Freezer Facts

Today I’m talking freezers. Now, I realize that a freezer isn’t an exciting topic for most, or one that you probably even think about much, but it is a great convenience and offers us great opportunity to keep our food safe. Because of this we need to make sure we’re using it properly.

I live in a very small one bedroom apartment. Included in my small apartment is a small refrigerator with a small freezer. Since I live by myself and cook for only myself the freezer is a great friend of mine. It gives me the ability to store any extra or leftover food I may have without having to worry about it going bad. Because of this my freezer was getting really full, to the point that every time I opened the door I was having to dodge a bag of fruit or stick of butter falling out. After a heavy bag of veggies landed on my toe this weekend I decided it was time to get things organized.

I started by taking everything out, laying it on the counter, and evaluating what all I had packed in there. Much of the stuff had been in there for over two years or had severe freezer burn. Freezer burn does not mean your food isn’t safe to eat, but it can affect the quality and taste of the food, and since I needed to make cuts the old and freezer burned food had to go.

Freezer 4Freezer 3After cuts were made I divided the food into groups, meats, dairy, produce, etc.Freezer 1

Freezer 5

Freezer 6

I then went through and made a list of everything I had and hung it on my refrigerator. Now I can visually see what I have in my freezer, even if something gets shoved in the back corner. As I use items from the freezer I will cross them off my list. This will be beneficial when planning meals and grocery shopping.

Freezer 8

Lastly I organized everything back in the freezer as orderly as I could. There are no secrets to how a freezer should be organized, however you always want to make sure that your freezer is at least three-fourths of the way full. This saves energy by making your freezer run more efficiently, and it is also a life saver if your electricity ever goes out. The more frozen food you have in there the longer the temperature will stay cool without power.

Freezer 2

I encourage you to take some time and go through your freezer. Clean out those items you’ve been saving for over three years. You many want to also invest in some plastic freezer bags or freezer containers. These will help prevent freezer burn and insure a better quality for your food. A refrigerator/freezer thermometer can also be very handy to make sure your freezer is working properly, you want the temperature to be at or below 0 degrees Fahrenheit to prevent any bacteria from growing.

Another great sheet to hang on your refrigerator is the USDA’s Refrigerator and Freezer Storage Chart.Write the date you place the food in your freezer on the box with a sharpie. Then when you pull it out a few months later you won’t have to guess if it’s still safe to eat or not.

Resources:

USDA Freezing Food Safety

The Science of Freezing Food – University of Minnesota Extension

Freezing Food Questions & Answers – University of Minnesota Extension

Southwest Cheese & Desert Star Tour

Back in May (I’m a little behind on blogging) Dairy Max hosted a group of dietitians from across Oklahoma and Texas for a great day of learning. We first traveled to Amarillo, TX where we had a fun dinner and learned all about intuitive eating at a restaurant called Rooster’s. The food was delicious! Dinner The next morning we boarded a bus and headed from Amarillo out to Clovis, New Mexico where we toured the Southwest Cheese Plant.

Map Picture

Seeing the inside of a cheese plant was very cool. One thing I learned on the tour is that the dairy industry has a very quick turnaround period. Within 24 hours of cows being milked on the farm, that milk is made into cheese! No wonder it always taste so fresh.

Cheese Factory

I think my favorite part of the tour was talking with the food scientists. One thing I found really interesting was when they discussed the sodium content in food. Sodium gets bashed a lot in our society, and the dairy industry is feeling a lot of pressure to cut the sodium in it’s products, however the right balance of sodium is very crucial to the cheese making process. For one too little or too much sodium will change the moisture balance, and moisture is the key to determining if a cheese is a cheddar, a mozzarella, or a Colby. Also, cheese is one of the safest foods you can eat because of salt. The sodium levels make it hard for any bacteria to grow or thrive on cheese, and changing the levels would be putting lots of American’s at risk for getting food poisoning.

