Zucchini is one of my favorite vegetables because of how versatile it is. You can use this inexpensive summer squash in several ways when cooking and baking. I didn’t appreciate zucchini as much as a child, but now that I do most of the cooking at my house, I love how easy it is to transform this veggie to meet everyone’s needs! Below are a few of my favorite ways to use this tasty green veggie.
Sauté– I love to sauté diced or chopped zucchini in a little bit of olive oil with spices and other summer squash or tomatoes. It is a quick, tasty side dish that everyone enjoys! I also like using sautéed zucchini in recipes like Zucchini Hummus Wraps and Vegetable Quesadillas.
Bake– I like to add shredded zucchini to meatloaf, muffins and cakes. One of my favorite muffin recipes is the Chocolate Chip and Zucchini Muffins from Spend Smart. Eat Smart. My family also likes to have sliced zucchini baked in the oven with parmesan cheese for a crunchy snack.
Grill– As mentioned in a previous blog, we LOVE to grill at our house. We like to cut the zucchini in half lengthwise and cook it on the grill with a drizzle of olive oil and a blend of spices. I use leftover grilled zucchini in pasta and on grilled cheese sandwiches.
Steam– If I want to have a lighter pasta, I make zucchini noodles with a cheap spiralizer I purchased several years ago at a home goods store. The noodles can be steamed and used as an alternative to heavy pasta dishes. When our daughter was a baby, I would steam zucchini to make baby food since it was inexpensive.
One of my favorite things about using zucchini in a recipe or as a side dish is that zucchini does not take long to prepare or cook. I love how zucchini takes on the flavor of what you cook it with, making it easy to prepare in a variety of ways. Watch the video for some additional tips on how to prepare this versatile summer veggie. Grab a zucchini next time you pick out produce- you won’t be disappointed!
With temperatures outside steadily rising, my family and I love to finish the day with a cold summer treat. As a parent, any dessert that I can make that incorporates fruit and doesn’t contain a lot of extra sugar is a win!
A favorite treat at our house is Magical Fruit Salad. I love how versatile this recipe is- you can use whatever fruit and pudding mix you have on hand to make some yummy combinations! I have made this recipe with a mix of berries, diced oranges, and peaches. If you don’t have any fresh fruit on hand you can also use canned or frozen. A personal favorite at our house is a spinoff of a banana split. I use banana or chocolate pudding mix with diced strawberries, banana chunks, and pitted cherries. Experimenting with different combinations of pudding and fruit has been a great way for our 21-month old to try new fruit.
Magical Fruit Salad is a fun alternative to ice cream and popsicles, especially when you are looking for a cold treat to beat the summer heat. This recipe is quick and can be ready to eat within minutes of mixing your ingredients. I like to divide the recipe batch into mini mason jars and place in the fridge for a few hours before serving. This is by far my family’s perfect summer treat!
During the summer months the grill on our deck gets a lot of use. My family spends a lot of time outside in the afternoons and evenings. Using the grill gives us the chance to enjoy playing outside without having to do a lot of actual cooking. With the days getting significantly warmer, I jump at any recipe that doesn’t require me to preheat my oven!
To spice it up, I like creating simple marinades to add variety to our protein before grilling. Growing up, my family spent a lot of time grilling and I learned how to create simple marinades with very basic ingredients. The ratio I use to create my own marinades is three parts oil to one-part vinegar or lemon juice and then add a variety of seasonings or spices. Some of my favorite additions are garlic/garlic powder, Italian seasoning, dried herbs and to keep it simple, salt and pepper. You can also use bottled dressings to marinate your protein like Italian dressing or other oil-based dressings. Other family favorites at my house are the Homemade Teriyaki Sauce and the Honey Mustard Dressing recipe on Spend Smart. Eat Smart.
I have found that I get the best flavor when I marinate my protein in the fridge for at least 30 minutes to 2 hours. Meat proteins like chicken, pork and beef can soak in a marinade overnight if they are in a covered dish in the fridge. Fish is more delicate and 1 or 2 hours is plenty of marinating time. After you begin grilling, make sure you discard any leftover marinade that has been in contact with the uncooked meat because it is not safe to consume or re-use. Use clean plates and utensils after your protein is done cooking to avoid cross contamination. If you prefer meatless dishes, you can also marinate beans and tofu before cooking to add additional flavor. Pair your marinated protein with a quick side dish like Broccoli Salad or Pasta Salad to create a well-rounded summer meal! Watch this quick video on preparing honey mustard dressing as a marinade. I would love to hear your favorite summer recipes–share your go-to marinades with us! Cheers to creating your own marinades at home!
On Monday, I shared a few tips on how to better organize your kitchen space. I spent some time using those tips to organize my kitchen and now that it is back to being user-friendly, I want to share what meal planning looks like for my family. With my husband working from home, I find that I need to be a little bit more creative when it comes to planning our weekly meals.
One of my top goals when meal planning is to ensure that we have a variety of options to choose from each day. Now that we are eating all our meals at home and limiting takeout and restaurant visits, I don’t want to get burned out eating the same meals too often. To help with this, I choose 2-3 new recipes to make each week with the hope that they will become new family favorites to rotate into my weekly plans. Three new recipes that we tried this week (and loved!) included: Stuffed Peppers, Vegetable Quesadillas, and Spicy Tuna Salad.
My next priority when writing down my plan is to limit food waste by using the ingredients I already have in the house. Luckily, the steps I take to limit food waste also help me shop less frequently. I use the Five Day Meal Planner as a guide to creating my weekly meal planning sheet. I look for recipes that use the ingredients I have and some that use similar ingredients for the week to simplify my shopping list. I also plan how we will incorporate fresh fruits and vegetables into meals and snacks so I am certain they will be used before they spoil.
