Neighborhood Nutrition Episode 1: Sandra Westover

Katie Wisneski, MSU student and intern, discusses how to stock your pantry for easy meals, cooking, and grocery shopping with Sandra Westover, community nutrition instructor.

September 18, 2020

Neighborhood Nutrition graphic - Title on top of wood background with fresh vegetables and pasta and the MSU Extension Logo.

Katie Wisneski: Welcome to Neighborhood Nutrition, a Michigan State University Extension podcast. This first season will focus on food resource management, providing you with tips and tricks for how to make the most of your food dollars. My name is Katie Wisneski and I'm a public health nutrition intern and student at Michigan State University. Today I will be talking to Sandra Westover, a community nutrition instructor in Otsego County. Hi, Sandra, thanks so much for talking with us today.

Sandra Westover: Oh, thank you for having me.

Katie: Can you explain what a community nutrition instructor does?

Sandra: Sure, so, I'm employed by MSU Extension and I'm funded through grants through SNAP-Ed. That's the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program. And I provide education to people about nutrition and physical activity.

Katie: How long have you been a community nutrition instructor?

Sandra: I've been with MSU Extension since October of 2017. I started as a temp on call and then just this past March I was offered a permanent position. So, I'm very excited about that.

Katie: That is a very exciting opportunity. You mentioned that you started something called Tasty Tuesday's during the stay at home order. Can you explain a little bit about that and how you came up with the idea?

Sandra: Sure, let me expand a little bit more on what I do as a CNI. We have several curriculums, some developed by MSU Extension, some by other extensions across the country. And what we do is we work with, for instance, I was doing a class right before this stay home order at the Commission on Aging. And it's with a curriculum called Cooking for One. This particular curriculum was developed by MSU Extension. It's just absolutely wonderful. So, in the class Cooking for One at the Commission on Aging, one of the topics we talk about is stocking your pantry. And that kind of crosses all the curriculums because 50% of our audience is SNAP eligible, meaning they qualify for food benefits through the government, or they have Medicare, Medicaid. There's lots of reasons people can qualify for our programs. And then the other 50% can be anyone from the community. And one of the things that I've noticed whether it's Cooking for One, Cooking Matters, Eat Healthy be Active, we always talk about stocking your pantry, which I think now is more important than it has been in a long time because we all had to start staying home suddenly. So, I decided that I would put a weekly recipe out there from one of our curriculums that I make from my kitchen. Just to show people that I'm practicing what I preach, so, that's how I came up with the concept.

Katie: Awesome, what are some example meals that you have made doing this?

Sandra: Well, just today, right before my lunch break, I, I did next week's Tasty Tuesday and I decided to make a Waldorf salad. And the recipe is from the USDA, which is where, our guidance is under USDA, MyPlate, so there is a link, I believe it's USDA Mixing Bowl. That's where the recipe was adapted and it's in the Cooking for One curriculum. So, today I made the Waldorf salad. What's nice about that and what makes it healthier is that the recipe uses just a little bit of yogurt instead of mayonnaise. And then there's celery, and raisins, and apple. And I had all these things on hand. So, I didn't have to go to the store and get any of them. Some other recipes I've done, one of them is macaroni and cheese with broccoli. Who doesn't like that, right?

Katie: Right.

Sandra: You can make that for lunch, you could make it as a side dish for dinner, and the recipe is in, again, it's in Cooking for One. But we recommend using whole wheat pasta, which I have stocked up my pantry with lots of different kinds of pasta, whole wheat flour, which I have white, and whole wheat all the time in the pantry, we have evaporated milk and even canned, or not canned, but we have several versions of milk we keep in our pantry, so I was able to pull that out. Cheddar cheese we always have. And then the nice thing is, I didn't have broccoli for this mac and cheese with broccoli. But I did have frozen peas. So, I cooked those up, threw them in the macaroni and cheese and it was absolutely delicious. Once again, showing that I could adapt that recipe and use what I already had in my pantry.

Katie: That is a really good mindset to have. How would you suggest someone gets started with doing something like this? So, for example, if they're hungry and they haven't been to the grocery store in a while, they have a few things in their fridge and pantry, but they just don't know where to start with coming up with a recipe.

Sandra: If your pantry is stocked well ahead of time, you should have quite a bit of options. If something happens suddenly, you may not have as many choices. But some of the good things to keep in a pantry are things like eggs, milk, yogurt, non-stick spray, honey, brown sugar. Maybe you've got peppers. Peppers usually last pretty well in the refrigerator. Most people have bananas on hand, even if they go a little brown. So, these are all things that you can use together, to create a snack or meal. Let's go with peppers. So, if I had ground beef and maybe I had some leftover, I could make a stuffed green pepper. If I have some corn tortillas, I could use some of the pepper and some of that ground beef and make a little taco that would be easy to make if your meats already cooked, especially.

