Sodium and Children

February 23rd, 2015

heartConcerns about sodium and its link to high blood pressure and heart disease are most commonly found among people who are middle age and older. However, according to the CDC, about 90% of US children ages 6-18 eat too much sodium daily and 1 in 6 children has high blood pressure (source).

When we think about the foods that kids tend to be most fond of this all makes sense. Pizza, cheese and chicken nuggets often include a great deal of sodium. So what can we do? Here are some tips that will help reduce the amount of sodium everyone in your family eats:

  1. Cook at home as much as possible. Visit the Spend Smart. Eat Smart. recipe site for great home cooking ideas. Restaurant dishes are typically very high in sodium and in most restaurants you can’t see the nutrition information when you order. Many restaurants do have nutrition information on their websites, so you can compare dishes before you go.
  2. When cooking at home, try different spices and herbs instead of salt.
  3. Check the Nutrition Facts labels when you buy foods at the grocery store. Choose brands and types with lower sodium. Many will even be marked ‘low sodium’ or ‘no salt added’.
  4. Eat more foods that are naturally low in sodium like fruits and vegetables.
  5. Model healthy eating for your family. If you choose healthy foods and tell your children why you make those choices, it is likely they will follow your lead in time.

If you are interested in more detailed information about sodium in children’s diets, the CDC has a helpful website. Visit

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The Salty Six: Part II

February 16th, 2015

saltEating too much sodium can cause health problems, including high blood pressure and heart disease. Most of us consume around 3,400 milligrams of sodium daily—more than double the 1500 milligrams recommended by the American Heart Association and well above the 2,300 milligrams the CDC recommends for the general population. More than 75% of our sodium comes from processed and restaurant foods. Putting down the salt shaker isn’t enough. Be sure to check the Nutrition Facts label on packages—keep the sodium content below 5% whenever possible. Or, even better, cook more meals at home and be careful about the Salty Six:

1. Breads and Rolls: Most bread will have 100 to 200 milligrams of sodium per slice. If you are eating a sandwich, those numbers can add up quickly. Find whole-grain bread that has less than 200 milligrams of sodium per serving (usually only 1 slice). Consider switching to whole-grain pita pockets, English muffins or bagel thins, all of which have fewer than 150 milligrams per serving.

2. Cold Cuts and Cured Meats: Just six thin slices of deli meat can add up to half a day’s worth of sodium intake. Ham is especially high in sodium. If you are fond of lunch meats, choose a reduced-sodium variety and eat a small amount. Add veggies to your sandwich to bulk it up.

3. Pizza: Pizza brings together a melting pot of high sodium ingredients: cheese, pepperoni, sausage, tomato sauce and crust. Ask for light cheese and opt for veggie toppings instead of meat. Enjoy 2 small slices, and fill out the meal with salad or steamed vegetables.

4. Poultry: This one can be sneaky! What looks like a natural fresh or frozen piece of chicken could actually be injected with broth or sodium solution preservatives that boost sodium content up to 200 milligrams per serving. Read the label to find a product with low sodium levels. When purchasing chicken, avoid prepared or processed products, which are packed with seasonings and sodium and are often fried. Consider choosing fresh fish once per week to bake or grill as a lower-sodium alternative.

5. Canned Soup or Packaged Soup Mixes: Many prepared soups are a hidden bunker of salt. You can easily blow an entire day’s worth of your allotted sodium intake just by eating a single serving which may contain 600 to 1,000 milligrams per serving (usually only 1 cup). Choose a lower-sodium variety or make your own at home using recipes from Spend Smart. Eat smart.

6. Sandwiches: Burgers and sandwiches are another hidden trove of salt, particularly if the meal comes from a restaurant. It’s extremely difficult to follow a low-sodium diet if you dine out, particularly if you eat at fast food spots where a single sandwich can contain a day’s worth of sodium. Request the burger grilled not fried, without cheese and with condiments on the side (BBQ sauce and ketchup, in particular add sugar and sodium). A better way to go is to share a sandwich and order a fresh side, such as a salad, fruit or low fat yogurt.


Terry Meek
Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention Coordinator
Iowa Department of Public Health

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The Salty Six

February 9th, 2015

February is often associated with valentines, sweets and all things lovey dovey. It’s also Heart Month which makes it a great time to think about your own heart health and the health of those you love. For the next three weeks, we will be blogging about sodium, its role in heart health and how you can protect yourself and those you love.

Your body needs sodium to work properly, but too much is bad for your health. It can raise your blood pressure and your risk for heart disease and stroke. People often think of putting down the salt shaker when they are trying to reduce their sodium, but in fact most of the sodium we eat comes from processed foods and dishes from restaurants.

