Healthy, Stress-free Packed Lunches for School Start With Planning and Preparation

My kids go back to school next week and I’m already stressing about what to pack for their daily lunches. Do you have any suggestions about how to make the process easier and the lunches more healthy?

Planning ahead is one way to take the stress out of packing healthy, nutritious lunches that your kids will enjoy.

Planning ahead is one way to take the stress out of packing healthy, nutritious lunches that your kids will enjoy. Before heading to the grocery store, plan a menu of what you want to pack in your kids’ lunches that week. Then, make a shopping list to ensure that you have what you need.

When packing your kids’ lunches, try to include a whole grain (e.g., whole-grain bread, pita, tortilla or crackers), a protein (e.g., lean lunch meat, tuna, peanut butter or beans), some form of calcium (e.g., milk, cheese or yogurt), and fruits and vegetables (canned, fresh or frozen), according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s guidelines for school lunches.

The guidelines recommend that kids in kindergarten through fifth grade consume no more than 550–650 calories during lunch; students in sixth through eighth grades consume no more than 600–700 calories; and students in ninth through twelfth grades consume no more than 750–850 calories.

Here are some tips to packing those healthy lunches from the USDA and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics:

  • Prep some foods for lunch a day or two in advance. For example, pre-portion fruits and vegetables in sandwich bags or plastic containers. Then, store them in the refrigerator so your kids can choose easily in the morning what they want to pack in their lunch. You can also pre-portion in sandwich bags healthy snacks like granola, light popcorn, crackers, raisins or pretzels.
  • Try to add variety to your kids’ lunches. Some suggestions include wraps, cracker sandwiches, little salads or bread-free sandwiches consisting of slices of lunch meat wrapped around cheese sticks.
  • Repurpose meals by packing leftovers in plastic containers to send in your children’s lunches. You can also lightly steam vegetables or send other cooked foods, as long as they are kept hot.
  • To ensure that hot foods stay hot and cold foods stay cold, use an insulated thermos. Soups, chili, and macaroni and cheese will stay hot in a thermos. Freezing milk, juice boxes and water bottles keeps cold foods cold. The frozen drinks will melt during morning classes and be ready for drinking at lunch.
  • Freeze lunchbox-sized water bottles and yogurt tubes for your kids’ lunches. They will defrost, keeping the lunches cool for lunchtime.
  • Insulated, soft-sided lunchboxes or bags are best for keeping food cold, but pack at least two ice sources with perishable food in any type of lunch bag or box that you use. Doing so can help keep perishable foods out of the bacterial danger zone — temperatures between 40 F and 140 F, at which bacteria grow most rapidly — until lunchtime.

Remember to tell your kids to discard the perishable foods they don’t eat during lunch. The USDA advises that these foods should not be eaten later in the day. You should also clean your kids’ lunchboxes each night, either by wiping them down with a disinfectant wipe or by throwing the lunchboxes (depending on the types) into the dishwasher or washing machine at least once a week.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, OSU Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or turner.490@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was edited by Jenny Lobb, Family and Consumer Sciences educator for Ohio State University Extension.

Careful: Some People Foods Just Aren’t Good For Dogs

My dog loves to sit under the table during dinner near the kids’ chairs in hopes of finding tidbits that may fall from their plates. I’ve even given our dog portions of food from our meal. Is that ok? 

Grapes are among those foods not good for dogs to eat.

In some cases, no, it’s not a good idea to feed your dog some foods that come from your dinner table.

In a recent notice from the U. S. Food and Drug Administration, pet owners are reminded not to feed their dog some foods that are meant for human consumption. That’s because some foods people eat can be dangerous or even deadly for dogs, FDA says.

The reason?

An animal’s body processes food much differently than a human body, Carmela Stamper, a veterinarian at FDA, said in a written statement.

“Our bodies may break down foods or other chemicals that a dog’s can’t tolerate,” she said.

High on the list of human foods that dogs should not eat – chocolate and any food that contains xylitol, which is a sugar substitute that is used in many sugar-free foods.

Chocolate contains methylxanthines, a stimulant that can stop a dog’s metabolic process. Even a small piece of chocolate, particularly dark chocolate, can result in your dog developing diarrhea and vomiting. And xylitol, which can also be found in some peanut butters, can be deadly for dogs, FDA warns.

