Fish is not a food that I ate very much growing up, so I did not really know how to cook it when I was on my own. For several years, I did not even try to cook it. I kept hearing about the health benefits of eating fish, so I decided to give it a try.
After a few failed attempts, I found a way to bake fish that my (then new) husband and I both liked. I baked fish that same way for about 10 years until Christine introduced me to our April recipe of the month – Broiled Salmon. Now I broil salmon, and other types of fish, regularly. Here is why:
We love the flavor that the lemon adds to the fish.
It is easy to make with just a few ingredients.
It is quick to make. With this recipe, I can pull together a full meal in 15-20 minutes!
My family gets the health benefits from the fish.
If you are considering adding fish to your menu, I hope you give this recipe a try.
Our March recipe of the month is an old favorite here in Iowa. Four Layer Supper is a casserole that has been a staple recipe here for many years. The name says it all, this recipe is a casserole made up of four layers – potatoes, green beans, ground beef and onions, and cheese.
Over the years, we have learned from this recipe and made some updates. These updates make the recipe easier, more nutritious, and less expensive.
To save time, prick the potatoes with a fork and microwave them for 5 minutes before cutting them up. This will reduce the baking time by 15-20 minutes.
To add nutrition to this recipe, substitute sweet potatoes for all or some of the white potatoes. Sweet potatoes boost the fiber and vitamin A in this recipe.
To save money on this recipe, check your grocery ads and substitute a less expensive meat for the ground beef. This could even be leftover cooked meat from a previous meal.
Last week Rachel shared five red flags to look out for when considering diet advice. In the blog, she
mentioned learning new skills that can improve your health, like meal planning, instead of focusing
solely on weight. Meal planning is a popular practice; especially at the beginning of the year when
people are trying to eat better, save money and be more organized. It can help you check off all three!
Today I’m going to share with you five tips for meal planning with health in mind.
Include foods from each of the food groups. This allows you to get a variety of nutrients provided by each of the food groups needed for good health. Our 5-Day Meal Planning Worksheet has a checklist at the bottom to help you determine if you included something from each food group.
Balance the food groups throughout the day. Aim to have 1-2 food groups at snacks and 3-4 food groups at meals. For example, at breakfast you might have a scrambled egg, slice of whole-wheat toast, an orange, and glass of milk. Then at snack you have celery sticks with peanut butter.
Include two servings of fruit and three servings of vegetables. This is a general guide for each person per day. An example would be a banana for breakfast, an apple and broccoli for lunch, and vegetable soup for dinner. To determine the specific amount you need and for information on what counts as a serving, visit www.choosemyplate.gov.
Include whole grains. Whole grains have more fiber, which is important for health. It is recommended to make half your grains whole grains. Therefore, if your family prefers white pasta, balance that out by including other whole grains in your menu plan like brown rice or whole wheat bread.
Include both plant and animal proteins. Animal proteins are a good source of iron while plant proteins are higher in fiber. If you have chicken at lunch, consider having lentil tacos for supper. Or mix both beans and meat with pasta instead of just meat. If you’re new to meal planning, use our sample meal planning calendar to help get started. We also have a new sample vegetarian meal planning calendar.
Next week Justine will share a recipe for Cheesy Chicken Casserole that you just might want to include on your meal plan!
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.
Last week our blog was all about buying yogurt. This week we have a tasty recipe using yogurt as the main ingredient – Vegetable Dip. This recipe is very helpful at my house because my youngest son will not eat vegetables unless he has something to dip them in. I like this recipe better than ranch dressing or store bought dip because the yogurt adds some nutrition to those vegetables that he would not get otherwise.
This recipe is so easy – all you have to do is combine plain yogurt with some seasonings. Make sure that you let this dip rest in the refrigerator overnight. This rest time gives the flavors from the seasonings time to mingle together. The hardest part of this recipe is slicing the vegetables to dip in it!
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.
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.
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.
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.