Monday, April 20, 2015

Gardening and Food Safety

Gardening can be very rewarding.  You can grow your own vegetables, herbs, and other produce for your family and it is a fun way to get your child interested in nutrition while being physically active.  
Gardening uses a few food safety rules to keep in mind when you are growing your own food.   Make gardening fun, safe, and healthy for you and your family!

When planning where you will plant your garden, keep these things in mind:
  • Put your garden on level ground and away from wells, septic systems, in-ground tanks, and garbage cans/dumpsters.
  • Call Miss Utility at 1-800-257-7777 before you dig, to avoid underground wires and pipelines.
  • Test ground soil, especially near high-traffic and industrial areas.  Chemicals, pesticides, and heavy metals such as lead are dangerous to your health, especially for children.
  • To learn more about soil sampling, you can contact your local University of Maryland Extension office and ask to speak to a Master Gardener.
If you don't have the space for an in-ground garden, think about growing your own vegetables plants in a container!  

Keep in mind these things when planning your garden!

         Things to Do
Things Not to Do

Use water that is safe for people to drink (called potable water). 
Do not use animal or pet manure/poop as fertilizer.  Animal manure carries bacteria/germs that could make what you grow unsafe to eat.
Use clean containers that you use to carry food in to carry water.
Do not add farm manure, pet waste, or human waste such as urine or excrement (poop).  Bacteria/germs can contaminate the produce growing in your food and make you sick.

Cover the ends of stakes and posts with plastic or metal cones to keep birds away from your garden.
Do not eat anything from the garden without washing it first.

Keep bird feeders, garbage cans, and compost piles away from your garden.

A fence (8 feet tall) may be good to keep deer away, or a shorter fence if deer are not a garden threat.

Monday, April 13, 2015

April is National Gardening Month

Gardening is fun for the whole family and a great way to get family members, young and old, to try  more healthy foods. April is National Gardening Month, so take time this month to plant a garden with your family.  Gardens can come in many different sizes from small containers to large gardens in the ground.  Choose the size of a garden that will be best for you and plant a garden with your family!

Do you have a small outdoor space and want to grow your own garden?  Try these steps for building a simple garden in a cardboard box!
  1. Go to the grocery store and ask for a cardboard box from the produce section.  These boxes are usually sturdy and just the right size for a garden.
  2. Line the box with newspaper and fill it with a potting mix from the store.
  3. If a box is at least 3 inches deep, you can grow lettuce, spinach, kale, collards, mustard greens, radishes, snap bush beans, or herbs.
  4. If a box is at least 8 inches deep, you can plant beets, carrots, onions, or turnips.
  5. Place your garden in a sunny spot to grow and water regularly.
  6. Enjoy the food from your garden!
Let your kids help with the garden!  They will learn new skills and be more likely to try the foods they have grown.  You can also have a garden taste test.  Pick out some spring veggies like spinach, kale, and collards and have them pick their favorite leafy vegetable!

To learn more about growing your own garden, check our previous blog posts:

April is Gardening Month (from 2014) featuring container gardens in milk jugs
Planting Seeds and Seedlings

Also, for more information on starting a garden, visit Container Vegetable Gardening on the Grow It, Eat It Website. 

Monday, April 6, 2015

Spring Break Challenge!

The snow has melted and the sun is shining.  Finally, it's the time of year kids are waiting for!  Spring break is here!  Make your child's vacation fun and healthy with a Spring Break Challenge!  Do a fun nutrition and physical activity each day during spring break.  If your kids aren't on spring break this week, that's okay.  You can still try these activities before or after school this week.  Here are some ideas to help you out!
  1. Monday
    • Go to a new park and use the playground equipment to create an obstacle course.
    • Visit the grocery store and pick out a new fruit to try that you have never tried before.
  2. Tuesday
    • Write down different physical activities on a piece of paper and place them in a hat  like toe touches, jumping jacks, hopping on one foot, and acting out a story.  Take turns picking an activity to do until all the activities have been used.
    • Cook with kids!  Give the kids a couple of meal options to choose from and then let them help you create it in the kitchen.  Kids can help to stir, wash and cut fruits and veggies.
  3. Wednesday
    • Go for a long walk with the kids and look for signs of spring!  Try looking for blooming flowers, birds singing, people where lighter jackets, and the sun shining.
    • Let your child choose the veggies for dinner.  Give your child two or three different veggies to choose from for dinner tonight.  Your child will love helping to prepare them too!
  4. Thursday
    • Have a bunny race!  Go outside or to a spacious room inside and have a bunny hopping race with the kids.
    • Make a fruit and veggie collage.  The more kids learn about foods the more likely they are to eat them.  Gather a whole bunch of grocery store sales and let the kids make a fruit and veggie collage with their favorite foods.
  5. Friday
    • Have a veggie taste test!  Put together a tray of veggies or dishes with veggies and have your child taste and rate each one.  You can even let them write up a food review for practice.  Choose a healthier dip for your veggies like hummus or low-fat dip.
    • Stretch together.  Let your child pretend they are a flower.  Have them start by curling up in a ball like a bud, and then stretch all the way to the sky like a flower, and do jumping jacks as they bloom!
  6. Saturday
    • We want to hear about your favorite nutrition and physical activity that you did this week!  Visit our Eat Smart, Be Fit Maryland Facebook page and post a picture in the comments section or send us a comment with a picture of your child doing these activities at  We want you to share how you had a healthy spring break!

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.