Lean Plate Club

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Sally Squires
Washington Post Health and Nutrition Writer
Tuesday, October 30, 2007; 1:00 PM

Confused about nutrition? Wondering how to fit in more physical activity? Welcome to the Lean Plate Club. Ask Sally Squires, nationally syndicated Lean Plate Club columnist for the Washington Post, about eating smart and moving more every Tuesday at 1 p.m. ET. Sally draws upon her master's degree in nutrition from Columbia University to preside over the lively Lean Plate Club web chat. Whether you're trying to reach a healthier weight or simply maintain it, you'll find plenty of tips and strategies.

Share your own food finds, creative workouts and secrets for healthy, great tasting meals. We'll cheer your successes and help with your setbacks. (None of this, of course, is a substitute for medical advice.) E-mail Sally, author of the newly published Secrets of the Lean Plate Club (St. Martin's Press) at leanplateclub@washpost.com.

Or just sign up for the free Lean Plate Club e-mail newsletter. The Lean Plate Club column appears Tuesdays in the Washington Post Health section and is nationally syndicated by the Washington Post Writers Group. Find other Lean Plate Club members at www.frappr.com/leanplateclub.

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Discussion Transcripts

A transcript follows.

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Sally Squires: Welcome to the Lean Plate Club! I had a great time meeting many of you this past week in St. Petersburg, Fla., at the Festival of Reading and at Temple Rodef Shalom in Falls, Church, Va. Thanks to all for coming to hear me speak.

I'm starting a little late so let's get on with it. Your e-mail newsletters should be in your electronic in-boxes now. Look for some great recipes in What's for Dinner Tonight. Also, many additional exercise links and tips for pregnancy.

On to the chat!

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Rosslyn, Va.: Hi Sally -- Though I'm not pregnant, I was really pleased to see the new MyPyramid Tracker for pregnancy and breastfeeding. I've been using My Pyramid Tracker now for just a little over a month, and have FINALLY gotten off my weight plateau with exercise and a careful monitoring of every morsel. It is so hard to do, but necessary. Kudos to you for your reusable LPC grocery bags! I have tons of bags from conferences I've attended for work, and I find they do the trick too.

Sally Squires: Thanks for the feedback on the My Pyramid site. For those who are pregnant or breastfeeding, there's a lot of information available at the new Web site on My Pyramid. And I'm excited about the Lean Plate Club reuseable grocery bags. I'll be giving away a few each week today and in upcoming chats. Thanks to Linda Haskins-Wrenn for her help in making these happen.

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Rockville, Md.: Thanks for so many great columns and chats!

I appreciate all the chat suggestions for ways to increase exercise. My worst enemy now is hunger. I'd love to have ideas for what healthy snacks readers use to ward off hunger and help stay away from unwanted fats and calories. Things unappetizing to me, like clear soups or salsa on a cucumber, just don't do it! Thanks!

Sally Squires: Since you don't like soup, you might try cereal with skim milk and fruit. If you can, cereals that are high in fiber and low in added sugar are best. So a bowl of oatmeal is a great option. You might make it with skim milk for added protein and then top with a few slivered almonds or some fresh fruit. Yum.

Beans could also be a great option for you. So think hummus, a small bean burrito with a whole grain wrap, a little salsa and perhaps some fresh cilantro and a little nonfat cheese. (Can you tell that I haven't had lunch yet?)

String cheese is another great option. Sticks run between 50 to 70 calories. Add a handful of grapes. Or a small piece of fruit and voila! A great snack.

Nuts would be another option. So half a peanut butter sandwich on whole wheat usually gives great staying power and feels like a treat.

The list goes on and on. Other favorites out there? Send them our way.

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Dried Beans vs. Canned Beans: Hi Sally,

I noticed in the mypyriamid.gov"foods to choose often" section it lists cooked dry beans and there is no mention of canned beans. Are dried beans really that much more beneficial? I eat a lot of canned beans (mostly black beans) and like having them on hand because they can be the main event of a quick and healthy meal. It seems to me that using dried beans would require too much pre-planning. Also, black beans aren't specifically listed among the dry beans. Are black beans a less healthy option than other kinds of beans?

Thanks for your help deciphering all of this!!

Sally Squires: Canned beans -- that is the ones originally made from dried beans -- are just fine. If you're worried about sodium, sometimes a concern for pregnant women, you can rinse them with water to help remove some of that added salt. Although in next week's Lean Plate Club column -- which is on sodium by the way -- you'll learn that some food manufacturers are decreasing sodium in canned foods. And it appears (from early reporting) that canned beans are one of those foods that have decreased in sodium content in recent years.

