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It’s marked on sale, but is it really a good deal?

April 20th, 2015

grocery saleStores have all kinds of tricks to encourage us to spend more money. One of them is marking items with special “sale” tags or quantity discounts like 3 for $5. The only way to tell if the item is actually a good price is to know what the item usually costs. A price book can help you do that.

Keeping a price book is simple. All you need is a small notebook where you can record the price you pay for commonly purchased items. You can refer to the book to determine if a deal will actually save you money and track which grocery stores tend to have higher and lower prices. A price book can include as many items as you like or just the staples you buy frequently. For example, I keep a list of prices for the items I buy every week like apples, milk, chicken breasts and string cheese. Knowing the usual price for these staple items allows me to spot a good deal really easily and helps me recognize when a deal is actually just a gimmick.

Click out our video below for a simple guide to starting a price book and start saving today!

Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=52BbMO2CfoE

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Menu Planning: Less Stress, More Money

April 13th, 2015

menu planningMy son’s famous first words these days when we get home after work and school are “Mom, I’m hungry. Can I have a snack?” Since it is usually close to supper, I encourage him to go play and let him know that supper will be ready shortly. And since I plan my evening meals a week at a time, I can get supper on the table in a short amount of time. I know what we are having and have the ingredients on hand. Menu planning is a win-win for us. I’m not stressed out thinking about what we are going to have and my son doesn’t have to wait long to eat when he is hungry.

Eating a balanced meal and saving money at the grocery store are other benefits of menu planning. When you plan your meals, you can take the time to include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and calcium-rich foods in your meals. And when you go to the grocery store, you can be sure to buy these items to have on hand and it prevents you from buying items you won’t need. Here are some tips to successful menu planning:

  • Determine what meals you will plan. Since the meal my family eats together is supper that is the meal I spend time to plan. However, you can plan for breakfast, lunch, supper or snacks. I go to the grocery store once a week so I plan my meals a week at a time. You might choose to plan them for more or fewer days.
  • Write the plan on a calendar. I write my meal plan on a calendar that hangs in my kitchen. This calendar includes other family activities so I know if we will be gone for a meal at night or have a really rushed evening. My husband knows to look at the calendar to see what we are having.

Another option is the 5-day meal planner on our Spend Smart. Eat Smart. website. Since weekends tend to be less structured for most people, the plan is for only 5 days. The meal planner also has a checklist of the food groups to help you plan balanced meals.

  • Check what you have on hand. Check your refrigerator, freezer, and cupboards for foods that need to be used up in the next few days. Think of ways to include these items in your meals. I always plan a night to have leftovers so they don’t go to waste.
  • Review the grocery ads for specials you can use. Save money by purchasing items on sale that you can pair with the foods you have on hand to help complete your meals.
  • Keep a list of the recipes your family likes best. Having a list helps make meal planning go really quickly because you can easily spot the recipes that use things you have on hand or are on sale. Some recipes my family likes are Beef and Vegetable Stir Fry, Quick Pad Thai, and Crispy Salmon Patties.

For more information on menu planning watch “How to Plan a Menu.”

Jodi Signature

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Spring Cleaning – Sanitizing Versus Washing

March 23rd, 2015

person cleaning counterWhen you are doing your cleaning do you ever wonder if you are getting something truly clean or just wiping the dirt off the surface? I think about it a lot because I often rush through the cleaning just to make the house look nice before someone comes over. For the second week of spring cleaning, I would like to bring back a blog topic I wrote in 2011 called “How Clean is it?  Sanitizing vs. Washing”.

As I mentioned before, often when I am cleaning I am motivated by having a nice looking house. What I should really be motivated by is having a home that has a safe level of germs. Having no germs in the house would make it sterile, and that is not a possibility, so I need to aim for a safe level of germs. The best way to do that is to wash and sanitize.

Washing is done best with hot soapy water. This removes all the visible dirt, food, hair, and other disgusting things around my home. When spring cleaning, most things can be washed – counters, cupboards, walls, floors, door knobs, light switches, railings, showers, and toilets. The bonus of washing is that when the surface grime is washed away, so are some of the germs.

Unfortunately, washing does not get rid of enough of the germs, so the next step is sanitizing. What you sanitize and how often you sanitize depends on your situation – check out this handout for suggestions. I usually sanitize high use surfaces (countertops, toilets) a couple of times a week, some surfaces (light switches, door knobs) monthly, and other surfaces (cupboards, walls) a couple of times a year. You can sanitize daily if you need to.

I sanitize two different ways. After the surface that I have washed has dried, I will either spray it with a bleach solution or wipe it off with disinfecting wipes. Then let the surface air dry or dry with a paper towel before using it. Both ways will get the amount of germs down to a safe level. Fewer germs leads to less sickness and less sickness leads to lower doctor bills.

To make your own bleach solution add ½ teaspoon regular bleach (or 1/8 teaspoon concentrated bleach) and 2 cups of water to a spray bottle.  Bleach solutions need to be dumped out and re-made about once per week.

