Ask Sue Keeney

Meet Sue Keeney–your source of research-based information about nutrition and health! Sue provides practical tips on eating for good health, stretching the food dollar & more!

Feel free to submit a question for Sue.  She’ll follow-up with an answer as soon as possible.


  1. Dear Sue,
    My family has their favorite foods which aren’t always the healthiest. I’ve followed your advice and now have healthy foods in my cupboard and refrigerator. But, now what do I do with them?

    • Dear Wanda,

      Whipping up healthy recipes may be easier than you think. You can make simple ingredient substitutions to create healthy dishes without giving up taste and enjoyment.

      Try using whole-wheat flour for half of the called-for all-purpose flout in cakes and muffins for an easy way to add fiber to your diet.

      In most baked goods you can reduce the amount of sugar by one-half. Then try adding vanilla, nutmeg or cinnamon to boost the sweetness of your product.

      Unsweetened applesauce can be used for half of called-for butter, shortening or oil in baked goods. Usually vegetable oil is not a good substitute for butter or shortening. And tub-style margarine doesn’t work well to replace regular margarine because of fat content.

      Plain fat-free or lo-fat yogurt can be used in place of sour cream in dips, salads, and main dishes. You’ll hardly notice a taste difference.

      Changing ingredients in a tried and true recipe may take some trial and error. The key is to make healthy changes one step at a time.


      Source: Recipe Substitutions Extension Foundation

  2. Hi Sue,
    How can I get on your food sense newsletter? Also, I have asked management of our CACFP (we are a sponsoring agency for family day care providers) to put your link to the newsletters on our website. I think its a nice resource for providers. Would you be OK with our doing that? Please take a look at our website to find out more about us. We are a not for profit and the local Resource and Referral agency for SE Wisconsin (Kenosha, Racine, Milwaukee, Waukesha, Washington and Ozaukee Counties.)

    Carolyn Dame
    4C For Children, Inc
    Racine Office

  3. Dear Sue,
    I have been working really hard at making my food dollars stretch by planning meals, making grocery lists and planning for leftovers. At the end of each month I’m still coming up short! What am I missing?
    Penny P. Inchin

    • Dear Penny,

      It is challenging to make your food dollars stretch. It sounds like you have put a lot of effort into your planning, which is great and can help you save money.

      Knowing what you spend your money on is another key to stretching your food dollars. While you know how much money you are spending on your planned menus; are you planning for other food purchases such as drinks or snacks? Follow these steps to get a better idea of where your money is going:

      Track Your Food. For one month have everyone in your family save their receipts after buying food items. Collect receipts and go through them together at the end of the month. Take note of items that surprise you.

      Make Decisions. Make a family decision if some items should be limited or eliminated throughout the month. Some items may not be worth the money, after you realize how much you are spending on them.

      Remember small expenses can add up to big budget leaks.


      Source: Iowa State University, Spend Smart Eat Smart

  4. Dear Sue,
    I had a friend tell me that she started using coconut milk in place of cow’s milk after reading that it is better for you. Is this a good idea?
    Ione A. Kow

    • Dear Ione,

      Even though it contains the word milk, coconut milk is a non-dairy beverage. It is considered an oil in U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food-A-Pedia resource due to its high level of fat, most of which is saturated fat. Your friend may have been referring to some studies that have shown health benefits of coconut fats, such as antioxidant properties and increases in HDL (good) cholesterol.

      The amount of fat in coconut milk makes it high in calories, which can lead to weight gain. An 8 oz glass of coconut milk has over 550 calories and 57 grams of fat. There are lower fat and calorie varieties available. In addition, coconut milk has less amounts of some important nutrients found in cow’s milk, such as protein and calcium.

      The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends limiting saturated fats to less than 10% of your total calories. To meet this goal, low-fat or fat-free cow’s milk would be a good choice. Keep in mind that a healthy diet does contain a variety of foods, so coconut milk can be included in moderation.

      Sources: United States Department of Agriculture Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

  5. Dear Sue,

    My friends tell me that monthly meal planning can save time and money. How do you start a meal plan? A monthly meal plan is just too much!

    Wanda Sayve

    • Dear Wanda,
      Planning meals ahead can save time and money in a variety of ways. Creating a meal plan for a few days or longer can help you become organized for preparing family meals.

      Planning ahead involves making a grocery list of ingredients needed for a week (or possibly more) of meals for your family. Shopping from a list saves time and prevents impulse buying which can add quickly to your grocery bill.

      When planning family meals, there is no right way. Families plan their meals in a variety of ways based on likes and dislikes, time, and/or who does the cooking.

      Think of the new MyPlate model and plan a fruit, vegetable, grain, protein and dairy food for each meal. Ask for input from your family so they all feel included and valued in the meal planning process.

      Research has shown that families who plan ahead for the meals they will eat, are better able to control their food spending and eat healthier. This makes more money available for other family needs.


      Source: Money for Food—University of Wisconsin Extension

  6. How much water consumption is too much? I only count pure spring water as water, not coffee or tea.

    • Here’s some guidance to determine how much water consumption is too much. According to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines, total water intake includes water from fluids (drinking water and other beverages) and the water that is contained in foods. Healthy individuals, in general, have an adequate total water intake to meet their needs when they have regular access to drinking water and other beverages. The combination of thirst and typical behaviors, such as drinking beverages with meals, provides sufficient total water intake.

      Individual water intake needs vary widely, based in part on level of physical activity and exposure to heat stress. Heat waves have the potential to result in an increased risk of dehydration, especially with older adults.

  7. Dear Sue:

    My family and I enjoy eating out occasionally but it’s very challenging to find restaurants with low-cost and healthy meal options. Do you have any tips for making these outings a little more nutritious and easier on the wallet?

    Val U. Meal

    • Dear Val,

      Eating out can be challenging but with a little planning ahead you can make your experience enjoyable, nutritious and in your price range. Keep in mind the where, when and what of eating out.

      Check for coupons. Restaurants often have specials they advertise on their website or in local newspapers.
      Try family owned restaurants. The food can be great and prices are often low with more flexibility in menu choices.

      Eat breakfast or lunch. Most restaurants have lower price ranges for breakfast meals.
      Take advantage of “Kid’s Eat Free” nights. Some restaurants have deals for kids meals or use coupons to save money.

      Share meals. Split meals to limit portion sizes and save on costs.
      Order sides instead of an entree.
      Drink water instead of a soft drink, this will cut out extra money and sugar.

      Source: Iowa State Extension

  8. Dear Sue,

    This winter has been terrible for my family. I have two school age kids and now a newly retired mother and older age father looking to retire shortly afterwards. I am a single mom and I am feeling the crush inside since I am now the source of mealtimes and family social hours. I have been stressed out to balance this huge family ties now and usually am used to the struggles of a single mother of two children. Help I am drowning in the middle of life. I need help for stretching my money, balanced eating for all age groups and anything that will bring to the table that touchdown feeling.
    Thank you!

    • Dear Jessi,

      You are definitely part of the “sandwich generation”–in the middle of caring for kids and tending to parents. This actually can be an opportunity for you to help your children be more involved in helping the household run, and if you frame it well, a chance for your parents to feel fulfilled in retirement. Here are some strategies to try:

      1. Hold family meetings so everyone gets a chance to be heard. Planning family meals could be the first topic: what would people like to eat this week, and who could help fix it? Making a plan for the week helps you save money by taking advantage of weekly sales, and avoiding lots of shopping trips. Your local Extension office may have a Healthy & Homemade calendar that is a great tool for planning meals and also has some simple family-pleasing recipes you could try. If they don’t have it available, you can access it from Iowa State University Extension at

      2. Find ways to show appreciation to anyone in your family who helps out. A big thank you note on the frig when people get up in the morning, is a great way to start the day! When someone volunteers to do a job before you ask them, make sure to say how much you appreciate that. If your mother or dad have helped by picking up the kids or running another errand for you, how about a big hug and an “I love you!”

      3. Be honest about your feelings. It’s OK to say you are feeling stressed by all your responsibilities, and ask your family if they can think of ways to help out. If two parents retiring is going to create a financial burden, you may be able to get some help on budgeting and finances from your local Extension office. Ask everyone to think of ways your family can have fun with little cost: a picnic in the park, a movie and popcorn night at home, or a family walk after dinner are good ways to spend time together, not money.
      Hang in there, Jessi, and let me know if this helps!