This week we are proud to share the American Heart Association’s campaign called “The Salty Six”. This infographic highlights some of the common foods where large amounts of sodium hide. Next week we’ll hear from an expert on heart disease and stroke and her recommendations for eating well while reducing sodium.

the salty six

Until next week!

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Shredded Pork Sandwich

February 2nd, 2015

pulled-pork-sandwichShredded pork sandwich is an easy meal for a busy day. This is the type of meal that I like to have on my menu each week because some nights I am too worn out to put much energy into a meal. All you need to do is:

  • Pull your leftover cooked pork from our January recipe out of the freezer,
  • Thaw it in the microwave,
  • Make coleslaw to top the sandwiches while the pork is thawing,
  • Put your sandwiches together, and
  • Serve with some fruit and a glass of milk for a complete meal.

Since that recipe was so easy, I would like to take a moment of your time and talk about something a little more difficult – menu planning. I plan a menu each week based on the food that I already have on hand. This saves me money at the grocery store because I only buy what I need. I like to keep my menu flexible by listing seven supper meals (I go shopping once per week).  Instead of assigning one meal to each day, I let the way each day is going dictate which meal I choose. For example, if I am having one of those days when I am feeling too worn out to cook, I choose an easy recipe like shredded pork sandwiches. If you would like more information on menu planning, the SpendSmart.EatSmart website has a great section on menu planning.

I hope you enjoy this shredded pork sandwich recipe!


Shredded Pork Sandwich

Serving Size: 1 sandwich
Serves: 4
Cost Per Serving: $1.72
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon mustard
  • 1/3 cup light mayo
  • 3 tablespoons cider or white vinegar
  • 1 package (16 ounces) shredded cabbage
  • 2 cups shredded pork (from pork chili featured in January recipe)
  • 4 whole wheat buns
  • 4 tablespoons barbeque sauce
Make the coleslaw
  1. Mix sugar, salt, mustard, and mayo together in a large bowl. Add vinegar and stir with a wire whisk or fork.
  2. Add the shredded cabbage to the bowl. Stir until ingredients are mixed well. You will use half the coleslaw for the sandwiches. You can use the other half as a side or with another meal.

Make the sandwiches

  1. Thaw shredded pork from the pork chili recipe, if it is frozen. Reheat in the microwave for 2 minutes. Stop and stir. Reheat for 1 more minute. The temperature should be 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Layer ½ cup shredded pork on bottom of 1 whole wheat bun. Put 1 tablespoon barbeque sauce on shredded pork. Put ½ cup coleslaw on barbeque sauce. Put top of 1 whole wheat bun on coleslaw.
• Look for coleslaw that is labeled ready to eat or triple washed.
• Coleslaw will keep for 4 days in the refrigerator if it is covered.
• This is a very quick meal because the pork is already prepared.

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Not all Fats are Created Equal

January 26th, 2015

When it comes to eating healthy and weight loss, people tend to get confused about what kind and how much fat they should be eating. Fat is necessary for good health, however, some types of fat are healthier choices than others. Fats supply calories for energy, help protect organs and keep your body warm. They also help in the absorption of vitamins A, D, E, and K. If you’re confused about fats in foods and which ones to eat, use the information below to learn which fats are in and which ones are out.


January Blog Fats Chart


food label tans fatHere are some suggestions for ways to include polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats in your diet and limit saturated and trans fat:

  1. Use olive oil to sauté vegetables instead of butter.
  2. Use vegetable or canola oil when baking.
  3. Use oil-based salad dressings in place of cream-based dressings.
  4. Eat fish, such as salmon, a couple of times per week. Try our Crispy Salmon Patties or Salmon Wraps.
  5. Use the Nutrition Facts Label. It’s best to avoid foods that contain trans fat.

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Whose Plate? MyPlate!

January 19th, 2015

myplate_greenWith a New Year just under way, many people are focused on losing weight. Unfortunately, some of the diets people follow to lose weight are not healthy. People tend to cut out foods or food groups, go on restrictive diets or spend money on unnecessary supplements and drinks. At a recent health and wellness fair I spoke at, one participant mentioned to me that she “just wanted someone to tell her what to eat”. I can totally understand where she was coming from! It seems like every day we hear about a new fad diet or food that we thought was healthy that someone says is not. It can get very confusing.

