Chow Line: Great nutrition ideas ripe for the picking

chow_022715_157696894I need some fresh ideas to give my diet a boost. I eat fairly well now, but I feel like I’m in a rut and want some easy ways to make some changes while keeping health and nutrition front and center. Your thoughts?

You picked a good time to focus on a healthy diet with National Nutrition Month just around the corner in March.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association) has sponsored the annual event since 1973, when it started as National Nutrition Week. The group has a website devoted to the month, nationalnutritionmonth.org, which is chock-full of handouts and tip sheets with just the kind of information you’re looking for. Look under “Promotional Resources” on the website for access.

The great ideas from this group of registered dietitians include tips such as:

  • Want some crunch? Don’t reach for chips — try crunchy vegetables instead. Use low-fat dressing as a dip.
  • Dress up seafood or poultry with a fruit puree. Just blend apples, berries, peaches or pears for a thick, sweet sauce.
  • Thirsty? Choose water first, and drink plenty of it, especially if you’re active or if you’re an older adult.
  • Reducing sodium doesn’t have to be bland. Create your own salt-free seasoning blend. The group’s “Eating Right with Less Salt” tip sheet offers recipes for a mixed herb blend, an Italian blend and a Mexican blend.
  • Are your portion sizes reasonable? If you haven’t measured foods in awhile, it could be a good exercise to get out the kitchen scale and measuring spoons and cups to evaluate how close your normal portions compare with recommended serving sizes. (It also wouldn’t hurt to review recommended serving sizes for different foods at choosemyplate.gov.)
  • Not getting enough vegetables? Try heating a cup of vegetable soup as a snack or as part of lunch or dinner.
  • Add some variety to healthy snacks by combining options from different food groups: top a banana with frozen yogurt and a few nuts, or spread a tablespoon of peanut butter on apple slices.
  • When you’re doing your food shopping, make it a point to buy one fruit, vegetable or whole grain you’ve never tried before. You never know what might become a new favorite.
  • If you’re not doing so already, and if you’re able to, eat fish or shellfish twice a week. Types that are higher in healthy omega-3 fatty acids and lower in mercury include salmon, trout, oysters and sardines.

The National Nutrition Month website also offers plenty of other resources, including healthy eating quizzes and games for kids and adults, and information on services offered by registered dietitians. Check it out. You’re bound to come away with plenty of new ideas to chew on.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences at The Ohio State University and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH 43210-1043, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

Chow Line: School fundraisers, snacks getting healthier

chow_022015_178586482I saw a news report that seemed to indicate that schools can no longer hold bake sales or sell chocolate bars as fundraisers. Can that be right?

The new nutrition standards have indeed gone a step further this school year as rules for snacks and other foods sold during the school day have taken effect. With healthier school breakfasts and lunches already being offered, the new standards for snacks and fundraisers are meant to send a clear message about healthy eating and provide a way for students to actually form healthful eating habits not only at meals, but throughout the school day as well.

The school snack standards say foods and drinks sold during school hours, including items in vending machines, school stores, and a la carte cafeteria menus, cannot exceed limits on fat, salt and calories. Whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and other nutrient-dense foods are encouraged. Foods sold in school fundraisers must meet the same guidelines.

The standards are for foods sold in schools. So, bake sales held during the school day would be covered, but snacks brought to the classroom by a student or parent would still be permitted under the federal rules. However, before sending Junior to school with a container of cookies for his classmates, you should check with your teacher or school to see if there are any local guidelines in place.

While some people are criticizing the new standards as overreach, the reasons behind them are crystal clear: The latest figures, from 2012, show that more than a third of children and adolescents are overweight or obese, leading to concerns about long- and short-term health issues.

Obviously, not everything a student eats or drinks is purchased at school. Still, public health authorities believe schools can play a particularly critical role in supporting the development of healthy behaviors from an early age.

In a study published in 2009 in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, researchers found that 40 percent of students in 2005-06 consumed at least one food or beverage as a snack during the school day, and most of the time those snacks were very low in nutrients and high in calories. In other words, junk food. By the time students were in high school, 55 percent snacked during the school day, averaging an extra 220 calories a day.

