Baby-Led Weaning

My son, Thomas, recently reached a milestone – he tired his 100th food at 10 months of age. You may wonder how this concept of introducing a baby to 100 foods came about. Early last November I was very pregnant, listening to Katie Ferraro, RD, speak at the Iowa Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics annual meeting on Baby-Led Weaning (BLW) and the first 100 foods approach. Her presentation solidified that this was the approach I wanted to take when feeding our baby. I will admit I was a bit intimated but was ready for the challenge.

What is BLW?

Weaning is the process of babies transitioning from milk/formula to food. In the traditional method of weaning parents either buy or make pureed foods (typically starting with baby cereal, and then fruits and vegetables) for their infant and spoon-feed them. Parents gradually transition their child from totally pureed foods to thicker purees, to chunky purees, and eventually solid food. BLW is the process of allowing babies to learn how to feed themselves as they transition from milk/formula to eating solid foods1. From the beginning, we have offered Thomas solid foods (non-pureed, whole) alongside some purees that he has feed to himself. Occasionally we will help load his spoon with food (pre-load), but he will bring the spoon to his mouth. In BLW, baby is offered the same foods as everyone else but with a texture that is modified to be soft enough for his/her developmental age2.

We enjoy having Thomas eat with us at mealtimes and that we can eat alongside him while he feeds himself, rather than one of us having to spoon feed him.

Why BLW?

My husband and I chose to do BLW with Thomas for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, it aligns closely with the Ellyn Satter principles on childhood feeding. In the Ellyn Satter approach, the role of the parent is to decide when and what nutritious food to provide, and the role of the child is to decide what and how much of that food they want to eat3. We let Thomas decide if he wanted to eat what we provided him and when he was full. This allowed him to practice honoring his hunger and fullness cues from day one of beginning solids. Introducing Thomas to 100 foods has exposed him to a wide variety of tastes and textures. When he becomes more selective (aka picky) and decides there are 10-15 foods he doesn’t like to eat, we still have 85-90 other foods to offer him. Some studies have shown BLW babies are less fussy and less picky eaters4. Thirdly, it allowed us to expose Thomas to allergenic foods; he successfully tried all the top allergens (egg, peanut, tree nut, cow’s milk, fish, shellfish, soy, and wheat). Scientific evidence supporting the early introduction of top allergenic foods during infancy for the prevention of food allergies has grown. In fact, the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend offering top allergens early and often starting around 6 months of age (in conversation with the pediatrician if babies are at high risk for food allergies)5. For additional benefits and research on BLW, check out the article, Baby-Led Weaning: An Approach to Introducing Solid Foods to Infants from Utah State University Extension.

We started BLW with Thomas when he was six months old. The World Health Organization recommends babies be exclusively breastfed or formula fed until 6 months of age6. Once baby is 6 months old and is showing signs of readiness, complementary foods (foods offered in complement to breastmilk/formula) can start being offered.

Signs of readiness:

  • Baby can sit up unsupported7.
  • Baby can grasp food in hands and move it to mouth7.
  • Absence of tongue thrust 8.
  • Baby makes attempts at chewing, can move food to back of mouth and swallow.

How to Make BLW Work?

First, I did my homework. I read the book, Baby-Led Weaning: The Essential Guide, to educate myself on BLW. The book taught me more about appropriate food sizes and textures (as well inappropriate foods) to offer, what to expect at different ages of baby, how to adapt food, easy first foods, introducing a cup, and much more. I then printed off a calendar for each month from May – November 2022. Each day of the week was assigned a different category (Monday – fruit, Tuesday – starch, Wednesday – protein, Thursday – vegetable, Friday – challenge). I then filled in the calendar days with foods from the 100 foods list and placed it on our refrigerator.

I used an app called Solid Starts to help determine appropriate sizes and textures of various foods to offer Thomas. There are many recipe ideas you can find online for BLW; I often referred to ideas from my friend, Kara, who is also a dietitian, at Kara Hoerr Nutrition.

We also found several tools to be very handy, including a crinkle cut knife (made items easier for Thomas to grab), hardboiled egg slicer, full coverage bib, washable mat to put under Thomas’ high chair to make clean-up easier, silicone plates that suction to the highchair, and an adjustable footrest to add to our highchair (ours didn’t come with one and it is important to have baby’s feet supported when eating as it helps them maintain good posture and core strength when eating). Living in rural Iowa, some food items (like peanut puffs) where hard to find. Shopping online helped us find products we weren’t able to locate in local stores. And finally, we explained the approach and solicited help from other who feed Thomas. This included our childcare provider and his grandparents.

Does BLW Increase Choking Risk?

A common misconception related to BLW is that this approach increases choking risk. However, studies show that when parents are educated on food sizing and texture, BLW does not increase the likelihood of choking9. Additional studies indicate that BLW babies are no more likely to choke than babies who are spoon fed10, 11, 12. To make sure I felt prepared for any situation, I took an online CPR/AED course through the American Red Cross. It reviewed a variety of topics, including choking for infants, children, and adults. I also posted CPR and choking information inside one of our kitchen cabinets so it can easily be accessed in the event of an emergency. The Utah State University Extension article offers the safety precautions listed below to help reduce the risk of choking.

How to prevent choking:

  • Ensure your baby is always sitting upright during feedings.
  • Make sure the food presented is in the proper shape, size, and texture for the baby.
  • Cut food into long strips they can grab in their fists.
  • Never leave your baby alone with food8.

Our BLW journey has been full of learning, fun, and messes (lots and lots of messes)! If you are thinking about this feeding approach for your baby, I would recommend you do your homework and don’t hesitate to ask questions! Make sure to contact us at AnswerLine if we can be of help.

______________________________________

Reference to any commercial product, process, or service, or the use of any trade, firm, or corporate name is for general informational purposes only and does not constitute an endorsement, recommendation, or certification of any kind. Persons using such products assume responsibility for their use and should make their own assessment of the information and whether it is suitable for their intended use in accordance with current directions of the manufacturer. 

