I’ve just returned from vacation in North Carolina. One of the things I am grateful for is food prices here in Iowa. We don’t appreciate how good we have it until we shop on either coast for groceries. Since my cupboard was bare, I needed to make a trip to the grocery store. Big surprise, my store finished a renovation while I was gone which includes a much larger produce section, which is great. However, they have also devoted half of an aisle to holiday candy. Halloween candy is hardly gone when the Christmas candy moves in. Add in all the holiday baking and no wonder budgets and weights get out of control at this time of year
We can take different approaches to spending smart and eating smart this time of year. Some sticklers would say “I’m going to diet and make a strict list of how much to spend on every gift” while others pledge to “enjoy the season and eat and spend what I want”. I have used both approaches over the years with insignificant success.
Here’s my list of strategies to enjoy the holidays while keeping my budget and health in check.
1. Keep it simple. We eat and spend more when we have multiple entrees, side dishes and desserts. Let the flavor of the food shine instead of adding lots of ingredients, calories and cost. Serve fresh green beans instead of green bean casserole, roasted sweet potatoes instead of mashed with marshmallows and butter, and fresh vegetable platters instead of rich appetizers. 2. Eat the dishes you want, but take half a portion. You get to enjoy festive holiday flavors with half the calories. 3. Limit eating out. Entertain with a theme such as game/card night; movie night, skating or sledding. Serve soup, crusty bread, and holiday cookies or another simple menu. 4. Make it from scratch. You can make lots of cookies, rolls or quick breads for the same price as a pound of purchased chocolates. Plus you can make your goodies healthier.
You can alter most recipes by cutting the fat, sugar and salt a little and no one will notice a difference in taste. You can reduce a cup of fat or sugar to 2/3 cup and you can cut the salt by half.
5. Give gifts of food. It’s not too late to make cocoa, tea, or soup mix. I like to give prepared meals that I put in freezer containers.
I put a whole meal (entrée and sides) in the container for friends and relatives who live alone.
For young families I make family size entrees and put them in larger containers.
You can buy inexpensive containers and add a kitchen towel or mixing spoon to complete the gift. I remember years ago I kept this gift going for several months by taking the container home and refilling it for my grandpa.
The month between Thanksgiving and Christmas is one of the busiest in the year. I like to make “all in one meals” on the stove that are quick and healthy. The recipes I look for include three or four food groups all in one dish. Most of the time I have enough left over to take for lunch the next day. This saves me money and time!
Our featured recipe this month, Sweet and Sour Rice, allows you to use one pan to cook the chicken, vegetables and sauce. The sweet and sour sauce is super easy and economical. I hate buying a sauce, using it once and then watching it spoil in the fridge. My family liked this sauce better than bottled!
The SpendSmartEatSmart web site has many more recipes that are quick and only use a pan or two so clean up is quick.
When you are preparing Thanksgiving dinner this year consider asking other family members to work alongside you. This way, you will have some great family time, they get the satisfaction of learning how to make the meal, they learn skills which can save them money in the future and you get help. It’s a win-win situation.
I forget why we didn’t go a relative’s house the first time I attempted a Thanksgiving meal on my own, but I DO remember some of the things that went wrong:
I didn’t allow enough time for the turkey to thaw,
I wasn’t sure when the turkey was done,
I didn’t take the pouch with the turkey neck, gizzards out so it was in there when we started carving, and
The rolls didn’t get done until after the meal.
I heard a great story about the Pocahontas County, IA 4-H program. Last year three Master Food Volunteers taught ten 4-Hers and their parents how to make a Thanksgiving meal. They used our $30 serves 8 a healthy Holiday Dinner as a guide. The participants learned hand washing, use of a meat thermometer, proper measurement of dry and wet ingredients, oven safety, and the science behind cooking meat to proper internal temperature.
The youth said that as a result of the program they will use a meat thermometer more often, put the meat thermometer in the leg of the turkey, help cook their families’ thanksgiving meal, wash hands more often, pay more attention when measuring, and do more cooking.
Those kids have a great start at cooking healthy foods so they don’t have to pay for frozen or box meals or spend extra to eat out. Way to go Pocahontas County 4-H!
I am positive that one of the reasons for food waste is crowded, unorganized refrigerators. Just purchased food, as well as leftovers, get lost behind and under other items and spoil before they get used. Crowded, messy refrigerators can be discouraging and make us want to throw in the dish towel and head for the first drive-thru we can find.
We are just starting into the holiday season when you will likely need extra space in your refrigerator to thaw that turkey, make salads for the potluck, cool beverages, etc. I guarantee that you will save money by spending 1-2 hours cleaning your refrigerator out.
