Make Grocery Shopping Sustainable

Make Grocery Shopping Sustainable

reusable shopping bags

One way to be more sustainable when shopping for groceries is to use reusable shopping bags. They’re durable and sturdy and can help reduce the number of plastic bags that end up in the landfill each year. (Photo source: Samantha Kennedy)

Sustainability should not just be a buzzword during Earth Month.  The fact that everybody either shops for or eats groceries means the whole grocery shopping experience is a good time to reflect and improve upon what we can personally do to embrace issues of sustainability.

This year in April, the Earth Month theme focuses on Returning to Nature.  There is no better place to start a quest for personal sustainable improvement than the grocery store!  Grocery shopping truly embraces the three main areas of sustainability: environmental, economic, and social.  In fact, it has been well documented that the average family wastes about 25% of the food it purchases.  (Much of this ends up in a landfill and creates problems of its own.)

With a bit of forethought, meal planning before grocery shopping can help individuals and families apply sustainable best practices for environmental, economic, and social well-being.  In fact, many of the principles of sustainability can be effectively applied to both meal planning and grocery shopping.

RESPECT yourself.  Good nutrition is one of the keys to a healthy life. Improve health by keeping a balanced diet.  Vow to make healthier food choices for personal health and the environment.

REFUSE to use food products that do not fit your principles of sustainability. This may mean buying food with less packaging, eating more locally-grown fruits and vegetables, or looking for foods labeled as more responsibly sourced.

REDUCE the amount of food thrown out.  Planning meals ahead of time and writing out a grocery list are excellent ways to start living sustainably.  Planning not only saves money on groceries, it can save time and decrease the amount of personal food waste a family contributes.  (Remember, freezing products can prolong their life, so if you find that you’ve overbought, try preserving some of your bounty for later use.) Reducing the number of trips to the grocery store also can help save on fuel and transportation costs.

REUSE /REPURPOSE food for another occasion.  Careful meal planning helps ensure that leftovers from one meal can be incorporated into the next one, thereby reducing food waste.

RETHINK!  Healthy, nutritious, delicious, and inexpensive grocery choices can be found in every food group.  Not all food has to be prepackaged.  In fact, with a bit of planning, dinner can be on the table in 15 minutes.  (That’s less time than it takes to wait in line at a fast food restaurant.)

BE RESPONSIBLE!  Use what you buy.

Stock up on low-cost healthy grain products like whole-wheat noodles, brown rice, and store-brand cereals and oatmeal.

Purchase fruits and vegetables that are in season and cost less.  In addition, do not forget that frozen, dried, and canned fruits and vegetables can play an important part in meal planning.

Buy the largest size you can effectively use before it reaches the expiration date – and look for the items with the latest dates.  Purchase store brands or generic brands whenever possible. Keep in mind smaller containers tend to cost more, no matter what the food group. Buying larger packages and dividing them into smaller portions can save money and reduce the amount of packaging that ends up in the landfill. Investing in small, reusable storage containers will save money and reduce waste in the end.

Practice Meatless Monday.  The protein group provides inexpensive protein sources like beans, lentils, and eggs, which can be substituted for meat in many meals.

Protein does not have to be the most expensive item purchased.  Consulting the store’s weekly sales flyer during meal planning can help you plan meals around meat and poultry items that are on sale.

Prepare food your family will actually eat.  There are two schools of thought here: preparing just enough for one meal or preparing big-batch recipes that provide leftovers which can be frozen for later use. Either practice can be sustainable. Freeze leftovers only if you’re going to use them. Otherwise, cut down on the amount of food cooked to help reduce food waste.

Learn how to cook.  Prepare and eat more meals at home.  It is sustainable, good for you, and delicious. Meals cooked at home are more nutritious, less expensive, and result in less overall waste, such as packaging.

Two additional ways to be more sustainable when grocery shopping are to use reusable shopping bags and to stop using single-use plastic produce bags. Plastic grocery bags choke our landfills and end up in our water bodies. They are not biodegradable and can last thousands of years virtually intact. Reusable shopping bags are made from recycled materials and can drastically reduce the number of plastic bags that end up in the trash each year.

