Time to Make a Grocery Shopping Change

My oldest son recently turned 8 years old. Along with that birthday has come a growth spurt. Clothes that fit him a month ago are now too short and too tight. He is hungry all the time! Our pantry and refrigerator are emptying out more quickly than before.  

 

This has made me realize that I need to re-think my typical grocery shopping trip. I shop for groceries weekly and, depending on the store, the foods I purchase are pretty much the same from week to week.  This helps me stay on track with my budget. Unfortunately, an increase in appetite does not mean an increase in food budget. I need to look more closely at the foods I plan to make in the coming weeks to make sure my son (and the rest of my family) get the nutrition they need while staying within our food budget.

 

As I plan my next grocery shopping trip, here are three things I am going to look at more closely:

  1. Protein. I need to spend more time looking at the grocery ads before I go shopping to make sure I am choosing protein foods that fit my meal plan and my budget. For many recipes, I can substitute a less expensive protein choice.
    • Stir-Fry is a great recipe for this – I can use beef, pork, chicken, fish, or tofu.
  2. Vegetables. I need to add more vegetables to my recipes. My whole family likes canned beans and frozen vegetables. These are choices that can add nutrition to a recipe without putting me outside of my budget.
  3. Snacks. I have gotten into a habit of buying pre-packaged snacks. Yes, they are easier, but they are more expensive. I think I can save myself money by reducing the number of pre-packaged snacks I buy and packaging snacks into reusable containers myself.
    • Trail Mix is an easy snack to make and to package into small containers that will travel easily with us to the park or the pool this summer.

       

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stick with me on this one! When it is my turn to blog this summer, I will give you updates about how I am doing with my grocery shopping changes.

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover

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

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Kids and Technology in the Grocery Store

This week in our series on getting kids involved in the cooking and shopping, I’m going to share some tips for getting kids involved in grocery shopping. When I was grocery shopping with my 4-year-old daughter recently, I was thinking what I might share in the blog. As she was pushing the little cart she was using, I was thinking, children might look cute pushing those little carts but as a parent, sometimes they are my worst nightmare. Funny thing is, when I was back in the office and reading through some past blogs, I shared those same thoughts in a blog about grocery shopping with my son 5 years ago when he was 3! I’d encourage you to read that blog for ideas to get younger kids involved when grocery shopping.

Today, I’d like to share a couple of ways older kids can be involved with grocery shopping.

  1. Use our grocery budget calculator. The online calculator provides the weekly and monthly amount your family needs to spend for nutritious meals on USDA’s Low-cost Plan. To use the calculator you will need the age, gender, and number of meals eaten away from home for each member of your household. You and your child can then compare this to how much you spend on groceries. The online calculator provides tips on how to reduce your grocery bill if you are spending over that amount. It also provides ideas if you are spending under that amount. This activity can help children better understand the cost of food and why it’s important to not waste food. If you’re not sure how much you spend on food, we have resources for tracking your food expenses.
  2. Download and use our Spend Smart. Eat Smart. app. Older kids who have cellphones can download our Spend Smart. Eat Smart. app to use in the store. Or you can let them use the app on your phone when they are shopping with you. Kids can enter information into the unit price calculator to help you determine which item is the better buy. Or they can look up information about different produce in the store using our Produce Basics to help you determine how to select produce and how you might prepare it at home.

Next week in our series we’ll share a recipe kids can help make.

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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Don’t Let Dry Beans Scare You

ThinkstockPhotos-175947020wpAs I wrote in my last blog on beans, they fit many of my requirements as a mom and dietitian. They are very nutritious, they’re inexpensive, and they work well in dishes my family enjoys. Most of the time I use canned beans. They are very convenient and besides draining and rinsing, require no additional cooking. You can find ‘no salt added’ canned beans, which is great since many of us get more than enough sodium in our diets. And they usually don’t cost any more than the regular kind. If you’d rather not use the ‘no salt added’ kind, rinse the beans to reduce the sodium.

On occasion, I also like to cook dry beans. And some of my family and friends prefer to cook their own beans instead of using the canned versions. Canned beans are an inexpensive source of protein and when buying them dry, they are even less expensive. You might think that cooking dry beans is too much hassle if you haven’t tried it before. It does take time but most of that time you don’t have to stand over them while they cook. When I cook dry beans, I like to use the Slow Cooker Method.

