Simply Nutritious, Quick and Delicious Jenna Smith, Extension Educator brings you helpful tips to make meals easy, healthy and tasty! Sun, 15 May 2005 13:02:08 -0500 Lent and Lentils Fri, 16 Mar 2018 11:19:00 +0000 This week's blog post is written by Illinois State University graduate student and dietetic intern, Michael O'halloran.

For those that abstain from eating meat on Fridays during the Lenten season, it can sometimes be difficult to come up with meatless meals. Even with a fish dinner, consuming enough protein can be a challenge. Fortunately, lentils can help fill the protein gap during Lent.

Lentils are a legume, which means it belongs to the same food family tree as beans. People have been consuming lentils even before Biblical times. No doubt, lentils' popularity throughout human history stems from its nutrient content and versatility. Lentils are one of the richest sources of plant-based protein grown naturally, and they contain a wide variety of vitamins and minerals. Lentils are also a good source of soluble fiber, which can decrease your blood cholesterol and promote heart health.

Purchase lentils at your local grocery store either in dry or canned form. Recognize that canned lentils generally contain added sodium. To decrease sodium, the best option is to buy dried lentils. The second option is to rinse canned lentils with water, which may wash away approximately 30-40% of the sodium. Prepare lentils by adding them to boiling water, and simmer for 20-30 minutes. Unlike dried beans, lentils do not need to be soaked first, saving you time and energy. Add lentils to soups to impart a grain-like texture, or pair them with meat, fish, and salad entrees. In Indian cooking, lentils are typically eating with a flatbread or rice. Try making lentil soup or a lentil veggie burger for Lent this year!

Spiced Tomato Lentil Mix

¾ cup of canned lentils, drained and rinsed

1 (10 oz.) can of no salt added diced tomatoes with green chilies, drained

1 Tablespoon chopped green onion

¼ teaspoon ground cumin

¼ teaspoon ground ginger

⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 Tablespoon reduced-fat sour cream

2 Tablespoons sliced almonds

Optional: Naan bread or pita to scoop lentil mixture

Place lentils, drained diced tomatoes, green onions, and seasonings in a microwave-safe dish; stir. Cover the dish and cook on high for 2 minutes, pausing halfway through to stir the lentil mixture. Let the mixture rest for 1 minute. Remove from microwave. Top with sour cream and sliced almonds. Serve warm.

Yield: 2 servings

Nutrition Facts (per serving): 170 calories, 4 grams fat, 55 milligrams sodium, 23 grams carbohydrate, 9 gram fiber, 11 grams protein

Stuff That Pita Fri, 09 Mar 2018 13:17:00 +0000 Pita bread is a type of flatbread that is a staple in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine. Thankfully, it's a bread that we can now typically find at most U.S. grocery stores, helping to expand our palate and broaden our horizons.

Pita bread is not much different from many flatbreads, including pizza crust, tortillas, naan or matzah. However, pita bread is unique in that it has its own little pocket, which forms when baked. The round dough is baked at very high temperatures (450°F) causing the steam to puff up the interior. When the bread is cooled, the layers remain separated. This makes a fun pocket to get creative with, and stuff with all kinds of different foods.

Pita bread is traditionally used to wrap gyros, falafel, kofta or kebabs. It can also be stuffed with salad greens, grilled veggies or beans, egg or meat salads. Buy pocket-less pita bread and use as a pizza crust, or cut into small pieces to make pita chips. Pita bread is best served warm, which can be achieved in the oven, toaster oven or lightly brushed with oil and placed on the grill. Pita bread is low in fat and can be a good source of fiber. Choose pita bread that is whole grain to gain the most nutrients. If you're tired of sandwich bread, opt for something different this week. Have fun exploring the many ways you can stuff a pita!

Beef Kofta Pita Sandwiches (Printable PDF)

1 lb. lean ground beef

2 garlic cloves, minced

¼ cup finely chopped onion

¼ cup chopped fresh parsley

½ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground allspice

¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

¼ teaspoon black pepper

8 whole wheat pita bread pockets

Tzatziki or tahini sauce, lettuce, tomato or red onion for topping

Preheat oven to 450°F. Place all ingredients in a large bowl and mix thoroughly with clean hands or a wooden spoon. Form into 15 patties. Place patties on an ungreased baking sheet and bake for 12-15 minutes or until internal temperature reads at least 155°F. Place 3 patties in each pita pocket and top with desired veggies and sauce.

