Nutrition

Celebrate Dairy in March with Put Local on Your Tray

dairy smoothieDuring the month of March, the Put Local On Your Tray program is partnering with school districts across the state to feature local dairy. Put Local On Your Tray helps Connecticut school districts serve and celebrate locally grown products. Through a combination of technical assistance and promotional materials, the program works with schools to build a culture of health in the cafeteria, celebrate school nutrition programs, and support local agriculture.

Why local dairy? “Dairy is produced year round in Connecticut,” shares Dana Stevens, Program Coordinator for Put Local On Your Tray. “Dairy farming is an important part of our agricultural landscape, and the majority of Connecticut schools already purchase dairy that is regionally produced in the form of milk. Milk arrives at the school just 48 hours after leaving the farm. Food service directors, students, administrators, and parents should feel good about the fact that schools are supporting our hard working New England dairy farmers and providing nutritious meals for our kids”.

“Milk is the number one food source of nine essential nutrients in the diets of American’s children—including calcium, vitamin D, and potassium—that are required for proper bone growth,” says Amanda Aldred, Program Manager for New England Dairy & Food Council for School Nutrition in Connecticut. “The benefits go beyond building stronger bones. For instance, low-fat and fat-free dairy foods improve overall diet quality and help reduce the risk of various chronic diseases like heart disease.”

There are over 35 districts that participate in the Put Local on Your Tray program (you can see a map on the website here). The program is open to any interested school district, charter school, or private school.

This month, more than 15 districts are planning to host a Local Tray Day featuring dairy. Events include: Celebrating National School Breakfast week with a parent breakfast and smoothie sampling in Meriden; Taste-testing green spinach smoothies for St. Patrick’s day in Windham and Waterbury; Making mozzarella cheese in Groton; Hosting a dairy farmer visit in Wethersfield; Local yogurt parfait tastings in New Haven, and more! All districts organizing dairy events are eligible to win a dairy farm field trip organized by NEDFC for up to 25 students.

UConn Extension’s Put Local on Your Tray program has posters, stickers, newsletters, and recipes to support school districts connect students to dairy during the month of March and other local foods throughout the year. Contact your school administrator or food service director to encourage participation in the program. For more information please visit http://putlocalonyourtray.uconn.edu or call 860-870-6932. Put Local On Your Tray is a project of UConn Extension, in partnership with the CT State Department of Education, FoodCorps Connecticut, and New England Dairy & Food Council (NEDFC).

 

About New England Dairy & Food Council (NEDFC)

New England Dairy & Food Council (NEDFC) is a non-profit nutrition education organization staffed by registered dietitians. NEDFC is a state and regional affiliate of the National Dairy Council® (NDC). Our goal is to ensure that health professionals, scientists, media and educators have a credible body of nutrition information upon which to base health recommendations.

Summer 2017 Internships

Tom Martella
Tom Martella. Photo: Juliana Barrett.

UConn Extension is pleased to offer internships for UConn undergraduate students again this year. Student interns gain valuable in-the-field experience in your chosen discipline at an in-state Extension office location. Internship opportunities include:
• Food    • Nutrition    • Health    • Sustainability   • Research
• Agribusiness   • Youth Education    • Community Development

For more information visit: http://s.uconn.edu/interns

Import a Little Flavor in the Winter Months

By:     Diane Wright Hirsch

            Senior Extension Educator/Food Safety

 

pomegranate
Photo: Texas A&M University

OK, I admit it…. I just cannot eat totally “local” and “seasonal” during the winter. It’s just too hard at this time of year. And, also, so many cold weather menus and winter celebrations revolve around aromas, flavors and sensations that come from foods that do not grow in New England.

While you can still find locally grown root vegetables, cabbage, Brussels sprouts and apples, nary a Clementine or pomegranate, (they are seasonal, after all) is produced in Connecticut. Sure, I love hot locally produced apple cider and winter squash soup, but often I am reaching for cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg to give seasonal flavor. A little bit of the imported stuff sure adds to the enjoyment of a seasonal diet when variety of locally produced foods is limited. So bring on just a taste of the far away and console yourself with the knowledge that some of these foods are seasonal—somewhere. Also, the transportation of the spices of life can’t possibly put too much of a strain on our oil reserves.

