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.

Monday, July 25, 2016

The Salty Six

I used this infographic in a blog article a couple of years of ago.  I really like this infographic so I am using it again as a reminder of foods that are high in sodium.  Many Americans get more sodium than they need in their diets.

The Salty Six

Click link to view:  

Friday, July 22, 2016

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Preventing Kids' Summer Weight Gain

Preventing Kids’ Summer Weight Gain
Summer marks a hiatus from the daily responsibilities and scheduled demands children face during the rest of the year. While adults might remember their summer vacations filled with water-balloon fights, bike rides to the corner store, campfires and playground games, children today are likely to spend more time indoors watching TV, playing video games, and snacking.

The school year provides a structure for eating, sleeping and physical activities involving school sports or after school programs. But in the summertime, due to less physical activity, children may gain up to three times as much weight as they do during the entire school year.

Several studies have documented a tendency for accelerated weight gain among children during summer school vacation. Programs such as summer camps, increased access to recreational facilities, and summer food programs may be potential opportunities for communities to support active living and healthy eating over the summer.

In addition to community support, there are many other things parents can do to promote healthy behavior. Below are some tips.
—Enforce regular bedtimes. Kids need their sleep to avoid excess weight gain and to allow for healthy growth.
—Take kids to the grocery store or farmer’s market and let them pick ingredients for healthy snacks they can make for themselves. Think things like fruit and yogurt parfaits, or veggies and hummus.
—Be creative with your activities! Hit the beach, explore a new hiking trail, go for a bike ride, play hide-and-go-seek outside, make post-dinner walks a “family thing,” or have kids get involved in making dinner or snacks.
—Limit TV time to one hour towards the end of the day as a way to relax after an active, productive day.
Give your children a patch of garden all their own. Kids love to eat what they grow!
—Give kids choices at dinner. Chop up a big selection of ingredients—mushrooms, onions, peppers, eggplant, pineapple, shrimp, and chicken—and let them choose what they want on a grilled kabob. Let them choose toppings for tacos and pasta too.

Source:  Amber Canto, state coordinator of the Wisconsin Nutrition Education Program.



Friday, July 15, 2016

Getting Ready Now for Summer Food Harvest

Getting Ready Now for Summer Food Harvest
If you are thinking about joining the trend in our communities to preserve food this summer, start planning and preparing now! Start by checking your equipment and supplies. Proper equipment in good condition is required for safe, high quality home canned food, for example.

If you’ve not yet purchased your needed equipment, there are two types of canners to consider: boiling water canners and pressure canners. A boiling water canner is used for canning acid or acidified foods like most fruits, most pickles, jams and jellies. Boiling water canners cost about $30-$100, or can be assembled yourself with a large stock pot, secure lid, and rack to keep jars off the bottom of the pot.

A pressure canner is essential for canning low acid foods such as vegetables, meats, fish, and poultry. Temperatures inside pressure canners reach higher than boiling water canners (for example, 240°F and above as compared to about 212°F). This is necessary to follow the tested processes available to be sure and kill the toxin–producing spores of the bacteria Clostridium botulinum.  If not killed, these spores can grow out and produce a deadly toxin (poison) in room-temperature stored jars of the low-acid foods mentioned.

You have two choices for type pressure canner: a dial gauge canner or a weighted gauge canner. Most steps in managing the pressure canning process are the same, but the two styles have different types of gauges to indicate the pressure inside the canner. Expect to spend $100-$150 or more on a pressure canner.
If you use a dial gauge canner, then it’s important to have the gauge tested for accuracy before each canner season or if you drop or damage your gauge. It isn’t as easy as it used to be to get gauges tested. Try a local hardware store or your local Cooperative Extension agent, even though not all still provide this service. For either type of canner, check that the rubber gasket is flexible and soft, and if it is brittle, sticky, or cracked then replace it with a new gasket. Also check that any openings, like vent ports, are completely clean and open.

You’ll also need jars, lids, and ring bands for canning. When getting started, new jars are a worthwhile investment (versus purchasing used jars from a yard sale or flea market) because very old jars may break under pressure and heat. Mason-type jars of standard sizes (e.g., half-pint, pint, and quart) for the tested processes available from science-based sources such as USDA and your land-grant university are recommended. Make sure those jars are manufactured and sold for canning purposes; not all glass and Mason-style jars are tempered to prevent breakage with the extreme heat and temperature swings during canning. When you actually get to canning your harvest, be sure to follow manufacturers’ advice for preparing your jars and lids. In addition to standard cooking utensils like cutting boards and bowls, a jar funnel, jar lifter, lid wand, headspace tool, and bubble-freer are items that you will want to have handy for canning.