Did you guess bananas? I was surprised when I learned bananas are also the world’s best-selling fruit. Bananas are an excellent source of potassium and magnesium plus they are usually inexpensive. You get about 3 bananas for a pound depending on the size. Here in Iowa bananas have been 44 to 59 cents per pound which means they cost 15 to 20 cents each. Last week at my store you could buy bags of ripe bananas for 19 cents per pound which means they would cost about 8 cents each. That’s a really good deal IF they don’t spoil before you use them.
Since bananas are so popular we created three videos with helpful banana tips and a one page tip sheet to go with each one. Check them out!
1. Choose great bananas Bananas are a popular fruit. Depending how you use them you may want to choose bananas at various stages of ripeness. To learn more about this topic, download the tip sheet (PDF): here
2. Make the most of your bananas Bananas are the most popular fruit in the United States. Learn new ways to include bananas in your meals and snacks. To learn more about this topic, download the tip sheet (PDF): here
3. Store bananas A ripe banana will last will last less than a week on the counter. So how can you best store bananas? Learn some options so your bananas don’t go to waste. To learn more about this topic, download the tip sheet (PDF): here
Roasted pork loin and vegetables is one of my “go to” recipes when I’m having family and friends over. It’s easy, it tastes wonderful and the preparation is done long before the guests come. I usually serve it with fresh or frozen fruit salad, rolls, and a fruit crisp since I am heating the oven.
Oh, I forgot to mention two more benefits. The house smells wonderful while the roast is cooking and the cost is very reasonable for such an impressive meal!
When choosing a roast make sure you buy a loin roast, not a tenderloin roast. A loin roast is about 3-4” in diameter and usually sold in pieces that weigh 2-4 pounds. In central Iowa, pork loin costs about $2 a pound on sale. A tenderloin is much smaller in diameter and costs about twice as much.
I use a rub to add flavor to the roast and I have a trick that dials up the flavor even more. I brown the meat in a big skillet before I put it in the oven to roast.
The only way to determine when your roast is done is to use a meat thermometer and take it out at 145 degrees. You’ll want to avoid overcooking the roast. Allow the meat to rest for at least five minutes before slicing.
When I make this recipe I make more vegetables than the recipes calls for. Roasted vegetables have a sweeter more intense flavor than raw or boiled vegetables and I love the leftovers. Cut the vegetables so they are all roughly the same size. I typically shoot for about 1 inch chunks, so they will be done at the same time.
I serve the pork sliced on a platter with the vegetables around the outside. Delicious!
Pork Loin Roast with Veggies
Serving Size: 3 ounces meat and 1 cup veggies | Servings: 6
2 cups potatoes, diced (about 12 ounces or 2 medium)2 cups onion, cut in wedges(about ½ pound or 2 medium onions)
2 cups baby carrots or ¾ pound regular carrots, sliced
1 tablespoon vegetable or olive oil
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1¼ pound pork loin
1 tablespoon brown sugar
½ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon pepper
¼ teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 400°F.
In a bowl mix the cut veggies with oil, salt, and pepper.
Lay veggies around the edge of a 9 by 13 pan (or jellyroll pan).
Use a small bowl to make the rub. Mix the brown sugar, garlic, ½ teaspoon pepper, and ¼ teaspoon salt in the bowl.
Sprinkle the rub over the loin. Press gently so the rub sticks to the roast. Wash your hands after handling the raw meat.
Heat the vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the loin. Brown the sides of meat. Turn after about 2-3 minutes per side.
Transfer the pork to the center of the pan with veggies. Bake for about 40 minutes. Check the temperature after 30 minutes in the oven. Take the meat out when a meat thermometer reads 145°F.
Remove from oven. Let set for 5 minutes. Slice and serve.
I enjoyed making baby food for both of my children, and I made most of it in the fall – a great time of year to make homemade baby food. Here are some reasons to give homemade baby food a try (especially in the fall):
It is inexpensive. This week at my local grocery store, I found squash for $0.59 per pound. That is a bargain! I found pre-made squash baby food for $1.09 for two servings.
It tastes fresh. Both of my children preferred the fresh taste of homemade baby food to pre-made baby food.
It is in season. Fruits and vegetables that are in season in the fall make perfect first fruits and vegetables for baby. These include apples, pears, squash, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, and carrots. No matter when you choose to make baby food, choose produce that is in season for the best price and freshness.
It is easy. Homemade baby food can be just as convenient as store bought if you make a few batches at one time and store it in the freezer.
It is fun. I enjoy cooking for my family, and making some of the first foods my babies ate is a great memory for me.
If you have a baby, or if you have a friend or family member with a baby, consider using some wonderful fall fruits and vegetables to make some homemade baby food. Join my daughter, Eliza, and I as we make some homemade sweet potato baby food in this video.
Let’s party! What’s the first thing that comes to your mind?
