Learn to Eat Smart
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10 Tips for Saving Money at the Grocery Store Without Coupons
Ken Immer | 01/15/2018
If you’re like most people, the supermarket isn’t your favorite place, but shopping for food is something that we have to ...
If you’re like most people, the supermarket isn’t your favorite place, but shopping for food is something that we have to do. Grocery shopping can be a chore, budgets can be tight, and we have a tendency to reach for convenience foods (which tend to cost more). Here are ten tips to help balance it out without having to clip coupons.
- Take advantage of your store’s loyalty program. Most grocery stores these days have a loyalty program where those who sign up and give their phone number and email address can get big savings that change weekly.
- Purchase as many items as you can from the items that are on sale or BOGO. Many stores have a rotation of how they offer these sale prices on staple items such as meats, paper products, cheese, drinks, as well as produce. Figure out the rotation, and stock up on items with longer shelf-lives or that freeze well when they are at a deep discount.
- If you’re good at being spontaneous with your weekly menus, let sale prices determine your menu by only buying items that are on sale.
- Always take a quick look at the ‘discontinued’ table or rack near the cashier stations (sometimes near the back of the store near the stockroom entrance), they are often hidden. You never know what you might find as they rotate through stock. These are the lowest prices in the store!
- Avoid buying foods that are already cut (e.g. shredded cheese, shredded carrots). The whole versions are cheaper and do not spoil as quickly.
- When buying produce, it’s easy to over-buy. Rather than the packaged bags, use the ‘bulk bins’ for items like fresh spinach and salad greens, and mushrooms. These items don’t store well, and should only be purchased in amounts that you will use immediately, saving you money by not throwing it away.
- Consider your cooking habits. Some frozen vegetables, such as green beans, broccoli, peas, and corn, can be inexpensive in bulk, stay fresh in the freezer, and keep their nutritional quality. Buying frozen allows you only to use what you need when you cook, which reduces waste.
- Try the store brands of your favorite items! It’s not like when we were kids that the ‘generic’ brands were all horrible quality. Many name brands are actually packing their same products under ‘store labels’ with the same quality standards but a lower HINT: if the packaging/bottle looks similar to your favorite brand, it’s a good possibility that it’s manufactured by the national brand.
- When buying produce items that “ripen” (e.g. avocados, tomatoes, bananas), consider purchasing the individual fruits at different stages of ripeness. Like three avocados: 1 ready to eat NOW, one that has a day or two to be ready, and one as hard as a baseball that won’t be ready until the end of the week. Same for bananas and tomatoes.
- Don’t shop when you are hungry, and stick to your list!
4 Ways to Make Thanksgiving Healthier
Lauren Wright | 11/21/2017
Thanksgiving is right around the corner, and chances are you’re already planning your holiday meal or at least daydreaming ab...
Thanksgiving is right around the corner, and chances are you’re already planning your holiday meal or at least daydreaming about all the turkey and pie you’re about to eat! While this time of year is all about enjoying time with family and indulging in good food, it’s often tempting to over eat. We want to you to be able to enjoy this special holiday without overdoing it.
Here are four ways to help you enjoy your Thanksgiving while keeping active and healthy:
- Start your day off with exercise and work up an appetite.
Take a quick walk with your relatives or play football in the yard with the kids before you sit down for turkey. Being active as a family not only allows you to spend time together on this holiday but also allows you to enjoy your Thanksgiving meal You also end up balancing the extra calories with physical activity. Many communities have Turkey Trots on Thanksgiving morning. Check your local newspaper for listings.
- Make room for your favorite holiday treats.
Decide what your favorite Thanksgiving dishes are that you only enjoy this time of year. You should be sure to enjoy those dishes, but you can balance by cutting back on other foods you enjoy all year round. For example, my family only prepares my favorite apple-cranberry casserole on Thanksgiving, so I make sure to enjoy it while I can, but I skip the dinner rolls that I eat on a more regular basis.
- Make healthier substitutions.
Traditional Thanksgiving dishes tend to be high in fat, sugar, and sodium, but with a few tweaks, it’s easy to lighten up your favorite recipes. Pick a low-fat stock or gravy, and choose a low sodium stuffing. Swap plain yogurt in creamy dishes for sour cream. Sometimes in fruit pie or crumble fillings, you can reduce the amount of sugar slightly without greatly altering the flavor. And choose whole grains when possible! There are lots of light recipe ideas online these days.
- Rethink your drink.
Alcohol is often enjoyed with the Thanksgiving meal, but it’s easy to consume a lot of empty calories by drinking too much. Watch how much you drink or try mixing sparkling water with wine to make a lower calorie spritzer.
- Start your day off with exercise and work up an appetite.
3 Ways to Avoid Going Overboard at Thanksgiving
Coleman Tanner | 11/21/2017
In just a few days, you'll face a challenge:
cakes, pies, and creamy casseroles galore. It can be difficult to maintain a h...
In just a few days, you'll face a challenge: cakes, pies, and creamy casseroles galore. It can be difficult to maintain a healthy lifestyle during the holiday season, especially with so many tempting foods at our fingertips.
We have good news: Thanksgiving doesn't have to be a 24-hour smorgasbord. It is entirely possible to indulge on your favorite Thanksgiving treats without going overboard. Consider these tips to help you stick to a plan on Turkey Day.
- Don't indulge all day long. This may seem like a no-brainer, but people often disregard nutrition for the entire day on Thanksgiving. They either skip breakfast altogether and munch on appetizers all day long or enjoy a large, calorie-dense breakfast on top of what they'll be eating for dinner that evening. Instead, enjoy a hearty, healthy breakfast like scrambled eggs with some fruit and whole grain toast to tide you over until the big meal.
- Stay active. Fun runs are becoming increasingly popular on Thanksgiving Day! Round up the whole family and register for your local road race to get your hearts pumping. Races aren't your thing? That's okay! Walking a 5k is still a great way to get your blood pumping and spend time with your family during the holidays. Or, to make things even easier, pick teams and host a family football game in the yard while the turkey is cooking. There's nothing like a little friendly competition, right?
- Be mindful. If you constantly obsess over what you're eating, you won't enjoy your holiday to the fullest. Instead, make small changes to ensure that you're doing what's best for your mind and body. Try swapping out the creamy casseroles (like green bean) with fresh vegetables, go easy on the gravy, and eat the healthy foods on your plate before devouring the heavy, starchy foods so that you're not tempted to eat so much. Eat slowly so your body knows when it's full, and don't beat yourself up over a piece of pie! But instead of going back for seconds or thirds, treat yourself to one small piece.
Remember, one day of unhealthy eating doesn't make your entire lifestyle an unhealthy one, just like one day of healthy eating doesn't make your entire lifestyle a healthy one. Committing to a healthy lifestyle takes time, energy, and balance.
Like we teach children, once in a while foods like desserts are rightfully named: because they're okay sometimes. Thanksgiving is certainly one of those times. Enjoy the day with your family around the table and do something active as a group if you are able. If not? Resolve to try again tomorrow.
5 Things to Start & Stop Doing When Eating Healthy
Ken Immer | 01/24/2017
When we are trying to eating healthy, we can feel like we are in uncharted territory. The thing is, we tend to approach it from...
When we are trying to eating healthy, we can feel like we are in uncharted territory. The thing is, we tend to approach it from the wrong angle. We start cutting out a lot of our favorite foods and replacing them with unfamiliar and often expensive products. The focus tends to be on the ‘challenge’ of eating healthy which creates a ‘winners & losers’ type mentality, and this is a recipe for failure.
To break it down into something simpler, we’ve created a list of 5 things to start & stop when eating healthy that can help you develop a better strategy. If you’re starting a New Year’s healthy eating plan, try considering these five ideas, and it might transform the way you look at food, which is the path to long-term success!
- Seek out balance versus deprivation.
