What Does a Food Label Really Tell You?

The information printed on food labels might seem excessive and sometimes overwhelming. But it’s intended to help consumers make more informed choices about their food. The front, back, and sides of the food packages contain information about the food’s contents and origin. But all of those terms, figures, and percentages can sometimes lead to even more confusion. 

The reasons we read food labels can vary as well. You might want to limit your intake of calories or sugar with weight loss in mind. You might also have a serious health concern, such as a peanut allergy. Or you may just want to do business with brands that are more sustainable. Whatever your goals, here is how you can interpret much of the information printed on food labels. 

The Nutrition Facts Label

The first label most people look at is the Nutrition Facts Label, which is overseen by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The label was first mandated in 1990 and has undergone revisions since based on public and scientific input. The information you will get from this label includes:

  • Serving Information — How many servings are in the container and the size of each serving. Many serving sizes are surprisingly small. 
  • Calories — How many calories you get from one serving. This is an important point to consider because many people consume more than a serving of food, so calories can quickly add up. 
  • Nutrients — A list of key nutrients that affect your health (good and bad) and the % of Daily Value included in just one serving of the item. It’s a good idea to compare the %DV for nutrients in similar products to eliminate those with things you want less of, like sodium, and include items with good nutrients, like vitamin D or calcium.

Nutrients to Get Less Of

Sodium, saturated fat, and added sugars are nutrients associated with negative health effects, and also ones we tend to overconsume. Eating too much sodium and saturated fat, for instance, is associated with things like high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. Consuming too much added sugars makes it challenging to stay within daily recommended calorie limits. 

Total Sugars vs. Added Sugars

Nutrition labels will list Total Sugars and Added Sugars. There’s a difference. Some nutritious foods, like strawberries and milk, contain natural sugars. They have a sweet taste, making them attractive choices. But added sweeteners, like syrup, can significantly increase the calories per serving of an item. 

Nutrients to Get More Of

Vitamin D, dietary fiber, iron, calcium, and potassium are nutrients listed on the Nutrition Label that Americans generally don’t get enough of. Getting the recommended daily value of these items can reduce the risk of developing high blood pressure, anemia, osteoporosis, and other health issues. 

Side and Back-of-Package Labels

Ingredients List

The FDA also oversees the ingredients list on food labels. Ingredients must be listed in order of prominence by weight. And common terms may be added next to more unfamiliar names to provide clarity. 

Allergy Information

According to federal law, eight major food allergens must be listed on the package near the ingredients list. These are milk, peanuts, wheat, shellfish, fish, soybeans, eggs, and tree nuts. Sesame will be added to the list in 2023. 

Freshness Dates

There should also be a “sell by,” “use by,” or “best if used by” date on the package. These dates aren’t required by federal law, but some states have their own guidelines. 

Front of Package Labels

Even though this is the first thing many consumers see as they walk through the grocery store, this part of the label is more branding than anything else. However, many food makers will place some graphics and symbols on the front of their labels that can be helpful. 

If you’re looking for organic, gluten-free, or sustainable choices, the label might have a symbol that indicates these options. Many food items will also make claims, such as being “reduced fat,” “low sodium.” or “high fiber.” These claims aren’t regulated, so be sure to verify the information by reading the official Nutrition Facts Label on the back. 

Ask Your Local Grocer for Help Deciphering Food Labels

Understanding what’s in the food you buy is essential to stocking a kitchen full of nutritious items. If you’re not sure how to interpret a food label, ask your local grocer for some assistance. 

Nick’s of Calvert is your hometown grocery store. For over 50 years, we have been serving the Southern Maryland community with high-quality products and exceptional customer service. Visit us today, and we’d be happy to provide any assistance you need. 

5 Things Every Chef Should Have in Their Kitchen

Whether you’re a novice chef or on your way to becoming an expert, if you like to cook, then there are certain things that are must-haves in your kitchen. At Nick’s of Calvert, not only do we have plenty of kitchen appliances and cooking utensils for sale, but we also offer a full range of fruits, vegetables, proteins, wines, and everything else that you need for a delicious meal. Consider this list of five things we believe that every chef should have in their kitchen, and visit our location in person to learn more about all of the wares we offer.

