Do You Know How to “Bite Into a Healthy Lifestyle”?

March is designated National Nutrition Month by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and that’s a great time to take steps to develop a healthful eating plan as we move toward spring. Ask yourself these questions and give yourself these scores: 2 points for each “Yes” answer, 1 point for each “I’m trying” answer and no points for the “No” answers.

1. Do you make half your plate veggies and fruits?                   

Yes      I’m trying      No

Choose red, orange and dark green vegetables such as tomatoes, sweet potatoes and broccoli.

2. Do you include lean protein in your menus?              

Yes      I’m trying      No

Choose protein foods such as lean beef and pork, chicken, seafood, turkey, beans, lentils or tofu.

3. Do you make half your grains choices whole grains?

Yes      I’m trying      No

Look for the words “100 percent whole grain” or “100 percent whole wheat” on the food label. Whole grains provide more nutrients, such as fiber, than refined grains.

4. Do you include dairy or other calcium-rich foods?

Yes      I’m trying      No

Pair your meal with a cup of fat-free or low-fat milk. Low-fat and fat-free milk provide the same amount of calcium and other essential nutrients as whole milk, but they contain less fat and fewer calories.

5. Do you take your time when you dine?

Yes      I’m trying      No

Savor your food. Eat slowly, enjoy the taste and textures, and pay attention to how you feel so you can stop before eating more than your body needs.

6. Do you try new foods?

Yes      I’m trying      No

Pick out new foods you’ve never tried, such as mangos, lentils or kale. You may find a new favorite. Trade fun and tasty recipes with friends or find them online.


10 or more points: Good job! Check out the resources listed below for more recipes and tips.

5 to 9 points: You are making progress toward a healthful diet. Keep trying!

4 or fewer points: Check out the items you marked “No” or “I’m trying” and consider setting some goals. Make small changes toward better health.

For more information and recipes, visit or or

Here’s a colorful recipe that kids can help prepare. They can help select the vegetables at the grocery store. Look for zucchini with skin that is shiny and free of soft spots. They can rinse/scrub vegetables at home. Older children can help make the veggie ribbons with a veggie peeler. Experiment with other types of summer squash, or try tossing with a little lemon juice before serving.

Vegetable Ribbons

1 medium zucchini (about 1½ cups after cutting)
1 large carrot (about 1½ cups after cutting)
1 tsp. olive or vegetable oil (or use cooking spray)
Salt, pepper (if desired)

  1. Wash hands.
  2. Rinse zucchini and carrot. Peel carrot and cut off ends. Using a vegetable peeler, shave the zucchini and carrot into ribbons by moving the peeler back and forth.
  3. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. (Or lightly coat pan with cooking spray.)
  4. Add the vegetable ribbons, stir, cover with a tight-fitting lid and cook for two to three minutes, or until vegetables are tender but not overcooked.
  5. Remove from heat, add pepper and salt, if desired, and serve immediately.
  6. Option: To make vegetable coins instead of ribbons, cut zucchini and carrot into thin slices. Add ¼ cup water to the pan; cover and cook five to eight minutes.

Makes four servings. Each serving has 35 calories, 1.5 grams (g) fat, 5 g carbohydrate, less than 1 gram protein and 35 milligrams of sodium.

Recipe reprinted from the Eat Smart. Spend Smart. program, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.

Menu Idea

Oven-roasted chicken, baked potatoes, Vegetable Ribbons, apple slices with cinnamon, low-fat or fat-free milk


How Do You Find the Truth in a World of Health and Appearance Ads?

If you’ve read popular magazines, surfed the Internet or watched an “infomercial” on TV lately, chances are you’ve seen some enticing health-related advertisements. According to the claims, improving your appearance is fairly effortless.

You can “melt fat” while you sleep and wake up slim and trim. You can reshape your body in less than five minutes a day. You can have wrinkle-free skin if you take XYZ dietary supplement.

Look closely. Most of these ads feature genetically blessed models.

As I perused a magazine, one ad promising a 15-pound weight loss in three days caught my attention. I actually lost 20 pounds in two days. But I had a 9-pound baby boy to take home with me from the hospital.

Billions of dollars are spent each year on health-related books and products, and unfortunately, the products and information often lack merit. In addition to wasting your money, some of the advice actually can be harmful.

Dietary supplements, for example, are not highly regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. The supplement manufacturers don’t have to prove the products are effective or safe.

Certain herbal supplements in particular have been shown to be harmful, or even deadly in some cases. That’s why keeping your health-care provider informed of any product you are taking is so important. Some supplements interfere with medications.