Resources:

  1. Rapley, G., & Murkett, T. (2010). Baby-Led Weaning (2nd ed.). New York, NY: The Experiment.
  2. Rapley, G. A. (2018). Baby-led weaning: Where are we now? Nutrition Bulletin, 43(3), 262–268. doi.org/10.1111/nbu.12338
  3. Satter, E. (2012). How to get your kid to eat: But not too much. Chicago, IL: Bull Publishing Company.
  4. Fu, X., Conlon, C. A., Haszard, J. J., Beck, K. L., von Hurst, P. R., Taylor, R. W., & Heath, A.-L. M. (2018). Food fussiness and early feeding characteristics of infants following Baby-Led Weaning and traditional spoon-feeding in New Zealand: An internet survey. Appetite, 130, 110–116. doi.org/10.1016/j.appet.2018.07.033
  5. 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Retrieved September 21, 2022. https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/sites/default/files/2020-12/Dietary_Guidelines_for_Americans_2020-2025.pdf.  
  6. World Health Organization. Infant and young child feeding. (2018, February 16). Retrieved September 21, 2022. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/infant-and-young-child-feeding.
  7. Rapley, G. (2015). Baby-led weaning: The theory and evidence behind the approach. Journal of Health Visiting, 3(3), 144–151. doi.org/10.12968/johv.2015.3.3.144
  8. Schilling, L., & Peterson, W. J. (2017). Born to eat: whole, healthy foods from baby’s first bite. New York, NY: Skyhorse Publishing.
  9. Brown, Amy E. “No Difference in Self-Reported Frequency of Choking Between Infants Introduced to Solid Foods Using a Baby-Led Weaning or Traditional Spoon-Feeding Approach.” Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics 31, no. 4 (December 2017): 496-504. Doi.org/10.1111/jhn.12528.
  10. Fangupo, L. J., Heath, A.-L. M., Williams, S. M., Williams, L. W. E., Morison, B. J., Fleming, E. A., … Taylor, R. W. (2016). A Baby-Led approach to eating solids and risk of choking. Pediatrics, 138(4), e20160772. doi.org/10.1542/peds.2016-0772
  11. Pesch, D. (2019). Introducing complementary foods in infancy. Contemporary Pediatrics, 36(1), 6.
  12. Rapley, G. (2011). Baby-led weaning: transitioning to solid foods at the baby’s own pace. Community Practitioner, 84(6), 5.

Rachel Sweeney

I graduated from Iowa State University with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Dietetics and Exercise Science. I enjoy gardening, cooking and baking, food preservation, traveling, being outside, and spending time with my family.

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September is National Honey Month

‘Tis the month to celebrate all things HONEY!  The National Honey Board declared September as National Honey Month in 1989 to promote the beekeeping industry and honey as a natural and beneficial sweetener.  Honey is a great sweetener for many reasons.  However, it is important to note that honey is more than a sweetener and has a long history so let the celebrations begin!

Honey History

Honey dates back centuries.  In 2012, archaeologists discovered what is believed to be the world’s oldest honey in a ceramic jar in Georgia (Eastern European country) which is estimated by scientists to be about 5,500 years old.  However, honey was used long before this and may have a life of millions of years.  Beekeeping apiculture dates to at least 700 BC.  Documentation has been found showing that ancient Egyptians sacrificed honey to their river gods, Roman’s slathered honey on wounds, Alexander the Great was embalmed with honey, and honey was used as a form of currency in Europe.  There are also numerous ancient references to mead, or honey wine, which is the world’s oldest known fermented beverage.

Honey Uses

Honey, as a sweetener, has many health benefits.  Besides being loaded with minerals, vitamins and important enzymes, honey is a natural, healthy energy booster. It is an immune system builder and has both antioxidant, anti-bacterial and anti-tumor properties. Honey has a healthy glycemic index which means that can be absorbed into the bloodstream gradually resulting in better digestion.  For more detailed information on the nutritional value of honey over table sugar, see Benefits of Honey by Michigan State University.  Honey is denser than sugar. One tablespoon of honey has 69 calories compared to 48 calories in one tablespoon of processed white sugar.  When using honey as a sweetener begin substitutions by replacing the amount of sugar called for in the recipe with half the amount of honey.  Honey can be substituted in equal measure for other liquid sweeteners such as sorghum, molasses, or maple syrup.  Learn more about cooking with honey from All About Honey.

Bee pollen is another important substance found in honey. Bee pollen may provide some relief for those who suffer with seasonal allergies since it contains trace amounts of pollen. Daily trace amounts of pollen may help reduce the symptoms of pollen-related allergies by inoculating the individual.  When used as an inoculant, it is very important that the honey be purchased locally since that is where the allergens are located.

While some of the health benefits of honey have been discussed, the many uses of honey is extensive.  For more honey uses, take a look at some suggestions for honey outside of the kitchen by Sioux Honey™.

Honey Safety and Storage

The primary food safety issue related to honey is infant botulism. Because infants have an immature geostatistical tract, the spores of the Clostridium bacteria (the causal pathogen of botulism) are provided
the amount of time needed and the environment to produce toxins. Babies under the age of 1 should not eat honey.

In general, honey is safe for adults and children older than the age of 1.  Those allergic to honey should avoid it.

Honey has a very low water content and high acidity, which usually inhibits the growth of bacteria.  However, honey is hydroscopic, which means it draws in moisture. Moisture in honey can create favorable conditions for mold and yeast growth.  To prevent such, honey should be stored in a clean, airtight container and preferably away from light.  When stored properly, honey will remain safe indefinitely. Honey may crystallize or granulate as it gets older, is refrigerated, or is frozen. This is a natural process and does not harm honey in any way. To convert crystallized honey to a liquid form, place the opened honey jar in a heat-safe container of approximately 1-2 inches of hot (not boiling) water. Crystals will begin to disappear; stir as needed. Be careful not to overheat honey; excessive heat can cause honey to change color and flavor.

