Meet Alexandra Hughes

Posted on: March 24th, 2017 by manna

Last week, we learned about Producing Director Ian Hussey’s story and how he found his way to Shut Up & Dance. This week, we meet Assistant Producer Alexandra Hughes, coming up on her 7th year with the show!


Alexandra Hughes

Assistant Producer

7th Shut Up & Dance 


Favorite memory?

“My favorite Shut Up & Dance moment was in 2013 when we did a Showgirls theme. We ended up doing a full opening and closing number, and a little intermediary fun piece, and I ended up being the girl called ‘MANNA.’ It was just the electricity from the audience. It made everything so fun.”

Funny memory?

“Last year I was injured during Shut Up & Dance, so with my fractured boot on, I stood on the speakers and mimed the ‘walk like an Egyptian’ song and pulled red ribbon out of Ian who had just been stabbed. That was pretty funny. That was a good moment.”


Ian Hussey Story

Posted on: March 17th, 2017 by manna

Ian Hussey, Shut Up & Dance Producing Director

The 25th anniversary of Shut Up & Dance will be Ian Hussey’s fourteenth year performing in it. Now in his sixth year as the producing director, Ian still thinks of Shut Up as “one of the most wonderful nights of [his] life, every single year.”

Shut Up & Dance has always held an element of wonder. Maybe that’s why it has continued to thrive, enchanting Philadelphians for two and a half decades, growing up alongside MANNA. What started as a small family and friends affair has evolved into a well-known, highly-attended performance at the Forrest Theatre, just as MANNA has grown from a grass-roots initiative in a church basement to a nutrition-based nonprofit establishing itself as a thought leader.

Ian recently took the time to tell us a little about his Shut Up & Dance story.


 Photograph by Vikki Sloviter


The Beginning

When Ian was growing up in Philadelphia, he would see posters around town for a dancer-curated performance called “Shut Up & Dance.” While the posters sparked his familiarity with the burgeoning show, he never had the opportunity to attend. Fortunately, he later ended up joining the Pennsylvania Ballet and was introduced to the reward of dancing for this annual tradition of collaboration with MANNA.

As a young dancer in the company, Shut Up was a great opportunity to get out there and take on more central roles. But quickly, it came to mean much more. MANNA’s community-centric model, rooted in compassion, resonated deeply with Ian. The opportunity to contribute to MANNA’s mission through his life’s art was an unparalleled experience. The fulfillment he found in this benefit performance, a show with a more raw and boundless format, was enough to ensure he stuck with it for years. 

As Ian said, “I think being a dancer and being able to put on a show like this, one that not only brings so much joy to the MANNA family but also the dance community, is amazing. MANNA does such important, good work for our community and contributing to that is an opportunity most of us [dancers] don’t ever really get a chance to do. And we get to do it every year! It’s incredibly rewarding.”


The Preparation & Excitement

Because Shut Up is a voluntary project for the dancers, preparation time for the performance is found in-between practice for other shows with the Pennsylvania ballet. Dancers squeeze rehearsal time into treasured morsels of spare minutes and whenever a studio is open – lunch hours, after hours, breaks. When the week of the show arrives, the final bursts of adrenaline really kick in.

While it can be stressful, this is an aspect of the show that makes it so unique for the dancers. Ian explained the consensus among his colleagues is that performing for Shut Up is ‘a roller-coaster of emotions,’ a babbling stream of nervous electricity and delightful anticipation.

For Ian, one of his favorite parts of the show is “the journey of the whole thing culminating backstage. Everyone is back there, watching each other and supporting one another and all of the nerves and excitement and energy of the show is something you can really feel when you’re on stage, off stage, and the audience is making noise. All of the memories are pretty amazing.” 

The space for creativity within the show is what makes it unique for the dancers and audience alike. Ian explained, “People love Shut Up and Dance because they have no idea what the heck they got themselves into, no idea what’s about to happen. You walk in, and the theatre is a little stripped down, and the dancers are warming up on stage, and there’s this energy of, ‘this is about to happen.’”  