For more information on making your grocery shopping more sustainable, check out these related articles:
Freezing: Nature’s Pause Button (UF/IFAS Extension)
What’s in your FREEZER? (UF/IFAS Extension)
Best Practices for Shoppers at the Farmers’ Market (UF/IFAS Extension)
Sustainable Grocery Shopping (University of Northern Iowa)

Picture, name, and bio of UF FCS agents: Heidi Copeland and Samantha Kennedy

UF/IFAS Family and Consumer Sciences Agents Heidi Copeland and Samantha Kennedy

What’s in a Label?

What’s in a Label?

Picture of a Heart Healthy front of the box label

Not all front of the box labels are approved and defined by the FDA. Learn what health claims are approved for use. Photo Source: Kendra Zamojski

For those of us who read food labels, grocery shopping can be a confusing maze of health claims enticing us to make what look like healthy choices. But, are these choices really healthy? When I noticed that my shampoo was gluten-free, I decided it was time to refresh my knowledge on food and product labels and figure out what is behind the label.

The Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990, regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), requires the labeling of most food and sets consistent standards for certain nutritional content and health claims. Much of the consistent information we find on food products is the result of this regulation. Food products must contain the Nutrition Facts panel, use common household measurements for serving sizes, and clearly identify any food allergens. Ingredients must be listed in descending order by weight using common names and clearly identifying certified color additives such as “FD&C Red No. 40” or “Red 40.” Raw vegetables, fruits, and seafood are exempt from nutrition labeling requirements.

The FDA regulates the use of the word “healthy” on food products. To use this term, a food product must be low in fat and saturated fat, low in cholesterol, contain less than 480 mg of sodium, and contain at least 10% of the Daily Value per serving for vitamins A, C, calcium, iron, protein, or fiber. Exceptions include raw fruits and vegetables; or a single ingredient or mixture of frozen or canned fruits and vegetables; and enriched cereal-grain products. Seafood and meat products and main dishes or meals have slightly different regulations to meet the “healthy” criteria.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulates and enforces the use of “certified organic”. To use the USDA certified organic seal, the final product must follow strict production and handling standards. Products with this seal have completed a certification process meeting standards in soil quality, animal raising practices, and pest and weed control, and certifying that they have not used synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, or genetic engineering.

The USDA also regulates labels for meat and meat products. “Certified” means the USDA has officially evaluated a meat product for class, grade, or other quality characteristics (e.g., “Certified Angus Beef”). Products labelled “natural” must not contain artificial ingredients, added color, and must be minimally processed. The label must explain the use of the word “natural” such as “no artificial ingredients; minimally processed”. Meat and meat products claiming “no hormones added” cannot be used on the labels of pork or poultry unless it is followed by a statement that says “Federal regulations prohibit the use of hormones.” Beef products can make the claim if the producer has documentation showing no hormones have been used in raising the animals. Meat and poultry producers must also provide appropriate documentation that animals were raised without antibiotics to use the label “no antibiotics added”. The term “Chemical free” is not allowed on labels.

Not all front-of-the-box marketing terms and labels are defined by the FDA. When reading labels and deciphering health information, watch out for misleading terms and health claims that seem to good to be true. Learn what health claims are approved and which ones are not. Remember, packaging is designed to attract your attention and entice you to make a purchase. Read the Nutrition Facts panel and ingredients list to make the healthiest choice for you and your family.

Picture of a Nutrition Facts label.

Read the Nutrition Facts panel to make healthy food choices. Photo Source: Kendra Zamojski

Here are some other approved labels:

Juice: Juice must be 100% juice. If less than 100% juice, the product must use the terms cocktail, beverage or drink.

High or Excellent Source: Contains more than 20% of the Daily Value per serving.

Good Source: Contains 10-19% of the Daily Value per serving.

Lean: Seafood or meat contains less than 10 g total fat, 4.5 g or less saturated fat, and less than 95 mg cholesterol per serving.

Extra Lean: Seafood or meat products contain less than 5 g total fat, less than 2 g saturated fat and less than 95 mg cholesterol per serving.

Fiber Claims:­ If a product makes a fiber claim but the food is not low-fat, then the label must state the total fat per serving.

