Monday, March 30, 2015

The Truth About Added Sugars

Added sugars are found in many of the foods we love to eat, especially the foods our children enjoy. As a parent, learn how to stay ahead of the game by avoiding the added sugar pitfalls. Added sugars are sugars or syrups added when the food product is made.  Natural sugars, like the sugars found in milk and fruit are not considered added sugars.

Added sugars add calories without any nutritional benefit.  Children who eat large amounts of added sugar are at risk for obesity and other health problems.  Become a parent in-the-know and look out for added sugars!

Added sugars are found in different products such as:
  • Soda, sports drinks, and energy drinks
  • Breakfast cereals
  • Cookies, cakes, and pies
  • Candy
  • Ice cream
  • Baked goods and donuts
  • Jelly and jam
  • Pre-made fruit like applesauce and fruit cups in heavy syrup
  • Fruit drinks like fruit punch
  • Toppings or sauces like ketchup
Instead, offer your child choices like whole grains, fresh fruit, and veggies as part of meals and snacks.
  • Try whole grain cereal choices and oatmeal at breakfast with fresh fruit.
  • Stick to water and low-fat milk when possible.
  • Limit items like cookies, ice cream, candy, and other sweets.
  • Choose 100% fruit juice with no added sugar.  Limit to one serving a day.
  • Pack fresh fruits or veggies like apple slices or baby carrots in lunches.  If using fruit cups, make sure that they are packing in water or their own juice.
Have fun in the kitchen with a fresh idea your child will love!  Let your child help make a Breakfast Banana Split!

Breakfast Banana Split
Serves 2

1 banana peeled and cut in half
1 cup low-fat yogurt
1/2 cup whole grain cereal (your choice)
1/2 cup berries, washed

1.  In two small bowls, put 1 banana half in each bowl.
2.  Spoon yogurt equally over bananas.
3.  Sprinkle half of the cereal and half of the berries on top of each banana in the bowl.
4.  Enjoy!

Monday, March 23, 2015

Recipe Spotlight: Veggie Quesadillas

Whether you have a large family or a small one, it's important to have quick, healthy meals in your recipe bank for busy weeknight dinners.  Veggie Quesadilla's are an easy kid-approved meal that the whole family will love.  They are a great way to get veggies, whole grains, and calcium on the plate.  The best part is they are easy to make and taste great the next day.  Try making these Veggie Quesadilla's for your family this week!

Veggie Quesadilla
Serves: 4             Makes 2 quesadillas

1 small zucchini, washed and chopped
1/2 broccoli head, washed and chopped
1 green bell pepper, washed, seeded, and chopped
1 small onion, peeled and chopped
1 carrot, scrubbed and shredded
4 8-inch whole wheat tortillas
1/2 cup low-fat cheddar cheese, shredded
1/2 cup salsa
Cooking spray

  1. Spray pan with cooking spray.
  2. Cook vegetables on medium heat for 4-5 minutes, stirring frequently.  Remove from pan.
  3. Spray pan with cooking spray again.  Place tortilla in the pan.  Add half of the vegetables and half of the cheese.
  4. Place the other tortilla on top.  Cook on medium heat for 4-6 minutes or until the cheese starts to melt and the bottom tortilla starts to brown.
  5. Flip quesadilla.  Cook for 4 minutes or until tortilla browns.
  6. Repeat steps 3-5 to make another quesadailla.
  7. Cut each quesadilla in half.  Serve with salsa. 

Gather all of the ingredients.

Wash and chop zucchini, broccoli, bell pepper, onion, and carrots.

Add all chopped veggies to the pan.  Cook on medium
heat for 4-5 minutes or until tender.
Remove the veggies from the pan and set aside.

Spray the pan with cooking spray again.  Add the tortilla
to the pan. 
Add half of the veggies and half of the cheese to the tortilla.

Place the other tortilla on top of the veggies and cheese.
  Cook on medium heat 4-6 minutes or until the cheese has melted.
Flip quesdilla and cook 4 minutes or until tortilla is brown.

Cut each quesadilla in half and serve with salsa!

Monday, March 16, 2015

Going Green for St. Patrick's Day

With all the festive green clothes, decorations and clovers on St. Patrick's Day, why not add the green color into your food?  Here are some healthy recipes that will keep you eating healthy all day long while enjoying the festivities.

This shake is a great way to start your morning or drink for a mid-morning snack!  It is packed with fresh fruit and yogurt that will give you a burst of energy!

Shamrock Smoothie

6 kiwi fruit, peeled and cut into quarters
1 cup seedless green grapes
1 banana
6 ounces low-fat vanilla yogurt
1 cup orange juice
3 Tablespoons honey
1/4 cup ice


  1. Add all the ingredients to a blender.
  2. Blend until smooth.
  3. If texture is too smooth add a few more ice cubes.
  4. Pour into glasses and garnish with kiwi fruit slices.

