Plan to pack a healthy school lunch

Before we know it, school will be back in session. We spend a lot of time and money preparing kids for school. School supplies, new clothing, and new backpacks are on sale this time of year. There is another consideration when preparing for a new school year. Your child may be one that takes his or her lunch to school.

This is a great time to stock up on small zipper bags to pack lunches as well as small containers, a small thermos, and plastic silverware. Keeping your kitchen well stocked makes it easier to pack a quick lunch. Consider packing lunches the night before to keep the morning less chaotic.

Many of us consider the start of another school year a good time to start new healthy habits. You may want to try one or more of the following ideas this year.

  1. Plan to spend time with your child discussing likes and dislikes.
  2. Be sure to stock the kitchen with the things you will need to pack a lunch. Consider a new lunch box to make carrying a lunch to school more special.
  3. Plan menus ahead. You can plan menus for the month, plan some special occasion lunches, or plan a list of menus that you can cycle through over time.
  4. Children that help prepare meals often eat better. Allow your child to choose what they want to eat and ask them to help pack the lunch.
  5. Offer healthy foods as choices for lunches. Remember to model healthy choices for your child.
  6. Occasionally pack a surprise for your child. A note, sticker, new pencil can make lunch feel special.
  7. Remember to pack only as much food as your child can eat during the short time he or she has for lunch at school. A half sandwich is best for younger children. Small amounts of raw vegetables or fruit are best.
  8. Check with your school so you know what the rules are for allergens like peanut butter. Protect all the students by following those rules.

Remember to keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot. Preheat the thermos with hot or cold water before adding your hot or cold food. Separate dry, crisp food from moist food. Let the child assemble the cheese and crackers or sandwich that has a moist filling during lunch. Prepackaged foods in individual servings may be convenient but are often more expensive than making your own prepackaged foods. Package some foods in advance and they will remain safe for days. Think nuts, crackers, or dried foods.

With a little planning, you can make this school year a healthy one for your child. You may even improve your own lunches, too.

Liz Meimann

Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

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Canning Tomatoes

It seems that the tomato plants are finally bearing fruit and we are starting to get tomato canning calls at AnswerLine. Callers are sometimes confused about canning times and recipes.

It can be hard for callers to understand that we recommend using only safe, tested canning recipes. The National Center for Home Food Preservation, the Ball Company, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach are great resources for these recipes. We do not recommend old family recipes or recipes from random places on the internet. Those recipes were not tested to ensure you would preserve a safe product. Sometimes callers want to extrapolate canning times from one recipe to another. The canning times really differ between methods for tomatoes. If you skin, core, and cook the tomatoes before placing in the jars, the canning time is 45 minutes for quart jars in a boiling water bath canner. If you merely skin and core tomatoes and pack them into jars with no added liquid, the processing time in a boiling water bath canner is 85 minutes. The differences in canning times reflect the rate of heat transfer inside the jar. For a denser product, the canning time increases.

I spoke with a caller for a long time yesterday explaining that if she were using a tested recipe, the exact processing time and method of preparing the tomatoes would be included in the recipe. If she is asking about the correct processing time, and comparing several recipes, then the recipe she was looking at was likely not a tested recipe.

We want you to use a tested recipe, exactly as written. We want to help you keep your family safe while you are preserving food this summer.

Remember that you can take a canning class through Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. The class, Preserve the Taste of Summer, begins with an online section. Get started today.

Liz Meimann

Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

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Avoid Getting into “a Pickle” with Pickling Projects

Cucumbers and other vegetables  are coming on strong at the present time and AnswerLine has been fielding lots of questions from clients who find themselves “in a pickle” with their pickling project.  While we are grateful for the calls, we would like everyone’s adventures with pickles to be a success.  So here’s some of the tips we share as we try to help clients avoid getting into “a pickle.”

Use  high quality vegetables and fruits and varieties intended for pickling.   Immature salad or slicing cucumber do not make good quality pickles nor do Burpless cucumbers because they have a tough skin that my inhibit brine absorption and also contain enzymes that could cause pickles to soften.

Pickle within 24 hrs of picking.  Fresh and firm is always best.

Wash cucumbers well and remove stem end.  Soil can harbor bacteria that can cause spoilage or softening.  Of special consideration is the area around the blossom stem.  Blossoms contain enzymes that can cause softening so always remove a 1/16-in slice from the blossom end.

Use a tested recipe and follow the directions exactly.  A tested recipe from a reliable source is a MUST.  Great sources include:  National Center for Home Food Preservation, USDA  Complete Guide to Home Canning, Extension publications, Ball Canning Book (recent editions), Ball website , Mrs. Wages, and So Easy to Preserve by University of Gerogia.

