Getting Active when Time is Tight

May 25th, 2015

It is important to me that my family eat well, but being active matters too. As a working mom of two daughters I am always looking for more energy!  The cheapest and easiest way for me is by adding physical activity into my day. It feels great to get the blood pumping through my body. Afterwards I always think I’m so glad I did that.   But being a mom with limited time requires creativity. Currently my three favorite ways to get active are:

  • Take a neighborhood walk. My daughters love a good ride in the stroller. We talk about our days, and my two-year old loves to point out what she sees – birds, school buses, other kids, dogs, trees, flowers, rabbits, lawn mowers, bicycles, etc.
  • Walk to run errands. Sometimes I need to grab a sandwich at lunch, or return a book to the library or mail a letter at the post office. I love when it is just a few blocks away and I can walk there. A 15-minute walk to and from the store means I have completed my activity for the day and I didn’t have to find any additional time (or load kids into car seats)!
  • Watch you tube videos. There are so many free exercise videos out there. My daughter thinks it is so much fun to hop alongside me doing jumping jacks, push-ups, running in place, and dancing. Being silly together is a real treat for both of us.

 

Guest Blogger

Sarah Taylor Watts

Physical Activity Coordinator
Iowa Department of Public Health

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Summer Grilling on a Budget

May 18th, 2015

woman grilling outside meals cookingOur weather in Iowa has really warmed up lately and I’ve been firing up the grill a couple of times each week. The outdoor grill is a great tool for eating healthy and if you plan well, you can also save time and money. Here are a couple of tips for using your grill the Spend Smart. Eat Smart. way!

  1. Make the most of a hot grill. Every time you heat up your grill, you’re using fuel, either charcoal or propane. Make the most of that fuel by filling the grill, not just cooking one or two things. I like to fill one side of my grill with meat like chicken, hamburgers or pork chops. I put veggies on the other side. Zucchini (cut in half the long way), asparagus, sliced onions and large pieces of pepper grill very well. I pack up any leftovers for future meals. If I won’t get to them within 4 days, I freeze them in freezer bags. If I know I have tasty grilled meals in my fridge or freezer, I am far less likely to grab take out on the way home from work.
  1. Stretch meat by mixing with other foods. Grilling doesn’t have to be all about meat. The most expensive ingredient in a lot of meals is the meat. You can cut down on this cost by mixing the meat with whole grains like brown rice and additional protein sources like black beans. I love to season grilled chicken with spices like chili powder and cumin and then mix them with brown rice, black beans, grilled peppers and onions. I sprinkle a little hot sauce and shredded cheese on top and I’ve got a delicious, healthy meal!

I hope these tips will help you make your grill work a little harder for you!

Happy grilling!

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I Have a Confession to Make

May 11th, 2015

Last month I wrote a blog about how I plan my meals ahead and how easy it is. Well, I have a confession to make. The past couple of weeks I have not done a good job of planning meals. Between my son’s soccer practices and games and just wanting to be outside in the nice weather as much as I can, I haven’t been as committed to getting my meals planned. I feel like I’ve been in a rut making many of the same recipes for the last few months. Therefore, I am excited to have discovered a new resource from Utah State University that is all about making your own meals based on what you have on hand.

The Create Series has taught me how to prepare a variety of dishes, like casseroles, sandwiches, soups, and skillet meals without a recipe or having to run to the store.  By understanding how some ingredients go together, you can mix and match a variety of ingredients to make your desired dish.

For example, to create a casserole, choose an item from each category below and follow the directions on the handout:

  1. Choose a starch, such as brown rice, whole grain pasta, potatoes, or whole grain tortilla.
  2. Choose a protein such as 1 can beans such as pinto, black, or white.
  3. Choose one to three vegetables like broccoli, carrots, corn, or green beans.
  4. Choose one sauce like a can of cream soup or a can of diced tomatoes with juice.
  5. Choose one or more flavors like chopped onion, green pepper, garlic, or salt and pepper.
  6. Choose one or more toppings such as breadcrumbs, grated parmesan cheese, or grated cheddar cheese.

The Good Foods to Have on Hand handout is also really helpful. By keeping your pantry and fridge stocked with these items, you can make a variety of things to eat in a short time, even if you haven’t planned ahead.

It is very helpful to plan your meals ahead of time but when that isn’t done, use the Create Series to help you get tasty, nutritious meals on the table.

Jodi Signature

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Beef and Vegetable Stir Fry

May 4th, 2015

beef-and-veggie-stire-fryDo you ever crave take-out food? When I was in college I used to order take-out at least once a week – sandwiches, pizza, or Asian. It tasted so good and it was convenient. Unfortunately, now I live in a small town and my take out choices are almost non-existent. On top of that, I have a family of four, and take-out every week would take a lot of money out of our budget. So, when I am craving take-out, I try to re-create my favorites with fresh (and budget friendly) recipes at home. Our recipe for the month of May is Beef and Vegetable Stir Fry and it tastes better than take-out.

