Summer Grilling on a Budget

woman grilling outside meals cookingOur weather in Iowa has really warmed up lately and I’ve been firing up the grill a couple of times each week. The outdoor grill is a great tool for eating healthy and if you plan well, you can also save time and money. Here are a couple of tips for using your grill the Spend Smart. Eat Smart. way!

  1. Make the most of a hot grill. Every time you heat up your grill, you’re using fuel, either charcoal or propane. Make the most of that fuel by filling the grill, not just cooking one or two things. I like to fill one side of my grill with meat like chicken, hamburgers or pork chops. I put veggies on the other side. Zucchini (cut in half the long way), asparagus, sliced onions and large pieces of pepper grill very well. I pack up any leftovers for future meals. If I won’t get to them within 4 days, I freeze them in freezer bags. If I know I have tasty grilled meals in my fridge or freezer, I am far less likely to grab take out on the way home from work.
  1. Stretch meat by mixing with other foods. Grilling doesn’t have to be all about meat. The most expensive ingredient in a lot of meals is the meat. You can cut down on this cost by mixing the meat with whole grains like brown rice and additional protein sources like black beans. I love to season grilled chicken with spices like chili powder and cumin and then mix them with brown rice, black beans, grilled peppers and onions. I sprinkle a little hot sauce and shredded cheese on top and I’ve got a delicious, healthy meal!

I hope these tips will help you make your grill work a little harder for you!

Happy grilling!

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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Making the Most of a Hot Grill

chicken on grill blogIt’s a beautiful time of year here in Iowa. That means I am cooking on the grill at least a couple of nights per week. I love the flavor of grilled food and it saves me from heating up the kitchen. Best of all, fewer dishes!

I use a gas grill and replacing the empty propane tank with a full one is one of my least favorite chores. I want to get the most out of every tank – so when I heat up my grill I fill it up!

Instead of grilling two hamburgers or pieces of chicken, I fill the grill up and use what I don’t eat as “planned overs”. These are leftover ingredients that I know I will use later. I can cook a whole grill full of food in the same amount of time as just a piece or two of meat. Last week I needed two grilled chicken breasts for a recipe so I made six and saved the extra four. I chopped up two of them and saved them in the fridge. I used them to top the salads in my lunch all week. I froze the other two in freezer bags. I’ll defrost them and use them next time I need a fast dinner.

veggie basket blogMeat isn’t the only thing I can make ahead on the grill. I love to make grilled vegetables using a grill basket. I just chop them all about the same size, drizzle with some olive oil, sprinkle with a bit of seasoning and grill for about 15 minutes. I mix them around half-way through using a metal spatula or tongs.

Even if I just need a few cups, I fill up the basket and save the leftovers for other meals. I love to add them to cooked rice and pasta for a really fast meal. If I know I’ll eat them in a few days, I keep them in a sealed container in the fridge. Otherwise, I put them in a freezer bag and stash them in the freezer.

I love knowing that when I come home from work late I can grab the chicken and veggies from the freezer and put together a tasty meal with the flavors of the grill in no time at all.

s Signature-1

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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Tailgating … as American as Apple Pie

Tailgating is as American as apple pie, but unless you want some time on the sidelines, take care when planning a party in a parking lot. Last year I tail gatecringed a few times as I observed food sitting out 3-4 hours before a football game started and then the same food was brought out again after the game for snacking!

Here are a few tips on what to serve and how to keep your next tailgate safe…

What to Serve

The safest foods are prepackaged such as sandwiches or cookies, or other  items in food-grade plastic bags or film wrap. This minimizes the number of people who handle the food. Dry foods or those high in sugar are also usually safe. These might include breads, rolls, cakes (without cream filling), fresh fruits and vegetables, cookies, and crackers.

Be cautious with high-protein foods like meat, milk, lunch meat, hot dogs, vegetables, and salads. Dishes with potatoes or rice, custards, puddings, cream pies, gravies, and stuffing are safer served at home.