If you are freezing your harvest, be sure to use packaging such as plastic bags or rigid containers that are intended for freezer storage of foods.  Not all plastics are the same, and you want materials that will hold up to freezer temperatures as well as protect your goodies from damaging air and mixtures of odors

A final must is reliable, up-to-date canning and other food preservation instruction book.ions. Specific kitchen equipment or ingredients could be needed to follow directions as they are written for food preservation. And in the case of canning especially, very significant food safety risks by following unsound recommendations. Reliable, up-to-date canning instructions are available at the NCHFP website, the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning, So Easy to Preserve, or the county or local area Extension office in your state



Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Summer Health Resources for Parents and Families

Summer Health Resources for Parents and Families
During the summer months, kids put the thought of school on the back burner, but the same doesn’t have to go for eating smart and staying active! The USDA’s Summer Food, Summer Moves program has created a collection of free, downloadable resources to get kids and families excited about healthy eating and physical activity, during the summer break. The program provides fun, interactive activities for kids and shows parents that promoting a healthy lifestyle can be easy and beneficial for the whole family.  It features colorful brochures, flyers, in addition to recipes, and parent guides.  Summer meal site operators can provide these resources to families participating in their Summer Food Service programs, as well as selecting resources which can be used to facilitate fun activities and initiatives at their meal sites.

In the resource kit, Eat Smart to Play Hard, parents are encouraged to make four healthy moves to keep kids happy, healthy, and well fueled throughout the hot summer months. 

  • Choose water instead of sugar-sweetened beverages. Make sure cold water is easily accessible and limit soda, sports drinks, and other sugar-sweetened beverages. Try making water more fun by adding sliced fruit or cucumbers.
  • Choose more fruits and vegetables. Make it a goal to fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables at each meal. Try fruit and vegetable options at summer meal sites, or visit a farm or farmers market to try the local produce. Get kids excited by holding weekly “Try Day” Fridays, when they can choose a new fruit or vegetable to eat each week.
  • Aim for 60 minutes of physical activity every day. Have relay races, take a bike ride, or make up games or exciting social events to bring kids together. Dances or jump rope contests are popular options.
  • Limit screen time to no more than 1-2 hours per day. Keep phone chargers in the living room instead of the bedroom. Take a nature walk in a forest or park and ask kids to leave phones in the car so they’ll be both physically and mentally present.
Visit http://www.fns.usda.gov/summer-food-summer-moves to view all of the Summer Food, Summer Moves resources.
Source: eXtension

Monday, July 11, 2016

Is it "Ready to Eat"?

Is it "Ready to Eat"?
Not all prepared convenience foods are ready to be eaten without a cooking kill step. 

Reading the product label should tell you if it's "heat and eat" or requires cooking to a particular safe internal temperature to be safe to eat.  Read carefully - the label may say the product contains uncooked ingredients and that it must be cooked in a conventional oven to a safe internal temperature.

This fun video short  is a great teaching tool for explaining why reading the package label keeps your food safe. This video is from The Partnership for Food Safety Education.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Fruits and Veggies on the Move: Fun Tips for the Park, Beach, and Picnic Basket

