Pre-Made vs Homemade Dinner

October 27th, 2014

Skillet dinnerReady to go dinner in a box! The convenience is certainly tempting, but what is the trade-off?

At my grocery store I can purchase a pre-made meal kit for about $2.39. It calls for 1 pound of ground beef and that costs $3.99. That brings the total cost to $6.38 for 5 servings or $1.28 per one-cup serving. Not bad!

But wait…

I’m left with a meal that doesn’t include any vegetables, fruit or whole grain and very little dairy! I guess it wasn’t such a great value after all.

One of my favorite Spend Smart. Eat Smart. recipes is Skillet Lasagna. It is also a one skillet meal and it delivers the same creamy goodness as the boxed meal for less money. It is also much healthier using whole grain pasta, spinach and low-fat cheeses. Even better, it’s less expensive at just $1.16 per one-cup serving.

Here is how the two compare:

homemadepremadedinner

The choice seems pretty clear to me! I would gladly invest a little more effort for a much healthier meal. Plus, the Skillet Lasagna makes enough for me to have leftovers for my lunches throughout the week.

If your family really loves boxed meals, think about how you can make them a little healthier by adding veggies like broccoli, spinach or chopped tomatoes.

If you try our Skillet Lasagna, let us know what you think on the Spend Smart. Eat Smart Facebook page!

s Signature-1

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Pre-Made vs Homemade Lunch-Sweet and Sour Rice

October 20th, 2014

sweet and sour riceWhen it comes to eating lunch at work, I have a few options:

  1. Take my lunch.
  2. Go out to eat.
  3. Raid the vending machine. (note: this never turns out well!)

Of these choices, my preference is to take my lunch to work because I save money and know that I’m getting the nutrition I need. Most often what I take for lunch is leftovers. When I don’t have anything to take for lunch, I do occasionally eat out but that can get expensive and the portions are usually more than I need.

I’ve tried those frozen meals for one. I don’t know about you, but those just don’t fill me up! I end up looking for chocolate by 2:00. Not only are they kind of skimpy for my liking, but they also tend to be high in sodium.

I decided I could make something similar to those frozen meals to have on hand that would provide me with better nutrition and fill me up for less money. Looking at our Spend Smart. Eat Smart. recipes I chose to make Sweet and Sour Rice. Rice dishes tend to freeze well and this recipe is easy to make.

The recipe makes 5 servings that I easily packed into freezer-safe containers and froze until I needed something quick to grab and take for lunch. I put a container in the refrigerator at work the morning I planned to eat it for lunch so it could thaw some before I reheated it. The cost per serving (2/3 cup rice and 1 ¼ cup topping) of the Sweet and Sour Rice is $1.39, less than a frozen meal. Here is how they compare:

sweetandsourrice Chart

The homemade sweet and sour rice takes more time, there’s no denying that. But I am left with food for the whole week that I feel really good about eating. For me, 25 minutes is not a big commitment to know that I have healthy lunches all week. The homemade Sweet and Sour Rice has 50 more calories and 2.5 grams more fat but the amounts are right on target for me to have for lunch. In addition, with the higher fiber and protein in the homemade meal, it is more filling. After eating the homemade Sweet and Sour Rice, I will be less likely to look for a sweet or salty snack in the afternoon. One big plus for the Sweet and Sour Rice dish is that I can use whatever veggies I want. This is a great use-up for veggies that might otherwise not get eaten.

Do you have a favorite dish you love to eat leftover for lunch? Share it with us on the Spend Smart. Eat Smart. Facebook page!

Jodi Signature

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Premade Versus Homemade Breakfast – Smoothies

October 13th, 2014

Fruit SmoothieMy husband has a 30 minute drive to work each morning. That means he needs to leave our home by 6:30 am so he can be to (or at least near) his desk by 7 am. He is also not a morning person, so sitting down and eating breakfast before he leaves is not an option.

Most of the time he grabs some dry cereal and munches on it throughout the morning at his desk. This is easy, inexpensive, and a healthy choice. However, I have learned that if we do not start our morning off with a fruit, vegetable, or both, my family is not likely to get all of the fruits and vegetables we need in a day. So, we have started adding smoothies to his morning routine a couple of times a week.

