Stretch Your Fruit and Veggie Dollars!

This was originally posted on the NC Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program’s website.

group_all_colors_tnI know from the guidance on, we should aim to make at least half our plates fruits and vegetables. But when I hear that, I wonder how I can make that happen with my limited food budget. Fruits and vegetables tend to be a pricey part of my grocery bill each time, and especially at this point in the year, somewhere between true winter and spring, I have a hard time deciding what can be good options for my family.

Recently, I came across a listing of “30 Ways in 30 Days to Stretch Your Fruit and Vegetable Budget.”

I read the list and decided that a few of the points could work for me. Here’s a few ways I’ve saved money over the course of my last grocery shopping trips:

  • Way #4: Buy fruits and vegetables in season at farmers’ markets or at your local grocery store. One of my favorite fruits to eat are strawberries. They are available in a grocery store practically year-round. However, in the winter months, they tend to be about $4 to $5 a package! Here in North Carolina, when they are in season and grown here, you can get them for so much cheaper. In the grocery, too, during the summer months, they are often a little more than $1 per package. So on my recent grocery trips, I choose what’s on sale instead. Last week, I bought navel oranges because they were on-sale for a good deal and that saved me a few bucks.
  • Way #14: Don’t shop hungry. Eat a healthy snack, such as an apple, before going to the grocery store so that you stick to your budget and avoid spending money set aside for fruit and vegetables on less healthy temptations. This has been a tricky one for me.  Due to my work schedule, often I go to the grocery store after running another errand or on my way home from work. I know the importance of having a grocery list so I don’t overspend, but I didn’t think about how many extras I would be tempted to buy when I go grocery shopping hungry. Before I went last time, I ate a banana. I wasn’t full, but I knew that would get me through my shopping. The usual items that I wouldn’t think twice about buying when I was hungry (and eating as I drove home!), I had an easier time resisting. I’ve estimated that I saved at least $10 of unnecessary spending.

Take a look at this list and see if there are any you might incorporate into your routine. As I see it, a few dollars saved here and there means I have more money to put toward food I know my family should have instead.

Let us know which suggestions work for you.

Connecting with Food Pantries: What Have We Learned So Far?

Note: This post was originally posted on the Voices into Action website.

March 25, 2014

by Annie Hardison-Moody

In each of the counties where Voices into Action: The Families, Food and Health Project works, organizations and county residents have talked about how important food pantries are to their communities.  Given the recent economic downturn, coupled with cuts to federal food assistance programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or food stamps), food pantries and other emergency food providers are increasingly on the front lines in making sure families have the food they need to survive and thrive.

At Voices into Action, we have been partnering with food pantries in the counties where we work to learn about what kinds of foods they provide, whether they connect with local organizations or programs around health, and what their needs are.  Here’s a snapshot of what we’ve learned so far, after talking with 28 pantry directors:

  • 90% (25/28) of pantry directors have experienced an increase in demand over the past year.
  • 57% (16/28) of pantry directors feel they are not able to meet the needs of food pantry clients .
  • Many directors emphasized they would like to offer fresh, healthy foods, but lack the facilities (freezer, refrigeration space) to do so.
  • When asked about their goals related to health, the top response given by pantry directors was offering nutrition education.

Since nutrition education is such an important goal for these pantries, we have partnered with two pantries (one in Harnett, one in Southeast Raleigh) to offer nutrition classes, through the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP).  You might have read about Debbie’s classes at Martha’s Place pantry (a pantry run by a congregation in Harnett County) on our blog!   We have learned so much from these three classes, which have reached 69 people from 22 families.  Because they have taken these classes:

  • 73% of participants report they now no longer run out of food at the end of the month.
  • 73% of participants reported an increase in vegetable consumption upon exit.
  • 100% of participants improved in at least one food resource management practice (planning meals, creating a budget, shopping with a list).
  • 82% of participants showed improvement in one or more nutrition practices (planning meals, making healthy food choices, preparing food without adding salt, reading nutrition labels or giving children breakfast).

Bean salad with fresh lima beans from Ebenezer Garden

The classes at Martha’s Place also included a local foods component – Debbie used fresh fruits and vegetables from the garden at Martha’s Place to prepare the recipes for the class.  Everyone was able to try the delicious local produce each week.  My favorite recipe was the lima bean and corn salad, with fresh tomatoes and beans from the garden.  Just thinking about it makes me ready for summer produce again!

The participants in the classes told us about how they now use a budget and list when shopping for food, and they have lowered their shopping bills as a result.  Additionally, they enjoyed learning new recipes in the classes that they could try at home, like tuna burgers (a personal favorite of mine as well).

We are excited to continue partnering with food pantries in the counties where we work.  Stay tuned for more updates about these classes and our work with food pantries.  We will have a more detailed report about the food pantry director interviews, EFNEP classes, and some other projects we have been working on this spring.  We can’t wait to share this information with you soon!

What’s in Your Basket?


March 14, 2014

by Debbie Stephenson

With Easter around the corner (April 20th) my thoughts go to chocolate bunnies and brightly colored eggs.  I have happy memories of waking up on Easter morning and running downstairs to find a basket full of both.   I gobbled them up and never once thought about the sugar in the chocolate or whether or not my parents handled the eggs correctly so that I would not get Salmonella.   Now, as an adult, I think more about my health, food safety and not getting sick.

Eggs provide us with great nutrition.  They are low in calories and a great source of protein.  They contain iron, vitamins, minerals and carotenoids.  With all of this goodness we have to make sure that we store and cook them properly. Infants, young children, older adults, pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems are at a greater risk of a Salmonella infection.

