A Three-Week Meal Plan

 

Last week Justine shared with you how she does meal planning for her family. I use a similar strategy for my family of four. If you are new to meal planning or starting as a new years’ resolution, we have just the thing for you, a sample three-week meal plan. It includes ideas for meals and snacks as well as links to recipes!

Our sample is a place to start and can be adapted for your family’s needs based on what they like, how many snacks they need each day, and family activities. When creating a meal plan, here are some tips to keep in mind:

 

  • Plan for leftovers – To help keep food costs low and reduce food waste, make leftovers a part of your meal plan. You will see in the sample meal plan that we planned to have leftovers from supper the next day for lunch occasionally. Depending on the size of your family, you may need to increase the size of the recipe if you want to have leftovers to use at another meal.
  • Prepare extra – To maximize the benefit of your time in the kitchen, plan recipes that use similar ingredients so you can cook extra of an ingredient to use in a recipe another day. For example, if you make Chicken Alfredo Pasta one night, cook extra chicken to use in Chicken Club Salad the next day for lunch. This will also help with food costs and food waste. For food safety purposes, you should use extra cooked meat in a recipe within a day or two of it being cooked.
  • Keep variety in mind – Even though we recommend using leftovers and preparing extra ingredients to use in multiple recipes, it’s also a good idea to include variety in your menu plans. This helps keep meals exciting and makes sure you get a variety of vitamins and minerals. Use a variety of colors of fruits and vegetables. Try different kinds of protein like beef, chicken, or fish and non-meat sources like eggs, beans and nuts. Use different grains like whole grain pasta, brown rice, quinoa, and whole wheat bread.
  • Plan the fruits and vegetables – Many times the main meal is planned, which is often a source of protein, but not the side dishes. Be sure to plan what fruits and vegetables will be a part of the meals and snacks. This helps to be sure they are included in meals and snacks and are part of your shopping list. Use different kinds of fruits and vegetables including fresh, canned, frozen, and dried.

 

Meal planning may take a little time when you first get started, but it saves time when it comes to getting a meal on the table. No extra tips to the grocery store and stressing about what you are going to have for supper.

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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A Meal Plan For My Family

Here at Spend Smart. Eat Smart. we talk about planning meals a lot.  This is because it is easier to save money and make healthy food choices when you have a plan.  I know that on the weeks that I do not have a plan, or on the weeks when my plan goes wrong, I end up making more trips to the store, spending more money, and making less healthy choices.  

My colleagues have written many great blogs about meal planning here, here, here, and here.  If you want more information about meal planning, take some time to read this helpful information.  Today, I am going to tell you about how meal planning works for my family of five.

I do a lot of cooking on the weekend, so I usually plan out my meals and write my grocery list on Friday.  First, I look at what I have on hand and think of what meals I can make to use up these foods before they go bad.  Then, I write down all of the meals I am going to make that week.  Our 5-Day Meal Planning Worksheet can be helpful for this step.  Finally, I write my grocery list and go shopping.

Now it is time for a confession, I rarely stick to my meal plan as written.  We are an active family and things come up, so I give myself a break here.  If it is 5:30 on Monday night and everyone is hungry but I have not even started supper, I will pull out Sunday’s leftovers and re-heat them.  This pushes Monday’s meal to another night, but that is ok.  Just remember, if you have raw meat in your refrigerator, it is only good for 3-4 days, so stick it in the freezer if you will not be using it soon.

Meal planning is a great way to get your healthy new year’s resolutions off to the right start.  So, give meal planning a try!

How to Plan Meals CALENDAR

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover

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

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What is Intuitive Eating?

I am sure you have heard that all foods fit… but can all foods really fit into a healthy diet? That is the million-dollar question.

Intuitive eating is about eating healthfully while still enjoying your favorite treat foods too! Eating this way will not jeopardize your weight or health and you can eat without feeling guilty. It takes the guesswork out of eating, making it a pleasant experience.

So what should I eat? How do I decide? Choosing a food based on taste, body function, and nutrient value causes a shift in how you decide what to eat and goes beyond what you may be craving.

 

Taste:  Are your taste buds satisfied?  Or are you feeling deprived? Slowing down and savoring each bite will help you decide how much you like something and is instrumental in choosing what to eat.

Body function: How is this food going to feel in your body? Will it energize you or will you crash later because it does not have enough protein, fiber and fat to sustain you? Do you feel nauseous? Choosing food that makes your body feel good is key!

Nutrient value: Is this food good for your body? Does it provide the nutrients that you need to exercise in an efficient manner; or give you enough brainpower to do well at school or work?

Choosing  a majority of your food based on taste, body function, and nutrient value honors your health and contributes to your overall well-being and a healthy relationship with food!

