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.

Thirsty? How About Some Watermelon?

When I think of summertime food, wedges of juicy, refreshing watermelon come to mind. I don’t even mind having a dribble of red juice staining the front of my shirt.

Watermelon is about 92 percent water by weight, so it is hydrating as well as nutritious.

Researchers have shown that the summertime treat is even healthier than previously known. Researchers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) reported that the natural color compounds in watermelon, known as lycopene, rivaled the amount and absorption of lycopene in tomatoes.

Why is lycopene important? Lycopene in tomatoes has been shown to reduce the risk of developing certain types of cancer, particularly prostate cancer in men. Lycopene from cooked tomatoes, as in spaghetti sauce, has been shown to be absorbed better than lycopene from fresh tomatoes. Another plus: Lycopene pigments have been associated with reducing the risk for heart disease.

ARS scientists compared lycopene absorption from tomatoes and watermelon. Step aside, tomatoes. Watermelon has about 40 percent more lycopene than tomatoes. Lycopene from fresh watermelon was just as well absorbed as lycopene from cooked tomatoes. For people who shun tomatoes, this is a chance to enjoy the benefits of lycopene.

If you’re inspired to pick up a melon, here are some clues to choosing a good one. Look for a symmetrical watermelon without bruises or cuts. Lift it; it should be heavy in relation to size. Look for a pale area on the bottom of the watermelon; that shows the watermelon ripened on the vine.

At home, store the melon for up to two weeks in the refrigerator for optimum flavor. Improperly handled melons have been linked with foodborne illness, so handling fresh produce carefully is important.

Wash the outside of all melons thoroughly with running water, using a brush if necessary to remove soil and other contaminants. Clean the brush thoroughly after use. If the cleaning brush is dishwasher-safe, run it through a dishwasher cycle.

Keep cut-up watermelon cool. To store watermelon, cover the cut surface with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Place smaller chunks of melon in covered containers and refrigerate.

Watermelon, like other produce, is a nutrition powerhouse compared with the calories it contains. A 2-cup serving contains only about 90 calories and no fat, plus vitamins A and C.

Add more color – and beneficial natural plant chemicals – to your diet. Here’s a tasty, colorful and nutritious summer recipe from the National Watermelon Promotion Board. Try putting wedges of watermelon on a stick for a fun summertime treat. Scoop melon balls and place in a cone for a fun treat.

Watermelon and Spinach Salad

6 c. torn fresh spinach
3 c. watermelon, seeded and cubed
1 c. sliced fresh mushrooms
1 Tbsp. real bacon bits
1/3 c. Sweet and Sour Dressing (see following recipe)

In large salad bowl, mix all ingredients except dressing. Just before serving, toss spinach mixture with dressing.

Sweet and Sour Salad Dressing

1/3 c. balsamic or red wine vinegar
3 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1/4 c. granulated sugar
1/4 c. finely chopped onion (about 1/2 medium onion)
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp. salt

In blender or food processor, process all salad dressing ingredients until blended. Makes about 1 cup.

Makes six servings. Each serving has 90 calories, 4.5 grams (g) fat, 3 g protein, 12 g carbohydrate, 1 g fiber and 190 milligrams sodium.

 

Do You Use a Food Thermometer?

I recall a conversation I had around our lunch table at work. Often our lunch conversations gravitate to food. Someone was talking about grilling, and I asked him whether he used a food thermometer.

No, he just cooks it “‘til it is brown.” That’s not necessarily safe, I told him in a good-natured way (I thought). Brown meat might not be at a safe internal temperature. Well, that set off quite a debate, including the standard “we’ve always done it like that.”

I even offered a thermometer. Fortunately, I wasn’t banished from the lunch room for teaching during a break.

How much do you know about food safety and meat temperatures? Try this three-question quiz.

What are the recommended minimum internal cooking temperatures each of the following types of meat should reach?

a) Ground beef

b) Chicken breasts

c) Steak

The answers are a) 160 degrees, b) 165 degrees and c) It depends; 145 degrees usually is listed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Steak can be cooked to a lower internal temperature than ground beef because it is a whole-muscle food.

The bacterial contamination is usually on the outside of muscle meats such as steak and roasts. Cooking will kill the bacteria on the outer surface. With ground meat, the bacteria is mixed throughout, therefore requiring a higher internal temperature.

Judging ground beef doneness by color tends to be especially deceptive. In one study, scientists bought 240 pairs of ground beef packages from stores across the U.S. They froze one package and cooked patties made from the other package in each pair.

The researchers reported that one burger in four turned brown before it reached the safe internal temperature of 160 degrees. The researchers termed it “premature browning.” Meat that had been frozen was even more likely to turn brown prematurely than fresh meat.

The flipside of premature browning is “persistent pinkness.” Ground beef that’s pink actually may be at a safe internal temperature, but the only way to know for sure is to use a food thermometer. Added ingredients such as dry onion soup, chopped onions or bacon may contribute some nitrates, which can cause the meat to remain pink, even at a safe temperature.

