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All about Peppers

Peppers are one of my favorite veggies. During the winter, I buy them at the grocery store most weeks. During the summer, I love to grow them myself. They are rich in vitamin C, low in calories and add lots of flavor to whatever I am cooking.

You can grow peppers in pots or in the ground. If you choose to use a pot, you’ll want it to be at least two gallons in size for a single pepper plant and you may want to use a dowel or stake to support your plant as it grows.

Keep in mind that most peppers start green and some varieties ripen to be yellow, orange, red or purple. The Iowa State University gardening experts have a publication that will help you pick the pepper type that is best for you. Peppers that are not green tend to be much more expensive. You can save a lot of money by growing peppers yourself, but be prepared that peppers that are not green will need more time on the plant to change colors, which means you may lose more to rot, pests or weather damage.

I hope you will give a pepper plant a try this summer. If you would like some tips on cutting up whole peppers, we have a video to get you started.

Christine Hradek

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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Let’s Grow Tomatoes!

Cherry tomatoesLast week Christine shared about how she grows greens in containers on her patio. This week I am going to share about my gardening experiences with tomatoes. My family and I have a pretty large garden in our back yard. We usually fill about half of it with tomato plants because we love to eat them fresh and make them into tomato juice to enjoy all year long.

This “Tomatoes” growing guide is a great read if you are interested in trying some tomatoes in your garden this year or if you would like to improve the health and yield of your tomato plants. Here are some practical tips I have picked up as I have experimented with growing tomatoes in my own garden:

  • Choose the right varieties of tomatoes for my garden. This one takes a little trial and error. I have found that Better Boy and Super Sweet 100 tomatoes grow best in my garden.
  • Plant tomatoes between May 15th and June 1st. After May 15th, I should be able to avoid frost killing my plants. If I get my plants in before June 1st, I can enjoy a longer growing season and a higher yield.
  • Use tomato cages. Large, tall tomato cages allow the plants to grow big, healthy, and strong. They are also easier to manage than tomatoes that are staked up or tomatoes that are allowed to grow along the ground.

Thankfully, you do not need a large garden to enjoy growing fresh tomatoes at home.  Depending on the plant size, tomatoes can be grown in 2-4 gallon containers. The Container Vegetable Gardening guide gives ideas for the variety of tomato that would be best for your home.

I hope you can get outside and enjoy gardening this year!

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover

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

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Lettuce Start Gardening!

Silly title -I know – but Spring has sprung here in Iowa and I am so excited to start growing some food on my back patio. Getting my herbs and vegetables planted is such a fun way to celebrate the warmer weather. Fresh veggies from the garden taste so good and growing your own food saves serious money.

I do not have space to plant a garden in the ground, so I use planters and pots on my patio. It is amazing how much food you can grow in a tiny space. There will be a point this summer when I can barely keep up with it!

Salad greens grow very well in containers. Here are some steps to get you started!

  1. Review the Iowa State University Container Vegetable Gardening Guide. It has all of the basics to help you get started.
  2. Choose a large pot (1 gallon minimum) with drainage holes.
  3. Put a layer of rocks or gravel in the bottom and then fill with potting soil.
  4. Use your finger to create a trench about one inch deep and sprinkle seeds about every inch in the trench. Repeat this process with an additional row or two leaving 4 inches between rows.
  5. Put your pot where bunnies and deer cannot get it. They love lettuce and they will eat it!
  6. Water the soil (not the leaves) as often as necessary to keep it moist. It does not need to be soaking wet, but should not get completely dry either. I typically water my vegetable containers every 1-2 days during the heat of the summer.
  7. After about three weeks, you will have leaves to harvest. Clip the leaves, leaving the plant base behind. The plant will grow more leaves!

This month our blogs are all about growing your own fruits and vegetables. We hope you’ll find some good ideas whether you’re just starting out or a certified green thumb. Please comment on our Facebook page or tweet us and let us know your favorite things to grow!

