Eat Your Beans at (Almost) Every Meal

This month is all about incorporating more plants into meals. To switch it up at my house, I try to make vegetarian meals at least twice a week. Not only does it help my family save money, but it helps add variety to our meals. 

Beans are a great source of protein and they are easy to add to our meals. I love cooking with beans; they taste great and tend to be less expensive than meat. Brynn, our 17-month-old, loves beans and will eat them straight out of the can! My husband on the other hand would prefer beans added to a meal, not eaten as a snack, so I am always on the search for quick, easy bean dishes to try at home. Several Spend Smart. Eat Smart. recipes that highlight beans have become family favorites at our house.  

One of our favorite dishes is Lentil Tacos where the filling is smashed lentils cooked in taco seasoning. We add our favorite taco toppings and make Black Bean Salsa on the side to get an even greater variety of beans. Another fan favorite at my house is hummus. For easy meals, we will make the Zucchini Hummus Wraps and add black beans. These wraps are a great way to use up vegetables in your kitchen before they go to waste. With Brynn being a fan of black beans, the Black Bean Burgers are a quick meal that I make when I am running low on groceries and time. I will make several batches and stick them in the freezer to use for lunches or a snack- this girl really loves her beans!

Cooking dry beans saves money and allows you to add flavor while the beans cook. Spend Smart. Eat Smart. has a great resource for how to cook dry beans at home. In my house, we generally use canned for convenience. When cooking with canned beans, look for cans with labels that say, ‘less sodium’ or ‘no salt added’. If I am unable to find those options at the store, I will simply place the beans in a colander and run them under cool water to rinse off extra salt. If you are a fan of hummus but don’t always like the price at the store, you can make your own hummus at home for a fraction of the cost. Add your favorite seasonings and you have the perfect snack or addition to your meal. I hope this blog gives you a few ideas on how to add beans into your weekly meals while saving you a little bit of money on your next grocery bill. 

Cheers to swapping out your protein this week!

Zucchinni humus wrap meal

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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Company is Coming!

“Company is coming, what are we going to eat?”  There are many online recipe sources, but I always come back to Spend Smart. Eat Smart.  Here is a menu with a few of my favorite recipes for entertaining.

Breakfast or Brunch

I substitute sweet potato for all or part of the white potato and make them with whole wheat flour tortillas. I make a double or triple batch, wrap them individually in foil or parchment paper, and stack in the slow cooker to keep warm.

The strawberries, kiwi and banana look festive for the holidays. They are best when partially thawed which takes at least 30 minutes.  

I add ½-cup mini chocolate chips as an optional ingredient.  



For holiday entertaining I make the Fruit Salsa with frozen strawberries, Granny Smith apple, and substitute 1 cup drained, crushed canned pineapple for the peach. It is beautiful in a clear glass bowl surrounded by the cinnamon chips.

Heat the bean dip in the microwave or put it in a small snack size slow cooker. Serve with raw vegetables or homemade Baked Tortilla Chips.


Dinner and Sides

A family favorite! I roast the vegetables on a separate baking sheet and increase the quantity and variety.

This is a simple and delicious side dish that goes with just about anything.

I use apples, fresh or frozen strawberries, bananas, drained canned pineapple chunks, and whatever other fresh, frozen or drained canned fruit I have on hand.  I suggest using a red gelatin in the sauce and serving it in a clear glass bowl. It will look beautiful on the holiday table.  



This pie is easier to make and has less fat, sugar and calories than regular pumpkin pie but tastes great.


I hope you will try some of the recipes that I use when ‘company is coming’ and explore the Spend Smart. Eat Smart site for your own favorites.  

Written by Renee Sweers, Human Sciences Specialist-Nutrition and Wellness

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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Fish Sandwich

fish sandwich-webMy husband gets excited this time of year for fish sandwiches. He loves that he can get a deal on fish sandwiches at one of his favorite fast food restaurants. A few years ago, I decided to try to make a homemade fish sandwich that would be heathier, less expensive, and tastier than his fast food favorite.

