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Keep your Thanksgiving Dinner out of the Garbage

November 16th, 2015

ThinkstockPhotos-99120786Thanksgiving will soon be upon us! This holiday causes me to reflect and be thankful for what I have. It also gets me thinking about what I take for granted on a daily basis that others would be grateful to have. One example of this is food. I have enough food, and sometimes too much, which can cause me to waste it at times.

The average daily food waste in the United States in 2010 was 1.18 pounds of food per person. This leaves us plenty of room for improvement! I am going to approach Thanksgiving being mindful of how much food my family is preparing. I also plan to use this holiday as an opportunity to reduce the amount of food we are wasting by following the tips below.

My four tips to reduce food waste at Thanksgiving:

1. Consider purchasing a turkey breast rather than an entire turkey. The turkey breast can be cooked in a shorter amount of time, is easier to cut and prepare, and results in fewer leftovers.

2. Keep your sides simple – less is more. Focus on two or three great side dishes rather than the “full spread”. This will save you time and  stress. Three of my favorite side dishes from Spend Smart. Eat Smart.:

•  Zesty Whole Grain Salad:
  Easy Roasted Veggies:
•  No Knead Whole Wheat Bread:

3. Pack up leftovers to eat later. For safety, leftovers should be chilled to below 40 degrees within two hours of when they finish cooking. If your family will eat the leftovers within four days, store them in the refrigerator. If you will not, freeze them. Click here for ideas for using that leftover turkey, pumpkin and chopped veggies.

4. Donate to those in need: Find your local food bank, and donate excess or unused food to those in need. Or even better yet, consider donating a few dollars to your local food bank or pantry.

Have a happy, healthy Thanksgiving and enjoy doing more with less!

Rachel Wall is a registered dietitian and Iowa native who enjoys family, friends, food, and the Cyclones!

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Tackling Thanksgiving Leftovers with Flair

November 24th, 2014

turkey stuffing dinner supper mealThe fall and winter holidays are my absolute favorite! I love it when we start to get a chill in the air and look ahead to holiday cooking. This week is filled with anticipation of turkey, sweet potatoes, stuffing and pumpkin pie. Yum!

But what happens on Friday? There are always so many leftovers from Thanksgiving and you can only eat so many turkey sandwiches. Here are some Spend Smart. Eat Smart. recipes that don’t taste anything like Thanksgiving but get those leftovers used up.

Chicken Club Salad Use turkey instead of the chicken in this recipe for a light and refreshing meal. You can also use up those leftover veggies from your relish tray!
Quick Pad Thai The Asian flavors in this dish will be a nice change of pace after all that holiday food. Use turkey instead of chicken and fresh veggies if you have them.
Chocolate Surprise Cupcakes Did you buy one too many cans of pumpkin? This recipe is delicious and takes no time at all to make. These are perfect if you have someone in your house who doesn’t like pumpkin because they just taste like chocolate.


Enjoy the holiday and share your Thanksgiving photos with us on Facebook!

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Top 5 tips to save time, money, stress and calories for Thanksgiving dinner

November 14th, 2011

Are you having guests over for dinner on Thanksgiving?  Dreading the extra stress, expense and calories? Here are some helpful ideas.


Do not go overboard with variety. You do not have to have everyone’s favorite holiday food at one meal.  Do you serve mashed potatoes, stuffing, and sweet potatoes?   Do you serve two meats?  Think about eliminating some of the options.  With more variety, the more ingredients you will have to buy and store, the more serving and leftover dishes there will be and the more everyone will eat.

Take guests up on their offer to bring something. Be ready with a list of dishes you can have guests bring.   Some of your guests would love to show off their cooking skills with a salad or dessert.  Others with less time or ability could be asked to bring a dozen rolls from the bakery, a purchased dessert, or some type of beverage.

Simplify your recipes.  Every dish does not have to be fancy.  I love fresh or frozen green beans with a touch of olive oil more than green bean casserole.   I would rather have our Holiday Fruit Salad than a salad with a little fruit and lots of whipped topping or sweetened condensed milk.  I also love our Guiltless Pumpkin Pie.

