Make your refrigerator a healthful ‘faster food’ source

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Valley West Community Hospital Healthy Culinary Instructor Jo Cessna will share strategies for filling your refridgerator with healthful foods to create wonderful breakfasts, lunches and dinners. | File photo

Jo Cessna’s mission is to help home cooks think outside the box — or boxes of processed foods they are accustomed to buying. As the Healthy Culinary Instructor for Valley West Community Hospital, part KishHealth System, in Sandwich, she specializes in offering ideas, tips and techniques that anyone who wants to eat better can apply.

On April 16, she will be presenting “Fortify your Fridge,” which is her approach to stocking your refrigerator to make healthful meals accessible.

“I encourage people to start getting creative with a few broad groups of foods that can go into multiple dishes throughout the week,’’ she said. “Cooking or prepping a grain, a green and a bean ahead can be the basis for your own ‘convenience food.’”

She also tries to dispel the myth that cooking has to take a lot of time. She points out that by choosing one afternoon to make the base for meals for several days, cooks actually save time because the prep work has been done ahead.

For example, cooks can prepare a larger quantity of brown rice on a Sunday, and serve it in several dishes for the next three or four days. “Many people haven’t thought about eating already cooked brown rice heated up in the microwave for breakfast,” Cessna said. “You can add berries or bananas and maybe a little brown sugar and have a great hot cereal.”

This is the type of broad thinking that Cessna said many of us aren’t used to applying to cooking and healthful eating. “It’s not an all or nothing approach, small changes are easier to make at first, and they can be built on as time goes by.”

“You don’t need a food science degree to make these kinds of changes,’’ she chuckled. “I try to make the presentations fun and not fussy.”

She said Americans tend not to have enough variety in their diets and rely on just a few grains and vegetables. By trying out whole grains and lesser-known vegetables, consumers can get a lot of the nutrients they may be missing out on now.

And although whole grains may have a reputation for lacking flavor, Cessna has a solution for that.

“I make marinades and dressings — I like to call them the jazz — that can accompany a wide range of foods,’’ she explained.

They might be used with cold salads, or they might flavor a hot dish.

In keeping with her “small steps” philosophy, Cessna said just having raw vegetables already cleaned and cut in the refrigerator can go a long way.

“Let’s say you have prepped them for a stir fry. But if the veggies are on hand at snack time, maybe you will reach for them. If M & Ms are the only thing in the house that’s ready, you’ll eat them,” she said.

Her presentation will include a cooking demonstration, tastings and recipe handouts.

FORTIFY YOUR FRIDGE

WHAT: Join Jo Cessna, healthy culinary instructor, to hear how to fill your fridge once per week and still create wonderful breakfasts, lunches and dinners.

WHEN: 6-7:30 p.m., Tuesday, April 16

WHERE; Valley West Medical Office Building, 1310 N. Main St., Sandwich, IL 60548

REGISTRATION: $10/person. Registration Required. Visit http://bit.ly/W0EsjB or call (815) 786-3962