Spice it up! – Part 2

Last week Jody gave us some helpful tips on using spices in cooking to give food lots of flavor without using too much salt. She also shared which spices we use most in our recipes and how to store them for maximum shelf life. You have probably guessed that we on the Spend Smart. Eat Smart. team really like to cook so experimenting with different flavors and spices is fun for us.

Even though I like to cook and cook at home most of the time, I can still get ahead of myself when it comes to spices. Ground spices (cumin, chili powder, curry powder, etc.) have their maximum flavor for 2-4 years after you open them. Dried herbs (basil, thyme, parsley, etc.) are best used within 1-3 years. Given how quickly some foods perish, this seems like a really long shelf life. Nevertheless, it is easy to have a spice in your cabinet for many years if you only use it on rare occasion. Here are some tips I use to keep my spices in check and avoid wasting money on spices I have to throw out.

  1. I buy spices in the smallest container I can. This saves space in my cabinet, reduces the risk of waste and allows me to try new spices without committing to buying a large container.
  2. I mark each container with the date that I open it, so I do not have to guess how long it has been sitting in my cabinet.
  3. Once a year I go through my spice cabinet and make my own all-purpose seasoning blends with the bits of spices I have left in my cabinet. I like to do this around New Year’s Day when I tend to have a lot of time around the house. I find that I go through the blends faster than individual spices. You can adjust the ratios of these blends based on what you have and what flavors you enjoy most. Some of my favorites include:
    • Taco Seasoning: This works well for any Tex Mex dish I am making. It is delicious in taco meat, beans or even soups with a similar flavor profile.
    • Dried Onion Soup Mix: I have several recipes I make that call for dried onion soup mix and I would rather use up the seasonings I already have than buy a packet at the store.
    • Italian Seasoning Blend: rosemary, thyme, parsley, red pepper flakes, garlic powder, oregano and onion powder. I use this on chicken, steak, vegetables, roasted potatoes and in pasta dishes. It is all of the same ingredients as store-bought Italian seasoning, but it allows me to use what I already have rather than buy another jar.
    • Grill Seasoning: garlic powder, onion powder, black pepper, red pepper flakes and paprika. This is tasty on meats and veggies that I grill or roast.
  4.  If I find a recipe that calls for a spice I do not already have, I look for one or two other recipes that use it before I buy it. This way I know that I have multiple ideas for using that spice and I will make good use of it.

These are some tips that work for me…how do you keep your spice cabinet from getting out of control? Share with us in the comments or on our social media this week. You’ll hear more about the Taco Seasoning and Dried Onion Soup Mix from Justine next month.

Happy Cooking!

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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Reading Labels for Common Allergens

If you have a child in school, chances are you hear a lot of concern about food allergies and protecting children from exposure to their allergen. People can develop allergies to many types of food. However, eight foods are the most common allergens. They include:

  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Peanuts
  • Tree nuts (walnuts, almonds, pine nuts, brazil nuts and pecans)
  • Soy
  • Wheat and other grains with gluten (barley, rye, oats)
  • Fish
  • Shellfish

Allergies can be scary, particularly for children who are less likely to know what is in their food. Learning how to read a food label for allergens can help you feel more in control. Here are some steps to follow to check a food label for a common allergen.

  1. Check the ingredients list on the package. Scan the list for the allergen. Sometimes the manufacturer will even highlight it with larger bold text.
  2. Sometimes an ingredient will be listed with an uncommon name. For example, a label may say ‘albumin’. This is part of an egg and will often include the word ‘egg’ in parentheses since egg is a common allergen.
  3. At the bottom of the ingredients list, there may be a statement that calls out the common allergens in that product. For example – ‘Contains: Milk, Eggs and Soy’
  4. Lastly, a product may not include an allergen in its ingredients list, but is processed on equipment that also processes a common allergen. In this case, the manufacturer may include a statement like this. ‘Processed in a facility that also processes peanuts and tree nuts.’ This allows the consumer to know that there is a risk of tiny residual particles of that allergen being in the product unintentionally.

If you have tips for managing a food allergy, please share them with us on our social media 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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Sometimes Less is More

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.

  1. 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
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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!

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 is all the Fuss about Fiber?

