MONJ– Helping you improve the way you eat

Monj is an online food and lifestyle program. It’s designed to increase your overall wellness by developing healthy eating skills that will last a lifetime. With an interactive, learn-by-doing approach, the Monj program will teach you to create healthy (and amazing) meals at home and help you navigate restaurant menus, deli counters and social events. You will achieve goals as you advance through an engaging, science-based behavior change curriculum packaged in units called daily missions.

How to access Monj

Log on to and click on the Health & Wellness tab to access your My Health Rewards site. On the homepage, scroll down to the Make life delicious with Monj tile and click on the LET’S START COOKING button.

If you are accessing Monj for the first time, your browser will prompt: Allow the application Make Life Delicious by RedBrick Health to access your account?. Click the Yes button after checking the box next to Remember this decision?. This will ensure that the Monj site syncs with your My Health Rewards site.

Register and complete your Monj profile

To get started with Monj, enter your name and email address and create a password.

Next, click on the personalize button and answer the questions that follow to complete your profile and earn 25 points.

The Monj profile is quick and easy to complete. It provides an opportunity for you to share any preferences you may have, such as a dairy-free, gluten-free or vegetarian diet, as well as goals you may have such as wanting to be healthier, feel more energized, or explore new cooking skills and techniques.

Complete Daily Missions or quizzes

Daily Missions are short commitments you can make ranging from cookbook swaps to trying new food items. Quizzes are fun ways to test your knowledge about healthy eating and cooking.
By participating, you’ll boost your knowledge and earn 1 point (up to 200 per year) for each Daily Mission or quiz you complete. These can change every day, so make sure to check back frequently.

Set goals

Goals customize your experience with Monj and help you track your progress as you work toward becoming a Monj Master.
Earn badges by completing Daily Missions, Cooking Lessons, Power Ups and Essentials. In the My Goals area on the homepage, you can see a snapshot of your progress toward specific goals you’ve set. If you’d like to set or change your goals, click on the My Goals tab at the top of the page.

To set or change your goals, use the toggle switches in each of the categories.

Take Cooking Lessons

Click on the Cooking Lessons tab to explore step-by-step cooking tutorials. On the left side of the page, you can filter cooking lessons by method, level, or dietary concern.
Watch Power Ups videos

Watch Power Ups videos to get ideas about transforming simple staples into power-packed meals and snacks.
Go to your member website,, and click on the Health & Wellness tab to get started.

Watch this video to learn more

Healthy Cooking Classes

Jim Hensrud, Physical Fitness Coordinator Saint Paul PD

This month Healthy Saint Paul sponsored two Healthy Cooking Classes that SPPD Physical Fitness Coordinator Jim Hensrud presented to employees of the police department. The goal of these classes was to present meal ideas to employees that are delicious, budget friendly and easy to prepare. Class participants got to enjoy a freshly prepared meal while Jim provided tips on cooking the meal. The first class Jim prepared a simple lunch recipe of chicken wraps with cucumber, tomato, hummus and feta cheese. The 2nd class was a chicken chickpea and veggie curry over rice. (recipe below) Both of the classes received very positive feedback:

“Thank you Chef Jim and Healthy Saint Paul for introducing quick, easy and healthy meals. It was great to be introduced to new flavors.”

“The warm, delicious, spicy meal hit the spot! Thank you Jim for putting it together!”

“I really appreciate the chance to taste the recipes before making them at home! Thank you for doing this.”

“Thank you Jim for the healthy cooking tips! The food was delicious!

This meal is often prepared without chicken as I often do myself. Adding chicken makes it a little more filling and appealing to carnivores.
You can use chicken from a previous meal or cook it slow in a crockpot and shred it for this meal.
You can use any curry mix you choose for this meal. I highly recommend going to a local Penzey’s spice shop to buy spices. You get to smell the spices so you know what you are buying. I also recommend the sweet curry or vindaloo curry from Penzey’s for this recipe.

Do you have questions for our featured employee? Send them to us at and we will publish a Q&A in a future issue.

Heart Health: Conversation Starters

It can be hard to talk to a family member or friend about making healthy lifestyle changes. Use these tips to start a conversation about heart-healthy changes like quitting smoking or getting more physical activity.


