Meal Planning at My House – Justine

Meal planning can look different in every home. In my home, meal planning is flexible. I like to keep it flexible because, with a family of five, things can change very quickly. Today I will share the process I use to plan supper meals at my home.

The first thing I do is choose our main dishes for one week. I usually choose four or five main dishes because I like to double recipes and serve leftovers two or three times per week. Next, I choose side dishes. I usually do not want to cook both main dishes and side dishes, so I keep it simple with sides. I buy a variety of canned, fresh, and frozen fruits and vegetables for sides. Canned and frozen fruits and vegetables are especially important for our family because they store well and they are quick and easy to prepare.

I do not assign specific meals to days of the week. I just post the list of meals I have available on the refrigerator and then make the meal that will be best for my family on a particular day. For example, I tend to go grocery shopping on Friday or Saturday, so I will cook larger meals over the weekend that can be saved for leftovers on a busy night later in the week.

This past weekend, I cooked a pork roast in the slow cooker. So far, we have had two meals from the pork and I think we can get two more. Even though our main dishes will be similar for these meals, I can use the fruits and vegetables I have on hand to change things up a little. This flexible approach to meal planning works well for my family. Stay tuned next week for the approach that works best for Jody and her family.

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover

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

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Meal Planning at My House – Christine

Our theme for blogs this month is meal planning. Each of our primary bloggers will share how they approach meal planning at their own home. We hope that you will be able to take some ideas from each of us to make meal planning go a bit easier for you.

Meal planning is important to me because I want to make meal prep easy and I like to avoid food waste as much as I can. Most of the time I plan meals for just one person, so my strategies look different from someone who is planning for a whole family. Justine and Jody will have tips for families throughout the month.

Here are some of my favorite go-to strategies.

  1. I start with what I have. I begin my meal plan for each week with what I already have to reduce food waste. I often cook up a stir-fry or soup on Sunday with any vegetables from the previous week to get them used up before they spoil. One recipe that is great for this is our Easy Roasted Veggies.
  2. I do not cook for one. I generally cook a full batch of whatever I am making and I freeze leftovers in small containers. This way, I cook once and I know there are lots of yummy things in my freezer. The containers in the freezer make super-fast lunches and dinners.
  3. I pre-prep ingredients. When I get home from work at night I am usually very hungry and not in the mood to start cooking from scratch. I try to do myself a favor and be ready for this situation by having pre-prepped ingredients in my fridge or freezer. Here are some of my standbys:
    • Chopped onions in an airtight container in the freezer. These are great for cooking. If you will use the onion within a few days, you can store it in the refrigerator. I will often chop up 4 or 5 onions and keep them in the freezer to use for many meals. This works with peppers as well!
    • Cooked proteins. This time of year, I grill outside a lot. If I light my grill, I fill it. This means that I often have many frozen protein foods like grilled chicken and hamburgers. I can heat these up very quickly to get a meal started and cut my cooking time way down.
    • Cut fruit and vegetables in the refrigerator. I know that I am much more likely to reach for fruits and vegetables for snacks when they are cut and ready to go. I tend to purchase fruits and vegetables that can be cleaned and/or prepped ahead, such as:
      • Carrots
      • Celery
      • Pea pods
      • Peppers
      • Watermelon
      • Grapes

I hope one of these ideas is helpful to you and stay tune all month for Justine and Jody’s meal planning routines!

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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Cauliflower is Having a Moment

It seems like food manufacturers are making just about everything out of cauliflower nowadays. I have seen cauliflower ‘rice’ and cauliflower ‘pizza crust’. I have also seen cauliflower flavored to taste like Buffalo wings and boxed macaroni and cheese with cauliflower added to the pasta. Cauliflower is certainly having a moment.

