Fire up the grill for a healthy and safe cookout

Last weekend, millions of Americans will be fired up the grill for July 4 celebrations. Be sure to plan ahead and follow these steps to ensure a healthy and safe meal when cooking out with your friends and family.

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  • Clean the Grill: An important step in preparing the grill is cleaning it. Many people use the same brush year after year. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report an increase in reports of people swallowing bristles from these grill brushes. To prevent this, replace grill brushes regularly before the bristles wear down or use a brush for cleaning that does not have steel bristles. Also, wipe down the grill with a wet cloth after scrubbing to remove small pieces of bristle on the grill racks that are difficult to see.
  • Select your meat: One of the advantages of grilling is the flavor it adds without extra fat.  Here are some suggestions for healthy meat choices. For hamburgers, try lean ground beef, turkey, chicken or veggie burgers made from chickpeas or black beans.  Another option is chicken, shrimp or fish.  You can make skewers with meat and vegetables or put them together in a “foil packet” to cook on the grill.
  • Marinate: If you want to marinate the food for extra flavor before cooking, be sure to marinate in the refrigerator, not on the counter. Since the marinade has been exposed to bacteria from the raw food, you need to boil the leftover marinade to kill any harmful bacteria before serving it over the cooked meat. A better idea is to keep some marinade aside in a separate container in the refrigerator that you can serve with the meal. 
  • Storage: Raw foods, including meats and vegetables, need to be stored safely in the refrigerator or a cooler until it is time to grill and serve the food. If you buy the meat, poultry or fish more than 2 days before your barbeque, freeze it to prevent it from spoiling. Be sure to thaw it completely, in either the refrigerator or microwave, before grilling it to ensure even cooking.  
  • Use food thermometer to make sure meat is cooked:  Meat and poultry cooked on a grill often browns very fast.  Watch the temperature to avoid burnt food on the outside and undercooked food on the inside.  Do not rely on its color to determine if it is done.  The only way to determine if a food is cooked to a safe temperature is with a food thermometer.  Ground meats need to be cooked to an internal temperature of 160°F.  Cook all poultry to a safe minimum internal temperature of 165°F.  When reheating fully cooked meats like hot dogs, grill to 165 °F or until steaming hot. After cooking meat and poultry to a safe temperature, keep it at 140 °F or warmer by placing to the side of the grill rack or in a pre-heated 200 °F oven until ready to serve. 
  • Avoid cross-contamination: When taking food off the grill, use a clean platter instead of the one used for the raw meat.  Bacteria present from the raw meat juices could contaminate the cooked food.  

Plan your menu today for a healthy and safe summer and fire up the grill.  If you have any questions about grilling meat and poultry, call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-674-6843 or visit www.fsis.usda.gov .

Dyeing Easter Eggs Naturally

One of my fondest childhood memories is dyeing eater eggs with my sisters. I carried on that tradition with my own daughter, and even though she is an adult, we still spend time together to color and decorate eggs for Easter. This tradition of decorating eggs dates back to the 13th century. Eggs were formerly a forbidden food during the Lenten season, the 40 days before Easter, so people would paint and decorate them to mark the end of the period of fasting, and eat them on Easter as a celebration.

The first step to dyeing eggs is to hard-boil the eggs. Lay raw eggs gently in a large saucepan, cover them with water, and put on a tight-fitting lid. Place the saucepan over high heat and wait for the water to boil. When water comes to a boil, remove from heat keeping the lid on the saucepan, and let it sit for 12 minutes. Then drain out the hot water, and fill the pot with cold water to stop the cooking process. Some eggs may crack so you can set those aside to use for eating. Let eggs cool before coloring.

There are kits sold in stores for coloring eggs but if you want to avoid those synthetic dyes – try making your own dye with natural ingredients. It may take longer but it will be more fun and a great time to enjoy as a family. Select what colors you want to dye the eggs and buy the appropriate food. The shell color of your eggs will also determine the color of your dyed eggs. 

