Healthy Living: The terrific benefits of canning your food

Canned foods are one of the best ways to get food from the farm to your family table. The canning process locks in foods' freshness, flavor and nutrition until you're ready to get cooking. Canned foods are nutritious, easy and affordable and here are three reasons why:

1. Cans seal in nutrition, freshness and flavor Fresh fruits and vegetables are harvested at their peak of ripeness and canned within hours, making the can one of the best ways to lock in nutrients and get food from its source to your family table. Research shows that canned foods have similar (or better) nutritional profiles as their fresh or frozen counterparts. For example, canned tomatoes have more lycopene, which is associated with reducing cancer risk and has more B vitamins than fresh tomatoes. Canning also helps make fiber in certain vegetables, like beans, more soluble and easier to digest. Many individuals are concerned about eating canned foods due to sodium content. Sodium in canned produce and meat is not the primary culprit for adding sodium to our diets. Rather, most of our sodium intake in America comes from restaurant and convenience foods. With no sodium added versions readily available, canned foods can help you meet your nutrient needs and diet requirements easily.

2. Canned foods are affordable Families can stretch their grocery budgets by choosing canned foods. For example, fresh green beans are nearly 500 percent more costly than canned green beans. Plus, you save money because canned foods don't easily spoil! According to a study, Americans throw away approximately 15 to 20 percent of the fresh fruits and vegetables they purchase every year. Because fresh produce can spoil before people have the chance to eat it, keeping a well-stocked pantry helps them reach their daily consumption goals for fruits and vegetables.

3. Canned foods mean less prep Families have fast-paced lives and they can't always plan meals around work and kids' activities. Having canned foods in your pantry provides a great option for a quick and easy meal so families don't have to eat out. All canned foods are stamped with a "best by" or "use by" date to help you determine how long the items should be stored. In general, the canned foods you buy in the store today are good for at least one year. Vegetarian Three Bean Chili Prep Time: 5 minutes Cook Time: 20 minutes Servings: 6 Ingredients: 2 tablespoons vegetable oil 1 large onion, diced 1 large green pepper, seeded and diced 2 large garlic cloves, minced 1 tablespoon chili powder 1 teaspoon ground cumin 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes 1 (16-ounce) can diced tomatoes 1 (15.5-ounce) can pinto beans, drained and rinsed 1 (15.5-ounce) can white kidney beans, drained and rinsed** 1 (15.5-ounce) can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed 1 (4-ounce) can chopped green chilies, drained 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/4 teaspoon chipotle Tabasco pepper sauce Chopped parsley, shredded Cheddar, optional**

Preparation: In large saucepan over medium heat, in hot oil, cook onion, pepper and garlic until softened, about 5 minutes. Add chili powder and cumin; cook 1 minute. Add crushed tomatoes, diced tomatoes, pinto beans, white beans, red kidney beans, green chilies, salt and Tabasco sauce. Over high heat, heat to boiling; reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer 15 minutes to blend flavors, stirring occasionally. If desired, sprinkle with chopped parsley and shredded Cheddar.

Nutrition Information Per Serving: Calories 370; Total Fat 7 g (Sat 1 g, Trans 0 g); Cholesterol 0 mg; Sodium 1130 mg; Total Carbohydrates 61 g; Dietary Fiber 14 g; Sugars 12 g; Protein 19 g, Vitamin A 1292.14 IU; Vitamin C 51.88 mg; Calcium 206.23 mg; Iron 5.72 mg; Vitamin D 0.28 IU; Folate 58.49 mcg % Daily Value*: Vitamin A 25%; Vitamin C 90%; Calcium 20%; Iron 30% Southwestern Tuna Chopped Salad

Salad Ingredients: 2-5 ounce cans of Starkist Tuna, drained and chunked 1/2 cup diced red bell pepper 1 cup canned black beans, drained and rinsed 1/4 cup canned sliced black olives 1 cup canned corn 2 ripe Avocados 1/4 cup fresh Cilantro, chopped 1 Heart of Romaine, chopped 1 cup Chopped Kale, de-stemmed Dressing: 1-1/4 cup plain Greek Yogurt 1 tsp minced Garlic 1/2 tsp Food Club Ground Cumin 1/2 tsp Food Club Black Pepper 1/2 tsp World Classics Sea Salt 1 tbsp Food Club Taco Seasoning Preparation: 1. Wash all produce. Dice red bell pepper, chop cilantro, dice avocado, chop romaine, de-stem and chop kale. 2. Lightly mix all salad ingredients 3. Mix all dressing ingredients together 4. Fold Dressing into the salad. 5. Can serve as a stand-alone salad or with choice of tortilla or breads as a sandwich. Cranberry Orange Smoothie

Ingredients: 1 14-ounce can whole berry cranberry sauce 1 11-ounce can mandarin oranges in juice, drained 2 1/2 cups 2% plain Greek yogurt 2 tablespoons pure maple syrup 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon Pinch of salt

Preparation: Combine all ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth. Divide among four glasses. Serve chilled. Nutrition Information Per Serving: Calories 303; Total Fat 3g (Sat 2g, Trans 0g); Cholesterol 9mg; Sodium 115mg; Total Carbohydrates 58g; Dietary Fiber 2g; Sugars 56g; Protein 13g; Vitamin A 1496IU; Vitamin C 38mg; Calcium 184mg; Iron 0.5mg; Vitamin D 0IU; Folate 6mcg % Daily Value: Vitamin A 30%; Vitamin C %; Calcium 18%; Iron 3%