Blanching your Produce

August 24th, 2015

We get lots of calls at AnswerLine from gardeners who are getting ready to freeze their vegetables. Blanching helps maintain the quality of garden produce and even experienced gardeners often ask us to review the directions for blanching as it has been a while since they did it last.

Blanching food is done for quality reasons, not safety reasons. Therefore, you do not need to blanch a food that you are freezing to keep it safe.  Blanching destroys enzymes that naturally occur in food so they won’t overly soften the food while it is stored in the freezer. In order to destroy enzymes, the food must be heated long enough to penetrate the flesh of the vegetable. The National Center for Home Food Preservation has a guide available with times for blanching various vegetables.

We advise callers to work with small batches of vegetables. Otherwise the food will be in the boiling water too long and will be over cooked. If you can use a basket to lower the food into the boiling water, you can easily remove it all at once. Then you can submerge the food in ice water to stop the cooking process. After the food has cooled, package and freeze it.

Steps for blanching food:

  • Bring a large pot of water to a boil.
  • Place a quart sized batch of vegetables in the water.
  • After the water returns to a boil (which should be within 1 minute), set the timer.
  • When time is up, plunge the vegetables into ice water.
  • Remove the vegetables and shake or blot excess water.
  • Package and freeze.

Remember that you should not put stacks of freshly blanched food into the freezer. Instead, spread the packages around inside the freezer. This allows the food to freeze quickly, which will give the best possible frozen food. You can also spread food onto a tray or cookie sheet with sides and freeze overnight. Package it the next day and the vegetables will not stick together—just like those you buy at the grocery store.

Happy gardening and happy blanching. Remember you can contact us with questions. You can reach us at 1-800-262-3804 in Iowa, 1-800-854-1678 in Minnesota, and 1-888-6336 in South Dakota. You can also call us at our local number 515-296-5883 if your area code is not from one of the above three states. Email us at answer@iastate.edu. or contact us on Facebook.

The AnswerLine staffAnswerLine

Liz, Beth, and Jill

 

Link for guide  http://nchfp.uga.edu/how/freeze/blanching.html

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The Down Low on Kids and Constipation

August 17th, 2015

When I was asked to write a blog for back to school the first topic that came into my mind was kids and constipation. It is often a topic no one wants to bring up, but once someone does, everyone wants to talk about it!

Constipation is a challenge we face on a regular basis with our youngest daughter. Honestly if she had a choice she would never go! This fall she starts kindergarten and I worry the holding will get worse as she may have limited access to the bathroom or simply be too afraid or shy to use it.

We have met with her pediatrician on several occasions to address this issue and to rule out any underlying health conditions. We have learned she needs to consume more fiber-rich foods, drink plenty of water, participate in daily physical activity, and the most challenging one for her….take time to go.

Fiber Foods and H2O

Many “kid foods”, such as chicken nuggets, pizza, crackers, etc. lack fiber. A low fiber diet often results in firm, painful to push out, stool. Foods that are naturally rich in fiber tend to keep stool soft. Whole grains, nuts and seeds, beans, fruits and vegetables can help. And don’t forget water! Water is very important to keep the stool moving through the system. We try to start her day off with fruit as part of her breakfast and incorporate additional fruits and vegetables at dinner and at snack. Her school does allow students to have water bottles, so we plan to send one every day.

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Get Moving in More Ways than One!

kids playing outdoors park runningPhysical activity can encourage bowel movement. Organized sports or dance classes are great forms of physical activity, but we have learned it’s best not to be overscheduled. These types of activities mean less time at home, which sometimes can lead to less time to go to the bathroom. We encourage physical activity throughout the day like walking to school, playing outside, or taking the dog for a walk after dinner. Incorporating short amounts of physical activity throughout the day can go a long way.

Taking Time to Go

Many times children may ignore the urge to go because they don’t want to take a break from what they are doing. The longer they hold it the harder the stool may become. It is important to get on a schedule of taking time to go around the same time each day. We have her sit on the toilet for about 10 minutes each evening, reading a book, coloring, etc. We do this even if she says she doesn’t have to go. More often than not, she goes. It has now become part of her daily routine, just like eating breakfast, brushing her teeth, going to school, etc.

Constipation is common among children. Good nutrition, physical activity, and making bathroom breaks part of their daily routine can go a long way to help keep your children healthy and comfortable. If you are concerned about your child’s constipation, contact your pediatrician.

Carrie Scheidel, MPH
Iowa Department of Education

Jody Gatewood, MS, RD, LD
Registered Dietitian, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach

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Hitting the Road!

August 10th, 2015

packed lunch healthySummer is the perfect time to load up the car for a getaway with the family. Regardless of the destination, you’ll need to eat along the way. The highways are lined with fast food restaurants and gas stations, but that’s about it. Not only are the options at these places high in calories and low in nutrients… they can get expensive too!