How can you decipher fact from fiction? Here’s a checklist of questions to ask yourself before you open your pocketbook:

  • Does the product promise a quick fix? Complex issues rarely can be solved as quickly as the ads indicate.
  • Does the promise sound too good to be true? Trust your common sense.
  • Are simple conclusions drawn from complex studies? Scientific research is quite complicated. Sometimes stories about scientific studies are short on details.
  • Are the recommendations based on the results of a single study? When new studies come out, they often make the news, especially if they contradict other information. National recommendations, however, aren’t made on the basis of a single study.
  • Are doubts cast about reputable scientific organizations? This is a tactic often used to make consumers fear or mistrust science.
  • Are lists of “good” and “bad” foods given? Some foods may taste “good” or “bad,” but when consumed in moderation, these foods aren’t necessarily “bad” for you. All foods can fit into a healthful diet. It’s a matter of controlling how much and how often you eat foods that are high in calories and/or fat.
  • Is the evidence based on science or on testimonials? People who’ve experienced success with the product often are pictured and quoted. But sometimes the ads feature paid actors or models who never have used the product.
  • Are the recommendations based on studies of individuals or groups of people? You can’t draw valid conclusions and make recommendations based on a small study with only a few subjects.

In this information age, where can you go for reliable information about nutrition and health? Government agencies, scientific organizations, professional organizations such as the American Dietetic Association, accredited food and nutrition departments at universities, Extension Service offices, nutrition units of health-care centers and reliable industry groups are some sources of good information.

Visit the NDSU Extension Service website at and click on “Finding the Truth” for more resources about this topic. You might save some money as a result.

The old adage “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” has some merit. Apples are a good source of pectin, a soluble fiber that, in combination with a low-fat diet, has been shown to reduce blood cholesterol levels. Try this tasty, nutritious and quick-to-make recipe.

Honey Baked Apples

6 medium baking apples 1 1/2 tablespoons melted butter 1/4 cup honey 1/4 cup granola-type cereal 1/4 cup raisins

Wash and core apples. Peel top half or slit peel horizontally around each apple about an inch from the top to allow steam to escape. Place in baking dish lined with aluminum foil. Bake at 400 F for 40 minutes. Combine butter, honey, cereal and raisins. Fill apples with mixture and bake 10 additional minutes. Makes six servings.

Makes six servings. Each serving has 200 calories, 3.5 grams (g) fat, 1 g protein, 45 g carbohydrate, 5 g fiber and 0 milligrams sodium.



The Sweet History of Chocolate Will Tempt Your Palate


photo by rosvita courtesy of

If chocolate melts in your hands, you’re eating it too slowly,” according to a popular quote. That works for me.

Chocolate has tempted palates for hundreds of years. After his trip to America, Columbus brought cocoa beans to Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand, who weren’t overly impressed and didn’t imagine the possibilities.

Another Spanish explorer, Cortez, observed the Aztecs enjoying a bitter beverage made with cocoa beans. Ever the entrepreneurs, Cortez and other Spaniards tweaked the appeal of the chocolate beverage by adding cane sugar to suit the tastes of Europeans.

Spanish monks later developed a way to process cocoa beans, and when a cocoa press was invented in 1828, the supply increased, making it more accessible to everyone. The first chocolate factory was established in the United States in 1765 and the popularity of chocolate soared.

Going from cocoa beans to chocolate requires several steps. The beans are roasted and cooled, and the shells are removed. The shelled product then is crushed and separated into liquid chocolate and cocoa butter.

Making high-quality chocolate is a real science. Cocoa butter, sugar and unsweetened chocolate are blended to make a dough. Milk chocolate, as you’d suspect, contains milk and less unsweetened chocolate.

Next, the mixture passes through rollers that make its consistency very smooth, and then it goes through a procedure called “conching.” This kneading process is designed to improve the flavor. Sometimes another process, emulsifying, is done to break up sugar crystals and ensure the product is at its smoothest. The chocolate then is heated, cooled, reheated and finally molded into a variety of shapes and sizes.

Chocolate is a much-loved food that some may feel guilty about eating. Actually, chocolate may not be as unhealthy as you might imagine. Milk chocolate contains several different types of fatty acids, including oleic acid, a monounsaturated fatty acid that also is found in olive oil. Oleic acid is considered to be a “heart healthy” fat.

While research has shown a link between saturated fat intake and heart disease, one type of saturated fat in cocoa butter, stearic acid, seems to behave differently. A study conducted at Pennsylvania State University showed that even regularly eating 10 ounces of milk chocolate did not raise LDL (bad) cholesterol or total cholesterol. Do you suppose they had to turn away chocoholics who wanted to participate in the study?

Chocolate also is a good source of antioxidant nutrients known as polyphenols. Antioxidants protect cells and tissues from damage by “free radicals” that roam the body and promote cardiovascular diseases and other health problems. Some studies have shown that chocolate may contain more antioxidants than tea.

Based on these studies, should you turn to chocolate as the ultimate health food? Any food can fit into a healthful diet, but moderation, balance and variety remain the keys to healthful eating. The occasional chocolate bar, cup of cocoa or rich chocolate dessert easily can fit into a healthful diet.

If you’re trying to lose weight, remember that chocolate bars are energy-dense at 240 calories and 13.5 grams of fat per typical 1.6-ounce bar. Too many calories, regardless of the source, can lead to weight gain. If you have a chocolate craving, try a few chocolate kisses to quench your craving. Unwrapping each chocolate kiss takes time.

Here’s a chocolaty recipe that originally appeared on Mazola Margarine packages.

