Container Gardening: Big Benefits in Small Spaces

The interest in growing our own produce increases daily. Everyone can garden, even apartment dwellers and those with limited outdoor space. The Sow, Grow, Eat and Keep series is helping Iowans learn to grow their own food at home. This week’s “Sow, Grow, Eat and Keep” video from Iowa State University Extension and Outreach addresses how to start a container garden to grow tasty foods at home. 

Container gardens offer many benefits including:

  • Requires less space than a traditional garden.
  • Can be done on a porch or patio.
  • Can be placed at a height that reduces bending.

There are many ways to create a container garden. You can use a variety of flower pots or larger containers, such as large plastic buckets, or build raised bed gardens. Almost any vegetable can be grown in a container garden. The best plants are those that are smaller and bushier and do not require staking. Check out the ISU Extension and Outreach publications Container Vegetable Gardening and Container Gardening FAQs.

ISU Extension and Outreach will continue hosting weekly “Sow, Grow, Eat and Keep” quickinars. The quickinars offer 5-15 minute online lessons of seasonally appropriate topics for the garden, food preparation and food preservation. Some upcoming topics include:

  • Cool and warm season crops (lettuce, spinach, peas)
  • Freezing produce
  • Freezer jams (strawberry)
  • Scouting for garden pests
  • Weeding and watering basics
  • Produce food safety
  • Canning produce

For additional resources and publications, visit the Sow, Grow, Eat, and Keep website. Send your food or garden questions to sowgroweatkeep@iastate.edu.

Written by guest bloggers Ruth Litchfield and Sarah Francis. Doctors Litchfield and Francis are faculty in the ISU Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition.

flower pot

Filling the Gap

The Spend Smart. Eat Smart. Team has been sharing their kitchens with you and what menu planning looks like for each of them, including tips and recipes.  Unfortunately, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has made it difficult for many families to provide enough food due to lack of resources.  This is particularly true for households with young children.  In an effort to ease the burden on families, I would like to share information about a program available in your community that provides nutritious meals and snacks to children, 18 and under, during the COVID-19 pandemic and the coming summer months.

The USDA Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) was established to fill the gap when children lose access to meals when schools are closed.  Most often this occurs during summer vacation. However, during school closures related to the pandemic, meals are also being made available.  You have the opportunity to supplement the food you have at home with meals and snacks for your children from local schools and community organizations.  In an effort to maintain social distancing, USDA has made temporary changes that allow parents or guardians to pick up meals and take them home for their children.  Organizations have come up with creative ways to make these nutritious meals available in your community through grab and go curbside pickup, providing meals for multiple days at one time, and some including “take and bake” options, and weekend meals.

You can find a meal site in your area via three easy options:

  • Text “Food” or “Comida” to 877-877
  • Call 2-1-1, 1-866-3-HUNGRY (1-866-348-6479), or 1-877-8-HAMBRE (1-877-842-6273) (for Spanish)
  • Visit https://www.fns.usda.gov/meals4kids

Take the stress out of providing nutritious meals and snacks to your children by participating at a site near you!  Spread the word to family, friends, and neighbors!

Stephanie

Stephanie Dross is a Registered Dietitian with the Iowa Department of Education, Bureau of Nutrition and Health Services.  She coordinates the Department’s Summer Food Service Program and loves to garden and cook with her family.

Free Consultations with Family Finance Specialists

This week, our blogs focus on the financial challenges COVID-19 has created for many families. Extension can help. We don’t have a magic wand, but we do have trustworthy information and planning strategies to help you consider your options and make decisions that will work for you in the long run. 
Whether it’s sorting out your priorities, figuring out how to contact creditors, finding ways to stretch dollars further, or addressing some other issue, your local Human Sciences specialist in family finance can provide tools or suggest strategies that will help you make decisions with confidence. Find the specialist who serves your region and contact us by phone or email. Over the phone, by video chat, OR by email, we’ll help you find tools and resources for moving forward, even in this difficult time. Click play below to learn more.

Iowa Concern

One-on-one consultations are available with ISU Extension and Outreach Family Finance Specialists. Call 1-800-447-1985 to get connected with your local specialist.

Posted by Spend Smart. Eat Smart. on Saturday, May 16, 2020

Weighing Financial Priorities During the Pandemic

Guest Blogger, Barb Wollan, Family Finance Specialist

This week, we welcome guest blogger Barb Wollan. Barb is a Family Finance Specialist with ISU Extension and Outreach and her blog relates to weighing priorities during times when money is tight. 