Fruits and Veggies on the Move: Fun Tips for the Park, Beach and Picnic Basket

During the warmer months of spring, summer and fall, many families are on the move to the great outdoors. During vacations, weekends, and free time during the week- parks, beaches, and hiking trails are popular family get-away destinations. When out and about, it can be expensive and time consuming to eat away from home, it can also be challenging to find healthy options for you and the kids. Packing lunch or snacks is a great way to guarantee access to healthy choices, save some money and make the most of your time as you explore the world. Here are some simple tips to help you get started:
  • Veggie sticks and hummus – these pack easily and can provide a variety of tasty vegetable options to eat with it (celery, carrots, broccoli, peppers, pea pods, etc.)
  • Fruit cups – you can prepare these in advance. Make individual cups if you have picky eaters or want to involve the kids in making their own. Mix up a container of fruits into a salad or skewer some fruit kabobs.
  • Roll-ups – no, not the fruit kind! Grab a tortilla, add some deli meat and veggies. Rolled up, these make great sandwiches.
  • Trail mix – this is always a win! You can mix together your favorite snack items, lots of nuts, seeds, dried fruits and veggies and pretzels. This makes a much healthier alternate to chips and candy.
  • Granola bars – these can help boost energy while getting some nutritious grains into your system. Just be sure to read the Nutrition Facts Labels since some can be high in fat and sugar. Check the label for fiber as well, some have a little as 2 grams.
  • Reusable drink containers – why buy individual packaged drinks? Use an eco-friendly water bottle. This can hold any liquid (juice, milk, Gatorade, water) and then be refilled with water when it runs out. Using a water bottle ensures you won’t dehydrate in the heat!
  • Fresh fruit and veggies – throw in some bananas, apples, oranges, grapes, tomatoes. Most fruits will pack and travel easily and these provide essential nutrients, ease hunger, and fill you up faster. Celery sticks, carrots, beans, and other vegetables are easy to pack and take while traveling.
  • Salad fixings – these may take bit more preparation on the front end, but what better way to eat a salad than while enjoying nature’s beauty! Enjoy the warm growing seasons by bringing along seasonal fruits and vegetables such as peppers, tomatoes, berries, melons and/or leafy greens.
  • Muffins – muffins are a great way to sneak in all sorts of fruits and veggies, as well as some healthy grains. There are many recipes for healthy muffins with ingredients you could never guess based on taste alone! 
    Bring along a cooler to keep perishable foods cold. Any fruits or vegetables that are peeled or cut need to be refrigerated until ready to eat, just like meat and dairy foods. Trail mix, granola bars and muffins are better choices for long hikes with no cooler.
    Be sure to pack wet towels to get sticky fingers clean. Sanitizer is a great way to wash up before eating meals as well. Bring along a blanket in with your food and maybe after you are finished eating, you can lean back and take a nap in the warmth of the afternoon!
    Contributor: Sarah Ransom, University of Tennessee FCS Extension Agent , printed on eXtension

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

July is National Blueberry Month

July Is National Blueberry Month
Here in Wisconsin, we eagerly wait for the blueberries grown in Michigan to arrive. There is lots of celebrate about National Blueberry Month.

Blueberries are called a superfood for good reason: They rank as one of the highest of any fruit for cancer-fighting antioxidants. One cup delivers about a quarter of the vitamin C you should have each day.  They are a great source of dietary fiber, which will also help  reduce the risk of heart disease and add bulk to your diet, helping you feel full faster and reducing caloric intake overall.

These little blue gems also contain manganese, which helps the body process cholesterol and nutrients such as carbohydrates and protein. And they’re low calorie to boot — a full cup contains fewer than 100 calories.

It is easy to freeze blueberries to enjoy at a later time.  Place blueberries in a colander and rinse well.  Place in paper towels and let them air dry for about one hour.  Place on a cookie sheet in a single layer and place in freezer for one hour.  Then place blueberries in a freezer bag or container and freeze. 
Blueberries can be used in salads, muffins, pancakes, waffles, quick breads and smoothies.  

Friday, July 1, 2016

2016 is International Year of Pulses

2016 Is International Year of Pulses

The United Nations (UN) declared 2016 the International Year of Pulses. A “pulse” is the edible seed of certain legumes such as dry beans, peas and lentils. Pulses were chosen, according to the UN, to “heighten public aware­ness of their nutritional benefits as part of sustainable food production aimed toward food security and nutrition.”
Cooked dry beans are an excellent source of fiber, potas­sium and folate. One-fourth cup of cooked beans counts as a one ounce-equivalent in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Protein Food Group. Other protein foods include meat, poultry, seafood, dry peas, lentils, eggs, processed soy products, nuts and seeds. As an illus­tration: 1/2 cup of cooked beans and 2 ounces of cooked meat would both be counted as 2 ounce-equivalents of protein.
Some bean facts:
• A 15-ounce can of beans provides about 3-1/2-cup servings of beans.
• One pound of dry edible beans yields about 6 cups of cooked beans.
• The cost of a 15-ounce can of beans ranges from about 33–67 cents per 1/2-cup serving, depending on whether people buy the store brand instead of the national brand.
• A half cup of dry beans, cooked from scratch, costs about 17 cents.
• One type of bean can usually be substituted for another type in recipes. Taste and color may vary slightly.
Source: Alice Henneman, MS, RDN, Extension Educator, Lancaster County Extension, Lincoln, NE

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Sweet Cherries

Sweet Cherries
One of the ways I measure the arrival of summer is by the arrival of sweet cherries in local grocery stores.