  9. Dear Sue,
    Our school sent home information about signing my kids up for free and reduced priced school meals. Things are really tight right now at our house, since I lost my job and I haven’t always been able to send lunches or milk money for my kids to eat at school.
    I was raised to believe that we should take care of ourselves and not rely on government handouts, so when we don’t have money, we just go without. Is this something I should check into?
    Ima Tryin

    • Dear Ima,

      The National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs offer all school children healthy and nutritious meals. By completing the form, you can find out if your child will be eligible to receive school meals (including breakfast if it is offered at your school) for free or at a reduced rate. Over the school year, the savings can add up to hundreds of dollars for your family.

      This program can also have a positive impact on your child’s learning. Research tells us that kids who eat breakfast and lunch are able to pay attention and learn better in school.
      FoodShare is another way families can access enough food for a healthy, active life. Most people who use these resources only use them for a short time. When you are working again, your tax money helps provide this help for others!


  10. Dear Sue,

    I was recently diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis & I heard certain foods can cause a flare up & aggravate it.

    Can you tell me what foods to avoid so that doesn’t happen? Also is there any foods or vitamin supplements that may help my RA?

    Thank you!


    • Hi Wendy,
      These are good questions to ask your doctor. The Food $ense team and UW-Extension offers basic nutrition information but we cannot provide medical nutrition advise.

  11. I know that low-fat and fat-free milk are healthier than whole and 2% milk, but my family just doesn’t like their taste. Are there any ways to make the switch easier?
    Drew A. Blank

    • Dear Drew,

      Change is hard for everyone, but making small steps in your diet can have big health rewards.

      Here are some suggestions to help your family accept the change to low-fat (1%) or fat-free (skim) milk.

      – Gradually changing the type of milk you drink is easier on the taste buds. For example, if you drink whole milk, try reduced-fat (2%) milk. After some time, switch to low-fat milk and then try choosing fat-free milk.

      – Start using low-fat milk while cooking or preparing foods. Try using low-fat milk in oatmeal, soups, puddings, or on cereal.

      – Do a blind taste test of the different types of milk at home with your family. See if they can tell the difference.

      – Talk to your family about the health benefits of low-fat and fat-free milk. Their support is important for success.


      Source: Wisconsin WIC Program

  12. Dear Sue,
    My family has a history of heart disease, so I’m trying to limit the sodium in my diet. The problem is my food has no flavor! Is it possible that food can taste good without salt?
    Noah Taste

    • Dear Noah,
      Yes, it is possible! Using spices and herbs are great ways to add flavor to food. If you do not use spices and herbs often, it may take some experimenting.

      When beginning, start with 1/4 teaspoon of most ground spices or dried herbs for 4 servings, 1 pound of meat or 1 pint of sauce. When using garlic powder, cayenne or red pepper flakes, add in smaller amounts.

      The list below shows which spices and herbs are commonly used with certain foods. This is a great place to start your experimenting.

      Beef: bay leaf, marjoram, nutmeg, onion, pepper, sage, thyme

      Chicken: ginger, marjoram, oregano, paprika, rosemary, sage, tarragon, thyme

      Pork: garlic, onion, sage, pepper, oregano

      Fish: curry powder, dill, dry mustard, marjoram, paprika, pepper

      Summer Squash: cloves, curry powder, marjoram, nutmeg, rosemary

      Tomatoes: basil, bay leaf, dill marjoram, onion, oregano, parsley


      Source: Nutrition for the Young at Heart,
      Michigan State University Extension

  13. Sue, I have a recipe that I found back in 1978. It’s very inexpensive and delicious and I’ve made it countless times. I wonder if I could submit it for you to consider including in Food $ense.

    • Thank you for your interest in Food $ense. We hope you find it valuable. The recipes contained in each newsletter have prior approval for their inclusion in Food $ense. Unfortunately we are unable to use recipes from outside sources.

      Thanks again for your interest –
      Best wishes,

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