Katie: Mhm.

Sandra: So, those are a couple of examples.

Katie: Yeah, those are some great ideas. So, since fruit and vegetables don't have as long of a shelf life as other foods, do you have any tips for keeping the nutrients in our meals that involve little to no fresh fruits and vegetables? 

Sandra: That is a great question. And that's another topic that comes up across our curriculums as well. I think most people if asked, would say that fresh is their favorite way to have fruits and vegetables. But what a lot of people don't know is that canned and frozen can be just as nutritious because they're done so, they're canned and frozen at their peak. So, my advice and the advice we give again throughout the curriculum is to get those fresh seasonal fruits and vegetables, but also keep in your pantry canned vegetables with no salt added, and fruits, canned fruits with no sugar added. If for some reason, you know, we're all on a budget, so, if you go to the store and the no salt vegetables, let's say are  not on sale, but the vegetables with salt in them are all you have to do is run them through a strainer with a little bit of water and it rinses off a lot of that sodium. So, get your fresh fruits and vegetables and have those canned fruits and vegetables on hand so, you're getting those nutrients once you've eaten up all that fresh stuff.

Katie: Yeah, that's great advice. I know you kind of touched on this. But what are some things that you would say are staple items that people should have in their pantry, fridge, or freezer?

Sandra: Okay, well, here is a few ideas to help you get started. One good thing to have in your pantry is a variety of seasonings. We need to cut back on our sodium. And a lot of the time when we're adding salt to our recipes, it's because there's a lack of seasoning, there's a lack maybe of flavor. So, you want to keep seasoning and spices on hand again with no salt added, such as garlic powder, pepper, onion powder, Italian seasoning. You want to have oils and vinegars such as vegetable oil, olive oil, white vinegar. Those kinds of things can be used as salad dressings too or even on a coleslaw, instead of something that's higher in fat. You wanna have baking supplies on hand such as flour, baking powder, baking soda, and have some of the white flower and the whole wheat on hand if you can. And then grains you want to have whole wheat flour, whole grain rice, whole wheat pasta, maybe even some quinoa, which a lot of people haven't tried quinoa yet. And if you haven't, I recommend you get some, it's delicious. And then lastly, the canned goods like we talked about. And some that are really good to have other than the vegetables and fruit, is tomatoes, tomato sauce, and a variety of beans.

Katie: Definitely, that is some great advice. So, if someone lives alone and they want to cook a meal, do you have any ideas of how they can make it a small portion size?

Sandra: Yeah, I do. Going back to that Waldorf salad, if like I said earlier, that is from our Cooking for One class. And if you were to look that up on the USDA's Mixing Bowl, you would see that the recipe feeds two to four. In our Cooking for One curriculum, we've adapted that to where it will feed one, so you're using one apple, you're using a quarter of a cup of celery, you're using, I think it's two tablespoons of walnuts, so it makes the recipe smaller. And that's really a good question because last year I did a lot of series that we have called Cooking Matters. And a lot of the participants in there, I wouldn't say a lot, but several in each class were single or widowed, or maybe they were a college student. And one of the things they always mentioned was that they don't cook anymore, they might just grab fast food because they don't know what to cook when it's just one. So, if possible, I highly recommend taking one of our Cooking for One classes, we have this wonderful book that you get to keep with all of the recipes in it. And they're all made to where it makes a serving for one or two people. So, it makes it a lot easier. And the people who've taken this class, some of the success stories I've heard at the end is that they are cooking more, that they're feeling better health-wise and about themselves. So, this is a great class with great recipes.

Katie: Yeah, that sounds fantastic. Do you personally use a grocery list when you are shopping?

Sandra: I do, and I recommend to all of our participants that they do the same. It helps in so many ways.

Katie: Do you suggest people meal plan or what is some advice to most effectively make a grocery list?

Sandra: Great question. So, the first thing I recommend is go through your pantry, go through your refrigerator, see what you have on hand, and then start from there. Earlier I mentioned about ground beef and peppers. Maybe I have those, but I don't have the cheese or rice that I want to put in my stuffed green peppers. So, on my grocery list, all I really need for that meal is the cheese and the rice. So, use, first start by what you have, using what you have on hand. My second bit of advice would be to get the flyers from the grocery store and get what's on sale for the week. The best tip I can give you is start with your fruit and vegetable. Half of our plate should be fruits and vegetables. So, if broccoli is on sale this week, start with broccoli and think, what can I make with broccoli? How about that macaroni and cheese with broccoli I talked about earlier, right? That's a good start.

