Homemade Taco Seasoning Mix

Taco seasoning mix is a staple in many people’s cupboards.  It adds great flavor to taco meat, beans, soups, and dips. You can buy pre-packaged taco seasoning mix at the store or you can use our homemade version.  To make homemade taco seasoning mix, you simply need to combine minced onion, chili powder, cornstarch, crushed dried red pepper, garlic powder, dried oregano, and ground cumin in a container with a tight fitting lid.  This seasoning mix lasts a year in your cupboard.

 

This seasoning mix makes the equivalent of six packages of store bought taco seasoning mix.  The homemade seasoning mix costs about the same as store bought. Homemade is $2.46 for six packages and the store brand at my local grocery store is $0.44 for one package, which comes out to $2.64 for six packages.  

 

The big difference between the two mixes is the sodium content.  One package of store bought taco seasoning mix contains 2,580 mg of sodium, which is 430 mg per serving.   Two tablespoons of our homemade taco seasoning mix (the equivalent of one store bought package) contains 80 mg of sodium, which is about 13 mg per serving.

 

Use our Taco Seasoning Mix in Lentil Tacos, Slow Cooker Lentils, or in your own favorite taco recipe.

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover

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

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Homemade Baby Food

Photo of applesauce

I cannot believe that it has been exactly four years since I last blogged on the topic of homemade baby food. At the time, my daughter had recently outgrown the mashed and soft foods phase and was moving on to eating most table foods. She was a great eater and happily ate just about anything I offered.

Fast forward four years and I have gone through the baby food phase again with another child. This one was a little different. He decided to show a strong personality and go about trying foods his own way. I was excited to start making him some homemade baby food, but he would not eat it! He wanted what big brother, big sister, dad, and mom were eating, and he wanted to feed himself. So, we gave him foods from the table that he could easily chew and swallow and that he could pick up with his fingers and get into his mouth.

I wanted him to try foods with a variety of textures and flavors, but he still refused to let anyone feed him – he had to feed himself. With a little bit of patience and a lot of practice with the spoon, he started feeding himself some of the mashed foods I had prepared for him. Two of his favorites were apples and sweet potatoes. If you are interested in making homemade baby food, check out our video. You can also try our homemade applesauce, which is a great fall treat no matter how young or old you are!

Enjoy!

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover

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

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Homemade Popsicles

If you are looking for a delicious, yet healthy dessert for your Fourth of July celebration, try homemade popsicles. My family enjoys popsicles this time of year (or any other time of year for that matter).

I am excited to share our tasty apricot pop recipe! Simply pour a can of apricots (drained) and two cartons of vanilla yogurt into a blender. Blend the mixture together and then pour into popsicle molds or into paper cups with wooden sticks.

For festive, patriotic pops, you can switch up the color by replacing the apricots with another fruit:

  • Red: 2 cups strawberries, finely chopped
  • White: 2 medium bananas, finely chopped
  • Blue: 2 cups blueberries

Just like with the apricot pops, combine the fruit and the yogurt in the blender and blend until smooth then pour into popsicle molds. If you do not have a blender that is no problem, simply stir the fruit and yogurt together and pour into the molds – the color and texture will be different, but the flavor will still be great.

Have a happy Fourth of July!

-Justine

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover

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

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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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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:

homemadepremadedinner

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

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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Premade Versus Homemade Breakfast – Smoothies

Fruit SmoothieMy husband has a 30 minute drive to work each morning. That means he needs to leave our home by 6:30 am so he can be to (or at least near) his desk by 7 am. He is also not a morning person, so sitting down and eating breakfast before he leaves is not an option.

Most of the time he grabs some dry cereal and munches on it throughout the morning at his desk. This is easy, inexpensive, and a healthy choice. However, I have learned that if we do not start our morning off with a fruit, vegetable, or both, my family is not likely to get all of the fruits and vegetables we need in a day. So, we have started adding smoothies to his morning routine a couple of times a week.

There are many restaurants and shops near his workplace, so he could easily stop and pick one up. These smoothies taste great, but they are expensive at $3 to $4 each. They also tend to be larger than what he can drink for breakfast, so some of it gets wasted. We can make smoothies at home that taste great and cost about $1 per smoothie. With the cost savings, we prefer to make our own smoothies. On top of that, by making smoothies at home we can make sure we are getting the fruits and vegetables we need with about half the calories of a smoothie from a restaurant.