I told her to ‘model your plate after The MyPlate icon and recommendations given on are healthy, sensible, and easy to remember’. MyPlate is based on a 10-inch plate so be sure to check your plate size. Forget about the fads and miracle diets, follow these simple ideas and you’ll be well on your way to a healthy plate.

  • Make half your plate fruits and vegetables. Choose from fresh, frozen, canned, and dried fruits and vegetables. Include more red, orange, and dark-green vegetables such as broccoli, leafy greens, tomatoes, and sweet potatoes in your meals.
  • Make at least half your grains whole. One-quarter of your plate should be grains. Choose 100% whole grain cereals, bread, crackers, rice, and pasta. You might also try quinoa, barley, or bulgur.
  • Vary your protein food choices. One-quarter of your plate should be lean protein such as beans and peas, seafood, meats, poultry, eggs, and nuts. Visit our Spend Smart. Eat Smart. website for main dish recipes using a variety of protein sources.
  • Switch to skim or 1% milk. In addition to low-fat milk, drink more water and unsweetened beverages. If drinking juice, choose 100% fruit juice.

When people commit to losing weight or eating healthy, they tend to focus on what they ‘shouldn’t’ eat. Instead, focus on what you should eat for good health. Go to to find out how many servings of fruits, vegetables, grains, protein, and low-fat dairy you need.

When it comes to eating healthy and weight loss, people tend to get confused about what kind and how much fat they should be eating. Fat is necessary for good health, however, some types of fat are healthier choices than others. Read the blog next week to learn about the different types of fat and the foods they are in.

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Build a Better Salad

January 12th, 2015

WholeMealSaladHow many of you are like me and are trying to start some healthy habits in the new year? Whether you’re trying to save money or eat better, packing a healthy lunch can help you do both! Salad is a common go-to option for people trying to eat better, but not all salads are created equal. Here is a quick guide to simplify packing salads for lunch.

  1. Include protein in your salad. Choose proteins like a hard-boiled egg, beans, chicken or canned tuna. The protein will help you stay full throughout the afternoon. This is a great use for leftover ingredients from dinner.
  2. Be careful about your dressing choice. Salad dressing can be expensive and high in fat, calories and sodium. Keep dressing portions small (approximately 1 tablespoon). One way to save money and be certain about the ingredients in your dressing is to make your own. Let our video on homemade dressing or this helpful handout be your guide!
  3. Choose toppings you enjoy, but avoid common pitfalls. Many restaurant salads are topped with lots of high-calorie ingredients like bacon and cheese. It is ok to eat these tasty ingredients from time to time, but they can quickly turn your healthy homemade salad into a meal that is high in fat and calories. Instead, choose lots of veggies to top your salad. In the winter, choose those that taste good all year round like carrots, peppers, celery, green onions and even defrosted, frozen peas.
  4. Prepare your salads ahead of time. We all know what it is like to run out of time on busy mornings. Sturdy greens like spinach hold up well for a few days in the fridge. You can also chop your veggies like peppers, carrots, celery and onions ahead of time. I avoid watery veggies like cucumbers when I am prepping salads ahead because they tend to get a bit soggy after a day or so. Also, wait to put the dressing on your salad until right before you eat it.

If you would like some more ideas about healthy salads, check out the Whole Meal Salad recipe template on our website.

Here’s to a happy and healthy new year for all of our Spend Smart. Eat Smart. readers!

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Slow Cooker Pork Chili

January 5th, 2015

slow-cooker-pork-chiliHappy New Year from the SpendSmart.EatSmart team!

We would like to start 2015 off with a new chili recipe for you. If you are like me, you have your own special way of making chili and you do not want to make any changes. When I first saw this recipe, I agreed to try it, but at the same time I told myself that I would make this new chili only once and then I would go back to my usual recipe. I was wrong! Since first trying Slow Cooker Pork Chili over a year ago, I have made my old recipe only once.

Here are some reasons why this chili has become my new favorite:

  • It uses pork. My grocery bill has been increasing, so I try to save money any way that I can. Recently, the grocery store where I shop had pork shoulder for $2.99 per pound. A similar cut of beef cost $4.49 per pound.
  • It makes enough pork for two recipes. You cook the pork in the slow cooker and use half of it for the chili and save the other half for our February recipe (or for another batch of Slow Cooker Pork Chili).
  • It is made in my slow cooker. I have a toddler and a preschooler – this means the hour before supper time can get a little crazy. If I have something ready to go in the slow cooker, it cuts down on the stress of making supper. Find out more about making meals in a slow cooker by clicking on our video or tip sheet.
  • It uses ingredients I typically have on hand – green pepper, onion, salsa, beans, and tomatoes. This saves me time and money because I do not have to go to the grocery store and search for and buy an ingredient I will only use once.
  • It tastes great! Serve it with some milk and fruit and you have an easy and great tasting meal.

