A few weeks ago I invited myself to lunch at three different middle schools in Central Iowa. My “hosts” were two of my nieces and a friend’s son. I learned a lot about the changes to school lunches during those visits. I also had a chance to observe some of what I call ‘sack lunches’, although hardly anybody uses paper bags anymore.
The majority of the sack lunches were not very healthy. Most of them included some sort of bread (rarely whole grain), some protein food, crackers, chips, cookies, and fruit drink or fruit. Vegetables were rarely included. I wish I would have taken more pictures, but I was so busy taking pictures of the school lunch trays that I didn’t get any of the sack lunches. I did find a couple of images on the internet that are very close to what I observed.
I think some suggestions on lunches to take to school plus packing lunches the night before might improve the quality.
My colleagues, Ruth Litchfield and Cathy Strohbehn, collaborated on two new publications about lunches to go. Whether you are packing lunches for yourself to take to work or for your children, these are free and worth a look. Both can be ordered or downloaded from the ISU Extension and Outreach Online store.
The one page abbreviated version is called MyPlate Lunch Bag Ideas. In this publication, you will find great menu ideas to pack your child’s lunch bag with MyPlate healthy foods. You’ll find kid-friendly foods for fruits, veggies, protein, grains, and dairy. You will also find preparation and packing tips to keep foods at a safe temperature.
The longer, more detailed version is What’s for Lunch? It’s in the Bag. It will give you ideas and know how for packing healthy lunches your child will want to eat. It contains tips for preparing and packing food safely as well as menu tips for lunch bag meals. It also includes research data on best methods to keep foods at safe temperatures.
The past couple of weeks when looking thru grocery ads, I’ve noticed some good deals on pork. This is likely related to this summer’s drought. With high feed costs, many farmers are selling their pigs so they don’t have to purchase so much feed. This means there is a lot of supply. However, in an ad this week, I noticed it said ‘Celebrate National Pork Month’. Therefore, many grocery stores are also likely putting pork on sale to highlight National Pork Month.
So now is the time to buy pork and put it in your freezers. I recently bought a boneless pork loin and had the grocery store cut it into smaller portions that would be enough for my family for a meal. The pork loin was $1.79/pound. The loin I purchased was 8.4 pounds, so the total cost was $15.04. I had it cut into fourths so it cost me $3.76 per package. I made roasted pork loin with apples one evening and put the rest of the packages in the freezer for later use.
When purchasing pork, look for the words ‘loin’ and ‘round’ in the name for the leanest cuts. However, tenderloin is more expensive so for lower cost look for pork loin. If a cut has visible fat, be sure to trim it off. When cooking pork, whole cuts like chops and roasts can be safely cooked to in internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit . Ground pork, like other ground meats, should be cooked to 160 degrees Fahrenheit.
Everyone knows staying hydrated is important, especially during periods of physical activity and in warmer weather. Most people agree that drinking water is better than buying soft drinks.
What I do not understand is the growing trend toward bottled water. Why do smart people pay for something that is free? Is it for the convenienceof carrying a bottle around? Or the taste? Or the status of higher priced waters? Or is it the mistaken notion that the bottled water is healthier?
Many times the expensive bottled product is actually coming from municipal water supplies, just like tap water. While bottled water providers advertise a purified, fresh product, the reality is that these companies are less regulated than municipal water suppliers.
What is the cost difference?
Tap water costs less than a cent per glass. The cost for bottled water depends on the brand and how you purchase it. Even if you can get a 16 ounce bottle for $.30 that adds up to $2.40 a gallon.
Most of the cost for bottled water is not the water—it’s the bottling, packaging, shipping, marketing, retailing, other expenses, and profit. In Iowa gas is about $3.50 a gallon. If you pay $.80 for your bottle water you are paying the same for water as you are for gas.
What about the effects of all that plastic on the environment?
According to the Container Recycling Institute, Americans buy an estimated 34.6 billion single-serving (1 liter or less) plastic water bottles each year. Almost eight out of ten end up in a landfill or incinerator. Hundreds of millions end up as litter on roads and beaches or in streams and other waterways. Taxpayers pay hundreds of millions of dollars each year in disposal and litter cleanup costs.
