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 Is a Vegan Diet Healthy? Fri, 08 Jun 2018 12:21:00 +0000 This week's blog post is written by Illinois State University graduate student and dietetic intern, Samantha Concha!

You may be aware of the current vegan craze that has been circulating around social media and probably some of your favorite weekly magazines and newspapers. But are you still a little confused of what defines someone as a "vegan?" In short, veganism can be defined as a diet excluding all forms of animals and animal by-products. Sound a little familiar? If you are contemplating whether this is vegetarianism in itself, then you are correct. If it makes it easier to mentally digest, veganism can be seen as an extreme form of vegetarianism where both dairy products and eggs are excluded from the diet.

You might also be wondering why a growing number of the population is beginning to take part in veganism. Sustainability is often a topic of discussion. Reduction of the carbon footprint, eradicating exploitation of animals and reducing land degradation are all motivations for why one may choose the path of veganism. And although far more research is needed, recent studies have examined the potential health benefits of following a vegan diet. For example, lowering blood pressure, reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and lowering serum cholesterol. It is important to note that although many of these aspects are beneficial, veganism is not for everyone. But, if you are interested in a vegan side dish, I present to you the recipe below:

Loaded Vegan Sweet Potato Fries

1 (15 oz.) bag of frozen sweet potato fries or 2 sweet potatoes, cut into match sticks

¼ cup olive oil

1 teaspoon black pepper

1 teaspoon salt

½ (15 oz.) can black beans, drained and rinsed

½ (15 oz.) can pinto beans, drained and rinsed

1 cup frozen corn

2 avocados, sliced

2 Tablespoons chopped green onion

2 fresh Roma tomatoes, chopped

½ cup shredded vegan cheese

Preheat oven to 400°F. Prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper and evenly lay out frozen/fresh sweet potato fries. Drizzle olive oil, salt and pepper over fries and combine well. Bake for 15 minutes. The fries should be sizzling, but not caramelizing quite yet. Top fries with rinsed beans and sweet corn.

Reduce heat to 250°F and bake for another 15-20 minutes. Finish by topping fries with diced tomatoes, chopped green onion, pieces of avocado and favorite vegan cheese.

Yield: 6 servings

Nutrition Facts (per serving): 280 calories, 18 grams fat, 540 milligrams sodium, 25 grams carbohydrate, 9 grams fiber, 7 grams protein

Spring into Summer with Salmon Fri, 25 May 2018 08:12:00 +0000 Today's blog post and recipe are written by Illinois State University students and dietetic interns, Amanda Dieugenio and Samantha Concha!

Salmon is a fish that tastes delicious during any time of year, but for some reason it tastes just a little better when warm weather approaches and summer begins to hit. Salmon is best known for its anti-inflammatory effects and the omega-3 fatty acids it contains. Whenever we hear the word "fat," we are generally inclined to believe that those foods are bad or unhealthy for us. However, there are many healthy types of fat that are essential to our health and well-being, and omega-3 fatty acids are one of them!

There are three types of omega-3 fatty acids: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). A majority of the health benefits come from consuming adequate amounts of EPA and DHA, so that's what our main focus should be! By consuming 1-2 servings of fatty fish, such as salmon, per week we can ensure that we are consuming enough of these fatty acids to provide us with some major health benefits.

Omega-3s, found in salmon, protect the heart and play a huge factor in the prevention of coronary heart disease. In addition to its heart healthy benefits, salmon can also lower inflammation in the body and help to boost the effectiveness of anti-inflammatory drugs for people suffering from arthritis. Can you imagine receiving all those health benefits just from consuming fish, like salmon, 1-2 times per week? If salmon isn't your cup of tea, you can also receive these same benefits from fish like tuna, anchovies, sardines, herring, and lake trout! Give it a shot this Memorial Day weekend with the recipe below and your body will thank you!

