Give Your Brain a Boost with Breakfast

Written by Amber Baughman
ISU Dietetic Intern

Mornings can be extremely busy, and sometimes it is hard to find time to fit in breakfast. I am not a morning person, so I need an easy and fast breakfast option every morning. Breakfast has been called the most important meal of the day and for good reason. Studies have shown that eating breakfast has many benefits, including feelings of well-being and better cognitive performance. Eating breakfast is associated with a lowered risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Although breakfast is important for adults, it is even more crucial that children have breakfast every day. Eating breakfast can help children and adolescents do better in school by improving memory, test grades, school attendance, and mood.

Sadly, breakfast consumption has been declining among youth in the U.S. However, with some planning ahead, breakfast can be ready in just a few minutes. One of my favorite breakfast items to make is Scrambled Egg Muffins. They are like a blank canvas, you can use whatever vegetables, meat, or cheese you have leftover in the fridge. They are also packed full of protein, so they will help you stay full longer! I make six of them on Sunday and then warm one or two up each morning for breakfast. Now you can sleep in those few extra minutes in the morning and still enjoy an easy, healthy breakfast!

Happy Thanksgiving!

We on the Spend Smart. Eat Smart. Team are grateful for you – our readers! You ask us interesting questions, share your ideas and gives us a glimpse into your own families’ meals and traditions. You make our jobs fun and we so appreciate you following our blog and chatting with us on social media. We wish you a very happy Thanksgiving with all of the joy this season brings.

Christine, Jody and Justine

Gluten-Free Label Reading: The Basics

Written by Lynette Wuebker

Student Assistant, ISU Dietetics

As a college student, I am always looking for quick, easy, and healthy meals that won’t break the bank. One of my go-tos this month has been Sweet Pork Stir Fry. Here’s the catch, 10 years ago, I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease, which means that I have to eat gluten-free. So how do I take a recipe that seems to be full of gluten and enjoy it? Gluten-free label reading has become my best friend as I walk through the grocery store aisles each week, and I promise it’s not as daunting as it seems!

The first thing that I look for on any package is the little black “Certified GF” stamp. If I see this, I know that the product was carefully produced so that it won’t contain any gluten. If I can’t find this, the next step is to pick up the box and start reading. Since some products have ingredient lists longer than my arm, I look for a few keywords: wheat, rye, barley, malt, brewer’s yeast, and oats. If I find any form of these words on the ingredient list, I won’t be buying it. For example, most soy sauces contain wheat as a thickener, so I have to be extra careful when looking to find gluten-free soy sauce. If I’m unable to determine if a product is gluten-free, then I don’t buy it. However, I am able to find a wide variety of foods that are gluten-free.

Click here for more information on gluten-free label reading.

Stay Hydrated – Eat Your Fruits and Vegetables

Written by Kathryn Standing

Student Assistant, ISU Dietetics


Summer in Iowa always makes me think of trucks selling produce by the side of the road. They showcase fresh corn, tomatoes, cucumbers, cantaloupe, strawberries, and more. The grocery store produce department seems to be much more colorful, as a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables are in season. I never have a hard time finding vegetables and fruits that look appetizing in the summertime. An added benefit to loading up on vegetables and fruit in the summer: their water content.

It is recommended to consume the equivalent of 9-16 (8 ounce) glasses of water a day (depending on age, gender, and activity level) to stay hydrated. This can come from both beverages and foods. Fruits and vegetables are an important part of a healthy diet providing fiber, vitamins and minerals. Fruits and vegetables are also high in water content. This means eating a lot of fruits and vegetables reduces the amount you need to drink from water and other beverages. Food on average contributes 20% of your hydration needs. Most foods have some water content and therefore contribute slightly to your daily hydration needs. Other foods, such as oatmeal and soup, contain a lot of water and are good sources of hydration. Below is a list of some fruits and vegetables with high water content. While other produce provides hydration, these are some of the most common.

Food  Serving Size Amount of water as percentage of food weight  
 Lettuce, green leaf, shredded   1 cup  95%
 Celery, raw  1 medium stalk    95%
 Tomato, raw  1/2 cup  94%
 Grapefruit, white  ½ medium  91%
 Watermelon chunks  1 cup  91%
 Broccoli, raw, chopped  ½ cup  89%
 Carrot, raw, strips  ½ cup  88%
 Apple, with skin  1 medium  86%

Source: Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Complete Food and Nutrition Guide, 5th Edition

It’s a good idea to eat water-rich foods and drink fluids at every meal to help you to stay hydrated.

