Posts Tagged ‘healthy meals’

As the air cools in the fall we often lean towards fixing those comfort foods for our family. Things like: mac and cheese, chili soup, spaghetti sauce and pasta, chicken and noodles all taste good to us. Many of us are also concerned with making our meals as healthy as possible to prevent chronic disease risk, or just improve our health in general. Here are some ideas to “Soup UP” your next pot of chili:chili-2

  • Ground meats – Switch your regular ground chuck out for a ground sirloin or lean ground turkey (even turkey sausage). Look at the fat or % lean and go as lean as you can for the price. Another protein option could be meatless veggie protein crumbles – they will reduce the fat, but still have the same texture as other ground meats. This product is typically found in the freezer section of stores.
  • Beans – Instead of using just red kidney beans, try 2 different kinds of beans. Beans that are brighter color will have higher antioxidant properties (red, black or brown). Some research studies have found diets rich in the antioxidants in beans to result in lower cancer risks for breast, stomach, colorectal, kidney and prostate cancer. By combining the types of beans you can pick up the benefits from several different varieties.
  • Diced Vegetables – Replace your chopped onion with a variety of chopped vegetables. Choose from onions, peppers, sweet potatoes, corn, celery, pumpkin, and/or butternut squash. This is a great way to clean out the crisper drawer in your refrigerator and to ramp up the vegetables in your pot. I recently peeled and cubed a small sweet potato into a pot of chili – it tasted great and helped thicken it up too.
  • Tomato Products – Most chili is a combination of tomato products – sauce, paste, juice, and stewed or diced. Tomatoes are packed with vitamins A, C, B6, potassium, and even fiber. Research studies support the consumption of tomatoes with heart health benefits and even skin health. With tomato products look to “No Salt Added” products when purchasing canned.
  • Seasonings – Combine a variety of spices and herbs to suit your own taste preferences – cumin, black and cayenne pepper, oregano, and chili powder are all good choices. Keep your salt to a minimum. For some people higher sodium intake is linked with higher blood pressure.

A few other perks for a big pot of chili soup are that it is almost a one dish meal; by adding a dairy, fruit, and bread you can have a tasty meal. Soups also freeze well for left-over meals or to carry for lunch. And last-but-not-least you can use up left-overs in chili soup by switching ground meat for pulled chicken or pork, and almost any vegetable can be dumped in the pot. I can’t wait to hear your favorite chili combination.

Writer: Lisa Barlage, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension, Ross County.

Reviewer: Pat Brinkman, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension, Fayette County.


American Heart Association, (2016). Myths About High Blood Pressure, http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HighBloodPressure/AboutHighBloodPressure/Myths-About-High-Blood-Pressure_UCM_430836_Article.jsp#.WApYz4MrLct

North Dakota State University, “All About Beans Nutrition, Health Benefits, Preparation and Use in Menus”, Garden-Robinson, J. and McNeal, K., https://www.ag.ndsu.edu/publications/food-nutrition/all-about-beans-nutrition-health-benefits-preparation-and-use-in-menus#section-3.

Penn State Extension, “Eating Tomatoes May Very Well Save Your Life”, Kralj, R., http://extension.psu.edu/health/news/2014/eating-tomatoes-may-very-well-safe-your-life.


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Is your garden overflowing with zucchini or another type of summer squash? Lucky you!  Summer squash is a warm season vegetable that can be grown throughout the frost-free months.  Varieties of summer squash can be found in grocery stores year round, but they are most plentiful during June, July, and August.  Summer squash is harvested while the vegetable is still immature.  As a result, the skin of the squash is tender and is edible, unlike its fall and winter counterparts.



What are the health benefits?

  • Summer squash is low in calories with only 16 calories per cup of raw squash. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables is high in fiber and low in calories which can help you maintain a healthy weight.
  • Summer squash is free of sodium and cholesterol. A diet low in sodium and cholesterol decreases the risk of cardiovascular disease.
  • Summer squash is high in vitamins A and C. Vitamin A is important for healthy skin, vision, cell growth, and fighting infections. Vitamin C helps to fight infections, build new body tissue, heal wounds, and eliminate cancer causing substances.
  • Summer squash also contains potassium, manganese, folate, riboflavin, and vitamin B6. These help the body turn food into fuel as well as ensure proper contraction of the heart and skeletal muscles.

How do I select a summer squash at the grocery store?

  • Choose summer squash that has a firm, glossy/shiny skin that is free of cuts, bruises, and blemishes.
  • The summer squash should be heavy for its size. If comparing two of the same size, buy the heavier squash.
  • Choose small to medium varieties. Smaller squash is more flavorful than larger ones.

