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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Cauliflower is Having a Moment

It seems like food manufacturers are making just about everything out of cauliflower nowadays. I have seen cauliflower ‘rice’ and cauliflower ‘pizza crust’. I have also seen cauliflower flavored to taste like Buffalo wings and boxed macaroni and cheese with cauliflower added to the pasta. Cauliflower is certainly having a moment.

I think this is largely because cauliflower is a versatile vegetable that takes on the flavor of whatever you use to season it. If you would like to jump on the cauliflower train, skip buying the cauliflower that is already cleaned and chopped and prepare it yourself instead. We have a new cauliflower video that will walk you through how to break down an entire head of cauliflower. I find that when I start with a whole head of cauliflower, it often stays fresher longer and is less expensive. The pre-prepped cauliflower may have been chopped several days or even a couple of weeks before it arrives at your grocery store.

Once you have your cauliflower broken down, you’re ready to make a variety of recipes. My favorite way to cook cauliflower is roasting. Check out our Roasted Cauliflower recipe for the details. I also like it raw in salads like Summer Bounty Salad.

I hope these recipes and video help you enjoy this trendy vegetable!

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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Pantry Picks – Brown Rice

How do you like the new Pantry Picks collection on our website? I have to admit, I’m pretty excited about my pick – brown rice. Brown rice is definitely a pantry pick in my house! I love it and I eat it pretty much every week. It tastes great, it’s hearty and it is a healthy choice for me. I try to make sure that at least half of the grain foods I eat are whole grains and brown rice helps me do that.

One of the things I like the best about brown rice is that it is so fast. I can cook a big pot of rice once and then split the rice up into freezer containers and freeze it for up to six months. Then I can have rice for many meals with just a quick zap in the microwave.

I use brown rice all year. In the winter, it goes into soups and casseroles and in the summer I make stir fry and salads. I put a little round-up of some of my favorite recipes that use brown rice below.

I hope you try one of these today and share your favorite ways to use brown rice with us in the comments or on our social media!

Enjoy!

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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Safe Seafood

We are starting to get a few days of beautiful weather here in Iowa and for me that means firing up the grill! I love to cook food on my grill and one of my favorites is salmon. I have heard from several friends that they are unsure about cooking fish at home and sometimes they are concerned about food safety and seafood. Today I have rounded up some top safety tips related to seafood to help you feel confident cooking fish at home.

  • Choose fish that has been kept at a safe temperature. In Iowa, that often means that fish is frozen when we buy it. Frozen fish is often very high quality and some fish in the fresh case at my store was previously frozen. Fish should smell mild. Flesh should be firm and eyes should be clear on whole fish. When buying frozen fish, choose packages that are free of frost.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly before and after handling raw fish and keep raw fish separate from ready-to-eat foods. Clean surfaces and kitchen tools that touched raw fish with hot soapy water.
  • If you plan to eat your fish within two days, you can store it in the refrigerator. If it will be longer before you eat it, store it in the freezer. You can defrost fish in the microwave, but for the best results, thaw fish in the refrigerator overnight.
  • Cook fish to 145 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Cooked fish is safe at room temperature for up to two hours unless the temperature is above 90 degrees Fahrenheit. On very hot days, refrigerate fish within one hour.
  • If you enjoy fishing, put fish you plan to eat in a cooler of ice immediately.

The Food and Drug Administration has a helpful website related to keeping seafood safe. I hope these tips help you feel confident cooking seafood at home. Next week Justine will share some information related to serving seafood to children. Please share your favorite seafood dishes 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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How Much is Convenience Costing You?

Thank you for all of your comments and ‘shares’ of our new Unit Price Calculator video. We are thrilled that you are enjoying it and we hope that the calculator proves to be a handy tool for you. Last week Jody shared how unit pricing can help you decide which form of a food is the best value. The example she used was cheese – shredded, sliced and string cheese.

Product Large Package Unit Price  Individually Packaged Unit Price Convenience cost and Other Factors
Peanut Butter 40 ounces for $6.69

$0.17 per ounce              

12 ounces (8 1.5-ounce cups) for $2.99

$0.25 per ounce                           

The small cups cost nearly 50% more. The individual cups also contain more than a standard serving, which may lead to waste or more calories than I expected.
Carrots 16 ounces for $0.99

$.06 per ounce

12 ounces (4 3-ounce bags) for $1.69

$0.14 per ounce

The small bags of baby carrots are more than twice the price of big carrots. I like the flavor of big carrots better and cutting a big bag down into carrot sticks takes me about 10 minutes. Most weeks, I am willing to take the time to do that.
Cheese Crackers 6.6 ounces for $2.38

$0.36                                                                               

9 ounces (9 1-ounce bags) for $5.49

$0.61 per ounce                                                                              

This price difference is big at $0.25 per ounce more for the individually packaged crackers. I might buy one package of the little bags to keep around for snack emergencies, but buy the larger package routinely.

This week, I am sharing how unit pricing can help you know the cost of convenience packaging. From carrots to nuts to crackers, many of the things I buy at the grocery store come in large packages or in individual packages. When I am planning my meals for the week and putting together my grocery list, I often think about how much I am going to be home and how much time I will have to prepare food. Sometimes, when time is really tight, I am OK with paying a bit more for convenience if it will help me eat healthy during a busy week. However, I like to know how much I am actually paying for that convenience and unit pricing is how I do that. Here are some examples:

Convenience is rarely free and unit pricing allows me to know exactly how much more I am paying to have something individually packaged for me. If you are looking to cut back on your grocery costs, think about where you may be paying for convenience and whether it is worth the price.

Happy Saving!
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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