I love to cook, especially around the holidays! There is something nostalgic about bringing out the box of old recipe cards that are covered in stains and mark-ups from family members altering recipes throughout the years. Cooking holiday meals is a way that I show those around me that I love them, and this has been something that I have had to get more creative with during the past year.
Holidays looked a lot different for many of us in 2020 and this year is off to a similar start. Smaller, more intimate gatherings are still recommended, leading to a slightly different mindset when planning those traditional holiday meals. Check out my list of holiday cooking alterations below to cook for a smaller crowd this holiday season.
Halve your recipes– Over the years I have found that the family favorite recipes that my grandma, mom and aunts used for holiday cooking were meant to feed a village! By cutting those recipes in half, I can spend more money on other ingredients for additional recipes and am not stuck with mountains of leftovers.
Pick recipes that can be used for future meals– Cooking for smaller numbers of family this past year required me to get creative. I love the idea of having versatile ingredients and leftovers that can be used for other meals. Easy Roasted Veggies are a fan favorite at my house any time of the year and the leftover veggies can be used in other recipes like Vegetable Frittata and Vegetable Quesadillas. Ham is a traditional Easter food in my family which leads to a lot of leftovers. I love using leftover ham in soups and quiches. A few of our favorite recipes to use ham are Turkey Vegetable Quiche and Split Pea Soup.
Share the cooking with others– A lot of our neighbors used to travel for the holidays but with the pandemic we have found that everyone is cooking for fewer people or cooking for the first time in several years! I love having meal swaps with my neighbors and the same can be said during the holidays. You may find a new family favorite this way!
Find fun ways to eat your meal with those you love– Not only is cooking for a holiday different during a pandemic, but you are also limited to who you can have in your home to celebrate. Hop on Facetime or a Zoom call with loved ones and coordinate your mealtimes to eat with each other. It is a fun way to talk about the foods you have prepared, and you can still celebrate the holidays with those you love!
Find creative ways to celebrate with those around you to keep the holiday season fun and memorable. Cheers to good health in 2021!
I moved to Iowa 11 years ago and still have a difficult time appreciating Midwest winters. Although I am not a fan of the snow and brutally cold temperatures, I do look forward to transitioning my family’s meals to dishes that bring us warmth and comfort during the colder months. Many of the comforting foods that are traditional in my family in the late fall and winter are rich and heavy. To add some variety, I have begun to incorporate recipes with winter squash to add in more vegetables throughout the week. Below are a few of my favorite recipes to use winter squash.
Butternut Squash Enchiladas – These enchiladas are a creative way to use winter squash. I loved making these when our daughter was just beginning to try solid foods because the mashed squash was easy for her to eat.
Easy Roasted Veggies – Roasting veggies does not require a lot of prep or cooking. Pick out any type of squash to roast or try a combination of a few! I love to roast squash to use as a side dish and will add leftover roasted veggies to quesadillas and quiche.
Autumn Soup – I love a good soup recipe in the fall and winter! This fall inspired soup is creamy and packed with flavor.
Wraps “Your Way”– I love using roasted butternut squash as the veggie for these wraps. A warm wrap in the winter hits the spot! Simply add your heated squash to a tortilla with hummus and kale to create a hearty lunch.
Winter squash can seem intimidating if you haven’t prepared one before. Before working with ISU Extension and Outreach, I would walk past winter squash in the produce department because I was unsure how to cook with them. Watch this video for step by step instructions on how to prepare winter squash at home. Grab winter squash next time you pick out produce- you won’t be disappointed!
Parenting a toddler can be tough, especially when it comes to snacks and mealtimes. I remember hearing stories from my friends about their picky eaters and thought my child would be different. Boy was I wrong! Over the past few months, mealtime has become quite the challenge at my house. My toddler’s favorite foods come and go, and I have had to alter our meal planning to fit her needs during this phase.
As we focus on preventing food waste during this month’s blog series, I also wanted to focus on the idea of preventing kitchen waste. Mealtime can be extra messy with little ones and I found that I was creating a lot of kitchen waste with paper towels, snack baggies, and food containers. I decided to make a few changes in our home to address our kitchen waste, and they have made quite the difference!
During mealtime, serve small amounts of a food first to eliminate having to throw away food. Our toddler is skeptical of new foods, and even some of our tried and true favorites. To keep it less overwhelming, we give her small amounts of each food item knowing she can ask for more. If she doesn’t like something, we either save it in a small container to try again the next day or if we do end up throwing it away, it’s only a spoonful or two.
Invest in extra burp cloths or kitchen towels to clean up messes instead of relying on paper towels. I have lost count of how many times I have had to wipe up spilled milk or clean peanut butter slathered surfaces around my house. To eliminate extra waste, we have started to use old burp cloths and rags as our ‘paper towels’ that can be washed and reused.
Cut down on pre-packaged snacks and invest in reusable containers. I make our own grab and go snacks with reusable bags or cups instead of plastic baggies. Instead of buying individually wrapped animal crackers and applesauce pouches, I buy those items in larger containers to cut down on the amount of plastic and cardboard in my trash. A household favorite is Popcorn Trail Mix that can be stored in a large bowl in the pantry and put into reusable containers when running errands or going to the park.
Add in leftover days to continue introducing new foods. For my toddler, if we continue to introduce a new food, she is more likely to try it. I use the Five- Day Meal Planner and incorporate leftovers 2-3 days a week for both lunch and supper to cut down on throwing away food. Typically, by the third introduction the new food will be consumed by our skeptical eater.
Only buy certain items in bulk. Toddlers especially go through phases of loving something one week and disliking it the next. I have made the rookie mistake of overbuying a food item only to be stuck with 20 apple zucchini pouches (which I used for baking to avoid throwing them away!). Cereal is always a necessity in my house. Buying cereal and plain apple sauce in bulk works for us. Buy the items you know will be used regardless of your child’s preferences in bulk and keep other purchases smaller in scale. These are a few ideas that work for my family-if you also have a little one at home, I hope you find these tips useful. Cheers to finding ways to cut down on your own kitchen waste!
Fall has always been my favorite season. I love watching the leaves change color, being able to swap out my shorts for cozy knit sweaters and taking in all the fun fall activities.
One of my family’s favorite activities is going to the orchard. Our two-year-old loves picking apples for us to bring home which means I need a variety of fall recipes to make sure the apples we pick don’t go to waste. Apple Cinnamon Bread, Hurry Up Baked Apples and Homemade Applesauceare some of our go-to recipes for apples. I love the aroma of cinnamon and cooked apples throughout our home during this time of year.
After visiting the orchard, I love coming home and warming up with a comforting meal. As the weather begins to shift and the air becomes crisper, I find myself reaching for more soup and slow cooker recipes. Below are a few of our favorite recipes to make after our visits to the orchard. Add some warm bread on the side for a nice, hearty meal.
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.