Quinoa-Salmon Salad (Printable PDF)

4 (4 oz.) salmon fillets

2 Tablespoons salt-free seasoning blend

1 ½ cups jasmine rice & quinoa blend

4 cups chopped leafy greens

1 cup chopped red onion

½ pint cherry tomatoes

1 avocado, sliced

8 Tablespoons favorite vinaigrette dressing

2 Tablespoons hemp seeds (optional)

Preheat oven to 300°F. Place salmon on lined baking sheet. Evenly coat salmon with salt-free seasoning blend and place into oven. Once salmon has reached internal temperature of 145°, about 8-12 minutes, remove from oven. Cook jasmine rice & quinoa blend according to directions on package. Evenly divide salmon, rice blend, lettuce, onion, tomatoes and avocado into four bowls. Toss each with your favorite vinaigrette and garnish with hemp seeds.

Yield: 4 servings

Nutrition Facts (per serving): 500 calories, 23 grams fat, 200 milligrams sodium, 38 grams carbohydrate, 5 grams fiber, 33 grams protein

What's in Your Bowl? Mon, 21 May 2018 16:42:00 +0000 Meals in bowls are trending. There are bowls called burrito bowls, noodle bowls, power bowls, smoothie bowls and so much more. For whatever reason, it's just more interesting to eat a meal out of a bowl than on a plate.

Meals in bowls can offer a variety of important nutrients, while including a bowl full of flavor. Most are packed with lean protein, whole grains and colorful vegetables. In fact, the bowl is typically absent of processed food. You may serve bowls with each ingredient piled high right next to each other, allowing your guests to see exactly what is included in their bowl. It's an attractive sight!

There are no rules, but you may start with the greens. A cup of fresh spinach, kale, arugula or Romaine will pack potassium and Vitamin A. Next, choose your grain, such as quinoa, brown rice, barley or whole grain spaghetti noodles, which provide many B vitamins, antioxidants and fiber. Add raw or cooked vegetables or fruit, like sweet potatoes, asparagus, avocado or tomatoes, and don't forget the lean protein, such as chicken, tuna, beans or boiled eggs. Finally, if desired, top it off with nuts, seeds, dried fruit, or cheese, and keep a small dish of dressing nearby to drizzle as needed. Just remember to use a small bowl, or you may unnoticeably eat more than you bargained for.

Orange Shrimp Quinoa Bowl (Printable PDF)

1 Tablespoon orange zest

3 Tablespoons olive oil

1 clove garlic, minced

¼ teaspoon black pepper

¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 lb. fresh shrimp, peeled and deveined

¾ cup dry quinoa

1 ½ cups low-sodium chicken broth

Juice from 1 ½ limes

2 Tablespoons olive oil

¼ cup chopped red onion

¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro

¼ teaspoon salt

2 large oranges, segmented

1 large avocado, thinly sliced

In a medium bowl, combine orange zest, oil, garlic, pepper, cayenne and shrimp. Let marinate in the refrigerator for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, bring quinoa and broth to a boil in a medium saucepan; cover and simmer 15 minutes or until liquid is absorbed. Preheat grill over medium heat. Grill shrimp using grill pan or skewers, 2-3 minutes per side. Remove from heat. In a medium bowl, combine lime juice, olive oil, onion, cilantro, salt and oranges. Divide quinoa, shrimp, orange salad and avocado slices among 4 bowls.

Yield: 4 servings

Nutrition Facts (per serving): 480 calories, 26 grams fat, 310 milligrams sodium, 35 grams carbohydrate, 8 grams dietary fiber, 31 grams protein

Try Agua Fresca for your Cinco de Mayo Celebrations Wed, 02 May 2018 16:31:00 +0000 This Saturday is Cinco de Mayo (fifth of May), and many will be celebrating Mexico's victory over the French forces with a "fiesta" full of Hispanic cuisine. With so many mouth-watering foods to choose from, including quesadillas, chips and guacamole, and churros, the food is easy to plan. However, it's the drinks, or should I say non-alcoholic drinks, that may have your head spinning on what to serve.

Agua Fresca, meaning fresh water, is a refreshing drink that most every roadside vendor in Mexico is sure to have. It's a healthy way to enjoy fresh fruit, and a simple beverage to make up ahead of time before guests arrive at the party. Agua Fresca is typically made with fresh pureed fruit, water, a hint of sugar and fresh lime juice. Fresh herbs, such as mint or rosemary, may also be added for additional flavor.

