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Choosing the Perfect Melon

Many big sweet green watermelonsHave you ever bought a melon thinking how wonderful it will taste, only to find that when you cut it up, it doesn’t have any flavor? How frustrating that is! Here are 5 steps to picking a ripe melon.

1. Look for damage.
Choose a melon that’s not damaged on the outside. It should not have any bruises, soft spots, or cracks.

2. Check the color.
When buying watermelon and honeydew, choose a melon with a dull looking appearance. A shiny outside is an indicator of an underripe melon. Honeydew melons should be pale yellow in color, not overly green. For cantaloupe, the skin underneath the net-like texture should be golden or orange in color. Avoid cantaloupes with green or white color skin.

3. Check the size.
Pick up a few melons and see how they feel. Choose a melon that is heavy for its size.

4. Check the stem.
The stem end should give to gentle pressure but not be soft.

5. Smell it.
This works best with cantaloupes and honeydew. Ripe melons should smell sweet but not be overwhelming. If it smells really sweet, it might be overripe.

Good luck choosing your next melon!

Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood is a Registered Dietitian who enjoys spending time in the kitchen baking and preparing meals for her family. She does lots of meal planning to stay organized and feed her family nutritious meals.

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Not Your Average Steak Sandwich

Not Your Average Steak SandwichOur recipe this month is Not Your Average Steak Sandwich. I am a huge fan of steak, but the steak is not the star of this recipe. To make this sandwich above average it is topped with sautéed onions and fresh spinach. The onions add delicious flavor and aroma to the sandwiches while the spinach adds refreshing crunch and nutrition.

Keep in mind that beef prices fluctuate, so, if steak is not in your price range right now, hold on to this recipe until you find a good deal. If you find a good price on steak while the weather is nice, grill the steak for these sandwiches. However, if you do not have a grill or if it is too cold outside, the steak can be sliced and fried in the same pan used to sauté the onions.


Not Your Average Steak Sandwich
Serving Size: 1 sandwich
Serves: 5
Cost Per Serving: $1.87

Not Your Average Steak Sandwich LabelIngredients: 

  • 1 medium onion, cut into slices or rings
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 pound lean steak, sliced into strips
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 1/4 cups spinach
  • 5 whole wheat hamburger buns

Instructions: 

  1. Heat a small pan to medium. Spray with nonstick cooking spray. Add onions and sprinkle with sugar. Cook for 5–7 minutes or until golden brown, stirring occasionally. Remove onions from pan. Cover with foil to keep warm.
  2. Put the steak in the pan and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook the steak on both sides until heated through to 145°F.
  3. Assemble the sandwich:
    1. Place 1/4 cup spinach on one side of the hamburger bun.
    2. Place 1/5 of the steak on top of the spinach.
    3. Place 1/4 cup caramelized onions on top of the steak.
    4. Top with other half of bun.

Tips: 

  • When it is nice outside, grill the steaks instead of frying.
  • Toast the buns right before putting the sandwiches together.
  • Use the leftover spinach to make a Whole Meal Salad for lunch the next day.
  • Add cheese to make it like a Philly cheesesteak sandwich.
Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover is a Registered Dietitian and mom who loves to cook for her family.

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Go with the Whole Grain this Summer—Take the Challenge!

By Food Science and Human Nutrition student guest blogger

banana_oatmeal_breadwpThis summer try the whole grain challenge. The challenge: Make half (or more!) of your grains whole grains for a week.

The best way to include whole grains in your diet is to substitute whole grain products for refined grains in things you already make and love.

Here are some fun, tasty ideas for how to incorporate whole grains into your busy summer:

Picnic Ideas

Snack Ideas for the poolside or road tripping

Movie Night

  • Enjoy popcorn, with light salt and oil
  • Fix pizza with a whole wheat crust, add veggies for a more nutritious punch

BBQ in the backyard

Adding whole grains to your diet doesn’t have to be hard. Just sub whole grains for refined, and you’ve already won the challenge!

Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood is a Registered Dietitian who enjoys spending time in the kitchen baking and preparing meals for her family. She does lots of meal planning to stay organized and feed her family nutritious meals.

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Meal Makeovers with Whole Grains

Taco Rice SaladI did not grow up eating a lot of whole grains. Actually, I did not truly know what a whole grain was until I was an adult. Last week, our intern guest blogger wrote about how to find out if a food is whole grain or not. This week, I would like to share with you how I have replaced refined grains with whole grains in my menu.