Use some convenience foods. Homemade stuffing will cost less, especially if you save bread crusts or buy your bread at the day old store.   However, boxed stuffing is often on sale around the holidays and adding sautéed onions, celery and peppers is always a good substitute.

Know how many people are attending dinner. This is important so you do not end up making too much food and spending extra money. Make only as much as you need for the people that are attending unless you are deliberately planning for leftovers.  Here’s a planning guide to get you started

A couple of years ago we planned a dinner using these tips from Healthy Holiday Dinner for 8, including the recipes and shopping list.  The cost might be a little more than $30 now, but this holiday meal will not break your budget, make you fat or stressed out.


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What? The Turkey is still Frozen?!?

November 17th, 2014

AnswerLineSquare-littleWhether you’re trying to thaw your turkey or figure out if it’s done, AnswerLine is here for you!

As Thanksgiving approaches, the AnswerLine staff discussed some of our top food safety tips for Thanksgiving. Here are some ideas to help you have a safe Thanksgiving.

  1. Remember to put food away right after dinner. Leftovers should not remain at room temperature for longer than 2 hours. The clock starts to tick when you sit down to eat, so get the leftovers put away as soon as possible.
  2. If you need to prepare food ahead, consider preparing and freezing the food or measuring out ingredients that can be mixed together at the last minute. It is not a good idea to partially cook a dish one day and finish cooking the next day.
  3. If you really must stuff your turkey, remember to make the stuffing and place it inside the turkey just before putting the turkey in the oven. Resist the impulse to overstuff the turkey, just stuff it loosely so the inside of the turkey cooks correctly. Plan to use a food thermometer to check the temperature of the stuffing before taking the turkey out of the oven. The stuffing and turkey should each reach 165°F when it is ready.
  4. Leftovers should be used within 4 days. If you think you will not be able to eat all the leftovers within that time, freeze the extra food. Plan to package it in smaller packages so that you can enjoy an entire package at a meal. But, if you do have leftover leftovers, they can be safely refrozen as long as they have been handled safely. This video is funny and helpful!

  1. If you plan to make soup or some other large quantity of food from you leftovers, cool them quickly by setting the pan into a sink full of cold or ice water. Stir until the food cools. Then package in small, thin containers for rapid freezing.

If you have any questions, please call us at AnswerLine. We are available 9-noon and 1-4 Monday through Friday. In Iowa, call 1-800-262-3804; Minnesota, call 1-800-854-1678; South Dakota, call1-888-393-6336 or 515-296-5883 from anywhere else. If the lines are busy you can also email us We love to talk with folks about Thanksgiving or answer questions about anything else around the home.

Visit us on Facebook!

Liz, Beth, and Jill
the AnswerLine staff

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Meals In 30 Minutes Featuring Sweet and Sour Rice

December 2nd, 2013

SweetSourRice RGBThe 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.

Fiesta Skillet Dinner (another quick meal) is featured in our UKnow video series. Other quick meals on our website include – Ham & Brown Rice and Tasty Taco Salad.

Sweet and Sour Rice


Serving Size: 2/3 cup rice and 1 1/4 cup topping Serves: Cost Per Serving: $1.26

Ingredients: sweetandsour label

  • 16 ounces chicken (skinless, boneless)
  • 1 bag (16-ounce) frozen stir-fry veggies
  • 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
  • 2 cups instant uncooked brown rice
  • 1/4 cup sweet and sour sauce (make your own or use prepared sauce)*
  • 1 can (8-ounce) pineapple chunks with juice


  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons reduced sodium soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon ketchup


  1. Cut chicken into 3/4 inch pieces. Wash your hands thoroughly.
  2. Remove stir-fry veggies from freezer to thaw.
  3. Heat oil in skillet over medium heat. When oil is hot, add chicken and cook until done. Remove chicken to a bowl and set aside. Set frying pan aside.
  4. Heat water for rice to boiling. Add rice. Let rice cook according to the package directions.
  5. Return skillet (used to cook chicken) to the stove. Add sauce ingredients. Cook over medium high heat. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly, or add the prepared sweet and sour sauce.
  6. Stir in the pineapple (un-drained), vegetables, and chicken. Reduce heat to medium low. Cook about 5 minutes.
  7. Serve chicken and veggie mixture on top of the rice.


