My commitment to giving my children fewer pre-packaged snacks this summer has gotten me thinking a lot about food labels and the impact they have on our food choices. I have done a better job of providing my children snacks that do not have a label on them at all – like fresh fruits and vegetables. But, it is hard to avoid foods in packages. For example, we are eating nuts that come packaged in a bag, cheese that I have cut into cubes from a large block, yogurt from a plastic container, and cereal from a box. All of these packages have labels and all of the labels can impact my food choices.
Some labels are pretty plain – basically telling me what is in the food I am buying. Like my block of mild cheddar cheese. Other labels are more complicated – using claims like light, sugar-free, lowfat, reduced sodium, and more. My container of yogurt has a couple of these claims. Still others are very complicated – using claims such as made with whole grains, healthy, or natural. A box of cereal may have some claims like these. Are these claims giving me information about the nutrition of the food, are they a marketing tactic to get me to buy the food, or is it a combination of both? I think it is a combination of both, and I know I want to make the best choices for my family.
For a starting point, we have some information about food package labeling and claims here on our website. If you want to know more about food label claims, here is an article that I found very helpful. For me, the bottom line is this – no matter what the food package looks like on the front, turn it over and read what is on the back or the side. Read the Nutrition Facts Panel and the ingredients list to find out what is in the food and inform your decision about whether or not you want to buy the food for yourself or your family.
My oldest son recently turned 8 years old. Along with that birthday has come a growth spurt. Clothes that fit him a month ago are now too short and too tight. He is hungry all the time! Our pantry and refrigerator are emptying out more quickly than before.
This has made me realize that I need to re-think my typical grocery shopping trip. I shop for groceries weekly and, depending on the store, the foods I purchase are pretty much the same from week to week. This helps me stay on track with my budget. Unfortunately, an increase in appetite does not mean an increase in food budget. I need to look more closely at the foods I plan to make in the coming weeks to make sure my son (and the rest of my family) get the nutrition they need while staying within our food budget.
As I plan my next grocery shopping trip, here are three things I am going to look at more closely:
- Protein. I need to spend more time looking at the grocery ads before I go shopping to make sure I am choosing protein foods that fit my meal plan and my budget. For many recipes, I can substitute a less expensive protein choice.
- Stir-Fry is a great recipe for this – I can use beef, pork, chicken, fish, or tofu.
- Vegetables. I need to add more vegetables to my recipes. My whole family likes canned beans and frozen vegetables. These are choices that can add nutrition to a recipe without putting me outside of my budget.
- Snacks. I have gotten into a habit of buying pre-packaged snacks. Yes, they are easier, but they are more expensive. I think I can save myself money by reducing the number of pre-packaged snacks I buy and packaging snacks into reusable containers myself.
- Trail Mix is an easy snack to make and to package into small containers that will travel easily with us to the park or the pool this summer.
Stick with me on this one! When it is my turn to blog this summer, I will give you updates about how I am doing with my grocery shopping changes.
As a mom, I want to make foods for my family that taste good and are good for them. Sometimes I do this by altering a recipe to make it a bit healthier but still taste good. For some recipes, I reduce the amount of an ingredient. In others, I substitute one ingredient for another. Small changes can make a big difference in the amount of fat, salt, sugar and fiber in a dish.
Here are some ways I alter recipes to make them healthier:
- Reduce the amount of sugar by 1/3.
- Replace ¼ to ½ of refined flour with whole-wheat flour.
- Use plain yogurt instead of sour cream.
- Substitute skim or low-fat milk for whole milk.
- Use whole grains in place of refined grains.
For more ways to alter recipes for better health, use this guide by Purdue Extension. Try making one change at a time so you can see what works best for your recipe and what your family likes. And some recipes, like family traditions, might be best to enjoy as they are!
This past month we’ve been talking all about fiber! Christine and Justine shared about the health benefits of fiber and how we can include high fiber foods in our meals and snacks. Today I’m going to share with you how to find high fiber foods using the food label.
The Nutrition Facts Label is found on food and beverage packages and is a helpful tool for increasing the amount of dietary fiber you eat. It shows the amount in grams (g) and the Percent Daily Value (%DV) of dietary fiber in one serving of the food. You can see on this label for brown rice that there are 2g of dietary fiber in ½ cup (or 2/3 cup after it is cooked). That is 8% DV. A good tip to remember is that:
- 5% DV or less of dietary fiber per serving is low
- 20% DV or more of dietary fiber per serving is high
When comparing foods, choose foods with a higher %DV of dietary fiber.
Another place to look is the ingredient list. Look for whole grains like whole wheat, brown rice, oatmeal, rolled oats, whole grain corn, quinoa, barley, or bulgur. The ingredients on a Nutrition Facts Label are listed by weight, so the ingredients that make up more of the product are listed first. Look for products that have whole grain ingredients at the top of the list.
