Food Prep Hacks


Thank you Ghregrich Connect for sharing this infographic!


Sources: Fix

Community Food Security Initiative

food5By: Nikki Nies

Food security is the access to sufficient food for an active, healthy life.  Community Food Security Initiative (CFSI) is the development of sustainable, community based strategies to ensure all have access to culturally acceptable, nutritionally adequate food at all times.  By rescuing food that would otherwise go to the waste side, food recovery programs can provide nutritious meals, protect the environment and save money.

Food rescue programs are involved in gathering leftover fresh and non-perishable food from restaurants, grocery stores, bakeries, and cafeterias. Strategies to strengthen local food systems: url

  1. Farmer’s Markets and roadside stands: increases access to fresh produce; support regional farmers; rewards sense of community;
  2. Food Recovery and Gleaning Programs: collect excess wholesome foods that would be otherwise thrown away (i.e. farms, packing houses, caterers, cafeterias and restaurants) for delivery to hungry people
  3. Prepared and Perishable Food Programs (PPFPs): nonprofit programs that link sources of unused, cooked and fresh foods with social service agencies that serve the hungry
  4. Throughout New York state, community and/or rooftop gardens have started “Grow an Extra Row” campaigns and “Seed and Seedling Distribution” programs that improve access to healthy food, offers skill and confidence building and food security
  5. Community Support Agriculture (CSA): offers usually organic produce out of the fields with affordable prices in comparison to grocery stores or distributors; some CSA accept Food Stamps or operate on a sliding scale
  6. Food Buying Clubs: when winter rolls around, food buying clubs are a great way to include variety in your meals all year round; produce is harvested and distributed to CSA members at neighborhood site weekly throughout the summer and fall; encourages participation from low income; bring many people together to cooperatively purchase food; traditionally “food share” costs members about 50% of price in traditional retail market; no eligibility or income requirement required for participation

Buying locally isn’t just for low income families, but for those that want to take a more proactive approach to the foods consumed. Locally grown food also supports small-scale farms and strengthens the local food supply! What initiatives have you seen occur at the local, state and federal level? What programs do you think could use improvement?

Photo Credit:Hungry Action NYS and NJ Family 


Review: Organicgirl

logo_organicgirlDisclosure Agreement: Review of Organicgirl was due to compensation from the company’s whose products were reviewed. We Dish Nutrition tested each product thoroughly and gives high marks to only the very best. Opinions expressed at We Dish Nutrition are our own. 

By: Nikki Nies

When one sets forth a long term goal, with the right amount of passion, resources and confidence, anything can be achieved. While this scenario can be applicable to various situations, I want to applaud Organicgirl’s team for their continued efforts in offering superb organic produce. The company’s name is fitting, as Organicgirl reflects the company’s mission to provide fresh, youthful greens.  header-r3

The production of quality products doesn’t stop with the supply of greens themselves, as the recycling program (R3)-return, recycle and reward reflects Organicgirl’s sustainability practices ! By returning romaine heart bags back to Organicgirl, the bags are used further production and consumers can obtain free produce by recycling! Can’t get much better than that!

It is important to note, Organicgirl doesn’t ostracize men or boys, as everyone can and should enjoy healthy, sustainable produce. They also provide consumers the confidence needed to buy greens, with all products labeled washed3, signifying the product wasn’t washed just once, but THREE times!

IMG_9258Recently, I had the pleasure of experimenting with Organicgirl’s spinach using Skinnytaste‘s Spinach Dip recipe. Happily, I was able to kill two birds with one stone. 1) use Organicgirl’s spinach 2) make spinach dip! With such an easy recipe, in under 30 minutes, I was quickly able to enjoy the spinach dip, guilt free I might add!  The recipe made 2 1/2 cups of spinach dip, being able to use the dip with my favorite crackers and even as a spread on toast.

I continue to be impressed with Organicgirl’s quality products, with transparency in all facets of production and their continued stance on decreasing the company’s carbon footprint.

To elevate their line of products, it’d be great if Organicgirl started providing its consumers suggestions of how to use the greens in recipes. Organicgirl does a great job of engaging its users across multiple social media platforms, asking consumers how they are using the greens, yet maintaining documentation of suggestions and unique uses of greens would encourage consumers to try different variations and products of Organicgirl’s greens.

Organicgirl offers a variety of greens, more than just spinach, what Organicgirl greens do you find yourself picking up? What’s your favorite way to use theses scrumptious, sustainable products?

