Family Meals Are Worth the Effort

 

Photo courtesy of Microsoft

Through the years I have learned a lot of things during our family meals. When my son was 9, he enjoyed quizzing our family about animal trivia from his world record book. I learned the cheetah is the world’s fastest animal, the sloth is the slowest and the koala is the sleepiest.

With the fast pace of family life, most parents probably feel they’re breaking some records, too. Sometimes, after a busy day, I certainly have felt like the world’s sleepiest mother. On other days, like many parents, I feel like the world’s busiest.

Regardless of how busy our days became in the 10 years since my son was a 9-year-old, I maintained a goal for my family as my children grew older. We continued to eat our meals together as often as possible.

Research shows the many benefits of family meals, including a lifetime of positive memories. Enjoying meals together enhances family communication and improves manners, too. Children who eat with their families are also less likely to smoke, drink and use illegal drugs during their teen years.

According to a 2013 Gallup poll, 43 percent of adults with children less than 18 eat together at least six nights a week.

Children who eat with their families also gain many nutritional benefits. They eat more fruits and vegetables, plus they get more calcium, fiber, iron, folate, and vitamin C and B. Children who eat with their families eat fewer fried foods and drink less soda pop.

With all the concern about children and weight, it’s good to know that eating family meals can promote a healthy weight. The meals served are generally more nutritious, plus family meals promote a sense of “belonging.” Children are less inclined to eat because they are lonely.

If you’re thinking that a family meal has to be a five-course gourmet dinner, think again. In fact, nutrition experts say the meals don’t even have to be enjoyed around a table. For example, in warm months, bring a picnic lunch on the way to soccer practice to enjoy at the park. In colder months, enjoy a picnic in your warm vehicle.

Be flexible with timing, too. A family meal doesn’t have to be the evening meal. It could be breakfast or even a bedtime snack eaten together.

Time is an issue in busy families, so planning helps. Make a list of favorite family menus in a notebook along with the recipes. Get the kids involved. They can help make a grocery list, help prepare food and clean up. Children learn about food safety, basic food preparation skills and even language and math skills by helping with food preparation.

Enjoy more family meals. In the words of the late Erma Bombeck: “We argued. We sulked. We laughed. We pitched for favors. We shouted. We listened. It is still our family’s finest hour.”

Here’s a time-saving recipe that takes one skillet and just 30 minutes to have on the table. To save even more time, brown ground beef ahead of time and freeze in recipe-size portions.

Zucchini, Pasta and Beef Dinner

1 lb. lean ground beef
1 medium onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/4 tsp. salt
1 14-oz. can beef broth
1 tsp. Italian seasoning
1/8 tsp. ground red pepper
2 c. sliced zucchini, about 1/2-inch thick
1 cup bow tie pasta, uncooked
2 tomatoes, cut into 4 wedges
2 Tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese

In a large nonstick skillet, brown ground beef, onion and garlic over medium heat for 8 to 10 minutes, breaking into crumbles. Drain well, season with salt and place in bowl or other container. Set aside. In same skillet, add broth, Italian seasoning, red pepper, zucchini and uncooked pasta. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to medium. Simmer, uncovered, for about 15 minutes or until pasta is tender. Stir occasionally. Return beef to skillet and add tomatoes; heat through. Sprinkle with cheese.

Makes 4 servings. Each serving has 296 calories, 28 grams of protein, 11 grams of fat and 22 grams of carbohydrate.

Try Halloween Treats With a Twist

 

Courtesy of morguefile.com

Lately, large displays of Halloween treats greet us as we shop for groceries and other necessities. That means that little goblins with flashlights and plastic jack-o-lantern buckets will be haunting neighborhoods and shopping malls collecting goodies.

However, kids in Halloween costumes aren’t the only ones who enjoy sweet treats. Americans spend about $102 per person yearly on candy, and the candy industry tops $3 billion in sales in the United States according the National Confectioners Association.

Here’s a study that many a “sweet tooth” will hold up as evidence for candy as an essential nutrient. Harvard researchers studied the relationship between candy consumption and lifespan among Harvard University alumni who were undergraduate students from 1916 to 1950.

All the subjects were males who completed questionnaires and detailed their eating habits, including candy consumption. The researchers took age, physical activity, diet and smoking into consideration when studying the data.

The somewhat surprising news: Eating candy was associated with living longer. Males who ate about 1.5 ounces of candy one to three times per month lived about a year longer than those who skipped the candy jar.

