Tuesday, August 18, 2015

School Lunches

With school soon to be back in session, the thought of healthy and nutritious lunch that your child will actually eat can be daunting, especially for those who have picky eaters. Children’s lunches should provide adequate amounts of calories and nutrients to keep a child well-nourished throughout the entire school day. While keeping nutrition and foods that your child will actually eat in mind, may seem like an impossible task, I’m here to tell you it is not.

If you involve your child in the food selection for their lunches, you are more apt to succeed in packing something they will eat! Have them help prepare their own lunches and pack them.

At school your child has more control over what they will and will not eat during lunch.  They can choose to eat the green beans or throw them out. They can also choose to eat the apple over the ice cream sandwich.  So packing a meal could be a more rewarding choice when it comes to your child’s health and nutrition.

Most kids have the choice of packing lunch or eating what is served in the cafeteria. Children can get a healthy lunch either way, but that is not always the case. Some meals and foods served in the cafeteria are healthier than others. That doesn’t mean that your child should not eat what is served in the cafeteria, it just means that you may want to take a closer look at the menu. Be sure that the meal is healthy and is something your child will eat. If the menu does not meet those criteria, pack a meal for that day.

On the other hand, a packed lunch isn’t necessarily healthier if you pack it with chocolate cake and potato chips! A packed meal, if done right, does have a clear advantage. Foods that your child likes can be packed. Offer them choices and include them in the preparation process.

When packing a lunch choose fruits and vegetables. They offer lots of nutrition and are packed with vitamins and fiber. Try to fit one to two servings in at lunch. You should also know the facts about fat. Kids need some fat in their diet to stay healthy, and also help them feel full, but should be used in moderation. Grains are also necessary, but not all grains are created equal. Remember that whole grains are healthier than refined grains.

Drinks are important when packing lunches as well. Milk has been a favorite lunchtime drink for a long time, but if your child does not like milk, pack them a bottle of water, but avoid juice drinks and soda.

Balanced meals are another important factor to consider when preparing a lunch. It should include a mix of food groups: some grains, some fruits, some vegetable, some meat or protein foods, and some dairy foods such as mile and cheese. If there are not a variety of foods, it is probably not balanced. Also, steer clear of packaged snacks such as chips and candy. They are okay every once in a while, but should not be part of the lunch menu.

Lastly, mix it up! If you pack the same lunch every day, your child could become bored with that meal and not eat, even if it is their favorite food. Change up the routine! Eating lots of different kinds of food gives the body a variety of nutrients.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Preserving the Harvest

Canning Basics

Canning preserves food by using heat to kill any bacteria that can cause illness or spoilage and creates and airtight seal to prevent future spoilage.

There are two methods of canning, boiling water bath and pressure canning. The method used depends on the acidity of the food. High acid foods with a pH balance equal to or more than 4.6 would use a boiling water bath, while low acid foods with a pH balance below 4.6 would use a pressure canner.

                 pH = < 4.6                                         High Acid Foods


              pH > 4.6
        Low Acid Foods

TurnipsMeat and Poultry

The proper canning method must be used to prevent botulism (Clostridium Botulinum) which is often found in the soil and is found in two forms. The first form is vegetative cells (active cells which produce a deadly toxin), Vegetative cells are anarobic (can live without oxygen) and are kill by boiling in water 212 degrees. The second form is spores which are often in the soil and are inactive and in hibernation. Spores can only be killed if they are boiled at 240 degrees which must be done with a pressure canner. Botulism loves a low-acid environment.

A boiling water bath uses a large covered cooking pot with a rack. The pot must be deep enough to at least one inch of water covers the top of the jars during processing. The diameter of the pot should be no more than 4 inches wider than the diameter of the burner. Again, this method is used most often when canning high-acid foods such as tomatoes, most fruits, jellies, jams, and pickles.

