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Learn how to help college students take control of their health

Education - Mon, 07/21/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - College may provide the first opportunity for many young adults to make important health decisions for themselves. In its Healthy Campus 2020 objectives, the American College Health Association’s Healthy Campus Coalition highlights a number of important topics for improving the health of college students, including vaccine-preventable diseases, nutrition and physical activity, substance abuse, mental health, and sexually transmitted diseases.

“College is an excellent opportunity for young adults to begin to take ownership of their health, especially as we know this population can experience an increase in mental health concerns,” says Dr. Vaughn Rickert, psychologist and professor of pediatrics and the Donald P. Orr chair in adolescent medicine at Indiana University School of Medicine and Riley Hospital for Children. “Helping teens be proactive about managing their health during this time can help establish positive health habits in addressing any concern as soon as it's recognized.”

Once teens start college, their eating, exercising and general health habits may change. One way to help maintain good health is for teens and young adults to get vaccinated. Vaccines to help prevent against HPV, flu and tetanus are recommended for college students and young adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Some states may require students entering college to be vaccinated against certain diseases, such as meningitis. It is important that teens discuss these recommended vaccines with their doctor during their annual checkup.

In addition, there are other steps students can take, such as eating right and exercising on a regular basis, that may help them maintain good health. According to the CDC, healthy nutrition starts with eating plenty of fruits and vegetables and balancing high calorie foods with healthier ones. Establishing an exercise routine can also help build and maintain healthy bones and muscles while reducing the risk of obesity, and developing chronic diseases, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

“During college, teens may begin to make new friends and celebrate new accomplishments,” says Dr. Rickert. “It is possible that alcohol will be present during these celebrations and social gatherings. Teens need to understand the importance of making responsible choices.” Alcohol is the most commonly used and abused drug among youth in the United States, according to the CDC. Underage drinking increases the risk of physical assault, school problems and abuse of other drugs.

College can also be overwhelming and stressful. Depression, anxiety and eating disorders are common mental health issues on college campuses. Many campuses run a suicide prevention hotline, which can be the first step in seeking support. Students can also visit the campus health center or a nearby clinic.

Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are another important issue many young adults can face during college. Nearly half of the 20 million new STDs diagnosed each year are among young people aged 15 to 24 years. Latex condoms can reduce the risk of transmission of some STDs when used consistently and correctly.

College students can discuss these important health topics with their doctor during their annual checkup. The best place to go for health services is a regular health care provider, according to the CDC. However, if a college student does not have one, they may be able to visit the on-campus clinic for a checkup.

Parents may also consider scheduling their teen’s annual checkup while their teen is home from college for a holiday or semester break. MyTeensHealth.com offers tips and resources to help ensure parents are prepared to help their teens stay healthy during college, including a checklist for their teen’s annual wellness visit.

Categories: Lifestyle

Establishing a 401(k) at your small business is easier than you think - and helps employees save for the long-term

Community Cares - Fri, 07/18/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - Over the next 16 years, 10,000 people will turn 65 every day. Social Security alone may not be enough to provide an adequate retirement. Every day you hear about the lack of retirement savings and how ill-prepared many Americans are to meet their spending needs during retirement. Many remedies are suggested to help Americans save for the long-term. While there is much discussion around new ideas on how to close the savings gap (state administered plans, myRA savings plan, etc.) one answer to help Americans save more for retirement is available today.

Creating a workplace retirement plan (such as a 401(k)) continues to be one of the most appreciated benefits of any company. According to The Small Plan 401(k) RetireWell Study conducted by Guardian Retirement Solutions, overall satisfaction with 401(k)s among existing plan sponsors is virtually 100 percent, including a majority (56 percent) who are “very satisfied.” Specifically, more than half (57 percent) of small-business owners say the plan helps employees retire with an adequate and secure income and at least half say their plan is very successful when it comes to making retirement savings easy, providing employees with retirement income planning tools and supporting and encouraging disciplined, systematic savings by employees. 

Additionally, and perhaps most importantly, the Employee Benefit Research Institute’s (EBRI) 2014 Retirement Confidence Survey found that 73 percent of people without access to a workplace retirement plan say they have less than $1,000 in total retirement assets. The solution? Increase access to workplace retirement plans.

Many small businesses are still without a 401(k) plan. In fact, 46 percent of small businesses do not offer a workplace retirement plan, according to Guardian’s Small Plan 401(k)RetireWell Study. This makes it more difficult for small businesses to attract and retain the talented employees vital to making them competitive in their industries. It also does not help close the savings gap for the average U.S. citizen. In order to help more Americans save, small-business owners should consider offering or improving a workplace retirement plan. Satisfaction rates are high, and the need is significant.

If you’re a small-business owner considering offering a 401(k) plan or looking to improve the current workplace retirement plan you offer to your employees, follow these five tips to establish a successful plan so your employees can feel more confident about their retirement and remain loyal to your company.

5 tips for implementing a successful workplace retirement plan

1. Work with a competent financial professional. Business owners who work with a financial professional when offering a 401(k) plan were much more satisfied (61 percent) with their overall plan than those who did not work with a financial professional (40 percent), according to the Guardian Retirement Solutions Small Plan 401(k) RetireWell Study.   

2. Understand your role – as the plan sponsor, you are the plan fiduciary.  This means you have taken responsibility for the plan and you must act in the plan’s best interest. Among other duties, this includes acting prudently and in the best interest of the plan participants, selecting and monitoring the service providers who help administer the plan, providing education for participants and employees, selecting and monitoring the plan investment options, and ensuring the plan is paying “reasonable” fees for the necessary services required to administer the plan. Educating yourself on these responsibilities, and talking to your legal adviser to understand your obligations as a plan fiduciary is critical. Additionally, your financial professional can work with you to help find service providers who can assist with these responsibilities to ensure you’re doing what’s needed for the plan, minimizing your fiduciary risk, and ensuring the plan is operating optimally.

3. Find the right help for you and your plan. Look for a recordkeeper and other retirement plan service providers who are focused on the needs of small-business owners to ensure your needs are met. Services can include: customized and flexible solutions for your business, fiduciary support services, investment flexibility (target date funds, managed accounts, multiple fund choices), access to customer service teams, enrollment and on-going education and support. Small companies do not have the same access to staff and resources that larger companies do. Working with providers who understand and cater to the small business market and who can offer these value-added services will help you reduce your administrative burdens.

4. Find the right plan design for you. Talk to your third-party administrator (TPA) about a plan design that makes sense for you and your employees. There are many ways to setup a workplace retirement plan, not just a 401(k) (i.e. defined benefit plan, cash balance plan, profit-sharing only plan,etc.). In order to maximize company and employee tax savings and meet other plan and business owner objectives, you want to be sure the plan has the necessary features to help you attract and retain employees.

5. Educate your employees. Look to work with service providers who can provide your employees with robust enrollment and on-going educational tools and the support to help them plan, save and invest for retirement. At the end of the day, you want to make sure you can help your employees achieve the retirement they desire.

Categories: Lifestyle

Establishing a 401(k) at your small business is easier than you think - and helps employees save for the long-term

Business/Careers - Fri, 07/18/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - Over the next 16 years, 10,000 people will turn 65 every day. Social Security alone may not be enough to provide an adequate retirement. Every day you hear about the lack of retirement savings and how ill-prepared many Americans are to meet their spending needs during retirement. Many remedies are suggested to help Americans save for the long-term. While there is much discussion around new ideas on how to close the savings gap (state administered plans, myRA savings plan, etc.) one answer to help Americans save more for retirement is available today.