Instead of spending all of your time focused on totally removing the ‘bad’ foods from your diet, try identifying the ways you’re already doing some of the ‘right’ things, and do just a bit more of those things, like drinking more water or having an extra helping of your favorite vegetables. Totally removing foods that you love cold-turkey is hardly ever a successful strategy. Simply limiting some of these ‘bad’ foods can make a big difference with your health, and you don’t have to give them up completely. For instance, make a plan not to drink soda when you’re at work, but allow it when you’re at home or out. Small changes like that can be easy to stick with and can really add up over time; this is how you keep feeling balanced.
- Learn how to buy foods for ‘value’ versus just for the ‘cheapest price.’
Food can be one of our biggest expenses; there is no doubt about that. Reducing our grocery bill and eating out can seem like a great way to save money. However, there are ways of choosing foods that can help you meet both goals. The focus is not only on buying all the ‘healthier’ ingredients and products that are out there but also on creating a nice balance in your whole shopping cart. When finding a really great deal or super sale, think about using those savings to pay for another nutritious item that you usually think of as ‘expensive.’ Frozen fruits and vegetables can be cheaper and less wasteful than fresh, and they’re almost as nutritious! When comparing products, read the Nutrition Facts panel, and look at the ‘dietary fiber’ numbers. Choosing products where the percent daily value (%DV) is over 10% can help you avoid empty calories. Start grading prices on how much nutrition they offer, and you start to see what foods truly ARE expensive.
- Pay attention to all the ways that your body is getting healthier when you make better choices, and stop focusing solely on weight loss.
The number one thing that people say they want from a healthy eating plan is to lose weight, which is totally understandable and a great goal. Losing weight is associated with lower disease risk factors, and gives you a higher quality of life. Some of the physiological changes that happen to your body that we associate with losing weight, such as more energy, better skin, improved mood, and better sleep, are not just results FROM losing weight, but they can also start to show up BEFORE losing weight (and actually accelerate the weight loss you want!). When we have more energy, we’ll be more likely to move more and start exercising because it feels easier. When you start sleeping better, it gives you more energy but also helps you feel less stressed and anxious, which encourages weight loss. Studies show that increased stress and anxiety are associated with gaining weight and making losing that weight difficult. Looking for these indications that your body is getting healthy is a great way to stay motivated even when the numbers on the scale aren’t moving.
- Find out what foods work best for you, and don’t just follow fad diets or what other people are doing.
Your personal healthy eating plan is exactly that: very personal. Each person has different needs, and what can produce quick results for one person, may not work for another. Your needs also change as your body changes, so the diet you start today may not be the same diet you need after you drop 20 pounds and your doctor recommends that you stop taking your blood pressure medication. It does mean that learning about nutrition would be a good idea. You don’t have to become a nutritionist to be healthy, but knowing some basic facts about which foods contain specific nutrients that matter to you (i.e. if you know that you are anemic, knowing about foods high in iron is a good idea). Being aware of your personal state of health is also important. Having a blood test drawn to inspect the levels of most vital nutrition is simple. It narrows down your study into something manageable. Once you and your doctor discuss which foods are important to you, you can experiment and start to really customize your choices based on how they make you feel and their overall health results. You might be surprised to find some small, simple changes that produce big results!
- Take your healthy food journey one day at a time, and stop expecting immediate results.
It’s understandable that we are impatient when it comes to getting specific health results and outcomes, especially in our fast-paced culture these days. The truth is, however, that ‘quick fixes’ are rarely sustainable over the long-term. While getting quick results can be exciting in the moment, when we truly ask ourselves what we want, it’s that long-term solution. The good news is that there is a combination of quick results and long-term success that is available to you when you use the first four items in the list above as a guide. They can be seen as four simple steps towards creating a personal healthy eating plan- NOT a diet- that can last a lifetime. According to new research, your ability to follow a diet may be a larger predictor of your weight-loss success than the diet you choose. So, this is a pretty obvious conclusion that staying on your diet is the best “diet.” The nature or the method isn’t as important. So don’t deprive yourself, buy foods for value which includes considering both price and nutritional value, and find out what foods actually work for you which means paying attention to all the ways that your body responds to the foods that you are eating.
These five tips can serve as a guide to help you transform the way you see food, and make it so that you’ll never ‘diet’ again. This is what we truly call ‘lifestyle change’: a change that you can stick with, because a lot of consideration is given to your preferences and your choices, and is truly tailored to your needs.
- Seek out balance versus deprivation.
How to Tell When Produce is Ripe
Ken Immer | 11/18/2016
When purchasing produce, the biggest question is often, “When is ______ ripe?”. A better question to ask is, “Should I buy it ...
When purchasing produce, the biggest question is often, “When is ______ ripe?”. A better question to ask is, “Should I buy it before it’s ripe or when it’s ripe?” Sometimes buying foods before they are ripe can be a good strategy, as long as you consider when you plan to eat it and how many days it will be stored before use. We end up wasting a lot of food because it ‘turns past its prime’ before we have a chance to eat it. We can save money and time by using ripeness as a purchasing strategy rather than just a countdown clock till you throw produce away.
Here are a few items that can be purchased at varying degrees of ripeness or being ready to eat:
- Ready to eat: When the skin is uniformly dark, and when squeezed gently it gives a bit but is not mushy. The small nub of a stem should still be attached but should come off easily with your finger.
- Timeline: Avocados start off green and very hard, but they do ripen quickly, usually within 3-4 days if purchased green. Once they are ready to eat, they can be refrigerated for 3-4 more days, whole and uncut.
- Storage: Do not refrigerate until ripe! Keep them in a countertop bowl away from sunlight. Storing in a paper bag can accelerate ripening.
- Ready to eat: Most people like to eat a banana when it is uniformly yellow, with minimal dark spots. However, they can be eaten until well spotted, as they get sweeter and softer the longer they sit.
- Timeline: Bananas, like avocados, start off green and very hard, but ripen at different rates depending on a number of factors. On average, a green banana will be ready to eat within 5-7 days. A ‘green tip’ banana which is, as it sounds, just green at the top near the stem, may take 1-2 days to become completely yellow.
- Storage: Bananas will ripen slowly in a refrigerator. However, the skin will darken more quickly than the flesh softens. Again, similar to avocados, they do well on the countertop away from the sun. Bananas are often bunched with a plastic wrapped around the stem ends, which extends their ripening time. Once removed, they ripen much more quickly.
- Ready to eat: Look for green husks that are not dried out with shiny silks. Peel back about 2 inches of the husk and make sure that the kernels are plump and tightly arranged.
- Timeline: Choose corn that is either in a refrigerated section or an especially cool part of the store. Any heat can cause it to rot very quickly. Otherwise, corn will keep 2-3 days after purchase as long as it’s kept in the husk.
- Storage: Store in the refrigerator, but really, corn is best eaten immediately.
- Ready to eat: Choose an eggplant that is firm and heavy for its size. Also look for vivid color and avoid all soft spots or bruises, as this indicates decaying flesh beneath the skin. Any indentation that does not spring back after gentle finger pressure means a past-ripe eggplant.
- Timeline: Eggplants are very perishable and have just 2-3 days after purchase before starting to decay and dry.
- Storage: Store in the refrigerator, and if purchased wrapped in plastic, remove immediately, as it keeps it from breathing and will go bad faster.
- Ready to eat: Mangoes can be purchased green, and are ready to eat when either uniformly yellow or with a red highlight. Some mangoes do retain a little bit of green when they are ripe as well, so you should also give them a little squeeze. Their sweet aroma is the best indicator since the coloring can be deceptive. Also, they should be slightly soft like an avocado, not hard like an apple when ripe.
- Timeline: Depending on the type of mango, it can take anywhere from 3 days to a week for them to fully ripen.