Other human foods FDA, the American Kennel Club and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, says to avoid feeding to your dog include:

  • Raw meat. Just like in humans, any E. coli, Salmonella or other harmful bacteria that may be present in raw meat, can also make your dog sick. It’s also a good idea for you to wash your hands if you are handling raw meat before you give your dog anything to eat.
  • Raw eggs. Just like raw meat, raw eggs can contain Salmonella. Also, raw eggs contain avidin, an enzyme that decreases the absorption of biotin. This can lead to skin and hair coat issues as well as cause neurologic problems in dogs.
  • Grapes, raisins or currants. These foods can cause kidney failure in some dogs.
  • Fried and fatty foods. These items can cause pancreatitis, a potentially life-threatening disease.
  • Cinnamon. While cinnamon is not toxic to dogs, it can irritate the inside of dogs’ mouths and it can lower a dog’s blood sugar too much and can lead to diarrhea, vomiting, increased, or decreased heart rate, and even liver disease.
  • Onions, garlic, and chives. Garlic can create anemia in dogs, causing side effects such as pale gums, elevated heart rate, weakness and collapsing. Poisoning from garlic and onions may have delayed symptoms, so if you think your dog may have eaten some, monitor him or her for a few days, not just right after consumption. However, since garlic and onion tend to be cumulative toxins, they are unlikely to cause a problem unless your dog ingests a very large amount at one time or eats them often, says Dr. Valerie Parker, a veterinarian and associate professor at The Ohio State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine.
  • Moldy food. If you throw away moldy cheese rinds or hamburger buns in the trash can, make sure your dog doesn’t then get into the garbage, where he may eat them.
  • Salty snacks. Salty snacks can increase water retention in some dogs. So if you dog happens to grab a bag of salty potato chips or pretzels, make sure your dog has access to plenty of water.
  • Macadamia nuts. These are some of the most poisonous foods for dogs and can have a damaging effect on the dog’s nervous system. They can cause vomiting, increased body temperature, inability to walk and lethargy.
  • Ice cream. As tempting as it may be to want to give your dog ice cream on a hot summer day, most dogs don’t digest dairy products well and many may also have lactose intolerance.

So, while your dog may look longingly at you while you eat, you may want to resist the temptation to share your goodies until you are sure that the foods you are eating won’t have a negative impact on your dog.

Talk to your veterinarian before introducing human foods to your dog to make sure that your good intentions don’t accidentally cause harm for your pets.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, OSU Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or turner.490@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was edited by Dr. Valerie Parker, DVM, an assistant professor, clinical, at The Ohio State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

Use-By, Sell-By, Best-By Dates Don’t All Mean the Same Thing

I bought a carton of milk and it says, “Sell by July 25,” but today is July 28. Is the milk still OK to drink? Does the sell-by date mean the food is no longer safe to eat? What about the use-by or best-by date? I’m so confused!

For most foods, the date label is a manufacturer’s best guess as to how long the product will be at its peak quality.

Take heart. You’re not alone in your confusion. Most people aren’t sure what those date labels on food actually mean.

In fact, more than a third of consumers throw away food once the date passes because they mistakenly think the date is an indicator of food safety, according to a recent study by the Harvard University Food Law and Policy Clinic and the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future.

But for most foods, the date label is a manufacturer’s best guess as to how long the product will be at its peak quality. With only a few exceptions, the majority of food products remain wholesome and safe to eat long past their expiration dates, the study authors said. Infant formula is the only food product that must carry product dating under current federal law.

Confusion regarding food label dates also leads to significant food waste, with the average American household spending more than $2,000 annually on wasted food, according to a study by the Natural Resources Defense Council.

So what do the dates mean?

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the:

  • “Best if Used By/Before” date indicates when a product will be of best flavor or quality. It is not a purchase or a safety date.
  • “Sell-By” date tells the store how long to display the product for sale for inventory management. It is not a safety date.
  • “Use-By” date is the last date recommended for the use of the product while at peak quality. It is not a safety date except when used on infant formula.

However, there’s some good news: The issue of consumers misinterpreting label dates might soon be less confusing.

Two major food industry groups, the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Food Marketing Institute, are asking their members to use only two date labels on their food products. The goal is for food manufactures to use only “Best if Used By/Before” and “Use By” on their packaging, with widespread voluntary adoption of the new labeling on most foods by summer 2018.

The “Best if Used By/Before” date would be used on nonperishable foods when the product might not taste or perform as expected but is safe to use or consume after the date listed. However, the “Use-By” date would be used on highly perishable foods that have a food safety concern over time. These products should be consumed by the date listed on the package and disposed of after that date, the groups said.

