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.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Sodium Intakes in US School Children

Sodium Intakes in US School Children
The CDC just released a report detailing sodium intake in school-aged children, using information gathered in 2009-2010 from the National Health and Examination Survey (NHANES): http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6336a3.htm?s_cid=mm6336a3_w

Sodium intakes are a concern due to associations of high intakes with hypertension (high blood pressure) – a contributor to stroke and heart disease.
Children had an average sodium intake of 3,279 mg/day, higher than the Healthy People 2020 for the US population ≥2 years old: 2,300 mg. The highest intake of total sodium was in boys and high school students; adjusted per 1000 kcals consumed, the highest intakes were in high school children. This suggests sodium intake increases as children take in more food-but selections among high school students also contain more sodium relative to their calorie content than selections of younger children. There were generally no differences in sodium intakes among race/ethnic groups, among groups with different household incomes, and between children of normal weight vs. those who were overweight.

There were interesting findings for food sources of sodium. The largest contributors are: pizza, yeast breads, cold cuts & cured meats, savory (not sweet) snacks, sandwiches, cheese, processed chicken products (nuggets, etc.), pasta dishes, Mexican dishes, and soups. There were other categories that contributed sodium when the data was arranged by age and ethnic groups, and this detail is available at the link above. The majority of sodium was contributed by grocery store foods; however, fast foods contributed the most sodium per kcal. For those children eating a school meal on the day this information was gathered, 26% of their sodium came from school foods. On a per meal basis, 14.9% comes from breakfast; 29.5% from lunch, 39.2% from dinner, and 16.4% from snacks.

These data suggest that sodium intakes reflect similar types of foods consumed across different populations of children, and supports ongoing efforts to reduce sodium in processed foods purchased both in grocery stores and restaurants, and served in school settings.

Families are encouraged to purchase foods naturally low in sodium such as fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables provide other nutrients, such as potassium, which play a role in reducing high blood pressure. Alternatives to some of the commonly consumed foods such as pizza, cold cuts, and processed chicken products may include lower sodium versions or whole food alternatives such as lean meat and whole grain/high fiber carbohydrates.  Reading food labels is key in making the best selections possible among processed foods such as bread products, breakfast cereals, and snack foods.

Source: Beth Olson, UW-Extension Nutrition Specialist


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Making Wise Choices When Selecting Crackers

Making Wise Choices When Selecting Crackers
Crackers are a popular food for snacking as well as enhancing meals.

Check the Nutrition Facts Label as well as the ingredient listing when buying crackers. Too much salt and “bad” fats can be found in some crackers.  One serving should have no more than 200 milligrams of sodium, three to six grams of fat, 1 gram of saturated fat and 0 grams of trans fat.      

Look for crackers that are labeled “whole wheat” or “whole grain.”  These products are less processed and provide more fiber and nutrients.  Whole grain flour should be one of the first three ingredients when reading the ingredient list. Look for crackers that have three to five grams of fiber per serving.

Compared to other crunchy snacks, whole grain crackers pack more satisfying crunch for the calories.  A typical serving usually has 120 to 150 calories for five to 110 calories.    

If you plan to top your crackers, look for low fat cheese options, low-fat bean dip, hummus and low-fat cream cheese.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Don't Make These Canning Mistakes

Don’t Make These Canning Mistakes
 There are a number of mistakes that can be made when preserving food.  Make sure not to make the following mistakes. 
·         Make up your own canning recipe. Without scientific testing, you will not know how long the product needs to be processed to be safe.
·         Adding EXTRA starch, flour or other thickener to recipe. This will slow the rate of heat penetration into the product and can result in undercooking.
·         Adding EXTRA onions, chilies, bell peppers, or other vegetables to salsas. The extra vegetables dilute the acidity and can result in botulism poisoning.
·         Using an oven instead of water bath for processing. The product will be under-processed since air is not as good a conductor of heat as water or steam.
·         Not venting pressure canner. Lack of venting can result in air pockets (cold spots) which will not reach as high a temperature as is needed.
·         Using an oven instead of a water bath canner for processing.  The product will be under processed since air is not as good of conductor as heat.
·         Cooling pressure canner under running water.
·         Calculations as to processing time include the residual heat during the normal cool-down period as part of the canning process. Hurrying this process will result in under-processed food; siphoning of liquid from the jars and jar breakage may also occur.
·         Use of mayonnaise jars. The thinner walls of the glass may break, especially if used in a pressure canner, and it may be more difficult to obtain a good seal.
·         Acid needs to be added when canning tomato products.  One tablespoon of lemon juice needs to be added to pints jars and two tablespoons per quart jar.  
Source: Kelly Riggs, Utah State Extension

Friday, September 12, 2014

Using Fresh Herb in Food Preparation

Using Fresh Herb in Food Preparation
Whether you plant them or pick them up at the grocery store or farmers’ market, adding fresh herbs is a quick way to transform ordinary meals into extraordinary meals. Using herb is a great way to flavor foods when cutting back on salt, fat and sugar.

