All about canning

Canning 101

Many of our grandmothers canned garden crops to preserve them for the winter, but most of us didn’t grow up eating home-canned vegetables. The practice fell out of favor with the advent of large agribusiness and mass production of affordable canned goods. Recently, grassroots movements have been bringing home canning, and other methods of food preservation, back into the spotlight. If you want to join in but aren’t sure where to start, read on as we take a closer look at home canning!

What will I need to get started?

First, you will need some canning jars. Make sure you buy only jars that are designed for canning. Two such brands are Mason and Ball, but there are others as well. You will also need self-sealing lids (single-use only), and metal screw rings. You will find these right next to the canning jars at most retailers. It is helpful to purchase a canning kit, which includes a water-bath canner with wire rack, and some useful utensils. If you plan to can low-acid vegetables, you will need a pressure canner.

How do I choose produce for canning?

Look for produce that appears fresh. Avoid  it if it’s wilted, or has bruises or spots of decay. It is not necessary to purchase the highest-grade fruits and vegetables for canning, but they should be at the peak of ripeness for best results (never overripe). Wash and inspect all produce well. Peel, chop, and/or slice your produce the way you want your final product to be.

How do I make sure the jars are safe to use?

It is very important to wash empty jars in hot water and detergent, or the dishwasher, before each use — even if the jar was previously washed. Make sure there are no cracks or chips in each jar you plan to use. Jars then need to be sterilized. Do this by placing jars right-side up on the rack in your water-bath canner. Fill the canner and jars with hot (not boiling) water to one inch above the tops of the jars. Boil the water for 10 minutes. Carefully remove and drain the sterilized jars one by one.

How do I fill the jars?

After you sterilize the jars, you are ready to fill them with summer’s bounty! Pack the hot jars with your produce, leaving at least a half-inch of headspace at the top of each jar. Cover with syrup, water, or juice (depending on item) to the half-inch mark. Juicy fruit and tomatoes can be packed in their own juices. Run a rubber spatula gently around the inside of the jar to release any air bubbles that may be trapped. Wipe the rim and screw threads of the jar with a clean, damp cloth. Put a self-sealing lid on each jar, and secure with a metal screw ring (these should also be hot). Now you’re ready for either water-bath canning or pressure canning!

Using a water-bath canner

High-acid produce should be processed in a water bath canner. This includes all fruit, tomatoes, and pickles. The higher acidity in these foods helps stop the growth of harmful bacteria, so pressure canning is not needed for them.

Once jars are packed and lids are on, place on wire rack in canner, so jars are not touching. Cover with hot, but not boiling, water by one or two inches. Heat water to boiling and then reduce heat to a steady, gentle boil. Start processing time, and process as your recipe states. Remove jars with tongs, and cool upright, not touching, on a rack or folded cloth. Don’t be alarmed if you hear them start to “pop.”  As the jars cool, the lid will be suctioned onto the jars to form a tight seal. After 12 hours, test the jars for a proper seal by pushing on the center of each lid. The lid should be depressed and should not give. If the seal is incomplete, discard contents. Metal screw bands may be removed at this point. Make sure to label your cans with the name of the item and the date. Use within a year.

Using a pressure canner

Low-acid foods must be processed at a heat of 240° F to destroy heat-resistant botulism-producing bacteria. (Botulism is a very serious, potentially deadly illness caused by Clostridium botulinum bacteria, which occurs naturally in soil.) The high temperature can only be reached with steam under 10 pounds of pressure in a pressure canner. Low-acid foods include meat, poultry, fish, and all vegetables except tomatoes.

Make sure to follow the instructions from the manufacturer of the pressure canner if they differ from these guidelines. Once jars are packed and lids are on, pour two or three inches of water into the pressure canner and stand jars on the rack so they are not touching each other or the sides of the canner. Fasten the lid onto the canner. Heat the canner until a steady stream of steam flows from the vent. When the steam becomes invisible, close the pressure regulator. Raise the pressure rapidly to two pounds less than is required, reduce heat, and allow the pressure to rise the last two pounds slowly. Hold the pressure steady. When the processing time is up, remove the canner from the heat, and allow the pressure to return to zero. Wait one or two minutes, then slowly remove or open the pressure regulator. Unfasten the cover and tilt the far side up so any steam escapes away from you. Cool jars upright, not touching, on a rack or folded cloth.

