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 Cold Brew is the New Cool Mon, 17 Sep 2018 09:21:00 +0000 Do you remember when you used to order a coffee and you received just that: a cup of steaming hot coffee? Now you order a coffee and they ask "hot or cold?" Cold coffee and coffee beverages have jumped into the coffee arena at full speed, particularly with the introduction of cold brew coffee.

Cold brew coffee is different from iced coffee. Iced coffee is brewed with hot water, in the same way regular hot coffee is. The coffee is then cooled down and served over ice. On the other hand, cold brew coffee is brewed with cold water. Medium to coarse coffee grounds are slowly steeped in cold water for 16-24 hours. The grounds are then filtered out. If you have tummy troubles or acid reflux from drinking coffee, cold brew might be the drink for you. It's 67 percent less acidic than regular coffee! Since cold brews aren't heated, the chemical structure of the coffee doesn't change, which means bye-bye bitterness, and hello fresh! Cold brews can be stored in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

You can buy a cold brew coffee maker, use a French press or simply use a large glass jar and a cheesecloth. The key is getting the ratio of coffee grounds to water correct. Cold brew uses more coffee grounds, which is why it can be more expensive. Once steeped and strained, you're left with a rich concentrate. You may want to tone it down a bit by adding a bit of cold water, milk, sweet cream or half-in-half and pour over ice. The concentrate can also be used in countless recipes, such as smoothies, ice creams, oatmeal or pudding. Cold brew may take a little more patience when brewing it yourself, but the end result is worth it!

Coffee Chia Pudding

¾ cup cold brew coffee concentrate

¾ cup 2% milk

2 Tablespoons honey

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

½ cup chia seeds

Whipped topping and cinnamon, if desired

Mix all ingredients, except whipped topping, in a medium bowl. Refrigerate overnight or at least 4 hours. Serve with a dollop of whipped topping and a sprinkle of cinnamon on top.

Yield: 4 servings

Nutrition Facts (per serving): 160 calories, 7 grams fat, 25 milligrams sodium, 20 grams carbohydrate, 7 grams fiber, 5 grams protein

Figuring Out Food Allergies Fri, 07 Sep 2018 08:46:00 +0000 Fixing foods for other children is not just about choosing yummy kid-friendly foods anymore. We now need to think about the possibility of children having food allergies. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in thirteen children have at least one food allergy. If you think this number has grown, you're right. Between 1997 and 2011, the prevalence of food allergies increased by 50 percent.

A food allergy is a condition in which an exposure to a food triggers a harmful immune response. The eight most common food allergies include milk, egg, soy, wheat, fish, shellfish, peanuts and tree nuts. Although allergies to milk, egg, wheat and soy are often resolved in childhood, allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, fish and shellfish can be lifelong. Symptoms of food allergies can be mild (runny nose, a few hives) or severe (throat tightness, difficulty breathing), and the only treatment is to avoid the food and all that it touches.

However, parents should not avoid feeding these potential allergenic foods to their infants (younger than one year of age) who are just starting to eat solids. Delayed introduction of these common foods have been associated with an increased risk of developing a food allergy. Provide these foods in age-appropriate form, such as a small amount of peanut butter and water mixed in rice cereal for a pureed form, or a very thin slice of peanut butter on toast for those ready for finger foods.

Pumpkin Pie Snack Mix (Nut and Dairy Free) (Printable PDF)

¼ cup brown sugar

1 Tablespoon pumpkin pie spice

2 Tablespoons dairy free margarine

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 cups toasted corn cereal

2 cups toasted wheat cereal

2 cups toasted rice cereal

In a small bowl, mix brown sugar and pumpkin pie spice and set aside. In a small microwave-safe dish, microwave margarine on high about 15 seconds or until melted. Stir in the vanilla. In a large microwavable bowl, mix all the cereals together. Pour the butter mixture over the cereal mixture, stirring until evenly coated. Add sugar and spice mixture and stir until coated. Microwave uncovered on high 5 minutes or until mixture begins to brown, stirring every minute. Spread on a cookie sheet to cool. Store in an airtight container.

