With the cost of everyday essentials skyrocketing, and the extra SNAP benefits from emergency allotments ending, many families are finding it more challenging than ever to put food on the table.
Our SNAP-Ed team is working to help families ensure that they can use their benefits to find and prepare healthy, affordable meals. Our team has resources for signing up for SNAP or WIC, information on free and reduced price school meal programs, and how to find local food pantries and nonprofit groups like the Maryland Food Bank.
Families and individuals already using SNAP benefits can also find useful information, like how to stretch their dollars by shopping at local farmers markets.
Who doesn’t love a PB&J? April 2nd is National Peanut Butter and Jelly Day, so celebrate with one of America’s most popular sandwiches. Soldiers in World War II are credited with the popularity of this sandwich combination because peanut butter, jelly and bread were on the Army’s food ration list.
Let’s look a little closer at the history of the mainstay of this sandwich: peanut butter. Peanut butter is a food-paste made from ground-roasted peanuts. It takes about 540 peanuts to make a 12-ounce jar of peanut butter. This popular nut butter made its debut as a protein substitute at the 1883 Chicago World’s Fair. After the commercialization of the peanut industry in the early 1900’s, peanut butter became more affordable for everyone.
Many people avoid peanut butter because of the calories and fat, however there is more to know about the nutritional value of this nutrient-dense food. A 2-tablespoon serving of peanut butter provides around 200 calories. This portion also provides fiber, protein and fat; which helps to keep you full longer. Although it is high in fat, these are mostly healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. In fact, peanut butter has the same ratio of saturated to unsaturated fats as olive oil. Peanut butter also provides important vitamins and minerals including vitamins E and B6, magnesium and potassium.
I recently was shopping for peanut butter in the grocery store. It is amazing what you learn when you turn the jar around and read the nutrition facts label and the ingredient list. Don’t be fooled by statements on the front that say “natural”. Peanut butter made solely from peanuts is easily identifiable. The ingredient list is simple: peanuts.
When you look at the jars on the shelf, they are the ones that have a layer of oil above the peanut paste in the jar. This is the natural oil from the ground peanuts. Before using, stir the oil into the paste to create a creamy texture. This can be tricky to maneuver but once you have stirred the oil into the peanut paste, it will give you a smooth, creamy mixture that is easy to spread. Store the jar in the refrigerator upside down to keep the mixture from separating.
So, what is in those other “peanut butter” jars on the shelf. First you need to know that products that are called peanut butter must be at least 90% peanuts with no artificial sweeteners, flavoring, or preservatives. Other brands that do not meet these criteria are often called peanut butter spread. Here are some things to look out for in the ingredient list when selecting a peanut butter:
sugar or honey
Some brands mix other ingredients like grape jelly, honey or chocolate into the mixture. Look at the nutrition facts label to learn more about calories, saturated fats, sugars, and sodium. For example, reduced-fat peanut butter has less fat but often adds sugar to replace the fat, which increases the calories. The higher the sodium content of the spread, you have less natural peanut flavor.
There are many variations to the traditional PB&J sandwich today. Try it on whole wheat or raisin bread. Add a new flavor of jelly like strawberry jam. Add some fruit like bananas, apples, or blueberries. Try grilling the sandwich or making it into a French toast. Sprinkle a layer of dry cereal or potato chips to give it some crunch.
Keep in mind that peanut allergies are the second most common food allergy in children so use other nut butters as a substitute. Be sure to alert others when you are serving peanut butter because the allergy can be triggered just by being close to the peanuts.
Although peanut butter is a great source of protein and contains healthy unsaturated fats, it can be high in calories so portion control is important to maintain a healthy balance of calories.
As a kid I remember getting up at the crack of dawn with my dad, and with fishing poles in hand, we walked to the Atlantic ocean with high hopes of catching our dinner. If successful, we would enjoy fresh-caught blowfish, snapper, flounder, or bluefish with home grown vegetables for dinner. We loved living off the land (and sea), for a few weeks each summer! Now, as an adult, out of convenience, I purchase seafood locally at markets.
Eating seafood continues to gain popularity in the U.S. Annually, we increased our consumption from 11 pounds (1968) to 19 pounds (2020). Nutritionally, this is great news! Seafood is an excellent source of high-quality protein, is low in fat and high in omega 3 fatty acids, which are heart-protective. But, meeting the rising demand for these aquatic powerhouse foods is challenging, nationally and globally.
Aquaculture or ‘fish farming,’ has been successful in increasing the seafood supply. However, many questions have been raised about ‘farming our fish.’ As a registered dietitian, I often receive and respond to questions regarding wild-caught versus farm-raised seafood. For example:
Are farm-raised fish safe to eat?
Like all foods, there are food safety hazards associated with seafood. Farmed-raised and wild-caught seafood can be safe to eat; however, it’s important to consider the source. Seafood from the U.S. has high inspection standards and is closely regulated. This may not be the case in other countries. Contaminants have been found in both. Antibiotics and toxins have been found in some imported farmed seafood and mercury and pollutants have been found in some wild-caught fish.
Does farm-raised fish have the same nutrient quality?
Like farm animals, the nutritional quality of fish depends on what they eat. Wild-caught fish consume diets natural to their habitat (ocean, lake, stream) and can be lower in calories and saturated fat than farm-raised varieties. Farmed fish may be slightly higher in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids but also saturated fats, which should be limited.
How do I know if I am buying or eating farm-raised fish?