Most any ripe fruit is fine to use, including watermelon, cantaloupe, strawberries, mangoes, peaches or pineapple. All you need is a blender or food processor to puree the fruit. With only a small amount of sugar added, this low-calorie beverage is an excellent way to meet daily fruit needs. Aside from traditional fruit juice, drinking your fruit is a nice change of pace from eating whole fruit as a side dish. However, a balance of both is preferred as fruit juice and Agua Fresca will not have as much dietary fiber as whole or cut fruit.

As the weather is finally getting warmer, throw some fruit in the blender and serve yourself a tall refreshing glass of Agua Fresca!

Agua Fresca (Printable PDF)

4 cups stemmed strawberries (or other fruit, such as cantaloupe or watermelon)

3 cups cold water, divided

1 Tablespoon sugar or sugar substitute

1 Tablespoon fresh lime juice

Add strawberries (or other fruit), 1 ½ cups water, sugar and lime juice to a blender and blend until smooth. Strain through a strainer into a large pitcher. Stir in the remaining 1 ½ cups water. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Serve in glasses over ice.

Yield: 4 (1 cup) servings

Nutrition Facts (per serving): 70 calories, 0 grams fat, 25 milligrams sodium, 17 grams carbohydrate, 1 gram fiber, 1 gram protein

Is it a Grape or Cherry Tomato? Fri, 27 Apr 2018 11:36:00 +0000 Spring has finally arrived and what better time than now to talk tomatoes? Tomatoes come in all different sizes and shapes, but in my house, it's the bite-size tomatoes, including grape and cherry, that are eaten as if they were candy. Although, you may be wondering what the difference is.

Grape and cherry tomatoes are actually from the same plant species, Solanum lycopersicum var. cerasiforme. However, they differ in their shape. While cherry tomatoes are round and slightly larger than a cherry, grape tomatoes are oblong, and sized and shaped like a grape. Cherry tomatoes can be a variety of colors, including red, yellow or orange. Sun Gold, for instance is a type of cherry tomato that is a beautiful orange color, and Yellow Pear is a cherry tomato that is, you guessed it, yellow. On the other hand, grape tomatoes are most particularly red.

Many recipes call for cherry tomatoes, but often grape is all that is available in the store. This is because grape tomatoes have thicker skins making them hardier and easier to pack and transport. Grape and cherry tomatoes are mostly interchangeable. However, the meatier grape tomato is less sweet and less juicy than a cherry tomato. Hollow out cherry tomatoes and stuff, but use either one for a lettuce salad, pasta dish or skewer. No matter which one you choose, be sure to pop this bite-sized tomato in your mouth!

Italian Beef Stir-Fry (Printable PDF)

1 ½ cups uncooked bow-tie pasta

1 Tablespoon canola oil

1 lb. beef sirloin steak, sliced thin

2 cloves garlic, minced

¼ teaspoon black pepper

8 oz. button mushrooms, sliced

1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved

¼ cup light Italian dressing

1 Tablespoon grated parmesan cheese

1 Tablespoon chopped fresh parsley (optional)

In a large pot, cook pasta according to package directions, but do not add salt to cooking water. Drain cooked pasta and toss with Italian dressing; cover and keep warm. Heat oil in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Place beef strips in skillet and stir-fry until outside surface is no longer pink. Do not overcook. Remove to a plate and cover to keep warm. In same skillet, add garlic, pepper and mushrooms and stir-fry for 2-3 minutes. Add tomatoes and beef. Heat through. Spoon beef mixture over pasta. Sprinkle with cheese and parsley. Serve immediately.

Yield: 4 servings

Nutrition Facts (per serving): 350 calories, 12 grams fat, 230 milligrams sodium, 28 grams carbohydrate, 2 grams fiber, 32 grams protein

Stuffed Sweet Potatoes Fri, 20 Apr 2018 16:10:00 +0000 When a friend gave me a recipe for tuna stuffed sweet potatoes, I thought it was on odd combination. My curiosity got the best of me, and soon my family was chowing down on this sweet-salty blend. Clean plates proved that it was victorious! The success continued when a week later we visited my sister-in-law who served smoked pulled pork stuffed in a sweet potato with coleslaw on top. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. This got me thinking about other possibilities to serve in a sweet potato.