Some of my favorite winter imports

Clementines: December just wouldn’t be December without a box of Clementines on my counter. We go through boxes and boxes in just a few months. An easy-to-peel citrus fruit devoid of seeds (usually) and sweet and juicy…who could ask for anything more? Clementines are a fruit of the mandarin family, whose origins could have been in China or Algeria, depending on who you ask. Much of the fruit comes to the United States from Morocco and Spain. While Europeans have been blessed for years with the availability of this orange gem, the market in this country was created when there was a failed Florida citrus crop in the late 1990s. California Clementines are also available.

Cinnamon: The intense flavors of spices come from seeds that are dried and ground (the leaves of aromatic plants are referred to as “herbs”). Cinnamon has a long and interesting history. It was once so precious that wars were fought over it! Originally grown in Ceylon, a colony at various times of the Dutch, French and English, by the 1890s, Borneo, Sumatra, and Java were among the countries that cultivated cinnamon. Today it is also grown in South America and Caribbean countries. This spice is derived from the bark of a bush in the laurel family. You may use the ground form or the cinnamon “stick”, a curled up piece of the bark, also called a “quill.”

Pomegranates: The pomegranate is native from Iran to the Himalayas in northern India and has been cultivated throughout Mediterranean region since ancient times. Today, it is grown throughout India and the drier parts of southeast Asia, Malaya, the East Indies and tropical Africa. Spanish settlers introduced the tree into California in 1769. In this country it is grown for its fruits mainly in the drier parts of California and Arizona. While produced most commonly for its juice or fruits that can be eaten out of hand, all parts of the tree have been used as sources of tannin for curing leather. The rind and flowers yield dyes for textiles. Today, pomegranates are sometimes included in lists of super foods. This is because they are full of anti-oxidants, which may be of benefit in staving off cardiovascular disease, cancer, and other chronic diseases.

Nutmeg: I chose to feature nutmeg, because after all, we are the Nutmeg State! This could have been because trading ships brought nutmeg to our shores or, perhaps more interestingly, because peddlers used to try to pass off wood carved into nutmeg look-alikes to unsuspecting Connecticut settlers. Nutmegs come from an evergreen tree that is indigenous to southeast Asia. The nutmeg is the egg-shaped seed of the tree that is dried and sold whole for grating or as a ground spice. The cuisines of many countries, including India, the Middle East, Europe and Japan all enjoy a touch of this sweet spice. Our Connecticut holiday tables are likely to be graced with mulled cider, pumpkin pie and eggnog redolent with nutmeg. Today, nutmeg is produced primarily in Indonesia and Grenada.

Try a little nutmeg on your locally grown brussels sprouts. Of course, you will need to sprinkle some on the eggnog you make from Connecticut eggs and milk. Cinnamon in your cranberry sauce….a Clementine for an afternoon pick-me-up…..and a sprinkling of pomegranate berries on the salad made with farmer’s market spinach can add color, flavor and even some valuable vitamins to a New England winter meal.

Cilantro: Well, this herb is not commonly associated with winter, but as we are often cooking up chili or black bean soup during the colder months, I often head to the produce aisle for a bunch of cilantro. Cilantro is generally imported from Central America year around, but sometimes can be bought locally grown in the summer. And, of course, freezing the summer crop would be a good alternative to buying imported cilantro in winter. Unfortunately, cilantro (or coriander as it is sometimes called) has also been associated with more than its share of foodborne illness outbreaks. So, be sure to wash well before using, in cold running water. And if you have a compromised immune system, you might want to forego the cilantro altogether.

For more information, contact the Home and Garden Education Center at ladybug@uconn.edu or 1-877-486-6271.

