New Site

I know I haven’t written in a while, but I now have a new site. Www.SwagNotSwine.com please follow me.

My goal with this segment is to not only continue with a pork free diet, but a more healthy diet overall. No more sugary drinks and snacks, and avoiding all other high calorie and fat intake, and depending on healthier alternatives. Not only will I be documenting my personal progress, but sharing positive advice, support and information for all of you to also begin or continue a healthy, positive lifestyle.

Change is good and it’s good to change. Enjoy!

-Samantha Jonas-Rongo

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Food Pyramid Turned My Pyramid Turned My Plate

Most of us have seen the iconic USDA Food Guide Pyramid at some point. It was first introduced in 1992, was remade in 2005 as My Pyramid, and in 2011 was changed to My Plate. All of these eating guides incorporate the different food groups and try to give us an understanding of how to eat a healthy diet. But have you ever wondered if they are correct? Who wrote them?

What research are they based on? Does profit or the food industry create a bias in these models? Why have they changed? Do you really need to eat 11 servings of grains in a day? Is there really a one size fits all diet? This article will help you understand the answers to all of these questions.

Food Pyramid

THE FOOD GUIDE PYRAMID

The original Food Pyramid was created in 1992 by the United States Department of Agriculture. It became the uncontested model for a “healthy diet” in schools, doctor’s offices, on food labels, and in the media. For more than 20 years, Americans tried to follow this high-carbohydrate, low-fat diet recommended by the Food Pyramid. The results are in, and sadly Americans are sicker and more over weight than ever before in our nation’s history. So what went wrong?

As the Food Pyramid held the power to greatly influence the multibillion dollar food industry, was the original Food Pyramid solely based on nutritional science, or was it was influenced by commercial interests? As more research has been done, it has become clear that a diet high in carbohydrates and low in fat is not optimal for disease prevention. (1)

A diet high in pasteurized dairy and carbohydrates causes inflammation and an overly acidic body pH, which is an underlying factor in almost every chronic disease. (2) It is also clear that many people are allergic to or have a difficult time digesting dairy and grains.

The Healthy Eating Pyramid has six levels. Foods from the six major food groups are shown in the levels of the Pyramid. The food groups are:

  • grains;
  • vegetables;
  • fruits;
  • milk and dairy products;
  • meat, fish, beans and nuts;
  • oils and fats.

File:MyPyramidFood.svg

MY PYRAMID

The 2005 My Pyramid model, which was like the original one turned on its side, was heavily criticized from the beginning as being too confusing and overly vague. The one good thing about this model was that it incorporated exercise as one of the “steps to a healthier you.” However, it still placed grains as the largest source of calories and did not incorporate our need for healthy fats.

With the massive increase in processed foods, this model did not help Americans navigate all of these choices. Many products advertised the number of “whole grains” it contained while being full of refined sugar, food additives, trans fat, genetically modified corn and soy, preservatives, artificial colors and flavorings, and other unhealthy ingredients. (3) A great example of this is breakfast cereals. The idea that Lucky Charms, Coco Puffs or Cinnamon Toast Crunch is a good and healthy breakfast choice—just because it contains whole grains—shows how far off track we’ve gone.

MyPyramid was a visual illustration of suggested healthy eating habits and physical activity. Like its predecessor, the Food Guide Pyramid, MyPyramid combined the government’s dietary guidelines and recommended allowances into six food groups. But instead of illustrating the number of servings based on a one-size-fits-all 2,000 calorie intake, the MyPyramid symbol itself showed six vertical color bands, each representing varying proportions of the pyramid. These colors represented the food groups as follows.