How do I store summer squash?

  • Store summer squash unwashed in plastic bags in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator. Any water on the squash will promote decay while in storage.
  • Summer squash can be stored for up to a week in the refrigerator.

How should I prepare summer squash?

  • Summer squash should be washed well right before it is used in a meal.
  • Cut off both ends of the summer squash, but do not peel off the skin. Most of the vitamins and minerals are found near the skin. The skin of summer squash is very tender and easily eaten.
  • Summer squash can be enjoyed either raw or cooked.
  • Slice the squash and sauté, grill, steam, boil, roast, or microwave.

Top 5 ways to enjoy summer squash:

  1. Grate zucchini using a cheese grater and use it to make delicious zucchini bread or zucchini muffins.
  2. Chopped, raw summer squash can be added to a salad of lettuce, spinach, tomatoes, cucumber, onion, and chickpeas to make a colorful, refreshing dish on a hot summer day.
  3. Use squash as part of a summer chili.
  4. Use summer squash to make a delicious veggie lasagna.
  5. Use summer squash to make vegetable kabobs on a summer night. Toss summer squash, red bell peppers, and onions in olive oil, add salt and pepper, place on a skewer, and grill to perfection.





Author: Jennifer Even, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences/EFNEP Educator, Ohio State University Extension, Hamilton County.

Reviewer:  Marilyn Rabe, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences/EFNEP Educator, Ohio State University Extension, Franklin County.



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As my family gardened this week we noticed that we have an abundance of zucchini. It’s that time of year where everyone is getting more than they anticipated and they are trying to find ways to use it up, preserve it, or give it away.

When picking zucchini look for firm and wrinkle free zucchini that is about 6 to 8 inches long and 2 inches in diameter. If you are anything like me, you likely have zucchini in your garden that’s 12 inches long and 4 inches in diameter. The larger the zucchini the tougher it will be and it will also contain more seeds. These zucchini are best for baking. Scoop out the seeds and pulp, grate the zucchini and use in your favorite recipes.

Zucchini have a high water content which makes them lower in calories. They provide us with vitamin C, fiber, vitamin K, riboflavin, vitamin B6, folate, magnesium, and potassium. This makes them a fantastic vegetable to eat. However, not all children are big vegetable eaters. If you are like me, you sneak them into things when they don’t notice. Zucchini bread is always a good option but if you have a picky eater like I do, the green flecks in the bread can quickly turn them away. Have you ever put it in your chocolate cake or finely shredded in spaghetti sauce? My kids don’t know it’s there and I get them to eat a vegetable! I count it as my mom super power! The below recipe is a great one to try from USDA’s Mixing Bowl recipe collection. You can also check out some of their other zucchini recipes.

The big zucchini that I picked from my garden will make a lot of Chocolate Squash cake. I won’t use all of my grated zucchini before it goes bad so I will be freezing my leftovers. For proper freezing procedures please check out these safe instructions by the National Center for Home Food Preservation. Make sure you blanch zucchini before freezing to ensure quality.

Eating the squash cake is not as healthy for you as eating the raw vegetable itself but we all have to start somewhere.

Aunt Barbara’s Chocolate Squash Cake

Makes: 12 Servings


1/2 cup vegetable oil

1 package cake mix, dark chocolate

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

3 eggs

1 1/4 cups water

1 cup squash (shredded or finely chopped)

1/4 cup chopped walnuts (optional)


  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour a 10″ tube or bundt pan.
  2. In a large bowl, combine cake mix and cinnamon.
  3. Add eggs, water, and oil. Blend until combined, then beat with an electric mixer for 2 minutes on medium speed.
  4. Fold in squash. Add nuts if you like.
  5. Pour into prepared pan. Bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour, until cake springs back when lightly touched.

Other Ideas:

  • Use a greased 9×13-inch pan. Bake for 45 minutes.
  • To lighten cake, try 6 egg whites in place of whole egg.
  • Replace 1/2 cup oil with 1/2 cup applesauce.

WRITTEN BY: Amanda Bohlen, Extension Educator, Family & Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension, Washington County.

REVIEWED BY: Lisa Barlage , Extension Educator, Family & Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension,  Ross County.


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Are you planning a party this weekend for the Fourth of July?  Red, white and Blue is the theme for the weekend.  Fill the party with some healthy and tasty foods that celebrate these patriotic colors.waffle-1149934__180 (1)

Start the day with pancakes with blueberries, strawberries or cherries on top.  You may want to add a little whip cream.  Blueberries are about the only food that is blue, so you may be eating a lot of blueberries today; however they contain great nutrients including potassium, other minerals, antioxidants, fiber, and some vitamins.