EFNEP: Making an Impact

EFNEP

The nutrition programming through EFNEP has three components: healthy food and physical activity choices, making funds go farther, and learning skills to improve food preparation and food safety practices. Clients participate in four to eight lessons, meet with the educator at least four times, complete pre and post assessments, participate in food and nutrition activities, and practice their learned skills. Recipes are available in English and Spanish. During the program, participants taste new foods, acquire cooking skills, and learn about food safety and storage. As part of healthy choices, clients learn about preparing healthy foods and nutritious snacks for various stages of the life cycle. Making funds go farther in the grocery store is a skill anyone can use. Extension educators help clients plan meals, make grocery lists, read labels, and shop wisely. UConn Extension educators toured the Danbury Price Rite with moms from Grassroots Academy, and taught them about saving money at the store while feeding their families healthier foods. EFNEP has always included an evaluation component that measures food behaviors and dietary quality. Evaluations show the vast majority of EFNEP participants have made at least one improvement in their food choices. There is also an increase in the number of participants eating the recommended amounts of fruits and vegetables after an EFNEP program.

Welcome Lindsey Brush to CT FANs IM!

Lindsey Brush

Lindsey is the new Program Assistant for the Connecticut Fitness and Nutrition Clubs In Motion. Lindsey is a recent graduate of the University of St. Joseph’s in West Hartford with a Bachelor of Science in Nutrition and Dietetics. Lindsey is also pursuing a certification as a personal trainer from National Academy of Sports Medicine. She has worked with community outreach including SNAP-ED, Boys and Girls Clubs, and telephonic health coaching. Lindsey brings a lot of energy and enthusiasm to our team.

Pumpkins are a Terrible Thing to Waste…

By:     Diane Wright Hirsch, MPH

            UConn Extension Educator/Food

 

Sakata Seed America
Photo: Jude Boucher

Pumpkins are thought to have originated in North America. Early colonists learned of pumpkins from Native American Indians for whom pumpkin was a dietary staple. They would often cut strips of pumpkin and roast them on an open fire before eating. These resourceful people also dried strips of pumpkin and wove them into mats. Seeds were saved for future crops. Nothing was wasted. Colonists adopted the pumpkin and used it to make stews, soups and desserts. Some say that pumpkin pie originated as colonists sliced off the top of the pumpkin, removed the seeds, filled it with milk and spices and roasted it in a fire. Yum. You too can learn to make the most of this member of the winter squash family. If you grow pumpkins in your garden, you are one step ahead. If not, pick up several at you local farm stand: but, why not try getting some seeds and growing your own crop next year?

Despite a dry summer, there does not seem to be a pumpkin shortage this year. In fact, the Connecticut supply looks great—all sizes, shapes and many new varieties can be found in your local farm stand.

So, this is a good year to make sure you get the most from your pumpkin—home grown or locally purchased.

Halloween leftovers

Over the years a variety of vegetables—turnips, gourds– and finally, pumpkins have been carved as “Jack-o-Lanterns.” Large pumpkins are best for carving. They are easy to carve, they don’t make the best eating, and they have many large seeds for roasting. Once Halloween is over, if your pumpkin has been carved, it is best used in the compost pile or made available to the neighborhood squirrels. Because pumpkin is a low acid vegetable, it very easily supports the growth of bacteria at room temperature or outside on a warm fall day. Even though you then cook the pumpkin, there is a risk for food-borne illness.

If not carved, you can still clean it out and use the seeds for roasting, even if the pumpkin is too large to make for good eating.

Roast the seeds

When cutting open a pumpkin, be sure to save every seed you can salvage. Put them into a large colander. The shells are edible—adding all kinds of healthy fiber to you diet. (Actually, any seeds from winter squash-acorn or butternut-can be roasted as well.)

To roast the seeds, simply clean them off, dry with paper towels, spray or stir in a little vegetable or olive oil, salt lightly and roast on a cookie sheet lined with foil for about 45 minutes (or until golden brown) at 250°F. You can also try using soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, garlic powder or other seasonings you like.