- Storage: Never refrigerate an unripe mango, as with other tropical fruits. However once ripe they can remain in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
- Melon (cantaloupe/honeydew)
- Ready to eat: Melons are a tricky bunch, as the coloring and firmness are not always reliable indicators. ‘Thumping’ is also not exactly a science. When you pick it up, it should be heavy for its size, and looking at the stem end of the fruit gives more reliable info. The stem end should be brown and not green, and should have a nice aroma. If the aroma is especially strong, however, it’s likely past its prime.
- Timeline: Again, not super reliable, but melons have a fairly long shelf-life, especially if they are picked green (green stem). They can take up to a week from purchase to completely ripen. Because of the challenges, purchasing them only ready to eat is recommended.
- Storage: Unripe melons ripen on the countertop, and stored for only a day or two in the crisper drawer where you have higher humidity
- Ready to eat: Pineapples are officially ready to eat as soon as they are picked, as they do not continue to officially ‘ripen’, but they do begin to soften and become juicier. Choosing a pineapple that is sweet and of good texture is the skill. Plucking a leaf is a good indication; it should come out easily and have a nice sweet aroma
- Timeline: Waiting to eat your pineapple only changes the texture of the fruit. Pineapples are highly perishable and will actually ferment at room temperature in a few days, so watch them closely and use within a day or two after purchase.
- Storage: The best way to store pineapple is to cut and refrigerate. But if you do refrigerate a whole pineapple, wrap it to keep it fresher longer.
- Tomato (not grape tomatoes)
- Ready to eat: Tomatoes are best eaten straight from the vine in your backyard when they are vibrant red (or yellow!), heavy, with a firm skin with just a tiny amount of give. However, store-bought tomatoes are picked green because they are highly perishable and damage easily when ripe. They will, however, turn red after picking, but never truly ‘ripen,’ which is why homegrown tomatoes are completely different from those purchased.
- Timeline: Tomatoes can take anywhere from 2 days to a week to be ready to eat after purchasing, depending on how green or hard they are at purchase. They will spoil very quickly once soft.
- Storage: Tomato texture changes dramatically when refrigerated, so they should always be kept at room temperature unless cut.
Because a lot of produce has ‘stages’ of when they are ready to eat, it really is best to think about when you want to consume them as to when you should buy them, and what stage they should be at when you do purchase them. For items like bananas and avocados that change quickly, it’s good to purchase multiple fruit in different stages (i.e. purchase 1 green and hard, 1 almost ripe, and 1 with 2-3 days of ripening left.) That way, you will always have a perfectly ripe banana or avocado on hand. A little bit of meal planning is required to make this work, but the strategy of just buying everything ‘green’ for later can backfire as EVERYTHING becomes ‘ready to eat’ at once! The best rule of thumb is to never over buy produce unless you just can’t make it to a store very often.
Sport Drinks: An Unhealthy Choice
Lauren Wright | 10/04/2016
With soda consumption on the decline, many people are turning to sports drinks as their beverage of choice. Sports drinks, like...
With soda consumption on the decline, many people are turning to sports drinks as their beverage of choice. Sports drinks, like Gatorade and Powerade, are often marketed as healthy beverage options for people of all ages, but they have grown increasingly popular with children in recent years. Nowadays it’s not uncommon to see people reaching for sports drinks, even when they’ve done no exercise! So how good are sports drinks for you really?
Sports drinks are designed to replenish water, carbohydrates, and sugars lost through vigorous exercise. Gatorade, one of the first sports drinks, was first developed by scientists at the University of Florida to refuel football players, who were practicing in heavy gear in Florida’s sun and humidity for hours each day. For them, sports drinks were necessary to prevent dehydration from the heat and intense exercise. But how many of us average Americans perform that kind of exercise on a daily basis to justify drinking sports drinks every day? That’s right, few of us actually do!
The main concern with consuming sports drinks every day is that they are packed with sugar. Although they’re marketed as healthy options, they often contain nearly as much sugar as sodas do. For example, one 12oz serving of orange Gatorade contains 80 calories and 20 grams of sugar!1 (Keep in mind that the average bottle contains 2.5 servings, meaning that a single bottle of Gatorade contains 200 calories and 50 grams of sugar.)
The American Heart Association recommends that adult women limit their added sugar intake to 100 calories per day and adult men 150 calories per day.2 That means that downing an entire bottle of sports drink will by far exceed your recommended sugar for the day.
So should you or your child be consuming sports drinks every day? Probably not! A good rule of thumb is that adults performing less than an hour of vigorous exercise should stick to rehydrating with water. As for kids, the American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend that children consume sports drinks at all.3
So the next time your thirsty, remember to rehydrate water: it’s calorie- and sugar-free!
How to Make Your Tailgate Healthy
Lauren Wright | 09/27/2016
Fall is finally approaching and you know what that means- football season is here! In my opinion, the best part of watching foo...
Fall is finally approaching and you know what that means- football season is here! In my opinion, the best part of watching football games is the food! Classic tailgating food is delicious but unfortunately it’s usually not very healthy. When you plan your football spread this year, try some of these healthier tailgate recipes.
Snacks & Sides:
- Light Buffalo Chicken Dip- Buffalo chicken and football are a classic pairing. This buffalo chicken dip uses a combination of low-fat cream cheese and plain Greek yogurt to lighten up this creamy classic. Dig in with carrot slices, celery spear, or whole grain chips.
- Seven Layer Dip- You can never have too many dips at a tailgate! This seven layer dip is packed with avocados for healthy fats, onions and tomatoes for nutrients, and Greek yogurt for half the fat.
- Greek Yogurt Ranch Dip- Have you noticed the trend here? Swap plain Greek yogurt for any sour cream and mayonnaise in creamy recipes for a light version of a dish. This time, use Greek yogurt and spices you probably already have on hand to whip up this ranch dip that’s perfect with veggie slices.
- Honey Mustard Broccoli Slaw- This light, honey mustard sauce will jazz up your standard slaw recipe. Plus broccoli has vitamin C, vitamin A, and calcium!
- Grilled Chicken Sausages- There are many brands of sausages made from chicken at the grocery store these days. Swapping your typical bratwurst for chicken sausage will cut back on the calories and saturated fat. Grill and top them with your favorite condiments and you won’t even tell the difference.
- Macaroni & Cheese with Squash- Butternut squash makes this macaroni and cheese extra creamy without the added fat. Who knew you could fit veggies into a classic like mac and cheese?
- Turkey Chili- Who doesn’t love a good bowl of chili while watching the game? This chili has the great flavor you expect but uses turkey to reduce the saturated fat.
- Black Bean Brownies- Swapping flour for black beans reduces the carbs and boosts the protein content of these brownies.
- Zucchini Applesauce Cookies- Without any added fats or oils, these cookies make it easy to enjoy a healthier dessert.
One final thing to keep in mind: alcohol contains many calories (7 calories per gram!) so it’s easy to down a lot of calories without even realizing it. Choosing a light beer or wine spritzer made with sparkling water can help you enjoy your tailgate experience while watching your diet.
Sugar: The good, the bad and the ugly
Charlton Goodwin | 09/06/2016
Before delving into this post, I ask that you first excuse the following vent: So, I was at my parents’ house recently on...
Before delving into this post, I ask that you first excuse the following vent: So, I was at my parents’ house recently on a hot summer morning in the middle of June. *A familiar bell tune sings in the background.* The ice cream truck comes rolling down our street! If you lived on my street growing up, you would know that this occurrence was a rarity. So this was a spectacle to me. I raced to the door — not to run down the ice cream man in the street, but to simply watch as he slowly paraded down the road.