Yield: 5 servings (1 pita and 3 kofta patties each)

Nutrition Facts (per serving): 370 calories, 6 grams fat, 650 milligrams sodium, 45 grams carbohydrates, 7 grams fiber, 37 grams protein

Food Waste in America Thu, 01 Mar 2018 15:05:00 +0000 This weeks blog post is written by Illinois State University's dietetic graduate student, Erin Fejes!

As a dietetic graduate student and future registered dietitian, I am concerned that so many Americans are food insecure. The Environmental Protection Agency states that 42 million Americans are currently food insecure, while the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) reported total food waste in the U.S. to be 161 billion dollars in 2010.

If we could donate food that is currently being wasted to these food insecure Americans, they would each receive roughly $70 of food per week. This is more than the USDA allots for a moderate-cost weekly food budget for an adult.

Reducing food waste saves money, reduces methane emissions from landfills, conserves energy and resources that go into planting, growing, harvesting, and transporting the food, and helps the community when extra food is donated to those in need. Reducing food waste starts at the grocery store; only buy as much food as you and your family will eat. Buying in bulk will only save money if the food can be eaten before it goes bad.

Other approaches to reducing food waste include learning proper storage of fresh fruits and vegetables, freezing foods that won't be eaten in a timely manner, using older food items before newer ones and repurposing leftovers into soups, casseroles, stir fries, and baked goods. As part of National Nutrition Month's theme this year Go Further with Food, make it a goal to reduce food waste (and save money!) all year long.


Leftover Fridge Soup (Printable PDF)

1 Tablespoon olive oil

1 cup chopped onion

2 potatoes, peeled and chopped

2 large carrots, peeled and sliced

4 cups broth, stock, or water

1 can (14.5 oz.) petite diced tomatoes

1 to 2 cups cooked meat (i.e. lean ground beef, ham, chicken, etc.)

1 cup cooked beans

½ cup chopped bell pepper

1 cup frozen peas or corn

1 teaspoon Italian seasoning

Salt and pepper to taste

In a large stockpot, heat the oil; add the onion and cook, stirring on medium-low for five minutes. Add the potatoes and carrots and stir. Continue cooking for another 5 minutes. Stir in the broth. Add the tomatoes, meat, beans, peppers, peas or corn, and seasonings. Stir well and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 20 to 30 minutes until the vegetables are tender.

**Note: As this soup is made with leftover vegetables, beans, and meat you can add or subtract ingredients as need be. Get creative and cook with what you have!

Yield: 8 servings

Nutrition Facts (per serving): 190 calories, 3.5 grams fat, 290 milligrams sodium, 24 grams carbohydrate, 5 grams fiber, 15 grams protein

Cauliflower Rice Craze Fri, 23 Feb 2018 10:00:00 +0000 It's always interesting to hear about the latest craze in the food industry. One that exploded in 2017, is cauliflower rice, and its popularity isn't slowing down. Cauliflower rice isn't truly rice at all. In fact, the label of "rice" is understandably upsetting for rice farmers. However, it has a solid concept: substitute rice for cauliflower rice to increase vegetable intake. With more and more consumers trying to decrease their intake of foods in the bread and pasta food group, vegetable "rice" is appealing.

Cauliflower is an excellent source of vitamin C and vitamin K. It's also rich in B vitamins, folate and dietary fiber. One cup of plain cauliflower rice is only 20 calories and 4 grams of carbohydrate. Comparatively, the same cup of actual rice has about 242 calories and 53 grams carbohydrate. This is not to say that you must completely forgo rice, particularly wild or brown rice, which offers the nutritional benefits of a whole grain. However, cauliflower rice is an excellent way to keep the calorie count low and the vegetable intake high.

Making cauliflower rice is easy as long as you have a food processor. After washing and patting it dry, cut it into chunks and pulse until it's broken down into rice-size pieces. A box grater can also do the work, but with a lot more time and effort. Luckily, the food industry has responded to its popularity and has introduced frozen cauliflower rice. The convenience is unbeatable! Use cauliflower rice in recipes that traditionally call for rice, such as stir-fries, casseroles or stuffed peppers.

