Growing Herbs

Flat parsley growing in rows in the garden bed

In the spirit of gardening, today I am going to continue our series and talk about growing herbs. Growing herbs at home can save you money because buying fresh and dried herbs at the store can add up quickly. Growing herbs is something that started as a fluke for me and has turned into a passion.

I bought a sad looking oregano plant at a sale the first year we were in our home. I planted it just outside the kitchen window in a dry, empty patch of dirt where nothing grew. Now, ten years later, that oregano plant is still alive and thriving. Over the years we have added and removed herbs from my little herb garden. This year we will have oregano and chives (which come back every year) and basil, dill, and parsley (which my son and his grandpa started from seeds).

A little herb garden is so much fun for children. I love to watch my children plant and care for the herbs, smell them, taste them, and add them to recipes. If you do not have space for an herb garden, consider planting an herb container. Place it near your kitchen so you have easy access when you need to add flavor to a recipe.

A great thing about herbs is that they are low maintenance. Plant them, or place containers, in a sunny spot because herbs love sun. Make sure your soil, or your container, drains water well because herbs do not like to sit in wet soil. Water them when the soil is dry to the touch.

Best of luck with your herb garden!

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover is a Registered Dietitian and mom who loves to cook for her family.

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Let’s Grow Tomatoes!

Cherry tomatoesLast week Christine shared about how she grows greens in containers on her patio. This week I am going to share about my gardening experiences with tomatoes. My family and I have a pretty large garden in our back yard. We usually fill about half of it with tomato plants because we love to eat them fresh and make them into tomato juice to enjoy all year long.

This “Tomatoes” growing guide is a great read if you are interested in trying some tomatoes in your garden this year or if you would like to improve the health and yield of your tomato plants. Here are some practical tips I have picked up as I have experimented with growing tomatoes in my own garden:

  • Choose the right varieties of tomatoes for my garden. This one takes a little trial and error. I have found that Better Boy and Super Sweet 100 tomatoes grow best in my garden.
  • Plant tomatoes between May 15th and June 1st. After May 15th, I should be able to avoid frost killing my plants. If I get my plants in before June 1st, I can enjoy a longer growing season and a higher yield.
  • Use tomato cages. Large, tall tomato cages allow the plants to grow big, healthy, and strong. They are also easier to manage than tomatoes that are staked up or tomatoes that are allowed to grow along the ground.

Thankfully, you do not need a large garden to enjoy growing fresh tomatoes at home.  Depending on the plant size, tomatoes can be grown in 2-4 gallon containers. The Container Vegetable Gardening guide gives ideas for the variety of tomato that would be best for your home.

I hope you can get outside and enjoy gardening this year!

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover is a Registered Dietitian and mom who loves to cook for her family.

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Lettuce Start Gardening!

Silly title -I know – but Spring has sprung here in Iowa and I am so excited to start growing some food on my back patio. Getting my herbs and vegetables planted is such a fun way to celebrate the warmer weather. Fresh veggies from the garden taste so good and growing your own food saves serious money.

I do not have space to plant a garden in the ground, so I use planters and pots on my patio. It is amazing how much food you can grow in a tiny space. There will be a point this summer when I can barely keep up with it!

Salad greens grow very well in containers. Here are some steps to get you started!

  1. Review the Iowa State University Container Vegetable Gardening Guide. It has all of the basics to help you get started.
  2. Choose a large pot (1 gallon minimum) with drainage holes.
  3. Put a layer of rocks or gravel in the bottom and then fill with potting soil.
  4. Use your finger to create a trench about one inch deep and sprinkle seeds about every inch in the trench. Repeat this process with an additional row or two leaving 4 inches between rows.
  5. Put your pot where bunnies and deer cannot get it. They love lettuce and they will eat it!
  6. Water the soil (not the leaves) as often as necessary to keep it moist. It does not need to be soaking wet, but should not get completely dry either. I typically water my vegetable containers every 1-2 days during the heat of the summer.
  7. After about three weeks, you will have leaves to harvest. Clip the leaves, leaving the plant base behind. The plant will grow more leaves!

This month our blogs are all about growing your own fruits and vegetables. We hope you’ll find some good ideas whether you’re just starting out or a certified green thumb. Please comment on our Facebook page or tweet us and let us know your favorite things to grow!

Christine Hradek

Christine Hradek

Christine Hradek is a State Nutrition Specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. She coordinates ISU’s programs which help families with low income make healthy choices with limited food budgets. Christine loves helping families learn to prepare healthy foods, have fun in the kitchen and save money. In her spare time, Christine enjoys cooking, entertaining and cheering on her favorite college football teams with her family and friends.

