Do you ever crave take-out food? When I was in college I used to order take-out at least once a week – sandwiches, pizza, or Asian. It tasted so good and it was convenient. Unfortunately, now I live in a small town and my take out choices are almost non-existent. On top of that, I have a family of four, and take-out every week would take a lot of money out of our budget. So, when I am craving take-out, I try to re-create my favorites with fresh (and budget friendly) recipes at home. Our recipe for the month of May is Beef and Vegetable Stir Fry and it tastes better than take-out.
To make this recipe come together quickly, wash and chop the vegetables in advance when you have a little extra time. Broccoli, carrots, peppers, onion, and celery can all be washed, chopped, and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for three to five days until you are ready to use them. Also, the next time you make rice, double or triple the amount you need and freeze the extra in freezer bags. Then, when you need rice for another recipe all you need to do is re-heat.
If there are any leftovers, this recipe stores well in the refrigerator. I think it tastes even better re-heated for a quick lunch the next day.
Beef and Vegetable Stir Fry
Serving Size: 1 1/2 cups stir fry, 2/3 cup instant brown rice
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce
1/4 cup water
1/2 pound lean beef or pork, sliced thinly against the grain
2 cups uncooked instant brown rice (or whole wheat noodles)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
7 cups chopped vegetables (like carrots, broccoli, mushrooms, bell peppers, and onions) or 24 ounces frozen stir fry vegetables, thawed
1 tablespoon cornstarch
Mix ginger, garlic powder, soy sauce, and water. Pour ¼ cup of the mix into a sealable plastic bag and save the rest. Add meat to the bag. Seal the bag and set it in the refrigerator for about 20 minutes.
Prepare brown rice according to directions on the package for 4 servings.
Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large frying pan. When oil is hot, add meat from plastic bag and stir until brown. This will take 1 to 3 minutes. Discard liquid from the bag.
Remove meat from pan and cover it. Add 1 tablespoon of oil to pan.
Add chopped hard vegetables when oil is hot. Stir and cook them for 3 minutes. Add chopped soft vegetables. Stir and cook until tender, about 5 minutes.
Add cornstarch to the saved ginger mixture and stir until smooth.
Return meat to the pan when vegetables are tender. Add cornstarch mixture and cook for about 2 minutes until bubbly.
Serve over brown rice.
Wash hands and fresh produce under running water. Trim, peel, and core vegetables using a clean knife and clean cutting board. Then chop or slice the produce.
Add a few drops of hot sauce to the ginger mixture if you like a spicy flavor.
The meat is easier to cut into strips if you freeze it for 20 minutes.
Banana bread is one of my favorite foods. I can make it a part of any meal or snack. Luckily my family agrees with me. Our April recipe is banana oatmeal bread, and it is delicious!
In February I got a great deal on bananas at the grocery store. There were bags of about four bunches of bananas for $0.99 per bag. The bananas were starting to get brown and soft, but that was fine with me. I bought two bags and froze them when we got home from the store.
I like to freeze bananas for banana bread whole with the peel still on. When I am ready to make the bread, I grab three or four bananas and thaw them under running water. Once they are thawed, I pull the bottom off the banana, squeeze the flesh into a bowl, and mash with a fork.
I like to freeze bananas for snacking and for smoothies already peeled and sliced. I peel and slice the bananas, place them on a baking sheet lined with wax paper, and put them in the freezer until they are solidly frozen. Then I transfer them to a freezer bag. This makes it easy to grab a few banana slices for a cool snack or to thicken up a smoothie.
Shredded pork sandwich is an easy meal for a busy day. This is the type of meal that I like to have on my menu each week because some nights I am too worn out to put much energy into a meal. All you need to do is:
Pull your leftover cooked pork from our January recipe out of the freezer,
Thaw it in the microwave,
Make coleslaw to top the sandwiches while the pork is thawing,
Put your sandwiches together, and
Serve with some fruit and a glass of milk for a complete meal.
Since that recipe was so easy, I would like to take a moment of your time and talk about something a little more difficult – menu planning. I plan a menu each week based on the food that I already have on hand. This saves me money at the grocery store because I only buy what I need. I like to keep my menu flexible by listing seven supper meals (I go shopping once per week). Instead of assigning one meal to each day, I let the way each day is going dictate which meal I choose. For example, if I am having one of those days when I am feeling too worn out to cook, I choose an easy recipe like shredded pork sandwiches. If you would like more information on menu planning, the SpendSmart.EatSmart website has a great section on menu planning.
I hope you enjoy this shredded pork sandwich recipe!
Shredded Pork Sandwich
Serving Size: 1 sandwich
Cost Per Serving: $1.72
3 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon mustard
1/3 cup light mayo
3 tablespoons cider or white vinegar
1 package (16 ounces) shredded cabbage
2 cups shredded pork (from pork chili featured in January recipe)
4 whole wheat buns
4 tablespoons barbeque sauce
Make the coleslaw
Mix sugar, salt, mustard, and mayo together in a large bowl. Add vinegar and stir with a wire whisk or fork.
Add the shredded cabbage to the bowl. Stir until ingredients are mixed well. You will use half the coleslaw for the sandwiches. You can use the other half as a side or with another meal.
Make the sandwiches
Thaw shredded pork from the pork chili recipe, if it is frozen. Reheat in the microwave for 2 minutes. Stop and stir. Reheat for 1 more minute. The temperature should be 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
Layer ½ cup shredded pork on bottom of 1 whole wheat bun. Put 1 tablespoon barbeque sauce on shredded pork. Put ½ cup coleslaw on barbeque sauce. Put top of 1 whole wheat bun on coleslaw.
• Look for coleslaw that is labeled ready to eat or triple washed.
• Coleslaw will keep for 4 days in the refrigerator if it is covered.
• This is a very quick meal because the pork is already prepared.
At last, a recipe for whole wheat bread that does not have to be kneaded. This bread is delicious, easy, and less expensive than whole wheat bread you buy at the store. Just don’t expect it to rise as high as other yeast breads with white enriched flour.
Here are a few tips for making bread:
Heat cold milk in microwave for 45-60 seconds for lukewarm temperature. Test a drop on the inside of your wrist. It should feel very warm but not hot.
Keep whole wheat flour in the refrigerator or freezer for storage. Bring flour to room temperature to make bread.
Instant yeast is also called fast rising, rapid rise, quick rise, and bread machine yeast.
Grease the sides and bottom of an 8 1/2 x 4 1/2-inch loaf pan with nonstick spray.
Combine the lukewarm nonfat milk, juice, and honey in a large bowl.
Add the remaining ingredients. Beat vigorously for 3 minutes. Dough will be very thick. Scoop the dough into prepared pan. Cover the pan with a clean towel. Let the dough rise in a warm place for 45-75 minutes, until almost double. Time varies according to room temperature.
When dough is almost doubled, preheat oven to 350°F.
Remove towel and bake bread for about 30 minutes. Dough will pull away from sides of pan when bread is done. Let bread cool 30 minutes before slicing.
Make 2 smaller loaves using half sized loaf pans. Bake for 23-27 minutes.
Make herb dinner rolls. Mix 4 teaspoons of dried herbs such as oregano, parsley, basil, rosemary, or thyme into the batter. Use muffin tins and bake 15 minutes.
Make 100% whole wheat bread. Use 3 cups whole wheat flour instead of white and wheat flour and 3 tablespoons molasses instead of honey.
Ready to go dinner in a box! The convenience is certainly tempting, but what is the trade-off?
At my grocery store I can purchase a pre-made meal kit for about $2.39. It calls for 1 pound of ground beef and that costs $3.99. That brings the total cost to $6.38 for 5 servings or $1.28 per one-cup serving. Not bad!
I’m left with a meal that doesn’t include any vegetables, fruit or whole grain and very little dairy! I guess it wasn’t such a great value after all.
One of my favorite Spend Smart. Eat Smart. recipes is Skillet Lasagna. It is also a one skillet meal and it delivers the same creamy goodness as the boxed meal for less money. It is also much healthier using whole grain pasta, spinach and low-fat cheeses. Even better, it’s less expensive at just $1.16 per one-cup serving.
Here is how the two compare:
The choice seems pretty clear to me! I would gladly invest a little more effort for a much healthier meal. Plus, the Skillet Lasagna makes enough for me to have leftovers for my lunches throughout the week.
If your family really loves boxed meals, think about how you can make them a little healthier by adding veggies like broccoli, spinach or chopped tomatoes.
Whether you call them taverns, loose- meats, made-rites or sloppy joes, ground beef sautéed with chopped vegetables, seasonings and sauce served on a bun is a hit.
We called them Sloppy Joes when I was growing up and they were always a favorite. I know my mom hid some vegetables in them, as I do now with my grandson. Our recipe calls for onion, celery and green pepper but you can easily substitute diced or grated carrots. To reduce the sodium you can also substitute tomato sauce for the ketchup (this saves 420mg of sodium!)
To save time consider making a large batch and freezing it for a quick meal. Some families buy 10 pounds of ground beef at a time and make a basic mix like this one to freeze and use in various ways like spaghetti sauce, taco filling, etc.
The cost of beef is high this year. You can save money by buying ground beef with a higher percentage of fat if you are willing to rinse the ground beef as we have outlined in the steps below. Just be sure to collect the water with the ground beef fat in a bowl and refrigerate to harden fat. Spoon hardened fat into trash so you don’t clog your plumbing.
Serving Size: 1/2 cup meat and one bun | Serves: 5
1 pound ground beef
1/2 medium onion, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
1/2 cup celery, chopped (about 1 stalk of celery)
1/2 cup green or red pepper, chopped (about 1/2 large pepper)
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup tomato ketchup
1 tablespoon prepared mustard
1 teaspoon sugar
5 whole wheat buns
Combine ground beef, onion, celery, and pepper in a medium skillet. Add water.
Cook over medium low heat for 15 minutes. Stir as needed. Cook until beef mixture reaches at least 160°F.
Put ground beef mixture in a colander. Pat mixture with paper towels and rinse with warm water to remove fat.
Return to skillet. Add ketchup, mustard, and sugar. Heat 5-10 minutes on low heat.
Toast buns, if desired, in an oven broiler, toaster oven, or skillet. To use a skillet, spread buns with margarine and place face side down in skillet. Cook over medium heat 1-2 minutes.
This weekend the Iowa State University Cyclones have a football game against the Baylor Bears. We’re underdogs going into this one, but the Spend Smart. Eat Smart. team is hoping for a Cyclone victory!
I like to go to tailgates and have people over for football games, but sometimes the food served at football celebrations is pretty unhealthy. I challenged myself to remake a couple of typical football snacks the Spend Smart. Eat Smart way. My recipes are fun, festive and ready for the football game!
I started by thinking about the veggie trays at tailgates. Someone always brings one but often they don’t get eaten. I think this is usually because they are kind of boring and everyone really wants the sweet and salty snacks instead. Not to mention, these often come pre-made from the grocery store and cost way more than a veggie tray made at home. I made mine festive with peppers in Cyclone colors and instead of the usual ranch veggie dip, I made Garbanzo Bean Dip. It is a tasty and inexpensive alternative to the old standby. If you like hummus, you’ll love this dip!
Desserts are always a favorite at tailgates. I usually see lots of brownies, cookies and bars. Sometimes for early games there are even cinnamon rolls! I wanted to have a sweet treat that was a little healthier so I chose to make Whole Grain Cereal Treats. These are very similar to the rice cereal treats we all know and love, but with the added health benefit of whole grain. I even added some red sprinkles to show Cyclone pride!
Next time you’re going to a football get-together, think about putting a healthier spin on the dish you take. Game time food can be healthy and inexpensive while still being lots of fun!
This recipe is so easy it is almost embarrassing, but it tastes so good we had to include it. The dressing is what makes this a hit. Adding just a little mayonnaise to the yogurt really ups the flavor. The lemon juice prevents the apples and pears from turning dark.
Like most of our recipes you can vary this one to suit your family. Some ideas include:
• Use dried cranberries or cherries instead of raisins.
• Add 1/2 cup celery, chopped (about 1 stalk).
• Add 1/4 cup walnuts or almonds, chopped.
• For a main dish salad, add chicken chunks, canned tuna, or salmon.
• Try with lemon, plain, or plain Greek yogurt
Crisp Fruit Salad
Serving Size: 3/4 cup | Serves: 6 (makes about 4 1/2 cups) | Cost Per Serving: $.64
In August I eat salads, grill, or do quick stove-top meals. Quick Pad Thai is one of those stove-top all-in-one meals I usually serve in a bowl. We modeled it after the street food in Thailand but with ingredients you can easily find in the Midwest. Ours uses whole wheat spaghetti but you could use the more traditional rice noodles. When I make this in the summer I use whatever vegetables are ready in the garden and in the winter I use frozen vegetables. Bright colored veggies such as red pepper, broccoli, and snap peas look great.
I use either chunky or smooth peanut butter, whatever I have open and I make light soy sauce by mixing equal parts water and regular soy sauce.
One caution, after you cut up the chicken make sure you wash the cutting board knife and your hands with hot water and soap so you don’t transfer bacteria to the other ingredients.
When it is hot outside heating the oven to cook seems counterproductive and sometimes I’m just too lazy to start the grill. A dish that will cook quickly on the stove top seems to work the best. This recipe does require some chopping, but it goes together very fast. Plus, when you make it yourself you control the amount of fat used, which can be an issue with restaurant meals.
As the first step indicates, partially freezing any meat or poultry will make these slices possible. Likewise, a sharp knife for cutting the onion, peppers and tomatoes will make your life much easier. Just make sure to wash your knife and cutting board after you work with the chicken.
As with all of our recipes, you need to adjust this one to your family’s tastes and what is available. Use the color of peppers and onions you like or have on hand. Use corn or wheat tortillas and substitute beef or pork for the chicken. You could also go meatless and use 1 can (15 ounces) of drained and rinsed black beans.
Freeze chicken 30 minutes until firm and easier to cut. Cut chicken into 1/4-inch strips. Place in a single layer on a plate. Wash hands, knife, and cutting board. Sprinkle both sides of strips with chili and garlic powder.
Add oil to a 12-inch skillet. Heat to medium high. Add chicken strips. Cook about 3-5 minutes, stirring frequently.
Add bell peppers and onion. Stir and cook until vegetables are tender and chicken is no longer pink. (Heat chicken to at least 165°F).
Scoop chicken mixture ( 2/3 cup each) onto tortillas. Top with your favorite toppings.
Serve flat or rolled
Heat cold tortillas to make them easier to fold. Cover tortillas with a moist paper towel and heat 30 seconds in microwave.
Wear plastic gloves to handle hot peppers. No gloves? Wash hands with soap and water before touching your face, your cooking utensils, or another person.