Category Archives: Better Pantry

The Wonders of Dairy: Essential Nutrition in Many Forms

Milk is the most versatile food we eat. Dairy, which can come from several different animals, takes many different shapes, flavors, and textures, all while being an important source of essential nutrients. Quick, think about the foods you have in your house right now. How many different forms of dairy are there? I’m willing to bet you have quite a few: milk, yogurt, cheese, butter, ice cream, whipped cream, buttermilk, kefir, etc.

Despite dairy being such a popular and versatile food, many of us are not getting the recommended 3 servings of low-fat and fat-free dairy each day.

Nutrients found in milk

Thanks to the Midwest Dairy Association for this helpful chart. Found at 

Why Is Dairy So Important?

When we think of the nutrients found in dairy, calcium is probably the first thing to pop into your mind. In fact, milk and cheese are the top two sources of calcium in our diets. Calcium is needed for strong bones and teeth, as well as helping our cells send messages to each other and telling muscles to flex.

But calcium isn’t the only important nutrient found in dairy. Dairy is also an important source of Vitamin D, protein and 6 other essential nutrients.

Vitamins and Minerals found in milk

A word of caution, however. Along with those 9 essential nutrients, dairy can also have a lot of unhealthy saturated fat. Saturated fat is bad for your cholesterol levels and raises the risk of heart disease. Full fat dairy products, like butter, ice cream, whole milk, whipped cream and certain cheeses have too much saturated to eat regularly. Low-fat (1%) and fat-free (skim) dairy products have less saturated fat (and calories!), so we should focus on adding more of these types of dairy.

Add More Dairy To Your Day

Getting more low-fat and fat-free dairy is easy. Here are some tasty tips:

  • Drink milk instead of sugary drinks.
  • Make a tasty smoothie and get more dairy, as well as fruits and veggies.
  • Treat yourself to a Yogurt Parfait instead of ice cream.
  • Shave some low-fat cheese on top of your meal for a flavor boost.
  • Use low-fat (1%) milk in your coffee instead of creamer.
  • Flavor yogurt to make a creamy dip for fruit or veggies.
  • Or check out these ideas from the National Dairy Council.

What’s your favorite way to get your essential nutrition from dairy?

Spice It Up Without the Salt!

Eating too much sodium is harmful to our heart health, raising the risk of high blood pressure, stroke, and heart attacks. Even with all the reminders of this fact, we still are eating too much sodium every day. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that reducing our intake of sodium to recommended levels (1500-2300 mg per day) would potentially save 40,000 lives and $7 billion in health care costs each year. That’s a pretty good reason to cut back.

But putting down the saltshaker is hard. What will our food taste like without it? This is where herbs and spices come in. They add tons of delicious flavors without adding salt (or sugar or fat, too!). Check out these great ideas for adding spices to your meals.

flavor profiles of different herbs and spices

Fresh herbs can be more expensive, but are pretty easy to grow yourself, either in a garden or a pot. The best thing about growing them in a pot is that you can bring them indoors over the winter and have a fresh supply all year long.

Dried herbs and spices won’t go bad quickly and are great items to keep in your Better Pantry. Find a little wiggle room in your budget to start building up your spice rack one at a time. You’ll eventually have a nice variety to choose from when cooking. You can also buy herb and spice blends, like Italian Blend or Grilling Blend, which gives you more variety for your money right away. Just be sure that you’re buying salt-free blends to keep the sodium low.

My favorite flavors are:

  • Basil- I use this in just about anything savory. Basil and Parsley are pretty “generic” flavors that work well in many dishes. Fresh basil is awesome for making pesto from scratch. It’s very easy to grow yourself.
  • Dill- Dried dill is one of my favorite popcorn toppings. Fresh dill smells so good and is a perfect match with salmon.
  • Cumin- This smoky spice adds flavor, but not heat, to chili, Mexican recipes or beef dishes.

What herbs and spices do you use the most?

Better Flavor, Better Savor: Marinara Sauce

Written by Lindsey Wallace
Part of National Nutrition Month 2014

Have you ever considered how much money is saved by preparing meals from scratch? Want better flavor and be a better saver for your family? Consider preparing your own marinara sauce.

Save yourself from high sodium and mediocre flavor when buying store bought marinara sauces. Venture to make your own from fresh produce from your local grocer or farmers market.

homemade tomato sauce

Image by Lindsey Wallace

Your marinara will be flavorful and inexpensive compared to store brands. The savings are more than monetary; just 50mg of sodium per serving compared to most store brands of 400mg sodium per serving. Foods low in sodium keeps the heart healthy. Sodium in excess can damage the heart by making the heart work harder to pump blood.

