Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Product Review: It's Okay to Squeeze the Fruit

Citrus season is upon us.  Try a simple juicer to get more from your fresh citrus.  Read my review here.

Visit Food & Nutrition Magazine for more great product reviews.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Hot Topics-The "A" List for Foodies

Once again, Food Tank has released its list of recommended reads.  Food Tank, a food think tank, as the name implies, and sponsor of today's Food Day, provokes thinking and doing to reach the goal of sustainable food systems.

Their fall reading list includes 20 Great Books About Food.  With titles appealing to carnivores, bakers, geopoliticos, and dumpster divers (really), the list has breadth and depth.  There is one book I am looking forward to reading, The Market Gardener, about a 1.5 acre high yield farm that feeds 200 families.  It's about growing better, not bigger.  There is a profound double meaning embedded in that phrase.

Take a look, read a book.  Get provoked.

Friday, October 10, 2014

School Daze: Want to Improve School Food? What We Need From Parents

An important stakeholder is often left out of the school lunch improvement movement - parents.  Some organizations do call for parents to get involved by meeting with school nutrition directors and serving on wellness committees. But more than activists, we need parents who can raise children, tweens, and teens:
  • who will try new foods, especially vegetables
  • who don't mind if their food touches
  • who will try whole grains at home, as that is what we, by regulation, must serve in schools
  • who have good manners and can talk quietly while eating, to make the dining experience more enjoyable for all
  • who say please and thank you to the lunch servers who are serving them
  • who are limiting salt consumption at home by not having salt shakers on the table and by choosing no salt added and low or reduced sodium foods, as that is what we, by regulation, must serve in schools
  • who know what the Two Bite Club is
  • who want to include at least one fruit or a veg with every meal
  • who will choose foods other than pizza, nuggets and burgers when they eat out, as that is essentially what eating schools meals is-eating out
  • who will not choose more food than they will eat, to reduce waste and keep costs down so that saved money can be put into other food improvement efforts
Some of these things are just good practices, good life long habits, and common sense. But these are ways you can do your part to improve school food.

Friday, October 3, 2014

School Daze-It Takes A Village to Improve School Food

Here is an online news article about my work with a chef to continue to improve our school meals.

The School Health Initiative Program (SHIP) and Child Nutrition Services (CNS) Partnership's Chef Initiative

Getting our two new hot entrees this year, Zesty Fajita Chicken with Tex Mex Rice and Jamaican Jerk Chicken Bowl, on the menu took a village.  The process is dynamic as input is still being considered and has involved local chefs, student chefs, our consulting chef, cafeteria managers, line cooks, servers, a dietitian (me!), student taste test panels, adult taste testers, school staff input, culinary boot camp participants, food vendors, and more.

If you are local, we will be offering samples of the Jamaican Jerk Chicken Bowl at the Williamsburg Farmers Market Chefs Tent on Saturday morning, October 18, 2014.

We are still working on the 3 P's-production, preparation, and presentation, and with our chef's help - taste!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

What's New In The School Food Business? More Policies, Standards, and Regulations

We have heard about the increased whole grain and fruit offerings that took effect in schools as of July 1, 2014.  What other initiatives are being implemented as part of the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act?

Wellness Policy Re-writes
Back in 2006, all schools participating in the National School Lunch Program had to have Wellness Policies.  Some were long, some were short, some were strong, some were weak.  Now, policies need at least the following:
·         a committee of stakeholders to update and monitor the policy
·         a way to measure effectiveness
·         a way to communicate the policy and its success to parents.

Professional Standards
School nutrition professionals at all levels for all size school districts will be held to certain minimum education standards as well as continuing education goals.  This is in addition to certifications that are currently available through the School Nutrition Association.

Smart Snacks In Schools
All  food and beverages that compete with school meals ("competitive foods") now have more specific restrictions.  All food and beverages available for sale to students on the school campus during the school day, including snacks sold in the lunch line, school stores or snack bars, vending machines and as fundraisers must be:

·         whole grain rich OR
·         be a combination food that contains at least 1/4 cup fruit or vegetable OR
·         have a fruit or vegetable or dairy or protein food as the first ingredient OR
·         contain 10% of the Daily Value of nutrients of public health concern (as defined by the 2010 Dietary Guidelines - calcium, potassium, Vitamin D and dietary fiber)

Snacks and entrees must also meet specific nutrient requirements:
·         Snacks 200 and entrees 350 calories or less per serving
·         Snacks 230 and entrees 480 mg of sodium per serving.
·         35-10-35 (the industry code for 35% or less calories from fat, 10% of less calories from saturated fat, and 35% or less weight from sugar)
·         Zero grams of trans fat

Some kid favorite snacks may still be sold but in whole grain formulations and in smaller portions to meet these restrictions. Some entrees are exempt if they met current criteria for foods sold in the breakfast or lunch meal programs.

There are very specific limitations on beverages as well.  Basically, plain and carbonated water, skim and low fat milk, and 100% juice may be sold.  Portions for other than water are limited to 8 ounces in elementary, 12 ounces in middle and high.  High school options broaden to include no and low calorie beverages (to include diet sodas) and caffeinated beverages.

School nutrition professionals are working hard to implement these regulations.  The fundraising regulations will be perhaps the most difficult for other school organizations to implement as only food and beverages meeting regulatory standards may be sold on the school campus during school hours.  Yet, they are fair.  School organizations should not be able to sell anything that school nutrition programs cannot sell. 

