Posts Tagged ‘recipes’

Eating protein foods on a budget

September 29th, 2014

protein foods blogMy total is what?!? There has been a lot of sticker shock at the grocery store lately. Food prices in general have increased in the last couple of years, but meat prices have gotten a lot of attention lately. Foods from the Protein Foods Group are important sources of protein, iron, vitamins B and E, zinc and magnesium. Therefore, it’s necessary to determine how to fit them into your diet but stay within your food budget.

Here are four tips for including protein foods in your diet and staying within your budget:

  1. Use to determine how much food you need from the Protein Foods Group. The amount needed for the average person is 5-6 ounces. If you’re eating meat, this is just about the size of two decks of cards. Most Americans consume much more than this. By not eating larger portions than you need, you can stay within your food budget.
  2.  Choose both animal and plant-based sources of protein. As seen by this chart, the cost of a serving of protein varies by type. Some protein foods like hot dogs are inexpensive, but also higher in fat and sodium than other protein foods. By including a variety of protein sources in your diet, you can enjoy the kinds of protein you prefer but balance the cost. Be sure to consider nutritional value along with cost when choosing what sources of protein to eat.
  3. Watch for sales at the grocery store. When meat your family enjoys is on sale, buy extra and put in your freezer for use at a later time.
  4. Choose recipes that help stretch protein foods. For more expensive sources of protein, use them in recipes that make them go further. Soups, casseroles, stir-fry, and salads combine meat and poultry with beans, grains, vegetables, and dairy to make more servings.

Common sources of protein foods that I eat include ground beef, chicken breast, eggs, beans, peanut butter, and nuts. Here are some of the dishes I like to prepare with protein foods:

Ground Beef

Skillet lasagna
Homemade pizza

Chicken Breast

Mexican Chicken Soup
Quick Pad Thai
Chicken Fajitas
Chicken Enchiladas


Scrambled Egg Muffins
Breakfast Burritos
Egg Sandwich


Mexican Chicken Soup
Make Ahead Mexican Rollups

According to MyPlate, I need 6 ounces of protein foods per day. If I eat an egg and cheese on an English muffin for breakfast, 2 servings (2 cups) of Mexican Chicken Soup for lunch, and a serving of Skillet Lasagna for supper, I will eat the 6 ounces of protein foods recommended for me. There will also be enough Mexican Chicken Soup and Skillet Lasagna for my family to eat and we will still have leftovers for another day.

Protein foods are necessary for good health. With some planning and some go-to recipes, you can eat your favorite protein foods and stick to your budget. Do you have a favorite trick for making meat go further? Share it on the Spend Smart. Eat Smart Facebook page.

Jodi Signature

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Save time with Freezer Meals

August 25th, 2014

freezing leftoversToday my 4-year-old son started preschool. That means summer has officially ended. While I’m a bit sad that summer has ended, I’m looking forward to our schedule getting into a more regular routine. However, I also know life will continue to be busy with activities. Therefore, I spent some time in my kitchen a couple of weeks ago preparing some meals to freeze. I enjoy freezing meals ahead of time because:

  • When I am busy I can have a meal on the table in just a few minutes.
  • I am less likely to run to the drive thru or buy convenience food that isn’t as healthy for my family.
  • My husband (not a fan of cooking) can make dinner on his own because all he needs to do is reheat.


When planning what dishes I would make, I browsed through the recipes on our Spend Smart Eat Smart website. I wanted to be sure to select recipes that used a variety of protein sources and flavors. The recipes I decided to make were Chicken Fajitas, Ham and Brown Rice, Sloppy Joes, and Mexican Chicken Soup. I also thought it would be nice to make a couple of recipes that would help us have a quick, healthy breakfast. For these dishes I chose Scrambled Egg Muffins and Crispy Granola.

frozen meals blog

After I had the list of recipes I wanted to make, I looked through my cupboards, refrigerator, and freezer to see what ingredients I already had on hand. Some of the items I already had were chicken broth, eggs, onion, frozen peas, carrots, a couple of peppers, different spices, and hamburger. I then made a grocery list and bought the other ingredients that I needed the day before I planned to do my cooking.

