UC Food Blog
Americans' interest in traditional homemaking activities – gardening, cooking, baking bread and canning – has risen dramatically over the last few months, according to Google Trends.
Getting reliable information is particularly important when it comes to home food preservation. But internet search results don't always display research-based information at the top. Using the wrong procedure won't qualify as a hilarious Pinterest Fail; it can be fatal.
To make reliable home food preservation how-to videos easy to find, a team of UC Cooperative Extension professionals and volunteers reviewed and aggregated research-based food preservation videos produced by Cooperative Extension programs across the nation on one website – http://ucanr.edu/MFPvideolibrary.
“As far as we can tell, this site is the only website with a full collection of food safety and food preservation videos from the Cooperative Extension system,” said UCCE Master Food Preserver coordinator Sue Mosbacher. In partnership with states, counties and universities, the USDA's Cooperative Extension system provides higher education to farmers, ranchers, communities, youth and families. In California, UC Cooperative Extension is part of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources.
The videos are divided into 10 categories: food safety, food preservation methods, jam & jelly, pickle & ferment, dehydrate, refrigerate & freeze, can fruit, can tomatoes, can vegetables and preserve meat & fish.
The UC Cooperative Extension Master Food Preserver Program trains and certifies volunteers to teach the public about food preservation techniques and safety. Certified UC Master Food Preservers typically hold community classes to extend the information. During the COVID-19 crisis, in-person classes have been canceled, so video-based learning is critical to educating families who are interested in the craft.
Dustin Blakey, director of UC Cooperative Extension in Inyo and Mono counties and coordinator of the local Master Food Preserver volunteers, created one of the videos in the collection. In seven minutes, Blakey outlines the process of preserving dry beans. (View the video below.)
“Right now, with people losing their jobs, if you have a pressure canner, you can buy a five-pound bag of beans for $5 and make 16 cans of beans,” Blakey said. “If you have the equipment and jars, it's a great way to preserve the food and then this summer, you have it ready to go.”
Blakey said he and his team will be producing more home food preservation videos in the future.
At the end of February, before COVID-19 disrupted normal life, members of the Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indian Tribe, in a remote area of Riverside County, gathered to plant vegetables and herbs in the A'Avutem (elders) garden.
Six raised garden boxes were installed several years ago with funding from the California Rural Indian Health Board, but stood empty. UC Cooperative Extension nutrition, family and consumer sciences advisor Chutima Ganthavorn and vegetable crops advisor Jose Aguiar obtained approval from the Tribal Council to engage the Youth Council in planting a new garden with seniors.
This intergenerational group planted chili peppers, bell peppers, onions, cherry tomatoes, tomatoes, corn, mint, basil and lemon grass Feb. 27. Select tribal members, including three youth and six seniors, harvested produce on the morning of May 12. While wearing masks and practicing social distance protocols, they harvested three boxes of tomatoes, onions, bell peppers and chili peppers.
"It is really nice to see the fruit of their efforts," Ganthavorn said.
Most people are home a lot more right now. That can mean more time spent on meal preparation for ourselves and our families. Luckily, cooking at home is a great way to save money and eat healthier. If you are feeling pressed for time, ask your kids for help in the kitchen or planning meals and grocery lists. Kids who are involved in cooking meals have been shown to have healthier diets and eat a greater variety of foods.
Is this their first time in the kitchen?
Make it fun and start with safety. Food safety is the first and most important cooking skill you can teach your kids. Show them how to wash their hands for 20 seconds. By now, many people know that singing Happy Birthday twice is about 20 seconds, but if you don't like that song or your kids are older, there are a lot of other 20-second songs or your kids can create their own at Wash Your Lyrics.
Remind children to wash the back of their hands, under their fingernails and above their wrists. Also, wearing an apron if you have one can be fun and food safe. Aprons help keep the germs and dirt from clothes out of your food, especially important if kids are changing their clothes less now that schools are not in session. Be sure to clean and sanitize any cooking surfaces before you begin food preparation.
What if your child is not interested in cooking?
Ask them what they want to eat or cook. Give them boundaries for selecting recipes that meet your needs, for example: they have to use ingredients that you already have at home, or it has to include at least three of the five MyPlate food groups. Giving youth decision-making power is a great way to ensure they are invested and engaged. Start with lunch or snack preparation then move onto dinner once they've got the basics down. Need some ideas? MyPlate snack tips for kids
Kids still not interested?
Some young people might become more interested if cooking involves learning about their family history or cultural foods. Share your food traditions and family recipes with them.
Kids can cook! How to manage your stress so cooking can be fun for everyone
Letting young ones crack an egg or mix batter can be hard to watch and messy, but it can be very empowering for a child. If you're anxious about letting them cook, they will be too and that can take some of the fun out of cooking for both of you. The first step could be acknowledging everything you're feeling about inviting a child into your kitchen. Are you worried that dinner won't be finished in time? Are you nervous about the mess that you will have to clean up? Are you concerned that they will hurt themselves or break something? Find out what is causing you to feel uneasy and acknowledge it. Once you know what you are feeling stressed or anxious about, then you can find a way to manage it.
5 things you can do to create a lower stress environment in the kitchen
- Put a towel down on the counter to make clean-up easier and bowls less prone to sliding around.
- Use a smaller bowl for the child to mix or measure ingredients in before it is poured into the larger recipe bowl.
- Consider creating a cook space outside.
- Take it one step at a time, wait to introduce cooking on the stove until they are older and you are confident in their skills and safety awareness.
