Monday, November 23, 2015

Thanksgiving Blog Recap

Thanksgiving is just around the corner so we are here to make sure that you are ready!  Thanksgiving is a time when family and friends gather together to have a meal and enjoy time together.  Let's take a look back at some of our previous blog posts on ways to have a great Thanksgiving without breaking the bank and being creative with the leftovers that you have!
  • Save money this Thanksgiving by using these tips from Thanksgiving on a Budget.  Planning a meal doesn't have to cost you a lot of money.  Our favorite tip is letting your guests help by bringing side dishes or desserts.
  • Never cooked a turkey before?  Don't worry -- follow our easy tips on how to purchase, thaw, and cook your turkey.  Visit Cooking a Turkey to learn all about cooking your first turkey that will be a family hit!
  • Plan to eat healthy during the holidays.  Enjoy the foods from the holiday, but stick to eating in moderation to avoid extra weight gain during this time of year.
  • Learn how to fill your plate with tasty side dishes with Healthy and Quick Thanksgiving Side Dishes.  There are many ways to prepare healthier side dishes to avoid those extra pounds.  Try and fill your plate with fruits and veggies this Thanksgiving and include lots of fall produce in your holiday meals.
  • For tasty leftover recipes, see our Tips for Thanksgiving and Thanksgiving: What to Do with the Leftovers blogs.  Great tips for ensuring that your turkey is thawed and cooked properly.  Try the healthy recipes for leftovers like Sweet Potato Shepherd's Pie, Turkey Waldorf Salad, Turkey Rice Soup and Stuffing Stuffed Bell Peppers.
What are your favorite tips for having a great Thanksgiving with family and friends?

Monday, November 16, 2015

Turkey Time!

Thanksgiving is around the corner, so that means turkey and all the fixings!  Whether you are preparing the turkey for a small or very large gathering, food safety should be kept in mind.  We want to make sure you have all the information at your fingertips to be prepared to cook your Thanksgiving turkey.  Put your chef hat on and think like a real chef!

To get started, you need to know about buying and cooking a turkey.  Visit Cooking a Turkey! for helpful tips on purchasing a fresh or frozen turkey, thawing and roasting.

Some food safety tips to keep in mind during the holiday season:
  • Always wash your hands before touching any food.  Wash hands after handling or touching raw turkey or chicken.
  • Wash your cutting boards, dishes, utensils, and counter tops with hot soapy water after preparing each food item and before you go on to the next food.
  • Don't wash your turkey!  Despite popular belief, washing raw poultry can cause more bacteria to spread around your kitchen no matter how well you clean.
  • Place leftovers in the refrigerator within 2 hours of cooking.
  • Cooked turkey is good in the refrigerator for 3-4 days.

Need more information on cooking your turkey?  Visit the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service for more helpful information. 

Monday, November 9, 2015

Fresh Sandwich Ideas

Lunch is an important but sometimes forgotten meal.  It offers you a break away from the busy day to refuel and refresh.  But finding creative ways of making your sandwich healthy yet taste good can sometimes be a challenge.

Sandwiches are a great way to add a few vegetables to your day.  Whether it be a few lettuce leaves, some shredded carrots or sliced zucchini, veggies in a sandwich is will offer additional nutrients to meet your daily need for vitamins, minerals, and get more veggies!

Turkey and cheese or peanut butter and jelly may be standard choices in your sandwich routine, but mix it up with a few veggie filled options with these simple tips:
  1. Bring on the Beans
    Beans are packed with protein and fiber to help keep you full through the afternoon.  Beans plus veggies will give you energy to tackle your to-do list.  Mash beans with a fork or blend them into a spread to use as a base on a wonderful sandwich.  Try our Homemade Hummus instead of adding mayonnaise or salad dressing to your sandwich.  For a veggie packed sandwich, consider making a Veggie Bean Wrap for lunch one day.
  2. Fruit Punch
    Fruit may not seem like your typical sandwich ingredient, but it provides just a touch of mid-day sweetness.  Both dried and fresh fruit will work.  Try a few combinations until you find one you like. Chicken Waldorf Salad has apples and raisins added to traditional chicken salad.   Add bananas and raisins to a peanut butter and jelly for Banana Burritos.  
  3. Wrap it up
    Sandwiches do not have to be served on bread.  Whole wheat tortillas make a substitute to bread for sandwiches.  Pita pockets are also a great option that has room to hold lots of fruits and veggies.  Mix up your lunch routine with Crunchy Vegetable WrapsTasty Tuna Lettuce Wraps, and Packed Pitas.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Food Product Dating

