In just over a week, my kids will be back in school and my son will start fall soccer. I love that when playing soccer my eight year-old son gets to run around being active. On the other hand, I feel that the snacks that are given to the players after their games could be improved. Often times my son gets a small bottle of sports drink along with donuts or some kind of packaged snack cakes. Even though my son runs when playing soccer, the game is only one hour and he rotates out with other players. Therefore, he isn’t playing for the full hour. Sports drinks are meant to replace sodium and potassium that is lost in sweat when being continuously active for an hour or more or when it is especially hot outside. Otherwise, water works well to keep kids hydrated. We enjoy donuts and other treats occasionally but to teach kids how to better fuel their bodies for activity, here are some other ideas for snacks after a game:
If you sign-up to take snacks for after a game this fall, I’d encourage you to consider taking one of these. You might be surprised at how much the kids enjoy them!
Cranberry Almond Wrap is our August recipe of the month. I like this type of recipe in the summer because it is quick and cool.
In the summer, quick and cool recipes are frequently used in our home. We love spending time outdoors in the summer, so taking time to prepare meals gets cut way back in order to get the most of our outside time. We are almost always hot when we come inside, so a hot meal does not appeal to any of us. My older two children often tell me that they do not want any hot food.
This recipe can be made ahead of time by stirring chicken (that has been cooked and shredded), sliced almonds, diced celery, dried cranberries, and mayo in a bowl and covering it and storing it in the refrigerator until meal time. When it is time to eat, spread the mixture on a tortilla, lettuce leaf, or slice of bread and enjoy! For the chicken, I recommend cooking extra when you have the grill fired up or the oven on. You can store cooked chicken in the refrigerator for up to four days or in the freezer for up to three months.
This month I challenged myself to investigate the pros and cons of individually packaged products. I see everything from pet food to cut veggies to medicine in individually-sized packages these days. Here is what I found as I looked at price, convenience, waste and some other factors related to individually-packaged foods.
- Price: My hunch was that the individual packages would cost more than buying larger containers. Interestingly, this is not always true. For example, I found animal crackers and graham crackers that had the same unit price whether I bought one large box or individual snack packs. Other items like salad dressing and baby carrots were up to 50% more expensive in the individual packages. If you would like to compare prices easily, try out the Unit Price Calculator in our Spend Smart. Eat Smart. App
- Convenience: The little packages are certainly handy. You can grab them for your lunch or a snack on the run with no trouble at all. It is also nice that individually packaged foods stay sealed in their package until you are ready to eat them, which reduces the likelihood of the food losing quality or going stale. Additionally, if you need to bring snacks to a children’s event, you can’t beat them for easy serving to many little hands.
- Waste: Individual packages often mean extra packaging and increased waste. I found this to be true and much of the additional packaging was not the type of plastic that my city will accept for recycling. This bothers me since one of my new year’s resolutions was to reduce the amount of single-use plastic I throw out.
- Some additional considerations: Small packages can help with portion control, which is a nice advantage. However, it is worth noting that some individual packages are larger than a single serving from the larger package. For example, the salad dressing I mentioned above came in little cups that were equivalent to 1 ½ servings from the full-size bottle. In that case, they may contribute to you eating more than you would have otherwise.
Overall, I think I will stick with buying most products in full-size packages. I will try to steal some of the convenience and portion control of the little packages by putting items for snacks and lunches in small reusable containers to start the week. Do you have any foods that you prefer in single-serve packages? Share with us on Facebook or Twitter!
Written by ISU Dietetic Intern Alexa Berkenpas
Those printed dates on our food products can spark confusion at the grocery store and at home. The confusion can come with terms such as “sell-by” or “use-by” among others. Understanding these terms is important when you’re trying to reduce food waste and save money. The following terms will help you make choices about what to buy and how long to keep it.
- Sell-By: The sell-by date is determined by the food product manufacturer and is often found on perishable items like meat, seafood, poultry, and milk. It informs the store of how long the product should be on display. You should buy a product before the sell-by date. You can still store the item at home beyond that date, as long as you follow safe storage procedures. For example, milk will generally be safe to drink one week after the “sell-by” date on the package, assuming it has been continuously refrigerated at or below 40°F. This Refrigerator and Freezer Storage Chart can help you determine how long to keep meat, seafood, poultry and eggs.
