I have just wrapped up my three-day Kitchen Creations camp and am happy to report that it was a big hit with the campers. Each day had a different country theme. Day 1 was Italian, Day 2 was Mexican, and Day 3 was American. All the dishes the kids made, including dessert, represented that day’s country.
The recipes ranged from simple to more complex, allowing the kids to build on basic skills to learn more advanced ones. For some campers, boiling a pot of water was a daunting task. For others, they learned how to caramelize and julienne. The campers worked in teams to create two main dishes, a salad, and a dessert each day, which was shared with the entire group.
I am pleased to announce there were no leftovers. The kids either ate it all, or wanted to take their culinary creations home to share with their families. If that is not a testimony to the camp’s success, I do not know what is.
I also was impressed with the campers’ willingness to try new things. Many of them were skeptical about the vegetable lasagna we made on Day 1, but nearly all the kids were willing to at least give it a try. And just like the baked ziti, Caesar salad, and chocolate biscotti we made that day, there was nothing left at the end of the day.
Kitchen skills are essential for healthy living, and teaching kids how to cook when they are young provides a strong foundation upon which to continue to build.
Kids can be eager helpers in the kitchen, even when it comes to cleaning up. Photo source: Samantha Kennedy, UF/IFAS Extension
Kids are eager learners in the kitchen. All the campers in Kitchen Creations were enthusiastic and ready to learn. They were proud of their creations, wanted to learn new skills, and were excited to use new tools and practice using familiar ones.
It is understandable that some parents may be reluctant to have younger kids in the kitchen. Maybe they are wary of possible injury. Maybe they are just so busy they do not have time to teach and supervise their children in the kitchen. It is a hectic world out there! But I know from personal experience with Kitchen Creations camp that kids, especially those interested in cooking, are more trustworthy and less accident-prone in the kitchen than some might expect.
The campers in my cooking camp are between the ages of 10 and 12 and in the four summers I have offered it, I have had only a few minor mishaps. The campers are aware of possible dangers in the kitchen. Things are hot. Things are sharp. Things are heavy. They are very conscientious about safety and handling things the correct way.
Kids who cook grow into adults who cook. Cooking is an important life skill that will be useful through someone’s entire life. Whether it is a student putting together quick, healthy meals and snacks to help them study, a busy parent trying to balance the responsibilities of everyday life while planning and making nutritious meals for their family, or a doting grandparent making something special for their grandkids, cooking is vital and brings people together.
Cooking is life.
I encourage you to support the budding chefs in your life. Instead of turning them away, allow them to help. Taking the time to prepare a meal together and then sharing that meal with loved ones builds stronger relationships while teaching important skills for a successful life.
UF/IFAS is an Equal Opportunity Institution.
I would like to continue on the theme of reducing food waste by talking more specifically about ways to use food scraps effectively to prevent them from ending up in the landfill.
As I was thinking about this topic, I was reminded of a funny scene from the 1982 film Night Shift, where Michael Keaton’s character, Billy Blaze, says into his tape recorder, “Idea to eliminate garbage: edible paper. You see, you eat it, it’s gone. Eat it, it’s out of there. No garbage.” Think about how much less waste would go into our landfills if we could just eat paper!
It is the same concept for food waste. As much as 40% of food grown, processed, and transported in the United States will never be eaten, destined to end up in the landfill. That is literally thousands of tons of food wasted each year. But what if we could help reduce that amount?
Got leftover veggie scraps? Instead of throwing them away, save them for a delicious veggie soup.
(Photo source: UF/IFAS)
Here are two great ideas for using leftover food scraps instead of throwing them away.
Cook with them. Leftover vegetables are great ingredients for a simple and delicious soup. Simply take the leftovers, combine them with an aromatic base of onions, garlic, and celery, add a liquid such as stock or broth (or water and white wine), throw in a generous helping of herbs, and cook for about 25-30 minutes. Then use an immersion blender or food processor (or stand-up blender) to blend into a creamy soup. Any type of vegetable works for this type of soup, from greens and cauliflower to parsnips and sweet potatoes, which makes it an ideal way to use up those scraps.