You may have noticed TV commercials and food packages that label a food as high in fiber or an excellent source of fiber. Have you ever wondered why fiber matters for our health? Over the next three weeks, we will focus on fiber including health benefits, how to get fiber and how to spot it on a food label. Women need about 25g of fiber per day and men need about 38g.

Fiber performs multiple functions in our bodies and it is an important part of healthy eating habits. Fiber can prevent constipation and keep your digestion moving. Think of fiber as the custodian of your colon – it sweeps everything along and keeps it moving. If someone in your house struggles with constipation try eating more high fiber foods. Fiber-rich foods also tend to be more filling than foods that are low in fiber and they are often lower in calories. This means that eating foods high in fiber can help you maintain a healthy weight. Additionally, eating more fiber may lower your LDL or ‘bad’ cholesterol.

Here are some foods to try to boosts your fiber consumption:

  • Vegetables (especially peas, broccoli, corn and potatoes)
  • Fruits (especially raspberries, bananas, oranges and apples and pears with their skin)
  • Oats
  • Beans and lentils
  • Nuts
  • Whole wheat products like bread, pasta or crackers
  • Whole grain cereal
  • Popcorn

Next week Justine will share a sample weekly meal plan that includes meals and snacks with high fiber ingredients.

Talk to you next 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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Skip the Sugary Drinks

What are the go-to drinks around your house? I am wrapping up our series on the 5210 campaign this week with a look at sugary drinks. 

Our friends at the 5210 campaign encourage 0 sugary drinks and drinking more water instead. We at Spend Smart. Eat Smart. are big fans of enjoying food and it is rare for us to encourage readers to eat or drink ‘zero’ of something. However, sugary drinks do contribute a lot of calories and no feeling of fullness. They cost you money and really give nothing that your body needs in return.

Drinking sugary drinks like fruit punch, soda, lemonade and sports drinks in childhood is associated with overweight and obesity, less milk consumption and dental cavities. If you or your kiddos are big fans of sugary drinks, try looking at them as treats. Consider setting a goal of replacing one per day with water or milk. Having a sugary drink on occasion as a special treat is a way to enjoy them without the health problems associated with drinking them as a daily habit.

Have you been successful with reducing sugary drink consumption at your house? Share what worked for you on our Facebook or Twitter 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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Staying Active when the Temperatures Drop

Taking a long walk and playing in the park on a beautiful day are pretty enjoyable ways to be active. The sad truth is that here in Iowa, we have several months out of each year when the weather outside is less than ideal. Lately, we have had days when the temperature doesn’t even reach zero degrees, brrrr! The frigid weather combined with fewer hours of sunlight can lead to all of us feeling an energy slump.

Despite this, adults need 150 minutes of physical activity per week for good health. So how do you make it work if you do not want to invest in a gym membership and it is so unpleasant outside? You can get moving indoors with very little equipment and still raise your heart rate and work your muscles. Here are some ideas for indoor workouts.

  • Schedule walking dates with friends. Walking is great exercise and doing it with a friend helps with accountability. You can walk at the mall or use an indoor walking workout video. There are many free walking videos available to stream online.
  • The CDC has created a series of videos featuring muscle-strengthening exercises that you can do at home.
  • Make the chores you have to do part of your fitness routine. Why not put on some music while you clean the house to speed up your pace and raise your heart rate?
  • If you have little ones at your house, include them in the fun with these ideas for indoor active games to play with children.

If you choose to exercise outdoors during the winter months, make sure you do so safely. The American Heart Association has some helpful recommendations for being active in cold weather.

Share how you stay active during the winter on Twitter (@SpendEatSmart) or Facebook (Spend Smart. Eat Smart.)

Enjoy these activities while we count down the days until Spring!

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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Let’s Party!

‘Tis the season for festive fun! This is my favorite time of year to pull friends together for a party. Formal dinner parties are not really for me. I prefer to invite friends over for a casual get together with some tasty food that is not too difficult or expensive for me to prepare.

For this week’s blog, I have done a recipe round-up of party friendly recipes from Spend Smart. Eat Smart. I hope they make it onto your party spread!