Food and beverage restrictions do not apply to celebrations or after hours fundraisers.  Some states overlay "time and place" restrictions wherein no food may be sold in competition with school nutrition programs during school meal times.  Hopefully, these regulations will encourage non-food based fundraising.  There are plenty of great ideas out there for that.

The bottom line is we want students purchasing healthy meals during school hours and if they want a snack, it needs to be smart - small and healthy.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Google This and That to Eat This Not That

We make hundreds of food decisions every day. When you get down to the nuances of very specific decisions - 100% juice or whole fruit for breakfast, adding spinach or romaine to a green salad, almonds or walnuts - there is a great tool to help you maximize nutrient dense choices.

It is not an app or a software package.  Simply search two foods in your Google toolbar by typing "compare x to y".  A chart comes up, thoroughly comparing the two foods.  The data is based on the USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference (, which contains over 8,000 foods.

So, spinach or romaine?  Spinach gives you double the potassium and triple the calcium, both nutrients of public health concern, according to USDA.  Those are nutrients of which the average American is not getting enough.  I'd choose spinach.

Almonds or walnuts?  Almonds get the nod - lower in saturated fat, higher in monounsaturated fat and higher in fiber (another nutrient of public health concern) and protein.

Tonight we are having burgers for dinner.  Swiss or cheddar?  Does it matter?  Type "compare Swiss cheese to cheddar cheese".  Swiss is slightly lower in calories (maybe it's the holes?).  Swiss is also much lower in sodium.  Swiss gets the nod from me.

Go explore a little.  Compare butter to margarine.  Compare honey to sugar.  Compare apples to oranges.  (Yes, you can do that.)

Get savvy and make factually based food decisions.

Monday, August 4, 2014

BLT Pie-A New Super Summer Recipe

What to do with all those slightly imperfect tomatoes from your garden?  You know the ones, where you have to cut out splits, spots and the like?  I was looking through some recipe books to find a way to use a day's harvest worth of chopped fresh tomatoes.  Here is a combination of a few recipes, creating a new, original recipe.

BLT Pie - From the Kitchen of Food, Farms, Fun & Facts

3 cups fresh tomatoes, chopped
2 tbsp. dehydrated onions
1 tbsp. dried parsley
1 tsp. garlic, chopped (I use the quick stuff from the jar)
1/2 cup bacon bits (leftover from breakfast or from a jar)
1/4 cup mayonnaise (I use light mayo)
1 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. fresh basil, chopped
4 oz. shredded cheese (any flavor, Swiss is tasty!)
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
S&P to taste
1 refrigerated pie crust

Line pie pan with softened pie crust.  Combine all other ingredients, stirring well.  Spread into pie crust.  Bake at 375* conventional or 350* convection for about 25 minutes, until golden brown and bubbly.

Some tomato pie recipes have you pre-bake the pie crust, lined with foil - who has time for that?  Or, some use a double layer of pie crust - not too healthy.  By using dehydrated onions and parsley and Parmesan cheese, this allows you to skip that step and helps to absorb some of the liquid from the tomatoes.  Roma tomatoes work particularly well because they are not too juicy for this recipe.

My daughter asked me, "What's the 'L' in the BLT?"  I guess it is for the fresh basiL!  Enjoy!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Hot Topic - The 5 Second Rule May Be True

E. Coli, Staph aureus - nasty germs and the cause of many food borne illnesses.  Senior biology students at Aston University School of Life and Health Sciences looked at the following foods:
  • dry toast, pasta, biscuit, and sticky sweet bun
And the following floors:
  • carpet, laminate, tile
Foods were allowed to come in contact with flooring for 3 to 30 seconds.  Carpet had the least transfer of bacteria and laminate and tile the most.  (Carpet fuzz is another story.) The sticky food picked up more bacteria than the dry food.  Time of exposure was significantly linked to bacterial transfer to food. So, the 5 second rule is not just an old wives' tale.

The students also surveyed people about their use of the 5 second rule - 87% said they have or would eat food dropped on the floor.  You are not alone.
In the interest of full disclosure, a study at Clemson University in 2007 found the transfer of Salmonella (another nasty germ) to bologna and bread was instantaneous. It could be the type of germ.  It could be the fat and protein content of the tested food.  It could be just how dirty that floor was to begin with - compare a city sidewalk to your mom's kitchen floor that was so clean you could eat off of it (we used to say).

So, what's the bottom line?  Wash your hands!  That is the best thing you can do to prevent food borne illness.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Watch What You Eat. Watch What You Watch.

It's just a good idea all the way around.  Monitoring your kids' media consumption, that is.  I like that phrase better than "screen time" as it connotes that we need to watch what we watch, just as we watch what we eat or what we consume.  Most parents know less TV/video/phone/game/tablet time may mean better grades, but there's more. 

We end up in a positive loop when we limit media consumption.  Better sleep, better concentration, better grades and so on.  And even a lower BMI.  And less aggression.  A recent study reported in JAMA Pediatrics indicated all those benefits accrue from monitoring children's media consumption.  Parents are empowered by realizing that being more involved in their child's media consumption may impact a wide range of healthy behaviors.
I imagine it works for mom and dad, too.  Better sleep, better concentration at work, more time for active play, less stress, lower BMI.  Try it.  Watch what you watch.

