On the Road Again

With travel restrictions lifting, my family and I are starting to spend quite a bit of time in the car to make up for a year of little travel. My husband and I have family and friends across the country. Flying with a toddler does not seem like an easy task so we have started to take smaller road trips in the past several months. Depending on the time of day that we are traveling, we often need to have snack breaks. When we travel, we try to pick healthier options at gas stations and rest stops. Today I would like to share some of our favorites with you!

A few of my go-to travel snacks include trail mix, fresh fruits and vegetables, cheese sticks, pretzels, and popcorn. Most rest stops and gas stations have a variety of healthier snack options. I have had good luck finding whole grain snacks, whole fruits and a variety of trail mix options at gas stations. One thing I have noticed is that convenience store options tend to be more expensive. On our last road trip, I purchased a small bag of trail mix from a gas station for $4.79. Compared to my local grocery store, this was almost $2 more than what I would typically spend on a similar item.

Therefore, when I know I am going to be traveling, I try to plan my snacks and purchase them ahead of time. Spend Smart. Eat Smart. has a number of easy, inexpensive snack items that are great for road trips. Some of my favorites are the Popcorn Trail Mix and Breakfast Cookies. For items that need to be kept cold, like string cheese, I will pack a small cooler or lunchbox with ice packs and a thermometer to make sure they stay safe.

I would love to hear if you have packed any of the Spend Smart. Eat Smart. recipes in your travel bag. Feel free to share any of your go-to travel snacks with us on social media or in the comments section. Cheers to your next road trip adventure!

Katy Moscoso

Katy Moscoso is a Program Specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. As a new mom she is always on the lookout for easy, healthy recipes to prepare for her family.

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Benefitting from Our Neighbor’s Talents

Gardening is not my strong suit. Quite honestly, the thought of gardening and planting flowers brings a lot of stress! After years of attempting to garden and losing motivation due to brown flowers and plants, I eventually came to terms with the fact that my family’s produce would need to be purchased from the grocery store or a local farmer’s market. Fortunately, one of our neighbors has a gift and has planted a garden to share with a few families on our street. Like mentioned in the previous gardening posts, our neighbor has done the research to determine what items to grow in her garden. With a lot of trial and error, she has become quite successful!

Although I don’t grow my own garden, my family has been able to benefit from our neighbor’s talents and enjoy the fruit of her labor. Before the growing season begins, she asks for our input on what seeds to purchase and takes donations from neighbors to help offset the cost of seeds, dirt, fencing (to attempt to keep away the bunnies), and additional items she may need to purchase to upgrade her garden space. As part of our contribution, our toddler provides art for her garden space and neighbors help by pulling weeds and planting. As the vegetables begin to grow, she divides up the produce and shares it with those who have made contributions. We have learned a lot from our neighbor over the past few years and gardening has helped us build a new connection with her.

Neighborhood gardens can be a great way to use everyone’s skills and share in some of the costs. We don’t have the time or the space to create a successful garden in our backyard, so having a neighbor who enjoys the work and is willing to share her talents with us has been a great experience. Check out this Neighborhood Gardens blog from our friends over at AnswerLine that highlights additional tips on how to get started!

Later this summer I will be sharing what our neighbor has been able to grow, as well as different recipes we will make at home with the fresh produce.

Cheers to building connections through neighborhood gardens!

Katy Moscoso

Katy Moscoso is a Program Specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. As a new mom she is always on the lookout for easy, healthy recipes to prepare for her family.

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Growing Vegetables in Pots

This week in our gardening series, I’m going to share the plans my son and I have for doing some container gardening at our house.

Growing up on a farm, I helped my mom with our garden. And one year I even planned the garden out and had it as a 4-H project. Since that time though, the only gardening I’ve done was a few years ago when my daughter was a toddler and my son was 5 or 6 and I tried growing some carrots, lettuce and tomatoes in pots on our deck. It went….okay. The tomatoes were too big for the pot so they didn’t grow that well and the carrots were too bunched so didn’t grow very big. Lessons learned!

Fast forward to this year when my son is 11 and is interested in having a garden. Instead of digging up a space in our yard, we’ve decided to grow a few things in containers on our deck again. We have a neighbor who is a talented woodworker who made some wooden planters for us to use.