Cauliflower Fried "Rice" (Printable PDF)

Nonstick cooking spray

1 large egg, slightly beaten

2 teaspoons olive oil

1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

1 medium head cauliflower, crumbled in food processor or 1 (12-oz.) package frozen cauliflower rice

2 garlic cloves, chopped

1 teaspoon grated ginger

½ cup frozen peas

2 Tablespoons reduced sodium soy sauce

Spray large skillet with nonstick cooking spray. Heat over medium heat. Add egg and scramble until cooked through. Remove from skillet and set aside. Heat olive and sesame oil in same skillet over medium heat. Add cauliflower rice, garlic, ginger and peas. Cook 5 minutes, stirring frequently, or until vegetables are tender. Stir in soy sauce and cooked egg. Cook for 1 minute or until heated through.

Yield: 4 servings

Nutrition Facts (per serving): 100 calories, 5 grams fat, 340 milligrams sodium, 8 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams fiber, 5 grams protein

Be a Super Speedy Shopper Fri, 16 Feb 2018 09:52:00 +0000 According to the website, Foodimentary™ February is "National Return Shopping Carts to the Supermarket" month. Laugh now, but you will be thankful when you have a flurry of carts to choose from, especially when they are lined up in the cart corral and not rolling down the parking lot with the wind. Grocery shopping can sometimes be an unpleasant experience, often one that creates moans and procrastination. Here's a few tips to make the task go smoother and faster.

1. Organize your grocery list. We all know we need to make a grocery list, but it will save you time to also organize it by food category. Put all the fresh produce together, all the frozen food together, dairy, meats, and so on. This helps you avoid the annoying realization that you forgot something six aisles back. And while we're at it, don't walk into the grocery store without knowing what meals you plan on fixing for the week. If you want to save the fruit and veggie picks for the store to see what's on sale and what's available, that's great, but have the main entrée planned.

2. Organize your coupons prior to landing foot in the store. If you use paper coupons, take out only the ones you think you will use, and put them in your pocket or an easily accessible side pocket of your purse. If you use electronic coupons, download them ahead of time and have your phone ready to pull them up when you need to refer to them or submit them to the cashier.

3. Shop by yourself. For parents of young children, grocery shopping alone is like your spa day. It's your time to not have to think about giving in to the cries of "I want this," but rather you are mentally fit to enjoy shopping and make your own decisions.

4. Shop with your partner. Ok, so you don't have to shop by yourself. Just don't shop with anyone younger than say eight. Split the grocery shopping and list into two: One of you starts at the front of the store, the other at the back, and you meet in the middle. This works perfectly if using a grocery list app that is synched to each partner's phone. It cuts the shopping time in half! (But be prepared to be ok with your partners wavering from the list…how did these donuts get in our pantry?)

Grocery shopping doesn't have to be terrible. Make it fun and make it speedy!

Check out University of Illinois Extension's Eat. Move. Save. website to help you make informed decisions when shopping, and discover delicious recipes like the one below!

Crispy Cheesy Chicken Sticks (Printable PDF)

1 large skinless, boneless chicken breast, cut into 6 strips

¼ cup low-sodium cheese crackers

2 Tablespoon dry bread crumbs

¼ cup nonfat milk

Preheat oven to 400°F. Grease baking sheet with non-stick cooking spray. Put crackers in a resealable gallon size bag. Tightly close the bag and crush crackers. Add breadcrumbs and shake to combine. Pour milk into a medium bowl. Place chicken in milk and turn to coat chicken completely. Place a piece of chicken in bag and shake to coat with cracker crumbs. Place coated chicken onto baking sheet. Repeat with remaining chicken pieces. Bake chicken for 15-20 minutes in oven until chicken is cooked throughout.

Yield: 3 servings (2 strips each)

Nutrition Facts (per serving): 100 calories, 3 grams fat, 90 milligrams sodium, 8 grams carbohydrate, 0 grams fiber, 10 grams protein

A Crepe for Your Valentine Thu, 08 Feb 2018 16:34:00 +0000 This Valentine's Day, show your loved one they're loved by making them an elegant treat. A crepe only takes a few minutes to prepare, but due to it's French heritage, it signifies a sort of "sophisticated romance" feel.

A crepe is essentially a very thin pancake. Made with flour, milk, oil, eggs, and salt, the batter is pureed in a blender, forming bubbles on top. It then needs a good rest so that the bubbles subside and the crepe doesn't tear apart when cooked. Most people get nervous when it comes time to flip the crepe. The trick is to let the non-stick skillet get nice and hot before pouring a small amount of batter in, and then immediately pick up the skillet and swirl the batter to cover the surface. When the crepe has browned slightly on the bottom, carefully work a spatula underneath it and flip! Don't worry if the first couple are disasters. Crepes take practice!

