Which Flowers Are Edible?

IMG_7415The blooming flowers at this time of the year look good enough to eat. Some actually are.

Many flower varieties are edible, but before you munch on the centerpiece, you need to do your homework. Some flower varieties are poisonous, or at least could cause allergic reactions or stomach upset.

For example, apple blossoms should be tasted in moderation because the flowers contain chemicals related to cyanide. Chamomile commonly used in teas can cause allergic reactions among people with ragweed allergies. Too many daylilies can have a laxative effect.

Flowers have been used as food throughout history, from the use of squash blossoms in Asian culture to roses in Italian culture. More recently, chefs and cake decorators have used flowers as garnishes.

Edible flowers can be floated on soups or in punch bowls. They can be frozen in ice cubes or ice rings. Brightly colored edible petals can be sprinkled over salads. Besides serving as the finishing touch, flowers have made their way into the main course or side dishes.

Some of the common edible flower varieties are the petals of roses, begonias, chrysanthemums, daisies, pansies, violets, nasturtiums, impatiens and daylilies. Not only can flowers add color, they also can add flavor. Flowers differ in taste from mintlike to peppery.

Here are some tips to consider before eating the bouquet:

  • Know your flower varieties. Consult with an expert or use a reputable plant identification guide. Remember that flowers used as plate garnishes aren’t necessarily edible.
  • Be aware that people affected by allergies, hay fever or asthma could react to flowers used in food preparation.
  • Avoid flowers that have been exposed to pesticides unless the pesticides are labeled for use on edible flowers and the label directions have been followed. Avoid using flowers grown by the roadside because they may have been exposed to pesticides. Flowers from florists or garden centers also likely have been treated with pesticides and are best left off the menu.
  • Pick fully open edible flowers after morning dew has evaporated. Use right away or refrigerate between layers of damp paper toweling.
  • Remove pollen-containing stamens and pistils from flowers. Pollen can detract from flavor. Pollen also can cause allergic reactions.
  • Gently wash flower petals right before use.

Slowly introduce edible flowers into your menu to avoid potential stomach upset.

For further information, the North Carolina State University Cooperative Extension Service has an online publication with information about growing edible flowers and the flavors of edible flowers. It is available at http://gardening.ces.ncsu.edu/2014/10/choosing-and-using-edible-flowers/.

Here’s a tasty veggie dip. Try it with or without added nasturtium petals. The light versions of cream cheese and mayonnaise cut calories and fat.

Veggie Dip

1/4 c. hot water
2 tsp. beef bouillon powder
1 8-oz. package light cream cheese
1/2 c. light mayonnaise
4 large green onions, chopped
1/3 c. chopped red, orange and yellow nasturtium petals, chopped (optional)

Dissolve beef powder in hot water. Chop onions, tops included. Mix ingredients and chill. Before serving, mix in chopped flowers if desired. Be sure flowers have not been in contact with pesticides, and wash carefully. Garnish with additional flowers if desired. Serve with assorted fresh vegetables.

Makes 16 servings. Each serving has 50 calories, 4.5 grams (g) fat, 2 g carbohydrate, 1 g protein and 230 milligrams sodium.

Be Good Food Role Model for Your Kids

Photo by Kakisky courtesy of morguefile.com

Photo by Kakisky courtesy of morguefile.com

Whenever September rolls around, I recall being stranded in Dallas during the time of the 9/11 attack in 2001. I was unable to get a flight home for several days. My husband was at home caring for our two energetic young children.

I had been at a nutrition conference that ended abruptly for all practical purposes. Like the rest of the country, nearly all of us attendees were glued to our TV sets in our hotel rooms.

When I finally was able to get a flight home, I was met at the airport as usual by my husband, our then-6-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter, who was carrying a jumbo bag of potato chips about half her size. Her mouth was surrounded by melted chocolate. Our son was lobbying for control of the chips, but she was being feisty.

My harried husband looked at me a little sheepishly. “The soda pop is in the car,” he said, then added,  “but it’s diet pop.”

“OK,” I replied as I picked up my chocolate-faced little daughter. I almost burst out laughing for the first time in a week.

I was so tired after being stranded in Dallas, and so thankful to be home, that we left it at that. I reminded myself that there’s room in the diet for occasional treats, but the important thing is that the overall diet remain healthful.