Begin by saying that you care.

You can say:

  • “I want you to live a long and healthy life.”
  • “I hope you’ll be around for a long time.”
  • “I want to help you make healthy changes so you can keep enjoying the things you love to do.”

Share the facts.

Let your loved one know how serious heart disease can be:

  • “Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States.”
  • “Heart disease causes more deaths in the United States than all types of cancer combined.”

Explain that it’s possible to prevent heart disease.

Make it clear that taking these steps can improve heart health:

  • Quit smoking and stay away from secondhand smoke.
  • Control your cholesterol and blood pressure.
  • If you choose to drink alcohol, limit your drinking to no more than 1 drink a day for women and no more than 2 drinks a day for men.
  • Eat healthy. Get plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fat-free or low-fat dairy products. Limit saturated and trans fats, added sugars, and sodium (salt).
  • Get active. Aim for 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate aerobic activity every week.
  • Stay at a healthy weight. If you are overweight or obese, losing just 10 pounds can lower your risk of heart disease.

Offer to help.

Ask how you can help:

  • “What changes are the hardest for you to make? What can I do to support you?”
  • “How can we get healthy together?”
  • “You don’t have to do this alone. What can I do to help you?”

Try suggesting these ideas:

  • Go shopping together for heart-healthy foods. Then cook and enjoy a healthy meal.
  • Get active together. A good way to start is to meet every day for a fast walk.
  • If your loved one smokes, encourage him to get free help quitting by calling 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669).

For more information on preventing heart disease, visit:

Kara Hirdman

Kara was recently hired as the Health and Wellness Coordinator for the St. Paul Fire Department. Kara’s experience in athletics, fitness, health and education have a long history. She played softball at Como High School, took boxing lessons as a teen and worked in the University of St. Thomas Athletic Department while working toward her BA degree in Psychology and Communications. She was part of a Rugby team in Venezuela, taught English and learned Spanish while living there and later taught Nutrition and Family Education classes in high schools throughout the Twin Cities following receiving her MA degree in Education. She has been a fitness instructor and personal trainer, was a strength and conditioning coach for the Hamline University Gymnastics team and most recently was Director of Healthy Living at the Downtown St. Paul YMCA.

In her new role as the Health and Wellness director she will support current groups addressing peer fitness, peer support and the cancer task force. She plans to help coach and support firefighters, create educational opportunities and build a positive environment for personal, professional and organizational growth.
Kara believes in lifelong learning and attempts to keep up with the newest research in all areas of health and fitness. She lives with her two children in the St. Paul area.

Mayor Carter

Team Saint Paul, I continue to be inspired by all of you every day and I’m thrilled for what lies ahead of us in 2019. Together, we achieved great things in the past year like raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour, establishing our Office of Financial Empowerment, tripling our free recreation center programming, and creating an unprecedented $10 million housing trust fund.
The investments we’ve made in our city ensure we are building a Saint Paul that truly works for all of us. We are also creating a healthy, vibrant, and sustainable community that can meet our needs today, and positions our city to be a place our children and grandchildren want to live.

Realizing this vision for a healthy, vibrant, and sustainable community now and in the future, starts with ensuring we can all lead full, healthy lives.

I was fortunate to grow up in a household where our parents were passionate about health and fitness, and instilled in my sisters and me a holistic perspective on wellness. They encouraged all of us to participate in athletic activities from a very early age. They also instilled in us the idea that health and wellness are not just about physical exercise, or eating your vegetables and getting a good night’s sleep. Healthy living encompasses physical, mental and spiritual wellness. When our body, mind, and soul feels nourished, we can fully realize our potential.
Growing up, I had the opportunity to play tennis, hockey, and run track & field. Running is something I continue to enjoy today. Whether it’s running several miles around my neighborhood, joining one of many local 5K races with my wife, Dr. Sakeena Futrell-Carter, or running with our “We Run Saint Paul” employee group, I find this activity to be one of my favorite ways to stay healthy, and connected with my family, colleagues and our community.