  • Mango Salsa: This is a delicious option alongside traditional salsa. It is tasty with homemade Baked Tortilla Chips or store bought ones. This recipe works well with jarred or canned mangoes if you do not want to work with fresh ones. It will be the talk of your party!
  • Peanut Butter Balls: Holiday parties are usually overwhelmed with cookies and sweets. These little nibbles are a nice change of pace and look great alongside Fruit Kabobs.
  • If your party is around a mealtime and you do not want to have a sit down dinner, consider putting out the components of a Tostada Bar. It is less work for you and fun for your guests to do themselves.
  • Sometimes it is nice to bring everyone together around a hot pot of soup. Our Slow Cooker Pork Chili is perfect for this. You can keep it hot in the slow cooker for everyone to enjoy as they come and go.
  • For a sweet ending to your party, try Chocolate Surprise Cupcakes. They start with a cake mix to keep your baking simple.

         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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Save Money on Holiday Groceries

The holidays bring lots of festive fun and time with family and friends, but they can also mean extra expenses. I love it when I get the chance to prepare special meals and plan parties, but it can get very expensive. Grocery stores often offer sales and specials around the holidays that can help if you know how to use them.

Here are some tips to help you spend smart while you shop for holiday cooking.

  1. Check your cupboards and refrigerator before you shop. Holiday cooking sometimes involves ingredients we do not use very often. Knowing what you have will help you avoid buying a duplicate while you shop.
  2. A sale price only saves you money if you know you will use the item you purchase. Avoid buying food products just because they are on sale if they are not part of your meal plan. That could lead to wasted food and money.
  3. Remember that sales are used as advertising for a product. The sign may be large and inviting, but the price may not be as good as it seems. Check the unit price to make sure it is really saving you money. You can learn more about unit pricing on our website and our Spend Smart. Eat Smart. app has a unit price calculator built into it. You can download the app free from your app store.
  4. Occasionally stores will have deep discounts on holiday items like turkeys or hams immediately before and after a holiday. I review the grocery store ads to make my meal plan for a couple of weeks after the holiday. This allows me to work these discounted items into my plan and know they will not go to waste.

I hope these tips help you save a bit of money and stress this holiday season.

Happy Thanksgiving from the Spend Smart. Eat Smart. Team!

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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Sweet Potatoes vs. White Potatoes

Which is better, sweet potatoes or white potatoes?potatoes

The honest answer is they are both delicious and nutritious. There is certainly room for all types of potatoes in a healthy diet. Potatoes of all kinds can be prepared simply and in a wide variety of ways. They both provide nutrients that are important for good health and they taste great when mixed together in recipes. Here is a snapshot of what white and sweet potatoes have to offer.

White Potatoes* Sweet Potatoes*
Calories 130 180
Fiber (if skin is eaten) 3 grams 7 grams
Protein 3 grams 4 grams
Carbohydrate 30 grams 41.4 grams
Fat Less than 1 gram Less than 1 gram
Sugar 2 grams 12 grams
Vitamins 29% of your daily vitamin C needs 65% of your daily vitamin C needs
More than 100% of your daily vitamin A needs
Minerals 21% of your daily Potassium needs
13% of your daily Manganese needs
27% of your daily Potassium needs
50% of your daily Manganese needs

*Information based on a one-cup serving including potato skin

Potatoes are delicious, nutritious and low cost. The healthiest potato recipes don’t add a lot of fat and calories. Here are a few from our website that I particularly enjoy.

Add some potatoes to your grocery list today!

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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Sweet Talk

Produce Basics - Sweet PotatoPardon the goofy title, but this week we’re talking sweet…potatoes that is! Have you given sweet potatoes a try? If you are unsure about them,it might help to think beyond the casserole with marshmallows on the top. They can be used in many of the same ways as white potatoes. They are delicious roasted, mashed, baked or even as French fries.

Choosing sweet potatoes is simple. Their skins should be relatively smooth with few dents and the flesh of the potato should be firm. Avoid potatoes with cracks, soft spots or sprouts. Sweet potatoes usually last for a month or so when stored in a cool dark area.

It is perfectly safe to eat sweet potatoes skin. Just give them a good scrub and enjoy. Our Sweet Potato Produce Basics publication has all of the info you need to choose, clean and prepare sweet potatoes.

Stay tuned throughout this month while we share more reasons why we are sweet on sweet 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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