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!
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!
The interest in growing our own produce increases daily. Everyone can garden, even apartment dwellers and those with limited outdoor space. The Sow, Grow, Eat and Keep series is helping Iowans learn to grow their own food at home. This week’s “Sow, Grow, Eat and Keep” video from Iowa State University Extension and Outreach addresses how to start a container garden to grow tasty foods at home.
Container gardens offer many benefits including:
Requires less space than a traditional garden.
Can be done on a porch or patio.
Can be placed at a height that reduces bending.
There are many ways to create a container garden. You can use a variety of flower pots or larger containers, such as large plastic buckets, or build raised bed gardens. Almost any vegetable can be grown in a container garden. The best plants are those that are smaller and bushier and do not require staking. Check out the ISU Extension and Outreach publications Container Vegetable Gardening and Container Gardening FAQs.
ISU Extension and Outreach will continue hosting weekly “Sow, Grow, Eat and Keep”quickinars. The quickinars offer 5-15 minute online lessons of seasonally appropriate topics for the garden, food preparation and food preservation. Some upcoming topics include:
Cool and warm season crops (lettuce, spinach, peas)
The Spend Smart. Eat Smart. Team has been sharing their kitchens with you and what menu planning looks like for each of them, including tips and recipes. Unfortunately, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has made it difficult for many families to provide enough food due to lack of resources. This is particularly true for households with young children. In an effort to ease the burden on families, I would like to share information about a program available in your community that provides nutritious meals and snacks to children, 18 and under, during the COVID-19 pandemic and the coming summer months.
The USDA Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) was established to fill the gap when children lose access to meals when schools are closed. Most often this occurs during summer vacation. However, during school closures related to the pandemic, meals are also being made available. You have the opportunity to supplement the food you have at home with meals and snacks for your children from local schools and community organizations. In an effort to maintain social distancing, USDA has made temporary changes that allow parents or guardians to pick up meals and take them home for their children. Organizations have come up with creative ways to make these nutritious meals available in your community through grab and go curbside pickup, providing meals for multiple days at one time, and some including “take and bake” options, and weekend meals.
You can find a meal site in your area via three easy options:
Text “Food” or “Comida” to 877-877
Call 2-1-1, 1-866-3-HUNGRY (1-866-348-6479), or 1-877-8-HAMBRE (1-877-842-6273) (for Spanish)
Take the stress out of providing nutritious meals and snacks to your children by participating at a site near you! Spread the word to family, friends, and neighbors!
Stephanie Dross is a Registered Dietitian with the Iowa Department of Education, Bureau of Nutrition and Health Services. She coordinates the Department’s Summer Food Service Program and loves to garden and cook with her family.
This week, our blogs focus on the financial challenges COVID-19 has created for many families. Extension can help. We don’t have a magic wand, but we do have trustworthy information and planning strategies to help you consider your options and make decisions that will work for you in the long run. Whether it’s sorting out your priorities, figuring out how to contact creditors, finding ways to stretch dollars further, or addressing some other issue, your local Human Sciences specialist in family finance can provide tools or suggest strategies that will help you make decisions with confidence. Find the specialist who serves your region and contact us by phone or email. Over the phone, by video chat, OR by email, we’ll help you find tools and resources for moving forward, even in this difficult time. Click play below to learn more.
Guest Blogger, Barb Wollan, Family Finance Specialist
This week, we welcome guest blogger Barb Wollan. Barb is a Family Finance Specialist with ISU Extension and Outreach and her blog relates to weighing priorities during times when money is tight.
As we focus on what we can control in our personal finances, the most obvious thing we control is our spending. Due to COVID 19, you may have already cut back on some of your normal expenses, like entertainment, but when money is tight, these cuts may not be enough. Choosing your top priorities is critical. Prioritizing includes considering all necessary expenses like groceries and utilities, and it often requires us to separate the things we need from the things we want. Before skipping a bill or making a partial payment, start by getting a complete picture of all your bills and debts – total monthly payments, total owed, current standing (i.e. are you currently caught up), and interest rate or fees for late payment.
The next step is to consider each bill’s importance. All bills will need to be paid eventually, and it is never desirable to leave bills unpaid or partially paid. However, in times of real financial shortfall, people sometimes have to make tough choices. So how do you choose among your many bills?
