Grilled Chicken Dinner: Take out or Homemade

July 28th, 2014

chicken sandwichFor our series comparing homemade to quick serve restaurant food I decided to compare a grilled chicken meal from Wendy’s with my own version at home. When I’m deciding on food I take time, money and nutrition into consideration. Check out the sections below to see my comparison.

NUTRITION

My grilled chicken meal has 200 fewer calories, less fat and less sodium than the Wendy’s meals. I added milk to my meal which we would drink at home, but probably wouldn’t get at the drive through.

Both of the Wendy’s sandwiches and meals have similar calories but the source of the calories is different.  The Crispy (code word for fried) sandwich has about half the protein (less meat) but 100 more calories from fat than the grilled sandwich.  The larger portion of chicken and bigger bun in the Grilled Chicken meal is reflected in the price. The Crispy Chicken Sandwich costs $1.49 while the Ultimate Chicken Grilled Costs $4.59.

COST

My homemade meal included:

  • Grilled Chicken on a whole grain bun with lettuce and onion
  • A romaine lettuce salad with added green pepper,  radishes and Italian dressing
  • non-fat milk
  • a chocolate ice cream bar

It costs $2.56 per person or $10.24 for 4 people. I used frozen chicken breasts because they cost $6.99 for a 3 pound bag and the butcher case breasts were $3.69 per pound. I could have saved a dollar by buying ‘wheat’ buns instead of whole wheat but I wasn’t willing to sacrifice the nutrition. By cleaning and cutting the romaine I got two meals of lettuce for the same price as the 12 ounce bag of pre-washed and chopped lettuce.

The grilled chicken meal with a side salad and junior frosty would cost $6.59 each or $25.96 for 4.

The crispy chicken sandwich with a side salad and junior frosty would be $3.50 for 1 for $14 for 4.

TIME

The time to drive to Wendy’s from my house during 5:30 traffic, wait in the drive up and drive home is 31 minutes.

I figure it took about 35 minutes at home. The day before our meal, I put the frozen chicken breasts a in a plastic bag to thaw in the refrigerator. (2 minutes)

grilled chicken chart

When I got home I started the grill to heat, then pounded the chicken breasts so they were about the same thickness and added bottled Italian dressing for a marinade. While the grill finished heating I set the table and prepared the salad. (10 minutes)

Cooking the chicken took about 8 minutes, cooking on both sides to get it to 160 degrees (my digital thermometer is one of my best purchases). Cooking time will vary by the grill temperature and breast thickness. I took the chicken breast off the grill and covered it while I got people to the table and poured the milk. The temperature rose to 165 and the meat was still juicy. Ice Cream bars for dessert took no time at all. (10 minutes)

Clean-up was simple, five minutes and I was done!

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Take-out vs. Homemade Lunch: Time, Cost and Nutrition

July 21st, 2014

Fast food is expensive and most options are not as healthy as homemade meals. As a recent college graduate entering the workforce I’m learning there is a “life” aspect that can’t be ignored. I, like you, value my time, health and money so I wondered – is take-out lunch really more expensive, less nutritious and quicker than a homemade version? The Spend Smart Eat Smart Team sent me on a mission and here is what I found:

lunch blog chart 2

It was really easy to locate nutrition and serving size information on my favorite burrito shop’s website. I was able to easily recreate a burrito with the exact same flavors at home.

There are two different ways I’m excited to customize my homemade burritos in the future.

The first is the ingredients. When getting take-out there is only one kind of rice, flavor of chicken and limited vegetables to choose from. When I make the burritos at home I’m able to add more or less lettuce and tomato or season my rice with chili powder and cumin rather than eat it plain. When I made my homemade burritos I used brown rice and added chili powder, onion, green chilies and tomato sauce to make a Spanish rice. I am also looking forward to customizing the size of my homemade burritos. I’m not sure what your experience is, but I can never finish an entire take-out burrito in one sitting. The leftovers either end up in the trash or I save it for a second meal (but by then the lettuce is slimy – boo). When making burritos at home, I’m able to make a burrito of an appropriate size for my appetite.

