Do You Have a “Fish That Got Away” Story?


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I recall when my now-16-year-old daughter first experienced fishing. At age 6, she didn’t catch a fish while casting a line off a dock, but she officially was “hooked” on fishing.

She talked about the fish that got away for years. I witnessed a striped bass nibble her bait, but then it cleverly avoided her hook for the rest of the afternoon. She was very persistent.

She became a classic “fisherperson” with a “fish that got away” story. Her fish has grown progressively larger as time has passed. In fact, by today’s estimate, it’s probably about one-third her size.

That fish had her name on it. She asked our friends to promise not to catch it because she expected it to grow much larger by our return visit at the end of summer. Shaking her little fist for emphasis, she vowed to catch that fish. She never got her fish, but I think it led to her love of fish and seafood to this day.

Fishing is a popular and relaxing sport that sometimes results in a tasty meal. Be sure to learn about the fishing guidelines at your destination. Because fish is highly perishable, follow some rules to keep your catch at its best.

To help ensure a safe and tasty meal, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends the following:

  • Scale, gut and clean fish as soon as possible after they’re caught.
  • Keep live fish on stringers or in live wells when possible, but be sure they have enough water to move and breath.
  • Wrap fish, whole and cleaned, in water-tight plastic and store on ice.
  • Keep 3 to 4 inches of ice on the bottom of a cooler. Alternate layers of fish and ice.
  • Store coolers out of the sun. Cover the coolers with a blanket to insulate them against the sun.
  • Eat fresh fish within one to two days or freeze it. For best quality, use frozen fish within three to six months.

You don’t need to catch your own fish to enjoy it. When purchasing fish, use your eyes and nose to help you make your decision. Look for firm flesh that springs back when pressed and be sure your selection has a fresh smell, not an unusually strong “fishy” smell.

To determine amounts to purchase or prepare per serving, consider these guidelines. Allow about 1 pound of whole fish (as it comes from the water), 1/2 pound dressed fish or 1/4 pound fillet per serving.

Cook fish until it flakes with a fork, but be cautious not to overcook it or your entrée will be rubbery or dry. Experiment with cooking methods. Try grilling, baking, poaching or frying your catch.

Here’s a quick and easy way to enjoy the “fish of the day.”  For more information, see the NDSU Extension Service publication, “A Pocket Guide to Care and Handling of Fish from Stream to Table” FN 535 at

Baked Fish Fillets

1 pound fish fillets
1/2 tsp. salt
Dash of pepper
2 Tbsp. butter, melted
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
2 tsp. grated onion
Paprika (if desired)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. If fillets are large, cut into desired portion sizes. Allow about 1/4 pound per portion. Sprinkle both sides with salt and pepper. Mix melted butter, lemon juice and onion. Dip fillets into mixture and arrange in baking pan. Pour remaining mixture over fish. Bake uncovered until fish flakes with fork, about 30 minutes. Sprinkle with paprika before serving if desired.

Makes four servings. Each serving has 160 calories, 7 grams (g) fat, 0.5 g carbohydrate and 22 g protein.


Happy Campers Need to Plan Ahead


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I grew up in an “indoorsy” family. In fact, the first time I spent a night in a tent was at the insistence of a very outdoorsy college roommate.

We gathered a few friends and went to a lake for “Julie’s Camping Adventure.” Things started out OK. The food was tasty, and the weather was fairly warm. I had my own tent and a cozy sleeping bag.

This wasn’t so bad after all, I thought.

Then things took a turn for the worse in the late evening. Rain started falling. My tent partially collapsed in the wind and pouring rain. Water seeped in, forming a little pool in half of the tent.

As I rolled to the other side of the tent, I lamented that nothing is quite like a soggy sleeping bag.

When the rain subsided, I heard animals rustling outside my tent. They sounded big. Not only was I wet and cold, I also was terrified.

I thought surely I’d be a midnight snack for some huge, hungry animal that had wandered over from a distant state, probably having heard through the animal grapevine that I knew nothing about camping.

Needless to say, sleep escaped me that evening.

I obviously survived my adventure, and I even had fun on a hike the next day. I later went on to more enjoyable camping adventures.

Camping and hiking are chances to enjoy the outdoors, “rough it” a little and learn a few things along the way. If you’re planning a lengthy camping or hiking trip, you have a few guidelines to keep in mind.

First, plan your menus, shop for ingredients and think “light” when packing. Aim for cookware that “nests” so it takes up less room and also consider using aluminum foil as a cooking aid.

