An Apple a Day…

By Morgan Crawford, Current ASU Nutrition Student

Apples are one of the absolute favorite fruits. They are super versatile, full of antioxidants, and are a delicious addition to baked goods or as a healthy snack.

This fruit has a long, rich history and has been documented as a source of nutrition since the times of Greek and Roman mythology. It is considered to be one of the most ancient fruits. In the earliest days of the Roman Empire, they were regarded as a symbol of love and beauty. It wasn’t until the 1600s that apple trees were introduced in the Americas. The first apples were known as Crabapples and weren’t entirely edible. John Chapman, who was coined the nickname Johnny Appleseed was the first to become famous for the apple orchards that he planted in Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois.

It is estimated that there are around 10,000 varieties of apples, but only 1,000 of that make up what is commercially grown around the world. While most of the country’s apples are grown in states such as Washington, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and New York, Arizona has quite a lot of success with apple orchards. For as long as I can remember, my family has always grown apples in our backyard. I have some of the fondest memories of spending days on top of a ladder plucking apples and taking them to my mom to make applesauce, pies, and marmalades. In Arizona, apples are harvested from August to the end of October and are grown in areas such as Willcox, Prescott, Sedona, and the Superstition Wilderness. With such intense heat and dry climate, it doesn’t seem obvious that apples would grow well here, but the climate we have is actually quite perfect! The water supply, elevation, and temperatures in certain areas of Arizona make for great growing conditions.

Some of the best places to find apple orchards and apple products are right here in Arizona. Douglas Orchards is located just southeast of Tucson and grows around 1500 different fruit trees. Other location includes Reevis Ranch in the Superstition Wilderness, Date Creek Ranch in Wickenburg, and Briggs-Eggers Organic Apple Orchard in Bonita Springs Valley. Check out these orchards’ websites for events and harvesting schedules- maybe think about taking a trip to visit some of Arizona’s best home-grown apples.

“An apple a day keeps the doctor away,” right? Well, with all of the healthy compounds found in apples, it turns out that this catchy saying holds a lot of truth. Here are some of the most prominent health benefits:

  • Prevention of asthma attacks

Apples are high in Vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant. A recent study has shown how supplementing the diet with high levels of Vitamin C has been linked to a decrease in asthma attacks.

  • Fights bad breath

The pectin found in apples is shown to increase the production of saliva and regulates odors from the bacteria found in the mouth.

  • Reduce the risk of stroke

Apples contain a flavonoid antioxidant called Quercetin, which has anti-inflammatory properties. This study shows that the consumption of this antioxidant may decrease the risk of stroke.

  • Healthier digestion

The soluble and insoluble fiber found in apples leads to a healthier digestive system.

  • Lower risk of diabetes

Apples have compounds called phytonutrients, or phytochemicals that have several health benefits. These compounds are designed to keep the plants themselves safe and healthy, which are the same benefits that they provide for humans. Some of these health benefits include detoxifying the body and DNA repair. All of these lead to lower risk of diabetes as well.

Here is a great recipe for Banana Apple Bread just in time for fall!


  • 1 3/4 cup flour
  • 2 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3 to 4 Tbsp. powdered sugar or coconut sugar
  • 1/2 cup almond milk
  • 2 large ripe bananas
  • 1 Tbsp. blackstrap molasses
  • 2 Tbsp. almond butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup grated apple 1 regular size apple shredded
  • 3 Tbsp. chopped walnuts (optional)


  1. Preheat oven to 365 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Mix together all dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, salt, sugar).
  3. Use a fork to smash the banana. Add almond milk, molasses, almond butter and vanilla, and banana in a separate bowl).
  4. Add wet mixture to the dry ingredients and stir. Mix in the grated apple and chopped walnuts. Combine.
  5. Place batter in a greased loaf pan.
  6. Bake for 40 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.
  7. Allow cooling for 10 minutes.


For more awesome recipes check out the Fill Your Plate recipe section! Curious about what produce is in season this month? Check out what’s in season on the Fill Your Plate website.

Hi, my name is Morgan Crawford!