According to National Honey Board trivia, a single worker honeybee produces approximately 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey in her lifetime. That means around 22,700 bees are needed to fill a single jar of honey!   So celebrate the benefits of honey, the bees that make it, those who work in the honey and bee industry, and enjoy the seet nectar of their labor!

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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Eatin’ the GREEN in March and Beyond

St. Patrick’s Day is coming and green is the theme. Green is also the color of March and a good time to “go green” by adding more GREEN fruits and vegetables to our daily diet and reap the benefits of better health by eating GREEN —fresh green foods, that is!

Jam-packed with vitamins, minerals, and healthy phytochemicals, green fruits and vegetables are some of the healthiest produce nature has given us. Here’s why.

Green fruits and vegetables are:
– Nutritional power house foods, especially dark green leafy vegetables,
– Loaded with Vitamins—A (as Beta Carotene), B6, C, E and K*,
– Loaded with minerals—calcium, folate, iron, magnesium, manganese and potassium,
– Contain antioxidants to fight free radicals and reduce cancer risk,
– Contain health-promoting phytochemicals (from the green color pigment chlorophyll) such as lutein for eye health and reducing age-related macular degeneration (AMD),
– Typically low in calories and high in fiber – dark green leafy vegetables top out at only 10 to 25 calories per half-cup serving, and
– Easily incorporated into diet raw or incorporated into soups, stews, salads, stir fries, casseroles, and so much more.

There are plenty of green fruits and vegetables to choose from. Some of the best nutrient-packing greens to incorporate into your diet to feel your ‘green’ in a good way include:

Kale
Spinach
Avocado
Green Peppers
Asparagus
Green Beans
Peas
Broccoli
Leafy green lettuce
Collard greens, Swiss Chard
Bok Choy
Green grapes
Kiwi
Green apples
Honeydew melon

Fun tips to get green foods into your diet:

  • Add bright green vegetables to a party tray.
  • Add a green salad as a side dish to lunch or dinner using lots of greens, green peppers, green onions, etc.
  • Make the color pop in broccoli and green peas by blanching them briefly in boiling water, then put them into ice water to stop the cooking process. This enhances the green color to make those vegetables more appetizing.
  • Include kiwi fruit, green grapes and/or honeydew melon in your fruit salad.
  • Add avocado slices to toast, salads and sandwiches. To maintain the green color, eat avocados immediately or sprinkle them with lemon or lime juice. 2 tablespoons of avocado have about 5 grams of fat which is mostly heart-healthy Omega-3 monounsaturated fat.
  • Enjoy your favorite veggie dip with broccoli florets, pea pods, and celery or a favorite fruit dip with green apple slices.
  • Make a vegetable pizza with green peppers, asparagus, and/or spinach.
  • Serve thinly sliced green onions over rice, pasta, broiled or baked fish or soups.
  • Add sautéed spinach and kale to egg dishes or fresh spinach and kale to smoothies.
  • Stir-fry with bok choy, collard greens, or Swiss chard.
  • Roast broccoli and/or asparagus with other veggies.

Additional green ideas include spinach noodles, green vegetable soufflés and omelets; parsley garnish; pesto; cream of broccoli, celery, or spinach soup; finely diced spinach, kale, or green onions in chicken noodle, rice or orzo soups; or glazed kiwi over cake. For recipes and other tips, visit UNL Extension.

March is a good time to start the “go green foods” trend and enjoy the many health benefits from eating something GREEN!

*Limit intake of greens containing Vitamin K if you are taking blood thinners such as warfarin (Coumadin®). Eating too many foods rich in Vitamin K reduces warfarin’s effectiveness and may cause more clotting in the body.  [1]

Sources:
Go for the GREEN on St. Patrick’s Day, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources, UNL Food
1Warfarin Diet:  What Foods Should I Avoid?, Mayo Clinic, 2021
Eat Green for a Healthy St Patrick’s Day and Beyond, Utah State University Extension, 2016

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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Let’s Go Maple Syruping!

When you think of Iowa, maple syrup probably isn’t the first thing to come to mind. However, maple syrup is one of the state’s oldest agricultural crops dating back to pioneer times.  Native Americans were the first to tap Iowa’s maple trees followed by early pioneers who also tapped maple trees for their annual supply of sweetener. 

Today, Iowa has a small number of commercial producers mostly located in the northeastern part of the state and several small commercial or home-use only producers scattered across the state. According to the USDA 2017 Agricultural Census, Iowa reported 53 farms with 13,808 taps.[1] Producers use a variety of methods to collect and boil sap into syrup.  However, the methods are much the same today as used by our ancestors.  Small holes are drilled into the tree trunks (taps), sap drips into buckets or tubes below, and evaporators boil the clear sap into delicious maple syrup.  The color of maple syrup varies depending upon when it was tapped.  Late winter tapings yield a light brown syrup with color deepening as spring advances.  Color is not an indicator of quality; maple syrup is graded by color with color affecting flavor.  Grade A syrup is a light amber color, while Grade B is darker and thicker. Grade A is mild in flavor with Grade B syrups having a deeper, more robust maple flavor. 

On the average, it takes 40 gallons of maple sap to make 1 gallon of pure maple syrup.  A tree will produce 10-20 gallons of sap per tap on the average.  A tree may have more than one tap depending upon its size/circumference.

While maple syrup is a sweetener, the nutritional benefits of maple syrup are numerous.  One tablespoon of maple syrup contains 50 calories along with the following vitamins and minerals:

  • 20 milligrams of calcium
  • 2 milligrams of phosphorous
  • 0.2 milligrams of iron
  • 2 milligrams of sodium
  • 5 milligrams of potassium [2]

Maple syrup can be used as an alternative to sugar in cooking and baking in a 1:1 ratio. When used in baking, decrease the liquid by 3 to 4 tablespoons per 1 cup substitution.  If no liquid is called for in the recipe, add about 1 tablespoon of additional flour for every ¼ cup of maple syrup.  [3]

Iowa’s maple syrup season generally begins in late February or early March and runs 4 to 6 as six weeks. Warm daytime temperatures and cold nights are needed for the sap to flow; the season ends when the trees begin to bud. If you are looking for some early-spring family fun, a number of groups have planned events and demonstrations across the state to allow nature lovers of all ages to take part in this unique agricultural activity. Below is a listing of a few.  Registration and fees may be required and pancakes and maple syrup might be included with some events.

