There is a lot of buzz out there about GMO foods and some of it sounds really scary. GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organisms, so right there you are probably saying ‘no way do I want to eat that!’ The fact is that GMO is a process of changing the way a plant or animal expresses genes. Farmers have been putting in and taking out genes from living things for ages using hybridization and selective breeding. Red Delicious apples, seedless watermelons and broccoli do not grow in the wild. They are cultivated crops, as are the wide variety of fruits and vegetables in our grocery stores. In fact, almost all of our food is created through genetic manipulation. Modern technology allows these changes to be done more precisely.
So how do GMOs end up in food? You may have heard that ‘70% of all foods contain GMO’. This is due to the fact that many foods use corn, soybean or canola oil, corn-derived sweeteners or starch, soy proteins, or other compounds produced from these plants – and almost all of the corn and soybeans grown in the US, and the canola grown in Canada are GMO. But should that be a concern? No and here is why. This may come as a surprise, but we eat DNA whenever we consume a plant or animal food! Strawberries, carrots and eggs contain DNA and when we eat those foods our digestive system breaks the DNA down into basic components. We do not absorb the DNA into our bodies. This is the same for GMO DNA. It is broken down along with all the other DNA in the food when we eat it. Claims that eating GMOs will alter DNA or reproductive health or cause cancer are unscientific and false. The other fear that sometimes is linked to GMO foods is that the DNA produces a protein in the plant or animal which could cause an allergic reaction. Rest assured that no allergenic response to a GMO food has ever been documented and the FDA and USDA make sure that no potential allergenic proteins are used in GMOs that could end up in the food system. One last reason to not worry about GMO in foods, especially oils and sweeteners, is that these ingredients are highly purified and contain no DNA or proteins at all.
Major health organizations around the world have reviewed the safety of GMO foods and have concluded that there is no reason to worry. GMO foods have been part of the food supply for over 20 years now with no link to any illness or disease. You can be confident that eating foods that have GMO ingredients or have been developed using GMO technology are healthy and safe for you and your family. Some food producers are taking advantage of consumers’ misunderstanding of GMOs and using the non-GMO label as a marketing tool. You do not need to buy higher priced, non-GMO foods or avoid foods that have GMO ingredients. If you want to learn more go to www.GMOanswers.com
Dr. Ruth MacDonald
Professor and Chair
Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition
Iowa State University
Football season is back! With football comes tailgating and lots of yummy foods. Between the sour cream dip with chips and brats on the grill, I find it quite difficult to plan healthy menu options when rooting on my team. It always seems more convenient to run to the store shortly before you leave for the game to grab some treats for the tailgating party. With a little planning and prep work, you can make some quick, easy, and healthy recipes the night before to bring with you.
Here are two nutrition labels comparing our Spend Smart. Eat Smart. Mango Salsa recipe and a store bought Peach Mango Salsa.
When comparing the two recipes you notice that the Spend Smart. Eat Smart. recipe offers roughly 50% less sodium per serving than the store bought brand. Although 160 mg per serving is low, that is only for 2 tablespoons of salsa. I know when I am attending a football tailgate I’m not always conscious about the amount of food or even sauces I am consuming so would likely consume more than 2 tablespoons. The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that we consume less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day. Most people consume 3,000 or more milligrams per day. Preparing food at home is one way to keep your sodium intake down. Making the homemade salsa with fresh mangos will also give you 25% of your needed vitamin C intake. The store bought salsa only provides you 4% of your daily Vitamin C needs.
So, this fall when you are planning for your weekend football tailgate party, create a game plan to make some dishes from scratch. This will provide a more healthy option for the rest of your party and a cheaper option for you as you cheer your team on to victory!
Written by Cassie Pappas, ISU Dietetic Intern
With the school year started, families are settling into a new routine. If your family is like many, coordinating school, work, and activities can make it difficult to find time to prepare meals. Here are three tips to help you make mealtime a breeze!
- Have a plan.
Creating a budget and menu for your weekly meals can save time, money, and stress in the long run! Utilize grocery store ads, foods that are in season, and a specific grocery list to get the best bang for your buck while shopping. To save time and eliminate stress, plan out when to cook around other activities. This will also keep you from resorting to eating out (which can be expensive and less nutritious) because you will have food ready when you need it! Spend Smart. Eat Smart. has meal planning tools to help you get started!
- Meal Prep.