To make this recipe come together quickly, wash and chop the vegetables in advance when you have a little extra time. Broccoli, carrots, peppers, onion, and celery can all be washed, chopped, and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for three to five days until you are ready to use them. Also, the next time you make rice, double or triple the amount you need and freeze the extra in freezer bags. Then, when you need rice for another recipe all you need to do is re-heat.

If there are any leftovers, this recipe stores well in the refrigerator. I think it tastes even better re-heated for a quick lunch the next day.

 

Enjoy!

-Justine

Beef and Vegetable Stir Fry

Serving Size: 1 1/2 cups stir fry, 2/3 cup instant brown rice
Serves: 4
Ingredients: 
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/2 pound lean beef or pork, sliced thinly against the grain
  • 2 cups uncooked instant brown rice (or whole wheat noodles)
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
  • 7 cups chopped vegetables (like carrots, broccoli, mushrooms, bell peppers, and onions) or 24 ounces frozen stir fry vegetables, thawed
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
Instructions: 
  1. Mix ginger, garlic powder, soy sauce, and water. Pour ¼ cup of the mix into a sealable plastic bag and save the rest. Add meat to the bag. Seal the bag and set it in the refrigerator for about 20 minutes.
  2. Prepare brown rice according to directions on the package for 4 servings.
  3. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large frying pan. When oil is hot, add meat from plastic bag and stir until brown. This will take 1 to 3 minutes. Discard liquid from the bag.
  4. Remove meat from pan and cover it. Add 1 tablespoon of oil to pan.
  5. Add chopped hard vegetables when oil is hot. Stir and cook them for 3 minutes. Add chopped soft vegetables. Stir and cook until tender, about 5 minutes.
  6. Add cornstarch to the saved ginger mixture and stir until smooth.
  7. Return meat to the pan when vegetables are tender. Add cornstarch mixture and cook for about 2 minutes until bubbly.
  8. Serve over brown rice.
Tips: 
  • Wash hands and fresh produce under running water. Trim, peel, and core vegetables using a clean knife and clean cutting board. Then chop or slice the produce.
  • Add a few drops of hot sauce to the ginger mixture if you like a spicy flavor.
  • The meat is easier to cut into strips if you freeze it for 20 minutes.

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Half My Plate, Really?

April 27th, 2015

myplate_greenIt’s no surprise that healthy eating includes fruits and vegetables. In fact, MyPlate recommendations say we should make half of our plate fruits and veggies at each meal. For adults, that is about 2 ½ cups of vegetables and 2 cups of fruit per day. For children, 1 ½ cup of fruit and 1 ½ cup of veggies will meet their daily needs.

As you plan your week’s meals, this can seem overwhelming particularly if you have a picky eater at your house. Here are some tips to make fruits and veggies a fun part of every meal.

  1. Mix it up – choose a variety of fruits and vegetables to purchase each week. Fresh, canned and frozen varieties are all nutritious. When shopping for canned fruits, choose those packed in water as opposed to syrup. Here are some examples of fruit and veggie combinations that are $10 or less.
  2. Work veggies into your family’s favorites. Whether it is mac and cheese, pizza or chili, there is always room for a veggie boost.
  • Add frozen mixed veggies or broccoli to macaroni during the last 3 minutes of cooking time.
  • Top pizzas with spinach leaves, chopped tomatoes and peppers.
  • Boost your chili’s flavor and nutrition with chopped peppers or grated carrots.
  1. Don’t forget about breakfast! Start your day off right with fruits and veggies.
  • Serve fresh or canned fruit as a breakfast side dish, so quick and easy!
  • Smoothies are a fun way to work fruit into breakfast that children tend to enjoy. Here is a recipe for tasty and easy fruit smoothies.
  • For busy mornings, have breakfast ready in the freezer! Make Ahead Breakfast Burritos are ready in no time and they include veggies. Serve fruit on the side and you’re well on your way to a healthy day.
  1. We’re not far from the growing season here in Iowa. When fruits and veggies are in season in your area, they will likely be at their peak of flavor and lowest price.

For more tips on meeting your family’s fruit and veggie needs, check out this video!

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It’s marked on sale, but is it really a good deal?

April 20th, 2015

grocery saleStores have all kinds of tricks to encourage us to spend more money. One of them is marking items with special “sale” tags or quantity discounts like 3 for $5. The only way to tell if the item is actually a good price is to know what the item usually costs. A price book can help you do that.

Keeping a price book is simple. All you need is a small notebook where you can record the price you pay for commonly purchased items. You can refer to the book to determine if a deal will actually save you money and track which grocery stores tend to have higher and lower prices. A price book can include as many items as you like or just the staples you buy frequently. For example, I keep a list of prices for the items I buy every week like apples, milk, chicken breasts and string cheese. Knowing the usual price for these staple items allows me to spot a good deal really easily and helps me recognize when a deal is actually just a gimmick.

Click out our video below for a simple guide to starting a price book and start saving today!

Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=52BbMO2CfoE

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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
Ingredients: 
  • 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)
Instructions: 
  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,

Justine

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