For white eggs, purple cabbage will create a blue shade; beets create a pink shade; turmeric creates a yellow and gold color; onion skins can give reddish browns (red onions) or orange shade (yellow onions). Hibiscus tea provides a dark charcoal-purple color, Red Zinger tea creates a lavender color, and coffee provides a nice brown shade. The fun thing with using foods is the colors may vary depending on the length of time immersed in the dye as well as the color of the food itself. 

Here are the steps to dye eggs naturally:

1. Bring 1 cup of water to boil in a pot for each color dye that you have selected. Add 1 cup of chopped or shredded purple cabbage, beets, or onion skins to the boiling water. For the yellow color, add 2 Tablespoons turmeric to the cup of boiling water. 

2. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes. Brew or steep the coffee and tea in a jar while the vegetables simmer. The dye is ready when it is a few shades darker than you want for your egg. Check the color to be sure it is the shade that you want by dripping a little on a white paper towel or dish. 

3. Remove from heat and let the dye cool to room temperature. Once cool, pour the liquid through a fine-mesh strainer into a jar and remove the tea bag from water. 

4. Stir 1 Tablespoon of white distilled vinegar into each color. The vinegar creates a chemical reaction with the shell’s calcium and helps the color absorb better. 

5. Carefully put the boiled eggs into the jars of dye and secure with a lid.

6. Place the jars in the refrigerator for six to 12 hours or overnight, depending on the color you want. Longer times will produce deeper shades.  

7. Remove the eggs from the jar and place them on a towel-lined cookie sheet to dry.

8. Allow them to dry completely. You can polish them with a little bit of vegetable oil to give them a shine.

Add a little creativity to your egg design by wrapping rubber bands or lace ribbon around the egg before coloring.  After it has completely dried, remove bands or ribbon to see your design. For a personalized touch, draw or write something on the egg with a white crayon or candle and then submerge in the dye mixture.  The wax will prevent the dye from sticking to the egg so you can see your design. 

Remember to keep eggs refrigerated and use within one week.

Being Prepared with an Emergency Food Supply Kit

During the winter, it is important to be prepared with an emergency food supply kit. Whether the snow prevents you from getting to the store or ice has knocked out the power, having a fully-stocked kitchen is one less worry for you and your family. Many of these foods may be the usual foods that you buy. Choose foods that store well from each of the food groups to provide the variety of nutrients you and your family need and like. Consider anyone who has special dietary recommendations and include these foods in the emergency supply.

The recommendation is a 3-day food supply for each member of your family (including pets) so pick up a few items each time you go to the store and store it separately from your normal groceries. Be sure to check expiration dates every 6 months so you can use foods before they expire and replace them as needed. Keep a running list of your supply items so it is easier to shop. Plan ahead to stock shelf-stable foods and then all you need to purchase at the last minute are perishables.

One of the most important things to stock is bottled water. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommends 1 gallon of water a day for each person and pet in the household to use for drinking, cooking and washing up.   

Shelf-stable foods include a variety of healthy, high-energy foods to meet everyone’s tastes. Include high-protein foods like peanut butter, canned meats and beans. Canned tuna, salmon and chicken will last longer than vacuum-sealed pouches. Canned soups, chili and stews make quick and easy lunches. For healthier choices, choose no salt added canned foods and low-sodium soups. Other shelf-stable foods that need no cooking are cereal, canned vegetables and fruit, 

Snack foods that may be handy to stock in your emergency food kit include chips, pretzels, popcorn, cookies, crackers, granola bars, nuts, jerky, dried fruit, trail mixes and shelf-stable juice. Buying individually wrapped snack foods will keep them fresh longer. Dried pasta and jarred sauce are good choices to keep available for a quick, hot meal. Coffee, tea, and hot cocoa mixes make good beverage choices. An easy way to keep milk on hand in emergencies is stocking powdered milk or milk that undergoes ultra-high temperature processing (UHT) that doesn’t need to be refrigerated and can sit on the shelf for up to six months.

