The cheapest way to improve your health, drink water!


Lucky for us, in America water is free just about anywhere you go. Drinking water instead of sugar-sweetened beverages will not only help your wallet but could help to improve your health.

Although there are currently no set requirements for water consumption, the Food and Nutrition Board recommends that the average women consume 91 ounces daily (about 11 cups) and men consume 125 ounces daily (about 15 cups). (Certain groups may require higher intake levels, check with your doctor for more information).

This may seem unattainable to some but don’t worry, typically 20% of this amount is consumed within the foods you eat. With this in mind, women should aim to drink 8 cups of water-based beverages daily and men, 12 cups. This may still seem like a daunting task for some, below are some tips to include healthy drinks into your daily routine.

  1. Reusable water bottles can be a good way to encourage water consumption.
    Tip: Look for a 16-ounce water bottle and every refill counts as 2 cups!
  2. Infuse your water with your favorite fruits and herbs. See the recipe below to get you started.
    Tip: Freeze fruits when they are in season, and usually a great deal. Once you need them they can serve to flavor your water and help keep it cold!
  3. Soda-lover? Try switching to seltzer water or club soda. Look in your grocery store for calorie-free, carbonated drinks, available in a variety of flavors.
    Tip: Most restaurants have club soda available on draft, just ask!
  4. Attention caffeine-lovers: coffee and tea count towards your daily intake as well! Take it easy on the cream and sugar and these drinks can be a healthy way to reach your recommendations.
    Tip: As a Northern originally, I am allowed to say that tea does not always have to be sweet…sorry! Try different flavors and make it hot or iced. My new favorite is honey vanilla chamomile!

Try this: Strawberry Mint Water: -1/2 Cup frozen strawberries -1/4 Cup fresh mint -8 ounces water -Combine all ingredients in a cup or water bottle.


Megan is the Adult EFNEP Program Assistant in Orange County Cooperative Extension.


Are canned fruits and vegetables healthy?


My husband, who grew up in rural North Carolina spent many of his summers with his grandfather. He saw acres of farmland with fresh vegetables including cabbages, collards, green beans, okra, field peas, squash, corn, tomatoes, cucumbers, watermelons, cantaloupes, Muscadine grapes, peaches, etc. He and his grandfather would get up early in the mornings to gather the crops. Some would be used for daily meals while others were canned and frozen by his grandmother, sold at the farmer’s market, and given to needy families. They would do this every day until it was time to replant for the next season.

While many of us don’t have access to a large family garden for fresh fruits and vegetables, there are still many available healthy canned options.

Researchers at Michigan State University found that canned fruits and vegetables are just as nutritious as frozen or fresh. For canned tomatoes in particular, canning improves the content of B vitamins, vitamin E and carotenoids compared to fresh. Fiber in beans becomes more soluble through the canning process,  and thus more useful to the human body. Additionally, a nationally represented survey of American adults found that adults and children who frequently eat canned foods (6 or more items over 2 weeks) have healthier eating habits compared to those who eat 1-2 canned food items in the same time period.  

Eat the fruits and vegetables you prefer whether canned, fresh, frozen or dried. Canned foods simply make healthy eating easy. Canned fruits and veggies are convenient to have in your pantry for times you can’t get to the store; they can even be kept at work (with a can opener) for a quick lunch or an afternoon snack. Since they don’t expire quickly, you won’t waste money when buying canned veggies – which sometimes happens with fresh produce that goes bad. Here are a few tips when buying canned fruit and vegetables:

Watch for sodium:
Sodium is usually added to canned foods to preserve them. Look for low-sodium, reduced-sodium or no-salt-added labeled foods. Compare the sodium content on the Nutrition Facts label and choose the product with the lowest amount. Drain and rinse canned veggies to reduce sodium even more.

Watch for added sugar: Look for fruit that’s canned in water, its own juice, or light syrup (drain and rinse).

Delicious uses:

  • Add drained cans of corn, tomatoes and pinto beans or any other vegetable to low-sodium chicken broth for a super-fast and filling vegetable soup.
  • Use a blender, food processor or a fork to smash drained and rinsed garbanzo beans, northern beans, or any beans into a bean dip for baby carrots; add a little lemon juice and garlic powder for some zip.
  • Serve canned fruit as a dessert topped with low-fat, no sugar-added yogurt; or top whole grain cereal with canned fruit.

