Author Archives: kstrong

Sign up for VCE’s home food preservation workshops


Learn the basics of home food preservation with hands-on experiences and demonstrations. Science-based methods focus on food safety and quality. Workshops are perfect for beginners and those looking to brush up on their skills.

Find more information and registration instructions by visiting our Home Food Preservation Workshop.

3 workshops are available in 2015:

Boiling Water Canning

Overview of canning basics and drying foods. Hands-on workshop for jams, jellies, and pickled products.

  • April 15, 5 to 8 pm, Pennino Kitchen, Fairfax
  • July 7, noon to 3 pm, Pennino Kitchen, Fairfax
  • August 27, noon to 3 pm, Fairlington Kitchen, Arlington

Pressure Canning

Overview of canning basics and freezing food. Hands-on workshop for canning low-acid foods, such as vegetables, beans, and meats.

  • May 13, noon to 3 pm, Pennino Kitchen, Fairfax
  • June 10, 5 to 8 pm, Pennino Kitchen, Fairfax
  • September 17, noon to 3 pm, Fairlington Kitchen, Arlington

Food Fermentation

Overview of concepts and equipment for fermenting food (beer and wine not covered). Hands-on workshop for fermenting fruits and vegetables.

  • July 16, 5 to 8 pm, Fairlington Kitchen, Arlington
  • August 12, 5 to 8 pm, Pennino Kitchen, Fairfax
  • September 16, noon to 3 pm, Pennino Kitchen, Fairfax

Download the 2015 Food Preservation brochure.

Warm Up with Winter Soups and Stews

Arlington residents are keeping warm and learning to cook healthy soups and stews at Langston-Brown Senior Center. You can, too! Load your homemade soups with winter vegetables–especially bright red and orange–and reheat leftovers for quick meals throughout the week. Sure, canned soups are convenient. But, they can be high in salt and hard on your heart. By making soups yourself, you can lower the salt to a healthy amount without sacrificing flavor.

Here are some tips for boosting flavor without salt.

1. Start with a flavorful vegetable base. Heat a small amount of oil and cook diced onion, carrots, and celery over medium-low heat until soft.

2. Intensify with spices. Add spices to the hot oil and cook until fragrant. Try cumin, curry, garlic, or smoked paprika. Fresh herbs and garlic cloves will have a bolder taste than powdered.

3. Use a low sodium broth. Check the nutrition facts label and choose the broth or stock with the lowest sodium. Or, make the stock yourself without using salt.

4. Finish with a splash of acidic flavor. A few tablespoons of vinegar or citrus juice at the end will brighten the flavor and round out the taste. If using cooking wine as the acid, add this to the vegetable base before the broth and allow it to cook for a few minutes. Try this healthy Root Vegetable Stew recipe tonight for a meal your whole family will love!

Find more VCE senior nutrition and cooking classes in the Arlington 55+ guide.

By Laurie Van Dyk, Virginia Tech Dietetic Intern 2014-2015

Summer Vegetables Are Finally Here

Summer Vegetables Are Finally Here

I’ve been waiting for this time of year since the winter, you go to the farmers’ market or you planted vegetable plants and have been waiting for them to ripen so you can eat from all those fresh seasonal vegetables.  While almost all vegetables are available year round now, there’s something special about eating them so fresh.  The idea of a fresh picked tomato or sweet corn; who needs to do much to them to satisfy your taste buds?  I can have them constantly all summer long and never tire of them.  Some vegetables, however, need a little more preparation for their best flavors to appear, but the variety of vegetables available now gives me an opportunity to mix them up and get just great flavors, and such healthy nutrients to boost.

I only have room to plant a few things in my tiny garden, and for some reason, I always choose eggplant and tomatoes, as well as pots of herbs.  Although I never get many tomatoes, and I’m always fighting with the squirrels for my share, I just can’t give up trying to grow them.  As for eggplant, well I do love them, and they don’t take much room, so they’re a good choice.  The problem is, once the eggplant plants begin to produce, you never get just one.  And they keep coming!  Unlike tomatoes and sweet corn, I need to vary my eggplant recipes to keep me interested in eating them.  The grill comes in handy, because I’m not big on turning on my oven when the temperature reaches 90.  I love grilled eggplant in a sandwich, and there’s so much else you can do with it.