Note that the amount of candy was consumed per month, not per day.

However, emptying the candy jar daily does not mean you can set the Guinness World Record for longevity. Perhaps the candy consumers were just a little happier because they were looking forward to a sweet treat.

Or maybe, as the researchers speculated, the antioxidant chemicals (phenols) in chocolates helped protect them against cancer and heart disease. Dark chocolate, by the way, is higher in protective antioxidants.

In reality, this isn’t a license to eat a daily chocolate bar without some other possible consequences. Does buying a larger wardrobe fit into your budget? Enjoy an occasional treat-size candy bar to satisfy your sweet tooth.

Engage the “rule of one” in your life: one small treat per day.

Parents should inspect candy before their excited kids enjoy the tempting loot from an evening of trick-or-treating. Kids and parents should agree on guidelines for the number of treats to enjoy per day. Sweet, sticky treats can cause cavities, so make sure that little ghouls brush their “fangs” well after enjoying a few treats.

Here are some suggestions from the American Dietetic Association for nutritious goodies and a few non-food items that will please the little goblins haunting your neighborhood. For more information about healthful eating, visit this Web site: www.eatright.org

  • Individual boxes of mini rice cereal bites
  • Cereal bars
  • Small boxes of raisins or other dried fruit
  • Sugar-free gum
  • 100 percent fruit juice boxes
  • Snack-size packages of peanut butter and crackers, graham crackers or oatmeal cookies
  • Halloween pencils, pens, stickers, tattoos or spider rings

Here’s a tasty recipe featuring the icon of Halloween, the pumpkin. Before sending children out to haunt the neighborhood they might enjoy a small cauldron of this tasty, naturally sweet soup. This recipe is courtesy of the University of Illinois Extension.

Quick and Easy Creamy Pumpkin Soup

2 c. finely chopped onions
2 green onions, sliced thinly, tops included
1/2 c. finely chopped celery
1 green chili pepper, chopped
1/2 c. canola oil
3 (14.5-ounce) cans chicken broth, reduced sodium or 6 cups homemade chicken stock
1 (16-ounce) can solid pack pumpkin
1 bay leaf
1-1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1 c. undiluted, evaporated skim milk
Salt and pepper to taste
Parmesan cheese and fresh chopped parsley

Note: Canned chicken broth and canned pumpkin may contain added salt. Taste the finished soup before adding salt, as additional salt may not be needed.)

1. In a 6-quart saucepan, sauté onions, green onions, celery and chili pepper in oil. Cook until onions begin to look translucent.

2. Add broth, pumpkin, bay leaf, and cumin. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

3. Remove bay leaf. Add evaporated milk and cook over low heat 5 minutes. Do not boil. Taste and adjust seasoning, if necessary. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, if desired.

4. Transfer hot soup to pumpkin tureen. Garnish with grated Parmesan cheese and chopped parsley. Serve hot.

Makes eight servings. Each serving has 210 calories, 15 grams (g) fat, 15 g carbohydrate, 7 g protein, 3 g fiber and 100 milligrams of sodium (with added salt).

Have an Apple a Day This Fall

 

Photo courtesy of morguefile.com

Our apple tree is producing abundantly this year. Fortunately, we have many ways to use apples. We’ve had fresh apple wedges, baked apples, applesauce and apple crisp. After the second pan of apple crisp in a week, my family looked at me sideways. I knew it was time to try another recipe, the one included with this column.

Americans love apples, crunching their way through about 18 pounds per person yearly. We have many choices, too. Worldwide, apples come in more than 7,000 varieties. In the U.S., about half the apples are sold fresh and the rest are processed into apple juice, sauce and other products.

Apples often are used to symbolize nutrition, and they deserve this recognition. Apples are fairly low in calories with no fat and very little sodium.

A medium apple, about the size of a tennis ball, counts as one serving of fruit on your way to at least five servings of fruits and vegetables daily. It has 80 calories, 22 grams of carbohydrate, 170 milligrams of potassium, 5 grams of fiber, 8 percent of the daily recommendation for vitamin C and 2 percent of the daily recommendation for vitamin A.

But does an apple a day “keep the doctor away”? Apples are an excellent source of pectin, a type of fiber linked to lowering blood cholesterol. This potentially lowers our risk for heart disease, the leading cause of death among men and women. So once again, mom was right about eating your fruits (and vegetables).

