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.

Less Waste, More Money

By Sarah Allen, Nutrition Program Student Assistant

Freeze Bean SoupIn my Let’s Talk about Food Waste blog last week, I shared about what food waste is and how much it can cost you. Reducing food waste is not as hard as you think. The USDA has created a resource called Let’s Talk Trash. In it they offer tips on how you can put a stop to food waste in your home.

  • Plan and Save: Look in your pantry, freezer, and fridge to make a list of what you need to buy before grocery shopping. This can help you buy only the food you need and keep money in your pocket.
  • Be Organized: After you buy food for the week, make sure that you keep things tidy. You can do this by having it sorted by expiration date. An easy way to keep cans organized is to take a permanent marker and write the date large enough to see. Put products with the earliest date toward the front of the cupboard, so they get used first.
  • Repurpose and freeze extra food: Sometimes having the same meal for the whole week can be boring. One way to use leftovers is by making them into a new meal. For example, if you have leftovers from our Tasty Taco Rice Salad recipe, use as a substitute for the filling in our Stuffed Peppers When you freeze food, write the following on the container:
    • The name of the food,
    • How much is in the container, and
    • The date that you put it in the freezer.

For more information on how you can store leftovers longer, watch How to Freeze Leftovers.

It may seem overwhelming to make these changes, but once you start, it will become a habit. I hope you can use these tips to help you save money!

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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Let’s Talk about Food Waste

By Sarah Allen, Nutrition Program Student Assistant

Money in Trash BagIt is that time of year when fresh fruits and veggies are in season, and the grocery store has specials on meat for grilling. However, sometimes you buy too much and have to throw away food because it goes bad before you can use it. Food waste is particularly problematic when you are trying to stick to a tight grocery budget because you get nothing for your money if food goes in the trash.

How much money is that? On average, we waste $370 worth of food per person per year in the US. USDA’s Let’s talk trash. infographic breaks it up by types of food:

Grains (bread, pasta): $22 per year
Fruits (apples, banana, orange): $45 per year
Proteins (beef, chicken, pork, fish): $140 per year
Vegetables (onion, lettuce, peppers): $66 per year
Dairy (milk, yogurt, cheese): $60 per year
Added Fat & Sugar (chips, candy): $37 per year
Total: $370 per year

As you can see, protein is one of the top types of food that we throw away, while foods like bread and pasta are least likely to be thrown away. This seems like a lot of money (and food). Why do we throw food away? The main reason is because it spoils before we can eat it.

Food waste may seem hard to avoid, but you can reduce it. The Spend Smart. Eat Smart. website has a lot of ideas for how you can save your food in the Reduce Food Waste section. Look for my blog next week on how you can limit food waste!

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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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.

Re-Think Your Coffee Shop Drink

PR27358-1526x2289If you are considering a health-related New Year’s resolution take a look your favorite coffee shop beverage. Coffee, tea, and fruit smoothies sound harmless but what’s in them might surprise you. We are not focusing on money this week, but a $4 a day beverage habit costs you almost $1,500 in a year!

The three ingredients we are most concerned about with beverages are caffeine, sugar and fat.

Caffeine  For most people, 200 to 300 milligrams of caffeine per day (the amount in 1 ½ to 3 cups of coffee, 4-6 cups of tea or 4-8 cups of soft drink) won’t cause negative effects. The exceptions are pregnant women who should use caffeine sparingly and breast-feeding women who should avoid caffeine, as it can pass into breast milk.

If you feel you are consuming too much caffeine and are experiencing anxiety, nervousness and digestive problems, try these ideas to cut back your consumption:

  • Mix half regular and half decaf coffee.
  • Choose herbal teas.
  • Cut back on caffeinated sodas.

Sugar The American Heart Association recommends that women consume no more than six teaspoons of added sugars a day and that men consume no more than nine.

To put that into context…

  • A twelve-ounce vanilla latte can have 33 grams (about 8 teaspoons) of sugar.
  • A medium chai tea latte can have 50 grams (about 13 teaspoons) of sugar.
  • A mango pineapple  smoothie has 47 grams (about 12 teaspoons) of sugar.
  • Plain coffee and tea have no sugar.

Fat  Plain coffee and tea do not contain fat, but many coffee beverages have a great deal of fat added. Here is some info to help you make the best decision for you:

  • If you choose a latte that includes one cup of whole milk you will be drinking 8 grams of fat. If your coffee shop adds whipped cream that will likely add another 8 grams of fat (based on an approximate coffee shop serving).
  • Choosing non-fat (skim) milk for your beverages adds high quality protein and calcium, which we need for bone health, without the added fat of whole milk and cream.

So what’s the bottom line?  Plain tea and coffee have very few calories. If you want to keep your beverage calorie intake very low, add non-fat (skim) milk and non-calorie sweetener to it yourself. If you prefer to have the coffee shop dress up your coffee for you, make sure you let them know your preferences. You can request skim milk and lower-sugar flavorings.

For more tips check out the suggestions at eXtension’s Ordering Healthy Drinks at the Coffee Shop.

Peggy Signature

How Much are you Paying for your Coffee?

