Green Beans Three Ways

This week our blog is in video form. We have amazing produce right now in Iowa and I am making the most of it at my house. Green beans are one of my favorite summer vegetables. My dad grows them in his garden and I love to pick them up at the farmers market and grocery store. You do not need a recipe to prepare green beans. If you get familiar with a few different methods for cooking them, then you can get creative with the seasonings you like best. Check out the video below to see three different methods for preparing fresh green beans by steaming in the microwave, roasting in the oven and boiling on the stove.

All of the methods start with green beans that have been rinsed and trimmed.

Microwave on high power for 4 minutes in a microwave safe dish with a lid and some water (2 tablespoons of water per cup of beans). Check for doneness. Stir and cook for 1-2 more minutes if needed.

Roast beans with some olive oil and seasoning in a 400 degree preheated oven for 15-20 minutes on a foil-lined baking sheet. Beans will be crisp tender at 15 minutes. For darker more blistered beans, leave them in the oven for 5 more minutes.

Boil on the stove top for 4-6 minutes. Simply bring a pot of water to a rapid boil, add beans and stir occasionally until they reach the doneness that you prefer. Season with your favorite spices.

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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Sloppy Joes or Janes or Jimmys

The name of this blog may be silly, but it is meant to show that this recipe is super flexible. It can be used to make traditional Sloppy Joes or something a little different based on what you have and what you like. We chose to feature this recipe this week because it is a wonderful fit for our current circumstance. Some grocery stores have shorter supplies of meat or a smaller variety due to supply chain challenges. As a result, you may find yourself choosing a product that is not as familiar to you. 

This Sloppy Joes recipe will work with ground beef, turkey, pork, chicken, or venison. You can even use cooked lentils in this recipe. It uses ketchup and mustard in the sauce, and the flavor reminds me of a cookout! Check out the video below and cook along with me using whatever protein you have on hand!

sloppy joes

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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What’s Cooking at Christine’s House

On Monday, I shared my approach to planning meals. The strategy I use allows me to make good use of what I have and minimize trips out for groceries. I maintain a list of what I have on hand and I arrange it by food group so that I can make improvised meals and recipes by pulling from each part of the list. I also create some detail within the lists like separating out fresh vegetables from frozen or canned ones. This allows me to spot which items I should eat first to prevent waste.

Here are some examples of improvised meals I can create from my current list. 

  • I have spinach, various veggies and canned beans to make chopped salads for lunch.
  • I can make a Mediterranean-inspired chicken and rice bowl with grilled chicken, spinach, brown rice and feta cheese. 
  • I have tuna, celery, onions and whole wheat bread. Sounds like tuna salad to me!
  • I have fresh veggies, frozen peas and whole wheat pasta to make a tasty pasta primavera. 

My list also helps me think about what recipes I can prepare. I can see that I have all of the ingredients for Scrambled Egg Muffins. I like having these in my refrigerator right now so I can have a healthy breakfast instead of just snacking through the morning. I also have everything for Quick Pad Thai. This tasty meal comes together quickly and uses mostly staple ingredients. Cook Quick Pad Thai along with me!

Happy Cooking!
Christine

Quick Pad Thai

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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Meal Planning at Christine’s House

Like many others, my routine is a bit upside down right now. I am working from home rather than making the trip to Iowa State’s campus each day. I am sticking close to home and avoiding unnecessary trips out of the house. My days look different, but I still want to make healthy choices and enjoy tasty food. I enjoy cooking and I am using this opportunity to do it a lot. For me, planning has helped me eat well and minimize trips out for groceries.

Because I am only cooking for myself, my planning is a bit different from Jody’s, Justine’s and Katy’s. I try to keep it flexible and focus on making good use of what I have. The strategy that works best for me is to keep a running list of what I have on hand from various food groups. From that list, I can spot what recipes I have ingredients to prepare. I can also compose meals by pulling items from different food groups and improvising a bit. The list also serves as a guide for me when it is time to shop. As I use the last of any food, I cross it off and I know I need to add it to my online grocery order. 

Take a look at the picture below for my current list. 

