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Mama Always Said to Eat your Greens!

Every parent knows that getting young children to eat healthy greens can be a challenge.  Even now, as I watch my grown daughter encourage my granddaughter to eat just one more nutritious bite, I find myself asking whether we can make eating our vegetables just a little more interesting.
Thinking back to my own childhood, greens were a regular part of our family meal and they were a special treat during Thanksgiving.  Of course, we had probably cooked all of the nutrition completely out of them and loaded them with additions like fat, salt and sugar to make even the healthiest of vegetables unhealthy.
These two conflicting images bring me to questions like, “Why should we eat greens in the first place?” or “Is there any way to make greens a treat and keep them healthy?”
So, to cut to the chase, Mama was right.  We definitely should eat our greens.  Greens are rich in Vitamins A, C and K.  Some greens, like collard and mustard greens are also excellent sources of folate.  All of these nutrients are very important to our overall health.  Greens themselves are not only excellent sources of nutrients, but they’re low in calories and this time of year, pretty low in cost.  Bonus!
Okay, so how do we make greens, which are obviously good for us, good to eat without adding excess fat, salt or sugar?  For as long as I can remember, every green had at least two out of three of these unhealthy additions as part of the traditional Southern recipe.  So, in spite of our heritage, we can become creative chefs in our own home, making delicious tasting greens that are, yes, Healthy!  Here are a few tips to adding greens in the most unlikely places in your menu.   These tips will help you keep the greens both healthy and tasty.

  • Add collards to vegetable soup or macaroni and cheese.  These are foods kids love and the greens add both color and flavor.
  • Try kale blended in a smoothie, as a topping for pizza or added to a favorite casserole.
  • Add delicious, delicate greens like spinach to pastas, salads or even egg dishes.
  • Add turnip greens to stews.

Not to overlook the pending holiday, try making traditional Thanksgiving collards healthy. Instead of ham hocks and salt, use low-sodium chicken stock, smoked deli turkey, onions, garlic and red pepper flakes for a “can’t tell the difference” flavorful version of a southern classic.
Use your imagination.  You can even encourage your children to participate.  Ask them where they want to find the greens next: in their potatoes? mixed with beans?  However you decide to include them, encourage your family to eat their greens.

leafy greens

Easy Lasagna


  • 1/2 pound lean or extra-lean ground beef or ground turkey
  • 8 ounces egg noodles, uncooked (try whole grain)
  • 12 ounces fat-free cottage cheese
  • 2 cups reduced-fat mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • 1 (14.5-ounce) can unsalted, diced tomatoes, not drained
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 teaspoon parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
  • Non-stick cooking spray


  1. Brown ground beef or turkey. Drain and return to skillet.
  2. Stir in diced tomatoes, water, parsley, oregano and Italian seasoning. Bring to a boil.
  3. Add uncooked pasta. Cover and cook on medium heat for 15 minutes.
  4. Stir in cottage cheese. Cover and cook for 5 minutes.
  5. Stir in 2 cups of mozzarella cheese.
  6. Cover and remove from heat. Let stand for 5 minutes to melt cheese.

Easy Lasagna

Nutrition information Per Serving
370 calories
Total Fat – 11 g
Saturated Fat – 6 g
Protein – 32 g
Total Carbohydrate – 35 g
Dietary Fiber – 2 g
Sodium = 530 mg
Excellent Source of Vitamin C
Excellent Source of Calcium
Excellent Source of Iron
Good Source of Vitamin A

NC EFNEP – Families Eating Smart and Moving More

Have Your Cake and Eat It Too?

