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True Stories from the School Cafeteria

The past couple of weeks our blogs have focused on breakfast. Today, I’m going to change it up and talk about lunch. School lunch to be more specific. A couple of weeks ago I ate school lunch with my daughter who is in kindergarten. It was the week of her birthday and she was so excited to have me come.

school lunch tray of food

At the school my kids attend, they get to choose between three entrée options, one option is always a simple sandwich. The day I visited, the other two options were a yogurt parfait or chicken tenders. As you can see in the picture, I chose the chicken tenders. Along with those I had baked beans, a roll, apple slices, broccoli salad, and milk. Another option was applesauce. Overall, I thought the food was good. It just so happens that on the day I planned to visit, my daughter begged me to take lunch from home. I don’t think it was that she didn’t like the chicken tenders as much as it seems that taking your lunch is a ‘cool’ thing to do in kindergarten as there were a number of kids who had brought their lunch.

I generally have my kids eat school lunch because:

  1. I think the school lunch provides them with a balanced meal. They don’t often choose the vegetable option but do they get the fruit, grain, protein, and dairy groups. 
  2. It allows them to try new things. They might not take new things every day but I do think they try things at school that they might not try for me at home. 
  3. The cost of the meal is reasonable for what they get, including fruits and vegetables. And for families who have limited budgets, free and reduced price meals are available.  For more information on reduced price meals, contact your child’s school.

If you have the opportunity to eat school lunch with a child, I encourage you to do so. They will enjoy having you come!

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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Avocado

Now that summer is in full swing and lots of fruits and vegetables are in season, we will be sharing some new produce videos we’ve created. Today I’m sharing with you our video on how to prepare an avocado.

My husband and I both really like avocado and more specifically, guacamole. Sometimes my husband just happens to buy avocados, even if they aren’t on the grocery list, hoping I will make guacamole. I also put avocado in wraps, in a dip like Cowboy Caviar, or in fajitas. If I use the avocados to make guacamole, then after I get them peeled, I mash them up with a fork instead of slicing them. Sometimes I like my dips to be chunky, so I dice the avocado instead of mash it.

If you’d like to start using more avocado but you are not sure how to choose one in the store, check out our Produce Basics.

Next week Christine will share with you our video on cauliflower.

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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Summer is a time for Food, Friends, and Fun – Find a Summer Meal site near you!

Summer break is almost here!  While learning does not end when school lets out, neither does the need for good nutrition.  Children who are well nourished in the summer return to school ready to learn in the fall. The USDA Summer Food Service Program, administered by the Iowa Department of Education and sponsored by local schools, cities, and community organizations, provides free meals to children when school is out.  

Over 500 summer meal sites, also known as Summer Meal MeetUps, will operate across Iowa from June through August.  All kids and teens, ages 18 and younger, can receive a meal for free, no identification or sign-in is required. In addition to a meal, many sites will offer fun learning and recreational activities, so kids stay active and spend time with friends.  

Plan for a nutritious summer today!  You can find a summer meal site near you, including in Iowa and in states across the US, using one of the methods below.  Meals, days and times vary by location, so check your local site for availability. Spread the word to family, friends, and neighbors!

Summer is a time for food, friends, and fun!  Take the stress out of providing nutritious meals in the summer months by participating at a site near you!  See you this summer!

Written by Stephanie Dross, Iowa Department of Education

Work Out at Home with our New Videos

Last week on the blog I shared about our new Move tab on the website which includes two At-home Workout videos. One of the main reasons people say they aren’t physically active is because of a lack of time. Our new videos are less than 20 minutes long and can be done in the comfort of your home. I am your workout leader and my friends Shannon, Katy and Justine join in along the way. I promise you will have some fun as you get moving along with us.

The first video is a Cardio Interval workout that helps you meet the recommended 150 minutes of aerobic physical activity per week. The workout is 14 minutes long and is a tabata style workout. That means you do 20 seconds of work followed by 10 seconds of rest. There are five different moves and each move is repeated four times. Lower impact versions of each exercise are also shown in the videos so you can modify the workout to meet your needs.