We usually make a large batch of smoothies one night a week (about eight smoothies in a batch). I have some glass jars that hold 8 ounces and some plastic bottles that hold 10 ounces. I pour the smoothies into the jars or bottles, pop the lid on, and freeze. The smoothies need about 12 hours to thaw, so I put a smoothie into the refrigerator while I am working on supper the night before. In the morning he can pull it out of the refrigerator, shake it up to mix everything around, and it is ready to go.

Smoothie Chart

The best thing about smoothies is that you do not need a recipe. I usually use yogurt or milk, frozen berries, bananas, and fresh spinach or kale. If you prefer to follow a recipe, we have several options:  Fruit Smoothies, Fruitastic Summer Smoothie Blast, and Orange Smoothie.  Whether you follow a recipe or make up your own, try a smoothie for breakfast this week! Watch our video below How to Make a Fruit Smoothie!

Justine

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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Back to School and Time to Refocus!

blog sept 8The lazy days of summer are officially over and for many families hectic schedules have begun.

Here are my top 5 tips for busy families!

1. Breakfast: Make sure your child starts each morning with a nutritious breakfast, whether it is at home, at school, or even on the way to school! Make sure fruit is a part of the breakfast so your child is on the right track in getting their fruits and veggies in for the day.  Children who eat breakfast have fewer tummy aches during school, so they are better able to concentrate and focus in the classroom.

Breakfast Ideas
Spend Smart. Eat Smart. Oatmeal Pancakes (they can be made in advanced and kept in the freezer and reheated, just like the ones in the freezer section)

2. Lunch: You have the power to inspire your child to build a healthy plate at school and at home.  School lunch programs offer healthy, well-balanced meals.  Review the school menu with your child and encourage them to try new foods and reinforce healthy eating by offering similar new foods at home.  If your child brings a lunch from home, discuss with them what foods to include and focus on providing foods similar to a complete school meal (whole grains, protein, fruit, vegetable and low-fat or fat-free milk).

Tips to Build a Healthy Meal

3. Snacks: My 4 year old pretty much sums it up, “I don’t like food, I like snacks!” Processed snacks have consumed our children’s diets.  When you think of snacks, think of them as mini-meals.  Have fruits and vegetables, whole-grain crackers, low-fat cheese, small sandwiches, yogurt, and fat-free/low-fat milk ready for after school snacks.  Make healthy snacks the easy choice!

It’s Not Just a Piece of Candy Blog
MyPlate Tips for Parents

4. Family Meals: Focus on each other at the table.  Talk about fun and happy things at mealtime.  Turn off electronics and try to make eating meals a stress-free time.  We use ISU Extension and Outreach Conversations cards when we need to revive our family meal conversations.  My daughters love them!

ISU Extension and Outreach Conversation Cards

5. Physical Activity: Make sure your child has plenty of opportunities to be active and that doesn’t mean they have to participate in organized sports. Make physical activity part of your family’s lifestyle, not something that you have to carve time out to complete.  Walk the dog together as family.  Involve the whole family in household chores, cleaning, vacuuming, and yard work. When it is time to celebrate as a family do something active as a reward, such as go to a park your family hasn’t been to before, go swimming, check out a new bike trail, or find a roller skating rink nearby (yes they still exist!).

MyPlate Be an Active Family Tips

As a parent or caregiver, you are the most important influence on your child.  You can do simple things that will help your children develop healthy habits for life.  What is something new you want to try this week?

 

Guest Blogger,
Carrie

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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Take-out vs. Homemade Lunch: Time, Cost and Nutrition

Fast food is expensive and most options are not as healthy as homemade meals. As a recent college graduate entering the workforce I’m learning there is a “life” aspect that can’t be ignored. I, like you, value my time, health and money so I wondered – is take-out lunch really more expensive, less nutritious and quicker than a homemade version? The Spend Smart Eat Smart Team sent me on a mission and here is what I found:

lunch blog chart 2

It was really easy to locate nutrition and serving size information on my favorite burrito shop’s website. I was able to easily recreate a burrito with the exact same flavors at home.

There are two different ways I’m excited to customize my homemade burritos in the future.

The first is the ingredients. When getting take-out there is only one kind of rice, flavor of chicken and limited vegetables to choose from. When I make the burritos at home I’m able to add more or less lettuce and tomato or season my rice with chili powder and cumin rather than eat it plain. When I made my homemade burritos I used brown rice and added chili powder, onion, green chilies and tomato sauce to make a Spanish rice. I am also looking forward to customizing the size of my homemade burritos. I’m not sure what your experience is, but I can never finish an entire take-out burrito in one sitting. The leftovers either end up in the trash or I save it for a second meal (but by then the lettuce is slimy – boo). When making burritos at home, I’m able to make a burrito of an appropriate size for my appetite.