Below is an example of what my meal planning typically looks like each week. Instead of committing to making recipes on specific days, I like giving my family the option to choose from a variety of meals and snacks. Once that meal has been made for the week, we simply cross it off and continue choosing from the other options throughout the week. Doing this keeps me organized and makes it easier to decide what to make each day.
There is no right or wrong way to make your family’s meal plan- find what works for you! We hope that over the course of this series you will learn some new meal planning tips and find new recipes to try at home.
Over the next several weeks, our Spend Smart. Eat Smart. team will be sharing our kitchens with you including how meal planning looks for each of us and some of our top recipes. As situations across the country continue to change, we hope that these tips and recipes will bring you comfort as you adjust to cooking more at home and limiting trips out of the house.
For me, spending more time at home means spending much of my day in the kitchen. For the past three weeks, my husband has been working remotely from home which calls for extra planning and preparing of snacks and meals. Don’t get me wrong, I love being in my kitchen and cooking for my family brings me great joy. However, the more time I was spending in my kitchen during the day, the more I started to realize that my little kitchen had become quite unorganized.
Over the past week, I have written down a few goals around organizing my kitchen to make my space more enjoyable. Some of my goals were to go through my cabinets and throw away expired spices and pantry items, clean and organize my fridge, and find new storage spots for kitchen items that don’t get much use but were cluttering my cabinets and counter tops. To help me meet my goals, I used resources from the Spend Smart. Eat Smart. website on how to Organize Your Space.
Organizing my kitchen helped me find pantry items that were pushed to the back of my cabinets that I can now incorporate into my weekly meal planning. I am glad that I had some extra time to clean out my kitchen. I am able to save time by knowing exactly where the items are that I need for any given recipe and it will help lessen the chance I buy some of the items that I had forgotten about which will save me a little bit of money.
Now that I have my kitchen nicely organized, stay tuned to see how I plan my family’s meals for the week. I would love to hear what your goals are for organizing your kitchen space. Feel free to share any of your kitchen organizing tips in the comments.
This month is all about incorporating more plants into meals. To switch it up at my house, I try to make vegetarian meals at least twice a week. Not only does it help my family save money, but it helps add variety to our meals.
Beans are a great source of protein and they are easy to add to our meals. I love cooking with beans; they taste great and tend to be less expensive than meat. Brynn, our 17-month-old, loves beans and will eat them straight out of the can! My husband on the other hand would prefer beans added to a meal, not eaten as a snack, so I am always on the search for quick, easy bean dishes to try at home. Several Spend Smart. Eat Smart. recipes that highlight beans have become family favorites at our house.
One of our favorite dishes is Lentil Tacos where the filling is smashed lentils cooked in taco seasoning. We add our favorite taco toppings and make Black Bean Salsa on the side to get an even greater variety of beans. Another fan favorite at my house is hummus. For easy meals, we will make the Zucchini Hummus Wraps and add black beans. These wraps are a great way to use up vegetables in your kitchen before they go to waste. With Brynn being a fan of black beans, the Black Bean Burgers are a quick meal that I make when I am running low on groceries and time. I will make several batches and stick them in the freezer to use for lunches or a snack- this girl really loves her beans!
Cooking dry beans saves money and allows you to add flavor while the beans cook. Spend Smart. Eat Smart. has a great resource for how to cook dry beans at home. In my house, we generally use canned for convenience. When cooking with canned beans, look for cans with labels that say, ‘less sodium’ or ‘no salt added’. If I am unable to find those options at the store, I will simply place the beans in a colander and run them under cool water to rinse off extra salt. If you are a fan of hummus but don’t always like the price at the store, you can make your own hummus at home for a fraction of the cost. Add your favorite seasonings and you have the perfect snack or addition to your meal. I hope this blog gives you a few ideas on how to add beans into your weekly meals while saving you a little bit of money on your next grocery bill.
As Jody mentioned in her earlier blogs this month, February is focused around heart health. I like to focus on the habits I can do every day that help keep my heart healthy. Eating well and staying active are at the top of the list for me.
Last week Jody touched on strength training and the importance of weight bearing activity to help strengthen muscles. Another easy way to exercise your heart and body is to go for a walk. Did you know that walking is the single most popular adult exercise in the country? Walking can be a great way to increase your heart rate while exercising your heart and lungs.
The goal is to aim for 30-minutes of exercise 5 days a week. When I am running short on time, I will break my walk into short, brisk segments to get to that 30-minute goal. A few ways that I tend to break up my daily walk are to park further away from my destination when I am out running errands and to take short walks during my breaks.
When I was pregnant, I gave myself a goal to walk for 30 minutes every day. I not only wanted to have a healthy pregnancy, but walking helped alleviate stress and gave me an energy boost- this was crucial in those last few months! Once my daughter was born, walking was the only tried and true way that I could soothe her. Having an October baby in Iowa took some flexibility on my part because it got cold outside fast. If the weather was too cold to take her outside, I would head to our local mall to get in my daily walk. Some of my fondest memories from childhood were going on walks with my mom. I hope that my daughter will cherish these daily walks as she gets older and begins to establish her own healthy habits.
Check out the handout, walk your way to fitness, under the ‘move’ tab on our website that highlights helpful tips on what to wear for your walk and how to turn your basic daily stroll into a heart healthy workout.
Cheers to getting outside and strengthening your heart!
As a new mom to a 14-month-old, getting into a new routine when it came to meal time was hard! I work part-time for Iowa State University Extension and Outreach and am a full-time wife and mom. I need quick, healthy meals and snacks to prepare and Spend Smart. Eat Smart. has been a lifesaver in my home!
As the holidays are fast approaching, below are some of my family’s favorite recipes. We tend to entertain a lot during December and these yummy recipes have become quite the hit with our friends and extended family around the holidays.