Pressure canning uses a special type of canner that has a lid which is able to be tightly closed so steam cannot escape. The pressure generated in this type of canner allows the food to be heated at temperatures higher than 212 degrees (boiling temperature). This is the recommended method of canning for low acid foods like most vegetables, meat, and poultry.

You should only ever can using a boiling water bath using a pot on the stove or using a pressure canner on the stove. Do not use an open kettle, steam canning, microwave oven canning, oven canning or dishwasher canning, as these are all unsafe methods.

Also, you should only use recipes that have been tested using research -based methods. Recipes from cookbooks, family, and some internet sites may not be safe to use. And DO NOT alter or make up your own recipes, because it is not safe.

You can get tested recipes from current Extension publications, USDA, and makers of home canning equipment and ingredients.
DO NOT use personal internet sites, cookbooks, "back to nature" publications, or out-of-date Extension publications.

When canning use mason-type jars that are made for home canning. Sizes of jars vary; pint and quarter sizes are most common, and half-pint jars are used most often for jellies and jams. Be sure to use regular and wide-mouth jars. Most canning jars have a life span of about 13 years.

Headspace is the space in the jar between the underside of the lid and the top of the food or its liquid. The amount of headspace needed depends on the type of food and the method of canning used, which you will find stated in the recipe.

If you have too little headspace, food may boil over onto the rim of the jar and prevent it from sealing properly, and if you have too much hefadspace the processing time may not be enough to get all the air out of the jar, resulting in a poor seal and may also result in discolored food.

Once the jars are filled, release air bubbles by placing a flat plastic spatula between the food and the jar, adjust the headspace, wipe the jar rim with a damp paper towel, and place the lid on the jar, add the screw band and slightly tighten (not too loose or too tight).

The processing time is the length of time the jars are in the canner so foods are properly heated and the lids sealed. This time kills the bacteria in the food so spoilage or foodborne illness doesn't happen, and is a critical step in food preservation. Processing times depend on the the food, the size of the jar, and the type of canner.

High altitudes can change the processing times.

FoodJar SizeUsual Time (< 1000 feet)1001-3000 ft3001 - 6000 ft
Water Bath Canning
Crushed Tomatoesquart45 minutes50 minutes55 minutes
JellyquartvariesAdd 1 minute of processing time per 1,000 ft of altitude
Pressure canning
Green Beansquart25 minutesProcess time depends on altitude and type of pressure canner (dial vs. weighed gauge)
After processing, make sure your jars are sealed. Press the middle of the lid with your finger. If the lid springs up when you lift your finger the seal is NOT good. While cooling you may hear a "pop" noise coming from the jars. This is a sign that the lids have sealed but it is a good idea to check them again 12  to 24 hours later.

If you notice a jar that did not seal within 24 hours of processing, you have three options:
- Refrigerate the contents and eat in a few days
- Freeze
- Reprocess using a NEW LID and the FULL processing time.

If the jars did not seal and it has been longer than 24 hours, those jars should be thrown away.

Remove the screw bands and wipe the jars to remove any food residues. Label and date the jars, then store in a clean, cool, dark, dry place.
Example Jar Label: 
07/08/2015 = Date the jar was processed
B-2 = second batch of jars processed
Okra = food processed

You should throw out home-canned foods when:
- The jars were not processed correctly
- There is unexplained clouding canning liquid occurs
- There is a strange odor
- There is mold growth
- The jar did not seal and it has been longer than 24 hours
- The lid is bulging
- Has reached 1 year after processing date

Source: National Center for Home Food Preservation, Georgia Cooperative Extension, So Easy to Preserve 5th ed., and Food Safety Advisor Volunteer Handbook, Washington State University and University of Idaho.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Preserving the Harvest

Home food preservation treats foods in a way that delays its spoilage, makes raw products more stable so they can last longer, and allows seasonal foods to be available all year long. It also allows you more control over food, gives you a way to connect with previous generations, save money, and have fun in the process.