Use commercially prepared 5 percent acetic acid vinegar.  The level of acidity is important to both the flavor and safety of the product.

Use a canning or pickling salt.  Always used the amount and type of salt specified.  Salt draws moisture and natural sugars from the vegetables, creating lactic acid which prevents spoiling.

Use soft water.  Hard water interferes with curing and causes discoloration of pickles.  Soft water is recommended.  Soft water can be made by boiling water for 15 minutes, allowing to set for 24 hours, and carefully pouring off the clear water without disturbing any sediment.

Use white sugar.  Only use brown sugar or a non-nutritive sweetener if the recipe specifies.

Use clean, fresh, insect-free spices and herbs.  Fresh dill is preferred for better flavor; 1 to 3 teaspoons dill seed can be substituted for one head fresh dill.

Avoid firming agents.  Firming agents (alum, food-grade lime, calcium chloride) for
crisp pickles are not needed if high quality ingredients and the most current preservation methods are used. The safest way for making crisper pickles is soaking cucumbers in ice water for 4 to 5 hours prior to pickling.

Use stainless steel, glass, or enamel-ware for pickling liquids.  Copper, brass, iron, pewter, aluminum, and galvanized pans and utensils may react with the acids and salts to produce undesirable changes in color, flavor, or even form toxic compounds.

Use sterilized standard canning jars and two-pieces lids.  Sterile jars must be used for all pickled products processed in a boiling water canner for less than 10 minutes.  Oven sterilization is not recommended.

Process in a boiling water canner per recipe times with adjustment for altitude if necessary.  All pickle products must be heat processed in a boiling water (water maintained at 212F) canner to destroy yeast, mold, and bacteria that cause spoilage, inactivate enzymes that might effect the product’s color, flavor, or texture, and insure a good airtight seal.  Exceptions are recipes intended for refrigerated “enjoy now” pickles or recipes acceptable for low-temperature pasteurization.

Spoilage or poor quality pickles can result from improper processing, unsanitary techniques, or when poor quality or incorrect ingredients are used.  For more information about specific pickle problems, recipes, and detailed information, download the ISU Extension and Outreach publication  Preserve the Taste of Summer – Canning:  Pickles .

 

 

 

 

Marlene Geiger

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Washing Produce

Last week we had a question from a food safety educator located in Minnesota. She wondered if it was necessary to wash onions, garlic, and ginger root before using them. She told us that she found information from both schools of thought. Some resources indicated that it was necessary to wash before using while other resources were vague on that point.

We did some research and had the same problem the educator from Minnesota had; we could not find a definitive answer either. We contacted our own food safety specialist and fortunately, she had a contact at the Partnership for Food Safety that knew the answer.

By now, you too, may be wondering if you should wash those vegetables before using. The answer is that you should always wash vegetables before using. Like cantaloupe or watermelon, we cut through the peel or rind when cutting into these foods. That means that any bacteria living on the outside of the food could potentially ride on the knife through the food contaminating the surface.

We often get callers wanting to know what type of soap works best when washing produce. According to the Partnership for Food Safety, running water and the use of a brush are enough to remove bacteria. Patting the produce dry with a clean paper towel will also help remove surface bacteria. The Partnership does not recommend using soaps and bleach on produce and are not something people should eat.

I had not realized that I needed to wash my garlic and onions; I rarely use ginger root. I plan to start washing all my produce before using it.

Liz Meimann

Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

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Purslane — Weed or Treat?

PURSLANE (Portulaca oleracea) is a weed in my garden that I curse; it comes uninvited, spreads fast, and keeps on giving.    Purslane grows nearly everywhere in the world and is known as a weed, as I see it, or an edible plant.  Some cultures embrace purslane as a delicious and exceptionally nutritious treat!

Because purslane grows so rapidly and spreads easily, most research has focused on eradication by tillage or chemicals.  The new approach is to eradicate by eating.  While I couldn’t begin to eat against the amount of purslane that pops up in my garden, a little now and then is a bit of garden treat.  The leaves, plucked from the stems, are somewhat crunchy and have a slight lemon taste.  I like it sprinkled on salads, sandwiches, and omelets.  It can also be steamed or used in stir-fries and makes a good thickener for soups or stews because it has a high level of pectin.  Supposedly it also makes a great low-fat pesto; because purslane is so juicy, only a small amount of olive oil is needed.  Purslane is high is Vitamin E and essential omega-3 fatty acids providing more that six times more Vitamin E than spinach and seven times more carotene than carrots.  It is also rich in Vitamin C, magnesium, riboflavin, potassium, and phosphorus.