Source:  JAMA Pediatrics, May 2014

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act - What's In It For Your Kids?

Here is my latest guest blog for Food & Nutrition Magazine's Stone SoupThe HHFKA: A Top 10 List.

It touches on the good parts of the legislation as well as the controversial parts, currently making headlines.

There is also a little known clause in the long HHFKA regulation called "paid equity".  The price of a school lunch for paid students must eventually equal the subsidy the federal government pays for free students.  Translation - what's in it for your kids may be a price increase.  Look for that when school starts this fall.

Also, don't be surprised if your student comes home and mentions things the school no longer sells, for example, certain snacks or treats they may have occasionally enjoyed in the past.  New snack regulations for things sold outside of the school meal (snacks, vending, school stores, fundraisers) take effect now too.

Stay tuned for part 2 of my guest blog about school meals.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Summer Snacks

In the summer, having more free time, taking road trips, and spending days at the beach or pool all can lead to more snacking.  Snacks are now defined as anything smaller than a meal.  According to a recent report from the Hartman Group, a consulting firm that focuses on consumer culture, snacks now represent half of our eating occasions.  Snacks are also bound by fewer "rules" than meals.

The report, "Modern Eating: Cultural Roots, Daily Behaviors" looks at physically driven, emotionally driven and socially or culturally driven eating.  Snacks can meet all three different consumer needs.  With food and beverages available 24-7 in our culture, consumers often snack even when they have no desire for food or drink - what the researchers call "aimless snacking".
Other than summer schedules, researchers acknowledge that things like the demands of work, commuting to and from work, raising families, social interaction, holidays, kids’ after-school or weekend activities tend to throw the traditional view of mealtime out the window.

The report goes on to give advice to food companies, restaurants, and marketers to help them meet the needs of consumers. Health minded consumers can remain in control and practice mindful rather than aimless snacking by:
  • Plan ahead:  pack a cooler.
  • Depart and return on time so that mealtimes stand a chance of being honored.
  • Keep snacks in your desk or car - snacks that you have chosen for their nutritional merits rather than grabbed from the vending machine or drive through.
  • On the road?  Plan when and where you will stop to eat.  Decide what you will choose before you hit the drive through or see the glossy photos on the menu.
  • Portion snacks as soon as you get them home from the store so they are at the ready. This includes washing and chopping or slicing veggie snacks.
  • Make a menu.  Sounds old-school?  It is, but it works.  If you plan it/buy it/defrost it, you are much more likely to eat it.
  • Rethink schedules - lazy days of summer, not having sports practice every night of the week, and staying home are okay. 
  • Family mealtimes are as important as anything else you may schedule.
  • Look at your physical, emotional, and social/cultural prompts to eating and reconsider your response.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Superfoods Defined

The popular press often touts superfoods and berries and dark leafy greens are often cited as examples.  A researcher defined what are also called powerhouse fruits and veggies based on their nutrient density.  To understand nutrient density, think of corn as low and spinach-rich in vitamins and minerals-as high.  Superfoods and powerhouse fruits and veggies are associated with decreased chronic disease risk.

Categories (with examples) were:
green leafy (chard, beet green, spinach, chicory, leaf lettuce)
yellow/orange (carrot, tomato, winter squash, sweet potato)
citrus (lemon, orange, lime, grapefruit)
cruciferous (watercress, Chinese cabbage, collard green, kale, arugula)
berry fruits (strawberry, blackberry)
allium veggies (scallion, leek)

Overall, foods in the top 2 categories above scored higher than those in the bottom 4 categories.

Those that didn't make the cut were:  raspberry, tangerine, cranberry, garlic, onion and blueberry.  Some surprises there?  Looking at the methodology, foods that are excellent sources of a particular nutrient were capped in the scoring system so foods with a variety of the 17 nutrients of public health concern (per FAO and IOM) scored better.  Also, phytonutrients were not included in scoring.

The good news for foodies:  watercress was at the top of the list and white grapefruit, though still making the cut, was at the bottom.  New and perhaps unusual foods included chicory, kohlrabi, rutabaga and leek.

The good news for home gardeners:  many of these are easy to grow in most climates. 

The good news for farm to school programs:  many of these (spinach, leaf lettuce, winter squash, sweet potato, collard green, kale) are affordable options for school lunch menus. As a side note, the subgroups of veggies required each week in the National School Lunch Program are:  dark leafy greens, legumes, red/orange, starchy and "other" (green beans, cucumbers, celery, etc.). 

The good news for consumers:  this classification system helps them plan menus that include powerhouse fruits and veggies and the beneficial nutrients they provide.  And maybe they'll try some new things along the way.

Grow it, try it, like it!  Have a family taste test.

FAO:  Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
IOM:  Institute of Medicine

Source:  Preventing Chronic Disease, June 2014


Thursday, June 26, 2014

Quality and Quantity-Let Kids Serve Themselves

There is a respected saying in Registered Dietitian circles that "the parents decide what to eat, the child decides how much to eat" (Ellyn Satter).  Learn more here.  This respects inherent appetite controls that children have. You decide the quality, they decide the quantity.