My son and I have decided to grow cherry tomatoes, peppers, and some lettuce. I’d also like to grow some basil. To help me do a better job at choosing varieties of these vegetables that grow well in containers, I’m going to use this handout on Container Vegetable Gardening. I’m looking forward to this gardening adventure with my kids! Check back later this summer and see if things are going better than they did the last time I tried growing vegetables in a pot!

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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Herb Gardening in Small Spaces

Last week we heard about our friend Jill’s experience with gardening throughout her life. She shared some wonderful tips for planning a garden and using the information on seed packets to help you make decisions. I would like to share a slightly different perspective. I live in a small house and I do not have land to till up and plant a garden. I still love to grow some food though, so I do container gardening.

Container gardening is a very simple approach to gardening that allows you to use a patio or porch to grow food in pots or other containers. It is helpful when you do not have land to till up or when you just want to grow a few plants and not a whole garden.

Herbs are my favorite food to grow in the summer in Iowa. They thrive in the sun and warm weather. They are easy to maintain. I just water them whenever their soil becomes dry to the touch. Herbs will even grow inside if you have a very sunny window for them. It is so wonderful to be able to snip a few sprigs to add flavor to my cooking. Herbs are rather expensive at the grocery store and they spoil quickly, so being able to cut them from the back patio is a real treat.

  • Parsley is delightful in salads and as a final topper for things like roasted veggies or fish.
  • Basil tastes delicious with tomatoes and pasta. I also love sliced basil stirred into cottage cheese.
  • Rosemary, sage and thyme are tasty additions to roasted veggies. Toss them with the veggies before cooking and enjoy.

If you have a sunny spot and a sturdy container of soil, you’re ready to get started! For a bit more information, check out Growing Herbs in Containers from our friends in Iowa State University’s Horticulture department. Next week Jody will share about her experience growing vegetables in containers at her house.

Happy Gardening!

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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Gardening Starts With the Seeds

Each year, as the days get longer and temperatures rise, garden catalogs begin to fill our mailbox and planning for our garden begins once again.  My husband and I each grew up in homes with large vegetable gardens.  His mom had a separate potato garden and my family sold sweet corn and tomatoes at our farm.  I remember dad putting the sign up at the end of our driveway each summer.   My family used the money we made selling tomatoes and sweet corn for a summer vacation just before school started.   As you might imagine, my husband and I have enjoyed planning, planting and harvesting our own vegetable garden through the years.  What we plant and how big our garden is has changed through the years, as the season of our life dictates. Some years, our schedule for the summer hasn’t allowed time for gardening, and what we plant has also changed as our interest in certain vegetables has changed.   

So, what do we grow?  We enjoy growing tomatoes, onions, peppers, several kinds of herbs, carrots, broccoli, kale, lettuce and spinach. 

Questions we ask ourselves as we decide what to grow include: What do we like to eat?  How much space will it take to grow?  Is there another way to obtain this food?  How expensive is it to buy?  How difficult is it to grow?

Once we decide what we are going to grow, it’s time to find the best way to grow it.  You can buy seeds and you can also buy small plants to transplant into your garden.  As seasonal stores open up in grocery store parking lots and at local nurseries, you will find seed displays and often small plants to purchase.  One place you can check with for seeds is at your local county extension office.  They sometimes give away free seeds.  These seeds are typically last season’s seeds—but are still a great source for free seeds.  You can also use your SNAP benefits to buy seeds. 

The next step is to plan your garden.  You will need to consider how much space each item you plant will need, how deep to plant them and how much product you can expect. The seed packet will have information on it to help you answer these questions. Be sure and read both sides to help you be successful with your garden.  It’s a good idea to keep track of when you plant the seed. We write the date on our calendar.  Keeping track of the date will help you know when to expect to be able to harvest the produce.   

The seed packet will tell you:

  • The company the seed is from and how much seed you will get in the packet.  
  • A picture of what you will be growing.
  • The kind of seed and the name of the variety. 
  • How much sun the growing plant prefers and the height of the mature plant. 
  • Where and when to plant the seed.  There are often also brief statements about how to prepare and use the item you will be growing. 
  • How to plant the seed, how long of row or how many hills the seeds will plant. 
  • How many days it will take after planting for the seeds to germinate or sprout. You will be able to find how many days it will take after planting for the seeds to mature and you will be able to harvest a crop.
  •  Conditions the plant will grow in, what the plant prefers.
  • How to harvest and use the produce.

