7 Healthy Thanksgiving Alternatives

However you observe it, Thanksgiving is typically a time of year where family and friends get together to enjoy each other’s company. For some it’s also a time where we give thanks and reflect on what we are grateful for in our lives. If you live in the United States, the holiday has historical importance and relevance to our country’s history. For a specific description of the holiday, see Google’s definition:

“an annual national holiday marked by religious observances and a traditional meal including turkey. The holiday commemorates a harvest festival celebrated by the Pilgrims in 1621, and is held in the US on the fourth Thursday in November. A similar holiday is held in Canada, usually on the second Monday in October.”

While Thanksgiving has deep history and it’s own meaning for everyone – for most people the day is often centered around the meal they enjoy with their family and friends. A lot of the time, the food people eat on this day is rich in both taste and calories. Trying new (and healthy) things during the holidays can be difficult, but for those who are in the process of making lifestyle changes with their diet, there are still plenty of healthy options out there. For anyone wanting to stick with lighter and more nutrient filled foods, or for anyone looking to try something new, here are some healthy alternatives.


Pumpkin Soup:

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Mayo Clinic Dietician Tip:

Canned pumpkin puree is available all year. When pumpkins are in season, however, you can make your own puree by roasting a small pie pumpkin and processing the flesh in a blender or food processor.



3/4 cup water, divided

1 small onion, chopped

1 can (15 ounces) pumpkin puree

2 cups unsalted vegetable broth

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 cup milk

1/8 teaspoon black pepper

1 green onion top, chopped

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Read more: http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/recipes


Orange Cranberry Relish

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Health Facts: One cup of this traditional favorite contains less than 50 calories. In addition, cranberries contain powerful nutrients called PACs (proanythocyanidins) that play a role in helping to maintain the health of bones, teeth and the immune system.



1/2 cup of Natural Pecans

3 cups Cranberries

1/2 cup Sugar

1 medium Orange

1 tsp Cinnamon

1/2 cup Juiced Orange

Read more: http://www.livestrong.com/recipes


Salad Greens with Pears, Fennel and Walnuts

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Mayo Clinic Dietitian tip:

Resembling a rounded, swollen cluster of celery stalks with green-tinged ribs, fennel is related to the herb and spice seeds of the same name. All share a mild, sweet licorice flavor. Strip away any coarse outer portion of the fennel bulb before using in recipes.



6 cups mixed salad greens

1 medium fennel bulb, trimmed and thinly sliced

2 medium pears, cored, quartered and thinly sliced

2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

1/4 cup toasted walnuts, coarsely chopped

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

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Read more: http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/recipes


Herb-rubbed Turkey au jus

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Mayo Clinic Dietician tip:

Instead of adding butter to the turkey and serving it with gravy, this healthy version is complemented with an herbal rub and a flavorful au jus.



For the rub

2 teaspoons dried sage

1 tablespoon dried thyme

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

1 whole turkey (about 15 pounds), thawed

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 cup water

For the au jus

2 teaspoons dried sage

1 tablespoon dried thyme

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

2 tablespoons honey

1/2 cup apple juice

1 cup defatted pan drippings

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Read more: http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/recipes


Sweet Potato Puff

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Health Facts: Sweet potatoes boast a powerful antioxidant (beta-carotene), which helps maintain healthy skin and also plays a vital role in eye health.. The complex carbs in sweet potato are also easy to digest and a great source of energy.



4 cups Mashed Sweet Potatoes

2/3 cup Sugar

1/3 cup Butter

2 Eggs

1 large Egg White

1/2 cup Milk

1 1/2 cup Vanilla Extract

Read more: http://www.livestrong.com/recipes


Cauliflower Mashed ‘Potatoes’

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Mayo Clinic Dietician tip: This nonstarchy vegetable version of mashed potatoes is lower in calories and carbohydrates and a good source of vitamin C and folate.



1 head cauliflower

1 clove garlic

1 leek, white only, split in 4 pieces

1 tablespoon butter

Pepper to taste

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Read more: http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/recipes


Pumpkin Morning Muffins

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Health Facts: A half-cup of canned pumpkin contains only 42 calories (if you can, try and find fresh Pumpkin when in season), yet contains nearly four grams of fiber to keep your digestive system healthy and loads of vitamin A and potassium which is important for heart health and muscle function.