  1. The first, and easiest, change I made was to start buying whole wheat bread for our toast and sandwiches. With some trial and error, I have found a whole wheat bread that everyone in my family likes. Thankfully, it is also the least expensive whole grain bread at my local grocery store. Try whole grain bread in our Tuna Melt Sandwich.
  1. The second change I made was to use brown rice and whole wheat pasta. This change was a little more difficult because my husband and I were used to the softer texture of white rice and pasta, but now we prefer both the texture and flavor of the whole grain versions. Try brown rice in our Tasty Taco Rice Salad and whole grain pasta in our Roasted Tomato and Spinach Pasta.
  1. The third, and most challenging, change I made was replacing all-purpose flour with whole wheat flour in our baked goods. One of my husband’s favorite foods is muffins of all kinds. I knew that we could make our muffins healthier by replacing some of the all-purpose flour with whole wheat flour. It took some experimenting, but now our favorite muffin recipes include both whole wheat flour and all-purpose flour (the amounts depend on the recipe). Try whole wheat flour in our Pineapple Snack Cakes.

My husband and I started adding whole grains to our menu little by little and now the majority of the grains we eat are whole grains. It has taken time and compromise, but we are happy with the choices we have made.

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover is a Registered Dietitian and mom who loves to cook for her family.

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Whole Grain Goodness

By Katie Busacca, ISU Dietetic Intern

Whole Wheat LabelMulti-grain, whole wheat, 100% wheat, bran, 7-grain- the options are endless when trying to pick a grain product, but what does it all mean? As many people know, the current recommendation is to make at least half the grain products in your diet whole grains. Whole grains promote heart health, aid in good digestion and may help you maintain a healthy weight. But with all of this labeling deception, how do you know if you are choosing a whole grain product?

When choosing a grain product the best way to determine if it is whole grain is to read the ingredient list. The first ingredient will likely be one of these:

  • Whole wheat
  • Whole wheat flour
  • Whole grain
  • Stone ground whole grain
  • Brown rice
  • Oats/oatmeal
  • Quinoa
  • Bulgar
  • Graham flour
  • Wheatberries

Whole Grain IconsAnother good rule of thumb is to look for the 100% whole grain or whole grain stamp on the package, as seen on the right. The 100% whole grain stamp means that all of the grains used in the product are 100% whole grain and the product provides at least 16g of whole grains per serving. While the whole grain stamp (without the 100%) indicates that some of the grains used to make this product are whole grain and some are refined grains. These products will include at least 8g of whole grains per serving. Both are great choices!

As whole grain products become more popular, they are also becoming easier to find and less expensive. There are some simple substitutions you can make in your own diet to add the health benefits of whole grains.

Try this… Instead of this….
Whole grain pasta Regular pasta
Brown rice White rice
100% whole wheat bread White bread
Whole wheat tortillas White tortillas
Whole wheat flour All-purpose flour

The Spend Smart. Eat Smart. website is full of recipes using whole grain products! One quick and easy recipe I love is the Quick Pad Thai. Not only does it use whole grain pasta, but also it is simple to modify to include your favorite fresh or frozen vegetables. You can also use these simple tips to experiment with recipes and make delicious, healthy creations of your own!

Christine Hradek

Christine Hradek

Christine Hradek is a State Nutrition Specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. She coordinates ISU’s programs which help families with low income make healthy choices with limited food budgets. Christine loves helping families learn to prepare healthy foods, have fun in the kitchen and save money. In her spare time, Christine enjoys cooking, entertaining and cheering on her favorite college football teams with her family and friends.

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Zesty Whole Grain Salad

zesty_whole_grain_saladwpToday I would like to introduce you to one of my favorite Spend Smart. Eat Smart recipes – Zesty Whole Grain Salad. A student shared the inspiration for this recipe with me, and, once I tasted it, I was hooked. I ate it for lunch nearly every day for weeks.

This salad makes a perfect lunch, and this is why:

  • It tastes great with the sweet and tangy homemade salad dressing.
  • The fiber, protein, and fat will fill you up and keep you full.
  • It is easy to pack into smaller containers for lunches on the go.
  • You get fruit, vegetables, protein, and whole grains in one bowl.
  • It simplifies lunch planning for the week because it makes a lot and it stores well in the refrigerator. So you and your family can eat it for three or four days.

Zesty Whole Grain Salad
zesty-whole-grain-salad-label-webServing Size: 6  |  Serves: 1 1/2 cups  |  Cost Per Serving: $1.43
Ingredients:

  • 2 cups cooked whole grain (brown rice, kamut™, quinoa)
  • 2 tablespoons oil (canola or vegetable)
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 apples, chopped
  • 1/2 cup chopped nuts (pecans, walnuts)
  • 1/2 cup dried fruit (cranberries, cherries, raisins)
  • 1 bunch kale or 10-ounce package spinach (about 6 cups), torn into bite-sized pieces

Instructions:

  1. Cook whole grain according to package directions. Cool.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together oil, vinegar, honey, salt, and pepper.
  3. Stir apples, nuts, dried fruit, and whole grain into dressing.
  4. Toss greens with other ingredients.

Tips:

  • Substitute 2 cups of chopped fruit (strawberries, grapes, oranges) for the apples.
  • Do not give honey and nuts to infants under one year of age.

