What is Justine Cooking?

On Monday, I shared how my family is working together on the planning and cooking of meals during this strange time. Today I would like to share with you some of the meals we are relying on right now. 

The most important factor for us in planning meals is making sure there will be leftovers. Since we are now feeding five people for lunch in addition to breakfast and supper, we are taking advantage of those leftovers.

Here are some Spend Smart. Eat Smart. recipes I am using:

  • Broiled Salmon – Leftover fish is versatile, it can be used in sandwiches, wraps, or a stir fry. 
  • Easy Roasted Veggies – I have been doubling roasted veggies because they taste so good when reheated and they are an easy vegetable to add to any meal.
  • Banana Oatmeal Bread – I have been making banana bread weekly. We can make it for supper with scrambled eggs one night and have the leftover bread for breakfast and snacks the next day.
  • Skillet Lasagna – We can eat from a pan of skillet lasagna for three meals, especially if we add a side salad and garlic bread. 
  • Vegetable Quesadillas – I usually make 6 to 8 of these at a time, they come together quickly and they reheat well.

I would love to hear what you are cooking right now!

Skillet Lasagna

Justine Hoover

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

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Cooperative Meal Planning

Meal planning and cooking have become a team effort at our house while we are social distancing. My husband and I are balancing work and teaching our three children from home. This usually means that one of us is working while the other is caring for the children. This also means that one of us is usually working right up until mealtime so the other person is responsible for meal prep. With this alternating schedule, we have had to work together to make sure our meals are planned. We have had fun creating meals by balancing his strength of getting meals on the table quickly and my strength of cooking from scratch.

I have been shopping for enough groceries to last us a little over two weeks at a time, so we have started sitting down together every few days to evaluate our meal plan. We double-check the pantry, refrigerator, and freezer to see what we still have on hand. Then we write down, on a sticky note, what meals will work well for the next few days. The person who is making the meal gets to pick from the list what they want to make.  

When it is my turn to cook, I have started taking votes from the children about which meal they want me to make. Usually someone is disappointed, but they know we can make their choice for the next meal. My children have also become more focused helpers in the kitchen. They do not have the typical distractions (friends, grandparents) that cause them to run off in the middle of helping. I enjoy having an extra set (or two) of hands in the kitchen with me.

While I look forward to the future when I can make weekly grocery trips and meal plans again, I hope my family can continue this cooperative style of planning and cooking that we have started.

Couple cooking

Justine Hoover

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

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A Glimpse into Katy’s Kitchen – Part 2

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. 

Cheers to planning out your meals this week!

Katy Moscoso

Katy Moscoso is a Program Specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. As a new mom she is always on the lookout for easy, healthy recipes to prepare for her family.

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Now is the Time

Today I would like to share about mindful eating and keeping families healthy. This is especially relevant for these interesting times while we stay close to home because of COVID-19. Many of us are well aware of money-saving strategies and have ideas of how we’d eat better or cook more if we just had time.  We’ve put those ideas in our “back pockets” for the time when we REALLY need them. With the uncertainty of how long the social distancing and disrupted lifestyle may go on, I think it’s a great opportunity to employ some of these great ideas. The gift of time makes it possible to try things that just didn’t seem possible before due to hectic schedules. See if any of these ideas would work for your family!

  1. Include structure in your day with planning set meal times.  Along with that, limit between meal snacking to set times with limited portions to ensure a good appetite at when meal-time rolls around. 
  2. Plan your menus for an entire week, along with a grocery list. Let everyone be part of the process! Set some ground rules for planning, like including items from at least 4 food groups at each meal.  What a great opportunity for nutrition education in the kitchen! Find out more about the food groups at ChooseMyPlate.gov
  3. Trying a new recipe for something that you would usually purchase as a processed food, like chicken strips, refried beans, or maybe using up that leftover can of pumpkin in your cupboard and trying Chocolate Surprise Cupcakes
  4. Cook together and learn some new skills. Check out our variety of videos to get started. 
  5. Get inspired by watching a cooking show as a family and plan a dish from it into your weekly menu.
  6. Eat together as a family at the table, and make plans for sharing responsibilities of setting the table, serving, cleaning up and cooking.
  7. Explore the different recipe categories on the Spend Smart. Eat Smart. recipe page together.
  8. Inventory your cupboards, freezer, and refrigerator and brainstorm together about what you could use to create a meal.
  9. Have fun together! 

