The LiveWell Longmont Blog

Nov 17, 2017

Rocky Mountain Highway to Healthy

Whether or not John Denver’s lyrics linger in your head at the sight of “rocky” and “mountain” together, you might say Rocky Mountain Elementary School’s new, and numerous, wellness initiatives shine like fire in the sky. From Harvest Days to healthy snack bar incentives, healthy cooking classes for parents to similar classes designed for families, the school has some serious momentum going. Principal Jill Fuller couldn’t be more pleased. “We know healthy, well-fed students perform better in the classroom when their nutritional needs are met,” she says. “The programs we are implementing will go a long way to building awareness of healthy lifestyles that will serve students for their lifetimes.”

This academic year, Rocky Mountain Elementary will be creating a school wellness plan, beginning with a School Wellness Policy Assessment Principal Fuller will be conducting this fall. By the time results are in, quite a few health-minded initiatives will already be firmly in place to help guide next steps. Last spring, SVVSD Nutrition Services Director Shelly Allen approached the school about the opportunity to offer a healthy cooking class geared for parents at Rocky Mountain Elementary. The year previous, Allen and her team began programming for teen parents as part of a grant from Chef Ann Foundation. She developed a partnership with Cooking Matters, a nonprofit whose mission is to combat food insecurity by providing education on eating and preparing healthy meals on a budget. “Seeing the whole program evolve was really exciting,” Allen says. “It was really inspiring to think of all the ways we could explore the potential of this partnership, within and outside of the grant.”

“Our school offers universal free and reduced lunch, yet we were noticing issues of food waste,” Principal Fuller says. “Efforts were made to consistently offer fresh fruits and vegetables, but waste continued to be a problem.”  It was determined that perhaps a more positive impact might be made by reaching out to parents. The SVVSD-Cooking Matters class provided parent participants with education on a range of nutrition topics followed by hands-on cooking. Parents were sent home with a recipe and a full bag of groceries with which to make it. “Reception was great,” Fuller says. “The parents asked for more. So, this year we are offering the parent class again, and also planning classes for families, wherein parents and kids can work to create nutritious meals together.Cooking Matters is wonderful, so easy to work with, and Nutrition Services are offering fantastic support.”

In addition to classes, Fuller is working on new policies to help cultivate a strong food culture of health. She is working on devising limits on amounts of foods brought in from outside, such as juice drinks. Last year, the school began marking special events, such as Halloween or Valentine’s Day, with celebratory breakfasts instead of end-of-day parties. “This change helps us to focus on the instructional day while still being festive,” Fuller says. “It also makes it a lot easier to promote healthy options. Kids bring in cultural food; we have seen pre-wrapped breakfast burritos, homemade horchata, fruits. Morning celebrations naturally reduce cookies and cupcakes.”

Throughout the year, a structure is being consciously facilitated to promote healthy habits at RME in a fun, encouraging manner. Beginning second semester, fourth and fifth grade students will have the opportunity to earn special healthy snack bar items, offered by Nutrition Services. “If our older students eat 85% of their home-packed lunch or tray, they’ll have the option to buy a healthy snack,” Fuller explains. “They can consume these in afternoon classes at their discretion. It’s healthy, but it’s snack food, and it’s naturally motivating.”

Rocky Mountain will also begin celebrating three Harvest Days this school year. Originally offered at Flagstaff Academy as part of a grant from the Chef Ann Foundation, Harvest Days are brought about at various schools (six as of this year) thanks to collaborative efforts by SVVSD Nutrition Services, parent-led group St. Vrain Healthy Kids, and Boulder County Farmers Market. Fresh produce from local Ollin Farms and others is showcased in raw and prepared forms in joyful celebrations kids can really sink their teeth into. For Harvest Days, Nutrition Services also offers free Salad Bar Days, and brings in a mobile salad bar in instances where schools do not have on permanently in place.

Feeding Harvest Day concepts, literally and figuratively, SVVSD Nutrition Services will be providing classes with container gardens in spring, which teachers can incorporate into curriculum. Items grown will be incorporated into the cafeteria. “Cooking classes and container gardens are among numerous strategies we’re looking at to increase awareness of healthy living,” says Fuller. “But the real driving force behind growing them is our community. Our parents are super receptive to all the ideas we have, and support the process of rolling out initiatives. If we need volunteers, such as manning Harvest Day stations or watering container gardens, they are right there.”

 

We love the way you are planting seeds for healthy learning, Rocky Mountain! Keep up the inspiring work!

 

Nov 14, 2017

Celebrating HOPE

It doesn’t take long in life to learn, birthdays aren’t always happy. For Lisa Searchinger,  executive director of Longmont’s Homeless Outreach Providing Encouragement, her organization’s 10th anniversary this year is somewhat bittersweet. Without doubt, there is much to celebrate: expanded services, greatly increased awareness of Longmont’s needs by the community at large, for instance. And, particularly, the incredible work that has and can be accomplished thanks to the tireless dedication of committed staff and volunteers. The reasons for the organization’s existence, however, aren’t exactly jubilant.

A 501(c)3, HOPE’s mission is to provide life-sustaining and supportive services for homeless and at-risk individuals to encourage stability and self-sufficiency. Its work goes well beyond the words alone; HOPE’s work  is guided by principles of compassion, community, encouragement, leadership and stewardship. Services are far from “handouts”. They are offered with the mindful, strong belief that every individual deserves to be treated with respect and dignity; with understanding and intentions to work with individuals on a case-by-case basis to support everyone in the opportunity to lead a healthy and productive life.

“Nobody really thought we’d still need to have a non-profit with a mission like ours after ten years,” Searchinger says. “We have made enormous strides during this first decade. But the sobering truth is, actually the need continues to grow. When  HOPE was founded, there were about 25 to 30 people seeking shelter on a given night during the coldest months. Last winter was our first year providing seasonal overnight warming services, and we served more than 300 people seeking shelter.”

What factors are behind increased homelessness in Longmont? Not surprisingly, the answer is multifaceted and complicated. Yet, at the same time, there are certain undeniable variables that are clear-cut causes. “In the fall of 2006, Boulder County Cares came to Longmont,” says founding board member Ann Jennings, who remained a committed volunteer after her board term concluded. “This was their first street outreach in Longmont, and it coincided with a winter of just horrible storms. That winter, five people in Boulder county died of exposure. Our original director, Bray Patrick-Lake, had been a Longmont police officer. Through her job, her contact with people on the streets compelled her to leave the force and take a job instead as Program Director for Boulder County Cares, whose program ran September through April. After that tough winter, when the program concluded, a group of us realized that Longmont has distinct needs, and enough need to warrant our own program directed specifically to Longmont, one which would be Longmont-specific and would operate 365 days a year.”

