UC Food Blog
When I was in elementary school, an upcoming field trip meant we were selling candy bars. Around the holidays, it was not uncommon to have your pick from five dozen cupcakes at the school party. Now that I am in nutrition education, my eyes grow wide when I think back to all of the high-sugar, high-fat foods we brought into the classroom.
With that in mind, I take a lot of pride in the fact that the UC Calfresh Nutrition Education Program in Fresno County is creating healthier school environments.
A healthy school environment includes:
- Nutrition education for students and their parents
- Physical activity
- Healthy lunches
- School wellness policies that support healthy fundraisers and celebrations
- An environment that promotes the benefits of healthy choices
The list can go on and on!
In addition to supporting all of the above, UC CalFresh has been working with school administrators, teachers and food service staff to "brand" the cafeteria and classrooms as healthy spaces. This is accomplished through distributing nutrition corners.
Nutrition corners are essentially the materials to create nutrition bulletin boards in school cafeterias. They are updated regularly with nutrition and physical activity information for students, teachers and parents. Information on seasonal produce, recipes, student work and MyPlate decorate the corners.
Nutrition corners are also posted in classrooms, school libraries, teacher lounges and common areas.
Here are a few of the most recently added corners:
Did I mention students love reading nutrition corners?
A healthy environment that supports nutrition and physical activity is key to the health of the families in the Central Valley. For more information on the way we are creating healthier school environments, visit the UC CalFresh Fresno County blog.
Some are surprised to learn that as recently as 1950, Los Angeles County was the No. 1 agricultural county in the United States, its farms producing an abundance of fruit, vegetables, eggs, milk, honey and much more. Today, Los Angeles residents tend to think of our county of 10 million residents in strictly urban terms, but the most current available statistics from the USDA Census of Agriculture (2007) showed 1,734 farms in L.A. County. Though ornamental plants are now our biggest crop, more than $31 million in vegetable crops came from Los Angeles County farms in 2011, according to the county’s most recent Crop and Livestock Report. The bulk of the vegetables we produce are root crops, which include onions, carrots and potatoes. Most commercial farming takes place in the high desert around Lancaster and Palmdale, and is seldom seen by most of the county’s population. A sprinkling of small urban farms is also cropping up around the county, as documented by UCLA urban planning students in their recent Cultivate Los Angeles study.
But the amount of food produced in Los Angeles County is just a tiny portion of what’s grown in our regional foodshed, defined as a 10-county region within a 200-mile radius of Los Angeles’ urban core. Our foodshed has some of the most productive farmland in the state, encompassing some 23,000 farms. Strawberries and lemons from Ventura County, lettuce and broccoli from Imperial, and milk and almonds from Kern are some of the highest-value farm products in California.
Yet much of what is produced is shipped to far away markets, and does not reach the plates of area residents. Lack of affordable fresh produce is a fact of life in many Los Angeles County neighborhoods, despite their proximity to agricultural bounty.
Looking at the overall foodshed helped the Council to conceptualize a key initiative, the Good Food Purchasing Program, which encourages institutions to buy from small- and medium-sized regional farms, along with meeting other purchasing goals that make healthy food accessible. The City of Los Angeles and LAUSD (Los Angeles Unified School District) were the first two entities to sign on. The impact of LAUSD’s efforts in purchasing regional food were recently profiled in a Los Angeles Times article that highlighted how new local jobs have been created thanks to LAUSD’s buying power. This is one example of how thinking about food regionally, and working collaboratively across sectors, can help create a stronger food system. As the director of LAUSD’s Food Services said, "It's fresher food from farmers we know," when regional food is on the menu. And, it’s good for the local economy, too.
I am a terrible cook. My brother is an excellent cook. One year he told me his turkey was thawing in the bathtub because it was too big for the refrigerator and my enthusiasm for dining at his house began to cool.