In addition to keeping this ‘foods on hand’ list, I am also trying to maintain some of the habits I had when I was leaving the house every day for work. For example, I keep a container of cut up vegetables in the refrigerator, so that they are easy to grab and throw into recipes or eat as a snack. I also use my water bottle that I used to take to work to keep up with drinking enough each day. 

What strategies work best for you with meal planning right now? Do you keep it flexible or prefer to have more details pinned down in advance? We would love to hear from you, so please share 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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Make Veggies the Star

Adults should eat an average of two to three cups of vegetables per day depending on age and sex. Does this sound like a lot to you? If you are balancing a busy schedule, a tight grocery budget and often eating meals on the go, this may seem like a high bar to reach. I have found that making vegetables my main dish once per day helps me reach 2 ½ cups per day, which is the recommendation for me. 

At lunch, I do this by packing salads to take to work. Some of my favorites from our recipe collection are Zesty Whole Grain Salad, Summer Bounty Salad and Chicken Club Salad. Each of these packs up well and gets me at least half-way to my 2 ½ cups of vegetables per day. Generally, I eat the rest of my veggies as snacks and as a side dish at dinner. 

Soup can also be a very vegetable-rich main dish. I make soup nearly every week and keep a variety of soups in single-serve containers in my freezer. I will admit that I improvise soup a lot. I make soup out of the veggies that I have left in my fridge at the end of the week. Sometimes I use other leftovers such as herbs, potatoes, meat, beans and grains as well. This not only leads to a tasty meal, but also helps me prevent food waste and make good use of the food I have before I buy more. When I feel like using a recipe, one of my favorites is Vegetable Soup with Kale and Lentils

How do you make veggies the star of your meals? Please share your ideas in the comments or on our social media.

Take care!

Chicken Club Salad
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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Christine’s Spend Smart. Eat Smart. Favorites

We are having a lot of fun this month sharing our personal favorites from the Spend Smart. Eat Smart. recipe collection. Maintaining our website, app and blog is really fun and one of the best parts is trying out new recipes to share with all of you. Here are some of my favorites!

  • I am a big fan of simple vegetables that do not take a lot of fuss to make. Roasted Broccoli is super simple and my favorite way to eat broccoli.
  • Pancakes have been one of my favorites since I was a little girl and our Blueberry Pancakes are delicious!
  • On busy weekday mornings, breakfast at my house has to be fast. I can bake these Scrambled Egg Muffins on Sunday when I have a bit of time and then just heat them up in the microwave when I need them. They can stay in the refrigerator for up to 4 days or I can freeze them if I need to make them further ahead.
  • I love hearty salads; especially ones that can be made ahead. Our Zesty Whole Grain Salad is so tasty and the ingredients are available all year-round. 
  • After a long day, I love to have dinner in one bowl with all kinds of tasty things mixed together. Sweet Pork Stir Fry has protein, veggies and whole grain noodles in a tasty sauce. Another bonus – it is really pretty!

We would love to hear some of the recipes you have tried from our site and how they worked for you. Please share in the comments section on this blog or send us a message on social media. Happy Cooking!

Sweet Pork Stir Fry
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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Fruit and Veggie Staying Power

After I have spent time and money buying groceries, the last thing I want to happen is food going in the trash. I try my best to prevent it through planning meals and snacks that I know will lead to all of my perishable food getting used before it spoils. Even with a solid meal plan for the week, it is important to store fruits and vegetables in the best way to maximize their shelf life. Here are some tips to avoid the dreaded fuzzy fruit or slimy lettuce in your fridge!

  1. Store all cut or peeled fruit and vegetables in the refrigerator. Prioritize eating these soon after they are cut.
  2. Mix up your fruit and veggie forms. Frozen and canned vegetables are healthy choices that fit well into many meals. When choosing canned fruits, choose items that are not canned in heavy syrup, which adds a lot of sugar to the fruit. Many canned vegetables are now available in reduced sodium varieties as well.
  3. Store food in the right place. Some go straight to the fridge; some need time on the counter before refrigeration and some can be stored at room temperature for multiple weeks. This one-page document outlines where different types of fruits and veggies should be stored. 
  4. There are products like bags and containers on the market that claim to extend produce shelf life. You may choose to use these, but the tips above will go a long way to preventing fruit and veggie waste without having to buy anything special.