As we focus on what we can control in our personal finances, the most obvious thing we control is our spending. Due to COVID 19, you may have already cut back on some of your normal expenses, like entertainment, but when money is tight, these cuts may not be enough. Choosing your top priorities is critical. Prioritizing includes considering all necessary expenses like groceries and utilities, and it often requires us to separate the things we need from the things we want. Before skipping a bill or making a partial payment, start by getting a complete picture of all your bills and debts – total monthly payments, total owed, current standing (i.e. are you currently caught up), and interest rate or fees for late payment. 

The next step is to consider each bill’s importance. All bills will need to be paid eventually, and it is never desirable to leave bills unpaid or partially paid. However, in times of real financial shortfall, people sometimes have to make tough choices. So how do you choose among your many bills?

Consider what you have to lose if a bill is unpaid. Losing housing, core utilities or a vehicle is generally the greatest possible loss to a household. Therefore those payments may be top priorities for many families. By contrast, getting behind on a credit card account or medical bill payment plan may not affect your immediate well-being. Missing a payment could hurt your credit report, but you can recover from it.  Due to COVID 19, some of your service providers and creditors may be offering assistance to extend your payment deadline and/or help reduce your payment obligations. In most cases, making a minimum payment is better than making no payment. Missing a payment has different consequences on your credit report. Plus, some consequences start immediately, while others may only start after a significant delay in payment. For example, some auto lenders repossess a vehicle after a single missed payment while others wait 60 days. If you take advantage of a COVID-19 payment assistance option, there are a few factors that will determine how creditors report your account to credit reporting companies, learn more about credit reporting under the CARES Act.

In addition to prioritizing among your existing bills, it is also wise to consider what bills you will or will not continue to incur. You may have ongoing monthly subscriptions to video services, cable, newspapers, program memberships or mail-order clubs. Stop and think about whether to continue them during this time. Those are often things we enjoy, and we don’t like the idea of giving them up, but if you’re worried about paying the car insurance or water bill, then it’s appropriate to include these subscriptions as you consider options. Consider your bills that have temporarily stopped, like childcare or federal student loan repayments that are suspended until September 30, 2020. How can these savings be used to pay priority bills? And don’t forget your bills on autopay, if you want more flexibility to prioritize your bills consider removing the auto payment.

If you have to miss a bill payment, check out the website of your service providers or creditor to see if they are offering greater payment flexibility.  And as much as you might dread the phone call, communicating with creditors is essential if you cannot pay on time. The fact that you called and explained your situation will make a huge difference in their willingness to work with you. This is especially true if you have previously been a reliable customer.  Creditors recognize the losses people are facing during this unprecedented crisis. Consider these suggestions for a conversation with a creditor:

  1. Be prompt – call them before your payment is due.
  2. Be honest with them – tell the truth without embellishment or exaggeration.
  3. Ask if they have a pandemic relief option, or a “hardship plan”, that would increase payment flexibility or reduce or eliminate the fees or interest that come with late payments.
  4. Be realistic about your options. If they ask you about when you will be able to make your next payment, give a realistic answer. 
  5. Keep a record of what phone number you called, who you talked with, the date and time of the conversation, and what exactly was agreed.
  6. Monitor your credit report. The 3 national credit reporting companies are offering free weekly online credit reports through April 2021.

Need help with all this? In many communities, a non-profit credit counseling service is available to help you negotiate the process.  To find a reputable credit counselor near you, check with the National Foundation for Credit Counseling; either by phone or on-line, they can do a zip code search to find the member agency nearest you.

On Thursday, Barb will share another resource available to help when making difficult financial decisions.

one dollar bill

Overcoming food shortages with substitutions

Most of us have been stuck at home for weeks, many of us homeschooling while working or wishing we were working. Thinking back to how nice it was to miss our family occasionally, while still trying to treasure every moment. It seems unfair that during these uncertain times we also have to worry about grocery stores being fully stocked. Know that you are not alone and Extension and Outreach is here to help. 

It seems that people are stocking up on frozen and canned items that will last longer, which can make it difficult to find the grocery items that you are used to buying. 

For frozen and canned vegetables 

The understanding that most vegetables are interchangeable is helpful here. Substituting carrots, peas, broccoli, green beans, cauliflower, spinach, asparagus, kale, even celery or cabbage for each other will not negatively impact a recipe’s final product. Keep in mind that cooking times may vary slightly, so check your vegetables for doneness before serving. I recommend picking vegetables you know you like, but if you’re feeling adventurous try out a new one!  

Use any frozen or canned vegetables/beans you want in the following recipes:

Vegetable Quesadillas – Kids love helping to build their own.

Quick Pad Thai – A fun take on takeout, try with tofu or edamame for protein if you’re low on chicken.

Pizza on a Potato– Another dish that’s fun for kids and good as a side dish or the main course!