  • Orange for grains
  • Green for vegetables
  • Red for fruits
  • Yellow for oils
  • Blue for milk
  • Purple for meat and beans
  • Fruit Group should provide 4 daily servings, or 2 cups.
  • Vegetable Group should provide 5 servings, or 2.5 cups.
  • Grain Group should provide 6 ounce-equivalents (1 ounce-equivalent means 1 serving), half of which should be whole grain..
  • Meat and Beans Group should provide 5.5 ounce-equivalents or servings.
  • Milk Group should provide 3 cups/servings.
  • Oils should provide 24g or 6 teaspoons.
  • Discretionary Calories: The remaining amount of calories in each calorie level after nutrient-dense foods have been chosen. Up to 267 calories could be consumed in solid fats or added sugars if the other requirements were been met

MyPlate Food Pyramid Replacement

MY PLATE

In 2011, the new “My Plate” was introduced. This is a significant improvement from its predecessors as it is much easier to visualize what it actually means on your plate. My Plate really makes meal planning easier. Just by looking at the icon, you know right away that vegetables and fruits should take up half the plate (with the veggie portion being a bit bigger), and grains and protein foods should take up the other half (with more grains on this side). And with a side helping of dairy, you’re reminded to include milk or another dairy food (like cheese or yogurt) in your daily meal plan.

Because My Plate is a divided plate, no one food group overpowers the others. That’s because dietary guidelines encourage eating a variety of foods and discourage “super-sized” portions which can lead to weight gain and obesity.

Although the food guide icon has changed, the USDA’s message about eating well has stayed the same. Everyone still needs to eat lots of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, along with lean meats or other forms of protein and low-fat dairy products.

Oils provide important nutrients and are recommended in small amounts but aren’t included on the My Plate icon. Choose oils over solid fats, but limit the amount you eat.

Exercise is also no longer included in the icon, but it’s still an important component of a healthy lifestyle. Everyone should and will benefit from exercise. Starting at 2 years old, kids need at least 60 minutes of moderate to physical activity each day.

Criticisms are that it still does not help us navigate what kinds of foods should be in each category. Before the industrialization of our food supply, these categories were very simple. Now we are bombarded with thousands of choices and new “food products” on the shelves of the supermarket every week.

So what should we eat!? The question, “what is a healthy diet?” seems to still remain once we take a deeper look at the shortcomings of these food models.

What Every Mom Needs to Know About Insurance

As parents, it’s our responsibility to make sure our kids are cared for. We go out of our way to keep our kids safe, from buying bicycle helmets to Band-Aids to winter coats, right down to holding their hand when they cross the street.

Most of us worry endlessly about our kids’ well-being. I know I do! But as much as we worry about the little things, it’s sometimes easy to let the big things, those risks and dangers that are a little more intangible—slip by ignored or unattended to.

A big part of protecting our kids, as well as securing financial peace, is making sure our families are covered for the big things including natural disasters, an injury or illness, job loss, or worse. Even so, it can sometimes be hard to determine exactly what coverage you need, especially when it seems like most insurance salesmen only want to play on your emotions.

When money is tight, you certainly don’t want to overspend on coverage that you don’t need, but you need be protected from major catastrophe. The best approach is to do your research ahead of time and be aware of the state of your family’s finances before you get a sales pitch.

It is important to remember that it’s not the insurance agency’s role to make sure you’re getting the best deal on insurance. It is up to you to be your own advocate and to get the best rate. Insurance isn’t something you can put on the back burner and just pay each month.

To get the best rates, you must continuously (at least once a year) revisit your insurance policies and do some comparison shopping. Plans and offers are constantly changing to meet the needs of the market. Rates can fluctuate as your family’s needs and situation change as well. Adding another driver, building on an addition to your home, changing your security system, or bringing a new member of your family into the world can all raise insurance questions and call for a little guidance.

There are seven types of insurance that you NEED: Homeowners/Renters, Auto, Health, Disability, Long-Term Care, Identity Theft, and Life.

Other insurances you should consider is also boat, farm and travel.

resizedimage600583-Home-Insurance-Icons

Home

If you’re paying a mortgage, the lender requires homeowner’s coverage, but even if you’re lucky enough to own your home outright, you want to be sure that you’re protected.

