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, August 31, 2016

Getting Ready for Back to School? It's MyPlate Quiz Time!

Getting Ready for Back to School?
It’s MyPlate Quiz Time!

Think you know a lot about the five food groups? The USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion – the group that created MyPlate – just released a set of quizzes on the five food groups. These quizzes, designed to challenge, teach, and even entertain, are intended for anyone who wants to learn about the food groups or wants a refresher – adults and kids alike. Click here to read more.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Tips for Going Green in Your Kitchen, Garden and When Exercising

Tips for Going Green in Your Kitchen, Garden and When Exercising
Reduce your carbon footprint by limiting the number of trips you make to the grocery store.  Leaving your car at home can cut greenhouse gas emissions by 1,600 pounds per year.  Save up errands and shopping trips so you need to drive fewer times.
Make it a full load.  Run your dishwasher only when it is full.  Don’t pre-rinse dishes as tests show pre-rinsing does not improve dishwasher cleaning, and you will save as much as 20 gallons of water per load.  When you buy a new dishwasher, look for one that saves money.  Water-efficient models use only about four gallons per wash.
Exercise outdoors?  Regular exercise makes us feel great and keeps us healthy. Before you head out for your workout or run, check the air quality forecast for your local area.  Look for EPA’s Air Quality Flags. The Flag Program uses brightly colored flags based on the U.S. EPA’s Air Quality Index (AQI) to notify people and their communities about outdoor  air quality conditions. Organizations raise a flag each day that corresponds to their local air quality forecast.
Compost it. Compost helps improve soil so that it holds more water and plants grow better. Allow grass clippings to stay on the lawn, instead of bagging them.  Food scraps and kitchen waste also makes good compost, and you can save money on fertilizer.
Tread lightly.  Use public transportation, carpool, walk, or bike whenever possible to reduce air pollution and save on fuel costs.  Leaving your car at home just two days a week will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by an average of 1,600 pounds per year.
Don’t be a drip – fix that leak!  Leaky faucets can waste thousands of gallons of water each year, like money down the drain.  Repair or replace old or damaged fixtures.  If you are not sure if you have a leak, check the water meter before and after a two hour period when water is not being used.  If the meter does not read exactly the same, you may have a leak.
Just bag it.  Help protect the environment when you shop. Keep reusable bags on your car seat or near your door so they are easy to grab when you go.  And you can even combine shopping bags.  Just tell the cashier that you don’t need a bag and put all your purchase in one bag and hang on to all of the receipts.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Melons-Many Varieties to Choose From

Melons – Many Varieties to Choose From

While shopping, I have noticed a increasing array of melons to choose from. While melons come in many varieties, they fall into two basic groups: watermelons and muskmelon.  
  • Red-fleshed watermelons are the most popular.
  • Orange- and yellow-flesh melons are very sweet.
  • Black imagination melons are sweet and juicy with rinds ranging from deep green to black. 
  • Lemon drops have a sweet-tart flavor and a hint of honeydew.  
  • Dewlicious melons have a yellow-gold skin and bring almost pure white flesh.
  • Honey Kiss melons have a light crisp texture and have a sweet flavor.
  • Sugar Kiss melons are the newest member of the Kiss family of melons and are very sweet and juicy with a pale orange flesh.
  • Summer Kiss is a dark gold honeydew-like melon that is mellow, creamy and sweet.  
Since most of us buy melons at the store or farmers market, it is easy to forget that most melons are grown on the ground. You may not think it is important to wash the outside of a melon, since you do not eat the tough outer part. When you slice the melon, bacteria on the outside of the melon are easily transferred to the inner edible area that you eat. Be sure to wash the outer surface of melons.

Wash the outer surface of the melon thoroughly with cool tap water to remove surface dirt. Scrub the melon with a clean produce brush. Dry the melon with a clean cloth or paper towel and refrigerate until ready to cut. Using soap or detergent to clean your produce is not recommended. Wash equipment and utensils that will come in contact with cut melons (e.g., cutting boards, knives, etc.) thoroughly with hot, soapy water. Rinse, sanitize, and air-dry.