PR27358-1526x228983% of Americans drink coffee according to the National Coffee Association’s 2013 online survey. That’s up from 78% last year and more than any other country in the world.

How much do we pay for coffee?  That is really hard to figure since:

1)  We drink different size cups and make it different strengths. It used to be a cup of coffee was 6oz. Now a cup of coffee is at least 8 ounces with mugs and to-go cups routinely being 12-18 ounces.

2)  There are many ways to make your coffee. Home-brewing gadgets and single-serve coffee makers are very popular, as are gourmet beans and coffeehouses.

3)  Coffee drink sales are increasing while drinking traditional coffee is dropping. Last year nearly 1/3 of US adults were drinking a gourmet coffee each day. This includes coffees such as lattes and espresso along with custom blends of exotic beans.

Liz Breuer, an ISU dietetics student, and I decided to compare prices. Check out the coffee prices we found in central Iowa.

Ounces per container  Cost Cost for 12 ounces One Coffee a day for a year
Brewed Coffee*
Cameron’s ground flavor coffee 12  $ 6.99  $ 0.41  $ 150.08
Cameron’s bulk coffee 12  $ 6.74  $ 0.40  $ 144.71
HyVee Whole Bean Coffee 12  $ 6.69  $ 0.39  $ 143.64
Starbucks ground coffee 12  $ 8.99  $ 0.53  $ 193.02
Dunkin Donuts Coffee 12  $ 7.38  $ 0.43  $ 158.45
Panera ground Coffee 12  $ 8.29  $ 0.49  $ 177.99
Folgers coffee flavored 11.5  $ 5.39  $ 0.32  $ 115.73
Folgers coffee plain (on sale) 33.9  $ 7.88  $ 0.17  $ 61.20
Single Serve
Cameron’s single serve 12 cups $7.49 12 K cups  $ 7.49  $ 0.62  $ 227.82
8 O’clock (Keurig) 12 K cup packs $6.99 12 K cups  $ 6.99  $ 0.58  $ 212.61
Green Mountain (Keurig) 12 K cup packs $8.29 12 K cups  $ 8.29  $ 0.61  $ 222.85
35 K cup assortment mail order including shipping 35 K cups  $ 27.99  $ 0.79  $ 288.35
Coffee by the Cup
Starbucks 12 oz. with one pump hazelnut 12  $ 1.77  $ 1.77 $ 646.05
  with three pumps hazelnut 12  $ 2.30  $ 2.30  $ 839.50
Casey’s gas station 12  $ 1.09  $ 1.09  $ 397.85
Panera^ 16  $ 1.99  $ 1.49  $ 543.85
Butterfinger Frappuccino^ 16  $ 4.35  $ 3.26  $ 1,189.90
* Costs calculated estimating 12 oz. of coffee would yield 17-12 ounces cup^ Costs calculated from 16 oz. price

I’m one of those 83% who drink coffee and I am especially fond of hazelnut flavored coffee. If I really want to splurge I have a skim milk latte. I admit I haven’t tried the other specialty coffees because I just can’t get past the cost and the calories.

According to the Mayo clinic, the health benefits of drinking coffee in moderate amounts outweighs the risks. However, added fat and sugar in some drinks can make them unhealthy.

If you want to know more about brewing and storing coffee, roasting types, or recipes check out the National Coffee Association’s web site.

Peggy Signature

How Being Organized Saves Money

Does an organized kitchen save money?  I say yes because:

  • If you are organized, you won’t buy duplicates of things you already have. Can you see in your cupboards? How many jars of cumin and cans of cream of celery soup do you really need?
  • If you are organized, you will throw away less food like leftovers hidden at the back of the refrigerator or frozen meat left so long it has freezer burn.
  • If you are organized, your kitchen will be more enjoyable to work in and it will take less time to make a meal and clean up.
  • If you are organized and know what you will make for dinner, you will be less inclined to buy fast food or rush through the deli section of the grocery store.
  • If you are organized, you will know where the coupons are that you cut out and you will use them before they expire.

During January, our SpendSmart.EatSmart blog will feature tips for getting organized in the kitchen.

Please start us out by sharing some of your tips or thoughts about organization. (Just go to our blog site and in the upper right corner by tittle and date click on the comment section and add your ideas)

I’ll start.  When I was a kid my mom used to tell us “There is a place for everything and everything in its place.”  When we lost something she would say “If you pick up everything and put it away you will find it.”   (she was usually right)

Kitchen Gifts silly and wasteful or basic and everlasting

I am amazed at the number of dumb (silly) small appliances that are on the market today: cotton candy maker, chocolate fountain, cake pop/donut hole baker, mini pie baker, snow cone maker. And that’s just for the sweets. You also can have a hot dog roller, pretzel maker, corn dog maker, pigs in the blanket maker, and more. Most of them cost around $20 except for the soda maker and a jam and jelly maker that cost around $100! Why do I think they are dumb (silly)? An appliance that cooks just one food is a silly use of money and a waste of space in the kitchen.  It will end up in the landfill in a year or two.

If you are thinking about giving kitchenware this holiday or helping someone set up a home, consider buying the best basic cooking tools you can afford; they will last a lifetime.