I started the morning of my cooking day by chopping vegetables that I needed. Three of the recipes called for onions and peppers so I chopped those so they were ready for each of the recipes. I also chopped some broccoli for the Scrambled Egg Muffins. My family doesn’t like cooked celery so I chopped carrots to use in the Sloppy Joes in place of celery.

I made the Scrambled Egg Muffins first so they could bake while I started on the other dishes. This recipe is easy to double so if you have a larger family or just want to freeze more muffins that can easily be done.  The Ham and Brown Rice makes 9 cups so it could be split and frozen separately to get two meals if your family is smaller.

The Sloppy Joes and Chicken Enchiladas were easy to make. I just cooked the meat and vegetables for each recipe to freeze. When we are ready to eat them, all I have to do is warm them up and have the other ingredients ready to go to assemble the sandwiches or fajitas.

The Mexican Chicken Soup and Granola simmered and baked while I made the other recipes. It only took me about 3 hours to make all of the dishes and get them packaged to freeze and I have 5 meals ready to go in my freezer (Yes, my children were out of the house. Otherwise it would have taken me double the time to get this doneJ) I froze the egg muffins individually until firm so they wouldn’t freeze together, then I put them in a plastic bag in the freezer. The other dishes, I let cool for about 20 minutes at room temperature before putting in plastic bags, labeling, and putting in the freezer.

For best quality when freezing food, use containers that seal well and keep air out. If using plastic freezer bags, be sure to press out the air before sealing. Air is what causes freezer burn. Check out our ‘How to Freeze Leftovers’ video for more information on freezing food. For best quality, use frozen food within 3-4 months.

I’m looking forward to the nights this fall when I can come home from work and will just have to heat up one of the meals for supper!

Jodi Signature

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What I have learned being part of the SSES Team

August 11th, 2014

I joined the Spend Smart Eat Smart Team as a junior here at Iowa State University, a little over a year after I no longer had an on-campus meal plan so I was buying my own groceries and preparing my own meals. I liked to cook but struggled when it came to knowing how to budget my spending on groceries as well as how to reduce food waste in my kitchen.

I am so lucky to have had the opportunity to work, grow and learn both professionally and personally through this job experience. Because this is my final blog post as a part of the Spend Smart Eat Smart Team I thought it would be appropriate to share with you a few lessons I’ve learned through working on this team as well as my favorite Spend Smart recipes.

One of the biggest lessons I have learned through working with the Spend Smart Eat Smart team is how to use my freezer in a way that saves me time, money, and stress.
1. Buy frequently used items in bulk when they are on sale to save money.

frequent frozen items

Rather than buying frequently used frozen items at full price when I need them or occasionally getting lucky with a sale, I watch for the sale and then purchase multiple packages. This saves me money in both the price of the actual item as well as a trip to the grocery store because I already have it on hand.  See the table below for recommended freezer storage time.

freezer storage chart

“Freezing and Food Safety.” Food Safety and Inspection Service. USDA, 15 June 2013. Web. 30 July 2014.

2. Freeze leftovers or make a meal specifically for freezing with a future hectic day in mind.

As a college student I had a few hectic days (the group project meeting that was suppose to take an hour and ended up taking 3….) that left me staring into my refrigerator at 8 pm – starving, grumpy, tired and wondering what to eat. While it is hard to control things not going as planned, it is not hard to plan dinner for those days! I learned to simply freeze a portion or two of leftovers or I would anticipate a stressful week and prepare and freeze an entire meal. Nothing was better than coming home exhausted from a long day and knowing I was a few minutes away from having a delicious home cooked meal.

Soups, Enchiladas, and Ham and Brown Rice are my go-to freezer meals.

