Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Myth: The menus at all fast food restaurants are unhealthy and do not offer nutritious options.

Answer: BUSTED!

While many fast food restaurants do have products loaded with sodium, fat and sugar, many are making a real effort to provide healthier choices to their customers.

Side items are one place a customer is starting to see interesting options. At Wendy’s, for example, mandarin oranges are available as a side instead of French fries. At Sonic, the carhop can help you ditch the fries and bring you a banana instead. And pay close attention to the sandwich menu at McDonald’s - a grilled chicken wrap is 250 calories with 10 grams of fat versus a Big Mac with cheese that has 540 calories and 29 grams of fat.

Some establishments are placing the calorie information directly on the sign board to help you know what you will be consuming before you order. Many restaurants will provide free pamphlets with the nutritional breakdown of each menu item. If you can't find the nutrition information, ask for it and be an informed consumer!

There are things that you can do to help yourself make better choices:

  • You do not have to be a kid to order a kid’s meal. These portions are often much more reasonable and realistic.
  • Substitute fruit or baked potato for French fries. If you do not see it on the menu, ask.
  • Order a salad, but instead of covering it in dressing, first dip your fork in the dressing and then put your fork in your salad. You will be amazed how much less dressing you use.
  • grilled chicken salad with veggies and light dressing on the side - a healthy choice
  • Ask for whole wheat bread/bun; many places are now offering these.
  • Hold the mayo! These calories and fat grams can really add up.
  • Ask for a cup for water instead of soda. You will drink less calories and it is free of charge!
  • Before ordering, ask the cashier for the nutritional facts or look them up at home on the Internet before you leave. Take your time and/or make your decisions before you arrive at the restaurant so it's less likely that you will be enticed by attractive advertisements.
  • Order fries without salt. This will help decrease your sodium intake.
  • Try a grilled chicken sandwich instead of a fried one.
  • Always order with lettuce, tomato and onion. You have to get your veggies somehow!

Additional nutrition and health information can be found on the MissouriFamilies website.

Contributors: Mallory Bratton, KU Med Dietetic Intern & Denise Schmitz, M.A., R.D., Nutrition & Health Education Specialist, University of Missouri Extension, 816-482-5854,

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Myth: There's no way to eat healthy when traveling by airplane.

Answer: BUSTED!

Rejoice! A survey of 15 major airports indicates that healthier food choices abound. Here are some options to look for when flying:

►Vegetarian options – such as stir-fry dishes that have lots of vegetables. Vegetarian dishes are usually low in fat and high in fiber.

►Fruit and vegetable choices that fill you up – such as snack boxes that include hummus and pita bread or carrots and other veggies. Fruit or green lettuce salads are also good options (have dressing on the side).

►Snacks on-the-go – such as nuts (small portion and unsalted) or a small package of pretzels. Add a piece of fresh fruit and water to drink. Eating fresh fruit is more satisfying than drinking fruit juice and fills you up during those flight layovers. Or snack on a container of low-fat yogurt (the extra protein in Greek-style yogurt may keep you satisfied longer).

►Sandwiches – choose lean meat or poultry on whole wheat bread. Ask for EXTRA lettuce greens and tomatoes. Choose low-fat condiments like mustard.

Plan ahead if you will be eating at the airport. Go online and find out what restaurants are at the airport(s) you will be traveling through. Many of these restaurants may have websites with menus and/or nutrition information.

Want to bring your own healthy food choices to the airport?

►For fruit lovers, unpeeled fruit is OK when going through security. But if you’ve partially eaten the fruit, it must be wrapped.

►Water – there is still a ban on liquids going through security so you will have to buy water after the security checkpoint.

Remember, all food is screened so be forewarned. Not sure if your food will get through security? You can go to the Transportation Security Administration website for more information or to download “My TSA” mobile apps.

For more tips about making healthy food choices, visit the MissouriFamilies website.

Contributor: Ellen Schuster, M.S., R.D., Associate State Specialist, University of Missouri Extension,, 573-882-1933

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Myth: All food donations are the same.

Answer: BUSTED!

Food pantries appreciate donations this time or any time of the year. Many people receiving donated food have health problems like diabetes and high blood pressure. When making donations, you can donate non-perishable foods that are healthy choices such as:

canned tuna
►Protein foods – there are many options for you to donate but items like canned tuna or salmon in water are often requested by food pantries because they are healthy, low-fat choices. Other choices: canned beans, nuts (unsalted) or peanut butter.

►Whole grains – foods such as whole grain pasta, brown rice or whole wheat couscous are some examples to choose from. Whole grain options for breakfast cereals are oatmeal, oat cereal or shredded wheat squares. Whole grain crackers, especially reduced fat, is another choice. Low-fat graham crackers or animal cookies are also a good choice for a donation.

dried fruit mix
►Fruits and vegetables – Canned fruit in fruit juice or a mixture of fruit juice and water are better choices than canned fruit in heavy syrup. Avoid donating fruit drinks or fruit beverages – opt for 100% fruit juices or applesauce instead. Dried fruit like raisins is another good nonperishable choice to donate. For vegetables, donate 100% vegetable juice, diced or stewed tomatoes, or pasta sauce. Look for “lite” or “low sodium” on the label. Salsa is another vegetable option to consider donating.
canned vegetables and beans

►Other foods you might consider donating: low-sodium soups, canned chili, fat-free pudding mixes, spices.