Prepare food ahead of time so that meal time is stress free! Cleaning and cutting fresh veggies for the week is an easy way to make sure healthy snacks are always on hand. You can even pre-portion them into containers or bags so they are ready to take on the go! Another way to make sure healthy food is on hand is to batch cook. Cook enough of a main or side dish to last for several meals. Freeze them or store them in the refrigerator for up to four days. Here are some recipes that freeze well. Give them a try and see how easy mealtime can be!
- Create “Planned-Overs”.
Preparing a family dinner can be very satisfying! It can also make following meals a breeze! Casseroles and slow cooker dishes are easy to make for dinner and store for meals throughout the week. If you are making a dish with a whole cut of meat, poultry, or fish for dinner, cook extra to use in salads or sandwiches for lunches. Side dishes like cooked vegetables or grains can also be saved and used for later meals. See (link to my meal plan) for a few examples of how to plan leftovers into a menu.
What has worked for you? How do you plan meals, meal prep, or utilize leftovers at home? Let us know in the comments below!
Written by Emily Wisecup, ISU Dietetic Intern
Happy Labor Day from the Spend Smart. Eat Smart. team! Our September recipe of the month is perfect for a Labor Day picnic – Confetti Rice and Bean Salad.
A delicious homemade lime salad dressing tops fresh tomatoes, carrots, and onions along with frozen corn and (as the name says) brown rice and beans. This recipe makes a great side dish on its own or as a dip served with tortilla chips. It can also be served as a main dish – wrapped in a tortilla or lettuce leaf. No matter how you serve it, have fun with this recipe by using different types of beans and vegetables.
Have you ever bought a melon thinking how wonderful it will taste, only to find that when you cut it up, it doesn’t have any flavor? How frustrating that is! Here are 5 steps to picking a ripe melon.
1. Look for damage.
Choose a melon that’s not damaged on the outside. It should not have any bruises, soft spots, or cracks.
2. Check the color.
When buying watermelon and honeydew, choose a melon with a dull looking appearance. A shiny outside is an indicator of an underripe melon. Honeydew melons should be pale yellow in color, not overly green. For cantaloupe, the skin underneath the net-like texture should be golden or orange in color. Avoid cantaloupes with green or white color skin.
3. Check the size.
Pick up a few melons and see how they feel. Choose a melon that is heavy for its size.
4. Check the stem.
The stem end should give to gentle pressure but not be soft.
5. Smell it.
This works best with cantaloupes and honeydew. Ripe melons should smell sweet but not be overwhelming. If it smells really sweet, it might be overripe.
Good luck choosing your next melon!
Have you ever wondered how to peel a kiwi or how to prepare a fresh beet? Are you not sure how to store or prepare fresh produce from the farmers market or grocery store? We’re with you! It can be tricky to manage fresh fruits and vegetables that you’re not used to eating at home.
The Spend Smart. Eat Smart. team has put together a collection of Produce Basics handouts that describe how to wash, store and prepare common fruits and vegetables.
Whether you’re looking to clean your kale and collard greens or bake some sweet potato fries, Produce Basics can be your guide. Check out the collection today!
Last week, I shared what I do at home to prepare for a visit to the meat counter at the grocery store. This week, I have a few other ideas to share that will (hopefully) make your future trips to the meat counter a little easier.
- First, and most important, is to talk with the staff at the meat counter. They are very knowledgeable and can help you make the best decisions to fit your needs. Some grocery stores sell only pre-packaged meat, while others have a combination of a meat counter and pre-packaged meat. In some cases, the pre-packaged meat may be more affordable. If you are looking for help, but do not have a full service meat counter, click here for an interactive butcher counter that can help you make selections.
- Second is to choose your cooking method. Cooking methods fall into two categories, dry heat and moist heat.
- Dry heat cooking is to grill, broil, or pan-fry meat. This method uses high heat, little or no liquid, and is quicker. Dry heat cooking is best for tender cuts of meat.
- Moist heat cooking is to pot roast, braise, or stew meat. This method uses low heat, liquid is added, and it takes a longer amount of time. Moist heat cooking is best for less tender cuts of meat.
- Here and here are some great tips for cooking meat many different ways.
- Third is to choose your cut of meat. The cut of meat you choose is dependent on the cooking method. Here is a great resource on cooking different cuts of beef. In general, cuts with more marbling (fat threaded through the meat) are more tender and cost more. These cuts are best with dry heat cooking methods. Leaner cuts are typically less tender and cost less. These cuts are best with moist heat cooking methods.
I wish you luck with your next trip to the meat counter!