To grill an eggplant, I usually slice it lengthwise in about half-inch slices.  I use a pastry brush to coat both sides of the slices with olive oil, because the eggplant absorbs the oil quickly.  Then I just sprinkle them with salt and pepper and put on the grill at medium heat.  The slices need to be watched carefully, because they can burn easily.  Once they are soft, they are done.

I love to use the grilled eggplant slices in sandwiches.  Often, I grill zucchini or yellow squash in the same way at the same time, and add them to a sandwich as well.  I find crusty breads best for these sandwiches, a slice of grilled eggplant, a slice of grilled squash, sliced mozzarella, and sliced tomato.  Great summer sandwich!  If I have any around, I also smear some hummus on the bread, adds more flavor and an added shot of nutrients.

Another favorite recipe of mine is a variation on caponata, an Italian eggplant dish.  This dish uses many of the summer vegetables and can be varied to your own taste.  Here’s a simple way to make it.

Olive oil

1 medium eggplant, sliced lengthwise in ½ inch strips

1 zucchini, sliced lengthwise in ½ inch strips

1 yellow squash, sliced lengthwise in ½ inch strips

1 green or red pepper, seeded and quartered

1 medium onion, sliced into ½ inch rounds

1 or 2 tomatoes, depending on size, sliced into ½ inch rounds

6 or 7 black olives, chopped (optional)

1 TB capers (optional)

1 TB tomato paste

2 TB red wine vinegar

1 clove garlic chopped

1 TB chopped parsley, basil or both

Salt and pepper

With a brush, lightly coat the eggplant, squash, pepper, onion, and tomato slices with olive oil and salt and pepper.

Heat the grill to medium.  Lightly oil the grates on the grill so the vegetables won’t stick.  Place the eggplant and squashes on the grill.  Put the pepper, onion, and tomato slices on a lightly oiled piece of aluminum foil and then onto the grill.  Cook for about 3 to 5 minutes per side.  Once the slices are soft, they are ready to be removed from the grill.

If you don’t have a grill, all of this can be done in an oven set to 4000F and all the vegetables spread in 2 large baking pans lined with parchment paper or lightly sprayed with cooking oil.  Cook for about 20 minutes or until soft.

While the vegetables are cooling, in a small pan, warm the tomato paste and vinegar at medium heat.  Add the garlic and cook for about a minute until you can smell the aroma of the garlic.

Once the vegetables have cooled to the touch, chopped them all up into about one inch chunks.  Put them all in a big bowl, add the capers and chopped olives if using.  Pour the tomato paste, vinegar, and garlic over, add chopped parsley and or basil, salt and pepper and mix.  Let the caponata sit for a bit, so the flavor can meld.

The caponata is great to eat as a side for a main meal, with cracker or on toasted bread slices as an appetizer, with feta or another cheese as a light meal, or mixed with pasta.


–Susan Pollack, Master Food Volunteer

Senior Nutrition Classes: Seafood, Nuts, and Seeds

As we age, our nutritional needs and health concerns change. Virginia Cooperative Extension is helping to ensure the 55+ population in Arlington takes a preventative approach to their health. VCE partners with Arlington Senior Centers  to provide cooking and nutrition classes. These programs provide healthy, easy, and affordable recipes alongside sound nutritional information. In short, they allow people to taste new foods and learn tools to simplify cooking. With this knowledge, participants can ensure they are getting the nutrients they need while limiting the ones they don’t, like saturated fat, sugar, and sodium.

So far this year, classes have focused on eating more nuts, seeds, and seafood. These foods have more in common than one may think. Nuts, seeds, and seafood all add healthy fats and a varied source of protein to our diet. Below is a picture from one of this years’ classes in which FCS Agent Katie Strong, MS, RD, demonstrates tasty ways to add nuts and seeds into everyday dishes.

photo (3)

Here are 5 fun ways to enjoy nuts and seeds in your diet!

1. Toasting walnuts or almonds in the oven for only a few short minutes gives them an additional delicious flavor. You can then eat them plain or add them to salad and yogurt.

2. Use rolled oats to make homemade granola with your favorite nuts and seeds.

3. Let peanut butter share the shelf with some other nut pastes like almond, hazelnut, or even sesame paste (also know as Tahini).

4. Mix in ground flax seed to a fruit smoothie for some added fiber and healthy fat.

5. Try adding chia seeds to your milk or milk substitute and season with cinnamon and vanilla for a tapioca like pudding

Nut Tip: Buy nuts from the baking aisle of your supermarket. They are often the most inexpensive in this aisle and do not have any added salt or sugar.

Find senior classes this spring in the Arlington 55+ guide.

By Sally Hammer, Virginia Tech Dietetic Intern 2013-2014

Rescheduled: Senior Cooking for the New Year – Join us at Arlington Mill on Jan 30

Today’s cooking demonstration for Arlington 55+ is rescheduled for Jan 30 at 11 am, due to inclement weather.

Have you been to the Arlington Mill Senior Center? Check out the facility and join VCE for a senior cooking demonstration! Register through the Arlington 55+ program.

Enjoy your food but eat less. Start 2014 on the right track! Join Katie Strong, a registered dietitian from Virginia Cooperative Extension for a tasty meal packed with nutrition and light in calories. Taste healthful and nutrient-dense meals to make your resolutions last.

Wed., Jan. 30, 11am-noon Arlington Mill, 703-228-7369

909 South Dinwiddie Street, Arlington, VA 22204

Texas Caviar

Texas Caviar

Enjoy Your Food But Eat Less: Stay on Track During the Holidays

Between holiday parties, gift boxes brimming with cookies and chocolates and meals on the go during shopping trips, it’s easy to pack on extra pounds during the holidays. Here are 10 tips for avoiding unwanted pounds while you celebrate the season.

Make a Plan and Stick With It. Think about when you’ve overeaten during past holiday seasons. Come up with a plan to keep calories in check. Don’t eat something just to please someone else; think of ways to politely refuse food that’s offered to you.

Enjoy Your Favorite Dishes. It’s no fun to deprive yourself of foods you enjoy. If your favorites are high in calories, just sample smaller portions and eat mindfully, savoring every bite.

Stay Active. Don’t circle the parking lot waiting for a space close to the store. Take a walk around the block after your holiday party.  Make activity part of your holiday tradition — play a game of touch football, go sledding or ice skating, put on some music and dance.

Pace Yourself. When you arrive at a party, get a sparkling water with a twist and wait at least 30 minutes before eating. This gives you time to survey the spread and decide what you really want to spend your calories on. Wait 20 minutes before going back for seconds; this is about how long it takes for you to feel full.

Volunteer to Bring a Dish. Make a fresh salad or roast some vegetables to bring to your holiday event. You’ll have something healthy to enjoy and your host will be pleased that you brought a dish to share.

Slim Down Favorite Recipes. If you’re the cook, reduce the calories and fat in holiday favorites. Go easy when adding nuts, cheese, cream sauces, gravy, butter and whipped cream. Serve salads with dressings on the side and fruit as dessert. Offer water and other low calorie beverages.

Eat Your Regular Meals. Don’t skip meals to save up calories for a holiday dinner. People who arrive at an event hungry tend to eat everything in sight. Have a nourishing breakfast, a light lunch and some fruit or salad shortly before the event.

Limit Alcohol. Having one cocktail or multiple drinks can easily add up to a meal. Alcohol contains seven calories per gram, which makes it nearly twice as fattening as carbohydrates or protein. Try drinking a glass of seltzer or water between alcoholic beverages.

Engage in Conversation. Enjoy the company of family and friends. You can’t eat and talk at the same time, so the more conversations you have, the less you’ll eat!

Don’t Beat Yourself Up. If you do splurge, get right back to normal eating and exercising the next day, and try to do better at the next party.

By Sue Gonzalez, Master Food Volunteer

Enjoy Your Food, But Eat Less: Keep Your Balance!

Balance is the key to success in many aspects of our lives. We strive to achieve work-life balance and balance our family budgets. We’re painfully aware of the risks of losing our balance on an icy sidewalk. When it comes to a healthy body weight, there’s another very important type of balance known as energy balance.

What is Energy Balance?

