Our theme for blogs this month is meal planning. Each of our primary bloggers will share how they approach meal planning at their own home. We hope that you will be able to take some ideas from each of us to make meal planning go a bit easier for you.
Meal planning is important to me because I want to make meal prep easy and I like to avoid food waste as much as I can. Most of the time I plan meals for just one person, so my strategies look different from someone who is planning for a whole family. Justine and Jody will have tips for families throughout the month.
Here are some of my favorite go-to strategies.
- I start with what I have. I begin my meal plan for each week with what I already have to reduce food waste. I often cook up a stir-fry or soup on Sunday with any vegetables from the previous week to get them used up before they spoil. One recipe that is great for this is our Easy Roasted Veggies.
- I do not cook for one. I generally cook a full batch of whatever I am making and I freeze leftovers in small containers. This way, I cook once and I know there are lots of yummy things in my freezer. The containers in the freezer make super-fast lunches and dinners.
- I pre-prep ingredients. When I get home from work at night I am usually very hungry and not in the mood to start cooking from scratch. I try to do myself a favor and be ready for this situation by having pre-prepped ingredients in my fridge or freezer. Here are some of my standbys:
- Chopped onions in an airtight container in the freezer. These are great for cooking. If you will use the onion within a few days, you can store it in the refrigerator. I will often chop up 4 or 5 onions and keep them in the freezer to use for many meals. This works with peppers as well!
- Cooked proteins. This time of year, I grill outside a lot. If I light my grill, I fill it. This means that I often have many frozen protein foods like grilled chicken and hamburgers. I can heat these up very quickly to get a meal started and cut my cooking time way down.
- Cut fruit and vegetables in the refrigerator. I know that I am much more likely to reach for fruits and vegetables for snacks when they are cut and ready to go. I tend to purchase fruits and vegetables that can be cleaned and/or prepped ahead, such as:
- Pea pods
I hope one of these ideas is helpful to you and stay tune all month for Justine and Jody’s meal planning routines!
According to the 2015 Dietary Guidelines, about 85% of Americans eat fewer vegetables than we should. That means only 15% are eating enough. Potatoes and tomatoes are the most commonly eaten, followed by lettuce and onions.
Therefore, the Dietary Guidelines recommend making small shifts to eat more vegetables. This includes
eating more vegetables that are prepared in ways that are lower in calories, saturated fats, and sodium
and eating a wider variety of vegetables.
I follow someone on social media who has been encouraging her followers to eat more vegetables. One of the ways she gets in her vegetables is eating them at breakfast. Unless I’m eating eggs with vegetables or a smoothie with spinach, I don’t often eat vegetables at breakfast. However, there’s no reason I can’t! So, I’ve been challenging myself to do so. Some ways Some breakfast veggies that work for me are: leftover roasted vegetables, eating carrot sticks and pepper strips, and eating celery with peanut butter. These are all things I do other times of the day. Now I just eat them earlier to help me get in more vegetables. Here are a few other ways you might try eating more vegetables.
- Think of vegetables as part of your main dish as well as a side dish. We have lots of recipes that
include vegetables as part of the main dish.
- Make a vegetable tray and keep it in your refrigerator to grab out for snacks and meals. Make Vegetable Dip or After School Hummus to go along with the vegetables. Vegetable trays seem to
make vegetables more exciting!
- Eat them fresh, frozen, and canned. All forms of vegetables count, so don’t let the worry that
fresh vegetables will go bad or the time to cut them up prevent you from eating more
vegetables. Eat canned vegetables that are low in sodium and frozen vegetables without sauce
in addition to fresh.
This week we have one more new produce video to share with you – corn on the cob. This is perfect timing here in Iowa because corn on the cob is delicious right now.
Our new video gives some tips on preparing fresh corn on the cob. Start by shucking the corn, which is removing the husks that surround the ears of corn. Then scrub the ears of corn under running water.