I think this is largely because cauliflower is a versatile vegetable that takes on the flavor of whatever you use to season it. If you would like to jump on the cauliflower train, skip buying the cauliflower that is already cleaned and chopped and prepare it yourself instead. We have a new cauliflower video that will walk you through how to break down an entire head of cauliflower. I find that when I start with a whole head of cauliflower, it often stays fresher longer and is less expensive. The pre-prepped cauliflower may have been chopped several days or even a couple of weeks before it arrives at your grocery store.

Once you have your cauliflower broken down, you’re ready to make a variety of recipes. My favorite way to cook cauliflower is roasting. Check out our Roasted Cauliflower recipe for the details. I also like it raw in salads like Summer Bounty Salad.

I hope these recipes and video help you enjoy this trendy vegetable!

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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Avocado

Now that summer is in full swing and lots of fruits and vegetables are in season, we will be sharing some new produce videos we’ve created. Today I’m sharing with you our video on how to prepare an avocado.

My husband and I both really like avocado and more specifically, guacamole. Sometimes my husband just happens to buy avocados, even if they aren’t on the grocery list, hoping I will make guacamole. I also put avocado in wraps, in a dip like Cowboy Caviar, or in fajitas. If I use the avocados to make guacamole, then after I get them peeled, I mash them up with a fork instead of slicing them. Sometimes I like my dips to be chunky, so I dice the avocado instead of mash it.

If you’d like to start using more avocado but you are not sure how to choose one in the store, check out our Produce Basics.

Next week Christine will share with you our video on cauliflower.

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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Frozen Pudding Sandwiches

It is July and it is hot! This is the perfect time for our July recipe of the month – Frozen Pudding
Sandwiches. These treats are sure to cool you down on a hot summer day.

Frozen Pudding Sandwiches are like ice cream sandwiches only made with pudding. You simply stir an
instant pudding mix with milk and peanut butter to make a thick, creamy filling that goes in between
two graham cracker squares. Freeze them for about three hours and then they are good to go. They
make a great snack or dessert on a hot day (or any day).

I have made this recipe with both chocolate and vanilla pudding mixes and people like them either way.
However, peanut butter lovers often prefer the vanilla pudding mix and chocolate lovers prefer the
chocolate pudding mix. Also, if you would like to make these, but peanut allergy is a concern, you can
substitute sunbutter or another nut butter.

Enjoy!

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover

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

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Pantry Picks – Brown Rice

How do you like the new Pantry Picks collection on our website? I have to admit, I’m pretty excited about my pick – brown rice. Brown rice is definitely a pantry pick in my house! I love it and I eat it pretty much every week. It tastes great, it’s hearty and it is a healthy choice for me. I try to make sure that at least half of the grain foods I eat are whole grains and brown rice helps me do that.

One of the things I like the best about brown rice is that it is so fast. I can cook a big pot of rice once and then split the rice up into freezer containers and freeze it for up to six months. Then I can have rice for many meals with just a quick zap in the microwave.

I use brown rice all year. In the winter, it goes into soups and casseroles and in the summer I make stir fry and salads. I put a little round-up of some of my favorite recipes that use brown rice below.

I hope you try one of these today and share your favorite ways to use brown rice with us in the comments or on our social media!

Enjoy!

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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Pantry Picks – Tortillas

Last week Justine introduced you to the new feature on our website called Pantry Picks and shared some ways to use whole wheat bread. I am excited about this new collection of resources because it highlights how we can make the best use of ingredients that are inexpensive, long-lasting and really easy to prepare. This week I’m highlighting our Pantry Pick on whole wheat tortillas.

We use a fair amount of tortillas in my house. We like Mexican flavored foods so I make a number of meals using whole wheat tortillas. And if I need a quick lunch or supper for my kids, they often choose a simple cheese quesadilla. My son prefers a white flour tortilla for his quesadilla but will eat the whole wheat tortillas for other meals.

Here are a few ways to use whole wheat tortillas:

This week try a new recipe using whole wheat tortillas!

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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Pantry Picks – Whole Wheat Bread

We are excited to announce a new feature on Spend Smart. Eat Smart. called Pantry Picks. Pantry Picks
provide tips on nutrition, storage, and preparation for foods that you might commonly find in your
pantry or cupboard. Each week this month, we are going to look at a different Pantry Pick. We hope you
learn some new ways to use these staple foods.