Here are the steps to success:

  1. Spread 1 pound dried beans on a baking sheet and remove any small stones, dirt or withered beans.
  2. Put the beans in a strainer and rinse them under running water.
  3. Add beans and 8 cups of water to a slow cooker, then cook them on low for 6-8 hours until soft.
  4. Serve right away or freeze the beans in 1 ½ cup portions to use later. One and a half cups is about the amount in 1-15 ounce can of beans. How easy is that?!
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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Beans, Beans, Beans

ThinkstockPhotos-512755114This month at Spend Smart. Eat Smart., we have been talking a lot about beans. We love beans because they are packed with nutrition and they are inexpensive. Today I am going to share with you some of my favorite bean recipes from our website. Try one out this week, I am sure you will enjoy it!

Many of these recipes call for canned beans that have been drained and rinsed. You can substitute 1-2 cups cooked, dried beans. It is easy to cook an entire bag of dried beans and then freeze them in one or two cup serving sizes to use when you need them.

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover

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

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Beans, Beans the Musical Fruit

ThinkstockPhotos-158913960There are many benefits to eating beans. They are high in fiber, protein, iron, folate, and potassium. In addition, they are inexpensive so easy on the budget. There’s just one little problem…they can cause intestinal gas. And how embarrassing is that! The good news is there are ways to help reduce the amount of intestinal gas caused by eating beans.

  • Add beans to the diet slowly over a period of several weeks. This allows your body to adjust to the added fiber provided by the beans. Once you are eating beans on a regular basis, intestinal gas will be less of problem.
  • Chew beans well to help digest them.
  • Drink plenty of water and other fluids to help your body handle the extra fiber in beans.
  • When preparing dry beans, use the hot (short) soak method of soaking beans. This method reduces many gas-producing substances in beans. Always discard soaking water and rinse beans with fresh water after soaking.

As a dietitian and a mom, beans check all of my boxes. They are very nutritious, they’re inexpensive and they work well in dishes my family enjoys. Keep the tips above in mind and toss some beans in your grocery cart today.

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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Meal Planning: Less Stress, More Money

Last year I wrote a blog on menu planning and mentioned that my son’s famous first words after we got home at night were, “I’m hungry.” Now that my daughter is two, I have two kiddos telling me this! Therefore, I find meal planning even more important so I can get a healthy meal on the table fast.  Since I find it so helpful, I’d like to share tips for successful meal planning again.

  • Determine what meals you will plan. Since the meal my family eats together is supper that is the meal I spend time to plan. However, you can plan for breakfast, lunch, supper or snacks. I go to the grocery store once a week so I plan my meals a week at a time. You might choose to plan them for more or fewer days.
  • Write the plan on a calendar. I write my meal plan on a calendar that hangs in my kitchen. This calendar includes other family activities so I know if we will be gone for a meal at night or have a really rushed evening. My husband knows to look at the calendar to see what we are having. If you use an online calendar for planning activities, you could also write your meals there.
  • Check what you have on hand. Check your refrigerator, freezer, and cupboards for foods that need to be used up in the next few days. Think of ways to include these items in your meals. I always plan a night to have leftovers so they don’t go to waste.
  • Review the grocery ads for specials you can use. Save money by purchasing items on sale that you can pair with the foods you have on hand to help complete your meals.
  • Keep a list of the recipes your family likes best. Having a list helps make meal planning go really quickly because you can easily spot the recipes that use things you have on hand or are on sale. Some recipes my family likes are Lentil Tacos and Chicken Alfredo Pasta.

To help you get started, check out our Meal Planning Calendar. This week-long menu features recipes from Spend Smart. Eat Smart.

How to Plan Meals CALENDAR

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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Meat: How can we afford it for dinner?

Part 2: Spendsmart’s Top Ten Money Saving Meat Tipskebabs grilling meals

I have spent 2/3 of my life on farms that raised beef, pork, and some lamb. So, at times I have had the luxury of bountiful, inexpensive meat. Now I live in the city and buy all my meat at the grocery store. I still enjoy meat but I eat meat differently than I used to. I eat smaller portions of meat and combine meat with other flavors and textures in meals. I eat more fish and seafood, chicken, beans and eggs and pay attention to the amount of fat I consume.

Why? Partly because I know that along with great protein in meat you can get saturated fats, which I avoid, and partly because I have a “thrifty gene” and the cost of meat has my attention.

This week I’m  sharing 10 tips which I use to save money on meat and a list of beef and pork planned overs from the American Meat Institute.

I’d love to know your best tips for saving money on meat.  Please leave a comment and share.

Update: Link to 10 tips was broken, but is fixed now! Sorry for the inconvenience, Thanks!

BEEF: How can we afford it for dinner?

