Filling the Gap

The Spend Smart. Eat Smart. Team has been sharing their kitchens with you and what menu planning looks like for each of them, including tips and recipes.  Unfortunately, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has made it difficult for many families to provide enough food due to lack of resources.  This is particularly true for households with young children.  In an effort to ease the burden on families, I would like to share information about a program available in your community that provides nutritious meals and snacks to children, 18 and under, during the COVID-19 pandemic and the coming summer months.

The USDA Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) was established to fill the gap when children lose access to meals when schools are closed.  Most often this occurs during summer vacation. However, during school closures related to the pandemic, meals are also being made available.  You have the opportunity to supplement the food you have at home with meals and snacks for your children from local schools and community organizations.  In an effort to maintain social distancing, USDA has made temporary changes that allow parents or guardians to pick up meals and take them home for their children.  Organizations have come up with creative ways to make these nutritious meals available in your community through grab and go curbside pickup, providing meals for multiple days at one time, and some including “take and bake” options, and weekend meals.

You can find a meal site in your area via three easy options:

  • Text “Food” or “Comida” to 877-877
  • Call 2-1-1, 1-866-3-HUNGRY (1-866-348-6479), or 1-877-8-HAMBRE (1-877-842-6273) (for Spanish)
  • Visit https://www.fns.usda.gov/meals4kids

Take the stress out of providing nutritious meals and snacks to your children by participating at a site near you!  Spread the word to family, friends, and neighbors!

Stephanie

Stephanie Dross is a Registered Dietitian with the Iowa Department of Education, Bureau of Nutrition and Health Services.  She coordinates the Department’s Summer Food Service Program and loves to garden and cook with her family.

Free Consultations with Family Finance Specialists

This week, our blogs focus on the financial challenges COVID-19 has created for many families. Extension can help. We don’t have a magic wand, but we do have trustworthy information and planning strategies to help you consider your options and make decisions that will work for you in the long run. 
Whether it’s sorting out your priorities, figuring out how to contact creditors, finding ways to stretch dollars further, or addressing some other issue, your local Human Sciences specialist in family finance can provide tools or suggest strategies that will help you make decisions with confidence. Find the specialist who serves your region and contact us by phone or email. Over the phone, by video chat, OR by email, we’ll help you find tools and resources for moving forward, even in this difficult time. Click play below to learn more.

Iowa Concern

One-on-one consultations are available with ISU Extension and Outreach Family Finance Specialists. Call 1-800-447-1985 to get connected with your local specialist.

Posted by Spend Smart. Eat Smart. on Saturday, May 16, 2020

Weighing Financial Priorities During the Pandemic

Guest Blogger, Barb Wollan, Family Finance Specialist

This week, we welcome guest blogger Barb Wollan. Barb is a Family Finance Specialist with ISU Extension and Outreach and her blog relates to weighing priorities during times when money is tight. 

As we focus on what we can control in our personal finances, the most obvious thing we control is our spending. Due to COVID 19, you may have already cut back on some of your normal expenses, like entertainment, but when money is tight, these cuts may not be enough. Choosing your top priorities is critical. Prioritizing includes considering all necessary expenses like groceries and utilities, and it often requires us to separate the things we need from the things we want. Before skipping a bill or making a partial payment, start by getting a complete picture of all your bills and debts – total monthly payments, total owed, current standing (i.e. are you currently caught up), and interest rate or fees for late payment. 

The next step is to consider each bill’s importance. All bills will need to be paid eventually, and it is never desirable to leave bills unpaid or partially paid. However, in times of real financial shortfall, people sometimes have to make tough choices. So how do you choose among your many bills?

Consider what you have to lose if a bill is unpaid. Losing housing, core utilities or a vehicle is generally the greatest possible loss to a household. Therefore those payments may be top priorities for many families. By contrast, getting behind on a credit card account or medical bill payment plan may not affect your immediate well-being. Missing a payment could hurt your credit report, but you can recover from it.  Due to COVID 19, some of your service providers and creditors may be offering assistance to extend your payment deadline and/or help reduce your payment obligations. In most cases, making a minimum payment is better than making no payment. Missing a payment has different consequences on your credit report. Plus, some consequences start immediately, while others may only start after a significant delay in payment. For example, some auto lenders repossess a vehicle after a single missed payment while others wait 60 days. If you take advantage of a COVID-19 payment assistance option, there are a few factors that will determine how creditors report your account to credit reporting companies, learn more about credit reporting under the CARES Act.