In the meantime, the USDA says most food products—excluding infant formula, for example—should still be safe and wholesome after the date passes if handled properly until the time spoilage is evident. Spoilage is indicated if the food has an odor or has mold, for example.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, OSU Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or turner.490@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Carolyn Gunther, state specialist in Community Nutrition for Ohio State University Extension.

Don’t Eat Uncooked Flour

Is it true that you can get sick from ingesting uncooked flour?

While many people are well aware of the warnings against eating foods with raw eggs for fear of contracting salmonella or other foodborne illnesses, fewer people are aware of the dangers of eating uncooked flour.

Caution: Eating raw flour can make you sick. Photo: Thinkstock.

It too can cause a mean case of foodborne illness.

In fact, eating raw dough or raw batter could make you sick, in part, because flour can contain bacteria that cause disease, according to a warning from the U. S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Recent incidents in the U.S. and Canada underscore the issue.

Between December 2015 and September 2016, some 63 people across the U.S. developed an E. coli infection after eating raw flour. And in Canada, 30 people became sick between November 2016 and April 2017 after eating raw or uncooked flour contaminated with E. coli, according to published reports.

What is the cause of the problem?

“Flour is derived from a grain that comes directly from the field and typically is not treated to kill bacteria,” Leslie Smoot, a senior FDA advisor said in a written statement. “So if an animal heeds the call of nature in the field, bacteria from the animal waste could contaminate the grain, which is then harvested and milled into flour.”

The issue was significant enough that the FDA issued a warning to consumers last summer to not eat any raw dough. Consumer Reports and FDA lists the following ways to avoid ingesting uncooked flour:

  • Do not eat any raw cookie dough, cake mix, batter, or any other raw dough or batter product that is supposed to be cooked or baked.
  • Follow package directions for cooking products containing flour at proper temperatures and for specified times.
  • Avoid giving homemade modeling clay, playdough, papier-mâché or ornaments with flour as the main ingredient to young children who may, inadvertently, put these objects in their mouths.
  • Keep raw foods separate from other foods while preparing them to prevent any contamination that may be present from spreading. Be aware that flour may spread easily due to its powdery nature.
  • Make sure you throw out any old flour and thoroughly wash out the container or bin that you use to store flour in, before adding in a new bag of flour.
  • Follow label directions to chill products containing raw dough promptly after purchase until baked.

While most of these tips may sound intuitive, even the smallest of precautions such as washing your hands after handling any uncooked flour or any raw dough or batter, can make a huge difference in helping you prevent contracting a foodborne illness.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, OSU Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or turner.490@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Shari Gallup, Family and Consumer Sciences Educator for Ohio State University Extension

Reusable Water Bottles Need to Be Washed Between Uses

I heard recently that reusable water bottles can sometimes be a hotbed of germs. Is that true?

Yes, at least according to a recent analysis from Treadmill Reviews that found that unwashed reusable water bottles could harbor significantly high levels of bacteria that are harmful to humans.

Wash reusable water bottles after each use to avoid harmful bacteria.

In fact, the report goes as far as to say that “drinking from the average refillable bottle can be many times worse than licking your dog’s toy.” According to the study, the average athlete’s water bottle has 313,499 colony-forming units, or CFUs, of bacteria per square centimeter while the average pet toy has 2,937 CFUs.

Yuck.

The study, which was performed by EmLab P&K, a New Jersey-based environmental testing firm, analyzed 12 types of water bottles and found differing amounts of CFUs based on the design of the bottle.

For example, slide-top bottles harbored 933,340 CFUs, compared to squeeze-top bottles at 161,971 CFUs and screw-top bottles at 159,060 CFUs. The bottle type that harbored the fewest bacteria was the kind with a straw top, which measured 25.4 CFUs.

But, that doesn’t mean you should toss your reusable water bottles and opt exclusively for store-bottled water instead. The report offers the following options for consumers to still get their required daily water intake while lessening their chances to encounter harmful bacteria and limiting their consumption of single-use containers:

  • After every use, wash your bottle in hot water with a teaspoon of unscented dish soap added. Soak it for a few minutes, rinse it well using warm water, and allow it to dry completely before the next use.
  • Occasionally use a weak bleach solution of 1 tablespoon of bleach per quart of water to sanitize the bottle.
  • Avoid letting your water bottle sit half full for long periods in between use.
  • Opt for using a straw-top water bottle. In the study, these types of bottles were found to have a lower prevalence of bacteria.
  • Opt for a stainless steel bottle.
  • Try to find a water bottle that doesn’t contain crevices and harder-to-clean spots. This will lessen the potential for harboring harmful bacteria, the study says.

