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Nick Merk

No – Cook Meals Helpful Tips

When you don’t have a kitchen, microwave or fridge, there are still healthy food options to make meals that are delicious.  Start with shopping for shelf-stable foods that you love to eat.  You can stock up on bread, nut butters, jelly, oatmeal, dried fruit, almonds, apples, pears, avocados, cherry tomatoes, olive oil, and salt.  Citrus fruits hang on for several days at room temperature.  Look for packaged goods that are neither too pricy nor too unhealthful, like wholegrain crackers or granola.

Even foods that don’t need refrigeration won’t last forever, though.  Don’t be tempted to stock up on ingredients to last more than two weeks.  Rather, shop as you need or crave.  “Buy” smaller quantities at the dining hall or supermarket bulk bin.

Find a large box or basket, maybe with a lid, and call it your kitchen cabinet. Keep all your food and equipment there so bread never goes moldy. Keep most of your equipment in here too.

A collection of sealable baggies, plastic wrap, and binder clips will help to keep packages closed, and make food last longer. For prepping and eating, get two sets of silverware, two plates, a roll of paper towels, a cutting board, a can opener, and a small, sharp knife. For cleanup, a plastic tub, a sponge, and soap should do. If you want to cook with heat, consider getting a rice cooker, electric pressure cooker, toaster oven, or electric water kettle.

When it comes to meals, think assemble, don’t cook.  Classic no-cook meals start at sandwiches (canned tuna is shelf-stable before opening, and you can find hummus and cheese in one-time-use packets), progress through bean salads (canned beans, olive oil, and lemon, plus an herb or spice) and top out at gazpacho (made with tomato juice, chopped cucumbers, tomatoes, and onions) or overnight oats (combine water and oatmeal the night before; in the morning, bulk up your bowl with nut butters, dried fruit, and honey).

For snacking think outside the prepackaged energy bars or chips.  Season half a pitted avocado with lemon juice and salt for a healthy but filling afternoon snack. Combine pretzels, cheese crackers, and peanuts for your own snack mix. Top individual nori slices with Sriracha. Mash up oats, honey, peanut butter, chocolate chips, and salt until you have a cookie-dough-like consistency you can roll into energy balls.

Whether you don’t want to turn on the oven, have a temporary living situation or are a student living in a dorm, there are endless options to no – cook meals.

Healthy eating is important at every age. Eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, grains, protein foods, and dairy or fortified soy alternatives. When deciding what to eat or drink, choose options that are full of nutrients and limited in added sugars, saturated fat, and sodium. Start with these tips:

  • Enjoy meals with friends or family members as often as possible. Take advantage of technology to enjoy meals virtually with loved ones in different cities or States.
  • You may not always feel thirsty when your body needs fluids, and that’s why it’s important to drink beverages throughout the day. Enjoy coffee and tea if you like, or some water, milk, or 100% juice.
  • Limiting salt is important as you get older. Fresh and dried herbs and spices, such as basil, oregano, and parsley, add flavor without the salt.
  • Older adults need plenty of nutrients but fewer calories, so it’s important to make every bite count. Foods that are full of vitamins and minerals are the best way to get what you need.

Adults aged 65 and older are more likely to be hospitalized or die from foodborne illness. This increased risk of foodborne illness is because organs and body systems go through changes as people age:

  • The body’s immune response to disease grows weaker.
  • The gastrointestinal tract holds onto food for a longer period of time, allowing bacteria to grow.
  • The liver and kidneys may not properly rid the body of foreign bacteria and toxins.
  • The stomach may not produce enough acid. The acidity helps to reduce the number of bacteria in our intestinal tract.
  • Underlying chronic conditions, such as diabetes and cancer, may also increase a person’s risk of foodborne illness.