The group, then consisting of about 14 board members, mobilized quickly, organizing and attaining the 501(c)3 designation. By the time HOPE was an official organization, the group, which continues to be run significantly through volunteer efforts, had worked their way up to about 100 volunteers. Since then, numerous circumstances have served to highlight and exacerbate the problems of homelessness in Longmont.

“In 2008, our country was hit with financial disaster,” Jennings says. “The whole housing crisis had a huge impact on people, contributing greatly to instability. So many people lost their homes. Then we had the flood of 2013…more people losing homes. The situation is different from when we started. HOPE has become to a large extent a safety net to people who are not technically unsheltered.”

HOPE holds an unwavering belief that all residents of our community deserve a stable and affordable place to live. Unfortunately, today there is less affordable housing than ever. “Minimum wage has not kept up with the cost of living,” Searchinger says. “You need to be working three full-time jobs at minimum wage just to find a place to rent, let alone buy here. It’s simple math. It doesn’t work. A comprehensive solution requires joint planning and investments from public, private and nonprofit sectors. It must include multiple forms of housing–affordable housing for low and moderate wage earners, physically accessible housing for seniors and those with disabilities, and permanent supportive housing for the chronically homeless.”

“HOPE’s mission has always been twofold,” Jennings says. “Originally, the reason we existed was foremost to provide people with resources they needed to get through the night, until they could get connected with the services they needed, other existing agencies. No one in a county as well off as ours should die of homelessness on the street. Literally, we were trying to keep people alive overnight. But from the beginning, we were also focused on encouraging actions and conversations to help people on a path to self-sufficiency. Hearing people’s stories, learning their needs.”

HOPE’s supports and resources are vast, and there is always room for additional helping hands, at many levels. HOPE’s street outreach program operates out of a mobile outreach van seven nights a week, 365 nights per year. During street outreach shifts, HOPE provides basic needs support such as food, water, clothing, and blankets or sleeping bags. Teams may also provide transports to available shelter and medical facilities.

An emergency warming shelter, opened last winter, offers overnight guests a warm, safe place to sleep each night during the coldest months regardless of temperature. The shelter further provides services such as cases management, showers, laundry and medical care provided by the Hopelight Medical Clinic to treat emergent and chronic conditions.

HOPE offers an emergency assistance program that provides medical respite, bus passes, laundry vouchers and more on a case-by-case basis. They provide transitional storage options for people as they work, seek employment, attend classes and appointments. HOPE’s Step Up program pairs teams of volunteers with individuals experiencing homelessness. Partnering with local businesses and community cycling enthusiasts, Bikes for HOPE brings about distribution of bikes to clients with demonstrated need. “There is a lot of important collaboration involved in this work,” says Jennings. “We always relied on teamwork. It takes a village.”

Want to be involved? There are seemingly infinite, evolving ways to lend a hand. “We are always in need of donations and volunteers,” says Searchinger. “Whatever you can give, wherever you’re comfortable, there is a fit. There is always street outreach and there is always office work. There are meals to be prepared at home. We are always in need of people to coordinate clothing, blanket and food drives.”

Street outreach volunteers must be at least 18 years old and in good physical condition; for street outreach, volunteers attend classroom training and work several shifts with veteran partners. Numerous volunteer opportunities do not require training. The Soup Angel program, which began early on in September 2007, relies on volunteers each providing 20 delicious, nutritious meals per night. To date, more than 185,000 nighttime meals have been served to people experiencing, and at-risk of, homelessness, in Longmont. Currently over 100 people are served meals by the program nightly. Special projects are conducted throughout the year. Donation drives are always an enormous support.

Health equity is currently a rather hot term that shouldn’t in theory be controversial. Generally it means everyone deserves the opportunity to attain their highest level of health. Surely we can all get behind that? But what if you are one of increasing numbers for whom the quest for health represents luxury itself? What if you’re barely able to focus on pure survival alone? This is a real issue, here in Longmont. “The average person who uses our services is a Longmont resident who only makes use of what we offer five times a month,” says Searchinger. “They are using it as a crisis response. Even when people are housed in today’s climate, there are many who are experiencing food insecurity. Food insecurity and housing insecurity, there’s a direct link. People are coming for one meal just to get by.”

Thankfully, we have community momentum from organizations like HOPE. And thanks to that, we have reason to hope. “Once you have experienced a street outreach shift and had the opportunity to talk with and visit some of our clients, you can’t help but come home thinking, what a chance we have to make a difference in people’s lives,” says Jennings. “It certainly changes one’s outlook. I have enormous respect for people’s abilities to overcome such stark challenges, to keep persisting. That we who have a warm roof over our heads can help make the journey easier, that is something we should all be happy to do.”

Want to be involved? Please visit HOPE’s website and check out the Get Involved page for opportunities.

Nov 10, 2017

Promotora del mes: Silvana

A lo largo de este año, habrán notado que hemos estado muy emocionados con el desarrollo de un proyecto llamado “Un Longmont saludable”. Aquí una breve explicación: El programa Trabajando juntos para un Longmont saludable (Un Longmont saludable) opera en conjunto con otras instituciones para aumentar la salud de nuestra comunidad apoyando a la población más afectada por desigualdades de salud y enfermedades crónicas en Longmont. Esta inspiradora iniciativa es posible gracias a la generosa donación de $600,000 otorgada por el Programa de subvenciones para el cáncer y enfermedades cardiovasculares y pulmonares (CCPD por sus siglas en inglés). Con estos fondos, estamos apoyando a los miembros de la comunidad a que aboguen por la salud donde más lo necesiten. Entre estos grupos comunitarios, se destaca un importante grupo de promotoras.

Cuando el programa Trabajando juntos para un Longmont saludable se anunció por primera vez, empezamos a buscar promotoras. Hace algunos meses las encontramos y desde entonces hemos estado recibiendo felicitaciones por su gran trabajo. Sin embargo, recién notamos que nunca hemos explicado ¿qué es exactamente una promotora?

Podríamos tratar de explicar este término tan importante y dinámico, pero preferimos mostrarlo con un excelente ejemplo. Así que les pedimos a algunas de nuestras generosas, carismáticas y apasionadas promotoras que participan en los entrenamientos de Cultivando, que nos expliquen con sus propias palabras, qué se necesita para ser promotora. Este mes, desde Perú, les presentamos a Silvana, una apasionada traductora y mamá de dos niños.

Al nacer en Perú, Silvana creció desarrollando una pasión por sabores intensos, colores vibrantes y por la saludable comida casera preparada desde cero. Como traductora profesional, uno de sus idiomas menos conocidos es el idioma sincero de la comida nutritiva. Cuando hizo sus maletas y se mudó a Longmont en el 2012 con su esposo, nacido en Boulder, el cambio más preocupante comparado con su vida en Perú, fue la comida.