When providing food for children, parents and children have a division of responsibility, according to child nutrition expert Ellyn Satter. The caregiver’s responsibilities for young children include selecting and buying food, preparing the meals, presenting the food, ensuring pleasant meal times and defining appropriate behavior for meals.

The caregiver is not responsible for how much – or even if – the child eats. Children need to have some latitude to make their own decisions about food choices, so be sure that healthful food choices are available.

When preparing food for children, remember they’re not mini-adults. Remember, too, that they’re more likely to follow what you do, rather than what you say. If you’re extolling the virtues of fresh vegetables while chomping on a brownie, they’ll likely go for the chocolate at the next opportunity.

Children do, however, need the same variety of foods based on “MyPlate.gov,” but their portion sizes are generally smaller. Children can be overwhelmed by adult-size portions.

Overweight among children continues to be an issue in the U.S., but that doesn’t mean that adult diets should be imposed upon children. Children under age 2 should not follow a low-fat eating plan because fat in the diet is needed for the development of their nervous systems and body cells.

Between ages 2 and 5, the fat intake in children’s diets may be reduced gradually. This can be accomplished in part by switching from whole to low-fat milk and by incorporating more fruits, vegetables and whole grains in the diet. To help moderate calories in the diets of anyone over age 2, try these strategies:

  • Choose lean cuts of meat.
  • Choose low-fat or nonfat versions of dairy products.
  • Read and compare Nutrition Facts labels.
  • Instead of solid fats, use oils.
  • When preparing food, trim visible fat from meat.
  • Use cooking methods such as broiling, roasting, baking, steaming or grilling to cook foods.
  • Spoon fat from soups or meats after they have been chilled.
  • Substitute low-fat yogurt, sour cream or cottage cheese for sour cream and mayonnaise.

Here’s a health-promoting twist on a kids’ favorite, macaroni and cheese.

Make-over Macaroni and Cheese

1 box macaroni and cheese (with the powdered cheese sauce)
2 tablespoons skim milk
2 ounces grated mozzarella cheese

Cook the noodles according to the package directions, omitting salt. Drain, then add milk and cheese instead of butter or margarine called for on the package. Mix well to coat evenly. Add contents of the cheese sauce packet; mix well. Serve immediately.

Makes four 1/2-cup servings. Each serving contains 230 calories, 5 grams (g) fat, 35 g carbohydrate, 12 g protein and 500 milligrams of sodium.

Seven Ways to Use Zucchini

Lock your car doors. Post a guard by your front steps. Keep a close eye on your purse or briefcase at work. Zucchini are back. If you don’t take some precautions, your car, front steps or bag might be filled with some of the long-necked green guests.

That prolific summer squash can make people snicker at the mere mention of its name. Although it’s the recipient of countless wisecracks at this time of the year, zucchini are quite versatile on the menu. They can’t help that they grow so well.

Zucchini brings out creativity in chefs. Hundreds of recipes – and even entire cookbooks – are devoted to this relative of cucumbers and melons. Zucchini can be eaten raw or cooked. Salads, side dishes, breads and even cakes make use of this mild-tasting fruit (so designated because of its seeds) that’s used as a vegetable.

“Zucchini” comes from the Italian word “zucchino,” which means “small squash.” Some trace its history back to Mexican origins in 7000 B.C. Zucchini probably was part of the “three sisters” diet mainstays: corn, beans and squash. Early explorers found it interesting and brought it back to Europe.

Nutritionally, zucchini are very low in calories, mainly because they are composed of about 95 percent water. A serving, about half of a medium-size zucchini (approximately 3.5 ounces), contains only 20 calories, no fat, 1 gram of fiber and no sodium. A serving also provides one-fourth of the daily recommendation for vitamin C, plus some compounds the body can convert to vitamin A.

When choosing zucchini, look for a smooth squash with a dark green, shiny rind and no signs of injury. Smaller zucchini will be more tender than larger zucchini. Store zucchini in the refrigerator.

So, what can you do with the bushel of zucchini you suspect your neighbor generously left in your driveway? Here are six ways to use zucchini and a recipe for a seventh way.

