Creating Healthy Meals for Your Family

24 01 2013

ImageSometimes finding healthy foods to feed a family for dinner can be difficult.  Long work days, soccer practices, and other activities make us want to rush to find the most convenient (and not always healthy) food options.  Even when we have time to cook dinner it is sometimes hard to make sure that all of the food groups are represented.  It doesn’t have to be this way.  Here are some tips that the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) gives to help you healthy up those meals.

  • Follow MyPlate – MyPlate is a wonderful tool used to ensure that your family is meeting their nutritional needs for the day.  Start by making half your plate fruits and vegetables and the other half protein and grains.  Your fruits and vegetables should come in a variety of colors to make certain the different vitamins and minerals are represented.  As far as grains, the USDA recommends making half your grains whole grains.  Protein should also be lean and nutritious like lean beef and pork, or chicken, turkey, beans, or tofu.  Try to make sure that fish are on your plate at least twice a week.  Have a glass of low-fat or fat-free milk to include your dairy.
  • Avoid Extra Fat – Look for ways to cut out the extra fat.  Baking instead of frying chicken will reduce the fat content.  Skip the gravy or sauces.  For example, a rich cheese sauce is delicious with broccoli, but it adds unwanted fat.  Try different herbs and spices instead for a different, but tasty alternative.  Instead of having a slice of cake for dessert, reach for a bowl of fruit. It’s delicious and nutritious!
  • Monitor Eating Methods – Many of us eat too fast.  The problem with this is that it doesn’t give our stomachs enough time to tell our brain that we’re full before we’ve stuffed ourselves.  Savor your meal.  If you eat at a slow or modified pace your body will be better able to tell yourself that you are full.  Another tip is to use a smaller plate.  The bigger the plate, the more likely we are to fill it up.  Try using a nine-inch plate and follow MyPlate as a guide.
  • Know What You Eat – By cooking at home, you know exactly what is going into your food.  You can adjust recipes to be healthier by adding less salt or using olive oil instead of solid fats.  Cooking at home also gives you the opportunity to try new foods.  Make a plan to try one new food each month.  Your family may find their new favorite meal!  If you do decide to eat out, try to obtain the nutritional information ahead of time so you know what you’re eating.

Make your meals opportunities for better health.  Incorporate the tips above to make sure that you are meeting the nutritional guidelines for both yourself and your family.  For more tips, please visit for information about all the food groups as well as information about your nutritional health.


Build a Healthy Meal –

Written by:  Dana Brown, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, Morrow County, Ohio State University Extension, Heart of Ohio EERA

Reviewed by: Cindy Shuster, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, Perry County, Ohio State University Extension, Buckeye Hills EERA

Reviewed by:  Barb Hildebrand, Office Associate, Ohio State University Extension, Morrow County, Heart of Ohio EERA

Reviewed by: Jenny Lindimore, Office Associate, Ohio State University Extension, Morgan County, Buckeye Hills EERA

Slow Cooking Up a Storm

11 09 2012

With the school year starting back up and a hint of fall in the air, it’s no wonder that we feel like life has suddenly slipped into overdrive.  It is easy to put off cooking dinner by making excuses:  I don’t have enough time, I’m too tired, and going through the drive thru is so much easier.  While picking up dinner is quick and easy, it is often times more expensive, less nutritious, and takes away from spending quality time with family.

One easy fix for this is to use a slow cooker.  A slow cooker is a countertop device that slowly cooks food at a lower temperature over a longer period of time.  It contains three parts.  The first is the outer casing.  The casing is what heats up the crock so that the food cooks.  Often times it has three settings: low, high, and warm.  The second piece is the crock.  The crock is usually made of ceramic or porcelain and it keeps the food at the correct temperature.  The third part is the glass lid.  As the food heats up, the steam rises and hits the lid which forms water droplets.  This condensation runs down the sides of the lid and forms a tight seal with the crock, ensuring proper cooking temperature.