Recent research from the University of Illinois Child Development Laboratory suggests that children who serve themselves at meals are less likely to overeat.  They need that practice of deciding for themselves. It is a lifelong skill, as important as the three R's.
Researchers also found children who serve themselves at mealtimes are more likely to try new foods.  That may be "the participation effect".  Just like when my husband makes dinner, he thinks everything tastes perfectly, kids who help with meal planning, preparation, and chores are more likely to like it. Thumbs up.

Having some structure around those meals is also helpful.  Set the table.  Say grace.  Practice table manners.  Have conversation.  Expect everyone to stay at the table until the last person is done eating.  Have everyone help with clean up.  These things seem old school and obvious, but they are dwindling in current, busy, over scheduled families.

Here's to family meals!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

I Am A Lunch Lady

I write the menus for our school system.  I am a Registered Dietitian with a Master's Degree in Education.  I mention that up front for two reasons-I know how to plan a healthy meal, how to prepare it in a healthy way, and how to make recipe substitutions to make it even healthier.  And I know how to teach our staff how to understand and implement complicated federal regulations, even as they-the regulations-change year to year.

Last week, I spent two work days pouring over all the recipes that make up our four week high school cycle menu, attempting to cut any amount of sodium to get our weekly sodium levels into compliance with limits that take effect July 1.  We cut salt shakers, salt packets, and added salt years ago.  Now I was looking for no salt added or low sodium canned products and lower sodium choices for other ingredients in our recipes.  I had many challenges

As we transitioned to more entrĂ©e and side salads and fresh veggies with dip over the past few years, we selected low fat dips and dressings.  At the time, total fat was a nutrient we tracked for federal and state compliance.  Now we don't even track that, which is okay, due to positive changes like: 
  • many products have become fat modified
  • schools carefully control portions of high cost, center of plate meat or meat alternate items
  • fryers are no longer in most schools
So, total fat levels are not a problem-most schools are well under 30% of total calories. 

However, when manufacturers cut the fat they often raise the sodium, attempting to carefully merge texture, flavor and kid's palates.  Many products available to school systems are not yet sodium modified to the low levels we will be required to offer.  The pre-cooked diced chicken we get from USDA is very high in sodium.  One side salad with two tablespoons of dressing can throw us over our daily limit. Our sodium levels actually come out lower in our nutrient analysis program if I sub low sodium canned veggies for fresh side salads.  We lost the forest for the trees, looking at sodium grams rather than whole, fresh foods.

What's a kid favorite?  Cheese.  We add it to pasta dishes, sandwiches, salads, refried beans and more.  Sometimes it is just as a garnish, to make it more kid friendly.  But cheese is high in sodium so I was cutting the cheese in recipes.

Two  years ago, I spent days counting whether our breads and buns were equal to 1.5, 1.75 or 2 grain servings, as defined by the National School Lunch Program, based on the grams of grains per serving.  It mattered not whether they were whole grains, just if they were too much grains.  At the time we had maximum grain limits on what we could serve.  Again, we had lost the forest for the trees.  We weren't transitioning to tasty (to kids) whole grains, we were worried if a hamburger bun counted as 1.5 or 2 grains.  And remember, folks like me, all over the nation, in every school district, were spending days doing this.  Then, mid school year, the grain maximums were "relaxed" (fed speak for oops), per federal regulation change.  We got our forest back and could move on to more important things.

Ah, but this year, we have to transition to 100% whole grains, meaning EVERY bun, roll, bread, wrap, cereal, rice or grain we serve must contain at least 51% whole grains.  Show me how many families are doing this at home?  This is not moderate.  My Plate says "make half your grains whole grains".  I can work with that.

We also had meat/meat alternate maximums.  I was taking the cheese off our cheeseburgers to meet the meat maximums, despite the fact that we have to place our cheese orders with USDA about two years before the year of service, which was before the regulations changed.  No cheese burgers went over really well with the students.  Remember, local school meal programs are a self sufficient business with customers.  They typically receive no local funding and must rely on federal and state reimbursement for free and reduced meals and income from paid meals (customers) and a la carte sales.  (Note:  limits on a la carte sales kick in this summer too, but that is a whole other blog post, or two).  Customers like cheeseburgers.

By the way, meat maximums were "relaxed" too.  It is great that the feds are responding to school feedback, but getting it right - and realistic - from the start would also be great.


1.  Give manufacturers time to reformulate before implementation dates of federal regulations.  This takes years and millions of dollars. Do you have any idea how they scrambled to make 1 or 1.5 grain hamburger buns and dinner rolls, before the maximums were relaxed and we could go back, mid school year, to regular sized 2 grain buns?  Supply chains too are not always able to respond quickly.

2.  Follow reasonable, moderate national food guidance, such as the Dietary Guidelines.  Balance, variety and moderation. Yes, school meal programs can be a model for families, but not if they go out of business or the food goes in the trash.

3.  Keep politics out of school meal nutrition criteriaIt should be science based, not partisan based.

4.  Pilot proposed regulatory changes in real school districts - large, small, high free and reduced rates and low free and reduced rates, rural and suburban and urban. 

5.  Slow down.  Meal pattern changes for both the National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program, strict sodium limits, whole grain initiatives, new certification reviews, a la carte and fundraiser limits, professional standards regulations, and mandatory Wellness Policy updates have our heads spinning at the local level.