  • Make an orange and green salad from shredded carrots and zucchini. Add your favorite dressing.
  • Make zucchini sticks and serve with low-calorie dip.
  • Place chunks of zucchini on skewers, along with your favorite meat and vegetables, and grill.
  • Peel and slice zucchini; saute with chopped onions in olive oil or vegetable broth for a tasty side dish.
  • Hollow out zucchini and stuff with chopped mushrooms, peppers, onions and tomatoes. Add your favorite herbs and bake for about 45 minutes.
  • Make zucchini quick bread or muffins.

Here’s an eighth way:  If you have ample zucchini left at season’s end, remember, they make great compost. Also, save some seeds. Plant them next spring and be generous to your friends and neighbors this time next year.

Here’s a vegetable side dish that makes good use of summer’s bounty, whether you grew it or not.

Lean and Easy Ratatouille

1 medium onion, chopped
1 tsp. olive oil
1 small eggplant, peeled and cubed
2 small zucchini, cubed
3 medium tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
1/4 c. fresh parsley, minced
3 Tbsp. tomato paste 2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. dried basil
1 tsp. dried thyme
1 Tbsp. white wine vinegar

Combine the onion and oil in a 3-quart casserole dish. Cover with plastic wrap, venting on the sides, and microwave on high for 1 1/2 minutes, or until the onions are tender. Stir in the eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes, pepper, parsley, tomato paste, garlic, basil and thyme. Cover again and microwave on high, stirring occasionally for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender. Stir in the vinegar. Let stand about five minutes.

Makes six servings. Each serving has 90 calories, 1 gram (g) fat, 3 g protein, 17 g carbohydrate, 5 g fiber and 25 milligrams sodium.

 

Making Jelly at Home Stirs Memories

One of my older daughter’s favorite children’s books featured Frances, a finicky little badger who prefers bread and jam over most foods. Her parents offer eggs and all sorts of other foods to entice her, but Frances only wants bread and jam for most of the book.

Most of us can relate to this imaginary character. We like certain foods more than others, and we may even get on an occasional “food jag,” where we eat a fairly monotonous diet. Most often, people are “repeat customers” for foods because they like the taste of the food.

Food is more than flavor, though. It has many meanings. Some foods bring us comfort and stir vivid memories. You might remember grandma or mom opening a jar of homemade jelly or jam to serve with homemade, bread fresh out of the oven. Maybe you almost can smell the aroma of the bread and taste the sweetness of the jam.

In recent years, many people have renewed their interest in home food preservation. Salsas, jams and jellies are some of the popular items that people preserve at home. Jams and jellies are a good starting point if you want to explore food preservation.

Let’s start with some terminology. Jams and jellies are not the same, nor are marmalades and preserves. Jellies are thickened, sweetened fruit juices without chunks of fruit. Jams are thick spreads that contain some crushed or chopped fruit. Marmalades are somewhat of a combination of jellies and jams, with uniform-size pieces of fruit or fruit peel evenly suspended in a transparent jelly. Preserves are small chunks of fruit in slightly gelled syrup.

Making jams and jellies does not require a lot of equipment or ingredients, and many research-tested recipes are available to get you started. A note of caution: Great-grandma’s method of using paraffin wax to seal jelly jars is no longer recommended. As a safety and quality precaution, jams and jellies should be heat-treated in a boiling water-bath canner for five to 10 minutes, too.

To make jelly, you will need fruit, sugar and sometimes pectin, depending on the fruit. Pectin is a carbohydrate naturally present in many fruits and acts as a gelling agent in jellies and jams. In general, the riper the fruit, the less pectin it contains. Commercial pectin is available in stores in dry and syrup forms. Sometimes the jelly requires an added acid, such as lemon juice, for gelling to occur.

As a rule of thumb, use a mixture of about three-quarters ripe and one-quarter underripe fruit when making jelly without added pectin. If the jelly recipe calls for a particular type of pectin, use the kind that’s recommended or you may end up with pancake syrup.

If you have a lot of apples this year, consider making some into jelly. This recipe is from one of our food preservation publications, “Jams and Jellies from North Dakota Fruits.” Other recipes in the publication include wild plum jam, chokecherry jelly, gooseberry jam and wild grape jelly. It’s online at www.ag.ndsu.edu/food (click on “Food Preservation” and then “Jams and Jellies”).