The recipe I came up with is our March recipe of the month. You simply coat fish in a mixture of cornmeal and seasonings and lightly pan fry it in a small amount of oil. Top with your favorite sandwich toppings and enjoy!  At 300 calories and 10 grams of fat (the fast food version is 390 calories and 19 grams of fat) and less than a dollar a sandwich, I know that I succeeded in making a healthier and less expensive sandwich. I think this sandwich is tastier than the fast food version, but I suspect that my husband still likes the deep fat fried version better. I hope that after trying this recipe, you will agree with me!

Fish Sandwich

Serving Size: 4fish sandwich label-web
Serves: 1 sandwich
Cost Per Serving: $0.91
  • 2 tablespoons oil (canola or vegetable)
  • 1/4 cup cornmeal
  • 4 frozen filets (about 3 ounces each) of white fish (tilapia), thawed
  • 4 hamburger buns
  • Optional sandwich toppings: sliced onions and tomatoes, leaf lettuce, light ranch dressing or tartar sauce
  • Heat oil in a skillet over medium heat until hot. Spread the cornmeal on a plate and press the fish into the cornmeal to coat on all sides.
  • Fry the fish in the hot oil until the cornmeal is lightly browned. This will take about 2–3 minutes on each side. Fish is done when the internal temperature reaches 145˚F or it flakes easily with a fork.
  • Move the fish from the frying pan to a plate lined with paper towels. Pat the fish dry with more paper towels.
  • Assemble sandwiches with your favorite toppings.
  • Thaw fish in the refrigerator overnight.
  • For more flavor, mix 1 teaspoon seasoning with cornmeal before coating fish. Seasoning might be lemon pepper, pepper, garlic powder, or chili powder.
  • Make homemade tartar sauce. Stir light mayo or salad dressing with pickle relish.

Justine Hoover

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

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Stuffed Peppers

stuffed-pepper-webIt is time for a confession. Until we started testing this new recipe for stuffed peppers, I had never made a vegetable stuffed with anything. It always seemed too fancy to me and it looked like a lot of work. After testing this recipe quite a few times, I realized that it is not a lot of work to make stuffed peppers, it is actually pretty easy. It also tastes great and looks really nice, so maybe I was right on the fancy part.

My favorite thing about this recipe is that the filling can be made in advance. To make the filling, cook ground sausage or beef; then add seasoning, sauce, rice, and cheese. This filling can then go right into pepper halves to bake or it can be saved for another time. You can save the filling in the refrigerator for up to four days. You can save it in the freezer for up to three months. The best thing about making the filling ahead of time is that you can make as many, or as few, stuffed peppers as you need. For example, if you have a family of four, you could make four stuffed peppers right away and then save the filling for the other four for another day.

I hope you will not wait long to try out our Stuffed Pepper recipe.

Stuffed Peppers

Serving Size: 1 stuffed pepper halfstuffed-pepper-label-web
Serves: 8
Cost Per Serving: $0.89
  • 1/2 pound ground Italian sausage, turkey sausage, or beef
  • 1 onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
  • 1 can (15 ounces) spaghetti sauce
  • 3 cups cooked brown rice
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese (divided)
  • 4 green or red peppers (softball size)
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Sauté sausage and onion in a large skillet over medium heat until browned and cooked to 155°F. Pour off any fat.
  3. Stir in oregano, spaghetti sauce, rice, and 1/2 cup cheese.
  4. Wash peppers, cut in half lengthwise, and remove seeds. Arrange in a 9×13-inch baking dish.
  5. Spoon sausage mixture into the peppers, mounding on the top.
  6. Cover with foil. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and sprinkle remaining 1/2 cup cheese on top. Continue to cook another 10 minutes.
  • Do not pour fat down the drain. Pour fat from sausage into a bowl. Place bowl in refrigerator until hard and then spoon into the trash.
  • To make smaller meals, freeze filling in three or four portions. When ready to eat, thaw a portion and bake in two or three pepper halves.

Justine Hoover

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

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Our Favorite Chicken Noodle Soup

chicken-noodle-soup-webChicken noodle soup is a go to meal for me when anyone in my family is not feeling well. I make it often in the fall, winter, and spring and even occasionally in the summer. Our January recipe of the month is Our Favorite Chicken Noodle Soup – a great soup for cold and flu season.