1. A Great Knife

Most chefs would agree that the number one item a good cook needs is a great knife. While some chefs like a range of knife types for all of the various things that need to be cut (i.e. a knife for bread, a knife for fish, a knife for slicing veggies, etc.), most novice chefs can get away with having a single great knife. With that in mind, actually selecting a single knife for your kitchen is a bigger task! This article from serious eats provides a review of some of the best chef knives. Winners include the Wüsthof 8-Inch Classic Chef’s Knife, Mercer Culinary 8-Inch Genesis Chef’s Knife, and Mercer Culinary 8-Inch Millennia Chef’s Knife. We also recommend investing in a knife sharpener, too.

2. A Good (Large) Cutting Board

What would be the use of a knife without a complimentary cutting board? A great cutting board is a must in every chef’s kitchen. A nice woodblock cutting board can be used for everything from meats to veggies, and can also be a nice aesthetic in the kitchen, too! If you’re concerned about cross-contamination when cooking, you can invest in a second cutting board that’s dishwasher safe, and use this one for raw fish and meat.

3. Mixing Bowls and Measuring Cups

For all of your food preparation needs, be sure to have a good set of mixing bowls (at least three, preferably in three different sizes) and a good set of measuring cups. We recommend stainless steel mixing bowls, which look great, won’t stain or absorb flavors, and are dishwasher safe. For measuring cups and spoons, any material will do. If you’re trying to limit kitchen purchases, measuring spoons aren’t as necessary—most home teaspoons and tablespoons will work just great.

4. High-Quality Cookware

A knife, cutting board, and measuring bowls and cups are all for the pre-work of creating a great meal. When it’s time to actually put fire to iron, you want a great set of high-quality cookware for the job. Things to look for in cookware include:

Versatility. A pan or skillet that you can cook multiple dishes in is strongly recommended. Ask yourself whether it’s worth investing in a piece of cookware that you’re only likely to use once.

Safety. Many non-stick pans have a lining that contains PFUAs and PFOAs—forever chemicals that can cause harm to health and the environment. Be sure to opt for cookware that’s safe for your family.

Durability. While it may not be ideal to spend the money upfront, investing in something quality that will last for years to come will help your budget in the long run, as well as your peace of mind.

We love a cast iron skillet as a kitchen staple. If you’re not ready for cast iron, a non-toxic steel skillet can be a great alternative.

5. Hand Mixer or Blender/Food Processor

Finally, unless you have a lot of time and muscle, we strongly recommend investing in a hand mixer or a blender (or better yet—a food processor) for any mixing jobs that you have in mind. A hand mixer can save a lot of time when it comes to prepping baked goods, beating egg whites, making whipped cream, and dozens of other things. If it’s in your budget, getting a food processor with multiple functions and a hand mixer is ideal.

Visit Nick’s of Calvert for All of Your Dining Needs Today

Once your kitchen is fully stocked, all you need are the raw ingredients to transform food into a delicious meal! At Nick’s of Calvert, we have the freshest fruits and vegetables and the highest-quality meats around, as well as wine and liquor for sale. And for those days that you don’t feel like cooking, we have dinner classics that are pre-prepped and just need to be heated up. To learn more about why we’re an outstanding neighborhood grocer, visit us today.

Turkey Prep: Getting Ready for the Perfect Thanksgiving Day Feast

With Thanksgiving right around the corner, now is the time to put together your to-do list for planning the perfect Thanksgiving Day feast. If you’re hosting, there is a lot to prepare—from the turkey to the sides, sauces and pies, you’ll want everything to be perfect. At Nick’s of Calvert, we are your one-stop shop for everything that you need to prepare the perfect turkey and all other dishes for the table. Here are some tips and ideas for getting ready for the perfect Thanksgiving Day feast. We have fresh turkeys ready for pick up today, so reach out to us to learn more about how we can help with the perfect bird.

