Can This Recipe Ingredient Be Saved?

As most of us learned from our parents, be sure to check that you have your ingredients before you start cooking or baking. I’d like to add: Be sure the ingredients are in a usable form, too.

I recall a baking project I did with my then-5-year-old assistant chef. We discovered we were a little short on sugar, so I went to my storage area in the basement to retrieve some. I found a 5-pound bag that felt a little firm.

When I opened the bag of sugar in the kitchen, we discovered that if we’d had some mortar and more bags of sugar, we could have built a brick house.

My daughter thought it was quite comical seeing me pound the bag on the counter, and she giggled heartily at my efforts.

Could this sugar be saved?

Fortunately, I had just answered the “hard sugar” question at work, so I applied the technique at home. Pounding wasn’t the right answer. It wasn’t good for my countertop, either.

White sugar becomes hard when it absorbs moisture, so “reviving” it involves removing the extra moisture. To remove moisture, heat the oven to 200 degrees and place the big sugar lump in a pan. Break the sugar into smaller pieces with a fork every 15 minutes or so.

If the problem had been hard brown sugar, the opposite is true. Brown sugar that loses moisture becomes bricklike. It, too, can be revived. Just place a cut apple in the container and place it in the refrigerator until the sugar softens, then remove the apple.

Brown sugar can be revived quickly in a microwave oven, according to Cornell Cooperative Extension. Just place a microwave-safe cup of water in the microwave oven and run the oven at full power for three to five minutes until a steamy environment is created. Leave the cup of water in the microwave and place the hardened unwrapped brown sugar in a microwave-safe dish. Microwave the two items for one minute. Break up sugar and repeat until the sugar is soft. Repackage the sugar in an airtight container after it cools.

Sugar and other staples such as flour have a long shelf life. In fact, white sugar keeps indefinitely in airtight containers. Flour also has a long shelf life, but many experts recommend using it within 12 months for best quality. Whole-wheat flour keeps about three months at room temperature because of its higher fat content. To increase its shelf life, refrigerate or freeze it.

As you survey your cupboards, keep these tips in mind:

  • Always label foods with the date of purchase before putting them on your shelf. Monitor the expiration date, too. Products such as yeast won’t work as well if they’re used past their expiration date. Some products past their expiration date are not safe to eat.
  • Practice the rule used by foodservice establishments: FIFO or “first in, first out.”
  • If you’re tossing lots of foods with expired dates, buy smaller containers next time.

Check out these two publications on the NDSU Extension Service website:

Food Storage Guide (www.ag.ndsu.edu/publications/landing-pages/food-and-nutrition/food-storage-guide-answers-the-question-how-long-can-i-store-fn-579)

Ingredient Substitutions (www.ag.ndsu.edu/publications/landing-pages/food-and-nutrition/ingredient-substitutions-fn198)

Here’s a recipe adapted from a Kellogg’s Inc. recipe.

 Low-fat Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 c. softened butter
1/4 c. nonfat cream cheese, softened
1 c. sugar
1 egg (or 1/4 c. egg substitute)
1 tsp. vanilla
2 c. crispy rice cereal
4 oz. chocolate chips, reduced fat

In small mixing bowl, combine flour, soda and salt. Set aside. In large mixing bowl, beat together butter, cream cheese and sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg substitute and vanilla. Beat well. Add flour mixture, mixing until combined. Stir in cereal and chocolate morsels. Drop by level measuring-tablespoon onto baking sheets coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350 degrees for about 12 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove immediately from baking sheets and cool on wire racks. Store in airtight container.

 Makes 42 servings (one cookie per serving). Each serving has 70 calories, 2 grams (g) fat, 1 g protein, 11 g carbohydrate, 0 g fiber and 50 milligrams sodium.

Your Freezer Questions Answered

 

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I field quite a few consumer calls in an average week. This week someone’s garage freezer stopped working due to the changes in temperature in the garage. Some of her food thawed. The food was still refrigerator-cold and had ice crystals. It was safe to use or freeze again.

In my home, we had the same issue with our freezer and got a “garage freezer kit” and it fixed our problem.

A while back someone called and asked what she might do with a “lot” of fresh vegetables she had received from a friend. I usually only receive these calls in the summer or fall, not the dead of winter.