Silvana y su esposo se conocieron en Lima, mientras él viajaba en motocicleta con sus amigos a lo largo de Sudamérica. Los dos se enamoraron y mantuvieron una relación de telenovela de larga distancia por un año, con visitas cada tres meses al Perú. Luego de un año, él le pidió matrimonio y ella aceptó. Empezar una nueva vida en los Estados Unidos no significó un choque cultural, dice Silvana, pues ya había venido dos veces al país en un programa universitario de trabajo y estudios. Sin embargo, se acuerda, que cuando se trataba de familiarizarse con la sociedad, todo era totalmente nuevo. “Cuando vine como estudiante, yo copiaba lo que los demás hacían. Comía lo que comían los demás estudiantes y seguía las reglas establecidas.”

El cambio más grande al dejar el Perú fue la nueva cultura de la comida. Silvana adoptó las costumbres de este nuevo mundo con optimismo y entusiasmo, pero cuando se trataba de hábitos alimenticios, regresó a sus raíces. “Cuando llegué aquí, hice lo que conocía; empecé a preparar comida peruana desde cero igual que mi mamá”, comenta. “Cuanto más me acoplaba a la sociedad estadounidense, más fuerte era mi decisión de no adoptar el aspecto de la comida procesada.” Ahora, mi pasión es más intensa porque quiero enseñarles a mis hijos y a los niños latinos a comer alimentos saludables. Desafortunadamente, el marketing y la presión de sus amigos es constante. Mis hijos quieren imitar todo.”

Silvana no planeaba ser promotora. En realidad, no sabía lo que el término significaba cuando se inscribió en los entrenamientos. Se podría decir que la obligaron un poquito, aunque no fue necesario persuadirla tanto así. De hecho, fue su amiga Erika León quien la animó a participar. “Sentí curiosidad cuando vi los volantes del entrenamiento de LiveWell Longmont Cultivando mi voz”, cuenta Silvana. “Una frase que me llamó la atención fue ‘mamás latinas sanas, familias sanas’. De inmediato me inscribí cuando leí eso. No tenía muy claro para lo que me inscribí, pensé que eran clases de cocina.”

Una vez dentro del entrenamiento, Silvana se dio con la sorpresa de que no eran clases de cocina. Sin embargo, descubrió un grupo de promotoras con una dinámica motivadora y agradable. “Me gusta la forma en que interactuamos, todas tenemos vivencias e ideas distintas. Cada una trae habilidades y metas únicas, y estamos unidas por nuestros valores en común y un propósito general.”

En uno de los ejercicios de los entrenamientos de LiveWell y Cultivando, Silvana tuvo el reto de combinar habilidades y objetivos seguidos de acciones concretas, reveladoras e inspiradoras.  “Tuvimos que ser creativas,” comenta. “Cada una tenía diferentes objetivos. Una chica tenía interés en enviar ayuda a otros países. Otra estaba interesada en inmigración y yo en nutrición. Conversamos, aportamos ideas y lo logramos. De alguna manera, pudimos unir nuestras preocupaciones. Fue como un sueño que nos hizo notar el impacto que podemos causar cuando se trabaja en equipo. Aun tengo mucho que aprender, y cada vez estoy más confiada que puedo hacer una diferencia.”

LWL: Aunque no te propusiste ser promotora, con tu pasión por la nutrición y el amor por tu comunidad, obviamente te iba a ir bien en los entrenamientos. Ahora que has completado ambos entrenamientos, ¿qué crees que se necesita para ser una promotora?
Silvana: La verdad es que aun estoy aprendiendo. Todavía no tengo experiencia como promotora en la comunidad. Pero tengo preocupaciones y amor por mi ciudad y la comunidad latina. Yo diría que se debe tener vocación y un gran corazón para ayudar a los demás, y hay que empezar por conocerse a una misma.”

LWL: Tienes una pasión muy grande por la nutrición infantil. ¿Qué te gustaría que se haga en esta área?
Silvana: Me encantaría que se enfoquen más en enseñar a los niños a que escojan alimentos saludables. He notado que varios programas se centran en enseñar a los padres y encargados a cocinar y qué escoger. Sin embargo, los niños necesitan que otras personas les den el buen ejemplo, aparte de sus padres. En mi caso, mis hijos no siempre comen lo que cocino. Ellos quieren comer lo mismo que sus amigos, y les atrae la comida procesada. Creo que si sus profesores u otras personas que ellos admiran, les hablan sobre qué alimentos son buenos y los empoderan, serían el mejor público objetivo.

LWL: Ahora que ya terminaste los entrenamientos de LiveWell Longmont y Cultivando ¿cómo te sientes sobre empezar a trabajar con la comunidad?
Silvana: Estoy emocionada y un poco abrumada. Tengo mucho que aprender. Estoy conociendo más gente y descubriendo recursos que me hacen sentir entusiasmada por lo que se puede lograr.

Nov 1, 2017

Get to Know: Alexandra Stevens

Alexandra Stevens is not an ‘old lady’, though she may catch you off guard by jokingly referring to herself that way. One day far into the future she may eventually determine the time has come to officially enter ‘old age’; when that happens, you can bet she will redefine the image the term conjures up. The tall, toned and muscular 51-year old carries herself with an elegant, gracious confidence that draws from a core of inner strength she always knew she had, somewhere deep within. It just took a long, arduously winding journey to find it.

Born in Germany, Alexandra moved with her family to the United States at the age of eight. Growing up, she was always active, though perhaps not in a specifically sporting way. “My mom didn’t drive,” Alexandra says, “so I walked, rode the bus and rode my bike. Everywhere.”

Alexandra had an early role model in her mother, whom she describes as strong and tough. What she didn’t necessarily have in abundance was encouragement to participate in sports. When Alexandra did venture into trying out organized sport, it was somewhat by default. “I had a violin teacher who told me I was so tone deaf I would never be a violinist,” she recalls. “Luckily I had a science teacher who was also the track coach, and more positive. He suggested I try track. On the back end of hurtful feedback from my violin teacher, that meant a lot, so I tried.”

Though she earned top grades and enjoyed school, Alexandra was more accustomed to setbacks than success. A natural runner, she performed well at distance events. Her greatest obstacle was fear…of winning. “I self-sabotaged,” she says. “The one race I was winning, I felt panic that I must be doing something wrong. I vividly remember the moment I pretended to trip and hurt my ankle.”

Alexandra’s time on the track team was short-lived. At the end of her freshman year, she became pregnant and dropped out of school. Within the next five years, she had three children. She and her then boyfriend moved to Florida, and Alexandra started to build awareness of herself as a naturally active, physical person. “I picked up a book called “Pumping Iron” with a woman on the cover, and I thought ‘that’s so cool’,” she shares. “I’d always seen myself as a big, amazon kind of woman. She was in a relationship in which she found herself often intimidated and underminded. Seeing the book, I realized, I can take control of my own body; that was an empowering feeling.”

