Skip Disposable when Reusable will do

Disposable and single-use items bring a lot of convenience to our lives. We can skip washing something and throw it away instead. There is no doubt that these items make some things easier for a busy household but they also generate a lot of trash. Two years ago I set a resolution to reduce my use of single-use disposable items. I was particularly interested in reducing my use of zip-top plastic bags. I wanted to see if I could change these habits to save some money and reduce the amount of trash I generate.

I started by looking for an alternative to zip-top bags. I bought some small washable fabric bags that have velcro at the top to use for dry goods like crackers or nuts for my lunch. I also bought some extra glass and plastic storage containers that I can wash and reuse. When I have a piece of an onion or half a cucumber to store, I put them in a container now rather than putting them in a plastic bag.

My new bags were $3 apiece and I have five of them, so they cost me a total of $15. My container set with a variety of sizes cost about $20. So, I invested $35 in this resolution. When I did the math, I was spending about $4 per month, or $48 per year, on plastic zip top bags. So, in that first year, I saved enough money to offset my investment in reusable containers. The good news is that I am still using all of the same reusable items two years in to my resolution, so my savings are adding up now and I feel good about the fact that I throw less plastic into the trash.

I do find that I need to use disposable plastic bags sometimes. For example, when I need to store something like meat in the freezer I will use a plastic freezer bag. This resolution taught me that it was not really that difficult for me to give up some of the convenience items I have always used. Has your family switched from a single-use product to a reusable one? How did it go? Share with us in the comments or on our social media.

Take care,

Christine

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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Party Boards for Every Day

Have you seen those beautiful party boards that people post pictures of online? They usually have tasty cheeses, meats, crackers and fruit. Mine are not typically fancy, but I absolutely love these as an appetizer or party dish. I have not had the opportunity to throw holiday parties this year and I was really missing these foods. So, I decided to make a party board for a meal at home.

If you think about it, this is a fun and easy way to make a meal. Party boards usually involve multiple food groups and require little to no cooking. In the chart below, I shared some of my favorite things to include on party boards. How fun would it be to make a meal this week picking one item from each category?

BreadsCheesesFruitsMeatsVeggiesExtras
Crackers
Crusty
bread
Pretzels
Breadsticks
Cheddar
Pepper jack
String cheese
Cream cheese  
Apple slices
Grapes
Pear
slices
Dried fruit
Sausage
Pepperoni
Salami
Sliced
turkey
Carrot
sticks
Radishes
Pea pods
Mini
peppers  
Mustard
Pickles
Nuts
Veggie dip  

The picture above is a party board I made for dinner recently. It was delicious and allowed me to pretend that I was at a festive holiday party. If you try this out, snap a picture and share it with us on social media.

Enjoy!
Christine

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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Stuffed Pasta Shells

Happy New Year from all of us on the Spend Smart.Eat Smart. team!

To start off 2021 we have our first recipe of the month – Stuffed Pasta Shells. This is not a new recipe for us, it is an older recipe that we updated a little. This recipe can feel labor intense because you do have to fill each shell with the cheese and spinach filling. However, there are several reasons why I think this recipe is worth your time.

  1. Stuffed Pasta Shells can be made ahead of time. If you have a free half hour, you can get the shells filled and in the pan with the sauce. Cover the pan and refrigerate for up to 24 hours before baking and serving.
  2. This recipe makes more than one meal. My family of five gets two meals out of this recipe, especially if I serve it with salad, fruit, and garlic bread.
  3. Leftovers freeze well for quick meals later on. You can eat part of this recipe while it is hot and fresh and then freeze the rest in single serving containers for quick and easy microwave meals.
  4. This recipe feels special. I always feel fancy when I make this meal because it looks and tastes like something I would get in a restaurant.

https://spendsmart.extension.iastate.edu/recipe/easy-stuffed-pasta-shells/

Enjoy!


Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover

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

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Preventing Food Waste at Jody’s House

Over the past few weeks you have heard lots of great ideas from Christine, Justine, and Katy on how they prevent food waste in their homes. As we wrap up our series today, I will share a few things we do at my house to prevent food waste.