I am a student at Arizona State University, studying Nutrition Communication. My area of study combines two of my biggest passions: nutrition and writing. I grew up with a love for health and wellness and decided to follow those passions and pursue them as a career. I was born and raised in Gilbert and have a deep love for everything Arizona has to offer. A few of my hobbies include running, hiking, and exploring local eateries for delicious new eats.

Posted in Arizona, Arizona Food and Farm Events, Cooking, Diet Tips, Fall, Fill Your Plate, Food, Food Facts, Fruit, Grocery, Health Tips, Healthy Eating, Produce, Recipes | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Folate vs Folic Acid: How They Affect Women with MTHFR

By Emily Carver, Recent ASU Nutrition Student

Folate is best known for its role in reducing the risk of a baby in utero from getting Spina Bifida. Spina Bifida comes in many different forms; however, it is due to neural tube defects while the baby is within the first four weeks of gestation. Oftentimes, this is due to the mother getting inadequate amounts of folate in her diet. With many foods being fortified with “folic acid”, it may seem rather odd to hear a mother isn’t getting enough to help support her growing baby’s brain, spine, and spinal cord. There’s one thing, however, many aren’t quite aware of, and that is folic acid is not folate. The two are considerably different and not to be confused with one another despite their names being used interchangeably.

Folic acid is a synthesized (man-made) version of folate and was created and used to fortify milk, flours, and cereals to ensure the American public was getting adequate amounts. Though overall seen as a benefit, the debate about whether folic acid is a benefit or hindrance to the human body is still being discussed and continuously researched.


One such discussion is how women with a genetic mutation called, methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase, or as it’s more conveniently called MTHFR can’t process the synthetic folic acid. This is because the mutation is linked to poor enzyme and methylation production. What does that mean, exactly? It means that the MTHFR gene that is designed to give the body directions on how to make certain enzymes isn’t doing its job fully.


When this happens, it changes how some bodies metabolize and convert essential nutrients like vitamins, minerals, and proteins within the diet up to 70%. Meaning the body has a 40-70% reduction in its ability to process these essential nutrients. That’s a huge percentage.


What’s more is if a woman with MTHFR is already having an up to 70% reduction in processing the natural folate, imagine how impossible it would be for her to process the synthetic folic acid. Not only will her body be unable to process folic acid, that folic acid will attach itself to the receptors that absorb natural folate, thus making the body have an even more difficult time absorbing the usable folate within the body (1).


There are two main MTHFR mutations: MTHFR C677T and MTHFR A1298C. Out of the more than fifty different mutations, these two, in particular, are what women get tested for. What’s worth noting is the medical field believers 30-50% of the population has this genetic mutation and most are completely unaware they do.


Many of the signs and symptoms can be confused with other conditions which can make it difficult to distinguish, but some are miscarriages, irritable bowel syndrome, blood clots, pre-eclampsia, spina bifida, depression, migraines, hypertension (high blood pressure), tongue tie, and asthma to name a few.


It’s important for women, whether they know they have this genetic mutation or not to consume folate in its natural form. This is especially important if they’re wanting to get pregnant. Simple ways would be to eat your greens: broccoli, avocados, asparagus, and spinach. All of these contain high amounts of natural folate along with other essential vitamins and minerals our bodies need. Beans, lentils, and oranges are other great sources of folate. If the need to supplement is in order, be sure to look for the bioavailable form of folate called L-methylfolate (labeled as 5 L-MTHF or 6(S)-L-MTHF) and take only as recommended by your doctor.


Supplemental vitamins and minerals can be a great tool in our diet. Provided you know you’re taking a quality product. But by focusing on getting the necessary nutrients through whole foods, you’ll have the guarantee that you’re consuming the natural form of each vitamin and mineral and nothing else. Being aware of what we consume is essential not only for our health but the health of all future babies. To learn more about MTHFR and ways to help manage it, feel free to read here, here, and here.


For more articles on nutrition and health check out the Fill Your Plate blog. New articles are posted every week.




Dr. Lynch. (2014). Folic Acid Awareness Week 2015: Want Awareness? Here You Go. MTHFR.Net. Retrieved from:

Posted in Diet Tips, Fill Your Plate, Food, Health Tips, Healthy Eating, Produce | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Cooking with Toddlers: Tips and tricks for including your youngster in the kitchen.