As I was reading the blog Peggy wrote about tracking expenses last week, one line stood out to me more than any other, “I really need to follow my own advice.” After my most recent trip to the grocery store, I was thinking the same thing.
Usually, my son and I go to the grocery store every Friday morning. I like to shop at that time because it is quiet and I can get in and out quickly. I do not have to worry about taking my son to the grocery store; he just sits back and enjoys the ride in the cart.
The problem came this past Friday when my husband had the day off of work. Even though I knew better, I invited him to join us for our weekly shopping trip. Many people have trouble with their children asking for treats or sneaking extra food into the cart. Not me. My husband is the one who does that. I spent $15 more than usual!
If I spent an extra $15 each week at the grocery store, that would be $780 per year. What could your family do with an extra $780 per year? I can think of a few things that we could do. So, I have learned my lesson this time, I need to follow my own advice and let my husband sleep in on his day off while my son and I go to the grocery store.
Last week I showed a group of nutrition professionals features of the SpendSmart.EatSmart web page including the Cost of Food at Home calculator. You put in the number, age, and gender of your family members and the number of meals eaten away from home. The calculator then tells you how much your family would spend at the grocery store according to the low-cost food plan.
I commented that while people know what they spend for their rent or house payment, car payment, etc. most people don’t know how much they spend on food. This is because we buy food at many different places and times during the month. Plus the more people in a family, the more places and more times we buy. In the discussion that followed, many in the group agreed with me that they did not know what they spent on food….they just bought what they needed. However, there were 2 or 3 who said that they did know what they spent. These 2 or 3 had young families and indicated that they were trying to stretch their money for many different priorities. This confirms my belief that when money is tight we pay attention to what and where we are spending so we can make a plan to reduce expenses.
The discussion prompted me to explore my own food costs. Since I track my expenses on a computer and I use a debit card for almost all my food buying and eating out I have a pretty good tracking system. From February 1-May 31 (4 months) I ate meals out 59 times at different restaurants for a total of $334*. I spent $759 on groceries so my food total was $1104.
Figuring I eat out between 3 and 4 times a week, the computer tells me the cost of food at the grocery store should be between$744 and $788. My cost of $759 means that what I am spending at the grocery store is right in line with the low-cost plan.
We all know that eating out costs more than eating at home. After all, we are paying for someone else to select, prepare, serve and clean up. My records show this is true for me. If I would have eaten all my food at home the Cost of Food at Home calculator tells me that I could have purchased all the food I need for good health for $230 per month or $924 for the 4 months. I spent $180 more than that ($1104-$924 = $180). That $180 is money I could spend somewhere else if I wanted to give up eating out.
The first step in cutting food costs is to know how much and where you are spending your money now. Learn how to track your spending on the SpendSmart.EatSmart web site in the Planning section under What you Spend Now.
*this does not count the times I paid for guest’s meals or work meals that were reimbursed
During the summer many of us grab drinks to take on walks, hikes, bike rides, picnics, cookouts, etc. Many times those drinks are loaded with sugar and calories. In fact, the new 2010 Dietary Guidelines indicate that added sugars contribute an average of 16% of the total calories in American diets. And 36% of those calories come from soda, energy drinks and sports drinks (see the chart below). That’s more than candy, ice cream, cakes, and cookies combined.
Strong evidence shows children and adolescents who consume more sugar-sweetened beverages have a higher body weight compared to those who drink less of these beverages. Moderate evidence also supports this relationship in adults.
Sugar-sweetened beverages provide excess calories and few essential nutrients to the diet. Reduce the intake of sugary drinks by:
Drinking fewer sugar-sweetened beverages
Consuming smaller portions
Substituting water and other beverages with few or no calories for sugar-sweetened beverages
If you want to get an idea of how many teaspoons of sugar and calories there are in various beverages, play Interactive Beverage Guide to Sugars. Show the website to your children and encourage them to decrease the sugar they get through sweetened beverages.