There are many benefits of using a slow cooker:

-Save Money:  Generally, slow cookers use less electricity than it takes to use an oven.  This will help save money on electricity bills.  Also, they do not throw off heat like an oven will, which is great during warm months because it won’t heat up the house.  Something else to keep in mind is that because of the slow cooking process it allows for more moisture to enter into the meat.  A person can purchase a tougher cut of meat and the slow cooker will make it tender and juicy.

-Convenience:  Just throw your ingredients into the slow cooker, turn it on low, and cook for the appropriate amount of time.  It’s great to put it on in the morning and return from a long day of work to a home cooked meal waiting for the whole family.  Something else that is nice is that the slow cooker is portable, which makes it easy to take on the go to a party or picnic as long as there is an electrical outlet.  The slow cooker isn’t just for roasts anymore.  There are thousands of recipes out there to make all your favorite dishes.

-Healthy:  Using a slow cooker has health benefits as well.  Instead of making soup from a can that contains high levels of sodium, a person can make their own from scratch and control what is going into the recipe.  The low cooking temperature also helps maintain vitamins during the cooking process.

Overall, slow cooking is a great way to spend time with the family.  Since there is less time spent preparing the meal, more time can be spent talking about everyone’s day.  There are thousands of recipes out there to try new and exciting ideas.  Or, if time is an issue in the morning, throw in a few easy ingredients and let the slow cooker do the rest.  With fall in full swing, nothing tastes better than a hot, home cooked meal made from the heart.

Want to join our Live Healthy Live Well Email Challenge?

19 08 2012

For six weeks starting August 27th, we will focus on increasing your physical activity levels as well as focusing your awareness and behavior on one health habit per week. Examples of behaviors we will be encouraging include consuming low-fat dairy products, managing stress, moving more, monitoring sleep habits, drinking more water, watching portion size, and eating more vegetables and fruits. Ohio State University Extension Educators will share tips, recipes and researched based information through emails and blog posts. If you are on facebook, you can “like” our facebook page which provides another social media avenue to encourage participants on their wellness journey.

The on-line email challenge will run from August 27th to October 9th.

There is no charge to participate and any adult with an email account can register to participate.

Participants will sign up for the email challenge and complete a consent form to participate in the challenge. During the challenge, participants will track their daily progress on a 6 week log. We will also have an anonymous pre and post on-line survey for you to complete.

If you join our challenge, you will receive twice weekly educational messages from a team of Ohio State University Extension Educators. You will download and print your tracking log to record your progress. If you are a Facebook user, you can “like” our page for additional tips and group interaction. Participants will be eligible to be in drawings for wellness and fitness prizes.

Participants will self report on their log the changes they make during the challenge. You will also provide valuable research as to the effectiveness of social media as a means of disseminating educational information.

How do I sign up? – Contact Michelle Treber at Ohio State University Extension by email at or phone 740-474-7534 by August 24, 2012.

Sponsored by: Ohio State University Extension and County Commissioners Cooperating

OSU Extension embraces human diversity and is committed to ensuring that all educational programs conducted by Ohio State University Extension are available to clientele on a nondiscriminatory basis without regard to race, color, age, gender identity or expression, disability, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, or veteran status. Keith L. Smith, Associate Vice President for Agriculture Administration and Director, OSU Extension. TDD No. 800-589-8292 (Ohio Only) or 614-292-1868.

Caution: Germs and Fair

19 06 2012

Do I need to take special caution when visiting petting zoos, zoos, or county fairs?  Visits to petting zoos and county fairs provide a fun experience for children and adults. Eating, drinking or simply bringing food into an animal-holding area can increase your risk of foodborne illness.  In fact, people who eat or drink in areas where animals are being held are almost five times more likely to get ill than people who don’t eat or dink there.  Studies have also shown that kids who sucked their thumbs or a pacifier or drank from a sippy cup in those places were 26 times more likely to become sick.

