Warm 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!
Vickie Rhoads decided to do the SNAP challenge with her family and share their experience to call attention the fact that nearly 13 % of Iowans are food insecure, meaning they do not have the ability to acquire nutritionally adequate and safe foods in socially acceptable ways. Vickie shared, “We have had friends and family whose income has been reduced due to job layoffs or family deaths”. A one-week challenge certainly does not replicate the complexities of poverty, but it is one way to better-understand the reality many Iowans face.
Photo courtesy of Captured by Heidi Photo
Paul Rhoads may be the coach at Jack Trice Stadium, but Vickie is in charge at home juggling all of the family’s needs and three very busy schedules. The Rhoads have two sons, one of whom lives at home and the other is at college. Vickie began her challenge by going grocery shopping with her teenage son, Wyatt. He is a high school wrestler and must be careful about his diet, in fact he was preparing for the state wrestling tournament during the challenge.
Vickie’s reflections on this experience included several meaningful realizations:
“It’s amazing how much you think about food when it is limited.” This is a quote from Vickie’s reflection log on day 1 of the challenge. This thought points to the importance of food beyond nourishment. We all have routines and habits built around food and when those are disrupted it is uncomfortable.
Vickie and Wyatt began by purchasing the foods Wyatt is used to eating to ensure that he would get what he needed for wrestling. Reflecting on the experience, Vickie mentioned, “I didn’t plan for myself very well”. This is a common reality for families working with a tight grocery budget. Children are often prioritized meaning Mom and Dad make some additional compromises.
Vickie shopped carefully and did a fair bit of scratch cooking to get the most nutrition for her dollar. She cooked a larger amount of food several times so that she would have leftovers for future meals. The only food they really missed was fresh fruit and vegetables. The budget did not allow for the fresh produce they are accustomed to.
On the last day of the challenge, Vickie reflected back on the week, “It took a lot more planning on my end”. She also shared that she will do some things differently going forward. First, Wyatt enjoyed the grocery shopping and it was a good learning experience for him. She plans to include him in shopping more often. Second, the experience helped her identify how she could minimize food waste at home by making better use of perishable foods. Third, she has learned about various resources available to families struggling to eat healthy on a budget. “I hadn’t really thought about the programs that are available in Ames for people who need help.” Iowa Food Assistance and WIC provide benefits to families who meet income qualifications. In addition, local food banks and pantries provide food to needy families. To learn how to receive help from a food pantry or make a donation, visit the Iowa Food Bank Association’s website. For families trying to eat healthy on a tight budget, ISU Extension and Outreach offers programs to help you build your nutrition knowledge as well as shopping and cooking skills. Visit our program website for more information.
In this three-part blog series we have looked at the knowledge and skills necessary to eat healthy on a budget. We have discussed planning and strategy as well as the social and psychological role food has in our lives. If you are interested in these themes and hunger-related issues, you can visit the Feeding America website to learn more. Thank you to the Rhoads and Litchfields who shared their stories with us this month!
Growing up, we pretty much stuck to breaded fish sticks and squares and then for special occasions – shrimp cocktail. Once in a while my mom bought frozen fish and dipped it in egg and then cornmeal and fried it. As an adult, knowing fish was good for me (great protein plus low in calories and fat), I used to buy those frozen rectangles of raw fish, but prying frozen fillets apart was not fun.
Now I buy bags of individually frozen tilapia fillets. They come in packs (usually 2 or 3 pounds) that cost $2-3 per pound. I love that I can just pull out the number of fillets I need and defrost them.
This month’s featured recipe, Pan Fried Tilapia with Orange Sauce is delicious, easy and fast! You’ll want to have the table set and the rest of your meal ready to go when you start this. I usually serve it with a salad and frozen peas or broccoli. Sometimes I add brown rice.
Other kinds of fish work in this recipe also. Try it with domestic mahi-mahi, halibut or swai which is a white-flesh fish with a mild taste and light flaky texture. Swai is often less expensive than other kinds of fish.
Pan Fried Tilapia with Orange Sauce
Serving Size: 1 fillet of fish (about 3 ounces) | Serves: 4 | Cost Per Serving: $1.44
4 small frozen tilapia fillets (about 1 pound total)
3 tablespoons all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
1-2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 1/2 teaspoons dried marjoram or Italian seasoning
Defrost and pat dry tilapia with paper towel.
Put flour, garlic powder, pepper, and salt in a plastic bag. Add fillets one at a time and shake to coat.
Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat until hot.