There are many restaurants and shops near his workplace, so he could easily stop and pick one up. These smoothies taste great, but they are expensive at $3 to $4 each. They also tend to be larger than what he can drink for breakfast, so some of it gets wasted. We can make smoothies at home that taste great and cost about $1 per smoothie. With the cost savings, we prefer to make our own smoothies. On top of that, by making smoothies at home we can make sure we are getting the fruits and vegetables we need with about half the calories of a smoothie from a restaurant.

We usually make a large batch of smoothies one night a week (about eight smoothies in a batch). I have some glass jars that hold 8 ounces and some plastic bottles that hold 10 ounces. I pour the smoothies into the jars or bottles, pop the lid on, and freeze. The smoothies need about 12 hours to thaw, so I put a smoothie into the refrigerator while I am working on supper the night before. In the morning he can pull it out of the refrigerator, shake it up to mix everything around, and it is ready to go.

Smoothie Chart

The best thing about smoothies is that you do not need a recipe. I usually use yogurt or milk, frozen berries, bananas, and fresh spinach or kale. If you prefer to follow a recipe, we have several options:  Fruit Smoothies, Fruitastic Summer Smoothie Blast, and Orange Smoothie.  Whether you follow a recipe or make up your own, try a smoothie for breakfast this week! Watch our video below How to Make a Fruit Smoothie!

Justine

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Sloppy Joes

October 6th, 2014

SloppyJoeWhether you call them taverns, loose- meats, made-rites or sloppy joes, ground beef sautéed with chopped vegetables, seasonings and sauce served on a bun is a hit.

We called them Sloppy Joes when I was growing up and they were always a favorite. I know my mom hid some vegetables in them, as I do now with my grandson. Our recipe calls for onion, celery and green pepper but you can easily substitute diced or grated carrots. To reduce the sodium you can also substitute tomato sauce for the ketchup (this saves 420mg of sodium!)

To save time consider making a large batch and freezing it for a quick meal. Some families buy 10 pounds of ground beef at a time and make a basic mix like this one to freeze and use in various ways like spaghetti sauce, taco filling, etc.

The cost of beef is high this year. You can save money by buying ground beef with a higher percentage of fat if you are willing to rinse the ground beef as we have outlined in the steps below. Just be sure to collect the water with the ground beef fat in a bowl and refrigerate to harden fat. Spoon hardened fat into trash so you don’t clog your plumbing.

Sloppy Joes

Serving Size:  1/2 cup meat and one bun | Serves: 5

Ingredients: sloppyjoeslabel

  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1/2 medium onion, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
  • 1/2 cup celery, chopped (about 1 stalk of celery)
  • 1/2 cup green or red pepper, chopped (about 1/2 large pepper)
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/2 cup tomato ketchup
  • 1 tablespoon prepared mustard
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 5 whole wheat buns

Instructions: 

  1. Combine ground beef, onion, celery, and pepper in a medium skillet. Add water.
  2. Cook over medium low heat for 15 minutes. Stir as needed. Cook until beef mixture reaches at least 160°F.
  3. Put ground beef mixture in a colander. Pat mixture with paper towels and rinse with warm water to remove fat.
  4. Return to skillet. Add ketchup, mustard, and sugar. Heat 5-10 minutes on low heat.
  5. Toast buns, if desired, in an oven broiler, toaster oven, or skillet. To use a skillet, spread buns with margarine and place face side down in skillet. Cook over medium heat 1-2 minutes.

 

Pointers from

Peggy Signature

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Eating protein foods on a budget

September 29th, 2014

protein foods blogMy total is what?!? There has been a lot of sticker shock at the grocery store lately. Food prices in general have increased in the last couple of years, but meat prices have gotten a lot of attention lately. Foods from the Protein Foods Group are important sources of protein, iron, vitamins B and E, zinc and magnesium. Therefore, it’s necessary to determine how to fit them into your diet but stay within your food budget.