You may think gardens require a big piece of land, but they do not have to. If your schedule is busy, or you don’t have access to a garden plot, consider container gardening.  Tomatoes and peppers grow well in containers on a porch or front step.  Some communities also offer community garden plots where you can rent space to grow your garden. 

If you would like additional garden information, check out this publication from ISU Extension and Outreach.  Want Yard or Garden Information? Ask Iowa State University Extension and Outreach

Written by Jill Weber

Human Sciences Specialist, Nutrition and Wellness

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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ISU Extension and Outreach offers training for child care providers

For the first time, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans include recommendations by life stage, from birth through older adulthood. ISU Extension and Outreach is offering training for child care providers in Iowa that include the new recommendations for feeding infants and toddlers.

Read more at: https://www.extension.iastate.edu/news/new-dietary-guidelines-feeding-infants-and-toddlers

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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Nutrition Facts Label Gets an Update

 For the first time in 20 years, the Nutrition Facts label, found on packaged foods, has been significantly updated to make it easier to understand. The Nutrition Facts label can help you make food choices for good health. It is a valuable tool and we want to make it easy for you to understand all of the information it includes. Check out our video on Reading the Food Label.

The new label has some changes because needs and priorities related to food have changed in the last 20 years. Here is a summary of some of the changes:

  • The serving size is in a large, bold font and serving sizes have been updated to better reflect what people actually eat. Pay attention to the size and number of servings you eat or drink as it may be bigger or smaller than the serving size listed.
  • Calories are now shown in a larger, bolder font to better display this information. The thing to remember with calories is that you may consume more or less than is listed on the label based on the size and number of servings you eat.
  • Added sugars are included under total sugars to help consumers understand how much sugar has been added to the product. Some foods naturally contain sugar, like fruits and dairy. The new label helps you see how much sugar is naturally present and how much is added. Consuming too much added sugar can make it hard to meet nutrient needs while staying within calorie recommendations.
  • Potassium and Vitamin D are now required on the label because people need to consume more of these nutrients. Vitamins A and C are no longer required on the label, since deficiencies of these vitamins are rare today. Calcium and iron are still required on the label.

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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Preventing Food Waste with a Toddler

Parenting a toddler can be tough, especially when it comes to snacks and mealtimes. I remember hearing stories from my friends about their picky eaters and thought my child would be different. Boy was I wrong! Over the past few months, mealtime has become quite the challenge at my house. My toddler’s favorite foods come and go, and I have had to alter our meal planning to fit her needs during this phase.

As we focus on preventing food waste during this month’s blog series, I also wanted to focus on the idea of preventing kitchen waste. Mealtime can be extra messy with little ones and I found that I was creating a lot of kitchen waste with paper towels, snack baggies, and food containers. I decided to make a few changes in our home to address our kitchen waste, and they have made quite the difference!

  1. During mealtime, serve small amounts of a food first to eliminate having to throw away food. Our toddler is skeptical of new foods, and even some of our tried and true favorites. To keep it less overwhelming, we give her small amounts of each food item knowing she can ask for more. If she doesn’t like something, we either save it in a small container to try again the next day or if we do end up throwing it away, it’s only a spoonful or two.
  2. Invest in extra burp cloths or kitchen towels to clean up messes instead of relying on paper towels. I have lost count of how many times I have had to wipe up spilled milk or clean peanut butter slathered surfaces around my house. To eliminate extra waste, we have started to use old burp cloths and rags as our ‘paper towels’ that can be washed and reused.
  3. Cut down on pre-packaged snacks and invest in reusable containers. I make our own grab and go snacks with reusable bags or cups instead of plastic baggies. Instead of buying individually wrapped animal crackers and applesauce pouches, I buy those items in larger containers to cut down on the amount of plastic and cardboard in my trash. A household favorite is Popcorn Trail Mix that can be stored in a large bowl in the pantry and put into reusable containers when running errands or going to the park.
  4. Add in leftover days to continue introducing new foods. For my toddler, if we continue to introduce a new food, she is more likely to try it. I use the Five- Day Meal Planner and incorporate leftovers 2-3 days a week for both lunch and supper to cut down on throwing away food.  Typically, by the third introduction the new food will be consumed by our skeptical eater.

