The True Cost of Food

Americans spend less than 10% of their income on food and are always looking for bargains. In fact, we are the only nation who spends so little upfront on food. Huge costs go into the way our food is produced, but these costs are hidden in the dollar amount charged at the supermarkets. However, we end up paying for the cost of our food in taxes. There are also costs to the environment (pollution, loss of wildlife habitat, wastage, fuel) and public health (cancer, obesity, allergies, diseases, food poisoning).

This is a short animation that  does a great job on showing the true cost of our food. It’s worth a viewing and sharing with your friends and families. Kids will even enjoy it.

The True Cost of Food from Sierra Club National on Vimeo.

 

5 Really Good Reasons To Eat Seasonally

Eating seasonally makes me feel happier and there are traditions around seasonal food around the world. In India, mango season is celebrated religiously. Actually, most people in India refer to seasons by the foods available at that time of the year. Having grown up in the United States, I didn’t really experience the joys of seasonal eating, since most foods were available year round. Though, I distinctly remember mango and green flat bean season, since my family made a huge celebration out of them. These foods were bought at an international market and were internationally imported foods. I have never appreciated fresh food as much as I do now until I started eating them in season. That is when mango and bean season clicked and I gained a better appreciation for how the world works.

dino kale garden

Aside from culture, there are many reasons to eat seasonally. From a health perspective, eating fresh, seasonal food makes the most sense. Hopefully, the points I make below are enough to convince you to include seasonal foods in your life.

1. Variety. Cooking with the seasons breaks up the monotony of your meals. There comes a time at the end of each season, where I cannot wait for the arrival of new crops. I become bored with the flavors and crops by eating them at home and at every  local restaurant all season long. It almost makes me want to stop eating the vegetables and fruits altogether, which I suspect is the case for many people. However, by shopping at the farmers market, I am constantly introduced to new vegetables and fruits which help stave off boredom on the plate and palate. Even dining out at local restaurants becomes exciting, be able to experience and taste what the talented chefs can make with the seasonal food.

strawberry lentils

2. Healthier. There are many health benefits to eating in season. Vegetables and fruits have the most nutrients when they are at their peak ripeness. The antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals in the food starts to decrease as soon as they are picked. Vegetables and fruit that are grown to travel long distances (1,500 miles on average) are picked before they can develop their full range of nutrients. Fresh, seasonal vegetables and fruits usually travel a lot less and are exposed to a lot less heat and light (both degrade delicate vitamins). Also, you can buy seasonal food in its whole, unprocessed form, instead of canned or frozen varieties. Canned foods are usually soaked in sugars, salts, BPA and are highly processed. Frozen foods are a pretty good option when you do not have fresh food available, however, there is a bit of processing and nutrient loss that goes on when freezing the food.

3. Environment. Seasonal produce usually means local produce, which is also great for the environment and local community. As pointed out in #2, local foods travel a lot less and are fresher, thus they retain much of their nutritive value. Fewer green houses are produced and less fuel is used in transporting local food. Food that is closer to the source also has less, if any, preservatives and pesticides sprayed on them and are unprocessed. The best place to find local, seasonal food is at the farmers market or by subscribing to a CSA. Though, if these are not options for you, look for the local sign in the produce section of your grocery store. More and more grocery chains are catching on to the fact that people want higher quality food. Spring does not arrive in San Francisco at the same time it does in New York City; seasons change at different times everywhere. Seasonal food gives you the opportunity to connect with the land you live on and the people who grow your food.

4. Wide Range of Nutrients. This one is a slight combination of #1 and #2. Eating seasonally ensures you are eating a variety of nutrients. A magical vegetable or fruit that has all the antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, micronutrients, and fiber your body needs just does not exist. There are some pretty powerful fruits and vegetables out there, but even they lack a little something. Thus, it’s important to eat a variety of food and the best way to avoid eating broccoli year round is to eat the food that is in season.