By Cecelia Wilken, Current ASU Nutrition Student

I love cooking and I love food. From baking bread to smoking meats, there is no ingredient or technique that I am not eager to try. So many memories of mine revolve around the kitchen or a plate of food. I remember going over to my best friend’s house every weekend working to perfect our chocolate chip recipe, or helping my dad make his famous salsa recipe, being taught the pie recipes from my grandmother that had been passed down to her from her own mother. The kitchen is a place for me to reconnect with my family, to bring everyone together to talk and laugh over great food.

{ Pictured above is the author’s daughter }

So, when I became a mother it was only natural for me to bring my own daughter into the kitchen with me. From the time she was able to sit up by herself in her high chair, I had a bowl and spoon in front of her. I would talk to her about recipes, techniques, and stories of memories I have in the kitchen. As she grew, her responsibilities in the kitchen evolved. At three-years-old, she can operate my stand-up mixer, stir ingredients, and with some help, even help me cut up fruits and vegetables. Every time I go into the kitchen, she runs over and insists on helping me, even if it’s just to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.


Including your children in food preparation has many benefits. Studies have shown that children who are involved in the preparation of their food are more likely to have a positive relationship with food, are more knowledgeable about where their food comes from, and are more willing to try different types of foods¹.


Involving youngsters in the kitchen can seem daunting, and challenging. The trick is to get creative (and accept inevitable messes). With a few simple tools and some patience, you can begin to start making memories in the kitchen.


Here is a list of some unique toddler-friendly tools that I use:


A step stool.
Which seems obvious but is honestly one of the most helpful pieces when involving a toddler in the kitchen. We use a regular 2 step ladder, but if you have an extra squirmy little one there are step stools made specifically for toddlers to help at tables and are built to prevent falls.


You can find adjustable ones that grow with your child (

Or stationary ones (
Toddler safe knives.

There are many different types of tools your child can use to help start teaching them how to safely hold and use knives or sharp objects. Depending on your child’s level it is important to always carefully guide your child while they use these types of tools. A favorite in our house is a Wavy Chopper knife.


They are small enough to be held by little hands, dull but still able to cut through carrots or other hard vegetables with little effort, and the wavy edges make fun shapes in our food. We started by using it to cut the crust off sandwiches.

There are also nylon knives made specifically for children with small handles and blunt tips. You can find some here. ( 79_img_2?_encoding=UTF8&pd_rd_i=B002Q5YH9C &pd_rd_r=2c78712a-bf5b-11e8-91c0-8d9d1b6891e3&pd_rd_w=CLfOJ&pd_rd_wg= RQCx0&pf_rd_i=desktop-dp-sims&pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_p= 3f9889ac-6c45-46e8-b5153af650557207&pf_rd_r= RD9MA89FRH34D5N FG8SA&pf_rd_s=desktop-dp-sims&pf_rd_t=40701&psc=1&refRID=RD9MA89FRH34D5NFG8SA)

Vegetable Spiralizer.
Vegetable spiralizers are great for a few reasons; they turn regular vegetables into fun shaped noodles and they are easy to use. My own toddler loves watching as potatoes, carrots, zucchini and squash turn into ribbons of colorful noodles. With some guidance, she can handle it like a pro. I found that the most important feature for a spiralizer to have is strong suctions on the base. This helps prevent it from moving around and helps make it easier for little hands to use.




You can find one here. (


Whenever I tell other parents that I let my daughter help me in the kitchen, I usually get wide-eyed looks. I’m often met with questions like, “You actually let her cut stuff?” or “Aren’t you worried she will hurt herself?” Of course, accidents in the kitchen can, and do happen. Safety in the kitchen is always my number one priority. Since my own daughter is still only three, I try to keep her away from open flames, guide her use of sharp objects and layout strict guidelines. If you plan on involving your own child in the kitchen it is important to take into consideration their skill level and adjust accordingly.