Additional resources on home food preservation

You will find a section on canning in the back of most comprehensive cookbooks. This is a great place to start; you will find a lot of information including recipes for basic sugar syrups and processing times, in addition to more specific recipes. These are also some great resources:

National Center for Home Food Preservation

USDA’s Complete Guide to Home Canning

Penn State Cooperative Extension

Balanced Diet on a Budget

Balanced Diet on a Budget | UPMC Health Plan

A healthy, balanced diet contains all the necessary amounts of nutrients required for healthy growth and functioning of your body. A diet must contain carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals, and fiber in the correct proportions so that it can help you remain healthy and also address any weight loss or weight gain problems. Sometimes we don’t have the money to spend and it is easier and cheaper to buy food that isn’t necessarily good for us. So here are a few tips to help you stick with a healthy diet.

Eat a good breakfast → A good breakfast keeps away hunger pangs, helps you concentrate, reduces stress, and can keep you fuller longer, preventing overeating.

Eat three regular meals → It’s essential that you don’t skip meals to remain energized throughout the day and avoid binging on expensive, unhealthy snacks.

Make a grocery list → Making a list and comparing prices beforehand can help lower your spending costs while at the store and prompt you to make healthier decisions.

Avoid junk food→ While junk food might be convenient sometimes, it’s usually expensive and doesn’t help to fight off hunger in the long term.

Make your own meals → Buying ingredients to make your own meals is cheaper and healthier than buying ready meals. Portion out what you make to have meals for the whole week!

Keep healthy snacks at hand→ Fresh fruits and nuts are inexpensive and full of vitamins and minerals. If you portion out your snacks in your free time, you can easily grab one on your way to work.

Drink plenty of water→ A steady intake of water can help prevent dehydration and is preferable to expensive, high-calorie drinks.

My week in healthy eating on a budget

After one full week of working with a food budget, I feel proud of our personal success. I feel more knowledgeable about how to make this work in the future. We were each able to eat 21 well-balanced meals according to MyPlate, and still had nine dollars left for emergencies. I have to admit that without all the planning and time spent on preparation, we would have been extremely unsuccessful. Even with many hours of prep, we still had a lot to learn over the week.

I think that it’s been an adjustment for our lifestyle, and we’ve had days when we were definitely hungry. Even with purchasing cheaper cuts of meat, more canned or frozen fruits and vegetables, and skipping amenities all together, we found it challenging to make it to the end of the week.

Here are a few lessons learned and tips for success:

  • Cash down: Typically I take my debit card with me for shopping. This week I had to try something different. I went into the store with the exact cash I could use for my purchase and instead of counting up, I counted down as I placed each item in my cart.
  • Go generic: When I shopped for items, I compared every brand on the shelf. I typically went with the generic version and saved a ton of money. The food didn’t taste any different than the typical brands I pay a little more for. Great lesson learned here.
  • Price per ounce: When looking at the items, I learned to check and see how much I was paying per ounce of the item. This allowed me to save in terms of stretching every dollar and getting extra servings.
  • Pay attention to expiration dates: Some of the foods I almost purchased were on really good sales. As I investigated more, I found that they had a sell by date within a week or an expiration date quickly approaching. I recommend at least two weeks out from the purchase date so that you can carry items over to the next week if you don’t eat them.
  • Double up: Aim to purchase an item that can be used in two meals. I purchased rice and noodles that were used one other time during the week for another meal. This allowed me to purchase a larger amount, which was cheaper than extra items for separate meals.
  • Serving size: Pay attention to the serving size, and how many servings are in each packet. “Going over” can not only sabotage your budget planning, it could also leave you hungry at the end of the week.

I recommend setting a food budget for anyone. While it does take an investment of time, you will find that your week is more organized, and you can maximize every penny in ways you never thought you could!

Missed part of the series? Look below for all the resources you need to eat healthy while on a budget.

How to Eat Healthy on a Budget

How to Plan a Healthy Meal Using MyPlate

Ways to Stretch Your Dollar at the Grocery Store

6 Tips for Easy Meal Planning 

Couponing 101

How to Read Food Nutrition Labels

How to read food nutrition labels

Learn more about the updates to the current nutrition facts labels estimated to take place in 2018.

Have you ever stood in front of the grocery store’s mile-long shelves and thousands of choices, puzzling over a food label? Have you wondered, “Is that too much fat? What about sodium? It seems like a lot, but how much should I eat?”

Let’s take an in-depth look at an average food label, and try to decode some of it!

How to read a nutrition label

1. Serving information

This is the first thing to look at on the label. The rest of the information on the label is based on the serving size listed. So if the serving size is half a cup, but you eat one cup, you are eating twice the amount of all the nutrients and calories listed!  This will also tell you how many servings are in the whole container.