My inner adult was ashamed that I just raced to the door to watch the local ice cream man ride down the street. But my inner eater also got me thinking about the many summer treats and drinks we tend to consume during this season. We know the favorites: ice cream, ice pops, the delicious pies made from the abundance of fresh, in-season fruits. Plus, there are the cold, refreshing sweetened drinks such as lemonade, and if you’re in my neck of the woods, sweet tea — the sweet tea Truvy Jones so eloquently described as, “the house wine of the south,” in the timeless classic Steel Magnolias. The summer is a big time for sweets, and consequently, a big time for sugar.
I came to think about how evil the word “sugar” has become to us. It’s turned into this monster that we know we should avoid. It is true that sugar in excess amounts can be potentially dangerous to our health and well-being. But here are four things to know that can help you enjoy sugar at a moderate, safe and healthy level.
1. What is “Sugar” Exactly?
Sugar is the sweet type of “carbohydrate” that occurs naturally in unprocessed food. Carbohydrates are a big group of molecules that contain carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen (think CARB-O-HYDRate). Sugars are created by these three elements linked together in some form or another.
The smallest sugars are called monosaccharides (mono- means “one”), and you may have heard of them:
- Fructose, and
Think of each of these monosaccharides as a pearl on a necklace. Each pearl can stand alone as a single unit of sugar. Now take two of these pearls and bind them together on that necklace. These two pearls form the second type of sugar: the “disaccharides”.
Disaccharides are two monosaccharides linked together. The disaccharides are:
- Sucrose (glucose + fructose),
- Lactose (glucose + galactose), and
- Maltose (glucose + glucose).
Sucrose forms what we know as “table sugar.” It can be processed and refined into the white granular stuff that we sprinkle in our coffee, dump into our cakes and pies, and that serves so many other purposes besides these mentioned.
Monosaccharides and disaccharides are called “simple sugars” or “simple carbohydrates.” They are very small units, typically found in baked goods, and milk products. They are also found in fruits. But the naturally occurring simple sugars in whole fruits are accompanied by a host of fiber and other nutrients. When you begin to link these small, simple carbohydrates into longer, more complex chains, they become complex carbohydrates, or “polysaccharides.” They are bigger and take longer to break down than simple sugars. Complex carbohydrates are found in many vegetables and whole grains. These are all foods that are good for you because the sugar occurs naturally and generally isn’t added by food manufacturers!
2. Sugar Tends to Make You Hungry
Remember those simple sugars? Well, they have a way of playing tricks on us. When we over-consume our sweet treats, our bodies typically react in different ways, and one of those ways can ultimately lead us to more hunger even after we’ve eaten.
Because they are small, simple sugars break down very fast. When sugar is broken down, our blood sugar levels increase. An increase in blood sugar triggers our bodies to release insulin into our blood streams. Insulin is a hormone used to regulate our blood sugar level. Regularly functioning insulin does a great job of this, but when we over-consume sugar, our body’s ability to tell insulin when to stop working is weakened. Thus, our blood sugar level falls to a low level, and our bodies react by sensing hunger. In short, too much sugar triggers a quick rise in insulin which ultimately lowers our blood sugar, making us feel hungry even AFTER we’d just eaten (Harvard School of Public Health, The Nutrition Source).
So if you’re hungry, don’t reach for something overly sugary like a candy bar, because the chances are that the candy bar will only make you feel more hungry! Instead, choose a snack with more complex sugars to keep your blood sugar more even.
3. Avoid Quitting Cold Turkey
A fairly common occurrence when it comes to making any change in life is letting our zeal and enthusiasm become an enemy. It’s exciting when we make the decision to make a positive shift in the way we normally do things. This is much the same with food, and particularly added sugar. Often times, we become so excited about our decision to rid ourselves of sugary sweets that we think the best thing to do is quit them altogether.
When we jump into diet changes abruptly, we face a daunting task. It requires eliminating the foods that we love to eat while beginning to consume things that we may have never tried before. The American Psychological Association recommends making smaller, gradual changes. Instead of going cold turkey on added sugars, turn those two packs of sugar in your morning coffee into one. Or try cutting back on consuming soda or juice throughout the day by replacing those sweet beverages with water or seltzer. But remember, always consult your doctor before making any dramatic shift to your everyday diet.
4. Enjoy In Moderation
I would be remiss to end this on a sour note (did you catch the pun?). Sugar is not necessarily the evil villain. And thankfully so. I would hate to have to face the task of eliminating sweets, especially my personal favorite, PB&J. But moderation is always the key.
If you want to know how much added (vs naturally occurring) sugar you’re consuming, look at the ingredients list on the nutrition label. If sugar in any of its forms (e.g., corn syrup, honey, maple syrup, fruit juice concentrate, maltose, etc.) is listed near the top of the list, then it’s a good indicator that there’s a lot of it in the food. Thankfully by 2018, all packaged food items will have new nutrition facts labels that tell you how much added sugars are in the packaged foods that you buy. This is a great move by the FDA to help consumers become healthier shoppers and eaters.
Pleasantries all. Happy eating!
5 Healthy After School Snack Ideas
Lauren Wright | 08/22/2016
We’ve already talked about healthy recipes to pack in your child’s lunch box, so now it’s time to turn our at...
We’ve already talked about healthy recipes to pack in your child’s lunch box, so now it’s time to turn our attention to snack time. Kids are bound to be hungry when they get home from school and will need a snack to tide them over until dinner. Because children’s bodies grow so fast, they require a lot of nutrition packed into their daily calories, meaning there isn’t room for much junk food in their diets.
It’s important to offer snacks that provide whole grains, vitamins and minerals, fiber, and protein to fill your kids up after school and to prepare them for any extracurricular activities. It’s also important to try to cut back on the added sugar and sodium that are found in many processed snack foods.
These healthy snack ideas are sure to please your child’s taste buds while fueling them for homework and play.
- Frozen yogurt bites– Chop of your child’s favorite fruit and mix with a low-sugar yogurt. Spoon the mixture into an icecube tray and freeze. These bites are the perfect, popable treat that packs in fruit, protein, and calcium!
- Avocado toast– Avocados are a great source of healthy fats. Toast whole-wheat bread and top with sliced avocado. Sprinkle with salt, a bit of lime juice, and maybe some herbs like oregano or red pepper flakes and snack away!
- Frozen grapes– Another easy, frosty treat; freeze grapes for refreshing snacking.
- Open faced apple sandwiches– Thinly slice apples into rounds and carefully cut out the center. Top the discs with nut butter and a sprinkle of granola, honey, or cinnamon. With both protein and fiber, these sandwiches will satisfy even the hungriest snacker.
- Zucchini pizza bites– Instead of the frozen pizza rolls kids beg for at the grocery store, slice up a zucchini into thin rounds, brush with olive oil, and soften in the oven or toaster oven. Spoon a small amount of tomato sauce on top, sprinkle on low-fat mozzarella cheese, and a piece of turkey pepperoni. Pop them back in the oven until the cheese is melted. They barely take longer than the frozen pizza rolls to make, and kids will hardly notice they’re eating their vegetables!
Packed Lunch Ideas for Your Healthy Learner
Lauren Wright | 08/18/2016
Summer has come to an end and it’s already time for kids to head back to school. You’ve probably already bought sch...
Summer has come to an end and it’s already time for kids to head back to school. You’ve probably already bought school supplies and picked out their first-day-of-school outfits, but have you given much thought to their lunches?
Buying lunch from the cafeteria is one option for your child’s lunch this year. The National School Lunch Program Standards regulate lunches served in cafeterias, and they require that fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are served every day; only fat-free and low-fat milk are available; calorie limits are observed according to the child’s age; and sodium, saturated fats, and trans fats are limited to acceptable levels. Therefore, buying lunch in the cafeteria can be a great option for many families.
However, if you choose to pack your child’s lunch, it can be hard to get nutritious lunches packed as everyone rushes out the door in the morning, and it’s easy to get stuck in a rut, packing the same old things every day. No matter what you pack, aim for a mix of whole grains, dairy, protein, and fruits and veggies to keep your child well fueled and ready to learn throughout the day.
