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Less Waste, More Money

By Sarah Allen, Nutrition Program Student Assistant

Freeze Bean SoupIn my Let’s Talk about Food Waste blog last week, I shared about what food waste is and how much it can cost you. Reducing food waste is not as hard as you think. The USDA has created a resource called Let’s Talk Trash. In it they offer tips on how you can put a stop to food waste in your home.

  • Plan and Save: Look in your pantry, freezer, and fridge to make a list of what you need to buy before grocery shopping. This can help you buy only the food you need and keep money in your pocket.
  • Be Organized: After you buy food for the week, make sure that you keep things tidy. You can do this by having it sorted by expiration date. An easy way to keep cans organized is to take a permanent marker and write the date large enough to see. Put products with the earliest date toward the front of the cupboard, so they get used first.
  • Repurpose and freeze extra food: Sometimes having the same meal for the whole week can be boring. One way to use leftovers is by making them into a new meal. For example, if you have leftovers from our Tasty Taco Rice Salad recipe, use as a substitute for the filling in our Stuffed Peppers When you freeze food, write the following on the container:
    • The name of the food,
    • How much is in the container, and
    • The date that you put it in the freezer.

For more information on how you can store leftovers longer, watch How to Freeze Leftovers.

It may seem overwhelming to make these changes, but once you start, it will become a habit. I hope you can use these tips to help you save money!

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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Let’s Talk about Food Waste

By Sarah Allen, Nutrition Program Student Assistant

Money in Trash BagIt is that time of year when fresh fruits and veggies are in season, and the grocery store has specials on meat for grilling. However, sometimes you buy too much and have to throw away food because it goes bad before you can use it. Food waste is particularly problematic when you are trying to stick to a tight grocery budget because you get nothing for your money if food goes in the trash.

How much money is that? On average, we waste $370 worth of food per person per year in the US. USDA’s Let’s talk trash. infographic breaks it up by types of food:

Grains (bread, pasta): $22 per year
Fruits (apples, banana, orange): $45 per year
Proteins (beef, chicken, pork, fish): $140 per year
Vegetables (onion, lettuce, peppers): $66 per year
Dairy (milk, yogurt, cheese): $60 per year
Added Fat & Sugar (chips, candy): $37 per year
Total: $370 per year

As you can see, protein is one of the top types of food that we throw away, while foods like bread and pasta are least likely to be thrown away. This seems like a lot of money (and food). Why do we throw food away? The main reason is because it spoils before we can eat it.

Food waste may seem hard to avoid, but you can reduce it. The Spend Smart. Eat Smart. website has a lot of ideas for how you can save your food in the Reduce Food Waste section. Look for my blog next week on how you can limit food waste!

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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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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What’s In Season Now?

pomegranate fruit whole and cutIt’s that time of year when my son asks me to buy pomegranates when he sees them in the grocery store because he so enjoys eating pomegranate seeds. I think it might have something to do with whacking the fruit to get the seeds to fall out. My 2-year old daughter is now a fan of them also. They are quite tasty and fun to eat… if only the seeds were easier to get to! Here is a video that shows how to get them out without making a mess!

These days I’m also filling my grocery cart with clementines, oranges, and kiwi fruit. They are in season now, so their price is low and they taste great. While these fruits are in season during the winter, some fruits and vegetables are in season year round. These include bananas, apples, carrots, celery, onions, and potatoes. These fruits and vegetables can be found at reasonable prices and with good flavor all year long. When you want or need a fruit or vegetable that is not in season, consider canned or frozen versions for a better buy. Choose fruits canned in their own juice or water and vegetables canned without salt.

For more ideas on purchasing fruits and vegetables, check out our “How-To” videos.

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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Hitting the Road!

packed lunch healthySummer is the perfect time to load up the car for a getaway with the family. Regardless of the destination, you’ll need to eat along the way. The highways are lined with fast food restaurants and gas stations, but that’s about it. Not only are the options at these places high in calories and low in nutrients… they can get expensive too!

At the Drive-Thru:

Fast food restaurants may seem like the inexpensive choice at first. But when the whole family is hungry, it can get pricey. Check out what you could end up spending on one trip through the drive-thru.

  • 1 Bacon Cheeseburger Meal (fries and drink included) – $6.49
  • 1 Fried Chicken Sandwich Meal (fries and drink included) – $6.19
  • 2 Kids Meals- $3.19 each
  • Total = $19.06 plus tax

In addition to the cost, meals at fast food places are packed with sodium, fat, and calories. One sandwich can have over 500 calories and 1000 milligrams of sodium and a medium fountain drink can contain a quarter of a cup of sugar.

