Friday, May 22, 2015

Memorial Day Grilling Food Safely

Memorial Day seems to be the unofficial start to grilling season!  Whether it is meat and poultry or fruit and vegetables, below are some grilling tips to keep you and your family safe.

  • Keep plenty of utensils and plates on hand when grilling.  Do not use the same plate and utensil for raw and cooked meat and poultry.  Use a new plate when taking food off the grill to serve.
  • Find a source of clean water.  If you are eating away from home, make sure that there is clean water to use.  If not, take clean water for grilling and cleaning with you.  Pack clean cloths and moist towels to clean surfaces and hands.
  • Wash your fruits and vegetables.  Keep fruits and veggies separate from raw meat and poultry.  Keep foods in an insulated cooler to keep them from going bad.
  • Don't Wash Your Chicken.  Washing chicken before it is cooked can get bacteria in the sink and on the counter.  Take chicken out of the package and put directly on the grill or in the pan to cook. 

  • Use a food thermometer to make sure foods reach a safe internal temperature.  Food may look, smell, and feel "done" but may not be safe to eat.

  • Before grilling -- keep food items such as meat and poultry refrigerated until ready to grill. Grab ice to pack your food if you are shopping on your way to the cookout.
  • Cooler -- pack with ice and ice packs to keep the food cool while traveling.
  • Cooler storage -- keep coolers out of direct sunlight.
  • Leftovers -- refrigerate leftovers right after you finish eating.  Throw out any food left out more than 2 hours (or 1 hour if temperatures are above 90 degrees).
  • Marinating -- food that is marinated should be placed back in the refrigerator for safe storage.
  • Before grilling -- if the marinade will be a sauce for the cooked foods, set some aside before putting raw meat and poultry in the marinade.
  • Use two coolers -- Keep meat and poultry separate from drinks, fruits, veggies, and salads.  Take two coolers to keep your food safe!

Monday, May 18, 2015

Spotlight on Mangos & Avocados

When eaten together, mangos and avocados are a fresh and flavorful, healthy combination.  Mangos and avocados are great together since they are both refreshing.   Both are a good source of fiber, vitamin C and beta-carotene.   Avocados are also a good source of vitamin E and folate and contain healthy fats.

Choosing, Storing and Cutting a Mango
  • Choosing a mango -- The ripeness of a mango can be determined by either smelling or squeezing the fruit.  A ripe mango will have a full, fruity aroma that comes from the stem end. Mangos are ready to eat when they are slightly soft to the touch.
  • Storing a mango -- Store mangos at room temperature. They will continue to ripen and become sweeter over several days.  Once ripe, the mango can be store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. 
  • Cutting a mango -- A sharp knife and cutting board is needed to cut the mango.  Cut the fruit into halves and then into chunks.  For detailed instructions on how to cut a mango, visit the National Mango Board.
  • Mangos go well with many snack foods including smoothies, salsas, fruit kabobs, or mixed in yogurt.
Choosing, Storing and Cutting an Avocado
  • Choosing an avocado -- Look for an avocado that is heavy for their size and free from blemishes and bruises.  In the store, avocados are usually firm and need a few days to soften and ripen at home. Avocados are ripe when they give in to gentle pressure. 
  • Storing an avocado -- To speed up the ripening process at home, place avocados in a paper bag and leave them at room temperature for two to four days.  Ripe avocados can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 7 days.
  • Cutting an avocado --  A sharp knife and cutting board is needed to cut the avocado.  Cut the avocado into halves, remove the pit and then the avocado can be scooped out.  To see more detailed instructions on how to cut an avocado, visit the Hass Avocado Board.
  • Avocados can be cut up and added to salads, salsas and other dips.  Avocados can also be mashed and spread onto sandwiches in place of mayonnaise
Try our Veggie Bean Wrap and Mango Smoothie with your family this week!

Monday, May 11, 2015

Whole Grains Explained

Everyone loves to eat grains.  Pasta, bread, rice, oatmeal -- there are many delicious grains to choose from. Our daily goal is to make sure that at least half of the grains we eat are whole grain.

What is a whole grain?
A whole grain product contains the entire seed (or kernel) of the plant.  This seed contains the bran, endosperm, and germ.  White bread and flour does not contain the bran, endosperm, and germ.

Photo courtesy of Whole Grains Council

Why is a whole grain product healthier than a refined product? 
A product that has been refined removes the bran and the germ, leaving only the endosperm.  When you remove the bran and germ you remove protein and other important nutrients such as fiber and B-vitamins.  B-vitamins provide our bodies with energy while fiber helps us feel full and satisfied.  A whole grain product contains all of these nutrients.

How do I know if a product is made from whole grains?
Start by checking out the ingredient label located on the back of the product.  If the first ingredient is "100% whole grain" or "whole grain" or "whole wheat"  you know that the food you are eating is made from whole grains.

