Make Veggies the Star

Adults should eat an average of two to three cups of vegetables per day depending on age and sex. Does this sound like a lot to you? If you are balancing a busy schedule, a tight grocery budget and often eating meals on the go, this may seem like a high bar to reach. I have found that making vegetables my main dish once per day helps me reach 2 ½ cups per day, which is the recommendation for me. 

At lunch, I do this by packing salads to take to work. Some of my favorites from our recipe collection are Zesty Whole Grain Salad, Summer Bounty Salad and Chicken Club Salad. Each of these packs up well and gets me at least half-way to my 2 ½ cups of vegetables per day. Generally, I eat the rest of my veggies as snacks and as a side dish at dinner. 

Soup can also be a very vegetable-rich main dish. I make soup nearly every week and keep a variety of soups in single-serve containers in my freezer. I will admit that I improvise soup a lot. I make soup out of the veggies that I have left in my fridge at the end of the week. Sometimes I use other leftovers such as herbs, potatoes, meat, beans and grains as well. This not only leads to a tasty meal, but also helps me prevent food waste and make good use of the food I have before I buy more. When I feel like using a recipe, one of my favorites is Vegetable Soup with Kale and Lentils

How do you make veggies the star of your meals? Please share your ideas in the comments or on our social media.

Take care!

Chicken Club Salad
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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Vegetable Frittata

Our March recipe of the month is Vegetable Frittata. We have breakfast for supper once each week at my home, so I use this recipe often. When my children see this recipe on the table, they call it egg pizza because we cut it into triangles when we serve it.

Here are some of the reasons why Vegetable Frittata is on my favorites list:

  • Eggs are an inexpensive source of protein. Plus, my family really likes eggs.
  • I can chop up vegetables that are leftover from other meals for this recipe. Almost any vegetable will work.
  • It comes together quickly. This is a good recipe for a night when I do not have much time to cook.
  • The leftovers make a tasty breakfast. We do not have leftovers of this recipe very often, but when we do, they taste great when reheated in the microwave for breakfast the next morning.

One important thing to remember about this recipe is to use an ovenproof skillet. The last step is to broil the eggs in the oven for a few minutes, so you want to be sure it is safe to put your skillet in the oven.

Enjoy!

Vegetable Frittata Meal
Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover

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

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A Walk a Day Could Keep the Doctor Away

As Jody mentioned in her earlier blogs this month, February is focused around heart health. I like to focus on the habits I can do every day that help keep my heart healthy. Eating well and staying active are at the top of the list for me. 

Last week Jody touched on strength training and the importance of weight bearing activity to help strengthen muscles. Another easy way to exercise your heart and body is to go for a walk. Did you know that walking is the single most popular adult exercise in the country? Walking can be a great way to increase your heart rate while exercising your heart and lungs. 

The goal is to aim for 30-minutes of exercise 5 days a week. When I am running short on time, I will break my walk into short, brisk segments to get to that 30-minute goal. A few ways that I tend to break up my daily walk are to park further away from my destination when I am out running errands and to take short walks during my breaks. 

When I was pregnant, I gave myself a goal to walk for 30 minutes every day. I not only wanted to have a healthy pregnancy, but walking helped alleviate stress and gave me an energy boost- this was crucial in those last few months! Once my daughter was born, walking was the only tried and true way that I could soothe her. Having an October baby in Iowa took some flexibility on my part because it got cold outside fast. If the weather was too cold to take her outside, I would head to our local mall to get in my daily walk. Some of my fondest memories from childhood were going on walks with my mom. I hope that my daughter will cherish these daily walks as she gets older and begins to establish her own healthy habits.  

Check out the handout, walk your way to fitness, under the ‘move’ tab on our website that highlights helpful tips on what to wear for your walk and how to turn your basic daily stroll into a heart healthy workout.

Cheers to getting outside and strengthening your heart!

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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Strength Training: It does a body good

Last week I shared a sample plan on how to include our at-home workouts into your weekly exercise plan. This week I want to share some more information and tips on strength training. It is recommended to do muscle strengthening activity at least 2 days per week. Strength training is important for everyone. As we age, if we don’t use our muscles, they get weaker and we are less able to do normal daily activities.

I find that most often, people are comfortable doing physical activities that strengthen their heart and lungs such as walking, running, biking, or swimming. And they are less comfortable doing activities that strengthen their muscles such as push-ups, squats, lunges, and core exercises. Often this is because they aren’t sure how to properly perform these exercises. That is where following our Beginner Strength Training video is helpful. 

Good form is very important when strength training to prevent injury. Here are some tips to keep in mind when strength training.

  • Keep your core tight by pulling your belly button in toward your back. This helps to support your low back while being active.
  • Exhale during the difficult part of the exercise. For example, when doing an overhead press, exhale when you push the weight over your head. Inhale as you lower the weights back down. 
  • Choose a weight that allows you to complete the full range of motion for each exercise. For example, if you cannot raise your arms up to shoulder height for front shoulder raises, choose a lighter weight. 

