Eat Food to Stay Hydrated

We’ve all heard that we need to drink 8 cups of water a day.

And most of us fail. Every. Single. Day.

Glass of waterphoto courtesy of Bergius

But there is hope for those of us who have a hard time drinking enough water. There are a lot of foods you can eat to help stay hydrated. These foods are packed with water and are yummy! I like to eat most of them anyway.

fruitphoto courtesy of theseanster93

Peaches, pineapples, oranges and apricots contain more than 85% water.

Strawberries, watermelon and grapefruit contain more than 90% water. I love a cold slice of watermelon on a hot summer day!

Lettuce, zucchini and other green veggies contain more than 94% water.

Drinking a glass of water 30 minutes before a meal can help curb your appetite.

What other water packed foods do you enjoy?


Fun and Frugal Friday: Make Your Own Nutella

Nutella.  My sister loves it.  I’ve never tried it.  Maybe I should.  I’ve heard it’s delicious, but I don’t even like peanut butter that much.

If you love Nutella as much as my sister does, you probably would like to consume it in mass quantities.  Why not make it yourself?

Do It Yourself Nutella

  • ½ cup blanched hazelnuts
  • 3 ½ oz dark chocolate (72%cacao), chopped
  • 1/3 cup &  2 Tbsp sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 to 2 Tbsp hazelnut oil
  • pinch of salt
  • 3-4 Tbsp hot water

Preheat the oven to 350F.

Place the blanched hazelnuts on a baking sheet and toast in oven for 5 to 7 minutes or until pale golden.

Remove the hazelnuts from the oven and allow to slightly cool (you want them warm but not hot).  Chop in a food processor until they are almost a smooth paste.

 Melt the chocolate, sweetened condensed milk and hazelnut oil in a small saucepan over low heat, stirring until smooth.  Add to the hazelnut paste in the food processor. 

Add salt and blend.

Add hot water and blend again. 

Continue blending until the mixture is a thick, spreadable consistency (like peanut butter or nutella).

Try it and let me know how it compares to the real stuff.

Should I try Nutella?


How to Flash Freeze: Buy Groceries in Bulk and Save!

Photo courtesy of Sarah Braun

One of the ways I save on groceries is by buying items in bulk.  You can get good deals on veggies, fruit and meat that are reaching their expiration date. But, there’s no way you can eat all of it before it goes bad.  Let your freezer do the preservation work for you.

Follows these 3 easy steps to flash freeze your food bargains:

1. Dice vegetables or fruit.  I cut meat into portion sizes my family will use.  If you bought chicken strips or fish filets you can leave them whole to freeze or cut into smaller portions.

2. Place the pieces on a cookie sheet lined with wax or parchment paper.

3. Place the cookie sheet in the freezer for about 2 hours or until the food is frozen.  Transfer to freezer bags (make sure you squeeze all the air out) and return to the freezer.

Freezing using this process makes it much easier to scoop out how much you need instead of defrosting the entire bag.

Do you buy fresh herbs in bulk? Blend them in a food processor, adding water until the bits come off the sides.  Measure and spoon herbs into an ice cube tray, freeze and then dump the cubes in a freezer bag.  Take one out when a recipe calls for fresh herbs.  You can also dry your herbs and store them in bags or jars.

Freezers run more efficiently when they are full.  If you have a lot of empty room in your freezer, fill milk jugs with water to take up space.  If your electricity goes off, a full freezer will stay colder longer, which will help your food stay frozen.

Do you buy in bulk?


Best Way to Store Berries

so they last longer and you save money.

One of the ways to save money on fresh produce is to check it carefully before purchasing.  Always inspect the container of berries or bags of fruit to make sure there are no moldy or soon-to-be-moldy pieces of fruit.

After you get the produce home, it is also important to take a few minutes to prepare it so that it can last as long as possible.  No one likes to throw away food that they bought a few days ago.

Cook’s Illustrated has all the info you need on the best way to wash, dry and store your fresh berries.  Rinse your berries in a vinegar and water solution to kill bacteria.  This will prevent mold growth.

Fresh, local strawberries are one of my favorite things.  I can’t wait until it’s strawberry season!

What’s your favorite fruit or veggie?


Predict Winter Weather With Persimmons

Photo of persimmonsThere’s an old wives’ tale that you can predict the severity of winter weather by cutting open a persimmon seed.  If you see a knife shape inside it will be a cold, icy winter (the wind will cut through you like a knife).  A fork shape means a mild winter.  A spoon shape means you will need a shovel to dig out the snow.

Persimmons are widely available September through December.  Get a recipe for persimmon and apple salad here.

Have you ever tried a persimmon?


