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!

Oatmeal Cookies

It is the time of year for sharing food, especially cookies.  Our December recipe of the month, Oatmeal Cookies, is perfect for sharing.  Take these delicious cookies to a party, family gathering, or cookie exchange.

You can also make these cookies into a gift.  Start with a quart sized glass jar. Pour in any optional ingredients you would like to include from the recipe such as dried cranberries, raisins, white chocolate chips, or coconut.  Then pour in the oatmeal. Top that with the brown sugar. Pour in the rest of the dry ingredients – the whole wheat flour, baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon. Close the lid tightly on the jar so there are no accidental spills.  Write out the instructions to the recipe on a card to give with the jar. Make sure to include amounts for the wet ingredients that are not included in the jar. You could even give out an individual serving size cup of applesauce with each jar – these are the perfect amount for this recipe.  Finally, share your jar as a gift! It is so fun to give and receive homemade gifts like this.

Enjoy!

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover is a Registered Dietitian and mom who loves to cook for her family.

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Homemade Dried Onion Soup Mix

Last week, I shared our homemade taco seasoning mix.  This week, I would like to share our homemade dried onion soup mix.  This dried onion soup mix is useful in seasoning soups, dips, and meats.  To make this mix, stir together dried minced onion, sodium free beef bouillon granules, onion powder, and sugar and store in an airtight container for up to six months.

This mix makes the equivalent of three packages of store bought dried onion soup mix.  This homemade mix is more expensive than the store bought version. Homemade costs $3.72 for the equivalent of three packages and the store bought is $0.72 for two packages.  However, the extra cost is more than balanced out by the savings in sodium. The homemade version has 15 mg of sodium in 1/3 cup (about the same as one store bought package) while the store bought version has 4,560 mg of sodium in one package, which is 570 mg of sodium per serving.   

The savings in sodium in this mix is important because reducing sodium consumption has health impacts.  Find more information about the connection between sodium and high blood pressure here and sodium for children here.

Try our homemade Dried Onion Soup Mix in our Slow Cooker Roast or any other recipe that calls for dried onion soup mix.

Enjoy!

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover is a Registered Dietitian and mom who loves to cook for her family.

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Slow Cooker Mexican Chicken Soup

Our November recipe of the month is Slow Cooker Mexican Chicken Soup.  It is perfect for a busy day. All the ingredients go into the slow cooker in the morning, cook on low for 8-10 hours, and you have a delicious soup ready to eat in the evening.

There are some wonderful things I love about this recipe.

  • It is easy to put together. There is no cutting up or chopping needed to get this recipe into the slow cooker.  The chicken just needs to be shredded right before serving this soup.
  • It uses dried beans. Dried beans are tasty, inexpensive, and nutritious.  They take a little longer to cook, so they are perfect for the slow cooker.  Fair warning, the dark color of the black beans changes the outer color of the chicken.
  • It freezes well. This recipe is great to measure out into single serving containers and freeze for lunches.  Or, you can eat half of the soup one night and freeze the other half of the soup for another night.
  • It is great for a party. This soup tastes delicious with different toppings – avocado, crushed tortilla chips, sliced jalapenos, plain Greek yogurt, shredded cheese.  You can serve the soup out of the slow cooker and let your guests add any toppings they would like.

Enjoy!

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover is a Registered Dietitian and mom who loves to cook for her family.

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Spice it up! – Part 2

Last week Jody gave us some helpful tips on using spices in cooking to give food lots of flavor without using too much salt. She also shared which spices we use most in our recipes and how to store them for maximum shelf life. You have probably guessed that we on the Spend Smart. Eat Smart. team really like to cook so experimenting with different flavors and spices is fun for us.

Even though I like to cook and cook at home most of the time, I can still get ahead of myself when it comes to spices. Ground spices (cumin, chili powder, curry powder, etc.) have their maximum flavor for 2-4 years after you open them. Dried herbs (basil, thyme, parsley, etc.) are best used within 1-3 years. Given how quickly some foods perish, this seems like a really long shelf life. Nevertheless, it is easy to have a spice in your cabinet for many years if you only use it on rare occasion. Here are some tips I use to keep my spices in check and avoid wasting money on spices I have to throw out.

  1. I buy spices in the smallest container I can. This saves space in my cabinet, reduces the risk of waste and allows me to try new spices without committing to buying a large container.
  2. I mark each container with the date that I open it, so I do not have to guess how long it has been sitting in my cabinet.
  3. Once a year I go through my spice cabinet and make my own all-purpose seasoning blends with the bits of spices I have left in my cabinet. I like to do this around New Year’s Day when I tend to have a lot of time around the house. I find that I go through the blends faster than individual spices. You can adjust the ratios of these blends based on what you have and what flavors you enjoy most. Some of my favorites include:
    • Taco Seasoning: This works well for any Tex Mex dish I am making. It is delicious in taco meat, beans or even soups with a similar flavor profile.
    • Dried Onion Soup Mix: I have several recipes I make that call for dried onion soup mix and I would rather use up the seasonings I already have than buy a packet at the store.
    • Italian Seasoning Blend: rosemary, thyme, parsley, red pepper flakes, garlic powder, oregano and onion powder. I use this on chicken, steak, vegetables, roasted potatoes and in pasta dishes. It is all of the same ingredients as store-bought Italian seasoning, but it allows me to use what I already have rather than buy another jar.
    • Grill Seasoning: garlic powder, onion powder, black pepper, red pepper flakes and paprika. This is tasty on meats and veggies that I grill or roast.
  4.  If I find a recipe that calls for a spice I do not already have, I look for one or two other recipes that use it before I buy it. This way I know that I have multiple ideas for using that spice and I will make good use of it.