We each have unique health needs and interests, and in this new year, I encourage everyone to find what works for you. What’s most important is that we all engage in nurturing a healthy ecosystem for ourselves, our families, our friends and our entire community. We all play a role in sustaining wellness in our lives, and together, we can truly continue to build Saint Paul into a community that works for all of us. I’m absolutely thrilled to be your teammate in the work ahead and wish you a happy and healthy start to your year.

How to Start the New Year Right

Get your full eight hours. Just as a healthy diet and regular exercise are necessary and important for good health, so is sleep. Cutting back on snooze-time can lead to an out-of-control appetite (some studies show that people who sleep less are more likely to be overweight), a greater risk for coronary heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

Rise and shine — and eat. Breakfast gets your body’s metabolism going again after a night of sleeping, and gives you the gradual and adequate energy you need to get through the morning.

Wash your hands. From banishing cold and flu germs to preventing food borne illnesses, frequent hand-washing is one of the smartest preventive habits you can adopt. A thorough hand-washing should take about 20 seconds.

Know your family health history. Your family’s medical history can give you important information about your own health. Many diseases, such as heart disease, breast cancer, diabetes, and depression, can have a genetic component. The more you know about the health of your relatives, the better informed you’ll be about your own risk factors and how to manage them.

Eat mindfully. One of the significant differences between people who successfully manage their weight and people who constantly struggle is mindful eating. Turn off the TV or computer, sit down at a table with your food on a plate, and focus on eating. Put your fork down between bites, and take time to really enjoy your meal. Chances are you will eat less and feel more satisfied.

Add variety to your diet. Wild salmon and sardines are just a couple of the fish that provide heart-healthy fats such as omega-3, which lower your risk of cardiovascular disease and help preserve your cognitive function. Aim for two servings a week; more than that may add too much mercury to your system. On occasion, indulge in a bite of dark chocolate that contains at least 75% cocoa-both contain antioxidants that can benefit your heart. Try to eat 5-7 servings a day of fruits and vegetables, and minimize your intake of carbohydrates.

Volunteer. In addition to helping others, volunteers themselves often benefit from “giving back” to the communities in which they live and work, and enjoy a rewarding sense of doing something good for someone else.

Maintain strong family and social networks. Research has shown that people who have family and friends they can turn to for support and companionship may be healthier and less likely to experience depression than those who spend most of their time alone.

Take a time out.
At least once a day, close your eyes and focus on taking 10 deep, full breaths. Inhale through your nose, feel your diaphragm expand, and exhale through your mouth. Deep, focused breathing slows your heart rate, calms the body and, as a result, calms your mind and reduces stress. Mix in at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity at least five days a week as well… You needn’t do it all at once; two 15-minute workouts or three 10-minutes blocks work equally well.

Drink more water to prevent constipation, dehydration and other related diseases. Whether you drink bottled, filtered or tap, water helps keep your cells hydrated, flushes out toxins, and prevents dehydration. Tea, juices and sports drinks count, too, but watch out for added sugar, artificial flavorings and caffeine, all of which can detract from the benefits.


Coni Cassity

Coni Cassity has worked for the City for 22 years. She started in Libraries, then went to Parks & Rec. For the past 10 years, she has worked at Water. Below is Coni’s successful story, in her own words, at weight loss.

“I’ve been obese since I was a child. I can’t even count the number of diets I’ve tried over the past 40+ years. I’ve always been able to lose weight fast but keeping the weight off was something I always failed at, gaining it back even faster. This down and up cycle continued until I was well over 300 lbs. My Nurse Practitioner agreed that it was better to remain a constant weight than continue the yo-yo dieting so I stopped trying to lose weight and just accepted myself as I was. I managed to remain a stable weight for nearly 10 years but as my 50th birthday approached, I starting having more difficulty moving. Climbing a single flight of stairs would leave me breathless and light headed.