If you anticipate a storm in the next few days, make a trip to the grocery store to pick up some perishable food items that will stay fresh for at least a week. These include apples, oranges, bananas, tomatoes, potatoes, salad foods, squash, yogurt, eggs, milk, butter and avocados. Buying fruits and veggies that are not quite ripe will help them last longer. 

Any emergency food supply kit needs some other essentials like a non-electric can opener, flashlight, extra batteries, candles, matches and cleaning wipes. Being prepared is key to staying healthy when there is an emergency.

Celebrate the New Year with Lucky Foods

It is that time of year when people are eager to say goodbye to 2021 with wishes that the New Year will be filled with hope, health and spending more time with family and friends. Whether you are spending the New Year with a small group of close friends and family or having a larger event, think about adding some special foods to bring in the New Year in your celebration. Special foods have often been a part of our new year’s celebrations, promising to bring luck and good fortune in the year ahead.

One of the “luckiest” foods to eat on New Year’s Day is pork. The meaning behind this tradition is that a pig uses its snout to dig in the ground, always moving forward. People tend to look forward at the beginning of a new year with setting goals for themselves. Pigs are also associated with plumpness and eating plenty, which is characterized as a sign of good fortune in the year ahead. The tradition of eating pork and sauerkraut for a New Year’s meal came to the United States from Germany and became popular in New England and with the Pennsylvania Dutch. 

Fish is another common food choice for New Year celebrations. From eating sardines or herring at midnight for prosperity and wealth to other fish dishes served at New Year meals including salmon, cod and shrimp to bring good fortune in the coming year.

Cooked greens are often served on New Year’s Day. The green leaves, which look like folded money, are symbolic of wealth and good fortune. In some parts of the United States, these greens may be collard greens while sauerkraut, made from green cabbage, is from the German tradition. Whatever your choice of greens, some believe that the more greens you eat, the larger your fortune will be in the New Year.

Legumes are also supposed to bring you luck on New Year’s Day. Their small size are symbolic of money or coins. One of the most common American legume dishes is hoppin’ John, a black-eyed peas and rice dish eaten on New Year’s Day for good luck. Some believe in eating one “lucky” pea for every day in the New Year. Often served with the black-eyed peas are greens and cornbread. The cornbread represents gold, which is symbolic of good fortune in the year ahead.

Noodles are a traditional Japanese New Year’s food. The length of the noodle symbolizes a long life and the buckwheat flour used to make the noodles represents resiliency. The trick is to slurp the noodles and not chew them; because if you break the noodle, your luck runs out.

Spain has a tradition of eating 12 grapes at midnight with each grape representing a different month. The goal is to swallow all the grapes before the last stroke of midnight. It is harder than it sounds and some people even practice week before the New Year. If you are successful, the belief is you will have a year of prosperity.

Try any of these traditions at your New Year celebration, or come up with one of your own!

Roasting Adds a New Twist to Vegetables

The farmer’s market season is winding down but there is still time to enjoy the end-of-the-season veggies in a new way. All you need is an oven, a baking sheet, olive oil and seasonings (salt, pepper and your choice of herbs and spices). Roasted vegetables is a mouth-watering dish that your family will enjoy and ask for again. The high dry heat of the oven concentrates the natural sugar in the vegetables creating a caramelized flavor that is both savory and sweet.

Selecting the vegetables to roast is an important first step. Root vegetables like potatoes, onions, carrots, beets, and turnips are delicious when roasted. Other vegetables like winter squash, asparagus and mushrooms are also good choices for roasting. Green colored vegetables like green beans and broccoli are not as well suited because their color may turn to an unappealing olive green. Be sure that cut vegetables are similar in size so they cook evenly.

Set oven temperature between 400-450°F and move the racks to the top third of the oven. The higher rack helps the vegetables to brown. The high heat is important so the vegetables caramelize on the outside. Cooking at a lower temperature will cause the vegetables to overcook before they achieve their browned color. Use a heavy 13×9-inch roasting pan or any large baking pan. Lining the pan with aluminum foil will save time when cleaning up.