Note:  I say I am a lunch lady with the utmost fondness for the dedicated, kid loving people with whom I work.  That title has no negative connotations for me.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Home Grown Goodies and Kiddos

So you've prepared the soil, planted your garden, weeded and watered, and now you are reaping what you sow, bearing the fruits of your effort, and harvesting.  Great!  Read more to see how it can be great for your kiddos too!  Here is today's harvest for me:

Home grown produce takes a little more effort in not just the planning and growing stages, but also in the food preparation step.  Things need a little more culling and a little more washing and scrubbing than produce you buy in the store or even at the farmer's market.

In the photo above, the sugar snap peas are at the end of their harvest.  I actually pulled out the plants today.  The peas will need sorting, small tender ones to have in a salad, in their pods, raw and thick, more mature ones to shell and enjoy as cooked green peas. Sorting is a great math skills task for little children.  I had mentioned that peas are good to grow with kiddos, as the seeds are large and easy to sow.  They are also rewarding for kiddos, as tender, sugar snap peas are definitely something they can eat right off the vine while they are working with you in the garden.

My preferred method for cleaning garden fresh lettuce, spinach and other small greens is soaking.  Rinse the greens, and put them in a large bowl 2/3 full with water to soak.  The dirt falls to the bottom.  A little science project for the kiddos?  Do this at least twice.  Greens harvested after heavy rain will require extra rinsing and soaking as the rain causes the dirt to splash up onto the leaves.  Yes, a little more work than bagged lettuce but without all the headlining risks associated with bagged greens.  And this lettuce will be enjoyed for dinner tonight within 6 hours of harvesting - super fresh!

Hand digging for potatoes is more fun than an Easter egg hunt!  Try it with your kids-they will love it!  Potatoes need a good rinse with the garden hose or in a deep sink before bringing into the kitchen sink for the final rinsing and scrubbing.  Home grown, promptly harvested potatoes have much thinner skin than store bought so they are easier to clean and they have no eyes as they are so fresh.

The zucchini just started coming in - thank goodness for blogs and the Internet for recipe ideas for what to do with all that zucchini!

Saturday, June 14, 2014

The Beauty of Beets

Beets are a beautiful plant, with abundant, colorful tops and bulbous roots, rich in color. Like most root vegetables, they are high in fiber and minerals. Here is today's harvest from my garden.

Beets are super easy to grow from seed.  They are an early crop, best sowed in early spring.  Just make sure you thin them when they are about 2-3 inches tall or they will crowd each other and not grow to the size you want.  Harvest in about 45-60 days.  Rinse well before bringing into your kitchen.  Subterranean veggies need a little extra attention for food safety.  Then tear off the tops and wash them thoroughly again under running water, rubbing or brushing off any soil.  No need to remove the skins, enjoy them just like a potato skin. After you trim the tops you end up with this:

Slice thinly, discarding the top and the root end - kids love to see this part as your fingers turn pink!  Toss with olive oil, minced garlic and salt and pepper.  Place in a single layer on a sheet pan.  This is a step I learned from my chef friend, that veggies must be in a single layer to roast and caramelize, rather than to steam and get soggy.

Roast at 375 degrees for about 15-20 minutes, until soft in the middle and lightly browned at the edges.

Think about My Plate - you started with a healthy veg now add a Protein, and a grain and fruit for dessert and there is dinner!

Friday, June 6, 2014

What's Trending for You?

News and topics can be trending-usually because they are popular, controversial, interesting, or worthy.  What worthy trends do you have?  What is trending for you that you can make into a habit?

Choose the top 5 health or wellness related trends in your life.  Here are some prompts:

What do you like to eat, that you know is good for you?
What do you choose to drink, that is a healthy choice? 
What do you tend to do to be more active?
How do you prepare a certain food in a way that is healthful?
When are you at your best, over the course of the day?
What is a seasonal food that you really like?
How do you get your best night's sleep?
Where do you dine out, that allows you to make healthy choices?
What is your favorite fresh vegetable?
What is it that you did on a day when, at the end of the day, you said it was a great day?
How do you season your food?
What food have you tried, that you would like to eat more often?

Now, lock them in.  Take them from trendy to habitual.  Embrace the good things you do in your life.  You might find you have less time for, interest in, room for and appeal in the not so good things. 

Choose your 5 trends, write them down (sticky notes on the mirror work well!), and make them a habit.  Try this with your kiddos.  What is trending in their little lives that is a "keeper"?

Live deliberately. Notice that the root word there is LIBERATE? 

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Book Review: Appreciating the Hands That Feed Us

Five Lessons from Blessing the Hands That Feed Us (Vickie Robin, 2014)

By the author of the bestselling Your Money or Your Life, this book is about "what eating closer to home can teach us about food, community, and our place on earth."  I learned appreciation.  

1.  Appreciation for mindful eating in the sense of making the effort to think about the work that went into planting, growing and harvesting your food.  You may eat less if you truly value this.  It is easier to overeat from an anonymous bag of something from the big box grocery store than it is with a pound of something you paid dearly for and smiled at the farmer when you purchased it.

2.  Appreciation for the potential purity of food.  Food starts out as one item, one pure simple item, before it is processed, adulterated, packaged, transported.  Eating close to the source shows you pure food.

