Lynetta Owens and her daughter, Natalie, had just made it home Wednesday when the nutrition instructor from the Calhoun County Extension Service and a reporter from The Star arrived at their Anniston home. The Owens family recently won a Meal Makeover contest sponsored by the Star, and the second class in the six-session series began with a flurry of activity — the harried, hurried movements of a working family that had been away from home all day.
As Lynetta cleared dishes from the sink and counter, Natalie helped Sheree Russell, the instructor, set up an electric skillet on the kitchen table.
Finally ready, the three women gathered at the table to discuss fruits, vegetables and dairy products and — later — to make a vegetable-cheese quesadilla dinner featuring those food groups.
Nathaniel, Natalie’s father and Lynetta’s husband, was too busy to make it home for the class.
“You want to make half of your plate fruits and vegetables,” Russell said as she began the lesson, passing out fliers with pointers on which vegetables and fruits are in season now.
Natalie, a 17-year-old senior at Jacksonville High, said her favorite vegetable is corn; Lynetta, a Jacksonville State University professor, prefers asparagus.
Russell explained the importance of balancing vegetable and fruit choices by what’s in season and personal preference. That way, she said, you can be sure you’re eating fresh food that tastes good, meaning you’ll be more likely to continue healthy habits.
Substituting corn or asparagus for French fries or chips, for example, can help improve the Owens’ health and diets while providing them with flavors they enjoy.
Although Russell stressed that fresh is better, she also gave tips on how to buy the healthiest canned fruits and veggies: Read the labels for salt and sugar content in the cans. Buy only the products with low sodium and syrup contents.
“Those are extra calories you don’t need to take in,” Russell said.
Washing fruits and veggies before eating also helps to get rid of any extra salt, sugar or pesticides, if the items aren’t organic, the instructor said. Lynetta asked whether she should purchase a special fruit wash, but Russell said regular sink water does the job just fine.
“You’re paying for running water, why waste your money?” she said.
Lynetta, a self-proclaimed “avid milk drinker,” especially enjoyed the dairy discussion; the three women focused on how best to include the recommended three cups of dairy into their daily diets. Yogurt, skim or 1-percent milk, and low-fat cheeses are some of the healthiest options, Russell said. Colby Jack cheese is easier to digest than cheddar or Swiss.
For people who aren’t as fond of drinking straight milk as Lynetta is, Russell suggested subbing milk for water in certain food recipes, or adding chocolate flavoring.
“Chocolate milk is a lot better than having a soda,” she said.
As the talk wrapped up, Russell spread a tortilla onto the heated electric skillet. She sprinkled shredded Monterey Jack cheese onto the tortilla, then topped with pre-chopped vegetables – lettuce, onions, garlic. She then folded the tortilla in half. When both sides of the tortilla were golden and crisp, Russell put the quesadilla onto a plate, allowing Natalie to cut it into smaller triangles.
Natalie ate her quesadilla, using store-bought sour cream and salsa as dips.
“This is very good,” she said.
Lynetta was pleased, too, noting the spiciness of the vegetables.
“You go out to eat and you buy this stuff, when it’s so simple to make at home,” Russell said.
Star Staff Writer Cameron Steele: 256-235-3562. On Twitter @Csteele_star.