Try these easy and healthy lunch recipes that your child won’t want to trade.
- Sandwich skewers– Cut your child’s favorite sandwich ingredients into bite-sized pieces, push them onto a small skewer, and voila- you’ve transformed a boring turkey sandwich into a fun lunch! Mix and match your cheeses, meats, veggies, and breads for versatile lunch options.
- Hardboiled eggs- A peeled, hardboiled egg will transport well in your child’s lunch box and packs protein to keep him or her fueled up throughout the day.
- Peanut butter banana roll up– Smear one side of tortilla or wrap with peanut butter, place a banana to one edge and roll it up in the tortilla. Cut the roll up into bite-sized pieces. You can also try drizzling on some honey or sprinkling on granola, raisins, or cinnamon before rolling everything up.
- Freeze ahead PB&J- Save time in the morning by prepping sandwiches for the week on Sunday night. Make a whole stack of PB&Js on whole-wheat bread, wrap individual sandwiches in aluminum foil, and seal them all in a large plastic bag in the freezer. In the morning, simply grab one frozen sandwich and toss it in a lunchbox. By the time lunch rolls around, the sandwich will be thawed and perfectly soft and fresh. Prevent jelly from seeping into the bread by putting a thin layer of peanut butter on both pieces of bread to seal in the jelly.
- Popcorn trail mix– Store-bought trail mixes can be high in sugar and sodium, but it’s easy to make your own homemade version with a variety of ingredients. Mix lightly salted popcorn, nuts, and dried fruit together for a sweet and salty snack. It’s easy to change up the ingredients every week- switch up the type of nut or dried fruit, sometimes add pretzels or mini chocolate chips, etc. to keep your taste buds interested.
- Homemade Lunchables– Lunchables are always cool in the cafeteria, but they’re expensive and not that healthy. Instead, pack your child’s lunchbox with a stack of whole-wheat crackers, rolls of low-sodium sandwich meat, slices of cheese, and sliced fruits and veggies. Your kids will still have fun stacking their own lunch creations while you save money and keep it healthy. You can even prep several days’ worth of ingredients at the beginning of the week to save time on rushed mornings.
- Don’t forget a drink! Water, low-fat milk, and 100% fruit juice are good options for your child’s lunch. Children aged 4-8 need 2½ cups of dairy per day, and children aged 9-18 need 3 cups, so providing milk at lunch is a great way to fuel your child for the school day. You can send milk from home or you can have your child buy a carton of milk from the cafeteria every day. Juice can also be packed with lunch, but it’s important to choose wisely. The 2015 Dietary Guidelines count 1 cup of 100% fruit juice as 1 cup of fruit. However, many juices contain added sugars with artificial fruit flavorings, which don’t count towards daily fruit servings, so it’s important to carefully select only 100% fruit juice. The Guidelines also recommend that young children only consume 4-6oz of 100% fruit juice per day so it’s important not to over do it with juice.
- Try the recipe together first. Afraid your child won’t eat the things you pack? Try making the recipe first on the weekend or as an after-school snack and see if they like it before packing it in his or her lunch.
- Give your child options. Ask your son or daughter to choose what type of fruit or which sandwich meat they would like in their lunch to give them some control over what they’re eating.
- Don’t get frustrated. If you’re packing healthy options and they return home uneaten at first, don’t give up. Sometimes a child must try a food several times before he or she starts to like it. So even if the cucumber slices come home uneaten, don’t stop packing them. It’s important to keep exposing your child to healthy foods, and eventually, they’ll hopefully come around to eating them.
Show us what you’re packing for lunch! Tag us on Instagram @LetsGoSC or find us on Facebook!
3 tips for a happy, healthy vacation
Ken Immer | 08/10/2016
While summer is starting to wane, many of us are still getting ready to hit the road for a little vacation time, or maybe even ...
While summer is starting to wane, many of us are still getting ready to hit the road for a little vacation time, or maybe even just that last getaway weekend before school starts back. One of the biggest concerns for travelers is often how to maintain a healthy diet and keep feeling fit and well-fueled while on vacation.
A little bit of planning ahead can go a long way. You are already going to be in an unfamiliar place, but if you approach your trip as an opportunity to maintain your healthy lifestyle rather than a challenge, you will surely make the best of it. Here are some great tips to think about before you go:
- Since you’ll be out of your daily routine, make a little game out of looking for opportunities to try a new ‘healthy’ food that you can add to your daily meals when you get back home. If you leave thinking that your vacation will just be one big “temptation” then it probably will be.
- Do a little bit of research before leaving and identify places where you will be able to access some healthy options THAT YOU ALREADY ENJOY. This includes restaurants, grocery stores, or other specialty stores. Ask the resort what options they have available on their menus that are perhaps not listed on their brochure or website. Knowing what you are getting into ahead of time will help reduce the anxiety of having to figure it out while you are there. Don’t spend part of your vacation trying to figure out where the healthy options are. THAT is not fun or relaxing.
- Pack a bag of small apples (the kind you would put into a child’s lunchbox) in your suitcase, and keep one or two with you while you are out from the hotel. Eat one of the apples before a meal or before (over)indulging in a snack opportunity on the run. You’ll eat a little less and get the health benefits of eating several apples during your trip!
Remember, you are going on your trip to enjoy yourself; however, don’t let your vacation become an excuse to let all of your good habits fall to the wayside. We’ve all heard the phrase “everything in moderation”, but how do you actually DO that? Well, if you have been working hard to improve your diet and be more active, a vacation is a good opportunity to maintain the progress you have achieved so far. You don’t have to pressure yourself to eat or exercise exactly the way you would have if you had stayed at home, but just remember the idea of moderation to help you make decisions about what and when to eat.
Being on vacation does mean that you can have a few more calories here and there, but also think about your activity level. Walking is great exercise, and it is a great way to put your workout plan on “moderation” mode as well. Also, spend a little bit of your time reflecting on what is working in your healthy living plan while away from your daily grind, and give yourself a pat on the back for a job well done! Whatever you do, make the decision that you will not stress yourself out over any choices that you make while on vacation.
Pre & Probiotics- Promoting Gut Health
Ever heard about the gut microbiome in the news or seen yogurt commercials on TV and wondered why you should care about bacteri...
Ever heard about the gut microbiome in the news or seen yogurt commercials on TV and wondered why you should care about bacteria?
What is your microbiome?
According to a report from the American Society for Microbiology, the human microbiome contains bacteria, viruses, and fungi that live in the body, but most commonly we focus on the body’s bacteria. It’s estimated that the cells of your microbiome outnumber your body’s own cells 3:1. That means that there are about 100 trillion bacteria cells, averaging about 2.5 pounds, in your body! Having that many bacteria in your body may sound scary, but really those bacteria are crucial to our health.1
Many of the bacteria in our bodies are found in the large intestine, where they play important roles in our digestive processes. For example, there are some compounds in foods that our bodies alone cannot naturally break down and digest so we rely on the good bacteria in our guts to break them down for us.
Additionally, the good bacteria in our guts can help keep any bad bacteria we may encounter in check. Normally the good bacteria outnumber potential pathogens in our digestive tract and keep us from getting sick. However, if the good bacteria die off, as is common when taking antibiotics, the good bacteria can no longer fight off the bad, which can cause illness and intestinal discomfort.
Your gut microbiome can even play a role in weight management. One study examined the gut microbiome of female twins who were either lean or obese. The results showed that the lean participants tended to have more diverse gut microbiomes than the obese participants.2 Based on those results, another experiment found that injecting mice with different types of gut bacteria significantly impacted the mice’s ability to maintain and gain weight.3 This science is still very new and researchers are working to determine exactly how bacteria influence our weight, but it is clear that these tiny creatures are vital to our health.