3.  Appreciation for the seasons.  Certain foods are meant to be eaten at certain times of the year, for optional cost, flavor, nutrition.  Think about the carbon footprint of a tomato in Virginia in August versus a tomato in January?  Think about the flavor of a summer tomato versus a winter tomato.  Think about the cost of a farm stand, in season tomato versus a hot house, off season tomato.

4.  Appreciation for devoting time to eating well.  We are not so busy as to not take the time to eat properly.  What are we doing that is more important than preparing and enjoying a healthful meal, with others?  What could possibly be more important than nourishment and fellowship?  This is not meant in judgment-we've all eaten in our car, at the kitchen counter, or straight out of a package.  Be realistic, but do stop and think about it.

5.  Appreciation for our agricultural history - the pioneers, the dust bowl, the victory gardens, the families who lost the farm.  Those were the original locavores, before being a locavore was hip.

This is a great, inspiring, thought provoking book.  The author leaves you with an understanding of "relational eating", and where you stand in the center of your own food web.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

What's In My Garden Now? Tips to Share

It has been a late spring, and it is now June 1, so what am I harvesting here in southern Virginia and what are some lessons learned?
Yesterday, I had a smoothie with almost the last of the strawberries.  Tip:  I put netting over the raised bed this year so I only had to fight off the moles not the birds. Just reach under the net to harvest.

I am also getting nearly the last of the sugar snap peas.  They were great in a pasta salad last night.  Tip:  They did not freeze well at all last year, so I planted just 2 rows this year, not 3.  Harvest when very small and tender and enjoy raw - delish!

Blueberries are just starting to turn blue.  Tip:  I may need to net those so as to beat the birds to the harvest.

The beets are crowning and should be ready any day now. Tip:  push soil up and around the base of the beet plants to encourage them to get a little bigger without the tops getting tough.

In about a week or 2, I expect to have red potatoes, green beans and wax beans, followed shortly by yellow squash. Pepper, tomato, zucchini, cuke, cantaloupe and sunflower plants are in too!

Tip:  I am trying the "bed a day" approach to keeping up with the weeds.  How do you climb a mountain?

The moles managed to wipe out an entire raised bed of red potato plants (12 plants) until I bought a solar powered spike that emits a tone every couple of minutes.  They are not in the second bed of potatoes. Tip:  I read that mulching potato beds encourages little critters, as they have cover to scurry around under.  They are not in the bed that I did not mulch.

Tip:  eat and grow local!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Scoop, Shaker or Spoon on Sodium

If we are only supposed to have about 1 teaspoon of sodium a day, what does that look like in prepared food?  A teaspoon (or about 2300 mg of sodium) is the recommended daily amount for healthy adults.  Here is a great visual to show you, in photos of common foods, what HALF that amount looks like. In other words, choosing these foods for any one meal will provide about half your daily limit.

Take a look HERE.

It shows you as much about what you need to LIMIT as about what you need to CHOOSE.  For example, limit pizza to 1 and 2/5 slice but choose 3 lean chicken breasts.  Limit a yourself to 2/5 of a Chipotle burrito but choose 9 glasses of milk. See a pattern here?  Limit processed, restaurant prepared foods and choose whole, fresh foods. Remember, you prepare it, you control it-the salt shaker, that is.

See some of your favorites on this page?  Fine.  Enjoy.  But split it, share it or save it (for later).  Make it a "sometimes" food.


Tuesday, May 13, 2014

School Daze-School Nutrition Teams Inspired

From the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics' blog "Stone Soup" here is a post about our recent training day "A Chefs Challenge". As noted, motivation to serve healthier, tastier food may come from not only wanting to do the best for student customers but also from working with guest chefs and stepping outside our comfort zone.

The competition created a recipe that has since been tested with students and served at our local Farmers Market Chef's Tent.  The recipe was tweaked for ease of preparation and evaluated for nutrition targets. It will be on next year's school menu.

Visit "Stone Soup" here to view more blog posts by Registered Dietitians.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Hot Topics-Summer Reading List

You have about 1 month to visit your local bookstore, shop online or go to the library to get your summer books.  Here are some suggestions from Food Tank.  Their  Summer Reading List is for foodies, farmers, locavores, and inquiring minds. 

I like the term agri-culture, with emphasis on culture-the culture of how we grow what we eat, how we acquire what we eat, how we prepare what we eat.

Be an inquiring mind.  Pass up the beach novel for some engaging, thought provoking reads.

As Thomas Jefferson said, "So many books, so little time."

Thursday, April 24, 2014

What's In My Garden Now? Not much!

What a slow spring!  My lettuce mix and spinach are about 1 inch tall and my sugar snap peas are about 4 inches tall.  Red potatoes are coming up nicely, at about 6 inches, perhaps because most of their activity is subterranean where the temps are more steady.  The beet seeds are just beginning to sprout.

When our real spring does arrive, however, I am ready with yellow squash, zucchini, banana pepper, cucumber, and cantaloupe seedlings in the greenhouse.  Today, I bought tomato plants and am keeping them in the greenhouse as morning temps have still been in the 40s.  I also plan to start Brussels sprouts and beefsteak tomato plants from seed.

I went out on a limb and put the green and red pepper starts in the ground today.  I plant them and then put a black 1 to 3 gallon pot with the bottom cut out around the plant, to radiate the warmth back to the plant for now and to hold water when I have to hand water in late summer.

