Preschool ideal time to focus on healthy eating

chow_110615-179322257We recently moved, and my children are attending a new child care center. I’m surprised at how much it focuses on healthy eating and exercise, and I wonder if it’s a bit too much for preschoolers. Could it lead to a backlash later?

Actually, early childhood is the ideal time to establish healthy eating and physical activity habits. In fact, researchers of a recent study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology recommend promoting healthy diet and exercise with children as young as 3 to 5 years old to help prevent cardiovascular disease later in life. In their study, young children who were introduced to a heart-healthy lifestyle program showed better attitudes, habits and knowledge about heart health up to three years afterwards than children who weren’t exposed to the program. They were also less prone to be overweight or obese.

One way preschools and early child care centers can improve child nutrition is by providing healthy, locally grown foods. According to data gathered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, farm-to-school programs in schools improve acceptance of healthier foods in cafeterias by 28 percent and reduce the amount of food that students throw in the trash by 17 percent. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention supports such programs in early care and education settings, saying that such activities help to shape early taste preferences and support the formation of healthy habits to last a lifetime. “Farm to Preschool” activities include:

  • Purchasing locally grown foods for snacks and meals.
  • Garden-based educational programs.
  • Cooking demonstrations with local foods.
  • Classroom visits from farmers.

If your children’s child care center doesn’t already have a local foods program up and running, there are plenty of resources available to help. Both the National Farm to School Network ( and the USDA Food and Nutrition Service’s Farm to School program ( have information specifically for preschools and other early child care centers. Among their tips:

  • Start small, perhaps with a special local foods event or by providing one local food item each month.
  • Start simple. Fruits and vegetables are often the easiest locally sourced foods. Local milk is usually easy to find, too.
  • The child care center’s current food service company may be able to supply locally grown foods — the center just needs to ask. The center can also seek out local farmers willing to sell foods directly. State leaders with the National Farm to School Network can help link up your children’s center with local farmers. To find your state’s leader, see the listing at

Chow Line is a service of the 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

Editor: This column was reviewed by Carol Smathers, Ohio State University Extension field specialist in Youth Nutrition and Wellness, and the state lead for Farm to School.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

Freezing Vegetables

179038355Freezing is a simple, easy, and convenient way to preserve vegetables. The process takes little time but the cost of a freezer and the utility costs make it one of the more expensive ways to preserve food. The freezing process preserves nutrients and provides a fresher flavor than canning or drying foods.

Freezing foods retards the growth of the micro- organisms and slows down chemical changes that may cause food to spoil. While freezing slows down spoilage, when the food is thawed the growth of bacteria, yeasts, or mold will continue. Proper handling of vegetables is important before freezing.

For step by step instructions on how to freeze vegetables click here

Original information compiled by Sharon L. Mader, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences/4-H, Sandusky County. Revised by Pat Shenberger, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, Ashland County. Revised by: Deb Angell, Associate Professor, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, Huron County; and Doris Herringshaw, EdD, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, Wood County. Reviewed by: Julie Shertzer, PhD, RD, LD Program Specialist, Department of Human Nutrition, Ohio State University Extension; and Lydia Medeiros, PhD, RD, Extension Specialist, Ohio State University Extension. 

Salsa: From Garden to Table

salsa2Americas have grown to love salsa. The sauce is healthy, easy to make, and flavorful. Cooks love to experiment with salsa recipes and may wish to preserve their winning combination by canning. Most salsa recipes are a mixture of low-acid foods (onions and peppers), with higher acid foods (tomatoes). Acid flavorings such as vinegar, lemon juice, or lime juice are also common additions. The type and amount of ingredients used in salsa, as well as the preparation methods, are important considerations in how salsa is canned. Improperly canned salsas, or other tomato-pepper combinations, have been implicated in more than one outbreak of botulism.

Important guidelines are provided for preparing safe, home-canned salsa. Use only research-tested recipes. Follow the directions carefully for each recipe. Use the amounts listed for each vegetable. Add the amount of vinegar or lemon juice stated. If desired, the amount of spices may be changed. Do not thicken salsas with flour or cornstarch before canning. Salsa can be thickened at the time of use.

To read the full article on water bath canning of salsa click here. It includes descriptions of ingredients that are used in the tested recipes. These recipes have been tested to ensure that they contain enough acid to be processed safely in a boiling water bath canner. If your personal favorite is not listed, it is best to eat it fresh. Untested, fresh salsa recipes can be stored up to several weeks in the refrigerator, or freeze it up to one year for longer storage.

Compiled in August 2008 by Ohio State University Extension, Family and Consumer Sciences Educators Marisa Warrix, Cuyahoga County, and Pam Leong, Shelby County. Reviewed by Lydia Medeiros, Ph.D., R.D., Extension Specialist, Ohio State University Extension.

Safety first at u-pick farms

492022639I’m taking my children to pick-your-own farms for the first time this summer. Any tips?

First — have fun! Of course, that’s the whole point, with the added benefit of getting the freshest produce possible.

But you also need to keep in mind some food safety considerations. Although consuming fruits and vegetables is associated with all sorts of health benefits, it’s also possible to be exposed to bacteria and other microorganisms that could cause foodborne illness.

The most important thing to remember is for you and your children to wash your hands, and do it often and properly. Here are some guidelines:

  • Wash hands before picking fruit, after going to the bathroom, after eating, and after any hand-to-face contact, such as after coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose.
  • When washing your hands, first wet your hands, then lather up with soap and wash for 20 seconds. That’s a lot longer than you might think. A common piece of advice is to sing “Happy Birthday” twice while rubbing your hands together, especially around your fingernails and knuckles. Scrub well.
  • Rinse thoroughly, and dry your hands and wrists with a fresh paper towel.

If there’s no water available, use hand wipes to remove any surface dirt, and follow up with a hand sanitizer.

Some other considerations include:

  • Don’t pick fruit that has fallen on the ground.
  • Use clean containers. Some operations provide containers; others ask that you bring your own.
  • Leave Fido at home. Dogs and other pets can’t be expected to be sanitary in the great outdoors.
  • Bring a cooler with ice or cold packs with you so you can start chilling the fruit quickly. After being picked, berries and other perishable foods shouldn’t be left at room temperature for more than two hours — one hour if it’s hotter than 90 degrees (like it can get in a hot car).
  • At home, rinse the fruit thoroughly under running water — use the spray for fragile produce, like berries — before storing in the refrigerator. Use a colander for smaller pieces.

For more information, Ohio State University Extension offers two fact sheets free online: Food Safety in Berry Patch, at, and Safe Handling of Fresh Fruits and Vegetables,

Other tips for visiting pick-your-own operations are available at

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