Kitchen Safety: Knife Safety

You may remember from last week’s blog, I love prepping meals at home! I often make recipes that require quite a bit of cutting and chopping, especially when using fresh meats and produce. Knife accidents are common in household kitchens, but can be avoided if you use some good habits.

  • Always pick up knives by the handle. Never touch the blade, even when it is dull.
  • Choose the correct size knife for the task that you are doing. For instance, if you’re cutting a strawberry, use a small knife like a paring knife. If you’re cutting large cuts of meat into smaller pieces, then a larger, sharp knife would be the best choice. It is most important to choose a knife that feels comfortable and controlled in your hand.
  • Cut food items away from the body and always use a flat surface. Cutting foods away from the body decreases the chances of an accident. Cut food on a flat surface (such as a cutting board), so it stays in one place. Do not hold food in your hand while you cut it. Be sure to keep it on the cutting board at all times to avoid having your knife slip and hurt you.
  • Wash knives immediately after use. Do not place knives in a sink of soapy water to soak with other dishes. Be sure to take caution when cleaning the knife blade and let the knife air dry. When not in use, store knives safely. Knives are safe in a shield or in a drawer where the blade will not rub against other tools that could dull or damage the blade. Most importantly, keep them out of the way of kitchen traffic or reach of small children.

Next week, the last blog in our kitchen safety series will be on fire safety.

Written by Annie Contrady, ISU Dietetic Intern

Kitchen Safety: Getting Started

Cooking at home is becoming more and more popular, which is great because it usually means healthier food and money saved! I love prepping my own meals at home. It’s a chance to make something new and delicious while controlling what I want to go in it. A home kitchen can be a wonderful spot to explore recipes, try out new skills, and even spend more time with your family and friends; however, kitchens can easily become a spot for accidents if you are not taking the correct safety precautions. Here are some quick tips to get you started and keep you safe while cooking.

1. Wash your hands. Having clean hands is one of the best techniques to prevent foodborne illness and contamination. This Wash Your Hands poster gives a great example of how to correctly wash your hands. Also, if you have long hair, be sure to tie it back before washing your hands to keep it away from your face and out of the food.
2. Have a clean work area and clean tools. Having a clean area can cut down on the chances of food contamination and keep you organized. Who wants to work in a dirty kitchen anyway? Be sure that all equipment you use, such as knives, cutting boards, bowls, and other tools are clean and dry before use. Also, keep all cabinet doors and drawers closed to avoid injury and spills.
3. Wash and check your ingredients. If you’re using fresh fruits and vegetables, be sure to wash them thoroughly with cool, running water, being sure to remove all signs of dirt. Also, check them over for signs of spoilage. If you see soft spots, mold, or other signs of spoilage, be sure to throw out the piece of food to avoid food borne illness.
4. Keep cold food cold and hot food hot. Cold foods should be kept below 40°F and hot foods should be kept at 140°F or above. This helps to keep ingredients from spoiling. This means that if you need a cold ingredient, such as milk, only take it out of the fridge when you need it, and be sure to put it back when you are done.

Next week, I will share the second blog in our kitchen safety series with tips on knife safety.

Written by Annie Contrady, ISU Dietetic Intern

Staying Active when the Temperatures Drop

Taking a long walk and playing in the park on a beautiful day are pretty enjoyable ways to be active. The sad truth is that here in Iowa, we have several months out of each year when the weather outside is less than ideal. Lately, we have had days when the temperature doesn’t even reach zero degrees, brrrr! The frigid weather combined with fewer hours of sunlight can lead to all of us feeling an energy slump.

Despite this, adults need 150 minutes of physical activity per week for good health. So how do you make it work if you do not want to invest in a gym membership and it is so unpleasant outside? You can get moving indoors with very little equipment and still raise your heart rate and work your muscles. Here are some ideas for indoor workouts.

  • Schedule walking dates with friends. Walking is great exercise and doing it with a friend helps with accountability. You can walk at the mall or use an indoor walking workout video. There are many free walking videos available to stream online.
  • The CDC has created a series of videos featuring muscle-strengthening exercises that you can do at home.
  • Make the chores you have to do part of your fitness routine. Why not put on some music while you clean the house to speed up your pace and raise your heart rate?
  • If you have little ones at your house, include them in the fun with these ideas for indoor active games to play with children.

If you choose to exercise outdoors during the winter months, make sure you do so safely. The American Heart Association has some helpful recommendations for being active in cold weather.