As your fitness level improves, increase the difficulty of the At-home Beginner Strength Training workout by increasing the amount of weight you use or repeat the set of exercises 2-3 times.
For additional strength training exercises, check out the American Council on Exercise website.

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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A Happy, Healthy Heart

February is American Heart month. It’s a time to focus on habits that can help us live heart healthy lives. This is important because heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the US. 

One habit that makes your heart happy is being active. Any opportunity to move is good for your heart, such as taking the stairs or playing with your kids. It’s also important to include some planned physical activity in to your week to increase your heart rate and strengthen your muscles. 

Last year we added some at-home workout videos to the Spend Smart. Eat Smart. website that can help you increase your activity. Below is a sample calendar for how to incorporate them into your weekly workout plan

Sample week

Day 1 Day 2Day 3Day 4Day 5Day 6Day 7
At-home workoutBeginner Strength Training30 minute walkRest or stretchingAt-home workoutCardio IntervalAt-home workout Beginner Strength TrainingRest or stretching30 minutewalk

Here are some key points to keep in mind.

  • Exercise Safely – Consult your doctor before beginning a new exercise plan.
  • Consistency-The most important key to success is consistency. The recommendation of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity a week is a goal. However, it is better to be active for a short amount of time on a regular basis than not do anything because of limited time or energy. 
  • Variety-Variety in your workouts and in the intensity of the workouts throughout the week helps prevent boredom. It also allows you to move your body in different ways to strengthen different muscle groups. 
  • Rest days-It is important to include rest days throughout the week. This allows your body time to recover and get stronger. Rest days may also include some gentle stretching. Listen to your body and, if needed, add an extra rest day.
  • Fuel your activity-In order to have the energy and strength to be active, it is important to fuel your body. Use the MyPlate Plan to determine how much you need to eat from each food group. 

Use the Move Your Way Activity Planner to start planning your weekly routine to build a healthy and happy heart!

woman stretching
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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Overnight Oats

Our February recipe of the month is Overnight Oats.  This recipe makes breakfast time easy and filling. In the evening, you stir together your oats and liquid ingredients, tightly cover the mixture, and leave it in the refrigerator overnight.  In the morning, add your favorite toppings and enjoy a great tasting and filling breakfast.

We have three different types of overnight oats for you to try – pumpkin, peanut butter, and yogurt.  Here is how I like my overnight oats:

  • Pumpkin:  the pumpkin overnight oats are my favorite because I love everything pumpkin flavored.  I usually just stir a teaspoon of chia seeds into these oats.
  • Peanut butter:  the peanut butter overnight oats fill me up the most because of the added protein and fat from the peanut butter.  I love bananas with peanut butter, so I usually add a sliced banana to these oats.
  • Yogurt:  yogurt is a food that I have a hard time eating on its own, so mixing yogurt into oats is a great way for me to get the benefits of yogurt.  I like to add berries and chopped nuts to these oats. 

The best thing about this recipe is that you can make it your own with the liquid ingredients and the toppings.  The link to the recipe is below and it includes all three varieties of overnight oats.

Enjoy!

Overnight oats
Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover

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

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Chopped!

Last July I wrote a blog about challenging myself to eat vegetables at breakfast to help me get more veggies in my day. I have to admit, I’ve not done very well at keeping up with that challenge. However, I’m still being mindful of how I can eat more vegetables throughout the day and during meal time. One item I have started buying at the grocery store is chopped salad kits that seem to be the current trend. Even though there have been salad kits around for quite a while, I have never gotten into the habit of buying them. I gave the chopped salad kits a try and it turns out I really like them! Here are a few reasons why:

  1. The different kits include nutrient dense leafy greens like red and green cabbage, kale, Brussel sprouts, romaine and green leaf lettuce. A lot of them also include green onion and carrots.
  2. There are many different flavors to choose from. So far I’ve enjoyed Chipotle and Cheddar, BBQ Ranch, Pomegranate, and Thai. 
  3. I can enjoy the salads without having to buy a bunch of different ingredients in full-size packages. This can help reduce food waste because we easily eat all of the salad before it goes bad. Sometimes if we have a larger amount of leafy greens, some go bad before we get to them.
  4. They are easy to mix together and add as a side dish to a meal.
  5. And maybe the biggest reason I like them is because my 10 year old son, who doesn’t like many vegetables, will eat them!

As much as I like them, there are a few things that I see as downsides.

  1. They can be expensive. At regular price they can cost between $3.50 and 4.00. And this is for national or store brands. Each bag has about 3 ½ 1 cup servings. Therefore, I buy them when they are on sale. Recently, a national brand was on sale at one of the stores I shop at for $1.88 so I bought 3 of them. My co—worker mentioned that she has gotten them for $1.00 when they are almost to their ‘best if used by’ date. 
  2. There are three different plastic bags with ingredients. There is the large bag with the salad and then two smaller bags; one with the dressing and one with the toppings. Therefore, I try to reduce my use of plastic bags by bringing reusable grocery shopping bags and a reusable produce bag. 