“The prevention plan for food safety begins with planning the feast, knowing when a frozen turkey needs to start defrosting in the refrigerator so there is ample time to thaw,” says Connie Schneider, director of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources Youth, Families and Communities Statewide Program. “What size turkey will you defrost? Is there enough space to thaw the turkey safely?”
To avoid making diners sick, the traditional fowl should be thawed at temperatures below 40 degrees F. The "Danger Zone," temperatures where foodborne bacteria multiply rapidly, is between 40 and 140 degrees F.
“People thaw on the counter, they put their turkeys in the garage to thaw out,” says Schneider, in a “can you believe there are such fools?” tone that warns me that I should not admit to doing this. “They also place dinner leftovers, especially the big turkey, in the garage because of lack of refrigerator space.”
The registered dietitian advises, “When using refrigerator thawing, place the turkey in its original wrapping placed in a pan, which prevents dripping as turkey defrosts.”
A whole turkey weighing 4 to 12 pounds takes 1 to 3 days to thaw in a refrigerator. Heavier turkeys take longer. A thawed turkey can remain in the refrigerator for 1 or 2 days before cooking.
If your turkey weighs more than 12 pounds and today is Tuesday and you haven’t begun thawing it, you may have to resort to Plan B for thawing the bird or ordering Chinese food on Thursday.
According to the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service website, there are three safe ways to thaw food: in the refrigerator, in cold water and in the microwave oven. Procrastinators will be thawing their birds in cold water or in the microwave. For details on quicker thawing, see the USDA website: http://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-education/get-answers/food-safety-fact-sheets/poultry-preparation/turkey-basics-safe-thawing/ct_index.
Schneider also reminds us to prevent cross-contamination of foods. For example, don’t wash or rinse the turkey before cooking because the rinse water may splash bacteria around the sink, which can then come into contact with other foods and utensils. Another way to prevent cross-contamination is prepping the stuffing ingredients before you handle the raw turkey. Keep the raw turkey and their juices away from other foods. After you prep your raw turkey, wash the cutting board, knife, sink and counter tops with hot, soapy water. Sanitize cutting boards with a solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach in 1 gallon of water. Wash your hands with soap and warm water frequently and always after handing raw foods. And for crying out loud (to invoke a phrase my late father used), don’t wipe your dirty hands on a towel that will be used to dry clean dishes later!
Planning is also needed for storing leftover food after the meal, cautions Schneider. “Everyone loves leftovers, but make sure you have adequate refrigeration space.”
She recommends wrapping leftovers in airtight packaging or sealing in storage containers. This helps keep out bacteria while keeping your food moist and preventing your prized family dishes from picking up odors from other foods being stored in the fridge. For faster cooling, break up large amounts of food into smaller containers.
“Toss out any food that has been left out for more than 2 hours at room temperature!” Schneider admonishes. “Don’t allow your turkey to sit out, slice up the leftovers and refrigerate or freeze them right after your meal!”
Delicious leftovers that have been stored in the refrigerator can be enjoyed for 3 to 4 days. If you freeze them, you can eat them 3 or 4 months from now.
This Thanksgiving, I will be thanking God for allowing my family and me to survive our lackadaisical food handling on previous holidays. Happy Thanksgiving to you and your loved ones!
For more information on food safety, visit http://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-education/get-answers/food-safety-fact-sheets/safe-food-handling/keep-food-safe-food-safety-basics/ct_index.
At Snowden Elementary in Farmersville, Mrs. Joy Smith fully utilizes this amazing squash. She incorporates the pumpkin and its many seeds to teach students about math. These skills are reinforced using tactile and spatial relations. Two excellent educators partner to demonstrate how the seeds can be added, multiplied and placed in arrays. Nutrition educator Grilda Gomez partners with Mrs. Smith to provide nutritional data related to eating the “meat” of the pumpkin as well as its seeds. For Smith and Gomez, pumpkins are not just great for pie but also for pi. Upon completion of math activities, the students continue celebrating the wonders of pumpkins by carving jack-o-lanterns with their high school buddies. While many of the students have eaten pumpkin pie, few have ventured beyond sugary variations of the fruit. On this day the students also get to enjoy a tasty treat prepared by Gomez, pumpkin spread served on whole wheat toast slices.