Apple or Crab Apple Jelly

 4 c. crab apple juice (about 3 pounds crab apples and 3 c. water)
4 c. sugar

To prepare juice, select firm, crisp crab apples, about one-quarter firm to ripe and three-quarters fully ripe. Sort, wash and remove stem and blossom ends, but do not pare or core. Cut crab apples into small pieces. Add water, cover and bring to boil on high heat. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 to 25 minutes or until crab apples are soft. Extract juice and pour into jelly bag (available where canning supplies are sold). To make jelly, sterilize canning jars and measure juice into saucepot. Add sugar and stir well. Boil over high heat to 8 degrees above the boiling point of water (approximately 220 degrees, depending on where you live) or until jelly mixture sheets from spoon. Remove from heat and quickly skim off foam. Pour jelly immediately into hot canning jars, leaving 1/4-inch head space. Wipe jar rims and adjust lids. Adjust lids and process in a boiling water-bath canner for five minutes for pints at altitudes from 0 to 1,000 feet or for 10 minutes for altitudes from 1,001 to 6,000 feet. Yields four to five half-pints.

One tablespoon of jelly has about 50 calories, 13 grams of carbohydrate and no fat.

 

What’s Your Favorite Comfort Food?

When you are angry, bored or frustrated, what kinds of food do you seek? If you’re like some of the people who’ve been in studies, you’d reach for foods that are crunchy. Maybe you feel like biting something.

While potato chips fit in the crunchy food category, a healthier option would be baby carrots or a crisp apple.

When you’re feeling sad or lonely, what foods would you pursue? Research subjects often want soups or other warm foods that remind them of the cozy feelings of home. Maybe that means Mom’s recipe for meatballs and gravy.

Interestingly, people may crave sweet foods and cereal-based foods when they are feeling amused, or on the other side of the spectrum, depressed.

People respond differently to stress. Some find their hearts racing and their palms sweaty. Others become irritable or experience headaches, body aches or sleepless nights. Appetite often is affected when people are feeling anxious or upset. Many people lose their appetites and may find their favorite foods unappealing. They may have to remind themselves to eat.

Others seek out certain foods that bring them psychological comfort. Maybe that means bowls of ice cream, sweet, chewy brownies, doughnuts, bags of chips or other foods that they usually limit in their daily diet. In these cases, eating becomes a distraction – something to keep their hands busy – but not necessarily something that brings enjoyment.

Psychologists have found that food has many more meanings than simply satisfying hunger pangs. People vary greatly in what brings them comfort in stressful times.

Supplement manufacturers may tempt us with special stress formulas high in certain B vitamins, but most experts agree you don’t really need them if you are eating foods.

When confronted with stressful times, try to eat a variety of foods from all the food groups. Because we’re all unique, choose textures and temperatures that bring you comfort, whether that is crunchy, smooth, warm or cold.

While some people may crave mashed potatoes when they’re stressed, one thing’s for sure: Don’t be a couch potato. Regular physical activity can help reduce feelings of fear, anxiety and depression. Physical activity also can help you sleep better and improve your feelings of self- confidence and self-control.

If that’s not motivating evidence, consider that regular physical activity also helps control weight, strengthens bones, reduces risk of colon cancer and heart disease, and helps control blood sugar levels among diabetics.

No time for fitness, you say? Try sneaking more activity into your day with these tips. You might find that you are no longer reaching for a comforting food item:

  • Enjoy a walk instead of a doughnut during breaks at work.
  • Walk while you talk on your phone.
  • Hide the remote control so you have to get off the couch to change the channel.
  • Play with your children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews or your pets.
  • Exercise during TV commercials.
  • Ignore the elevator and opt for the steps.
  • Go dancing, or just turn on the radio and move.

If you’re feeling that nothing but mashed potatoes will take the edge off your stress, try this tasty recipe. Potatoes are notable sources of the mineral potassium and several other vitamins and minerals. I shaved some calories from the original recipe by using fat-free cream cheese and reduced-fat sour cream, and nipped the sodium by swapping some onion powder for the onion salt. Small recipe changes add up to big nutritional changes.