- Use-By, Best if Used By, Best By, Best Before: These “use-by” and “best” dates are generally found on shelf-stable products such as ketchup, salad dressings, and peanut butter. The date, which is provided by the manufacturer, tells you how long the product is likely to remain at its absolute best quality when unopened. It is not a safety date. Examine the product to gauge the quality after the date and discard foods that have developed an off odor, flavor, or appearance.
- Expires on: The only place you’re likely to see this is on baby formula and some baby foods, which are the only food products the federal government regulates with regard to dating. Always use the product before this expiration date has passed for safety reasons.
- Stamped Dates on Packages: Products like bagged salad greens, bread, and pre-cut vegetables often feature a date stamped on the package. This date is to help the store determine how long to display the product for sale. It can also help the purchaser know the time limit to purchase or use a product at its best quality
A better understanding of these terms will not only help reduce food waste, which is a prevalent problem in the United States; it can also help families save money and help them to avoid throwing away tomorrow’s dinner. To learn more about how to maximize the freshness of your food, visit https://www.foodsafety.gov/keep/foodkeeperapp/index.html or download the FoodKeeper App to learn how to keep your items fresher for longer.
My commitment to giving my children fewer pre-packaged snacks this summer has gotten me thinking a lot about food labels and the impact they have on our food choices. I have done a better job of providing my children snacks that do not have a label on them at all – like fresh fruits and vegetables. But, it is hard to avoid foods in packages. For example, we are eating nuts that come packaged in a bag, cheese that I have cut into cubes from a large block, yogurt from a plastic container, and cereal from a box. All of these packages have labels and all of the labels can impact my food choices.
Some labels are pretty plain – basically telling me what is in the food I am buying. Like my block of mild cheddar cheese. Other labels are more complicated – using claims like light, sugar-free, lowfat, reduced sodium, and more. My container of yogurt has a couple of these claims. Still others are very complicated – using claims such as made with whole grains, healthy, or natural. A box of cereal may have some claims like these. Are these claims giving me information about the nutrition of the food, are they a marketing tactic to get me to buy the food, or is it a combination of both? I think it is a combination of both, and I know I want to make the best choices for my family.
For a starting point, we have some information about food package labeling and claims here on our website. If you want to know more about food label claims, here is an article that I found very helpful. For me, the bottom line is this – no matter what the food package looks like on the front, turn it over and read what is on the back or the side. Read the Nutrition Facts Panel and the ingredients list to find out what is in the food and inform your decision about whether or not you want to buy the food for yourself or your family.
Written by Lynette Wuebker
Student Assistant, ISU Dietetics
There are so many ways that we can make the most of bananas, a nutrient packed snack full of potassium, and vitamins B, C, and A. What happens when they get brown, a little mushy, and are no longer good to eat though? Don’t throw them away! Some easy ways to use these ripe bananas are in popsicles, breads, muffins, smoothies, and as substitutes in your own home recipes. For example, in your daily recipes, you can substitute one ripe banana for each egg that is called for in the recipe.
If you aren’t able to cook with the bananas right away, they can be placed in a ziploc bag in the freezer until you are ready to use them. My personal favorite use for ripe bananas is mixing up a big batch of banana bread loaves. Any of the loaves that don’t get eaten can be frozen and saved another day. These are perfect for a family brunch or quick and healthy snack after school.
For other ways to use less than perfect produce and reduce food waste, check out the Reducing Food Waste at Home Publication.
Our July recipe of the month is Berry Banana Popsicles. This recipe comes at a perfect time for me as I am trying to stretch my food budget, especially when it comes to snacks (see my blog from last month). My children need two or three snacks each day and I am trying to cut back on pre-packaged snacks this summer. We are doing …
Berry Banana Popsicles meet my family’s snacking needs for several reasons:
- The children can help make them. They can cut up the bananas and berries, they can mix everything together, they can pour the mix into popsicle molds or cups, and they can put in the sticks.