The taste of homemade marinara with fresh ingredients is much more dynamic than store brands. The various herbs, spices, and aromatics are creating the flavor instead of salt. I hope you are up to the adventure of making your own. Enjoy the flavors!
Consider canning your sauce for serving up a quick. Safely canning practices allow you to savor these flavors year round! The recipe below is intended for canning 8 pints of marinara; however the recipe can be adjusted to fit your serving size needs. What’s your favorite meal to serve up your marinara?

how to can tomato sauceIngredients:

Yield: 8 pints

  • 1 1/4 cups chopped onions
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped celery
  • 1 cup finely chopped carrot
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 8 lbs ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 teaspoon marjoram
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper


AmyZoe (2009, January 9). Canning marinara sauce. Retrieved from

American Heart Association (2014, February 19). Sodium (salt). Retrieved from


Avoiding the Freshman Fifteen

Written by Kelsey Tripp
Part of National Nutrition Month 2014

If you are in college, you may be afraid of gaining the dreaded “freshman fifteen”. I often find myself eating chips, cookies, and other tasty snacks, but I later regret those empty calories. Everyone should eat those delicious treats on occasion, but it is important to eat a diet full of fruits and vegetables. I’ve found that the best defense against unwanted weight is to stock my fridge or cabinet with healthy choices to eat as snacks between meals or late at night.

Some of the foods you can find in my kitchen are the following:

  • Clementines are easy to peel and they are small enough to fit in any book bag if you have a lot of back-to-back classes.
  • Apples and bananas are always my go-to fruits; they are sweet treats any time of the day.
  • Baby carrots are my best defense against late-night study sessions when I just want to munch on chips or candy.
  • Red peppers are one of my favorites and a vegetable you should try! According to the USDA’s National Nutrient Database, red peppers have two times more Vitamin C than oranges.
healthy snack

Image by Kelsey Tripp

Carrots and red pepper are delicious on their own, but you can dip them in hummus or your favorite dressing!

Start a shopping list including your favorite fruits and vegetables to pick up next time you go to a grocery store. When you’re in the produce section, don’t be afraid to explore different foods! What are some other easy, healthy snacks you would include with this list?


National nutrient database. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Build a Better Pantry Part 3 – Freezer Foods

Now that we’ve posted about foods to stock in your pantry and refrigerator, it’s time to “chill” and talk about foods to keep in your freezer. Here are some reasons why your freezer can be your best friend:

  1. It’s a wonderful time-saving device when you don’t have time to cook from scratch
  2. Once defrosted, frozen foods are just as tasty as they were when fresh
  3. Perishable foods last longer when frozen

Freezing is a smart way to avoid wasting food (and money). Foods (like meat) that are approaching their expiration date can be safely stored in the freezer, and thawed once you’re ready to use them. Although perishable foods do last longer when frozen than when kept at room temperature or in the refrigerator, don’t forget that they won’t last forever. This chart is very helpful for knowing how long your frozen foods are good for. Smart tip: write a date on every item you stick in your freezer. That way, you’ll know whether or not it’s still safe to eat.

Also keep in mind that there are right and wrong ways to thaw frozen food items. Read up on the right way to thaw frozen food to make sure you’re not putting yourself at risk for getting sick from your food.


Better Pantry Freezer Foods

Grains myplate_white_grains-1

  • Loaves of whole grain bread
  • Muffins: make a large batch and store in the freezer for a quick breakfast on busy mornings.
  • Pizza dough: having frozen portions ready to go in the freezer makes homemade pizza nights quick, easy, and kid-friendly.

[Loaves of bread can be kept in the freezer to extend shelf life. Make sure loaves are wrapped tightly with plastic and foil to keep any air from seeping in. Muffins and unrisen dough should also be sealed tightly in plastic bags.]

Fruit myplate_white_fruits-1

  • Berries: blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries
  • Mango
  • Tropical fruit mix

[Buying frozen fruit is a great way to keep from wasting money on fresh fruit that spoils before you can eat it. Fruits that are out of season, especially berries, are actually cheaper when bought frozen instead of fresh. Fruit is frozen at its peak in freshness, so you know you’ll always be getting the sweetest, ripest fruit. Be sure to buy frozen fruit unsweetened so that it doesn’t have extra sugar added to it.]

Vegetables myplate_white_vegetables-1

  • Broccoli
  • Asparagus
  • Corn
  • Peas
  • Green beans
  • Spinach
  • Onions
  • Mushrooms
  • Blends of several different veggies

[Frozen vegetables are really convenient – they are already prepped and ready to cook so that you don’t have to worry about any rinsing or chopping. Just like fruit, out of season fresh veggies can be expensive. Buying the frozen option can save on cost without losing flavor.]

Protein myplate_white_protein-2

  • Chicken
  • Beef
  • Pork
  • Fish (tilapia, flounder, shrimp, salmon)
  • Ground meat (beef, chicken, turkey)

[If you find a good sale on meat, stock up and freeze the extras to use later on.]


  • Hard or semi-hard cheese
  • Cottage, ricotta, and cream cheese
  • Milk
  • Sour cream
  • Yogurt

[Freezing dairy products can cause changes in their texture. For that reason, these items work best when added into recipes instead of being eaten alone. For more basics on freezing dairy products and how freezing may change their quality, click here.]


  • Nuts
  • Jams and jellies: check out these tips and recipes to make your own “freezer jelly” at home.
  • Coffee

Not only can you freeze the individual “ingredients” listed above, but prepared meals like stews, soups, and casseroles can be frozen and reheated later on. Check out this helpful fact sheet, paying special attention to page 2 for tips on freezing and serving prepared meals. See, your freezer really is a wonderful thing!

What’s in your freezer? How long has it been since you cleaned it out? Now might be the time to sort the fresh items from the freezer-burned!