5. Taste. Quite simply, food grown in its rightful season tastes better. If you are not convinced, do a taste test. A winter tomato, grown indoors or in hot houses, does not taste anything like a tomato grown under the hot sun, picked right off the vine just before it got to you. The better the fruits and vegetables taste, the more likely you will eat them. The more you eat them, the more health benefits and happiness you will gain. Give the vegetables and fruits you wrote off a second chance, by eating them in the season they were always meant to be grown.

tomatoes

Just shortly after experiencing seasonal food, I started to anticipate what the newest food will be at the farmers market. A partial reason, why I started Farmers Market Finds. I look forward to each season equally. Towards the end of winter, I start to look forward to asparagus, strawberries, and English peas. By mid-June, I can almost taste the heirloom tomatoes, peaches, and squash blossoms. And, by the end of September, I am making roasted butternut squash and thinking about Thanksgiving. In February, I am obsessing over blood oranges and kale.

What is your favorite food season and what do you anticipate eating most?  Please share your culture and food traditions with me. 

All About Eggs: They Are Good For You

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egg yolks

Eggs have gotten a lot of press over the years- “they are bad for you, they are good for you, nope-they are bad, well, we take that back, they are good again”. The assumption that dietary cholesterol causes cardiovascular disease is false. There have been many, well-designed studies done which prove that eggs, including the yolk, are good for you and do not increase cholesterol or cause heart disease. Cholesterol in eggs is dietary cholesterol, not the cholesterol that is measured in blood tests. Dietary cholesterol has no impact on blood cholesterol. Overconsumption and the quality of the eggs should be more of a concern than these health issues.

Eggs are a nutrient rich food, providing an excellent source of protein, iron, zinc, and B vitamins. The yolk especially works to keep your brain healthy.  The yolk contains essential fatty acids, which are necessary for proper brain and eye function, healthy skin, hair, libido, reproduction, growth and response to injury. Eggs are a complete protein and contain the “good fats”. Complete protein foods contain all of the essential amino acids, which our bodies need for healthy bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, and blood. High quality eggs can contain omega-3 fatty acids, which work to lower the risk of cholesterol. Therefore, when people only eat egg whites, they are literally throwing out these needed essential nutrients.

I invest in my health by buying high quality food. I do pay extra upfront for pastured eggs. I try to buy eggs from the farmer’s market, but they sellout pretty fast. Remember, the massive egg recall in 2010? That kind of stuff usually only happens in factory farming. Pastured eggs are higher in nutrient value and come from healthy, happy hens. Pasture-raised hens are raised on pasture and fed grass and whatever else is on their pasture. You can see the richness of nutrients by the color of the egg yolk, usually a dark yellow to orange. This is because pastured eggs have more beta-carotene and vitamins. Though, the color of the yolk does vary from the changing seasons and pasture availability. Hens naturally lay eggs in the spring, when there is more daylight and greener pastures. Even the eggs shells are all different hues, but mostly due to the breed of the chickens. These eggs come from one farm that usually has a variety of breeds, so you will get a variety of sizes and colors in the carton.

farm fresh eggs

The less fortunate hens are confined in cages that are too small for them. They are cramped in and have a variety of physical issues. The cages are also stacked up on top of each other. This poses many health dangers for all of the hens in the factory farm, which in turn poses risks for consumers of these eggs. These factory-farmed hens are given antibiotics and hormones (usually without the supervision of a veterinarian) to survive these filthy conditions and grow bigger and faster. The results of this kind of farming are cheap poultry and eggs that cause environmental degradation and antibiotic resistance. In short, cheap foods come with a high cost to people’s health, animal welfare, and the environment.

Free-range and cage-free eggs are significantly different from pastured eggs. Free-range and cage-free are less regulated terms. Free-range means that the chickens may have access to the outdoors. Cage-free chickens are not locked up in battery cages, but they still maybe overstuffed in large hen houses with thousands of other chickens. The term organic in this concern means that the feed was organic, hens cannot be raised in cages, molting must occur naturally, and antibiotics can only be given in the case of an infectious outbreak. Thus, organic eggs are better than non-organic eggs. You can checkout the score of the organic eggs you buy here.

There is also significance to the phrase “farm fresh eggs”. Eggs do have a long shelf life when stored properly in the fridge, but they are not nearly as good as eggs that are recently laid. Truly farm fresh eggs are no more than a week old. Sometimes, the farmers do not wash these eggs so it is better to wash them at home. The pastured eggs at the farmers markets are probably only a few days old, but you can ask the farmer directly to be certain.