Whatever you decide to do with your water bottle, it is important to remember that staying hydrated is a key part of staying healthy. Consuming an adequate amount of fluids helps to maintain body functions, including those of your heart, brain and muscles. Fluids also serve to carry nutrients to your cells, keep your temperature normal, digest food, flush bacteria from your bladder and prevent constipation.

Healthy people should get 30 to 50 ounces of water per day, which translates to about 4 to 6 cups or 1 to 1.5 liters, according to recommendations from doctors at Harvard Medical School. In addition to water, milk is also a good option to help in hydration.

So clean those water bottles and keep up your daily fluid intake. Your body will thank you later.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, OSU Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or turner.490@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Carol Smathers, field specialist in Youth Nutrition and Wellness for Ohio State University Extension.

Eating Healthy at the Amusement Park

My friends and I are planning to spend the day at an amusement park. Do you have any tips on how to avoid the sugar and calorie overload and eat as healthy as possible while there?

Amusement parks can still be a fun, wonderful way to enjoy a summer day without overindulging in the sugary, deep-fried, calorie-laden foods that the parks are traditionally known for.

Eating healthy at the amusement park is possible.

Despite the temptation to feast on mounds of cotton candy, deep-fried candy bars, funnel cakes, snow cones, chili cheese fries and, of course, those infamous giant turkey legs, you can have nutritious foods and drinks at the park that taste good and are better for your health.

One of the best ways to eat healthy at the park is to pack some nutritious meals to bring with you. While many amusement parks won’t let you bring in outside food, you can pack a cooler with ice in your car and fill it with nutritious, portable foods that you can eat throughout the day. Some ideas for the cooler include fruit, nuts, yogurt, sandwiches, and veggies such as carrots and celery sticks, among others.

If you’d prefer to eat at the park, below are some suggestions for healthy food choices from Eatinghealthy.org and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics:

  • Instead of hot dogs, hamburgers and French fries, opt for something like a grilled chicken breast with a side salad or fruits and vegetables.
  • Avoid super-sized sodas, lemonades and other sugary drinks. Choose fat-free or low-fat milk or chocolate milk instead or a nice cold glass of water.
  • If you are looking for something sweet, try a candy apple. While they do pack about 300 calories each, the fiber in the apple will help keep you full.
  • Meat and vegetable kabobs allow you to indulge in the food-on-a-stick tradition of amusement park foods without the extra sugar and calories.
  • Corn on the cob is also a good option, preferably without the mounds of butter.

Another thing to remember about spending the day at an amusement park – you need to stay hydrated. It’s important that you drink plenty of fluids to avoid becoming dehydrated. One tip is to bring a water bottle with you and drink it frequently throughout the day. If you don’t want to carry it around with you, another option is to request a cup of ice water from any food vendor at the park and drink it in between rides.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, OSU Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or turner.490@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Irene Hatsu, state specialist in food security for Ohio State University Extension.

Chow Line: Safe, Healthier Options for Picnics

I’m planning to pack a picnic for our 4th of July celebration in the park. To save time, can I partially cook the ribs at home and finish cooking them later on the grill during the picnic?

While it’s understandable that you’d want to save time by partially cooking your meats before heading to the park, doing so could result in a case of foodborne illness. This is because partial cooking does not destroy bacteria that can cause illness. The added heat during partial cooking can allow these bacteria to grow to unsafe levels. A safer option is to fully cook the meats to a safe internal temperature on the grill at the picnic.

You should also use a meat thermometer to judge the doneness of the meat — don’t rely on the color of the food as an indicator of whether it is done. Beef and pork should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees, while chicken should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees.

With July being designated as National Picnic Month, now is a good time to familiarize yourself with some other food safety tips to ensure you, your family and friends can enjoy months of summer picnics and barbecues without the potential for foodborne illnesses such as Salmonella or Listeria.

For example, did you know that it is better to store your cooler in the air-conditioned car as you drive to the park or beach for your picnic rather than placing it in a hot trunk? Or if you plan to buy takeout foods such as fried chicken for your picnic, you need to eat the food within two hours of purchase to avoid developing foodborne illness?