What are some popular whole grain foods?
  • Wheat 
  • Corn
  • Oats
  • Rye
  • Barley
  • Quinoa

To learn more about whole grain foods and shopping at the grocery, see this video.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Celebrate Screen Free Week

Screen Free Week is celebrated May 4-10 this year.  This is a time for families to turn off televisions, computers, video games, and other hand held devices and spend time exploring the community.  This week is also a time to enjoy being active as a family.

How to Go Screen Free
The key to success when reducing screen time is to pick a goal that your family can meet. You may choose to start the week by allowing some screen time, with the goal of cutting it out entirely by weeks end.  It is also a good idea for all family members to be able to choose different activities to do during the week.  Write down the ideas on a calendar and put it on the refrigerator or a bulletin board so that everyone can see it.

Below are some of our favorite ways to get the whole family involved during Screen Free Week without hearing, "I'm bored!" from the kids.
  • Go screen free together.  Have everyone put their phones or devices in the same basket right by the door when you get home.
  • Take turns as the chef in the kitchen each night.  The chef gets to decide the meal and assign jobs to the other kitchen helpers.  Younger kids can help set the table and wash fruits and vegetables, while older kids and adults can chop veggies, write the menu, and serve the food.
  • Turn off electronic devices during meals.  Make it a habit to turn your television, tablet, or other electronic devices off during meal times so that the family can talk about their day.
  • Go on a nature walk and skip some rocks!  How many skips can you get?  Also remember to look for birds, find a walking stick, and pick some flowers.
  • Plan an indoor or outdoor picnic. Involve everyone by giving tasks like finding the perfect picnic spot, picking a blanket, and helping choose the food.  Prepare picnic foods by peeling oranges, counting carrot sticks and scooping hummus, making homemade popcorn, creating fruit kabobs, and making sandwiches or wraps made with nut butters or cheese.
  • Explore your local library, nearby parks, nature centers, art galleries, and recreation centers.  Many of these places have free and low-cost activities for all ages.
  •  Create a jumping zone or dance floor. Nothing makes kids giggle like seeing their parents jump on the bed or grooving to the beat on the dance floor.
  • Play your favorite card games.  Younger kids will enjoy classic games like Uno, Go Fish, and Crazy Eights.  Older kids may enjoy strategy games like Hearts and Spades.
Screen Free Success!
Going screen free can be fun for everyone with a little effort and creativity.  Look for more ideas on how to go screen free at  Have fun!

Friday, May 1, 2015

Recipe Spotlight: Fruit and Spring Greens Salad

Spring is a great time to get excited for fresh, in-season fruits and vegetables!  In the spring, leafy greens and strawberries are in season and you will find that they taste the best and are lower in cost at the grocery store.

Salads are simple but delicious and very easy to put together when you are short on time.  Salads are also a great dish that kids can help to prepare too!  Kids can help to wash, cut and chop the fruits and veggies.  Try our Fruit and Spring Greens Salad for a quick and easy dish your family will love!

Fruit and Spring Greens Salad
Serves 5

4 cups spinach or salad greens, washed and dried
1 cup strawberries, washed and sliced, or orange segments
1/4 cup nuts, chopped
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1 Tablespoon honey
Salt and black pepper to taste


  1. Remove tough stems from spinach.
  2. In a large bowl, mix spinach or greens, fruit, and nuts.
  3. In a small bowl, mix oil, lemon juice, and honey to make dressing.
  4. Pour the dressing on top of the salad and mix.
  5. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Gather all of the ingredients.

Wash the spinach and cut off the tough stems.

Wash the strawberries.

Chop the strawberries.

Mix spinach (or salad greens), fruit, and nuts together
in a large bowl.

Squeeze the juice of the lemon into a small bowl.
Add vegetable oil and honey and mix well.

Pour the dressing on top of the salad and mix.


Monday, April 27, 2015

Spring Shortcuts to Eating Healthy

Spring is a busy time of year for many parents.  Children are enjoying the extra daylight hours and many activities begin that take time in the evenings.  It can be hard to find time to make healthy meals.  Don't worry -- we can help!  Try these tips to make healthy meals easier this spring.
  1. Plan ahead.  Set aside an hour or two to plan meals for the week.  Create a grocery list from the meals that you are going to make.  If you have more time on a weekend, you can prepare some of the food ahead of time so that you just have to re-heat on a busy night.
  2. Keep it simple.  Plan meals that do not take a lot of time to make or do not need a lot of ingredients.  For example, a meal can be a meat, a fruit, and a veggie.  Using beans also provides protein and takes less time to prepare.
  3. Use shortcuts to save time.  Stock up on canned and frozen vegetables that are quick and easy to prepare in a short amount of time.  Veggie can be heated quickly.
  4. Cook once, eat twice.  When you do have time to cook, try making extra food that you can eat later on in the week.  For example, if the recipes makes 2 servings, double the recipe to make 4 servings and save for dinner another night.  You can freeze it, too.
  5. Snack healthy.  Place veggies like celery and carrots or fruits like grapes and orange slices in plastic baggies to take with you when you are running errands.  These snacks are healthy and will help keep you full until you can eat at home instead of spending money eating fast food.

What are your favorite ways to continue to eat healthy with your busy schedule?

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.