Welcome to my blog on healthy eating and food safety. I look forward to your comments and feedback regarding use of this tool to disseminate educational information. This blog will be updated on a regular basis.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Flavored Waters-So Many Choices

Flavored Waters – So Many Choices
Most people understand the importance of drinking water and its health benefits. But with so many options of sweet tasting, caffeine laden, fizzy options, it’s hard to reach for plain water. Water products have been evolving in the food industry as quickly as any of the new items in the grocery store. When the mouth becomes dry or there are bodily signals pointing to needing something refreshing, it can be confusing what the recommendations of choosing healthy water or drinks.

Many people reach for carbonated water thinking this is a healthy option to drinking pop and are bored with plain water.

There are so many different flavors of carbonated waters and the enticing bubbles give the feeling of drinking a pop. So many of the flavored waters boast a healthy option to water without adding flavors or preservatives. Does this all seem too good to be true? It’s time to find some information about these bubbly options.

It seems as though there are products with added sweeteners and sugar substitutes in some of the carbonated waters on the store’s shelves. The added sweeteners seem to be to culprits to all the health problems associated with consuming high volumes of these types of drinks. These sweeteners cause a depletion of calcium absorption in the body.

In addition to causing problems with calcium uptake in the body, large consumption of pop and having it coat the teeth also increases the amount of tooth enamel decay. Tooth enamel cannot be replaced once it is gone so this artificial flavoring is extremely damaging to teeth.

There are some carbonated waters that do not have added artificial sweeteners and these are the better choice to grab when needing to rehydrate or get the recommended amount of water in for the day. These carbonated drinks do not have added fillers, sugars or sweeteners, so they’re safer to consume at a larger amount. The carbonation can also help in feeling full for longer and also can help some people make the transition from drinking pop (soda) to drinking water.

Erin Carter, Michigan State University Extension

Monday, January 16, 2017

Selecting a Healthy Soup When Dining Out

Selecting a Healthy Soup When Dining Out
On a cold and blustery day, there is nothing like a bowl of steaming soup. Here are some tips for making a wise choice when selecting a bowl of soup when dining out.
  • Creamy and cheese soups can have a significant amount of saturated fat. Instead select a clear broth soup such as chicken noodle or vegetable beef soup.
  • Soup can be a great source of fiber and nutrients. Choose soups filled with beans, vegetables, and lean protein sources.  
  • If you are ordering soup and an entrée, you may want to select a cup of soup rather than a bowl of soup.
  • Remember that some soups served at restaurants can contain a significant amount of sodium.
  • When ordering soup, consider pairing soup with a salad or sandwich made with whole grain bread and lean protein.   
  • Skip soup toppings such as a sprinkle of cheese, crumbled bacon or croutons as these items can increase saturated fat and sodium content of the soup.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Oats-January Grain of the Month

Oats-January Grain of the Month
 Each month Whole Grains Council features a different grain each month. The Grain of the Month for January is Oats. We buy more oats at that time than in any other month – and January has long been celebrated as National Oatmeal Month. 
Samuel Johnson’s 1755 dictionary defined oats as “A grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland appears to support the people.” The Scotsman’s retort to this was, “That’s why England has such good horses, and Scotland has such fine men!”
Oats (Avena sativa) have a sweet flavor that makes them a favorite for breakfast cereals. Unique among the most widely-eaten grains, oats almost never have their bran and germ removed in processing. So if you see oats or oat flour on the label, relax: you’re virtually guaranteed to be getting whole grain.
In the U.S., most oats are steamed and flattened to produce rolled oats, sold as “old-fashioned” or regular oats, quick oats, and instant oats. The more oats are flattened and steamed, the quicker they cook – and the softer they become. If you prefer a chewier, nuttier texture, consider steel-cut oats, also sometimes called Irish or Scottish oats. Steel-cut oats consist of the entire oat kernel (similar in look to a grain of rice), sliced once or twice into smaller pieces to help water penetrate and cook the grain. Cooked for about 20-30 minutes, steel-cut oats create a breakfast porridge that delights many people who didn’t realize they love oatmeal!
Here are some are some tips to make oatmeal more nutritious.
  • Add low-fat or fat free milk to your oatmeal. Calcium in milk helps to maintain bone strength.
  • Add fresh or frozen fruit such as strawberries, blueberries, apples, bananas or dried fruit like cranberries or raisins.
  • In place of sugar, try adding a small amount of maple syrup or honey.
  • Add heart-healthy nuts. Nuts contain protein, healthy omega-3 fats and fiber. Examples of nuts to add include walnuts, almonds, pecans, or cashews.

