On the Road Again

With travel restrictions lifting, my family and I are starting to spend quite a bit of time in the car to make up for a year of little travel. My husband and I have family and friends across the country. Flying with a toddler does not seem like an easy task so we have started to take smaller road trips in the past several months. Depending on the time of day that we are traveling, we often need to have snack breaks. When we travel, we try to pick healthier options at gas stations and rest stops. Today I would like to share some of our favorites with you!

A few of my go-to travel snacks include trail mix, fresh fruits and vegetables, cheese sticks, pretzels, and popcorn. Most rest stops and gas stations have a variety of healthier snack options. I have had good luck finding whole grain snacks, whole fruits and a variety of trail mix options at gas stations. One thing I have noticed is that convenience store options tend to be more expensive. On our last road trip, I purchased a small bag of trail mix from a gas station for $4.79. Compared to my local grocery store, this was almost $2 more than what I would typically spend on a similar item.

Therefore, when I know I am going to be traveling, I try to plan my snacks and purchase them ahead of time. Spend Smart. Eat Smart. has a number of easy, inexpensive snack items that are great for road trips. Some of my favorites are the Popcorn Trail Mix and Breakfast Cookies. For items that need to be kept cold, like string cheese, I will pack a small cooler or lunchbox with ice packs and a thermometer to make sure they stay safe.

I would love to hear if you have packed any of the Spend Smart. Eat Smart. recipes in your travel bag. Feel free to share any of your go-to travel snacks with us on social media or in the comments section. Cheers to your next road trip adventure!

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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Cooking for Fewer During the Holidays

I love to cook, especially around the holidays! There is something nostalgic about bringing out the box of old recipe cards that are covered in stains and mark-ups from family members altering recipes throughout the years. Cooking holiday meals is a way that I show those around me that I love them, and this has been something that I have had to get more creative with during the past year.

Holidays looked a lot different for many of us in 2020 and this year is off to a similar start. Smaller, more intimate gatherings are still recommended, leading to a slightly different mindset when planning those traditional holiday meals. Check out my list of holiday cooking alterations below to cook for a smaller crowd this holiday season.

  1. Halve your recipes– Over the years I have found that the family favorite recipes that my grandma, mom and aunts used for holiday cooking were meant to feed a village! By cutting those recipes in half, I can spend more money on other ingredients for additional recipes and am not stuck with mountains of leftovers.
  2. Pick recipes that can be used for future meals– Cooking for smaller numbers of family this past year required me to get creative. I love the idea of having versatile ingredients and leftovers that can be used for other meals. Easy Roasted Veggies are a fan favorite at my house any time of the year and the leftover veggies can be used in other recipes like Vegetable Frittata and Vegetable Quesadillas. Ham is a traditional Easter food in my family which leads to a lot of leftovers. I love using leftover ham in soups and quiches. A few of our favorite recipes to use ham are Turkey Vegetable Quiche and Split Pea Soup.
  3. Share the cooking with others– A lot of our neighbors used to travel for the holidays but with the pandemic we have found that everyone is cooking for fewer people or cooking for the first time in several years! I love having meal swaps with my neighbors and the same can be said during the holidays. You may find a new family favorite this way!
  4. Find fun ways to eat your meal with those you love– Not only is cooking for a holiday different during a pandemic, but you are also limited to who you can have in your home to celebrate. Hop on Facetime or a Zoom call with loved ones and coordinate your mealtimes to eat with each other. It is a fun way to talk about the foods you have prepared, and you can still celebrate the holidays with those you love!

Find creative ways to celebrate with those around you to keep the holiday season fun and memorable. Cheers to good health in 2021!

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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Preventing Food Waste at Jody’s House

Over the past few weeks you have heard lots of great ideas from Christine, Justine, and Katy on how they prevent food waste in their homes. As we wrap up our series today, I will share a few things we do at my house to prevent food waste.

Leftovers: In my house, we love leftovers. So each week when I do my menu planning, I include a day for leftovers. That means I don’t have to cook and we use up food before it spoils. We also like leftovers for breakfast and lunch. Leftover soup for breakfast, why not! Taking leftovers for lunch also means we save money because my husband and I aren’t going out to lunch.

Flexible Recipes: Christine mentioned using flexible recipes as one way she uses up leftover vegetables. I also like to use flexible recipes at my house. However, I like to use flexible recipes that allow my 11 year old son and 7 year old daughter to personalize the meal to their preferred taste. That way I know they are more likely to eat it and less food will be thrown away. These recipes allow children to help out in the kitchen and turn leftovers into something new:

*Instead of a large cookie crust, we like to make individual cookies. That way we each get to put on our favorite toppings. This works well to use up leftover canned, fresh, or frozen fruit.

Freezer: I use my freezer to extend how long I can keep food so that I can use it up before throwing it out. Right now my freezer has a number of ripe bananas in it that will soon be turned into bread or muffins! I also freeze leftovers if we aren’t able to eat them up within 2-3 days. Watch our video on freezing leftovers for tips on how to preserve the flavor, texture, and color of food.