At the Drive-Thru:

Fast food restaurants may seem like the inexpensive choice at first. But when the whole family is hungry, it can get pricey. Check out what you could end up spending on one trip through the drive-thru.

  • 1 Bacon Cheeseburger Meal (fries and drink included) – $6.49
  • 1 Fried Chicken Sandwich Meal (fries and drink included) – $6.19
  • 2 Kids Meals- $3.19 each
  • Total = $19.06 plus tax

In addition to the cost, meals at fast food places are packed with sodium, fat, and calories. One sandwich can have over 500 calories and 1000 milligrams of sodium and a medium fountain drink can contain a quarter of a cup of sugar.

At the Gas Station:

Gas stations and convenience stores may be quick and easy, but it will be hard to find healthy options.

  • 2 bags of chips – $1.99 each
  • 2 candy bars – $1.39 each
  • 2 sodas – $1.79 each
  • 2 bottles of juice -$1.99 each
  • Total = $14.32 plus tax

You could spend almost $20 for food that isn’t very filling. It won’t be long before hungry stomachs have you pulling over at another exit.

Even if you find healthy options on the road, you can count on spending more than if you bring food from home. A banana at a gas station costs about $1.00, you could bring 4 bananas from home for the same price.

From Your Cooler:

Take control of your road trip! Fill up a cooler with snacks before you leave. You can choose healthy options, and you’ll save money that you can use for other fun adventures on your trip. Check out this meal:

  • 4 turkey sandwiches on whole wheat bread – $5.44
  • 2 apples- $1.58
  • 2 bananas- $0.38
  • 4 low fat cheese sticks- $1.42
  • 1 package of baby carrots- $1.28
  • Ice water in reusable bottles – FREE
  • Total = $10.10

Just like that, you’ve made a meal that keeps everyone full and happy for half the price. You can rest easy on your trip knowing that your family got the nutrition they needed. Now, bring on the open road!

Maddie
ISU Student

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Make Ahead Breakfast Burritos

August 3rd, 2015

breakfast-burritosWhen breakfast time rolls around each morning, I am very hungry. This is a good thing because it is certain that I will eat the most important meal of the day. The problem is that my husband and children are not big breakfast eaters – they are satisfied with milk, fruit, and cereal or toast. That is just not enough for me, especially now that I am expecting child #3.

To solve my problem, I looked to our August recipe – Make Ahead Breakfast Burritos. I make a batch of the burritos, freeze them, and then grab one out of the freezer and reheat when I need it. These are perfect for me on the mornings when I need more to eat than the rest of my family. On top of that, these burritos are full of the nutrients I need to keep myself and my baby healthy. I get fiber, vitamins, and minerals from the vegetables and whole wheat tortillas, protein from the eggs, and calcium from the cheese.

Even if you are not a big breakfast eater, this recipe is still great because it cuts down on breakfast prep and clean up time. Busy fall schedules are going to be starting up again, so this recipe gives you a quick, yet filling, breakfast before you head off to work or school for the day. I think I am going to make another batch of these soon, so they are in the freezer when “back to school” time rolls around.

Enjoy!
Justine

Make Ahead Breakfast Burritos

Serving Size: 1 burrito | Serves: 8
Make Ahead Breakfast Burritos-webIngredients: 
  •  Nonstick cooking spray
  • 1 cup potatoes, diced (1 medium potato)
  • 1/2 cup onions, diced (1/2 medium onion)
  • 1 cup bell peppers, diced (1 medium pepper)
  • 8 eggs, beaten
  • 1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 cup 2% fat cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 8 flour tortillas (8″)
Instructions: 
  1. Spray a large skillet with cooking spray. Cook the potatoes for 6-10 minutes over medium heat.
  2. Add onions and peppers to the potatoes. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes until the potatoes are browned.
  3. Add beaten eggs to the vegetable mixture. Cook for 4-5 minutes over medium heat. Stir off and on until there is no liquid.
  4. Stir in the garlic powder and pepper.
  5. Roll up each burrito. Use 2 tablespoons of cheese and 1/2 cup of the egg mixture. Serve or freeze.
  6. You can freeze the burritos. Wrap each burrito tightly in plastic wrap. Freeze in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Seal wrapped burritos in a freezer bag when they are frozen.
To reheat the frozen burritos. Remove the plastic wrap. Wrap burrito in a damp paper towel. Set microwave on medium power. Heat burrito for 3-4 minutes.
Tips:
  •  Wash hands after handling raw eggs and before making burritos.
  • Wash vegetables under running water.
  • Add hot peppers, salsa, or cayenne pepper for a spicier burrito.

