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.

Meatballs

Meatballs

Happy New Year!  Our January recipe of the month is Meatballs.  This recipe is on the menu plan regularly at my home because everyone in my family likes it and because it is versatile.

I have heard a lot of family members and friends complaining recently about being in a meal rut.  If you are feeling the same way, this meatball recipe may be for you. Last week I made a double batch of these and was able to use them for several different meals:

  • Meatballs work well on their own with a fruit and a vegetable on the side.
  • Serve meatballs with noodles and a favorite sauce to make your own version of spaghetti and meatballs.
  • Leftover meatballs make tasty sandwiches topped with cheese and veggies.

These meatballs freeze well, so you can freeze them in individual servings for future meals.  Use this recipe your way and let us know how you like it.

Enjoy!

meatballs

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover

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

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Christine’s Spend Smart. Eat Smart. Favorites

We are having a lot of fun this month sharing our personal favorites from the Spend Smart. Eat Smart. recipe collection. Maintaining our website, app and blog is really fun and one of the best parts is trying out new recipes to share with all of you. Here are some of my favorites!

  • I am a big fan of simple vegetables that do not take a lot of fuss to make. Roasted Broccoli is super simple and my favorite way to eat broccoli.
  • Pancakes have been one of my favorites since I was a little girl and our Blueberry Pancakes are delicious!
  • On busy weekday mornings, breakfast at my house has to be fast. I can bake these Scrambled Egg Muffins on Sunday when I have a bit of time and then just heat them up in the microwave when I need them. They can stay in the refrigerator for up to 4 days or I can freeze them if I need to make them further ahead.
  • I love hearty salads; especially ones that can be made ahead. Our Zesty Whole Grain Salad is so tasty and the ingredients are available all year-round. 
  • After a long day, I love to have dinner in one bowl with all kinds of tasty things mixed together. Sweet Pork Stir Fry has protein, veggies and whole grain noodles in a tasty sauce. Another bonus – it is really pretty!

We would love to hear some of the recipes you have tried from our site and how they worked for you. Please share in the comments section on this blog or send us a message on social media. Happy Cooking!

Sweet Pork Stir Fry
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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Jody’s Top Picks

Last week Justine started our series on our favorite Spend Smart. Eat Smart. recipes. Today I’m excited to share a few of my family’s favorites. I have to admit, it took me a bit to decide which ones I wanted to share. I have a number of them saved under My Recipes on the Spend Smart. Eat Smart. app. To save a recipe, just find it in the app and click the heart icon near the top. It will be saved in your My Recipes list for easy access. Here are just a few of my top picks.

Main dish: Tamale Pie– This one wasn’t hard for me to choose as my favorite. I tell everyone about this recipe and make it often. It is easy to make and has great flavor. The leftovers (if there are any) are good too! 

Salad: Chicken Salad-I often make this using canned chicken so it comes together quickly. It’s good for a quick lunch or supper.

Soups: Mexican Chicken Soup– My family eats a lot of soup and this one is a favorite. The ingredients are ones that I can keep on hand, so I can make it if I need a last minute meal. 

Desserts: Peanut Butter Balls-My 6-year-old daughter LOVES these. She asks to make them weekly. I like to make a larger batch and freeze them. We eat them for dessert and as snacks. 

Snacks: Berry and Greens Smoothies-I make a batch of these to freeze and we eat them for breakfast. I like to take one to work with me and have for a mid-morning snack. 

If you haven’t already downloaded the Spend Smart. Eat Smart. app, do it today and start creating your list of favorites!

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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Mushroom Quinoa

Our December recipe of the month is Mushroom Quinoa.  This recipe includes sautéed mushrooms, and any recipe with sautéed mushrooms is a win for me.  The mushrooms are cooked with onions, garlic, herbs, ground black pepper, and salt. At the end, cooked quinoa is stirred in to make a tasty side dish.  If you are not a mushroom lover like me, you can substitute a different soft vegetable such as bell peppers or zucchini.

Since I love any recipe with mushrooms, this recipe is the perfect lead in for a theme we are going to explore all month.  We are each going to take a week to share our favorite Spend Smart. Eat Smart. recipes with you. To start us off, here are some of my favorites:

  • Soup:  Autumn Soup, I like the smooth texture and the rich flavor of this soup.  I use it often in the fall when winter squash is abundant.
  • Salad:  Croutons, I know this is not technically a salad, but these homemade croutons make it more likely that my family will eat salad.
  • Main Dish:  Black Bean Burgers, my family loves burgers and this is an economical and tasty way to serve them more often.
  • Side Dish:  No Knead Whole Wheat Bread, my family will eat this homemade bread for any meal or snack, it also makes a great grilled cheese sandwich.
  • Snack/Dessert:  Frozen Pudding Sandwiches, my children often request these and they can double as a snack or a dessert.

Please comment below with your favorite recipes, we would love to know.

Enjoy!

mushroom quinoa
Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover

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

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All Forms Fit!

Last week Christine shared some tips for storing produce so you can enjoy it before it spoils. One of the tips was to mix up the form of fruits and veggies that you use. As she mentioned, all forms can be part of a healthy eating pattern. Using different forms of produce in my meal plans helps my family and I eat the recommended amounts of fruits and vegetables while still staying within my budget and the amount of time I have to spend in the kitchen.