Leftovers: In my house, we love leftovers. So each week when I do my menu planning, I include a day for leftovers. That means I don’t have to cook and we use up food before it spoils. We also like leftovers for breakfast and lunch. Leftover soup for breakfast, why not! Taking leftovers for lunch also means we save money because my husband and I aren’t going out to lunch.

Flexible Recipes: Christine mentioned using flexible recipes as one way she uses up leftover vegetables. I also like to use flexible recipes at my house. However, I like to use flexible recipes that allow my 11 year old son and 7 year old daughter to personalize the meal to their preferred taste. That way I know they are more likely to eat it and less food will be thrown away. These recipes allow children to help out in the kitchen and turn leftovers into something new:

*Instead of a large cookie crust, we like to make individual cookies. That way we each get to put on our favorite toppings. This works well to use up leftover canned, fresh, or frozen fruit.

Freezer: I use my freezer to extend how long I can keep food so that I can use it up before throwing it out. Right now my freezer has a number of ripe bananas in it that will soon be turned into bread or muffins! I also freeze leftovers if we aren’t able to eat them up within 2-3 days. Watch our video on freezing leftovers for tips on how to preserve the flavor, texture, and color of food.

I hope the tips we’ve shared during the past few weeks will be helpful for you in preventing food waste at your house.


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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Preventing Food Waste with a Toddler

Parenting a toddler can be tough, especially when it comes to snacks and mealtimes. I remember hearing stories from my friends about their picky eaters and thought my child would be different. Boy was I wrong! Over the past few months, mealtime has become quite the challenge at my house. My toddler’s favorite foods come and go, and I have had to alter our meal planning to fit her needs during this phase.

As we focus on preventing food waste during this month’s blog series, I also wanted to focus on the idea of preventing kitchen waste. Mealtime can be extra messy with little ones and I found that I was creating a lot of kitchen waste with paper towels, snack baggies, and food containers. I decided to make a few changes in our home to address our kitchen waste, and they have made quite the difference!

  1. During mealtime, serve small amounts of a food first to eliminate having to throw away food. Our toddler is skeptical of new foods, and even some of our tried and true favorites. To keep it less overwhelming, we give her small amounts of each food item knowing she can ask for more. If she doesn’t like something, we either save it in a small container to try again the next day or if we do end up throwing it away, it’s only a spoonful or two.
  2. Invest in extra burp cloths or kitchen towels to clean up messes instead of relying on paper towels. I have lost count of how many times I have had to wipe up spilled milk or clean peanut butter slathered surfaces around my house. To eliminate extra waste, we have started to use old burp cloths and rags as our ‘paper towels’ that can be washed and reused.
  3. Cut down on pre-packaged snacks and invest in reusable containers. I make our own grab and go snacks with reusable bags or cups instead of plastic baggies. Instead of buying individually wrapped animal crackers and applesauce pouches, I buy those items in larger containers to cut down on the amount of plastic and cardboard in my trash. A household favorite is Popcorn Trail Mix that can be stored in a large bowl in the pantry and put into reusable containers when running errands or going to the park.
  4. Add in leftover days to continue introducing new foods. For my toddler, if we continue to introduce a new food, she is more likely to try it. I use the Five- Day Meal Planner and incorporate leftovers 2-3 days a week for both lunch and supper to cut down on throwing away food.  Typically, by the third introduction the new food will be consumed by our skeptical eater.

Only buy certain items in bulk. Toddlers especially go through phases of loving something one week and disliking it the next. I have made the rookie mistake of overbuying a food item only to be stuck with 20 apple zucchini pouches (which I used for baking to avoid throwing them away!). Cereal is always a necessity in my house. Buying cereal and plain apple sauce in bulk works for us. Buy the items you know will be used regardless of your child’s preferences in bulk and keep other purchases smaller in scale. These are a few ideas that work for my family-if you also have a little one at home, I hope you find these tips useful. Cheers to finding ways to cut down on your own kitchen waste!