Now, when students grab a snack at school, it will more likely be a 90-calorie granola bar rather than a 240-calorie doughnut, or a 160-calorie snack bag of light popcorn rather than a 190-calorie pack of chocolate cookies. In addition, fundraisers are starting to move away from chocolate bars and other high-calorie foods and more toward other items, such as those emphasizing school spirit and other gifts.

To learn more about the new standards for healthy school snacks, see the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s web page at healthymeals.nal.usda.gov/smartsnacks. Action for Healthy Kids has some great healthy fundraiser ideas at bit.ly/actionfundraise.

Chow Line is a service of Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH 43210-1043, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Carol Smathers, field specialist in Youth, Nutrition and Wellness for Ohio State University Extension, the outreach arm of Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

Chow Line: Assure food safety when using slow cooker

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photo: iStock

I use my slow cooker a lot, but I recently read that you should thaw frozen items beforehand. I can understand that this would be necessary for meat, but is it a problem to use a bag of frozen vegetables without thawing it first?

That should be OK.

The idea behind thawing food before putting it into a slow cooker is to reduce the amount of time the food is in the “danger zone,” which is between 40 and 140 degrees F. That’s when any bacteria that might be on or in the food could multiply quickly and become a food safety concern. Food should move through the danger zone within two hours.

Meat is more dense than vegetables are, and if you put it in a slow cooker when it’s still frozen, it could stay in that danger zone for too long. Vegetables thaw more quickly, so it’s less of a concern to use frozen vegetables in a slow cooker.

Food safety is especially important to take into account if the food will be eaten by people most at risk from foodborne illness: older adults, children, pregnant women, or anyone undergoing cancer treatment or dealing with a chronic illness, such as diabetes. They are most at risk for developing serious complications from the intestinal problems that could result from food bugs.

Although slow cookers use low temperatures — generally between 170 degrees and 280 degrees F — to cook food, the lengthy cooking time and steam produced in the cooker combine to destroy bacteria. That said, it’s especially important to use some type of liquid (to generate steam) and to keep the lid on the slow cooker as much as possible during cooking. The temperature can dip 10 to 15 degrees F when the lid is removed.

To assure safety when using the slow cooker:

  • If you’re planning to cook a roast or other large cut of meat or poultry in the slow cooker, consult the manufacturer’s recommendations to be sure the meat is heated thoroughly quickly enough. Or, just cut the meat into smaller chunks first.
  • For the first hour, use the high setting. That will move the food through the danger zone more quickly. After that, you can switch to a lower setting if the food will be cooked all day.
  • You may want to test the heating capacity of your slow cooker. To do that, fill the crock in the slow cooker one-half to two-thirds full of water. Put on the lid and turn the heat to low, or 200 degrees F if you have a model with a temperature display. After eight hours, check the temperature of the water with a meat thermometer. Be sure to do so quickly, as the water will cool significantly as soon as the lid is removed. The water should be 185 degrees. If the temperature is below that, the slow cooker may be unsafe to use.

If you’re not home during the entire cooking process and the power goes out, throw away the food even if it looks done.

For more information about slow cooker food safety, see the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s fact sheet at www.fsis.usda.gov/shared/PDF/Slow_Cookers_and_Food_Safety.pdf.

Chow Line is a service of Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH 43210-1043, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Linnette Goard, Food Safety, Selection and Management field specialist for Ohio State University Extension, the outreach arm of Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

Chow Line: Simple steps to eating a heart-healthy diet

photo: Hemera

photo: Hemera

I’ve seen a lot of Valentine’s Day promotions focusing on heart health. What are some easy ways I can make sure my diet is heart-healthy?

Your body will give you a heartfelt thank you for following a healthful, balanced diet with three heart-healthy components:

  • Limited saturated and trans fats. Eating too much of these types of fats increases your risk of high blood cholesterol, particularly the “bad” LDL kind. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends limiting saturated fat to 10 percent of total calories (for example, 180 calories from saturated fat, or 20 grams a day, on an 1,800-calorie-a-day diet). For trans fats, the guidelines recommend keeping them as low as you possibly can. Look at Nutrition Facts labels for saturated and trans fat content. And reduce consumption of butter and other fats that are solid at room temperature, as well as animal fat from meat, cheese and dairy products.
  • Reduced sodium. Too much sodium causes the body to retain excess fluid, resulting, for many people, in high blood pressure. High blood pressure increases the risk of stroke, heart disease and kidney disease. Limiting processed foods can help you significantly reduce sodium in the diet. Most Americans average about 3,400 milligrams of sodium a day. The recommended limit is 2,300 milligrams, or 1,500 milligrams if you already have high blood pressure.
  • Lots of fiber. People who eat more fiber tend to have a lower risk of heart disease. Increase fiber intake by eating more beans and other legumes, eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, and choosing whole grains instead of refined. The average American’s diet supplies only about 10-15 grams of fiber a day, while the recommendation is to eat 20-35 grams.

Need some help putting these recommendations into practice? Here are some quick tips:

  • Choose vegetables and fruit first. They’re naturally low in fat and sodium and tend to be high in fiber. Include a serving of whole fruit (not juice) at breakfast and lunch. Fill half your dinner plate with vegetables. Eat salad every day.
  • Choose lean meats and fat-free or low-fat dairy products. If you’re a cheese lover, try 2-percent-fat varieties. Watch out for processed meats, such as ham and lunchmeat — they tend to be sky-high in sodium.
  • Opt for high-fiber breakfast cereal. Look at Nutrition Facts labels and choose cereals with 5 grams of fiber or more per serving.
  • Lay off the pizza. Pizza alone is responsible for nearly 10 percent of the saturated fat and 6 percent of the sodium in the American diet. Make it an occasional treat rather than a staple.

If you’re thinking of adopting a whole new diet, the DASH Eating Plan, based on the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute recommendations, is worth a try. Learn more about it online at nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/dash.

Chow Line is a service of Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH 43210-1043, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Carolyn Gunther, Community Nutrition Education specialist for Ohio State University Extension, the outreach arm of Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

Chow Line: Find out details when foods are recalled

chow_013015_519545275A friend told me that there has been an apple recall. She said only certain varieties were affected, but couldn’t remember which ones. Where can I learn more about this kind of thing? 

There actually have been two recent recalls related to apples, both of which were linked to a bacterium called Listeria monocytogenes. It is a deadly pathogen and you’re lucky to have a friend who will warn you about such recalls.

One recall began because of an ongoing outbreak of L. monocytogenes. The outbreak was traced to commercially produced caramel apples made from Gala and Granny Smith apples grown and processed by a company in California, Bidart Bros. Seven people have died in the outbreak, and 31 were hospitalized in 11 states around the country.

At first, just caramel apples were recalled, but when L. monocytogenes was found at the company’s apple-packing facility, the firm recalled all of its Gala and Granny Smith apples. You should know that these are two of the most widely grown apple varieties, and apples from other growers and processors are not linked to this outbreak.

However, if you have caramel apples at home purchased before Dec. 24, 2014, or Gala or Granny Smith apples purchased before Jan. 6, and you’re not sure if they are affected, check the advisory from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention at cdc.gov/listeria/outbreaks/caramel-apples-12-14/advice-consumers.html, or check with your grocery store. If you do have them, throw them away immediately. Place them in a closed plastic bag in a sealed trash to prevent other people or animals from eating them.

Although L. monocytogenes accounts for a relatively small fraction of foodborne illness, it’s particularly lethal: An estimated 18 percent of those who contract listeriosis die. Most at risk are older adults; pregnant women; patients undergoing cancer treatment, transplants or receiving medications that suppress the immune system; people with AIDS or other immuno-compromising conditions, such as liver or kidney disease or insulin-dependent diabetes; and small children.

There was another recall on Dec. 10, 2014, for fresh-cut Gala apples grown in Pennsylvania and prepared and distributed by Del Monte Fresh. No illnesses have been reported related to this recall, but a random test by the Ohio Department of Agriculture found L. monocytogenes on the fresh-cut fruit. Grocery stores often used these apples in snack packs and other packaged, ready-to-eat fruit bowls. It’s not likely anyone would still have these items on hand, but a complete list of products affected is online at www.fda.gov/Safety/Recalls/ucm426419.htm.

The best place to look for recalls of fresh produce and other products regulated by the Food and Drug Administration is www.fda.gov/Safety/Recalls. This website has an easy-to-use search function to help you find details quickly.