Spoilage: process of food becoming unsafe or unacceptable for human consumption. Major causes of  food spoilage include: microorganisms (germs, mold, yeast), enzymes in fruit and vegetables, bruising and cuts in fresh produce, and insect damage.

When the conditions are right, germs multiply fast!

  Time # of bacteria
  Start 1
  30 minutes 4
  1 hour 16
  1.5 hours 64
  2 hours 256
  2.5 hours 1,024
  3 hours 4,096
  3.5 hours 16,384
  4 hours 65,536

Food safety is critical when preserving food at home. Follow researched-based, tested recipes and choose the right method of food preservation to reduce spoilage such as, refrigeration, freezing, canning, sweetening and acidifying jellies and jams, pickling and fermenting, and drying. If food preservation is not done right, food spoilage and/or a foodborne illness can happen.

Refrigeration will slow the growth of germs and other microorganisms and slows down the action of fruit and vegetable enzymes that cause spoilage, however it will not preserve foods for a long periods of time. Keep your refrigerator at 40 degrees or cooler to preserve food longer.

Freezing is the easiest method of food preservation and is a safe method for any food. Freezing stops germs from growing, but it does not kill them, and it slows enzyme activity; but it doesn't stop them; blanching stops the enzymes. Keep your freezer at zero degrees or cooler to get the most out of preservation.

Canning when done right, kills the germs and causes a vacuum that seals the lids. There are two types of canning: boiling water bath and pressure canning. The pH of a food determines which canning method to use. If proper canning methods are not followed, it can lead to food spoilage or serious foodborne illness.

Sweetening and acidifying (jams and jellies) use sugar which prevents the growth of germs. It binds with water so germs can't use it. Lemon juice and/or citric acid are used to add flavor and helps gel formation. Long-term storage of jams and jellies requires canning.

Pickling uses acids (naturally present or added) to lower the pH of a food. This prevents the growth of germs that cause food to spoil and/or foodborne illness. Long-term storage will require processing/canning.

Drying is the oldest method of food preservation. It removes water from food such as fruit, vegetables, herbs, and meat. Removing the water prevents germ growth. Dried foods must be packed in moisture-proof containers so they do not become rehydrated.

Now you may be asking, "which method do I choose?" The following diagram may help

Canning Freezing Drying
Equipment ($) Canners, jars, and lids Freezer and stroage containers dDehydrator or oven and strorage containers
Energy Requirement Fairly low High (due to freezer) Low if using a dehydrator; high for oven use
Preparation Time Long Medium Short
Processing Time Medium to Long Short Long
Does it look like the fresh food? Somewhat Yes Somewhat
Do you lose nutrients? Loss of vitamins     A & C Not much Some loss of vitamin A & C

Source: University of Georgia, So Easy to Preserve, 5th ed.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Summer Harvest - 10 Tips for Canning Foods at Home Safely

If you are wondering what to do with your summer harvest, because you have vegetables and fruit coming out your ears, and you are unable to give it away fast enough, why not do some canning?! If you have plans to can or have already canned, good on you! Hopefully you know the safety guidelines fro canning at home.
Canning is a fun resourceful way to preserve an abundant harvest from your garden, however if it is done incorrectly, home-canned foods can lead to serious and even fatal food-borne illnesses. The following are 10 tips for canning at home safely.

#1 Always start with a clean preparation area, and the fresher the foods are the better. Make sure there is not any damage to any of the jars, such as nicks and cracks. Make sure all of your equipment is sterilized clean and working well.

#2 If you are canning low-acid foods, always use a pressure canner, this includes most vegetable except for tomatoes, seafood, poultry, and meat.

#3 If you use a pressure canner with a dial gauge, have it tested each year. You can also have your pressure canner checked to ensure that the gaskets are in good shape and that vents, safety valves and edges of the lid are clean.

