Time for a Picnic, Try Pita Pockets

This month’s featured recipe is Peanut Butter Pita Pockets.

This is a great food to take to the park, on a bike ride or just for a backyard picnic.  The pita pockets are great for holding in sweet juicy fruit, but whole wheat bread could be substituted to save a trip to the store or a few pennies.

This very simple recipe will be best with ripe fruit.   Fruit is plentiful in the market right now, but it is not all ripe.  Apricots, bananas, cantaloupe, kiwi, mangoes, nectarines, peaches, pears, plantains and plums continue to ripen at room temperature after they’re picked. To speed their ripening, put them in a loosely closed brown paper bag. Plastic bags don’t work for ripening. Once fully ripened, fruits may be stored in the refrigerator to lengthen their storage time.  Though the outside skin of a refrigerated banana will turn dark brown, the inside will remain light-colored.

Consider teaching your kids or grandkids to make this recipes.  Let them choose a new fruit to try.

Peanut Butter Pita Pockets

Ingredients

  • 2 apples, pears, bananas, peaches, or mangoes
  • 2 medium whole wheat pita pockets
  • 1/4 cup chunky peanut butter

Instructions

  1. Wash and slice fruit.
  2. Cut pitas in half to make 4 pockets.
  3. Warm each pita half in the microwave for about 10 seconds to make them more flexible.
  4. Carefully open each pocket and spread about 1 tablespoon of peanut butter on the inside walls of each pita half. You may need to warm the peanut butter in the microwave for a few seconds, especially if it has been in the refrigerator.
  5. Fill each pocket with sliced fruit. Serve at room temperature.

Just Add One Campaign

Just Add One GraphicThe Canned Food Alliance has a campaign called “Just Add One” which is short for just add one ingredient to make a recipe healthier.  And the one ingredient is usually—you guessed it …. a canned fruit or vegetable.

I think the concept is sound.  Most of us don’t cook with recipes, we just keep going back to what we can make from memory.  The Alliance calls on us to just add one canned ingredient to make a go-to favorite even better without breaking the budget or your busy schedule.

Check out their recipes for ideas of how you can make starters, sides, entrées and desserts more healthy.

-pointers from Peggy

Trim Your Waistline and Your Budget – Three Simple Steps!

Woman measuring waist with tape measureWith 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.

-pointers from Peggy

Healthy Homemade Gift

Are you searching for a healthy gift for a senior, camper, traveler, college student? Consider Crispy Granola, our featured recipe this month. It’s a good snack or breakfast cereal, and makes a great topping for fruit, yogurt, or  ice cream.

Unlike most granolas, this one has no added fat and only about 1 tablespoon of honey per serving. Oatmeal is a whole grain and provides soluble fiber (helpful in lowering blood cholesterol levels). The dried cranberries and nuts add fruit and flavor.

I use old fashioned oats when I make this granola, but any oatmeal will work. I often double or triple the recipe and freeze some of it in freezer containers. If you are making gifts, be sure to package granola in a plastic bag or something airtight before you put it inside a holiday tin or box.

Crispy Granola

Ingredients

  • 2 egg whites
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Dash salt
  • 3 cups uncooked rolled oats
  • Optional: 1/2 cup chopped pecans or other nuts 1/2 cup raisins, dried cranberries, or other dried fruit.
    *Either old fashioned or quick cooking oats work – both are whole grains.

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 325°F. Spray a large shallow baking pan with non-stick cooking spray; set aside.
  2. Put egg whites in large bowl and use a whisk or fork to mix until frothy. Stir in honey, cinnamon, vanilla, and salt.
  3. Add oats plus nuts and/or dried fruit, if desired. Stir until oats are coated with egg mixture. Spread oat mixture evenly on prepared baking sheet.
  4. Bake about 25 to 30 minutes until golden borwn; stir mixture carefully every 5 or 6 minutes to prevent overbrowning.
  5. Remove pan to wire rack and cool completely until crispy and crunchy. Store in airtight container. Freezes well.

Snack Idea: Crispy granola, Yogurt, Sliced fruit or berries

Schools Back in Session

Here in Iowa, schools are back in session. For some families this means packing lunches, although the cost of school lunches is hard to beat, and packed lunches are not automatically healthier than school lunch.

I think the key to getting kids to eat what is in their lunchbag—rather than trading it or throwing it away—is involving them in choosing the food. I take my lunch to work almost every day and I’m sure that no one else could guess what I would like!

Consider letting your kids choose what they want from a list of healthy alternatives, and even take them with you to shop for it. Ideally, a lunch would include food from at least 3 food groups. Use MyPlate as a guide.