Cook the corn right on the cob by boiling, grilling, or microwaving it. I usually put our ears of corn in a microwave safe 9-inch by 13-inch pan, add about 1/3 cup of water, cover with plastic wrap, and cook for two minutes per ear of corn.
However, this year, my daughter’s two front teeth are very loose, so she is having a hard time eating corn on the cob. This is where the preparation method shown in the video comes in handy for me. I use a paring knife to cut the kernels off the ear of corn. Then, I cook the cut kernels following the same steps for microwaving a whole ear of corn. This method is also useful if you want to use fresh corn in place of canned or frozen in a recipe like our Confetti Rice and Bean Salad.
Check out the video and enjoy your corn on the cob this summer!
How do you like the new Pantry Picks collection on our website? I have to admit, I’m pretty excited about my pick – brown rice. Brown rice is definitely a pantry pick in my house! I love it and I eat it pretty much every week. It tastes great, it’s hearty and it is a healthy choice for me. I try to make sure that at least half of the grain foods I eat are whole grains and brown rice helps me do that.
One of the things I like the best about brown rice is that it is so fast. I can cook a big pot of rice once and then split the rice up into freezer containers and freeze it for up to six months. Then I can have rice for many meals with just a quick zap in the microwave.
I use brown rice all year. In the winter, it goes into soups and casseroles and in the summer I make stir fry and salads. I put a little round-up of some of my favorite recipes that use brown rice below.
I hope you try one of these today and share your favorite ways to use brown rice with us in the comments or on our social media!
Last week Justine introduced you to the new feature on our website called Pantry Picks and shared some ways to use whole wheat bread. I am excited about this new collection of resources because it highlights how we can make the best use of ingredients that are inexpensive, long-lasting and really easy to prepare. This week I’m highlighting our Pantry Pick on whole wheat tortillas.
We use a fair amount of tortillas in my house. We like Mexican flavored foods so I make a number of meals using whole wheat tortillas. And if I need a quick lunch or supper for my kids, they often choose a simple cheese quesadilla. My son prefers a white flour tortilla for his quesadilla but will eat the whole wheat tortillas for other meals.
Here are a few ways to use whole wheat tortillas:
This week try a new recipe using whole wheat tortillas!
We are excited to announce a new feature on Spend Smart. Eat Smart. called Pantry Picks. Pantry Picks
provide tips on nutrition, storage, and preparation for foods that you might commonly find in your
pantry or cupboard. Each week this month, we are going to look at a different Pantry Pick. We hope you
learn some new ways to use these staple foods.
Today, I am going to introduce you to our first Pantry Pick – whole wheat bread. You can almost always
find a loaf of whole wheat bread in my pantry. Find out why I like whole wheat bread on my post from
last week. We usually use whole wheat bread for sandwiches and toast. If you or your family prefer
another type of bread for sandwiches and toast, fear not!. Here are some other great uses for whole
Make sure to check out our new Pantry Picks section on our website for more information about whole
wheat bread. Next week Jody will be sharing about tortillas.
Our June recipe of the month is homemade croutons. If you enjoy store-bought croutons on your salad, on your soup, or for a quick snack, you are going to love these. When I make these, my children, my husband, and even my mom devour them – there are never any leftovers.
The thing I like about homemade croutons is that they are made with whole wheat bread. Using whole wheat bread is important to me because it has more nutrients than wheat bread or white bread. In particular, it has more fiber, which is something we all need to get more of. Fiber helps protect against chronic diseases and it helps keep our digestive system healthy.
If you are like my children, you will just eat these croutons on their own. But, if you are like me, you will want some recipes to use along with your croutons. My favorite recipe to top with these croutons is Autumn Soup. I also like croutons on a salad, such as Whole Meal Salad. Regardless of how you serve your croutons, I hope you try this recipe soon.