Another great way to use vegetable scraps is to make homemade stock. Vegetable parts such as carrot ends and peels, celery ends and greens, corn cobs, pea pods, and all the other bits trimmed off during food preparation can be used to make stock. Not in the mood to make stock right away? No problem! Veggie scraps can be saved in a zippered bag and kept frozen for up to six months.
When the time comes, simply dump the scraps into a large stock pot (that is why it is called a stock pot!) or Dutch oven, fill the pot 3/4 of the way with water, bring to a boil and simmer for at least 30 minutes. (The longer it simmers, the richer the flavor.) Strain it all through a sieve. The remaining liquid is the stock. Fresh stock can be stored 3-5 days in the refrigerator or frozen up to three months. Here is a simple resource from Cornell University Extension on how to make vegetable stock from kitchen scraps. (Here is another one from Tasty.co.)
Hold on! There are still scraps left over. What about those? Well, that brings me to the second great way to use kitchen scraps.
Food waste such as vegetable scraps can be added to compost to create a nutrient-rich fertilizer for home gardens.
(Photo source: Tyler Jones, UF/IFAS)
Compost them. Creating compost at home takes a little work and perseverance, but it can certainly pay off in the home garden. Nutrient-rich compost can add oomph to flower beds and vegetable patches and turn any garden into a showcase.
Vegetable scraps are perfect additions to any compost pile. Any vegetable scraps can be added to compost. Just remember to remove the little stickers, as those are not compostable.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), there are many benefits to compost. It enriches soil, helping retain moisture and suppress plant diseases and pests. It reduces the need for chemical fertilizers. And it encourages the production of beneficial bacteria and fungi that break down organic matter to create humus, a rich nutrient-filled material. These fact sheets (this one and this one) from UF/IFAS Extension are a wealth of information about home composting.
The reduction of unnecessary food waste begins with us, the consumers. By learning how to use those scraps in useful ways, such as cooking and composting, we can help eliminate the excess food waste filling our landfills.
UF/IFAS is an Equal Opportunity Institution.
Spring has arrived. It is fresh produce season. The USDA Dietary Guidelines recommend that half your plate should be filled with fruits and vegetables. Select a rainbow of colorful fresh fruits and vegetables to enhance your diet.
Keep It Fresh
Photo Source: UF/IFAS
There is a bountiful supply of fruits and vegetables during the Spring and Summer months. Grocery stores, famers markets, and backyard gardens abound with abundant supply of fresh produce.
Recently fresh produce has been linked to various outbreaks of foodborne illness. These problems are becoming more common and it is important as a consumer to know how to handle fresh produce safely.
Safe Produce Handling Tips
Purchase vegetables and fruits that look and smell fresh. Purchase only the amount you will use in a few days. Most vegetables and fruits with the exception of apples, potatoes, and citrus don’t store well for long periods of time.
Put produce away promptly. Most whole produce will keep best stored in perforated plastic bags in the refrigerator crisper drawer where the humidity is highest. Tomatoes and potatoes are two exceptions. Tomatoes taste better if stored at room temperature. Potatoes stay fresh longer if stored in a cool, dry, dark place. Cut produce should be stored in the refrigerator in covered containers. Bacteria can grow on cut surfaces of produce.
Rinse whole produce thoroughly under clean running tap water, just before you are ready to use. Do not wash fruits and vegetables with detergent. Scrub or rub as needed to remove surface contamination. Wash produce such as oranges and melons even if you don’t eat the rind or skin. When you cut into a fruit or vegetable, any bacteria that is on the surface can be transferred to the inner flesh. Check the label instructions on fresh bagged produce. For example; use by date, pre-washed, and ready to eat. Discard stored fruits and vegetables that appear moldy or smell musty.