Check out Organicgirl’s Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest | elist | Contact

Photo Credit: Organicgirl


Cleaner Eating on a Budget

By: Nikki Nies IMG_9404

I recently wrote about the proper measures one may need to take to ensure home safety.  While, that is important, it’s equally important to recognize how all healthy eatomh can fit into a household budget.  Obviously, I don’t know what your family and/or financial circumstances are, but I can make generalizations that you care about your family’s well being, that you want to know where your food is coming from and if you can save a buck or two while eating frugally, why not?

If you found yourself nodding ‘yes’ to any or all of my above generalizations, then proceed to my next point. There seems to be three kind of grocery shoppers, those that stick to non-GMO, organic, pesticide, hormone and antibiotic free, those that pick and choose the foods that are “cleanly” bought while opting to buy the nonorganic counterparts when desired.  And then there’s those like me, may recognize the benefits of “cleaner” produce and products, that are non-GMO, organic, antibiotic, hormone and/or pesticide free, but don’t see how those concepts fit into  our budget.

I can’t help, but look at prices.  However, I’ve doing a lot of reading lately and I firmly believe that these distinctive three groups could be under one umbrella, purchasing cleaner foods in a cost effective manner.

Friendly Suggestions on How to Stretch Food Dollars:4colorsealgif

  • Stick to foods that have the 100% organic, “organic” made with organic ingredients–skip the sections that have “natural”, “hormone free” and/or “free range.”
  • Opt for generic organic brands
  • For each week, plan meals around circular sales and/or dry goods you already have to spare at home
  • Compare different organic variations, including dried, fresh, canned or frozen.  When cooked correctly, all these organic variations can be  equally delicious!
  • Shop around to find “your” store! Perhaps, a closer grocery store has a better organic variety and/or generic options!
  • Always make a grocery list!
  • Join a local food cooperative to learn the latest local news on events, programs and locations to purchase organic products
  • Plant or join a local community garden to grow your own organic produce
  • Limit meat to less than three times a week as meat is naturally more expensive than vegetables, legumes and beans
  • Clip coupons or gather from online newsletters or magazine subscriptions
  • Shop at supermarkets that carry their own generic organic brands (i.e. Aldi)
  • Check out local farmer’s market
  • Buy in season
  • Buying in bulk will not only be less expensive long term due to larger quantity, but due to less packaging costs

I promise, with my next grocery trip, I’m heading straight to the organic section! For those that have been eating only or predominantly organic, how are you able to stretch the dollars?  How can we best incorporate organic foods into our lives seamlessly?

Photo Credit: Back to Her Roots 


If You Can Read=You Can Cook

shutterstock_116301946-300x200By: Nikki Nies

In my circle of friends, I’m known as the gal who makes homemade lunch and dinner. I’m the first to suggest making homemade cookies and try a new pasta dish, but I haven’t always been like this.  In the past year, a lot has changed, from my increased domestic lifestyle and conscious effort to make creative dishes using ingredients on hand.

While my friends have varying levels of culinary experience, many are shocked the lengths I go to make homemade.  Yet, I’ve found bringing them into the kitchen with me is a great “bonding” experience and a budget friendly way to enjoy some great flavors!

I’m still in my early stages as a cook and I use online recipes as a crutch, but I’ve learned a lot about cooking in my short time.  All those naysayers that say they can’t cook, I argue one can cook if they can read.  How do you think others have learned?  Perhaps, one learned from a culinary master, but they still had to READ or WATCH how to develop those skills.

Like any other activity, one has to have an interest in cooking.  Until I was pushed to learn during my internship, I didn’t have a need or interest in cooking.  Throughout this last year, I’ve learned a thing or two about cooking, which I have found helpful in the kitchen.

My Personal Tips:

  • Carefully read what the recipe is asking for.  Does it ask for fresh or dried basil?  Once I was making a recipe that called for 3 tablespoons of fresh parsley and I only had dried parsley, so I put in 3 tablespoons of dried parsley.  If you’re substituting dry spices for fresh, make sure to use only a fraction of the measurement that is called.  Also, read if recipes call for tomato sauce, tomato paste or puree.  The difference in these three types of tomatoes is the consistency.  While it may not make much difference in some recipes, it can really make or break others
  • Start cooking your favorite foods.  When you’re personally invested in something, you naturally “try harder” due to the connection you feel to a dish.
  • I only use recipes that have more than 4.5 stars.  I also look at recipes’ comments.  You’ll often find additional tips from previous users, like you might not need all the nutmeg the recipe calls for or how to freeze the dish properly!
  • Grab a friend or two and have some more fun in the kitchen! Two heads are always better than one.  Having another person on hand to help with cleaning the dishes, I mean helping with the meal can limit errors and as said before, a great bonding experience
  • If possible, read the recipe a day before hand prep to make sure you have all the ingredients on hand and if you need to adjust next day’s schedule for recipe (i.e. chill in fridge for 1 hr., thawing meat).
  • Invest in quality cookware.  I’m not saying to max out 5 credit cards to get a $500 Vitamix, but opt quality knives over Dollar Tree (There’s a time and place to go to the Dollar Tree!) blender.  Yes,you’ll see a difference in  the quality of your meals and by “investing” in quality equipment you’ll save more in the long run plus fewer headaches!

