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Like a plate of crayons

Students learn to prepare nutritious, low-cost meals

May 15, 2008
By Mary Margaret Pecht, Sentinel reporter,
LEWISTOWN — Paraphrasing a tidbit in a University of Nebraska extension newsletter, Helen Sangrey told four young adult students, “Your plate should look like a box of crayons — lots of color.’’

The four were participants in Penn State Cooperative Extension’s Family Resources Program, which was held over a six-week period by Mifflin County extension.

The actual quote by Janice M. Horowitz, published in Time magazine on Jan. 12, 2002, read, “For optimum health, scientists say eat a rainbow of colors. Your plate should look like a box of Crayolas.’’

In addition to such widely varied subjects as family finances, legal issues and educational opportunities, the course focused primarily on food — wise food choices, preparing the food and making mealtime a pleasant, fruitful family time.

Sangrey, nutrition educator with the Expanded Foods and Nutrition Education Program through Mifflin County extension, led the program, which is designed to assist adults with limited resources.

Before launching into the final lesson of the six-week program, Sangrey helped the students to assess their previous day’s meals. Not just the item they ate, but what that item contained — a hoagie containing bread, meat, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes and oil or dressing, for example — and evaluate it against the food groups.

Sangrey spoke extensively about the importance of family mealtime.

One of the benefits of eating together at home with the family, she said, is “you definitely can get better nutrition and you can save money.’’

Another is the traditions that can be formed, the bonding that can take place around the family dinner table.

“As your kids grow, sitting around the table can be a way to help you stay connected with your kids,’’ she said. “Instead of feeling terrible if you didn’t have that, you can say, ‘This is something I can do with my kids.’’’

Sangrey urged program participants to have a regular place to eat — even if it’s around the coffee table in the living room. And turn off the TV during mealtime, she emphasized. If children are used to watching TV as they eat and are resistant to having it turned off, start with 10 minutes without the TV, and gradually increase it.

Fill the time with real conversation, Sangrey advised.

“Ask questions that don’t require a yes or no answer — ‘What did you do today?’ — and no picking on each other. Give them your attention. Use that time to communicate,’’ she said.

“Kids learn manners and proper eating. Believe it or not, you are your child’s best teacher.’’

Some other hints for family mealtime Sangrey cited were having all ages at the table, including little children in high chairs; giving children child-sized portions, so they are not overwhelmed by too much food, no soda cans on the table, let the phone ring or the answering machine take the call, and teach everyone to take their own plates to the sink after the meal.

“It doesn't have to be elaborate. It doesn’t have to be fancy. If there’s no table cloth, make sure the table’s clean. Make it special, maybe some flowers or a decoration on the table. Make your kids feel important,’’ Sangrey said, speaking of mealtime.

And when does all this take place?

“Just pick a night and do it,’’ Sangrey said. “We have an ultimate goal we want to do and we work toward it. If you have a problem, don’t lose your cool — think it through.’’

After the lesson and discussion on family mealtime, the four students, all Lewistown residents, pitched in to prepare lunch.

Dan Clark volunteered to make the salad. April Forshey and Melissia Myers started the main dish — skillet lasagna — and Bonita Evener compiled the fruit salad.

After playing a game that reinforced nutrition lessons while the lasagna was cooking, the group took the leader’s advice for lunch. They sat down to a nicely set table, family style and shared food and conversation — basically chitchat, but a lesson on how easily conversation can take place.

Joining the group for lunch were Wendy Barton, Even Start family literacy program coordinator for TIU 11 Community Education Services, and Debra Gregory , extension educator.

After lunch, and each one clearing his own place, Barton gave the students food shopping tips and information about preparation for GED diplomas, and other educational opportunities and free resources available to them. Gregory led a discussion about family records and finances.

Sangrey said a larger group went though the program last fall, and another is slated for the coming fall.

Students may be referred by an agency or may simply contact the extension for information about the Family Resources Program.

For more information, call Sangrey at Mifflin County extension, 248-9618.

Some recipes learned by Family Resource Program students can provide nutritious meals for budget-minded cooks, such as:

Easy lasagna

1/2 pound ground beef

8 ounces egg noodles, uncooked (try whole grain)

12 ounces fat free cottage cheese

12 ounces reduced fat mozzarella cheese, shredded

1 (26 ounce) jar spaghetti sauce

1 Tablespoon Italian seasoning

Nonstick cooking spray

Brown ground beef. Drain and return to skillet.

Stir in spaghetti sauce and Italian seasoning. Bring to a boil. Add 1 cup water and uncooked pasta. Cover and cook on medium heat for 15 minutes. Stir in cottage cheese. Cover and cook for 5 minutes. Stir in 2 cups of mozzarella cheese. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top. Cover and remove from heat. Let stand for 5 minutes to melt cheese. Makes 6 servings.

Nutrition information, per serving: 450 calories; total fat, 15 grams; saturated fat, 15 grams; protein, 35 grams; total carbohydrates, 46 grams: dietary fiber, 4 grams; sodium, 1,086 mg.