Creating a workplace retirement plan (such as a 401(k)) continues to be one of the most appreciated benefits of any company. According to The Small Plan 401(k) RetireWell Study conducted by Guardian Retirement Solutions, overall satisfaction with 401(k)s among existing plan sponsors is virtually 100 percent, including a majority (56 percent) who are “very satisfied.” Specifically, more than half (57 percent) of small-business owners say the plan helps employees retire with an adequate and secure income and at least half say their plan is very successful when it comes to making retirement savings easy, providing employees with retirement income planning tools and supporting and encouraging disciplined, systematic savings by employees. 

Additionally, and perhaps most importantly, the Employee Benefit Research Institute’s (EBRI) 2014 Retirement Confidence Survey found that 73 percent of people without access to a workplace retirement plan say they have less than $1,000 in total retirement assets. The solution? Increase access to workplace retirement plans.

Many small businesses are still without a 401(k) plan. In fact, 46 percent of small businesses do not offer a workplace retirement plan, according to Guardian’s Small Plan 401(k)RetireWell Study. This makes it more difficult for small businesses to attract and retain the talented employees vital to making them competitive in their industries. It also does not help close the savings gap for the average U.S. citizen. In order to help more Americans save, small-business owners should consider offering or improving a workplace retirement plan. Satisfaction rates are high, and the need is significant.

If you’re a small-business owner considering offering a 401(k) plan or looking to improve the current workplace retirement plan you offer to your employees, follow these five tips to establish a successful plan so your employees can feel more confident about their retirement and remain loyal to your company.

5 tips for implementing a successful workplace retirement plan

1. Work with a competent financial professional. Business owners who work with a financial professional when offering a 401(k) plan were much more satisfied (61 percent) with their overall plan than those who did not work with a financial professional (40 percent), according to the Guardian Retirement Solutions Small Plan 401(k) RetireWell Study.   

2. Understand your role – as the plan sponsor, you are the plan fiduciary.  This means you have taken responsibility for the plan and you must act in the plan’s best interest. Among other duties, this includes acting prudently and in the best interest of the plan participants, selecting and monitoring the service providers who help administer the plan, providing education for participants and employees, selecting and monitoring the plan investment options, and ensuring the plan is paying “reasonable” fees for the necessary services required to administer the plan. Educating yourself on these responsibilities, and talking to your legal adviser to understand your obligations as a plan fiduciary is critical. Additionally, your financial professional can work with you to help find service providers who can assist with these responsibilities to ensure you’re doing what’s needed for the plan, minimizing your fiduciary risk, and ensuring the plan is operating optimally.

3. Find the right help for you and your plan. Look for a recordkeeper and other retirement plan service providers who are focused on the needs of small-business owners to ensure your needs are met. Services can include: customized and flexible solutions for your business, fiduciary support services, investment flexibility (target date funds, managed accounts, multiple fund choices), access to customer service teams, enrollment and on-going education and support. Small companies do not have the same access to staff and resources that larger companies do. Working with providers who understand and cater to the small business market and who can offer these value-added services will help you reduce your administrative burdens.

4. Find the right plan design for you. Talk to your third-party administrator (TPA) about a plan design that makes sense for you and your employees. There are many ways to setup a workplace retirement plan, not just a 401(k) (i.e. defined benefit plan, cash balance plan, profit-sharing only plan,etc.). In order to maximize company and employee tax savings and meet other plan and business owner objectives, you want to be sure the plan has the necessary features to help you attract and retain employees.

5. Educate your employees. Look to work with service providers who can provide your employees with robust enrollment and on-going educational tools and the support to help them plan, save and invest for retirement. At the end of the day, you want to make sure you can help your employees achieve the retirement they desire.

Categories: Lifestyle

6 tips for a safe and enjoyable summer

Community Cares - Fri, 07/18/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - Summer is all about spending time outdoors – either at home or away. Whether you’re hitting the road or taking a trip to the local park, it’s time for fun in the sun. And when you’re preparing for fun outside, remember that there are safety concerns to consider as well.

With that in mind, Master Lock offers these six tips to help make the season a safe and enjoyable one for everyone in your household:

* Make your backyard a safe place. Remember to put garden tools and lawn mowers away in a locked place after use. Un-stored tools could cause a fall or be used by young children as toys. Secure your shed or garage door with a high-security, weather-resistant padlock. Not only does this deter kids from using tools as toys, it also guards lawn equipment from theft.

* Sleep safely with the windows open. Sleeping with open windows provides a cool breeze for pleasant rest and helps many people sleep better. What’s more is that it lessens the chance of succumbing to carbon monoxide poisoning, a dangerous nighttime killer. Unfortunately, it also provides intruders with easy access to your home. Before enjoying this summertime routine, take proactive measures to ensure you do so safely. If you have a home security system (only 14 percent of North Americans do, according to the recent Safety and Security Survey), make sure it provides window security coverage. Otherwise, use a window-blocking device that prevents windows from opening more than 6 inches, and ensure windows cannot be accessed from outside. While you’re sleeping, ensure all doors are locked and safeguard patio doors from intruders with Master Lock’s Door Security Bar.

* Designate a family meeting spot. More than half of North Americans have not designated a meeting spot in case of a house fire. Choose one with your family now so you’re prepared in case of a fire. It’s also good practice to designate a meeting spot whenever you’re away from home. Whether you are at a carnival, park or away on vacation, always come up with a plan of where to meet. This will give you peace of mind in case someone in your family is separated from the group.

* Check your smoke detectors. Properly installed and maintained smoke detectors save lives and protect against injury and loss due to fire. Yet, survey results showed that only 7 percent of North Americans test smoke detectors monthly – the recommended frequency to ensure they’re always working correctly. Replace batteries yearly or as soon as you hear a low-battery warning sound - usually a chirping noise. Smoke alarms themselves should be replaced every 10 years.

* Create backups. With busy summer schedules, it’s easy to forget your keys before leaving the house. To avoid being locked out of your house, make extra copies of your keys and keep them in a secure spot. A lock box allows you to store your extra key and make it accessible only to those who know the combination.

* Prepare for the unexpected. Technology today makes it easier than ever to ensure you’re never without important information, such as your child’s insurance details or passwords to your online accounts. Store digital copies of your family’s important medical and identification information in a secure app such as the Master Lock Vault for access whenever you need them.

By taking the proper safety precautions, you’ll enjoy a safe and worry-free summer. To learn more about the products available from Master Lock, visit www.masterlock.com.

Categories: Lifestyle

How to maximize your tax benefits from charitable gifts

Community Cares - Fri, 07/18/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - You answer calls to support your alma mater, the local animal shelter and the American Red Cross with gifts of money and volunteer time. And after cleaning out the closets, dressers, kitchen cabinets and garage, you take a trunk load of donations to the thrift store.

You know your gifts of cash, time and household items may be tax deductible, but what do you need to do to verify that and maximize your deduction?

"Being charitable can cut your taxable income, as long as you follow a few simple rules," says Jessi Dolmage, spokesperson for popular digital tax preparation brand TaxACT. "Those include giving to eligible organizations and keeping accurate records."

