Posts Tagged ‘budget’

What is Cheaper: Turkey or Ham?

November 12th, 2012

Thanksgiving is about 10 days away. Have you started to plan your dinner? The biggest expense of the meal will probably be the ham or turkey (or both) that you buy. The grocery ads are full of deals, like buy a ham and get a turkey free. Or buy $50 in groceries and get a $5 off coupon for your turkey. I was curious, so I stopped by 5 different stores to check out prices. I went to Hy-Vee, Fareway, Aldi, Dahls, and Wal-Mart.

Here are the costs I found. Whole turkey prices range from $.88 to $1.19 a pound. Boneless, spiral cut hams are about $3.50 a pound. Bone-in ham varies from $1.48 to 1.98 a pound. Both ham and turkey are priced to lure you to the store.

Number of 3 ounce servings per pound Cost per pound Cost per serving
Turkey 2 $ 0.99 $ 0.50
Ham, boneless 4 $ 3.50 $ 0.88
Ham, bone-in 3.5 $ 1.80 $ 0.51

The simple answer is turkey and the bone-in ham cost about the same with boneless ham costing significantly more. But, as usual, every situation is different. Below are some comments/questions with some of my thoughts.

Doesn’t matter what it costs. I want to serve both ham and turkey and make sure we have enough. Ok, but when you are buying, remember you can cut back on the amount you buy because people will eat some, but not a whole serving of each.

Is the buy a ham, get a free turkey a good deal? That deal was to buy about 7 pounds of boneless ham at $3.50 ($24.50 total) and get a 12 pound turkey free. You would get about 28 3 oz. servings of ham and 24 3 ounce servings of turkey. So you would get 40 servings for $24.50 at .61/serving. If you want a boneless ham it is a good deal. But it would be cheaper to by the bone-in ham and turkey separately.

We are saving for Christmas gifts so I don’t want to spend a lot. I would get either a boneless ham or the turkey. If you have time, go for the turkey and make soup from the turkey bone (that way you can stretch the cost over several meals). A couple of years ago we developed a Healthy Holiday Dinner Menu with Recipes.

I am exhausted after our Thanksgiving meal. Maybe we should just go out to eat. Last year in the blog I shared my Top 5 tips to save time, money, stress and calories for Thanksgiving dinner. Maybe you will find an idea that works for you.

My turkey is always dry so I think I’ll have ham this year. Are you cooking the turkey too long? Try using a meat thermometer (sometimes the pop-up timers fail). Put the thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh because the dark meat of the turkey thigh takes longer to cook than any other part. When the thermometer is at 165 degrees, it is done.

My grandpa says he can’t eat ham so we will have turkey. From a health standpoint both ham and turkey are great sources of protein, but turkey provides significant less fat if you skip the skin. Ham also has more than 10 times the sodium and may contain nitrates.

Have a Great Holiday.

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What’s for Lunch? It’s in the Bag.

October 29th, 2012

A few weeks ago I invited myself to lunch at three different middle schools in Central Iowa.  My “hosts” were  two of my nieces and a friend’s son.  I learned a lot about the changes to school lunches during those visits. I also had a chance to observe some of what I call ‘sack lunches’, although hardly anybody uses paper bags anymore.

The majority of the sack lunches were not very healthy.  Most of them included some sort of bread (rarely whole grain), some protein food, crackers, chips, cookies, and fruit drink or fruit.  Vegetables were rarely included.  I wish I would have taken more pictures, but I was so busy taking pictures of the school lunch trays that I didn’t get any of the sack lunches.  I did find a couple of images on the internet that are very close to what I observed.

Photo courtesy of

I think some suggestions on lunches to take to school plus packing lunches the night before might improve the quality.

My colleagues, Ruth Litchfield and Cathy Strohbehn, collaborated on two new publications about lunches to go.  Whether you are packing lunches for yourself to take to work or for your children, these are free and worth a look.  Both can be ordered or downloaded from the ISU Extension and Outreach Online store.

The one page abbreviated version is called MyPlate Lunch Bag Ideas. In this publication, you will find great menu ideas to pack your child’s lunch bag with MyPlate healthy foods. You’ll find kid-friendly foods for fruits, veggies, protein, grains, and dairy.  You will also find preparation and packing tips to keep foods at a safe temperature.

The longer, more detailed version is What’s for Lunch? It’s in the Bag.  It will give you ideas and know how for packing healthy lunches your child will want to eat. It contains tips for preparing and packing food safely as well as menu tips for lunch bag meals. It also includes research data on best methods to keep foods at safe temperatures.

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How much money do you spend on food each day?

May 21st, 2012

This is a question I have been asking myself since I saw this blog, $4 A Day Challenge.  Stephanie Moore, a channel 13 (WHOTV, Des Moines, IA) reporter decided to take on the challenge of eating for $4 each day for a week.  Why $4?  That is the average amount a person receives for Food Assistance. 

For some people, Food Assistance is the only money they have to spend on food each month.  That means that they have to budget to spend only $4 each day on the food they need to stay healthy.  Last June, this became an immediate need for many Iowa families when the Missouri river flooded, destroying their homes and their source of income (farms, job sites).  Over the past several years, many job sites have closed in Iowa, leaving people without income and needing Food Assistance to feed their families.  It is not surprising that the number of people receiving Food Assistance in Iowa has increased.

So, was the news reporter able to make it on $4 each day?  Yes, she was, and you can see more of the story here.  And, how much do I spend on food each day?  For my three person family, we spend about $5-6 per person each day.      

Justine Hoover, MS, RD, LD

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Super Bowl party on a budget

January 23rd, 2012

Super Bowl 2012 is set … the Giants and Patriots on February 5th. When it comes to the party, it doesn’t matter whether you’re a dedicated fan, or just socialize and watch the fun commercials. Check out our ideas for party planning on a budget!

Set the mood with a little decorating …

  • Use a Super Bowl XLVI theme or use team colors.
  • Decorate the table with a green vinyl or felt cover with white tape or ribbon yard markers.
  • Accessorize with other inexpensive items you could gather, make, or buy: team banners, mylar football balloons, pom poms, megaphones, and yellow penalty flags. Top Party’s blog has some great football party ideas.

    Football fruit pizza

    Fruit Pizza -- Super Bowl style

What’s it all about … the FOOD! Make the food for the party simple so you don’t have to spend the whole day in the kitchen. I’ve put together some menu ideas that are easy, inexpensive and healthy. Plus, they can all be made ahead.

A little healthy competition never hurt anyone! You probably won’t need many games, but it would be fun to have everyone guess the final score when they arrive and then give a prize for the winner. Or, how about some kind of rating for the commercials.

What are you planning for your Bowl party? Share your decorating, game, and food ideas for entertaining on a budget.

MMMM Good Fruit Pizza


For the cookie crust:

  • 1 large egg white
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup uncooked quick-cooking oatmeal
  • Cooking spray

For the topping:

  • 3 ounces fat-free cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 (6-ounce) container nonfat vanilla yogurt
  • Fruit for topping the pizza


  1. Preheat the oven to 375° F.
  2. Use a medium mixing bowl to beat egg white until foamy. Add oil and sugar. Beat until smooth.
  3. Use a small bowl to stir together the flour, cinnamon, and baking soda. Add to sugar mixture. Stir in oatmeal.
  4. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and spray with cooking spray. Spread the dough in a 9-inch circle.
  5. Bake about 12 minutes. Crust will begin to puff but does not look done. Remove from oven and let cool about 20 minutes. The crust continues to cook while cooling.
  6. Use a small bowl to stir together the cream cheese and yogurt until smooth. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until cool.
  7. Transfer the crust to a serving plate. Spread the cream cheese mixture over the crust. Arrange fruit on top.
  8. Cut into wedges and serve, or refrigerate up to 2 hours, covered and uncut.


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Let the Buyer Beware

August 9th, 2011

Breaded Chicken Breast on a plateGrocery and discount stores like to promote groups of different products for the same price (i.e. mix and match for a $1.00).  Some are good buys, some are the regular price, and sometimes they are more.

Last week this picture and ad caught my attention. It looked good.  I wondered how they did the breading and if the chicken was baked or fried.

A closer look told me that the store is really selling raw chicken breast that has been marinated.  The chicken will not be cut in strips and it will not have breading. It will have some marinade on it. The cost is $2.67 a pound.  Here is how I figured the cost. 

10-6 ounce breasts = 60 ounces or 3.75 pounds (60 ounces ÷ 16 ounces in a pound = 3.75 pounds) $10.00 ÷ 3.75 pounds = $2.67 a pound.

Another store has boneless, skinless chicken breasts for $1.79 a pound.   I think I will buy them and save about $0.90 a pound.  I will use a little Italian dressing for the marinade. 

–pointers from Peggy

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Tips on Grocery Deals

May 9th, 2011

One way I try to save on my grocery bills is to buy everything I can on sale.  To do this you have to:

  • plan meals around store specials
  • be able to identify when store sales are a good deal and stock up

Trent Hamm has describes how this is done at his blog called Using Grocery Flyers To Plan Meals.

Several web sites now help with this goal.  One that serves central Iowa is Learning the Frugal Life.  On Wednesdays, Sara, the author, posts the items she thinks are a good deals for Hy-Vee and Fareway.  She also adds ideas for coupons for some of the items.  You can go to the site each week or you can have the lists delivered to you via email like I do.   If you like to shop at Aldi’s, Dahls, Target, or Wal-Mart you have to check out the individual flyers on line.

If you are not living in Iowa there is a site called becentsable grocery gathering that provides lists of grocery specials by state and grocery store.  It you are “into” grocery prices you might consider signing up to provide information on your favorite stores for others.

Bottom line, you can save money on groceries, but it takes a little more time and energy than just going to the store and putting whatever looks good into the cart.

-pointers from Peggy

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Perfect Storm Brings Surge in Food Prices

April 18th, 2011

What’s behind the surge in food prices?  Many different things are coming together—you might say a “perfect storm.” 

  • Poor weather here and in Russia, China, and Brazil causing less grain production
  • Less grain storage capacity in the United States and what storage space we do have is not full—so we have less supply on hand
  • Crops used for biofuels instead of food
  • Political unrest in many countries

You might think, “I don’t eat much corn, so why does the cost of corn cause food at the grocery go up?”  Corn and soybeans are major components in animal diets; when corn prices rise, so does the price of beef, pork, poultry, milk, eggs, and cheese.  Also, some farmers have cut back on their animal herds because of higher feed costs.  It’s economics 101.  When supply is short prices go up.  Right now gas and diesel prices are also high, which make producing and transporting food more expensive.

Most economists predict food inflation.  Some say inflation will be 2 to 3 percent, others say 4 to 4 ½ percent this year.  Normal food inflation is about 2½ percent.  Rising food costs will hit many families hard. 

What to do?  Learn how to get the most from your food dollar by planning, shopping and preparing food the smart way.  That’s’ what the SpendSmart.EatSmart web page is all about. Take some time to browse through the pages and let me know what you find most helpful.

-pointers from Peggy

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Another Look at Couponing

April 11th, 2011

A box of Ibuprofen with post-it-note saying retail price $0.99; store coupon $1.00 = freeA couple of years ago I posted 3 blogs about couponing:

Recently I attended a “Couponing Clinic” that caused me to take another look at coupons. The clinic was given by my daughter’s friend, Betty, who is passionate about using coupons to save money. Betty shared how to maximize savings by using coupons on items that are on sale.  She even gets most of her coupons free — she fuels her car on Sundays at Kum and Go and receives a free paper. Betty also explains:

  • the difference between store and manufacturer coupons
  • how you can use one of each type of coupon on any one product
  • how to use register rewards

At the end of the program we each received a door prize — a product that Betty got free by couponing. I came home with a small bottle of ibuprofen. Betty mentioned that she frequently gives away toothpaste, soap, etc. when she is able to get extras for just pennies.

If you are interested in couponing, you’ll be interested in Betty’s Couponing Tips.

A student who attended Betty’s couponing clinic had the following comment to share:
“Ok – I am excited (last week I saved $17.60 @ Hy-Vee using just the manufacturer coupons.  I used the majority on sale items. Grated Kraft cheese was just one of the deals. Now I have a special Email account set up just for couponing. So today I went to Coupon Mom Walgreens and made my list. I want to make sure I understand something. Is the strategy to first purchase those items with the rewards. Then go back another day and use the rewards on the other items?”

Betty’s response to BV:
hi, wow!  Good job, BV!
You have the correct idea with Walgreens and their register rewards. As you make your list, count how many register rewards coupons you will be receiving from your first trip.  After your first trip, you can either go back the next day/week or just go directly to another Walgreens to use those RR.

-pointers from Peggy

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Anyday Picnic Salad

April 4th, 2011

April’s featured recipe is one of my favorites.  It’s easy, versatile, and very tasty.  I serve Anyday Picnic Salad on top of romaine as a salad, or on whole wheat bread as a sandwich. You can use apples and grapes as the fruit, or try strawberries, melon or pineapple.  Once when I was out of celery, I used radishes to give it a little crunch.

Lots of recipes call for a cup or two of cooked chicken.  You can buy strips of grilled chicken in the refrigerator case, canned chicken, whole chicken, chicken parts, etc.  Cooking whole chicken or leg quarters and separating the meat from the bones and skin is probably the least expensive, but it does take a little time and mess.  For a big money and time saver, buy chicken breasts when they are on sale (today at central Iowa Fareway stores $1.79 a pound), grill or cook them in a little water on the stove, then cool and freeze in 2 cup portions.

Anyday Picnic Salad


  • 1 1/2 cups diced cooked chicken
  • 1 apple, cored and diced
  • 1/3 cup chopped celery (about 1 stalk)
  • 1/3 cup light ranch dressing or creamy salad dressing
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/4 cup chopped pecans or walnuts (optional)
  • Optional: Use 1 cup halved seedless grapes instead of an apple


  1. In a medium bowl combine chicken, apple, and celery. Add dressing and pepper and stir to coat. Stir in pecans or walnuts, if desired.
  2. Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate up to 24 hours. Serve on a lettuce leaf, spread on bread or tortillas or a sandwich, or spoon into a halved tomato or cucumber.


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Feed 50 People for $50!

March 28th, 2011

Need recipes that will feed a crowd (e.g. a club, relatives, or a post-event gathering) for $50 or under?

Stacia Sanny and our nutrition staff in Polk County used the menu below to serve 50 people at a get acquainted activity.  We wanted to recruit families and show volunteers at the First Assembly of God Church in Des Moines about EFNEP (Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program).

The recipes are on the SpendSmart EatSmart recipe page except for the Garden Salad.  You could substitute carrot/celery sticks for that.  The recipes are easy to multiply to match your group size.

  • 3 Can Chili.  Cans of beans, corn and tomatoes with chili powder.  Reduce the sodium by using frozen corn if you like. To go really inexpensive, cook dry beans instead of using canned.
  • Splendid Fruit Salad.  For 50 people you would probably use 25-30 fruits.
  • Garden Salad (lettuce mix out of a bag, chopped tomatoes and carrots, dressing)
  • Pumpkin Apple Cake.   Two cakes will do it.  Sprinkle with powdered sugar if you want. 

Here’s what Stacia reported after the event.
We received wonderful comments. They loved the cake . . . and couldn’t believe that it was considered a healthy snack. We multiplied the recipes about 13 times (chili and fruit salad). We actually had leftovers. The chili was so easy — and the fact that you could see vegetables in it already made it different than normal chili. The recipe uses corn besides the usual tomatoes and meat.

We had a number of people ask for the recipes so they could make them at home!

- pointers from Peggy

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