Sunday, May 22, 2011

Smart Ways to Enjoy More Fruit and Veggie Snacks

You probably already know how good fruits and vegetables are for your health. However, you may not know just HOW good-for-you produce really is. For busy families, the answer is clear: Eating more fruits and veggies is one of the smartest food moves you can make.

For example, research confirms that eating more whole fruits and vegetables is one of the best ways to reduce your risk of getting diabetes and heart disease (by as much as 60%!). If you’re concerned about brainpower (at work or home), green leafy veggies are a must-eat treat. They have been shown to slow cognitive decline in older adults.

Enjoy FRESH fruit and vegetable snacks.

It’s no secret that fresh fruit and veggies provide a nutrition boost for everyone in your family. But, how can you get them to eat more produce snacks? The answer is in plain sight. That’s right; just keep bright, beautiful produce where everyone can easily grab it for snacks-on-the-run. Keep a bowl of fresh, just ripe whole fruit in the center of your kitchen or dining table. Keep small bags of fresh veggie snacks (carrots, celery sticks, and broccoli florets) at eye level in the fridge.

Enjoy DRIED fruit and vegetable snacks.

Dried fruit is the perfect snack-to-go. It doesn’t need refrigeration - and it never makes a squishy mess in your backpack or purse. Choose dried fruit with little or no added sugar: apples, apricots, blueberries, and raisins are often dried with just their own natural sweetness. Add dried fruit to trail mix or to fresh fruit salads for a splash of color and a healthy dose of nutrients. Dried beans and peas count as veggies, so look for crunchy dried soybean, pea, and chickpea snacks.

Enjoy CANNED fruit and vegetable snacks.

Canned fruits make appealing, quick, and inexpensive snacks. Enjoy fruits canned in juice or, like natural applesauce, made without added sugar. Divide larger cans into smaller portions in reusable plastic containers or take advantage of the convenience in single serve containers of canned fruits, such as mandarin oranges, pineapple chunks, and applesauce. Canned beans make zesty snack dips when mixed with other veggies, such as canned corn and spicy salsa.

Enjoy FROZEN fruit and vegetable snacks.

Frozen fruits are often less expensive than the fresh varieties. Frozen strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries can be purchased in large bags, and then used as small handfuls for yogurt toppings or as smoothie ingredients. Frozen bars made from 100% fruit and juice (commercial or make-your-own) are a sweet and refreshing treat on hot summer days. Like their canned cousins, frozen veggies are delicious when microwaved quickly and added to bean/salsa dip combinations.

Monday, May 16, 2011

5 Delicious Ways to Keep Fruits and Veggies Fresh

Keep fruits and vegetables safe for your family.

Wherever you buy produce, you can protect your investment by following a few important strategies: (1) Reduce food waste by buying only as much as you can eat (or prepare) until your next shopping trip. (2) Take food from market to home as quickly as possible. (3) Wash produce with clean hands when you are ready to eat it, NOT when you bring it home. (4) Refrigerate all cut-up fruit or veggies (fresh or cooked) within two hours. And, remember, different fruits and vegetables require different temperature and humidity levels for optimal shelf life and food safety.

Keep fruits and vegetables fresh on your counter tops.

Many fruits do best when they are ripened on the counter, then refrigerated once fully ripe. Items in this category include melons, peaches, plums, and nectarines, as well as avocados and tomatoes (which are fruit in the botanical sense). It also works for more tropical fruits, such as bananas, papayas, and mangoes. Do not leave fruit in plastic bags on counters. This can slow the ripening process and may lead to rotten spots; paper bags allow better airflow and are fine for most fruits.

Keep fruits and vegetables fresh in your refrigerator.

Most other fresh fruits/veggies are best stored in a clean refrigerator at 40 degrees F or below - in plastic bags with holes to allow for air flow. Use crisper drawers for whole produce, storing fruits separately from vegetables. Fruits give off a gas that can shorten the storage life of other items, while vegetables (like broccoli) give off odors that can affect the taste and quality of fruits. To avoid cross contamination, be sure to keep meat, poultry, and fish separate from produce items.

Keep fruits and vegetables fresh in your cupboards.

Some produce items are best stored in a clean, dry, well-ventilated space with no direct light - like in a cupboard. Included in this category are potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, and winter squash (acorn, butternut, Hubbard, etc.), as well as garlic and onions. When storing canned products in cupboards, use the FIFO rule: First In, First Out. Writing the month and year of purchase on top of the can or jar makes it easy to decide which products to use before others.

Keep fruits and vegetables fresh in the freezer.