It is essential to our health to preserve the nutrition that is found in fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables contain an abundance of vitamins and minerals that the body needs to maintain optimal health. Following those easy safe produce tips can help preserve freshness and assure safe produce handling.
Food waste is a huge problem here in the United States. Here are a few incredible facts: Food is the most common solid source of waste in American landfills. Anywhere from 25-40% of food grown, processed, and transported in the US will never be eaten. Food waste harms the environment and results in a lot of wasted money.
Looking for ways to reduce food waste? Just follow these six tips.
Plan meals carefully. Only purchase what will be eaten in a reasonable amount of time, especially perishable items. Buying large quantities of fresh produce, dairy, and other perishables may seem like a time-saving practice. However, throwing spoiled food away not only wastes money, but also time, since the spoiled items need to be replaced during another trip to the market.
Instead of throwing old fruits and vegetables away, turn them into nutrient-rich compost to help your garden thrive. (Photo source: Camila Guillen, UF/IFAS)
Freeze or re-use food whenever possible. Not all food freezes well. However, fresh fruits and vegetables freeze quickly and easily when handled properly and can last in the freezer for months. Vegetable scraps are also great for making compost, which enriches the soil and can help support the growth of backyard gardens.
Look at the sell by/use by/best by dates on food products. Try to purchase items with the longest shelf-life (the latest date) available. If a product is close to its sell by date, be sure to use it or freeze it quickly. Keep in mind, however, that just because a product is past its use by date does not mean it is unsafe to eat. Take it on a case-by-case basis. If there is no mold, pests, off odors, off colors, or off textures, the product is safe to consume. This is especially true for dry, non-perishable items.
Store food properly. Storing foods at the wrong temperatures can speed up the spoilage process. Keep the refrigerator between 37 and 39 degrees Fahrenheit. Dry goods storage should ideally be around 50 degrees F, but since this is not realistic for most of us, just make sure dry goods are stored in a cool, dry place outside of direct sunlight.
Stay organized. Arrange items so that the oldest stuff is in front. This helps ensure it is used first. Always label frozen foods with the item name and date it was first frozen and use within 12 months whenever possible. Foods frozen for longer than a year start to diminish in flavor and texture. Old food also tends to attract pests, so making sure things are used efficiently can help eliminate the risk of insects and rodents.
Donate non-perishables to those in need. Food banks and other community organizations are always looking for food donations to help the hungry. Non-perishable foods that have not surpassed their use by/sell by dates are always welcome donations. Instead of trashing it, share it with someone less fortunate.
In most cases, food affected by flood damage or other disasters should be discarded for safety reasons. Better to be safe than sorry. However, everyday food waste is completely avoidable if a few simple rules are followed. The amount of food thrown away each year in the US is disheartening. When shopping, being a little more mindful of quantities and dates can help reduce overall food waste, saving both money and the environment.
National Center for Home Food Preservation (University of Georgia Extension)
Food Waste Resources (Kansas State University Extension)
UF/IFAS is an Equal Opportunity Institution.
Homemade canned preserves 1942.
Photo Credits: UF/IFAS File Photo
In 1795, Napoleon needed a better way to preserve large quantities of food for his troops during the Napoleonic Wars, so his government offered a reward of 12,000 francs for the invention of a new food preservation method. In 1809, Nicolas Appert won that award with his canning technique that used glass containers that were sealed then heated to a set temperature. Peter Durand created the tin canister a year later. These inventions led to the canning materials and processes that are used today to preserve food for people all over the world.
Canned food provides a convenient and often less expensive way to include fruits and vegetables in the diet of many individuals and families. Canned foods are also considered a staple in many pantries because of their shelf life. Commercially canned products may keep the food packed inside at its best quality for 1 to 5 years depending on the type of food. Most home canned foods are able to be stored for up to a year, though there are some exceptions.