When hens in factory farming lay eggs, there is a shipping and handling process. These eggs go to a plant, where they are washed in ammonium or chlorine, graded, and placed in the carton. So by the time they get to the grocery store and by the time you bring them home, they could be already a couple of weeks old. Check the numbers on the egg carton to verify freshness of the eggs. There should be three sets of numbers on the carton. The long set of numbers indicates the plant/factory from which they came, the sell by date is the expiration date, and the three digit number is the Julian date the eggs where picked. In Julian date, the date is read starting with January 1 as 001 and ending with December 31 as 365. Today’s date is April 4th, so the Julian date is 094 (94 days into the year).  

Obviously, all of these points factor into the cost of the eggs. Factory farmed eggs are really cheap and pastured eggs are expensive. To make the right choice for you and your family, you have to weigh what is important to you when you feed your family. Again, I value the quality of the eggs and invest in the health of my family and myself. Pastured eggs also contribute to my sanity, knowing that I made a choice that is environmentally and ethically conscious. We eat fewer eggs per week, limiting to one carton of pastured eggs and increase the intake of vegetables, lentils, and beans.  Even though we are eating fewer eggs, I am guaranteeing we are getting more nutritional benefits and superior flavor.

kale eggs

Social Eating: Tips To Stay On Track

It’s finally time for another 3-day holiday! Who couldn’t use a break from the normal Monday routine? Though, the holiday is no excuse to completely throw your health goals off track. Adopt these simple rules and you will not have anything to regret (at least not about your health goals)!

With summer and 4th of July upon us, what better excuse (weather permitting) to dust off the barbeque and enjoy some time outside in the fresh air with family and friends. Creamy macaroni salad¸ buttered corn, burgers, and an 8 layer United States flag cake. Sounds delicious, but not good for any health and fitness goals! Following these simple survival tips will save you hundreds of calories and guilt, without you feeling deprived¸ and keep your health and fitness goals on track.

1. Have Healthy Options Available

Bring or make healthy alternatives to processed meats, dips and macaroni salads. This way you can fill up on the healthiest foods first, without worrying about bad calories and unhealthy fats.  Chicken, fish, vegetables and even fruit are delicious cooked on the barbeque. Chicken Kebobs with tons of veggies grilled are delicious and super simple to make. Other alternatives include fresh salads (made with greens, fruits/vegetables, nuts, and a light dressing) and summer fruits (peaches, plums, berries¸ melons).  This could also be a way for you to introduce your family and friends to tasty¸ healthy foods. Other great recipes can be found here¸ here, and here.

2. Small Plates, Big Health Benefits.

If you keep portion sizes reasonable, it’s easier to eat the foods you want and stay healthy. By using smaller dishes, you can easily avoid “accidentally” eating too many calories. Use a dessert plate or grab one from the children’s table.

3. Mix and Mingle

Choose three or four items you really want to eat, and then step away from the food table so you’re not tempted to graze. You will be less likely to keep mindlessly refilling your plate if you are in the middle of an interesting conversation and standing on the other side of the room from the food. Being with friends and family and having a great time at a BBQ also contributes to overall good health.

4. Go for the Greens

 Skip the chips, bread and crackers. Refined carbohydrates spike your insulin levels, leaving you hungry and craving for more.  Unless it’s amazing, it’s not worth the calories. Make sure to complement any meal with lots of vegetables – especially green leafy veggies like kale or spinach.

5. Make Room for Dessert

Instead of saying “There’s always room for dessert,” actually leave room for it. Eat a little less of everything else so you can have a piece of that cake, cookie or ice-cream. Also, remember portion control!

6. Think before you drink

A drink that is not a glass of water has calories and sugar. Drink at least eight ounces of water or so that your thirst is quenched and stomach already feels a little full.  You will be less likely to chug the alcoholic drink to quench your thirst. Make your choices worthwhile and sip on a glass of wine or beer.

Club Dine In! is on Twitter and Facebook. Follow @clubdinein for daily health, fitness, and social news, recipes and delicious tips! Join the Club Dine In! community on Facebook to connect with like-minded individuals and find out about exclusive Club Dine! events. Be sure to sign-up to receive posts and updates straight into your inbox!