Apples make great snacks, and they’re portable, too. Besides enjoying them plain, with fruit drip or sprinkled with cinnamon, add them to peanut butter sandwiches for a little crunch. For some added protein, spread apple slices with peanut butter. Freeze apple juice to make “apple pops.” Try freezing applesauce, thaw slightly and blend in a blender for a quick smoothie.

If you’ve had your fill of apples for the season, consider preserving them for the cold winter months. Apples can be frozen, dried, canned or made into apple butter and other spreads.

Freezing is an easy way to preserve foods. Before freezing, peeled, sliced apples can be sweetened or left plain; however, they must be treated to prevent darkening. For each quart of apples, sprinkle with a mixture of 1/2 teaspoon of ascorbic acid (vitamin C) in 3 tablespoons of water. Then fill freezer bags 3 to 4 inches from the top, squeeze out air, seal and label.

For more information about freezing, canning and preserving produce, visit www.ag.ndsu.edu/food to see the resources the NDSU Extension Service provides.

Here’s an easy side dish that goes great with ham or pork chops. The sweet potatoes add flavor, fiber and vitamin A as beta carotene.
Apples and Sweet Potatoes

4 medium sweet potatoes
2 large apples (or 3 medium apples) cored and cut into ¼-inch rings
1/2 c. orange juice
1/4 c. brown sugar
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
2 Tbsp. margarine

Boil water, add potatoes and cook until tender. Remove skin and cut into 1/4-inch slices. (Alternatively, potatoes can be baked until tender.) Layer the potatoes in the bottom of a large baking dish. Top with a layer of apples. Pour the orange juice over the potatoes and apples. Mix the sugar and cinnamon, and sprinkle over the apples. Dot the casserole with margarine. Bake uncovered at 350 degrees until apples are tender, about 30 minutes.

Makes eight servings. Each serving has 160 calories, 3 grams (g) of fat, 32 g of carbohydrate, 3.5 g of fiber and a full day’s supply of vitamin A as beta carotene.

 

October is Popcorn Poppin’ Month

 

Photo courtesy of morguefile.com

Popcorn has been “popular” in my house from the time my kids were young. Every time the aroma of popcorn filled our kitchen, my children came running for bowls of the fluffy, crunchy snack. I kept my kids in view because popcorn can be a choking hazard.

I always reached for a bowl, too. A big bowl.

October is “Popcorn Poppin’ Month,” according to the Popcorn Board, so we need to celebrate in our house and perhaps yours.

Americans munch on 16 billion quarts of popped popcorn annually. That adds up to about 51 quarts of popcorn per person each year.

Popcorn is not a new snack. Archeologists have found grains of popcorn in Peruvian tombs dating back more than 1,000 years. Some of the well-preserved kernels still pop.

For best quality, however, try to use yours sooner.

Popcorn has been a longtime popular food in the Americas, especially among Native American tribes. Researchers have uncovered pottery in Mexico dating back to 300 A.D. featuring popcorn in the design. They knew a good thing.

Popcorn is economical and nutritious, too. It’s a whole-grain food made of three parts: the endosperm, germ and pericarp (or hull). The starchy endosperm forms the white part of popped popcorn.

Popcorn is quite low in calories, depending, of course, on how much butter you add. A cup of air-popped corn contains about 30 calories, 6 grams of carbohydrates and 1 gram of fiber. Lightly buttered popcorn has about 130 calories per cup. Popcorn in a butter-soaked bag is another story.

Why does popcorn pop? Heat causes the moisture to turn to steam, creating pressure in the kernel that turns the kernel inside out. To pop successfully, a certain level of moisture (optimally 14 percent) is needed in the kernel. If the moisture level is too low, you will find many unpopped kernels (or “old maids”) at the bottom of the bowl.

Through the years, popping technology has progressed from popping over an open fire to today’s ingenious devices, including electric air poppers and microwave poppers. Microwave popcorn is very popular, with a variety of flavors available.

Through plant breeding and other research, food companies try to guarantee that 99 percent of “fresh” popcorn kernels will pop. With storage, moisture can be lost.

What can you do about popcorn that doesn’t pop? You can rejuvenate popcorn kernels quite easily. Just fill a quart-size jar about three-fourths full of popcorn kernels, add 1 tablespoon of water to the jar, cover and shake every 10 minutes or so until all the water is absorbed. Let it stand a few days.