Although it took me longer to prepare the homemade burrito compared to take-out, I ended up with six burritos with rice, beans, cheese and chicken in them. I wrapped each burrito in plastic wrap, put them in a freezer bag and stored them in the freezer. In the future for an easy (and cheap) lunch from the freezer, I’ll just thaw, reheat, throw some lettuce, sour cream and tomato on it and enjoy a burrito in less than 10 minutes.

If I were to get take-out once a week for the next month I would have to commit to:

$27.44 | 1 hour and 15 minutes of time | Four DAYS worth of sodium in only four MEALS.

If I were to make my burritos at home and eat them once a week I would commit to:

$8.04 | 35 minutes of time | 4,900 fewer milligrams of sodium.

burrito blog

I was really surprised by how easy it was to make my own tasty burritos at home. Although it took more time and planning on the front end, homemade burritos on average took 6 minutes of time per burrito compared to the 19 minutes take-out took. My perception of how “fast” fast food really is has changed.

I wonder what results I would get if I compared a take-out sub sandwich to a homemade one. I’m definitely rethinking and re-planning the time and money I have spent on fast food that is actually easy to make at home, what about you?

-Liz

2014 ISU Dietetics Graduate

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Drive Thru vs. Homemade Breakfast: Time, Cost and Nutrition

July 14th, 2014

It’s 7:00 on Tuesday and I have about ten minutes to make breakfast, eat and get out the door. I’m tired and rushed, but I know I feel much better when I eat breakfast. Cooking in the morning when I’m in a hurry can be a real pain. It is tempting to just head out the door and swing past the drive thru for a breakfast sandwich on my way to work, but I wonder if that would really save me time. It is certainly convenient to have someone else make my breakfast, but I decided to do a little experiment. I wanted to learn if I could make something that was inexpensive, fast and healthy that also tasted just as good as the drive thru breakfast (or maybe even better!).

Here is what I found…

drivethruchart

homemadechart

The Verdict

  • I learned that I can make a comparable breakfast in the same amount of time as the drive thru for less money. If I had this sandwich once per week for a year, I would save over $75 by making my sandwiches at home. This makes the drive thru seem a little less attractive.
  • I enjoyed my breakfast much more eating at home and I was able to customize my sandwich to my tastes. For example, I chose a whole wheat English muffin and cheddar cheese instead of American cheese. In the future, I will try this sandwich with sliced tomatoes and peppers. I think that would be really good and add very few calories and no fat. I could also make the egg part of my sandwich ahead by using our recipe for Scrambled Egg Muffins. All I would need to do in the morning is reheat the Scrambled Egg Muffin and pop it on toast or an English muffin.
  • This experiment really shows how difficult it can be to limit sodium in your diet. My homemade sandwich had more sodium than I would like and I did not add any salt. This is not something I can eat every day and perhaps in the future I will choose either Canadian bacon or cheese, but not both because they are high in sodium.

Our blogs for the next few weeks will be about fast food make-overs. Share your ideas for restaurant remakes in the comments or on Spend Smart. Eat Smart’s. Facebook page!

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Chicken Fajitas

July 7th, 2014

chicken fajitasWhen it is hot outside heating the oven to cook seems counterproductive and sometimes I’m just too lazy to start the grill. A dish that will cook quickly on the stove top seems to work the best. This recipe does require some chopping, but it goes together very fast. Plus, when you make it yourself you control the amount of fat used, which can be an issue with restaurant meals.

As the first step indicates, partially freezing any meat or poultry will make these slices possible.  Likewise, a sharp knife for cutting the onion, peppers and tomatoes will make your life much easier. Just make sure to wash your knife and cutting board after you work with the chicken.

As with all of our recipes, you need to adjust this one to your family’s tastes and what is available. Use the color of peppers and onions you like or have on hand. Use corn or wheat tortillas and substitute beef or pork for the chicken. You could also go meatless and use 1 can (15 ounces) of drained and rinsed black beans.