Botna Bend Park, Hancock, March 5, 2022

Hartman Reserve Nature Center, Cedar Falls, March 11-13, 2022

Mahaska County Environmental Learning Center, Oskaloosa, March 8, 2022

Indian Creek Nature Center, Cedar Rapids, March 26-27, 2022

Sharon Bluffs State Park, Centerville, February 24, 2022

Events are also planned in Minnesota.  For a complete listing, check out the Minnesota DNR website.

Resources:

1 United States Department of Agriculature, National Agricultural Statistics Service, Iowa, Table 40. Woodland Crops Sales: 2017 and 2012.

2 Neff, Michelle, Maple Syrup Nutritional Facts, Michigan State University, MSU Extension

3 Ameden, Kye, Baking with Liquid Sweeteners, King Arthur Baking, 2017

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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Meet the Flours – Alternative Flours

Holiday baking is in full swing.  For most baking, flour is a requirement.  An assortment of wheat flours and alternative flours line our supermarket shelves.  For most baking, all-purpose wheat flour is a good choice.  Why then, do we have so many choices? If there’s anything we’ve learned over the last few years, artisanal baking trends, baking blogs, and tv shows have pushed consumers to open their minds to options beyond using traditional wheat flour. With the popularity of clean living, functional food, ancient grains, and grain- or gluten-free lifestyles, we’re getting better at expanding our horizons when it comes to flours and using them to bake successfully.

In a previous blog, wheat flours for baking were discussed as well as the protein content of the various wheat flours and how they affect baked products.  Gluten is the protein most often associated with wheat flour making dough elastic and stretchy and trapping gas within baked goods to provide a light and airy structure. Baking with alternative flours that are gluten free or low in gluten can be challenging. This blog will focus on demystifying some of the various alternative flours and how to best use them with wheat flours, alone, or blended with other gluten-free flours for baking.

The variety of alternative flours ground from various grains, nuts, seeds, roots, vegetables and even fruits available to today is expanding and ever changing. While alternative flours are a must for those with gluten allergies, they are also a great option for adding nutrients to many recipes. Depending on need for a lower-calorie, higher protein or nutrition, resistant starch, gluten-free, or easily digested flour, there is an alternative flour to meet nearly anyone’s needs. Alternative flours are of three types—1) grained-based, containing gluten; 2) grain-based, containing no gluten; 3) nut-, seed-, root-, vegetable- or fruit-based, containing no gluten. 

Grain-based, Gluten Flours

In this group we find rye, barley, spelt,  khorasan,  emmereinkorn, and triticale, Like wheat, these grain flours are commercially-available as whole flours (containing the grain’s endosperm, germ and bran) or as refined flours (endosperm only).  While these grain-based flours contain protein and the gluten protein, they are low in gluten.  To be successful in baking, they need the help of wheat flour or other ingredients to give them structure.  They add nutrition, flavor, and interesting textures to baked goods when used. 

Rye flour is likely the most used of these gluten-containing alternative flours; it is sold in both medium and dark varieties.  Rye adds a nutty flavor to baked goods as well as enhancing the flavor of chocolate, ginger, caramel, brown butter, cinnamon, and other similar ingredients.  Rye’s chemistry is different than that of wheat, most notably in that it can retain much more moisture for a longer amount of time due to its complex sugar (pentosans) and enzyme (amylases) composition. When rye is added to baked goods, those products stay fresh longer than those made with all-purpose flour. [1]  Most commonly, barley is used as an add-in ingredient in a baked good for fiber.  Spelt contains enough gluten to be substituted for wheat flours yet some people who have an intolerance or allergy to wheat, find that they can tolerate spelt.  Khorasan and emmer are ancient grains. Einkorn is similar to durum wheat and turns baked products yellow due to its high carotene content. Triticale flour is a cross between durum, rye, and red winter wheat and must be used with a high-gluten wheat flour.

Gain-based, Gluten-free Flours

It’s important to note that a gluten-free grain doesn’t mean that it is gluten-free.  Flours or food products can still have trace amounts of gluten when made in a facility where equipment is shared with gluten grains.  This can be problematic with those affected by gluten intolerance or celiac so it is important to know and trust the source of gluten-free products. 

Most of the gluten-free flours do not do well on their own so are often blended for best flavor and texture in baked products.  There are a variety of 1:1 gluten-free flours (cup-for-cup swap of wheat flour to gluten-free flour in any traditional recipe) on the market.  Each company has a slightly different blend but usually contain some combination of rice flour, potato starch, sorghum flour, tapioca flour, and millet flour. There are also numerous DIY recipes for those who like to make their own.  Gluten-free flours need binding agents such as xanthan gum, arrowroot powder, eggs, or flax added to the mix to provide structure similar to gluten.  If you purchase a commercial flour blend, read the ingredient list to see if xanthan or guar gum has been added; if so, there is no need to add more. If xanthan is not in the mix, ½-1 teaspoon per cup of flour should be added.  For additional information and tips on gluten-free baking, please refer to Gluten Free Baking by Colorado State University Extension. For best success with first-time, gluten-free baking, it is recommended to use recipes using flours of interest.