Here are four tips for including protein foods in your diet and staying within your budget:

  1. Use www.choosemyplate.gov to determine how much food you need from the Protein Foods Group. The amount needed for the average person is 5-6 ounces. If you’re eating meat, this is just about the size of two decks of cards. Most Americans consume much more than this. By not eating larger portions than you need, you can stay within your food budget.
  2.  Choose both animal and plant-based sources of protein. As seen by this chart, the cost of a serving of protein varies by type. Some protein foods like hot dogs are inexpensive, but also higher in fat and sodium than other protein foods. By including a variety of protein sources in your diet, you can enjoy the kinds of protein you prefer but balance the cost. Be sure to consider nutritional value along with cost when choosing what sources of protein to eat.
  3. Watch for sales at the grocery store. When meat your family enjoys is on sale, buy extra and put in your freezer for use at a later time.
  4. Choose recipes that help stretch protein foods. For more expensive sources of protein, use them in recipes that make them go further. Soups, casseroles, stir-fry, and salads combine meat and poultry with beans, grains, vegetables, and dairy to make more servings.

Common sources of protein foods that I eat include ground beef, chicken breast, eggs, beans, peanut butter, and nuts. Here are some of the dishes I like to prepare with protein foods:

Ground Beef

Tacos
Spaghetti
Skillet lasagna
Homemade pizza
Chili

Chicken Breast

Mexican Chicken Soup
Quick Pad Thai
Chicken Fajitas
Chicken Enchiladas

Eggs

Scrambled Egg Muffins
Breakfast Burritos
Egg Sandwich

Beans

Mexican Chicken Soup
Chili
Make Ahead Mexican Rollups

According to MyPlate, I need 6 ounces of protein foods per day. If I eat an egg and cheese on an English muffin for breakfast, 2 servings (2 cups) of Mexican Chicken Soup for lunch, and a serving of Skillet Lasagna for supper, I will eat the 6 ounces of protein foods recommended for me. There will also be enough Mexican Chicken Soup and Skillet Lasagna for my family to eat and we will still have leftovers for another day.

Protein foods are necessary for good health. With some planning and some go-to recipes, you can eat your favorite protein foods and stick to your budget. Do you have a favorite trick for making meat go further? Share it on the Spend Smart. Eat Smart Facebook page.

Jodi Signature

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School Spirit is in the Air – Go Cyclones!

September 22nd, 2014

CyCookingForBlogThis weekend the Iowa State University Cyclones have a football game against the Baylor Bears. We’re underdogs going into this one, but the Spend Smart. Eat Smart. team is hoping for a Cyclone victory!

I like to go to tailgates and have people over for football games, but sometimes the food served at football celebrations is pretty unhealthy. I challenged myself to remake a couple of typical football snacks the Spend Smart. Eat Smart way. My recipes are fun, festive and ready for the football game!

I started by thinking about the veggie trays at tailgates. Someone always brings one but often they don’t get eaten. I think this is usually because they are kind of boring and everyone really wants the sweet and salty snacks instead. Not to mention, these often come pre-made from the grocery store and cost way more than a veggie tray made at home. I made mine festive with peppers in Cyclone colors and instead of the usual ranch veggie dip, I made Garbanzo Bean Dip. It is a tasty and inexpensive alternative to the old standby. If you like hummus, you’ll love this dip!

dip and cereal treatsDesserts are always a favorite at tailgates. I usually see lots of brownies, cookies and bars. Sometimes for early games there are even cinnamon rolls! I wanted to have a sweet treat that was a little healthier so I chose to make Whole Grain Cereal Treats. These are very similar to the rice cereal treats we all know and love, but with the added health benefit of whole grain. I even added some red sprinkles to show Cyclone pride!

Next time you’re going to a football get-together, think about putting a healthier spin on the dish you take. Game time food can be healthy and inexpensive while still being lots of fun!

s Signature-1

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Making the Most of a Hot Grill

September 15th, 2014

chicken on grill blogIt’s a beautiful time of year here in Iowa. That means I am cooking on the grill at least a couple of nights per week. I love the flavor of grilled food and it saves me from heating up the kitchen. Best of all, fewer dishes!

I use a gas grill and replacing the empty propane tank with a full one is one of my least favorite chores. I want to get the most out of every tank – so when I heat up my grill I fill it up!