We recommend making safe food handling a lifelong commitment to minimize your risk of foodborne illness. Be aware that as you age, your immunity to infection is naturally weakened. If you are 65 or older, or prepare food for someone who is, always follow the four steps:

  • Clean: Wash hands, utensils and surfaces often. Germs can spread and survive in many places.
  • Separate: Raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs can spread germs to ready-to-eat foods, so keep them separate.
  • Cook: Food is safely cooked only when the internal temperature is high enough to kill germs that can make you sick.
  • Chill: Refrigerate perishable food within 2 hours. If the food is exposed to temperatures above 90°F (32°C) (like a hot car or picnic), refrigerate it within 1 hour.

To get the most for your dollar, follow these tips to buy budget-friendly and healthy options from each food group and in each aisle of your favorite food store.

Here are some tips to get you started:

Find fruits and vegetables in the produce section, frozen foods, and in the canned and pantry food aisles. Compare prices to find the best buys.

  • Buy “in season” produce which often costs less and is at peak flavor. Buy only what you can use before it spoils. For more info check out the Seasonal Produce Guide from SNAP-Ed Connection.
  • Choose fruits canned in 100% fruit juice and vegetables with “low-sodium” or “no salt added” on the label. These products are just as nutritious and fresh, and often cost less.
  • If you have the freezer space, stock up on frozen vegetables without added sauces or butter. Frozen vegetables are as good for you as fresh and may cost less.
  • Canned and frozen fruits and vegetables last much longer then fresh. They can be a quick way to add fruits and vegetables to your meal.

Find grains in many areas of the store, including the bread, cereal, snack, and pasta and rice aisles.

  • Make half your grains whole grains. Types of whole grains include whole wheat, brown rice, bulgur, buckwheat, oatmeal, whole-grain cornmeal, whole oats, and whole rye.
  • While shopping, check ingredient lists and pick the items that have a whole grain listed first.
  • Rice and pasta are budget-friendly grain options.
  • Choose hot cereals like plain oatmeal or whole-grain dry cereal.
  • Try new whole-grain snack ideas, like switching to whole-wheat crackers or popping your own popcorn.

Find protein foods throughout the entire store. They can be found in the fresh meat section, frozen foods section, dairy section, and canned and pantry food aisles.

  • Some low-cost protein foods include beans, peas, and lentils such as kidney beans, lima beans, split peas, and garbanzo beans (chickpeas).
  • Beans, peas, and lentils cost less than a similar amount of other protein foods.
  • To lower meat costs, buy the family-sized or value pack and freeze what you don’t use.
  • Choose lean meats like chicken or turkey. When choosing ground beef, make sure it’s lean (at least 93% lean/fat-free) ground beef.
  • Seafood doesn’t have to cost a lot. Try buying canned tuna, salmon, or sardines. These items store well and are a low-cost option.
  • Don’t forget about eggs! They’re a great low-cost option that’s easy to make.

Find dairy foods in the refrigerated and pantry aisles.

  • Choose low-fat or fat-free milk. These have just as much calcium, but fewer calories than whole and 2% milk.
  • Buy the larger size of low-fat plain yogurt instead of single flavored yogurt. Then add your own flavors by mixing in fruits.
  • Choose cheese products with “reduced fat,” or “low-fat” on the label.
  • Check the sell-by date to make sure you’re buying the freshest products.

Drink water instead of sodas or other high-sugar drinks. Water is easy on your wallet and has zero calories. Take a reusable water bottle is when on the go.

Save time, money, and calories by skipping the chip and cookie aisles. Choose the checkout lane without the candy shelves, especially if you have kids with you.

Fruits and vegetables can be found all year long fresh, frozen, or even canned.  However, when produce is in season, it tastes so much better and can be easier on your wallet.  Seasonal produce in your area will vary by growing conditions and weather, so check out a local farmer’s market to find produce grown in your area.

  • Buy “in season” produce which often costs less and is at peak flavor. Buy only what you can use before it spoils. For more info check out the Seasonal Produce Guide from SNAP-Ed Connection.
  • Choose fruits canned in 100% fruit juice and vegetables with “low-sodium” or “no salt added” on the label. These products are just as nutritious and fresh, and often cost less.
  • If you have the freezer space, stock up on frozen vegetables without added sauces or butter. Frozen vegetables are as good for you as fresh and may cost less.
  • Canned and frozen fruits and vegetables last much longer then fresh. They can be a quick way to add fruits and vegetables to your meal.