Resolutions don’t have to be about giving something up, resolve to have some fun in the kitchen and try this new healthy recipe!



Slow Cooker Pork Chili                

Serves: 6 | Serving Size: 1 ¼ cups | Cost Per Serving: $1.52


  • 2 pounds boneless pork butt, roast, or shoulder
  • 1 cup bell pepper, diced (1 medium pepper)
  • 1 cup onion, diced (1 medium onion)
  • 1 1/2 cups salsa
  • 1 can (15 ounces) low-sodium pinto beans
  • 1 can (14.5 ounces) low-sodium diced tomatoes


  1. Trim visible fat from the pork. Cut into 2 inch chunks. Place in slow cooker.
  2. Add pepper, onion, and salsa.
  3. Cook on a low setting for 6 hours or a high setting for 3 hours.
  4. Pull the meat apart into shreds with a fork. (You should have about 4 cups.)
  5. Put half (2 cups) of the shredded pork in the refrigerator or freezer. (We’ll post a pork sandwiches recipe in February that will call for shredded pork!).  Freeze pork if it will not be used within 4 days.
  6. Return the rest of the pork to the slow cooker. Add pinto beans and diced tomatoes.
  7. Cook another 30 minutes until hot.


  • Pork chops, boneless pork rib, or pork loin can be used. They will be more expensive but have less fat.
  • Trim fat from pork with a clean knife on a clean cutting board.
  • This recipe freezes well.
  •  Other beans can be used.

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Staying Healthy During Cold and Flu Season

December 29th, 2014

young boy sick cold blowing noseHow are you feeling today? I hope you are feeling well and that you will enjoy a winter without having a cold or the flu.

Unfortunately, I am not feeling so well, I am fighting a cold that my daughter, son, and husband have already had. I tried my best to prevent it. I made sure that we were all washing our hands. I made sure that everyone was getting enough sleep. I made sure that we were eating healthy meals. I tried everything I could think of, but we all got sick. There are still things I can do to help us get well soon.

Here are the top five things I do to prevent getting sick or, if we do get sick, to help us get better fast:

  1. Wash hands frequently. Washing hands correctly (see the steps here) is the best way to stop germs from spreading from one person to another. Wash hands after wiping noses, coughing, going to the bathroom, and before every meal and snack.
  2. Drink plenty of fluids. Most people need to drink at least eight cups of fluids every day. When we are sick, we need even more, especially if we have a fever, diarrhea, or vomiting. Choose fluids that taste good and are soothing to you. I usually choose hot tea because it feels good on my dry, scratchy throat and I like the taste of it. My husband and children prefer 100% fruit juice when they are sick.
  3. Eat fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables are rich in vitamins and minerals that can help our immune systems fight off germs.
  4. Eat chicken noodle soup. Eating chicken noodle soup when sick has many benefits. The warm broth soothes a sore throat and provides fluids. The vegetables and whole grain noodles supply or bodies with vitamins and minerals. The chicken is a lean protein that can help our immune systems. I try to make a large batch of chicken noodle soup and then freeze it in smaller containers so it is ready to go when I am sick and not feeling like cooking. Spend Smart. Eat Smart has a wide variety of soup recipes.
  5. Get plenty of sleep. Most adults need seven to nine hours of sleep each night. Children need more. When we are sick, we need even more sleep than usual to heal. It is ok to call in sick to work or school to get some extra rest when sick. This has an added bonus of not spreading your germs on to your friends and co-workers.

I hope you enjoy a happy, healthy new year!

– Justine

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Last Minute Gifts

December 22nd, 2014

granola jarIf you find yourself racing to find a last-minute gift, look no further! Here is a collection of Spend Smart. Eat Smart. recipes that make great low-cost gifts.

  1. Oatmeal Pancakes – Simply combine the dry pancake mix and oatmeal in a plastic bag or jar and attach a label with the cooking directions.
  2. Chocolate Surprise Cupcakes – Bake a batch and separate them into plastic bags or containers with festive ribbons or tags.
  3. Whole Grain Cereal Treats – These are a twist on everyone’s favorite. Add some sprinkles or top with a bit of colored sugar for a festive look.
  4. Crispy Granola – You can make a big batch of this granola and put it in small jars or bags to share with friends.

People love to receive recipes so make a point of attaching the recipe for each of the “gifts” you give. A healthy and homemade gift is a great way to show you care!

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