In addition to prioritizing among your existing bills, it is also wise to consider what bills you will or will not continue to incur. You may have ongoing monthly subscriptions to video services, cable, newspapers, program memberships or mail-order clubs. Stop and think about whether to continue them during this time. Those are often things we enjoy, and we don’t like the idea of giving them up, but if you’re worried about paying the car insurance or water bill, then it’s appropriate to include these subscriptions as you consider options. Consider your bills that have temporarily stopped, like childcare or federal student loan repayments that are suspended until September 30, 2020. How can these savings be used to pay priority bills? And don’t forget your bills on autopay, if you want more flexibility to prioritize your bills consider removing the auto payment.

If you have to miss a bill payment, check out the website of your service providers or creditor to see if they are offering greater payment flexibility.  And as much as you might dread the phone call, communicating with creditors is essential if you cannot pay on time. The fact that you called and explained your situation will make a huge difference in their willingness to work with you. This is especially true if you have previously been a reliable customer.  Creditors recognize the losses people are facing during this unprecedented crisis. Consider these suggestions for a conversation with a creditor:

  1. Be prompt – call them before your payment is due.
  2. Be honest with them – tell the truth without embellishment or exaggeration.
  3. Ask if they have a pandemic relief option, or a “hardship plan”, that would increase payment flexibility or reduce or eliminate the fees or interest that come with late payments.
  4. Be realistic about your options. If they ask you about when you will be able to make your next payment, give a realistic answer. 
  5. Keep a record of what phone number you called, who you talked with, the date and time of the conversation, and what exactly was agreed.
  6. Monitor your credit report. The 3 national credit reporting companies are offering free weekly online credit reports through April 2021.

Need help with all this? In many communities, a non-profit credit counseling service is available to help you negotiate the process.  To find a reputable credit counselor near you, check with the National Foundation for Credit Counseling; either by phone or on-line, they can do a zip code search to find the member agency nearest you.

On Thursday, Barb will share another resource available to help when making difficult financial decisions.

one dollar bill

Overcoming food shortages with substitutions

Most of us have been stuck at home for weeks, many of us homeschooling while working or wishing we were working. Thinking back to how nice it was to miss our family occasionally, while still trying to treasure every moment. It seems unfair that during these uncertain times we also have to worry about grocery stores being fully stocked. Know that you are not alone and Extension and Outreach is here to help. 

It seems that people are stocking up on frozen and canned items that will last longer, which can make it difficult to find the grocery items that you are used to buying. 

For frozen and canned vegetables 

The understanding that most vegetables are interchangeable is helpful here. Substituting carrots, peas, broccoli, green beans, cauliflower, spinach, asparagus, kale, even celery or cabbage for each other will not negatively impact a recipe’s final product. Keep in mind that cooking times may vary slightly, so check your vegetables for doneness before serving. I recommend picking vegetables you know you like, but if you’re feeling adventurous try out a new one!  

Use any frozen or canned vegetables/beans you want in the following recipes:

Vegetable Quesadillas – Kids love helping to build their own.

Quick Pad Thai – A fun take on takeout, try with tofu or edamame for protein if you’re low on chicken.

Pizza on a Potato– Another dish that’s fun for kids and good as a side dish or the main course!

Four Layer Supper– Substitute any canned vegetable or 1 cup frozen vegetables in this recipe in place of green beans.

Making fresh produce last

If you want to extend the shelf life of your fresh produce, Extension and Outreach has some great resources here. This is also helpful to have in mind as summer starts up and farmers markets and gardens start filling up with Iowa’s bounty. 

Substitutes for meat

It has been especially difficult for us to find the cuts and type of meat we are used to lately, so I have taken to using more beans, tofu, and eggs to get our protein. Like vegetables, these items are fairly easy to exchange for each other. Beans and tofu* can be added with the vegetables in a recipe, as they don’t need to be pre-cooked. 

*A note on tofu: We usually buy extra firm (non-silken) tofu, as it holds its shape and substitutes well for meat. Silken tofu is good for soups and smoothies, as it has a much softer texture. I like to marinate my extra firm tofu up to a day ahead of time (use your favorite seasoning and a tsp of oil). If it is your first time using tofu and you are worried about your family liking it, then fry it in a little oil and season it before serving it alongside something they enjoy. 