In March of 2017 I started having a lot of trouble walking due to arthritis in my knees. I was in such pain that I thought surgery was my only option but because of my size, surgery was dangerous. In June 2017 I received a disability placard and began physical therapy to prepare for what we all thought was inevitable surgery. At that time I was 288 lbs., pre-diabetic, had high blood pressure, high cholesterol and trouble breathing. I signed up for Omada* and started the program in July 2017 in desperation to get healthy enough to have the knee surgery. The weight started to come off slowly, but part of me was still expecting to fail because I had so many times before. While the coaching seemed “corny” and all the lessons were things I’ve heard over the years, it was different this time. I wasn’t trying to lose weight anymore, I was just trying to stay alive. It was hard to make changes at first, but by starting slowly and building healthy habits and routines one week at a time, it’s no longer a struggle.

In June of 2018 I saw my Nurse Practitioner for the first time in a year. She was speechless. At that time I was 202 lbs. (I’d lost 86 lbs. in 1 year). While still obese, my bloodwork was all within healthy ranges.

I have added years to my life. All it took was making the decision to not give up on myself this time. I managed to take control of my self-destructive eating habits. With the encouragement of my Omada coach, the support of my family, co-workers and a promise to myself to not let myself down, I have continued to lose weight and maintain a healthy and active lifestyle. I no longer need knee surgery since eating healthy, drinking more water and increasing my activity has reduced my pain to nearly non-existent. I walk at least 10,000 steps a day and have participated in six 5k runs. I have promised myself to bike into work once a week (3 ½ miles each way) during good weather. As of today, I have lost 115 lbs. I am continuing to eat healthy and remain active and will continue to lose the excess weight, but since losing weight is not my goal, it will not be a struggle. The more weight I continue to lose, the slower I will lose it until I reach a balance point. I’m excited to find out when that will happen.

*The Omada program is free to employees insured under the City’s Medica health plan. Visit for more information and to take the quick, three question survey to see if you qualify. Employees new to Omada qualify to earn 75 points for completing the first nine lessons.

Holiday Drinking

Drinking too much can harm your health. Excessive alcohol use led to approximately 88,000 deaths and 2.5 million years of potential life lost each year in the United States from 2006 – 2010, shortening the lives of those who died by an average of 30 years.

What is a “drink”?

In the United States, a standard drink contains 0.6 ounces of pure alcohol. Generally, this amount of pure alcohol is found in:

  • 12-ounces of beer (5% alcohol content).
  • 8-ounces of malt liquor (7% alcohol content).
  • 5-ounces of wine (12% alcohol content).
  • 1.5-ounces of 80-proof (40% alcohol content) distilled spirits or liquor (e.g., gin, rum, vodka, whiskey).

What is excessive drinking?

Excessive drinking includes binge drinking, heavy drinking, and any drinking by pregnant women or people younger than age 21.
Binge drinking, the most common form of excessive drinking, is defined as consuming

  • For women, 4 or more drinks during a single occasion.
  • For men, 5 or more drinks during a single occasion.
  • Heavy drinking is defined as consuming

  • For women, 8 or more drinks per week.
  • For men, 15 or more drinks per week.

Most people who drink excessively are not alcoholics or alcohol dependent.

What is moderate drinking?

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans defines moderate drinking as up to 1 drink per day for women and up to 2 drinks per day for men. In addition, the Dietary Guidelines do not recommend that individuals who do not drink alcohol start drinking for any reason.

By adhering to the Dietary Guidelines, you can reduce the risk of harm to yourself or others.

Short-Term Health Risks

Excessive alcohol use has immediate effects that increase the risk of many harmful health conditions. These are most often the result of binge drinking and include the following:

  • Injuries, such as motor vehicle crashes, falls, drownings, and burns.
  • Violence.
  • Alcohol poisoning.
  • Risky sexual behaviors.
  • Miscarriage and stillbirth or fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs) among pregnant women.

Long-Term Health Risks

Over time, excessive alcohol use can lead to the development of chronic diseases and other serious problems including:

  • High blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, liver disease, and digestive problems.
  • Cancer of the breast, mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, and colon.
  • Learning and memory problems, including dementia and poor school performance.
  • Mental health problems, including depression and anxiety.
  • Social problems, including lost productivity, family problems, and unemployment.
  • Alcohol dependence, or alcoholism.

By not drinking too much, you can reduce the risk of these short- and long-term health risks.

Fact Sheets – Alcohol Use and Your Health CDC

Healthy dining out with diabetes

Yes, it’s possible!