Green Pizza
1 prepared whole-wheat pizza dough
2 cups broccoli, chopped
1/4 cup water
5 ounces arugula, chopped and stems removed
1 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
2 Tablespoons olive oil 
1 teaspoon garlic, minced
Pinch of salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste

  1. Place oven rack in lowest position.  Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.  Coat a large baking sheet with cooking spray.
  2. Add water and chopped broccoli to skillet and cover.  Let cook for about 3 minutes or until broccoli is tender.
  3. Add arugula and cook by stirring for about 1-2 minutes or until wilted.  Season with salt and pepper.
  4. Mix olive oil and garlic together and spread over prepared pizza crust.
  5. Top with broccoli and arugula mixture.  Sprinkle with cheese.
  6. Bake until crispy and golden brown and the cheese is melted, about 8 to 10 minutes.

Don't forget to try fun activities with the kids too!   With all the delicious festive dishes, remember to include physical activity on St. Patrick's Day!  Below are some fun ways to increase physical activity with the entire family.

St. Patrick's Day Scavenger Hunt
This scavenger hunt is a great way to add physical activity with the entire family!  Using outdoor objects is a quick and inexpensive way to create the game!

Look for:
1 long branch
1 leaf from a tree
1 spring flower
1 four-leaf clover
An usual shaped rock

Four-leaf  Clover Squats
These squats only take 5 minutes and can be done just about anywhere!  They are especially great to do during a commercial break.
  1. Stand with feet should width apart.
  2. Bend until your legs are at a 90-degree angle.
  3. Slowly straighten your legs to a standing position.
  4. Repeat this motion 12 times.  Do 3 sets!

Monday, March 9, 2015

Cooking with Herbs

Herbs, dried or fresh, can lift a dish's taste from ordinary to special, and can help you stay away from extra salt, fat, and sugar!

Try with different herbs to find what you like the best.  Basil and oregano go well with tomato dishes; chives are delicious with potatoes; cinnamon makes apples and squash taste sweet without added sugar; dill can perk up cauliflower; ginger and nutmeg are great in desserts; parsley or an Italian herb blend works well in pasta dishes; rosemary goes best with stuffing; and sage is used most often with meats.  The blend of herbs in dried Italian seasoning can also be used in many dishes.

Here are some tips for using herbs when you cook and bake:

  • If you use fresh herbs, use three times as many as dried.
  • Store fresh herbs in an open plastic bag in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator and plan to use them up within a few days.
  • You can buy herbs at grocery stores or local farmers' market, or you can grow them yourself in small pots.
  • Dice up and freeze extra fresh herbs if you can't use them all right away.
  • Store dried herbs in a cool, dry place.  Don't hold the whole container of dried herbs over a steaming pot of food -- the moisture will get into the container.  Instead, measure out what you need and add it from your measuring spoon.
  • Add great flavor without adding salt by using powdered garlic and onion instead of garlic salt and onion salt.
  • Try our Eat Smart Seasoning Mix that is sure to taste great on meat and veggies!
Did you know you can grow your own herbs from leftover herbs at the grocery store? Check out our previous blog on growing your own herbs inside.  

Monday, March 2, 2015

Kitchen Time Savers

Most of us are short on time, but we want to give our families the healthiest meals possible.  Taking extra time in the kitchen isn't always possible.  Here are some tips to save time in the kitchen.

Try these tips to help save you time and money:

  • Double your recipe so that you can freeze the leftovers for a meal another day.  If evenings during the week are too busy, plan ahead to prepare a few dishes on your day off.  Freeze, then take out and thaw in the refrigerator the day before you plan to serve it. 
  • Use your ingredients for multiple meals.  Cook extra baked chicken or turkey.  Make a pot pie with a simple frozen or refrigerated crust.  Or dice the meat and serve with salsa and lettuce in a tortilla.
  • Use smaller amounts of left overs for lunches!
  • Have plenty of side dish recipes on hand.  Does your family like flavored rice or whole grain pasta?  Side dishes usually only take 20-30 minutes to prepare, so you can make them to go along with the main dish.
  • Keep canned and frozen vegetables on hand to go with your main dish.  Canned and frozen are convenient, easily stored, and often a good value.  They are also very quick to heat up.
  • Some stores have rotisserie chickens on sale one day a week.  These baked chickens are usually a good deal and are ready to eat as soon as you bring them home.
  • Don't forget about frozen meats and fish.  These main dishes are quick to prepare and easy to put in the oven.  Try to get fish as fillets without too much breading and meat patties without much filler.
  • Buying cut-up veggies and fruit can save you time, but you will likely pay more for the convenience.  Instead, invite your older children to help cut fruits and veggies up as you prepare the rest of the meal.
  • Use a slow cooker to make meals.  Check out our recent blogs on One Dish Meals and Tips for Crockpot Meals for ideas!