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Storing Fruits and Vegetables

July 27th, 2015

fruit varietySummer is here and that means many fruits and vegetables are now in season. I have recently started growing my own fruits and vegetables to try and cut back on grocery costs and I am quickly learning that I will have more than I know what to do with! I will have an abundance of berries so Yogurt Parfaits will be a staple breakfast before work and Mini Berry Pies will be a wonderful treat for dessert. Summer Bounty Salad is a great recipe to use up any vegetables you may have on hand as any vegetable can go into this and it will taste great.

Now what to do with all the extras that I have on hand? There are many ways fruits and vegetables can be stored: on the counter, in the refrigerator, or in the freezer. Storing fruits and vegetables properly keeps them tasting better for longer. Adopt the “first in, first out” method -use the oldest fruits and vegetables first to prevent them from spoiling before they are used. When stored properly, most fruits and vegetables will keep for 3-5 days or longer after being purchased from the grocery store or picked from the garden. There are 3 different ways to store fresh fruits and vegetables:

  1. Refrigerate: store grapes, apples, berries, cherries, broccoli, carrots, celery, leafy greens, green beans, cauliflower, and asparagus in the refrigerator at 40°F or lower to keep them fresh. Anything that has been cut up also needs to be kept in the refrigerator to prevent foodborne illness.
  2. On the counter: melons, tomatoes, and squash should be kept on the counter away from direct light to keep fresh. Potatoes, onions, and sweet potatoes should also be kept out of the refrigerator but in a dark place such as a pantry or cupboard.
  3. Ripen on counter and then store in refrigerator: avocados, nectarines, peaches, pears, and plums should be kept on the counter until they are ripe and then moved to the refrigerator to prevent further ripening.

Many fresh fruits and vegetables can be stored in the freezer for up to 6 months if the freezer is kept at 0°F or colder. I love freezing excess fruit in individual containers to add to smoothies or as a quick topper to desserts.

I hope these tips will help you with storing your fruits and vegetables! For more information, watch  How to Store Fruits and Vegetables.

Amber Morales
Dietetic Intern
Iowa State University

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Tips for Shopping at the Farmers Market

July 20th, 2015

One of my favorite things about summer is going to my local farmers market for delicious, fresh fruits and vegetables. I grow some of my own tomatoes and herbs on my patio, but I don’t have the space to do much more than that. The farmers market has a huge variety and the food is as fresh as if I had grown it myself. Shopping at the farmers market is different than the grocery store so here are some tips for readers who may not have given it a try before or found it to be overwhelming.

  1. Bring your own bag. The farmers will appreciate it and having a bag that can go on your shoulder will help keep your hands free. I use a backpack!
  2. Get to know your local farmers. They will help you choose the best they have to offer and will have good suggestions for cooking and preparing the fruits and veggies as well.
  3. Beware the “health halo”. Many vendors sell delicious baked goods like donuts and pies. My market has vendors that sell fabulous international foods like Salvadoran Pupusas and Vietnamese spring rolls. Yum! Indulging in these treats can be a fun part of going to the farmers market, but keep in mind that just because they are sold at the farmers market doesn’t mean they are as healthy as the fruits and veggies at the neighboring vendors.
  4. Try something new! My farmers market sells some fruits and vegetables that I can’t find at the grocery store. I try a few new things each summer like different types of tomatoes, beets, greens and squash.
  5. WIC @ Farmers MarketsSNAP Farmers MarketsLearn about what forms of payment are accepted. Many farmers accept food assistance EBT as well as WIC benefits. You may see a sign at the farmer’s booth indicating they accept these forms of payment. In Iowa the signs will look like this.

Enjoy your farmers market this summer and share your finds with us on Facebook!

s Signature-1

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Shopping for Seasonal Fruits and Vegetables

July 13th, 2015

watermelon slices fruitsFresh watermelon, cherries, and blueberries…sure signs that summer is here. My 22 month old daughter loves eating these summer fruits. I’m glad she likes them but oh boy does she create a sticky mess when she eats them; watermelon juice running down her chin, her hands sticky with cherries. The blueberries aren’t usually too messy, except when she drops one in her seat and sits on it!

I like purchasing fruits and vegetables that are in season because they have the best flavor and are usually the least expensive. My husband really likes fresh asparagus and would like to eat it year-round. However, I won’t buy it fresh unless it is spring when asparagus is in season. When fruits and vegetables aren’t in season, consider buying them canned or frozen for a better buy.

In the summer in Iowa, I enjoy going to farmers markets to look for seasonal and locally grown fruits and vegetables. At the farmers market I can talk with the grower about their produce and get their recommendations for selecting and preparing the produce.

Many fruits and vegetables are available at a low cost from the grocery store year-round like bananas, carrots, celery, onions, and potatoes. To find out when different fruits and vegetables are in season, check out the list on Produce for Better Health.

For more information, watch our video on How to shop for seasonal fruits and vegetables.

