Plant. Grow. Share.

plant grow share

Is your garden overflowing with tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, squash or zucchini and you are not quite sure what to do with the extra harvest? Consider donating your fresh garden produce to your local food pantry.

Many food pantries are in need of fresh produce for their clients. And while some gardeners are aware of produce donation some hesitate to take excess produce to a food pantry because of concerns of liability and donated produce going to waste.

But you don’t have to worry; Good Samaritan Laws protect you from any liability when donating produce. While produce does not have a long shelf life, it’s always the first off the shelves so it never goes to waste. Since fresh produce is an uncommon item at food pantries, every little bit helps and your community will thank you for it.

If you are donating produce to a food pantry or other organization, check out this great tip sheet on safe produce handling practices.

HOW CAN I HELP?

Cultivate Iowa is asking you to donate extra garden produce to your local food pantry. You don’t need to have a big garden to donate; any amount is helpful and needed. So if you find yourself with extra produce throughout the year, please consider donating to your local food pantry.

READY TO START DONATING?

STEP 1: Make the promise today to donate tomorrow and help your community. Go to www.CultivateIowa.org and click on ‘Donate Produce’ at the top of the page.

Step 2: Click the red ‘I PROMISE TO DONATE FRESH PRODUCE’ button and enter your email address and zip code.

Step 3: Enter your zip code in the green box to find locations in your community where you can donate fresh produce.

Step 4. Deliver your produce to the food pantry soon after it has been picked.Veggies in bowl

In the words of one Iowa gardener “Zucchini is a gateway drug. Once you get growers hooked on how good donating feels, they will find other produce to share as well.”

The Cultivate Iowa campaign aims to cultivate food security and improve health of Iowans by increasing access to garden produce through integrated coordination, social marketing and outreach strategies specifically targeting low-resource Iowans and food gardeners. Cultivate Iowa is a signature project of the Iowa Food Systems Council’s Food Access and Health Work Group. To learn more about the Cultivate Iowa initiative, go to www.CultivateIowa.org.

Guest Blogger,

angie signature

Christine Hradek

Christine Hradek

Christine Hradek is a State Nutrition Specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. She coordinates ISU’s programs which help families with low income make healthy choices with limited food budgets. Christine loves helping families learn to prepare healthy foods, have fun in the kitchen and save money. In her spare time, Christine enjoys cooking, entertaining and cheering on her favorite college football teams with her family and friends.

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5 Steps for Safe Produce

washing lettuceIowa and 15 other states have had an outbreak of cyclospora the past month. In Iowa and Nebraska the cases were linked to restaurant salads.

Does this mean you shouldn’t eat fresh produce and salads because there is a chance you might get sick? No, but you do need to take some precautions to avoid foodborne illness:

  1. Wash your hands and the produce before you eat it. Even fruits like oranges, bananas, and melons, which have thick peels that will not be eaten, need to be washed.
  2. Wash produce under running water and drain it rather than washing it in a container of water. Dr. Cathy Strohbehn, from Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, says, “Give it a shower rather than a bath.”  This increases the likelihood of washing away potential contaminants.
  3. Wash all food contact surfaces like cutting boards, colanders, or countertops to make sure they are clean and sanitary so that contaminants won’t be introduced to the produce.
  4. Check the label of packaged produce.  If it says ‘ready to eat’ you don’t’ have to wash it again, according to Dr. Strohbehn. Rewashing washed product labeled as ‘ready to eat’ may pose more risks due to the possibility of recontamination.
  5. Look for good quality produce — no mold, bruises, or shriveling.

Pointers from

Peggy Signature

New Videos that Help you Shop for Fruits and Vegetables

pile of veggiesWhen you’re planning your meals and writing your grocery list, do you ever wonder how many fruits and vegetables to buy or how to get the best deals on them? If so, check out our new series of 2-3 minute ‘how to’ videos. Some of the topics for the videos include:

A few of the tips shared in the videos that I find helpful include:

-Check your cupboards, refrigerator, and freezers to see what you already have.

-Check the grocery ads for what is on sale.

-Buy a variety of fruits and vegetables including fresh, canned, frozen, and dried.

-Use unit pricing to help you decide what is the best deal for you.

