Last Minute Gifts

granola jarIf you find yourself racing to find a last-minute gift, look no further! Here is a collection of Spend Smart. Eat Smart. recipes that make great low-cost gifts.

  1. Oatmeal Pancakes – Simply combine the dry pancake mix and oatmeal in a plastic bag or jar and attach a label with the cooking directions.
  2. Chocolate Surprise Cupcakes – Bake a batch and separate them into plastic bags or containers with festive ribbons or tags.
  3. Whole Grain Cereal Treats – These are a twist on everyone’s favorite. Add some sprinkles or top with a bit of colored sugar for a festive look.
  4. Crispy Granola – You can make a big batch of this granola and put it in small jars or bags to share with friends.

People love to receive recipes so make a point of attaching the recipe for each of the “gifts” you give. A healthy and homemade gift is a great way to show you care!

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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Holiday Entertaining- Snacks and Desserts

pumpkinpuddingThe temperatures are dropping, and the holiday season is right around the corner. The holidays are a great time to celebrate and enjoy the company of family and friends. The month is filled with parties and good cheer – and plenty of food! Here are some ideas to keep the holidays delicious without throwing nutrition to the wind.

Flavored popcorn

Popcorn is a perfect healthy whole grain snack to have around when entertaining, but plain popcorn doesn’t always get my mouth watering. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to spruce up an old favorite! Check out all these twists. I recommend Vanilla Corn and Nut Corn (Yum!).

Rhonda’s Deviled Eggs

Deviled eggs are one of my favorite snacks to munch on this time of year. They’re easy and relatively inexpensive to make, and they are a fun dish to bring to a holiday potluck. Packed with plenty of protein, an egg is filling enough to keep you from raiding the cookie table all night.

Pumpkin Pudding

There’s nothing wrong with a sweet little treat after dinner, but traditional holiday pies are often packed with sugar and extra calories. This pumpkin pudding is a healthy alternative that doesn’t sacrifice great flavor. It just might become your family’s new favorite!

Maddie

ISU Dietetics Student

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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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

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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Tackling Thanksgiving Leftovers with Flair

turkey stuffing dinner supper mealThe fall and winter holidays are my absolute favorite! I love it when we start to get a chill in the air and look ahead to holiday cooking. This week is filled with anticipation of turkey, sweet potatoes, stuffing and pumpkin pie. Yum!

But what happens on Friday? There are always so many leftovers from Thanksgiving and you can only eat so many turkey sandwiches. Here are some Spend Smart. Eat Smart. recipes that don’t taste anything like Thanksgiving but get those leftovers used up.

Chicken Club Salad Use turkey instead of the chicken in this recipe for a light and refreshing meal. You can also use up those leftover veggies from your relish tray!
Quick Pad Thai The Asian flavors in this dish will be a nice change of pace after all that holiday food. Use turkey instead of chicken and fresh veggies if you have them.
Chocolate Surprise Cupcakes Did you buy one too many cans of pumpkin? This recipe is delicious and takes no time at all to make. These are perfect if you have someone in your house who doesn’t like pumpkin because they just taste like chocolate.

Enjoy the holiday and share your Thanksgiving photos with us on Facebook!

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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Holiday Breakfast – Baked Oatmeal

4.1.1I look forward to the traditions associated with holidays because I find comfort in doing the same things each year. Many of our family traditions include food. We work together in the kitchen to create foods we often eat only once each year. When visiting my husband’s grandparents, we were introduced to baked oatmeal and we fell in love. We decided that it needed to become part of our family traditions. Baked oatmeal is a great breakfast any day, but we think it will make a perfect holiday breakfast for us this year and in future years. Here is why I am choosing baked oatmeal this holiday season:

  • It can be put together the night before. All I will have to do in the morning is put it in the oven, so I will not miss out on any family time.
  • Each person can make their bowl of baked oatmeal special with add-ins like sliced bananas, nuts, dried fruit, milk and cinnamon sugar.
  • It is a healthy choice. Baked oatmeal is made with fruit, oats (a whole grain), and non-fat milk.
  • It is filling. The oats fill me up so I am less likely to get hungry for the high fat and sugar snacks that are common during the holidays.
  • I can buy a lot of oats for very little money. Besides using them in this recipe, I can use them in granola, fruit pizza, baked apples, instant oatmeal packets, and oatmeal bars.

I hope that you try baked oatmeal sometime soon and fall in love with it just like we did.

Ingredients:

  • 4 ½ cups water
  • 3 cups oats (quick cooking or old fashioned)
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ cup non-fat milk
  • 2 medium apples, chopped
  • ½ cup dried fruit (raisins, cranberries, cherries)

Instructions:

  1. In a saucepan, bring water to a boil.  Add oats and boil for one minute.  Remove from heat and let stand five minutes.
  2. In a mixing bowl, beat together eggs, brown sugar, vegetable oil, baking powder, ground cinnamon, and milk with a fork.
  3. Stir in oatmeal, apples, and dried fruit.
  4. Lightly coat a 13x9x2-inch baking pan with cooking spray and pour oatmeal mixture into the pan.  Cook immediately or cover and store in the refrigerator overnight.
  5. To cook, preheat oven to 350°F then bake for 50-60 minutes until the center is set and the top is lightly browned.

Tip:

  • Serve with a variety of toppings including sliced bananas, dried fruit, non-fat milk, chopped walnuts, sliced almonds, and cinnamon sugar.
  • This recipe makes a lot, so if you do not have a large crowd to feed, plan on eating this for breakfast or snacks for a couple of days.

