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!
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 FIFO… First-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!
Family and Consumer Sciences Extension Agent, III
University of Florida IFAS Extension
615 Paul Russell Road
Tallahassee, Florida 32301
The Foundation for The Gator Nation
An Equal Opportunity Institution
Allowing kids to help with meal prep can encourage healthy eating. (Photo source: Samantha Kennedy)
Kids and vegetables have an historically love-hate relationship. It is not clear why this came to be, but it is clear that many kids claim to dislike vegetables even when they have not even tried them.
There are many reasons children may not have tasted vegetables. Perhaps they are not provided in the home, either due to a lack of availability, lack of knowledge about preparing them, or because parents do not make the effort to expose their kids to new foods. Or maybe kids are influenced by their peers and by the media they consume, which tell them vegetables are gross.
Whatever the reason, it is important to combat this trend and encourage kids to eat more vegetables. Fresh fruits and vegetables are a vital component of healthy eating. Healthy eating, in turn, helps reduce the risk of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and other nutrition-related aliments.
Not sure how to start getting kids to eat vegetables? Try a few simple tricks. Cutting vegetables up into bite-sized pieces and storing them in small containers or plastic bags in the refrigerator will help make them more be appealing and accessible to smaller children.
Model healthy eating behavior. Kids are more likely to eat vegetables if they see their parents eating them. If mom and dad are enjoying trying something new, children will feel more confident in trying it as well.
Set a rule that before a child can say they do not like something, they must try it first. However, do not make it punitive. Children need to approach a new vegetable on their own instead of being forced to try it. If they absolutely refuse to try it, that is fine. Offer it to them again another time and keep trying.
Negative reinforcement such as making a child stay at the table until they eat their vegetables can negatively affect a child’s eating habits. On the flip side, rewarding kids with dessert or other treats if they eat their vegetables can also have a negative effect.
Treating vegetables as a trial a child must endure to get to something better is a surefire way to increase a child’s dislike for vegetables in the future. Vegetables should be offered in a relaxed, encouraging environment. It can take 8 to 10 tries before a child is ready to taste something new. Offering vegetables in different forms – mashed potatoes vs. baked, steamed broccoli vs. raw, etc. – is also a good way to help a child try new foods.
Serving too much of something at once can be overwhelming to a child. It is important to provide small, manageable portions of foods to kids, especially when introducing something new. Do not make it mandatory to eat all of something, either. Allow the child to eat what they want and stop when they are finished.
Offering a variety of vegetables at mealtime will provide kids with a choice and increase the chance that they will eat at least one vegetable per meal. However, avoid serving the same vegetables all the time in order to encourage them to try something new.
A final way to encourage kids to eat more vegetables is to let them get involved in the selection, purchase, and preparation. Allow them to pick a vegetable at the store. Provide them with the tools and ingredients to make their own salads. If possible, let them plant a seasonal vegetable in a container and watch it grow. The more involved kids are with their food, the more positive their eating habits will be.
For more information about getting kids to eat more fruits and vegetables, please contact Samantha Kennedy, Family and Consumer Sciences Agent, at (850) 926-3931.
Photo credit: Marie Arick
Many Americans are more aware of whole grain food consumption as part of a healthy meal plan. In fact, the International Food Information Council’s 2015 survey found that 67% of those surveyed reported reading product labels for whole grains when shopping for packaged foods.
So, what is a whole grain? A whole grain must contain the germ, the bran, and the endosperm in the same state as it was in the field prior to harvest. Generally, most associate fiber with whole grains. In contrast, a refined grain lacks the germ and the bran that contain the fiber, B vitamins, antioxidants, and minerals. Take whole wheat, for example – it contains the trace minerals iron, zinc, copper, and magnesium, antioxidants, folate, and the following B vitamins – niacin, thiamine, and riboflavin.
Why choose whole grains? The fiber content can help to maintain a healthy weight, as it bulks once consumed, and can make one feel fuller, hence consuming fewer calories. Additionally, the fiber can aid with constipation. Other benefits of eating a diet rich in whole grains include decreasing the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and some forms of cancer due to the nutritional content, namely the antioxidant properties.
How much is enough? Children ideally should consume two servings minimum and adults three servings minimum each day. It is ideal for at least half of the grains you consume to be whole grains. Look for the 100% Whole Grain stamp on labels while shopping. It is a now on over 12,000 products, including cereals, breads, chips, flour, pasta, and so much more, in 58 countries.
Understanding what whole grains are and why choosing them can aid with health and well-being is important. Challenge yourself to look for the whole grain stamp and increase your daily intake, for your health.