While it is readily available in my garden,  I have yet to see purslane in the markets in Central Iowa.   If one is so lucky to not have purslane in their garden or yard but are curious to try it, likely there is a neighbor who would be only too happy to share.  Before sampling or eating, make sure that the plant is chemical free and thoroughly washed as it grows close to the ground.  And if this is a new food, don’t over indulge.  Any number of recipes can be find via Google.

Having said all these good things about purslane, I still see it as a weed and struggle to eradicate it by pulling, hoeing or using chemicals.   Using a mechanical tiller is the worst at controlling it as cultivating breaks it apart and, being a succulent, each piece becomes a new plant.  Hoeing is effective only if the root is taken and the plant is removed.  Any soil disturbance raises long-lived seeds near the surface where they easily germinate.  Purslane is not picky about where it grows, loves hot weather, and does not require moisture; but give it tilled soil and a little moisture, and it goes wild. Therefore, the best rule is to get it before it goes to seed; it takes less than three weeks from the time it emerges until it flowers and seeds.  A single plant may produce 240,000 seeds which have germination potential for up to 40 years.   Mulching helps control purslane as mulch suppresses seed germination.  For mulch to be effective, it must be thick enough to block all light to prevent seed germination; 1/2 inch of mulch is recommended.

Purslane . . . weed ’em or eat ’em?   I will be weeding more than eating.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Marlene Geiger

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Tangzhong

I enjoy browsing my favorite internet sites on a regular basis to see if there is anything new in the world of “home economics”. While doing that, I recently came across an article talking about how to convert a bread recipe to Tangzhong. I was unfamiliar with that word so had to look into it more fully.

Tangzhong is an Asian technique that makes your yeast bread and rolls soft, fluffy, moist, airy and tender. In addition to affecting the texture of the yeast products you are making, this technique also helps extend the shelf life.

To accomplish this technique you start by pre-cooking a portion of the flour and liquid (water or milk) very briefly and letting it cool to room temperature before adding to the rest of the ingredients in your recipe. This slurry/pudding/roux type mixture helps the starches in the flour absorb more water. Flour can absorb twice as much hot liquid as cold so pre-cooking makes a big difference here. The flour/liquid mixture also creates structure which helps the bread be able to hold on to the extra liquid.

In order to use Tangzhong, you want the hydration in your yeast bread/roll recipe to be 75%. That means the liquid should equal 75% of the weight of the flour. Before I started doing the math on my favorite recipes, I decided to find a recipe that was already based on the Tangzhong method. If you are looking for a softer yeast roll, I hope you will give it a try.

 

Marcia Steed

Marcia Steed

I graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Home Economics Education. I enjoy spending time with my family and friends and traveling.

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Pie Storage

Home Made Apple Pie

It’s summer time and a favorite summertime dessert is PIE!  We often get questions on how a pie should be stored—on the counter or in the refrigerator?  Here’s a look at the different kinds of pies and how to store them.

Fruit Pies made with Sugar.  According to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), fruit pies are food-safe at room temperature for up to two days.  This recommendation is based upon fruit pies made with sugar as the combination of sugar and acid in the fruit is sufficient to retard bacterial growth.  If additional storage time is needed, the pie may be stored loosely wrapped in the refrigerator for two more days.   Fruit pies freeze quite well.  To freeze a fruit pie, place them uncovered in the freezer until frozen solid, then wrap in plastic wrap or foil and place back in the freezer for up to four months. Thaw at room temperature for one hour and if desired, reheat at 375°F until warm for about 30 minutes.

Custard, Cream, Mousse, Chiffon, and Fresh Fruit Pies.  These soft pies need to be refrigerated until ready to serve and can be stored in the refrigerator for up to four days.  Soft pies do not freeze successfully so enjoy while fresh.

Pumpkin, Pecan and other Pies containing Eggs.  Pies containing eggs should be eaten as soon as possible after baking and cooling.  Otherwise, these pies should be refrigerated.  They keep well in the refrigerator for up to four days.  Both pumpkin and pecan pies can be frozen with some success for up to two months.  In freezing, they loose some of their integrity; the filling may separate a bit and the crust may get soggy.  To freeze these pies, wrap them tightly in plastic wrap and foil or place in an air-tight freezer bag.  Thaw the pies in the refrigerator before using.