“Tastes like my ‘buela’s empanadas,” remarks a student.
Yes, similar to the mixture in empanadas, this recipe allows the students to enjoy the full flavor of pumpkin with very little added sugar. Pumpkins provide a terrific supply of Vitamins A and C. They are not just for dessert either. Pumpkins are a wonderful addition to creamy vegetable soups. Winter is approaching, but it’s not too late to pick this versatile squash.
- 16 oz. can pumpkin
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
- 1-2 tablespoons lemon juice
Mix in an pan and heat on the stove until it bubbles. Let cool slightly. Ready to eat warm or cold. Store in refrigerator up to 4 days. Use on toast or bread, tortillas, waffles and pancakes.
UC nutrition educator Grilda Gomez, back row far right, poses with the students and their jack-o-lanterns.
“I was impressed with the fact that sorghum was so drought tolerant,” Dahlberg said. “They used no irrigation at all.”
More than 30 years later, Dahlberg, the director of the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Parlier, is still impressed with sorghum and believes it has potential to be a significant crop in California, where water is a serious concern.
Sorghum isn’t a new crop to the Golden State. It was introduced more than 150 years ago. In the 1960s, a half-million acres were planted to sorghum, mainly for animal feed.
“Now, if there were 20,000 acres in sorghum I would be surprised,” Dahlberg said. Alfalfa hay and corn silage are currently the two most common forages at California dairies, which maintain nearly 2 million cows.
Dahlberg initiated a five-year research project in 2012 with funding from UC Agriculture and Natural Resources aimed at reintroducing sorghum as a low-input crop for bioenergy, food and feed in California.
A unique characteristic of sorghum is its adaptability. In many parts of the world, from Africa to India to China, sorghum grain is used to make porridge, flat bread and alcoholic beverages for people to enjoy. In the United States, sorghum has traditionally been considered an animal feed. But growing interest in eating whole grains and gluten-free foods is generating interest in sorghum for human consumption.
Sorghum grain can be milled like wheat. Sorghum flour, which is naturally gluten-free, makes excellent flat breads, cookies, pancakes and waffles, Dahlberg said. By combining with other ingredients that help it maintain loft in the absence of gluten, sorghum can also be baked into traditional fluffy bread and cake.
Whole sorghum grain may be added to soups, makes a dish similar to couscous, and can be popped like popcorn for snacking. The stems of sweet sorghum can be pressed, like sugarcane, to produce sorghum molasses or syrup.
According to the Whole Grains Council, sorghum doesn’t have the inedible hull that surrounds other grains. Since it is typically eaten with all its layers intact, sorghum retains the majority of its nutrients. In addition, the wax surrounding the sorghum grain contains compounds called policosanols, which may have an impact on cardiac health.
“We’re trying to understand whether or not the hybrids developed for the U.S. Sorghum Belt – Texas, Oklahoma, western Nebraska and South Dakota – are adapted to California conditions,” Dahlberg said. “So far, they are doing very well.”
The forage research will determine how to manage sorghum to maximize yield and reduce water and nitrogen use. Early results show that farmers can save a significant amount of water growing sorghum for dairy silage when compared with corn.
“We use less than 20 inches of irrigation water on our sorghum plots and getting 22 to 25 wet tons of material off a single crop. A corn crop will need 36 inches of water or more,” Dahlberg said.
The crop’s fertilizer needs are also quite low. In fact, too much fertilizer can cause the sorghum stalks to fall down, or lodge, which hinders harvest.
"When California farmers think about growing sorghum for gluten-free food, biofuel or animal feed, they will be able to access information generated by local research to help them make the decision," Dahlberg said.