Part 1: How To Save on Ground Beef

hamburger dinner meals beefIt’s almost grilling season but beef prices are high. In fact, they are at an all-time high and are expected to remain high for the next year or two. Why? The number of cattle in the US is low due to high grain prices and dry weather conditions. Cattlemen are increasing their herds but it takes a long time to increase the number of cattle (a calf born in the spring of 2014 would be bred in 2015, might have a calf by 2016 and that calf couldn’t come to market until 2017).

I love grilled hamburgers, but when prices get over $3.50 a pound I start looking for ways to save. Here are 7 ideas.

1. Buy on sale. Meat usually goes on sale for a week at a time. Stock up and freeze the extra. Keep track of the deals on ground beef and only buy when the sales match your “never-pay-more-than” price.

2. Buy in bulk. If a 10# package costs $.20 less per pound you are saving $2.00 by buying the larger package (If you will take the time to package it correctly when you get home and if you have the space in the freezer to keep it).

3. Mix fresh ground turkey, ground chicken or ground pork with ground beef in equal amounts.

4. Switch to ground pork burgers, ground turkey  or chicken burgers instead of beef for your patties.

5. Add TVP (textured vegetable protein) to ground beef. Just add the dry nuggets to the raw ground meat and mix together with your hands or a spoon. Use about one part meat to one part TVP; you can adjust these amounts according to your own preferences.textured vegetable protein

You can freeze the mixture just as you would plain hamburger or ground meat. Just place meal-sized batches of the meat mixture into freezer bags or containers and freeze. Or make patties and freeze. When you’re ready to use some, just thaw the bag like you would normally.

TVP is sold in most grocery stores in a 10-12 ounce bag.  A common brand is Bob’s Red Mill, but any brand is fine.  You may have to ask someone to help you find it the first time.

6. Add  ¼ -½ cup of crushed cereal, oatmeal, small bread cubes, grated vegetables such as potatoes or carrots, minced mushrooms, cooked rice or mashed beans to the ground beef before you make the patties.  The University of Illinois has a publication called Go Further Burgers which gives more details.

7. Instead of having hamburger patties, go with sloppy joes or maidrites.  Our Sloppy Joe recipe makes enough filling for 5 generous sandwiches.   You could even get 6 servings if needed.

On May 12th I’ll be back with more ways to stretch your meat dollar.

SNAP Challenge Meals

Following our SNAP challenge blogs throughout the month of March, I received some requests for details about the foods I purchased and how I put them together into meals. I allowed myself $28 and I spent $25.01 so that I could use a few things from home (cooking spray, margarine, salt and pepper).

Breakfasts

Baked eggs (raw)Baked eggs (cooked)

Given the cost of meat, I tried to get protein from eggs each day. I made baked eggs twice during the week and ate one or two each morning with a slice of whole wheat toast with margarine, a banana and a cup of milk. My baked eggs recipe is quite simple.

Baked Eggs

  1. Spray a muffin tin with non-stick spray or rub with a bit of vegetable oil.
  2. Put a thin slice of ham in each cup and crack an egg inside the ham.
  3. Bake at 375 degrees until eggs are totally set. This typically takes about 15 minutes.

Lunches

I went to work on five of the seven days of my challenge. I knew I would dwell on food a bit during this week so I wanted to choose lunches that would be very filling. Carrots and celery were the most affordable vegetables at my store, so I needed to base a lot of meals around them. At the beginning of the week I made a vegetable salad with garbanzo beans (aka chickpeas) that I ate for lunch with two or three clementines. I made all of the salad at once to get ready for the week. The full salad recipe was 4 cups of chopped carrots, 4 cups of chopped celery and two cans of garbanzo beans (drained and rinsed). Salad dressing did not fit in my budget so I topped my salad with about a tablespoon of reduced fat mayonnaise seasoned with salt and pepper when I sat down to eat each day.

On the weekend days when I was not at work, I ate leftovers from dinner.

Dinners

My twenty eight dollars did not give me room for a lot of variety during my week. There was much repetition. I chose two basic dishes and made them in large enough quantities to provide me with seven dinners plus a bit leftover. These dishes are not really recipes; they are just simple combinations that allowed me to eat relatively healthy for very little money.

The first was a meatless meal of whole wheat pasta with jarred pasta sauce topped with some grated cheddar cheese. This was not a particularly exciting dish, but I was able to get 4 single-serving meals for just $3.87.

The second dish was based around the fact that my store had a special on chicken thighs that made them the most affordable meat option for me. I bought a package of six thighs for $3.88. I built the dish around the chicken and stretched it with some additional ingredients.

