfaces, such as water, snow, white sand, and cement, reflect the sun’s damaging rays and can increase chances of sunburn. Cloudy days do not block the sun’s rays, which are just filtered. In higher altitudes, UV exposure is higher due to less atmosphere to absorb UV radiation.
Wear Protective clothing: Thanks to clothing, the skin is partially shielded from UV rays. Choose long-sleeved shirts and long pants made from tightly woven fabric. Be aware that wet clothes offer less protection than dry ones and dark colors offer more protection that light ones. To cover your face and neck, wear wide-brimmed hats[3]. 
Protect the eyes: Not only do sunglasses help protect the eyes from UV rays, they also reduce cataract risk later in life. Choose UV resistant sunglasses that wrap around and block both UVA and UVB rays; polarized sunglasses just reduce glare[4]. 
Use Sunscreen: Sunscreen works by absorbing, reflecting and scattering sunlight from our skin. The SPF (Sun Protection Factor) number measures how well it blocks UV rays, with higher numbers offering more protection.  Do not forget to check the expiration date, those without a date are good for three years, and less if they have been exposed to high temperatures. An SPF of at least 15, offers protection against both UVA and UVB (broad spectrum) radiation. Purchasing the right SPF sunscreen depends on what exposure you will be having fun in.  Apply broad-spectrum sunscreen twenty minutes before you head out. Reapply every two hours, after swimming, toweling off, or sweating[5].
Avoid Indoor Tanning: According to the CDC, the UV radiation from “indoor tanning significantly increases the risk of developing melanoma, basal, and squamous cell cancers.”  It also causes premature aging of the skin and suppresses the immune system[6].
Learn about the UV Index: In as little as 15 minutes, the sun’s UV rays can cause damage to unprotected skin. Plan to check the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s UV Index by visiting to determine your favorite vacation spot’s UV radiation intensity. Rated on a scale from 1-11, suggestions are offered on to help you plan for your protection.

Texas A&M AgriLife Extension offers programming to fit your community’s needs. Ask for Sun Safety Fact sheets: Ultraviolet (UV) Radiation and Your Eyes and Children and Sun Safety. For more information, visit your local health department, or ask for more information on sun safety from your local County Extension office at

If you have questions or concerns, please contact me, (903) 473-4580 or email Follow Rains County AgriLife on Facebook for additional information and upcoming events.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Outdoor Cooking Safety

There are certain aromas that always signify the changing seasons, fireplaces burning, honeysuckle, fresh cut grass, and BBQ grills firing up.  As we move into warmer weather and you start cooking outdoors, here are a few safety tips to keep in mind.

Before you start cooking, the safest way to thaw frozen meat is in the refrigerator. Thawing meat on the counter or in hot water can lead to food borne illness because once items reach 40 degrees, any bacteria that may have been present are able to begin multiplying. Thawing in the refrigerator takes longer and requires advanced meal planning, creating a weekly meal plan can help. The same concept applies to marinating.  You always want to marinate in the refrigerator and not on the counter top. If you are carrying meat to cook at a different location, pack it with ice packs in a cooler and only pack what you can cook and eat that day. Also remember to keep meats separate from other foods and beverages. 

Washing your hands and cleaning utensils after contact with raw meat is important to minimize cross contamination. Cross contamination occurs when bacteria present on meat is transferred to other foods by hands, utensils, or surfaces. Clean all surfaces and utensils after they contact raw meat and before using them with cooked meat. 

When you cook meat, use a food thermometer to make sure the internal temperature gets high enough to make it safe to eat. Beef, pork, veal, lamb, steaks, chops, and roasts are safe to eat when the internal reaches 145 degrees, fish also needs to reach 145 degrees. Ground beef should reach 160 degrees and poultry should reach 165 degrees. Using a food thermometer is a simple way to keep cooking meat safe.

If you are not eating immediately after cooking, place it on the side of the grill off the coals or in an oven set at 200 degrees to keep the meat from dropping below 140 degrees. Keeping cooked meat warm is as important as keeping raw meat cold.

As nice as it is to sit and relax after enjoying your meal, there is one more step you need to do before you can kick your feet up. Any uneaten cooked meat needs to go in the refrigerator as soon as possible. Meat left out more than two hours should be thrown away; and if the weather is warm and above 90 degrees, you have even less time. Uneaten meat in above 90-degree weather should be refrigerated within one hour.

Remembering these easy tips can help keep your outdoor summer meals safe so you can relax and enjoy the fun!

If you have questions or concerns, please contact me, (903) 473-4580 or email

Monday, April 6, 2020

Gardening (COVID-19)

Abraham Maslow, a 20th century American psychologist, developed a classification system of universal requirements for survival, also known as the hierarchy of needs. This classifications system is often depicted as a pyramid with the most basic needs of survival, the physiological needs, on the bottom, narrowing to psychological needs and then self-fulfillment needs. The physiological needs are those required to sustain life, they include items such as food, water, shelter, sleep, and health. Physiological needs are universal and must be met before needs further up the pyramid can be achieved[1].

If you have been to the grocery store lately, you have more than likely seen empty shelves or limits on items in high demand. Among other things, the COVID-19 pandemic has put our basic physiological needs in the spotlight. As grocery stores struggle to keep up with food demands, many are looking at ways to supplement their food supply by gardening. 

Besides self-reliance, gardening has several health benefits. Gardening acts as a natural stress reliever by lower cortisol (stress hormone) levels and as a mood enhancer by increasing serotonin levels. Working with the soil and caring for plants creates a calming effect that can be rejuvenating[2]. Furthermore, when we start to reap the benefits of the investment, the positive effects are reinforced. There is a unique pride that comes with growing your own food and reducing your reliance on others for survival. 