To determine if you've donated to eligible organizations, search the IRS' database of Exempt Organization Select Check at www.irs.gov. Most religious organizations and government agencies are eligible, even if they’re not listed in the database.

Keeping detailed records is important for accurate valuation of your gifts (and in turn your tax deduction) and in the unlikely event of an audit. Dolmage says records should include organization name, donation date and amount.

For monetary gifts, keep the written acknowledgment from the organization with the donation date and amount. A canceled check or card statement with the transaction date also suffices for gifts under $250.

If you receive merchandise, benefits or privileges in exchange for a gift, you must subtract the value of those from the original gift amount. If your payment is more than $75, the organization must give you a written statement with a description and estimated value of the merchandise, goods or services.

For noncash donations, document the charity name, date and location of the items, along with a reasonably detailed description of the items. If you receive a receipt from the charity, keep it with your records.

The IRS requires additional documentation for vehicle donations. You must receive a written acknowledgment or Form 1098-C from the charity for the vehicle.

Noncash donations, such as clothing, kitchen gadgets and furniture, must be in good condition or better. The tax-deductible amount of those items is the fair market value (FMV), the price if they were exchanged between willing buyers and sellers. Special rules apply to donations of cars, boats airplanes, property subject to debt, investments that have appreciated in value and inventory from your business.

Mobile apps can make tracking throughout the year painless. Donation Assistant by TaxACT tracks cash, noncash and recurring gifts, with FMVs for more than 1,300 commonly donated household items. You can also save photos of your donations and receipts. When doing your taxes, import the information and TaxACT Deluxe will calculate your maximum deduction and complete your tax forms.

You can deduct charitable gifts you made between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31 only if you itemize deductions on Form 1040 Schedule A. In order to itemize, all of your itemized deductions must exceed the standard deduction amount based on your adjusted gross income and filing status.

Additionally, you must file Form 8283 if your noncash contributions total more than $500, and include a qualified appraisal of property worth more than $5,000.

Download the free Donation Assistant app at www.taxact.com/apps and learn more about the tax rules of charitable giving at www.irs.gov and www.taxact.com/taxinfo.

Categories: Lifestyle

How to maximize your tax benefits from charitable gifts

Business/Careers - Fri, 07/18/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - You answer calls to support your alma mater, the local animal shelter and the American Red Cross with gifts of money and volunteer time. And after cleaning out the closets, dressers, kitchen cabinets and garage, you take a trunk load of donations to the thrift store.

You know your gifts of cash, time and household items may be tax deductible, but what do you need to do to verify that and maximize your deduction?

"Being charitable can cut your taxable income, as long as you follow a few simple rules," says Jessi Dolmage, spokesperson for popular digital tax preparation brand TaxACT. "Those include giving to eligible organizations and keeping accurate records."

To determine if you've donated to eligible organizations, search the IRS' database of Exempt Organization Select Check at www.irs.gov. Most religious organizations and government agencies are eligible, even if they’re not listed in the database.

Keeping detailed records is important for accurate valuation of your gifts (and in turn your tax deduction) and in the unlikely event of an audit. Dolmage says records should include organization name, donation date and amount.

For monetary gifts, keep the written acknowledgment from the organization with the donation date and amount. A canceled check or card statement with the transaction date also suffices for gifts under $250.

If you receive merchandise, benefits or privileges in exchange for a gift, you must subtract the value of those from the original gift amount. If your payment is more than $75, the organization must give you a written statement with a description and estimated value of the merchandise, goods or services.

For noncash donations, document the charity name, date and location of the items, along with a reasonably detailed description of the items. If you receive a receipt from the charity, keep it with your records.

The IRS requires additional documentation for vehicle donations. You must receive a written acknowledgment or Form 1098-C from the charity for the vehicle.

Noncash donations, such as clothing, kitchen gadgets and furniture, must be in good condition or better. The tax-deductible amount of those items is the fair market value (FMV), the price if they were exchanged between willing buyers and sellers. Special rules apply to donations of cars, boats airplanes, property subject to debt, investments that have appreciated in value and inventory from your business.

Mobile apps can make tracking throughout the year painless. Donation Assistant by TaxACT tracks cash, noncash and recurring gifts, with FMVs for more than 1,300 commonly donated household items. You can also save photos of your donations and receipts. When doing your taxes, import the information and TaxACT Deluxe will calculate your maximum deduction and complete your tax forms.

You can deduct charitable gifts you made between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31 only if you itemize deductions on Form 1040 Schedule A. In order to itemize, all of your itemized deductions must exceed the standard deduction amount based on your adjusted gross income and filing status.

Additionally, you must file Form 8283 if your noncash contributions total more than $500, and include a qualified appraisal of property worth more than $5,000.

Download the free Donation Assistant app at www.taxact.com/apps and learn more about the tax rules of charitable giving at www.irs.gov and www.taxact.com/taxinfo.

Categories: Lifestyle

What employers want: the 3 'Cs'

Education - Thu, 07/17/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - Whether you are an employer looking to hire someone or the person looking to get hired, it’s all about competency.

Only 11 percent of employers believe recent graduates have the skills needed to succeed within their work forces, according to a recent Lumina Foundation report. Two-thirds of employers say recent college graduates may have the skills and knowledge for entry-level positions but less than half believe recent graduates have what it takes for advancement to higher level jobs, according to a 2013 survey conducted for the Association of American Colleges and Universities.

So what are these essential competencies that candidates are missing? At the top of the list are the three “Cs”: critical thinking, collaboration and communication. Hiring officers look for candidates with good problem-solving abilities, the ability to work in teams, and those who have good verbal and written communications skills. For the “traditional” college graduate in his or her early 20’s, much of their focus in school was spent on mastering subject matter, not necessarily on cultivating the three “Cs”. They may have a degree but not much in the way of experience. On the other hand, working adults who are earning their degrees later in life have had ample opportunity to hone these skills and are lacking the credential – a diploma – to get hired or promoted.

A new approach to higher education taking hold on campuses and in board rooms is called competency-based education. Under this model, students can receive credit for knowledge and skills they already possess. A 2013 Gallup poll revealed that 87 percent of Americans believe students should be able to receive college credit for knowledge and skills obtained outside the classroom. Some schools, like Excelsior College, are well-established leaders in this practice. Degree programs like these define what students must know, have well-defined learning outcomes and have a rigorous means of assessing whether students have achieved these outcomes.

How can job candidates, young or older, demonstrate both subject-matter mastery and competence? To start, first evaluate and identify your unique combination of skills, values and personal traits. Research the job that you are seeking and the company that is doing the hiring. Think broadly and don’t confine yourself to the same industry in which you may have experiences, either as an employee or a student who had an internship. List the knowledge you have gained and skills you have developed.

“After you know who you are and what you have to offer, explore and choose the educational and career options that suit you best,” says Maribeth Gunner, director of career services at Excelsior College. “The key to selling yourself is to show your ability to apply knowledge (competence), rather than simply possessing it (mastery).”

Categories: Lifestyle

Seven tips for a greener back-to-school season

Education - Wed, 07/16/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - With back-to-school shopping, changing schedules and preparing kids for the upcoming school year, your family’s environmental impact may be the last thing on your mind

It is possible to have a greener back-to-school season. Here are seven simple things parents and children can do to care for the environment – and themselves – as they return to school.