- Start simple, with lower-stress meals like snacks or lunch – you can move onto dinner when you are ready.
A little time invested now, will pay off in the future
Getting kids involved in the kitchen and teaching them new skills takes time and effort. Make sure that effort pays off. Ask them to practice and perfect their skills frequently so they can help and become responsible family members. Consider adding cooking to their weekly chores. Important tasks that anyone can do to help in the kitchen include scrubbing vegetables, tearing lettuce into pieces, cleaning counters and dishes, making a grocery list, creating a meal plan, etc.
Culinary skills to start with
- Washing and picking cilantro, parsley, basil or other leafy greens. Show them the difference between the leaf and the stem. Give them a bowl or measuring cup and show them how much you need. Ask them to fill the cup/bowl.
- Stirring and mixing. Kids like to do things themselves and be in charge. Show them how to mix and give them a tool that fits in their hand – a fork makes a great sifter/mixer and there is less of an opportunity for ingredients to be scooped and flung.
- Cutting soft foods with a plastic or butter knife on a cutting board. If possible, make a flat surface on the food so that it doesn't roll around while they are trying to cut. For example, cut several strawberries in half. Lay the flat side down and have them slice the strawberries and remove the green stem. Show them how to hold the knife with the blade moving down and away from the body. Want more instruction? Video on basic knife skills
- Pushing buttons on the oven, microwave or food processor. Can they find the number 2? Can they preheat the oven to 350 degrees?
- Cracking eggs into a small bowl so that it is easy to get the shells out when they don't crack the egg perfectly the first or second or third time. Were you taught how to crack an egg? Teaching others how to cook is a great way to enhance your own skills.
Older kids and youth
- As they get older they will want even more independence and decision-making power. Let them call the shots – with guidelines. For example, let them plan a meal but tell them they need to include at least three food groups from MyPlate. This way you don't end up with fried chicken for dinner and no sides. Offer to be their assistant so you can guide and supervise.
- Show them how to read a recipe and increase their vocabulary with words like dice, chop, simmer, etc.
Need more ideas of age-appropriate cooking activities for kids? See the Cooking with Kids infographic for recipes, and links to more sources. The possibilities are endless.
Empty grocery store shelves are troubling enough to California consumers who are accustomed to abundant supplies. To hear about farmers dumping milk, crushing eggs and plowing under crops when demand for food is strong just doesn't make sense to most consumers. Although the new coronavirus crisis has currently derailed the connection between supply and demand, “the food system in the United States is resilient and there is little reason for alarm about food availability,” write University of California agricultural economists.
Overall, neither food consumption nor the amount of food supplied by farms have changed much, they write in a new article published by UC's Giannini Foundation of Agricultural Economics. The authors explain that the sudden closure of schools, restaurants and other institutions, coupled with residents in many states sheltering in place to reduce the spread of COVID-19, has disrupted normal patterns of where people buy food.
“Price changes, surpluses and shortages along the food supply chain are likely the result of recent and temporary shocks to supply, demand or both,” said co-author Ellen Bruno, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at UC Berkeley.
“On the demand side, we have seen customers shift to buying more food at the grocery store as restaurants and other food service businesses have closed. Plus, consumers have changed what they consume and stockpile during these times,” she said.
Initially, worried consumers stocked up on staples such as rice and pasta that store well. Then, with more free time, they started cooking at home and baking their own bread and pastries, buying up eggs, flour, sugar and other baking supplies.
“On the supply side, there are challenges in trying to rearrange production and packaging to service grocery stores, as opposed to restaurants, schools, etc. which often purchase items in different quantities,” Bruno said. “Plus, there are the obvious health concerns and potential disruptions due to the impact of the virus on the workers themselves.”
How quickly the food supply system will adapt to changing demand depends on the product, according to Bruno and her co-authors Richard J. Sexton, UC Davis professor, and Daniel A. Sumner, director of the UC Agricultural Issues Center and UC Davis professor, both in the Department of Agricultural & Resource Economics. Canned fruits and vegetables are often processed shortly after harvest and can be moved from storage to retail fairly quickly. To increase egg production, farmers have to add to the number of laying hens, which takes months. Many perishable produce items are planted, harvested, packed and shipped according to a precise schedule to replenish grocery store inventories “just in time” so farmers can't quickly increase the amount of fresh fruit and vegetables they supply.
Produce wholesalers who sell to food service have products and packaging specifically designed for that market. For example, packing plants that prepare large bulk salad packages for restaurants aren't set up to pack salad into retail-ready bags that require consumer labels. While adjustments were made, some fresh produce rotted or was plowed under.
After the COVID-19 disruption ends, the authors expect the food supply chain to evolve as the economy gradually recovers.
“In the longer term, even after restaurants and the food service industry are back and running, reduced incomes due to the recession will change our consumption patterns,” Bruno said. “Demand for food consumed at home doesn't change much with income, but demand for food at restaurants does. In many ways, food service and the growers that supply directly to food service will be hardest hit by all of this because they suffer both in the short run with mandatory closures and in the long run with an economic recession.”
Although it's uncertain how long the pandemic will last, the authors say Americans will have an adequate supply of safe, healthy food.
“Despite these disruptions, overall our food supply chain is robust and adaptable,” Bruno said. “Nothing in the underlying economics suggests that there will be a lack of food available.”
To read “The Coronavirus and the Food Supply Chain,” visit https://bit.ly/covidimpactonfood.