Store melons in the refrigerator. Place cut melon in airtight containers to prevent absorption of other food odors.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Pick a Peck of Peppers

Pick a Peck of Peppers
There are so many varieties of peppers available at farmer’s markets, produce stands and the grocery store. If you are not certain of what type of pepper to choose, the following information may be helpful.
  • Bell peppers are a sweet pepper with no heat. They start as green and as they ripen, they change color to yellow, orange and red. Bell peppers are an excellent source of vitamin A, vitamin C, and vitamin B6. They are often used in salads, grilled, sauté, stuffed, or chopped up and added to pizza, casseroles and sandwiches.
  • Anaheim peppers are from California. They are defined by their elongated curved lime green pod and their mild sweet flavor. They are slightly peppery in flavor. They can also be included in dishes that call for a mild, sweet pepper. To get the most flavor, fire roast it until the skill in charred and then peel off the skin. They can be used in sauces, stews, as a vegetable in side dishes. 
  • Poblano peppers are a mild chili pepper originating in the state of Puebla, Mexico. This pepper is aromatic and flavorful. They are commonly stuffed fresh and roasted it is popular in chile rellenos.
  • Jalapeño peppers are a medium-sized chili pepper. It typically is picked green and consumed while still green. It has a mild to medium pungency. It is milder than a Serrano pepper. Remove the seeds and mince for salsa or other recipes calling for a hotter pepper.
  • Serrano is thin pepper that is a hotter than jalapeño peppers. Serrano peppers are green when unripe, but color at maturity varies. They often are used in salsa and pico de gallo.  
  • Habanero is a very hot pepper which is also a bit sweet and fruity. Unripe habaneros are green and they color as they mature. They are very hot. It has a fruity, citrus-like flavor and its floral aroma have made it a popular ingredient in hot sauces and spicy foods.



Friday, August 19, 2016

Tips for Freezing Foods

Tips for Freezing Foods

Some foods freeze better than others. Examples of foods that freeze well include soups, stews, casseroles, fruits and some vegetables. Avoid foods with cornstarch- or flour-thickened sauces and dairy products (except for cheese).
  • Use containers and bags designed for the freezer to ensure quality.
  • Some vegetables like peas, beans and corns need to be blanched by placing vegetables in boiling water and then place in ice bath before freezing. Other vegetables like onions and peppers can be chopped, placed on a cookie sheet and put in the freezer for a hour or two. Then put vegetables in a freezer bag or container before placing in the freezer.

  • Leave at least ½ inch between the top of the food and rim of the container to provide room for expansion. If freezing a liquid like juice allow at least 1-11/2 inches head space.
  • Do not freeze anything that has been previously frozen. If meat is taken out of the freezer and thawed, cook it then freeze.
  • Lay freezer bags flat to maximize freezer space.
  • Label foods placed in freezer including date when food was frozen.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Trail Mix: A Balanced Combination of Ingredients

Trail Mix: A Balanced Combination of Ingredients
I like making trail mix using an assortment of ingredients. If you make trail mix, remember to select a balanced combination of fat, protein, and carbohydrates.
50% of unsalted nuts. Since many of us consume more salt that needed, select unsalted nuts. Good choices include: peanuts, almonds, walnuts, cashews, and pistachios.
30% dried fruit. Look for dried fruits that do not have added sugar as fruits contain natural sugars. Since we have access to dried tart cherries grown in Northeast Wisconsin, this is usually my fruit of choice. Other dried fruit options include raisins, cranberries or apples (chopped into smaller pieces.)
15% seeds. Pumpkin and sunflower seeds have lots of nutritional value. They contain fiver, assortment of minerals and healthy fats.
5% extras such as cereal, pretzels, and dark chocolate chips. If using cereal, look for whole grain varieties with minimal amounts of sugar.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Grilling Sweet Corn

