Neighborhood Nutrition Episode 2: Stephanie Meck

Katie Wisneski, MSU student and intern, talks to Stephanie Meck, community nutrition instructor, about menu planning, making "planned overs," and incorporating foods that fit your lifestyle and budget.

September 17, 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 we'll 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 we're talking to Stephanie Meck, a community nutrition instructor covering Menominee and Delta counties in the Upper Peninsula. Hello, Stephanie. Thank you very much for talking with us today. [

Stephanie Meck: Oh, my pleasure. Glad I could help.

Katie: Can you tell us a little bit about your background and what brought you to becoming a community nutrition instructor?

Stephanie: Well, I think a lot of the jobs that I've had in the past of kind of led me to this position. I've worked in grocery stores. I've worked in meat rooms in the grocery stores. I've worked in convenience corners. I've made cheese in the cheese factory - was a dairy assistant herdsmen for seven years, where milk cows and raised replacement heifers. My husband and I ran a hobby farm and we had a big garden and so lot of these just kind of - that experience brought me a lot of information and background into this position. I was a 4H hog club leader for our county and about two or three years into my position as that the MSU Extension home economist and 4H educator approached me about this position that was becoming available. And that was almost 27 years ago. I was one of the charter SNAP-Ed program instructors. At that time we were called - was called the Family Nutrition Program. So I was one of the original people in this position way back then.

Katie: Awesome. So living in the Upper Peninsula is it pretty much a rural communities everywhere?

Stephanie: Very much so, yes. In order to do any major programming, everything is at least a half an hour drive.

Katie: Yeah.

Stephanie: So when I go up to Delta County there's a time change because we're on central time. So with the time change, plus, it's often like an hour and a half drive just to get up to the facility of what I'd be programming at.

Katie: Do you find that brings a lot of challenges in in such a rural area?

Stephanie: It is to some degree because like you said, the distance for travel when the weather gets bad, if schools are going to be closed that day, you might have had all your food prep ready, your programming ready, and come to find out schools closed. So you know, so that's the, that is one of the bigger challenges with it. But it's very friendly, very open. I'm born and raised in this community. So I have a lot of family ties in there too. So that helps a lot with with setting up programming.

Katie:Yeah. So I know a lot of times it is a distance to get to grocery store, especially in the Upper Peninsula. Do you find that because of that, more people grow their own food, preserve their own food, and things of that sort, or just really stock up when they go to the grocery store?

Stephanie: Well, it usually is like a once a week trip. People will, you know, to get the basics on that they have. This year there has been a great resurgence of people interested in gardening and in raising their own again. Kind of like the Victory Gardens from World War II, which is a great thing. And other than that, it's, it really hasn't been, it's the older folks, the older generation that still gets out to garden. So it's nice to see that the younger folks would be taking up that interests now as well. But it is like our little local grocery stores, you know, your costs are, are more for your produce and and your groceries in general. The closest major grocery stores are at least an hour away from Stephenson where I live. So it does make it more of a challenge and people will go and stock up once a week or usually about once a week, they would go in and do their purchase of their foods.

Katie: Okay. Can you walk through some steps of how to meal plan?

Stephanie: Sure. The first thing you wanna do is you want to check what inventory that you have in your cupboards, your freezers, your pantry. Ya know, take an inventory of the foods that you have on hand that you can use to prepare your meals with. And also take into consideration your family's favorites. If you have picky eaters, you always want to take into consideration some of their likes or dislikes, but you don't want a special order cook either for for kids that kind of have to learn to eat what's there. But check and see the inventory that you have on hand. Keep in mind the recipes that you want to prepare. You also want to keep in mind your timeframe, like when kids are in school or if they have sporting events or if you have meetings or other events going on. You know, keep note of that when you're setting up a daily plan for menu planning, for meal planning. There might be some days that you need something that's fast and easy. There might be some days when you have more time to spend on your food prep. And so that would make a difference as well. And then from there, you know, check and see what's on sale at the grocery store and kinda incorporate that into your meal plans as well. There might be only... need like a vegetable or fruit, something that's going to, to round out your meals. I also like to think about planned overs. I don't like to call them leftovers. I like to call them planned overs. Because if especially for your protein foods, your meat group foods. Cook an extra chicken breast or two. And then you'll have that meat ready to prepare for an easier meal for like a stir-fry or ground extra hamburger and make into a spaghetti sauce or something like that. So that's the basics things check and see what you have on hand. Check and see what's on the grocery store. Keep in mind what your week is going to look like and how much time you're going to have to prepare those meals.