What better time could there be than now to change up old habits and push re-set on healthy eating at home? If you start now, you just might have time to adopt some new, lifechanging behaviors before it’s back to “business as usual” and the hustle and bustle. Practicing new behaviors when we can be mindful and supportive of each other can be a great positive move toward the habits that you’ve only dreamt of in the past.  

Judy Dittmar is a Registered Dietitian and mom with a wealth of experience in the classroom, kitchen, and garden. She enjoys hiking and running state park trails, and generally being outdoors.

Chocolate cupcakes

Justine Hoover

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

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Meals and Snacks from the Pantry

In the coming weeks many of us will be spending most of our time at home and doing lots of food preparation for ourselves and our families. As you prepare your grocery list and plan your meals for the weeks ahead, below are some Spend Smart. Eat Smart. recipes that can be made from pantry staples or made ahead and frozen.

These recipes use items I keep on hand to help with quick, nutritious meals for my family.  Some of my go-to staple ingredients are canned beans, canned tomatoes, canned fruit, chicken broth, peanut butter, quick oats, frozen vegetables, frozen fruit, whole wheat tortillas, brown rice, whole grain cereals, whole wheat bread, frozen chicken breast, and onions. Since most of us are still able to get to the grocery store, there is no need to buy excessive amounts of food, but buy some extra items each time you go so you have a good supply on hand and do not need to go as often.

Winter Black Bean Soup

Oatmeal Pancakes

Peanut Butter Balls

Crispy Granola

Make Ahead Burritos

Berry and Greens Smoothies

Mexican Chicken Soup

Vegetable Quesadillas

Lentil Tacos

And to help you with your meal planning, check out our 5 Day Meal Planner.

Stay healthy!

Make Ahead Burritos

Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood is a Registered Dietitian who enjoys spending time in the kitchen baking and preparing meals for her family. She does lots of meal planning to stay organized and feed her family nutritious meals.

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Eat Your Beans at (Almost) Every Meal

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. 

Cheers to swapping out your protein this week!

Zucchinni humus wrap meal

Katy Moscoso

Katy Moscoso is a Program Specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. As a new mom she is always on the lookout for easy, healthy recipes to prepare for her family.

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Make Veggies the Star

Adults should eat an average of two to three cups of vegetables per day depending on age and sex. Does this sound like a lot to you? If you are balancing a busy schedule, a tight grocery budget and often eating meals on the go, this may seem like a high bar to reach. I have found that making vegetables my main dish once per day helps me reach 2 ½ cups per day, which is the recommendation for me. 

At lunch, I do this by packing salads to take to work. Some of my favorites from our recipe collection are Zesty Whole Grain Salad, Summer Bounty Salad and Chicken Club Salad. Each of these packs up well and gets me at least half-way to my 2 ½ cups of vegetables per day. Generally, I eat the rest of my veggies as snacks and as a side dish at dinner. 

Soup can also be a very vegetable-rich main dish. I make soup nearly every week and keep a variety of soups in single-serve containers in my freezer. I will admit that I improvise soup a lot. I make soup out of the veggies that I have left in my fridge at the end of the week. Sometimes I use other leftovers such as herbs, potatoes, meat, beans and grains as well. This not only leads to a tasty meal, but also helps me prevent food waste and make good use of the food I have before I buy more. When I feel like using a recipe, one of my favorites is Vegetable Soup with Kale and Lentils

How do you make veggies the star of your meals? Please share your ideas in the comments or on our social media.

Take care!

Chicken Club Salad

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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Vegetable Frittata

Our March recipe of the month is Vegetable Frittata. We have breakfast for supper once each week at my home, so I use this recipe often. When my children see this recipe on the table, they call it egg pizza because we cut it into triangles when we serve it.