2. Calorie information

Calories come from three main “macronutrients:” fat, carbohydrates, and protein. Many people count calories to help them manage their weight. “Calories from fat” does not tell you the total calories in the food; only the amount of calories that food contains from fat.

3. Fat

“Total fat” tells you how many grams of all the kinds of fat there is in that food. Most people need about 40-60 grams of fat each day (or about 25 to 35 percent of their total calories). Below total fat, you will see “saturated fat” and “trans fat.”  These fats tend to increase LDL cholesterol (your “bad” cholesterol). Saturated fat can be consumed in amounts up to 10 percent of your total calories (that’s about 22 grams for a 2000-calorie diet) per day. Trans fat should be avoided if at all possible. Learn how to identify trans fat here.

4. Cholesterol

Cholesterol is a waxy substance that is found normally in the bloodstream. When cholesterol is too high, the risk of heart disease increases because cholesterol can clog arteries. Cholesterol in food isn’t the main reason for high cholesterol, but it does contribute. Limiting the amount of cholesterol you eat is a good idea, particularly if you already have high cholesterol. All animal products contain cholesterol naturally. The recommendation is 300 mg or less per day.

5. Sodium

Sodium content is important, especially for those with high blood pressure. The recommendation for total sodium intake is 2,400 mg per day, but if you have high blood pressure, are over 50 years old, or have a family history of high blood pressure, the recommendation is 1,500 mg per day. A good rule of thumb is to avoid entrees with more than 800 mg of sodium, and avoid other foods with more than 400 mg of sodium per serving.

6. Carbohydrates

Total carbohydrates are made up of sugars and dietary fiber. “Sugars” include both naturally occurring sugars (like the sugar in fruit and milk), and added sugars. Be sure to check the ingredient list to see if the sugars are added or naturally occurring.

Most of us do not consume the recommended amount of at least 25 grams of dietary fiber per day. Foods with at least 5 grams are considered high fiber sources. Foods with at least 2 grams of fiber are considered good sources of fiber. Most fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are good sources of fiber.

7. Protein

Eating enough protein is not a problem for the average American. Just five to seven ounces of meat or protein per day is adequate, but most people eat far more. For a healthy adult, about 20 percent of your total calories should come from protein (that’s about 100 grams per day for an average 2000 calorie diet). Sources of protein are animal meat, dairy products, dried beans and peas, and nuts and seeds.

8. Other important nutrients

Most Americans do not consume enough vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, or iron. That’s why these nutrients are listed on the label. The nutrients are listed in percentages, and are based on a 2000-calorie diet, so if you need more or fewer calories, the percentages may be off a little. In general, five percent or less of the daily value is low, and 20 percent or more of the daily value is high for any single nutrient. It is rare to find a food that is a good source of more than one or two nutrients, so it is wise to eat a wide variety of foods every day.

You may see other nutrients listed, depending on the food item, but the nutrients we mentioned are required by law to appear on the label. Remember that good nutrition is about the big picture — the total of everything you eat throughout the whole day — but these guidelines can help you make informed choices about what you want to make room for in your daily eating plan, and what you want to leave for special occasions only.

Couponing 101

How to maximize your dollar by clipping coupons

By Mandy Budzowski MS and Laura Yautz RD LDN

Do you coupon? The recent “extreme couponing” craze has taught many people more about how to maximize their dollar, and has left a bad taste in the mouth of others. Let’s take a look at how to get the biggest bang for your buck without feeling like it’s consuming your life!

Find coupons easily:

  • Weekly circulars – Those “junk mailers” that you usually get on Wednesday have coupon books stuffed inside, along with the sale fliers from local grocery stores. Check them out before you throw them out!
  • Sunday newspaper – The newspaper with the largest circulation will have the best deals in it.
  • Family and friends – Ask if they can save their coupon fliers for you. If they don’t coupon, they’ll probably be more than happy to give them to you.
  • E-coupon sites – These are sites from which you can directly print manufacturer’s coupons. Most stores accept them, but double-check store policies.
  • Manufacturers’ websites – Sometimes manufacturers will have coupons for their products directly on their sites, or send you coupons for joining their mailing list. Check their privacy policy to avoid unwanted spam.

Get organized:

  • File by coupon type and/or date so you can easily find what you’re looking for.
  • Get a coupon wallet or binder to make organization easier.
  • Purge expired coupons every so often.

Know your store’s policy:

  • Some stores accept competitors’ coupons.
  • Will your store double or triple coupons? Some do!
  • Get a loyalty card if the store has one. Loyalty card holders sometimes get deep discounts that can usually be combined with manufacturer coupons.


