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Save Money on Holiday Groceries

The holidays bring lots of festive fun and time with family and friends, but they can also mean extra expenses. I love it when I get the chance to prepare special meals and plan parties, but it can get very expensive. Grocery stores often offer sales and specials around the holidays that can help if you know how to use them.

Here are some tips to help you spend smart while you shop for holiday cooking.

  1. Check your cupboards and refrigerator before you shop. Holiday cooking sometimes involves ingredients we do not use very often. Knowing what you have will help you avoid buying a duplicate while you shop.
  2. A sale price only saves you money if you know you will use the item you purchase. Avoid buying food products just because they are on sale if they are not part of your meal plan. That could lead to wasted food and money.
  3. Remember that sales are used as advertising for a product. The sign may be large and inviting, but the price may not be as good as it seems. Check the unit price to make sure it is really saving you money. You can learn more about unit pricing on our website and our Spend Smart. Eat Smart. app has a unit price calculator built into it. You can download the app free from your app store.
  4. Occasionally stores will have deep discounts on holiday items like turkeys or hams immediately before and after a holiday. I review the grocery store ads to make my meal plan for a couple of weeks after the holiday. This allows me to work these discounted items into my plan and know they will not go to waste.

I hope these tips help you save a bit of money and stress this holiday season.

Happy Thanksgiving from the Spend Smart. Eat Smart. Team!

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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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>
Frozen
(National Brand)
1 cup $0.50 150 7> 190
Restaurant
(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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Sweet Talk

Produce Basics - Sweet PotatoPardon the goofy title, but this week we’re talking sweet…potatoes that is! Have you given sweet potatoes a try? If you are unsure about them,it might help to think beyond the casserole with marshmallows on the top. They can be used in many of the same ways as white potatoes. They are delicious roasted, mashed, baked or even as French fries.

Choosing sweet potatoes is simple. Their skins should be relatively smooth with few dents and the flesh of the potato should be firm. Avoid potatoes with cracks, soft spots or sprouts. Sweet potatoes usually last for a month or so when stored in a cool dark area.

It is perfectly safe to eat sweet potatoes skin. Just give them a good scrub and enjoy. Our Sweet Potato Produce Basics publication has all of the info you need to choose, clean and prepare sweet potatoes.

Stay tuned throughout this month while we share more reasons why we are sweet on sweet 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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Watermelon, Yum!

A few weekends ago when my kids stayed with their grandma, they went grocery shopping for food to eat while at her house. When she asked them if Slice of watermelonthey liked watermelon, they enthusiastically told her yes but that they don’t get it very often because their dad doesn’t like it. Poor dad got the blame. They do get it fairly regularly when it is in season, but I have to admit, sometimes when I don’t buy it is because I’m not in the mood to cut it up. However, since we created our How to Prepare Melon video that we shared in the blog last week, I’m ready to cut-up the watermelon for the kids to enjoy!

I’m also starting to get better at choosing a good melon. I’ve chosen a couple of tasty ones recently and I use the suggestions in our Produce Basics tips on melons.

I’m also working watermelon into some recipes. When I bought a watermelon a couple of weeks ago, I made our Fruit Slush recipe. It was very refreshing served with crushed ice and my seven-year-old son even liked it. You should give it a try!

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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Shopping at the Meat Counter (Part 1)

Butcher behind counter in supermarket smiling, portrait, close-upWhen I step up to the meat counter at the grocery store, I get a little nervous.  There are dozens of choices, a wide range of prices, and a smiling person waiting patiently on the other side of the counter.  I do my best to come into this situation prepared, but it can still be nerve wracking.  This week and next week, I am going to write a little bit about how I make decisions about what to buy at the meat counter when I go grocery shopping.