Photo Source: Angela Hinkle
We eat to survive, right? Yes, but when you really think about it, we eat to thrive. Food is more than calories for energy. Food brings family and friends together. It provides comfort. It makes our bodies healthy and can protect us from diseases. The next time you give to a food pantry, think about what you can give to help those in need thrive, not just survive. So, how do you donate food to thrive?
A Balanced Diet
It’s important to eat from every food group every day. It’s important to give those in need the chance to eat every food group every day. This way, they get a variety of nutrients needed for healthy bodies. Choose healthier choices from each food group. See https://www.choosemyplate.gov/ for more information.
Fruits & Veggies: Half MyPlate
- Fruits and vegetables provide so many good vitamins, minerals, fiber, and water.
- All forms count – canned, frozen, fresh, dried, and juice.
- Canned fruit in 100% juice (Lite or heavy syrup equals a little or a lot of added sugar.)
- Juices that are 100% fruit or vegetables.
- Low- or no-sodium canned vegetables (Higher sodium intake tends to go hand-in-hand with higher blood pressure.)
- Try to stay away from high-fat, high-sodium, and high-sugar syrups and sauces.
- Packaged dried fruits and veggies are both popular now.
- The more fruits and vegetables, the better!
- The whole edible part of the grain plant gives us fiber and loads of nutrients to keep us healthy. They even have special parts that help fight diseases.
- Look for the word whole at the beginning of the ingredient list.
- Help pantries stock whole grain crackers, hot and cold cereals, and tortillas. Donate whole grain pasta and brown rice.
- Protein helps build and repair tissue.
- Protein provides the building blocks of muscles, bones, skin, and blood.
- Go for lower-sodium and lower-fat choices. (Most of us over the age of two don’t need that extra fat.)
- Donate tuna, chicken, or salmon in water.
- Peanut butter is always popular.
- Try offering a variety of packaged seeds and nuts.
- The calcium in dairy foods makes strong bones and teeth.
- Try low-fat versions of shelf-stable milk.
- Non-fat dry milk is great for sauces and casseroles as well as drinking. (If used for drinking, it tastes best to add the coldest water possible.)
- Low-fat yogurt and cheeses are a nice complement for pantries with refrigeration.
- For those who can’t have dairy, offer calcium-fortified soy or almond milk, cereal, or orange juice.
So don’t just think “feed them” when you donate, think “feed them well.” Donate beyond survive. Donate to thrive.
Tacos are a traditional Mexican dish with a mixture of various fillings on a flat bread tortilla. Having recently visited the Yucatan Peninsula and consumed tacos on a daily basis, it became evident that even in Mexico, different regions make their tacos with local available produce, meats, beans and rice. The American version can consist of anything from local produce like zucchini, squash and corn as well as the traditional tomatoes, cheese and lettuce.
Try this taco recipe for a slant on local flavor and taste. My goal is to build a taco that is tasty, local and provides creativity in the ingredients. We will use some of the traditional elements but stick with me as we explore various toppings to make your taco healthy and fresh.
Select your Tortilla
Building a Healthy Taco Using Local Produce. Photo Credit: Pamela Allen
Tortillas are varied in size, color and grain. For a healthy option select the smaller size that are made from whole grains. My favorite is a corn blended tortilla in the six inch circle.
Start with a Protein
The filling can be made from ground turkey, chicken, pork, fish or hamburger. For a vegetarian option try tofu crumbles, black beans or refried vegetarian beans. Brown the meat using your favorite Mexican spice like chili powder, garlic, cumin, white pepper and onion powder.
Pick your Filling
Local vegetables this time of year that will add flavor and color can be used as a filling. Try spiral cut squash using yellow squash or zucchini. Cook in a small amount of olive oil to tenderize. You will want to keep them crunchy so don’t overcook them. Also, shave off fresh corn and add it to your filling or mix it in with your protein.
Pick your toppings
Diced tomatoes make a great topping and add color and flavor. A squeeze of fresh lime juice is also a favorite. Other toppings could include diced avocado or sliced hot peppers like jalapeno, bell or other peppers that grow well in our area. Traditional toppings include various types of shredded cheese and sour cream.
Don’t forget the Fresh Herbs
Cilantro grows very well in this area as well as chives, onions and parsley. Fresh herbs add a splash of color and flavor.
Try the homemade salsa recipe for a side dish with chips or for a topping to pep up the flavor or your healthy taco.
2-3 medium sized fresh tomatoes (diced into small pieces)
1/2 red onion diced
Peppers of your choice – jalapeno (hot) or bell pepper (milder)
Juice of one lime
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
Salt and pepper to taste
May add some spices like chili powder or cumin for flavor.
Prepare all the ingredients and mix in a bowl. Store in refrigerator for up to 2 days.