What are pre and probiotics?
Because of all the good things our gut microbiota does for us, it’s important to keep it healthy! One way to do this is by incorporating both pre and probiotics into the diet.
According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, prebiotics are nondigestible food ingredients that your gut microbiota love to feed on and therefore encourage the growth of the good bacteria in your digestive tract. Think of prebiotics as the food that feeds your gut’s bacteria; therefore if you want them to be healthy, you need to be sure to feed your gut microbiome the right foods.
Good sources of prebiotics are:
- Whole-wheat foods, such as whole-wheat bread, quinoa, oats, brown rice, etc.
Probiotics, on the other hand, are the good bacteria themselves. Many foods naturally contain these good, live bacteria, so by adding probiotic foods into your diet, you can help increase the colonies of the good guys keeping you healthy.
Good sources of probiotics are:
- Aged cheeses
So the next time you go to the grocery store, don’t just pick out foods for yourself—choose foods to feed your gut microbiome as well
Blueberries are one of summer’s super foods! Time to fill up while they’re in season!
Blueberries are naturally low...
Blueberries are one of summer’s super foods! Time to fill up while they’re in season!
Blueberries are naturally low calorie with just 80 calories per cup. They are also high in vitamin C, which is an antioxidant vitamin, and manganese, which aids the body in processing cholesterol and other nutrients. One serving of blueberries contains 25% of your daily vitamin C!
Blueberries are also a great source of dietary fiber. Fiber helps aid digestion and can help fight heart disease by regulating cholesterol. The fiber in blueberries can also make you feel full more quickly, and it takes longer to digest, meaning it can help curb hunger.¹
Many human and animal studies have researched the health benefits from blueberries. Findings suggest that blueberries may assist in fighting some cancers2,3, insulin resistance4, and inflammation5 while improving gut health6, eye health7, memory8, and bone health.9 Other studies have shown that anthocyanin, the pigment that gives blueberries their blue color, aids in staving off memory loss and fighting other signs of aging.10
When I think about eating blueberries, I immediately imagine blueberry pancakes. Here are some other ways to eat blueberries:
- On salad– Top off your favorite salad with a handful of blueberries for a sweet pop to your greens. Dress with a vinaigrette.
- Dried in trail mix– Make your own trail mix by combining pretzels, plain cheerios, nuts, and dried blueberries for a sweet and salty snack.
- As a sauce for grilled chicken– Boil blueberries until reduced to a thick sauce that makes the perfect sweet topping for summer grilled chicken. Check out this recipe!
- In yogurt and smoothies– Fresh blueberries are great mixed into low-fat yogurt, and frozen blueberries blend perfectly into smoothies for a breakfast kids will love.
- Pureed and frozen for popsicles– Blend fresh or frozen blueberries with a splash of milk, yogurt, or fruit juice; pour into popsicle molds; and freeze to make frozen treats for hot afternoons.
Home-canning Heirloom Tomatoes
Ciranna Bird | 07/19/2016
Originally published in The Sweet Potato, the sustainable farm and food blog of the Carolinas.
Heirloom tomatoes are one of the...
Originally published in The Sweet Potato, the sustainable farm and food blog of the Carolinas.
Heirloom tomatoes are one of the many joys of summer. Learning to home-can extra tomatoes will allow you to enjoy your garden bounty all year long. This step-by-step guide will teach you how to do it.
Seek the experts
Home-canning expertise used to be handed down through generations. For example, my dad and uncles learned how to hunt deer with compound bows, shoot wild ducks and fish for rainbow trout in the Colorado River from my grandpa. My grandmother taught my Aunt Pat how to home-can trout, as well as the vegetables and fruit they grew in their yard. Unfortunately, I lost contact with my dad and his side of the family for fourteen years, after my parents’ divorced. Since I didn’t grow up with this culture of food self-sufficiency or even have the desire to learn how to be a home-canner at that time, I like many adults my age am looking for ways to learn these skills. Where can we start?
Based on my excellent experience attending a class at the Chatham County North Carolina Cooperative Extension service, I would recommend your local Cooperative Extension Service county center. Visit https://www.ces.ncsu.edu/local-county-center/ if you live in North Carolina and http://www.clemson.edu/extension/county/index.html if you live in South Carolina to search for the office nearest your home. The Cooperative Extension Service offers free testing of your pressure canner gauges as well as affordable and informative courses.
Research the process
In the “Safely Preserving at Home” course, family and consumer sciences extension agent, Phyllis Smith, shared the most up-to-date, research based information on how to safely home-can vegetables and fruits. The participants of the workshop were a mix of newbies like myself and experienced home-canners. We walked away with copies of the 37thedition of Ball’s Blue Book Guide to preserving, handouts describing the parts of a typical pressure canner, frequently asked questions, and electronic resources that have the most current instructions and tested canning recipes. The interactions and questions during the class revealed that there was new information to learn even for those with prior years of hands-on experience.
New scientific research, newer models of canners, and a better understanding of the ways to reduce foodborne illness, all have resulted in improved and safer recipes and methods over the years. To benefit from all the progress made, it is important to seek out the most up to date guidance from a trusted source. I emphasize the word trusted because I recently found a canning book for home-canners that was published in 2011, which prided itself on skipping vital safety steps.
For my piece of mind, I encourage the readers of this article to use the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Complete Guide to Home Canning. Scientists and researchers at the USDA and Cooperative Extension Service universities, including Clemson University and North Carolina State University, have spent years developing the perfect the process of preserving tomatoes in glass jars.
They have identified the bacteria, yeasts, and mold that cause spoilage in tomatoes and identified the exact temperature and amount of time needed for processing and cooling to destroy them. In their research laboratories, scientists use the same size canners and same size glass jars that are available to the public.
These men and women from the USDA and Cooperative Extension services have tested thousands of variables (are the tomatoes packed into the jar raw or hot? Are there pieces of tomato in the jar or is it just the tomato juice? Are the tomatoes canned in a pint-sized jar or a quart-sized jar? Are you using a boiling-water canner or a pressure canner? Etc.) to identify the ideal conditions for home-canning our food safely..
Follow the recipe
Home-canning recipes must be followed exactly as written. Canning food is different than preparing a meal that you will eat within a few days. When you add the wrong ingredients or try out a new recipe for a meal you risk the chance that the food might not taste as good as you hoped it would.
In the home-canning world, if you substitute ingredients, attempt to double or halve the recipe, fail to reach the target temperature for the exact time the stakes are higher. The jars may not seal properly which could lead to food spoilage and waste. Worse, if the bacterial spores that produce botulinum toxin aren’t destroyed, eating the canned food which may look and smell perfectly normal may lead to paralysis and death.
At this point you might be saying “Wait a minute! My Aunt Pat (you can fill in the blank here) has been canning almost her whole life. She hasn’t ever used a recipe and she’s perfectly fine. Nobody has gotten sick from eating the canned food she prepares.” I don’t have a good response to this reasoning. I’m grateful that my Aunt Pat who still home-cans is alive and well in Colorado. I also feel passionate about sharing information with the readers of this article about the value of following up to date, trustworthy recipes exactly as they are written.
A recipe for making crushed tomatoes with no added liquid
To keep this recipe simple and provide the exact processing time, I have chosen the following options: The processing time listed below is specific for the use of a boiling-water canner. The processing pressure and time are different if you are using a pressure-canner. The processing time below is specific for the use of pint-sized jars with a boiling-water canner. The processing time for boiling-water canners is longer if you use quart-sized jars. A pint is equal to 2 cups; a quart is equal to 4 cups of food. The processing time below is specific for the use of pint-sized jars with a boiling-water canner in places where the elevation level is less than 1,000 feet above sea level. The processing time for boiling-water canners is longer if you live in mountainous regions. To find out the elevation level of your county view the North Carolina Topographic Map athttp://geology.com/topographic-physical-map/north-carolina.shtml or the South Carolina Topographic Map at http://geology.com/state-map/south-carolina.shtml.