Also, you can see recently recalled foods at foodsafety.gov/recalls, which includes foods regulated by both the FDA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (primarily meat products).

Chow Line is a service of Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH 43210-1043, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Sanja Ilic, food safety specialist for Ohio State University Extension, the outreach arm of Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

Chow Line: Stock up and plan for snow day lunches

photo: iStock

photo: iStock

My children always eat their breakfast and lunch at school. Money is tight, and we don’t always have extra food on hand, which is a problem when school is canceled at the last minute because of the weather. I don’t want my children to go hungry just because school is closed. Any ideas? 

First, you’re not alone. During last year’s severe winter, many officials voiced concern about whether some students would have enough to eat at home when schools closed due to weather.

And now, a new national study by the Southern Education Foundation found that 51 percent of children in the nation’s public schools, pre-kindergarten through high school, were eligible to receive free or reduced-price lunches in 2013. This is the first time in recent history that a majority of students in public schools come from low-income families.

When money is so tight that a family has to make hard choices between paying for food or other necessities, it’s a significant challenge to plan ahead for something like meals for snow days. Good for you for thinking of this.

Here are some ideas for keeping an emergency stash of relatively inexpensive foods on hand:

  • Dry beans. Ounce for ounce, dry beans are a bargain. The website “The Simple Dollar” (thesimpledollar.com) recently did a cost comparison, which found that a one-pound bag of dried beans yielded eight cups of cooked beans at an average cost of $1.99, while a can of cooked beans, at an average cost of $1.19, yielded just two cups. If you’ve never used dried beans, you need to be aware that they take time to prepare ­— at least an hour using a “quick-soak” method. The Bean Institute offers step-by-step instructions at beaninstitute.com/recipes/cooking-with-dry-beans. You’ll also likely want to experiment with herbs, spices and other flavorings to add to the cooked beans. It’s recommended that dried beans be stored in an airtight container and be used within a year of purchase for the best quality.
  • Potatoes. Raw potatoes will last several weeks in the pantry — longer if you can store them in a place that stays cool (50-60 degrees F). They’re easy to cook in the oven or the microwave. Top them with some cheese and chopped tomatoes (fresh or canned), and your kids will have a hearty meal.
  • Canned tuna, chicken, fruit and vegetables. Canned goods last a long time in the pantry — a year or longer. Keep a few of these staples tucked in a back corner for use in emergencies.

Aside from stocking up, you should be sure you’re getting the assistance you are eligible to receive. The U.S. Department of Agriculture offers a list of resources online at snap.nal.usda.gov/resource-library/need-food, including the National Hunger Hotline (1-866-348-6479, or in Spanish at 1-877-842-6273). Ohio also has a Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program hotline, at 1-866-244-0071.

Chow Line is a service of Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH 43210-1043, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Irene Hatsu, food security specialist for Ohio State University Extension, the outreach arm of Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

Chow Line: Caramel candies: More than caramelized sugar

chow_011615_529331645Over the holidays, my sister and I were eating caramel candy, and she mentioned how much she loves caramel flavoring. I thought caramel wasn’t really a flavoring added to the candy, but a byproduct created from cooking sugar. Who is right? 

You’re both sort of right.

Caramel flavoring is a real product. If you can’t find it in your grocery store, you can buy it online. Whether the candies you were eating had caramel flavoring in them is impossible to say without looking at the ingredients. But, odd as it sounds to some people, caramels don’t need caramel flavoring as an ingredient because caramelization does, in fact, occur when sugars are cooked the right way.

Harold McGee’s quintessential “On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen” (Scribner, 2004) offers a detailed description of the food chemistry behind both the flavor and texture behind caramelization, caramel syrup and caramel candies. The first step in making caramel candy is combining sugar and water to make syrup: Candy makers need to combine them in the right proportion, heat the resulting syrup to the right temperature, and then cool the hot syrup properly to create the chewy caramel texture.

When sugar (or salt, for that matter) is dissolved in water, the solution boils at a higher temperature than plain water does. But as the syrup heats up, the water evaporates more quickly, and the syrup becomes more concentrated, browning as it heats and producing new flavors as a result. As the syrup thickens, the solution can become hotter and hotter very rapidly, and the whole thing can scorch if you’re not careful. Generally, a syrup with a higher water-to-sugar ratio will result in a softer candy. If you boil too much of the water off, you’ll end up with harder candy.