Some asparagus tips are emerging and that will be a great garden fresh side very soon.  Making half our plate fruits and veggies starts NOW with garden planning and planting!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Make NO Choice the Healthy Choice?

There is a popular phrase in nutrition education circles:  Make The Healthy Choice The Easy Choice.  But sometimes having too many choices can be the cause of dietary indecision, dietary indiscretion or dietary information overload.  In terms of diet, this can lead to a "bad" choice.  In these cases, no choice might be the healthy choice.

Dietary Indecision:  When overwhelmed by choices, we sometimes choose to just say "forget it" and eat later, grabbing something on the run or skipping a meal entirely, setting us up for unhealthy choices.
Dietary Indiscretion:  With many choices for a meal, we sometimes pick and nibble and never quite get that balanced, healthy meal.

Dietary Information Overload:  When we know there are many choices, we think through the pros and cons of each (sweet, salty, filling, fattening, quick, connoisseur) and never make a decision, spending our precious meal time analyzing rather than eating.

The breakfast meal highlights the problem of too many choices.  When hurried, it may be better to have a plan or a limited list of go-to options to make the healthy choice the easy choice. Think about it the night before when your head is clear.  Make a menu, "If it's Tuesday, it must be oatmeal."  Some people eat the same thing for breakfast every day.  Not too exciting, but they never miss a breakfast - the most important meal of the day.  This plan can help you with portion control, calorie limits, and meal satisfaction.

This plan will help your children too as we know the many links between a healthy breakfast and academic performance, attention in school, attendance at school, and childhood obesity, to name just a few benefits of choosing the most important meal of the day.
If your breakfast is broken, try having no (or just a few) choices as the healthy choice!  Make it easy and set yourself up for success.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Eat. Clean. Repeat.

As the primary meal planner, preparer, and provider, do you ever feel like the cycle of meal preparation, eating, cleaning up, and doing dishes is ENDLESS?  Add to that cutting coupons, making lists, shopping, unloading, and putting away and it can seem like quite a chore to provide meals for your family.  And if you "grow your own" at all, you can add planning, digging, planting, weeding, harvesting, washing, freezing, canning and more to that.

It's no wonder eating out is on the rise.

Let's look at just one of those meal related tasks - couponing.  A recent study of online coupons discovered that just 4% were for fruits and veggies.  Prepared meals were covered by 14% of available coupons and, no surprise, 25% of coupons were for snacks, candies and desserts.  The authors posed that grocers can, in fact, influence dietary patterns.
Just like the advice to not buy unhealthy foods - as in, if you don't buy them, you won't eat them - and healthy meals come from healthy shopping carts - don't cut coupons for unhealthy foods.

Similarly, let mainstream dietary advice be the influence on your dietary patterns - make half your plate fruits and veggies.  Make half your grains whole grains.  In this case, in a much more positive, pro-active way, you have to buy it to eat it.  If you fill up your plate (or your shopping cart) with the good stuff, you might find you don't have room for the unhealthy stuff.

Source:  Preventing Chronic Disease, 2013

Monday, March 31, 2014

100th Post! An Update to My Introduction

When I was a school teacher, the 100th day of school was always a time to celebrate and it still is.  For the little kiddos, counting to 100 is a big deal and putting it in terms of how long they've been in school makes it a number they can conceptualize.  As the dietitian for a school district, I planned healthy snacks with pretzel sticks and cucumber slices to make the number 100.

Well, this is my one hundredth post. It's time to update my introduction.  When I started this in September, I wrote that I would "just do it" and see where it went.  I've decided the greatest benefit of blogging has been exercising my writing muscle.  Yes, that is a skill that requires training and a blog is a great way to do it. 

Another benefit to me is that it has prompted me to keep up with current research and translate it into layman's terms and practical, brief pieces of information and advice.

In looking at the Labels I put on posts, I seem to write most about Menu Planning, School Food, and Hot Topics (recent research related to food and nutrition).

In looking at the statistics on posts, those about meal planning and family meal ideas seem to be the most popular. Surprising to me, the most popular post was one with a recipe, something that I didn't think I would do much of because there are so many recipes sites and blogs. 

Not too many of you were interested in my backyard chicken stories.  Oh well, they bring me pleasure. Sometimes this blog is as much a journal as it is an advice column.

Another interesting stat is that for the first few months of the blog, Russia, Malaysia and Germany took second, third and fourth spots in the Audience stats that Blogger provides.  Now it is Poland, China in second and third.  Truly the worldwide web.

Thank you for browsing,


Friday, March 28, 2014

School Daze-The Ultimate Taste Test

Here's an article from the local paper on step two in the recipe development to cycle menu journey for school lunches:  School Lunches Put to the Test

Guest chefs and cafeteria staff started with a Chefs Challenge to create new dishes (see blog post from March 12, 2014 ) and now students taste tested the recipes - the ultimate taste test.  Jamaican Jerk Chicken over Brown Rice was a winner and some other dishes received constructive comments.

The next steps in the journey include locating affordable ingredients from suppliers, analyzing and adjusting the recipe for nutrition targets, fine tuning recipe instructions, photographing what the final product should like it, fitting it into the cycle menu and demonstrating it for cafeteria managers.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Hot Topics - Lunch Ladies on the Loose!