Here are some questions I ask myself when I’m deciding which form to buy.

  • Is the produce in season? I buy fresh produce when it’s in season. It costs less and is likely to be at it’s peak flavor. When it’s not in season, I don’t buy it or I buy it frozen or canned. You can freeze extra produce if time and space allow for use at a later time. For more information on freezing produce, check out this handout.
  • How will I use the produce? For example, if I’ll use tomatoes in a soup or stew, I’ll most often choose canned tomatoes. However, if I’m using the tomatoes in a salad, fresh tomatoes are probably a better choice.
  • How much waste is there? If I buy fresh broccoli, I’ll pay for the entire weight, even though my recipe might only call for florets. In this case, I may choose the frozen broccoli florets.
  • How much time will it save me overall? In addition to the cooking time, I also think about the preparation and clean-up time. When I’m short on time during the week, I plan meals that use produce that takes little time to prepare. For me, this means I use more frozen and canned options on weeknights.

Here are some of the different forms of fruits and vegetables that my family enjoys for our meals and snacks. 

Fresh: baby carrots, bell peppers, snap peas, spinach, lettuce, tomatoes, apples, bananas, oranges, pears, grapes, peaches, blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries

Frozen: peas, corn, carrots, broccoli, stir fry vegetables, mixed vegetables, blueberries, and mixed berries

Canned: black beans, tomatoes, green beans, pineapple, mandarin oranges, and applesauce

Dried: raisins and cranberries

Juice: 100% orange juice
For more information, watch our video on How to Get the Best Deal on Fruits and Vegetables.

Tomato
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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Fruit and Veggie Staying Power

After I have spent time and money buying groceries, the last thing I want to happen is food going in the trash. I try my best to prevent it through planning meals and snacks that I know will lead to all of my perishable food getting used before it spoils. Even with a solid meal plan for the week, it is important to store fruits and vegetables in the best way to maximize their shelf life. Here are some tips to avoid the dreaded fuzzy fruit or slimy lettuce in your fridge!

  1. Store all cut or peeled fruit and vegetables in the refrigerator. Prioritize eating these soon after they are cut.
  2. Mix up your fruit and veggie forms. Frozen and canned vegetables are healthy choices that fit well into many meals. When choosing canned fruits, choose items that are not canned in heavy syrup, which adds a lot of sugar to the fruit. Many canned vegetables are now available in reduced sodium varieties as well.
  3. Store food in the right place. Some go straight to the fridge; some need time on the counter before refrigeration and some can be stored at room temperature for multiple weeks. This one-page document outlines where different types of fruits and veggies should be stored. 
  4. There are products like bags and containers on the market that claim to extend produce shelf life. You may choose to use these, but the tips above will go a long way to preventing fruit and veggie waste without having to buy anything special.

Enjoy making half your plate fruits and veggies without wasting food or money!

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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Soup’s on!

Soup is a favorite meal in my house during the fall or winter. Well, for my husband, soup is a favorite all year round! I enjoy making soup since there are so many different combinations and nearly all of them are a one-pot meal! I also like that I can make many of them in the slow cooker. This allows me to start them before heading to work and supper is ready when I get home.

Of the different soups I make, chili gets a high rating from my family so I thought I’d share some of our chili recipes from Spend Smart. Eat Smart. 

  • 10 Minute Chili: This is a very basic chili recipe that you can make your own by adding different spices, veggies or toppings. It is an easy way to introduce the flavors of chili to children as well. 
  • Vegetarian Chili: This bean and veggie chili is a nice option for a potluck or other occasion where you may not know if there are vegetarians in the group. 
  • Three Can Chili: This chili could not be simpler and it uses products you can keep on hand in your pantry. Depending on your child’s skills and experience in the kitchen, they may be able to make this recipe almost entirely on their own. 
  • Slow Cooker Pork Chili: This is a rich and delicious chili for the slow cooker. It is very tasty leftover as well as fresh from the pot. 

Try one of these soon on a cold winter day!

bowl of chili
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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Stress-Free Halloween

You were expecting us to blog about handing out pencils instead of candy, right? Though non-candy treats are a way to celebrate the holiday without loading up on sugar, most kids don’t get very excited about that approach and we want happy kids on Halloween. Celebrating with some candy is fun for all ages. 

Since we all know the piles of candy are coming, here are a few ideas for dealing with them in a healthy way.

  1. Eat a healthy and hearty meal before you head out to trick-or-treat. Children will be less likely to overdo it on candy if their tummies are full. Since the evening will be busy, consider a slow-cooker meal that you can put on early in the day like our Slow Cooker Pork Chili.
  2. Some experts think that strictly limiting candy at Halloween makes children even more fanatical about it. Consider allowing children to eat what they want on Halloween night and then set limits that make sense for your family going forward.
  3. Talk with your child about a plan for all of the candy before they get it. Consider allowing a piece or two every night after they eat supper over the course of a week. If they know the expectations in advance, they may be more likely to cooperate. 
  4. Though we generally avoid wasting food whenever we can, candy is a little different. If your child brings home pounds of candy, it is OK to have them choose the ones they like best, eat them over the course of a week or so and toss the others. 

Happy Halloween from the Spend Smart. Eat Smart. Team! Enjoy your candy!

Bowl of halloween candy
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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