Alexandra purchased a set of used weights at a local thrift store and began working out in her basement. She found a gym close to home. “I was amazed at how quickly my body began building muscle,” she says. A trainer at the gym encouraged her and offered pointers, and Alexandra was inspired to enter a bodybuilding competition. Unfortunately, her partner was not so inspired. “He decided women with muscles wasn’t his thing,” she recounts. “He went so far as to move our family out of Florida, hoping to get me out of the sport.”

Alexandra agreed to move, but she didn’t stay in the relationship for much longer. Life is full of bumps, loops and turns, and Alexandra’s life took on a whole bunch of them before she would eventually get back into bodybuilding. She broke off her relationship with her children’s father, completed her GED, and earned her license in massage therapy. She also paid child support. “I had to work. A lot,” Alexandra says. “Usually until 2 am. I did massage in the day and was a bartender at night. There was no time. But it was the right thing to do for me and my children.”

Over the next few years, Alexandra began a new relationship, got married, and had two more children. While she credits her ex-husband with being understanding of her situation, the relationship ultimately didn’t work out, and they couple divorced in 2001. For some time, Alexandra was sole caregiver to her two young children. She was stretched to her absolute max, finding work as a seamstress and other odd jobs. And here, in the wake of turmoil and exhaustion, like the proverbial phoenix from the ashes she began to discover the true breadth of her inner strength. “I began to form my own identity,” Alexandra says. “I thought, ‘let’s get something good out of this’. I never took advantage of the welfare system, but I found resources in Boulder that gave us a leg up.”

She may have been short on time, but never in determination and resourcefulness. She learned how to salsa dance. She gave her utmost focus to her kids and their needs. And in 2005, she met Gil, a martial arts champion who happened to hold a  formidable deadlifting record and who has now been her loving partner for the past twelve years. Inspired by Gil, Alexandra decided to take a stab at martial arts herself, and was offered a scholarship for both herself and her kids at a local studio. Before long, her diligent efforts yielded black belts in Muay Thai and  Taekwondo, and she became an instructor. “It was a really tough program, the best thing I could have ever done for myself, and for my family,” Alexandra says. Eventually, her kids needed more time for schoolwork, and the family exited the rigorous program; but Alexandra maintains warm gratitude for the leadership, strength and focus the experience continues to provide.

In 2014, Alexandra and Gil settled in North Longmont, where she was able to throw herself into the pleasures of gardening. “It was so great getting back to good, strenuous work” she says. “Getting sweaty. I had missed that.” Seeing the spark ignited by physical activity, Gil encouraged Alexandra to take up bodybuilding again. “My first thought was a reflexive wave of panic,” she says. “I had had a relationship fail on the surface because of bodybuilding. But Gil found a trainer for me, one who was a perfect fit. Scientific, compassionate, no-nonsense, and she put my needs first. It was amazing!”

Re-entering the world of bodybuilding combined all of Alexandra’s experience, skills and fortitude together into one marvelous showcase. She brought her affinity for entertaining as a bartender, the grace, rhythm and poise of a dancer, and her physical strength and passion to the table. She has given her all to the sport, and it has welcomed her in return. This past summer, Alexandra competed in her first competition, the Loveland Natural Bodybuilding Championship, where she earned first place in women’s physique over 40, and 2nd place in women’s physical open/all ages. “I had no game face,” Alexandra says. ” I had such a sense of pride, was so excited. All my life I had people telling me no, I couldn’t do something. I couldn’t play violin, couldn’t finish school, couldn’t be a good mother, couldn’t do bodybuilding. It hit me as I watched the competitors, I had friends and family out there in the crowd supporting and encouraging me me. I had my boyfriend pushing me out of my comfort zone to get there, believing I could do it. And that belief complemented my own very quiet voice that I knew was there all along.”

Thank you for sharing, Alexandra! We believe in you, too.

LWL: Congratulations on your successful first competition! What’s next?
Alexandra: Next April, I’ll be competing in the Natural Southern States Classic. I got feedback from the judges at the last event regarding what I need to work on, and I’m looking forward to focusing on improvement in those areas.

LWL: You clearly thrive on being active. What are some other active activities you enjoy in addition to gardening, outside of the gym?
Alexandra: I love rollerblading, dancing, gardening, hiking. I realize I most enjoy things I can do by myself. I like not having to rely on others.

LWL: You’ve alluded to how intense bodybuilding is as a lifestyle. Would you elaborate a little?
Alexandra: It’s so much more than lifting the weights. The biggest thing is the nutrition. I’d say 20% is showing up at the gym,  80% nutrition. And it’s not a sport for camaraderie. You can actually push people away, with all your time spent shopping for food, cooking it, weighing it, portioning it. Close to competition, things really ramp up; nutrition changes drastically, you have to work on an ultra-dark tan, you practice posing choreographed routines. Your support network is really important, and I feel so fortunate to have on who truly believes in me and accepts all that.

LWL: What does your fitness routine look like generally?
Alexandra: It changes depending on competition, and in the off season, but generally I work out in the gym for an intense hour first thing in the morning five to six days a week, adding in an hour of cardio seven days a week at night a few months out from competition.

LWL: Any tips for others who might want to try something rigorous and new, or getting back into something after quite a gap?
Alexandra: Trust the process. Just stick with it. Nothing is overnight, you have to give it time. And challenge yourself, always. Put yourself in an environment that will make you a little bit uncomfortable.

LWL: Where is your favorite outdoor place to be active?
Alexandra: I love running the back roads, the peace and quiet there. I love the loop at Rabbit Mountain. But, my back yard is the best!

LWL: What do you treasure most about Longmont?
Alexandra: I love that it has an outlook of keeping things accessible and natural–parks, trails, dog parks. It’s a nice place to live. We have access to everything we want to do.

 

 

Oct 24, 2017

Fresh and Healthy, from Your Local Corner Store

Sometimes the more we learn, the less we feel we know. Such is often the case when it comes to nutrition. From savvy marketing to a dizzying rotation of fad diets, conflicting advice and mixed messaging abounds. On the other hand, when it comes to healthy eating, there are certain principles that universally stand out. We know to load up on fresh fruits and vegetables, for example. We aim for colorful plates. If we don’t immediately love our leafy greens, we find creative ways to do so. Most of all, we know our chances for success are greatest when we take meal prep into our own hands and cook.

Of course, some days a home cooked meal just isn’t going to happen. More often, we find ourselves on the go in serious need of something quick and convenient. For those days, fortunately we can look to an increasing array of healthy options. We have fast food to actually look forward to that doesn’t threaten to derail the whole week’s healthy resolve or send your blood sugar through the roof.  There are plenty of healthy choices, for example, at our local…7 -Eleven?