Even though it sounds too good to be true, chicken noodle soup can actually help you get well faster when you are suffering from the head and chest congestion that comes with cold and flu season. The hot broth can clear congestion and ease a sore throat; it also provides the fluids that our bodies need more of when we are sick. The chicken provides protein, which our immune system needs to fight off the germs. And the vegetables and whole grain noodles provide vitamins and minerals that boost our immune systems.

So, keep this soup at the ready to help your family fight off colds and flu this winter. It freezes well, so put some in freezer containers just in case there is a time you are not feeling well enough to cook.

Our Favorite Chicken Noodle Soup

Serving Size: 1 1/3 cupschicken-noodle-soup-label-web
Serves: 6
Cost Per Serving: $0.60
  • 2 chicken leg quarters
  • 6 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon dried parsley
  • 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup chopped celery (about 1 rib)
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion (about 1/2 onion)
  • 2 cups sliced carrots (about 4 carrots)
  • 2 cups whole grain wide egg noodles (2.5 ounces)
  1. Put chicken and water in a large stock pot. Bring water to a simmer (slow boil). Cook until chicken reaches 165°F (10-15 minutes).
  2. While chicken is cooking, clean and chop vegetables.
  3. Take chicken out of water with tongs or fork. Cool in refrigerator about 5 to 10 minutes.
  4. Add parsley, Italian seasoning, pepper, salt, celery, onion, and carrots to the pot of hot water.
  5. Once chicken is cool enough to handle, remove bones and skin from chicken and discard. Cut meat into bite-sized pieces and add to the pot of hot water. Bring to a boil.
  6. When water is boiling, add noodles. Cook according to package directions or about 5 minutes.
  • Any chicken part may be used for this recipe. If using boneless, skinless chicken breasts, use only 3/4 pound.
  • Soup freezes well. Make ahead and freeze for a cold or sick day.
  • Other seasoning may be used instead of the parsley and Italian seasoning.
  • If you like, remove chicken skin before cooking. This will decrease fat and calories slightly.

Justine Hoover

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

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Butternut Squash Enchiladas

butternut-squash-enchiladasButternut squash is one of my favorite things to grow in my garden. I love the flavor, texture, and smell of a bowl of steaming hot squash. Unfortunately, I was not able to grow butternut squash in my garden this year, but I know I can find an abundance of it (at a good price) at the Farmers Market and grocery store this time of year.

The tricky thing about butternut squash is preparing it. It is hard to cut and even harder to peel. It took me many, many, many tries to finally find the best way for me to prepare it. To find out the easiest way to prepare butternut squash, watch this video with Danielle, one of our student staff members.

If you do not like squash served plain, try our recipe of the month for October – Butternut Squash Enchiladas. This recipe takes typical enchiladas and boosts their nutrition by adding cooked, cubed butternut squash to the filling. These enchiladas are an easy and tasty way to get the vitamin A and fiber our bodies need.

Butternut Squash Enchiladas

Serving Size: 1 enchilada
Serves: 8
Ingredients: Butternut Squash Enchiladas-web
  • 2 1/2 cups butternut squash (or other winter squash), cooked
  • 1 can (15 ounces)  black beans (drained and rinsed)
  • 1/2 cup onions, diced (1/2 medium onion)
  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped or 3 tablespoons dried cilantro
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 cup  2% fat cheese, shredded (like cheddar or Mexican blend), divided
  • 8 tortillas (6″)
  • 1  cup salsa or 1 can (10 ounces) red or green enchilada sauce
  • 1/2 cup Greek yogurt
  1. Preheat oven to 375 ºF.
  2. Mix the squash, beans, onion, cilantro, garlic powder, and cumin in a bowl.
  3. Mix 3/4 cup of the cheese into the squash mixture.
  4. Put a 1/2 cup strip of filling on each tortilla. Roll the tortilla around the filling. Put the tortilla into a greased 9″ x13 ” baking dish with the seam down.
  5. Cover the tortillas with the salsa or enchilada sauce. Put the rest of the cheese (1/4 cup) on the salsa or sauce.
  6. Bake for 25 minutes.
  7. Serve each enchilada with 1 tablespoon of Greek yogurt.
  • Use a medium butternut squash (2 to 3 pounds) to make about 2 cups of diced squash.
  • Use spices like onion powder, chili powder, or cayenne pepper instead of the cumin or garlic powder.
  • Put 2 to 3 tortillas at a time in the microwave. Heat for 10 seconds so they do not tear.