You can feel confident that canned fruits and vegetables are nutritious, safe and full of flavor. Fill up your pantry with your favorite canned produce to help you prepare nutritious, quick everyday meals for your family more often while saving time and money.





How to Buy Pasta


Is there anything more satisfying than a bowl of pasta topped with a delicious, tummy-filling sauce? I don’t think so!! Pasta is used in many cuisines around the world and comes in a variety of sizes and shapes from angel hair to ziti.

When buying pasta look for ones made from whole grain. Pasta that is 100 percent whole-wheat has 4-7 grams of fiber, compared to only 2 grams in regular pasta. You can also find pastas made from quinoa, kamut, amaranth and buckwheat. Flavored pastas such as spinach and tomato aren’t usually made from whole grain and they don’t even count as a serving of vegetables, because they usually contain only traces of vegetables for coloring and a hint of flavor. Be sure to use portion control or you can over-indulge. 2 ounces of uncooked pasta per person is all you need.

Some tips for buying pasta:

  • Look for pasta with the most whole grains (you may have to try several brands to find a favorite). If all the grains listed are whole, the pasta is 100 percent whole grain. If you choose a whole-grain blend, compare nutrition labels to get the one highest in fiber.
  • Fresh pasta can be delicious—and more healthful if you can find whole-grain varieties. But watch out for extra fat and calories in fresh ravioli and other stuffed pastas. Locally made pastas may not always carry nutrition information.
  • Buy spinach and other “flavored” pastas if you like the way they look and taste—not because you think they are more healthful.
  • If you shop at a health-food store, don’t assume that the pasta is necessarily whole grain, even if its ingredients sound more healthful. Same for organic brands. A pasta that says “100 percent durum semolina” or “golden amber durum wheat,” for example, is made from refined wheat flour.
  • If you’re sensitive to gluten, don’t pass over pasta; pick one made from an alternative grain that is free of gluten, such as buckwheat or rice.
  • If you don’t like one brand of whole-grain pasta, try another, since flavors and textures vary. The shape of the pasta can make a difference, too. For a lighter texture, choose thin spaghetti, say, over penne or rotini. And don’t overcook—these pastas can get mushy fast.

Go light on your sauce and try to incorporate more vegetables in your pasta dishes for more healthy eating. And, as the Italians like to say, “Mangia”!!! That means “Eat”!!!


Celebrate the Earth and Stretch Your Food Dollar!


Today is Earth Day and what better way to celebrate than by saving some green by going green with your grocery shopping. These tips adapted from Alice Henneman, Extension Educator at the University of Nebraska will take you beyond recycling the various packages that your food comes in and will help you save money, adding a little extra green in your pocket!

  1. Size matters. – Buy the biggest container that you can afford. Do you really need to purchase individual containers if you eat them all at home?
  2. It’s in the bag. – Carry reusable shopping bags when possible. If you don’t, reuse plastic grocery bags to line small wastebaskets and make trash disposal easier.
  3. Gotta have a plan! Reduce fuel consumption by planning ahead and shopping less often.
  4. Practice the 3 Rs. Reduce, Reuse and Recycle
    • Reduce the amount of food thrown away by serving smaller portions of food. You can always go back for more if needed.
    • Reuse leftovers by planning to serve them again within two days or freezing for future use. Be sure to label and date your container.
    • Recycle leftovers into a different meal; for example – leftover roasted chicken can be turned into chicken salad, soup, casseroles or tacos.
  5. Don’t be a “spoil”-sport. Throwing away spoiled food is just like throwing away leftovers. Follow these practices to reduce the amount of spoiled food you toss:
    • Read labels for “use by,” “expiration,” or “best if used by” dates.
    • Refrigerate and freeze your food at the proper temperatures—0 degrees F or lower for freezers and 40 degrees F or lower for the refrigerator. Use an appliance thermometer for accuracy.
    • Follow recommended storage times for foods to maintain quality and safety of food products.
    • Avoid buying too much food in bulk especially if it can spoil before you use it.
  6. Drink to this. Buy a reusable water bottle and fill it with tap water. Think of the savings to your wallet and the reduction of water bottles in the landfill.
  7. Bulk it up. Many household products such as hand soap can be purchased in larger bottles and used to refill a smaller bottle. This will reduce cost and also save landfill space.