#4 It is important to always use tested recipes that have up-to-date, researched canning times. Good sources of tested recipes include the National Center for Home Food Preservation at nchfp.uga.edu, Extension service websites and companies that produce home canning supplies such as Ball at www.freshpreserving.com.
Recipes from cookbooks, personal internet sites, and older Extension publications should not be used.

#5 You should never alter ingredients in tested recipes, because changing the ingredients in a tested recipe can make that recipe unsafe for home food preservation and consumption.

#6 When you begin to fill your jars, you should always use the correct headspace. (Headspace - the space in the jar that is between the lid and the top of the food or liquid.) Having too much or too little headspace can affect how the lid seals and the quality of the final product.

#7 Once the jars have been processed (canned), you should check the lids within 12 to 24 hours to make sure that they have a good seal. If you have a jar that did not seal properly, the food should be frozen or refrigerated and eating within 48 hours, or you can reprocess it within 24 hours.

#8 Label the lids with the name of the food and date. If you canned more than once that day, you should add a batch number to the label. That way, if you see signs of spoilage, you can identify the batch number and pay special attention to those jars.

#9 To prevent spoilage, store your canned foods in a dark, cool, dry place. If food is stored in a humid place, the moisture can cause the lids to rust which can lead to spoilage. Periodically check your jars for signs of spoilage.

#10 To enjoy the best quality of your canned goods, use them within ONE YEAR.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Sun Safety - Part 2

Look for a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher to prevent sunburn and tanning, both of which are signs of skin damage. Also, choose a sunscreen that protects against both UVA and UVB rays (usually labeled as a “broad-spectrum” sunscreen).
Other things to consider:
·         Sunscreen sprays are convenient but should be used with caution, because they are easily inhaled, which can irritate the lungs, and some are flammable. Also, sprays make it hard to tell if you have applied enough sunscreen, which increases the risk of sunburn.
·         Don’t use sunscreens with PABA, which can cause skin allergies.
·         For sensitive skin, look for products with the active ingredient titanium dioxide.
·         If you want to use a self-tanner sunscreen, be sure to get one that also has UV protection
For sunscreen to do its job, it must be applied correctly. So be sure to:
·         Apply sunscreen whenever you will be in the sun. For best results, apply it about 15 to 30 minutes before going outside.
·         Don’t forget about ears, hands, feet, shoulders, and behind the neck. Left up bathing suit straps and apply sunscreen underneath them. Protect lips with and SPF 30 lip balm.
·         Apply sunscreen generously – dermatologists recommend using 1 ounce to cover the exposed areas of the body.
·         Reapply sunscreen often, about every 2 hours. Reapply after sweating or swimming.
·         Apply a water-resistant sunscreen if you will be around water or swimming.  Water reflects and intensifies the sun’s rays, so you need protection that lasts. Water-resistant sunscreens may last up to 80 minutes in the water, and some are also sweat-resistant. But regardless of the water-resistant label, be sure to reapply sunscreen.
·         Don’t worry about making a bottle of sunscreen last. Stock up, and throw out any sunscreen that is past its expiration date that you have had for 3 years or longer.
Exposure from the sun, not only damages skin, but can damage eyes as well. One day in the sun can result in a burned cornea and cumulative exposure can lead to cataracts later in life. The best way to protect eyes is to wear sunglasses. Purchase sunglasses with labels that ensure 100% UV protection.
Double-check your medications. Ask your doctor or pharmacist if any prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medications can increase sun sensitivity (this is common with antibiotics and acne medications). Take extra precautions if taking medications that increase sun sensitivity. Even sunscreen can’t always protect skin from sun sensitivity caused by medications.
Sunburn can sneak up on you, especially after a long day at the beach or park. Often, everything seems fine during the day but then you gradually develop an “after-burn” later that evening that can be painful and hot and even make you feel sick.
When sunburned, you usually experience pain and a heat sensation – symptoms that tend to get worse several hours after sun exposure. You may also get chills. Because the sun has dried the skin, it can become itchy and tight. Sunburned skin begins to peel about after a week after the sunburn. Do not scratch or peel off loose skin because skin underneath the sunburn is vulnerable to infection.
If you get sunburn, these tips may help:
·         Take a cool (not cold) bath, or gently apply cool, wet compresses to the skin to help alleviate pain and heat.
·         Ease discomfort by applying pure aloe vera gel to any sunburned areas.
·         Take an anti-inflammatory medication like ibuprofen or use acetaminophen to ease the main and itching. Over-the-counter diphenhydramine also may help reduce itching and swelling.
·         Apply topical moisturizing cream to rehydrate the skin and treat itching. For the more seriously sunburned areas, apply a thin layer of 1% hydrocortisone cream to help with pain. (Do not use petroleum-based products, because they prevent excess heat and sweat from escaping. Also, avoid first-aid products that contain benzocaine, which may cause skin irritation allergy.)