Table of Grained-based Gluten-free Flours

Grain-based Gluten-free Flour  CharacteristicsHow to Use in Baking (Substituting or Replacing Wheat Flour or 1:1 Gluten-free Baking Flour)1 cup Wheat Flour Conversion
AmaranthHigh in protein, lysine, fiber, and iron
Provide structure and binding Pleasant flavor  
Replace up to ¼ of the flour in most recipes; can be used alone for biscuits and cookies; use ½ c/loaf in combination with wheat flour for bread1 cup
BuckwheatGluten-free despite name; technically a seed used as a grain (pseudo grain)
Rich in B-vitamins, magnesium, fiber, antioxidants
Strong flavor
Replace ¼ of flour. Best used in pancakes, yeast breads, cookies, muffins, scones, biscuits in combination with neutral flours1 cup
CornSweet, earthy flavor when baked
May be yellow, white, or blue
Versatile flour
Milled from flour corn (corn meal or masa harina is not the same)
Can be used alone for spoon breads, chess pie, corn cake; substitute no more than 1 part corn flour to 4 parts flour1 cup
MilletColor similar to cornmeal
Delicate sweet, nut-like flavor
Similar protein structure to wheat
Can be substituted 1:1 for flour; best used in combination with other flours for breads and muffins1 cup
OatSweet, toasty, nutty flavor
Good source of protein
Lightens, adds ‘chew’ to baked products Ability to absorb liquid helps keep baked goods moist  
Combine with other flours to achieve desired results1 1/3 cup
QuinoaGood source of protein, folate, copper, iron, and fiber
Mild, slightly nutty flavor
Substitute ½ flour or completely replace in cookie and cake recipes; blend with other flours for best flavor; use in pasta  1 cup
RiceWhite and brown varieties
Brown contains rice bran and germ; has a nuttier flavor
Absorbs liquid producing sticky doughs
Commonly used in Asian cooking
Use 1 part rice flour to 4 parts flour;
combine with other flours to achieve desired results
7/8 cup
SorghumSweet nutty flavor
High in nutrition
Add 15% to 25% to flour mixes to add flavor to breads, cakes, and cookies1 cup
TeffLeads all grains in calcium
High in resistant starch
Mild to earthy flavor
Substitute ¼ of the flour in any recipe  7/8 cup

Nut-, Seed-, Root-, Vegetable- or Fruit-based Gluten-free Flours   

Flours made from nuts, seeds, roots, vegetables and fruits provide interesting tastes, textures, and nutritional compositions to food made with them. While they can be used on their own or in combination with other flours, they are often times used as add-ins for taste or texture or to improve nutrition, digestion, or keeping qualities.  Like gluten-free grain flours, binders are needed in baking.  The table below is only a listing of the most common flours in this group as there are many and new ones continually come onto the scene. 

Table of Nut-, Seed-, Root-, Vegetable-, Fruit-based Gluten-free Flours

Nut-, Vegetable-, Fruit, Root-based Flours  CharacteristicsHow to Use in Baking (Substituting or Replacing Wheat Flour or 1:1 Gluten-free Baking Flour)1 cup Wheat Flour Conversion
AlmondMade from blanched almonds; slightly gritty
Low carbohydrate content
Good source of protein, Vitamin E, healthy fats, and fiber
Use in combination with other flours for texture and flavor; works well in cakes, cookies, sweet breadsN/A
BananaMade from green, unripe bananas
High level of resistant starch
Does not taste like bananas
Readily absorbs liquid; results in heavier baked goods
Versatile for baking and thickening.  Use 2 teaspoons baking powder per cup flour to get baked goods to rise.¾ cup
CassavaDerived from the root of the cassava or yucca plant; processing removes cyanide
High in carbohydrates, manganese, Vitamin C
Most similar to wheat flour of all gluten-free flours; never eat raw
Mild, neutral flavor; not gritty
Easy to digest; reduces insulin need
1:1 substitute with all flours; best used in combination with wheat flour for yeast breadsN/A
ChickpeaAlso known as garbanzo bean flour
Good source of protein and fiber
Use in combination with other flours for texture and flavor; works well in dense cakes, biscuits, brownies and quick unleavened breads7/8 cup
CoconutRich in manganese, protein, fiber, fat
Dried coconut meat; byproduct of coconut milk Slightly gritty
Highly absorbent
Naturally sweet coconut flavor
Can replace up to 20% of flour in most recipes; requires the addition of an equivalent amount of liquid. Every ¼ cup coconut flour requires one egg for structure and moisture.¼ cup
PotatoGround from dehydrated potatoes
Neutral flavor
Attracts and holds water; aids in producing moist yeast bread and rolls
Use in combination with other flours; for optimal results with wheat flour:  substitute up to 25% for baked goods, 15% for yeast leavened products; to avoid clumping, mix with sugar5/8 cup
Soy/SoyaDerived from soybeans Slightly sweet, musty flavor Improve shelf life of baked goods1 part soy/soya to 4 parts flour; increases browning so reduce oven temperature 25⁰F¾ cup
TapiocaStarchy extract of the cassava root
Starchy, slightly sweet flavor Excellent thickener
Use ¼ to ½ cup per recipe to sweeten breads made with rice and millet flour; great thickener for pie fillings1 cup
Other NutPecan, Walnut, Hazelnut, Filbert, and ChestnutSimilar to Almond 
Other VeggieFava, GarFava, Lentil, Bean, PeaSimilar to Chickpea 

Sources:
Beyond the Standard Flour, Laura Anderson, Michigan State University Extension, https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/beyond_the_standard_flour
GF Baking Tips & Hints, https://theheritagecook.com/gluten-free-3/gluten-free-baking-tips-and-hints/
Types of Flour Used in Baking, Sarah Bastin, University of Kentucky, https://fcs-hes.ca.uky.edu/sites/fcs-hes.ca.uky.edu/files/12ssc_typesflourpub.pdf
Gluten Free Baking, F. Watson, M. Stone, and M. Bunning, Colorado State University Extension, https://foodsmartcolorado.colostate.edu/recipes/cooking-and-baking/gluten-free-baking/
Baker Pedia, https://bakerpedia.com/

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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Eggs are Egg-cellent

May is a month to celebrate the arrival of spring, mothers, graduations, the men and women who have died in military service, and the incredible EGG!  