Katie: Yeah, awesome. What would you say to someone that says healthy food doesn't taste good?

Stephanie: They probably haven't had a really good meal. If you eat a lot of processed foods are a lot of prepackaged foods, you really don't have the flavor of that, that fresh produce. The closer you eat to the natural form of the food, the better it actually will be. When I bring taste testing into the kids in the schools, if I bring vegetables in I'd never bring dips, sauces, anything. I want them to taste the real flavor of that food. Because that will give them an idea about how good it actually is. Healthy food can taste very good at. It depends on how it's prepared. You know, your taste buds change all the time. That's one thing that the kids that I've taught over the years have learned. I'll go into the classroom and said, you know what happens to your taste buds? "They change all the time." And that actually happens with adults as well. You know, we learned to, to like different foods, but you just have to be open-minded and try them. Healthy foods can be very, very tasty if, when you have the real flavor of the food.

Katie: Yeah, I agree. From personal experience and research, when you eat a lot of processed foods, that's what your taste buds are used to. And then as you slowly start to introduce fresh foods, then you end up liking that more and more. And I found myself craving a lot fresh produce after I started eating it more. So I definitely think your taste buds do change a lot as you eat more fresh fruits and vegetables.

Stephanie: You know, you're going to feel healthier. You're going to feel better without all of those added preservatives and sodium and things in your body. You're going to notice that you are actually, your body's going to function better on that. We're of the earth. And the closer we eat to the earth and the natural foods, the better it is for our bodies.

Katie: Do you have any advice for people that think they don't have time to eat healthy and that fast food or frozen meals are their best option?

Stephanie: It doesn't take that long. You think of a baked chicken, baked potato and a side salad. While your your chicken a potato or baking in the oven, you make your salad so that when everything is ready, you have a nice meal. It's just, it's thinking about it and kind of being in that mindset that you can incorporate the fresh food into your diet. You just have to stop and think instead of just depending on fast-food or there again, that meal planning comes in, you know, maybe there is that you have to have fast-food once a week. But during the rest of that week, you have that plan and you think about the MyPlate and especially those fruits and veggies that we really need in our diet. So if you're a little bit of menu planning can go a long way because then you can incorporate those foods into there and plan them into your diet.

Katie: Yeah, I agree. And like I said before, a meal planning and making extra really helps. If you make double the one day, then you can have a quick meal the next day. Some people think that eating healthy as too expensive. Do you have tips on how to eat healthy on budget?

Stephanie: Well, one thing there again, yeah know, if you can container garden, if you can do any kind of gardening, even you know, on a porch or patio. That does help to save a little bit on your bill. Plus there again, increases the nutritional value of the foods that you're eating. Seasonal foods during the summer, you're going to have more availability of your fresh produce. The nutritional value too if you visit the farmer's markets. Cost compare between your grocery store in your farmers market where you figure that, that food at the farmer's market has more nutritional value. And it's just going to taste better. And if a food taste better, you're more likely to eat it. But if you stop seasonally, if you can bulk buy like chicken breasts or or hamburger and break it down into more reasonable serving sizes, portion sizes that you're going to use, that helps a lot because usually your bulk buys would be less per pound to purchase. Fresh and frozen, if you've got your favorites, fruits and vegetables that are out of season, buying frozen is a good resource because they're fresh, picked and process right away. Or if it's only you or maybe one or two in the family, buying frozen helps a lot because you can portion control. You can pour out a couple of peas or a cup of corn and just eat that amount instead of having to buy big bag of whatever, then in using it from there, make sure cuz if you don't use those planned overs, don't use that food, you're just going to waste it. So there again, menu planning helps a lot to, to use the food that you have in a timely manner too so it doesn't, you don't have to worry about food safety or spoilage in that food. That there are ways - dry beans, beans, canned beans are a great resource for protein. You want to have at least they recommend one meatless meal a week. So the dry beans are awesome, will very low fat, very high in protein foods, that you can substitute your meat or at least cut your beef in half, hamburger in half and substitute half those beans in there. And portion control, you always have to think about that too. We're visually taught to overeat. You go to a restaurant, they serve you so much food. You go to a drive-through. Oh for $0.50, you can upsize to the next size. We don't need that much. So if you keep in mind your portion sizes. You're serving sizes. That can also help to cut back on the amount of food that you have to prepare for your family. So we want to make sure they get enough, but not too much as well.

