Strength in Stress

The past seven months have been stressful, so over the next few weeks we are going to have a series of blogs on stress. Contributors to the blogs who have expertise in the area of stress will teach us more about what it is, how to manage it, and how to use stress for good! The blogs will include how stress affects the body, eating habits, physical activity, sleep patterns, and family relationships. Today’s blog was written by Share Kelley, an Iowa Concern Hotline staff member, and will cover how stress affects the body.

Think of your body like a computer. It takes in information, and puts out responses. Pressure can be useful or harmful, which can result in brief responses like ‘Fight or Flight’. If our body had to respond all day, every day, it would drain our system. Like any computer, the body needs breaks.

Here are six ways you can recognize when your body needs a break:

  1. Headaches: Stress can trigger and intensify tension headaches. Drink a lot of water, avoid caffeine, take brain breaks, and limit screen time.
    1. Pro Tip: Schedule water breaks throughout the day.
  2. Stomachaches:  Stress can make tummy aches, nausea, and GI upset worse. Make healthy food choices for meals and snacks. Choose vitamin rich fruits and vegetables.
    1. Pro Tip:  Plan regular meals and snacks to refresh yourself.
  3. High Blood Pressure:  Stress tightens blood vessels causing high blood pressure. Schedule time during the day to do some deep breathing.
    1. Pro Tip:  Try 4-7-8 deep breathing. Inhale on a count of 4, hold for 7, exhale on a count of 8.
  4. Tense Muscles:  Stress tightens muscles causing stress aches in the head, neck, and back. Take time throughout the day to loosen tight muscles.
    1. Pro Tip:  Use muscle relaxation. Tighten then fully release one muscle group at a time from your toes all the way up to your forehead. Then sit with all muscles fully relaxed.
  5. Insomnia:  Stress can make it hard to fall asleep. Try reading, listening to relaxing music or guided meditation. Avoid screens before bed.
    1. Pro Tip:  Schedule sleep and block interruptions during that time. No calls, texts, or screens.
  6. Frequent Illness:  The immune system cannot function as well when the body is already stressed.
    1. Pro Tip: Use the tips above to create a routine so your body is ready to fight infections.

If you are struggling with stress or if you would like more information, check out the Iowa Concern website.

In addition, the State of Iowa has received federal funding to offer free virtual counseling and assistance to those affected, in any way, by COVID-19. COVID Recovery Iowa provides counseling, virtual activities, referrals and help finding resources to any Iowan seeking assistance or a listening ear. For more information, visit https://covidrecoveryiowa.org.

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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Meals and Snacks from the Pantry

In the coming weeks many of us will be spending most of our time at home and doing lots of food preparation for ourselves and our families. As you prepare your grocery list and plan your meals for the weeks ahead, below are some Spend Smart. Eat Smart. recipes that can be made from pantry staples or made ahead and frozen.

These recipes use items I keep on hand to help with quick, nutritious meals for my family.  Some of my go-to staple ingredients are canned beans, canned tomatoes, canned fruit, chicken broth, peanut butter, quick oats, frozen vegetables, frozen fruit, whole wheat tortillas, brown rice, whole grain cereals, whole wheat bread, frozen chicken breast, and onions. Since most of us are still able to get to the grocery store, there is no need to buy excessive amounts of food, but buy some extra items each time you go so you have a good supply on hand and do not need to go as often.

Winter Black Bean Soup

Oatmeal Pancakes

Peanut Butter Balls

Crispy Granola

Make Ahead Burritos

Berry and Greens Smoothies

Mexican Chicken Soup

Vegetable Quesadillas

Lentil Tacos

And to help you with your meal planning, check out our 5 Day Meal Planner.

Stay healthy!

Make Ahead Burritos
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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Eat Your Beans at (Almost) Every Meal

This month is all about incorporating more plants into meals. To switch it up at my house, I try to make vegetarian meals at least twice a week. Not only does it help my family save money, but it helps add variety to our meals. 

Beans are a great source of protein and they are easy to add to our meals. I love cooking with beans; they taste great and tend to be less expensive than meat. Brynn, our 17-month-old, loves beans and will eat them straight out of the can! My husband on the other hand would prefer beans added to a meal, not eaten as a snack, so I am always on the search for quick, easy bean dishes to try at home. Several Spend Smart. Eat Smart. recipes that highlight beans have become family favorites at our house.  

