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

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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Build a Better Salad

WholeMealSaladHow many of you are like me and are trying to start some healthy habits in the new year? Whether you’re trying to save money or eat better, packing a healthy lunch can help you do both! Salad is a common go-to option for people trying to eat better, but not all salads are created equal. Here is a quick guide to simplify packing salads for lunch.

  1. Include protein in your salad. Choose proteins like a hard-boiled egg, beans, chicken or canned tuna. The protein will help you stay full throughout the afternoon. This is a great use for leftover ingredients from dinner.
  2. Be careful about your dressing choice. Salad dressing can be expensive and high in fat, calories and sodium. Keep dressing portions small (approximately 1 tablespoon). One way to save money and be certain about the ingredients in your dressing is to make your own. Let our video on homemade dressing or this helpful handout be your guide!
  3. Choose toppings you enjoy, but avoid common pitfalls. Many restaurant salads are topped with lots of high-calorie ingredients like bacon and cheese. It is ok to eat these tasty ingredients from time to time, but they can quickly turn your healthy homemade salad into a meal that is high in fat and calories. Instead, choose lots of veggies to top your salad. In the winter, choose those that taste good all year round like carrots, peppers, celery, green onions and even defrosted, frozen peas.
  4. Prepare your salads ahead of time. We all know what it is like to run out of time on busy mornings. Sturdy greens like spinach hold up well for a few days in the fridge. You can also chop your veggies like peppers, carrots, celery and onions ahead of time. I avoid watery veggies like cucumbers when I am prepping salads ahead because they tend to get a bit soggy after a day or so. Also, wait to put the dressing on your salad until right before you eat it.

If you would like some more ideas about healthy salads, check out the Whole Meal Salad recipe template on our website.

Here’s to a happy and healthy new year for all of our Spend Smart. Eat Smart. readers!

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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It’s Not Just School Lunch. It’s Bigger Than That.

school lunch

This year my daughter started kindergarten. And honestly one of my biggest concerns was if she was going to be hungry throughout the day. Going from daycare and preschool to kindergarten is a huge adjustment for various reasons. I was particularly concerned about the change in foods available to her and how much time she would have to eat. The thought of her having fifteen minutes to eat lunch and no snacks was a little scary!

In preparation for her first day, we went shopping for a backpack. She was amazed not only at the selection of back packs, but the selection of the lunch bags. I was pretty shocked myself! Also, the books we read to prepare her for the first day of school all referenced the character bringing a lunch from home. Based on back to school shopping and children’s books, one would think that bringing a lunch from home was the norm. But in reality, approximately 80% of all students enrolled in Iowa schools participate in school meals each day. 1

With that in mind, I wanted her to try school meals for the first week. This would give her the opportunity to learn the process while everyone else did. Every day after school I ask her what she had for lunch. As the weeks have gone by she has been excited to share with me the fruits and vegetables she has chosen and even eaten at school. It’s a simple thing I do each day that often opens up a conversation about her entire day, which I was having a hard time getting her to share.  “I tried zucchini slices today and really liked them!” “Oh, and I was picked the best singer of the day!” It’s fun to see how a simple conversation about school lunch can really lead to a great conversation with a 5 year old! She has expanded the things she will eat at home and I truly believe it is connected to her positive experience with school meals.

National School Lunch Week is this week and is an observance to celebrate the benefits of healthy school lunches! School meals are doing a better job of giving your kids the healthy foods they need. Help your child check out school meals and discover what they like. Here are some tips to help your children eat healthy foods at school and at home:

    • Make time to join your child for lunch in the school cafeteria. It will provide you a first-hand experience of school meals and grow a deeper appreciation for teachers, school staff, and nutrition staff.
    • Explain to your child the options they have each day at school for lunch.
    • When your child gets home from school, ask what he/she ate for lunch.
    • Eat meals at home with your child as much as you can. Let your child see you eating fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low fat dairy.
    • Provide some of the new foods offered in the school cafeteria at home.  Some examples include: whole grain foods, spinach, cherry tomatoes, black beans, sweet potatoes, and zucchini slices.
    • Take your child grocery shopping with you and talk to them about where foods come from. Let your children make healthy purchases while at the store.

For more information including how to get involved at your school, school lunch myths, healthy snack ideas, visit: http://schoolmeals.educateiowa.gov.

