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.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

A Fun-Filled Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day is about celebrating the ones you love.  It doesn't have to be all about chocolates and candy.  Let us help you plan a Valentine's Day that your kids will love!  There are many fun activities that your family can do to enjoy Valentine's Day together without spending a lot of money or eating a lot of sugary treats.  Try these healthy ideas this weekend!
  • Leave your child yummy fruit with a cute love-note attached.  Some samples include:
    • Banana -- "I'm bananas about you!"
    • Pear -- " You are pear'fect to me!"
    • Apple -- "You are the apple of my eye!"
    • Grapes -- "I like you bunches!"
    • Orange -- "Orange you great!"
  • Have a red foods tasting and see which food your child likes best.  Some red foods to try include:
Red Fruits and Veggies
Red bell pepper
Grape tomato
Blood orange
Red potato
100% cranberry juice
Red grapes

  • Focus on the heart and get it beating with these physical activity ideas:
    • Hide the heart!   Cut out a paper heart and let your children take turns hiding it in the house and everyone else will look for it.
    • Valentine's day card activity --  With the leftover Valentine's day cards, write a physical activity on each like 10 jumping jacks, 20 hops in place, or 15 toe touches.  Let the kids choose a card and everyone do the physical activity.
    • Get the heart beating -- Choose ways to get your child's heart beating like having them walk backwards, do a bear walk, skip, or walk like a crab.
  • Make a healthy dessert!  Our Red Berry Parfait is a healthy dessert that your family will love to make together.  Kids can help wash the strawberries, mix ingredients together and put them into clear plastic cups.  Below are step by step instructions on how to prepare them!

Red Berry Parfait
Serves 4

1/2 cup ricotta cheese, part skim milk
1 small container (6 oz.) low-fat vanilla yogurt
16 oz. fresh raspberries or strawberries, washed
Chopped nuts, optional

  1. Wash and slice strawberries.
  2. Place yogurt and ricotta cheese in small bowl.  Mix until smooth.
  3. Set out clear plastic cups.  In cup, place 2 Tablespoons berries; add 1/4 of the ricotta mixture, then add another 2 Tablespoons of berries. 
  4. Garnish with chopped nuts, if desired.

Gather all of your ingredients

Wash the strawberries

Slice the strawberries and place into a bowl

Add small container of yogurt to bowl

Measure 1/2 cup of ricotta cheese and add to yogurt

Mix ricotta and yogurt until smooth

Add 2 Tablespoons of strawberries to the plastic cup

Add the ricotta and yogurt mixture on top of the strawberries

Top with another 2 Tablespoons of strawberries


Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Reducing Screen Time in Winter Months

Do you find yourself watching more TV than usual in the winter?  Are you less physically active in the winter months?  If you answered yes, then your children probably would, too!

Because it isn't always as easy to get outside for a walk or run when the weather is cold and snowy, you might need to use your imagination and come up with some ways to get your family moving during the winter!
  • Take advantage of nice days and walk as a family, play basketball, or walk the dog!
  • When cold temperatures keep you inside, put on some music and have a dance contest.
  • Run up and down the steps in your house if you have them!
  • Play with soft balls and tag each other with one.
If you have the space, make one area of the house your active area, where everyone can move without bumping into anything breakable.

Find out what is happening in the community.  Are there outdoor ice skating rinks or indoor skating rinks?  Is anyone offering indoor basketball games?  Watch for flyers from your child's school -- many schools hold family fun and fitness nights where you can get really active together!

The ideas below might not be a way to get physical activity, but you will have some quality family time and you won't be watching the TV: 
  • Pull out those old board games and have family game night!  Set aside one night each week when each family member reads their favorite book; share what you're reading with each other! 
  • Start a new hobby!  Learn a new craft like sewing, knitting, or cooking, or work on your family history, scrapbooking, etc.
There are many fun ways to spend time together as a family without screen time!   However you do it, just keep moving all winter long.

For more ideas, visit the President's Challenge Newsletter.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Portion Sizes

Over the years, Americans have started eating more and more food.  The amount we put on our plates or in our cups and that the size of restaurant options have become bigger and bigger.  But most of us know that eating more and getting less physical activity means we are likely to gain weight.  What to do?

Here's a quick and easy guide to portion sizes:
  • A piece of poultry or meat (3 ounces) should be about the size of the palm of your hand.
  • A piece of fish should be the size of a deck of cards or the size of a checkbook.
  • 1/2 cup of pasta or rice should be about the size of a tennis ball.
  • A pancake or waffles should be the size of a CD.
  • A serving of peanut butter, two tablespoons, is the size of a Ping-Pong ball.
Fruits and veggies can be measured one cup at a time -- about the size of a baseball or a woman's fist.  A medium apple or orange should be the size of a tennis ball.  A serving of dried fruit, which is very concentrated, should be the size of a golf ball.  A cup of lettuce is about four leaves, torn up.

Some tips for portion control:
  • Read the nutrition facts label on food packages to learn the suggested serving size.  If you eat more than the serving size, it means you are eating more calories than the label shows.
  • Measure out your food until you get a better idea of what a serving size should look like.
  • Don't eat out of a bag or box -- serve yourself the correct amount.  This is a great idea for snacking, too -- measure out the portion size you want to eat and package it in a small baggie to keep from over-eating.
  • Eat on a plate, sitting at the table.  Eating at your desk or on the soda does not help us eat mindfully.
  • Eat lean meats, drink non-fat or low-fat milk, and make half your grains whole.  Eat lots of fruits and veggies.
  • Drink plenty of water!

For more information on portion sizes and portion control visit:

Monday, January 19, 2015

Recipe Spotlight: Beet and Tomato Soup

A warm flavorful soup is the perfect dinner idea for a cold winter night.  Beet and Tomato Soup is a savory dish the whole family will love.  In this soup beets, tomatoes, onions, carrots, and garlic combine for a delicious twist to traditional tomato soup.  Besides adding a wonderful taste, beets and carrots add extra vitamins and minerals to your meal including vitamin A, potassium, and folate!  Beet and Tomato Soup is easy to make and goes great with a low-fat grilled cheese sandwich or a veggie salad!

Beet and Tomato Soup Recipe
Serves:  8

2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 small beets, washed, peeled, and cubed
6 carrots, washed, peeled, and sliced
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
4 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Juice of 1 lemon

  1. Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat.
  2. Add the onion, garlic, and salt and cook for 5 minutes.
  3. Add the beets, carrots, tomatoes, and broth.
  4. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low.
  5. Cover and cook for 1 hour.
  6. Let cool, and blend soup in batches until smooth.
  7. Stir in lemon juice and chill in the refrigerator if desired.
  8. Soup can be served cold or hot.

Gather all of the ingredients that you will need. 

Wash and cut onion, garlic, carrots, and beets.

Add vegetable oil, onions, and garlic to large pot
on medium heat and cook for 5 minutes.

Add diced tomatoes, vegetable broth, beets, carrots,
and salt.  Bring the pot to a boil.
Once the soup begins to boil, lower the heat, cover, and cook
for one hour.

Let soup cool and blend in small batches until smooth.

When soup is blended, add the lemon and serve or store
in the refrigerator.

Serve hot or cold!