Photo Credit: UF/IFAS Photo by Tyler Jones
To make the most of canned foods, keep these tips in mind.
Best by or use by dates on commercial products do not indicate safety. They are estimated dates provided by the manufacturer on how long they believe their product would be at its best quality. The exception to this is for infant formula products that are required to have a “Use-By” date and should not be used after that date.
Avoid cans or jars that are not in good condition. Look for dents, swelling or bulging, leaking, rust, cracks in jars or loose lids. If the food has a foul odor or spurts liquid when it’s opened, do not use it. Any of these could indicate the food may have been contaminated or could contain Clostridium botulinum toxins.
A woman canning in the kitchen.
Photo Credits: UF/IFAS File Photo
Store canned foods in a cool, dark and dry space. This will help them to last longer and keep the food inside at its best quality. Keep canned foods in an area that is between 50-70°F.
Use canned foods to fill nutrition gaps. Add a can of vegetables to your dinner menu—a side of green beans or carrots can help balance your plate. Try using a can of fruit as a basis for a dessert. Pineapple and cottage cheese, anyone? If you’re concerned about sodium or sugar in canned foods, look for products marked as low sodium or lite for less sugar. Compare ingredient and nutrition labels of different brands or varieties of a product to find what works best for you.
If you can foods at home, make sure you’re following recipes that have been tested for safety. Follow the guidelines in the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning, 2015 Revision or find more information at the National Center for Home Food Preservation. You can also contact your local extension office; in Florida, you can find your local office here.
U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Agricultural Library, How Did We Can?: https://www.nal.usda.gov/exhibits/ipd/canning/timeline-table
U.S. Department of Agriculture, AskUSDA, How long can you keep canned goods?: https://ask.usda.gov/s/article/How-long-can-you-keep-canned-goods
U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food Safety and Inspection Service, Food Product Dating: https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-education/get-answers/food-safety-fact-sheets/food-labeling/food-product-dating/food-product-dating
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us have turned to cooking more meals at home. Cooking meals and eating at home has many benefits. When preparing meals, you can select the ingredients and choose healthy recipes lower in saturated fats, sodium, and sugar. When eating out, we tend to eat more food. You can more easily control your portion sizes when eating at home. Remember to include a variety of fruits and vegetables in your main dishes and side dishes. Finally, preparing and eating meals together is not only a fun way to teach healthy eating habits and cooking skills, but it is also a great way to connect with each other at the end of the day.
We invite you to join us for A Healthy Table: Virtual Cooking School. In our virtual cooking school, you will learn how to prepare healthy meals for your family through self-paced online lessons and hands-on cooking activities. You will have opportunities to engage in monthly live virtual cooking demonstrations and interactive learning experiences.
Register before February 9th and save 20% off the ticket price. Early registrants gain access to a bonus class and kick-off event. Tickets are on sale for $19.99 until February 9th and $25 thereafter. Registration will close on February 23. Once registered, you will receive the Zoom class link and the link to the class website. Register here: http://bit.ly/ahealthytable.
The monthly Zoom class events will be held from 6:30-7:30 pm CT/ 7:30-8:30 pm ET on:
- Tuesday, February 9th: Kickoff Event Available for Early Birds only Program introduction and a sweet, healthy treat demonstration.
- Tuesday, February 23rd: Lesson 1, Kitchen skills primer
- Tuesday, March 23rd: Lesson 2, Cooking techniques – baking, grilling, roasting
- Tuesday, April 27th: Lesson3, Simple dishes – eggs, breads, salads, pasta
- Tuesday, May 25th: Lesson4, One dish meals – one-pot, slow cooker, packet meals
- Tuesday, June 22nd: Lesson 5, Entertaining and special occasions – setting a table, appetizers
Come cook with us and set your table for better health.
Benefits of Cooking at Home
Cooking at Home for Healthier Eating
Benefits of Family Meals