To get more fiber:
You may have noticed TV commercials and food packages that label a food as high in fiber or an excellent source of fiber. Have you ever wondered why fiber matters for our health? Over the next three weeks, we will focus on fiber including health benefits, how to get fiber and how to spot it on a food label. Women need about 25g of fiber per day and men need about 38g.
Fiber performs multiple functions in our bodies and it is an important part of healthy eating habits. Fiber can prevent constipation and keep your digestion moving. Think of fiber as the custodian of your colon – it sweeps everything along and keeps it moving. If someone in your house struggles with constipation try eating more high fiber foods. Fiber-rich foods also tend to be more filling than foods that are low in fiber and they are often lower in calories. This means that eating foods high in fiber can help you maintain a healthy weight. Additionally, eating more fiber may lower your LDL or ‘bad’ cholesterol.
Here are some foods to try to boosts your fiber consumption:
- Vegetables (especially peas, broccoli, corn and potatoes)
- Fruits (especially raspberries, bananas, oranges and apples and pears with their skin)
- Beans and lentils
- Whole wheat products like bread, pasta or crackers
- Whole grain cereal
Next week Justine will share a sample weekly meal plan that includes meals and snacks with high fiber ingredients.
Talk to you next week!
One thing I feel I do a pretty good job at is letting my kids help in the kitchen. Even though it takes a little more time and there are a few more messes, it is fun and I know my kids are learning important skills. On the other hand, one area I don’t take the time to get them involved in is meal planning. Once in a while I will ask them to pick between a couple of choices but that’s about it. Meal planning is definitely a skill I want my children to have as adults, so now is the time!
Just like with cooking, getting kids involved in meal planning may mean it takes more time but it’s time you can spend together and your kids will learn valuable skills, including how to plan a balanced meal. And since they are helping to plan the meal, they may be more likely to eat what is served.
Want to give this a try with me? Here are some tips you and I can both use to get our kids involved with meal planning.
1. Download our 5-Day Meal Planning Worksheet. I like our worksheet because it has the food groups listed at the bottom so you can make sure you include a variety of food groups in your meals. As you plan your meals, have your kids tell you which foods are part of which food group.
2. Make a list of options. If you have younger kids, make a list of options based on what you have on hand and what items are on sale at the store. Then they can choose between options such as spaghetti or lasagna, broccoli or carrots. If your kids are older, they may want to help think of the dishes to make. Another option would be to plan the main dishes and have your kids choose which fruits and vegetables to have.
3. Have a kid’s night. If planning a week’s worth of meals with your kids sounds too overwhelming, choose one night that they can plan the meal. You can provide guidelines such as they need to include foods from three different food groups.
If your kids help you plan a whole week’s worth of meals or just one night, they will learn skills that they can use for a lifetime. Next week I’ll share some tips for how to get kids involved with grocery shopping.
When I was a child, my mom always had me involved in the kitchen and grocery shopping. I went with her on every grocery run and was in the kitchen ready to help her cook every meal. I loved every minute of this time with my mom, whether it was getting to pick out the best tomatoes from the supermarket or learning how to whisk eggs, I had fun and learned so much about cooking. I am still passionate about these activities today, making time for grocery shopping once a week and making most, if not all of my meals and snacks at home. I feel that my story is an example of the importance of getting children involved in the cooking and purchasing of foods in order to allow them to learn valuable kitchen and shopping skills and build an understanding of their food choices.
When it comes to grocery shopping and cooking at home, we tend to hesitate when it comes to getting our children involved. At times it may be due to you being rushed to make dinner, in a hurry to get out of the supermarket, worried about the hazards that exist in the kitchen, hot ovens and stove tops, sharp knives, raw ingredients, or just afraid of the mess that may be left behind. However, when we involve our children in age-appropriate activities in these settings we are able to teach them valuable cooking and purchasing skills. Bringing your kids into these activities with you can also allow them to develop healthy habits like how to identify more nutritious food options while grocery shopping and adding a variety of fresh produce and colors to each meal, for example. Here are some ideas of how you can get your child involved in grocery shopping and in the kitchen.
In the grocery store:
- Give your kids the task of finding items on your grocery list in the supermarket.
- Allow them to pick out a new fruit or vegetable to try when grocery shopping.
- Play “I Spy” in each section of the grocery store.
In the kitchen:
- Give your kids the responsibility of washing fresh produce.
- Let them sprinkle on herbs and seasonings to foods you are preparing.
- Let them tear up lettuce when preparing salads or snap fresh green beans when preparing dinner.
Take the time to introduce your kids to these activities to allow them to build core lifestyle skills that they can use for the rest of their lives. It is a wonderful opportunity for parent-child bonding. Allow them to help, try new foods, and exercise their creativity. Just take a moment to enjoy all of the messes and memories.
Written by Allie Lansman, ISU Dietetic Intern
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
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 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.
Pardon 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!