Antioxidant Claims: The nutrients must be included as part of the claim for example, high in antioxidant vitamins C & E.

Whole Grain and Heart Disease Claims: Food product contains 51% or more whole grain ingredients.

Gluten-free: This is a voluntary label for food products that are either naturally gluten free or gluten (e.g., wheat flour) has been removed to less than 20 ppm.

References:

A Food Labeling Guide:  Guidance for Industry.  2013.  Available at:  https://www.fda.gov/downloads/food/guidance%20complianceregulatoryinformation/%20guidancedocuments/foodlabelingnutrition/foodlabelingguide/ucm265446.pdf

McEvoy, M. Understanding the USDA Organic Label. 2016.  Available at:  https://www.usda.gov/media/blog/2016/07/22/understanding-usda-organic-label

Questions and Answers: Gluten-Free Food Labeling Final Rule.  Available at: https://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/GuidanceDocumentsRegulatoryInformation/Allergens/ucm362880.htm

Meat and Poultry Labeling Terms.  Available at:  https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-education/get-answers/food-safety-fact-sheets/food-labeling/meat-and-poultry-labeling-terms/meat-and-poultry-labeling-terms

Family and Consumer Sciences Agent III
Interim -Northwest District
155 Research Road, Quincy, FL
Office:  850-875-7135
Email: hughson@ufl.edu

 

What’s in your FREEZER?

What’s in your FREEZER?

March is Frozen Food Month.  In fact, the National Frozen & Refrigerated Foods Association (NFRA),Inc., likes to suggest that there is MEALTIME MAGIC in the FROZEN AISLE.  I could not agree more!

words "March Frozen Food Month" on a plate with fork and folded napkin to left all on a placemat

March is Frozen Food month. Photo Source: with permission from Frozen Food Alliance

Frozen foods are a smart choice.  Frozen foods are always in season, last much longer than their fresh counterparts, are convenient, economical and full of variety.  Plus, frozen foods can be portioned and packaged in ways that don’t leave anything to waste.

A lot has changed since 1925 when Clarence Birdseye was issued U.S. Patent #1,773,079, to freeze fish.  This U.S. Patent marked the beginning of today’s frozen foods industry.  In 1927, he extended the freezing process to quick-freezing meat, poultry, fruit, and vegetables.  Birdseye’s initial introduction of 26 frozen foods has morphed to so many frozen products that the NFRA boasts over 3,700+ different choices.  There is something FROZEN for every taste and every budget!

The modern day frozen product is generally supercooled at temperatures below -54°F.  This supercooled fast freezing process produces smallish ice crystals that help foods retain their personal characteristics.  Additionally, a lot of research goes into commercially frozen food’s packaging. Many frozen products can go directly from freezer to microwave, oven or even a pot of boiling water.  Packaging must also consider the constraints of the home freezer knowing that its average temperature is around 0° or a bit below.

Although cold temperatures like 0°F or below puts a temporary hold on many biological processes microorganisms are not always killed off during freezing.  It is important to recognize that proper care must be taken preparing some frozen foods.

In addition, when foods are frozen for extended periods of time or are frozen improperly, freezer burn can begin to develop on the food’s surface. Freezer burn happens when moisture in the outer layers of the food evaporates into the dry freezer air, leaving behind empty pockets in the tissue of the food.  Freezer burn on meat is visible as brownish-white discolorations and on other foods dry, white spots. While it is not harmful to eat, freezer burn can adversely affect the flavor and texture of food.

It is easy to prevent freezer burn.  One can easily reduce the food’s exposure to air through the use of correct wrap before storing food in the freezer. The National Center for Home Food Preservation (https://nchfp.uga.edu/how/freeze.html) has excellent information on how the use of proper packaging materials can protect the flavor, color, moisture content and nutritive value of foods from the arid climate of the freezer.

Frozen food packaging depends on the type of food to be frozen. In general, packaging materials must have certain characteristics:

  • Moisture vapor resistant
  • Durable and leakproof
  • Not become brittle and crack at low temperatures
  • Resistant to oil, grease or water
  • Protect foods from absorption of off flavors or odors
  • Easy to seal
  • Easy to mark (with both content and date)

Additionally, a full freezer is the most energy efficient.

