It is the time of year for sharing food, especially cookies. Our December recipe of the month, Oatmeal Cookies, is perfect for sharing. Take these delicious cookies to a party, family gathering, or cookie exchange.
You can also make these cookies into a gift. Start with a quart sized glass jar. Pour in any optional ingredients you would like to include from the recipe such as dried cranberries, raisins, white chocolate chips, or coconut. Then pour in the oatmeal. Top that with the brown sugar. Pour in the rest of the dry ingredients – the whole wheat flour, baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon. Close the lid tightly on the jar so there are no accidental spills. Write out the instructions to the recipe on a card to give with the jar. Make sure to include amounts for the wet ingredients that are not included in the jar. You could even give out an individual serving size cup of applesauce with each jar – these are the perfect amount for this recipe. Finally, share your jar as a gift! It is so fun to give and receive homemade gifts like this.
Last week, I shared our homemade taco seasoning mix. This week, I would like to share our homemade dried onion soup mix. This dried onion soup mix is useful in seasoning soups, dips, and meats. To make this mix, stir together dried minced onion, sodium free beef bouillon granules, onion powder, and sugar and store in an airtight container for up to six months.
This mix makes the equivalent of three packages of store bought dried onion soup mix. This homemade mix is more expensive than the store bought version. Homemade costs $3.72 for the equivalent of three packages and the store bought is $0.72 for two packages. However, the extra cost is more than balanced out by the savings in sodium. The homemade version has 15 mg of sodium in 1/3 cup (about the same as one store bought package) while the store bought version has 4,560 mg of sodium in one package, which is 570 mg of sodium per serving.
The savings in sodium in this mix is important because reducing sodium consumption has health impacts. Find more information about the connection between sodium and high blood pressure here and sodium for children here.
Try our homemade Dried Onion Soup Mix in our Slow Cooker Roast or any other recipe that calls for dried onion soup mix.
Taco seasoning mix is a staple in many people’s cupboards. It adds great flavor to taco meat, beans, soups, and dips. You can buy pre-packaged taco seasoning mix at the store or you can use our homemade version. To make homemade taco seasoning mix, you simply need to combine minced onion, chili powder, cornstarch, crushed dried red pepper, garlic powder, dried oregano, and ground cumin in a container with a tight fitting lid. This seasoning mix lasts a year in your cupboard.
This seasoning mix makes the equivalent of six packages of store bought taco seasoning mix. The homemade seasoning mix costs about the same as store bought. Homemade is $2.46 for six packages and the store brand at my local grocery store is $0.44 for one package, which comes out to $2.64 for six packages.
The big difference between the two mixes is the sodium content. One package of store bought taco seasoning mix contains 2,580 mg of sodium, which is 430 mg per serving. Two tablespoons of our homemade taco seasoning mix (the equivalent of one store bought package) contains 80 mg of sodium, which is about 13 mg per serving.
Use our Taco Seasoning Mix in Lentil Tacos, Slow Cooker Lentils, or in your own favorite taco recipe.
Our November recipe of the month is Slow Cooker Mexican Chicken Soup. It is perfect for a busy day. All the ingredients go into the slow cooker in the morning, cook on low for 8-10 hours, and you have a delicious soup ready to eat in the evening.
There are some wonderful things I love about this recipe.
- It is easy to put together. There is no cutting up or chopping needed to get this recipe into the slow cooker. The chicken just needs to be shredded right before serving this soup.
- It uses dried beans. Dried beans are tasty, inexpensive, and nutritious. They take a little longer to cook, so they are perfect for the slow cooker. Fair warning, the dark color of the black beans changes the outer color of the chicken.
- It freezes well. This recipe is great to measure out into single serving containers and freeze for lunches. Or, you can eat half of the soup one night and freeze the other half of the soup for another night.
- It is great for a party. This soup tastes delicious with different toppings – avocado, crushed tortilla chips, sliced jalapenos, plain Greek yogurt, shredded cheese. You can serve the soup out of the slow cooker and let your guests add any toppings they would like.