Yield: 16 servings

Nutrition Facts (per serving): 80 calories, 1.5 grams fat, 120 milligrams sodium, 15 grams carbohydrate, 1 gram fiber, 1 gram protein

Is it Ketchup or Catsup? Fri, 31 Aug 2018 08:15:00 +0000 Whether you spell it catsup or ketchup, you've likely squirted this popular condiment on a variety of foods. The first documentation of the product dated back to the 1600's when Europeans brought back the sauce from China. However, this wasn't the ketchup we know today. In fact, it was derived from fermented fish and lacked the main ingredient that makes this red condiment a crowd-pleaser: the tomato.

It wasn't until the 1800's that the tomato entered into the recipe. The H.J. Heinz Company, a leader in the ketchup industry, first called their product "Heinz Tomato Catsup" but soon changed to "Heinz Tomato Ketchup" to stand out. Ketchup is now the spelling preference for most buyers and markets. The basic ingredients in ketchup is tomatoes, vinegar, sugar, salt, and spices. Onions and peppers may also be added. Ketchup is only about 20 calories per tablespoon without any fat. The sugar (4 grams) and sodium (160 milligrams), though, can quickly add up when pouring it on. There are no salt added and reduced-sugar varieties on the market, but they come with a higher price tag and a different taste.

Ketchup is far more than a dipping sauce for fries or a topping for burgers. It's an important ingredient in sloppy joes, meatloaf, baked beans or barbecue or cocktail sauce. Ketchup can be a flavorful addition to foods; just don't drink it from the bottle!

Berry Barbecue Sauce (Printable PDF)

2 ½ cups mulberries or blackberries

1 cup low sodium chicken broth

½ cup ketchup

¼ cup packed brown sugar

2 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar

1 Tablespoon lemon juice

2 teaspoons chili powder

⅛ teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon mustard

Pinch of salt

In a medium saucepot, bring berries and chicken broth to a simmer over medium heat. Cook for 6-7 minutes. Remove from heat and mash the berries in the pan with a fork or a potato masher. Place back on the stove and add the remaining ingredients. Simmer until the sauce begins to thicken. Remove from heat, and pour contents into a mesh strainer that is set atop a clean bowl. Move the contents back and forth with a spoon or rubber spatula until only seeds and berry stems remain in the strainer; discard. Serve the strained sauce on any type of meat.

Yield: 8 servings, 2 Tablespoons each

Nutrition Facts (per serving): 70 calories, 0 grams fat, 370 milligrams sodium, 16 grams carbohydrate, 1 gram fiber, 1 gram protein

An Appreciation for Currants Fri, 24 Aug 2018 14:24:00 +0000 Sadly, currants do not seem to get the respect and admiration that they deserve. However, in Europe, their love for currants is like our love for blackberries or raspberries. In fact, the purple candy in a bag of Skittles® is flavored grape in the U.S., but tastes like black currant in the U.K. Why is there a resistance to loving this berry, you ask?

Years ago, a federal ban prohibited the growing of all members of the genus Ribes, including currants and gooseberries. This was because gooseberries and currants can serve as alternate hosts to white pine blister rust, a destructive disease attacking pine trees. However, in 1966 the ban was lifted in most states, and plant breeders have since developed more disease-resistant varieties. Yet, currants haven't made much of a comeback. They're still not widely available in the U.S., but their tart spicy flavor is uniquely enjoyable. Add to oatmeal or use them in a fruit salad. Puree them to make a dressing or sauce. Throw them in a smoothie, or take advantage of their natural pectin to make jelly or jam.