  • Plan your meals and snacks in advance, using the weekly sale fliers and coupons you have as a guide. Make a list and stick to it to avoid unnecessary spending.
  • Match your coupons to sales. Don’t be in a huge hurry to use your coupons as soon as you get them. Sometimes it pays to hang onto them for a week or two and wait for a sale on that item!
  • Learn to price-match. Many retailers will match or beat an advertised price at a competitor.  That way, you can get the lowest price without going to five different stores (which will cost you more in gas in the long run).
  • Get a rain check if the store is out of an item that is on sale. Many stores will grant you a rain check to purchase the item at the sale price when it’s back in stock. Just ask at the customer service counter.

Be smart:

  • Don’t clip coupons for things you don’t use. Buying something you don’t need just because you have a coupon won’t save you any money.
  • Keep a price log. Write down the lowest prices on products you buy frequently, so if you see it on sale somewhere, you know whether it’s actually worth buying.
  • Sometimes the generic or store-brand version is cheaper than name brands even with a coupon. Always compare prices!
  • Watch out for 10-for-$10 promotions. This usually doesn’t mean you have to buy 10 items to get the sale price, unless it’s specified. Most of the time, you can buy any amount at the one-dollar price.
  • Watch the cashier. Make sure everything rings up at the price it’s supposed to be, and make sure s/he scans all your coupons. It’s easy to miss one, or drop one, when there’s a lot to scan. Some stores even have a policy that states the item is free if it rings up at the wrong price. Be polite, and simply ask the cashier to correct it.
  • Check your receipt before you leave the store to make sure everything is accurate. After you leave the store and time has passed, it’s much harder to prove the cashier missed scanning a coupon, or other errors.

There can be a learning curve associated with couponing, but some studies show that people who spend just 10 minutes couponing can save an average of seven dollars on their grocery bill. That’s like earning 42 dollars an hour!

What are your favorite couponing tips?

6 tips for easy meal planning

6 Tips for Easy Meal Planning

By Mandy Budzowski, MS and Laura Yautz RD

Is the budget tight these days? Is it too much to ask to have a dinner to serve your family that’s quick, healthy, and not too expensive? If you’re looking for ways to plan meals on a budget, you’re in the right place. We have all you need to plan a delicious, healthy, low-cost menu!

Why plan meals? Planning ahead can:

  •  Improve your family’s nutrition intake and allow for a more balanced diet.
  • Save time. Knowing ahead of time exactly what will be served each day can eliminate added stress and poor choices.
  • Reduce impulse spending. We have all been to the grocery store without a plan, and it’s dangerous. Meal planning helps you avoid extra trips and running out of options.

Over the years, I’ve discovered a few resources and tricks for eating healthy while trying to stretch the family budget. 

Top six tips for easy meal planning:

1. Set aside time to plan.

Setting aside a dedicated planning hour can lead to success. During that hour, take inventory of the foods you already have. Find ways to add them into your meal plan for the week. Letting food go to waste can burn a hole in your budget quickly.

2. Develop your meal plan for the week.

Decide what you would like to serve the family this week. I like to use a meal planning guide so I can write in the options and make a shopping list after.

6 Tips for Easy Meal Planning3. Create a shopping list.

Create a standard shopping list that’s organized by the layout of the store where you shop. For example, my list consists of produce, meats, dairy, and other. You can choose the categories that make the most sense to you.

4. Don’t shop hungry.

Shopping hungry can be dangerous. Make sure to have a healthy snack or shop after a meal to avoid unnecessary buying based on your mood.

5. Make sure you are a bargain shopper.

  • Be sure to look at each store’s weekly shopper for manager’s specials and deals of the week.
  • Shop at stores that offer shopper rewards.
  • Buy in bulk. Larger cans or packages usually cost less per serving. Make sure to compare price per pound or ounce.
  • Buy the generic or store brands instead of name brands. Even if there is a coupon, check to see if it’s cheaper to buy the bargain brand. Typically, they are made by the name-brand manufacturer and taste the same.

6 Tips for Easy Meal Planning

6. Cook wisely and efficiently. 

If you were able to buy larger serving sizes of products, consider making large batches and freezing them for another meal. If you are purchasing cheaper cuts of meat, consider using the crock pot to serve a delicious, tender option.

Preparing a well-balanced meal plan for your family doesn’t have to be a headache. Eating healthful foods can be simple when you put aside time to plan and prepare for success.

Use our Meal Planning worksheet to help you prepare a well-balanced meal for you and your family.

What tips do you have for meal planning on a budget? Share in the comment section for other readers. 