Make-ahead Mashed Potatoes

5 pounds potatoes, peeled and cooked
6 ounces cream cheese, fat-free
1 c. sour cream, reduced fat
1 Tbsp. butter
2 tsp. onion salt
1 tsp. onion powder
1/4 c. milk (or to desired consistency)

Crumb topping: 3/4 cup fine bread crumbs tossed with 1 1/2 Tbsp. melted butter

Combine potatoes, cream cheese, sour cream, butter, salt and milk. Whip until light and fluffy. Put into a well-greased casserole dish. Cover with crumb topping. Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. This dish can be prepared the night before and refrigerated. If you make it ahead, allow about 1 1/4 hours of cooking time.

Makes 16 servings. Each serving has 150 calories, 4 grams (g) fat, 24 g carbohydrate, 4 g protein, 2 g fiber and 330 milligrams sodium.

Try a Peachy Menu Option During Peach Season

The names of some fruits have become descriptive words in the English language. Being the “apple” of someone’s eye is generally a good thing. Buying a “lemon” for a car is not. And you definitely want to be around someone who’s a real “peach.”

Peaches once were thought to bestow immortality. Bowls containing the remains of peaches have been found by archaeologists in 2,000-year-old tombs of Chinese dignitaries.

According to most historians, peaches originated in China and were carried to the rest of the world through Persia, or Iran. In Latin, “peach” translates to “Persian plum.” In the 16th century, Spaniards brought peaches to what is now Florida and Mexico. Now California, Georgia and South Carolina are leading peach producers in the U.S.

Peaches are a healthful addition to the diet. A medium peach contains about 40 to 50 calories and provides vitamin C and fiber, along with a refreshing flavor. Add some variety to your menu by topping cereal, pancakes or ice cream with fresh peaches. Or make a fruit smoothie by blending yogurt, peaches and ice cubes in a blender.

At the grocery store, you may be faced with choosing “freestone” or “cling” peaches. Most common are freestone peaches, which have a pit that easily falls out, making canning and fruit preparation fairly easy. The pit in cling peaches is more difficult to remove.

Choose peaches that have a characteristic aroma or color, are free of blemishes and yield to gentle pressure. Ripen peaches by placing them in loose paper bags at room temperature. After they are ripe, they should be refrigerated.

Peaches can be washed and eaten without peeling. If you do not enjoy the “fuzziness” of peach skin on your palate, peeling them is easy. Submerge them in boiling water for about a half-minute, then remove them and plunge them into cold water.

Peaches can be preserved by canning, making jams, drying or freezing. Peaches contain enzymes that cause browning after the peel is removed, so you must use lemon or lime juice or commercial antioxidants to prevent this process from happening during canning or freezing.

Visit https://www.ag.ndsu.edu/publications/landing-pages/food-and-nutrition/preserve-peaches-fn-1762 to check out our new peach-canning guide.

Meat with fruit-based accompaniments has become quite popular. Here’s a tasty recipe from the California Tree Fruit Agreement.

Peachy Parmesan Chicken

4 half chicken breasts, boned, skinned
2 Tbsp. dijon-style mustard
1/4 lb. prosciutto (thinly sliced ham may be substituted)
2 Tbsp. flour
1/2 tsp. tarragon
1 egg, slightly beaten
1/3 c. Parmesan cheese, grated
1/2 c. dry fine bread crumbs
4 Tbsp. melted butter
4 Tbsp. white wine (or substitute chicken broth)
3 medium fresh peaches, sliced

Pound chicken breasts between wax paper until 1/8 inch thick. Spread mustard on one side of chicken; top with prosciutto or ham. Roll up chicken breast and secure with toothpicks. Mix flour with tarragon. Mix bread crumbs with Parmesan. Dip chicken roll-up in flour mixture, then egg, then in bread crumb mixture. Heat 2 Tbsp. butter in 8- by 8-inch ovenproof pan. Put chicken roll-ups in melted butter. Bake in 375 degree oven for 20 minutes. Add peach slices. Mix remaining melted butter with wine (or broth); sprinkle over chicken. Bake 15 minutes. Chicken should reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees. Serve with pan juices. (Prosciutto is found in deli sections of many grocery stores.)

Makes four servings. Each serving has 400 calories, 20 g fat, 28 g protein, 25 g carbohydrate, 2 g fiber and 1250 mg sodium.

Add Some Blueberries to Your Plate

While at a county fair last week, I noticed a boy grinning at his friends. He had bright blue teeth courtesy of the blue snow cone he was enjoying.