Remember to check the sell-by or use-by dates before donating food.

Another alternative that food pantries appreciate is a donation of cash. They use this money to buy healthy foods not available for distribution.

Looking for more tips for donating food? See Give a gift of food on the MissouriFamilies website.

Contributor: Ellen Schuster, M.S., R.D., Associate State Specialist, University of Missouri Extension,, 573-882-1933

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Myth: Fruit-flavored apples seem like a good way to get my child to eat more fruits.

Answer: BUSTED!

Have you seen these new apples? Yes, you can now buy apples infused with flavors such as bubble gum and grape. Something new to entice children to eat more apples, perhaps. But at about $0.80 to $1.50 per apple you might want to reconsider.

Children tend to like fruits because they are sweet. There are many varieties of apples and some are sweeter than others, so have your children try the different varieties to see if there is one they prefer. But don't get stuck on serving just apples if your children don't like them. There are many other fruits available – pears, oranges, berries, melons. There are also different forms of fruits for your children to eat – fresh, frozen, canned, dried.

If your children don’t like fruits but they eat vegetables with no fuss consider yourself lucky! Fruits and vegetables provide the same vitamins and minerals – they are low in fat and calories and good sources of a variety of nutrients, such as vitamin C and folic acid for good health. Getting your children to enjoy fruits for their natural sweetness as part of a healthy diet may help them ward off heart disease, some cancers, obesity and type 2 diabetes. Here are some tips to entice your kids to eat more fruits:

  • Let your kids be “produce pickers.” Let them help pick fruits at the store. The more they are involved in choosing them, the more likely they are to eat them at home.
  • Let your children help prepare fruits at home. Same principle as above…if they help prepare them, they are more likely to eat fruits at home.
  • Visit your local farmers market with your children. This family activity can help expose them to new fruits. Also look for "you pick it" farms/orchards in your area. In both of these environments, your children can learn about where their food comes from and have fun picking at the same time.
  • Make fresh fruits easily available. Leave apples, pears and oranges out on the counter for quick snacks.
  • Want to get your kids to go ga-ga over fruits? Prepare a fruit dip. Low-fat vanilla yogurt works great.
  • Make a fruit kebob! It’s a great way to hike up the fun quotient. Assemble fruit chunks like apples, pears, oranges and bananas on a skewer. (Little ones may need help doing this.)
  • Make food fun and creative. Your children can make fruit pizzas – spread a whole wheat tortilla with low-fat cream cheese or peanut butter, top with sliced fruit and cut into individual servings. Or spread low-fat cream cheese or peanut butter on whole wheat bread and use raisins, apples and other fruits to make funny faces.
  • Want to have your children choose fruits? They learn from watching you – eat fruits and your kids will too.
Funny face made out of fruit - make fruit fun to entice kids to eat it

Refer to Getting kids to eat fruits and vegetables on the MissouriFamilies website for more ideas.

Contributor: Ellen Schuster, M.S., R.D., Associate State Specialist, University of Missouri Extension,, 573-882-1933

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Myth: Libraries are the only place to find healthy recipes.

recipe card
Answer: BUSTED!

If you have access to the Web, you can find some good sources for healthy and low-cost recipes.

  • The SNAP-Ed Connection Recipe Finder can help you find healthy and low-cost recipes. You can search by ingredient or recipe name. There is also a Spanish language version available on the site. Many recipes have ratings from 1 to 5. When you search for an ingredient or recipe name the results are listed in order, with recipes rated as 5 listed first. Recipe comments for some entries can help you pick a recipe. A Nutrition Facts label is displayed for recipes so you can see information such as calories per serving, sodium content and other nutrition information. You have 3 options for printing: 8½" x 11", 8½" x 11" large font, or 3" x 5" recipe card. Estimated cost information for the recipe as well as cost/serving is provided. Recipes in this database support healthy food choice guidelines from the federal government.
  • Quick & Healthy Recipes are available on eXtension’s Families, Food and Fitness website. Pictures of the recipes featured on this site will make your mouth water! A Nutrition Facts label is displayed for these recipes. You can print the recipe as full page, as 3" x 5" or as 4" x 6". The top-rated recipes appear on the home page.
  • Healthy Recipes from Oregon State University Extension has several unique categories for recipes including pictorial recipes and kid-friendly. There is also a Spanish language version available on the site. A Nutrition Facts label is displayed for these recipes. You will find recipes for some unique food ingredients like TVP (textured vegetable protein – a soy alternative) if you search by food group.
  • At Spend Smart Eat Smart you can view comments left by others who have tried the recipes. A Nutrition Facts label is displayed for these recipes and there is also a Spanish language version of recipes available.
  • You can find Healthy Habits recipes on the MissouriFamilies website. Nutrition content information is provided.