Four Layer Supper– Substitute any canned vegetable or 1 cup frozen vegetables in this recipe in place of green beans.

Making fresh produce last

If you want to extend the shelf life of your fresh produce, Extension and Outreach has some great resources here. This is also helpful to have in mind as summer starts up and farmers markets and gardens start filling up with Iowa’s bounty. 

Substitutes for meat

It has been especially difficult for us to find the cuts and type of meat we are used to lately, so I have taken to using more beans, tofu, and eggs to get our protein. Like vegetables, these items are fairly easy to exchange for each other. Beans and tofu* can be added with the vegetables in a recipe, as they don’t need to be pre-cooked. 

*A note on tofu: We usually buy extra firm (non-silken) tofu, as it holds its shape and substitutes well for meat. Silken tofu is good for soups and smoothies, as it has a much softer texture. I like to marinate my extra firm tofu up to a day ahead of time (use your favorite seasoning and a tsp of oil). If it is your first time using tofu and you are worried about your family liking it, then fry it in a little oil and season it before serving it alongside something they enjoy. 

Here are some of our favorite recipes that work well with non-meat protein sources.

Frittata– Quick and easy weekend breakfast, or we have even been known to have it for a weeknight dinner!

Teriyaki Rice Bowl– Substitute tofu for the protein here for a truly Asian-inspired dish.

Sausage and Vegetable Skillet– Try substituting beans for sausage here, just skip the second step and add beans in with the vegetables.

Black Bean Burgers – Kids love to help form the patties!
Now more than ever it is important to rely on each other and be adaptable. When you are planning your week, stick to recipes that you feel comfortable using different vegetables and protein sources for. AnswerLine is always available if you have any questions regarding substitutions 1-800-262-3804 (9 am-12 pm and 1-4 pm CST). We are all in this together.

Written by Kathryn Standing, Nutrition Program Student Assistant

A Look Through Gale’s Kitchen

Hi, my name is Gale and I am a nutrition educator with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. I got inspired by Katy’s kitchen plans to do a little organizing myself.  I don’t have a family to cook for, which means I should be more organized, right?  Not at all.  As I was looking through my kitchen, I found out that my bad habits include:

  • Buying condiments and other ingredients, but not having a plan to use them.  I have five different kinds of mustard and two different types of pesto – what’s up with that?
  • Forgetting the fresh produce I already have. It gets buried in the bin below the newer fruits and veggies I buy.
  • Putting the groceries I just bought in front of the older ones. Just like the produce, I lose sight of foods like rice and dried beans in the pantry.
  • Finding interesting recipes I want to try, but setting the recipe aside with a stack of others.

Since I have been home-bound, I am trying to get better about using up what I have on hand.  That way I can avoid trips to the store.  So…

  • I am putting those condiments to good use.  What does Thai curry sauce taste like on frozen broccoli?  Pretty good, it turns out.
  • I am making one of my favorite Spend Smart. Eat Smart recipes, Easy Quiche. This is a versatile recipe, so I can toss in any fresh veggies that are in my refrigerator. 
  • I am using the slow cooker method of preparing dried beans and making chili with them.  I do not need to buy chili seasoning because, when I searched through my kitchen, I found out that I already have all the spices I need. 
  • I am trying to create meals from what I have on hand instead of relying on a recipe.   Things like canned chickpeas, frozen vegetables, brown rice, cream cheese, and dried peas and beans. Hey, I think I just invented dinner!

Have you gotten creative with the foods you have in your kitchen recently?  If so, please share your ideas with us!

Easy Quiche

Gale Francione is a program assistant with the Buy. Eat. Live Healthy nutrition program in Scott County.  She loves concocting dinner, especially with left-overs so they become something totally new.

Homemade Protein Snacks

Last week I shared the cost and nutrition of three different brands of protein packs. However, when comparing the price of an individual pack to building my own at home, the results can’t be beat. I saved money, used a reusable container to avoid waste, and got more protein than I would have with the store-bought snack packs.

Here are some ideas for building your own protein snack pack. As you can see, most of the items are cheaper than buying the pre-packaged option! All of these snack packs have 10 grams or more of protein per serving and varying calories based on your needs. 

Build your own: 


Grocery Store Total Cost per ServingSupermarket Total Cost per ServingCalories (kcal)Protein (grams)
1 ounce ham + 1 ounce cheddar cheese + 2 tablespoons almonds$1.53$0.9222020
1 ounce cheddar cheese + 2 tablespoons almonds + 2 tablespoons dried cranberries $1.16$0.9025010
1 boiled egg + 1 ounce ham + ½ cup carrots$1.13$0.6016517
2 tablespoons hummus + ½ cup carrots + 1 string cheese $0.97$0.6217510
1 ounce turkey jerky + 1 string cheese$2.12$1.1815020
½ apple + 2 tablespoons peanut butter + 1 string cheese $0.80$0.7030014

To get the most out of the protein you consume, try spreading it throughout the day. Healthy adults need 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day, according to the Recommended Daily Allowance. The average female would need around 46 grams, and the average male needs around 56 grams of protein each day. 