- Harvest or buy 14 pounds of organic tomatoes from your local farmer:
Size: medium to large
Color: Any color (yellow, purple, pink, green, orange, striped, red, etc.)
Shape: Any shape (Round, funny-looking, pumpkin shaped, pointy, etc.)
Condition: Firm tomatoes picked from living tomato vines. It is tempting to think that it is okay to use soft over-ripe tomatoes since they are going to be softened by the canning process anyway. However over-ripe tomatoes are soft because of the enzymes, bacteria, yeast, and mold that are breaking them down. Choose plump, firm and good-smelling tomatoes to ensure the best taste and safest product.
- Gather your instructions, equipment and ingredients
Visit your local Extension Service to get a hard copy or download the most recent version of the following USDA Home-Canning guidance material at http://nchfp.uga.edu/publications/publications_usda.html. Download Guide 1 – Principles of Home Canning and Guide 3 – Selecting, Preparing and Canning Tomatoes and Tomato Products
- Lemon juice (9 tablespoons) or citric acid (2 and ¼ teaspoons)
- A boiling water canner (16 quarts or larger)
- Nine mason jars – pint-sized, heat-tempered glass
- A canning rack to hold the glass jars
- Two-piece vacuum caps that fit the mason jars (1) unused metal lids with the sealing compound on the outer edge and (2) metal screw bands
- Large cooking pots
- Cutting board and knife
- Wooden mallet or spoon
- Clean dish clothes and paper towels
- Jar lifter
- Canning funnel
- Plastic spatula or bubble remover
- Headspace tool or measuring tape
- A magnetic wand to remove and attach lids
- Prepare the jars, lids, and canner
Follow the instructions in Guide 1, pages 14 and 15.
- Prepare the crushed tomatoes
Follow the instructions in Guide 3, page 7.
- Fill one hot jar at a time:
a) Add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice or ¼ teaspoon of citric acid to the bottom of the hot pint-sized jar according to Guide 3 page 5.
b) Fill the hot jar with the hot tomatoes and leave exactly ½ inch of unfilled space in the jar between the food or liquid and the rim of the jar (Guide 3 page 7). This space is called the headspace and allows the food to expand and form a vacuum seal.
c) Remove air bubbles, food debris from the rim of jar, and add the lids. To see pictures and more detailed descriptions of how to do these steps refer to Guide 1 page 15-16.
d) Place the filled, sealed jar onto the canning rack that is elevated above the simmering 180 Fahrenheit degree water in the boiling-water canner.\
e) Repeat steps a – d until all the jars have been filled.
- Process the pint-sized jars with a boiling-water canner at an elevation of 1,000 feet or below sea level:
a) Lower the canning rack into the boiling-water canner which is already filled halfway with simmering water.
b) Follow the steps on Guide 1 page 18 to ensure a continuous time of 35 minutes of a rolling boil.
c) Follow the steps on Guide 1 page 18 to remove jars from the boiling-water canner.
- Cool the jars for 12-24 hours.
Follow the instructions in Guide 1 page 25.
- Check the jar seals.
Follow the instructions in Guide 1 pages 25-26.
Enjoy your delicious, local, organic canned tomatoes
Pop open a jar of your tomatoes, add your own seasonings, and use them to make lasagna, pizza sauces, stir-fry, stews and anything else you can think of. I’ll leave you with this quote from the NC Tomato Man, Craig LeHoullier: “I think that it is fair to say that we use our canned tomatoes in any cooked recipe – risotto, soups, stews – anything the commercial canned tomatoes goes into is improved if using our own home canned tomatoes.”
- Harvest or buy 14 pounds of organic tomatoes from your local farmer:
What is it about tomatoes, anyway?
Originally published in The Sweet Potato, the sustainable farm and food blog of the Carolinas. Written by Dr. Craig LeHoul...
Summer eating conjures up so many feelings, thoughts, and cravings. Walks through a mid-summer farmers market brings us face to face with piles of peppers, stacks of summer squash, glossy, colorful eggplant, and succulent melons of all sorts. Then there are the peaches, blue- and blackberries, sweet corn, and green and yellow snap beans competing for our attention.
And yet – as awesome and appetite stimulating and recipe searching as all of the above represents, for many, it is the large, often misshapen, rather humble looking tomato that draws us, sends us hunting stall to stall…then, later on, slicing and serving and making them the centerpiece of our warm weather meals.
With literally thousands of varieties available to those who start their own seedlings, it is possible to grow completely different menus of tomatoes each summer for one’s entire life and never experience a repetition.
Why do we love them so?
I’ve thought a good bit about the attraction of this fleeting, perishable object – one that for many is best enjoyed seasonally, just like asparagus, strawberries and sugar snap peas. Perhaps it is just that – the ethereal nature of a “real” tomato creates deep longing during those months of unavailability. I believe that another important aspect is nostalgia. Along with locally grown sweet corn, tomatoes were often the target for those Sunday drives with parents, or grandparents, aimed at a nearby farm stand, carefully selected, and used as the centerpiece of a backyard picnic.
Tomatoes have other admirable qualities for those who wish to explore beyond the culinary aspect. They are one of the easier crops for those who enjoy saving and sharing seeds. Many come with wonderful handed down stories, having truly passed the test of time; this is often reflected in their names (Lillian’s Yellow Heirloom, Mortgage Lifter, Aunt Ruby’s German Green – all of which sound a whole lot more enticing than “Big Boy,” at least to me).
Not really hard to grow….yet they need love to thrive
Anyone who has a few hours of sun should grow their own tomatoes. Thousands of varieties means not only choice, but flexibility – which allows the gardener to fit the tomato to the space and sun. The larger the tomato, the more sun it needs. The taller growing the variety, the more soil it needs.
It is easier and easier to find a wide range of seedlings at local garden center for those who wish to start with plants. Those who want to start their own plants from seed should work back two months from the last frost date to determine when to begin.
The tomato enthusiast has every choice imaginable for a planting location. Along with typical dirt gardens (in which good drainage is the key success factor), raised beds, containers and straw bales are all options that can be equally successful. The quality of the planting medium in the beds or containers is an important consideration. It is also important to water and feed the plants more often.
I like to say that tomatoes are similar to roses in that every weather irregularity, critter and disease can play havoc with your venture. Cool weather means slower growth, but high heat and humidity can make the blossoms drop off, leading to reduced yields. Tomato diseases come in three flavors – bacterial, viral and fungal, with many examples in each category. Some are in the soil, some on the soil, some spread by insects. Deer, squirrels, birds, and various worms and beetles could be quite enticed by your efforts.
Yet it is worth it. Good planning, good garden hygiene, and regular trouble shooting and monitoring of the plants help foster success. Every year is different – and it can be hard to find the rhyme or reason why. I’ve grown tomatoes in Raleigh, NC, for 25 years, and I’ve had spectacular successes followed by grim disappointments. I expect to keep doing this for another 25 years, if I can – because it is indeed worth it.
Colors, shapes, sizes, flavors, stories – choices!
We are really lucky that the Seed Savers Exchange (SSE) came into being in 1975. We would not have the staggering number of options available if it were not for the preservation and sharing efforts that the SSE began, and continues to this day.
When considering tomato diversity, there are simply so many aspects to choose from. Sizes range from pea-sized (Mexico Midget) to 2 plus pound monsters (Mortgage Lifter). The shapes can be flattened (Yellow Brandywine) to round (Eva Purple Ball) to a carbon copy of a big frying pepper (Speckled Roman). Colors range from red and pink of Aker’s West Virginia and German Johnson (one of the few true North Carolina heirlooms), respectively, to hues ranging from nearly white (Dwarf Mr. Snow) to yellow (Hugh’s) to pumpkin orange (Kellogg’s Breakfast). There are the stripes of Pink Berkeley Tie Dye and the swirls of Ruby Gold. Some of the best flavored of all have remarkably dark color (Cherokee Purple and Cherokee Chocolate), or don’t even budge when ripening, staying as green as can be (Green Giant).
