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Healthy Eats and Repeat

Highlighting Food, Recipes, and Ideas for a Healthy Lifestyle
tomatoes 1

Into a New Season, New Healthy Eats

Is your tomato crop crowding you out of house and home? After you are done canning tomato chunks, making salsa, and giving them away to your family, friends, co-workers, and strangers, get ready to talk more about tomatoes.

Just like June, September is a packed month to celebrate food: Fruits and Veggies - More Matters Month, Whole Grains Month, National Mushroom Month, and National Chicken Month. And yes, this month's recipe will celebrate all these months – plus tomatoes.

Like many of the foods mentioned throughout this blog, tomatoes are a versatile, nutritious, and budget-friendly vegetable (or fruit? – see DEBATE HIGHLIGHT below).

  • Tomatoes are often used in many dishes, from sauces to sandwiches, from dressings and soups, and nearly any recipe in between.
  • Eaten raw and cooked, the classic tomato adds a nice pop of red to recipes. But consider using other colored tomatoes for more variety, including yellow, orange, and green tomatoes, and even less common pink and white colored tomatoes.
  • Beyond color, tomatoes are grown in different shapes and sizes, from small oblong grape tomatoes to large round big boy varieties. Have you ever seen a pear tomato? And grown from old seeds, heirloom tomatoes take on all sizes, colors, and shapes imaginable.
  • Tomatoes are a great source of nutrition: full of vitamins and minerals, low in calories, and not a source of sodium or fat. Each 1/2 cup of tomatoes has 16 calories, 1g fiber, 4g carbohydrate, and contains vitamins A and C, folate, and potassium. That vitamin A – in the form of carotenoids – promotes eye and skin health.

Tomatoes are available year-round in stores, so you are probably familiar with picking out your own, but read on to learn more about getting the best quality:

  • Buy: Choose firm tomatoes or those that "give" slightly to the touch. Tomatoes should have a bright color without wrinkled or bruised skin. Avoid overly soft or ripe tomatoes, or those with decayed or broken skin.
  • Price: According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, fresh tomatoes are priced $2.50 per pound on average, including all sizes, and $0.77 per pound when canned. Since you can get 2 cups of fresh cut tomatoes per pound, serve 4 people a 1/2 cup serving of tomatoes for around $0.60 each.
  • Store: Store ripe tomatoes at room temperature and consume as soon as possible. Ripen tomatoes at room temperature for 2-3 days. Unripe tomatoes may be store in a paper bag to speed ripening, but check on tomatoes daily. Refrigerating tomatoes (ripe or unripe) can reduce taste and make the flesh mushy or mealy.
  • Prepare: Tomatoes can be consumed whole or cut into pieces. Follow the recipe you use for the desired size of cut tomatoes using a very sharp knife. Cutting tomatoes from the stem end downward can help retain more juice in each slice.

To peel tomatoes, cut a small X on the bottom with a paring knife. Drop into boiling water for about 30 seconds, or longer for firm tomatoes, and remove into a bowl of ice water until cool enough to handle. The skin will pull away easily if blanched long enough.

To seed tomatoes, cut tomato in half and spoon out the seeds. Or cut tomato into quarters and, with a knife, cut the stem end of each quarter and continue to slide the knife along the flesh and under the seeds.

  • Eat: Large slicing tomatoes work well to eat raw since they hold more juice and seeds. Smaller plum tomatoes are useful to make sauce, in canning, and on pizzas. Small cherry tomatoes are great in salads, served whole or cut in half.

Reference: University of Illinois Extension, Watch Your Garden Grow, Tomatoes

Make good use of September as the weather cools down to enjoy this hearty recipe that celebrates this month's many food holidays.

Chicken Ratatouille (serves 4)

A classic French dish, Ratatouille is a great way to use up leftover ingredients or add any vegetables you like. While it is served over noodles, try it over another whole grain, like brown rice.

1 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 zucchini, diced
1 medium eggplant, diced
1 medium onion, diced
1 medium green bell pepper, diced
1 lb mushrooms, sliced
1 14.5-oz can petite diced tomatoes (or 2 cups peeled and seeded fresh tomatoes, diced)
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tsp dried basil
1 Tbsp dried parsley
1/8 tsp black pepper
2 cups dry whole wheat egg noodles, cooked

1. Heat oil in a large skillet or saucepan over medium-low heat. Add chicken and sauté until cooked through, stirring occasionally.
2. Add zucchini, eggplant, onion, green bell pepper, mushrooms, tomatoes, and garlic. Stir to combine and cook 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
3. Add garlic, basil, parsley, and pepper. Cook another 10 minutes.
4. Serve over hot noodles.

Nutritional analysis per serving: 500 calories, 9g fat, 180mg sodium, 69g carbohydrate, 14g fiber, 40g protein

WEB HIGHLIGHT 1: To celebrate Fruits and Veggies – More Matters Month, check out recipes to get more fruits and veggies in your diet at Fruits and Veggies – More Matters.

WEB HIGHLIGHT 2: Need more ways to eat mushrooms? Or just trying to become interested in eating mushrooms? If so, check out the Mushroom Council recipe page.

DEBATE HIGHLIGHT: True, tomatoes are botanically classified as a fruit. However, in 1893, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the tomato a vegetable. Source: USDA ARS, Tomato Facts, 2/2013

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