The Popcorn Board suggest these tips for optimal popping:

  • Warm the popper, pan or skillet. If using oil, add 1/4 cup cooking oil to the pan. Ideally, the oil should reach between 400 and 460 degrees. Oil burns at 500 degrees. If it smokes, it’s too hot.
  • Drop in a couple of kernels. If they pop or spin in the oil, you’re ready to add more. Add about 1/3 cup or enough kernels to cover the bottom of the pan and shake the pan to make sure the oil coats each kernel.
  • Add flavorings of choice. Experiment a little with different spices, such as chili powder, garlic powder or other seasonings. Or add some dried fruit such as raisins or dried cranberries.

For all of you football fans, here’s a tasty recipe from the Popcorn Board.

Touchdown Treat

4 quarts popped popcorn
1 cup unsalted cocktail peanuts
1 cup seedless raisins
1 cup honey
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon lemon juice

In a large buttered bowl, combine popcorn, peanuts and raisins. Keep warm. Combine honey, water and lemon juice in a saucepan. Bring to a boil; cook and stir over medium heat until mixture reaches 250 degrees, or hard ball stage on a candy thermometer. Pour over popcorn; toss to mix thoroughly. Turn onto a buttered jelly roll pan or large baking pan. Bake in a preheated 300 degree oven for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Makes about 16 servings. Each serving contains 176 calories, 4.9 grams (g) fat, 33 g carbohydrates and 2.3 g fiber.

 

Don’t Take Your Bones for Granted

 

Photo by ronnieb courtesy of morguefile.com

If you’re like me, you might take for granted things that aren’t causing you any pain at the moment. Think about your bones. If you aren’t wearing a cast, you might ignore the 206 bones in your body.

I was reminded of bones the other day while shopping in a store with a Halloween section. The skeleton characters were grinning at me.

Osteoporosis, the condition of porous, fragile bones, is a major public health issue. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, about 54 million have low bone density or osteoporosis. One in two women and one in four men over age 50 will break a bone due to osteoporosis.

To stay strong, bones need proper nourishment and weight-bearing physical activity such as walking. Calcium, vitamin D, magnesium, phosphorus and other nutrients found in a varied, balanced diet can lessen your chances of getting osteoporosis.

Teens have the highest calcium needs due to their rapid growth. They also are most likely to fall short of the 1,300 milligrams of calcium they need daily. For children age 1 to 3, the requirement is 500 milligrams. Kids from 4 to 8 should consume 800 milligrams. The calcium recommendation for adults to age 50 is 1,000 milligrams. Adults 51 and older should aim for 1,200 milligrams daily.

Calcium is found in foods such as milk, yogurt, cheese, dry edible beans, fish with edible bones, and leafy green vegetables. Some foods, such as certain cereals and orange juice, may be fortified with calcium.

Dairy foods are a concentrated source of calcium. A cup of milk contains about 300 milligrams of calcium, and a cup of yogurt about 400 milligrams.

To learn the calcium content of your food choices, read the Nutrition Facts label. The calcium value is given as a percent of daily value. To convert this number to milligrams, add a zero. For example, a food with 10 percent of the daily value for calcium contains 100 milligrams of calcium.

Beyond bones, calcium plays other roles in keeping us healthy. Meeting your calcium needs may help maintain healthy blood pressure. The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) study found that blood pressure could be lowered when study participants ate at least three servings of low-fat dairy foods and eight to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables daily.

Sometimes dieters cut milk out of their diets to reduce calories. That’s a mistake for reasons that go beyond bone health. Meeting your calcium needs also may help with weight management.

In one study, women who consumed the most calcium were less likely to be obese than those who consumed the least calcium. A study of preschool children showed that kids who consumed more calcium were less likely to be overweight.

Here’s a calcium-rich recipe from the Midwest Dairy Council. Try it for a tasty snack or breakfast drink.

Strawberry Banana Smoothie

1 1/2 cups 1 percent low-fat milk
1 pint low-fat vanilla yogurt
2 ripe bananas, peeled and sliced
1 1/4 cups sliced strawberries
2 tablespoons honey
12-14 ice cubes

In blender, combine milk, yogurt, banana, strawberries and honey. Add enough ice to measure 6 cups in the blender. Process until smooth, scraping sides as necessary.