If you have a goal of eating more vegetables, you might try one of the chopped salad kits as a side dish at an upcoming meal. If you would rather make your own salad, we have many recipes on our website.

plate of Salad isolated on white
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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Homemade Protein Snacks

Last week I shared the cost and nutrition of three different brands of protein packs. However, when comparing the price of an individual pack to building my own at home, the results can’t be beat. I saved money, used a reusable container to avoid waste, and got more protein than I would have with the store-bought snack packs.

Here are some ideas for building your own protein snack pack. As you can see, most of the items are cheaper than buying the pre-packaged option! All of these snack packs have 10 grams or more of protein per serving and varying calories based on your needs. 

Build your own: 


Grocery Store Total Cost per ServingSupermarket Total Cost per ServingCalories (kcal)Protein (grams)
1 ounce ham + 1 ounce cheddar cheese + 2 tablespoons almonds$1.53$0.9222020
1 ounce cheddar cheese + 2 tablespoons almonds + 2 tablespoons dried cranberries $1.16$0.9025010
1 boiled egg + 1 ounce ham + ½ cup carrots$1.13$0.6016517
2 tablespoons hummus + ½ cup carrots + 1 string cheese $0.97$0.6217510
1 ounce turkey jerky + 1 string cheese$2.12$1.1815020
½ apple + 2 tablespoons peanut butter + 1 string cheese $0.80$0.7030014

To get the most out of the protein you consume, try spreading it throughout the day. Healthy adults need 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day, according to the Recommended Daily Allowance. The average female would need around 46 grams, and the average male needs around 56 grams of protein each day. 

This blog was written by Iowa State University Dietetic Intern Laurynn Verry.

Protein Snack Boxes – Convenient or Costly?

From work or school to sports practices, events and everything in between, finding time to eat during the day can be difficult! It seems like grabbing a quick snack at the grocery store is a perfect solution…until you compare the cost to individual servings of protein foods. Yes, I will admit that I am guilty of buying these little convenient protein packs to stash in my lunch for a quick afternoon snack before I head out the door to my next event. However, I might rethink how much I’m spending on this packs. 

Below are some common protein packs, which vary from 1.5 – 2 ounce portions. There are many brands that make these packs. I chose these three because they are common national brands and not because of any particular attributes of the products. The average cost from a smaller grocery store was $1.89, the price at a larger supermarket was $1.28 and from a convenience store was $1.75


Cost/Serving Grocery StoreCost/Serving SupermarketCost/Serving Convenience Store Calories* (kcal) Protein* (grams)
Oscar Mayer P3 (ham, almonds, cheddar – 2.3 ounces)$2.19$1.50$1.9919012 
Sargento Balanced Breaks (white cheddar cheese, almonds, dried cranberries – 1.5 ounces)$1.49$1.09$1.691807
Hormel Natural Choice (ham, white cheddar cheese, dark chocolate pretzels – 2 ounces)$1.99$1.25$1.5918010
Average Cost:$1.89$1.28$1.75

*Calorie and protein information from supermarket website

After researching the pre-packaged protein packs, I wanted to check pricing on individual items. Here is what I found. 

Individual costs of protein foods


Cost/Serving Grocery StoreCost/Serving SupermarketCalories* (kcal)Protein* (grams)
Ham – 2 ounces$0.62$0.366010
Almonds – ¼ cup $0.55$0.351606
Peanuts – 1 ounce$0.19$0.121607
Cheddar cheese – 1 ounce$0.25$0.211107
String cheese – 1 each $0.29$0.24707
Eggs – 1 each$0.12$0.05706
Hummus – 2 tablespoons$0.29$0.19702
Peanut butter – 2 tablespoons$0.11$0.091907
Turkey jerky – 1 ounce $1.83$0.948013

*Calorie and protein information from supermarket website

Some of these have more protein in them as a single item than the snack pack as a whole! I even have many of them on hand at home.  Next week, I will share how I put together some of these snack packs in my own kitchen.

This blog was written by Iowa State University Dietetic Intern Laurynn Verry.

Meatballs

Meatballs

Happy New Year!  Our January recipe of the month is Meatballs.  This recipe is on the menu plan regularly at my home because everyone in my family likes it and because it is versatile.

I have heard a lot of family members and friends complaining recently about being in a meal rut.  If you are feeling the same way, this meatball recipe may be for you. Last week I made a double batch of these and was able to use them for several different meals:

  • Meatballs work well on their own with a fruit and a vegetable on the side.
  • Serve meatballs with noodles and a favorite sauce to make your own version of spaghetti and meatballs.
  • Leftover meatballs make tasty sandwiches topped with cheese and veggies.

These meatballs freeze well, so you can freeze them in individual servings for future meals.  Use this recipe your way and let us know how you like it.

Enjoy!

meatballs

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover

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

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