One of our favorite dishes is Lentil Tacos where the filling is smashed lentils cooked in taco seasoning. We add our favorite taco toppings and make Black Bean Salsa on the side to get an even greater variety of beans. Another fan favorite at my house is hummus. For easy meals, we will make the Zucchini Hummus Wraps and add black beans. These wraps are a great way to use up vegetables in your kitchen before they go to waste. With Brynn being a fan of black beans, the Black Bean Burgers are a quick meal that I make when I am running low on groceries and time. I will make several batches and stick them in the freezer to use for lunches or a snack- this girl really loves her beans!

Cooking dry beans saves money and allows you to add flavor while the beans cook. Spend Smart. Eat Smart. has a great resource for how to cook dry beans at home. In my house, we generally use canned for convenience. When cooking with canned beans, look for cans with labels that say, ‘less sodium’ or ‘no salt added’. If I am unable to find those options at the store, I will simply place the beans in a colander and run them under cool water to rinse off extra salt. If you are a fan of hummus but don’t always like the price at the store, you can make your own hummus at home for a fraction of the cost. Add your favorite seasonings and you have the perfect snack or addition to your meal. I hope this blog gives you a few ideas on how to add beans into your weekly meals while saving you a little bit of money on your next grocery bill. 

Cheers to swapping out your protein this week!

Zucchinni humus wrap meal
Katy Moscoso

Katy Moscoso

Katy Moscoso is a Program Specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. As a new mom she is always on the lookout for easy, healthy recipes to prepare for her family.

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Christine’s Spend Smart. Eat Smart. Favorites

We are having a lot of fun this month sharing our personal favorites from the Spend Smart. Eat Smart. recipe collection. Maintaining our website, app and blog is really fun and one of the best parts is trying out new recipes to share with all of you. Here are some of my favorites!

  • I am a big fan of simple vegetables that do not take a lot of fuss to make. Roasted Broccoli is super simple and my favorite way to eat broccoli.
  • Pancakes have been one of my favorites since I was a little girl and our Blueberry Pancakes are delicious!
  • On busy weekday mornings, breakfast at my house has to be fast. I can bake these Scrambled Egg Muffins on Sunday when I have a bit of time and then just heat them up in the microwave when I need them. They can stay in the refrigerator for up to 4 days or I can freeze them if I need to make them further ahead.
  • I love hearty salads; especially ones that can be made ahead. Our Zesty Whole Grain Salad is so tasty and the ingredients are available all year-round. 
  • After a long day, I love to have dinner in one bowl with all kinds of tasty things mixed together. Sweet Pork Stir Fry has protein, veggies and whole grain noodles in a tasty sauce. Another bonus – it is really pretty!

We would love to hear some of the recipes you have tried from our site and how they worked for you. Please share in the comments section on this blog or send us a message on social media. Happy Cooking!

Sweet Pork Stir Fry
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 Planning at My House – Christine

Our theme for blogs this month is meal planning. Each of our primary bloggers will share how they approach meal planning at their own home. We hope that you will be able to take some ideas from each of us to make meal planning go a bit easier for you.

easy roasted veggies

Meal planning is important to me because I want to make meal prep easy and I like to avoid food waste as much as I can. Most of the time I plan meals for just one person, so my strategies look different from someone who is planning for a whole family. Justine and Jody will have tips for families throughout the month.

Here are some of my favorite go-to strategies.

