Produce Basics

Produce Basics - PeppersHave you ever wondered how to peel a kiwi or how to prepare a fresh beet? Are you not sure how to store or prepare fresh produce from the farmers market or grocery store? We’re with you! It can be tricky to manage fresh fruits and vegetables that you’re not used to eating at home.

The Spend Smart. Eat Smart. team has put together a collection of Produce Basics handouts that describe how to wash, store and prepare common fruits and vegetables.

Whether you’re looking to clean your kale and collard greens or bake some sweet potato fries, Produce Basics can be your guide. Check out the collection today!

Christine Hradek

Christine Hradek

Christine Hradek is a State Nutrition Specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. She coordinates ISU’s programs which help families with low income make healthy choices with limited food budgets. Christine loves helping families learn to prepare healthy foods, have fun in the kitchen and save money. In her spare time, Christine enjoys cooking, entertaining and cheering on her favorite college football teams with her family and friends.

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Shopping at the Meat Counter (Part 2)

Shopping at the supermarketLast week, I shared what I do at home to prepare for a visit to the meat counter at the grocery store.  This week, I have a few other ideas to share that will (hopefully) make your future trips to the meat counter a little easier.

  1. First, and most important, is to talk with the staff at the meat counter. They are very knowledgeable and can help you make the best decisions to fit your needs.  Some grocery stores sell only pre-packaged meat, while others have a combination of a meat counter and pre-packaged meat.  In some cases, the pre-packaged meat may be more affordable.  If you are looking for help, but do not have a full service meat counter, click here for an interactive butcher counter that can help you make selections.
  1. Second is to choose your cooking method. Cooking methods fall into two categories, dry heat and moist heat.
    • Dry heat cooking is to grill, broil, or pan-fry meat. This method uses high heat, little or no liquid, and is quicker.  Dry heat cooking is best for tender cuts of meat.
    • Moist heat cooking is to pot roast, braise, or stew meat. This method uses low heat, liquid is added, and it takes a longer amount of time.  Moist heat cooking is best for less tender cuts of meat.
    • Here and here are some great tips for cooking meat many different ways.
  1. Third is to choose your cut of meat. The cut of meat you choose is dependent on the cooking method.  Here is a great resource on cooking different cuts of beef.  In general, cuts with more marbling (fat threaded through the meat) are more tender and cost more.  These cuts are best with dry heat cooking methods.  Leaner cuts are typically less tender and cost less.  These cuts are best with moist heat cooking methods.

I wish you luck with your next trip to the meat counter!

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover is a Registered Dietitian and mom who loves to cook for her family.

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Shopping at the Meat Counter (Part 1)

Butcher behind counter in supermarket smiling, portrait, close-upWhen I step up to the meat counter at the grocery store, I get a little nervous.  There are dozens of choices, a wide range of prices, and a smiling person waiting patiently on the other side of the counter.  I do my best to come into this situation prepared, but it can still be nerve wracking.  This week and next week, I am going to write a little bit about how I make decisions about what to buy at the meat counter when I go grocery shopping.

Here are some of the things I do before visiting the meat counter:

  • Check out what I have on hand. I like to see what I have on hand and then decide what meat I can buy to go along with it.  Right now, I have a lot of potatoes from my family’s garden, so I would like to get some meat that I can put on the grill along with the potatoes.
  • Check the grocery ads. I like to see what is available at a reasonable price before I go to the store.  It does not mean I am locked into buying what is in the ads, but it does give me an idea of what meat might fit into my budget.
  • Check my freezer space. I like to freeze meat when I can get it at a good price.  The grocery store where I shop occasionally sells ground beef and chicken hindquarters in large quantities.  These are meats my family eats a lot of, so, if I have the freezer space, I will buy the larger quantities at the discounted price and then freeze them in smaller portions for another week.  Some grocery stores also sell meat bundles – these may be a good deal if you have the freezer space (and the money) available.
  • Check my schedule. I like to take time to cook a great meal for my family, but time is not always on my side.  The meat I purchase has to fit into my family’s schedule for the week.  If it is going to be a busy week, I usually look for a whole chicken or a roast that I can cook on the weekend and then use the leftovers to make quick meals the rest of the week.  If we have more time, I will plan to grill or try a new recipe.