Or if you plan to make potato, egg or pasta salad, you should cool the potatoes, eggs or pasta and other ingredients to refrigerator temperature (below 40 degrees) before assembling? This prevents the salad from going into the temperature “danger zone” —between 40 and 140 degrees — where bacteria multiply rapidly during prep or storage.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service offer these other tips for safe, healthy picnics and barbecues:

  • Always use an insulated cooler with a cold source, such as ice, frozen gel packs or frozen foods.
  • Pack cold food first, right from the refrigerator. Keep food cold until ready to cook.
  • Cold salads, such as potato, chicken or pasta, should be kept cold until serving.
  • Plan to keep hot foods hot with a thermos or insulated dish.
  • Pack uncooked meat, poultry and seafood separately from all ready-to-eat foods, such as beverages, fruits and side dishes. A separate cooler for uncooked meats is an even better idea!
  • Avoid produce that’s bruised or damaged.
  • When choosing fresh-cut produce, such as half a melon or bagged mixed greens, pick only items that are refrigerated or surrounded by ice.
  • Store perishable produce, including berries, lettuce, herbs and mushrooms, as well as all cut or peeled produce, at 40 degrees or below.
  • Use a fresh, clean plate for serving cooked food. Don’t let raw meat juices touch other food.
  • Place leftovers promptly in the cooler and store it in the shade to stay cool. Discard any perishable food left out for more than two hours.

Remember, although most perishable foods are safe to be left out for two hours, in hot weather, especially in temperatures above 90 degrees, food should not sit out for more than an hour. And while this may seem intuitive, it’s important that you wash your hands, your work area and all utensils before, during and after preparing food.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, OSU Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or turner.490@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Kate Shumaker, an Ohio State University Extension educator and registered dietitian.

It’s the age-old question: How do you choose the best melon?

Whether it’s watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew or other melons, summer days (or any day!) is a wonderful time to indulge in these delicious, nutritious fruits.

Watermelon, cantaloupe and honeydew melons.

Not only do these fruits taste wonderful, they are healthy low-calorie treats that are packed with vitamins. For example, a cup of cantaloupe has 60 calories and is rich in vitamins A and C, while a cup of honeydew has 64 calories and is rich in vitamin C and potassium and provides B vitamins. A cup of watermelon has about 45 calories and has significant amounts of vitamins A and C.

Watermelon is also 93 percent water, and the red variety is a good source of lycopene, a phytonutrient that gives watermelon its color. Lycopene appears to protect the body against a growing list of cancers, which include prostate cancer, breast cancer, endometrial cancer, lung cancer, and colorectal cancers, according to an Ohio State University Extension Ohioline fact sheet.

Another benefit is that lycopene helps protect cells in the body from damage associated with heart disease as well.

When choosing the perfect cantaloupe, it is important to make sure the melon has no bruises or discolorations, a smooth, slightly sunken and well rounded stem end, a sweet, musky aroma and a prominent, an evenly distributed corky web-pattern that is buff or a light tan color on either a green, yellow or gray background.

Ripe honeydew should have a creamy yellow color when picked — if the melon is green when picked, it will never ripen, according to the OSU Extension factsheet. The skin should have the feeling of velvet and the blossom end should feel slightly springy.

When it comes to watermelons, here are a few tips from OSU Extension, the Watermelon Board and the U.S. Department of Agriculture on how to pick the best one:

  • Look at the spot where the melon has been resting on the ground. A pale yellow or cream spot indicates ripeness, while a pale green or white spot indicates immaturity.
  • Scratch the surface of the rind with your thumbnail. If the outer layer slips back with little resistance showing the green-white under the rind, the watermelon is ripe. Scratching unripe melons only leaves a darker depressed line.
  • Choose a melon with a smooth surface, dull sheen, and well-rounded ends.
  • Choose a melon that doesn’t have bruises, cuts or dents.
  • Pick up the watermelon – it should be heavy for its size. As a watermelon is 93 percent water, most of the weight is water.
  • If you are choosing pre-cut watermelons, the more red flesh and less white rind, the riper the melon.

And remember, even though you typically don’t eat the peel from most melons, it is important that you wash the melon under running water before cutting into them. Melons are grown on the ground and can sometimes harbor harmful bacteria. Peeling or cutting unwashed produce can transfer dirt or other contaminates from the surface of the produce to the portion of the fruit or vegetable you plan to eat.

In fact, firm produce such as melons should be scrubbed with a clean produce brush before peeling or cutting into them. And they should then be dried off with a clean paper towel or cloth to further reduce harmful bacteria that may be on the skin, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, OSU Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or turner.490@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Shari Gallup, Family and Consumer Sciences Educator for Ohio State University Extension

Eating More Vegetables, Lean Proteins Could Help With Fertility

I want to have children at some point in the near future. My mom says that the types of foods both my husband and I eat could help impact my chances of conceiving. Is that true?