Try some of these recipes to incorporate seasonal produce into your weekly meal planning or take to your next summer meal:

Avocado Breakfast Bruschetta

Start your day with a breakfast twist on classic bruschetta: avocados, tomato, hard-boiled egg, and ricotta with basil atop toasted rustic whole-grain bread.

Avocado Breakfast Bruschetta

Spicy Carrots and Squash

This side dish is an excellent way to get your orange vegetables. Vinegar, brown sugar, and spicy mustard combine to give this dish a sweet and tangy taste. 

Spicy Carrots and Squash

Pineapple Zucchini Cake

Stuffed with fruits and veggies, this hearty cake can be shared after a light lunch or dinner.

Pineapple Zucchini Cake

Grilled Shrimp with Cantaloupe Avocado Salsa

Savory sweet salsa featuring cantaloupe and avocado is the perfect complement to grilled shrimp. Grilled Shrimp Cantaloupe Avocado-Salsa

If your child is like many preschoolers, he or she probably doesn’t eat enough vegetables each day. Many children this age can be “choosy” eaters. It can take children 10 or more tries before they like a new food. Keep trying. Your efforts will help your child have healthier eating habits later.

Offering Vegetables Can:

  • Help your child get important nutrients like potassium, folate (folic acid), vitamin A, and vitamin C.
  • Provide dietary fiber to help your child feel full. This makes bathroom time easier, too.
  • Add color, crunch, and favor to meals or snacks.
  • Help your child develop healthy eating habits that may reduce the risk of certain diseases, like heart disease and Type 2 diabetes, later in life.

Fresh, Frozen, and Canned Vegetables Are All Smart Choices

  • Packages with added sauces or seasonings may have additional fat and calories.
  • Rinse canned beans and vegetables with cold water to reduce sodium.
  • Cut vegetables into smaller pieces to make them easier for your preschooler to eat.

Five Ways To Encourage Vegetables

  1. Eat together. Let your child see you enjoying vegetables at meals and snacks.
  2. Prepare together. Teach your child how to tear lettuce or add vegetable toppings to pizza.
  3. Get colorful. Choose different colors of vegetables to eat.
  4. Make vegetables fun. Read about them in books. Plant a seed and watch it grow.
  5. Share the adventure. Shop for vegetables together. Try a new vegetable each week.

Did you know that an estimated 1 in 6 Americans will get sick from food poisoning this year alone? Food poisoning not only sends 128,000 Americans to the hospital each year—it can also cause long-term health problems. You can help keep your family safe from food poisoning at home by following these four simple steps: clean, separatecook and, chill.

Clean: Wash Hands, Utensils, and Surfaces Often

Germs that can make you sick can survive in many places around your kitchen, including your food, hands, utensils, cutting boards, and countertops.

Wash your hands the right way:

  • Use plain soap and water—skip the antibacterial soap—and scrub the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice.
  • Rinse hands, then dry with a clean towel.
  • Wash your hands often.

Wash surfaces and utensils after each use:

  • Wash cutting boards, dishes, utensils, and countertops with hot, soapy water, especially after they’ve held raw meat, poultry, seafood, or eggs.
  • Wash dish cloths often in the hot cycle of your washing machine.

Wash fruits and vegetables, but not meat, poultry, or eggs:

  • Rinse fruits and vegetables under running water without soap, bleach, or commercial produce washes.
  • Rinse fruits and vegetables before peeling, removing skin, or cutting away any damaged or bruised areas.
  • Scrub firm produce like melons or cucumbers with a clean produce brush.
  • Dry produce with a paper towel or clean cloth towel.
  • Don’t wash meat, poultry, eggs, or seafood to avoid spreading harmful germs around your kitchen.
  • Produce labeled as “pre-washed” does not need to be washed again.