Before heading to the grocery store or Farmer’s Market, take a few minutes to watch these videos to learn some new tips to help you when buying fruits and vegetables.

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Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood is a Registered Dietitian who enjoys spending time in the kitchen baking and preparing meals for her family. She does lots of meal planning to stay organized and feed her family nutritious meals.

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Berry Buying and Storing

berries 2Spring signals gardening, baseball, bike rides, sandals, and BERRIES.

Blueberries, cranberries, blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries not only are delicious, but they are also top in antioxidants, fiber, and vitamins. (Antioxidants may help increase our immune function and protect against cancer and heart disease.)

Purchasing Berries

Berries (except for cranberries)  are “in season” in late spring and summer which means they will be less expensive now than other times of the year.

When buying, look for firm, plump, full-colored berries. Avoid buying bruised or oozing berries. Turn the container over to check berries at the bottom. Berries don’t continue to ripen after harvest, so when choosing strawberries stay away from green or yellow ones.

When I see a good deal on berries, I buy extra and freeze them. To freeze, put a single layer on a cookie sheet and put in the freezer. When frozen, put them in a freezer bag. This way they don’t freeze together and you can take out just what you need.

Storing Berries

When you get berries home, cover and refrigerate them but wait to wash them until you are ready to use them. This way they will hold for several days. To wash, put the berries in a colander and spray with clean running water and then spread on a paper towel to dry.

How to Serve Berriesstrawberry cut

Try to serve berries au natural so you don’t add a bunch of calories to them. Here are a few ideas:

  • Put some in a plastic container to eat as a snack or lunch on the go
  • Add to a bowl of whole grain cereal
  • Make a yogurt parfait
  • Sprinkle on salads
  • Make fruit kabobs along  with other fruits such as pineapple chunks, bananas, and grapes.
  • Add to frozen ice cream or yogurt
  • Make smoothies

 

For more information about berries, here is another resource:

Selecting, Storing, and Serving Ohio Blueberries, Blackberries, and Raspberries

 

Peggy Signature


Frozen Fruit Cups

Frozen Fruit cupsOne of these days the weather is going to turn warm and sunny and we are all going to be busting out of the house to enjoy gardening, walking, biking, soccer, picnics, and much more. When that time comes, I won’t want to spend time in the kitchen. I’m prepared with plans for some 15 minute meals plus meals in the freezer I can just thaw and serve.

A fruit salad, like our Frozen Fruit Cups, is great this time of year because berries are in season. I usually double or triple the Frozen Fruit Cup recipe, serve it for a meal, and freeze what is left in muffin cups. It tastes very fresh plus it’s low in calories.

The only thing tricky about this recipe is remembering when to get it out of the freezer. You want it to be slightly frozen when you serve it.

Frozen Fruit Cups

Serving Size:  ½ cup | Servings:  6

 

IngredientsFoodProSQL PDF File

2 cups fresh strawberries, sliced

1 medium to large banana, sliced (about 6 ounces)

2 kiwi, sliced

2 teaspoons sugar

 

Directions

1. Mix strawberries with sugar in a bowl. Let sit 20-30 minutes while strawberries make juice.

2. Peel and slice banana and kiwi, add to strawberries.

3. Scoop ½ cup of the mixture into each of six muffin cups lined with paper.

4. Freeze. Remove from freezer about 20-30 minutes before serving.

 

Tips:

• 2 cups sliced frozen strawberries can be used and may be less expensive in the winter.
• Freeze ahead. Store fruit cups in a plastic freezer container.  They will keep several weeks in the freezer.
• Use other fruits your family enjoys such as mango or melon.
• Fruit cups can be made in small cups, custard cups, or small bowls.

Peggy Signature

It’s Not Just a Piece of Candy

As a mother of a 2 and 4 year-old, I am quickly learning about how snacks are an integral part of growing up. It seems that snacks are not only available to children for nutrition, but are a necessity for social gatherings and fun.

We recently signed up our 4-year-old daughter for dance class. At the end of her first class she had the biggest smile on her face and I could tell she had fun. Then the teacher said, “Wait –everyone gets a piece of candy for doing such a great job!” A piece of candy for dancing? She got two tootsie rolls and since my younger daughter was with, I told her that she had to give one to her. This resulted in her crying all the way home over candy, when we could have been talking about much fun she had at dance. The teacher may have thought that candy added excitement to her class, but it really took away from the fact that the girls just had a great time dancing!