-Justine

Spend Smart and Eat Smart for the Holidays

young girl drinking mugI’ve just returned from vacation in North Carolina. One of the things I am grateful for is food prices here in Iowa. We don’t appreciate how good we have it until we shop on either coast for groceries. Since my cupboard was bare, I needed to make a trip to the grocery store. Big surprise, my store finished a renovation while I was gone which includes a much larger produce section, which is great. However, they have also devoted half of an aisle to holiday candy. Halloween candy is hardly gone when the Christmas candy moves in. Add in all the holiday baking and no wonder budgets and weights get out of control at this time of year

We can take different approaches to spending smart and eating smart this time of year. Some sticklers would say “I’m going to diet and make a strict list of how much to spend on every gift” while others pledge to “enjoy the season and eat and spend what I want”. I have used both approaches over the years with insignificant success.

Here’s my list of strategies to enjoy the holidays while keeping my budget and health in check.

1. Keep it simple. We eat and spend more when we have multiple entrees, side dishes and desserts. Let the flavor of the food shine instead of adding lots of ingredients, calories and cost.  Serve fresh green beans instead of green bean casserole, roasted sweet potatoes instead of mashed with marshmallows and butter, and fresh vegetable platters instead of rich appetizers.
2. Eat the dishes you want, but take half a portion. You get to enjoy festive holiday flavors with half the calories.
3. Limit eating out. Entertain with a theme such as game/card night; movie night, skating or sledding. Serve soup, crusty bread, and holiday cookies or another simple menu.
4. Make it from scratch. You can make lots of cookies, rolls or quick breads for the same price as a pound of purchased chocolates. Plus you can make your goodies healthier.

      • You can alter most recipes by cutting the fat, sugar and salt a little and no one will notice a difference in taste. You can reduce a cup of fat or sugar to 2/3 cup and you can cut the salt by half.

5. Give gifts of food.  It’s not too late to make cocoa, tea, or soup mix. I like to give prepared meals that I put in freezer containers.

    • I put a whole meal (entrée and sides) in the container for friends and relatives who live alone.
    • corn chip chiliFor young families I make family size entrees and put them in larger containers.
    • You can buy inexpensive containers and add a kitchen towel or mixing spoon to complete the gift.  I remember years ago I kept this gift going for several months by taking the container home and refilling it for my grandpa.
    • Check our post Food Gifts: Give of your time and talent, save dollars for more ideas.

Peggy Signature

 

Involve (and teach) Others to Prepare Holiday Meals

blog 25thWhen you are preparing Thanksgiving dinner this year consider asking other family members to work alongside you.  This way, you will have some great family time, they get the satisfaction of learning how to make the meal, they learn skills which can save them money in the future and you get help.  It’s a win-win situation.

I forget why we didn’t go to a relative’s house the first time I attempted a Thanksgiving meal on my own, but I DO remember some of the things that went wrong:

  • I didn’t allow enough time for the turkey to thaw,
  • I wasn’t sure when the turkey was done,
  • I didn’t take the pouch with the turkey neck, gizzards out so it was in there when we started carving, and
  • The rolls didn’t get done until after the meal.

I heard a great story about the Pocahontas County, IA 4-H program. Last year three Master Food Volunteers taught ten 4-Hers and their parents how to make a Thanksgiving meal. They used our $30 serves 8 a healthy Holiday Dinner as a guide. The participants learned hand washing, use of a meat thermometer, proper measurement of dry and wet ingredients, oven safety, and the science behind cooking meat to proper internal temperature.

The youth said that as a result of the program they will use a meat thermometer more often, put the meat thermometer in the leg of the turkey, help cook their families’ thanksgiving meal, wash hands more often, pay more attention when measuring, and do more cooking.

Those kids have a great start at cooking healthy foods so they don’t have to pay for frozen or box meals or spend extra to eat out.  Way to go Pocahontas County 4-H!

Peggy Signature

It’s a Meal Strata

If company is coming to your house over the holidays or you are looking for an easy, delicious lunch or supper try our It’s a Meal Strata.  This meal is easy on the pocketbook and the waistline.  I like it because it is packed with vegetables, which lowers the calories, and it does not have much bread.  I like to serve hot whole wheat bread with it.

You can use any vegetable that you want for the strata.  I usually use onions, mushrooms, green or red peppers and zucchini.  You can also add leftover corn, peas, and broccoli.  I have made it with and without the ham and once substituted cooked turkey.

When I can, I try to sauté the vegetables and cut up the ham and bread ahead of time.  Then once I am ready to prepare the meal I stir everything together and bake.  While the strata is in the oven I can get a fruit tray cut, the table set, and the milk poured.

PS – Santa might like this on Christmas morning.

It’s A Meal Strata

Ingredients

  • 1 teaspoon vegetable or canola oil
  • 3 cups sliced or chopped vegetables
  • 1 clove garlic, minced or 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 3-ounce package (or 1/2 of 8-ounce package) light cream cheese (also called Neufchatel), softened
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup cubed day-old bread (about 1 slice)
  • 1/3 cup cubed cooked ham
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/3 cup shredded Cheddar cheese

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Cut the vegetables so they are about the same size.
  3. In a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add the vegetables and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender. Turn off heat and pat the vegetables with paper towels to remove the moisture. Set aside.
  4. In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese until smooth. Add eggs and beat well.
  5. Stir in vegetables, bread, cubed ham, and pepper.
  6. Pour into a greased 8″x 8″ baking dish or small casserole dish.
  7. Bake, uncovered, for 10 to 15 minutes or until the egg mixture doesn’t jiggle. Remove from heat, sprinkle on the cheese and let stand for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.

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