 If all these ideas seem overwhelming, choose one or two to work on for this month. Then add another one or two next month. Keep adding new practices until you are doing all of them.   Soon you will see those extra dollars adding up. Take that extra money and start a fund for something special for yourself or the kids. You’ll be surprised at how fast it adds up!


Frugal Family Shopping

If not planned properly, grocery shopping can be a challenging task, consuming a lot of time and money. It’s important to be well prepared to get the most for your money while eating healthy.

1shopping list

When shopping, try to make a list of everything that is needed for the week, including breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and snacks. This method makes it easier to stick to a budget and resist the temptation to purchase unnecessary food products. I have realized that I am more motivated to cook rather than picking something up from a restaurant because everything that is needed is within reach. Also, shopping sales at various stores in the area ensures that I am getting a good deal on my favorite products. The local farmer’s market is a great resource to purchase homegrown produce that is in season, while supporting the community.

The unit price can be very helpful when choosing products, which illustrates the price per pound, ounce, or pint. A bulk item may cost more than the convenient sizes, but you are getting more for the money. I buy in bulk whenever possible and package it myself, which helps to save in the long run.

Grocery shopping should be fun for the entire family! For tips and information on making the most of grocery shopping, check out this resource:


Heart healthy tips to keep your <3 humming along



Thinking about what to do on Valentine’s Day for those who hold a special place in your heart? Take a look at the suggestions found on the American Heart Association’s Website: . The site contains 14 practical and health conscious ideas that have more value and show a deeper love than a box of chocolates or a dozen roses ever could. The ideas are listed below. See what you think.

When you’ve finished reading, be creative! Come up with a 15th idea to show your Valentine he/she’s extra special. Enjoy the read! (Note: Hovering over the printed words or phrases in blue will take you to sites with additional ideas and information.)

  1. Rather than tempting your beloved with sweets, consider a gift that has more permanence. Search for a poem that describes your feelings and write it on beautiful paper for a handmade Valentine.
  2. Quality time is one of the most meaningful gifts. Bundle up and plan an active outing such as sledding, ice skating, gathering wood for a fire, or if you’re feeling adventurous, visit an indoor rock wall.
  3. If your kids are having a Valentine’s Day party at their school or day care, instead of sending candies, consider raisins, grapes, whole-grain pretzels, colored pencils or stickers as tokens of their friendly affection.
  4. Cooking at home is an excellent way to control what and how much you eat. Take a date to a local cooking class to practice your skills or learn a new technique.
  5. Prepare a romantic candlelit dinner at home using one of our heart-healthy recipes.
  6. Give to one another by giving back. Ask a date to volunteer with you at a local organization. Giving back is a healthy habit that can boost your mood and help beat stress.
  7. Use this day as an opportunity to tell your loved one how important they are to you, and share ways that you can support each other’s health and wellness. Get started by taking the My Life Check Assessment.
  8. Craving something sweet? Gift a beautiful fresh fruit basket to your loved one instead of giving sweets with added sugars.
  9. Sharing is caring – if you go out for a romantic dinner date, order one entrée to share. Many restaurant servings are enough for two – splitting will keep you from overdoing it.
  10. Don’t forget to love Fido, too! Give your pet a Valentine and remember to walk or exercise them daily –getting active with your pet will benefit your health and your bond with your pets.
  11. Take it slow – if you receive a luxurious box of chocolates from your sweetie, stick it in the freezer and enjoy in moderation over the next several weeks.
  12. Take a long, romantic walk with your beloved – and try to make it a regular habit. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderately intense physical activity each week to help keep your heart healthy. You can reach this goal by walking briskly for at least 30 minutes five days each week.
  13. Check out our tips for healthier preparation methods for cooking.
  14. Rekindle an old flame – try preparing one of your sweetie’s favorite recipes in a healthier way. These healthy substitutions can help you cut down on saturated fats, trans fats, salt (sodium), and added sugars, while noticing little, if any, difference in taste.