February National Snack Food Month

February National Snack Food Month

My favorite time – snack time!  For February, National Snack Food Month, let’s celebrate these tasty morsels for a whole month.

Go Beyond the Snack Aisle

Snacks often have a bad reputation, at least in terms of health.  It’s true that snack food aisles are often filled with high fat, high calorie, high sodium, and high sugar choices.  But snacks can be great sources of fiber, vitamins, minerals, proteins, and healthier fats and carbohydrates.  You may just have to wander to other parts of the store next time you shop.

Think Mini Meal

When you snack, think of it as a mini meal.  Though you could plan tomorrow’s dinner to be a plate of snack cakes with a side of potato chips, hopefully you come up with something more satisfying than that – both in taste and nutrition.  Additionally, when we snack on healthier foods in between meals, it gives our bodies the sustainable energy it needs to make it to that next meal.

Plate and skewer of healthy, fun snacks

Snacks – Fun, Tasty, and Healthy
Photo Source: Angela Hinkle

Snack MyPlate

Try snacking from all five food groups this month.

  • Whole grains – popcorn, granola, whole grain crackers
  • Fruits – apples, bananas, oranges, raisins
  • Veggies – pea pods, cucumber slices, carrots
  • Dairy – string cheese, yogurt cups, individual shelf stable cartons of milk
  • Protein – hard-boiled eggs, mixed nuts, healthy beef jerky

Make Homemade Mixed-Up Food Group Snacks

  • Whole grain pita or multi-colored pepper slices dipped in guacamole or hummus
  • Apple slices or carrots with peanut butter dip
  • Cherry tomatoes with mozzarella and basil
  • Fruit smoothies or protein shakes
  • Yogurt with granola and mixed berries
  • Banana Sushi – smear a whole wheat tortilla with peanut butter, put a banana in the middle, roll it up, then cut it into “sushi” slices

For more great snacking ideas, check out 10 Snack Tips for Parents, MyPlate Snack Tips for Kids, and 25 Healthy Snacks for Kids

Delicious, healthy, on-the-go snacks.  Be creative and keep it healthy this February – National Snack Food month.

Tea, Please

Tea, Please

cup of tea

A delicious cup of hot tea is a great way to start the day and can provide a daily dose of health-promoting antioxidants.
(Photo source: Samantha Kennedy)

For me, there’s nothing better than a hot cup of tea on a chilly morning – or any morning, really.  The rich flavor and fragrant steam work together to perk me up and help me get ready to take on the day.  And in the evening, a nice, warm cup of tea can also help me relax before settling down to sleep. The key is finding the right kind of tea for the task.

Types of Tea

There are five major types of tea: green, black, white, red, and herbal.  All non-herbal teas are produced from the leaves of the warm-weather evergreen tea plant, Camellia sinensis. The degree of processing or oxidation of the leaves determines which type of tea is produced.

Green tea is very minimally processed and the leaves are not oxidized, which results in its light green color and delicate taste. Green tea is very low in caffeine.  Green tea is very popular in Asian cultures, but has gained increased popularity around the world.

Black tea has a very rich flavor and the highest caffeine levels of all types of tea due to the long processing time.  The leaves are fully oxidized, resulting in the rich amber color and rich flavor. Some of the most popular and common types of black tea are Early Grey, English Breakfast, and Darjeeling.

Red tea is oxidized for less time than black tea, resulting in a milder flavor and lighter color. The flavor intensity and caffeine levels of red tea fall somewhere between green and black tea. The most common type of red tea is Oolong, which is very popular in Asia.

White tea is produced from young tea leaves and unopened buds. The resulting brew has a velvety, delicate flavor and very light, “white” color.  Since it is so minimally processed, it has very little caffeine.

Herbal tea is not produced from the leaves of the tea plant.  Instead, herbal teas are created through a combination of herbs and other plants, often utilizing the leaves, stems, and roots.  Herbal tea does not have caffeine and is often used medicinally to treat a variety of ailments.

Potential Health Benefits

The health benefits of tea, especially green tea, have long been touted. The fermentation process involved in green tea production increases the levels of a type of antioxidants called polyphenols, which can help reduce cell damage caused by the byproducts of regular cell production in the body.

According to two Harvard School of Public Health studies, those who drank tea regularly showed a decreased risk of developing Type 2 diabetes compared to non-tea drinkers. The substances in tea, such as polyphenols, have also been linked to lower risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and stroke and have been shown to help lower blood pressure and cholesterol.