I was imagining she had about 10 pounds of vegetables. She said she had over 50 pounds of vegetables, and she wanted to can them because they were starting to “go bad.” Of course my next question was, “Do you have a pressure canner?” She said, “No, but I thought I’d use a boiling water-bath canner.”

We talked about all the reasons why using a water-bath canner is not a safe plan for canning vegetables. “Do you have a dehydrator or a freezer?” I asked. “No, I just have the freezer above my refrigerator.” I could almost see the light bulb above her head. “We do have a giant freezer – outside.”

She had me there. Sometimes our outdoor temperatures are as cold as an ice factory. Other days, we have springlike weather.

So, we talked about blanching and packing vegetables with a little headspace to allow the food to expand during freezing. Granted, storing food outside is not my usual recommendation but she had her heart set on saving these vegetables and there was no neighbor with freezer space nearby. I’m hoping she’ll spring for a freezer soon.

Here are a couple other questions and answers about cold food storage I’ve received in the past:

“What causes freezer burn? Is it safe to eat freezer-burned food?”

“Freezer burn” is a form of dehydration usually caused by improper packaging. The surface moisture has evaporated, and the food may appear lighter in color and “dried out.” While the food is safe to eat, the quality is lower. It often has an “off-flavor.” To avoid freezer burn, package foods carefully in moisture or vapor-resistant packaging before freezing. Mark the packages with the date you placed them in the freezer, and “rotate your stock.” Use the “oldest” food first.

“I left a package of frozen ground beef on my counter overnight. It was pretty cool in the house. Is it safe to eat if I cook it really well?”

Even if it’s cool in your house, it’s not safe to “counter thaw” meat. Bacteria could grow to levels that could cause foodborne illness or produce toxins that cannot be inactivated by any amount of cooking. Meat and other high-protein foods should be thawed in the refrigerator at 40 degrees or lower, microwave oven (followed by immediate cooking) or under cool running water.

To access an on-line “Food Freezing Guide” or “Food Storage Guide” with recommendations for freezing and storing a wide variety of foods, visit this website and search for those titles:  www.ag.ndsu.edu/food

Here’s a tasty beverage mix that stays safe in your cupboard and will warm a wintry day.
Hot Spiced Tea

2 c. orange instant breakfast drink mix (such as Tang)
1 c. sugar
1/2 c. instant tea, unsweetened
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/3 tsp. ground cloves

Mix well. Store in tightly closed container. Add 3 teaspoons to 1 cup hot water and enjoy.

Makes about 56 servings. Each serving has 45 calories, 11 grams carbohydrate, no fat, no protein and about 30 percent of the daily recommendation for vitamin C.

Managing the Time, Money Crunch Related to Food

 

photo by cohdra courtesy of morguefile.com

The cookies have been eaten, wreaths and trees have come down, twinkling lights are now dim and crumpled wrapping paper went out with the trash. Remaining holiday merchandise is marked “clearance.” The bustling holiday season officially is over. For many, bills for December’s fun times are coming due.

After all the activity, it may be easier to eat out instead of cook an evening meal. Dining out for lunch may be more enticing than packing leftovers. Having a daily cup of gourmet coffee at the coffeehouse may seem like a good plan, too.

Finances are on the minds of many at this time of the year. If you’re part of the Baby Boom generation born between 1946 and 1964, you may face the dual role of caring for aging parents while raising children and/or paying college tuition. A recent study by Fidelity placed 48 percent of boomers not on track to afford basic necessities during retirement.

This adds up to busy families who may have financial concerns now or in the future. They may be in a time crunch, too. Many boomers turn to convenience foods or eating out as a way to stretch their time. Fast foods and convenience foods may seem like a quick option, but they often are high in fat, calories and sodium. They’re often more expensive, too.