1. Reuse and recycle notebooks. While high schoolers may go through multiple notebooks per subject every year, it’s rare for elementary school-aged kids to use up their notebooks. Tear out used pages (and recycle them, of course) from last year’s notebooks so that kids can use the remaining blank pages. Use contact paper to freshen and reinforce covers that are worn or written on.

2. Give broken and worn down crayons new life. Gather all the bits and separate by color. Remove all papers. Using a mini-muffin pan (or mini ramekins in fun shapes), fill each cup with crayon pieces in one color. Melt in an oven set at 350 degrees just until crayons are completely melted. Cool at room temperature, then freeze for 30 minutes to make it easier to remove the newly formed crayons.

3. Refresh smelly shoes naturally. Stinky gym bags and tennis shoes don’t have to be a reality for your athletic child, and you don’t have to resort to chemicals to kill odor. You can create a natural deodorizing spray with essential oils. Simply mix 12 to 16 drops of lemon oil, six drops of red thyme oil and 2 drops of patchouli oil and 4 ounces of water in a misting bottle. Shake vigorously and mist inside gym bags and shoes. The formula not only kills odors, it adds an energizing, refreshing aroma.

4. Look for ways to green your commute to school. If you live close to school, consider walking or biking. Families with longer commutes may consider carpooling or using the school bus.

5. Green lunches by packing them in reusable lunch bags (no brown bags or plastic baggies, please). Pack sandwiches in reusable sandwich containers, and use bento-style boxes with multiple compartments to hold snacks, veggies and other sides. Replace plastic water bottles with reusable bottles – plenty of fun, colorful options are available.

6. Energize naturally. Do your kids grab a sugary soft drink or sweet snack to boost their awareness while doing homework? Instead of relying on unhealthy treats for an energy boost that will come with a crash afterward, energize homework time with an essential oil diffusion. Aura Cacia offers this mood-boosting blend:

Ingredients:
10 drops peppermint essential oil
3 drops eucalyptus essential oil
2 drops ginger essential oil
3 drops sweet orange essential oil

Directions:
Combine all oils in a mister bottle and spritz in the air around your child’s work space. To give kids a boost during the school day, soak a cotton ball in the essential oils blend, slip it into a reusable plastic container and place in your child’s book bag. Whenever he needs a burst of energy during the day, he can open it and take a quick whiff.

7. Lighten up your electricity use and carbon footprint. Get kids involved in a fun weekend project by replacing incandescent bulbs throughout the house with energy-efficient CFLs or LEDs. These bulbs give off the same amount of light for back-to-school tasks like homework or picking out a first-day outfit, but use about 80 percent less electricity and can last for eight or more years before needing replacement.

Categories: Lifestyle

Wholesome snacks for back to school

Education - Wed, 07/16/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - The school year is here and with it, all of those hectic schedules. You may think the chaos of another school year means you’re too busy to provide your children with nourishing after-school snacks, but that doesn’t have to happen. There are many easy recipes available that will allow you to provide wholesome and delicious snacks to your kids, and there are easy ways to be sure they enjoy them. Here are a few ideas.

Ask them to help

Your children will be more excited about eating a healthy after-school snack if they have a hand in its creation. Creating a garden vegetable tray is an easy way to let kids customize their snack to their own taste preferences. Smaller kids can organize the grape tomatoes while you cut the peppers, and when you’re finished, you can all enjoy the snack together. This large recipe is perfect if your kids are bringing friends over. You could also create the tray on a Monday and then enjoy it all week long.

Garden vegetable tray

Ingredients

1 package Simply Organic Southwest Ranch Greek Yogurt Dip Mix

1 16-ounce package Stonyfield Plain Organic Nonfat Greek Yogurt

1 small zucchini, sliced

1 small yellow squash, sliced

1 pint grape tomatoes

1 medium jicama, peeled and sliced into sticks

1 orange bell pepper, seeded and sliced

1 green bell pepper, seeded and sliced

1 bunch of radishes

1 bunch green onions - about 10 - trimmed

1 head romaine lettuce, large leaves only for the base of the vegetable platter

1 red bell pepper

Instructions

Mix Simply Organic Southwest Ranch Greek Dip Mix with the 16-ounce package of Stonyfield Plain Organic Nonfat Greek Yogurt. Chill for 30 minutes.

Line a large tray or shallow dish with a decorative napkin and Romaine lettuce leaves.

Seed the red bell pepper by slicing off the top of the pepper, then pull out the membrane and seeds. Discard membrane and seeds, but keep the top for decoration.

Fill the hollow bell pepper with chilled Simply Organic Southwest Ranch Greek Dip and place in the center of the tray or dish.

Arrange corn, zucchini, yellow squash, grape tomatoes, jicama sticks, orange and green bell pepper, radishes and green onions around the red bell pepper dip cup.

Place toothpicks or skewers on nearby serving platter.

Hide healthy foods in delicious flavors

Sometimes the right presentation is all you need for your children to enjoy healthy snacks. This recipe for a banana, pineapple and orange smoothie hides nutritious fruit in a savory offering that feels more like a dessert. Just make sure your kids don’t drink it too fast to ward off brain freeze.

Banana, pineapple and orange smoothie

Ingredients

1 medium sized frozen banana (peel removed before frozen)

1 cup frozen pineapple

6 ounces Greek Yogurt

1/2 cup coconut milk

1/2 teaspoon Simply Organic Orange Flavor

1/2 teaspoon Simply Organic Vanilla Flavoring

Fresh orange slices and shredded coconut, for garnish

Directions

In a blender, blend all ingredients until smooth, about 3 to 4 minutes. Use a spatula to scrape the sides down as needed throughout blending.

Serve immediately.

Snack on the run

After a long day of sitting at their desks at school, your kids may not be interested in sitting at the table for snack time. If you’re kids are on the go, this quick, savory recipe will give them a nutritious snack they can enjoy anywhere so you don’t have to turn to chips or candy.

Roasted chickpeas

Ingredients

2 cans (16 oz. each) chickpeas, drained, rinsed and dried

2 Tbsp. olive oil

1 packet Simply Organic’s Crazy Awesome Veggies seasoning blends

Instructions

Preheat oven to 400 F.

Place chickpeas in bowl.

Toss with olive oil and seasoning blend until evenly coated.

Spread in a layer on rimmed baking sheet.

Bake 30-40 minutes or until crisp.

Creating delicious, wholesome snacks for your kids is easier than you think. All you need is the right recipe. For more easy recipe ideas to make back to school as healthy and nutritious as possible, visit www.simplyorganic.com.

Categories: Lifestyle

Parents: How to pick the right cost-effective technology device for your child's learning

Education - Tue, 07/15/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - When it comes to education, Americans may hotly debate testing, grading and teacher accountability, but one topic that finds wide-spread support among educators, parents, legislators and students is the value of technology in the classroom. With a majority of teachers reporting in a PBS Learning Media survey that they use technology to reinforce and expand on lessons and motivate students to learn, it is only a matter of time before your child will use technology in the classroom.

When your child needs to use technology to support their learning, will you know what type of cost-effective device to buy for maximum learning benefit?

To choose the best device for your child, you need to think about how they will use the device in their learning. Some projects will require work on a PC – such as online assessments or activities that use Microsoft Office applications. If your child needs a quick, easy and cost-effective way to access the Internet for research or online collaboration, a Chromebook might be a good choice. With the Google Apps for Education suite, Chromebooks allow students and teachers the ability to search the Web and do most basic productivity activities. Additionally, if your child’s school system is set up to support Chromebooks, teachers can monitor student progress and streamline communications.