After growing more than 2,000 types, I can honestly say that flavor and color don’t necessarily correlate. There are sweet, tart, intense, bland, mild, complex and simple examples for each color. It’s all in the genes – the size, color, and shape – and my preference is to take each variety of tomato on its own merit – whether I am for it, or choose to avoid it.
Finally, for those who are space-challenged and hope to grow great tasting, interestingly colored tomatoes on their deck or patio or (like me!) driveway, a selection of dwarf growing tomatoes created by a unique collaborative project co-led by me since 2005 just could be the answer. Fill a 5 gallon pot with good quality planting medium, find yourself a Dwarf Sweet Sue or Dwarf Wild Fred or Rosella Crimson (just 3 of our 60 new varieties), support the plant with a 4 foot stake or cage….and be amazed at what you will achieve.
Getting Ready for the Farmers' Market: Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food
Ciranna Bird | 07/07/2016
Spring is here and it’s time to get fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, eggs, and dairy products from your local farmers’ market! So...
Originally published in The Sweet Potato, the sustainable farm and food blog of the Carolinas.
Spring is here and it’s time to get fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, eggs, and dairy products from your local farmers’ market! Some of these products get sold out quickly in the day, so arrive early and bring a cooler to keep your items cold while you do the rest of your shopping. Learn about the types of markets, questions to ask your farmer and practical ways to support your local farmers to ensure they can stay in business for years to come.
Market Type: What’s the percentage of growers vs resellers at your farmers’ market?
The first thing you want to know is your market’s ratio of growers, resellers, artists, and value added product vendors. Growers are the farmers that are selling plants, fruits, vegetables, meat, dairy, and eggs they have grown, raised and harvested. In contrast, resellers buy unprocessed fruits, vegetables, meat and eggs from growers and resell these unprocessed products. Artists sell items they have created such as pottery, photography, flip flops, jewelry, candles, woodworking and soap. Value added product vendors use ingredients bought from growers and transform them via processes such as baking, canning, or juicing. Baked goods, juice, jams, pickles, dog bones, and lamb’s wool dryer balls are all value added products.
Each market has a different policy on the amount of booths occupied by non-growers. To learn about your market’s policy have a conversation with its market manager. You can do this prior to attending, or in person at the market manager’s booth. For this article, I interviewed Adrienne Hawkins, the market manager of the Travelers Rest Farmers Market. At her market, which is the largest independent non-profit farmers market in South Carolina, 50% of the Travelers Rest Farmers Market vendors are growers, 0% are resellers, 20% are artists, and 30% are vendors that make value added products from scratch and have at least one ingredient sown, grown and harvested within a 100 mile radius of the town. A market that has no resellers is great if you are looking to do your weekly grocery shopping and buy from local farmers. In case you are shopping at a market that allows resellers, here are some questions to ask the vendors.
Questions to ask your growers, more commonly known as your farmers:
1. Which products at your stand are the ones that you grew/raised/harvested yourself?
2. Where do you source these other products?
3. How many of the ingredients for this jam, bread, jar of pickles were sown, grown and harvested within 100 miles of here?
This past weekend, I field tested some of the following questions at my local farmers’ market. The best questions are open-ended rather than yes or no questions, because they allow the farmers’ expertise and passion to shine. When I mentioned my natural tendency to avoid making eye contact to the farmers I spoke with, I learned I’m not the only shopper who keeps their eyes glued on the fruit and vegetables until they know they are ready to make a purchase. The farmers reassured me that they enjoy the opportunity to share details about their work regardless of the customer’s ability to buy something from them on that particular day. Also, try to choose a time when your farmer isn’t swamped with customers; and remember that in order for them to stay in business, they must be able to attend to all the people at their booth.
Are these fruits and vegetables organic?
Organic produce certified by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is the gold standard for shoppers concerned about soil fertility, the use of environmentally safe products, and the biodiversity of crops and animals. These vegetables and fruits are grown on soil that hasn’t been treated with synthetic fertilizers, herbicides or insecticides for at least three years. The USDA certification assures you that your farmer has a written plan to cycle resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity. The farm is annually inspected and maintains the following records: soil and water test results, pest and disease monitoring logs, tillage and cultivation logs, planting and harvest records, post-harvest handling and storage reports, field activity records, and product sales records.
It is important to note that there are not a lot of farmers at markets in the Carolinas that are organically certified by the USDA. In 2009, the North Carolina State University Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics conducted a Farmers’ Markets in Central North Carolina survey. Of the 75 farmers that responded only a small percentage certified organic produce (1). As of April 2016, the USDA Organic Integrity Database lists 133 farms in North Carolina, and 29 farms in South Carolina that are registered to grow organically certified vegetables and fruits (2). If the vegetables and fruits are not organically certified by the USDA, you can still ask the farmer about the following sustainability practices.
4. How many of your vegetables and fruits are grown from certified organic seeds and transplants?
5. How do you handle pests and weeds?
6. What motivates you to handle the pests and weeds in this manner?
Tips for buying eggs, dairy products, and meat at the farmer’s market.
If you have forgotten your cooler, ask your farmer if they would be willing to keep your purchased items in their cooled space while you finish shopping, checking out cooking demonstrations, and soaking in the community atmosphere of the farmers market. To prevent cross-contamination use a separate bag to hold your eggs, from the bag that holds your vegetables and fruits. Insider tips: Eggs sold at market in NC may not be washed (which is a good thing!) and still have a natural protective coating on their shells. Remember to rinse the eggs with warm running drinking water from your sink right before you cook and eat them. USDA certified organic meat, dairy or eggs has come from livestock that have received at least 30% of their nutrition from pasture with a minimum of 120 days of grazing per year; have been fed organic and non-genetically modified food, and have not been treated with antibiotics (3). Even if the meat, dairy, or eggs are not USDA organically certified you can ask you farmer about their practices.
7. What do you feed your chickens, pigs, lamb, goats, or cows?
8. What is your policy on the use of antibiotics or hormones?
9. How much access to the outdoors do your animals have?
Support the farmers who follow the practices you value.
Asking the questions above will help you find the farmers who maintain and improve soil fertility, conserve resources, manage pests in way that is safe for the environment, preserve and enhance biodiversity of crops and animals, and/or care for their livestock humanely. Here are follow-up questions to help them stay in business.
10. What’s the best way to stay in contact with you? (Facebook, e-mail, website, Instagram)
11. What farming associations or certification programs do you belong to?
12. Aside from buying your products, are there other ways I can support your farm?
You’ll be surprised on what fun activities your farmer may suggest. It may include posting pictures and positive reviews on the social media channels they use. In response to this question, I got a few invitations to become a farm hand for a day from in exchange for a tour. You can also join, volunteer and read newsletters from farming associations they belong to, in order to stay current with the issues they face. Now that you have plenty of questions to ask, get out to your local farmers’ market and connect with your farmers. To find the market closest to you, visit the NC Farm Fresh website or the South Carolina Department of Agriculture website.
- Renkow M, Georgiade, N. Farmer’s Markets in Central North Carolina: Who buys, who sells, and why. Dept. of Agricultural and Resource Economics, North Carolina State University; 2011.
- https://apps.ams.usda.gov/integrity/ Organic INTEGRITY Database. Search conducted on April 8, 2016.
- US Department of Agriculture. Organic Labeling at Farmers Markets. USDA National Organic Program, Marketing Service; 2015. Pg. 1 https://www.ams.usda.gov/sites/default/files/media/Organic%20at%20Farmers%20Markets.pdf