10 Days-Two Weeks Before Thanksgiving 

Planning for the perfect Thanksgiving Day feast starts weeks in advance. If you haven’t yet begun your preparations though, not to worry—you still have some time! Two weeks to 10 days in advance, you should:

  • Finalize your guest list. One of the most important parts of planning your Thanksgiving Day meal is ensuring that you’ll have enough food for all who attend, which means being clear about your guest list and how many people you’ll have at your dining room table.
  • Order that bird. Once you have a good idea of how many people will be joining you for Thanksgiving, it’s time to order your turkey if you haven’t already done so. At Nick’s of Calvert, we have you covered. Visit our butchers or call us directly to get your turkey reserved today.
  • Plan your menu and make your list. Now is also a good time to plan out your menu and make a shopping list. Knowing what you’ll serve in advance and what you’ll need to do to turn your dream menu into a reality can ease stress when cooking day comes. Be sure to note if any of your guests have any food allergies that you’ll need to accommodate.
  • Get any cooking gear. Whether you’re a master chef or a novice cook who’s preparing Thanksgiving dinner for the first time, review your recipes to make sure that you’ll have everything you need for smooth preparations on Turkey Day, including things like a turkey baster and thermometer. 
  • Pick up your non-perishables and drinks. One way that you can cut down on tasks that you have to do the day of Thanksgiving (and to ensure that you won’t run into any store closures before you have everything you need) is to pick up any non-perishables that you’ll need for cooking, as well as beverages, well in advance of the actual holiday.

The Countdown: 3, 2, 1…. 

As the holiday approaches, remember that you don’t have to do everything on Thanksgiving Day! In fact, there are plenty of things that you can do in advance of the holiday, including cleaning dishes and setting the table, setting up chairs, and creating room in your fridge for the food you plan to serve. When that’s all done, consider adhering to the following three-day countdown schedule to make sure everything’s perfect on Thanksgiving Day itself.

Three days before…

Three days before the holiday, defrost your turkey. Don’t wait too long to defrost the turkey, or you’ll have a frozen bird on Thanksgiving morning! The best way to defrost the bird is to place it in the fridge—avoid a countertop thawing if possible. Or, come into Nick’s today to order your fresh turkey so you won’t have to worry about the time it takes to defrost a frozen bird.

Three days out is also the time you should head to the store to buy all your perishable ingredients. If you wait until the day before, you may be competing with other frantic shoppers. Since you already cleaned out the fridge, you should have plenty of room to store everything.

One-two days before…. 

With only one or two days to go, it’s time to start prepping dishes, baking some things in advance, and getting the table ready. Apple and pecan pies won’t keep as well as pumpkin pie, so if you’re baking all three, do the apple and pecan a single day ahead of the holiday, but know you’ll be okay prepping your pumpkin pie two-three days in advance. You can also make reheatable sides, like casseroles, in advance, too. Cranberry sauce can also be made in advance and will heat up well.

With only one day to go, it’s time to brine the turkey. You can get all the turkey brining ingredients you need at Nick’s of Calvert.

Thanksgiving Day

On Thanksgiving day, start early. Get the turkey into the oven on schedule and prepare your other dishes while the turkey roasts. In the morning, chill any beverages that should be served cold. Finally, and most importantly, remember to enjoy yourself!

Visit Nick’s of Calvert for All of Your Thanksgiving Day Feast Needs 

At Nick’s of Calvert, our team is here to help you prepare for your Thanksgiving Day feast. We have everything you’re looking for, from the perfect turkey to sweet potatoes to cranberries and more. Visit us at 930 Costley Way or call us at (410) 414-7105 to learn more.

Packing a Healthy Lunch for Your School-Aged Children

If you are concerned about the food your child’s school is serving, you have a good reason. While they do their best, many school cafeterias have limited resources. So, the food they are serving isn’t necessarily what a parent would consider healthy. Many of the items on school lunch menus are high in starch, sugar, or fat, all undesirable for a healthy meal.