“Chromebooks are stable, dependable [and] provide easy access to learning content,” says Heather Vogel, a teacher at Battle Creek Middle School in St. Paul, Minn. “No bells and whistles, just a no-nonsense portal to a new, highly personalized way of learning.”

If you’re thinking of buying a Chromebook for your child, keep these tips in mind:

* Screen size – Chromebooks vary in screen size so for parents looking for a more generous screen, Toshiba offers a 13-inch screen and HP offers a 14-inch screen.

* Durability – Some Chromebooks, such as the Lenovo X131E, have been developed and designed to be especially rugged with students in mind.

* Battery life – With longer battery life, Chromebooks are less likely to turn off mid-class. Intel-powered Chromebooks boast a 57-percent longer battery life while Web browsing, according to a study by Principled Technologies.

* Speed – A device’s processor should be powerful enough to ensure students can easily and quickly read textbooks and take notes online, complete homework, create presentations and share files. The Principled Technologies study also revealed that Chromebooks powered by Intel offer faster speeds and better performance than competitor processors. Faster access means students will spend less time waiting and more time learning.

* Graphics capabilities – Much of what students do in class will be graphics-intensive (such as an anatomy simulation), so their Chromebook should run on a processor that will allow for smooth, vibrant graphics across all applications.

* Start-up time – Students are busy and easily distracted. Shorter start-up time means the learning process can begin more quickly.

* Price – Although prices on digital devices are becoming more reasonable across the board, Chromebooks can be especially cost-effective. For example, the Acer 720 is a lighter and lower cost device.

* Support/resources – Students don’t learn in a vacuum and their Chromebooks shouldn’t have to operate in one either. It’s important to choose a device that offers students and parents access to support and resources 24/7. Intel supports students, parents, and teachers with K-12 Blueprint, a website that provides information about products, capabilities and features of the Chromebook that are useful for students. Visit www.k12blueprint.com/chromebooks and follow @IntelK12Edu on Twitter for further resources.

Already accustomed to technology in their daily lives, today’s students are eager to embrace technology in the classroom. With educators and parents on the same page, they can create a learning environment where students can thrive.  

“I feel more connected to [my school] now and - in some ways - it feels like the other kids and I are part of a big workplace, except our job is to learn,” says Maria Jiminez, a student at Piedmont High School in Monroe, N.C. “Chromebooks are like a tool that makes everything so simple. And - with my workload and extra-curricular activities, simplicity is a really good thing!”

Categories: Lifestyle

Serve your country and explore the world simultaneously

Education - Tue, 07/15/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - It’s no secret that world travel is one of the most exciting perks enjoyed by men and women in America’s Navy. With more than 100 ports of call around the globe and bases in multiple time zones, there’s a great chance you’ll see the world over the course of your Navy career.

On any given day, 600,000 Sailors and Navy civilians are working together around the globe to perform their mission of deterring aggression and, if deterrence fails, winning our Nation’s wars. Even if that doesn’t satisfy your appetite for adventure, during your ample vacation time, you’ll be able to fly standby on military flights around the world for a small fee. You can cross many international and domestic destinations off your travel bucket list during your time of service.

What’s more, you will often be eligible to stay in base lodging around the world. This includes lodging at any military facility that has rooms available for military personnel and their families, and lodging is usually provided at a cost much lower than you would find at an off-base hotel.

These cost savings on travel are a great benefit that isn’t often found in post high-school or college careers. It all amounts to a lifetime of adventure, culture and memories that you and your family can enjoy throughout your time in the Navy and beyond.

Sailors serve around the world on a variety of missions and at many ports. One of the top port destinations is Sydney, Australia, which has an electric nightlife, plenty of beaches and great recreational activities. When on vacation, it’s just a short flight or bus trip to Brisbane or Cairns to explore the Great Barrier Reef, or take a trip along the Great Ocean Road between Melbourne and Adelaide.

Those who prefer a more European experience will love Rota, Spain, which is the gateway to the Mediterranean. This port is connected to the rest of Europe, thanks to an extensive transportation system that gives Sailors plenty of options for their vacations. Another great European port is Naples, Italy, which is just a short train ride from the beautiful and historic city of Pompeii. The city has been rebuilt, but exploring the unearthed ruins is a very educational experience. Sailors can also take the train up to Rome for a one-day visit or even for a long holiday.

While it’s not an international destination, another top port Sailors love to visit is Hawaii, with its rich history and tropical setting. Sailors don’t need to go far to find beautiful beaches and recreational activities in the water, and relaxing on shore is a perfect way to spend some holiday vacation time.

To see where Sailors are serving today, visit navylive.dodlive.mil/category/inside-the-navy/your-navy-today.

For more information about opportunities to serve, visit www.navy.com.

Categories: Lifestyle

What's the top learning style in America? Hands-on wins hands down, survey says

Education - Tue, 07/15/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - Children learn by doing, and every child has a unique learning style all his or her own, child development experts tell us. The same can be said of adults if a recent survey is any indication. A majority of Americans say hands-on training is the hands-down winner when they want to learn something new in an educational environment, according a Harris Interactive poll conducted on behalf of Everest College.

Surprising in the Internet age when most Americans spend hours a day online, 52 percent of the 1,011 adults polled said active participation through hands-on training was the best learning method, while just 19 percent counted using the Internet as a preferred learning tool. Watching a demonstration by an instructor came in a distant second at 28 percent, and just 15 percent valued watching videos.

“When it comes to what learning methods work best, everyone is different,” says John Swartz, regional director of career services at Everest College. “Clearly, most Americans feel hands-on training works best for them. For our education system to succeed in preparing Americans for the working world, it’s critical for us to understand what learning styles work best for all students, whether they’re pre-K kids or older Americans returning to school for advanced training.”

There’s no arguing the value of higher education in professional life. In 2012, workers with a professional degree earned $1,083 more per week than those with only a high school education, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Unemployment rates for those with only a high school diploma were more than four times that of workers with professional degrees.

With college costs continuing to increase and competition remaining high for available jobs, both high school graduates and working professionals seeking to further their careers through advanced degrees recognize the importance of finding the right educational program for their learning style.

“Students who practice what they’re learning in a hands-on environment can often retain much more information when compared with sitting passively in a lecture room, so it’s not a surprise that hands-on training is the overwhelming favorite,” Swartz says.

Other variables play a role in determining an adult’s preferred learning style, the survey indicates. While both sexes preferred hands-on training overall, men were significantly more likely than women to say hands-on training worked best for them. Women were significantly more likely to say visual demonstrations worked best for them.

Top earners also liked the Internet; 30 percent of those with household incomes topping $100,000 said the Internet worked best for them as a learning tool, while just 18 percent of workers earning less than $35,000 agreed. Twenty-eight percent of Americans ages 45 to 54 chose reading from a text book as their top method.

“It’s no secret that students in the U.S. are falling in the rankings on global achievement tests, so it’s imperative that we invest in early education, retain the top educators, and identify the best forms of training programs and learning methods to prepare future generations,” Swartz says. “One of the major benefits of tactile learning, or hands-on training, is that it develops critical thinking skills that give students the ability to make on-the-spot decisions in a workplace environment.”