Have fun with your spring cleaning,

Justine

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‘Bite into a Healthy Lifestyle’ during National Nutrition Month®

March 9th, 2015

vegetables heart mixedIf you planned to start eating better at the start of 2015 but have gotten a bit off track, National Nutrition Month® is a good time to refocus. National Nutrition Month® is celebrated each March to focus attention on the importance of making informed food choices and developing sound eating and physical activity habits. The theme for 2015 is “Bite into a Healthy Lifestyle.” Here are 5 tips from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics to help you do just that:

  1. Eat Breakfast-There’s no better way to start your morning than with a healthy breakfast. Include lean protein, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy. Try our Make Ahead Breakfast Burritos to get you going in the morning!
  2. Fix Healthy Snacks- Healthy snacks help sustain your energy levels between meals and prevent overeating at mealtime. Make your snacks combination snacks by choosing from two or more of the MyPlate food groups.
  3. Get Cooking-Cooking at home is usually healthier because you get to decide how much fat, salt, and sugar to add to your foods. Check out our Spend Smart. Eat Smart. How to Channel to view a variety of cooking videos.
  4. Explore New Foods and Flavors- When shopping, set a goal to select a fruit, vegetable, or whole grain that’s new to you or your family. Visit www.fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org to learn about a variety of fruits and vegetables.
  5. Eat Meals Together- Research shows that family meals promote healthier eating. Plan to eat as a family at least a few times each week. Turn off the TV, phones or other electronic devices to encourage talking at mealtimes. Use our Mealtime Conversation Cards to get the conversation going!

For more tips on how to ‘Bite into a Healthy Lifestyle’ visit the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website.

National Nutrition Month® is a nutrition education and information campaign sponsored annually by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Jodi Signature

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Preparing your Kitchen for Holiday Entertaining

December 1st, 2014

Holiday place settingIt’s the time of year when many of us have family visiting and special get-togethers that involve food. You can save a lot of money by having holiday parties at home rather than in a restaurant and it is usually more fun too. I have friends coming for dinner this month as well as a neighborhood cookie swap at my house.

These are all fun things to do, but I’ll have a lot more fun if I get organized and I know that my kitchen is ready for the extra “traffic”. Here are some things that I do to make sure my kitchen is organized for holiday entertaining.

  1. I go through my seasonings and spices to make sure I know what I have so that I don’t end up buying unnecessary duplicates.
  2. I look carefully at what is in my freezer and make a point of getting things used up to clear out space.
  3. I go through the bottles and jars in my fridge and make sure everything is in date. If it is expired I throw it out.
  4. I review the recipes that I want to make and create a meal plan as well as a grocery list. This will keep me from being tempted by all of the tasty things at the grocery store that I really don’t need. As I’m doing this, I think about what I’ll ask guests to bring if they offer to provide a dish.
  5. Parties can mean some extra sweets and rich holiday recipes so I balance those extra calories by eating really well when it’s not party day. I stock up on easy-to-eat fruits and veggies that I can keep in the fridge for a quick snack or side dish.

I hope these tips help make your holiday entertaining stress free and please share your ideas with us on Spend Smart. Eat Smart’s. Facebook page!

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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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Manage Food Spending with Online Calculator

August 18th, 2014

grocery storeYes, grocery prices have gone up.  Do you wonder if you could eat nutritiously and spend less on food for your family?

If so, our online calculator provides the weekly and monthly amount your family needs to spend for nutritious meals on USDA’s Low-cost Plan. To use the calculator you will need the age, gender, and number of meals eaten away from home for each member of your household. You can also get information about the other three USDA food plans: Thrifty, Moderate-Cost, and Liberal.

How does this amount compare with what you spend?  Sometimes it is hard to monitor how much you spend on food each month because we purchase food at numerous places and times throughout the month. Our page about tracking your food expenses can help. This includes some helpful suggestions and questions to ask yourself about your spending habits.

If you decide to you want to spend less on food our website SpendSmart EatSmart is devoted to eating nutritiously on a budget.

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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BEEF: How can we afford it for dinner?

April 28th, 2014

Part 1: How To Save on Ground Beef

hamburger dinner meals beefIt’s almost grilling season but beef prices are high. In fact, they are at an all-time high and are expected to remain high for the next year or two. Why? The number of cattle in the US is low due to high grain prices and dry weather conditions. Cattlemen are increasing their herds but it takes a long time to increase the number of cattle (a calf born in the spring of 2014 would be bred in 2015, might have a calf by 2016 and that calf couldn’t come to market until 2017).

I love grilled hamburgers, but when prices get over $3.50 a pound I start looking for ways to save. Here are 7 ideas.

1. Buy on sale. Meat usually goes on sale for a week at a time. Stock up and freeze the extra. Keep track of the deals on ground beef and only buy when the sales match your “never-pay-more-than” price.

2. Buy in bulk. If a 10# package costs $.20 less per pound you are saving $2.00 by buying the larger package (If you will take the time to package it correctly when you get home and if you have the space in the freezer to keep it).