Enjoy making half your plate fruits and veggies without wasting food or money!

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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Stress-Free Halloween

You were expecting us to blog about handing out pencils instead of candy, right? Though non-candy treats are a way to celebrate the holiday without loading up on sugar, most kids don’t get very excited about that approach and we want happy kids on Halloween. Celebrating with some candy is fun for all ages. 

Since we all know the piles of candy are coming, here are a few ideas for dealing with them in a healthy way.

  1. Eat a healthy and hearty meal before you head out to trick-or-treat. Children will be less likely to overdo it on candy if their tummies are full. Since the evening will be busy, consider a slow-cooker meal that you can put on early in the day like our Slow Cooker Pork Chili.
  2. Some experts think that strictly limiting candy at Halloween makes children even more fanatical about it. Consider allowing children to eat what they want on Halloween night and then set limits that make sense for your family going forward.
  3. Talk with your child about a plan for all of the candy before they get it. Consider allowing a piece or two every night after they eat supper over the course of a week. If they know the expectations in advance, they may be more likely to cooperate. 
  4. Though we generally avoid wasting food whenever we can, candy is a little different. If your child brings home pounds of candy, it is OK to have them choose the ones they like best, eat them over the course of a week or so and toss the others. 

Happy Halloween from the Spend Smart. Eat Smart. Team! Enjoy your candy!

Bowl of halloween candy
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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My Fall Kitchen

The mornings are getting chilly and sweet corn and tomato season is wrapping up. These are sure-fire signs that it is time to switch my kitchen over to fall. This is my favorite time of year to cook, not only because I love to make cozy dishes like soups and stews, but because there are delicious fruits and vegetables that come into season in the fall. 

Apples, kale, butternut squash and sweet potatoes are some of my fall favorites. I did not grow up eating a lot of winter squash, sweet potatoes or kale, so I learned to cook these as an adult. If any of these veggies are not familiar to you, check out our Produce Basics collection to learn how to store, clean and prepare delicious fall veggies. Here are a few to get you started:

What are some of your favorite things to make in the fall? Share with us on our social media!

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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Meal Planning at My House – Christine

Our theme for blogs this month is meal planning. Each of our primary bloggers will share how they approach meal planning at their own home. We hope that you will be able to take some ideas from each of us to make meal planning go a bit easier for you.

easy roasted veggies

Meal planning is important to me because I want to make meal prep easy and I like to avoid food waste as much as I can. Most of the time I plan meals for just one person, so my strategies look different from someone who is planning for a whole family. Justine and Jody will have tips for families throughout the month.

Here are some of my favorite go-to strategies.

  1. I start with what I have. I begin my meal plan for each week with what I already have to reduce food waste. I often cook up a stir-fry or soup on Sunday with any vegetables from the previous week to get them used up before they spoil. One recipe that is great for this is our Easy Roasted Veggies.
  2. I do not cook for one. I generally cook a full batch of whatever I am making and I freeze leftovers in small containers. This way, I cook once and I know there are lots of yummy things in my freezer. The containers in the freezer make super-fast lunches and dinners.
  3. I pre-prep ingredients. When I get home from work at night I am usually very hungry and not in the mood to start cooking from scratch. I try to do myself a favor and be ready for this situation by having pre-prepped ingredients in my fridge or freezer. Here are some of my standbys:
    • Chopped onions in an airtight container in the freezer. These are great for cooking. If you will use the onion within a few days, you can store it in the refrigerator. I will often chop up 4 or 5 onions and keep them in the freezer to use for many meals. This works with peppers as well!
    • Cooked proteins. This time of year, I grill outside a lot. If I light my grill, I fill it. This means that I often have many frozen protein foods like grilled chicken and hamburgers. I can heat these up very quickly to get a meal started and cut my cooking time way down.
    • Cut fruit and vegetables in the refrigerator. I know that I am much more likely to reach for fruits and vegetables for snacks when they are cut and ready to go. I tend to purchase fruits and vegetables that can be cleaned and/or prepped ahead, such as:
      • Carrots
      • Celery
      • Pea pods
      • Peppers
      • Watermelon
      • Grapes

I hope one of these ideas is helpful to you and stay tune all month for Justine and Jody’s meal planning routines!

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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