Although it took me longer to prepare the homemade burrito compared to take-out, I ended up with six burritos with rice, beans, cheese and chicken in them. I wrapped each burrito in plastic wrap, put them in a freezer bag and stored them in the freezer. In the future for an easy (and cheap) lunch from the freezer, I’ll just thaw, reheat, throw some lettuce, sour cream and tomato on it and enjoy a burrito in less than 10 minutes.

If I were to get take-out once a week for the next month I would have to commit to:

$27.44 | 1 hour and 15 minutes of time | Four DAYS worth of sodium in only four MEALS.

If I were to make my burritos at home and eat them once a week I would commit to:

$8.04 | 35 minutes of time | 4,900 fewer milligrams of sodium.

burrito blog

I was really surprised by how easy it was to make my own tasty burritos at home. Although it took more time and planning on the front end, homemade burritos on average took 6 minutes of time per burrito compared to the 19 minutes take-out took. My perception of how “fast” fast food really is has changed.

I wonder what results I would get if I compared a take-out sub sandwich to a homemade one. I’m definitely rethinking and re-planning the time and money I have spent on fast food that is actually easy to make at home, what about you?

-Liz

2014 ISU Dietetics Graduate

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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Homemade Salad Dressing … Easy as 1, 2, 3

salad bowlHomemade salad dressing adds wonderful flavor to salads of all kinds – lettuce, fruit, and pasta salads. You can even add dressing to roasted veggies to add extra flavor. The thing I like best about homemade salad dressing is that it can be made quickly and easily by keeping some basic ingredients in your pantry – vinegar and oil plus whatever add-ins taste great to you, such as herbs, spices, mustard, fruit juice, sugar, salt, pepper.

Here are three easy steps to making a homemade salad dressing:

1.  Measure your ingredients. Measure into a screw top container or a mixing bowl. Start with three parts oil to one part acid (vinegar or citrus juice) and a small amount of seasoning – you can always add more acid and seasoning later.

  • If you are interested in some homemade salad dressing recipes, check out our homemade salad dressing video, our salad dressing handout, and this newsletter that has a helpful salad dressing chart.

2. Mix your ingredients. If using a screw top container, secure the lid tightly and shake until combined. If using a mixing bowl, mix ingredients together vigorously using a fork or whisk.

3. Eat your salad. Pour your dressing onto your salad and eat it up. Homemade salad dressing will make your vegetables, fruits, and whole grains taste great.

In addition to the ease of making homemade salad dressing, I like the cost. I use canola oil in my salad dressings, which makes the cost about half of a store-bought salad dressing.  Since citrus fruit has been cheap this winter, I have been saving even more money by using the juice from an orange in place of some of the vinegar. When I make my own dressing, I can try new things like this in small amounts without buying a whole bottle of premade dressing.

Look through your pantry and see what you have to make a homemade salad dressing today!

Justine

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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Get Creative, Use What You Have on Hand

soupI know it’s time to make soup when my refrigerator, pantry and freezer are getting full of small bags of rice, pasta, meat, beans, and vegetables. I make soup using the ingredients I have on hand without a specific recipe.

This weekend I made ham soup. Saturday I simmered a ham bone with a chopped onion and some celery. I covered the bone and veggies with water, put a lid on the pot and it cooked away for a few hours. Then I removed the bone and vegetables and let the broth cool in the fridge overnight.

On Sunday I spooned off the hardened fat from the top of the broth and started reheating the broth. Then I pulled together a lot of odds and ends to give the soup great flavor and texture:

  • A cup of leftover cooked kidney beans
  • A cup of leftover ham
  • A cup of chopped chicken from the freezer
  • Some chopped vegetables (one onion, a cup of baby carrots and 3 small potatoes)
  • For seasoning I used one of the spice packets that come with Ramen noodles (leftover from coleslaw when I used the noodles but not the spice).

The friend I had over for dinner loved the soup. She wanted the recipe. Uh-oh. Should I admit she was eating leftovers? Instead I told her I created the soup. I found a great handout from Utah State University Food Sense, Create a Soup which shows how you can make soup from what you have on hand.

Utah also has similar cheat sheets for making casseroles, pizza and fruity desserts from what you have on hand.  To see a list of what’s available and links check out the Spend Smart. Eat Smart web page.  

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