Here’s a sample menu with recipes from our Spend Smart. Eat Smart. collection:

Cooler Tips

  • Foods cooked ahead of time need to be cooked far enough in advance that they have time to thoroughly chill in the refrigerator before you leave home.
  • Use an insulated cooler with sufficient ice or ice packs to keep the food at 40°F.
  • Pack food from the refrigerator right into the cooler.
  • Use a separate cooler for drinks so the one containing perishable food won’t be constantly opened and closed.
  • Keep the cooler in the air-conditioned car on the way to the game and then in the shade and don’t open the lid too often.
  • If you bring hot, take-out food, fried chicken or barbecued beef, pizza, or burgers, eat it within two hours of purchase.

Keep it Clean

Washing hands is the single most effective way to prevent the spread of disease-causing bacteria. Port-a-pots and eating are a bad combination.

  • Hands should be washed with soap after using the restroom and water before handling food.
  • A hand washing site can be set up at any tailgate party by placing water in a beverage container.
  • If you have electricity you could heat water in a coffee pot or put a pan with water on the grill to heat.
  • Be sure to bring soap and paper towels.

 

Serving Grilled Food

Serve hot, grilled foods immediately. Do not partially grill extra hamburgers to use later. Once you begin cooking hamburgers by any method, cook them until completely done to assure that bacteria are destroyed. Ground meat should be cooked to 160°F so using a thermometer is important. Put cooked food on clean plates and don’t reuse plates that were used to hold raw meat or poultry.

If some of your guests will come later, leave their portions in the cooler until they arrive and then grill them. Perishable foods should be eaten within two hours, or one hour if the outside temperature is above 90°F. Remember to keep cold foods cold (below 40°F) and hot foods hot (over 140°F).

Leftovers

Plan realistically so you don’t have lots of leftovers.

  • Place leftover foods in the cooler soon after grilling or serving.
  • Any food left outside for more than 2 hours (or one hour if the temperature if over 90°F) should be discarded.
  • If there is still ice in the cooler when you get home, the leftovers are okay to eat.

What are you planning to serve at your next tailgate? How will you transport food to the game?

GRILL, PORTION, FREEZE, ENJOY

I have been enjoying grilled chicken, sirloin steak and fish for lunch the past couple of weeks even though I haven’t taken the cover off the grill.  How do I do it?  I grill extra when I have the marinade prepared and the grill heated.  When everything is cooked I make 2 ounce portions, just enough to top my salad.   Then, before work, I prepare my lunch by putting greens and whatever raw vegetables I have in the vegetable drawer  –  carrots, broccoli, onion, mushrooms, or cucumbers – in a plastic container, add one of my meat/fish packets and a piece of fruit to my lunch bag and I am good to go.  When lunch time comes, I finish defrosting my meat/fish packet, slice it up and top my salad.  Yum.

The keys to this whole process are 1) working quickly so your food doesn’t sit out at room temperature for too long and 2)getting a tight seal.  Meat frozen incorrectly will suffer freezer burn in a few weeks. This means that air dries the meat and causes loss of flavor.

Pack foods in quantities that will be used for a single meal.  I used foil because I have very small amounts.  If you are freezing several portions, plastic freezer bags (not plastic storage bags, they are different) or commercial freezer paper may work better.   When packing several cuts in one package, put two layers of freezer paper between the pieces. This makes it easy to separate pieces for fast thawing.

When using plastic bags, take care to get all the air out of the bag before you seal it.  Press air from the bag by beginning at the bottom of the bag and moving toward the unfilled top part of the bag to prevent air from reentering.  Or you can use a clean straw inserted in the bag and inhale to remove the air before quickly closing the bag.

Illustrations in Methods of Wrapping show how to wrap food using foil, drugstore wrap, or butcher wrap.

After your food is wrapped, label it with the date and contents.  This helps you remember which foods need to be eaten first and what is in each package.

The last step is to store your food in a location in the freezer where you can easily grab it when you are making your lunch.

-pointers from Peggy

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