Grilling Sweet Corn
With sweet corn ready, many of us are enjoying this vegetable. Here are some tips for grilling sweet corn.
Grilled Sweet Corn
4 ears sweet corn, husks peeled back and silk removed
4 tablespoon melted butter
Salt and pepper to taste
  • Preheat grill to medium heat. Brush corn kernels with melted butter, salt and pepper. Close husks.
  • Wrap each ear of corn tightly in aluminum foil. Place on the prepared grill. Rotate occasionally. Cook approximately 30 minutes, turning occasionally, until corn is tender.
Another option is to soak the ears of corn before grilling.
  • If ears of corn have many layers of husk on them, peel off only the first couple of layers, leaving a few layers for protection. Do not remove all the layers.
  • Soak whole ears in a pot of cold water for 15 minutes. Be sure the ears are completely covered with water. This will provide extra moisture for cooking and will steam the corn kernels inside the husks.
  • Preheat grill to a medium temperature (350 degrees F). After soaking, remove the corn from the water and shake off any excess water.
  • Pull husks of the corn back (but do not completely remove them). Remove and discard only the silk.
  • Brush kernels with olive oil or butter.
  • Close husks over the kernels and tie each ear with a piece of loose husk or twine.
  • Place the prepared ears of corn on a medium heat on the grill, rotating the corn as needed to keep it from getting charred too much on one side. After a couple of turns, place the corn husk on an indirect heat (moved to the side of the grill) or on the top shelf of your grill, and close the cover and allow corn to continue cooking for approximately 15 minutes.
As soon as the husk picks up the dark silhouette of the kernels and begins to pull away from the tip of the ear, the corn is ready to come off the grill. Don’t overcook ears, or it will become mushy.

Friday, August 12, 2016

National Farmers Market Week

National Farmers Market Week
From August 7th through 13th, communities across the country will celebrate their local farmers markets during National Farmers Market Week. The impact of these farmer-to-consumer transactions is greater than it appears on the surface. Now more than ever, farmers markets serve as anchors across American communities, positively influencing community health and wealth. Markets result in more viable regional economies and local farm businesses, increased access to fresh, nutritious food, and stronger social networks that help keep communities healthy.
By the beginning of 2016, there were more than 8,500 farmers markets in the U.S—that is 50% more than just five years ago. As these markets become more established, they offer more services and benefits to their communities. The Farmers Market Coalition hopes you will help us celebrate National Farmers Market Week by visiting your local market and spreading the word that markets are growing in impact.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Building a Great Tasting Grilled Cheese Sandwich

Building a Great Tasting Grilled Cheese Sandwich
Living in Wisconsin, cheese is a food that we eat frequently.  These sandwiches have become much more interesting than just slices of cheese and white bread.  Here are some tips for making a great tasting grilled cheese sandwich.

Cheese.  Look at using a cheese like Harvarti, Gouda, Muenster or Fontina. These cheeses all have a softer texture which melts well.
Vegetables. Fresh fruits and vegetables can be a perfect addition by adding nutritional value and flavor.  Examples include: avocado, apple slices, blueberries and cucumbers.
Bread.  Select a whole grain or whole wheat bread for a tasty sandwich.
Spread. Traditionally, grilled cheese sandwiches are made with butter or margarine.  If you choose to use butter or margarine, only use a small amount. Other options include coconut oil or olive oil.  Add a small amount of oil directly to the skillet rather than spreading it on bread.  Warm up the pan and oil, then place the sandwich in the hot oil.
Cook low and slow.  You will get better results when using medium-low heat rather than rushing.  If too high of temperature is used, the bread will brown quickly without thoroughly melting the cheese.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Changes to Nutrition Fact Labels

Changes to Nutrition Fact Labels
Recently the FDA announced the new Nutrition Facts label for packaged foods to reflect new scientific information, including the link between diet and chronic diseases such as obesity and heart disease. The new label will make it easier for consumers to make better informed food choices.

Highlights of the Final Nutrition Facts Label
1. Features a Refreshed Design
  • The “iconic” look of the label remains, with  updates being made to ensure consumers have access to the information they need to make informed decisions about the foods they eat. These changes include increasing the type size for “Calories,” “servings per container,” and the “Serving size” declaration, and bolding the number of calories and the “Serving size” declaration to highlight this information.
  • Manufacturers must declare the actual amount, in addition to percent Daily Value of vitamin D, calcium, iron and potassium. They can voluntarily declare the gram amount for other vitamins and minerals.
  • The footnote is changing to better explain what percent Daily Value means. It will read: “*The % Daily Value tells you how much a nutrient in a serving of food contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.”
2. Reflects Updated Information about Nutrition Science
  • “Added sugars,” in grams and as percent Daily Value, will be included on the label. Scientific data shows that it is difficult to meet nutrient needs while staying within calorie limits if you consume more than 10 percent of your total daily calories from added sugar, and this is consistent with the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
  • The list of nutrients that are required or permitted to be declared is being updated. Vitamin D and potassium will be required on the label. Calcium and iron will continue to be required. Vitamins A and C will no longer be required but can be included on a voluntary basis.
  • While continuing to require “Total Fat,” “Saturated Fat,” and “Trans Fat” on the label, “Calories from Fat” is being removed because research shows the type of fat is more important than the amount.
  • Daily values for nutrients like sodium, dietary fiber and vitamin D are being updated based on newer scientific evidence from the Institute of Medicine and other reports such as the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee Report, which was used in developing the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Daily values are reference amounts of nutrients to consume or not to exceed and are used to calculate the percent Daily Value (% DV) that manufacturers include on the label. The %DV helps consumers understand the nutrition information in the context of a total daily diet.
3. Updates Serving Sizes and Labeling Requirements for Certain Package Sizes
  • By law, serving sizes must be based on amounts of foods and beverages that people are actually eating, not what they should be eating. How much people eat and drink has changed since the previous serving size requirements were published in 1993. For example, the reference amount used to set a serving of ice cream was previously ½ cup but is changing to ⅔ cup. The reference amount used to set a serving of soda is changing from 8 ounces to 12 ounces.
  • Package size affects what people eat. So for packages that are between one and two servings, such as a 20 ounce soda or a 15-ounce can of soup, the calories and other nutrients will be required to be labeled as one serving because people typically consume it in one sitting.
  • For certain products that are larger than a single serving but that could be consumed in one sitting or multiple sittings, manufacturers will have to provide “dual column” labels to indicate the amount of calories and nutrients on both a “per serving” and “per package”/“per unit” basis. Examples would be a 24-ounce bottle of soda or a pint of ice cream. With dual-column labels available, people will be able to easily understand how many calories and nutrients they are getting if they eat or drink the entire package/unit at one time.
Compliance Dates
Manufacturers will need to use the new label by July 26, 2018. However, manufacturers with less than $10 million in annual food sales will have an additional year to comply.

Label Format: Original vs. New

Source: Food and Drug Administration (FDA)


Friday, August 5, 2016

Make Summer Time a Healthy Time for Kids

Make Summer Time A Healthy Time for Kids
Extending family time can be easy — just add food and fitness. Here are some tips on how to increase family time while encouraging children’s healthy development
Your kitchen can be your child’s summer classroom. Using your kitchen as a science lab can help children stay in the school mode several ways.
  • Children can read recipes and measure ingredients. This sharpens math, reading and vocabulary skills.
  • While children cook they build positive self-esteem, confidence and independence. Even while preparing a snack, they feel a sense of pride and responsibility.
  • Cooking teaches new skills. As kids learn to cook, they help stir, pour, shake and tear. Later they can cut, grate and measure.
  • Cooking provides a sense of accomplishment. Children are proud when they finish and are able to share what they have made.
  • Cooking also can help children make smart food choices. Combining gardening with cooking helps children learn how to grow food, and they are more likely to try different vegetables and eat more of them.
When you cook with children, remember safety first. Tie back long hair, wear short sleeves and wash hands for at least 20 seconds before getting started.
There are many great science experiments focusing on food designed for kids that can be found on the internet. Many of these experiments can be done with materials found in your kitchen.
If your child has an interest in cooking, a number of organizations are offering classes and camps for kids that provide an opportunity for them to gain new skills.
Adapted by an article posted on the Science of Parenting  blog written by Lori Hayungs, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Human Sciences Specialist.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016


One of the hottest food trends is charcuterie (pronounced Shar-koo-tur-ee).  The term refers to gourmet, naturally cured meats such as smoked hams, sausages, prosciutto, and salami.  Delis have often carried these products which now are more frequently being sold in grocery stores.  Below is a glossary of charcuterie products.
Prosciutto is salted and aged for up to two years.  It has a flavor that is sweet with a silky finish.  It is often found as an ingredient in Italian cuisine. There are many varieties of prosciutto including prosciutto piccante.  All types are served thinly sliced.
Mortadella is a sausage made with finely ground meat and flavored with seasoning.  It is typically sliced paper thin and used in sandwiches.
Sopressata is an Italian hard sausage which is like pepperoni.  It is a pizza topping and goes well with pickled vegetables and bold cheese.
Salami is a hard pork sausage.  It is referred to as pepperoni’s milder cousin.  It is often used anywhere pepperoni is used.
Coppa is similar to prosciutto and is seasoned with wine and garlic, then rubbed with paprika and aged up to six months.  It may be roasted or smoked.  Coppa is a great filling for panini.           

Monday, August 1, 2016

Treating Your Body Like a Computer: Trouble-Shooting Tips

Treating Your Body Like a Computer: Trouble-Shooting Tips

If your body were a computer, would it be receiving lots of “error” messages? Is it beginning to run slower and take longer to “start?” Here’s a check­list to help optimize your perfor­mance and prevent crashing.
Are You Trying to Run Too Many Programs at the Same Time?
If you’re operating less efficiently because there are too many activ­ities making demands on your system, shut down some programs. Some examples include:
  • If time is tight, rather than make a special company dinner from “scratch,” invite people for a potluck meal.
  • No time to work out AND fix your hair afterwards … get a new hairstyle or cover your hair with some type of interesting headgear. Who knows … you might start a whole new product line!
You may actually accomplish more if you don’t try to accom­plish several things at the same time.
Researchers, such as Dr. Earl Miller, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Picower professor of neuroscience, are finding multi-tasking can be less efficient than doing one task at a time, especially if the tasks are more complex.
Consider scheduling tasks for separate times, for example:

  • Alternate cooking days with workout days. Cook ahead on cooking days, freeing up time on your workout days.
  • Plan a casserole or stew that can cook while you do yoga or take a walk.
  • If you do multi-task, combine a task that doesn’t demand as much input from your system as the other task. Here are two possible examples:
      Work out on a treadmill while watching TV.
      Listen to music while cooking.
Is Your Anti-Virus Software Up-to-Date and Running?
If you’re susceptible to every bug that comes around, it’s time to check if you’re eating right, getting enough sleep, being phys­ically active and reducing stress. The cost and time for “repairs” may be greater than the amount needed for prevention.
Is Your Battery Dangerously Low?
Recharge your battery before it loses power completely. Habit #7 in Stephen Covey’s
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is “Sharpen the Saw.” Covey tells the story of a woodcutter whose productivity decreased after sawing for several days straight. Each day his saw became duller and duller.  Covey advocates a balanced program for self-renewal in these four areas of your life: physical, social/emotional, mental and spiritual.
Recharge by eating healthy, getting some physical activity, making meaningful connections with others, stimulating your mind and devoting time to your spiritual renewal through such means as time spent in nature, music, prayer or service.
Are You Bogged Down by Unneeded Files and Programs?
Remove anything from your life that isn’t needed and slows your overall performance. For example:
Do you still belong to a club or organization that no longer meets your needs or interests? The time you’re giving this activity is taking time from something else. Move on!
Are you ironing (what’s an iron, some of you may say!) the whole shirt when only the collar will show under your sweater?
Do You Need to Hit “Escape,” “Undo” or “Delete?”
Your computer offers several options if you change your mind about a decision. Offer yourself the same choice with your life.  You may have a reputation for always saying “yes” to a request for help, regardless of how busy you are. The next time, you may want to try one of the following examples. It’s not necessary to elaborate and give an explanation.

  • “I’m sorry but I’m not available that night” or “I have another commitment for that time.” “I can’t help you right now, but I could (in a half hour, next week, next month …).”
  • “I can only help you for an hour, and then I have to leave.” Leave after an hour … even if it’s just to go to the bathroom if you’re at your office!
  • “I can’t do that right now, but I could … (name a less time-consuming task).”
Time to Reboot
Now, that you’ve finished trouble-shooting your personal system, consider making some changes. Then, reboot your body and enjoy the benefits!
Source:  Alice Henneman, MS, RDN, Extension Educator, Lancaster County, University of Nebraska Extension


Friday, July 29, 2016

Nut Butters

Nut Butters
I confess that one of my favorite foods is peanut butter.  But there are many more nut butters on the market.  If you have not tried any of them, it’s time to give them a taste.

Nut butters are a spreadable foodstuff made by grinding nuts into a paste. When shopping for a nut butter, some are more healthy than others.  The best nut butters are those that are made with the simplest ingredients – the nut.  Look for those that are made with a minimal amount of added salt and sugar and do not have hydrogenated oils.    

Cashew butter is a spread made from raw or roasted cashews.  It is rich and creamy in flavor.  When stored the oils and solids will separate, so it will require being mixed before each use. Cashew butter is high in protein, unsaturated fat and B vitamins. One teaspoon has 94 calories, 12 percent of the daily value of fat and 8 percent of the daily value of saturated fat.  However, it contains less fat than most other types of nuts.

Almond butter is a food paste made from almonds.  Almond butter may be smooth or crunchy and generally is “stir” or “no-stir.”  Almond butter may be either raw or roasted, describing the almonds themselves prior to grinding.  It is a good source of riboflavin, magnesium and manganese and vitamin E.

Hazelnut butter is a food spread made from crushed and blended hazelnuts.  Hazelnut butter is also familiar when mixed with chocolate as a chief ingredient in Nutella.  Hazelnut butter is available both crunchy and smooth varieties and can be made from either raw or roasted hazelnuts.  It is high is natural fats and susceptible to oil separation, so it should be stirred before use.

Other nut butters include walnut butter and pistachio butter. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Flour Power

Flour Power
No I am not writing about “flower power” that was used as a slogan in the 1960 as a symbol of passive resistance and non-violence ideology.  This blog is focusing on “flour power” by looking at some flours you may not be as familiar with that may offer more nutritional value and added flavor than all-purpose white flour.
Brown rice flour is gluten-free and is finely ground from unhulled white rice kernels which the healthy bran layer as well as rest of the kernel.  This flour will impart a rich, nuttier flavor than wheat flour and will add a darker color to your baked goods.   Try brown rice flour in muffins, biscuits and waffles or as a coating for fish.
Banana flour is made from dried unripe green bananas so the flour tastes less like banana and more like bran.  This flour is gluten-free so can be used in place of all-purpose flour in chocolate chip cookies.  Bananas are starchy, so use about a third less when substituting for regular flour.
Black beans can be used to make a high protein and fiber flour.  Mix water with black bean flour to make a puree that can be used in a black bean dip.  It can be used with enchiladas or as a thickener for soup.  In brownie recipes, replace ¼ cup all-purpose flour with black bean flour.

Dried coconut meat can be ground into a fine powder.  Try it in pancakes or waffles.  Substitute coconut flour for ¼ cup all-purpose flour.  Because the coconut flour absorbs extra liquid, add ¼ cup more water or milk and one additional egg for every ¼ cup coconut flour you use.