Contributor: Ellen Schuster, M.S., R.D., Associate State Specialist, University of Missouri Extension,, 573-882-1933

Friday, December 9, 2011

Myth: Breakfast cereals are a good choice for children.

Answer: Well, maybe.

A healthy breakfast is key to your child’s school performance. But a new report by the Environmental Working Group found that some breakfast cereals have about the same amount of sugar found in sweet treats like cake or cookies – 3 to 5 teaspoons of sugar. And if your child’s portion size is more than one cup then even more sugar is finding its way into your child’s diet.

bowl of cereal and cereal box with Nutrition Facts label
How do you know how much sugar is in the cereal you buy for you and your family? Look at the Nutrition Facts label found on the back or side of the food label – under “Total Carbohydrate” you will find “Sugars” listed. To figure out how many teaspoons of sugar are in the cereal, divide the grams of sugar by four. You can also look at the ingredient list to see if sugar or other names for sugar, like brown sugar, fruit juice concentrate, honey, corn sweetener, high fructose corn syrup and corn syrup, are listed several times on the label – a clear indication the cereal has too much sugar.

You want to look for a cereal that has at least 3 grams of fiber listed on the Nutrition Facts label. Some lower-sugar cereal choices are shredded wheat, O’s oat cereals and bran flakes.

Additional tips for a healthier breakfast:
  • Don't allow your child to add sugar or have your child add less sugar to the cereal. As a parent, you can be a good role model by not adding sugar to your breakfast cereal.
  • Use fresh fruit as a topping for cereal instead of sugar.
  • Wean your child off high sugar cereals by mixing half and half – half high-sugar cereal and half low-sugar cereal – until your child is OK with all low-sugar cereal.
  • If your child is old enough to read the Nutrition Facts label, have him/her be a sugar detective when you go shopping with the goal of finding a low-sugar cereal. Remember, if the label says there is 4 grams of sugar that means there is 1 teaspoon in a serving, 6 grams means there is 1½ teaspoons in a serving.
  • Look up, look down – sugary cereals are more likely to be at eye level.

Remember too that sugar is often added to other foods that you might not be aware of like ketchup, yogurt, baked beans, sauces and salad dressing. So when you are looking at food labels, you might start looking at other foods to see how many teaspoons of sugar are in the everyday foods and condiments that you consume.

Visit the MissouriFamilies website for more information about nutrition and health.

Contributor: Ellen Schuster, M.S., R.D., Associate State Specialist, University of Missouri Extension,, 573-882-1933

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Myth: Food gifts are all so expensive!

Answer: You’re right and many are unhealthy too.

Here are some easy, low-cost and healthy food gifts to give this holiday season:
  • Trail mix doesn't require a recipe - you can choose ingredients that you or your recipient would enjoy and make your own mix. Try dried cherries, cranberries or apricots mixed with nuts, whole wheat cereal or whole wheat pretzels. Mix it all together and put it into a lovely container. Attach a tag with the mix recipe so your recipient can make it again.
  • Roasted chickpeas are a good alternative to nuts if your recipient is allergic. To roast chickpeas (also called garbanzo beans): Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Drain and blot chickpeas so they are dry. In a bowl, toss with 1 to 2 tablespoons of oil and seasoning (examples are garlic powder, curry powder, cumin, coriander, cinnamon). Make sure they are well coated. Spread on a baking sheet. Bake for 30-45 minutes. Open oven and shake chickpeas every 10 minutes or so to avoid burning.
  • Popcorn kernels and some spices or herbs from the bulk food section of the grocery store - put these in a holiday container or wide mouth jar and you have an easy gift. The recipient of your healthy popcorn gift can use these seasonings instead of salt. Some examples? Curry, garlic powder, black pepper or chipotle pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves.
  • Tea bags or tea leaves in a decorated container or mug make a nice seasonal gift especially in the winter.
  • Ingredients for pumpkin butter in a container or decorated jar – 1/4 cup packed brown sugar, 2 tablespoons sugar, 3/4 teaspoon each of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. Pack these ingredients with a 15-ounce can of 100% pumpkin puree and this recipe: Combine all ingredients except pumpkin and 1/4 cup water in microwaveable quart bowl. Mix. Microwave on high for 3 minutes. Mix in pumpkin puree and stir well. Microwave on high for 5 minutes. This keeps in the refrigerator for several weeks.
  • A good bottle of balsamic vinegar is a great gift if you have a little more to spend (about $12-$20). Balsamic vinegar is a low calorie way to add flavor to salads. You can also drizzle it on fresh fruits for a new flavor. Balsamic vinegar comes in fruit-infused flavors like cherry, raspberry, fig and others.

Visit the MissouriFamilies website for more information about nutrition and health.

Contributor: Ellen Schuster, M.S., R.D., Associate State Specialist, University of Missouri Extension,, 573-882-1933