To make caramels, the solution should be one that boils at 245 to 250 degrees F. When it reaches that stage, the solution is between 85 and 90 percent sugar — just the right concentration for caramels.

But then it has to be cooled properly so the sugar doesn’t crystalize. If crystals form, you’ll get a grainy instead of a smooth caramel. The formation of crystals depends on a lot of things: how quickly the solution is cooled; what is added to the syrup, such as milk products and butter; and even the temperature of the solution when you start to stir it.

Purified versions of caramel syrup are commonly used as both a flavoring and as a deep brown food coloring for soft drinks, prepared foods and many other products.

Adding milk to the syrup does a few things: the casein from milk helps make the caramel chewy, and the whey proteins brown easily, helping provide that characteristic flavor. Butterfat also helps provide both the proper texture and familiar flavor of caramels. Other flavor agents, such as vanilla, can also be added.

Making caramels, or any sort of candy, really, is both an art and a science. That should give you something to chew on the next time you enjoy caramel candies.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Mary Kay Pohlschneider, lecturer in the Department of Food Science and Technology in Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

Chow Line is a service of Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to  Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH, 43210-1043, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

Chow Line: Trim costs while buying more produce

chow_010915_488801301Two of my New Year’s resolutions are to eat more fruits and vegetables and to spend less at the grocery store. Other than watching for sales on produce, what are some ideas to help? 

Those are two great resolutions. The U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend that adults get two to three cups of vegetables and 1.5 to two cups of fruit a day. Keep in mind that it’s important to get a wide variety. Apples and green beans are fine, but you’ll want to spread your wings a bit and eat other types of produce to get the benefits you’re looking for from fruits and vegetables.

And you don’t have to assume that eating more healthfully will be more expensive. A 2012 study by the Economic Research Service, “Are Healthy Foods Really More Expensive?” found that healthy foods, including fruits and vegetables, are often less expensive per serving than foods that are higher in saturated fat, added sugar or sodium or that contribute little to meeting the dietary recommendations. So, if you’re smart about buying fruits and vegetables and at the same time buy fewer less-healthy foods, your grocery bill could easily go down.

Here are some ideas to help you achieve your goals:

  • For fresh fruits and vegetables, become familiar with what’s in season. You’re more likely to find good prices on in-season produce, but you first need to know what to look for. For an extensive list, visit the “Fruits and Veggies: More Matters” website at fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org and click on “What’s in season?”
  • Don’t forget the canned and frozen sections of the grocery store. As long as you have the pantry and freezer space, here’s where sales can really help trim costs. Store brands are normally the most economical, but sometimes price reductions on name brands will surprise you, especially if you have a coupon. For health, look for low-sodium canned goods and frozen produce without added sugar or sauces.
  • If you have options on where to shop, check them out. Many people head to the nearest grocery store out of convenience, but better deals could be just down the road. Just be cautious about impulse purchases: Shopping at additional stores provides more opportunities to spend money you didn’t plan on. And don’t be tempted to drive so far that the cost of gas undermines your grocery savings.
  • Be sure to eat what you have on hand before it goes bad. According to a 2014 Economic Research Service report, American consumers throw away 90 billion pounds of food per year, including 9.5 billion pounds of fresh fruit and 12.8 billion pounds of fresh vegetables. That’s not only wasted food, but money down the drain. To reduce waste, plan meals and snacks, and purchase only what your family can eat while it’s fresh. And keep fresh produce as visible as possible — in a bowl on the kitchen counter (if it doesn’t have to be kept cool) or at the front of the refrigerator.

Chow Line is a service of Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH, 43210-1043, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Dan Remley, field specialist in Food, Nutrition and Wellness for Ohio State University Extension, the outreach arm of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

For a PDF of this column, newly redesigned, please click here.

’Tis the season to stay healthy

451431143One of my friends is inspiring me to stay healthy over the holidays. She is making extra efforts to drink a lot of water and to walk more between now and New Year’s. What are some other healthy holiday ideas?

What a great way to celebrate the holidays — giving the gift of healthy living to yourself.