1/2 cup Vegetable Oil Spread

1/2 cup Brown Sugar

1 cup Canned Pumpkin

2 Banana-medium

1/4 cup Milk

2 eggs

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

1 cup Flour All-Purpose

1 cup Whole Wheat Flour

1 tsp Baking Powder

1 tsp Baking Soda

1/2 tsp Salt

2 tsp Cinnamon

1/2 cup diced cranberries

Read more: http://www.livestrong.com/recipes


We hope you have a fun and safe holiday!

Our program admins know best – Interview with Health Solutions

Walker Tracker programs are most successful when they are backed by an excellent admin. Our stellar admins are continuously challenging their group and actively communicating to their group engaged. One of these wellness champs is admin Dawn Yengich from Health Solutions, a behavioral health facility. We sent Dawn a few questions and of course she came back with excellent advice on how to start and structure a program, come up with incentives and keep your team moving. Read our interview with Dawn below.


WT: Health Solutions (Formerly Spanish Peaks) had its first Challenge with us in early 2015. How did participants respond to the new program and did you find it easy to get started when you first started working with us?

DY: Our staff was VERY excited to begin the competition. We gave them 2 weeks to enroll themselves in the program. At that time we had 50% participation. Blanca (Program Manager) and Chris (Business Development) were my contacts. They made it very easy to work with. They are easy to get a hold of and responded to my emails at all hours of the day.

Beginning the Walker Tracker program changed our office dynamics. With several facilities peppered across the city, many employees had never met. Once they were on a team together, they were emailing each other and some travelled from one facility to the next to walk with their teammates during lunch. Execs were taking their team on walk meetings so they could get their steps in.


WT: Why did you decide to start a walking program?

DY: We work for a behavioral health facility. Our clinicians talk to their clients about the importance of a healthy lifestyle. We came to the realization that we needed to lead by example and get ourselves healthy, too!


WT: What has been the most difficult part?

DY: The most difficult part was moving from our first competition, where employees got to choose their teams, to randomized teams. People were fit to be tied!! But after the first 2 days, people calmed down and decided they liked it better. People got to meet someone new and lower movement levels were encouraged by higher movement levels to get more steps. It was fantastic!


WT: How about the easiest and most fun part?

DY: The easiest part is that if you are wearing a Bluetooth device, you really don’t have to do much to participate. It’s done for you! You can spend your time actually moving instead of sitting at your computer. You can follow the competition on the app on your phone and contribute to the newsfeed and gift points to your friends while you are walking!!


WT: You and your participants use a variety of pedometers. Some use wireless devices and some use the manual entry style. How do these work for you?

DY: Of course, I like the easy and low maintenance of the Bluetooth devices. It’s foolproof and accurate. Some use their phones as a pedometer but you can’t take the phone into the shower like a Fitbit or Jawbone bracelet. They’re missing a couple hundred steps in there!!


WT: Your ongoing program has had great results. Users are engaged and keep plugging away at the challenge until the end date. What tools do you use to keep participants engaged?

DY: I ask my program manager for suggestions on how to change the competitions. Not only do we use a new map every time, but we randomize our teams, on some competitions we only allow for steps, in others we allow for activities to be included too. Changing the competitions keeps it fresh. I also change the way incentives are given. Some competitions the 1st team to pass a milestone gets a gift, other competitions I have a drawing for a gift from those that reached their goal for a week straight. My program manager is a great consultant to help figure out new ways to layout the program.


WT: Any advice you would give to people just starting a walking program?

DY: Do it now. You will reap so many benefits! Not only will your employees health improve; you will create a more cohesive team environment. Your employees will never want to leave when they are given the benefit of a wellness program!


WT: Do you have a favorite feature on Walker Tracker or favorite part about working with Walker Tracker? 

DY: I really like the graphs and charts that are available. I can pull statistics at any given time to add to a managerial report and show how much our movement is improving and how many are participating. With the statistics it is easy to justify the cost of the program, which is very minimal considering what you get.


WT: You’re running a Tour of Africa challenge right now. What are the benefits of these map competitions? Do your walkers have a favorite so far?

DY: I liked the European Backpack map the best so far. Walker Tracker assigned our teams some very clever names. Some team members decided they would research how to say hello in each of the countries we walked through. Whenever they walked through a new country, the newsfeed would be filled with a foreign language. It was lots of fun!


WT: You use a “prize vault” to incentivize walkers. Tell us a little more about this system and what incentives have you found your participants value most?

