Thursday, October 31, 2013

Myth: It’s so hard to decide which health app I should use.

woman using smartphone
Answer: You’re right!

There are thousands of mobile apps available to help you change or support your health and eating habits. The proliferation of these apps in a few short years makes deciding which one to download and use challenging. If apps are free, cost is not a concern. But you do want to avoid overloading your smartphone with too many apps or else you may not use any of them.

MU Extension has put together a one-page handout to help you ask the right questions before you download a nutrition or health app.

  • What is the SOURCE of the app? See if you can determine who developed the app and their background, credibility.

  • Does the app MEET your needs? Is the database large enough to reflect the kind of foods you usually eat? If you eat out a lot, then you want a database that has nutrition information for the places you go. If the app includes recipes, are they healthy (prepared with minimal fat and sugar? Are the recipes ones that you would likely prepare at home or have the necessary equipment to make at home?

  • What ACTIONS will you take? Make sure the app you choose is one that provides information in a format that is easy to understand and use so that you can change your health and eating habits.

  • What do the REVIEWS say? What do reputable nutritionists/dietitians or other health professionals say about the app? You can Google the app name to find online reviews. The American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has a website with app reviews at

  • Do you have the TIME? Is the app easy enough to use that you will use it regularly?

For MU Extension’s SMART Start to Finding Nutrition and Health Apps one-page handout (downloadable for free from the web) go to

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

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Myth: It’s too hard to make something quick and easy to eat on my way to work.

Answer: BUSTED!

Put down the convenience store sandwich or hand-held breakfast food and make it at home. You’re not alone if you buy your early morning on-the-go food on your way to work. These quick-to-eat and portable foods are popular with those seeking early morning dashboard dining. And the flavors in these products are decidedly making use of more ethnic flavors than in the past.

There are at-home alternatives to frozen or heat-and-go stuffed sandwiches that are more nutritious. Why make them at home? You control the ingredients meaning you can keep the calories, fat and sodium low. And you control the flavors. You can use a particular sauce, spice or herb to liven up your early morning feast.

wraps made with whole wheat tortillas
Here are some ideas to make your grab-and-go breakfast a hit with your taste buds while also boosting nutrition:

  • Make a whole wheat pita pocket the ‘delivery vehicle’ for your filling. Whole wheat adds fiber and other nutrients and it will fill you up. Whole wheat tortillas are another option.

  • Choose your protein. It can be lean, cooked, grilled chicken strips, low-fat shredded cheese, garbanzo beans, nuts or seeds.

  • Add the crunch with foods like diced apples, shredded cabbage or peppers.

  • Now comes the flavor and your creativity. Vegetables such as roasted tomatoes add a smoky flavor. You can mix ethnic sauces with the filling ingredients to keep your taste buds interested: sweet orange sauce, teriyaki sauce or hoisin sauce. Some of these sauces may be high in sodium, so keep the amounts low. You can use herbs and spices such as black pepper or curry instead of these sauces for flavor without the calories or sodium.

So start making your at-home versions of hand-held breakfast foods – you’ll save some money while you’re at it!

For more information about healthy eating, visit

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

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Myth: It’s impossible to eat healthy around Halloween.

Candy corns
Answer: BUSTED!

YES, YOU CAN survive Halloween. This time of year is often a challenge for those who try to make healthy choices but feel they are surrounded by an environment that has candy available almost everywhere. At the supermarket you can find large displays or even entire aisles dedicated to Halloween candy.

Think you can escape when you’re at work? Probably not. This becomes even harder after Halloween when leftover candy from trick or treating is toted into offices and workplaces.

Here are some tips for your Halloween survival kit:

  • Be prepared for this time of year. Bring healthy and filling snacks to work such as fruits, veggies, nuts, popcorn, hummus and whole wheat crackers or low-fat yogurt. You will be less tempted to fill up on candy if you have an alternative handy. Eating breakfast or something before you head to work will also fill you up and help you walk right on by those office temptations.

  • Ask officemates if they can place the treats in an out-of-the-way place. Why? Studies have shown that if food is in plain sight it is more likely to be eaten, which is a great idea for when parents want their kids to eat more fruits. It’s not helpful when candy is left out and you pass by it every time you walk through the office.

  • OK, indulge but use portion control. Try this mindful eating approach. This will take a few minutes. Open your favorite small snack-size candy. Notice the color and texture. Smell the aroma of the candy. The purpose of this activity is to pay attention to the entire experience of eating. This is part of eating mindfully. Then, start taking small bites. Try to take as many small bites as possible. Each time you bite and chew, think about what it feels like and what it tastes like. Enjoy the experience! Being mindful when eating helps us to slow down our eating. We can then experience the many aspects of eating. For more information about mindful eating, go to

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

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Myth: I have all this canned pumpkin puree but I can only use it for baking.

Soup/chili with pumpkin, tomatoes and beans
Answer: BUSTED!

Think pumpkin puree is only for baking? Think again! Pumpkin puree is a versatile product. It’s generally a favorite fall ingredient, when pumpkins are most available. For steps to prepare and freeze your own pumpkin puree, see Many uses for pumpkin.

If you opt for canned pumpkin puree remember that it can be used in so many ways throughout the year when fresh pumpkins aren’t available.

Why find ways to use pumpkin puree? It is low in calories – about 40 calories in ½ cup and it is a good source of fiber and other vitamins and minerals like vitamin A and potassium. Most Americans don’t get enough potassium in our diets but we should because it is important for healthy blood pressure.

Here are some easy – and perhaps surprising ways – to add pumpkin puree to your favorite foods.
  1. Search the web and you’ll find lots of recipes using canned pumpkin puree. The ingredients are simple: canned pumpkin puree, broth, milk, and spices like pumpkin pie spice or cinnamon and nutmeg. Substitute curry powder for the spices for a different flavored soup.
  2. Add canned pumpkin puree to chili to add more flavor, fiber and thickness.
  3. Making a quesadilla or pita pocket filled with veggies? Spreading pumpkin puree on it adds new flavor combinations with the veggies and other ingredients.
  4. Pump up your sweet potato mashed potatoes with pumpkin puree. It will give you a new twist on an old favorite for holiday dinners.
  5. Mix pumpkin puree with cream cheese and add pumpkin pie spice or other spices for a homemade spread.
  6. Add pumpkin puree to yogurt, smoothies or oatmeal along with some spices like cinnamon to make it hearty and sweet.

Can you think of other ways you can add pumpkin puree to your favorite dishes?

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

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Myth: It’s OK for my child’s teacher to use candy as a reward in the classroom.

Answer: BUSTED!

Boy reaching for candy
It’s likely your child has been rewarded in the classroom with candy. A recent study from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that 65-70% of classrooms had no restrictions on the use of candy as a reward. Should you, as a parent, be concerned about your child possibly being rewarded with candy in school?

Well, yes. There’s the obvious concerns: candy is not nutritious, and giving candy runs counter to other nutritious food offered at school. But there are other issues to think about as well. Have you ever eaten something just because its being offered, despite the fact that you weren’t really hungry? Giving candy rewards reinforces the idea that eating isn’t a result of how hungry you feel but whether or not food is available. Setting up this relationship doesn’t help children listen to their hunger cues when food is available. This was something I struggled with for a very long time. I now eat when I’m hungry, not when food is available or when the clock says it’s mealtime.

In fact, some health organizations (American Academy of Family Physicians, American Academy of Pediatrics) agree that using food as reward is something they don’t support. Read more at

There are many no cost or low cost rewards that schools can use. You can find ideas at

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