The second video is a Beginner Strength Training video that takes you through a series of exercises to work each muscle group. All you need is a pair of dumbbells. If you don’t have dumbbells you can also use water bottles or cans of food. Each exercise is done 12 times and modifications for each exercise are also shown.

If you are looking to be more active or find new exercises to try, these videos are for you! You can also find the videos on our Spend Smart. Eat Smart. app.

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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I Like to Move it Move it!

Today I’m excited to share with you a new feature that was added to our Spend Smart. Eat Smart. website! We added a section on physical activity. For good health its important to eat well and move our bodies. Now you can find information about both on our website.

The new section includes two short workout videos, information on the benefits of physical activity, and how much is recommended. There is also an Activity Planner that can help you plan your activity for the week.

Be sure to check out the new Move tab on the website!

Next week I’ll share more about the two workout videos.

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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Solid fats and oils: What’s the difference?

Back in 2013, I wrote a blog comparing the cost and nutrition of different vegetable oils. That blog was recently shared by a national outlet and it received a lot of attention. As a result, we got a lot of questions related to what type of fat or oil is best to use so we thought it was time to write another blog on that topic.

When talking about fats and oils, it helps to define each term. Solid fats are fats that are solid at room temperature like butter or lard. Solid fats mainly come from animal foods. Oils are fats that are liquid at room temperature, like canola or olive oil. Oils come from many different plants and from fish. However, coconut, palm, and palm kernel oils (tropical oils) are solid at room temperature because they have high amounts of saturated fatty acids. Therefore, they are classified as a solid fat rather than as an oil.

All fats and oils are a mixture of saturated fatty acids and unsaturated fatty acids (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated). Solid fats contain more saturated fats and/or trans fats than oils. Saturated fats and trans fats tend to raise LDL cholesterol levels in the blood, which in turn increases the risk of heart disease. Here is a chart that shows the different amounts of saturated and unsaturated fatty acids in different types of solid fats and oils.

*Information from the USDA National Nutrient Database https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/search/list?home=true

There has been some research lately that has led some people to believe that saturated fats aren’t as harmful as once thought. Along with that, coconut oil is widely promoted as having many health benefits. However, in July 2017 the American Heart Association issued an advisory recommending against using coconut oil. Analysis of more than 100 published research studies reaffirmed that saturated fats raise LDL cholesterol. In addition, seven controlled trials showed that coconut oil raised LDL levels.

To learn how much oil is recommended for you, visit https://www.choosemyplate.gov/oils. Currently, most Americans eat more solid fat than recommended while consuming fewer oils than recommended. Therefore, the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend shifting from solid fats to oils. This includes using oils (except tropical oils like coconut oil) in place of solid fats when cooking. And to increase the intake of foods that naturally contain oils, such as seafood and nuts, in place of some meat and poultry. This week for an evening meal you might consider making the Broiled Salmon Justine shared at the beginning of the month!

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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Safe Seafood

We are starting to get a few days of beautiful weather here in Iowa and for me that means firing up the grill! I love to cook food on my grill and one of my favorites is salmon. I have heard from several friends that they are unsure about cooking fish at home and sometimes they are concerned about food safety and seafood. Today I have rounded up some top safety tips related to seafood to help you feel confident cooking fish at home.

  • Choose fish that has been kept at a safe temperature. In Iowa, that often means that fish is frozen when we buy it. Frozen fish is often very high quality and some fish in the fresh case at my store was previously frozen. Fish should smell mild. Flesh should be firm and eyes should be clear on whole fish. When buying frozen fish, choose packages that are free of frost.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly before and after handling raw fish and keep raw fish separate from ready-to-eat foods. Clean surfaces and kitchen tools that touched raw fish with hot soapy water.
  • If you plan to eat your fish within two days, you can store it in the refrigerator. If it will be longer before you eat it, store it in the freezer. You can defrost fish in the microwave, but for the best results, thaw fish in the refrigerator overnight.
  • Cook fish to 145 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Cooked fish is safe at room temperature for up to two hours unless the temperature is above 90 degrees Fahrenheit. On very hot days, refrigerate fish within one hour.
  • If you enjoy fishing, put fish you plan to eat in a cooler of ice immediately.

