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Hitting the Road!

August 10th, 2015

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

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Tips for Shopping at the Farmers Market

July 20th, 2015

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!

s Signature-1

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Shopping for Seasonal Fruits and Vegetables

July 13th, 2015

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

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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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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.

 

s Signature-1

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Are Steamer Bags Worth the Money?

March 31st, 2014

frozen vegetablesI’m all for increasing the amount of vegetables in the diet. Vegetables provide nutrients we can’t get from other foods plus they are low in calories and high in fiber. I also think frozen vegetables are a great value. They are usually flash frozen right after they are picked so they may have more nutrients than fresh vegetables that have spent a long time traveling across the country. Sometimes they are less expensive than fresh vegetables, and they are already cleaned and prepared.

A few years ago manufacturers began selling frozen vegetables that can be microwaved in the bag they are sold in. Microwave steam bag vegetables are supposed to be a healthy solution for those who want to increase their vegetable intake without sacrificing convenience. These “steamers” have gotten so popular that it is hard to find frozen bags of vegetables that are not “steamers”.

I just don’t get why these are so popular!

1)  They are more expensive.  An ounce of frozen mixed vegetables in the steamer bags in central Iowa cost between  $.10 to $.14 an ounce. While the same food in plain plastic bag cost $.08-.09 ounce.  (Sometimes the bags cost the same, but the “steamer” bags had only ¾ as much as the plain bags).

2) I can’t see that they save much time or save washing dishes. 

a. The advantage of frozen bags of vegetables has always been that you could take out just what you need and put the rest back in the freezer. With “steamer” bags you have to cook the whole bag to get the steamer effect.  I think this leads to wasted leftover vegetables.
b. Unless you serve the vegetables in the plastic bag you still have to get a container dirty.

I cook frozen vegetables without the aid of this specialized packaging. All it takes is a microwave safe serving bowl and some ordinary plastic wrap or a lidded microwave-safe container. I put about a cup of vegetables per person in the bowl, add about 1 tablespoon of water, cover and cook on high 2-5 minutes, depending on how much is in the bowl. If you’re unsure how much time is needed, start at two minutes. Keep cooking the vegetables for an additional one minute at a time until hot.

Before you jump on the steaming bag trend, make sure you compare the price per ounce and think about whether it will really save you time.

Pointers from

Peggy Signature

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How Much are you Paying for your Coffee?

June 24th, 2013

PR27358-1526x228983% of Americans drink coffee according to the National Coffee Association’s 2013 online survey. That’s up from 78% last year and more than any other country in the world.

How much do we pay for coffee?  That is really hard to figure since:

1)  We drink different size cups and make it different strengths. It used to be a cup of coffee was 6oz. Now a cup of coffee is at least 8 ounces with mugs and to-go cups routinely being 12-18 ounces.

2)  There are many ways to make your coffee. Home-brewing gadgets and single-serve coffee makers are very popular, as are gourmet beans and coffeehouses.

3)  Coffee drink sales are increasing while drinking traditional coffee is dropping. Last year nearly 1/3 of US adults were drinking a gourmet coffee each day. This includes coffees such as lattes and espresso along with custom blends of exotic beans.

Liz Breuer, an ISU dietetics student, and I decided to compare prices. Check out the coffee prices we found in central Iowa.