Cheese

We got to try some new and old cheese flavors before we left. The Marble Blue is a cheese the food scientist have been working on, it’s a blue cheese that doesn’t contain any mold! I think I would be willing to try that. And the Red Habenero I found at the grocery store when I got home, you can find it under the Kraft brand. Yum!

After wrapping up the tour we headed to Desert Star Dairy in Texico, NM. Many of the dairy’s around this area raise Jerseys (the Bluebell cows) instead of Holsteins (the Chick-fil-A cows) because Jersey’s produce a milk that is a little higher in fat. This makes it a great choice for creamy foods like cheese and ice cream. We saw the parlor where the girls are milked 2-3 times a day. It was clean, warm, and well lit. You could tell the cows did not mind being milked at all, they walked right up to the milkers!

Parlor 2

Here is one of the mama’s waiting to be milked. She also didn’t mind posing to get her picture taken. Did you know that the moms at Desert Star get 8 weeks of maternity leave after calving?! That is more than human mama’s get!

Jersey

And we also got to play with some of the babies! However once they realized we didn’t have any bottles they weren’t to interested in us anymore.

Calf 2

I had a such a great time on this trip and I also learned a lot about the dairy industry. It was great to see all of the hard work and planning that goes into producing such a safe a nutritious product for Americans. I wish that all of you could tour a dairy farm and see how neat it is and the care that these families put into their animals. The farther we move away from farms the easier it becomes for our society to believe the propaganda produced by many interest groups, however I can reassure you the majority of farms in America really are hard working people who love what they do and are passionate about their animals, their land, and providing America with a safe and strong food supply. Thank you so much Dairy Max for allowing me this opportunity!

Picky Eaters – Sneaking in Veggies

Thanks to OSU dietetic intern Maryam for writing our blog post today. I think you moms out there will really appreciate it! 

Are you worried your child isn’t getting enough vegetables in their diet? You already know that vegetables are incredibly important for your child’s growth and development because they provide important vitamin and minerals. Most children need to be introduced to new vegetables multiple times before they start to eat and enjoy them. Keep offering them vegetables on their plate even if they don’t eat it. But in the meanwhile, here are ways to sneak vegetables into their favorite foods. Just remember, the blender is your best secret weapon!

  • Macaroni and Cheese- The cheese sauce is a great place to hide colors, textures and tastes! Puree butternut squash into the cheese sauce before serving.
  • Spaghetti and Meatballs- Mix in spaghetti squash, zucchini and asparagus strips into the spaghetti. You can also blend onions and carrots right into the marinara sauce. Chop up mushrooms really small and incorporate them into the meatballs.
  • Cheeseburgers- Add pureed spinach into the burger patties before cooking. They won’t even taste it!
  • Pizza- Mix in a can of pumpkin into the marinara sauce. Pumpkin makes the sauce nice and creamy.
  • Grilled Cheese- Spread a little bit of avocado right under the cheese to hide the taste but add nutrients. Avocado has a smooth mouth feel and a light taste that will be hard to catch by your child.
  • Mashed Potatoes- Mash up some cauliflower and mix it into the potatoes. You can also try making your mashed potatoes with half white and half sweet potatoes.
  • Chicken Noodle Soup- Cut up vegetables such as onions and carrots really small and cook them till they are soft. This one might be hard to slip by the really picky ones, but give it a try!
  • Smoothies- It’s really hard to hide the color of dark green veggies but not the taste! Blend in spinach into a strawberry and banana smoothie and call it a green mutant smoothie for your comic book lovers.
  • Popsicles- Use 100% fruit juice to blend spinach and other green veggies. Perfect for a summer treat!

Here is another great Extension resources on feeding children:

Feeding Without the Fuss a power point presentation from University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension

 

It Starts with School Breakfast

We have heard all our lives that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. But now research is starting to prove that’s true. We are now learning that kids who are able to eat breakfast do better in school, have better behavior, and make better grades, especially in math. The sad truth is though that only about half of American kids eat breakfast even though it is offered for free at schools.

