Woody Allen and Diane Keaton in surgical gear from a scene in the movie Sleeper

Question the Health Benefits of Organic Brands

This post was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. The site was deactivated on July 1, 2013, but you can read the post here.


Remember that funny scene in Woody Allen’s 1973 futuristic movie Sleeper when they dispute the health benefits of organic food? Well it looks like the future is here because the danger of eating organic brands has now been proven, that is if all you rely on is the label.

The twist has to do with what we perceive to be true about a food based on how it’s labeled. The effect has been dubbed a “health halo” and it happens when terms such as organic, natural and free-range are found on food. Some of us are more susceptible to it than others.

According to a new study, if you’re under the spell of a health halo, you’re more likely to think a food labeled as organic tastes better, has fewer calories and is better for you than its identical counterpart without an organic label. The study even found you’re willing to pay more for the food if smitten by the benefits of an organic label.

This is the point where I’d like to insert the old saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”

Power of Labels

Researchers from the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab recruited 115 people from a shopping mall in Ithaca, NY for their study. Each of the participants was given 2 identical samples of 3 different foods – 2 yogurts, 2 cookies and 2 portions of potato chips. One item in each pair was labeled “organic” and the other was labeled “regular,” even though both items in each pair were exactly the same.

The participants were asked to rate the taste and caloric content of each item and tell the researchers how much they’d be willing to pay for each. They then completed a questionnaire asking about their shopping habits and environmental practices.

As you might have guessed by now, the organic label influenced the opinion the participants had for those products.

Benefits of Organic

The researchers found the health halo effect of the organic label did not have a strong an influence over people who regularly buy organic foods, read nutrition labels and practice pro-environment behaviors. But for the people who didn’t match that description, they were susceptible to biases when they rated the foods. They said:

Organic cookies and Organic yogurt

  • contained fewer calories than regular
  • tasted like they had less fat than regular
  • were worth paying 23.4% more for than regular

Organic cookies and Organic potato chips

  • were more nutritious than regular

Organic yogurt and Organic potato chips

  • were more appetizing than regular
  • were more flavorful than regular

Regular cookies

  • tasted better than organic

While this study does not support Woody Allen’s premonition that hot fudge will someday be a health food, it does serve as a reminder that we should look beyond the label on the organic brands we buy. After all, organic hot fudge is still hot fudge.

Find out more on food labels here:

  • Nutrition Facts on Foods & Product Label Claims
  • Imagine Shopping Without Nutrition Facts on Food Labels
  • New Coke Ad Goes beyond the Nutrition Facts Label
Doing food prep ahead of time is one quick cooking idea to make easy family meals.

Quick Cooking Ideas for Easy Family Meals

This post was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Family Goes Strong. The site was deactivated on July 1, 2013, but you can read my blog here.


No matter how well-equipped your kitchen or the number of cookbooks you own, food doesn’t cook itself. It still takes a little talent and some time to turn the food you buy into healthy, easy family meals. The skill can be acquired with training and practice, but the time must be stolen.

After 35 years of making meals from scratch without compromising on good nutrition, I’ve got some quick cooking ideas that can help you find the time you need.

The goal is to do as much of the prep work in advance as possible. One way is to chop, dice and slice in big batches and freeze for future use. Another is to repackage foods into smaller units so they’re ready for assembly. And to save time and money, there are ways to salvage foods you don’t use up, but may need again, especially when they are not in season or always in your larder.

Quick Cooking Supplies

The only way these cooking ideas will help you save time is if you know what you have on hand and can find it. That’s why you need a white board to keep a running inventory of what’s in the freezer. Then you must make sure you label each item with the contents and date.

  • White board and pen
  • Zipper-top freezer bags in 1 quart and 2 quart sizes
  • Clear plastic food wrap
  • Plastic ice cubes trays
  • Stackable plastic food containers with tight-fitting lids
  • Permanent markers
  • Freezer tape or labels, or masking tape

Prepping for Easy Family Meals

Follow the steps in bold type to get foods and ingredients ready for future meals. I do all of these things, but even if you only adopt a few, you will be that much closer to getting meals on the table fast.

