Power outages can happen any time of the year and the suburbs certainly saw their fair share of them last summer. And with the power out, it seems people's preference for healthy eating flew out the window, too.
"How can we possibly eat healthy when we have no power? Last year we ate out at fast food restaurants, what else could we do," a coworker recently lamented.
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Preparation is key for eating healthy during a power outage and my first must-have item is a manual can opener. You don't want to find yourself in the position of trying to open a can of tuna or black beans with a hammer and screwdriver. So go find your can opener now and put it where you can find it by candlelight.
Secondly, have refrigerator and freezer thermometers so you can track the temperature in your refrigerator and freezer. These thermometers can be purchased at supermarkets and hardware stores.
Once the power goes out, your refrigerator and freezer will keep food at a safe cold range (below 40 degrees for refrigerated foods and remaining frozen solid for frozen foods) for several hours, even longer if you keep the doors closed. But if the power is out for more than four hours, foods may reach the "danger zone" (above 40 degrees) allowing bacteria to quickly multiply and possibly cause food borne illness.
Second on the must-do list is to stock the pantry with healthy nonperishable foods. Here is a list of foods that match up with the food groups needed for a healthy diet and healthy meals:
Breads/grains for carbohydrate and B vitamins: Whole grain cereal, trail mix, energy bars, granola bars, cereal bars, graham crackers, whole grain crackers, animal cookies, whole grain bagels or muffins, pretzels, popped popcorn and baked chips.
Fruits and vegetables for Vitamin A & C, potassium and fiber: Carrots, celery sticks, bell peppers and other raw vegetables (not pre-refrigerated), canned potatoes, canned vegetables (choose the no added salt version for a salt-restricted diet), grapes, single-serve applesauce, whole fruit (apples, peaches, bananas), canned fruit, dried fruit mix and juice boxes.
When using cans make sure the cans are not rusted, dented or bulging. When in doubt about the safety of food, throw it out.
Dairy alternatives for calcium: Aseptic single-serve, milk or soy beverage boxes, non-refrigerated pudding cups.
Meat and protein: Canned tuna, sardines, salmon or chicken, peanut butter (for sandwiches or with celery and apples), nuts and single-serve packages of peanut butter and crackers, canned beans, chili or stew. Many of these formerly canned items now come in pouches which make them even easier to open without power.
So, yes, you can build a nutritious and delicious meal during a power outage.
First, start with an entree of canned or pouch-packed fish or chicken, canned beans, chili or stew with a side of canned potatoes and green beans, plus whole grain bread, rolls or crackers. For dessert, how about applesauce with crumbled graham crackers and a sprinkle of cinnamon?
You can even prepare a from-scratch recipe when the lights have gone out. Check out this power outage recipe.
• Toby Smithson, a registered dietitian, works for the Lake County Health Department/Community Health Center and is a national spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.