Over time, you maintain a healthy weight by balancing the energy you consume (from foods and beverages) with the energy your body uses (in normal body functions, daily activities, and exercise).

Energy balance is a simple equation:

–   Energy In = Energy Out = Maintain Weight

–   Energy In < Energy Out = Lose Weight

–   Energy In > Energy Out = Gain Weight

A calorie is the unit of measure we use to quantify the energy supplied by food. A calorie is a calorie, regardless of whether it comes from carbohydrates, fats or proteins.

To lose one pound of body fat, you need to adjust your energy balance by about 3,500 calories—either by consuming fewer calories or by exercising more.1

The bottom line is – calories count!

Tracking Your Energy Balance

Many studies have shown that the simple act of writing down what you eat is a very effective weight loss strategy.

–   Write down what and how much you eat. Don’t forget to include drinks, sauces, spreads and snacks.

–   Write down the physical activities you do and how long you spend doing them. Include each activity that you do for at least 10 minutes at a time.

–   Find a tracking method that works for you. Keep a food and exercise journal, log your intake and activities on your calendar or phone, use an online calculator such as the USDA’s SuperTracker

or a mobile app such as MyFitnessPal.

–   Compare calories in to calories out. Online calculators make this easy, but if you’re doing it manually, here are a few guides that will help you to determine how many calories you need and how many calories you are burning.


By Sue Gonzalez, Master Food Volunteer

Enjoy Your Food, But Eat Less: Right-Size Your Portions

Over the past 20 years, as restaurants and food processors have competed to give you more for your money, portion sizes have dramatically increased. What began as a single-serving snack or drink now contains two or three servings. Studies show that we unintentionally eat more when faced with larger portions, so along with these oversized portions comes oversized waistlines.

What’s a Portion Size vs. a Serving Size?

A portion is the amount of a single food item you choose to eat during a single meal or snack.

A serving is a measured amount of food–such as a cup or an ounce–used on the Nutrition Facts labels of packaged foods.

For example, bagels or muffins are often sold in portion sizes that constitute at least 2 servings. We often eat the whole portion, thinking that we have eaten a healthy amount, when in fact, we’ve overeaten.

What is a Standard Serving Size?

Standard serving sizes differ by type of food. One way to get a feel for serving sizes is to measure a fixed amount of some of your favorite foods and drinks to see what they look like in your plates and glasses. For example, measure 8 ounces of juice to see what this amount of liquid looks like in your favorite glass. The National Institutes of Health also provides a serving size wallet card that can help you estimate serving sizes.

Avoiding Common Portion-Size Pitfalls

  • When Eating Out: Split an entrée with a friend or ask the waiter for a “to-go” box and wrap up half your meal as soon as it’s brought to your table.
  • When Eating In: Serve portions on individual plates, instead of putting the serving dishes on the table. You can also try using smaller plates and bowls, which make small portions look larger. 
  • When Snacking in Front of the TV: Don’t eat directly from the package. Put a reasonable amount into a bowl and leave the rest of the package in the kitchen.
  • When Counting Calories: It’s easy to check the calories on a food label without noticing the serving size the calories are based on. Don’t assume the calories equate to what is packaged as an individual portion.

Source:  How to Avoid Portion Size Pitfalls to Help Manage Your Weight, Center for Disease Control and Prevention,

By Sue Gonzalez, Master Food Volunteer

VCE Master Volunteers Teach “Garden-to-Fork”

At this year’s Reading Carnival Day, Arlington Traditional School students learned about growing and eating healthy food with books and hands-on activities, thanks to Master Volunteers at VCE.

Five Master Food Volunteers led activities on choosing foods from different food groups and identifying edible plant parts.

Master Food Volunteer nutrition activities

Students observed plants in action! Sprouted lentils demonstrated the power of seeds, when the conditions are right.

Sprouted Lentils

And, celery in a little food coloring demonstrated how stems transport nutrients through plants.

Celery & Food Coloring

To provide a full “garden-to-fork” experience, students also rotated through outdoor activities with Master Gardeners and Master Naturalists. Activities with VCE Master Volunteers complemented fabulous fruit and veggie books, featuring illustrator Chris Arbo.

What's in the garden?