Have you ever wondered what "sell by", "best if used by", "best before" means when you pick up a carton of eggs or milk?  Not all foods are required by law to give product dating information.  This blog will help answer the questions you have about the safety of your purchased foods.

Safety after the date expires
If you have a food at home that is past it's "use-by" date, you should not consume it due to safety reasons.  Other dates, such as "sell by", "best if used by", and "expiration date" refer to food quality -- these foods should still be safe to eat past those dates if handled safely and kept refrigerated (at 40 degrees F or below) or frozen (0 degrees F or below).  If food starts to have an off smell, flavor, or odd look, it is likely due to spoilage bacteria.  While this bacteria may not make you sick, it won't taste very good and should not be consumed (like when your milk sours).

Storage tips
  • Purchase food before the "use-by" date expires.
  • Follow handling instructions on the product.
  • Once a fresh product such as meat is purchased, take the food home immediately and refrigerate it.  Make sure your refrigerator temperature is set to 40 degrees or below.
  • Once a fresh product such as chicken is frozen, it does not matter if the date expires because foods kept frozen will last from 4 to 12 months.
Let's take a look at the different types of labels that you will see on food products.
  • Sell by date -- this date tells the store how long to display the product for sale.  You should buy the product before the date expires.   Cook or freeze the food by the stated date.
  • Best if used by (or before) -- this date is recommended for best flavor or quality.  It is not a purchase or safety date.  Food is safe past the "best if used by" date.
  • Use by -- this date is the last date recommended for the use of the product while at peak quality.  the dates has been determined by the manufacturer of the product.  When the used by date has passed, throw the food away.
  •  Expiration date -- states the shelf-life or the last day product should be used for the best quality.   When the expiration date has passed, throw the food away.

There's an app to take if leftovers are still good.  The Foodkeeper app from USDA allows your to check to see if the food in your refrigerator or pantry is still good.  Look for Foodkeeper in the Apple or Google Play stores.

For more information food dating, visit Food Product Dating

Monday, October 26, 2015

Favorite Fall harvest Fruits and Veggies

Fall is known as the harvest season because many of our best loved foods are available at farmers' markets and grocery stores at their peak of freshness.  The beautiful orange and yellow colors that we see in the fall are reflected in our favorite foods of the fall season.

Below are some of our most popular fall foods, and ways we like to enjoy them.  Enjoy the fruits and veggies of this season!

Apples: whether you love the sweetness of a Gala, the sweet tart of a Gingergold, or the tartness of a  Granny Smith, apples should all taste amazing this time of year because they are fresh from the tree!  Try them sliced in Apple Cranberry Salad, topped with nut butter and raisins in Apple Bark, or cooked in Baked Apples and Sweet Potatoes.

Broccoli:  a favorite in grocery stores all year long, broccoli is most flavorful in the fall.  This all-purpose veggie is perfect for dipping in hummus, like in our favorite Garden on a Plate recipe.  It tastes delicious broiled with a little low-sodium soy sauce, added to stir fries, and in Broccoli and Potato Soup.

Cabbage:  an often overlooked vegetable, cabbage is a main ingredient in coleslaw mixes and traditional sauerkraut.  Try it shredded in Simple Fish Tacos or cooked in Garden Vegetable Soup, a perfect meal for chilly fall nights.

Cauliflower:  related to both broccoli and cabbage, cauliflower is available in markets in the familiar white variety, as well as orange and purple types,  It can be eaten raw, boiled, steamed, added to stir fries, and cooked and mashed to resemble potatoes.  Roasted Cauliflower is one of our favorite -- and easy -- ways to enjoy this delicious vegetable.