Chicken Fajitas

Serving Size: 1 tortilla with 2/3 cup filling

Serves: 6 (makes 4 cups of filling)

Ingredients: chicken fajitas label

  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
  • 1 green bell pepper, thinly sliced
  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • 6 whole wheat tortillas, 8-inch
  • Optional Toppings:6 ounces shredded low fat cheddar cheese; 1 cup chopped tomato;, chopped cilantro; sliced jalapeno

Instructions: 

  1. Freeze chicken 30 minutes until firm and easier to cut. Cut chicken into 1/4-inch strips. Place in a single layer on a plate. Wash hands, knife, and cutting board. Sprinkle both sides of strips with chili and garlic powder.
  2. Add oil to a 12-inch skillet. Heat to medium high. Add chicken strips. Cook about 3-5 minutes, stirring frequently.
  3. Add bell peppers and onion. Stir and cook until vegetables are tender and chicken is no longer pink. (Heat chicken to at least 165°F).
  4. Scoop chicken mixture ( 2/3 cup each) onto tortillas. Top with your favorite toppings.
  5. Serve flat or rolled

Tips:

  • Heat cold tortillas to make them easier to fold. Cover tortillas with a moist paper towel and heat 30 seconds in microwave.
  • Wear plastic gloves to handle hot peppers. No gloves? Wash hands with soap and water before touching your face, your cooking utensils, or another person.
  • 3 cups of pepper = 2 medium peppers

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Will Eating More Vegetables Cause you to Gain Weight?

June 30th, 2014

vegetables variety

There is a new report out by the Economic Research Service called ‘Healthy Vegetables Undermined by the Company They Keep’ that really surprised me. It makes me question my mantra to always “eat more fruits and vegetables”.

In a nutshell, the report said that eating more fruit is associated with healthier weight but that Americans who eat more vegetables may actually increase their calorie and sodium intake. How can that be? Vegetables are naturally low in calories and sodium.

The report found that when many Americans eat vegetables they prepare them in ways that add calories and sodium while reducing fiber. So, if you eat more vegetables you will also get more fat, sodium, and calories.

I think the disconnect is that when I recommend eating more vegetables I am thinking roasted sweet potatoes or Brussels sprouts, raw baby carrots, spinach salads, steamed green beans, raw broccoli and cauliflower florets, etc. But some people hear this recommendation and automatically think about the vegetables they are used to eating such as French fries, cheesy potatoes, green bean casserole, 7 layer salad, zucchini bread, hash browns, pizza with mushrooms, spinach dip, etc.

In the future I’m going to modify my message about vegetables.  Here are a few of my modifications:

1. Most of us need to eat twice as many vegetables as we do.  But all vegetables are not created equal. Different colored vegetables provide different nutrients. Try to eat more of the dark green and orange vegetables.  Most of us don’t need to eat more white potatoes which we often fry or eat with butter or cheese.  Tomatoes are another tricky one. Fresh tomatoes or canned tomatoes with no salt added are healthier choices than tomatoes cooked into pizza and spaghetti sauce which are typically high in sodium.

Dark Green Vegetables
raw baby spinach
broccoli
romaine lettuce
Orange Vegetables
baby carrots
baked sweet potato
Dry Beans*
and Peas

cooked black beans
cooked kidney beans
cooked pinto beans
Starchy Vegetables
cooked corn
baked potato
Other Vegetables
raw cauliflower
cooked green beans
iceberg lettuce
raw mushrooms
red onion
raw tomato
tomato juice
raw zucchini