Here are some of the reasons why Vegetable Frittata is on my favorites list:

  • Eggs are an inexpensive source of protein. Plus, my family really likes eggs.
  • I can chop up vegetables that are leftover from other meals for this recipe. Almost any vegetable will work.
  • It comes together quickly. This is a good recipe for a night when I do not have much time to cook.
  • The leftovers make a tasty breakfast. We do not have leftovers of this recipe very often, but when we do, they taste great when reheated in the microwave for breakfast the next morning.

One important thing to remember about this recipe is to use an ovenproof skillet. The last step is to broil the eggs in the oven for a few minutes, so you want to be sure it is safe to put your skillet in the oven.


Vegetable Frittata Meal

Justine Hoover

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

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Overnight Oats

Our February recipe of the month is Overnight Oats.  This recipe makes breakfast time easy and filling. In the evening, you stir together your oats and liquid ingredients, tightly cover the mixture, and leave it in the refrigerator overnight.  In the morning, add your favorite toppings and enjoy a great tasting and filling breakfast.

We have three different types of overnight oats for you to try – pumpkin, peanut butter, and yogurt.  Here is how I like my overnight oats:

  • Pumpkin:  the pumpkin overnight oats are my favorite because I love everything pumpkin flavored.  I usually just stir a teaspoon of chia seeds into these oats.
  • Peanut butter:  the peanut butter overnight oats fill me up the most because of the added protein and fat from the peanut butter.  I love bananas with peanut butter, so I usually add a sliced banana to these oats.
  • Yogurt:  yogurt is a food that I have a hard time eating on its own, so mixing yogurt into oats is a great way for me to get the benefits of yogurt.  I like to add berries and chopped nuts to these oats. 

The best thing about this recipe is that you can make it your own with the liquid ingredients and the toppings.  The link to the recipe is below and it includes all three varieties of overnight oats.


Overnight oats

Justine Hoover

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

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Last July I wrote a blog about challenging myself to eat vegetables at breakfast to help me get more veggies in my day. I have to admit, I’ve not done very well at keeping up with that challenge. However, I’m still being mindful of how I can eat more vegetables throughout the day and during meal time. One item I have started buying at the grocery store is chopped salad kits that seem to be the current trend. Even though there have been salad kits around for quite a while, I have never gotten into the habit of buying them. I gave the chopped salad kits a try and it turns out I really like them! Here are a few reasons why:

  1. The different kits include nutrient dense leafy greens like red and green cabbage, kale, Brussel sprouts, romaine and green leaf lettuce. A lot of them also include green onion and carrots.
  2. There are many different flavors to choose from. So far I’ve enjoyed Chipotle and Cheddar, BBQ Ranch, Pomegranate, and Thai. 
  3. I can enjoy the salads without having to buy a bunch of different ingredients in full-size packages. This can help reduce food waste because we easily eat all of the salad before it goes bad. Sometimes if we have a larger amount of leafy greens, some go bad before we get to them.
  4. They are easy to mix together and add as a side dish to a meal.
  5. And maybe the biggest reason I like them is because my 10 year old son, who doesn’t like many vegetables, will eat them!

As much as I like them, there are a few things that I see as downsides.

  1. They can be expensive. At regular price they can cost between $3.50 and 4.00. And this is for national or store brands. Each bag has about 3 ½ 1 cup servings. Therefore, I buy them when they are on sale. Recently, a national brand was on sale at one of the stores I shop at for $1.88 so I bought 3 of them. My co—worker mentioned that she has gotten them for $1.00 when they are almost to their ‘best if used by’ date. 
  2. There are three different plastic bags with ingredients. There is the large bag with the salad and then two smaller bags; one with the dressing and one with the toppings. Therefore, I try to reduce my use of plastic bags by bringing reusable grocery shopping bags and a reusable produce bag. 

If you have a goal of eating more vegetables, you might try one of the chopped salad kits as a side dish at an upcoming meal. If you would rather make your own salad, we have many recipes on our website.

plate of Salad isolated on white

Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood is a Registered Dietitian who enjoys spending time in the kitchen baking and preparing meals for her family. She does lots of meal planning to stay organized and feed her family nutritious meals.

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