Feeding People with Allergies: Avoiding Cross-Contact

Things change.

I looked around the dinner table this past holiday and realized that things were different. We had a wonderful group of people, both family members and friends… all people that we enjoyed spending time with in the past. Nothing about that has changed. However, what had changed was what we were eating. Some of the people around the table had illnesses over the past year that changed what they were “allowed” to eat. Another person had been diagnosed with a food allergy. And then there were the frequently-heard statements about certain foods that just don’t “agree” with people.

Overall we had:

  • One nut allergy (no tree nuts for sure, maybe peanuts, too!)
  • One seafood allergy
  • One person with lactose intolerance
  • Three people that didn’t eat any peppers (red, yellow, or green)
  • One person that recently had bariatric surgery and didn’t want sugar
  • One person who didn’t “do” any refined or carbohydrate-based foods.

So, how do you feed a group like this?

Here are some basics:

An allergy happens when a person’s immune system reacts to proteins in food. Major allergy foods include: eggs, wheat, peanuts, tree nuts (almonds, pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts), soybeans, milk, fish, and crustacean shellfish. We had several of these to consider at our latest gathering. Another thing to remember about allergies is that cooking a food does not reduce or eliminate the chances of a reaction.

A food intolerance is when someone’s body can’t digest certain chemicals properly. Common intolerances involve lactose and gluten. These usually result in vomiting, nausea, cramps, and diarrhea. People with Celiac disease can have long-term problems when they consume even small amounts of  gluten.

It’s really hard to please everyone, but of more concern to me were those allergies that could really result in major reactions, including a rash, hives, breathing problems, cardiac arrest, and maybe even death. This is not something that you should brush off or ignore. Sometimes it’s even hard to trust that people with these allergies won’t eat the wrong foods.

How do you handle a situation like this? First, we asked each person or family to bring something that they knew they could eat. That way, everyone had at least something.

Then, when asked, we were able to provide the ingredient label or recipes for most of the other meal items. I was surprised that one bakery item from the grocery store didn’t have an ingredient label, but a sign by the cash register cautioned about nuts and gluten.

Another key is to watch out for cross contact. What’s cross contact?  This is when the allergy food is inadvertently put in contact with a non-allergy food.  Just a fork or spoon being transferred from one food to another may put enough of the allergy protein in the second food that could cause a problem for the person with the allergy. This could be something as simple as mixing food with fingers, on counter tops, in serving spoons, frying pans, dishes, or even “double dipping” a chip or cracker touching one food and then another. It gets even more hectic when there are larger numbers of people and several of them are trying to prepare food in a kitchen at the same time.

We were much more aware of these allergies and food intolerances this year. This is something for everyone to think about when groups get together to eat. I’ve been at buffet lines and pot-luck dinners where people have been good to share recipes and add signs if there is a known “allergy food” in the dish, but it’s also good for people to be concerned about that cross contact, too. While people with food allergies need to be “on the alert” and ever-vigilant, we can all help each other by paying closer attention to the details.

By Cheryle Jones Syracuse, MS, Professor Emeritus at The Ohio State University

And for a few other helpful allergy resources, don’t miss these materials…

Farmers’ Markets Dos and Don’ts

I have a problem at farmers’ markets.

In the fieldsYou see, I absolutely adore farmers’ markets. The problem is that I tend to get carried away when I visit them. I’m always so excited to see all the fresh fruits and vegetables that I end up buying much more than I really need. My eyes are bigger than my refrigerator.

After a visit to the farmers’ market the other day, we had fresh tomatoes, green beans, tiny new potatoes, and corn on the cob for dinner. I served all that with oven-baked walleye from the freezer. Even the fish had been caught locally — we got it last summer on a trip to Lake Erie.

You can’t get much more of a local meal than that.

Since I go to farmers’ markets so often and have been going for so many years, I’ve learned quite a few “dos and don’ts.” Now I’d like to share them with you…

Farmers’ Market Dos:

  • Do eat fruits and vegetables.
  • Do enjoy the fresh, local availability of a wide range of foods.
  • Do try something new and different.
  • Do make a quick trip around the market before you make any purchases.
    • This allows you to see what’s fresh.
    • It also helps you get a sense of how much each kind of food will cost.
    • Once you’ve made your lap, go back to the stalls that offer the items you want at the best prices.
  • TomatoesDo bring cash. Growers don’t always accept credit cards.
    • Keep your money easily accessible.
    • This will make your transactions easier and faster.
  • Do wear a hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, and comfortable shoes.
  • Do bring water to drink.
  • Do bring a reusable or recycled bag to help carry your purchases.
  • Do put a cooler with ice in your car.
    • This will help the items you buy stay fresh until you get home.
  • Do go early in the day.
    • If you’re there at the start of the market, then you’ll get the best selection and quality.
    • Yes, you might get a good deal on any items left near closing time, but you also might miss out on what was available.
  • Do get to know the vendors.
    • Many are your neighbors.
    • Become a regular.
    • Spend some time talking with the growers. They can let you know what’s in season and what to expect in upcoming weeks.
  • Do ask about bulk purchases.
    • If you’re planning on purchasing a few items to preserve (freeze, can, or pickle) then you might get a deal if you buy large quantities.
    • Again, this is the time to talk with the grower and arrange for these large orders ahead of time.
  • Pea Shoots Do keep food safety in mind.
    • While you may be tempted to taste a bite of fresh melon or tomato, look around and make sure that the person offering it has used good practices.
    • Good practices include washing the produce, wearing clean gloves, offering toothpicks, using a clean knife, and keeping the food items cold if necessary.
    • Don’t take risks.
  • Do be considerate of the farmer and the next customer.
  • Do keep control of your kids and dogs.
  • Do come back next week.

Farmers’ Market Don’ts:

  • Don’t sample anything if the food isn’t offered to you or labeled as a sample.
  • Don’t expect the farmers to deal with you on price.
  • Don’t pinch, squeeze, drop, peel (like corn), or stick your fingernails in foods and then leave said foods for someone else.
    • Respect the food and your fellow customers.
    • By messing with the food, you may be making it unsellable.
  • Don’t block a vendor if you’re not buying.
    • If you’re visiting with a friend, move away from a display so others can get by and shop.
  • Don’t get carried away (like I do).
    • A deal isn’t a deal if the food goes to waste.
    • Be sure to only purchase what you’re able to eat while the food still has good quality.
  • Don’t forget, you can always go back next week.

Cheryle Jones Syracuse, MS, Professor Emeritus at The Ohio State University

Find more farmers’ market educational resources in the Nutrition Education Store. The most popular ones include…

Farmers’ Market Photo Posters

Enjoy Your Farmers’ Market Handout

Real Food Grows Banner

PS Have you visited the free clipart library? Check out the fruit and vegetable clipart, try an infographic, or just browse the full selection!

Looking for Healthy Meals

Healthy MealOkay, I’ve got a story for you today. My husband and I were recently eating lunch — I had made us each a quick salad with lettuce, apples, some thawed frozen berries, avocado, leftover grilled chicken and homemade balsamic vinaigrette. As we ate, my husband commented, “It’s amazing that you look in the refrigerator and see salad; when I look in the refrigerator I just see soda.”

That seems to capture a common sentiment in a nutshell. How do people plan menus and think about turning what’s available into a healthful meal? Is this something that’s intuitive or can it be learned?

For me it’s easy, because I love to cook and experiment with food. But what about people who really don’t like to prepare meals or don’t have these skills?

All home management experts say that planning meals ahead of time is the number one way to save time, have balanced meals, control the food budget, avoid food waste, and reduce trips to the grocery store. However, I’m realistic enough to know that most families don’t do this.

So, how can we, as health educators, make this easier for our clients?

Here are a few of my latest ideas…

  • Try planning just a few meals a week instead of setting up a program for all seven days. If this works, then perhaps you could develop a menu rotation.
  • Have everyone in the family contribute their menu ideas and meal likes and dislikes.
  • If other members of your family are just learning to cook, or don’t yet have a wide recipe repertoire, having menus posted can help them learn and develop their cooking and menu-planning skills.
  • Keep MyPlate in mind as you go. We all know the concept of trying to fill half the plate with fruits and vegetables at each meal, so now it’s time to put it into action. Remember to fill the other half with a lean protein and a whole grain, then add low-fat dairy on the side to round out the meal.
  • Post your planned menus. That way, everyone in the family knows what’s for dinner. This could help the first one home to get dinner started too!
  • Make sure that the refrigerator, freezer, and pantry are stocked with the foods that you need for these menus. It’s especially important to have a variety of fruits and vegetables available for meals and snacks. After all, how can you fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables if there aren’t any fruits and vegetables in the house?

Try these tips and who knows? Maybe the next time your family looks into the fridge, they’ll see dinner!

By Cheryle Jones Syracuse, MS, Professor Emeritus at The Ohio State University

Here’s a free PDF handout with a few of the top tips from today’s post…

Healthy Meals

Here are some more healthy meal resources, brought to you by the Nutrition Education Store!

Healthy Kitchen Poster Set

Learn to Cook Workbook

Heart Smart Cooking PowerPoint Presentation

Eat your jack-o-lantern?

Kids love Halloween, costumes and carving pumpkins. Extend the fun by serving dinner in a pumpkin. This meal could be made ahead and served before the goblins go out trick-or-treating or have it in the oven while passing out treats at home.  I made this for family friends a couple of years ago and they still talk about the time I put a pumpkin on the table.