Shredded chicken, chipotle peppers in adobe sauce, cooked spinach and white cheddar cheese in a sweet potato will yield a sweet and spicy flavor. A vegetarian stuffed sweet potato could be black beans, avocado, roasted bell peppers and cilantro. Are you looking for a way to use that leftover Easter ham that's in the freezer? Toss it with cubed pineapple, and stuff into a sweet potato. Think ahead to Thanksgiving and stuff sweet potatoes with leftover roasted turkey and cranberry sauce.

Those who are looking to eat fewer grains and more vegetables will love all of the options that stuffed sweet potatoes bring to the table. Sweet potatoes are full of beta-carotene, fiber and potassium. To make stuffed sweet potatoes, puncture with a fork to allow steam to escape. Either roast in a 425°F oven for 45 minutes, or microwave on high for 12-14 minutes until potato is soft. Slice open with a knife and spoon your warm or room temperature fixings over the top. What combinations of flavors will you try?

Tuna Stuffed Sweet Potatoes (Printable PDF)

2 large sweet potatoes

1 (5 oz.) can solid white albacore tuna in water, drained

Juice of ½ a lime

¼ teaspoon garlic powder

⅛ teaspoon black pepper

2 Tablespoons plain nonfat Greek yogurt

1 Tablespoon chopped chives

Pierce sweet potatoes with a fork several times. Either roast potatoes in a 425°F oven or microwave on high until soft. Slice each potato in half with a knife. In a small bowl, stir together tuna, lime juice, garlic powder and black pepper. Evenly divide tuna mixture on top of sweet potato halves. Spoon each half with ½ Tablespoon of yogurt and sprinkle with chives.

Yield: 4 servings, ½ potato each

Nutrition Facts (per serving): 110 calories, 0.5 grams fat, 150 milligrams sodium, 14 grams carbohydrate, 2 grams dietary fiber, 12 grams protein

The Deli Meat Dilemma Fri, 13 Apr 2018 08:23:00 +0000 A good deli sandwich is a typical go-to lunch for many Americans. While many health conscientious people are concerned with the carbohydrates in bread, others are more concerned with nitrates and nitrites in meat.

Nitrates and nitrites are chemical compounds that are naturally present in many plant-based foods like carrots, spinach and beets, but are also added to many processed foods like lunchmeat, hot dogs and bacon. Nitrates are converted to nitrites by our digestive process. Nitrites give cured meats flavor and color, and in combination with salt, they help to inhibit the growth of Clostridium botulinum and Listeria monocytogenes, two potential deadly foodborne illnesses. However, after the World Health Organization (WHO)'s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) announced that consumption of processed meat is "carcinogenic to humans," there's been concern about nitrate/nitrite consumption.

While it may seem that buying processed meats labeled "no nitrates or nitrites added" is the answer, the manufacturers use naturally occurring nitrites, such as celery powder, which has the same effect as synthetic nitrites. Plus, it likely still has high amounts of sodium and possibly saturated fat, both of which can be negative influences on the heart. Studies have indicated that the higher the intake of processed meat, the higher the risk of colorectal cancers and other chronic diseases. This isn't to say that you must completely avoid processed meats altogether, but it is something that should be limited. If choosing processed meats, choose lean meat, such as turkey or chicken, look for the product that is lowest in sodium, and don't eat it every day.

Turkey Wrap with Lemon Dill Spread (Printable PDF)

¼ cup light mayonnaise

¼ cup nonfat plain yogurt

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

2 teaspoons fresh dill, chopped or ¼ teaspoon dried

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1 teaspoon grated lemon peel

¼ teaspoon garlic powder

¼ teaspoon black pepper

3 whole wheat tortillas

3 ounces deli turkey

3 slices Swiss cheese

¾ cup baby spinach

1 cup thinly sliced red bell pepper

In a small bowl, combine mayonnaise, yogurt, mustard, dill, lemon juice, lemon peel, garlic powder and pepper. Let sit in refrigerator to meld flavors. Evenly distribute Lemon Dill Spread, turkey, cheese, spinach and red pepper onto three wraps. Roll up, cut in half diagonally and serve.

Yield: 3 servings

Nutrition Facts (per serving): 370 calories, 19 grams fat, 740 milligrams sodium, 30 grams carbohydrate, 2 grams fiber, 19 grams protein