Other factors also influence cooking time. Leaner ground beef conducts heat less well than higher-fat beef, so it usually requires longer cooking to reach the same endpoint temperature. Adding oatmeal, soy or other fillers may lengthen cooking time of meat.

Using an accurate food thermometer is the best way to determine doneness, but Americans aren’t doing very well in following this recommendation. In a study reported in 2015 and conducted by Tennessee State University, Kansas State University and RTI International, researchers reported that 62 percent of their respondents owned a thermometer but only 10 percent of them used it to check doneness of poultry.

Here’s a chance to use a food thermometer and serve a tasty – and safe – home-cooked meal. Depending on the type of grill you have, you also could cook it in a pan on the grill.

Sweet and Sour Meatloaf

1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce
1/4 c. brown sugar
1/4 c. vinegar
1 tsp. prepared mustard
2 eggs, beaten
2 lb. ground beef
1/3 c. oatmeal
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/4 c. onion, minced
1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce

Combine tomato sauce, brown sugar, vinegar and mustard. In separate bowl, combine eggs, ground beef and remaining ingredients. Add half of tomato mixture to beef mixture. Mix thoroughly and shape into loaf in baking pan. Pour remaining tomato mixture over meatloaf. Bake in 400-degree oven for about 45 minutes, until internal temperature reaches at least 160 degrees.

Makes eight servings. When made with extra-lean ground beef, each serving has 200 calories, 6 grams (g) fat, 25 g protein, 12 g carbohydrate, 1 g fiber and 550 milligrams sodium. To decrease the sodium content, you can cut back on the amount of salt you add.

 

 

Don’t Let Pests Ruin Your Perfect Picnic

Don’t Let Pests Ruin Your Perfect PicnicOn a warm day with a gentle breeze, who can resist a picnic? Unfortunately a number of pests try to foil our best attempts at perfect picnics. Troops of ants march, ready to invade. Flies buzz by, alerting all their friends of the upcoming gourmet feast. Squadrons of mosquitoes the size of helicopters swarm overhead, waiting to attack their relaxing human banquets.

Insects aside, the worst threats to great picnics are the “bugs” we can’t see. Bacteria, such as Salmonella, E. coli O157:H7, Listeria and Staphylococcus, are invisible enemies that exert their effects a few hours to a few days after the meal. If you’re lucky, you only end up with flu-like symptoms that last a couple of days.

Warm temperatures are bacteria’s best friend. In fact some bacteria can double in number every 10 to 20 minutes.

What can you do to hold bacterial numbers down and help keep you, your family and your friends safe from bouts of foodborne illness? Start by thinking about the most basic of rules – “keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold.”

Safety begins at the grocery store. Buy your perishable items such as meat, salads and milk products last and get them home quickly. While you can’t haul your refrigerator with you, try some strategies to keep cold foods cold. If you plan to transport foods to a lake cottage or distant destination, bring coolers and ice. The large blocks of ice available in many stores tend to resist melting better than cubes. Frozen gel ice packs are another option.

Cross contamination is a leading cause of foodborne illness cases, so pack raw meat and ready-to-eat foods like salads in separate coolers. Keep canned beverages separate from meats because the raw meat juices could contaminate the cans — and eventually — you. Since contaminated ice has been linked with a number of foodborne illness outbreaks, maintain a separate ice-filled cooler for use with beverages.

Hand washing is considered the single most important way to prevent the spread of bacteria. Spend at least 20 seconds at the sink scrubbing your hands thoroughly with soap and water. Time yourself. Twenty seconds is longer than you might think.

If the picnic site lacks hand washing facilities, bring a container of water and some soap from home, or at least some wet hand wipes. Hand sanitizers, such as hand gels, can cut down bacterial numbers, but they are not a substitute for good hand washing.

Avoid bare-hand contact with ready-to-eat foods by using clean utensils like tongs or other utensils to serve food. For example, put a spoon or set of tongs in the potato chip or tortilla chip bowl.

Bring along your food thermometer and use it to gauge doneness. Color is not a reliable indicator. Cook burgers to an internal temperature of at least 160 degrees, chicken breasts to 165 degrees, and fish until it is opaque and flakes with a fork.

Here are a few more picnic tips:

·       If you used a marinade, it’s safest to throw any leftover marinade, unless you are able to boil the marinade for several minutes.

·       Avoid reusing the plate or pan that held the raw meat, and always use a clean plate for serving.

·       Don’t leave perishable foods at unprotected temperatures for more than one hour on warm days (above 90 F). Serve food over a bed of ice to maintain temperature.

·       To protect food from the visible enemies of the winged variety, keep food protected with covers and immediately put away food after serving. Don’t spray pesticides around food.

What’s a picnic without coleslaw? Here’s a recipe from Dannon yogurt for a low-fat version of creamy coleslaw. Plain yogurt can be substituted for mayonnaise and sour cream to trim fat and add calcium to recipes. This recipe can be prepared in just a few minutes if you use pre-shredded coleslaw, which is available in most grocery stores.