Get the kids involved in this meal. Make it a family outing to select the pumpkin or pumpkins.  The large round pumpkins that make great jack-o-lanterns are not the best for eating, they are usually stringy and tasteless. Smaller flatter pumpkins are best for cooking. Look for  sugar,  pie pumpkin or cooking pumpkins.

I could only find small orange pie pumpkins at our farmer’s market. There was also a hybrid pumpkin variety called a Buck Skin. This was a tan  on the outside rather than orange but bright orange inside.  This is one of the varieties of  pumpkins used by commercial canneries use to make canned mashed pumpkin and pie filling.  So, it’s a great eating pumpkin.

A word of caution when it comes to selecting pumpkins to fill for a meal. Don’t get one that’s too big.  It might not fit in your oven or may be too heavy once filled.  If you can’t find a nice medium-sized cooking pumpkin, you might want to go with individual smaller pumpkins.  Everyone could have their own pumpkin for dinner.

It may be tempting to try to do “double duty” with a pumpkin, to first have it as a jack-o-lantern and then make it into a pie. Let’s not go there. Like any other food, once it has been cut, pumpkin needs to be kept refrigerated. You should plan to eat or refrigerate pumpkin the same day you cut into it. You could use the whole pumpkins for yard decorations, just don’t cut them until you’re ready to cook them.

The bright orange color is a dead give-away that pumpkins are full of important nutrients and antioxidants and beta-carotene. Pumpkin is an excellent source of vitamin A, which is an essential nutrient for proper health of eyes, respiratory tract, skin and tooth enamel.

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Tips for making a meal in a pumpkin:

  • Make a recipe of your favorite soup, chili or meal-in-one casserole.  Cook that recipe almost complete.
  • Wash the outside of the pumpkin. Cut off the top as if you were making a jack-o-lantern and thoroughly clean out the seeds and strings, leaving the pumpkin shell.  This can be a great job for the kids.
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spoon the hot filling into the cleaned pumpkin shell, replace pumpkin top and place entire pumpkin with filling on a baking sheet in oven.
  • Bake for 1 hour or until pumpkin is tender.
  • Carefully place the pumpkin on a serving platter (this may be difficult or impossible if your pumpkin is very large.) Remove the pumpkin lid and serve the contents. For your vegetable, scoop out the cooked pumpkin and serve.
  • Add a cold glass of milk and toasty bread and this provides a complete meal.

Food safety notes:

  • The soup, chili or casserole should be hot and almost completely ready to eat when put into the pumpkin shell. 
  • Do not put raw ingredients, especially meats or poultry into the pumpkin shell, the heat will not penetrate the hard shell enough to cook these items.
  • Ingredients such as rice that need a long cooking time should be almost tender when placed inside the pumpkin.

Cheryle Jones Syracuse, MS
Professor Emeritus, The Ohio State University

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Strawberry Time Somewhere

It’s strawberry time! It’s hard for this Ohio girl to say this in May.

No, I don’t have special strawberries that ripen early, I’ve moved south and I’m just getting accustomed to having foods ripen earlier than I’ve known my whole life. Needless to say, no matter what the date, when they’re ripe I like to get out and pick a few pounds for fresh eating and put some in the freezer.

Picking my own strawberries is an annual excursion and a great feeling of accomplishment. I love being in the outside in the patch enjoying the weather and smelling the fresh fruit. I also feel good about buying locally because the fruit is fresher and I support my community. Pick-your-own prices around us have been about $1.30 a pound. I always wonder if it’s cheaper to buy the already picked quarts selling at the farmer’s market or to do-it-myself.

It’s easy to do some quick math to answer that question. It’s not exact, due to the moisture, size and variety of the strawberries, but usually you get about 1.5 pounds of berries in every quart. Give or take a few. So, if you’re picking your own, you can multiply the cost per pound by 1.5 to get the amount per quart of the berries. At $1.30 a pound, pick-your-own berries are a little less than $2 a quart. Don’t forget you should also consider your time, gas and energy as part of the cost. But sunshine and physical activity are also the benefits!

I remember a couple years ago I stopped by a local discount store after picking berries and the price of their berries per quart were less than what I picked per pound. But, I felt good about buying my local berries. I had a wonderful outside activity, too. I knew my pick-yourself berries were fresher, tasted better, and had more nutrition. I was supporting a local farmer and economy. If you’re interested learning about the value of purchasing locally, the University of Nebraska Lincoln has a great resource on the topic, check it out at:  http://food.unl.edu/web/localfoods/why-buy-local

A couple tips if you’re picking your own:

  • The berries should have a full, red color, bright luster and firm, plump flesh.
  • Choose only fully ripe berries—unlike some other fruits, berries do not ripen after being picked.
  • Get the berries home as soon as possible; don’t let them set in the trunk of your car while you do other errands. If you need to be out longer consider bringing a cooler to store them until you can get them home.
  • For longest shelf life, take them out of large buckets and pails and gently arrange in shallow containers and put in the refrigerator immediately.
  • Don’t wash or remove the green cap until just before you’re ready to use.
  • Use berries as soon as possible after getting them home.