Today, I am going to introduce you to our first Pantry Pick – whole wheat bread. You can almost always
find a loaf of whole wheat bread in my pantry. Find out why I like whole wheat bread on my post from
last week. We usually use whole wheat bread for sandwiches and toast. If you or your family prefer
another type of bread for sandwiches and toast, fear not!. Here are some other great uses for whole
wheat bread:

Make sure to check out our new Pantry Picks section on our website for more information about whole
wheat bread. Next week Jody will be sharing about tortillas.

Enjoy!

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover

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

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Crispy Baked Chicken

Our May recipe of the month is Crispy Baked Chicken and it is a popular one.  Boneless, skinless chicken is coated in crushed cornflakes and baked. Serve this tasty chicken with a fruit and a vegetable and you have a complete meal.  Many people I have talked to about this recipe like to season the crushed cornflakes beyond the garlic powder. Some suggestions I have received include basil, Italian seasoning, chili powder, lemon pepper, and oregano.  If you have a favorite herb or spice give it a try!

Recently, we have been talking a lot about unit pricing on the blog.  This recipe is a great chance to use your unit pricing skills when buying the chicken.  The recipe calls for 1 ½ pounds of boneless, skinless chicken. This can take several forms, so lets look at the unit price below to see what is the best buy.

Breasts Price

Package Size

Unit Price

$5.90

1.69 pounds

$3.49 per pound

Thighs Price

Package Size

Unit Price

$3.83

1.54 pounds

$2.49 per pound

Tenders Price

Package Size

Unit Price

$5.62

1.28 pounds

$4.39 per pound

In this case, the chicken thighs were the best buy.  Remember, prices will change from week to week, so make sure to double check the unit price before you buy.

Enjoy!

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover

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

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Solid fats and oils: What’s the difference?

Back in 2013, I wrote a blog comparing the cost and nutrition of different vegetable oils. That blog was recently shared by a national outlet and it received a lot of attention. As a result, we got a lot of questions related to what type of fat or oil is best to use so we thought it was time to write another blog on that topic.

When talking about fats and oils, it helps to define each term. Solid fats are fats that are solid at room temperature like butter or lard. Solid fats mainly come from animal foods. Oils are fats that are liquid at room temperature, like canola or olive oil. Oils come from many different plants and from fish. However, coconut, palm, and palm kernel oils (tropical oils) are solid at room temperature because they have high amounts of saturated fatty acids. Therefore, they are classified as a solid fat rather than as an oil.

All fats and oils are a mixture of saturated fatty acids and unsaturated fatty acids (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated). Solid fats contain more saturated fats and/or trans fats than oils. Saturated fats and trans fats tend to raise LDL cholesterol levels in the blood, which in turn increases the risk of heart disease. Here is a chart that shows the different amounts of saturated and unsaturated fatty acids in different types of solid fats and oils.

*Information from the USDA National Nutrient Database https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/search/list?home=true

There has been some research lately that has led some people to believe that saturated fats aren’t as harmful as once thought. Along with that, coconut oil is widely promoted as having many health benefits. However, in July 2017 the American Heart Association issued an advisory recommending against using coconut oil. Analysis of more than 100 published research studies reaffirmed that saturated fats raise LDL cholesterol. In addition, seven controlled trials showed that coconut oil raised LDL levels.

To learn how much oil is recommended for you, visit https://www.choosemyplate.gov/oils. Currently, most Americans eat more solid fat than recommended while consuming fewer oils than recommended. Therefore, the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend shifting from solid fats to oils. This includes using oils (except tropical oils like coconut oil) in place of solid fats when cooking. And to increase the intake of foods that naturally contain oils, such as seafood and nuts, in place of some meat and poultry. This week for an evening meal you might consider making the Broiled Salmon Justine shared at the beginning of the month!

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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