Check COOL (Country Of Origin Label). It’s required on all fresh or frozen seafood sold in the United States. Frozen seafood will also have a label indicating where the fish was packaged. Read the label carefully. Fish caught or farmed from another country can be packaged in the U.S.
Wild-caught or farm-raised? The choice is yours. Read the labels and do your research so you can make informed choices about your seafood. Check out the Seafood Nutrition Partnership for some great recipes!
March is Living Well Month! The National Extension Association of Family and Consumer Sciences (NEAFCS) encourages families to live well through raising kids, eating right, and spending smart.
Physically, mentally, socially, and emotionally strong families provide strength for future generations and Extension initiatives enable Maryland residents to build the knowledge and skill to lead full and productive lives.
The University of Maryland Extension Family & Consumer Sciences team provides comprehensive education for individuals in a variety of areas including nutrition, physical activity, mental health, chronic disease prevention and management, personal finance, and so much more.
Celebrate healthy living and the great work FCS professionals do to educate individuals, families, and communities in Maryland, and across the country, by engaging in one of the Living Well Month activities!
Follow the recommendations of the NEAFCS, or come up with some of your own goals to start Living Well!
We all know that we’re supposed to eat lots of fruits and vegetables as a part of a healthy diet. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends that women over 30 eat 2-3 cups a day, and men over 30, 3-4 cups of vegetables per day. Produce provides important nutrients for our bodies like vitamin A and C, potassium, and dietary fiber, all which help to prevent or reduce your risk of heart disease, lower cholesterol levels, maintain healthy blood pressure, keep healthy skin, bones, eyes, and even helps a body heal from wounds.
The Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA) is encouraging residents across the state to participate in Community Supported Agriculture programs (CSAs) to get fresh local produce, while supporting local farmers during “National Community Supported Agriculture Farms Week,” February 20-26, 2023.
Community Supported Agriculture works on a membership basis with a subscription fee that allows members to receive a regular package of fresh produce. Some CSAs may provide delivery, or may deliver to a central location for easy pick up. CSAs help keep money in Maryland communities, bolstering the local economy and providing farm-fresh, seasonal vegetables and fruits to families in the area.
To learn more about Maryland CSAs or to sign up with one of the state’s farms, go to the Maryland’s Best website that provides a listing of statewide CSAs.
Beating over 100,000 times a day to pump 1.5 gallons of blood every minute through the 60,000 miles of vessels in the human body, our hearts are the do the most work for our physical and emotional well-being.
For 47% of Americans however, hypertension is a reality that puts their hearts at risk for stroke and heart disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and only 1 in 4 adults experiencing high blood pressure have their condition controlled through healthy diets and activities.
The University of Maryland Extension offers workshops and programs to help people learn how to manage their uncontrolled hypertension through healthy actions. Especially designed for populations over 55 years, the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH-Plus) plan incorporates a healthy diet plan with regular exercise tips, and self-measured blood pressure monitoring to ensure a comprehensive hypertension management plan.
The DASH-Plus system teaches participants nutritious recipes, how to reduce salt intake, the benefits of fruits and vegetables, how to prepare tasty but heart-healthy sweets, and even grocery shopping and budgeting tips. So for Valentine’s Day, give your loved ones, and yourself, the gift of a healthy heart.
Most of us don’t make fitness a priority during the holidays. We are busy, decorating, shopping, and preparing food for our jam-packed holiday calendar. We also look forward to spending time with family and friends, leaving little time for physical activity.
Instead of being a January 1st, ‘Fitness Resolutioner,’ delaying fitness/activity goals until the new year, why not start now? See my ‘12 Days of Holiday Fitness Tips’ for being active during the holiday and the new year:
Day 1: Develop a realistic plan and track you activity. Use a fitness tracker or write it down. Tracking progress motivates us to be more physically active and increase our activity levels.
Day 2: Commit to 15 minutes of daily activity of something you enjoy: walking, cycling, hiking, dancing, swimming, etc.
Day 3: Take a daily lunch break walk with a co-worker. Map a route outside, around your worksite’s parking lot or inside, in the hallways. Use the stairs instead of elevators.
Day 4: Holiday shopping? Park the car a distance from the store or mall. Take a lap around the parking lot or inside the mall before you start shopping. This will provide you with added energy for getting your shopping done. Use the stairs instead of escalators and elevators.
Day 5: Feeling tired, stressed and unmotivated? Ironically, physical activity boosts energy and relieves stress, Find an ‘activity buddy’ to keep you motivated. My running partner and I text each other weekly to get a 30-minute run (or walk) on our calendars.
Day 6: Hydrate! Carry a water bottle during your activity, especially if your outside. Proper hydration can generate heat to keep you warm.
Day 7: You’re halfway there! Add 5 minutes (or more) of physical activity to your day. You can do it!
Day 8: Plan an outdoor family and friends social activity. Ice skating, skiing or snowshoeing, hiking, or participating in an outdoor game keeps you active and reduces holiday stress.
Day 9: Traveling? Airports, train and bus stations are a great place to walk. After flying home from the Thanksgiving holiday, I walked 20 minutes around baggage carousels, waiting for my luggage. Also, forgo the ‘moving walkways’. You’ll burn more calories and strengthen your legs.
Day 10: Take a walk before or after a meal. I encourage my family (some members more than others) to take a walk after Thanksgiving dinner, before we indulged in dessert.
Day 11: Sign up for a local holiday walk/run. Organize a group and make it fun and wear holiday attire. Participating in a New Year’s Day walk/run is a great way to start the new year.