Share how you stay active during the winter on Twitter (@SpendEatSmart) or Facebook (Spend Smart. Eat Smart.)

Enjoy these activities while we count down the days until Spring!

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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A Three-Week Meal Plan


Last week Justine shared with you how she does meal planning for her family. I use a similar strategy for my family of four. If you are new to meal planning or starting as a new years’ resolution, we have just the thing for you, a sample three-week meal plan. It includes ideas for meals and snacks as well as links to recipes!

Our sample is a place to start and can be adapted for your family’s needs based on what they like, how many snacks they need each day, and family activities. When creating a meal plan, here are some tips to keep in mind:


  • Plan for leftovers – To help keep food costs low and reduce food waste, make leftovers a part of your meal plan. You will see in the sample meal plan that we planned to have leftovers from supper the next day for lunch occasionally. Depending on the size of your family, you may need to increase the size of the recipe if you want to have leftovers to use at another meal.
  • Prepare extra – To maximize the benefit of your time in the kitchen, plan recipes that use similar ingredients so you can cook extra of an ingredient to use in a recipe another day. For example, if you make Chicken Alfredo Pasta one night, cook extra chicken to use in Chicken Club Salad the next day for lunch. This will also help with food costs and food waste. For food safety purposes, you should use extra cooked meat in a recipe within a day or two of it being cooked.
  • Keep variety in mind – Even though we recommend using leftovers and preparing extra ingredients to use in multiple recipes, it’s also a good idea to include variety in your menu plans. This helps keep meals exciting and makes sure you get a variety of vitamins and minerals. Use a variety of colors of fruits and vegetables. Try different kinds of protein like beef, chicken, or fish and non-meat sources like eggs, beans and nuts. Use different grains like whole grain pasta, brown rice, quinoa, and whole wheat bread.
  • Plan the fruits and vegetables – Many times the main meal is planned, which is often a source of protein, but not the side dishes. Be sure to plan what fruits and vegetables will be a part of the meals and snacks. This helps to be sure they are included in meals and snacks and are part of your shopping list. Use different kinds of fruits and vegetables including fresh, canned, frozen, and dried.


Meal planning may take a little time when you first get started, but it saves time when it comes to getting a meal on the table. No extra tips to the grocery store and stressing about what you are going to have for supper.

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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A Meal Plan For My Family

Here at Spend Smart. Eat Smart. we talk about planning meals a lot.  This is because it is easier to save money and make healthy food choices when you have a plan.  I know that on the weeks that I do not have a plan, or on the weeks when my plan goes wrong, I end up making more trips to the store, spending more money, and making less healthy choices.  

My colleagues have written many great blogs about meal planning here, here, here, and here.  If you want more information about meal planning, take some time to read this helpful information.  Today, I am going to tell you about how meal planning works for my family of five.

I do a lot of cooking on the weekend, so I usually plan out my meals and write my grocery list on Friday.  First, I look at what I have on hand and think of what meals I can make to use up these foods before they go bad.  Then, I write down all of the meals I am going to make that week.  Our 5-Day Meal Planning Worksheet can be helpful for this step.  Finally, I write my grocery list and go shopping.

Now it is time for a confession, I rarely stick to my meal plan as written.  We are an active family and things come up, so I give myself a break here.  If it is 5:30 on Monday night and everyone is hungry but I have not even started supper, I will pull out Sunday’s leftovers and re-heat them.  This pushes Monday’s meal to another night, but that is ok.  Just remember, if you have raw meat in your refrigerator, it is only good for 3-4 days, so stick it in the freezer if you will not be using it soon.

Meal planning is a great way to get your healthy new year’s resolutions off to the right start.  So, give meal planning a try!

How to Plan Meals CALENDAR

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover

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

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What is Intuitive Eating?

I am sure you have heard that all foods fit… but can all foods really fit into a healthy diet? That is the million-dollar question.

Intuitive eating is about eating healthfully while still enjoying your favorite treat foods too! Eating this way will not jeopardize your weight or health and you can eat without feeling guilty. It takes the guesswork out of eating, making it a pleasant experience.

So what should I eat? How do I decide? Choosing a food based on taste, body function, and nutrient value causes a shift in how you decide what to eat and goes beyond what you may be craving.


Taste:  Are your taste buds satisfied?  Or are you feeling deprived? Slowing down and savoring each bite will help you decide how much you like something and is instrumental in choosing what to eat.