For a snack, parfaits are delicious.  Layer vanilla or plain yogurt with red raspberries and blueberries and you can top with some granola.  Red grapes are delicious with yogurt, so you may want tWest Region DWD Projecto add some grapes.

For a red, white and blue salad for lunch or dinner mix together kale, spinach, or romaine with some dried cranberries, blueberries, and feta cheese.  Top with a poppy seed dressing.  Another idea is to slice some tomatoes and add a scoop of cottage cheese on top.

Some cool snacks and dessert ideas are:bowl-769148_960_720

  • Make watermelon cookies – Slice watermelon about an inch thick and use cookie cutters (star shape or other shapes) to cut shapes. Then icing with vanilla Greek yogurt.  You can add some blueberries or red, blue, and white sprinkles if you want.  Serve on a platter.
  • Make skewers of cherries, bananas and blueberries
  • Make some frozen pops layering strawberries or red raspberries, vanilla yogurt and blueberries.
  • If you have large strawberries, fill them with a small amount of whip cream and top with a blueberry.
  • Make blueberry cobbler and top with ice cream or whip cream and add some red raspberries on top.
  • Add some red raspberries and blue berries to a water pitcher and serve some fruity water. Strawberries or watermelon can also be added to water for a tasty drink.
  • If you are adventurous and want to try a unique red recipe, check out this Red Beet Humus. Serve with cucumbers and blue corn tortilla chips.
  • Check out fruits and veggies more matters for more patriotic food ideas. They have a cute American Flag veggie tray.

Enjoy the weekend and celebrate with red, white and blue.


Author:  Pat Brinkman, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension

Reviewer:  Cheryl Barber Spires, Program Specialist, SNAP-Ed, Ohio State University Extension


University of Maryland Extension.  (February, 2014).  University of MD Extension Prince George’s County Newsletter.   Available at http://myemail.constantcontact.com/UME-Prince-George-s-County-Welcomes-New-Associate-Dean-.html?soid=1103622714568&aid=i1Ky-ErHreg#LETTER.BLOCK139

Fruit and Veggies More Matters.  (2016)   Feeling Patriotic. Available at http://www.fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org/

Roni (2014).The Red, White and Blue Sweet Summer Salad.  Green Lite Bites.  Available at http://greenlitebites.com/2010/07/red-white-blue-sweet-summer-salad/

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IMG_5553One fourth or 25% of a typical person’s daily calories come from snacking. It’s simple to see why choosing healthful snacks are important for all ages.  Smart snacking can help curb hunger between meals and prevent overeating during meals. According to the NPD Group’s Snacking Research study, Baby Boomers outweigh Millennials when it comes to eating ready-to-eat snacks. Boomers consume ready-to-eat snacks 20% more often than Millennials. NPD’s research shows, “annual consumption of ready-to-eat snacks per Boomer is about 1,200, for a total of 90.4 billion annual snack eating events. Boomers tend to eat snacks versus a big meal, because many may not want to eat alone. Whereas Millennials consume the ready-to-eat snacks because they are hungry.

Both groups’ top picks for ready to eat snacks were fruit, chocolate, and potato chips. Fruits are an excellent choice for snacks.They are low in calories, rich in nutrients and fiber, and can be economical especially when purchased in season from a local market.   A calorie comparison was done among 20 fruits and vegetables with 20 conventional snack food items (such as chocolate, cookies, potato chips). Results showed that fruits and vegetables provided an average of 56 calories per snack size portion, compared to a whopping 180 calories for the conventional snack foods. Fruits and vegetables had three times LESS calories!

Here is an easy 10 minute snack recipe that will appeal to both Millennials and Baby Boomers! It has 118 calories, 1 gram of fat, 4 grams protein and 3 grams fiber.


Prep time: 10 minutes

Makes: 4 Servings

This refreshing smoothie is a blend of papaya, banana, and yogurt and makes a satisfying part of breakfast or any time of day. Mix in frozen or fresh berries for a variety of flavors.


2 cups papaya chunks (fresh or frozen)

2 bananas (overripe, sliced)

1 cup plain low-fat yogurt

1 cup ice cubes


  1. Put all the ingredients in the blender.
  2. Put the lid on tightly. Turn the blender to a medium setting and blend until the ice is chopped and the mixture is smooth, about 1 minute.
  3. Serve right away or cover and refrigerate up to 4 hours.