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Orange Dressing

Our May recipe of the month is sure to get you in the mood for spring produce if you are not already.   A salad of spring greens (spinach, leaf lettuce, or Swiss chard), chopped spring vegetables (broccoli or snow peas), and chopped spring fruit (strawberries or pineapple) tastes delicious with our homemade Orange Dressing.

Our homemade Orange Dressing is made of ingredients that are easily found in most kitchens.  This recipe needs only four ingredients – orange juice, vinegar, sugar, and oil.  Pour them into a container with a tight fitting lid and shake until the ingredients are combined.  Then use this tasty dressing to top a salad made with your favorite springtime produce.

Enjoy!

Orange Dressing with Fruit and Greens

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover is a Registered Dietitian and mom who loves to cook for her family.

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Spring Produce

Each spring I love watching the plants pop up out of the ground.  Some days I feel like I can see the plants growing in my yard.  Now that we are in April, more and more fresh spring produce is popping up in the stores and in gardens.

Buying fruits and vegetables that are in season gets you the tastiest produce for the least cost.  Here are some fruits and vegetables that are in season in the spring:

  • Asparagus – snap off the woody ends and grill, steam, or roast.
  • Broccoli – cut into florets and eat raw, steam, or roast.
  • Rhubarb – eat only the reddish stalk; find out more on the AnswerLine Blog.
  • Snow peas – eat raw or add to stir-fry.
  • Spinach – eat in a salad, top off a sandwich, or add to a smoothie.
  • Strawberries – eat on their own or as a topping to your favorite dessert.

I hope you get to enjoy some fresh spring produce this week!

Christine Hradek

Christine Hradek

Christine Hradek is a State Nutrition Specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. She coordinates ISU’s programs which help families with low income make healthy choices with limited food budgets. Christine loves helping families learn to prepare healthy foods, have fun in the kitchen and save money. In her spare time, Christine enjoys cooking, entertaining and cheering on her favorite college football teams with her family and friends.

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How to Prepare Broccoli

Recently my son brought home a card from school to keep track of the fruits and veggies he eats. Our local hospital does a program at the elementary schools to encourage the kids to be active and eat fruits and vegetables. If the kids eat 50 fruits and vegetables by a certain date, they get a special token.

As I’ve mentioned before on the blog, my son does not eat many vegetables. Some raw carrots, some roasted sweet potatoes, and maybe some spinach leaves with a bit of ranch. However, maybe he’ll branch out a bit to get that special token!

One vegetable that I’m going to use in our meals the next few weeks is broccoli. It’s in season during the Spring so is a good time to buy it. I’m thinking I will serve it raw with hummus or a bit of ranch dressing. I may also serve it cooked as part of our Cheesy Pasta with Summer Veggies. Hopefully Parker will give it a try one of these ways and we can mark it on his chart!

You can save money by buying broccoli in whole heads rather than pre-cut pieces. If you’re not sure how to cut broccoli, watch our new video How to Prepare Broccoli.

Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood is a Registered Dietitian who enjoys spending time in the kitchen baking and preparing meals for her family. She does lots of meal planning to stay organized and feed her family nutritious meals.

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Do you have an app for that?

Yes, we do! Spend Smart. Eat Smart. is now available as an app. The brand new, free mobile app puts healthy eating and cost saving tools in the palm of your hand at the grocery store. These new tools on the app make it easier to eat healthy and stick to your budget.

  • Unit Price Calculator: You will never have to wonder which product is a better buy again. The calculator will do unit price calculations with ease.
  • Produce Basics: Review nutrition, selection, storage, cleaning and preparation information for a wide variety of fresh produce.
  • Recipe Finder: Keep track of your favorite recipes from the website.

Download for free today from your app store!

Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood is a Registered Dietitian who enjoys spending time in the kitchen baking and preparing meals for her family. She does lots of meal planning to stay organized and feed her family nutritious meals.

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Baked Fish and Chips

The Spend Smart. Eat Smart. recipe of the month for April is Baked Fish and Chips.  There are many reasons that I love this recipe.  Here are a few:

  • It is lower in calories and fat than fish and chips from a restaurant.
    • Fast food fish and chips – 720 calories, 35 grams fat
    • Baked Fish and Chips – 410 calories, 7 grams fat
  • It is less expensive than fish and chips from a restaurant.
    • Fast food fish and chips – $5.99 per serving
    • Baked Fish and Chips – $1.24 per serving
  • It works with any kind of fish you have on hand or that you like.
  • It is delicious – my family eats every last bite of this meal when I make it.