Katy Moscoso

Katy Moscoso

Katy Moscoso is a Program Specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. As a new mom she is always on the lookout for easy, healthy recipes to prepare for her family.

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The Food Waste Challenge at Justine’s Home

Two weeks ago, Christine shared the ways she reduces food waste in her home. I like the way Christine thinks of her freezer as a pantry and ensures that foods are coming out and being eaten just as often as they are going in. That is something I plan to be more purposeful about going forward. Today I am going to tell you about one of the ways I reduce food waste in my home – I call it the food waste challenge.

Over the course of a week or a month small amounts of food build up in my pantry and refrigerator that do not fit into my meal plan for the coming week. It may be a couple of tortillas, half an onion, or some tomato sauce at the bottom of a jar. This does not seem like much uneaten food at the time, but it adds up as the weeks go on. So, about every two months, I do my food waste challenge. I commit to using up this extra food for meals and snacks before I allow myself to go back to the grocery store.

I just completed a food waste challenge this week and I am proud of how it went. The main meal I made was chicken noodle soup. In the refrigerator I had a partial container of chicken broth and some vegetables that needed to be used up, in the freezer I had some chicken and a bag of frozen peas that was nearly gone, and in the pantry I had half a bag of egg noodles. The hardest meal of each day was breakfast because we did not have a lot of traditional breakfast foods left. One morning my children enjoyed a breakfast buffet that included cottage cheese, crackers, dry cereal, and applesauce.

As a final disclaimer – sometimes this challenge works and sometimes it does not. There are times when I have to go to the grocery store for some essentials to get through the week. There are also times when I have to throw food away, but I hope that it is less food than what I would have thrown out had I not challenged myself to use what I could.

Let me know if you ever do your own food waste challenge and tell me how it went.


Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover

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

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Chicken and Rice Soup

Welcome to the last month of 2020 and the last recipe of the month for this year – Chicken and Rice Soup. When we start working on these recipes several years in advance, we never know what might be going on when the recipe is finally published. This recipe turned out to be very timely – just as 2020 has been a struggle for so many of us, this recipe was a struggle to get published.

This recipe started as a vague idea. My husband prefers chicken and rice soup to chicken noodle soup, so that seemed like a good place to start. Once this recipe began to take shape, it started having problems right away. I had trouble getting it to meet our nutrition guidelines, the cooking time was not working out right, and it kept coming out too thick or too thin. On top of that, my family was getting very tired of eating chicken and rice soup. Once I got to the point of scrapping the whole recipe, my colleague Julie stepped in and volunteered to start testing the recipe with her family. Between Julie and I (and our very patient families) we finally made this recipe work.

Now that I am a few years removed from the struggle of this recipe, I can tell you all of the things I love about it:

  • It cooks in the slow cooker or the stove top. You can choose the method that works best for you.
  • It is an entire meal in one bowl. It is filled with vegetables, whole grains, and protein.
  • It freezes well. I have some of this soup in my freezer right now so that I can warm it up for lunch on a cold day.
  • It tastes really good. This is the most important thing, in my opinion.

I hope you give this recipe a try as we finish out 2020.

Enjoy!

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover

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

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Preventing Food Waste at Christine’s House

I live on my own and I LOVE to cook! People often ask me if I make homemade food for just myself and if I end up with a lot of leftovers going to waste. I do cook for myself all the time and I very rarely throw out leftovers. I am excited to share some of the strategies I use and I hope some will work for you too.

Meal Planning: The most important strategy that I use is meal planning. I sit down each week and decide what I would most like to cook. I decide based on the weather, the season and how much time I will have that week. The plan helps me choose what perishable foods I need to buy and helps me feel confident that they will get used without going to waste. The plan also lays out which days I am going to cook. I do not cook dinner every night; I often cook 3 times per week.

