Nick Merk

Cooking at Home

Whether you are cooking for just yourself, one to two people, or a larger group, planning meals is a good place to start improving your food choices. Taking the time to plan a healthy evening meal can help you avoid a less healthful “drive-through” dinner.

The foods you enjoy are likely the ones you eat the most, so take note when planning your nutritious and satisfying meals.

Once you’ve planned your meals, make a grocery list. Take some time on your visit to the grocery store to choose lower-calorie ingredients. Here are some ideas that may help:

  • Many casseroles and meat sauces use cream soups as a base. Use a low-fat cream soup.
  • Substitute a low-fat cheese in casseroles and vegetable sauces.
  • Try a non-stick cooking spray or a small amount of cooking oil for sautéing instead of frying with solid fat.
  • If you’re using ground beef for tacos or meat sauce for spaghetti, look for a lower-fat variety such as ground round or ground sirloin or try using skinless ground turkey breast. Once you’ve browned the meat, drain to remove excess fat.
  • Instead of full-fat versions of mayonnaises, butter, and salad dressings, try those that are lower in calories, total fat, saturated fat, and trans-fat.
  • Check out the frozen food aisles for quick, low-calorie vegetable side dishes. You can find cut green beans, sliced carrots, and other chopped vegetables in the frozen food section. Avoid the ones with added cream, butter, or cheese sauces as these ingredients can add calories. You can steam these vegetables quickly in the microwave.
  • In some soups and entrees, you may also be able to add dry beans to extend the recipe and improve the nutritional value. This is easy to do in vegetable-based soups and chili. You can just add a cup of canned white beans, kidney beans, or pinto beans to the recipe. As another example, if you are making enchiladas, rinse a can of black beans and add these to the ground meat.

It’s National Nutrition Month and while eating a diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables gives many health benefits, it’s also important to select and prepare them safely.

Fruits and vegetables add nutrients to your diet that help protect you from heart disease, stroke, and some cancers. Also, choosing vegetables, fruits, and nuts over high-calorie foods can help you manage your weight.

Sometimes, raw fruits and vegetables contain harmful germs that can make you and your family sick, such as Salmonella, E. coli, and Listeria. CDC estimates that germs on fresh produce cause a large percentage of foodborne illnesses in the United States.

The safest produce to eat is cooked; the next safest is washed. You can enjoy uncooked fruits and vegetables by taking the following steps to reduce your risk of foodborne illness, also known as food poisoning.

When you are at the store follow these simple tips when choosing produce:

  • Choose produce that isn’t bruised or damaged.
  • If you buy pre-cut fruits and vegetables choose items that are refrigerated or kept on ice.
  • Separate fruits and vegetables from raw meat, poultry, and seafood in your shopping cart and in your grocery bags.

 Once you are at home:

  • Wash your hands, kitchen utensils, and food preparation surfaces, including chopping boards and countertops, before and after preparing fruits and vegetables.
  • Clean fruits and vegetables before eating, cutting, or cooking, unless the package says the contents have been washed.
    • Wash or scrub fruits and vegetables under running water—even if you do not plan to eat the peel. Germs on the peel or skin can get inside fruits and vegetables when you cut them.
    • Washing fruits and vegetables with soap, detergent, or commercial produce wash is not recommended. Do not use bleach solutions or other disinfecting products on fruits and vegetables.
    • Cut away any damaged or bruised areas before preparing or eating.
    • Dry fruit or vegetables with a clean paper towel.
  • Keep fruits and vegetables separate from raw foods that come from animals, such as meat, poultry, and seafood.
  • Refrigerate fruits and vegetables within 2 hours after you cut, peel, or cook them (or 1 hour if exposed to temperatures above 90°, like a hot car or picnic). Chill them at 40°F or colder in a clean container.
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