Whether it’s veggies from your own garden, the farmers market or the grocery store, enjoy all of the flavors of summer!

Jodi Signature

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Peanut Butter Balls

July 6th, 2015

peanut-butter-ballsMy children are at an age when they need to eat two snacks every day. Just last week I skipped the morning snack one day because we went to the library and on a bike ride. By lunch time both of them were laying on the couch crying. I made a quick lunch, got them fed, and all was good again, but it reminded me how important snack time is for young children. Their bodies are growing, but their stomachs are still small, so they need their food spaced evenly throughout the day.

If you are looking for a new snack for your family, try out our July recipe – Peanut Butter Balls. They have peanut butter, beans, and oatmeal – all of which will give you energy and fill you up until your next meal. After I make this recipe, I lay the peanut butter balls out on a cookie sheet and freeze them for about an hour. Once they are frozen, I put them in a freezer bag and store them in the freezer. When snack time comes around, I grab two out of the freezer for each person, let them thaw for a few minutes, and then we enjoy them.

I hope you enjoy this Peanut Butter Ball recipe too!

-Justine

Peanut Butter Balls

Serving Size: 2 balls | Serves: 25
Ingredients: 
  • 1 can (15 ounces) great northern beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 1 1/4 cups peanut butter
  • 1 1/2 cups quick cooking oatspeanut-butter-ball-label
Instructions: 
  1. Mash the great northern beans with a fork in a bowl until smooth.
  2. Add the honey and vanilla. Stir.
  3. Add peanut butter. Stir until blended.
  4. Stir in the oatmeal.
  5. Wash hands. Use a tablespoon to scoop up some of the peanut butter mixture. Shape the mixture into balls (makes 50 balls).
  6. Store leftover balls in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
Tips: 
  •  This recipe is not for children under age 1 because it contains honey and peanut butter.
  • You can use a blender or food processor to mix ingredients before shaping into balls.
  • You can store peanut butter balls in the freezer. Lay them out on a cookie sheet, freeze, and then store in a freezer bag. Thaw for 5 minutes before serving.
  • Make fruit kebabs using a toothpick or kebab stick. Add washed fresh fruit pieces that will not brown such as kiwi slices, grapes, pineapple, strawberries, blueberries, and orange slices.

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Homemade Popsicles

June 29th, 2015

If you are looking for a delicious, yet healthy dessert for your Fourth of July celebration, try homemade popsicles. My family enjoys popsicles this time of year (or any other time of year for that matter).

I am excited to share our tasty apricot pop recipe! Simply pour a can of apricots (drained) and two cartons of vanilla yogurt into a blender. Blend the mixture together and then pour into popsicle molds or into paper cups with wooden sticks.

For festive, patriotic pops, you can switch up the color by replacing the apricots with another fruit:

  • Red: 2 cups strawberries, finely chopped
  • White: 2 medium bananas, finely chopped
  • Blue: 2 cups blueberries

Just like with the apricot pops, combine the fruit and the yogurt in the blender and blend until smooth then pour into popsicle molds. If you do not have a blender that is no problem, simply stir the fruit and yogurt together and pour into the molds – the color and texture will be different, but the flavor will still be great.

Have a happy Fourth of July!

-Justine

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Snacks for the Pool

June 22nd, 2015

Summer is in full swing and my children love spending time at the swimming pool. My son really likes getting a treat at the pool snack bar. I let him get a treat every once in a while but I balance that by bringing our own snacks the other times. Depending on how often you go to the pool, the cost of getting treats can add up. And the options are not always very healthy. My son and daughter really need an afternoon snack, but if they are swimming actively in the hot sun, I don’t want to give them heavy foods. Here are some snacks I like to take from home.

  1. Frozen fruit-For a sweet treat, freeze grapes, blueberries, or individual containers of unsweetened applesauce. Put in a cooler or an insulated bag and let thaw slightly while playing in the water.
  1. Whole grain crackers-These are a good option in place of chips and can provide more fiber.
  1. String cheese-Along with the whole grain crackers, enjoy some string cheese for added calcium. Keep them cold in an insulated bag or cooler with an ice pack.
  1. Trail Mix-This is a breeze to make. Here are a couple of options Popcorn Trail Mix and Take-along Trail Mix. For children under age 3, it is best to make without peanuts and dried fruit to reduce choking.
  1. Muffins-Make a batch of muffins and freeze them. Then thaw out when you need a quick snack. With strawberries that are in season, try these Super Strawberry Oatmeal Muffins. Put these in an insulated bag or cooler with an ice pack to keep them from getting too hot and sticky at the pool.
  1. To stay hydrated, fill reusable water bottles with water and ice cubes made out of 100% juice. (Check out the June 8 blog for more tips on hydration.)

Enjoy your time at the pool this summer!

Jodi Signature

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