When selecting sweet cherries, they often are placed in bags. Look for a bag that contains shiny, firm fruit and green stems attached.  Avoid soft cherries with bruises or blemishes.

When you get cherries home from the grocery store, store them unwashed and uncovered in the coldest part of the refrigerator.  Use them quickly.  Avoid storing them near strong smelling foods like onions as the cherries can absorb these odors which can alter the flavor.

The time to wash cherries is when you are ready to use them.  I put them in a colander and rinse them off well. In addition to eating them fresh, they can be used in savory dishes such as a chutney made with sweet cherries. They can be eaten as is, put in desserts or served as a topping for ice cream.  When removing the pit, a cherry pitter works well. These can be purchased on-line or at a kitchen store. A large paper clip also works well.

In addition to tasting great, cherries are good for you.  One cup contains 90 calories and provides antioxidants along with potassium, fiber and vitamin C. 

Monday, June 27, 2016

Summer Food Safety: Tips for Parents & Kids
Summer is here and it is time for pool parties, BBQs, camping trips, hikes, and visits to the beach. Warm weather is ideal for preparing and consuming meals outdoors; however, it also provides the perfect environment for bacteria and other pathogens in food to multiply rapidly and cause foodborne illness. Nothing puts the brakes on having a great summer vacation quite like coming down with a case of food poisoning- or needing to take care of a family member who has! Therefore, summer is the perfect time to review the basic steps to food safety.
Eight Basic Steps to Summer Food Safety
Follow the suggestions below to prevent food-borne illness, and discuss these concepts with your children. This is especially important if they are preparing their own meals or snacks to eat!
1.  Wash hands thoroughly: Before handling any food, make sure you wash your hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds. Repeat this after you are done handling food, and any time you touch raw meat.
2.  Beware of the “danger zone”: The “danger zone” in food safety is the temperature range between 40°F and 140°F. In this range, bacteria rapidly multiply and can reach unsafe levels after 2 hours, or 1 hour if the temperature is at or above 90°F. If you have leftovers that haven’t been eaten or refrigerated within 2 hours after being served (or 1 hour if at or above 90°F), the food should be discarded.
3.  Keep cold foods cold, and keep hot foods hot: Keep cold perishable foods at or below 40°F until you are ready to cook or serve. If you are away from home, use a cooler filled with ice or ice-packs to keep perishable foods at a safe temperature. After cooking, make sure to keep hot foods at least 140°F until they are ready to be served. Put perishable food items back in the refrigerator or cooler once you are done using them.
* Tip: If using a cooler, open and close it as infrequently as possible to avoid the exposure to warmer air. To help with this, consider packing two coolers: one for perishable foods, and one for items which may need to be accessed more frequently such as beverages. Keep coolers out of direct sunlight.
4.  Cook to correct internal temperatures: Use a food thermometer to determine whether meats are done cooking- do not rely on color alone! The following chart provides safe minimum internal temperatures:

           * Tip: Insert the thermometer at the thickest part of the meat.
5.  Keep raw meats separate: Be careful when transporting and storing raw meats, ensuring that juices from the raw meat do not come into contact with fruits, vegetables, and other ready-to-eat foods. Put raw meat into plastic bags, and keep it separate from other foods.
6.  Use separate trays and utensils: Never use the same serving trays, cutting boards, or utensils for raw meats and cooked meats or other foods. To avoid cross-contamination, always use clean plates and utensils. Any item that has come into contact with the raw meat must be washed with hot water and soap before it can be used again.
7.  Marinade meats safely: Marinating should be done in the refrigerator, not on the kitchen counter or elsewhere. If you plan to also use marinade as a sauce, set a portion to the side before adding any raw meats. Do not re-use marinade that has been in contact with raw meats.
8.  Wash fruits and vegetables: Before cutting or peeling, make sure that you rinse all produce with water.
For ideas on how to teach your children about food safety, see the following resources: