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, 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.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Hosting Low Stress Holiday Parties

Hosting Low Stress Holiday Parties
Planning a holiday party is never easy especially with during the holiday busy season. Below are some tips for planning and hosting great holiday parties.
  • Serve appetizers and desserts on disposable party ware to lighten the amount of dishes at the end of the night.
  • Plan ahead and line baking dishes with foil for easy cleanup.
  • Fill the kitchen sink with soapy water for quick cleanup as the party progresses.
  • When planning the menu. Choose some do-ahead foods and supplement with store-bought extras.
  • Create a food-free space for your guests to mingle.  Research shows that the proximity and visibility of food increases your chance of eating that food.
  • Offer some low calorie food options.
  • Make sure to know special food needs of your guests i.e. vegetarian, food sensitives or allergies.
  • Offer a build-your-own bar i.e. tacos, burritos, baked potatoes or hot chocolate. That way guests can choosing only the fillings or toppings they want.      

Friday, December 2, 2016

Dining in for Healthy Families

Dining in for Healthy Families

Commit to "Dining In" on December 3rd. "Dining In for Healthy Families" is a campaign created by the American Association of Family and Consumer Science. Eating together as a family has many benefits.  
  • Conversations during the meal provide opportunities for families to bond, plan, connect, and learn from each other.
  • Family mealtime is the perfect opportunity to display appropriate table manners, meal etiquette, and social skills.
  • Encourage your children to try new foods, without forcing, coercing, or bribing. Introduce a new food along with some stand-by favorites.
  • Meals eaten at home often are more nutritious and healthy.
For more information on “Dining in for Healthy Families, click the link below. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Include Pasta for a Perfect Holiday Meal

Include Pasta for a Perfect Holiday Meal
Foods that often come to mind when planning holiday meals are turkey, mashed potatoes and pie.  If you want to think out-of-the-box, consider pasta.  Pasta can be a one dish wonder which can serve a crowd and be assembled ahead of time and timed to come out of the oven at a specific time.  Baking pasta in the oven can make your home smell wonderful and is a great way to greet guests.

Also, pasta is versatile.  Rather than using a large baking dish, put the pasta mixture into individual ramekins.

There are many types and shapes of pasta to try.  Estimates of the number of pasta shapes range from 600 to 1,000. Try substituting alternative pastas of similar size after browsing through the selection at the super market. 

When cooking pasta for baked dishes, be sure to leave the pasta al dente, since it will continue to cook and soften as it bakes.  To test for doneness, take a piece out of boiling water and bit into it – if it feel tender but still a bit firm, drain the pasta and incorporate with other ingredients.
Transporting pasta dishes is easy.  There is usually only one dish to transport and serving is easy.  If you do not have a carrying tote, cover the hot dish with foil and wrap in a towel.   


Monday, November 28, 2016

Makeover Your Leftovers

Makeover Your Leftovers
About 90 billion pounds of edible food goes uneaten each year in the United States, an amount equal to 123 times the weight of the Empire State Building. This costs consumers $370 per person each year:
• Grains: $22
• Fruits: $45
• Protein foods: $140
• Vegetables: $66
• Dairy: $60
• Added fat and sugar: $37
Reduce wasted food in your home with simple shopping, storage and cooking. Also, you can give food to organizations which accept food donations to feed others. “Recycling” food into different recipes or composting food are other options. Food tossed is money lost. One way to add new life to still edible foods is to re-purpose leftovers and reuse them in new ways and new recipes. Here are a few  simple tips.
Use older bread to make bread pudding.
Freeze extra lemon or lime juice in ice cube trays. Transfer to freezer bags. Pop into water for
flavored water. NOTE: It’s easier to remove frozen food from silicon ice cube trays and muffin pans than plastic trays or metal pans as they are more flexible.
Protein Foods
Use leftover meat in flavorful foods such as barbecued meat dishes, chili and tacos to mask the flavor of “warmed over meat.” Plus, the sauce helps prevent further flavor changes in the meat.
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.
Use up extra odds of cheese by shredding them with a grater or in a food processor. Mix in your choice of ingredients, cut or chopped into small pieces (olives, pickles, pimientos, chives, walnuts, peppers, etc.). Add enough mayonnaise  (regular or low-fat) to bind the ingredients together. Spread on your favorite bread.
Test baking powder of a questionable age for freshness to prevent tossing a ruined recipe because it doesn’t rise. Mix 1 teaspoon baking powder with 1/3 cup hot water. If it foams vigorously, it still has rising power. To test baking soda by placing 1-1/2 teaspoons in a small bowl. Add 1 tablespoon vinegar.  If it fizzes, then it will still help leaven a food. If it doesn’t fizz, use it as an odor catcher in the refrigerator.
Source: Alice Henneman, Extension Educator, University of Nebraska Extension, Lancaster County

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Making Thanksgiving Dinner Healthy

Making Thanksgiving Dinner Healthy
Whether you are hosting Thanksgiving dinner or bringing a dish to share, make your recipes healthier with less fat, sugar, and calories. There is more sugar and fat in most recipes than is needed, and no one will notice the difference if you skim calories by using lower calorie ingredients.
Here are some suggestions:
  • Use fat-free chicken broth to baste the turkey and make gravy.
  • Use sugar substitutes in place of sugar and/or fruit purees instead of oil in baked goods.
  • Reduce oil and butter wherever you can.
  • Try plain yogurt or fat-free sour cream in creamy dips, mashed potatoes, and casseroles.
  • Thanksgiving tables are bountiful and beautiful displays of traditional family favorites. Before you fill your plate, survey the buffet table and decide what you're going to choose. Then select reasonable-sized portions of foods you cannot live without.
Other tips include:
  • Don’t skip breakfast because by the time dinner is served, it is easy to overeat.
  • Don't waste your calories on foods that you can have all year long.
  • Enjoy foods being served in moderation.
  • Try to resist the temptation to go back for second helpings. Often leftovers are tasty the following day.
  • Don't forget those alcohol calories that can add up quickly.
  • After eating dinner, go for a walk and enjoy playing a game that incorporated physical activity.
Thanksgiving along with other holidays is not just about the delicious bounty of food. It's a time to celebrate relationships with family and friends.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

"The Big Thaw"

“The Big Thaw”

Turkeys must be kept at a safe temperature during "the big thaw." While frozen, a turkey is safe indefinitely. However, as soon as it begins to thaw, any bacteria that may have been present before freezing can begin to grow again.
A package of frozen meat or poultry left thawing on the counter more than 2 hours is not at a safe temperature. Even though the center of the package may still be frozen, the outer layer of the food is in the "Danger Zone" between 40 and 140 °F — at a temperature where foodborne bacteria multiply rapidly.
Safe Methods for Thawing
Immediately after grocery store checkout take the frozen turkey home and store it in the freezer. Frozen turkeys should not be left on the back porch, in the car trunk, in the basement, or any place else where temperatures cannot be constantly monitored.
Refrigerator Thawing
When thawing a turkey in the refrigerator:
  • Plan ahead: allow approximately 24 hours for each 4 to 5 pounds in a refrigerator set at 40 °F or below.
  • Place the turkey in a container to prevent the juices from dripping on other foods.
  • Refrigerator Thawing Times: Whole turkey:
4 to 12 pounds — 1 to 3 days
12 to 16 pounds — 3 to 4 days
16 to 20 pounds — 4 to 5 days
20 to 24 pounds —5 to 6 days
A thawed turkey can remain in the refrigerator for 1 or 2 days before cooking. Foods thawed in the refrigerator can be refrozen without cooking but there may be some loss of quality.
Cold Water Thawing
Allow about 30 minutes per pound.  First be sure the turkey is in a leak-proof plastic bag to prevent cross-contamination and to prevent the turkey from absorbing water, resulting in a watery product. Submerge the wrapped turkey in cold tap water. Change the water every 30 minutes until the turkey is thawed. Cook the turkey immediately after it is thawed.
Cold Water Thawing Times
4 to 12 pounds — 2 to 6 hours
12 to 16 pounds — 6 to 8 hours
16 to 20 pounds — 8 to 10 hours
20 to 24 pounds — 10 to 12 hours
A turkey thawed by the cold water method should be cooked immediately. After cooking, meat from the turkey can be refrozen.
Microwave Thawing
Follow the microwave oven manufacturer's instruction when defrosting a turkey. Plan to cook it immediately after thawing because some areas of the food may become warm and begin to cook during microwaving. Holding partially cooked food is not recommended because any bacteria present wouldn't have been destroyed.
A turkey thawed in the microwave must be cooked immediately.
USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service

Monday, November 21, 2016

Countdown to Thanksgiving

Countdown to Thanksgiving
The holiday countdown has begun.  In only a few weeks the holiday season begins, so now is the time to start thinking about Thanksgiving. USDA’s Meat and Poultry Hotline is ready to assist by offering some sure-fire ways to beat the clock to ensure a safe and delicious holiday dinner.
Shop Early to Reduce Stress Later
Plan your menu now and make your grocery list while reviewing your entire menu, including recipes to be sure nothing is forgotten. Shelf stable items like cranberry sauce can purchased now to shorten your shopping list later.
Clear the Fridge
Start using foods taking up space in your refrigerator now. This can help to make sure you have plenty of room for your turkey and other holiday foods. Not sure if those leftovers are still good? We have an app for that. The FoodKeeper contains storage advice to help you determine if you should toss or can save that food.  The app is available for Android and Apple devices.
Gather the Equipment
Is your roasting pan large enough for the turkey? Do you have a food thermometer? For safety USDA recommends using a food thermometer to check the temperature of the turkey. Why? Because the only way you know the turkey is safe to eat is when it is cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 165 °F. Check the temperature in the innermost part of the thigh, the innermost part of the wing, and the thickest part of the breast. You can cook it to a higher temperature if you prefer. But using a thermometer takes the guesswork out of ensuring it’s done and safe.
Purchasing the Turkey
Allow 1 pound of turkey per person. Whether to buy a fresh or frozen turkey is a matter of personal preference. There is no significant difference in quality between the two. Buy a fresh turkey no more than 1 to 2 days before cooking.  Check with your grocer as some stores allow you to preorder a turkey a few weeks in advance to pick up later.
If finding the right-sized bird is critical, buy a frozen one early and save yourself the trouble of running from store to store later during Thanksgiving week.  Keep the turkey frozen until you’re ready to thaw and cook it. Our fact sheet Countdown to the Thanksgiving holiday can help with thawing times and other holiday questions. Once thawed it’s safe for 2 more days in the refrigerator.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

How to Choose the Right Types of Pasta to Use

How to Choose the Right Type of Pasta to Use
Choosing the right pasta depends on the topping.  The shape should be dictated by the sauce.
  • Tubes. Tubular shapes like penne and ziti are perfect with hearty, thick sauces like ragu. Other tubes like lumaconi are generally stuffed with cheese, sausage or vegetables such as mushrooms and spinach.
  • Ribbons. Wide, flat pastas like papperdelle are ideal for sopping up creamy sauces.
  • Rods.  Long, round pastas like spaghetti are best with olive oil - and tomato-based sauces which coat east strand.
  • Shapes.  Chunky vegetable sauces go better with short pastas that have crevices to trap the sauce.
  • Wheels.  Ruote is a wagon wheel pasta that adds interest to salads or soups.

Monday, November 14, 2016

November 15th is National Clean out Your Refrigerator Day

November 15th is National Clean out Your Refrigerator Day
National Clean out Your Refrigerator Day is observed annually on November 15. Get together a soap and hot water filled bucket, disinfectant, a sponge and a garbage bag, and you are ready for the day!

This job may be dreaded by many, but it is an important task none the less.  Due to our hectic and busy lifestyles, the cleaning of the refrigerator gets neglected, hence the creation of National Clean out Your Refrigerator Day.  There may be a surprise or two found at the back of the shelves. Things are often pushed back as new food is put in the front and gets forgotten.
Some suggestions for your refrigeration cleaning are:
  • Empty each shelf.
  • Completely wipe down the inside of refrigerator.
  • Wash drawers and underneath the drawers.
  • Throw away all expired food.
  • Throw away any moldy food.
  • Get rid of anything that you do not use.
  • Vacuum condenser coils.
  • Vacuum out under refrigerator.
  • Restock shelves and drawers with good food.
  • Enjoy your nice, clean, organized refrigerator

Friday, November 11, 2016

Simple Carbohydrates are Part of Complex Problem

Simple Carbohydrates are Part of Complex Problem
Why has our population especially that of our youth, become so overweight? That is a loaded question, one that likely has many contributing factors. Parents may find it easier to provide sweet foods and beverages that children want than it is to only allow children to enjoy these options as special treats.

Sugar is also referred to as a simple carbohydrate and is used plentifully in candy, soft drinks, cookies, muffins, cake and more. Sugar is readily absorbed into our bloodstream and can cause a quick rise in blood glucose which provides energy for short term durations but does not provide long-term fuel. Sugar is also referred to as “empty calories” because there are no beneficial nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals, in sugar.

The advantage that complex carbohydrates have over simple sugars is that they provide many more nutrients such as fiber, vitamins and minerals. This makes choosing complex carbohydrates, such as whole-grain cereal, quinoa, fruits, vegetables and nuts a healthier choice. In comparison, simple carbohydrates do not have much nutritional value. Eating too many simple carbohydrates like sweetened bread and sports drinks can lead to an excessive intake of calories. Overeating can contribute to weight gain which increases the risk of joint disorders like arthritis, diabetes, heart disease and strokes. In essence, moderation is ideal; excess is harmful.

Recommendations for sugar intake is described in the chart below, with an explanation of how much added sugar is in various types of food and beverages. Keep this in mind when deciding what choices you want to provide your child with. Their choices depend on what you as the parent or caregiver provide. Are you willing to say “no”, to frequent requests for sweets and offer them healthy options instead? By adhering to healthy choices and providing this discipline when a child is young, you’re paving the way for a foundation of healthy eating when your children are older and helping to prevent the overconsumption of calories that can lead to weight gain.
Age group
Daily recommended limit of Added Sugar
Newborns and Infants
0 tsp (0 gm)
Toddlers and Preschoolers
4 tsp (16 gm)
Children ages 4-8
3 tsp (12 gm)
Pre-teens and Teenagers
5-8 tsp (20-32 gm)
Adult Women
6 tsp (24 gm)
Adult Men
9 tsp (36 gm)
In an attempt to look at what a “typical” amount of added sugar a child might consume the following foods are listed. The table is an example of what a 5 year old could consume during a day-long sporting event. Note, the chart only lists added sugar, not the total sugar content of each food.
Food item
Amount of added sugar
Capri Sun, reduced sugar
4 tsp (16.5 gm)
7 Donut holes (glazed)
19 tsp (74 gm)
12 oz Cherry slushy
10 tsp (41 gm)
Hot dog/bun
1 oz bag of potato chips
4 pieces of licorice
5 tsp (19 gm)
Ice Cream (1/2 cup)
4 tsp (15 gm)
42 tsp
Does this look familiar to you? If you see your child’s diet in the above table, maybe it’s time to re-think your choices, and how you plan to swap out some of the items for healthier choices.

Source: This article was published by Michigan State University Extension. For more information, visit http://www.msue.msu.edu.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Healthier Baking

Healthier Baking
With the start of fall, it’s a great time to enjoy your warm, freshly baked goods!  Baking is fun to do once chilly weather arrives, however, many of those warm comfort foods may be detrimental to your healthy diet.  Most baked goods are full of added sugars and trans fats and should be consumed sparingly.  There are ways to increase the healthiness of your baked goods so you can feel good about your choice of dessert!

Many substitutions can be made in baked goods to cut down on the calorie, sugar, and fat content while still being delicious.  Follow this chart for easy substitutions to try next time you get out your baking pans!

Instead of This…
Use This!
Butter, margarine, shortening
Unsweetened applesauce or prune puree
Fat-free half and half or evaporated skim milk
Full Fat Cream Cheese
Fat-free cream cheese, low-fat cottage cheese pureed until smooth, or Greek yogurt
Two egg whites or ¼ c. egg substitute per 1 whole egg
All-Purpose Flour
Whole-wheat flour for half of called for flour
Evaporated Milk
Evaporated Skim milk
Whole Milk
Reduced-fat or fat-free milk
 Use half the sugar called for and add vanilla, nutmeg or cinnamon to add sweetness, use an artificial, no or low calorie sweetener, or mashed ripened banana
Sour Cream
Low-fat Greek yogurt
Baking Chocolate (1 oz)
3 T. unsweetened cocoa powder + 1 T. polyunsaturated oil

Written by Marni Shoemaker, University of Nebraska Lincoln Dietetic Intern


Monday, November 7, 2016

November is National Peanut Butter Lover's Month

November Is National Peanut Butter Lover’s Month
November is Peanut Butter Lovers Month, time to celebrate our favorite food! Americans will celebrate by eating more than 65 million pounds of peanut butter during the month of November.Peanut butter is a food enjoyed by many. It can be found in many recipes, from a simple peanut butter and jelly sandwich to a spicy pad Thai dish that features a peanut sauce.   
Peanut butter can be part of a healthy diet if eating in correct portions. A serving size of peanut butter is 2 tablespoons.
  • Peanut butter is packed with protein, about 4 grams of protein in each tablespoon. Protein will help to keep you feeling satisfied, not hungry.
  • Peanut butter contains vitamins and minerals.
  • Peanut butter contains healthy omega-3 fats. These fats are good for your hear.
Look for 100% natural peanut butter that contains no added sugar or oils. The only ingredients that will be listed are peanuts and salt. Natural peanut butter does tend to separate, so stirring before using is a must.
Peanut butter is a food item that you can easily and inexpensively make in your own kitchen. Making your own peanut butter will also provide a healthier alternative to the commercial, store-bought kind, as homemade peanut butter will be free from preservatives. If you can find a good, inexpensive supply of peanuts, making peanut butter may help save money while providing you with your own tasty batch of homemade peanut butter.
Homemade Peanut Butter
2 cups peanuts
1 ½ teaspoons peanut oil or vegetable oil
½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ teaspoons molasses, honey or brown sugar
Pinch of salt
Blend ingredients together. 

Friday, November 4, 2016

November is Sweet Potato Awareness Month

November Is Sweet Potato Awareness Month
November is a month known for many things: the usual onset of cold weather, raking leaves, and the start of the holiday season. November is also Sweet Potato Awareness month. 
Sweet potatoes are herbaceous perennial vines in the convolvulaceae family often known as the “morning glory family”. They belong to a different family than yams and potatoes and are not tubers but enlarged roots. The common U.S. potato belongs to the solanaceae family, which also includes tomatoes, eggplant, and tobacco
Sweet potatoes are often confused with yams (dioscorea alata), especially this time of year. A few distinctions: yams are not grown in the United States so they are rarely found in stores. Yams likely originated in West Africa and sweet potatoes in Central America. While sweet potatoes have smooth, delicate skin, yams tend to have rough, thick skin.
Tips for Selection, Storage, and Preparation
Nutrition and health: Sweet potatoes are fat-free, low in sodium, cholesterol free, a good source of dietary fiber and potassium, and high in vitamins A and C. Taste the sweet goodness that sweet potatoes naturally have, and keep the additions like butter to a minimum. A medium sweet potato (about 2 inches in diameter and 5 inches long) is around 100 calories when baked in the skin.
Selection and storage tips: Choose firm, small- to medium-sized potatoes with smooth skin. Avoid cracks, soft spots and blemishes. Choose sweet potatoes with a bright, uniform color. Store them in a cool, dark, dry place for use within two to four weeks or at room temperature for up to a week. Avoid storing in the refrigerator, which will result in a hard center and unpleasant taste.
Cleaning and preparing: Before cooking, wash sweet potatoes with cool, running water to remove any dirt from the skin and scrub with a vegetable brush if needed. It is not necessary to peel sweet potatoes before cooking them; leaving the skins on gives you a different texture and more fiber in meals, side dishes, and snacks.
Cooking with sweet potatoes: They can be baked, boiled, fried, broiled, and microwaved. They can also be peeled, cut into chunks and sautéed. When cooking whole sweet potatoes pierce their skin several times with a fork and bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit (F) for 40-50 minutes, or until fork tender. Sauté sliced or diced sweet potatoes in oil for about 10 minutes. Grill or broil 1-inch thick slices for 10 minutes or cut sweet potatoes in half lengthwise and grill 20 to 25 minutes. When microwaving, pierce several times with a fork and place on a microwave-safe dish. Microwave whole sweet potatoes for 5 to 8 minutes, rotating halfway through.
Great additions to meals and side dishes: Sweet potatoes can be prepared with sweet or savory flavors and go well with meats, fruits, and other vegetables. Here are some examples of interesting ways to incorporate sweet potatoes: Toss sliced sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower in olive oil and salt and bake until tender; sauté peppers, onions and sweet potato cubes for taco filling; add roasted sweet potato wedges to your favorite grilled meat; or add roasted sweet potato cubes to a soup recipe.
Source: University of Michigan Extension and University of Nebraska Extension