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When Dietitian Meets Conventional Pig Farm

Friday, January 20th, 2017

What I know of farming is…minimal. I grew up in the rural country, yes. We had chickens, pigeons, gerbils, fish, rabbits, dogs, and the occasional cat.

I know I like bacon (yum) and watched Charlotte’s Web countless times…and that’s the extend of my pig knowledge.

I had an opportunity this past fall to visit a conventional pig farm located in Des Moines, IA. The US Farmers and Ranchers Alliance hosted a group of retail registered dietitians so we could better learn the ropes and educate our shoppers.

And pigs. Boy, did I ever learn. I thought that once I’d laid eyes on the operation I’d be a vegetarian for sure, but that wasn’t so much the case. One of the biggest messages I took away, above all else, was the passion behind the pig farm. This was a career for so many people, their livelihood, and they really do care about their animals and operation.

We were bussed to a privately owned pig farm known as Iowa Select Farms, the largest pork producer in Iowa. There they move over 70,000 pigs a week for production. And talk about biosecurity, we weren’t even allowed to have our shoes touch the ground from the bus without having sterile booties cover them. Then we each had to shower in the facility and wear approved clothing that was laid out on the “clean side” of the shower. No brush, no makeup…just a sopping wet head, jumpsuit, men’s socks and a generic sports bra on the other side.

Once we were officially inside the pig farm we were met by the veterinarian who taught us all about the pig operation.

The pigs there are artificially inseminated by using superior boar genetics. What I found fascinating is that they take a boar around to “sniff out,” if you will, the females in heat and those are the ones they inseminate.

A female pig is pregnant for about 115 days and they typically give birth about 4 times before their litters become smaller and smaller. They usually have their first litter around 1 year old. About 3 weeks before birth they’re taken to the “farrowing barn.” Here we got to see the piglets being born and hold them right out of the hatch. And…WOW. What a job. After the sow was on her 16th piglet we watched the staff search for any that were still in the womb. If any were left inside they could become stillborn and cause infection. What a job! It was thrilling to see birth all around you and watch them fight for their mother’s milk.

After that group is done farrowing they’re sent to another barn where they spend the next 3 weeks nursing and growing. Here the sows are lactating and have free access to grain. Other than that, they’re fed once daily and that is a very stressful event in the pig world. I wasn’t aware how aggressive pigs were! Many had scratches and the sounds were atrocious.

At this pig farm, antibiotics may be used on a pig in only a few cases. They are “livestock grade” and may be put in the feed to help a sow’s milk letdown or induce birth if needed. They follow very strict guidelines and there are strict standards as to the length of time between when oxytocin is given and when a pig can be processed. Typically, pigs do not receive any growth hormones. So when you see signs saying “no growth hormones” for pigs…that’s just how pigs are. Growth-hormone-free!

After a pig is finished farrowing for their lifetime they’re put on the trucks for processing. These trucks are put in an oven type of thing before coming into the farm to keep things sterile and prevent disease to be brought in. The truck and trailer is washed and baked to 160 degrees Fahrenheit before pigs are loaded.

This was one of my favorite life experiences to date. I’m just astounded by everything we have accomplished in food production, and while many of us like to villain-ize the food industry for some of its faults, I choose to see the passion and drive toward developing better products, better processes, and better production. There certainly are practices we could do better. There certainly are improvements that can be made in the food industry. This is where education is key. Get yourself involved and get the facts.

by Jessica Miller, Price Cutter Dietitian

Eat Well Recipe – Balsamic Vinaigrette Salad Dressing

Thursday, January 19th, 2017

Healthy Eating in the Aisle – Diabetes Awareness

Thursday, November 17th, 2016

An Appetizer in 20 Minutes or Less

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2016

It’s that time of year again! The weather is cooling down, the leaves are falling, and the invitations for holiday parties and work dinners will soon be coming in. The simple days of bringing a side dish to the barbecue are fading away (is there anything easier than throwing together pasta salad or a fruit tray?). But don’t worry, that’s what we are here for. Your foodie friends who are obsessed with pinning “quick party dips” and “apps to impress” are here to help you weed through the recipes that take 20 ingredients and over an hour in the kitchen and find the perfect, simple, delicious treats to take to your events.

The recipe below for Roasted Tomato with Parmesan is sure to become a quick staple. You will be ready to go with just a few simple ingredients and 10 minutes in the oven!


  • Cherry or grape tomatoes
  • Fresh parsley, chopped
  • Fresh Parmesan cheese, shredded
  • Olive oil
  • A dash of salt and pepper


Preheat your oven to 400F. While it’s heating, wash your tomatoes and place them into the appropriate size baking sheet. Drizzle olive oil lightly over the top of the tomatoes and toss them so that they are evenly coated then sprinkle with salt and pepper. Spread out evenly on the sheet to ensure even baking then top with fresh parsley and Parmesan cheese. Place in the oven for 10-12 minutes until the tomatoes are soft. They should smell pretty fantastic, too!

These little broiled beauties are fantastic served with shaved Parmesan and crostinis! They pair very well with a number of white wines and the strong flavor of the Parmesan cheese can stand up to some of the drier varieties if you prefer those. You could also use this recipe to top a salad or smash the broiled tomatoes and serve over fresh pasta or on a pizza… Oh the endless possibilities in the kitchen!


by Rebekah Allen, Price Cutter Dietitian

Healthy Ideas for Keeping Halloween a Treat

Friday, October 28th, 2016

It’s that time of year again; goblins, ghosts, princesses, and fairies will be showing up at doorsteps all over the neighborhood. Parents will be dragging home sugar-crazed children with pillow sacks and plastic pumpkins full of candy and other tooth-rotting sweets. While Halloween may only be one night of the year, the amount of candy we bring home can make it feel like a year-round event. Trick-or-treating is a fun activity for kiddos, there’s no argument there, but gorging ourselves on candy and sweets can quickly turn this holiday into a nightmare. Especially when the average American already consumes a shocking 21 teaspoons of sugar each day, an amount 3x the daily recommendation. Now, that’s an amount to scare even the boogeyman away! Consumption of added sugars from these sweet candy treats and treats alike, such as cookies, sweetened beverages, and ice cream, is linked to the ever-climbing rates of obesity and heart disease across the county. But don’t let this statistic spook you completely, there are ways to keep Halloween a treat without going overboard on the sugar. We can start by taking matters into our own hands and distribute healthy snacks to all trick-or-treaters alike. So, this year we’re rising up from our grave to help you brainstorm nutritious treat ideas that meet both food safety regulations and withhold the stamp of approval from nutrition experts. The following list of snacks is more nutritious than candy and could make you everyone’s favorite neighborhood party monster.

  • Applesauce cups or squeezable fruit.
  • Small bags of pretzels.
  • Small bags of popcorn. These are gluten-free, whole grain, and allergy friendly! Look for plain popcorn without added butter and salt so parents can flavor them at home.
  • Individual nuts or trail mix. Still sweet and salty but with healthy fats and fiber!
  • Dark chocolate covered nuts. A taste of candy with added nutrients.
  • Small bottles of water. Helps hydrate without all the extra sugar.
  • Fruit cups. Find varieties in water or 100% fruit juice.
  • Raisins. Yep, I went there. Kids actually like these!
  • Whole grain Goldfish.
  • Teddy Grahams. Still not ideal, but better than guzzling candy in our opinion.
  • Chex Mix. Not an everyday food, but not laden with sugar either.
  • Cheese sticks. Can easily go 1-2 hours without being refrigerated. Just keep on ice until they go home with the children. Can also be eaten right away to curb hunger and prevent a candy gorge.
  • Small toys, such as playdough, small dolls, or coloring books with crayons, because who ever said you had to hand out food?

Understanding health claims and nutrition labels can be haunting when roaming through the aisles of Price Cutter, don’t get caught in the junk food web. To help you steer clear of these traps, we’ve created a list of items that are both a trick and a treat.

  • Fruit snacks. Don’t let their shapes or all natural labels fool you, these are just candy gummies shaped like fruit.
  • Juice boxes. While ½ cup of 100% juice is okay, some juice boxes have as much sugar as soda without the fiber from fruit.
  • Granola bars. Most bars are really glorified candy bars.
  • Muffins. Especially those prepackaged, are essentially cupcakes without the frosting.
  • Soda and chips. Obvious junk food, but commonly seen as candy replacements during the trick-or-treat excursion.

by Jackie Kemnic and Kelli Steffensmeier, MSU Dietetic Interns

Pretzel and Cheese Broomsticks

Yield: 15
Prep time: 20 minutes


  • 5 string cheese
  • 15 small pretzel sticks
  • Chives


Start by cutting each of your cheese sticks into 3 even pieces. Then peel each of the pieces apart or cut with a knife near the bottom of the piece to look like the bottom of the broom. Gently press one pretzel stick into the top (uncut) portion of the cheese. Finish the project by tying a small chive around the top of the cheese. Serve and enjoy!

Recipe from: One Little Project at a Time…

Apple Mummies

Yield: 2 mummies per apple
Prep time: 10 minutes


  • Apples, variety of choosing
  • Chocolate chips


Start by washing the apples. Next, peel uneven strips of the skin off of the apple to make a mummy wrapping texture over the apple. Cut each apple in half and cut the seedy section out of the apple halves. If preparing mummies for later use, soak the apples in water with lemon juice for 30 minutes or choose an apple that stays fresh longer such as pink lady or honeycrisp. Finally add eyes to the mummies by pressing two chocolate chips pointy side down into each apple half. Serve and enjoy!

Recipe from: Two Healthy Kitchens

Happy Healthy Halloween

Wednesday, October 26th, 2016

Halloween is coming quickly and I’ve got my little goblins nearly ready for the big day! We’ve been hunting for costumes, gluing on Dalmatian spots, and trying to the keep Power Ranger sword intact and out of the 3-year old’s hands before the big day arrives. I’ll be rushing from the office to the school for costume changes, parade and party, have a quick dinner before we regroup, and then head to Roundtree neighborhood for an epic night of trick-or-treating. Not to mention, I’m going to try to pull off a costume of my own. I’m exhausted just thinking about it!

This is always a tricky holiday when in the battle of the dietitian world versus real-world mom. In my schooling we were taught to work hard against restricting foods. With more restriction, one begins to put food onto a pedestal and that creates issues of its own. On the other hand, parents know that if candy is a total free-for-all then kids would be bouncing off the walls, have rotten teeth, and tummy aches galore.

Here are some quick tips for surviving the season if you have little ones:

  • Those upcoming parties don’t need to be centered on foods that just include sugar. Think about foods that can fit your spooky theme that actually have some health benefits! Black Lentils, black beans (add some cumin – yum!), blackberries, raisins, dark purple grapes, mandarin oranges, baby carrots, sweet potatoes, orange bell peppers, or use a cookie cutter in the shape of a pumpkin to cut shapes out of cheese slices.
  • I try to steer my little ones toward chewing gum (now that they’re old enough to not swallow it). I figure that if they’re chewing gum while looking at their loot then they’re less likely to eat more candy. Sneaky, I know.
  • There are also other options for trick-or-treaters such as string cheese, small apples, fruit cups, or Cuties. Be sure to inspect your kiddo’s treats thoroughly to make sure everything is sealed and safe. You can also try some non-food items such as glow sticks, bubbles, fun pencils, or stickers.

There are so many easy, fun options out there for your little ones this season. Above all else, it’s important to have fun. People tell me I will miss these days, and in the midst of all the chaos, I don’t always believe them. But, I do believe we will have fun. ☺

by Jessica Miller, Price Cutter Dietitian

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