Put vegetables that take the longest to cook in the pan first. It is important to leave space between vegetables. If vegetables are crowded together, they will steam instead of roast. In a small bowl, combine olive oil with your choice of seasonings, like lemon juice, salt, pepper. A general rule of thumb: use 1 Tablespoon of olive oil for every 2 pounds of vegetables. Drizzle the seasoned oil over the vegetables in the pan and toss lightly to coat all the vegetables. Remember to keep some oil if you are adding other vegetables later in the roasting process. Coating the vegetables lightly with the seasoned oil keeps them from drying out and adds flavor while roasting. You can also add garlic cloves or sprigs of fresh rosemary, oregano, thyme or sage to your pan to add flavor.

Vegetables cook at different times so use this chart as a guide to determine recommended roasting time. For example, roast onions and Brussels sprouts (tossed with seasoned olive oil), uncovered, about 30 minutes, stirring once. Remove the pan from the oven and add red peppers (drizzled with remaining oil). Toss to combine all vegetables together in pan and return to the oven. Continue to cook about 10 to 15 minutes more, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender and brown on the edges.

Roasted vegetables are a special treat especially this time of year when the vegetables are fresh out of the garden but can also be enjoyed year round. Combining a colorful variety of vegetables together when roasting makes an appetizing and healthy side dish.

The Glycemic Index:  A Tool For Diabetes Meal Planning

The glycemic index, or GI, is a useful tool for people with diabetes to manage their diet for better blood sugar control. The glycemic index measures how much a food containing carbohydrates may increase blood sugar levels. Foods with a high glycemic index are digested and absorbed quickly which causes a rapid increase in blood sugar levels.  In comparison, foods with a low GI value are digested slowly causing a slower increase in blood sugar levels.  Low GI foods are typically rich in fiber and protein but may also be high in fat, saturated fat and calories.

This index is based on the weight of the food, 50 grams, and not the portion size. For example, 50 grams is about one cup of cooked rice but is 4 cups of cooked beets. Portion control is important for managing blood sugar and weight, regardless of the GI value of the food.  

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Glycemic Index is not related to the nutrition quality of the food. Chocolate and carrots have the same GI value of 49, which is considered a low GI food, but obviously carrots are much higher in nutrient value than chocolate. Keep in mind that the GI is based on a single food being consumed alone on an empty stomach but usually we eat foods together in a meal. One way to use the GI system is to combine high-GI foods with low-GI foods to balance the meal or try to select more medium and low GI foods.  

Several factors can influence the GI value of foods. Fruit juice has a higher level than fruit since the fruit has fiber to lower the glycemic index. The ripeness of the fruit increases the GI value, because the fruit creates more sugar naturally, as it ripens. The more processed a food, generally the higher the GI value. For example, mashed potatoes have a higher GI value than a baked potato.  

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There is no one diet or meal plan that works for everyone with diabetes.  A good foundation is to select high-fiber foods, such as whole grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables, balanced with meat, dairy and healthy fats. Choose more foods in their natural state, and less processed foods. 

Meal plans should be individualized to meet personal food preferences and lifestyle to control blood sugar, cholesterol and triglyceride levels and maintain a healthy weight. A registered dietitian can develop a personalized meal plan that works for you. To find a registered dietitian in your area, go to https://www.eatright.org/find-a-nutrition-expert .

The Glycemic Index should not be the only guide to determine food choices but is another tool to use in the meal planning process. For more information on the Glycemic Index, go to the American Diabetes Association at www.diabetes.org.

Diabetes Alert Day: Know Your Risk

Sixty seconds can make a difference in your health.  

The Diabetes Risk Test takes only 60 seconds and can reveal your risk for developing Type 2 Diabetes, the most common form of diabetes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 10% of adults in the U.S. have Type 2 diabetes and 33% of adults have prediabetes. The American Diabetes Association sponsors Diabetes Alert Day® every year on the fourth Tuesday in March to raise public awareness of the seriousness of diabetes, especially when it is undiagnosed or untreated. The anonymous test can be taken online or downloaded as a paper version at https://www.diabetes.org/risk-test.