At the Gas Station:

Gas stations and convenience stores may be quick and easy, but it will be hard to find healthy options.

  • 2 bags of chips – $1.99 each
  • 2 candy bars – $1.39 each
  • 2 sodas – $1.79 each
  • 2 bottles of juice -$1.99 each
  • Total = $14.32 plus tax

You could spend almost $20 for food that isn’t very filling. It won’t be long before hungry stomachs have you pulling over at another exit.

Even if you find healthy options on the road, you can count on spending more than if you bring food from home. A banana at a gas station costs about $1.00, you could bring 4 bananas from home for the same price.

From Your Cooler:

Take control of your road trip! Fill up a cooler with snacks before you leave. You can choose healthy options, and you’ll save money that you can use for other fun adventures on your trip. Check out this meal:

  • 4 turkey sandwiches on whole wheat bread – $5.44
  • 2 apples- $1.58
  • 2 bananas- $0.38
  • 4 low fat cheese sticks- $1.42
  • 1 package of baby carrots- $1.28
  • Ice water in reusable bottles – FREE
  • Total = $10.10

Just like that, you’ve made a meal that keeps everyone full and happy for half the price. You can rest easy on your trip knowing that your family got the nutrition they needed. Now, bring on the open road!

Maddie
ISU Student

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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Tips for Shopping at the Farmers Market

One of my favorite things about summer is going to my local farmers market for delicious, fresh fruits and vegetables. I grow some of my own tomatoes and herbs on my patio, but I don’t have the space to do much more than that. The farmers market has a huge variety and the food is as fresh as if I had grown it myself. Shopping at the farmers market is different than the grocery store so here are some tips for readers who may not have given it a try before or found it to be overwhelming.

  1. Bring your own bag. The farmers will appreciate it and having a bag that can go on your shoulder will help keep your hands free. I use a backpack!
  2. Get to know your local farmers. They will help you choose the best they have to offer and will have good suggestions for cooking and preparing the fruits and veggies as well.
  3. Beware the “health halo”. Many vendors sell delicious baked goods like donuts and pies. My market has vendors that sell fabulous international foods like Salvadoran Pupusas and Vietnamese spring rolls. Yum! Indulging in these treats can be a fun part of going to the farmers market, but keep in mind that just because they are sold at the farmers market doesn’t mean they are as healthy as the fruits and veggies at the neighboring vendors.
  4. Try something new! My farmers market sells some fruits and vegetables that I can’t find at the grocery store. I try a few new things each summer like different types of tomatoes, beets, greens and squash.
  5. WIC @ Farmers MarketsSNAP Farmers MarketsLearn about what forms of payment are accepted. Many farmers accept food assistance EBT as well as WIC benefits. You may see a sign at the farmer’s booth indicating they accept these forms of payment. In Iowa the signs will look like this.

Enjoy your farmers market this summer and share your finds with us on Facebook!

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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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Shopping for Seasonal Fruits and Vegetables

watermelon slices fruitsFresh watermelon, cherries, and blueberries…sure signs that summer is here. My 22 month old daughter loves eating these summer fruits. I’m glad she likes them but oh boy does she create a sticky mess when she eats them; watermelon juice running down her chin, her hands sticky with cherries. The blueberries aren’t usually too messy, except when she drops one in her seat and sits on it!

I like purchasing fruits and vegetables that are in season because they have the best flavor and are usually the least expensive. My husband really likes fresh asparagus and would like to eat it year-round. However, I won’t buy it fresh unless it is spring when asparagus is in season. When fruits and vegetables aren’t in season, consider buying them canned or frozen for a better buy.

In the summer in Iowa, I enjoy going to farmers markets to look for seasonal and locally grown fruits and vegetables. At the farmers market I can talk with the grower about their produce and get their recommendations for selecting and preparing the produce.

Many fruits and vegetables are available at a low cost from the grocery store year-round like bananas, carrots, celery, onions, and potatoes. To find out when different fruits and vegetables are in season, check out the list on Produce for Better Health.

For more information, watch our video on How to shop for seasonal fruits and vegetables.

Whether it’s veggies from your own garden, the farmers market or the grocery store, enjoy all of the flavors of summer!

Jodi Signature

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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Manage Food Spending with Online Calculator

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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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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SNAP Challenge Meals

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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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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