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
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!
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.
Tacos are a go to meal for my family. They make the menu almost every week. Our May recipe is a delicious way to change up the typical taco routine. In our lentil taco recipe, lentils are used in place of meat or fish because they are quick and easy to cook and they are inexpensive.
If you have not yet cooked with lentils, this is the perfect recipe to start with. Start by rinsing and sorting your lentils to remove any dirt or other debris. Then simmer the lentils with onion, seasonings, and water for about 30 minutes. Spoon the lentils onto corn tortillas and serve with your favorite taco toppings.
Add lentils to your grocery list this week and try out lentil tacos for your Cinco de Mayo celebration!
With the weather warming up here in the Midwest, gardens are being planted and farmers markets will open soon. I’m looking forward to getting my hands on fresh fruits and vegetables that will be in season. Strawberries and watermelon just say ‘summer’ to me! Adults and children need 1 ½ to 2 cups of fruit per day for good health. In my family we usually eat fruit for breakfast or for snacks. There are some recipes on Spend Smart. Eat Smart. that make eating fruit really fun for kids including Fruit Slush, Frozen Fruit Cups, or Fruit Kabobs & Yogurt. These recipes are flexible and can be made with different combinations of fruit depending on what you like and what you have on hand.
Last week I wrote about making breakfast foods for supper. I ended up making the French Toast one night and it was a hit with my family, especially my 2-year-old daughter. We have a number of breakfast recipes on our website that could be enjoyed at breakfast, lunch or supper. I’m not much of a cereal eater but I really like the Crispy Granola. You can make it to your liking by adding different kinds of nuts and dried fruit. Breakfast Splits are a fun one for kids or to have when guests are over. You can set out bananas, different flavors of yogurt, different cereals, chopped fruit and nuts and each person can make their own splits. And my favorite breakfast recipe is our Make Ahead Breakfast Burritos. I make a batch to put in the freezer. Then I can grab one out and quickly heat it in the microwave to enjoy on busy mornings. You can also find me enjoying one at supper some nights when I’m not up to cooking!
Recently my husband got groceries and came home with a carton of 18 eggs. I usually only buy a dozen eggs so I asked him if he had something planned for all the eggs. He didn’t so I started thinking of how I was going to use them. I know it’s only 6 more eggs but it seemed like a lot of eggs to use! After eggs are purchased, they can be stored in their original carton in the refrigerator for 3-5 weeks. Usually the “sell-by” date on the carton will expire during that storage period, but the eggs will remain safe to use. I could make hard-cooked eggs or egg salad, but I’ve had my fill of those for a while after all the hard-cooked eggs at Easter! What came to mind next was to make breakfast for supper. Scrambled Egg Muffins, Easy Quiche, or French Toast are all tasty ways to use up the eggs and change up what we have for supper. And my kids like smoothies so I could serve Fruit Smoothie to get in a serving or two of fruit. No sleeping in past this breakfast!
Last year I wrote a blog on menu planning and mentioned that my son’s famous first words after we got home at night were, “I’m hungry.” Now that my daughter is two, I have two kiddos telling me this! Therefore, I find meal planning even more important so I can get a healthy meal on the table fast. Since I find it so helpful, I’d like to share tips for successful meal planning again.
- Determine what meals you will plan. Since the meal my family eats together is supper that is the meal I spend time to plan. However, you can plan for breakfast, lunch, supper or snacks. I go to the grocery store once a week so I plan my meals a week at a time. You might choose to plan them for more or fewer days.
- Write the plan on a calendar. I write my meal plan on a calendar that hangs in my kitchen. This calendar includes other family activities so I know if we will be gone for a meal at night or have a really rushed evening. My husband knows to look at the calendar to see what we are having. If you use an online calendar for planning activities, you could also write your meals there.
- Check what you have on hand. Check your refrigerator, freezer, and cupboards for foods that need to be used up in the next few days. Think of ways to include these items in your meals. I always plan a night to have leftovers so they don’t go to waste.
- Review the grocery ads for specials you can use. Save money by purchasing items on sale that you can pair with the foods you have on hand to help complete your meals.
- Keep a list of the recipes your family likes best. Having a list helps make meal planning go really quickly because you can easily spot the recipes that use things you have on hand or are on sale. Some recipes my family likes are Lentil Tacos and Chicken Alfredo Pasta.
To help you get started, check out our Meal Planning Calendar. This week-long menu features recipes from Spend Smart. Eat Smart.