Last month Jody wrote a blog highlighting tips to help us save money at the grocery store. Recently I have found that some of the fresh produce I used to buy on a regular basis has started to increase my family’s grocery bill. To lower my grocery bill but still get the same nutritional benefits, I have found that swapping in canned and frozen produce options has worked out well for many recipes that my family enjoys. Below are a few tips for purchasing these options.
Before adding the canned fruit or vegetables to a dish or recipe, rinse off the liquid that they have been stored in. This can help remove extra sodium or heavy syrups.
Avoid purchasing canned items that have dents or look misshapen as those could have potentially harmful bacteria that could make you sick.
Check out this Seasonal Produce Guide to determine when produce is in season. If a recipe calls for produce that is out of season, purchasing it fresh will likely be more expensive. Using the canned or frozen option could be a great way to make your favorite recipes without the added cost.
I love keeping a variety of canned and frozen produce on hand to use for quick side dishes or as a substitute in place of a fresh option. A few of my favorite recipes to use canned vegetables and fruits include Quick Fruit Dessert, Berry Crisp and Quick Black Bean Salsa. Frozen produce is also a great option because it tends to be more cost friendly and has a much longer life than fresh options. Try adding frozen fruit to smoothies like the Berry and Greens Smoothies or frozen vegetables to the Teriyaki Rice Bowl. Both canned and frozen vegetables are versatile and can be used in many soups for quick, easy meals.
What dish would you like to make with canned or frozen produce? We’d love to hear how it turns out!
Fruit crisp is one of my husband’s favorite foods. He often requests it for his birthday or other special meals. I do not mind because it is a dessert that gives my family some fruit and some whole grains (oats). Plus, it is an easy dessert to make. The only problem is that it can be expensive. Below I have some tips for making a fruit crisp fit into your budget.
Make your fruit crisp with in season fruit – it will taste the best and be the least expensive. In the spring and early summer, fresh berries and cherries are in season. Later in the summer, peaches will be in season. In the fall, apples will be in season. For a useful guide to seasonal produce visit this website.
Make your fruit crisp with canned fruit – it is affordable all year around. Drain the juice from the canned fruit and prepare your fruit crisp according to the instructions for this recipe.
Make your fruit crisp with frozen fruit. When the fresh fruit you want is out of season, the frozen version may be less expensive. You just need to compare the prices before choosing which to buy. Our Berry Crisp recipe provides instructions for using frozen fruit instead of fresh.
Make your fruit crisp with leftover fruit – any fruit can combine into a crisp. If you have some extra fruit that needs to be used up, you can add it to your recipe. This could include a handful of berries, an apple with a bruise, or some uneaten canned fruit.
Fish has always been a large part of my diet. Growing up on the coast, my family had access to a variety of seafood. My love for seafood has not changed even though I now call Iowa home. On my weekly meal plans I typically add 1-2 meals that include fish as our main protein. Our daughter has been eating a variety of fish dishes since she started trying foods, so I keep fish on hand for easy meals I know my family enjoys.
Fish, especially fresh, can get expensive. Jody mentioned great tips last week on how to reduce food waste and save money at the store. There are several ways that I cut down on the cost of purchasing fish. I look for what is on sale at the store each week, buy in bulk when I can, and I also purchase frozen options. When buying in bulk, I will grab a larger cut of fish and portion it out when I get home to store in the freezer for later. Buying fish and seafood when it is on sale helps add variety to our meals.
Our April recipe of the month is Fish Tacos. This is a homemade version of restaurant fish tacos with coleslaw and chopped veggies wrapped in a corn tortilla. I enjoy this recipe because the different flavors and textures come together to make a delicious meal.
As you read through this recipe, you will probably notice there are a lot of tips at the end. That is because this recipe is like most other taco recipes – you can change things up to make the recipe your own. Here are a few ways we like to change this recipe up at our house to make our own unique tacos:
The last couple of times I made this recipe, I used the tip to bake the fish instead of pan-frying it like in the original recipe. I like the crispy texture of the pan-fried fish better, but the oven version saves clean-up time, which is what I need right now.
We always make our coleslaw with different types of dressing because I like ranch, but my husband does not. We have found that French dressing works well in this recipe.
When I make tacos, my children expect a lot of toppings. So, in addition to the coleslaw and chopped tomato, I set out beans, corn, chopped onion, chopped peppers, salsa, and shredded cheese. That way, each person can make their own unique taco. As an added bonus, the leftover toppings make a great taco salad for lunch the next day.
Microwaving a potato is a quick and easy way to add a baked potato to a meal. Sometimes potatoes get a bad rap for not being good for you. However, potatoes are a good source of potassium and Vitamin C and they do not cost a lot. The instructions for microwaving a potato were a little out of date on our website, so we have updated them. Below are the steps and some recipes to go along with your microwave baked potato. You can also find the instructions on our website at: https://spendsmart.extension.iastate.edu/recipe/microwave-baked-potato/
Steps to making a microwave ‘baked’ potato:
Scrub potato under warm, running water.
Prick potato 6 to 8 times with a fork.
Place potato on a microwave safe plate.
Microwave on high for 5 minutes.
Flip potato over. Microwave on high for 2 to 5 more minutes or until potato is tender. Additional time will depend on the size of the potato and the power of the microwave.
You can make either one or two potatoes at a time using these steps.
Our March recipe of the month is Loaded Potato Soup. Potato soup is a favorite in my home. It comes together pretty quickly and it makes a filling meal in one bowl.