The increase in animal exhibit-related cases of intestinal disease may be tied to the growing population shift from rural to urban environments, of which Ohio is a prime example.  As a result, interactions between humans and farm animals have changed from frequent daily activities associated with farm life to less frequent events that are clustered in space and time, such as visits to petting zoos and state and county fair exhibits.

The problem is that even healthy farm animals can be excreting microorganisms that cause serious human diseases.  Since these microorganisms are microscopic it’s not possible to know if they are contaminating a surface, food or water by just looking at it.  Also many of these organisms can survive for extended periods of time in the environment attached to dust and debris, which can then contaminate food, beverages, food wrappers and drinking straws.  You don’t need to get manure in your hand to become exposed to these pathogens.

What can you do to minimize the risk of infection?

Follow these two main precautions – properly wash their hands and refrain from eating or drinking in areas with animals.

  1. Hand-washing is the single most important factor in preventing disease.  The best way to wash your hands is to use large amounts of water, preferably warm, and soap.  Hands should be washed for at least 20 seconds and dried with a single-use paper towel.
  1. Food and drinks should be stored and consumed in areas completely separated from where the animals are held and only consumed after thoroughly washing hands.”

Waterless hand sanitizers should only be used if there are no other means of washing hands, as these have not done been documented as effective in animal environments.
Written by:  Pat Brinkman, Extension Educator, Family & Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension.Caution

Source:  Espinoza, M. (2005).  “Disease-causing Germs are Common at Fairs,” Ohio State University

Being a Grandparent

25 05 2012

Being a Grandparent is a special milestone in life. The joys of sharing time and interests with grandchildren give them self assurance. The Search Institute identifies several traits that children need to be successful in life, called assets. What are assets? In short, they are the skills and values children need to overcome troubles and trials in life. They aren’t financial assets,, they are opportunities, skills, relationships, values and self perceptions that all young people need in their lives to overcome obstacles. The more assets they have, the better prepared they are in life. To read more about internal and external assets check out

Following is a list to get you started, read through and see what activities you might be able share with the children in your life.

  •  Support their parents- reinforce what they do well and give them a break once in a while. Parenting is hard work and not one gets it right all the time. Be respectful of them, even if you would do it differently.
  • Have clear boundaries and high expectations for how you expect them to behave when they are with you. Talk with them about why you believe this and why it is important to you.
  • Introduce them to other caring elders such as your friends or other relatives. The more exposure older people and youth have to one another, the better they will be to relate and get along. Look for common interests like gardening, or camping or a hobby that you might enjoy doing together.
  • Help make history come alive for them. Tell them stories about their parents when they were children and about your own life. Help them think about their future by talking about goals and dreams that you had as a young person and how you achieved them.
  • Model life- long learning by reading, taking classes or lessons or trying new things. My grandmother was determined at the age of 90 she wanted to learn to use the computer and do electronic banking with a debit card.
  • Model involvement in community service. Why do you enjoy living in the community you do and how can you give back?
  • Attend community and school events that they are involved in to share in their interests

If you are a grandparent, try to spend individual time with each grandchild—talk with them about why are they special how much you love them. Try to avoid making comparisons among them recognize the skills and talents they each have.   Avoid making comparisons among them. Enjoy each one as they are. Try board games or card games or even computer games to spend time together and talk about other things on their mind. These offer ways to teach skills like sharing, patience, and being fair in a fun way.  Expose them to cultural, religious and family rituals. Think about what’s going on in the community this summer like concerts, or plays or even just a walk downtown. This gives children exposure to the local arts and when they are older there’s a whole world of cultural events that are not too far away to explore. Talk with them about your values, priorities and world issues that concern you. Emphasize why these things are important to you and how they influence your life.

Spending time with children is not only a memory in the making, but it is an opportunity to build assets for a successful and promising future for a child.