Find out if you’ll need to bring a portable stove or grill or if campfires are allowed. If you are using new or unfamiliar cooking equipment on your trip, do a trial run at home to be sure you know how to operate it.

Consider easy-to-prepare items such as macaroni, rice, and dry soup, pancake and sauce mixes that help create quick and tasty meals with only the addition of water and a few other ingredients.

If meat is on your menu, don’t forget your food thermometer. Be sure the meat is packed on ice and kept below 40 degrees.

Cook ground beef to an internal temperature of at least 160 degrees and chicken breasts to at least 165 degrees. Heat leftover food to at least 165 degrees. Don’t forget to clean your thermometer between uses.

If you plan to take a hike, pack some shelf-stable foods to eat on the trail. Consider bringing peanut butter in plastic jars; juice boxes; crackers; canned tuna, ham, chicken or beef; beef jerky; nuts; dried fruit; and plenty of water to help prevent dehydration.

When doing cleanup at your campsite, use biodegradable soap that’s available in many camping supply stores. Wash your dishes at your campsite, away from the edges of rivers, lakes and streams. Dump the dirty water on dry ground to prevent contaminating the rivers, lakes or streams.

Wash your hands well. For quick cleanup, pack some disposable wipes or alcohol-based hand sanitizers.

Here’s a snack to enjoy while you’re enjoying a nature hike or brisk walk around your neighborhood. Trail mixes are generally energy-dense for their weight.

Trail Snack

1 can sweetened condensed milk
2 c. oatmeal (not instant oatmeal)
1 c. raisins
1 c. coconut
1 c. peanuts
1 c. chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Mix together well. Press onto greased or sprayed baking pan. Bake until lightly browned, about 30 minutes. Cool and cut into chunks. Divide into 12 servings and place in individual sealed bags.

Makes 12 servings. Each serving has 300 calories, 7.4 grams (g) protein, 35 g carbohydrate and 15.5 g fat.

What’s the “Exertion Value” of Gardening?


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“Are you teaching me how to plant things so someday I can teach my little girl?” my daughter asked. We were planting flowers and tomato and pepper plants. She was about 7 at the time.

“That’s the idea,” I remarked. Being a grandmother was an interesting future concept, too.



“Then she can teach her little kids and they can teach their little kids and on and on,” my daughter continued.

I was growing older by the minute.

“Yes, that’s true. Gardening is pretty fun, isn’t it? I hope we’ll get lots of tomatoes and peppers,” I remarked, changing the subject before we hit the 22nd century.

“It’s kind of a lot of work,” she noted with a dramatic sigh as she lugged a bucket of compost to the garden plot. “Can we take a break?”

As we visited, we met our new neighbor for the first time. He was trimming shrubs. We became acquainted, and I got some rhubarb in the process.

Gardening is beneficial on many levels. All that digging, lifting and bending is good for your health and it’s relaxing at the same time. Depending on what you choose to plant, flowers and plants can beautify your landscape, herbs can flavor your recipes, and fruits and vegetables can color your recipes. Children who help grow fruits and vegetables are more apt to eat them, too.

If gardening is your preferred form of exercise, consider the research results of Barbara Ainsworth and colleagues published in the Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. She examined the effort expended in a variety of activities and assigned “exertion value” numbers. Lower numbers correspond to less exertion and fewer calories burned. Here are some relative exertion values (not in calories burned) for typical activities:

  • 0.9 – Lying quietly or sleeping
  • 1.5 – Sitting on the deck
  • 2.3 – Walking while shopping
  • 3 – Carpentry
  • 4 – Bicycling at 10 mph, fishing, water aerobics
  • 4.5 – Golfing
  • 5 – Softball or baseball
  • 6 – Swimming

Here’s how gardening activities fit in this system:

  • 1.5 – Standing or walking while watering the lawn or garden
  • 3.5 – Trimming shrubs with a power cutter
  • 4.5 – Mowing lawn
  • 5 – Laying sod
  • 6 – Tilling a garden or mowing with hand mower

I’m not sure where gathering rhubarb stalks would fall, but the activity has enjoyable consequences in the kitchen. One of the earliest “fruits” of the season, rhubarb, or pieplant, is technically a vegetable, but it’s used as a fruit in pies, cakes, sauces and jams. Look for firm, glossy stalks that aren’t large. Don’t nibble on the leaves because they are toxic.

Store fresh rhubarb in the crisper of your refrigerator, wash and use within a few days. Rhubarb is frozen easily by cutting and placing it in freezer bags in recipe-size portions. Heating rhubarb in boiling water for a minute and cooling promptly in cold water helps retain color and flavor. Before freezing, you also can add sugar or sugar syrup if desired.