Finally, I thought I would highlight my top 7 all-time favorite Spend Smart recipes (my top 10 would spill the beans about upcoming recipes so stay tuned!!). If you are looking for a budget friendly, delicious, quick meal definitely check these out.

1. Quick Pad Thai
2. Pan Fried Tilapia with Orange Sauce
3. Whole Grain Cereal treat
4. No Knead Whole Wheat Bread
5. MmmmmGood Fruit Pizza
6. Ham and Brown Rice
7. Chocolate Surprise Cupcakes

I’m excited to take the lessons I have learned and recipes with me to Peoria, IL as I begin my dietetic internship. I look forward to keeping in touch with Spend Smart Eat Smart via the Facebook page.


2014 ISU Dietetics Graduate

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Apricot Pops

May 5th, 2014

apricot popsI remember when we were kids we made our own popsicles in the summer time using a flavored drink mix like Kool-Aid. We had an ice pop mold that we used. Since we were making them out of sugary water they were very hard (basically ice on a stick) and they didn’t provide many nutrients.

Our featured apricot pop recipe has only two ingredients, yogurt and fruit, so it is more nutritious than my childhood favorites. It tastes much better too!

You don’t even need a mold for this recipe. Just use the little paper cups sold for bathroom drink dispensers and plastic spoons. To get them out of the mold you can run the bottom of the pop under hot tap water and then peel off the paper.

You can make frozen pops with all sorts of fruit, juice and yogurt or Greek yogurt combinations. I have made these without a blender or food processor by mincing the apricots on a cutting board and then stirring the fruit and yogurt together.

You can also serve the pop mixture like ice cream. Just freeze the mixture in a covered container for 3-4 hours or until firm. Thaw 20 minutes before serving. Scoop into bowls and serve.  It’s very refreshing!

Pointers from

Peggy Signature

Apricot Pops

Serving Size: 1 pop (1/2 cup) | Serves: 8 | Cost Per Serving: $.49


apricot pops label

  • 1 can (15 ounces) apricots, packed in juice or light syrup
  • 2 cartons (6 ounces each) of low fat, sugar free vanilla yogurt


  • 8 small paper cups
  • 8 plastic spoons (for handles)


  1. Drain apricots.
  2. Chop the apricots finely and mix with the yogurt or blend the fruit and yogurt until smooth with a blender or food processor.
  3. Pour mixture into 8 small paper cups and put in freezer. After half an hour (when they start to freeze), stand a wooden stick or plastic spoon in the pops.
  4. Freeze 3-4 hours or until pops are solid.
  5. Remove from cup to serve. Place bottom of cup under hot running water for 20 seconds. Peel off paper cup.

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Fruit Salsa, the new rage!

April 21st, 2014

fruit salsaAmericans love salsa. We eat more of it than ketchup these days. When I think of salsa I think of a tomato based sauce with hot peppers used as a dip. However, more and more salsas are using fruit as the main ingredient. With warm weather coming soon (thank goodness) many fruits will be in season so they will be abundant and lower in cost.

Common fruits which are used in salsa are: kiwi, strawberry, watermelon, mango, peaches, berries, pineapple, and cantaloupe.

Fruit salsa is a wonderful way to use ripe fruit. Ripe fruit has the best flavor and when you make salsa you can remove any bruises or blemishes. Most salsa recipes include a small amount of sweetener such as white or brown sugar, honey, fruit jelly or preserves, or syrups to draw out the juice in the fruit. Fruit salsas can also include onions, hot peppers and/or cilantro. Many of these recipes are designed to be served with meat, poultry, or fish.

We have an easy Fruit Salsa recipe and Baked Cinnamon Chips on the SpendSmart.EatSmart website, but fresh fruit salsa is a great opportunity to experiment and create your own recipe.  However, if you are thinking of canning your own salsa make sure you use a tested recipe so you know it is safe to eat.

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).


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.


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.