Light and Easy Country Coleslaw

3/4 c. non-fat plain yogurt 1/4 c. mayonnaise 1 Tbsp. cider vinegar 1 tsp. sugar 1/2 tsp. salt 1/8 tsp. each: celery seed and pepper 8 c. shredded cabbage 1 large carrot, shredded 2 green onions, thinly sliced

In large bowl, combine yogurt, mayonnaise, vinegar, sugar, salt, celery seed and pepper. Add cabbage, carrot and green onions and toss. Cover and chill at least 1 hour to blend flavors.

Makes 12 servings, 3/4 cup each. Each serving has 45 calories, 1.5 grams (g) fat, 6 g carbohydrate, 2 g protein and 160 milligrams of sodium.

 

Does Your Garden Promote Healthy Eyes?

As I admired the various shades of green in my landscape and the bright yellow daffodil blossoms in late May, I couldn’t help but value my eyesight. A rose-breasted grosbeak and a yellow finch flew to our bird feeders. A plump robin hopped nearby.

Without healthy eyes, we would not be able to enjoy the splendor of spring blossoms and the return of colorful birds.

The National Eye Institute of the National Institutes of Health promotes Healthy Vision Month every May. Remember to take care of your eyes so you can continue to enjoy nature’s colorful art throughout your lifetime.

I thought about a question that came to our office: What should you grow in your vegetable garden to promote healthy eyesight?

You might think of carrots and their association with eye health. Carrots, squash, pumpkin and a variety of dark orange and gold vegetables contain beta-carotene, which our bodies convert to vitamin A. While beta-carotene-containing foods certainly are a colorful, healthful option linked to reducing our risk of night blindness, leafy greens more often are linked to vision protection.

Among the most debilitating eye diseases are glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration, cataracts and diabetic retinopathy. You can nourish your eyes with smart food choices.

Macular degeneration is one of the leading causes of blindness, and scientists have found that diet can play a role in preventing this eye disease. The “macula” is a region close to the optic nerve at the back of our eyes that allows us to see clearly and distinguish colors. It is about the size of a capital “O” in 12-point font.

The macula is composed of lutein and zeaxanthin, which are pigments also found in colorful fruits and vegetables.

Some good sources of zeaxanthin are kale, collard and spinach greens, orange bell peppers and corn. Some good sources of lutein are kale, green leafy vegetables, spinach, corn, peas, and yellow and orange vegetables. Egg yolks are another excellent source of lutein.

Consider your eyes when you plan your garden plot, peruse a farmers market or make your grocery list.

If you decide to plant a salad garden, sow the seeds for a variety of leafy greens in the spring, and consider planting a second crop later in the summer. Be sure to water the plants well because the crispness of the lettuce will vary depending on the amount of watering. Control the weeds through shallow cultivation and keep the soil loose around the plants.

You can begin harvesting your greens when the leaves are about 2 inches long. Consider harvesting the outer leaves so your plants will continue to produce. Be sure to rinse the leaves thoroughly under cool water, and try a salad spinner to remove excess water. You also can use a clean paper towel to blot the lettuce dry.

To learn more about growing leafy greens, visit www.ag.ndsu.edu/publications/landing-pages/gardens-lawns-trees/leafy-greens-h-1754 or Google the NDSU Extension Service’s “From Garden to Table: Leafy Greens!” (H1754) for a free publication.

Along with a healthful diet of leafy greens, peppers, corn, peas and other veggies, these are some tips from the National Eye Institute to take charge of your vision:

  • See an eye-care professional routinely. If you are age 50 or older, have a dilated eye exam annually or as recommended by an eye-care professional. Age-related macular degeneration, cataracts, diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma can be detected through regular eye exams.
  • If you smoke, take steps to quit.
  • Get regular physical activity.
  • Maintain normal blood pressure. Do you know your numbers?
  • Wear sunglasses and a brimmed hat when you are outside in bright sunshine.
  • Wear safety eyewear when you are working around your house or playing sports.

Learn more about healthy eyes at the NDSU Extension Nourishing Boomers and Beyond website at www.ndsu.edu/boomers (click on “Eyes” on the left side of your screen). You can sign up for a free monthly newsletter and “like” the Facebook page for regular updates.

Here’s a recipe rich in fiber and vitamins C and A. It’s courtesy of the Fruits and Veggies – More Matters program. Visit www.fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org for more recipes.

Rubies and Greens Salad

Dressing
1/3 c. orange juice
2 Tbsp. olive oil or canola oil
2 Tbsp. honey
1/2 tsp. salt
Ground black pepper to taste

Salad
1 bag baby spinach or mixed greens (5 oz.)
3 c. sweet cherries, pits removed
2 c. sliced cucumber
1/2 c. finely diced red onion

Whisk together orange juice, oil, honey, salt and pepper; set aside. In large bowl, combine salad ingredients. Toss with salad dressing and serve immediately.

Makes six servings. Each serving has 133 calories, 4.7 grams (g) of fat, 24 g of carbohydrate and 3 g of fiber.