The Food and Drug Administration has a helpful website related to keeping seafood safe. I hope these tips help you feel confident cooking seafood at home. Next week Justine will share some information related to serving seafood to children. Please share your favorite seafood dishes on our social media!

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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Unit Pricing – Canned Versus Frozen

I am going to focus today on canned and frozen fruits and vegetables.  I buy these at every trip to the grocery store because:

  1. They are quick and easy to prepare.  I can open a can, drain, heat (for vegetables), and serve.  Or, I can thaw and serve frozen fruits and vegetables.
  2. My family loves them.  I am lucky because my family will eat up canned and frozen fruits and vegetables every time I serve them.
  3. They are nutritious.  They have vitamins, minerals, and fiber.  I try to buy canned fruits packed in juice and unsweetened frozen fruit to reduce added sugars.  I also rinse canned vegetables and buy frozen vegetables without sauces to reduce added sodium.

So, how do I use unit pricing to get the best buy on these fruits and vegetables?  I divide the price by the ounce weight of the package. Here are some recent prices I found at a local grocery store.

Canned Frozen
Peaches Price

Package Size

Unit Price

$1.12

15 ounces

$0.07 per ounce

$2.36

16 ounces

$0.15 per ounce

Pineapple Price

Package Size

Unit Price

$1.48

20 ounces

$0.07 per ounce

$2.36

16 ounces

$0.15 per ounce

Carrots Price

Package Size

Unit Price

$0.82

14.5 ounces

$0.06 per ounce

$0.84

12 ounces

$0.07 per ounce

Corn Price

Package Size

Unit Price

$0.72

15 ounces

$0.05 per ounce

$1.94

32 ounces

$0.06 per ounce

All of these items are inexpensive per ounce, but canned costs a little less than frozen.  Prices will vary from week to week and sometimes I need canned or frozen for a particular recipe, so my grocery cart looks different each week.  We have had fun with unit pricing and we hope you have too. Let us know about your adventures with unit pricing!

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover

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

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How Much is Convenience Costing You?

Thank you for all of your comments and ‘shares’ of our new Unit Price Calculator video. We are thrilled that you are enjoying it and we hope that the calculator proves to be a handy tool for you. Last week Jody shared how unit pricing can help you decide which form of a food is the best value. The example she used was cheese – shredded, sliced and string cheese.

Product Large Package Unit Price  Individually Packaged Unit Price Convenience cost and Other Factors
Peanut Butter 40 ounces for $6.69

$0.17 per ounce              

12 ounces (8 1.5-ounce cups) for $2.99

$0.25 per ounce                           

The small cups cost nearly 50% more. The individual cups also contain more than a standard serving, which may lead to waste or more calories than I expected.
Carrots 16 ounces for $0.99

$.06 per ounce

12 ounces (4 3-ounce bags) for $1.69

$0.14 per ounce

The small bags of baby carrots are more than twice the price of big carrots. I like the flavor of big carrots better and cutting a big bag down into carrot sticks takes me about 10 minutes. Most weeks, I am willing to take the time to do that.
Cheese Crackers 6.6 ounces for $2.38

$0.36                                                                               

9 ounces (9 1-ounce bags) for $5.49

$0.61 per ounce                                                                              

This price difference is big at $0.25 per ounce more for the individually packaged crackers. I might buy one package of the little bags to keep around for snack emergencies, but buy the larger package routinely.

This week, I am sharing how unit pricing can help you know the cost of convenience packaging. From carrots to nuts to crackers, many of the things I buy at the grocery store come in large packages or in individual packages. When I am planning my meals for the week and putting together my grocery list, I often think about how much I am going to be home and how much time I will have to prepare food. Sometimes, when time is really tight, I am OK with paying a bit more for convenience if it will help me eat healthy during a busy week. However, I like to know how much I am actually paying for that convenience and unit pricing is how I do that. Here are some examples:

Convenience is rarely free and unit pricing allows me to know exactly how much more I am paying to have something individually packaged for me. If you are looking to cut back on your grocery costs, think about where you may be paying for convenience and whether it is worth the price.

Happy Saving!
Christine

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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