Shopping at the meat counter can be intimidating, but planning ahead can help a lot.  If you have suggestions for planning ahead that I missed here, please let me know in the comments.

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover is a Registered Dietitian and mom who loves to cook for her family.

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Not Your Average Steak Sandwich

Not Your Average Steak SandwichOur recipe this month is Not Your Average Steak Sandwich. I am a huge fan of steak, but the steak is not the star of this recipe. To make this sandwich above average it is topped with sautéed onions and fresh spinach. The onions add delicious flavor and aroma to the sandwiches while the spinach adds refreshing crunch and nutrition.

Keep in mind that beef prices fluctuate, so, if steak is not in your price range right now, hold on to this recipe until you find a good deal. If you find a good price on steak while the weather is nice, grill the steak for these sandwiches. However, if you do not have a grill or if it is too cold outside, the steak can be sliced and fried in the same pan used to sauté the onions.


Not Your Average Steak Sandwich
Serving Size: 1 sandwich
Serves: 5
Cost Per Serving: $1.87

Not Your Average Steak Sandwich LabelIngredients: 

  • 1 medium onion, cut into slices or rings
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 pound lean steak, sliced into strips
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 1/4 cups spinach
  • 5 whole wheat hamburger buns

Instructions: 

  1. Heat a small pan to medium. Spray with nonstick cooking spray. Add onions and sprinkle with sugar. Cook for 5–7 minutes or until golden brown, stirring occasionally. Remove onions from pan. Cover with foil to keep warm.
  2. Put the steak in the pan and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook the steak on both sides until heated through to 145°F.
  3. Assemble the sandwich:
    1. Place 1/4 cup spinach on one side of the hamburger bun.
    2. Place 1/5 of the steak on top of the spinach.
    3. Place 1/4 cup caramelized onions on top of the steak.
    4. Top with other half of bun.

Tips: 

  • When it is nice outside, grill the steaks instead of frying.
  • Toast the buns right before putting the sandwiches together.
  • Use the leftover spinach to make a Whole Meal Salad for lunch the next day.
  • Add cheese to make it like a Philly cheesesteak sandwich.
Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover is a Registered Dietitian and mom who loves to cook for her family.

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Less Waste, More Money

By Sarah Allen, Nutrition Program Student Assistant

Freeze Bean SoupIn my Let’s Talk about Food Waste blog last week, I shared about what food waste is and how much it can cost you. Reducing food waste is not as hard as you think. The USDA has created a resource called Let’s Talk Trash. In it they offer tips on how you can put a stop to food waste in your home.

  • Plan and Save: Look in your pantry, freezer, and fridge to make a list of what you need to buy before grocery shopping. This can help you buy only the food you need and keep money in your pocket.
  • Be Organized: After you buy food for the week, make sure that you keep things tidy. You can do this by having it sorted by expiration date. An easy way to keep cans organized is to take a permanent marker and write the date large enough to see. Put products with the earliest date toward the front of the cupboard, so they get used first.
  • Repurpose and freeze extra food: Sometimes having the same meal for the whole week can be boring. One way to use leftovers is by making them into a new meal. For example, if you have leftovers from our Tasty Taco Rice Salad recipe, use as a substitute for the filling in our Stuffed Peppers When you freeze food, write the following on the container:
    • The name of the food,
    • How much is in the container, and
    • The date that you put it in the freezer.

For more information on how you can store leftovers longer, watch How to Freeze Leftovers.

It may seem overwhelming to make these changes, but once you start, it will become a habit. I hope you can use these tips to help you save money!