May is National Egg Month and an opportunity to not only recognize the qualities and versatility of the egg, but also to acknowledge our egg farmers! Did you know Iowa ranks No. 1 in the nation for egg production? Each year, Iowa egg farms produce more than 17.1 BILLION eggs and is home to more than 58 million laying hens. Together with Ohio and Indiana (2nd and 3rd producers), the three states produce a third of the total US eggs.[1]

Here is a reminder of ALL of the egg-cellent reasons to celebrate eggs.

Nutrition

Eggs are among the most nutritious foods on the planet.  They are loaded with nutrients, some of which are rare in the modern diet.  One large egg has varying amounts of 13 essential vitamins and minerals and 6 grams of high-quality protein containing all the essential amino acids that humans need.  For as many nutrients as they have, eggs are a relatively low-calorie food with just 70+ calories in a large egg. There are no carbohydrates or sugars, and only 5 grams of healthy fat (7 percent of your daily recommended intake).  Eggs are a source of choline, a nutrient that most people don’t even know exists, yet it is an incredibly important substance used to build cell membranes and produce signaling molecules in the brain along with various other functions.  A single egg contains more than 100 mg of choline.  Eggs are also an important source of the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin which are very important for eye health and can help prevent macular degeneration and cataracts in older adults.

It is true that eggs are high in cholesterol. In fact, a single egg contains 212 mg which is over half of the recommended daily intake of 300 mg. However, it’s important to know that numerous recent studies show that cholesterol in the diet doesn’t necessarily raise cholesterol in the blood for the majority of people.  In fact, egg consumption consistently leads to elevated levels of HDL (good) cholesterol and appears to change LDL (bad) particles from small dense harmful particles to large particles. Elevated HDL lowers our risk to many diseases and large particle LDL reduce risk of heart disease. 

Not all eggs are created equal. Egg nutrient composition varies depending on how the hens are fed and raised and is usually reflected in the color of the yolk.  Eggs from hens raised on grass and sunshine and/or fed omega-3 enriched feeds tend to be higher in omega-3 fatty acids.  Studies show that consuming omega-3 enriched eggs is an effective way to lower blood triglycerides. 

The color of an egg’s shell has nothing to do with the nutrition; all eggs, no matter the color, are packed with the same protein and nutrients on the inside.   The different colors, or the presence of spots or speckling, come from the genetics or breed of the hen.  All eggs start out as white.  Eggs that are not white have pigments deposited on them as the egg travels through the hen’s oviduct. Brown eggs tend to be more expensive which leads people to falsely believe that they are more nutritious or better in some way. Actually the high cost is due to the maintenance of the hens.  Brown chickens are usually larger than the white breeds and require more food to make an egg justifying an increase in cost over white eggs.

Inexpensive and Easy to Prepare

Eggs are pretty much nature’s perfect food. Beyond the nutritional benefits, they are also cheap, easy to prepare, go with almost any food, and taste awesome.  Eggs have gained the reputation of a go-to breakfast food but can be enjoyed in so many different ways throughout the day as a protein source in other meals or as a snack; they make an excellent breakfast or anytime food as they not only provide nutrition but also increase satiety thereby reducing the hunger craving.

Eggs can be prepared in many ways – fried, scrambled, soft boiled, hard boiled, poached, baked, or microwaved.  Cooking eggs makes the protein in them more digestible. It also helps make the vitamin biotin more available for your body to use.   (Raw eggs should be avoided unless they are pasteurized according to the USDA; raw eggs may contain Salmonella, a pathogenic bacteria, which can cause food poisoning.)  When cooking eggs, avoid high heat and over-cooking to prevent denaturing of the protein and retain as many nutrients as possible.

Essential Ingredient

Eggs are an essential ingredient in baking and cooking, too, as they serve many functions in recipes. While there are alternatives to eggs for baking and cooking, the unique structures of the yolks and whites make eggs the perfect ingredient for baking and cooking functions. Depending upon how they are used in a recipe, eggs can provide structure, leavening, tenderizing, moisture, flavor, color, nutrition, or thickening properties to baked and cooked foods.  They also act as an emulsifier bridging waters and fats.

One doesn’t have to look too far to find alternative uses for eggs or eggshells. They are used in the cosmetic industry and at home as a hair conditioner and face mask.  They also make a great DIY glue, fertilizer, seed cup, cleaning agent, pest repellant, and more. 

Use May’s 31 days to celebrate the easily served treat that contributes to muscle strength, brain function, eye health, and weight management. Whether hard-boiled, poached, scrambled, or over-easy, a healthy egg dish will always leave you feeling “sunny side up.”

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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Cashews, Not Really a Nut

If I were to ask you how cashew nuts are grown and harvested, or what they look like in their shell, would you know?  Since I’ve always been curious about where my food comes from and how it grows, I was stumped when I got this question from one of my grands.  However, what we learned together was fascinating.

Cashew nut fruits growing on tree

Cashews are not really nuts in the true sense, but rather a drupe seed.  They grow on fruit producing trees which produce a ‘false fruit’ known as the cashew apple.  The fruit resembles a small bell pepper being yellow to red in color.  At the base of the fruit is a kidney-bean-shaped hard shell with a single seed inside–the cashew nut.

After reading and watching YouTube videos about cashew farming and harvesting, the process of separating the nut from the fruit, and the steps in production, we had a whole new appreciation of the snack we enjoy, so easily purchased at the supermarket and eaten without a thought.

Cashews are gown in many parts of the world with origin in Brazil.  However, Vietnam is the largest producer of cashew nuts followed by India; cashews are a valuable agricultural commodity for both counties.  The cashew nut industry in these countries (and other producing countries) provide vital year-round employment to millions of people, especially women.  Extracting the nut from its shell is labor intense and requires a skilled workforce of which 90% are women who are paid meager wages. 

