Menu Planning: Less Stress, More Money

April 13th, 2015

menu planningMy son’s famous first words these days when we get home after work and school are “Mom, I’m hungry. Can I have a snack?” Since it is usually close to supper, I encourage him to go play and let him know that supper will be ready shortly. And since I plan my evening meals a week at a time, I can get supper on the table in a short amount of time. I know what we are having and have the ingredients on hand. Menu planning is a win-win for us. I’m not stressed out thinking about what we are going to have and my son doesn’t have to wait long to eat when he is hungry.

Eating a balanced meal and saving money at the grocery store are other benefits of menu planning. When you plan your meals, you can take the time to include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and calcium-rich foods in your meals. And when you go to the grocery store, you can be sure to buy these items to have on hand and it prevents you from buying items you won’t need. Here are some tips to successful menu planning:

  • Determine what meals you will plan. Since the meal my family eats together is supper that is the meal I spend time to plan. However, you can plan for breakfast, lunch, supper or snacks. I go to the grocery store once a week so I plan my meals a week at a time. You might choose to plan them for more or fewer days.
  • Write the plan on a calendar. I write my meal plan on a calendar that hangs in my kitchen. This calendar includes other family activities so I know if we will be gone for a meal at night or have a really rushed evening. My husband knows to look at the calendar to see what we are having.

Another option is the 5-day meal planner on our Spend Smart. Eat Smart. website. Since weekends tend to be less structured for most people, the plan is for only 5 days. The meal planner also has a checklist of the food groups to help you plan balanced meals.

  • Check what you have on hand. Check your refrigerator, freezer, and cupboards for foods that need to be used up in the next few days. Think of ways to include these items in your meals. I always plan a night to have leftovers so they don’t go to waste.
  • Review the grocery ads for specials you can use. Save money by purchasing items on sale that you can pair with the foods you have on hand to help complete your meals.
  • Keep a list of the recipes your family likes best. Having a list helps make meal planning go really quickly because you can easily spot the recipes that use things you have on hand or are on sale. Some recipes my family likes are Beef and Vegetable Stir Fry, Quick Pad Thai, and Crispy Salmon Patties.

For more information on menu planning watch “How to Plan a Menu.”

Jodi Signature

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Banana Oatmeal Bread

April 6th, 2015

banana-oatmeal-breadBanana bread is one of my favorite foods. I can make it a part of any meal or snack. Luckily my family agrees with me. Our April recipe is banana oatmeal bread, and it is delicious!

In February I got a great deal on bananas at the grocery store. There were bags of about four bunches of bananas for $0.99 per bag. The bananas were starting to get brown and soft, but that was fine with me. I bought two bags and froze them when we got home from the store.

I like to freeze bananas for banana bread whole with the peel still on. When I am ready to make the bread, I grab three or four bananas and thaw them under running water. Once they are thawed, I pull the bottom off the banana, squeeze the flesh into a bowl, and mash with a fork.

I like to freeze bananas for snacking and for smoothies already peeled and sliced. I peel and slice the bananas, place them on a baking sheet lined with wax paper, and put them in the freezer until they are solidly frozen. Then I transfer them to a freezer bag. This makes it easy to grab a few banana slices for a cool snack or to thicken up a smoothie.

Check out our video on storing bananas for more on freezing bananas.

Whether you have frozen bananas or fresh, try out this recipe. I think you will enjoy it as much as my family does!

Banana Oatmeal Bread

Serving Size: 1 slice | Serves: 16 | Cost Per Serving: 0.12
  • Nonstick cooking spray
  • 1/3 cup oil
  • 2 beaten eggs
  • 2/3 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 cup quick cooking oats
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • teaspoon salt
  • 1 cups mashed bananas (4 small or
  • 3 medium bananas)
  • 1/4 cup chopped raisins or nuts (optional)
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Grease or spray a 9×5 inch loaf pan.
  3. Beat the oil and eggs with a mixer.* Add sugar and beat until fluffy.
  4. Mix flour, oats, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a bowl.
  5. Add flour mixture and mashed bananas to oil and egg mixture. Add raisins or nuts if you want. Stir until blended.
  6. Pour mixture into loaf pan. Lay a piece of tinfoil over the top of the pan. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes. When you poke a toothpick near the center of the bread, make sure it comes out clean.
  7. Remove bread from oven and let it cool for 5 to 10 minutes. Run a knife between the bread and the sides of the pan. Turn the pan upside down on a baking rack. Cool bread before you cut it.

* You can make this bread without a mixer. With a spoon, beat the oil and eggs with a lot of energy. The bread will rise more if you beat more air into it.