Healthy foods that are good for the heart and overall health.

It’s well-known that eating healthy, incorporating plenty of exercise into your normal routine and maintaining a healthy weight contributes to your overall health and well-being. And, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, nutrition and a healthy body weight for both partners can have a significant impact on the ability to conceive.

The issue is significant for many people considering that some 10 percent of the population is impacted by infertility, according to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.

The Alabama-based multidisciplinary organization says that achieving and maintaining a healthy weight can increase a woman’s chance of getting pregnant. For example, women who are underweight, with a body mass index below 18.5, may experience irregular menstrual cycles or stop ovulating, the organization said.

And for women who are overweight, losing as little as five to 10 percent of their weight could improve fertility, according to researchers with the National Institutes of Health.

Following an overall healthy lifestyle including eating a nutritious diet, limiting — or eliminating — alcohol and caffeine consumption, and getting regular physical activity is especially important for women who wish to become pregnant. Achieving a healthy weight before conception also reduces risks for both mother and child. Be sure to talk with your doctor about these issues and potentially any others if you’re experiencing problems becoming pregnant.

Foods like fruits and vegetables, foods rich in monounsaturated fats such as olive oil and avocados, lean meats rich in iron, and foods rich in complex carbs such as whole grains and legumes are also healthy choices for women who are preparing to become pregnant, according to the Nurses’ Health Study published by a team of Harvard University researchers.

Smart diet and lifestyle decisions can also help with men’s fertility as well, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Those smart choices that can impact the health of a man’s sperm include eating more colorful fruits and vegetables such as apples, oranges, blueberries and leafy greens.

Other smart choices for potential fathers include eating whole grains; low-fat dairy; lean protein such as fish, turkey and chicken; limiting saturated fats and fried foods; and adding almonds, walnuts and olive oil to the diet.

While neither having a healthy diet nor taking other precautions can guarantee a pregnancy, making smart food choices can help in some cases, and can improve your overall health in general.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, OSU Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or turner.490@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Jenny Lobb, Family and Consumer Sciences educator for Ohio State University Extension

Healthy Breakfast Choices Include Whole Grains, Protein

I often find myself running out the door to avoid being late to work, so oftentimes that doesn’t leave me much time to eat in the mornings. What are some quick, easy breakfast ideas on a busy morning?

Eating a meal in the morning helps your body fuel up for the day, especially if you make that first meal a healthy one.

Eating a meal in the morning helps your body fuel up for the day, especially if you make that first meal a healthy one. The best options for breakfast are those that include whole grains, protein, and fruits or vegetables, according to researchers at Harvard University Medical School.

Healthy breakfast options also include low-fat or fat-free milk and other dairy items, meats, and meat alternatives, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The benefits to eating breakfast are many. Adults who regularly eat a healthy breakfast are more likely to control their weight, control their blood sugar levels, eat fewer foods that are high in fat and cholesterol, and perform better at work, according to the Mayo Clinic. Kids who regularly eat a healthy breakfast are more likely to have better concentration, miss fewer days of school, maintain a healthy body weight and better meet daily nutrient requirements, the Mayo Clinic says.

So how can you eat healthier in the mornings?

Try adding whole grains to your morning meal, such as whole-grain rolls, bagels, English muffins or waffles. You can also get a good source of whole grains from hot or cold cereal — just make sure it lists whole grains, has 5 grams or more of fiber per serving, less than 300 milligrams of sodium per serving, and less than 5 grams of sugar per serving, Harvard researchers advise.

You should also make sure you include proteins in your meal, such as eggs, lean meat, nuts, legumes or even peanut butter. For low-fat dairy options, you can include skim or 1 percent milk, yogurt and cottage cheese. Don’t forget to include fruits and vegetables in your meal.

And if you choose to include juice, be sure to choose 100 percent juice without added sugar. You shouldn’t have more than an 8-ounce glass, which is a standard serving, because juice is still high in calories.

Some other tips from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics include:

  • Smoothies can be a good choice, including those that combine fruit, juice, yogurt, wheat germ or tofu.
  • Get organized the night before. Set the table with bowls and spoons for cereal. Get out a pan for pancakes or a blender for smoothies. Prepare muffin or waffle mix so it’s ready to cook in the morning.
  • Keep breakfast simple.
  • Pack your breakfast to go.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, OSU Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or turner.490@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Dan Remley, field specialist in Food, Nutrition and Wellness for Ohio State University Extension.