In addition to these tools above, my daughter also uses whisks, spatulas, measuring cups, cookie cutters, a stand-up mixer, basting brushes, scissors, and piping bags. She helps me sprinkle spices, pour and measure ingredients and with the help of her kitchen timer, she lets me know when dinner is almost ready. I try to involve her as much as possible, from start to finish. Together we choose a recipe, gather all our ingredients and tools needed, prep everything, she watches me cook/bake/grill, we set the table together, eat and then we clean up our mess. It might take a bit longer involving a toddler but watching her get so excited about cooking, learning and helping in the kitchen is always worth the extra effort.



¹ Ensaff, H., Crawford, R., Russell, J., & Barker, M. (2016). Preparing and sharing food: a quantitative analysis of a primary school-based food intervention. Journal Of Public Health, 39(3), 567–573. doi: 10.1093/pubmed/fdw086

Looking for more fun articles? Check out the Fill Your Plate blog for new articles every week. For fun recipes to cook with the family, be sure to check out the Fill Your Plate recipe section.



Cecelia Wilken

As a self-proclaimed foodie, amateur back-yard gardener, and nutrition studies student, Cecelia Wilken hopes to help bridge the gap between farms and tables. As a former medic for the United States Army, Cecelia hopes to combine her love for food, passion for agriculture and drive to help others by pursuing a B.S. in Nutrition Communication through Arizona State University Online and B.S in Agriculture Science through Oregon State University Online. After graduation, she plans to continue her path into high education in pursuit of becoming a Registered Dietician. She currently lives around Fort Bragg, North Carolina with her husband, daughter, two dogs, cat and houseplant collection.

Posted in Cooking, Fill Your Plate, Food, Food Safety, Fruit, Green Matters, Grocery, Health Tips, Healthy Eating, In the Kitchen, Kids, Produce | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Syrian Dish

By Noor Nouaillati, Recent ASU Nutrition Student

Have you ever had Middle Eastern cuisine before? Each country in the Middle East serves the same dish but with a unique twist depending on the country and some call that specific dish a different name. This dish is delicious, cozy and warm. We call this “Bamya” which is technically an okra dish. This meal is fairly easy and simple and I hope you enjoy it.

For this dish you need:

1 cup of Basmati rice

½ pound of Beef

1 full White onion

1 Garlic Clove

½ cup Lemon juice

1 teaspoon Salt

1 teaspoon Pepper

Pinch of Cilantro

1 bag of Okra

1 can Tomato paste

1 cup Water

2 tbsp. Olive oil


First, start off by deep frying your okra until it’s crispy and lay them in a plate on top of a napkin to absorb any remaining oil. Then, wash your basmati rice and place it in a pot with boiling water and let that cook. For the main dish, you need to add 2 tbsp. of olive oil in a sauté pan and add in the white onion and garlic that you minced and sauté until it’s caramelized. Once, its sautéed then you will add the okra that you deep fried and let that cook until it is soft. Then, add hot water, tomato paste, salt, pepper, red chili flakes, and the lemon juice and put it in the pan with the okra and let that cook thoroughly. Cut the meat into cubes or you can use ground beef. Once the meat is prepared, season it to your preference and form the meat into meatballs and cook the meat separately. Then, add the cooked meat to the okra that is being cooked. Let it keep cooking for another 10 minutes, once the 10 minutes is up your meal is ready to be served! If you are looking to add a garnish to the meal try chopped cilantro and slices of white onions on the side.

This dish is so delicious and can be served in the summer, fall, winter or spring. I hope you try this Middle Eastern dish. Enjoy!

Looking for more incredible recipes like this one? Check out the Fill Your Plate recipe section for a ton of different recipes that the whole family will enjoy.

Posted in Cooking, Diet Tips, Fill Your Plate, Food, Grocery, Health Tips, Healthy Eating, Produce, Recipes | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

All Things Spaghetti Squash

By Morgan Crawford, Recent ASU Nutrition Student


We made it to October! With the scorching, Arizona heat almost behind us, fall is in sight. Get ready for pumpkin spice, hot apple cider, and sweater weather. Fall is by far my favorite season and I look forward to the food that comes with it. Though spaghetti squash is considered a “winter squash,” it is most commonly associated with the autumn months.


