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  • Home-canning Heirloom Tomatoes Home-canning Heirloom Tomatoes Ciranna Bird | 07/19/2016 Make the most of summer's tomato by preserving them for later use.

    home-canned tomatoes2Originally 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.

    1. 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.
    2. 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
      • Thermometer
      • 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
    3. Prepare the jars, lids, and canner
      Follow the instructions in Guide 1, pages 14 and 15.
    4. Prepare the crushed tomatoes
      Follow the instructions in Guide 3, page 7.
    5. 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.
    6. 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.
    7. Cool the jars for 12-24 hours.
      Follow the instructions in Guide 1 page 25.
    8. 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.”

  • What is it about tomatoes, anyway? What is it about tomatoes, anyway? Craig LeHoullier | 07/12/2016 Summer's here, and so are tomatoes! Get 'em while they're fresh!

    tomato guest blog picOriginally published in The Sweet Potato, the sustainable farm and food blog of the Carolinas. Written bDr. Craig LeHoullier, the “NC Tomatoman” (the fellow who named Cherokee Purple in 1990).

    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 Getting Ready for the Farmers' Market: Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Ciranna Bird | 07/07/2016 It's time to hit the farmers' market- let's come prepared!

    peppers guest postOriginally 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.

    References

    1. 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.
    2. https://apps.ams.usda.gov/integrity/ Organic INTEGRITY Database. Search conducted on April 8, 2016.
    3. 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
  • The Big A: Antioxidants The Big A: Antioxidants Charlton Goodwin | 07/06/2016 You've probably heard of antioxidants and wondered what they do. Read on! fruits-82524_960_720

    Let’s talk antioxidants, shall we? I, for one, had wondered for years what in the world antioxidants were. They sounded so refreshing when I would hear about them on a commercial advertising something really fresh, like cranberries. And they sounded so healthy because the commercial was about…well…cranberries. But many curious minds may often ponder what antioxidants actually do.

    The cells in our body are made up of millions of molecules, which undergo a lot of stress from our body’s day-to-day survival functions. This natural stress causes our cells’ molecules to become damaged, thereby releasing free radicals. Free radicals are unpaired electrons that get broken off of their original molecule. Once released in the body, free radicals bounce around, damaging other cells and creating a cascade of more and more free radicals. This oxidative damage from free radicals in the body can be the trigger for a lot of abnormalities, such as premature aging, hardened arteries and even an increased risk for cancer.

    So where do antioxidants come into play? Well, antioxidants are molecules that can stop this whole chain reaction by donating one of their own electrons to the free radicals. This tames the free radicals and prevents them from continuing to bounce around the body, causing damage. And NO, the antioxidant does not become a free-radical in this situation. It’s a win-win! How perfect!

    So where can we get these antioxidants? The three major antioxidant vitamins are beta-carotene, vitamin C, and vitamin E. You’ll find them in colorful fruits and vegetables, especially those with purple, blue, red, orange, and yellow hues. The body cannot produce these micronutrients on its own and thus, we must supply ourselves with these antioxidants.

    Here are some good sources of antioxidant vitamins:

    Beta-carotene and other carotenoids: apricots, asparagus, beets, broccoli, cantaloupe, carrots, corn, green peppers, kale, mangoes, turnip and collard greens, nectarines, peaches, pink grapefruit, pumpkin, squash, spinach, sweet potato, tangerines, tomatoes, and watermelon

    Vitamin C: berries, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cantaloupe, cauliflower, grapefruit, honeydew, kale, kiwi, mango, nectarine, orange, papaya, snow peas, sweet potato, strawberries, tomatoes, and red, green, or yellow peppers

    Vitamin E: broccoli (boiled), avocado, chard, mustard and turnip greens, mangoes, nuts, papaya, pumpkin, red peppers, spinach (boiled), and sunflower seeds

    Hopefully this gives a pretty fair overview of what antioxidants are. There is so much that can be touched on regarding this fascinating subject, but I will leave it at this for now. Feed your body with foods rich in antioxidants. Your future self will thank you.

  • Easy Bean Tostadas Easy Bean Tostadas Lauren Wright | 07/01/2016 Beans are a nutritional powerhouse and taste great as tostadas. beans1

    I recently learned that July 3 is Eat Beans Day, so what better excuse to whip up a tasty, healthy bean-inspired recipe!

    Beans are a nutritional powerhouse. They are naturally fat and cholesterol free and are full of antioxidants, fiber, and protein. Studies suggest that eating beans may reduce your risk of heart disease and some cancers. Beans also have a low glycemic index, which means they take longer to digest and will not spike blood sugar levels. Additionally, beans are a great source of many different nutrients.

    A half-cup serving of beans provides:

    • 23-45% daily value (DV) folate
    • 11% DV iron
    • 24-36% DV fiber
    • 14-16% DV protein
    • 10% DV potassium

    One of my favorite ways to prepare beans is in tostadas. Tostadas are a filling, meatless meal and they come together in a flash. They are perfect for busy nights when there isn’t much time to cook. We eat them a few times a month at my house, and we never get tired of them!