Finally, eat the pumpkin

Use smaller pumpkins for meal making. These pumpkins are sweeter with finer flesh. Though often called “pie pumpkins,” pumpkins are too good to reserve for a piece of pie at the end of Thanksgiving dinner. They make great ingredients in savory soups, stews, pumpkin ravioli and gnocchi, risotto, quick breads, pancakes, or try pumpkin stuffed with rice, sausage and dried fruit.

If this talk of pumpkins for dinner is tempting you to grow your own in the spring, add it to your list when planning out our garden and ordering seeds. Pumpkin is a warm-season vegetable that grows well in Connecticut. Keep in mind that pumpkin is a very tender vegetable. The seeds do not germinate in cold soil, and the seedlings are injured by frost.

Do not plant until all danger of frost has passed, and the soil has thoroughly warmed. Plant pumpkins for Halloween late in May or early in June. If pumpkins are planted too early, they may soften and rot before Halloween. For more information on growing pumpkins in the home garden, contact the Home and Garden Education Center at ladybug@uconn.edu or 1-877-486-6271 as you prepare for your spring planting.

Halloween Health Tips

Trick or Treat:

Halloween is filled with sweet temptations and scary over-eating. Here are a few tips to help both adults and children avoid over indulging.

Be a role model!

butternut soupMake sure your little goblins eat a healthy meal before trick or treating. Create a Healthy Family Halloween Tradition like Butternut Squash soup. Pair it with Grilled Cheese with thinly sliced apples or Raisin Bread cut into ghosts or jack-o-lanterns. YUM!  Your family will associate Halloween with a fall family meal instead of just candy collection.  They will look forward this delicious treat!

Try giving out stickers, pencils, erasers or some other non-food item. Candy can run as much as 50 dollars for some households. Nonfood items are a fun alternative and can cost a lot less! The non-food leftovers can be saved for next year or donated to a local school. Try pre-packed pretzels or a nutritious alternative.

Go to every other house so you do not have as much candy.

It’s scary out there!

Tell children to wait until they get home to eat candy. When trick or treaters return home make sure to inspect the candy. Throw away any open, torn or tampered candy. Do not eat homemade items or baked goods. If there is discoloration, throw it out. Also be mindful of choking hazards for younger children, such as gum, nuts, hard candy and small toys.  When it doubt throw it out.  If you must indulge remember to brush your teeth after eating candy.

Bag of plenty:

Set limits for eating candy, such as 3 pieces a day.

Sponsor an after Halloween Candy Drive. Have students bring half their candy to donate to the Troops. Have a Active Prize such as a School Costume Dance Party as an incentive.

OPT OUT: Have a Halloween party instead with nutritious foods and a scary movie!

Written by Heather Smith Pease, UConn Extension EFNEP Nutrition Outreach Educator in the Hartford County office heather.pease@uconn.edu

Butternut Soup Photo from Frugal Café attributed to Halloween Soup Diana Johnson free license

Conversations Around Food

EFNEPImagine running out of food, with small children to feed, and no food stamps for another week. Friday’s paycheck has to pay your utility bill, or they will cut off your electricity. Feeling panicked yet? Picture what it was like, over 40 years ago, to have someone from UConn Extension knock on your door and ask if you need help learning how to feed your family for less.

Since 1969, Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) educators have been helping thousands of families and youth in some of the most challenged neighborhoods in Connecticut.

While parts of Connecticut are affluent, our state has deep pockets of poverty that can lead to food insecurity and hunger. Some of the poorest neighborhoods in the country are in urban areas of our state. Food deserts, or areas that lack access to grocery stores and fresh food, contribute to the problem. This includes urban centers as well as more remote rural areas where transportation is a major hurdle for accessing healthy foods. Coupled with the challenging economy, the state has seen an increase in the number of families with children using soup kitchens and food assistance.