Cutting Back on Sodium – Making the Grade

23 05 2012


As I began the new year, I made a resolution that is similar to a lot of Americans:  eat healthier and get in shape.  My determination has been reinforced by the fact that beach season is quickly approaching.  As I began brainstorming ways to make my goal a reality, the idea of food journal seemed like an easy way to keep track of calories.  I found a website online that tracks the nutritional value of every meal, creates a chart based on the breakdown of my meals, and gives me a grade as to my meals for the day.

My strategy is to eat three small meals a day: at breakfast, lunch, and dinner and to have a snack in between.  I have put myself on a steady diet of calcium-rich milk products such  as low fat yogurt and cottage cheese, fruits and vegetables like pineapple and broccoli, whole grains like whole grain wheat bread and brown rice, and lean meats such as grilled chicken.  Being in family and consumer sciences for the past five years has taught me the right and wrong types of food to eat.  I thought being savvy in nutrition would give me an A+ for my daily nutrition evaluation.  To my surprise, I was wrong.

While most of the time I am getting in the B range (with the exception of one Friday night we had pizza and I received a C+ for my efforts, even after removing the pepperoni), there are factors that are keeping me from receiving the A I feel I deserve for my healthy food choices.  I discovered that while most of my issues come from not having enough vitamins, minerals, and fiber, my sodium levels were extremely high.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) suggests no more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day based on a 2,000 calorie diet.  That’s around the size of a teaspoon.  After looking at my chart for the past two weeks, I see that my sodium levels have averaged to be almost twice what they should and as a person who has high blood pressure in her family, I know this is something that I need to work on.  High sodium levels can lead to hypertension or high blood pressure development in individuals.

I immediately went to the MyPlate website ( ) and looked for tips that will help lower my sodium intake.  Here is what a fact sheet entitled: Salt and Sodium – 10 tips to Help You Cut Back, had to say:

Top Ten Tips for Lowering Sodium 

1.  Think Fresh – Most of the sodium Americans eat is found in packaged foods. Eat less often highly processed foods—especially salty chips; cured meats, such as bacon, sausage, hot dogs, and luncheon meats; canned entrées, like chili and ravioli; and many soups.

 2.   Enjoy Full-Flavored, Home-Prepared Foods – Use herbs and spices to flavor foods. Preparing your own foods allows you to control the amount of sodium you eat. Make your own salad dressings with herb mixes instead of buying pre-packed ones.

 3.   Fill Up On Foods Naturally Low in Sodium – Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, and cooked dry beans and lentils. Many Americans need to eat 3 cups—and for some people up to a total of 6 cups—of fruits and vegetables each day, depending on the amount of calories needed. Go to to find out the amount of fruits and vegetables YOU need.

 4.   Get Enough, but Not TOO Much, of Some Other Foods Low in Sodium – Find out the specific amount of foods YOU need from the Milk Group and the Meat & Beans Group by going to Choose fresh cuts of beef, pork, poultry, fish, or eggs—and eat just the amount you need. Choose low-sodium cheese. Choose fat-free milk or reduced fat yogurt.

  5.   Learn to Enjoy the Natural Taste of Foods – Savor the flavor of simply prepared foods. Try cutting back on salt little by little—and pay attention to the natural tastes and textures of various foods.

  6.   Skip the Salt – Table salt (sodium chloride) is approximately 40% sodium. Just skip adding salt when cooking. Keep salt off the kitchen counter and the dinner table.

  7.   Read the Label – Use the Nutrition Facts label and the ingredients statement to find foods lower in sodium. Look for foods labeled “low sodium” or “reduced sodium.” Foods with less than 140 mg sodium per serving can be labeled as low-sodium foods.

 8.   Learn the Lingo – Besides “salt,” sodium comes in a range of forms. When reading ingredient statements, look for: sodium benzoate, sodium nitrite, sodium ascorbate, etc. Limit sodium and salt in food.