Beans are a wonderful fast food (particularly if they are canned.) Or you can make a big batch in a slow cooker or on your stove and then put them into individual portions. The beauty of beans is that they're cheap, flavorful, varied and great tasting. Plus, they're loaded with protein, complex carbs and fiber and yes, they are hard to beat!

Hope that helps.

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Sarasota, Fla.: You ask which supplements I take: omega 3 fish oil capsules, Citrical with Vit D, baby aspirin, GNC daily multivitamin, Vit C with Rose hips. When I train: electrolyte capsules, sports drinks/gels and bars.

Sally Squires: Thanks for weighing in with us, Sarasota. And your posting reminds me that in today's Lean Plate Club e-mail newsletter, there's a link to a cool new site run by the National Institutes of Health that allows you to check out some 2,000 dietary supplements. Another example of your tax dollars at work. Find more in today's LPC e-mail newsletter.

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Baltimore: to Rockville, Md.:

For snacking, I buy small individual containers of cottage cheese and spread it on 2-3 rice cakes. It has some crunch, and satisfies me.

Sally Squires: That's a great suggestion and a wonderful example of portion control. That cottage cheese is rich in protein, calcium and has lactose, a sugar that won't make your blood sugar soar. Also, this weekend at the grocery store, I saw some whole grain rice cakes which would also be a nice option.

Thanks Baltimore. I was just in your fine city this morning.

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Soups, thick or thin: I think some people may be confusing cream soups with pureed soups. You don't have to have clear, thin soups if you want something heartier. Pureed butternut squash/apple soup, pureed black bean or navy bean, even a pureed potato soup (no milk or cream, use stock instead) can be made with absolutely no cream and still be hearty, rich-tasting and filling.

Sally Squires: That's a very good point. And there are so many wonderful pureed soups or "creamy" soups sans the cream. Split pea, tomato, tomato and red pepper, pumpkin, butternut squash are just some of those that come to mind. Yum. And let's not forget that soup and stews are high-volume foods, filled with water that help us feel fuller on fewer calories.

Thanks!

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Centreville, Va.: Hi Sally!

Any tips for how to avoid eating when I'm tired/stressed/etc.? I particularly have trouble with eating when I'm tired. My defenses will be down because I'm so tired, and I let myself believe that food will make up for lack of sleep...(I'm a grad student and I work full time, plus a part-time job, so I skimp on sleep more often than I should).

Thanks!

Tired and busy

Sally Squires: You've got a lot of company on this one. Many of us, in burning the candles at both ends, wind up fueling ourselves more. And of course, that lack of sleep can wreak havoc with your appetite hormones and blood sugar. So it really becomes a vicious cycle. Having worked full time while in graduate school, I have great empathy for what you're doing.

The healthier choices you can have available for these weak moments, the better. So cut up veggies or fruit with a healthy dip would be smart choices. Also, soup. You can sip it slowly. Hot chocolate or various teas and flavored coffees may be other options for you.

And if you can sneak in a quick walk or even a quick snooze, you may find that you're really not hungry. Hope that helps. And good luck with your efforts. It will likely pay off down the line with all that great education.

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Darnestown, Md.: The NIH Web site is a really useful tool! I think it is really important to remember to let your doctor know the supplements that you take. Amazingly enough, doctor's don't ask this question but there are several supplements that have food/drug interactions. I was talking to my nurse and she mentioned that she doesn't ask about supplements because she doesn't know enough about some of them! I will tell her about the Web site!

Sally Squires: Yes, informing your doctor of all that you take is very wise, be they prescription drugs, nonprescription medications or dietary supplements. And I'm glad you liked the Web site. It was just unveiled on Friday -- the new site for pregnant moms came out on Thursday -- so it was a big week for new federal Web sites!

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Severna Park, Md.: Hi Sally! Great info today. We are hoping to get pregnant soon with No. 2 soon. I will be checking out the resources you mentioned. I wanted to share a book that I used with my first pregnancy that I found very helpful: Nutrition for a "Healthy Pregnancy: The Complete Guide to Eating Before, During and After your Pregnancy," by Elizabeth Somer, M.A;R.D.

I have found it especially helpful to motivate me to eat well prior to my pregnancies, so I can store up nutrients necessary to build a healthy baby.

Sally Squires: Thanks Severna Park for the book suggestion. I know that author and she's quite good. Also in today's e-mail newsletter, I included links to several other books -- one by Laura Riley an OB/GYN at Massachusetts General Hospital; the other by Allan Walker, also an OB/GYN. Both volumes also have a lot of great information.