Add fillets to skillet and fry until golden brown on one side (about 2 minutes). Turn fish over, sprinkle with marjoram or Italian seasoning, and finish browning (heat fish to at least 165°F).
Heat orange for 10 seconds in microwave. Cut in half. Squeeze half the juice and pulp from the orange on the fish. Use the other half for garnish.
Place fish on a platter. Scrape the pan juices on top of the fish to serve.
What is it? Have you tried it? What do you think of it?
These are some of the questions I got when I first made edamame for my family. I answered their questions, hoping that they would like this new food. Edamame is green soybeans – it is harvested before the beans harden. I have tried it and I do like it. It turns out that my family likes it too… a lot.
Edamame is a vegetable that is typically found in the frozen foods section at grocery stores around here. I recently bought two 12 ounce bags for $5 (or $2.50 each). This is a little more than I usually spend on frozen vegetables, but there are some added nutritional benefits to eating edamame along with other vegetables. It is a good source of protein, fiber, some B vitamins, iron, and magnesium. This makes it a good partner for vegetables that are good sources of vitamin C, such as peppers, and vitamin A, such as carrots or winter squash.
Edamame can be used in many ways. I have served it as a side dish with a little salt and pepper. It can also be added to any dish you add frozen vegetables to such as soups, stir-fries, or casseroles. I have added it to my children’s favorite, tuna and noodles. A small amount (1/2 to 1 cup) of thawed edamame could be added to any of these SpendSmart.EatSmart recipes to boost the nutrition:
Homemade salad dressing adds wonderful flavor to salads of all kinds – lettuce, fruit, and pasta salads. You can even add dressing to roasted veggies to add extra flavor. The thing I like best about homemade salad dressing is that it can be made quickly and easily by keeping some basic ingredients in your pantry – vinegar and oil plus whatever add-ins taste great to you, such as herbs, spices, mustard, fruit juice, sugar, salt, pepper.
Here are three easy steps to making a homemade salad dressing:
1. Measure your ingredients. Measure into a screw top container or a mixing bowl. Start with three parts oil to one part acid (vinegar or citrus juice) and a small amount of seasoning – you can always add more acid and seasoning later.
If you are interested in some homemade salad dressing recipes, check out our homemade salad dressing video, our salad dressing handout, and this newsletter that has a helpful salad dressing chart.
2. Mix your ingredients. If using a screw top container, secure the lid tightly and shake until combined. If using a mixing bowl, mix ingredients together vigorously using a fork or whisk.
3. Eat your salad. Pour your dressing onto your salad and eat it up. Homemade salad dressing will make your vegetables, fruits, and whole grains taste great.
In addition to the ease of making homemade salad dressing, I like the cost. I use canola oil in my salad dressings, which makes the cost about half of a store-bought salad dressing. Since citrus fruit has been cheap this winter, I have been saving even more money by using the juice from an orange in place of some of the vinegar. When I make my own dressing, I can try new things like this in small amounts without buying a whole bottle of premade dressing.
Look through your pantry and see what you have to make a homemade salad dressing today!
I know it’s time to make soup when my refrigerator, pantry and freezer are getting full of small bags of rice, pasta, meat, beans, and vegetables. I make soup using the ingredients I have on hand without a specific recipe.
This weekend I made ham soup. Saturday I simmered a ham bone with a chopped onion and some celery. I covered the bone and veggies with water, put a lid on the pot and it cooked away for a few hours. Then I removed the bone and vegetables and let the broth cool in the fridge overnight.
On Sunday I spooned off the hardened fat from the top of the broth and started reheating the broth. Then I pulled together a lot of odds and ends to give the soup great flavor and texture:
A cup of leftover cooked kidney beans
A cup of leftover ham
A cup of chopped chicken from the freezer
Some chopped vegetables (one onion, a cup of baby carrots and 3 small potatoes)
For seasoning I used one of the spice packets that come with Ramen noodles. (leftover from coleslaw when I used the noodles but not the spice)
The friend I had over for dinner loved the soup. She wanted the recipe. Uh-oh. Should I admit she was eating leftovers? Instead I told her I created the soup. I found a great handout from Utah State University Food Sense, Create a Soup which shows how you can make soup from what you have on hand.
Utah also has similar cheat sheets for making casseroles, pizza and fruity desserts from what you have on hand. To see a list of what’s available and links check out the SpendSmart.EatSmart web page.