Makes five servings. Each serving contains 196 calories, 2.4 grams fat, 38 grams carbohydrate and 268 milligrams calcium.

 

Is Brown Food Healthier?

photo courtesy of morguefile.com

In our Scandinavian household, neutral-colored food was abundant while I was growing up. Yah, sure, we Scandinavians still get teased about our somewhat drab-appearing traditional foods and some of our expressions, too.

You bet I liked the taste of brown-shelled eggs and brown bread.

The adults in my life accommodated my tastes. The farmer who delivered eggs to our family always filled half a carton with brown ones for me. Little did I know that the only difference between white and brown eggs was the color of the shell. The color difference was good enough for me.

My mother would make at least one loaf of “brown bread” every week because it was my favorite. Taste was No. 1 to me. I was not a budding nutrition specialist.

Now I know that some kinds of brown bread and other whole-grain foods are especially good for health. Eating at least three daily servings of whole grains may reduce the risks of heart disease, certain kinds of cancer and possibly diabetes. A serving of whole grains is 1 ounce of whole-grain cereal, one-half cup of cooked whole-grain rice or pasta or a slice of whole-grain bread.

If aiming for more whole grains in your diet sounds appealing, remember that “brown” bread isn’t necessarily “whole-grain” bread. For example, cracked wheat, pumpernickel, 100 percent wheat and rye bread appear “brown” but technically they’re not whole-grain foods.

Whole-grain foods contain all parts of the wheat kernel, including the bran, germ and endosperm. The bran is the outer shell that protects the seed. It’s rich in fiber, B vitamins and trace minerals. The germ contains B vitamins and vitamin E. The endosperm provides energy in the form of carbohydrates and protein.

Many whole-grain foods, including cereals and breads, are on the market. Deciphering whole-grain bread from brown bread may take a little detective work. Pick up the package and check out the ingredient label. If the product lists “whole-grain” (followed by the name of the grain) or “whole wheat” as the first ingredient, it’s a whole-grain food.

Some food companies have placed a “whole-grain” seal on their product packages to make selecting whole grains easier for us. Other food companies list the health claim allowed by the Food and Drug Administration on products that meet the whole-grain standards: “Diets rich in whole-grain foods and other plant foods that are low in total fat, saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risks of heart disease and certain cancers.”

Here’s a recipe reprinted from the Wheat Foods Council website. It features whole-wheat flour as an ingredient, and you don’t need to use brown-shelled eggs. Enjoy it with fresh fruit and a glass of cold milk.


Whole-Wheat Angel Food Cake

1 3/4 cups egg whites (about 12 to 14 large eggs)
1/2 cup sifted cake flour
1/2 cup whole-wheat flour
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar, divided
3/4 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. cream of tartar
1 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp. nutmeg 

In large bowl, let egg whites warm to room temperature, about one hour. Sift cake flour, whole-wheat flour and 3/4 cup sugar together. Repeat process three times; set aside. Beat egg whites, salt and cream of tartar at high speed until soft peaks form. Add remaining 3/4 cup sugar, a tablespoon at a time, to egg white mixture, beating well after each addition. Continue beating until stiff peaks form. With rubber spatula, gently fold vanilla and nutmeg into egg white mixture until combined. Sift a quarter of the flour mixture over the egg white mixture. Gently fold in with 15 under-and-over strokes. Repeat, rotating bowl a quarter of a turn after each addition. After last addition, use 10 to 20 extra folding strokes. Flour mixture should be blended into egg whites. Spread batter into ungreased 9- or 10-inch tube pan. Cut through batter with spatula to release air bubbles. Bake in preheated 375-degree oven for 30 to 40 minutes or until toothpick inserted in cake comes out clean. Invert pan over neck of bottle; let cool in pan completely. With spatula, carefully loosen cake from pan and remove.

Makes 16 servings. Each serving has 100 calories, 20 grams of carbohydrate, 3 grams of protein, no fat and 170 milligrams of sodium.

 

Tame the School Snack Attacks

 

Photo by Kakisky courtesy of morguefile.com

Most third grade boys think girls are rather germ-laden. My son was no exception when he was a third grader.

I recall a conversation we had about healthful school snacks. As I eyed a large bunch of rapidly ripening bananas on our kitchen counter, I suggested he bring more fruits and vegetables for school snacks.

He wasn’t opposed to the idea, but he brought up the downside of fruits and vegetables. One of the girls in his class brought fruit and vegetables for snacks the previous year.