During the 1960’s, there was increasing awareness of the health problems associated with poverty. Hunger and poor nutrition were identified through several government studies. Cooperative Extension leaders recognized that programming was not reaching low-income populations as well as it could. In 1962, several states conducted pilot projects focusing on the best way to reach this audience with food and nutrition information. Throughout the mid 1960’s, effective land-grant university projects helped to build administrative support for establishing a program within Cooperative Extension.

EFNEP is the oldest federal nutrition education program for low-income families, being formally established in 1969. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) administers EFNEP at land-grant universities in all U.S. states and territories, and the District of Columbia. The program provides practical, hands-on food and nutrition education to tackle societal challenges such as hunger, malnutrition, poverty, and obesity.

UConn Extension has eleven EFNEP educators in communities throughout the state. EFNEP is active in cities such as Hartford, New Britain, New Haven, New London, Willimantic, Bridgeport, and Danbury. Bilingual programs and materials, cooking classes, and educational trips to the grocery store are a few offerings.

When the program first began, EFNEP educators did knock on doors to recruit participants. Today, EFNEP staff develop relationships with community-based organizations and agencies who work with low-income families and youth. One of the first pilot projects, in the 1960’s, was conducted in a Bridgeport housing project. Dr. Janina Czajkowski-Esselen directed this pilot project. She was one of the visionary thinkers who helped develop the concepts behind the EFNEP program.

There is a unique peer educator component in EFNEP, which has since been used in communities around the world. The program considers the situation of each participant, and tries to help them identify and determine solutions to their issues around food choices, shopping, feeding families, food safety, and food insecurity.

The program meets clients where they are, and considers economics, culture, and literacy in programs and materials. Educators use interactive, hands-on teaching methods through conversations, not lectures.

Participants develop skills that can help them improve their food and nutrition practices for better health and quality of life. Depending on the situation of the family, this may mean just having enough food at home to last from payday to payday.

UConn EFNEP educators serve as a link between program participants and other local agencies, including federal programs such as Women, Infants and Children (WIC) or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly the Food Stamp program) that participants may qualify for.

In 2015, EFNEP reached 1,850 participants, and 2,089 family members. Since the program’s inception, over 48,000 families with more than 150,000 family members, and close to 200,000 youth have learned from educators about improving health and quality of life. For more information about EFNEP, visit the NIFA website:nifa.usda.gov/program/expanded-food-and-nutrition-education-program-efnep

School Districts Invited to “Put Local on Your Tray” This Fall

carrot posterJust in time for National Farm To School Month in October, UConn Extension and its partners at the Connecticut State Department of Education, FoodCorps Connecticut, and the New England Dairy and Food Council are excited to announce an opportunity to participate in a new program called “Put Local On Your Tray”.

Put Local On Your Tray promotes local food in Connecticut schools. Participants receive support and materials that help school districts plan, serve, and celebrate locally grown food. “When kids have an opportunity to learn and engage with fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables in a positive way, they are much more likely to eat them,” shared Dana Stevens, Program Director.

In the 2014-2015 school year, schools in Connecticut spent $7,244,580 on local food, and 70% of school districts that responded to the 2015 Farm to School Census offered farm-to-school programming; that’s 97 districts, 706 schools, and 355,489 students! Schools report that farm to school programs can increase the number of students purchasing school breakfast and lunch, improve consumption of healthier foods at school, and reduce plate waste.

Local procurement can be integrated into all types of child nutrition programs, including: breakfast, lunch, after-school snack, supper, and summer meals. Connecticut also celebrates CT Grown for CT Kids Week from October 3 – 7th, offering schools another opportunity to take one small step for farm to school.

Put Local On Your Tray has proved to be an invaluable component of our educational efforts at Middletown Public Schools to connect our students to local farms and agriculture while promoting overall wellness to enhance and maximize student achievement, states Ava McGlew, MS, RD, CD-N, Food Service Director Middletown Public Schools.

UConn Extension has developed posters, stickers, newsletters, and recipes to support school districts in connecting students to fresh, seasonal foods. Contact your school administrator or food service director to encourage participation in this new program.