Enjoying Cooking for One

As a single person cooking for one, my goals are straightforward: eat healthy, maintain weight, take minimal time, and create little waste. Also, enjoy my food as I do love to eat! I travel frequently for work so planning is important. Each weekend I look at my calendar and determine which days I will be home for meals. Then I make a quick trip to the grocery store for fresh food items and any staples I need to replace in the pantry. I keep the menu simple with a rotation of fish, poultry, beef, pork, and soups. Seasonings are used instead of sauces; baking and roasting instead of frying; simple preparation instead of complex recipes. I always prepare enough for two meals – one to eat immediately and one for the fridge or freezer. I grew up knowing you never waste food so I keep an eye on the refrigerator contents to easily see what needs used up before it goes bad. Or, if I’m going to be gone for several days I spend five minutes transferring items to freezer containers or making a mishmash meal. A small bowl of fruit sprinkled with cinnamon or a vegetable omelet are easy solutions. Lastly, I set the table even if it is just for myself.

Donna is the Field Operations Specialist for Human Sciences Extension and Outreach. As a single woman who travels for work, organization and efficiency is key for shopping and food preparation. Donna combines a love of travel and reading as she enjoys eating in restaurants found in her travels and reads cookbooks like novels.

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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Pass the Toppings – It’s Chili Time!

Last week Jody showed us how packaged foods are a big source of sodium for most of us and how we can use the Nutrition Facts Label to see how much sodium a food has in it. Another way to stay on top of how much sodium we eat is to cook more at home from fresh ingredients. Canned soup is a staple for many of us. The canned varieties are convenient, but are often high in sodium. As it turns out, homemade soup is usually very easy to make and you can cook it once and eat it for several meals. This week I have done a recipe round-up of my favorite chili recipes on our website. I have to be honest and share that I do not like chili that has a whole bunch of tomato in it. I prefer a little bit of tomato or even none at all, so you will see that reflected in my choices!

  • White Chili: Our recipe of the month is rich in tasty flavor and it keeps great in the freezer for quick meals.
  • Slow Cooker Pork Chili: This recipe is perfect for a day when you want to make a bunch of delicious food and have your home smell amazing. This recipe not only makes chili, but also some extra meat to keep for a future use like Shredded Pork Sandwiches.
  • Winter Black Bean Soup: I realize this is not exactly a chili recipe, but it checks all the boxes for me. It has beans, rich flavor and goes great with toppings like sour cream and limes. Also, you can use either canned or cooked dry beans in this recipe.

I find my favorites tend to be non-traditional chili recipes and our friends in Texas may disagree with what I have labeled as chili. What are your favorite types of chili? Share with us on our social media!

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 Food Memories

This month we are kicking off a new Spend Smart. Eat Smart. series celebrating food memories. Food is so much more than fuel for our bodies. It has ties to our families, traditions and cultures and is a source of pleasure in our lives. This month you will hear from me, Katy and Jody on some of our strongest food memories.

The memory I would like to share is not tied to a fancy meal. It’s actually very simple. On my mom’s side of our family, we have always had a seasoned nut and cereal mix around Thanksgiving and Christmas. We call it scrabble. When I was a child, my Grandma Betty would make it and the smell of the garlic and Worcestershire sauce would permeate her whole house throughout the season. She would have huge popcorn tins full of it so that the small bowls around her house could be refilled anytime.

Now I make scrabble for these holidays and though our family skips the nuts due to allergies, it is otherwise pretty much the same. I even have the wooden paddle Grandma Betty used to stir it when she made it. As soon as I mix it up and put it in the oven, it feels like the holidays are here. I think this is a great example of how strong the memories tied to food are. There is a Baby Betty in our family’s youngest generation and we may just have to teach her how to make scrabble.

Will you let us know some of the foods that inspire strong memories for you on our Facebook page? We would love to hear your stories.

Happy Holidays!
Christine

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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Favorite Tools Series – Sheet Pans!

Today begins a fun series with all of our Spend Smart. Eat Smart. bloggers. We are going to share our favorite kitchen tools and how we like to use them. It is easy to fall into a trap of thinking you need a lot of tools and gadgets to cook well and enjoy your time in the kitchen. That is really not true. A few good tools that do a lot of different jobs go a long way.

Personally, I have a small kitchen and a lot of clutter only makes it seem smaller. So, I try to keep things pretty simple. When I think about the kitchen tools I go to most often, a baking sheet is at the top of the list. A baking sheet, also known as a cookie sheet, can be used for so many things. Here are some of my favorite ways to use mine.