Whether you’re new in the kitchen like me or  you’ve been cooking before you could talk, what’re some tips you’re willing to share? We can all learn a thing or two from another!


Middle Eastern Flavor Exposure

By: Nikki Nies

Original Image by Divya Thakur via Flickr
Original Image by Divya Thakur via Flickr

You know how you get giddy when you’re able to share a passion or interest with some one and they “get” the hype?  My friend from Wisconsin doesn’t have a lot of access to authentic Asian restaurants back home.  I found this past weekend to be the best time to introduce her to ethnic foods! The best part, she loved it!

After she had stuffed herself with the new flavor combinations, she inquired what food had she eaten.  Was it Japanese or Chinese? I corrected her telling her that since we had kimchi, it was Korean.  I wasn’t offended because she had a genuine interest in knowing exactly what she ate.  I brushed it off, stating I wouldn’t know what Middle Easterns eat besides hummus.  The Middle East consists of Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Turkey.

My conversation with her and a recent discussion I had in my Public Health class regarding culture sensitivity got me questioning why I didn’t know off the top of my head Middle Eastern traditional cuisines.  That’s my lead in to this blog post.

I’m taking this blog post as a way to increase not only your awareness of what it mean to be eating Middle eastern food and recognizing some differences within the regions.  As there are distinct tastes and ingredients in Asian cooking, it’s not fair to clump Middle Eastern cuisine under one blog post, but there are more similarities than differences in these Middle Eastern nations.  Ingredients that are commonly seen in such cooking and dishes include dates, olives, wheat, rice, legumes, and

The Middle Eastern diet consists of the American MyPlate food groups, but has distinct emphasis on certain foods within the food groups.

Food Group      Customary Traditions
  • More common to eat fermented dairy products, such as cheese and yogurt
  • Whole milk’s often used in desserts and puddings
  • Most common cheese: feta
  • Very common: lamb, kosher beef, kosher poultry, herring, lox and sardines
  • Pork is only eaten on Christmas
  • Pork is not eaten by Muslims or those that are Jewish
  • Less likely to see dairy and shellfish within the same meal
  • Common: black, kidney and navy beans, chick peas and lentils
  • Most popular: eggplant
  • Preferred to be used in raw or mixed salad with fruit
  • Can be seen stuffed in rice and/or meats
  • Olive oil commonly used in prep
  • Black and green olives are popular in many dishes
  • Regularly seen in desserts and/or snacks
  • Fresh is the most desired kind of fruit type
  • Often used in compotes and jams if fresh fruit isn’t feasible
  • Flavorings regularly includes lemons
  • Wheat, barley or rice are often included in meals
  • Common grains: couscous, burghul, pita bread, freekeh,matzoh and/or unleavened bread
  • Filo dough frequently found in desserts

Overview of Middle Eastern Staples: 