Separate: Don’t Cross Contaminate

Use separate cutting boards and plates for produce, meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs:

  • Use one cutting board for fresh produce or other foods that won’t be cooked before they’re eaten, and another for raw meat, poultry, or seafood. Replace them when they are worn.
  • Use separate plates and utensils for cooked and raw foods.
  • Use hot, soapy water to thoroughly wash plates, utensils, and cutting boards that touched raw meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, or flour.

Cook to the Right Temperature

Food is safely cooked when the internal temperature is high enough to kill germs that can make you sick:

  • Use a food thermometer to be sure your food is safe. When you think your food is done, place the food thermometer in the thickest part of the food, making sure not to touch bone, fat, or gristle.
  • Refer to our Minimum Cooking Temperatures Chart to be sure your foods have reached a safe temperature.

Keep food hot (140˚F or above) after cooking:

If you’re not serving food right after cooking, keep it out of the temperature danger zone (between 40°F -140°F) where germs grow rapidly by using a heat source like a chafing dish, warming tray, or slow cooker.

Microwave food thoroughly (165˚F or above):

  • Read package directions for cooking and follow them exactly to make sure food is thoroughly cooked.
  • If the food label says, “Let stand for x minutes after cooking,” follow the directions — letting microwaved food sit for a few minutes allows food to cook thoroughly as colder areas absorb heat from hotter areas.
  • Stir food in the middle of heating. Follow package directions for commercially prepared frozen food; some are not designed to be stirred while heating.

Chill: Refrigerate and Freeze Food Properly

Refrigerate perishable foods within 2 hours:

  • Bacteria that cause food poisoning multiply quickest between 40°F and 140°F.
  • Your refrigerator should be set to 40°F or below and your freezer to 0°F or below. Use an appliance thermometer to be sure.
  • Never leave perishable foods out of refrigeration for more than 2 hours. If the food is exposed to temperatures above 90°F (like a hot car or summer picnic), refrigerate it within 1 hour.
  • Leftovers should be placed in shallow containers and refrigerated promptly to allow quick cooling.
  • Never thaw or marinate foods on the counter. The safest way to thaw or marinate meat, poultry, and seafood is in the refrigerator.
  • Freezing does not destroy harmful germs, but it does keep food safe until you can cook it.

Seasonal Produce

Fruits and vegetables can be found all year long fresh, frozen, or even canned.  However, when produce is in season, it tastes so much better and can be easier on your wallet.  Seasonal produce in your area will vary by growing conditions and weather, so check out a local farmer’s market to find produce grown in your area.

Eating fruit has many health benefits.  People who eat fruits and vegetables as part of an overall diet may lower their risk for certain diseases.  Fruits and vegetables provide nutrients needed to maintain your health and body.

Try some of these recipes to incorporate seasonal produce into your weekly meal planning or take to your next summer meal:

Salsa Fresca

A great summer treat to make when our garden is bursting with tomatoes and jalapeño peppers. Enjoy over eggs, meat, fish, tofu, or with whole grain chips.

https://www.myplate.gov/recipes/supplemental-nutrition-assistance-program-snap/salsa-fresca

Asparagus with Gremolata Sauce

Asparagus has folate, fiber, as well as vitamins A, C, E, and K. It also has antioxidants, so treat yourself to this dish knowing that you are feeding your body with some important nutrients.

https://www.myplate.gov/recipes/supplemental-nutrition-assistance-program-snap/asparagus-gremolata-sauce

Celery with Apricot Blue Cheese Spread

Crunchy, sweet celery is a versatile snack food, just right for this flavorful spread. Filled with dried fruit and nuts, this enticing and quick low-fat spread can be made ahead or on the spot. You could also serve it on whole grain crackers as an appetizer.

https://www.myplate.gov/recipes/myplate-cnpp/celery-apricot-blue-cheese-spread

Apple & Chicken Salad

A deliciously balanced blend of crisp Cameo apples, celery, raisins, chicken breast and Greek yogurt-based dressing, served over a bed of lettuce.

https://www.myplate.gov/recipes/myplate-cnpp/apple-chicken-salad

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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