Our May recipe of the month is Crispy Baked Chicken and it is a popular one. Boneless, skinless chicken is coated in crushed cornflakes and baked. Serve this tasty chicken with a fruit and a vegetable and you have a complete meal. Many people I have talked to about this recipe like to season the crushed cornflakes beyond the garlic powder. Some suggestions I have received include basil, Italian seasoning, chili powder, lemon pepper, and oregano. If you have a favorite herb or spice give it a try!
Recently, we have been talking a lot about unit pricing on the blog. This recipe is a great chance to use your unit pricing skills when buying the chicken. The recipe calls for 1 ½ pounds of boneless, skinless chicken. This can take several forms, so lets look at the unit price below to see what is the best buy.
$3.49 per pound
$2.49 per pound
$4.39 per pound
In this case, the chicken thighs were the best buy. Remember, prices will change from week to week, so make sure to double check the unit price before you buy.
Back in 2013, I wrote a blog comparing the cost and nutrition of different vegetable oils. That blog was recently shared by a national outlet and it received a lot of attention. As a result, we got a lot of questions related to what type of fat or oil is best to use so we thought it was time to write another blog on that topic.
When talking about fats and oils, it helps to define each term. Solid fats are fats that are solid at room temperature like butter or lard. Solid fats mainly come from animal foods. Oils are fats that are liquid at room temperature, like canola or olive oil. Oils come from many different plants and from fish. However, coconut, palm, and palm kernel oils (tropical oils) are solid at room temperature because they have high amounts of saturated fatty acids. Therefore, they are classified as a solid fat rather than as an oil.
All fats and oils are a mixture of saturated fatty acids and unsaturated fatty acids (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated). Solid fats contain more saturated fats and/or trans fats than oils. Saturated fats and trans fats tend to raise LDL cholesterol levels in the blood, which in turn increases the risk of heart disease. Here is a chart that shows the different amounts of saturated and unsaturated fatty acids in different types of solid fats and oils.
*Information from the USDA National Nutrient Database https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/search/list?home=true
There has been some research lately that has led some people to believe that saturated fats aren’t as harmful as once thought. Along with that, coconut oil is widely promoted as having many health benefits. However, in July 2017 the American Heart Association issued an advisory recommending against using coconut oil. Analysis of more than 100 published research studies reaffirmed that saturated fats raise LDL cholesterol. In addition, seven controlled trials showed that coconut oil raised LDL levels.
To learn how much oil is recommended for you, visit https://www.choosemyplate.gov/oils. Currently, most Americans eat more solid fat than recommended while consuming fewer oils than recommended. Therefore, the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend shifting from solid fats to oils. This includes using oils (except tropical oils like coconut oil) in place of solid fats when cooking. And to increase the intake of foods that naturally contain oils, such as seafood and nuts, in place of some meat and poultry. This week for an evening meal you might consider making the Broiled Salmon Justine shared at the beginning of the month!
A few weeks ago, I mentioned that I rarely ate fish growing up. However, fish is a favorite of my children. We usually eat it for dinner once a week.
You may be wondering if I am worried about my children being exposed to mercury in the fish I feed them. The answer is no because I choose fish that the EPA and FDA have designated safe to eat including cod, pollock, salmon, and tilapia. This chart has great advice on the appropriate types and amounts of fish for children and pregnant women. It is safe for children ages 2 years and older to eat one or two servings of fish per week. Eating fish may even have lifelong health benefits. These include brain function and prevention of chronic disease.
Adding fish, or any food, to the menu at home can be tricky. Family members of all ages may not be comfortable with new foods. Here are some of the things I try:
- Stick with it for the long haul. The more they see the food, the more likely they are to try it (and like it). It may take weeks, months, or years, but they will eventually try it.
- Serve it with other things they like. Favorite side dishes can make a new food more appealing. * Serve it as part of a mixed dish. Our Fish and Noodle Skillet is a great way to include fish with other tasty foods your family members may like.
Try adding fish to your weekly menu. Let us know how it goes!