For many of us it is getting some yummy food and drinks together for the celebration. Halloween is in just a couple of weeks and this is a time when many of us have far more junk food around for us and our kids than we even want. There are a lot of things we can do to try to make celebrations more about fun with friends and family than junk food.
One place to start is with school celebrations. Many classrooms celebrate every child’s birthday plus all holidays with cupcakes, pizza parties or treat exchanges. This can add up to thirty or more celebrations per school year! With so many celebrations, it often does not even feel like a special occasion anymore.
No one is interested in denying a child a cupcake on their birthday, but it is possible to show kids how to celebrate these occasions without so much unhealthy food. Here are some tips for helping your child’s class have a healthy celebration, but the same tips apply to celebrations and birthday parties at home.
Start by talking to the teacher and offering to help organize a party this year or get a group of parents together who are willing to serve as a party-planning committee. You can take it one step further and work on an addition to the school wellness policy related to parties.
Make the party about fun, not just food. Think about games, crafts and adventures for the kids to enjoy.
Play your way! Hold your party at the playground or create a scavenger hunt for the kids to do so the focus is on active play. Offer a free period when the students choose what they would like to do or the class plays its favorite game together.
Choose prizes and favors that are not food-related. These can be crafts or small toys the kids can take home with them.
Encourage parents to provide tasty snacks that are also healthy:
Apple slices with cinnamon sprinkled on them
Vegetables with low-fat dip
String cheese or yogurt
Trail mix with whole grain cereal and pretzels
Whole grain crackers
Make-your-own fruit and yogurt parfait cups
Water or 100% juice in place of high-sugar beverages like punch or sports drinks
Some Halloween candy is fine and part of the fun of this time of year, but with these tips you can keep the holiday about fun and memories and take the focus off of the junk food.
The tradition in my neighborhood is that a child has to tell a joke when they come to your door trick or treating. Here’s one from last year:
This year my daughter started kindergarten. And honestly one of my biggest concerns was if she was going to be hungry throughout the day. Going from daycare and preschool to kindergarten is a huge adjustment for various reasons. I was particularly concerned about the change in foods available to her and how much time she would have to eat. The thought of her having fifteen minutes to eat lunch and no snacks was a little scary!
In preparation for her first day, we went shopping for a backpack. She was amazed not only at the selection of back packs, but the selection of the lunch bags. I was pretty shocked myself! Also, the books we read to prepare her for the first day of school all referenced the character bringing a lunch from home. Based on back to school shopping and children’s books, one would think that bringing a lunch from home was the norm. But in reality, approximately 80% of all students enrolled in Iowa schools participate in school meals each day. 1
With that in mind, I wanted her to try school meals for the first week. This would give her the opportunity to learn the process while everyone else did. Every day after school I ask her what she had for lunch. As the weeks have gone by she has been excited to share with me the fruits and vegetables she has chosen and even eaten at school. It’s a simple thing I do each day that often opens up a conversation about her entire day, which I was having a hard time getting her to share. “I tried zucchini slices today and really liked them!” “Oh, and I was picked the best singer of the day!” It’s fun to see how a simple conversation about school lunch can really lead to a great conversation with a 5 year old! She has expanded the things she will eat at home and I truly believe it is connected to her positive experience with school meals.
National School Lunch Week is this week and is an observance to celebrate the benefits of healthy school lunches! School meals are doing a better job of giving your kids the healthy foods they need. Help your child check out school meals and discover what they like. Here are some tips to help your children eat healthy foods at school and at home:
Make time to join your child for lunch in the school cafeteria. It will provide you a first-hand experience of school meals and grow a deeper appreciation for teachers, school staff, and nutrition staff.
Explain to your child the options they have each day at school for lunch.
When your child gets home from school, ask what he/she ate for lunch.
Eat meals at home with your child as much as you can. Let your child see you eating fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low fat dairy.
Provide some of the new foods offered in the school cafeteria at home. Some examples include: whole grain foods, spinach, cherry tomatoes, black beans, sweet potatoes, and zucchini slices.
Take your child grocery shopping with you and talk to them about where foods come from. Let your children make healthy purchases while at the store.
I love sweet potato fries. I like the flavor plus I’m getting great fiber and Vitamin A. They are one of those red/orange vegetables we are supposed to eat 5-6 cups of each week. Sweet potatoes cost more than white potatoes, but they are in-season in fall/winter so expect the best prices right now.
Making sweet potato fries can be tricky. Even restaurants that deep fry them have a hard time getting them crispy and not mushy in the middle. Our recipe doesn’t add a lot of fat by frying them and they have a nice texture, just don’t expect that they will be super crispy and brown.
One of the keys for making this recipe successfully is making sure the potato is sliced evenly. Because raw potatoes are so hard, we suggest that you cut the potatoes lengthwise and then put the cut side down on the cutting board and slice them crosswise. This will give you a flat, stable surface when you’re cutting.