You can substitute 2 cups cooked chicken in this recipe. Just add it at step six. Cook for about 5 minutes to heat it through.

Peggy Signature

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Involve (and teach) Others to Prepare Holiday Meals

November 25th, 2013

blog 25thWhen 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!

Peggy Signature

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Mise en Place: Work Smarter, Not Harder in the Kitchen

November 19th, 2012

Recently when making supper for my family, I realized part way through making the pizza that I did not have any pizza sauce! I thought I had some, so didn’t check to make sure before I started making the pizza.  So supper got put on hold while I sent my husband to the store to get the pizza sauce. If I would have practiced ‘mise en place’, I would have known before I started that I didn’t have any sauce and could have run to get it before starting to cook or went to Plan B.

Mise en place is a French phrase that means to put in place. This means that before you begin preparing a dish, you gather all the items you need and prep what needs to be done ahead of time, such as chop onions. Mise en place allows food professionals to be efficient in the kitchen so they can get food prepared quickly and out to waiting customers. This handout from ISU Extension and Outreach gives you a visual explanation of mise en place.

However, you don’t need to be a professional chef to practice mise en place.

If you are preparing the Thanksgiving meal this week, practicing mise en place will help you be more efficient in the kitchen and less stressed about getting everything on the table on time! Looking at the recipes you are making will tell you what ingredients you need and what steps you need to complete. If you neglect to practice mise en place, you run the risk of not having all the ingredients on hand (like me!) or your food might burn or overcook as you rush to measure ingredients that need to be added to the dish.

I plan to start practicing mise en place more regularly to help make my time in the kitchen more efficient and enjoyable. I have a 3-year-old son, Parker. Therefore, it’s important that I get supper on the table quickly at night before he gets too hungry and wants to snack. Since I’m busy with work and other activities during the week, I try to prepare some items on the weekend so it’s easy to put supper together when I get home. I cut up veggies and put in the refrigerator and cook some meat ahead of time so it is ready when I need it. This is part of mise en place as well. A little planning and prep ahead of time saves me time (and a headache!) in the long run!

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What is Cheaper: Turkey or Ham?

November 12th, 2012

Thanksgiving is about 10 days away. Have you started to plan your dinner? The biggest expense of the meal will probably be the ham or turkey (or both) that you buy. The grocery ads are full of deals, like buy a ham and get a turkey free. Or buy $50 in groceries and get a $5 off coupon for your turkey. I was curious, so I stopped by 5 different stores to check out prices. I went to Hy-Vee, Fareway, Aldi, Dahls, and Wal-Mart.

Here are the costs I found. Whole turkey prices range from $.88 to $1.19 a pound. Boneless, spiral cut hams are about $3.50 a pound. Bone-in ham varies from $1.48 to 1.98 a pound. Both ham and turkey are priced to lure you to the store.

Number of 3 ounce servings per pound Cost per pound Cost per serving
Turkey 2 $ 0.99 $ 0.50
Ham, boneless 4 $ 3.50 $ 0.88
Ham, bone-in 3.5 $ 1.80 $ 0.51

The simple answer is turkey and the bone-in ham cost about the same with boneless ham costing significantly more. But, as usual, every situation is different. Below are some comments/questions with some of my thoughts.

Doesn’t matter what it costs. I want to serve both ham and turkey and make sure we have enough. Ok, but when you are buying, remember you can cut back on the amount you buy because people will eat some, but not a whole serving of each.

Is the buy a ham, get a free turkey a good deal? That deal was to buy about 7 pounds of boneless ham at $3.50 ($24.50 total) and get a 12 pound turkey free. You would get about 28 3 oz. servings of ham and 24 3 ounce servings of turkey. So you would get 40 servings for $24.50 at .61/serving. If you want a boneless ham it is a good deal. But it would be cheaper to by the bone-in ham and turkey separately.

We are saving for Christmas gifts so I don’t want to spend a lot. I would get either a boneless ham or the turkey. If you have time, go for the turkey and make soup from the turkey bone (that way you can stretch the cost over several meals). A couple of years ago we developed a Healthy Holiday Dinner Menu with Recipes.