2. Try to eat your vegetables without added calories and sodium.

Eat more of these…
Eat less of these…
Relish Trays or individual snack bags with raw vegetables like carrots, broccoli, cherry tomatoes, mushrooms Creamed or au gratin vegetables
Spinach salad with reduced fat dressing Spinach dip
Roasted or grilled sweet potatoes or  Easy Roasted Vegetables White potatoes topped with generous amounts of butter and sour cream
Raw vegetable salads with a small amounts of reduced-fat dressing such as Creamy Cauliflower Salad or Summer Bounty Salad Raw broccoli/cauliflower salads with almost as much sour cream and mayo as vegetables
Roasted Tomato and Spinach Pasta or Cheesy Pasta with Summer Vegetables Pastas with lots of cream, cheese, or  canned sauces with lots of sodium

3.  Pay attention to labels. The sodium varies greatly on canned vegetables and tomato-based sauces and soups. Compare the labels so you can choose one with less sodium. Calorie labeling will soon be available in restaurant chains with 20 or more establishments and you can ask managers to provide the information in local restaurants.

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How many fruits and vegetables do you need?

June 23rd, 2014

Here are the facts.fruit salad in bowl

  • Most of us know that we need to eat fruits and vegetables.
  • Few of us eat what we need.
  • Many of us don’t know how much we (or our children) need when it comes to fruits and veggies.
  • Most of us need to eat a bigger variety of fruits and especially vegetables and prepare them without lots of added salt, fat and sugar (more on that next week).

I am fortunate that I grew up eating lots of fruits and vegetables and now that my kids are adults they enjoy a wide variety as well. My grandson, age 14 months will eat most fruits but he is not as fond of vegetables. Right now adding vegetables to his favorites seems to work best. I added shredded carrots to sloppy joes, small chunks of vegetables to macaroni and cheese, etc. With time and lots of exposure I bet he will learn to enjoy the different colors and flavors.

Jody Gatewood, from our SpendSmart team, discusses  the amounts of fruits and vegetables you need every day and some easy ways to get them into your meals and snacks. We also have a handout you can print on this topic.

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Seasonal Produce – The time has come!

June 16th, 2014

vegetables fruit mixed heartWarm weather has finally arrived here in Iowa and locally grown produce is starting to become available. Summer is my favorite time of year to cook because my favorite ingredients like tomatoes, fresh green beans and bell peppers are in season. When fruits and vegetables are in season they are often available at a lower price and fresh-picked produce tastes great.

I grow some of my favorites myself like tomatoes, herbs and peppers in pots on my patio. I shop for other items at the farmers’ market or even my local grocery store. I find that grocery stores in my area carry much more local produce than they did in the past. Here in Iowa we often see locally grown tomatoes, sweet corn, hot and sweet peppers and salad greens in the produce aisle in the summer.

Check out our video about eating seasonally and let us know what you’re looking forward to growing or eating this summer!

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MmmmGood Fruit Pizza

June 9th, 2014

photo

Recently my four-year old son and I made MmmmGood Fruit Pizza for snack time. Fruit pizza tastes good any time of the year, but we especially like to make it in the summertime when we can use fruits that are in season. This time we chose to use fresh blueberries and raspberries along with some canned pineapple and mandarin oranges.

Now that school is out and kids are home for the summer, fruit pizza is a healthy and tasty snack that everyone loves. Instead of making one large crust, consider making individual sized crusts and let each person make their own mini fruit pizza. I did this with my son’s preschool class and they enjoyed getting to spread the yogurt ‘sauce’ on and choosing which fruits to use on their pizza. Since some kids are picky about fruit, letting them choose which fruits to use and eating it on ‘pizza’ may be just the trick to get them to eat more fruit.

Kids love pizza so you know this pizza is worth making when my son says, “This pizza is the goodest pizza I’ve ever had.”

Jodi Signature

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Featured Recipe: Tzatziki with Pita Chips

June 2nd, 2014

tzatzikiLast month I went to a nice restaurant with my sisters and friends before a play. I ordered a Greek Salad plate. It was delicious, but as I looked at it I thought, “I could make this so easily at home”. The salad was a combination of romaine and other lettuces, cherry tomatoes, Kalamata olives, red onion, and feta cheese with some pita bread on the side. The dressing looked and tasted just like our Tzatziki recipe which is so simple and inexpensive to make. Just remember, the flavors in the Tzatziki only get better if you make it the day before you plan to use it. It keeps for 4 days in the refrigerator.