One of the greatest advocates for school breakfasts is registered dietitian Dale Hayes. Instead of doing all of the talking I will let her talk for herself. HERE is an article she wrote a few months ago describing why school breakfasts are so important for all students. Take some time to read over it. I love that she points out how parents should get involved making sure their schools offer breakfast even if your kids are able to eat breakfast at home.

School Breakfast

You can also check out her blog HERE which is full of great information.

Last week I teamed up with Dairy Max, Fuel Up to Play 60, and Oklahoma Action for Healthy Kids to promote school breakfast at Oakridge Elementary here in Oklahoma City. We had such a great time. We wore our #breakfastslippers, ate breakfast with the kids, and even had former Dallas Cowboy Larry Brown there helping us out!

Former Dallas Cowboy Larry Brown eating breakfast with some students at Oakridge Elementary.

Former Dallas Cowboy Larry Brown eating breakfast with some students at Oakridge Elementary.

One of the school breakfast trays students were getting. Looks delicious!

One of the school breakfast trays students were getting. Looks delicious!

Rockin' my slippers to breakfast with Larry Brown!

Rockin’ my slippers to breakfast with Larry Brown!

 

I encourage you to make breakfast a priority in your family. Also take this time to look closer at your child’s school and the meals they offer. Your child succeeds not only when they get a nutritious breakfast but when their peers are getting a nutritious breakfast as well!

For more great information on School  Breakfast and how you can get involved CLICK HERE.

Heart Healthy Grocery Shopping

Your heart health starts right at home! What you have in your fridge and pantry will help ensure you stay healthy and keep your heart happy. Going into a grocery store can be overwhelming without understanding what to buy, that’s why we have some tips that you can use to make your next shopping list.

Tip #1: Start with the perimeter! Most grocery stores surround their store with its fruits, vegetables, dairy, and meats. This will ensure you are eating more fresh foods and less processed foods. The more fruits and vegetables the better! When choosing dairy products, make sure to choose skim milk and low fat yogurts and cheeses. Always choose leans meats chicken and turkey and eat red meats in moderation. Fish is a great source of Omega-3’s, which can beneficial for improving your heart health.

Tip #2: The nutrition facts label is your best friend! Use it to avoid products that are high in fat, especially saturated and trans-fatty acids. These fats increase your bad cholesterol and triglycerides and increase your risk of a heart attack and stroke. In addition to that, avoid products with cholesterol and sodium. A general rule is to choose products that have less than 5% of the daily value of all the above. Obviously 0% is the best! Choose products that are high (20% of the daily value) in vitamins and mineral as well as fiber, which can help lower your cholesterol.

Tip #3: Choose foods with the Heart check mark! This is the official symbol that the American Heart Association uses on products that are certified heart healthy that can be found on packaged foods. But if the heart check mark is not there make sure to read the nutrition label!

Tip #4: Prepare before you go shopping! Have you ever been to grocery store hungry? This makes you want to buy everything that you are craving. Make sure to go shopping after eating a meal or a snack. Also make sure to go to the grocery store prepared with a list of items that you know are heart healthy. You can find heart healthy recipes online to help you come up with the list of items you might need.

Following these few tips will help you fill your cart with heart healthy foods and leave no space for the other junk. Happy shopping!

Written By guest blogger Maryam Mahmood, Dietetic Intern from Oklahoma State University

Stretch Your Food Dollars – 6 Foods to Buy When Money is Tight

Whether you are a college student trying to live off Ramen noodles, a single mom trying to make ends meet, or a father of four who is just having a tough month, most of us at some point in our lives have been a little tight on food dollars. I recently saw a U.S. News & World Report article titled “7 Foods to Buy When You’re Broke“. I get asked to teach a lot of lessons on stretching your monthly food dollars and thought these tips would fit in great with my lessons. I decided to put my own little spin on it though.