Consider what you have to lose if a bill is unpaid. Losing housing, core utilities or a vehicle is generally the greatest possible loss to a household. Therefore those payments may be top priorities for many families. By contrast, getting behind on a credit card account or medical bill payment plan may not affect your immediate well-being. Missing a payment could hurt your credit report, but you can recover from it. Due to COVID 19, some of your service providers and creditors may be offering assistance to extend your payment deadline and/or help reduce your payment obligations. In most cases, making a minimum payment is better than making no payment. Missing a payment has different consequences on your credit report. Plus, some consequences start immediately, while others may only start after a significant delay in payment. For example, some auto lenders repossess a vehicle after a single missed payment while others wait 60 days. If you take advantage of a COVID-19 payment assistance option, there are a few factors that will determine how creditors report your account to credit reporting companies, learn more about credit reporting under the CARES Act.
In addition to prioritizing among your existing bills, it is also wise to consider what bills you will or will not continue to incur. You may have ongoing monthly subscriptions to video services, cable, newspapers, program memberships or mail-order clubs. Stop and think about whether to continue them during this time. Those are often things we enjoy, and we don’t like the idea of giving them up, but if you’re worried about paying the car insurance or water bill, then it’s appropriate to include these subscriptions as you consider options. Consider your bills that have temporarily stopped, like childcare or federal student loan repayments that are suspended until September 30, 2020. How can these savings be used to pay priority bills? And don’t forget your bills on autopay, if you want more flexibility to prioritize your bills consider removing the auto payment.
If you have to miss a bill payment, check out the website of your service providers or creditor to see if they are offering greater payment flexibility. And as much as you might dread the phone call, communicating with creditors is essential if you cannot pay on time. The fact that you called and explained your situation will make a huge difference in their willingness to work with you. This is especially true if you have previously been a reliable customer. Creditors recognize the losses people are facing during this unprecedented crisis. Consider these suggestions for a conversation with a creditor:
Be prompt – call them before your payment is due.
Be honest with them – tell the truth without embellishment or exaggeration.
Ask if they have a pandemic relief option, or a “hardship plan”, that would increase payment flexibility or reduce or eliminate the fees or interest that come with late payments.
Be realistic about your options. If they ask you about when you will be able to make your next payment, give a realistic answer.
Keep a record of what phone number you called, who you talked with, the date and time of the conversation, and what exactly was agreed.
Need help with all this? In many communities, a non-profit credit counseling service is available to help you negotiate the process. To find a reputable credit counselor near you, check with the National Foundation for Credit Counseling; either by phone or on-line, they can do a zip code search to find the member agency nearest you.
On Thursday, Barb will share another resource available to help when making difficult financial decisions.
Like many others, my routine is a bit upside down right now. I am working from home rather than making the trip to Iowa State’s campus each day. I am sticking close to home and avoiding unnecessary trips out of the house. My days look different, but I still want to make healthy choices and enjoy tasty food. I enjoy cooking and I am using this opportunity to do it a lot. For me, planning has helped me eat well and minimize trips out for groceries.
Because I am only cooking for myself, my planning is a bit different from Jody’s, Justine’s and Katy’s. I try to keep it flexible and focus on making good use of what I have. The strategy that works best for me is to keep a running list of what I have on hand from various food groups. From that list, I can spot what recipes I have ingredients to prepare. I can also compose meals by pulling items from different food groups and improvising a bit. The list also serves as a guide for me when it is time to shop. As I use the last of any food, I cross it off and I know I need to add it to my online grocery order.
Take a look at the picture below for my current list.
In addition to keeping this ‘foods on hand’ list, I am also trying to maintain some of the habits I had when I was leaving the house every day for work. For example, I keep a container of cut up vegetables in the refrigerator, so that they are easy to grab and throw into recipes or eat as a snack. I also use my water bottle that I used to take to work to keep up with drinking enough each day.
What strategies work best for you with meal planning right now? Do you keep it flexible or prefer to have more details pinned down in advance? We would love to hear from you, so please share in the comments or 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.
Over the next several weeks, our Spend Smart. Eat Smart. team will be sharing our kitchens with you including how meal planning looks for each of us and some of our top recipes. As situations across the country continue to change, we hope that these tips and recipes will bring you comfort as you adjust to cooking more at home and limiting trips out of the house.