“Her desk was full of rotten banana peels and old, dried up carrots. It smelled really bad. She had piles of old math homework in there, too.” 

I’m not sure which is worse: spoiled produce or old arithmetic.

After more discussion, bananas, bunches of grapes, apples and mini carrots were deemed “OK” with my son. He said he’d throw the banana peels. He promised to bring his math papers home before they piled up, too.

Most of us of are falling short of the daily recommendations for fruits and vegetables, which averages about 4.5 cups per day for adults and preteens. Choosing fruits and vegetables as mid-day school snacks is a good way to help meet the daily goal.

Individual packs of raisins and canned fruit are easy options for including more fruits daily. Fresh fruits and vegetables, such as bananas, apples, pears, plums, mini-carrots and celery sticks, also are easy-to-pack snack options.

Safety is another consideration when it comes to packing perishables in backpacks or lunch boxes. Improperly handled fresh produce is increasingly linked with foodborne illness. A few easy steps can prevent a bout of food poisoning:

  • Start with clean hands and kitchen surfaces. Wash hands for at least 20 seconds, about the time it takes to hum “Yankee Doodle” or “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.”
  • Avoid cross-contamination by keeping ready-to-eat foods separate from raw meats during meal preparation.
  • Wash produce thoroughly with plenty of running water, but no soap.
  • Pack snacks in a way that helps prevent contamination on the way to school. Small clusters of grapes, for example, can be placed in a single-use plastic bag. Washed, whole apples can be wrapped in plastic wrap. Cut-up cantaloupe can be placed in snap-top, air-tight plastic containers. Cut-up produce is perishable, so it’s safest to place cut-up produce in an insulated lunch bag with a freezer pack.
  • Since frequent and proper hand washing is key to food safety, wash hands before enjoying a snack.

Here’s a recipe that combines cereal and dried fruit into a tasty treat.

Chocolate Cereal and Fruit Snack Mix

1/2 c. butter or margarine
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
3 c. bite-sized crisp rice squares cereal
3 c. bite-sized crisp wheat squares cereal
2 c. toasted oat rings cereal
1 c. cashews (or other nuts)
1 1/2 c. dried fruit bits (such as dried cranberries)
1 c. chocolate chips

In 4-quart microwave-safe bowl, place butter or margarine. Microwave on high for 1 minute or until melted. Stir in sugar, cocoa and cinnamon. Add cereals and nuts. Stir until evenly coated. Microwave on high 3 minutes, stirring each minute. Stir in dried fruit. Microwave on high 3 minutes, stirring each minute. Cool completely. Stir in chocolate chips. Store in tightly covered container in cool, dry place. Makes about 11 cups mix.

Makes 22 snack-size servings. Each half-cup serving contains 190 calories, 10 grams fat, 25 grams carbohydrate, 2 grams fiber and 160 milligrams sodium.

 

Drying Foods is Fun for Family

Chances are you may have some dried foods in your kitchen cupboards. Raisins, of course, were once grapes, and prunes were plums. In fact, prunes are now known as “dried plums” commercially, because plums are viewed as more appealing.

Besides raisins, various dried fruits are common in many popular cereals. They add flavor, sweetness and sometimes, color.

For avid campers and hikers, dried foods are light and portable compared to their high-moisture, perishable counterparts. Banana chips, apple rings and fruit leathers are easy-to-make nutritious snacks that kids can help prepare at home. If kids help dry vegetables, which are later used in vegetable soups, they might be more tempted to eat the vegetable soup, too.

Drying is one of the oldest methods of food preservation. When water is removed from food, bacteria, yeasts and molds are not able to grow as readily. Foods become more compact and safe for an extended length of time at room temperature.

Food may be dried in the out-of-doors using the heat of the sun (and protected from insects and birds with a cheesecloth or screen covering). Tomatoes and raisins are commonly sun-dried. Beans may be vine-dried. Both sun-dried fruits and vine-dried beans, however, should be pasteurized by freezing for 48 hours or by heating in a 160 degree oven for 30 minutes.

Food dehydrators are available for indoor drying. If you choose to buy one, be sure it has a thermostat from 85 to 160 degrees, a dial for regulating temperature, a fan, at least four trays made of sturdy plastic and a timer.