Monday, January 9, 2017

January is National Soup Month

January Is National Soup Month

What’s better on a cold winter day than a warm bowl of soup? Soup can be nutritious, easy to prepare, and inexpensive. It can be great hot or cold, prepared with minimal clean-up, only needs one pot, and the combination of ingredients is unlimited. Soup is a great dish for a variety of palettes and can be tailored to be spicy, savory or sweet. January is National Soup Month, a good time to think about how soup can fit into a healthy eating plan. Follow these helpful tips for making soup delicious and nutritious.
Tips for Delicious and Nutritious Soup:
Soup for every season. As appetizers, side dishes, or main dishes, soups help celebrate the bounty of the four seasons. Soups can be thick and hearty, smooth and creamy, or savory. They can be served hot, such as minestrone, or cold, such as mango and cucumber soup.
Be sodium savvy. To keep soups tasty and healthy, use low-sodium broth, stock, or soup base for the foundation. Experiment with flavorful herbs and spices in place of salt. The most effective replacements are savory flavors with "bite," such as black pepper, garlic powder, curry powder, cumin, dill seeds, basil, ginger, coriander and onion. Use minced or powdered garlic and onion rather than their salt form. When substituting minced or powdered garlic and onion for the salt version, use about half as much.
Make healthier choices with Nutrition Facts Labels. When buying canned soups, use the Nutrition Facts Label to help choose ones with lower sodium levels. Foods with less than 140 milligrams (mg) sodium per serving can be labeled as low-sodium foods. Claims such as “low in sodium” or “very low in sodium” on the front of the food label can help identify foods that contain less salt.
Choose healthier substitutions. Soup can be a healthy, inexpensive meal. Keep soups lower in fat and calories by using cheese, sour cream, or bacon sparingly as a topping or garnish. Or choose healthier substitutes like reduced-fat shredded cheese, low-fat sour cream, non-fat plain yogurt, or turkey bacon. Substitute a whole-grain product for a refined product – such as using whole-wheat noodles, barley, or brown rice in soups and stews.
Cook once, eat twice. Homemade soups can be made ahead of time and in large quantities. Eat refrigerated soup within three to four days or freeze it. Don’t let soup set at room temperature for more than two hours. To speed cooling, store soups in shallow containers. When serving a second time, bring to a boil.
Source: Lisa Franzen-Castle, Ph.D, RD, Extension Nutrition Specialist, University of Nebraska Extension

Friday, January 6, 2017

Kick Off a Healthy New Year with SuperTracker!

Kick Off a Healthy New Year with SuperTracker!

Do your New Year’s resolutions include a healthier eating style and more physical activity? Whether you find inspiration from a personal challenge, or by competing with others in a group, we have the tools to keep you motivated and help you reach your goals with updated features in SuperTracker, the food and physical tracking tool from the USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion (CNPP).

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Makeover Your Leftovers

Makeover Your Leftovers 
I recently share information from the University of Nebraska Extension, Lancaster County in a blog on re-purposing leftovers and reusing them in new ways. Here are some additional suggestions.
  • Make a chopped salad with small amounts of extra fruits, vegetables, nuts, cooked eggs, etc.
  • Purée extra vegetables in a blender or food processor and heat with pasta sauce. Possible vegetables include carrots, butternut squash, red bell peppers and zucchini.
  • Freeze pizza sauce, taco sauce, tomato paste, etc. in ice cube trays. Transfer to freezer bags when frozen
  • Freeze extra bell peppers in shapes needed for recipes. Freeze for a few hours on a baking
  • sheet with sides until hard. Transfer to a freezer bag and lay flat in the freezer.
  • Sauté chopped cabbage and onion (about 1/2 head cabbage and 1/2 onion) in butter in a skillet over medium heat until tender (about 15 minutes). Season with salt and pepper.
  • Freeze washed, peeled, bite-size pieces of fruit for smoothies. Place on baking sheet with sides and cover with plastic wrap; freeze. Transfer frozen pieces to freezer bags. Toss into smoothies.
Other Suggestions
  • Freeze Parmesan rinds and add (frozen) to a soup or stew for extra flavor.
  • Use leftover rice in stir-fried rice. Rice can be frozen in ice cube trays and once frozen, put in a freezer container or freezer bag.
  • Add oil, vinegar, herbs and spices to an almost-empty mayo, jam or jelly jar. Shake and use for a quick and flavorful salad dressing. Use about 1 part vinegar to 3 parts oil.
  • Create a colorful parfait by cutting cake into 1-inch cubes. Prepare a pudding mix per package directions. Layer cake, pudding and fruit (such as berries) in dessert or wine glasses or a glass coffee cup. Keep refrigerated.
 Source: Alice Henneman, MS, RDN, Extension Educator, Lancaster County Extension