The Embarrassing/Funny Moments

Ian remembers one show in particular, before he was the director, when he was playing a secret service agent. He had on pants with buttons so he could rip them off and run across the stage in little green booty shorts. The plan was that once he ripped off the pants, all the dancers would come on stage and fly away in a sort of jazz run.

Except, after Ian ripped off the pants, things quickly went awry. As he remembers, “I don’t know what happened, but I had a total spazz moment. I ended up doing the jazz runs but with the same arm and leg, flying down… and then my glasses were falling off! So I’m the central person doing all of these moves and I’m an utter disaster. It was a disgrace to dance everywhere.”

The jazz runs may have descended into chaos, but it didn’t matter. Because Ian wasn’t performing to refine his reputation, but to contribute to MANNA and the community. If the audience was laughing and enjoying themselves, it was a success.


The Evolution

When recalling the epic odyssey of Shut Up, Ian said, “I’ve seen Shut Up & Dance grow up and mature a lot. It will and should always be the grassroots of the dancers of the PA ballet choreographing the night. But now we’re bringing in other companies from the Philadelphia area and having that be part of the show. Beyond ballet dancers we have had exciting acts – acrobatic acts, tap dancers, cabaret.”

“And now we are taking it in a totally new direction with Martha Graham Cracker. I think with her, moving forward the show will hopefully grow bigger and bigger. Every year we have to do crazier things. Where do you go from crazy? You just go crazier.”


Ask a Dietitian: Granola

Posted on: March 9th, 2017 by manna

Question: I really like this granola recipe but I keep reading about how granola is bad for you due to too much added sugar. Can you comment and suggest how I might revise a recipe to be healthier?

MANNA RD: Granola is one of those food items that looks healthy on the outside but is deceivingly filled with lots of sugar and sometimes unhealthy fats.  Commercial varieties are often loaded with enough sugar containing more of the sweetener than protein by weight, the dietary guidelines have labeled it as a “grain-based dessert” and has placed it in the sweets category.

On average, one cup of granola or one granola bar has anywhere from 20-24 grams of sugar which is as much as what you would find in a slice of cake or even a bowl of ice cream. 

With most Americans becoming more aware of and concerned with their daily sugar intake, more products are being developed that have cut this sugar content in half, these brands include KIND Healthy Grains Granola Clusters and Bear Naked Granola. 

There is also the option to make your own granola which allows you to control how much sugar is added and choosing healthier sweetener options such as fruit juice, honey, and natural sugars. 

The key is to making sure that you pack plenty of whole grains, healthy fat and protein sources such as nuts and seeds, and limit your portion sizes to ½ cup.  Here is a great granola recipe that you can find on as well as other healthy granola recipes:


    • 8 cups rolled oats
    • 1 cup wheat bran
    • ½ cup chopped almonds
    • 2 tablespoons cinnamon
    • 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
    • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
    • ½ cup apple juice
    • ⅓ cup orange juice
    • ⅓ cup lemon juice
    • ¼ cup canola oil
    • ¼ cup honey
    • 1½ tablespoons freshly grated orange zest, (about 1 orange)
    • 1 tablespoon freshly grated lemon zest, (about 1 lemon)
    • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
    • 1 cup raisins or dates, (optional)


  • 1 Preheat oven to 300°F. Combine oats, bran, almonds, cinnamon, cardamom and ginger in a large bowl. Set aside.
  • 2 Heat apple juice, orange juice, lemon juice, oil, honey and orange and lemon zests in a small saucepan over medium heat until warm. Stir in vanilla. Pour liquid ingredients into dry ingredients and mix thoroughly.
  • 3 Spread mixture on two 11-by-16-inch baking sheets. Bake until golden brown, about 35 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes. Let cool and stir in raisins (or dates, if using).


Nutrition information

  • Per serving: 242 calories; 7 g fat(1 g sat); 7 g fiber; 39 g carbohydrates; 7 g protein; 6 mcg folate; 0 mg cholesterol; 5 g sugars; 13 IU vitamin A; 5 mg vitamin C; 44 mg calcium; 2 mg iron; 3 mg sodium; 240 mg potassium
  • Carbohydrate Servings: 2½
  • Exchanges: 2 starch, ½ fat

Ask a Dietitian: Artificial Sugars

Posted on: March 7th, 2017 by manna

Q: Why are artificial or added sugars worse for your health than sugars naturally found in fruits and vegetables?