Ounces per container  Cost Cost for 12 ounces One Coffee a day for a year
Brewed Coffee*
Cameron’s ground flavor coffee 12  $ 6.99  $ 0.41  $ 150.08
Cameron’s bulk coffee 12  $ 6.74  $ 0.40  $ 144.71
HyVee Whole Bean Coffee 12  $ 6.69  $ 0.39  $ 143.64
Starbucks ground coffee 12  $ 8.99  $ 0.53  $ 193.02
Dunkin Donuts Coffee 12  $ 7.38  $ 0.43  $ 158.45
Panera ground Coffee 12  $ 8.29  $ 0.49  $ 177.99
Folgers coffee flavored 11.5  $ 5.39  $ 0.32  $ 115.73
Folgers coffee plain (on sale) 33.9  $ 7.88  $ 0.17  $ 61.20
Single Serve
Cameron’s single serve 12 cups $7.49 12 K cups  $ 7.49  $ 0.62  $ 227.82
8 O’clock (Keurig) 12 K cup packs $6.99 12 K cups  $ 6.99  $ 0.58  $ 212.61
Green Mountain (Keurig) 12 K cup packs $8.29 12 K cups  $ 8.29  $ 0.61  $ 222.85
35 K cup assortment mail order including shipping 35 K cups  $ 27.99  $ 0.79  $ 288.35
Coffee by the Cup
Starbucks 12 oz. with one pump hazelnut 12  $ 1.77  $ 1.77 $ 646.05
  with three pumps hazelnut 12  $ 2.30  $ 2.30  $ 839.50
Casey’s gas station 12  $ 1.09  $ 1.09  $ 397.85
Panera^ 16  $ 1.99  $ 1.49  $ 543.85
Butterfinger Frappuccino^ 16  $ 4.35  $ 3.26  $ 1,189.90
* Costs calculated estimating 12 oz. of coffee would yield 17-12 ounces cup^ Costs calculated from 16 oz. price

I’m one of those 83% who drink coffee and I am especially fond of hazelnut flavored coffee. If I really want to splurge I have a skim milk latte. I admit I haven’t tried the other specialty coffees because I just can’t get past the cost and the calories.

According to the Mayo clinic, the health benefits of drinking coffee in moderate amounts outweighs the risks. However, added fat and sugar in some drinks can make them unhealthy. The Daily Beast, which is part of Newsweek, has an article called 40 Unhealthiest Coffees  which I thought was very interesting.

If you want to know more about brewing and storing coffee, roasting types, or recipes check out the National Coffee Association’s web site.

Peggy Signature

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New Videos that Help you Shop for Fruits and Vegetables

June 10th, 2013

pile of veggiesWhen you’re planning your meals and writing your grocery list, do you ever wonder how many fruits and vegetables to buy or how to get the best deals on them? If so, check out our new series of 2-3 minute ‘how to’ videos. Some of the topics for the videos include:

A few of the tips shared in the videos that I find helpful include:

-Check your cupboards, refrigerator, and freezers to see what you already have.

-Check the grocery ads for what is on sale.

-Buy a variety of fruits and vegetables including fresh, canned, frozen, and dried.

-Use unit pricing to help you decide what is the best deal for you.

Before heading to the grocery store or Farmer’s Market, take a few minutes to watch these videos to learn some new tips to help you when buying fruits and vegetables.

Jodi Signature

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Grocery Shopping with Kids

April 8th, 2013

Shopping with my 3 year-old son, Parker, is always an adventure. One of the stores I shop at has carts that have steering wheels where he sits and another has a ‘car’ attached to the front of the cart that he can sit in. Both of these keep him entertained because he pretends like he is driving. This is nice because it cuts down on the whining and wanting to buy everything. The downside to these carts is that they are big and take up more space going thru the aisles. Sometimes it is worth it though!

In addition to the ‘car’ carts, one of the stores also has little carts that the kids can push. I’m not so sure about this idea as a parent. Let’s just say I’ve held my breath a few times hoping that all of the cans he ran into would not fall. Only a few cans have fallen so far! I’ve also had a few bruises on the back of my legs where he ran into me. I’m usually frantically trying to make sure he doesn’t hit anyone else. Thankfully he hasn’t run into anyone else yet! And lastly, when he is pushing his own cart, and not confined to the child seat in the larger cart, he can grab lots of stuff off the shelves! Funny thing was the other day Parker informed me, “Dad doesn’t let me drive the little cart when I go shopping with him.” Imagine that!