Seeing him made me think of my son at the same age. Whenever blue was an option for snow cones or other treats, my son used to choose the food with his favorite color. He really enjoyed getting a blue tongue and lips to show me.

Few blue foods exist in nature, but some artificially colored blue foods are on grocery store shelves. Blue gelatin was a hit, along with a cereal that colored the milk blue.

Artificial colorants are considered safe food additives, according to the Food and Drug Administration, but they do not provide the health benefits linked with naturally occurring pigments. According to researchers, adding more natural colorants to your diet is good for your health.

Blueberries in particular are linked with health benefits. According to a U.S. Department of Agriculture study of more than 40 fruits and vegetables, blueberries ranked high in antioxidant activity. A 1/2-cup serving of blueberries had as much “antioxidant power” as five servings of other fruits and vegetables.

Antioxidants help neutralize the damaging effects of “free radicals,” substances that damage DNA and cell membranes. The damage caused by free radicals is linked with cancer, heart disease and the aging process.

Scientists extracted the protective chemicals from blueberries, strawberries and spinach. They fed aging rats a diet rich in one of the extracts. The rats fed blueberry extract came out on top in tests of balance and coordination. Blueberry and strawberry extracts were associated with protection against age-related changes in the brain. Rats fed any of the extracts performed better in memory-associated tasks than the rats that didn’t consume the extract.

However, if you have a test to take,  don’t expect that eating blueberries will have an immediate effect.

Other research has linked blueberries and other antioxidant-rich foods with protection against heart disease and stroke. Blueberries also may provide protection from urinary tract infection.

Research continues to grow regarding the health benefits of eating plenty of fruits and vegetables daily. Enjoy the benefits of colorful produce. Visit https://www.ag.ndsu.edu/publications/landing-pages/food-and-nutrition/what-color-is-your-food-fn595 to view the NDSU Extension Service publication “What Color is Your Food?”

Experiment a little. Make a frosty berry smoothie by blending 1/2 cup of yogurt, 1/2  cup of orange juice and 1/2 cup of frozen berries. Top frozen yogurt with berries.

Or try this tasty blueberry and granola snack from the North American Blueberry Council.

Blueberry Granola Bars

1/2 c. honey
1/4 c. firmly packed brown sugar
3 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 1/2 c. quick-cooking oats
2 c. fresh blueberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9- by 9-inch square baking pan. In a medium saucepan, combine honey, brown sugar, oil and cinnamon. Bring to a boil and boil for two minutes; do not stir. In a large mixing bowl, combine oats and blueberries. Stir in honey mixture until thoroughly blended. Spread into prepared pan, gently pressing mixture flat. Bake until lightly browned, about 40 minutes. Cool completely in the pan on a wire rack. Cut into 1 1/2- by 3-inch bars.

Makes 18 servings. Each serving has 100 calories, 3 grams (g) fat, 1 g protein, 18 g carbohydrate, 1 g fiber and 0 milligrams sodium.

 

Have Fun and Stay Healthy on a North Dakota Road Trip

I recall a family vacation we took through North Dakota several years ago when our kids were 4, 9 and 12.

“Wow, Mom, this is an animal vacation!” our daughter exclaimed. She was 9 at the time.

“It’s more like ‘Animal House’ in this vehicle,” I replied, glancing over my shoulder at our energetic children. We had a portable DVD player, but I wanted them to view the prairie, so the entertainment center was in my custody. They were getting rambunctious, so we began playing road trip games such as “I spy with my little eye.”

We were driving west on Interstate 94 on our trip from Fargo to Dickinson for a wedding reception. Yes, we saw numerous animals: statues, domestic and wild.

We also did a fair amount of eating in the van. At times, unfortunately, it looked as though animals had been living in our vehicle, according to my husband.

After 100 miles of driving, my kids were ready for a snack and a physical activity break in Jamestown. Stopping every 100 miles or so is a good plan when you’re on the road. The stretch breaks allow a chance for physical activity.

In Jamestown, also known as the Buffalo City, we stopped to see the huge buffalo statue on the hill. It was getting a fresh paint job at the time. Our kids ran around the Pioneer Village in Jamestown and got a sample of early North Dakota life.

I pulled out the trail mix, which included peanuts, cashews, raisins and a few chocolate candy pieces. Bringing our own snacks allowed me to choose some more healthful options than many of the treats that tempt children and adults at convenience stores.