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Tasty Tips to Cut Back on Holiday Food Waste

Tasty Tips to Cut Back on Holiday Food Waste
Turkey, ham, stuffing, rolls, pies and cookies. These are some of the delicious reasons we look forward to the holiday season. But for as much delicious food we eat, we also waste a great deal of it. Food waste accounts for more than 25 percent of the garbage we throw away at the holidays. If you want to cut back on food waste this holiday season, consider some of the following tips: 
  • The key word is reduce. To reduce the amount of food made in the first place, you have to do some planning. Before you even begin cooking your holiday meal, try to get an accurate count of how many people will be joining. You can then better plan your meal by reducing the amount of food you buy and cook. Don’t just grab the largest or the best value-sized turkey. Instead, do some simple math: a pound of turkey per person. The same need for planning goes for side dishes as well. Pay attention to the number of servings a recipe calls for or, if you make your own recipes, start keeping track of how many regular-sized servings you get out of your usual batch. Next year you’ll know the exact amount of that dish to make. If your guests are bringing a meal to pass, let them know it’s okay to bring less food rather than trying to feed an army with each dish. 
  • Leftovers, leftovers, leftovers. Some people love them; some people hate them. While the leftover fanatics will be happy to eat an exact replica of Thanksgiving dinner for weeks, some won’t be willing to do that. For the people who hate eating leftovers, the key is just to repurpose the leftovers. Between biscuits and gravy, pot pie, soup, nachos, enchiladas, sandwiches and stuffed shells, you have a lot of choices.
  • Ask your guests to bring their own reusable containers. Many people like to send leftovers home with their guests; and their guests generally love it! If they bring their own container, it means you don’t have to worry about running out of reusable containers, and you won’t be forced to use grandma’s covered casserole dish to send food home with your guests.
  • If you’re keeping the leftovers at your own house, consider freezing food you won’t eat in the next week. Maybe you have too much to eat during the next week, or maybe you just want to save a plate of stuffing for a cold January day. Either way, freezing leftovers extends their life and prevents you from having to throw away once completely edible food.
Not every piece of food that’s left over from your holiday dinner is going to be edible. Scraps like turkey bones, eggshells and vegetable peels may not be “reusable” but they are “recyclable.” Eggshells and vegetable peels can be mixed into your compost pile or mixed right into your garden soil. If you don’t have a compost pile or garden, you can always bring them to one of the Brown County Food Waste & Organics drop-off sites. Turkey scraps won’t break down in your home composter, so those can also be brought to a Food Waste drop-off site. It’s not hard to reduce the amount of food waste you generate around the holidays. Planning ahead and being creative with your leftovers are simple steps you can start to implement this holiday season.
Source: Mark Walter, Brown County Port and Resource Recovery

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Get Ready for Holiday Leftovers! Do You Have the Right Containers?

Get Ready for Holiday Leftovers! Do You Have the Right Containers?
The holiday season brings holiday feasts. And that can mean lots of leftovers.  Whether packing tomorrow’s lunch or sending your guests home with leftovers, make sure you are storing food in the right containers to preserve freshness and avoid spoilage. 
Clean or Toss?
  • If the plastic container cannot hold its shape in hot water or the microwave, then you may need to toss or recycle these items.  This is true of most containers that are meant to transport food, such as takeout containers, and those that you purchase food products in, such as yogurt containers.  These types of containers are designed for a one-time use only.
  • If the container is a keeper, make sure it is clean for the next use. Wash thoroughly in dish soap and warm water, or put it in your dishwasher’s top rack. 
  • If the container is stained, here are some tips for removing stains.  Put the plastic food container on the kitchen counter and leave in the direct sun for a few hours.  Or soak the container using a mild bleach solution of 2 teaspoons of bleach per gallon of water and be sure to drain and dry thoroughly before use.
  • For containers that smell, try a baking soda and water scrub (1teaspoon of baking soda with one cup of water), or try undiluted vinegar. Be sure to wash the container after using any of these stain removal steps. If the stain does not bulge, it may be time to toss the container.
  • To avoid stains before they happen, spray the inside of the container with unflavored cooking spray.  If you are not using the container for cooking, you can line the container with foil or plastic wrap.
  • Tomato stains are stubborn to remove.  Refrain from microwaving tomato sauce in plastic containers.
    Source: American Cleaning Institute 

Monday, December 19, 2016

What's in a name? What Every Consumer Should KNow About Foods and Flavors

What's in a Name? What Every Consumer Should Know About Foods and Flavors
Many foods or beverages are flavored—but how can you tell where those flavors come from? For example, if you’re digging into a bowl of cereal that has the word “maple” on the package, and even images of maple leaves, you may think you’re eating a product that contains maple syrup. But not so fast—the taste may come from added flavors. The same goes for the lemon drink you’ve made from a package picturing fresh lemons. You probably think it was made with lemons, but it may be flavored with natural or artificial lemon flavor.