“Healthy food” may not be the automatic association that come to mind alongside the bright orange, red and green banner, but here in Longmont the well-known convenience store is proud to offer some fresh and healthy options.  Over the past several months, previous funding from The Cancer Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Grants Program (CCPD) has allowed LiveWell Longmont to support and promote healthy eating initiatives throughout Longmont. As part of this work, LiveWell Longmont began partnering with 7-Eleven on 9th and Lashley to help showcase their healthy options. For instance, in July LiveWell Longmont was able to provide customers with free samples of fresh fruit assortments and salads that are made daily on an ongoing basis.

“There is a range of deliciously healthy choices,” says our LiveWell Longmont Community Engagement Strategist Erika Wey. “Fruits aren’t doused in syrup; they taste great because they are fresh. And 7-Eleven is very excited to continue building our partnership and continue offering healthy options.” Additional better-for-you options include snack packs with hummus, a wide range of assorted salads, mini pitas, veggies, grapes and cheese cubes, and fresh sandwiches light on the saucy condiments.

LiveWell has been thrilled to offer marketing support. “The junk food companies use billions of dollars to try to put their products front and center,” says Wey. “We wanted to be able to offer the same sort of support to some of the delicious foods that are good for you.” So far, reception has been extremely positive. This isn’t surprising, considering health and wellness is a $50 billion business in the U.S., and growing. Over the course of several months, LiveWell Longmont conducted a series of food assessments underscoring the health conscious interests of our community. Consumers are increasingly conscious of the role diet plays in managing health and therefore are increasingly demanding healthy options, in supermarkets and in restaurants, from fast food to fine dining fare.

We’re thrilled to see the health-conscious momentum flourishing here in Longmont. How can we keep the progress going? Simply put, keep on demanding. Look out for healthy options and be sure to praise and prioritize them where you find them. Make your voice heard. Healthier choices start with you.

 

Oct 17, 2017

Red Hawk Elementary Community Garden: Seeds for a Healthy Life

Back-to-School Nights at Erie’s Red Hawk Elementary School are always bustling events. This year’s, held on Tuesday August 29th, had a special bloom about it. This year parents and community members were greeted at the school’s entrance by a colorful, fresh bounty of tri-colored cherry tomatoes, corn on the cob, beets, cantaloupe, turnips, basil, carrots, heirloom tomatoes and more. Alongside the annual meet-and-greet opportunity, students held their first ever student-run Farmers Market featuring produce freshly harvested from their own school garden.

The 1500 square foot Red Hawk Elementary community garden has been a growing and flourishing part of the school since its inception in 2011, implemented by then Principal Cyrus Weinberger. Now principal for Erie’s upcoming new PK-8 school set to open in the fall of 2018, Weinberger remains closely connected with Red Hawk through Health & Innovation Through Education (HIE), formerly the Red Hawk Foundation, a 501(c)3 whose mission is to support health, wellness, and technology initiatives for all SVVSD students. “Red Hawk is proud to be a leader in health and wellness initiatives,” Weinberger says. “The garden is an important part of the Red Hawk Elementary environmental responsibility platform. Research shows kids are willing to try more foods they wouldn’t otherwise taste when they are involved in the growing and cultivating. They think more consciously about what they eat. There are endless benefits.”

Throughout the year, every student at Red Hawk Elementary shares a role in cultivating and learning from the garden. Each classroom is equipped with a grow station, and the school shares a hydroponic growing tower on wheels which teachers can sign up for in approximately four to six week cycles. Classroom grow stations include a heating pad, light station, and materials to start a tray of plants. Plants grown are later transplanted into the garden. Produce that is harvested has traditionally been sent home with students, shared in the staff lounge, or prepared for the kids in summer camp. This year, food will also be incorporated with meals in the cafeteria.

To read the complete article, please visit the Times-Call here: http://www.timescall.com/lifestyles/ci_31277446/erie-students-grow-healthy-food-school-garden-and.

 

Oct 10, 2017

Meet Longmont Chamber’s New Chair: Brian Berry

Throughout our lives, we’re all drawn to, supported by, and defined by a host of communities, some more authentic and resonant than others. Somewhere along the line, we each come to key points when we must determine which of our available networks we are prepared to truly embrace and engage in meaningfully. Such decisions can be murkier and more challenging than they might seem on the surface, especially in light of today’s social media vacuums. Lucky for our #HealthyLongmont community, when it came to choosing the community in which to settle and raise his family, incoming Board of Director’s Chair for Longmont Area Chamber of Commerce recognized something special in Longmont.  

To describe Brian as active within the community would be an understatement. The President of Sales for MeritCard Solutions is also head of NeXT Young Professionals and serves on the Longmont Humane Society Board as well as the Business Advisory Board for Longmont Economic Development Partnership. When Brian and wife Raluca first moved to Longmont, he hadn’t necessarily intended to become quite so immersed in the various organizations so quickly. The couple, who now have two young children, were drawn to the outdoors and lifestyle of Colorado, but Longmont itself was initially selected largely out of convenience. Brian’s sister and family were already living here and offered a perfect base and introduction. As soon as they arrived however, both were struck by the uniqueness of our city. “I’d never lived in a small town before,” Brian says. “Compared to Dallas, where I grew up, this place had such a close-knit, friendly feel. A place where people want to support local businesses, and where small businesses really support one another. That really drew me in immediately.”

How does Brian fit it all in, being so active in the community plus running a demanding business in addition to nurturing family? Flexibility, resilience, and an upbeat outlook to life are key components in all things. These traits come through in his role as devoted father of two young children (son Brycen, 3 ½, and daughter Raegan, 1 ½), and in his approach to health and fitness, too.

Growing up in Texas, Brian was avid participant in a number of sports, including baseball, football, and golf. Being active was an integral part of life, something that barely required any thought. Then, in 2005, a motorcycle accident left him in the hospital for a week, on crutches with no weight-bearing activity at all for five months, and on a strict regimen allowing for minimal physical activity outside of intense physical therapy for a full year. A metal rod was inserted in his (right/left?) leg from his knee to his ankle.  “I was just out for a Sunday morning cruise,” Brian recounts. All of a sudden, the lady driving in front of me was distracted by a garage sale. I locked up my brakes, but there was no avoiding a crash.”

The crash had a profound impact on Brian, but not a devastating one. In his characteristic way, Brian chose to assess what he could do, and how to improve rather than dwell on time lost. A year after the accident, he decided to take up riding again, not on a motorcycle but on a road bike. “I spent a year trying to get back in shape,” Brian says. I did a lot of weight lifting in the gym.  And I fell in love with biking. Before long, I started doing more endurance rides. A year and a half after the crash, I did my first century. I rode the MS 150 a bunch of times. When we moved here, there were so many great riding opportunities like the Buffalo Classic.”  