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Chamblee, Ga.: You mentioned that if you sleep, you may find you're not hungry. However, I find that that is when I'm really hungry -- right after waking! Also, I'm a stress eater and my vice at those times is sweets. Any suggestions?

Sally Squires: Are you hungrier when you wake in the morning? That's appropriate because you've fasted all night. Or are you hungry when you wake from a nap? In that case, you may want to have a healthful snack ready and waiting to grab so that you don't veer into nutritional mischief!

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Favorite snack of late...: Popcorn in the microwave, the do-it-yourself way. Pour approx 1/4 cup unpopped kernels into a paper bag, fold it over, and zap it for a few minutes. No oil, no butter needed (and you can add them later if you wish). Works like a charm, and you can reuse the paper bag! 1/4 cup should be about the right serving size for a single person - approximately 3 cups popped.

Sally Squires: And let's note that this popcorn doesn't come coated with any added chemicals that may pose a breathing risk. (I'll bet making it this way also gives off that great aroma of corn popping.) One word of caution: be sure to keep an eye on the bag while it's in your microwave so that it the bag starts to burn, you can turn it off right away.

Thanks for the suggestion.

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Rockville, Md.: To the other Rockville poster who said she (or he) is always hungry. I find a tall glass of skim milk or other LOW calorie drinks to help with hunger. For example, a latte with skim milk and a dash of sugar is low calorie and gives you calcium. I also like iced coffee with some milk and sugar and unsweetened cocoa. It's like a desert for me, but less calories than a milk shake or even a coffee shop mocha.

Sally Squires: Great idea! And that skim milk is also rich in protein and of course, packs some calcium, which is good for your bones. Thanks!

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Michigan City, Ind.: Hi Sally: The article about Daylight Savings and SAD was so interesting. I was wondering if SAD has been linked to less than healthy eating patterns -- reaching for comfort foods when you feel blue or tired?

Or do we just use the season's lack of light as a good "cover" for munching on extra treats from Halloween through New Year's?

Maybe the Holiday Challenge should start when we set the clocks back!

Sally Squires: Depression has certainly been linked to some eating problems, so SAD, which is stands for seasonal affective disorder, could have that kind of component too for some people.

But here's something that we learned in graduate school: people often put on some weight in colder weather. This may be an atavistic response to the time when famine and hunger were quite common during winter months in some regions of the world. Of course, life has changed these day. And few of us have ever known anything close to famine. (Fortunately!) So some of us may have to factor in this tendency and override it if our bodies don't do it naturally for us.

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Snacks: I like peanut butter on Quaker's white cheddar rice cakes.

Sally Squires: Those rice cakes are a popular item today! Thanks.

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Baltimore: For those of us who can't stand skim milk but will tolerate 2%, do you recommended the same snacks replacing the skim milk with 2%, or do you recommend completely different snacks?

Sally Squires: Two percent is certainly a better choice than whole milk. Low-fat buttermilk is another option. (Although many may not be able to stand this either, since it can be an acquired taste.) You might also check out some of the low-fat soy, rice or other "milk" options. They're good snacks too. And many, these days, are also fortified with calcium.

By the way, if you want to slowly get used to skim milk. Start with two percent, then gradually dilute with 1 percent until you get to half and half. Slowly decrease the 2 percent until you only have 1 percent. You might also look for skim or 1 percent milk with added milk solids or calcium that can give the milk a richer flavor.

Thanks.

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Alexandria, Va.: Hi Sally, I have a 10-week-old and seem to have mastered breastfeeding. My question is, many books and articles relate that mothers should lessen or eliminate dairy and spicy foods while breastfeeding. I ate both during my entire pregnancy with no apparent problems. Why of all things would you want skip dairy -- vitamins, protein, calcium, etc., when you are trying to make "milk"? Lactose issues? The Web says nothing of allergies unless their is family history (we have no food allergies). I've been really, really good about my diet the whole pregnancy and love both dairy and spicy! Thanks

Sally Squires: Congratulations on being a new mom. It's wonderful, isn't it? And another big pat on the back for breastfeeding. It's a great way to help your baby start life right.

The spicey food was a surprise to me too when I was nursing. And my pediatrician soon added beans, broccoli and a lot of other foods to the list to avoid, since they seemed to upset our newborn son. So yes, some of those compounds do pass through the milk. (Ditto for alcohol and caffeine, which you likely already know.)

