Food Organization to Make Healthy Choices with Nola Auernhamer

Katie Wisneski, MSU student and intern, talks to Nola Auernhamer, community nutrition instructor, about eating a healthy breakfast, refrigerator and pantry organization, and intentionally making "leftovers" to save time.

September 14, 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 we're speaking with Nola Auernhamer a community nutrition instructor from Tuscola County.  Hello Nola, thank you very much for joining us today. 

Nola Auernhamer: Hi Katie. Thanks for inviting me.

Katie: Do you think that breakfast is an essential meal?

Nola: Yes, absolutely. It's very important to eat a healthy breakfast, especially one that has protein, whole grains, healthy fat and fruits or vegetables. And just helps to get your day started. And think of it as waking up after sleeping for maybe eight hours and its been a long time since you've had a meal and you need something to get your body going and to get your blood sugar level on track. And also too, if you're running short on time and you skip breakfast and run out the door to a crazy busy day and you have to skip lunch, then you're running on empty all day long. So if you're running short on time, you could just grab something quick to get out the door, like making a smoothie. That way you're not running on empty all day long. And skipping meals is not good either. It's important to eat throughout the day to keep your blood sugar levels even rather than having highs and lows.

Katie: Mhm. And since breakfast is so essential, What are some tips on keeping breakfast healthy so that you fuel your body instead of having a super sugary breakfast, what are some tips to keep it good for you?

Nola: Ok, I alternate between eggs with lots of vegetables, especially this time of year when fresh vegetables are a lot easier to get than in the wintertime. And my own garden is supplying me with enough zucchini for the whole street. And then on days when I don't do eggs with vegetables, I might have oatmeal or granola or, and on the weekends, I might fix waffles or pancakes with a lot of fresh fruit on top and yogurt. That's another thing right now that it's easy to get is fresh fruit. So it's good to take advantage of that season here in Michigan when you can get fresh fruits and vegetables.

Katie: Mhm. Yeah, those sound like really good breakfasts. What about healthy snacks? What are some good things to have on hand so that you're always having something good and nutritious?

Nola: Right, I like to have lots of dried fruit and nuts on hand. They make great snacks, but also, they are a great add-in to my oatmeal or granola. I try and buy large bags of dried fruit and nuts because that's a lot cheaper than individually pre-packaged snacks. And so if you need a snack to go, you can just simply grab a handful of dried fruit or nuts and throw them in a baggy or small plastic container. And in the refrigerator, I always have apples, bananas, oranges and clementines. These fruits are available pretty much all year. They don't cost a fortune and they are a grab and go out the door, snack.

Katie: Mhm, yeah. So how important do you think it is to have an organized fridge and pantry?

Nola: Having an organized refrigerator and pantry are a must, especially if you have a family, other people that live with you, that way, other people can find what they are looking for, especially if it's a snack, then they can help themselves and they can be more helpful in preparing meals. So if you send someone to the refrigerator or the pantry to get an item, you want them to be able to find it. Having an organized refrigerator and pantry also cuts down on food being wasted. Food gets shoved, as we all know, to the back of the refrigerator, only to be found weeks later with mold growing on it. It also helps to be organized so that you know what you have and don't make a special trip to the grocery store to buy something that you already have, but you couldn't find it.

Katie: And what is some advice that you would give for organizing these areas?

Nola: So I use glass jars in my pantry and my refrigerator for as many things as I can. I know if you have children in the house, that might be a safety issue to consider. So might want to consider using plastic jars and containers. Put items used most often in the front of your pantry or refrigerator. And using jars, plastic jars, glass jars, it doesn't have to cost a lot of money. You can reuse jars from other foods like spaghetti sauce and mayonnaise. I like to use freezer boxes. They're made out of plastic and they are square, so they don't take up a lot of space. They stack and they are opaque. You can kind of see what's in them. They're not clear, but you can sort of see what's in them. And then also too, use labels so that you and others know what's inside, especially if it's not obvious, or if you're storing something in the freezer, you come back to it in a month, you have no idea what it is. So be sure to label everything that you put in the freezer and be sure to store your meat on the bottom of your refrigerator and keep healthy food to the front. And be sure to use, safe food guidelines when you're storing your food in the refrigerator.

Katie: And if someone wanted to start doing this, do they really need to just take everything out of their fridge and pantry and then organize it? Or how would you say someone should start doing this?

Nola: Well first you need to make a decision. Do you really want to change? Because if you don't really want to change, you're probably not going to stick with the plan. So make a solid decision to change and then come up with a plan and make sure you have a good plan because you're probably going to fail or take a couple steps backwards. So have a plan to get back on track. We all fail, we're all human, so just make sure you're going to pick yourself back up and get back on the plan. You need to set goals that are attainable. We're not all Betty Crocker or Martha Stewart. So figure out what works for you and the people that live with you. Start small, make small changes. You don't need to spend a lot of money to do this. Okay, change can be a long road. So make sure that it's one that you can accomplish. I would pick one area that needs to be organized and work your way into other areas. How do you want that area to look? Say like for instance, putting all your cans of fruits and vegetables in one spot, organized together, but make sure it's organized to meet your needs. Ask a friend to help you, get some advice from friends that have organized pantries and refrigerators, but make sure that it's organized to meet your needs and how you're going to use it. Because if it's set up for someone else, then you're probably not going to use it. You're not going to like it. And then get rid of food that you never eat or use that new food and look up a new recipe. I would take everything out and put like items together and like I said, whatever you use most often, put that to the front. Be sure to put items back where they belong and have a place for everything. If there's a place for everything, it's going to be a lot easier to keep things organized.

Katie: And say If someone has a really small pantry and have to like stack everything in front of each other, and It's not as easy to see... Do you have any tips for them?