MANNA RD: This is an ongoing health topic that has been given much debate over most recent years. My own perspective on the subject is that if the term “artificial” is being used to describe a food item, proceed with caution as anything not in its natural form may have consequences.

Not to say you can never drink a Diet Coke again, but if your diet consists of consuming a lot of beverages and food products with artificial sweeteners you may want to consider cutting back on your intake.

Currently there are six artificial sweeteners approved by the FDA: acesulfame potassium, (Sweet One) aspartame (Nutrasweet or Equal), saccharin (Sweet N’ Low), sucralose (Splenda), neotame, and advantame.

All of these offer a sweet flavor to food or beverage while not adding any calories or any grams of sugar. In that sense it seems obvious to choose a diet beverage compared to a regular 12 oz can of soda at 140 calories and 39g of sugar.

However, there is still much to be said on how the brain responds to artificial sweeteners. According to a 2012 article by Harvard Health, when comparing natural sugars found in fruits, artificial sweeteners by taste are much sweeter. Therefore, people who consume high amounts of artificial sweeteners may find naturally sweetened foods not as desirable causing for more consumption of artificially sweetened products.

Even though less calories and sugar are being consumed from these products, there is also less consumption nutrition such as fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals.

While there is still no definitive answer on the effects of artificial sweeteners, everything in moderation is key. So if you are the individual that consumes a Diet Pepsi with every meal and enjoys sugar free frozen yogurt as a night-time dessert, you may want to start grabbing a water and piece of fruit more often.


Recipes of the Month: Chicken Noodle & Oatmeal Cookie

Posted on: March 2nd, 2017 by manna

March 13th is National Chicken Noodle Soup! Warm up with this quick and easy homemade recipe:


  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • ½ cup chopped onion
  • ½ cup chopped celery
  • 4 (14.5 oz.) cans chicken broth
  • 1 (14.5 oz.) can vegetable broth
  • ½ pound chopped cooked chicken breast
  • 1 ½ cups egg noodles
  • 1 cup sliced carrots
  • ½ tsp. dried basil
  • ½ tsp. dried oregano
  • salt and pepper to taste


In a large pot over medium heat, melt butter. Cook onion and celery in butter until tender, about 5 minutes. Pour in chicken and vegetable broth and stir in chicken, noodles, carrots, basil, oregano, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Serve and enjoy!


March 19th is National Oatmeal Cookie Day! Try this healthy and delicious recipe:




  • ½ cup whole wheat flour and ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 2/3 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • ½ cup rolled oats
  • ½ cup raisins


            Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl, combine flours and baking powder. In a large bowl, whisk together oil, sugar, egg and vanilla. Add flour mixture and stir to combine; mix in oats and raisins. Roll cookies into balls (about 2 tbsp. of dough per cookie) and place on baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for 15-17 minutes. Let cookies cool for about 5 minutes, and enjoy!

National Nutrition Month

Posted on: March 2nd, 2017 by manna

The theme for National Nutrition Month ® 2017, presented by Health Partners Plans, is “Put Your Best Fork Forward.”  This serves as a reminder that each one of us holds the tool to make healthier food choices.

We all make New Year’s resolutions, whether it is to eat healthier, become more physically active, or simply live a more balanced and healthier lifestyle. By now, these New Year’s resolutions are starting to get dusty.

In the winter, it is easy to stay inside and indulge in our favorite high calorie comfort foods. With spring approaching, March is the perfect time to get back on track with healthy eating. Ingredient swaps, adding balance, and moderate portion sizes can help you maintain a healthy diet.

Making small daily, weekly, or monthly changes over time leads to big changes that will help improve your overall health.

