Monday, October 20, 2014

Fall is Pumpkin Time!

Fall is pumpkin season!  Pumpkins are not just fun to carve, but also great to eat.

Pumpkins are a member of the squash family.  This vegetable can be cooked, pureed, and used in a variety of dishes including soups, breads, and desserts.  Pumpkin is a low calorie food, and a very good source of dietary fiber and Vitamins A and C.  Roasted pumpkin seeds make a healthy snack adding fiber, protein, minerals and vitamins to our diet.

When selecting pumpkins, consider the variety, size and shape you will need.  Select a "pie pumpkin" or "sweet pumpkin" for cooking.  These are smaller than the large jack-o-lantern pumpkins, and the flesh is sweeter and less watery.  Look for a pumpkin with 1 to 2 inches of stem, and free of blemishes and soft spots.  It should be heavy; shape is usually unimportant.  One pound of raw pumpkin will provide about 1 cup pumpkin puree.

Below are some great ways to use locally-grown pumpkins to make hearty and delicious treats.  Look for a "Cinderella" or bowl shaped pumpkin to serve as your soup bowl when preparing the soup.  Save seeds from a bigger pumpkin for roasting.  Enjoy!

Hearty Soup in a Pumpkin
Serves 8

Medium-sized pumpkin ("Cinderella" or bowl shape)
4 chicken breasts
3 Tablespoons of unsalted butter
3 large carrots
2 celery stalks
1/2 cup of scallions
1 can low-sodium cream of chicken soup
1 can low-sodium cream of celery soup
1 can low-sodium chicken alphabet or noodle soup
1 can of water
1/3 cup low-fat sour cream
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

  1. Wash the outside of the pumpkin with water.
  2. Cut off the top of the pumpkin and clean out the inside of the pumpkin with a spoon.  (You can put the seeds aside for roasting later).
  3. Cut up the chicken into small pieces and cook in 2 Tablespoons of butter in a pan on the stovetop until golden brown.
  4. Remove the chicken and set it aside.
  5. Wash and cut carrots and celery into small bite-sized pieces.
  6. Wash and chop 1/2 cup scallions.
  7. Cook the carrots, celery and scallions in 1 Tablespoons of melted butter using a large frying pan until tender.
  8. Add 1 can each of cream of chicken soup, cream of celery soup, and chicken alphabet or noodle soup. Stir.
  9. Stir in 1 can of water, 1/3 cup sour cream and 1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg.
  10. Place the pumpkin on a baking sheet and pour the mixture into the hollow pumpkin and add the cooked chicken.
  11. Stir and place the pumpkin top over the pumpkin.
  12. Bake at 350 degrees for 90 minutes.
  13. Carefully  remove and serve.  Scrape the side of the pumpkin when serving. 

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

Seeds of hollowed out pumpkin -- rinsed and dried
2 Tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Rinse and remove pumpkin from seeds and place on paper towel to dry.
  2. Spread dry seeds out in a single layer across a cookie sheet.
  3. Drizzle with olive oil.
  4. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Toss to mix.
  5. Baked at 325 degrees for 7 minutes or until light brown and crisp.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Get in the Game with School Lunch

October 13-17 is National School Lunch Week!  School lunch provides a daily nutritious meal for school-age children, which includes healthy foods from each MyPlate food group:  whole grains, low-fat dairy, fruits and vegetables, and lean protein.  Schools participating in the National School Lunch week celebration may have special menu items, colorful signs posted in the cafeteria, and even lunchroom staff dressed in costumes!  Many students are eligible to receive free or reduced school breakfast, lunch, and some schools offer a late-afternoon supper meal.  Contact your child's school to ask about the free and reduced school meal program. 

Schools may feature locally grown and harvested fruit and vegetables like apples, cauliflower, broccoli, and squash on the school lunch menu this week.  It is a great opportunity to taste fresh produce at its very best!

Ask your child to read the school menu with you.  Circle healthy foods on the menu that your child already likes.  Then circle some new healthy foods to try!  Children need to try new foods many times, prepared in different ways, to decide whether they really like these foods. Encourage children to try these healthy foods by being a role model yourself.  Eat these foods together with children to show how much you enjoy eating them.  They are more likely to try these foods when they see you eating them too! 