Instead of grilling two hamburgers or pieces of chicken, I fill the grill up and use what I don’t eat as “planned overs”. These are leftover ingredients that I know I will use later. I can cook a whole grill full of food in the same amount of time as just a piece or two of meat. Last week I needed two grilled chicken breasts for a recipe so I made six and saved the extra four. I chopped up two of them and saved them in the fridge. I used them to top the salads in my lunch all week. I froze the other two in freezer bags. I’ll defrost them and use them next time I need a fast dinner.

veggie basket blogMeat isn’t the only thing I can make ahead on the grill. I love to make grilled vegetables using a grill basket. I just chop them all about the same size, drizzle with some olive oil, sprinkle with a bit of seasoning and grill for about 15 minutes. I mix them around half-way through using a metal spatula or tongs.

Even if I just need a few cups, I fill up the basket and save the leftovers for other meals. I love to add them to cooked rice and pasta for a really fast meal. If I know I’ll eat them in a few days, I keep them in a sealed container in the fridge. Otherwise, I put them in a freezer bag and stash them in the freezer.

I love knowing that when I come home from work late I can grab the chicken and veggies from the freezer and put together a tasty meal with the flavors of the grill in no time at all.

s Signature-1

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Back to School and Time to Refocus!

September 8th, 2014

blog sept 8The lazy days of summer are officially over and for many families hectic schedules have begun.

Here are my top 5 tips for busy families!

1. Breakfast: Make sure your child starts each morning with a nutritious breakfast, whether it is at home, at school, or even on the way to school! Make sure fruit is a part of the breakfast so your child is on the right track in getting their fruits and veggies in for the day.  Children who eat breakfast have fewer tummy aches during school, so they are better able to concentrate and focus in the classroom.

Breakfast Ideas
Spend Smart. Eat Smart. Oatmeal Pancakes (they can be made in advanced and kept in the freezer and reheated, just like the ones in the freezer section)

2. Lunch: You have the power to inspire your child to build a healthy plate at school and at home.  School lunch programs offer healthy, well-balanced meals.  Review the school menu with your child and encourage them to try new foods and reinforce healthy eating by offering similar new foods at home.  If your child brings a lunch from home, discuss with them what foods to include and focus on providing foods similar to a complete school meal (whole grains, protein, fruit, vegetable and low-fat or fat-free milk).

Tips to Build a Healthy Meal

3. Snacks: My 4 year old pretty much sums it up, “I don’t like food, I like snacks!” Processed snacks have consumed our children’s diets.  When you think of snacks, think of them as mini-meals.  Have fruits and vegetables, whole-grain crackers, low-fat cheese, small sandwiches, yogurt, and fat-free/low-fat milk ready for after school snacks.  Make healthy snacks the easy choice!

It’s Not Just a Piece of Candy Blog
MyPlate Tips for Parents

4. Family Meals: Focus on each other at the table.  Talk about fun and happy things at mealtime.  Turn off electronics and try to make eating meals a stress-free time.  We use ISU Extension and Outreach Conversations cards when we need to revive our family meal conversations.  My daughters love them!

ISU Extension and Outreach Conversation Cards

5. Physical Activity: Make sure your child has plenty of opportunities to be active and that doesn’t mean they have to participate in organized sports. Make physical activity part of your family’s lifestyle, not something that you have to carve time out to complete.  Walk the dog together as family.  Involve the whole family in household chores, cleaning, vacuuming, and yard work. When it is time to celebrate as a family do something active as a reward, such as go to a park your family hasn’t been to before, go swimming, check out a new bike trail, or find a roller skating rink nearby (yes they still exist!).

MyPlate Be an Active Family Tips

As a parent or caregiver, you are the most important influence on your child.  You can do simple things that will help your children develop healthy habits for life.  What is something new you want to try this week?

 

Guest Blogger,
Carrie

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Crisp Fruit Salad

September 1st, 2014

Fresh Fruit SaladThis recipe is so easy it is almost embarrassing, but it tastes so good we had to include it. The dressing is what makes this a hit. Adding just a little mayonnaise to the yogurt really ups the flavor. The lemon juice prevents the apples and pears from turning dark.