More Expensive

Knives –The three I use the most are a paring knife for peeling and trimming, a chef knife for chopping, and a knife with a serrated edge for cutting bread and tomatoes.

Pans –The three pans I use all the time are a medium (3 quart) sauce pan with a lid for cooking sauces, vegetables, rice, etc; a large skillet with a lid (12 inches or more) for stir frying, browning, sandwiches; and a stock pot (10 quarts) for pasta and soups.

Less Expensive

Measuring Cups and Spoons – Correct measuring tools are especially important for baking, but I use them when cooking also. Look for sets to measure dry ingredients that include four measuring cups: ¼ cup, 1/3 cup, ½ cup and 1 cup measures. Add measuring spoon sets including ¼, teaspoon, ½ teaspoon, 1 teaspoon and 1 tablespoon. Complete this gift with a clear cup that has measuring marks on the side and a spout to pour liquids.

Cutting boards – I like the plastic boards because they are inexpensive, flexible, easy to store, and dishwasher safe. I use several boards at once so I don’t mix vegetables and raw meat on the same board. Some people designate one board for meat and poultry, another for vegetables and fruits, and another for breads.
Peeler – I use this all the time for potatoes, carrots, apples, kiwi, and mangos because I don’t trim off as much of the food as when I use a knife.
Wooden spoons – These are great for stirring without scratching your pans, and they don’t conduct heat so you can leave them in the pot if you like.
Rubber spatulas – I have two sizes. The large one I use to stir and fold batter and to scrape the inside of bowls. The small on I use to scrape small cans like tomato paste or peanut butter.
Whisks – These are great for making sauces and beating eggs or thin batters. Even though a cook can get by with a fork, but the whisk works better and is easier to grasp.
Colander/strainer – This is a handy tool for draining pasta, vegetables, berries and more.
Instant read thermometer – Very important for knowing when meat and poultry are done and for reheating food.
Mixing bowls – A basic set is one large and one small.
Can opener – Give a basic turn-the-crank model that can be cleaned when dirty and stored in a drawer.
If you are gifting someone who loves to bake, you might consider:
• 9 x 13 pan  (used for cakes, bars, casseroles)
• Baking sheet (used for cookies and rolls)
• Loaf pan, pie pan, or muffin pan
• Cooling rack
Not necessary, but nice:  garlic press, weight scale, grater

What is Cheaper: Turkey or Ham?

Thanksgiving is about 10 days away. Have you started to plan your dinner? The biggest expense of the meal will probably be the ham or turkey (or both) that you buy. The grocery ads are full of deals, like buy a ham and get a turkey free. Or buy $50 in groceries and get a $5 off coupon for your turkey. I was curious, so I stopped by 5 different stores to check out prices. I went to Hy-Vee, Fareway, Aldi, Dahls, and Wal-Mart.

Here are the costs I found. Whole turkey prices range from $.88 to $1.19 a pound. Boneless, spiral cut hams are about $3.50 a pound. Bone-in ham varies from $1.48 to 1.98 a pound. Both ham and turkey are priced to lure you to the store.

Number of 3 ounce servings per pound Cost per pound Cost per serving
Turkey 2 $ 0.99 $ 0.50
Ham, boneless 4 $ 3.50 $ 0.88
Ham, bone-in 3.5 $ 1.80 $ 0.51

The simple answer is turkey and the bone-in ham cost about the same with boneless ham costing significantly more. But, as usual, every situation is different. Below are some comments/questions with some of my thoughts.

Doesn’t matter what it costs. I want to serve both ham and turkey and make sure we have enough. Ok, but when you are buying, remember you can cut back on the amount you buy because people will eat some, but not a whole serving of each.

Is the buy a ham, get a free turkey a good deal? That deal was to buy about 7 pounds of boneless ham at $3.50 ($24.50 total) and get a 12 pound turkey free. You would get about 28 3 oz. servings of ham and 24 3 ounce servings of turkey. So you would get 40 servings for $24.50 at .61/serving. If you want a boneless ham it is a good deal. But it would be cheaper to by the bone-in ham and turkey separately.

We are saving for Christmas gifts so I don’t want to spend a lot. I would get either a boneless ham or the turkey. If you have time, go for the turkey and make soup from the turkey bone (that way you can stretch the cost over several meals). A couple of years ago we developed a Healthy Holiday Dinner Menu with Recipes.

I am exhausted after our Thanksgiving meal. Maybe we should just go out to eat. Last year in the blogI shared my Top 5 tips to save time, money, stress and calories for Thanksgiving dinner. Maybe you will find an idea that works for you.

My turkey is always dry so I think I’ll have ham this year. Are you cooking the turkey too long? Try using a meat thermometer (sometimes the pop-up timers fail). Put the thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh because the dark meat of the turkey thigh takes longer to cook than any other part. When the thermometer is at 165 degrees, it is done.

My grandpa says he can’t eat ham so we will have turkey. From a health standpoint both ham and turkey are great sources of protein, but turkey provides significant less fat if you skip the skin. Ham also has more than 10 times the sodium and may contain nitrates.

Have a Great Holiday.

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