Now that 2019 has arrived, many people are ready to make a few changes, and eating healthier is one of the most-cited plans. One of the staunchest allies in the effort to change eating habits is the Galveston County Health District, which is augmenting its year-round programs advocating good nutrition and healthy movement with a special eight-week challenge.

The It’s Time Texas Community Challenge begins Jan. 7 with the goal of creating healthier communities.

“So many of us have goals that center on health at the start of a new year. This challenge is the perfect way to kick off your healthy lifestyle, and have fun with family and friends, as you challenge one another,” Galveston County Health District CEO Kathy Barroso said.

The free It’s Time Texas program is open to all Texans, who can choose to compete as part of their community, their place of employment or as individuals. Each participant earns points by logging activities on an online tracker, posting selfies of healthy eating or exercise on social media, tracking their weight, or encouraging others to participate. The points are also tallied on behalf of the communities as similarly-sized cities compete to be deemed the healthiest cities in Texas.

“The bragging rights are a huge part of this challenge. Who doesn’t want to say their community is the best?” Barroso asked. “Texas City has dominated Galveston County for the past two years, finishing third statewide in the mid-size category in 2017 and 2018.” Winning communities receive grant funds for future health-promoting activities.

“Whether you are participating as an individual or representative of a city, school or business, Galveston County Health District is here to help,” Barroso said. “We’ll provide weekly totals by community so we can see how each city in the county is stacking up to its neighbors and offer some ideas for friendly competition.”

In addition to encouraging communities to compete, the health district offers a number of resources for healthy eating, including extensive nutrition guides from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The USDA’s “What’s Cooking USDA Mixing Bowl” program offers a database of recipes that combine easy preparation, low cost and a high nutritional value, along with cooking and grocery-shopping advice.

The recipes stress incorporating a variety of fruits and vegetables into every part of the meal, replacing salt with low-sodium seasonings, and being mindful of meat consumption. Combining vegetables and whole grains creates an American version of tabouli using bulgur, a cracked wheat.

Another USDA recipe adds hominy to ground beef for a hearty dish that delivers a big meaty taste while keeping the meat content to the suggested serving size. Other “What’s Cooking” recipes use easy to find ingredients in new, flavorful ways.

Of course, the real reward of changing our eating and movement habits comes from better health. But if we can boost our communities at the same time, it’s even better. The It’s Time Texas Community Challenge runs from Jan. 7 through March 3. Registration is open now at ittcommunitychallenge.com.

Bernice Torregrossa: bernice92@aol.com.

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