Here are some of the things I do before visiting the meat counter:

  • Check out what I have on hand. I like to see what I have on hand and then decide what meat I can buy to go along with it.  Right now, I have a lot of potatoes from my family’s garden, so I would like to get some meat that I can put on the grill along with the potatoes.
  • Check the grocery ads. I like to see what is available at a reasonable price before I go to the store.  It does not mean I am locked into buying what is in the ads, but it does give me an idea of what meat might fit into my budget.
  • Check my freezer space. I like to freeze meat when I can get it at a good price.  The grocery store where I shop occasionally sells ground beef and chicken hindquarters in large quantities.  These are meats my family eats a lot of, so, if I have the freezer space, I will buy the larger quantities at the discounted price and then freeze them in smaller portions for another week.  Some grocery stores also sell meat bundles – these may be a good deal if you have the freezer space (and the money) available.
  • Check my schedule. I like to take time to cook a great meal for my family, but time is not always on my side.  The meat I purchase has to fit into my family’s schedule for the week.  If it is going to be a busy week, I usually look for a whole chicken or a roast that I can cook on the weekend and then use the leftovers to make quick meals the rest of the week.  If we have more time, I will plan to grill or try a new recipe.

Shopping at the meat counter can be intimidating, but planning ahead can help a lot.  If you have suggestions for planning ahead that I missed here, please let me know in the comments.

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover

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

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Less Waste, More Money

By Sarah Allen, Nutrition Program Student Assistant

Freeze Bean SoupIn my Let’s Talk about Food Waste blog last week, I shared about what food waste is and how much it can cost you. Reducing food waste is not as hard as you think. The USDA has created a resource called Let’s Talk Trash. In it they offer tips on how you can put a stop to food waste in your home.

  • Plan and Save: Look in your pantry, freezer, and fridge to make a list of what you need to buy before grocery shopping. This can help you buy only the food you need and keep money in your pocket.
  • Be Organized: After you buy food for the week, make sure that you keep things tidy. You can do this by having it sorted by expiration date. An easy way to keep cans organized is to take a permanent marker and write the date large enough to see. Put products with the earliest date toward the front of the cupboard, so they get used first.
  • Repurpose and freeze extra food: Sometimes having the same meal for the whole week can be boring. One way to use leftovers is by making them into a new meal. For example, if you have leftovers from our Tasty Taco Rice Salad recipe, use as a substitute for the filling in our Stuffed Peppers When you freeze food, write the following on the container:
    • The name of the food,
    • How much is in the container, and
    • The date that you put it in the freezer.

For more information on how you can store leftovers longer, watch How to Freeze Leftovers.

It may seem overwhelming to make these changes, but once you start, it will become a habit. I hope you can use these tips to help you save money!

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 Talk about Food Waste

By Sarah Allen, Nutrition Program Student Assistant

Money in Trash BagIt is that time of year when fresh fruits and veggies are in season, and the grocery store has specials on meat for grilling. However, sometimes you buy too much and have to throw away food because it goes bad before you can use it. Food waste is particularly problematic when you are trying to stick to a tight grocery budget because you get nothing for your money if food goes in the trash.

How much money is that? On average, we waste $370 worth of food per person per year in the US. USDA’s Let’s talk trash. infographic breaks it up by types of food:

Grains (bread, pasta): $22 per year
Fruits (apples, banana, orange): $45 per year
Proteins (beef, chicken, pork, fish): $140 per year
Vegetables (onion, lettuce, peppers): $66 per year
Dairy (milk, yogurt, cheese): $60 per year
Added Fat & Sugar (chips, candy): $37 per year
Total: $370 per year

As you can see, protein is one of the top types of food that we throw away, while foods like bread and pasta are least likely to be thrown away. This seems like a lot of money (and food). Why do we throw food away? The main reason is because it spoils before we can eat it.

Food waste may seem hard to avoid, but you can reduce it. The Spend Smart. Eat Smart. website has a lot of ideas for how you can save your food in the Reduce Food Waste section. Look for my blog next week on how you can limit food waste!

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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Meal Makeovers with Whole Grains

Taco Rice SaladI did not grow up eating a lot of whole grains. Actually, I did not truly know what a whole grain was until I was an adult. Last week, our intern guest blogger wrote about how to find out if a food is whole grain or not. This week, I would like to share with you how I have replaced refined grains with whole grains in my menu.