Here’s a tasty way to enjoy rhubarb. You can substitute frozen rhubarb that has been thawed and drained, too. For more information about food, nutrition and gardening, visit the NDSU website at

Cinnamon-topped Rhubarb Muffins

1/2 c. brown sugar, firmly packed
1/4 c. butter
1 c. (8 oz.) reduced-fat sour cream
2 eggs
1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 1/2 c. chopped rhubarb
1 Tbsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. cinnamon

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In large bowl, combine brown sugar and butter. Beat at medium speed until well-mixed (one to two minutes). Add sour cream and eggs; continue beating, scraping bowl often until well-mixed (one to two minutes). In medium bowl, stir together flour, baking soda and 1/2 tsp. cinnamon. By hand, stir flour mixture into sour cream mixture just until moistened. Fold in rhubarb. Spoon into greased muffin pans. In small bowl, stir together a tablespoon of sugar and 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon. Sprinkle onto each muffin. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool 10 minutes. Remove from pan.

Makes 12 muffins. Each muffin has 165 calories, 22 grams of carbohydrate, 7 grams of fat and 1 gram of fiber.

Be Prepared for Outdoor Eating Adventures When Camping

“Just be sure to check your sleeping bag for snakes,” my friend said before I crawled into the tent.

“Snakes?” I said.

After that remark, I wanted to go home.

“Be sure not to leave out any food because there might be bears outside. There may be some bats, too,” another friend said.

“How about lions?” I asked.

I was seeing that they were playing “let’s scare Julie.” 

At the time, I was with a group of my college friends. I was the inexperienced camper, so they were having a little fun with me.

Despite the fact that I knew they were teasing me, I checked my sleeping bag carefully for reptiles. I didn’t leave the tent until daybreak, either.

Be sure your food does not become “scary” as you enjoy some summer picnics, hiking adventures or camping trips during the last weeks of summer. Keeping your food safe in outdoor situations takes a little planning and care during the trip.

Remember some key rules for outdoor food safety. Keep everything clean. Because water isn’t available at every camping or picnic site, be sure to bring disposable wipes or alcohol-based hand sanitizer to clean your hands.

While cleaning your dishes is a good plan, take care not to pollute. Be sure to use soap sparingly and keep it out of lakes, rivers and other bodies of water. Dump the dirty water on dry ground away from fresh water.

If you are going backpacking, bring some lightweight, shelf-stable foods, such as peanut butter in plastic jars; small cans or shelf-stable packets of tuna, ham, chicken or beef; dried meats (such as beef jerky); dried fruits and nuts; and powdered milk or fruit drinks.

If you plan to enjoy camp cookouts, keep the weight of supplies low by bringing aluminum foil and/or lightweight pans. Check to see if the campsite allows you to build a fire or if you should bring a portable camp stove or grill.

Don’t forget to bring your food thermometer on picnics and camping trips. You may be cooking late in the evening, which makes seeing the food difficult. Color is never a reliable indicator of doneness. Cook poultry to a minimum internal temperature of 165  F and hamburgers to at least 160 degrees.

If you are using a dial thermometer, be sure to insert it 2 to 2.5 inches into the food so the food is in contact with the sensing area. If you are cooking thin foods, insert the probe sideways into the food.

Keep cold foods cold. You have several choices for coolers, but some are more durable than others. Foam chests have the advantage of being low in cost and lightweight, but they are not as durable as plastic chests.

See for more recipes from the Canned Food Alliance. This recipe lends itself to an outdoor eating adventure if you do a little work at home. Make the salsa ahead of time and refrigerate. Marinate the chicken as directed and keep chilled. Keep the meat in a separate cooler from the ready-to-eat foods. Visit for more food safety and nutrition information and a database of recipes from the NDSU Extension Service.

Red-bean Salsa Grilled Chicken

3 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 large red onion, halved and thinly sliced
6 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
Salt and freshly ground pepper
6 boneless and skinless chicken breast halves

Homemade Salsa

1 1/2 tsp. grated lime peel, divided
4 Tbsp. fresh lime juice, divided
2 cans (15 1/2 ounces each) small kidney beans or pinto beans, drained and rinsed
2 cans (14 1/2 ounces each) diced tomatoes (drain one can)
1/2 c. coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
1 to 2 Tbsp. hot sauce

Heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Stir in the red onion, garlic, and salt and pepper to taste. Cook until onion is tender, stirring often for about five minutes. Put the chicken in a medium bowl. Add 1/2 cup of the cooked onion mixture, 1 teaspoon of the lime peel and 2 tablespoons of the lime juice, then salt and pepper to taste. Toss to mix well. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. Meanwhile, also make a salsa. Place the remaining cooked onion mixture in a medium serving bowl. Stir in the beans, tomatoes (and the juice from one can of tomatoes), cilantro and hot sauce to taste. Add the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of lime peel and 2 tablespoons of lime juice. Stir to mix well. Cover and refrigerate salsa until ready to serve.