No matter where you live, when it’s strawberry time,   I highly recommend getting out and enjoying it!  If the pick-your-own growers allow, take the kids or grandkids with you to help.  What a great way to show them how food is grown.  Just think how proud you’ll all be when they say “I picked these myself.”

Here are great berry recipes

A favorite is Berries with Custard Sauce – so easy to make and so rich!

Berries With Vanilla Custard Sauce

Cheryle Jones Syracuse, MS
Professor Emeritus, The Ohio State University

Check out the beautiful fruit and veggie posters in our store:

Your bananas, my bananas…Yonanas!

Banana Date Yonananas

Banana Date Yonananas

We’ve had a lot of fun with Yonanas! Don’t know what I’m talking about? Yonanas is a small kitchen appliance that takes frozen bananas and other fruit and quickly processes them into a creamy frozen dessert-type product that looks like it came out of the machine of your favorite frozen yogurt place.

We had friends over for dinner one evening and we pulled out the Yonanas machine to make dessert. The friend admitted that she thought to herself “there’s a sucker born every day, what is this thing?” But after eating the Yonanas she wanted one for herself.

The joy of Yonanas is you’re eating pure fruit. Although the name implies bananas , you can use any fruit or combination of fruit. It is recommended to use a banana every time because it helps make the creamy consistency— I personally  like the combination of bananas, mango and strawberries. The combinations are endless and it comes with a recipe book.

Just think of all the calories and fat calories you can save by eating Yonana instead of ice cream? Two bananas, 1/2 cup strawberries and a half of a mango makes more than enough Yonana for three people for only 112 calories each. Yonanas satisfies the craving for ice cream without the added cream, sugar or preservatives. It’s a fun way to encourage kids to eat more fruit. Plus bananas are a good source of potassium, dietary fiber, manganese and vitamins B6 & C.

A couple tips: the fruit needs to slightly thaw (5-8 minutes) before putting through the Yonana machine to get a creamy texture. It doesn’t take long. If it thaws out too much, your final product will be mushy. The machine also comes with popsicle forms to refreeze any leftover product. I haven’t been real successful with this; you may need to experiment a little.

Another plus…it’s a great money saver. Fruit that would otherwise get tossed is now saved for the Yonana! Simply freeze those very ripe bananas or buy the “mark down” bananas for Yonanas. No more wasted fruit or feeling the need to make even more banana muffins or nut bread. Plus kids can come up with their own flavor concoctions or toppings. It would take an older child or adult to push the fruit through because some exertion is needed.

A word of caution: as with any small appliance, it’s only good if you’ll use it. It’s easy to clean. I put it in the dishwasher.

Check out their website at www.yonanas.com (note: you can get a refurbished machine for 20% off with Amazon’s Warehouse Deal).

Banana Yonananas "Ice Cream" Tropical

Cheryle Jones Syracuse, MS
Professor Emeritus, The Ohio State University

Check out the savings:

Food: Calories per half cup: Fat (g) Calories per week for a year:
Yonanas 112  0  5,824
Ice cream 250 16 13,000
Savings  82 16  7,176

Plan a Meal Together

Planning a family meal together can be a great experience for kids and parents alike. You can turn an everyday dinner into a dinner party with just a few simple steps…

Preparation Timeline

Plan your menu.

  • Check out cookbooks, websites, and family recipes for inspiration.
  • Remember to balance the plates appropriately and include lots of fruits and vegetables.

Make lists of everything you need.

  • Ingredients that you need to locate (ie pantry staples that are probably somewhere in your house, like pasta, rice, and spices).
  • Ingredients that you need to buy.
  • Equipment that you need to have at the ready.

Go shopping for the ingredients and equipment that you need.

On the Day of Your Party…

  • Prep everything (that you can) ahead of time — pre-chop, even pre-measure if possible.
  • Cook the food.
  • Serve it to your guests.

Elements of Stylish Gatherings

If you want to have a remarkable meal together, a few simple changes can really make a differenec.

• Set the table with…

  • All the silverware that you would need to eat all of the dishes.
  • Nice glasses for water.
  • Napkins — decide whether you need cloth or paper options.

• Consider adding…

  • A nice centerpiece — try flowers, candles, or an arrangement of glasses.
  • Placemats.
  • A tablecloth.
  • A runner over the tablecloth.

Basic Dinner Party Building Blocks

Number of Guests

  • A dinner party typically involves 6 to 8 people, but make exceptions as you see fit.

Courses

  • A simple dinner party may limit itself to salad or soup, a main course, and dessert.
  • You could also include amuse-bouches, appetizers, or even palate cleansers.