I realize some may say it’s just a piece of candy. However, it’s not just a piece of candy. Children are being exposed to treats all the time: snacks provided at preschool by parents, lollipops at the local bank, sports drinks after soccer, candy at daycare for behavioral rewards, classroom parties, ice cream parties for reaching a class goal, free samples at the grocery store, and the list goes on and on. And this is on top of the treats that parents provide at home.

It has gotten to the point that snacks are considered treats. And it’s hard not to think this way. Treats tend to be provided with much more excitement and star appeal. Have you looked at the “snack food” aisle at a grocery store lately? There are not very many healthy options. Have you seen the different kinds of fruit snacks (a.k.a. glorified gummy bears)? They take up a good portion of the aisle and almost every cartoon character has its own box! And the number of Pop Tart flavors available is breathtaking.

Children need snacks throughout the day; this goes for adults too! However, it’s all about the kinds of snacks that we consume and provide for our children. When thinking of what snacks to have available, think of what you would serve during a meal, as snacks should be just as nutritious, just in smaller portions. It really comes down to the food groups: fruits, vegetables, lean protein, low-fat dairy, and whole grains. Take the guesswork out of what snacks to have around and you will be surprised at the choices your children make when you make choosing healthy foods the easy choice.

Some tips:
  • Make snacks available to them at their level. Is your fruit bowl on the top of your counter?  Younger children cannot see the bowl, let alone reach it to make it a selection.
  • Have a plastic bin in your fridge towards the bottom full of snacks that are ready to eat, such as cheese sticks, yogurt tubes, reusable drinking containers filled with milk or water, sliced apples, oranges (cut in “smiles”), fruit cups, small bags of baby carrots, cooked noodles, small sandwiches, etc.
  • Choose whole-grain items. There are more and more of these available each week, it seems.
  • Move less healthy snack options to a higher shelf so they are less tempting and eventually just remove them from your home and save them for road trips or special occasions.
  • Avoid pre-portioned snacks, as you are often paying for the packaging (not additional food). You can portion out servings at home in resealable snack bags that your children can decorate with stickers to get them involved in the process.
  • Take your children with you to the grocery store. By allowing them to a part of the selection process within certain parameters it provides them ownership for the snacks that are available at home.
Additional Resources

How do you handle snacks at your house? Do you have ideas to share?

Guest Blogger, Carrie Scheidel

 

Storing Fruits and Vegetables

Most of us are buying more fruits and vegetables. That is a good first step.  But should you wash them before you put them away or just before you serve them?  Should you store them in the refrigerator or on the counter?  Will they continue ripening at home?  The answer to these questions is…it depends!

Some fruits have better flavor if they are stored at room temperature. Tomatoes, unripe melons, and tree fruits (pears, peaches and nectarines) should be kept at room temperature so they can ripen and become sweeter.  After they are fully ripe, store them in the refrigerator until you are ready eat them.  Tomatoes will keep longer if stored with the stem side down.

Generally it is better to eat vegetables as soon as possible after picked. However, some vegetables like celery, cabbage, bell peppers and carrots will keep one to two weeks in the refrigerator.

When to wash fruits and vegetables also “depends”. If your produce has dirt on it, wash it before storing.  Otherwise you can probably wait to wash your fruits and vegetables before you eat them. Neither the USDA nor FDA recommends washing fruits and vegetables in anything but cold, drinkable water.  Do not let produce soak in the sink.  You do not need to wash them with special products or dishwashing detergent.  Melons, cucumbers, winter squash, citrus fruit, and potatoes should be scrubbed with a brush. Bananas need to be rinsed off as well.  Imagine how many hands touch the fruit before it gets to your mouth.

The University of Rhode Island Cooperative Extension has a handy chart called Garden to Table: Storing Fresh Garden Produce.  I posted a copy on the side of my refrigerator for more specifics for each vegetable and fruit.

Energy Bars- are they worth it?

A food that seems to be gaining popularity is “energy bars.”  I think of them as candy bars with good marketing.  Is my bias showing?