– Justine

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Spice Cupboard Spring Cleaning

March 30th, 2015

Spice Mix - 2 Spice Mix - 1Sometimes the idea of spring cleaning is just too much. When the weather turns warm I have a hard time staying in the house scrubbing floors and cleaning bathrooms, but there is one spring cleaning chore that I actually enjoy – cleaning out and sprucing up my pantry and cupboards!

Most dried spices start to lose their flavor after about a year or so but they can hide in our cabinets for much longer than that if we don’t make a point of cleaning them out. Once a year I go through all of my spices and either throw out any that are more than a year old or make a point of getting them used up quickly. I often end up with a few containers that still have a fair bit of spice left in them that I don’t want to waste. I combine these spices into one all-purpose seasoning mix that I use for vegetables, meats and even soup seasoning. I tend to have things like thyme, parsley, garlic powder, chili powder, cumin, and poultry seasoning. These are many of the common ingredients in pre-packaged spice mixes. This little spring cleaning tip not only avoids waste, but it also saves me money!

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Spring Cleaning – Sanitizing Versus Washing

March 23rd, 2015

person cleaning counterWhen you are doing your cleaning do you ever wonder if you are getting something truly clean or just wiping the dirt off the surface? I think about it a lot because I often rush through the cleaning just to make the house look nice before someone comes over. For the second week of spring cleaning, I would like to bring back a blog topic I wrote in 2011 called “How Clean is it?  Sanitizing vs. Washing”.

As I mentioned before, often when I am cleaning I am motivated by having a nice looking house. What I should really be motivated by is having a home that has a safe level of germs. Having no germs in the house would make it sterile, and that is not a possibility, so I need to aim for a safe level of germs. The best way to do that is to wash and sanitize.

Washing is done best with hot soapy water. This removes all the visible dirt, food, hair, and other disgusting things around my home. When spring cleaning, most things can be washed – counters, cupboards, walls, floors, door knobs, light switches, railings, showers, and toilets. The bonus of washing is that when the surface grime is washed away, so are some of the germs.

Unfortunately, washing does not get rid of enough of the germs, so the next step is sanitizing. What you sanitize and how often you sanitize depends on your situation – check out this handout for suggestions. I usually sanitize high use surfaces (countertops, toilets) a couple of times a week, some surfaces (light switches, door knobs) monthly, and other surfaces (cupboards, walls) a couple of times a year. You can sanitize daily if you need to.

I sanitize two different ways. After the surface that I have washed has dried, I will either spray it with a bleach solution or wipe it off with disinfecting wipes. Then let the surface air dry or dry with a paper towel before using it. Both ways will get the amount of germs down to a safe level. Fewer germs leads to less sickness and less sickness leads to lower doctor bills.

To make your own bleach solution add ½ teaspoon regular bleach (or 1/8 teaspoon concentrated bleach) and 2 cups of water to a spray bottle.  Bleach solutions need to be dumped out and re-made about once per week.

Have fun with your spring cleaning,


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Spring Cleaning – Your Refrigerator

March 16th, 2015

cleaning refrigeratorAs the weather warms up in March, I like to open up the windows, let in some fresh air, and do some spring cleaning. Since I have two young children at home, my spring cleaning usually happens in fits and starts. To tell the truth, my goal is usually to have the spring cleaning done by early May because I can only find a free hour or two each week to devote to it. This week and next week I am going to bring back a couple of old blog topics to help with spring cleaning this year.

This week we are going to go back to a blog written in January of 2013, “How to Clean and Organize your Refrigerator”. My refrigerator desperately needs to be cleaned out, so I think it is going to be my first spring cleaning project. Having a clean refrigerator prevents food waste because you can easily see what you have on hand and what needs to be eaten up soon. Having a clean refrigerator also lowers your risk of food-borne illness because foods are more likely to stay at the appropriate temperature and less likely to spoil.

Here is a simple checklist to follow for cleaning your refrigerator. Here are a few things you can do quickly if you do not have the time for a full refrigerator cleaning:

  • Make sure your refrigerator temperature is 40°F or slightly below and your freezer is 0°F or below. Higher temperatures mean faster food spoilage.
  • Air circulates constantly in a refrigerator and foods dry out quickly. Everything needs to be wrapped in foil, plastic, or put in airtight containers. Moisture- and vapor-proof materials are best.
  • Perishables like dairy, eggs, and meat should be kept in the coldest part of the refrigerator (not the door). Fresh meat should be in a drawer or in a container on a bottom shelf so any juices that leak do not drip on other foods.
  • Identify a spot for leftovers and label them. Make a plan to use them. If you know you will not use them within four days, freeze them or throw them away.
  • Wipe up spills in the refrigerator when they happen to prevent bacteria (germs) and odors from developing. Use hot soapy water to clean up any spill and rinse with clean water.

Good luck with your spring cleaning,


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‘Bite into a Healthy Lifestyle’ during National Nutrition Month®

March 9th, 2015

vegetables heart mixedIf you planned to start eating better at the start of 2015 but have gotten a bit off track, National Nutrition Month® is a good time to refocus. National Nutrition Month® is celebrated each March to focus attention on the importance of making informed food choices and developing sound eating and physical activity habits. The theme for 2015 is “Bite into a Healthy Lifestyle.” Here are 5 tips from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics to help you do just that:

  1. Eat Breakfast-There’s no better way to start your morning than with a healthy breakfast. Include lean protein, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy. Try our Make Ahead Breakfast Burritos to get you going in the morning!
  2. Fix Healthy Snacks- Healthy snacks help sustain your energy levels between meals and prevent overeating at mealtime. Make your snacks combination snacks by choosing from two or more of the MyPlate food groups.
  3. Get Cooking-Cooking at home is usually healthier because you get to decide how much fat, salt, and sugar to add to your foods. Check out our Spend Smart. Eat Smart. How to Channel to view a variety of cooking videos.
  4. Explore New Foods and Flavors- When shopping, set a goal to select a fruit, vegetable, or whole grain that’s new to you or your family. Visit to learn about a variety of fruits and vegetables.
  5. Eat Meals Together- Research shows that family meals promote healthier eating. Plan to eat as a family at least a few times each week. Turn off the TV, phones or other electronic devices to encourage talking at mealtimes. Use our Mealtime Conversation Cards to get the conversation going!

For more tips on how to ‘Bite into a Healthy Lifestyle’ visit the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website.

National Nutrition Month® is a nutrition education and information campaign sponsored annually by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Jodi Signature

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Blackened Tuna Patties

March 2nd, 2015

blackened-tuna-pattiesThere are some weeks when I get to shopping day and I realize that it is not going to happen. Maybe someone is sick, maybe we are snowed in, or maybe I am just too tired. The reason does not matter because the result is the same – I have to make lunch for my two children and I plus supper for all four of us with what is left in the pantry and the refrigerator.

On days like these I depend on recipes like our blackened tuna patties because they are made with ingredients that I keep stocked in my pantry and refrigerator. These staples are always available in my kitchen – tuna, salad dressing, garlic powder, eggs, and bread crumbs. Having the fresh vegetables may be tricky, but I usually come up with something. Once I used some leftover shredded cabbage and it worked great.

To make the tuna patties stir the ingredients together, shape them into four patties, and cook in a skillet heated to medium for about three minutes on each side. My children like to eat these plain with fruit and veggies on the side, my husband likes them as a sandwich, and I prefer them with a salad or coleslaw. Please try out this recipe and enjoy!

Blackened Tuna Patties

Serving Size: 1 patty
Serves: 4
Cost Per Serving: $0.51
  • 1 can (5 ounces) tuna, packed in water (drained)
  • 1/4 cup diced onion
  • 1/3 cup shredded or diced vegetables (like carrots, celery, peppers, or zucchini)
  • 2 tablespoons light salad dressing (like ranch)
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 beaten egg
  • 1/3 cup plain bread crumbs
  • Nonstick cooking spray
  1. Stir tuna, onion, vegetables, dressing, and garlic powder in a bowl. Mix in the beaten egg.
  2. Stir the bread crumbs into the mixture. Let the mixture rest for 5 minutes.
  3. Wash hands. Form the mixture into 4 patties. Each patty should be about 1/3 inch thick and 3 inches wide. Wash hands.
  4. Heat a skillet to medium. Spray the pan with nonstick cooking spray when it is hot. Cook the patties for 2-3 minutes. Turn patties over and cook for 2-3 minutes more. Cook until patties are browned and 145 degrees Fahrenheit inside.*
* Testing Meat
To test thin items—such as hamburger or fish patties, steaks, chops or chicken breast – Insert an instant read thermometer from the side so 2 to 3 inches of the stem is in the center of the food and away from fat or bone.

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Sodium and Children

February 23rd, 2015

heartConcerns about sodium and its link to high blood pressure and heart disease are most commonly found among people who are middle age and older. However, according to the CDC, about 90% of US children ages 6-18 eat too much sodium daily and 1 in 6 children has high blood pressure (source).