Guest Blogger,

Carrie

1 Iowa School Nutrition Association Annual Child Nutrition Report, March 2013

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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Do it Yourself Meal Kits for Kids

Better Nutrition, Lower Cost, and Less Waste

The commercials for ready-to-go meal kits for kids, make them look like fun and excitement in a box. The reality is a little different. There is no arguing with the fact that these meal kits are convenient, but are you really getting a good value for your money?

Take a look inside the box, not so appetizing. Let’s take a look at what I got for my money.

NEWnutrition facts and ingredients

Ingredients – We’ve all heard that if you can’t pronounce the ingredients, you probably shouldn’t eat it. Take a look at this ingredient list.

Nutrition – Meal kits typically contain far more sodium, saturated fat, and sugar than kids need in a meal. Most include no fruits or vegetables at all. Take a look at this nutrition facts label from a store bought meal kit. The calories, fat, saturated fat, and sodium are quite high.

Waste – Imagine the amount of garbage these packages generate in a school cafeteria!

Cost – The average price for meal kits at my store was $2.79. This is actually more expensive than school lunch at most schools and far less nutritious.

sodium chart larger

I decided to challenge myself to come up with some healthy DIY versions of these meal kits that would be easy to prepare and just as fun for kids.

I started with some reusable containers that had dividers like the meal kits’ disposable boxes and an ice pack to keep the food cold. I also set some rules for myself:

  • Create boxes that follow MyPlate guidelines.
  • Use only items that can be packed on Sunday and keep fine until Friday. I’m only packing lunches once!
  • Use only items that require minimal preparation like cutting or chopping.

DIY lunchable

Check out the list below for some foods from each food group that work with my rules.

chart green
My meal kit has much more color, nutrition and appeal than the store bought one and I bought the ingredients for 10 kits like this (assuming two kids with five lunches each) for less than $20.00. That’s less than $2.00 per kit. Assuming kids will purchase milk at school to go with their DIY meal kits; the price is just below the price of the store bought ones.

The National School Lunch Program at your child’s school provides convenient, nutritious meals for a great value, but these ready-to-go DIY meal kits are a good option for kids who prefer to bring their lunch.

 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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National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Day!

National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Day is April 12. The classic grilled cheese became popular in the 1920’s when inexpensive cheese and sliced bread became available.

Our Supreme Grilled Cheese Sandwiches deliver all of the good filling ingredients but less bread (and calories). I have served them for lunch with soup and fruit and also as an appetizer cut into quarters. They are great because you just make them in a skillet on the stove. You can also modify them for your family by adding tomatoes or mushrooms and changing the type of cheese (but remember mozzarella is lower in fat and melts well).

 

Supreme Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

Serving Size:  1 open faced sandwich | Servings: 4

Ingredients

  • 1 cup peppers, red or green (1 medium)
  • 1/2 onion
  • 4 slices (about 8 ounces) firm bread
  • 2 tablespoons light mayo or salad dressing
  • 1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 cup spinach leaves
  • 4 slices (3/4 ounce each) mozzarella cheese
  • Non-stick spray

Directions

  1. Slice onion and pepper very thin.
  2. Lay out 4 slices of bread and spread with the mayo.
  3. Sprinkle lightly with garlic powder.
  4. Add in layers the spinach leaves, peppers, onions, and a slice of cheese.
  5. Heat a skillet to medium low. Spray with non-stick spray. Lay sandwiches in pan. Cover with plate, lid, or aluminum foil.
  6. Heat sandwiches until cheese melts (about 2-3 minutes) or until the bottom is golden brown.
  7. Serve warm.

What’s for Lunch? It’s in the Bag.

A few weeks ago I invited myself to lunch at three different middle schools in Central Iowa.  My “hosts” were  two of my nieces and a friend’s son.  I learned a lot about the changes to school lunches during those visits. I also had a chance to observe some of what I call ‘sack lunches’, although hardly anybody uses paper bags anymore.

The majority of the sack lunches were not very healthy.  Most of them included some sort of bread (rarely whole grain), some protein food, crackers, chips, cookies, and fruit drink or fruit.  Vegetables were rarely included.  I wish I would have taken more pictures, but I was so busy taking pictures of the school lunch trays that I didn’t get any of the sack lunches.  I did find a couple of images on the internet that are very close to what I observed.

Photo courtesy of  www.wastefreelunches.org

I think some suggestions on lunches to take to school plus packing lunches the night before might improve the quality.

My colleagues, Ruth Litchfield and Cathy Strohbehn, collaborated on two new publications about lunches to go.  Whether you are packing lunches for yourself to take to work or for your children, these are free and worth a look.  Both can be ordered or downloaded from the ISU Extension and Outreach Online store.