  9.   Ask for Low-Sodium Foods Where You Eat Out or Shop – Ask for what you want. The marketplace is changing and supermarkets and food manufacturers want to sell healthier foods. Many restaurants will prepare low-sodium foods at your request and will serve sauces and salad dressings on the side so you can use less. The more you make your low sodium demands known, the greater the chance that food companies will change their recipes.

  10.  Pay Attention to the Condiments and Seasonings You Use – Some seasonings are just about as high in sodium as regular table salt. So, instead of onion salt, use onion powder or replace garlic salt with fresh garlic. Limit the amount of brined or pickled foods. Buy low-sodium soy sauce. Use only a sprinkling of flavoring packets instead of the entire packet.

Take a few weeks to monitor your sodium intake and see if you are making healthy choices.  According to the American Heart Association, high-sodium diets are linked to an increased risk for stroke, heart failure, osteoporosis, stomach cancer, and kidney disease.  As long as you try to do at least a few of the tips listed above, you will be doing yourself a favor in the long run.

 As for myself, I plan to pay more attention to the nutrition facts on the food label.  I always zoom in on statistics about calories and saturated fat, but many times over look sodium.  Also, instead of eating processed foods like canned soup, I’m going to make my soup from scratch so I can monitor the amount of salt.  I know that with a little effort and awareness on my part, I’ll bring my B grades up to A’s.

 Written by: Dana Brown, Extension Educator, Family & Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension – Morrow County.


American Heart Association, Sodium:

 USDA, 10 Tips for Lowering Sodium:

Springtime Fun

10 04 2012

The sun is bright today but the wind is still a little brisk.  Think of all the things we might be doing if we were outside today?  Picking up sticks, looking for new buds on the trees or flowers or just taking the dog for a walk, are ways to get a little exercise and fresh air.  When we spend time outside with our children they have a wonderful classroom of new experiences and we can enjoy the moments of discovery with them.

It’s interesting to find more and more information that indicates time outside for children is just as important as good nutrition and a good night’s sleep.  It’s a time to connect with nature and learn about colors, and textures,  and so many living things that are available in our back yards.

When we think about getting children ready for school, the garden or backyard can lead to conversations in math, science, reading and vocabulary.  As adults, we benefit from the fresh air and exercise also.  Gardening supports children’s curiosity about the natural world and to build confidence as they grow and nurture plants that ultimately produce items for them to eat.  Rulers and magnifying glasses are great tools to share no matter what age they are to investigate things that we might miss at first glance.  Here’s a few other tips to consider while you are  outside this spring or summer, whatever you choose to do, remember that you are building relationships  by spending time together engaged in activity and learning.

*Make a wind sock from an empty powdered drink or oatmeal container and crepe paper streamers.

*Take a study stick and tie strings or fishing line to metal items to make your own wind chimes.  Things like old keys, beverage cans, old silverware, small piece of pipe, etc. work well.

*Select a few garden plants and make a container garden.  Use either a bucket or ornamental container for them to care for and observe the changes as they grow.

*Take an empty milk carton or other small container and make a boat to use outside in the puddles after a spring shower.  Which way does the wind blow it?  What ones sink or float?  What or how much can I put in the “boat” before it sinks?

*Take a strip of contact paper and make a loose bracelet.  On a walk around the yard or park pick up unique items that will stick to the bracelet.  Leaves, seeds, pebbles, flowers, bird egg shells, are all great conversation starters.

*How many different shades of green can you find outside?  Take a piece of paper or coloring sheet outside to color with no crayons….just the grass or the leaves, or the bark from the tree.  Ask permission before using flowers but they all share natural colors to enjoy.

*Make a chart of the sky and what it looks like at a particular time during the day.  See how it changes through the week.

There’s so many more fun things to do outside, but hopefully these will get you started thinking.  One of the most common comments, is “there’s nothing to do outside!”  I think once you begin looking, you’ll find so many fun things that they’ll forget about TV and enjoy the fresh air and sunshine.

Melinda Hill, CFCS, CFLE

Extension Educator, Family and Consumer


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