A Glimpse into Katy’s Kitchen

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. 

Cheers to organizing your kitchen space!

Katy Moscoso

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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Mom, I’m hungry!

These are words I hear often in my house these days. As my family spends our days at home, snacking is something my kids want to do more often. If you’ve found yourself in the same boat, here are some tips that I use for snacks (and meals too!) at our house.

  1. Set a meal and snack schedule. This is something we always do, it’s just that our routine has changed. Even though our days are less structured, I still keep a meal and snack schedule so my kids know when the next opportunity to eat is. I offer a meal or snack for my kids every 3-4 hours.
  2. Offer foods with protein, fat, and fiber. These three things provide us with the nutrition we need each day and help to fill us up until it’s time to eat again. For example, Goldfish are a popular snack for kids. However, they are low in protein, fat and fiber. Therefore, if they are offered as a snack, provide a cheese stick with them since it has protein and fat (and calcium!) and will help make this tasty snack more filling.
  3. Eat in the kitchen. At our house, we eat in the kitchen. This keeps us from mindlessly eating in the living room or our bedrooms. And it prevents crumbs from being found all around the house!
  4. Eat from a bowl or plate. One of my daughter’s favorite snacks is popcorn. She likes to get it from the cupboard and start eating it from the bag. Then I gently remind her that we eat our meals and snacks from a bowl or plate. This also helps us not mindlessly eat. 

Here are some snacks we like at our house:

  • Popcorn
  • Cheese sticks
  • Beef sticks
  • Apple and peanut butter
  • Pepper strips, carrots and snap peas with hummus
  • Cottage cheese
  • Peanut Butter Balls
  • Whole wheat crackers
  • Muffins 
  • Trail mix
peanut butter balls
Jody Gatewood

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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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

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

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Making Homemade Bread

No Knead Whole Wheat Bread is a favorite in my home. My family has been making fewer trips to the grocery store as we continue to social distance. I have not been to the store in 12 days, so that means our supply of fresh foods is running low. But we still really like to have bread with our meals, so I have been making homemade bread more often. For the past two Sundays, we have worked to make a loaf of this bread together.  To make it, you pour all of the ingredients into a large bowl, beat them together, spread the dough in a pan, let the dough rise, bake the bread, and serve. 

Here are some ways we enjoy this bread in my home:

  • As a side dish to soups, salads, and casseroles.
  • Grilled cheese sandwiches.
  • Toast with butter or peanut butter.
  • Bread and butter as a morning snack.

I hope you like this recipe as much as my family does and find it useful during this time.  To turn bread making into a family activity, have children of all ages help with measuring and taking turns beating the dough.

Enjoy!

No Knead Whole Wheat Bread

Justine Hoover

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

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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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

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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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.

Enjoy!

Overnight oats
Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover

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

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Chopped!

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

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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Homemade Protein Snacks

Last week I shared the cost and nutrition of three different brands of protein packs. However, when comparing the price of an individual pack to building my own at home, the results can’t be beat. I saved money, used a reusable container to avoid waste, and got more protein than I would have with the store-bought snack packs.

Here are some ideas for building your own protein snack pack. As you can see, most of the items are cheaper than buying the pre-packaged option! All of these snack packs have 10 grams or more of protein per serving and varying calories based on your needs. 

Build your own: 


Grocery Store Total Cost per ServingSupermarket Total Cost per ServingCalories (kcal)Protein (grams)
1 ounce ham + 1 ounce cheddar cheese + 2 tablespoons almonds$1.53$0.9222020
1 ounce cheddar cheese + 2 tablespoons almonds + 2 tablespoons dried cranberries $1.16$0.9025010
1 boiled egg + 1 ounce ham + ½ cup carrots$1.13$0.6016517
2 tablespoons hummus + ½ cup carrots + 1 string cheese $0.97$0.6217510
1 ounce turkey jerky + 1 string cheese$2.12$1.1815020
½ apple + 2 tablespoons peanut butter + 1 string cheese $0.80$0.7030014

To get the most out of the protein you consume, try spreading it throughout the day. Healthy adults need 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day, according to the Recommended Daily Allowance. The average female would need around 46 grams, and the average male needs around 56 grams of protein each day. 

This blog was written by Iowa State University Dietetic Intern Laurynn Verry.

Protein Snack Boxes – Convenient or Costly?

From work or school to sports practices, events and everything in between, finding time to eat during the day can be difficult! It seems like grabbing a quick snack at the grocery store is a perfect solution…until you compare the cost to individual servings of protein foods. Yes, I will admit that I am guilty of buying these little convenient protein packs to stash in my lunch for a quick afternoon snack before I head out the door to my next event. However, I might rethink how much I’m spending on this packs. 

Below are some common protein packs, which vary from 1.5 – 2 ounce portions. There are many brands that make these packs. I chose these three because they are common national brands and not because of any particular attributes of the products. The average cost from a smaller grocery store was $1.89, the price at a larger supermarket was $1.28 and from a convenience store was $1.75


Cost/Serving Grocery StoreCost/Serving SupermarketCost/Serving Convenience Store Calories* (kcal) Protein* (grams)
Oscar Mayer P3 (ham, almonds, cheddar – 2.3 ounces)$2.19$1.50$1.9919012 
Sargento Balanced Breaks (white cheddar cheese, almonds, dried cranberries – 1.5 ounces)$1.49$1.09$1.691807
Hormel Natural Choice (ham, white cheddar cheese, dark chocolate pretzels – 2 ounces)$1.99$1.25$1.5918010
Average Cost:$1.89$1.28$1.75

*Calorie and protein information from supermarket website

After researching the pre-packaged protein packs, I wanted to check pricing on individual items. Here is what I found. 

Individual costs of protein foods


Cost/Serving Grocery StoreCost/Serving SupermarketCalories* (kcal)Protein* (grams)
Ham – 2 ounces$0.62$0.366010
Almonds – ¼ cup $0.55$0.351606
Peanuts – 1 ounce$0.19$0.121607
Cheddar cheese – 1 ounce$0.25$0.211107
String cheese – 1 each $0.29$0.24707
Eggs – 1 each$0.12$0.05706
Hummus – 2 tablespoons$0.29$0.19702
Peanut butter – 2 tablespoons$0.11$0.091907
Turkey jerky – 1 ounce $1.83$0.948013

*Calorie and protein information from supermarket website

Some of these have more protein in them as a single item than the snack pack as a whole! I even have many of them on hand at home.  Next week, I will share how I put together some of these snack packs in my own kitchen.

This blog was written by Iowa State University Dietetic Intern Laurynn Verry.

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