Try prepackaging snacks in lock-type sandwich bags to help manage portion sizes. Bring a cooler filled with ice, too. Keep perishable items, such as milk, string cheese and cut-up fruit, on ice.

I was pleasantly surprised to see a bowl of oranges, apples and bananas for sale at a couple of gas stations along the way to western North Dakota. You can find more healthful options if you compare Nutrition Facts labels, too.

We visited a friend on her ranch, so my kids got a taste of ranch life. They led a horse around her yard, saw cattle and sheep up close and viewed a family of badgers, fortunately from a distance. A king-sized jackrabbit hopped by us.

We stopped in Bismarck and stayed the night. That was a good opportunity for more physical activity in the warm pool.

The next morning, we drove past New Salem and stopped to see Salem Sue, the world’s largest cow statue. My kids had the opportunity to burn off some energy climbing to the top of the hill and seeing a grand view. Yes, the camera came out for a few photos.

We had some pretzels with nonfat milk and 100 percent juice. Baby carrots and grapes are other types of healthful “road food.” Don’t forget some wet wipes to clean your hands, too.

We took a side trip off Interstate 94 down the Enchanted Highway, a 32-mile stretch between Gladstone and Regent. We saw huge junk metal sculptures, including deer, grasshoppers, fish and pheasants. We also saw numerous live pheasants darting in and out of the ditches along the way.

We spent part of a day in Medora, a major tourist destination with several playgrounds for children and a famous musical. We saw a family of antelope perched on a butte and, later, one bouncing across a field. Next time, we’ll visit the really old animals at the Dickinson dinosaur museum.

Head into the great backyard of North Dakota this summer. View the wildlife, the lush green pastures and colorful Badlands and enjoy some physical activity and healthful snacks along the way. Visit www.ndtourism.com/ for more information about North Dakota attractions, Here’s a snack mix that will keep outdoor adventurers energetic on the trails.

Fiesta Mix

1 c. whole-grain cereal with fruit
1 c. Chex-type bran cereal
1 c. O-type cereal
1/4 c. raisins or dried cranberries
1/4 c. peanuts
1/4 c. shredded coconut

Mix together and scant half-cup portions in lock-type sandwich bags for quick snacks.

Makes eight servings. Each serving has 110 calories, 4.5 grams (g) fat, 3 g protein, 17 g carbohydrate, 2 g fiber and 80 milligrams of sodium.

Spillin’ the Beans About Getting Kids to Eat Vegetables

If I placed all the green beans I cut as a child from end to end, they’d probably reach from Fargo to Jamestown. Maybe the trail of beans only seems to have covered 100 miles.

I became quite efficient at cutting beans after modifying my cutting techniques. I tried several different knives and finally decided a pair of scissors was my best option.

I guess I learned something about trial and error and the scientific method in the process. When I applied my bean-cutting techniques to the bushels of rhubarb I also cut up, it didn’t work so well.

Besides cutting the beans, I had helped plant them. When they appeared on the menu, I ate them, too. Maybe my parents were onto something.

Summertime brings opportunities to teach children about growing food and helping with food preparation. Many vegetables are at the peak of their nutritional value and flavor. They’re less expensive in season, too. Fresh radishes, lettuce, beans, tomatoes, peppers, squash and all the other colorful fresh produce items add nutritious variety to summertime menus.

Reaching the goal of eating about 4 1/2 cups of fruits and vegetables daily may seem a little easier with the wide array of summertime produce. With all the farmers markets cropping up, you don’t even have to grow produce yourself.

If you’re in the market for green beans, look for blemish-free long, straight pods. They should snap easily when bent. Store fresh green beans unwashed in plastic bags in a refrigerator. A serving (1/2 cup) has about 20 calories, 4 grams of carbohydrate and no fat, plus a little vitamin A.

At home, wash beans and other fresh produce thoroughly under cool running water. Don’t use detergent. Beans can be left whole, or cut diagonally or “French-cut” in long strips. Nutrients are better preserved with less cutting and less exposure of the surface area to cooking water.

Cook beans for about four minutes in a small amount of boiling water and serve. Enjoy green beans in stir-fry, or try the youngest, most tender beans raw.