Sometimes I do make it to the store without taking Parker, but that isn’t always possible. And he needs to learn how to act while in a store. In addition, grocery stores can be great places to teach kids. They are a place to learn about good nutrition but kids can also learn about numbers, colors, and shapes.  The University of Maine Cooperative Extension has a great publication on shopping with children. Here are some of the tips they share.

  1. Plan to go to the store with your child when you have plenty of time and the store is not crowded.
  2. Plan shopping trips when your child is not tired or hungry. Or bring a nutritious snack for him to eat during the shopping trip.
  3. Discuss your rules before you enter a store. Remind your child to stay close to you. Also, set ground rules about what is acceptable to put in the cart. Discussing acceptable behavior before going into the store can save a lot of headache later on.
  4. Give your child a job. For example, ask her to help pick out five oranges or three tomatoes. Or let her choose if you get apples or pears. Kids who help pick out fruits and vegetables are more likely to eat them. Older children may like to hold onto the grocery list and cross off the items as you put them in the cart.
  5. Set positive limits. When your child does something you do not want him to do, instead of reacting with a negative limit, such as “don’t throw the oranges on the floor,” tell your child what is expected in a positive way, such as “Keep the oranges in the bin.”
  6. Make the shopping trip a learning experience. Keep kids entertained by asking them questions and having them searching for items. Teach toddlers about touch by asking how different items feel, like the skin of an apple or if the milk is warm or cold.  Teach preschoolers about colors by asking them to point out items of different colors like the green peas or the cereal in the yellow box. Have school-age children look at the labels and compare items based on nutrition.

What tips do you have for making grocery shopping trips enjoyable for both kids and parents?


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Go Green in the Kitchen

February 25th, 2013

Many of the ways we recycle, reuse, and reduce to save energy can also save us money.  While I don’t think of myself as an extreme recycler, I found that I already do many of the suggestions in the two articles below.  Check them out—you might get an idea that will save you some pennies and reduce your energy use:

Save Green and Go Green in the Kitchen is a list from the Canned Food Alliance and 8 Ways to Go Green in Your Kitchen is from WedMD.

I see people using reusable grocery bags frequently when I shop. Just last week I went to a grocery store in Maryland with a friend. At the stores she shops at you have to pay for plastic or paper sacks, but if you bring your own, you get a discount of 5 to 10 cents. Most people brought sacks with them.

My concern about reusable bags is food safety. Researchers at University of Arizona and Loma Linda University asked shoppers going into grocery stores if they washed those reusable bags.  97% reported they do not regularly, if ever, wash the bags.  In addition 75% said they don’t use separate bags for meats and for vegetables, and about a third said they used the bags for carrying and storing all sorts of things like books, clothes, shoes, etc.

The researchers tested 84 of the bags for bacteria and found bacteria in all the bags except for one. The good news is that machine or hand washing reduced bacteria levels to almost nothing.

It’s a good idea to designate a bag for meat and poultry.  When meat or poultry juices touch food that will not be cooked such as fruits and vegetables, you have the potential for cross contamination and foodborne illness. Any type of reusable grocery bag should be hand or machine washed in warm to hot, soapy water at least once a week, and always after a spill. This will keep them clean and reduce the risk of cross contamination.

The reusable bags I have are made from fabric which doesn’t hold up well to washing.  I found this tutorial for making grocery bags from pillowcases, which looks easy.  Ali Conners, the tutorial author, says you can “admire your handiwork, frugality, and earth consciousness while being the most stylish lady at the grocery store.”  The bags use a double thickness of the pillowcase fabric and the handles are made from the pillowcase hem.  I made one from an old pillowcase (see the light green striped bag below.)  Ali says it takes her about 10 minutes.  My first one took about 45 minutes but it will be much faster next time.  I found the turquoise pillow cases on clearance.  They cost $2.35 for both cases and the little pouch.  I think the darker color will be better and the design is more fun than the pastel green stripes.

Happy Recyling,

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