Cocoa Cupcakes

1 1/2 cups flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 cup margarine (or butter)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
3 egg whites

Place paper liners in 18 muffin pan cups. Sift together dry ingredients. Place margarine in mixer bowl and beat on medium speed until soft. Add vanilla. Add sugar gradually while beating. On low speed, add flour mixture alternately with water. In separate bowl, beat egg whites until stiff peaks form and gently fold into batter. Spoon into muffin cups and bake in 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes. When toothpick comes out clean, they are done. Cool in pans. Tops may be sprinkled with powdered sugar when cool.

Makes 18 cupcakes. Each cupcake has160 calories, 8 grams (g) fat, 2 g protein, 20 g carbohydrate, 1 g fiber and 140 milligrams sodium.


The Weighty Issue of Maintaining a Healthy Weight


Scale by fiddler jan courtesy of

Some gifts are not necessarily appreciated by your significant other, particularly if she’s female. Several years ago, shortly after I placed him on a cholesterol-lowering diet, my husband bought “us” a present: a bathroom scale.

“It’s a good one. It’s digital and it glows in the dark,” he said.

Now when I have the burning need to know what I weigh in the middle of the night, within a half pound, I won’t need to turn on the bathroom light.

Maintaining a healthy weight is important, but excessive thinness isn’t necessarily healthy. Being overweight increases the risk for high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, cancer, arthritis and breathing problems. On the other hand, excessive dieting can lead to other problems, including eating disorders.

Determining a healthy weight “number” remains controversial, but there’s no denying that Americans, in general, are growing larger. Using “Body Mass Index” or “BMI” as a gauge, experts categorize nearly two of three American adults as overweight. BMI can be calculated by following these steps:

  1. Determine your height in inches.
  2. Multiply your height (in inches) by your height (in inches).
  3. Weigh yourself.
  4. Divide your weight (in pounds) by your answer to number 2.
  5. Multiply your answer to number 4 by 705.

Your answer is your BMI. A BMI between 18.5 and 24.9 is considered “normal.” BMI values of 18 or lower are considered “underweight.” BMI values between 25 and 29.9 are considered “overweight” and values above 30 are considered “obese.” For example, a 5-foot-10-inch man who weighs 175 pounds would have a BMI of about 25, or 705 x (175 pounds ÷ (70 inches x 70 inches)).

BMI doesn’t work for everyone, though. Since BMI uses weight, it doesn’t necessarily provide information on relative proportions of muscle, bone, and fat. Athletes, for example, may have little body fat yet be “obese” according to BMI standards, because muscle weighs more than fat.

Talk to your healthcare provider or a dietitian about a healthy weight for you. Set a reasonable goal. If you need to lose a few pounds, do it slowly. The “miracle diets” and supplements that seem to surface almost daily can cause you to lose muscle and even bone, along with fat.

The healthiest approach is to aim for a weight loss of 1 or 2 pounds a week. Even losing a little weight can reduce blood pressure, total cholesterol, LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and improve blood sugar levels.

 What if everyone in your family is heavy? Are your genes your destiny? British researchers studied nearly 500 sets of healthy, middle-aged female twins. About one-third were overweight. Overall the active twin had less total fat and less abdominal fat, which is linked to diabetes and heart disease, than the inactive twin.

A healthy diet and physical activity go hand in hand in maintaining or improving our overall health. Do you meet the recommendation for 30 minutes of moderate physical activity most days of the week?

Being physically active doesn’t necessarily mean participating in sports or working out at a health club. Even short increments of moderate physical activity can make a difference in overall energy and health. Here are some ways to get moving toward better health:

  • Take a walk around the block, around a mall or across the parking lot.
  • Wash your windows or car.
  • Use the stairs instead of the elevator.
  • Join a dance class, or just use your radio and dance around the house.
  • Go biking in warm weather or cross-country skiing during snowy winter months.
  • Play with your children, grandchildren or the neighbor’s kids. Shoot some hoops, throw a frisbee, or play ball.
  • Take exercise breaks during TV commercials.
  • At work, take a walk instead of a snack break.

For more information about eating healthfully, visit and check out the Nourishing Boomers and Beyond site (, which has a wide range health-related information.

Here’s a tasty “smoothie” to enjoy after your exercise break. Smoothies are very popular with several national franchises offering them. The beverages vary greatly in nutrients, calories and fat. Smoothies usually contain milk, juice, and/or fruit, but some establishments offer extra vitamins, minerals and other additives. Making them yourself with your choice of fruit is not only less expensive, but it can also help you control the calorie and fat content.

Frozen Banana Shake

1 1/2 cups milk
1 frozen banana, peeled and sliced
1/2 cup fat-free vanilla frozen yogurt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Mix all ingredients in blender. Blend. Serve in a tall glass. Makes two servings. Each serving has 170 calories, 0 grams (g) fat, 9 g protein, 34 g carbohydrate, 1.5 g fiber and 110 milligrams of sodium.


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 (

Ingredient Substitutions (

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


Photo courtesy of

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:

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

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 (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 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


Photo courtesy of

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

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?


Photo by ronnieb courtesy of

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: 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.

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.