If the sunburn is severe and blisters develop, contact your doctor. Do not scratch, pop, or squeeze the blisters, because they can get infected and can cause scarring. Stay out of the sun until the sunburn is healed, because any further exposure to the sun will make the burn worse and increase pain.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Fun in the Sun Safety - Part 1

School is out for the summer! It may not yet officially be summer until June 21st, but here in West Texas our summer begins the last day of school. Families go on vacation to the beach, kids and adults alike lay out by the pool and swim all day. Instead of being in a classroom all day, many kids are outside playing, riding their bikes and playing in the water.
Sunlight is not “equal” in UV concentration. The intensity of the sun’s rays depends upon the time of year, as well as the altitude and latitude of your location. Here in the Northern Hemisphere the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays are at their strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. and are strongest during the summer season. Cloudy, cool, and overcast days may give a false sense of protection, because UV rays travel through the clouds and reflect off sand, water, snow and even concrete causing individuals to receive unexpected sunburn and skin damage. People are often unaware they are developing a sunburn on cooler or windy days because the temperature or breeze keeps the skin feeling cool on the surface.
UV rays can cause skin damage, eye damage, immune system suppression, and skin cancer. Most kids get most of their lifetime sun exposure before age 18, so it is important to be well aware of sun safety and by taking the right precautions, you can greatly reduce the risk of developing skin cancer.
Melanin is the body’s first line of defense against the sun because it absorbs dangerous UV rays before they do serious damage. Melanin is found in different concentrations and colors, resulting in different skin colors. The lighter someone’s natural skin color, the less melanin it has to absorb UV rays and protect itself.
The skins melanin will increase in response to sun exposure causing the skin to tan, but even a “healthy” tan could be a sign of sun damage. The risk of damage increases with the amount and intensity of exposure. Sunburn develops when the amount of UV exposure is greater than what can be protected against by the skin’s melanin.
Kids who have moles on their skin (or whose parents have a tendency to develop moles), have very fair skin and hair, and have a family history of skin cancer, including melanoma are at a higher risk if they have one or more of these high-risk factors.
By following some sun safety “rules”, kids and adults alike can enjoy a day in the sun. Avoid the strongest rays of the day. Remember we mentioned earlier that the strongest rays tend to be at their apex between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
Cover up! One of the best ways to prevent damage to your skin is to cover up and shield skin from UV rays. You can be sure that clothes will screen out harmful UV rays by placing your hand inside the garment and making sure you can’t see it through them.
Because infants have thinner skin and underdeveloped melanin, their skin burns more easily. The best protection for babies under 6 months of age is shade.
Even older kids need to escape the sun. Bring along a wide umbrella or pop-up tent for all-day outdoor affairs. If it is not too hot outside and won’t make the kids uncomfortable, have them wear light long-sleeved shirts and/or long pants.

Use sunscreen constantly. Choosing a sunscreen can be tricky with the wide array of options available, but what matters most is the degree of protection it provides from UV rays.