If you plan to purchase herbs, choose them close to the time you plan to use them. When growing herbs in your own garden, the ideal time for picking is in the morning after the dew has dried but before the sun gets hot. This helps ensure the best flavor and storage quality.

Fresh herbs can be stored in an open or a perforated plastic bag in the refrigerator crisper drawer for a few days. If you don’t have access to commercial perforated bags, use a sharp object to make several small holes in a regular plastic bag.

Unless directed otherwise by the recipe, add the more delicate herbs — basil, chives, cilantro, dill leaves, parsley, and mint — a minute or two before the end of cooking or sprinkle them on the food before it’s served. The less delicate herbs, such as oregano, rosemary, and thyme, can be added about the last 20 minutes of cooking.

A general guideline when using fresh herbs in a recipe is to use 3 times as much as you would use of a dried herb. When substituting, you’ll often be more successful substituting fresh herbs for dried herbs, rather than the other way around.

Source: Lancaster County Extension, Lincoln, Nebraska

Friday, September 5, 2014

Bagged Lunch vs. School Lunch

Bagged Lunch vs. School Lunch

Which meals contain more calories?
How does calorie count differ between school made lunches and lunches brought from home? Researchers at the Cornell Food and Brand Lab looked at the food diaries of 2,314 US children of various ages and found that those who ate lunches brought from home consumed 96 more calories than their school meal eating classmates. However, those with more calories in their packed lunches ended up eating fewer calories later in the day. The researchers concluded that the difference in calorie count between school lunches and lunches brought from home was not statistically significant.

These findings can be leveraged by school cafeteria personal to show parents that school lunches are a healthy choice. At many schools they are nutritious and balanced to suit the dietary needs of the students and the requirements of the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010. Some parents seem to believe that school meals are too calorically dense or lacking in calories. This study debunks that myth by showing that school meal programs offer the same fuel that those packed-with-love lunches offer but without any extra calories.

For additional healthy lunchroom design tips visit: www.extension.org/healthy_food_choices_in_schools


Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Simple Food Safety Tips for Packing School Lunches

Simple Food Safety Tips for Packing School Lunches
With the start of school, it is time to think about school lunches. For students who take their lunch, keep food safety in mind as you prepare your child’s school lunch. Here are some recommendations for packing a safe lunch.
–Make sure your hands, food preparation surfaces and utensils are clean. Use hot, soapy water to help remove bacteria. Keep family pets away from food preparation areas and off kitchen counters. And encourage your children to always wash their hands before they eat or help you in the kitchen.
–Rinse fruits and vegetables before packing them in your child’s lunch. Rinse them under running tap water, including those with skins and rinds that are not eaten. Blot dry with a paper towel before packing. Be sure to keep cut or sliced fruits cold. Sliced peaches or bananas, or other light-colored fruit, will benefit from dipping in lemon juice or sprinkling with a commercial anti-browning preparation to keep them looking their best.
–Keep hot foods (soup, chili, stew) hot by using an insulated bottle. Fill the bottle with boiling water and let it stand for a few minutes. Empty the bottle and then fill it with piping hot food. Keep the bottle closed until lunchtime. Discard leftovers that arrive home in the insulated bottle at the end of the school day.
–Cold foods should stay cold. If you pack a cold lunch the night before, it will stay cool longer the next morning. Insulated, soft-sided lunch totes can help keep perishable foods chilled; simply add a cold source, such as a small frozen gel pack or frozen juice box. Any perishable food (meat, poultry or egg sandwiches, or dairy products) not eaten at lunch should be discarded.
–Sometimes a field trip will require that lunch be packed in a brown paper sack. When that is the case, opt for non-perishable foods such as peanut butter or cheese sandwiches, crackers, or packaged pudding or fruit. A frozen juice box will serve as a disposable cold source and should be thawed and ready to drink by lunchtime.

And speaking of containers, resist the urge to reuse plastic sandwich or bread bags when packing school lunches. Bacteria can spread from one product to another, increasing the chance of spoilage or illness.

Learn more about packing safe lunches at Fight BAC!® http://www.fightbac.org and the American Dietetic Association website: http://www.eatright.org
Source: Barbara Ingham, University of Wisconsin-Extension Food Science Specialist


Friday, August 29, 2014

Seize the Morning with Breakfast!