Last week Jody gave us some helpful tips on using spices in cooking to give food lots of flavor without using too much salt. She also shared which spices we use most in our recipes and how to store them for maximum shelf life. You have probably guessed that we on the Spend Smart. Eat Smart. team really like to cook so experimenting with different flavors and spices is fun for us.
Even though I like to cook and cook at home most of the time, I can still get ahead of myself when it comes to spices. Ground spices (cumin, chili powder, curry powder, etc.) have their maximum flavor for 2-4 years after you open them. Dried herbs (basil, thyme, parsley, etc.) are best used within 1-3 years. Given how quickly some foods perish, this seems like a really long shelf life. Nevertheless, it is easy to have a spice in your cabinet for many years if you only use it on rare occasion. Here are some tips I use to keep my spices in check and avoid wasting money on spices I have to throw out.
- I buy spices in the smallest container I can. This saves space in my cabinet, reduces the risk of waste and allows me to try new spices without committing to buying a large container.
- I mark each container with the date that I open it, so I do not have to guess how long it has been sitting in my cabinet.
- Once a year I go through my spice cabinet and make my own all-purpose seasoning blends with the bits of spices I have left in my cabinet. I like to do this around New Year’s Day when I tend to have a lot of time around the house. I find that I go through the blends faster than individual spices. You can adjust the ratios of these blends based on what you have and what flavors you enjoy most. Some of my favorites include:
- Taco Seasoning: This works well for any Tex Mex dish I am making. It is delicious in taco meat, beans or even soups with a similar flavor profile.
- Dried Onion Soup Mix: I have several recipes I make that call for dried onion soup mix and I would rather use up the seasonings I already have than buy a packet at the store.
- Italian Seasoning Blend: rosemary, thyme, parsley, red pepper flakes, garlic powder, oregano and onion powder. I use this on chicken, steak, vegetables, roasted potatoes and in pasta dishes. It is all of the same ingredients as store-bought Italian seasoning, but it allows me to use what I already have rather than buy another jar.
- Grill Seasoning: garlic powder, onion powder, black pepper, red pepper flakes and paprika. This is tasty on meats and veggies that I grill or roast.
- If I find a recipe that calls for a spice I do not already have, I look for one or two other recipes that use it before I buy it. This way I know that I have multiple ideas for using that spice and I will make good use of it.
These are some tips that work for me…how do you keep your spice cabinet from getting out of control? Share with us in the comments or on our social media this week. You’ll hear more about the Taco Seasoning and Dried Onion Soup Mix from Justine next month.
When creating recipes for Spend Smart. Eat Smart. three things we keep in mind are the flavor, the cost, and the nutrition content. We want our recipes to taste good, provide good nutrition, and be relatively low cost to make. To determine if our recipes provide good nutrition, each recipe must meet our nutrition guidelines. One guideline we pay particular attention to is sodium. The sodium level in our recipes needs to be low to moderate. The limit varies depending on if the recipe is for a:
- casserole style dish – 700 mg or below per serving
- entrée – 400 mg or below per serving
- side dish or snack – 200 mg or below per serving
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend we consume less than 2,300 mg of sodium per day and move toward an ideal limit of no more than 1,500 mg per day for most adults. However, on average, Americans eat more than 3,400 mg of sodium each day.
In order to meet our sodium guidelines, we use various spices to add flavor to our Spend Smart. Eat Smart. recipes so less salt is needed. The spices we most often use include black pepper, garlic powder, cinnamon, cumin, chili powder, and Italian seasoning blend. If you want to keep just a few spices on hand, these would be good ones to start with.
Here are a few tips to keep in mind when using spices:
- Use them with care, especially if you are not familiar with their flavor. You can always add more spices, but you can’t take them away so start with a small amount.
- For chilled foods, such as salads or dips, add seasonings several hours ahead so flavors can blend.
- Store spices in tightly covered containers in a cool, dry, dark place (not the refrigerator). Avoid placing spices above the stove since heat can destroy the flavor.
Next week Christine will share some tips on buying spices and making your own seasoning blends.