Here are some of our favorite recipes that work well with non-meat protein sources.

Frittata– Quick and easy weekend breakfast, or we have even been known to have it for a weeknight dinner!

Teriyaki Rice Bowl– Substitute tofu for the protein here for a truly Asian-inspired dish.

Sausage and Vegetable Skillet– Try substituting beans for sausage here, just skip the second step and add beans in with the vegetables.

Black Bean Burgers – Kids love to help form the patties!
Now more than ever it is important to rely on each other and be adaptable. When you are planning your week, stick to recipes that you feel comfortable using different vegetables and protein sources for. AnswerLine is always available if you have any questions regarding substitutions 1-800-262-3804 (9 am-12 pm and 1-4 pm CST). We are all in this together.

What’s Cooking at Christine’s House

On Monday, I shared my approach to planning meals. The strategy I use allows me to make good use of what I have and minimize trips out for groceries. I maintain a list of what I have on hand and I arrange it by food group so that I can make improvised meals and recipes by pulling from each part of the list. I also create some detail within the lists like separating out fresh vegetables from frozen or canned ones. This allows me to spot which items I should eat first to prevent waste.

Here are some examples of improvised meals I can create from my current list. 

  • I have spinach, various veggies and canned beans to make chopped salads for lunch.
  • I can make a Mediterranean-inspired chicken and rice bowl with grilled chicken, spinach, brown rice and feta cheese. 
  • I have tuna, celery, onions and whole wheat bread. Sounds like tuna salad to me!
  • I have fresh veggies, frozen peas and whole wheat pasta to make a tasty pasta primavera. 

My list also helps me think about what recipes I can prepare. I can see that I have all of the ingredients for Scrambled Egg Muffins. I like having these in my refrigerator right now so I can have a healthy breakfast instead of just snacking through the morning. I also have everything for Quick Pad Thai. This tasty meal comes together quickly and uses mostly staple ingredients. Cook Quick Pad Thai along with me!

Happy Cooking!
Christine

Quick Pad Thai

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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What is Justine Cooking?

On Monday, I shared how my family is working together on the planning and cooking of meals during this strange time. Today I would like to share with you some of the meals we are relying on right now. 

The most important factor for us in planning meals is making sure there will be leftovers. Since we are now feeding five people for lunch in addition to breakfast and supper, we are taking advantage of those leftovers.

Here are some Spend Smart. Eat Smart. recipes I am using:

  • Broiled Salmon – Leftover fish is versatile, it can be used in sandwiches, wraps, or a stir fry. 
  • Easy Roasted Veggies – I have been doubling roasted veggies because they taste so good when reheated and they are an easy vegetable to add to any meal.
  • Banana Oatmeal Bread – I have been making banana bread weekly. We can make it for supper with scrambled eggs one night and have the leftover bread for breakfast and snacks the next day.
  • Skillet Lasagna – We can eat from a pan of skillet lasagna for three meals, especially if we add a side salad and garlic bread. 
  • Vegetable Quesadillas – I usually make 6 to 8 of these at a time, they come together quickly and they reheat well.

I would love to hear what you are cooking right now!

Skillet Lasagna
Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover

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

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Cooperative Meal Planning

Meal planning and cooking have become a team effort at our house while we are social distancing. My husband and I are balancing work and teaching our three children from home. This usually means that one of us is working while the other is caring for the children. This also means that one of us is usually working right up until mealtime so the other person is responsible for meal prep. With this alternating schedule, we have had to work together to make sure our meals are planned. We have had fun creating meals by balancing his strength of getting meals on the table quickly and my strength of cooking from scratch.

I have been shopping for enough groceries to last us a little over two weeks at a time, so we have started sitting down together every few days to evaluate our meal plan. We double-check the pantry, refrigerator, and freezer to see what we still have on hand. Then we write down, on a sticky note, what meals will work well for the next few days. The person who is making the meal gets to pick from the list what they want to make.  

When it is my turn to cook, I have started taking votes from the children about which meal they want me to make. Usually someone is disappointed, but they know we can make their choice for the next meal. My children have also become more focused helpers in the kitchen. They do not have the typical distractions (friends, grandparents) that cause them to run off in the middle of helping. I enjoy having an extra set (or two) of hands in the kitchen with me.

While I look forward to the future when I can make weekly grocery trips and meal plans again, I hope my family can continue this cooperative style of planning and cooking that we have started.