Home ovens may also be used for occasional food dehydrating, but it might disrupt everyday cooking so it probably isn’t the most viable option for drying lots of produce. Oven drying is slower than dehydrator drying and takes more energy.

Following are directions from the University of Georgia Extension Service for fruit leather. Homemade fruit leather is easy to make and usually less expensive than commercial types. Children love to help make this simple snack, too. The added advantage is that you can mix fruit flavors and adjust sugar content to suit your tastes. Artificial sweeteners can be used in place of sugar, and you can use fresh, frozen or canned fruit.


Fruit Leather

Select ripe or slightly overripe fruit. Wash fruit in cool water, remove peel, seeds and stems. Cut fruit into chunks, and use about 2 cups of fruit for each 13″ x 15″ pan of fruit leather. Puree fruit in blender until smooth. Add 2 teaspoons lemon juice or 1/8 teaspoon ascorbic acid for each 2 cups of light-colored fruit to prevent darkening. If desired, add corn syrup, honey or sugar. For longer storage, use corn syrup or honey. If the fruit leather will be used immediately, use sugar (because it crystallizes during storage). Commercial apple sauce may be dried on its own as described here or may be used as an extender.

Cookie/jelly roll pans with edges (13 inches by 15 inches) work well if leather will be dried in an oven. Line with plastic wrap; do not use waxed paper or foil. Food dehydrators often have special inserts for fruit leather.

Pour pureed fruit mixture into pan, spreading evenly, about 1/8 inch thick, and staying away from pan edges. The optimum temperature for drying fruit leather is 140 degrees (usually the lowest oven setting works but use an oven thermometer to check). Keep the oven door open two to six inches and a fan near the door – but be especially cautious about keeping young children away from the oven. A commercial dehydrator is a safer option for use around children. Fruit leather will take up to 18 hours to dry in an oven, or 6 to 8 hours in a food dehydrator.

To test for doneness, touch center of fruit leather. No indentation should appear. Peel from plastic while warm; roll, allow to cool and rewrap in plastic. During initial cooling phase, leather may be cut into shapes with cookie cutters. Fruit leather will keep for about 1 month at room temperature. Nutritional value varies depending on type of fruit and amount of sugar/sweetener added.

See www.ag.ndsu.edu/publications/landing-pages/food-and-nutrition/drying-fruits-fn1587 for more information about drying fruit.

See http://www.ag.ndsu.edu/publications/landing-pages/food-and-nutrition/making-fruit-leather-fn1586 for more information about making fruit leather.

See www.ag.ndsu.edu/food/food-preservation for more information about food preservation. Click on the categories in the left hand navigation.

 

Lift the Lid on Food Preservation

Photo courtesy of the National Center of Home Food Preservation.

When most of us “baby boomers” came home from the hospital as infants, our mothers probably held us because infant car seats weren’t required then. We probably rode in cars filled with leaded fuel.

Most likely we came home to houses with asbestos insulation and lead-containing paint. Most of us slept in cribs with fairly wide slats, and our pajamas probably weren’t flame-retardant. We might have been fed solid foods at 2 weeks of age.

Maybe it’s a wonder we survived.

The moral of the story: Health and safety recommendations change based on knowledge gained through research and practice.

Food preservation recommendations have changed through time, too. Great Grandma’s famous pickled beet recipe and the canning recipes published in the 1970 church cookbook probably don’t stand up to current recommendations.

During and after World War II, canning formulations were tested for safety. Research-tested recipes and procedures were provided across the U.S. through the Extension Service network of the land-grant university system. Since then, canning recommendations continually have been revamped as new knowledge is gained.

How much do you know about canning recommendations? Even if you never have seen a pressure canner, you could be offered home-canned food. You might want to gauge your risk.

Test your knowledge with this true/false quiz.

  1. True/False: Vegetables, meats and most mixtures of foods must be canned in a pressure canner, not a boiling water-bath canner.
  2. True/False: Paraffin wax is not recommended as a way to seal jams and jellies.
  3. True/False: When canning salsa or tomatoes to be processed in a water-bath canner, lemon juice or another acidic ingredient must be added to ensure proper acidity.
  4. True/False: Botulism, a potentially fatal type of foodborne illness, could result from eating low-acid foods (such as vegetables) that have been canned improperly.
  5. True/False: For best quality, use home-canned foods within a year.

How did you do? All the answers are “true.” For more information about food preservation, contact your local Extension office or visit the NDSU Extension Service website, www.ag.ndsu.edu/food (click on “food preservation”).