These days, as father to two active little people, Brian finds he calls on flexibility more than ever. The incoming Chamber Chair was named as one of the BizWest Boulder Valley 40 under Forty class for 2017, an honor recognizing the best and brightest emerging leaders in Boulder and Broomfield counties. “There are always so many things going on,” Brian says. “Family changes things, in a good way, but it’s busy. I always have so many meetings with everything I’m involved in. I need to be flexible and take opportunities for keeping active wherever they fit best on the day. I want all my customers to be able to reach me 24-7. I’m really grateful for a community like this, where community members really support each other, where being involved in active means forming real relationships. It makes work feel less like work and more like life.”

We’re grateful for your active involvement in our community Brian! Thank you for sharing!

LWL: You’ve mentioned being flexible as crucial to maintaining fitness. What does that look like for you right now?
Brian: It evolves with the kids. What we can share as a family takes priority. Right now that’s going on hikes and fishing trips. We love fishing. That’s a longtime passion for me; I take an annual fishing trip with friends, and even after the accident I was the guy dragging a broken leg on a float tube through the water. And getting to the gym–I fit that in where I can. With motivation, you can always find ways to get it done.

LWL: What do you do as a family to prioritize healthy eating?
Brian: I love to grill. And we go to the Farmers Market as a family all the time. We try to get loaded up with fresh fruits and vegetables and keep a balanced diet, for the kids especially. We are conscious of being role models.

LWL: What is your favorite healthy food?
Brian (laughs): I wish I could say salads. But I really love great grilled meats…and we take care to have a lot of fresh vegetables with them.

LWL: Where is favorite local place to be active?
Brian: I love Lake McIntosh, and Lagerman near where we live. The new trail is great. We also love Pella Crossing. I used to go out on my float tube there for fishing and am so glad it’s back open.

LWL: What do you treasure most about Longmont?
Brian: This is a great community. People know each other and support local businesses, organizations, farms. It’s just fun. I can’t walk down Main Street without seeing 10 people I know. Getting involved you get to meet so many people. I had never lived anywhere where that was quite the case before here. Best of all, it’s a community of good people. Everyone wants to help everyone succeed.

Oct 3, 2017

Get to Know: Roberta Mecklenburg

We all have those shining moments in life that strike us beautifully as fate. When all the pieces seem to fit, and the path ahead of us appears to open up with startling clarity. But what about those many other moments, events, and periods when the opposite seems true? When grasp as we might we can find no reason to peacefully explain pain, loss, suffering; when we find ourselves wrapped up in fog. So often it is these moments, when we are challenged, tested, and hurting, that we look back on as the most pivotal. For Longmont United Hospital Clinical Exercise Physiologist Roberta Mecklenberg, a time of anguish played a most significant role in shaping who she is today–her outlook, career, and approach to fitness, health and wellness. She will always grieve because of it; but she will respect and even appreciate the strength, direction and determination she cultivated in response.

Roberta felt called by Colorado for some time before she eventually settled here in Longmont three years ago. Born and raised in New York, she joined her sister in Peetz, Colorado, after graduating from high school intent on a gap year helping out on her sister and husband’s farm while working as a DJ at a local radio station. Two years later she left Peetz for Phoenix, Arizona, with her best friend. There, she met and married her ex-husband. When her oldest son Adam was just five weeks old, the young family moved to Englewood, Colorado, where they lived for one year until Roberta’s husband was transferred to Massachusetts. The couple welcomed two more children while in New England, Paul and Luke. Baby Luke was born with a heart defect; throughout the six precious days of his life he underwent three surgical procedures. They were not enough. “It was devastating,” Roberta says. “I craved a little solitude; I needed time and space to process, to gain clarity, to fight the internal demons. I was already into running, but the loss propelled me to go longer distances. It literally helped me regain my feet under me.”

Before long, Roberta was hooked on long-distance running. She ran her first of more than a dozen marathons so far in Boston, as a bandit. “This was such a pivotal time for me,” Roberta says. “I was able to gain back a sense of healthy control through running. And I realized I wanted to help people with their health and fitness goals. I realized keenly, exercise is medicine.”

Roberta ran cautiously the first 6 months of her next and final pregnancy and gave birth to a healthy daughter, Zoe. Her husband’s job then took them from Massachusetts to Texas, where Roberta earned her degree in Kinesiology and Exercise Science from Texas Woman’s University. Following her divorce not long after, she packed up and headed back to Colorado with her children, craving a new start. There, she began working at Poudre Valley Hospital in the cardiovascular lab. She thrived in her new career, and in the trademark Colorado lifestyle. She reveled in the trails and exalted in long bike rides, mountain and road. While on a mountain bike ride in Moab, she met people who inspired her to relocate to Nederland, where she began working for Boulder County as a fitness instructor.

One afternoon roughly four years ago, Roberta found herself sitting in the airport perusing job listings while awaiting a flight. She was returning to New York to be with her mom, who had just had heart surgery. “I missed clinical work,” she said. “My son’s heart defect. My mom’s surgery. Working with people with cardiac issues felt right.” Just prior to boarding her flight, Roberta saw Longmont United Hospital was looking for a Clinical Exercise Physiologist and her eyes locked on the position. When she returned from her trip, she applied and was offered the job.

Today, Roberta revels in her work assisting others with their health goals. “I pinch myself every day, I love my job so much,” she says. “I get to work with wonderful people, one-on-one and in small groups. Our classes are comprised of eight people. I set folks up with plans, modify to their needs, help with stress management, exercise routines, nutrition. And I get to have these intimate conversations. I am continuously inspired by my patients.”

As much as Roberta is inspired, she is inspiring, and then some. Skilled and compassionate, she knows how to truly listen, and delights in doing so. And she sets a supreme, healthy example. She is dedicated to fitness, but not so rigid that she fails to see when rest is the best form of ‘training’. She enjoys an active commute. She runs and rides with joy.


Roberta enjoys a range of competitive events here in Colorado and the surrounding area, but one stands out annually as the most special, hands-down. The Tour of Wyoming is a beautiful showcase of Wyoming’s scenery taking place over six days in July. It also happens to coincide with the dates of her departed son Luke’s short, beloved life. On Roberta’s first year as a participant, and this past year, the dates lined up exactly. “This is my time to honor Luke,” Roberta says, parental love quietly and tenderly shining in her eyes. “It is a celebration of health, of healthy exercise, of strength, and of him.”

Thank you, Roberta, for sharing your moving story and journey. And thank you for the special impact you make on our #HealthyLongmont community every day!