Justine Hoover

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

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Preparing your Kitchen for Holiday Entertaining

Holiday place settingIt’s the time of year when many of us have family visiting and special get-togethers that involve food. You can save a lot of money by having holiday parties at home rather than in a restaurant and it is usually more fun too. I have friends coming for dinner this month as well as a neighborhood cookie swap at my house.

These are all fun things to do, but I’ll have a lot more fun if I get organized and I know that my kitchen is ready for the extra “traffic”. Here are some things that I do to make sure my kitchen is organized for holiday entertaining.

  1. I go through my seasonings and spices to make sure I know what I have so that I don’t end up buying unnecessary duplicates.
  2. I look carefully at what is in my freezer and make a point of getting things used up to clear out space.
  3. I go through the bottles and jars in my fridge and make sure everything is in date. If it is expired I throw it out.
  4. I review the recipes that I want to make and create a meal plan as well as a grocery list. This will keep me from being tempted by all of the tasty things at the grocery store that I really don’t need. As I’m doing this, I think about what I’ll ask guests to bring if they offer to provide a dish.
  5. Parties can mean some extra sweets and rich holiday recipes so I balance those extra calories by eating really well when it’s not party day. I stock up on easy-to-eat fruits and veggies that I can keep in the fridge for a quick snack or side dish.

I hope these tips help make your holiday entertaining stress free and please share your ideas with us on Spend Smart. Eat Smart’s. Facebook page!

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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Pre-Made vs Homemade Dinner

Skillet dinnerReady to go dinner in a box! The convenience is certainly tempting, but what is the trade-off?

At my grocery store I can purchase a pre-made meal kit for about $2.39. It calls for 1 pound of ground beef and that costs $3.99. That brings the total cost to $6.38 for 5 servings or $1.28 per one-cup serving. Not bad!

But wait…

I’m left with a meal that doesn’t include any vegetables, fruit or whole grain and very little dairy! I guess it wasn’t such a great value after all.

One of my favorite Spend Smart. Eat Smart. recipes is Skillet Lasagna. It is also a one skillet meal and it delivers the same creamy goodness as the boxed meal for less money. It is also much healthier using whole grain pasta, spinach and low-fat cheeses. Even better, it’s less expensive at just $1.16 per one-cup serving.

Here is how the two compare:


The choice seems pretty clear to me! I would gladly invest a little more effort for a much healthier meal. Plus, the Skillet Lasagna makes enough for me to have leftovers for my lunches throughout the week.

If your family really loves boxed meals, think about how you can make them a little healthier by adding veggies like broccoli, spinach or chopped tomatoes.

If you try our Skillet Lasagna, let us know what you think on the Spend Smart. Eat Smart Facebook page!

s Signature-1

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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Grilled Chicken Dinner: Take out or Homemade

chicken sandwichFor our series comparing homemade to quick serve restaurant food I decided to compare a grilled chicken meal from Wendy’s with my own version at home. When I’m deciding on food I take time, money and nutrition into consideration. Check out the sections below to see my comparison.


My grilled chicken meal has 200 fewer calories, less fat and less sodium than the Wendy’s meals. I added milk to my meal which we would drink at home, but probably wouldn’t get at the drive through.

Both of the Wendy’s sandwiches and meals have similar calories but the source of the calories is different.  The Crispy (code word for fried) sandwich has about half the protein (less meat) but 100 more calories from fat than the grilled sandwich.  The larger portion of chicken and bigger bun in the Grilled Chicken meal is reflected in the price. The Crispy Chicken Sandwich costs $1.49 while the Ultimate Chicken Grilled Costs $4.59.