Fitness Fridays: Using Geo-Location Apps to Keep Me Honest

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Last year, I excitedly started using FourSquare. I thought it was cool to check-in to places and share it with my social network.  There was a lot, a lot of hype surrounding geo-location apps. And living in San Francisco, it’s hard to not get caught up in it. Though, after awhile, I got the check-in fatigue. Not all of my friends were using FourSquare and then Facebook Places rolled out, and I didn’t know which service would reap the highest rewards in the long-run. Also, coverage in SF often times really sucks so checking in isn’t a smooth, quick process. Then I heard from a trusted source that mostly only guys check-in and noticed that  most of the pending friend requests on FourSquare were from guys I don’t know. Naturally, I was creeped out  and decided checking in wasn’t so cool anymore. Also, I am not a fan of re-creating a new social network on every site, platform, and app.

It was expected that the geo-location apps would roll out new location based  services that made sense of all the check-ins, so the places I check-in into now are the gym and places related to my start-up or Club Dine In.

One of my new year’s resolutions was to workout four times a week, and checking into the gym or Marina Greens helps me keep track of that goal. Also, it makes me a little more motivated to actually leave my apartment and workout. (The gym is too far from my apartment for me to fake a check-in). I have tried becoming the mayor of the gym, but a personal trainer of the gym is holding onto that mayorship. IMHO, employees should have a different mayorship for working there and checking in. It’s annoying.

Anyway, I am really liking Foursquare 3.0, because now all of those check-ins make sense and are going to result in real-life rewards like personal recommendations. Though, until I am assured that checking in is leveled by both males and females and enough of my real friends join in on checking-in, I will keep my check-ins reserved for Glamour Games and Club Dine In purposes (which includes fitness and eating well).

Do you use FourSquare, Facebook Places, or any other geo-location apps?

Club Dine In! is on Twitter and Facebook. Follow @clubdinein for daily health, fitness, and social news, recipes and delicious tips! Join the Club Dine In! community on Facebook to connect with like-minded individuals and find out about exclusive Club Dine! events. Be sure to sign-up to receive posts and updates straight into your inbox!

Meatless Mondays: The Health Reasons

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Meatless Monday (MM) is a nation-wide campaign to encourage people to give up meat one day out of the week to increase health, ecology, and economy. It’s also very achievable. You are only going one day a week without any meat. In turn, you will increase your intake of fresh vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds. (MM does not mean substituting meat for refined carbohydrates,  large quantities of cheese and peanut butter; it will add a significant amount of fat and calories to your diet. MM also does not mean for you to increase your intake of meat for the rest of the week.)

Here are a few health benefits from a vegetarian diet:
-Vegetarian diets often contain more fiber, potassium, phytochemicals, antioxidants, and vitamins associated with reduced risks of chronic and preventable diseases (diabetes, obesity).
-Generally, vegetarians maintain a healthier body weight (that is if they make good choices).
-Diets high in fruits and vegetables may reduce cancer risk. Whereas, red and processed meat consumption are linked to colon cancer.
-Studies have shown that countries with a higher intake of fat, especially fat from animal products, such as meat and dairy products, have a higher incidence of breast cancer.
– Fiber is only found in fruit and vegetables. Fiber makes you full on fewer calories, hence less overeating and greater weight control.

These are just a few of the many health benefits of a diet focused on fresh vegetables and fruits. Adopt to MM and see the results for yourself.

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Fitness Fridays: What’s In Your Backayard

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Going for a hike does not have to be a big excursion (like hopping on a plane and traversing through a thick rainforest)- all you need are shoes with good grip and a park. The world is full of natural and man-made parks.  Don’t feel like you need to an expert about trees and birds to go on a hike. It really is about just getting out there, taking in fresh air, and getting some exercise. Also, you can experience what your neighborhood/city has to offer in a different way. Bonus, you can hike solo or with family and friends. Hiking provides quality bonding time (no cell phones or computers) and it doesn’t cost much. Find the closest park or trail near you, put on your shoes, carry water and nuts, and get out there!