The one page abbreviated version is called MyPlate Lunch Bag Ideas. In this publication, you will find great menu ideas to pack your child’s lunch bag with MyPlate healthy foods. You’ll find kid-friendly foods for fruits, veggies, protein, grains, and dairy.  You will also find preparation and packing tips to keep foods at a safe temperature.

The longer, more detailed version is What’s for Lunch? It’s in the Bag.  It will give you ideas and know how for packing healthy lunches your child will want to eat. It contains tips for preparing and packing food safely as well as menu tips for lunch bag meals. It also includes research data on best methods to keep foods at safe temperatures.

 

What School Lunches look like in other Countries

School lunches have been front page news in the U.S. this fall with lots of discussion about the healthier meals.  Have you ever wondered what kids  in other countries eat for school lunch?  BuzzFeed, a social news organization, posted What School Lunches Look Like In 20 Countries Around The World about a year ago.  The lunches are random pictures but do give an idea of what kids eat in other countries.  I feel sorry for the kids in Kenya, Honduras, Ghana, and Djibouti (a tiny country in Africa).  Their lunches are very skimpy.  The U.S. lunches shown are higher in fat and have less fruits and vegetables than many of the other countries.  However, these pictures were taken before the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act became effective.

Never Seconds

Blog Rating System

Food-o-meter – Out of 10, a rank of how great my lunch was.

Mouthfuls – How else can we judge portion size!

Courses – Starter/main or main/dessert

Health Rating – Out of 10, can healthy foods top the food-o-meter?

Price – Currently £2 I think, it’s all done on a cashless catering card.

Pieces of hair– It won’t happen, will it?

Another website I thought was very interesting was by Martha Payne, a nine-year-old from Scotland. She started the blog Never Seconds by showing her lunch each day and rating them.

Martha calls herself ‘Veg’ in the posts (look in the archives of Never Seconds to see the posts on school lunches.)  Soon kids from other countries were sending pictures of their school lunches to Martha which she posted, causing blog readership to soar. The lack of food in lunches in some countries led Martha to raise money for Mary’s Meals, a charity that sets up school feeding projects in communities where poverty and hunger prevent children from gaining an education. Although Martha’s school has now banned her lunch pictures, she is still raising money for Mary’s Meals and blogging about her trip to  Malawi to help dedicate a new school kitchen.

 

Pass the Word: Free Lunches for Kids

Free and reduced price lunches at school are very important for the growing number of low-income kids. But what do the 150,000 Iowa kids who get free and reduced price lunches do in the summer when school is out? The fortunate kids (about 9,000 in Iowa last year) get lunch through summer feeding sites.

The Summer Food Service Program, administered by the Iowa Department of Education, provides nutritious meals and snacks to children in low-income areas during the summer months. There are many summer food service program feeding sites across the state of Iowa; however, the program is still vastly under-utilized. The biggest barrier to children participating in the Summer Food Service Program is knowledge that feedings sites exist. This summer there are 16 new sponsors and 40 new sites in the summer food service program across the state.

The Iowa Dept. of Education has an interactive map that shows all the sites where any child under 18 can go for a free meal. You do not have to sign anything or show identification. You do not have to live near-by or even in the same county. The map gives contact information so you can find out serving times and dates.

Please help spread the word if there is a site in your community. If there isn’t a site near you, consider working in your community to start a program for next summer (contact Stephanie Dross at the Department of Education).

It’s fall and soup’s on

This month’s featured recipe, 3-Can Chili,  is one of my “Go-To” recipes. You know what I mean—the ones that you know by heart, make often, and everyone likes. Plus, you can have this one on the table in about 20 minutes. To lower the cost, I buy canned tomatoes, canned beans, and frozen corn when they are on sale. I use my price book so I know a good price and try never to buy full price.

The variations for 3-Bean Chili are endless. You can vary the types of canned beans you use, or cook dry beans, rehydrating them for an inexpensive meal. You can use fresh tomatoes which would lower the sodium; add fresh chili peppers or canned Mexican-style tomatoes to increase the heat; use canned or frozen corn; add cooked and drained ground turkey or beef; etc.

I like to make a batch and freeze individual portions to take for lunch at work. Sometimes after it is heated, I add a tablespoon or two of shredded cheese, or plain yogurt. The soup, apple, and milk make a great lunch!

-pointers from Peggy

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

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