Categories: Lifestyle

How to help veterans who've returned home from service

Community Cares - Tue, 07/15/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - In wartime, members of the armed forces often face dangerous situations. President George Washington recognized this, when he created what is now known as the Purple Heart medal in 1782, to honor combat wounded veterans. Since then, an estimated 1.7 million Purple Hearts have been awarded by the military to soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen.

The Purple Heart medal is awarded to men and women in uniform who have been injured or killed in combat or captivity. Medal recipients who return home can join the Military Order of the Purple Heart, an organization that supports veterans and their families with many nationwide programs. Volunteer and financial assistance is needed year-round to continue these services. If you’re interested in looking for ways to help veterans across the country, consider the following ways you can assist:

* Say “thank-you” – On Memorial Day, Veterans Day, Purple Heart Day and every other day of the year, telling a vet,  “Thanks for your service,” is a great way to honor their sacrifice. If you own a business, you can also offer veterans a discount on your products or services as another way to show your thanks.

* Volunteer for a veteran service organization – Veterans often need assistance in many different areas of life, including financial, career, educational, health and social. If you are interested in volunteering your time, contact the Purple Heart Foundation at www.purpleheartfoundation.org/foundation/get-involved to determine the right service organization that will best match your talents and availability. By volunteering, you not only will be helping service members adjust to civilian life, but also gaining valuable expertise in the field of your choice.

* Donate your vehicle or gently used household items – If you’re considering holding a garage sale this summer, you can save time and energy by donating clothing, furniture, thrift goods and even cars to the Purple Heart Foundation, a nonprofit organization that supports all veterans and their families. Visit www.purpleheartfoundation.org/donate to learn more about how your donation can be picked up from your home, and how you can declare the donation on next year’s income taxes.

* Make a financial donation – Veterans organizations are always in need of financial donations to continue the services they provide. Keep in mind that any monetary donation you make to a registered nonprofit organization can be declared as a deduction on your federal income taxes. The Purple Heart Foundation has made it easy for a person to donate $10 toward veterans causes supported by the Military Order of the Purple Heart by texting PURPLE to 20222.

“The Purple Heart medal represents courage, sacrifice, commitment and ‘heart,’” says Jim Blaylock, president of Military Order of the Purple Heart Service Foundation, and a Vietnam veteran who earned three Purple Hearts. “The Purple Heart Foundation celebrates the heart of every veteran by providing emotional, physical, educational and financial support for veterans and their families. They earned our support with their sacrifice.”

Since 2008, the Purple Heart Service Foundation has invested more than $42 million in programs and services to help veterans and their families with suicide prevention, Post-Traumatic Stress, brain injury, women’s health issues and to get claims approved. Join the millions of Americans helping veterans returning home after service. To learn more, visit www.purpleheartfoundation.org.

Categories: Lifestyle

Stay on top of your rheumatoid arthritis with these helpful tips

Community Cares - Tue, 07/15/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an incurable, progressive disease in which the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks a person’s joints, causing inflammation and damage. Approximately 1.3 million people have RA. This condition strikes about three times as many women as men and most commonly appears in people between 40 and 60 years old.

If you have been diagnosed with RA, you are probably familiar with many of these statistics, just as well as you know the pain that occurs in your joints during an RA flare-up. Chances are good that symptoms of your RA have caused you to miss social events or even work.

But there is good news. Although RA is not curable, there are multiple ways to effectively manage your condition and improve your quality of life. Follow these tips to begin improving your condition today:

* Stay positive. Just because RA is incurable doesn’t mean it has to dictate your life. People across the United States who have been diagnosed with this disease lead very productive and rewarding lives. Don’t let RA control you. If you have recently been diagnosed, or have had an especially painful flare-up, it’s important to educate yourself about the disease and take proactive measures to ensure successful management of your RA. This is the first and most important step in your treatment.

* Find the doctor who’s right for you. If you feel comfortable with your current rheumatologist, then you can skip to the next tip. If you don’t have a rheumatologist or you don’t feel comfortable with your current doctor, make finding the right one a priority. Remember, you will work closely with this doctor to create a personalized treatment plan, so trust is important. Before meeting with a new rheumatologist, be sure to create a list of questions you want to ask them. The answers you receive will help determine if this doctor is right for you.

* Maintain a healthy diet. Inflammation is the hallmark sign of RA. Patients may reduce their RA symptoms by incorporating foods that have anti-inflammatory properties, including omega-3 fats such as fish, certain vegetables and soy foods and walnuts. Antioxidants have also been shown to help ease inflammation. Leafy greens, fruits, beans, nuts, dark chocolate and certain spices contain high levels of antioxidants, such as vitamins C, E, carotene, lycopene and flavonoids. Speak with your doctor to learn more about dietary changes that may benefit you.

* Get out and be active. Many people diagnosed with RA mistakenly believe they must limit their activity to avoid disease flare-ups, but regular activity has been proven to limit or control RA’s symptoms. Discuss your activity goals with your doctor to determine which activities could be beneficial for you.

* Improve your methotrexate (MTX) efficiency. As a person with RA, you may be taking an oral form of MTX and know all about the side effects that come with your medication. But these days, some RA patients are opting for new, easily injectable MTX options.  Speak with your doctor about what options may be most appropriate for you.

To learn more about how you can treat your RA, visit www.arthritis.org.

Categories: Lifestyle

Make the most of summer: 4 easy ways to go boating

Automotive - Tue, 07/15/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - Itching to get on the water and have some fun this summer? Whether it’s fishing, sailing, cruising or watersports, they’re easier and more accessible than many think. Even better? Boating is one surefire way to make every summer weekend feel like a vacation close to home.

Boating is a popular American pastime, with an estimated 88.5 million Americans getting on the water each year, according to the National Marine Manufacturers Association. What’s more, boating is close to home with 90 percent of Americans living within an hour’s drive of a lake, river or ocean perfect for boating.

"The reality is there's a boat for every budget and for boaters, being on the water creates priceless experiences - whether it’s fishing, watersports, sailing, personal watercraft or cruising, spending time on the water with family and friends creates memories for a lifetime," says Carl Blackwell, president of Discover Boating. "Being an avid boater, I know how accessible it can be and how important it is to do your research to figure out what kind of boat fits your budget and lifestyle. One of the best kept secrets is how to get on the water without owning a boat - consider it research since it gets you on your way to becoming a boater before you own one."

DiscoverBoating.com has four budget-friendly ways to get your feet wet this summer:

* Join the club: Boat clubs are one of the best ways to experience the boating lifestyle. There are thousands of boating clubs and organizations across the U.S. that offer everything from sailing to powerboating and watersports. Members receive access to a fleet of boats for use, plus clubs usually provide maintenance, storage and boating education. Find a club near you using the boat club finder.

* Get schooled: Boating schools and courses are a great way to take the helm and learn the rules of the water. Hone your sailing or powerboating skills by learning the basics in boat operation and have fun in the process. Check out a list of courses and find one that floats your boat close to home.

* Test the waters: Rental options have come a long way with hourly or daily rentals to peer-to-peer options making boating even more accessible. Boat renters can now rent directly through boat owners, creating an affordable way to use privately-owned boats equipped with amenities from insurance to boating education. Another popular option is fractional ownership, similar to lodging timeshares, where members can pre-schedule use of the boat online, and week-long charters that let you fully experience the boating lifestyle.