For renters, insurance protects your possessions in case of fire, theft and, in some cases, flood. Renters insurance is often thought of as optional, but as a parent, you must cover yourself in case of tragedy. Renters insurance is often really quite inexpensive (less than $20/month!) and it’s very important if you have big-ticket items that might be difficult to replace, such as audio equipment, collectables, exercise gear, televisions and appliances. Take inventory of your household and make a list of those larger items that could be damaged or stolen, and would result in major financial hardship if you’d have to replace them.

There are several ways to save on homeowner and renter’s insurance. You can raise your deductible, combine policies and do some home improvements and emergency preparations to raise the protection level on your home. Improvements to home security can also help you save, as can new windows, doors, and extreme weather protection.

Auto

 When we think insurance, auto insurance is often the first thing that comes to mind. Driving is possibly the highest risk activity that any of us do almost every day, and we all know the importance of having liability coverage. In many states, it’s now illegal to operate a vehicle without liability insurance or proof of financial responsibility.

In our litigious society, unfortunately, coverage is mandatory to protect yourself from financial ruin in case of an accident or driving mistake. One moment can change your life and the life of another driver forever. Trust me, your mind will be at ease when you know you’re protected.

When it comes to auto insurance, the value of your vehicle is important when you’re determining the amount of coverage and type of insurance you need. If your car is in its twilight years, you may feel comfortable with less coverage or just liability. If you have a newer car (or if you’re paying off a car loan), you need to have full coverage to keep your investment safe.

There are several other ways to save on car insurance. Shop around, compare rates, and don’t become too loyal to just one agency or provider. There are good driver discounts, multiple car discounts, and even good grade programs for driving teens and students. Installing safety upgrades or attending defensive driving courses can also help lower your monthly payments and save you when it comes to paying for coverage.

family health insurance coverage

Health

Health insurance is so important. As parents, we know we must take children to the doctor for regular checkups. We also know that serious health issues can come out of nowhere, and without coverage they can leave households financially devastated. For the many of us just surviving in todays middleclass, we make enough to pay all our bills, not enough for the extras, and too much for any assistance such as government plan health insurance such as Medicaid, family health plus and their attached HMO plans.

Many employers offer health insurance at a cost which also requires deductibles and co-pays, but if yours does not, or if you’re independently employed, private insurance providers are available. Under the Affordable Care Act, you may qualify for low-cost coverage based on your income. Keep in mind though, low-cost means anywhere from $200-$400 per person a month with deductibles and co-pays which is low cost for health insurance.

Consider a Health Savings Account and/or a high deductible plan to save the most. An HSA can save families thousands of tax-free dollars every year, which you can use toward your deductible, so your monthly premium will be lower. You can use your HSA for prescriptions, and depending on the plan, eye exams and preventative care.

Disability

Disability insurance should cover 65% of your income, and most employers offer disability coverage. It’s often something that’s overlooked, but one in seven workers will face a disability before retirement.

You should be sure your disability insurance is long-term. My personal opinion is that you should have 3–6 months of expenses saved up, which would cover your needs in the case of a short-term or minor disability. It’s the long-term scenarios that you should plan for. Most disabilities (90%) are not covered by worker’s comp or social security.

The effects of a disability can financially ruin a family if you’re not properly prepared. Many workers facing disabilities can be out of work for three years or more. Consider what would happen to your family should they face an unforeseen accident or tragedy that leaves you unable to work.

Long-Term Care

As a parent, long-term care is not necessarily something that’s on any of our minds, but it’s a necessity for anyone over age 60. If your parents cannot afford long-term care insurance, this may be something you want to consider.

Consider the scenario of a parent who is facing a condition like dementia, Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease, and requires long-term care. This situation can quickly eat up your parents’ retirement savings and even dip into your own savings and accounts. Those who qualify for Medicaid will receive some assistance, but it often leaves patients with limited options and plans for complete care.

As you near your 60s, long-term care should be on your horizon and part of your post-retirement financial plan. It’s a way to make sure you don’t financially burden your children or spouse and ensures you won’t leave them unable to make ends meet.