My Friend the Freezer: I rarely cook a meal that I will only eat once. When I cook, I normally plan to eat one or two servings within four days of making the dish and I freeze the rest in small containers. I often hear people say that this strategy would not work for them because their freezer is too full. My approach to that problem is that I add prepared dishes to my freezer every week, but I also eat dishes from it every week. I view it like a pantry with a constant stream of food in and out. I use about half of my freezer this way and the other half has frozen meat and vegetables that I keep on hand for longer term storage. As I plan my meals for the week, I always plan at least a few meals that are going to involve taking a prepared dish out of the freezer. That way, I know there will be space freed up for the things I cook fresh that week. The big bonus is that my freezer almost always has a wide variety of tasty things in it that just involve a quick zap in the microwave.

Flexible Recipes: I build a meal into my plan every week or two that is a good ‘use-up’ meal. By that, I mean that the recipe is a good way to use up whatever fresh vegetables that are left in the bottom of the produce drawer before they spoil. Many soups, stews, pastas and stir-fry dishes work well for this. Vegetable Frittata and Sausage Vegetable Skillet from the Spend Smart. Eat Smart. recipe collection are flexible to work with whatever vegetables you have.

I hope these strategies help you see how you can enjoy cooking whatever dishes you like even if you live on your own. Watch our blog for the next few weeks to hear from Jody, Justine and Katy on how they reduce food waste in their own homes. Happy cooking!

Christine

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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Cleaning and Disinfecting

Flu season starts in the fall, and this year, the COVID-19 pandemic is presenting new challenges for cleaning and disinfecting the inside of a home. Cleaning refers to reducing the number of germs, dirt and impurities on the surface.  It doesn’t kill the germs, but lowers the number of germs and the risk of infection.  Disinfecting refers to killing germs on surfaces by using an EPA-registered disinfectant.  Best practice to prevent COVID-19 and other viruses is to clean the surface first and then follow up with a disinfectant.   

Cleaning and disinfecting frequent contact hard surfaces in the kitchen, dining room and bathrooms have become routine. Additional cleaning of surfaces, like doorknobs, faucets, cabinets, and play areas is a sensible precaution against the spread of disease between household members and guests. A list of disinfectant products that are EPA-approved for use against the COVID-19 virus is available here. In addition to cleaning surfaces, washing your hands frequently is an excellent tool to prevent illness. When you do not have access to soap and water, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. It is good practice to wash hands well, for at least twenty seconds, every time you come in the house.

In particular, COVID-19 challenges homeowners and hosts to prevent the spread of disease when having guests for fall or winter celebrations or conducting business in a home. The safest approach is to celebrate with those who live in your household and connect with others virtually. If you will have guests visit your home, below are some steps you can take to reduce the risk of spreading illness.

  • Have guests wash or sanitize hands frequently. Make hand sanitizer available.
  • Wear face coverings when possible.
  • Offer paper towels for drying hands after washing.
  • Use disposable plates and glasses to prevent multiple people handling dishes.
  • Have one person prepare and distribute food. This will result in fewer people having contact with the food.
  • Open doors and windows for better airflow when the temperatures allow.

Stay well and healthy this winter.

Written by Holly Van Heel, Human Sciences Specialists-Nutrition and Wellness

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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Fall Favorites

Fall has always been my favorite season. I love watching the leaves change color, being able to swap out my shorts for cozy knit sweaters and taking in all the fun fall activities. 

One of my family’s favorite activities is going to the orchard. Our two-year-old loves picking apples for us to bring home which means I need a variety of fall recipes to make sure the apples we pick don’t go to waste. Apple Cinnamon Bread, Hurry Up Baked Apples and Homemade Applesauce are some of our go-to recipes for apples. I love the aroma of cinnamon and cooked apples throughout our home during this time of year.

After visiting the orchard, I love coming home and warming up with a comforting meal. As the weather begins to shift and the air becomes crisper, I find myself reaching for more soup and slow cooker recipes. Below are a few of our favorite recipes to make after our visits to the orchard. Add some warm bread on the side for a nice, hearty meal.

After enjoying your favorite fall activity, try one of my family’s go-to fall recipes to bring you some extra comfort and warmth during this season.

Happy fall!

Katy Moscoso

Katy Moscoso

Katy Moscoso is a Program Specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. As a new mom she is always on the lookout for easy, healthy recipes to prepare for her family.

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