  1. The first, and easiest, change I made was to start buying whole wheat bread for our toast and sandwiches. With some trial and error, I have found a whole wheat bread that everyone in my family likes. Thankfully, it is also the least expensive whole grain bread at my local grocery store. Try whole grain bread in our Tuna Melt Sandwich.
  1. The second change I made was to use brown rice and whole wheat pasta. This change was a little more difficult because my husband and I were used to the softer texture of white rice and pasta, but now we prefer both the texture and flavor of the whole grain versions. Try brown rice in our Tasty Taco Rice Salad and whole grain pasta in our Roasted Tomato and Spinach Pasta.
  1. The third, and most challenging, change I made was replacing all-purpose flour with whole wheat flour in our baked goods. One of my husband’s favorite foods is muffins of all kinds. I knew that we could make our muffins healthier by replacing some of the all-purpose flour with whole wheat flour. It took some experimenting, but now our favorite muffin recipes include both whole wheat flour and all-purpose flour (the amounts depend on the recipe). Try whole wheat flour in our Pineapple Snack Cakes.

My husband and I started adding whole grains to our menu little by little and now the majority of the grains we eat are whole grains. It has taken time and compromise, but we are happy with the choices we have made.

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover

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

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Whole Grain Goodness

By Katie Busacca, ISU Dietetic Intern

Whole Wheat LabelMulti-grain, whole wheat, 100% wheat, bran, 7-grain- the options are endless when trying to pick a grain product, but what does it all mean? As many people know, the current recommendation is to make at least half the grain products in your diet whole grains. Whole grains promote heart health, aid in good digestion and may help you maintain a healthy weight. But with all of this labeling deception, how do you know if you are choosing a whole grain product?

When choosing a grain product the best way to determine if it is whole grain is to read the ingredient list. The first ingredient will likely be one of these:

  • Whole wheat
  • Whole wheat flour
  • Whole grain
  • Stone ground whole grain
  • Brown rice
  • Oats/oatmeal
  • Quinoa
  • Bulgar
  • Graham flour
  • Wheatberries

Whole Grain IconsAnother good rule of thumb is to look for the 100% whole grain or whole grain stamp on the package, as seen on the right. The 100% whole grain stamp means that all of the grains used in the product are 100% whole grain and the product provides at least 16g of whole grains per serving. While the whole grain stamp (without the 100%) indicates that some of the grains used to make this product are whole grain and some are refined grains. These products will include at least 8g of whole grains per serving. Both are great choices!

As whole grain products become more popular, they are also becoming easier to find and less expensive. There are some simple substitutions you can make in your own diet to add the health benefits of whole grains.

Try this… Instead of this….
Whole grain pasta Regular pasta
Brown rice White rice
100% whole wheat bread White bread
Whole wheat tortillas White tortillas
Whole wheat flour All-purpose flour

The Spend Smart. Eat Smart. website is full of recipes using whole grain products! One quick and easy recipe I love is the Quick Pad Thai. Not only does it use whole grain pasta, but also it is simple to modify to include your favorite fresh or frozen vegetables. You can also use these simple tips to experiment with recipes and make delicious, healthy creations of your own!

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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What’s In Season Now?

pomegranate fruit whole and cutIt’s that time of year when my son asks me to buy pomegranates when he sees them in the grocery store because he so enjoys eating pomegranate seeds. I think it might have something to do with whacking the fruit to get the seeds to fall out. My 2-year old daughter is now a fan of them also. They are quite tasty and fun to eat… if only the seeds were easier to get to! Here is a video that shows how to get them out without making a mess!

These days I’m also filling my grocery cart with clementines, oranges, and kiwi fruit. They are in season now, so their price is low and they taste great. While these fruits are in season during the winter, some fruits and vegetables are in season year round. These include bananas, apples, carrots, celery, onions, and potatoes. These fruits and vegetables can be found at reasonable prices and with good flavor all year long. When you want or need a fruit or vegetable that is not in season, consider canned or frozen versions for a better buy. Choose fruits canned in their own juice or water and vegetables canned without salt.

For more ideas on purchasing fruits and vegetables, check out our “How-To” 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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