Meal Planning Tips for Easy and Healthy Meals

There are sixteen days until my kids start school! Along with school starting, my kids will also be starting football, dance, and piano so our schedule is going to get busy. One thing that helps me feel less stressed when life gets busy is meal planning. By spending 30 minutes on the weekend planning meals for the week, I spend less time worrying about what we will eat for supper each night. I know my family isn’t the only one looking ahead to a busy fall, so today I wanted to share three tips I use when meal planning that you might find helpful.

  1. Pick a theme for each night. Some common themes I’ve heard before are Meatless Monday, Taco Tuesday, or Pizza on Friday. When you have a theme, it’s one less decision you have to make. On Tuesday, you know you are going to have tacos so you just have to decide what kind of tacos you want. The ‘themes’ I use are a little different. I have a different protein food for each night. And one night is always leftovers or make your own. I stock up on meat, fish and chicken when it is on sale and put it in my freezer. Here are some Spend Smart. Eat Smart. recipes for each kind of protein you might like to try. Not only does this make planning easy for me, but it also helps us vary our proteins which is important for good nutrition.
Beef/PorkFishChickenVegetarianLeftovers
Slow Cooker RoastBroiled SalmonQuick Pad ThaiStuffed Pasta ShellsWraps “Your” Way
Beef and Vegetable Stir-FryBaked Fish and ChipsChicken FajitasVegetable Frittata
Sweet Pork Stir-FryFish and Noodle SkilletCheesy Chicken CasseroleVegetable Quesadillas
  1. Make one dish meals. I make a lot of one dish meals because it makes my life easier. There are fewer dishes to do afterward and the only other thing I have to add to the meal is some fruit and something to drink, like milk or water. My kids don’t eat a lot of vegetables so I always include a fruit I know they will eat.
  1. Keep side dishes simple. Even though I like to cook, after a busy day when everyone is hungry I need to get supper done quickly. So in addition to making a lot of one dish meals, I always keep my side dishes simple. We eat a lot of cut up fruits and vegetables as sides. Some of our favorites are apples, carrots, and pepper strips. I also use a lot of frozen vegetables that I can heat quickly in the microwave. In the colder months, I like to make roasted vegetables.

For more ideas and resources on meal planning, check out the menu planning section of our Spend Smart. Eat Smart. website.

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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Crunchy Coleslaw

Our August recipe of the month is Crunchy Coleslaw. This refreshing recipe is one of my favorites. It keeps in the refrigerator for up to four days, but I eat it for any meal or snack so it is usually gone in a day or two. To make this recipe, you break apart a package of dry ramen noodles and add them to a bowl with coleslaw mix, green onions, and a homemade dressing. This recipe is best if you let it marinate in the refrigerator for a couple of hours before serving.

Reading about the progress in Christine and Katy’s gardens has me thinking about using fresh cabbage for this recipe instead of a bag of coleslaw. I rarely use fresh cabbage, so I looked it up on our Produce Basics. To use a fresh cabbage for this recipe, all I need to do is remove any wilted outer leaves, wash it, cut out the core, and chop it into thin strips. If I spy a cabbage at the farmers market, I think I will give it a try.

Find the full recipe: https://spendsmart.extension.iastate.edu/recipe/crunchy-coleslaw/

Enjoy!


Justine Hoover

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

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Enjoying the Fruits of Labor

A few months ago, I wrote a blog about the neighborhood garden that my family contributes to during the spring and summer. My husband and I do not have green thumbs, so we have enjoyed participating in a neighborhood garden that our neighbor, Jen, has created in her backyard to share with a few of us who live nearby.

This summer has been tough on our neighbor’s garden. She has had to fend off several hungry pests over the past few months and has dealt with drought making it difficult to produce as much as she has in years past. Although the garden was off to a slower start, she has been able to share beans, eggplant, cucumbers, zucchini, hot peppers, and a few tomatoes. In the next month or so, we are hopeful to see purple and blue potatoes, butternut squash, bell peppers, carrots, and additional greens like chard, spinach, and lettuce. Here is a picture of my toddler, Brynn, with the tomato plant that she helped with in May. Somehow, she has developed a green thumb and her tomato plant is the biggest one in Jen’s garden!