Monday, February 23, 2015

One-Dish Meals: Cook and Clean-up in a Snap!

Prepare healthy, home-cooked meals using just one pot or pan.  Clean-up will be quick and easy and you might even have leftovers for lunch the next day!   Kitchen tools like crock pots and electric skillets are not very costly and are perfect for making a variety of healthy meals all in one dish.  Here are some tips for cooking one-pot dishes:

Crock Pot or Slow Cooker:  
  • Roast a chicken with diced vegetables like carrots, celery, squash, onion and fresh or dried herbs.  Use leftover chicken for sandwiches, salads, and make soup stock with the chicken bones.
  • Cook up a pot of chili with canned tomatoes, canned beans, canned corn, and lean ground turkey or beef.  Add spices like chili powder, cumin, and garlic powder.  Serve with a green salad and whole grain cornbread.
  • Stir up some vegetable soup using canned tomatoes, frozen or canned mixed vegetables, canned beans, chopped onion, garlic, and water or vegetable stock.  Add fresh or dried herbs like basil, parsley, or Italian seasoning.  
Electric Skillet:
  • Make breakfast foods like whole wheat pancakes or breakfast fajitas with sauteed vegetables like peppers, tomatoes, red onions, and scrambled eggs wrapped in whole-grain tortillas.
  • Cook beef macaroni and cheese whole grain pasta, canned tomatoes, low-fat cheese, lean ground beef, and Italian seasoning.  Serve with steamed vegetables or a salad to complete your meals.  Try our recipe!

Beefy Macaroni and Cheese
Serves 4 
Serving Size: 1 cup

3/4 pound lean ground beef
1 & 1/2 cups water
1 cup uncooked macaroni
1 (15 ounce) can diced tomatoes
2 Tablespoons Italian seasoning
1/2 cup grated low-fat cheddar cheese

  1. Brown beef in a large electric skillet, drain off fat.
  2. Add water, macaroni, tomatoes, and Italian seasoning.  Stir.
  3. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer covered for 15 to 20 minutes or until macaroni is tender.
  4. Remove from heat and add 1/2 cup grated cheese.
  5. Refrigerate leftovers.
Visit our recipe section for more one-pot dish meal ideas!

Monday, February 16, 2015

Tips for Crockpot Meals

Who doesn't welcome the yummy smell of a crock pot meal when you walk into a kitchen?  Whether it's a stew, soup or chicken with vegetables, cooking with a crock pot can make meal preparations easy, save time and help stretch the food budget.

Knowing how to use a crock pot (slow cooker) correctly can bring success to your meals.  Follow
these tips to make meals not only tasty but also healthy.
  1. Know your slow cooker.  Read and follow the guidelines and recipes found in our slow cooker manual.  Those recipes can provide delicious meals.
  2. Give your food space.  For best results, fill a crock pot only one-half to two-thirds full.
  3. Layer food carefully.  For even cooking, cut foods into pieces of the same size.  Place firm, slow cooking root vegetables like potatoes and carrots at the bottom of the crock and put meat on the top.
  4. Use thawed food not frozen.  For food safety purposes, thaw your meat and vegetables in the refrigerator before putting them into your crock pot.
  5. Choose the "right" cut of meat.  Save money by using less expensive cuts of meat like chuck roast, pork shoulder or use a whole chicken.  The moist, low heat of a slow cooker makes these cuts very tender.
  6. Trim the fat.  Always cut the fat that you can see from meat and remove chicken skin.  This will make your sauces less oily and much healthier.
  7. Keep the lid closed.  Reduce the urge to look at the foods during the cooking time.  Each time the lid is off it adds 15-20 minutes to the recipe time.  No need to stir either!
  8. Fill up with dried beans and peas.  Use the crock pot for large batches of bean and lentil soups.  Use some now and freeze the rest for later.  A great way to stretch the budget!  Try the following "Slow Cooker Lentil Soup" on a cold day!

Slow Cooker Lentil Soup
Serves:  6

6 cups water
1/4 cup parsley (chopped fresh or 2 Tablespoons dried parsley optional)
2 teaspoons beef bouillon (or 2 beef bullion cubes)
1 1/2 cups lentils (dry)
2 carrots, sliced
1 medium onion, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped

  1. Mix all ingredients together in slow cooker.
  2. Cook on LOW for 8 to 10 hours or on HIGH for 4 to 5 hours.
  3. Serve hot with crackers or bread.
Recipe adapted from Montana State Extension Service.