One note of caution: Some chemicals in tea are known to bind to iron, thereby decreasing its absorption in the body. Those who suffer from iron-deficiency anemia may want to consult a physician before increasing their tea consumption.

Tea drinking is not a cure-all.  However, drinking tea as part of an overall healthy diet may provide added health benefits that can help promote healthy cells and blood vessels.

So take the time to smell (and sip and savor) the tea while toasting to better health. Happy brewing!

Additional Resources:

Health benefits linked to drinking tea (Harvard Medical School)
Tea: A cup of good health? (Harvard Medical School)
Take Time for Tea: For Health and Well-being (North Dakota State Extension)

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.

Holiday Leftovers: Keep Them Safe and Delicious

Holiday Leftovers: Keep Them Safe and Delicious

Cooked turkey with green peas and roll

Safe and delicious holiday leftovers
Photo Source: UF/IFAS

For some of us, the best part of holiday eating is snacking on the leftovers. There’s just nothing better for a post-holiday lunch than a turkey sandwich with some cranberry dressing. With a little care and attention to detail, holiday foods can be safe and delicious for several days after the big event.

So, what do we all need to know about holiday food safety? Take a look below for some quick and easy tips.

Reheating foods in the oven: Set your oven temperature no lower than 325˚F and reheat to 165˚F for turkey or chicken. Reheat ham to 145˚F. You will need a meat thermometer to check the temperature. If you don’t already have one, they’re easy to find and fairly inexpensive. To keep your meat moist, add a little broth or water and cover it with foil or an oven-proof lid.

Reheating foods in the microwave: To keep your turkey or chicken moist, sprinkle a little broth or water and cover it. You won’t need a lot of extra moisture for microwave cooking. If your microwave doesn’t have a revolving tray, be sure to rotate the meat for even heating. Let it stand for a minute or two after heating, as it will continue to cook for a bit. Just like with oven reheating, use a meat thermometer and heat poultry to 165˚F, ham to 145˚F.

Storing your turkey: It may be a painful thought, but if any turkey, stuffing, or gravy gets left out at room temperature for more than two hours, it needs to be thrown away. It’s better to waste food than to risk getting sick, especially over the holidays! Divide leftovers into small portions so they will quickly and evenly cool. Store in the refrigerator or freeze in appropriate containers.

Important Tips: Use refrigerated turkey, stuffing and gravy within four days. If you freeze your leftovers, use them within six months for best taste and quality. Not sure how long something’s been in the refrigerator or freezer? The old maxim still holds true: When in doubt, throw it out.

Best wishes to you for a safe and happy holiday season!

Don’t Let Rice or Pasta Ruin Your Day!

Don’t Let Rice or Pasta Ruin Your Day!

Photo credit: UF/IFAS NW District

Rice and pasta are a staple of most family meals. But did you know these simple grains can lead to a foodborne illness? Uncooked rice and pasta can contain spores of Bacillus cereus, a bacterium that can cause foodborne illness. These spores can survive even when rice or pasta is cooked. If the rice or pasta is left standing at room temperature, like in a pot on the stove, these spores can grow into bacteria. These bacteria will then multiply and produce toxins (poisons) that can cause foodborne illness. Bacillus cereus, sometimes called B. cereus, can cause nausea, vomiting, and abdominal cramps.

Preventing Contamination by B. Cereus
Because B. cereus endospores are heat resistant, they are likely to survive cooking at temperatures that would destroy other foodborne pathogens. Bacillus cereus spores can grow when exposed to heat or improper handling.

Recommendations for Proper Handling of Rice and Pasta:

  • Cook rice and pasta at 135ºF or above and maintain at that temperature outside of the refrigerator.
    Serve rice or pasta as soon as it is cooked.
  • Cool in the refrigerator at 41ºF or below within 2 hours of cooking.
  • Store rice or pasta in the fridge using a shallow container or resealable bags.
  • Cooked rice or pasta can be stored in airtight containers in the fridge for 3 – 5 days.
  • Do not reheat rice or pasta more than once.

During the holidays, celebrations usually center around family and good food, and, therefore, our refrigerators easily can become full. We tend to leave rice or pasta out on the stove when there isn’t any room in the fridge. This is where the problem occurs. By following proper food handling techniques, you can ensure that everyone enjoys the holidays and the fabulous foods that are part of the festivities.