Posting a frozen foods inventory (list) near the freezer and keeping it up to date by listing the foods and dates of freezing is helpful.  Remembering also to rotate foods in the freezer.  An easy acronym for this is FIFOFirst-In, First-Out. In other words, use the food stored the longest before you use the newest.

Moreover, purchase a thermometer if your freezer does not have an automatic temperature display.  A freezer should be maintained at a temperature of 0°F or lower. At higher temperatures, foods lose quality much faster.

Most recently, a woman from North Carolina, Sheila Pulanco Russell, is credited with bringing a lifehack to the masses with her “how to” Facebook posting.  I think it is a good thing to know.  It is called the One Cup Tip. All it entails is putting a cup of water in the freezer, freezing it solid, and then placing a quarter on top of it and leaving it in the freezer.

When you return from an extended out of town trip you know if your power was out. It the quarter is sitting at the bottom of the cup you know your power was off too long and that your frozen food is not safe to eat.  If the coin is in the middle of the cup, the outage was fairly short and your food should be good (frozen foods that still have their crystals are safe to eat and refreeze). If the coin is still on the top, then there was no power outage or just a quick one and all is well. Note: no one wants food poisoning, so if you are in doubt, throw the food out.

Have questions?  Don’t hesitate to call your local county extension agent from the Cooperative Extension office; they’re free!

 

Heidi Copeland

Family and Consumer Sciences Extension Agent, III

University of Florida IFAS Extension

615 Paul Russell Road

Tallahassee, Florida 32301

hbc@ufl.edu

(850) 606-5203

The Foundation for The Gator Nation

An Equal Opportunity Institution

Helping Leftovers Last Longer

Helping Leftovers Last Longer

leftover food wrapped in foil

Storing foods in aluminum foil is a not a good food safety practice since it does not form a tight enough seal to keep out air, moisture, or microorganisms. Use air-tight containers or zipper plastic bags to store leftovers safely. (Photo source: Samantha Kennedy)

This month, I would like to focus on leftovers, more specifically, using and storing leftovers responsibly.

Many times, leftovers are saved with the best intentions. We really do plan to eat last night’s lasagna for dinner tonight, but then something better comes along and suddenly that lasagna gets pushed to the back of the refrigerator where it gets forgotten until the fridge is cleaned out two months later.

That dried out, fuzzy lump covered in foil? Well, it used to be lasagna.  Now it is inedible, unsafe, and a waste of food and money.

I say, stop the madness! Show those leftovers a little love. If properly stored and handled, those boring leftovers can once again dazzle your palate.

First of all, proper storage is key. Whether being put in the refrigerator or freezer, wrap or store leftovers in an air-tight container.  This will not only prevent cross-contamination by microorganisms, but will also help maintain flavor and quality.

The only exception to this is whole, fresh fruits and veggies, which need to be stored in the crisper drawer or on the countertop to allow air flow. Cut fruits and veggies should always be refrigerated.

The best materials for food storage are air-tight plastic or glass containers and paper or zipper bags made for freezer use. When using paper, be sure to wrap the food tightly and completely.

Aluminum foil, wax paper, and plastic wrap do not make effective wrappers for the freezer since they do not form a tight enough seal to prevent freezer burn.

Always label all leftovers, especially when freezing them, with the name of the food and the date it was stored. To ensure safety, discard refrigerated leftovers after five days and frozen leftovers after six months. Foods frozen longer will suffer significant quality loss.

Leftover foods like soups, stews, and casseroles make terrific quick meals for lunch or dinner.  Simply divide the leftovers into single portions and freeze, or refrigerate if all portions will be eaten within five days.

Foods like leftover roasted chicken or breakfast bacon can be added to a salad or made into a sandwich.  Today’s leftover pancakes can be tomorrow’s pancake parfait or breakfast sandwich bread.

Leftover scrambled eggs can be added to tonight’s fried rice. Last night’s chili can be made into today’s baked potato topping.

The possibilities are endless.