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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Chocolate Surprise Cupcakes

April 7th, 2014

Chocolate cupcake

Have you ever heard of a chocolate cupcake that provides 60% of the Vitamin A you needed in a day? Today is your lucky day!

My first experience with surprise cake was a layer cake made with spice cake mix and pumpkin pie spice. It tasted good. However, if it is not chocolate I usually don’t spend the calories on cake. We experimented a bit and came up with chocolate cupcakes made with pumpkin and apple juice. Believe it or not, there is no oil added at all.

I love this recipe because it is super simple, lower in calories than the usual cupcake, and more nutritious. I bought a pack of 6 juice boxes which I use just for this cake. It is super moist so I freeze what I am not going to use in the next 4 days .

 Chocolate Surprise Cupcakes

Serving Size: 1 cupcake | Serves: 24 | Cost Per Serving: .12


  • 1 can (15 ounces) pumpkin
  • 1  box (18 ounces) chocolate cake mix
  • 3 eggs
  • 3/4 cup (6 ounces) apple juice
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts *

*the walnuts are optional, but they are included in the nutrition facts



  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease or spray muffin tins.
  2. Combine the pumpkin, cake mix, eggs, and apple juice in a large mixing bowl.
  3. Beat batter well. Fill muffin tins 2/3 full of batter. Sprinkle walnuts on top.
  4. Bake according to package directions for cupcakes (about 20 minutes).
  5. Cupcakes are done when a toothpick inserted into a cupcake comes out clean.
  6. Let cool on rack for 5-10 minutes. Remove from tin.


  • You can use a white or spice cake mix with 1 tablespoon of cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice added to batter instead of the chocolate cake.
  • 1/3 cup measure works well to scoop batter into muffin tin.
  • Instead of cupcakes you can bake the cake in 9 x 13-inch cake pan or 10 x 15-inch jelly roll pan. Use toothpick method in Step #5 to test for doneness.
  • Serve with low fat or fat free frozen whipped topping.

Peggy Signature

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February 24th, 2014

edamameWhat is it? Have you tried it? What do you think of it?

These are some of the questions I got when I first made edamame for my family. I answered their questions, hoping that they would like this new food. Edamame is green soybeans – it is harvested before the beans harden. I have tried it and I do like it.  It turns out that my family likes it too… a lot.

Edamame is a vegetable that is typically found in the frozen foods section at grocery stores around here. I recently bought two 12 ounce bags for $5 (or $2.50 each). This is a little more than I usually spend on frozen vegetables, but there are some added nutritional benefits to eating edamame along with other vegetables. It is a good source of protein, fiber, some B vitamins, iron, and magnesium. This makes it a good partner for vegetables that are good sources of vitamin C, such as peppers, and vitamin A, such as carrots or winter squash.

Edamame can be used in many ways. I have served it as a side dish with a little salt and pepper. It can also be added to any dish you add frozen vegetables to such as soups, stir-fries, or casseroles. I have added it to my children’s favorite, tuna and noodles.  A small amount (1/2 to 1 cup) of thawed edamame could be added to any of these SpendSmart.EatSmart recipes to boost the nutrition:

Try some edamame and let us know what you think of it.


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Super Bowl Tostada Party

January 27th, 2014

tostadaWhether you are a Broncos fan, Seahawks fan or just watch the Super Bowl for the commercials, you might be pondering what to serve while the big game is on. Consider our Make Your Own Tostadas. They are super economical (about .40 each) and easy. If you prepare the toppings and bake the tostadas the day before or during the pregame you won’t have to be in the kitchen while everyone else is watching the game.

For special occasions like this I like to set up a buffet table so everyone can help themselves. In addition to the tostadas, I would add a big platter of fruit and tray of brownies/cookies. To keep the refried beans warm I would put them in a slow cooker on low. If they get dry, add a little water or tomato juice and stir.