My homemade meal included:

  • Grilled Chicken on a whole grain bun with lettuce and onion
  • A romaine lettuce salad with added green pepper,  radishes and Italian dressing
  • non-fat milk
  • a chocolate ice cream bar

It costs $2.56 per person or $10.24 for 4 people. I used frozen chicken breasts because they cost $6.99 for a 3 pound bag and the butcher case breasts were $3.69 per pound. I could have saved a dollar by buying ‘wheat’ buns instead of whole wheat but I wasn’t willing to sacrifice the nutrition. By cleaning and cutting the romaine I got two meals of lettuce for the same price as the 12 ounce bag of pre-washed and chopped lettuce.

The grilled chicken meal with a side salad and junior frosty would cost $6.59 each or $25.96 for 4.

The crispy chicken sandwich with a side salad and junior frosty would be $3.50 for 1 for $14 for 4.


The time to drive to Wendy’s from my house during 5:30 traffic, wait in the drive up and drive home is 31 minutes.

I figure it took about 35 minutes at home. The day before our meal, I put the frozen chicken breasts a in a plastic bag to thaw in the refrigerator. (2 minutes)

grilled chicken chart

When I got home I started the grill to heat, then pounded the chicken breasts so they were about the same thickness and added bottled Italian dressing for a marinade. While the grill finished heating I set the table and prepared the salad. (10 minutes)

Cooking the chicken took about 8 minutes, cooking on both sides to get it to 160 degrees (my digital thermometer is one of my best purchases). Cooking time will vary by the grill temperature and breast thickness. I took the chicken breast off the grill and covered it while I got people to the table and poured the milk. The temperature rose to 165 and the meat was still juicy. Ice Cream bars for dessert took no time at all. (10 minutes)

Clean-up was simple, five minutes and I was done!

Meatloaf… One of My Favorite Comfort Foods

Our feature this month is Mouth Watering Meatloaf which includes grated vegetables and a whole grain (oatmeal). It tastes so good, and it is healthy, providing great amounts of protein and Vitamin A.

When I make this meatloaf I use 85% lean ground beef to save money. First, cover a cooling rack with foil. Then poke holes in the foil to allow the fat from the ground beef to drain. Then place cooling rack on top or inside of a cake or jelly roll pan. After the meatloaf is formed, place it on the foil covered cooling rack. If you are using a 90% or 95% lean ground beef there isn’t much fat to drain so you can use any baking dish you like.  You could also make the meatloaf with ground pork or ground turkey. Be sure to use a thermometer to make sure it is done.  The minimum internal cooking temperature for ground pork and beef is 160 degrees and  ground turkey should be cooked to 165 degrees.

I think one of the reasons I like this meatloaf is because of the sweet topping. We were careful to use a small amount of sugar. Since I am heating the oven when I make this meatloaf, I try to include baked potatoes or sweet potato fries in my menu.

Mouth Watering Meatloaf

Servings: 6 | Serving Size: 1/6 of loaf | Per Serving: $.88


  • 1 pound ground beef
  • ½ onion, chopped (about ½ cup)
  • 1 cup grated carrots (about 2 carrots)
  • ½ cup dry quick oats
  • ¼ cup nonfat milk
  • 1 egg
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup ketchup, divided (¼ cup in meatloaf and ¼ cup in sauce)

2 tablespoons brown sugar or white sugar


  1. Preheat oven to 350° F.
  2. Mix together the ground beef, onion, carrots, oats, milk, egg, black pepper, salt, and ¼ cup ketchup.
  3. Form the mixture into a loaf and place on broiler pan.*
  4. Bake for 50 minutes.
  5. Stir the remaining ¼ cup ketchup and sugar in a small bowl.
  6. Remove meatloaf from oven and spread the sauce over the top and sides of meatloaf.
  7. Bake for an additional 10 minutes or until a meat thermometer reads 160°F.

* You can make a broiler pan by laying a wire cooling rack on top of a jellyroll pan or cake pan. Cover with aluminum foil. Poke holes in the aluminum foil so the meat juice can drain.

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