“Leftovers” does not have to be a dirty word. With a little planning, knowledge, and ingenuity, leftovers can easily become a family favorite.  And the best part, saving leftovers means saving money, too.

For more information on food storage tips, try these publications from UF/IFAS Extension:

Healthy Eating: Food Storage Guide
Preserving Food: Freezing Vegetables

Extension classes are open to everyone regardless of race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations.

Aim for a Healthier YOU in 2019

Aim for a Healthier YOU in 2019

Carrots, zucchini, and green pepper stir fry in a wok.

Make SMART changes for your health. Photo credit: UF/IFAS Northwest District

“New Year, New Me!” – the same phrase we hear and see posted all over social media every time the new year rolls around.  More often than not, resolutions tied to each new year involve diet and weight changes.  But how does one actually commit to these new resolutions year round?

Step 1: Forget Fads and “Dieting” 

The world of nutrition can seem overwhelming with the various diets that are continuously marketed as “the next best thing for your health.”  However, most diets, such as Paleo, Vegan/Vegetarianism, Keto, etc., exclude one or more food groups from the diet, which only makes things more challenging. In reality, eating healthy does not need to be that difficult.  According to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, a healthy eating pattern “accounts for ALL foods and beverages within an appropriate calorie level.”  Essentially, moderation is key!

In addition to fads, scratch the word “diet” from your vocabulary.  Dieting implies something short term or there is an end date in mind.  To build healthy, sustainable eating patterns, we want to make lifestyle changes.  A healthy lifestyle not only incorporates what you eat, but includes exercise and a healthy mind as well!  Use SMART goals to help attain your healthy eating/lifestyle changes for 2019: SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, & Time-bound.

Step 2: Focus on Food Groups

Instead of counting calories in 2019, let us count food groups!  How many food groups does your meal have?  Is there a protein?  Vegetables? Healthy fats?  Foods are generally classified into three main groups, or macronutrients.  By definition, macronutrients are types of food required in large amounts in the diet. Such foods are proteins, carbohydrates, and fats.

Proteins include all types of meats such as chicken, turkey, fish, and beef. Other foods high in protein include eggs, dairy products, legumes (peas and beans), various nuts, and soy products.  Proteins are the basic building blocks of your bones, muscles, skin, and blood. Your body uses proteins to build and repair your tissues and it is an essential nutrient for the human body.  Strive to include a rich source of protein at every main meal!  How much protein do you need? Aim to include 20-30 grams, or 4-6 ounces, at every main meal.  That is the equivalent of a chicken breast that is about the size of a deck of cards or the palm of your hand.

Carbohydrates include simple sugars, all types of grains, fruits, and vegetables.  Carbohydrates are the body’s main source of and preferred fuel for daily activities.  It may be somewhat confusing as to what are appropriate carbohydrates to add in your diet.  To simplify things, aim to include at least two different carbohydrates in your meal.  Perhaps that includes a grain (aim to make half of all your grains whole grains) plus a variety of vegetables.  If you really want to add a cookie to your lunch, then make sure to include some fruit or vegetables as well!

Fats are a food group that often carry a negative reputation.  However, fat plays an essential role as an ingredient in hormone production, in helping to protect our organs, absorption of vitamins and nutrients, as well as providing a good amount of energy!  Fats are subdivided into four groups: Monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, saturated, and trans fats. The word unsaturated indicates that these types of fats are liquid at room temperature and make up much of our healthy fats we want to include in our diet.  Such fats are those found in olive oils, avocados, nuts, and seed oils and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.  Saturated fats are solid at room temperature, and include butter, cheese, and fatty streaks you find in meats.  Trans fats are a manufactured form of fat in which food manufacturers add hydrogen to liquid fats in order to make them more solid.  Trans fats have been known to increase LDLs or bad cholesterol, decrease good cholesterol or HDLs, and are linked to an increased risk for cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.  According to the American Heart Association and 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, we want to limit trans and saturated fats in our diets and focus on including more oils, nuts, and fish.