While this is a nutrition and health column, not a financial column, the two topics are intertwined. Food purchasing decisions can have a major impact on your cash supply, time and, of course, long-term health. Regardless of your “generation,” here are some questions to consider as you stretch food dollars and time in the coming year:

  • If you work outside the home, do you bring your lunch to work? At $7 and up for a lunch, your workday tab is about $140 a month or $1,680 per year. You could slash that in half or more by bringing a sandwich or leftovers from home.
  • Do you regularly have a cup of gourmet coffee, such as coffee mocha? At $3 or $4 or more per cup five times per week, that adds up to $60 to $80 per month. A “treat” of one cup per week would cut your cost substantially. It will trim some calories, too.
  • How often do you eat out? Food in restaurants is often three times the cost of food eaten at home. Ka-ching.
  • How often do you write a shopping list before going to the grocery store? Without a list, it’s easy to buy items impulsively.
  • Is our kitchen stocked with healthy staples? It’s a good idea to have the ingredients on hand for quick meals like pasta and prepared spaghetti sauce.
  • Do you buy fruits and vegetables in season? For both quality and cost, it’s best to buy in season and turn to other forms, such as canned and frozen, during the off-season.
  • Do you plan your menus or peer into your cupboards at the end of the day wondering what to cook? Check out our online publications at www.ag.ndsu.edu/food (see “food preparation”) for advice on saving money while investing in nutritious meals.
  • Do you share meal preparation with other family members? Teaching children food preparation skills will serve them well in years to come.

For those who are boomers, you may want to check out our web-based materials developed with you in mind. See www.ndsu.edu/boomers for information to stay healthier throughout your life. Actually, any adult could benefit from this information.

Here’s a quick and nutritious recipe from the Extension program at Purdue University. To save preparation time later, chop vegetables during the previous meal preparation and place in plastic bags in your refrigerator.

30-Minute Minestrone Soup

2 medium carrots, chopped
1 c. chopped cabbage
1 celery rib, thinly sliced
1 small onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tsp. olive oil
3 c. water
1 (14.5-ounce) can Italian stewed or diced tomatoes, undrained
3 beef bouillon cubes
1 c. cooked elbow macaroni
1/4 tsp. pepper

In a 3-quart saucepan, sauté carrots, cabbage, celery, onion and garlic in oil for 5 minutes. Add water, tomatoes and bouillon; bring to a boil. Reduce heat. Simmer uncovered for 20 to 25 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Stir in macaroni and pepper; heat through.

Makes five servings. Each serving has 160 calories, 2.5 grams (g) fat, 30 g carbohydrates, 5 g protein and 870 milligrams of sodium.

Have Some Chicken Soup to Simmer Down Colds

 

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If you haven’t had a cold this season, count yourself lucky because we’re surrounded by people with colds. That usually means we’ll get our turn.

While many over-the-counter medications help relieve symptoms like sniffling, sneezing and coughing, so far no one has discovered a cure.

Colds are hard to avoid. They are caused by a variety of viruses, tiny organisms that need a “host” (like you or me) to live. Colds are readily spread by touching a contaminated surface like someone else’s hand or a doorknob and then touching your nose, mouth or eyes.

What can you do to protect yourself from all this misery or at least shorten the duration? From a nutrition standpoint, vitamin C tablets, zinc lozenges and even chicken soup have been studied as to their effects against colds.

As with anything, there can be too much of a good thing, with the possible exception of chicken soup. Keep caution in mind with any supplement, because they are not as strictly regulated as drugs or food.

“Dosing” yourself with vitamin C remains controversial. Some research suggests vitamin C supplements might reduce the length of a cold while other research says it has little effect. You might consider having some orange juice for your vitamin C instead of a tablet.

Researchers have reported that zinc lozenges might reduce the chances of getting a cold. Zinc is a mineral that can have toxic effects in high doses, so stay within the limits of the recommendations.

Maybe we need to go back to basics and remember what “Mom” or “Grandma” used to tell us: “Have some chicken soup so you’ll feel better.”

Researchers have found that chicken soup can help clear mucus from nasal passages and relieve congestion better than other hot liquids. Actually any hot liquid helps clear stuffy heads more than cold liquid, but chicken soup “worked better” than hot water. Maybe it’s the protein, vitamins, minerals or some unknown factor that makes it work.

“Mom” probably also told you to wash your hands often so you wouldn’t get sick. She was right again, and there’s plenty of research strongly in favor of regular handwashing to help keep us healthy.

“Operation Stop Cough” was a study conducted with Navy recruits. The recruits washed their hands at least five times daily. The researchers kept track of the number of trips to a medical clinic over two years. With the handwashing program in place, there were 45 percent fewer respiratory illness cases.