Heat a barbecue grill to medium-hot. Remove the chicken from its marinade and dispose of the leftover marinade. Grill the chicken, turning once, until browned and cooked through (165 degrees on an instant-read thermometer), about 10 minutes. Serve the grilled chicken topped with the salsa.

Makes six servings. Each serving has 300 calories, 8 grams (g) of fat, 34 g of carbohydrate, 680 milligrams of sodium and 45 percent of the daily value for vitamin C.




Dirty Money Prompts Need to Wash Hands


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Will he or won’t he? I thought to myself. As I watched the lone food service worker collect money from several patrons, I wondered whether he would wash his hands before preparing our food.

I must have been staring at him because he looked over at me. I probably was making him uncomfortable or irritated, but I think my scrutiny worked.

After collecting money from three patrons, he walked from the cash register to the counter to make our sandwiches. Suddenly he stopped, turned around, walked over to the sink and proceeded to wash his hands.

I was glad. Washing your hands after handling money is a good idea. According to the food safety standards in the food code, food service workers must wash their hands after engaging in any activity that may have contaminated their hands.

I remember being warned not to put money in my mouth as a child. As the saying went, “You don’t know where that money has been.”

Touching money and then eating a sandwich with unwashed hands is kind of like putting money in your mouth. Unless you wash your hands, you could be transferring organisms from the money to your hands to the food.

Just how dirty is money? Is handling money linked to illness? I decided to see what researchers have reported.

I did not find major warnings about money handling being directly related to illness. Some researchers, however, speculated that the potential was there.

U.S. paper currency has some built-in protections. For example, the ink and paper contain fungicidal agents. With use, though, the ability of the money to ward off microorganisms is weakened. Some metals in coins have antimicrobial properties, so that is another protective feature.

Money changes hands, though. Money is handled by numerous people throughout a community and potentially, money can travel around the world in pockets and wallets.

After studying the bacterial levels on currency in their nations, New Zealand and Australian researchers found relatively low bacterial counts on their currency and coins. However, they did detect salmonella, E. coli and staphylococcus.

Although low numbers of bacteria were present, the researchers decided that more study was needed to learn whether the bacteria could be transferred to humans.

U.S. Air Force physicians helped a high school student from Ohio with a science project that examined bacteria on dollar bills. They collected the dollars from people at a concession stand during a high school athletic event and from a grocery store. Then they went to work in a lab to identify bacteria on the money.

They identified 93 types of bacteria on the bills and two out of three dollars had at least one kind of bacteria. Staphylococcus and klebsiella were among the bacteria they identified. Both of these can make you sick.

Should we be worried? We don’t live in a sterile world. Germs are all around us, on surfaces and items we touch. Fortunately for us, one of the easiest ways to protect ourselves from a variety of illnesses is simple: proper hand washing.

Be like the food service worker who is required to wash his hands frequently. Wash your hands often. Lather up for at least 20 seconds. Time yourself and see if you are shortchanging yourself on hand hygiene.

If you’ve washed your hands, you are ready to make yourself a sandwich. Here’s a novel sandwich courtesy of the Wheat Foods Council at

Pizza Salad Pita Pockets


3 6-inch whole-wheat pitas
6 leaves romaine lettuce
8 cherry tomatoes, halved (or use chopped tomatoes)
1/2 c. chopped red onion
1 c. sliced mushrooms
1 13.75-ounce can artichoke hearts, packed in water, drained and quartered
1 ounce pepperoni slices, cut in half
1/2 c. pizza sauce
1/4 c. grated low-fat mozzarella cheese
3 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
1/4 tsp. garlic powder


In a medium mixing bowl, stir together the tomatoes, onion, mushrooms, artichoke hearts, pepperoni, pizza sauce, cheese, vinegar and garlic powder. Warm in a microwave oven for about one minute. Cut each pita in half and warm in a microwave about 30 seconds. Stuff each pita with a lettuce leaf and add one-third of the pizza salad. Serve immediately.

