Eat Smart, Move More, Maintain, Don’t Gain Holiday Challenge!

November 10, 2014

by Madison Fehling

Untitled2The 9th annual Eat Smart, Move More, Maintain, don’t gain! Holiday Challenge is here! In preparation for the Holiday Challenge, we conducted a Taste Test to try all of the healthy recipes you will find in the newsletters. Boy oh boy are there some good ones this year!

Each dish was anonymously labeled so there was no bias, and then ranked and rated by each branch member here at the North Carolina Division of Public Health. Dishes with low marks got cut from the list and dishes with high praises will be included in this year’s Holiday Challenge. The overall favorite dish was a spinach salad with pepper jelly vinaigrette. Might sound boring, but this salad was a HIT! Other dishes that ranked highly were cranberry citrus meatballs and couscous with apricots and balsamic. I’ve given away too much. For these delicious recipes and more sign up for the FREE 2014 Holiday Challenge today!Untitled

The Holiday Challenge is a free program that runs from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Eve. Instead of the typical weight gain over the holiday season, we work on maintaining our weight using tips, strategies, and ideas. The Holiday Challenge includes weekly newsletters, daily tips, mid-week challenges, healthy holiday recipes, tracking logs, and more. This year’s Holiday Challenge will begin on November 17th and run through December 31st. Hurry and sign up now for the 2014 Holiday Challenge! (

Madison Fehling is an Eat Smart, Move More, Weigh Less Specialist.  You can learn more about Eat Smart, Move More, Weigh Less here.

Communal Cooking for Busy Families

November 3, 2014
photo 2

by Annie Hardison-Moody

Originally posted at Voices into Action.

Some of the researchers on the Voices into Action project recently wrote an article about family meals (you can read a little more about it here), in which they talk about the issues families face as they try to get dinner on the table.  Many of these issues are structural, like low wages, gender inequality, and under or un-employment.  As moms in our project have told us, these struggles are real, and families are finding it increasingly hard to shop for and prepare meals each day.

In their article and another piece they posted later, Sarah, Sinikka, and Joslyn all point out that in addition to addressing the larger, structural issues that affect families’ ability to prepare meals,those of us in the health promotion world also need to re-think how we talk about and promote the home-cooked meal.  That’s something that nutritionist, and Faithful Families development team member, Carolyn Dunn addressed on the Food Myths and Memes blog recently.

So just what can families and communities do to ensure that we are all able to come to the table, so to speak?  These articles and posts have encouraged us to start thinking creatively about how and what we eat.  How can we encourage communities and neighbors to come together to plan and prepare meals?  How might mobile markets bring food to areas that lack access to produce?  How might faith communities and other organizations with kitchen space open up their facilities for community meals or meal prep?  These and other solutions are just the tip of the iceberg, in what I hope will become a more vibrant – and productive – conversation about what families eat.

Since I’m so excited about the work our team does, I wanted to test out some of these creative solutions for myself.  And being a new parent, what better time to do that?  When we had our daughter this summer, my spouse and I received freezer and prepared meals to keep us full, so that we could focus on caring for our new little girl.  We have talked a lot as a Voices into Action team about how community meal preparation might be one creative solution to getting food on the table for busy families.  The combination of my work conversations and my experiences with a new baby (and the meals that came along with her arrival!) got me thinking – what if a group of people got together and made a bunch of meals to share, that we could each freeze at home and pop in the oven when we got home from work?  I texted a few of my friends who, like me, like to cook, but don’t have the time, and our first community meal swap was born.  We meet up once a month to swap meals we have prepared for each other, so each family takes home a total of eight freezer meals a month, while only having to cook two.

If you are interested in trying this for yourself, here’s how it works:

  • Figure out who you should invite.  When thinking about who to invite, you might first want to reach out to people who have similar tastes and cooking styles, particularly if you have any picky eaters at home!  If you are feeling more adventurous, you could find friends or neighbors who cook differently from you, to try out new flavors and cuisines.  We ended up with a group of four families – a nice number that wasn’t too intimidating to cook for.  We also all have two (ish – one family has a two year old!) adults in each family, so we decided we could cook meals that fed 4-6 people, so we would have enough to eat each  meal for two nights.  Be sure to find families or groups that are the same size as yours – so you aren’t cooking for a family of eight, when you only have two people in your home!
  • Determine what to cook.  We sent a few emails back and forth, although you could certainly meet in person for 30 minutes or so, to talk about likes/dislikes/allergies, etc.  For those who are into social media, you could even create a Pinterest board (like we did) or a Facebook group to share ideas and recipes.  In general, we have cooked casserole type dishes that have a vegetable included.  When that wasn’t the case (for example, one of the casseroles I made), we send a veggie side as well.  You could decide to always include a side dish, or to always make casserole or one-dish type meal to keep it easy!  Be sure to find meals that freeze easily.  I’ve made some suggestions below, but Pinterest  has been my best friend for this one (I search “freezer meals”).
  • Set the ground rules.  We decided that instead of getting together to cook all of the meals, each family would be responsible for cooking two meals for all four families.  For example, I cooked aMexican chicken casserole and a broccoli, brown rice, and chicken casserole. (A note about the broccoli casserole: I used brown rice instead of white and subbed a cup of nonfat greek yogurt for the mayo – it was just as delicious!) I made enough for four families (including mine), with 4-6 servings per meal.  That way, each family ended up with eight meals per month.  We decided that eight freezer meals/month would work for us, but you might want to exchange meals more or less often than that.
  • Keep it simple. It does take about 2 hours (or it did for me) to prepare eight meals, so keeping it as easy as possible helps minimize the time you spend cooking.  For example, I made two dishes with chicken that I bought at a bulk buying store, to cut down the time it would take to cook a lot of meat.  I also try to make meals that don’t have a lot of complicated steps or ingredients.
  • Determine how to package the meals.  Here’s where you can get creative.  We ended up using recyclable foil pans to package our meals, but you can always use freezer plastic bags for things like soups or stews.  Any dish that freezes well will work.  You can meet up to exchange dishes (so at the end, you are washing and keeping your dishes – not having to return someone else’s), or use disposable or recyclable containers.  A friend recently sent us some chicken chili in salsa jars she had cleaned – what an awesome way to recycle things you have around the house for meals like this!  Remember, it’s important to follow key food safety guidelines when preparing and re-heating foods.
  • Find a date and time to meet up and exchange.  We worked around nap times and schedules to figure out a date and time  by which we could all make our meals and meet up.  The exchange took about 10 minutes – everyone sent one person from their household to make the switch, and we were done!  Be sure to bring a big bag to carry home all of your goodies.  Mine went straight into the freezer, with the exception of one meal we were going to eat the next night.

These are just some of the tips I’ve collected over our first month, but I’m happy to share more as our experiment continues.  What I can say so far is that I love knowing that each night we have a meal that one of us can pop into the oven and eat, and with planning, shopping, and preparation, it only took about four-five hours total. This has cut down on our family cooking time, and left us more time to do the things we want to do, like spend time with our baby girl.  As you can see from the picture of the broccoli casserole above, when she goes to bed, we just heat up dinner and add a salad or simple veggie as a side.

photo 1If you are interested in starting a meal swap, the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program and Faithful Families has lots of great, affordable recipes that freeze perfectly.  We’ve frozen both the quiche and the cheesy, beefy skillet dinner.  In fact, just this week I made the quiche with some sweet potatoes I got from the Harnett County Cooperative Extension office.  Instead of using chicken, I put cooked (in the microwave!), chopped sweet potatoes and sauteed onions in the base of the quiche, then topped it with cheese and the egg mixture in the recipe as instructed.  I’ve included a picture, which doesn’t do it justice – it was delicious!  I love that you can use this recipe with any meats or vegetables, or make it completely vegetarian.  It makes two of the quiche, which is perfect – I’ve been eating one for lunch all week, and I put the second in the freezer for a quick dinner later.

Now it’s our turn to hear from you – what creative tips do you have for re-thinking the home-cooked dinner?  Has your community or neighborhood come up with a solution to help busy families eat healthier foods?  We want to hear from you!  Share your stories in the comments, on our Facebook page, or via Twitter (@FFESMM).

Quick and Easy Sandwiches


Sandwiches are quick and easy to make, but can be high in calories if you’re not careful.  Substitute 2 T. fat-free yogurt for 2 T. mayonnaise on that sandwich and you save a whopping 167  calories and around 20g. of fat.  Check out these recipes below:

Open Faced Egg Salad Sandwich – Makes 4 open faced sandwiches


  • 7 eggs
  • ¼ C. low-fat plain yogurt (look for those with low sugar)
  • 2 tsp. mustard
  • ½ tsp. each salt and pepper
  • 4 slices whole grain bread

For face:  Egg slices, peas, bell pepper, pickles, and grated carrot or other vegetables you may have on hand.