Crepes can be filled and topped with various toppings, both savory and sweet, which means that it can be eaten as a meal, snack or dessert. Treat your Valentine to this sweet strawberry crepe, and win over their heart.

Strawberry Crepes (Printable PDF)


3 large eggs

⅔ cup nonfat milk

2 Tablespoons canola oil

¼ teaspoon salt

⅓ cup whole wheat flour

Strawberry Filling

6 large strawberries, stemmed

1 cup low-fat vanilla Greek yogurt

Strawberry Topping

1 cup strawberries, stemmed and chopped

1 Tablespoon sugar

1 Tablespoon lemon juice

½ teaspoon lemon zest

Blend eggs, milk, oil, and salt together in blender. Slowly add flour and blend until smooth, about 30 seconds. Place in the refrigerator and let stand one hour. Heat a medium non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Spray skillet with cooking spray and pour ¼ cup batter into pan. Immediately tilt pan to coat entire bottom with thin layer of batter. Cook about 1 minute or until the edges are golden brown. Flip crepe and cook other side about 30 seconds. Transfer cooked crepe to a plate to cool. Repeat until all batter is used up.

In a small bowl, prepare filling by crushing strawberries with a potato masher or fork. Mix with yogurt; set aside. In a separate bowl, prepare topping by mixing all ingredients together; set aside. Spread each crepe with a thin layer of filling and roll up. Top with strawberry topping.

Yield: 6 servings

Nutrition Facts (per serving): 200 calories, 9 grams fat, 170 milligrams sodium, 23 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams fiber, 10 grams protein

Source: Utah State University Extension

Healthy Half-Time Fri, 02 Feb 2018 08:37:00 +0000 This week's post is written by Illinois State University Food, Nutrition and Dietetic student, Madison McClurg!

No matter who you are rooting for at this Sunday's Super bowl game, we all are rooting for the delicious food that comes with it!

Super Bowl Sunday does not usually come with the healthiest of options on the field, even though we need as much energy and nutrients we can get to cheer on our team. Be the coach of the kitchen this year by benching high-calorie snacks and playing the healthy ones. Popular items at the party are usually BBQ meatballs and hot wings ordered from the local wing restaurant. Why worry about both when you can combine the flavors and make just one? We all need to save money and time on this big day and, of course, you want to be the hit of the party. Besides we aren't ever quite sure what is in those premade/ precooked meatballs and wings. Therefore, make this recipe for Buffalo Chicken and Quinoa Meatballs, know all the ingredients, and feel better about the play. Essentially, we can combine both delicious snacks and save some of the energy for the game!

Chicken is a leaner meat than ground beef, and quinoa is another great source of protein. In fact, it's a complete protein! This means that it contains all the essential amino acids that our bodies need to function. These nine amino acids are not made by the body, so we need to get them through our diet.

Be mindful of those snacks you put on the field this Sunday! Easy switches can be made for a better score, including cutting up veggies with a side of hummus and benching those salty potato chips and dip. Even adding a bowl of fruit salad in the mix can be a game changer.

Be the best coach in the kitchen this Super Bowl Sunday!

Buffalo Chicken and Quinoa Meatballs (Printable PDF)

2 lbs. 95% lean ground chicken

3/4 cup cooked quinoa

⅓ cup carrot, minced

⅓ cup celery, minced

1 large egg, slightly beaten

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon onion powder

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon pepper

1 ½ cups favorite buffalo wing sauce

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Mix all ingredients together, except the sauce, until just combined. Roll into meatballs, about 1-inch in diameter. You should end up with around 32 meatballs. Place onto a baking sheet sprayed with cooking spray. Bake for 6-8 minutes until just browned. Pour ½ cup buffalo sauce into a slow cooker. Add the meatballs. Pour remaining buffalo sauce over the meatballs. Stir lightly to coat. Cover and cook on low for 4 hours or on high for 2 hours.

Yield: 32 meatballs, about 5 servings of 6 meatballs each

Nutrition Facts (per 6 meatballs): 250 calories, 9 grams fat, 538 milligrams sodium, 7 grams carbohydrate, 1 gram fiber, 32 grams protein