  • I roast vegetables every few days. When I do, I fill up my whole baking sheet so that I have leftovers for later in the week.
  • I roast pieces of chicken, pork tenderloin or filets of salmon in the oven. They just go on the baking sheet and into the oven and I can carry on with other things while they cook away.
  • I reheat leftover pizza or hot sandwiches in the oven on a baking sheet. I find that keeps their quality more similar to when they were first made than reheating in the microwave.
  • I use my baking sheet as insurance under casseroles like lasagna that might bubble over while they’re in the oven. The pan sits under the casserole dish and catches any spills. It is much easier to clean the baking sheet than to clean the oven! If you are working with something that may be very saucy or sticky, you can line your pan with foil to make clean-up easier.

I hope you enjoy reading about all of our favorite tools throughout this month. Share your faves with us on our Spend Smart. Eat Smart. social media!

Happy Cooking!
Christine

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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You’re the Chip to my Dip

I love it when I can make a meal out of a bunch of snacks. The trend of creating party boards with a variety of crackers, veggies, cheeses and dips is right up my alley. If you like this style of eating as much as I do, consider making your own pita chips for a fun, homemade addition. They are simple to make and they hold up really well to hearty dips and spreads. Don’t you hate it when your chip or cracker breaks into a million pieces in the dip! Try them with this month’s recipe, Baba Ganoush. They also pair well with Tzatziki, or Cowboy Caviar.

You can find our recipe for Homemade Pita Chips within our recipe for Tzatziki. When you make them yourself, you can choose your favorite type of pita to use. You can even use the pita bread from your favorite Mediterranean restaurant. I like whole wheat pita bread. You will need to separate your pita bread into halves and then cut it into triangles. Spray or brush with olive oil, sprinkle with seasoning and bake. Usually one side of pita bread is thicker than the other, so when you bake them, the thin ones will need less cooking time than the thick ones. Putting them on two separate pans or in two batches will help with this.  

Whether you have a tailgate coming up or just a fun night at home, give these a try!

Enjoy!
Christine

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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Update from Christine – Herb Gardening in Small Spaces

Back in May, I wrote a blog related to how I like to grow herbs at my house. I do not have a good space in my yard to dig up a garden, so I use containers instead. Herbs are a great food to start out with if you are new to gardening. They grow very well in Iowa summers and take up a small amount of space. Not to mention, fresh herbs are quite expensive at the grocery store and can spoil quickly. Growing them at home gives you the pleasure of fresh herbs for far less money.

Here is a picture of how my herbs look about seven weeks after planting. They have all grown up quite a lot. I use the thyme and rosemary once or twice per week. I tend to use them to season chicken before I grill it or vegetables before I roast them. I use the basil almost every day because I love basil with cottage cheese and chopped tomatoes. I also like to clip a few stems of each and put them in a jar on my kitchen counter just because they smell so nice. Even with frequent use, the plants are still very large.

I had to make one change back in the spring. After a couple of weeks of growth, it was clear that my planter was too crowded, so I removed the parsley plant gently and put it in a flowerpot by itself. That gave all of the plants enough room to grow well.

How are your food plants doing? Have you tried anything that is new to you this year?

Happy gardening!
Christine

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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Herb Gardening in Small Spaces

Last week we heard about our friend Jill’s experience with gardening throughout her life. She shared some wonderful tips for planning a garden and using the information on seed packets to help you make decisions. I would like to share a slightly different perspective. I live in a small house and I do not have land to till up and plant a garden. I still love to grow some food though, so I do container gardening.

Container gardening is a very simple approach to gardening that allows you to use a patio or porch to grow food in pots or other containers. It is helpful when you do not have land to till up or when you just want to grow a few plants and not a whole garden.

Herbs are my favorite food to grow in the summer in Iowa. They thrive in the sun and warm weather. They are easy to maintain. I just water them whenever their soil becomes dry to the touch. Herbs will even grow inside if you have a very sunny window for them. It is so wonderful to be able to snip a few sprigs to add flavor to my cooking. Herbs are rather expensive at the grocery store and they spoil quickly, so being able to cut them from the back patio is a real treat.

  • Parsley is delightful in salads and as a final topper for things like roasted veggies or fish.
  • Basil tastes delicious with tomatoes and pasta. I also love sliced basil stirred into cottage cheese.
  • Rosemary, sage and thyme are tasty additions to roasted veggies. Toss them with the veggies before cooking and enjoy.

If you have a sunny spot and a sturdy container of soil, you’re ready to get started! For a bit more information, check out Growing Herbs in Containers from our friends in Iowa State University’s Horticulture department. Next week Jody will share about her experience growing vegetables in containers at her house.

Happy Gardening!

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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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 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 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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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 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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