Identity Theft

If you’ve never faced the horror in dealing with having your identity stolen, then consider yourself very lucky. With data breaches on the rise among major retailers, it seems like everyone is at risk. Identity theft can cost you big-time in terms of time, money, effort, and just general headaches. In a worst-case scenario, identity theft can damage your credit and make recovery very difficult—even if you’re an innocent victim.

Part of your insurance portfolio should include identity theft protection. You should be sure it includes an identity restoration service that can fix the damage and get your identity restored and safe once again. Teaching your family good identity-safety habits such as limiting your exposure online and protecting your passwords can help protect you as well, but should the worst happen, insurance will be a lifesaver.

Long Island Insurance Company

Life

Life insurance can be a little confusing. The general rule of thumb is you need term, not whole life. Cash value insurance can sound like a great way to invest and save money, but truth be told, it doesn’t offer high returns at all and generally is a poor performing product.

Term life insurance, on the other hand, is a way to cover yourself until you’re debt free and in a position to invest. It offers a way to help your spouse or children settle your estate and survive in relative comfort should something happen to you.

Term life insurance can help you cover burial costs and the costs of paying off your debt, plus further support of your family, particularly if you’re the sole breadwinner.

Facing uncertain scenarios in life is always unsettling, but having the proper insurance coverage can ease your mind and allow you to sleep a little easier at night. Look into the faces of your children and think of all the ways you would love to keep them safe. Insurance is one of the most simple, practical, and logical ways to protect your loved ones. 

Beginners Budget 101

 

My goal for this series is to guide you through a series of assignments intended to put you on sounder financial footing.  Basically it is eight weeks to a better budget. It is my personal guide, a beginners budget 101.

Each week we will tackle one specific area for us to work on, and then complete assignments related to that segment of our financial life. Keep in mind, just as anything you need to do in life, following this series will take some effort & commitment on your part. There are many ways to budget your financial life, and this is the blood, sweat, & tears edition. Okay, well maybe no blood 🙂

Every Sunday will mark a new week towards a better budget. Come join me and save! Click on Budget 101 in the menu scale, and use the drop down to view the series by week.

Disclaimers: 

  • I am not a financial expert or certified financial planner.  I have degrees in business administration, criminal and business law, have studied accounting, and am a certified tax preparer.  I have no credentials whatsoever beyond my own experience to qualify me for teaching anyone about saving money.  There are plenty of money experts out there who could probably explain this stuff far better than me, and some I will even refer you to.  My only goal here is to try to break down the scary world of budgets and saving into manageable bites.  Yes, this is the baby steps guide to saving. This is my personal guide, and its work for me.

Coding, The New Literacy

Coding, The New Literacy

Samantha Jonas-Rongo

“Every era demands, and rewards different skills of that generation”….Samantha Jonas-Rongo

All of us, including our children are connected to technology unlike when we were kids. It’s now part of our lives and our young ones are born into it. Teaching them to code is like playing with LEGOS, which itself is a great introduction to the concept. They want to make things and making a Lego house and building an app or a game is about the same concepts.

In earlier generations, including today, parents including stepmoms such as myself, teach their children how to grow plants, cook meals, separate laundry correctly, iron clothes, wash dishes, take care of animals and plants, make their bed and take vitamins daily, brush and floss their teeth at least twice a day, wash hands, speak proper and respectfully, use manners, do their homework, study hard, enjoy reading read, write a story, shoot hoops, ride a bike, the list goes on and on.

Our world has morphed and so many of the things we once did with elements such as fire and iron, or tools such as pencil and paper, are now wrought in code. We are teaching coding to help our kids craft their future. Isn’t it amazing to see a baby or a toddler handle a tablet or a smart phone? They know how technology works vaguely already.

Kids absorb information so fast. Languages, spoken or coded, can be learned in a matter of months. Recently, there has been a surge of importance and poplularity emerging about teaching kids to code.