If you have a child in school, chances are you hear a lot of concern about food allergies and protecting children from exposure to their allergen. People can develop allergies to many types of food. However, eight foods are the most common allergens. They include:
- Tree nuts (walnuts, almonds, pine nuts, brazil nuts and pecans)
- Wheat and other grains with gluten (barley, rye, oats)
Allergies can be scary, particularly for children who are less likely to know what is in their food. Learning how to read a food label for allergens can help you feel more in control. Here are some steps to follow to check a food label for a common allergen.
- Check the ingredients list on the package. Scan the list for the allergen. Sometimes the manufacturer will even highlight it with larger bold text.
- Sometimes an ingredient will be listed with an uncommon name. For example, a label may say ‘albumin’. This is part of an egg and will often include the word ‘egg’ in parentheses since egg is a common allergen.
- At the bottom of the ingredients list, there may be a statement that calls out the common allergens in that product. For example – ‘Contains: Milk, Eggs and Soy’
- Lastly, a product may not include an allergen in its ingredients list, but is processed on equipment that also processes a common allergen. In this case, the manufacturer may include a statement like this. ‘Processed in a facility that also processes peanuts and tree nuts.’ This allows the consumer to know that there is a risk of tiny residual particles of that allergen being in the product unintentionally.
If you have tips for managing a food allergy, please share them with us on our social media this week!
Our October recipe of the month is Sweet Pork Stir Fry. To be honest with you, my children are pretty picky when it comes to stir fry. There is only one stir fry recipe I make that they really like. This is one that they tend to pick around and eat only their favorite pieces.
When this recipe was in the testing phase, I had to make it often to get it just right. Since it was not my children’s favorite, I made it for my mother-in-law and father-in-law. It was such a hit with them that my mother-in-law called me a few days later asking for the recipe because she wanted to make it for her own in-laws! That was almost two years ago, and they are still making this recipe regularly.
What I really like about my in-laws using this recipe regularly is that they have made this recipe their own. They try different vegetables depending on what sounds good to them – carrots, celery, onions, mushrooms, and asparagus. They will change out the meat depending on what is on sale at the grocery store or even skip on the meat to make a vegetarian meal. They will also switch the noodles out for brown rice sometimes.
This past winter they invited me over to share a meal and they made this recipe for me. This recipe has been one that we have enjoyed together and I hope you can enjoy it with friends and family too!
Our September recipe of the month is Blueberry Pancakes. Pancakes are a favorite meal in our family. We eat them for supper just as often as we eat them for breakfast. I even made pancakes for supper for my husband the evening I was in labor with our oldest!
Since we like pancakes so well, I try to change up the types of pancakes we eat. That is where these blueberry pancakes come in. The batter for these pancakes is a traditional whole wheat pancake batter. Before cooking, gently fold the blueberries into the batter.
If you find cooking pancakes challenging, I have a few tips for you.
- Pre-heat the Pan: It is important to make sure that the pan is heated up before starting to cook the pancakes. You can use a water test to make sure your pan is hot enough. Use your fingers to sprinkle some water on the pan. If the water sizzles, your pan is pre-heated.
- Patience: Be patient with your pancakes and do not flip them over until the tops are bubbly. This will ensure that your pancakes flip easily and get cooked all the way through.
- Practice: Cooking times and temperatures for pancakes depend on your stove and your pan. With practice, you will find the right cooking times and temperatures for you.
In just over a week, my kids will be back in school and my son will start fall soccer. I love that when playing soccer my eight year-old son gets to run around being active. On the other hand, I feel that the snacks that are given to the players after their games could be improved. Often times my son gets a small bottle of sports drink along with donuts or some kind of packaged snack cakes. Even though my son runs when playing soccer, the game is only one hour and he rotates out with other players. Therefore, he isn’t playing for the full hour. Sports drinks are meant to replace sodium and potassium that is lost in sweat when being continuously active for an hour or more or when it is especially hot outside. Otherwise, water works well to keep kids hydrated. We enjoy donuts and other treats occasionally but to teach kids how to better fuel their bodies for activity, here are some other ideas for snacks after a game:
If you sign-up to take snacks for after a game this fall, I’d encourage you to consider taking one of these. You might be surprised at how much the kids enjoy them!