If you’re feeling a cold coming on, you might want to follow the standard advice: “Drink plenty of liquids and get plenty of rest.” For your liquids, you might enjoy this chicken soup recipe. And, in the words of moms everywhere: “Wash your hands before you eat.”

Chicken Soup

2 cans chicken broth (or use home-made)
2 cans water (or more depending on preference)
1/4 cup chopped celery
1/4 cup chopped carrots
1 Tbsp. onion, finely chopped
1/8 tsp. poultry seasoning (optional)
1/8 tsp. dried thyme leaves, crushed
2 cups chicken or turkey, cooked and diced
1 cup medium egg noodles

Instructions:
In 3-quart saucepan, combine broth, water, celery, carrot, onion, parsley, poultry seasoning and thyme. Over medium heat, heat to boiling, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to low. Cover; cook 20 minutes or until vegetables are tender, stirring occasionally. Add chicken and noodles; heat through, stirring occasionally until noodles are tender.

Makes four servings. Each serving has 170 calories, 3 g fat, 25 g protein, 9 g carbohydrate, 1 g fiber and 670 mg sodium.

 

Is Your Desk Snack-safe?

 

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After taking some vacation days around the holidays, I returned to my desk hungrier than usual. Maybe I was in “snack mode” after being surrounded by holiday goodies at home.

At work my desk drawers were bare. I began scavenging for food. Food of some sort generally lurks on office counter tops or in break rooms. I found some snack bars in my storage area, so I didn’t go hungry. Unfortunately, my snacks were past their prime.

This started me thinking about eating in an office environment from food safety and nutrition standpoints. Let’s consider safety and sanitation. If you’re among the many who eat at a desk, think about the last time you washed and sanitized your desk top. If you’re like most, it doesn’t happen often, if ever.

Charles Gerba, a University of Arizona microbiologist, concluded that desktops rank among the most germ-laden surfaces in an office. He and his associates swabbed office surfaces and determined approximate numbers of germs on the surfaces. In the average office space, the phone ranked highest for number of germs, followed by the desktop, computer keyboard and computer mouse. Rounding out the top five was the office toilet seat. Consider that.

According to Gerba, cold and flu viruses can live about three days on surfaces. So, what can you do? Consider wiping office surfaces with disposable chlorine-based disinfecting wipes. The researchers found that wiping office surfaces daily nearly eliminated illness-causing “germs.”

You can also reduce your chances of getting sick by washing your hands frequently and thoroughly. While you may have a barrier (wrapper, napkin) between your desk and snack, there’s a possibility for cross contamination: You probably touch your desk, phone or computer mouse and then touch your snack. Disinfecting wipes aren’t meant for your hands, so find a sink and scrub with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before snacking.

How about nutrition? While “office grub” can be enticing, consider some healthier options. Fruits and vegetables are always good snacks, but most have a limited storage life. Office refrigerators can become “stockpiles” of forgotten lunches and snacks, so it’s best to clean them regularly, too.

Nonperishable items in your desk drawer can provide a mid-afternoon pick-me-up, but check the “use by” dates for best quality, and opt for single-serving, individually packaged items when possible to retain freshness. Consider these shelf-stable “emergency office munchies”:

• Whole grain crackers
• Nuts
• Soynuts
• Juice boxes (look for 100% juice)
• Microwave popcorn (try the reduced fat varieties to reduce calories)
• Pudding snacks (preferably reduced fat)
• Low-fat granola bars
• Shelf-stable boxes of milk
• Dried fruits like cranberries, raisins or dates

Here’s a tasty recipe from the Wheat Foods Council Web site: www.wheatfoods.org Your coworkers would appreciate a batch left in the break room.

Best-Ever Muffins

Start with this basic recipe and add one of several different ingredients for a variety of different muffins.

Basic muffin recipe:

2 cups all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup white sugar
1 egg
1 cup milk
1/4 cup vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 400 F. Stir together the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar in a large bowl. Make a well in the center. In a small bowl or 2-cup measuring cup, beat egg with a fork. Stir in milk and oil. Pour all at once into the well in the flour mixture. Mix quickly and lightly with a fork until moistened, but do not beat. The batter will be lumpy.