These are some tips that work for me…how do you keep your spice cabinet from getting out of control? Share with us in the comments or on our social media this week. You’ll hear more about the Taco Seasoning and Dried Onion Soup Mix from Justine next month.

Happy Cooking!

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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Sweet Pork Stir Fry

Our October recipe of the month is Sweet Pork Stir Fry. To be honest with you, my children are pretty picky when it comes to stir fry. There is only one stir fry recipe I make that they really like. This is one that they tend to pick around and eat only their favorite pieces.

When this recipe was in the testing phase, I had to make it often to get it just right. Since it was not my children’s favorite, I made it for my mother-in-law and father-in-law. It was such a hit with them that my mother-in-law called me a few days later asking for the recipe because she wanted to make it for her own in-laws! That was almost two years ago, and they are still making this recipe regularly.

What I really like about my in-laws using this recipe regularly is that they have made this recipe their own. They try different vegetables depending on what sounds good to them – carrots, celery, onions, mushrooms, and asparagus. They will change out the meat depending on what is on sale at the grocery store or even skip on the meat to make a vegetarian meal. They will also switch the noodles out for brown rice sometimes.

This past winter they invited me over to share a meal and they made this recipe for me. This recipe has been one that we have enjoyed together and I hope you can enjoy it with friends and family too!

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover is a Registered Dietitian and mom who loves to cook for her family.

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Blueberry Pancakes

Our September recipe of the month is Blueberry Pancakes. Pancakes are a favorite meal in our family. We eat them for supper just as often as we eat them for breakfast. I even made pancakes for supper for my husband the evening I was in labor with our oldest!

Since we like pancakes so well, I try to change up the types of pancakes we eat. That is where these blueberry pancakes come in. The batter for these pancakes is a traditional whole wheat pancake batter. Before cooking, gently fold the blueberries into the batter.

If you find cooking pancakes challenging, I have a few tips for you.

  • Pre-heat the Pan: It is important to make sure that the pan is heated up before starting to cook the pancakes. You can use a water test to make sure your pan is hot enough. Use your fingers to sprinkle some water on the pan. If the water sizzles, your pan is pre-heated.
  • Patience: Be patient with your pancakes and do not flip them over until the tops are bubbly. This will ensure that your pancakes flip easily and get cooked all the way through.
  • Practice: Cooking times and temperatures for pancakes depend on your stove and your pan. With practice, you will find the right cooking times and temperatures for you.

Enjoy!

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover is a Registered Dietitian and mom who loves to cook for her family.

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Cranberry Almond Wrap

Cranberry Almond Wrap is our August recipe of the month.  I like this type of recipe in the summer because it is quick and cool.

In the summer, quick and cool recipes are frequently used in our home.  We love spending time outdoors in the summer, so taking time to prepare meals gets cut way back in order to get the most of our outside time.  We are almost always hot when we come inside, so a hot meal does not appeal to any of us.  My older two children often tell me that they do not want any hot food.

This recipe can be made ahead of time by stirring chicken (that has been cooked and shredded), sliced almonds, diced celery, dried cranberries, and mayo in a bowl and covering it and storing it in the refrigerator until meal time.  When it is time to eat, spread the mixture on a tortilla, lettuce leaf, or slice of bread and enjoy!  For the chicken, I recommend cooking extra when you have the grill fired up or the oven on.  You can store cooked chicken in the refrigerator for up to four days or in the freezer for up to three months.

Enjoy!

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover is a Registered Dietitian and mom who loves to cook for her family.

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Berry Banana Popsicles

Our July recipe of the month is Berry Banana Popsicles.  This recipe comes at a perfect time for me as I am trying to stretch my food budget, especially when it comes to snacks (see my blog from last month).  My children need two or three snacks each day and I am trying to cut back on pre-packaged snacks this summer. We are doing …

Berry Banana Popsicles meet my family’s snacking needs for several reasons:

  • The children can help make them.  They can cut up the bananas and berries, they can mix everything together, they can pour the mix into popsicle molds or cups, and they can put in the sticks.
  • They are filling.  These popsicles are made with yogurt and whole fruit so they will fill up my children’s tummies better than a popsicle made from juice.
  • They are easy. I can keep my freezer stocked with homemade popsicles and we can reach for them whenever we need them.

Enjoy!

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover is a Registered Dietitian and mom who loves to cook for her family.

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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.  

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