Here are a few simple and easy tips to March into National Nutrition Month:

  • Eat more plants
    • When you include more fruits and vegetables into your diet, it is likely that you will crowd out unhealthier foods.
  • Get enough sleep
    • Lack of sleep, even just 30 minutes less one or two nights a week, can lead to weight gain and changes in insulin levels.
  • Read labels
    • Make sure to read the nutrition label on food items – this way you can get a better idea of calories and nutrients in a specific serving size. The less ingredients, the better!
  • Eat a protein-packed, fiber rich breakfast
    • Breakfast truly is the most important meal of the day. A breakfast filled with protein and fiber will provide you with the energy to start you day and keep you full.
  • Try new foods and recipes
    • This helps to ensure you are adding a variety of foods in your diet.

Ask a Dietitian: Cooking Oils

Posted on: February 22nd, 2017 by manna

If you want your question answered by a dietitian and published on our blog, email Maris Harmon at

QuestionWhat is the healthiest oil to use, and which oils should we stay away from?

MANNA Dietitian: Extra virgin olive oil is one of the healthiest oils to use, because it is rich in monounsaturated fatty acids, which help reduce the “bad” cholesterol (LDL) and increase the “good” cholesterol (HDL). Olives naturally contain antioxidants, called polyphenols, which protect against free radicals. Olive oil is best for low-temperature cooking, such as sautéeing. 

Canola oil and sunflower oil both contain polyunsaturated fats, which help improve blood cholesterol levels, reducing your risk for heart disease. Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are essential for good health. They both have a medium-high smoke point, which is great for searing, frying, or baking.

Grapeseed oil is another healthy, versatile option. It is rich in polyunsaturated fats, and is a good choice for cooking over high heat (sautéing, roasting).

Avoid using oils labeled as hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated. These oils contain high amounts of trans-fat. Trans-fats are responsible for clogged arteries, which can lead to heart attacks. Two oils to avoid are corn oil and palm oil, both high in calories and trans-fats. 


National Homemade Soup Day

Posted on: February 2nd, 2017 by manna

Homemade Soup Day (February 4)

Warm up with this heart-healthy, budget friendly Black Bean Soup


  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 tbsp. minced garlic
  • 2 tsp. cumin
  • 1 jalapeño, chopped
  • 2 16-oz. canned, low-sodium black beans (undrained)
  • 1 15-oz. can, no-salt-added, diced tomatoes (undrained)
  • 1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
  • Optional: fresh cilantro, chopped


  1. Spray a large pot with cooking spray (or oil), over medium-high heat add onion and cook until translucent (about 5 minutes).
  2. Add garlic, cumin and jalapeno and cook for another minute.
  3. Add the beans and lightly mash with a masher or a fork.
  4. Add tomatoes and broth – bring to a boil and reduce to medium heat, cover and simmer for 15 minutes.
  5. Served topped with fresh cilantro (optional).

February is American Heart Month

Posted on: February 2nd, 2017 by manna

February is American Heart Month.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. Every year, 1 in 4 deaths are caused by heart disease. Fortunately, we can often prevent this chronic illness by making healthier choices along with managing our health conditions. The MANNA meal program helps to ensure that each client we serve follows the American Heart Association’s daily recommendations for preventing heart disease by using it as a guide when creating our six week cycle menu. Eating heart-healthy foods and incorporating physical activity into your daily routine can help control and reduce your risk of developing heart disease, high blood pressure, and other heart-related illnesses.

Here are a few simple, easy tips your heart (and body) will love you for!

  • Physical activity is key to a healthy heart. The American Heart Association suggests exercising at least 30 minutes a day, five times a week. Physical activity includes walking, swimming, biking, and many more.
  • Make it fun! Choose activities that you will enjoy. Try to change up your routine weekly, that way it will never seem boring.
  • Invite family and friends to join you. You are more likely to stick with an exercise routine if you have company.
  • Decrease the amount of sodium in your diet by being conscious of how much added salt you are putting in your food, processed foods, and canned items.
  • Instead of adding salt to your food, try adding healthy spices such as rosemary, thyme, curry, or coriander.
  • Reduce the amount of fat in your diet by choosing lean meats and healthy fats (i.e. olive oil, avocados, nuts, fish, etc.)
  • Try to quit smoking. Quitting smoking is an important component in helping to reduce your risk for heart disease.