Variations:
Blueberry muffins: Add 1 cup fresh blueberries
Raisin muffins: Add 1 cup finely chopped raisins
Date muffins: Add 1 cup finely chopped dates

Pour the batter into paper muffin pan cups and bake for 25 minutes or until golden.

Makes 12 muffins/12 servings

Each muffin (basic recipe) contains about 181 calories, 30 grams carbohydrate, 6 grams fat, 235 mg sodium, 19 milligrams cholesterol and 1 gram fiber.

Heed This All-wet Winter Advice

 

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“Mom, I have a sore throat. I need some chicken soup,” my daughter informed one day. She coughed to emphasize her point.

“My hands are really dry. Do you have some heavy-duty lotion?” my son asked, rubbing the cracked skin on his knuckles.

I took a look at each of their maladies and provided soup, lotion and tall glasses of water.

It’s definitely winter. Nagging colds and dry skin are common at this time of the year.

Maintaining enough moisture in our bodies is a nutritional concern during the winter. With the extremes in temperatures and often low humidity levels in buildings, we can be parched inside and out. Bundling up to stay warm while shoveling snow, skating or sledding results in water loss through perspiration, too.

It’s good advice to consume plenty of liquids during all seasons of the year. Unlike other nutrients, the human body doesn’t store water. While we can survive days without food, we need a regular supply of liquid.

Water plays many roles in the body. It helps us swallow foods and regulate body temperature, and aids digestion, absorption of nutrients and removal of wastes. Water also plays an important role in lubricating joints.

Staying well hydrated is important to health. Enjoying high-moisture foods such as soup, fruits, vegetables and various beverages are a good start to staying hydrated.

Some research links chicken soup with helping prevent colds or reducing their severity.

A University of Nebraska study showed that chicken soup extracts had a positive effect on clearing up colds even when diluted 200 times. The researchers believe that soup modifies the action of illness-fighting white blood cells. The vegetables in chicken soup also have biologically active compounds that may play a role.

Others have suggested that any hot liquid may help break up congestion. There also may be a “mom effect.” Having a significant person in your life make soup and otherwise take care of you might make you feel better because you believe it should.

Stay well hydrated this winter season with these tips:

  • Consider taking water breaks instead of coffee breaks. Caffeinated beverages, such as coffee and soda, are less hydrating than plain water.
  • Pass on the alcoholic beverages as a means of staying hydrated and warm. While a nip of brandy may seem to be “warming,” alcohol actually is dehydrating.
  • Carry a water bottle or pause for a drink when you pass a drinking fountain.
  • Have a beverage with all meals and snacks.
  • Start meals with soup.

Here’s an easy chicken noodle soup recipe with added vegetables for extra nutrition. You also can substitute cooked turkey.

Quick Chicken Noodle and Vegetable Soup4 1/2 c. chicken broth (homemade or canned)
1/2 c. chopped onion
1/2 tsp. dried basil, crushed
1/2 tsp. dried oregano, crushed
1/4 tsp. pepper
1 10-oz. package frozen carrots and peas (or your choice)
1 c. cooked chicken, cubed
1/2 c. small egg noodles

Combine the chicken broth, onion and spices in a large saucepan. Add vegetables and pasta and bring ingredients to boiling. Reduce heat and simmer six to eight minutes until vegetables are crisp-tender. Stir in the chicken. Heat thoroughly.

Makes six servings. Each serving has about 130 calories, 7 grams of fat and 6 grams of carbohydrate.

Perk Up With a Cup of Coffee

 

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Coffee beans were on my shopping list. We switched back to buying beans when I brought our coffee grinder out of storage. I need to stay alert for the season.

As I studied all the coffee types in a supermarket aisle, the choices nearly overwhelmed me: light, medium, dark roast, whole beans, various grinds, caffeinated, decaffeinated, multiple flavors, pre-bagged or fill-your-own bag. You get the picture.

“We have lots of choices,” I commented to a fellow shopper who was staring at the same array of packages. I was surprised she didn’t answer, “Well, duh.”

“Too many,” she replied. “This is a gift for my son who has a French-press coffeemaker. I just buy the cheap stuff for myself.”

I decided on a package of medium roast beans with no added flavor, tossed it in my cart and called it good. The other shopper still may be at the store.