Following harvest, the shells are roasted and dried to make extracting the nut easier.  Removing the nut from the shell is the most difficult step in processing.  It is either done by hand or machine, but in either case, it is one shell at a time.  When done by hand, the workers beat the shell with a mallet in just the right way to release the nut unscathed.  If mechanical shelling machines are used, the shells are feed into the machines one at a time to split the shells; however, since the shells vary in size and shape, there is breakage so machines are not a perfect solution.  As a result manual processing is generally favored for nut perfection.  However, Vietnam has been successful at mechanizing the process and, thereby, have increased production rates and decreased the labor force.

Another concern in cracking the shell, is the reddish-brown oil that oozes from the shell composed of various phenolic lipids.  It is an irritant like that found in poison ivy causing skin burns and sores and other health issues if workers come in contact with it.  Following splitting, the nuts require tedious peeling and cleaning before moving along to grading, quality control, fumigation, and packaging.

And what about the cashew apple?  The apple has a sweet flavor but a limited shelf life so it is not a marketable commodity in its fresh state.  However, it is available in local markets and has value as a fresh food, cooked in curries, fermented into vinegar and used to make preserves, chutneys, and jams.  In India, it is fermented and distilled to make an alcoholic drink known as feni.  The apples are also used for medicinal purposes.

Even though cashews are not technically nuts, we use them as such.   Cashews are rich in nutrients, antioxidants, healthy fats, plant protein, and fiber; they may be used interchangeably with other nuts in a variety of culinary applications, including trail mix, stir-fries, granola, nut butter, and nut dairy products.  Like most nuts, cashews may also help improve overall health. They’ve been linked to benefits like weight loss by boosting metabolism, improving blood sugar control, strengthening the immune system, and contributing to heart health.

Cashews are generally a safe addition to most diets.  One should keep in mind that roasted or salted cashews contain added oils or salt. For this reason, it may be best to opt for unsalted, dry roasted instead.  People with tree nut allergies should avoid them as they are classified as tree nuts along with Brazil nuts, pecans, pistachios, walnuts and hazelnuts.  Some people have trouble with bloating; soaking nuts overnight will help with nutrient absorption and digestibility.  When eaten in large quantities, cashews can cause kidney damage due to a relatively high oxalate content.  However, in moderation (true of all nuts), such is not likely.  One serving of cashews is 1 ounce and contains about 18 nuts, 157 calories, and about 9 grams of carbohydrate largely in the form of starch1.

I am so glad the question about cashew nuts was asked!  I will continue to enjoy them but with a new and profound appreciation for the people who grow, harvest, and process them.

1 https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/drugs/17283-nutrition-nuts–heart-health

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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Time for Spring-Dug Parsnips

This past week, we dug the last of our parsnips.  Spring-dug parsnips are characterized as ‘the cream of the crop!’ and I couldn’t be more of an advocate.  The seeds, sown nearly a year ago, grew into healthy plants over the summer and were left to die back in the fall.  After a frost or two, a few were dug; the remainder of the row was left to winter over in the ground. They are a great roasted vegetable in the fall, but nothing like those left in the ground for a winter deep freeze.  The extreme cold converts the starches into sugar and allows the flavor to mellow.  The timing is critical for spring-dug parsnips; they need to be dug as soon as you can get into the ground with a shovel or fork and just as their tops start to show new growth.  If they are left in the ground too long in the spring and the tops start to grow out, they become woody. 

Never had parsnips?  Some mistakenly refer to them as white carrots, but while they may be related to carrots distantly, they are actually part of the parsley family.  They are a cream-colored, gnarled, carrot-shaped root vegetable.  They can be eaten raw but are best prepared by roasting, frying, grilling or steaming to bring out their distinct succulent flavor and nutty sweetness.  They have a tan peel that is typically removed before use; peeling also removes their gnarly surface.  The flesh is cream-white.  They are a very versatile vegetable with recipes ranging from roasted side dishes, soups and stews, mashed, turned into fries, and even made into wine.  They pair well with other root vegetables, too.  Like potatoes or an apple, parsnips oxidize when exposed to air after their peelings are removed. If not prepared right away, cut parsnips should be placed in water to reduce the effect.

Being white in color, one would tend to believe that they offer little nutrition.  Quite the opposite is true.  According to the USDA [1], a half-cup serving of parsnips are high in heart-healthy fiber providing 3 grams of fiber and only 55 calories. They are a low-fat food yet a good source of numerous vitamins (especially C and K), minerals (especially folate and manganese), and antioxidants.  (Note that the level of vitamin C is somewhat reduced with the cooking.)

Besides the home garden, parsnips are available at the supermarket and likely can also be found at the late fall and spring farmer’s markets. Spring is the best time to give them a try if you are new to parsnips.  If you are lucky enough to find this once-a-year spring treasure, choose fleshy, fresh, firm, medium-sized and even surfaced roots.  Avoid woody, over-matured, long, thin, and tail-like roots as they are off-flavored and have tough fiber.  Also avoid soft, pitted, shriveled, knobby, or damaged roots. 

Fresh parsnips should be stored in a plastic bag in the vegetable drawer of the refrigerator where they should last three to four weeks [2]. Use cooked, refrigerated parsnips within three days.  Parsnips can also be frozen [3] for later use by cutting into 1/2-inch cubes, water blanching for 2 minutes, cooling promptly in cold water, draining, and packing and sealing into containers, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Fully cooked parsnip puree may also be frozen for up to 10 months for best quality.  Drying is another method for preserving parsnips as well.

For more information on parsnips, check out Growing Carrots and Parsnips in Home Gardens by the University of Minnesota Extension [4].

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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‘Celerybrating’ Celery

March is National Celery Month.  Even though celery may not be one of the most exciting foods to blog about, there are plenty of good reasons to. Celery is an amazingly versatile vegetable that can provide so many benefits for you and your family. Besides, it is a favorite food of mine and has been since my Grandma introduced it to me as a snack with peanut butter and raisins in my childhood.