    Traditionally, tostadas consist of a fried tortilla, topped with refried beans, lettuce, tomato, cheese, and pickles. You an also add sliced avocado, sour cream, etc. for extra toppings. With fried tortillas, cheese, and sour cream, tostadas might not sound like the healthiest weeknight dinner. But, with a few simple changes, it’s easy to lighten up this recipe.

    For example, instead of frying tortillas, bake them until crispy in the oven. Sub part-skim or low-fat cheese in place of full-fat cheese. Then, instead of sour cream, try swapping in a low-fat, plain Greek yogurt.

    Here’s my lightened-up tostada recipe:

    Healthy Tostadas
    serves 4-6

    6 small tortillas (corn or flour)

    1tbsp oil

    1 can low-fat refried beans

    1 to 1½ cups low-fat cheddar cheese, shredded

    2 cups lettuce, shredded

    1 cup tomato, chopped

    ¼ cup dill pickle relish

    1 avocado, peeled, seeded and chopped

    ½ cup low-fat, plain Greek yogurt

    hot sauce

    1. Preheat oven to 350F. Place tortillas on cookie sheet and brush lightly with oil. Bake tortillas for 4 minutes on each side or until crispy and lightly browned.
    2. Heat refried beans on stove top.
    3. When all the toppings are prepared and tortillas and beans are cooked, assemble tostadas. Spread refried beans on tortillas. Then sprinkle with cheese, lettuce, tomato, relish, avocado, yogurt, and hot sauce.
    4. Serve immediately.
  • Tips for Eating Organic Affordably Tips for Eating Organic Affordably Laura Pyatt | 06/30/2016 Eating organic doesn't have to break the bank with these easy tips!

    Originally published in the May issue of The Stew, a newsletter from the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association.

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    One of my favorite activities is having friends or family over for a night of cooking, drinking, and eating together. Making and sharing food together creates a community that brings people closer, plus it’s just so darn fun.

    However, cooking for a large group of people can be expensive, especially if you want to buy organic. I believe eating good food and sharing good company over food should not be cost-prohibitive. From my time working at the Durham Co-op Market and shopping on a shoe string budget when I was younger, I have figured out some more affordable ways to purchase nutrient-dense, organic food without breaking the bank.

    I refuse to sacrifice quality (or a night of fun) because I don’t have enough money. When purchasing quality food on a budget, make sure to go for the products with less packing. That means they are less processed and usually less expensive. If your local co-op or grocery store has a bulk section, you are in luck! The bulk section is AMAZING; since you can buy just what you need, you’ll save lots of money. Usually a spice jar of cumin costs around $5, but if you purchase a few tablespoons in our bulk section, it runs less than a dollar.

    Plus, purchasing in bulk aligns with our Co-op Basics Program. It is a line of everyday low price items that include many staple products you may normally stock in your pantry. The Basics include dried beans, grains, pasta, peanut butter, toilet paper, and more. Check your local co-op’s brand or their savings circular for similar deals. Buying these staple items at the Co-op will keep your costs low, since we do our best to keep the prices low!

    Finally, eating seasonally is a great way to get high quality ingredients that don’t cost too much. If I buy strawberries now (since it’s strawberry season), they are way cheaper than if I bought them in November.  In November, I should buy Clementines, since that’s their season! Currently, local NC strawberries are on sale at the Co-op, two 1-pound containers for $5. In November, they’d cost double that! We can keep the price that low since they are abundant this time of year, and the distributor saves on shipping costs, since they come from right down the road!

    My favorite seasonal, organic, and budget-friendly dish to serve to people WHILE they are cooking is salsa. We all need a little something as we are preparing a big meal together, and salsa is a great crowd-pleaser to snack on. Plus, it’s full of fresh vegetables, so it won’t fill you up too much before dinner. I chop up all the vegetables before my dinner guests arrive. The salsa tastes best if you leave it sitting on the counter for an hour to let the flavors marry before you start snacking.  Also, if you purchase a jar of salsa at the store, it usually run about $5 and only serves around 4 people. My salsa costs $6.60 TOTAL and serves at least 10. You may even have left-overs.

    Salsa:

    4 ripe tomatoes (~1 lb)
    2  limes
    ½  bunch of cilantro
    ½ onion diced finely (~1/2 lb)
    1 jalapeño diced finely
    2 cloves of garlic diced finely
    Spices: salt, cumin, and chili powder

    Total Price (these are based on the Durham Co-op Market’s current prices, subject to change with sales):  $6.60 for a GIANT bowl of salsa.