Keep extra summer fruits and veggies in your freezer (where the FIFO rule also applies) with help from Montana State University Extension. Two online publications can help you with freezing decisions: one for Freezing Fruits and another for Freezing Vegetables. For more information about a large number of fruits and vegetables, the produce database at Fruits and Veggies More Matters allows you to search for detailed information on choosing and storing a long list of delicious produce choices. On the same site, you can also find recipes, nutrition information, and other helpful tips on increasing your family’s intake of nature’s fast food - fruits and vegetables.

Friday, May 13, 2011

My Fantasy (School) Lunch with Jamie Oliver

Just posted on the IFIC Food Insight blog ... my invitation to take Jamie Oliver to lunch in Gallatin Gateway, Montana. Love to hear what you think ...

My Fantasy (School) Lunch with Jamie Oliver

I would love to have lunch with Jamie Oliver. He’s charming, witty, and we have so much in common – fresh food prepared from scratch, children’s health, and serving the best possible food in schools. I’ve read that he has had a “tough time” with the second season of his U.S. TV series since “[Nothing] that was planned has come off" (New York Daily News, March 9, 2011).

For some R-and-R and an incredible lunch, I’d like to invite Jamie to join me in Gallatin Gateway just south of Bozeman, Montana – where the blue ribbon trout stream that starred in “A River Runs Through It” will be a short walk from our table. We could enjoy some early morning catch-and-release – and then join Chef Jason Moore and his assistant Bobbi Jo for lunch at the Gallatin Gateway School. We’d have to share our table with ten or twelve exuberant students, but I know that Jamie loves to eat good food with kids.

Even with spectacular fly-fishing, you may wonder why I would take Jamie Oliver to lunch a K-8 school with only 180 students in a tiny Montana town? It’s quite simple: Gallatin Gateway epitomizes the school lunch revolution that is taking place from coast to coast – without the fanfare or food fights of a TV “reality” show. I featured Gallatin Gateway School for a full-week on School Meals That Rock for many reasons – most importantly because the students love to eat their delicious and nutritious meals.

During a recent cafeteria visit, my first clue that I was in an exceptional school was when the health teacher brought in a group of kindergarteners to smell what was cooking for lunch. The second was when two students (4th grade girl and 3rd grade boy) told me that their favorite school lunch was SPLIT PEA SOUP. The final, best tasting clue was when I took a bite of the whole-grain, cranberry-orange roll on my tray.

The great news about school meals is that Gallatin Gateway is just one tiny example of the delicious, nutrient-rich revolution that is taking place across the country. Hundreds of thousands of “lunch ladies” and gentlemen work miracles in school districts large and small every day. They prepare and serve meals that are often the best food that at-risk children get to eat during the day.

School meals are required to meet strict guidelines for food safety, address food allergies, and meet USDA nutrition standards. And, they do all of this for average reimbursements rates of only about $1.60 for breakfast and $2.75 for lunch, which must cover food, labor, supplies, and equipment costs. For dozens of additional examples of the everyday miracles in school nutrition programs, visit Tray Talk and School Meals That Rock.

So, Jamie, please come to lunch with me in Montana. If we pick the right day, we can enjoy a little fishing – and then treat ourselves to the healthiest lunch in town: some of that famous Split Pea Soup with a homemade whole-grain breadstick, steamed carrots, an apple, and 1% chocolate milk.

Yes, Jamie, I do believe that low-fat chocolate milk (from Northwest farmer owned Dairgold) can have a place on a school lunch tray. For a minimal amount of added sugar, children get significant amounts of three out of the four nutrients of concern identified by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans: calcium, potassium, and vitamin D. (With the split pea soup and whole-grain roll, they also get plenty of fiber too!). No need to take my word on this one, just read Dr. Rachel Johnson’s excellent piece on Why Jamie Oliver’s battle against chocolate milk may be the wrong one.

Honestly, I do not want to live in a world without chocolate. Guessing by the number of very yummy chocolate recipes on your website, you don’t either!

Dayle Hayes, MS, RD, is president of Nutrition for the Future based in Big Sky country (Billings, Montana) and Chair of the School Nutrition Services Dietetic Practice Group of the American Dietetic Association.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

5 Delicious Ways to Serve Up Leafy Green Vegetables

When it comes to veggies, the experts agree: Enjoying 1/2 to 1 cup of nutrient-rich leafy greens every day is a super smart nutrition decision. Greens are packed with vitamins, minerals, and fiber - plus they may reduce the risk of heart disease and some cancers. Now, that’s the kind of news you can really dig into – but remember, salads are just one delicious way to enjoy leafy greens.

1. Toss leafy greens into a salad.

All the best salads start with leafy greens. In terms of veggies (and fruits), the darker the color the more nutrition in the produce. So, start all your salads with Romaine and red lettuces, baby spinach, or maybe some arugula. Then, add a variety of colorful chopped produce. Strawberries, craisins, and bananas go great with fresh spinach.