I never heard of either kale or lentils when I was growing up. Recently, I’ve started enjoying both. Kale is being promoted as one of our most powerful vegetables. It is low in calories, but rich in vitamins C and K, fiber, and calcium. Lentils are very high in protein and they contain fiber, folate, vitamins and minerals. They come in a range of colors including yellow, red, green, brown and black. Lentils are easy for me, because they cook much faster than other dry beans.
When choosing kale at the grocery store, look for green leaves that are moist and crisp. If the leaves are yellow or brown, the kale is not fresh. Kale develops a stronger flavor the longer it is stored, so plan to use it within a day or two of purchase. Kale can be wrapped in a damp paper towel and stored in a plastic bag in the crisper section of your refrigerator. You can also store it in the fridge in a tall glass with some water (stems pointing down) like a flower bouquet to keep it fresh for a couple of days.
Our featured recipe this month includes both kale and lentils. It’s a quick and easy soup that is made using only one pan. You can have it on the table in less than 45 min. I serve it with bread, fruit and milk or cheese.
If you can’t find yellow or brown lentils other colors could be substituted. If kale is not available, or is too expensive you could use other greens in this soup such as collard greens or spinach.
Vegetable Soup with Kale and Lentils
Serving Size: 1 1/2 cups | Serves: 6
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
1 medium carrot, sliced 1/8 inch thick
2 teaspoons garlic, peeled and minced (3-4 cloves), or 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
4 cups water
1 cup dry yellow or brown lentils
1 can (14.5 ounces) reduced sodium chicken broth
1 tablespoon dried basil or Italian seasoning
1 can (14.5 ounces) no sodium added diced tomatoes or 2 chopped tomatoes
1 bunch kale (about 7 ounces)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat.
Add onions, carrots, and garlic. Cook 5 minutes.
Add water to veggies in pot. Heat to boiling.
Rinse lentils in colander with water. Add lentils to pot and simmer for 20 minutes. Do not drain.
Add chicken broth, dried basil or Italian seasoning, and tomatoes. Cover and cook for 5-10 minutes.
Rinse kale leaves, cut out the main stems and discard. Cut leaves into 1-inch pieces.
Stir kale, salt, and pepper into lentil mixture. Return to boiling. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 3 minutes.
Skip soaking the lentils first for this recipe. It is not needed.
Use kitchen scissors instead of a knife to cut the kale.
Make kale chips from extra leaves. Drizzle a little oil on clean, dry leaves. Spread leaves on a cookie sheet. Bake 12-20 minutes at 350 degrees F. Leaves should be thin and crackly but not brown. Remove from oven and sprinkle with salt.
I look forward to the traditions associated with holidays because I find comfort in doing the same things each year. Many of our family traditions include food. We work together in the kitchen to create foods we often eat only once each year. When visiting my husband’s grandparents, we were introduced to baked oatmeal and we fell in love. We decided that it needed to become part of our family traditions. Baked oatmeal is a great breakfast any day, but we think it will make a perfect holiday breakfast for us this year and in future years. Here is why I am choosing baked oatmeal this holiday season:
It can be put together the night before. All I will have to do in the morning is put it in the oven, so I will not miss out on any family time.
Each person can make their bowl of baked oatmeal special with add-ins like sliced bananas, nuts, dried fruit, milk and cinnamon sugar.
It is a healthy choice. Baked oatmeal is made with fruit, oats (a whole grain), and non-fat milk.
It is filling. The oats fill me up so I am less likely to get hungry for the high fat and sugar snacks that are common during the holidays.
Most adults have no idea how many calories they burn in a day, so they don’t realize that a piece of pecan pie that has 500 calories is probably 25% of all the calories they need for a day.
Calories are just a measurement tool, like inches or ounces. They measure the energy a food or beverage provides. Most women burn about 1600 to 2000 calories a day. A pound is equal to 3500 calories. If you consistently eat more calories than you burn through daily living and exercise, you gain weight. Studies show a pound or two gained over the holidays sometimes never comes off again.
If you’d like to get an estimate of how many calories you use in a day based on your age, gender, and activity, check out Super Tracker from USDA. You can also set goals and track activities and calories at this site.
I don’t want to be surprised by the calories in my holiday treats. Below is a chart of some treats and their nutrition information along with links to the restaurants’ nutrition pages. An extra treat like these added to your usual diet, could add a pound in just a week. The cost of these treats varies based on where you live, but each represents extra expense for me during a time of year when I need to keep a careful eye on my budget. When I consider the cost and know the calories, my self-control to make healthy choices is boosted and I can choose the treats I really love and pass by the ones that aren’t that special to me. Many restaurants have incredibly detailed nutrition information online so you can know the facts about your holiday favorites!
The 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.