Original Image by Mr.TinDC via Flickr
Original Image by Mr.TinDC via Flickr
  • Ful Medames: An Egyptian and Sudanese breakfast dish made from fava beans, olive oil, parsley, garlic and lemon; often served with a fried egg and pita bread
  • Manakeesh: Similar to U.S. pizza, a round bread with ground meat, herbs and/or cheese; preferably for breakfast or lunch
  • Grilled Halloumi: Cheese made from goat and sheep milk; no acid or bacteria are used during processing
  • Shanklish: Golf size cheese balls; rolled in herbs or chili flakes
  • Falafel: Deep fried ball or patty made of chick peas, fava beans or a combination of both; often served with tomatoes, sliced onion and romaine lettuce
  • Moutabal/baba ghanoush (aka baba ganush, baba ghannouj or baba ghannoug): Dip with an eggplant(aubergine)dish; aubergine often baked or broiled over an open flame to provide a smokey taste; sometimes eaten with pita bread
  • Fattoush (aka fattush, fatush, fattoosh,and fattouche): A Levantine tangy salad containing lettuce, onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, olive oil and mint; part of the fattat dish group–all being made from stale bread as its base
  • Tabouleh: A vegetarian salad dish composed of tomatoes, parsley, mint, onion, olive oil, salt and lemon juice; can be modified for personal tastes
  • Shanklish: Golf size cheese balls; rolled in herbs or chili flakes
  • Mezze: Collection of small dishes that are picked at leisure: cheese, melon, nuts, various salads and dips, such as tabbouleh, hummus, mutabbal and/or pickles
  • Shish Tawook: Skewered chicken dish; can be served with French fries or pita bread
  • Dolma: Grape leaves, chard, and cabbage stuffed with rice, ground meat, pine nuts, and spices.  Will be stewed in oil and tomato
  • Kofta: Common Pakistani or Iranian dish; minced lamb or beef balls; served with its own spicy sauce
  • Kibbeh (aka kibbe): A Turkish dish made of bulghur, minced onions and finely ground meat; most common: torpedo shaped fried croquette with minced meat
  • Shawarma:Meat, such as lamb, turkey, beef or veal are placed on spit for hours at a time; shavings cuts off for serving; usually eaten with tabouleh, fattoush, taboon bread, tomato and cucumbers
  • Quwarmah Al Dajaj: Curried chicken; has lime, ginger, turmeric, baharat, cumin, cardamom, black pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, paprika
  • Mansaf: Mutton with yogurt sauce; sprinkled with almonds and pine nuts
  • Umm Ali: Egyptian bread pudding; made with milk and cream; can contain vanilla, pistachios, condensed milk, raisins and/or croissant piece
  • Knafeh: cheesecake made of Nabusi cheese
  • Kebab Karaz (aka cherry kebab or desert candy): Syrian candy that contains sour cherries and pomegranate pip
  • Baklava: pastry made of filo dough; can contain nuts, sweet syrup and honey

I’m sure I’ve left out at least one or two staples, yet only a true Middle Eastern could share from experience.  If any one has any particular food staples in their house, please enlighten us!


The Salt Review

By: Nikki Nies

Depending on living environment and/or accent, nouns be referred to as different things.  For instance, you won’t find the word “pop” on a menu on the East Coast, but in the MidWest, “pop’s” the standard name for soda.  Get it?  While these regional words are equally accepted and used for sodium bicarbonate, such exchange of words are not always accurate.

Salt and sodium are used interchangeably.  However, salt and sodium don’t have the same meaning.  Salt is the combination of sodium + chloride, with sodium deemed the unhealthy part of salt.  1 gram of sodium is equal to 2.5 grams of salt.  On average, people are consuming 9 grams of salt a day.

It’s important to follow these parameters as too much sodium can lead to hypertension and increase one’s risk for stroke and/or heart disease.  The salt shaker on your table isn’t the issue at hand, but 80% of sodium is from the pre packaged,prepared, restaurant processed foods that are packed with sodium rich preservatives.

Recommendation: One should have no more than 2300 mg a day of sodium/6 grams of salt.  If you’re of African American descent, 51 years or older, have high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease, you should limit to 1500 mg per day.  Yet, high salt intake doesn’t increase one’s risk for heart disease, but sodium does!

To be more mindful of the amount of sodium in foods, choose:

  • Food with less than 50 mg sodium per serving is very low in sodium
  • Entrees with no more than 480 mg sodium per serving   
  • Opt for fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables instead of canned
  • Look for “no salt added” or “low sodium” products
  • Eat in one more night a week.  Peruse the American Heart Association‘s website for heart healthy recipes and ideas
  • Limit intake of sodium rich foods–soy sauce, pickles, salad dressing, ketchup, cheese, canned meats, frozen meals (i.e. pizza, stir fry, TV dinners), bread, cold cuts, bacon, hot dogs, salami and sausage

Foods that contain more than 250 mg of sodium per serving are considered high in sodium.

Salt Grain Size Recommended Use Fun Fact
Sea Salt Small and large Cooking and seasoning Comes from evaporated sea water; it’s common for minerals to be left behind in sea salt, which gives it extra flavor and its off white color
Table Salt Very small For seasoning, baking and in salt shakers All mineralsare removed from table saltChemicals are added in so so the grains don’t stick together
Kosher Salt Large Cooking and Seasoning Salt isn’t actually “kosher”, meaning it doesn’t conform to Jewish food laws, it’s used to make meat kosher

Now that you can differentiate salt and sodium, you’re already on your way to lowering your risk for blood pressure, heart attack and stroke!


Farmer’s Fridge

ac414a_5e720261692667edb31ab132d8739955.png_srz_p_195_215_75_22_0.50_1.20_0By: Nikki Nies

Farmer’s Fridge prides itself in offering only the freshest, tastiest products to its devoted customers.  Using local, organic products as much as possible, being tasty and nutritious is guaranteed to be delivered.

