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.

Image by rawpixel.com
  • 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 .

Grow and Capture the Flavor of Fresh Herbs

Early this spring, I checked my outdoor herb garden to see what survived the winter. Many herbs are perennial and come back each spring. To my surprise, my kitchen garden was alive and growing! Parsley, rosemary, chive, sage, and mint all came back!

Herbs are easy to grow and do well in pots if you don’t have a space for planting. If you relish DIY projects you can build your own raised garden box. Many of my friends start growing herbs from seeds, which is less expensive and takes longer. I like to purchase small herb plants from my local gardening store, so I can reap the benefits from these tasty and nutritious greens sooner.       

After expanding my herb garden, the last few seasons I learned a few tips to share from my more experienced herb-gardening friends. Most herbs love full sun (at minimum 6-7 hours a day). Find a sunny spot in your yard to plant your garden or position your raised bed or pots. Also, add a soil or potting mix to your soil, which will help keep the soil well drained. Don’t forget to water your herbs daily, especially if your herbs are in pots. Potted soil tends to dry up quickly and you don’t want to pre-maturely ‘dry’ your herbs. Last but not least, remove flowers forming on your herbs. Flowers use up the herb’s energy and removing gives the energy back to the leaves; the part of the herb we use most often. Also, flowering herbs may lose some of their flavor and taste bitter.

I love using herbs when preparing my favorite foods and beverages. Herbs add flavor and eye appeal to my meals and fill my kitchen with mouth-watering aromas. Nutritionally, herbs contain similar nutrients found in green leafy vegetables like vitamins A, C, and K and polyphenols; which are plant substances that provide antioxidants and reduce inflammation in our bodies. Using flavorful herbs can also cut down the amount of salt and fat, making your meals healthier. Below, are some of my ‘go to’ herb parings:

  • Stuff  a chicken cavity with lemon and a combination of sage, rosemary, and thyme sprigs. Make a mixture of olive oil, pepper, and a dash of salt and brush it on the outside of the chicken. Bake it to an internal temperature of 165 degrees.
  • Make a rub of finely chopped rosemary, chopped garlic (fresh or in the jar), and pepper. Mix it with olive oil, enough to form a paste and rub it on all sides of a pork tenderloin. Bake or grill to an internal temperature of 155 degrees.
  • For refreshing botanical-infused beverages, add a rosemary sprig and a lime wedge,  fresh mint and strawberry slices, or basil and a watermelon wedge to tap or sparkling water served over crushed ice.
  • For an extra flavor punch in salads, toss snipped lemon thyme or lemon balm, chopped chives, parsley, basil or oregano.

Speaking of snipping, one of my most used kitchen tool in the summer is my herb scissors. You can purchase herb scissors at kitchen stores or online. A pair of craft scissors designate as ‘herb scissors’ also works well. Keep them sharp and wash with soap and water after each use. 

I have an abundance of herbs and found another use for them. I filled mason jars with water and a variety of fresh herbs and placed them around my house, including my bathrooms. What an amazing aroma to smell when I walked into my house!

Stay tuned for part two of this blog, Capture the Flavor with Spices!

Celebrating a World of Flavors!

March is here and spring is just around the corner. It’s also National Nutrition Month (NNM) and this year’s theme “Celebrate a World of Flavors,” is exciting as it embraces global cultures and cuisines, giving every culture a place at the table. My husband and I love to travel and this theme made me think about our pre-pandemic trips and all the delicious foods we had on our table. 

In Greece we dined on Spanakopita (spinach pie) and Galaktoboureko (custard pie) and in Norway, we enjoyed Vaffles and Brunost (waffles and brown cheese). Some of our favorite experiences; however, were when we prepared local cuisine with local chefs. In Poland we rolled the dough and ‘pinched’ meat-filled perogies and in Spain we made seafood paella in the largest frying pan I ever saw! These experiences not only broadened our palate, but also provided us with insight into and appreciation of other cultures. 

Making seafood paella in Spain.
Making seafood paella in Spain.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about my own Ukrainian heritage and the meal traditions and recipes we observed especially around the holidays. Growing up,  I remember making paska or Easter Bread in coffee cans with my mother a few days before Easter, and the debate about which kind of raisins to add – brown or golden yellow raisins (yellow seemed to win out more often). Then I would watch my mother assemble her big wicker basket with an Ukrainian embroidered basket liner which held the paska, hard-cooked and brilliantly colored eggs called krashanky, salt, butter, grated horseradish, kielbasa, and poppyseed bread, which she took to her church to be blessed the Saturday before Easter. 