Like most of our recipes you can vary this one to suit your family. Some ideas include:

• Use dried cranberries or cherries instead of raisins.
• Add 1/2 cup celery, chopped (about 1 stalk).
• Add 1/4 cup walnuts or almonds, chopped.
• For a main dish salad, add chicken chunks, canned tuna, or salmon.
• Try with lemon, plain, or plain Greek yogurt

Crisp Fruit Salad

Serving Size: 3/4 cup | Serves: 6 (makes about 4 1/2 cups) | Cost Per Serving: $.64

Ingredients:Fresh Fruit Crisp Label

  • 1 red apple
  • 1 pear
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1 cup seedless grapes, halved
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1 container (6 ounces) low fat, sugar free vanilla yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons low fat mayonnaise-type salad dressing

Instructions: 

  1. Wash fruit under cool running water.
  2. Chop apple and pear (leave skin on). Add to large serving bowl and toss with lemon juice.
  3. Add grapes and raisins to bowl.
  4. Combine yogurt and salad dressing in a small bowl and spread over fruit.
  5. Stir to combine. Refrigerate. Best eaten the day it is prepared.

Peggy Signature

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Save time with Freezer Meals

August 25th, 2014

freezing leftoversToday my 4-year-old son started preschool. That means summer has officially ended. While I’m a bit sad that summer has ended, I’m looking forward to our schedule getting into a more regular routine. However, I also know life will continue to be busy with activities. Therefore, I spent some time in my kitchen a couple of weeks ago preparing some meals to freeze. I enjoy freezing meals ahead of time because:

  • When I am busy I can have a meal on the table in just a few minutes.
  • I am less likely to run to the drive thru or buy convenience food that isn’t as healthy for my family.
  • My husband (not a fan of cooking) can make dinner on his own because all he needs to do is reheat.

 

When planning what dishes I would make, I browsed through the recipes on our Spend Smart Eat Smart website. I wanted to be sure to select recipes that used a variety of protein sources and flavors. The recipes I decided to make were Chicken Fajitas, Ham and Brown Rice, Sloppy Joes, and Mexican Chicken Soup. I also thought it would be nice to make a couple of recipes that would help us have a quick, healthy breakfast. For these dishes I chose Scrambled Egg Muffins and Crispy Granola.

frozen meals blog

After I had the list of recipes I wanted to make, I looked through my cupboards, refrigerator, and freezer to see what ingredients I already had on hand. Some of the items I already had were chicken broth, eggs, onion, frozen peas, carrots, a couple of peppers, different spices, and hamburger. I then made a grocery list and bought the other ingredients that I needed the day before I planned to do my cooking.

I started the morning of my cooking day by chopping vegetables that I needed. Three of the recipes called for onions and peppers so I chopped those so they were ready for each of the recipes. I also chopped some broccoli for the Scrambled Egg Muffins. My family doesn’t like cooked celery so I chopped carrots to use in the Sloppy Joes in place of celery.

I made the Scrambled Egg Muffins first so they could bake while I started on the other dishes. This recipe is easy to double so if you have a larger family or just want to freeze more muffins that can easily be done.  The Ham and Brown Rice makes 9 cups so it could be split and frozen separately to get two meals if your family is smaller.

The Sloppy Joes and Chicken Enchiladas were easy to make. I just cooked the meat and vegetables for each recipe to freeze. When we are ready to eat them, all I have to do is warm them up and have the other ingredients ready to go to assemble the sandwiches or fajitas.

The Mexican Chicken Soup and Granola simmered and baked while I made the other recipes. It only took me about 3 hours to make all of the dishes and get them packaged to freeze and I have 5 meals ready to go in my freezer (Yes, my children were out of the house. Otherwise it would have taken me double the time to get this doneJ) I froze the egg muffins individually until firm so they wouldn’t freeze together, then I put them in a plastic bag in the freezer. The other dishes, I let cool for about 20 minutes at room temperature before putting in plastic bags, labeling, and putting in the freezer.

For best quality when freezing food, use containers that seal well and keep air out. If using plastic freezer bags, be sure to press out the air before sealing. Air is what causes freezer burn. Check out our ‘How to Freeze Leftovers’ video for more information on freezing food. For best quality, use frozen food within 3-4 months.

I’m looking forward to the nights this fall when I can come home from work and will just have to heat up one of the meals for supper!

Jodi Signature

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