Sources of added sugars in the diets of the US Population ages 2 years and older
Need recipes that will feed a crowd (e.g. a club, relatives, or a post-event gathering) for $50 or under?
Stacia Sanny and our nutrition staff in Polk County used the menu below to serve 50 people at a get acquainted activity. We wanted to recruit families and show volunteers at the First Assembly of God Church in Des Moines about EFNEP (Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program).
The recipes are on the SpendSmart EatSmart recipe page except for the Garden Salad. You could substitute carrot/celery sticks for that. The recipes are easy to multiply to match your group size.
3 Can Chili. Cans of beans, corn and tomatoes with chili powder. Reduce the sodium by using frozen corn if you like. To go really inexpensive, cook dry beans instead of using canned.
Here’s what Stacia reported after the event. We received wonderful comments. They loved the cake . . . and couldn’t believe that it was considered a healthy snack. We multiplied the recipes about 13 times (chili and fruit salad). We actually had leftovers. The chili was so easy — and the fact that you could see vegetables in it already made it different than normal chili. The recipe uses corn besides the usual tomatoes and meat.
We had a number of people ask for the recipes so they could make them at home!
With the holidays behind us its time to find ways to trim some of those extra pounds and pay off some bills. It’s possible to eat healthier and stick to a budget. Here are three ways to trim your food spending without sacrificing good nutrition.
1. Before you go to the store know what you are going to buy. First, check your refrigerator and cupboard. Do you already have items on hand for this week’s meals? Then review local flyers for weekly specials. No need to buy a newspaper; most stores have their ads online. Include some of the sale items in your weekly menu. Finally, make a list. It’s critical to help manage your grocery budget; otherwise, it is easy to be swayed by unhealthy foods and things you don’t really need this week.
2. Back to Basics. Fill your grocery cart with fruits and vegetables, meat, beans, chicken, fish, pasta, brown rice, whole grain bread, basic cereals like oatmeal, non-fat or low fat milk, and yogurt. Skip the high profile foods like granola, power bars, chips, special drinks, and juices. Package your own single size servings of cheese and crackers and granola bars.(Peggy’s Pet Peeve …. Frozen vegetables are a good buy because you can use only what you need and the rest won’t spoil. Now, in the name of convenience, it’s hard to find a bag that isn’t a “steamer” bag. The cost of the bags hasn’t changed, but now there are only 12 ounces instead of 16.)
3. Drink Water. Stop buying soda, juice and sports drinks, and switch to plain water or water with lemon. Consumption of sweetened beverages for women in the U.S. has more than doubled, at a cost of 300-400 calories a day and $500 a year. Soda, fruit drinks, sports beverages, lattes, smoothies, and sweetened iced tea are thought to be one of the main contributing factors to our epidemic of obesity. Invest in two (2) refillable water bottles for each member of the family so there is always a cold one in the refrigerator. Label them with names so you can reuse the containers.
Thanksgiving is just a couple weeks away and for many of us that means lots of great food. But it doesn’t have to mean a lot of calories, extra weight, and an empty wallet. Last weekend we figured out a traditional menu that will serve 8 people a healthy meal for $30.
Why is it healthy? The turkey is roasted—not fried, the food is homemade so it isn’t loaded with sodium like many of the convenience foods, the vegetables and fruits are prepared letting the natural flavors shine rather than be smothered, and we have skipped the crust on the pie and gone right to the ‘good for you’ pumpkin filling.
My sister is trying to promote a “Turkey Trot” on Thanksgiving morning for us—just like they do in her husband’s hometown. The Turkey Trot is a 3K route and everyone walks or runs as far as they want and are able. This sounds like a great plan to me, and I think it would work with our family since we share the cooking. Walking and talking sure makes the exercise go more quickly.
100-calorie snack packs are a temptation when I am trying to keep my calories under control…I’m tempted because they are convenient, but I always balk at the price. Plus, most of them are higher in sugar and fat than I usually eat. Try these delicious 100-calorie options instead!