Body function: How is this food going to feel in your body? Will it energize you or will you crash later because it does not have enough protein, fiber and fat to sustain you? Do you feel nauseous? Choosing food that makes your body feel good is key!

Nutrient value: Is this food good for your body? Does it provide the nutrients that you need to exercise in an efficient manner; or give you enough brainpower to do well at school or work?

Choosing  a majority of your food based on taste, body function, and nutrient value honors your health and contributes to your overall well-being and a healthy relationship with food!

What about pizza, chips, sweets, or candy? How does this fit in?  “Junk food” (which I prefer to call treat food to take away the guilty complex associated with junk food) is important because it tastes good and it is everywhere. Therefore, it is unrealistic to believe it can be avoided long term. Being too restrictive with treat foods can end in a binge where it takes more of that food to satisfy a craving. All foods are on the same plane emotionally—there are no “good or bad foods” and foods should not make you feel guilty.  However, there are foods that are more nutrient dense than others and that is different.  Therefore, planning treat foods into your eating plan is important to give balance. If you are very rigid and only eat “healthy” foods, it is difficult to follow long-term.

In summary, the answer is Yes—all foods can fit. Remember, you do not have to eat a “perfect” diet to be healthy. It’s what you eat consistently over time that matters. Becoming an intuitive eater takes time, don’t expect to perfect this overnight or in a month or two, otherwise this would be called a diet! This process may take longer than a fad diet (which doesn’t work in the end anyway) but is well worth the time to make peace with food and your body and as a bonus your body and mind will be healthier too!


For more information about intuitive eating, consider reading Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch.

Written by Alison St. Germain, a Registered Dietitian with an MS in Nutrition and works with the Dietetic Internship Program at Iowa State University and is a certified Intuitive Eating Counselor.

Did you say hop like a frog?


School will soon be out for winter break and the kids will be home for a couple of weeks. Schedules might be busy with holiday activities for a few days but then you might need something to keep the kids active. If there’s snow, sledding and building a snowman are always fun. However, if you need some indoor activities, here are a few to try.

1. Speed-read
Choose a book with a word that will be repeated often (“green,” for instance, if you’re
reading Green Eggs and Ham) and have your child stand up or sit down each time she hears it.

2. Animal charades
Write the names of various animals on slips of paper and drop them into a bowl. Take turns choosing a slip and acting out the animal until someone guesses correctly. Try it with no sounds
for an added challenge.

3. Animal Races
Use the slips of paper to decide on the moves for a race. For example, the first time down and back, the kids need to hop like a frog. Then run on all fours like a dog. And finish by crawling on the ground like a lizard!

4. Catch with a catch
Have each player toss a beach ball into the air and try to touch his nose or high-five the other players before the balls drop. Make the challenges harder as you go along.

5. Dance Party
Turn on the music and have a dance party. Or start and stop the music, having the kids freeze when the music stops.

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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Sweet Potato Fries Comparison

Sweet potato fries are a current favorite of mine. Really, they’ve been a favorite of mine for a couple of years! I order them when eating out and I make them at home. Sometimes I make them homemade and other times I bake a bag of frozen fries from the store. I was curious what the difference in nutrition and cost would be between these, so I did a little research and here is what I found.

  Serving Size* Cost/serving Calories Fat (g) Sodium (mg)
Homemade 2/3 cup $0.32 120 2.5 110>
(National Brand)
1 cup $0.50 150 7> 190
(Nationwide Chain)**
1 cup $1.49 400 20 1020

*Serving sizes vary up to a 1/3 cup.
**Nutrition information from restaurant website.

I make the homemade fries using our recipe for Sweet Potato Fries. The serving size is a bit smaller but since they are baked and you can control the amount of salt added, they provide the best nutrition. My homemade fries are lower in fat and sodium than the restaurant and frozen options. The frozen fries do pretty well for nutrition though, if they are baked. They are higher in fat and sodium but still pretty reasonable. The fries from the restaurant are the most expensive and highest in calories, fat, and sodium. They are likely deep fat fried which would increase the fat and calories. And heavy on the salt. The restaurant’s nutrition information did not provide the amount of Vitamin A in the sweet potato fries but all three kinds would provide a good dose of Vitamin A. Therefore, if you want to eat fries when eating out, you might go for the sweet potato fries to boost the nutrition of the fries. Like with so many food choices, making sweet potato fries at home is going to be the least expensive and the most nutritious.


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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Christine Hradek, MPH

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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