Coffee is big business and Americans are dedicated consumers. Americans collectively spend $40 billion annually on coffee according to 2013 statistics from Food Industry News.

Chances are, if this column caught your attention, you are among the coffee drinkers. You even may be sipping coffee. Let’s take a look at the effects, positive or negative, that drinking coffee has on health.

Through the years, coffee has had some negative publicity. For example, coffee was linked to increasing blood cholesterol levels in one study. When other experts reviewed the study, they noted the coffee was boiled, which changes its composition, and the participants in the study drank twice the average amount.

The good news is that moderate consumption of coffee, two or three cups daily, does not negatively affect most people’s health. In fact, many research studies have shown coffee has positive effects.

Many of us drink coffee to “wake us up” in the morning and during the midafternoon slump. Being “mentally alert” is a good thing, but too much caffeine can leave you jittery. If you decide to cut back, remember to wean yourself slowly to avoid potential headaches.

Coffee is rich in protective antioxidants, with at least one study showing it to be higher in anti-oxidants than green tea and other types of tea. A Harvard study examined the role of coffee and development of Type II diabetes and found that drinking coffee seemed to have a protective effect against the disease. But, before relying on coffee to lower diabetes risk, note that other issues, especially increasing weight, play a role in diabetes development.

Next time you run a marathon, keep this in mind, too: A little caffeine before an event can boost an athlete’s performance. Some research, although controversial, has shown a slight protective effect of a few daily cups of caffeinated coffee toward gallstones and Parkinson’s disease.

Who should forgo coffee or trim back consumption to minimal levels? If your doctor says “no coffee,” abide by that rule. If you suffer from heartburn, you may want to curb your caffeine intake. Drinking coffee can stimulate the painful burning sensation of heartburn.

If you’re drinking coffee instead of milk, you may be putting your bones at risk. Aim for at least three servings of calcium-rich foods daily and do weight-bearing exercise for strong bones.

Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding are advised to minimize, or better yet, eliminate caffeine consumption. This is an issue best discussed with a medical care provider.

Overall, moderation is the best advice when it comes to coffee. Would you like to try a cappuccino but don’t have a machine? Try out this inexpensive alternative adapted from a recipe from www.foodandhealth.com.

 Cappuccino

1 1/4 c. hot coffee of choice
1/4 c. skim milk
Sweetened cocoa powder
Cinnamon

Place skim milk in glass jar and tightly apply lid. Shake until froth forms. Pour coffee in large mug and top with frothy milk. Sprinkle with cocoa powder and cinnamon.

The recipe makes 1 serving with 27 calories, no fat and 75 milligrams of calcium.

Brighten Your Plates and Bowls of Food This Winter

 

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Have you ever noticed that many comforting “wintry” foods are pretty bland in color? Our plates tend to take on the appearance of the outdoor landscape about this time of the year.

I thought about this as I was enjoying a cup of cocoa with marshmallows. My steaming cup looked like a murky pond filled with a pile of little snowballs. I didn’t spoil my appetite by visualizing that scene too long.

Along with fuzzy sweaters and floppy slippers, many of us like to “cuddle up” with creamy mashed potatoes and gravy, savory meatloaf, flavorful bean soup and other “warming” foods when the mercury dips low in the thermometer. All these comforting, brownish-beige foods have their nutritional merits, of course, but menus can be improved with a little color.

Many people experience a winter slump when it comes to fruit and vegetable intake. According to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, we eat the most fruit in the summer. Despite eating more fruit, adults are still only eating about 54 percent of the recommendation. In the winter, our fruit consumption slips to 44 percent of the recommendation.

Besides beautifying your plate, eating a wide variety of fruits and vegetables is good for your health. Fruits and vegetables contain “phytochemicals,” or plant chemicals responsible for their color and many of their health benefits.

Plants differ in their makeup, so eating a variety of fruits and vegetables is important to get all the health benefits. Color provides cues to health benefits.

Blue/purple fruits and vegetables, such as plums, purple cabbage and blueberries, in conjunction with an overall healthy diet, may lower the risk for certain types of cancer. The “blues” also may promote memory function and healthy aging.