Christine Hradek

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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Spring Produce

Each spring I love watching the plants pop up out of the ground.  Some days I feel like I can see the plants growing in my yard.  Now that we are in April, more and more fresh spring produce is popping up in the stores and in gardens.

Buying fruits and vegetables that are in season gets you the tastiest produce for the least cost.  Here are some fruits and vegetables that are in season in the spring:

  • Asparagus – snap off the woody ends and grill, steam, or roast.
  • Broccoli – cut into florets and eat raw, steam, or roast.
  • Rhubarb – eat only the reddish stalk; find out more on the AnswerLine Blog.
  • Snow peas – eat raw or add to stir-fry.
  • Spinach – eat in a salad, top off a sandwich, or add to a smoothie.
  • Strawberries – eat on their own or as a topping to your favorite dessert.

I hope you get to enjoy some fresh spring produce this week!

Christine Hradek

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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Do you have an app for that?

Yes, we do! Spend Smart. Eat Smart. is now available as an app. The brand new, free mobile app puts healthy eating and cost saving tools in the palm of your hand at the grocery store. These new tools on the app make it easier to eat healthy and stick to your budget.

  • Unit Price Calculator: You will never have to wonder which product is a better buy again. The calculator will do unit price calculations with ease.
  • Produce Basics: Review nutrition, selection, storage, cleaning and preparation information for a wide variety of fresh produce.
  • Recipe Finder: Keep track of your favorite recipes from the website.

Download for free today from your app store!

Jody Gatewood

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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Baked Fish and Chips

The Spend Smart. Eat Smart. recipe of the month for April is Baked Fish and Chips.  There are many reasons that I love this recipe.  Here are a few:

  • It is lower in calories and fat than fish and chips from a restaurant.
    • Fast food fish and chips – 720 calories, 35 grams fat
    • Baked Fish and Chips – 410 calories, 7 grams fat
  • It is less expensive than fish and chips from a restaurant.
    • Fast food fish and chips – $5.99 per serving
    • Baked Fish and Chips – $1.24 per serving
  • It works with any kind of fish you have on hand or that you like.
  • It is delicious – my family eats every last bite of this meal when I make it.

If, like me, you like tartar sauce with your fish, but do not want to buy an entire bottle – you can make your own.  Just mix two tablespoons of mayonnaise with two tablespoons of pickle relish.  You can adjust the amounts of mayo and relish to your tastes.

I hope you enjoy our April recipe – Baked Fish and Chips!

https://spendsmart.extension.iastate.edu/recipe/baked-fish-and-chips/

Christine Hradek

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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Be Active Your Way Every Day

You might be wondering why this blog is titled Be Active Your Way Every Day. What does that have to do with eating healthy on a budget? Well, being active might not affect your grocery budget but it is important to your health! Being active helps you sleep better, feel better and have more energy.  Who doesn’t want all of those things?

Here are the current recommendations for physical activity:

  • Adults should get at least 2 ½ hours of aerobic physical activity each week. This type of activity works your heart and lungs such as walking, running, or swimming.
  • If you break up the 2 ½ hours over the week, this means being active for 30 minutes 5 days of the week.
  • When your schedule is busy or you are just starting to be more physically active, do it in small segments of 10 minutes or so. To get in your 30 minutes of activity for the day you could walk for 10 minutes in the morning, 10 minutes at lunch, and 10 minutes in the evening.
  • It is also recommended to do strength and flexibility training 2-3 times a week. This could be lifting weights, stretching, or doing exercises like squats and push-ups.
  • Children need to get 60 minutes or more of active play every day.

There are many ways to be active such as biking, gardening, dancing, and playing outside. If you like to track your activity, consider using the SuperTracker from choosemyplate.gov. It’s free!

When it comes to being active, the important thing is to find something you enjoy doing that moves your body!

Jody Gatewood

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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Mashed Cauliflower, Really?

Our featured recipe this month is Roasted Cauliflower. It is delightful and probably my favorite way to eat cauliflower. You can’t miss the buzz around cauliflower over the past couple of years. I have noticed many recipe sites and food bloggers using it to mimic other foods like pizza crust, rice or mashed potatoes. This intrigued me, so I decided to try out the cauliflower mashed potatoes myself.

I read a bunch of recipes online and most have very similar steps. I made mine in the microwave because I thought that would be the simplest. Here is what I did.

  1. I cut a small head of cauliflower into florets. You want the florets small so they soften quickly while cooking.I put the florets in a microwavable dish with a lid and added two cloves of chopped garlic and ¼ cup of water.
  2. I microwaved the dish for five minutes, stirred and then two minutes more until the cauliflower was soft.
  3. I used a potato masher to mash the cauliflower as much as I could.
  4. I added one tablespoon each of butter and light sour cream along with ¼ teaspoon each of salt and pepper.
  5. I was left with just shy of two cups of mashed cauliflower.

The verdict?

I feel I need to share that I have a deep love for mashed potatoes, so this cauliflower was going to have to be pretty fabulous to win me over. That being said, I would make this again and it is a quick and tasty way to eat cauliflower. It does not taste like mashed potatoes; it tastes like mashed cauliflower.

I have a few tips based on my experience.

  • I typically add milk to mashed potatoes. The cauliflower did not need any liquid added to it, so you can save your milk for dinking.
  • I used basic seasonings, fresh garlic, salt and pepper. You could easily substitute garlic powder or your favorite seasoning blend.
  • I was not able to get my cauliflower completely smooth with a potato masher. It tasted fine, but was somewhat fibrous. I gave it a buzz in the food processor and it became much smoother and much more like mashed potatoes. Here are two pictures that show the difference.

Food Processor

Hand Mashed

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cauliflower is inexpensive and low in calories. It also contains vitamins C and K as well as folate. If cauliflower is new to your family, try it mashed and see what you think – just don’t tell them it’s mashed potatoes!

Christine Hradek

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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How to Drain Ground Beef

Growing up on a farm where we raised cattle, ground beef was often part of our meals. Today, I use ground beef about once a week in my family’s meals. Since meat is a more expensive item on my grocery list, I look for ways to help keep the cost down. One way to do this is to buy ground beef that has a higher fat content since it is cheaper. For example, currently at my grocery store 1 pound of 85% lean ground beef is $3.99 while 1 pound of 93% lean ground beef is $5.49. If I’m going to be browning the meat to use in a dish like tacos or spaghetti, I can drain the fat from the meat after I have browned it. That why I’m saving money but still keeping the fat down in my meals.

Watch our new video on How to Drain Ground Beef so you can save money and reduce the fat the next time you use ground beef.

Jody Gatewood

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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How Much Should My Child be Eating?

How much should my child be eating? This is a question that every parent asks themselves. Unfortunately, the answer is not simple. The answer depends on the age of the child, whether or not they are going through a growth spurt, the health status of the child, and other factors that we do not even understand.

When I am concerned about how well my children are eating, I go to sources I trust. First and foremost is their physician. She has followed them since they were born, so she knows them, she has tracked their growth, she has documented their health concerns over the years, and we trust her. If you have major concerns about your child’s growth or eating habits, go to a trusted health care provider first.

If you are simply curious about how much your child needs to be eating or if you want to make sure your child is on track, I have two other sources you can trust.

First is the Ellyn Satter Institute. On this website, you will find many resources on how to feed your child and how to make mealtime enjoyable for everyone in the family. There are even suggestions for children who are picky eaters. At our home, we follow the Division of Responsibility in Feeding and it has worked for us.

Second is Choose MyPlate. On this website, you will find many resources on what and how much to feed your child. This website focuses on choosing a variety of foods from the five food groups – fruits, vegetables, grains, protein, and dairy. A general guideline that I try to follow is choose foods from three food groups at breakfast, four food groups at lunch and supper, and one or two food groups at snack times. On this website, you can check out each food group for a suggested amount that your child needs from that group each day. You can also find this information on the Spend Smart. Eat Smart. website in the Aisle by Aisle section.

Feeding children can be a challenge, but remember you are not alone. There are good resources out there to help you.

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover

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

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