Only buy certain items in bulk. Toddlers especially go through phases of loving something one week and disliking it the next. I have made the rookie mistake of overbuying a food item only to be stuck with 20 apple zucchini pouches (which I used for baking to avoid throwing them away!). Cereal is always a necessity in my house. Buying cereal and plain apple sauce in bulk works for us. Buy the items you know will be used regardless of your child’s preferences in bulk and keep other purchases smaller in scale. These are a few ideas that work for my family-if you also have a little one at home, I hope you find these tips useful. Cheers to finding ways to cut down on your own kitchen waste!

Katy Moscoso

Katy Moscoso is a Program Specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. As a new mom she is always on the lookout for easy, healthy recipes to prepare for her family.

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Spice up Your Protein!

During the summer months the grill on our deck gets a lot of use. My family spends a lot of time outside in the afternoons and evenings. Using the grill gives us the chance to enjoy playing outside without having to do a lot of actual cooking. With the days getting significantly warmer, I jump at any recipe that doesn’t require me to preheat my oven! 

To spice it up, I like creating simple marinades to add variety to our protein before grilling. Growing up, my family spent a lot of time grilling and I learned how to create simple marinades with very basic ingredients. The ratio I use to create my own marinades is three parts oil to one-part vinegar or lemon juice and then add a variety of seasonings or spices. Some of my favorite additions are garlic/garlic powder, Italian seasoning, dried herbs and to keep it simple, salt and pepper. You can also use bottled dressings to marinate your protein like Italian dressing or other oil-based dressings. Other family favorites at my house are the Homemade Teriyaki Sauce and the Honey Mustard Dressing recipe on Spend Smart. Eat Smart.

I have found that I get the best flavor when I marinate my protein in the fridge for at least 30 minutes to 2 hours. Meat proteins like chicken, pork and beef can soak in a marinade overnight if they are in a covered dish in the fridge. Fish is more delicate and 1 or 2 hours is plenty of marinating time. After you begin grilling, make sure you discard any leftover marinade that has been in contact with the uncooked meat because it is not safe to consume or re-use. Use clean plates and utensils after your protein is done cooking to avoid cross contamination. If you prefer meatless dishes, you can also marinate beans and tofu before cooking to add additional flavor. Pair your marinated protein with a quick side dish like Broccoli Salad or Pasta Salad to create a well-rounded summer meal! Watch this quick video on preparing honey mustard dressing as a marinade. I would love to hear your favorite summer recipes–share your go-to marinades with us! Cheers to creating your own marinades at home!

honey mustard marinade

Katy Moscoso

Katy Moscoso is a Program Specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. As a new mom she is always on the lookout for easy, healthy recipes to prepare for her family.

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Beans with Miles and Justine

Over the weekend, I decided to make a couple of batches of dried beans to have on hand to make quick meals over the next couple of weeks. My son, Miles, took a break from his summer schedule of playing with his brother and sister to help me out. Miles and I used these Preparing Dried Beans instructions to make our beans. Watch our video below to see us in action. 

Since we made two batches of beans, we used two different cooking methods. One was the slow cooker method, which I prefer. First, we sorted through our beans to remove any rocks, dirt, or bad beans (Miles is really good at this). Then we added them to our slow cooker with about 8 cups of water and cooked them on low for 7 hours. Miles and I decided to make our slow cooker beans into refried beans for supper that night, so, once they were cooked, we drained them and mashed them. After supper, I stored the leftover beans in an airtight container in the refrigerator to use in other meals later in the week.

I only have one big slow cooker, so we used the stovetop method for the other batch of beans. After sorting through our beans, we put them in a large pot, covered them with water, and put the lid on. We placed the pot on the stove and brought the water to a boil for two minutes. Then we took the beans off the heat and let them soak for a couple of hours. Soaking the beans makes them easier to digest and helps them cook more quickly. Next, we drained and rinsed the beans, covered them with fresh water and cooked them on medium on the stovetop for two hours. We put these beans into freezer bags and froze them. Now, I can grab a bag of beans out of the freezer to make our two favorite bean recipes anytime – Black Bean Burgers and Vegetable Quesadillas

Beans are a staple in our house because everyone likes them, they can be used in many different recipes, and they fit into our budget. If you would like to learn more about beans, check out our Spend Smart. Eat Smart. Pantry Picks page and click on beans. Enjoy!

apreparing dried beans

Justine Hoover

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

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