My favorite thing about potato soup is that this recipe easily adjusts to make more or less depending on our needs. If I want to have leftovers throughout the week, I double this recipe. I have also found this freezes well, so I sometimes make a double batch and freeze some for a future meal. On the other hand, if you are cooking for one or two, you can cut this recipe in half to make a smaller batch.
My family’s favorite thing about potato soup is that they can add all kinds of toppings. Shredded cheese, diced ham, and soup crackers are their top choices. Though they would also like crumbled bacon, sliced green onions, or our homemade croutons (click this link to find the recipe). You can choose your favorite toppings to make this soup your own.
My husband and three-year old LOVE breakfast. As soon as they wake up, they head straight to the kitchen. During the work week, we don’t have as many opportunities to sit down as a family with a large breakfast, so we tend to opt for quicker options on those days. On the weekends I favor making recipes that require a few more ingredients and take additional time to prepare, especially if we are entertaining guests.
One thing that I love about breakfast recipes is how versatile they are. We often make breakfast recipes for lunch and dinner- really whenever it sounds good! Whether you need fast, easy breakfast recipes or have a little bit more time to make something that requires additional prep work, Spend Smart. Eat Smart. has plenty of options to try.
Below I have highlighted a few of my family’s favorite breakfast recipes. One thing that I love to do is turn traditional side dishes or main dishes into breakfast items. With a simple swap or addition of ingredients, you can make a variety of recipes into a great breakfast meal!
Favorite quick recipes:
Need a grab-and-go option for busy mornings? Overnight Oats are quick and tasty! Change up the flavors by adding in different fruits and spices.
Peanut Butter Balls and Energy Bites fall into the dessert and snack categories on the website, but these are wonderful options for breakfast! We make these in big batches and serve them with a hard-boiled egg and fruit to make a complete meal.
Make Ahead Breakfast Burritos are a great option to make ahead and place in the freezer. These only require a few minutes to heat up and can be an easy way to use up vegetables.
Favorite recipes that require additional time:
Turkey Vegetable Quiche is a go to recipe for my family! It is fantastic leftover, and the turkey can be substituted out for leftover chicken, ground sausage, or ham.
Our February recipe of the month is Cranberry Oatmeal Bars. I have this recipe on my favorites list because of its usefulness. Is this recipe a snack? Yes. Is this recipe a breakfast? Yes. Is this recipe a dessert? Yes! I could probably end this blog here, but since I have found so many uses for this recipe, I have also picked up a few tips along the way. Read on for my tips on making a great batch of Cranberry Oatmeal Bars for any meal or snack.
Make sure to finely chop the dried cranberries. They stir into the batter easier if they are smaller. Also, use a sharp knife if you have one, it will save you time and frustration with chopping the cranberries.
The same thing goes for the nuts. If you choose to add nuts, make sure to finely chop them.
Do not overbake these bars. If you do, they will crumble apart when you cut them. When they are done they will be lightly browned around the outer edges and the center will be set.
If you are a chocolate lover, swap the cranberries and nuts for mini chocolate chips. This version always goes over well at my house.
Eat them while they are still warm. I like to share these with family or friends within an hour of taking them out of the oven because they are warm and chewy and they bring joy.
Once cooled, cover the bars tightly and eat within two or three days. They will start to dry out the longer they sit out on the counter.
Last week Jody showed us how packaged foods are a big source of sodium for most of us and how we can use the Nutrition Facts Label to see how much sodium a food has in it. Another way to stay on top of how much sodium we eat is to cook more at home from fresh ingredients. Canned soup is a staple for many of us. The canned varieties are convenient, but are often high in sodium. As it turns out, homemade soup is usually very easy to make and you can cook it once and eat it for several meals. This week I have done a recipe round-up of my favorite chili recipes on our website. I have to be honest and share that I do not like chili that has a whole bunch of tomato in it. I prefer a little bit of tomato or even none at all, so you will see that reflected in my choices!
White Chili: Our recipe of the month is rich in tasty flavor and it keeps great in the freezer for quick meals.
Slow Cooker Pork Chili: This recipe is perfect for a day when you want to make a bunch of delicious food and have your home smell amazing. This recipe not only makes chili, but also some extra meat to keep for a future use like Shredded Pork Sandwiches.
Winter Black Bean Soup: I realize this is not exactly a chili recipe, but it checks all the boxes for me. It has beans, rich flavor and goes great with toppings like sour cream and limes. Also, you can use either canned or cooked dry beans in this recipe.
I find my favorites tend to be non-traditional chili recipes and our friends in Texas may disagree with what I have labeled as chili. What are your favorite types of chili? Share with us on our social media!
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.
Happy New Year from the Spend Smart. Eat Smart. team!
For our first recipe of the month for 2022 we are happy to share White Chili with you. This chili recipe only takes about 30 minutes from start to finish, so it is perfect if you need to get a hot meal on the table fast. I like a quick recipe, but the best thing about any chili recipe, in my opinion, is the flexibility. Based on your tastes and what you have on hand, you can swap out proteins, vegetables, and seasonings in just about any chili recipe.
Here are some ideas to change up our White Chili recipe:
Protein: the original recipe calls for chicken and white beans for the protein. If you want to make this dish vegetarian, leave out the chicken and substitute vegetable broth for the chicken broth.
Vegetables: the original recipe calls for onion, diced green chiles, and corn for the vegetables. You can add in different colors of bell peppers with the onion. You can also top this chili with sliced avocado, jalapeno, or green onion.
Seasonings: the original recipe calls for garlic powder, ground cumin, and dried oregano for the seasonings. You can add more or less of each of these depending on your tastes or you can try a different seasoning such as ground pepper, basil, or chili powder.