Preparing your own meals is a great way to stick to your diabetes-friendly diet. Realistically, though, you probably won’t feel like cooking for yourself every day. Like most Americans, you’ll likely eat out — at least once in a while!

Dining out doesn’t have to be tough if you have diabetes, and it doesn’t have to be off-limits. With a bit of planning and some smart choices, you can eat out without worry.
For people with diabetes, eating the right foods helps keep your blood sugar in your target range and provides needed nutrients — all critical parts of managing your condition. Individual meal planning can help you get the nutrients you need from the right foods.

That’s why it’s important that you stick to your healthy eating plan.

Try these five tips to do just that:

Know what’s on the menu.
Many restaurants post menus online. If one doesn’t, call the restaurant and ask if they can accommodate your needs. If they can’t, choose another place where you can more easily follow your eating plan.

Eat at the same time you usually do.
If you take insulin shots or diabetes pills, you need to eat about the same time every day.
Schedule dining plans close to your normal eating times.

Make reservations so you won’t have to wait.
If you can’t make reservations, bring a snack in case you have to wait. Avoiding high-volume times may help.
Watch portion sizes.

Many restaurants serve large portions. Try ordering an appetizer for your main course, or splitting an entrée with someone.
Or you can eat half of your meal and take the rest home.

Be vocal.

Ask for substitutions if you need to. For example, order veggies instead of fries. Or ask for sauces and dressings on the side.

Be careful of your drink choices.
Avoid sugar-sweetened drinks, with free refills. Stick with water or other unsweetened beverages.

Reprinted with permission
Medica CallLink® 24-hour Health Information and Education

Heather Vasquez

Heather has worked for the City for 13 years, starting at age 19. She is currently an Office Assistant III for Public Works in the Street Maintenance Division. In her job, she does a little bit of everything so much so that she has been called the “Swiss army knife of Public Works”!

Heather admits that in her teen years she wasn’t into exercising or watching her diet. She was in for a shock when at age 20 she stepped on a scale at a doctor appointment. She felt she had really let herself go and decided then that she would do something about it.

She began by making little changes to her diet. Up until then, she had been eating whatever she wanted which included a lot of fast food. So, for example, instead of taco shells, she substituted lettuce wraps. She gave up greasy cheeseburgers. She began doing her own research into healthy eating. Changing her diet was hard for her but it paid off. Heather saw the weight come off and people starting asking her about it. This motivated her to keep going.

Heather decided to add exercise to her life, beginning with short walks. She then added working out to exercise videos at home. By doing the Jillian Michaels 30 Day Shred she lost 30 lbs. in 6 weeks. The lifestyle changes that Heather made ultimately resulted in a 60 lb. total weight loss that she has been able to keep off. Her motivation to continue wasn’t just about losing weight, however. She wanted to lower her risk for diabetes, which runs in her family.

Two years ago, Heather joined a gym. To help her stay accountable. she takes a selfie when finished with her workout and posts it to Snapchat.

She is committed to going to the gym as often as she can. Her office is a 24/7 operation so she often works odd shifts and very long hours. When this happens, and she can’t make it to the gym, she works out on a break in the conference room, doing squats or using a workout video. She religiously wears her Fitbit, making sure she reaches 10,000/day. If she is short, she will even walk around her house or go up/down stairs to hit the goal. The Fitbit also calculates the number of calories she is burning when she works out. She logs those burned calories into the MyFitnessPal app along with logging pretty much anything she eats. That helps her to stay at least in the ballpark for her daily calorie goal. Heather said the use of the MyFitnessPal app really helped her realize how many calories she was eating. It has been a huge aid in weight loss for her.

Last year, Heather injured her back and was out of work for a month. She couldn’t exercise at all and or even make her own food. Heather pushed on though, not letting the pain and injury totally derail her lifestyle. With the help of a vigorous physical therapy program, Heather was able to slowly get back to a regular routine. She now pays more attention to using good form when exercising to avoid another injury. She keeps her workouts fresh by getting inspiration from social media.

For Heather, slow and steady wins the race. By changing her lifestyle, not only has she lost weight and reduced her risk for disease, but she feels a whole lot better too.