2. Chop leafy greens into a stir-fry.

Almost any vegetable works great in a stir-fry, especially when combined with thin slices of lean beef, pork, chicken, or tofu. Chopped leafy greens, such as spinach, kale, and various Chinese cabbages, are the perfect addition to stir-fried dishes. Since leafy veggies cook quickly at high heat, add them just before serving the stir-fry.

3. Stir leafy greens into a hearty soup.

Soups are another easy way to enjoy leafy green vegetables. Flavorful varieties, such as mustard greens, beet greens, and kale, are especially good in bean and lentil soups. Greens also cook quickly in hot liquids, so chop them into medium-sized pieces and add 10 minutes before serving. A few greens can really jazz up canned soups as well.

4. Roll leafy greens into a sandwich wrap.

Start with a tortilla or pita bread. Choose some protein (tuna or chicken salad, sliced turkey, or roast beef, low-fat cheese, etc.). Then, add a layer of leafy greens. Romaine lettuce, baby spinach, and arugula are great greens for wraps. They’re also really tasty on top of pizza (toss lightly with olive oil or lemon juice and serve on cooked pizza).

5. Steam or sauté leafy greens into a side dish.

Fresh leafy greens can quickly be made into a delicious side for any meal. Steam and season with a little lemon juice; sauté with garlic or green onions; or microwave for 2 minutes and top with a little olive oil. For additional flavor, sprinkle lightly with cheese (feta, blue, or Gorgonzola) or chopped nuts (almonds, pecans, or walnuts).

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Perfect Mother's Day Dish

It came to me as I was writing a Mother’s Day entry for School Meals That Rock – the perfect dish to celebrate moms, kids, and May as Salad Month – a colorful mélange of baby veggies.

These tiny vegetables are small in size, but big on sweet flavor and tender texture. The trend of mini-produce originated in Europe and spread rapidly to gourmet restaurants, farmer’s markets, and finally mainstream supermarkets across the US.

AKA miniatures or midgets, these tasty treats are sometimes just immature regular vegetables. More and more frequently, they are special varieties bred to stay small and adorable. Virtually every seed seller from Burpee to Seedman has their own specialties and exclusives – with names guaranteed to delight any child: Golden Baby Bell Peppers, Golden Nugget Carrots, Baby Boo Pumpkins, Golden Midget Watermelons, Tom Thumb Lettuce, Bonsai Bok Choi, Sweet Dumpling Squash, Ladyfinger Potatoes, and Jolly Elf Tomatoes.

Baby veggies are perfect for children’s and schools gardens – as well as Mother’s Day gifts and dinners. For gorgeous baby vegetable baskets and delicious recipes, visit Melissa’s Produce pages.

My vote for a perfectly delicious Mother’s Day Dish: Baby Vegetable Antipasto from – easy to make with a variety of veggies and fresh mozzarella.

Friday, May 6, 2011

5 Quick Ways to Prepare Veggies with Maximum Flavor

I wrote this post as a participant in the Eat, Play, Love blog carnival hosted by Meals Matter and Dairy Council of California to share ideas on positive and fun ways to teach children healthy eating habits. A list of other registered dietitians and moms who are participating in the carnival will be listed at the bottom of this post or can be found on Meals Matter.

5 Quick Ways to Prepare Vegetables with Maximum Flavor

For optimal nutrition, virtually every American family needs to eat more vegetables. Poor preparation can be a serious obstacle to vegetable enjoyment, since no one likes to eat over-cooked, soggy, mushy produce. Here are some hot tips for maintaining vegetable flavor and texture, so you can increase veggie variety in your family meals.

1. Crunch into raw veggie power.

Crisp fresh vegetables are popular as nutrient-rich snacks and in entrée and side salads. The key to safe and tasty fresh veggies is storage and cleaning. Purchase high quality items without bruises at the grocery store or farmer’s market. Keep them wrapped in the fridge crisper drawer and wash them thoroughly under running tap water just before eating.

2. Steam veggies quickly on the stovetop.

However you cook vegetables, the goal is to make them tender but crisp, while retaining a natural bright color. The time necessary to steam veggies (after the water has boiled) varies depending on the type and size of pieces. Steaming can take as little as 5 minutes for small green beans or cauliflower florets to as much as 45 minutes for whole beets or an artichoke.

3. Cook veggies rapidly in the microwave.

According to the experts, today’s microwave ovens are marvels of engineering, miracles of convenience, and great at preserving the nutrient content of vegetables and other foods. This is because microwave cooking can be done quickly (3-8 minutes on HIGH per pound of vegetables) and with minimal amounts of water (a few drops to a couple of teaspoons).