Climb aboard: Looking to captain your own vessel? There’s a boat out there for every budget, interest and body of water. Use the Discover Boating boat selector tool to narrow down the search for everything from price to number of passengers to boating activities and more. The tool matches you with boats that fit your needs, so you can do your homework and have a head start on shopping.

This spring and summer, don’t get left on the dock and take advantage of the warmer weather aboard a boat. Whether curious about boating or looking into ownership, explore opportunities to get your feet wet and experience the fun of life on the water.

Categories: Lifestyle

How to change careers in 5 simple steps

Education - Mon, 07/14/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - A teacher transitioning to a job in the corporate world. A stay-at-home mom rejoining the workforce. A baby boomer choosing a new career over retirement. There are countless individuals every day that carefully weigh the pros and cons of making a major career change. Are you one of them?

Driven by passion and the desire to have more satisfying work, eager individuals are taking the leap of faith and switching to an entirely new career this year. If you’re contemplating a career change, there are some important things to consider so you can plan and position yourself for success. These five tips will help you gain confidence in your decision to transform your work.

1. Define your passion
What do you truly love to do? It could be cooking, working with children, gardening, number-crunching, etc. Start by defining what you’re passionate about and realistically look at how that passion can be tapped so you can make money doing what you love. It’s also wise to analyze the reasons why you want to make a career change. Long-term dissatisfaction with your work might be a good reason to consider a new career, but isolated issues that have taken place recently might not necessarily be the best reason to make such a big life change.

2. Think outside the box
You may already know what you love to do, but finding a way to make it a career might be a more complex task. Think creatively and don’t be afraid to go outside the typical 9-to-5 job options. If you have an entrepreneurial spirit, starting a franchise can be a rewarding opportunity. For example, if you enjoy helping children learn and want to play a role in shaping the future of growing minds, consider being an owner/operator of a Kumon Math and Reading Franchise. By building a career with the world’s largest after-school math and reading academic enrichment program, you’ll be a business owner who is also a driving force for social good by having a profound impact on the lives of children in your community. Visit kumonfranchise.com to learn more.

3. Make time to plan
Changing careers is a huge step that can be challenging. It is not something that should be done impulsively, and you must give yourself time to plan. You’ll want to be sure you are mentally and financially prepared for what’s next. Setbacks are bound to occur along with the successes, and with thorough planning you’ll position yourself for even more positive outcomes.

4. Be practical and research
Changing careers is a journey, not a race. Being practical about decisions and making changes in stages can be helpful. Explore opportunities that are attractive to you and talk with others who work in that industry. They can provide the best insight into what the day-to-day responsibilities would be, including the pluses and drawbacks of the job. Remember to research the outlook for different industries and career paths as well. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook is a great resource.

5. Build a support network
Having supportive friends and family can be a key factor in successfully making a major career change. Make sure you have a network of supportive individuals who will be there for you through it all. Professional support can make a big difference, too. Franchise owners at Kumon join more than 2,000 individually owned and operated centers across North America, meaning they have the support of many other people who know the industry and what it takes to succeed. Additionally, having a mentor, no matter what career path you pursue, can provide you with expertise and counsel to help position you for a bright future.

Categories: Lifestyle

Addressing a new era in security: how to protect your business from the inside out

Community Cares - Mon, 07/14/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - During the first 43 days of 2014, the Identity Theft Resource Center said 91 data breaches were reported by companies across the country, and the full list doesn’t just show household names of big brand retailers – many of these companies were small businesses, family medical practices or local restaurants that never thought they’d be cybercrime victims. For instance, the most high profile breach of 2013 – Target – was actually set into motion when one of its much smaller regional contractors was hacked.

Undoubtedly, businesses of all sizes are potential targets for cyber criminals, but while the “big boys” often have the financial means to rebound relatively quickly, for small business owners, one attack can mean life or death for the future of their business. In fact, according to the National Small Business Association, a single cyber-attack costs a small business an average of $8,000 to recover from (and this figure does not include the incalculable damage done to the company’s reputation).

Historically, small business owners have focused their security prevention on their physical domains, but, with the lines between physical and digital security having blurred over the last decade, it’s critical for small business owners to rethink their 21st century security strategies.

ADT offers these helpful tips for small business owners in order to more effectively protect themselves, their assets, and their loyal customers from the wide range of physical and digital threats:

* Make sure your employees are informed. Whether you’re concerned about digital security or physical security, your employees are your first line of defense. Your employees should be up to date on all company security measures and aware of the vulnerable digital and physical areas in your business. Keeping them informed ensures they know how to protect your business and alert you should a problem arise.

* Increase the strength of your passwords. Creating strong passwords may at first be inconvenient for you and your staff, but stronger passwords can greatly improve the security of your business. Using your name or the company’s name or address will not deter a hacker for long, but complex passwords have a significantly greater chance of tripping up hackers.

* Improve the traditional security system. A security system is a must for a business of any size, and an interactive solution like ADT Pulse can help mitigate threats with all-in-one security and automation capabilities that combine video surveillance with activity-triggered alerts. This allows you the freedom to monitor and control your business with a web-enabled device from any location.

* Erase old hard drives. You’ve heard the saying “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” and that is certainly true when it comes to old hard drives. While your business may not have any use for these outdated systems, the information stored on the hard drive is valuable to would-be criminals. Before you throw out that old computer or copy machine, be sure to erase the hard drive.

While many small business owners may think cyber criminals aren’t interested in businesses their size, the reality is small businesses require the same strategic physical and digital protection as major corporations, and following the above steps can help you to prevent the significant financial and reputational damage that comes with a security breach.

In order to learn more about how ADT can help protect your small business, visit ADT.com/business.

Categories: Lifestyle

Commercial ventilation systems 101: What every restaurant kitchen needs

Business/Careers - Mon, 07/14/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - Running a restaurant or food service business is complex. Business owners need the right restaurant equipment to cool, cook and properly store food – but a safe and successful kitchen requires more than that. One of the most important pieces to keep a kitchen functioning smoothly, and the most necessary to obtain proper permits is having the right commercial ventilation system.

A commercial ventilation system may not get the attention a nice new griddle or shiny reach-in cooler may receive, but it’s just as essential. Commercial ventilation systems help to treat the air in cooking spaces by filtering out contaminants like smoke, carbon monoxide, grease, and other airborne particles. It will also remove heat and boost fresh air flow, creating a safer, more comfortable work space for employees. Finally, proper ventilation can help reduce HVAC costs – something that captures the attention of every restaurant manager.

The right equipment for the right person is key, and this is especially important with ventilation as there are many codes and regulations that are strictly enforced. Keep in mind each food service establishment will have unique demands for their ventilation system, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. The best bet is to speak with experts who have years of experience in the food service industry, like those at ACityDiscount, who can offer qualified, personalized advice. Visit www.ACityDiscount.com to learn more.

These are the main components of a quality commercial ventilation system:

Hoods
There are two main types of hoods: heat exhaust hoods and grease exhaust hoods.Heat exhaust hoods vent smoke and fumes from equipment that produces high levels of heat, such as double-stack convection ovens or pizza ovens. Grease exhaust hoods have additional slotted hood filters that trap grease, exhaust and soot, which are necessary when operating griddles, deep fryers and char-broilers.  ACityDiscount carries both hood varieties as well as restaurant equipment with built-in ventless hood systems.