Celery is native to the Mediterranean and is considered a marshland vegetable.  It really is quite easy to grow in the home garden as long as it has plenty of water.  Celery adds crunch to salads while adding lots of flavor to casseroles, soups, stuffing and a variety of cuisines. And it is always a great snack with dips, cheese spreads, avocado, or peanut butter.  Don’t forget that celery leaves are as nutritious as the stalks; the dark green outer leaves have the most flavor but are often a little tough so they are great additions to soups and stews.  The tender and milder inner leaves can be chopped along with the stalks for any recipe that calls for celery or used as a garnish.  It is also possible to dry celery leaves and use them to flavor anything that needs a ‘celery lift.’

Celery is high in fiber and as such is filling. Per serving (2-3 medium stalks), celery has only 16 calories and is 95 percent water. While not a superfood, it is a good source of potassium and vitamins A and C.  Celery is also a source of sodium nitrate which our bodies convert to nitric oxide. Nitric oxide helps relax our arteries, which reduces blood pressure and improves blood flow throughout the body. Celery is known as a negative calorie food because it requires more calories to digest it than one consumes by eating it.  Plus, it’s low on the glycemic index, meaning it has a slow, steady effect on blood sugar.  Thus, it is a great food for dieters.

Celery has been used for medicinal purposes for thousands of years. As far back as 850 B.C., celery seed was believed to have healing powers. Celery still plays a role in traditional Chinese medicine because it contains a plant compound called apigenin which is an anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antiviral, and antioxidant agent.  Celery also contains a flavonoid called luteolin that has shown promise in preventing the spread of cancer cells. Other benefits include preventing gallstones, aids in indigestion, and helps to lower blood pressure.  Because these nutrients occur in relatively small amounts in celery, eating celery alone is not likely to prevent or cure any disease.

In recent times, celery juice has become popular.  While eating celery stalks and using celery in recipes is healthy and important, drinking pure celery juice is more nutrient dense.  When celery is juiced, the pulp or fiber is removed so one is able to consume far more celery as juice than by eating it.  Moreover, it’s very hydrating and low in sugar making it a great alternative to sugary beverages.  While there are health benefits to celery juice, consumers should be weary of claims that celery juice detoxes the body as these claims are not supported by science. Further, celery juice has a high concentration of sodium nitrates which may be of concern to some. People on salt-restricted diets may wish to avoid celery juice as a single cup of celery juice contains around 215 mg of sodium.

Low in calories, packed with flavor, fiber, and crunch, celery is an amazing vegetable that can promote health and with good health, comes happiness—all reasons to celebrate! What are we waiting for? With so many benefits, we should be adding celery to our meals in whatever way chosen not only in March but always. How will your ‘celerybration’ look?

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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Recipe Makeovers for Healthier Versions

One doesn’t have to give up favorite recipes to maintain a healthy diet. Making a few simple changes can make most recipes more healthful without sacrificing taste.  It begins with preparing a recipe in a different way or by substituting ingredients.

Recipes can be altered to reduce or eliminate fat, salt, and unwanted calories in the form of sugar. Recipes can also be altered to increase nutrition or fiber. When modifying a recipe, it is best to make one modification at a time, reducing, substituting, or increasing an ingredient by a small amount at first.

Baked goods require careful adjustments as each ingredient has an important role in the outcome of the product.
– Fat provides flavor, richness, and texture.
– Eggs provide structure, act as a binding agent, and add volume.
– Sugar provides flavor, increases tenderness, and acts as a preservative.
– Salt provides flavor.

Below are suggestions for reducing fat, calories, sugar, and salt and/or increasing fiber in your recipes without changing texture, flavor, purpose or structure.  Be sure to keep a record of the changes that produce the best tasting and satisfactory product.

If your recipe calls forMake the following adjustments or replace with
Condiments and toppingsOmit or use fresh cucumbers vs pickles, cherry tomatoes vs olives, non-fat or reduced fat spreads, mashed fresh berries, thin slices of fresh apples, peaches or pears.
Canned fruit packed in syrupFresh fruit or canned fruit packed in water
Chicken stock or brothsVegetable stock/broth or refrigerated broth with fat skimmed off
Sour creamLow-fat yogurt or blended low-fat cottage cheese
1 egg2 egg whites
CreamWhipped non-fat dry milk or skim evaporated milk
RiceBrown rice
Sautéing in butter or oilNon-stick spray, chicken or beef broth
Cream cheeseNeufchatel cheese or light cream cheese
Gravy1 Tbsp cornstarch or 2 Tbsp flour added to 1 cup fat-free broth
Whole milkSkim or 1% milk
Ice creamLow-fat or non-fat yogurt
All-purpose flour½ whole wheat flour and ½ all-purpose flour
Ground beefLean ground turkey or chicken
BaconTurkey bacon
Ricotta cheeseNon-fat or low-fat cottage cheese
CheeseLow-fat or non-fat cheese or use only half 
PastaWhole wheat pasta

If your baking recipe calls forMake the following adjustments
Sugars – Brown, Corn Syrup, Honey, MolassesUse up to one third less sugar in recipes for cookies, muffins, quick breads, and pie fillings. Add spices such as cinnamon, cloves, allspice and nutmeg, or flavorings such as vanilla or almond extract to boost sweetness.
Fat – Shortening, Butter, Lard, OilReplace solid fat with vegetable oil using 1/4 cup less.  Or, use half the butter, shortening or oil and replace the other half with an equal amount of applesauce, mashed bananas, pureed prunes or commercially prepared fruit-based fat replacers.
SaltReduce the amount by ½ (except in yeast breads), use spices or herbs or light salt.

Other options to add fiber include adding whole oats or chopped dried/fresh fruit to cookies, muffins, waffles, and pancakes and beans to soups, casseroles, and salads. Using fresh or frozen vegetables and fruits whenever possible not only increases fiber, but also ups nutrition.

Cooking methods such as baking, boiling, broiling, grilling, roasting, or stir-frying whenever possible are the best choices for reducing fat intake. Along with fat reduction, the high heat associated with frying changes the chemical structure of the fat making it difficult for your body to break down which can negatively affect health.

Remember, make small modifications at a time. Be creative and, most importantly, have fun! Enjoy the challenge!

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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