Makes three servings. Each serving has about 370 calories, 8 grams (g) of fat, 60 g of carbohydrate and 13 g of fiber.

Fairs, Festivals May Prompt Calorie Overload


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“I shouldn’t eat this, but I can’t resist!”

“I’ve really ruined my diet now. Oh well, I’ll take seconds.”

“I’ll start eating healthier on Monday.”

Have you ever heard, or maybe said, these things?

We’re in the prime season for “food-inspired guilt.” Fairs, carnivals, festivals and all sorts of fun events are in full swing during the summer. Foods such as funnel cakes, deep-fried just about anything on a stick and deep-fried breaded cheese curds entice us with their aroma, texture and flavor.

Here’s the good news: We all have room for some treats in our diet. Note the word “some.”

As you enjoy portable treats, you might argue that you are burning off all the extra calories as you walk. Yes, walking is an excellent form of exercise. However, to burn the excess calories, you may need to walk more than you planned.

To burn the calories in one fried candy bar on a stick, plan to walk 4.5 miles. Add another 4.5 miles to your trek with an order of cheese fries. If you drink a 32-ounce regular soft drink, you will need to walk an additional 2.5 miles. Add a cotton candy and you can add another 1.5 miles.

To get some fruit, how about adding a caramel apple? They must be healthy because they’re apples, right? To burn the calories in one caramel apple, you would need to walk three miles.

Quite soon, you’re well on your way to walking a marathon. You also might need an antacid.

You can enjoy some fair food, in moderation, with these tips:

  • Plan ahead for a calorie extravaganza by eating lighter during the day. Go heavy on whole-grains, fruits, vegetables and other fiber-rich, filling foods during the day.
  • Curb your appetite with a bowl of soup or a serving of whole-grain cereal and some milk before you leave home for the activity.
  • Have water instead of soft drinks or other caloric beverages.
  • Order smaller versions of your favorite treats whenever possible. Better yet, share a small order of your favorite treat with a friend.
  • Decide ahead of time what you really want to have. Maybe a small order of cheese curds, all for yourself, is your splurge. Eat it slowly, savoring the taste.

If you’re hungry for fair food but not all the fat and calories, try this interesting twist on the classic corn dog. For more information about eating smart, visit the NDSU Extension Service website at Visit us on Facebook, too.

Baked Corn Dogs

1 package (8- to 10-ounce) corn muffin mix
5 reduced-fat hotdogs
Additional ingredients (milk, oil, egg) to prepare muffins
Nonstick cooking spray

Preheat oven to 375 F. Prepare muffin mix as directed. Coat 10 muffin cups with cooking spray. Fill muffin cups about one-quarter full of corn muffin batter. Slice each hot dog into six pieces. Place three pieces of hot dog in each muffin cup. Spoon remaining corn muffin batter on top of the hot dog pieces. Bake muffins for 20 to 25 minutes or until cooked through.

Makes 10 servings. Each serving has about 180 calories, 8 grams (g) of fat, 21 g of carbohydrate and 1 g of fiber.

Making Lunches at Home Can Save a Bundle


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I felt two sets of eyes watching me as I made a ham and cheese sandwich for my daughter to take on her school field trip. The eyes belonged to two of our dachshunds. They were licking their lips, too.

They’re hungry, I thought to myself. I filled their bowls with dog food and continued preparing food.

My other daughter decided she wanted a sandwich for breakfast, so I made another sandwich and put it on a plate. She brought it to the living room and set it on the coffee table where she was assembling her things for school. I should have put it on the kitchen table.

After the dogs finished their breakfast, it was time for them to go outside. They raced toward the patio door.

I heard a squeal. I ran into the living room just as Jake, one of the dachshunds, stood on his hind legs and gripped the side of the coffee table with his paws, leaning his head onto my daughter’s plate.

“Jake stole my sandwich!” my younger daughter yelled. She began jumping up and down.

My older daughter began wrestling with our exuberant dog, who had the sandwich firmly gripped in his teeth. She was trying to pry the sandwich out of his mouth.

“Let go. We don’t want the sandwich back,” I said.

In two gulps, the sandwich was gone. At least our dog didn’t eat anyone’s homework.

Soon I was back in the kitchen making another sandwich. Making lunches at home can be pretty exciting.

Making your lunches helps you manage calories and overall nutrition and usually saves you money, too. According to national news reports, more workers began bringing their lunch to save money during challenging economic times.

Lunch expenses vary depending on your choice of restaurant. You can get a $5 fast-food special or pay $10 or more for a sit-down lunch.

