What’s on Your Plate?

What’s on Your Plate?

No matter your age, good nutrition is key. When we choose to eat healthy, we are making a conscious effort to continually improve our well-being. When we teach young children about the importance of eating healthy, we are helping them to grow, develop, and maintain a healthy lifestyle they will carry on through adulthood. Making these smart food choices, along with regular physical activity, can significantly reduce the risk of developing serious health problems. For individuals who deal with chronic health problems, proper nutrition can aid in the management of their conditions. There are many other benefits that come with eating a healthy diet such as improved mood and mental health, a strengthened immune system, and more sustained energy.

In addition to the benefits of good nutrition, incorporating practical tools such as MyPlate can provide valuable guidance. MyPlate serves as a visual reminder of the types of foods we should be enjoying daily. It simplifies the process of making healthy choices by categorizing foods into five essential groups: fruits, vegetables, grains, protein, and dairy. By incorporating a variety of choices from each group into our daily meals, we make every bite count. Start by making simple adjustments to your daily meals. Whether you are cooking for yourself or your family, take time to plan out meals that include a variety of choices from each food group. If you are preparing for your family, make mealtimes a priority and connect with each other while preparing and enjoying meals together. Turn off the television, put away electronics, and enjoy time together as a family. Have conversations about the colors, texture, and flavor of the food being served.

Children often are more willing to try a food they have grown or prepared.
Photo credit: UF/IFAS photo taken by Camila Guillen.

Growing a garden at home is another fun way to get everyone adding more variety onto their plate. Start with fruits or vegetables that are familiar or even an herb garden that can grow in a kitchen window. Children of all ages will enjoy watching and tending to the garden. This may also inspire children and youth to assist with cooking and food preparation in the kitchen.

Remember, eating healthy is a choice you get to make every day. The importance of good nutrition cannot be overstated, regardless of age. Choosing to eat healthy is a conscious effort that has far-reaching implications for our well-being. By instilling the values of healthy eating in young children, we lay the foundation for a lifetime of positive habits, fostering growth, development, and the maintenance of a healthy lifestyle into adulthood.

What’s Brewing – Tea – National Tea Day

What’s Brewing – Tea – National Tea Day

Tea dates back thousands of years and spans numerous continents and civilizations. Tea contains antioxidants known as catechins and flavonoids. Antioxidants work to neutralize free radicals, which are formed when cells burn oxygen for energy.

Photo by Adobe Stock

Researchers from the USDA reported laboratory tests found tea produces greater antioxidants than numerous commonly consumed vegetables. Results of several studies suggest that tea has potential protective effects against certain types of cancers. Several studies also have suggested that tea drinking may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

There are many reasons for making tea, the second most consumed beverage worldwide, surpassed only by water, and part of a healthful lifestyle. Just as consuming fruits and vegetables daily provides vitamins, minerals, and fiber, drinking tea may help boost antioxidant intake.

Also, tea contributes to daily fluid intake, vital for the maintenance of fluid balance. Much of tea’s popularity can be attributed to its distinctive taste, aroma, and versatility. The health benefits of consuming tea suggest that it is a nutritionally healthy beverage choice. Whether you prefer tea hot or iced, it can be an important part of a healthy diet.

So, go ahead and brew up that cup of hot tea or a glass of iced tea and join the celebration of National Tea Day, April 21, 2024.

Tea Tidbits

On average, an 8-ounce cup of tea contains fifty milligrams of caffeine, about half the amount in coffee. The longer the brewing time, the more caffeine is in the tea.

Over 3.9 billion gallons of hot, iced, spiced, and flavored tea are consumed by Americans every year.

In the United States, Americans drink 80 percent of their tea over ice.

Preserving Strawberries: A Guide to Freezing

Preserving Strawberries: A Guide to Freezing

As we relish the flavors of locally grown strawberries, their sweet aroma and vibrant hues evoke the essence of sunshine captured in each bite. Now that we’re past Valentine’s Day, where strawberries often take center stage, let’s dive into the art of preserving these delicate berries, exploring freezing techniques that can be enjoyed long after the season has passed.