Enjoy!

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover is a Registered Dietitian and mom who loves to cook for her family.

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Don’t Let Dry Beans Scare You

ThinkstockPhotos-175947020wpAs I wrote in my last blog on beans, they fit many of my requirements as a mom and dietitian. They are very nutritious, they’re inexpensive, and they work well in dishes my family enjoys. Most of the time I use canned beans. They are very convenient and besides draining and rinsing, require no additional cooking. You can find ‘no salt added’ canned beans, which is great since many of us get more than enough sodium in our diets. And they usually don’t cost any more than the regular kind. If you’d rather not use the ‘no salt added’ kind, rinse the beans to reduce the sodium.

On occasion, I also like to cook dry beans. And some of my family and friends prefer to cook their own beans instead of using the canned versions. Canned beans are an inexpensive source of protein and when buying them dry, they are even less expensive. You might think that cooking dry beans is too much hassle if you haven’t tried it before. It does take time but most of that time you don’t have to stand over them while they cook. When I cook dry beans, I like to use the Slow Cooker Method.

Here are the steps to success:

  1. Spread 1 pound dried beans on a baking sheet and remove any small stones, dirt or withered beans.
  2. Put the beans in a strainer and rinse them under running water.
  3. Add beans and 8 cups of water to a slow cooker, then cook them on low for 6-8 hours until soft.
  4. Serve right away or freeze the beans in 1 ½ cup portions to use later. One and a half cups is about the amount in 1-15 ounce can of beans. How easy is that?!
Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood is a Registered Dietitian who enjoys spending time in the kitchen baking and preparing meals for her family. She does lots of meal planning to stay organized and feed her family nutritious meals.

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Beans, Beans, Beans

ThinkstockPhotos-512755114This month at Spend Smart. Eat Smart., we have been talking a lot about beans. We love beans because they are packed with nutrition and they are inexpensive. Today I am going to share with you some of my favorite bean recipes from our website. Try one out this week, I am sure you will enjoy it!

Many of these recipes call for canned beans that have been drained and rinsed. You can substitute 1-2 cups cooked, dried beans. It is easy to cook an entire bag of dried beans and then freeze them in one or two cup serving sizes to use when you need them.

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover is a Registered Dietitian and mom who loves to cook for her family.

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Beans, Beans the Musical Fruit

ThinkstockPhotos-158913960There are many benefits to eating beans. They are high in fiber, protein, iron, folate, and potassium. In addition, they are inexpensive so easy on the budget. There’s just one little problem…they can cause intestinal gas. And how embarrassing is that! The good news is there are ways to help reduce the amount of intestinal gas caused by eating beans.

  • Add beans to the diet slowly over a period of several weeks. This allows your body to adjust to the added fiber provided by the beans. Once you are eating beans on a regular basis, intestinal gas will be less of problem.
  • Chew beans well to help digest them.
  • Drink plenty of water and other fluids to help your body handle the extra fiber in beans.
  • When preparing dry beans, use the hot (short) soak method of soaking beans. This method reduces many gas-producing substances in beans. Always discard soaking water and rinse beans with fresh water after soaking.

As a dietitian and a mom, beans check all of my boxes. They are very nutritious, they’re inexpensive and they work well in dishes my family enjoys. Keep the tips above in mind and toss some beans in your grocery cart today.

Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood is a Registered Dietitian who enjoys spending time in the kitchen baking and preparing meals for her family. She does lots of meal planning to stay organized and feed her family nutritious meals.

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What on Earth is a Legume?

200253767-001The new Dietary Guidelines for Americans encourage us to eat a variety of protein foods including seafood, meat, eggs, nuts, seeds and legumes. You might wonder, ‘where in the grocery store would I find the legumes?’

These are actually common foods that you are probably already familiar with. Legumes include beans like kidney beans, lima beans, or pinto beans. They also include peas, lentils and chickpeas.

It is a good idea to eat both animal and plant based proteins. Legumes are nutritious, low cost plant-based protein food. They are typically high in protein and fiber and they’re simple to cook. If your family isn’t sure about trying legumes, you can mix them with meat in dishes they like. This is a good way to stretch your dollar while introducing new foods gradually. Check out the slow cooker pork chili below, it’s a winner!

Here are some of my favorite Spend Smart. Eat Smart. recipes that call for legumes:

Fiesta Skillet Dinner

Slow Cooker Pork Chili

Butternut Squash Enchiladas

Enjoy!

Christine Hradek

Christine Hradek

Christine Hradek is a State Nutrition Specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. She coordinates ISU’s programs which help families with low income make healthy choices with limited food budgets. Christine loves helping families learn to prepare healthy foods, have fun in the kitchen and save money. In her spare time, Christine enjoys cooking, entertaining and cheering on her favorite college football teams with her family and friends.

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