I am exhausted after our Thanksgiving meal. Maybe we should just go out to eat. Last year in the blogI shared my Top 5 tips to save time, money, stress and calories for Thanksgiving dinner. Maybe you will find an idea that works for you.

My turkey is always dry so I think I’ll have ham this year. Are you cooking the turkey too long? Try using a meat thermometer (sometimes the pop-up timers fail). Put the thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh because the dark meat of the turkey thigh takes longer to cook than any other part. When the thermometer is at 165 degrees, it is done.

My grandpa says he can’t eat ham so we will have turkey. From a health standpoint both ham and turkey are great sources of protein, but turkey provides significant less fat if you skip the skin. Ham also has more than 10 times the sodium and may contain nitrates.

Have a Great Holiday.

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What we are willing to change varies

November 22nd, 2010

It’s pretty easy to gain 5-10 pounds from Thanksgiving through New Year’s. Big holiday meals, parties and open houses, and candies, cookies and rolls are more available at home, work and school. All promote weight gain, and pair that with less time for exercise….well, you see the problem.

Most of us are willing to make some changes in our diet to lower fat, sugar, and/or salt and to increase fiber. Sometimes it’s because we want to lose weight, sometimes we are responding to a doctor’s recommendation, and sometimes, maybe we have become more alert to the messages in the media.

What we are willing to change varies tremendously from person to person. Years ago I made    some diet changes which are now ingrained habits for me….I don’t even have to think about them and I am not tempted by the higher calorie versions. For example, I

  • don’t drink soda unless it is diet,
  • buy only light or Neufchâtel cheese,
  • don’t add spreads to prepared pancakes, muffins, or other quick breads,
  • use skim milk or evaporated skim milk instead of the higher fat versions, and
  • regularly reduce the sugar and fat in recipes that I prepare.

However, in other areas I am not willing to make changes. For example,

  • while reduced fat cheese is OK, I would rather just skip foods with fat-free cheese,
  • I really do not like fat free salad dressings—some of the light salad dressings are OK so I just use less of them,
  • I buy diet margarine (which can be 50% water) to use most the time on my toast and popcorn, but I love the taste of butter once in a while.

Each of us varies in diet changes we are willing to make. Texas A&M has a free 30 page publication called Altering Recipes for Good Health. It has sections on how to detect fat, sugar, salt, and fiber in the diet, how to make healthy changes, and includes recipes that have been modified.

Check out the publication. Perhaps you will discover some healthy diet changes you can begin

…pointers from Peggy.

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Guiltless Pie? Count the Ways

November 15th, 2010

Looking for a super easy, delicious, light, inexpensive dessert?  Just in time for Thanksgiving (and really a dessert you could eat all year long), try our Guiltless Pumpkin Pie.

It’s guiltless because:

  • No crust means fewer calories.
  • Fat free milk saves calories, but has all the nutrition.
  • One serving provides 170% of your daily Vitamin A needs. Pumpkins are one of those orange vegetables along with carrots, sweet potatoes, and other winter squash that we need about 2 cups of each week.

This would be an easy recipe for a beginning cook or a cook’s helper. You don’t even need a mixer. The trickiest thing is to make sure to use a 5-ounce can of evaporated milk (the regular size can is 12 ounces), and cook the pie until a knife inserted near center comes out clean.

Guiltless Pumpkin Pie


  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice or 3/4 teaspoon each ground cinnamon and ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 15-ounce can pumpkin
  • 1 5-ounce can fat free evaporated milk
  • Optional: Lowfat whipped topping and ground cinnamon.


  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly grease or spray a 9-inch pie plate; set aside.
  2. Place eggs in large bowl, beat with a fork or whisk. Add sugar, pumpkin pie spice, and salt. Stir until well mixed.
  3. Stir in pumpkin and evaporated milk. Pour into prepared pie plate.
  4. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes – or until center is set.
  5. Remove from oven and cool on wire rack. Serve immediately or refrigerate until serving time. If desired, add a spoonful of lowfat whpped topping to each serving and sprinkle with additional ground cinnamon.

View the recipe and the video.

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