Freezing Strawberries: A Symphony of Techniques

Freezing strawberries is a wonderful way to extend the season’s bounty and enjoy the taste of freshness throughout the year. To cater to various preferences, we will explore multiple freezing methods: without sugar, with sugar, and with syrup.

1. Freezing without Sugar:

For those who prefer the pure essence of strawberries without added sweetness, tray freezing is the key. This method allows for the berries to stay loose and can then be easily removed or poured from the container. Here’s a step-by-step guide:

  • Wash, remove caps, and drain whole berries.
  • Spread berries in a single layer on a baking sheet or jellyroll pan.
  • Place the tray flat in the freezer until the berries are frozen solid (typically one to two hours).
  • Transfer the frozen berries to plastic freezer bags, removing as much air as possible to maintain freshness.
  • To savor the best taste, consume the berries in a slightly thawed state, with a few ice crystals remaining. The natural expansion of frozen water causes the berry to soften when completely thawed.

2. Freezing with Sugar:

For those who enjoy a hint of sweetness in their frozen strawberries, consider the following method:

  • Wash, remove caps, and drain berries.
  • To freeze whole, sliced, or crushed strawberries, add ¾ cup of sugar to 1 quart (approximately 1⅓ pounds) of strawberries.
  • Stir until most of the sugar dissolves, allowing the mixture to stand for 15 minutes before transferring the berries into containers.
  • Ensure adequate headspace during packaging to prevent overflow when the berries freeze.
  • Artificial sweeteners can be used following the manufacturer’s directions, but it’s essential to note that they lack certain benefits of sugar, such as color protection and syrup thickness. Alternatively, add these sweeteners after the berries thaw.

3. Freezing with Syrup:

For those who are looking for pure sweetness. Strawberries packed in syrup are generally best for uncooked dessert use. The types of syrup range from very light to very heavy.

  • Wash, remove caps, and drain whole berries.
  • To freeze whole, sliced, or crushed strawberries, place berries into a desired freezer container.
  • Cover berries with a cold 50 percent syrup. To make the syrup, dissolve 4 cups of sugar in 4 cups of lukewarm water. Chill the syrup before using. For additional syrup recipes for freezing fruits, visit Syrups for Use in Freezing Fruits.
  • Ensure proper headspace during packaging to prevent overflow when the berries freeze.
  • Seal and place in the freezer.

Tips for Successful Freezing: A Chorus of Wisdom

  • The speed of freezing impacts the quality of the berries; the faster they freeze, the ice crystals that develop will be smaller. Set the freezer temperature to 0°F or lower, ideally reaching minus 10°F or lower 24 hours before freezing.
  • Store packages in contact with freezer surfaces, in the coldest part of the freezer, with enough space for air circulation until the berries are frozen. Once frozen, store packages close together.
  • Never overload the freezer with unfrozen food.  Work in small batches so the food can freeze within 24 hours.  An overloaded freezer can slow the freezing rate and affect the quality of the frozen product.
  • The recommended storage time for strawberries is 8 – 12 months in a freezer held at 0°F.  The shorter the time, the better-quality product. 

Preserving the exquisite flavors of locally grown strawberries is not just a culinary endeavor; it’s a celebration of seasonal abundance. Whether you prefer them unsweetened, with sugar, or in syrup, the steps outlined ensure optimal flavor and quality. Remember to freeze quickly, maintain freezer temperature, and avoid overloading the freezer for the best results. So, roll up your sleeves, embrace the sweet aroma, and enjoy those strawberries for months to come.

For more information on preserving strawberries and other fresh fruits, visit National Center for Home Food Preservation.

Adapted from: Zepp, M., LaBorde, L., Herneisen, A.  (2019, December 8). “Let’s Preserve: Freezing Fruits“. Penn State University.

Image Credit: Canva.com/Education

Healthy Habits

Healthy Habits

We are well on our way into the new year, so that means you have kept up with your new year’s resolutions, right? Most individuals begin the new year with a resolution that they are going to participate in healthier habits, whether that be eating right, drinking more water, or exercising regularly. After the first few weeks, it can be hard to keep yourself on track. I know that I tend to fall short when I make meal and snack choices. Follow along below to learn more about why it is important to make healthy choices, as well as how to keep up with these healthy habits! 