DY: I’ve added a question at sign up that asks employees what they’d like to see in the prize vault and I pack my treasure chest with items that are requested most. I’ve learned that discount stores like Ross or TJ Maxx have VERY REASONABLE fitness equipment. I am able to stock my vault with items $10 and under. Participants earn an item from the prize vault once they reach a new level. They are emailed a congratulations email with a spreadsheet of items available to choose from. Our employees really like exercise balls, essential oil diffusers, spa eye masks, water bottles, kettle bells, company logo t-shirts, and weighted hula hoops. They also like to choose gift cards. I offer $10 or $15 gift cards to local restaurants and stores: Sports Authority, grocery store, Amazon, Bass Pro Shop, Target, Wal-Mart, etc. It’s just $10 but people get so excited because they know they earned it!




The dangers of all things…. PUMPKIN!

It’s that time of year – pumpkin spice this, pumpkin bread that. I did a little investigating. Below are two of the most popular pumpkin items this time of year and how to make it healthier.


The number 1 offender: The Pumpkin Spice latte

This tops my list because it’s a sneaky one – you may think your drink is about 200 calories, go ahead and double that. A 16-ounce Pumpkin Spice Latte is 380-420 calories. The worst part is the 50 GRAMS OF SUGAR. That is twice the amount of recommended sugar for your entire day.


The calorie fix: first, downsize to 8 ounces, leave the whipped cream off, ask for skim or 1% milk and half the amount of syrup. You’ve just saved yourself about 300 calories (this variation runs about 100 calories).


Close in second: Pumpkin Roll Cake

Bring on the rolls! One serving (which is A LOT smaller than you think) is 370 calories and has about 43 grams of sugar.

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The calorie fix: if you bake it, you get to control what’s added – try to lighten up by using ½ or ¾ the amount of sugar, replace the 12oz of cream cheese with 6oz light cream cheese and 6oz greek yogurt, and less one or two egg yolks. Voilà you’ve halved your calorie intake!



And now… the flip side!   Pumpkin can be a great addition to your diet. Check out these health benefits you can receive from pumpkin.


Get Moving at Work – for employees & benefits managers

It is estimated that only one in five Americans achieves a relatively high level of physical activity at work1. Many of us are aware that it would be beneficial to incorporate more fitness into our work day, yet, where to start? A knowledgeable benefits or human resources manager can provide employees with options on how to make room for fitness in their work day.

The good news: Your benefits manager already knows that healthy employees are more productive, miss work less often and are overall happier and healthier people.  This means insurance costs are lowered. How great is that! You’re asking them for advice on something they already want you to do!

Here are some suggestions for both program admins and participants on how to incorporate wellness in the workplace:

Provide places to walk. If there is no place to walk at work it will be hard to encourage employees to do it. Management can be pro-active – build sidewalks and trails or investigate options for nearby sites where employees can walk. If there is really nowhere else to go, get creative – try measuring and marking the distance around the perimeter of a parking lot or set up a treadmill in an empty office space. One of our clients (a large hospital in Washington D.C.) set up a path inside the building using footprint stickers!

Track it. One of our favorite quotes is: “That which is measured, improves” – Pearson’s Law. We’re seeing more and more programs rewarding employees with wireless trackers so they can keep a record of their activities. If your team already has devices, set a goal that participants need to reach in order to be eligible to upgrade their device to something spiffier. If they do not have devices yet, you might want to create a mini challenge – those who complete it will be eligible to receive a new device. Get everyone on board with this one, wireless devices make it easy and fun for your employees to track their progress.

Get Paid to NOT Park it. A little extra cash at the end of the month can be a powerful motivator. Employees can be given the cash equivalent of the cost of parking if they refrain from driving to work. If parking is free at your workplace, an employer could give you extra benefits at work for not using a parking space. The other option is charging a hefty premium for the privilege of parking at work.

Build in “Walking Breaks”. In some workplace settings you’re sticking to a schedule and breaks are assigned. These companies are the perfect place to schedule “walking breaks” into the day. Your schedule may already include a lunch break and a morning and afternoon break, but let’s beef that up. Suggest that your employer schedule an additional 10 or 15 minute break for those who will walk during that time. Sure, a few minutes will be lost, but you will gain a much more attentive and effective employee.  It’s hard for upper management to miss this increase in productivity and quality.

Encourage walking, mass transit and carpools. Ask if your company will give employees a break on your health care premium if you walk to work, use public transportation, or carpool. For the folks who are carpooling, suggest they alternate days walking to one another’s house for the ride.

How’d you like to earn a day off with every 100 miles you log? At some workplaces you already can. Our admins can use the Walker Tracker program statistics to calculate when you deserve PTO or a paid lunch. Studies show that active employees get lots more done even with some extra days off.

Create friendly competitions. There’s no doubt that grouping co-workers into teams and recording steps can really get people involved. Yet, when setting up a competition it is important to be encouraging to everyone. Your ‘fit’ people will exercise with or without the program, focus on creating a competition that challenges them further. Offer a program that encourages and inspires beginners. Our points competitions are a great way to reward diligence and stick-to-it behaviors over high step counts. Want more ideas for competitions? Admins can ask their Walker Tracker program manager for ideas of how to build competitions that are inclusive to all fitness levels.



1 Church TS, Thomas DM, Tudor-Locke C, Katzmarzyk PT, Earnest CP, Rodarte RQ, et al. (2011) Trends over 5 Decades in U.S. Occupation-Related Physical Activity and Their Associations with Obesity. PLoS ONE 6(5): e19657. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0019657

10 ways: stay active in less than ideal weather

As a native Oregonian, I am no stranger to long bouts of rain and months without seeing the sun (slight sarcasm, but really, it’s pretty gray here!).

So, I get it. When it’s cold and rainy (or snowy/icy/wet) outside, it’s hard to get out there and take a long walk or even find motivation to exercise. We’ve come up with some ideas we can all use to stay active:

1. Break it up – when a long walk seems daunting, break it up into manageable pieces. 10 minutes in the morning, 10 on your lunch break, and 10 before dinner. At the end of the day these little bits add up.

2. Head to the mall – park at one end and walk through to the other end and back, go ahead and take diversions or take the long way back!

3. If you have equipment, use it!   A treadmill is a great way to get some those steps in when you have a few minutes here and there. Or at the end of the day while you catch up on your favorite show.

4. Become a gym-goer! Here’s one idea to sneak steps in to your workout – between resistance training sets take 5 minute bursts of walking on a treadmill, stair stepper, or elliptical. Try to do this 5 times – that’s an extra 3000 + steps!

5. Pace – at work, at home, anywhere you are. Try to keep your feet moving: step in place for 5 minutes every hour of work, pace around your house as you talk on the phone or take the long way while tidying up your home.

6. Be less efficient! Sounds counter intuitive but this one works for anyone willing to try! Lose the remote (or hide it from yourself) and get up and walk to change the TV/radio. Put away 1 piece of clothing at a time when doing laundry. Put your phone far away – every time it rings or you receive a message you have to get up/walk to grab it.

7. Take the long way – when delivering a message at work, walk to the recipients’ desk rather than just emailing them. Take an extra lap around the building when you get up to grab water. Take the stairs instead of the elevator.

8. The wonderful word of YouTube – there are many opportunities to be active all at your fingertips! Some ideas to get you started in the search: dance routines, Yoga, aerobics, circuit training, kickboxing.

9. Dance like no one is watching – It doesn’t have to be dance, movement of any kind works. Make a playlist with your favorite upbeat music and just move! For me this is 90’s throwbacks and dancing with the broom around the house. But to each their own.

10. Indoor Sports – there are plenty to keep you busy through the winter months, find one that you enjoy. A few ideas: racquetball, tennis, indoor soccer, basketball, hockey, and swimming.


I wish you all happy and healthy rainy days!




A Wellness Champion at 72!

Watch out everyone, Lola might just lap you.  Averaging 9,000 steps/day and motivating her colleagues along the way, she is a force to be reckoned with!

Let me take a step back and introduce you all to the Para La Naturaleza Walker Tracker Program. Located in Puerto Rico, this group is a blast to work with and is always looking to the positive side of things. Perhaps all those good vibes add to Lola’s energy and stamina.

I encourage you to read her story below and let it inspire you in your own quest to a healthier life. Lola picture 1

“Lola, you’re a champ.” That’s what co-workers say to María Dolores Méndez, who manages the greenhouse on the Nature Reserve of Las Cabezas de San Juan.

In the mornings María moves from one part to another of the reserve looking for seedlings to transplant. Afterwards, “Lola”, as her endearing coworkers call her, walks from her house to the community track in Fajardo. There she walks 17 laps, which add up to her 9,000 steps per day that she records on Walker Tracker.

Since Lola was a small girl she’s gone everywhere by foot. Because she didn’t have another way of getting around, walking was an integral part of her life, so when the opportunity to participate in the Para la Naturaleza Wellness Program came along, she was all in. This was a chance to go back to being what she used to be, a person who walked everywhere. She chose the 10,000 steps-per-day level challenge and has not stopped since she started. Lola has noted improvements in her health, she feels more upbeat and is more active. Lola says: “Everything is better” since she’s increased her activity level and made some adjustments to her diet. During her last visit to the cardiologist the doctor said: “Lola, your blood pressure is like that of a kid. What have you been doing?”. Lola explained all the changes she had made as a result of the Wellness Program and the doctor asked her to continue these activities as they were benefiting her health. In addition, the program nutritionist proposed she lose 4 pounds, Lola lost 5.