  • One cup of low-fat milk, soy, rice, almond or coconut milk can be used instead of yogurt.
  • Strawberries, blueberries, or raspberries can be used in addition to or instead of papaya.




Written by: Susan Zies, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension, Wood County, zies.1@osu.edu

Reviewed by: Dan Remley, Field Specialist, Family Nutrition and Wellness, Ohio State University Extension, remley.4@osu.edu

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If you’ve ever had that 5:00 panic as you get home from work and wonder what in the world you’re going to feed your family for supper… you’re not alone. Most folks either enjoy meal planning or dread it, but for busy families it is a must. Planning your meals can save you time and money and help you serve healthier food. The neat thing is that there is more than one way to do it.

Here are some tips from Iowa State University Extension:

Check items you have in your refrigerator, freezer and cupboards that need to be used, and plan your menus using these items first.

Serve what they like. When you serve food your family likes, you avoid waste. Gather low-cost, nutritious recipes that your family likes and serve them regularly.

Consider your schedule. When creating your menus and shopping list, think about how much time you will have to prepare the meal on a particular day. If it’s a slow week, make meals ahead and freeze them. If it’s a busy week, use some of the meals you froze earlier or just keep it simple with foods that require little preparation.

Check newspaper ads. Look at local store ads to find sales. As you become familiar with the costs of regularly purchased items, you will be able to quickly identify good deals.

Balance your menus. Use MyPlate as a guide to include foods from all the groups: Vegetable, Fruit, Grain, Dairy and Protein. For more help in planning, tracking and analyzing your diet, check out USDA’s SuperTracker.

meal planning

Get inspired. Sometimes you might need some inspiration or new recipes. You can find healthy low-cost recipes here. You might also trade dinner ideas with friends and co-workers or use ‘theme night’ meals like Taco Tuesday or Sandwich Saturday. Ethnic foods can open a whole new set of recipes… try Italian, Asian, Mexican, even Thai.

Involve your household. Kids can help choose menus, pick a new vegetable or fruit to try, set the table or even help with simple food prep.

Print a copy of the 5-day meal planning worksheet to get you started.

Hopefully you learned a helpful tip, or maybe you have one to share… feel free to comment.


Iowa State University Extension http://www.extension.iastate.edu/foodsavings/page/meal-planning-basics

Recipes http://www.extension.iastate.edu/foodsavings/recipes/all

USDA MyPlate http://www.choosemyplate.gov

Written by: Shannon Carter, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension, Fairfield County

Reviewed by: Tammy Jones, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension, Pike County


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Recently I had to replace my beloved stove. It had served me well over the years with family dinners, parties and countless cooking experiments.  I researched the various models, features and recommendations and was prepared to make an educated, informed decision.

When I finally started making the rounds at the appliance stores to check out the new ranges, I wasn’t prepared for a specific feature I found on a majority of the ranges. Chicken Nugget and Pizza pre-set buttons. What’s this? Does our nation eat chicken nuggets and pizza to such an extent that we need to have those two specific foods singled out for pre-set buttons so we can heat them up in a moment’s notice?  Are we perceived by appliance manufacturers as consumers of convenience foods in massive quantities?

Other countries already see Americans as huge drive-thru/convenience food eaters; is it any wonder the appliance industry followed suit? What will be next? Refrigerators with high sugar beverage or energy drink dispensers? It’s no wonder the current dietary guidelines have started to shorten their estimates of life expectancy—we know our children won’t live as long as their grandparents.  Their diets are not health-supporting.

The 2015 dietary guidelines recommend that Americans start to shift their food choices from convenience foods to more fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains to improve overall health. In the next couple of years there will also be more health messages touting the danger of excessive sugar in beverages and energy drinks.

At a recent meeting with colleagues, I observed several co-workers pull yogurt, fresh fruit, vegetables with hummus, and various vegetables out of their lunch bags to consume during our working lunch. It struck me how easy these simple, healthy foods are to eat, yet so powerful. I am grateful to be part of a group of health-focused individuals that are not just “talking the talk,” but also “walking the walk.” Let’s all do our part to improve the American diet and get healthy along the way!

P.S. I ended up purchasing a range that has no pre-set nugget/pizza buttons, and look forward to future cooking adventures!

Written by:  Beth Stefura, Extension Educator, Family & Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension, Mahoning County, stefura.2@osu.edu

Reviewed by:  Donna Green, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension, Erie County, green.308@osu.edu

References: Am J Clin Nutr January 2015 vol.109 no.1 6-16

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