    Organic tomatoes are $2.99/lb= $2.99
    Organic Limes are $0.79 each= $1.58
    Organic Cilantro bunches are $1.39= $0.69
    Organic Onions are $1.39/lb= $0.69
    Jalapenos are $3.99/lb= $0.20
    Garlic and spices= $0.45

    The fun thing about this recipe is that you can add whatever seasonal fruit and/or vegetable to the salsa that you wish! I suggest mango for some sweetness, or cut kernels straight off an ear of corn for some crunchy texture! Serve with Late July Tortilla Chips.

  • Choosing the Best Organic Produce Choosing the Best Organic Produce Lauren Wright | 06/28/2016 We’ve all heard about organic foods and have seen them boldly advertised in grocery stores. But what’s the deal w... organic produce

    We’ve all heard about organic foods and have seen them boldly advertised in grocery stores. But what’s the deal with organic fruits and vegetables?

    Organic foods are raised without the use of many synthetic products, like pesticides and hormones, and the government has strict guidelines farms must meet in order to be labeled USDA Certified Organic. The movement has become so popular in recent years, organic farming has grown to a $43 billion dollar industry, according to the USDA.

    Organic foods are useful for several reasons. For consumers wary of ingesting chemicals from the foods they eat, organics are a good chemical-free alternative. Next, organics cannot by law contain any genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, which some consumers prefer to avoid. Lastly, organic farming practices can be better for the environment.

    On the downside, growing organic foods requires more labor and more pricey government certifications, which means organics usually cost more at the grocery store. In addition, organic produce may not be available in all stores.

    So what do you do if you want to eat organic but can’t switch your entire diet over to organics?

    Every year, Environmental Working Group (EWG) analyzes data from pesticide residue testing done by the USDA. Based on the results, the EWG makes a list of the produce with the most pesticide residue and the produce with the least residue.

    This means, if you want to start making the switch to organic, consider using this guide to decide when to select organic and when to stick with conventional:

    Choose organic when possible:

    1. Strawberries
    2. Apples
    3. Nectarines
    4. Peaches
    5. Celery
    6. Grapes
    7. Cherries
    8. Spinach
    9. Tomatoes
    10. Sweet bell peppers
    11. Cherry tomatoes
    12. Cucumbers

    Stick with conventional:

    1. Avocado
    2. Sweet corn
    3. Pineapples
    4. Cabbage
    5. Sweet peas, frozen
    6. Onions
    7. Asparagus
    8. Mangoes
    9. Papayas
    10. Kiwi
    11. Eggplant
    12. Honeydew
    13. Grapefruit
    14. Cantaloupe
    15. Cauliflower

    The EWG has a pocket guide to these lists available for you to print and keep in your wallet here.

    And remember, if the organic options are not available or are a bit too pricey, it’s always better to go with conventional produce than no produce at all! Either way, be sure to rinse all produce well before consuming.

  • It Pays to Meet Healthy at Work! It Pays to Meet Healthy at Work! Hannah Walters | 06/23/2016 Adopting a healthy meeting and events policy supports good employee health!

    Picture this:  You arrive at work on Monday morning and your boss has surprised the staff with donuts and coffee for the weekly staff meeting. Later that day, you attend a lunch meeting at a partner organization. On the menu: pizza, cookies, and soda.

    Sound familiar? This type of scenario is not uncommon in many workplaces. Meetings and events often involve food, and unfortunately the foods and beverages served are typically high in calories and sugar, and low in fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

    Now, don’t get me wrong. I like pizza and donuts as much as anyone. But, while once considered an occasional treat, these types of food have become far too routine in many of our diets. With two-thirds of South Carolina adults overweight or obese, and nearly half of our waking hours spent at work, South Carolina businesses have an important opportunity to create healthier work environments for employees.

    Adopting a healthy meeting and events policy not only supports the health of employees; it sends the message that health is important to your organization, and sets a positive example in the community and state. Also, of note, studies show a strong relationship between the physical and social environments of the workplace and the health behaviors of employees. I know I feel a sense of relief knowing that any meetings or events that I attend at Eat Smart Move More SC will support my efforts to eat healthily–rather than derailing my diet!

    What does a healthy meeting policy look like? Best practices typically include offering water and other no-calorie beverages, serving fruits and/ or veggies with every meal, providing physical activity breaks for meetings lasting longer than one hour, and hosting meetings in smoke-free facilities. The National Alliance for Nutrition and Activity has a great toolkit with other ideas to get you started.

    Importantly, having healthy meetings doesn’t have to mean spending more money. While some healthy foods may be more expensive, many caterers and restaurants can make small adjustments (like grilling or baking rather than frying, substituting mayo- or cream-based sauces for a healthier alternative, etc.) that don’t cost more money and still taste great. Also, reducing portion sizes, ordering less food, and reducing waste, may end up saving money by reducing overall food purchases.

    I encourage you to invite your CEO or HR director to join other South Carolina businesses by adopting a healthy meeting and event policy. Email me at Hannah@eatsmartmovemoresc.org if you’d like more information. Already have a healthy meeting policy? I’d love to hear from you, too!

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