Category Archives: Food and Nutrition

What’s Cooking at Virginia Cooperative Extension – Master Food Volunteers Training


Photo by Ginger Geoffrey

What’s cooking? A new class of 32  Master Food Volunteer trainees  are preparing and cooking their lunch in the Fairlington Community Center kitchen led by Agent Katie Strong and mentored by a team of Master Food Volunteers (MFV).

IMG_7227The lunch is delicious, simple, cheap and nutritious and one part of the interactive training that includes topics such as Food Safety, Basic Nutrition, and Meal Planning.
After 30 hours of  training these Master Food Volunteers expect to give back 30 hours of volunteer service to the community in their first year.

Master Food Volunteers provide a range of community programs including:

  • nutrition and cooking classes for seniors, adults and families
  • food preservation
  • farmers’ market displays
  • education at food assistance centers
  • in-school and after-school programs
  • working with community gardeners

Examples of some of the recipes that Master Food Volunteers and clients use are online at Cooking Matters from Share Our Strength.


After tasting the Master Food Volunteers’ smoky paprika sweet potato and black bean soup and the delicious salsa filled pita pockets, I decided to have a go and make these at home. So can you!

And look out for Master Food Volunteers at events in the community!

If you are interested in becoming a Master Food Volunteer or would like to host an event with Master Food Volunteers’ participation please contact agent Katie Strong,


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

Inspiration and Impact:

In January, Arlington and Alexandria VA Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners and 4-H Youth Leaders and agents trained Arlington County staff on some Junior Master Gardener projects. Tomorrow staff at Westover Library are hosting Kids in the Garden – a program inspired by what they learned at the Cooperative Extension training.
The kids will plant some seeds to take home – and see how they grow…

Look out for more youth gardening activities this season at the libraries and in Arlington County Dept of Recreation after-school programs.

And let’s grow these inspirational and successful VA Cooperative Extension training programs!

Poster by Westover Library staff.

Poster by Westover Library staff.




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

Virginia Cooperative Extension is looking for qualified applicants to become Master Food Volunteers!

The next training starts in March 2014 and applications are being accepted now. Participants receive 24 hours of training over four days:

  • Basic nutrition
  • Meal planning
  • Cooking techniques
  • Food safety
  • Working with diverse audiences

At the end of the training, participants are equipped with the knowledge and skills to confidently help others improve their lives through balanced eating and healthy living. In return, participants commit to 30 hours of volunteer service within one year of the training.

Opportunities for service include health fair displays, food demonstrations at farmers’ markets, teaching food safety classes, submitting articles to the media on nutrition and wellness, assisting in running Extension nutrition programs for youth and adults, and much more!

The first 2014 training will take place over four Fridays in March: March 7, 14, 21, and 28 from 9:00-3:00 at the Fairlington Community Center. Application deadline: January 15. To learn more and to access an application, please go to:


Participants in the 2013 training prepare a healthy lunch

Participants in the 2013 training prepare a healthy lunch


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?

Marvelous Melon Munching at the Old Town Farmers Market

On August 24 Master Food Volunteers Kim Frey and Casandra Lawson added a new facet to their monthly educational exhibit at the Old Town Farmers Market in Alexandria—food tasting! Several farmer vendors at the market donated an array of sweet and juicy melons that Kim and Casandra cut up and offered to over 300 hungry market visitors. Market goers got to try the melons dipped in lime juice, shredded coconut, basil, mint, and lemon balm. All of the melons were locally grown, so the tasting helps to showcase the many ways to enjoy in-season local produce.

In addition to the popular melon tasting, Kim and Casandra also shared recipes and general nutrition information. They will return to the market on Sept. 28th to offer samples of a tasty zucchini, tomato, and basil salad, so be sure to visit the Old Town farmers market between 9:30 and 12:00.

melon sampler