Pies made with a Sugar Substitute.  Sugar acts as a preservative, helps retain moisture, and keeps baked-goods fresher longer.  Therefore, it is best to consume pies made with Equal or SPLENDA® in 1-2 days.  These products are best stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container.  If you want to keep pies made with sugar substitutes longer, they should be frozen by wrapping in plastic and foil or in an air-tight freezer bag.  These pies can be frozen successfully for for up to two months.

Marlene Geiger

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Call AnswerLine

As I am sitting at work today between phone calls, I am reflecting on the tornados and damage that happened in Iowa yesterday. I have a daughter and family that live in Marshalltown. Their home had no damage and they were lucky enough to finish dental appointments early and be off the road and safe in their basement before the tornado hit.

Fortunately, there were no lives lost in the tornados that struck our state. There was a lot of property damage. Electricity is out in many homes and businesses, which leads to questions about food safety. We are always happy to help callers determine which foods to keep and which foods to discard. If your power has been off for a long time, remember to check the condition and temperature in the freezer and refrigerator when the power comes back on. Give us a call and we can help you keep your family safe.

Sometimes callers have damaged property from flooding or landing in the mud after a storm. Call us at AnswerLine and we can try to help you salvage property and prevent the growth of mold on your damaged possession.

The AnswerLine staff really care about our callers and we want to help you as much as we can. Please call us as often as you need an answer and know that we do not mind visiting with a caller as often as necessary.

 

Liz Meimann

Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

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College Bound

The end of July always signals a new beginning for another school year to me. It is an exciting time for students, teachers, and parents.

Many families are preparing to send a student off to college for the first time. That whole experience can be an emotional roller coaster for both the students and parents. With a plan in place it is easier to ease college-bound students, and their parents, into the next phase of their lives.

An important part of that plan is keeping the lines of communication open between parent and student about the realities of college life as a college freshmen. There may be more or different pressures as new social situations are encountered. Many college freshmen feel pressured into deciding what they want to do, picking a career path and planning for their futures. Students and parents both feel pulled between the past, present and future. It is important for parents to remember the foundation they have worked to build and provided their child with for the last 18 years will stay with their child. Provide wings they need to develop but also trust they have strong roots.

As students head off to college, parenting styles will change. Teenagers still need love and support but both sides are working on building an adult relationship with each other. Parents especially, but students too, need to accept there will be a void. The joy everyone is feeling may also be mixed with longing. Parents and college students may both feel left out at times. Parents will be less privy to all aspects of their child’s life but again it is vital to keep the lines of communication open. It is a good idea to make a plan about how and how often you are going to stay in touch. It is a time in your student’s life when they are wanting to assert their independence but also feel connected to family. As parents make changes at home after the student moves out, it is helpful to keep the student informed. This gives them a sense of security and belonging.

College life for both students and parents is not harder or easier than high school – it is just different.

Marcia Steed

Marcia Steed

I graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Home Economics Education. I enjoy spending time with my family and friends and traveling.

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Prebiotics and Probiotics

It seems some topics circulate around periodically. I recently heard a dietician talking about prebiotics and probitoics on TV. They rise to the forefront in nutrition news every few years it seems. I decided to jump on the bandwagon and do a little research into prebiotics and probiotics and their relationship to one another.

They are both considered nutrition boosters and are both found naturally in food. They are both also found in supplement form. Whenever possible I recommend getting your nutrition from food rather than supplements though as they are more readily digested and absorbed that way.

Probiotics are probably most familiar to us. They are active, living cultures considered “friendly bacteria”. They are found naturally in your gut and they help reintroduce or change bacteria in your intestine. They help maintain healthful bacteria in the intestines and improve immune health. The best known source is probably live-cultured yogurt. Other sources include sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, green pickles and tempeh.

Prebiotics are not living bacteria.  They are nondigestible and are usually fibers found in raw food. They promote the growth of friendly bacteria in probiotics and help protect the intestines from unfriendly bacteria. Prebiotics selectively feed good gut bacteria. Sources of prebiotics include asparagus, garlic, onion, wheat bran, artichokes, bananas, aged cheese and soybeans.

Prebiotics and probiotics are generally recognized as safe and few people experience side effects. If you have a compromised immune system however, it is a good idea to check with your doctor before adding them into your diet. Studies suggest adding these into your diet helps support a strong immune system however there is potential danger in promoting overgrowth of good and bad bacteria in patients with weak immune systems.  If you do decide to add them into your diet, try to include a combination of both prebiotics and probiotics in the same meal. They work together to help improve your gut health. A yogurt parfait with a banana in would be an example of combining probiotics and prebiotics.

Marcia Steed

Marcia Steed

I graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Home Economics Education. I enjoy spending time with my family and friends and traveling.

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