For example, if you eat lunch at restaurants five days a week at an average cost of $7, your monthly expenditure would be $140. During a year’s time, that adds up to $1,680.

Instead, if you bring your own lunch, at an average cost of $2 to $4, your yearly lunch tab would be $520 to $1,040.

Even if you enjoy an occasional lunch at a restaurant, you still could save about $1,000 a year by bringing your own lunch most of the time.

However, bringing perishable food with you carries some safety considerations. According to the standard rule of thumb, perishable foods, such as meat-containing sandwiches and leftover casseroles, should spend no more than two hours at room temperature.

To keep your lunch safe, take note of the limitations on cooking and storage at your destination. If your lunch needs refrigeration but refrigeration is not available, use frozen gel packs and an insulated cooler to keep your food cold.

Many types of sandwiches freeze well but will thaw by lunchtime if placed in a lunchbox early in the morning. You also can pack nonperishable items such as peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Here are some other lunch-packing tips:

  • To save time, pack your lunch during the cleanup after your evening meal.
  • Consider making a little extra food for dinner. Bring your “planned-overs” for lunch.
  • Pack a fruit and a vegetable to help you meet your daily fruit and veggie recommendations. For example, add some strawberries and baby carrots to round out a sandwich and yogurt.
  • Don’t reuse brown bags because bacteria can grow and contaminate tomorrow’s lunch. To keep foods cold, try one of the reusable and cleanable plastic-lined, insulated lunch bags.
  • To transport hot foods such as soup or chili, rinse a thermos with boiling water just before filling it with hot food.

Here’s a sandwich recipe courtesy of the Wheat Foods Council at Visit for more recipes and food- and nutrition-related information.

Chicken and Cashew Salad in a Pita

1/2 c. light or fat-free mayonnaise or salad dressing
1 Tbsp. reduced-sodium soy sauce
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
1 Tbsp. peanut butter
1 c. cooked, chopped chicken (such as leftover grilled chicken)
1/2 c. Chinese peapods cut in half
1/2 c. chopped red or yellow sweet peppers
1/4 c. roasted peanuts
3 whole-wheat pita breads, cut in half

Mix ingredients, except peanuts, and refrigerate at least one hour. Just before serving, stir in peanuts and spoon into pita pockets.

Makes six sandwiches, one-half sandwich per serving. Each serving has 219 calories, 8 grams (g) of fat, 25 grams of carbohydrate, 4 g of fiber and 615 milligrams of sodium.

How’s Your Iron Intake?


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“Mom, did you know that chocolate milk has 4 percent iron and white milk doesn’t have any? My friend has white milk and I have chocolate milk for lunch at school. Yeah! Chocolate milk is healthier than white milk!” my competitive, chocolate-loving daughter announced one day as she put glasses on the dinner table. She was 5 at the time.

I didn’t know that kindergartners discussed the nutrition labels on their milk cartons during school lunch.

“I guess I haven’t compared iron in different kinds of milk. Meat is the best source of iron. Milk is most important for the calcium and vitamin D it has. Did you know that your carton of milk provides about one-third of the calcium you need every day? White milk and chocolate milk have about the same amount of calcium,” I responded as I removed dinner from the oven.

“No, we just looked at the iron,” she said as she put forks on the table.

“We’re having spinach salad for dinner. Spinach has iron in it. Would you like some?” I asked, amused at the direction this conversation was going.

“Mom, I don’t like spinach. I’ll have five carrots instead of spinach. Maybe I’ll even eat six,” she bargained.

I heard her older brother chuckling from the next room. I could almost sense relief that his little sister was serving up anecdotes for my nutrition column, which often has featured him the last decade.

“How about some brown rice? That has some iron in it,” I offered.

“How much iron does it have?” she countered.

“It has 2 percent of the daily iron requirement,” I answered, looking at the package. I was a little disappointed it didn’t have more iron than chocolate milk.

“How about if I have chocolate milk instead of brown rice?” she asked.

I’m pleased to report she ate most of her brown rice and drank white milk.

Iron deficiency anemia is a common nutritional deficiency worldwide, especially among children. It can result in fatigue, learning disabilities and behavioral issues. Kids ages 4 to 8 need about 10 milligrams (mg) of iron a day because of their rapid growth and development. Kids ages 9 to 13 need 8 mg per day.

The human body needs iron to move oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. Iron is an important part of hemoglobin, which is the part of the red blood cells that carries oxygen throughout the body.

To meet your nutrition needs, eat a variety of foods, including iron-rich foods, in your meals and snacks every day. Compare nutrition labels. Many grain products are fortified with iron.