Programming is viewed as a strict logical stream only available to the brainiest. In fact, coding is within the grasp of everyone. It teaches creativity, strategy, solving puzzles, and even cooperation. I want to expose not only my stepson to coding, but hope that  other parents understand the importance of programming because it’s a great skill and a powerful way of thinking.

As much as kids spend enough time playing Angry Birds and Cut the Rope on a smart phone, I figure they should get a peek behind the curtain at how the programming works. In fact, developing the codes that tell computers and devices what to do is now a vital mainstream skill. With that being said, everyone should learn to code in my opinion, but something’s getting lost in translation between technologists and parents of students around the country.

Let’s get this out of the way: Not everyone needs to learn how to code. Coding is just one part of the constantly evolving technological landscape. It produces all computer programs, from games to social media sites and online calculators. Some experts call it “the new literacy” and say that to survive in tomorrow’s society, young people must learn to code.

There’s a big difference between learning how to code and having a fundamental understanding of how technology and software operate. Of the two, the latter is way more important for some people including myself, while many in the U.S. don’t understand the tools and software they’re using and are settling for just knowing how to function the program.

“The cloud” is still one of those misunderstood technical terms that gets thrown around far too often, and yet people don’t understand what it means. Even CNN couldn’t educate their viewers appropriately about where and how data is stored in cloud services like iCloud.

I believe that offering programming electives for students who want to learn Python or scripting won’t solve the underlying problem of digital illiteracy alone. In order to teach all students to code, schools will first need to introduce computer-science concepts that help students learn how to stack the building blocks themselves.

Also, digital literacy won’t be a part of a students’ required curriculum until parents acknowledge it’s presence, understand its meaning and importance, and thus demand, that their children be taught it. Parents need to realize that this is an intellectual gap in the elementary school curriculum that’s going to be useful no matter what their kids are going to do in the future.

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They don’t need to learn how to build the next Dropbox or Facebook, but they should understand how the cloud works at least. Instead of just knowing “its a storage space on the web for your stuff”, or something related to that, they should know the fundamentals and meaning behind it. For students with access to more advanced technology, dovetailing computer science concepts with courses that students are already studying can benefit both subjects.

Bootstrap, for instance, teaches students programming concepts by using algebra and geometry to create a video game. The materials are open source, and math teachers of students aged 8 to 13 can download and introduce Bootstrap to the classroom, but finding and enabling qualified instructors to teach concepts of technology and computer science can be difficult.

The “learn to code,” movement has almost as many skeptics as supporters—in part because coding, and understanding how coding works, are two very different things.  When you understand how things work, it changes your perception of the world, and the Internet is not this thing that’s separate from you any more. You can be part of it.

 A growing list of educational startups are teaching programming languages such as HTML, CSS, and JavaScript to people without technical backgrounds. Universities, colleges, and continuing education programs are getting into the act, too. I support and understand the value of it’s success, because you have to stay on top of the technology of the present that is the beginning of the future. You have to stay on top of the technology, because it’s very competitive in the job market.

Coding, that’s the future. Many creative professionals are going to need to know how to do the technical stuff. Even if you or your child are not planning to become a programmer or developer, knowing and understanding computer code can enhance resumes and help careers.

Programming really is literacy for the 21st century. Which computer languages that should be learned depends on the goals. As a general rule of thumb, learn HTML and CSS for the Web; JavaScript for games or apps; and Ruby or Python if you want to process data or explore databases. For the college graduate, having the ability to put HTML and CSS on a resume is a real perk.

So how do you, yourself become code literate? Learning computer languages has been compared to studying foreign languages, so a lot depends on your style of learning. Some people prefer working independently at their own speed, so online programs such as Codecademy, Codagogy, or Code Avengers work best. Others may learn better in traditional classroom settings. An array of meetup groups can also help newbies get coding.

As a parent with the knowledge and understanding of coding and having the capability to code, helping teach your child learn those same skills and matters is much easier. If our children can learn how to abbreviate their text, text with emoticon, they can learn the fundamentals behind their device and its programming.

Samantha Jonas-Rongo