According to the USDA Food Safety Information sheet (Shell Eggs From Farm to Table), the following are some safety tips to follow:

  • At the store, make sure the eggs are refrigerated.
  • Choose eggs with a clean, uncracked shell.
  • Check the date on the package and do not buy if out-of-date.
  • Refrigerate as soon as possible after you purchase.  (Refrigerated eggs should not be left out more than 2 hours.) Place eggs in the coldest part of the refrigerator-not the door.
  • Always cook eggs until both the white and yolk are firm.
  • Dishes containing eggs should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees F.   Use a food thermometer to check the temperature.

When decorating eggs:

  • Dyeing eggs: After hard cooking eggs, dye them and return them to the refrigerator within 2 hours.  If eggs are to be eaten, use a food-safe coloring.  As with all foods, persons dying the eggs should wash their hands before and after handling the eggs.
  • Hunting eggs: It is not recommended to use hard cooked eggs that have been laying on the ground, because they can pick up bacteria, especially if the shells are cracked.  If the shells crack, bacteria could contaminate the inside.  Eggs should be hidden in places that are protected from dirt, moisture, pets, and other sources of bacteria.  The total time for hiding and hunting eggs should not exceed 2 hours. (1 hour if temperature is 90 degrees or higher) The “found” eggs must be washed, re-refrigerated and eaten with 7 days of cooking.

What do you remember getting in your basket? 

Chocolate bunnies? Peeps? Jelly Beans? Skittles? Marshmallow eggs?

What do you put in the basket for your children or grandchildren?  Do you include any healthier options? 

A few suggestions might be bags of carrots, gold fish crackers (can also get cheddar bunnies), strawberries dipped in dark chocolate and plastic eggs filled with cheerios.  The basket does not need to be all food related.  What about a jump rope, a baseball or softball, sidewalk chalk, bubbles or a kite?  Add anything to get your kids up and moving.

What healthy ideas do you have for an Easter basket?  Please leave a comment and let me know!

Debbie-StephensonFor more information, Debbie Stephenson may be reached at NC Cooperative Extension by calling 910-893-7530 or

This was also posted on Voices into Action’s website.

What’s in a Food Label?


February 25, 2014

by Maryam Funmilayo

Have you ever wondered what ‘no carbs!’, ‘lite!’, ‘sugar-free!’ or gluten-free!’ meant during your grocery shopping? If so, you are not alone. Most of the packaged foods we buy have some of these labels and it is important to learn about what these labels actually mean.

One important way to eat smart as a consumer is to make it a habit of reading the food labels on every food item. Even though it might seem like just one more extra step when grocery shopping, or as someone echoed in one of my Faithful Families classes (before we learned about food labels, of course!), it’s ‘confusing and sometimes a waste of time’, reading food labels is a very important skill that consumers need to learn and practice, each time they go grocery shopping.  In the ‘Shop for Value, Check the Facts’ Faithful Families lesson, we learn to use labels to compare foods, to help control portions and identify whole grain products. In addition, reading food labels enables you as a consumer to know what you eat and what you feed your family with. Most importantly, food labels are now required to have nutritional information that might impact your health status.

There are lots of great ways to learn how to read a nutrition label, including this interactive nutrition label from My Eat Smart Move More.  You can also learn about the terms used on a label, or how to identify a whole grain product by checking out this handout that we use in both Faithful Families and the North Carolina Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program.

Hope these tips help you to read and understand food labels at your next grocery store trip.  Let us know how you did by leaving a comment here, on our Facebook page, or via Twitter (@FFESMM).

Maryam Funmilayo works as a Program Assistant for the Faithful Families Eating Smart and Moving More Program.  Look for her continued blog posts about her experiences leading Faithful Families classes at the Islamic Association of Raleigh, and her tips and resources on healthy eating and physical activity.

Zucchini Bread


by Maryam Funmilayo

February 11, 2014

I love to eat bread in different forms: whole, sliced, white, or wheat. However, I am always very particular about the ingredients, and try to buy whole wheat or whole grain bread when I can. When you find yourself thinking about  what kind of bread to buy, think of trying your hand at home baked bread. As long as you have the basic bread ingredients at home such as flour, milk, water, yeast, sugar, and salt, you are all set. Besides, you know what the ingredients are and how to pronounce them, and more importantly, your bread will be fresh and wholesome!

When I am pressed for time, I sometimes buy preservative-free breads that my family likes, such as Pita breads, Paratha and Naan breads. However, when I am able to bake at home, I go for the zucchini bread. It is my favorite bread because it is quick to bake and the health benefits associated with zucchini are amazing.

Here’s the recipe:


3 cups of all-purpose white flour or whole wheat flour

2 eggs, beaten

¾ cup vegetable oil

¾ cup honey (or substitute one cup of white sugar)

1teaspoon of vanilla extract (I use non-alcoholic versions)

2 cups of grated zucchini (learn how to grate the zucchini using this video)

1 cup of chopped walnuts and/or raisins

1 teaspoon of cinnamon

1 teaspoon of salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon of baking powder

½ cup low-fat sour cream


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit
  2. In a large bowl, combine eggs, vegetable oil, honey, extract, and sour cream
  3. Combine the rest of the ingredients in a separate bowl. Gradually add to egg mixture and mix well.
  4. Stir in grated zucchini.
  5. Fill 2 loaf pans (5X10 size) and bake for I hour, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

Maryam Funmilayo works as a Program Assistant for the Faithful Families Eating Smart and Moving More Program.  Look for her continued blog posts about her experiences leading Faithful Families classes at the Islamic Association of Raleigh, and her tips and resources on healthy eating and physical activity.