Why? Current regulations allow use of terms like “maple,” “maple-flavored,” or “artificially maple-flavored” on the food label without having any maple syrup in the product, as long as it contains maple flavoring. This flavoring could come from a number of sources, including sap or bark from the maple tree. Or it could come from the herb fenugreek, which can impart a maple-like flavor.

Likewise, a lemon-flavored food or drink doesn’t necessarily have to contain lemons or lemon juice. However, this food has to be properly labeled if the source of the flavor is not from lemons. For example, if the flavor comes from an artificial source or a source other than lemon, the product’s name must reflect artificial lemon flavor. And if a strawberry shortcake is made with artificial strawberry flavoring, it must be called artificial strawberry-flavored shortcake.

Not everyone cares if the food actually includes a certain ingredient, as long as the flavor tastes right to them. But, says Douglas Balentine, Ph.D., director of FDA’s Office of Nutrition and Food Labeling, if you don’t want a substitute source of the flavor you’re seeking—if, say, you want real maple syrup in your food—the information you need will be in the ingredient list on the food package.

Look for a specific mention of the original flavor source on the ingredient list. Some tips:
  • If you want a maple food that is made with maple syrup, look for the words “maple syrup” in the ingredient list. In addition, the firm may voluntarily declare “made with 100% maple syrup” elsewhere on the label.
  • In some situations, you may see the term “natural flavor” in the ingredient list. If the maple flavor comes from a natural maple flavor, you may see “natural maple flavor” or “natural flavor” in the ingredient list.
  • If you want a product made or flavored with the actual fruit, look for the name of the fruit (“grapefruit”) or the name of a juice made from the fruit (“grapefruit juice”) in the ingredient list.
There are some exceptions. So, a product labeled as a butter product—for instance, “butter cookies”—has to be 100 percent butter to include the term. If the food contains both butter and shortening, an appropriate name would be “butter-flavored.” And if you want real chocolate, look for “chocolate” in the ingredient list. Finally, if the name of the food is accompanied by terms such as “artificial flavors,” or “natural and artificial flavors,” it is a signal that the original source of the flavor may not have been used in the food
Source: U.S. Food & Drug Administration

Friday, December 16, 2016

Make Holiday Beverages Healthier

Make Holiday Beverages Healthier
 In addition to tasty  treats, there are so many delicious beverages to enjoy during the holiday season. Here are some tips for selecting and making healthy beverages.

  • When serving eggnog , fill your glass with half- to three-quarter-parts of low-fat or skim milk and one part eggnog. You’ll still get the flavor without all the calories.
  •  Pass on a dollop of whipped cream to save calories.
  •  When ordering  hot chocolate ask that it be made with low-fat or skim milk, and without thewhipped cream.  When purchasing hot chocolate packets, look for those marked “low-fat/fat-free” or “low-sugar/sugar-free.” Be sure to add the mix to low-fat milk, skim milk or hot water. Go easy on the toppings. Use five to eight mini-marshmallows instead of large ones. If using whipped cream, look for low-fat versions and stick to less than one tablespoon.
  • When buying apple cider at the store, check its added sugar content. Many products contain added sugars, which can increase your calorie intake and cause weight gain. Choose low-sugar and sugar-free options. When making cider at home, use unsweetened apple juice and a variety of spices (like cinnamon sticks, cloves, nutmeg and whole cranberries). You’ll keep the flavor while cutting calories.
  • Instead of alcohol in mixed drinks, use club soda.
  • Mix 100-percent juice with water or use freshly squeezed juice instead of adding sugar to mixed drinks.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Canning Lemon Curd

Canned Lemon Curd
  • 2½ cups superfine sugar*
  • ½ cup lemon zest (freshly zested), optional
  • 1 cup bottled lemon juice**
  • ¾ cup unsalted butter, chilled, cut into approximately ¾" pieces
  • 7 large egg yolks
  • 4 large whole eggs
Yield: About 3 to 4 half-pint jars