In some cases, you need an iron supplement, so check with your health-care provider for more details. Keep iron supplements out of reach of children.

These are some good sources of iron:

  • Lean meat (3.2 mg per 3-ounce patty)
  • Tuna and salmon (1.1 mg per 3 ounces)
  • Iron-enriched bread and cereals (0.9 mg per slice of bread; amount varies in cereals)
  • Cooked dried beans (4.1 mg per cup)
  • Leafy, green vegetables (1.9 mg per 1/2 cup of spinach)
  • Eggs (0.7 mg per egg)
  • Raisins (0.8 mg per 1/4 cup)

The body most easily uses the iron from meat, fish and poultry. Help your body use the iron in grains, beans and vegetables by adding a vitamin C-rich food, such as orange juice, to your menu. Include a meat product that naturally contains iron with plant-based iron sources to improve iron absorption.

Try this iron-rich recipe.

Beef and Cheddar Sloppy Joes
2 pounds ground lean beef
1 onion, chopped
1 c. ketchup
1 c. tomato juice
1 c. cheddar cheese, shredded
Salt and pepper to taste
8 whole-wheat buns

Brown meat and onion in a large skillet. Drain fat and add remaining ingredients. Simmer for about one hour. Serve on hamburger buns.

Makes eight sandwiches (eight servings). Each serving has 370 calories, 32 grams (g) of carbohydrate, 12 g of fat, 4 g of fiber, 780 mg of sodium and 4.2 mg of iron (or about 25 percent of the daily recommendation).

It’s Safe to Bite When the Temperature is Right


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“Mom, look at this hamburger. It’s a little pink inside,” my son said as he pointed his hamburger in my direction at a restaurant. He was 14 at the time.

I looked at the remaining bite of hamburger. He studied my expression.

“Am I going to get really sick?” he asked.

“You can’t tell if a burger is done by looking at its color. A brown burger isn’t necessarily fully cooked, and a pinkish burger isn’t necessarily undercooked,” I said.

“Just how sick am I going to get?” he asked, pressing for details.

“You’re probably going to be just fine because the restaurant should measure the internal temperature of the burgers,” I said. 

I hope so, anyway, I thought to myself.

I should have specified a temperature of 160 degrees, I thought to myself. Then they would be sure to measure it.

“Why can you have pink steak and not worry about it?” my then-11-year-old daughter asked.

My lunchtime was becoming a food safety lecture, but this was a teachable moment.

“On steaks and roasts, the bacteria would be on the outside of the meat. During cooking, the bacteria on the outside would be inactivated by the heat right away. When meat is ground to make burgers, the bacteria is spread throughout the meat. That’s why we use a food thermometer all the time,” I responded.

We enjoyed the rest of our lunch. My son did not get sick, much to his relief.

Many types of bacteria, including salmonella, E. coli O157:H7 and many others, can be present in meat and other foods. E. coli O157:H7 has garnered the most attention because of deadly outbreaks linked to undercooked meat and contaminated produce.

The toxin associated with E. coli O157:H7 can lead to hemolytic uremic syndrome, which in turn can result in kidney failure, brain damage, strokes and seizures. Young children, the elderly and immune-compromised individuals are among those most vulnerable to getting sick.

Meat color in the raw and cooked state has been studied by many researchers. Consumers prefer bright red meat in the meat case at grocery stores. Raw ground meat undergoes natural color changes as a result of exposure to oxygen.

You may note that the meat on the outside of a package of fresh ground beef may be redder than the meat inside. When meat is red, myoglobin (a pigment) is in its most oxygenated form, called oxymyoglobin. When the pigment is not exposed to air, the pigment converts to another form, metmyoglobin, which is grayish brown.

Meat that starts out slightly brown may look “done” sooner.

Kansas State University researchers reported that one in four burgers turned brown before the meat reached a safe internal temperature. Other researchers have reported that meat as low as 131 degrees looked well done.

The color that meat turns during cooking can vary depending on the age of the animal, whether the meat was frozen previously and the length of the thawing time.

Because of these issues, food safety educators have stepped up their efforts to teach and encourage people to use food thermometers. Remember this slogan from Thermy, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s mascot: “It’s Safe to Bite When the Temperature is Right.”

For safety, don’t go by visual cues. Cook hamburgers to a minimum internal temperature of 160 degrees. Be sure to clean your food thermometer thoroughly, too.

Visit the NDSU Extension Service food safety resource page at for more information about food safety whether you are going camping or planning family reunions and graduation parties.