One of the keys to making it work is attitude. Don’t act like Scrooge when you decide not to have that second Christmas cookie. Instead, smile as you realize that you can enjoy the holidays without eating and drinking so much that you become bloated.

Your friend’s tactics are motivating in part because they’re simple. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Choose MyPlate offers other healthy holiday ideas that don’t require a massive effort, including:

  • When planning appetizers and snacks, choose crackers that are whole grain. Offer hummus, which is high in protein and a good source of fiber as well as vitamins and minerals. Serve whole-grain bread rolls instead of those made with white flour.
  • Water is always a great choice to quench your thirst, and you can dress it up for holiday parties. Get some carbonated water and serve with slices of lemon or lime, or flavor with a splash of fruit juice. Enjoy a cup or two before you fill the wine glass.
  • Consider fruit for dessert. Instead of pie, try baked apples with cinnamon and just a sprinkle of sugar, or serve fresh berries with a dollop of vanilla yogurt and a spoonful of granola on top.
  • For holiday cookies and other baked goods, try using apple sauce or pureed bananas in place of butter or margarine to reduce fat and calories. Just use a one-to-one replacement.
  • If you have a recipe that calls for heavy cream, try evaporated skim milk instead. It won’t be as rich, and it doesn’t whip or thicken like cream does, but it can be a great substitute in many recipes.
  • Prepare two (or more?) vegetables for holiday dinners, and be sure to fill half your plate with them.
  • When serving meats, trim away fat before cooking, or be sure to do so on your plate before eating. And go easy on the gravy and sauces: A little goes a long way.

You might not think all of these ideas will fit with your holiday plans. But choose a few. And remember, even if you include healthier ingredients in your cookies, it is best to load up on fruits and vegetables and limit desserts. Small steps can have a big impact and help set you in the right direction for the new year.

Chow Line is a service of Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH, 43210-1043, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

Editor: This week’s column will be the last for 2014. Look for Chow Line again on Jan. 9.

This column was reviewed by Carol Smathers, field specialist in Youth Nutrition and Wellness for Ohio State University Extension, the outreach arm of Ohio State’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

When it comes to food, play it safe

147010343Over the weekend, we did some holiday shopping and stopped at the grocery store. We were out for longer than I anticipated, and we left food in the car for about three hours before we got home. Is that food OK to eat? It was chilly, but I’m not sure how cold it was outside.  

It’s good that you’re asking. Too many people don’t take foodborne illness seriously. It’s hard to say why.

It could be because an illness doesn’t always occur when you don’t follow food safety guidelines. Let’s face it: If you became ill every single time after eating meat that’s not been cooked to the proper temperature, you would learn your lesson pretty quickly. If it rarely happens, you may never even associate your illness with those rare hamburgers you ate.

Another reason could be due to the fact that common symptoms of foodborne illness — nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps and diarrhea — mimic those of the flu or some other bug. There are more than 250 different types of foodborne illness out there. People may naively believe they have never experienced any of them, when, in fact, they have.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that each year, roughly 1 in 6 Americans, or 48 million people, get sick from foodborne illness. Of those, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die. Foodborne illness is a serious problem. Fortunately, it’s often preventable by taking a few precautions.

Those precautions include time and temperature control: Don’t let perishable food remain in the “danger zone” of 40 degrees to 140 degrees F for longer than two hours. That’s the temperature at which any foodborne pathogens that may be in the food can multiply rapidly and grow enough to cause illness.

In your case, the food you bought and kept in your car might have been kept cold enough for those three hours. But it might not have. You’d be hard-pressed to find a food-safety expert who would advise you to take a chance and eat that food — or worse, serve it to your holiday guests. Sadly, “when in doubt, throw it out” would apply here. The smart thing to do is to discard the questionable food and head back to the grocery store.

Foodsafety.gov, a federal website with valuable food safety information, offers more holiday food shopping guidance at bit.ly/holifoodshop. Check it out, and stay safe for the holidays.

Chow Line is a service of Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH, 43210-1043, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

Editor: Next week’s column will be the last for 2014. Look for a fresh look for Chow Line beginning Jan. 9.

This column was reviewed by Sanja Ilic, food safety specialist for Ohio State University Extension, the outreach arm of Ohio State’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.