Here’s a recipe for green beans, where cutting is not required. I wish I had known about this recipe when I was a kid.

Snappy Green Beans With Basil Dip

1/2 lb. fresh green beans, washed and stemmed
1/3 c. low-fat mayonnaise or salad dressing
2 Tbsp. low-fat milk
1 tsp. onion powder
1 Tbsp. fresh basil, chopped (or substitute 1/2 to 1 tsp. dried basil, to taste)

Wash beans well and snap off the ends. Mix all ingredients except green beans. Refrigerate until serving time. To serve, place small serving bowl with dip in center of serving platter. Surround with green beans.

Makes four servings. Each serving (beans and dip) has about 80 calories, 7 grams (g) fat, 6 g carbohydrate, 1 g protein, 2 g fiber and 160 milligrams of sodium.

Are You Sun Savvy?

When spring arrived, I pulled out the floppy-brimmed hats, along with our gardening tools, mower, balls and bats. I put away all the mittens, scarves and other winter items. Now that summer has arrived fully, here’s a refresher about safety and the sun.

On the nutrition and health side, exposure to sunlight helps our body manufacture some vitamin D. However, according to some studies, we need only about 15 minutes of sun exposure without sunscreen twice a week to make adequate vitamin D.

Adequate vitamin D helps build and maintain strong bones, plus it may help protect us from heart disease, cancer and other diseases. Many people are deficient in vitamin D, especially during our long winter months when standing outdoors for 15 minutes is not very practical.

Few foods naturally contain vitamin D. Some that do are salmon, tuna and eggs. Fortified foods, such as milk, some types of orange juice, yogurt and cereal, also provide vitamin D. Read the food labels to learn more.

As we enjoy the warmth of the summer sun and stock up on vitamin D, we also need to take a few precautions. Try this true/false quiz:

  1. True or false: You can get sunburned on a cloudy day.
  2. True or false: Vehicle windows do not block the rays of the sun.
  3. True or false: The majority of people diagnosed with melanoma are white men more than  50 years old.
  4. True or false: One in five Americans will develop some form of skin cancer during his/her lifetime.

All these statements are true.

While everyone is at risk for skin cancer, some people are at a higher risk. If you use a tanning bed, you are at higher risk for skin cancer. Tanning beds are on the list of “known carcinogens,” according to the Food and Drug Administration.

Having a family history of skin cancer, lots of moles or freckles, fair skin, blue or green eyes and/or naturally blonde, red or light brown hair also puts you at a higher risk. If you do not use sunscreen with a sun protection factor of at least 30, you are at a higher risk for skin cancer.

Just one severe sunburn doubles your risk of developing skin cancer. That is why covering up in the sun is so important. Hats with 3-inch brims all the way around, long-sleeved shirts, sunglasses and sunscreen are a must.

Be sure to apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen 20 minutes before sun exposure and reapply every two hours. You also need to reapply your sunscreen after sweating, getting wet or towel drying.

Be sure to do regular self-skin exams and remember “ABCD.” Look for “assymetrical” spots, “borders” that are irregular and a “color” that is uneven or that has changed. Look for moles or suspicious spots with a “diameter” larger than the size of a pencil eraser.

Be sun savvy. Protect yourself from skin cancer. Visit http://www.cancer.org for more sun-safe tips.

This recipe provides some vitamin D from the tuna. Complete your menu with a glass of vitamin D-fortified milk and your favorite fruit.

Tuna Salsa Wraps

1 (7-oz.) can tuna, drained and flaked
1/4 c. light mayonnaise
1 tsp. yellow mustard
1/2 c. salsa
1/4 c. shredded carrots
6 large corn or flour tortillas
1 1/2 c. shredded lettuce
3/4 c. mild shredded cheddar cheese

Warm the tortillas according to the instructions on the package. In a small bowl, combine the first five ingredients in the order given. Mix well. Place tortilla on a cutting board or other surface. In the center of the tortilla, place an equal portion of shredded lettuce and tuna mixture. Top with a pinch of cheese. Fold in one end and tightly roll the tortilla over the ingredients. Place in a baking pan and warm in a 350-degree oven until the cheese is slightly melted.

Makes six servings. Each serving has 362 calories, 41 grams (g) of carbohydrate, 14 g of fat, 2.5 g of fiber and 838 g of sodium.