But, if you’re stuffing your child’s lunch box with the tried and true PB&J, are you doing much better? You might be trying, but the homemade lunches you fix aren’t going to do much good if your child doesn’t eat them.

So, you’re left trying to find something that’s both nutritious and desirable. Don’t worry. It’s easier than it appears. Here are a few tips for packing a healthy lunch for your school-aged kids that they’ll actually eat.

Make It a Group Activity

Sure, everyone is busy. But your children are more likely to eat and enjoy their lunch if they have a say in what’s in the box. Spend some time as a family creating a rotating lunch menu that includes main and side items.

Create a chart on a piece of paper that you can write down food ideas. There’s nothing wrong with adding a few treats. But make sure you also ask your kids what fruits and vegetables they would like to eat for lunch and come to an agreement about what gets eaten first.

Create Different Food Groups

You’ll want to have a list of categories (even the schools do this) on your chart. Each week, you can have your kids pick one food item from each category to include in a day’s lunch box. Here are a few examples:

Proteins

  • Sliced turkey or chicken breast
  • String cheese or cheese cubes
  • Plain yogurt
  • Mixed nuts and seeds
  • Hard-boiled eggs
  • Hummus

Fruit

  • Banana
  • Apple or pear slices
  • Clementine (peeled)
  • Dried apricots
  • Strawberries, raspberries, or blueberries
  • Grapes

Veggies

  • Salad
  • Baby carrots
  • Celery sticks
  • Snap peas
  • Cucumbers
  • Bell pepper strips
  • Cherry tomatoes

Grains

  • Homemade muffins
  • Pita bread
  • Granola bar
  • Whole-wheat crackers
  • Rye or wheat bread
  • Mini bagel
  • Low-fat granola
  • Small tortillas

Healthy sides and snacks

  • Trail mix with dried fruit and nuts
  • Air-popped popcorn
  • Kale or sweet potato chips
  • Pretzels or graham crackers
  • Olives
  • Homemade oatmeal raisin cookies
  • Whole-grain tortilla chips
  • Avocado slices
  • Dark chocolate-covered raisins

Don’t Forget a Healthy Drink

Although kids love sugary and carbonated drinks with their meals, it is a good idea to steer clear of these options if you’re trying to give them a healthy lunch. Instead, send water or low-fat, unflavored milk along with your child’s meal. But, if you’re going to send juice, just make sure that it is 100% juice and a small portion (4-6 ounces). Also, you can freeze your child’s drink and use it as an ice pack for their lunch.

Be Aware of Serving Sizes for Kids

Children don’t need to eat as much as adults because they have smaller stomachs and tend to eat smaller amounts regularly. When you pack their healthy lunch, make sure the serving sizes are appropriate.

For example, children ages 4-6 only need about ½ slice of bread or 3-4 crackers to create a serving of grains and ½ cup salad or vegetables for another serving. But a child ages 7-10 should get a full slice of bread and one cup of salad to make an entire serving.

What About Prepared Healthy Lunch Items?

You probably have some leftovers that you’d like to repurpose into healthy lunch items. And there is nothing wrong with doing this, either. Things like cold pasta salad, pinwheel finger sandwiches, and straight-up chicken wings or drumsticks make excellent healthy lunch entrees for kids.

Skip the Processed Snacks

You’ll want to skip the processed snacks in your child’s lunch. Many of these ready-to-eat items contain too much salt or sugar. That said, there is nothing wrong with adding one of these treats about once per week to add some variety to your child’s lunch.

Choose Nick’s of Calvert for Your Healthy Lunch Grocery Items

Now that you have some solid information about packing a healthy lunch for your children, you probably have a hefty grocery list of delicious items to include. Let Nick’s of Calvert help you fill your grocery basket this week with the delicious food that is going to head to school with your kids in the coming days.