Seize the morning with breakfast!
Many Wisconsin families with school age children are beginning to review their back-to-school supply lists. Pencils, notebooks--and don’t forget breakfast, eaten either at home or at school.

Research shows that breakfast is an integral component of academic success. There are consistent benefits of eating breakfast every day. The evidence indicates that children who eat breakfast succeed academically and have fewer behavior and discipline problems.

In addition to breakfast’s contribution to cognitive skills, studies also suggest that children and families who eat breakfast regularly are less likely to be overweight than those who do not eat breakfast. Eating breakfast helps control hunger, minimizing the temptation to overeat throughout the day. It also provides necessary energy to the brain, improving efficient functions and allowing for good concentration skills.

Despite the proven benefits, many school age children don’t eat breakfast. Lack of time, erratic morning schedules, lack of economic resources, and limited access to healthy foods may contribute to low breakfast consumption for many families in Wisconsin.

If a school offers a school breakfast program, it is a great option for ensuring students has access to a healthy meal in the morning. Breakfasts served at schools must meet specific nutrient requirements and provide healthy, balanced meal choices for students.

Across the state, 74 percent of schools offer breakfasts serving hot or cold breakfasts to any student who wants to participate in the program. Contrary to popular belief, the school breakfast program does not just serve low-income students; regardless of household income, all students can and do take advantage of eating breakfast at school.

Knowing if your child’s school offers the school breakfast program is good information for families. Parents and families are influential in matters of nutrition and school meals. It is not uncommon for a school to start a breakfast program in part because of their parents’ support for it.

As a way to reach out to parents, families, and communities about the benefits of the school breakfast program, a new video was created in partnership with the Department of Public Instruction, the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, and the University of Wisconsin-Extension. This video showcases four local school districts and their breakfast programs. It is designed to be widely shared at events and meetings of school boards, school wellness committees, communities, and Parent/Teacher Associations.

View the video at

For more information and suggestions about breakfast and school breakfast, contact your county UW-Extension office and the Wisconsin School Breakfast Programs website at http://fyi.uwex.edu/wischoolbreakfast/.

The Department of Public Instruction School Breakfast website also contains information about Wisconsin’s school breakfast programs here: http://fns.dpi.wi.gov/fns_sbp1.

Amy Korth, family living program specialist with the University of Wisconsin-Extension

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Don't Take a Summer Vacation from Recycling Food and Beverage Containers

Don’t Take a Summer Vacation from Recycling Food and Beverage Containers
Recycling keeps almost 2 million tons of material out of Wisconsin landfills and incinerators every year.  But during the summer months, it’s easy to forget about those good recycling habits. Here are a few reminders as you head out to enjoy all that summer offers:

·         Be prepared for the road.  If you are heading out on a road trip, bring along reusable items like water bottles and snack bags.  If you can’t avoid buying plastic bottles or cans, be sure to bring along an extra bag to collect your recycling in so it can be easily disposed of the next time you make a stop.

·         Many festivals and fairs have made an effort to make recycling easier. Be on the lookout for recycling bins and food vendors that use biodegradable utensils.  Some events even set up water stations where visitors can fill up their reusable water bottles.

·         Paper containers contaminated with any food cannot be recycled. That means items like paper towels; napkins and paper plates cannot be recycled.  Food does not mix well with paper fibers during the recycling process.  So it is important to be sure to separate your trash from recycling..

·         Taking a few extra steps to remind yourself about what can and can’t be recycled can have a big impact on our landfills.  Recycling is one of the easiest things you can do that will have an effect on your family and community for years to come.

Source: Mark Walter, Business Development Manager for Brown County Resource Recovery


Monday, August 25, 2014

Tips for Shopping at Farmers' Markets

Tips for Shopping At Farmers’ Markets
It was recently announced that Wisconsin ranks 8th in the country for the number of farmers’ markets. Whether you live in Wisconsin or elsewhere, here are some tips for shopping at farmers markets.  

  • Since many customers know what they are likely to find at the farmers’ market, do a bit of meal planning and shop accordingly. For example, if baby red potatoes have just come into season, plan to serve them boiled with a little butter and use the leftovers in a potato salad.
  •  Go with an open mind.  If there is produce that is new or looks appealing, give it a try.  Ask the producer how to prepare it. For the best tips specifically ask how they like to eat it. Trying new things is part of the fun of going to farmers’ markets.
  • Visit farmers’ markets when you travel.  It is a way to get an insider’s look at a food community and the local favorites.
  • You’re buying ultra-fresh produce when shopping at the farmers’ market, so let its natural flavor show when cooking it. Keep preparations simple. You’ll make cooking easier and you’ll be likely to try (and eat) even more local foods from the farmers market next week.
  • Spend a few minutes chatting with producers at the farmers' market, and you will be, too. It takes tremendous dedication to both science and art to turn out beautiful produce on a small farm, and the time you spend inquiring about the results of that dedication can yield both useful information and infectious enthusiasm.
  • A huge benefit of farmers' markets is your ability to ask questions about how the food was grown. That's a rare opportunity in our supermarket culture. Ask what produce is coming in or heading out of season. Find out what the farmer expects to bring to market next week so you can start to plan ahead. Learn all you can about the farmer's growing practices.


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

100 Calories Snacks

100 Calories Snacks
Satisfy your hunger by consuming healthy snacks. The ready-to-go snacks listed below have 100 calories or less per serving. These snacks sneak good nutrition into small packages without skimping on taste. 
Blueberries, 1 cup
Dried apricots, 6 
Grapes, 1 cup
Watermelon balls, 2 cups
Baby carrots, 10
Broccoli florets, 1 cup
Blue corn tortilla chips, 10
Pistachios, dry-roasted and unsalted, 25
Popcorn, unbuttered, 2 cups
Whole almonds, 13
Egg, hard boiled, 1
Milk, fat-free or 1%, 1 cup
Mozzarella cheese stick, 1
Yogurt, fat-free, ½ cup
Oatmeal cookie, small, 1

Monday, August 18, 2014

All About Oils

All about Oils
With all the talk of the different kinds of fats and which oil is the healthiest, it can be hard to distinguish between them all. There are many types of oils and each one has various health benefits and can be used in a variety of ways.

Canola Oil is extracted from the seeds of the canola plant. It is considered healthy oil that is low in saturated fat and a good source of mono- and polyunsaturated fats, including omega-3s. Canola oil has a light flavor, making it versatile in cooking. It can be used to replace butter or margarine when cooking or baking.
Olive Oil is high in monounsaturated fatty acids, which lower the bad (LDL) cholesterol and raise the good (HDL) cholesterol in your body. This may help reduce your risk of heart disease. What is the difference between virgin and extra-virgin olive oil? Extra-virgin has less acid and a fruitier flavor and stronger aroma, so a little goes a long way. “Light” olive oil is lighter in color or flavor, but is not lighter in calories. Olive oil can be used in place of butter to reduce saturated fat in the diet. Due to the low smoke point of olive oil, it should not be used in frying. It is best used for dipping bread in and sautéing vegetables and meat.
Coconut Oil is extracted from the fruit of mature coconuts. It is a saturated fat and “virgin” coconut oil high in a medium-chain fatty acid that raises both good and bad cholesterol levels. Due to these factors, coconut oil should be used in moderation. Coconut oil is often used as substitute for butter or shortening in a vegan diet.
Peanut Oil is a good source of
monounsaturated fats and contains the antioxidant vitamin E. Peanut oil is often used in deep frying because of its high smoke point (meaning it can reach high temperatures and not burn).
Walnut Oil is made from nuts that have been dried and cold pressed. It contains a high amount of alpha-linoleic acid that converts partially to omega-3s which are good for heart health. The rich, nutty flavor of walnut oil makes it great for salad dressing or drizzling into a pasta dish. Since it cannot stand up to high heat, it is best used as flavor enhancer rather than cooking oil.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Pickle Pointers
Making great tasting pickles can be a challenge. Here are some pickle pointers.
·         Begin by using high quality ingredients.  Select fresh, firm, high quality fruits and vegetables for pickling.  Discard bruised, moldy or insect-damaged produce. Grow or purchase varieties of cucumbers that are designed for pickling.  Contact your county extension office for varieties suitable for the region of the country you live in.  Wax-coated cucumbers bought in the supermarket are not suitable for pickling because the pickling solution cannot penetrate the wax coating. For best quality, pickle fruits and vegetables within 24 hours of harvest.
·         Softened water is recommended for making pickles and relishes. 
·         Use commercial vinegar that is standardized at 5 percent acetic acid content.  Many grocery stores now also stock 4 percent vinegar. This vinegar is not approved for home canning. Check the label on the front of the container to determine acidity.
·         Firming agents such as calcium hydroxide (lime) and aluminum (alum) are not necessary for pickling and are no longer recommended.  The use of lime in pickles may result in an unsafe product.  Calcium chloride is used to firm commercial pickles.  Tested recipes have not been developed for using calcium chloride in home canned products.
·         Canning and pickling salt – pure granulated salt is recommended for use in all kinds of pickles. This salt does not contain anti-caking agents or iodine.
·         Most pickle recipes call for whole spices for fresher and more concentrated flavor than ground spices.