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A New Way To New Year’s Resolution

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Every year, we make a few resolutions and many of those are repeat resolutions (the same ones we make every year in hopes of a different result). The most common resolution, which I am certainly guilty of making, is losing weight. Loosing weight is a great goal to have but the term is very broad and doesn’t leave you with any direction on how to lose weight. Actually, when I used to say “I need to lose weight” or “My goal is to shed some pounds” I would feel overwhelmed and depressed. It seemed like a big goal, with 12 months to achieve it. So there was the “I just can’t go on another diet” feeling and the “I will start tomorrow” sentiment. By mid-March only a guilty, hopeless, self-deprecating feeling would be left. The problem starts at the goal setting itself. We do not outline how we will make the goal achievable nor do we set the intermediary goals that will make the big goal possible.  Instead of  just saying, “I will lose weight” or “I will eat healthier”, make resolutions that will help you achieve these big goals. Think about the steps you will need to take to achieve weight loss, eating healthier, or making a million dollars, and then set those steps as goals. Once, you can achieve the smaller goals, the big goals will fall into place. For weight loss, diet and fitness are both important. Increased cardiovascular activities and strength training will help you burn fat and put on muscle needed to continuously burn fat. Though, eating unprocessed, whole foods will keep you satiated, energized, and improve your workout. Eating fresh fruit, vegetables, whole grains, lentils, legumes, and even clean animal protein in moderation will help you lose weight. Though, in turn, you will need to reduce the amount of junk food you eat. The foods you eat determine how much harder you have to workout. For instance, if the majority of your caloric intake is from junk food, processed meats, and refined sugars and flours, you will have to work out much harder to burn calories and lose weight.

When it comes to health, I am only making three resolutions  this year. In the past, I’ve always almost failed at “eating better” and “losing weight” until I changed my goals. My new New Year’s Resolutions are:

1. To lose weight. To go to the gym 4 times a week for cardio and strength training. If I cannot make it to the gym, I will go for a 20 minute jog outside or run up and down our apartment building’s stairs. Big goal results: stronger body, more energy, glowing skin, and weight loss.

2. To eat better. To limit my intake of desserts and food with added sugars to once a week. Big goal results: more energy, weight loss, and improved mood.

3. To eat better. To eat slowly and mindfully. I don’t have to eat everything put in front of me and should recognize when I am truly hungry. Also, even if I am starving, I will slow down and try to enjoy each bite, instead of gobbling it all up at once. Big goal results: positive relationship with food and weight loss.

What are your New Year’s Resolutions? Any tips or ideas?

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Healthier Social Eating: The Holidays

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With so many holiday parties, gatherings, shopping, work, school and kids, eating well, resting, and working out could easily drop off your radar.Though, at this time of the year, it is really important to take care of yourself to prevent health goal relapse and catching a cold or the FLU.  Follow these simple tips for maintaining balance and prevent guilt from overeating.

This is a modified list to Healthier Social Eating: BBQ’s

1. Sleep Well and Rest Enough
If you are tired, lethargic or sleepy, you might  tend to load  up on junk food and caffeine for an energy “boost.” Loading up on empty calories and caffeine will only make you hungrier and cause you to crash after the sugar high starts to wear off. Extra caloric intake (without extra caloric output) will lead to weight gain over time leading to obesity. Sleep deprivation also lowers your immune system’s ability to fight off bacteria and viruses. Also, inadequate sleep has been linked to depression, lowered cognitive (brain) function, higher blood pressure, and irritability. Try to get at least seven hours of sleep each night for optimal health and happiness.

2. Eat Regular Meals and Have Healthy Options Available
Many people tend to skip their regular meals in favor of eating at holiday parties and gatherings. Typically, parties tend to only serve junk, cheap, or highly processed food, even if it is in a sophisticated form. A gourmet cookie is still  made of sugar, butter, and flour. And, brie is still a high, saturated fat cheese, even if it’s topped with cranberry sauce. Do not walk into a party hungry, as you will end up eating  the party food  and drinking high caloric drinks to replace dinner. Instead, fill up on healthy, satisfying food beforehand party and only eat the really amazing food at the party.  If it is a potluck party, bring healthy alternatives to desserts, crackers, and cheese. Look at everything that is offered and choose only the items you really want to eat. This way you can fill up on the healthiest foods first, without worrying about bad calories, sugar, and fat.