Step 3: Make Small, Adaptable Changes

If you are used to consuming large amounts of processed foods and sugary beverages, the thought of completely giving up those things can be very daunting. Implementing new strategies to eat healthier begins with small and adaptable changes.  Slow incorporation of more lean meats and fresh fruits and vegetables can help make the transition far less challenging.

For example, most often, macaroni and cheese is made with white pasta and high fat cheese.  To modify this meal and make it healthier, try substituting whole grain pasta for regular pasta.  Next, experiment by adding some of your favorite vegetables and a lean protein such as chicken or tuna.  Look for 2% or low fat cheese in the grocery store to replace the regular high fat version.   These simple changes will allow you to still enjoy your favorite meal, reduce the sodium and fat content, and increase your consumption of vegetables and proteins!

Small subtle changes are key to creating long-term healthy habits. The transition to building healthier eating patterns will be much easier if you shift the focus to include more of what our bodies need and less on “dieting.”  If you find yourself struggling to make healthier meals, https://www.choosemyplate.gov/MyPlate is a great resource to educate yourself on how to build and maintain a healthy diet!

Why Your Numbers Matter

Why Your Numbers Matter

Do you know what the different types of cholesterol are in your body? Do you know what your cholesterol levels are? Do you know why your numbers matter? Cholesterol can be a contributing factor to heart disease. It’s important to understand your numbers so you can take the best care of yourself. Making simple changes in your daily routine can help reduce your risk of heart disease. Talking to your doctor is the first step so he or she can request blood tests to help determine your risk. One of the tests the doctor may run is called a lipid profile, which checks your body’s cholesterol.

What should my cholesterol numbers be?

  • Total cholesterol should be somewhere between 125 to 200 mg/dL
  • LDL cholesterol is called “bad” because it can block your arteries. The level should be less than 100 mg/dL. If it starts with “L”, aim for a lower number.
  • HDL cholesterol is called “good” because it helps to clear out the LDL (bad) cholesterol. This number should be greater than 40 mg/dL for men and greater than 50 mg/dL for women. If it starts with “H”, aim for a higher number.
  • Triglycerides are fat found in the blood. You want these numbers to be less than 150 mg/dL.

If you don’t understand what your numbers mean, be sure to talk with your health care provider. The more you know about your numbers, the more incentive you have to make any recommended changes.

What Can Cause Unhealthy Levels of Cholesterol?

  • Habits like smoking, lack of physical activity, and unhealthy eating patterns.
  • Genetics (family medical history)
  • Some medications
Hands holding knife cutting orange carrot on wooden board with red and yellow peppers, lettuce, and bread

Prepping for a healthy diet
Photo source: UF/IFAS

What Can You Do to Help Lower the “Bad” Cholesterol and Increase the “Good” Cholesterol?

You can make simple changes to your daily routine to help reduce your risk of heart disease.

Eat more heart-healthy foods

  1. Eat foods like oatmeal, apples, and pears to give your body more soluble fiber.
  2. Add salmon, walnuts, and flaxseed to your diet. These are great sources of Omega-3 fatty acids.
  3. Eat less red meat and switch from whole or 2% milk to skim milk.

Move!

  1. The Mayo Clinic recommends 30 minutes of exercise at least 5 times a week.
  2. Find out more about how to fit physical activity into your day

Stop Smoking!

  1. There are many different resources available to help you or someone you know quit smoking.
  2. Check out how to quit for quitting tobacco tips from A to Z

Drop those extra pounds

  1. If you lose just 5% of your body weight, it can help your heart!
  2. See what a 5% weight loss can do for your health

By making simple changes to your diet and lifestyle, you can help to reduce the risk of heart disease. Change takes time and effort, so don’t get discouraged by trying to make all the changes at once! Pick one habit to work on, such as slowly switching from whole milk to 2% to 1% then finally to skim milk. Once drinking skim milk becomes part of your everyday routine, choose another habit to work on, such as getting more exercise. Adding a half hour walk in the morning or in the evening is a great way to get you moving. To make the walk even more enjoyable, take your dog with you – pets need exercise, too!

Your good health is why your numbers matter. Remember, small changes can make a big difference in improving your heart health. And since February is Heart Health Awareness month, now is a great time to start.

Contributing writer – UF Intern Jennifer Bryson