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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.

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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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The Rhoads’ SNAP Challenge

March 24th, 2014

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.

Rhoads SNAP

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!

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A Week in Someone Else’s Shoes

March 17th, 2014

002Last week I wrote about my experience with the SNAP Challenge. I limited my food budget to what I would receive if I participated in SNAP (formerly known as food stamps). I learned a lot and put my cooking and shopping skills to the test! Dr. Ruth Litchfield is a friend and colleague of mine who is a dietitian and teaches nutrition courses at our university. She took the SNAP challenge as well. I was fascinated to learn about her family’s experience.

Ruth is married with two children. Her daughter is away at school and her son is at home, so her budget for the week was for three ($84). Ruth teaches college courses about nutrition including food assistance programs but has never “lived it” herself. This gave her the opportunity to practice some of what she teaches.

Given Ruth’s extensive knowledge and background in nutrition, she was able to approach the week with a lot of strategy and planning. Ruth also had the advantage of being an experienced cook. So with all of this knowledge you might wonder what she chose to buy.

Breakfast

Ruth described breakfast as a challenge, “We are accustomed to more convenience items for breakfast including cereal and instant oatmeal.” Those foods didn’t fit in the overall budget so they stuck with toast, canister oatmeal, and pancakes.

Lunch

Typically Ruth packs sack lunches for everyone in her house. If her family actually qualified for SNAP, her son would receive free lunch at school. As part of this experience, he ate school lunch for the week. He enjoyed the lunch provided at school, but the weather threw the whole family a curve ball. Winter weather meant one day of no school, two early dismissals and one late start. Ruth described how this unexpected change created some problems with her plan. “That meant two additional noon meals at home that I had not planned on, if I had been really depending on the school meals that would have been a big issue,” she said.

Dinner

Chicken hindquarters were on sale at Ruth’s grocery store, so she purchased a large bag and built several meals around using this chicken. She chose meals that would stretch the meat as much as possible like chicken noodle soup and wild rice soup with chicken. In addition, she planned some meatless meals like egg casserole and pasta with tomato sauce.

Ruth’s experience was similar to mine in that she had to fall back on her cooking and meal-planning skills in order to make the budget work and feed her family nutritious meals. They also had to make a few changes to their usual habits.

  • She reduced their usual variety of fruits and vegetables. They ate a mix of fresh, frozen, and canned fruits and veggies throughout the week based on what was available at a good price.
  • She avoided convenience foods and replaced them with less-expensive options.
  • She built meals around items that were on sale and stretched more expensive items like meat as much as possible.
  • Her son ate school lunch instead of his usual sack lunch.

Though Ruth’s family had enough food to get through the week without going hungry, Ruth shared that she was preoccupied with thoughts about food during the week. “I was thinking about food much more that week than I typically would, it was surprising how much food occupied my thoughts.”

We would love to hear your cost-saving strategies in the comments section below. Do you have some go-to-meals that help you save money while still eating healthy?

Be sure to check next week’s blog for another SNAP challenge story. We’ll hear how Vickie and Paul Rhoads as well as their teenage son Wyatt took on the challenge.

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Are Valentine’s Day and National Heart Month Related?

February 17th, 2014

I wonder if it is coincidence that Valentine’s Day, National Heart Month, and National Wear Red Day are all in February. Probably not, but it would be great if the hype around Valentine’s Day reminded us to eat heart healthy. What is a better way to show your love than preparing healthy, delicious food for your family and friends? Here are a few facts:

  • Heart disease is still the leading cause of death in the US even though we tend to hear more about cancer.
  • We can’t change some of the risks factors for heart disease such a family history, gender, and age. However, many of the risk factors for heart disease are related to diet and physical activity which we can influence, they include: cholesterol level, high blood pressure, diabetes, overweight, smoking and lack of physical activity.

The American Heart Association has a list of Tips for Heart-Healthy Grocery Shopping that provides a good start for anyone one who wants to improve the quality of their diet. Their list highlights the types of fats and oils to choose and avoid as well as how to avoid excess sodium in the diet.

Perhaps you have already made changes in your diet. If you would like to check out your knowledge about sodium, fats and nutrition take their three nutrition quizzes: pink hearts

Fats and Sodium Explorer- What are your daily calorie needs? Recommended range for total fats, limits for the “bad” fats:  saturated and trans fats.

Test Your Sodium Smarts-Test your sodium smarts by answering 10 questions about which food products are higher in sodium.

Test Your Fats IQ- Do you know your fats by heart? Test just how knowledgeable you are.     Peggy Signature

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8 Ways For Families To Reduce Food Waste.

February 10th, 2014

woman looking in cupboard SmallLast June the USDA and EPA launched the U.S. Food Waste Challenge, calling on everyone in the food chain to join the effort to reduce, recover, and recycle food waste.

Food waste in the United States is estimated at 30 to 40 percent of the food supply.  Some of this food could be going to hungry people rather than filling up landfills and creating greenhouse gases.

According to the Iowa Food Waste Reduction Project, almost 14% of all municipally-landfilled waste is food waste making it the #1 most prevalent disposed material.

What can individuals do?  Here is a list of ways to reduce wasted food from USDA. Visit the food waste reduction website for more information.

  1. Shop your refrigerator first!  Cook or eat what you already have at home before buying more.
  2. Plan your menu before you go shopping and buy only those things on your menu.
  3. Buy only what you realistically need and will use. Buying in bulk only saves money if you are able to use the food before it spoils.
  4. Nutritious, safe, and untouched food can be donated to food banks to help those in need.
  5. At restaurants, order only what you can finish by asking about portion sizes and be aware of side dishes included with entrees. Take home the leftovers and keep them for your next meal.
  6. Compost food scraps rather than throwing them away.
  7. Don’t automatically throw out food that has been in the freezer longer than “recommended”. Food poisoning bacteria does not grow in the freezer, so no matter how long a food is frozen, it is safe to eat. Foods that have been in the freezer for months may be dry, or may not taste as good, but they will be safe to eat. So if you find a package of ground beef that has been in the freezer more than a few months, don’t throw it out. Use it to make chili or tacos. The seasonings and additional ingredients can make up for loss of flavor.
  8. Likewise, canned goods will last for years, as long as the can itself is in good condition (no rust, dents, or swelling). Packaged foods (cereal, pasta, cookies) will be safe past the ‘best by’ date, although they may eventually become stale or develop an off flavor. If food appears moldy or discolored, do not eat it.

For more information on what the dates on packages mean check out our Spend Smart Eat Smart web page.

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