Though my mother has passed, she remains in spirit and inspired me this past Christmas to dust off her old Ukrainian cookbooks and make homemade pierogies, a traditional Ukrainian Christmas Eve dish. With the assistance of my husband and daughter (pierogi maker-in-training),  we made potato and cheese filled perogies smothered in onions that would make my mother proud! 

In celebration of this year’s NNM’s theme, Why not commit to trying a new food from another cultural cuisine? Below are some suggestions to get you started:

  • Host a ‘Heritage Day’ and have your friends or coworkers prepare and share their favorite cultural foods.
  • When eating out, try a restaurant that serves a cuisine that is new to you.
  • Each week, during this month, explore a different international culture and prepare one new food from a different culture.

As for me, I’m off to Costa Rica to attend a wedding and send-off brunch. I can’t wait to try Gallo Pinto (traditional rice and bean breakfast)!

The Dimensions of Wellness

At the beginning of February, Breathing Room special guest writer Alex Chan, Mental Health Specialist with the University of Maryland Extension, offered some reasons why we have trouble keeping our New Year’s resolutions.

Even after acknowledging the pitfalls in goal-setting, it may still be difficult to set a reasonable goal and an accompanying step-by-step process to get there. By understanding the dimensions of personal wellness, you may be able to identify the areas affecting your ability to maintain a healthier lifestyle.

Creating A Healthier Life, A Step-By-Step Guide to Wellness from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration identifies the eight dimensions of wellness as:

Physical – the area that encompasses physical health and all that it includes. Things like sleep, exercise, and eating well all contribute to the physical dimension of wellness.

Emotional – this dimension of wellness is about maintaining emotional health. Stress management, coping skills, and therapy are activities relevant to this area.

Social – maintaining social wellness includes aspects like having a support system, setting boundaries, and interactions with social media.

Spiritual – this includes spending time alone, prayer, or even spending time in nature to care for yourself.

Intellectual (Personal) – spending time partaking in hobbies, following goals, and validating your identity all factor into your personal wellbeing.

Environmental (Space) – ensuring and maintaining a safe, stable, and healthy environment contributes to your environmental or special wellness.

Financial – taking control of your money so it doesn’t take control of you.

Occupational (Work) – taking breaks and managing time at work are tasks that help maintain occupational wellness

Each of the dimensions interact and affect one another, creating multifaceted obstacles to creating a path to your wellness goals. Do the following activity for each of your wellness goals to begin outlining your personal step-by-step guide to self care. Once you have your plan, set a reminder to review your plan after 2-3 weeks and see if any unforeseen obstacles have emerged.

1. Define one wellness goal that you’d like to achieve.

2. Which dimensions of wellness are involved?

3. What small step can you take towards reaching that goal?

4. When you will take the action described in #3?

5. Are there any barriers to taking your first step? How will you deal with them?

For more information, or to request a training in self care and stress management, contact Alex Chan at alexchan@umd.edu.

SUPER BOWL — THE HEALTHY WAY

This blog was originally published by our sister blog, Eat Smart, developed and maintained by the University of Maryland Extension SNAP-Ed team.

The Super Bowl isn’t just about watching football — many people love the food, too!  Super Bowl parties often have lots of unhealthy foods.  This year why not try something new!  Continue to work on your New Year’s resolutions to eat healthier.  When your friends come to watch the [game], why not have a tasting party this year?  Invite friends over to bring healthy foods for everyone to eat. 

Need ideas?  Here are 10 ideas for “healthier” Super Bowl snacks that everyone will love! 