So we all know that nutrition, fitness, and all that is in between is become a nation wide hot topic.  Whether you are committed to being fit or just getting started, our health is on our minds, splashed across magazine articles, and on our conscience.  I always try to tell myself that one healthy meal won’t make you healthy, and one bad meal won’t make you unhealthy.  It is all about a lifestyle change and the choices we make.  Which brings me to my weakness; guilty pleasures.  The cakes, processed carbohydrate goodness of heavy pastas and pizza, and my kryptonite: chocolate.  Sure all of these are fine in moderation, but what if there were ways to make the most of consuming these kinds of foods that call to us?  Well with a little research there is!  There are some fantastic foods out there that can be used as substitutions for the ingredients that are frowned upon but RD’s and Nutrition Fact Labels everywhere.  One of my favorites is Greek Yogurt in place of mayo, sour cream, or really any creamy based recipe.  Greek Yogurt has high levels of protein, is low in fat, and contains important nutrients for our bodies.  Ultimately, it gives our recipes with empty calories some substantial nutritional value!  Check out this article from Time Magazine that gives some of the most popular and easy swaps we can make in the kitchen.  Each new ingredient offers up some nutritional value compared to its unhealthy counterpart!  Enjoy!greekyogurt

Healthy vs. Processed?

As Americans we have probably heard over and over that fruits and vegetables are essential for a healthy diet.  So why are the majority of us not getting an adequate amount of servings per day?  There is an overwhelming stigma surrounding these colorful food options and that is that they are expensive.  Consumers would rather spend their dollars on foods, mostly processed, that are cheaper at first glance.  The Center for Science and the Public Interest recently compared the per serving cost of produce and common processed foods and overall they found that the average per serving cost of fruit and vegetable snacks was $.34 and the average cost of unhealthier snacks was $.67!  As if that is not exciting enough to hear, fruit and vegetable options were also proven to be lower in calories, sometimes up to 260 calories less!
Hopefully this information changes some stubborn view points about the low accessibility of these necessary fruits and vegetables.  They were found to more often than not, be “nutritional bargains” and the same price, if not cheaper, per serving when compared to their boxed, high-sodium, processed counterparts. So think twice before ruling out the produce section at your local grocery store!  Keep your family healthy by serving them these delicious fruits and veggies.  Check out this article for more cost comparisons that will open your eyes to purchasing healthier options for your family and learn more about research that is being done to support fruit and vegetable purchase and consumption!

How to choose a healthy breakfast cereal

Walking down the cereal aisle can be overwhelming with all the options available and different cereals claiming to be healthy. Here are some tips for finding the best cereals for your family:

  • Look at the Nutrition Facts panel on the side of the cereal box (ignore any health claims made on the front of the box), which lists the grams of sugar contained.
  • Find the serving size. If a cereal says it has 10 grams of sugar and a serving size of 30 grams, that means the cereal is one-third sugar.

colorful cereal bowl


  • Be careful about cereals that boast it is “High in Fiber!” if they are also high in sugar. If a cereal is basically 30% sugar, it doesn’t matter much if there is some added fiber.
  • Be careful about front of the box advertisement that says “Made with whole grain,” because that can mean made with very little whole grain.
  • Instead, look at the actual ingredient list. The first and second ingredient should be whole grain, like whole grain wheat or whole grain oats. Typically, if you see rice or rice flour, it’s not as good for you.


  1. Fake fruits: The “strawberries” in cereals like Strawberry Mini-Wheats are most likely a mixture of food dyes and gelatin, and not real fruit. The “raspberries” in a lot of cereals are more likely to have more salt than raspberry powder. Look for real fruit in the ingredients list, or top your cereal with sliced fresh fruit like bananas or strawberries instead.
  2. Yogurt clusters: Yogurt sounds like it should be healthy, but yogurt coating is mostly oil and sugar and has no health benefits.
  3. “Slimming” cereals: Some cereals claim you can drop a pant size if you eat a bowl for every meal. Most cereals can’t claim to cause weight loss, and isn’t a balanced and healthy diet to only eat cereal.
  4. Low in calories: Watch out for how large the serving size is! If the serving size is ¼ cup, think about how much you fill your bowl—it’s very unlikely you’re only eating ¼ cup!

Adapted from “How to choose a healthy breakfast cereal” at CNN Health.

© 2021 North Carolina Cooperative Extension
Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP)

North Carolina State University
Agricultural and Human Sciences Department

Cooperative Extension at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University
College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences (CAES)