LWL: You’ve referenced feeling inspired by your patients. Would you mind sharing an example?
Roberta: The work I do, with a number of older patients, makes me have so much respect for the elderly. When I meet people who can get to where they are and are not only not completely jaded, but also have a sense of humor, I take heart. This one guy I work with, he’s 84. He’s a tall big guy of about 6’3”. He and his wife have 10 kids, including two disabled sons in their 50s whom he and his wife still care for. He has the best sense of humor! He is so sweet and pleasant.

LWL: How has working with a large number of older patients helped shape your outlook on aging healthfully?
Roberta: I want to keep going with good exercise into my 90s. I see what a difference it makes. I value consistency, flexibility, versatility. Always challenge yourself, but also be respectful of limitations. Some days you need to back off.

LWL: Do you work primarily with the elderly?
Roberta: We live in a crazy world. We’re getting younger and younger patients all the time. And they don’t fit a template. We get many who appear healthy, normal weight. It’s job stress that is the big wild card. The numbers really emphasize how crucial it is we take charge of what we can in terms of adopting a sustainable healthy lifestyle.

LWL: What does your personal fitness routine look like?
Roberta: I ride my bike to work every morning. I try to do something every day. I have learned it’s important to adapt and be flexible. Tuesdays and on the weekends I have off, so I can plan longer runs, rides and races. Mondays I typically take off outside of commute. Although on Mondays I do participate in a strength class at work, taught by the amazing Dawn. It’s fantastic. We replicate it on Wednesdays the best we can. I have a TRX hanging up in my garage. I’m passionate but not super intense and rigid. I think of myself foremost as an outdoor fitness enthusiast.

LWL: What do you do to prioritize healthy eating?
Roberta: I’m pescatarian, and I eat a lot of vegetables. I am LOVING the pop-up farm-to-hospital markets Tuesday afternoons at LUH!

LWL: What’s your favorite healthy food?
Roberta: Scallops. I love them with angel hair pasta. And I love to make scallops with a delicious superfood salad made with kale, edamame, chopped broccoli, and craisins. So good.

LWL: What do you treasure most about Longmont?
Roberta: It has enough of an urban feel and access to all you need, but has that rural feel, especially on the outskirts. I love the back roads and trails of SW Longmont.

LWL: What would you like to see in Longmont’s healthy future?
Roberta: I love the momentum we have. I’m looking forward to more healthy restaurants. I’d like to see Longmont keep the great progress going. So much initiative– like the bike share. I would love to see more and more bike-friendly developments.

Sep 19, 2017

Making Longmont the Bees Knees: simple ways to help save our pollinators (and why we need to)

There’s so much to love about our #HealthyLongmont community. Not least, this is a community that cares for the well-being of its members. This is evidenced in our bike paths, our trails. It can be seen in the vibrant bustle of local farms; in resources supporting mental and physical health needs and awareness; in calls to provide feedback in how to make our thriving, caring community even better. Perhaps best of all, Longmont’s commitment to the health of our community can be seen in the humble recognition that there is always, always much that can be done to keep on getting better. Want to be an integral part of meaningful progress? Longmont Coalition for People and Pollinators Action Network wants to assure you, there is a lot you can do to make a significant difference, one that yields compounding results. And all it takes is mere minutes of active time to get started.

Pollinators are in trouble. Bees have been named by prominent scientists as the most critical species  to survival on the planet. They’ve shaped the evolution of plant life. Nearly 250,000 species of flowering plants depend upon them for pollination after all. They greatly increase the yield of a vast variety of crops upon which we are dependent for food. Honeybees are said to feed more than 7 billion people thanks to their hard work pollinating crops worldwide. Now, the bees are dying prematurely. Their systems are not operating as they should. And it’s not just the bees. All pollinators are in trouble. All pollinators including butterflies, wasps, ants (yes, ants!), birds and bats are in decline. Why? “It’s a complex issue, and there may be no one answer,” says Sue Anderson, co-chair of the People and Pollinators Action Network and founder of the Longmont division. “Pesticides are doubtless a big part of the problem. There are also factors like habitat loss, parasites, climate change to consider. But what we really need to be mindful of is this: everybody is endangered right now, including people, if pollinators disappear.”

A social worker by training, Sue is a community activist with a 30+ year history of non-profit management experience in three states and active involvement in numerous organizations dedicated to supporting community and environmental health. Needless to say, she is and always has been passionate about advocacy, human services and social justice issues. As she puts if, “I’ve been activist since I was born”.  In college she double majored in environmental studies and geography. About six years ago, when Sue started keeping bees, she realized anew just how intrinsically connected all her passions were, for community, health, and the planet. “We need to find better ways to protect our pollinators, within our existing systems,” Sue says. ” At PPAN, we are not trying to be controversial. We recognize how complicated the situation is. But the fact is, there are ways we can promote sustainable agriculture and change our systems to be less toxic. Growing food shouldn’t need to reduce biodiversity, or harm human health. Today, we can’t separate those issues. It’s all connected.”

People for Pollinators Action Network (PPAN) began in 2014, a time when the state legislature was examining and developing policy around pesticides application. “A group of us involved in PPAN were working together to look at ways to impact policy all along the Front Range, and we realized it was a very polarizing issue,” Sue says. “Talking about pesticides and human health issues…that hits a lot of raw nerves. Several of us determined that someone needed to be championing things, ways to come up with policies that could be widely embraced as positive; to protect children, create buffer zones around schools; to educate consumers. We were struck by how much we can actually do simply in our own yards.”

Since it’s founding, PPAN has achieved a great deal in small increments. They have influenced legislation around pesticide use. Last year, PPAN efforts yielded the designation of I-76 as a pollinator highway, Colorado’s first, and have been working with CDOT on plans. The Longmont chapter, begun in 2015, has found City of Longmont government highly receptive, and has promoted development of consistent policy across departments on application of pesticides. In May, the PPAN promoted pollinator resolution, which guides pollinator-protection practices, was adopted by City Council. Currently, changes to weed ordinances are pending approval that make mimicking native landscapes possible.

Will current efforts be enough? We can’t afford to bank on it. Unfortunately, if trends continue as they are, the stakes are catastrophic. But it’s not all doom and gloom. “Awareness is growing,” Sue says. “I was asked by a 5-year old at the Farmers Market, ‘how can we protect the pollinators?’ She knew the word “pollinators”, and she knew the most important thing is not to pick the flowers. That gives me hope.”

What can we do to help? Lots. What’s more, your support can evolve. And, no matter how little you put in, it all counts.