  1. A Healthier Spinach Dip.  Try using a reduced fat cream cheese and non-fat yogurt instead of mayonnaise.  This will add extra protein for less calories.  Your friends won’t be able to tell!
  2. Salsa — try this MyPlate salsa recipe which is a hit with the kids and the best part — you get all of your food groups in one recipe.
  3. Mini Pita Pockets — instead of filling pita pockets with meat, try adding cucumbers, green and red peppers, and low fat cheddar cheese in the pita.  Spreading hummus in each pita will also give a nice flavor too.
  4. Fruit pizza — who doesn’t love pizza?  Try making them with pita bread or whole wheat tortillas. Use peanut, almond or sunflower butter and add your favorite fruits such as strawberries, blueberries, kiwi, and oranges. Sprinkle a little cinnamon on top for an added treat.
  5. Pasta salad — a great addition to any party.  Try using whole grain pasta and then adding your favorite veggies like carrots, celery, green peppers and mushrooms for added crunch.  Use low fat Italian dressing for less fat and calories.
  6. Kale chips — an alternative to regular potato chips.  Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil to fresh kale and bake at 300 degrees for 35-45 minutes.  These are a great grab and go snack the kids will love.
  7. Guacamole — a great dip that goes with many things!  Mash the avocado with tomatoes, add a little garlic, onion and lemon.  Guacamole goes great with whole grain tortilla chips or fresh veggies.
  8. Fruit and Veggie Tray — a must have for any party! Add all of your favorite fruits and veggies in a colorful display. 
  9. Low-fat popcorn — this whole grain is good for you and good to munch on too!  Try sprinkling with spices like garlic and pepper for a new flavor.
  10. Fizzy fruit water — a drink that will quench your thirst without adding the calories.

What are you some of your healthy foods that you plan on making for a Super Bowl party?

Follow the Eat Smart blog for more great nutrition information and healthy recipes the whole family will love!

Love For Leftovers

As many of us plan on what to eat this holiday season, it can be good to have the end in mind — leftovers!

Eating leftovers is an economical choice that reduces food waste and keeps the holiday memory alive for a few more days. However, there are a few tips to share to make sure your leftovers are safe for all to enjoy.

How long can I keep leftovers in the refrigerator and freezer?

You have the option to refrigerate leftovers or freeze them. If you keep your leftovers in the refrigerator, you want to consume them within 3 to 4 days. If you choose to freeze your leftovers, for quality we recommend keeping them in the freezer for 3 to 4 months. Again, you can keep leftovers in the freezer longer, but the quality may decrease — think freezer burn.

Temperatures to remember:

  • Refrigerator: Keep at 32°F to 40°F, buy an appliance thermometer.
    • Why: Temperatures at this range will prevent the growth of most foodborne pathogens.
  • Freezer: Keep at -20°F to 0°F, buy an appliance thermometer.
    • Why: Temperatures at 0°F will prevent bacteria growth. However, freezing doesn’t kill all bacteria. 
  • Reheating leftovers: Reheat leftovers to 165°F, buy an appliance thermometer
    • Why: This temperature will prevent growth of most foodborne pathogens

How do I store leftovers? Cool the foods quickly!

Have food storage containers in mind. Use shallow containers that are 4” or less in height to store leftovers. Shallow containers will help cool foods to 40°F and below faster.

Why: Temperatures at 40°F and below will reduce the risk of bacteria growing quickly (one bacteria can grow to over 16 million bacteria in 8 hours under the right conditions).

How: Slice large cuts into smaller portions to be refrigerated or frozen. Hot foods can be placed directly into the refrigerator or placed in an ice or cold water bath before refrigerating.

Gifts are not the only thing that should be wrapped well!

Wrapping leftovers so they are airtight will help keep moisture, absorbing funky odors and help keep bacteria out.

Though this infographic shows how to thaw a frozen turkey, the same methods can be used for other frozen foods.

Thawing: Thaw frozen leftovers in the microwave, refrigerator, cold water method or cook frozen. The best method is thawing in the refrigerator because the food can always be refrozen if using a refrigerator thaw.

Why: These methods do not encourage bacteria growth.

Reheating leftovers: Whether you use the oven, stovetop or microwave, you will want to reheat leftovers until they reach a safe internal temperature of 165°F. If you use the microwave, cover the bowl or plate, and make sure you stir the food to prevent cold spots, where food many not heat up.

Helpful resources:

  1. Your local Extension office: Find here
  2. Free FoodKeeper App: Here
  3. USDA: Leftovers and food safety

This post written by Extension food safety specialist Shauna Henley, PhD.

Holiday Dining Tips for Diabetes-Friendly Meals

November is American Diabetes Month. According to the 2020 Center for Disease and Prevention Report, over 1 in 10 people have diabetes and approximately 1 in 3 have prediabetes. Managing diabetes through diet, physical activity, and medication can be challenging anytime, but it can be even more difficult during the holidays.