3. Mix fresh ground turkey, ground chicken or ground pork with ground beef in equal amounts.

4. Switch to ground pork burgers, ground turkey  or chicken burgers instead of beef for your patties.

5. Add TVP (textured vegetable protein) to ground beef. Just add the dry nuggets to the raw ground meat and mix together with your hands or a spoon. Use about one part meat to one part TVP; you can adjust these amounts according to your own preferences.textured vegetable protein

You can freeze the mixture just as you would plain hamburger or ground meat. Just place meal-sized batches of the meat mixture into freezer bags or containers and freeze. Or make patties and freeze. When you’re ready to use some, just thaw the bag like you would normally.

TVP is sold in most grocery stores in a 10-12 ounce bag.  A common brand is Bob’s Red Mill, but any brand is fine.  You may have to ask someone to help you find it the first time.

6. Add  ¼ -½ cup of crushed cereal, oatmeal, small bread cubes, grated vegetables such as potatoes or carrots, minced mushrooms, cooked rice or mashed beans to the ground beef before you make the patties.  The University of Illinois has a publication called Go Further Burgers which gives more details.

7. Instead of having hamburger patties, go with sloppy joes or maidrites.  Our Sloppy Joe recipe makes enough filling for 5 generous sandwiches.   You could even get 6 servings if needed.

On May 12th I’ll be back with more ways to stretch your meat dollar.

Peggy Signature

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SNAP Challenge Meals

April 14th, 2014

Following our SNAP challenge blogs throughout the month of March, I received some requests for details about the foods I purchased and how I put them together into meals. I allowed myself $28 and I spent $25.01 so that I could use a few things from home (cooking spray, margarine, salt and pepper).

Breakfasts

Baked eggs (raw)Baked eggs (cooked)

Given the cost of meat, I tried to get protein from eggs each day. I made baked eggs twice during the week and ate one or two each morning with a slice of whole wheat toast with margarine, a banana and a cup of milk. My baked eggs recipe is quite simple.

Baked Eggs

  1. Spray a muffin tin with non-stick spray or rub with a bit of vegetable oil.
  2. Put a thin slice of ham in each cup and crack an egg inside the ham.
  3. Bake at 375 degrees until eggs are totally set. This typically takes about 15 minutes.

Lunches

I went to work on five of the seven days of my challenge. I knew I would dwell on food a bit during this week so I wanted to choose lunches that would be very filling. Carrots and celery were the most affordable vegetables at my store, so I needed to base a lot of meals around them. At the beginning of the week I made a vegetable salad with garbanzo beans (aka chickpeas) that I ate for lunch with two or three clementines. I made all of the salad at once to get ready for the week. The full salad recipe was 4 cups of chopped carrots, 4 cups of chopped celery and two cans of garbanzo beans (drained and rinsed). Salad dressing did not fit in my budget so I topped my salad with about a tablespoon of reduced fat mayonnaise seasoned with salt and pepper when I sat down to eat each day.

On the weekend days when I was not at work, I ate leftovers from dinner.

Dinners

My twenty eight dollars did not give me room for a lot of variety during my week. There was much repetition. I chose two basic dishes and made them in large enough quantities to provide me with seven dinners plus a bit leftover. These dishes are not really recipes; they are just simple combinations that allowed me to eat relatively healthy for very little money.

The first was a meatless meal of whole wheat pasta with jarred pasta sauce topped with some grated cheddar cheese. This was not a particularly exciting dish, but I was able to get 4 single-serving meals for just $3.87.

The second dish was based around the fact that my store had a special on chicken thighs that made them the most affordable meat option for me. I bought a package of six thighs for $3.88. I built the dish around the chicken and stretched it with some additional ingredients.

Chicken with Rice and Peppers

  1. Individual servingsSeason chicken thighs with a bit of salt and pepper and roast at 425 degrees for 50 minutes or until a meat thermometer reads 165 on a food thermometer.
  2. While chicken roasts, chop three bell peppers and cook them in a skillet over medium heat for about ten to twelve minutes.
  3. When the peppers are cooked, add a can of pinto beans that have been drained and rinsed. I used a 24 ounce can. Season with pepper and a pinch of salt.
  4. Cook brown rice according to package instructions. I made four servings, but this is flexible based on how many people you’re trying to serve.
  5. When chicken is done. Remove the skin and pick meat from the bones.
  6. Combine rice, peppers and beans, chicken and two cups of thawed frozen corn in a large pot. Cook over low heat until everything is combined and heated through.

This dish made six large servings and cost just under $10. It could easily serve eight if some sides were also being served.

SNAP Challenge PurchaseAs you can see, the volume of food available for my $28 budget was not too bad, but eating the same dish over and over again did get boring. I also ate less dairy and fruit than would be recommended. I also did not have room in my budget for any beverages beyond milk and water and I did not purchase any snacks.

My menus were largely built around the sales at my store, I chose proteins and vegetables that were at a good price and then filled them out with some whole grain products that are generally inexpensive. Since the challenge, I have continued to think this way when I determine meals for the week. My $28 budget allowed me to purchase most of the foods I needed for a week, but left no room for convenience items or snacks. This meant I spent a lot of time preparing my food and I chose only foods that gave me the nutrients I need.

 

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