- They are filling. These popsicles are made with yogurt and whole fruit so they will fill up my children’s tummies better than a popsicle made from juice.
- They are easy. I can keep my freezer stocked with homemade popsicles and we can reach for them whenever we need them.
Written by Kathryn Standing
Student Assistant, ISU Dietetics
So you have a meal plan, you made the trek to the grocery store, and it’s dinner time. Recipe on the counter, you begin to organize, suddenly you realize you don’t have one of the ingredients. Discouraged, you consider reaching for the frozen dinner. Don’t give up so easily. Chances are you can make the dish without your family ever knowing you made a change. Substituting something you already have on hand could save the day. Substitutions can be easy and the results just as good.
I am a former chef, making seamless substitutions was an important part of my job. Whether I was cooking for people who couldn’t eat certain items, or I was trying to make the dishes more nutritious, the meal still had to be delicious.
I focus on keeping the balance of the dish. By balance I mean you want to keep the moisture levels, the fat content and the flavor as close to the original as possible. It’s best to substitute similar items for each other; vegetables for vegetables, tomato products for other tomato products, fat can replace other fat, etc.
A note on baking: Baking is an area where caution in amount and type of ingredient is most important. When making substitutions in baking consider only making a partial substitution if possible to allow for a more consistent product.
There are lots of good online resources, one of my personal favorites provides the essentials: Recipe Basics — Measure Accurately, Substitute Wisely, Adjust Carefully by ISU Extension and Outreach. From proper measurement (which is the foundation of being a good cook) to a detailed list of common substitutions, you can find everything you need to get started on your cooking journey.
My oldest son recently turned 8 years old. Along with that birthday has come a growth spurt. Clothes that fit him a month ago are now too short and too tight. He is hungry all the time! Our pantry and refrigerator are emptying out more quickly than before.
This has made me realize that I need to re-think my typical grocery shopping trip. I shop for groceries weekly and, depending on the store, the foods I purchase are pretty much the same from week to week. This helps me stay on track with my budget. Unfortunately, an increase in appetite does not mean an increase in food budget. I need to look more closely at the foods I plan to make in the coming weeks to make sure my son (and the rest of my family) get the nutrition they need while staying within our food budget.
As I plan my next grocery shopping trip, here are three things I am going to look at more closely:
- Protein. I need to spend more time looking at the grocery ads before I go shopping to make sure I am choosing protein foods that fit my meal plan and my budget. For many recipes, I can substitute a less expensive protein choice.
- Stir-Fry is a great recipe for this – I can use beef, pork, chicken, fish, or tofu.
- Vegetables. I need to add more vegetables to my recipes. My whole family likes canned beans and frozen vegetables. These are choices that can add nutrition to a recipe without putting me outside of my budget.
- Snacks. I have gotten into a habit of buying pre-packaged snacks. Yes, they are easier, but they are more expensive. I think I can save myself money by reducing the number of pre-packaged snacks I buy and packaging snacks into reusable containers myself.
- Trail Mix is an easy snack to make and to package into small containers that will travel easily with us to the park or the pool this summer.
Stick with me on this one! When it is my turn to blog this summer, I will give you updates about how I am doing with my grocery shopping changes.
As a mom, I want to make foods for my family that taste good and are good for them. Sometimes I do this by altering a recipe to make it a bit healthier but still taste good. For some recipes, I reduce the amount of an ingredient. In others, I substitute one ingredient for another. Small changes can make a big difference in the amount of fat, salt, sugar and fiber in a dish.
Here are some ways I alter recipes to make them healthier:
- Reduce the amount of sugar by 1/3.
- Replace ¼ to ½ of refined flour with whole-wheat flour.
- Use plain yogurt instead of sour cream.
- Substitute skim or low-fat milk for whole milk.
- Use whole grains in place of refined grains.
For more ways to alter recipes for better health, use this guide by Purdue Extension. Try making one change at a time so you can see what works best for your recipe and what your family likes. And some recipes, like family traditions, might be best to enjoy as they are!