I love using my neighbor’s produce in my recipes. There is something to be said about the taste of a fresh grown vegetable compared to purchasing one from our local grocery store. A few of my favorite recipes that I have made so far this summer include making Whole Wheat Pizza Dough with hot peppers and tomatoes, as well as Vegetable Quesadillas and Zucchini Hummus Wraps with zucchini and eggplant. I also make the Vegetable Dip to enjoy with cut up veggies for a quick and easy snack.

I am looking forward to enjoying the other produce that will be grown in our neighbor’s garden over the next few months. Now that Brynn is learning the ins and outs of gardening from our neighbor, maybe we will attempt our own garden next spring!

Cheers to enjoying the fruits of labor!

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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Update from Christine – Herb Gardening in Small Spaces

Back in May, I wrote a blog related to how I like to grow herbs at my house. I do not have a good space in my yard to dig up a garden, so I use containers instead. Herbs are a great food to start out with if you are new to gardening. They grow very well in Iowa summers and take up a small amount of space. Not to mention, fresh herbs are quite expensive at the grocery store and can spoil quickly. Growing them at home gives you the pleasure of fresh herbs for far less money.

Here is a picture of how my herbs look about seven weeks after planting. They have all grown up quite a lot. I use the thyme and rosemary once or twice per week. I tend to use them to season chicken before I grill it or vegetables before I roast them. I use the basil almost every day because I love basil with cottage cheese and chopped tomatoes. I also like to clip a few stems of each and put them in a jar on my kitchen counter just because they smell so nice. Even with frequent use, the plants are still very large.

I had to make one change back in the spring. After a couple of weeks of growth, it was clear that my planter was too crowded, so I removed the parsley plant gently and put it in a flowerpot by itself. That gave all of the plants enough room to grow well.

How are your food plants doing? Have you tried anything that is new to you this year?

Happy gardening!
Christine

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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Planning for a Picnic

Picnics are a fun way to spend time outdoors while sharing a snack or a meal with friends and family. Now that the weather is getting nicer, picnics are a top priority for my family. Our two-year-old has become a food grazer so picnics are a fun way for us to take our snacks and meals outside. Picnics allow her to eat at her own pace in a new environment while also tiring her out as she explores a park or playground; a win-win for any parent!

My favorite thing about picnics is that they don’t have to be picture worthy or take a lot of preparation. Most of the time, our picnics are spontaneous, and we toss items that we have on hand in a basket or tote and off we go! Below are a few staples that we take with us on our picnic adventures.

  • A blanket or a sheet is a must have! You can’t rely on a park or playground to have a shelter area with tables. Because of this, we always bring a blanket or a sheet to place on the grass to eat or rest. I keep a blanket or a sheet in my car for those impromptu picnic stops to make it easier.
  • Easy recipes are key to making your picnic experience stress-free. If we don’t feel like packing up a full meal, sometimes we pack for quick picnics with easy grab and go snacks like veggies with Vegetable Dip, Crunchy Apple Rollups cut into pinwheels, or Energy Bites with some cut up fruit. On days when I have more time to prepare, I like taking Chicken Salad with crackers or Zucchini Hummus Wraps. Just remember that if you are making items that require refrigeration to pack them in a cooler or lunchbox with plenty of ice/ice packs to keep them safe in the heat.  
  • I always pack sunscreen, hats, and even an extra pair of clothes…just in case! You never know when you may find a fun creek to explore or get extra dirty on a climbing adventure. Packing an extra pair of clothes for my toddler makes the ride home more comfortable and keeps the car significantly cleaner!