For me, spending more time at home means spending much of my day in the kitchen. For the past three weeks, my husband has been working remotely from home which calls for extra planning and preparing of snacks and meals. Don’t get me wrong, I love being in my kitchen and cooking for my family brings me great joy. However, the more time I was spending in my kitchen during the day, the more I started to realize that my little kitchen had become quite unorganized.
Over the past week, I have written down a few goals around organizing my kitchen to make my space more enjoyable. Some of my goals were to go through my cabinets and throw away expired spices and pantry items, clean and organize my fridge, and find new storage spots for kitchen items that don’t get much use but were cluttering my cabinets and counter tops. To help me meet my goals, I used resources from the Spend Smart. Eat Smart. website on how to Organize Your Space.
Organizing my kitchen helped me find pantry items that were pushed to the back of my cabinets that I can now incorporate into my weekly meal planning. I am glad that I had some extra time to clean out my kitchen. I am able to save time by knowing exactly where the items are that I need for any given recipe and it will help lessen the chance I buy some of the items that I had forgotten about which will save me a little bit of money.
Now that I have my kitchen nicely organized, stay tuned to see how I plan my family’s meals for the week. I would love to hear what your goals are for organizing your kitchen space. Feel free to share any of your kitchen organizing tips in the comments.
As Jody mentioned in her earlier blogs this month, February is focused around heart health. I like to focus on the habits I can do every day that help keep my heart healthy. Eating well and staying active are at the top of the list for me.
Last week Jody touched on strength training and the importance of weight bearing activity to help strengthen muscles. Another easy way to exercise your heart and body is to go for a walk. Did you know that walking is the single most popular adult exercise in the country? Walking can be a great way to increase your heart rate while exercising your heart and lungs.
The goal is to aim for 30-minutes of exercise 5 days a week. When I am running short on time, I will break my walk into short, brisk segments to get to that 30-minute goal. A few ways that I tend to break up my daily walk are to park further away from my destination when I am out running errands and to take short walks during my breaks.
When I was pregnant, I gave myself a goal to walk for 30 minutes every day. I not only wanted to have a healthy pregnancy, but walking helped alleviate stress and gave me an energy boost- this was crucial in those last few months! Once my daughter was born, walking was the only tried and true way that I could soothe her. Having an October baby in Iowa took some flexibility on my part because it got cold outside fast. If the weather was too cold to take her outside, I would head to our local mall to get in my daily walk. Some of my fondest memories from childhood were going on walks with my mom. I hope that my daughter will cherish these daily walks as she gets older and begins to establish her own healthy habits.
Check out the handout, walk your way to fitness, under the ‘move’ tab on our website that highlights helpful tips on what to wear for your walk and how to turn your basic daily stroll into a heart healthy workout.
Cheers to getting outside and strengthening your heart!
Last week I shared a sample plan on how to include our at-home workouts into your weekly exercise plan. This week I want to share some more information and tips on strength training. It is recommended to do muscle strengthening activity at least 2 days per week. Strength training is important for everyone. As we age, if we don’t use our muscles, they get weaker and we are less able to do normal daily activities.
I find that most often, people are comfortable doing physical activities that strengthen their heart and lungs such as walking, running, biking, or swimming. And they are less comfortable doing activities that strengthen their muscles such as push-ups, squats, lunges, and core exercises. Often this is because they aren’t sure how to properly perform these exercises. That is where following our Beginner Strength Training video is helpful.
Good form is very important when strength training to prevent injury. Here are some tips to keep in mind when strength training.
Keep your core tight by pulling your belly button in toward your back. This helps to support your low back while being active.
Exhale during the difficult part of the exercise. For example, when doing an overhead press, exhale when you push the weight over your head. Inhale as you lower the weights back down.
Choose a weight that allows you to complete the full range of motion for each exercise. For example, if you cannot raise your arms up to shoulder height for front shoulder raises, choose a lighter weight.
As your fitness level improves, increase the difficulty of the At-home Beginner Strength Training workout by increasing the amount of weight you use or repeat the set of exercises 2-3 times. For additional strength training exercises, check out the American Council on Exercise website.
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.