By Julie Garden-Robinson
Food and Nutrition Specialist, NDSU Extension Service
Back when I was in college, my roommates and I relied on canned food and other staples such as rice and pasta for quick, economical meals. We mixed in some fresh meat, fruits and vegetables, too, of course. Preparing canned food was faster, though.
One of my roommates was famous for her “mono-meals,” or one-item meals. She often had a plate of canned green beans.
When you reach in your cupboard for a can of soup or vegetables to add to a recipe, know that years of research and development have gone into that can. The chopping and cleaning have been done for you, so you can add the diced tomatoes, peppers or other food directly to your dish.
Sometimes people refer to the cans holding the food as “tin cans” or “aluminum cans,” but most cans actually are made of steel. According to the Canned Food Alliance, people use at least one steel can a day.
When using canned goods, be sure to recycle the cans if your city has a recycling program. Steel cans can be melted and reused to make other items, ranging from appliances to cars.
You might have encountered some dented cans in your cupboard. Through the years, manufacturers have used thinner steel, which is lighter and less expensive to ship. The cans also dent more easily.
Dented cans usually pose no safety concern. As long as the dented can is not leaking or bulging, the food is considered safe. However, you should avoid cans with sharp dents in the seams.
Have you ever wondered about dates on cans? Do you need to toss the food after the date?
“Best if used by” dates on cans refer to quality. The food remains safe beyond the date on the can, but the quality will be best if used by the date. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, use canned vegetables and meats within five years of purchase and canned fruit within 18 months of purchase.
Beyond the quality date, the food will remain safe, but you might notice changes in color, flavor or texture. Write the date of purchase on the cans with a permanent marker and store them in a dry, cool space (below 85 F). Be sure to rotate your stock so you use the oldest food first.
Sometimes people think that canned food is less nutritious than fresh fruits and vegetables. That isn’t necessarily the case. Canned fruits and vegetables are packed at their peak freshness.
Yes, going out to your garden and pulling a few carrots and eating them right away probably means you will have more vitamins present, compared with canned. However, in February in North Dakota, our gardens usually are covered by snow. We must rely on other forms of vegetables.
Nutrition experts recommend that we consume a variety of forms of fruits and vegetables, including fresh, frozen, canned and dried, toward the goal of making half of our plate fruits and vegetables. Compare the prices at the grocery store to get the most nutrition for your money.
Using canned food can mean better nutrition for kids. When researchers looked at data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 2001 to 2010, they noted that children who ate canned fruits and vegetables ate more total vegetables than children who did not consume canned foods. In fact, the kids eating canned foods ate 22 percent more total vegetables and 14 percent more fruit.
When using canned food, compare nutrition labels. To decrease sugar, choose canned fruit in 100 percent juice. To decrease salt, choose canned soups, vegetables and other foods with less sodium. Sodium-free and reduced-sodium forms are available. If you drain and rinse canned beans, you can reduce the sodium content by about 40 percent.
You might have read articles questioning the safety of BPA, or Bisphenol A. This chemical has been used for more than 40 years in can linings, water bottles and many other applications.
Scientists from the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health continue to monitor BPA and state that it is safe as currently used. According to an animal study, rats exposed to 70,000 times the level of BPA that a typical American ingests did not have significant biological changes, such as effects on hormones or weight.
However, other studies question the safety of BPA. The Canned Food Alliance reported that its industry is developing alternative lining materials for cans in response to consumer interest.
Here’s a one-dish family favorite recipe adapted from a Betty Crocker recipe. This is a good way to use leftover roasted chicken or turkey.
Chicken and Vegetables Potpie
2 pounds mixed frozen vegetables (corn, beans, carrots, peas)
2 c. cooked chicken
2 (10.75-ounce) cans cream of chicken soup (“healthy” version)
2 c. baking mix (such as Bisquick)
1 c. low-fat milk
Preheat oven to 400 F. Thaw vegetables in microwave oven. In a large bowl, mix vegetables, chicken, soup and pepper. Spread the mixture on the bottom of a greased roasting pan or large casserole dish. Stir together baking mix, milk and eggs. Pour the batter over the vegetable-meat mixture. Bake for 30 minutes or until golden brown.
Makes eight servings. Each serving has 340 calories, 10 grams (g) fat, 22 g protein, 41 g carbohydrate, 5 g fiber and 750 milligrams sodium.