Make Your Own Tostadas


Serving Size: 1 tostada Serves: 10 Cost Per Serving: $.36

Ingredients: tostada label

  • 10 corn tortillas (6-inch)
  • Cooking spray
  • 1 can (16 ounces) fat free refried beans

Optional Toppings:

  • 1/2 cup onion, chopped
  • 1 jalapeno, seeded and minced
  • Guacamole
  • Nonfat sour cream
  • 1 cup tomato, chopped
  • 1/2 cup low fat cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 3 cups lettuce, shredded


  1. Preheat oven to 375°F.
  2. Place tortillas in a single layer on baking sheets. Lightly spray with cooking spray. Bake for 5-7 minutes, flip over, and bake 5-7 minutes more until crisp.
  3. Put refried beans in microwave safe bowl and heat in microwave while tortillas bake. Stir beans so they heat evenly.
  4. Spread a thin layer of hot beans on baked tortillas.
  5. Serve with your choice of toppings.

Options Cut tortillas into snack size servings before baking. Use as dippers.


  • 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.
  • Save extra baked tortillas in an airtight container.

Peggy Signature

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Recipe Feature: Vegetable Soup with Kale and Lentils

January 6th, 2014

VegSoupKaleLentilsI never heard of either kale or lentils when I was growing up. Recently, I’ve started enjoying both. Kale is being promoted as one of our most powerful vegetables. It is low in calories, but rich in vitamins C and K, fiber, and calcium. Lentils are very high in protein and they contain fiber, folate, vitamins and minerals. They come in a range of colors including yellow, red, green, brown and black. Lentils are easy for me, because they cook much faster than other dry beans.

When choosing kale at the grocery store, look for green leaves that are moist and crisp. If the leaves are yellow or brown, the kale is not fresh. Kale develops a stronger flavor the longer it is stored, so plan to use it within a day or two of purchase. Kale can be wrapped in a damp paper towel and stored in a plastic bag in the crisper section of your refrigerator. You can also store it in the fridge in a tall glass with some water (stems pointing down) like a flower bouquet to keep it fresh for a couple of days.

Our featured recipe this month includes both kale and lentils. It’s a quick and easy soup that is made using only one pan. You can have it on the table in less than 45 min. I serve it with bread, fruit and milk or cheese.

If you can’t find yellow or brown lentils other colors could be substituted. If kale is not available, or is too expensive you could use other greens in this soup such as collard greens or spinach.

Vegetable Soup with Kale and Lentils

Serving Size: 1 1/2 cups | Serves: 6VegSoupKaleLentils-Label
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 1 medium carrot, sliced 1/8 inch thick
  • 2 teaspoons garlic, peeled and minced (3-4 cloves), or 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 cup dry yellow or brown lentils
  • 1 can (14.5 ounces) reduced sodium chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoon dried basil or Italian seasoning
  • 1 can (14.5 ounces) no sodium added diced tomatoes or 2 chopped tomatoes
  • 1 bunch kale (about 7 ounces)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
  1. Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat.
  2. Add onions, carrots, and garlic. Cook 5 minutes.
  3. Add water to veggies in pot. Heat to boiling.
  4. Rinse lentils in colander with water. Add lentils to pot and simmer for 20 minutes. Do not drain.
  5. Add chicken broth, dried basil or Italian seasoning, and tomatoes. Cover and cook for 5-10 minutes.
  6. Rinse kale leaves, cut out the main stems and discard. Cut leaves into 1-inch pieces.
  7. Stir kale, salt, and pepper into lentil mixture. Return to boiling. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 3 minutes.
  • Skip soaking the lentils first for this recipe. It is not needed.
  • Use kitchen scissors instead of a knife to cut the kale.
  • Make kale chips from extra leaves. Drizzle a little oil on clean, dry leaves. Spread leaves on a cookie sheet. Bake 12-20 minutes at 350 degrees F. Leaves should be thin and crackly but not brown. Remove from oven and sprinkle with salt.

Peggy Signature

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