In addition to quality food, Farmer’s Fridge uses only BPA free packaging and maintain FDA standards with all food contact.

Not a fan yet?   A reason you may not have heard of Farmer’s Fridge is because their products are sold in the traditional super market. Instead, products are sold in a kiosk.  ac414a_692c8669a30ffc0db12407c2420869e2.png_srz_p_400_491_75_22_0.50_1.20_0

Let me tell you about their kiosk! Their kiosk is an updated, revamped vending machine.  The kiosk itself is a thing of beauty, made from reclaimed wood and recycled materials.  The kiosk accepts all major credit cards, user friendly with touch screen access and provides product images, nutrition information and ingredient list.

So, how does the kiosk work?

  • Fresh produce is delivered to fresh products daily.
  • Salads are delivered to the machine at 10AM and remove the unsold salads (which we donate to a local food pantry)… daily.
  • We discount any unsold salads by $1 at 6 p.m.

Not a bad deal, eh? Check out their menu at!menu/c1hxq

I love Farmer’s Fridge concept and they don’t allow any compromises deter their vision or mission to serve their customers.  You don’t regularly see pistachios, sprouts, fennel, Napa cabbage, water chestnuts, Kalamata olives and/or dried tart cherries in the same menu, but Farmer’s Fridge doesn’t hesitate to please a wide array of tastes.

There’s currently 2 kiosks, one in Lake Forest, IL and in downtown Chicago, IL on N. Clark Street.  While Chicagoans are the first to be served guaranteed fresh food, the concept will hopefully expand into other franchises too.


Fresh or Frozen?

ImageBy: Nikki Nies

Making it a week before having to head to the grocery store can be a feat for some families.  How often do you run to the store to grab more fruit to pack in your kid’s lunch boxes or because you need some peas to put into the pot pie you’re making tonight?

Well, there’s often a debate on whether frozen or fresh are the better route to go. Like many things in life, with a balance of fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables it can be beneficial in the long run . Check out this table of the pros and cons of fresh and frozen veggies

Fresh foods Frozen Foods
  • Richer in vitamins and minerals than frozen
  • Best when used immediately cut or purchased
  • If eaten on a regular basis, may not provide enough of the required amount of vitamins and minerals
  • Not as nutritious as fresh foods
  • Less nutrient dense than fresh food
  • Does not have as “immediate” use as fresh foods
  • Those that are without preservatives are the best source of nutrients—easily absorbed by blood
  • If purchased locally, often can avoid the preservatives
  • Contain many preservatives to prevent from spoilage
  • Daily consumption isn’t good for the body
  • May be better than wilted fresh food
  • Contain many preservatives to prevent from spoilage
  • Daily consumption isn’t good for the body
  • May be better than wilted fresh food
Time to Prepare
  • Can be cooked quicker than frozen as they’re at a much lower temperature
  • Need to be thawed prior to use—need to plan ahead
  • Don’t require washing, peeling or chopping—prep free
  • Need to be thawed prior to use—need to plan ahead
  • Don’t require washing, peeling or chopping—prep free
  • Spoil easily
  • Unless preserved, seasonal foods can not be consumed at all times of year
  • Quickly affected by bacteria and fungus
  • Minute produce is picked, it begins to lose its nutrienst
  • Freezing helps preserves foods for consumption later—can eat seasonally
  • Helps prevent waste
  • Prevents food decay, bacterial growth and/or chemical reactions
  • Doesn’t destroy nutrients
  • No unwanted additives are needed
  • Freezing helps preserves foods for consumption later—can eat seasonally
  • Helps prevent waste
  • Prevents food decay, bacterial growth and/or chemical reactions
  • Doesn’t destroy nutrients
  • No unwanted additives are needed
Our Market
  • Often times “fresh” has been kept fresh with preservatives
  • Never know how “fresh” produce is
  • Can’t tell what and if produce have been injected
  • Often takes at least 1000 miles from farm to table and can lose “freshness”
  • May be harvested before it reaches nutritional peak, then artificially ripened during transport
  • More than likely don’t have preservatives
  • Most produce that is freezed after fully ripened, which allows vitamins, minerals and antioxidants to be “locked in”
  • Easier to find “naked” produce—with single word ingredient lists—nothing added
 •    More than likely don’t have preservatives
•    Most produce that is freezed after fully ripened, which allows vitamins, minerals and antioxidants to be “locked in”

  • Easier to find “naked” produce—with single word ingredient lists—nothing added

As stated, purchasing both fresh and frozen will you a variety of tastes, nutrients and hopefully give you a chance to experiemnt next time in the kitchen.