Get in the game with school lunch and enjoy healthy and nutritious foods this week, and every week!

Monday, October 6, 2014

Helpful Nutrition Apps

Do you use a tablet or smartphone?  Chances are you probably have a nutrition or physical activity application "or app" downloaded to use.  There are many apps that keep track of calories in food, measure physical activity, and even help locate fresh local foods.   Here are just a few apps that might be helpful to you:

My Fitness Pal -- A free calorie counter and physical activity tracker.  This app allows you to track the foods that you eat, add foods not found within the app and enter the amount of physical activity that you do. It is a great tool to see if you are eating enough fruits and veggies and getting enough physical activity.

Cooking Matters -- No Kid Hungry and Share Our Strength created a recipe app!  It includes over 90 healthy, budget-friendly recipes developed by chefs for you to try at home.  The recipes include pictures of the recipe, cooking tips, nutrition facts and chef's notes on other ways to prepare the recipe.  These recipes are also kid-friendly and kid-approved!

Fresh Food Finder -- An app to help you find the nearest farmers' market and locally-grown food in your area.   This app provides a map feature to show you where the markets are located.  There is also market details including the market website, address of the market, and if WIC/SNAP benefits are accepted at the market.

Map My Walk -- A walking app that lets you track how far, how fast, and how long you walked.  It also shows you on a map the exact route you walked and how many calories you burned.  This app is a great tool to help motivate you to get more physical activity and set new goals.

What is your favorite app that you use to help track healthy eating and physical activity?

Disclaimer:  These apps have not been evaluated by Maryland Food Supplement Nutrition Education (FSNE) and are not endorses by the organization.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Dinner Planning Made Easy

What's for dinner?  Do you want to save time and money?  Here's a few questions that you might consider before making your dinner plans for tonight:
  • Will I prepare a home-cooked meal or order takeout from a restaurant?
  • What healthy options can I include?
  • How much money do I need to spend?
  • How much time do I have to prepare and eat dinner tonight?
Use the following four steps as a guide to help save time and money and make your family meals a breeze to plan.
  1. Keep it simple.  Stock up on foods that you can make and serve in a hurry, such as canned tuna, whole grain bread and pasta, canned or frozen beans, fruit, peanut butter, leafy greens, eggs, and low-fat yogurt.
  2. Make meals with your children.  Spend time together making family meals and get some kitchen help too!  This will save you time and your children will learn important skills.  Children can help in the kitchen by setting the tablet, washing vegetables, stirring, measuring, and choosing a fruit or vegetable to try.
  3. Prepare food ahead of time.  Cook on the weekends when you have time and freeze the food you plan to eat the following week.  Search the Eat Smart website for recipes containing your family's favorite foods. 
  4. Shop smart.  Go grocery shopping with your kids and take the time to read the nutrition facts labels, unit prices, and compare store and national brand products to find the best buys.  This will stretch your food dollars and keep your family healthy.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Vegetable of the Month: Squash!

The weather is getting cooler outside, which means fall is right around the corner.  There are many different varieties of squash that you can buy, but some are in season in the fall and winter months.  The most popular fall and winter squash are: acorn, butternut, and spaghetti squash.  Squash comes in a variety of shapes and colors and is a great source of potassium, fiber, and Vitamin A.

How to select:
  • Choose squash with glossy skin that does not have any spots or cuts.
  • Whole winter squash can be store at room temperature for 1-3 months depending on the variety.
  • Store cut pieces of squash in a closed container in the refrigerator.
Types of squash:
  • Acorn squash -- usually shaped like an acorn. To prepare rinse the outside, slice into halves and can be baked, microwaved, sautéed or steamed. Acorn squash can be filled with different ingredients for added flavor.  Try our Apple Stuffed Acorn Squash for a quick and easy side dish!
  • Butternut squash -- has yellow skin and orange flesh inside.  As butternut squash gets ripe, it becomes sweeter.  To prepare, rinse the outside, peel off the skin, carefully cut down the middle, and chop into pieces.  Butternut squash is usually baked or roasted and great in soups!  Try the Butternut Squash Soup recipe below!
  • Spaghetti squash:  is oblong and has a ivory to yellow or orange color.  Spaghetti squash when cooked looks like spaghetti!  Spaghetti squash can be prepared by rinsing off the spaghetti squash and poke holes on the outside.  Spaghetti squash can be cooked in the microwave, baked or steamed.  Once they are cooked, cut in half and scoop out the insides.  Try this Spaghetti Squash with Tomatoes, Basil and Parmesan recipe.  Kids will love that it looks like spaghetti!