Here are some ideas to get you started…

  • Low fat dairy: nonfat or 1% milk; low-fat yogurt (even a smoothie or drinkable yogurt);
    low fat cheese; cottage cheese
  • Fruits: fresh fruit that travels well such as apple, grapes, orange, banana; fruit canned in juice; single-serve applesauce; cut-up fruits served with a fruit-flavored yogurt as a dip
  • Vegetables: baby carrots; colored pepper strips; broccoli or cauliflower; lettuce and tomatoes in a sandwich; V-8 or tomato juice; cherry tomatoes; zucchini slices (don’t forget to include a little ranch dressing as a dip)
  • Protein sources: turkey, lean ham or roast beef; peanut or other butter; nuts; tuna; hard-boiled egg;  bean soup or chili;  leftovers; mashed beans with salsa rolled in a flour tortilla; peanut butter and banana wedged between slices of cinnamon raisin bread or a pita
  • Grains: pretzels; popcorn; cereal; trail-mix with dried fruit chips
    Think whole grains! More nutrition and more fiber!—whole wheat pita bread; whole wheat bagel; whole wheat or corn tortilla; whole grain crackers

If a “treat” is a must and fruit just doesn’t cut it, consider something very small like a couple of
chocolate kisses or a cookie. It shouldn’t take much to satisfy the sweet tooth!

A few recipes from Spend Smart.Eat Smart. that are ideal for packed lunches are:
Wraps “Your Way”
Make-ahead Mexican Rollups
Popcorn Trail Mix
Fruit Kabobs with Yogurt Dip
Crispy Granola

Finally, don’t forget food safety when packing your lunch.

-pointers from Peggy

Tomatoes…Yum! Doesn’t matter if they are a fruit or a vegetable

Remember that old argument…is a tomato a fruit or a vegetable?  Here’s the answer.  BOTH.  Botanically speaking, the tomato is a fruit.  A “fruit” is any fleshy material covering a seed or seeds.  Horticulturally speaking, the tomato is a vegetable plant.  The plant is an annual and non-woody.  (Source: Produce Marketing Association and the Produce for Better Health Foundation.)

Whatever, our garden and my patio plants are loaded with tomatoes that are almost ripe.  I have my fingers crossed that we don’t get hail, insects or disease in the next few weeks.  If not, there should be some extras to make salsa, or preserve for future meals. 

If you have access to extra tomatoes or other fruits and vegetables, Extension has an excellent source for current research-based recommendations for most methods of home food preservation and processing information.  The National Center for Home Food Preservation provides information about canning, freezing, drying, curing, pickling, making jams and jellies, as well as storing foods.

If you have questions,  you may call Families Extension Answer Line (800-262-3804).  Hours are Monday through Friday, 9 a.m.-noon and 1-4 p.m.

– pointers from Peggy

Waldorf Summer Salad

WOW, what an easy salad and one that kids love (it’s the marshmallows).

Because you can use almost any fruit, Waldorf Summer Salad is a great one to use with seasonal fruit. Right now, in Iowa, we have lots of luscious peaches, plums, cherries, berries and melons in the markets, so I probably wouldn’t make it with the apples and bananas shown in the picture.

Don’t make this salad too far ahead, but do let the kids help. If you need a few more servings, just add another fruit or two and a little more juice.

Waldorf Summer Salad

Ingredients

  • 1 medium apple, diced*
  • 1 banana, cut up
  • ¼ cup raisins
  • ¼ cup fruit juice (any kind)
  • 1 cup miniature marshmallows
  • Optional: ¼ cup coarsely chopped walnuts or peanuts

Instructions

  1. Place apple, banana, and raisins in a bowl. Pour juice over and stir to coat.
  2. Stir in marshmallows and, if desired, chopped nuts. Serve.
    *Invite your family to experiment with flavor combinations, such as pears, peaches, kiwi, canned pineapple, and other dried fruits.

Save money and don’t heat up your kitchen–cook on the grill!

We have lots of rain and heat in Iowa this summer (it seems like a sauna). And, since I try to use the air conditioner as little as possible, the thought of adding to the heat by starting the oven doesn’t appeal. Grilling is my answer. It keeps the house cooler, I have fewer dishes to wash, and food from the grill tastes good.

Most of us think about grilling meat, poultry, or fish, but have you considered grilling fruits and vegetables? As long as you have the grill going, why not give it a try? Fruits and vegetables both taste sweeter when cooked on the grill, and there is a slight smoky flavor.