We offer high-quality products and top-notch service to customers throughout the area. As your hometown grocery store, you’ll always find the freshest meats and deli items at Nick’s. And we’d be happy to give you a hand if there’s anything you need. Make sure to visit us today.

Food Prep – How to Stay Safe When Handling Raw Meat

There is nothing more delicious than a juicy steak, a homecooked chicken, or a pork roast that you leave simmering in the crockpot all day. Meat is rich in protein, and many families include it as part of a balanced diet. But if you handle and cook meat at home, you need to exercise some caution to keep yourself and your loved ones safe.

The truth is that various types of bacteria can grow on animal products. Sure, there are safety concerns with just about everything you eat today. But understanding basic food prep with meat is vital. Here is what you need to know about the dangers of handling raw meat incorrectly and what you can do with your food prep to stay safe.

How Dangerous is Raw Meat?

Nothing about raw meat is safe. It can contain harmful bacteria such as Listeria, Salmonella, E. coli, and Campylobacter that can lead to food poisoning. When cooked correctly, those same bacteria are destroyed and are not a safety concern.

There is a common misconception that you are more likely to get sick from low-quality meat than you are from high-quality meat. If you fail to take the proper safety precautions, either can get you sick, which is why safe handling and proper food preparation are so essential.

Selecting Your Meat

Staying safe with meat begins at your local grocery store. First, never buy meat that is past its sell-by or expiration date. It is also a good practice to purchase your meat at a specialty store with a wide selection of meat choices or the same place you are buying your other groceries, so it reduces the time your food is out of the refrigerator.

Here are some other tips to help you select the best and safest meat:

  • Avoid any meat that has a strong odor, is discolored or brown, or feels slimy or tough.
  • Avoid any poultry that has a strong odor, looks faded, or feels slimy or tough.
  • Avoid any fish that has a strong “fishy” smell or an ammonia-like odor, is discolored or faded, or has slimy or squishy flesh.
  • Avoid any meat that is torn, damaged, or leaking packages since it is likely been exposed to harmful bacteria through the air.

Safe Handling of Meat

When you handle meat, always wash your hands first and continue to do so frequently. Use soap and water, washing your hands for a minimum of 20 seconds before and after handling meat.

The bacteria from meat can spread quickly and easily. To prevent this, separate your preparation area from your other food and cooking items. Be sure to keep vegetables separate from meat, particularly if you won’t be cooking them together.

If you have different types of raw meat that you are cooking, there is no problem if they touch each other as long as they are thoroughly cooked before consumption. The main concern is raw meat touching other foods, like a tomato, and transferring bacteria to those foods.

Always have a separate cutting board for meat. And clean all utensils separately once they have come into contact with raw meat. Use different utensils to serve your cooked food.

Cooking Your Meat Properly

We all have our preferences about cooking meat. Medium-rare to well-done is an age-old argument. But a big part of food safety is ensuring your meat is cooked all the way through.

Different meats have different minimum internal temperatures that are safe.

For example, the minimum cooking temperature for poultry is 165 degrees F and 145 degrees F for beef and pork. You can get a simple meat thermometer to gauge your progress.

How to Safely Store Meat

A big part of meat safety comes down to proper storage. In general, raw meat is safe to store in your refrigerator for about three days. If you plan to wait any longer before cooking it, the best thing to do is put it in the freezer. Frozen meat can last several months.

How you handle leftover meat after it has been cooked also matters. It may be tempting to take a few hours off to relax after all that food preparation, but it is safer to put your leftovers away as soon as possible after the meal. The less time your food sits at room temperature, the better.

Get Your Meat Questions Answered Quickly

Bacteria can grow quickly on bad meat, so it is never a good idea to take unnecessary chances. If you are ever in doubt about something you have in your home, it is best to err on the side of caution.

If you have questions about meat food prep, the highly trained butchers at Nick’s can help. We offer a full-service meat counter and take pride in superior customer satisfaction. We also provide a wide variety of some of the freshest meats at the most affordable prices.