Christine Hradek

Christine Hradek

Christine Hradek is a State Nutrition Specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. She coordinates ISU’s programs which help families with low income make healthy choices with limited food budgets. Christine loves helping families learn to prepare healthy foods, have fun in the kitchen and save money. In her spare time, Christine enjoys cooking, entertaining and cheering on her favorite college football teams with her family and friends.

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Let’s Talk about Food Waste

By Sarah Allen, Nutrition Program Student Assistant

Money in Trash BagIt is that time of year when fresh fruits and veggies are in season, and the grocery store has specials on meat for grilling. However, sometimes you buy too much and have to throw away food because it goes bad before you can use it. Food waste is particularly problematic when you are trying to stick to a tight grocery budget because you get nothing for your money if food goes in the trash.

How much money is that? On average, we waste $370 worth of food per person per year in the US. USDA’s Let’s talk trash. infographic breaks it up by types of food:

Grains (bread, pasta): $22 per year
Fruits (apples, banana, orange): $45 per year
Proteins (beef, chicken, pork, fish): $140 per year
Vegetables (onion, lettuce, peppers): $66 per year
Dairy (milk, yogurt, cheese): $60 per year
Added Fat & Sugar (chips, candy): $37 per year
Total: $370 per year

As you can see, protein is one of the top types of food that we throw away, while foods like bread and pasta are least likely to be thrown away. This seems like a lot of money (and food). Why do we throw food away? The main reason is because it spoils before we can eat it.

Food waste may seem hard to avoid, but you can reduce it. The Spend Smart. Eat Smart. website has a lot of ideas for how you can save your food in the Reduce Food Waste section. Look for my blog next week on how you can limit food waste!

Christine Hradek

Christine Hradek

Christine Hradek is a State Nutrition Specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. She coordinates ISU’s programs which help families with low income make healthy choices with limited food budgets. Christine loves helping families learn to prepare healthy foods, have fun in the kitchen and save money. In her spare time, Christine enjoys cooking, entertaining and cheering on her favorite college football teams with her family and friends.

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On the Counter or in the Fridge?

grocery-bag-and-producewpMy kids and I have been faithfully watering our tomato plant (we’re not getting much rain where we live!) and watching it grow this summer. We’re growing the plant in a large container and it’s the only produce we are growing this year, so we’re giving it extra good care. There are 3 green tomatoes on it so far, but lots of flowers so I think we could get quite a few tomatoes!

If you’re growing your own produce or shopping at a farmers market, it’s just about time for all that wonderful produce to be ready. It’s great to eat when it is so fresh, but when you aren’t able to eat it fast enough, it’s good to know how to properly store the produce so it lasts longer.

Here’s a quick look at how to store some types of produce:

Refrigerate:

Apples, berries, asparagus, green beans, broccoli, carrots, leafy greens, and anything that is cut up

Keep at Room Temperature:

Melons, tomatoes, squashes (store on the counter but away from direct sunlight)

Onions, potatoes, sweet potatoes (best if kept in a dark area such as a pantry)

Ripen on Counter then Refrigerate:

Nectarines, peaches, pears, plums

For more information on storing fruits and vegetables, watch our video on How to Store Fruits and Vegetables.

Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood is a Registered Dietitian who enjoys spending time in the kitchen baking and preparing meals for her family. She does lots of meal planning to stay organized and feed her family nutritious meals.

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Sweet and Tangy Chicken Quesadillas

sweet_tangy_chicken_quesadillaswpHappy 4th of July from the Spend Smart. Eat Smart. team! Today we are celebrating with our recipe of the month – Sweet and Tangy Chicken Quesadillas.

I enjoy using sweet and savory flavors in a meal, but, I confess, I had never had fruit in a quesadilla until I tried this recipe. I was skeptical when I first made these quesadillas, but now I enjoy trying different fruit and vegetable combinations in my quesadillas. This recipe combines canned peaches, chicken cooked in the juice drained from the peaches, and cheese in a whole wheat tortilla to make a delicious quesadilla.