What about pizza, chips, sweets, or candy? How does this fit in?  “Junk food” (which I prefer to call treat food to take away the guilty complex associated with junk food) is important because it tastes good and it is everywhere. Therefore, it is unrealistic to believe it can be avoided long term. Being too restrictive with treat foods can end in a binge where it takes more of that food to satisfy a craving. All foods are on the same plane emotionally—there are no “good or bad foods” and foods should not make you feel guilty.  However, there are foods that are more nutrient dense than others and that is different.  Therefore, planning treat foods into your eating plan is important to give balance. If you are very rigid and only eat “healthy” foods, it is difficult to follow long-term.

In summary, the answer is Yes—all foods can fit. Remember, you do not have to eat a “perfect” diet to be healthy. It’s what you eat consistently over time that matters. Becoming an intuitive eater takes time, don’t expect to perfect this overnight or in a month or two, otherwise this would be called a diet! This process may take longer than a fad diet (which doesn’t work in the end anyway) but is well worth the time to make peace with food and your body and as a bonus your body and mind will be healthier too!

 

For more information about intuitive eating, consider reading Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch.

Written by Alison St. Germain, a Registered Dietitian with an MS in Nutrition and works with the Dietetic Internship Program at Iowa State University and is a certified Intuitive Eating Counselor.

Don’t like Leftovers? Eat Planned-overs

Last week Christine gave four tips for saving money on holiday groceries. She mentioned that during the holidays stores will occasionally have deep discounts on items like turkeys or hams. This is a good time to include planned-overs in your weekly menu to save money. During the busy holiday season, it can also save you time in the kitchen.

Planned-overs are leftovers you plan into your weekly menu. When you have a day off or an evening free, you can make an entire extra meal such as a casserole or prepare extra ingredients that can be included in recipes later in the week. Let’s imagine we bought an extra ham during a great holiday sale. Below is a sample menu that uses the ham we got on sale and includes some planned-over shortcuts to use throughout the week.

Sunday Ham and Easy Roasted Veggies (cut up the ham to use Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday)

Monday It’s a Meal Strata (cut up extra vegetables to use for Tuesday and Wednesday) 

Tuesday Mama’s Pizza Boats

Wednesday Whole Meal Salad

Thursday Ham and Brown Rice (make extra rice for Saturday)

Friday Slower Cooker Black Eyed Pea Soup

Saturday Fiesta Skillet Dinner

Prepared dishes and cooked ingredients will only last four days in the refrigerator. If you won’t be able to use them within four days, freeze them to use at a later date.

For more dinner menu ideas using planned-overs, check out our How to Use Planned-overs video.

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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Save Money on Holiday Groceries

The holidays bring lots of festive fun and time with family and friends, but they can also mean extra expenses. I love it when I get the chance to prepare special meals and plan parties, but it can get very expensive. Grocery stores often offer sales and specials around the holidays that can help if you know how to use them.

Here are some tips to help you spend smart while you shop for holiday cooking.

  1. Check your cupboards and refrigerator before you shop. Holiday cooking sometimes involves ingredients we do not use very often. Knowing what you have will help you avoid buying a duplicate while you shop.
  2. A sale price only saves you money if you know you will use the item you purchase. Avoid buying food products just because they are on sale if they are not part of your meal plan. That could lead to wasted food and money.
  3. Remember that sales are used as advertising for a product. The sign may be large and inviting, but the price may not be as good as it seems. Check the unit price to make sure it is really saving you money. You can learn more about unit pricing on our website and our Spend Smart. Eat Smart. app has a unit price calculator built into it. You can download the app free from your app store.
  4. Occasionally stores will have deep discounts on holiday items like turkeys or hams immediately before and after a holiday. I review the grocery store ads to make my meal plan for a couple of weeks after the holiday. This allows me to work these discounted items into my plan and know they will not go to waste.

I hope these tips help you save a bit of money and stress this holiday season.

Happy Thanksgiving from the Spend Smart. Eat Smart. Team!

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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Turkey Vegetable Quiche

At our Thanksgiving meal there is always too much food and an abundance of leftovers.  There is just something about the holiday that compels us to cook and cook and cook.  Which brings us to our November recipe of the month – Turkey Vegetable Quiche.  This recipe is the perfect way to use up some of your leftover Thanksgiving turkey.

Start with a pie crust – you can buy one during the pre-Thanksgiving sales or you can make an extra when you make your holiday pies.  Prepare the crust then fill it with sautéed vegetables, leftover turkey, and eggs that are beaten with milk and seasonings.  Top everything with a sprinkle of cheese and bake for about 35 minutes.  Make sure to let this quiche rest outside of the oven for about 5 minutes to make it easier to slice and serve.

This quiche tastes great for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Enjoy!