Nola: Sure. Yeah. I've lived in this. My first couple of apartments were very small, had just about no kitchen. So yeah, I would put items that are used most often in the front and buy only what you will use or what you like if you don't like dried cranberries than don't buy them, just keep stuff on hand that you know, you're going to use and use containers that don't take up a lot of space and that use the space well. I would use containers that have a box shape to them as opposed to a round jar. If you don't have a lot of storage space in your pantry, you might want to use smaller containers and fill them as necessary from a larger container that is stored elsewhere. So if you buy in bulk to save money, you can fill up your smaller containers that you're using that are right in front of you. And then store the larger items somewhere else and just pull them out and you need to refill your smaller containers.

Katie: And for containers, I think, a good place to find them is like the Dollar Store. The containers don't have to be super expensive that you're buying.

Nola: Right? Absolutely. Yeah. And I just really think that being able to see what's in the container is essential.

Katie: So switching topics a little bit, can you explain what, "cook once, eat three times" is?

Nola: Sure, yeah, this is a great idea. So cooking once, eating three times means cooking a large portion, usually of meat or protein and then making three separate meals. So some examples of this are like if you take grilled chicken breast and you grill up several pounds of it, and then your first meal one night can be grilled chicken breast as your entree, your main dish, and then a bunch of sides. And then the next day you can slice it into strips for chicken fajitas. I mean, you can just add a whole bunch of yummy vegetables, green peppers, yellow peppers, red peppers, orange peppers. Just all kinds of great vegetables. And then the third meal could be a chicken casserole, but you could also, if you're tired of chicken after, you know, you don't want to eat it a second day, you can just throw that chicken in the freezer and then take it out next week. And it just makes meal prep a whole lot easier to do. I also do this cook once eat three times meal with chili. So the first night chili would be the entree with say like, cornbread. And then the next time you might use it on a baked potato smorgasbord. Cover a baked potato in chili and some cheese. And then the next night might be nachos Mexican style with shredded cheese and crushed tortilla chips on hand. It's just a great way to cook once and you have three meals.

Katie: Do you think that doing something like this requires a lot of planning?

Nola: Yes, it can, depends on how creative you want to get, but look, in the long run, it will save you time, frustration, and money. So you do need to make a plan and plan your meals. I would recommend planning your meals for the week. Say like maybe on a Sunday, plan your meals for the week and do as much prep as you can. Having meals planned out will save you a lot of time because you will be more organized. You won't get frustrated wondering what in the world is for supper when it's five o'clock in the afternoon and you have no idea what to fix for supper. This saves a lot of frustration. And especially when everyone in your house is "hangry", that's hungry and angry, it keeps everybody happier. And you will cook healthier if you have a plan, you won't be running to the grocery store in a frenzy, grabbing something quick and that's usually less healthy. And also keep track after, you know, everyday right down the meals that you make and the meals that you like. So then you don't have to waste time thinking about what to fix. So like after 30 days, if you cook 30 different meals, then you can just repeat that menu the next month. And that's 30 different meals. That's pretty amazing. Sounds like a lot of meals, but it's really not. There's what? A billion different recipes out there for everything.

Katie: And if someone's having trouble like trying to figure out how much, especially like the protein they need to make. Do you have tips on knowing how much it's good for their family size?

Nola: Sure, yeah. So portion size depends on the person, whether it's an adult or a child, and how many people you will be feeding. So an adult portion is about three ounces. That's also the size of a deck of cards. So super easy to remember that a deck of cards fits in the palm of your hand, which is, like I said, three ounces. And so that's usually a good, healthy portion size for an adult. And so you will need less meat per person if you mix the meat or the protein with other ingredients like chicken fajitas, like I said earlier, you know, mix it with a lot of veggies, especially this time of year. If you're making beef tacos, you can always mix in a can of pinto beans and a can of corn to make it go further. And oftentimes too, if you cook once and eat three times by the time you get to the last day, if you're running low on that meat or protein, this really comes in hand. You have a little bit of meat leftover and you can just mix it and mix more stuff in like beans or corn and stretch that meat out to go further.

Katie: Great, So if people are interested in learning more about these things, where can they go to find more resources on them?

Nola: Well they can always look on the internet. Of course, there's so many resources on the internet, but I would really start with your county extension office. We offer numerous classes that cover all these topics and much more, including delicious recipes. And my favorite class is cooking for one, which talks about all of this and it has great healthy recipes. So your extension office has resources for every topic you can imagine. So I would definitely start there. Every county has an extension office.  Give them a call and see how they can help you. If they can't help you, they can find someone that can help you.

Katie: Do you have any other tips or advice that you would like to share?

Nola: Yeah. I love to cook. I know a lot of people don't but try and have fun with making your food choices healthier. Don't think of it as what you're giving up. But what can you add to your daily eating to make it healthier? And also, to remember, change takes time. So be patient and like I said earlier, always get back on track if you don't stay the course. I would also recommend finding someone to cook with you if you live alone, it's much more fun. If you have other people in the house get them into the kitchen, whether it's just chopping, doing prep work, whatever. And then also too, if you have children in the house, teach them to cook because everyone has to eat and that is a great skill to learn early on. So yeah, get get people involved, get them in the kitchen.

Katie: And what's the main thing or idea that you hope people take away from our discussion?

Nola: Have fun with your food. You know, even if you don't like to cook, just try something new, look for some new recipes. Have fun, try new foods. There are so many foods out there. It's amazing what we have, we are very blessed to have a lot of a variety of foods. So yeah, have fun with it and don't be afraid to try new foods.

Katie: Definitely. Alright, Well, thank you very much for all your advice. We appreciate your time.

Nola: Thanks for having me.

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 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 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 beliefs, 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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