I hope the tips we’ve shared during the past few weeks will be helpful for you in preventing food waste at your house.


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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Preventing Food Waste with a Toddler

Parenting a toddler can be tough, especially when it comes to snacks and mealtimes. I remember hearing stories from my friends about their picky eaters and thought my child would be different. Boy was I wrong! Over the past few months, mealtime has become quite the challenge at my house. My toddler’s favorite foods come and go, and I have had to alter our meal planning to fit her needs during this phase.

As we focus on preventing food waste during this month’s blog series, I also wanted to focus on the idea of preventing kitchen waste. Mealtime can be extra messy with little ones and I found that I was creating a lot of kitchen waste with paper towels, snack baggies, and food containers. I decided to make a few changes in our home to address our kitchen waste, and they have made quite the difference!

  1. During mealtime, serve small amounts of a food first to eliminate having to throw away food. Our toddler is skeptical of new foods, and even some of our tried and true favorites. To keep it less overwhelming, we give her small amounts of each food item knowing she can ask for more. If she doesn’t like something, we either save it in a small container to try again the next day or if we do end up throwing it away, it’s only a spoonful or two.
  2. Invest in extra burp cloths or kitchen towels to clean up messes instead of relying on paper towels. I have lost count of how many times I have had to wipe up spilled milk or clean peanut butter slathered surfaces around my house. To eliminate extra waste, we have started to use old burp cloths and rags as our ‘paper towels’ that can be washed and reused.
  3. Cut down on pre-packaged snacks and invest in reusable containers. I make our own grab and go snacks with reusable bags or cups instead of plastic baggies. Instead of buying individually wrapped animal crackers and applesauce pouches, I buy those items in larger containers to cut down on the amount of plastic and cardboard in my trash. A household favorite is Popcorn Trail Mix that can be stored in a large bowl in the pantry and put into reusable containers when running errands or going to the park.
  4. Add in leftover days to continue introducing new foods. For my toddler, if we continue to introduce a new food, she is more likely to try it. I use the Five- Day Meal Planner and incorporate leftovers 2-3 days a week for both lunch and supper to cut down on throwing away food.  Typically, by the third introduction the new food will be consumed by our skeptical eater.

Only buy certain items in bulk. Toddlers especially go through phases of loving something one week and disliking it the next. I have made the rookie mistake of overbuying a food item only to be stuck with 20 apple zucchini pouches (which I used for baking to avoid throwing them away!). Cereal is always a necessity in my house. Buying cereal and plain apple sauce in bulk works for us. Buy the items you know will be used regardless of your child’s preferences in bulk and keep other purchases smaller in scale. These are a few ideas that work for my family-if you also have a little one at home, I hope you find these tips useful. Cheers to finding ways to cut down on your own kitchen waste!

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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The Food Waste Challenge at Justine’s Home

Two weeks ago, Christine shared the ways she reduces food waste in her home. I like the way Christine thinks of her freezer as a pantry and ensures that foods are coming out and being eaten just as often as they are going in. That is something I plan to be more purposeful about going forward. Today I am going to tell you about one of the ways I reduce food waste in my home – I call it the food waste challenge.

Over the course of a week or a month small amounts of food build up in my pantry and refrigerator that do not fit into my meal plan for the coming week. It may be a couple of tortillas, half an onion, or some tomato sauce at the bottom of a jar. This does not seem like much uneaten food at the time, but it adds up as the weeks go on. So, about every two months, I do my food waste challenge. I commit to using up this extra food for meals and snacks before I allow myself to go back to the grocery store.

I just completed a food waste challenge this week and I am proud of how it went. The main meal I made was chicken noodle soup. In the refrigerator I had a partial container of chicken broth and some vegetables that needed to be used up, in the freezer I had some chicken and a bag of frozen peas that was nearly gone, and in the pantry I had half a bag of egg noodles. The hardest meal of each day was breakfast because we did not have a lot of traditional breakfast foods left. One morning my children enjoyed a breakfast buffet that included cottage cheese, crackers, dry cereal, and applesauce.

As a final disclaimer – sometimes this challenge works and sometimes it does not. There are times when I have to go to the grocery store for some essentials to get through the week. There are also times when I have to throw food away, but I hope that it is less food than what I would have thrown out had I not challenged myself to use what I could.

Let me know if you ever do your own food waste challenge and tell me how it went.


Justine Hoover

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

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Preventing Food Waste at Christine’s House

I live on my own and I LOVE to cook! People often ask me if I make homemade food for just myself and if I end up with a lot of leftovers going to waste. I do cook for myself all the time and I very rarely throw out leftovers. I am excited to share some of the strategies I use and I hope some will work for you too.

Meal Planning: The most important strategy that I use is meal planning. I sit down each week and decide what I would most like to cook. I decide based on the weather, the season and how much time I will have that week. The plan helps me choose what perishable foods I need to buy and helps me feel confident that they will get used without going to waste. The plan also lays out which days I am going to cook. I do not cook dinner every night; I often cook 3 times per week.