  1. I start with what I have. I begin my meal plan for each week with what I already have to reduce food waste. I often cook up a stir-fry or soup on Sunday with any vegetables from the previous week to get them used up before they spoil. One recipe that is great for this is our Easy Roasted Veggies.
  2. I do not cook for one. I generally cook a full batch of whatever I am making and I freeze leftovers in small containers. This way, I cook once and I know there are lots of yummy things in my freezer. The containers in the freezer make super-fast lunches and dinners.
  3. I pre-prep ingredients. When I get home from work at night I am usually very hungry and not in the mood to start cooking from scratch. I try to do myself a favor and be ready for this situation by having pre-prepped ingredients in my fridge or freezer. Here are some of my standbys:
    • Chopped onions in an airtight container in the freezer. These are great for cooking. If you will use the onion within a few days, you can store it in the refrigerator. I will often chop up 4 or 5 onions and keep them in the freezer to use for many meals. This works with peppers as well!
    • Cooked proteins. This time of year, I grill outside a lot. If I light my grill, I fill it. This means that I often have many frozen protein foods like grilled chicken and hamburgers. I can heat these up very quickly to get a meal started and cut my cooking time way down.
    • Cut fruit and vegetables in the refrigerator. I know that I am much more likely to reach for fruits and vegetables for snacks when they are cut and ready to go. I tend to purchase fruits and vegetables that can be cleaned and/or prepped ahead, such as:
      • Carrots
      • Celery
      • Pea pods
      • Peppers
      • Watermelon
      • Grapes

I hope one of these ideas is helpful to you and stay tune all month for Justine and Jody’s meal planning routines!

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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Veggies for Breakfast

According to the 2015 Dietary Guidelines, about 85% of Americans eat fewer vegetables than we should. That means only 15% are eating enough. Potatoes and tomatoes are the most commonly eaten, followed by lettuce and onions.

Therefore, the Dietary Guidelines recommend making small shifts to eat more vegetables. This includes
eating more vegetables that are prepared in ways that are lower in calories, saturated fats, and sodium
and eating a wider variety of vegetables.

I follow someone on social media who has been encouraging her followers to eat more vegetables. One of the ways she gets in her vegetables is eating them at breakfast. Unless I’m eating eggs with vegetables or a smoothie with spinach, I don’t often eat vegetables at breakfast. However, there’s no reason I can’t! So, I’ve been challenging myself to do so. Some ways Some breakfast veggies that work for me are: leftover roasted vegetables, eating carrot sticks and pepper strips, and eating celery with peanut butter. These are all things I do other times of the day. Now I just eat them earlier to help me get in more vegetables. Here are a few other ways you might try eating more vegetables.

  • Think of vegetables as part of your main dish as well as a side dish. We have lots of recipes that
    include vegetables as part of the main dish.
  • Make a vegetable tray and keep it in your refrigerator to grab out for snacks and meals. Make Vegetable Dip or After School Hummus to go along with the vegetables. Vegetable trays seem to
    make vegetables more exciting!
  • Eat them fresh, frozen, and canned. All forms of vegetables count, so don’t let the worry that
    fresh vegetables will go bad or the time to cut them up prevent you from eating more
    vegetables. Eat canned vegetables that are low in sodium and frozen vegetables without sauce
    in addition to fresh.

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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Pantry Picks – Brown Rice

How do you like the new Pantry Picks collection on our website? I have to admit, I’m pretty excited about my pick – brown rice. Brown rice is definitely a pantry pick in my house! I love it and I eat it pretty much every week. It tastes great, it’s hearty and it is a healthy choice for me. I try to make sure that at least half of the grain foods I eat are whole grains and brown rice helps me do that.

One of the things I like the best about brown rice is that it is so fast. I can cook a big pot of rice once and then split the rice up into freezer containers and freeze it for up to six months. Then I can have rice for many meals with just a quick zap in the microwave.

I use brown rice all year. In the winter, it goes into soups and casseroles and in the summer I make stir fry and salads. I put a little round-up of some of my favorite recipes that use brown rice below.

I hope you try one of these today and share your favorite ways to use brown rice with us in the comments or on our social media!

Enjoy!

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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Pantry Picks – Tortillas

Last week Justine introduced you to the new feature on our website called Pantry Picks and shared some ways to use whole wheat bread. I am excited about this new collection of resources because it highlights how we can make the best use of ingredients that are inexpensive, long-lasting and really easy to prepare. This week I’m highlighting our Pantry Pick on whole wheat tortillas.

We use a fair amount of tortillas in my house. We like Mexican flavored foods so I make a number of meals using whole wheat tortillas. And if I need a quick lunch or supper for my kids, they often choose a simple cheese quesadilla. My son prefers a white flour tortilla for his quesadilla but will eat the whole wheat tortillas for other meals.

Here are a few ways to use whole wheat tortillas:

This week try a new recipe using whole wheat tortillas!

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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