When I step up to the meat counter at the grocery store, I get a little nervous. There are dozens of choices, a wide range of prices, and a smiling person waiting patiently on the other side of the counter. I do my best to come into this situation prepared, but it can still be nerve wracking. This week and next week, I am going to write a little bit about how I make decisions about what to buy at the meat counter when I go grocery shopping.
Here are some of the things I do before visiting the meat counter:
- Check out what I have on hand. I like to see what I have on hand and then decide what meat I can buy to go along with it. Right now, I have a lot of potatoes from my family’s garden, so I would like to get some meat that I can put on the grill along with the potatoes.
- Check the grocery ads. I like to see what is available at a reasonable price before I go to the store. It does not mean I am locked into buying what is in the ads, but it does give me an idea of what meat might fit into my budget.
- Check my freezer space. I like to freeze meat when I can get it at a good price. The grocery store where I shop occasionally sells ground beef and chicken hindquarters in large quantities. These are meats my family eats a lot of, so, if I have the freezer space, I will buy the larger quantities at the discounted price and then freeze them in smaller portions for another week. Some grocery stores also sell meat bundles – these may be a good deal if you have the freezer space (and the money) available.
- Check my schedule. I like to take time to cook a great meal for my family, but time is not always on my side. The meat I purchase has to fit into my family’s schedule for the week. If it is going to be a busy week, I usually look for a whole chicken or a roast that I can cook on the weekend and then use the leftovers to make quick meals the rest of the week. If we have more time, I will plan to grill or try a new recipe.
Shopping at the meat counter can be intimidating, but planning ahead can help a lot. If you have suggestions for planning ahead that I missed here, please let me know in the comments.
Our recipe this month is Not Your Average Steak Sandwich. I am a huge fan of steak, but the steak is not the star of this recipe. To make this sandwich above average it is topped with sautéed onions and fresh spinach. The onions add delicious flavor and aroma to the sandwiches while the spinach adds refreshing crunch and nutrition.
Keep in mind that beef prices fluctuate, so, if steak is not in your price range right now, hold on to this recipe until you find a good deal. If you find a good price on steak while the weather is nice, grill the steak for these sandwiches. However, if you do not have a grill or if it is too cold outside, the steak can be sliced and fried in the same pan used to sauté the onions.
Not Your Average Steak Sandwich
Serving Size: 1 sandwich
Cost Per Serving: $1.87
- 1 medium onion, cut into slices or rings
- 2 1/2 teaspoons sugar
- 1 pound lean steak, sliced into strips
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- 1 1/4 cups spinach
- 5 whole wheat hamburger buns
- Heat a small pan to medium. Spray with nonstick cooking spray. Add onions and sprinkle with sugar. Cook for 5–7 minutes or until golden brown, stirring occasionally. Remove onions from pan. Cover with foil to keep warm.
- Put the steak in the pan and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook the steak on both sides until heated through to 145°F.
- Assemble the sandwich:
- Place 1/4 cup spinach on one side of the hamburger bun.
- Place 1/5 of the steak on top of the spinach.
- Place 1/4 cup caramelized onions on top of the steak.
- Top with other half of bun.
- When it is nice outside, grill the steaks instead of frying.
- Toast the buns right before putting the sandwiches together.
- Use the leftover spinach to make a Whole Meal Salad for lunch the next day.
- Add cheese to make it like a Philly cheesesteak sandwich.
By Sarah Allen, Nutrition Program Student Assistant
In my Let’s Talk about Food Waste blog last week, I shared about what food waste is and how much it can cost you. Reducing food waste is not as hard as you think. The USDA has created a resource called Let’s Talk Trash. In it they offer tips on how you can put a stop to food waste in your home.
- Plan and Save: Look in your pantry, freezer, and fridge to make a list of what you need to buy before grocery shopping. This can help you buy only the food you need and keep money in your pocket.
- Be Organized: After you buy food for the week, make sure that you keep things tidy. You can do this by having it sorted by expiration date. An easy way to keep cans organized is to take a permanent marker and write the date large enough to see. Put products with the earliest date toward the front of the cupboard, so they get used first.
- Repurpose and freeze extra food: Sometimes having the same meal for the whole week can be boring. One way to use leftovers is by making them into a new meal. For example, if you have leftovers from our Tasty Taco Rice Salad recipe, use as a substitute for the filling in our Stuffed Peppers When you freeze food, write the following on the container:
- The name of the food,
- How much is in the container, and
- The date that you put it in the freezer.
For more information on how you can store leftovers longer, watch How to Freeze Leftovers.
It may seem overwhelming to make these changes, but once you start, it will become a habit. I hope you can use these tips to help you save money!