Green fruits and vegetables, such as green grapes, kiwi, cabbage and broccoli, add crunch and flavor to meals. Some of the “greens” provide protective lutein and indoles, which are plant chemicals that may lower the risk for cancer and/or promote vision health.

Yellow/orange fruits and vegetables, including cantaloupe, apricots, carrots and squash, are sources of carotenoids, which promote vision health. The yellow/orange group also includes citrus fruits. Oranges and grapefruit, for example, provide vitamin C, which promotes a healthy immune system.

Red fruits and vegetables, such as pink grapefruit, red potatoes and tomatoes, are versatile, colorful foods with many health benefits. Some may lower the risk of certain kinds of cancer, and others promote memory function.

Here’s a super-simple soup recipe that received rave reviews at a holiday potluck. It’s creamy, warm, comforting and colorful. With a blend of vegetables in a reduced-fat creamy cheese soup base, it might become one of your favorite quick meals. Visit www.ag.ndsu.edu/food for more information.

Colorful Cheesy Vegetable Soup

3 cans chicken broth (low-fat)
1 15-oz. can diced tomatoes (with green peppers, onions and celery)
2 16-oz. packages California blend frozen vegetables
10 oz. “light” or “reduced-fat” processed cheese (such as Velveeta)

Simmer broth, tomatoes and vegetables in a pot for 40 to 45 minutes. Remove from heat and add cheese. Stir until cheese melts. Serve.

Makes about 10 servings. Each serving has 150 calories, 6 grams (g) of fat, 2 g of fiber and 11 g of carbohydrate.

Holiday Bulge Doesn’t Have to Happen

At this time of the year, holiday goodies are everywhere. Tasty treats show up on desktops and break tables, and in grocery store aisles. I’ve learned that my family rapidly gives in to temptation.

One year, I bought a decoration shaped liked a gingerbread “chef” with a removable glass plate. Of course, I needed to put something on the plate, so I bought some red, green and gold foil-wrapped miniature candy bars. They looked like little presents.

I told my spouse and kids that the candy bars were for “decoration” and we would eat the candy later. Needless to say, I was asking for disappearing candy bars. Within three days, only one bar remained of about 50.

I had two bars. Strangely, they all said they’d only had “a couple of bars” each. That adds up to 10 bars accounted for, unless, of course, they actually meant “a couple dozen.” Maybe they were having parties in my absence.

I was tempted to wrap cotton balls in colorful foil as a surprise for my treat stealers.

Tempting holiday treats can add pounds because little cookies, candies and snacks contain calories that add up through time. In theory, 3,500 extra calories can add a pound of weight.

The good news: Research has shown most people are not gaining as much weight as once was believed. The average weight gain is about a pound during the winter holiday season.

The bad news: Once weight is added, it’s often hard to subtract. Researchers found that the 165 subjects in their study did not lose the extra weight they gained from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day. In fact, by the following year, the subjects had gained an additional half pound.

Gaining 1.5 pounds a year may not seem like an issue. Through the course of 10 years, however, that adds up to 15 pounds, which can make a health difference. Continuing to accumulate extra weight through time can lead to obesity, which can contribute to diabetes, heart disease and other health issues.

So, what can we do to avoid the cycle of weight gain? I, for one, should have left the little candy bars, pretty as they were, in the cupboard, in the freezer or at the store.

Consider these tips to avoid the winter bulge:

  • Plan ahead for parties. Have a snack such as an apple or banana at home so you’re not “starving” by party time. Have a large glass of water before you leave for a holiday gathering.
  • Position yourself away from the buffet line or snack table. You can overeat easily without realizing it.
  • Spend more time visiting than eating. After all, it’s not polite to talk with your mouth full.
  • Use a smaller plate or gather your goodies on a cocktail napkin. This may help deter you from drippy, high-fat foods.
  • Fill your plate with fruits, vegetables and whole-grain crackers. These fill you up without filling you out.
  • If you’re the chef, use low-fat ingredients such as reduced-fat cream cheese, salad dressing and sour cream in place of “regular” versions.
  • Bundle up and get some regular, moderate exercise. If the weather is too cold, consider going to a shopping mall.

Visit www.ag.ndsu.edu/food and click on “recipes” for a variety of soups, salads and appetizers.