Here is my list (some of which are the same):

1. Peanut Butter: I have to agree with the original article on this one. If there is one protein source that I am constantly recommending to people on a budget it is peanut butter. Not only does peanut butter have all the health attributes mentioned in the U.S. News article but it is also very shelf stable. If you keep it in your refrigerator it will stay good for up to 6 months. Eat it as a snack with fruit or have a peanut butter sandwich for a meal.

2. Beans: Like the original article, the second protein source I will always recommend to those on a budget is beans. Dried or canned. While eating vegetarian may not always be your family’s first choice, it is definitely a great economical choice to get you through a tight time. Add beans to a soup, chili, eat them with brown rice, rolled up in a tortilla, the options are really unlimited. Throw some dried beans in the crock pot with herbs and spices and you have an easy meal prepared when you get home in the evening.

3. Whole Grain Bread: Bread is a staple in most American kitchens and don’t feel like you have to give it up if money is tight. I think it is a good purchase because it is very versatile. I would simply recommend switching to whole grain breads. Whole grain bread is more nutritionally dense than white bread, meaning it contains more vitamins and minerals. But most importantly whole grain bread is higher in fiber than white bread, and fiber keeps you filling full longer (something very important when meals are limited).

4. Frozen Fruits & Veggies: Frozen produce is almost always more affordable than fresh, especially if you are wanting to purchase something that is out of season. Contrary to what many people believe frozen produce is just as healthy as fresh. The original article just mentions frozen veggies but I would throw fruit in there also. The more color you are getting on your plate the better!

5. Canned Fruits & Veggies: Canned produce (just like frozen) is often misunderstood and thought to be less nutritious, but this is not the case. Canned fruits and veggies contain the same vitamin and minerals as fresh (and frozen) and are often times half to one-third the price of fresh produce. If you are worried about the extra sodium in canned foods you can simply use a colander and rinse them off before consuming. Another great attribute of canned produce is it will last a lot longer on your shelf than fresh.

6. Milk: While milk may be one of the more expensive items on this list it is a product that is always worth spending on. Milk contains 9 essential vitamins and minerals (including calcium, potassium, and Vitamin D) that are vital to a growing kid and important for adults too. Remember that the date on a carton of milk is the “Sell By Date” not the expiration date; so your milk is still safe to drink for a few days after. If you see a good price on milk remember you can also freeze extra cartons for up to a year.

This is my take on foods to buy when money is tight. And the great thing is you can actually make all these items fit into a healthy MyPlate diet.

These are my recommendations, do you have any foods you would add or change?

Purple Potatoes

Have you ever had purple potatoes? Maybe I am one of the few, but I had never had them before last week. I was attending our annual Extension conference in Stillwater and during a luncheon they brought out our plates with purple potatoes. I have to admit that at first I thought they were just burned white potatoes, and then I cut into them. How pretty do these look?

Purple potatoesI’m an Oklahoma girl and just like the rest of us I grew up on the “Oklahoma Diet”  which consists of corn, green beans, white potatoes, and beef (doesn’t exactly fit MyPlate). These new colorful potatoes really intrigued me so when I got back I decided to look into them a little more.

According to the USDA these purple potatoes have been around South America for many years but have just made their debut in the United States within the last decade. (A co-worker told me they have been popular on the West Coast for a while, but have just recently started appearing in Oklahoma.) While these colored potatoes are high in potassium and carbohydrates, just like white ones, they are also higher in antioxidants. As you probably already know research is showing that antioxidants can play a big role in preventing some cancers and cardiovascular disease.

Any dietitian will tell you the more color you have on your plate the better, because the more color you have the more variety of vitamins and minerals you are consuming. I think the purple potatoes would be a great addition to our often colorless “Oklahoma Diet”. We can still have our tasty potatoes but with a little more nutritional value.

I have never seen purple potatoes in the store before but I am definitely going to start looking. I have heard there are a couple of markets in OKC that carry them but they often sell out fast. Have you tried purple potatoes or seen them at your store? Let us know if you have! If you haven’t I encourage you to try them and see what you think.