Chop, dice or slice, bag, label, freeze:

  • Sweet onions, yellow onions, shallots, leeks – ready for the sauté pan or soup pot
  • Bell peppers in different colors – for stir-fry, chili, omelets

Clean, stem, bag, label, freeze:

  • Hot peppers – leave whole and chop while still frozen

Cook, cool, bag, label, freeze:

  • Long-cooking whole grain brown rice, barley, farro, buckwheat, quinoa – for quick side dish or stuffing
  • Rolled or steel-cut oats – thaws in refrigerator overnight, costs less than instant packets

Trim, individually wrap, label, bag, freeze:

  • Boneless cutlets of chicken and pork and small steaks – to cube or slice or use whole
  • Bone-in chops, shanks or chicken quarters – to enrich a sauce or stock
  • Patties made from beef, poultry, pork or fish – thaw, crumble and cook or season for other uses
  • Sausage links, 2-3 per bag – use whole or remove casings

Shred, bag, label, freeze:

  • Hard cheeses Cheddar, Monterey Jack, Swiss, Provolone, Romano – ready for sprinkling and melting

Quarter, bag, label, freeze:

  • Lemon, lime and orange in skin (scrubbed) – squeeze juice as needed or add pieces to beverages

Bag, label, freeze:

  • Pancakes, French toast, waffles, sliced quick breads, muffins – ready reheating in microwave

Section into single servings, place in containers, label, freeze:

  • Cookies, brownies, unfrosted cake, fruit pie – helps deal with leftovers and regulate future portions

Crush, bag, label, freeze:

  • Crackers, pretzels, chips, cereals – coat nuggets, fish cakes, tofu slices

Crumb, bag, label, freeze:

  • Bread crusts, stale rolls, unused hotdog buns – ready for meatballs, stuffing, crumb toppings
Add these best canned food products to your healthy food list

12 Canned Food Products On My Healthy Foods List

This post was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. This site was deactivated on July 1, 2013, but you can see the post here.


February is National Canned Foods Month, so I checked my pantry to see what canned food products would make my healthy foods list. The features they all share are that they have a long shelf life, so are a convenient and inexpensive way to have nutritious foods all year round. They can be more nutritious than fresh foods that are not used right away or prepared properly, and there’s no waste. The availability of some key nutrients is actually enhanced by the canning processing over fresh or frozen forms, while fiber content is unchanged. There are more low sodium options to choose from today than ever before and canned beans can be made lower in sodium just by rinsing. The best canned food feature of all is that the container is completely recyclable!


Tomato Paste – Best Canned Food Products

Enrich the flavor of your tomato sauce, goulash or chili with this concentrated form of tomatoes. It has no added salt and is naturally low in sodium, so you control the seasoning.


Sardines – Best Canned Food Products

I love them on crackers as a quick lunch option, but they can be featured in many parts of your menu. Try topping a salad or pizza with them or flavoring a tomato sauce.

baked beans

Vegetarian Baked Beans- Best Canned Food Products

As good as they are right from the can, I love to personalize them by heating them up with sautéed onion and garlic and mixing in other rinsed canned beans.



Pineapple Chunks – Best Canned Food Products

Whether added to a sweet and sour stir fry, a winter fruit salad or to top a slice of pound cake, the many forms of juice-packed pineapple can elevate any dish to something special.


Sauerkraut – Best Canned Food Products

Just like the cabbage it’s made from, canned sauerkraut is full of vitamins C, K, and folate and the minerals iron, manganese and potassium. It’s also very low in calories and fat free and a perfect partner for fresh pork.


Pumpkin – Best Canned Food Products

It’s not just for delicious desserts! Canned pumpkin makes great smoothies, quick breads and soups and adds a super dose of Vitamin A and fiber to everything it’s added to.

chick peas

Peas and Beans – Best Canned Food Products

All of the many different colored and shaped canned beans and peas are included in this category. I keep a huge variety on hand at all times and continually discover new ways to use them in my meals.


Evaporated Milk – Best Canned Food Products

There’s no need to use fresh milk in cooking and baking when canned evaporated milk will do. It saves money and another trip to the store for more milk, while increasing the protein and calcium if used a full strength.


Olives – Best Canned Food Products

Open a can and turn an uninspired dish into a Mediterranean specialty. Whole, sliced or chopped, they can be added to rice, orzo, or tomato sauce and blended into cream cheese or hummus for a savoring spread.


Tuna – Best Canned Food Products

Always a life saver whether called into action for lunch or dinner. I keep a jar of pickle relish in the refrigerator so I can make a great tuna salad even if I don’t have fresh celery or onion on hand.


Mandarin Oranges – Best Canned Food Products

These are a personal favorite because they add a nice touch of sweetness to a tossed salad or grain dish without overpowering it. Their bright color really stands out against salad greens and brown grains.

diced tomatoes

Diced Tomatoes – Best Canned Food Products

Fresh tomatoes are naturally rich in lycopenes, but they’re more bioavailable in the canned varieties due to the effects of heat processing. Even when fresh tomatoes are in season, I like to cook with canned and save the fresh for salads and sandwiches