My Friend the Freezer: I rarely cook a meal that I will only eat once. When I cook, I normally plan to eat one or two servings within four days of making the dish and I freeze the rest in small containers. I often hear people say that this strategy would not work for them because their freezer is too full. My approach to that problem is that I add prepared dishes to my freezer every week, but I also eat dishes from it every week. I view it like a pantry with a constant stream of food in and out. I use about half of my freezer this way and the other half has frozen meat and vegetables that I keep on hand for longer term storage. As I plan my meals for the week, I always plan at least a few meals that are going to involve taking a prepared dish out of the freezer. That way, I know there will be space freed up for the things I cook fresh that week. The big bonus is that my freezer almost always has a wide variety of tasty things in it that just involve a quick zap in the microwave.

Flexible Recipes: I build a meal into my plan every week or two that is a good ‘use-up’ meal. By that, I mean that the recipe is a good way to use up whatever fresh vegetables that are left in the bottom of the produce drawer before they spoil. Many soups, stews, pastas and stir-fry dishes work well for this. Vegetable Frittata and Sausage Vegetable Skillet from the Spend Smart. Eat Smart. recipe collection are flexible to work with whatever vegetables you have.

I hope these strategies help you see how you can enjoy cooking whatever dishes you like even if you live on your own. Watch our blog for the next few weeks to hear from Jody, Justine and Katy on how they reduce food waste in their own homes. Happy cooking!

Christine

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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Banana Ice Cream

Our July recipe of the month is Banana Ice Cream. This is a tasty summer treat that my family likes to make and eat together. My daughter, Eliza, helped me make some over the weekend and she did a great job! You can watch our kitchen adventures in the Banana Ice Cream video.

Banana Ice Cream is one of our summer favorites because:

  • It is a great use for overripe bananas. I find that bananas ripen very quickly in the summer, so I have to find creative ways of using them before they go bad.
  • It is a simple recipe. It only requires bananas and a little bit of milk. In the evening, Eliza helped me slice and freeze the bananas. The next morning, she ran the blender while I added the milk.
  • It works for any meal or snack. Eliza likes to have Banana Ice Cream for breakfast because she likes to tell people that she is allowed to eat ice cream for breakfast.
  • It is ice cream on demand if you keep sliced bananas in the freezer. No need to go out and wait in line at the ice cream shop on a hot night.

If you have some bananas ripening too fast like we did, give Banana Ice Cream a try. I think you will like it. Enjoy!

banana ice cream

Justine Hoover

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

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What are Lentils?

Have you heard of lentils? Do you cook with them? I did not grow up eating lentils, so I did not know what they were until I started working for Iowa State. I learned that lentils are tiny, disc-shaped legumes. Legumes are plants that have seed pods, like beans and peas. In the kitchen, lentils are used as a quick-cooking and inexpensive plant protein that is tasty in main dishes or as a side dish.

If you are interested in learning more about lentils or cooking with them, we have you covered here at Spend Smart. Eat Smart. We have some great ways for you to use lentils in your kitchen:

Watch the video below to see my son, Kenny, and I make a batch of lentils for lunch. We served them wrapped in tortillas with shredded cheese, vegetables, and sour cream. They were a hit! Enjoy!

cooking with lentils

Justine Hoover

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

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Sloppy Joes or Janes or Jimmys

The name of this blog may be silly, but it is meant to show that this recipe is super flexible. It can be used to make traditional Sloppy Joes or something a little different based on what you have and what you like. We chose to feature this recipe this week because it is a wonderful fit for our current circumstance. Some grocery stores have shorter supplies of meat or a smaller variety due to supply chain challenges. As a result, you may find yourself choosing a product that is not as familiar to you. 

This Sloppy Joes recipe will work with ground beef, turkey, pork, chicken, or venison. You can even use cooked lentils in this recipe. It uses ketchup and mustard in the sauce, and the flavor reminds me of a cookout! Check out the video below and cook along with me using whatever protein you have on hand!

sloppy joes

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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Roasted Broccoli

Our June recipe of the month is Roasted Broccoli. Broccoli is in season right now, so that means it may be ready to eat from your garden, available at your local farmers market, and less expensive at the grocery store. If you are interested in learning more about seasonal vegetables, check out this Fresh Vegetable Guide. An important thing to remember when buying broccoli is that it is less expensive to buy broccoli in a bunch rather than pre-cut. 

This recipe is a great way for my family to eat up the broccoli that is available right now. In my home, there are two different types of children – those who like their vegetables cooked and those who like them raw. When I have fresh broccoli on hand, I cut it all up then I leave some raw and roast the rest of it. This makes everyone happy. 

To make this recipe, cut up your broccoli. If you are new to cutting up broccoli, check out this quick video for some pointers. Next, coat the broccoli with oil, salt, and pepper. Finally, bake the broccoli for about 15 minutes. If you have never roasted broccoli before, give this recipe a try, I think you will like it.

Enjoy!

Roasted Broccoli

Justine Hoover

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

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