Directions: In a medium saucepan, cover 7 eggs with water.  Bring to a boil. Cover and remove from heat.  Let stand 10 minutes.  Place eggs in bowl under cold running water until cool.  Peel eggs.

Slice 2 eggs with a knife.  Set aside 8 of the slices for eyes.  Place remaining egg slices in a bowl; add unsliced eggs.  Mash with a fork.  Add yogurt, mustard, salt and pepper.  Stir to combine.  Cover 4 slices of bread with egg salad.

Make face using egg slices for the eyes topped with three peas each for the pupils.  Half a whole pickle or a pickle slice for the nose, a red bell pepper slice for the mouth and some grated carrot for the hair.  Use whatever you have on hand if you don’t have these ingredients.  Involve your kids and let them be creative!

Tuna or Chicken Salad Roll-ups


  • 1 small crisp apple, such as Granny Smith, peeled, cored and very finely chopped
  • 1 tsp. lemon juice
  • 12-oz solid white tuna, packed on water OR chopped chicken
  • 2 stalks of celery, cut into 1/4 –inch pieces
  • ½ cup non-fat plain yogurt – look for varieties low in sugar
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • ¼ tsp. pepper
  • 4 whole-grain tortillas or other rollable bread such as flatbread
  • 6 slices cheese
  • 4 lettuce leaves

Directions: In a medium bowl, toss the apples with the lemon juice until coated.  Add the tuna or chicken, celery, yogurt, salt and pepper and stir with a fork until mixture is combined.  Lay the tortilla on a plate and cover with cheese, followed by a lettuce leaf and top with the tuna or chicken salad.  Tightly roll the sandwich.  Use toothpicks if needed to hold the sandwich tightly closed.  Cut into halves or thirds for serving.

Note:  You can substitute any fruit for the apples such as pears, pineapple, raisins, grapes, etc.

This was originally posted on the NC EFNEP website.

How to Make Sanitizing Solution

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October 16, 2014

Wiping our kitchen surfaces down with a warm, soapy dish cloth removes the visible dirt and grime but doesn’t remove harmful bacteria and viruses. We need to sanitize our surfaces in addition to cleaning them. Click here to see how you can make your own inexpensive sanitizing solution.

This was originally posted on the North Carolina EFNEP website.


Herb-Baked Spicy Tilapia

by Maryam Funmilayo

Fish is a healthy alternative to meat because of it is low-fat and heart-healthy. As many consumers have named Monday as ‘meatless Monday’, some have decided to make Friday ‘Fishy Friday’. The reason behind this is to encourage many people to consume fish more often (about 5 ounces is one serving), instead of meats which have higher saturated fat and cholesterol content. And choosing just one day in the week is a great start.

Talking about alternatives, herbs and spices are a healthy alternative to salt when it comes to adding flavors to foods. In addition to their flavors, each herb and spice has its own distinct aroma and a simple dash of any herb or spice may provide some healing benefits to your overall health.


6 frozen, boneless tilapia fillets (This kind of fish can be bought from BJs or Walmart and it is are very affordable)
2 medium-sized tomatoes
2 medium-sized red and green bell peppers
1 tablespoon of cumin
1 tablespoon of paprika
1 tablespoon of garlic powder
1 tablespoon of black powder
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
½ piece of jalapeno
½ piece of habernero
2 tablespoons of lemon juice
2 tablespoons of olive oil
Non-stick cooking spray


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Lightly spray baking pan with non-stick cooking spray.
  3. Rinse the tilapia very well and season it with all the herbs and spices above except the lemon juice.
  4. Marinate the tilapia with lemon juice and olive oil and keep in the refrigerator for 10 minutes.
  5. After 10 minutes, spread tilapia in the baking pan and place in preheated oven.
  6. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 40 minutes.

Maryam Funmilayo teaches Faithful Families classes to the adult female members of the Islamic Association of Raleigh, IAR. The IAR’s on-site “Al Maidah” Kitchen and Restaurant inspired her to write this article. Herb-baked tilapia is sold at the kitchen every Wednesday and Saturday and each time Maryam visits there, she cannot resist the aroma.