Not only is gardening good for mental health, it is also good for physical health. Three hours of moderate gardening is roughly equivalent to an hour spent in the gym. Since access to gyms has been put on hold, gardening is an excellent alternative. As a bonus, time spent in natural sunlight triggers the body’s vitamin D production which aids in the reduction of inflammation and in calcium absorption (needed for strong bones).[3] 

If you are interested in starting a small garden (again, a great way to pass the time at home), Texas A&M AgriLife has an online introductory course, Gardening 101, to help guide you. This course is designed to help develop and maintain a garden suited to each unique situation. The course covers various topics including plant growth and development, soil, water and plant nutrition, earth-kind landscaping, plant health, fruit and nut plants, vegetable and herb gardening, and much more.  If you are interested in taking this (or any other available) online course, visit and select Plants and Garden. In addition to the garden course, you may be interested in any one of the Food and Nutrition courses offered at the same link. Shameless plug alert, if you follow the Rains County AgriLife Facebook page, we recently shared an article on easy to grow vegetables. 

If you have questions or concerns, please contact me, (903) 473-4580 or email If you have specific plant or soil questions, the Rains County Ag Agent, Stephen Gowin, is happy to help. Follow Rains County AgriLife on Facebook for additional information and upcoming events. 

[1] McLeod, S. (2020). Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Simply Psychology.
[2] Paddock, C. (2007). Soil Bacteria Work in Similar Ways to Antidepressants. Medical News Today.
[3] Vitamin D. (2020). National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary supplements.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Maintaining Mental Health through COVID-19

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services describes mental health as our emotional, psychological, and social well-being (2019). Mental health affects our entire being, how we think, how we feel, and how we act. I have read and shared information on physical health and best practices for COVID-19 (short for Coronavirus Disease 2019), but now I would like to share a few tips and tidbits on mental health.

Humans are social beings; we live and thrive in social settings. Even introverts seek social interactions. As we navigate through the next few weeks (or months) we may encounter situations most have never experienced. Many are already at home and actively practicing social distancing while the rest may be preparing to do the same. If you are in either category, I am writing this article for you.

Before I go further, I would like to discuss social distancing, quarantining, and isolation. If you watch the news, read the paper, or scroll through social media, you are probably familiar with these terms but you may not know the difference. Social distancing is a way to prevent the spread of an infectious disease by creating a physical space between yourself and others. Churches, schools, restaurants, night clubs, stock shows, office buildings, stores, and any other populated places or events put you in close proximity to others and increase your chance of exposure. Quarantine is a separation or movement restriction of people exposed to a contagious disease. A quarantine is in place enough time to ensure the exposed person did not contract the infectious disease. Isolation occurs when a person has contracted an infectious disease and is separated from those not infected. Isolation will last until the person is no longer contagious to others (SAMHSA, 2014).

Over the new few weeks, keep in mind people react in different ways to stressful events, not everyone will feel, respond, or have the same opinions as you. Rather than dismissing differing views, judging, or panicking, try to empathize and understand personal vantage points are shaped by individual life experiences unique to each of us.

It is normal to experience anxiety, worry, and/or fear when facing situations such as COVID-19. You may experience these feelings in response to the infectious disease or you may experience them in response to an associated factor or unknown, such as loss or reduction in work and pay, concern over the health of loved ones, or a lack of groceries or supplies. Unknowns create a perfect environment for a downward spiral of negative thoughts and emotions. If you feel information overload or panic, make a focused effort to regain control of your thoughts; turn off the television, put down your phone, and take a deep breath. If you can, go outside or open a window to breathe in fresh air. Acknowledging and accepting fears and emotions play an important role in maintaining or improving your mental health. Reverse negative influences by instilling positive ones to help change your approach to a situation. Rather than thinking about being “stuck inside” try thinking how social distancing has provided an unexpected opportunity to begin a new hobby or clean the closet you have avoided for a year.

Being home with children for an extended period of time creates a special set of challenges. In addition to socialization and education, childcare and schooling provide routine; and while adults may tire from predictability, children usually flourish in the security of structure. If you are struggling to find a sense of normality during this time, take a moment to develop a routine that works for everyone. Try to maintain as much of your pre-COVID-19 schedule as possible (chores, laundry day, mealtime, wake and bedtime, etc.), this will help keep your household active and ease the return to normal life, post-COVID19. If children are assigned schoolwork while at home, set a time each day to focus on assignments, schedule in breaks, fun activities, and quiet time. Do not expect your children to be in student mode for eight hours a day as they would in school, they are at home not school; trying to be something you are not will wreck havoc on everyone’s mental health. I assure you, it is okay for them to enjoy an extra week or two off school; let them be children. I also encourage you to talk to your children about the current situation. They know things are not normal, so answer their questions in a positive and reassuring manner. Keep in mind, their emotional state will reflect what they see and feel from you. Be honest but optimistic and above all else, make them feel secure.

I mentioned this earlier, but it is worth mentioning again, turn off the television and put down your phone. Obsessing over COVID-19 coverage will have a negative effect on your mental health. As wonderful as social media can be, it is a hotbed of misinformation. If you must look up information, limit the amount of time you spend each day and make sure you are accessing material from a credible source (websites ending in .gov or .edu provide research based information).  Texas A&M AgriLife Extension and Texas Disaster Education Network provide extensive information on COVID-19, click here for additional information.

If you find you are unable to lighten your mood, feel overwhelmed, have irrational thoughts, or notice anything out of the ordinary, talk to your doctor. Your mental health is important and should never be ignored or minimized.

If you have questions or concerns, please contact me, (903) 473-4580 or email Follow Rains County AgriLife on Facebook for additional information and upcoming events.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2019). What is Mental Health.
Substance Abuse and mental Health Services Administration. (2014). Taking Care of Your Behavioral Health.