4. Stir-fry veggies for a few minutes.

Stir-frying in a wok or non-stick pan is another wonderfully quick and easy way to prepare fresh or frozen veggies. Thin slices, small pieces, and leafy greens, such as spinach and bok choy, take only 1-3 minutes. Carrots, onions, snow peas, and whole green beans may take a bit longer, like 4-6 minutes. Small amounts of olive oil and/or sauce help speed cooking.

5. Roast veggies in a hot oven.

Oven roasting takes longer than other methods of cooking veggies. However, it is easy and convenient when you’re already cooking meat or whole poultry in a hot oven (375-400 degrees F). It takes about 45-50 minutes to roast root vegetables (beets, carrots, turnips, parsnips, whole garlic, small potatoes, etc.) that are drizzled with a little oil.

Don't stop here! Join the carnival and read other Eat, Play, Love blogs from dietitians and moms offering the best advice on raising healthy eaters. And if you don't get enough today, for more positive, realistic and actionable advice from registered dietitian moms, register for the free, live webinar Eat, Play, Love: Raising Healthy Eaters on Wednesday, May 18.

The Best-Kept Secret for Raising Healthy Eaters, Maryann Jacobsen, MS, RD
Feeding is Love, Jill Castle, MS, RD, LDN
5 Quick Ways to Prepare Veggies with Maximum Flavor, Dayle Hayes, MS, RD
The Art of Dinnertime, Elana Natker, MS, RD
Children Don’t Need a Short Order Cook, Christy Slaughter
Cut to the Point - My Foodie Rules, Glenda Gourley
Eat, Play, Love - A Challenge for Families, Alysa Bajenaru, RD
Eat, Play, Love ~ Raising Healthy Eaters, Kia Robertson
Get Kids Cooking, Jessica Fishman Levinson, MS, RD, CDN
Kid-Friendly Kitchen Gear Gets Them Cooking, Katie Sullivan Morford, MS, RD
Kids that Can Cook Make Better Food Choices, Glenda Gourley
Making Mealtime Fun, Nicole Guierin, RD
My No Junk Food Journey – Want to Come Along? , Kristine Lockwood
My Recipe for Raising Healthy Eaters: Eat Like the French, Bridget Swinney MS, RD, LD
Playing with Dough and the Edible Gift of Thyme, Robin Plotkin, RD, LD
Picky Eaters Will Eat Vegetables, Theresa Grisanti, MA
Raising a Healthy Eater, Danielle Omar, MS, RD
Putting the Ease in Healthy Family Eating, Connie Evers, MS, RD, LD
Raising Healthy Eaters Blog Carnival & Chat Roundup, Ann Dunaway Teh, MS, RD, LD
Soccer Mom Soapbox, Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD
Teenagers Can Be Trying But Don’t Give UpDiane Welland MS, RD
What My Kids Taught Me About Eating Mindfully, Michelle May, MD

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Getting Kids to EAT Veggies ... What YOU Can Do

Serve a variety of vegetables in a variety of ways.

Since children may need to see a new food many times before they want to even taste it, serving veggies often helps kids get familiar with how they look and smell.

Veggies can be prepared in many ways - raw, steamed, stir-fried, roasted, baked, and grilled. Kids who won’t touch cooked spinach might love a baby spinach salad.

Be a vegetable role model for children.
  • The simplest, most effective way to get kids to eat their veggies is to eat yours. While this may not have an immediate effect, over time it will help kids eat a variety of food.
  • Gardening is a great way to get kids more interested in vegetables. They are usually more willing to try garden fresh items - often before they make it to the dinner table.
Refrain from forcing or bribing children to eat any food.
  • Forcing or bribing children to eat veggies (or any other food) often makes them more suspicious of that item. They actually tend to eat less of the food in these situations.
  • The best approach is a matter-of-fact one: This is the tasty vegetable we are serving for this meal. It tastes great - and I hope that you will enjoy eating it like I am.

Monday, May 2, 2011

From GROWING veggies ... to Getting Kids to EAT Them!!

Many adults have terrible memories of being forced to eat vegetables as children. Many parents dread ‘food fights’ over veggies with their own children at the dinner table. While it is important for kids to eat more vegetables, there is a kinder, gentler, and more successful way to approach the issue. Here’s how to avoid fights about vegetables and get children to actually enjoy eating their vegetables.

What we know
Given the importance of vegetables for health and nutrition, there has been a significant amount of research on children and their vegetable intake.
  • Children are not eating enough produce: Children’s average vegetable consumption is far below recommended levels and has actually fallen over the past five years. Kids especially need to eat more dark green and orange vegetables.
  • Children are neo-phobic about foods: Neo-phobic is another way of saying that kids are naturally suspicious of new foods and often reluctant to even touch them. Some children are more reluctant than others; some react strongly to new textures as well.
  • Children need positive role models: Children are always watching what those around them are eating. When parents, grandparents, caregivers, and other children enjoy their veggies, kids tend to be more interested in trying them.