Natural or Organic? What it Means Part 4

New to this series?  Start with Part 1Part 2 and Part 3.

We have discussed the basic differences between natural and organic, the standards organic foods must meet and what it means when a food is labeled natural.

Today we will discuss the protocol of two of the most popular natural meat brands.

Laura’s Lean.

  • No antibiotics.  Laura’s Lean has a no antibiotics policy.  If cattle ever get sick and have to be treated with antibiotics, they would be removed from the program.
  • No added growth hormones.  Laura’s Lean does not allow growth hormones to ever be administered to animals in their program.
  • Laura’s Lean started out as a program to promote Limousin cattle.  Today, they still focus on heavy muscled, leaner breeds like Limousin and Charolais.  All that really means to us as consumers is that Limousin and Charolais cattle do not typically have the amount of marbling that you might see in other breeds like Angus.
  • Vegetarian fed. “Cattle live in pastures and graze on natural grasses and grains. ”  I took this straight from the Laura’s Lean website.  It is slightly misleading because it makes you think that they are always out on grass pasture.  The cattle are on grass until the last 90 to 120 days when they are fed in a small feedlot (500 head of cattle or less).  While in the feedlot they are given a grain ration and hay.
  • Laura’s Lean requires all their farmers to sign on to strict standards for the raising and treatment of cattle.
  • 100-day withdrawal period.  Nolan Ryan Beef allows animals to be treated with antibiotics, however, the animals can not be treated within 100 days of harvest.  Animals can also be given added growth hormones until the last 100 days before harvest.
  • Nolan Ryan Beef sources all of their cattle from four feedlots in South Texas and each feedlot must abide by the management standards set by NRB.
  • Vegetarian fed.  All cattle in the NRB program are raised on grass and then a grass and hay diet in the feedlot.
  • NRB also has a third-party food safety lab “conduct regular testing to monitor compliance” and to make sure their “protocols are tightly enforced”.
  • NRB’s claim to fame is their Guaranteed Tender program.  You can read about their patented process that allows them to guarantee tenderness.
Next week will be the last part of our series.  We will discuss the Certified Angus Beef Natural Program.

Do you have a question about a specific brand of natural or organic beef?  Leave a comment below and I will answer!


Natural or Organic? What it Means Part 3

New to this series?  Start with Part 1 and Part 2.

We have discussed the basic differences between natural and organic and discussed the standards organic foods must meet.

Today, I will explain the natural label in a little more detail.  For the rest of this series, I will be focusing on the meat industry, primarily beef, because that is what I am most familiar with.

As we discussed in Part 1, the natural label as defined by USDA is very vague and confusing to us as consumers.  USDA defines natural as:

A product containing no artificial ingredient or added color and is only minimally processed. Minimal processing means that the product was processed in a manner that does not fundamentally alter the product. The label must include a statement explaining the meaning of the term natural (such as “no artificial ingredients; minimally processed”).

That explains nothing and leaves the door wide open for companies to claim they are natural, but not provide the type of product that we as consumers would expect.

There are other labeling claims you will usually see on natural beef products: “No Hormones Administered”  and “No Antibiotics Added”.  Just a note, hormones are not allowed in raising hogs or poultry.  They are allowed in raising cattle.

Many natural beef companies do not allow hormones to be administered.  It is important to keep in mind that all animals naturally produce hormones.  Most of the “regular” beef you buy at the store, comes from animals that have been administered hormones.  This is a typical industry practice.

Some natural beef companies allow antibiotics to be adminstered and some do not.  If an animal gets sick, antibiotics can be an important part of the veterinarian’s health care regimen.  In any beef program, animals that get sick will be treated and everything will be done to make sure the animal gets healthy.  Animals enrolled in a natural program that does not allow antibiotics to be administered, will be removed from the program.

Natural beef companies that allow hormones and antibiotics to be administered usually have a 100 day withdrawal requirement.  This means that hormones and antibiotics can not be administered within 100 days of harvest.

We will continue with our discussion of natural beef next week.  I will take a look at several of the most popular natural beef programs and will explain what the protocol is for each program.  You will be able to use this information to determine what natural beef brand fits your family best, or if you think organic is a better fit for your family.

Where do you usually by your beef?


Continue the series with Part 4.

Natural or Organic? What It Means Part 2

New to this series?  Start with Part 1.

Today we will focus on the standards organic foods must meet in order to receive the USDA Organic label.

The National Organic Program (NOP) regulations require that “agricultural products labeled as organic originate from farms or handling operations certified by a State or private entity that has been accredited by USDA.”

The NOP regulations specify production and handling, labeling, certification, and accreditation standards.