As for avoiding the milk and other dairy products, that's a new one to me. You might check that one out with your ob/gyn or pediatrician. Or in the meantime, check the My Pyramid Web site. I'm pretty certain that dairy products are part of the plan for breastfeeding moms.

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Alexandria, Va.: Okay, so this might be the wrong chat, but I'm trying to vary my veggie eating. I know from eating it at restaurants that I really like butternut squash and I found a big bag of it (cheap) at Costco, so on a whim I bought it. Now I'm at a loss on how to (fairly easily) cook it. Any ideas? Thanks!

Sally Squires: Not the wrong chat at all. In fact, in recent Lean Plate Club e-mail newsletters, I've included a number of recipes using butternut squash. How about Turkey, Barley and Butternut Squash? We'll post a link in a minute for that recipe, which comes courtesy of the American Institute for Cancer Research. And I think in today's Lean Plate Club e-mail newsletter, there's a link to six recipes for squash and if I recall correctly, at least one uses butternut squash.

Hope that helps. Other favorite recipes for butternut squash? Please send them our way!

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Caveat about My Pyramid Tracker: While I find the food entry very easy, it doesn't always calculate calories properly because sometimes the food I select to represent what I've eaten is not EXACTLY what I ate. (For example, to get the number of calories in my morning bowl of Kashi cereal properly entered, I have to set the serving size to one cup and the portion size to 2.2 cups. This is because I eat Kashi Go Lean - not in My Pyramid Tracker database - even though I eat only 1 cup.) I try to get the calories from the manufacturers' label whenever possible, then get My Pyramid Tracker to replicate the appropriate number by adjusting the portion size.

Sally Squires: All of these Web sites and calculators have a few little quirks, so thanks for sending that one along. I, too, have had to personalize the database that I use to record food. And now, I hope that it's never inaccessible, since I've added quite a few favorites through the years. Thanks.

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washingtonpost.com: Barley, Turkey and Butternut Squash Casserole (aicr.org)

Sally Squires: As promised....

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Phoenix: re: reusable grocery bags

Good morning, Sally, (submitting question in advance),

I have been attempting to switch to reusable shopping bags in order to reduce my waste. Here in Phoenix, Trader Joe's has excellent reusable bags of various sizes, shapes, and fabrics, including insulated bags for keeping cold foods cold. For a grand total of $1.99, my insulated bag holds a ton of food, and reduces waste at the same time. I also receive many cloth bags when I attend conventions, and some of these are stored in my trunk with the TJs bags. I don't always remember to bring those bags in with me, but I do try to remember them every time I go shopping, whether it be at the grocery store, a big-box store, or the public library. And in the meantime, I'm using up those old plastic bags for cleaning out the cat box (eww), and in the small bathroom wastebaskets.

Sally Squires: We use the plastic bags for a similar purpose -- on walks with our canine companion. And I've seen those TJ bags. I also take my used paper bags in and register for a free prize drawing at TJ's. (And have started to do this at other stores too, although they don't offer that nice perk.)

So I think it will be cool to have these wonderful, bright blue Lean Plate Club grocery bags to use for healthful food with less impact to the environment. And by the way, I love the fact that the Lean Plate Club is in the Arizona Republic.

If you'd like to see the Lean Plate Club column in your hometown newspaper -- the syndicated column now has a circulation of more than 6 million weekly -- please send me an e-mail to leanplateclub@washpost.com, and put hometown newspaper in the subject line. If you include the name of your paper in the message, we'll pass your wishes along to the Post Writers Group for follow-up.

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washingtonpost.com: Butternut Squash Soup with Beans and Corn (aicr.org)

Sally Squires: As promised!

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Highland, Md.: I sprained my ankle in mid-August, and have to severely cut back or drop usual exercise activities, including walking and step/floor aerobics, even spinning class and lower-body weight training. So I've gone back to swimming laps (not having done it since the last time I injured my foot, but that's a different story). This is not really pleasant, due to inaccessibility of pools, chlorine exposure, etc. But every day that I put swimming on my schedule, I say to myself, philosophically, "it has to be done", and then I go do it.

Sally Squires: So very sorry to hear about your injury, Highland. But what a great example you've given us about staying active even through difficult times. Thanks for the inspiration.

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Germantown, Md.: In response to the microwave popcorn... It is really nice after the corn is popped to drizzle it with a little olive oil for a good flavor and not a lot of saturated fat or chemicals!

Sally Squires: Oh yes, that's the way my husband fixes it and it is indeed delish!