INFOGRAPHIC: Buying healthy food on a budget

Ways to Stretch Your Dollar at the Grocery Store

How to plan a healthy meal: Use MyPlate

How to plan a healthy meal using MyPlate

By Mandy Budzowski MS and Laura Yautz RD LDN

Feeling overwhelmed and not sure where to start in planning a healthy meal for your family? We have a resource to help you with that: it’s called MyPlate. MyPlate is one of the simplest guides to healthy eating and extremely easy to use. This guide helps bring a meal to life by using the image of a place setting to show the five food groups and recommended amounts for a healthy diet. The place setting can be used to guide your choices for planning a healthy meal.

The MyPlate website has many unique features, including:

  • Recommended servings for each food group based on age, gender, and activity level.
  • An online BMI calculator that can show whether you are at a healthy weight, underweight, or overweight — based on your height and weight.
  • A SuperTracker, which is an online tool that helps you monitor what you eat and drink. It recommends customized suggestions for what you should eat and drink, and gives tips for making better choices.
  • Sample meal plans for a week with food group based recipes.
  • Food safety advice for preparing, cooking, and serving foods.
  • Tips for increasing physical activity and making it part of your routine.
  • A tutorial for reading food labels to help learn the basics.
  • And much more!

To learn more about building a healthy plate, select a food group below. Click the links to find recommendations for each food group:

  • Fruits: This food group includes all fresh, canned, frozen, or dried fruit, and 100-percent fruit juice. They may be whole, cut-up, or pureed. When planning a meal, you want to make half your plate fruits and vegetables.
  • Vegetables: This food group includes any fresh, frozen, canned, or dried/ dehydrated vegetable or 100-percent vegetable juice. For variety try eating this group whole, chopped, or mashed — and include as many colors as you can.  
  • Grains: This food group includes any food made from wheat, rice, oats, cornmeal, barley or another cereal grain. Aim to make at least half of your grains whole grains. Examples include bread, pasta, quinoa, rice, and oatmeal.
  • Protein: This food group includes any food made from meat, poultry, seafood, beans, eggs, processed soy products, nuts and seeds. You want to select a variety of protein foods in your daily diet and make them lean or low-fat.
  • Dairy: This food group includes all fluid milk products and foods made from milk and substitutes like soy milk. Fat-free or low-fat options are best. Examples include milk, yogurt, and cheese. It’s important to note that you need calcium for healthy bones and teeth, and  to maintain bone mass. For many Americans, dairy products are the primary source of calcium.
  • Oils: Oils are not a food group, but are a vital part of your diet because they provide essential nutrients. Oils are fats that are liquid at room temperature and are commonly used in cooking. Examples of other places to find oils include nuts, fish, and salad dressing.

MyPlate makes it simple to plan your portions before you eat, and be more aware of what goes on your plate or in your cup or bowl.

How have you used MyPlate to plan your family’s meals and snacks? Leave your suggestions in the comment box for other readers.

How to eat healthy on a budget

 How to Eat Healthy on a Budget

By Mandy Budzowski MS and Laura Yautz RD LDN

“It’s just too expensive to eat healthy!” Does this sound like something you’ve said before? If you answered yes, you are not alone. With food prices soaring and pressure to keep your family healthy, you may be wondering how it’s even possible to manage. I have a solution for you that may help!

Healthy eating on a budget is one of the most common topics discussed with our team of health coaches. That’s why, this week, I have set out to put our recommendations to the test. I want to see if they really work, and how we can offer even more valuable insight on healthy eating for your family on a budget!

Using guidance from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program allotment for a household of two, we have budgeted $83 for my fiancé and I to spend on food this week. We will need to plan for 21 healthy meals following MyPlate recommendations — plus a little bit more because of our active lifestyle.

I am both excited and nervous. After looking back at our previous three months of weekly and monthly grocery bills, we definitely spend more than this amount on a regular basis. It will be important for us to plan ahead to make this a success. We are extremely active. Training for IRONMAN requires additional calories and nutrition to fuel my training sessions, so I will need to make sure I am monitoring my intake in a healthy way.

I think about rising food prices often, and agree and empathize with members who are having a hard time making their dollar stretch. Just because I am a health coach doesn’t mean that I don’t experience all the same challenges that everyone else does on a daily basis. With my hectic work schedule, I have gotten into the habit of eating on the go or eating out. Regardless of my schedule this week, I will need to plan ahead and account for our meals without grabbing something easy to save time.

Over the next week, Coach Laura and I will share our top tips for eating healthy on a budget, a candid view of my experience, and more information on how to stretch your dollar to provide as healthy of meal as possible for your family. Stay tuned and follow along!