3. Think Before You Drink
A drink that is not a glass of water has calories and sugar. Drink at least eight ounces of water or so that your thirst is quenched and stomach already feels a little full.  You will  less likely  chug the alcoholic drink to quench your thirst. Is that chocolate martini or eggnog rum drink really worth 500-700 calories (equivalent to a meal)? Make your choices worthwhile and sip on a glass of wine or beer.


4. Mix and Mingle
Choose three or four items you really want to eat, and then step away from the food table so you’re not tempted to graze. You will be less likely to keep mindlessly refilling your plate if you are in the middle of an interesting conversation and standing on the other side of the room from the food. Being with friends and family and having a great time at  the party also contributes to overall good health. Focus on the people at the party instead of the food and drinks.

5. Make Room for Dessert
Cookies, cookies, and more cookies are on everyone’s mind during the holidays and parties are dedicated to just desserts. If you have been good about sticking to your health goal, then a cookie or piece of yule log is nothing to feel guilty about. Don’t let a relapse turn into a downward spiral. In the long run, a piece of dessert is not going to harm you if you follow a healthy, clean diet. It’s pretty clear that sugar is toxic and should be consumed as treats, not regular snacks. Instead of saying “there’s always room for dessert,” actually leave room for it. Eat a little less of everything else so you can have a piece of that cake, cookie or pie. Desserts typically take a long time to make, therefore spend time eating the dessert instead of devouring it at once!


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Sustainable Gifts To Give

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Shopping during the holidays is never as fun as it looks on television. Parking, long lines, the plethora of gizmos and gadgets leaves everyone dazed and confused. In the end, you may just end up buying something that the recipient really does not want or is environmentally damaging. This year, turn your focus on giving gifts that really matter and will make a positive difference.

1. Pick a charity that is meaningful to you and give in the honor of your recipient. This choice is more sustainable and thoughtful than anything material that will eventually end up in the trash. As cliché as it sounds, giving the gift of giving keeps on giving. You can determine how much you want to give so it  falls into your budget. My favorite charity is Heifer International. You can donate money to buy livestock, seeds, or trees which enables communities to generate food and income. Heifer trains the recipient family/community to sustainably raise their gift and share their resources with others. Equally favorite, Fair Trade (aka TransFair) empowers farmers and farm workers around the world to decide their most pressing local economic development needs for themselves, and reinvest in their products, cooperatives, and communities in sustainable ways.

2. A cookbook and pantry ingredients to help your recipient get started. My favorite starter cookbook is How to Cook Everything, Completely Revised 10th Anniversary Edition: 2,000 Simple Recipes for Great Food By Mark Bittman. Bittman simply shows how to make cooking at home easier, with an emphasis on basic kitchen skills.

3. Tea. Not only is tea a really delicious drink to enjoy slowly, alone or with company, it’s healthy. Tea has been used as an herbal, medicinal concoction throughout Asia for thousands of years and has picked up  steam in America. Choosing organic, Fair-Trade tea will make the gift even sweeter as you will do the environment and farmers justice as well. My preferred tea house is Samovar in San Francisco and they have an easy website for ordering tea and accessories. Follow Samovar on Facebook or Twitter for discount codes.

4. Give gifts that create memories. Buy a membership to the museum, cooking class, or a joint spa treatment. Doing activities together will make your relationship stronger and both of you will have memories (and pictures) to last a lifetime. If you live in the Bay Area, I highly recommend gifting a day pass or membership to the California Academy of Sciences. Sign up on flash sale sites such as Blissmo and Fresh Guide to save big on service oriented and green-minded gifts.

5. Give the gift of health. Signing up for a dance class, gym membership, or personal training may seem like an extravagant purchase for oneself, therefore in the form of a gift it will be most appreciated. A personal training session might just give your recipient the jumpstart s/he needs. I really like working out at my local JCC gym and love all the classes they offer to members. Flash sales site are a great place to shop for local health oriented gifts!

Did you know that Club Dine In! is on Twitter and Facebook? Follow @clubdinein for daily health, fitness, and social news, recipes and delicious tips! Join the Club Dine In! community on Facebook to connect with like-minded people and find out about exclusive Club Dine! events.