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Rockville, Md.: Hi Sally, love the chats. When I was pregnant I found two extremes between my doctor and books when it came to eating. The doctor was pretty general and said eat healthy but almost it seemed nervous to go beyond that and advice books scare you into thinking almost everything might harm baby. A good resource was the hospital dietitian. Most hospitals have courses you can take including eating when pregnant. The registered dietitian helped explain what we should eat, how many calories, etc. It was such a wealth of information and the one that taught our course even talked to me after the birth and helped me with a plan to lose the weight.

Sally Squires: That's an excellent idea and most people don't think to ask about that resource. Also, the physicians I spoke to for this column said that the medical community is also realizing that they need to emphasize better nutrition -- and less weight gain -- for many expectant moms. So this is likely to be a theme that you'll hear again. Thanks.

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Springfield, Ill.: The recent "Nutrition Action" newsletter from CSPI stated that we may now be getting too much Folic Acid and Selenium (but not enough Vitamin D) as supplements. The part that worried me the most was that they were saying that excess Folic Acid was linked to more aggressive cancer rates and Selenium with increased diabetes!

Should we still take multivitamins?

Sally Squires: There's a lot of debate about multivitamins. Since so many of us are overnourished, we may be getting way too much of certain ingredients. A recent conference sponsored by the federal government's Office of Dietary Supplements said that there was not enough evidence at this time to recommend for or against dietary supplements. But experts do agree that it's best to get nutrients first from food, then reach for supplements as needed. There are some specific shortfall nutrients -- especially vitamin D -- where a vitamin may be helpful. Also, calcium often falls short. And B12 is recommended for those 50 and older, because the stomach produces less acid, which makes the B12 in food less accessible.

It's a constantly changing landscape. So what seems right for a while, may not be good forever.

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Preggo in DC: Sally, thanks for the resources you offered this morning for pregnant and nursing moms. However, a wrinkle in the whole thing is that I have been waking up off and on in the middle of the night hungry for the past few months (I'm about 5 months along.) I can't just not eat. I usually eat some yogurt and go back to bed. Regardless of the weight gain, if my body's telling me to eat, I think I should pay attention. I am going to try to come up with some more filling (and healthy) meals that might help me to sleep through the night, at least while I still can.

Sally Squires: That yogurt is a good option. But you might want to log into My Pyramid's new site for pregnant women just to check to see how your weight gain compares with what is recommended. And you may also find some other food options for those midnight snacks. Congratulations, by the way, on your expanding family!

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Springfield, Va.: A couple of weeks ago there was a discussion about how the Biggest Loser contestants rarely stay at their final weight at the end of the show. My parents knew the Delaware contestant, Tim Clausen, from last year and he has not only managed to keep the weight off, but has won a couple of racquetball tournaments.

Sally Squires: Very cool! Thanks for passing this along.

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Portland, Ore.: My sister is 7-months pregnant. She is on her 3rd child and is eating (by far) more healthy foods, and has just more of a healthy diet. The 3rd baby is predicted to weigh the largest at 8-9lbs. The 1st baby was mostly Taco Bell, Subway and KFC. I think its kind of ironic.

I am wondering if genetics play any roll in your food cravings during pregnancy (I have yet to be pregnant). Also wondering if anyone has any tips for her since she has to eat LESS now to make sure the baby doesn't get TOO big.

Sally Squires: It wouldn't be surprising if both genetics -- and the way you were brought up to eat -- both play a role in what you crave during pregnancy, Portland. High volume foods -- salads, fiber filled foods, soups and stews, whipped foods high in air -- would be good options for your sister. She may also find as her baby gets larger that small meals are best because the load is so great with the baby. Hope you'll let us know what she has.

Thanks.

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Humble Bean Soup: Now that frost is in the air and we are searching for last year fall clothes, we can start making bean soup again. We have started making a simple lima bean soup with onions and a few tbsps of butter once a week. It is filling, high in fiber, and a complete meal with a salad.

Sally Squires: That's a great way to stay warm, full and satisfied. Thanks.

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Las Vegas: I once had a recipe for soaking and salting popcorn kernels, then drying them, then popping them. I lost the recipe. Do you know what I should do to accomplish adding some salt, but no oil to my popcorn? Salt doesn't stick to the popped kernels unless I use oil. I like to use a hot air popper. Thanks.

Sally Squires: That's one that I don't know and we are just about out of time, Las Vegas, but I'll check with the food section and see what they might have.

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Sally Squires: Thanks to all for a great chat! We are out of time, so today's winners are Baltimore, Severna Park, Favorite Snack and Highland, Md. Please send me your name and U.S. Postal address and I'll send you each a prize.

Until next week: eat smart and move more with the Lean Plate Club.

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