1. Wash 4 half-pint canning jars with warm, soapy water. Rinse well; keep hot until ready to fill. Prepare canning lids according to manufacturer's directions.
2. Fill boiling water canner with enough water to cover the filled jars by 1 to 2 inches. Use a thermometer to preheat the water to 180°F by the time filled jars are ready to be added.
Caution: Do not heat the water in the canner to more than 180°F before jars are added. If the water in the canner is too hot when jars are added, the process time will not be long enough. The time it takes for the canner to reach boiling after the jars are added is expected to be 25 to 30 minutes for this product. Process time starts after the water in the canner comes to a full boil over the tops of the jars.
3. Combine the sugar and lemon zest in a small bowl, stir to mix, and set aside about 30 minutes. Pre-measure the lemon juice and prepare the chilled butter pieces.
4. Heat water in the bottom pan of the double boiler until it boils gently. The water should not boil vigorously or touch the bottom of the top double boiler pan or bowl in which the curd is to be cooked. Steam produced will be sufficient for the cooking process to occur.
5. In the top of the double boiler, on the counter top or table, whisk the egg yolks and whole eggs together until thoroughly mixed. Slowly whisk in the sugar and zest, blending until well mixed and smooth. Blend in the lemon juice and then add the butter pieces to the mixture.
6. Place the top of the double boiler over boiling water in the bottom pan. Stir gently but continuously with a silicone spatula or cooking spoon, to prevent the mixture from sticking to the bottom of the pan. Continue cooking until the mixture reaches a temperature of 170°F. Use a food thermometer to monitor the temperature.
7. Remove the double boiler pan from the stove and place on a protected surface, such as a dish cloth or towel on the counter top. Continue to stir gently until the curd thickens (about 5 minutes). Strain curd through a mesh strainer into a glass or stainless steel bowl; discard collected zest.
8. Fill hot strained curd into the clean, hot half-pint jars, leaving ½-inch headspace. Remove air bubbles and adjust headspace if needed. Wipe rims of jars with a dampened, clean paper towel; apply two-piece metal canning lids.
9. Process in the prepared boiling water canner according to the recommendations in
 Table 1. Let cool, undisturbed, for 12 to 24 hours and check for seals.


Table 1. Recommended process time for Canned Lemon Curd in a boiling-water canner.
Process Time at Altitudes of
Style of Pack
Jar Size
0 - 1,000 ft
1,001 - 6,000 ft
Above 6,000 ft
15 min


Shelf Life: For best quality, store in a cool, dark place (away from light). Plan to use canned lemon curd within 3 to 4 months. Browning and/or separation may occur with longer storage; discard any time these changes are observed.

Prepared lemon curd can also be frozen instead of canned for up to 1 year without quality changes when thawed. Package in freezer containers after straining and cooling to room temperature. To thaw, place container in a refrigerator at 40°F or lower for 24 hours before intended use. After thawing, consume within 4 weeks.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Holiday Baking Tips

Holiday Baking Tips
Roll up your sleeves; locate the cookie cutters and rolling pin as it is time for holiday baking.  Here are some tips for baking everyone’s favorite holiday treats.
  • Unless specified in the recipe, ingredients should be at room temperature.
  • Do not substitute baking powder for baking soda or vice versa as they have different functions.
  • Semisweet and bittersweet chocolate are interchangeable.
  • Purchase good quality chocolate, caramels and vanilla extract to ensure excellent flavor.
  • To easily remove bars from a pan, line the pan with foil.  Measure the foil so there is a two- to three-inch overhang on each side. Use the overhanging foil as handles to carefully lift out uncut bars.
  • To ensure even squares when cutting, use a straight edge such as the edge of a straight spatula. Cut along your guide with a serrated knife.
  • When a recipe calls for eggs, it typically means Grade A large eggs. 
  • Baking is a science, so measure all ingredients carefully.
  • To store baked goods, cool completely. Store bars in an airtight container for up to three days at room temperature or in a refrigerator, as specified in the recipe.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Tips for Low Cost Holiday Entertaining

Tips for Low Cost Holiday Entertaining
While the holiday season is often filled with joy, it can be a challenge to deal with all of the expenses incurred for travel, gift giving and entertaining. Here are some tips for low cost holiday entertaining.
  • Involve others. Ask guests to bring a dish to contribute to the holiday event. This could be an appetizer, side dish, main course, or beverage.
  • Serve a non-traditional meal. Purchasing a turkey or cut of beef can be expensive. Instead, try serving a couple different types of soup or pasta with an assortment of sauces.
  • Look for items on sale. Take a look at store ads before shopping. Using coupons can save money.
  • Keep the meal simple. Often more food is served than is needed. Serve a main dish with a couple of side and a dessert. There often is not a need for multiple desserts.
  • Consider leftovers. Use leftovers in soups and casseroles.
  • Set up a baked potato bar. Potatoes are an economical food and easy to prepare. Provide an assortment of toppings.