Production and Handling Standards.  State what types of feeds can be fed to animals enrolled in an organic program.  Animals must be fed feeds that are certified organic.  They can not be given growth hormones or antibiotics.  Animals can be vaccinated.  Vaccination is important for animal health.  While animals are not given additional growth hormones, all animals are making their own growth hormones.

Labeling Standards.  This is where it gets a little tricky and you need to know what the label really means.  The USDA Organic seal can be used on a product that is labeled ”100% organic” (every ingredient is organic) or on a product labeled “organic” (at least 95% of the ingredients are organic).


Processed foods containing at least 70% organic ingredients can be labeled “made with organic ingredients”.  Processed foods that contain less than 70% organic ingredients can not use the term organic unless it is for a specific ingredient that is organically produced.  In that instance, the term organic could be used in the ingredient list to specify the ingredient as organic.

Certification Standards.  Farms and facilities that raise or handle organic foods must be certified.  The certification is very in-depth and requires the facilities to state their growing and handling procedures and the things they do to guarantee that the organic regulations and standards are met.  Operations must be accredited by USDA-accredited certifying agents in order to use the USDA Organic seal.

Accreditation Standards.  These standards establish the “requirements an applicant must meet in order to become a USDA-accredited certifying agent”.  These standards ensure that all agents act consistently when inspecting and certifying organic facilities.

You can find more information about the USDA National Organic Program here.

Are organic products readily available in your area?


Continue the series with Part 3. 

Natural or Organic? What It Means Part 1

The terms natural and organic can be very confusing.  Over the next several weeks, I will explain what the terms really mean and do my best to clarify the confusion surrounding the natural and organic labeling claims.

Natural. The USDA allows any product that is free of artificial ingredients or added color and is minimally processed to be labeled natural.  USDA defines minimally processed as “the product was processed in a manner that does not fundamentally alter the product”.  Some natural products only meet these minimal qualifications and others go way beyond and have very strict standards. This can make it very confusing.

If a product carries the natural label, it must state what natural claims it is meeting such as “no artificial ingredients, minimally processed”.

In my opinion, the natural labeling regulations make it very difficult for us as the end consumers to know what we are getting without having to do extensive research.  In this series on natural versus organic labeling, I plan to clarify this issue for you and help you know how to find out what the natural label means on a product.

Organic.  Organic labeling is much more stringent.  Don’t get me wrong, there are several things you still have to watch for when it comes to organic labeling.  The Organic Foods Production Act and the National Organic Program regulations require that agricultural products labeled as organic originate from farms or handling operations certified by a State or private entity that has been accredited by USDA.

Basically, organic products can not contain synthetic substances and ingredients (except those that are exempted by the USDA).  There are many regulations regarding what can be used to control insects or pests on organic crops, what types of feed can be fed to animals and even keeping organic and non-organic items separate during production and processing.  All of this is overseen by the USDA.

So those are the very basic differences.  We will continue in more detail next week.

Are you willing to pay more for organic?


Continue the series with Part 2.


Food Safety: How to Keep Your Family Safe

I first published this post on August 3, 2011.  Given the recent recalls of ground turkey, I thought it would be good to republish this and remind everyone of ways to keep your family safe.

What are proper food safety guidelines?  How can I make sure my family stays safe?

  • Wash your hands. It’s so basic, but so important when handling raw meat products.  If you touch something raw, wash your hands.
  • Avoid cross-contamination.  NEVER place cooked food on a surface that had raw meat on it. Wash all surfaces that come in contact with raw meat in hot, soapy water.  The best thing to do, is have a separate cutting board for raw meats and cooked foods.  If any kitchen surfaces come in contact with raw meat products, wash the surface with hot soapy water.  I use a bleach water solution.
  • Cook all poultry products to an internal temperature of 165 degrees.  You can not determine if  meat is thoroughly cooked by looking at it.  You need a meat thermometer.
  • Refrigerate foods properly.  Refrigerate cooked foods within two hours.  Do not thaw foods on the counter top.  Leave them in the refrigerator to thaw or thaw in the microwave or a bowl of cold water.  Your refrigerator should be at 40 degrees or colder.  Freezers should be at 0 degrees.  You need a thermometer in your refrigerator to determine proper temperature.  Place large amounts of hot food in small shallow containers before placing in the refrigerator.  This will allow the foods to cool quickly.

Hearing about food illnesses can be scary.  Get the facts and follow proper food safety techniques and you can keep you and your family safe.

The CDC has more information about the Salmonella bacteria.

You can find a list of recent food recalls here.

Have any food safety questions?  Leave a comment below or send me an email lifelaurablog {at} gmail {dot} com.