This recipe is easy to adapt to the foods you have on hand. I have substituted beans for the chicken to make a meatless meal and I have used canned pineapple when I was out of peaches. You can have fun making many tasty combinations.

chicken-quesadillas-webSweet and Tangy Chicken Quesadillas
Serving Size: 1 quesadilla | Serves: 4
Cost Per Serving: $1.04

Ingredients:

  • 1 can (15 ounces) peaches in 100% juice
  • 1 cup boneless, skinless chicken, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 3/4 cup shredded cheese
  • 4 8-inch whole wheat tortillas

Optional: black beans, cilantro, corn, jalapeño pepper, onion, salsa, tomato

Instructions:

  1. Strain the juice from the peaches into a bowl. Cut peaches into small bite-sized pieces. Set the peaches aside.
  2. Heat a skillet to medium. Spray it with cooking spray. Add chicken and peach juice.
  3. Cook the chicken, stirring occasionally, until internal temperature reaches 165°F.  Remove chicken and peach juice from skillet.
  4. Put 1/4 of each ingredient (chicken mixture, peaches, cheese, and optional ingredients) on half of each tortilla.
  5. Fold the empty side of the tortilla over the cheese, chicken, and fruit like closing a book.
  6. Cook quesadillas in skillet until lightly browned on both sides. Make sure they are warmed through and cheese is melted.

Tip:

  • Substitute other fruit, such as pineapple or apricots.

Enjoy!

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover is a Registered Dietitian and mom who loves to cook for her family.

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Go with the Whole Grain this Summer—Take the Challenge!

By Food Science and Human Nutrition student guest blogger

banana_oatmeal_breadwpThis summer try the whole grain challenge. The challenge: Make half (or more!) of your grains whole grains for a week.

The best way to include whole grains in your diet is to substitute whole grain products for refined grains in things you already make and love.

Here are some fun, tasty ideas for how to incorporate whole grains into your busy summer:

Picnic Ideas

Snack Ideas for the poolside or road tripping

Movie Night

  • Enjoy popcorn, with light salt and oil
  • Fix pizza with a whole wheat crust, add veggies for a more nutritious punch

BBQ in the backyard

Adding whole grains to your diet doesn’t have to be hard. Just sub whole grains for refined, and you’ve already won the challenge!

Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood is a Registered Dietitian who enjoys spending time in the kitchen baking and preparing meals for her family. She does lots of meal planning to stay organized and feed her family nutritious meals.

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Meal Makeovers with Whole Grains

Taco Rice SaladI did not grow up eating a lot of whole grains. Actually, I did not truly know what a whole grain was until I was an adult. Last week, our intern guest blogger wrote about how to find out if a food is whole grain or not. This week, I would like to share with you how I have replaced refined grains with whole grains in my menu.

  1. The first, and easiest, change I made was to start buying whole wheat bread for our toast and sandwiches. With some trial and error, I have found a whole wheat bread that everyone in my family likes. Thankfully, it is also the least expensive whole grain bread at my local grocery store. Try whole grain bread in our Tuna Melt Sandwich.
  1. The second change I made was to use brown rice and whole wheat pasta. This change was a little more difficult because my husband and I were used to the softer texture of white rice and pasta, but now we prefer both the texture and flavor of the whole grain versions. Try brown rice in our Tasty Taco Rice Salad and whole grain pasta in our Roasted Tomato and Spinach Pasta.
  1. The third, and most challenging, change I made was replacing all-purpose flour with whole wheat flour in our baked goods. One of my husband’s favorite foods is muffins of all kinds. I knew that we could make our muffins healthier by replacing some of the all-purpose flour with whole wheat flour. It took some experimenting, but now our favorite muffin recipes include both whole wheat flour and all-purpose flour (the amounts depend on the recipe). Try whole wheat flour in our Pineapple Snack Cakes.

My husband and I started adding whole grains to our menu little by little and now the majority of the grains we eat are whole grains. It has taken time and compromise, but we are happy with the choices we have made.

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover is a Registered Dietitian and mom who loves to cook for her family.

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