Ok, I have to admit they are handy and can help you get nutrients … but only if the bar you are eating has the nutrients you need.  Many of these “energy bars” have just as many or MORE calories than a candy bar. Plus many of them COST MORE as well.

A healthier and cheaper alternative is to choose foods like nuts, fruit, crackers, yogurt, and string cheese after a workout, for the middle of the morning or during an afternoon slump.
Becky Hand, RD, has a great article at Spark People called, Edible Energy Bars.  She gives pointers for choosing energy bars whether you are eating them as meal replacements, afternoon snacks or workout fuel.

 

Holiday Fruit Salad

This month we are featuring the Holiday Fruit Salad recipe.  This salad is great anytime, and looks so good and tastes so fresh it is perfect for special meals.

Here are some tips if you would like to try it now to see if you want to include it for your holiday meals.

  • Use any canned, frozen, or fresh fruit.  When you combine different fruit colors and shapes I think the salad looks more interesting.
  • If you want to use fresh fruit, consider oranges, grapefruit, tangerines, pears, pomegranates, apples and papayas because they are plentiful or “in season” in the winter months and usually cost less.   (Bananas are also a good buy year round.)
  • The fruit can either be arranged on the plate with the sauce drizzled over the top, or for a faster version, just combine the cut up fruit with the cooled sauce and serve.
  • The juice in the recipe adds flavor and nutrients, but you can get by without it.
  • You can vary the color and flavor of the sauce by using different flavors of gelatin.  One package of gelatin mix makes enough for 2 salads. Store and label the leftover gelatin for the next time you want to dress up your fruit.

I like this recipe because it looks special, but does not add a lot of sugar and fat (i.e. calories) to the fruit.

I would love to know how it works for you.

Holiday Fruit Salad

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons (1/2 small package) dry sugar-free favored gelatin (any favor/color)
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 3/4 cup orange juice
  • 2 tablespoons lemon or lime juice (optional)
  • 1 or 2 packets non-caloric sweetener or 2 to 3 teaspoons sugar (optional)
  • 4 cups cut-up fruit (apple, orange, kiwi, banana)
  • Optional garnish: Pomegranate seeds

Instructions

  1. For sauce, stir cornstarch and gelatin together in a small saucepan. Add water and stir to dissolve. Add the orange juice and, if desired, the lemon or lime juice.
  2. Cook over medium heat until mixture begins to boil. Stir constantly to prevent sticking and burning.
  3. Gently boil for 1 minute. Cool completely. Stir in sweetener or sugar, if desired.
  4. Arrange fruit on plates and pour sauce on top. Or pour cooled sauce over cut-up fruit in a bowl and stir to coat.
  5. Chill until ready to serve.

Fruit or Juice –Which is Smarter?

Children and adults need 1.5 – 2 cups of fruit a day.  It is definitely smarter to buy fruit than juice if you are thinking only about nutrition.  Check out my list below of the top 5 reasons why fruit is better. If you are thinking about cost and nutrition, the answer is more complicated.

Top 5 Reasons Why Fruit is Better than Juice for Nutrition

  1. 8 ounces of juice has 100-140 calories while medium size fruit has 70-100 calories.  Calories from liquids do not curb your appetite like calories from solid foods, so by choosing whole fruit you will not compensate by eating more or later in the day also you are more likely to eat something along with juice.
  2. Juices sometimes are fortified with a smattering of vitamins and minerals but fruit has small amounts of many nutrients.
  3. “Light” juices are usually diluted with water and have a calorie free sweetener added (sometimes with added vitamins).  You could stretch your juice at home by mixing it with water.
  4. Processing and removal of the skin and peel result in less antioxidants.
  5. Whole fruit provides more fiber.

Considering Cost…

First, make sure you are comparing “apples to apples” by looking only at containers labeled 100% juice.  Drinks, punches, “ades” or low-percent fruit juice products are so low in nutrients that they do not count.

In central Iowa at the end of August, concentrated fruit juice is hard to beat if you are on a tight budget.  It’s only about $0.25 a cup.  That being said, the benefits of fruit are clear so I would try to buy fruit that is in season (and cheaper) and make sure to eat it before it spoils.

Check out my cost comparison between fruit and juice plus a handy chart you can use to compare what a cup of fruit costs without the peels, cores, pits, etc.

-Pointer from Peggy

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