Picnics don’t require a lot of time and can be a fun, inexpensive way to spend time outdoors. My favorite memories are from the picnic adventures that were thrown together last minute. You can be picnic ready all season long without requiring a lot of extra work. What new parks and playgrounds will you explore this season?

Cheers to your next picnic adventure!

Katy

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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Brown Rice “Risotto”

Our July recipe of the month is Brown Rice “Risotto”. This is not a traditional risotto recipe which slowly cooks white rice with broth. This mock risotto recipe is much quicker. It calls for instant brown rice and cooks in about 20 minutes making it ideal for someone who needs a quick meal.

In my opinion, one of the best things about this recipe is its flexibility. It can easily go from a side dish to a main dish by stirring in pre-cooked meat or fish towards the end of the cooking time. I have enjoyed chicken, ham, and shrimp added to this recipe. I also like how the recipe allows for substitutions. You can change out the seasonings and the vegetables depending on what you like and what you have on hand. Mushrooms are one of my favorite vegetables, so adding fresh mushrooms and cooking them with the onion and rice is a treat for me. 

At Spend Smart. Eat Smart. we like flexible recipes because you can make them your own with flavors and ingredients you enjoy and have on hand. Here are some other flexible recipes to try out:

Find the full recipe: https://spendsmart.extension.iastate.edu/recipe/brown-rice-risotto/

Enjoy!

Justine Hoover

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

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On the Road Again

With travel restrictions lifting, my family and I are starting to spend quite a bit of time in the car to make up for a year of little travel. My husband and I have family and friends across the country. Flying with a toddler does not seem like an easy task so we have started to take smaller road trips in the past several months. Depending on the time of day that we are traveling, we often need to have snack breaks. When we travel, we try to pick healthier options at gas stations and rest stops. Today I would like to share some of our favorites with you!

A few of my go-to travel snacks include trail mix, fresh fruits and vegetables, cheese sticks, pretzels, and popcorn. Most rest stops and gas stations have a variety of healthier snack options. I have had good luck finding whole grain snacks, whole fruits and a variety of trail mix options at gas stations. One thing I have noticed is that convenience store options tend to be more expensive. On our last road trip, I purchased a small bag of trail mix from a gas station for $4.79. Compared to my local grocery store, this was almost $2 more than what I would typically spend on a similar item.

Therefore, when I know I am going to be traveling, I try to plan my snacks and purchase them ahead of time. Spend Smart. Eat Smart. has a number of easy, inexpensive snack items that are great for road trips. Some of my favorites are the Popcorn Trail Mix and Breakfast Cookies. For items that need to be kept cold, like string cheese, I will pack a small cooler or lunchbox with ice packs and a thermometer to make sure they stay safe.

I would love to hear if you have packed any of the Spend Smart. Eat Smart. recipes in your travel bag. Feel free to share any of your go-to travel snacks with us on social media or in the comments section. Cheers to your next road trip adventure!

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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Smoothie Smackdown: Homemade vs. Fast Food

Summer is here, and with the hot weather comes everyone’s cravings for a sweet treat! I enjoy fruit smoothies because they can be nutritious while also hitting the spot. Going to grab a smoothie at a fast food joint seems like the perfect idea for a hot day, but these smoothies can be pretty expensive… and high in sugar. Could making your own smoothies solve this issue?

This week, I tested out two smoothies: one that I made at home from scratch, and one from a popular smoothie franchise in Ames. Both of them were peanut butter, banana, and yogurt smoothies. I compared the taste, nutritional value, and simplicity of the two. Which one do I think is better? Let’s find out!