Here’s a tasty recipe with food safety instructions from the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service.

Fiesta Burgers

1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef
1/4 c. onion, chopped
2 Tbsp. red bell pepper, finely chopped
3 Tbsp. picante sauce or salsa
2 tsp. prepared Dijon-style mustard
1 Tbsp. prepared horseradish (optional)
salt and pepper to taste
4 sesame seed hamburger buns
leaf lettuce and sliced tomatoes

Wash hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds before handling the meat. In a bowl, mix the ground beef with onion, red pepper, picante sauce or salsa, mustard, horseradish (if desired), salt and pepper. Form into four burgers, each about 3/4 inch thick. Wash hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds after handling the meat. Using utensils, place burgers on a grill that has reached medium-high heat. Check each burger with a food thermometer after approximately 10 to 15 minutes. Turn burgers as needed. A hamburger is done when it reaches 160 degrees. Clean the thermometer between uses with hot, soapy water. Place burgers on buns and top with condiments and garnishes of choice. After measuring the final temperature, remember to clean the food thermometer with hot, soapy water.

Makes four servings. Each serving has 430 calories, 19 grams (g) of fat, 25 g of carbohydrate, 460 milligrams of sodium and 25 percent of the daily value for iron.


Try More Disease-fighting Berries

photo courtesy of

“Mom, my strawberries are growing. Come and see them!” my daughter told me one spring day a few years ago.I followed her outside and sure enough, the free plant she had received at a 4-H gardening meeting had spread and 42 berries were nestled in the foliage.

We counted the berries. Twice.

As summer progressed, she watched her berries ripen, protected them from birds with netting and has happily eaten her berries. She even shared a naturally sweet berry or two with me.

I felt as though she was sharing some prized candy with me.

During May, strawberries are “in season” in grocery stores, so they typically are at their best quality and price. Whether you grow them, pick them at a “pick-your-own” patch or in the wild, or buy them at grocery stores or farmers markets, berries are good for your health.

Berries are a colorful addition to our plates and contribute cancer-fighting antioxidants, which protect our cells from damage. Blue and red berries get their color from “anthocyanins,” which are natural pigments that act as antioxidants.

Eating a colorful, antioxidant-rich diet may reduce our risk of certain types of cancer and heart disease. In a 2004 U.S. Department of Agriculture study, researchers tested more than 100 commonly eaten foods. The top 11 foods in terms of antioxidant capacity included wild and cultivated blueberries, cranberries, blackberries, raspberries and strawberries.

Naturally sweet berries are a dieter’s dream, too. A cup of blueberries has about 85 calories and a cup of strawberries just 56 calories. Berries provide vitamin C, folate (a B vitamin) and fiber.

Besides helping protect us from cancer and heart disease, berries may protect our brain, too. In studies with mice, blueberry extracts have shown promise in reversing age-related declines in memory.

You may have seen dietary supplements that promise you can skip your fruits and/or veggies and opt for a “fruit and veggie pill” instead. Don’t believe all the dietary supplement claims, though. Fruits and vegetables are complex mixtures of natural chemicals. Nutrition experts recommend enjoying the whole food instead of an isolated substance.

Enjoy more tasty, colorful berries with these tips:

  • Wash berries right before eating and clean strawberries with the stem intact.
  • Sprinkle some berries on your breakfast cereal.
  • No time for breakfast? Place some frozen berries and yogurt in a blender, blend one minute, pour in a cup and be on your way.
  • Make a fresh fruit salsa with strawberries, apples and cilantro. Serve as a side dish with grilled fish.
  • Make a snack mix with your favorite whole-grain cereal and dried cranberries and blueberries.
  • Add blackberries and strawberries to salad greens, such as spinach or romaine.
  • Make a parfait by layering berries and fat-free vanilla or lemon yogurt in a glass.
  • If you buy extra berries, freeze some to enjoy later.  Wash them, blot with a paper towel, lay them in a single layer on a tray, freeze for an hour or two and package in freezer bags labeled with the date.

Wouldn’t some berries be a tasty snack right now? Try this smoothie for a quick breakfast or snack. For more information and recipes, visit

Blueberry Smoothie

3/4 c. unsweetened 100 percent orange or pineapple juice
1/2 c. fruit-flavored low-fat yogurt
1 c. frozen, unsweetened blueberries

Blend all ingredients well in a blender. Serve.

Makes one serving. Each serving has 250 calories, 2.5 grams (g) of fat, 51 g of carbohydrate, 5 g of fiber, 6 g of protein and 95 milligrams of sodium.