November also begins the ‘holiday eating’ season as tempting foods are everywhere through December. Whether it’s a neighborhood party, work function, or family gathering, following a meal plan that limits the sugars and fat found in our favorite holiday foods can be overwhelming. Check out these healthy holiday eating ideas that will help you maintain good control of your blood sugar levels and allow you to still enjoy your favorite dishes.

1. It’s all about the carbs. Some holiday foods may be too tempting to resist. But you can still savor the flavor of these foods by consuming them in portions based on your diabetes meal pattern and by keeping track of the number of grams of carbohydrates you consume. Below are foods found on the USDA MyPlate and the number of grams of carbohydrates they contain:

  • Starches:(potatoes, bread, pasta, rice, cereal, beans, corn, etc.) 15 grams per serving
  • Non-starchy vegetables:(carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, green leafy vegetables, etc.) 5 grams per serving
  • Fruits: 15 grams per serving
  • Milk and yogurt: 15 grams per serving
  • Meat and other protein: 0 grams per serving except for foods like beans

Note, beans (kidney, black, red, white, etc.) are starches and contain 15 grams of carbohydrates per serving You can find out more about serving sizes by visiting the USDA MyPlate website https://www.myplate.gov/

2. Choose carbohydrates wisely. Limit the amount of starches you eat, and try consuming non-starchy vegetables. They contain 1/3 of the carbohydrates and calories in starches and do not cause big spikes in your blood sugar. Consuming whole fruits with skins are better than canned fruit or juices because they contain fiber, which prevent spikes in blood sugar. Include low-fat or fat-free milk and yogurt in your holiday meals. Milk and Greek yogurt are excellent sources of protein, calcium, and other nutrients and can be substituted in some of your favorite dishes. For example, use fat-free Greek yogurt instead of sour cream in your favorite dips and low-fat milk in your eggnog recipe.

3. The scoop on alcohol and diabetes. If you don’t currently drink alcohol, then don’t start. However, if you plan to indulge in some alcohol, consult with your healthcare team first. Whether you can consume alcohol if your diabetic is very personalized and may be based on your medications and other health conditions.

4. Work it out. Make time to be physically active. The more you stick with your year- long routine during the holidays, the more likely you will keep focused on your fitness and blood sugar goals too. 

5. Host your own holiday event! Take control of the ‘party foods’ you serve by providing your guests a list of healthy holiday foods they can bring. It reduces time you  spend preparing multiple dishes and provides your guests the opportunity to create festive healthy options that all can enjoy. For example, instead of cheesy dips, ask someone to bring a festive vegetable plate with hummus dip and red vegetables and green vegetables. You can also add a red and green fruit platter to the list too. 

Try this fruit tart recipe from the Dining with Diabetes program. It’s easy to make and one of my favorites. Wontons sheets are available in the produce section of the grocery store. To learn more about upcoming Dining with Diabetes program I’m teaching at the University of Maryland Extension, feel free to reach out to me at: bjackey@umd.edu

Happy holidays!

Fresh Fruit Tarts

Serving Information: Serves 12 (1 serving = 1 tart)

Ingredients:

  • 12 wonton skins
  • 2 Tbsp. sugar-free jelly or fruit spread
  • 1 1/2 c. diced fresh fruit*
  • 1 c. non-fat yogurt, any flavor
  • Cooking spray

*Select fruit combinations based on what is in season. Any of the following could be used: bananas, strawberries, blueberries, grapes, kiwi, raspberries, peaches, orange sections, etc.

Equipment:

  • Measuring cups and spoons
  • Small saucepan
  • Muffin tin

Directions:

  • Preheat over to 375 degrees F and spray muffin tins with cooking spray.
  • Press wonton skins into muffin tins allowing the corners to stand up over the edges.
  • Bake wontons until lightly brown, approximately 4-6 minutes. Watch carefully, as wonton skins bake very quickly.
  • Remove from oven; carefully take each wonton out of the muffin tin and allow time for cooling.
  • Warm jelly or fruit spread and lightly coat bottom of each wonton.
  • Fill each wonton with fruit and a rounded dollop of yogurt on top.
  • Garnish with small piece of fruit or a dab of jelly/spread and serve immediately.