This special crop made its debut nearly 10,000 years ago in Mexico, where it was discovered to be an excellent source of nutrition. The meaning of the term squash is “eaten raw or uncooked,” which comes from the Native American word, askutasquash. Though this gourd has its origins in Mexico, it is grown primarily in India and China, with the United States importing the highest number of the crop each year.


As someone who is passionate about health and wellness, the nutritional aspect of food is what really gets me excited! From anti-inflammatory properties to high levels of vitamins and minerals, spaghetti squash has so much to offer in terms of nutritional benefits. Here is a list created by well- known natural health physician, Dr. Mercola.


  1. Eye and skin health

Vitamin A is associated with improved eye health, and cell regeneration.


  1. Wound healing

Vitamin C, a promotes the production of collagen within the body, which attributes to faster cell reproduction that leads to quick healing. Additionally, this vitamin improves immune response, prevents heart disease, and is thought to even fight certain cancers.


  1. Free radical fighter

Antioxidants that occur naturally in fruits and vegetables fight against and prevent cell damage in the body.


  1. Bone health

Calcium is required for several functions within the body, including muscle and nerve function, as well as vascular and hormonal function. Bone health, though, is most heavily influenced by calcium levels. Because 99% of calcium is stored within the bones, it is crucial for everyone to have an adequate amount of calcium in their diet.


  1. High in Folate

Folate is a type of B vitamin and is vital for proper fetal development. The most important thing that this vitamin is used for is the prevention of neural tube defects.


  1. Anti-inflammatory properties

Spaghetti squash contains omega-3 fatty acids, which have been linked to a significant decrease in inflammation found in the body. A study done on medical students showed that consuming omega-3’s not only reduced inflammation but also lowered levels of anxiety.


  1. Heart health

Folate found in spaghetti squash has been shown to keep levels of homocysteine in check. This amino acid is associated with cardiac disease which can lead to heart attack, clotting, and stroke. Folate prevents these occurrences.


Unlike summer squash, those in the winter squash family ripen on the stems for several months. A hard, outer shell is formed around the gourd, which provides protection, as well as a significantly longer shelf-life. The growing time of a spaghetti squash is typically three months and is fully ripened in the months from August to December.


When growing this crops, it can sometimes be difficult to gauge how ripe the squash is and which one is the best pick of the bunch. Take a look at these easy tips for choosing the perfect spaghetti squash.

  1. Look for a glowing, yellow skin
  2. The outer shell should be tough and not soft when pierced with a fingernail
  3. Stay away from bruising and dark spots


The possibilities for cooking and preparing spaghetti squash are really quite endless. The next time you stumble upon the piles of spaghetti squash at your local farmer’s market or grocery store, there are some tips and tricks to keep in mind. The oven is going to be your best friend for optimal results! To prepare a spaghetti squash, carefully cut in half from the stem to the tail so you are left with two long sides. Then, remove the seeds with a spoon and place in the oven on a baking tray. Make sure the squash is placed upside down- this creates steam within the squash and leaves you with a tender squash. Depending on the size of the squash, cook for 35-45 minutes at 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Once the squash is tender, use a fork to scrape the flesh from the outer skin- it will resemble spaghetti noodles. With some tomato sauce and parmesan cheese, you have a healthy, nutrient-packed replacement for traditional spaghetti.


Here is a recipe for homemade tomato sauce to use with your spaghetti squash!



1 large carrot

1 medium onion

1 rib celery

3 large cloves garlic

1 16 oz. can crushed tomatoes

1 20 oz. jar strained tomatoes

1 tablespoon olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

Crushed red pepper (optional)



Finely chop the carrot, onion, and celery. In a large saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil and sauté vegetables on medium heat until softened. Add minced garlic and cook for 45 seconds. Add crushed tomatoes and strained tomatoes. Simmer for 15 minutes. Use an immersion blender to blend sauce until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste.


Spoon over cooked spaghetti squash and serve!


If you liked this article then you will love the Fill Your Plate blog. New articles are posted every week. Looking for more recipes the whole family will love? Check out the Fill Your Plate recipe section.

Posted in Cooking, Diet Tips, Food, Grocery, Health Tips, Healthy Eating, Produce, Recipes, Vegetables | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment