Time saver meals

As we spring morphs into summer, one of the things that seems to disappear is time. Kids’ track meets, sports practices, and ballgames become more frequent and family dinner time seems impossible.  We all know that a drive-thru dinner is not good for our health or our wallet. At AnswerLine, we looked at the subscription meal services as an option and we know that various grocery stores are offering help making freezer meals.  The trick is to find something that works well for your family and the time you have available.

One summer the parents of my daughters softball teammates banded together to make pot luck dinners. She had a game nearly every weeknight and Saturday.  The JV team had to be there by 5:30 pm. which didn’t leave much time to get the family fed and our daughter ready and to the ball diamond.  Our solution was to take meals to the ball diamond that parents and siblings of the players could enjoy before the games.  Parents took turns providing the main dish and side dishes.  It wasn’t too hard to make one dish or to pack the portable gas grill on game days.  Everyone enjoyed the meals because when you only need to prepare one dish it is easier to make something special.  But even a simple picnic can be packed when the timing of a game or practice makes meals at home impossible.  Enjoying a meal together, even just sandwiches and fruit, after a game or practice can make it seem special.

Another possibility would be to make a list of the quick and easy meals that your family enjoys. Some families love the breakfast at dinner time meals.  It doesn’t take long to scramble some eggs or make omelets.  Add some fruit, vegetables, or toast and you can have a balanced meal ready in a flash.  If you make a list of the simple meals you enjoy, you are able to shop so that the ingredients you need to have on hand will be there when you need them.

You can also take advantage of some quick tips to make preparing those meals faster. Consider chopping and freezing some onions in advance.  The thawed onions will be soft and really best used in cooked dishes, but if you chop and freeze them in thin layers in a freezer bag, they will be easy to measure and use when cooking in a hurry.  You can also double the amount you make on a night when time isn’t a factor and freeze the extra.  Defrost in the refrigerator during the work day and enjoy on a busy night.

Don’t forget the slow cooker during the spring or summer either. Sometimes we think it is only for making some great soup or stew on those cold winter days.  The crock pot can make your dinner while you and the family are out for the day and it can keep the house cooler when used instead of the stove.  Our friends at Spend Smart. Eat Smart. have some great recipes. Check out their entire website for some great information.  They even have an app for your smart phone to make grocery shopping easier.

Just a little bit of planning in advance can keep your family and your wallet healthier. Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Liz Meimann

Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

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Cauliflower Crust Pizza

Recently I wrote a blog post about cauliflower and mentioned I was looking forward to trying cauliflower pizza crust. Well, I tried it! And I really liked it! I will definitely make it again. The cauliflower was very easy to grate manually. Once it was grated and after doing a little more research, I opted to dry it out in a pan on the top of the stove rather than microwaving it and squeezing it dry. I was very pleased with how that worked. The cauliflower was not browned but nice and dry and easy to work with. I added one egg as I didn’t want it to taste too “eggy” and some parmesan cheese. I pressed it out onto a parchment paper lined baking sheet being careful to keep the thickness as even as possible so there would be no areas that were over browned or burned. After baking it separately for several minutes, I removed it from the oven and added my toppings then returned it to the oven for several more minutes. It turned out to be a very healthy and flavorful pizza entrée that did not leave me with that “oh so full” feeling you can get with a traditional carb crust. Another AnswerLine colleague is trying the cauliflower crust and is also experimenting with zucchini and eggplant crusts. We’ll keep you posted!

Marcia Steed

Marcia Steed

I graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Home Economics Education. I enjoy spending time with my family and friends and traveling.

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Transitioning from Incandescent and CFL bulbs to LEDs

Like many consumers today, my family has gradually been changing from incandescent and compact fluorescent (CFLs) bulbs to light emitting diode (LED) lights.  For many reasons, LEDs lighting is preferable to incandescent and CFL lighting:  LED’s light up very quickly achieving full brightness in milliseconds, are dimmable, radiate very little heat, use less energy, have a long life, contain no toxic materials, give off zero UV emissions, and operate in extreme hot or cold temperatures.  But gone are the days when buying lightbulbs used to be a cinch. When a 60-watt incandescent bulb burnt out in by-gone days, you purchased another pack of 60-walt bulbs, reinstalled, and that was the end.  Since 2012, incandescents have gradually been phased out, replaced temporarily by CFLs, and now the LEDs.

As we began the transition, we found there are more lighting choices than ever before and that we had much to learn in order to get the right bulb.  A good place to start is by looking for the ENERGY STAR label and checking out the chart: ENERGY  STAR Light Bulb Purchasing Guide as a guide to finding the right bulb for your light fixture.   (ENERGY STAR is the government-backed symbol for energy efficiency helping consumers save money and protect the environment through energy-efficient products and practices.)  Since all LED bulbs are not created equal, LED bulbs that have earned the ENERGY STAR have met the highest standards for quality and performance.

The next step was learning the jargon:

Lumens.  For brightness, look for lumens, not watts as used by incandescent bulbs.  Lumens indicate the light output whereas watts indicate energy consumed.  Certified LED bulbs provide the same brightness (lumens) with less energy (watts).  The Purchasing Guide provides a chart to determine how many lumens are need to match the brightness of an incandescent bulb (i.e. 800 lumens = 60 watts).

Color Temperature.  LED bulbs are available in a wide range of colors matching a temperature on the Kelvin Scale (K).  Lower K values mean a warmer, yellowish light while high K values equate to cooler, bluer light.  There is a small illustration of this in the Purchasing Guide.  For a larger, more colorful and easy-to-read chart, check out the chart provided by Westinghouse.

Color Rendering Index (CRI).  This information is not always on the box but sometimes can be found in the lighting displays at the store.  CRI tells how accurately colors appear under the bulb’s light, ranging from 0-100.  The old incandescent bulbs have a CRI of 100.  Consumer Reports recommends a CRI of 80 for interior lights.

Although there are many advantages to using LEDs, they are still a bit more expensive than alternatives.  Due to their extremely low power requirements, LEDs ultimately save money over their life and will pay for themselves in energy savings.  In some communities, that savings can come within six months of installation.  Further, to help consumers, some power companies and city utilities offer energy savings programs or rebates for purchasing LED bulbs and/or LED light fixtures. From January 1, 2017, through December 31, 2017, participating Iowa electric utilities are helping residents make the simple switch to energy-efficient lighting by offering special pricing on ENERGY STAR® qualified LED bulb purchases of 12 or less. If you want to see the real value of switching to LED’s, visit bulbs.com and check out the Energy Savings Calculator.

A couple of other factors that entered into our replacement equation was the need to make some fixture changes or adjustments.  Even though the LED bulbs are supposed to be exactly the same in size as the incandescents, we found otherwise.  Therefore, it was a good idea to bring our incandescent bulb along and measure everything carefully beginning with the length of the base.  The biggest surprise for me was that contrary to popular belief, LEDs do generate heat and that they need to be in a non-enclosed fixture to allow heat to dissipate from the heat sink.  Without the ability to vent, they can overheat and fail early.  A sales person at Lowes showed me how the new bulb-type fixtures provide for heat dissipation with a nearly inconspicuous small venting system in the glass of the fixture.  Further, he advised that if the LED bulbs are put into existing, enclosed fixtures, the fixture might still be usable by lengthening the stem of the fixture so that there is a small space between the top of the glass and the fixture base.  There are also bulbs specifically designed to be placed in enclosed fixtures.  If you purchase a fixture that already has LED lights incorporated into it, the heat dissipation will have been taken care of by the manufacturer, but you may need to remove some insulation in your attic surrounding the location of the fixture.

Marlene Geiger

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Smoothies

 It seems, for me at least, life gets busier and busier yet I still want to eat healthy. I have decided to add more smoothies into my diet to help boost my intake of veggies and fruit. I prefer them over juicing fruits and vegetables as you get more fiber in a smoothie. I would not typically eat spinach for breakfast but I really enjoy it in a smoothie!

Depending on what your smoothie ingredients are, you can probably make them in your current blender. The average blender will usually hold enough to make two servings. There are “smoothie” blenders on the market that are narrow at the bottom thus sending a small volume of foods up and then down toward the center of the blender blades rather than up the sides and back down and there are also the bullet type blenders, i.e. Magic and Nutri. When adding liquid to your smoothie try to have the amount come about half way up on the ingredients in the blender. That will help everything “blend” properly and if it is too thick you can always add more liquid or pour the smoothie into a bowl and top it with additional fruits, nuts, oats, etc.

A basic smoothie recipe would include ½ cup fruit – fresh or frozen; ½ cup veggies – fresh or frozen; 1 cup dairy; and any “extras” you want to add as flavor boosters. The advantage of using frozen fruit is you don’t need to add ice. Frozen fruit also helps thicken the smoothie without diluting the flavor. It is easy to have berries, peaches, bananas, etc on hand in the freezer which are all common smoothie ingredients.

It is best to use dairy – milk or yogurt – as the liquid to add some protein to the smoothie. Many people, me included, add protein powder as well. Juice has a lot of sugar in it that is not necessary to add. Some protein and a little fat will fill you up longer, take longer to digest, and slow your sugar consumption. Greek yogurt, unsweetened almond milk, avocado, nuts, and nut butters all are good choices to add protein and a little fat.

Smoothies should be consumed immediately after making rather than making them and refrigerating  for a later time. Some fruits, because of their acid content, can curdle the milk if left too long before drinking. If you have leftovers, you can pour them into popsicle molds, or other containers, and freeze for a treat.

Smoothies may not always satisfy me the same way solid food does but I find they have a place in my diet. I can control the portion size depending on if I use them as a meal replacement or a snack and they encourage me to eat more fruits and veggies!

Marcia Steed

Marcia Steed

I graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Home Economics Education. I enjoy spending time with my family and friends and traveling.

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It’s Morel Time!

It is time to start hunting for morel mushrooms. I have been looking at some advice from experienced mushroom hunters to see what tips might help me find some morels this spring.

The first tip is to post pictures of morels all around the home or office. The theory is that if you are very familiar with the shape, they will be easier to spot.

Remember to check for signs that it is time to start hunting. You should see oak leaves that are the size of a squirrel’s ear, budding lilacs, dandelions, and other early spring flowers in bloom. At this time of the year, expect daytime temperatures in the sixties and night temperatures in the fifties.

More important is the actual soil temperature. Temperatures in the low fifties are best; temperature seems to be more important than the direction that the hillside faces. Earlier in the spring seems to be the best time to begin searching. If a cold snap occurs, there may not be as many morels growing after the weather warms up again.

Dead trees seem to be a great spot to search. Elms, Ash trees, Apple trees, and many other trees provide just the right nutrients for morels.

If the spring has been dry, look at the base of a hill. The soil will still be a bit moist there. Creek bottoms that get some sunlight are also great spots to hunt.

Once you have found some morels, remember:

  • Don’t collect morels that have been exposed to pesticides.
  • Don’t mix morels and other types of mushrooms
  • If the morel doesn’t look good (old, discolored, decaying) don’t harvest it
  • Use paper sacks, not plastic for harvest and storage of morels. They will rot in plastic bags.
  • Always cook morels, don’t eat them raw.
  • Follow directions for cooking and freezing from our previous blog post.

 

Happy hunting and eating.

 

 

Liz Meimann

Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

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Visit an Iowa Farm

Photo courtesy of and permission by Bloomsbury Farm, Atkins, Ia

Would your family enjoy visiting an operating farm?  A farm visit can be a tremendous learning experience and also great family fun.  Seeing how a farm operates and the effort that goes into growing crops or raising livestock provides appreciation for the food we consume daily or becomes an eye-opening experience on seeing non-traditional crops being grown.  Further its a great opportunity to try new products, foods and beverages produced from those crops.

If this sounds like something you’d like to do, check out Visit Iowa Farms at www.visitiowafarms.org where you will find a listing of farms across the state willing to host visitors.  The Visit Iowa Farms program is administered by the Value Added Agriculture Program of Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.

Users of the site can find a farm by adventure type, county, or distance from a specific location.  Agritourism has continued to grow in Iowa and according to the 2012 Census of Agriculture, there were 275 farms in the state open to the public.  Agritourism in Iowa has been growing steadily.

The site is also useful to farmers wanting to list their operation on the Visit Iowa Farms website.  Besides registering, there are also resources for business planning, marketing, and legal and regulation considerations as they set up and publicize their agritourism operation.

For more on what to do and see in rural Iowa, download the Iowa Tour Guide (2015) which gives many ideas and even planned tours through the state to see agriculture in many different forms.  Agritourism is all about connecting travelers or curiosity seekers to life down on the farm.  Check out the opportunities!  You’ll be amazed!

Photo courtesy of Jean Marie Martin and provided with permission by Loess Hills Lavender Farm, Missouri Valley, IA

Marlene Geiger

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Make Sure Your Cell Phone is ‘Clean’ Before Discarding

After a recent TV news story regarding how much information was found on discarded cell phones in a university study, it seemed appropriate to review what one needs to do before selling, trading-in, or donating a cell phone to purge the phone of any personal information.  All of the cell phones used in the study were purchased randomly from Goodwill.

If a new cell phone is in your future, here’s some tips on how to safely remove all personal data from your existing phone for peace of mind and to make sure you leave nothing behind that could be used maliciously by someone else.  The same steps can be taken for tablets before disposal, too.

  1. Back up all your data, settings, photos, videos, texts, call log, contacts, etc.  If you’re unsure how to do this, check with your provider.
  2. Remove your SIM card and SD card if you have one.
  3. Log out of all social media accounts, email accounts, and any apps which might track personal data.
  4. Once all your data has been backed up, encrypt your phone.
  5. Disable and remove all accounts and apps with personal data.
  6. Perform a factory reset.

CNET provides how-tos/videos on how to perform these tasks on Windows, iOS and Android phones.

The FTC advises that once you have performed all of these tasks, that you double check to make sure nothing remains on your phone. Further the FTC advises that you keep the serial number of your phone before letting it go.  And finally, dispose of your phone responsibility.  If you aren’t selling, trading, or giving away your phone, check with your local sanitation agency to learn how to dispose of it properly.

Marlene Geiger

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Disaster help

Dealing with Flooding

flooded fieldThe resources on this page and on the Human Sciences Extension and Outreach Finding Answers Now page provide information Iowans can use to plan before a flood situation, recover and clean up from flood water damage, and conserve water.

To find current conditions in Iowa, visit the DNR Current Disasters in Iowa website and follow flood and drought conditions in the state; find resources and assistance information. The national Extension Disaster Education Network (EDEN) provides additional resources for county extension offices on the Floods and Flooding webpage.

Hotlines

  • Iowa Concern Hotline: 800-447-1985
    Help and referrals for dealing with stress, crisis and loss in times of disaster.
  • Teenline — (800)443-8336 Available all hours, all days. Personal and health-related information and referral.

Clean Up

Crops

Iowa State University Resources, Fall 2016

Additional Resources

Health and Safety

Livestock

Private Wells

Stress Management

Stress

Before Flood Preparations

Marcia Steed

Marcia Steed

I graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Home Economics Education. I enjoy spending time with my family and friends and traveling.

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What’s in Your Attic?

About half of the energy used in Midwest home is used to keep the home warm or cool.  Properly insulating the attic might be one of the best ways to reduce your energy bills.  The good news is that the attic is often one of the easiest places in the home to insulate.  And, purchasing adequate insulation is not that expensive.

If you live in a recently built or remodeled home, you likely have adequate insulation.  However, if your home is over 8 years of age, the time might be right to determine if additional insulation is needed.  Over time, insulation tends to settle and thereby, a loss in R-value.  The US Department of Energy recommends an R-value (the thermal resistance of the insulation material) of 60 to maximize the benefit of attic insulation.  Any amount higher brings little additional benefits.  Most home codes recommend a range of R-45 to R-60.

Determining the R-value of the insulation you currently have is the first step.  The best way to find out if you have enough insulation is to measure the depth or thickness of insulation in your attic in several locations.   Using the chart from the Iowa Energy Center, identify the kind of insulation you have and its R-value.  Add your depth or thickness measurements and multiply by the (estimated) R-value shown in the right column.

The next step is to visit with an insulation specialist to determine the kind and amount of insulation that will be needed to bring your attic space up to the desired R-value.  You may choose to do it yourself or hire a contractor.   Blown-in, loose fill insulation is one of the easiest forms to add to an existing home. If you are doing it yourself, check to see if your retailer provides a blower for you to borrow to do the job and take the necessary precautions to protect yourself and the elements in the attic.  You will need protective clothing, goggles, and a dust respirator.  Be careful not to block air flow vents in the soffits and eaves and insulate over light fixtures particularly if they are not rated IC (insulated ceiling) or are LED.

Check with your local energy company to see if you are eligible for an Energy Wise program to help offset costs.

For more information on insulation or ideas on how you can make your home more energy efficient, check out Home Tightening, Insulation, and Ventilation from the Iowa Energy Center Home Series.  Sometimes it takes more than insulation in the attic to make a home energy efficient.

Marlene Geiger

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Ways to Cut Your Grocery Bill

Are you looking for ways to slash the amount you spend for groceries?  Here are four simple, conventional steps to cut the amount spent for groceries without compromising on nutrition or health:

  1. Plan Your Meals.  Always go to the grocery store with a plan.  Begin by planning meals for a week and grow that to a month.  The website, http://moneysmartfamily.com/recipes/ is a good place to start with this venture offering recipes and tips.  A shopping list is a must.  Consider using frozen fruit and vegetables as opposed to fresh and adding occasional meat-less meals in your plan.  Moneysmartfamily.com also offers a preprinted list of all the things to buy which also serves as a mental cue to check stock items making sure the amount needed is in your stock.  Use your leftovers wisely.
  2. Shop the Deals. Watch the weekly sales ads.  Buy in a larger quantities if it makes sense to keep it on your shelf or in your freezer when you spot a deal.  Be aware of expiration dates and rotate your stock so that it is used in a timely fashion.  Be savvy with coupons and buy only items that fit your plan.   Consider discounted “must-go” food items; grocery stores usually mark down products, produce, and meat when they get close to their sell-by-date.  These discounted items are still perfectly safe for you to purchase.
  3. Minimize Grocery Store Visits. Frequent trips to the grocery store usually result in impulsive purchases.  Attempt to cut your visits to once a week or longer; with a plan this usually is not hard to do.
  4. Pay with Cash. With cash in hand, you know exactly how much you can spend.  This will force one to seek out the necessities or only the items on the planned list.  The little extras are okay as long as they are part of the plan.

From PennyHoarders.com comes some not-so-conventional  means of lowering your food bill. All of these options are available for free.

  1.  Become a Nielsen  Consumer Panel member.  The Nielsen company will pay you to scan your groceries weekly.
  2. Inbox.com pays 10 cents for every coupon you print from their website.
  3. Buy common meats and meat cuts in bulk from Zaycon Fresh.
  4. Sign up for Pillsbury and Betty Crocker emails to received $250 in coupons and access to free product samples.
  5. Register with Kelloggs for $150 in coupons plus points for buying Kellogg products that can be turned into grocery money.

So regardless of whether you choose conventional or non-conventional options or some combination, you will save grocery dollars that can be turned into cash for saving, paying down debt, or for something fun.

Marlene Geiger

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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