Currants can be of red, white or black variety, each offering a slightly different tart flavor. Currants are a good source of fiber and rich in vitamin C and antioxidants. While finding currants in the store, other than dried currants, is highly unlikely, you can pick your very own currants for free at the Refuge Food Forest located at 701 E. Lincoln Street in Normal near One Normal Plaza Park. This collaboration between University of Illinois Extension and the Town of Normal includes 1.4 acres of organic produce! You can visit anytime, but I invite you to come out on August 28 from 6-7 p.m. to see my fellow educators and I give you a tour and talk about ways you can use the produce found at the Food Forest while saving money. Register for this free program by visiting,

Black Currant Banana Smoothie (Printable PDF)

½ cup nonfat milk

1 frozen banana

½ cup black currants

½ cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt

2 teaspoons honey

Pour all ingredients into a blender. Puree until smooth, adding more milk if necessary to reach desired consistency. Pour in glasses and serve.

Yield: 2 servings, 6 ounces each

Nutrition Facts (per serving): 150 calories, 0.5 grams fat, 45 milligrams sodium, 29 grams carbohydrate, 4 grams fiber, 9 grams protein

When Summer turns to Fall, Sweet Potatoes are a Treat for All! Wed, 15 Aug 2018 11:37:00 +0000 This blog post is written by University of Illinois Extension intern, Amanda Dieugenio. Amanda is a student at Illinois State University!

As summer comes to a close, (I know, what a bummer!) it is time to start welcoming that fall weather, and along with it, some healthy new fall-inspired recipes! Today, we are going to focus on the sweet potato.

Within the United States, we sometimes refer to sweet potatoes as "yams." However, this is a common mistake; yams and sweet potatoes are actually two different things. Yams are only grown in tropic regions and have very distinct features that differentiate them from sweet potatoes. With a dark outer skin, and white or purple flesh yams do not contain the very beautiful orange color that we associate with sweet potatoes. In addition, when speaking in terms of horticulture classification yams belong to the Lily family, a perennial plant, while sweet potatoes belong to the Morning Glory family. And we all thought yams and sweet potatoes were the same all this time!

Now that we understand the difference between a yam and a sweet potato, let's discuss some of the major health benefits that accompany these delicious, but underrated, beauties. Sweet potatoes contain a large amount of beta-carotene, a phytochemical which gives the potato that distinct orange color but more importantly gets converted to Vitamin A when it enters our system. In addition to that, sweet potatoes provide our bodies with generous amounts of vitamin C, potassium and fiber.

Whether you grew up calling them yams or sweet potatoes here is a delicious recipe that is a perfect blend of summer and fall to help bridge the gap!

Stuffed Sweet Potato (Printable PDF)

1 large sweet potato

½ cup chicken breast, cooked and shredded

¼ teaspoon chili powder

¼ teaspoon cumin

1 Tablespoon shredded nonfat mozzarella cheese

¼ of an avocado, diced

2 scallions, thinly sliced

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Poke holes all over the sweet potato with a fork. Bake on a baking sheet for 45-50 minutes or until soft. Once potato is done, cut a slit in the top and carefully scoop out the flesh, reserving the skin. Add the potato flesh to a bowl and mash. Add the chicken breast, chili powder, and cumin to the bowl and mix together until well combined. Scoop the mixture back into the potato skin and top with mozzarella cheese. Place the potato back into the oven for 2-3 minutes or until cheese is melted. Remove from the oven and top with avocado and scallions. Serve and enjoy!

Yield: 1 serving

Nutrition Facts (per serving): 280 calories, 9 grams fat, 190 milligrams sodium, 32 grams carbohydrate, 8 grams fiber, 19 grams protein

The Perfect Panini Fri, 10 Aug 2018 09:00:00 +0000 When a cold sandwich just won't do, upgrade to a warm panini. Panini's originated in Italy and refers to a grilled sandwich made with a baked roll or anything other than sliced bread. The bread is what makes this sandwich stand-alone. It's not a grilled cheese; it's a panini!