Katie: Yeah, definitely. What are some simple ways that somebody can start to improve their nutrition if they aren't used to eating healthy at all?

Stephanie: Well, like I said, the baby steps, you know, if you're going to make any healthy changes in your, in your lifestyle, you have to make it a step that you can do, that you can be successful with. Choose one thing at a time. So instead of drinking four cans of pop a day, start cutting back on that and fill it in with water because water is one of our main nutrients that we do. And there's no nutritional value in pop. It taste really good. People think they have to have it everyday, but you really don't. It's an extra food. So just make baby steps, throw an extra vegetable in with your, the canned soup, you know, throw some mix veggies in there so you can increase the vegetable serving on that yet nutritional value of it. And when you're successful with those one step. So this week I'm going to make a goal. I'm going to have fruit as my snack. I'm going to have a piece of fruit as a snack once a day, and I'm going to add some fruit to my cereal in the morning. So once you get used to those baby steps, those first steps and you're successful at that, then move on and make another change. If you tried to change everything right off the bat, you're going to miss that can of pop. You're gonna miss that little candy bar. And you're going to just get discouraged. So the best thing to do is set simple goals. Reach those goals until they become habit. And then move on to the next one. So it's baby steps and something that you know, you can be successful at. Because once you are successful at something, you're more likely to continue on and keep going with that.

Katie: Mhm, and this kind of touches on what you're saying. But do you recommend dieting or making lifestyle changes for someone who's trying to lose weight?

Stephanie: Lifestyle changes have been the most successful. Diet sounds restricting. Yeah know, diet is really anything that we eat. It could be healthy or unhealthy. But making those lifestyle changes are the most successful. If you're ten pounds overweight, that ten pounds didn't come on overnight. It's something that is slowly built up because of either lack of exercise or lifestyle changes or the food choices that you make. So in order to reverse that, those there again, those baby steps, yeah know make those healthy choices until they become habit. And that is the most successful way to, you know, to lose weight. And there again include that physical activity. Especially now with all these changes in the world, you know, everybody's become more sedentary for meetings and office work and things. So we've become a lot more sedentary, but you need that physical activity to feel better and to keep your body in shape and then to wear off those those extra "Covid calories," I guess you could say.

Katie:Yeah. I agree. I don't think diet and it's very and reasonable and it may work for a little while. But overall, you're restricting too many things where a lifestyle change, you can still have the things you like and just make it smaller portions or every once in a while. And then overall, it will be more sustainable change.

Stephanie: If you're a chocoholic and someone told you you can't have chocolate anymore. What's the first thing you want to? "Well I wanted giant candy bar." So what I suggested in the past to my clients is, you know, by the little snack size candy bars and throw them in the freezer. You gotta have one by the time you chew through that frozen chocolate bar. It's had time to get into your system and that would be more satisfying that way. So yeah, you don't want to totally deny yourself, but allow for those little extras once in awhile.

Katie: And that leads into my next question. Do you have any ideas for a dessert that isn't very unhealthy? Something that can curb a sweet tooth.