Not everyone has the energy and strength that the 72 year old María has. Her enthusiasm is so great that she invited a friend to walk with her on the track, but a few days later, her friend lost interest and stopped coming.

Whether or not she has company, “Lola” makes an effort to be in one of the top places in the competition. Lola is focused on winning. Her pedometer only tracks walking steps and she insists that to make it to the finish line “what you have to do is walk”. In addition, she tells her fellow participants that if they put some effort into it “you can all be winners”.

The relationship with her colleagues has greatly improved since the program started. “We’ve grown closer because we have more in common to talk about”, Lola states.

Lola urges everyone else to accept the challenge, because it is very good for their health. During the first few days they may be tired and might feel some achy muscles, but they’ll see the benefits will start adding up quickly. Lola shares this bit of advice with enthusiasm: “don’t give up, move forward and you won’t regret it”.

Click here to view the full version in Spanish

New: Walker Tracker Android app with Google Fit integration

We’ve updated our Android app – head over to the Google Play store to download it now.

First and foremost: Bug fixes. We fixed a number of outstanding bugs, some of them show-stoppers, and massaged a few key UI points.


screenshot_2015-08-27-15-51-47_1024screenshot_2015-08-27-11-06-18_1024Google Fit integration: have Google Fit on your phone? Easily connect into the Walker Tracker app to have your steps synced auto-magically.

Device Sync status: If your Walker Tracker account is connected to a Misfit, Fitbit, Jawbone, Withings, Pebble, etc — you’ll see the device status and last sync right in your app.

Lastly: Competitions are now updated to handle points-based challenges.

Let us know what you think.



Photos of 2,000 calorie meals

The New York Times has an incredible  piece called “What 2,000 Calories Looks Like” where they compare 2,000 calorie meals across restaurants, and then pit those against home-cooked meals.

The results are not going to be a surprise to anyone. Home-cooked meals regularly cost less than fast food, are way abundant, and much healthier.

Restaurant vs Home:


Shake Shack 2,000 calories


At home, 2,000 calories

Upcoming changes to points

This weekend we’ll introduce a large re-vamping of our points system.

Here are the salient pieces:

— Points-based competitions!
Administrators will be able to create points-based competitions using a large number of different metrics on the site that one can earn points for.  Want to have a competition around healthy eating, or a photo-based competition, or only hitting one’s step goal? All can be accomplished! We’re really excited about this.

Changed point values
— Points values are quite a bit different. As an example you currently receive 5 points for achieving your step goal. With this release, that number will be 25 points. Points can be measured by the day, by the week, or by any timeframe you wish via a competition.

Points for more things
— You earn points for more things, all of which a program administrator can turn on or off:

  • Custom metrics
  • Answering the correct answer on a site question
  • Winning a competition
  • Passing a map milestone

Re-vamped Points screen & Giveaway Points icons
Points screen

Free Days
— An administrator can allow walkers to take a ‘Free Day’. This is perfect for programs that want an equalizer, allowing an employee a ‘day of rest’ without being penalized. You choose how many free days you wish to allow.

Levels are gone…
— We’re removing the concept of ‘levels’. In the coming weeks we’ll replace this with a more goal-based ‘badge’ system, where you earn a badge for reaching certain milestones.

Levels update! After some consideration and feedback from you, we’ve decided to keep the concept of levels. They’ll be de-emphasized a little, and the number of points required to meet each level will change. However, levels are a great way to measure long-term progress.

We’re really excited about these changes, and we hope you’ll like them too.

A Step Up in Heart Health

It’s always great to hear success stories coming from our programs! It’s amazing how taking a walk and getting active can change someone’s life and inspire others. Our collaboration with Hadassah in their Every Beat Counts campaign is motivating their participants to walk from their headquarters in New York all the way to Jerusalem while fundraising and promoting heart health for Jewish women. 

Their program administrator and health rockstar, Eliana (who is also participating) has been featured in a Jewish parenting blog and shares her experience with their Walker Tracker program titled “Every Step Counts”. Thanks to little changes in her routine Eliana has been able to almost double her daily step goal. Check out her blog post and story titled “I’m Walking Off My Baby Weight With Hadassah” on Kveller and get some inspiration from a fellow walker!