This blog was written by Iowa State University Dietetic Intern Laurynn Verry.

Protein Snack Boxes – Convenient or Costly?

From work or school to sports practices, events and everything in between, finding time to eat during the day can be difficult! It seems like grabbing a quick snack at the grocery store is a perfect solution…until you compare the cost to individual servings of protein foods. Yes, I will admit that I am guilty of buying these little convenient protein packs to stash in my lunch for a quick afternoon snack before I head out the door to my next event. However, I might rethink how much I’m spending on this packs. 

Below are some common protein packs, which vary from 1.5 – 2 ounce portions. There are many brands that make these packs. I chose these three because they are common national brands and not because of any particular attributes of the products. The average cost from a smaller grocery store was $1.89, the price at a larger supermarket was $1.28 and from a convenience store was $1.75


Cost/Serving Grocery StoreCost/Serving SupermarketCost/Serving Convenience Store Calories* (kcal) Protein* (grams)
Oscar Mayer P3 (ham, almonds, cheddar – 2.3 ounces)$2.19$1.50$1.9919012 
Sargento Balanced Breaks (white cheddar cheese, almonds, dried cranberries – 1.5 ounces)$1.49$1.09$1.691807
Hormel Natural Choice (ham, white cheddar cheese, dark chocolate pretzels – 2 ounces)$1.99$1.25$1.5918010
Average Cost:$1.89$1.28$1.75

*Calorie and protein information from supermarket website

After researching the pre-packaged protein packs, I wanted to check pricing on individual items. Here is what I found. 

Individual costs of protein foods


Cost/Serving Grocery StoreCost/Serving SupermarketCalories* (kcal)Protein* (grams)
Ham – 2 ounces$0.62$0.366010
Almonds – ¼ cup $0.55$0.351606
Peanuts – 1 ounce$0.19$0.121607
Cheddar cheese – 1 ounce$0.25$0.211107
String cheese – 1 each $0.29$0.24707
Eggs – 1 each$0.12$0.05706
Hummus – 2 tablespoons$0.29$0.19702
Peanut butter – 2 tablespoons$0.11$0.091907
Turkey jerky – 1 ounce $1.83$0.948013

*Calorie and protein information from supermarket website

Some of these have more protein in them as a single item than the snack pack as a whole! I even have many of them on hand at home.  Next week, I will share how I put together some of these snack packs in my own kitchen.

This blog was written by Iowa State University Dietetic Intern Laurynn Verry.

October recipes you will love

By Kathryn Standing

ISU Student, Dietetics & Psychology 

It’s October, the air is crisp and football is in full swing. This time of year finds me craving warm and comforting food while I cheer on Iowa State. The fall line-up of vegetables includes squash, pumpkin, sweet potatoes and cauliflower. Squash and pumpkin can be intimidating. Not everyone is used to dealing with these hard vegetables with inedible skins, unless they’re carving one for Halloween of course! I recommend this how-to for squash and pumpkin to get you started:  

How to Prepare Winter Squash This is an easy and quick way to cook squash and pumpkin. After cooking you can then use the squash and pumpkin in any recipe that calls for canned pumpkin (pies, cakes, soups, etc.). 

Note: sweet potato also makes a great substitute for canned pumpkin.  

Consider adding the recipes below to your fall cooking line-up!

For warm and comforting dinners:

Squash

Butternut Squash Enchiladas A fun and creative take on enchiladas. Use corn tortillas for a delicious and nutritious gluten free dinner. 

Autumn Soup You can’t have fall without it. Apples add a nice sweetness to this creamy soup. 

Sweet Potato, Squash, or Cauliflower

Easy Roasted Veggies This versatile recipe does a nice job bringing out the natural sweetness of rich fall veggies.

Sweet Potato

Mashed Sweet Potatoes Three ingredients yield a whole lot of yum in this easy side dish. 

For pumpkin spice lovers:

Pumpkin

Pumpkin Apple Cake Add nuts if you want or substitute chocolate cake mix if you prefer.  This easy cake is great with coffee. 

Pumpkin Pudding A great recipe to make with kids. Dip graham crackers or apples as a fun treat.

Bowl of pumpkin pudding

Join Our Mailing List

Enter your email address:

Categories

Recent Posts

Posts from the Past