To learn more about Bacillus cereus or other foodborne illnesses, contact your UF/IFAS County Extension Office.

Resources:
UF/IFAS Electronic Data Information Source (EDIS), Preventing Foodborne Illness: Bacillus cereus

The Number of Food Poisoning Cases Caused by Bacillus cereus is on the Rise. (2015, April 1). Infection Control Today. Retrieved from https://www.infectioncontroltoday.com/food-safety/number-food-poisoning-cases-caused-bacillus-cereus-rise

 

Dine In for Better Health

Dine In for Better Health

Make the pledge Tuesday, December 3rd to Dine In for better health – physical, social, and cultural.

Why

Most of us eat every day without thinking about it.  We need to eat to nourish our body, so it’s just a regular thing we do.  But eating also can be an important social and cultural way for families to come together.

FCS Dine In Day circle logo

FCS Dine In Day

When we eat together as a family, it gives us the opportunity to practice cultural traditions and share food histories.  We get the chance to explore new foods and learn new skills – like eating with chopsticks.  We may get the chance to learn and practice table manners and learn literary and conversation skills.  Paul Fieldhouse of the Vanier Institute of the Family says, “For young children, ‘table talk’ may be the main source of exposure to family conversation and the expression of thoughts, ideas, and emotions.”  Eating the family meal also can help us de-stress by setting a reassuring rhythm and structure to our day.

Eating family meals at home has additional benefits.  The University of Washington found that families who cook and eat more often at home tend to eat a healthier diet.  Their Healthy Eating Index is high – meaning they eat more fruits and vegetables and less calories, sugar, and fat.  They eat smaller portions helping to regulate weight.  Some research suggests we eat smaller portions at home because we eat more slowly and talk more.  This, however, does not equate to a higher cost.  Meals cooked at home generally cost less than those eaten out.

How

So, how can your family eat more meals together at home?

  • Try making and eating meals at home a priority for your family. Think about how important it is spending time together.
  • Keep it simple. Don’t worry about making a big, fancy meal.
  • Start with just a few meals a week. Then slowly add more meals together as you find your “family meal groove.”
  • Let the whole family help plan meals. Think about foods your family likes and build around those ideas.  Try to get all the MyPlate healthy food groups in – whole grains, plenty of fruits and vegetables of all colors, shapes, and textures, lean plant and animal proteins, and low- and no-fat dairy.  Make your grocery list together.
  • Let everyone be involved in planning, preparing, table setting, and cleaning up afterwards.
  • Make it a goal to start this December 3rd to Dine In for better health.

 

Resources:

(Still) Eating Together: The Culture of the Family Meal.  Retrieved November 16, 2019 from https://vanierinstitute.ca/eating-culture-family-meal/

Cooking at Home Tonight?  It’s Likely Cheaper and Healthier.  Retrieved November 15, 2019 from https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/03/170314150926.htm

Simple Cranberry Sauce

Simple Cranberry Sauce

Cranberries were likely a part of the Thanksgiving tradition dating all the way back to the very first one. Native Americans ate dried or fresh cranberries and they used cranberries for dye and medicinal purposes.  They also used cranberries to make pemmican – a mixture of berries, dried meat, and fat. Pemmican was a common nutritional dish that could be stored for months. Cranberry sauce became commercially available in its familiar canned form in 1941. These jellied cranberries can now be sold year round.  Dried, sweetened cranberries, or “craisins” are also available year round and make a great addition to stuffing and salads.  Fresh and frozen cranberries can be found in abundance this time of year.  The festive red color and nutrients make them a great addition to many dishes.  They also make a great garland for indoor or outdoor trees and other greenery.

Today, cranberries are commonly used in a variety of foods and juices. They are high in Vitamin C and a good source of fiber. Cranberries contain phytochemicals and, as part of a healthy diet, may be associated with certain health benefits like reduced risk of chronic disease. Research on the effectiveness of cranberry juice to prevent urinary tract infections is inconsistent and it should be noted that cranberry juice may interact with some medications, so consult a health care professional.

Check out this video to make a simple cranberry sauce to add to your Thanksgiving table this year.

 

Sources:

Cape Cod Cranberry Growers’ Association: https://www.cranberries.org/history

Bulletin #4308, Vegetables and Fruits for Health: Cranberries: https://extension.umaine.edu/publications/4308e/