For more information on preserving pickles, contact your county extension office.

Source: University of Wisconsin Safe Food Preservation Series: Homemade Pickles & Relishes

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Vital Signs: Fruit and Vegetable Intake among Children — United States, 2003–2010
Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010, recommends that Americans aged ≥2 years eat more fruits and vegetables to add important nutrients that are under consumed, reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, and some cancers, and help manage weight (1). Most U.S. residents, including children, consume too few fruits and vegetables. In 2007–2010, 60% of children aged 1–18 years did not meet U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Patterns fruit intake recommendations, and 93% did not meet vegetable recommendations (2). Because of the benefits of eating fruits and vegetables and because childhood dietary patterns are associated with food patterns later in life (3), encouraging children to eat more fruits and vegetables is a public health priority.

Total fruit intake among children increased from 0.55 CEPC in 2003–2004 to 0.62 in 2009–2010 because of significant increases in whole fruit intake (0.24 to 0.40 CEPC). Over this period, fruit juice intake significantly decreased (0.31 to 0.22 CEPC). Total vegetable intake did not change (0.54 to 0.53 CEPC). No socio-demographic group met the Healthy People 2020 target of 1.1 CEPC vegetables, and only children aged 2–5 years met the target of 0.9 CEPC fruits. Vegetable intake is not changed, and a significant portion of intake continues to be white potatoes-primarily fried and chips. Fruit and vegetable intakes remain below recommended levels.

Source; Center for Disease Control and Prevention

Monday, August 11, 2014

Eating Healthy At Fairs and Festivals
There are many fairs and festivals during the summer months.  This follows a trend that started well over 100 years ago. Food was no doubt served at festivals even before the nation's first state fair, held in Syracuse, N.Y., in 1841. But it was in 1904, at the St. Louis World's Fair, that fairgoers were introduced to the first real ''fast food'' -- hot dogs and ice cream cones that could be eaten as they walked, according to the statefairrecipes.com web site.

Since then, fair food has progressed way beyond caramel apples, corn on the cob, and nachos. There appears to be no end to what can be battered and deep fried -- cookies, candy bars, cheese curds, macaroni and cheese, pralines, chocolate-covered strawberries.

Most nutrition databases don't include fat and calorie values for such foods. But you can count on these foods to have a shockingly high level of fat and calories.

Here are a few tips that can help you make healthy choices at fairs and festivals:
·         Make sure you eat breakfast before leaving home.
·         Wear comfortable walking shoes to encourage burning off any extra calories you take in. Wearing uncomfortable shoes is not going to lead to additional walking.
·         Pack a small insulated cooler with water bottles, fresh fruit, cereal bars, pretzels, nuts, and fresh veggies in it. If you have a healthy snack, you won’t be so tempted to over-do at meal time.
·         Scout out all of the food choices before you decide what to eat — by making a walk around the area you will burn more calories, and find out all of your choices, you may be surprised what they are serving.  At the Brown County Fair in Wisconsin, one of the food vendors sells fresh fruit cups.
·         Try your best to skip the fried foods. Do you really need to try the fried, batter covered candy bars and other assorted foods?
·         If you have decided that you really need to try the new fried food, or maybe you haven’t had fried food since the last event, be sure to share or split the portion. Most funnel cakes will probably serve 4 to 6 people.
·         Look for a main dish or sandwich that is grilled or broiled. While you aren’t going to get a whole serving veggies by doing it, make sure you have the lettuce and tomato on your sandwich, it all adds up.
·         Skip the sundae or large milk shake this year and look for a fruit smoothie made with real fruit. But be sure to get the small size without any whipped cream.


Friday, August 8, 2014

Freezing Peppers

Freezing Peppers
With a plentiful crop of peppers in many gardens, freezing peppers is an easy way to preserve them for use in recipes during the fall and winter.  Follow these steps for successful freezing.
Green Peppers
1.       Wash thoroughly and drain.
2.       Cut out stem ends and remove seeds of green or red peppers.  Cut in half, slice or dice.
3.       Freeze in freezer containers or freezer food storage bags.
4.       Write on container the amount of peppers in the container.
Hot Peppers
1.       Wash and drain peppers.
2.       Freeze on trays for one to two hours, then pack into freezer containers and return to the freezer.
Caution: The volatile oils in hot peppers can cause burns.  Wear rubber gloves when you cut or chop these peppers.  Do not touch your face, particularly near your eyes. Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water if you handle hot peppers.