Oven baked chicken nuggets

1 egg

2 Tablespoons milk

3 1/2 cups corn flakes, crushed

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into nugget-sized pieces

1/4 cup barbecue sauce, ketchup, or mustard for dipping sauce

Nonstick cooking spray

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Whisk the egg and milk together in a small mixing bowl. Place corn flakes in a plastic bag; crush. Dip chicken pieces in egg mixture, then shake with corn flakes to coat. Put coated chicken on a baking sheet coated with nonstick cooking spray. Carefully place pan in oven, and bake for 15 minutes. Remove pan from oven. Serve nuggets with barbecue, ketchup or mustard dipping sauce. Makes 4 servings of 6 nuggets each.

Nutrition information, per serving: 250 calories; total fat, 3 grams; saturated fat, 1 gram; protein, 30 grams, total carbohydrates, 24 grams; dietary fiber, less than 1 gram; sodium, 480 mg.

Tuna burgers

1 (12 ounce) can tuna

1 1/4 cups bread crumbs, divided

1 cup (4 ounces) cheddar cheese, shredded

1 egg, lightly beaten

1/2 cup nonfat ranch salad dressing

1/4 cup finely chopped onion

Nonstick cooking spray.

Drain tuna; separate into flakes, using a fork. In a medium bowl, combine tuna, 3/4 cup bread crumbs, cheese, egg, salad dressing and onion. Form six patties; coat each side with remaining 1/2 cup bread crumbs. Spray nonstick skillet with cooking spray; heat to medium heat. Cook patties 3 to 5 minutes on each side until golden brown. Makes 6 patties.

Nutrition information, per serving: 280 calories; total fat, 9 grams; saturated fat, 4.5; protein, total carbohydrates, 24 grams; dietary fiber, less than one gram; sodium, 750 mg.

Super stir fry

Choose five vegetables (1/2 cup of each):

Onion, broccoli, celery, carrots, peppers, mushrooms, squash, zucchini or cauliflower

Choose one sauce:

Lite/low sodium soy sauce, teriyaki sauce or bottled stir fry marinade

Choose one starch:

White rice, brown rice, rice noodles or whole wheat spaghetti noodles

Wash and chop selected vegetables into small, evenly-sized pieces. You may cur them into circles, strips or cubes, as desired. A variety of shapes will make the stir fry more pleasing to the eye.

Heat a small amount (1 Tablespoon) of vegetable oil over high heat in a 10-inch frying pan, electric skillet or wok. Keeping the heat high, add vegetables to the pan in order of firmness — harder foods first and ending with the softest foods. Toss vegetables to keep from sticking until they are cooked.

When stir frying, vegetables should still be crisp and retain their bright color. Add sauce to taste (abut 1/4 cup). Stir fry till all vegetables are thoroughly cooked. Serve with starch of choice. Makes 2 servings, 1 cup each.

Nutrition information, per serving: 270 calories; total fat, 0.5 gram,; saturated fat, 0 gram; protein, 6 grams; total carbohydrates 9 grams; dietary fiber, 2 grams; sodium, 560 mg.

Easy fruit salad

2 small bananas, sliced

1 (20 ounce) can pineapple chunks in juice, drained

1 (8 ounce) low-fat yogurt (try vanilla or lemon)

1 (15-ounce) can (2 cups) fruit cocktail in juice, drained.

Wash, peel and slide bananas. Drain pineapple chunks and fruit cocktail. Mix fruits and yogurt together. Cover and chill until ready to serve.

For variation, use the following fresh fruits instead of canned: 1 cup grapes, seedless, halved; 2 cups cantaloupe, cut into bite-sized pieces; 1 cup strawberries, halved; 1 cup apples, cut into bite-sized pieces. Note: If pineapple and fruit cocktail are left out, add a little lemon juice to bananas and apples to prevent browning. Makes 10 servings, 1/2 cup each.

Nutrition information, per serving: 90 calories; total fat, 0 grams; saturated fat, 0 grams; protein, 1 gram, total carbohydrates, 20 grams; dietary fiber, 1 gram; sodium, 20 mg.

Fruit smoothies

Choose 1/2 cup of a fruit:

Bananas, peaches, strawberries, blueberries.

Choose 1 cup of a base:

Low-fat plain yogurt; low-fat vanilla yogurt, low-fat vanilla frozen yogurt, frozen juice concentrate, such as apple or orange; frozen fruit, ice cubes.

Choose 1/2 cup of a liquid:

Low-fat or fat-free milk, 100 percent fruit juice, calcium fortified soy milk


1/2 cup strawberries, 1 cup low-fat yogurt and 1/2 cup fat-free milk; 1/2 cup banana, 1 cup frozen orange juice and 1/2 cup low-fat milk; or 1/2 cup blueberries, 1 cup low-fat frozen vanilla yogurt and 1/2 cup orange juice.

Put all the ingredients in a blender and mix until smooth. Serve immediately. This will give you enough for two people. If there are more than two of you, you can make twice as much.

Nutrition information, per serving: 140 calories; total fat, 2 grams; saturated fat, 1 gram; protein, 8 grams, total carbohydrates, 23 grams; dietary fiber, less than 1 gram; sodium, 115 mg.

= Recipes are from the cookbook “Cooking with EFNEP.’’ Graduates of the Family Resources Program, who have had perfect attendance at all sessions, receive a copy of the cookbook.

Article Photos

Sentinel photos by MARY MARGARET PECHT

Lunch at the last session of the spring Family Resources Program at Mifflin County extension on Wednesday includes easy skillet lasagna, tossed salad, roll, butter and fruit salad. Shared preparation time took only a few minutes, and the lasagna took 30 minutes to cook.



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