How much water should you drink?

Written by Kathryn Standing

Student Assistant, ISU Dietetics


Welcome to Iowa in August! It’s hot! This time of year, we always go to the Iowa State Fair.

It is easy to over-do it on treats, but I can never resist sharing some funnel cake and lemonade with my family. It can get really hot walking around in the sun. I always make sure we have plenty of sunscreen and water. The recommendation is to drink close to 12 cups of water per day for women and 16 for men. When eating a balanced diet, 20% of you water comes from your food. This means women should drink 9 cups per day and men should drink 12. You need to drink more water when you’re doing activities outside in hot temperatures- such as walking around the Iowa State Fair. You should also try to drink extra in the winter (when there is less moisture in the air), during illness and during exercise.

Try to drink water every 15-20 min when exercising, don’t wait until you are thirsty! When you are thirsty, your body is already dehydrated. If working really hard or doing exercise lasting more than a couple hours, sports drinks could be helpful to replace water and electrolytes. If you are just doing moderate exercise, sports drinks are not necessary.

Other beverages count toward your daily requirement as well. If not drinking water, drink unsweetened drinks such as 100% fruit juice and milk. Coffee and unsweetened tea count too, though caffeine is mildly dehydrating and should be enjoyed in moderation. Best bet is to stick to water as much as possible. It is a good habit to carry a water bottle when you’re on the go and drink a glass with every meal.

Don’t Throw Out Those Ripe Bananas

Written by Lynette Wuebker

Student Assistant, ISU Dietetics


There are so many ways that we can make the most of bananas, a nutrient packed snack full of potassium, and vitamins B, C, and A. What happens when they get brown, a little mushy, and are no longer good to eat though? Don’t throw them away! Some easy ways to use these ripe bananas are in popsicles, breads, muffins, smoothies, and as substitutes in your own home recipes. For example, in your daily recipes, you can substitute one ripe banana for each egg that is called for in the recipe. 

If you aren’t able to cook with the bananas right away, they can be placed in a ziploc bag in the freezer until you are ready to use them. My personal favorite use for ripe bananas is mixing up a big batch of banana bread loaves. Any of the loaves that don’t get eaten can be frozen and saved another day. These are perfect for a family brunch or quick and healthy snack after school.


For other ways to use less than perfect produce and reduce food waste, check out the Reducing Food Waste at Home Publication.

Successful Substitutions

Written by Kathryn Standing

Student Assistant, ISU Dietetics


So you have a meal plan, you made the trek to the grocery store, and it’s dinner time. Recipe on the counter, you begin to organize, suddenly you realize you don’t have one of the ingredients. Discouraged, you consider reaching for the frozen dinner. Don’t give up so easily. Chances are you can make the dish without your family ever knowing you made a change. Substituting something you already have on hand could save the day. Substitutions can be easy and the results just as good.

I am a former chef, making seamless substitutions was an important part of my job. Whether I was cooking for people who couldn’t eat certain items, or I was trying to make the dishes more nutritious, the meal still had to be delicious.

I focus on keeping the balance of the dish. By balance I mean you want to keep the moisture levels, the fat content and the flavor as close to the original as possible. It’s best to substitute similar items for each other; vegetables for vegetables, tomato products for other tomato products, fat can replace other fat, etc.

A note on baking: Baking is an area where caution in amount and type of ingredient is most important. When making substitutions in baking consider only making a partial substitution if possible to allow for a more consistent product.

There are lots of good online resources, one of my personal favorites provides the essentials: Recipe Basics — Measure Accurately, Substitute Wisely, Adjust Carefully by ISU Extension and Outreach. From proper measurement (which is the foundation of being a good cook) to a detailed list of common substitutions, you can find everything you need to get started on your cooking journey.  

Get Kids Involved in Healthy Cooking & Shopping

When I was a child, my mom always had me involved in the kitchen and grocery shopping. I went with her on every grocery run and was in the kitchen ready to help her cook every meal. I loved every minute of this time with my mom, whether it was getting to pick out the best tomatoes from the supermarket or learning how to whisk eggs, I had fun and learned so much about cooking. I am still passionate about these activities today, making time for grocery shopping once a week and making most, if not all of my meals and snacks at home. I feel that my story is an example of the importance of getting children involved in the cooking and purchasing of foods in order to allow them to learn valuable kitchen and shopping skills and build an understanding of their food choices.












