How to Become a Savvy Farmers Market Shopper


How to become a Savvy Farmers Market Shopper

Farmers’ Market season is off and running! There’s no quicker way to go from farm-to-table with your meals than by purchasing your ingredients at your local market. This also provides a great opportunity to communicate directly with your farmers on topics such as pesticide-use, growing conditions and whether or not the products are grown organically. Additionally, at the Illinois Products Farmers’ Market you can often find unique items such as hand-crafted soaps, gluten-free baked goods, organic meats and other hidden gems that may not be available at your local grocery store. Springfield Clinic registered dietitian, Jessica Stevens is a regular at the Farmers’ Market and offers these tips for your next trip:

  • Take your own reusable grocery bag and maybe even a wagon if you plan on buying a lot of produce and other goodies.
  • Purchase fresh herbs at the market when they are in season and also less expensive. Chop and place them in ice cube trays, add olive oil and freeze. You’ve just made your own herb oil and can use at any time by heating in a skillet or vegetable foil pack on the grill.
  • Ask the farmers how they personally use or cook vegetables that are new to you.
  • If you have questions about seasonal produce, ask! The farmers who grow them know best.
  • Best prices are found in bulk. Ask a neighbor, friend or family member to go in on shopping costs with you and share your bounty.
  • Try to have a meal plan in place so you do not feel like you waste fresh produce.
  • Get there early if you’re looking for specific things – the best produce sells out fast. If you want a good deal, you may find one if you get there late, but that’s not always a guarantee.
  • Bring small bills. Market vendors often only accept cash and don’t carry a lot of change.
  • Know your seasons and what produce grows in your local area. This can help you plan your meals around fresh and cheap produce! Visit our Springfield Clinic table each week, as we will be providing a featured recipe that includes in-season ingredients.
  • Bring a cooler. Fresh meat, cheese and eggs can be available to purchase at farmer’s markets so you’ll want to keep these items cool for those trips home. It will be 90+ degrees before we know it!

Who’s to Blame for School Lunches?

Who’s to blame for school lunches?

Recently, I’ve noticed that pictures of school lunches have been saturating my Facebook newsfeed. In fact, many people are sharing the popular Buzzfeed article that compares typical US school lunches to what school lunches look like around the world. Outraged parents have made comments about the pictures like, “Time for the US to step it up and serve food from the earth and not from a science lab.” While I completely agree with this statement, things do not get changed that easily. Additionally, I feel there is a big gap of information that many parents are unaware of when it comes to creating a school lunch menu.

  • Cost of food. Wouldn’t it be great if our schools served fish such as tilapia, mahi mahi or salmon at least once a week? What about fresh, organic eggs and avocado slices with breakfast? Unfortunately, the cost of these menu items may far surpass the school’s food budget. Typically, wealthier districts are able to offer a wider variety of foods while more rural school districts have a much lower budget to work with.
  • Cost of labor. Believe me, I wish that all the food served in our schools was fresh and wholesome—never canned or processed. However, when you purchase items that are not pre-cut or minimally pre-prepared, you now have increased labor cost from the increased time your cooks have to take to prepare these dishes from scratch.
  • Cooking space. Ever notice when you plan a meal at home, you take into consideration which different cooking methods you will utilize (oven, stove top, microwave, etc.?) Do you factor in if any of your dishes will require the same cooking method? Schools have to do the same thing! They may also be severely limited to specific cooking techniques and this would also impact the type of food they are able to serve.
  • Don’t expect kids to eat it at school when it’s not prepared at home. Many parents complain that their children are served unhealthy foods at school. One thing that pained me when I was doing my school food service rotations as a dietetic intern was the amount of food that kids waste at lunchtime. One day when I was observing the elementary students, hundreds of pre-packaged carrots and sugar-snap peapods piled up in the trash can. One of the unfortunate realities is that schools do offer healthier menu items; the kids simply do not eat them. This is why it is incredibly important to begin teaching healthy eating habits in the home. A few simple tips to get you started can include:
    • Serve lean proteins such as chicken, turkey and fish most often.
    • Educate kids that potatoes, peas and corn are starches, not vegetables and therefore, they should not be served every night.
    • Expose children to a variety of vegetables and cooking techniques such as steamed, grilled, roasted, sautéed and served raw.
    • Avoid over-serving packaged snack foods like crackers and granola bars, and choose fresh fruits, veggies and proteins as healthier alternatives.
  • Following Government Guidelines. The National School Lunch Program was designed to provide access to nutritionally-balanced meals to students. The USDA funds this program; therefore, their recommendations must follow those of the most updated USDA dietary guidelines. New recommendations of limiting sodium and saturated fat and offering more fruits, veggies and whole grains have been enforced over the past couple of years. Thousands of students receive free and reduced breakfast and lunch meals every day. In order for the schools to be reimbursed for these meals by the government, they must meet the specific standards of what counts as a meal. We have learned that high protein breakfast meals can help ward off childhood obesity. However, it is not required that a protein/meat source be served at breakfast to count as a reimbursable meal. Source: National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs

The point of my blog today was not to discredit any parent’s thoughts on what their child is being served at school; rather I wanted to help them better understand all the factors that are involved in the menu-creating process. In fact, I think it’s absurd that kids are allowed to be served sugar-sweetened beverages such as chocolate milk. However, school is not the only place that children may have access to less-healthy menu items. Remember, good eating habits start at home. Expose children early on to a variety of fruits, veggies, proteins and cooking technique and help them to appreciate natural flavors over those that are overly salty or sweetened.

For additional information on national standards in the school breakfast and lunch programs, please visit:

Let’s Get Cooking!

Cooking your own food is one of the best, health habits that someone can incorporate into their lifestyle. When you cook your meals at home, you can help decrease the amount of processed food you are consuming. Home cooked meals have the potential to contain less sodium, more potassium and be richer in healthier proteins and fats than meals purchased from fast food eateries or restaurants. Many people ask what recipe books I have or where I go to find new recipes online. With the rise in nutrition awareness, more and more food blogs are popping up all over the internet. With so many sites to choose from, it can sometimes be hard to decide if a blog is worth your time or not (Author’s credibility, Do the recipes match my health needs? Do the recipes even taste good?). With the help of my new dietitian, Jessica Harris, we put together a list of some of our favorite go-to recipe/food blog sites. We both believe that health and healing should start with whole foods and more emphasis should be placed on the quality of foods in the diet. Let the cooking begin!

Amanda Novy, Dietetics and NutritionAmanda’s Picks Juli Bauer not only entertains her readers with her day-to-day adventures, she also provides some of the most scrumptious recipes I have ever tried. Her recipe combinations are exciting and always consist of using whole, real foods. After years of battling an autoimmune disease, Danielle Walker decided to heal her body with food rather than extra medications. In her recipes, she focuses on natural ingredients that are easy on the digestive system but powerful in taste. Brandon and Megan Keatley, a fit and active husband-wife duo shares their beliefs on eating for health. They believe that healthy food does not have to be bland or boring and I couldn’t agree more with their recipes I have tried. : Here, you can find a home for all of my recipes I have posted on as well as a disease-specific or ingredient-specific recipe library.
Harris, Jessica RD, LDNJessica’s Picks This is one of Jessica’s go-to cookbooks and is also home to where she purchases many of her herbs and spices. Jessica adds, “I like their mantra, “love to cook, cook to love” as it truly shows through the quality of ingredients used in their recipes.” A popular grocery store chain that focuses on less-processed foods and products. Through their website, one can learn more about organic foods, special diet considerations as well as a large library of nutritious recipes to try. Jessica adds that these recipes are creative and of high-quality. This website is especially good for those who get bored with the same-old ingredients and spice combinations. It also features a variety of tutorials on cooking and techniques to use in the kitchen. As a flexitarian, this is home to some of Jessica’s inspirations for vegetarian meals. “I love the summer grilled mexican street quinoa salad but I also added grilled bell peppers, zucchini and mushrooms to make it a veggie-packed summer dish”