Besides using the Tzatziki as a dressing, it is a great dip for vegetables and pita chips. It is so fresh tasting. Homemade pita chips are also super easy to make and allow you to control the amount and type of fat you add to them.

Tzatziki with Pita Chips

Serving Size: 1/4 cup Tzatziki with 6 chips | Serves: 8 (makes 2 1/2 cups) | Cost Per Serving: $.57

Ingredients:

  • 1 unpeeled cucumber, washed and sliced lengthwisetzatziki label
  • 1 teaspoon garlic, peeled and minced (about 1-2 cloves)
  • 2 containers (6 ounces each) plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon dried dill and/or fresh mint
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

Ingredients for Pita Chips:

  • 6 whole wheat pita pockets (6”)
  • Cooking spray
  • 1/2 teaspoon spice (choose one or combine dried rosemary, basil, garlic powder, cumin, cayenne pepper)

Instructions: 

  1. Use a spoon to scrape out cucumber seeds. Dice the cucumber into small pieces or shred using a grater.
  2. Spread cucumber on two or three layers of paper towels or a clean kitchen towel. Roll up the towels and squeeze to remove excess liquid. Transfer dried cucumber to a large bowl.
  3. Add the remaining ingredients and mix. Cover and refrigerate until served.

Pita Chips:

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  2. Cut pita in 8 wedges, spray with cooking spray, and sprinkle with seasoning.
  3. Toast chips 4-5 minutes, then turn and toast 1-2 minutes more. (Watch carefully at the end because they can quickly turn brown.)

Peggy Signature

 

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Plan a Picnic with Seasonal Produce

May 27th, 2014

family picnic outdoors meals summerAfter a long, cold winter, nothing feels better than the summer sun. It is a great time to head to the park (or even your own backyard) for a picnic. For me, having a picnic is a way to get some exercise, enjoy the weather, and spend quality time with friends or family. One thing I love about summer is the large number of fresh fruits and vegetables that are in season and inexpensive.

Some examples of foods in season during June, July, and August are tomatoes, bell peppers, and zucchini. The list goes on and on. This list of seasonal fruits and vegetables will come in handy when shopping for fresh produce on a budget whether you’re at the grocery store or farmers’ market. I’m excited to try some new recipes this summer!

Now back to the picnic. I’ve been on a walk with a friend many times and thought about having a picnic, but the thought of packing food and hauling it to the park seems like a hassle. When I think of picnics I normally think of starchy salads like potato or macaroni salad. Hot dogs are also a common picnic food, along with easy-to-grab chips and cookies. These foods are higher in calories and lower in health benefits. Instead, I have some simple picnic ideas that will make it easy to put on those tennis shoes and hit the park:

  • Pack a small cooler full of raw vegetables like carrots, celery, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, and radishes. Bring along a high-protein dip like this easy homemade hummus.
  • Use whole grain tortillas or whole wheat pita bread to make a wrap or pita pocket. Make sure to add veggies like spinach, shredded carrots, or chopped bell peppers.
  • Try a salad that is new to your friends or family. I’m going to try this Zippy Zucchini Saladfruit salad
  • A sweet treat is a must under the hot summer sun. Cool down with a homemade fruit salad using a variety of fruits. Make a healthy dressing out of plain yogurt mixed with a pinch of cinnamon and nutmeg.

With these easy ideas I’ll have fun exploring both new recipes and the great outdoors! For more simple picnic ideas check out:

http://blogs.extension.iastate.edu/foodsavings/2011/07/18/its-too-hot-to-cook/

http://blogs.extension.iastate.edu/foodsavings/2013/05/20/tips-for-low-stress-low-cost-entertaining/

 

Janey

Guest blogger, Iowa State University Student

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