There are many ways to enjoy squash.  What is your favorite squash recipe?


Butternut Squash Soup
1 red onion
2 medium butternut squash, chopped (or 2 packages of precut)
3-4 celery stalks, with leaves, chopped
1 potato, chopped
3-4 large carrots, chopped
3 cups low-sodium chicken stock
Sprinkle with black pepper
Add to taste:
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 cup half n half
  1. Cook all of the above ingredients in a slow cooker on low for 8 hours, or high for 4 hours.
  2. Once cooked and soft, place in a blender and blend for 2-3 minutes until well blended.
  3. Add brown sugar, cinnamon and half n half to taste.
  4. Enjoy!
Recipe courtesy of Erin Braunscheidel Duru

Monday, September 15, 2014

Recipe Spotlight: Fruit Salad with Jicama

Fruit salad make the perfect addition to a late-summer barbeque.  The sweet, juicy flavors of fresh fruit can be eaten as a side dish, a dessert, and even part of breakfast in the morning.  Creating fruit salad in the kitchen is a great way to let kids try new fruits.

Try a tropical fruit salad with jicama, mango, kiwi, papaya, and watermelon. Some of these fruits may not be familiar to your children.  Let your child help prepare them in the kitchen and they are more likely to give the new fruits a try.  Let your child help wash and mix the fruit together, checking out the different textures and smells.

Fruit Salad with Jicama
Serves: 6

1 jicama, washed and sliced in thin strips
2 cups watermelon or cantaloupe, cut in cubes
1 mango, washed, peeled and cut in cubes
1 papaya, washed, peeled and seeded, cut in cubes
1 kiwi, washed, peeled and cut in cubes
1/2 lime, juiced
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon chili powder

  1. Add fruit to large bowl.
  2. Sprinkle the lime juice over the fruit.
  3. In a small bowl, mix the salt and chili powder.  Sprinkle mixture over fruit.
  4. Chill in the refrigerator before serving.

Gather all of your ingredients!
Peel the jicama and then cut into thin strips.

Peel the kiwi and cut into cubes.

Remove the seeds from the papaya, peel and cut into cube pieces.

Cut watermelon in half and then cut cube pieces.
Cut mango in half, remove the pit and cut into cube pieces.

Add cut up fruit into one large bowl.
 Now it's time to add the additional ingredients to the salad.
Squeeze juice from 1/2 lime onto fruit.
In a small bowl, mix together salt and chili powder.  Sprinkle on bowl of fruit.
Place in the refrigerator until chilled!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Back to School: Stay Active!

School has started!  Your children will be catching up with old friends and will be busy with homework.  You might need to help your child remember one more important part of the back to school routine:  Being physically active!

At School
  • Encourage your child to be active during recess.  Ask them what their favorite games are when they go to PE each week.  You might even be able to do the same activity as a family at home!
  • Physical education in schools is a great way for children to try different sports.  Ask them to tell you about what they did in PE class each week.
  • Group sports and after schools activities might be available.  Check with your school to see what they offer.
At Home
  • Have the kids take "brain breaks" after school and before homework.  Let your child do something active after a long day spent sitting in class.  Is there a basketball hoop or playground in the neighborhood?  Have the kids dance to some music around the house for a while if the weather is bad.
  • Limit the amount of time your child spends in front of the TV, playing video games, or using the phone.  Time spent in front of a screen is time they should be up and moving! 
  • Give age-appropriate tasks to your child that allow them to move.  Have older children take out the garbage or help clean the house.  Let smaller children pick up sticks that have fallen in the yard and make a pile.  Send children up and down the stairs with tasks one at a time instead of all together - bring dirty laundry downstairs on one trip and take clean laundry up on another!
  • Go for a walk as a family!  This is a great way to spend some time together while getting a bit of physical activity.
  • Be a good role model.  Be active with your children and they will see that it is important.
Whatever your family enjoys doing to stay active, do it all year long.  Let's keep our kids moving!