For more information, visit

January 2017 Ask a Dietitian

Posted on: January 18th, 2017 by manna

We’re Here to Help!

In an effort to provide our community of supporters, volunteers, and clients with helpful nutrition tips, we have begun an “Ask a Dietitian” series that will be promoted on our blog and social media.

Beth D. asks

Please settle a discussion between me and my husband!  When storing warm leftovers in a container (which will be stored in the refrigerator), is it better to cover the leftovers while warm and then refrigerate, or to leave them in an open container to cool off before covering & refrigerating?

Nicole Laverty, RD, LDN replied with

Thank you for sending our first “Ask a MANNA Dietitian” question!!!  It is a great question and something that I have debated with family members in the past during holiday events.  It is important to follow safe food handling when dealing with leftovers to prevent food-borne illness.  First, you want to make sure that you cook your food to a safe, minimum internal temperature using a food thermometer (145 ° F for red meats, 160 ° F for ground meats, and 165 ° F for poultry).  After preparing your food, you want to keep your food out of the “Danger Zone” (40 ° F – 140 ° F).  Hot food must be kept hot at 140 ° F or warmer and cold food at 40 ° F or less for two hours or less, at or after that 2 hour time period you must either refrigerate your leftovers or throw the food away.  To answer your specific question, it is important to cool your cooked food rapidly so that it reaches the safe refrigerator-storage temperature of 40 ° F or below.  Divide large amounts of food into shallow containers and cut large items of food into smaller portions to cool.  Hot food can then be placed directly in the refrigerator or be rapidly chilled in an ice or cold water bath before refrigerating.  It is also important to cover or seal your leftovers in airtight packaging to help keep bacteria out, retain moisture, and prevent leftovers from picking up odors from other foods in the fridge.  Immediately refrigerate or freeze the wrapped leftovers for rapid cooling.  You can keep your leftovers in the refrigerator for up to 3 to 4 days or frozen for 3 to 4 months. 


Amanda P. asks

I know that consuming too much sugar can lead to health concerns like diabetes and obesity, but I’ve recently heard that a calorie is just a calorie and it’s not what you eat that matters, is that true?

Nicole Laverty, RD, LDN replied with

Because sugar lacks fiber and other healthy nutrients, its rate of metabolism – how quickly your body breaks it down – is fast. This means that refined sugar is quickly broken down into glucose and fructose.

Glucose spikes insulin (a hormone) and blood sugar levels, which gives you a quick surge of energy that your body cannot use right away. This high insulin level increases storage of belly fat and increases inflammation, and it also affects the chemistry of your brain and increases your appetite by blocking leptin – the appetite-control hormone. When you become leptin resistant your brain never gets the “full” signal, and instead thinks that you are starving, causing you to consume more calories.

Fructose is metabolized in your liver and absorbed at once, increasing fat cell production and the workload on your liver. It also triggers more insulin resistance and causes elevated blood insulin levels, which result in the body storing everything as belly fat. This is not healthy, and also generates more inflammation, worsening insulin resistance and leading to weight gain and diabetes.

On the other hand, while fruit is also made mostly of glucose and fructose, their chemical and plant structures are different from refined sugar in ways that alter the absorption rate and effects on the body. Fruit is rich in antioxidants, phytonutrients, vitamins, and minerals. It is also a great source of fiber, which refined sugar lacks entirely. The fiber naturally occurring in fruit expands your gut, helping you to fell fuller for longer. It also prevents the sugars in fruit from being broken down as rapidly and prevents the crazy insulin spike, allowing your body more time to use up the glucose as fuel before storing it, and decreasing the metabolic stress on your body.


Have a question for our staff? Send them to and we’ll answer them here! Responses will also be shared on MANNA’s Facebook page and in our monthly e-newsletter.

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The Steven Korman
Nutrition Center

2323 Ranstead St.
Philadelphia, PA 19103
T: 215.496.2662

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