When we think about the foods that kids tend to be most fond of this all makes sense. Pizza, cheese and chicken nuggets often include a great deal of sodium. So what can we do? Here are some tips that will help reduce the amount of sodium everyone in your family eats:

  1. Cook at home as much as possible. Visit the Spend Smart. Eat Smart. recipe site for great home cooking ideas. Restaurant dishes are typically very high in sodium and in most restaurants you can’t see the nutrition information when you order. Many restaurants do have nutrition information on their websites, so you can compare dishes before you go.
  2. When cooking at home, try different spices and herbs instead of salt.
  3. Check the Nutrition Facts labels when you buy foods at the grocery store. Choose brands and types with lower sodium. Many will even be marked ‘low sodium’ or ‘no salt added’.
  4. Eat more foods that are naturally low in sodium like fruits and vegetables.
  5. Model healthy eating for your family. If you choose healthy foods and tell your children why you make those choices, it is likely they will follow your lead in time.

If you are interested in more detailed information about sodium in children’s diets, the CDC has a helpful website. Visit

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The Salty Six: Part II

February 16th, 2015

saltEating too much sodium can cause health problems, including high blood pressure and heart disease. Most of us consume around 3,400 milligrams of sodium daily—more than double the 1500 milligrams recommended by the American Heart Association and well above the 2,300 milligrams the CDC recommends for the general population. More than 75% of our sodium comes from processed and restaurant foods. Putting down the salt shaker isn’t enough. Be sure to check the Nutrition Facts label on packages—keep the sodium content below 5% whenever possible. Or, even better, cook more meals at home and be careful about the Salty Six:

1. Breads and Rolls: Most bread will have 100 to 200 milligrams of sodium per slice. If you are eating a sandwich, those numbers can add up quickly. Find whole-grain bread that has less than 200 milligrams of sodium per serving (usually only 1 slice). Consider switching to whole-grain pita pockets, English muffins or bagel thins, all of which have fewer than 150 milligrams per serving.

2. Cold Cuts and Cured Meats: Just six thin slices of deli meat can add up to half a day’s worth of sodium intake. Ham is especially high in sodium. If you are fond of lunch meats, choose a reduced-sodium variety and eat a small amount. Add veggies to your sandwich to bulk it up.

3. Pizza: Pizza brings together a melting pot of high sodium ingredients: cheese, pepperoni, sausage, tomato sauce and crust. Ask for light cheese and opt for veggie toppings instead of meat. Enjoy 2 small slices, and fill out the meal with salad or steamed vegetables.

4. Poultry: This one can be sneaky! What looks like a natural fresh or frozen piece of chicken could actually be injected with broth or sodium solution preservatives that boost sodium content up to 200 milligrams per serving. Read the label to find a product with low sodium levels. When purchasing chicken, avoid prepared or processed products, which are packed with seasonings and sodium and are often fried. Consider choosing fresh fish once per week to bake or grill as a lower-sodium alternative.

5. Canned Soup or Packaged Soup Mixes: Many prepared soups are a hidden bunker of salt. You can easily blow an entire day’s worth of your allotted sodium intake just by eating a single serving which may contain 600 to 1,000 milligrams per serving (usually only 1 cup). Choose a lower-sodium variety or make your own at home using recipes from Spend Smart. Eat smart.

6. Sandwiches: Burgers and sandwiches are another hidden trove of salt, particularly if the meal comes from a restaurant. It’s extremely difficult to follow a low-sodium diet if you dine out, particularly if you eat at fast food spots where a single sandwich can contain a day’s worth of sodium. Request the burger grilled not fried, without cheese and with condiments on the side (BBQ sauce and ketchup, in particular add sugar and sodium). A better way to go is to share a sandwich and order a fresh side, such as a salad, fruit or low fat yogurt.


Terry Meek
Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention Coordinator
Iowa Department of Public Health

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The Salty Six

February 9th, 2015

February is often associated with valentines, sweets and all things lovey dovey. It’s also Heart Month which makes it a great time to think about your own heart health and the health of those you love. For the next three weeks, we will be blogging about sodium, its role in heart health and how you can protect yourself and those you love.

Your body needs sodium to work properly, but too much is bad for your health. It can raise your blood pressure and your risk for heart disease and stroke. People often think of putting down the salt shaker when they are trying to reduce their sodium, but in fact most of the sodium we eat comes from processed foods and dishes from restaurants.

This week we are proud to share the American Heart Association’s campaign called “The Salty Six”. This infographic highlights some of the common foods where large amounts of sodium hide. Next week we’ll hear from an expert on heart disease and stroke and her recommendations for eating well while reducing sodium.

the salty six

Until next week!

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