Chicken with Rice and Peppers

  1. Individual servingsSeason chicken thighs with a bit of salt and pepper and roast at 425 degrees for 50 minutes or until a meat thermometer reads 165 on a food thermometer.
  2. While chicken roasts, chop three bell peppers and cook them in a skillet over medium heat for about ten to twelve minutes.
  3. When the peppers are cooked, add a can of pinto beans that have been drained and rinsed. I used a 24 ounce can. Season with pepper and a pinch of salt.
  4. Cook brown rice according to package instructions. I made four servings, but this is flexible based on how many people you’re trying to serve.
  5. When chicken is done. Remove the skin and pick meat from the bones.
  6. Combine rice, peppers and beans, chicken and two cups of thawed frozen corn in a large pot. Cook over low heat until everything is combined and heated through.

This dish made six large servings and cost just under $10. It could easily serve eight if some sides were also being served.

SNAP Challenge PurchaseAs you can see, the volume of food available for my $28 budget was not too bad, but eating the same dish over and over again did get boring. I also ate less dairy and fruit than would be recommended. I also did not have room in my budget for any beverages beyond milk and water and I did not purchase any snacks.

My menus were largely built around the sales at my store, I chose proteins and vegetables that were at a good price and then filled them out with some whole grain products that are generally inexpensive. Since the challenge, I have continued to think this way when I determine meals for the week. My $28 budget allowed me to purchase most of the foods I needed for a week, but left no room for convenience items or snacks. This meant I spent a lot of time preparing my food and I chose only foods that gave me the nutrients I need.

 

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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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The Rhoads’ SNAP Challenge

Vickie Rhoads decided to do the SNAP challenge with her family and share their experience to call attention the fact that nearly 13 % of Iowans are food insecure, meaning they do not have the ability to acquire nutritionally adequate and safe foods in socially acceptable ways. Vickie shared, “We have had friends and family whose income has been reduced due to job layoffs or family deaths”. A one-week challenge certainly does not replicate the complexities of poverty, but it is one way to better-understand the reality many Iowans face.

Rhoads SNAP
Photo courtesy of Captured by Heidi Photo

Paul Rhoads may be the coach at Jack Trice Stadium, but Vickie is in charge at home juggling all of the family’s needs and three very busy schedules. The Rhoads have two sons, one of whom lives at home and the other is at college. Vickie began her challenge by going grocery shopping with her teenage son, Wyatt. He is a high school wrestler and must be careful about his diet, in fact he was preparing for the state wrestling tournament during the challenge.

Vickie’s reflections on this experience included several meaningful realizations:

  • “It’s amazing how much you think about food when it is limited.” This is a quote from Vickie’s reflection log on day 1 of the challenge. This thought points to the importance of food beyond nourishment. We all have routines and habits built around food and when those are disrupted it is uncomfortable.
  • Vickie and Wyatt began by purchasing the foods Wyatt is used to eating to ensure that he would get what he needed for wrestling. Reflecting on the experience, Vickie mentioned, “I didn’t plan for myself very well”. This is a common reality for families working with a tight grocery budget. Children are often prioritized meaning Mom and Dad make some additional compromises.
  • Vickie shopped carefully and did a fair bit of scratch cooking to get the most nutrition for her dollar. She cooked a larger amount of food several times so that she would have leftovers for future meals. The only food they really missed was fresh fruit and vegetables. The budget did not allow for the fresh produce they are accustomed to.

On the last day of the challenge, Vickie reflected back on the week, “It took a lot more planning on my end”.  She also shared that she will do some things differently going forward. First, Wyatt enjoyed the grocery shopping and it was a good learning experience for him. She plans to include him in shopping more often. Second, the experience helped her identify how she could minimize food waste at home by making better use of perishable foods. Third, she has learned about various resources available to families struggling to eat healthy on a budget. “I hadn’t really thought about the programs that are available in Ames for people who need help.” Iowa Food Assistance and WIC provide benefits to families who meet income qualifications. In addition, local food banks and pantries provide food to needy families. To learn how to receive help from a food pantry or make a donation, visit the Iowa Food Bank Association’s website. For families trying to eat healthy on a tight budget, ISU Extension and Outreach offers programs to help you build your nutrition knowledge as well as shopping and cooking skills. Visit our program website for more information.

In this three-part blog series we have looked at the knowledge and skills necessary to eat healthy on a budget. We have discussed planning and strategy as well as the social and psychological role food has in our lives. If you are interested in these themes and hunger-related issues, you can visit the Feeding America website to learn more. Thank you to the Rhoads and Litchfields who shared their stories with us this month!

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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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