Mailing Food Gifts Requires Some Precautions

Package by cohdra courtesy of morguefile.com

Several years ago, a friend from entered the Peace Corps. A group of my friends and I decided to assemble a gift package for him. We collected a number of nonperishable items and mixes that only require the addition of boiling water.

He was surprised and pleased by the large box of goodies.

Many people send gift boxes in the mail at this time of the year. Sometimes family members are far away. Thousands of troops are serving in the military, separated from families and friends at home during the holidays.

There’s nothing like favorite foods to conjure up fond memories of home.

Besides deciding on favorite foods, think about safety and quality when deciding what to mail. Perishable items, such as meat and soft cheeses, must be kept at 40 degrees or lower, so they aren’t good choices for a long trip.

Within the U.S., dry ice can be used along with overnight delivery for highly perishable items. You’ll need to decide if the expense is worth it and you’ll want to be sure the person knows the arrival time of the perishable items.

Consider moisture content of the foods when deciding what to mail. Moist carrot bread or pumpkin bread may grow mold during a week of travel to a distant destination, so they aren’t the best bet.

Quality can be an issue if you’re thinking about sending your favorite delicate holiday cookies. Cookies can become crumbs without some special precautions.

To keep cookies from crumbling, pack them back to back and wrap with plastic wrap. Put the wrapped pairs between two plastic foam plates and tape the plates together. Finally, surround with bubble wrap, foam or newspaper and pack in a sturdy box.

Here are some ideas from the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline for foods that travel well without need for refrigeration:

  • Beef jerky or other dried meat. Exclude foods that are forbidden by the country’s religious restrictions, such as pork in Muslim countries.
  • Dehydrated soup and drink mixes.
  • Condiments in single-serve packets.
  • Canned items, such as corned beef, cracker spreads or dips.
  • Dense, dry baked goods, such as biscotti, prepackaged cakes and cookies in airtight tins and dry cookies, such as ginger snaps.
  • Dried fruits, such as raisins and apricots, canned nuts and fruit or trail mix.
  • Hard candies. Avoid sending candy, such as fudge, that may melt during the trip.

Think about nonfood gifts, too, such as favorite soap, toothpaste or other personal products that might not be readily available. Slip in some stationery, stamps, books or magazines.

Here’s a homemade mix recipe for those with access to kitchen facilities. Pack the needed amount of the mix in a plastic container or sealed bag. Attach the recipe, a bag with the additional nonperishable ingredients and a festive bow. You might want to include the baking pan in your “kit,” too. Visit www.ag.ndsu.edu/food and click on “recipes” for more ideas.

Rolled Oats Master Mix

Yield: 10 cups

4 c. all-purpose flour
4 c. quick-cooking oats (not instant)
1 1/2 c. nonfat dry milk
1/4 c. double-acting baking powder
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 c. shortening

Put all ingredients, except shortening, in a large bowl and stir until well blended. Cut in shortening, cover and refrigerate. Will keep one month. To measure, spoon into cup, tap lightly and level off.

Oat Muffins using Master Mix

2 1/4 c. Rolled Oats Master Mix
1/2 c. raisins (optional)
2 Tbsp. sugar
2/3 c. water
1 egg, beaten

Put ingredients in bowl and stir just to moisten. Spoon into 12 greased 2 1/2-inch muffin cups. Bake in preheated oven at 425 degrees for 20 minutes.

Makes 12 servings. Each serving has 159 calories, 20.6 grams of carbohydrate, 7 grams of fat, 1.3 grams of fiber and 230 milligrams of sodium

Date-Nut Oat Bread using Master Mix

3 c. Rolled Oats Master Mix
1 c. pitted, chopped dates
1 c. boiling water
1 c. sugar
1 egg
1 c. chopped walnuts or pecans

Chop dates and put in bowl. Cover dates with boiling water and mix well. Stir in sugar, let stand until lukewarm. Add remaining ingredients and mix well. Put in greased 9-by-5 by-3-inch loaf pan and bake in preheated oven at 350 degrees for an hour or until done. Turn out and cool before slicing.

Makes 16 servings. Each serving has 227 calories, 30.4 grams of carbohydrate, 11 grams of fat, 2.1 grams of fiber and 205 milligrams of sodium.

Photo by cohdra courtesy of morguefile.com