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The questions will relate to the risk factors for Type 2 diabetes. Some of these risk factors you cannot change like age, family history, and gender. Women who had diabetes during their pregnancy (gestational diabetes) are more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes later in life. If you had a parent, brother or sister who had diabetes, your risk increases. As you get older, your risk for diabetes increases. Certain racial and ethnic groups, such as African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, and Native Americans are more likely to develop it as well.  

There are other risk factors where you can make lifestyle changes to decrease your risk.  People who are inactive and/or overweight are at increased risk for diabetes. Having high blood pressure also contributes to your risk. Staying at a healthy weight, through diet and daily physical activity can help you prevent and manage not only Type 2 diabetes, but also heart disease, high blood pressure, and unhealthy cholesterol levels. In fact, eating healthy is one of the most important areas you can do to lower your risk for Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.  Making a few small changes can have a big impact on your weight and your health. 

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Being aware of your risk for Type 2 diabetes is the first step to taking control of your health.  Take the Diabetes Risk Test. If there are lifestyle changes you can make to lower your risk, start today. If your risk level is high, follow up with your healthcare provider. The good news is that diabetes is controllable. The earlier you take control of diabetes; you can prevent or delay some of the complications. Over time, it can affect many parts of the body and lead to other health problems like heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, blindness, nerve damage, and circulation problems that may lead to amputation.   

Know your diabetes risk so you can take action today.

Say “I Love You” in a heart-healthy way

Heart-shaped boxes of chocolates, candies, and other sweet treats are some of the more popular ways we show our love for those special ones on Valentine’s Day.  This year, consider the heart when celebrating this holiday.

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  • Preparing foods at home gives you the option to make healthy substitutions and limit portion sizes.  
    • If baking is your choice, use oil instead of butter, or better yet replace half of the fat with a pureed fruit, like applesauce or canned pumpkin to reduce the saturated fat.  
    • Remember that you can often decrease the sugar in recipes by a third without noticing a change in flavor.  
    • Make chocolate-dipped fruit (especially strawberries) for a heart-healthy dessert but use dark chocolate.  The cocoa in dark chocolate is rich in flavonoids and antioxidants that protect your heart.   
  • Prepare a heart-healthy meal at home instead of ordering take-out from an expensive restaurant.  
    • Pick a unique menu that includes protein (lean meat or seafood) and many vegetables (try them grilled or roasted).  
    • Since red is the symbolic color for Valentine’s Day, add some red vegetables and fruits to your meal (red peppers, red onions, red potatoes, tomatoes, radicchio, red grapes, raspberries and strawberries). 
      • These red foods pack potent antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and fiber for a healthy heart.  
    • When you cook at home, you control ingredients and portions, which helps to minimize calories, fat and sodium.  
    • Do not forget the candlelight and a glass of wine for this “special” meal. Cooking the meal together gives you valuable time to spend with your loved ones.  
    • For heart-healthy recipes, visit https://recipes.heart.org/
  • Staying active is an integral part of a heart-healthy lifestyle. Plan an activity to do with your loved ones for Valentine’s Day. 
    • Take a walk, try a new virtual dance or fitness class at home, go skiing, bowling or ice-skating. 
    • Make a date to continue these activities after this special day to provide a time to get healthy together. 
    • Other gift ideas to keep your loved ones healthy throughout the year are cooking classes, healthy cookbooks, membership to a fitness club, new exercise clothes, new fitness equipment or tracking appliances like a Fitbit, or a subscription to a health and fitness magazine or a healthy cooking magazine.
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Valentine’s Day is about celebrating with those you love, whether it is your “significant other”, family, friends or colleagues.  Say, “I love you”, this Valentine’s Day in a heart-healthy way and promote permanent lifestyle changes for yourself and others to reduce the risk for heart disease and stroke.  Remember you do not have to wait for a special occasion to show some love, make every day a heart-healthy day.