When it comes to grocery shopping and cooking at home, we tend to hesitate when it comes to getting our children involved. At times it may be due to you being rushed to make dinner, in a hurry to get out of the supermarket, worried about the hazards that exist in the kitchen, hot ovens and stove tops, sharp knives, raw ingredients, or just afraid of the mess that may be left behind. However, when we involve our children in age-appropriate activities in these settings we are able to teach them valuable cooking and purchasing skills. Bringing your kids into these activities with you can also allow them to develop healthy habits like how to identify more nutritious food options while grocery shopping and adding a variety of fresh produce and colors to each meal, for example. Here are some ideas of how you can get your child involved in grocery shopping and in the kitchen.

In the grocery store: 

  • Give your kids the task of finding items on your grocery list in the supermarket.
  • Allow them to pick out a new fruit or vegetable to try when grocery shopping.
  • Play “I Spy” in each section of the grocery store.

In the kitchen:

  • Give your kids the responsibility of washing fresh produce.
  • Let them sprinkle on herbs and seasonings to foods you are preparing.
  • Let them tear up lettuce when preparing salads or snap fresh green beans when preparing dinner.

Take the time to introduce your kids to these activities to allow them to build core lifestyle skills that they can use for the rest of their lives. It is a wonderful opportunity for parent-child bonding. Allow them to help, try new foods, and exercise their creativity. Just take a moment to enjoy all of the messes and memories.

Written by Allie Lansman, ISU Dietetic Intern

Kitchen Safety: Hot Stuff

Ovens and stoves are very useful tools in the kitchen. My oven and stove are two of my best friends; we roast veggies and meats together, we make soups together, and we sometimes even make sweets together! Even in all the fun of cooking and baking, it is important to stay safe and follow these tips on cooking safety.

1. Stick around when the stove and oven are on. Be sure to keep an eye on whatever it is you’re cooking to prevent it from boiling over, burning, or catching fire. The leading cause of kitchen fires is unattended cooking.
2. When handling hot pans, always use potholders to avoid burns. Handles hanging over the edge of the stove can be grabbed by children or knocked off accidentally. Turn all handles on pots away from you to avoid accidental spills and burns.
3. Keep all utensils away from the oven and stovetop when it is on. This includes mixing spoons, dishtowels, potholders, and paper products, that way you can avoid accidental burns or fires.
4. Turn off the stovetop and oven when you are finished using them. Once you’re done cooking and ready to enjoy your food, double check that all the stove burners have been turned off, and that the oven is no longer on. Make sure all utensils or other flammable objects are safely away from any hot surface. It never hurts to double, even triple check this step!

We hope you have learned a tip or two during our kitchen safety blog series to help keep you safe while you spend time cooking.

Written by Annie Contrady, ISU Dietetic Intern

Kitchen Safety: Knife Safety

You may remember from last week’s blog, I love prepping meals at home! I often make recipes that require quite a bit of cutting and chopping, especially when using fresh meats and produce. Knife accidents are common in household kitchens, but can be avoided if you use some good habits.

  • Always pick up knives by the handle. Never touch the blade, even when it is dull.
  • Choose the correct size knife for the task that you are doing. For instance, if you’re cutting a strawberry, use a small knife like a paring knife. If you’re cutting large cuts of meat into smaller pieces, then a larger, sharp knife would be the best choice. It is most important to choose a knife that feels comfortable and controlled in your hand.
  • Cut food items away from the body and always use a flat surface. Cutting foods away from the body decreases the chances of an accident. Cut food on a flat surface (such as a cutting board), so it stays in one place. Do not hold food in your hand while you cut it. Be sure to keep it on the cutting board at all times to avoid having your knife slip and hurt you.
  • Wash knives immediately after use. Do not place knives in a sink of soapy water to soak with other dishes. Be sure to take caution when cleaning the knife blade and let the knife air dry. When not in use, store knives safely. Knives are safe in a shield or in a drawer where the blade will not rub against other tools that could dull or damage the blade. Most importantly, keep them out of the way of kitchen traffic or reach of small children.

Next week, the last blog in our kitchen safety series will be on fire safety.

Written by Annie Contrady, ISU Dietetic Intern

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