Here are a few hints:

  • Cut fruits and vegetables into sizes that won’t slip through a grill grate, purchase an inexpensive grill pan to protect foods, or make a homemade version with a double layer of heavy-duty aluminum foil fashioned with a turned-up edge (to prevent food from rolling off the grill or into the coals).
  • Cut vegetables into large, flat pieces of even thickness throughout each slice. You can cut them into smaller pieces after cooking.
  • Allow grill surface to get hot (but not flaming) before placing raw foods, including fruits and vegetables on it. Grilling time will vary with the size of the cut fruits and vegetables. Two to three minutes per side may be all that it takes to grill fruits and vegetables.
  • Brush fruits and vegetables lightly with cooking oil before placing them on the grill to enhance color and prevent sticking.  Or, marinate vegetables for a few minutes in an oil-based Italian-style dressing to introduce Italian seasoning.
  • To avoid cross contamination, use separate tongs, plates, or platters when grilling meats, hamburgers, hot dogs, poultry, fish, fruits and vegetables, or when toasting breads.
  • Here are a few fruits and vegetables to consider grilling: potato, squash, onion, eggplant, asparagus, mushrooms, green pepper strips, thick-sliced or halved tomatoes, nectarines, peaches, pears, pineapple, and banana.

If you’d like more information, Julie Garden-Robinson, North Dakota State University, has a column in her Prairie Fare series on grilling fruits and vegetables you might like to read.

-pointers from Peggy

Can a Vegetable Garden Save You Money?

That’s the title of an article by Cindy Haynes, Extension Horticulturalist. Her answer was “yes” if done correctly. She goes on to quote a book about $64 tomatoes. 

We laugh in my family about the “$10,000” garden that my sisters and Dad share. It has high fences to keep out the deer, cement borders, table and benches, and a shed for storing equipmentplus it is connected to the yard irrigation system. We grow several varieties of tomatoes and peppers as well as peas, green beans, zucchini, onions, radishes, cucumbers, rhubarb, asparagus, raspberries, and lettuce in the garden. We have grown white and sweet potatoes, winter squash, melons, broccoli, and eggplant. I don’t think anyone keeps track of what they spend on the garden, but I do know that the garden supplies all of us (and many friends) with loads of fresh, delicious fruits and veggies. Besides enjoying “the fruit of our labors,” the garden provides hours of discussion and shared activity.

If you are new to gardening, I strongly recommend that you start small as Cindy recommends. I had container gardens for years and enjoyed tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, et cetera which grew on the patio. Cindy’s article includes a list of ISU publications you can get at your county ISU Extension office, or you may download a pdf version from the ISU Extension Online Store.

-pointers from Peggy

What can you buy for $6?

One great change in the food that families receive from WIC is vouchers for fruits and vegetables. The amount of the voucher varies, but as I understand it, each child on WIC old enough to eat table food gets a $6 voucher each month. Amanda and I headed to the grocery store last Friday to see what $6 would buy. We were in luck because lots of fruits and vegetables were on sale. 

The first two pictures show a variety of fruits and vegetables purchased for $6. We tried to get the most food we could, but also tried to get a variety of colors in both fresh and frozen foods. Some of the foods were priced by the item—celery, carrots, grapefruit, cucumbers, bell peppers, spinach and frozen vegetables. Other items—bananas, apples and onions—must to be weighed (there is always a scale in the produce department) and you have to take the weight times the price per pound to see how much the item costs. If you have your cell phone, use the calculator on it to do the math for you.

6-1Picture #1
3# bananas  .87
1 celery stalk  .69
2 bell peppers/1 cucumber  3 for $1
2# yellow onions  .58
1# bag baby carrots  .79
3 grapefruits  3 for $1
16 oz bag frozen veggies  .98

TOTAL  $5.90

 

6-2Picture #2
2# large braeburn apples  1.38
2 bell peppers/1 cucumber   3 for $1
2# bananas   .58
1# bag baby carrots  .79
16 oz bag frozen veggies  .98
Dole Spinach  .99

TOTAL  $5.72

 

 

 

The last four pictures show how the price of fruits and vegetables goes up when you choose specialty products, or the grocery store does some of the food preparation work for you.

 

6-3Picture #3
Each 12 ounce package of vegetables costs $2.50.  So these two packages together cost $5.  Since the Green Giant vegetables have a butter sauce, they can’t be bought with WIC coupons.

 

6-4

Picture #4
The Green Giant vegetables at the left cost $2.50.  The Birds Eye Vegetables were on special for $1.00.  Both are 12 ounces.  Neither has a sauce.

The frozen vegetables in the first 2 pictures  above are .98 for 16 ounces.

 6-5

Picture #5
If you want  someone else to chop up your vegetables, you pay dearly for that service.

 

 

 

6-6

Picture #6
Same goes for cantaloupe.  You get 2 whole cantaloupes for $6. The cut up bowl would cost $8.22.

 

 

 

 

 

-pointers by Peggy

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