Hold on to your hairnets!  This weekend is the annual conference for the School Nutrition Association of Virginia.  Many states have these organizations and there is a national School Nutrition Association.
Dedicated lunch ladies (and I say that with pure affection) will meet to learn and celebrate.  Sessions include marketing, financial management, cooking demonstrations, regulatory updates, food allergies, and more.  School foodservice product vendors will offer samples and information about exciting new products.

When is the last time you had lunch in a school cafeteria?

Thursday, March 20, 2014

What's In My Garden Now? First Day of Spring!

With the crazy weather flipping between 60s and sleet, I found myself loading fire wood for our wood stove into a wheelbarrow while wearing flip flops.  But, on one of those 60s days, I was able to plant the following:

Sugar Snap Peas
Red Potatoes
Mesclun Mix Lettuce

Here's hoping the soil in the raised beds was warm and toasty to carry those precious little seeds through the sleet days.

We are enjoying the crocus, daffodils and tulips reminding us of the promise of Spring.  Happy First Day of Spring!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Nutrition Facts and Supplement Facts - On the Label

Here is Part 3 (and the final) of a mini-series on the proposed Nutrition Facts label makeover.

I talked about the Dietary Guidelines in a previous blog and how they are the basis for food and nutrition policy in the US.  The Dietary Guidelines for Americans (2010) discuss nutrients of concern in the American diet.  These are nutrients for which the US population is consuming inadequate amounts and which are associated with the risk of chronic disease.  USDA highlights calcium, potassium, Vitamin D and fiber.  FDA calls them  nutrients of public health significance and includes calcium, potassium vitamin D, and iron. Calcium and iron already are required on nutrition facts labeling; vitamin D and potassium are being proposed to be added to the list of mandatory nutrients. This is good.

Vitamin D is important for its role in bone development and general health, and intakes among some population groups are inadequate.   Adequate potassium intake is beneficial in lowering blood pressure and intakes of this nutrient are also low among some population groups.

Listing Vitamins A and C will now be voluntary - we are doing quite well with getting adequate amounts of those vitamins in our diet.  Interestingly, fiber, USDA's fourth nutrient of concern, is not addressed in the proposal.

Some other minor changes in the proposed label regs include formatting, such as moving % Daily Value (%DV) percentages from the right to the left.  Daily Values (DV) are either intended to tell you the max you should have, as with Saturated Fat, or the minimal target amount you should have, as with Iron.  Daily Values (DV) are used to calculate the percent daily value (%DV) which is what you see on the label.  This puts the amount in the food whose label you are looking at as a percent of the typical (or mythical) 2000 calorie per day diet.

Again, here is a picture of the proposed label.  So, below, 8g of Total Fat is 12% of the max amount of Total Fat someone on a 2000 calorie per day should have.  Not all nutrients are linked to calories.  Below, the 160 mg of Sodium is 7% of the max amount of Sodium most Americans should consume per day-at any calorie level.

I promise I will not show you the math behind both of those calculations.  I'm not that kind of blogger. Just know that there is some good info coming to a Nutrition Facts label near you.  And it is up to you to know how to use that info.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Chefs Challenge

Here's a snapshot of some of the work we do in Child Nutrition Services.  Take a look at our Chefs Challenge made-for-TV style cook off.  We partnered with local chefs to create new dishes for our student customers.  This was a fun training day!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Hot Topics-Take Time and Take 3 for Breakfast!

In honor of National School Breakfast Week, take a look at my post in Food and Nutrition Magazine's blog Stone Soup.

Take the time to plan for breakfast.  Take the time to eat breakfast.  And take 3 food groups for a healthy breakfast.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Nutrition Facts - Calories and Added Sugars

Here is Part 2 in a mini-series on the proposed Nutrition Facts label updates. Nutrition Facts labels were introduced 20 years ago by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  Part 1 discussed the proposed change to serving size information.   Another proposed change is to display Calories more prominently.  But it's not all about the calories, is it?  What about nutrient density?  Here is a sample proposed label.

Think about 2 drinks with about the same number of calories, a can of cola and chocolate milk.  Oh, okay, since calories are the "go to" info on the nutrition facts label now, I guess I can drink either one.  Let's look a little farther down the label.  Sugars will be about the same for both.  But now, the really helpful new information on the proposed label, Added Sugars will reveal quite a bit.  All the sugar in cola will be "added" while the delicious natural sugar in milk will not. Only the chocolate flavoring will be added sugar.

Further reading of the label will reveal the power packed nutrient density of milk, versus cola. But more on that in part 3 of this series.

I teach students about added sugars using applesauce packaging, comparing the grams of sugar in unsweetened versus sweetened applesauce. Now they will be able to see exactly what is added versus what is from a natural, deliciously sweet apple.

Perhaps Added Sugars should be in the big bold font, rather than calories, especially since the Dietary Guidelines tell us that Solid Fats and Added Sugars are the foods to avoid in the American diet.  Sodium also made that worst dressed list.  Remember, the Dietary Guidelines, updated by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS)  every 5 years and are the basis for federal food and nutrition policy and nutrition education. 

Solid Fats were addressed when trans fat labeling requirements took effect several years ago.  By looking at Trans Fat on the label, we can see if artery clogging fats are in our food.  Adding information about Added Sugars is a huge help for nutrition educators and for those attempting to educate themselves about what is in their food.