HomemadeFast Food
Amount16 oz.16 oz.
Time it took5 minutes20 minutes
Cost$1.08$5.87
Nutrition:
Calories320463
Fat9 g11.5 g
Carbohydrate50 g70 g
Sugar34 g53 g
Protein16 g22 g

My thoughts:

Homemade: This smoothie was quick, easy, and DELICIOUS! All I did was throw the ingredients (which I already happened to have) in a blender. It had the perfect touch of sweetness along with a thick, creamy consistency. This smoothie provides a good amount of protein and has a reasonable amount of sugar and calories for me—and you can’t beat the price! Recipe from: https://spendsmart.extension.iastate.edu/recipe/peanut-butter-banana-smoothie/

Fast Food: This smoothie was very tasty, but also really sweet. It tasted similar to my homemade one, but almost as if you had added ice cream to it! It provides a good amount of protein and kept me full, but also has a steep amount of sugar and calories especially when compared to the homemade version. Paying $6 for a smoothie that I could make at home doesn’t seem very practical to me, especially when I had to drive there and back to get it. (The whole container was 24 oz., but I only ate 16 oz. to stay consistent with the homemade one.)

The Verdict:

I prefer the homemade smoothie! It’s delicious, easy, and cost-friendly. Another perk of making your own smoothie is that you know exactly what’s going into it. Fast food or store-bought smoothies can be high in added sugar. The homemade smoothie I made contains mostly natural sugar (which comes from fruit and dairy), along with just a touch of added sugars which come from the flavored yogurt and peanut butter. Over time, making your own smoothies will be better for your bank account and your overall health, without sacrificing any of the yumminess.

Written by Maggie Moeller – Student Assistant, ISU Dietetics

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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Peanut Butter Banana Smoothie

My children and I love making smoothies for breakfast or as a special treat to go along with supper. We do not use a recipe very often because it is fun to use what we have on hand to make something tasty. However, our June recipe of the month, Peanut Butter Banana Smoothie, is a recipe we all like.

The first step of this recipe is an important one – freeze your banana for at least four hours before making this smoothie. I usually try to freeze at least one banana per week. Then I always have a frozen banana on hand for smoothies or to thaw for banana bread. You can freeze bananas whole with the peel on, but for this recipe you need to peel the banana, cut it into 4 to 6 pieces, and freeze it in an airtight container.

Once you have your banana frozen, you are ready to make your smoothie. All you have to do is add the frozen banana, yogurt, milk, and peanut butter to a blender and blend until smooth. You can double or triple this recipe to make more servings or to make some extra smoothies for another day. Store the extra smoothies in airtight containers in the freezer. As a bonus, if you bought a bag of chia seeds for our May recipe of the month, you can add a spoonful of chia seeds to this smoothie to add some texture and nutrition.

Find the full recipe: https://spendsmart.extension.iastate.edu/recipe/peanut-butter-banana-smoothie/

Enjoy!

Justine Hoover

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

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What do I Grow?

“What do I grow?” That is a question I ask myself every year when I start thinking about my garden. And the answer is different every year. In my previous home, my garden was much larger, so I had a lot more options. Over the 11 years I worked in that garden, I planted lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, corn, broccoli, carrots, beets, kohlrabi, squash, peas, green beans, potatoes, and flowers. No two years were the same.

Now I live in a home with more shade trees, so my garden is smaller. This will be my third year of deciding what to plant here. Since space is tight, I have to be more selective about what I plant. So, I do three things when deciding what to grow.

  1. I take into account my family’s preferences. I have learned over the years that my family prefers peppers fresh out of the garden, but they prefer it if I make the tomatoes into juice and freeze it for soups and sauces in the winter. This tells me I need to plant several different types of peppers, but I only need to plant tomatoes that are good for freezing.
  2. I ask my children what they would like to plant. I always let my children pick a packet of seeds they want to plant because it makes them more interested in the garden. They do a better job of pulling the weeds when they are motivated to see their little seeds grow into big plants. Some years their choices work out and some years they don’t, and that is ok.
  3. I consider my space. After I have thought about my family’s preferences and found out what my children want to plant, I consider how much space I have left. With my extra space, I may try something new or I may plant something just for me. Last summer I planted a beautiful yellow zucchini plant that was just for me.

Later this summer, when I start to harvest my garden, I will give you an update on my choices for this year.

Justine Hoover

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

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