Katie: Yeah, I think it's a lot easier to go grocery shopping when you have a list and know what you're going to be getting. So, what recommendations do you have for someone who doesn't have every ingredient that a recipe calls for, but they still have majority of the ingredients?

Sandra: Well, what we need to think about is that recipes are a framework. So, you have the recipe to go by, but you don't have to stick to that recipe. Even if you're new to cooking. Or maybe you don't have a lot of confidence in yourself in cooking. Think of it as just a starting point. So, for instance, let's see, I made, one of the simple recipes I made for Tasty Tuesday was just a crunchy berry parfait. I had yogurt on hand, and I actually had some berries on hand, but the other ingredient was granola. Well, I didn't have granola made. It was kind of a hot day and I wasn't going to cook it. So, I used a granola bar. So, it was still healthy. But I subbed something in. And then earlier when, I keep going back to the macaroni and cheese, it must be my favorite. But earlier when I talked about that, I didn't have broccoli, so I subbed some peas in. So, think outside the box. Think what you have that might be similar and use the recipe as a framework.

Katie: I agree. Do you have any direction for people that they just don't know how to cook very well?

Sandra: Well, the first thing I would recommend is that one of the key things that our programs provide is confidence in the kitchen. I've heard that over and over at the end of the classes that people of all different ages and family sizes are more confident in the kitchen. And even their family members are noticing that. So, if it's possible for you to take one of these programs, if you're a little bit nervous in the kitchen, that would be my first piece of advice. But like the question you just asked with recipes, they're just a framework. So, don't be hard on yourself. It's a new way of thinking if you're not used to being in the kitchen, get those recipes, give them a try, and you just kind of grow and learn like anything else in life.

Katie: Yeah, practice makes perfect.

Sandra: That's right.

Katie: What is one of your favorite go-to meals that can be inexpensive?

Sandra: So, one of my favorite go-to meals that can be inexpensive is actually a burrito. You can get the corn tortillas, you can get even whole grain tortillas now, which is the healthiest choice. But you can use chicken in there, you can use ground beef, ground venison, whatever you have on hand. I like to cook up a little brown rice with it, and then throw whatever vegetables I have in there, whether it's fresh tomatoes or salsa, canned salsa, a little bit of cheese. And you're really putting all, if not most of the five food groups in that burrito. So, it's filling, it's healthy and it's a great go-to meal.

Katie: For sure, burritos are delicious. And what about a favorite snack?

Sandra: My favorite snack is actually apples and peanut butter. And if I have those two things around, it's easy to make a good choice.

Katie: Definitely. Where can people find more resources on things like food assistance, recipe ideas, and meal prepping?

Sandra:  If you'd like more information on our classes and all of the other things you just mentioned, if you go to your search bar and enter Michigan State University Extension or MSU Extension, you'll find our website pretty easily. And there is just an endless amount of information and wonderful research from MSU that you can find through this website. Then it will take you to the recipes and it'll take you to staff at your local counties. Like I said, I work out of Montmorency and Gaylord, or Otsego. So, you can go to the staff directory and find someone who can help you with your question if you can find it yourself on the website.

Katie: Cool. Overall, what is something you think people should take away from our discussion?

Sandra: I think the main thing I would say, I'd like people to take away from this discussion is that eating from the USDA's MyPlate, which that's myplate.org or choosemyplate.org I believe, eating from that, MyPlate is a good start towards a healthy diet. Go to that website, check it out. It's also like our MSU Extension website. There's endless amounts of information and recipes on that website. And I would say, I encourage everyone to start cooking more at home and making half of their plate that fruits and vegetables. Those would be the main takeaways, I think.

Katie: Yes, fruits and veggies are really important.

Sandra: Yes.

Katie: Alright, well, thank you so much for talking with us today and we are really glad to have you on.

Sandra: Well thank you so much for having me, I really appreciate it.

Katie: Thank you for joining us for this episode of Neighborhood Nutrition. We hope you tune in for our next episode. Funding for this podcast comes from the US Department of Agriculture's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, and the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program, also known as EFNEP, and is from the USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Music used on this podcast is Champ de tournesol  by Komiku and was accessed from pixabay.com. MSU is an affirmative action equal opportunity employer committed to achieving excellence through a diverse workforce and inclusive culture that encourages all people to reach their full potential. Michigan State University Extension programs and the materials are open to all without regard to race, color, national origin, gender, gender identity, religion, age, height, weight, disability, political belief, sexual orientation, marital status, family status or veteran status. Issued in furtherance of MSU Extension work, acts of May 8th and June 30th, 1914, in cooperation with the US Department of Agriculture. Jeffrey W Dwyer, Director of MSU Extension East Lansing, Michigan 48824. This information is for educational purposes only. Reference to commercial products or trade names does not imply endorsement by MSU Extension or bias against those not mentioned.

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