Artisan bread, such as a French baguette, ciabatta, focaccia or a bagel are dense, hearty breads that make a good foundation for your panini. What goes on the inside is up to you and your taste buds, but keep in mind two things: first, don't use so many fillings that the bread is high in the sky like a club sandwich. The sandwich should be thin enough that the two slices of bread almost touch at the ends. Second, think nutrition. Meats, such as bacon, salami and pepperoni can be added sources of sodium and saturated fats. Plus, when used in combination with cheese and a mayonnaise-based sauce or even pesto, the calorie count starts to climb. Try sticking with just one sauce or spread, and choose either a meat or a cheese. The rest of the panini can be filled with nutritious veggies!

A panini press works great, but it's not a must-have tool. Panini's can be a made in a skillet or outdoor grill. Simply place a heavy, smaller skillet on top the panini, and weight it down with a few canned items. You're now on your way to making a great panini!

Grilled Eggplant Panini (Printable PDF)

1 small eggplant, peeled and cut into ¼–inch slices

2 Tablespoons olive oil

½ teaspoon garlic powder

Black pepper to taste

8 slices ciabatta bread

2 Tablespoons light mayonnaise

4 slices mozzarella cheese

⅓ cup jarred roasted red peppers, drained

8 large basil leaves

Preheat grill to medium-high. Brush eggplant slices with olive oil. Sprinkle with garlic powder and pepper. Grill eggplant for 4-6 minutes. Flip eggplant slices over and grill for an additional 2-4 minutes or until tender. Set aside. Spread mayonnaise on one side of each bread slice. To assemble, lay bread on the grill, mayo side up. Top with grilled eggplant slices, 1 slice of cheese, peppers and basil. Top with another bread slice, mayo side down. Press down with spatula. Toast paninis 1-2 minutes, carefully flip, and toast other side for 1-2 minutes. Cut in half and serve warm.

Yield: 4 servings

Nutrition Facts (per serving): 320 calories, 15 grams fat, 540 milligrams sodium, 33 grams carbohydrate, 3 grams fiber, 13 grams protein

Making the Grade at Mealtime Thu, 02 Aug 2018 13:44:00 +0000 For most children, the first few days of August is a reminder that it's soon time to head back to school. However, the start of school can also be the start of stress with hectic schedules to keep track of. Putting a healthy meal in the kids' bellies is just another thing to add to the growing list of things to do. Here's a few tips to help you manage the load and make back to school time a breeze.

  1. Eat school food. Encourage your child to eat school food, which is nutritious, budget-friendly and requires little work on your part.
  2. Pack a lunch the night before. However, if packing a lunch, put it together the night before. Mornings can be chaotic. The time you save to pack a lunch can be used for preparing a healthy breakfast. Use a soft-sided lunch bag with two ice packs to keep foods cold.
  3. Don't neglect breakfast. A breakfast doesn't have to be pancakes or biscuits and gravy. Cereal (with less than 10 grams of sugar/serving), low-fat milk and a piece of fruit is still a healthy option, or fix overnight oats (recipe below) the night before to free up even more time in the mornings.
  4. Create a "Snack Store" with open and close hours. Designate a plastic container or pantry shelf as a "snack store" and keep it stocked full of healthy snacks, such as dried fruit, nuts and fruit cups. Hang a sign that indicates the "store" is closed one to two hours before and after mealtimes.
  5. Use the appliances around you. On the days that you know you won't have much time or energy to cook a healthy dinner, use the microwave to cook a sweet potato and stuff it with tuna salad or barbecue pork, or use the slow cooker to have chicken tacos or chili waiting for your arrival home.

Start the school year off right with a plan that includes simple but healthy meals. The kids, the teachers and yourself will thank you!

Chocolate Banana Overnight Oats (Printable PDF)

½ cup rolled (not instant) oats

½ Tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder

½ Tablespoon ground flaxseed (optional)

1 Tablespoon creamy peanut butter

½ banana, sliced

1 teaspoon honey

½ cup nonfat milk

Stir all ingredients in a pint-size mason jar. Cover and refrigerate overnight. In the morning, stir and add a little more milk, if desired.

Yield: 1 serving

Nutrition Facts (per serving): 380 calories, 13 grams fat, 120 milligrams sodium, 59 grams carbohydrate, 8 grams fiber, 15 grams protein