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover

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

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Sweet Talk

Produce Basics - Sweet PotatoPardon the goofy title, but this week we’re talking sweet…potatoes that is! Have you given sweet potatoes a try? If you are unsure about them,it might help to think beyond the casserole with marshmallows on the top. They can be used in many of the same ways as white potatoes. They are delicious roasted, mashed, baked or even as French fries.

Choosing sweet potatoes is simple. Their skins should be relatively smooth with few dents and the flesh of the potato should be firm. Avoid potatoes with cracks, soft spots or sprouts. Sweet potatoes usually last for a month or so when stored in a cool dark area.

It is perfectly safe to eat sweet potatoes skin. Just give them a good scrub and enjoy. Our Sweet Potato Produce Basics publication has all of the info you need to choose, clean and prepare sweet potatoes.

Stay tuned throughout this month while we share more reasons why we are sweet on sweet potatoes!

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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All about Peppers

Peppers are one of my favorite veggies. During the winter, I buy them at the grocery store most weeks. During the summer, I love to grow them myself. They are rich in vitamin C, low in calories and add lots of flavor to whatever I am cooking.

You can grow peppers in pots or in the ground. If you choose to use a pot, you’ll want it to be at least two gallons in size for a single pepper plant and you may want to use a dowel or stake to support your plant as it grows.

Keep in mind that most peppers start green and some varieties ripen to be yellow, orange, red or purple. The Iowa State University gardening experts have a publication that will help you pick the pepper type that is best for you. Peppers that are not green tend to be much more expensive. You can save a lot of money by growing peppers yourself, but be prepared that peppers that are not green will need more time on the plant to change colors, which means you may lose more to rot, pests or weather damage.

I hope you will give a pepper plant a try this summer. If you would like some tips on cutting up whole peppers, we have a video to get you started.

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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Let’s Grow Tomatoes!

Cherry tomatoesLast week Christine shared about how she grows greens in containers on her patio. This week I am going to share about my gardening experiences with tomatoes. My family and I have a pretty large garden in our back yard. We usually fill about half of it with tomato plants because we love to eat them fresh and make them into tomato juice to enjoy all year long.

This “Tomatoes” growing guide is a great read if you are interested in trying some tomatoes in your garden this year or if you would like to improve the health and yield of your tomato plants. Here are some practical tips I have picked up as I have experimented with growing tomatoes in my own garden:

  • Choose the right varieties of tomatoes for my garden. This one takes a little trial and error. I have found that Better Boy and Super Sweet 100 tomatoes grow best in my garden.
  • Plant tomatoes between May 15th and June 1st. After May 15th, I should be able to avoid frost killing my plants. If I get my plants in before June 1st, I can enjoy a longer growing season and a higher yield.
  • Use tomato cages. Large, tall tomato cages allow the plants to grow big, healthy, and strong. They are also easier to manage than tomatoes that are staked up or tomatoes that are allowed to grow along the ground.

Thankfully, you do not need a large garden to enjoy growing fresh tomatoes at home.  Depending on the plant size, tomatoes can be grown in 2-4 gallon containers. The Container Vegetable Gardening guide gives ideas for the variety of tomato that would be best for your home.

I hope you can get outside and enjoy gardening this year!

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover

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

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Lettuce Start Gardening!

Silly title -I know – but Spring has sprung here in Iowa and I am so excited to start growing some food on my back patio. Getting my herbs and vegetables planted is such a fun way to celebrate the warmer weather. Fresh veggies from the garden taste so good and growing your own food saves serious money.

I do not have space to plant a garden in the ground, so I use planters and pots on my patio. It is amazing how much food you can grow in a tiny space. There will be a point this summer when I can barely keep up with it!

Salad greens grow very well in containers. Here are some steps to get you started!

  1. Review the Iowa State University Container Vegetable Gardening Guide. It has all of the basics to help you get started.
  2. Choose a large pot (1 gallon minimum) with drainage holes.
  3. Put a layer of rocks or gravel in the bottom and then fill with potting soil.
  4. Use your finger to create a trench about one inch deep and sprinkle seeds about every inch in the trench. Repeat this process with an additional row or two leaving 4 inches between rows.
  5. Put your pot where bunnies and deer cannot get it. They love lettuce and they will eat it!
  6. Water the soil (not the leaves) as often as necessary to keep it moist. It does not need to be soaking wet, but should not get completely dry either. I typically water my vegetable containers every 1-2 days during the heat of the summer.
  7. After about three weeks, you will have leaves to harvest. Clip the leaves, leaving the plant base behind. The plant will grow more leaves!

This month our blogs are all about growing your own fruits and vegetables. We hope you’ll find some good ideas whether you’re just starting out or a certified green thumb. Please comment on our Facebook page or tweet us and let us know your favorite things to grow!

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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