Why should I make healthy choices? 

That is a great question! As a busy mom of two, I am always trying to balance work, school, family, and our social calendar. Your eating habits can contribute to physical movement, sleep, health, energy levels, and education. I can tell a large, positive difference in my overall attitude, energy levels, and sleep when I am making healthier choices. This is not something that someone can force upon you. Only you can make the decision to make these changes.

When you say healthy choices, what does that mean? 

This does not mean “diet” or that you cannot have the cookies or ice cream. Busy people don’t have a lot of time to prepare and eat healthy meals. It can be helpful to have a quick list of ideas to maintain healthy eating. It is important for you to balance your meals. Consider eating at least 3 of the following every day:  dairy, fruit, grains, healthy fats, proteins, or vegetables. Check out MyPlate to learn all about healthy eating habits, food groups, and how to shape your meals to you. Foods in moderation are okay but try to not overindulge.

Some high protein breakfast ideas:

  • Boil eggs at the beginning of the week and offer them with a low-sugar, high-protein cereal, and an apple to go. 
  • Make breakfast burritos filled with scrambled eggs, cheese, chicken, or beef on a Sunday and freeze them. 
  • An egg sandwich, a cup of Greek yogurt or cottage cheese with fruit, and peanut butter on wholegrain toast can all be eaten on the way to school.

If I keep junk food in the house, I tend to eat it. I always make a point to keep healthy snack options available rather than boxes of junk food. Healthy snack options at home include fruits, vegetables, and healthier beverages. Soda is high in sugar, so to help cut the sugar, I keep water, milk, and pure fruit juice in the fridge. (NOTE: Fruit juices contain natural sugars, so they should also be consumed in moderation.) It is easy for me to make those choices since I am the adult that goes grocery shopping. 

Ideas for healthier alternatives:

  • Instead of fried chicken, try baked or grilled chicken.
  • Instead of potato chips, try baked vegetable chips or nuts. 
  • Craving something crunchy? Try carrots or celery.
  • Craving something sweet? Try vanilla Greek yogurt with some fresh fruit.
  • Craving something salty? Try popcorn or edamame.  

On top of eating from different food groups, cut down on fats or sugars and remember to drink lots of water. Your body is unable to continue functioning properly without fluids. Staying hydrated may seem like a difficult task, but it is extremely important for us to stay hydrated for optimal health and performance throughout the day. Drinking enough water each day is crucial for many reasons: to regulate body temperature, keep joints lubricated, prevent infections, deliver nutrients to cells, and keep organs functioning properly. Being well hydrated also improves sleep quality, cognition, and mood. 

What about exercise? 

two people walking their dog

It is extremely easy to come up with excuses as to why you cannot exercise.

  • I don’t have time.
  • It costs too much.
  • I don’t like physical activity. 
  • I can’t do this by myself. 

Your new healthy habits should be made a priority. If you cannot take care of yourself, then you will not be able to take care of others. Physical exercise does not always have to be drastic. Try taking the stairs instead of the elevator, walking an extra block to work or around the neighborhood, or standing up instead of sitting.

How do I hold myself accountable?

Accountability for your new healthy habits can come in all shapes and sizes. The most helpful way that I have found is tracking my progress. This helps me find strengths, areas I can improve on, and helps me stay on track. You can record what you ate, how much water you drank, as well as any activity you performed. Try record keeping on an app, online, or the old-fashioned way – with pen and paper. There are several apps for your phones and websites online that will let you tailor your calorie and physical activity plans to reach your personal goals within a specific time period.






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National Seafood Month

National Seafood Month

October is one of my most favorite times of year. Fall is in the air and the temperatures are starting to “fall.” School is back in session for our kids. The holiday season is beginning. Did you know that October is also National Seafood Month? There is no better time than National Seafood Month to start trying new recipes with your family and digging into heart-healthy meals!

“For a healthy heart, the American Heart Association and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends eating two, 3.5 oz servings of fish per week” (Picklo, 2020). According to the USDA, there are several studies that show that eating fish reduces risk of heart disease. Fish is an excellent source of protein, which is great for losing weight or building muscle. Fish is also an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids. These fatty acids help reduce blood clots, triglycerides, and irregular heartbeats.