Protect Pollinators: What You Can Do Today:

  1. Learn about the issues. Educate yourself.
  2. Create habitat. “We kill off weeds because we don’t like the way they look,” Sue says. “Hand weeding takes more time, but it makes a great difference. We can also figure out ways to design landscapes in a way that minimizes weeds. Plant native, plant diversity. To me, that’s the most important thing. Pollinators need a grocery store; green grass is a food desert. There’s nothing there for pollinators. Not only that, it takes a tremendous amount of water.”
  3. Reduce and eliminate use of pesticides altogether. “The biggest things affecting pollinators are climate change and lack of forage,” Sue says. “There is also disease and mite problems within managed hives. Pesticides affect immune systems and make them more susceptible to all these things. Pesticides may not be the only problem and may not be even the biggest problem, but it is one significant problem and one we can have some influence over. Plant clover in your lawn if you want green. It’s pretty. Let the dandelions bloom. Go ahead and mow them after, but let them bloom. They are one of the most important plants for pollinators.”
  4. Get together. Talk to your neighbors. PPAN has a Pollinator Safe Neighborhood program. “We’re always looking for coordinators to talk to neighbors, educate community, collect pledges to create a pollinator safe space,” says Sue.  “Talk to your schools. Increasingly schools with parental persuasion are putting in pollinator gardens and incorporating pollinator education into programming. Help kids understand what is a honeybee, what is a wasp. Use the garden as an education tool. Find out about your school’s policy and practice around using pesticides on school grounds.”
  5. Speak up! Help people understand that even insects that sting are important in the environment. Talk to your elected officials. Lots people can do.

 

 

Sep 12, 2017

Snacktastic tips for back-to-school: keeping foods fun, fresh, healthy and interesting

As summer reaches its close, anyone else find a little back-to-school anxiety triggered by the contents of the fridge? Kids aren’t the only ones who may have to work at readjusting to routines when the structure of school kicks back in. Parents have new schedules and routines to take on board again too,  not least when it comes to planning out portable, healthy snacks. Foods that are fresh, fun, interesting and wholesome, too…ideally, ones kids will actually eat.

The most surefire way to ensure kids will eat the lunch that has been packed for them? Let them be the ones doing the packing! “Figuring out what to pack for lunch can be very stressful on families,” says Coach Mel, aka Melanie Potock, M.A., CCC-SLP, author of Raising a Happy, Healthy Eater and founder of My Munch Bug.”But it can also be an opportunity. All kids like predictability and being a part of the process. Ask them to help with choosing, preparing, and packing lunch items. They are more likely to enjoy food when they are involved.”

What if your child’s choices don’t exactly fit into your comfort zone? There are some tips and tricks that will encourage even hesitant eaters to try new foods at school. You’ll want to set some guidelines. Namely, be sure to include items from each key food group, particularly those colorful fruits and vegetables. Plant-based protein options that are also calcium-rich could include hummus and tofu. Taking time to prep for the prep can reap yields in learning and comfort with the lunch itself. Coach Mel recommends taking a picture of your child’s lunchbox and make a lunch-packing map. Together, brainstorm items that can fill the inside. Write down the preferred foods that fit the categories together. “This is a shared activity that will empower and encourage your child,” says Coach Mel. “Be sure to celebrate those small victories.” 

Oftentimes it’s not in fact the contents of the lunchbox that is responsible for the uneaten food that returns home later in the day, or worse, is trashed. For younger students especially, the buzzing, wide open bustle of the cafeteria can be an awfully overwhelming place. That narrow window in the school day for refueling is also valuable social time, too. “Picture a typical cafeteria table with benches made to fit the average fifth-grader,” says Coach Mel. “Your kindergartner’s feet are dangling and she has to balance while her elbows hunch up practically to shoulder level in order to stabilize herself on the table edge. In an effort to ensure that their kids eat anything at all, well-meaning parents pack lunch boxes filled to the brim, typically with seven to eight different options. By the time she gets out all the containers you’ve packed, plus the juice box straw finally unwrapped and poked hard enough that juice squirts her in the face, five minutes have gone by. She’s holding up her other hand to signal the teacher, “Can you please open this lid?” but there are three other kids who need help first. Meanwhile, that nice girl who played with her at the craft table this morning wants to chat—and she just wants to make friends.”

How to mitigate the impact of the lunchroom din and time constraints? Coach Mel has a host of tips available on her website, My Munch Bug. A few key tips specifically targeting cafeteria chaos include sending kids to school with one easy-open container with a drink; packing “grab-and-gab” food, items that allow for less unwrapping and unraveling and more socializing; and making extended use of favorite dinner leftovers.

We all have favorite go-to treats that may vary whether traveling, consuming on-the-go, at school, at work or home. To help stir up your creative juices for this new school year, we’ve checked in with a few of the many health-conscious and inspired Longmonsters for their unique insights on what works best for them when it comes to packing snacks and lunches everyone can look forward to:

Keep your cool. “So many popular junk foods get their appeal from the marketing that goes into them,” says Kat Whitt, mom of Daniel, Nathaniel, and Annabelle. “But it’s pleasantly surprising that with younger kids at least we can compete with the Spider-Man chips etc simply by throwing a sticker on a healthy snack.”

Make it easy (and sustainable) to get packing. “Investing in some sectioned stainless steel containers was really worthwhile, both in terms of not having to use plastic or disposable baggies everyday, and also for preparing snacks that offer variety and are appealing in presentation,” says Courtney Greedy, mom of [?]. Our top snacks are cheese and celery, cucumber and baby carrots, grass fed beef jerky, Stovetop Popcorn, Wholly Guacamole cups, and for a special treat ProBug kefir or homemade healthier muffins.”

Unleash your inner artists and play with your food. “What my kids especially love are Wasa crackers with nut butter, a drizzle of honey, and a sprinkle of cinnamon with another Wasa cracker on top,” says Christina Edstrom, mom of Violette and Christian. “Something fun and healthy I like to send them with is like apple art. I take an apple slicer and cut almost all the way down to the bottom. I sprinkle all the slices with cinnamon and then put the apple back together so that it looks whole, wrap a rubber band around it and send it off. It’s fun for the kids to pull apart, and the cinnamon disguides any brown oxidation of the apple. This is an especially useful snack when kids are losing their teeth and can’t hack a whole one.”

Don’t fret over resorting to fave standbys. “I’m the boring mom who packs them with a baggie of blueberries or a whole apple,” says Rachel Kulkarni, mom of Nik, Laila, and Anika. “When I’m feeling fancy, they get pretzels. But they love those snacks, I’m happy with them, and they don’t go to waste. It’s a win-win.” Simple canned tuna, chopped eggs, or chopped vegetables like carrots, cucumber, celery, and other vegetables are quick and easy to prep; when it just so happens these are well received by your hungry students, too, why reinvent the wheel?

Keep the conversation open. “Talk, talk, talk about leftovers,” Kat advises. “Whenever possible, involve kids in selecting healthy options. It may be that time is a limiting factor. My kids can become frustrated with foods that takes awhile to chew because snack time is so short. They love fruit–they’re as thrilled with any piece of fruit as with me trying to get fancy. But we peel in advance. Include choice of containers in the conversation. It’s really important that kids can manage their containers independently.”