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.

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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Corn on the Cob

This week we have one more new produce video to share with you – corn on the cob. This is perfect timing here in Iowa because corn on the cob is delicious right now.

Our new video gives some tips on preparing fresh corn on the cob. Start by shucking the corn, which is removing the husks that surround the ears of corn. Then scrub the ears of corn under running water.

Cook the corn right on the cob by boiling, grilling, or microwaving it. I usually put our ears of corn in a microwave safe 9-inch by 13-inch pan, add about 1/3 cup of water, cover with plastic wrap, and cook for two minutes per ear of corn.

However, this year, my daughter’s two front teeth are very loose, so she is having a hard time eating corn on the cob. This is where the preparation method shown in the video comes in handy for me. I use a paring knife to cut the kernels off the ear of corn. Then, I cook the cut kernels following the same steps for microwaving a whole ear of corn. This method is also useful if you want to use fresh corn in place of canned or frozen in a recipe like our Confetti Rice and Bean Salad.

Check out the video and enjoy your corn on the cob this summer!

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover

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

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Cauliflower is Having a Moment

It seems like food manufacturers are making just about everything out of cauliflower nowadays. I have seen cauliflower ‘rice’ and cauliflower ‘pizza crust’. I have also seen cauliflower flavored to taste like Buffalo wings and boxed macaroni and cheese with cauliflower added to the pasta. Cauliflower is certainly having a moment.

I think this is largely because cauliflower is a versatile vegetable that takes on the flavor of whatever you use to season it. If you would like to jump on the cauliflower train, skip buying the cauliflower that is already cleaned and chopped and prepare it yourself instead. We have a new cauliflower video that will walk you through how to break down an entire head of cauliflower. I find that when I start with a whole head of cauliflower, it often stays fresher longer and is less expensive. The pre-prepped cauliflower may have been chopped several days or even a couple of weeks before it arrives at your grocery store.

Once you have your cauliflower broken down, you’re ready to make a variety of recipes. My favorite way to cook cauliflower is roasting. Check out our Roasted Cauliflower recipe for the details. I also like it raw in salads like Summer Bounty Salad.

I hope these recipes and video help you enjoy this trendy vegetable!

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 – 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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Pantry Picks – Whole Wheat Bread

We are excited to announce a new feature on Spend Smart. Eat Smart. called Pantry Picks. Pantry Picks
provide tips on nutrition, storage, and preparation for foods that you might commonly find in your
pantry or cupboard. Each week this month, we are going to look at a different Pantry Pick. We hope you
learn some new ways to use these staple foods.

Today, I am going to introduce you to our first Pantry Pick – whole wheat bread. You can almost always
find a loaf of whole wheat bread in my pantry. Find out why I like whole wheat bread on my post from
last week. We usually use whole wheat bread for sandwiches and toast. If you or your family prefer
another type of bread for sandwiches and toast, fear not!. Here are some other great uses for whole
wheat bread:

Make sure to check out our new Pantry Picks section on our website for more information about whole
wheat bread. Next week Jody will be sharing about tortillas.

Enjoy!

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover

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

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Crispy Baked Chicken

Our May recipe of the month is Crispy Baked Chicken and it is a popular one.  Boneless, skinless chicken is coated in crushed cornflakes and baked. Serve this tasty chicken with a fruit and a vegetable and you have a complete meal.  Many people I have talked to about this recipe like to season the crushed cornflakes beyond the garlic powder. Some suggestions I have received include basil, Italian seasoning, chili powder, lemon pepper, and oregano.  If you have a favorite herb or spice give it a try!

Recently, we have been talking a lot about unit pricing on the blog.  This recipe is a great chance to use your unit pricing skills when buying the chicken.  The recipe calls for 1 ½ pounds of boneless, skinless chicken. This can take several forms, so lets look at the unit price below to see what is the best buy.

Breasts Price

Package Size

Unit Price

$5.90

1.69 pounds

$3.49 per pound

Thighs Price

Package Size

Unit Price

$3.83

1.54 pounds

$2.49 per pound

Tenders Price

Package Size

Unit Price

$5.62

1.28 pounds

$4.39 per pound

In this case, the chicken thighs were the best buy.  Remember, prices will change from week to week, so make sure to double check the unit price before you buy.

Enjoy!

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover

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

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Children and Fish

A few weeks ago, I mentioned that I rarely ate fish growing up. However, fish is a favorite of my children. We usually eat it for dinner once a week.

You may be wondering if I am worried about my children being exposed to mercury in the fish I feed them. The answer is no because I choose fish that the EPA and FDA have designated safe to eat including cod, pollock, salmon, and tilapia. This chart has great advice on the appropriate types and amounts of fish for children and pregnant women. It is safe for children ages 2 years and older to eat one or two servings of fish per week. Eating fish may even have lifelong health benefits. These include brain function and prevention of chronic disease.

Adding fish, or any food, to the menu at home can be tricky. Family members of all ages may not be comfortable with new foods. Here are some of the things I try:

  • Stick with it for the long haul. The more they see the food, the more likely they are to try it (and like it). It may take weeks, months, or years, but they will eventually try it.
  • Serve it with other things they like. Favorite side dishes can make a new food more appealing. * Serve it as part of a mixed dish. Our Fish and Noodle Skillet is a great way to include fish with other tasty foods your family members may like.

Try adding fish to your weekly menu. Let us know how it goes!

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover

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

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