Including at least two 3.5-ounce servings of fish in your weekly meals can reduce heart disease risk. (Photo source: Cristina Carriz, UF/IFAS)

Try to incorporate more seafood into your diet by adding it in twice a week. Fried shrimp or fish is so delicious but can contain more fat than we need to consume. For heart-healthy-conscious meals, consider baking or grilling the fish instead. You may be surprised at the delicious results. If you are unsure of where to start, take a look at the Med Instead of Meds curriculum. Many counties throughout the state of Florida are offering classes, in person and virtually.

Med Instead of Meds focuses on a Mediterranean diet and provides a variety of simple and delicious recipes! Recipes range from salmon and tuna burgers to fish tacos and much more! You can easily tweak the recipes to get creative with the herbs to make it your own dish. The possibilities are endless! Click here to visit the Med Instead of Meds website, created by a group of nutrition and health professionals from North Carolina State University and the North Carolina Division of Public Health.

One of my personal favorite recipes from their website is the “Honey Balsamic Glazed Salmon.” This recipe is simple to make, but the results are oh so sweet. The balsamic and honey glaze complements the salmon in ways I could not imagine, so much so that my mouth is watering just thinking about it! My family does not like the rosemary taste as much, so we tend to use oregano or thyme instead. Again, a simple change that my family loves. Little do they know they are eating heart-healthy seafood!

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Garcia, J., & Purser, E. (2021, October 12). National Seafood Month. NC Cooperative Extension News.

Picklo, M. (2020, April 2). Eat fish! Which Fish? That Fish! Go Fish!. Eat Fish! which fish? that fish! go fish! : USDA ars.

National Apple Month

National Apple Month

Summer is coming to a close, and Fall is in the air. What better way to kick off the Fall season than by bobbing for a deep red, bright green, or yellow apple? Currently, there are over 2,500 varieties of apples grown in the United States, and 7,500 varieties grown throughout the world. Apples are also grown in all 50 states. That is a lot of apples to celebrate throughout the month of October!

Photo source: Claire Davis, UF/IFAS Extension

Have you ever heard the saying, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away”? This was something that I was told throughout my childhood. I did not believe that an apple a day would keep me healthy and away from the doctor’s office. Now I understand that the saying is a tribute to the apple’s nutritional value and its health benefits. Per the USDA, an apple is an excellent source of fiber and vitamin C!

Fiber affects the rate of digestion of foods, the absorption of nutrients, and the movement of waste products (stool) through the colon. It also provides a substrate for beneficial intestinal bacteria (Cornell). Vitamin C supports your body’s health by forming collagen used to make skin, tendons, and blood vessels. Vitamin C also helps heal wounds, repair or maintain bones and teeth, and helps absorb iron (Medline Plus). It is best to eat the apple with the skin on, because the skin contains fiber and right under it is most of the vitamin C. One medium sized apple, about 2.5 inches in diameter, has a total calorie count of about 80 calories.

Apples are a great fruit to add to our diet! Check out a few ideas below on easy ways to add them in.

Photo source: Claire Davis, UF/IFAS Extension
  • Apples chopped up into bite size pieces taste great mixed in with a salad.
  • Mix up a yogurt dip using yogurt, cinnamon, and vanilla, to dip apple slices in. Or try spreading peanut butter over apple slices.
  • Add a peeled apple into a smoothie for added nutrients.

If you are not convinced yet, consider this. Apples are delicious, easy to carry around for a snack, low in calories, and can be refreshing on a hot day! With the hundreds of varieties available, there is an apple to suit almost anyone’s taste. Apples can be sweet, tart, crisp, crunchy, soft, or mushy, however you like them. Try an apple today!  

Fiber, digestion, and health – Cornell University. (n.d.). https://health.cornell.edu/sites/health/files/pdf-library/fiber-digestion-health.pdf

Food data Central Search Results. FoodData Central. (2019, April 1). https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/171688/nutrients

U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2023, January 19). Vitamin C: Medlineplus medical encyclopedia. MedlinePlus. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002404.htm