Couple cooking
Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover

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

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A Look Through Gale’s Kitchen

Hi, my name is Gale and I am a nutrition educator with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. I got inspired by Katy’s kitchen plans to do a little organizing myself.  I don’t have a family to cook for, which means I should be more organized, right?  Not at all.  As I was looking through my kitchen, I found out that my bad habits include:

  • Buying condiments and other ingredients, but not having a plan to use them.  I have five different kinds of mustard and two different types of pesto – what’s up with that?
  • Forgetting the fresh produce I already have. It gets buried in the bin below the newer fruits and veggies I buy.
  • Putting the groceries I just bought in front of the older ones. Just like the produce, I lose sight of foods like rice and dried beans in the pantry.
  • Finding interesting recipes I want to try, but setting the recipe aside with a stack of others.

Since I have been home-bound, I am trying to get better about using up what I have on hand.  That way I can avoid trips to the store.  So…

  • I am putting those condiments to good use.  What does Thai curry sauce taste like on frozen broccoli?  Pretty good, it turns out.
  • I am making one of my favorite Spend Smart. Eat Smart recipes, Easy Quiche. This is a versatile recipe, so I can toss in any fresh veggies that are in my refrigerator. 
  • I am using the slow cooker method of preparing dried beans and making chili with them.  I do not need to buy chili seasoning because, when I searched through my kitchen, I found out that I already have all the spices I need. 
  • I am trying to create meals from what I have on hand instead of relying on a recipe.   Things like canned chickpeas, frozen vegetables, brown rice, cream cheese, and dried peas and beans. Hey, I think I just invented dinner!

Have you gotten creative with the foods you have in your kitchen recently?  If so, please share your ideas with us!

Easy Quiche

Gale Francione is a program assistant with the Buy. Eat. Live Healthy nutrition program in Scott County.  She loves concocting dinner, especially with left-overs so they become something totally new.

What’s Cooking in Jody’s Kitchen? Part 2

On Monday I shared that my family’s list of favorite meals has been helpful for meal planning while we are spending our days at home. Today I’ll share some of our favorites that I’m planning to make. Normally, we are on the go and I plan meals for specific days based on how much time I will have to cook. Now that we are just home, I have a list of recipes that I can make and I choose in the afternoon what we will have for supper. If I am cooking then I get to pick! Mom’s prerogative! For breakfast and lunch, we are keeping it simple. If you would like some snack ideas, check out my blog on snacking

Here are some of our favorite meals:

Lentil Tacos
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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What’s Cooking in Jody’s Kitchen?

Last week Katy kicked off our series of sharing how the members of our Spend Smart. Eat Smart. Team are meal planning and cooking during the current pandemic. This week I’ll share what I’m cooking in my kitchen!

I’m currently working from home while also trying to do a little homeschooling with my 10 year old son and 6 year old daughter. Never a dull moment! My husband is in law enforcement so he is still going to work during the day.

When I first learned that I was going to be working from home and my kids would be home with me, I started working on a schedule and thinking about my meal plan. I have to admit though, we didn’t even follow the schedule on the first day. I quickly realized we were going to need to be flexible based on my work commitments. The one part of that schedule that has stuck is when we eat. This helps my kids know when the next meal or snack is coming so I’m not constantly asked if they can have a snack or when we are going to eat. This is also a nice sense of normalcy for them as meals and snacks at school happened on a schedule.

Something that has been helpful for meal planning during this time is a list I keep of my family’s favorit meals. I created this a while ago and have it hanging on a board in my kitchen. I look through it to see what meals use items that I can keep on hand or are easy to adapt. For example, tacos is one of our favorite meals. And I like that they are simple to make! I have a few packets of taco seasoning on hand (and I know I can make some homemade taco seasoning as well)). I’ve bought some extra hamburger and shredded cheese to put in the freezer and I have a couple packets of taco shells in my pantry. I almost always have salsa and sour cream in the refrigerator because we use them frequently. We also like to have spinach leaves with our tacos but if we haven’t been to the store recently and don’t have any, we just go without.

To help with meal planning during this time, I’d recommend making a list of your family’s favorite meals. I find it helps meal planning go quicker and I’m not spending as much time trying to think about what we should have. Sometimes we have to adapt the recipe based on what’s available but are still getting to enjoy foods we like. 

Family Favorite Meals
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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