Sweet potatoes:  loved by kids and adults, the sweet potato is a rich and creamy orange vegetable that has a natural sweetness.  Sweet potatoes can be baked or boiled, mashed on their own in Maple Mashed Sweet Potatoes, or added to stews and chili, and even burritos and quesadillas.  Try our easy Sweet Potato Fries recipe tonight.  It's sure to become a family favorite!

Squash: truly a hallmark of fall, different squash varieties are a  feast for your eyes and for your belly.  Markets this time of year will have acorn, butternut, spaghetti, and delicata squash in abundance, along with orange and even blue pumpkins!  Cooking these squash requires a little muscle to cut them in half, however, you can pierce the skin and microwave on high for a few minutes to soften them and make them easier to cut.  There are many different ways to prepare squash.  Enjoy a twist to regular spaghetti squash and meat sauce by using this Spaghetti Squash recipe instead.  Apple Stuffed Acorn Squash is a great way to use more than one fall veggie and apples go great with squash!

Monday, October 19, 2015

Making Better Beverage Choices

What you drink can be as important as what you eat.  Many beverages can be high in sugar and calories and have little to no nutrients in them.  Help your family make better choices by having these beverages on hand to enjoy anytime!
  • Water.  Water is the easiest to have on hand -- and costs very little.  Water helps our bodies to stay hydrated and keep our blood flowing.  Drink water throughout the day, especially when you are thirsty.  Add a little twist to your water by adding fruits like lemon, orange, or frozen berries for a hint of flavor.
  • Low-fat milk.  Milk is a great option to help build strong bones and teeth.  Milk provides calcium, Vitamin D and protein.  The best milk choice is white milk that is low-fat or fat-free. Try drinking milk each night with dinner.
  • 100% fruit juice.  Fruit juice that is 100% is a healthy option for your family -- just limit the amount of juice per day.  Depending on the age, children can drink 1/2 to 1 cup and adults can drink up to 1 cup of 100% fruit or vegetable juice each day.
Having these beverages on hand is a great start in making better beverage choices.  For additional ways to ensure your family is making healthy choices, try these tips!
  1. Keep a water pitcher in the refrigerator.  Fill a pitcher with water and place in the refrigerator to keep cold.  When you are thirsty, it will be easy to reach and refreshing because it will be cold! If your child likes to visit the refrigerator often, keep cups of water or ready-to-go containers filled with water so they can grab it quickly.
  2. Juice boxes that are 100% fruit juice are great options for kids and easy to use in lunch boxes or backpacks when you are away from home.
  3. Limit bringing high sugar beverages (such as sodas and artificially-flavored juice) into the home.  If the beverages are not available, the family will not reach for these first when choosing something to drink.
  4. When water just won't do -- enjoy the beverage of your choice but drink a smaller amount.  Use a smaller cup or can instead of the larger size.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Be an Active Family

We move all day long, but we still may not be getting enough health benefits from physical activity unless we use energy to move our bodies with purpose.  That isn't as hard as you might think; walking, gardening, pushing a stroller, biking, climbing stairs, and dancing are all ways to be physically active!

What kinds of physical activity?
Your family's physical activity needs to be moderate to vigorous to be beneficial to your health.   Light activity doesn't raise your heart rate or cause to you to breathe harder, but moderate and vigorous activity does, and that is what your goal for physical activity should be for the whole family.

Mix and match moderate and vigorous physical activity throughout the week.  Try taking a brisk (fast) walk after dinner one night, playing a game of basketball the next, tidying up the yard together, and having a dance contest at home the next night!

How much physical activity?
Young children under age 5 are encouraged to be physically active several times each day.  Children ages 5 to 17 should be physically active 60 minutes each day.  Adults need to combine moderate and vigorous physical activity with strengthening activities.  Visit the Choose MyPlate website and Let's Move website for more ways to be active.

Challenge your family members to come up with their own ideas for exciting ways to be physically active together.  Find fun things to do as a family and be sure to schedule time to do them -- let physical activity be your family's reward each day for finishing other tasks.

One program that your family could join is the Walk MD program through University of Maryland Extension.  This program encourages walking and exploring Maryland!