Where Can You Learn About Canning, Drying and Freezing Food?

Photo courtesy of the National Center for Home Food Preservation.

I was having breakfast with a group of people after helping harvest lettuce, beans, zucchini, peas and peppers that our “Junior Master Gardeners” had planted behind our church. The food is shared with members of our congregation and the community.

People at my table began reminiscing about gardening and food in general. Someone mentioned she wanted to get into gardening and preserving foods. Another person talked about having home-canned foods while growing up, with few foods purchased from the grocery store.

Someone else mentioned the home-canned wild game birds her mother used to prepare. I think she could almost “taste” the memory.

Then a person mentioned a time she opened a jar of home-canned food and her house smelled bad for three days because the food had spoiled in the jar. That was not a pleasant memory.

Her family was lucky the jar didn’t blow its cover off, spewing the toxic food everywhere. I have had phone calls from people asking how to clean up the mess when food is not properly canned.

Sometimes, however, we have no “signs” such as changes in color, flavor or aroma to know whether food is safe. The only prevention measure is to follow research-tested guidelines for preparation and storage.

Whether you grow your own produce or buy it, preserving food has many advantages. You have control of the quality of your starting ingredients, and you have a sense of pride that comes with preserving your garden’s bounty. You also may be preserving some family traditions.

Creativity often is the mark of a good cook, but creativity has little, if any, role in home canning. Home canning is a science. The good news is that U.S. Department of Agriculture’s research-tested recipes are readily available at no cost.

The bad news is that Great-grandma’s pickled beet recipe isn’t necessarily considered safe by today’s standards. Botulism, a potentially deadly form of foodborne illness, can result from improperly home-canned foods.

Remember some basic rules when canning. Make sure your equipment is functional and, if processing vegetables or meats, be sure your pressure gauge has been tested for accuracy within the past year. Obtain research-tested recipes and follow them closely.

Acidic foods such as pickles, jellies, jams, fruits and tomatoes should be processed in a boiling water-bath canner for the recommended amount of time. Tomatoes should be acidified with lemon juice or citric acid. Low-acid food such as vegetables, meat and most mixtures of foods should be processed in a pressure canner following current recommendations.

Salsa is one of the most popular home-canned foods. If your garden produced salsa ingredients such as tomatoes, peppers and onions in abundance, consider these salsa-making tips.

  • Follow the formulation exactly and measure/weigh ingredients carefully. Use bottled lemon or lime juice or vinegar as indicated.
  • Handle hot peppers carefully: Wear plastic gloves and wash your hands before touching your face.
  • In canning recipes calling for spices, you safely may decrease the amount of spice, but do not increase the spice amounts.
  • To alter the heat in salsa, you safely can substitute one type of pepper for another, but keep the total amount of pepper the same.
  • Do not thicken salsas with cornstarch or other thickeners before canning. After opening the jars, if the salsa appears thin, it can be heated and thickened later, or the excess juice may be strained.

For more information visit www.ag.ndsu.edu/food for free, research-based information about food preservation. You can learn about freezing and canning almost any food. Learn how to make sauerkraut and home-made wine. Explore making fruit leather and dehydrated herbs, fruits and vegetables.

Many county Extension offices offer food preservation classes, so check in your area for those learning opportunities. One of our most popular guides is “Canning and Freezing Tomatoes and Making Salsa,” which includes the following recipe.

Tomato/Tomato Paste Salsa

3 quarts peeled, cored, chopped slicing tomatoes
3 cups chopped onions
6 jalapeno peppers, seeded, finely chopped
4 long green chilies, seeded, chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 12-ounce cans tomato paste
2 cups bottled lemon or lime juice
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon ground cumin*
2 tablespoons oregano leaves*
1 teaspoon black pepper

Procedure: Prepare tomatoes (see Page 1). Prepare peppers (see Page 7). Combine all ingredients in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Ladle hot into pint jars, leaving ½ inch of head space. Adjust the lids and process for 15 minutes in a boiling water-bath canner (at altitudes of up to 1,000 feet) or for 20 minutes at higher altitudes.

*Optional: Spice amounts may be reduced. Do not make other adjustments to this recipe.

This recipe yields about 7 pints. Two tablespoons of salsa has about 10 calories, 2 grams (g) of carbohydrate, 0 g protein and 0 g fat.