Expert tip: To determine the correct size hood system to install, remember that National Fire Code (NFC) states a commercial hood should be 6 inches larger on all sides than the equipment that is under it. Call your local Building Code Office to see if there are additional requirements in your area.

Exhaust fans
An exhaust fan helps to properly vent a commercial kitchen and is mounted on the roof or wall of the building. Larger kitchens may need more powerful exhaust fans, depending on how closely their equipment is placed. ACityDiscount carries exhaust fans with upblast or downblast exhaust so they filter air out and away from critical areas while still aligning with local codes.

Make-up air
Air circulation in a commercial kitchen is critical for employee/customer comfort and optimum equipment function. An exhaust fan draws air out of a kitchen and that air must be replaced or compensated. Sometimes there is enough air circulation naturally, but other times a make-up fan is required to prevent air from being pulled from other areas such as dining rooms. Make-up air fans are mounted in an area close to the exhaust fan and they work to pump fresh air back into the kitchen. This air creates a flow of fresh air that helps keep a kitchen smoke free while increasing the efficiency of the exhaust fan and hoods.

Fire-suppression systems
Most local codes require a ventilation system to be equipped with a fire-suppression system, and all local codes required. Cooking is the leading cause of all restaurant building fires, according to the FEMA Topical Fire Report Series. A fire-suppression system connects to the hood system and helps prevent fires from spreading. The piped system is activated by high heat or can be turned on manually to dispense a liquid-suppressing agent that extinguishes fires quickly.

When it’s time to equip your restaurant kitchen with the essentials, don’t forget the importance of commercial ventilation systems in helping employees and equipment work in a safe environment. From cleaning air to lowering utility bills, a commercial ventilation system is a kitchen necessity and a wise investment.

Categories: Lifestyle

5 things you can't forget when you're catering on the go

Business/Careers - Mon, 07/14/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - Providing warm, delicious food to customers on location is one of the food service industry’s greatest challenges. If you are a restaurateur, caterer, baker or owner of a mobile food stand, you understand how difficult it is to transport and deliver quality food that maintains proper temperatures and the taste your customers deserve.

Whether you’re looking to add a food delivery facet to your existing business or you’re looking to improve on your current catering offerings, the experts at ACityDiscount.com offer the following advice:

1. Invest in banquet carriers.

If you don’t have a series of banquet carriers and you plan to transport food, they should be your next purchase. Not all banquet carriers have built in heaters, but their natural insulation is incredibly adept at keeping food warm or cold throughout your journey. In fact, you can expect your food to only lose about 1 F each hour it is in the carrier. If you are a restaurateur bringing your food offsite or you own a catering business, these are must-have pieces.

2. Warm it up on site.

If you plan to serve on site when you arrive, you’re going to need a series of steam tables, steam wells, or chafing dishes. Many restaurateurs who own buffet-style restaurants opt for built in facilities, however banquet facilities often opt for mobile units. Mobile steam wells / buffet tables allow banquet facilities the freedom to move their displays to accommodate for banquets of all sizes. Chafing dishes can be used in banquet facilities or for on-site cooking. There are a variety of chafing dishes on the market, ranging from economical knockdown units perfect for mobile caterers to elegant banquet chafers ideal for weddings or other high-end affairs. And for food not fit for steam wells, invest in a heating lamp. This piece of equipment is easily transportable and the perfect solution for warming fried foods, pizza, breads or roasted meats – especially if you plan to offer a carving station.

3. Don’t forget the drinks.

Achieving the proper temperature for beverages is no less important than the food. Investing in your own traveling coffee percolators and insulated beverage / liquid carriers is the surest way to ensure your customers have that warm cup of coffee to accompany their meal.

4. Keep it cool.

Not everything needs to stay warm. In fact, many items must be kept cool before, during, and after service. The experts at ACityDiscount recommend stationary facilities invest in cold wells or frost tops. This is the best way to ensure your product stays below the 41 F threshold set by health departments. Mobile caterers have fewer options than stationary locales, as it is impractical to travel to a cook site or banquet with a refrigerator or freezer. Though many large traveling caterers invest in refrigerated trucks to transport raw foods to banquet sites, they are not necessary. Insulated food carriers often have optional inserts that can be frozen in advance to help maintain cold temperatures within, and standard coolers can also be used for transporting foods to be prepared on-site. When serving, most caterers opt to fill chafing dishes with ice, as standard cold wells cannot be transported from site to site.

5. Complete the look.

Your delicious food has arrived at the perfect temperature; now complete the experience for your guests. Make sure you have the plates, utensils and napkins that are expected of you. You don’t want your perfect food to be forgotten by such a simple mistake. Additionally, it is important to be prepared to cater vastly different events. Every event is different, and caterers that intend on taking all customers must be prepared for something as simple as a child’s birthday party, or something as elegant as a wedding.

Categories: Lifestyle

Addressing a new era in security: how to protect your business from the inside out

Business/Careers - Mon, 07/14/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - During the first 43 days of 2014, the Identity Theft Resource Center said 91 data breaches were reported by companies across the country, and the full list doesn’t just show household names of big brand retailers – many of these companies were small businesses, family medical practices or local restaurants that never thought they’d be cybercrime victims. For instance, the most high profile breach of 2013 – Target – was actually set into motion when one of its much smaller regional contractors was hacked.

Undoubtedly, businesses of all sizes are potential targets for cyber criminals, but while the “big boys” often have the financial means to rebound relatively quickly, for small business owners, one attack can mean life or death for the future of their business. In fact, according to the National Small Business Association, a single cyber-attack costs a small business an average of $8,000 to recover from (and this figure does not include the incalculable damage done to the company’s reputation).

Historically, small business owners have focused their security prevention on their physical domains, but, with the lines between physical and digital security having blurred over the last decade, it’s critical for small business owners to rethink their 21st century security strategies.

ADT offers these helpful tips for small business owners in order to more effectively protect themselves, their assets, and their loyal customers from the wide range of physical and digital threats:

* Make sure your employees are informed. Whether you’re concerned about digital security or physical security, your employees are your first line of defense. Your employees should be up to date on all company security measures and aware of the vulnerable digital and physical areas in your business. Keeping them informed ensures they know how to protect your business and alert you should a problem arise.

* Increase the strength of your passwords. Creating strong passwords may at first be inconvenient for you and your staff, but stronger passwords can greatly improve the security of your business. Using your name or the company’s name or address will not deter a hacker for long, but complex passwords have a significantly greater chance of tripping up hackers.

* Improve the traditional security system. A security system is a must for a business of any size, and an interactive solution like ADT Pulse can help mitigate threats with all-in-one security and automation capabilities that combine video surveillance with activity-triggered alerts. This allows you the freedom to monitor and control your business with a web-enabled device from any location.

* Erase old hard drives. You’ve heard the saying “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” and that is certainly true when it comes to old hard drives. While your business may not have any use for these outdated systems, the information stored on the hard drive is valuable to would-be criminals. Before you throw out that old computer or copy machine, be sure to erase the hard drive.

While many small business owners may think cyber criminals aren’t interested in businesses their size, the reality is small businesses require the same strategic physical and digital protection as major corporations, and following the above steps can help you to prevent the significant financial and reputational damage that comes with a security breach.

In order to learn more about how ADT can help protect your small business, visit ADT.com/business.

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