Stephanie: Well, they call fruit nature's candy. So fruit would be a great, a great source to start with a bowl of strawberries with little dollop of Greek vanilla yogurt on top, would be a great dessert. If you have to have that little piece of chocolate brownie. Well, there again, have your strawberries and a little dollop of, of your yogurt on that. You're getting that little bit of chocolate, but you still have the nutritional value with vitamins and minerals from the fruit and then the calcium and protein from the yogurt. Cottage cheese with fruit. I love pineapple with my cottage cheese. It just, it just makes it... it's just a good combination of things. So fruit would be the best place to start. Angel food cake is usually pretty the lower, lower in calories. There again, something that's just a little nibble, just that little satisfaction of having something small. And the fruit group is a little smaller than the veggie side on that half a plate because about the sugar calories that are in there. But it's the natural sugar that your body is going to be able to process and turn into energy faster than it would that that Danish or piece of chocolate cake with frosting on it.

Katie: Yeah, great ideas. What is a well-balanced diet?

Stephanie: A well-balanced diet? Well, we're familiar with the choose MyPlate. And there again, you know, it has everything kind of in balance. The sizes of the food groups that are on the plate kinda give you an idea of how much that you should be having of, of each of those foods. You know, they do have that recommendation in there. Fruits and veggies at every meal, five to nine servings a day and a serving is about a half a cup, unless it's leafy greens and it would be one cup. But you want to make sure that you're getting a balance of you, your protein and carbs. You don't want to eliminate a food group. You might want to cut back on some if you want, but you want to make sure you're having foods from each of the food groups. Just the healthier choices. Very, you know, we need our calcium, the Greek yogurt and cottage cheese we get our protein from. So that's one nice thing. There's such a variety of food that we can choose from and still get the nutritional value that we need. So, but you want to make sure that you've got something on your plate that is going to fulfill your nutritional needs.

Katie: And touching on not skipping a food group. If someone is lactose intolerant or can't have dairy, it's still important to get that calcium and vitamin D which they'd be getting from that. So maybe substitute for like soy or coconut or rice milk or something like that, which is still fortified.

Stephanie: And also, keep in mind, you know, there's calcium in some of the vegetables too, or if you like a canned salmon, you squish the bones into that canned salmon, you're gonna be getting calcium from that. Sardines - I know a lot of people up here would get the, UP, you know, sardines and things So sardines, they have the bones in there, so you're getting the calcium, there's as much calcium in a can of sardines as there is in a glass of milk. if you eat that sardines. So there are other sources to get that calcium as well that you can fill in. Besides if you are lactose intolerant or if you're gluten free, I don't want to make sure that you're getting the nutrition that you have consuming the other grains because we need that fiber in though, those good, healthy carbohydrates in there.

Katie: What are some more resources for someone that wants to learn how to cook, eat healthier, and better budget their meals?

Stephanie: Well, MSU has some great resources. Our Michigan Fresh resource has wonderful bulletins on purchasing foods not e- mostly at like a farmer's market, but it's also very good information to use at the grocery store. There's great recipes in there. I found a wonderful resource for amazing recipes. It's called FoodHero.org. It's Oregon State University Extension. And they have wonderful newsletters in there and great, easy recipes to follow. Lots of fruits and veggies in there, bean recipes. There's recipes in there that are very kid friendly if you've that kinda picky eaters or try to get your kids to test their taste buds and try those new foods. ChooseMyPlate. Have a plant, it's fruitsandveggies.org. That's another great resources for very healthy, easy to prepare recipes.

Katie: Awesome. Are there any other words of advice you'd like to share in regards to food resource management?

Stephanie: Well, the best thing is to make sure that if you're cooking for yourself or if you're cooking for your family, make sure you're incorporating into your meals, the foods that taste good. And also there again, if you know that you're not eating is good as you probably could be, think about adding those fruits and vegetables into your diet. And there again, the biggest thing too is portion size. Make sure that we're not consuming more than what we actually need. Your calorie intake and your calorie expenditure should be pretty close to the day. Some days you're going to be more active some days not. So always make sure you're also keeping that in mind too. Baby steps, don't beat yourself up if you, if you fall off the wagon one day, the next day starts all over again and just tried to be successful once you are successful with incorporating healthier foods into your diet. That is a great stepping stone up to the next step and keep going.

Katie: Awesome. Well, thank you very much for all of your advice. You had some really great points, and we appreciate you taking the time out to talk with us.

Stephanie: Thank you. I appreciate being able to share my information and I wish everybody a healthy diet and a happy lifestyle.

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 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 biased against those not mentioned.

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