If, like me, you like tartar sauce with your fish, but do not want to buy an entire bottle – you can make your own.  Just mix two tablespoons of mayonnaise with two tablespoons of pickle relish.  You can adjust the amounts of mayo and relish to your tastes.

I hope you enjoy our April recipe – Baked Fish and Chips!

https://spendsmart.extension.iastate.edu/recipe/baked-fish-and-chips/

Christine Hradek

Christine Hradek

Christine Hradek is a State Nutrition Specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. She coordinates ISU’s programs which help families with low income make healthy choices with limited food budgets. Christine loves helping families learn to prepare healthy foods, have fun in the kitchen and save money. In her spare time, Christine enjoys cooking, entertaining and cheering on her favorite college football teams with her family and friends.

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Be Active Your Way Every Day

You might be wondering why this blog is titled Be Active Your Way Every Day. What does that have to do with eating healthy on a budget? Well, being active might not affect your grocery budget but it is important to your health! Being active helps you sleep better, feel better and have more energy.  Who doesn’t want all of those things?

Here are the current recommendations for physical activity:

  • Adults should get at least 2 ½ hours of aerobic physical activity each week. This type of activity works your heart and lungs such as walking, running, or swimming.
  • If you break up the 2 ½ hours over the week, this means being active for 30 minutes 5 days of the week.
  • When your schedule is busy or you are just starting to be more physically active, do it in small segments of 10 minutes or so. To get in your 30 minutes of activity for the day you could walk for 10 minutes in the morning, 10 minutes at lunch, and 10 minutes in the evening.
  • It is also recommended to do strength and flexibility training 2-3 times a week. This could be lifting weights, stretching, or doing exercises like squats and push-ups.
  • Children need to get 60 minutes or more of active play every day.

There are many ways to be active such as biking, gardening, dancing, and playing outside. If you like to track your activity, consider using the SuperTracker from choosemyplate.gov. It’s free!

When it comes to being active, the important thing is to find something you enjoy doing that moves your body!

Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood is a Registered Dietitian who enjoys spending time in the kitchen baking and preparing meals for her family. She does lots of meal planning to stay organized and feed her family nutritious meals.

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Mashed Cauliflower, Really?

Our featured recipe this month is Roasted Cauliflower. It is delightful and probably my favorite way to eat cauliflower. You can’t miss the buzz around cauliflower over the past couple of years. I have noticed many recipe sites and food bloggers using it to mimic other foods like pizza crust, rice or mashed potatoes. This intrigued me, so I decided to try out the cauliflower mashed potatoes myself.

I read a bunch of recipes online and most have very similar steps. I made mine in the microwave because I thought that would be the simplest. Here is what I did.

  1. I cut a small head of cauliflower into florets. You want the florets small so they soften quickly while cooking.I put the florets in a microwavable dish with a lid and added two cloves of chopped garlic and ¼ cup of water.
  2. I microwaved the dish for five minutes, stirred and then two minutes more until the cauliflower was soft.
  3. I used a potato masher to mash the cauliflower as much as I could.
  4. I added one tablespoon each of butter and light sour cream along with ¼ teaspoon each of salt and pepper.
  5. I was left with just shy of two cups of mashed cauliflower.

The verdict?

I feel I need to share that I have a deep love for mashed potatoes, so this cauliflower was going to have to be pretty fabulous to win me over. That being said, I would make this again and it is a quick and tasty way to eat cauliflower. It does not taste like mashed potatoes; it tastes like mashed cauliflower.

I have a few tips based on my experience.

  • I typically add milk to mashed potatoes. The cauliflower did not need any liquid added to it, so you can save your milk for dinking.
  • I used basic seasonings, fresh garlic, salt and pepper. You could easily substitute garlic powder or your favorite seasoning blend.
  • I was not able to get my cauliflower completely smooth with a potato masher. It tasted fine, but was somewhat fibrous. I gave it a buzz in the food processor and it became much smoother and much more like mashed potatoes. Here are two pictures that show the difference.

Food Processor

Hand Mashed

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cauliflower is inexpensive and low in calories. It also contains vitamins C and K as well as folate. If cauliflower is new to your family, try it mashed and see what you think – just don’t tell them it’s mashed potatoes!

Christine Hradek

Christine Hradek

Christine Hradek is a State Nutrition Specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. She coordinates ISU’s programs which help families with low income make healthy choices with limited food budgets. Christine loves helping families learn to prepare healthy foods, have fun in the kitchen and save money. In her spare time, Christine enjoys cooking, entertaining and cheering on her favorite college football teams with her family and friends.

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